In a perfect world, the Cubs could retain Carlos Zambrano and accept him as he is, warts and all. After all, he is a solid starter with great stuff when he is healthy and his mind is right.
But that utopia doesn’t exist, Cubs fans. The Cubs world is clouded by long-term, high priced contracts that will tie the hands of any GM who the Rickets family might choose to replace Jim Hendry after the season.
Even if Hendry stays, he has to admit that this club needs to make some changes, and that will be extremely challenging unless they can free up some payroll space.
Therefore, I suggest that the Cubs consider trading Big Z in the offseason.
I’m not suggesting we simply give him away in a waiver claim, like Alex Rios. No, starting pitchers are at too much of a premium to do that.
Yet, admittedly, this would be more of a salary dump than anything. Look, Zambrano isn’t the ace we thought he would be. He admits he is lazy, doesn’t take care of himself, and is a mental train wreck out on the mound.
And he makes $18 million per year.
Still, some team will take a chance on him because he has the potential to win 20 games in any given year. Whether that year will ever happen, especially with the Cubs, is highly debatable, but the potential is staring everyone squarely in the face.
Now, let’s examine what our needs will be in the coming season.
The outfield is a mess, yet barring an unlikely trade, we’re locked in to Soriano, Fukudome, and Bradley. Of the three, Bradley is the most likely to depart. But with two more years and $20 million remaining on his steal, I mean, deal, Hendry would almost certainly have to throw in cash in any deal.
Recognizing that, how can we improve the offense?
Well, believe it or not, we’re looking at second base again. Yes, the position that Hendry keeps loading up on still is unresolved.
Jeff Baker is doing a really nice job right now, but his history says that he is nothing more than an inconsistent role player. Remember how good Mike Fontenot looked last year?
Speaking of Fontenot, he just hasn’t lit the lamp this year despite plenty of opportunity.
Aaron Miles? We’re stuck with him unless Hendry is willing to eat his contract for 2010. But he is useless.
Anyway, we’re locked in at first and third bases, and Ryan Theriot, while not a great defensive shortstop, is part of the solution, not the problem. So where else can we look for help?
Aside from second base, we may need to look closely at the catcher position. Yep, unfortunately, as good as Geovanny Soto looked in 2008 as ROY, he has looked equally bad this season.
Good catchers are very difficult to find, however. We may need to put Geo on a diet, a rigorous workout regimen, keep him away from the pipe, and hope for the best in 2010.
The Toronto Blue Jays, despite protests to the contrary, seem to be in a rebuilding process. I expect they may still move Doc in the offseason, and they were certainly in a giving mood when they dumped Rio’s contract on the White Sox.
So, perhaps Aaron Hill could be obtained. Hill is a tremendous defensive second sacker with power. He has a relatively favorable contract, however, so I’m not sure of Toronto’s appetite to move him.
The first thought is that Hill would have to be obtained in a separate deal since they would be unlikely to take on Z’s contract. But if they moved Doc, perhaps they would be more willing to take Zambrano, since he is signed.
Meanwhile, we need relief help. That’s the understatement of the year. So, if we could package Zambrano in a deal that could bring us a middle infielder and relief help, while also shedding Z’s monstrous contract, wouldn’t that make sense?
Easier said than done, I know. But with all of these back-loaded, long-term deals we have, some out-of-the-box creative thinking is in order.
Welcome to the Cubs, Mr. Ricketts. You have a cash cow in Wrigley Field, but you also have a loyal fan base tired of waiting forever for a winner.
Something must change, come to think of it.