Chicago Cubs: Winter Reality Check

Tab BamfordSenior Writer INovember 12, 2009

CHICAGO - JUNE 18: Derrek Lee #25 of the Chicago Cubs is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after hitting a three-run home run in the 8th inning against the Chicago White Sox on June 18, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the White Sox 6-5. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It's the middle of November, so there's a ton of speculation flying around the web about baseball players moving addresses before the 2010 season.

For teams like the disappointing Chicago Cubs, the final out of the World Series means the beginning of a new hope. But, this winter, that hope needs to be tempered with a strong dose of reality.

There are some writers on Bleacher Report that think names like John Smoltz and Nick Johnson would make sense for the Cubs this winter. Both of those ideas qualify more as stand-up material than baseball rumors; make sure you take those out before Waste Management stops by for the rest of your garbage this week.

Smoltz has nothing left. He is a veteran with a ton of experience and knowledge and a history of success, but he's no longer a viable major league pitcher. Adding him would be begging for more failure, either when he starts throwing batting practice the second time through an opponents order or when he gets hurt in May and needs two months to get back on the bump.

Cross Smoltz off your list.

Similarly, Johnson is a miserable idea. Just dumb. He's Mark Grace with health issues, and the Cubs' best player happens to play his position! In a winter with a thin free agent class at first base, why would you insult your clubhouse leader by overpaying for a guy who can't stay on the field who would, in theory, want to play his position?

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Don't even write Johnson on the list. Stupid.

Let's take a step back and think about the state of the Chicago Cubs heading to 2010, so we can stop the insanity surrounding just idiotic ideas flying around Bleacher Report and the rest of the web.

The Cubs need to unload Milton Bradley before they do anything else. If they can't do that, they have a problem because the fans, for the most part, hate the guy and he, for the most part, hates the fans. I'll pay for the divorce attorney if Hendry can't get this done.

Secondly, the Cubs are on a limited budget. Part of that is because Hendry over paid for Bradley and now might have to eat a bunch of the $21 million due the board game malcontent between now and the end of 2011, and part of it is because Hendry has back loaded every contract he's ever written.

Look at the Cubs' payroll . They have $120 million tied up in nine contracts for next year, more than their entire payroll cost when they had the best record in the National League in 2008. Because Hendry banked on the economy getting bigger and better every year, and players like Alfonso Soriano having trade value when he's 38, he's now tied to dead weight contracts for aging players.

So spending $7 or $8 million on a backup first baseman like Johnson is laughable. And, after his injuries, Johnson cannot be considered an everyday, starting first baseman any longer.

Third, the Cubs have a lot of holes to address. Their catcher spent more time with his bong than the batting cage last winter, and it showed. Geovany Soto needs to bounce back, or the Cubs need to consider their catching situation. The Cubs also will need another outfielder if/when Bradley departs. There are also questions about the Cubs infield depth.

The Cubs also need to bolster their pitching staff. Ted Lilly had shoulder surgery, and is being talked about in the same terms that the organization used to refer to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. When the timetable includes the phrase "at some point in," the doctor's are clueless.


Rich Harden's on the fence as an arbitration-eligible free agent. The Cubs also have Tom Gorzelanny wandering between the bullpen and the rotation, and appear to be close to agreeing on a two-year deal to retain John Grabow as a third lefty (with Sean Marshall and Gorzelanny). It the Cubs begin the season with a rotation that includes Randy Wells and Tom Gorzelanny, and Lilly hasn't been replaced by a veteran, you can forget filling the piggy bank for playoff tickets.

The final thing you need to consider is that 2010 is the season that the Cubs must go for broke. Lee and Lilly both will become free agents after 2010, and whether or not either comes back is up in the air. Aramis Ramirez also has a player option for 2011; if he declines to pick that up and puts his name onto a weak third base market in the middle of his prime (like any agent would beg him to do), the Cubs could be without either corner of their infield and arguably their most consistent starter in 12 months.

This is it. The Cubs last chance to dance with this roster is the 2010 season.

So Hendry, who enters this winter with questionable job security after 2010, can't gamble on a guy like Smoltz with huge red flags all over his resume. He needs to make smart moves that will be good for 162 games, and then some.

Which is why, if a deal happens, it must be for someone that has a smaller relative salary exposure and will not only help now, but potentially down the line.

If Hendry's going to rent, it'll be in the bullpen or rotation with guys that have a big upside with fewer question marks. If he's going to buy, it's going to be for keeps.

Which is why a rumor surrounding someone like Curtis Granderson is intriguing.

Granderson, who's a local Chicago kid, would fill the stud centerfielder, left handed hitting, base stealing role Hendry has been begging and pleading for over the last few years.

The big issue with a Granderson deal, though, is that the Cubs are at a point in their history where they stand in a delicate balance between the future and the present. After 2010, when names like Lilly, Lee and Ramirez could be gone, Hendry might want to rebuild internally with names like Josh Vitters, Starlin Castro, Jay Jackson or Andrew Cashner.

So will Hendry mortgage the future for the present? Is a player like Granderson, with his $6 million price tag, worth a number of prospects, or Carlos Marmol?

That's up to Hendry to decide and us, the paying public, to judge.

But the Cubs won't be making any big money moves to bolster positions they don't need to over pay on. They need to make surgical additions to fix the team's depth, and clean out the dead weight. Until Bradley goes, you won't hear much except the little Grabow-type contracts.

The Cubs have a few nice pieces to build around, some of whom might help in 2010 and beyond. Surrounding the youngsters with quality veterans who can perform will determine how the Cubs play next year. The key, though, is that Hendry adds veterans that can perform, not more of the Aaron Miles of the world that do nothing but waste a roster spot.

This will be a long, fun winter filled with names, potential, dreams and nightmares. Reality would ask us, though, to temper those dreams with a strong dose of common sense.

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