It's easy as a fan to criticize the general manager from your favorite team. But the truth is I often don't think about dollars for dollars. It's easy to say that I would love the Cubs to trade away Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Zambrano to the Giants for prospects. This would free up $17-18 million each of the next few seasons. But I remind everyone, including myself, that baseball, whether we like it or not, is a business.
A more feasible approach might be to do what the Oakland A's did and sign a soon to be free-agent like Matt Holliday. This was genius on Billy Beane's part. You either have a terrific slugger for the year who helps you compete, or if you are to underachieve, like the A's have, you trade him away to a contender and acquire a top prospect.
While the A's haven't won a World Series in 20 years, they have managed to still make the playoffs five times in the past 10 years compared to the Cubs making it in three years over that span (and that's with a payroll nearly $80 million less than the Cubbies).
So where am I going with this?
Adopting this frugal yet creative approach would give the Cubs much larger fan base something to cheer about (new impending free agents), while still keeping payroll costs down, and, at the very least build, help to build the farm system. All that said, the Cubs, unlike the A's, would eventually be able to retain that stud that they signed or traded a player like Soriano or Zambrano for. The best part about this is that the Cubs have used this philosophy before and it's worked.
Just look at the Aramis Ramirez trade.
If only more of the Cubs starters were acquired this way. A guy with a lot of potential and a solid veteran not signed long term. I would say this was the best trade since the Ryne Sandberg one.
Yes, but the Cubs signed Ramirez later to a long-term deal. This is true, but the difference is instead of going on a shopping spree and signing six or seven guys to long-term deals, this would be one (i.e., Albert Pujols). Then you trade or sign a few short term Adam Dunn type guys and, if you don't contend, that year you trade them for young players that might turn out to be future aces like Dan Haren.
I am not against free agency. But I am against it as your main means to win. The three top payrolls are all proof. Sure the Yankees are winning finally this year but unless they get a World Series with that payroll they are a bust. Their last World Series title came before they went nuts with their payroll. The Mets and Cubs are the next in line and will be watching their respective archrivals, the middle payroll Cardinals and Phillies, duke it out for the National League crown.
The problem with the Cubs isn't Milton Bradley underachieving. Nor is it Kevin Gregg blowing important save opportunities. It's not dealing Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood either. Moreover, I don't think it's Jim Hendry being our GM.
Listen, I have been a Cubs fan for over 20 years and during that time we've had a lot of general managers (i.e. Dallas Green, Ed Lynch, Larry Himes). Jim Hendry has by far shown the most desire to put a winner on the field. He's posted the best result: three playoff seasons, a game within the World Series. He has focused a lot more on pitching. He's humbled himself when he's been proven wrong by trading or letting go the deals that didn't prove to work (Nomar Garciaparra comes to mind). He had the insight and fortitude to part ways with Mark Prior.
The problem is budgeting.
In my opinion (and I say this even with the new owners, the Ricketts having money), the Cubs need to not sign any long-term contracts this winter (Chone Figgins). I would instead look more closely at trading for good if not great players in the last year of their contracts. This year, if nothing else has given Hendry some great bargaining chips for next year. One such player is Jake Fox. He's young, and has both power and potential. I know there are many bloggers and writers that would disagree with me and say the Cubs must dump salary and go younger.
Let's be honest, no team is going to trade for Soriano or Zambrano without sending you their own overpaid player in return (see paragraph one). So the Cubs might as well accept the contracts that they've invested in and build around what they have until some of these guys get off the books.
Trade Randy Wells.
He's a proven commodity and he's young. Sure, you can keep him, but then you're in the same position you were this year. Good starting pitching, no proven closer, and no leadoff man. By trading him you can get a quality closer or leadoff man in the last year or two of his contract. Yes, Wells is only 27 and his ERA is less than 3.00. But the only way you win is by upgrading your weak areas.
It's not personal, Randy.
If the Cubs can keep Wells and shore up the team for cheap, even better. The only way I see that happening would be to be patient and wait for those guys who don't get offered the max contract they want and are willing to settle for a one-year deal. Perhaps a closer like Jose Valverde will fall into this category this year. Accepting the talent you have and adding cheap quality veterans is about the best option the Cubs have.
Of course if someone calls about Soriano and is willing to pay the $18 million per year, that's still the best option.