First of all, I want to say how much I enjoy reading the various thoughts on this board. Al does a hell of a job with this site and I have learned a lot listening to the various opinions from many of the regulars. In fact, in many ways, you learn more reading this site than you do the beat reporters covering the team (and certainly the columnists), because many of those guys are conerned about upsetting the front office or players they deal with on a day to day basis. Also, there is no question in my mind, that the media uses this board to learn about fan setiment and to gauge some of their discussion.
Both 07 and 08 brought both positive and negative events to the Cubs. The problem has been, the negative has reared it's ugly head when you would expect the club to be mentally focused, motivated and on top of their game. When you play like the Cubs did in two straight post-seasons, you have to really evaluate what is going wrong and what can be done to fix it.
A few of my thoughts:
Piniella - I have made my opinion of Piniella pretty clear on this board and I won't bore folks with why I think he has been very good with this club. With that said, I think the most important thing for Piniella, is to just be Lou Piniella and not worry about anything else. At times, I feel as though he has played politician, instead of doing what he felt was right. Lou has stated many times, the game has changed and it is important for the manager to change with it (I believe he refers to the big money contracts and player egos) you need to be cognizant of. At this point, Lou is probabaly going to manage for 2 more years and then he walks away and I want him to manage this time period 100% his way and not be concerned with egos.
Hendry - Jim is another guy who I have stated my opinion on this board for a long time. Hendry has some excellent strengths as a GM, but he also has his share of negatives. For the most part, Hendry is a "players GM", not unlike you would call Dusty Baker a "players manager". He goes out of his way to take care of players when they are traded, hands out no-trade clauses like they are candy and makes promises to players that he goes out of his way to keep. This has helped him to sign guys ahead of other teams, because players talk to each other and they let others know that Hendry "will take care of you". Clearly, this can help you out in getting players you need (as long as you pick the right ones), but it can also bite you on the backend. There are times when you find out you need to change the makeup of your club (this offseason is an expample of that) and when you have the bulk of your big salary guys on no-trades, it really makes it difficult to move players for other parts that may be a better fit. Also, Hendry has never been a guy who is willing to trade players at the peak of their value, to get another guy who may be more of a need. This is something I really think he needs to change if the opportunity is there. If the Cubs want to trade any of these guys, that player can go to them as say - no, I won't accept a trade or you can trade me to any team except the 25 I have on this list (and that is usually what happens). Clearly, this limits your ability to shop talent from other clubs and make a deal that can help you. I don't know how much longer Hendry will be GM with the Cubs, but I can imagine the new owners doing their due dilligence on the Cubs payroll and not being pleased with all the backloaded deals and no-trades that can stick you with players you may not want.
The Lineup: Overall, they produced a lot of runs during the regular season, so their has to be some positive points about the makeup of the talent. IMO, the positive is the depth and the club got good returns from the lower part of the order which helped to seperate them from other clubs. Also, the club had a lot of games where they scored 10+ runs and also quite a few where they scored 3 or less. There is an element of inconsistancy that has to be addressed and this issue is always magnified in the post-season.
I am done with Soriano at leadoff, and I sure as hell hope the brain trust feels the same way. It's true that the club went well when Soriano was hot, and that is why you had so many 10+ run games and others where the offense looked completely different. For once and for the first time since 03, they have to have a leadoff hitter who is an excellent OBP guy and can steal you a base at key times to manufacture runs. During the playoffs, when your 2-3-4 hitters watch their leadoff guy look feeble at the plate, it causes them to try and do too much and we have seen this 2 straight years and some during the regular season.
Regarding the other guys in the lineup; Lee is a good hitter who can be valuable to the team, but he is longer a "feature" type guy that can hit 3rd on a championship club. In fact, they really don't have this player on the roster and who knows whether they will be able to acquire one. If they can't, just bringing in a solid leadoff guy will make a world of difference.
Position players: CF, RF and SS are the positions that should be addressed in the offseason. Will Pie be a guy they can rely on? I don't know the answer to that question, but I have serious doubts. Will Fukudome make adjustments? I think his work ethic and pride will allow him to, but that certainly is not a given. At least with Fukudome, his OBP was .350+, he plays stellar defense and knows how to run the bases. If you have to live with him in the lineup (because of his contract), he won't kill you as long as your lineup is solid and he hits 8th. I would love to upgrade SS, but it will depend on how much leeway Hendry has to sign guys and the no-trades are going to make that avenue difficult. Time will tell how the powers at be feel about giving Hendry more money.
Pitching staff: Overall, I was very pleased with the staff, especially the emergence of Dempster as a very good starter. I predicted him to fail as a starter and he proved my completely wrong. The bad news is, he did exactly what I thought he would do in the post-season game, that I thought he would do in the regular season. Was it a fluke, was he just to jazzed up pitching his first post-season game? I hope that is what it was and I am willing to chalk it up to that. I have seen the discussion about his BAIBP, and there could be something to that, but I also know he has very good stuff and that is why he is very good when he pounds the strike zone. I sign him if possible and again, this will depend on what he wants and what kind of money Hendry has to toss around. Lilly is going to be what he is - a reliable starter. Zambrano needs to be dealt with a little tougher by Lou and Larry, and let him know enouph of this childish bullshit. Harden is another story, he has dominant stuff, but I see him as another Mark Prior. You can't pick up the option and deal with that kind of crap again. I would like to see another lefty in the rotation and I would like to see Marshall get first crack at it. They need to resign Wood and add someone (could be in house) to replace Howry and they should be ok in the pen.
Not unlike last year, except to a higher level, this offseason has a lot of questions. The most important one will be how much leaway Hendry has to spend and can or will he trade any players to get pieces that fit better?