The minute the Ted Lilly/Ryan Theriot trade was announced I was interested in reading how Cub fans would react. Would they welcome the trade or would they react in much the same way as when Mark DeRosa was traded a couple seasons ago. I found much to be the latter. The reasons ranged from the usual, “Hendry must go….how could he trade these two?” to “Theriot was the second coming of Sandburg….how dare he trade Theriot.” Most Cub and Chicago baseball fans take a liking to those who are “grindy” and when those players leave react as if it were the second coming of the Lou Brock trade. This trade was no different in their eyes. As the 2010 season is coming down the stretch and with the playoffs out of reach for the second straight year I would be remised to view this trade with the 2011 season in mind.
The Lilly/Theriot trade was preceded by the attempt to trade Derek Lee, who is in the final year of his contract, to Anaheim, but Lee blocked it because of his 10-5 rights. Lee’s refusal to be traded set off a storm of criticism among Cub fans calling Lee, “selfish” among other superlatives because Lee weighed his family heavily into his decision. It was his right and his decision wasn’t the right one in the mind of Cub fans. Later in the week as the trading deadline was approaching, Ted Lilly’s name was coming up more and more in trade speculation. Lilly was in the final year of his contract and the Cubs wanted to move him while his value was never going to be any higher. On the Friday before the deadline, rumors were swirling that Lilly might be moved to the Dodgers along with Ryan Theriot. One of the transactions that L.A. did on that Friday was to option utility infielder Blake DeWitt to AAA Alberquerque. It would only make sense that if Theriot was being sent with Lilly then DeWitt was probably going to be included in the deal. The only thing that was holding up the deal was how much money that the Cubs would send to L.A. to cover Lilly’s contract. The Cubs sent money, Lilly, and Theriot for DeWitt and 2 pitching prospects. This trade could have some ramifications for the Cubs now and down the line.
The important part of the deal was getting DeWitt in the deal. He is only 24, plays 2B, 3B, and SS while the Cubs control his services until 2014 at around 400K per year. As far back as 2008, DeWitt was rated as the Dodgers #8 prospect according to Baseball Prospectus. DeWitt’s numbers was almost the same as Theriot, but DeWitt’s OBP was higher which is one of the reasons that Pinella cooled on Theriot. The two pitching prospects gives the Cubs some depth and flexiblilty in the minors. With Lilly gone, the Cubs are bringing Thomas Diamond up from AAA Iowa. Diamond was a waiver claim from AZ last year. Thomas has the first shot to make an impression for 2011.
The Cubs offseason is going to be the most interesting offseason since Pinella was hired. The changes could be wholesale if the Ricketts decide to replace Jim Hendry. They are already going to be replacing Pinella, who is retiring, and it remains unseen who besides Rudy Jaramillo is going to be back next season. It all depends on who the manager is, but there isn’t a shortage of candidates. Do they bring up Ryne Sandburg satisfying most Cub Fans or do they go after someone with experience like Joe Torre (if he is not resigned by L.A.) Of course, it won’t matter who the manager is unless the players start playing better.
It’s no surprise that there are going to be some new faces on the North Side in 2011. First off, the rotation might have the most new faces, but it also hinges on a few things. The biggest question is whether Z will be on the team or if he is moved in much the same way that Milton Bradley was moved after the 2009 season. It’s a given that to move Z is to assume a hefty portion of the money left on his contract. If Z is moved then there will be 2 maybe 3 new pitchers in the rotation. Dempster will be one and Tom Gorzelanny should be the other. Can Randy Wells put this disaster of a season behind him and pitch much like he did in 2009? The list of names the Cubs have in the minors ready include Chris Carpenter, Jay Jackson, Andrew Cassner, Mike Parisi, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Hung-Wen Chen, Scott Maine, and Thomas Diamond. The bullpen is a much more complex machine than the rotation. Do they pull Cassner out of the bullpen for the rotation weakening that said bullpen? Do they build from the end of the bullpen out? I believe that finding quality relievers is harder because of the uncertainty of the position. Bobby Howry is a prime example. Howry was lights out in the first year of this first stint with the Cubs, but spiraled downwards pretty fast. The Cubs do have some building blocks in the bullpen with James Russell, Stevens, and Sean Marshall.
The lineup should see some heavy tinkering for there should be only a couple new faces come 2011. 1B should be a big priority this offseason. D-Lee is probably not coming back for 2011 and it is uncertain who would be available as far as free agency goes. Going back to the trade for DeWitt. DeWitt would certain allow the Cubs to keep Castro at SS. Reports have Hak-Ju Lee being a much better defensive SS than Castro, but if the Cubs have a solid 2B then they could use Lee or Darwin Barney in a trade for a 1B such as A-Gone from San Diego. After this season, D-Lee’s 12 million dollars a year contract will be off the books which could be used as a starter for resigning A-Gone (if he could be acquired from San Diego), A-Ram’s contract will be off the books after the 2011 season which could figure in the contract also. The 2011 infield could look like A-Ram at 3B, Castro at SS, DeWitt at 2B, and A-Gone at 1B which would give the Cubs a solid infield. The outfield situation could be cleared up this offseason if the Cubs could find a taker for Fukudome. The Cubs will have to approach this much like they will with Z and eat some if not most of the remainder of Fukudome’s contract. At least, his contract comes off after the 2011 season and it may be easier to move him at next year’s deadline. If Byrd and Colvin play much like they have in 2010 then they can get by with Soriano in LF and they have Brett Jackson ready to be the fourth outfielder if Fukudome is moved. What they need to decide is whether Hill is a viable option to be the backup to Soto or do they go the free agent route or bring up one of the kids down in the minors.
The 2011 season is going to be one of intrigue and there will be more excitement than there has been since they last went to the postseason a couple years back.