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?
In an effort to improve the Cubs’ defense, let’s consider gold glover, Orlando Hudson. He is a switch-hitting second baseman who could complement Starlin Castro up the middle. The Cubs could acquire him on a modest, short-term contract.
He could be a good fit.
Orlando Hudson is coming off an injury-prone season last year but is expected to be completely healthy come Spring. In 2010, Hudson only played 126 games. His offensive numbers were down as well. His defense did not suffer. He remains one of the best fielding second basemen in the game today.
He has 4 gold gloves.
During his 9 year career, Hudson’s batting line is .284 / .358 / .402. That is a definite improvement over what the Cubs have had the last few years. Hudson would be an upgrade for a defense that has relied on utility players to play every day. Hudson has a career fielding % of .986. He ranks 1st in range factor for all active second basemen.
He would boost the offense as well.
You can learn more about Orlando Hudson‘s free agent stock value at MLB Trade Rumors. http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2010/09/free-agent-stock-watch-orlando-hudson.html Hudson would be a fine addition to the Cubs. He would be a definite upgrade and he wouldn’t cost a fortune. He might be worth signing. Blake DeWitt would be ideal as the main utility infielder. Orlando Hudson would be ideal at second base. Something to think about.
Allow me to create a hypothetical situation. What if Starlin Castro made a transition to second base? It would create an opening at shortstop, which with a trade, could provide the Cubs with a legitimate lead-off hitter.
A switch to second base could provide the remedy to Starlin Castro‘s defensive woes. Castro has excellent range and could develop into a solid defensive player. Playing second base would allow Castro to make shorter throws thus cutting down his throwing errors considerably. It would also allow room for a shortstop that can lead off and ignite the offense. But who?
What we’re looking for, is a player that can lead off, has a high OBP, steals bases, and plays solid defense. That’s it. Any player that fits that description is worth consideration. I may miss a few. There are many minor leaguers who could meet the requirements but, for all intents and purposes, I will focus on established veterans.
Let’s examine shortstops with a combination of these attributes.
While there are many “untouchables” out there with high on-base per centages, here are some players that may be fair game.
Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins. His OBP last season was .378. He also stole 32 bases. The Marlins have a history of cleaning house and Ramirez could easily be on the trading block. He is an all-star caliber player.
Hanley Ramirez and Starlin Castro would make a lethal combination up the middle and a powerful and speedy 1 – 2 punch at the top of the order. I wonder if Jim Hendry could pull off such a deal.
Consider this: The Cubs have a highly touted shortstop in the minors. Hak- Ju Lee will be ready for the big leagues in a couple years and the Cubs will have to decide whether or not to move Castro to second base anyway, so why not make the transition now and acquire a shortstop that can leadoff and provide defensive prowess?
Jose Reyes is another possibility. The New York Mets may want to trade Reyes. Like the Cubs, the METS have paid a ton of money and have been disappointed by the results. Perhaps a contract for contract trade would work out for both teams.
Jose Reyes hit .282 and had 30 steals last season. Starlin Castro could benefit by having a veteran double play partner, someone that can also teach him to lead off. Castro needs a mentor to inspire him.
Rafael Furcal is another possibility. The Los Angeles Dodgers are in turmoil and it sounds like they are prepared to clean house.
The time may be right to swoop down and pluck Furcal from the Dodgers. In 2010, Furcal batted .300 with a .366 OBP. He stole 22 bases.
There aren’t any fits on the free agent market so a trade would have to happen. Possibly a better solution to the leadoff dilemma would be a free agent second baseman, but that’s another blog. For now, I will have to explore the possibilty of adding a shortstop and moving Castro to second base, a position that Castro may be better at. We have to explore the possibilities and wonder…What if?
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?
The 2010 season is finally over. Now it’s time to reflect on the players who deserve special recognition. Introducing the 1st annual Diehard Cubs’ Fan Attaboy Awards.
While my choices may not reflect the opinion of all Cubs’ fans, here are my selections nonetheless. Feel free to leave comments regarding your choices. It’s a free country.
The Ernie Banks Award goes to the player who exemplifies the heart and soul of the team. The player who demonstrated heart, determination, and who led by example.
Numbers aside, it goes to the player who contributed to the team in tangible and intangible ways.
The Ernie Banks Award goes to… Marlon Byrd.
His hustle and determination made him an all-star in 2010. Marlon batted .293, with 12 homeruns and 66 RBI’s. Byrd had a .346 OBP and defensively shined in centerfield. He brought a winning attitude to the club. Attaboy, Marlon!
Rookie Of The Year Award goes to Starlin Castro AND Tyler Colvin.
While Castro would be most fans’ choice for the award, Tyler Colvin has proven to be a valuable part of the team as well. Starlin Castro batted .300, with 3 homeruns and 41 RBI’s. Castro led the team with 10 stolen bases. Meanwhile, prior to having his season end prematurely due to the broken bat incident, Tyler Colvin hit .254, with 20 homeruns and 56 RBI’s. Both youngsters did a tremendous job in 2010. While both players have room for improvement, Castro and Colvin had an excellent rookie season. Attaboy, you guys! Good job!
Most Dominant Pitcher Award goes to… Carlos Marmol.
Carlos Marmol has been one of the most dominant closers in the game today.
Marmol has become one of the most feared pitchers for batters to face. He has a NASTY slider that when Carlos is on top of his game, is unhittable. He has been lights out this year. Marmol surpassed Bruce Sutter’s single-season record for strikeouts by a closer with 138 K’s. Carlos finished the year with a 2.55 ERA and 38 SAVES. Attaboy, Carlos! Excellent work!
Comeback Player Award goes to… Carlos Zambrano.
Big Z was on the verge of being finished in Chicago following his infamous tirade in the dugout after Derek Lee failed to dive after a ball driven down the first base line. His outburst landed him on the Restricted List where Carlos was forced to undergo Anger Management classes. Upon his return to the starting rotation, Big Z was resurrected and given new life. Zambrano made the best of his second chance as he calmly returned and was better than ever. Big Z made a statement to silence the critics, not with his mouth, but with masterful pitching performances. Since the all-star break, Big Z proved that he is one of the best in the business as he went 8-0, with a 1.41 ERA in his last 11 starts. Zambrano finished the season 11-6, with a 3.33 ERA. Big Z is back, better than ever! Attaboy, Carlos! Keep up the good work, and don’t forget to stay calm!
The Mr. Consistency Award goes to… Sean Marshall. Sean is a true team player. He would rather be in the starting rotation but the team needed his services in the bullpen where Sean has quietly turned into one heck of a reliever.
He has been the premiere set up man. Marshall finished the season with a 7-5 record and a 2.65 ERA in 80 appearances. Sean has proven to be one of the best left-handed relievers in the game. Attaboy, Sean! Nice job!
Special Award goes to… Mike Quade. Since Lou Piniella retired, Mike Quade assumed managerial duties to finish out the season. No one had Mike Quade on Jim Hendry’s ShortList but, Quade didn’t waste any time opening people’s eyes.
He quickly turned the Cubs around. Under Mike, the team finished 24-13. Quade deserves a ton of credit for the turnaround. No one expected that he would emerge as one of the front runners to win the 2011 managerial position, but here he is. The players have endorsed him and have played their hearts out to finish the season strong. The Cubs looked like playoff contenders the last month and a half, a huge accomplishment since there wasn’t anything to play for at that point. In any event, the strong finish will undoubtedly carry over into next season. I tip my hat to Mike Quade for making the end of the season enjoyable to watch. Attaboy, Mike! Good luck on the interview process! You have proven your ability to manage and manage well!
The Diehard Award goes to… THE ENTIRE CUBS’ TEAM for not giving up when all was lost, for having the heart to play hard and finish strong.
I salute you, Cubs! This team has given me a new ray of hope as next season draws near. I can’t wait till next year! It should prove to be a different story, one with a happier ending! ATTABOY, CUBS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! See you next Spring! Get some rest, work hard in the offseason and come back healthy and ready to play! We shall embark on a journey together, a quest for a World Series Championship! BELIEVE!!! What the mind can conceive and believe, the Cubs can achieve! Believe it!
Casey Coleman went seven innings, his longest outing as a starter, to outlast Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals as the Cubs won 7-3. Coleman gave up 3 runs while, allowing only 5 hits and striking out 4 for the victory.
Among four of the Cubs’ top rookies this season, Casey Coleman, Andrew Cashner, Tyler Colvin, and Starlin Castro have shown a great deal of promise for the future for the Cubs.
Casey Coleman is coming along in the starting rotation. He is 3-2 with a 4.68 era in 7 starts.
Andrew Cashner is 2-6 with a 5.22 era in 49 games. While the stats do not seem overly impressive, both rookie pitchers have demonstrated a great amount of poise and promise for years to come. Cashner could strengthen the Cubs’ bullpen with a little more experience.
Finally, other two C’s are Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin. Both have had impressive rookie seasons and will receive due consideration for Rookie of the Year honors.
Starlin Castro has struggled at times defensively at shortstop, but has shown good range and has, at times, made some impressive defensive plays that have earned him spots on Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems.
Castro, in 438 at bats, currently is batting .306 with a .352 OBP. He has 9 stolen bases and 30 doubles in 119 games this year. Starlin is sure to rank among the top vote getters for Rookie of the Year.
Finally, Tyler Colvin, prior to getting struck by a broken bat to end his rookie season, batted .254 with 20 homeruns and an OBP of .316.
Colvin did an outstanding job this season. There has been discussion, depending on possible offseason trades or free agent signings, about Colvin possibly moving to first base, a position he hasn’t played since his college days at Clemson.
The 4 C’s of the Chicago Cubs have had a fine rookie season. Congratulations to each of them on their performances. They have proven that they have what it takes to be a Major League ballplayer. Cubs’ fans look forward to next year as the experience and insight gained this year will prepare the rookies for the Cubs’ quest for a world series championship. We hope the 4 C’s continue to work hard in the offseason and keep improving. Good job, guys!
As the Cubs move forward to next year, Jim Hendry will need to address the need for a lead-off hitter that can hit and steal bases. More than likely, the Cubs’ GM, Jim Hendry will look into acquiring a player that will spark the Cubs’ offense. The lead off position is crucial to igniting the rest of the line-up. The Cubs need a playmaker, someone that will make opposing pitchers nervous, someone with a high on base per centage that can put pressure on the defense. The Cubs have been lacking such a player ever since Alfonzo Soriano was moved down in the line-up.
Perhaps the missing spark is why the Cubs have struggled this year to get their offense going. A legitimate lead-off hitter could be the missing piece of the puzzle. Imagine a Carl Crawford type player leading off with Starlin Castro hitting behind him. The running game has been lost to the Cubs and too much emphasis on the long ball is at the root of the Cubs’ struggles this year. Maybe next year will be another story.