Monday, March 15, 2004

posted by James - 10:28 PM

As promised, here is the entire, un-edited, raw and uncensored version of my contribution to the 2004 Cubs Blogger Roundtable.

Q: Most pundits agree that the Cubs have one of the best rotations in baseball. Will the rotation live up to the hype? If so, which pitcher will have the best year? If not, who will falter, and will the team be able to overcome it?

A. I'm not sure about the hype factor because baseball pundits are still in Boston and New York euphoria, but I'm sure it will come once Gammons gets around to writing his "look at how these guys can strike batters out" article, and I welcome it because it's warranted.

I'm going with Kerry Wood to have the best year out of our Five Aces rotation mainly because of Greg Maddux's influence.

There's a chance one of them could succumb to injury at some point like Mark Prior did last year, but I'm not worried because the Cubs have quality replacements readily available.

Q: Which, if any, of the Cubs pitching prospects will make an impact on the team this year?

A. Because Moises Alou isn't under contract next year, there's a good chance David Kelton, Nic Jackson or Jason Dubois will see time with the Cubs this year. And it's a given the Cubs will use more than 11 pitchers this year if only to keep their pitchers from getting overworked (Hint! Hint!: Mariners)

Q: What should be done with Juan Cruz?

A. As much as I like having Cruz for backup, he's nothing more than a luxury. He'll be a good 11th man for the Cubs bullpen and his strikeout rates say he could be even more. But the Cubs have several guys who can fill that position (Todd Wellemeyer, Sergio Mitre, Francis Beltran) and Cruz has a lot of value. If the Cubs can get an offensive prospect, especially a catcher or a middle infielder, they should pursue it.

Q. Jim Hendry was very active this winter. Everyone expects the Lee and Maddux acquisitions to help the team immensely. Was there another, lesser transaction the Cubs made this winter that you think will have a significant impact on the team?

A. I'll give you two, because I see these guys admonished in the blogosphere.

Hendry made two shrewd moves to help the Cubs' versatility in two key areas. He traded for Jose Macias from the Expos. He's not a great player, but he can run, and play several positions. He's a faster, less offensive Ramon Martinez, but that's ok because Hendry brought him back too.

And the Cubs needed a second lefty in case Remlinger couldn't make it out of spring training healthy, and Hendry picked up Kent Mercker, who performed well with Cincinnati and Atlanta last year (only three runs over the last two months of last season). Mercker will be the only lefthander in the pen until Remlinger is healthy, and then he'll move to the earlier innings, where he could actually end up the long man and allow the Cubs more talented, young, right-handed relievers such as Sergio Mitre, Todd Wellemeyer and Francis Beltran into higher leverage situations than just the 11th man.

And Hendry did both of these moves as low salary, preemptive moves, which put Houston and St. Louis into the uncomfortable situation of looking up at a team coming off a N.L Central Title the year before. Therefore, they had to make moves under pressure (such as overpaying for Andy Pettite to come Houston and bring his buddy Roger Clemens with him and St. Louis bringing in a pathetic crop of leftfielders only the '90s Mariners would love).

I would love to play chess with Jim Hendry, just to see what kind of moves he'd make when I started to beat him, because he's had the advantage so far in his charmed life as Cubs GM, but so have Cubs fans since he took over.

Q: How much better is the Cubs bullpen this season than it was in 2003?

A. I'm not sure how much better it is, but I feel more comfortable with it. They've made improvements going from Dave Veres to LaTroy Hawkins and from Mark Guthrie to Kent Mercker. So, if Mike Remlinger is healthy and Joe Borowski doesn't regress, they have all the pieces in place to have a bullpen Dusty Baker can trust if and when Maddux, Prior and Wood start to fade late in games.

Jim Hendry made a great pickup with Mercker. Not only will he be the second lefty in the pen, but he could also shift to more of a long man which could give one of the Cubs young right handers a chance to get more innings, if warranted, and also give Hendry more flexibility to get another short inning lefty if the opportunity arose.

Q: While there are very few questions about the pitching, there are plenty of questions about the offense. Will the Cubs score enough runs to hold off the Astros in the NL Central?

A. Will they score more? Probably not. Will they score enough with the additions of Derrek Lee and dos Todd and full seasons from Corey Patterson and Aramis Ramirez? Yes.

Q: Who will have a better 2004, Michael Barrett or Damian Miller?

A. Michael Barrett

Q: Who will have a better 2004, Derrek Lee or Hee Seop Choi?

A. Derrek Lee

Q: Who will have a better 2005, Derrek Lee or Hee Seop Choi?

A. Derrek Lee - For all of the above, In Hendry I Trust.

Q. The Hee Seop Choi for Derrek Lee trade was a classic example of trading potential for current performance. Do you think it was the right trade to make for this year? What about for the future of the team?

A. Derrek Lee is the perfect example of an extreme upgrade, eliminating a mediocre offensive platoon with a bona-fide offensive threat and a gold glove defender. This is similar to the Dontrelle Willis for Matt Clement trade, also with the Marlins. Even if I'd like a left-hander in the rotation, I'm ecstatic over having a pitcher of Clement's quality and the Cubs still have plenty of pitchers to replace him, if he leaves in free agency.

And Lee's young, so by the time Hee Seop Choi would be ready to ascend to Lee's level, Lee might be on his way out and the Cubs can make another choice then. The most important point of his acquisition is Hendry compounded a great trade with signing Lee to a deal to keep him here for a few years, saving the Cubs money and making sure that Lee isn't just a one-year-and-gone acquisition like, for example, Carlos Beltran would have been.

Q: What sort of seasons do you expect Moises Alou and Corey Patterson to have? If one or the other struggles, will Dusty pull them from the lineup, or stick with them?

A. If they look slow, unproductive or hampered by injuries, Dusty will work Walker and Hollandsworth into the lineup more. He won't just pull them unless Hendry can get him someone from outside the organization like Kenny Lofton last year.

Q: Who will get more playing time at second base, Mark Grudzielanek or Todd Walker? Who *should* get more playing time?

A. Grudzielanek will get more time at second because of his defense or Walker's deficiency thereof. But Walker should get enough at-bats to keep him productive over the course of the season, and if that's at second so be it.

Q: How close is Sammy Sosa to being a Hall of Famer?

A. He is a Hall-of-Famer as long as steroids and cork stay out of the conversation.

Q: Recently, GM Jim Hendry locked up Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood and Derrek Lee for the next few years. Who on the current roster, if anyone, should get the next long-term contract?

A. Nobody. Carlos Zambrano hasn't proven he deserves having his arbitration years bought out. And they shouldn't lock up Ramirez until they know how much money they have to improve next year's team and whether third base is as option for improvement (i.e. Eric Chavez).

Q: As a Cubs fan, are you having a hard time dealing with the fact that the Cubs go into this season as favorites?

A. This season? The Cubs are always the favorites, right? I thought they were the favorites last year and they proved me right. So, I'm only having a hard time curbing my enthusiasm.

Q: What are you looking forward to about the 2004 Cubs? What are you dreading about them?

A. I worry the team could get abused by tough right-handed pitchers. I worry that the bench has depth, but not exactly depth I want to see in the lineup everyday. I worry that Hawkins will have to move into the closer's role where he's struggled over his career. And I worry that I'm going to have to spend big money to see any Cubs games this year, because I didn't get a favorable wristband number.

Everything else, I'm looking forward to... all the way to the World Series.

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