Tagged: Jim Hendry

Call Me Crazy…but the Cubs Should Consider Trading Jake Fox

The 2009 season for the Chicago Cubs has not gone exactly as
planned. Injuries, power outages, suspensions, “lack of fire”, you name
it, it’s gone wrong for the Cubs so far this year.

One bright spot for the team this season has been midseason call-up
Jake Fox. In 23 games over his two stints with the big league club this
season, Fox has hit .317 with 3 HR and 12 RBI. Prior to his callup, he
was lighting up AAA Iowa, with obscene stats of .409 BA, 17 HR and 53
RBI in just 45 games.  The only knock on Fox is his defense. He has
performed decently well playing 3B, LF and RF this year, but he is best
suited as a designated hitter.

With Aramis Ramirez scheduled to return from the disabled list on
Monday, and the Cubs paying Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley far too
much for them to sit on the bench (despite their play), Fox appears to
be headed to the bench, or potentially even back to AAA.

Too much offense is a good problem for the Cubs to have, but it
won’t fix the issues with the bullpen. The Cubs called up Jeff
Samardzija from AAA, sending down right-hander Jose Ascanio.  While
Samardzija shows promise, his 8.10 ERA during his first stint in the
majors this year is part of the reason the Cubs are near the bottom of
the league when it comes to the ‘pen.

The Cubs bullpen ERA is currently 18th in the league at 4.07. In
addition, their K/BB ratio is 1.48, good for 27th in the league, and
their WHIP is an ugly 1.50, tying them for 25th in the majors.  In
addition, the pen is suffering from a bit of overuse. Closer Kevin
Gregg has worked on consecutive days nine times, and primary setup man
Carlos Marmol has done it 15 times already this year.

The final issue with the Cubs bullpen is imbalance. After spending
the majority of the offseason trying to put a lefty-righty balance into
the lineup, GM Jim Hendry has a bullpen with just one left-hander,
former starter Sean Marshall.  The Cubs are in sore need of a lefty
specialist who can work for one batter or one inning, so manager Lou
Piniella is not forced to use Marshall in matchup situations. This
problem has cost the Cubs a few games, including last Saturday against
the rival White Sox.

In this writer’s humble opinion, the Cubs have a surplus of hitters,
including one without a position, and a need for a left-handed bullpen
arm. Jake Fox has been great so far for the Cubs this year, but at the
same time, his trade value might never be higher this season than it is
right now.

The Cubs should obviously wait to make sure that Aramis Ramirez is
fully recovered and able to play everyday before even thinking of
making a trade like this. However, it might not be such a bad idea for
Jim Hendry to start working the phones to see if there are any lefties
available. American league teams should certainly have an interest in
Jake Fox.

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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.

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.          

Are the Brew Crew the Front Runners?

mlb_a_sabathia_412.jpgWhen I first heard about this trade, my immediate reaction was “Oh crap”.  The Brewers now have Ben Sheets and C.C. Sabathia at the top of their rotation, a potent offense, and 43 out of 74 remaining games against teams currently under .500.  Then I read an article by Jayson Stark which contained 1 sentence putting everything into perspective.  It read: “The Brewers may have leaped over the Cubs as The NL Team You’d Least
Want to Face in October, but I’m still taking the Cubs as the favorites
in this division.”

The Brewers are definitely the team you do not want to face in a short series, there is no arguing that fact.  But Sabathia only makes the Brewers better 1 out of every 5 days (unless he becomes the next Carlos Zambrano and becomes an outstanding pinch hitter). 

Say he makes 16 starts for the Brew Crew.  The most wins he can bring to the team is 16, which yes, is a lot.  But that assumes the Brewers win every time he takes the bump (and they have Eric Gagne in a shaky bullpen), which isn’t very realistic. In addition, he is taking the place of their 5th starter in the rotation.  Assuming the Crew would have gone 8-8 in his 16 starts, in this case C.C. is only bringing a max of 8 wins to the table.

So yes, adding Sabathia makes the Brewers a much better team and drastically improves their chances of winning the Central and making a run at the World Series, but let’s not overblow the impact he will make.  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).        

Sweep

After a beautiful day for baseball on Monday, Chicago
weather did what it does best, and brought out 40 degree temperatures and winds
blowing straight in for Tuesday and Wednesday nights’ games vs. the
Dodgers.  The Cubs managed 8 runs total
in the 3-game series, but it was enough to sweep it as the Dodgers only managed
3.    I know the NL West has become this
year’s NL Central, but a sweep is still a sweep.

Overall, the Cubs gave up 23 hits in the 3 game series, and
allowed another 13 men to reach via the walk, but the important thing is that
only 3 of those guys crossed home plate. 
All 3 starters pitched great, Dempster and Gallagher each allowed only 1
earned run in 7, while Zambrano did the same over 8 IP.  The pen combined on 6 scoreless innings, but was
a bit shaky in doing so.  On separate
occasions Marmol and Howry loaded the bags with 1 out, only to narrowly, but dramatically work their way
out of the self-created jams.

39359993.jpg

In Wednesday night’s game, the 10th inning
game-winning rally was started by Mike Fontenot’s 1-out double off Chan-Ho
Park, who yes, is still pitching in the major leagues, earning that $60 million
dollar contract.  Part of the reason
Fontenot was able to come through in that spot because he had started the game
the night before, and wasn’t “ice cold” coming off
the bench.  Another part of the reason
Fontenot was able to come through was because Chan Ho Park was pitching.

39360098.jpg

Much like Tribune Cubs beat writer Paul Sullivan, I’m
getting sick of all the talk about Soriano. 
Yes, I’m sick of his act in LF, and his inability to run anymore, but
instead of worrying about what he’s not, I think it’s time to start focusing on
what he does bring to the table.  Even
though he is in a “mini-slump” at the plate, he came through with the game
winning hit last night, and he is only 1 grooved fastball away from starting up
another hot streak. 

On a different note, Jim Edmonds sucks.  I could say it more elegantly but I don’t think
he deserves the time it would take for me to figure out how to do that.  Some say he is still a Cardinal sabotaging
the Cubs from the inside, and I don’t doubt it. 
Outside of the one outstanding catch he made in Houston, (See
Final Paragraph
), I don’t think he has contributed one positive thing of
any value to this team.  The experiment
failed Mr. Hendry, it’s time to let Jimmy go. 

One alternative that has floated around rumor mills is Kenny
Lofton.  While I think bringing back
Kenny would not be such a bad idea, the reason he isn’t playing for a major
league team right now is money.  He was
offered contracts, but not to his liking, so he continues to sit out.  The reason we took a flier on Edmonds is
because it was for the league minimum. 
Kenny wants a bit more than that, and I think a platoon of Reed Johnson
and Kosuke Fukudome in center will work out just fine.

39360083.jpg


Note: This picture doesn’t have anything to do with the post, but it looks pretty cool.