The Cubs 2011 season is looking more and more like past years. Unless the Cubs turn things around then it will be one more year tacked on since the Cubs won the World Series. The team is 7.5 games out of first place which makes one wonder if the Cubs should start thinking about 2012 while trying not to make the 2011 season look worse than what it has. The team does have some young talent that is with the main club with more on the way even with the prospects heading to Tampa in the Matt Garza deal. Most of this article deals with setting up for the 2012 season with the idea of signing either Pujols or Fielder to play 1B, but with some creativity (mostly clouded from reality), but the Cubs could set up for a remarkable 2012 season with one of the two said first baseman.
Let’s look at the construction of the 2011 roster and identify those who could be moved (presumably if the Cubs would be willing to eat some salary much like they did with Carlos Silva at the end of spring training) and who could they possibly ask for in return. Why would Ricketts agree to such drastic measures? If it were to guarantee either Pujols and Fielder banking on, first and foremost, a World Series championship and the possibility of a sold out season then I think he would roll the dice. The biggest roadblock to shedding any of these contracts are the no-trade clauses, but a chance at the playoffs could change the minds of these players.
The players that could be moved and have some value include: Byrd, Fukudome, Dempster, Grabow, Baker, DeWitt, Ramirez and to some extent Soriano. The Cubs could offer a package with the added incentive of eating the combined value of the contracts and possibly getting more in return. Let’s look at a team like Detroit who would be after starting and relief pitching along with another bat for the lineup. Could the Cubs dangle Bryd and Dempster with the Cubs eating roughly 80% of the combined contracts and getting Rick Porcello and a mid-level prospect in return. Porcello would, not only add a starter to a much needed staff, but Porcello is young enough to grow with a staff that might be getting younger. Baker and DeWitt could be offered to a team that is looking for bench help which they might not have to eat much salary. Fukudome is owed 14.5 million, but if the Cubs would be willing to eat around 10-12 would they be able to offer him to a team like Tampa who could be looking for another bat for a mid-level prospect. The Cubs could even offer Soriano to a team with the understanding that the Cubs would eat 90-95 % of the contract. A team looking for a DH could look at Soriano and might think it would be worth the risk. The idea is, not only shedding these contracts, but getting something in return to replenish the minors or be a piece for the 2012 season.
Assuming that all above said playes are moved then who does the Cubs trot out for the rest of the 2011 season. The pitching staff would be comprised of Z (I wouldn’t move him this year), Porcello, Garza, Wells, and whoever wants the 5th starter the most. The bullpen would be relatively the same, but maybe moving Doug Davis or Rodrigo Lopez out of the starting rotation if both aren’t released by then. Cassner should be shut down for the rest of the year because you can’t be too cautious with rotator cuff, strained or not, injuries. As far as Cassner’s concerned, the Cubs need to finally decide if Cassner’s going to be a starter or a reliever and let him train in the offseason with that role in mind. The Cubs should not move Pena especially if they move Ramirez because they will need at least one veteran in the infield since it might ultimately be the youngest this year. Chicago could bring up Scott Moore if Ramirez is dealt with the offseason spent working with Vitters being promoted. Barney and Castro seems, more and more, like the double play combination for the next 5-8 years.
The outfield is one position that has the most potential in the Cubs system. Campana is proving that he might, ultimately, be the center fielder of the future. If the Cubs can move Soriano and Fukudome then there are many more options to replace them. The obvious choice would be Colvin playing right field with Brett Jackson playing left field. If they want to sit Campana then Jackson can slide over to center with a player like Brad Snyder playing left. Another option would be Ryan Flaherty or Matthew Spencer (a player acquired in the Jake Fox deal).
How does this affect the 2012 season and the potential for the signing of Pujols or Fielder? The Cubs should have enough money to offer one of them what they are seeking in terms of dollars. The usual big spending teams i.e. Yankees and Boston have already locked up 1B to long term big money contracts and the teams that could use a first baseman that, historically, have been big spenders i.e. the Dodgers and Mets are financial messes. The two current first baseman’s teams have decisions to make. As far as Pujols, do they resign him? Carpenter is a free agent and it looks like Wainwright’s option will be picked up. It’s highly unlikely that St. Louis can afford all three considering they already have Matt Holiday’s big contract on the books. Does Pujols look at a team like Chicago as a team that could use his services more and can pay him the kind of money he wants or does he go with the familiarity of St. Louis? As far as Milwaukee and Fielder, it does look like they are willing to let Fielder go considering that they have already locked up Braun and Weeks to long term deals. Does he stay for less or does he view Chicago as a young team that he would fit in nicely?
Potentially, the 2012 Cubs could be one of the youngest teams in baseball even if they sign one of the big two. I realize that some who read this might respond with that the Cubs will not be able to trade any of their players, but, heck, they were able to trade the likes of Todd Hundley, Milton Bradley, and Sammy Sosa who some recall were considered untradable. With a little creativity the 2012 could, potentially, be a fun team to watch.
The minute the Ted Lilly/Ryan Theriot trade was announced I was interested in reading how Cub fans would react. Would they welcome the trade or would they react in much the same way as when Mark DeRosa was traded a couple seasons ago. I found much to be the latter. The reasons ranged from the usual, “Hendry must go….how could he trade these two?” to “Theriot was the second coming of Sandburg….how dare he trade Theriot.” Most Cub and Chicago baseball fans take a liking to those who are “grindy” and when those players leave react as if it were the second coming of the Lou Brock trade. This trade was no different in their eyes. As the 2010 season is coming down the stretch and with the playoffs out of reach for the second straight year I would be remised to view this trade with the 2011 season in mind.
The Lilly/Theriot trade was preceded by the attempt to trade Derek Lee, who is in the final year of his contract, to Anaheim, but Lee blocked it because of his 10-5 rights. Lee’s refusal to be traded set off a storm of criticism among Cub fans calling Lee, “selfish” among other superlatives because Lee weighed his family heavily into his decision. It was his right and his decision wasn’t the right one in the mind of Cub fans. Later in the week as the trading deadline was approaching, Ted Lilly’s name was coming up more and more in trade speculation. Lilly was in the final year of his contract and the Cubs wanted to move him while his value was never going to be any higher. On the Friday before the deadline, rumors were swirling that Lilly might be moved to the Dodgers along with Ryan Theriot. One of the transactions that L.A. did on that Friday was to option utility infielder Blake DeWitt to AAA Alberquerque. It would only make sense that if Theriot was being sent with Lilly then DeWitt was probably going to be included in the deal. The only thing that was holding up the deal was how much money that the Cubs would send to L.A. to cover Lilly’s contract. The Cubs sent money, Lilly, and Theriot for DeWitt and 2 pitching prospects. This trade could have some ramifications for the Cubs now and down the line.
The important part of the deal was getting DeWitt in the deal. He is only 24, plays 2B, 3B, and SS while the Cubs control his services until 2014 at around 400K per year. As far back as 2008, DeWitt was rated as the Dodgers #8 prospect according to Baseball Prospectus. DeWitt’s numbers was almost the same as Theriot, but DeWitt’s OBP was higher which is one of the reasons that Pinella cooled on Theriot. The two pitching prospects gives the Cubs some depth and flexiblilty in the minors. With Lilly gone, the Cubs are bringing Thomas Diamond up from AAA Iowa. Diamond was a waiver claim from AZ last year. Thomas has the first shot to make an impression for 2011.
The Cubs offseason is going to be the most interesting offseason since Pinella was hired. The changes could be wholesale if the Ricketts decide to replace Jim Hendry. They are already going to be replacing Pinella, who is retiring, and it remains unseen who besides Rudy Jaramillo is going to be back next season. It all depends on who the manager is, but there isn’t a shortage of candidates. Do they bring up Ryne Sandburg satisfying most Cub Fans or do they go after someone with experience like Joe Torre (if he is not resigned by L.A.) Of course, it won’t matter who the manager is unless the players start playing better.
It’s no surprise that there are going to be some new faces on the North Side in 2011. First off, the rotation might have the most new faces, but it also hinges on a few things. The biggest question is whether Z will be on the team or if he is moved in much the same way that Milton Bradley was moved after the 2009 season. It’s a given that to move Z is to assume a hefty portion of the money left on his contract. If Z is moved then there will be 2 maybe 3 new pitchers in the rotation. Dempster will be one and Tom Gorzelanny should be the other. Can Randy Wells put this disaster of a season behind him and pitch much like he did in 2009? The list of names the Cubs have in the minors ready include Chris Carpenter, Jay Jackson, Andrew Cassner, Mike Parisi, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Hung-Wen Chen, Scott Maine, and Thomas Diamond. The bullpen is a much more complex machine than the rotation. Do they pull Cassner out of the bullpen for the rotation weakening that said bullpen? Do they build from the end of the bullpen out? I believe that finding quality relievers is harder because of the uncertainty of the position. Bobby Howry is a prime example. Howry was lights out in the first year of this first stint with the Cubs, but spiraled downwards pretty fast. The Cubs do have some building blocks in the bullpen with James Russell, Stevens, and Sean Marshall.
The lineup should see some heavy tinkering for there should be only a couple new faces come 2011. 1B should be a big priority this offseason. D-Lee is probably not coming back for 2011 and it is uncertain who would be available as far as free agency goes. Going back to the trade for DeWitt. DeWitt would certain allow the Cubs to keep Castro at SS. Reports have Hak-Ju Lee being a much better defensive SS than Castro, but if the Cubs have a solid 2B then they could use Lee or Darwin Barney in a trade for a 1B such as A-Gone from San Diego. After this season, D-Lee’s 12 million dollars a year contract will be off the books which could be used as a starter for resigning A-Gone (if he could be acquired from San Diego), A-Ram’s contract will be off the books after the 2011 season which could figure in the contract also. The 2011 infield could look like A-Ram at 3B, Castro at SS, DeWitt at 2B, and A-Gone at 1B which would give the Cubs a solid infield. The outfield situation could be cleared up this offseason if the Cubs could find a taker for Fukudome. The Cubs will have to approach this much like they will with Z and eat some if not most of the remainder of Fukudome’s contract. At least, his contract comes off after the 2011 season and it may be easier to move him at next year’s deadline. If Byrd and Colvin play much like they have in 2010 then they can get by with Soriano in LF and they have Brett Jackson ready to be the fourth outfielder if Fukudome is moved. What they need to decide is whether Hill is a viable option to be the backup to Soto or do they go the free agent route or bring up one of the kids down in the minors.
The 2011 season is going to be one of intrigue and there will be more excitement than there has been since they last went to the postseason a couple years back.
The December 3rd trade which saw fan favorite Jake Fox traded along with Aaron Miles to Oakland for RHPs Jerry Gray and Ronny Morla with LF Matthew Spencer was met with mixed reactions. The Cub fans that viewed the trade in a negative light viewed the trade as weakening the team heading in 2010 where the Cub fans that viewed it in a positive light viewed the trade as getting rid of Miles bad contract and Jake Fox who is viewed more as a DH and getting three players back with one having a role on the 2010 team. I agree with the latter when it comes to this trade.
There are a few factors when it comes to this trade and why I believe that this trade will make the 2010 team better. The Hendry years have had its fill of good trades i.e. A-Ram and bad trades i.e. Juan Pierre. This trade, potentially, can go down as one of the better trades. A look into the trade itself. The Cubs came off the 08 season being swept by the Dodgers and was looking to upgrade the bench. Aaron Miles has had a very solid career as a 2B with Colorado and St. Louis, but Hendry signed him for above market value. Hendry was banking on Miles history and was willing to spend more to get him thinking that Miles could give the Cubs a back-up to Fontenot and something solid coming off the bench. Jake Fox was brought up and gave the Cubs a solid season hitting .259 with 11 HRs and 44 RBIs. Fox didn’t really have a position on the Cubs and his defense left him basically a DH on the team. So, with that in mind, Hendry decided that he could package him with Miles to Oakland shedding Miles’s contract. In return, Hendry received a reliever that could contribute to the 2010 team and two prospects.
The trade helps the team in more ways than one. The bigger reason is that the Cubs got rid of two players that were not going to be in the plans in 2010. The Cubs can look for two players to fill out the bench or carry an extra pitcher for the bullpen. The trade helped put an end to the disaster of the 08 offseason which saw Kevin Gregg, Miles, and Bradley brought in. The trade did bring what was probably deemed impossible was that the Cubs acquired five prospects for two players that were negatives on the team and drew the ire from the fans.
Another aspect of this trade is that Jake Fox’s trade ceiling was probably never going to be as high as it was after the season. With Fox’s age (27) he was probably never going to show any significant improvement that would justify keeping him. Steve Stone has a pearl of wisdom, “It’s better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late.” This little adage was perfect when referring to Jake Fox. The Cubs have had a history of hanging on to their “can’t miss” prospects i.e. Pie, Rich Hill, Corey Patterson. It’s ironic considering that Pie and Hill were rumored to be headed to Baltimore for Brian Roberts a couple years back, but wound up in Baltimore for less than what they could have gotten. Instead, Hendry decided to trade Fox before Fox had a chance of bottoming out.
The trade did help with getting some depth in the pen. Smart baseball minds will argue that you could never have too many quality relievers. With the addition of Gray, Hendry now has some depth in the pen that will allow him to deal someone like Caridad, Berg, Stevens, Gaub or whoever to use in a trade. The wildcard in this trade is Matthew Spencer who could play a role much like Jake Fox did in the 2009 season, but seems to play better defense than Fox. In addition, Spencer is only 23 and was one of the players that Philadelphia traded to Oakland for Joe Blanton. In 2009, Spencer did hit 19 HRs while hitting .289. Of the 539 plate appearances, he struck out 90 times.
Time will tell on this trade, but both teams got what they want. The Fox trade was one that had to be made and could loom large in the 2010 season.