Tagged: Bob Howry

Chicago Cubs 2009 Offseason: Has The Team Improved?

On Monday, the Cubs inked
Milton Bradley to a three-year deal in what is the latest of a flurry
of offseason moves by GM Jim Hendry.  With the addition of Bradley, the
Cubs’ lineup takes on a slightly different feel.  Below is a quick look.

Lineup A:

SS Ryan Theriot

LF Alfonso Soriano

1B Derrek Lee

3B Aramis Ramirez

RF Kosuke Fukudome

2B Mark DeRosa

C Geovany Soto

CF Felix Pie

P Carlos Zambrano

CL Kerry Wood

Bench: Daryle Ward, Reed Johnson, Mike Fontenot, Henry Blanco, Ronny Cedeno

Lineup B:

LF Alfonso Soriano

SS Ryan Theriot

1B Derrek Lee

3B Aramis Ramirez

RF Milton Bradley

C Geovany Soto

2B Mike Fontenot

CF Kosuke Fukudome

P Carlos Zambrano

CL Carlos Marmol

Bench: Daryle Ward (I’d prefer Micah Hoffpauir), Reed Johnson, Aaron Miles, Paul Bako, Joey Gathright

If you’re a Chicago Cubs fan, you know Lineup A is from Opening Day
2008.  After Monday’s signing of outfielder Milton Bradley, Lineup B is
my projection for Lou Piniella’s team for the 2009 season (against a
right-handed starter). 

Looking at these two lineups, after all their recent offseason
maneuvers, is the current version of the Cubs an improvement at all
from the team swept in the 2008 NLDS? 

OFFENSE

In the starting lineup, Felix Pie and Mark DeRosa have been replaced
by Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot.  Bradley is clearly an upgrade to
Reed Johnson/Jim Edmonds/Felix Pie at the plate, and can switch-hit,
but defensively the drop is much more significant. 

As everyone under the sun has noted, Bradley has rarely ever played
over 100 games in the field, and his health concerns are a large
liability.  Fontenot provides Piniella with a nice left-handed
alternative in the lineup, but the versatility lost in the field by
trading DeRosa is enormous. 

I know, I know, that’s where the bench comes in.  Aaron Miles
can play 2B, SS, 3B (kind of), and OF. Reed Johnson and Joey Gathright
can play multiple outfield positions, but Ward (or Hoffpauir) and Bako
are one-position guys.  Defensively, the bench is very similar to 2008,
but offensively it has dropped. 

Sure Aaron Miles hit .315 last year, but that’s the only time he has
hit above .300 in his career (not including his 4-for-12 season with
the White Sox in 2003).  Last season was Joey Gathright’s first above
100 games played, and he has also only hit above .300 once in his
career (2007). 

Paul Bako previously played for the Cubs, and he is no Hank White, I
can tell you that.  Bako’s career batting average is .231, with a
career high of .272 way back in 1998.

PITCHING

2008 Starting Rotation – Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Hill, Jason Marquis

2009 Starting Rotation – Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Jeff Samardzija / Sean Marshall

So before you think I’m all negative, the starting rotation has
clearly improved.  Last season’s midseason acquisition of Rich Harden
and this season’s preseason trade of Jason Marquis make the Cubs’
rotation one of, if not the most formidable in the National League.

An addition of Jake Peavy would only make the case for this being
one of the best starting rotations in history, so I don’t see much more
analysis needed here.

2008 Bullpen – Kevin Hart, Kerry Wood (CL), Carlos Marmol,
Bob Howry, Carmen Pignatiello, Michael Wuertz, Jon Lieber (Scott Eyre
and Angel Guzman on DL)

2009 Bullpen – Jeff Samardzija / Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol (CL), Chad Gaudin, Neal Cotts, Kevin Hart, Kevin Gregg, Luis Vizcaino

The bullpen suffers an immediate hit as Carlos Marmol is moved from
set-up man to closer.  Marmol is an amazing pitcher, and his 114
strikeouts in just 87.1 IP last year is unheard of.  He was one of the
main reasons the Cubs got so many save opportunities last year. 

But can Marmol hold up under the pressure of the ninth inning?  Will
Cubs fans turn on him as they did during his bad slump during the 2008
season?

On top of that, who gets him the ball in the ninth inning with the
lead?  “Proven” veterans Chad Gaudin and Neal Cotts?  Young gun Kevin
Hart?  Newly acquired Kevin Gregg or Luis Vizcaino?  I’m glad we have a
potential lights-out closer in Marmol, but we can’t count on our
starters to go eight innings every game to give him a lead to work with.

OVERALL

Lineup – Advantage: Even

The 2009 Lineup is better in terms of balance and power, but defensively the 2008 lineup is superior.

Bench – Advantage: 2008

Paul Bako pretty much says it all. 

Starting Pitching – Advantage: 2009

Plus Rich Harden, minus Jason Marquis = Advantage 2009

Bullpen – Advantage: 2008

In both years we have an unproven closer, but in 2008 Wood had Marmol.

Overall– Advantage: TBD

Before you write this off as a cop-out answer let me make one
point.  There is virtually no way the Cubs can improve on the regular
season of 2008. Anything less than a division title (and the best
record in the NL) would be a huge disappointment.  There is literally
no way the Cubs can have a worse postseason than 2008.  None.  So only
October will truly be able to tell whether or not these moves have made
a difference.

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Hendry Strikes Back

t1_harden.jpgApproximately 48 hours ago, I wrote this in an entry in response to the C.C. Sabathia acquisition by the Brewers: “Plus, there are still 24 days left of the trading season, and Jim
Hendry will be working the phones trying to add another starter to the
Cubs rotation (Rich Harden perhaps).” 

Well it certainly didn’t take 24 days, as Jim Hendry moved quickly to acquire the A’s right hander on Tuesday.  Harden and righty Chad Gaudin head to Chicago while CubBlog favorites Sean Gallagher and Matt Murton head to Oakland along with Eric Patterson and minor league catching prospect Josh Donaldson. 

The immediate reaction to this trade was “YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  After some consideration, however, my next reaction was that we just traded for Mark Prior v2.  Unhittable when healthy, but unhealthy more often than not.  Harden has already pitched more innings this year (77.0), than in 2006 and 2007 combined (72.1), and that includes a 3-week stint on the DL this year for shoulder problems.  This of course only includes innings pitched in the majors, not in simulated games (a category in which Mark Prior is among the all time career leaders).

In my opinion, there are two ways to look at it. 
1) The Brewers acquired the best available player with a package of prospects that the Cubs were unable to match.  The Cubs went out and acquired the next best available player and paid a pretty good price. 
2) The Cubs acquired a player in Harden who is one of the best, but has a very bad history of inability to stay healthy, and whose fastball has dropped in speed over his past few starts. 

So look at it whichever way you choose, but if (and I did say if) the Cubs take this team into October, and Carlos Zambrano and a healthy Rich Harden are slated to start games 1, 2, 5 and 6 of a playoff series, is there anyone who would pick against them?  I may be biased, but I know I wouldn’t.

Lost among the Harden hoopla is the acquisition of Chad Gaudin.  Don’t call this guy a throw-in, as he will provide much needed long relief in place of Gallagher (or Marquis who refuses to accept a role in the pen).  He has pitched very well in Oakland, has played for Lou briefly in Tampa, and will be a welcome addition to the Rajun Cajuns squad forming along with TheRiot and Fontenot.  In all seriouness, his presence in the pen will give Marmol and Howry some additional rest, which may be the biggest key in the Cubs run towards the postseason.          

Magic #4

The Cubbies won again on Sunday, primarily because they were able to score 4 runs.  The Cubs are 23-2 in games in which they score 4 or more runs this year, and the offense doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

In a game in which the Cubs scrounged out only 4 hits, including a leadoff single from Soriano wiped out by a DP, they still managed to win thanks to patience at the plate and some good defense.  Jason Marquis pitched surprisingly well, especially after it looked like he was in for another rough outing, giving up a 2-run HR to .199 hitter Adam LaRoche in the 1st inning.  I hope Marquis pitches well enough to be traded, because either Sean Marshall, Kevin Hart, or hopefully Rich Hill will be ready to take his spot in July.  That way the inevitable 2nd half “Marquis Meltdown” can be avoided.

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On the other end of the spectrum, the Cubs need to find more playing time for Ronny Cedeno, who is hitting .324 with 19 RBIs in just 68 at bats.  DeRosa and Theriot make up a solid double play combination, and he clearly isnt ready to play center, so there isnt really a spot in the starting lineup for him right now.   Against lefties Fukudome could take a day off every once in a while, DeRosa can play RF, and that would let Ronny get some at bats at 2B.  He can also be used to spell Riot at short as he did on Sunday.  Either way, he is 2nd on the team in batting avg. right now and doing it mostly off the bench, making it even more impressive. 

The bullpen is looking good as well.  In 3 innings yesterday, Howry, Marmol and Wood faced only 12 batters, walking 2 and giving up 1 hit while striking out 5.  Marmol struck out the side using some nasty sliders, and was most impressive coming back from a 2-0 count to get LaRoche.  Wuertz, Eyre, Lieber and Fox are all good to have, but its the 3 guys who pitched yesterday that will be the key to the Cubs success in close games.