We are early in the process of building the club for 2011. The first order of business is hiring our manager. Jim Hendry has identified a strong group of candidates and we are currently completing our interviews. This is a critical decision and I am confident we will find the right person to lead the club.
When the list of candidates involves Bob Melvin it can't really be that strong. Ryne Sandberg has name recognition, Mike Quade has a month of major league experience with an expanded roster, and Joe Girardi isn't even officially interested in the job. Bob Brenly said thanks, but no thanks. The only way the list gets less impressive is if Dave Martinez is added to it (and he's interested!).
I do like his confidence and wish I had that sort of optimism regarding the choice Hendry is about to make. I wonder where that comes from...
The strength of our team in 2010 was our starting pitching, as we led the National League with 96 quality starts. We expect that to continue. We are excited to see the continued development of our young players and the strong bullpen work anchored by Carlos Marmol (38 saves and a reliever-franchise record 138 strikeouts) and Sean Marshall (2.65 ERA, 22 holds).
I really like this paragraph because he starts out talking about the quality of the starting pitching and finishes by talking about the youth again (particularly Marmol and Marshall - who aren't starters). This would lead many people to believe that the starting pitching that was so successful this past year is young and that we can expect that kind of success in the future. It's a great marketing message.
Unfortunately, it is also wishful thinking at best and flat out not true at worst. The leader in quality starts this season was Ryan Dempster, age 34 next year. Next comes Randy Wells (age 29), Carlos Silva (age 32), and Carlos Zambrano (age 30). That isn't exactly a kindergarten class out there. What's more, Dempster and Silva will be in their last years of expensive contracts, and the Cubs would really like to get rid of Zambrano's big contract. This does not bode well when the two regular starters with the lowest percentage of quality starts (Wells and Gorzelanny) are the only ones under 30 years old.
The only other starters besides the aforementioned Casey Coleman that pitched for the Cubs this year under the age of 30 were Jeff Samardzija and Thomas Diamond. This does not make me feel optimistic.
Going forward, we recognize the need to recommit to fundamentals. We need to stabilize our defense and cut down on errors. We need to improve our offense and become more efficient in both moving runners and hitting with players in scoring position. It is too early to determine whether this will be addressed with internal moves, trades or through free agent acquisitions. But we know we must improve in these areas.
This paragraph sounds like he is running for something and he is addressing a room full of Cubs fans all waving "It's Gonna Happen" signs. He talks about changing what needs to be changed and offers absolutely no solutions. Here is how I imagine it would be written on a teleprompter:
"Going forward, we recognize the need to recommit to fundamentals. (wait for applause)
We need to stabilize our defense and cut down on errors. (wait for applause)
We need to improve our offense (pause)
and become more efficient in both moving runners (pause)
and hitting with players in scoring position. (wait for applause)
It is too early to determine whether this will be addressed with internal moves,
trades or through free agent acquisitions.
(pounds fist on podium) But we know we must (pounds fist)
improve in these areas. (wait for standing ovation)"
Add a "God Bless the Cubs" and maybe a "Think of the children" and you've got a really good start to a stump speech.
Given that we had the highest payroll in the NL in 2010, I get a lot of questions about our payroll commitment for 2011. As I said earlier, we are still working on our 2011 baseball plan, so it is hard to be too specific at this time. What I can tell you is that our overall baseball budget (scouting, player development and payroll) will be about the same in 2011 as it was in 2010. Continued long term success will come through superior scouting and player development, and we are committed to improving that facet of the organization. As a result, this likely means a shift of some of our resources from the major league payroll toward scouting and player development, but we are still very much in the evaluation phase.
This is what Tom has been working towards with all the youth talk. Young talent in baseball is cheap talent, thus the major league payroll is most likely going down. This means there will be veterans traded away if Hendry can find takers who are willing to pay a decent portion of the contract. This means that the team is most likely going to be crappy. Tom is trying to sell the notion of a rebuild, but he's framing it so that we think that the youth can carry the team as soon as next year.
The thing is, most of the superior talent down in the farm system probably won't be making significant contributions until the rosters expand again in September. If there was talent that close to being significant on the major league level, we surely would have seen it down the stretch in 2010. Instead we got Thomas Diamond and Jeff Samardzija.
Trades probably won't boost that major-league ready talent unless they are willing to part with pieces like Marmol and Marshall. Otherwise, all the Cubs get back is salary relief in any trades that occur of players like Fukudome or Zambrano (not that he would waive the no-trade clause anyway).
So Tom is doing his darndest to put the best face on 2011, but when it all comes down to it, it really has no more substance than this: