Chicago Cubs Community Roundtable: April Cubs Analysis

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer IMay 16, 2009

At the end of April, I asked several of our top Cubs writers to give me their overall impressions of the team after about one month. I want to thank the following writers for producing this analysis: Tab Bamford, Pat De Marco, Ricky Butts, Ryan Winn, Kane Simmons, Paul Swaney, Brian Livingston, and Jacob Nitzberg.

I will list the questions asked of our community, first showing the overall results (where applicable) and then a break-down of some of the most intriguing comments received.  Keep in mind that these comments were received between Apr. 30 and May 6, so some of the references may not reflect recent activity.

1. Who is the April MVP of the Cubs and why?
The clear winner here is Alfonso Soriano. Only two other players received a vote, and only Kosuke Fukudome was listed by more than one writer.

Soriano (5)
The Cubs April MVP should be re-titled the Cubs OVP - Only Valuable Player. And it's Soriano, because he's the only bat to show up so far this year. Ramirez & Soto have been hurt, Lee sucked before he got hurt, and the midgets we call an infield are almost nowhere to be found.
Theriot has been good, but he's suffering from Mark Grace Syndrome - hitting .340 w/ nobody on and nobody behind you means nothing but .340. The pitching's been too inconsistent for my liking, and I'm not going to touch on Milton Bradley.

His clutch game winning home runs have been the difference.  

My Cubs MVP is Soriano because he is at the top of nearly every offensive category (these are season stats, not just April). Soriano is first in runs, second in hits, first in 2B, first in HR, second in RBI (technically fifth, four players have 15 and Soriano has 14), first in TB, third in BB, second in SLG., (also leads the team in K's).

Fukudome (2) 
Everyone had written him off and he started the season with a bang.  It was of more importance as other offensive
stars struggled or were injured.

I didn't like anyone, but I'm going with Kosuke Fukudome.  .338 AVG, .461 OBP, 4 HR, 15 RBI are all great stats.  While he is slumping now, he was one of the few stable spots in the lineup, whether he hit second, third or anywhere else. 
Also, with Bradley out for so long, he played a lot of good defense. What's most impressive to me was that he was able to do it after playing so terribly at the end of last year.

Theriot (1)

He batted .317 throughout the month of April, driving in seven RBI and stealing five bases. Theriot has been shuffled throughout the lineup, playing anywhere form second to eighth, but his production has not slipped in any spot. His recent power surge shows he is only getting better as the year gets going.

2. Who is the most disappointing Cub so far and why?

Not surprisingly, Milton Bradley was listed more than anyone. Even many of those who did not pick Bradley indicated it was mainly due to low expectations. But there was apparently a lot of disappointment to go around.
Four others got votes, and somewhat surprisingly (at least to me), Rich Harden was the only other multiple pick. Kevin Gregg, Derrek Lee and Geo Soto each received one pick. 

Bradley (3)

When Bradley came to Chicago, his supreme talent combined with his left-handedness had Cubs fans dreaming of October. Instead, he only had 34 at-bats in April, batting a dismal .118. His groin injury has kept him out most of the season, proving Cubs fans' worst nightmares about him.

Most disappointing would have to be Milton Bradley. He has been slowed by injury however, but at some point he has got to pick it up otherwise the Chicago fans are going to turn on him real quick. I think he has been trying to hard to prove all the nay sayers wrong.
If he could get some regular playing time and just relax I think he should be able to produce like he is expected to.

I'm not sure there is even a debate here, Milton Bradley.  I never liked the signing, but only 12 Games Started, .128 Avg, 2 HRs and 2 RBI. He hasn't driven anyone in but himself!  Oh yeah, 2 ejections, which were to be expected. Just an awful signing  here.

Harden (2)

Where did the command go? I hope he finds it soon.

If Derrek Lee or Milton Bradley were a surprise I would go with either of them. As it stands, Rich Harden has been the biggest disappointment. His 5.11 ERA is twice as high as it was last season.

Gregg (1)

I knew Milton Bradley was hot garbage when we signed him, so my pissed off apathy towards him is pretty level since January. Gregg was supposed to replace Kerry Wood and he's been nothing close to what we need as a closer.
The whole "once he's up he has to come in" crap is really handicapping Piniella, which is why Samardzija is up.

Lee (1)

The easy answer would be Bradley, but I didn't expect much from him in April.  History has shown that free agents and players acquired via trade typically struggle at first with the Cubs.  A few examples are Soriano, Lee, and Ramirez. My biggest disappointed has been Lee. Lee's .159 April average was bad, but his .253 OBP is much more alarming.  

3. What is the top area of need for the Cubs right now (starting pitching, relief pitching, hitting, defense)?

The bullpen was targeted as the biggest area of need for the Cubs and, not surprisingly, Neal Cotts' name was the most prominent. The bench and the offense also received multiple votes. There was one vote for starting pitching. 
Bullpen (4)

My stance has not changed on this. The Cubs will hit and their starting pitching is very good, but they're short a quality left-handed relief pitcher. Neal Cotts is not and has never been the answer. The Cubs don't stand a chance against a team like the Phillies late in games with  Neal Cotts as their left-handed setup man.

The bullpen on the other hand has a chance to be a disaster, though Gregg and Marmol will have solid seasons.

Offense (2)

The Cubs need to get someone who can consistently do anything to hit in the middle of the order before the middle of May.
My great fear is that we're going to see Aramis on the DL, Lee continue to suck, and Piniella forced to bat Fukudome third or fifth because Bradley's a mental midget, and when we have really nothing but Soriano and Fukudome hitting the ball we see another falloff from Fukudome.
If that happens, we're done. While our bullpen has been suspect, we have pieces that can do the job. Our rotation hasn't been great, but the arms are in house. I don't know that we have the players to fill a competent batting order right now.

Starting Pitching (1)

What used to be the Cubs' strong point has been it's Achilles heel this season. Rich Harden has looked bad, Ryan Dempster has been shaky, and Carlos Zambrano, after being lit up by th Cardinals (again) injured his hamstring beating out a bunt, placing him on the 15 day-DL.
Sean Marshall has been exactly what you would expect from a fifth starter, and Ted Lilly has been the lone bright spot.

Bench (1)

The area that concerns me most about the Cubs is their bench or lack their off. With all of the recent injuries it exposed a weakness of the Cubs and that is their bench. They have no true back up at third base after Aramis Ramirez went down with injury recently.
Theriot hadn't had a day off since the beginning of the season up until today. Joey Gathright is nothing more then a base stealer who is taking up space on the bench. In my opinion they should release Gathright and resign free agent Jim Edmonds. At least with Edmonds they could get some production.
They should've kept DeRosa because he would've filled in nicely with all the injuries they have had over the last month.
4. What changes, if any, would you make at this time? At the trade deadline?
There were several GM wanna-be's out there but the prevailing commentary said to either do nothing right now or make small changes to the bullpen. However, it is clear that there is an expectation that Jim Hendry will need to be aggressive at the trade deadline if the club is faltering. 
I would move someone significant (Derrek Lee) as soon as possible in an effort to not only get a legit bat in the lineup, but to specifically shake things up and remind everyone on the roster that their spot on the team is not guaranteed.
Here's a scenario for you: if Jim Thome's heel is bad, how about trading Lee to the South Side for Jermaine Dye? Dye's in a walk year, but he's clutch and actually plays every day. This would enable the Sox to move Konerko to DH where he belongs and put Lee at first. I know it would never happen, but I like the thought from both sides.

I would sign a suitable bench player who can back up Ramirez because Mike Fontenot isn't really suited for third. If they are in contention come the trade deadline I would definitely try and go after Peavy or someone comparable say Roy Halladay if the Blue Jays have fallen out of it.

Move Jeff Samardzija to the starter role.

Two left-handed relievers, dominate ones.
5. Give me your impressions of GM Jim Hendry and the job that manager Lou Piniella is doing.
Most maintained that Lou is doing a good job with the hand he's been dealt. While there was more than one writer who strongly approved of the job that Jim Hendry is doing, there was quite a bit of negative commentary over the job that he did in assembling this club. That is a position I endorse, as well, as a long-time critic of Hendry's.

I maintain my belief that Hendry had the worst winter in baseball and he's handcuffed Piniella by giving him crap to work with...Hendry gets an F.
With that in mind, I think Piniella gets an incomplete. The job of the manager is to put players into the roles in which they should succeed given the makeup of the roster. It isn't Piniella's fault he had to choose between Marmol & Gregg to close; if Gregg has to pitch once he gets up, there is ZERO versatility available w/ him so he HAS to be the closer.
If Bradley is supposed to bat in the middle of the order and play right every day and he's on the bench either suspended or hurt every day, how is Piniella supposed to take advantage of his gaudy on base percentage? It's not Piniella's fault this team sucks—it's Hendry's.

I'm going to wait to the end of the year before giving an impression on what Hendry has done. I typically don't judge a GM until seasons end. As for Piniella, I think he's done an average job. I've never been a fan on how he handles a bullpen, but that's never been a strength of his. 
I've always felt that he's a great hitting coach, and I will always give him credit on how he helps the hitters. I've first guessed a lot of things he's done this year, but he has a reason on why he does what he does.  His track record does speak for itself, but there's plenty of room for criticism. 

I think they both do a better than average job. I think that Hendry assembled one hell of an offense that will show over the course of a full season, but he didn't do much on the pitching front. 

Hendry tried his best to fulfill Pinella's wishes by providing him with left-handed bats, but the problem is none of them have worked out well.

Jim Hendry's biggest mistake was getting rid of Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood.

Personally I like Jim Hendry he has been one of the better Cubs GM's in the teams history. Lou as a manager is just what the Cubs need and he is going to do exactly what he has done the last two seasons. He's going to let his players play and interject when needed.
He will play the guys who perform and sit those who don't it is that simple. You make plays, get hits and get outs there won't be any problems. Lou demands the best from his players and 9 times out of 10 he gets it.
6. Your prediction for the season

Overall, there is a big dichotomy between those that think the Cubs will easily take the division, and those that don't even believe they will make ti to the postseason.

Several comments focused on the lack of confidence generated by the team's lousy performance in last year's playoffs. The Cardinals were listed most often as the biggest division contender.

Not one writer predicted the Cubs will go to the World Series.

Make the Playoffs: 50 Percent

Miss the Playoffs: 37.5 Percent

Unsure (or no prediction): 12.5 Percent

This team, as it's made up right now, will finish third in the NL Central behind St. Louis and Cincinnati. I don't think Hendry will sit on his mistakes for long, because he knows this team's window has very little time left to do anything...and because, if this team doesn't win this division, he knows it's his butt that's looking for work in October.

I'll say the Cubs will win one round and get knocked out in the second round. 

I think the Cubs win the division easily.  They will play the winner of the East in the playoffs, and will win that series. At this time, I would have to say they lose to the dreaded Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, unless they can get that bullpen tightened and their top three starters on a roll.

I like the Cardinals and the Brewers to both finish higher than the Cubs.

If the Cubs can get healthy, play good baseball and the Cardinals come back down to earth then I could see them winning their third division title. Right now I'm not sold on this team just yet. They haven't earned my trust this year yet. Especially after their god awful showing in the playoffs last October.

Something just feels off about this team, but their starting pitching (if healthy) is good enough to take them deep in the playoffs. I see a trip to the NLCS.

I don't want to predict World Series only to be disappointed once more.

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