Baseball teams cannot win the pennant during the winter, but they sure can lose it. The Hot Stove is followed closely by those in as well as interested in the game. Signing and trades are analyzed and broken down by hundreds of pundits, and fans are sent into a tizzy, either positive or negative, based on the action or inaction of their favorite club.
In recent years, the off-season strategies of the Chicago Cubs are questionable, at best. Let’s take a look at the past 6 winters, beginning with the end of the 2004 season. 2004/2005: Not only did the Cubs spend 95% of the winter trying to unload Sammy Sosa … but they fired the best color analyst in the game because he was critical on the players and manager.
2005/2006: In reaction to losing out on Rafael Furcal, the Cubs over-paid to acquire a proven leadoff man: Traded three pitching prospects for Juan Pierre … and signed Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre to inflated salaries
2006/2007: Spent $136 million on Alfonso Soriano to quiet the masses and move on from a disastrous season
2007/2008: Spent $44 million on an unproven Japanese right fielder to teach the team plate discipline.
2008/2009: The Cubs overreacted to being swept out of the playoffs and set out on becoming more left-handed … gosh darnit! And to do it at any cost, even if it meant trading the team’s most versatile player and clubhouse leader. Not to mention letting the face of the franchise leave via free agency. The solution: go out and sign the most controversial, unstable and combustible player in all of baseball.
2009/2010: Sign washed-up players to minor-league contracts in hopes of finding a new clubhouse leader, and do anything to dump the headache you signed the previous off season.
In all fairness, many minor moves were omitted because the major moves are the ones that are supposed to buoy a club and help lead the way to October. The 2008/2009 off-season stands out the most to me. The absence of Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood in the clubhouse combined with the addition of the outspoken, controversial player proved costly for the Cubs.
Many pro athletes claim winning creates chemistry and not necessarily the other way around. There is probably some truth to this, but when an organization devastates a locker room by removing a key player (or players), bad things can be seen on the horizon … and bad things were a’comin’.
Hindsight is 20-20, and I was ecstatic about the signing of Alfonso Soriano. He has never been the player I, and many others, thought we signed in November of 2006. Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre had a decent 2006, but again, that was 2006. No pressure when you are on a horrendous team.
Obviously, the removal of Steve Stone has no impact on the players, but it had a catastrophic impact on the fans. I, for one, learned about 75% of what I know about baseball strategy from Stone. His knowledge is superior and his delivery unparalleled.
Kosuke Fukudome has been a bust. There are no two ways about it. His production halfway through a four-year contract leaves a lot be desired. However, if plate discipline is contagious then Fukudome should be thanked for improving the team’s overall OBP. Again, though, this is what hitting coaches are for, and not $44 million outfielders.
It is easy to look back and criticize, especially when many people liked these moves when they happened. Many cheered the Soriano and Fukudome signings and Juan Pierre gave us hope of a stolen base or two. However, all three have been failures thus far, and only two have a chance to redeem themselves in blue pinstripes.
The post-2009 strategy cannot be judged until October, hopefully. The headache is gone and that is a good thing, but will the next former-Ranger outfielder be a success or will he also just be waiting until the end of the ninth inning so he can get the heck out of the greatest Ballpark in the country?
Will Jim Hendry be a genius come October? I know many of you already think you know the answer, but then again, that is why they play the game. Maybe this strategy will hit home … time after time after time.
Until next time …
Stay Classy Cubs Fans!