We are about one week from pitchers and catchers reporting and most of the national media has the Cubs the favorites to repeat as champs…of the NL Central Division. What’s not to get excited about. The Cubs finally have an every day left fielder in Fukodome to go with an already impressive lineup. The Cubs bullpen should be one of the best in the NL and Marmol could turn into one of the best young closers in baseball. All of this is great but none of it matters if they aren’t carrying a trophy down State Street in October. The Cubs are good, but not great. The Mets Pedro and Santana scare teams. The Diamondbacks lineup and rotation scare other teams. The Red Sox scare teams PERIOD! The Cubs scare no one.
The Cubs need two things. Yes, only two more things to be considered a WORLD SERIES CONTENDER. They need a #2 starter in the rotation and they need a leadoff hitter.
Zambrano is a good ace. He would be a better #2 on a staff with another ace, but he has all the right stuff to be an ace in MLB. After Carlos it drops off considerably. It is not that Ted Lilly and Rich Hill are bad pitchers. They are not bad pitchers. However they are middle to end of the rotation pitchers. Lieber and Dempster, both near the end of their careers, are back end of the rotation pitchers. NY has Pedro and Santana. Philadelphia has Hamels and Myers. Arizona has Webb, Haren and possibly the BIG UNIT. LA has Penny and Lowe. San Diego have Peavy and Young. Atlanta has Smoltz and Hudson. Are you seeing what teams to succeed? You need awesome #1 and #2 starters if you are serious about contending at the next level. The Cubs have Zambrano and a collection of 3-5 type of starters. That will get you into the playoffs with their lineup, but not much farther.
The solution, deal some of your precious minor leaguers and come up with a #2 starter. Now Santana wanted to be on the East Coast and their isn’t much the Cubs could have done about that but Bedard is about to go to Seattle. The Cubs have been talking to the O’s about 2B Brian Roberts so why wouldn’t you package that together and get a starter too. Joe Blanton is on the block in Oakland. Why wouldn’t the Cubs make a play for him? He is not only good enough to be a #2 but he is young. I haven’t even heard their name mentioned when it comes to mentioning some injured former aces Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. If either of these men are remotely healthy they are better than what is sitting at the back of our rotation.
In addition to the rotation issue, the Cubs need a leadoff hitter. Adding Fukodome was crucial. His OBP and batting average are great. His hitting style reminds me of a young Ryne Sandberg. He is the perfect #2 hitter in the lineup. However, who is he going to move around the bases. Soriano is a great slugger but he should be hitting #5 or #6 in the lineup. His OBP is terrible. Theriot’s on-base stats are a little better but he is not consistent enough to hold down the lead off spot. There is still a free agent option that could appeal to a team contending for a championship. Kenny Lofton is one that comes to mind. Now, he won’t be able to play 140 games but he could start 100 games in CF with Pie or Fuld spotting him in the other games. More importantly you are getting him for the post-season.
Via trade I have already briefly mentioned Brian Roberts who would be an awesome editon but if they can’t land him there are other options. Juan Pierre, formerly of the Cubs, is very fast and gets on base. The Dodgers acquired Andruw Jones which leaves him as the #4 outfielder. It is possible a straight up deal of Murton for Pierre may get him back. Dave Roberts of the San Francisco Giants is also another outfielder who can lead off and steal bases. Another guy to look at might be Marlon Byrd of the Rangers or Carl Crawford of the Devil Rays.
There are solutions out there for the Cubs problems and they should address it before Game 1 on March 31st. For 100 years it has been either poor teams or excuses. The Cubs have a very good team and are two deals away from eliminating the excuses.
So, lets make the deals and put a scare into the rest of the NL.
Now batting for the Chicago Cubs…Jim…Hendry!