This offseason has been a tough one for Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry. With the ownership situation still in flux, he lacked the necessary latitude within the team's budget to throw money at free agents or acquire players with sizable contracts.
The timing is unfortunate.
Although there is some youth on the team, the Cubs are a veteran ball club. Alfonso Soriano is 33, Aramis Ramirez is 31, Derrek Lee is 34, Ted Lilly is 33, Ryan Dempster is 32, and Reed Johnson is 33. Of those players, only Reed Johnson doesn't have a contract past this year.
Many columnists reporting on the Cubs believe the window is closing on the Cubs' World Series chances and they may be right.
With that said, it would have been nice to keep certain pieces in place. But in order to add to the roster, you also have to subtract.
Kerry Wood wasn't re-signed and instead went to the Indians. Since Hendry didn't want to risk Wood accepting arbitration, he was not offered it and the Cubs will not receive the compensatory draft picks that typically come with losing a Type A free agent.
Hendry also decided to not re-sign or offer arbitration to Type A free agent Bob Howry, but that decision may have been more influenced by Howry's performance than by budget constraints.
The one pitcher he did re-sign was 17-game winner Ryan Dempster, who hopes to have his first back-to-back 30-start, 200-inning seasons since 2001-2002.
To replace the veteran arms lost in the bullpen, Hendry traded 22-year-old relief prospect Jose Ceda to the Florida Marlins for Kevin Gregg. He also acquired Rockies prospect David Patton from the Reds after they picked him in the major league phase of the Rule V Draft.
Hendry has also gone about balancing the handedness of the Cubs' lineup. The problem has already been discussed ad nauseum, so I won't go too far into it.
The top priority was a left-handed bat, preferably with power and preferably in right field. Hendry recognized Milton Bradley as the guy who fit the bill.
But before Bradley could be signed, money had to be cleared off the books.
On New Years Eve, Mark DeRosa was sent to the Indians for three minor league pitchers, one of which (Jeff Stevens) has been said to have a shot at making the team out of spring training. On Tuesday, Jason Marquis and a dollar amount reported to be between $875,000 and $1 million were sent to the Rockies for Luis Vizcaino.
By unloading DeRosa and Marquis (with cash considerations), the Cubs took at most $14.5 million off the books. The addition of Patton, Stevens, and Vizcaino to the 40-man roster then added $4.3 million, reducing the number saved down to $10.2 million.
On Monday, the Cubs signed Bradley (pending a physical) to a three-year, $30 million contract. The final year is said to be a vesting option based on the number of games he plays in his first two seasons with the club.
To replace DeRosa's spot on the roster and his role on the team, the Cubs signed Aaron Miles to a two-year, $4.9 million contract. He will make $2.2 million in the first year. Together with Bradley's average salary and the players brought in through trades, the Cubs spent only an additional $2 million dollars.
Unfortunately, the moves aren't without their disadvantages.
Kevin Gregg is not replacing Kerry Wood's role in the bullpen, but he is most likely taking over Marmol's former role as a setup man while Carlos transitions into the closer. With all due respect, Gregg-Marmol is not nearly as good as Marmol-Wood.
In acquiring Gregg they also let go of Jose Ceda, the club's fourth-ranked prospect in 2008. Though the young reliever has had some problems with repeating his delivery, he still has plenty of time to develop and has two excellent pitches.
But Ceda wasn't the only Cubs' prospect who was lost this offseason. The team also lost Donnie Veal, a young left-handed pitcher, to the Pirates in the major league phase of the Rule V Draft. While leaving Veal off the 40-man roster by itself would make sense, the acquisition of Patton muddles the picture somewhat.
Veal had pitched at Double-A, a level at which many prospects are called up from, and would only have to stay on the 40-man roster. Patton has yet to pitch past Single-A and must stay on the 25-man roster all year, allowing for much less flexibility with the roster.
Milton Bradley offers a ton of upside, but has had problems staying on the field and out of the media's scrutiny.
He has started a total of 78 games in the outfield the past two years combined, he only averaged 97 in the five years before that, and he has only started more than 94 games in the outfield once in his nine year career.
In his healthier days he was an outfielder with good range and an average to above average arm. But these are not his healthier days and playing in only 58 percent of his team's games (94 games) is not worth $10 million.
Aaron Miles may replace DeRosa in the field, but he can't replace him in the lineup. He has an obvious disadvantage in terms of power and hasn't been able to get on base at the same rate as his predecessor.
With all of the moves made this offseason, the Cubs' 40-man roster is now full. In order to sign anyone, Jim Hendry would have to release or trade someone. Considering Hendry has been quoted as saying he will add a few more pieces before spring training, expect to see some players on their way out.
The player most likely to be dealt next is Felix Pie. The mid-December signing of Joey Gathright, his doppleganger in terms of abilities, has seemingly sealed his fate.
Other than him, I can not be sure as to who else might be shown the door. Some people have speculated that Ronny Cedeno may be next, but your guess is as good as mine.
Despite the downgrades on a few fronts, this team should still be the NL Central favorites. Barring a Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio type of disaster, this team will most likely continue their recent trend of success and perhaps even build upon it.
Getting to the playoffs should not be a problem, especially if Milton Bradley can stay on the field for at least 130 games, which he has done before. With the lineup balanced, this team should also put up more of a fight in the playoffs.
If nothing else, 2009 should be fun to watch.
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