You thought this season was bad? Wait 'til next year.
Every year, an average Major League Baseball team turns over around twenty percent of its roster.
Chicago Cubs fans looking toward 2010 are hoping that that number is more like eighty percent. The core of this roster has gelled and played well together over the last few years. This year, however, this roster's shortcomings have finally caught up with them. If you ask Jim Hendry or Lou Piniella, they will tell you that this year was not short lapse.
Sadly, the Cubs' problems are much more serious from a structural standpoint, and they are in danger of going into relapse.
What's wrong? The Cubs have some solid players and good individual parts. Derrek Lee put together a very nice season. Aramis Ramirez is an underrated cleanup hitter and has made the offense go. Zambrano is solid and an inning eater. Marmol has very good stuff. These players, however, are far from stars.
The Cubs have no great players. There is no future hall of famer. There is no perennial all-star. When the going gets tough, Albert Pujols carries the St. Louis Cardinals offense. Tim Lincecum wins when his start rolls around.
Who are those guys for the Cubs? Zambrano is inconsistent and a bit injury-plagued of late. Lee and Ramirez are both good players, but not guys you are going to hitch your wagon to.
The second major shortcoming with this team is the fact that there seems to be no systematic evaluation of players in order to make sure they fit in with this club. What is the Cubs identity? What does the typical Cub look like? Do they ever look at a player and think, "Sure he's talented, but he does not fit into our system."
The truth is there is no typical Cub. Talent-wise, they are an amalgymous mix of random players who were the best available options at the time of their arrival in Chicago.
Why can't this change overnight? Systems are built from the top-down. I like Jim Hendry, but he is not a system guy. He's old school. He's a scout/coach. A general manager has to be more of a CEO, implementing and executing a vision for a massive organization.
Hendry is a great guy and a great baseball guy. He is also a great talent evaluator. Unfortunately, that does not make for a great GM.
Here are some specific problems with a Cub overhaul for 2010.
The core players are signed past this season and have little trade value. Ramirez has been injured a lot. Zambrano has too. Fukudome and Soriano are being payed massively for little contribution, and no one will take on those contracts.
Who else will bring you anything in return? Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster may, but you would be trading 40 percent of your starting staff and have few options behind them.
There are also no impact free agents availabe this off-season. With no trade pieces and no free agents, the only option for an overhaul is to give guys away for nothing, eat contracts, and start over. Not a bad option for some teams.
Hendry, however, has a new boss and it seems unlikely that he is willing to pin his job on the hopes of a "rebuilding" roster.
All of these facts mean one thing.
The 2010 Cubs will look eerily like an underachieving 2009 team. Hendry and Lou will roll out the same core group of guys, cross their fingers, and hope 2008 magic happens again.
Problem is, 2008 still netted a first round playoff sweep. Why? Because this team actually overachieved in '07 and '08. 2009 was much more indicative of this team's actual talent than the previous two seasons were.