Jim Hendry has gone on record saying that the Cubs are “three or four” solid moves away from competing in 2011.
I would contend that most teams are within that range, depending on your definition of a “solid” move. If the Pittsburgh Pirates could sign Cliff Lee, Adam Dunn, Carl Crawford, and another star in the offseason, they would probably be able to contend in the Central too.
The problem with the Cubs is their current makeup. It’d be one thing if they had open positions where the solution would be to go out and sign a big name to take over. Currently, that would only apply to the first base position, and perhaps that isn’t as open as we think. Here’s why.
Here’s the Cubs every day position player lineup for 2011:
Catcher: Geovany Soto
Soto has had a bounce-back year after a sophomore slump in 2009. He will be the everyday catcher in 2011, and there really wouldn’t be a way to upgrade at the catcher position. Soto is under the Cubs control until 2014.
I’m still not supportive of Koyie Hill being the backup catcher, but whatever. He’s arbitration eligible after this season and under the team’s control until 2013.
First Base: Unknown
Here’s the easiest position the Cubs could bring a big name free agent in to fill. The biggest names set to hit the market are Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena, and Paul Konerko. Konerko wouldn’t be a bad option to add to a contending team, but I don’t see him as much of a fit for the Cubs.
Can the Cubs compete in the NL Central in 2011?
I’ve felt for awhile that Adam Dunn is destined to be a Cub. He’d finally give them a big, left-handed hitter that reaches base a lot. I think Dunn would be a decent fit for the Cubs if they could sign him for a two or three year deal. Anything more than that is a chance of adding yet another big, unloadable contract.
A cheaper option the Cubs could consider is Adam LaRoche. He doesn’t make near as much money as the big names, but will consistently hit 25 home runs and knock in 90 runs or so. He’s also left handed and may be available if the Diamondbacks don’t sign him to an extension.
Complicating matters is that the Cubs have Soriano, Byrd, and Fukudome all signed for 2011. Between those three and Colvin, someone isn’t going to be starting. The Cubs have already said they are going to have Colvin give 1B a try. He is an option moving forward as the Cubs have no heir apparent in their system for the position.
With the big first baseman free agent year coming (Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, etc) after next season, the Cubs may be better off plugging Colvin in at 1st for a year until Fukudome’s contract is up and then sign one of the big boys.
Second base: Blake DeWitt
All indications are the Cubs are going to stick with DeWitt at second. He’s definitely a cheaper option and seems solid. He doesn’t look like a star, but will probably at least fill Theriot’s production, minus the stolen bases. The Cubs could possibly upgrade their offense with a Dan Uggla, but spending their money elsewhere would probably be more beneficial.
Shortstop: Starlin Castro
Well, at least there’s one spot we don’t have to worry about for a long, long time.
Third Base: Aramis Ramirez
Aramis most certainly will pick up his player option for 2011. There’s no way he would get any more by becoming a free agent in this economy and coming off the worst season of his career. Don’t let his rhetoric of “honoring his contract” fool you- it’s about the money. The Cubs then decline his $16 million team option after next season and can decide how to fill that hole.
Left Field: Alfonso Soriano
Here’s one of the killer contracts that will be around for a few more years. $18 million a year through 2014. He will be 38 years old (at least) by then. There’s really nothing the Cubs can do with him. He’s had an average season- and has improved on defense inasmuch that eating four pieces of double-chocolate fudge pie is an improvement for your weight than eating five pieces.
Let’s face it, the Cubs are stuck with Soriano. I honestly don’t know what would be more beneficial- keeping Soriano and having him play out the rest of his contract or eating the rest of his salary and giving him to an AL team to DH for the next few years.
Center Field: Marlon Byrd
Byrd was a great sign by Hendry. He’s not a superstar, but he’s worth the $5 million a year he’s going to earn through 2012. He’s a great defender, he’s pretty decent at the plate, and he hustles on every single play. He seems like a great teammate and a great guy to have on the team.
The only concern I have with Byrd is that he seems to have trouble in big pressure spots late in the game. He swings at everything. When he’s patient, he’s a great hitter. When the tying or go-ahead runs are on base late in the game, you might as well pitch to him like you would to Shawon Dunston. Just keep bouncing the balls in and let him strike out.
Regardless, Byrd has been a great addition to Chicago.
Right Field: Kosuke Fukudome/Tyler Colvin
Right field is kind of a mess right now with Fukudome still having one year left on his contract and Colvin trying to find regular playing time. Fukudome has been getting quite a few starts lately, which doesn’t make that much sense with the Cubs not playing any meaningful games unless the Cubs are trying to showcase that he could help a contender for the rest of the season.
Even if they can do so, they will most likely have to pick up the majority of his contract through next season to get rid of him. The Cubs might just have to play Colvin at first for 2011 while Fukudome finishes out his contract in right field.
Let’s face it, the starting pitching is really the least of the Cubs concerns. At least it was this season. 2011 could be a little different, but overall- the Cubs have so many other holes that this doesn’t look too bad.
Dempster, Silva, Zambrano, Gorzelanny, Wells- The Cubs could get through 2011 with that rotation.
Silva will make $11.5 million in 2011 and then has a mutual option for $12 million for 2012 with a $2 million buyout. Would you pay $10 million more for Silva at that time? Me neither. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been pretty impressive this year. But there will be better options and better ways to spend that $10 million in 2012.
Zambrano is an interesting case because he probably has a few more pretty serviceable years left. He was kind of jacked around for awhile this year going back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen and his control seems to have taken the hit for it.
Since getting off to a pretty bad start, he’s lowered his ERA under 5.00- so that’s something. The Cubs could probably trade him for another bad contract or two (like the Luis Castillo/Oliver Perez deal), which would be bad for 2011 but shave a year off of having to pay Zambrano’s contract.
Zambrano will make $17.875 million in 2011 and then $18 million in 2012. He has a vesting option for 2013 for $19.25 million if he finishes 1st or 2nd in Cy Young voting in 2011 or in the top four in 2012.
In other words, he’s a free agent after 2012.
The Bullpen: Marmol, Marshall and then… sucks. Awful.
Hopefully Grabow will be healthy next season and he won’t be a complete waste of money. Marmol closing with Marshall and Grabow setting up from the left side might not be too bad. But the rest of the bullpen has to be looked at.
The problem is that the majority of relievers you could sign could come in and suck it up. There’s just too much uncertainty in bullpens. Some teams, like the Padres, get lucky and all their relievers have career years at the same time.
Have fun with that.
So what are four moves that Hendry could make that would turn the Cubs into contenders in 2011?
Trade Alfonso Soriano for a bag of balls and sign Adam Dunn to a one year contract.
Trade Carlos Zambrano for Roy Halladay.
Trade Aramis Ramirez for Evan Longoria.
Trade Kosuke Fukudome for Robinson Cano.
Yeah, those four moves should do it.
In other words, 2011 is going to be a difficult one.
The good news, friends, is that 2012 is a new year.
The Cubs will have some money to spend again. Remember how the Knicks and some other teams decided to suck for a few years in the hope of getting LeBron James or some other big free agents? That is what the Cubs have the opportunity to do in 2012.
They’ll still have Soriano in LF (or on the DL) and Zambrano will be in the last year of his contract, but they will have freed up the money that was tied into Kosuke Fukudome, Aramis Ramirez, and Carlos Silva.
That’s almost $40 million.
Hang in there, Cubs fans. 2011 might not be much fun. But 2012 is coming.
What a glorious day that will be.