Since the next game isn't till Tuesday night, and instead of harping on the tired old Sox/Cubs things that we'll no doubt see in the traditional media, I thought I'd take a bit of Monday to examine what the Cubs could realistically do, if management decided to start making moves right now, to improve the team's chances to make the playoffs in 2009. (And you'll see by the length of this post, why it wasn't finished this morning!)
I say "realistic" because at this moment, there are 23 teams within six games of a playoff spot. Why would any one of them trade a useful piece to their puzzle on June 15? (And consider that up until the 1980's, June 15 was the trading deadline. Can you imagine trying to finalize a team's summer today? Now? No way.) There are some players making big dollars that are dealable; one of them happens to be a Cub. More on this below.
This isn't going to be one of those "DFA! DFA! DFA!" posts, because yelling that is rarely productive. Also, for those of you who do say that, I think you really mean "Unconditionally release the bum rightfreakingnow!", because DFA, which is short for "Designated for assignment", actually means the player has some value. The DFA process gives the club ten days to either waive him (within the first seven days), trade him, or release him. If he clears waivers, he can be sent to the minors (unless he's a five-year veteran or has been outrighted to the minors before, in which case he has to give his consent). The DFA process is generally used only when a team wants a player off the 40-man roster, which happens immediately when a player is DFA'd. You can learn more about this and other MLB procedural moves at the very useful ESPN Transactions Primer, which is permanently on the left sidebar of this site under "General Baseball Links".
Case in point: I don't think any of you who are shouting "DFA Miles!" really want him any more -- you just want him off the team. Right? And besides, this isn't going to be one of "those" posts -- just blowing off steam because the team has been so -- well, average the first sixty games, after expectations were much higher. The Cubs have scored 253 runs and allowed 245 for a Pythagorean W-L record of 31-29, just one game better than reality. The 245 runs allowed is good -- third-fewest in the NL. The 253 runs scored is bad -- also third-fewest. Part of both of those is having played the fewest games in the major leagues -- 60. (Five teams have played 65 already.)
Go below the fold to find my realistic suggestions.
- Give Aaron Miles his unconditional release. The Cubs have already eaten two contracts this year: Luis Vizcaino's and most of Chad Gaudin's. Both of them apparently had issues beyond poor performance, which is what earned their release. Aaron Miles' problem has been bad play; he's been poor in the field and at bat. With a little more than 1/3 of this season gone, the remaining portion of his two-year deal (absolutely ridiculous to sign a guy like that to a two-year contract) amounts to (approximately) $3.5 million. The Cubs are paying Vizcaino that much. Miles is an automatic out in the lineup and the shoulder problem that presumably was "solved" by putting him on the DL is clearly still bothering him. I'd rather see Bobby Scales back -- Scales, at least, has shown he can produce off the bench (4-for-7 as a PH, with a triple and 2 HR). Or Nate Spears. Even Darwin Barney could probably give the Cubs better than what Miles has. Or see point #3 below.
- Offer Rich Harden in trade. This was already brought up in SackMan's FanPost this morning, but I had also thought of this over the weekend. I'm guessing about half of those 23 teams would be lined up outside Jim Hendry's office if the Cubs made Harden available. While he had a strong return from the DL on Friday, the Cubs managed fine -- at least starting-pitching-wise -- without him. They have a starter, Sean Marshall, languishing in the bullpen. It's unlikely, with the emergence of Randy Wells, that Harden will be re-signed for 2010. The savings of getting someone else to take the remainder of his $7 million deal would make up for eating Miles' contract. Get prospects in return. Here's one contending team that might be interested: the Angels, whose rotation has been in turmoil all year. Maybe Hendry could finally pry Brandon Wood away from them. If you could do that, Wood could play 3B. Or SS, moving Ryan Theriot to 2B -- unless you make move #3 below.
- Send prospects and Aaron Heilman to Cleveland for Mark DeRosa. I know I'm going to start a firestorm here because of the long discussions we've already had about DeRosa. Look -- I'm NOT being sentimental here. DeRosa, who homered again last night and whose 44 RBI are already half of his career high set last year (and are also 17 more than any Cub has), would be a useful replacement for Aramis Ramirez until he returns, could sub in at several other positions, and if A-Ram isn't 100% on his comeback, could also play 3B for extended periods the rest of the year. Sending Heilman to Cleveland would give the Tribe a major league pitcher -- and perhaps give Heilman the starting rotation slot he's been coveting -- and mitigate some of DeRosa's contract. Also, this gets the two additional pitchers the Cubs don't really need (13? Waaaaaay too many, Lou!) off the roster.
- Put Kosuke Fukudome in the #2 hole and leave him there. This seems counterintuitive, but Fukudome is hitting .310/.388/.569 batting 2nd and only .271/.428/.402 batting 3rd (and 0-for-12 in other lineup slots). The guy seems to thrive on consistency. Stop messing with him and maybe the helicopter will vanish.
- For now, leave Milton Bradley alone. I've been a critic of this signing from day one, and have only shaken my head at the controversy that seems to hang over his head whether he wants it to or not. Since May 22, he is hitting .302/.373/.453 in 17 games (14 starts), so his bat is (apparently) starting to get together. Whether you like Gameboard or not, the Cubs need him to produce. With Aramis Ramirez out, he really has to hit third. After A-Ram returns, drop him to fifth, which seems a better slot for him.
- Give Angel Guzman more eighth-inning responsibility. Guzman has been the Cubs' most consistent reliever all year and in his last 13 appearances, has allowed only eight hits and one run for a 0.71 ERA. If Carlos Marmol is struggling or has been overused, let Guzman throw the eighth, setting up Kevin Gregg.
- Let Micah Hoffpauir start in left field occasionally. Alfonso Soriano will never say he needs a day off -- but right now, he absolutely needs some days off. You never know when Soriano will take off on a hot streak, but with his average below .230, maybe it's time. Or try Soriano at 2B for a game or two; the defense can't be worse than what Miles has done, and if he starts hitting, that improves the offense.
That isn't the total solution, nor are any or all of these perfect. But they are, I think, realistic -- things the Cubs could actually do within the next week or two, rather than some pipedream we conjure up here. Let's hope they do some of them. When other players begin hitting the way they should, that could make the Cubs a playoff team again.