With this season all but over for the Cubs, it's time to start making some lineup changes and begin preparing for next season. It is never too early, especially with such a mess on our hands.
We now know with some certainty that both Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella will return next season. Despite my well-documented disapproval of Hendry's resume to date, it really doesn't matter because any GM who walked into this stench would have his hands tied by the same impossible-to-move long-term contracts.
As for Lou, I still wouldn't be entirely shocked if he walked away, but he has made it clear he doesn't intend to leave any money on the table.
Now, make no mistake, I do not propose that any of the following ideas be regarded as some sort of well-deserved rest for Cubs players who, by and large, have seriously underperformed this season.
Rather, I am recommending this stuff: 1) in order to let injured players heal; 2) to get a look at other players so we know what we have for next year; and 3) to make a statement.
- With Alfonso Soriano’s knee ailing, it might be best to shut him down for the season, regardless of what the MRI shows. If he needs surgery, get it done now. In any case, we’re stuck with this guy for five more years, so we might as well get him healthy for next season.
- We also know that Aramis Ramirez has a bad shoulder that may or may not require surgery, depending on whom you believe. Again, make a determination and if it requires surgery, get 'er done. Ramirez is an important piece to the offense, so whatever the Cubs can do to improve his health for next year should be the top priority.
- Carlos Zambrano still isn’t right, no matter what he says. And he’s not performing well, anyway. Sit him down and call up Mitch Atkins or Jay Jackson and see what they can do. Or let Jeff "better at football than baseball" Samardzija or Andrew Cashner take his place so we can see what we have.
- Release Aaron Heilman, Aaron Miles, Milton Bradley (if no one will claim him off waivers), and Kevin Gregg. For Gregg, it is inevitable anyway (due to impending free agency), but you could send a message to the team that this crap won’t be tolerated next season.
- It is apparent that Jake Fox will never win a Gold Glove, but he is best suited at either third base, left field, or first base, and none of those positions are open. You can forget second base; it simply requires too much footwork and accuracy to turn the double play. So, he is either a spot-starter and pinch-hitter or a trade piece? I know he can hit, but let’s not figure him as a savior in our plans for next season; OK, Cubs fans?
- Likewise, let’s forget using Mike Fontenot as a starter at second base. I had high hopes for “Little Babe Ruth,” but he has just not hit despite being given chances this season. We cannot count on him.
- I would stick with Geo Soto behind the plate but would make plans to look elsewhere if he doesn’t show signs that he is anywhere near the player he was in 2008. Put him on a strict workout program, and if the 2009 Soto shows up, cut the cord by the end of May. We simply can’t go through another entire season with a .220 hitting catcher.
- If the Cubs follow my advice (HA!) and release Bradley, I would move Soriano to right field (remember, we’re stuck with him), and sign Adam Dunn to play left, or keep Sori in left and move Kosuke Fukudome back to right. I would take a long, hard look at using Sam Fuld in center under the latter part of this plan, if a center fielder cannot be acquired via trade or signed through free agency.
- The Cubs will need to improve the bullpen, so quit using Carlos Marmol or the aforementioned Gregg in a closer situation. Use Samardzija, Cashner, Guzman—whoever—as an audition for 2010. Don’t sign a free agent closer; those seldom work out. But acquire a solid setup man, regardless of who the closer is. Don’t count on Marmol and his inability to locate the plate.
- If we can move Ryan Dempster, by all means do it now. Use the money to re-sign Ted Lilly or Rich Harden (no more than two years on either one).
But I want to know what you think, Cubs fans, come to think of it.