Monday, November 20, 2006

Some shady Cubs dealings...

The Cubs have never been known for their shrewd management skills throughout the last five years or so, (and, well, technically, the last 99 years). The Dusty Baker Era/Experiment died a sick and, for us fans of humor, unfortunate death this off-season. But, that's not where the madness ends. I think a little re-hashing would do everyone some good. We're gonna be kind of tricky here and start at the beginning of this off-season, then kind of work our way back.

To start off, Cubs management fired Dusty Baker. Why they did this is, to me, a mystery. Sure, the team finished a game back of the Pirates and 30 games South of .500. The players were soft, and Dusty liked it that way. He is also the worst in-game manager in the history of the sport. His 'strategies' went against every logical rule in baseball - "If you take a walk, most of the time you're just clogging up the bases for someone who can run." And, while this made for one of the most entertaining franchises in the past few years, eventually taking the K instead of the BB will catch up to you, in the W column. So, they canned him. What about his days in Frisco, you might ask? Put it this way - if Phil Jackson's mother was coaching the Chicago Bulls between 1989 and '98, they would have still been amazing, because they had Michael freaking Jordan.

Now, this is what does not make sense. How do you fire Baker, and then turn around and give pitching coach Larry Rothschild an extension? Rothschild is guilty of everything Baker is. This man has done more to keep Wood and Prior on the bench -- or, rather, pitching "more than a bullpen session -- we'll keep counts and outs, stuff like that" -- than anyone else. He kept Wood and Prior sheltered in some kind of Spring Training limbo while the rest of the team struggled through the first half of the 2006 Season with a variety of phantom ailments. And when the guys do come back, they're terrible. Now, this isn't all Rothschild's fault, because obviously he's not throwing the ball. But, if the dude's contract just ran out, and you just fired the Manager, and you had the kind of pitching that the Cubs had last year... maybe it's time for a job search. At the very least, you don't rush to a 2-year extension.

Then the player moves. First off, signing Aramis Ramirez. The dude is a baller, and I wrote before the 2006 season that he was going to go nuts this year, and he did. But is he worth $73 million over 5 years? Either way, if the Cubs are going to even look serious, they had to make that deal. They also signed Kerry Wood to a 1-year, $1.75 million deal. Now, Wood used to be a good pitcher. But he hasn't done a thing in the last four years. Still, if the guy turns it around in 2007, which he won't, Jim Hendry will look like a genius. So, I get it. $1.75 million is nothing.

Obviously, the big one is the Soriano deal. The dude is 30 years old, and he just got inked to an 8-year, $136 million contract. One could say that he had his best year last year. But I promise you that he will never, ever, hit those numbers again. He's a below average fielder, a clubhouse cancer -- depending on who you believe -- and the owner of a lifetime .280 batting average. And now that he got his payday, he's good. To put this into perspective, only four other players have ever signed a contract worth this much: A-Rod, ($252 million, 10 years,) Derek Jeter, ($189 million, 10 years,) Manny Ramirez, ($160, 8 years,) and Todd Helton, ($141.5 million, 11 years.) However, Helton's contract is only worth about $12 million a year, while Soriano's is worth $17 million a year. All of these guys are going to be legends, except for Soriano. The way I see it, Cubs ownership knew that they had to make up for the foul-up that was the 2006 season. They knew they had to sign a big name. Soriano was the biggest name, and the Cubs bought into the hype. Again, I'm going to say the same thing that I've said for, literally, the past three years. It's good to see that that's more important to them than building a solid bullpen.

When are the Cubs going to get it? Post-2003, the Cubs did a lot of pouting, as is the Dusty Baker style. They made no real moves to strengthen their bullpen or their rotation. Instead, they got a hold of the Bartman Ball and blew it up. Cubs Fan explained that if Marlin Fan got their hands on this ball, who knows what could happen? I can't make this up. After the 2004 Season, which was another failure, Cubs fans ingested the remnants of the ball in the form of beer and sauce. Again, no improvements to the bullpen. Actually, the bullpen went backwards in that off-season, shipping off Farnsworth and resigning two relievers that ended up getting the Dusty Baker Arm-blown-off treatment in the first few months of the season. After the 2005 season, the Cubs made the following unbelievable improvements to the pitching: traded away first-rate prospect Sergio Metre, signed Scott Eyre, (who, as you might recall, injured both himself and Team Leader Derrek Lee on the same play last year,) and signed Wade Miller, who pitched in 21.2 innings last year and gave up 11 runs. So far this year, they have resigned Wade Miller, and resigned Kerry Wood. Um...?

Which makes Brewers GM Ned Yost's quote all the more interesting. "They [Cubs] are stacking it," he said. "You look at Soriano, Ramirez and Lee, and they're going to have quite a team. We're not going to be able to match their thump, so we're going to have to have good pitching and defense to compete. They're looking pretty good right now." It must have taken an enormous amount of self control for Ned to get out that whole statement without cracking up. Dude -- they have one more guy, Soriano. And, for a team that struggled to last place in the entire National League last year, Alfonso Soriano is not a difference maker -- no matter how hard Hendry taps his feet, or crosses his fingers, or whatever else he might try. Clearly, all these other moves the Cubs are making aren't awful choices -- it's just that they're overpaying, and they're not getting any pitching. Someone should remind them how the Yankees have turned out the past few years... and the Rockies, who, as you might recall, threw in the proverbial pitching towel and developed their offense.

Maroth, Dusty Baker v. BB, and Marlins - April 26, 2006
David Wright, Aramis Ramirez, and Yankees-Red Sox - March 23, 2006
Thank you, Roy. - April 5, 2006
Cranes, Cubs, Yankees, and DL Notes - April 20, 2006