If it wasn’t already clear, the 2010-11 off-season has broadcast to the world the Chicago Cubs’ full-blown dormancy in the National League Central. I’m not saying the Cubs won’t be heard from in 2011, but they’ll likely make fewer national television appearances than Barack Obama. Don’t call them the Pirates yet, but also don’t call them the Reds, Brewers, Cardinals, or probably the Astros. That’s right, the Cubs are officially stuck in .500-ville. Picture the New York Knicks, except outdoors, and also without LeBron James.
The Cardinals have been busy adding Lance Berkman, Ryan Theriot and Jake Westbrook. Meanwhile, the Brewers were assembling the best rotation west of West Philly and the Reds were getting a year older. That’s right, the future is now for the powers of the National League Central. That means the future has to be 2012 for the Cubs, who have roughly $121 million committed to 15 players for the upcoming season. However, $50 million worth of bloated, under-achieving payroll will come off the books after 2011, meaning the Cubs could be poised for a serious 2012 run (paging Mr. Pujols).
Yes, this team did sign Carlos Pena, but it was a one-year deal. They also passed, or lost out, on Erik Bedard, Brandon Webb and every other veteran starter who has signed to provide a more bloated, under-achieving payroll. The Cubs clearly are looking ahead of ahead, which means Cubs fans might want to follow Ron Burgundy’s advice and find yourselves a safe house, or a relative close by. You might want to lay low for awhile.
There are many moves to be made with an eye on 2012, and here are the top ten potential deals…
Seriously!! Trade him, Cubs. Quick, while no one’s looking. Zambrano’s value might never be higher, after finishing 8-0 last year and compiling a 1.58 ERA in the second half. Zambrano is owed $17.5 million next year and could only insult Chicago fans more if he said their city made bad pizza.
Even better, it turns out Zambrano has a suitor in the Yankees, who have burning money in their pockets and Big Z’s personal guru as their new pitching coach in Larry Rothschild. The Yankees can’t help themselves, and will need to add a veteran starter somehow before pitchers and catchers report (especially if/when Andy Pettitte retires).
Another suitor could be the Nationals, who have been in every SP sweepstakes this off-season and could part with Jordan Zimmerman for the right piece. Is Zambrano the right piece for them? Hard to say but the Nats did give $126 million to a 31-year-old outfielder with a lifetime .272 BA so…
The Rays maintain that they would prefer to keep Garza, but they have an abundance of pitching and the calls keep coming. The Cubs have been a consistent pursuer this off-season, with the Rays looking for middle-of-the-order bats that are still a year or two off. Garza is due around $6 million this year and won 15 games in 2010. His no-hitter last summer against the Tigers would have been the highlight of the Cubs’ season by a landslide.
Garza has been inconsistent in Tampa and has struggled against the beasts in the AL East, but there is still plenty of time for him to develop into a top-of-the-rotation horse in the National League.
It’s been a long couple of years for Fukudome, who is no longer anyone’s homey on the north side. It is likely that Fukudome will play right field and lead off for the Cubs. However, if GM Jim Hendry can pull off a salary dump like he did last year, when he sweet-talked, dumped and hypnotized the Mariners into taking Milton Bradley’s contract off their hands, the Cubs could wind up with another Carlos Silva.
Once again, the Nationals are an option, as they have expressed a willingness to part with Ian Desmond. Desmond could mature with a couple years of seasoning and allow the Cubs to move Starlin Castro to 2B until he develops a big-league body.
To be clear, the Cubs do not need another veteran SP and Pavano seems interested in playing for a contender. The Cubs rotation appears to be set for now with Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Tom Gorzelanny, Randy Wells and Carlos Silva. However, Pavano would be a potential mentor and top-of-the-rotation arm with a track record of battling through adversity, all attributes that would separate him from each of the aforementioned starters.
The free agent also won 17 games last year and pitched in the postseason, two more factoids of interest to Cubs brass. His agent appears to be in no hurry to get Pavano signed, as more teams like the Cubs fully realize the true mediocrity of their starting staffs. Jumping on Pavano now would give the Cubs the Opening Day starter they desperately need for 2011, and the clubhouse leader they’ll need when prospects Trey McNutt and Chris Archer are ready for the rotation.
The idea is that the third, fourth and fifth starters will not be Cubbies when the young guys are leading the North Siders to the promised land. So why let them take the mound every fifth day now? Yes, that would yield a rough year of Pittsburgh-esque cellar dwelling and new ownership is unlikely to rubber stamp moves that could leave Wrigley Field a barren wasteland in September. No, the Cubs have to give the impression that they are working to contend every year.
But here’s a news flash, Mr. Ricketts: Cubs fans are savvy. They see the writing on the 2011 wall, and might agree that a one-year re-tooling makes sense for the future. Giving the Cubs’ top young arms experience at the big league level would get them ready for a push in 2012.
Attention Mr. Hendry: Please do Cubs fans everywhere a favor and don’t let Blake DeWitt be the Cubs everyday 2B. Two mid-level prospects would probably do the trick for the D-Backs, who would likely be willing to sell high on the power hitting middle infielder.
Yes, trading for Johnson would probably contradict the Cubs’ 2012 mantra. But Johnson could provide the steady leadership the Cubs infield needs and, at 28, his 2010 power boost may not be a fluke. Finally, Johnson signed a one-year tender this off-season and could be jettisoned or traded if the low-risk move doesn’t work.
As mentioned, the Nats appear ready to move the slick fielding Desmond and Castro might benefit from a switch to the right side of the infield. Desmond has five years of control before free agency, and the Nationals are looking for veteran starters. If nothing else, Desmond is an upgrade over DeWitt.
Nothing worked in the bullpen last year leading up to set-up man Sean Marshall and All-Star closer Carlos Marmol. The Cubs tried John Grabow, Bobby Howry, Jeff Samardzija and even Big Z. This year, they appear likely to throw young arms Cashner and Samardzija at the job. But why risk a repeat in the bullpen when there are veteran arms available everywhere, like Jon Rauch, Manny Delcarmen, Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes? Signing another reliever to an incentive-laden deal along with Kerry Wood would strengthen a huge hole from 2009.
2011 is the year to find out if the Cubs top young pitchers have the mettle to take the mound every fifth day. Manager Mike Quade will be tempted to stick with his veteran rotation as he fights to prove he is big league manager material. But the Cubs won’t succeed in the long run without developing successful young SPs, and now is the time for the Cubs to give Cashner and Samardzija a chance.
Please! Soriano’s mammoth contract runs until 2014, making it the ultimate big league albatross. The inability to make a run at premier free agents, the defensive struggles in the outfield, the low efficiency with runners in scoring position—all can be attributed to Soriano’s contract, which will give him $18 million per year for the next four years.
Dealing Soriano would require the emergence of a desperate team and the Cubs having to eat part or most of the deal. But it would set the tone for a turnaround in 2012.