Theo Epstein Talks at Winter Meetings, Reveals Plans for Cubs

In what historically is a fun event for fans of trades and free agent signings, the Winter Meetings are taking place next week in Dallas, Texas, and GM’s of various teams are already starting to talk to the media. Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ new President of Baseball Operations, took some time to talk to ESPN.com’s Bruce Levine on Thursday, and he had some interesting comments for the noted baseball scribe.

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The Chicago Cubs are NOT GOOD at baseball

Hello, good day, hope you are all doing fantastic. It is Friday, and as well all know, that means it is time for some ramblings. It is time to just throw some thoughts out there, see what sticks, then ask some hopefully intriguing questions and create some debate. That is what we do here, so let’s get it on. The trade deadline is Sunday, and a certain third baseman might be changing his tune.

So, without further ado …

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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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Irrationally Overrated MLB Players: Cubs Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano

soriano sucks

Taking a look at the gargantuan Chicago Cubs payroll, one must think, “Wow, this has to be a ball club filled with talent and perennial all stars.” Sadly, that is not the case. In fact just the opposite is true. Along with the fluffed up contracts, the Cubs roster lacks plenty of performance.

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Cubs Thoughts, Opinions, Moods Changing Like the Weather

marisa-miller-cubs

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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Rotator Cuffs and Forearms Seriously Frustrating to Cubs Fans

With the off day yesterday, the DL debacle and Dempster’s destruction, it is time to just get it all out and rant like nuts about all things Chicago Cubs.

So, let’s get it on …

Dempster does not look good. In fact, he looks bad.

• I feel like with need a real-life version of ESPN’s fantasy baseball commercial, where Quade sits down with Marmol, Wood and Marshall and lets them know that they might pitch in 150 games each.

• That was just horrific on Tuesday watching the Shark and Mateo completely botch that game. Thankfully, the Cubs still won, but it was just plain ugly.

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Cubs Ramblings to Report as Pitchers and Catchers Report Soon

I am a rambling, rambling, rambling man.

As you can tell by the headline, it is time to ramble. Let the thoughts flow, let it all hang out, let it go.

So let’s do this. Ramble on!

• Picking up where I left off last week, the Groundhog says Spring is near. I think Punxsutawney Phil must have not seen the 24 inches of freaking snow in Chicago.

• So, the Cubs are giving good ole Lou Montanez another shot. The only person has been given more “second chances” than him is Charlie Sheen.

• I want to take Matt Garza and Carlos Zambrano out for drinks, get them liquored up and then start a fight …

• No, I don’t really want to do that.

• Okay, yes, I totally want that to happen.

• Are the Brewers really going to win the NL Central? Really? Really?

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

cubslogo1

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.

Cubbies are Consistently Inconsistent

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By Paul Schmidt

Nothing like an easy week or so of baseball to just get you relaxed.

The Cubs have always given their fans something of a workout, pumping them waaaayyyy up, then bringing them waaaayyyy down.  I feel as though, personally, that they may actually make my head explode.

Somehow, in their last 10 games, the Cubs are 6-4.  It seems ridiculous to see this in print, given how I feel about the end of their long home stand against the Dodgers and the beginning of their nine game road trip against the Braves, Reds and Astros.  In fact, I had to look that record up.  I assumed it would be somewhere around 3-7 or 2-8.

My own personal experience certainly shows in that, having been at Wrigley for both of the losses in the Dodgers’ series.  On Thursday night I saw an absolutely lackluster performance from the offense until the ninth inning, which ended with consecutive (awful looking) strikeouts by career minor leaguers Bobby Scales and Jake Fox.  Then on Sunday, on Illini Day, after schmoozing with Bruce Weber, Wayne McClain, and some short blonde guy apparently associated with the University, the Dodgers scored five runs off Cubs starter Sean Marshall before we could get to our seats in the nosebleed section.

4 of the last 6 have now gone to extras for the Cubs, which means if you’re reading this and you have some juice left in your arm, you might actually get a call from Jim Hendry to see if you want to throw in the bullpen this week.  Especially if you’re a lefty.

Another career minor leaguer, Randy Wells, continued to throw well during that stretch, throwing seven innings of two run ball in the Thursday night Dodgers loss, and then throwing almost seven innings of no-hit baseball against

Your 2009 NL Rookie of the Year?  Without winning a single game?

Your 2009 NL Rookie of the Year? Without winning a single game?

the Braves the following Tuesday.  He ended up giving up just one run, and handing the ball over to the bullpen with a 5-1 lead.  And then not factoring into the decision.

In fact, that game will forever be the game that I refer to as, “The game that caused me to consult a cardiac specialist the next day.”  I can’t, on advice of said doctor, go into what happened at the end of regulation innings and then in the bottom of the 12th (the mere mention of that inning makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up), but suffice it to say it involved Aaron Heilman pitching to Larry Jones, also known as Chipper…in extras, with the winning run in scoring position…with first base open…when ol’ Larry has hit 6-of-12 in his career against Heilman, including three doubles and two home runs.

If you can’t figure out what happened in that game, well, then you really mustn’t be a Cubs fan…

At any rate, that was the game that also caused me to realize how remarkably consistent the Cubs have been this season.  Usually this would be a good thing, but then, is anything ever really that good with the Cubs?

The fact is, they’ve been consistently inconsistent. From a game to game basis, I, personally, have no idea what to expect from this team.  I can’t believe that I’m the only one in that respect – I currently think that Lou Piniella throws darts at photos on the wall to determine who is going to play where on a daily basis.  If he’s not, it couldn’t honestly be any worse or yield any more unpredictable results than whatever method he is using.

Here’s the thing though: A Major League Baseball team can’t survive playing the way they are. You have to have consistency in some way, even if it’s just in the lineup that gets thrown out there every day.  In 2007 and 2008, that wasn’t a problem.  Injuries, for the most part, stayed away or were minor, so they could put their best foot forward most days.

The defense was solid on a daily basis.

There was always someone that was hot on offense, a bat that carried the team while others struggled.

Now re-read those previous three paragraphs. Do any of those three things sound like this years’ edition of the Chicago Cubs?

They really don’t.  Injuries are mounting, on offense and on the pitching staff (though it seems like the rotation is finally getting healthy with Rich Harden set to throw this coming weekend). The defense has been shoddy at best (with the Cubs posting a record that is something like 2-5,302 when they commit an error this season), and the offense has disappeared for long stretches of games, with only Kosuke Fukudome and Ryan Theriot showing consistent signs of life.

It’s been maddening, and difficult to watch.  And yet, every time I say I’m going to take a break for a few games, I sit down and turn it to WGN or Comcast Sports Net come game time.

The face of a waffler.

The face of a waffler.

I’m as consistently inconsistent with my convictions as the Cubs have been playing baseball this year.

Funnily enough, those might be the only two things you can count on.

Cubs-Brewers Exchange

By: David K. and Melissa S. Wollering

Thesportsbank.net’s inaugural Cubs-Brewers exchange!  After taking two of three from the depleted Cubs, the Brewers have leapfrogged Chicago in what is shaping up to be a competitive NL Central Division.  TSB’s Brewers expert Melissa S. Wollering and our resident Cubs fool, David K. share their thoughts on this weekend’s series.

DK: Well, at least we saved face by winning Sunday and avoiding an embarrassing sweep to your Brewers.  After Saturday’s game, I was ready to quit the Cubs for about the 214,736th time.  Somehow whenever I threaten to do that, they manage to get a win and just suck me back in.

Kudos to the Crew though.  Ryan Braun’s game-winning home run Friday night was baller.  Saturday, you guys treated our bullpen like they were Eric Gagne and Derrick Turnbow.  You have the best record in baseball since April 19th, winning 15 of your last 20.  Enough with the compliments though.  It’s time to make some excuses.

We played this series without Carlos Zambrano, Derrek Lee, and with Aramis Ramirez separating his shoulder in the first game.  That would be like the Crew being without Yovanni Gallardo, Prince Fielder, and Ryan Braun.  Doesn’t sound fun does it?

By the way, can we get Craig Counsell to take a drug test?  He has to be on the juice after going yard Saturday night.

MW: I firmly believe I stood up during his home run and shouted, “that was just worth more than we paid you for your entire 2009 season contract.”  When looking directly at Craig’s face I always think it has been frozen in time since he’s all of 12 ½ years old.  Perhaps his going yard was more of sudden burst of youth circa 1987. But yes, you can test him for banned substances, by all means.

What has surprised me even more than the Brewers recent stellar offensive display is its pitching. The Crew is either tied with the Cubs or is now leading the league in quality starts with at least 18.  Considering all 5 members of your Cubs starting rotation were said to be better than the best starter we had at the beginning of this season, how do you feel about that, David?

DK: I hate it because I was a big basher of the Crew’s rotation at the beginning of the season.  Yo is living up to his stud potential and Dave Bush has been solid.  As of late, Suppan has been more crafty veteran than washed-up junk-baller.  As for that supposedly sweet Cubbies rotation; Zambrano, Rich Harden, and Ryan Dempster all have ERA’s in the upper-four’s.  But that’s not the major issue.  It’s our bullpen which I trust as much as I would trust Ron Santo not to scream after a Cubs walk-off home run.  I mean, Chad Fox’s ERA is 135.00 in his two games.  Granted, his arm is pretty much dead, but still, a 135.00 ERA?  Even Gagne and Turnbow are laughing at that.

By the way, did you notice Braun’s home run Saturday night when he stared down Dempster after he knew it was gone.  Granted, Dempster had beaned Braun in the helmet the at-bat before, but still, it seems like Braun is getting a little cocky these days which I am usually all about, just not against by Cubs.  K?  Thanks.  For the record Braun is batting .619 against left-handed pitchers this season.  That is shocking.  Not 135.00 ERA shocking, but nonetheless shocking.

MW: That staredown you speak of consisted of steel-tipped darts protruding from Braun’s eyes, yes.  Good thing Dempster was looking back at the ball in awe instead of at Braun or you would have had two pitchers go down in agony that night.  Fox’s arm looked as though it fell off right then and there.  That’s gotta be tough to rehab all that time and throw it out during one of your first outings back.

Surprisingly, our starting rotation is playing to its potential.  Prior to Sunday, Suppan had 4 quality starts in a row.  That’s a shocking as Paula’s song-and-dance return to the stage on last week’s American Idol. But our bullpen isn’t all that much better than yours with the exception of Trevor Hoffman.  When you have someone like Jorge Julio, who’s given up 7 hits and 10 runs (9 earned) in the last 7 days, you tend to want to throw things at the television before the man even finishes running to the mound.



On a bright note, Fukudome’s on base-percentage when he comes to Miller Park is ridonkulous.  Even with three of your stars MIA you might be able to win even if you skipped the other 8 men in the starting lineup and just sent him out to bat for you every third inning.

DK: A) Somehow I just picked up Trevor Hoffman in fantasy baseball league.  B) I think we should call him George Julio, just like it was Bill Mota last year.  C) We can say five of the Cubs stars are MIA.  The aforementioned Big Z, D-Lee, and A-Ram, but don’t forget Milton Bradley and Geovany Soto who are both hitting well below the Mendoza line.

Besides about thirty pounds, what has gotten into Rickie Weeks this year?  He is finally playing like an All-Star second baseman, no longer looks completely incompetent in the field, and doesn’t talk like he has marbles in his mouth during post-game interviews anymore.

Well a tip of the cap to you and the Brewers.  You got us this time around evening the season series at 3-3.  Finally, the Crew travel south to Wrigley in early July for a four-game series so we will get home field advantage.  Hopefully by then our big guns will be healthy and our bullpen situation figured out.  ‘Til then…

MW: …’til then get on the Rickie bandwagon. What’s gotten into him is aggressive swinging early in the pitch count combined with patience at the plate for more hits, more BB’s, and fewer K’s.  Finally the leadoff hitter we’ve been waiting for. Too bad we almost gnawed our arms off it took so long. Braun and our pitching staff need to stay healthy for the Independence Week showdown in Chi.  We may be even now, but we know your baby bears have every intention of setting off some fireworks on the field before the real thing lights up the skies above Lake Michigan. It’s always a superb matchup during which we’ll have to do this again.

Cubs 2009 projections and thoughts

By Paul Schmidt

It’s a pretty remarkable thing that, as of the writing of these thoughts and musings leading into the 2009 season, less than 48 hours before the first pitch of the March to the World Series ™, and the Chicago Cubs’ pitching staff STILL isn’t set.
It must be by 2 PM on Sunday, so we will revisit the pitchers and my thoughts on the staff and their prospective performances this season in a little bit.

The offense, with my ultimately pessimistic thoughts, are as follows.

C – Geovany Soto  .300 batting average, 30 home runs, 87 runs batted in, .905 OPS (on base + slugging percentage)
This is a little bit higher than I’m seeing from most projection services, but based on the numbers I’ve seen from Geo in 2007 at AAA Iowa, and then in his rookie season last year, there’s certainly no reason to think that he would take a step back or even plateau at his numbers from last season.  After all, he’s only 26, and these numbers would put him at or near the top of pile of catchers.

1B – Derrek Lee .280 BA, 15 HR, 80 RBI, .825 OPS

These probably look a little low to a lot of people, but Lee’s 33, his stats have been slipping, and he’s become more and more of an injury risk since injuring his wrist.  IT should be noted that I’m only thinking in the range of 450 at bats for Lee, as well, with Micha Hoffpauir taking away some at bats and they try to keep Lee as fresh as possible. I do think that this will cause his OBP to spike over .400 for the season.

2B – Mike Fontenot .260 BA 10 HR, 65 RBI .750 OPS
The places we’ll miss Mark DeRosa, part one…I just am not confident in the every day capabilities of Little Babe Ruth.  Mike’s certainly a great clubhouse guy, and he’s an above average defender, and a double play combo that has played together as long as Fontenot and Theriot have just has to be great on defense.  However, he’s never played every day at the ML level, and there’s certainly going to be an adjustment period. On the plus side, it isn’t like Aaron Miles is a better option…..

3B – Aramis Ramirez .310 BA, 32 HR, 120 RBI, .880 OPS

The heart of the Cubs lineup, and the cleanup guy, and the most consistent hitter in the Cubs lineup the last 5 full seasons.   There’s no reason for change this season.

SS – Ryan Theriot .285 BA 2 HR 33 RBI .745 OPS
At this point, we know what Ryan Theriot is.  He’s draws some walks, steals some bases (but probably runs too often), and shows next to no power.  He’s got no upside that we don’t already know, and most likely trends downward this season, as his batting average on balls in play last season was nearly .340.  That is an abnormally high payoff on balls put in play, and surely means that his overall BA will drop this season, as a pretty high amount (read: lucky) return.



LF – Alfonso Soriano .297 BA 32 HR 103 RBI .810 OPS

It seems as though Alfonso, a player who had been largely durable for many seasons of his career appears to finally be healthy again this season, and I expect his numbers to return to something of the norm for him.  I’ve also got him penciled in for at least 30 steals this season, as I expect that he’ll be able to return to his normal patterns on the base paths.  Something that I think bears mentioning is that Soriano was so consistent in his number of games played and so durable for many years, and then these little nagging injuries started showing up. Groin pulls, and even more notably oblique strains are all characteristics of someone who…you guessed it…used steroids.  Now, perhaps Soriano is just getting older and a little more fragile. It certainly wouldn’t be unheard of.  It is odd that his is one name you just don’t hear thrown around in the steroids debate.

CF – Kosuke Fukudome .295 BA 14 HR 75 RBI .840 OPS
I’m of the opinion that Kosuke rebounds this season, and quite well – and it’s of the utmost importance to the Cubs season that he do it.  They need a great defender in the outfield, with Soriano in left and Milton “The DH” Bradley in RF.  They need a high OBP guy at the top of the lineup – and the one thing that Kosuke did do well last year was draw walks. AT any rate, maybe this is a pipe dream, but it takes into account how hard it is to adjust coming to America from Japan. The culture shock alone for the soft-spoken Fukudome would have made the whole process extremely difficult, not to mention being away from your family for so long.  Perhaps, in his second season here in the States, we’ll see him adjust better.

RF – Milton Bradley  .290 BA 12 HR 55 RBI .800 OPS (90 games played)
The place that the Cubs will miss Mark DeRosa, part 2.  Players who typically get injured don’t come to Chicago and get healthier.  They just don’t. There’s no way Bradley stays healthy long enough to make the contributions that the Cubs need him to.  He also is such a huge defensive liability that he won’t be out in the field very often late in games (at least, he really, really shouldn’t be). And from the standpoint of his injury history and his, ahem, temperamental nature is all the more reason that this signing was a huge, huge mistake.  I hope I’m wrong.  God, do I hope I’m wrong.