With a possible trade for Jake Peavy on the horizon, the Cubs obviously have reflected on 2008 and are now looking forward to 2009 and asking what are the options are possible for the offseason?
Coming off the stellar ’08 regular season and a shaky at best ’08 postseason, the Cubs are looking to figure out what improvements and holes they must act upon to be in contention for the 2009 postseason and World Series.
A starting pitcher, centerfielder, leadoff hitter and relief pitching are a few of the roster spots the Cubs ought to consider filling.
Ryan Dempster gave the Cubs a career year in 2008 as a starter, converted from the closer’s position. Being matched only by Ted Lilly for the team lead in wins with 17 and boasting a 2.96 ERA in 33 starts, Dempster became a free agent at the conclusion of the ’08 campaign.
Now with the Cubs at the door step of getting Jake Peavy and if successful, the rotation wouldn’t need a Dempster in it to look ominous to opposing teams. With Peavy at the top of the rotation and Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Lilly, Jason Marquis to follow, it could very well be one of the deepest and could be the most successful rotation in 2009.
If Dempster doesn’t take the four-year, $50 million or waits too long to decide, the Cubs need to consider forgetting about him and going after another 2nd or 3rd (spot in rotation) caliber pitcher.
A few examples of pitchers include Randy Wolf, Jon Garland, and Derek Lowe as 4th or 5th spot-starter. Out of that list the Cubs really should consider Lowe with his winning playoff experience or Garland who is a sinker pitcher, which is needed at Wrigley Field.
Last year’s center field position was a platoon between Jim Edmonds and Reed Johnson. Edmonds has moved on to free agency, but Johnson is still here. Batting .303 with six home runs and 50 RBI’s in split and pitch hitting roles, Johnson did a decent job.
The Cubs however are looking for a little more speed out of center field and hope that person could possibly leadoff or bat 2nd in the lineup. An alternative on the free agent market is Scott Podsednik, who filled the same role decent in Colorado last year with a .322 OBP. The biggest issues with Scottie Pods are he’s history of injuries and his salary.
To save money the club could turn to Fukudome to move to center. This would be cost efficient if he can get his swing together and adjust to MLB pitching (especially the sweeping slider). If he could bring his average back up and be patient enough for walks, the Cubs might have found them a leadoff/number two hitter and center fielder already on the roster.
The reason the Cubs need to consider a leadoff hitter is because Alfonso Soriano’s production driving in runs needs to go up. Just over a third of his RBI came from home runs last year.
There were so many games where Soriano would leadoff with a home run or start an inning with a home run. There were even multiple home run games where he only had solo shots.
Out of Soriano, Ramirez, Lee, Soto and even Derosa, Soriano had the fewest RBI’s out of the group. A solution to this issue could be to drop him in the lineup to give him more chances with runners on base.
The drop of Soriano could also benefit Ramirez (who’d still bat 4th), Lee (who’d drop to 5th to knock in Soriano and Ramirez in with his knack for doubles and getting on base), and Soto (who’d bat 6th). It would give them protection and make it hard for pitchers and coaches to decide whom to face.
Could this affect Ramirez and Lee’s RBI production? Temporarily it might, but with as much as Soriano strikes out, there’ll be chances still. Actually this could take some pressure off of Ramirez and Lee to always be the run producers of the team and let them just hit.
Shortstop is a position for which the Cubs could look to upgrade at defensively and could get a leadoff hitter from as well.
As great as Ryan Theriot’s story was last season, he had defensive lapses and lacked in certain power categories such as home runs and RBI. Theriot’s not built to have power numbers, like 20 home runs and 70-90 RBI.
The answer to the problem could come by signing a free agent like Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, or Rafael Furcal. Cabrera could bring the Cubs the power numbers and a decent glove at shortstop, if the club and players are willing to deal with his “me and my way” attitude. He doesn’t have 25+ stolen base speed, but can still get a few. He even could bat leadoff like he did for the Sox in ’08.
There’s also Renteria, who is a decent hitting shortstop with somewhere between 10-15 home runs and 20-30 doubles annually. He doesn’t have the stolen base speed he used to have, but he could still get you 5-15 stolen bases.
Lastly there’s Furcal, who can hit for power, but also has the ability to leadoff. Coming off an injury from last season, the Cubs might be able to get him at a cheaper rate than normal.
The only other option is to try to pick a shortstop via trades, which could be easier said than done.
Finally, the Cubs have to figure out how to replace four members of the bullpen, which is a key unit. Bob Howry, Chad Fox, Jon Lieber, and Kerry Wood all filed for free agency at the end of the season. This leaves several holes in long relief, middle relief, and a closer that Jim Hendry will have to plug up.
As a White Sox fan (having watched Octavio Dotel do the same stuff), I can relate to why Cubs fans are so happy to see Howry leave. Inconsistencies, blowing games and not being able to throw strikes when they were needed were just a few of the issues Howry brought.
Inconsistency was the name of the game for Howry in ’08. Lou Pinella would bring Howry into a game with a two-run lead and he wouldn’t get an out. By the time Pinella would go to get him, the lead or the game would be gone.
This put more pressure on the whole team in general to fight back and win. There are a couple replacements for Howry the Cubbies could look at getting. Horacio Ramirez, Juan Rincon, and Kip Wells, all of which are current free agents and could be used to replace Chad Fox as well.
Jon Lieber did a decent enough job for the Cubs in ’08. Would the Cubs try to get him back for ’09? Doubtful, considering he is going to be turning 40 next season and could be a little too expensive and risky for someone his age. However, there are a few options that the Cubs could try.
An option for the Cubs could be (pending the Peavy trade) to move Marquis from the starters position to the long relievers role. This would give the Cubs a spot starter and someone who could take the ball in the first inning and go as long as he’s effective.
An alternative to that would be to test the free agent market for a former starter turned reliever or a long reliever. Wells is a player that could stretch his stamina out to give the club a spot start or take over in the first inning and go a while.
Another solution is to bring a young pitcher up from the farm system. For instance, the Cubs have Rich Hill and Angel Guzman, who are waiting for their chance to come to the show. Chad Gaudin may be on the list of pitchers for the long relief duties as well.
The 2009 Chicago Cubs might not change a lot, but it’ll be in areas that get recognized often if they do. The biggest change could come from the closers role. The longest active Cub might not be back for the following season.
Over the last decade the Cubs and Wood have been completely loyal to each other, whether Wood was seriously hurt or not. The Cubs knew Wood would be vital to them one day and he was.
Wood had 34 saves in his first season as a closer. Now with Woody on the free agent market the question becomes, would it be in the best interest of the Cubs to bring Woody back for 2009?
If they don’t and Wood doesn’t come back, all the Cubs have to do is look down the bullpen bench to find their next closer. Carlos Marmol did a good job while Wood fought his blister and had days off. This is one area the Cubs can grow from the inside and save money if they don’t get Wood back.
101 years is a long time and the window on players contracts like Lee and Ramirez will be coming to a close soon. That’s the hard part with free agency and players are going for the most money in contracts is that a team can’t build themselves up for a long time they only get a two or three-year window before players' move on to a different team.
Very few players are like Kerry Wood and dedicate their career to one team and stay loyal to them. These days’ players’ sign for two or three-years for a medium amount, blow up in their last year of the contract and move on to a big deal somewhere else. So there’s really no telling how long the window for a team to compete is going to be open. So the Cubs need to get a winner in the next year or two because who knows how long it’ll last.
Going after Jake Peavy could prove to be a start. I believe the Cubs will be busy this offseason, maybe even during the season.
Hopefully it’ll end though (especially for my Cubs friends) with at least a World Series birth…and hopefully my White Sox could be there to meet them!