The Chicago Cubs can be fixed. Just don’t be fooled by their recent stretch of 14 wins in 19 games. This isn’t a good team and probably won’t be a good team in 2012. Crack an egg, mix in some butter and start from scratch.
Bring in an experienced general manager.
Buster Olney reported Sunday that three possibilities to replace Jim Hendry are Yankees GM Brian Cashman (his contract expires at the end of the season), Billy Beane of the A’s and Tampa’s Andrew Friedman. While the trendy thing might to hire a young 33-year-old Ivy League grad, the smart move is to hire one the three guys above, who are not only fluent in advanced metrics but would come with the job security and patience required to rebuild the franchise.
Pay big bucks for the best scouting director, scouts and player development people you can hire.
The revolving door of signing mediocre veterans hasn’t worked. Giving playing time to guys like Xavier Nady or Carlos Pena aren't solutions; they’re caulking on a broken dam. The Cubs need to start thinking like the Red Sox and Yankees, which means: Develop your own talent and, if you sign a free agent, make sure he’s a star.
The last Cubs' first-rounder to develop into a star was Mark Prior, drafted in 2001. The Cubs had three other top-10 picks since 2000 and drafted high school hitters Luis Montanez, Ryan Harvey and Josh Vitters, none of whom developed as expected. (Vitters still has time; as he’s currently in Double-A, hitting .283 with 12 home runs, but just 17 walks). The last first-round hitter that developed into a solid major leaguer was Doug Glanville, drafted in 1991. The Cubs’ player development system has been broken for a long time. Compare that to the Red Sox, who developed Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and now Josh Reddick this decade. The Cubs have spent 20 years drafting athletes; the Red Sox have spent a decade drafting baseball players.
Realize that you’re stuck with Alfonso Soriano, but that you need a real left fielder.
Soriano is making $19 million each of the next three seasons. That money is spent, a sunk cost regardless of whether Soriano gets 600 at-bats or 60. Next season, that total should be closer to 60, not 600, as Soriano is now a one-dimensional player who pops the occasional home run but brings nothing else to the table, most notably the ability to get on base -- among 188 major league players with at least 350 plate appearances, Soriano’s .281 on-base percentage ranks 171st. That’s unacceptable for a left fielder.
Fielder is four years younger, provides the left-handed power bat the Cubs need, and despite his girth is one of the most durable players in baseball, having missed just 12 games in six seasons. He may not be quite as good as Pujols, but he won’t cost as much and is arguably less of a long-term risk. Put it this way: I’d rather have Fielder for seven years and $154 million than Pujols for eight years and $225 million.
Recognize that Starlin Castro is a good player, but maybe not a franchise hitter … and maybe not a shortstop.
By that, I mean a hitter who will grow into his power and move down to third or fourth in the order, as many project for the 21-year-old. On the bright side, of 18 hitters since 1980 to accumulate at least 800 plate appearances through their age-21 season, Castro ranks behind only Alex Rodriguez with his .304 batting average. But with just 10 home runs in 992 at-bats, his power numbers are near the bottom of the list. That doesn’t mean the power won’t come -- it just means we don’t know if Castro is more likely to develop like Edgar Renteria or Gary Sheffield. More problematic has been his play at shortstop. I’d give Castro another year there, but down the road the Cubs may be better off moving Castro to second base and finding a better glove for shortstop.
Trade Marlon Byrd.
Byrd is a nice player who has hit .295 since 2007, but he’s not a big star and he turns 34 later this month. Byrd is signed for $6.5 million for 2012, making him an attractive trade option for a team in need of a center fielder. Byrd is unlikely to be around when the Cubs are good again, so getting something for him before his aging curve kicks in is vital. Give prospect Brett Jackson, currently tearing it up in Triple-A, a September audition and then the center-field job next season.
Yes, Darwin Barney is scrappy and “Kunane” is one of his two middle names. But don’t love him too much.
Cubs fans like Barney, but he’s the kind of disposable middle infielder that second-division clubs give starting jobs to, not championship teams. Even if he hits .296 again -- and that is unlikely -- Barney has no power and doesn’t draw enough walks for a guy with no power. He’s OK as a stopgap, but it’s a big mistake if he’s still the starting second baseman in three years.
Dump Carlos Zambrano.
Like Soriano, the money is a sunk cost. At this point, Zambrano just isn’t good enough to warrant the headaches he creates. Put him in on waivers the day the season ends and just eat the money.
Don’t try to fix this in one season. The Cubs have been patching it together year by year for too long. It did all come together with a 97-win season in 2008, but that type of scenario is rare. Jim Hendry was never willing to bite the bullet and rebuild, but it’s time. Be patient, give the new GM the same resources as Hendry, and there’s no reason the Cubs shouldn’t turn into a consistent winner like the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies or Cardinals.
Oh, and quit blaming the *&*(#!@ goat.
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