WTNYDecember 05, 2003
Cubs Organizational Meeting
By Bryan Smith

Although it has been awhile since the last Organizational Meeting, the fantastic Cub Reporter Christian Ruzich agreed to answer my questions about our Cubbies. In case you missed it, I wrote about my 2004 Cubs Thursday.

I have two posts today, this one you're reading, and my thoughts on the Javier Vazquez to the Yankees trade. Christian has been working on a new site, entitled The Transaction Guy, and it's a must-read for any signing, trade, or release. The movie-scene piece he wrote on the Javier Vazquez trade was one of the funniest pieces of work I've ever read about baseball, so check that out. But for now, here is the Cubs Organizational Meeting with the Cub Reporter:

Wait 'Til Next Year: 1. Is Derrek Lee enough to supply the offense, and was it right for Hendry to key in on first base? Specifically, what else should be done to boost an offense that was oftentimes enemic in 2003?

The Cub Reporter: I don't know if he's "enough," but he's a nice addition. Slotting him in the middle of the lineup along with Sammy, Moises and Aramis gives the Cubs a nice, if righty-heavy, 3-6.

Asking whether it was "right" for Hendry to key in on first base isn't the question that interests me, though. The question that interests me is, should Hendry try to fix specific holes in the team, or should he try to get the best value available on the market? I think the answer is the latter, and that's what Hendry did. I think he did the right thing by trading for Lee rather than passing up the opportunity because he was solely focused on getting a second baseman or upgrading at catcher or #5 starter.

As far as what else should be done, a left-handed hitter would be nice, and if that lefty could get on base, all the better. The Cubs are pretty set at every position around the diamond except second base, and the pickings of left-handed hitting second basemen is pretty slim. Todd Walker, Brian Roberts, and Adam Kennedy are all basically league-average offensively. Forced to pick from among those guys, I'd go for Kennedy -- it was nice to see him take more walks this year so that his OBP stayed constant even though his average dipped over 40 points. If the Cubs go into the 2004 season with a no-name player at second, though (a minor league call-up or someone who wins the job off an NRI in Spring Training), it wouldn't be such a bad thing.

WTNY: 2. Obviously, starting pitching isn't a worry for the Cubs, although there is a small debate over the 5th starter spot. Some say Cruz. Others like Sterling Hitchcock. Andy Pettite, Eric Milton, Jarrod Washburn, even Shawn Estes are the different names I've heard attached to the final slot. Who should get it, and why?

TCR: Starting pitching is always a worry. Pitchers get hurt; that's just the way it is. One of the reasons the Cubs won the division last year is how few starts their 1-4 starters missed. I don't think there's any way that's going to happen again -- chances are someone's going to get hurt and miss some time.

As far as who should be the #5, out of the guys on your list I'd say Cruz, if he's still on the team come Opening Day. I mean, I'd love to see the Cubs sign Greg Maddux, because then everyone slides down a notch and you have Carlos Zambrano as your #5. But unless TribCo really is letting the Cubs spend Yankee money, I don't see that happening. So, you look on the market for low- to mid-range starters, and there's nothing too enticing. Fifth starter is not a position that you want to lay out multiple millions of dollars to fill. This is a situation where someone may come into camp on a non-guaranteed or incentive-laden contract and find themselves in the rotation. The Cardinals are hoping it works with Chris Carpenter, and that's a model I'd like to see the Cubs follow. There are plenty of guys who will be non-tendered in a few days, and I'm certain one of them will make a passable fifth starter.

WTNY: 3. Between 2002 and 2003, Jim Hendry worked hard to fix the bullpen, how'd he do? Who should fill the shoes left open from Veres and Alfonseca? Was it the right decision to decline Guthrie's option and who fills his slot? Finally, is JoeBo a real 9th inning pitcher, or should he be in a different role?

TCR: He didn't do too bad. It's easy to focus on blown opportunities, but look at the final numbers for the guys who got the bulk of the work in the pen:

Borowski: 68 1/3 IP, 53 H, 19 BB, 66 K
Farnsworth: 76 1/3 IP, 53 H, 36 BB, 92 K
Remlinger: 69 IP, 54 H, 39 BB, 83 K
Guthrie: 42 2/3 IP, 40 H, 22 BB, 24 K
Veres: 32 2/3 IP, 36 H, 5 BB, 26 K

That's not the whole picture, of course, because it leaves off Alfonseca, who did not pitch well. As a group, they gave up too many home runs, too, but overall they were good.

Of course, they better have been good, because they were expensive. The question of who should replace Alfonseca has been answered, and answered well, by LaTroy Hawkins, who will be cheaper and most likely better than Pulpo. As far as who should replace Veres, well, 3rd righty out of the 'pen is another position I don't think Hendry should give that much thought to. It might be good to get Todd Wellemeyer some more major-league experience, or once again there should be some decent pitchers on the bone pile later this winter.

WTNY: 4. Dusty Baker came with great reviews before last season, although he caught significant flak from Cub fans. Explain Baker's strengths and weaknesses as a manager?

TCR: Because I'm lazy, I'll point to a column I wrote on The Cub Reporter when Baker was hired:


The short version:

PRO: Good motivator, Good at managing difficult egos, trusts his veterans
CON: Prefers veteran position players over young players, bench and roster management is suspect, thin-skinned regarding media criticism

I stand by all of those except the last one, though it's possible that he's still enjoying a honeymoon from the Chicago press. Winning will do that for a guy.

WTNY: 5. How did Jim Hendry do for midseason acquisitions? Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez, Randall Simon, Jose Hernandez, Tony Womack, Doug Glanville are all names he acquired at various points. Given such a weak free agent market for 3B, how big was the Ramirez deal, and what do you foresee in 2004?

TCR: He did very well, but I'm not sure I'd give him too much credit. Lofton and Ramirez played very well, and were available because Pittsburgh needed to dump salary. I will say that it appears we were all wrong, and Hendry was right, about Bobby Hill. He may still turn out to be a decent player, but I don't think there's any way he's going to live up to the hype he received as a minor-leaguer. If that turns out to be the case, then kudos to Hendry for turning him into Aramis Ramirez, who has a very high ceiling and not a very big contract. The rest of the guys that were acquired were a mix of good (Simon), bad (Hernandez), and ugly (Womack), with the Sausage King of Chicago alternately thrilling and frustrating us as he swung at every pitch he saw. Luckily for the Cubs, he hit a lot of them, but I wouldn't bank on that happening again.

I have a theory that Hendry is learning Dusty's strengths and weaknesses and filling up the roster in such a way that accentuates the former and minimizes the latter. Dusty won't play young kids, so it's up to Hendry to find the right kind of veterans so that when Dusty reaches for them, they don't hurt the team. The Choi-for-Lee trade is a perfect example of that.

WTNY: 6. The bench was a big problem for the Cubs in 2003, as Lenny Harris and Troy O'Leary got way too many at-bats. Any ideas of how to use those slots next year?

TCR: I have lots of ideas, but none of them are going to come to fruition. What we're going to see, I think, is the same result with a different cast. Baker has never used his bench well, and unless Hendry convinces people like Kenny Lofton or Jose Cruz to accept bench roles, we're going to see more Harris/O'Leary types. Ideally, I'd like to see those spots filled with cheap guys out of the Cubs system, like Dave Kelton and Phil Hiatt, but I think we're much more likely to see Tom Goodwin or Chris Singleton. I guess because they're Proven Veterans, they're the kind of guys Dusty is comfortable with.

WTNY: 7. Give readers an idea of the Cubs farm system, and the Major League ready youngsters, like Wellemeyer, Mitre, and Juan Cruz.

TCR: I'd say it's good on the pitching side and weak-to-average on the hitting side. I'm not an expert on minor-league players -- for that info, I go to BaseballAmerica.com, TheProspectReport.com, and guys like Bryan Stroh. He put up a Cubs Top 30 list last year and I'm hoping to have this year's installment on The Cub Reporter within the next few weeks.

The three guys you mention might not actually be in the top 10 Cubs prospects. In fact, according to Baseball America, they aren't. Baseball America says the top 10 are Angel Guzman, Justin Jones, Ryan Harvey, Andy Sisco, Felix Pie, Bobby Brownlie, Chadd Blasko, Brendan Harris, David Kelton, and Jae-Kuk Ryu. It's got to be a nice feeling for Hendry to know that he's got that many potentially good arms in the minors -- some of these guys will definitely be traded away for players who can help the team right now, and it's exciting to think that the Cubs could trade 2 or 3 top-10 pitching prospects and still have 4 or 5 left.

WTNY: 8. Give a step-by-step offseason to-do list for Jim Hendry.

TCR: That's tough. There are so many factors that fans, even ones who pay as much attention as we do, aren't privvy to. It's presumptuous of me to think that I know what options are available to him. I'm much more comfortable examining specific situations and reacting to them, since without all the information the "big picture" I see is incomplete. Forced to make a list, I guess I'd say:

1. Settle the second base situation, either by signing someone or deciding to let it be a Spring Training decision.
2. Get a solid #4 outfielder, preferrably one who hits lefty, and dont pay more than $1.5M for him.
3. Wrap Mark Prior in bubble wrap and tell him not to move until mid-February.
4. Issue a whole bunch of Spring Training invites for back-end starting pitchers and let 'em duke it out.
5. Buy me a drink at The Pink Pony in March.
If he does all five of those things, I'll be a happy Cub fan.

WTNY: I'd like to thank Christian Ruzich for his time, and to remind every of the Wait 'Til Next Year Cub-approved acquisitions:

Javy Lopez- C
Jerry Hairston- 2B
Bench: John Vander Wal, Geoff Blum, Orlando Palmiero
Scott Sullivan- RHP
Mike Myers- LHP
5th starter/Long Relief NRI: Glendon Rusch

Have a good weekend, and be sure to check out the Javier Vazquez trade breakdown right below this piece.