FanHouse continues its 2009 MLB Preview with a look at the Chicago Cubs.
Shifts in personnel have been made, in addition to a change in regular season approach, to safeguard against another October failure. As far as many fans are concerned, whatever is being done better work out. The departure of fan favorites Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood were about as popular as being swept in the NLDS. Speaking of which, another disappointing October -- or a disappointing regular season -- could spell doom for many in the organization. Patience is no longer a virtue among the fanbase.
In: Milton Bradley, OF (free agency); Kevin Gregg, RP (trade); Aaron Miles, 2B/SS (free agency); Aaron Heilman, RP (trade), Luis Vizcaino, RP (trade); Paul Bako, C (free agency); Joey Gathright, CF (free agency), Jeff Stevens, RP (trade)
Out: Mark DeRosa, 2B (trade), Kerry Wood, CL (free agency); Ronny Cedeno, 2B/SS (trade); Mike Wuertz, RP (free agency); Jason Marquis, SP (trade); Henry Blanco, C (free agency); Rich Hill, SP (trade); Felix Pie, CF (trade); Jim Edmonds, CF (free agency); Bob Howry, RP (free agency); Jon Lieber, SP/RP (free agency); Daryle Ward, 1B (free agency)
Let There Be Rest ...
The Cubs were the best team in the National League, and probably all of baseball, in late August. From that point on, though, they were decent at best and horrible at worst. According to Lou Piniella, many of the players wore down. The solution is to rest the starters as much as possible, which means the bench players will get lots of extra playing time.
This is where the addition of Aaron Miles and the emergence of Micah Hoffpauir will be key. Aaron Miles can play either middle infield position, while Hoffpauir can play first base and either outfield corner. Joey Gathright can play center field, while Kosuke Fukudome could shift over to right field. Reed Johnson could easily fill in at left field, when he's not platooning with Fukudome in center. Interchanging all these parts will enable Piniella to rest Derrek Lee, Milton Bradley, Alfonso Soriano, Mike Fontenot, and Ryan Theriot whenever necessary.
There are also more options than five at starting pitcher. Rich Harden and even Carlos Zambrano, to an extent, will be rested plenty. Every precaution will be taken with this team to ensure they are healthy and hitting their stride when it matters most. If all goes as planned, they'll be peaking in late September and early October while still having enough firepower to win the NL Central.
Lineup Balance ...
The other major difference in the Cubs this year will be the emphasis on making the lineup more balanced in terms of left-handed vs. right-handed bats. The additions of the switch-hitting Bradley and Miles helps, in addition to the increased playing time for Fontenot. Fukudome will be platooning in center, and the backup catcher -- either Paul Bako or switch-hitting Koyie Hill -- will provide even more balance when Geovany Soto needs a breather.
The rationale for this movement in Wrigleyville was the anemic playoff offense against three right-handers (Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda). It's worth noting that Cubs management went out on a bit of a limb here, because the Cubs had the third highest OPS in the majors last year against right-handed pitching. Of course, this was in the regular season. Piniella and general manager Jim Hendry are obviously thinking that things are magnified in the postseason.
It's a gamble to make so many changes to a 97-win team, but it's gotten to the point where only the postseason performance matters in Chicago.
Filling Tribal Departures ...
Mark DeRosa was the Cubs' regular second baseman last season, but he also played right field 38 times, left field 27 times and third base 22 times. He could also fill in at first base if needed. He had a .376 on-base percentage, 21 home runs, 87 RBI, 103 runs and six stolen bases.
Kerry Wood saved 34 games with a 3.26 ERA. He struck out 84 batters in 66 1/3 innings of work. He even managed to rack up 5 wins.
Both players are now members of the Cleveland Indians, so the question becomes whether or not the production of each can be adequately be replaced. Carlos Marmol is a better pitcher than Wood by any account, but if he takes over as closer there's no way to be certain he'll make a smooth transition. If Kevin Gregg wins the job and Marmol stays put, can Gregg replace Wood's line? As for DeRosa, a host of players will look to fill the void. It's all part of the flexibility and rest plan.
What Curse? ...
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let's hear it. The Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908, and they haven't been to it since 1945. I cannot stress this enough: There is no such thing as a curse. The Billy Goat, some dude with headphones, or anything else of supernatural origin have nothing to do with 2009.
Why You Should Watch: Two reasons. First of all, they are still the most talented team in the division. Secondly, this team will not be boring. Between the personalities of Bradley, Piniella and Zambrano, there should be no shortage of dramatics at Wrigley Field.
What Defines Success: Anything less than a trip to the World Series won't be good enough. A championship is needed, but if the Cubs take that next step and reach the Fall Classic, 2009 won't be a total loss. Losing in the NLCS or the NLDS, however, would cause more dramatic panic from the fans -- and possibly the management. Missing the postseason would be a disaster only mitigated if huge injury issues -- outside obvious ones like Harden and Bradley -- should arise.Related Links