A League of Her Own

Maybe Not Next Year

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve been frustrated as a Cubs fan for the last couple of years. A fairly talented lineup, above average pitching and - despite how it may have felt at times - a pretty darn solid bullpen. We’ve had some good teams, albeit not great, but a lot of not great teams have won the World Series in recent years (I’m looking in your general direction, Diamondbacks, White Sox, Cardinals and Marlins.)

What we’ve also had is a ballooning payroll, which continues to be one of the highest in baseball with one of the lowest returns for the money.

And, I hate to break it to you, but the next few years look gruesome. A couple of Jim Hendry specials (how’s Alfonso Soriano’s $136M going to taste in 2012?) combined with the Ricketts’ fiscal responsibility equals … blech.

So, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, and growing somewhat disenchanted with baseball in general this winter, and that depressed me. I mean, c’mon. It’s BASEBALL. I love baseball more than anything except one of my two kids*.

* This is, of course, a joke. Anyone who knows me will tell you I love baseball more than BOTH of my kids.

So I started looking around the league, wondering if there was anyone out there who could get my heart thumping. And you know what I saw? Teams like the Tigers and Devil Rays (I know, I know, they’re just the Rays now, but just ‘Rays’ is a stupid name for a baseball team.) But that’s the kind of team I could get behind: young, home-grown talent, high OBP, speed, solid gloves up the middle, and lights-out young pitching.

Florida News - May 16, 2009

There is an argument to be made for the Rays being the strongest team in the wicked AL East, and that’s with a total team salary around $63 million, far less than half of the Cubs’ bloated $135M. But, given their division and schedule, it would be a surprise if they finished higher than third place in the AL East.

The cold hard fact is that the window has closed on this group of Chicago Cubs. The core we’ve loved: Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Zambrano … they’re on the downhill side of their best, and Soriano and Fukudome are not world-champion corner outfielders. They’re just not.

After 2003, Jimbo Hendry was given enough leash to hang himself, and even someone as jaded as me will admit that he put together some pretty strong teams. He spent a lot of money, and he gave it a go. It almost worked.

But it didn’t. And at this point it’s simply not going to.

And the patchwork role players he’s getting to prop up the crumbling core is not going to be enough. But he’s painted himself into a corner. Wrigley continues to sell out, Cubs’ fans inexplicably and eternally optimistic expectations are once again through the roof, and with a revenue stream as high as any in baseball (except the Yankees, who exist in their own financial universe), it would take some serious cajones to pull the plug, hold a fire sale, and start over.

But you know what? That’s exactly what I think he should do.

Will it be easy? Absolutley not. Who is going to take on Soriano’s contract? Fukudome’s? Even D. Lee (in his walk year) and Ramirez would probably be difficult to trade. Yes, he’d have to eat some salary, probably a lot of salary. But, then again, it seems to me that eating a lot has never been one of Jimbo’s great weaknesses.

On the other hand, it probably shouldn’t be Jim Hendry who should be made to do this. He worked too hard to put this team together. Say what you will about the outcome, he did his research and he believed in each and every one of these guys. Yes, even Aaron Miles. And, with a couple of breaks, maybe they could have won it. But they didn’t, and he’s too close to them. It’s very difficult to let go of “your” guys, after you believed in them.

I don’t think Jim is necessarily a bad GM, I just think it didn’t work out here, and we need some new perspective, a new approach. I’d personally love someone in the Theo Epstein new school. Maybe Kim Ng would be a good fit, although I’m still dumbfounded the Mariners didn’t hire her.

It’s time to change the mindset, change the approach, and load up on young talent and draft picks. If Wrigley 2014 is a reality, and that is going to be the Ricketts’ legacy, what better timing than to build for that season?

Let’s give them one more year. Give this ragtag batch of overpaid, underperforming Cubs until the trading deadline this season to prove they actually CAN play to their career averages. If not, start the bidding. Jim should be shown the door on October 1, 2010, and Lou can ride off into the sunset with him. I love Ryne Sandberg, but don’t think he has to be the shoo-in successor to Lou. Maybe there’s someone better out there. I don’t know. It seems like Ryno is good with developing young players, relating to them, motivating them. That’s the kind of manager the new Cubs are going to need. I’d love it to be Sandberg, but don’t think he should be given the job out of hand.

Thumbnail image for castro.jpg

The new braintrust will have 2011 and 2012 to clean house and build a solid core of young talent. This could be built around Starlin Castro, who should be exactly what this Cubs 2.0 (102.0?) should be about: bright young talent that is given the time to mature. I was burned by Korey Patterson. I was double-dog burned by Felix Pie. And no doubt they feel burned by the Cubs. It’s one thing to dive into the majors quickly, it’s a different thing entirely to do so with the expectations to win it all. To end the 100 year drought. I think Castro should be brought up to learn major-league pitchers. But he should also be given time and allowed to struggle and work through it. The team, the management - and the fans - should be patient and let him and other young players work it out. (Of course, this is probably the most far-fetched of my ideas.)

But following that plan, 2013 should field a solid team of regular starters who have grown together and into a unified lineup, hopefully getting to the postseason, or at least the pennant race to get the jitters out. That would give them a strong foundation to go deep in 2014.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but in 2011 I would find it much easier to support a gutted team with no chance of going anywhere, but knowing that there’s a realistic plan in place for the future than blindly hoping the Z and Soriano and Ramirez are going to somehow NOT continue to disappoint. I’d rather see two or three years of fresh young faces and rookie mistakes than bandaids on top of bandaids on top of a crumbled framework of past-their-prime players, with no hope for change.

Of course this won’t happen. The new owners won’t be able to raise ticket prices if they slash the payroll in half. You know, so that maybe actual Cubs fans, families with kids would be able to get a ticket to Wrigley a couple of times a year? What a novel concept.

So, in the end, maybe this is all just a pipe dream.

I will give the Ricketts’ ownership a chance. It takes a long time to change course, and it’s the American Way to give people the opportunity to succeed. Maybe taking Theriot to arbitration is a signal that the fundamental business model is starting to change. This will be an important season, though. And the number of high-profile trades and available free agents for whom the Cubs were not even in the conversation this winter was not exactly confidence-inspiring.

What I do know is that the sign-veterans-that-nobody-else-seems-to-want-because-they-fit-in-the-payroll-structure approach has not worked, and can not work. And I, for one, am about to reach the end of my patience with it.

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30 Comments

Doc said:

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ABE!!!!!!!!!!!!

Doc said:

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With D-Lee, A-Ram, Fukudome, Lilly, Silva and Samardjiza all having contracts running out in the next 2 years, it gives the Cubs the opportunity to really start that rebuilding process. But do the Cubs have the guts to actually let these guys go or even trade them?

millertime said:

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Somehow, I think Jim will muster up the courage to let Silva go.

Doc said:

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no f'n way...

Hendry loves to have a buddy to go with him to the buffet.

flyball said:

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abe, its like everything I always wanted to say but couldn't form the words

David Funk said:

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Great perspective, and 2010 will answer a lot of questions. And I fully agree with the signing of players nobody wants approach not working because it doesn't. The Cubs are definitely the example of this.

Nice post!

Dmband said:

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Great post...seriously well done. Here's where I disagree and I will probably get pounded for saying this...but Ive said it before. If nothing else, Kenny Williams showed people that you can both rebuild and stay in somewhat respectable form...they did a GREAT job plugging in young guys with talented veterans and are poised for the future...I do not believe its an all or nothing situation...yes there will be some pain (as discussed yesterday, parting ways with D Lee THIS year)..

The bottom line is we are going to be able to still spend money here and attract Free Agents when necessary...I dont think we have to gut the entire team...

Doc said:

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Abe doesn't show up much anymore...but when he does, he posts some really good stuff.

gravedigger said:

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That was a very... long... post.

Dmband said:

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Doc I read your scathing review of CN on your blog...He he he...love when someone takes on "the man"...just kidding...however I frequently experience some of the functionality issues as I use the browser on my work computer and cannot change or update...its pretty frustrating...

JulieDiCaro said:

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It's no secret that we've been frustrated over here by a lot of tech issues and the lack of features we thought we'd have by now.

AndCounting said:

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On a somewhat related note, I'm thoroughly vexed by the lack of flying cars. It's 2010, people. We shouldn't need roads anymore.

JulieDiCaro said:

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Forget flying cars, we're never going to make warp speed if we don't ever raise the speed limit.

Doc said:

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Yeah...Adam has a really good point...we should have flying cars by now. Didn't anyone see Back to the Ruture (part 2)...

I blame congress.

JulieDiCaro said:

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I blame Aaron Miles.

Doc said:

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He is in congress, right? Well, if he's not, he is incompetent enough to be.

Dmband said:

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Ps. Ive read some of the comments pertaining to Castro vs. Theriot, and Im pretty sure the intention would be to move Theriot to 2nd if Castro does end up starting at SS, right?

JulieDiCaro said:

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There's no reason to throw away a perfectly good Jeff Baker. . . .

Doc said:

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Julie is right...I think the Cubs are hoping Jeff Baker can stay healthy and play well. If he does, then Theriot would be traded. Remember, the Cubs have another SS prospect sitting in the minor leagues as well that they are relatively high on: Hak-Ju Lee.

If Castro works out, Lee would likely move over to 2nd base this year in the minors...and he would be developed to take over that position.

AndCounting said:

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If the Cubs don't contend this year and they feel the need to trade DLee and/or Aramis Ramirez to a contender, they won't have to eat any contract money at all. There's just no way. They might be somewhat restricted by the players' no-trade rights, but it wouldn't be difficult in the slightest to trade those guys.

I think it could work out well in the long run if they do deal them, which means a horrendous 2010 might be more beneficial than a close-but-no-cigar season. Either way, I think I'll live.

Doc said:

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As much as I would love for the to trade D-Lee (for the reason that I think first basemen are much easier to come by than just about any other position), A-Ram would be an inviting idea as far as trade is concerned....with Vitters waiting in the minors, you'd think they might be willing to make that move and put Baker at 3rd until Vitters is ready.

But with the Cubs history in developing 3rd basemen...that might not be such a good idea.

Dmband said:

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CJ-

As someone who is currently involved in what can only be described as an experimental program within my company, I can relate as we have been promised many advancements in technology for various reasons...all you can do is voice your concerns, which Im sure you guys have numerous times....

Doc said:

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And I know all about the R&D process as well...

The truth is, CN probably lifted the 'beta' flag a little too early.

AndCounting said:

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Also, Abe, this post just ruined spring training. The picture alone robbed me of my optimism. For shame.

JulieDiCaro said:

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Lineup for Thursday:

Theriot SS
Fuk RF
Lee 1B
Ramirez 3B
Byrd CF
Colvin LF
Fontenot 2B
Soto C
Wells P

God, that lineup is ugly.

Doc said:

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Why does Colvin in LF make me happier than having Soriano out there?

Dmband said:

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Re: Baker

Im all for him getting the majority of starts, my fear is that Fontenot is going to get those at bats...god help us all...

JulieDiCaro said:

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I share your terror.

AndCounting said:

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Byrd making his presence known right away: tells Marmol and other pitchers when they're tipping their pitches.

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100302&content_id=8654092&vkey=news_chc&fext=.jsp&c_id=chc&partnerId=rss_chc

DustyBaylor said:

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Hak-Ju Lee is considered a good prospect, but he's only played 1 season at Boise, and is only 19. Let's let him have some success in A and AA before we start reserving him a place in the Cubs lineup.

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