Last year, the Chicago Cubs won 83 games. In the early to mid-'90s that would have been acceptable, and probably even laudatory. However, in 2009, the Chicago Cubs were coming off seasons of 85 and 97 wins, respectively. Both of those were good enough to win the NL Central, but both times the Cubs failed to win a single playoff game.
Jim Hendry picked up the fact that the Cubs had a righty-dominated lineup, which in the post-season is not a great thing, and decided to enter the free agent market. He had to choose between the recently released and given up for "old" Bobby Abreu, Three True Outcomes hero Adam Dunn, and divisive, outrageous, appalling Milton Bradley.
Gee, can you tell how I felt about the signing?
The Cubs were picked by every reputable publication and organization to win the NL Central. They were coming off a 97-win season and had added a switch-hitting outfielder, placing him in one of the few ballparks remaining that is completely a slave to the elements, putting him in a lineup that featured MVP candidate Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano. What could go wrong?
See, every time you ask that question, something always has or will.
St.Louis put it all together that season, getting the usual Albert Pujols death-and-destruction job, but not only getting a good backup season from Ryan Ludwick but acquiring Matt Holliday, who was good in a Cards uniform until the postseason, and their rotation showed up in a big way.
The Cubs, on the other hand, under intense pressure and with a divisive presence in the clubhouse, crashed like the Hindenburg onto a giant spike.
I probably would have been less surprised had Tiger Woods come out for his supposed apology and instead said, "I don't regret anything I did, and you're all just jealous," and then began singing Madonna's "Human Nature" to the shocked audience.
Bradley threw more fuel on the fire when he said that Chicago, both the Cubs and the city has "a culture of negativity" and really shoved the spike in deep when he said "you understand why they've never won anything in a hundred years." Of course, the part we all missed was that not only was he brought in to help the Cubs win the World Series, but that he's never won anything either, and has never been in position to do so, either.
Really sticking in MY craw was that Dunn signed with the Nationals. His season: .267, 38 HR, 105 RBI, and 116 walks. His OBP was .398. I REALLY could have lived with Dunn's defense and strikeouts with numbers like that.
Abreu signed a $6 Million contract with the Angels. Not only did he put up these numbers, ".293-15-103," but he was instrumental in the Angels' run to the ALCS. (Where he didn't do too well, but that doesn't take away from my point.)
Hendry wasted no time dumping Bradley on Seattle for Carlos Silva. Marlon Byrd came aboard to replace Bradley. 2010, with Bradley out of the clubhouse, looks great.
Looks are deceiving, though.
Soriano, for example, is on the hook for 18 million dollars. Last year, his line in an injury-plagued year with 477 official at-bats was ".241-20-55" and he had an OBP of .303. That's not a misprint, a misquote, or a mistake. A man being paid 18 million dollars put up an OBP of .303 and struck out 118 times.
This is also a man who prefers to hit leadoff (though Lou Piniella put an end to that just after the season was pretty much conceded to the Cardinals). A man who has not had a 200 hit season since his second full season in New York. And, a man coming off knee surgery.
Last season Alfonso Soriano played more like Alfonso Ribeiro. And with the knee surgery, there's no indication that that may change, especially since Soriano is 34 years old-an age where most ballplayers begin slowing down.
Lee is going to be 35 in September. Lee and Aramis Ramirez have been the cornerstone of the Cub offense since Lee's fire-sale aided arrival in Chicago in 2004. This means problems, as Lee's MVP-level season notwithstanding, he could decline at any time.
Lee is my favorite Cub, because he doesn't go the Sammy Sosa route, but he's not exactly Ryne Sandberg (Sandberg's relationship with the media wasn't great because Sandberg never talked ).
Lee talks to the media, but he leads by example. And he's a great guy, from all accounts. It was Lee who put the lie to Bradley's assertion that "his teammates never hate him." Lee, while being diplomatic, frankly said that he and his teammates loathed Bradley.
But, the offense outside of these guys is rather...well, bad, if not average. The pitching, on the other hand...
Carlos Zambrano was once one of my favorite Cubs EVER. As a Cub fan, though, I'm dimly beginning to realize that the only thing that separates him from Daniel Cabrera is four inches.(of height, don't put your minds in the gutter!) Okay, that's too harsh, but he wasn't great last season.
One could say he'd barely qualify as good for last season. Wins are an overrated stat, true. Still, when your ace pitcher goes 9-7, how good are you going to be? When your ace pitcher doesn't take conditioning seriously and has a temper that is counterproductive to his goals, what can you do?
He did put up a 3.77 ERA, which in the era of the home run is exceptional. But Zambrano insists he's going to retire in a couple of years, which makes his oddness worse.
Tom Gorzelanny is a surprise entry to this list. I firmly believe he can be a solid third starter on this team, after Zambrano, who insists he's cleaned up his act, and Ryan Dempster.
If Carlos Silva is your No. 3 starter, something has gone dreadfully wrong and everyone will probably be fired at the end of the season. If Jeff Samardzija is your No. 3, there's a possibilty you'll lose 90 games. And Ted Lilly is injured. Gorzelanny is a lefty like Lilly, but as I've always insisted, he needs a chance somewhere AWAY FROM PITTSBURGH. So Gorzo will now conspire against me and put up an ERA of 6.66.
The Cardinals will have a full season of Holliday hitting behind Pujols. They picked up Felipe Lopez to man the shortstop position. Colby Rasmus will build upon his immense promise. Ryan Ludwick will continue to be Ryan Ludwick. They're the most dangerous team in the division by FAR.
But the Cubs, despite not having Kerry Wood, Mark DeRosa, Jason Marquis, and others from the 2008 team, still give me hope that they'll surprise me by winning the division. I wouldn't count on it, but Hendry, who probably has a pink slip in his dubious future, dumped the jackass in the picture on Seattle. So, as Kevin Garnett once yelled "ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!"