Cubs trade Mike Fontenot Away

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The Chicago Cubs moved another piece off their team of the damned in their season of futility today by trading utility infielder Mike Fontenot away for San Francisco minor league outfielder Evan Crawford.

Right around the MLB trading deadline, the Cubbies moved Ryan Theriot, and now with Fontenot gone, the “O boys,” whose last names are pronounced in French, are no more.

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The Father, The Son, Aramis Ramirez, Amen.

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By Paul Schmidt

The moment that the Cubs and their fans have waited for is finally here. The second coming of Jesus Christ himself, Aramis Ramirez, has returned to the Cubs lineup. Now they will start hitting!
He’ll fix the budget crisis too!  And heal all the election tension in Iran!  I also heard he knows where Osama bin Laden is hiding and is, on his next off day, leading a team of Special Forces soldiers to bring him to justice!

I love Aramis, and I think that he is probably the most underrated superstar in the National League – At least, outside the city of Chicago.  For those on the North Side, at least during his injury, you would think that he is Babe Ruth, Ichiro and Brooks Robinson all rolled into one.

rami

They won their first game back with Rami, but he went 0-for-4.  His mere presence in the lineup must have frightened my favorite Dutch pitcher, Jair Jurrjens, right?

I can’t stand idly by and listen any longer about how, with Ramirez back in the lineup, suddenly the Cubs will hit again.

For the first time since early 2007, the Cubs posting a losing record for a calendar month of the season by going 12-16.  They managed to do this while posting the best ERA for starting pitching in all of baseball.  Think about that for a moment.

Their starters, in June, were the best in all of baseball.  And yet, they lost 4 more games than they won.

Obviously, the offense is a big problem.

Injuries, however, were not the biggest issue.

We have two main cogs in the lineup – Geovany Soto and Alfonso Soriano – who are apparently statistically punting the 2009 season.  We have a second baseman in Mike Fontenot who should either be a platoon player or a sub off the bench – and is playing like it by only hitting .220.  We have a right fielder in Milton Bradley who has been on a pretty big offensive tear as of late – to bring his average all the way into the .240s.

Setting aside Fontenot (who, honestly has no business starting), if Soto, Soriano and Bradley were all putting up the seasons they had last year, prorated, as of right now, you’d be looking at a first place ball club.  And yes, I mean that, even with Aramis Ramirez, he who stands in the white robes and blesses us all, on the disabled list.

For anyone who thinks you can’t lose your best player and still win games, well, all you need to do is look at the team that eliminated us in the playoffs last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  They’ve been missing some Manny guy for the last 50 games.  While he was suspended, the Dodgers went 29-21, good for a .580 winning percentage.  Now, granted, that was far less than the nearly .700 clip they were winning at prior to his suspension, but it does prove that a team doesn’t need to fold up shop when their best player disappears from the lineup card.

In earlier times, Ramirez tamed Falcor and saved the Princess from The Nothing.

In earlier times, Ramirez tamed Falcor and saved the Princess from The Nothing.

Which is, essentially, what happened with the Cubs. They just let the snowball start rolling down the hill, gathering speed and momentum, and once it had they couldn’t stop the slump – or the excuses.

Now, with Rami the Great and Benevolent back, the excuses have all run out.

It’s time to prove to your fans and the city what you’re made of, gentlemen. Because if you aren’t good enough, come this winter, we’ll be looking for real answers.

And, just so we’re clear, ‘Aramis Ramirez was hurt’ won’t be good enough.

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 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.