Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Thursday, March 11, 2004
Cubs Blog Army Roundtable - The Director's Cut
If you didn't check out the Cubs Blog Army Roundtable over at the Cub Reporter, do yourself a favor and take a peek. But here, in the ultimate act of hubris, is the complete text of my answers to the questions posed. Naturally, they were edited the first time around (I am about to post a 3,300 word essay on the freakin' Brewers tomorrow, after all), so enjoy them in all their original, verbose glory!
Q: Most pundits agree that the Cubs have one of the
best rotations in baseball. Will the rotation live up
to the hype? If so, which pitcher will have the best
year? If not, who will falter, and will the team be
able to overcome it?
First, I have to say that I think the
hype is unrealistic under the best of circumstances.
Not living up to it wouldn’t be a sign of the staff
underperforming, rather it would merely prove they
weren’t space aliens or deities or the inventors of
Mark Prior will have the best year, but we’ll see
Kerry Wood finally get enough wins for people to stop
with the overrated tag. If anybody falters, it will
be Zambrano. He was so gassed at the end of last
year. I know Will Carroll said he didn’t hurt
himself, but I’ll feel a lot better when he’s got 10
or so starts under his belt at his established level.
I still think he’ll regress a bit, but as long as he’s
keeping the ball in the park, I won’t be concerned.
If any single pitcher not named Wood or Prior goes
down for the year, it can be absorbed, and one of
those two could be gone for a stretch similar to
Prior’s DL stint last year without causing a collapse.
Anything beyond that would be catastrophic.
Q: Which, if any, of the Cubs pitching prospects will
make an impact on the team this year?
It depends on injuries. If all the
starting staff stays healthy, or only misses outings
one or two at a time, I don’t think you’ll see anyone
making an impact, or even getting many innings. I
think they’re going to be very cautious with Guzman,
and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t spend the entire
year in Iowa. If he doesn’t, then something very bad
happened on the big club.
I suppose Beltran could make an appearance in the pen,
but again, that would take someone getting hurt.
Maybe he’ll break camp in Remlinger’s spot and head
back down when Greybeard is all the way healthy.
Q: What should be done with Juan Cruz?
Eventually, he should be traded, but
now’s not the time. He’s a big chit, so you’re better
off holding on to him until mid-year when you can
better evaluate and prioritize your needs. So, the
question becomes where do you stash him in the
meantime to keep his value as high as possible?
This is a reversal from what I’ve previously said, but
I’m thinking he should stay in Iowa until he’s dealt.
Rotting at the back of Dusty’s bullpen won’t do him
any good, and he might just implode when he’s asked to
pitch after ten days off (again). He owned AAA when
he went down there last year, so why not let him keep
building his stamina and showing off his arm. Plus,
if the unthinkable happens, and he’s needed to start,
he’ll have been doing it for a while and will be
Q: How much better is the Cubs bullpen this season
than it was in 2003?
A lot, but I’m not sure it matters as
much as it could. Sure, the innings thrown by the pen
will be of higher quality, and that’s certainly
positive, but what the Cubs really need is MORE
innings out of the pen, and I don’t think they’ll get
that. I took a look at this a little bit ago, and
near as I could tell, Dusty tends to base his bullpen
usage almost entirely on the quality of his starters.
One would think it would be symbiotic, and that’s what
I hoped to find, but it looks more like a case where,
if Dusty has the horses, he lets ‘em run ‘till they
Q: While there are very few questions about the
pitching, there are plenty of questions about the
offense. Will the Cubs score enough runs to hold off
the Astros in the NL Central?
The Cubs’ offense is better this year.
Not by a lot, but it’s better. I’d expect the team to
score around 750 runs, which isn’t great, but with the
likely decrease in the team’s runs allowed, it should
be enough for them to be there at the end.
Another factor is the Astros’ offense. The bad news
is, Morgan Ensberg is getting the Astros’ full time
third base job. The good news is, Jason Lane isn’t
getting any of the center field job. As long as Craig
Biggio keeps up the Scrappy Doo imitation, he’s got
the organization wrapped around his finger, which
should keep a smile on the face of all Cub fans. If
the Astros can find a taker for Hidalgo, then Lane
will get his shot, but it’ll be in the wrong spot and
will result in a net loss in production. Add in
Bagwell’s age, the fascination with Brad Ausmus, and
the likelihood that, without a trade for Hidalgo,
they’ll be unable or unwilling to take on much payroll
at the deadline, and I think the Cubs match up well.
Q: Who will have a better 2004, Michael Barrett or
I like Barrett overall. Miller is a
better defender, but I think he’ll continue to decline
offensively, and that’s where Barrett can make up the
difference. I imagine they’ll be very close in total
value, but I think Barrett takes it.
Q: The Hee Seop Choi for Derrek Lee trade was a
classic example of trading potential for current
performance. Do you think it was the right trade to
make for this year? What about for the future of the
There’s no question it was the right deal
for this year. Don’t get me wrong, I love Choi, and
there’s still a part of me that wishes I could get the
chance to see him grow up and reach his potential with
the Cubs. However, there’s no doubt in my mind that
Lee will be the better player this year, and probably
in 2005. This is a team in a position to go on an
extended run of success, and when the opportunity
arose to make a much needed near term improvement
offensively and defensively, Jim Hendry did what
should be done and grabbed it with both hands.
The future? Well, the main argument for keeping a
player like Choi around is that he provides superior
production for minimal financial investment. While
this concept is an important one for any team to
grasp, it’s less important for a team with greater
resources, like the Cubs. This deal wasn’t made in a
vacuum, and while the Marlins will be getting good,
inexpensive production from Choi for the next four or
five years, when Lee’s contract runs out at the end of
the 2006 season, the Cubs will almost certainly be in
a position to acquire another near-peak first baseman
at market rates, assuming they don’t have a youngster
ready to take over. As an academic question, the
answer might be different, but looking at the Cubs
specific situation, this was the deal to make now and
for the years to come.
Q: What sort of seasons do you expect Moises Alou and
To have? If one or the other struggles, will Dusty
pull them from the lineup, or stick with them?
Is ‘short’ a good answer? Seriously, I
expect Patterson to be able to get it going after a
month or so. His first step might not come all the
way back for a bit, but as fast as he is, his
offensive game has never been predicated on his speed,
so I don’t see that being a huge problem. My one
worry would be on defense. If he can’t get to balls
as easily, will he try a Griffey-esque leap to reach
his goal? I shudder to think.
Alou is another matter. He’s little more than a
singles hitter anymore, and the power decline should
continue. That won’t be too much of a problem,
though, because I’ll be shocked if he plays more than
100 games this year. I think he will do enough damage
to himself before the All-Star break that the Cubs
will have to trade for an outfielder around the
deadline. This is part of why I’d hang on to Cruz
Q: Who will get more playing time at second base, Mark
Grudzielanek or Todd Walker? Who *should* get more
I think Grudz will get the innings.
Dusty just loves him to death, and I think this is one
of those times when the ‘ol Baker Loyalty Wagon and
Traveling Show will come rolling into town.
Who should be in there? It depends. If Grudz’
defense regresses at all, Walker should be in there
against all righties. Otherwise, I wouldn’t mind
seeing a platoon of these two based on who’s pitching
– for them and for us. If a lefty is throwing for the
opponent, Grudz should be in there no matter what.
Walker’s a lousy defender, and he can’t hit
port-siders, so there’s no excuse for playing him.
However, if there’s a right-hander up for the opponent
and Wood or Prior is throwing, I’d use Walker. Lots
of K’s from those guys, and the fewest ground balls on
the staff. If Maddux, Clement, or Zambrano is on the
hill, I use Grudz no matter what, because those guys
throw too many dirt balls to let Walker get a taste of
Q: Jim Hendry was very active this winter. Everyone
expects the Lee and Maddux acquisitions to help the
team immensely. Was there another, lesser transaction
the Cubs made this winter that you think will have a
significant impact on the team?
Jose Macias. Definitely, Jose Macias.
[pause for removal of mind controlling parasite from
Ah, that’s better. Now what was the question? Oh
yeah. Jose Mac….I mean, LaTroy Hawkins. I knew, as
we all did, that the Cubs would need to pick up
another reliever or two to hopefully take some
pressure off the starting staff. I don’t know that
his acquisition will mean more reasonable pitch counts
for Wood, Prior, and Zambrano, but he will certainly
make a difference in critical late game situations. I
think it’s fair to say that the Cubs didn’t have a
dominant reliever last year. They had Kyle
Farnsworth, who could be dominating, but no one had
that kind of mastery on a consistent basis. Hawkins
brings that quality, and with Joe Borowski in the
capital “C” Closer role, there’s the added bonus of
having the best man out of the bullpen not being
constrained to the ninth inning. It will turn out to
be a big advantage, even if this “proper” usage
pattern is somewhat accidental.
Q: Recently, GM Jim Hendry locked up Greg Maddux,
Kerry Wood and Derrek Lee for the next few years. Who
on the current roster, if anyone, should get the next
Aramis Ramirez is the only player who
should be in the discussion, and that’s only if he
solidifies his gains this season. He fell off the
table after his excellent 2001, and he made it part of
the way back last year, but I want to see what the
Pirates saw when Aramis was 23 before I lock him up
long term. Everyone else is either too young or too
Q: As a Cubs fan, are you having a hard time dealing
with the fact that the Cubs go into this season as
Of course, it’s strange. I’m just not
used to the idea of reasonable people being able to
say with a straight face that the Cubs could win the
World Series. That said, coming so close last year
made me want it that much more. The oddity of being
good is nothing compared to the misery of being bad,
and after coming so near the goal, the disappointment
of NOT being favorites would be unspeakable.
Q: What are you looking forward to about the 2004
Cubs? What are you dreading about them?
I look forward to seeing what this
pitching staff is capable of, and I dread injuries.
Yes, we lost Corey last year. Yes, Sammy was out for
a while. Yes, Prior made like a pinwheel. Yet, the
only major boo-boo belonged to Corey, and my fear for
this year is a catastrophic meltdown involving
two-thirds of the outfield and two-fifths of the
starting staff. If we were talking about random
possibilities, I’d be fine, but it doesn’t take a big
imagination to see just that scenario occurring. Good
teams can deal with the loss of one good player, no
team can lose them en masse and hope to compete.
I just used eight times the words to describe my dread
as I used to describe what I look forward to. I must
be a Cub fan.