I'm sitting myself down tonight after a long baseball season to watch the Cubs for the final time this year. After Ron Santo died last winter, this season I decided to upgrade myself from MLB.com's Gameday Audio to the full MLB.tv package so I'd have access to every Cubs TV broadcast this year. I watched every one. I might not have watched them live, and for quite a number the game became background noise as I worked on something else, but in one way or another I've watched every single game this season. It's not quite like getting season tickets and attending every home game, or like visiting all 30 major league ballparks, but it's something.
I certainly didn't pick a memorable Cubs season to watch. Early in the season, an injury-riddled Cubs lineup proved that they were a pretty poor team. Later, when they got healthy, the best they could do was still pretty average. There were way too many blown saves and about a billion men left on base. I know the Cubs are looking for a GM, and I'm in no way qualified for that position, but here are my thoughts about where the team is finishing and what I hope to see in the future:
- Starlin Castro has been fun to watch, although he has a lot of work to do in almost every aspect of his game. He can hit, sure, but rarely does he get on base any other way. I think his defense has gotten a little better as the season progressed; for a while there it seemed like he was throwing balls into the dugout or stands every couple of days. If there's a bright spot in a dull season, Castro's 200+ hits stand out.
- Darwin Barney is a likable player, but I worry that the numbers that made him look like a good rookie won't improve and in a couple years they'll just look average. Remember all the talk after the Santo era about the constant turnover at 3rd base? I'm not sure the Cubs aren't experiencing the same thing at 2nd post-Sandberg.
- I like Carlos Pena. He seems like such a good clubhouse guy and a real professional on and off the field. However, the equation seems simple: he's not under contract for next year and the Cubs have a AAA first baseman who won the Pacific Coast MVP. I know they're trying out LaHair in the outfield, but I won't be upset if he's slated to be the Cubs first baseman next year.
- Aramis Ramirez has been as much a part of any Cubs success the past 8 years as anyone. I'd like to see him back, but it probably wouldn't be a good business decision. Unless you know you've got a real contender, shelling out big contracts to aging players isn't a good idea.
- Alfonso Soriano has made a more positive impression on me this year. Not enough to justify his huge contract, but if he has three more years like this one I'll be okay with seeing him in left field most every day.
- I continued to be impressed by Marlon Byrd's hustle. Same goes for Reed Johnson. If you're going to win, you have to have guys like these on your team.
- Who doesn't love Tony Campana? (Besides opposing teams.) I don't care if he can't hit for power or if he can't produce as an everyday starter. I just want him on the team, ready to contribute at a moment's notice.
- Starting pitching: Garza's a keeper and probably should have had 15 wins had he gotten good support. I hope Dempster's back, but I doubt that will happen. I think Randy Wells can still be a really good #2 or #3 starter. Carlos Zambrano....sorry, but we've been better off without you. Any bets that he'll be pitching for the Marlins next year?
- Bullpen: Thanks, Kerry, for coming back to the Cubs. You gave up bigger money and Cubs fans won't forget it. Jeff Samardzija and Jeff Russell were unexpectedly good at times and Sean Marshall might have been consistently the best pitcher on the whole staff. Marmol? Shaky. Ortiz and Grabow? Yawn.
I won't go through the entire roster, but I think the theme for next year should be "let the kids play." Sure, Soriano and Byrd will get plenty of playing time, but I won't mind if every other position is filled by someone with less than five years of major league experience. If the Cubs spend money, I'd go after starting pitching. We saw how few options the Cubs had when Wells and Cashner went down, and having one or two more solid, reliable starters will give the kids a reason to think they can win every day.
It's the third inning and Dempster just gave up a 3-run-homrun with two outs in the 3rd inning. The inning would have been over had Reed Johnson and Starlin Castro connected on a relay to the plate, but instead the Cubs give away runs after a fundamental mistake. Par for the season, unfortunately, but I'll keep watching anyway. Until next year...