Another dismal baseball season is coming to an end for the Chicago Cubs. It is now 98 years since they last won a World Series. 98 Years! As fans suffered through over 90 losses this season the only thing left to wonder is what it will be like next year. Loyal fans such as myself can only help but believe it can’t get any worse with the dismal play and plethora of injuries to key players that kept adding up. What makes things worse is that the Central division leader has yet to secure a winning record for the season with the final weekend in sight. 82 wins. 82 wins are all it takes to guarantee a record better then .500 and the winner of the division may not get there. One can only wonder what if the Cubs had a healthy Derrek Lee, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood for the whole season. It’s reasonable to assume they would have been improved, even possibly enough to win 85 games, which could have transformed them from cellar dwellers to division champions.
Of course I am dreaming. You learn fast that Cub fans have to dream because most seasons are nightmares. Even when they win something happens to wake you up from the glorious dream of victory and brings you crashing down to that oh so familiar agony of defeat.
In 1984 it was Leon Durham’s error in game five that allowed San Diego to tie a game they would eventually win, erasing a 2-0 series lead and turning it into a 3-2 series defeat and a trip home while San Diego would head to the World Series. In 1989 it was Will Clark’s utter domination of Cubs pitching that would send them home once again. And don’t even get me started on the 2003 series against the Florida Marlins, which found the Cubs up 3-1 and losing the next three.
But that’s all behind us now. In this time when the temperatures are dropping, the days are getting shorter, and the leaves are changing to the most beautiful of colors before falling to Earth it’s time to look to the 2007 season.
Once again I refuse to believe it’s going to get any worse then this year. It’s almost impossible to imagine it. Things will look up but the Cubs have plenty to do in the off-season. Here is a list of ten things the Cubs must do to not only improve but also become contenders for the National League Central Division title in 2007.
Find an experienced winning manager – It’s been assumed for months now that current manager Dusty Baker will not return in 2007. His contract is up at the end of this season so the only question is whether Dusty will run from the boos and catcalls or will general manager Jim Hendry give Dusty his walking papers. It would be nothing short of a miracle if anything else happens. Rumors are flying that Florida Marlins manager Joe Girardi, an ex-Cub and fan favorite, will be fired after only one season. Many think it seems logical that Girardi would be a perfect fit in Chicago. After all he took a team with mostly kids and turned them into contenders for all but the last two weeks of the season. Girardi has not been getting along with his team owner and general manager which is why the speculation on his dismissal is so high. The problem with hiring Girardi is two fold. If he can’t get along with his bosses in Florida who is to expect anything different here? Also it should be noted that Girardi’s coaching style is reportedly on the rough side, which may work fine with the Marlins kids but may not go over well with a team filled with veterans in Chicago.
I think the Cubs need to go after a veteran manager with a winning background. They need a manager that is liked and respected that players for other teams would want to play for much like Dusty Baker when he first came to Chicago. You have to remember that Dusty took the Cubs to one game from the World Series in his first year and was in contention in 2004 until the last week. 2005 was a step backwards while 2006 was an aberration. Despite some terrible moves Dusty has made he is still a proven winner overall and that’s what the Cubs need to fix a serious problem immediately. If Jim Hendry wants a winner in 2007 he could do worse then going after Lou Pinnela who would fit the bill perfectly if Lou wants to step out of the broadcast booth back onto the field.
Take a risk on Kerry Wood – This is a controversial notion and one I’m libel to be put away for but if Wood can prove he is 100% and is willing to come back at a considerable price cut, which if he has any loyalty he would give the Cubs that option, I would sign him for a year and put him in the bullpen. Wood just may turn out to be a terrific set up man or closer. With closer Ryan Dempster struggling often this last month and two years still to go on his contract, Wood could step right in if Dempster is moved to a set up position or traded in the off season. Once again it all hinges on his health but it might be worth the gamble at the right price.
Sign Juan Pierre – This is a must. Pierre is having the kind of season every team dreams for a leadoff man. He is going to finish with over 200 hits and over 50 stolen bases. A player that can jump start the offense at the top of the order is a rare commodity, especially at Wrigley Field, so the Cubs need to shell out and sign him to a long-term deal. Pierre is already hinting he wouldn’t rule out going to play for the cross-town White Sox but if that happens Jim Hendry may as well pack his bags along with Pierre.
Add A Power Hitter – This is all going to depend on the decisions third baseman Aramis Ramirez makes. He has the option to opt out of the remainder of his contract which he is certain to do even if it’s to see what the free agency market has in store for him. You can bet plenty of teams will be interested. If Ramirez stays put and Derrek Lee returns to form the Cubs may look to strengthen themselves elsewhere. Right fielder Jacques Jones hit over 20 home runs so the Cubs may be satisfied with that they have. If Ramirez skips town they will have no choice but to go after a power hitting third baseman or second baseman. If Pierre leaves or left fielder Matt Murton is traded (unlikely) then they will need to go after an outfielder.
Starting Pitching – This may be a mess for the Cubs come 2007. 2006 saw an inordinate amount of rookies start along with Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux. Zambrano is the ace of the staff but there are question marks from there on. Mark Prior will be penciled in but his status will always be in question until he can pitch more then a month without getting hurt. Based on performance Rich Hill seems likely to be the number three starter unless he goes in a blockbuster trade. The Cubs are either going to have to go after a pitcher or two via free agency or trade unless they are willing to take the chance with any number of the young starters we saw this season. Sean Marshall is a possibility as is Angel Guzman and Juan Matteo. The Cubs would be better off packing a few of these guys in a deal or trying to land someone like Barry Zito in free agency who will come at a steep price and with plenty of other suitors.
Relief Pitching – Although the Cubs are not in a bad position it never hurts to go out and get another dependable reliever. Last year the Cubs signed Scott Eyre and Bob Howry and are pleased with the results. If Kerry Wood goes there is no question they need to go out and look at the very least. Recently relievers Will Ohman and Michael Wuertz have looked good enough to have a good shot at next year’s bullpen.
Defense – This is something the new Cubs coaching staff is going to have to address a lot in the spring. Pitchers have been throwing wildly both pitching and fielding. Jacques Jones has looked less then stellar in right particularly on plays where he has a chance to throw an advancing runner out. Shortstop Ronny Cedeno has been nothing short of awful making over 30 errors and single handedly costing the Cubs games. His offense with an average of just .240 has not endeared him to fans so it wouldn’t surprise me if he is traded. New second baseman Ryan Theriot has been impressive and there’s no reason to think Cedeno should replace him. New shortstop Cesar Izturis is a gold glove winner as is Derrek Lee. If Ramirez stays the infield will be set. If he goes there will be a lot more questions. The outfield will be set with Matt Murton in left and Jones in right if Pierre stays. Catcher Michael Barrett has proved himself dependable on offense and passable on defense.
Basic Fundamentals – This has been a problem for two years. Hitters have been unable to put down a simple bunt to advance a runner. Hitters are missing signs for hit and runs and squeeze bunts. Leadoff hitters are reaching second and third with no outs and end up stranded right where they started because a batter can’t bunt or hit a fly ball. Outfielders are over throwing and under throwing balls and missing cut off men altogether. Runners are being picked off base in scoring position. Batters are still being too impatient and swinging at bad balls. I wish I had a dollar every time a Cub batter swung at what would have been ball four. If the Cubs can improve on all of these basic fundamentals they could easily win 10-15 more games right there.
Bench Help – The Cubs are desperate for pinch hitters that can come through in the clutch. Freddie Bynum and Angel Pagan are showing signs of improvement but both men are fast on the bases and might be good trade bait for a team looking for a starter in the field. Veteran John Mabry has done an admirable job in place of the injured Lee but has not come through to often pinch-hitting. The Cubs will need to go out and get one or two men to fill the role especially if Pagan or Bynum leaves.
Finally – If all else fails and we get off to another miserable start perhaps we can get the White Sox players to dress in Cubs uniforms and play some games for us.
Hey! Remember I’m a Cubs fan and I’m a dreamer.