Meanwhile, the fans of those squads are looking at the prospect of spending the winter without the warmth of a postseason appearance. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're asking a blogger from each team to write a cathartic missive to their disappointing 2010 lineups.
Dear Chicago Cubs,
Although you've done your best the past few weeks to rope us into caring about you again — going on an 17-7 streak — please know that Cubs fans were hoping you'd go hibernate and leave us all alone a few months ago.
Honestly, because you felt the need to lose 81 games before putting together a winning streak of more than four games, it's hard to think that your recent spate of solid play means anything. Now I'm not going to say that we didn't enjoy going into St. Louis to hammer the final nails into their mediocre season by beating Jaime Garcia(notes), Adam Wainwright(notes) and Chris Carpenter(notes) on three straight nights. The Cardinals were so upset that Yadier Molina(notes) stopped breathing through his mouth for a number of minutes during that third game.
Alas, while you have been winning ever since handing the reigns over to the hairless interim manager Mike Quade, the fact is you've played only two teams with winning records during that stretch. You lost two of the three you played against the Reds, and the Cardinals had gone 9-21 in their previous 30 before you played them in Dogpatch. It won't get you off the hook for what we're about to do.
The Good Times: While your season as a whole has been an unmitigated disaster, it hasn't all been bad. Just think of the milestones lucky Cubs fans got to witness this season. Lou Piniella picked up his 1,800th win, Andre Dawson was inducted into the Hall of Fame and two Chicago icons — Billy Williams and a Kraft macaroni and cheese noodle — both had Wrigley Field statues erected in their honor.
In the year 2010, fans who had long decried how crowded Wrigley Field was and how hard it was to find a place to park now have lots of room to move around a half-filled stadium and ... well, there still isn't anywhere to park.
Your new ownership, the Ricketts Family also did a lot of really great things. They cleaned the bathrooms, they changed the water the hot dogs are boiled in for the first time since Hack Wilson played for the team and they painted the press box a lovely shade of taupe. Those changes and $145 million are going to leave them with a team with 75 wins or so! Sweet.
More recently, Carlos Zambrano(notes) has returned a new man after voluntarily submitting himself for a lobotomy. He's 6-0 with an ERA around 1.60 in eight starts since returning from a suspension and the mandatory anger management classes he was forced to attend following a doozy of an in-game meltdown at Comiskey Park on June 25.
The best thing, and the only truly good thing to come from this horrendous Cubs season was the play of a couple of rookies who never spent a day in Triple-A. Tyler Colvin(notes) made the team, unexpectedly, out of spring training, and has hit 20 homers with a .510 slugging average and 109 OPS+. The impressive thing is that after struggling to consistently get on base in the minors, Colvin has ... no, wait, he's still not getting on base in the big leagues. If he's ever truly going to be a factor at the major league level he's going to have to improve on 99 K's to 29 walks in 357 at bats, because that's just awful.
Even with a slow September, Castro will almost certainly finish the season hitting over .300, and if the Cubs weren't a fifth place mess, he'd have had a great chance at winning the Rookie of the Year award. Defensively, Castro has excellent range, a strong arm and also a lot to learn. His defensive assets help the club, but 27 errors in 112 games don't. But let's cut the kid some slack, at 20 years of age, he is the youngest player in the big leagues.
The Bad Times: I'm not sure the Interwebs are big enough to house a rundown of the bad that came out of this season. Despite the highest payroll in the National League, you guys never spent a single day with a .500 record. You had not one ... but two games when you allowed 18 runs. During your miserable season, you managed to lose on opening day by nine runs (15-6 in Atlanta), lose every series you played against the Astros, and you somehow managed to lose 10 of your first 15 games against the Pirates. Yes, those same Pirates who have already posted a sixth straight 90-loss season and are shoo-ins to lose 100 games.
I guess you can't say you didn't play with heart. Two of you spent time in hospitals because of it. Carlos Silva(notes) got off to a surprisingly frisky start only to eventually need surgery to fix an irregular heartbeat. Colvin ended up in the hospital after teammate Welington Castillo(notes) broke his bat with Colvin leading off third base and the bat impaled in Colvin's chest just inches above his heart.
Third baseman E-ramis Ramirez, one of the most consistent players in the big leagues for a decade had an absolutely horrendous season. He injured his thumb early in the season and hit a whopping .168 with a horrendous .517 OPS until finally going on the DL on June 8. This is a 32-year-old who hadn't posted an OPS under .898 or an OPS plus of less than 126 since 2003. Since returning from the DL his numbers improved dramatically (.287 BA and .887 OPS since the All-Star break), but the damage was done.
Coupled with the terrible season for Ramirez, their other big gun, first baseman Derrek Lee was awful and hurt and sometimes both. Lee hit .233 with a .695 OPS in the first half. He's been better in the second half, too, but injuries to his back and rib cage have limited him, and on Aug. 18 he accepted a trade to the Atlanta Braves. Why the Braves would trade for a guy who had just been given an epidural for his intense back pain is anybody's guess.
The challenges to the offense included another mediocre season from Alfonso Soriano, a solid season from Marlon Byrd(notes) (solid average, constant hustle, barely adequate power and an uncanny ability to get hit by pitches) and a hollow batting line from Theriot.
How bad did it get? On Sunday, Aug. 22, one of the winningest managers in baseball history, Lou Piniella, announced his retirement. After 23 years as a big league manager, including 1,835 wins, six division championships, three manager of the year awards, a pennant and a World Series title, Lou had seen enough. His contract was up at the end of the year, he'd already said he wasn't returning and now his 90-year-old mother was ill. To give him a proper sendoff, the Cubs lost that day to the Braves (15-6, just like opening day) and it was their 20th loss in 25 games.
Mike Quade was named interim manager and speculation for a full-time replacement has centered around longshots like Joe Girardi (why would he want to leave the Yankees unless pushed?) or Joe Torre (ugh) eventually getting the job. It's kind of assumed that you'll just hire Ryne Sandberg and he'll bring his Hall of Fameness down to the dugout and everyone will be happy.
*Sorry Tony La Russa, but it's true.
The fact that Quade is 17-7 is interesting, but it's not really all that important. This team hasn't played a game that mattered to them since June, and you've mostly been beating up on other teams that also stopped giving a crap long ago. That said, if Quade was 7-17 it wouldn't necessarily mean he's done a bad job. September's a terrible time to evaluate players on non-contending teams, and so it figures the same holds true for managers.
I just know that if I'm Mike Quade, the next time I hear somebody say the Cubs need to reward Sandberg for "paying his dues" I'd snap and beat them with a fungo bat. If anybody knows about dues paying, it's Quade. He managed in the minors for 16 years, won two minor league manager of the year awards, won minor league championships in both Single-A (West Michigan) and Triple-A (Vancouver) and he even won a Caribbean World Series championship as a manager. Tell Ryno to call him in a dozen years when his dues are paid in full.
Chances are Quade will lose out to somebody more popular, like Sandberg or maybe (but not likely) Bob Brenly. That doesn't make it right. It just makes it what it is.
It's Not All You: This is the part where I'm supposed to tell you it's not all your fault. But screw that. It is all your fault. The 2010 Cubs were a flawed team put together by a general manager who spends most of his time trying to undo bad moves he made the year before (cough, cough, Milton Bradley(notes), cough, cough). They are still saddled with bad contracts and no-trade clauses and while the farm system is just now starting to show signs of life (Colvin, Castro, Andrew Cashner(notes), whatever the hell a Darwin Barney(notes) is...) the truth is that your beloved GMr used to be the farm director and the horrendous position player drought that finally ended when Geovany Soto(notes) proved to be a decent catcher was mainly due to decisions Jim Hendry made in his old job.
The Cubs mess is of their own making and it's going to take your new ownership a few years to clean it all up. If you want things to turn around for good, you probably have to be prepared to take it in the shorts and the pocketbook for a few years. Despite our reputation as a fan base full of dopes who don't care if the team wins as long as the sun shines and the beer is cold, you know that's not really true. Well, it's partly true. But, a bad team will mean empty seats and you're going to get stuck with unsold boxes of those big, foam bear claws (which are also inedible as Hendry unfortunately found out one evening).
Since your ownership spends its time trying to figure out how to do everything the Boston Red Sox did from 2003 to 2007 — which includes grooming OWW AHH OWN FAHRM HANDS AND SUCH — you should look at who they hired to manage their team (a bald, though not completely hairless, man named Terry Francona) and how they structured their front office (a gorilla suit-wearing whipper snapper named Theo Epstein.) They just worried about getting those hires right, they didn't keep Mike Port and hire Jerry Remy to manage. Amazing, I know.
That means that this spunky little team winning 17 of their last 24 is basically what you're going to see next season. The outfield is going to be Soriano, Byrd and Colvin. The infield is going to have Ramirez, Castro and Soto on it. Second base is probably going to be manned by some combination of Blake DeWitt(notes), Jeff Baker(notes) and/or Darwin Barney (he's a real guy, I swear.) The Cubs would like to find a lefty power bat to play first, but they're just as likely to re-sign Xavier Nady(notes) (.309 in the second half, albeit with almost no power — two homers and 14 RBI) for a year on the cheap.
The biggest quest Hendry will have this offseason is trying to find a team to trade for Fukudome, and deciding whether or not to trade Zambrano. Fukudome's not a bad player, he's just not worth anywhere near the $12 million per year the Cubs have been paying him since 2008. He can't hit lefties at all, and has become a part time player. One with a solid .272/.379/.447/.826 line in 2010. A smart team will pay him half (or less) of what he's owed and get a solid (but unspectacular) lefty bat with some pop who can play all three outfield positions.
As for Zambrano, it's hard to imagine how the Cubs could have handled him worse than they did in 2010, just as it's hard to imagine how he could have reacted worse. He got lit up on opening day (not an uncommon occurrence for him) and then had three solid starts in a row. But for some ludicrous reason, the Cubs decided that with Ted Lilly(notes) returning from shoulder surgery that Zambrano and not more obvious candidates (Randy Wells(notes) and Tom Gorzelanny(notes) to name two) would go to the bullpen. That didn't work. Returning him to the rotation didn't work. And then they had the annual blowup in the dugout at the end of June. At that point trading Zambrano seemed inevitable. But now? He's good again.
So you have to decide if the turnaround is real and lasting or just the product of a very well rested pitcher, pitching against bad teams at the end of a really long season. The abuses he suffered during the Dusty Baker reign of terror from 2003-2006 are real, and the long term health of his arm is in question. But it's also true that while his recent success has made the likelihood of getting something decent in return for him in trade increase from impossible to somewhat possible, you're not going to get anything really good for him. You'll have to decide if his temper is really under control. If it is, it's probably worth swallowing your pride and that contract and just pitching him for two more seasons. Complicating matters is the fact that Zambrano has a no-trade clause — of course he does, Hendry hands them out like candy — and while in July he said he was prepared to waive it to get out of town, now he's sounding like he just wants to stay.
Oh, Cubs. You really can't get out of your own way, can you?
So I guess that's where we are with you. You're not really a terrible team, but you're also really not very good. You don't seem to have any impact prospects in the minors that will be ready next year, and you don't have any money to spend in the offseason. You traded away your best starting pitcher, your opening day shortstop, your first baseman and a second baseman at and around the trade deadline and you aren't worse for it because frankly none of them was really all that good. (OK, Ted Lilly was, but they don't miss any of the other guys.)
Enjoy the offseason. I know I'll enjoy not having to avoid eye contact with you for a few months.
See you in April,
P.S. Please don't hire Ryne Sandberg to manage this mess. We really don't want to have to boo him.
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Follow Andy on Twitter: @despiodotcom
Read Big League Stew's previous Dear John letters here.
- Mike Quade
- Lou Piniella