Chicago Cubs: 5 Biggest Concerns of 2012 Cubs
Believe me Cubs fans, we all know this list could go on for miles.
I won't be putting Mike Quade on the list, though his detriments to the team are clearly visible.
Yet the rest of this list just makes you a little uneasy about the direction of this team, especially if it isn't handled by a newly-installed General Manager with a barrel of wisdom to spare.
These positions are all things that championship-caliber teams usually excel in, but this franchise needs to fix them all. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the near-future, but handled correctly it could be fixed on a manageable schedule.
Knowing the Cubs, I'll be watching with one eye closed. Until then, here's how the problems shake out.
No. 1 Rotation
What's there to say about the 2011 Cubs rotation that hasn't already been said about Charlie Sheen? Parts are old, broken down, past their prime and clinically insane. The last statement referring to a one Carlos Zambrano, although his recent thought on retirement might be the sanest thing he's pondered in quite a while.
As it stands, the rotation in 2012 should go in looking like this:
1. Matt Garza
2. Ryan Dempster
3. Andrew Cashner
4. Randy Wells
5. Casey Coleman / Jeff Samardizja / Prospect
The Zambrano omission is based on the very probable chance that he isn't a Cub in 2012, either released or traded in a bad contract swap deal.
Man, does that ever sting to look at. The World Series is won with pitching, yet the Cubs seem to be driving 100 MPH in the opposite direction.
Matt Garza is a borderline ace, and I didn't expect him to pitch like it this season. He's one of the few things this team can comfortably build around. One has to be happy with his acquisition the more you look at it. This team would be completely in the gutter without the little bit of optimism and consistency he's bringing.
Ryan Dempster set as the No. 2 guy? I know, it hurts me just as much to look at. His career decline over the past three years is marked and clear, and at this point he has turned into a bottom of the rotation kind of pitcher.
Andrew Casher is a complete unknown when it comes to his longevity, although his talent-level is quite high. Expecting him to get over 150 innings pitched would be a stretch. For a team needing a No. 3 starter and hoping for him to pitch above that rank, they will likely be sorely disappointed.
Randy Wells has seemed to prove that his first-half issues were linked to his injury as opposed to a drop in skill, as his production over the past month and beyond has been back to his quality career levels. As a No. 4 starter, it's hard to complain about a guy who should have a reasonable WHIP and an ERA in the low four.
The fifth spot is ugly, downright ugly. Yet it's a quick fix with just one young pitcher being able to produce to reasonable levels. Trying out Jeff Samardzjia after he's become an adequate reliever could seriously hurt his development and turn him into a useless starter.
In general, the fifth spot shouldn't be an issue to stress, although grabbing an innings-eating pitcher wouldn't be a mistake if the price is right.
Adding CJ Wilson seems impossible with the Yankees and other high spenders driving up his cost. The Cubs couldn't afford to pay him the cash, and outside of CJ and CC Sabathia, the pitching market looks quite barren.
No. 2 Third Base
With Ramirez claiming to have most likely played his last game as a Cub, the team's near future is getting bleaker by the second.
With Aramis, the Cubs have arguably the best third basemen in baseball this season. Hard to believe it, on a team that has a roster as ugly as this one.
Losing someone of that quality, to replace with a light-hitting DJ Lemahieu or Ryan Flaherty would put the nail in the coffin for the Cubs' season before Day 1. The two of them are second basemen, and should not be seeing at-bats anywhere else.
The free-agent crop of third basemen is ugly as sin, with Mark DeRosa and Casey Blake "leading" the charge of less-than-mediocrity.
Ramirez can only come back on a $16 million dollar option, and hopes for that seem to be dwindling to a non-possibility.
Let's just say that Cubs fans should be monitoring this situation with great concern.
No. 3 Left Field
We all know the story with Alfonso Soriano at this point.
To the uninitiated, Soriano is a disgustingly poor defensive left fielder who has begun hitting like a pure platoon player. The bad kind, that should only be starting 25 percent of the time.
When your $19 million man can't hit the vast majority of pitchers in the majors and is also unable to play defense at an even sub-par level, it speaks volumes about your team's chances.
His role should truly slip into that of a platoon player, which he would do well in. Cutting him outright would lose this moderate value of his and cost a lot of money.
All in all, as a full-time starter the picture couldn't be worse. But if the Cubs are reserved to keep him, it most certainly should be as a part-timer. It's truly the only way to milk any remaining value with the husk of his former talent that he has become.
No. 4 First Base
Carlos Pena has been perfectly worth his 10 million dollar contract according to his offensive production. He's gotten on-base very well, he's hit for power and played slightly above average defense.
In total, he's been perfectly adequate.
Yet bringing back an adequate, 34-year-old first baseman on a team absolutely going no where would be incredibly naive. This same player is the man hitting .180 with runners in scoring position this season, being arguably the biggest issue in that department of failure on a team that's full of it.
Giving Pena a contract for two years or more would devastate any chance the Cubs have at finding or acquiring an upgrade to the position in the present or future. He locks the position down, with only the downside of his career to look forward to.
Unless this team has the best offseason seen in a decade, they'll assuredly guarantee the disappointment that 2012 holds. In that vein, giving an unknown first basemen with upside (making league minimum) is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Bryan LaHair could realistically put up an OPS near or better than .800, while hitting 20-plus home runs. With the 10 million saved on playing him over Pena, the Cubs could add to the rotation that so desperately needs it, building towards the future.
Even giving minor leaguers like Rebel Ridling a chance would be much more fortuitous to the Cubs future than re-signing a lame duck like Pena.
Either way, the status quo is clearly beyond repair. Maintaining it would only show the poor direction the team would be headed down.
No. 5 Second Base
Not a problem area? Only to the unobservant eye.
The Cubs' incumbent starter, Darwin Barney, is a one (month) and done kind of guy. After a blistering April, the rest of his season continued with an awful thud. Being unable to adjust to major league pitching has preyed on his league-worst walk ability and complete lack of power.
His non-factor speed and middling defense don't help his case, either. When you add in the fact that he simply cannot hit right-handed pitching, it seems blatantly obvious that the scouts who pegged him as a career utility infielder were right on the money.
His .667 OPS on the year is downright depressing (ranked 13th out of the 16 qualified second basemen). His inability to get on base or take a walk are huge detriments to the team's offense wherever he is in the lineup (he's dead last in walks for all who qualified).
Second base doesn't need to be a position of power, but you can't be a liability in so many offensive areas and continue as the starter.
The position should clearly be open to the most talented youngster with upside, and that most certainly ain't Barney. Ryan Flaherty and DJ Lemahieu do not look good at third base, but at second base they can grow and display the talent they have shown in the Minors, the same upside Barney never once hinted at.
A useful utility infielder does not make a good starter. This statement is especially true for a team trying to rebuild. You don't rebuild a franchise with below-average bench players with minimal upside, unless you're planning on staying in the basement of the standings.