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 made a major move to acquire Matt Garza, one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. In return, the Cubs traded their minor league pitcher of the year, Chris Archer, and their minor league player of the year, Brandon Guyer. The highly touted shortstop, Hak Ju Lee was also thrown in. So did they give away the farm just to get a top-notch pitcher?
It is arguable.
My first reaction to the news was, “How could they let that happen?” I thought they were building the farm system, building for the future. However, after having some time to think about it, I have settled down and have come to the conclusion that the Cubs needed to do something to upgrade the starting rotation. Perhaps, it was the only way. Tampa Bay was insistent on receiving the best prospects for Garza. Perhaps, the Cubs have enough depth in the minors that they can afford to make such a move. I certainly hope so. It doesn’t matter now. What’s done is done. I am happy that the Cubs landed a big time pitcher. Matt Garza is definitely a big time pitcher. He tossed the first Tampa Bay no-hitter last year and has pitched in the post-season. Coming to the National League will benefit him since opposing teams aren’t very familiar with him. He won 15 games last season in the toughest league of all. I can’t wait to see what he can do with the Cubs. I expect Garza to perform at the highest level. He will be joining his first baseman, Carlos Pena, which will make both players feel more comfortable coming to the Cubs.
So was it a good move? Time will tell, but for the most part, I think it was. To make a trade for a top-notched pitcher, Jim Hendry had no choice but to give something up in return. It’s the nature of the beast. Once Matt Garza shows Cubs’ fans what he brings to the table, I think everyone will forget all about the prospects that were traded. The Cubs will certainly be in a better position to make a playoff push with Garza on board. I wish him well. Welcome to Chicago, Matt!
The Winter Meetings in Orlando have been stalled by Cliff Lee, however, the Cubs have managed to find their first baseman for the upcoming season. Carlos Pena has agreed to a one-year contract worth about $10 Million.
Jim Hendry was running out of options as the search for a first baseman intensified. Adrian Gonzalez was traded to Boston, Lance Berkman was signed by the Cardinals, and Adam Dunn will join Paul Konerko on the White Sox. With available Free Agents dwindling, Hendry had to do something, something fast. Hendry has been talking to Carlos Pena and Adam LaRoche, but has decided to go with former Tampa Bay, first baseman, Carlos Pena.
Pena is the top defensive first baseman in this year’s free agent market. He is a Gold Glove Award winner. Despite his offensive struggles, Pena still managed to hit 28 homeruns last year. He only batted .196, which has some Cubs’ fans nervous, but by coming to Chicago, Pena will have the opportunity to work with Cubs’ Hitting Coach, Rudy Jaramillo. A change in his batting approach should improve his swing. Poor hitting is fixable, especially when a hitter is willing to learn and make adjustments. With a one-year deal, Pena will be motivated to make vast improvements to increase his market value next year. I think Jim Hendry made the right decision by signing Pena. In my humble opinion, Carlos Pena will be a good fit for the Cubs. He will improve a defense that struggled last season, he adds a left-handed power bat to the middle of the line-up, and he is a leader in the club house. The Cubs are in desperate need for all of those things. While I have criticized Hendry for not making any moves up to this point, I will admit that he has done the right thing in signing Pena. He will be a welcomed addition.
In other news, the Cubs have shown interest in some pitchers this week. According to MLB Trade Rumors http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/chicago_cubs/index.html, the Cubs have had discussions concerning Zack Greinke, Matt Garza, and Brandon Webb. There are talks of a trade with the Rangers for Chris Davis, a potential power-hitter, and Darren O’Day, a side-armed reliever with an ERA under 2.00. It has also been reported that the Cubs are shopping Tom Gorzellany around to create an opening in the starting rotation.
Good news! The Winter Meetings are starting to heat up, but the Cubs are just getting warmed up. I can’t wait to see what happens next. With pitching a top priority, look for Jim Hendry to target a pitcher to solidify the starting rotation next.