Next up in the series, the Cubs. You can view all of the Needs and Luxuries posts here. A note about this series: I'm choosing teams randomly, and only those not currently alive in the playoffs.
C - Geovany Soto
1B - Derrek Lee
2B - Mark DeRosa
SS - Ryan Theriot/Ronny Cedeno
3B - Aramis Ramirez
LF - Alfonso Soriano
CF - Felix Pie
RF - Jacque Jones/Matt Murton
SP - Carlos Zambrano
SP - Ted Lilly
SP - Rich Hill
SP - Jason Marquis
SP - Sean Marshall/Mark Prior
Setup: Carlos Marmol/Bob Howry
Closer: Ryan Dempster
The Cubs ranked 9th in the NL in OBP (.333) and 8th in SLG (.422). As you would expect, that made for a middle of the pack offense. With most positions locked in, how can the Cubs fill the need for more offense?
One place to start is catcher, where a group of six guys posted an aggregate .239/.304/.369 line this year. While it was his third season at Triple A, Soto hit a massive .353/.424/.652 in 110 games. Some of that has to translate.
Another deficiency is shortstop, where fan favorite Ryan Theriot hit .266/.326/.346 in 537 ABs. Let's face it: the guy is a backup. The free agent market for shortstops stinks. That leaves Edgar Renteria, Miguel Tejada, and Alex Rodriguez as three possibly available players who would add 5+ wins for the Cubs. Renteria would be a fine addition. I imagine John Schuerholz would want more than Sean Marshall, but Rich Hill seems too much. Perhaps the MacPhail connection in Baltimore will re-open the Tejada discussions this winter.
My solution: another try with Ronny Cedeno. He's now amassed about a full season's worth of time at Triple A with an OPS well above .900. '06 was a learning experience for him, but he's simply a better player than Theriot or any of the free agents.
More offensive gain might come by moving Soriano down in the order and putting DeRosa or Murton in the leadoff spot.
It would be fair to suggest the Cubs need to remove Dempster from ninth inning duties. Between Wood (likely to return), Marmol, Howry, and Wuertz, I think it's an internal change. Dempster could join the rotation or become trade bait. Francisco Cordero is intriguing if new ownership has money to throw around.
The outfield situation can be sorted out without external additions. Felix Pie is fresh off a .362/.410/.563 line in Triple A as a 22 year-old, and is a breakout candidate for '08. If he starts to get it, you shop Jones. Otherwise, Jones and Murton work for me.
The rotation is pretty well set. The front four combined for 133 starts, leaving one slot to play around with. Marshall seems like one of the best fifth starters in the league (he could swap "slots" with Marquis next year). For '08 I would run with this group, while also tendering a contract to Mark Prior to add depth. The Cubs can't have him become their Chris Carpenter (as in, Toronto's gaffe).
If the Cubs aren't worried about Marquis' post-ASB ERA of 5.73, perhaps they shop Marshall. But as with most teams, it's a stretch to call starting pitching a luxury. I'd hold onto Sean Gallagher as well. It'd be surprising to see the front four make 130 starts again next year.
Besides the aforementioned Dempster, I can see the Cubs shopping Eric Patterson. There's already a bad vibe as the Cubs sent him back to Iowa quickly after his September call-up as punishment for tardiness. Patterson is a talented second baseman with some statistical similarities to Julio Lugo. He could be part of a Tejada or Renteria deal, or perhaps used to add more starting pitching depth.
I realize my plan has unproven youngsters at three key up-the-middle positions. So what? I'll take talent over experience any day. It could make for a quiet offseason, though.
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