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!”
Adam LaRoche and Jose Valverde have signed while Bengie Molina is seemingly next to leave the free agent market. The rest of the players out there will need to seriously start thinking about lowering their salary demands before more and more jobs are filled. Here’s the top three remaining free agents at each position.
- Yorvit Torrealba, 31- The Giants would be the best fit for him.
- Rod Barajas, 34- Cleveland and Houston may have openings behind the plate.
- Jose Molina, 35- Still may head back to the Bronx to catch for A.J. Burnett.
- Russell Branyan, 34- Another 1 year deal will be his only option.
- Carlos Delgado, 38- Re-signing with the Mets is his best option.
- Xavier Nady, 31- The M’s would be a perfect fit to play some 1st, left and DH.
- Orlando Hudson, 32- It will come down to the Cubs and Nats.
- Felipe Lopez, 30- 2nd base for the Dodgers or 3rd base for the Cardinals.
- Ronnie Belliard, 35- May be Tigers backup plan if prospect Sizemore isn’t ready.
- Miguel Tejada, 36- Oakland and Minnesota could look at him.
- Orlando Cabrera, 35- Will play short in Cincinnati.
- Jerry Hairston Jr., 34- Many teams could use a veteran, speedy utility man.
- Melvin Mora, 38- The Angels could use him at 3rd and in left.
- Joe Crede, 32- Fits with the O’s who want to slide Atkins to 1st base.
- Adam Kennedy, 34- Similar to Hairston’s situation.
- Johnny Damon, 36- Atlanta seems to want him still.
- Jonny Gomes, 29- May have a platoon shot in Cincinnati or Detroit.
- Marcus Thames, 33- Tampa Bay, Toronto could give him playing time.
- Rick Ankiel, 30- Could land in Atlanta if Damon doesn’t.
- Reed Johnson, 33- Could get time at all three OF spots with the Yankees.
- Jeremy Reed, 29- The Cardinals could make him there 4th outfielder.
- Jermaine Dye, 36- His market is shrinking fast.
- Randy Winn, 36- Backup at this point in his career.
- Fernando Tatis, 35- Won’t get a starting job but will get a Major League deal.
- Jim Thome, 39- The White Sox are a great fit.
- Hank Blalock, 29- A backup role will be his best bet this spring; still very talented.
- Mike Jacobs, 29- Will have to sign a minor league deal and compete.
- Joel Pineiro, 31- Down to the Mets and Dodgers.
- Ben Sheets, 31- Most upside of all remaining free agents but very risky.
- Doug Davis, 34- In about a week he will have quite a few teams bidding.
- Kiko Calero, 35- A reunion with the Cards actually makes a lot of sense.
- Chan Ho Park, 37- Next best setup man left.
- Kevin Gregg, 32- Probably a 7th inning guy.
- Joe Beimel, 32- Kansas City doesn’t have a lefty in the pen yet.
- Will Ohman, 31- Hard to predict after a disappointing 2009.
- Mark Hendrickson, 36- Lots of teams could use a lefty starter/reliever.
So what openings are left on your team? And who will be signed to fill those spots?
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.