Will Lilly’s Surgery Affect the Cubs’ Off-Season?

Congratulations to the New York Yankees on their 27th World Series Championship. The 2009 season ended exactly one month after the Cubs campaign came to an end … Warm up the oven, it’s time for the Hot Stove Season.

The 15-day free-agent filing period begins on Thursday … teams have exclusive negotiating rights for the next 15 days in order to try and re-sign their would-be free agents. The Cubs are expected to re-sign John Grabow to a contract at some point over the next two weeks and a day … but Rich Harden, Kevin Gregg, Reed Johnson and Chad Fox are expected to reach the open market. Johnson might return while Harden, Gregg and Fox will likely have another team in 2010 … and beyond.

Will the surgery on Ted Lilly’s shoulder change Jim Hendry’s approach this winter? Will the Cubs offer arbitration to Rich Harden and/or try to re-sign him? Or will they begin the season with a rotation full of question marks?

For many, the announcement Ted Lilly underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder Tuesday came as a surprise. Lilly spent time on the DL in July and August with left shoulder inflammation and had his knee scoped at the same time. Lilly appeared to finish the season relatively healthy despite not pitching between September 18 – 30. The discomfort Lilly was feeling did not subside so he decided to go ahead with the procedure Tuesday.

Ted Lilly was the Cubs most consistent pitcher since the second half of the 2008 campaign. Lilly was 8-3 in 14 starts after the break in 2008 with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP and posted one of the quietest 17-win campaigns in recent memory (17-9 with a 4.09 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP).

The Bulldog‘ was 12-9 in 27 starts last year with a 3.10 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP … that included ridiculous numbers at Wrigley. Lilly posted an 8-2 mark in 13 starts with a 1.87 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP … just 12 walks in 91 1/3 innings with 79 strikeouts and a .265 BABIP. Lilly quietly became the Cubs’ number one pitcher.

Lilly should return sometime in April of 2010. According to multiple reports, Lilly will begin throwing again four months from Wednesday … which would be March 4. Lilly figures to be behind the rest of the pitchers and should start the season on the disabled list.

The Cubs begin the 2010 regular season in Atlanta on Monday, April 5. They have scheduled off days on April 6 (after opening day) and April 13 (following the home opener against the Brewers) and without rain will not need a fifth starter until April 19.

Ted Lilly reportedly has a very good work ethic and without setbacks should return as expected at some point in the first month of the season.

According to a report from Bruce Miles, Jim Hendry said the Cubs “have not made any decisions yet on who’s coming back or not from the club we ended the season with.” Hendry explained that Lilly’s surgery “wouldn’t alter our plans about adding another starter because Lew Yocum is one of the best in the world.” Hendry said, “If he felt … if the rehab went according to plan, the way Ted goes about his business, there’s a good possibility Ted will be pitching in April. We certainly don’t want to take that spot away from Ted if he’s ready.

According to Miles, Hendry “did not want a whole lot to do with the question” when asked if the Cubs would try to keep Rich Harden now. Hendry did say he has spoken with the agents for both Rich Harden and John Grabow.

If anything, Jim Hendry should have learned last season that things do not goes as planned. Injuries to players happen during a baseball season and backups must be in place when those injuries occur.

Hendry ignored that fact a year ago and did not have a true backup for Aramis Ramirez. No one could have predicted Ramirez would miss as much time as he did but Ramirez misses games every season due to injury.

For the Cubs to not have a back-up plan for Ted Lilly going into Spring Training would be a mistake. The Cubs need another frontline pitcher to begin with, more now than before Ted Lilly went under the knife.

Carlos Zambrano has all of the potential to be an elite pitcher in the league. Zambrano has the stuff and has shown signs, but has yet to ‘put it all together‘ for a full season. But after Ryan Dempster, the Cubs have more questions than answers.

Tom Gorzelanny? Randy Wells? Sean Marshall? Jeff Samardzija? Mitch Atkins?

Even with a fully healthy Ted Lilly, the Cubs’ rotation entering next season had question marks … now there is a gapping hole.

It’s time to get to work Mr. Hendry.

Quote of the Day

"A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him." - David Brinkley
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