Now that we've had some time to mourn the collapse of the 2008 Cubs, I figure it's time to move on and start trying to help GM Jim Hendry figure out how to fix this mess.
Of course, there are two schools of thought here. One says this isn't a mess at all. Hell, the Cubs won 97 games during the regular season and have now won back-to-back N.L. Central titles.
The other school, and one from which I'm currently attending, says that changes must be made to avoid a three-peat of sweeps in the postseason. Even teams that win championships face changes in this age of free agency and ever-escalating salaries.
I mean, really, do we actually want to go through another three-and-out in the playoffs? I know I don't.
All of which means we need to identify our gaps and try to fill them, understanding that this team is pretty well set, based on contract status and other factors. But nobody said this was going to be easy. This will take some creative thinking and perhaps some creative financing as well.
The first thing I've learned is that we need a left-handed power bat somewhere in this lineup. We thought Fukudome would provide that bat, but alas, he looks more lost at the plate than a wino in the middle of a highway.
I understand Hendry has $38 million committed to the man, so fixing the left-handed power problem may require the Cubs to pay a heck of a lot of money for a defensive replacement.
As unpleasant a taste as that would leave in Jim Hendry's mouth, I have a better idea. Focus on center field as your fixer-upper position, leaving right field to the faint hope of a Fukudome resurgence or, more likely, a Mark DeRosa fill-in. But whom, you might ask?
Well, how about Carlos Beltran? Yes, there is an Internet rumor that the Mets are dangling Beltran. The rumor goes on to say that the Mets are in discussions with the Yankees on a deal that would send Beltran to the Bronx for Robinson Cano and a few other pieces. Again, it's an Internet rumor; so take it for what it is.
But it makes sense that the Mets might want to free up some cash to make a splash in free agency. Let's say a CC Sabathia or a Manny Ramirez, for example. Whatever the motivation, we don't care, as long we get our guy. And our guy could be Beltran.
Consider this: He is a switch-hitting power outfielder that runs well and plays terrific defense in center. With one addition to the lineup, the Cubs would be improving their hitting, their defense, and team speed. On the surface, what a godsend, right?
Of course, there's the not-so-minor issues of Beltan's salary and whom the Cubs might have to give up to get him.
Beltran will earn $18.5 million in '09, '10, and '11. And he has a full no-trade clause. But he is only 32, so he should be declining just as his contract expires. And no-trade clauses are meant to be bought out.
With Carlos Delgado a free agent, what about sending Derrek Lee as part of a package to the Mets for Beltran? Lee will earn $13 million in each of the next two seasons, offering Hendry some salary relief from the addition of Beltran's contract. The Mets get their first baseman, and the Cubs get one other important thing from the deal.
They get a guy who has performed well in the postseason.
That's right; check the results. In 82 career at-bats, Beltran is batting .366 with 11 home runs and 19 RBI. He has also stolen eight bases without being caught once. Granted, the majority of his output came in a huge 2004 with Houston before he signed with the Mets as a free agent, but his 2006 performance dwarfs any that the Cubs so-called sluggers have produced over the past couple years.
In addition to sending Lee to the Mets, we can throw Ryan Theriot into the deal as a low-cost second-base option for the Mets. To fill the gap created by Theriot's departure, we sign Rafael Furcal as a FA to play shortstop.
We all know Hendry made a strong play for him the last time he was a free agent. We might also have to include a pitcher in the deal, perhaps Sean Marshall.
The only question remaining, then, is who would play first base? The cheap solution would be Micah Hoffpauir. He's certainly looked solid in his short time with the Cubs thus far. But before we get too giddy over that prospect, remember he's a 28-year-old career minor leaguer for a reason.
He's too old to be a prospect. So we would probably need to go out and get a first baseman, but they are much easier to find than almost any other position.
How about this lineup for 2009?
Depending on whom we get to play first base, that's potentially four or five left-handed hitters (including switch-hitters Furcal and Beltran) in the lineup. Suddenly, this lineup is much more balanced and speedier—with a real leadoff hitter.
Hendry would still have some issues with the pitching, namely the FA status of Dempster and Wood. But that's talk for another day. Right now, let's focus our attention on a more balanced lineup with a true leadoff hitter.
Of course, if you can't get Beltran, it's all a pipe dream. Still, it's fun to consider the possibilities. Come to think of it, change is in the air. It will be interesting to see if Hendry decides to go with the hand he's dealt or try to go all in.