With the regular season over and the playoffs yet to begin, I thought today I'd take a look at the 44 players who spent time in a Cubs uniform this year, give a brief summary of what they did (or didn't) do and assign them a letter grade. I'll also do this for significant people on the management side (Jim Hendry, Mike Quade and Lou Piniella).
I'm going to include the players that were traded away in July and August, because they did spend most of the season in a Cubs uniform and all four of them were significant contributors to the two Cubs playoff teams in 2007 and 2008.
You may agree or disagree with my gradings -- in fact, I'd be surprised if you didn't disagree with some of them.
Overall grade for the team: C- . There was some hope given by the better performance at the end of the season and some of the individual performances; otherwise the overall grade would have been a D. After the jump, the individual grades; players are listed in no particular order.
Jim Hendry, general manager: C-. This grade also would have been lower, but Hendry did manage to turn his mistake of the previous offseason ([name redacted]) into a serviceable starting pitcher. Hendry also traded four players away and in return received a useful major league second baseman and six prospects. Even if only one or two of those prospects turns into a major league contributor, Hendry managed to get a decent return -- and sent two of the major leaguers to the playoffs.
Lou Piniella, manager: D-. We now know that much of Lou's disengagement during the season was because of his mother's illness. In hindsight, he probably should have not returned for 2010, but I can understand him not wanting to go out after 2009's disappointment. Unfortunately, it got worse, and Lou didn't help with his constant mantra: "Look, what do you want me to do?" That's not leadership. That said, I do give Lou credit for the 2007 NL Central title -- he helped right the ship that sank in 2006.
Mike Quade, manager: B+. The man who got very little note as a third base coach was the surprise choice to replace Lou on his retirement. The team played well, going 24-13, and more importantly, they seemed to play with more interest and enthusiasm. Quade's public statements showed he was involved and paid attention to detail. Despite a few curious lineup selections, his in-game management style was at least competent. He's made himself a strong candidate for the fulltime managing job.
Geovany Soto, catcher: B+. Soto worked hard in the offseason, dropped 40 pounds, and returned to the level he had set for himself in his Rookie of the Year season in 2008. His OPS and OPS+, in fact, were higher this year than in 2008. Unfortunately, Soto was unable to stay healthy for large chunks of the year, appearing in only 105 games, starting just 97. That ranked 14th among all major league catchers; obviously, no catcher needs to catch 150 games, but 120-125 would be nice.
Derrek Lee, first base: C. The way D-Lee exited from the Cubs wasn't what any of us would have wanted. After an excellent 2009, Lee ... well, just never got going, until his last few games with the Cubs. That, apparently, was what got him traded, as Braves scouts saw his two-homer game in St. Louis and he agreed to the deal. After a very slow start with the Braves, he hit .333/.430/.560 in his last 100 plate appearances. I salute him for his classy demeanor for six-plus years in a Cubs uniform and wish him well in the postseason.
Xavier Nady, 1B/OF: C-. Nady played first base in the minor leagues, but very little of it in the majors until this year, when he was pressed into service as Lee's replacement. As the more-or-less regular 1B in August and September he hit .283/.314/.361; as you can see, with little power. I go back and forth on whether the Cubs should bring him back; Adam Dunn is the flavor-of-the-month, but may be too expensive. Nady did have a pretty good hitting season in 2008; by next year, totally healthy, he could be an inexpensive alternative.
Ryan Theriot, second base/shortstop: C-. Theriot did not have a very good year, and that's not even including all the TOOTBLANs. As a Cub he hit .284/.320/.327 -- that's right, a .327 slugging percentage. Amazingly enough, that got worse in Los Angeles, where he hit .242/.323/.283. I'd be surprised if the Dodgers brought him back; he was a prime candidate for non-tendering had the Cubs kept him. Despite leaving on July 31, he led the Cubs in stolen bases with 16; no one else had more than 10. It's the lowest team-leading total since 2005, when Derrek Lee and Corey Patterson had 15.
Jeff Baker, second base: C. Baker really can't hit RHP at all: a .106 BA in 66 at-bats. However, he rakes against LHP: .350/.395/.550 in 140 AB with four home runs. Combine that with DeWitt and you have a productive platoon; both players can play third base, too, making them useful backups to Aramis Ramirez.
Mike Fontenot, second base: B-. Fontenot actually hit pretty well as a Cub: .284/.332/.402. Lou Piniella seemed to forget he was even on the team; Fontenot spent long stretches without playing. He hit a little worse (.282/.329/.310) after the trade, but he is heading to the playoffs for the third time in his career.
Starlin Castro, shortstop: B. Castro made 27 errors this season. Errors, of course, are not the best way to rate fielders; Castro's range helped him get to balls that Theriot would have waved at as they went by. He had a few mental lapses as well -- but then, remind yourself he is only 20 years old. He needs to work on these things, and I believe he will improve. His hitting was outstanding for a rookie, especially at that age. How good was it? He hit .300 in 506 plate appearances. Here's the list of all other players in major league history who have done that at age 20 (seven of them): Alex Rodriguez, Al Kaline, Vada Pinson, Claudell Washington, Orlando Cepeda, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mickey Mantle -- a pretty impressive bunch.
Aramis Ramirez, third base: B-. Once again, Ramirez could not stay healthy. In his seven full years as a Cub, he has played in 150 games only once. Whoever the next manager is, one thing he must do is insist that if a veteran player is injured, that player go on the DL and fix the problem rather than try to play through it. That likely gave Ramirez a month of bad play, playing hurt. When he finally did go on the DL, the problem was fixed: from his return on June 25 to the end of the season, Ramirez hit .287/.333/.556 in 77 games (309 PA) with 20 HR and 61 RBI. That's a pace for 40 HR and 120 RBI in a full season -- if he could ever play one. The .889 OPS he put up in those 77 games is above his career average.
Alfonso Soriano, left field: B-. I don't understand the complaints about and criticism of Soriano. Yes, he is overpaid. Yes, we know the reasons for that overpayment, and we are stuck with him for four more years. But he had a good -- not outstanding, but good -- offensive season, playing in his most games since 2007 and hitting a solid .258/.322/.496 with 24 home runs, and drawing his most walks in a season since he came to the Cubs. His outfield defense was... well, it wasn't awful. He stopped hopping and made most plays he could get to, although his outfield assist total was his lowest as a Cub (only six).
Marlon Byrd, center field: B. Byrd became a fan favorite with his hustle and diving plays in center field, not to mention his tremendous throw that helped the NL win the All-Star Game (Giants, Phillies, Reds, Braves: whichever one of you makes the World Series, thank Marlon Byrd for your extra home game). Offensively, his .293/.346/.429 numbers were down a little from his last two years in Texas, but he still contributed. That OBA was increased by his 17 HBP, which tied a 105-year-old team record set by Frank Chance.
Kosuke Fukudome, right field: B-. Fukudome had his best offensive season since becoming a Cub, likely because he was finally used properly, being platooned most of the season. The rest probably did him good. It would be nice if Hendry could move Fukudome's contract during the offseason -- even having to eat half of it could save the Cubs some money.
Tyler Colvin, right field: B. Colvin showed good power with a .500 slugging percentage and 20 HR, fourth-most ever by a Cubs rookie. Defensively the results were mixed; at times he looked solid, with a good throwing arm; at other times he took bad routes to balls and dropped some that should have been easily caught. These things can be fixed; Colvin is now home recuperating from the bizarre broken-bat injury he suffered in Florida. Presuming Fukudome is traded, right field belongs to Colvin next year and hopefully, for many years to come.
Koyie Hill, catcher: D. In 2009, Hill hit well enough to be -- just barely -- a decent backup catcher, and his defense was strong. This year? Not so much, and it's still puzzling why Mike Quade wouldn't give Welington Castillo more playing time. Give Hill credit from coming back from nearly losing fingers to his table saw to play major league baseball, but I think it's time for the Cubs to find another backup catcher.
Darwin Barney, infield: B. Barney seems the perfect utility infielder. He's outstanding defensively, can hit a little bit and seems fundamentally sound. He can play second base and shortstop well and likely will be a decent 3B backup as well. Pencil him in as the Cubs' #1 backup infielder in 2011.
Sam Fuld, outfield: D. After playing well in limited duty in 2009, Fuld never got a chance this year. He didn't hit and didn't run into any walls going after fly balls. Though I think there's room for someone like this who can bunt and pinch-run and play outfield defense, I suspect Fuld will be elsewhere next season.
Micah Hoffpauir, 1B/OF: D-. Hoffpauir has 394 major league plate appearances, which is 394 more than he probably would have had if he hadn't had the strong spring training in 2008 and impressed Lou. A natural 1B, the Cubs tried him in the outfield, where he wasn't very good. He will be 31 next March. As I have said before, he'd probably be best suited to investigating joining his former teammate Matt Murton in Japan next year.
Welington Castillo, catcher: incomplete. We didn't see enough of him to judge; perhaps he'll be in the mix for backup next year.
Brad Snyder, outfield: C. Even if Snyder never plays another major league game, he'll have a place in Cub lore -- he drove in the only run in a 1-0 win over the Padres in the season's final week, helping knock San Diego out of the postseason. Most likely, Snyder's 28 major league plate appearances are it for him.
Chad Tracy, infield/outfield: D-. Yes, that was this year. Tracy's main contribution to the Cubs was his striking resemblance to Ryan Dempster. Maybe that's why the Marlins picked him up -- they thought they were getting Dempster.
Bobby Scales, infield/outfield: D-. Seriously, isn't it time to give this guy his gold watch? He's 32 and really can't play major league defense any more. I understand he's a great guy and it's wonderful that he persevered for so many years, but maybe it's time for him to get into coaching.
Ryan Dempster, RHP: B+. Dempster had another solid year. He threw the Cubs' only complete game of 2010 (in a loss at Seattle on June 22). His ERA was up a little, but the rest of his numbers were in line with last year's. He continues to be a good #2 starter.
Carlos Zambrano, RHP: B. Z's season has been well chronicled here and elsewhere, so we don't need to rehash it. All there is to say is this: if he can even come close to the pitcher he has been since his return August 9 -- and I don't think anyone would expect him to sustain that level -- the Cubs could have the "ace" that everyone thought Z would be.
Randy Wells, RHP: C. Wells had some stretches this year when he was outstanding (from June 28-July 28, a 1.79 ERA in six starts). And he had some outings when he couldn't get anyone out (in one case, literally, on May 28 vs. the Cardinals). If he can figure out how to avoid first-inning blowups, he could become a good #3 starter.
Carlos Silva, RHP: C. Silva was outstanding most of the first half, then had various health and injury issues that left him 2-4, 8.20 from July 1 to the end of the year. He really doesn't have a spot with the 2011 Cubs -- I imagine Jim Hendry will try to move him. The Mariners are paying about half the $11.5 million left on his deal, so he may be moveable.
Ted Lilly, LHP: B. Everyone here loved Ted for his bulldog demeanor and fine pitching. He gave the Cubs three and a half good years. Now, you can buy his Wrigleyville house. Expected landing point: Angels, or maybe Yankees.
Tom Gorzelanny, LHP: B-. Gorz did everything he was asked, moving from the rotation to the bullpen, and giving the Cubs eleven quality starts despite being a target of two batted balls during the year, one hitting him in the shoulder, the other in his pitching hand. Lefties sometimes mature later than other pitchers -- just ask Ted Lilly, who didn't have his first full year as a starter till he was 27. Gorzelanny just turned 28. He could be a solid #5 starter for the 2011 Cubs.
Carlos Marmol, RHP: A-. The minus is for the walks and HBP. Otherwise, Marmol had one of the best seasons for any reliever in major league history, setting a record for K per nine innings. If he can cut down the walks, he could be the best closer in the major leagues next year.
Sean Marshall, LHP: A-. Marshall seems to have finally found his niche as a solid setup man for Marmol.
Andrew Cashner, RHP: C+. At times, Cashner was lights-out -- sometimes getting an inning done in six or seven pitches. At other times -- not so much, like the night in Colorado where the Rockies kept hitting... and hitting... and hitting... Until and unless Cashner gets an expanded repertoire, I think he's best suited to relief pitching and with experience, he could make a good righty/lefty setup tandem with Marshall.
Casey Coleman, RHP: B-. After a couple of bad relief appearances, Coleman was moved into the rotation and improved with every start, finishing with a 3.33 ERA in eight starts. He's kind of a poor man's Randy Wells; without great velocity he is going to have to learn to locate (maybe some time with Greg Maddux would help). He seems to be the kind of young pitcher (only 23) who could do that; if so, the Cubs have another rotation candidate for next year.
Justin Berg, RHP: C-. Well, geez. The guy looks like a pitcher -- big (6-3, 230) and bearded. But 14 strikeouts and 20 walks in 40 innings? See you in Des Moines. Or on the waiver list.
James Russell, LHP: C+. Russell showed flashes of being a solid middle reliever, and other flashes that were awful. He's got a shot at being a good lefty specialist (lefties hit .238 off him). He's got to cut down on the HR allowed (11 in 49 innings). Like Coleman, he has major league bloodlines -- his father is former major league closer Jeff Russell.
Scott Maine, LHP: C. Well... I dunno. He was acquired in the Aaron Heilman deal, which in and of itself makes him worthwhile. He pitched fairly well, and as a lefthander probably will get several more chances. But... the reports here that he wouldn't sign autographs for about 12 people outside Wrigley because it was an "off day" (resulting in a new nickname) and his unusual reaction to people asking him how he felt about surviving a serious car accident... I dunno. Strange dude.
John Grabow, LHP: incomplete. Spent most of the year injured with knee problems. Presuming he's healthy next year, he will be in the bullpen because the Cubs owe him $4.8 million. Yes, I know that's too much money. If he can be anywhere close to the guy he was with the Pirates, he will be a decent contributor, though expensive. He gets an "F" for the pitching he DID do in 2010.
Thomas Diamond, RHP: D. Diamond, along with John Danks and Edinson Volquez, was part of a great young crop of Texas Rangers prospects several years ago. The Rangers traded Danks and Volquez and Diamond got hurt. He's really only with the Cubs because Randy Bush, his former college coach, told him he'd give him a shot. He's really not very good at either starting or relieving, although he did have 36 strikeouts in 29.2 innings. The Cubs can do better.
Marcos Mateo, RHP: D. Same as Diamond -- a minor-league lifer who got a cuppa coffee with the Cubs. He didn't seem to have much mound presence; he struck out a lot of hitters (26 in 21.2 innings) but also gave up six home runs. I don't expect him back.
Jeff Samardzija, RHP: D-. Enough already.
Jeff Gray, RHP: incomplete. Spent most of the year injured and rehabbing in Mesa. He'll be 29 next year and is a strong candidate for... being released.
Brian Schlitter, RHP: D-. Would have been an F, but his name was enough for comic relief as the season was going down, um, the toilet. A 2.875 WHIP and 12.38 ERA probably sends him to the DFA list.
Mitch Atkins, RHP: F. Pitched poorly and now DFA'd.
Jeff Stevens, RHP: F. Pitched poorly and should be DFA'd.
Esmailin Caridad, RHP: incomplete. Spent most of the year injured. With the Cubs having many bullpen candidates, and also looking for someone else with experience, I don't see him as having much of a chance to make the team.
Bob Howry, RHP: D-. Was brought back, presumably, for his clubhouse presence. Didn't pitch well and was released.