First of all, there's really not much reason to rehash last night's disgusting 15-4 Cub loss to the Diamondbacks, except to note:
- This year's model of Glendon Rusch is absolutely the worst pitcher I have ever seen in a Cub uniform. He's allowed 21 HR in 61.2 IP. That's worse than awful -- projected to a 200 IP season, that'd be 68 HR allowed. For perspective, the major league record is 50.
- If you want to feel a little better about it, the Cubs were one of three teams to allow fifteen runs in a game yesterday.
Mark Prior again was all over the place -- hitting two batters and walking three and allowing three homers (that's a 46-HR pace in a 200-IP season) and throwing 1,628 pitches (OK, only 106, but it seemed like 1,628) in five innings. This after he dissolved those of us down the LF line in laughter by walking out to the bullpen for pregame warmups with a towel draped over his shoulder.
I know all of you are waiting for the morning-after look at the trade of Greg Maddux to the Dodgers for Cesar Izturis.
The easy answer is, as we have all been discussing for the last day, is that the Cubs traded a Hall of Fame pitcher for Neifi Perez. Or a slightly better Ronny Cedeno. More on this in a moment.
Here's another perspective, and one that likely taught the GM who did it a valuable lesson. In 2000, the White Sox won the AL West. Their starting SS was Jose Valentin, and he had a very good offensive season, hitting .273/.343/.491 with 25 HR and 92 RBI.
But Valentin also made 36 errors, and so Kenny Williams, new in the job, said, "We have to improve our defense!"
And he went out and acquired Royce Clayton to play SS, and thought, "Valentin can play center field for us", thus keeping his bat in the lineup.
Well, Clayton at the time was a slick-fielding shortstop who could hit a little bit. But the Sox put him in their lineup and he hit under .200 for the first half of the season. And Valentin was a brutally bad center fielder, and they got off to a 14-29 start and fired Jerry Manuel. Eventually they recovered to have a winning season, but here's the point:
The White Sox addressed a "need" that did not exist.
And this is precisely what Jim Hendry is doing here. For some reason (and likely this is Dusty Baker's doing), Hendry has spent the last year or so acquiring "speed-and-defense" guys, because either Baker, or Hendry, or both, are convinced that "defense up the middle" is the way to win.
And there is no doubt that having a good defensive SS, and 2B, and CF (and catcher, too, but gee, Jim, you don't really have one of those, do you?) is important. But it doesn't matter if none of them can generate any offense, especially on this team, where the pitching staff has been brutally bad.
This is Hendry's biggest failing, particularly this year, where he put far too much stock in the returns of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, and he's still doing that (at least in terms of Prior) by expecting him to return to his 2003 form, and he's shown no signs of doing that. The problem is that he has just traded for a slightly younger, perhaps slightly better version of Ronny Cedeno.
This would work IF Izturis would resume his 2004 form (.288/.330/.381), but he has shown no signs of that in the last year, and even that would be only adequate -- and he seems to have lost the speed he had them (25 steals -- he had only 8, with 8 CS, in 2005, and has only one this year). The thing is, Hendry appears, as he did last year when he assumed (and so did I) that Rafael Furcal was going to sign with the Cubs -- and he had no backup plan. This acquisition appears to be predicated on the fact that Hendry's going to go hard after Carlos Lee as a free agent. If Lee is signed -- well, then, with a recovered Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez (yes, he's going to stay, even if Hendry has to tear up the option on his deal and write a new one) and Michael Barrett, the offense could live with two weak-hitting middle infielders.
But what if that doesn't happen? What's the backup plan? There doesn't appear to be one, and as I've just said, "speed-defense-pitching" sorts of teams just don't work, especially when they have no way to get on base. The MSM writers are nearly unanimous in praising this deal. They almost sound like the ghosts of forty years ago, lauding the acquisition of "that 18-game winner Ernie Broglio". The only caution flag is thrown by Bruce Miles in the Daily Herald, who writes of Izturis, correctly:
As far as trading Greg Maddux goes, I didn't think he would go (although, reading between the lines, he said all the "politically correct" things, and perhaps was making a "get me out of here" statement behind closed doors), and sentiment aside, I would have been much happier if Hendry had held out for Matt Kemp or Chad Billingsley or someone who is actually a good player, rather than a clone of someone the Cubs already have two of. Izturis has won a Gold Glove? Great. Now he has exactly as many of those as Neifi Perez does -- one.
I could sit here and bitch and yell "FIRE HENDRY NOW!" -- but I'm trying to be a realist. He was just signed to a contract extension (foolishly, it now appears), and the Cubs simply aren't going to eat such a contract (if they won't eat Rusch's deal, an eminently eatable contract, they surely won't eat Hendry's), and so the best thing to do appears to be to lobby hard here for Hendry to do the right thing, to stop giving in to Dusty Baker's whims on what it takes to produce a winner. What happened to the Hendry who made up the 2003 NL Central champs out of overrated minor leaguers and contract dumps? He appears to have vanished in a cloud of "speed-and-defense" -- again, addressing a problem that didn't exist. Kenny Williams learned the lesson from his 2001 mistake. Will Hendry?
Finally, another part of this problem comes from the over-relying on the "comebacks" of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Prior is still a shell of what he was in 2003 -- he's 0-5. The only Cub pitchers I could find in the last fifty years who started a season 0-5 were Juan Cruz, who was so bad he had to be pulled from the rotation (eventually being replaced by Carlos Zambrano) -- and who, ironically, Greg Maddux' roster replacement (still not announced) will face on Thursday; and Dick Drott, who was the Kerry Wood of his day -- having a great rookie year at age 20 in 1957 (15-11, 3.58, a ton of strikeouts, held the club record for K's in a game till Wood broke it), then blew out his arm, was 0-6 in 1960, was let go in the 1962 expansion draft and was done at 26.
Prior is 26, and he'd better step up his game soon if he's not going to be done himself.