Now, with new management in place and (hopefully) a new direction for the Cubs, I feel a little rejuvenated and perhaps even a little optimistic (what can I say? Hope springs eternal).
However, before we start counting our championships, the new Cubs management has their work cut out for them. Free agency and free spending have left the Cubs with many holes as well as under performing veterans. But, fear not, for I have compiled a Wish List for the Cubs. Call it the things I would like to see before Christmas to make my New Year bright.
- Get Some Starting Pitching - If last season taught us anything, its you can never have enough pitching. After spending half the year trying to find a 4th and 5th starter due to early season injuries to Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner, I cringe when I see articles that the Cubs are "open for business" on Matt Garza and Randy Wells. If Theo Esptein is so concerned about his starting pitching that he is willing to let Carlos Zambrano earn his way back to being a Cub, then why would he consider trading two of his 4 returning starters. The Cubs need to ADD starting pitching. C.J. Wilson would be a nice addition, but it appears that the Cubs are not pursuing him. However, they have had multiple discussions with Mark Buehrle's agent, which is a good sign. If the Cubs can add one starting pitcher to their staff, it would allow the Cubs to keep Jeff Samardzija in the bullpen, where he enjoyed his most successful year and may even allow them to put Andrew Cashner in the pen as a long reliever/spot starter.
- Get More Starting Pitching - Once we've added a pitcher to the major league rotation, we need to add some depth to the minor leagues. With prospects such as Chris Carpenter and Rafael Dolis moving to the bullpen and Trey McNutt at least a year away, the Cubs do not have any minor leaguers ready to step into the rotation. Thus, they should try to sign a couple veteran retreads to minor league deals to add depth to their system. Pitchers such as Jon Garland, John Maine, Kenshin Kawakami and Jason Marquis might be good targets for the Cubs AAA squad and even Rodrigo Lopez could be a possibility after filling in for the Cubs down the stretch in 2011. The key is to get in on these guys early so that we are not scrambling around in mid-season trying to find a warm body for the rotation when Zambrano has his final meltdown.
- Get a Big Bopper - The Cubs need a first baseman and both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are available. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are pursuing both of them, which they should, because, as Ken points out, there will likely be few sluggers available in the coming years. I have my concerns about both, but am beginning to realize that there are few other difference makers available out there and the Cubs need to strike while they can. An 8 or 9 year deal would probably come back to haunt us in 5 or so years, but the Cubs have been in short-term mode for so long, why change now?
- Find a Stopgap at Third - Aramis Ramirez is gone and not coming back leaving the Cubs with a big hole at third. There does not appear to be anyone in the system that can fill the void, which is probably why the Cubs recently inquired about Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart. The Cubs probably wouldn't have to give up any decent prospects for Stewart, who will probably earn around $2 million through arbitration. If he doesn't pan out in 2012, the Cubs can always non-tender him after the season and pursue someone like David Wright (who could be a free agent if the Mets decline his $16 million option for 2013). Of course, uber-prospect Josh Vitters could be ready to take over in 2013 (then again, maybe not).
- Get More Pitching - The Cubs need to solidify their bullpen. Kerry Wood is an obvious choice for the set up role and the Cubs are negotiating an extension with him. If the Cubs can sign another starter, then Jeff Samardzija can stay in the bullpen, where he enjoyed a successful 2011 campaign. Chris Carpenter and Rafael Dolis could fill the middle relievers spots and John Gaub or Jeff Beliveau could battle for the coveted LOOGY spot, but the Cubs may want to go with a more proven veteran (i.e. someone not named John Grabow). I would like to see the Cubs sign a veteran lefty, such as Darren Oliver. Another veteran righty would be nice too, but that's not a priority (unless Samardzija is moved to the rotation).
- Keep Listening on the Big Contract Players - According to Ken Rosenthal, teams are "kicking the tires" on Alfonso Soriano, which is probably the best news I've heard all offseason. The Cubs would probably have to eat a significant portion of Soriano's remaining contract, but it might be worth it to get Brett Jackson into the lineup. As for the other albatross, Carlos Zambrano, maybe Epstein giving him a second chance (or is it his 10th?) is a way of giving the Cubs more leverage to make a deal. Tom Rickett's comment that he has "a hard time imagining" Zambrano back with the Cubs in 2012 is still echoing out there in cyberspace, seriously hurting the Cubs trade leverage. So maybe Theo was trying to salvage some value for the Big Z. In any case, one thing is for certain, Zambrano will not be pitching for the Cubs in 2013 as there is little likelihood that his option vests (it only vests if he finishes first or second in the 2012 Cy Young voting).