Now that the sale of the Cubs to the Ricketts family is finished, maybe it's about time we hear from our team's new owner. This entire time there has been no public comment (to my knowledge) made by Tom Ricketts with regards to the future of this team and/or his vision for it. I suppose Friday's press conference should get these questions answered, but we've waited long enough.
It's no secret that Ricketts is inheriting a terrible situation. He has payroll committed to a team that hasn't so much as won a playoff game despite two division championships in the last three seasons. He has to find a way to make them better after just having paid $845 million just to have that power.
The start to this new era in Cubs baseball is positive. I'm a believer in the hiring of former Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. I don't think this means the Cubs are keeping Milton Bradley because those concerns go beyond the mechanics of the game. I see it as a commitment to trying to fix what the Cubs already have, which at its best, is a division-winning baseball team. If Jaramillo can get Alfonso Soriano or Geovany Soto to rebound next season, that's money well spent.
What I'm still wanting to hear, however, is a mission statement from Ricketts. How much money is he going to spend? Is the goal to do what it takes to win a World Series while Lou Piniella is still on board? While the Cubs nucleus of talent is still signed on? Or is this more of a rebuilding season in his eyes? Those answers aren't his alone, but he's the only one who ultimately determines which strings can be pulled.
More or less there are two different scenarios. 1. The Cubs spend money now. 2. The Cubs tinker the next two seasons and spend money after 2011. I have suggestions for both.
Spending Approach: The spending approach begins with the Milton Bradley factor. If the Cubs can eat Bradley's salary as planned and move Kosuke Fukudome back over to right field where he belongs, it might be an admission of fault for Jim Hendry, but it frees up center field. Reed Johnson, as great as he was in 2008, is not going to be worth the money to be in a platoon. That means the Cubs can go after that elusive center fielder with speed for the top of the lineup that they always seem to be looking for and can never fill appropriately. That's order of business number one.
Then there's the never-often-enough discussed option for my order of business number two. The Cubs have had issues at second base platooning way too many players. They could entertain some moderate cost options such as Placido Polanco of the Tigers or take a flyer on a cheaper Felipe Lopez who's coming off a great season that he finished up with the Brewers. In that case, you cut or trade Jeff Baker or Mike Fontenot, depending on who you value more. By this point, the Cubs should know what they have in Fontenot and not be afraid to trade him for his value.
However, the undiscussed option is Ryan Theriot. Theriot had a team-leading 15 errors at the shortstop position in 2009. How about moving him to his natural position at second base. A lot of those errors are throwing errors which will be easier when he's not throwing across the diamond. You'd hate to take him away as Soriano's fly ball back-up in left, but let's be practical. If the Cubs like Andres Blanco, which they should, keep him as the back-up and sign or trade for a natural shortstop. The free agent pool there isn't mind-blowing, but this is another place to explore that over-expressed need for an RBI man. Why limit yourself to positions like 2B and CF that don't often consist of major run-producers?
As for creating places to spend money, this is where the Cubs best options are.
Saving Approach: It sounds like no matter what the Cubs will have a new outfielder in the mix for 2010. Milton Bradley won't be staying, and Fukudome will likely be moving back to right field. If the Cubs don't have the money to throw at an everyday center fielder, a utility outfielder with experience is the right move to make. Soriano will miss time in left, Fukudome shouldn't start against left-handed pitching and should the Cubs resign Reed Johnson, he certainly can't play everyday. The Cubs can't keep leaning on their minor league system for these players, that's not what winning clubs do. The player should be a center fielder primarily, but be able to play the corners.
The same can be said about the infield. The Cubs could spend and get a better version of Jeff Baker only with the ability to play a few games at shortstop. If they can't commit money to a full-time second baseman, get someone to clear up the mess that is the Baker-Fontenot-Miles-Blanco situation. First off, cut Aaron Miles, he's a waste. Then figure out what should be done with Fontenot.
In this scenario, money can be used to bring in a veteran catcher should Soto struggle again next season. Koyie Hill isn't quite ideal, to be subtle, and the team could use veteran presence in the battery, someone who can cool off Carlos Zambrano or Ryan Dempster's flare ups.
I suppose we'll get a sense of that come Friday when the future of this organization over the long haul officially begins. Ricketts is in a place where he can say some big things. Cubs fans are angry but they will submit completely to anyone in charge with the balls to say something along the lines of "last year was unacceptable and we're going to do whatever it takes to deliver a better product next season."