First off, let me wish occasional commenter Brandon and his girlfriend Jen well. They were hit by a drunk driver head-on last night while driving to Oregon, and while they appear to be ok, their car is totaled. Don't you love what the lowest pieces of crap in our society is capable of? Not only will there always be drunk people, there will also be dumb people making awful decisions. I have no idea if the drunk driver is ok, and to be honest, I couldn't care less if they aren't. Anyway, Brandon and Jen- I'm glad you came out of this horrible circumstance alright.
Now comes a rant about the upcoming baseball season. This one is personal and may only apply to me. Here's my problem- I can't get excited about it. I want to. I really, really want to. But every time I think about the season as a whole, a shadow looms over my thoughts- I'm fairly sure the Cubs are not going to be good.
This may not come as a surprise to anyone because why should the "cursed" "lovable losers" with the 3rd highest payroll in baseball be a quality baseball team? Oh, I don't know, probably because their aforementioned 3rd highest payroll in baseball should be getting more results? Maybe because fans show up at Wrigley Field even when the team is dreadful- all the while, buying $6 Old Styles in order to get some enjoyment out of the product that is being put out there?
Perhaps I'm being over-dramatic. The Cubs are only 2 years removed from being a 97 win team that got swept out of the playoffs by an 84 win Dodgers team. I am typically a pretty positive person. I know that I can control the Cubs' results about as much as I can control the rain that has been pouring on the West Coast recently. However, most of my life I've maintained a positive outlook when thinking about the Cubs. This last year's team seems to have broken me, though. That attitude has carried over to this year.
Let's have a look at the team. I'll line out what I like and what I don't, and in the end we'll see if I'm being a Chick Little or if I'm spot on.
Things I Like:
Getting Matt Garza - I'm unsure of exactly how good the prospects are that the Cubs gave up, but overall I like this acquisition. Garza is a tough pitcher who has had to deal with AL East for years. He should find the NL Central much easier to pitch in. I'm also hoping that he will help bring a winning attitude to the Cubs since he's become used to winning with the Rays. Carlos Pena can also help in that regard.
Getting Carlos Pena's defense and power - I don't know about $10 million, but for one year only, I like getting Carlos Pena. Hopefully he can hit 40 bombs at Wrigley and hold down the 1st base corner on defense. Seems a bit expensive, but what do I care? I'm a fan, not a member of the Cubs' business office. Like I said, I'm hoping that Garza and Pena can show the other guys (specifically the younger guys) how to be winners.
Getting Kerry Wood - If there was ever a guy who can be commended for taking less money to go to place he specifically wanted to play, it is Kerry Wood. Getting him to sign for $1.5 million was a steal and likely balances out the massive expense of Pena. Wood will be great as an 8th inning guy- assuming he can stay healthy. Chicago is happy to have Kid K back!
The Youngsters - Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin are two guys that have shown great promise early in their careers. If these two guys continue to improve, the Cubs will greatly improve as well. Also, it's good to see that Colvin was able to survive getting impaled by a bat. What toughness! And we know for sure he's not a vampire, though the Cubs play enough day games to make sure of that already.
Things I Don't Like:
Carlos Pena's average - Signing a guy for $10 million that hit under .200 the previous year does not look like a good move. Like I said, I enjoy his power and defense, but if he hits under .200 this year, it's going to be a LONG year for him. Chicago fans can be among the most fickle in baseball and you do not want to lose their support. Beloved steroid taker Sammy Sosa lost them when he hit .240 after being beaned in the head. I somehow doubt they'll give more slack to a new face in town being paid $10 million.
Big Z's cured! - Whenever someone goes to rehab and claims they are "cured," it is probably the first clue that they are either delusional or in denial. At the very least, they are not prepared to overcome the adversity they are sure to face in the future. Carlos Zambrano went to anger management last year and arrived to Spring Training this year claiming he had been cured. That is not the statement I would like to hear. I'd rather him recognize that controlling his emotions should be an ongoing process- but we know that's not going to happen. I set the "Z led dugout brawl" line at July 12. Who wants the under?
2B - Jeff Baker and Blake Dewitt are going to platoon? Oh boy. Good thing we traded Ryan Theriot last year as a throw in to the Dodgers. They passed him along to the Cardinals and I guarantee he kills the Cubs every time they play. THE RIOT was not outwardly impressive, but he was solid. My hope is that Darwin Barney comes on strong and steals the 2B job outright. That is doubtful though.
Soriano & Ramirez - If I had $33 million to spend on baseball players, there is no way either one of these guys would get a piece of that cash. However, in the world of the Chicago Cubs, that is exactly what these guys will get paid. If they live up to their contracts, it will be a good year. Again, the chance of that happening is almost zero.
Fukudome - I've seen enough of this guy. The Cubs gave him a 4 year $48 million deal. I'm pretty sure they thought he was going to hit 25 jacks every year while hitting .290 - .310. He's a decent baseball player, but I'm ready for his contract to be over. Here's to hoping his impending free agency gives him some extra motivation.
I know the Cubs could potentially have a decent year. I do think they are better than they were last year (that's not saying much.) Unfortunately, they have lacked a certain passion the last two years that really hurts their perception in the eyes of the fans. I'm not sure I can describe the "passion" I'm talking about, but I will tell you that the 2010 San Francisco Giants had it. You just know that they are playing hard, able to overcome adversity, and are an easy team to root for. I would say that even if they had not won the World Series. Although, I'm guess it was that passion that helped them finish off their playoff run with a World Championship.
I want to believe the Cubs will have a good year. Once Opening Day rolls around, I'm hoping to get the negativity out of my system. Thus far, however, I can't squash my fears of this being just another year like every other one I've experienced for all of my 30 years. Championship-less.