Let's all acknowledge this, right from the start: The Cubs are not going to win in 2011, nor in 2012.
The roster is poor, aged and frequently incapable of basic fundamentals. The new owner seems mainly concerned with creating a persona for himself, via appearances on shows like "Undercover Boss."
The organization, despite its vast resources, can't even prevent flocks of birds from obstructing games. The "ace" of the pitching staff is best known for a truly-wretched Harry Caray impersonation.
If this team was a scene from "Goodfellas," it'd be the one where Lorraine Bracco flushes the cocaine down the toilet while shoving a gun in her panties.
Well, fellow Cubs fans, consider me the government, here to offer some ways out. I can't promise to send you someplace warm, but allow me to suggest a few defendants to roll over on. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, but I'm here to give you five.
1. Step Away From The Mike
In the World Series era, 11 men have managed the Cubs to playoff appearances. Four are in the Hall of Fame. Four others led franchises to pennants prior to coming to Chicago. The ninth, Charlie Grimm, has the eighth-highest career winning percentage among managers with 2,300-plus games.
In other words, only two men in 108 years have come out of the woodwork (or ivy) and taken the Cubs to the playoffs.
So this winter, when the Cubs had the opportunity to hire men with the right background (including in-house options Ryne Sandberg, Bob Brenly, and (to an extent) Joe Girardi), they instead went with Mike Quade, a cartoon-caricature career third-base coach who apparently blames the umpires when it rains.
New owner Tom Ricketts said all the right things about winning when he took over, but this move reeked of both cost-cutting and an ignorance of history.
With the team as wretched as it is, it may be wise to stay the course now, at least for this season. But the Cubs are playing uninspired, lazy baseball, and that may be a reflection of the players' attitudes toward Quade. Put it this way: If your boss' secretary suddenly became your boss, would you listen to them? No, you would revolt, then demand that your company hire Ryne Sandberg.
The Cubs should quietly make amends with Sandberg, let Quade continue to founder, then whack him around September, and import Ryno to build excitement for 2012. That will help with No. 2.
2. Invest Princely Sums
It's clear that Carlos Pena is a one-year rental, and a mediocre one at that. It's also clear that in Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, the game has a first baseman free-agent bonanza possibly exceeding anything we've seen before. Now, I don't like Pujols. He's a Cardinal, he seems grumpy, he doesn't hustle, and he's injury-prone. Fielder is obviously overweight, and his cholesterol probably exceeds his batting average, but he stays healthy and he produces. He also has the kind of infectious personality that I hate him for right now, but would love him if he were on my side. He's a Joakim Noah type, which Chicago fans have historically welcomed (Ditka, Guillen, Rodman, etc.).
In keeping with the vicious, violent Mafia theme of No. 1, the Cubs need to make Fielder a Godfather offer. Hiring a no-nonsense, fundamentals-first manager, maybe a guy who makes speeches like this, might make a big-market team with millions of fans seem more attractive to a guy who's already said he'd like to play there. And it will show the fans (and other free agents) that the team is serious about long-term contention.
3. Bite The Bullet, Or Fire It In The General Direction Of Left Field
I'm sure Alfonso Soriano is a nice person. He wears his baseball socks the right way. I'm told he's good in the clubhouse. It's just that I never expect him to catch a ball, steal a base, or take a pitch. Other than that, he's a great player, no ques...
(Sorry, I had to duck just there: a gnat was flying by, and Soriano barged in and swung at it.)
I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say this is one of the five worst contracts the Cubs have ever signed.
At $18 million per year, it will be impossible to move him without eating a sizable portion of his salary. The Cubs must absolutely eat that money. Did you see the catch Reed Johnson made in the ninth inning Friday, or see him homer off Rivera Saturday?
Do you see the way he busts his ass every second he's on the field? He's younger than Soriano (OK, 34 to 35, but still), cheaper, a world apart defensively and more well-rounded offensively. He makes the most of his talent, and seeing that rewarded will rub off positively on the rest of the team, particularly the young core of Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro (not that they seem to need any lessons in hustling, but still).
There are franchises in financial peril who might benefit from importing a big-name guy or two to put fans in the seats.
These teams have minor-league prospects. Remember the Bradley-for-Silva cross-your-fingers-and-hope deal? Let's do that again, but with minor-league prospects playing the Silva role. Eat, say, $15 million of Soriano's salary, hope you import a golden nugget, and start rebuilding. There is no way to quickly turn this team into a winner without taking a few financial monkey punches. Ricketts needs to understand that, but also that Cubs fans have always jammed Wrigley when the team wins. That money can be recouped. Until then...
4. Put Your Money Where Your Couch Is
Look, I love Wrigley Field. I've been to at least 25 games there. I got engaged there. It makes me think of my late father, who as a youth simply climbed over the wall into the stadium and watched a game for free, and who seemed to prefer the process of scalping tickets to buying them the normal way.
I will stay away from there until Tom Ricketts builds the kind of team that can win, and so should you.
I have it on good authority (OK, my friend Mike, but still) that a big selling point to the Ricketts family in purchasing the Cubs was that the team turns a profit regardless of its success on the field. In other words, they know coming in that they don't have to do the kind of heavy organizational lifting that turns a team into a champion.
Well, I say we show them that they do, and other fans seem to agree.
Join me, if you will, in committing to not attending any Cubs home games until the roster shows some promise. We've seen some empty seats already, which is unusual, and thus good, Until it's obvious that the fans are revolting, there will be no pressure on Ricketts to show he's serious about winning. Invest your Cub money in HDTVs and comfy couches and watch from home. If no one shows up, it'll give the team time to make one minor, necessary change to Wrigley Field.
5. Tear It Down
Remember that nice girl I proposed to at Wrigley? Well, we ended up getting divorced. We just weren't right for each other, and we dragged each other down. Similarly, Wrigley Field is dragging the Cubs down, and has been for 100 years. Yes, it's a historical landmark, a beautiful edifice, and a throwback to a lost era of baseball.
Here's the other side of the story:
1903-1915: (pre-Wrigley): 12 straight years over .500, third place or better 12 of 13 years, 2-2 in the World Series, 4-6-1 at home in the postseason.
1916-2010: 53 years under .500 (out of 95), third place or better 32 times (though 15 were after the 1969 inception of divisional play, which made it twice as easy to do), 0-6 in the World Series, 8-22 at home in the postseason.
There's a mountain of research left to be done, but I believe Wrigley Field is a central reason the Cubs do not win.
It is fact, after all, that they have never won the World Series while playing there. It has become a cash cow, and is the primary reason the team profits despite losing.
It is the deepest ballpark in MLB to both left and right field, leading the team to focus on power despite playing half the season in power-killing cold. I love Wrigley Field, but it needs either to be heavily shortened or destroyed altogether. The research, I suspect, will back me up on this.
FOR NEXT WEEK: A more succinct and funnier article detailing the statistical realities of life at Wrigley. Also, I explain why I love my aching elbow and shoulder.