With the Cubs struggling (to put it mildly) so much recently, it's my suspicion that the Inner-GM (and Inner-Lou Piniella) in all of us has begun to pound loudly on the walls of our own sanity.
And I'm really just talking about myself.
So if I'm Jim Hendry for a day (or even for 15 minutes if I can find the wormhole into his brain--I've been looking for it on the 12th and a half floor of all the buildings I know), I'd have to do this:
1. Call up Felix Pie. Wait. Never mind. But to defend the decision--the Cubs somehow are better with Pie. He's ridiculously gifted, and from all accounts he adds a LOT to the mix just by being at the party. THAT is exactly what the Cubs need. A player on the field that we can all root for, free of reservation. A guy who is actually fun to watch and who might, at any moment, do something really sick. Plus--I think Pie makes Soriano better/happier and that is pretty invaluable.
2. Clone Felix Pie.
3. Just kidding.
4. Write a huge note in permanent marker that reads "DO NOT SIGN ANY MORE RELIEF PITCHERS TO RIDICULOUS CONTRACTS" and post this sign in the prominent place imaginable.
5. Get rid of some junk. Feng Shui both the active and 40-Man Roster. Make additions by subtraction. Whatever you want to call it.
A: Scott Eyre does not belong on this team. I think he's done, plus I don't think he has the kind of personality to play for Sweet Lou. Trade him if you can, but if not, cut your losses and quit losing games with him. There are at least a half-dozen relief pitchers on the current staff (Guzman, Wuertz, Howry, Ohman, Dempster, Marmol) and several more at Iowa (Pignatiello, Cherry, Cotts) that are better than Eyre is right now.
B: Pick one to trade: Cliff Floyd or Jacque Jones. Actually, trade them both. Jones seems more likely to be able to move (contractually), so fine. Get what you can for him, but if it's not much, so be it. Pie will outplay Jones and now that the organization is committed to Pie in CF, Jones's place is in RF, which is already jammed. Plus, Angel Pagan has proven that he is probably a capable 4th outfielder and back-up Center Fielder. Jones is unnecessary and carries A LOT of baggage (fair or not) from the Dusty Baker era. Jones is, mostly unfairly, really bad energy. And truly, I wouldn't mind if Jones and Floyd both left. Floyd is not the player Hendry wishes he was, nor does he fit well into this roster. With Soriano in LF, Pie in CF, Ward as the LH-PH, the only place left for Floyd is RF, which is not a good position for him. Plus, I suspect a lot of the alleged "veteran griping" is coming from Uncle Cliff, based on the few comments of his that have leaked into the press. Get the unhappy people out of here, we don't need them. Floyd's bat (which has been in the mid .700 OPS range all year) is easily replaced by a truckload of other ballplayers who are probably younger and healthier than Floyd (see Murton, Matt).
C: Trade Zambrano. Personally, while I recognize his value as a pitcher (he's put up very consistent numbers the past few years while staying healthy) and I like his passion, I have never loved Big Z because he's just too volatile of a personality for me. I feel like I couldn't ever really believe in him because he pitches and lives in a space too close to a meltdown. This year he's finally erupted (publicly) in ways we all feared, plus he's pitching like ass. It's possible he's hiding an injury, it's possible that he just doesn't have the ability to be in the spotlight (for further proof, see Z's "big game" history--2003 Playoffs and the last three Opening Days). I'd trade him to whoever gave me the best thing in return. And if it's not a whole hell of a lot, I can live with that. Z's spot in the rotation can be taken by Guzman (unless cramps are an issue--eat some bananas, Angel!!!) or Marmol or Cotts, without too much of a drop-off from the 5.60 - 6.00 ERA Big Z is putting up. In fact, Guzman, Marmol, or Cotts might be an improvement this season. And lastly--trading Big Z now ensures the Cubs from re-signing Z to a ridiculous contract. Big Z will NOT be worth the 13-15 million bucks for 5-6 years that he will be demanding. Screw that.
D. Trade Michael Barrett. I probably like Barrett more than Zambrano (not to take sides--they were both obviously at fault in their actions in the dugout), but I think Barrett is kind of a man without a position and we have too many of those. Barrett has proven to be a very good hitting catcher, which has tremendous value in the Majors. Huge. And, I know this is a hot argument, his bat probably outweighs his defensive problems, but there's something more to this. Barrett as a catcher just seems...misplaced? Positionally, mentally, emotionally, and organizationally. I wish I could describe it better, but I haven't eaten today, so I can't. I think Barrett would be an excellent American League player as a DH and part-time catcher. I think if he did that, his offensive numbers would even get better. I realize that trading Barrett leaves the active roster with NO real major-league catchers. Blanco is on the DL indefinitely (and he's just a back-up anyway), Koyie Hill is a 28 year-old "has-been" prospect who's played well in Iowa this year with about 120 career ML Abs (in the .620 OPS range), Geovany Soto is a decent catching prospect with an improving bat, mediocre defense, and who projects as a pretty good back-up ML catcher, and Jake Fox is the most exciting offensive option, but he's still in AA right now and his defense would probably be just as maddening as Barrett's. These are not awesome options. But it's not impossible to find a better option in one of the moves listed above--namely, in return for some combination of Eyre, Jones/Floyd, Zambrano and/or Barrett.
6. Don't panic with the bullpen. I don't think the bullpen is as bad as it's performed. Plus, the subtraction of Scott Eyre would be HUGE. By just getting rid of Eyre, you have: Dempster (11/12 saves), Howry (not great with a 5.04 ERA), Ohman (not a big fan of his, but if he's a LOOGY only, he's actually not bad), Wuertz, Guzman, Marmol and probably one of: Cotts, Cherry, Rapada, Pignatiello, or Juan Mateo (if he recovers from injury). Those options aren't terrible, even if Cotts, Marmol, Guzman or Mateo takes over for Z in the rotation. If we get help for the bullpen, awesome. But it's not worth getting rid of a top-line prospect or one of the more valuable position players for.
So where does that leave us? If all of those moves are made (and I know some of them can't happen until mid-June), and no ML players are received in return, this is our theoretical active roster:
IF: Ward (assuming his "strained hip" is not serious)
IF/OF: Coats? Fontenot?
Rotation: Lilly, Marquis, Hill, Marshall, and the fifth guy (possibly Guzman, Cotts, Marmol or Mateo)
Bullpen: Dempster, Howry, Ohman, Wuertz, and some combination of Guzman, Cotts, Marmol, Mateo, or maybe Cherry)
With these raw materials to work with, I think I'd sculpt our line-up this way:
1. LF Soriano--not the prototypical lead-off guy, BUT his OBP is fine (.347) and he offers some serious power (46 HRs last year, a .495 SLG this year) and generally seems more comfortable leading off (his historical statistics bear this out).
2. CF Pie--he's still learning, and I'd be tempted to drop him lower in the order. However--batting him after Soriano and before Lee is probably the "cushiest" spot in the line-up. He can relax at the plate, knowing that Lee is behind him. Plus--I have a feeling that the bottom of the line-up will be pretty weak anyway, and hiding a batting line of .250/.300/.400 (which I'd guess at for Pie this season) in the second spot might be necessary.
3. 1B Lee. No brainer.
4. 3B Ramirez. No brainer light.
5. 2B DeRosa. This is where the line-up begins to get weak. DeRosa's numbers last year (.296/.357/.456 (.813 OPS)) are decent enough, and his numbers this year are almost identical (.253/.347/.467 (.814 OPS), which, if they hold up, makes him a pretty good offensive second-baseman. His on-base numbers are also encouraging considering his low batting average. At this point, DeRosa is still a bit of an unknown to me, but I like him so far and there's not much better to choose from for the fifth spot.
6. RF Murton. I think you bite the bullet with his defense (having Pie in CF makes Murton in RF less horrible) and hope that his lack of playing time this season has stunted the progress he made during the second half last year, and hope that he turns into the hitter you hope he'll turn into.
7. SS Theriot. He's slumping lately (let's hope it's a slump and not a forecast) and his defense seems less great than Izturis's, but with this weak of a line-up, I think you have to go with the marginally better offensive player. As of right now, Theriot (.267/.330/.337 (.667)) is not much better than Izturis (.254/.314/.310 (.624)) but I feel as confident about Theriot's offense trending slightly upwards as I do about Izturis's trending exactly the same (his career line-- .259/.296/.335 (.631).
8. C Hill or Soto. Probably Hill because of his experience. However, since their offensive output is likely to be the same (which I don't think will be very good) it might be best to match-up these backstops with whoever they're catching.
1. LF Soriano
2. RF Murton. His numbers against LHPs last year were outstanding and this year's aren't bad (.364 OBP/.385 SLG) Plus, it doesn't hurt to help Murton out by putting him in the cushy spot.
3. 1B Lee
4. 3B Ramirez
5. 2B DeRosa
6. CF Pie (and sometimes Angel Pagan)
7. SS Theriot
8. C Hill or Soto
In both cases (vs RHP or LHP), you have a decent bench:
C Hill or Soto
IF/OF Coats or Fontenot
The pitching staff would shake out this way:
1. Ted Lilly
2. Jason Marquis
3. Rich Hill
4. Sean Marshall
5. Angel Guzman. I'd give Guzman the first shot since he already made three (albeit brief) appearances as a starter this year. If Guzman can't go deeper into the games (or if he reverts to last year's performance), then you consider someone else.
Dempster. A whipping boy for a lot of people, but I believe in him. He's 11/12 this year and has only really had one bad outing (which ballooned his ERA). He seems more determined and focused this year. I think Piniella is a good manager for Dempster.
Howry. I'm hoping he starts to pitch better.
Ohman. Pitch to leftys ONLY. Versus LHs, Ohman is .296/.182 (.478 OPS).
Wuertz. Faltering some lately, but still solid for the season (3.38 ERA) and career (3.56 ERA)
Marmol. Sick stuff. Pitching awesome out of the pen in limited action: 0.00 ERA in 7 IP
One of Cherry, Mateo (if healthy), Rapada (he's death against LHP, but is toast against RHP), Pignatiello (putting together a really really impressive minor league career and is still very young), or Cotts. This would probably be the "mop-up" role in the bullpen so it doesn't matter a whole hell of a lot to me.
In all, this is a roster of players that I could believe in. I'd love it if some of my armchair moves were actually made.
But, more than anything, I'd love it if the Cubs actually just started winning games, and winning them in a way that I could respect and not be embarrassed by.
Rock on Cub Fans,