Does Jim Hendry have a viable plan for the 2009 Chicago Cubs?
I was out of Chicago all last week, spending some vacation time in the city of Jake Peavy – the much-coveted right-handed starting pitcher for the San Diego Padres. After the GM meetings ended right before I left, I really didn’t expect much to happen until the winter meetings in a few weeks. But I was sorely mistaken – as a LOT did happen while I was gone.
The biggest shocker of them all was the trade for the Marlins’ “closer-turned-set-up-man” Kevin Gregg. Gregg was the team’s closer for the 1st 4 months of the season, but an injury and a dismal 10.00+ ERA during the month of August had Gregg begging for any sort of relief work in September. The arrival of Gregg meant the departure of Cubs locker room mainstay Kerry Wood. Granted, Wood had suffered through many injury-ridden seasons for the Cubs since his magical rookie season back in 1998 when he won 14 games, struck out 20 batters in his 5th-career major league start and was named National League Rookie of the Year for his efforts that year. But he showed his might during the 2008 season, appearing in 64 games, pitching in 66 1/3 innings, converting 34 of 40 save opportunities and racking up an impressive 84 strikeouts. Given those numbers, and the fact that he only missed time due to a blister on his finger (and not a shoulder or arm issue), I was surprised that the Cubs did not pursue another “hometown discount” deal with Wood to get him to stay in Chicago, a city he calls home and a city where he and his wife are heavily involved in numerous charitable organizations. I guess the Cubs felt he wanted a longer-term deal than they were willing to give, so they had to move in a different direction.
That being said, giving up Jose Ceda, a 21-yeard old fireballer who excelled in Single-A and Double-A baseball in 2008, was an interesting aspect of the deal. In negotiating the Peavy-to-Cubs deal, the Padres have continually said that the Cubs don’t have enough pitching to give the Padres in exchange for Peavy. Ceda would seem to be a perfect fit for the cash-strapped Padres, but in giving him up for a man that “might” be a dependable “set-up” man for Carlos Marmol doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.
Hendry and the Cubs have also emphasized the need to add a left-handed outfield bat to the Cubs lineup. Looking at the avaliable free agents out there, you can’t find any that fit that mold. Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Milton Bradley, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu are the only 5 outfielders listed in Scout Inc.’s (Keith Law) Top 30 free agent outfielders. None of those player fit the Cubs mold, except for maybe Adam Dunn. Dunn strikes out a ton, but he has hit 40 home runs in each of the last 4 years and has had an on-base percentage greater than .386 in 4 of the last 5 years. But he is a weakness in right field, and the Cubs are already weak enough in left field with Alfonso Soriano. The Cubs have said that Raul Ibanez is tops on their list, but Ibanez (ranked #33) is actually ranked below Jim Edmonds (#32), who played well for the Cubs uin 2008, but who has already been told he won’t be a Cub in 2009. Let’s compare the numbers:
Edmonds – in only 111 games – 20 home runs, 55 RBI’s, 53 runs, .235 batting average, .343 on-base percentage, .479 slugging percentage.
Ibanez – in all 162 games – 23 home runs, 110 RBI’s, 85 runs, .293 batting average, .358 on-base percentage, .479 slugging percentage.
Now if you tell me that the Cubs didn’t sign Wood to save money to go after Manny or Dunn, then maybe I could see where they’re headed. But if they didn’t sign Wood so that they could overpay for Ibanez who is already 36 years old, I don’t get it at all.
Don’t even get me started about not-signing Ryan Dempster before other teams could make offers to him on Friday 11/14. I know that Dempster loves Chicago like Wood, but now that Wood is gone, Dempster may have a different view on how the Cubs plan on treating their long-time, devoted players. Dempster is likely to draw longer and more-lucrative contracts from other teams, and his willingness to accept a hometown discount may not be as likely now.
And the talk of signing 45-year old Randy Johnson is mind-boggling. I know that his 2008 numbers are respectable – 11-10, 3.91 ERA, 30 starts – but can he really be relied upon to lead the Cubs all season long and through a playoff run? Not likely.
Jim Hendry has assembled a great “regular season” team the last 2 seasons, and I give him credit for that. But he needs to assemble a “great overall team” that is capable of winning the World Series. His hands are tied monetarily by long-term contracts with Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Carlos Zambrano, so he can’t afford to go after another big-name player like Manny Ramirez or Mark Texeira. On the other hand, the rest of the free agent market is pretty mediocre, so spending a lot of money on one of those players doesn’t seem to be in the best interests of the Cubs. Given these circumstances, I’m not expecting a lot from Hendry this off-season. Here’s to hoping that I am wrong.