As the regular season winds down, many teams are already facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategy.
But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to give a concession speech for this year's squad. Up next in our series is our old pal Andy Dolan from Desipio.
My fellow Cubs fans: I come here today to ask you one question and only one question. Did any of you realize the season hadn't ended yet? I know, I know. I'm as shocked as you are. Apparently, the Cubs still have like a week left to go. I'll check and see if the games are still televised, but I can't imagine that they are. I mean WGN has a whole closet full of old 227 reruns to show instead of this, don't they?
OK, so maybe the reason the Cubs are still playing is because nobody has actually given their concession speech yet? I heard that Rudy Jaramillo tried to do it in July, but everybody was too busy trying to help him pack to sit and listen. So, I guess I'll have to do it.
The season started with such promise, didn't it? There were the Cubs, in their pretty pinstripe uniforms, opening at home against the Washington Nationals with this juggernaut of a lineup:
David DeJesus, rf
Darwin Barney, 2b
Starlin Castro, ss
Alfonso Soriano, lf
Ian Stewart, 3b
Jeff Baker, 1b
Marlon Byrd, cf
Geovany Soto, c
Ryan Dempster, p
But it didn't stop there. Other notables who also appeared in the game for the Cubs were Kerry Wood, Blake DeWitt, Joe Mather, Reed Johnson and Carlos Marmol.
The Cubs haven't spent a single day at .500 in 2012. Not one. And since the Cardinals won two days before the Cubs opened their season, our team technically never spent a second even tied for first at 0-0. As of this writing they have surged to 34 games under .500. They have to go 5-7 over their final 12 games to avoid their first 100-loss season since 1966.
But don't get your hopes up: They won't.
Truth be told, there were probably three highlights in this crap storm of a season.
1. On April 23-24 they managed back-to-back walkoff wins against the Cardinals. Joe Mather won the first, Soriano the second. Oh, those were halcyon days, my friends. The Cubs surged to 6-12 on the wings of those wins.
2. On May 18, Kerry Wood took a good look around the clubhouse at the assemblage of "talent," felt his shoulder throb and said, "screw this, I'm out of here." He appeared in one more game and got a standing ovation on his way to the mound. He struck out Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox, walked off to another frenzied ovation, hugged Tony Campana (wait, it wasn't Campana, it was Wood's young son) and disappeared into the ether (and then a surprisingly funny State Farm ad).
*Kerry Wood's career will always have a tinge of disappointment because he was hurt ... a lot. But all in all, it was pretty awesome. When he was on, he was a sight to see. He struck out 20 Astros (back when Houston were actually good) as a chubby 20-year-old. He basically single-handedly beat the 103-win Braves in the 2003 NLDS. His career was over, then it wasn't, then he was closing on a 97-win Cubs team. While his one-time tag team partner, Mark Prior, was missing games with injuries the incompetent Cubs trainers and doctors couldn't diagnose, Kerry made it easy for them. He didn't strain anything, he ruptured it. Like a man! Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS can serve as a pretty good summation of Kerry's time with the Cubs. Wrigley Field has never been louder than it was when he hit a three-run homer, but it staked him to a lead he could not hold and another World Series was held without them. Over the years, Kerry never lost his dignity, no small feat on this franchise. I'd miss him more than I do, but I can just pretend he's not retired, he's just on the disabled list. Again.
3. After a summer long wait, Anthony Rizzo descended from the heavens, riding a unicorn, using a bolt of lightning for a bat and hit this walkoff homer against...you guessed it. The Cardinals.
Mistakes were made: But before we get too misty-eyed over here, let me read off this list to you in the most monotone way possible:
Rodrigo "Mexigreggie" Lopez
These are all actual people and all of them pitched for the Cubs at some point this season.
Remember Bryan LaHair? Tall guy? Spent a lot of time in the Mariners system? He wasn't in that opening day lineup because he threw out his back late in the spring and missed the beginning of the season. LaHair had one of the stranger seasons ever.
He was really good early. He hit .390 in April with a 1.251 OPS.
At the All-Star break he was hitting .286 with an .883 OPS, and the players voted him on the team. Seriously. In fact, if Joey Votto hadn't realized how hurt he really was (he went on the DL shortly after), LaHair would have started the All-Star game at first. At the time, he wasn't even starting at first for the Cubs, because Rizzo had come up and pushed LaHair into part-time outfield duty.
He was part-time, because really, how are you going to get at-bats when the Cubs can roll out superstars like David DeJesus, Joe Mather, Tony Campana and Brett Jackson out there?
Since the All-Star break, LaHair has been healthy and has gotten 91 at bats. Ninety-one.
The Cubs brought Rizzo up and he was nearly as good as advertised, save for the unicorn riding, which if he had actually done it would have put him over the top. Because of that they were emboldened to try it with two other prospects.
So, on a sun drenched Sunday in Los Angeles, the Cubs called up Jackson and Josh Vitters.
And they've been hellaciously bad.
Jackson is hitting .168 and has struck out 54 times in 107 at bats. I'm not making that up. Fifty-four times! When he does hit the ball he actually does things with it. He has only 18 hits, but 11 of them are for extra bases.
OK, Brett Jackson has been bad. But Josh Vitters would pay you thousands of American dollars to upgrade to that from what he's been. Vitters' OPS+ is -2 over 83 at-bats. Did you even know such a thing was possible? An OPS+ of 100 is average. Zero is laughable. Negative anything is a bus ticket. Because the minor-league season is over, the Cubs actually tried to send Vitters down to the American Hockey League. But no such luck. Vitters is hitting .108. It took a recent hot streak to get him over .100. Yay? (By the way, Vitters' .108 is actually 40 points higher than Marlon Byrd's Cubs average. You know, before they traded him to Boston and then he got suspended for using the most ineffective PEDs of all-time.)
In the offseason the Cubs traded lefty reliever Sean Marshall to the Reds for Dave Sappelt, Travis Wood and minor-league infielder Ronald Torreyes. Sappelt spent almost all year at Iowa, where he was bad. Wood spent the beginning of the season there and has been erratic in his time in the Cubs rotation and Torreyes got off to a terrible start at Single-A Daytona, but salvaged mediocre numbers with a good second half.
Some of you Cubs fans are still mad the Cubs traded Sean Marshall. I agree, because a good lefty reliever on this team would probably have been worth a win, maybe two on this club. And that would put them ... right were they are.
Another trade that has Cubs fans irritated was the immortal Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers deal. Stewart had a jacked up wrist, struggled and finally got it fixed but he might very well have already played his last game as a Cub. Weathers pitched in 31 games in Double-A and posted a tidy 6.62 ERA. LeMahieu has had 187 largely unproductive at bats for the Rockies, and Tyler Eugene Colvin? Well, he's put up a line of .285/.326/.536 with 18 homers and 65 RBIs. Oh, the horror! Theo Epstein, the boy wonder knows nothing! How could he let a budding superstar like that get away! Boo!
Oh, whatever. Colvin still has crap plate discipline (103 Ks in 375 at bats with only 21 walks), and his season stats are inflated by his Coors Field numbers. On the road, he's the Tyler Colvin we all came to know and loathe. .238/.271/.404 and an OPS that's a whopping .350 lower than at home.
So what did we learn? The Cubs didn't have much to trade, so they didn't get much back. The Andrew Cashner for Rizzo trade looks like a great deal. Cashner's got a great arm, as long as you don't try to start him. He's made his first two big-league starts a year apart, left both of them early and then spent a loooooong time on the DL afterwards. Would you trade a reliever for a middle of the order 22-year-old bat? You bet your sweet ass you would.
Mudslinging time: One of the bright spots this season was the pitching of Ryan Dempster. After four straight years of precipitous decline, he suddenly was good again. Oh, sure he went on the DL twice, but he made 16 starts for the Cubs and had a 2.25 ERA. The Cubs were going to trade him and another top of the rotation starter, Matt Garza, and fatten up on some nice prospects to facilitate their rebuilding.
But then Garza went on the DL with a "stress reaction" in his elbow (probably from shoving shaving cream pies in Rizzo's face after games). That left Dempster. Because he's older he was worth less than Garza, but hey, pitching's worth a lot. He helpfully gave the Cubs a list of teams to whom he would waive his 10-5 trade rights to go to. The top two teams on the list were the Dodgers and Braves.
The Cubs worked out a trade with the Braves for promising young pitcher Randall Delgado. There was only one problem: Dempster didn't want to go.
So why did he put them on his list? Was it a prank from the self-appointed clubhouse funny man? Dempster wouldn't waive his no trade rights. The trade sat there. Poor Randall didn't know what to think. Finally, the Braves got tired of waiting and pulled out of the trade. Delgado then had one of the greatest tweets of all time:
They don't did a trade.
Indeed Randall, they don't did a trade.
Meanwhile, Dempster was shocked at the fan backlash. He thought Cubs fans loved him. In his mind his Harry Caray impression was hilarious (actually it's just a terrible knock off of Will Ferrell's terrible Harry Caray impression) and that he was beloved. Finally, the trade deadline day came and the Cubs let Dempster hang out in their front office playing Golden Tee and drinking all the free Gatorade he could chug. Whether they let him listen in to their discussions with Ned Colletti of the Dodgers to prove to him the Dodgers didn't want him , or not (they did), he finally took the hint and accepted a last minute trade to Texas.
Some of the media took offense that Cubs fans were upset and fed up with Dempster during his trade deadline hostage crisis. The main argument was that Dempster "earned" his no-trade rights. They conveniently ignored the fact that he gave the Cubs a list of two teams he'd go to and then refused to go to one of them. The Cubs had other things to work on at the deadline, but spent all of their time trying to convince a s0-called "great teammate" that the Dodgers didn't want him.
Thankfully, we used our incredible access to the club to tell the real story of Dempster's deadline shenanigans in this oral history. You are welcome, Internet.
Hope for the future: For all of the horribleness that has been the 2012 Cubs season a few things have turned out well. Despite a whopping 25 errors, Starlin Castro's shortstop defense has noticeably improved. His throws are more consistent and his footwork has gone from gawdawful to fairly decent. Early in the season fans and media were declaring that Castro would need to be moved to the outfield. It's always funny when nobody thinks "hey, maybe a little hard work might do the trick." As the Cubs have tried to force Castro to be more patient at the plate his average has taken a hit, but he still looks like a keeper. And, he leads the league in caught stealings with 13! Oh never mind.
First base appears to be in good hands. Rizzo just turned 23 and looks nothing like the overmatched hitter that played 49 games for the Padres last year.
Darwin Barney never makes an error at second base. Never. So that position is settled, right? Nah. He's 26, he has no power, he doesn't get on base. He's a nice stopgap, but long term the Cubs need to get a lot more offensive production there.
The trade of Geovany Soto to the Rangers not only rejuvenated Soto (just kidding, his OPS actually went down from a miserable .631 to a woeful .610), but allowed the Cubs to get a good look at their platoon catching situation of lefty hitter Steve Clevenger and righty Welington Castillo. It confirmed what we thought. Clevenger can't hit. Castillo actually can.
When the Cubs shut down Jeff Samardzija after 174 innings there was no outrage like when the Nats did the same to Stephen Strasburg. It probably has to do with two things. One, Strasburg is better than Samardzija. Two, the Nats are going to the playoffs and the Cubs aren't. But in his first full season as a starter, Samardzija proved to be pretty good. He struck out 180 guys in those 174 innings, and he threw strikes. He only walked 56 guys. Since he eschewed the NFL for the Cubs, everyone's been waiting to see if he'd ever learn to consistently throw strikes. He has, and the Cubs could start next season with at least two pretty good starters if they don't trade Garza this offseason.
Maybe the biggest surprise of the season is the second half that closer Carlos Marmol had. After a terrible year in 2011 and a terrible first half in 2012 there was no reason to think that he'd ever be decent again. He actually lost his closer job for a chunk of the season. But in the second half he's been excellent. His ERA was 5.61 in the first half, and is 1.52 in the second. His strikeouts are up, his walks are down. He still puts himself in some ludicrous situations in the ninth, but he's wiggling out of them again. They really need to trade him as soon as they possibly can. But hey, at least he's got some value again.
A change is going to come: They tell me this is the part where I'm supposed to tell you about how next year will be better. But it won't be.
It actually might be worse.
The easiest thing to do in baseball is to take a 60-win team and spend some money and turn it into an 80-win team. But 80 wins do nothing for you. So the Cubs will continue to try to flip inexpensive veterans and try out cheap prospects. Given the surprisingly competent season Alfonso Soriano has put together (only one error and some actual Major League caliber defense in left, and 29 homers and 101 RBIs) and the fact he'll finally be near the end of his monster contract (two more years!), he's likely to finally get traded before or during next season. If anybody wants David DeJesus they'll be able to take him, too. The Cubs will probably give Brett Jackson 600 at bats next year (his 300 K's will crush the all-time record), and they might even trot Luis Valbuena out to play third again (he put up a .918 OPS in August!) or maybe not (he has a .469 OPS in September). They'll find a couple of mid-priced veteran "inning eating" starting pitchers to throw into the rotation and hope one of them turns into Paul Maholm and can be traded for a good prospect. The Cubs are focused more on 2014 and beyond.
For those who can't believe they can just punt two seasons in a row ... hey, they've been doing it for a century. It's something they are tremendous at. At least now they're doing it with a plan, and on purpose.
Seriously, the Cubs have been wandering in the wilderness for the better part of 100 years now. They've never given a full rebuild a real try. From time to time they'd say they were going to go young, but they'd always get impatient, sign some crappy veterans for too much money (or in the pre-free agency era trade for those schlubs). That's how you go that long without ever winning. This time they're trying to do it right. They're going young, they're trying to stockpile prospects and they'll fill in the gaps later when the young guys have been sifted through and a few good ones are in place.
It's just crazy enough to work.
It doesn't mean that's it's guaranteed to actually work. But for once they're trying to do things right. That's half the battle.
The half of the battle they'd never had the stomach for in years past.
So Cubs fans, lighten up. The losses are going to pile up again next year. Epstein admitted as much last week.
The road is long. It is filled with uncertainty. There is nothing to assure us that any of this is going to work.
But hell, can things really be any worse than they've been literally all of our lives following this team? Oh, that's right. Houston is leaving for the American League, taking away that convenient buffer zone for last place.