There is no doubting that Ryan Dempster will no longer be wearing the blue pinstripes come the first of August, he is exactly the type of player that the Cubs are looking to unload in order to supplement their rebuilding project. Dempster has shined in 2012, putting together arguably the strongest two months of his career with a 2.11 ERA that isr the second lowest among major league pitchers. There has already been plenty of interest in the 35 year old and he has hinted that he would be willing to waive his 10/5 no trade clause if the right deal presented itself. When Dempster is shipped off to a contender, there will be an obvious void at the top of the rotation that will need to be staffed, but the departure of a clubhouse leader will prove to be even bigger shoes to fill for the rest of the roster. On a team that will feature an increasing number of high profile prospects in coming years, the presence of veteran leadership will be crucial to keep them in line. The unnerving truth is that on the there are few players on the current roster that can fit that description.
The Cubs made some strides during the offseason to improve clubhouse character by trading away character cancer Carlos Zambrano. They also brought in wily veteran David Dejesus to pave the way for a future generation of selective and fundamentally sound players. However, most of the important players that returned to the North Side are not the type to set a positive example or inspire teammates before and after games. Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano may be two of the most important players on the field, but both face internal struggles that keep them from taking leadership roles. Garza has a lingering anger issue and Soriano has had a chronic issue with his hustle. Dejesus and Reed Johnson would be good candidates, but at the respective ages of 32 and 35 there is little guarantee that either will be able to stick with the team for more than another year or two. The right man for the job is one with a few years to burn and a mature disposition that can be seen from the moment they enter the league. Starlin Castro has his heart in the right place, but still needs work getting his head pointed in the same direction. Bryan LaHair is playing his first full year in the league and might also be traded by the deadline, eliminating him from the conversation as well.
So who can become the Ryan Dempster of the future? Jeff Samardzija might be the most likely candidate. Samardzija may have a wild hairstyle, but the former two sport athlete at Notre Dame has always tamed his emotions and carried himself with the utmost class during his first few years as a Cub. He has already had to face difficult circumstances with the passing of his mother during his high school years and the pressure to choose between football and baseball after graduating from college. Now that he has emerged as one of the Cubs’ best young pieces there is no reason why Samardzija couldn’t play a vocal role on the team for years to come. Anthony Rizzo may not even be on the major league roster, but it is almost a certainty that he will spend at least half of this year in the big leagues and should perform well enough to come back every year after. Rizzo has also faced life obstacles that have forced him to mature like his bout with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2007 and will be able to command the respect of the team if he can continue to hit for consistent power in the bigs. Darwin Barney has a respectable and intelligent way about him and might also play a part in helping young players if he can keep a spot on the team.
There are options out there, but only one that can be seen as more than speculative. The need for leaders is evident and lacking on the current team. The difference between a great team and a talented one is a cohesion between players. Talent is important, but can be wasted without proper team chemistry. Ryan Dempster will leave behind a legacy of classy production and an outstanding Harry Caray impression during his time in Chicago. The next man up doesn’t need to be a great impressionist, but he must be willing to step up and do things the right way to help the Cubs break the curse that has plagued them for all these years.