Amid Lou Piniella’s recent proclamation that, despite reports to the contrary, he was planning on returning for the 2010 season, there is this little thing called expectations gnawing at Jim Hendry and the Cubs.
While Hendry has certainly messed things up, and Lou seems to be winding down a successful career, they deserve one more shot at bringing a winner to the loyal Cubs fans, who deserve so much more than we've been getting.
Sure, the sale of the team to the Ricketts family, even when finalized, may provide some stability for the franchise. Yet even when fully approved and finalized, don’t look for a whole bunch of extra cash to be poured into the payroll for next season.
First of all, payroll is no longer the issue with the Cubs. They are now one of the biggest spenders in MLB. Plus, would you entrust Hendry with more money after seeing how he spent his loot up until now?
Further, Ricketts may be a fan, but he is a businessman too. He just sunk a lot of his personal wealth into the purchase of the team, so it’s not logical to expect that he will be adding to payroll.
So what can the Cubs do?
Well, it is obvious that rebuilding is out of the question. Not only do Cubs fans have no appetite for rebuilding after waiting more than a century for a World Series winner, the long-term contracts given to Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, and others pretty much lock the Cubs into contending mode for years.
It is also apparent that the farm system is thin, especially at the upper levels.
Therefore, the only thing left to do is try to move some contracts and redesign the 2010 Cubs with players obtained in trades or using the payroll space saved by some shrewd moves.
Longer term, there are some business moves the Ricketts family can make to help keep the Cubs competitive for a long time.
As for 2010, I don’t know if Hendry has the wherewithal to make the shrewd moves necessary to change up this roster without taking on additional payroll, or if there actually are any such moves to be made.
But since I said he deserves one more chance (and anyway, what could a new GM do? His hands would be tied just as well), Hendry had better think of something.
Fortunately, I am here for Jim. But it won't be easy.
After all, who wants Soriano and the five years remaining on his deal? Ramirez can’t stay healthy. Milton Bradley is a bad character. And so on.
This is why I suggested in a recent article that the Cubs should consider trading Zambrano. At least he might garner some return, in addition to providing salary relief.
There are no easy answers. I’m searching for that silver lining, but all I’m finding are dark clouds. Even so, I will try my best to offer some suggestions, both for 2010 and beyond.
1. Allow a big contract to go in a waiver claim
Yes, similar to what Toronto did with Alex Rios, if the Cubs don’t find suitors for their players in a trade, perhaps they could simply dump some salary to a team willing to accept it. Soriano certainly comes to mind, as does Bradley.
Is any team willing to take these guys off our hands? It’s doubtful, but worth a try, even if the Cubs have to include some cash as part of the transaction.
2. Sign or trade for a middle infielder who plays good defense and can hit
Quit sticking with the Aaron Mileses and Mike Fontenots of the world. Go for a second baseman in a trade or sign an inexpensive free agent that can hit. Even if the player is a shortstop, you can simply move Ryan Theriot over to second base.
Right now, as currently constructed, second base is the only position with which to make changes. We’re locked in at all three outfield positions, and we have Ramirez signed at third and Derrek Lee at first.
3. Fleece the Pirates
Hey, Hendry made a name for himself by doing this. Well, it’s time to go back to the well. Ryan Doumit is a young catcher who may be undervalued due to injuries. Yes, I know we have Geo Soto, but unless he proves otherwise, 2008 may have been a one-year phenomenon.
Doumit is hitting only .222 in 45 games this year, but he has battled injuries. Maybe a change of scenery would do him good. He’s just a year removed from hitting .318, is a switch hitter, and runs well for a catcher.
Not only could Soto be a one-hit wonder (anyone remember Jerome Walton?), at least Doumit has injuries to blame for his fall. Other than some early shoulder trouble, Soto has little to blame other than poor conditioning for his woes.
While we’re at it, Delwyn Young is a switch-hitting outfielder who has looked impressive in spot duty this season.
4. Maximize revenue!
Go ahead, Mr. Ricketts, and build that area around Wrigley Field that has been talked about for years. It’s not additional seating the Cubs need; it’s better premium seating (read: suites).
Renovate the suites, install additional parking, fix the crumbling upper deck, install a jumbotron (on the rooftops across the street?)—all things that can bring in additional revenue.
The additional advertising from the jumbotron and other electronic boards, perhaps even including (I hope you’re sitting down, purists)—God forbid—a corporate sponsored name, would be put back into the team to help with payroll and to increase the Cubs' scouting presence and expand their front office to match other successful team structures.
Don’t worry, Cubs fans, they could retain the Wrigley Field name. They could simply call it “McDonald's Stadium at Wrigley Field” or something like that.
5. Maximize television revenue
This is where the Yankees have excelled. By starting their own national TV network—the YES Network—the Yankees bring in an additional $300 million to the coffers. Similarly, the Cubs could start the CUBS Network—Cubs Universal Broadcasting System.
Meanwhile, Ricketts now own 25 percent of Comcast SportsNet, so all remaining games would be on that channel.
Just like WGN helped spawn Cubs fans from all over the country, a national network with satellite and digital cable coverage could continue this tradition, while bringing in monies solely for the Cubs that they wouldn’t have to share.
These are just some of the thoughts I have to help the Cubs compete in 2010 and beyond. I’d be interested in your ideas as well, come to think of it.