For nearly a decade the Chicago Cubs strategy for winning has been to simply fill gaps in the roster via free agency or trade. Since the Cubs' best playoff run of 2003, the Cubs have been fueled by a core of players which ultimately has led the Cubs to their largest number of playoff appearances in any decade since the 1930s.
Now, after two less-than-mediocre seasons, the Cubs organization is faced with more uncertainty than it's had since the turn of the century. Former all-star players have regressed to the point where their placement in the Cubs lineup seems trivial, while one-time prospects seem to hold little future value to the organization.
Simply stated, when an organization reaches a point the Cubs appear to have reached, there is only one solution: hold a fire sale.
Here are the best players the Cubs can move in order to give the organization a fresh start.
Ramirez has enjoyed a renaissance type of season in 2011. After a severe decline in 2010, when Ramirez missed nearly a quarter of the season, the former all-star third baseman hit a lowly .241 with diminished power numbers.
This season, however, Ramirez has been the only offensive answer the Cubs have had.
Currently, Ramirez leads the Cubs in RBI, slugging percentage, OPS, doubles and total bases. Ramirez is also second on the team in home runs, hits, and on-base percentage and batting average among qualifying players.
Needless to say, Ramirez has enjoyed a career year.
But Ramirez's time in Chicago appears to have come to an end. After enjoying nearly eight seasons in a Cubs uniform, Ramirez has looked to be on a steady decline for the past three years. Unlike his first few seasons, Ramirez has had issues with health and, defensively, Ramirez has seemingly lost some of his range and consistency.
In many regards, Aramis Ramirez is the Cubs most valuable player, and nowhere more so than on the trade market. The Cubs could receive more in return for Ramirez than any other player on their roster. Unfortunately, Ramirez has repeatedly stated that he doesn't wish to waive his no-trade clause and leave Chicago.
Geovany Soto burst on the Cubs' scene in late 2007 and was responsible for nearly all of the Cubs' offense in the 2007 NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks. A year later, in his first full season, Soto earned the National League Rookie of The Year award.
The years following Soto's rookie campaign have made for a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde career, as Soto's production severely declined in 2009 only to rise back among the elite catchers in the National League in 2010. Now, in 2011, Soto has mirrored his 2009 season to the tune of 40-point drop in batting average with similarly low power numbers.
Soto is still relatively young, however, and could bring the Cubs some decent talent in return if he is to be traded. The only question that remains for the Cubs is which Soto the future may hold. Will Soto return to his .280, 20-plus home run-hitting ways, or is Soto's current .241 average more indicative of things to come?
With Soto's contract expiring after the 2011 season, the time may be ripe for the Cubs to shop the enigmatic catcher around. After all, if Cubs history is any indication of things to come, the future doesn't look to bright with Soto behind the plate.
Only one thing was certain when the Cubs signed Carlos Pena to a one-year $10 million contract: Pena was a temporary fill-in at first base.
With highly-coveted first basemen like Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols on the verge of free agency following the 2011 season, the Cubs are likely looking to make a big splash by signing either Pujols or Fielder, and crippling one of their National League Central Division rivals.
Pena, of course, would be the odd-man-out in such a scenario.
Though Pena has produced marginally above Cubs fans' expectations, his career has been in a steady decline since his best season of 2007. Over the past four seasons, all of Pena's hitting numbers have dropped significantly, and although Pena has been somewhat improved in 2011, he still shows no sign of returning to the form which garnered him MVP consideration in 2007 and 2008.
While Pena's penchant for striking out, low batting average and on-base percentage don't equate well with the Cubs plans to return to contention, Pena could offer one of this season's contenders a powerful bat from the left side.
For nearly four seasons now, the weight of the Cubs' world has seemingly fallen onto the shoulders of Alfonso Soriano. Since signing the richest contract in Cubs history prior to the 2007 season, Soriano has been looked upon to be the MVP-caliber player to catapult the Cubs toward their first World Series appearance in over a half-century.
Though Soriano's Chicago career began well, the former power-hitting speedster's career took a major turn after suffering a hamstring injury late in his first Cubs season.
Since Soriano's injury nearly all of his skills have diminished. One time a perennial 40-40 threat, Soriano has seen a major decline in power, and his speed has all but disappeared. Over the course of the past three seasons, Soriano has been more of an outlet for Cubs fans' frustration than a significant piece to the Cubs' puzzle.
Though Soriano is still under contract until contract through 2014, it is unlikely that retaining Soriano beyond 2011 will be of much benefit to the Cubs. In order to move Soriano, the Cubs would have to pay a considerable amount of the $54 million they still owe him—if not all of it.
The Cubs most likely would not receive much in return for Soriano as his value on the trade market doesn't equate to much. But if the Cubs are truly set on moving on and starting over, Soriano is the one player the Cubs must move—if not for the sake of the team, then for the sake of the fans who continually boo him.
Contrary to popular belief, Carlos Zambrano has had a respectable 2011 season. Zambrano currently is tied for the team lead in wins with seven, second among starters in ERA and WHIP, and has pitched more innings than any other starter.
Zambrano, since being the Cubs No. 3 starter behind former aces Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, has seemed like a diamond in the rough. Cubs fans have been waiting for a Cy Young Award-winning season from the Cubs starter since he emerged as the lone bright spot from the oft-injured staff of 2003.
Unfortunately, over his 10-year career Zambrano has shown the Cubs more instances of near-insanity than he has brilliance. After numerous confrontations with teammates, coaches and umpires, it seems as if the time may be right for the Cubs to cut their losses with Zambrano.
Though Zambrano holds a $19 million vesting option with the Cubs for 2013, the stipulations of the option are at this point virtually unattainable, which means the former Cubs ace will be headed for free-agency in just one more year. Zambrano's value may not be too high on the trade market, but a team looking for a No. 3 or 4 starter who can give them some innings might be interested enough to invest in Zambrano.
Like Soriano, the Cubs would most likely be forced to pay a good portion of the money remaining on Zambrano's contract, but the departure of Zambrano would mean losing the longest-tenured player on the roster and bringing the Cubs ever-closer to a fresh start.
Make no mistake, Kerry Wood will always be one of the more-beloved Cubs in team history. Since his arrival in 1998, Wood has been one of the few players Cubs fans have been rooting for unconditionally.
Though Wood's career has been marred with injuries and has never seemingly reached the enormous potential it once had, the Cubs right-hander has made quite a career coming out of the bullpen. One time the Cubs' closer, Wood has seen his career relegated to the role of setup man for the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, and of course, the Chicago Cubs.
Prior to the 2011 season, Wood made headlines by signing with the Cubs for well-below his market value. Simply stated, Wood just wanted to play for the Cubs. A huge contributor to the Chicago community, Kerry Wood's departure would be quite a blow to the city of Chicago, but may bring some talented prospects in return.
Though Wood would be sorely missed by the Cubs organization, the Cubs could definitely benefit by trading the hard-throwing right-hander to a team in need of some late-inning relief.
Wood does possess a no-trade clause in his current contract, so any movement would require his permission. Given the relationship Wood has with the Cubs organization and general manager Jim Hendry, the possibility of Wood waiving his no-trade clause may not be as unlikely as perceived.