Kap's Corner

An Honest Assessment of the Cubs

With the Cubs currently sitting at 19-22 and 4 1/2 games off the pace in the NL Central it is time to evaluate the roster, the off season moves, and the decision making through the first 6 weeks of the season.

General Manager Jim Hendry did not have much payroll flexibility this past winter and he had a number of things he wanted to address as he tried to retool his baseball team after a disappointing 2009 season. Hendry needed to land a center fielder, he needed to move Milton Bradley, he needed to upgrade his bullpen, and he needed to help some of his best players return to their previous form after having sub par 09' campaigns.

Let's look at the Cubs moves and decisions since the end of the 2009 season and grade them accordingly:


Need/Solution

Improve the Offense

The Cubs offense in 2009 was a shadow of what it was in 2008. So GM Jim Hendry went out and signed the best hitting coach in baseball, Rudy Jaramillo to a 3 year deal that makes him the highest paid hitting coach in baseball history. Since his arrival the Cubs have seen improved production from Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, Ryan Theriot, Kosuke Fukudome, Marlon Byrd (who also worked with Jaramillo in Texas), Tyler Colvin and others. However, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez have struggled through the season's first six weeks which is a big reason why the record is under .500. Both players are proven hitters so you have to believe that they will eventually produce. Grade B+ 

Center Fielder

Hendry signed free agent Marlon Byrd to a 3 year/15 million dollar deal and he has been spectacular through the first 6 weeks. He is hitting .345 with 7 home runs and 25 RBI's and he has been excellent defensively. Equally as important has been the calming influence and leadership he has brought to the Cubs clubhouse. Grade A

Dump Milton Bradley No Matter What the Cost

After suspending Bradley for the final few weeks of the 2009 season Hendry knew there was no way he could bring the disgruntled and volatile outfielder back for another season. So while everyone in baseball knew he was available it took Seattle and their desire to dump oft injured and under performing starter Carlos Silva for the Cubs to move Bradley. In the deal the Cubs were able to shed Bradley, acquire a starting pitcher, and save 6 million dollars on their payroll. Bradley is currently hitting .214 with 2 home runs and 12 RBI's. Silva is 5-0 and is a good fit in the clubhouse. Grade A+ 

Add a Run Producing Bat

After seeing their offense produce far fewer runs in 2009 than they did in 2008 Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella both felt they needed to add additional offense to the lineup. After considering their various options they settled on Xavier Nady who had missed almost all of 2009 with his second Tommy John surgery. Nady is a proven hitter but with his arm nearly useless for at least the first 2-3 months of the season bringing him in was a mistake. The Cubs did not believe that Tyler Colvin would make the big league team out of spring training but when he had a sensational spring they felt they had to put him on the roster. The problem with this arrangement is that with five outfielders Piniella is forced to juggle his lineup far more frequently than any other manager and it makes it difficult for all of the outfielders to develop a rhythm. Colvin is definitely an everyday player but unfortunately his playing time is limited by the logjam in the outfield. Colvin's improvement says good things are going on in the farm system but the fact that he cannot get regular playing time and the fact that the Cubs really don't need Nady lowers the grade here. Grade C

Need an 8th Inning Set Up Man

After failing to add another bullpen arm in the off season the Cubs came out of the gate slowly suffering several tough losses because their bullpen could not do the job. After watching a number of quality starts produce few victories Lou Piniella did the once unthinkable thing moving longtime starter Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen. The decision was a failure because Big Z never fully bought into the role and he really isn't designed for it. Earlier this week the Cubs announced that Zambrano is headed back to the rotation and that he would be stretched out for a return trip in the near future. How have they stretched him out after saying that is what they are going to do? He threw 14 pitches on Tuesday and 2 on Wednesday. If he is indeed headed back to the rotation then he should be sent to the minor leagues and stretched out. Simulated games and short outing are not how you get ready to return to the starting rotation. The Cubs have to be extra careful with Zambrano because of the enormous financial commitment they still have in him through at least 2012. If he suffers a serious arm injury because he is not properly prepared to to start games then they will have no one to blame but themselves. Grade on the handling of the "Zambrano Situation": F

In spite of all of the problems that the Cubs have had this is a very talented roster that should be doing much better than their record indicates. The big question is this: Is this a talented roster but a sub par team?  The last week could be a signal that better times are ahead for the Cubs. Only time will tell but the early returns are not encouraging.

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20 Comments

wrigleyexpansion said:

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Lee and Aram will heat up. I just hope the rotation stays on top of its game. I think they need to rework the bullpen using parts they have in the minors whether is is Cashner or Jackson.

homimich said:

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I really enjoyed reading your blog entry and fully agree with your assessments. Last off-season, mainly because of the signing of Bradley and the passing up of other free agent options, I had low expectations going in. This season, I loved the signing of Byrd, but wondered if some money should have been better spent.

Understanding that hindsight is 20/20, were there relievers that the Cubs could have signed? Did the moving of Jake Fox need to happen? Was a CF necessary based on the many other holes that we are now seeing in the rotation? Thoughts?

Thanks

davesime said:

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Once again Kap is missing the boat. Kap? This team is losing because of a bull pen that Jim Henry did nothing about to improve. How many games has our bull pen lost? Let’s say enough to be in the wild card lead. Now? Once again Mr. Kap forgets who put this team on the field and who care about all of the bad signing when Henry is 0---8 in his last play offs games. Who cares 97 who cares back to back division how many play offs win does Henry have? Kap forgets that because of his friend ship with Jim. The bottom line is until this team blows it up and takes it down to the ground then and only then can we have hope. Kap? Says all of the time: can’t trade them because of there no trade clause??bs? Do not play them and how long my friends until they come to Henry and ask for a trade. Kap? This is reality Jim put together inferior team of which the champs have a bull pen to shut down teams. Enough Kap with the excuse making.

homimich said:

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I think Hendry has made some great moves (Choi for Lee), but he's made some awful moves as well.

I used to think that his desire to sign guys to muli-$$$ multi-year deals was slowly destroying this team. Now I realize it is his signing of the WRONG guys to muli-$$$ multi-year deals that is the problem.

I'll go back to the 3 year Bradley deal. 3 years? seriously, for a guy who has gone from team to team to team? And why was he traded? Because he didn't produce in the first year? Yep, that's what Hendry said.

I agree with what Kap said - these are the guys we're stuck with. Unfortunately, as backloaded contracts and guaranteed money begins to kick-in, we'll see less and less talent on this team with no financial room for improvement.

Dave said:

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Nice article, but here's a few things you need to know:

1. If Piniella had another year on his contract, Zambrano would have never been moved to the bullpen.

2. As much as fans have to accept having to deal with certain players being unmovable due to their contracts, you also have to accept the fact that fans will continue to make calls wanting said contracts to be bought out...and the number of such calls will only increase as time passes.

3. It's safe to say that the bullpen is directly responsible for at least one-third of the team's losses so far this season.

4. Getting rid of Bradley has worked out great so far, but would have been accomplished sooner if Lou had put him on the disabled list last year when he was clearly hurting but Bradley, wanting that third year to kick in, successfully lobbied Lou to keep him on the active roster so he wouldn't miss more than 75 games on the disabled list.

Edelweiss said:

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Saw your segment on CTL like Leno's Jaywalking. I've read some really stupid things on the zillions of Cubs blogs, and this confirms my opinion of the many Cubs fans that think they know what is good for the team, but really are clueless.

Edelweiss said:

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I saw your "Jaywalking" segment on CTL, and it confirms my opinion of those thousands of Cubs fans who know nothing about baseball. Those are the types who know they could win if they played this guy, or got rid of that guy. I am 66 years old, came to this country at the age of 10, and my only sports background is as a skiier, and an employee of the old Chicago and Kansas City Spurs (soccer), and an acquaintence of someone in the Cubs front office, but I was embarassed for those people.

Edelweiss said:

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I saw your "Jaywalking " segment on CTL. Now Cubs fans are exposed for being the idiots they are. I am 66, am not a native born American, have a background in skiing, and professional soccer, and none in baseball, but I felt embarrassed for those people.

homimich said:

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Edelweiss - Please gather your thoughts and explain what you're referring to.

Edelweiss said:

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Thought the first two didn't post. Chicagonow had site problems for about an hour. Now you will have to wait to fund out what goes on in the clubhouse during showers.

TracyT said:

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It's a good assessment by Mr. Kaplan.

The thing that I keep turning to is a thought I had during the off-season, "Their core players, namely Lee, Ramirez, Zambrano, Lilly and Marmol, have to get it done."

So far, only Marmol is doing anything.

How long can they continue getting very little out of these guys before it's too late?

I'm not so worried about Lee and Lilly. But Ramirez and Z....I think something's going on in their heads.

Edelweiss said:

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Lou is smarter than we give him credit for. Just because a player is named as a starter does not mean that he will start all of the time. He has to give them a chance to start hitting, in case they are late starters, as in the case of Lee. Then players who are not hitting have injuries that last longer than they would if they were hitting. Next thing you know, someone else is starting. This is a way for them to be benched without losing face. A perfect example is the Castro call-up. He wasn't called up because Fontenot and Theriot weren't hitting; it was because Ramirez was so cold. Fontenot seemed to understand that, but Theriot was visably upset. He seems to have calmed down in the last few days.

joeydafish said:

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I think Kap went a little easy on Hendry for some reason as it seems that all the moves with "good grades" have been made only becacuase of the terrible moves Hendry made in the past. Can a grade be based on Jaramillo improving the offense from Byrd and Colvin when they had no major league Cub history? And doesn't the HORRENDOUS offense from the two studs Ramirez and Lee negate the positive? Highest paid hitting coach in baseball signed by Hendry...no surpprise as he is wont to be the big spender on big names. At least we're not stuck with Jaramillo's ridiculously bad, aging defense in left field for another few years.
Any employee can set up an improved record by performing trerrible in the first place so there wasn't much room for Hendry to go down.
OVER-ALL grade for Hendry's tenure: D

davesime said:

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Until fans and Mr. Kap realize the Cubs will never go to the world series until they tair it down to the ground and trade, and if I have to hear Mr. Kap say to us: no trade I'll throw up. It is very simple, do not play them and how long do you think it will be until they say: play me or trade me. Cub fans: stop going to the games and stop making excuses for 102 years. Kap, stop being friends with Jim Henry and start being a true fan and ask for the tairing down to the ground and then and only then will we as cub fans have something to look forward to. My way world series in 2013

joeydafish said:

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Maybe there are some good prospects in the wings that may help the "tear-down" and rebuild process and some of those prospects MAY and only MAY be to the credit of Hendry but even so Hendry has done a miserable job GENERAL MANAGING this team and the team's payroll allotment and until he his gone I'm afraid his band-aide/over-evaluated free agent approach will continue. So, I suppose since no World Series appearance has happened recently and the chances remain bleak...who could argue with you? Maybe some Hendry defenders that are happy with cosecutive above .500 seasons? But certainly not me, I'll rejoice when Hendry is replaced and there will be reason for hope.

Edelweiss said:

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Of course these players know that if they are earning big bucks, and playing poorly, that no one will want to trade for them. The best way to deal with such players is to DL them, and that is what ends up happening. It is being benched under another name.

TracyT said:

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People who call for Hendry's head should re-consider. If he resigns or gets canned (highly unlikely) do you really believe that Crane Kenney will make the right choice for GM?

I say, give Hendry one more chance to get this thing right. The first strategy, buying your way to the World Series, clearly isn't working. Now he is transitioning his way with home-grown products. Give him a chance to see if this way works. If your Starlin Castros, Andrew Cashners, and Josh Vitters don't get the job done, then get the dynamite.

joeydafish said:

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I get what you are saying but would still opt for Hendry's head and take a chance with any new GM even though I don't have much confidence in Crane Kenney. And there are some positive signs of young talent coming up, I agree. But dont' you think the scouts have more to do with improving the farm system than Hendry? You must admit Hendry had more than his share of opportunities and just from a GENERAL MANAGING aspect he has woefully mis-handled the organization's funds. The 8 year Soriano deal alone could justify negating any good Hendry has done such as Ramirez and Lee even now that they suck, I don't blame Hendry for those two guys sucking wind they were still good trades. The fact remains there have been a few too many bizarre signings by Hendry that COST the team money better spent in other areas. Who doesn't think that the Bradley for Silva deal is shear luck???? Hendry had to take the lesser of any evil deal out there for Bradley and it looks to me he fell into that one. Bring on his head.

Edelweiss said:

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My sources tell me something unexpected is coming. Piniella's talking to Theriot about his not drawing walks is just a smokescreen. They would have been willing to put up with his empty .300 average, but are upset about the defense since the Castro call-up. Theriot did not make too many of the errors, but he sets the defense. If Castro were not a rookie, he would, as shortstop. They believe Theriot is sabotaging Castro, hoping to get him sent back to AA. They also feel that his sulking is having a negative impact on the rest of the team.

joeydafish said:

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By the way, wouldn't having the word "honest" in a headline possibly leave one to wonder if other articles were not honest?
I tend to think the times Kap leans toward Hendry's defense and puts the onus on the players needing to "perform"
are the times honesty can be in question. Honestly now what other GM with a payroll similar to the Cubs continually grasp at straws with free agents and trades? If Hendry pulled off the "winning years" with a payroll under 90 mil that may be worth some accolades but being just a another also ran year after year leaves his job in question.

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