Monday, Feb. 7, 2011
By Patrick Mooney
While digging your car out of the snow, your mind drifts to Arizona sunshine. The end of the Super Bowl signals the beginning of baseball. Within days, pitchers and catchers will report to spring training.
There was yellow police tape around the sidewalk at Clark and Addison after the storm ripped off a Wrigley Field panel. By Sunday night, the graffiti had been removed from the side of the Harry Caray statue at Sheffield and Waveland.
Jim Hendry had a tight budget while remodeling the 2011 Cubs, but pulled off several accounting tricks to add a power-hitting, Gold Glove first baseman (Carlos Pena), a bullpen game-changer (Kerry Wood) and a front-line starter (Matt Garza).
There is a certain segment of the fan base that will never trust what the Cubs general manager does. But those moves addressed the three biggest needs identified at the organizational meetings.
If you asked us back then in October (and) we knew (we) only had room for three big pieces, Hendry said, if wed have taken those three names around Halloween, wed have jumped up and down.
The Cubs also retained Mike Quade, a manager comfortable in the job and popular within the clubhouse. Overall this grades out as a B and should be enough to hang around in the National League Central, which hasnt won a playoff series since 2006. Heres a look at how the rest of the division rebuilt this winter.
This is a small-market team trying to win now. Milwaukee decided to keep Prince Fielder for his walk year and unloaded its farm system for two accomplished starters who wont be free agents until after the 2012 season.
The Brewers hope Zack Greinke will again pitch like a Cy Young Award winner, re-energized after moving out of Kansas City. Shaun Marcums numbers, like Garzas, should improve outside the brutal American League East. With Yovani Gallardo, already an All-Star at 24, this rotation could work into October.
A lineup anchored by Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Casey McGehee shouldnt have any trouble scoring runs. It will be up to a first-year manager Ron Roenicke, the former Angels bench coach to make it work. No pressure.
With a surplus of young pitchers and a good core of position players, the Reds should be a factor for years to come. The pieces are already in place. Cincinnati reached extensions with manager Dusty Baker, NL MVP Joey Votto, pitcher Bronson Arroyo and outfielder Jay Bruce. World Series MVP Edgar Renteria was added to the bench.
The defending division champion gets the benefit of the doubt.
Im an old-school guy that says Cincinnati is the favorite because they won it (last year), Quade said. Theyre young, theyre talented and theyve won it before. Dusty does such a good job why not? But Im also an underdog player, so well see how that all shakes out.
Their identity began to change last July, when the Astros traded Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, two faces of the franchise. Those deals eventually produced players the Astros are trying to build around, like first baseman Brett Wallace and pitcher J.A. Happ. Houston remade its middle infield with Bill Hall and Clint Barmes, but didnt create much buzz.
The Astros, who havent made the playoffs since their run to the 2005 World Series, need a new direction. Their most crucial decisions will be made off the field in 2011, as chairman Drayton McLane has put the team up for sale.
Credibility is a major issue when you lose 105 games and havent enjoyed a winning season since 1992. Pittsburgh wont be a destination for free agents, so its front office will be judged on what it does in the draft, international market and player development.
The Pirates made a good hire in Clint Hurdle, an experienced manager who once took the Rockies to the World Series. They did modest deals with first baseman Lyle Overbay and pitchers Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen. It wont be enough to finish above .500.
The Pirates have a beautiful downtown ballpark, in a great sports city with teams that win Super Bowls and Stanley Cups. Those fans deserve better.
The Cubs rolled their eyes at Ryan Theriots comments, and from the right side of the rivalry the shortstop will get a chance to show that hes more than a one-dimensional singles hitter.
The Cardinals are also overlooking defense with Berkman, hoping that at the age of 35 he can play the outfield again. Yet in bringing Jake Westbrook back to a rotation that includes Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia, they should have the pitching depth to stay relevant into September.
All that ignores the Albert Pujols question that hangs over the franchise. This will be pass-fail: Either sign him to an extension before he reports to Jupiter, Fla., or he walks into free agency as the 300 million man everyones talking about next offseason.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.