The offseason is a great time to be the fan of a bad baseball team. You can delude yourself into anything. Right now there are Cubs fans who are actually talking themselves into the idea that Tyler Colvin isn’t going to completely blow next year. Offseason delusions are the best.
Well, I let you have your little fantasies for a little while after the World Series. But today’s the day you face the cold, hard, reality.
The 2011 Cubs are going to suck just as much as the 2010 Cubs did. Maybe even more!
Why do they have to suck again? Why can’t they just go out and hire some better players? Because the payroll is going to go down, not up.
The “core” of this team (much of it rotten): Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, E-ramis Ramirez, Kosuke, Carlos Silva, Marlon Byrd and John Grabow (remember him?) are owed $100 million for next year. Last year’s total payroll was $145 million and the Rickettses want it to go back (at least) to what it was in 2009 when it was $135 million.
The bulk of the rest of the 17 guys the Cubs need to fill out a complete Major League roster (hey, it doesn’t have to be full of actual Major League players) will make at or around whatever baseball decides the bottom feeders get to make. Last year it was $410,000. It’s like that scene in “Major League” when Jake crashes the cocktail party and the lady says, “Baseball players make a lot of money, don’t they?” He replies, “It depends on how good you are.” Another lady asks, “How good are you?” And he says, “I make the league minimum.” The Cubs version of Jake Taylor, Koyie Dolan Hill, actually makes almost twice the league minimum. Well, of course he does.
The “other guys” who will make more than the minimum include:
Carlos Marmol – He made $2.125 million last year and is going to make at least $4 million this year. The Cubs are tempted, I’m sure, to sign him to a multi-year deal, and as soon as they do that, his elbow will explode.
Jeff Baker – He made $975,000 last year and sat on the bench lighting his farts until Mike Quade took over. Then he was the surprisingly effective lead off man against lefties, so he likely played himself into a platoon with Blake DeWitt this year. He’ll be hard pressed to get much of a raise though, let’s say he makes $1 million.
Sean Marshall – He made $950,000 and was really good as a set up man, so he’s going to at least double that. Let’s put him at $2 million.
Angel Guzman – He was released so they could drop him off the 40 man roster and has agreed to come to camp as a spring training invitee. They’d owe him his current salary ($825K) if he made the team. I don’t think he’s going to do that. But let’s include him at that rate just in case.
Tom Gorzelanny – He made $800,000 last year and pitched pretty well, even though he enjoys being hit by batted balls. He’s going to basically double that amount to $1.5 million.
Koyie Hill – He makes $700,000. Seriously.
Geovany Soto – He made $575,000 and had a good, if injury plagued, season. He’s their catcher of the present and future and it’s probably going to cost them about $2 million to avoid arbitration with him.
Randy Wells – He made $427,000 and they can pay him what they want, so how about $427,000?
Jeff Samardzjia – He made $3 million last year as part of his five year, $10 million contract. In that ten million they gave him two up front as a signing bonus then three million in the middle year. The other years he makes about $1.25 million.
The rest of the guys, like Starlin Castro and Blake DeWitt and the bullpen guys like Andrew Cashner and Justin Berg or whoever, will all come in at or right around the minimum of $410,000.
If the Cubs try to fill their three stated needs of a first baseman, a starting pitcher and a righthanded reliever, they can fill their other 22 spots at $113 million. That leaves $22 million bucks to sign three guys. Hey, that’s not so bad!
Except, rumors are the payroll isn’t really going to be $135,000,000, it’s going to be closer to $130,000,000, and it’s entirely possible that the Rickettses are freaking out about some very bad signs they’ve gotten from the fans this offseason.
Season ticket renewals are down. That’s not tragic because there are people waiting to scoop them up, but it’s not a good trend. At some point, there won’t be anybody waiting to buy those seats.
And the Cubs Convention is flopping. That’s a horrible sign. In the past, not only has the Convention sold out within the first day or two of the tickets going on sale, but it’s actually grown from year to year. This year they are trying to sell the same number of passes as last year and after more than a week, there are still passes to buy. And not only are there passes left (at the ludicrous price of $60 per) but the Cubs haven’t even sold out all of the rooms that Hilton and Towers sets aside for them. Eventually the convention will sell out (even if the “sell out” includes the Cubs quietly giving away some of the passes), but if you can’t drum up interest in a January event to the most delusionally optimistic fanbase in the world, what happens to ticket sales when the team is 20-35 in June?
The $130 million payroll might be optimistic at this point. But let’s stick with it.
That would give the Cubs about $17 million to spend.
If it were up to me (thank god it’s not). I wouldn’t waste my time on signing a veteran righthander for the bullpen. Even if that veteran righthander was an all-around awesome guy like Kerry Wood looking for a discounted deal to return “home.” This team’s going to blow, and it’s bad enough to pay John Grabow (hold on to your butts) $4.8 million this season (seriously.) You spent all last year watching your rookie bullpen arms get lit up, and then somehow they got it together late in the year. Let’s act like they learned something. (They probably didn’t.) But signing bullpen veterans is always a crap shoot. It seems like a waste of money.
So that leaves you with $17 million to spend on a first baseman and a starting pitcher.
Let’s look at who’s available:
Adam Dunn – Made $12 million last year. He wants a four year deal worth at least $15 million a year and even that might be less than he expects. He does want to play for the Cubs. When you consider that next year the Cubs lose the big salaries of E-ramis, Kosuke and Silva (worth a combined $40 million) you could envision them being able to offer Dunn four years, $60 million and just push the big money into the middle years. Something like $10M, $17.5M, $17.5M, $15M. That would leave them seven million to pay a starter and/or reliever. Dunn gives them what they’ve wanted for a long time. A dependable power producing lefty bat. He also brings terrible defense at first and bad knees and a back back. This is the kind of move the Cubs have been making. They sign a guy likely to break down in years two or three to a four year deal. As much fun as it might be to have him bashing homers when he’s healthy, this just isn’t a smart move.
Victor Martinez – He made $7 million last year. He’s intriguing because he’s a switch hitter with power who can play first (fairly well) and catch (not so well). His offense is worth a lot more at catcher, though.
Carlos Pena – I have a hunch this is your first baseman next year. He made $10 million to hit .196 and strike out 170 times. He’s always had a low average and struck out a fair amount, but in the past he walked enough and enough of hit hits were for extra bases to more than make up for it. Plus, he’s a great defensive first baseman. But he’ll be 33 and is coming off a bad year. The reason I think he fits the Cubs is that he’ll likely be forced to take a one year deal at far less than he made last year to reprove his worth. I just seriously question how much worth there really is.
Paul Konerko – He’s going to get a lot of money somewhere to be a 1B/DH.
Aubrey Huff – If the Cubs are lucky, the guy they sign will end up being this year’s Aubrey Huff. He didn’t sign with the Giants until January and had to take a third ($3 million) of his 2009 salary to get a job. Then he hit pretty well and played first better than they thought. His price went back up.
Derrek Lee – Uh…no.
Adam LaRoche – Of the free agent first basemen, LaRoche might be the best combination of hitting ability (some power, decent average, gets on base–didn’t get on as much last year though, but the D’backs do that to all of their players), fielding ability (he’s good), signability (he was a monster down the stretch in 2009 for the Braves and still had to take a $3 million pay cut to sign with Arizona–for $4.5 million) and weird beardishness. The biggest problem he’s had? He’s terrible in April. He’s a career .211 hitter in April with a .701 OPS. Awful. He’s Derrek Lee only white and lefthanded.
Russell Branyan – Oh god no.
Lance Berkman – We don’t like him because we remember during the great Cubs collapse of 2004 that he not only pretended to be hit by a Mike Remlinger pitch that didn’t hit him, but he acted like he’d been seriously hurt by it. Fuck him.
Lyle Overbay – Basically he’s a less versatile version of Chad Tracy at this point.
Troy Glaus – He’s a mongoloid and he’s bad. (As opposed to the good mongoloids.)
Mark Kotsay – He’s the kind of gritty that Hendry loves, but Jim clearly likes his grittiness in a much shorter package.
Fernando Tatis – He’s still alive. I checked.
Nick Johnson – He is apparently dead. And thankfully, the Cubs aren’t after him. Yet.
Cliff Lee – If the Cubs could find someone to trade Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster to and they had a bake sale, and…oh, never mind.
Hiroki Kuroda – He won 11 games with a 3.39 ERA last year and I still wouldn’t go near him even if he were smothered in Nippon Ham.
Andy Pettitte – He and God will have a long chat about whether or not he should pitch another season for the Yankees. At this point even God is tired of this conversation.
Carl Pavano – The Twins got 17 wins out of him for $7 million. If they’re smart enough to not try to do that again, let’s hope Hendry is too. (He’s not.)
Javy Vazquez – He’s good, he’s bad, he’s good again, he’s terrible. Screw him, let somebody else try to figure him out.
Brad Penny – He’s a fat, overpaid douche who went on the DL after hitting a home run in May and never came back.
Jon Garland – Maybe the Cubs could sign him and Ed Lynch could trade him to whatever used car dealership Matt Karchner is working at these days? Both he and the next guy should pay the Padres for the privilege of pitching at Petco another year.
Chris Young – See Garland, John.
Vicente Padilla – What team wouldn’t dream of pairing him with Carlos Silva in their rotation?
Rich Harden – Great pickup for Texas…once they stopped trying to you know, actually use him.
Brandon Webb – This is the kind of guy Hendry loves to take a chance on. But he’s done. He barely broke 80 in his minor league rehab starts.
Kevin Millwood – He’s been bad and overpaid for a long time. How has he never been a Cub?
Erik Bedard – Jeff Passan called him the “new Mark Prior.” Even Prior could be upset at that.
Justin Duchscherer – Good when he’s healthy. That just never happens.
Aaron Harang – I have a vague memory that he was good once (not THAT good) and then Dusty ruined him. Hee hee.
Chris Capuano – He has a great pickoff move and he pitches like he wants to try it on every hitter.
Jeff Francis – No. Just, no.
Jarrod Washburn – Couldn’t win in the cavernous Comerica Field and then wasn’t healthy enough to pitch all last year. So, great?
Doug Davis – He’s come back from a lot, but this time it’s his elbow.
Wow, what a great list that is. Is there anybody on it you actually want to pay several million dollars? Casey Coleman can lose just as many games for a fraction of the cost. And he’s so tiny he’s much cheaper to ship from town to town.
Here’s what I think will happen this offseason.
- They’ll trade Kosuke to somebody willing to pay five or six million dollars of his contract. That’s a lot of contract eating for the Cubs, but it still saves them $5 or $6 million. That will open right field for Tyler Colvin full-time, and by June we’ll wonder if we’ll ever see the glory of his .316 on base average from 2010 again.
- They’ll sign Carlos Pena to play first, and this won’t seem like a bad idea until we find out they’ve given him a three-year $30 million deal, when nobody else was offering him for than one year at $5 million.
- They’ll sign Kevin Millwood to “eat innings” but he’ll mainly just “eat Twinkies.” And if he eats Carlos Silva’s Twinkies they’ll be a fight. Millwood will buy a lot of Twinkies with the two year guaranteed contract they gave him for no apparent reason.
- They’ll spend good money after bad in the bullpen and bring back a beloved former Cub. And I’m sure they’ll do it just in time for the first night of the Cubs Convention. Ladies and gentlemen…Juan Cruz for three years and $12 million!
Here’s your opening day roster:
Catchers (2): Geovany Soto, Koyie Hill
Infielders (6): Carlos Pena, Blake DeWitt, Jeff Baker, Starlin Castro, E-ramis Ramirez, Darwin “F’ing” Barney
Outfielders (5): Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Tyler Colvin, Sam Fuld, Brad Snyder
Starting Pitchers (5): Ryan Dempster Carlos Zambrano, Tom Gorzelanny, Kevin Millwood, Carlos Silva
Bullpen (7): Carlos Marmol, Andrew Cashner, Sean Marshall, John Grabow, Randy Wells, Jeff Samardzija, Juan Cruz
Where do you line up for season tickets? I’ll take 12!
What would I do?
I wouldn’t waste any money on Cruz or Millwood, and my first baseman would be the first lefthanded hitting one who will take one year and $5 million to sign.
Then I’d spend the summer talking up my prospects and trying to convince the San Diego Padres that since they admittedly have to trade Adrian Gonzalez to trade him to me. Think you can’t afford him? He makes $5.5 million in 2011. And you have $40 million coming off your payroll for 2012, so you can give him the big, fat, raise he’s going to need to stay. The worst thing the Cubs could do (and will do) is to lock up first base for more than one year. It’s worth a shot. And there isn’t anybody on that free agent list worth giving more than one year. Well, except for the three you aren’t going to sign (Dunn–because he needs a place with a DH spot available even though he thinks he never wants to do it–Konerko or Victor.)
And the best part of my plan? Your opening day roster isn’t any worse than the one Hendry’s going to cobble together and mine only costs $118 million. Of course mine isn’t any damn good either.
So there’s that.