Filed: Nov. 9, 2008
Ryan Theriot, Sean Marshall, and Jose Ceda to Atlanta for Kelly Johnson
(Subsequently shipped with Jordan Schafer to San Diego for Jake Peavy)
Pitching is not always king.
Reflecting over the Cubs team of the last few seasons—and in particular the playoffs—their problem is not pitching. It’s hitting, mostly. And to be perfectly honest, it’s a bit of professionalism. The 2008 Cubs had a potent offense, capable pitching, and a reasonably strong defense; however, when it came time to perform under the glare of a national spotlight, they faded. Again. Why?
1) There is nothing wrong with Alfonso Soriano as a leadoff man. Seriously. But when you have that sort of streaky ballplayer leading off, you are obligated to have a rock-solid professional hitter hitting behind him. And considering the Cubs' righty-oriented middle of the order, preferably a left-handed one.
The Cubs served up slap-hitting Ryan Theriot instead for most of the season in the two-hole, and in the ultimate indignity, they even used Kosuke Fukudome there in the series against the Dodgers. Won’t work. At least not against the premier opponents.
2) Professionalism – There has long been anecdotal evidence that the Cubs refused to embrace advance scouting reports, and as they found themselves matched against more competitive teams, this was severely exploited. Additionally, pitchers have the book on Cubs hitters, and many have been very slow to make adjustments.
Aramis Ramirez? Completely clutch. But when you start looking at players from last season: Kosuke Fukudome, Derrek Lee, Jim Edmonds, and especially Soriano, you’ve got big-time players that end up looking outmatched. They haven’t forgotten how to hit, but they are not coming up to the plate prepared.
3) Terrible lineup composition. Everybody knows it, most especially manager Lou Piniella. The lack of lefties is killing this team!!! If you had any doubt, simply look to the 2008 NLDS, where the Dodgers could send in a late-inning righty, and they stayed in for multiple innings, and the Cubs had no strong lefties to make the opposing manager get situational.
In May, against the Pirates, it probably doesn’t matter. In the fall against the cream of the league? You’re going to get abused. Brian Roberts would have fixed much of this, but short of a miracle happening, they’ll need to look elsewhere.
My point? For the Cubs, pitching isn’t your problem; your makeup is. So imagine my surprise as I’ve read and listened to the rumors of the Cubs involving themselves in a battle for the rights to Jake Peavy.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s an amazing talent and is certain to make almost any good team an immediate serious contender. That’s not the problem. What perplexes me is the $13 million or so annual commitment that he demands, and that’s assuming that you’re not required to tear up that contract in order to have Peavy waive his NTC. This solves any of the Cubs' current issues...how?
Now, I’ve heard the rumors that starter Ryan Dempster is looking for a 5/$75M deal, which I still can’t stop laughing about. So, I can see that if you’re a casual observer to the Cubs, the idea of replacing him with Jake for about the same cost makes some sense. However, if you look a bit closer, you’d see that the Cubs can still be a very competitive team without either, fielding a likely starting rotation of:
Gaudin/Samardzija/Hill/any fifth-starter FA signing
It’s a good staff to start the season, and the Cubs could save the cash for potential pickups at the deadline. Oh, and for those lefty bats that they covet.
My suggestion? Get out of this nonsense, and move toward using this deal to pluck a real shortstop in Kelly Johnson. To those who don’t know, Kelly is an old shortstop, turned outfielder, turned second baseman. Reportedly, he was quite talented, but with guys like Rafael Furcal lurking around in the system, there was always a better talent at the position.
Now, it’s understandable—given their long history of solid shortstops—that the Braves would move him out of that spot. However, for the Cubs, Kelly is both an upgrade at the shortstop position and a solution to a number of other problems with their ballclub.
Better range and arm than the incumbent. Left-handed bat. A legitimate top-of-the-order hitter. And a genuine professional from the Braves organization. Their prospects always come up knowing how to play the game right. Well, maybe not Wilson Betemit, but there is always an exception.
Further, by getting out of the Peavy deal, the Padres now have their hand forced, leaving them to deal with the Braves almost exclusively, which should keep the price down a bit.
So, let's see: A major-league-ready starter, a starting SS, a center-field prospect, and a late-inning reliever for a guy with a NTC that’s he’s enforcing strongly enough to call the shots on this deal? Sounds about right to me. Everyone gets what they really need, and I think the Cubs get better in the process.