Since the Cubs are rebuilding, many discussions have been held on who should stay and who should go. Here is my take:
1. Dempster: For teams who are legitimate World Series contenders, Dempster would be a great addition for any team in need of an improvement to their staff. His stock is high at this point, as he is pitching lights out. But he is aging and maybe has two good seasons left. Epstein should be looking to acquire a closer or a highly sought after young SP with great potential.
2. Soriano: Like Dempster, Soriano is aging and nearing the end of his career. He could benefit any team in need of an experienced bat and outfielder either due to improvement at position or injuries. The Cubs won’t get a great deal for him, but acquiring developmental players at key positions is worth the risk.
3. Soto: With Clevenger showing signs of promise, and Castillo serving as a backup, the Cubs could move Soto for developmental players, but more-so to free up money. I think the risk is worth the possible reward.
4. Wood: I really hope Kerry will retire as a Cub by the end of the season. He has shown devotion, loyalty and love for this organization and it’s fans. But his body cannot handle the big leagues anymore. But if he is unwilling to retire, than he has to be sent down or cut.
5. Marmol: He just needs to go and I don’t care where. The Cubs won’t acquire much for him, but Sveum could use a new razor.
The Cubs bullpen has caused many heartaches, gray hairs and collective breaths to cease. Dempster and Garza pitched gems in the first two games of the 2012 season, carrying late game leads against the Nationals, while Cubs fans helplessly watched as the bullpen seemingly gave the games away. From this moment on, fans have been overly critical and skeptic whenever a reliever begins to warm-up.
The bullpen is 3-7, with 4 SV, a 3.90ERA, in 80.2IP. Collectively, the have allowed 70H, 35ER, 45BB, 6HR and struck out 61 batters. Most notably, the bullpen has given away 3 games in which the Cubs should have walked away with a win, squandering the lead late in a game. They have also been credited with 4 additional losses when the game has either been tied or the Cubs held a 1-run lead.
To Manager Dale Sveum’s credit, he has given every player on the active roster time to adjust to the 2012 season before making any roster moves. However, Marmol’s latest meltdown prompted Sveum to finally address the bullpen woes.
After Marmol single-handedly cost the team yet another win in a 3-4 loss to the Reds in extras, Sveum announced a change at the closer position, designating Russell and Dolis as a closer-by-committee duo.
Three righties: Dolis, Bowden and Camp, and a lefty: Russell, are now the perceived bullpen rotation. The four relievers have a combined record of 3-3, a 2.37ERA, allowed 14ER, 15BB and 30SO in 48.0IP. In last nights’ come from behind victory, Camp, Russell and Dolis combined for 5.0IP, allowing 3H and no runs or walks. This is exactly how the bullpen needs to conduct business day-in and day-out.
The Cubs batters have proven the ability to get hits and score runs throughout the season, as the team has yet to be shutout. The pen allowed for the hitters to come through late in the game, tie the score and ultimately win in extras. Had the pen been able to perform in this manner earlier in the season, the Cubs could be sitting atop the NL Central, with a record of 18-10.
I would still like to see the Cubs acquire a more experienced closer, one who has confidence and can also mentor a young future potential closer. But for now, at least Sveum finally booted Marmol and I’m certain the front office is looking for trade potentials. I just hope Russell and Dolis can carry the load for the interim.
Cubs’ fans know, just as the previous 103 seasons, this is likely not the year. Expectations of ending the longest drought of a professional sports team without a championship is unlikely to occur during the 2012 MLB season. However, amassing countless number of losses is greatly unacceptable. Many fans would be grateful if the Cubs finish one game above .500, but doubt this will likely happen (read Bullpen Brian’s post of the subject here). I simply ask the Cubs to be contenders in each game, playing one game at a time and giving the fans the best possible lineup from our club for each game. Here are my two suggestions to Dale Sveum and the Cubs’ ownership that need to change now!
Improve the Bullpen
Every game when the Cubs have a lead and Wood comes in as the setup man and/or Marmol comes in as the closer to get the win, Cubs’ fans will be holding their collective breathes all season long; I’m sure the organization and coaching staff will do the same. The issue is these two pitchers are the veterans of the bullpen. If, and when, one of them struggles, the depth of experience within the pen is cut in half. And if both of these pitchers struggle as we’ve seen in the first two games of the season…!?
The Cubs recently called up Rodrigo Lopez, a 10-year veteran righty who made his season debut last night (2IP, 0H, 0ER, 1K, 1BB) and also have Shawn Camp, an 8-year veteran righty who is 0-1 in relief appearances this season (3.1IP, 7H, 3ER, 3K, 0BB). But both pitchers are 36 years-old, likely nearing the end of their careers and are not a longterm solution.
The Cubs have three active relief pitchers with a combined three years of experience in Lendy Castillo (23), Rafael Dolis (24) and James Russell (26). The three relief pitchers have combined for 6.1IP, 1H, 1ER, 5BB, 4K, 1.00ERA, 0.86WHIP. The trio has promising numbers, well, at least better than Wood and Marmol have performed so far this season. If the Cubs’ organization is not going to pursue options outside of the organization, then Sveum should focus on developing these pitchers throughout the season to establish potential setup men and/or a future closer.
Reorder the Batting Lineup
Many analyst/fans agree Starlin Castro is a great player and possible future star at shortstop, but he is in wo-way shape or form a #3 power hitter. I believe the theory behind Sveum placing Castro third in the batting order is in belief if the first two batters get on base and Castro can duplicate his batting average from 2011 (.307: 207 of 674), than the Cubs will ultimately score runs often. However, my arguments for moving Castro back to first in the order are as follows:
1) The third position in the batting lineup should be a guy who can physically handle the position, but more importantly, mentally affect the game. He should rattle the nerves of an average pitcher from the opposing team, while also giving you the potential for late game heroics. Castro does not have this effect. He only hit 10 home-runs in 2011 with 674 AB. The power to hit balls out of Wrigley with the wind blowing in is not there and the intimidation he projects is less than many batters in the same position (as seen in the 9th inning against the Brewers).
2) Castro had 24 stolen bases throughout 2011 and has the speed to improve on this number for 2012. Granted Castro has four stolen bases within the first week of the season, his attempts will be limited throughout the season if even one batter ahead of him reaches base. With the aggressive base running Sveum wants to use, Castro could easily be in scoring position before the second batter even leaves the box. This would greatly improve the potential for runs being scored within the first inning and thereafter. He would also intimidate pitchers by his on-base presences and potential for stealing bases.
3) With his .307 batting average from 2011, Castro is bound to reach base. Soriano has hit 20+ home-runs in each of his last 10 seasons and is currently batting a .353 with four RBIs. Soriano has the power and presences needed that a #3 hitter HAS to have. He intimidates pitchers and can change the outcome of a game with one swing of his bat. He has the experience and confidence to bat in that position with runners in scoring position.
As I stated, realistic Cubs’ fans don’t hold high expectations for this season, however, that doesn’t mean a high number of losses this season will be easily tolerated. This fan would like to see the perviously mentioned changes to occur sooner than later, especially the reshuffling of the batting order.
What are your thoughts?
I was fortunate to attend Cubs’ Opening Day for the start of the 2012 MLB season (a great recap of the game can be found here). While driving back to Fort Knox, I listened to ESPN 1000 to catch highlights of opening day from around the league. Instead, what I found myself listening to was disheartened Cubs fans angry and bitter about the Cubs opening day lose. I had to turn off the radio, I felt so betrayed.
Fans commented on many aspects of the game: stating this was typical Cubs fashion, a sign of things to come throughout the season, terrible pitching from the bullpen, poor decisions from Sveum, a lackluster ball club, Theo should become accustom to these events and many others. These were not the same Cubs fans I have read and listened to throughout spring training. Where was the excitement, the hope, the understanding that the organization is in a revamping stage?
Consider the following factors:
1) Before Wood/Marmol gave away the Cubs’ lead, Dempster pitched an impressive game (7-2/3IP, 2H, 3BB, 1ER, 10SO). However, it took Dempster three innings to adjust to the weather conditions (explained in my next point) and to the home plate umpire’s strike zone. Dempster struggled with his command early (his three walks were in the first/third innings) and gave up two big hits (which could have resulted in seven runs for the Nationals, but thankfully the wind was blowing into Wrigley). Wood had 25 pitches and Marmol had 16 pitches to make adjustments; it took Dempster 54 of 108 pitches to make these same adjustments before he ultimately gained his composure and retired the next 11 batters. Wood also had 41,000 fans chanting on opening day with a 1-0 lead, which would shake any vets’ nerves.
2) The drastic change in weather conditions between Mesa, AZ and Chicago was evident for Dempster and Wood. Granted, the weather in Chicago has been above average this spring, the average temperature throughout March in Mesa was 77 degrees (84 degrees the last 10-days of March). Yesterday’s high temperature was 49 degrees with winds bellowing between 17-22mph during the game. The cold was obviously hindering Dempster and Wood’s grip and control of the ball as they both blew hot air on their pitching hand in attempts to warm-up.
3) Yes, the Cubs have struggled with base running and the coaching staff indicated they worked on this area throughout the spring. Joe Mather’s performance yesterday has fans scratching their heads in wonderment, thinking “Really!?” Understand, Mather came into the game as a pinch runner, standing on third, representing the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning, on opening day. Should he have run? No. Why did he run? More than likely the excitement got to him. This is in no-way shape or form an indication of unimproved base running.
Granted, Cubs fans have every reason to be disgruntled with the organization throughout the past 103 seasons. However, if I felt that the true blue Cubs fans were betraying their team after just one game (the first game) of the season, I’m sure the Cubs players/organization feel the same way. My advice to Cubs fans: remain loyal to your team; don’t go off the deep-end after the first blown game of the season (it happens in 162 games!); and have hope, understand the organization is revamping and look forward to the next few seasons – we’re moving in the right direction.
IN THEO WE TRUST!