One of the hallmarks of the Ricketts' ownership of the Cubs seems to be a spirit of temporization and indecision that pervades the whole organization. What I mean is that the whole gambit seems to be geared toward postponing necessary decisions, more or less, to the point where they no longer matter.
To begin, Ricketts should have replaced the major players in the front office immediately upon taking ownership of the team. He was clearly unready to do so, and everyone cut him some slack for this misdemeanor, arguing that he needed time to evaluate the situation. Lost in this initial round of excuses is the fact that negotiations had been in progress years before the actual takeover, so the Ricketts family had ample time to put some sort of minimal transition team of advisors in place.
Just to give the highlights, we witnessed the Lou Piniella death march before recently fired GM Jim Hendry finally pulled the plug on him in August, only to install his protégé Mike Quade as interim manager. Quade continued to play the same mopes that Piniella played, trotting out the same lineup that included the same weird platoons that made no sense at all (Colvin/Fukudome, for example). He got lucky though, as his starting pitching came around—notably Carlos Zambrano, who won his last eight decisions during that stretch.
Hendry should have been fired last offseason. He had assembled a mediocre and flawed team that was totally dysfunctional, and had also suffered consecutive losing seasons. Instead he was allowed to continue, perpetuating the culture of postponement. He promptly installed the increasingly befuddled Quade as skipper.
There were two genuine difference-makers available in the offseason, with Adrian Gonzalez on the trade market and Cliff Lee being a free agent. Whether he had a legitimate chance of obtaining either is somewhat beside the point. Hendry chose not to pursue either in a serious way, opting instead to sign the placeholder Carlos Pena. Evidently, this was done on the off-chance that Pena would resurrect his career in Chicago, and then the club would make a run at Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder when and if they became free agents this upcoming winter.
Instead of taking a shot at Lee in the free agent market, Hendry traded away four of the top ten prospects in the organization in order to obtain starting pitcher Matt Garza from the Tamps Bay Rays. No matter this move works out in the long-run, this is usually a move that you make if you are a pitcher away from a division title. Doing so when you are not argues that you are just postponing the inevitable recognition that you are not a contender, and that you need to deal with that conclusion decisively and quickly.
So having postponed the matters to the point where nothing could be done to salvage another depressing season, Ricketts dismissed Hendry this past summer. However, he and Hendry didn’t tell anyone for a month, allowing Hendry to completely mess up the trade deadline situation where they might have dumped one or more of their useless pieces just for the sake of dumping them, if nothing else.
The one player they did dump from their awful and unproductive outfield was Kosuke Fukudome. Incidentally, he has been an important reason why the Indians have stayed as close to Detroit in the AL Central as they have recently—this was luntil they collapsed last week. They traded Fukudome obstensibly to make room for Tyler Colvin to play every day. However, Mike Quade, managing in the forlorn hope of returning next year, has chosen, just as he did last year, to stick with his veterans. So Colvin hardly ever plays, and has continued to disappoint.
It is becoming very difficult to be able to watch this team day in and day out. One thing that kind of keeps you going is following some of your favorite players, but, as I have remarked before, it is hard to have favorite players on this team.
The other day, I woke up and went over to the blogs and team sites that I usually follow. Then I came to the terrible realization that I actually dislike this team. Now I find myself unconsciously rooting for the other side in the hopes that something like losing all the rest of their games will wake somebody up.
Now we have news that someone from Detroit called Ricketts and asked for permission to discuss a job next year with Cubs VP of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita. Ricketts, who has been running around putting all the decisions on the new GM’s plate, promptly signed Fleita to a four-year contract. Was the inept owner/fan played again?
So far the scorecard on the new Cubs regime is two years, and two losing seasons. The only truly promising sign yet to be realized is the emergence of shortstop Starlin Castro as a potential star. Otherwise, the team and everything about it has actually gotten worse.
We are told, however, that the new GM will fix all that. He has a big job ahead of him and he better get going quick. Even assuming that he is not associated with a playoff team, there is a lot on the plate.
First off, there is the issue of a new manager. Then there are the pending options for Ramirez (mutual) and Dempster (player) with all the implications of extensions involved. Then there is the whole Zambrano mess. Then he will have to find away to replace at least two outfielders, a first baseman, at least one starting pitcher (maybe two if Dempster walks and three if Zambrano doesn’t return.) They also must find a third baseman if Ramirez leaves, not to mention improving the team at catcher in the wake of Soto’s awful year.
Well, you get the picture. Most of this mess is the result of Ricketts’ indecision and Hendry’s ineptitude and insistence that the team was fundamentally sound. Two years is a long time to sit tight in baseball, and the Cubs are experiencing the results of having wasted that time. Never fear though, help is on the way, and Mr. Right will save the day.
Good luck with that.