The Chicago Cubs are in trouble. Having sunk to new depths with their losing streak at eight games – last winning against St. Louis – the fractures in their lineup are turning an unwelcome shade of gangrene. I hear and understand the bemoaning, even if they are a bit two-faced. This is a Cubs team that never was expected to see the .500 level. It is a team mired in rebuild mode and doomed for less than mediocre.
Before the movie Moneyball came out, there was the book. Before the book, there was the utilization. And obviously before that, there was belief. I can admire, if not understand a lot of the logic that goes into sabermetrics. I understand trends and averages. But, that’s just about where I draw the line. For one thing, I don’t buy into lefty vs. righty. Situational pitching and hitting is akin to wasting a roster spot. Are you a professional athlete? Have you hit baseballs your entire career? Okay. He’s throwing baseballs. See ball. Hit ball. And, as a completely random side note: my computer doesn’t recognize “sabermetrics” as a real word.
The reason I bring up the new fad in baseball is obvious: Cubs President, Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, and Assistant GM Randy Bush. Having spent time in Boston during the overhauls and two championship teams (in particular 2007) they saw firsthand the successes that can come from critical signings and gutsy trades, i.e. Nomar Garciaparra??
The Cubs face a situation near identical. I say “near” because the 2004 Red Sox were, well, World Series Champions. But they weren’t exactly Epstein’s creation. The Cubs are now following this ethos without prior success in some areas. It’s like trying to make grandma’s recipe, but your only information is that you, in fact, had a grandmother. While some of the rebuilding has already begun in the front office with additions like Anthony Rizzo and Bryan LaHair, inevitably we’re going to see subtractions.
Trades only get the press when it’s big names on the move or when media doesn’t agree with it. Draft picks aren’t going to make headlines. The names that have surfaced most often are Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza.
There are cases to be made for both pitchers. Dempster’s career is winding down. Although he’s pitching more or less splendidly so far this season, his innings have stayed high since he made the switch from closer to starter. While that may be good during the season, not being knocked out of games early wears any pitcher down in the long run. Dempster missed the 1997 World Series won by Florida by one season. When they won it again in 2003, he was playing international ball and next went to Cincinnati. He’s not throwing poorly and could be a valuable asset to a contender. As they say, “you can never have enough pitching.”
I find the Matt Garza trade rumors to be perplexing. People usually think I’m crazy for not seeing its plus side. Then again, I am the one who thinks Patrick Kane needs to go away. The baffling part about the Garza rumors is they started almost as soon as he got here. In one of Jim Hendry’s final moments of clarity, he pulled off this move with Tampa Bay that gave the Cubs control of Garza for multiple years. His dubious 10-10 record last season is the result of no run support during a season in which he made 31 starts. It was his third 10-win season and second in a row. He also finished the season with four straight victories.
Moving forward, the Cubs are going to need an ace and anchor on this pitching staff. Whether Dempster stays or leaves via trade, his time is limited as the team’s #1. Had Carlos Zambrano not been Carlos Zambrano, the role could have been his. Jeff Samardzija will be counted on to continue his offerings as a starter, but I can’t imagine the Cubs are ready to make him their ace. A former ALCS Most Valuable Player with a World Series appearance, experience, and filthy stuff may seem like the type of pitcher who can earn you a lot in return. To me, it’s the perfect pitcher to build a solid rotation and playoff contender around.
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