Friday, Nov. 5, 2010
By Patrick Mooney
The San Francisco Giants were 41-40 on the Fourth of July and by the beginning of September there were strong odds that they wouldnt even make the playoffs.
The Giants hadnt won a World Series in 56 years or since moving to the West Coast and as soon as they clinched Monday night five of their players became free agents.
Thousands upon thousands flooded downtown San Francisco on Wednesday for the championship parade and within hours the Giants had declined their 2011 option on World Series MVP Edgar Renteria.
You could argue that there is no baseball offseason. The Cubs completed their organizational meetings on Friday in Mesa, Ariz. The free-agent market opens Sunday at 12:01 a.m. EST. And in three-plus months pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training.
Like the Giants, the Cubs may have their regrets. Combined Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand, Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome will cost around 370 million spread across 24 contract years and not one is still really viewed as a core player.
Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth could each command a nine-figure contract across the next few weeks. Philosophically and with a push from new ownership the Cubs are moving away from those types of reactionary signings.
It did not go unnoticed that the Giants leaned on four homegrown starters Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez who were responsible for eight of their 11 postseason wins.
This was not a marquee group (of hitters), Cubs manager Mike Quade said. The whole group (just) lived on that pitching and they did enough offensively (to) get things done. (The) pitching can take you a long way.
The Cubs could use another starter, and will need a first baseman, preferably someone whos left-handed. Aubrey Huff remained unemployed through the middle of January before the Giants made a minimal commitment one year at 3 million and he wound up leading the team in almost every offensive category.
The Cubs could try to find similar value and flexibility. Speculation will center on Adam Dunn, but any team looking for a first baseman will have options: Huff; Carlos Pena; Lyle Overbay; Lance Berkman.
Someone will pay for Derrek Lees leadership and Gold Glove defense and hope he gets healthy and again produces at a high level. Any team would improve with Paul Konerkos bat and clubhouse presence. Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder should hit free agency after the 2011 season.
There is also depth to the pool of free-agent relievers. Reuniting with Kerry Wood would play well at the press conference, but he will be 34 next year and went on the disabled list last summer with a 6.30 ERA.
But Wood dominated once he was traded to New York, and the Yankees are constantly trying to ensure that their bridge to closer Mariano Rivera is secure. Will another team ask Wood to close? Could he get a multi-year deal somewhere? What will be his priorities?
Teams are always searching for bullpen help, and this winter you can find former closers (J.J. Putz, Frank Francisco, Brian Fuentes), relievers from playoff teams (Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, Jesse Crain) and pitchers who have done it in the American League East (Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Grant Balfour).
That could be the quickest way for the Cubs to improve. The Giants blended their bullpen pieces through the draft, trades and free agency. They finished 66-6 when leading after six innings in the regular season, and went 8-1 during the playoffs in that situation.
The Cubs went 22-32 in one-run games. Eighty-three of their games were decided by two runs or less. What if a stronger bullpen could reverse the outcome in two close games each month? That would mean 12 more wins, a total of 87, which definitely makes you a factor in a weak National League Central.
For the Cubs, payroll projections are fuzzy, beyond the expectation that it will be lower than the approximately 145 million allocated on Opening Day 2010.
Its not an issue for us, general manager Jim Hendry said. We feel like whatever number (it) is, were going to have a successful offseason and be able to add a few pieces for Mike and his staff.
Thats all part of the job. Its not a question of how much money you get to spend. Were not going to need an overhaul here. I think we all felt a lot better about the club at the end of the year, the way some of the kids progressed.
Whether or not the Cubs are overestimating their 24-13 finish, the roster will have a similar look next season. But the players on the margins can make a huge difference.
The team that holds up the trophy in any sport its whos playing the best at the end and (the Giants) were really one or two games from not getting in. So it can change that quickly, Hendry said. They had a bunch of guys that just played well together and got hot at the right time. And once you get in its like we always said if you can get in often enough then sooner or later you can knock that door down.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.