Big Questions in Cubdom: Should the Cubs Re-sign Kerry Wood?

In a tumultuous off-season for the Chicago Cubs, there have been a slew of players who have found themselves on the outside looking in with the new regime of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer doing some serious housecleaning. Aramis Ramirez has departed to Milwaukee, Carlos Pena won’t be brought back by the club, and Carlos Zambrano, Tyler Colvin, Sean Marshall, and Andrew Cashner have all been dealt away. One free agent, however, has Cubs fans torn between their loyalty to him and their willingness to allow the new baseball brain trust to shape the team as they see fit.

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Cubs Terminate GM Jim Hendry; What’s his Legacy Among Cub Nation?

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We knew this was coming, just a matter of when. The Chicago Cubs today officially fired General Manager Jim Hendry, naming Assistant GM Randy Bush as his interim successor. Owner Tom Ricketts issued a statement saying that the search for Hendry’s long-term replacement has already begun.

Hendry, 56, was named Vice President/General Manager on July 5, 2002 and departs as the third-longest tenured general manager in the National League. He is the GM in franchise history to oversee three post-season clubs (2003, 2007, 2008) and is the first Cubs general manager to lead the franchise to consecutive post-season berths.

Of course, that accomplishment is a little bit inflated given:

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The Chicago Cubs didn’t lose yesterday!!

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Hey, everybody, the Cubs didn’t lose yesterday! That is right. They didn’t lose yesterday. Man, what a great feeling.

Yep, that is what this season has become. I am happy because they couldn’t lose. That is awful. But we move forward because that is what Cubs fans do.

And what is the treat we get for moving forward? The Cubs get to play three straight games against the only team that is actually worse than them! Woo-hoo. Bring on Hunter Pence and Wandy Rodriguez. What a weekend at Wrigley it will be!

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Cubs Thoughts, Opinions, Moods Changing Like the Weather

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It’s not an off day, but it is Thursday, and the Cubs will not be playing until much later tonight, so that can only mean one thing. Well, it could mean a lot of things, but in this case it means it time to get your ramble on.

Technically, it would be my ramble, but let’s just get our collective ramble going in the column and in the comments. I am bringing it with a few of my opinions. I expect to take some heat. All is fair here.

So, let’s do this.

By: Brian McCabe

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The Chicago Cubs, Mickey Mouse and plenty of General Managers

Carlos Pena, Adam LaRoche … or will it be Tyler Colvin?

First base is empty for the first time in a long time. Remember when Hee-Seop Choi was the Cubs first-baseman of the future? Yea, it is darn funny to think about that.

And this is just the first of many questions regarding the 2011 installment of the Chicago Cubs.

Will Tom Gorzelanny be traded?

Will Brandon Webb be signed?

Could Paul Konerko become a Chicago Cub?

Will Sean Marshall really remain in the set-up role?

What is Andrew Cashner’s role in 2011?

Will Kerry Wood come back?

Should the Cubs go after Zach Grienke?

Will Jeff Samardzija get a real chance?

As one can see, questions regarding the Cubs are flying around the Internet and some are most likely traveling around a hotel lobby in Lake Buena Vista, Florida as well.

By: Brian McCabe

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Cubs GM Jim Hendry Believes they’re still in it

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“It could be a lot worse. Like I said, if you could just reel off a few good weeks, you could find yourself in the middle of July under five games behind and then it’s back to ‘game on’ again,” Chicago Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry told the media before Wednesday night’s 6-2 win over the visiting Oakland Athletics.

“It’s just time to do it. We need a couple good weeks, and need to maintain some consistency,” Hendry later added. The Cubs are 8 games under .500 and 7.5 games out of first place in the NL Central, and most baseball gurus believe they’ll enter selling mode quite soon; if they haven’t already.

By Paul M. Banks

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50% of 162 is…uhh…Where’s my Calculator?

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By Paul Schmidt

The halfway point of the baseball season has been reached for the Chicago Cubs.  Suffice it to say, things didn’t quite go as planned.  What has happened?  What will happen?  Let’s take a brief, brief look back (mainly because that’s all I can stomach) and then a glance at the future as we try to figure out where this team is going to take us in this wild and wooly 2009 season.

Offense
The bats, as we all know and has been well documented, have been silent. Everything that Jim Hendry did in this offseason backfired, much as I and many others feared it might. Hendry overcompensated for a lineup that didn’t feature enough left-handers and dealt away one of the teams’ biggest strengths last season – defense (which we will get to).

Alfonso Soriano has been an unbelievable disappointment at the plate.  Geovany Soto’s not been much better – but seems to be coming on ever so slightly after his positive marijuana test has come out. Mike Fontenot is proving why he isn’t an every-day player in the majors. Milton Bradley’s not hitting for power or average (but, in all sincerity, he is getting on base with an OBP of near .380 – exceedingly high for someone only hitting .245). Fukudome is coming back to earth after a torrid start again this spring, but at least is still drawing walks.

Derrek Lee has been absolutely raking, and is deserving of an All Star berth mainly because he’s had to carry this whole mess on his shoulders for the last six weeks.  Ryan Theriot also has been a nice sparkplug at the plate, and, thank goodness, has stopped running the bases with the reckless abandon of past seasons.

Pitching
The starters have been the anchor of the team.  Ted Lilly has been an unsung hero this season – and worthy of an All-Star bid. Randy Wells probably should be getting mentions as a Rookie of the Year candidate, as hard as that might be to believe. Carlos Zambrano has been his usual up and down self, and Ryan Dempster has had to deal with a lot of personal tragedy in his life this season, yet continues to take the ball every five days (until landing on the DL today

Presumably, he didn't break his toe after throwing this pitch...

Presumably, he didn't break his toe after throwing this pitch...

with a mysterious broken toe).  Only Rich Harden has been completely inconsistent, as no one seems to know which pitcher is going to hit the mound on any given day.

The bullpen has spent much of the season looking sketchy, but might have turned a corner. Kevin Gregg – Known to Chicago Comcast On-Demand subscribers as the Pout-Pout Fish – has thrown very well over the past couple of weeks.  Carlos Marmol seems to – THANK GOD – have turned a corner and should again be considered as a possible closer. With Angel Guzman headed back into the mix as the 7th or 8th inning guy, the bullpen, once thought to be a weakness, could become a big strength.

Defense
Or lack thereof. With Milton Bradley and Alfonso Soriano on the corners, the outfield struggles to be adequate. Ryan Theriot is generally viewed, in MLB circles, as a picture-perfect example of how NOT to play shortstop. The bench is devoid of anyone who can come in and be a marked improvement defensively, save for Andres Blanco, who unfortunately can’t hit or bunt. One thing saving both Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir in this area is that when the starting OF is as bad defensively as it is, really, there’s no reason to criticize their defense.

To put things in perspective, in the second three-game series against the White Sox, Alfonso Soriano lost a pop fly in the sun and played an out into a hit on three consecutive days…and this received virtually no mention because Milton Bradley’s unfortunate “counting” incident was so very bad. That’s an awful defensive outfield.

The Second Half
Here’s five big subplots to the rest of the season for Cubs fans to be watching:
1)  Off days. The Cubs, as mentioned earlier, just hit the midway point of the season at 81 games, and were the last team in all of baseball to hit that barrier. They have four games played less than the division-leading Cardinals, and obviously that gap has to be made up prior to the end of the year, which means the Cubs will have four less off days due to, mostly, inclement weather at the beginning of the year. How Lou Piniella manages the roster and gets everyone enough rest as the season goes along will be a big part of how far the Cubs can go this season

2) Injuries. The boys in blue received a big boost Monday in getting Aramis Ramirez, Angel Guzman and Reed Johnson back from injury, but then lost Ryan Dempster to the DL with a broken toe on Tuesday, with no immediate timetable for his return. If injuries continue to mount, with so few off days, the Cubs will be in real trouble trying to field an adequate roster.

3) The rotation. This goes hand-in-hand with the last item, with Dempster headed to the DL. From an immediate standpoint, Carlos Zambrano moves up one day to make the start on Tuesday, and then Kevin Hart, only sent to the

Oh...Kevin Hart looks dejected...let's hope that isn't a sign.

Oh...Kevin Hart looks dejected...let's hope that isn't a sign.

minors yesterday, will make his first major league start on Wednesday. Hart, barring a miracle, can’t be a permanent solution in that role, and Sean Marshall has to stay in the bullpen as the only lefty out there, so it leaves questions of who fills that spot in the rotation should Dempster miss any length of time – which, if the toe broken is his big toe on his plant foot, could actually happen. Watch Hart’s Wednesday start closely, and possibly pray a little that he looks like Cy Young.

4) The ownership. Just as soon as it looked like things might get resolved on Monday, things got way less clear on Tuesday. It looked as though Tom Ricketts’ bid was going forward on Monday, but Tuesday it became public that though the Ricketts deal seemed to be agreed to in principal, the Tribune continued to negotiate with the group led by equity investor Marc Utay and reached an agreement for more money overall – but less cash up front. While the particulars of how and why are relevant to the sale of the team, only one thing is important to the fans at this point – it doesn’t look like the sale will be completed in time before the trade deadline, as had been previously speculated upon. With that being the case, it goes from being extremely difficult for Jim Hendry to get a trade together to being near impossible for him.

5) The team to beat. Who is that team, to be more specific.  Is it the Cardinals, with their solid rotation and best player on earth, Albert Pujols?  Is it the Brewers with their other-worldly offense and a pitching staff that ranges from Yovani Gallardo (awesome) to…Seth freaking McClung (to quote the Hebrew Hammer, oy vais). Could it be the up-and-coming (and getting healthier themselves) Reds?

Perhaps any of those teams could pull the division off…but I imagine that it will be the Cubs themselves as the team to beat.  I mean that in one of two ways, though – Maybe they will distance themselves from the pack and become the team to beat.

Or perhaps they will be the team that beats themselves.

With 81 down and 81 to go, we’re closer, rather than further, from the answer.

One…Two…Three…Let’s All Step Back From the Ledge

By Paul Schmidt

So as a general rule I have been the most pessimistic Cub fan I know.  Outside of the loss of Mark DeRosa (which every Cub fan hated this past offseason), I hated every single move the Cubs made both with their offense and with their pitching staff.  I felt as though they completely weakened the team from a season ago in a reaction that could only be described as knee-jerk.

Not to bite former Arizona Cardinals head coach Denny Green, but the Cubs are who I thought they were.  They are who I thought they were.  This isn’t the same team that won 95 games last season.  They aren’t as good.  Now, it’s not going to matter a lick, because the rest of the division is worse this year as well, probably even more so.

And while the Cardinals are dominating early, and the Brewers are showing a little bit of life, it would seem that they don’t have the talent to hang in the long run.
Even still…what is wrong with this team so far?

Overcompensation – I figured I’d get my last gripe (for the length of this article) about the mismanagement of the franchise by GM Jim Hendry while I’m trying to get this noose off from around my neck.

Look, I love Jim Hendry.  I do.  But the things he did this offseason…he just tried too hard.
It sort of reminds me of the new White Castle commercial.  You know, the one with the stripper pig, dancing around on stage?  Then getting doused by barbeque sauce?  It’s a push for everyone to learn about their new pulled pork sandwich…but it turns out just being really creepy.  Excessively skeevy. 

And the worst part was it was completely unnecessary.  Everyone already loves White Castle.  They will never lose business.  And hey, if I’m in the mood, I might try some pulled pork sliders.  Why not?  I like sliders.  I like pulled pork.  I might give it a shot.  But probably not if you show me a stripper pig pole dancing, getting doused by Sweet Baby Ray’s and then slopping it all over the audience.  I’m just saying.
The point is, Jim Hendry did much the same thing this past offseason (without the gross imagery). Not enough lefty bats off the bench?  Let’s ship out solid fielders and good right handed bats for subpar fielders and hitters, just because they hit from the left side of the plate.

The lineup is too right-handed?  Let’s ship out the most versatile player on the team (Mark DeRosa)  and get quite literally nothing of value in return.  Hey, while we’re at it, let’s sign an injury-prone, temperamental, stone-handed designated hitter to replace him (Milton Bradley).  Great call.
Point being, sometimes you can over-compensate for perceived problems.  And really make me mad/skeeved out by doing so.

BULLPEN: This is a really bad problem.  Bad, very bad. Going-to-cause-heart-attacks-across Chicago-before-the-end-of-the-season bad.  Naming Kevin Gregg the closer over Carlos Marmol not only sent millions of fantasy baseball players scrambling to the waiver wire, it immediately weakened the ‘pen (the combination of Gregg-Marmol in the 8th and 9th instead of….say…Marmol-Wood is already a step down, why just flip the two and make the problem worse??).

Then you have a situation where you have too many pitchers for roster spots, so obviously, you keep the rule 5 draftee who has never played above High A ball (David Patton) instead of the established long reliever who can spot start for you (Chad Gaudin).  Because why would you need a spot starter for the North Siders’ rotation, when, historically, they’ve been sooooo healthy, and have a pitcher named Rich Harden whose arm could detach at the shoulder on any pitch.

Plus you have Angel Guzman pitching as though he is bringing gasoline and matches to the mound and lighting himself on fire ever time he pitches.  PLUS you have Neal Cotts – the only lefty in the pen, mind you – throwing as though he has money against the Cubs every time he pitches.  I hate this bullpen.  I need a drink.

OFFENSE: Perhaps a lot of the offensive woes could be attributed to injuries to Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto and Milton Bradley.  I get that.  It does make sense, as two of them, along with Alfonso Soriano, are your teams’ biggest three weapons.
It doesn’t excuse the following stats, though: Derrek Lee, 1 HR, .205 AVG; Soto .143 AVG 0 HR; Bradley 2 HR, 2 RBI, .128 AVG; Aaron Miles .167 AVG;  Mike Fontenot, .250 AVG.

The offense has been, at times, putrid, and is being carried for long stretches by Kosuke Fukudome (one thing I was right about) and freakin’ Ryan Theriot (I LOVE The Riot, I do, but when you’re relying on him to hit a grand slam for you to win a game…well, that’s not a good sign folks.  Not a good sign…).

STARTING ROTATION: These guys cannot be blameless either. Everyone thought Ryan Dempster would take a step back, but at 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA and a K:BB ratio of 25:14, he’s been downright awful.

Rich Harden is another matter.  He’s striking out a ton of guys, leading the team in Ks despite averaging less than 5 innings per start. When healthy, Harden is one of the best pitchers in the major leagues, but he absolutely does not look good so far this season.  The Cubs need him to turn things around quickly, especially if Ryan Dempster is turning into the Ryan Dumpster of Cincinnati fame.

All in all, things could be worse.  The offense will get better quickly as everyone GETS healthy, meaning the pitching staff won’t need to be great to keep the team in games.     However, the larger issue is that, at 11-11 after 22 games into the season, we as a fandom should probably scale back our expectations of running away with the division. Maybe 87 or 88 wins, and a fight to the finish against the Cards and/or the Brewers.

I’m as big of fan as anyone, I swear to you, but when my friends and I took a Vegas trip in mid-March, we made some future bets on win totals in baseball.  We saw the Cubs number at 92.5, my buddy Mark and I did, and we looked at each other.

“The under?” Mark, another die-hard Cub fan, asked.
“The under,” I agreed.
They are who we thought they were.

Cubs Off-Season Exchange

By David K. and Paul Schmidt

(DK) The wheel certainly doesn’t need to be re-invented.  But after the embarrassment of a second straight three-and-out in the post-season, some sort of shake-up needed to be made with the Cubs roster.  GM Jim Hendry has kept the core of the club in tact, but has been fairly active in adding other pieces to the puzzle.

Perhaps the biggest transaction for the Cubs this off-season is the one Hendry didn’t make.  During the winter meetings, it seemed like all but a done deal that Padres ace Jake Peavy would end up calling Wrigley Field home.  Instead, Hendry passed stating that San Diego’s asking price was too expensive.  I can’t help but think that Hendry still believes he has a shot at landing Peavy.  By trading Mark DeRosa and Felix Pie for five young pitchers and then dealing one of those young arms and Ronny Cedeno for Aaron Heilman, it seems like Hendry is still trying to load up on enough young ammunition to pull the trigger on a deal for Peavy.  Even ESPN’s Buster Olney believes the door is still open between the two teams.  So let me ask you this, what do you think the chances are that Peavy will be donning a ‘C’ on his hat by the start of Spring Training?

(PS)  It certainly seems as though a deal will get done, although I fear it will be sooner than later.  The latest Jim Hendry trade to go through is a little baffling to me, as I don’t know that I see the logic of ever giving up anyone for a pitcher (Aaron Heilman) with a career ERA as a starter of 5.96.  But hey, we have more Golden Domers, and that’s gotta be good, right?

The Peavy trade though is going to happen.  I think that, in the long run, the Cubs will still be the frontrunners, but I don’t believe a deal is going to happen until much later in the season, most likely around the All Star Break or later. The Pads have to cut salary and Peavy makes up 25 percent of their salary this season (an astronomical figure, really), and that will only get worse in the later years of the contract.

Do the Cubs need Peavy?  I think that’s a resounding yes, with the questions surrounding the fifth starter in the rotation, whether Ryan Dempster can repeat his ’08 effort, and if Rich Harden’s arm is eventually going to detach at the shoulder mid-pitch.  Hopefully, Hendry will see sooner rather than later that right now we have the power in the trade talks.  IF there’s a big injury or underperformance from the rotation, power shifts to the Pads and we’d have to give up more.

I think that I’m curious how much rope Jim Hendry is going to have this season.  He’s made a lot of moves that are very easy to question and second guess, which is interesting given how solid he has been over the last several seasons. With new ownership set to take over, how long of a rope will Hendry have this coming season?

(DK) I do think the Cubs need Peavy to contend for a World Series.  I am not sold on rewarding Dempster with 4 years, $52 million after his first year as a full-time starting pitcher in five seasons.  He is a great clubhouse guy and was as valuable a player for the Cubs in ’08 as anyone on the team, but I fear that he hit his peak last year and in two or three years, that signing will come back to bite Hendry in the butt.  And let’s pray that Harden’s arm doesn’t go Dave Dravecky on us.  I am sure Sweet Lou will be smart again in protecting him and limiting his innings throughout the season.

As for Hendry’s leash, I think he did a good job this off-season of cutting back on the spending.  He jettisoned about $15 million in unloading Jason Marquis and DeRosa, and saved another five or six mil by letting Kerry Wood walk and instead acquiring Kevin Gregg from the Marlins.  So hopefully the new management realizes his smarts with those matters and that the Cubs are a never-ending source of income and lets Hendry pursue a player with the salary of Peavy.

On the other hand, Hendry did give Milton Bradley $30 million over three years.  I know the Cubs were desperate to land a left-handed bat for the middle of the line-up, but now we’e counting on a guy who spent most of last year DH’ing (just 20 games played in the outfield) to come and play 130 games in right field.  I thought the circus days of a right fielder patrolling Wrigley Field was over when Sammy Sosa, Jeromy Burnitz, and Cliff Floyd left.  Plus, there is that whole crazy factor with Bradley.  I would not want to be a Gatorade cooler in the Cubs dug-out with both Bradley and Carlos Zambrano pacing back and forth for 162 games…

(PS) – Let me be the first to say that I love Bradley’s fire.  Most of his outbursts aren’t directed at teammates. Rather, they are directed at people questioning his heart, desire or talent, and I’m ok with that.  He had a really, really tough childhood, and it’s amazing he’s even alive, let alone a Major League Baseball player.  Obviously, your concerns about his health and…”ability” to field are exactly the same as mine.

Whether or not you’re right on Kerry Wood remains to be seen, though he did say he’d come back and play for whatever Hendry thought was fair.  I don’t know why you wouldn’t bring him back for another season, especially since it seemed what he wanted to do.

Kevin Gregg isn’t a good pitcher and no kind of answer to any possible bullpen problem…obviously, I’m not real high on that acquisition. I’m also not sure why giving away Jason Marquis for a below average reliever when Marquis had been nothing below an average starter and could hit the ball and pinch run – an underrated part of his game- was supposed to be a good plan.

I also think that our roster as a whole got a lot less flexible after DeRosa left. I said at the time that sometimes players are more valuable to you than they are to other people – and this was back when they were looking to send him to San Diego for Peavy, so what they actually got for him was disappointing.

Point being, I think that Hendry might be in more jeopardy than people think.