On the Sorry State of the 2011 Chicago Cubs

I tweeted most of this yesterday, but wanted to write it long-form — hopefully more coherently.

The 2011 Chicago Cubs really depress me. I didn’t have lofty expectations for this team, even with the signing of Carlos Peña and trading for Matt Garza. I had some hopes that, in a relatively weak NL Central, they could at least compete with the Cardinals and Reds of the world. Those hopes were dashed by late April.
Starlin Castro is on the way to becoming a legitimate star (no pun intended). He could develop more power, yes, but is a deft shortstop who generally doesn’t swing at bad pitches, hits for average, gets on base, and can run. Darwin Barney, the rookie second baseman (whose name alone I adore), seems like a keeper — good with the glove, also can hit and can run. Beyond those two younguns — well, it doesn’t look good.
Aramis Ramirez is probably the best hitter on the team (still), and as much as I love him, the Cubs should deal him now, while his bat is hot and while he still has value. After a disappointing 2010 season, he’s really lighting up opposing pitchers lately, but he’s 33 and — let’s be frank — the Cubs are going nowhere this year or the next few. Trade him, and get some value in return. I would say the same for Carlos Zambrano, who has yet to be his old self, but could bring some value for a contender in need of an innings-eater (albeit volatile) starter who still throws a mean 4-seamer and slider. Love the guy, despite his tirades, but the firesale needs to commence sooner rather than later.
As for the rest of the rotation, Matt Garza seems like a keeper. Yes, he’s struggled with control all season, but in terms of raw “stuff,” he’s the best on the staff. Great fastball in the 94-95 range, wicked slider. Randy Wells? Despite the 6+ ERA, still have hope for the young chap — he just needs to tweak his mechanics. Wish Larry Rothschild were still here to help him with that. I’ve been referring to Ryan Dempster as “Ryan Dumpster” for over a year now, but to be honest, that’s not fair to him. He had a really awful start to this season, but another guy the Cubs should deal sooner rather than later. He doesn’t have Zambrano’s stuff, but he’s wily like, say, Tim Hudson is, and is always good for at least six innings. A contender in need of a starter would trade for him.
The bullpen. Oy. I’ve been saying this for weeks now, but we need to get rid of Carlos Marmol, and the sooner the better. Or relegate him to long work, or a seventh-inning gig, or anything that keeps him from deciding ballgames late. His slider is still one of the best in the game, but the man has clearly lost his confidence. He seems terrified on the mound right now. Kerry Wood — whom I love, whose 20 K game I will always remember, whose return start from Tommy John I was in the first row third-base side for — looks washed up. I hate to say it, but it’s true. Some mid-level prospects could be had in return. Sean Marshall is a keeper — he’s been great all season. John Grabow — deal immediately. He’s overpaid and underperforming. Not a favorable combination. As for the great enigma Jeff Samardzija, he’s exactly that — an enigma. I’m not sure what I think about him. Some days he’s unhittable; some days he looks like Rich Garcés circa 2002. That’s not a good thing.
As for the outfield, we all knew the minute he was signed that Alfonso Soriano would be one of the most overpaid, overrated, and unproductive hitters in the game. He has lived up to those standards. Sadly, there isn’t a team out there that will eat the remaining years of his deal. We live with him and his nonchalance. Kosuke is in Cleveland, clearing the way for Tyler Colvin, who also gets the honorary Samardzija enigma crown. Decent fielder, has power, but has problems getting on base — and more importantly — playing with any semblance of consistency. Marlon Byrd has shown flashes of brilliance and flashes of epic fail. Also not sure about him, yet we’re probably stuck with him for two more years.
Geovany Soto behind the plate mystifies me. Here’s a guy who won the NL Rookie of the Year Award with a .285-23-86 line in 2008 with an .868 OPS (stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com), yet who has seemingly forgotten how to hit. He’s reliable as a catcher, has a decent but not overwhelming arm, and he’s far preferable to Koyie Hill. Just wish he’d remember how to hit.
All in all, the picture isn’t going to make Cubs fans happy. It’s been 103 years, and will likely be at least a few more. For this year and the next few, the pieces just aren’t there. Deal our assets now and get some value in return. Fire Jim Hendry, and plan to try again in three years. Sadly, the “Go Cubs Go” song isn’t going to be played as much as my heart would like it to be before I’m 30, but in the long run it’ll give us a fighting chance.
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~ by Benji on 29 July 2011.

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