Sunday, January 30, 2005

PNR Cubs Roundtable Questions & Answers…

Remember this debacle with former Cub [then Pirate] Randall Simon? Well, in the spirit of this great Milwaukee sausage race, we've decided to conduct a contest of our own by providing our own answers and predictions to questions that are relevant to the Cubs. We'll see who turns out to be the most accurate prognosticator once the season begins.

So here are our answers to the first five questions given by Chris, Bill, Camden, and Randy (the Cardinals fan). Please remember that all of us besides Camden answered these questions before the (in)famous Sosa trade and so most of the answers will not reflect that fact (although I [Chris] did make a few notations at the end of a few of my answers which reflect an awareness of this development).

The question that we have for you is - can you figure out which one of us is the polish sausage?

1) What grade would you assign to the Off-season moves of the three teams most people project to contend in the NL Central this year (Cubs, Cards, Astros) and why?


CUBS: (C-) I have to agree with Graham from A Cub Fan Rants, and so I assign the Cubs a grade of C-. Signing Nomar was key of course and should be regarded as an obvious upgrade from the unrighteous Gonzalez/Martinez/Ordonez/Macias platoon that Dusty had going last year. Having Walker for the full year should be an improvement as well at 2nd. However, lest we forget, this is a team that finished third in the central last year and the blame for this cannot be squarely laid on the injury bug’s shoulders. Offensive production was the absolute number one problem of this team (exhibit A: Matt Clement’s 3.68 ERA coupled with his 9-13 record; Exhibit B: a frustrating propensity to lose games where the opponent scored more than 4 runs as pointed out so well by Steve Stone; Exhibit C: a dismal record in 1-run games). As most of you know who actually watched or listened to the games last season, it seemed as if we were often hopelessly lost in a dry and desolate desert looking desperately for some oasis of relief in the form of some walks, hits, and advanced runners – phenomena that were sadly absent for much of the season. So while the addition of Nomar for the entire season (assuming he stays healthy) is an obvious plus, the loss of the team’s leading RBI, run, and HR leader has yet to be adequately filled. This was a team that needed to be looking to upgrade offensively as the number #1 off season priority – and not only have they not upgraded, they may even have slightly regressed in this category. Added to all of this is the fact that the team’s second greatest weakness (i.e., a questionable bullpen) has not been addressed either. With no clear closer or consistently capable middle or late relievers, no offensive upgrades, and the loss of the #1 RBI, run, and HR producer - this is a team that looks like a slightly worse version of last year’s squad! Unless Hendry goes out and does what he is supposed to do (i.e., upgrade offensively by going after Magg$) this team gets a C- for a lackluster off-season. HOWEVER – I wrote all of this before the Sosa trade – and if the Cubs don’t spin off these prospects they acquired for Sosa (and they’ll probably have to include some others) for a big bat like Aubrey Huff - or unless they sign Magglio – they get an F! If they actually do the unthinkable and pick up Jeromy Burnitz they get an F-! I am disgusted with this trade as it now stands - and they better have something else in the works or this offseason will have gone from being merely sub-standard to an absolute disaster!

CARDS: (B+) As for the Cards – I give them a B+. They lost Renteria, Womack, Woody Williams, Matheny, and the man who likes to make funny finger gestures - Steve Kline – considerable losses when you think about it. Remember, Womack hit .300 for them last year and that stellar in field defense is one of the things that made the Cardinals so formidable. However, they still have a frightening line-up with Pujols, Rolen, Walker, and Edmonds. Grudzie might even be viewed as an upgrade from Womack at 2nd. On top of all this, Mark Mulder (if healthy) is a better pitcher than even Mark Prior and that will be a major upgrade from anything they had last year. I think you really have to hand it to the Cardinals – they won 105 games and they still went out and picked up one of the best pitchers in the game! I think they are still the odds on favorites to repeat as the central division champs.

ASTROS: (D+) The Astros get a D+, and they only get that high of a grade in light of the improbable re-signing of Roger Clemens. Without that signing they get an F. Losing the player who single handedly got them into the wildcard last year (Beltran), and their all-star 2nd baseman (who led their team in RBI’s last year), plus starting pitcher Wade Miller means the Stros fall back into a fight for third place this year (probably with the Reds).


CUBS: (D) Only laudable things were the re-signing Garciaparra, Walker and Hollandsworth. Blanco in, Bako out, no big deal. Might
mean 2 or 3 more wins for Maddux. The rest consists of
picking up a mishmash of 2nd tier relief arms to try out in
spring training. The notable things that have not been
done are 1) replacing 30 hrs, 100 rbis in left field and 2)
have not signed Aramis Ramirez to a long term contract.

CARDS: (C+) I think their moves are about a wash, but will give them
a C+ instead of a C because at least they made an effort to
replace their losses. Picked up Mulder, Eckstein,
Grudzielanek and Mike Myers. Lost Woody Williams, Renteria,
Steve Kline, Matheny and Tony Womack.

ASTROS: (C-) May almost be as poor as the Cubs. The signing of
Clemens for one more year pulled them up a bit, but other
than that I think these guys are turning south.
Lost Beltran of course, but the other thing is Berkman
injured a knee playing flag football and needed off-season
surgery. He may be out of action until mid-May. I don't see
where they have done anything to shore things up. All they
did was sign 44 year old John Franco and former Cubbie Turk
Wendell. If I didn’t know better I would think Ed Lynch was
their GM.


CUBS: (C-) The Cubs have just watched people leave and haven't replaced anyone with an equivalent bat (or arm). The only reason I don't give them a failing grade now is the signings of Todd Walker, Corey Patterson, and Nomar Garciaparra.

CARDS: (B-) The Cards have made a big improvement with the trade for Mark Mulder, but they've lost one-year wonder Tony Womack and Edgar Renteria. The middle infield does not look as productive this year as it did last season, but the Cards still have an awfully solid team.

ASTROS: (C) The Astros get a slightly better grade than the Cubs only because they've managed to retain Roger Clemens - even if it did cost them a ridiculous amount of money. It was something they had to do. The Astros have failed to remain as competitive as they were last year. The losses of Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran are only compounded in the face of aging superstars and nagging injuries (Berkman's knee) and injury-prone players (Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettite).


ASTROS: (F) Well to start the grading off I will go with the 'stros first, and definitely gotta go with an F. They failed to re-sign Beltran, which I think, given the amount of money thrown around was a good idea, however they have no one to replace him as yet. They also compounded the mistake by selling the farm to get Clemens for one season. Clemens is a great pitcher and will certainly help, but 18 million. The signing was just an attempt for ownership to save face with the fans and save a dismal off season. It was like putting a band-aid on a severed artery. Plus although not a "move" per say the loss of Berkman for the first month or so of the season due to a church league flag football injury, really hurts. The 'stros definitely get an F.

CUBS: (C) Next the Cubs...well the re-signing of Nomar to an incentive laden contract for one season was definitely a great move for them. However, I think Jim Hendry's main objective for the off-season was to shore up the bullpen, get a closer, dump Sam-me, and find someone to replace Alou. As of today, none of the goals has been met. However, in my opinion I think sometimes the best move is no move. There really weren't any decent options for closer, unless you want take out a second mortgage on the farm to sign Percival, who is 1 or 2 years away from social security. I would probably keep Sam-me, especially considering in order to trade him your gonna have to pay most of his salary anyway. Not too mention probably take another stiff with a bloated contract and pay that one too. Sam-me cant be this big of a cancer in the clubhouse. I think with Sam-me, you’re pretty much guaranteed a 35-40 HR's, and close to 100 RBI's. These guys don't grow on trees. Keep Sam-me, and besides you would be amazed what winning will do for team chemistry, and what losing will do to it as well. Middle relief is still a concern, and needs to be addressed. I would give it a D, but with the signing of Nomar, I'll bump it up to a C.

CARDS: (C) The Cardinals. Well two goals for Jocketty, 1) sign Renteria, he failed - 2) Get an ace, he was successful. However, was the losing of Renteria a failure given the money it would have taken for him to be re-signed? I think not. No way would I have offered Edgar 10 million per. He is simply not worth that kind of cheese. We had absolutely no interest in Cabrera, which is a good thing. I am happy with Eckstein at short. As far as the ace, we got one in Mulder, which (if he is healthy) will prove to be a great move. We lost Womack and signed Grudzie, I call it a wash. I like all the moves except, I would have made a stronger effort to bring Polanco back to St. Louis. I would have put him back at SS, and slid Eckstein over to second. We didn't re-sign Kline, and we replaced him with Mike Myers, a bad move. I give the Cards a C as well. I give them that grade because Jocketty wasted so much time kissing Renteria's back side, which caused him to miss out on the chance to get Hudson instead of Mulder. Probably could have sent the same 3 players and got Hudson. Mulder is a great pitcher, but Hudson is as well, and not as much injury risk with Hudson.

2) Will the Cubs make any additional off-season moves and if so what will they be?

CHRIS: Who knows – reading Jim Hendry is like trying to read the cuneiform of the ancient Akkadian language (and actually the cuneiform is probably easier to decipher). Hendry needs to go hard after Magg$ - but by all indications, he seems content with this current line-up – which as we all know – worked out really well last year! I am praying he won’t sign Burnitz after shipping Sosa, but I don’t have any idea what he’ll do.

BILL: I hope they would either sign a healthy Maggs or go after
an extra journeyman outfielder with proven power.

CAMDEN: I believe the Cubs are going to go after Magglio Ordonez pretty hard now after trading Sammy Sosa. However, I believe Hendry is going to bring in a closer and I'm betting it will be an incentive-laden deal for Rob Nenn.

RANDY: I think maybe you pick up Rob Nenn and give him a shot. You could probably get him for a case of mountain dew, so what the heck, take a shot. It seems like every year a winning team will take a shot on a guy from the scrap heap and it will turn out to be an incredible move. Remember last season the Cards were looking at Marlon Anderson or Bo Hart as their starting second baseman. They took a shot on Tony Womack off the scrap heap, and we lucked out. Who knows Nenn could be the Cubs version of Womack this season. He is a dominant closer if healthy.

3) Who will start in LF for the Cubs this year? Who should start in LF for the Cubs?

CHRIS: As everyone who knows Baker realizes, he will go with the veteran over the rookie and so Hollandsworth will get the majority of starts with Dubois getting the occasional start. I don’t have a problem with this, b/c (absent of acquiring Magg$ and sticking him and his blasted knee out there) I like Holly better than the unproven Dubois. Maybe Dubois will light it up and reproduce the same type of success in the big leagues that he had in the minors but I’m just not into taking chances when the window of opportunity (with this caliber of pitching staff) stays open for so short a period of time.

BILL: Will probably be Dubois. Should be Ordonez if he's

CAMDEN: Jerry Hairston, Jr. will play in left.

RANDY: Jason Dubois, forget Maggs. To get him you are going to have to make a deal with the devil. No way would I deal with Maggs, when you have to go through $cott Bor-a$$. Dude, I will have to send you a link to an article I read about him in the Houston Chronicle. Bor-a$$ is licensed to practice law in Texas and California, and he is almost ready to be disbarred in Texas for deceptive practices in the A-rod to Texas fiasco. He lied to the Rangers and had them bidding against themselves. He is a slimy used car salesman. Forget it. Give the rookie a shot. Again it seems like every season a rookie steps up for a division winner. Again, the Cardinals for example, a few years ago with an ailing Mark McGwire, TLR took a shot on a 13th round draft pick named Albert Pujols – who never would have even made the team out of spring training without an injury to the great Bobby Bonilla. Is Dubois the next Pujols? W ell probably not, but you never know unless you give him a shot. As far as I know Dubois has hit every level he has played. Give him a shot.

4) Who will be the closer for 2005?

CHRIS: Predicting Baker’s moves is as much of a science as reading tea leaves. I’d like to see what Dempster has or anyone other than Hawkins actually. Hawkins is an excellent set-up man (he’s probably the best pitcher in the bullpen), but when you stick him in the closers role you not only lose a top tier set-up man, but you get a moderately bad closer to boot – no thank you. Let’s see what Dempster can do, or try Leicester for heavens sake. If Borowski got back on the juice (this is a suspicion of mine) and can get his fastball to crack 90 MPH again - stick him back in there – otherwise I don’t want him anywhere near the mound in tight games. Heck, Id even be willing to give the Farns a shot during Spring Training and if he excels (which would absolutely shock me) - give him the job. However, my pessimism concerning Baker leads me to suspect that Hawkins will fill the role once again and, therefore, not only will we not have a closer, but we will struggle in middle and late relief as well.

BILL: The arm that doesn't fall off first between Dempster and

CAMDEN: I'm going with my prediction of Rob Nenn, but if the Cubs don't pick him up, I believe Baker is going to go with LaTroy Hawkins.

RANDY: As I said earlier I would take a shot at Nenn, if not then who knows dude. Go with Dempster. I am not too familiar on the injury of Borowski, but I take your word that he is done. I assume it is some arm problems. I say go with Dempster, and/or take a shot at Nenn.

5) Who will finish the season with more strikeouts, Patterson or Sosa?

CHRIS: This is a tough one b/c I think they will both put up triple digits in this category. I guess I give the nod finally to Patterson especially b/c he will see more at bats in the leadoff position.

BILL: Patterson by 30. I subscribe to the theory that Sosa will
improve in 2005. After the big sneeze last year we saw a
desperate Sosa swinging at low, outside breaking balls like
he did when he was young. He is smart enough to correct
that. But I think Corey will continue to swing at head-high
2-strike fast balls for at least another season because
Baker is too patient with him.

CAMDEN: Even though this question has taken a different turn in the last day, I will say Patterson. This is because I believe Sosa won't play a whole season. I think Sosa will have a worse SO/AB ratio.

RANDY: More K's...gotta go with Sam-me Struck Out Swinging Again.

Those are our answers - feel free to provide your own answers in the comments section if you have the urge. Who knows - maybe you can win the contest! We'll post our answers to the next five questions shortly.