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 Deal Sean Marshall to the Reds; get Young Players in Return

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 Theo Epstein sent a message of rebuilding today. Actually he already sent that message earlier this week when he said that the Chicago Cubs were not interested in acquiring Prince Fielder. It’s clear: a youth movement, rebuilding from scratch is going on in Chicago.

Today, Theo acquired left-handed pitcher Travis Wood, outfielder Dave Sappelt and minor league infielder Ronald Torreyes from the Cincinnati Reds for left-handed pitcher Sean Marshall. Marshall leaves the Cubs with a 32-40 record, seven saves and a 3.96 ERA in 292 appearances over six seasons.

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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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Cubs Show Signs of Life; Despite Stupid Anti-Goat T-Shirts

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As they say, a chain is only is strong as its weakest link, and you can only judge a team by its most recent game.

If we are using that logic, well then look out for the explosive offensive of the 2011 Chicago Cubs.

And then, as Eminem says, “Snap back to reality … “

The present-day Cubs can easily be compared to present-day Detroit.  Most people are rooting for both to win, to get better, to succeed, yet both find themselves in dire straits.

Sure, Tom Ricketts might like to say otherwise about the Cubs, as would any local executive or politician about Detroit.   Especially those in the auto industry.

But, whatever … we are Cubs’ fans, and the Chicago Cubs just won three out of four from the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.   Oh my, what is going on …

“Dogs and Cats living together!  Mass hysteria.”

So, with all that nonsense out of the way, how about we go rambling.  Does that sound good, folks?

Let’s do it …

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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?

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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.

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 Spring Training Exchange

By Paul Schmidt and David K.

(PS) I know that it’s a little bit of a cliché, but I always love the beginning of Spring Training. It excites me.  Makes me giddy.  Puts a little hop in my step.

The funny thing is, for me, I swore it was going to take me a while to get over last season’s playoff defeat.  I swore that I wouldn’t recover until at LEAST the end of spring training, that I wouldn’t try to get tickets, etc.

As it was, I went to get my bracelet for tickets, I got up and called all morning and got on the internet all morning last Friday for tickets, and I’m getting that insane feeling that always occurs leading up to the season.

I guess my question is….is this normal?

(DK)  Absolutely.  It’s a rite of passage for any baseball fan to get jacked up for the start of Spring Training, even though I have always felt the whole excitement of pitchers and catchers reporting has been massively overrated.  Right now, my interest in the start of the baseball season is at an all-time low.

It is partially because I am so obsessed with college basketball that I don’t have the time or energy to start thinking about the start of the baseball season.  The other part is I am still suffering the hangover of the Cubs being swept out of the first round of the post-season for a second straight year.

(PS)  It’s that hangover that you speak of that I thought I wouldn’t be able to shake.  And I guess in some ways I haven’t – I won’t be watching any spring training this year, and I usually check some out. I am excited for BASEBALL –and I think that’s the distinction – but not quite as excited about the Cubs, necessarily.  Good to know, however, that I’m normal.  I can’t wait to tell my wife!

I thought this might be a fun exercise – give me the rotation and the lineup as you see it.


(DK) I enjoy fun exercises.

Rotation: Los, Dempster, Lilly, Harden, Marshall

Marshall is believed to have a leg up in the race for the 5th spot, ahead of Jeff Samardzija.  Hopefully Marshall ends up back in the bullpen when the Cubs acquire, oh, I don’t know… Jake Peavy?    Lilly gets the number three spot over Harden so that the Cubs don’t start lefties in back-to-back games.  Expect another short leash on Harden to keep him healthy throughout the season and rested for potential-October baseball.  I would not be surprised to see Samardzija replace Marshall at some point during the season, or for him to get a few spot starts when Lou wants to give Harden a rest.

Line-up:

SS Theriot

LF Soriano

1B D-Lee

3B Ramirez

RF Bradley

C Soto

CF Fukudome/ Reed Johnson

2B Miles/Fontenot

I would really love to see The Riot in the lead-off spot instead of Soriano.  The Riot hits for average, uses all fields, and does not swing out of his shoes every other pitch.  Plus, he actually takes pitches and doesn’t whiff on every sweeping curve ball low and away when he is down in the count.  Lou has made comments this Spring Training that he is contemplating moving Fonsie down in the line-up, but I guess we will have to wait and see if he pulls the trigger.

The other question I have is- do you put Bradley in the clean-up spot and move A-Ram to the five hole so you break up the four right-handed hitters you have at the top of the order?  It will also be interesting to see how Fukudome bounces back after an abysmal end to last season and if he will end up in a true platoon with Reed Johnson based on lefty/righty match-ups.

(PS) I actually would throw Milton into the cleanup spot, I like the idea of splitting up our big righty bats a little bit. I’d love to find a way to get Soto higher in the lineup too, but I can’t figure out exactly how we’ll do it.  I think that you pretty much nailed everything, but I’m predicting a bigger rebound from Fukudome this season, after a year of adjusting to American life, and the possibility of him leading off is pretty good.  I hope.

I also do agree with the rotation, but I hope that one point is wrong – For now, I want to see Szmardjizjaijajiazjia in the bullpen.  He still only has two pitches, and I know that that can be a detriment to any starter (you really have to have at least a third pitch to be effective).  Plus, the bullpen is already depleted and there’s a ton of question marks there.  Jeff S. is a little bit more of a sure thing as an end of game option.  And I do like that option.

Do we have any options in the minor leagues that you like for that spot, or for bullpen spots (a la Kevin Hart)?

I figure that now is NOT the time for regular season predictions, too much can happen in Spring Training.  And since so much can happen….how about five predictions for Spring Training?

(DK) 1. Micah Hoffpauir KILLS the ball.

2. We constantly hear about how great of a teammate Milton Bradley is, as he puts on his “good guy” persona to get people behind him..

3. Carlos Marmol wins the closer job as your boy Kevin Gregg struggles to find his groove.

4. 41 year old Mike Stanton makes the roster as a situational lefty out of the bullpen.

5. I don’t watch a single Spring Training game.

(PS) And we’ll definitely agree on 5….