Chicago Cubs: An Action Plan to Build a 2010 Winner

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IOctober 26, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 22:  Starting pitcher John Lackey #41 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitches in the first inning against the New York Yankees in Game Five of the ALCS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Angel Stadium on October 22, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

First of all, here's a link that will help us establish a proper frame of reference. The sheet attached is from Cot's Baseball Contracts, a valuable source for contract information for baseball players. It breaks down the 2010 financial obligations of the Chicago Cubs.

According to this breakdown, the Cubs are already obligated to $119 million in 2010, a number that's down from the nearly $135 million it reached this past season.

There are a few glaring weaknesses that need to be addressed first and foremost. The biggest area of need for the Cubs is their bullpen. The team stands to lose Aaron Heilman and Kevin Gregg, which makes the team better right away but also vacates two roster spots that need to be filled. John Grabow is also a free agent.

The next area that needs to be considered is the Cubs' depth. Indications are that Jim Hendry likes the idea of Jeff Baker heading to spring training as the frontrunner to become the starting second baseman. That means Mike Fontenot would move back to the bench, with Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir.

Tom Gorzelanny has the inside track on the final spot in the Cubs' rotation for next year right now, adding the second lefty that Hendry and Lou Piniella have coveted.

Having Gorzelanny in the rotation, though, leaves the Cubs with only Sean Marshall under contract asa lefty reliever. The Cubs entered last year with only Neal Cotts in the pen, and that backfired early. Therefore, adding either another starting pitcher or lefty for the pen is an area that should be addressed.

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The ideal scenario, and one thats reportedly being worked on, is bringing back Grabow. He was lights-out for the Cubs down the stretch and would be a solid eighth inning guy with Angel Guzman in front of Carlos Marmol, who would presumably becomes the closer next year.

So let's move forward with the following assumptions in line:

  • The starting rotation will consist of at least Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells.
  • The bullpen will include Guzman, Marshall, and Marmol.
  • Gorzelanny and Baker will be on the Cubs major league roster.
  • The starting infield will include Ryan Theriot, Derrek Lee, Geovany Soto and Aramis Ramirez.
  • The outfield will include Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome.
  • The batters on the bench will include Fox, Hoffpauir, Fontenot, Koyie Hill and one of Sam Fuld/Tyler Colvin.

With these assumptions in mind, the following points are what I would like to see happen to the Chicago Cubs this winter. I'll discuss each in further detail below.

  • Get rid of Milton Bradley.
  • Add John Lackey
  • Add Mike Cameron
  • Put Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija, Esmailin Caridad and Jeff Stevens in the bullpen to begin the season.
  • Give Starlin Castro a shot to win a starting job in the middle infield

Get rid of Bradley

I think it's clear that the Cubs will at least make an effort to move Bradley this winter. After he threw Cubs fans at large under the bus and was subsequently sent home for the remainder of the season, players felt more able to open up about their issues with Bradley this season.

His performance on the field wasn't what Hendry had hoped for when he gave Bradley the three year contract many observers, myself included, questioned last winter. Though analysis might tell you he earned his modest $5 million salary in 2009, he is not worth the $22 million that remains on his contract.

The problem with this point is that most other teams would agree with me that Bradley isn't worth the money or years left on his contract. Indeed, Bradley hasn't been with the same organization for consecutive seasons in almost a decade.

That means the Cubs will probably have to eat most of Bradley's salary for him to play somewhere else. So the assumption under which we'll move forward with this discussion is that Bradley is not on the Cubs' roster, but his salary is, keeping the Cubs payroll at $119 million.

Add Lackey

I have written on this topic a couple times over the past couple weeks. Lackey will be the top starting pitcher on the free agent market this winter, but his performances in October are the foundation for why I want him on Chicago's north side.

I believe the Cubs could add Lackey with a five-year, $65 million contract. While the thought of the Cubs adding $15 million to their payroll in 2010 will probably raise eyebrows, Hendry doesn't have a history of writing flat-salary contracts.

Therefore, a contract with escalating base salaries would make Lackey's deal something that could realistically get done.

After 2010, the Cubs stand to potentially lose Lilly from the rotation. His $12 million salary could be re-invested in Lackey after next season. Dempster has a $14 million player option for 2012 (which he'd be an idiot to waive at that point in his career), but his deal would expire after 2012.

My proposal is for the Cubs to give Lackey a contract with base salaries of $8, $14, $14, and $16 million dollars guaranteed, with a player option for $13 million in 2014. As a 31-year old starter that's missed starts over the past few years, Lackey would be crazy to pass on five year and that kind of money, and I doubt another team would match the figures.

Lackey would then move into the number two position in the rotation behind Zambrano, and would bump Lilly, Dempster and Wells down. The Cubs would then have one of the best rotations in the National League.

The biggest issue the Cubs would have to deal with, other than the salary, would be the loss of two draft picks to the Angels because Lackey's a Type A free agent. If Lackey gets the Cubs as deep into October as he did the Angels this year, the picks would be considered a wash.

My proposed 2010 salary for Lackey of $8 million would bring the Cubs' payroll to $127 million.

Add Cameron

Reed Johnson will win a popularity contest with any free agent on the market, but Cameron would bring more offense to the table. Though he hit only .250 last year, his 24 homers and 70 runs batted in would be a substantial improvement from anything in the Cubs outfield from a year ago. He also had a .342 on-base percentage, which is good enough for a player projected to bat in the lower third of the batting order (sixth or lower).

Cameron also plays good defense still, at least on par with Johnson, and, at 37-years-old, would be a solid rental to get a kid like Fuld or Colvin up to speed in the majors.

I propose the Cubs offer Cameron a one-year deal worth $6.5 million. That's a decent decrease from the $10 million he made in 2009, but at his age, reality is that he's not going to see increasing salaries any more.

Adding Cameron for $6.5 million takes the Cubs' payroll to $134 million.

Put Gorzelanny, Samardzija, Caridad, and Stevens in the bullpen.

Let me jump right out of the gate and address why I would put Gorzelanny in the bullpen. In my mind, Gorzelanny would step into the swing starter role that Sean Marshall filled for most of 2009, and would provide a second lefty in the pen. But my thoughts for Gorzelanny are deeper than that.

Gorzelanny would spend the year as a situation pitcher tin the pen preparing to take Lilly's spot in the Cubs' rotation in 2011. The decreased impact role of being a situational lefty would allow him to be less vulnerable to the fans jumping all over him for failing early in the season, and would give Piniella more flexibility in the pen.

Samardzija, Cardiad and Stevens are all young and have good arms. It's time to stop wishing Samardzija will develop into an elite major league starter and call him what he is: a two pitch guy with one plus pitch—a hittably straight fastball.

Caridad, meanwhile, reminds me of Marmol circa 2007. He could be 2010 Guzman, who surprises everyone and has electic stuff. Stevens needs to come to the majors to justify the trade of Mark DeRosa, and his closer pedigree would help him in a middle inning role.

These four pitchers could, realistically, make less than $5 million next year combined. That would bring the Cubs' payroll to $141 million.

If these pitchers are in the bullpen to start the season, and Lackey is added to the rotation, the pitching staff would be as follows:

  • Starters : Zambrano, Lackey, Lilly, Dempster, Wells
  • Bullpen: Marmol, Guzman, Marshall, Gorzelanny, Caridad, Samardzija, and Stevens.

Get Castro on the field

Castro is one of the big stories in Arizona right now, as he's abusing baseballs to a .500 batting average-pace. He's a shortstop by trade, and would be a defensive upgrade from Theriot. Moving Theriot to second to accomodate Castro wouldn't be Earth-shattering.

However, getting Castro, who turns only 20 in March, into the majors could be. He stole 22 bases in 96 games in the FSL this year, and had 140 total bases with a .302 average (.340 on-base percentage).

Many scouts are using the word "star" about Castro in Arizona, and the Cubs should align their present with their future and get Castro on the field in 2010. That would put Baker on the bench.

By adding Castro at shortstop, and moving Theriot to second, the Cubs fielding situation would look like the following:

  • Infield: Lee, Theriot, Castro, Ramirez, Soto
  • Outfield: Soriano, Cameron, Fukudome
  • Bench: Fuld/Colvin, Fox, Hoffpauir, Baker, Hill

That's a 25-man roster that should compete to win the National League pennant. There's good balance with left and right handed hitters and pitchers, better depth and stuff across the board than last year, and a payroll that's would be a marginal $5-9 million increase from the 2009 payroll.

I look forward to the discussion this piece brings. Go Cubs!

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