The 2009 Cubs were not a failure. They won more than they lost. They played hard in spite of injuries to key players, off the field distractions, and a bad offseason.
The corner infielders when healthy were spectacular at the plate. The pitching staff, though depleted, had solid years from the likes of Ted Lilly and Rookie of the Year candidate Randy Wells.
That said they couldn't win against the elite teams (St. Louis, Colorado, and the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies).
They also were horrendous in the base stealing category and had very little production from many of the key players from their 2008, 92-win season.
Mark DeRosa out, Milton Bradley in—bad move.
Now statistically Bradley actually produced better (12 HR, 40 RBI compared to DeRosa's 10 HR, 29 RBI). But clubhouse presence isn't measured in individual statistics but in wins.
Moreover, how many of Bradley's home runs or runs batted in were timely, game deciding hits? I seem to recall some losses in Colorado where Bradley had his biggest games.
Defensively, Bradley had three errors in the outfield to DeRosa's zero.
Jim Hendry was wise finding a veteran closer to push/compete with an unproven Carlos Marmol.
I also applaud the move because it meant not signing injury-prone Kerry Wood to a long-term deal.
Gregg had a few nice streaks during the season. He showed an above average fastball and he wasn't a nuisance in the clubhouse.
The problem was that Gregg was exactly what he was like in Florida the previous season—not reliable.
That all said, Gregg came cheap and I would hope Hendry or whoever is making the personnel decisions this offseason, gets another veteran.
Marmol didn't prove to me that he was the lights out closer the Cubs have been waiting for. He's never been the same since giving up that game-winning home run to the Diamondbacks in the 2007 NLDS.
At 27 years of age, Randy Wells isn't a kid. But he's younger than the rest of the starters, and he proved this year that he knows how to pitch.
He threw strikes. Zambrano, Marmol hopefully were taking notes.
He kept his team in just about every game. His WHIP of 1.28 and 3.05 ERA were very impressive for any pitcher, let alone a rookie.
The 11 home runs that Jake Fox had is just one less than Milton Bradley in about half the amount of at bats. Fox also had more RBI than Bradley, for the record.
Tom Gorzelanny looked like he might end up being a steal. If nothing else, he's decent trade bait or a Sean Marshall type (fill in to the rotation kind of player).
While the 2009 Cubs rotation had pretty good depth, it lacked a true ace.
Carlos Zambrano is a very good pitcher when he is on. It seems each year that "when he's on" becomes less and less.
At times Zambrano looked like the Zambrano of old—dominant and reliable. But at other times he was just plain awful.
In one of many examples, the Cubs should have easily beat up on the lowly last placed Nationals on August 25th at home. But Zambrano was wild and they got pounded.
Rich Harden, another potential ace, was dominant when he came over from the A's at the trade deadline in 2008 (10-2).
But his 2009 campaign has been much more inconsistent. Like Zambrano, Harden has been spectacular at times. He still averaged nearly 11 K's/9 innings.
On the downside, opponents were hitting over .234 against him this year compared to only .183 last year.
I do like the fact that he stayed healthy and if his asking price was somewhat reasonable, I would say re-sign him. But I don't think he's gonna be the ace the Cubs are in need of.
The aforementioned Rookie of the Year candidate, Randy Wells, has by far been the Cubs best pitcher. I just can't see banking on a rookie who throws in the lower 90's to be your ace.
There just aren't that many Greg Maddux's in the world. But who knows!
Ryan Theriot was the Cubs best leadoff man this year, hitting close to .300 and leading the team in stolen bases with 21.
That said he is better suited for a number two spot in the order. He is a good contact hitter, and the Cubs need someone with a little more speed at the top.
Lou Pinella finally did the right thing when he moved Alfonso Soriano down in the order.
I still believe that Soriano has a few good seasons left in him, just not at the top of the order. He's too fragile and he's only getting older.
The Cubs as a team had a total of 56 stolen bases. The World Champion Phillies, a team that the Cubs should consider modeling after, had more than double that.
Unlike many of the other offensive mainstays, Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez produced.
Lee had an MVP caliber season (35 HR, 111 RBI, .306 average). Ramirez, although injured for a good amount of the season, hit very well when he was in the lineup.
Even though they are both in their 30's, Lee and Ramirez should still put up solid numbers for the next few seasons.
The Cubs front office just needs to get more guys (besides Theriot) to be on base for the two sluggers.
I definitely wouldn't trade either Lee or Ramirez. It's doubtful the Cubs would get equal value and really outside of signing Matt Holliday to hundreds of millions, who else will be available this offseason that's more productive?
Keep Darth Vader nearby.
If Jim Hendry trades for another Milton Bradley temperament, choke him, then fire him.
Look, I might be in the minority but I like Hendry. He's upgraded the pitching staff overall. He stepped it up and signed Soriano when he was the top free agent that winter.
And most importantly, his roster has had five winning seasons and three playoff appearances since he took over (summer of 2002).
I said a few weeks ago if the Cubs play strong down the stretch Pinella should stay.
Yes they laid some eggs against the Pirates and D'backs at home to close out the season.
But while they were still mathematically alive in the Wild Card race, they beat the Brew-Crew two out of three, then went to San Fransisco and beat them three out of four (including vesting their ace Tim Lincecum).
Considering the injuries to key players, the lack of production from key players, and a downgraded roster from a year ago, Piniella got more than most would have with this club.
St. Louis was a far better team. They had career years from many of its players (starter Adam Wainwright just to name one), they stayed healthy, and they traded for slugger Matt Holliday.
Even if Milton Bradley gets traded or released, the Cubs need to play better defense. It seemed like just about every time Randy Wells lost this season, the team played poor defense behind him, resulting in unearned runs.
A possible bright spot besides Derek Lee? Though he was soft with the stick this year, Geovanny Soto threw out 28 percent of the runners. Not bad considering Yadier Molina, perhaps the league standard, threw out 40 percent.
Bottom Line: Particularly in the outfield and middle infield the Cubs need to upgrade defensively.
Judging from this year the Cubs were a good but not great team. For them to compete with teams like St. Louis, Philadelphia, and the Dodgers, they need to upgrade their roster.
I am the first to complain about the large contracts the Cubs have.
Unless they can trade away Soriano's or Zambrano's contract this offseason or the Rickett family increases the payroll substantially, they are probably going to be conservative (for a big market team) again this offseason.
Here are some moves that I think would help the team in 2010.
1. Sign Chone Figgins or trade Milton Bradley and one of the starters for Carl Crawford. Both of these guys would add speed and better offensive production.
2. Sign Jose Valverde. The guy knows how to close out games. This way Carlos Marmol can stay where he is best, the eighth inning.
3. Trade/Release Milton Bradley at any cost. Even if the team can't get Crawford or Figgins, Adam Dunn is an upgrade from Bradley.
4. Re-sign Mark DeRosa or trade for the Royals Mark Teahen. If there's one thing this season showed me it's that the Cubs with all of their aging veterans need depth and versatility. Both of these guys add that.
5. Trade for an ace. This might not be realistic but if the Cubs can package Zambrano or even Randy Wells (I know there will be hate mail), and get a Roy Halladay, I say do it.
Otherwise if they can pry away someone young like Chad Billingsley from the Dodgers with a package of talent, that might work too. He's only 25 and has shown that he's got the stuff to lead a rotation.