Thursday, March 25, 2004

posted by James - 11:43 PM

Yeah, I was going to write more about the AL Central, but then a funny thing happened... the Cubs Faithful received some actual, impactual Cubs news.

The first news came as inf/of Jose Macias, acquired from Montreal to add speed to the bench, will miss three to four weeks with torn cartilage in his left knee.

Dusty Baker won’t be losing sleep over not having Macias on his bench for late-inning pinch running duty, but he’ll miss his versatility and will probably have to lean on Ramon Marintez a little more as a result.

But not all of the news is negative with this issue. The injury will open up a spot on the roster for a young position player or a 12th pitcher. Neither of these will be easy choices for the Cubs brain trust, but there are options.

The Cubs are going to have to take a long look at their young outfielders and infielders going into next year with shortstop, second base and leftfield up for grabs.

2B Brendan Harris would be a natural choice, but he’s slowed with a similar injury.

OFs David Kelton (.208 BA, .375 SLG%), who could also fill some infield innings, Nic Jackson (.227, .409) or Jason Dubois (.304, .522) could be in-line to succeed Moises Alou in left next year, and the Cubs need to figure out whether they need to spend their money on an upgrade here, or keep it in house. The Cubs shouldn’t in jeopardize a playoff run with a fact-finding mission, but giving them some time in some meaningless games in April against non-contenders like Cincinnati and Milwaukee could provide a useful benefit and fill a short-term need.

The Cubs leader in homers this spring, 3B Scott McClain (6 HR, also tied for 3rd with 13 hits), doesn’t currently have a roster spot and isn’t even on the 40-man roster (which would require some roster maneuvering).

And of course, the Cubs – assuming left-hander Jimmy Anderson has already nailed down a spot until Mike Remlinger returns from injury - still have right-handers Sergio Mitre, Francis Beltran, Jamey Wright and Juan Cruz to fill in a final open spot in the bullpen.

...oh wait. I guess this is where I should mention the second bit of Cubs news to come out today.

The Cubs divested themselves of Cruz, sending him to Atlanta with left-hander Steve Smyth for left-hander Andy Pratt and infielder Richie Lewis.

Some GMs would jump into Lake Michigan with a reed as an airpipe whenever Atlanta GM John Schuerholz would call offering pitching, but I’m glad Cubs GM Jim Hendry didn’t.

This isn’t a great trade, because it’s closer to a lateral move than anything that will definitely improve the Cubs at the major-league level.

But it might have accomplished two things: diversifying a right-handed heavy pitching staff by acquiring a left-hander who could be ready for the majors and clearing a spot on the 40-man roster for a guy like McClain (this is based on the assumption that carrying Pratt until Mark Prior returns would reduce the necessity of Anderson, who also isn’t on the 40-man roster. Total effect: Cruz for Pratt, Anderson for McClain.)

I don’t have a problem with this trade at all. As much as I wish Cruz could have brought back a young hitter closer to the majors, I’m not sure Cruz still had the value to get this done.

It's a good move for the Cubs, because Cruz wasn't going to be a factor for the Cubs this year and they had no need for another right-handed, fast-ball throwing erratic swing man. They have several options who are less erratic (Wellemeyer, Mitre, Beltran).

They gave up what they got back + a middle-infielder who has shown some offensive ability this offseason. They still have several pieces available to trade for a middle infielder or catcher.

I admit we could see Cruz bust out with Atlanta (who still needs a fifth-starter), but so what? The Cubs still have no fewer than three guys right now who could do anything and everything just as good, if not better, than Cruz.

Let's not forget that Cruz got lit up this spring and didn't look like any MLB team should be looking at him. And Hendry turned him into a lateral value prospect with the added value to the Cubs of being lefthanded... AND a former first-round draft pick at another position where the Cubs are thin.

I'm not saying either of these guys are locks to ever help the Cubs, but I'm willing to give Hendry the benefit of the doubt. He deserves that from us after what he's done since taking the job.

There’s something different about this team. I feel different about this team than I think I ever have.

I don’t mean to speak for everyone who bleeds Cubs Blue and Red, but we’re Cubs fans. We’ll always be Cubs fans no matter what, and I pity anyone who can’t understand that. We’re continually drawn to it, and some of us are born into it... born with a loyalty to our Wrigleyville Nine. Tethered like an umbilical cord even through the worst of times.

Now, I don’t need that umbilical cord to keep me interested in what’s going on in Wrigley Field. I attribute a lot of this to the work of Jim Hendry.

Jim Hendry has made me more than a Cubs fan in his two years on the job. He’s made me a Cubs believer.

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