It's amazing how quickly Jim Hendry has remade this team. At chicagosports.com today, Paul Sullivan points out that:
The other three, all pitchers, are Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, and Joe Borowski.
And this also shows how Hendry is remaking the 2005 Cubs in his own image. This is a remarkable turnover from a playoff team. We all know how so many players -- Ramon Martinez, Tom Goodwin, LaTroy Hawkins, Kenny Lofton -- became Cubs because Dusty Baker wanted them there.
Baker managed a team in 2003 way over its true talent level, and we lionized him for it.
Baker managed a very talented team in 2004 to a level much lower than we expected, and we were ready to crucify him for it.
Neither of these opinions of Baker is probably the truth. It most likely stacks somewhere in the middle, and what Hendry is saying, indirectly to us and probably directly to Dusty, is:
"We did it your way and look what happened last year. Now let's do it my way."
That said, I have always believed in Dusty Baker. He took several Giants teams that really had only average talent beyond Barry Bonds and had them contending or in the playoffs every year. Yes, his in-game strategies border on otherworldly at times, but at least they got to the postseason.
I don't have any doubt that Hendry, having cleaned out the malcontents and whiners from the clubhouse, expects Baker to be able to mold this pretty much brand-new team into a winner. And so do I.
Sullivan's article also suggests, as I mentioned here yesterday, that Hendry isn't done trying to find a closer, and mentions Oakland's Octavio Dotel in particular.
Ummm... hmmmm.... uhhhhh.... I'm not sold here. How many times in the last decade or so have the Cubs dealt for or bought an "established closer", only to find out that he was done? Let me go down the litany of failures: Dave Smith, Doug Jones, Mel Rojas, Rick Aguilera, need I go on?
The only two "established closers" who the Cubs have acquired since 1990 who have had any success were Randy Myers and Rod Beck, and even Beck blew out after one good season.
There are a number of reasons why I wouldn't rush out to acquire Dotel, the first of which I will call "LaTroy Hawkins Syndrome". Dotel was a successful setup man for Billy Wagner in Houston; this, of course, gave the Astros the idea that he could close, so they let Wagner go as a free agent. Dotel was so bad in Houston that they traded him halfway through his first season as a closer. He wasn't much better in Oakland.
This is exactly what happened with Hawkins. Anyone can read a stat sheet (there I go again, bringing stats into it) and when Hawkins was tried as a closer in Minnesota, he was a miserable failure (28 saves in 2001, but with a 5.96 ERA). Granted, the 2004 Cubs had little choice when Borowski went down with an injury.
But why repeat the mistakes of the past? I'd rather look at the example of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who took a failed starter in Eric Gagne and turned him into a terrific closer. And how and why was this accomplished?
Because Gagne has the makeup to be a closer. As I wrote yesterday, Kyle Farnsworth could have been Gagne, but he didn't have a single piece of brain lodged in his head. I think Ryan Dempster does, and the only reason people think he can't do the job is that he's not "established".
This is the same sort of thinking that says that the Cubs will lose 40 homers in left field because Jason Dubois isn't "established". How can you get established until someone gives you a chance? It's the same way that anyone succeeds in their profession -- someone has to give you the chance to perform.
Dempster will, apparently, get this chance, and the only thing holding him back is the fact that over his career, he has walked way too many people (4.7 per nine innings). This is something that a good pitching coach can help him with, and Larry Rothschild is a good pitching coach.
Finally, Sullivan's article says the Cubs might scout Ugueth Urbina in spring training. Fine, but Urbina didn't pitch at the end of last season due to the unfortunate kidnapping of his mother in Venezuela, a situation that as of the end of January had not yet been resolved, and so who knows what mindset Urbina will be in come baseball time. Also, the Cubs owe the Tigers a PTBNL in the Farnsworth deal, suggesting that a larger, perhaps three-way trade, is forthcoming.
On a completely unrelated note, today I was looking for a Valentine's card to send to my dad (and Dad, I know you're reading this, so there goes the surprise), and in my search, I noticed that you can now purchase a Valentine's card... from your cat.
Not FOR your cat, FROM your cat.
I am speechless.