Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Cubs Off-Season Guide Part I of VI

It's a shame we don't use Roman numerals more often.....isn't the Super Bowl like XL or somehthing weird this year.

So here's what I'm going to do, it's my guide to what the Cubs should/could do this offseason and I'm breaking it into 5 parts.

- Starting Infield - (5 deep)
- Starting Outfield - (3 deep)
- Starting Pitching - (5 deep)
- Bullpen - (6-7 deep)
- Bench - (5-6 deep)
- Management, Minors, Whatever Else that hasn't been covered

I'm going to look at each guy, his contract, and whether we should keep him, lose him or if the position is already open, then who should/could be the replacement. Let me say right off, this isn't what the Cubs could do in a world where money was no object. I'm trying to look at it through what I believe the Cubs can afford & what I believe Jim Hendry and the Cubs brass values in their players. It's more of a what you can expect next year deal rather than a why don't we just get the best player at every position thing. So here it goes:

Catcher - Michael Barrett
Contract Status - Arbitration eligible, $1.55 million last year, expected 2005 deal in the $2 - 3 million range
As this fella so eloquently put it, Barrett is Hendry's white whale. He's been infatuated by the guy for years and well it certainly paid off last year. So kudos to Jim Hendry, as Barrett was a huge surprise offensively. At 28 we should still expect some improvement, not to mention he was originally drafted as a shortstop and was converted to catcher only in 1995, so I think it's reasonable to assume his decline won't be as bad as most catchers once he reaches 30. That all being said, last year was a career year for Barrett so Hendry should really be looking to get a much better bat as a backup catcher than Paul Bako. Defensively he just always looks out of place to me and his ability to call a game seems to be questioned by Maddux and Prior. Well not publicly but the one time Barrett caught Maddux, there was a lot of shaking off and looks of disgust by Maddux and once Bako started catching Prior in September his ERA went back to his superhuman levels, although more of that can be attributed to him finding his release point in my opinion. Anyway the Cubs will not be doing anything here other than resigning Barrett, so let's hope we see more of last year's Barrett.
Potential Replacements None, Barrett's staying

1st base - Derek Lee
Contract Status - Signed through 2006, $7 million next year
Well his defense is just as good as they say, the Win Shares system shows him only behind Todd Helton among NL first basemen. Offensively, um, yeah that was disappointing. The Friendly Confines were rather nice to him. but away from Wrigley he was quite mediocre. Look at these splits:

2003
Road: .297/.388/.591
Home: .242/.371/.419

So get him away from pitcher friendly Pro Player, not to mention the wind howling out most of last year and we should have ourselves the 4th best first basemen in the NL behind Helton, Pujols, and Thome, right? Not quite:

2004
Road: .273/.339/.480
Home: .282/.371/.528

His numbers did go up at home but we was quite bad away from Wrigley and if you could figure out why, then let me know. All I can think of is that he seems to perform better at night than during the day and that Dusty's, "you can't walk across the plate" mantra seriously put a damper on his OBP which is where most of his dropff can be attributed to. He ended up about 8th among NL first basemen and well that's not what we were expecting. So let's hope we get the guy who was supposed to hit 40 HR's while sporting a nice, fat .380 OBP.
Potential Replacements None, Lee will be staying.

2nd base - Open
Contract Status - Open
The Grudz/ Walker combo was rather effective last year, ranking somewhere between 6th & 8th among NL position players. Of course Walker was around 4th when he was starting all by himself last year and his defense was better than you think. Since he's the exact kind of player this team needed all season, someone who WANTED to get on base and not just slug homers, resigning him is probably our most cost effective strategy. There are a bunch of others who I wouldn't mind signing or trading for if the opportunity arises. Grudzielanek at age 34 should be shown the door. If you sign him to play the bench you know Baker wil use him way too much. Thanks for the last 2 years Grudz, love the name, but we can do better. The replacements are in my pseudo order of preference/expectations.
Potential Replacements Todd Walker, Jeff Kent, Mark Bellhorn, Placido Polanco, Mark Grudzielanek

Shortstop - Open
Contract Status - Open
We traded for a potential Hall of Famer and everyone thought we'd run away with the wild card. That certainly didn't work out. Still a great trade as we gave up very little for Garciaparra and hopefully he liked enough of Chicago to come back. His numbers are no longer in the 1.000 OPS range but by OPS he'd still would have ranked 3rd among all shorstops last year and first in the NL. His defense is a question mark but I think our pitching staff strikes out enough people where Garciaparra's offense outweighs those concerns. Plus other than maybe Renteria there's no one all that attractive out there. The talk is he's willing to take a one year Pudge like prove I'm still valuable deal with incentives, which would make signing him a no-brainer in my opinion. The one thing the Cubs should not do is offer him arbitration, he made $11.5 million last year and he would accept it in a heartbeat and I think it's more likely he'll get a deal at a base around $7-8 million with a lot of incentives. Either that or someone signs him long-term for way too much and we forget about him.
Potential Replacements Nomar Garciaparra, Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Neifi Perez (You think I'm kidding), Omar Vizquel, Christian Guzman (if we get really desperate)

3rd base -Aramis Ramirez
Contract Status - Arbitration eligible, $6 million last year, expected 2005 deal in the $8-10 million range
Well first let's talk about his defense, his errors went down from 33 to 10 and more importantly every time he got a ball, my butt didn't clench up fearing he'd throw it into the first base stands. Dusty said last year that once they got him into training camp, they'd fix his footwork which leads to his throwing and well it worked. Some of it can be attributed to Derek Lee I'm sure but not 23 errors worth. His range is still his range and well he's not going to win any gold gloves but at least his defense is no longer a nightmare.

Offensively it was between him and Alou for team MVP, and since I really don't like Alou, my vote goes to Ramirez. The best thing is most of his splits don't show any warning signs, he was better at home than on the road but it wasn't drastic (1.000 OPS at Wrigley, .900 on the road). At 26 (let's hope that's right), we should expect greatness from him for the next 4-6 years.
Potential Replacements None, Ramirez will stay and sign a four to five year extension with option years unless Scott Boras is his agent. Personally I'd love to make a run at Troy Glaus but no reason to risk it when you have Ramirez already there.

Summary:The Cubs have open spots up the middle at second and short, and I think it will look a lot like the Cubs of last year with Walker and Garciaparra. A rebound year by Derek Lee and it might be one of the best in the league. Many think defense is the most important thing at second and short but I think with our high strikeout pitchers and with Clement probably leaving, it won't mean that much. Prior and Wood strike out a ton and are flyball pitchers. Zambrano strikes out a ton but is a groundball pitcher. Maddux use to be a groundball pitcher but not so much anymore, which leaves us our 5th starter. Clement was a groundball pitcher, if Glendon Rusch takes his place, he's pretty much neutral. Not to mention you could just sign backups who are defensive wizards. We're looking at somewhere between $30 to $35 million on our infield next year, with the chance at being one of the best offensively in the league.

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