It’s only February and the Cubs are already hitting speed bumps. Ted Lilly’s recovery from November surgery was apparently going well, but now he hits a bit of a set-back with illness. Angel Guzman hurt his knee and his shoulder is acting up. The Cubs expect Lilly back on track this weekend and Guzman will take 7-10 days off. These seem like minor issues, but don’t forget who we’re talking about here. The Cubs aren’t a team with the history of getting past speed-bumps (cough… Bartman!… cough). The Cubs are also not lucky enough to get past injuries when the team should’ve already prepared insurance for such instances.
Entering the off-season, GM Jim Hendry and manager Lou Piniella each made it publicly known that acquiring a veteran right hander for the bullpen was a necessity. Pitchers and catchers have reported and the only veteran righty they’ve acquired is Carlos Silva who won’t be competing for a setup role (at least I hope not!). The Cubs have missed out on affordable righties like Matt Capps, Octavio Dotel, Guillermo Mota, LaTroy Hawkins, and Chan Ho Park. The only reasonable options left on the market are Kiko Calero and David Weathers. But let’s be honest, “reasonable” is stretch for these two given Kiko’s questionable health and David’s old-ness.
The best solution for this dilemma may have to come via trade. The Blue Jays are currently rebuilding so setup man Jason Frasor is probably available. Luke Gregerson has been mentioned as a target as well. A trade offer for Gregerson could start with Mike Fontenot as the Padres don’t have a promising second baseman waiting in the wings. Cubs fans have to hope that Jim Hendry judged the market correctly for once and will make a smart move, but I wouldn’t bet on that.
But at least Hendry found some insurance for Lilly and added depth at the back end of the rotation… Or wait… He didn’t. If things continue to go the Cubs’ way, Lilly’s illness will lead to a sneezing attack that will keep him out of action for a couple months (See Sammy Sosa). Further down the rotation, the Cubs will be relying on at least one of Tom Gorzelanny (5.55 ERA), Jeff Samardzija (7.53 ERA), or good old Carlos Silva (8.60 ERA) to provide crucial innings. In case Hendry is reading this, allow me to let him in on a secret: The lower the ERA, the better… A team with playoff hopes can’t wait for these types of players to figure it out.
In the end, Hendry missed out on many proven winners who could have given the Cubs the depth that’s necessary to win a World Series. Doug Davis and Jon Garland got inexpensive deals and Joel Pineiro didn’t even get the cash he was hoping for this off-season. No, they’re not Cy Youngs, but they are serviceable. Due to the lack of starters left on the market, I expect Hendry to go all-in for Ben Sheets once he proves his health with the A’s. A different option could be a guy like Kevin Correia who should be attainable from the Padres.
Instead of addressing a pitching staff known for injuries (Zambrano, Dempster, Guzman, and possibly Lilly), Hendry decided to go down his usual path of disappointment. On paper the Cubs’ hurlers look great, but when you scratch the surface you see a bullpen lacking experience and starters lining up for their turn on the DL. Unless there are some changes in the near future, Cubs fans could be in store for another season of falling just short. As newest Cub Kevin Millar would say, it’s time for Jim Hendry to “Cowboy Up!”
Projected NL West Finish: 5th
- Gwynn Jr. cf
- Eckstein 2b
- Gonzalez 1b
- Blanks lf
- Headley 3b
- Venable rf
- Hundley c
- Cabrera ss
- Richard (LH)
- Torrealba c
- Stairs 1b
- Salazar if
- Hairston Jr. ut
- Hairston of
- LeBlanc (LH)
- Thatcher (LH)
- Bell (closer)
Catcher: Nick Hundley struggled last year while starting about half of the Padre’s games at catcher. He did improve his OBP by a good amount from his rookie year and San Diego hopes he keeps improving. Yorvit Torrealba created a solid presence with the pitchers in Colorado but lost his power at the plate last year. He will still battle Hundley for at-bats, especially early in the year.
Infield: The infield appears set as of right now. Adrian Gonzalez is an All-Star at first base and will anchor the lineup. The new GM, Jed Hoyer, will have to decide whether or not he wants to trade A-Gon and enter the rebuilding phase. David Eckstein will have to hold off utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. at second base. Everth Cabrera proved his worth after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft last off-season. His bat is still a work in progress. Chase Headley returns to third after the Padres traded Kevin Kouzmanoff to the A’s. The Padres will need a much better season from the switch hitter to compete in the NL West this year.
Outfield: The Kouzmanoff trade brought in a couple of outfielders. Aaron Cunningham is a prospect who will have a chance to make the team out of spring training but will probably get more time at AAA. Scott Hairston will take his second tour in San Diego in less than a year. He can play all around the outfield and has displayed power potential his six year career. Hairston could end up being the right-handed counterpart to lefties Tony Gwynn Jr. and Will Venable. Kyle Blanks showed that he is ready for the Bigs after putting up an .868 OPS in 54 games as one of the younger guys in the league. Blanks will ultimately end up at first base.
Rotation: Kevin Correia was the iron man of the rotation, pitching 198 good innings. Chris Young needs to regain form after putting up a 5.21 ERA in only 14 starts. Jon Garland will put up his usual double digit win totals and make 30 starts. After these guys, the Padres have plenty of young and exciting options. Mat Latos will soon be a mid to top of the rotation pitcher. Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda are a couple of young lefties acquired from Chicago in the Jake Peavy trade. Tim Stauffer quietly pitched to a 3.58 ERA in 14 starts and he is out of options which may force the Padres to keep him on the Opening Day roster. Wade LeBlanc is another inspiring lefty but the abundance of starters could force him into the bullpen if the Padres want him on the staff.
Bullpen: Heath Bell is the closer again but a slow start would almost force the Friars to trade him. There’s no reason to have a valuable closer on a team that is borderline rebuilding. The rest of the bullpen is under-rated. Mike Adams had a .73 ERA in 37 relief innings. Thatcher had a 2.80 ERA in 45 innings. Luke Gregerson had a 3.24 ERA in 75 innings. Edward Mujica pitched to an ERA below 4 in 67 total appearances. The rest of the bullpen could very well be made up of those who don’t crack the rotation.
2010: The Padres are coming off a very strong second half in 2009. The team will have solid pitching as they have come to expect in San Diego, however, their offense is lacking. Gwynn and Eckstein absolutely have to get onbase to let Gonzalez drive them in. Blanks, Headley and Venable are rather young in experience and will face a lot of pressure to produce runs. The Padres are in an extremely competitive division where the Rockies and Dodgers are both playoff teams and the Giants are right there. It will be tough for so many pitchers to repeat their success of ’09 and the Padres will ultimately trade Gonzalez and Bell before the season ends.
The Hot Stove League had barely been simmering until earlier this week when a flurry of moves was able to keep it cooking. The Matt Hollidays and John Lackeys are already off the market. So, that leaves us with the Jon Garlands and Ronnie Belliards to spark the interest of myself and fellow transaction junkies. Nonetheless, these moves deserve some notoriety and I’m here to do just that with a quick synopsis of this weeks moves:
Rich Hill LHP- The former star prospect of the Chicago Cubs has signed on with the St. Louis Cardinals with the hope that pitching coach Dave Duncan can work his magic again. Duncan has gotten solid production out of many pitchers who were facing career declines before arriving in St. Louis. His revamping projects have included Jeff Weaver, Todd Wellemeyer, Ryan Franklin, Joel Pineiro, and Kyle Lohse, just off the top of my head. Hill has a nice repetoire including a plus curveball which makes him an enticing project for Duncan and a candidate for the 5th spot in the rotation.
Jim Edmonds OF- Edmonds is a former All-Star for the Cardinals who resurrected his career once already with the Cubs after a rough start in San Diego two years ago. After not receiving much interest last winter, Edmonds took the year off. He now returns to the NL Central on a minor league deal with the Brewers in search of a part-time role in Milwaukee. It’s a great signing for the Crew given the low risk contract.
Fernando Tatis UT– Tatis finally was able to find a home in the Majors with the Mets the past couple of seasons after being away from The Show for a while. This off-season he re-signed with the Mets to primarily serve as the platoon partner for Daniel Murphy at first base. His return seemed unlikely until recently as the Mets were rumored to be interested in higher profile first basemen like Russell Branyan, Adam LaRoche and Carlos Delgado. The Mets continue to miss out on their targets this off-season but this signing is a nice fallback plan.
Jon Garland RHP- Garland has never been great and has never been bad. That means he should have a pretty steady salary of about $5M on one year deals for a while. You know what you’re going to get with Garland and it’s usually a chance to win ball games. He goes to San Diego who I believe will make some noise this season in the NL West. The Padres were an over-achieving team in the second half. Garland’s arrival gives San Diego time to mold their abundance of young starters. If they do fall out of the race, however, Garland will be dealt along with closer Heath Bell.
Randy Winn OF- Above all else, Randy Winn signing with the Yankees finally ended the nagging drama between the Evil Empire and Johnny Damon. Whether the Yankees or Damon should’ve lowered their demands is finally behind us. Now back to Mr. Winn. He will provide plus defense and is perfect for the nine spot in an already dangerous lineup. Winn displayed durability last year and was added on a relatively inexpensive contract. This was the best destination for the veteran outfielder.
Ronnie Belliard 2B– Belliard turned out to be a difference maker down the stretch and even stole the starting gig from Orlando Hudson for the month of September. After re-signing with the Dodgers, it will be tough for him to produce at the same level but I doubt that the Dodgers are expecting that. A return to form by Russell Martin and a full season of Manny Ramirez will give the Dodgers plenty of offense. Belliard will start most of the time but Jamey Carroll will also get starts at second.
Jim Thome DH– Last year Thome put up 23 home runs along with a .366 OBP in 124 games for the White Sox and Dodgers. Much of those numbers came while Thome was starting at DH for the White Sox but he got a taste of being a pinch hitter in limited time with Los Angeles. Pinch hitting will be his main role with the Twins as the DH spot is already held down by fellow lefty Jason Kubel. However, Thome is one injury to Kubel, Michael Cuddyer or Delmon Young from the starting DH job. If Cuddyer or Young were to get injured, Kubel would take over in a corner outfield spot and Thome would inherit the DH job while quietly continuing his chase for 600 career home runs.
Eric Byrnes OF– Byrnes’ time in Arizona did not go as well as he or the Diamondbacks would’ve hoped and it resulted in his release this week. Byrnes has always been known as a stand-up guy who gives everything he’s got on every play. That attitude will embraced by both the fans and players in Seattle. He will not be a starter which may help him stay away from the DL. What he will be is a pinch runner/hitter and a part-time left fielder when the club wants to give Milton Bradley a day at designated hitter. This signing fits well for the Mariners and Byrnes.
My predictions of a free agent pitcher each team will still sign this off-season:
Nationals: Tim Redding could reunite with his former team as a swing-man after failing in NY.
Royals: Joe Beimel to be their lefty out of the bullpen.
Pirates: Kevin Gregg who will compete with Joel Hanrahan for the closer job.
Orioles: Erik Bedard can comeback to Baltimore and help a push for the Wild Card.
Indians: D.J. Carrasco will be the fifth man in their young rotation after performing well out of the White Sox’ bullpen.
Mets: Joel Piniero to help solidify their rotation because their makeover won’t be complete without a couple more starters.
Diamondbacks: Will Ohman to give the D-Backs another lefty to throw against the left-handed sluggers of the NL West (Helton, Gonzalez, Ethier, Loney, etc.).
Padres: Seth McClung who may get a chance to start.
Astros: Rich Hill as a low-risk/high-reward lefty; they don’t have much to spend after a couple questionable commitments this off-season.
Blue Jays: Pedro Martinez to mentor the very young rotation and be a trade chip at the deadline.
Athletics: John Bale as a veteran lefty out of the pen.
Cincinnati: Luis Vizcaino on an inexpensive deal; not much money left after they reportedly signed Aroldis Chapman this morning.
White Sox: Noah Lowry to rehab at AAA and provide depth for the strong rotation.
Brewers: Mark Mulder to meet up with a couple former coaches and try to stay healthy.
Cubs: Kiko Calero as a veteran righty in the pen though they need a starter badly as well.
Rays: Brendan Donnelly to come out of a bullpen that doesn’t have much depth.
Mariners: Ron Mahay to join the team’s renovation as their top bullpen lefty.
Tigers: Justin Speier who can help a good but young relief corps.
Braves: Ken Takahashi to compete for a spot in the bullpen.
Twins: Doug Davis would fit in well with the Twins as their 3 starter.
Marlins: Guillermo Mota will return to Florida for his second tour as a durable righty.
Rangers: Jon Garland who can be a reliable guy in the rotation that already has a couple injury prone starters.
Giants: Braden Looper will head back to the bullpen where he has had his most success.
Cardinals: Joe Nelson has been a solid reliever the past few years and the Cards don’t have much to spend.
Rockies: Jose Contreras pitched well last year in 7 games for Colorado.
Red Sox: Horacio Ramirez to provide lefty depth in the bullpen but will begin the season in AAA.
Dodgers: Chien-Ming Wang who will have to get healthy in a hurry because the Dodgers desperately need starters.
Angels: Chan Ho Park to be a middle reliever.
Phillies: Brian Shouse to replace retiree Scott Eyre as the second lefty in the pen.
Yankees: Mark Prior to continue his lengthy rehab process.