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 Cubs need a spark to ignite the offense, a legitimate lead off hitter. The Red Sox will undoubtedly try to sign Free Agent, Carl Crawford, and Jacoby Ellsbury could land on the trading block. Could a trade between Jim Hendy and Theo Epstein bring Ellsbury to Chicago?
It is no secret that the Cubs have had trouble finding a hitter that can effectively lead off. The Red Sox have shown some interest in Kosuke Fukudome, who has 1-year left on his contract, however, Boston seeks to restock their farm system with pitching prospects.
Is it possible that the Cubs will pursue a bonafide lead-off man to set the table for an offense that sorely lacks the abilty to score runs?
Jacoby Ellsbury was injured last season and only played 18 games so the Red Sox have made adjustments to their outfield. Boston is reportedly in the mix to acquire Crawford and Ellsbury may be more valuable on the trading block. If so, the Cubs should seriously consider this particular trade option.
Ellbury is 27 years old and has only played 2 full seasons. On a 162 game average, Ellsbury bats .291 with 9 HR’s and 60 RBI’s. He averages a .344 OBP which could be better, but in 2008, he swiped 50 bases and in 2009, he stole 70 bases. He is a base-stealing threat. Ellsbury is the type of lead-off hitter that can put pressure on the defense and make things happen. To acquire Ellsbury, Jim Hendy will need to move an outfielder.
The Cubs have 4 to choose from. Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome, and Tyler Colvin are all possibilites. I think that such a trade would be mutually beneficial. Jim Hendry has alot of work to do next week as the Winter Meetings get under way. Let’s see if Hendry can find the Cubs a legitimate lead-off hitter. Jim Hendry does a pretty good job finding trades that work for both sides and Jacoby Ellsbury would be a perfect fit for the Cubs. He has led the American League in Total Zone Runs, Stolen Bases, Fielding %, Defense, and Triples. According to http://content.usatoday.com/communities/dailypitch/post/2010/11/jacoby-ellsbury-trade-boston-red-sox/1?csp=34, the Red Sox are prepared to trade Ellsbury and Epstein is looking to restock pitchers at the minor league level. So a trade between the Red Sox and the Cubs certainly looks possible. I hope so, the Cubs need a solid lead-off guy and some solid defense in the outfield and Boston needs to replenish the farm system. Jacoby Ellsbury can spark the Cubs’ offense with his base-running prowess and defensive skills. He has a tremendous amount of energy, something that has been missing in Chicago.
This week, the GM Meetings are under way in Orlando. Now is the time to start entertaing trade possibilities. Will Jim Hendry make a move to acquire a legitimate lead-off hitter? With an offense that has struggled to score runs, the Cubs could use a “spark” at the top of the order.
In 2010, the Cubs juggled the batting order relentlessly in pursuit of somebody to fill the lead-off spot. Ryan Theriot began the year leading off, but was traded to the Dodgers. Kosuke Fukudome took his turn, but stuggled with his bat. Alfonso Soriano was moved down in the order and his days of leading off are over. Other players were given the opportunity to ignite the offense, but nobody fit the role.
Starlin Castro was the best available option, but hasn’t developed much in the stolen base department. Hopefully, he can work on it and find success. For the time being, he really isn’t ready for that responsibility. The Art of Stealing bases requires an astute student of the game. It requires a player to read the pitcher, the catcher, and the defense. There is more to it, then just taking off for second base. It is an art, to be sure. Tyler Colvin, Blake DeWitt, and Jeff Baker, have all led off for the Cubs, none could pull it off. A lead-off hitter requires the ability to get on base and put pressure on the defense. It requires the ability to steal bases. It is a huge responsibility that requires knowledge, talent, and skill. Not just anyone can be inserted at the top of the order. It requires a special player, a player with athletic prowess and brains.
Ricky Henderson was probably the best lead-off hitter ever. He knew how to get on base, then once there, he knew how to rattle the pitcher and defense.
Ricky Henderson got on base and made things happen. He didn’t wait to be bunted over. He didn’t wait for somebody to get a hit. He didn’t wait for anything. He was off to the races. He set his goal and went after it. He would steal second, but Henderson didn’t stop there. Very often, he would steal third base as well. The defense was in disarray and the pitcher lost concentration. Ricky Henderson was a very effective lead-off hitter. He set a record for walks drawn. He set a record for stolen bases. Ricky exemplified what a lead-off hitter should be. That is why he is in the Hall of Fame today. The Cubs need such a lead-off hitter. The Cubs need a spark to ignite a sleeping offense.
With Brett Jackson and Brandon Guyer still developing, Starlin Castro is the closest thing to a lead-off hitter that the Cubs have. However, it appears that Castro is better suited for the #2 hole, which brings us back to the question of WHO will lead off next season? If Jim Hendry is to acquire a true lead-off hitter, then he will most likely need to trade for one. But who?
I have compiled a short list of candidates that Jim Hendry may be interested in trading for.
Rajai Davis, of the Oakland A’s, an outfielder that swiped 50 bases last season. His OBP was .320 and his batting AVG was .284. Oakland is in search of power hitters.
Brett Gardner, of the New York Yankees, another outfielder, stole 47 bases. He had an OBP of .383 and a .277 batting AVG. He was the spark that ignited the Yankees’ offense time and time again.
Gardner gives 150% all the time. The Yankees are in need of a solid, left-hander to anchor their bullpen.
Chone Figgins, of the Seattle Mariners, had 42 stolen bases, a .340 OBP, and a .259 batting AVG.
Figgins is a third baseman, but played second base last season, and has played in left field as well. The Mariners are searching for power hitters.
Will Venable, of the San Diego Padres, another outfielder, had 29 steals, .324 OBP, and a .245 AVG. He appears to have more potential than his numbers reflect.
The Padres are looking for more power, not to mention, prospects.
Michael BournE, of the Houston Astros, recently won a gold glove and led the NL in stolen bases with 52.
He batted .265 with a .341 OBP. Houston needs pitching and power.
The 5 players listed are my personal favorites to lead-off. The Cubs need a spark at the top of the order and will need to make a trade to make it a reality. Who will lead-off in 2011? Will Jim Hendry make a move to improve the top of the batting order? Will Starlin Castro learn the Art of Stealing bases? What do you think the Cubs should do about the lead-off situation?
Jim Hendry has said that he would like to create a spot in the line-up for Tyler Colvin and the possibility exists that he may trade Fukudome to make room. Fukudome has one year left on his contract and hasn’t performed up to expectations. He is still owed 14 million in 2011.
Fukudome batted .263 with 13 homeruns and 44 RBI’s last season.
Somewhat a disappointment offensively, but defensively has been solid. However, the Cubs are seeking more solid numbers offensively from the right field position.
Matsuzaka has been plagued with injuries the past two seasons. Last year, in 25 starts, went 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA. He is still owed 10 million over the next 2 years.
While the possibility of a trade is intriguing, to say the least, it is unlikely. Matsuzaka has a no-trade clause in his contract. Dice-K showed great promise until his injuries. If he could get healthy and the Cubs could acquire him, I think he would make a fine addition to the Cubs’ starting rotation.