Hot Stove League Review #2 – Cubs

If you can’t tell already, I’m a White Sox fan without reservation, but I don’t really take any joy in the tepid review of the Cubs’ offseason moves that I’m about to provide.  Maybe a World Series victory has made taken the harshness out of my Sox Pride, but it really would be nice to see both Chicago clubs playing at the same time in October for once.

The thing is that the Cubs aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.  While Kenny Williams has been aggressively and impressively improving on a team that has already won the whole shebang on the South Side, Jim Hendry’s performance over the past couple of months on the North Side has been spotty at best.  He’s made one great trade, a few solid moves, and a number of questionable transactions so far this offseason.  Here’s my review:

1) Re-signing Ryan Dempster and Glendon Rusch – Solid keepers for the Cubs, particularly the durable Rusch.  I still have reservations as to whether Dempster can be a viable closer long-term, but I’d drag Rod “the Shooter” Beck back out of his trailer before touching LaTroy Hawkins ever again.

2) Re-signing Neifi Perez – Bleh!

3) Signing Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry – These were two good moves to shore up the awful Cubs bullpen.  Howry, in particular, was unstoppable for the Indians during the second half of 2005.  As for Eyre, any player whose scouting report for 2005 begins with how he resurrected his career after being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder gets a vote of confidence from me.

4) Trading for Juan Pierre – This was the biggest and best move that Jim Hendry has pulled the trigger on this offseason.  The Cubs’ inability to get their lead-off man on base over the last couple of years has caused the team to waste countless opportunities to blow open games early, especially with the pounding potential of Derrick Lee and Aramis Ramirez in the 3 and 4 spots in the batting order.  I’m so confident that Pierre will alleviate this problem that Vegas ought to be setting lines on whether Lee will win the Triple Crown in 2006 – if he came close last year, imagine what he could do when Pierre is consistently in scoring position during Lee’s at-bats.  This may be sacrilegious for me to say as a Sox fan, but I would take Pierre over Scott Podsednik in the lead-off spot any day of the week.  I love this move for the Cubs.

5) Signing Jacque Jones – On the heels of making a great move to improve the Cubs outfield, Jim Hendry made one of the worst transactions in all of baseball this offseason by signing Jacque Jones to a three-year contract.  First of all, as the Chicagoist pointed out, it makes no sense to sign an outfielder whose stats mirror the steep downward trend of Cubbie outcast Corey Patterson coupled with the exact same penchant to try to unsuccessfully jack homeruns as opposed to using his natural speed to get on base.  Second of all, the Cubs didn’t even bother calling Jeromy Burnitz to see if he wanted to come back, yet they signed Jones to a longer contract for more money even though Jones’ production over the last few seasons has been worse than Burnitz’s performance.  So, the Cubs essentially are locked into a downgrade in rightfield for three seasons and are paying more for it.  By May, you can count on Jones being the latest recipient of the boo-birds at Wrigley in the tradition of Patterson, LaTroy Hawkins, and Todd Hundley.  I can’t tell you how awful this move is for the Cubs.

6) Trading Corey Patterson – One hand is telling me that Corey is all of the sudden going to have a breakout season with the Orioles to fulfill the sky-high potential we’ve been hearing about for years.  On the other hand, not even this Sox fan could take another season of watching this guy in Wrigley.  The fact that Jim Hendry was able to trade Patterson for a six-pack of Natty Light ought to be sufficient.

Despite the relatively large quantity of moves by the Cubs, there are quite a few open holes that the team still needs to fill (and I’m not sure if those holes are going to be filled by Opening Day, if ever).  At this point, it looks Ronny Cedeno is going to be at shortstop, Jason Dubois will be in leftfield, and Neifi Perez (bleh!) is playing second base.  It would be one thing if the Cubs, who have the most financial resources in baseball after the Yankees and Red Sox, were starting just one of those players as a fill-in, but it’s unacceptable having one-third of the batting order going into the season as unproven question marks (or in the case of Perez, a proven black hole at the plate).

At the same time, I was surprised that the Cubs didn’t put out any feelers for A.J. Burnett or Kevin Millwood.  Ever since the Cubs were essentially proclaimed to have the greatest pitching staff ever on the cover of the 2004 Sports Illustrated baseball preview, we’ve seen the same cycle: Kerry Wood gets hurt in spring training, Mark Prior starts feeling something wrong in May and the club has to “shut him down” by June, and Greg Maddux continues to get slower and older.  Meanwhile, their previously unheralded South Side rivals were the ones who rode a great starting pitching staff to a world championship.  The Cubs can no longer use the excuse of how much better they would be if their starting pitchers were all healthy.  Their current starting pitchers will NEVER all be healthy at the same time, so the Cubs should have brought in someone else.  Jeez, the White Sox brought in Javier Vasquez as a SIXTH starting pitcher on a defending world championship team, yet the Cubs continue to stand pat with their underachieving pitching staff.

All in all, the Cubs have dramatically improved in the leadoff spot with Juan Pierre and have a stronger bullpen, but I’m really not impressed with their lack of moves with the starting pitchers and middle of the infield (plus Jacque Jones is going to be awful – I guarantee it).  The Cardinals are on a downward slope and Astros are not going to be a contender without Roger Clemens.  Unfortunately, as it currently stands, the Cubs won’t be able to take advantage of what will be a weaker NL Central in 2006.

My review of the baseball world outside of Chicago will be posted within the next couple of weeks.  In the meantime, expect a Bears and NFL divisional playoff preview tomorrow.  Have a great day!


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