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 2010 NL Central Finish: 3rd
- Gomez cf
- Hart rf
- Braun lf
- Fielder 1b
- Weeks 2b
- McGehee 3b
- Zaun c
- Escobar ss
- Wolf (LH)
- Davis (LH)
- Parra (LH)
- Kottaras c
- Counsell if
- Inglett ut
- Edmonds of
- Gerut of
- Stetter (LH)
- Hoffman (closer)
Catcher: Greg Zaun’s addition will give the Brewers an upgrade at the plate over light-hitting departure, Jason Kendall. It was believed that Kendall did a good job of handling the pitching staff, but they finished 2009 with the worst starting pitching ERA in the league. Basically, the level of play from Brewers’ catchers has nowhere to go but up. George Kottaras is the early favorite to win the backup job but Angel Salome will get a look. Jonathan Lucroy is in camp but won’t make the opening day roster.
Infield: Prince is Prince, and he will be the same masher that we have come to expect. Rickie Weeks got off to a hot start that carried the team through April, only to get injured and miss the majority of the season. If he can display that same power (9 homeruns in 37 games), the Brewers will have a bat that could potentially protect Fielder from so many intentional walks. Alcides Escobar had a great showing in winter ball and he hopes to convert that into big league success. He won’t be a power hitter but will eventually hit for consistent average. Casey McGehee and Craig Counsell will split at-bats at third base, but a lack of production could open the door for Mat Gamel to take over.
Outfield: Corey Hart won his arbitration case and the Brewers may still entertain trade offers for the lanky right fielder (‘lanky’ was the only word that came to mind). Carlos Gomez was acquired in the J.J. Hardy trade and he will bring excitement to the top of the order. His speed is an important asset to have in front of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. If his OBP struggles continue, Weeks or even Escobar could be tried in the leadoff spot. Jim Edmonds proved he wasn’t done two years ago with the Cubs and he will be the primary pinch hitter for the Crew. If he does as well as he did in ’08, a Corey Hart trade could throw Edmonds into the five spot of the lineup.
Rotation: This is by far the weakest spot on the team but a healthy year from Gallardo would take a lot of pressure off the rest of the bunch. Yovani has quality stuff and Wolf has been dependable in recent years. Davis will make his 30 starts, but the question with him is: “Will he hit 80 mph on the radar gun?” Doubtful. Jeff Suppan could honestly be on the way out even though he has such an expensive contract. Would you rather pay $13M to have his ERA continue to rise for you, or for another team? The options for the 5th starter spot don’t get much better. Manny Parra has the early advantage because he is a lefty who is out of options but he had a 6.36 ERA. Others include Dave Bush (6.38 ERA), Kameron Loe (didn’t pitch in the Majors last year), Chris Capuano (hasn’t pitched in the Bigs since 2007), and John Halama (hasn’t pitched in the Show since 2006 when his ERA was 6.14)…
Bullpen: The back-end of the bullpen should be pretty solid this year. Trevor Hoffman is still steady in the closer role and LaTroy Hawkins had a 2.13 ERA and 11 saves over 65 games last year. Todd Coffey was an extremely valuable pickup for Milwaukee and just plain looks like a Brewer (can’t hurt). Mitch Stetter and his sweeping delivery set a club record with 15 consecutive outs by the strikeout. David Riske is rehabbing from an injury that cost him all but one inning of 2009. Others battling for spots in the pen include Carlos Villanueva and Claudio Vargas. The Chris’s (Smith and Narveson) each have legimate shots at making the team after productive 2009 seasons. Scott Schoeneweis could make the team as another lefty but isn’t there at least a moral obligation to field a team that won’t let up 16 runs a game? Schoeneweis’ 7.13 ERA might be where Ken Macha draws the line.
2010: This is an important year for the organization as the team is in the middle of a division that isn’t too far out of reach. The offense will be solid and the pitching can’t be as poor as it was last year, right? The Brewers have a knack for keeping the games close and the Prince Fielder/Ryan Braun combination is special. Randy Wolf and Doug Davis are improvements but Manny Parra and Jeff Suppan really need to step it up for the Brewers to contend in 2010. It will be an interesting year in Milwaukee but the team will ultimately miss out on the playoffs.
A quick synopsis of this year’s Winter Meetings from Indianapolis.
- Ivan Rodriguez was able to snag 2 years at a huge $6MM from the dismal Washington Nationals. He will provide great leadership for young catcher Jesus Flores and potential first overall pick of next summer’s draft, catcher Bryce Harper. Only time will tell if he really is worth $6MM.
- The Astros decided to spend relatively big on Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom for the back of the bullpen plus another $4.5MM on Pedro Feliz to keep the hot corner warm until Chris Johnson arrives.
- Brad Penny got a large $7.5MM contract plus another $1.5MM in incentives from the Cards.
- In maybe the most surprising move of all (undoubtedly the most surprising to the Braves), Rafael Soriano accepted arbitration and then demanded a trade. I see that as another crafty move around not costing his new team a first round draft pick while still commanding a nice salary. The Braves are currently finalizing a trade to ship Soriano to the Rays for another reliever, Jessie Chavez.
- The Brewers decided to spend on another aging veteran for the rotation in Randy Wolf. They’re hoping he’s not the next Jeff Suppan. One solid move by Milwaukee, in my opinion, was adding LaTroy Hawkins to a previously unreliable setup crew in front of Trevor Hoffman.
- Andy Pettitte resigned with the Yankees on another one year contract. The salary was a little more than most expected however, at $11.75MM.
- The Yankees made another big splash in acquiring Curtis Granderson which has already been discussed in an earlier entry.
- The Cubs still have not found the elusive trade partner for Milton Bradley. The most intriguing rumors for Cubs fans so far would be an exchange of Bradley and Gil Meche, a starter on the Royals. The salaries match up pretty well and Meche may be able to win more in the NL.