Joe Hamrahi was kind enough to allow me to answer a few questions for him over at Baseball Digest Daily.
Cubs fans may also want to check out his interview with GM Jim Hendry. My quick take is that it's obvious that the Kerry Wood and Mark Prior situations are the scapegoats for this season and to some degree I suppose that's fair. However, I don't think anyone who has watched the Cubs for the past four or five years is really surprised at how things turned out so you have to put some of the blame for this train wreck of a season at the feet of the front office. In my satirical Setting the Stage piece at BP before the season I said this:
For the third consecutive year the favorite spring pastime for Cubs fans has been to speculate, and sometimes wager, on just when Kerry Wood and Mark Prior would be injured and what those injuries might be. Amid more than half a dozen trips to the disabled list between them and injuries that include right Achilles’ tendonitis, bursitis in the right shoulder, irritation to the ulnar nerve, and inflammation of the elbow joint (and who knows what else), Wood has thrown just 206.1 innings the last two years and Prior just 285.1. That’s about 50% of the production you would hope for from your frontline starters and, the collapse not withstanding, it's what likely kept the Cubs out of the playoffs in 2004.
This spring, if you bet on "posterior rotator-cuff irritation" or a "slow recovery from shoulder surgery and minor knee surgery of the right knee," collect your winnings; both are on the disabled list and out until at least late April.
Ah, but we’re due, and so the Cubs medical staff will work wonders and in 2006 Prior shakes off the rotator cuff problem, comes back in late April and goes 17-4 with a 3.24 ERA striking out 226 batters in 201 innings. Wood returns in early May and still starts 27 games going 16-5 with a 3.66 ERA in 177 innings of work.
It didn't quite work out that way and it didn't take a Nostradamus to think that acquiring pitching depth in the rotation should also have been a priority.
That said, Derrek Lee's injury was clearly devastating but even so the offense was nowhere near good enough to compete (last in the majors in runs scored at 580 and second to last in OBP at .319). Hendry says in the interview that they'll need a quality starter and another hitter to compliment Aramis Ramirez (if indeed he doesn't become a free agent) and Lee. The question is just where will this quality hitter play? Also in the interview he says the "infield has a chance to be really good" with Cesar Izturis, Ronny Cedeno, Michael Barrett, Lee and Ramirez. Leaving aside the huge offensive hole between third and first for the moment, he also says that they'll look at re-signing Juan Pierre. Well, that leaves the corner outfield slots and with Jacques Jones signed for next year already it looks like Matt Murton is the odd man out. I certainly agree they need a quality bat (or actually two) added to the lineup but center and right are where they need to be. Both Jones and Pierre have been about what one would expect - a bit below league average. Pierre is 21st in VORP for centerfielders at 10.6 despite his performance since June 1st. More importantly he is among just five centerfielders with negative MLV values (-10.8). In other words, in a lineup of otherwise league average hitters he would cost the team about 11 runs. Jones ranks 12th of 30 right fielders in VORP at 19.4 and an MLV of 11.1. On the surface this looks ok but he has actually regressed a bit in his strikeout/walk rate which is not encouraging.