Jim Hendry has already gotten the pink slip, so a lot of the venom Cubs fans may have felt is gone. Now, it is time to pick up the pieces and move on. Unfortunately, there are a lot of pieces to pick up. The Cubs have a top-five payroll and stand in fifth place in their division. That alone tells you the kind of analysis that has been done. Furthermore, they haven’t been a factor in the division for several years.
Interestingly enough, this team is not devoid of good players. Quite the contrary, when you look of the number of good players they have, you wonder how they stand in fifth place. This is one of those organizations that consistently makes you scratch your head. Some teams (say the Angels or Rays) make you wonder how they win. With the Cubs, you wonder how they lose. It takes some creativity.
Team Payroll: $125.0 million (sixth)
Analysis Score: -11.4
The secret to Hendry’s success (if you can call it that) is that he was not terrible in any phase of the game. The problem was that he was just bad enough to field a losing team. Still, fans could point to players like Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena, Starlin Castro and even Marlon Byrd and say the talent is there. Yes it is, but then there were the contracts for Kosuke Fukodome, Alfonso Soriano and the maddening inconsistency of Geovany Soto.
They weren’t terrible, but they were paying through the nose for mediocre players. Carlos Pena, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukodome all made more than $10 million this year. Ramirez may have been the only one who came close to producing on that kind of level. Mind you, I said close. Keeping your job without the benefit of results takes effort. You can’t completely botch moves. They simply have to underachieve enough to the point where the powers that be won’t notice.
In reality, the starting staff isn’t really that bad. Sure, Carlos Zambrano has a toxic personality and the contract to match, but you have three solid starters including Randy Wells, Ryan Dempster and the newly acquired Matt Garza. All of them have pitched well even if their collective ERA doesn’t show it.
See, the Cubs are currently last in the National League (and all of MLB) in defense efficiency rating (DER). DER is the inverse of BABIP. The Cubs have a .675 team DER this season. That means that their opponents have a collective .325 BABIP this year. So, Matt Garza is the only starter with a sub-4.00 ERA, but with better luck they could have two or three pitchers there.
That’s also one of the ways in which you can underachieve and still keep your job. While they’ve committed the most errors in the league, that doesn’t always have to be the case. It just means the team makes fewer plays. That’s usually due to lack of range. Range is not something casual fans or owners notice. The Cubs could use a serviceable fifth starter but, then again, so could most of the league. What they really need is for Carlos Zambrano to either start earning his money or go away.
Carlos Marmol has been filthy in the past, but something happened on the way to him becoming the best closer in the National League. He suddenly became hittable. Andrew Cashner was supposed to be the heir apparent, but he got hurt and has been ineffective. Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and Jeff Samardzija have been fine, but none are good enough to hold down the closer’s spot in Marmol’s stead. So, they have been stuck with his inconsistent performance.
Response to Crisis
The Cubs were out of it before the season got going and Hendry was out too as it turned out. So, the main crisis is how the organization is going to move forward. They traded Fukodome to Cleveland, but that just cleared a few million dollars. Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano are signed long-term. Zambrano will clear the books after next season and Soriano will clear after 2014. Finding takers for them would be ideal, but they are going to have to get someone drunk to do it.
Part of the crisis will be to avoid the temptation to spend their way out of the mess. Carlos Pena is a free agent, so they have his money and the money dedicated to Fukodome clearing the books. The temptation is there to go after Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. Neither of them will be enough to take the Cubs anywhere. They would energize the fan base, but this fan base needs winning more than glitz.
Analysis Score: -11.4 (29th)
Actually, this rank seems pretty close. The only thing that remains a mystery is why it took ownership so long to pull the plug on Hendry. The emperor had no clothes and was running around in the buff for several seasons. Chicago is an intriguing job, so chances are they will attract a big name. Don’t be surprised if that guy gets this team competitive in a hurry.