Since we are nearing the end of May, the trade rumors are starting to fly around, especially in the past couple of days. I've been thinking for a while now that the way this team is playing, it could do with an overhaul.
While I have titled this diary "Who's expendable, and who's not", I think I will address the question of who should not be made available for a trade except in extreme circumstances, and by the same reasoning, should not be permitted to depart the team via free agency. These guys are all under the age of thirty, and it should be fairly obvious to most of us who they are.
1. CARLOS ZAMBRANO
I love Zambrano, and I know that he is going to be a great pitcher. Some on this site believe that he's going to win a Cy Young before Mark Prior (not including Kerry Wood for reasons that should be fairly obvious by now), and I can't say that I disagree with them. He had an amazing year last year, and he's still pitching the ball very well. At only 24 years old (well, as of June 1), he has an extended career in front of him if he buys a phone card. But it's not even his pitching that I love, it's the way he plays the game. He hustles, he puts most Cubs HITTERS to shame at the plate, and everything about what he does on the mound, at the plate, and on the bases overflows with a desire to win. His attitude towards playing the game is something that any team would want, and I hope he remains a Cub for many years.
2. MARK PRIOR
In a nutshell, I see no reason to give up on Prior. He will turn 25 in September, so he has just as long a career ahead of him as Zambrano, and like Zambrano, he is already a first class pitcher. His recent injury struggles would make anybody cautious, but they don't appear to be recurring problems. His delivery is so smooth that I am consistantly amazed when I see the speed at which his fastball reaches the plate. He's back to his 2003 form this year, and his career ERA in 78 starts is 3.07, a career ERA most pitchers would be jealous of. By the way, his walks to strikeouts ratio has held steady at roughly 1:4 throughout his career (and this year), which is something that the Cubs should not give up under all but the most extreme circumstances.
3. DERREK LEE
Lee is the oldest of this quintuplet, at 29 years old (though he actually will turn 30 in September). We all love him for his bat, of course. His April was nothing short of astonishing, though his May has been something of a letdown. That's okay, because we know he'll bounce bat. For all his offensive contributions, however, it is nearly impossible to overstate the role his glove his played at first base. A commenter remarked recently that Ramirez is throwing confidently from third base now, and that is due in no small part to the fact that Lee operates as a human vacuum cleaner over at first base. I sat next to a Marlins fan on Sunday, and I asked him why Lee was traded. He grumbled something about injuries, but it was clear that he didn't really know, either -- especially given that the last time Lee missed more than ten starts in a year was back in 2001. The Cubs probably won't have Lee as long as they had Mark Grace, but I would love to see Lee over at first for many years.
4. ARAMIS RAMIREZ
Ramirez is the hardest of these four to make a compelling case for holding on. His career stats aren't up to the standards as the others. The reason he is here is that good third basemen -- of which Ramirez is one (at least in the sense that he's a good hitter who can play his chosen position well enough to merit playing him there on an everyday basis) -- and those are hard to come by. He had a career year last year, to be sure. His numbers were several points higher than they had been in any year previous, though 2001 came close. He's not batting all that well at the moment, though I believe that's because of his back issues. Honestly, I think he needs to sit for a few days like Barrett did, but that's a topic for another diary. He's 26 (27 in June), so he's still relatively young. We know he's a good hitter, and we know that despite his back problems, he's hitting the ball hard. I could be wrong, but I think that he's going to turn this season around, and start hitting like he did last year. I honestly believe that the post-Santo years of revolving door third basemen is over. However, if put on the spot, I would say he is the most tradable of the four "non-expendables".
Every singly other player on this team is expendable. The Cubs do not need them to field a winning team, either this year, or in the future. This includes some players that many in the Cubs organization and the stands might want to keep around:
1. KERRY WOOD
Two years ago, suggesting that Kerry Wood was expendably would have been Cubs heresy. But after his 2003 season, which had all of Cubdom sighing "Finally!" with more than the slightest hint of relief, the injury-prone Wood has made multiple trips to the DL. Either his arm is just a wreck in general, or (as many have suggested, including Steve Stone) his mechanics are so bad that the strain he puts on his arm every time he pitches is significantly worse than that of most pitchers. His mechanics also lead to a maddening inconsistancy on the mound. It's been well-known for years that after the first inning or two of a Wood start, you know if it will be good or bad: when it's bad, he falls off the mound towards first base on nearly every pitch. I think if the Cubs had the, ahem, "testicular virility" to do it, they could send the 26 year-old Wood (27 in June -- what is it about June and September?) down to the minors to work on his motion. At the very least, they could have Larry Rothschild working with him on the side when he's ready to return, and refuse to start him until he starts getting his motion under control. But I honestly don't see that happening, which places the talented but inconsistant Wood squarly in the expendable column.
2. COREY PATTERSON
The 25 year-old Patterson has more than his share of opponents here, as well as some supporters. I see what the supporters like about him. I personally love how he runs out every ball to first, which puts him on base maybe a dozen times more per year. Unfortunately, that does not offset his disturbingly low OBPs over the year -- at .309 this year, he is six points about his career total. His walk to strikeout ratios make any pitcher he's facing look like Mark Prior. He has some power, and he has speed, but he hasn't been able to translate that into as much success on the ballfield that one might expect. It is possible that he will break out sooner or later, but unlike Ramirez, he hasn't shown any sign of doing so. Additionally, Patterson is a guy that many teams would be interested in. So, without much hesitation, I label Patterson as expendable, and sincerely hope that his younger brother Eric has some more patience at the plate.
3. JASON DUBOIS
I was an early champion of Dubois. He won me over twice in 2004. His first plate appearance led to a key sacrifice fly, and he filled in for Sosa during the last game of the season not just adequately, but basically by doing what Sosa had failed to do since 2001. When it became clear that the Cubs were not going to be getting Beltran, I said that Dubois should be an everyday starter (and I still think that). Of course, his numbers are even worse than Patterson's, but I'm willing to give him some more leeway, as it is his first full year in the big leagues (despite actually being older than Patterson), and he has a knack for coming up big as he did tonight. However, he's not striking me as a player you build a franchise around. I think he'll have a decent-to-good career, but it won't be a big deal if it's not with the Cubs.
4. JERRY HAIRSTON, JR.
For a while, I was going to put myself up as "on the fence" for Hairston. He has been proving an able lead-off hitter, and I've spent a great deal of time wondering what the hell the Cubs are going to do with him when Walker comes back (maybe as early as this week, according the Sun-Times). His defense, of course, leaves much to be desired. I secretly suspect that he's the one who taught Todd Hollandsworth that trick about how to not pick up a ball that's lying still on the grass. That's pretty much the reason he's here. Lead-off men are so very important that I'm reluctant to part with one that seems to be working out well, but replacing a .366 on base percentage mixed with speed would be easy enough that I'm willing to mark Hairston as expendable.
Everyone else not mentioned here I consider to be exependable as well, but I have chosen to not specifically defend that choice. I do not include any minor leaguers in this analysis, simply because I can't claim to know enough about the Cubs farm system to do that. My instinct is that Mitre is tradable, while Guzman is not at this point. Kelton's a lost cause, as far as I can tell. And those two sentences there are the extent of what I know about the minors.
Not included in the list of "expendable" is Dusty Baker. He gets away because he's the manager, not a player, but he's #1 in the list in my mind.
If the Cubs don't start playing up to their potential soon, Hendry may have to write off the season. That's not a prospect I wish to see, but if it happens, and the second it happens, the Cubs must begin to retool for next year, and with the exception of the four above, I do not have any but the slightest reservations letting any of the players currently on this team go.