Now that the deal is official, Cubs fans can get as giddy about their favorite team hiring a real talent to run their baseball operations as they’d like. Make no mistake, that hiring Theo Epstein away from the Red Sox will finally enable the Cubs to start using all of the sizable advantages they have over almost every other team in the National League.
Theo brings more than a really low number on his Pearl Jam Ten Club card. He brings an understanding of how to build an organization from top down, and you can read all about that in this recent Sports Illustrated story and in even more depth in Seth Mnookin’s 2006 book Feeding The Monster. So those of us who choose to waste our time caring too much about the Cubs can be optimistic.
Some of the guys currently employed by the Cubs probably shouldn’t be all that excited about the change.
The roster is full of “Jim Hendry Guys.” It makes sense, Hendry was the general manager for nearly 10 years, and he was in charge of the minors for seven seasons before that. His chicken wing stained fingerprints are all over everything.
So aren’t they all “Jim Hendry Guys?” To a certain extent, yes. But let’s just focus on the guys who only have skills that Hendry could love.
This won’t include guys that even Hendry would want to get rid of like Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano. And it won’t include E-ramis Ramirez, who’s just going to leave.
Rather, it’s the guys that Hendry would have wanted to hang onto (except maybe one). These guys don’t figure to be long for the Theo regime.
Ryan Dempster – Dempster was one of Hendry’s truly good finds. The Cubs signed him while he was rehabbing from Tommy John Disease Treatments in 2003 and they turned him into a productive reliever. In 2008, Lou Piniella converted him back to his original big league role as a starter and he was terrific in 2008, going 17-6 with a 2.95 and then shitting all over himself in the playoffs opener against the Dodgers. Hendry signed him to a very large contract, one too large for a soon to be 32 year old, and Dempster has gotten progressively worse with his ERA going up every season and his ERA plus going down (from 155 in ’08, to 122 in ’09, to 110 in ’10, to 81 last year) every season. Dempster’s in the final year of that contract and he’ll be 35. You can bet Theo will be looking for a GM who values Dempster’s ability to throw lots of innings (at least 200 in every season as a Cubs starter) and ignore the fact he allows way too many baserunners.
Dempster is one of the rare Cubs with a long term deal that does not include no-trade protection. He never needed it with Hendry around. However, he also doesn’t need it now because he has 10-5 rights. He’ll have to be coaxed into accepting a trade.
Darwin Barney – Cubs fans like Barney because he hustles a lot and he’s adorably and vaguely Asian. Cubs fans are, mostly, dumbasses. Barney’s an offensive suck hole. He hits for no power (.353 slugging last year) and a horrible .313 on base average. That shouldn’t be a surprise, he hardly ever got on base in the minors (.335) either.
Marlon Byrd – Marlon was one of Hendry’s better free agent signings, which is kind of sad. He’s an average player, albeit one who always plays hard. He plays center field and is awesome on anything he can get to, which, because he weighs 250 pounds, is less than you’d like to see. You’ll hear people say that on a good team Marlon should play left field, but the reality is that on a good team, Marlon should be the fourth outfielder. He was limited to 119 games last year because he broke his face (against Theo’s Red Sox). This is the last year of his contract so at some point before or during the season he’s going to get traded.
Carlos Pena – Pena was guaranteed to come back in 2012 if Hendry hadn’t been fired, and he still might under Theo, but it’s far less likely. Theo’s already released Pena once (after the 2006 season) and this time he doesn’t even need to do that, he could just not re-sign him. Pena did almost exactly what the Cubs should have expected him to do last year. He played excellent defense, he struck out a horrendous amount of times (161 times in 153 games), he was the first Cub to walk 100 times in…ever…not really, but even Mark Eugene Grace never did it. He only hit .225 but he got on base at a .357 clip. He’ll be 34 next season and it just doesn’t figure that the Cubs will pay Pena what he’ll want for him to do THAT again.
Tyler Eugene Colvin – Tyler’s terrible (even with Mark Grace’s middle name). He was terrible for almost all of his minor league career and he was terrible last year. He has no plate discipline or awareness, and here’s how overmatched he was last year. In the second half he hit .189 with a .229 on base average and six walks against 34 strikeouts. And that was his GOOD half. In the first half he hit .105 with a .175 on base with eight walks and 23 strikeouts. Cubs fans kept clamoring for manager Mike Quade to “play Colvin so we can see if he can play or not.” How much evidence did they need? It was no then, and it’s no now. The most damning evidence that Tyler Colvin is a terrible baseball player is this. The Cubs sent him to the minors in May to work on his plate discipline and he walked five times and struck out FIFTY-FIVE times. Thank God the Cubs locked up the guy who drafted him, Tim Wilken, to a long term deal.
Jeff Samardzjia – He had his best season last year, but he just doesn’t throw enough strikes. Even in his finest season he walked 50 guys in 88 innings. He’s hard to hit (64 hits allowed) but when you add in the walks that’s 114 guys in those 88 innings. That’s not good. Because he has a big arm, and had a low ERA (2.97) maybe Theo can get a team to bite. Because his control is still bad, any attempt to make a starter out of him seems doomed to fail.
Geovany Soto – Soto’s going to need to hit early to prove he’s still a starting catcher. He had a great rookie season, then got fatter and flunked a drug test and was terrible, then rebounded two years ago to put up good numbers in an injury shortened season, but he was awful last year. Catchers are hard to find, so it would be nice if Soto would prove he can play. If not, there’s really no reason to pay Soto good money when Welington Castillo can do just as well for cheaper.
Koyie Dolan Hill – Koyie was probably the worst player in baseball to spend the entire season on a big league roster. Hell, even if Hendry had come back Koyie’s Cubs days were going to be over.
Kerry Wood – It seems pretty likely that Wood will be back for next year. He got hurt a couple of times last year (surprise), but he was mostly effective (57 strikeouts in 51 innings) and he’s cheap.
Mike Quade – Quade was disappointing in his first chance to be a big league manager. The record was almost incidental, because he had a terrible team, so going 71-91 is no indictment of his ability. But watching him, and listening to him over the course of the season gave you no reason to think we need to see year two. He showed no feel for handling a pitching staff, he gave every player really weird nicknames and the whole season was just weird.
That doesn’t leave a whole lot to rebuild around. The Cubs have an excellent young shortstop in Starlin Castro, a workhorse starter in Matt Garza, and an erratic (and now expensive) closer in Carlos Marmol. Within the next two years they should have new starters at first, second, third, left, center and right, and probably catcher. They’ll also need to find four starting pitchers and build most of a bullpen and a bench. Pretty daunting.
But on the other hand, the bad Hendry contracts are expiring. After the 2012 season, the only bad ones are Soriano’s (the mother of all bad contracts) and the final year of Marmol (which jumps to $9.8 million — gulp).
So Theo and Jed Hoyer and whoever else he brings in at least have the flexibility to build the team they want. But it’s a good thing Theo got a five year contract. He’s going to need at least that long to fix this mess.