Hot Stove Strategy For 2009—Chicago Cubs
- A center fielder (preferably batting left-handed):
After being released by the San Diego Padres and looking like he was either disinterested, finished, or both, Jim Edmonds rejuvenated his career with the Cubs and hit 19 homers in almost 300 plate appearances. Manager Lou Piniella’s preference for veterans undid any opportunity that young Felix Pie had to gain a foothold and produce in the majors as he has in the minors. Pie is raw and his horrible stolen base percentages everywhere he’s been despite his great speed indicate that he’s not yet very baseball savvy and pulls plenty of rockhead maneuvers, but if given the opportunity to play without having Piniella freak out after a little more than a month, he could be the answer to the problem; I wouldn’t expect that though.
Since there are so few center fielders available via free agency, there’s always the chance that Edmonds could return, although they’d be pushing their luck expecting him to repeat last season’s second half peformance. There’s been heavy talk that Bobby Abreu is on the Cubs radar to play right field, but Piniella had seen just about enough of Kosuke Fukudome last season that he benched him in the playoffs and ripped him in the media, so is Piniella all of a sudden going to be comfortable with Fukudome as his everyday center fielder?
What they could do is trade for a guy like Willy Taveras, but if they also sign Abreu, that would pretty much relegate Fukudome and the remaining $38 million on his contract to a roving outfielder and defensive replacement. The Cubs are trying to win now and are a big market team, but eventually some financial sanity has to take precedence to the whims of a temperamental manager.
One possibility to explore—-if the Giants are really serious about making a run at C.C. Sabathia—-is Aaron Rowand. Rowand is familiar with and popular in Chicago after his time with the White Sox and is the type of player that Piniella would love. Clearing the salary would supercede any major demands in players from the Giants and perhaps Pie and Kevin Hart would get the deal done. If that’s even a thought, the Giants had better act fast because the Sabathia sweepstakes may be decided sooner rather than later.
The Cubs are so righty-centric that signing Abreu and moving Fukudome won’t solve the problem because Piniella doesn’t like Fukudome. Maybe if the Mariners decide to trade Ichiro (he and Piniella got along well in Seattle), they’d be interested in Fukudome as a replacement on and off the field and to slash that Ichiro salary. Raul Ibanez is familiar to Piniella from his days with the Mariners as well and is an alternative to Abreu if Piniella is willing to use Fukudome in center. Aubrey Huff is also a highly underrated and versatile power bat who doesn’t strike out and would likely flourish under Piniella.
The Cubs must have a productive lefty bat with power whom the opponents have to be concerned about controlling.
- A durable, veteran starting pitcher:
Ryan Dempster may have just come off his career year as an impending free agent; Ted Lilly has thrown 411 innings over the past two years; Carlos Zambrano is starting to look like a serious head case; and Rich Harden has wicked stuff but cannot be counted on for more than 20 starts (if that). The Cubs were after Jake Peavy for awhile, but their farm system is gutted from all the deals they’ve made to win now and placate Piniella.
The Cubs haven’t been linked with any of the big, expensive names like Sabathia, Ben Sheets or Derek Lowe on the free agent market (although Lowe would be a great fit); Randy Wolf isn’t the answer. One thing I wouldn’t discount if the Braves decline his option and he proves that he’s healthy enough to pitch is John Smoltz. If Smoltz smells another chance to win a championship in his last season, he and the Cubs might be a good fit; but that’s if he’s healthy enough to provide 190 innings and that’s a big question mark, plus if that’s the case, the Braves will exercise the option. Jon Garland has pitched in Chicago before with the White Sox and done well; he’s durable and with the Cubs offense would win games just by hanging around and pitching seven innings; one would assume he’d be affordable as well.
- Bullpen help:
I don’t think of Jim Hendry as a particularly competent GM. It’s clear that Piniella is in charge of what’s going on with the Cubs and this can be the only explanation of trading a live, young arm like Jose Ceda for a guy like Kevin Gregg who, if the Marlins weren’t able to get anything for him quickly enough, might not have tendered him a contract rather than go to arbitration with him.
With the departure of Kerry Wood (I have no argument with that decision), the intention is to move Carlos Marmol into the closer role and he’ll be dominant there. The pr
oblem will be if Jeff Samardzija is ready to assume the duties as set-up man; he throws very, very hard and has some swagger, but his control is shaky. Kevin Hart throws hard, but is wild as well. Michael Wuertz is underrated, but they need some help in this area and Gregg is not the answer, which will be evident after he takes up residence in Piniella’s doghouse by late April/early May; and once Piniella buries a guy, he tends to stay buried. Angel Guzman reminded me of Mariano Rivera with his stuff and motion, but looking like a guy and pitching like him are two different matters. Juan Cruz will be pricey, but can fill the role of set-up man; Russ Springer is a veteran who can still pitch.