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 Central Finish: 6th
- A. McCutcheon cf
- Iwamura 2b
- Jones 1b
- Milledge lf
- Doumit c
- LaRoche 3b
- Church rf
- Cedeno ss
- Duke (LH)
- Maholm (LH)
- D. McCutcheon
- Jaramillo c
- Vazquez if
- Crosby if
- Young ut
- Moss of
- Veal (LH)
- Lopez (LH)
- Dotel (closer)
Catcher: Ryan Doumit was mentioned in trade rumors over the last few months of the season but the Pirates ultimately decided to keep their switch-hitting catcher. The Pirates need to keep Doumit on the field for him to realize his potential as he’s never played in more than 116 games. If Doumit struggles, expect Pittsburgh to let him go in favor of prospect Jeff Clement.
Infield: Akinori Iwamura was traded for to inject a good two hitter into a lineup that has disappointed for years. His good bat and ability to get onbase should lead to more runs overall. Andy LaRoche got a full season under his belt in 2009 and didn’t do too bad. The Pirates need more homers from LaRoche who will be looking over his shoulder as Pedro Alvarez gets closer to the Bigs. Garrett Jones got onbase at a .372 clip during his rookie season and hit 21 home runs in only 82 games. Jones could also see time in the outfield. Ronny Cedeno and Bobby Crosby will battle for the job at short in what could be the last chance for either player to get a starting job.
Outfield: The outfield is extremely talented with Andrew McCutcheon and Lastings Milledge. McCutcheon will be a super star in the near future and Milledge hopes to find consistency in Pittsburgh. Ryan Church is the early favorite to play right as he has been able to hit at every stop throughout his career. Brandon Moss will fight for playing time but he failed to improve with the increased playing time in 2009. Brandon Jones, Jose Tabata, and Rule 5 pick John Raynor will get a chance this spring as well.
Rotation: The Bucs have a couple lefties at the top of their rotation in Paul Maholm and Zach Duke. Maholm and Duke both need a breakout season. Ross Ohlendorf was the surprise of the group last year and he had a sub-4.00 ERA. Daniel McCutcheon should get a chance to start for a full season in 2010. Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart, Brad Lincoln and Tim Alderson are all young pitchers who will get a shot at the 5th spot.
Bullpen: D.J. Carrasco was told he will have a shot at the rotation but I believe he will ultimately end up in the bullpen where is very valuable. Brendan Donnelly had a great 1.78 ERA for the Marlins last season. Javier Lopez did terrible last year but had previously pitched well for the Red Sox. Steven Jackson and Joel Hanrahan may be the only hold-overs from last year’s bullpen. Octavio Dotel will win the closer job but will probably get traded to a contender at the deadline.
2010: The Pirates enter the spring with quantity but not much quality. The good news for Pirates fans are the young stars who are emerging or soon will. Andrew McCutcheon has already reached the Show and Pedro Alvarez will join him at some point this season. Pitching will be the most glaring problem. This season will be another of the Pirates’ decade-long rebuilding process.