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.