The 2008 Chicago Cubs are certainly an imposing bunch, but if you want to feel a bit better about things take a look at what's just over the horizon for the small bears.
2007 Payroll: $99 million
2008 Payroll: $118 million
2009 Projected Payroll: $122 million
|Signed Until||Ave Salary||Age||No trade?|
These guys have been great this year, but they are on the wrong side of 30 (except for Z), they are locked in at a high price, and they cannot be moved. Lee, Ramirez, and Soriano have yet to show any decline in their performance. Lee was over his head in 2005, but has plateaued as a steady 130 OPS+ guy as have Soriano and Ramirez. Lilly doesn't appear to have lost much since last year when he was very good, though a couple early starts inflated his ERA. Fukudome has performed as advertised and may yet crank up the power.
The real story is some worrying numbers from Zambrano.
That is not a good trend for a pitcher working on his sixth straight 200+ inning season. His FIP (description here for the uninitiated) looks improved this year, but it is a product of only giving up three home runs in 112 innings. His XFIP (FIP with a "normalized" home run rate, explanation) is essentially unchanged from the past two years.
2009 Free Agents:
|Dempster||31||4 years / $48m|
|Edmonds||38||1 year / $8m|
|Wood||31||3 years / $24m|
These are rough estimates assuming the players in question continue at their current pace, which of course they won't. For Wood you have to look at Lidge's contract and discount for injury risk and reduced effectiveness. For Dempster, I looked at Carlos Silva specifically. There are no replacements for Dempster or Wood in the minors. Rich Hill could come back to life (unlikely) and Marmol can become the closer, but then Marmol's slot would need to be filled. If both players are signed at the above rates, the Cubs 2009 payroll would skyrocket to $142 million. In a side note, the Cubs might be wrecking Marmol in their furious effort to win now.
These guys are as good as gone. The Cubs are currently for sale, and because the Tribune Company is looking to sell Wrigley Field and the team separately, the Cubs will be facing a steep rent increase if the sale(s) proceed as expected. Expectations are for a steady or decreasing payroll.
There will be bullpen upheaval with Wood, Howry, and Eyre moving on. Johnson was already non-tendered last year, so he might be a candidate for release, but with Edmonds a free agent and Felix Pie apparently a bust, they might bring Johnson back.
Minor League System:
Geovany Soto looks like a hit, while Pie and Rich Hill look like busts. This is a real killer for the Cubs. Hill has been sent to rookie ball at the Cubs spring training facility in Mesa. In his first appearance he walked three guys and gave up a hit while only lasting a third of an inning... in the AZL league. Now he came back five days later to pitch well, but his ability to contribute in 2009 is highly questionable. Pie has a .241/.293/.400 for Triple A Iowa. He sprained his thumb and missed some time in late June. In seven games since his return he's 11 for 35 with 2 XBHs and 3 walks. In 264 major league appearances he's posted a .217/.275/.321 line, although his handling has been reminiscent of Anthony Reyes. The win-now Cubs just can't show the patience he needs. He'll be 24 years old at the start of 2009... getting a bit long in the tooth for a top prospect.
The rest of the system looks downright terrible. With the graduation of Soto and the trade of Gallagher, there are no prospects in the Baseball America's pre-season top 100. Josh Vitters, taken third overall last year, is adapting to pro ball slowly, but seems to be coming around. In any case Vitters won't be seen in Wrigley until late 2010 or 2011 at the earliest. Other notables include Donald Veal, Tyler Colvin, Jeff Samardzija, and Jose Ceda. Only Ceda can be said to be excelling. Colvin is a corner outfielder with a sub-.700 ops at double-A. Veal is also at double-A and will be 24 in September. Samardzija has a guaranteed 5 year / $10 million contract with a full no-trade claus and is currently struggling with control and hittability issues. He will make an appearance in a Cubs uniform at some point, but he'll be 24 next year and his performance hasn't come close to matching his contract.
Call me a complete homer, but this has the makings of a team that will lose 90-100 games every year from 2010-2015. Aging stars with unmovable contracts, a pitiful minor league system, and an ownership situation will likely damage the on-the-field product, at least in the near-term, will conspire to doom this team for many years. They had better win now.
[L.B. EDIT ---- comments on this thread are closed. nice post by guayzimi, but the discussion turned childish and stupid in short order. disappointing.]