Good morning, Cub fans. If you're like me, waking up to the stark reality that the Evil Satanic Fowl are the Champions of Baseball yet again, most likely you are riled up. If you work or live alongside Cletus Nation, as I do, you know you are enduring months of puffy-chestedness, cheesy red pennants and cheap insert "posters" from the Post-Dispatch, and even cheaper home-made signs that say something like "Cards 11, Cubs 2". That,of course, refers to the number of World Series won, but you knew that. And there ain't a gatdam thing you can do or say about it.
If you work or live amongst Ligue Nation, you may have it even worse. Because Sox fans feel something of a kinship to the Cardinals and their fans, based on 1) their mutual disrespect of us, and 2) business partnerships in the meth/pot likker trade sold out of laundromats, they too will feel the need to rub it in. This is especially true this year, because said white trash will go out of their way to deflect attention away from the train wreck that their own franchise has become. You can try and fight back by mentioning that Mark Buerhle will look slimmer in his Cardinal uniform next year.
So. After you let that sink in, your next thought will turn to our new beloved management structure, and are they as mad and embarrassed as we are, and what in the hell are they going to do to fight back next year??
Well. Like you, I've been listening and reading everything I can get my head around, very carefully. Lacking a neighbor or cousin in the front office, the best I got is following Paul Sullivan, Bruce Miles, and David Kaplan on Twitter and Facebook, like I did last year. About this time last year, I came out and predicted what the Cubs would do in 2011 transactionally. I didn't foresee the Garza trade, and I actually thought Zambrano would keep his s*it together the whole year, but everything else pretty much went down the way I thought it would. I didn't think they would suck as bad as they did, so I was reminded of a valuable lesson - when a team "stands pat" and counts on the production on the back of the baseball cards, they are destined to be left behind by the rest of the league.
So what is gonna happen next year? Evaluation, kids. Lots and lots of evaluation.
- We have (by default) more positional prospects in AA and AAA than pitching prospects. So some of our incumbent pitchers will be kept around for 2012 to do nothing more than eat up innings, take their turns in the rotation so games can take place and Theo can run out the kids everywhere else. That means we are keeping two of the three Hendry contracts still on the board. That means starting out with Dempster and, yep, Big Bad Z. It looks more and more likely that the team is not going be able to hold his retirement threat against him, and reach a settlement to get out from under the 18 million. Theo is going to "talk with" him, and doubtlessly Z will try to convince him that things will be different THIS time, that he lost respect for his former GM and benefactor, and it will be all business this year. Theo is far too smart to believe any of it. But lacking much else in the system, he will be forced to send him out there in 2012, hoping that an improved defensive effort will help keep things glued together until the trading deadline.
- What about the kids in the field? Theo can check out Brett Jackson, Starlin Castro, DJ Lemahieu, Darwin Barney, Tony Campana, Wellington Castillo, Steve Clevenger, possibly Tyler Colvin. We might see some Josh Vitters. Many sources have us giving up Blake DeWitt, but everyone forgets he is only 26. Then again, he can't really field any position except third, and he doesn't hit well enough for that position. Starlin Castro does. Then again, much has been made about Theo's inability to find or develop a shortstop with the Red Sox. Will he be inclined to leave Castro in a defensive position where he is so obviously not suited for, just because he can?
- How about the veterans from last year's team? I doubt the new management is going to be enamored with guys who have to be platooned, so goodbye Carlos Pena (worst in the majors vs. lefties) and Jeff Baker (never could hit righties). Outfield is the position of greatest (relative) strength in our system, so say farewell to Reed Johnson's sore back and Marlon Byrd's fundamental mediocrity. Aramis Ramirez wants to come back now, and play for Theo. Look, dumptruck? Saying you want to play for the Cubs next year is NO WAY to endear yourself to Ozzie Guillen. You should know that. Why don't you just cut it out, and go find Ozzie, and start licking his boots? Because he's the only guy in the league who will possibly consider putting your slow, disinterested ass back out at third base.
- If Zambrano is the elephant in the room, then what is Alfonso Soriano? I guess we dubbed him the Albatross. Unlike Z and Dempster, there is nothing Soriano can do for us next year that doesn't hinder the evaluation process. He can't play a defensive position anymore. He is quite possibly the one guy in the entire league most suited to be a DH. He's a good guy, who actually showed some leadership last year. I was rather proud of him speaking out against Zambrano's antics. I wish him well. He never put a gun to Hendry's head and forced him to pay him all that money for all those years. I have nothing against him, except the fact I think he's 42 years old. The Cubs are going to put on their fat pants and eat a-l-l that contract in order to get him to an AL team. That's a lot of eating, and I've devoted an entire bullet point to it. Because that's a LOT of eating. Even now, when the government throws around the terms 'billions' and 'trillions', $54 million is still a lot of money. But as we've said before, he's the bottleneck in the improvement process.
- What about free agents? Forget about the high-priced ones, especially considering how much they have to eat to get rid of Soriano. At first base, Prince Fielder is 27, which makes him FIVE years younger than the next youngest first base free agent, some guy named Pujols. So at 29 years old, strap yourself in for some Bryan LaHair. At third base, there is Wilson Betemit, 29 in Dominican years, on his 8th team. Edwin Encarcion is 28, and a worse fielder than Ramirez. Everyone else is well over 30. In other words, any free agents picked up this off season will be most likely young, cheap bullpen guys, filling specific roles.
- Manager? Now, there's the one I am having trouble with. Is he going to keep lame duck Mike Quade, with an eye on getting Bud Black or Joe Maddon in 2013? Or is he going to bring in the Ryno? Really, its as simple as that. Sandberg is not only a beloved figure to us, but he also happens to be the most qualified minor league manager out there. Does anyone really think that Quade would agree to hang on for another year, desperately hoping he wins enough to extend his tenure with Chris (not Cris) Carpenter starting every fifth day, Tony Campana playing center, and Brian LaHair at first? That's totally, brutally heartless to do to anyone, even someone as far in denial as Quade. Get the permission from the Phillies, and hire Ryno already. Jeez....
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