aka - a shortlist for improvement, part 4 - the actual suggestions for improvement
In Parts 1-3 of this series, we took a look at the fundamental basics of Cubs baseball. There, we found a land devoid of any kind of recognizable hitting approach, not to mention we found a bullpen that walked way too many batters and a coaching system that was about as shady as a mob front. In other words, no new ground was covered.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at what the next Cubs G(theoepstein)M should actually look to do should he be any kind of competent executive.
1. Sign some talented manager/staff
And you thought we were done stating the obvious. There are some incredible managers on the market, but none more interesting than Terry Francona. Tito, who is fresh off nearly a decade of managing the Red Sox to their greatest successes, is available and looking for work. Can you imagine a Cubs team that's run by Theo Epstein and managed by Francona? Does this sort of thing ever happen in real life?
Personally, I support the concept of a full purge. A new staff. New scouts. New minor league instructors, coaches, managers, everything. In baseball, infrastructure is everything and the Cubs appear to lack it. Consider the little dig that Ryne Sandberg made at the Cubs earlier this year:
It’s been a great experience to see a different side of things. What I can say about the Phillies is it’s very family-oriented and it’s also an organization from top to bottom. They get everybody included. Everybody feels important. There’s tremendous communication up and down the lines and really everybody is on the same page and has the same goals and that is to win a World Series at the major league level. That’s the goal. That’s what everybody talks about.
These problems, which appear an epidemic with the Cubs, need to be repaired. At the very least, every person in the front office and every manager, coach and instructor in the organization should have their job performance be very sternly reviewed by the next G(theoepstein)M. Nobody should be safe. That these idiots could keep a job for so long while demonstrating such gross incompetence is a tremendous insult to a fanbase who seem to have the unrealistic expectation of the Cubs actually trying to win.
2. Unload the dead weight at all costs
Alfonso Soriano - 3 more years, 60+ million. Carlos Zambrano - 1 more year, 18 million. Ryan Dempster - 1 more year (player option), 14 million. These are just the remaining players of Jim Hendry's lost bout with insanity. By the way - I am hardly arrogant, and I'm usually not the kind of guy to say "I told you so," but way back on November 19th, 2006, I told you so.
So what does this mean in the immediate future? Chances are the Cubs will be paying Alfonso Soriano to suck for some other team. Of that 60+ million which remains, the Cubs are going to end up paying somewhere between $40 and $50 million - and it'll be worth it to have his bloated carcass off the 25 man roster. Odds are good that the next Cubs G(theoepstein)M is going to have to find some team in the AL that is either desperate enough or incompetently managed enough to orchestrate the trade. Sadly, Andy MacPhail is leaving Baltimore.
Zambrano, despite his tempter and middling numbers, should be an easier deal. With only one year left, Carlos is talented enough to win for the right pitching coach/manager. At least, that's how I'd sell it. Maybe this will be the first trade our next G(epstein)M orchestrates with Boston - unloading the Moose for a few of Boston's most unwanted-but-theoretically-talented players (plus a couple of prospects more like Sandberg and less like Murton).
Oh - Dempster I am curious about. He has a no-trade (f%ck you very much, Jim Hendry) but he might roll the dice, betting against more money over the next 3 or 4 years than he might earn if he exercises his option and tanks in 2012. Besides, baseball is pitching retarded - Clownsevelt could assuredly net a 10 mil/year deal with some other, desperate team.
At a glance, any number of American League teams might be willing to take Soriano if he costs next-to-nothing, although he's likely last-ditch move to be made once all other, better options have been exhausted. My guess is that if Sori gets traded, it'll be sometime in February, maybe to a team like the Rays. (Why the Rays? More on that sometime in the future.)
Zambrano is a pitcher I'd honestly expect to see get traded to either an AL team trying to make a big splash - maybe the Orioles would take a chance on him - or to a team looking to move some deadweight income, like the Red Sox. Regardless, I'd bet on Carlos being a relatively easy trade, even though the Cubs G(theo)M is unlikely to get too much in return.
While the Cubs are trying to desperately unload Hendry's Anchor Babies, they should also be working toward...
3. Go bargain hunting, preferably for young players
He just turned 24 at the end of August, he's got a ton of talent (.798 OPS, 23 homers in this, his first full season) and he doesn't really get along well with his team's ownership. In other words, Logan Morrison might be available. Of course, the Marlins probably know he's a "bargain," which makes him far less of one. Maybe they are not in a big hurry to trade him. But he is one of several players who may be available that would lead me and my cynical Cub fan brethren into believing that this decade will be a better one.
Let's be fair. The Cubs have a pretty long list of needs. They could seriously use a new infield minus Starlin Castro (who really isn't particularly great), a new outfield, at least a couple of new starting pitchers and probably a new closer. I mean, holy shit, Jim Hendry's win-now attitude has left the Cubs just as screwed as we thought it would. As to what the Cubs have for trade commodities, it's not much. Hendry did leave the Cubs with the illusion of an improving farm system. Perhaps the Cubs GM can use some of those players as trade fodder before their value evaporates like every other prospect "developed" by Hendry's team of coaches and instructors.
At a glance, there may be a number of decent players who could help the Cubs improve in 2013. (Let's just assume that 2012 is going to be another one of those seasons in which the Cubs compete with the Pirates for 4th place.) As a blogger, I am reluctant to suggest too many of these guys as being viable trade candidates, though, because it will reveal my idiocy and result in cries of "unrealistic" from the audience. This is the way of speculation. Still - hang on til the end. I'll write up my wish list.
4. Make a few skillful free agent acquisitions, but nothing that'll cause premature optimiculation
There aren't a ton of great players available. Many will be competed for. Although it will be difficult for any GM to do, I'd pass on a lot of the biggest names - especially Pujols and Fielder. I'd skip Albert because he's either older than his listed age or is a failed test away from a marred legacy (or both), and I'd skip Prince because the last place he needs to play is in a city with legendary eats.
That said, there are no other easy choices on the free agent market. It's brimming with failed players 2 years removed from their last glorious season, or oft-injured stars whose glory days are long gone, or never-have-beens who failed to meet their potential. In short, I pity the next GM of the Chicago Cubs - his first year on the job is going to suck. Hard. Still, he's gonna have to assemble some kind of 25-man-roster. But since this post is already pretty lengthy, I'm going to write a separate one in which I detail the transactions I'd like to see made. Spoiler alert: if I were the GM making them, I'd expect to get my ass fired. The options are really shitty, folks. Really, really shitty.