The Cubs 2011 season is looking more and more like past years. Unless the Cubs turn things around then it will be one more year tacked on since the Cubs won the World Series. The team is 7.5 games out of first place which makes one wonder if the Cubs should start thinking about 2012 while trying not to make the 2011 season look worse than what it has. The team does have some young talent that is with the main club with more on the way even with the prospects heading to Tampa in the Matt Garza deal. Most of this article deals with setting up for the 2012 season with the idea of signing either Pujols or Fielder to play 1B, but with some creativity (mostly clouded from reality), but the Cubs could set up for a remarkable 2012 season with one of the two said first baseman.
Let’s look at the construction of the 2011 roster and identify those who could be moved (presumably if the Cubs would be willing to eat some salary much like they did with Carlos Silva at the end of spring training) and who could they possibly ask for in return. Why would Ricketts agree to such drastic measures? If it were to guarantee either Pujols and Fielder banking on, first and foremost, a World Series championship and the possibility of a sold out season then I think he would roll the dice. The biggest roadblock to shedding any of these contracts are the no-trade clauses, but a chance at the playoffs could change the minds of these players.
The players that could be moved and have some value include: Byrd, Fukudome, Dempster, Grabow, Baker, DeWitt, Ramirez and to some extent Soriano. The Cubs could offer a package with the added incentive of eating the combined value of the contracts and possibly getting more in return. Let’s look at a team like Detroit who would be after starting and relief pitching along with another bat for the lineup. Could the Cubs dangle Bryd and Dempster with the Cubs eating roughly 80% of the combined contracts and getting Rick Porcello and a mid-level prospect in return. Porcello would, not only add a starter to a much needed staff, but Porcello is young enough to grow with a staff that might be getting younger. Baker and DeWitt could be offered to a team that is looking for bench help which they might not have to eat much salary. Fukudome is owed 14.5 million, but if the Cubs would be willing to eat around 10-12 would they be able to offer him to a team like Tampa who could be looking for another bat for a mid-level prospect. The Cubs could even offer Soriano to a team with the understanding that the Cubs would eat 90-95 % of the contract. A team looking for a DH could look at Soriano and might think it would be worth the risk. The idea is, not only shedding these contracts, but getting something in return to replenish the minors or be a piece for the 2012 season.
Assuming that all above said playes are moved then who does the Cubs trot out for the rest of the 2011 season. The pitching staff would be comprised of Z (I wouldn’t move him this year), Porcello, Garza, Wells, and whoever wants the 5th starter the most. The bullpen would be relatively the same, but maybe moving Doug Davis or Rodrigo Lopez out of the starting rotation if both aren’t released by then. Cassner should be shut down for the rest of the year because you can’t be too cautious with rotator cuff, strained or not, injuries. As far as Cassner’s concerned, the Cubs need to finally decide if Cassner’s going to be a starter or a reliever and let him train in the offseason with that role in mind. The Cubs should not move Pena especially if they move Ramirez because they will need at least one veteran in the infield since it might ultimately be the youngest this year. Chicago could bring up Scott Moore if Ramirez is dealt with the offseason spent working with Vitters being promoted. Barney and Castro seems, more and more, like the double play combination for the next 5-8 years.
The outfield is one position that has the most potential in the Cubs system. Campana is proving that he might, ultimately, be the center fielder of the future. If the Cubs can move Soriano and Fukudome then there are many more options to replace them. The obvious choice would be Colvin playing right field with Brett Jackson playing left field. If they want to sit Campana then Jackson can slide over to center with a player like Brad Snyder playing left. Another option would be Ryan Flaherty or Matthew Spencer (a player acquired in the Jake Fox deal).
How does this affect the 2012 season and the potential for the signing of Pujols or Fielder? The Cubs should have enough money to offer one of them what they are seeking in terms of dollars. The usual big spending teams i.e. Yankees and Boston have already locked up 1B to long term big money contracts and the teams that could use a first baseman that, historically, have been big spenders i.e. the Dodgers and Mets are financial messes. The two current first baseman’s teams have decisions to make. As far as Pujols, do they resign him? Carpenter is a free agent and it looks like Wainwright’s option will be picked up. It’s highly unlikely that St. Louis can afford all three considering they already have Matt Holiday’s big contract on the books. Does Pujols look at a team like Chicago as a team that could use his services more and can pay him the kind of money he wants or does he go with the familiarity of St. Louis? As far as Milwaukee and Fielder, it does look like they are willing to let Fielder go considering that they have already locked up Braun and Weeks to long term deals. Does he stay for less or does he view Chicago as a young team that he would fit in nicely?
Potentially, the 2012 Cubs could be one of the youngest teams in baseball even if they sign one of the big two. I realize that some who read this might respond with that the Cubs will not be able to trade any of their players, but, heck, they were able to trade the likes of Todd Hundley, Milton Bradley, and Sammy Sosa who some recall were considered untradable. With a little creativity the 2012 could, potentially, be a fun team to watch.