Kap's Corner

An Honest Assessment of the Chicago Cubs

With the 2010 regular season now over it is time to turn our attention to 2011 and that means fixing all that is wrong with the Chicago Cubs as they ended the season in 5th place with a record of 75-87 and 16 games behind the division champion Cincinnati Reds.

What Went Right

The signing of Marlon Byrd was a solid decision as he was excellent defensively, was well liked in the clubhouse, and contributed a solid season offensively. Ryan Dempster was solid winning 15 games and throwing over 200 innings as well as providing tremendous leadership in the clubhouse. Carlos Marmol was excellent all season long saving 38 games and dominating like no other reliever in the game. He does have his occasional control problems but he should be an elite closer for many years to come. Sean Marshall settled into the setup role very well and has emerged as one of the better relievers in the National League. His emergence calmed a very shaky bullpen that struggled in April and May. Finally, shortstop Starlin Castro exploded on the scene when he was called up to the big leagues in early May. He was solid at the plate and showed flashes of brilliance defensively despite commiting 27 errors. He should be a fixture in the Cubs infield for many years to come. 


What Went Wrong

From the day the Cubs broke camp in Arizona their plan was seriously flawed. When they broke camp with four rookies in their bullpen it was easy to predict the problems they would face early in the season. Esmailin Caridad, Justin Berg, James Russell, and Jeff Samardzija all struggled mightily and were the main reason that Lou Piniella panicked and moved Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen. Also, the signing of Xavier Nady was a complete waste of 3.3 million dollars. He was coming off of elbow surgery, wasn't expected to be able to throw until June, and really had no role. Had the Cubs realized that Tyler Colvin was close to coming up they could have saved this money and used it on a bullpen arm.

Add in the fact that the rotation lacked depth and quality and it was no surprise that the Cubs had such a rough start to their season. Ted Lilly (since traded to the Dodgers) began the season on the disabled list and only won 3 games before departing. Randy Wells was extremely erratic and must become more focused on his craft before the Cubs can fully count on him as a full fledged member of their rotation. Tom Gorzelanny was okay but has not shown that he can be more than a #4 or 5 starter. Carlos Silva pitched very well in the first half of the season but struggled mightily after the All Star Break and then had a heart problem that led to him not finishing the season in the rotation.

Finally there is the enigma that is Carlos Zambrano. He started the season struggling mightily and then manager Lou Piniella moved him to the bullpen after watching the Cubs blow a number of games in the 7th and 8th innings. Zambrano never fully warmed to the role and eventually returned to the rotation in June. Then on June 25th Zambrano completely melted down in a game against the White Sox at US Cellular Field. He was suspended and entered anger management treatment before returning in early August. His return to the rotation was outstanding as he went 8-0 in his final 11 starts and showed the dominant form that earned him a 91.5 million dollar contract in 2007.    

What We Are Still Unsure Of

The aforementioned Zambrano. Is he back to being a dominant starter or is he one booted ground ball away from having another meltdown and causing more problems with his teammates? Also, is rookie outfielder Tyler Colvin a rising star or is he as one former GM told me "just an okay player who will never be a main cog on a good team"? Will Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano play back to form in 2011 or are their best days behind them? What about Geovany Soto? He had a bounce back year but there are grumblings that he does not do a good enough job handling the pitching staff or throwing out base runners. Also, what about Blake DeWitt? Is he capable of playing everyday on a team that is trying to win a championship or is he a bit player?

How to Start the Rebuild

First and foremost the culture of accountability has to change with the Cubs. No more can a player be allowed to play lackadaisically without consequence. Whether that is Alfonso Soriano posing at home plate, hopping on a fly ball or Aramis Ramirez dogging it there must be a new set of standards for every member of the Chicago Cubs going forward.

Much more background work must be done on the type of players that are brought to Wrigley Field because with a large number of day games, a very alluring night life in our city, and the pressure that goes with playing for the Chicago Cubs it is not for everyone. Players whose top priority is playing winning baseball and nothing else. I am not naive enough to think that young ballplayers won't go out partying and enjoying their fame and fortune. However, winning teams are able to put that stuff in its place and don't let it distract them from the task at hand.

A realistic look at the 2011 Cubs still sees a number of high salaried veterans on the roster because their contracts make them almost impossible to move. Alfonso Soriano has 72 million dollars left on his deal and there is no other team in baseball that would take his contract unless you were to take back one that is equally as bad. Carlos Zambrano has 36 million dollars left on his deal plus a full no trade clause so moving him will not happen without his consent. Aramis Ramirez has one year left at nearly 16 million and with a full no trade clause he too appears to be going nowhere. That means that the Cubs enter this winter with 103.525 million in commitments to just nine players. Here are the Cubs payroll commitments through 2014.

With the Ricketts family acknowledging that payroll will decrease for 2011 from the 145 million that was spent in 2010 it appears that GM Jim Hendry will not have a lot of flexibility to upgrade his roster. He needs to add a top of the rotation starter, another solid setup man, a big bat who is a run producer, and he must upgrade his bench. With several players headed to arbitration led by Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall the Cubs payroll will not have much room to add big name players through free agency or in trades. That means that 2011 could be another rough year.

The Cubs cannot go into 2011 thinking that Blake DeWitt is an everyday player. He can be a nice utility man but he is not a starter on a championship caliber team. Also, with the only position openings being at 1B, 2B, and in RF who is your leadoff man? That is not a role that the Cubs can ignore again this season after trying several different players there in 2010.

I would entertain the idea of trading both Carlos Marmol and Tyler Colvin but for two very different reasons. Yes, Marmol is an elite closer with electric stuff and he did have 38 saves this season displaying otherworldly stuff most of the time. However, he is the one trade chip you have that could return a bevy of talent back. What if you could add a proven veteran bat to address the glaring hole in the middle of your lineup? Marmol packaged in the right deal might bring back a significant upgrade to the roster. Also, many scouts believe that with his wild delivery Marmol is a candidate for an arm injury so rather than experiencing that drama again why not explore the trade market. As for Colvin, unless you believe that he is going to be a future superstar and most scouts do not his value will never be higher than right now. The Cubs owe it to themselves to see what his value is in the marketplace.

As for the next manager? I believe Joe Girardi is the one and only choice to make. If the Cubs can't get him then it becomes a two horse race between Mike Quade and Ryne Sandberg. Eric Wedge? Bob Melvin? Don Wakamatsu? Please. Don't expect the great fans of the Cubs to buy into any one of those candidates. Retreads one and all and none of them has ever won in the big leagues. I believe that the Cubs have to hire a manager who understands the Cubs and this city and all of the pressure and expectations that go with the job. It will take a thick skinned guy to handle all that goes with the job in the Cubs dugout but to the victor will go the spoils. Whoever does win here will be a hero forever in Chicago and around the game.

As the Cubs enter Year 103 since their last World Series title there has to be a new philosophy at the corner of Clark and Addison. There are no untouchables on the roster. Explore every possibility and think outside the box as you rebuild a team that has very little baseball acumen, is devoid of team speed and has a very suspect pitching staff. Forget fan favorites and big names. Do what the late hockey coach Herb Brooks of the Miracle on Ice 1980 US Olympic team did when he built the gold medal winners. His famous quote was "I am not looking for the best players, I am looking for the right players. That is how you build a winner."

The Cubs have to get away from building a rotisserie league team full of guys who have good statistics. Instead, they need to find players who will fight, scratch, and claw to win baseball games rather than worrying about their stats. We should never again hear from a manager that a player cannot be asked to bunt because he is a run producer and bunting isn't something he does. If you can't play the game the right way then you don't belong in a Chicago Cubs uniform. Think I'm nuts? Ask the Minnesota Twins how they play the game but just remember they are a little busy right now. They are in the playoffs for the 7th time in 9 years.

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16 Comments

Tab said:

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Fantastic and spot-on as always! I agree that Marmol on the market would be an intriguing play because he's young enough that there could be significant value coming back; dealing a player that good is heartbreaking, but it can also change the winds of fortune for an organization that's standing still. W/ Colvin... he reminds me a lot of a young Palmeiro. We don't know what to do w/ him, and if 1B is the answer then why didn't he just play there for the last month?

mikecubbie69 said:

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I agree with a lot of your statements, Kap, but I disagree with a couple. I think the Cubs felt Nady was a risk worth taking and its not his fault that he was never given a chance to play regularly enough until Quade took over. And theres nothing wrong with Gorzelanny being a 4 or 5 starter, someone has to do it. I do agree that they should consider trading Colvin and Marmol. With his wild mechanics, who knows how long Carlos can be effective before he breaks down and Colvin might be appealing enough to a team looking for someone who can play all 3 OF slots. And I also appreciate your not campaigning for the Cubs to sign Adam Dunn, or as I like to call him "the Dave Kingman of the New Millenium"!

jack said:

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"Carlos Marmol was excellent all season long saving 38 games and dominating like no other reliever in the game. He does have his occasional control problems but he should be an elite closer for many years to come."

I think the best that can be said about Marmol is that he is "effectively wild." There must be something about his pitch that forces batters not to lay off it, but he also seems to be the kind of pitcher that, if the batter does not take the bat off his shoulder, will yield the walk.

With regard to "consequences," there are few consequences if a player has $72 million in guaranteed money left, unless the player can be caught violating a morals clause, if such exists in baseball contracts.

As for money, we must assume that Ricketts did his due diligence before making an offer to buy the team, and that that offer reflected the known financial liabilities outlined above. Hence, the only real question is whether keeping on those financial liabilities costs more than Cubs fans not packing the park every day, as it appears they did not near the end of the season. It is sort of the same issue as CBS paying Mike North, Mike Murphy, Diann Burns, and Steve Dahl to stay off the air. CBS was contractually bound to pay them, but that didn't mean that CBS had to use them.

kaseyi said:

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Ok...you say trade Marmol. WHo replaces him then? This Scenario reminds me of when the Cubs decided to trade Lee Smith. THat trade left a gaping hole that was "filled" by the aging Goose Gossage. When it was proven that Gossage was done, we had to go out in the market and over pay with Palmerio for Mitch Williams. Once again, robbing Peter to pay Paul. How about this Scenario...lets try to build around the good players the Cubs do have instead of trying to trade them all off.

TracyT said:

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Thanks for the spot-on analysis.
The philosophy part is something I yearn for as well.
Unfortunately, I just don't see it coming from the current executive leadership.
I keep hearing about all these young players coming up. Hope it's true. History says no.

Hendry--Kenney--Ricketts
Is this really a winning combination?
C'mon!

joeydafish said:

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Only in a vaudeville act would those three stooges win at anything. Ricketts is just a fan with money AND ownership but the other two clowns have to go in order for a complete
philosophical change. Look what the Mets are doing by releasing Minaya after his total failure.

capraatt said:

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Kap great article. I think the one fundamental flaw in any redesign of the Cubs is the simple truth that the man who was allowed to create this disaster, Jim Hendry, is still in charge to fix it. There isn't many other businesses in the world where that would be allowed to happen. The Ricketts, I believe, made a serious tactical error by not cleaning house on the way in and continuing to throw thier support behind Hendry.

What that means is that we will probably see Larry Rothchild still the pitching coach next year, Soriano continuing to play the field even after booting easy flyballs, Samardzija given opportunity after opportunity to pitch, etc. Hendry seems to fall in love with certain players and coaches, and never seems to be willing to make any serious adjustments even after they have over stayed their welcome (Rothchild) or never lived up to thier signing bonus (Samardzija).

Will the next manager be allowed to move Rameriz way down in the order if he starts out next year the same way he did this year? Will he be allowed to hire his own pitching coach or will Hendry tell him that Rothchild is the coach until his death? And if the Ricketts really wanted to make a splash, and seriosuly contend for a penannt year in and year out, why not go hire the brass that makes it work in Minnesota? Or Tampa Bay? Or Atlanta? These teams seem to be at or near the playoffs every single year with payrolls and markets substantially less than the Cubs.

All in all, its goign to be a very long 2011 for us fans.. at least until Hendry is shown his walking papers.

joeydafish said:

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Great comments...AND, will the new manager be allowed to sit the albatross Soriano in favor of an actual LEFT FIELDER? Or would that be too embarrassing to Prince Hendry?
Rookies can now and probably for the last two years out perform Soriano at less than a tenth of the cost. Really, what REAL WORLD business would keep Hendry on after such a poor display of money management? Sure, he may have been "allowed" to spend and even "pressured" to spend but ANY good GM worth his salt would know better than to break the bank to sign Soriano or to sign Bradley at all.

joeydafish said:

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How about if one doesn't GENERAL MANAGE THE RIGHT WAY? Does THAT person belong in a Cubs' front office? NOT.

joeydafish said:

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Another headline stating the assessment is honest indicating the possibility of you thinking us Cubs fans/readers think you're NOT honest at times? Biased perhaps? Hmmm... a little too soft on Hendry the past two years maybe? I'm not sayin'...I'm just sayin'....

mattvegas said:

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He has to be soft on Hendry or he loses his access to him. He'll deny that but will never confront him with tough questions. Kaplan's may goal is to be able to talk to the players. Was there ever anything interesting or informative with his At Home With Theriot calls? Oh yeah, we learned that Theriot's kids cry in the background.

David Kaplan said:

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As I look back on the column I agree that I should have had Soto listed under the What Went Right section. He did have a solid season and a much needed bounce back year. Also, on the subject of managers I did some research on available candidates and I am finding a number of scouts (away from the Cubs organization) who are very impressed with Eric Wedge. I still believe though that the Cubs need to hire someone who understands the Cubs culture and also knows how to go about fixing it. The obvious pick is Joe Girardi but Ryne Sandberg and Mike Quade also deserve consideration.

TracyT said:

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Just finished reading RIckett's letter to season ticket holders.
This is the best communication from them yet about their vision of the team, organization and the ballpark. It's good to hear that they have a specific plan and it seems that they are committed. But I have to be convinced that this executive core can get the job done.

Ivy Walls said:

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Kap:

Interesting thoughts but I think you are forgetting the elephant in the proverbial room---general management. Forbes among others including the still unknown trickster in Milwaukee has deemed that Hendry is now considered the worst GM in the league. That might be hyperbole and somewhat unfair in that his and your former employer, (Tribune CO) might have forced his hand in now questionable or curious decisions the fact remains if you are calling for rebuild than it also means that the recent roster decisions were flawed.

Thus before you go through roster decisions near and far term who is making that decision is more important. Secondly, the idea that trading Colvin or Marmol is simply wrong headed. Sell older less useful parts and keep younger more useful parts.

Colvin reminds me of a Jermaine Dye type though from the left side with more speed. His value probably will increase if Jamarillo is as magical as we see his record. Marmol has not peaked and if his arm were to fall off it probably would have shown up already.

The bigger thing is the strategic direction, more defense, more versatility, more speed and more OBP-----meaning more youth.

Last I think the Cubs can dump Ramirez and Silva's contract and can get value for Dempster, that would be the kind of horse trading that would be far smarter. As far as another might be looking at trading still cheap Wells.

joeydafish said:

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Get value for Dempster while he would be worth something to a CONTENDING TEAM IN 2011??? THAT would be what any smart horse trader GM would do. Use Dempster as a chip to rebuild with some youth. Alas Hendry is not a horse trader but a horse's ass.

mattvegas said:

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It's obvious most fans here think as I do: that Hendry has to go. He can't evaluate talent. He developed very little when he was in charge of the minor league system. He brought in very little talent to the Cubs as their GM. Some will cite Ramirez as one success, but if he's so good why is he one of the first that we are considering trading (and it was a long time ago that he made that trade). If you keep him, let him take care of the business end and hire someone else to do the talent seeking.
The main problem that happened with this year is that in May everyone was telling fans not to worry because it was still early. Well, if you compare this year's roster to last year's, you'll find that it was basically the same team. So, by the end of May, it wasn't early; it was 8 months into that team. They were performing at the same level they had been performing at in 2009!. No one should have expected anything different.
Overall the philosophy is what is killing this team. It's the philosophy that was set in place by the Tribune Co., that mediocrity is good enough. Think about it. What part of that corporation is really excellent? The radio station? It's a mess and has been for years, not just with current changes. The TV station? It's reruns and original programming that bad cable stations don't even pick up. The paper? I don't think they even employ proofreaders. I would think they could at least get grammar and spelling correct. Look at the online article (which I consider part of "the paper") Top 10 TV Lawyers. It's embarrassing how many mistakes are in it. The Cubs? While the Tribune owned them, they did not make it to the World Series. That should be the goal. Sure, they did a bang-up job of marketing the team, but that's not what they reward in October. And no, I'm not a disgruntled former employee. I'm just a user of many Tribune products, who shakes his head at their lack of quality.
Only when they make it a goal to be the best, will the Cubs succeed. Right now, I don't see any indication that thatis their goal, and won't until they are one of the last two teams playing.

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