At the beginning of the 2008 Major League Baseball season, 19 ESPN.com ‘experts’ were asked to pick the NL Central Division winner, along with the five other divisions in baseball. 17 of them picked the Cubs. Three of them picked them to make the World Series and two picked them to actually win it all. It’s hard to argue with the fact that they should be the favorites in their division, as they got off to an 9-5 start and only the Brewers seem to have the talent to challenge them for the Central title. On paper they appear to have enough to win the National League, and after what St. Louis did in the 2006 World Series, we know that a slightly better than mediocre club has a chance to win it all.
So what exactly is the problem? The talent seems adequate enough. Both of the Sox have managed to break their infamous streaks recently, and the Red ones have even done it twice. Some people are saying that the stars are aligned for a North Side revolution. But the sad truth is that the most title-starved organization in baseball doesn’t deserve to win. Does this mean that they ultimately won’t? Not necessarily. But please count me out on the end of the world celebrations. The 2008 Cubs aren’t the little engine that could. In other words, they have more in common with the megalithic Red Sox and Yankees than the economic Indians or Athletics. Are you REALLY loveable losers when you have the resources and stupidity to cast your lot with Cliff Floyd? Have the baseball gods forgiven GM Jim Hendry for destroying Mark Prior’s career? Ultimately, it’s not a stretch to call the Cubs the dumbest organization in baseball. Perhaps a lot of it has to do with the projected sale of the team, but GM Jim Hendry and his confidants are still responsible for the efficiency of their organization. You can’t justify half of the free agent signings or trades they’ve made over the last couple of seasons. Sure, they’ve become more competitive in a weak division, but they certainly could’ve saved the cash they’ve been throwing around. Here are a couple of reasons why the Cubs aren’t so adorable:
They bat Soriano at lead-off
Sure, the Fons has speed to burn. But the man, for all of his intimidating power, can’t get on base. His career high on-base percentage in a season was .351 in his lone season as a Washington National, which is probably mostly due to the fact that he was the only major threat in that entire lineup. He only managed a .337 clip in his first Cubs season, which is hardly lead-off acceptable. His career mark is .326. The boppers behind him, Aramis Ramirez and Derrick Lee, don’t get their hits maximized because Alfonso isn’t on base. He seems to be a perfect fit to bat fifth in this lineup, but for whatever reason, the Cubs are fine with making Soriano one of the worst lead-off men in baseball.
Utility infielder Mark DeRosa makes almost S 5,000,000/year.
After DeRosa’s first year as a regular starter in Texas, Jim Hendry decided to give the crafty utility infielder five million a year to play adequate in the field and be average at the plate. DeRosa isn’t a bad player. In fact he’s at least lived up to reasonable expectations since he’s arrived in Chicago- but going out of your way to give a utility man a multi-year contract is not warranted. Not when you’re hot on Soriano’s trail in free agency. And especially not when it results in you having to block your
The extended minor league career of outfielder Matt Murton.
A look at the misfortune of outfielder Matt Murton reveals the waste of the Cubs organization. If you’re not familiar with the Cubs, you might not know his name. So here are his career major league (Cubs) stats: 830 at-bats, 38 doubles, 28 home runs, 98 runs batted in, 87 walks, 123 strike outs, .296 average, .365 ob-base, .820 on-base plus slugging.
This means that the Cubs have a .300 hitter with on-base ability and 20-home run potential rotting in the minors while spending millions of dollars on Mark DeRosa, who is clearly Murton’s inferior at the plate, not to mention senior in years. Let’s remember that Soriano is a natural second baseman and though he is far from a Gold Glover, DeRosa, despite his versatility, still isn’t a stud at that position either. Essentially, the Cubs are paying four million dollars for a slight defensive upgrade at second-base and to have a lead-off candidate, who can hit both lefties and righties as well as field all three outfield positions, work on his craft in Triple-A. But DeRosa isn’t the only high-priced signing to block Murton’s ascension. There was also the great Jacque Jones as well as the awesome Cliff Floyd. Kosuke Fukudome and Reed Johnson may be better signings, but unless Murton is allergic to ivy, there’s no reason not to give this bargain another shot.
On a pathetic end-note, GM Jim Hendry also traded for pre-Lasik catcher Jason Kendall mid-season last year when prospect Geovany Soto ended with the highest batting average on the team. Geovany Soto now is the Cubs’ everyday catcher. I don’t know how a guy with no power and no ability to throw out runners can be an upgrade over your top minor-league prospect. Maybe the Cubs play for titles–in Iowa.