With Spring Training right around the corner, it’s time to evaluate the offseason moves made by Jim Hendry, the Cubs General Manager. Each and every year Cubs’ fans get excited around this time. We are ever hopeful that the new season will bring that elusive championship, but in the end, we are disappointed yet again. Could this year be different? Could 2011 be the breakthrough year to remember? Have the Cubs made the necessary moves to bring the right balance to a team that has struggled to reach its potential? I am going to gaze into my crystal ball and peek into the future and try to determine what kind of team we have to look forward to.
The first glimpse that may be indicative of a promising year dates back to the last month and a half of last season. After the sudden retirement of Lou Piniella, Mike Quade took over the helm and steered the Cubs in the right direction. Under Quade, the Cubs finished strong. The players responded to his style of managing and won nearly 2/3 of the remaining games. Quade made a strong impression on Jim Hendry and Cubs’ Chairman, Tom Ricketts, and the interim tag was removed as he won the managerial job over fan favorites such as Ryne Sandberg and Joe Girardi. There was much controversey over the process, but in the end, Mike Quade had earned the position. In 2011, Mike Quade will face the challenge of managing over the long haul of the season. If 2010 was evidence that he has what it takes to turn this team around, then indeed, the Cubs have much to look forward to.
As the Cubs searched the free agent market to fill some obvious holes, Jim Hendry finally found a left-handed first baseman in Carlos Pena. Was it the right fit? Some may argue, but seriously, Pena is a great defensive first baseman and has a powerful left-handed bat. Exactly what the Cubs needed. Is his .196 batting average and high strikeout ratio a concern? It would be, but Pena is working with Rudy Jaramillo, the Cubs’ hitting coach, and is totally committed to improving his swing. That willingness to learn is the key. There are far too many veterans who think that they are so great that they have nothing more to learn, the very same players who start to stink and drag everyone around them down. So it is refreshing to see a player who wants to get better. Carlos Pena is going to work out just fine, you’ll see.
The Cubs also re-acquired Kerry Wood. I am very happy about this because Woody is, was, and always will be a Cub. He is a club house leader and understands what it means to be a Cub. He gave the Cubs a huge discount to come home. He did an awesome job for the Yankees last season and he promises to do more of the same for the Cubs in 2011. Hopefully he can remain healthy and prove to everyone that HE’S BACK! I think that he will return with a vengeance. I am excited to see him again!
Then, there was the controversial trade for Matt Garza. The Cubs may have lost some top prospects, but they have gained one of the best pitchers in the game today. He will be a welcomed addition to the Cubs’ pitching staff. Coming to the National League where hitters aren’t very familiar with him will be to his advantage. I look for him to have a great year. Like Woody and Pena, I foresee him silencing the critics very quickly. I predict that he will win 18 games or more this season.
The Cubs have also made some minor moves, such as re-acquiring Reed Johnson, Todd Wellmeyer, and getting some players in the Tom Gorzellany trade. We’ll see how those work out as only time will tell. On a positive note, the Cubs have signed Geovanny Soto, Sean Marshall, and I believe, Carlos Marmol thus avoiding arbitration. So that is good news.
One important factor that will determine the Cubs destiny is whether or not they can stay healthy. Last year was a disaster as far as injuries go. A healthy team learns to play as a team and gel. A different line-up everyday is disastrous to team chemistry and that was something we saw too much of last year. The Cubs need to stay healthy, period! It is good to hear that Tyler Colvin will be back this year. Watching him being impaled by a broken bat scared us all. It’s great that he will return, we’ll need him.
The Cubs seem pretty solid up and down the line-up, except for one thing. We still do not have a protypical lead-off hitter. I probably sound like a broken record, but this could make or break the Cubs’ offense. Last season, there was no spark to ignite the offense and consequently no pressure on the opposition. If the Cubs truly want to contend, this crucial piece must be found. If no trades are made, then somebody will need to step up and learn how to get on base and rattle the defense. I hope that Mike Quade doesn’t just pencil in just anybody. He knows full well that the lead-off hitter sets the tone for what will follow. Anyway, we’ll see what happens. Perhaps Starlin Castro or Kosuke Fukudome will be willing to learn how to fill that role. Who knows, after all, there is still some time before the season begins.
Overall, I think the Cubs will be much improved. If the lead off role can be filled, I think the Cubs will be in business. Once again, I am excited about the upcoming season, unfortunately, my crystal ball isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be, but that would take all of the fun out of watching the season unfold now wouldn’t it?
The Free Agent frenzy is about to begin. The Cubs have some holes to fill and first base is first on the list for Jim Hendry. Let’s explore the options and find the right fit. I have some suggestions that might make sense, so listen up, Mr. Hendry.
Since the trade that sent Derek Lee to the Atlanta Braves, Xavier Nady took over at First Base. Now that Nady has become a Free Agent, the Cubs have a glaring hole at First. With First base open, the Cubs have been considering moving Tyler Colvin to First, a position he hasn’t played since college. On the surface, it seems like a good idea. The transition would allow Colvin more playing time, but considering he hasn’t played the position in quite some time, it would require a lot of extra hard work and practice to make a successful conversion. This may take some time. Until then, the Cubs would probably be better off finding a suitable veteran player that will fit in with the Cubs’ game plan. That means, of course, signing a Free Agent.
Let’s consider the options that are available on the Free Agent Market. We’ll try to determine who is the best fit for the Cubs,
First, there have been many rumors surrounding the Cubs having interest in Adam Dunn. Here you have a left-handed slugger with a ton of power. Dunn is tops on the list if the Cubs are seeking a clean-up hitter. He has the power to hit 40-50 homeruns a year. For Fans of the long ball, he’s your guy.
But is he the best fit?
Adam Dunn has a downside and the negatives may outweigh the positives. Up front, Dunn will be asking for a 4-5 year deal worth upwards of 40 million dollars. That is another high priced, long-term contract that the Cubs may not have the resources or the desire to entertain. In addition, Adam Dunn strikes out a ton. Do the Cubs really want a player with a high ratio of strikeouts? Offensively, that is a huge weakness. Also, he has no speed on the basepaths and figures to clog the bases with his inabilty to take the extra base. Finally, Dunn lacks defensive prowess. He has struggled since converting from the outfield to first and the Cubs do not need any defensive liabilities. Sure Dunn can hit the homerun, but does it outweigh the negative factors? I think not. Adam Dunn is NOT the best fit for the Cubs.
It has been reported that Jim Hendry, the Cubs GM, is looking for “… the likes of a Nick Johnson“. This really puzzles me. Why? Nick Johnson did not play much last year. He spent the season on the DL after having wrist surgery. Besides, when he did play, he was nothing more than a DH. He didn’t even play first. When he did in the past, he wasn’t anything special. His offensive numbers weren’t very good either. I don’t know why Hendry would have an interest in an injured player like Johnson. The Cubs acquired Xavier Nady after he had surgery and that didn’t exactly work out did it. In Nady’s defense, he might actually be healthy in 2011 and have a better year. The Cubs may consider bringing Nady back but it is doubtful since they really want a left-handed bat to balance the line-up.
The biggest name that surfaces among Cubs’ Fans is Adrian Gonzalez, but the San Diego Padres have picked up their 2011 option and for now, will stay in San Diego.
Gonzalez has expressed a desire to play in Chicago, but won’t hit the Free Agent Market until next year. Whether he will become available at the trade deadline is unknown at this time. Also, he is having shoulder surgery so it may take a while to bounce back. When healthy, Adrian Gonzalez is arguably the best First Baseman out there. He is a hitting machine, plays great defense, and is my personally favorite for the job. Unfortunately, at this time, AGon is unavailable, unless the Cubs can work out a trade, but it is unlikely. The Cubs have others on the radar. Who?
To narrow down the field of first basemen, let’s focus on the left-handers that will add hitting prowess in the middle of the line-up.
The San Francisco Giants were World Series Champions this season and were led by first baseman, Aubrey Huff, who will now be a Free Agent. Huff is a lefty and he is consistent, year in and year out. He hits around .300 and has power.
Aubrey Huff is a proven leader in the club house and on the field. In my opinion, Huff had a lot to do with the Giants’ success this year. He was a valuable piece to winning. Aubrey Huff was a bargain when San Francisco acquired him. He may be one of the best options for the Cubs, provided the Giants’ don’t want to keep him around. If he becomes available, I would sign him. He adds leadership that the Cubs definitely need.
Adam LaRoche is a possibility, but in my opinion, he is a better back up than a starter. He has average numbers, both offensively and defensively. The Cubs could sign him to an average contract, but I think they may be dissapointed by his production. I think he is over-rated to say the least. He would be a last resort.
Lance Berkman doesn’t make any sense. He is getting older and his offensive numbers have declined dramatically. He would want too much money and would fail to deliver the punch that he once had. Not a good fit.
Some Chicago Fans like Paul Konerko, but he is right-handed and doesn’t fit in well with the game plan. Not really a good idea, although I admit, he is a good player.
Carlos Pena is another, but he batted under .200 this past season, not exactly the offensive production that the Cubs are looking for.
There are several others that I will not mention, mainly because they have too many question marks, are either declining or simply don’t provide the offensive fire power or defense that the Cubs need at firstbase.
Finally, I have a suggestion for Jim Hendry.
Consider Victor Martinez. Here is a switch-hitting, explosive bat that provides a .300+ batting average with a great deal of power. While he considers himself primarily a catcher, Martinez also plays firstbase. Here is my suggestion.
Sign Victor Martinez. HE CAN PLAY FIRSTBASE AND BACK UP CATCHER. He not only brings a switch-hitting bat for the middle of the line-up, he can double as Geovanny Soto’s back up catcher. Victor Martinez brings a valuable commodity, VERSATILITY. If there is a downside to VM, it is that he is looking for a 4-year deal. Even still, he would be worth it, in my opinion. Here is something else to consider, when Victor Martinez has catching duties, Tyler Colvin could gain valuable experience playing First base, backing up Martinez. It would make for a smoother transition. In addition, the Cubs would have TWO versatile players in their line-up, Victor Martinez AND Tyler Colvin.
In my assessment, the Cubs have two very good options that I would encourage Jim Hendry to consider. While Tyler Colvin should increase his versatility and practice playing first, he has not proven himself there yet. So I have narrowed the field down to Aubrey Huff AND Victor Martinez. Dollar for dollar, they possess the most value. Both are consistently good, providing strong numbers and a strong presence in any line-up. Adam Dunn pales by comparison and so do the others. If the Cubs’ Front Office is paying attention, I hope that they would seriously consider Huff or Martinez. Both would bring a lot to the table. Both would be good fits for the Cubs.
Let the Free Agent frenzy begin.
Next blog: I will tackle the Pitchers in the Free Agent Pool.