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Back Up The Truck

Those of you who are of "a certain age" will remember this well.

WGN-TV, as you know, always runs a half-hour season preview special before the season starts. Back in the 1970's, it wasn't as whistles-and-bells as it is now; they simply did a review of the previous season, and a look ahead to new players acquired.

I will never forget the show they ran in April 1974. This was, of course, after seven seasons (1967-73) when the Banks-Santo-Williams-Kessinger-Beckert-Hundley-Jenkins Cubs had burst onto the scene after a couple of decades of misery, and tantalized us by getting close but never even making the playoffs, as four Cub teams have done in the last two decades. And yes, the '73 team is included even though it finished under .500 -- it was eight games ahead on July 1 and even as late as the final weekend, could have sneaked into the playoffs.

But after that year's failure, management "backed up the truck". Banks was long retired, and they traded away Santo, Jenkins, Hundley and Beckert, Williams a year later, and Kessinger after that.

The season preview began with a "literal" picture of what had happened -- a large truck backing up to an entrance of Wrigley Field.

That's why there is no real reason to again go over another dispiriting loss -- 8-1 to the Twins today, with the now-seemingly-requisite bonehead plays in the field, swinging meekly at the first pitch, and hitting into key double plays just when it seems as if the club might actually score a run or two. Bob Brenly, as you may have heard on the telecast, was ripping the players pretty good for their poor fundamentals, as it should be.

It's pretty bizarre, too, that the Cubs keep losing games on WGN-TV. They lose on other TV channels too, but they are now 5-27 on WGN, 23-19 on all other outlets. That is just freaky.

Before I get into how the truck could be backed up, imagine today what it must be like to be a Cardinals fan. That's a team that's supposed to contend, yet they lost their sixth in a row today, and have now been swept in consecutive series. At least the teams that swept St. Louis are supposed to be good teams. Actually, the Twins are a pretty good team too, and I think will be heard from before the AL Central race is done.

Position by position, let's go briefly down the roster list and discuss who should stay, who should go (and more importantly, who is LIKELY to go), and what the Cubs could obtain in return:

1B: Derrek Lee. Obviously, just returned from injury and signed to a long-term deal, he is a building block for the near future.

2B: Todd Walker. I believe he pissed off Jim Hendry with his comments last fall after his option was exercised -- he claimed Hendry was just signing him to trade him, and thus cost him money. Now think about this -- if you publicly called your boss out, don't you think he might try to get rid of you? Hendry apparently offered Walker around over the winter with no takers. Now, he's valuable and could be dealt. One team that could use him might be the Angels, where incumbent 2B Adam Kennedy has had a poor year. This'd be a rent-a-player, as the Angels have a great 2B prospect in Howie Kendrick. And no, you're not going to get Kendrick for Walker. This is the problem with making these sorts of deals.

SS: Ronny Cedeno. Cedeno's played reasonably well this year, but he's probably miscast at SS. Eventually, if he can learn some plate discipline, he might make a good major league 2B -- which means the Cubs should target a SS this winter.

3B: Aramis Ramirez. Well, well, well. Ramirez has been criticized for his apparent lackadaisical attitude, occasionally poor defense and the fact that his hitting has still not gotten untracked. He is 28 years old, and can opt out of his deal after this year (but coming off a year like this, would YOU do that? He won't). There are teams that could use a 3B -- the Angels, again, are one of them, and you can imagine the Padres might like a 3B who's a better hitter than 73-year-old Vinny Castilla. Dealable, but ONLY for some big names in return.

OF: Matt Murton, Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones. It is NOT beyond the realm of possibility that NONE of these players will be back in 2007.

Before you Murton backers go postal on me, let me tell you that my sources say that one of the top free agents the Cubs will go after this off-season is Carlos Lee. Yeah, I know, they should have done this two years ago. And frankly, they COULD probably get Lee NOW, by trade, if they made the right offer to the Brewers. I'm not quite sure what that would be, though it might have to include Scott Eyre or Bob Howry.

Obviously, Juan Pierre has been a crushing disappointment. We already knew he couldn't throw -- but we didn't know he couldn't hit or bunt, either. His trade value is almost nil, and there really isn't a single contender that could use him. No, not the White Sox, not the Giants, not even the Rockies. Oddly enough, MAYBE the Marlins would take him back, if they get close enough to wild-card contention to want to add a veteran. With a $15 million payroll, they could even afford to take on the rest of his deal. Think they'd give us Renyel Pinto back?

That was a JOKE, incidentally. I know they wouldn't.

You've undoubtedly read the Jacque Jones to the Yankees rumors. Do it. The Yankees don't have much to offer in their overrated-as-usual farm system, but if the Cubs could get Philip Hughes or Eric Duncan, that'd be fine return for dumping the contract.

SP: Kerry Wood is now, of course, untradeable. He may or may not be shut down for the year, in which case he either leaves as a free agent, or he and the Cubs agree to some sort of incentive-laden one-year deal with an option year that would kick in if he reaches the incentives. If anyone could actually get through his thick head that he could make big money as a closer (tell him to call B. J. Ryan for details), then the Cubs could trade Ryan Dempster.

Don't get me wrong. I like Dempster a lot. But if Wood were to become the Cubs' closer, Dempster could bring quite a bit in trade. The Tigers are a team that could use a good closer -- they've got a veteran in Todd Jones; he has 19 saves, but only nine strikeouts in 29 innings and an ERA approaching 7.

Of the other starters, obviously, Carlos Zambrano ain't going nowhere. He's the horse, ace, however you want to put it, of this staff and the likely lone Cub 2006 All-Star. Get him signed to a longterm deal.

Too early to judge Mark Prior -- he threw better last night, and can't be a free agent till after 2008. I'm willing to give him more time.

Greg Maddux. Ah, Greg Maddux. This is where sentiment may overwhelm reality. First reality is: he's pitched poorly and probably has very low trade value. The Dodgers have been mentioned (due to his connection to ex-Cub exec, now LA GM Ned Colletti). But another possible destination could be Arizona. Me, I wouldn't trade Maddux. He looks like he might be done, and if so, I'd like him to retire as a Cub. That is, as I said, strictly sentimental on my part.

Of all the young starting pitchers -- if you had to package one in a deal to get, say, Carlos Lee, then you do it. It doesn't really matter who, frankly. The Cubs need a power bat like Lee's, and although it might not make a difference to get him now, I'd consider doing it, because if you let him go through free agency, he might just go somewhere else -- even back to the White Sox, who might very well let Scott Podsednik walk after this year.

RP: Anyone in this bullpen is fair game, and in fact, I'd imagine Jim Hendry is probably getting calls about all of them. Scott Eyre, Bob Howry, even, as I said above, Ryan Dempster: get the right deal, and bye-bye. Most likely, Hendry would have to package a reliever with someone else, to get any reasonable return. The White Sox could use some bullpen help, although they are winning quite well without it; the Tigers, mentioned above, have a young bullpen that could use a veteran setup man like Howry.

The only reliever I think I would not trade under any circumstances is David Aardsma. He still has control problems, but he is only twenty-four and has shown flashes of absolute brilliance. If he can harness the control, he could become a 2003 Gagne-like closer.

I haven't even mentioned spare parts like John Mabry, Neifi Perez, Freddie Bynum, or the currently-DL'ed Glendon Rusch -- because these players would almost certainly have no trade value, unless packaged with someone else. At a certain point, some or all of these men will have to be DFA'd.

You're all going to ask "What about Dusty Baker", and again, the point I've been making is -- this team couldn't be managed to a title by Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, Casey Stengel, John McGraw, or Connie Mack in his heyday. Dump the coaches, yes -- because if you are going to start over with kids, they need a new coaching approach. An interim manager (since NO useful big names, and do NOT say "Lou Piniella" again), then search again in October? What's the point? Play out the remaining 87 games, then decide. This one's not on the manager. The players just have been major suckage.

It's got to begin now. This team couldn't possibly play any worse if they brought up the 2006 draft class and put them on the field. Back up the truck.