The last thing Cubs GM Jim Hendry needs right now is uncertainty. Or should I say “more uncertainty.” With a new owner in town, Hendry appears to be on the clock even though his contract runs through 2012. Maybe that’s why he was a bit, shall we say, impatient, with questions yesterday in the wake of ace lefty Ted Lilly having his shoulder scoped.
Talk about uncertainty. Even though it’s early in the off-season, Hendry has uncertainty with his pitching picture. Right now, the Cubs’ starters who figure to open the season on the active list are Carlos Zambrano (do people still want to trade him now?), Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells plus your choice of Jeff Samardzija, Tom Gorzelanny and maybe Sean Marshall.
That’s why it’s important for Hendry to get serious about bringing Rich Harden back for at least one year. Otherwise, you have two proven veterans plus a guy coming off a big workload in his rookie year as the top three starters. Unless Hendry makes a trade, the rotation is pretty questionable after that. Sure, Lilly could be back sometime in April, but there’s no guarantee of that.
The one wild card I’ve always pointed out with Harden is that none of us has seen the medical reports and records, so we really don’t know what his troublesome right shoulder looks like. But Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild and the medical and training staff managed to get 26 big-league starts and 1 minor-league rehab start out of Harden. If the Cubs can use their two-week exclusive negotiating period to sign Harden for one year at anywhere from $8 million to $10 million, they should do it and then worry about lefty reliever John Grabow.
The just-released “Bill James Handbook 2010” projects Harden to have the best ERA among Cubs starting pitchers next year, at 3.33. My feisty friends over at anothercubsblog.com have all the numbers from the James Handbook:
Here are some of those projections:
Harden: 3.33 ERA
Zambrano: 3.60 ERA
Dempster: 3.83 ERA
Wells: 4.16 ERA
Gorzelanny: 4.11 ERA
Samardzija: 5.44 ERA
Now, projections are just that, but James and the people at Baseball Prospectus and other outlets do a pretty thorough job of putting together their projections, and they’re at least a good guide to go by from this distance to the 2010 season.
Speaking of James’ projections, he predicts a bounce-back year for right fielder Milton Bradley, whom Hendry is trying to trade. The Handbook projects Bradley to have an .834 OPS from a .384 on-base percentage and a .450 slugging percentage. This year, the embattled Bradley had a .775 OPS (down from .999 with Texas in 2008), from his .378 OBP and .397 slugging percentage. But as I’ve said before, I just don’t see how it works with Bradley and the Cubs, not with a room full of players who practically stood in line to tell us they were glad Hendry suspended Bradley for the final two weeks of the season after Bradley verbally trashed the organization. And what happens the first time Bradley pops off in spring training? And what happens when he goes 0-for-5 with 3 strikeouts in the home opener and gets booed? And that’s to say nothing of a field manager who wants nothing more to do with Bradley. We also don’t know what the new others think, but Tom Ricketts has not gone out of his way in the early going to say he’d like to keep Bradley.
As far as the other Cubs’ hitters go, James sees an OPS of .894 for Derrek Lee, with 30 homers. He sees Alfonso Soriano with 30 homers and an OPS of .807. Aramis Ramirez projects to an OPS of .878 with 26 homers, and Geovany Soto projects to an OPS of .830 with 20 homers.
That’s not bad at all, but if the pitching picture doesn’t get better, it’s hard to see the Cubs winning 90 games. Yes, it’s early, but Hendry has his work cut out for him. His first move should be to get things going with Harden.
On the spring-training front, I had a chance to take part yesterday in another teleconference with the Mesa mayor, Scott Smith. The way I see it is that Naples, Fla., wants the Cubs, but Mesa and Arizona need the Cubs. The mayor said that if the Arizona efforts are judged on merit, it’s a “slam dunk” in favor of Mesa. But we’ll see what goes into it. We don’t know how the Ricketts people feel, and we don’t know what newly minted president Crane Kenney is whispering in the family’s ears. Kenney is a Massachusetts native. Does he want the Cubs in Florida for big games against the Red Sox and Yankees?
“We believe in Mesa,” Smith said. “We have not only the history and tradition, nearly 60 years of spring training. That history has given us a know-how of what was needed to make a successful spring training. But it also gives us a connection, not only with the Chicago Cubs, but the Chicago Cubs fans, from Chicago, Illinois, throughout the Midwest, who have made it part of their tradition to come here to Mesa for spring training. That only gets you so far, that nostalgia.”
Teams have been going from Florida to Arizona in droves in recent years, so a Cubs move to Florida definitely is against the grain. Despite the relative nearness of the Red Sox and Twins to Naples, travel in Florida is still a major pain compared with Arizona, where bus trips will get even easier after the Diamondbacks and Rockies get out of Tucson.
How this whole spring training thing plays out will give us an early insight into how this new regime is going to do business and what it values.