Baseball Toaster Cub Town
2005-11-28 08:23
by Derek Smart

There's something about backing off from the daily grind, spending down time with your family and engaging in self-induced, food-related coma induction that can start the sub-conscious mind spinning and twirling, doing a lot of the work you've been trying to do while you were awake, in no small part due to dangerously high levels of tryptophan and, what I like to call, pumpkinpieandCoolWhiptophan.

For me, what began to happen was a slight softening of my stance on the Cubs' recent and soon-to-be-announced middle reliever signings, not so much because they make philosophical sense as a bullpen building method, but rather because they start to become less galling when viewed through the lens of the Cubs' needs and the market. Let's start by quickly defining the specific holes the team is looking to plug.

  • Center Fielder
  • Right Fielder
  • Shortstop
  • Middle Relief
  • Starting Pitcher
  • Leadoff Man (to be co-fulfilled with one of the first three defined needs)

That may not be totally complete, but I think it's a fair assessment of big issues that confront them. So, we are left with five specific items to be dealt with, and one requirement that needs to be handled by the resolution of one of the three position player problems. I think there is some agreement that the leadoff man issue is one of the biggest, and since there is also some interdependency involved with some of the other items it seems like the best place to start.

On the free agent market there are two players who could fit into the Cubs' plans: Johnny Damon and Rafael Furcal. Between those two I think it's pretty clear who is likely to be the best value over time, as both men are likely to get similar deals, while Furcal has the advantage of being younger with better recent statistical trends. Clearly, he should be a priority for the club, and all indications are that he is being aggressively targeted by the organization.

For clarity's sake, here's where the decision to go after Furcal, making an assumption of success, leaves us:

  • Center Fielder
  • Right Fielder
  • Middle Relief
  • Starting Pitcher

Take a look at what the market bears in the outfield, and I think you'll see why this might be a set of needs better attacked through trade. Once the need for Damon is obviated by the assumed success of the Furcal pursuit as well as his prohibitive price tag, there is precious little available among free agent center fielders. Jacque Jones need not apply.

Similar things can be said about potential right fielders, although for my money, the one viable thumper - Brian Giles - is someone the Cubs should consider getting after. However, his age is a legitimate concern, and combined with the free fall to the next best available option and the aggressiveness with which other teams with cash are likely to pursue him, it's understandable why the organization would also consider this hole best filled via player exchange.

That leaves us with two outfield slots filled by trade, and a free agent signing of a combined shortstop/leadoff man solution. All that remains is to get after the bullpen issues and acquire one last starting pitcher.

This is the crux of my softening position: if the condition of the market dictates that the club's money isn't wisely spent on filling the outfield holes, then there are funds available to handle the rest of the problems.

In particular, this view leaves cash for relievers, and since much of the market focus is on working toward landing the few big fish (Billy Wagner, and the newly minted kajillionaire, B.J. Ryan, chief among them), the club likely viewed it as an opportunity to sneak in and get the issue handled while folks were looking the other way, and while they've likely overpaid a bit for the privilege, it appears this is exactly what they did.

The money for Furcal is still there, as is the money for another starter, so while I still have problems with building a bullpen with expensive free agents, it's not as if the club isn't following a plan. It is also - and this is something I regret overlooking in my initial assessments - part and parcel to Dustyproofing, which I am wholly in favor of.

I've previously expressed a willingness to overpay for Furcal due to the club's overwhelming need, the likelihood that he's the best available option to fix several issues, and that he helps accomplish the goal of reducing Baker's requirement for in-game thinking. He is exceptionally bad at it, and given the opportunity, he has shown that he will actively, if accidentally, damage the team's prospects on a given day.

Yes, in a perfect world I'd rather see the club build their bullpen the way teams like the Angels and White Sox have done - by, for the most part, giving youngsters and retreads with talent an opportunity to show their worth - but we're on the Planet Dusty (and will be for some time, like it or not), and there's little chance of success with him leading that model.

So, with some money to burn and a need to make in-game decisions more automatic, the money given to Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry becomes, if not money well spent, then money defensibly spent. I still may not like, but at least now I think I get it.

2005-11-28 09:20:03
1.   Lefty
And ain't that sad.
2005-11-28 09:30:25
2.   Todd S
I am Thankful that:

I'm not Jim Hendry in two years, trying to explain the Eyre, Howry, and Dempster contracts.

'Tis the season.

2005-11-28 09:58:04
3.   Sandus
Your theory is flawed, Derek. The use of 3 year contracts ties up that money for two more free agent periods, when the market will not necessarily be so dry. Not spending on a big money player this year shouldn't preclude you from doing so the following winter. But in this case, you've now appropriated money to middle relief (a position historically best filled through farm systems) which could've been better spent elsewhere or saved for next year.

The fact that the contracts have duration is what makes the deals unpalatable.

2005-11-28 10:01:26
4.   Derek Smart

'Taint no theory, I'm just trying to make myself feel better. ;)

2005-11-28 10:33:58
5.   BFT
Theories about young pitchers and castoffs populating the middle innings of games can be answered like this: 2005. I don't know if you guys had an especially busy summer and may have missed it, but the Cubs had a rather poor record last year running the Wellemeyers, Mitres, Leicsters, et al out there on a regular basis.
Eyre & Howrey were the two best of a thin crop of setup men and we have them both. Last year's set up men are now coming in in the early innings. We're stronger up and down the pen for about a third of what we paid Sosa not to play for us last year.
Solid move.
2005-11-28 12:55:56
6.   Todd S
BFT, I understand what you're saying, but I disagree with your conclusion. The Cubs also spent money on Scott Williamson, Chad Fox, and LaTroy Hawkins in previous years. None of these three players pitched well in 2005, even though they were "proven veterans." Meanwhile, Kyle Farnsworth, Joe Borowski, and Andy Sisco all had solid years out of the bullpen for other teams. Relievers are historically volatile and there's no guarantee that Eyre and Howry are going to be as good in 2006 as they were in 2005. In fact, it is quite likely they'll be worse. I disagree with the concept of giving guys in their mid-30s 3-year contracts after their best seasons. These contracts look OK in this year's offseason, but they won't during next year's. That is my opinion.
2005-11-28 14:37:45
7.   BFT
Todd S.

I agree with some of what you said. Relief pitching is a crap shoot. You never know who is going to have a career year and who is past their prime. I do know that you can't trot out the people we trotted out last year and expect a better result. I also disagree that Fox and Williamson were proven veterans. They were taken off the scrap pile after injuries. Farnsworth speaks for himself. JoBo appeared to get back to form, but struggled late in the year. Sisco should not have been kept on the 40 man roster. Time will tell if we end up regretting these signings, but they both had solid seasons in 2005 and Howrey in '04 as well. We didn't.

2005-11-28 17:08:23
8.   shuuto
The most glaring hole the team has is in RF, and Hendry hasn't even begun to address it yet. At least publicly, except for saying he won't get into a bidding war for Giles. I have to think he has a trade working somewhere. I mean, there are no RF's on the roster. Korey can play CF and Neifi or Cedeno can play SS if push comes to shove, but the Cubs lack anyone to play RF. That has to be the priority for the team right now...

What's with all the bullpen hate? Considering all the pen problems the Cubs had last year, some experience should be welcomed. Eyre was the best lefty set-up guy on the market, and Howry has looked great since coming off arm surgery in '03. Yes $3M-$4M/yr for middle relief is crazy, but that's the going price on the FA market. The contract lengths are worrisome, but I doubt they're so bad they're going to cripple the teams payroll. Eyre and Howry are going to run around $7M-$8M/yr combined over the next 3 yrs. That's roughly 7%-8% of the team's payroll, assumming the Cubs keep payroll around $100M. I don't think that's outrageous. Risky? Sure, but all FA signings are. I think Eyre and Howry are smarter signings than what the Jays gave Ryan...

2005-11-28 18:51:18
9.   Marc Normandin
The Cubs are doing what other teams should be doing, which is shoring up their bullpen. If they succeed, it isn't necessarily overpaying, since cost is relative. It does annoy every other GM in the game though, heh.
2005-11-28 18:52:19
10.   Marc Normandin
Methinks the Cubs are most likely going to land Milton Bradley to play either CF or RF. He'll even be a cost effective addition.
2005-11-29 07:05:13
11.   rynox
Is this too much to ask? (Bradley would be ok if as long as we have a leadoff guy).

OF- Murton, Pierre, Giles
IF- Ramirez, Furcal, Cedeno, Lee, Barrett
P- Z, Prior, Wood, Mitre, Estes

Of course the 5th pitcher spot will be Maddux, not Estes, and for some reason, everybody but me belives Mitre can't pitch, so it will probably be Rusch starting.

2005-11-30 08:18:47
12.   Todd S
Let me just say that as more of these FA signings are announced, I become less convinced that the Cubs have handed out poor contracts.

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