The Closer

Who is the Cubs closer for next year? This guy. Kevin Gregg. What does that mean for the Cubs closer of 2008, Kerry Wood? Well, according to JH, it means "Thanks for Nothing. Enjoy your New Team." I am not sure if JH was concerned that I didn't really have a Cub to hate, but if that was his concern, he doesn't have anything to worry about now. Look, I am probably the over-sentimental type who thinks that when a player turns down other offers for more money to stay in Chicago he should probably be rewarded when he does everything he should the next year, but really, you decide to kick Kerry Wood to the curb by acquiring Kevin Gregg?

I already see it. 2009, NLDS. The Cubs vs. the Mets. Kerry Wood comes on to record 3 saves in three games to sweep the Cubs out of another playoff race. JH in burned in effigy. Kevin Gregg run out of town. All because Kerry Wood was seeking another big contract.

For those know aren't intimately familiar with KG (I will never use that again), Kevin Gregg has been the Marlins closer for the past 2 seasons. In '07, he recorded 32 saves with a 3.54 ERA. This year, 29 saves with a 3.41 ERA. The Marlins got rid of him because it is another salary dump by the team that is notorious for salary dumps, only this time, they didn't win a W.S., they are just getting rid of anyone who knows the word arbitration.

Look, Kevin Gregg's fine. Decent numbers, 30 years old, arbitration eligble. But the Cubs gave up the guy I would consider their #1 prospect in Jose Ceda to get him. Ceda is a future closer and had far and away the best year of any Cubs minor leaguer not named Micah Hoffpauir. So, in addition to bending Kerry Wood over, they depleted their farm system even more.

Kerry Wood, thanks for the memories. JH, thanks for nothing.

Where Are They Going, Part IV

On to free agent targets, or should I say, rumors about free agents the Cubs might be targeting:

The Cubs

Kerry Wood-Will the Cubs/Wood marriage continue? It seems as though it might, but the Cubs don't seem to be making it priority #1. Maybe Wood's agent told them that he wanted to go into the open market before making any decisions. In any case, it appears that we won't have a decision soon, as you would expect K-Rod to set the market and Wood to fall in line after that. The Mets are among the teams that have Wood on their radar. I know the Cubs feel confident in sliding Marmol into the closer's role if Woody leaves, but I would much rather see a Marmol/Wood back end of the rotation that relying solely on Marmol.

Ryan Dempster-I think if you googled Dempster's name right now, you'd get a bunch of stories about Peavy, because it seems that every article that mentions Peavy mentions Demp. The reason? Everyone wants to know whether the Cubs can afford Demp and Peavy. That said, the Cubs have been trying to get Dempster to sign before their exclusive negotiating rights end tomorrow. Dempster certainly seems content in Chicago, so it may come down to whether the Cubs are willing to offer the 32 year old a fifth year on his deal and/or whether Dempster is willing to give the Cubs a "hometown" discount. Many teams are hoping the Dempster deal doesn't go through, including the Blue Jays, who see him as a replacement to A.J. Burnett, and would be welcoming back to Canuck country.

Henry Blanco-The Cubs declined Blanco's option, but stated they were interested in him coming back. According to Geo Soto, he expects Blanco to be back. I wasn't a huge fan of Hank White when he was seeing serious PT two years ago and the Cubs signed him to the 1 year plus an option deal, but Hank White proved me wrong this year. He managed to hit .292 despite starting only 28 games for the Cubs. He seems to be an positive tutor to Geo Soto, so I would have to say that I would welcome him back now. I haven't heard a rumor of anywhere else he'd land.

The Pitchers

Derek Lowe-Lowe is one of the more interesting free agents, in my opinion. He will turn 36 in June of next year, but had his lowest ERA since 2002 and his lowest WHIP of his starting career. Some would say those are contract year numbers, and while that's true, he went 14-12 with a 5+ ERA in his last year in Boston. Given his age, he isn't going to fit in the upper echelon of FA prospects (CC, Dempster, Burnett), but probably falls just below there. The biggest issue with him is the number of years he's seeking. The biggest stat he has to negate his age is his durability; he's started 32 games or more in each of the 7 years he's started. While I don't want to see the Cubs go out and throw 4-5 years at this guy, if they can't re-sign Dempster, I hope Lowe's on their short list.

Andy Pettitte-While the world thinks that either Pettitte with either re-sign with the Yankees or not re-sign at all, it has been reported the Cubs have inquired as to whether he'd be interested in coming to the North Side. Pettitte is a year older than Lowe (he'll turn 37 next June), but probably wouldn't be looking for the long-term contract that Lowe is seeking. Like Lowe, Pettitte is durable; going 33+ starts in each of the last 4 years. But playing in the AL, Pettitte's ERA has been over 4 each of the last three years, and was over 4.50 this past year. If the Cubs wanted a Lefty for a year, they could pursue Pettitte, but I doubt Pettitte heads anywhere but back to New York. The 'Stros are being courted to sign Pettitte and the Cards have been the same inquiry as the Cubs.

Position Players

Rafael Furcal-Furcal was putting up MVP type numbers last year...until early May, when he got hurt. By the time he came back, it was late September. He just turned 31 last month, so he has a few good years left in him. But the rumor doesn't have the Cubs pursuing him, rather he has stated he is interested in the Cubs. Presumably, the Cubs could use the switch-hitter to leadoff and either put him at second or move The Riot back to second, moving DeRo to RF. But signing Furcal poses the same problem as signing Brian Roberts...while it would allow Lou to move Sori down in the order, it doesn't provide the lefty power bat in the middle of the lineup. Add to that the fact that Lou seemed content in keeping Sori in the leadoff spot based on his comments yesterday, I just don't see this move happening.

Mark Kotsay-Kotsay would probably be a CF platoon with ReJo, and Kosuke would remain in right. He missed a month of the season last year and was traded from Atlanta to Boston in a waiver deal. He hit a solid .289 for the Braves, but ground into 13 DP's in just over 300 AB's. Kotsay isn't much more than a guy who can hit for some average and plays a solid center (he can play right too, as he did for Boston at year's end). Again, Kotsay doesn't add the power bat the Cubs are looking for.

Raul Ibanez-Ibanez's name has popped up a couple of times when the Cubs have been looking, so some scout in the Cubs organization must be high on him. For those who don't follow baseball in the Pacific Northwest, Ibanez has been a seemingly been lifer for the Mariners, although he actually spent 3 years in K.C. The 36 year old will turn 37 in June, but can still hit. 23 HR's, 43 doubles, and a .289 BA last year, his fourth consecutive 20+ HR season. The biggest knock on Ibanez is his defense...he's committed 11 errors in the last two years, and he hasn't played RF since 3 games in 2005. Given that they say right field in Wrigley is one of the hardest OF position's to play, it will be a question of whether Lou is willing to sacrifice defense for offense.

Bobby Abreu-A Cubs source has already said Abreu is going to be too expensive for their taste, but Abreu is younger, faster version of Ibanez. He will turn 35 before the start of the season. His numbers stack up against Ibanez: 20 HR's, 39 doubles, and a .296 average. He can steal, he is patient at the plate, and he is durable. But Abreu's showing signs of wearing down; his 22 bags last year were his lowest total in a decade. Ditto for his 73 walks. His 14 GIDP's were the highest of his career. Abreu's numbers would be a huge addition to the middle of the Cubs lineup, but I would be really concerned with what seems to be a sharp decline in his skills.

Adam Dunn-If you've heard Ibanez's name mentioned before, you've heard Dunn's name mentioned about 40 times. The biggest difference between all the previous times and now is that he is no longer part of the Cincinnati Reds organization. The Big Donkey celebrated his 29th birthday earlier this week, making him far and away the youngest player the Cubs are rumored to be pursuing. And who wouldn't want a guy who's HR numbers for the past 4 seasons look like this: 40, 40, 40, 40. Actually, he hit 46 in 2004, but that didn't look as cool. However, in adding the Big Donkey (which I think is the second best nickname in MLB, behind Travis "Pronk" Hafner), you also get to add 165+ K's to your lineup and a career .247 hitter. But with the fear of giving up one of those 40 dingers, you also get pitchers who walk him about 100-120 times a year, giving him a highly respectable .381 lifetime OBP. All those who hate the batting average, the Big Donkey is your poster boy. But Dunn may be the most inept of all at playing the field (the baseball field, although he is married), playing OF with about a .960 fielding percentage. Some experts already have Dunn penciled in as the Cubs RF next year, and his Baseball-Reference page is hoping he's heading to the North Side as well.

Where Are They Going, Part III

Positions of Need? Check. Players Available for Trade? Check. So, in Part III, let's look at the players the Cubs are rumored to be pursuing via trade.

Jake Peavy-I don't know if you heard this rumor, but supposedly the Cubs are trying to acquire Jake Peavy from the Padres. Yeah, it was news to me too. I actually mentioned this rumor about a week ago, and I didn't think the Cubs had the prospects to make the deal. I still believe that to be the case, but it appears the Cubs are ready to do what is necessary to complete the deal. According to Buster Olney, the latest scenario has the Cubs trading Josh Vitters, their top prospect from 2007, and a third team entering the picture to send the Padres the pitching they need. Considering Vitters was the Cubs top prospect according to Baseball America last year, both pre-season and at mid-season, it comes as a bit of a shock that JH is willing to deplete the farm system this much. While Vitters is only 18 years old and is projected as a 3-sack, I just don't like the concept of the Cubs trading their top prospect at this time to make an offseason trade when there are a ton of FA pitchers available. The only benefit I see is that it avoids the Cubs having to give up a 1st rounder if they sign a picture on the open market.

Brian Roberts-It sounds like last offseason all over again, as the rumor of JH and his ol pal Andy McPhail trying to work out a trade to send the Cubs a leadoff hitter. Roberts will be entering the final year of his contract, so the O's trade demands may be lessened. The O's may be attempting to work an extension, but Roberts has said he wants to play for a winner (his 8 years of Baltimore baseball has landed him with 0 winning season). Roberts had a solid season, hitting .296 with a .378 OBP and 40 SB's. Presumably, the switch hitter would lead off, dropping Sori in the order and play second, moving DeRo to RF full time.

Jeremy Hermida-Hermida was the Marlins top prospect 3 years running. But like another team's top prospect for 3 years, he has yet to really show top prospect stuff. True, he had a .296, 18 HR performance in 2007 after starting a month and a half late, but reverted last year to a .249 average. Hermida isn't the world's finest defender, either. Hermida would add a power bat from the left side and has hit well at Wrigley (.333 BA, 4 HR's in 28 AB's). And maybe a change of scenery would allow him to relax from the pressure of being a bust. But with the trade of Josh Willingham to the Nat's today, it seems less likely that the Marlins would want to part with another OF.

Aaron Heilman-Rumor has it that the Mets are shopping Heilman, and the Cubs are listening. While it seems to me that Heilman has been around forever, he actually is arbitration-eligible for two more years. Heilman has been a workhorse for the Mets the last two years, throwing in 81 games in '07 and 78 in '08. From '05-'07, Heilman had ERA's of 3.17, 3.62, 3.03. But this past year, things took a turn for the worse, as Heilman's ERA jumped to 5.21 and he went 3-8. My guess is that JH is looking to add a workhorse to the 'pen and is betting that last year was an aberration. To add some spice to the mix, the right-handed Heilman is from Logansport, IN; JH always as a soft spot for bringing guys back "home" (Logansport in about 2 hours from Chicago).

Willy Taveras-Taveras probably isn't consider Plan A, B, or even F, but he is a name that the Cubs have considered in the past. He doesn't give the team the needed left-handed bat, but he would give the Cubs a leadoff man. He finds himself available with the supposed acquistion of Carlos Gonzalez in the Matt Holiday trade. Taveras hit .320 in '07, but then .251 in '08. But he managed to steal 68 bags this year. I don't see this one happening, but it's worthy of mention only because he has been mentioned before.

Where Are They Going, Part II

So now that we know what the Cubs need, let's look at what the Cubs could trade to get some of those needs filled.

Pack Your Bags

Rich Hill-It appears that Rich Hill's career as a Chicago Cub is over. The man who finished fifth in K's in 2007 is out of options, meaning the Cubs have to have them on their 25 man roster Opening Day next year or he will be put on waivers. To me, that means the Cubs will have to move him this off-season to hopefully get something for him.

Sean Marshall-While Marshall pitched OK out of the 'pen last year, he's essentially become the Cubs top trading piece...a left-handed starter with major league experience. The rumored offer for Peavy has Marshall as the centerpiece. I'm not saying there isn't a chance Marshall is back, but he seems to have more value being traded than on the field, unless he is in the rotation.

Ready to Move, If Needed

Felix Pie-The organization has soured on him. If the Cubs acquire another OF, Pie is without a spot, unless they move Fukudome in a trade. In an ideal world, Fukudome would've been more consistent last year and Pie would've proved himself, making the Cubs need for left-handed hitters obsolete.

Mike Fontenot-Some scouts believe that lil Mikey has the ability to be a full time 2-sack. In a scenario that most Cubs fans would probably dread, the Cubs could make lil Mikey a full time 2-sack, with DeRo moving to Right full time.

Ronny Cedeno-Ronny C is another guy who some teams see as an everyday player. While that's hard for me to believe, I just need to think back to the time when the Cubs thought he was an everyday player. Ronny C hit .269 and stole 4 bags in limited action, so if he's an everday player, I guess teams are looking at his age (he turns 26 in February) as a sign he may get better.

Micah Hoffpauir-The Cubs would probably love to keep Hoff to fill the D-Ward spot...pinch hitter who can back up D.Lee and play right in a pinch, but the biggest question is whether he's suited to be a pinch hitter (he hit .231 in a pinch last year for the Cubs). If the Cubs surprise everyone by not making an acquisition, the 29 year old could be penciled in in right. His trade value is limited because of his age, but he's well suited to be a DH.

Jason Marquis-If Fukudome had hit a little better, Marquis would probably Public Enemy #1 this offseason. So Hendry will try to trade Marquis for the second year in a row. Marquis reversed roles between this year and last, ending this season strong...he was 5-2 in his last 8 starts. Whether Marquis is traded depends largely on what else the Cubs do with their rotation.

Relievers-Too many to write up individually, but the Cubs seem to have a plethora of young arms...Ascanio, Gaudin, Guzman, Hart, Wells.
Not Bloody Likely

Fukudome-Fuku still has 3 years left on his contract, so the chances of him being traded are slim, but the Cubs have at least had a few calls about him. Likely from teams looking to take a chance on him and hoping the Cubs will fork over a huge portion of the contract. With

Jeff ND-Samardzija's name has come up in discussions about Jake Peavy because, well, the Cubs have little else to trade. But Samardzija has a full no-trade clause in his contract. The only way the Cubs could get him to waive this is probably a contract extension and a promise from the new team that he gets to start. Even then, you have to get past the point that he grew up a Cubs fan and wants to stay in Chicago.

Rich Harden-Harden is on this list for the same reason Jeff ND is on this list...the Peavy trade rumors. I hate to say this, because I am a huge Harden fan, but this would seem to be the only way the Cubs could get a trade like this done. But the odd thing is that a Harden for Peavy trade doesn't do anything for the Cubs, except give them a guy with a longer contract. Peavy isn't a deep pitcher. He may be a little healthier pitcher, but he doesn't go deep into too many games. This trade also doesn't change the Cubs need for another starter.

Derrek Lee-I think we can put this one to bed before it even gets started. The only way the Cubs trade Derrek Lee is if they are getting one of the top 10 position players in the league in return. I'm not saying Lee is one of the top ten players, but I just don't see JH trading Lee for anything less than that.
The Lessor Knowns
For those who don't follow the Cubs minor league system closely, your immediate thought is probably "Let's trade our top prospects for Peavy!" Well, the Cubs system isn't deep thanks to a few trades and even more so because the Cubs haven't drafted or developed their system well. But there are a few names that warrant mentioning:
Mitch Atkins-Atkins was a 2 time minor league All Star before this year, but wasn't thought to be a big time prospect. But after going 9-6 with a 3.76 ERA in Tennessee, he went 8-1 with a 4.47 ERA in Iowa. He ended up with a 2.64 K/W ratio and if he is in the Cubs system come winter, he's likely to be named as one of the Cubs Top Ten prospects. Even better, he just turned 23 in October.
Welington Castillo-The Cubs Future's Game representative this year, Castillo's future with the Cubs seems to be blocked because he happens to play the same position as the new NL ROY. Castillo hit .287 among three stops in the minors and is thought to be one a solid defensive catcher. He's only 21, so there's no rush to trade him, but he's definitely a bargaining chip the Cubs have.
Tyler Colvin-If there's a minor leaguer known to Cubs fans, it's probably Colvin, the Cubs 1st round of 2006. There was even speculation that the Cubs wouldn't sign a RF to a long term contract, because Colvin was sprinting to the right field ivy by next spring. Well, the COlvin freight train slowed a little in 2008; he only hit .256 in Tennessee and seemed to struggle with the K for long portions of the season. He's probably still one of the top 2-3 prospects in the Cubs system and JH would be reluctant to get rid of him on a down note, but his offseason surgery means he's about 98% certain of being in the system come March.
Jose Ceda-If the Cubs were to move a top prospect, my guess would be that Ceda would be the most coveted. Ceda started the year as a starter, more to develop his arm than as a long term starter. He threw a couple of games of relief for Daytona before being promoted to Tennessee. At Tennessee, he went 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 9 saves. He struck out 42 in 30 and 1/3 innings while walking only 14. The 22 year old, who stands 6-4, 275, is projected as a closer and while teams usually look to acquire starting pitching, his numbers certainly make him more attractive.