Tuesday, June 22, 2004  
How do you fix something that isn't REALLY broken?

As I look at the calendar, I am constantly reminded just how quickly July 31st is approaching. As all baseball fans know, that is the beginning of the stretch run. Teams have reloaded with the ammunition for the chance of winning the World Series. Last year, Jim Hendry retooled the Cubs lineup by adding Randall Simon, Aramis Ramirez, and Kenny Loften. These moves helped plug some glaring holes in the Cubs lineup: a leadoff hitter/CF, a third baseman, and a left handed bat off the bench. Hendry recognized weaknesses and sought to fix them. However, this year is a little different. For the first time in as long as I have been seriously following this team, they are actually favored to go deep into the playoffs, if not win the whole darn thing. That means this team is already built to accomplish that feat. As a result, there are not as many glaring holes as last year.

To this point, this team has yet to play a single game in the regular season with the 25 man roster that was "favored" to win the World Series by ESPN's Peter Gammons. So how do we know what this team is actually capable of? To this point, we really don't. So, as the trade deadline quickly draws near, Hendry faces a question of how exactly do I fix a team that I am not sure is broken. I would like to give my opinions on each position as well as make my prediction for what will happen as the trade deadline draws near for the Cubs.

No move necessary here obviously. Michael Barrett has been 100% better than Miller was last year. His .305 batting average is 3rd behind only Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. His defense, which in the beginning of the season was in question, has improved incredibly. As a whole, he has been a major strength for this team.

First Base
No move necessary here. Derrek Lee is here to stay. His recent hot streak, which include a current 11-14 run, has ignited a Cubs team. He is now beginning to show Chicago just why we acquired him in the first place. Not only can he hit the baseball, but his defense has been one of the major reasons guys like Ramirez and Walker have been having the fielding years they have. By saving error after error, it allows those guys a chance to feel confident with their fielding and throws.

Second Base
This is a position that Hendry may decided to deal with. While an upgrade is not needed here, there is a slight log jam at the position. With Mark Grudzielanek coming off the DL and Todd Walker hitting a hot streak, the Cubs are faced with a situation where they must choose between 2 above average second basemen. One starts, the other is left struggling to find his niche off the bench and in an occasional start.

I don't like platoons, never have and never will. I feel like it's best to stick with a guy and see what happens. I'm not sure if Dusty is considering a platoon or sticking with one guy, but the fact of the matter is and will be that the Cubs NEED to move one of these guys. While I would love to have both of their bats in our lineup, as pointed out yesterday, it's just not possible.

Prediction - My prediction for this situation is that the Yankee's will come a calling and Hendry will be listening. Grudzielanek would be a perfect fit for the Yanks. He is a FA after this year and is not a major salary burden. It would give Steinbrenner the quality bat he needs at second, and essentially complete the team that will probably be representing the AL in October. The question is what the Cubs get in return. Odds are it would be a veteran for prospect deal.

Going into the season, all the rave was that the Cubs needed to upgrade here. With a non-hitting, 5 million dollar burden at short, the Cubs will not be dealing to upgrade this position. The fact of the matter is, Gonzalez will get another chance when he comes back to try to earn some of the money we're paying him and then shown the door in the off-season. No one wants to trade for him when they can get him next year for a lot less.

Third Base
"Now batting, third baseman, Ron Santo......(cough, cough).....correction, Aramis Ramirez." This kid is legit and here to stay. He is our Ron Santo reincarnated. He hits for power, drives in runs, and this year has played a decent third base. This kid will be a major reason we are alive down the stretch. He has been money with driving in runs and could end up leading the team in RBI's. God bless you Mr. Ramirez. Thanks for not being a bust.

Left Field
With Alou as hot as he is, I think we need to just cross our fingers and enjoy the ride. Hopefully this is a bust out career year for him. Don't look for him to be going anywhere. He will be our starting Left Fielder come October.

Center Field
All you ever hear on this site is how much I hate Corey Patterson. That being said, what you are about to read may surprise you. I am actually leaning toward KEEPING Corey Patterson. Yes, you heard me correctly. Don't adjust your screen! The fact is, I really want to believe the hype that goes along with Corey. He is a kid with a huge upside. He has speed, power, fielding skills, base stealing ability, bunting ability. The list goes on and on. The one thing not on that list, however, is consistency. If he can add that to the list, he would be a huge player. I am willing to take my chances. Sure, I would love to see Carlos Beltran in the Cubs line up, but if we were to go get a player like that, he would be nothing more than a rent a player for 3 months. That's not what I want for this team. I want players that are going to re-sign and help us in the future, like A-Ram. Beltran however is represented by Dr. Evil, who will command from the Cubs the sum of ONE TRILLION DOLLARS!!!! I know, I know. The Tribune owns the Cubs, they can afford it. However, what many aren't looking at is the other players that are on this 25 man roster that are currently making next to nothing. These guys are going to need to get theirs and if Beltran has all the money, what are we going to give to Prior, Zambrano, etc.?

Prediction - Cubs will make no moves concerning this position. Sorry to burst your bubble. Beltran will go to, plug your ears, THE HOUSTON ASTROS. Their signing of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite must provide at least a winning series in the playoffs if not a World Series. The team they have right now is not going to get them that. By moving Beltran into CF, it allows them to take Biggio and move him around the field. He can play 2b, 1b, or LF.

Right Field
Lets face it, Sammy is the heart and soul of this team and city. He isn't going anywhere. It would be a huge PR nightmare if he were moved. End of story. I look for him to really put up some good numbers down the stretch. He knows the potential that this team has. He knows this might be his chance to win the World Series and will do everything he can to ensure that it happens.

Starting Pitcher
Matt Clement is the one name that you could see in trade talks. With the quality pitching put in by Glendon Rusch, Clement becomes expendable, especially because of his contract demands next year. Prior, Wood, Zambrano, and Maddux are locks to be here. With Guzman on the way, Rusch could serve as an acceptable stop gap until Guzman arrives next year.

Prediction - As much as it pains me to say it, I look for Matt Clement to be pitching somewhere else down the stretch. I think it would be a huge mistake but the Cubs to rely entirely on Rusch, but you have to get something for Clement before you lose him. With the Phillies and Yankees struggling with injuries to their rotation, both could be suitors for the young right hander down the stretch. I wouldn't be surprised to see Clement go to the Yankees with Mark Grudzielanek in a package deal. It would be a great investment for the Yanks and not cost them in the long run.

This is an area that has given the Cubs some trouble of late, but how can you really fix it? When we go out and spend tons of money on our pen like we did a few years ago, what happened? Our pen sucked!!! When we don't spend money, some players like Borowski pitch great (last year). The fact is, bullpens are like a crap shoot. You never know what you'll get. Get a few guys that you know will be reliable and run with it. The Cubs have that in place. With Hawkins, Farnsworth, Remlinger, and Merker, the pen should be fine.

Prediction - Cubs get a pen addition in the Grudzielanek/Clement trade to finish off the pen. With a trade with the Yanks, perhaps a player like Paul Quantrill or Tom Gordon could be pitching in the pen for us.

So that's it. Now you see how this year could be more difficult for Mr. Hendry. How do you fix a team that really isn't broken. You have now seen my predictions. Please let me know where you agree or grossly disagree. Just remember, come August 1st, I will be posting a big fat "I told ya so!!!!"

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