By my unofficial count the Cubs currently have just over 1,200 players on the 15-day disabled list. I might be off by a few, but whatever the actual number, it's a lot. In a previous job, I used to estimate Grant Park victory rally crowds for the Bulls. Did you know there were 7.4 billion at the 1992 rally? Trust me. I counted.
Now you might think that given this spate of injuries that it would be difficult, maybe even impossible, to get a handle on just what kind of team the Cubs actually have this year.
You'd be wrong. Because injuries or no, it's pretty clear that this team blows.
The Cubs just finished a 2-8 road trip through St. Louis, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. It was riotously successful given that:
a) they were not no-hit in any of the games
b) they won two more than any of us though they would
c) nobody died
Why don't we tour the roster and check on the state of the Cubs?
That state is largely "Meh."
Ryan Dempster - Did you catch his hilarious Harry Caray impression as he read the Cubs lineup for the Fox cameras before Saturday's game against the Phillies? There's funny, and there's baseball funny (when you're more of a character than the average player and sportswriters nervously laugh at your hack attempts at humor because they don't know what else to do) and Dempster is neither. Oh, he's a cut-up all right. I'm still in stitches over his hilarious 5.96 ERA, and whenever I want a really good laugh I think back to the time he walked seven Dodgers in a playoff game. That one gets me every time.
Carlos Zambrano - He followed up his legendary "We stinks" rant in St. Louis by giving up seven earnies in his next start in Philadelphia. It must have been an homage to Dempster as he walked seven guys in that game, too. After Zambrano said the Cubs were a triple-A team, Cubs manager Mike Quade said he'd have no punishment for Big Z. Then he left Zambrano in to throw 128 pitches and to give up a grand slam to my favorite of the three tenors, Placido Polanco. No punishment, Mike? Sure.
Matt Garza - Garza has pitched the best of any of the Cubs starters, and has an absolutely average 3.84 ERA to show for it, along with a sterling 2-6 record. Most damaging, however, is that Cubs fans are still having a hard time getting over the fact that the team lost the immortal Sam Fuld in the winter trade to get Garza. Fuld's Hall of Fame candidacy is full swing in Tampa where is currently sporting a .228 average and 78 OPS plus for the Rays. But hey, free capes!
Doug Davis - When the Cubs lost both Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells on the sixth day of the season they scoured the globe for quality replacements, and luckily they found Davis. The salad tossing lefty is putting the finishing touches on his comeback player of the year award with an 0-5 record and 5.90 ERA in six starts. The best part? With Cashner now out until...forever, there's nobody to take Doug's spot in the rotation from him. Great.
Randy Wells - He needed a good spring to win a spot in the rotation after a lousy second season, and he did it. Then he pitched very well in his first start of the season. In fact, he was so proud of that start he didn't make another one for almost eight weeks. Pace yourself, Randy, it's a long season. A really, really, really long season.
Casey Coleman - With both Cashner and Wells out for a long stretch, the Cubs turned to the diminutive Coleman for eight starts. They went fabulously well. If, your definition of fabulous is a 7.32 ERA and 47 hits in 35 innings. And really, if that's your definition of fabulous, you've got a lot to love in this team.
James Russell - As lousy as Coleman and Davis have been, nobody can touch our boy James Russell. He's the poster child for what a terrible farm system the Cubs have. Why, you ask? Because Russell was allowed to make five starts (all losses) with a 9.33 ERA and an almost unbelievable 32 hits and SEVEN homers in 18 innings. Yes, five starts...18 innings. So why does that condemn the Cubs farm system? They didn't have anybody else to send up to take his place. They put little Casey in the baggage compartment of the Greyhound that runs from Des Moines to Chicago, but they couldn't send anybody else to send at full fare? Hey, at least they found Doug Davis to save the season.
Marcos Mateo - Add four digits, a scruffy goatee and a pot belly and Mateo would look exactly like former Cubs stalwart Antonio Alfonseca. Unfortunately he pitches like him. In 15 innings, he gave up 21 hits and nine walks. Is 30 baserunners in 15 innings a lot?
Justin Berg and Jeff Stevens - I have been assured these two guys are not the same person. I am still not convinced.
Scott Maine - Who? Wait, I remember, tall, lefthanded, ERA plus of 41? Guh.
John Grabow - In his career he's never been more than a league average reliever (he's been less than that on several occasions) so why are the Cubs paying him $4.8 million this year? Seriously, you can look it up, $4.1 million. I'll be over here with my head in the oven.
Jeff Samardzija - In a game at the end of May, Samardzija got to bat and hit a slow roller to shortstop. Clint Barmes took his time and then suddenly made a hurried throw to first. Apparently, just before I remembered it myself, Barmes remembered that the judy hitting pitcher who just topped one to him used to be a first-team All-American wide receiver and had the wheels to match. Barmes got Samardzija by a step.
So what does this have to do with Samardzija's real job, that of a relief pitcher on what is allegedly a Major League Baseball team? Nothing really.
Samardzija's better than he has been in the past (since that 26-game stretch in his rookie year of 2007), but he's still walking too many guys (25 in 35 innings). Until he gets that under control he's still just an overpaid guy with poofy hair and good wheels. He's going to audition as the Cubs primary righty setup man while the next guy on our list is out. If that works out, great, if not, there will be plenty of time once the NFL lockout ends to run some pass patterns for the Bears.
Kerry Wood - The back end of the Cubs' bullpen isn't their problem, in fact, it's the only part of the team that actually functions. Wood and Sean Marshall are excellent set up guys and save for two rocky (six earned against the Astros on May 31) and recent (Ryan F'ing Theriot) appearances Carlos Marmol has been tremendous. Wood's return from a two year stint in Cleveland via the Bronx just didn't feel complete...until Monday when he went on the disabled list with a blister. Now, he's truly home.
Sean Marshall - Is a tremendous lefty setup man a luxury that an awful team can't afford? I'm not saying the Cubs should consider trading Marshall (well, actually, they should consider trading anybody, but that's a different story). You have to wonder if Marshall should be logging 180-200 innings in the rotation instead of 80 in the bullpen. Oh, he'd probably stink(s) there, I mean not everybody can be Doug Davis.
Carlos Marmol - Granted, the Cubs expect to contend again in the next year or two after they put the money freed up this offseason to good use (--stops to alternately laugh at the obsurdity of that statement and cry at the reality--), but should the team consider trading Marmol while he's still putting up Bugs Bunny-type pitching numbers (.614 OPS against)? When you consider Marmol's funky throwing motion, his over-reliance on throwing sliders, and the fact that he pitched in an average of EIGHTY games a year from 2008-2010, the prudent thing would seem to be to trade him and let him break down for some other team.
Then again...the Cubs traded Bruce Sutter when he was 28 (same age as Marmol now) for superstars Ken Reitz, Leon Durham and Ty Waller) and Sutter spent the next four years in St. Louis winning 26 games, posting a 2.72 ERA and saving 127 games and leading the National League in that category three times.
It's not like that trade didn't work out. Durham made one of the worst defensive misplays in franchise history in 1984 and Reitz once said "The worst thing about being traded by the Cubs is that they make you keep your season tickets."
I almost forgot Rodrigo Lopez. I wish I could forget Rodrigo. He's listed as being 35, but he's got to be on the Pujols Plan, and actually pushing 50. He has somehow only pitched 10 innings, even though it feels like he pitches every day. He doesn't walk guys (2) but he also doesn't strike anybody out (5) and he's given up 13 hits.
Here's the bottom line about how lousy the pitching on the 2011 Cubs is. Unless he gets the urge to retire during a game, Doug Davis is going to be in the rotation the rest of the season, and unless he breaks a hip getting out of the bathtub, Rodrigo Lopez is going to be on the staff the rest of the way, too.
How can it only be June?
Offensively, the Cubs get lots of hits (second in the NL in batting average), but they rarely walk (3rd worst), they can't steal bases (worst in the NL), and they are a miserable 10th in runs scored. Take a leaky pitching staff and an inept offense, sprinkle in a complete lack of speed and shoddy defense and it's a miracle that they've won 26 games.
"It's a miracle."
Two guys who subscribe to the "get lots of hits, but don't walk" are the only two promising players on the whole offense.
Starlin Castro has 80 hits in 62 games and Darwin Barney has 72 hits in 62 games. But they've only combined to walk 18 times. That's why they are both posting lousy on base averages (Castro - .326, Barney .322). Neither strike out that often, combined they strike out less (54 times) than Carlos Pena (60). But it makes sense that the team would score more runs if these two guys, arguably their two best hitters, got on base more often than Luis Montanez (.333.)
The good news is that both of these guys are young, and so the bad habits they are learning now at the big league level can be ingrained for a lifetime!
I have no idea what is wrong with Aramis Ramirez. E-ramis is not hitting for power (his .408 slugging is the worst since 2002), he's not getting on base (.335 is his worst since...well, last year, but before that it was 2003) and he's only on pace to hit about 12 home runs. That would be his fewest in a full season since...ever. He's only supposed to be 33 years old, and he's got a $16 million option for next year. He's making that decision easy for the Cubs, who can instead pay him $2 million to just go away. It's a sad and sudden end of the Cubs career of one of the best clutch players (I know, I know "clutch" doesn't exist) in the league.
Who knows what's really up with E-ramis? Maybe his long string of injuries have caught up to him. Maybe he's not really only 33. Maybe his cockfighting operation in the DR is having troubles. All I know is that the Cubs are about to have to fill third base again, and it only took them 30 years to do it last time.
Carlos Pena has been as advertised, for better or worse. His batting average is lousy (.216) but he's getting on base (.352) and he's hit with power some power. By "some" he's hit 9 homers, but only five doubles. That's kept his slugging at a mediocre (.379). He's a very good defensive player and seems like a swell guy. The Cubs should convince him to mix in a double or two and maybe they can trade him to a good team at the deadline.
Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano have been the most productive regulars, and that's a problem, when you consider Kosuke only has 12 extra base hits in 172 at bats and Soriano only has a .297 on base average. They also have a combined salary this year of $31.5 million. Is that a lot? It seems like a lot. You know for 14 homers, 35 RBI and a stolen base, that probably is a lot.
Kosuke's likely to be traded, assuming the Cubs eat some of his salary, since he's in the last year of his deal, and Marlon Byrd would have been a prime trade target if he hadn't caught an Alfredo Aceves fastball in the face in Boston last month. Byrd is somewhat productive (.308 average, 108 OPS plus) and carries a reasonable price tag (about $9 million total remaining on his deal--$2.5 million left after the trade deadline this year, $6.5 million next). He should be back sometime in July, but who knows if he'll prove he's healthy before the deadline?
The Cubs most productive hitters are utility guys Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson. That's not a good sign. Baker is hitting .368, but thanks to two walks in 87 at bats his on base average is "only" .382. Johnson is hitting .367 and has a team leading .633 slugging average. Considering Reed is 5'10, 34 years old, has a bad back and a career slugging average of .412, the .633 isn't likely to last.
Geovany Soto got off to a bad start, got hurt and is slowly rounding his stats back from "suck" to "mediocre." If you think this is becoming a career trend for Soto you'd be wrong. But not as wrong as whatever it is he does to his eyebrows.
Koyie Dolan Hill has the most awesome middle name in baseball, and for a crappy backup catcher, he's put up crappy backup catcher numbers (.239/.304/.352). I mean, he's no Steve Lake, but who is?
Now we get to the interesting part of the roster...the "kids!"
People are always talking about these "kids."
Why doesn't Quade play the kids more? What about the kids? Who's watching the kids? Let them play! Let them play!
There are apparently three kinds of "kids" on the Cubs roster.
There are the two that play every day, the 21 year old Castro and the 25 year old Barney.
There are the ones who are too old (29) to be "kids" like the recently departed Brad Snyder and old friend Lou Montanez.
And then there are Tyler Colvin, Blake DeWitt, Tony Campana, DJ Lemahieu and Wellington Castillo.
Fans complain endlessly whenever DeWitt gets a start in the outfield instead of Colvin or Campana, because that's another instance of Quade not letting the "kids" play. It's true, DeWitt is the oldest of the three. Compared to them he's ancient. He's 15 days older than Colvin and almost 9 months older than Campana. Of all the nerve of playing a fossil like that instead of one of these scrappy up and comers.
The other factor is that unlike either Colvin or Campana, DeWitt has actually hit lately. He batted .314 in May and .295 in June.
Compare that to Colvin, who broke an 0-34 slump with a double (that should have been a homer) and infield single in Philadelphia last week. That offensive outburst has boosted his overall numbers to a .105 average, .384 OPS and a fascinating OPS plus (remember 100 is average) of four.
That he's this bad is a surprise, but that he's somewhat bad isn't. Colvin simply didn't show the ability to get on base in the minors, and even in his productive season last year his .814 OPS was fueled mostly by an unsupportable (for him) .500 slugging average. He's just not very good.
As for Campana, he's fast....really fast, actually, but he has no power (one extra base hit--a double--in 43 at bats) and hasn't quite figured out how to put on a hat. He wears it like he's trying to keep the sun off of his right ear. I'm not ready to write him off completely, mainly because he showed the ability to get on base in his last two stops in the minors. His OBA was .378 at double-A Tennessee last year and it was .383 in Iowa this year. But obviously that's his only chance of making it in the big leagues. Because when he gets on, he's trouble. He has succeeded in all six of his stolen base attempts, and hasn't really been close to being caught yet. He's got a chance to be the next Juan Pierre. Trouble is, there's already one too many Juan Pierres as it is.
Thirty-six players have suited up for the Cubs this year. Of that number, only five are younger than 25. Castro is 21 (awesome), Cashner is 24 (his shoulder, however is apparently in its 40s), Castillo is 24 (he didn't get a chance to do much, and responded to those chances by literally not doing much) and Lemahieu is 22.
Some youth movement.
Which brings us to Jim Hendry and Mike Quade.
Hendry's come under fire, most recently because his team stinks again. Should he really get a third chance to build this same team? The simple answer, despite my feeling that Hendry is a hard worker who is driven to make this thing work, is no. The biggest thing that holds this franchise back is their inability to develop their own talent. It's what causes them to sign horrible contracts like the one they gave to Alfonso Soriano, or to overextend players like Dempster and even Zambrano. If you have no reliable in-house resupply of talent, you can't afford to let any veterans walk. Successful franchises are able to pick and choose which veterans to keep, and even better, what prospects to deal. The Cubs enjoy no such luxury. So you throw bags of cash at Soriano because your existing left fielder just put up a .444 slugging average and there's nobody in the system close to replacing him.
Not that we didn't all love Matt Murton, but that's another story.
But hey, it's not like Hendry's been in charge of developing the minor leagues for very long, give the guy a chance. He's only been at it since 1995 when Andy MacPhail hired him as the director of player development and then promoted him to assistant general manager and director of player personnel a year later.
So the biggest failing of the Cubs, the lack of their own developed players, has been one of the primary responsibilities of Hendry's for sixteen years. He's been at it since Bill Clinton was in his first term.
That's probably enough, Jim. Let somebody else screw it up for a decade and a half. Your work here is done.
As for Quade, he's taking a lot of heat for crazy managerial decisions like leaving starting pitchers in games too long and...uh...well, there's...uh...he uses too many nicknames and he's too nice when he talks about his players to the press.
He started the year with a team that would be lucky to sniff .500, and then half of it got hurt. They're losing because they're bad. He tries to squeeze an extra inning out of Dempster, Zambrano or Garza because he knows the other two spots in the rotation are liable to blow up after three innings and torch the whole bullpen. I'm not absolving him of the Cubs awful record, but I'm also not going to dump the whole thing on him.
But yeah, the nickname thing is annoying. Especially when he calls Starlin Castro "Cassie."
It's hard to look at this team and not see that it's just a mess. Bad contracts, bad players, and a bad team.
As their most articulate member said a little more than a week ago, "We stinks."