Monday, January 31, 2005

Shipping Sosa was (spell it with me) S-T-U-P-I-D:

Unless, of course, Hendry pulls a rabbit out of his hat and lands an offensive weapon to fill one or both of those two gaping holes that currently exist in the corners at Wrigley field. Maggs seems like a long shot and Huff nothing more than the fantasy of the blogger army - which leaves Jeromy Burnitz (yes the same Jeromy Burnitz who posted miserable numbers in 2002 and 2003 for the Dodgers and Mets - but who had - surprise, surprise - an up year at Coors field last season) as one likely "replacement." In any event, Rob Neyer appropriately referred to this bunch as presently assembled as an "astonishingly weak outfield." Couldn't have put it better myself.

Stoney always has had a knack of getting it right...

and he implicitly affirmed what we have been saying here for the last 3 weeks in spite of the litany of dupes and lemmings who bought into the Tribune’s hardly covert smear campaign of the once untouchable Cub – Trading Sosa is just plain foolish, unless you can somehow credibly replace the offensive production you lose as a result of his absence. Don’t get me wrong, Stone isn’t against trading Sammy, but he realizes that you need to somehow replace his rather formidable offensive production (Stone is – unlike me – optimistic Hendry will in fact find such a replacement):

There were times last season when Todd Hollandsworth looked so good in right field that you wondered if the Cubs weren't better off with him out there.

"That's fine, as long as you have a way to make up somewhere for the 80 home runs Moises Alou and Sammy are likely to give you,'' said former Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone. "Jim (Hendry) has some flexibility now, and I'm sure he'll find a way to make it happen. If not now, then down the line. [emphasis added]

It’s doubtful that the current Cubs dilemma can be put even more pessimistically than we have repeatedly presented it here on this blog, but Ron Rapoport certainly makes a valiant effort:

Fifteen months from having their general manager and manager lauded for working miracles to the brink of a season that could destroy their reputations and point them toward the exit.

It is not just Sammy Sosa leaving town this week, it is any thought of the Cubs as a viable force in the 2005 pennant race. It is conceivable that their season could be over before Opening Day. One spring-training injury to the ouchy likes of Kerry Wood, Mark Prior or Nomar Garciaparra is all it would take.

The Cardinals and Astros are going to finish ahead of the Cubs in the National League Central this season. That is a given. Improve the Reds' pitching a bit from last season, and their battalion of power hitters could have the Cubs staring down into the abyss where the Pirates and Brewers reside.

Jerry Hairston? Good grief, who did the Cubs just trade -- Sammy Sosa or Alex Gonzalez? Todd Hollandsworth in right field? The same Todd Hollandsworth who played 57 games last year? These are the two players who are going to make up for the 74 home runs, 186 RBI and 175 runs from Sosa and Moises Alou last year?

This is exactly the point we have been making here – this is a Cubs team that struggled mightily to produce offense last year (!!!) and to make matters worse you’ve just lost the #2 and #4 offensive producers in Alou and Sosa. To compound matters even further, Matt Clement (who was one of the major plugs who kept the leaky boat afloat for the first half of the season) will now most likely be replaced by Glendon Rusch in the starting rotation – and whether he can repeat his performance from last year is an open question (does anyone remember the fifth starter nightmare of 2003 and are you prepared for a possible reprise?!).

Add to all of this pessimism the depressing fact that the bullpen remains a major source of concern. Let me ask you this – If last’s years offense produced razor thin margins that were unhappily frittered away by an inept bullpen – what, for heaven’s sake, do you think will happen this year? Does anyone really think an outfield of Dubois/Hollandsworth, Patterson, and either Burnitz or Hairston is anything other than a formula for increased offensive frustration?!

Oh but we have a fine starting rotation – you say – perhaps the finest in the National League. Losing Matt Clement has only served to improve this year's starting five! [said with heavy sarcasm] Plus, you can’t possibly expect Mark Prior and Kerry Wood to combine for a 14-13 record like last year!

Oh really? Randy Johnson nearly posted a .500 record alongside an incredible 2.60 ERA last season – which only serves to punctuate a point I have long made – pitching does not win games – it can only try to prevent losses by giving up few or no runs. In order to actually win you need to score runs. Yes we have an incredible pitching staff – and they are going to have to be nearly perfect to carry the sorry carcass of this team into the playoffs!

How many times would it take for Matt Clement to lose 0-1, or 1-2 to illustrate this simple concept for the obstinately recalcitrant? Yes it’s redundant – I know – but I’m frustrated here.

It doesn’t take a Phi Beta Kappa to realize that this team as it is presently assembled is a recipe for disaster. Could I be wrong? Of course, I’ve been wrong in the past – and how I would love to be proven wrong on this, but can anyone explain to me how a team that struggled to produce offensively is going to improve after having lost 2 of the leaders in offensive production from last year? Even if you merely replace those lost rbi’s, runs, and hr’s – you’re just back to a miserly offense. Truthfully, at this point – I’d take just getting back to where we were because now, I think we’re clearly worse.

To wrap things up - Stone also believes – as we do here – that Sammy will have a fine and productive year – which will make this trade look even worse in the final analysis (from the same Rozner article cited above):

But Stone is not among those who think Sosa is finished as a player.

"I think Sammy's going to have a big year for Baltimore,'' Stone said. "He always rises to the challenge, and that's a nice lineup to be hitting in with the Orioles.

"Besides, in that ballpark he can hit it out one-handed to left field.”

What will this year bring? Well, we’ll have to wait and see, of course, but this Chicken Little thinks there may actually be good warrant for concern about that rapidly falling sky.