Tuesday, December 27, 2005

millwood off the board

the holidays have arrived in the millwood household in the form of a $60mm/5-year contract with the texas rangers.

this page has previously considered the fanciful ride into the aether regarding what jim hendry and the cubs might do next to improve a situation that has grown steadily more dire for the entire month of december. fantasizing reached its ostensible climax with miguel tejada, upon which this writer commented:

while this page would not move zambrano, it would consider prior expendable for the reasons there articulated, particularly as kevin millwood is still available in the free agent market at this moment. once he is gone, the window on a prior trade would seem (for this year at least) closed.

truthfully, the notion that the cubs would land tejada and then further go on to sign millwood was always a bit silly, regardless of who reported what rumor or offer. this team as it stands today is committed to in small excess of $100mm in 2006 player payroll. while that is vastly less than this club could afford to expend, it is in the region of last year's $104mm (including the payoff to the orioles in compensation for sammy sosa). in a year in which the tribune company is issuing profit warnings, the likelihood of a payroll increase of any consequence is something less than sure. this is, after all, about making money -- and not about winning.

without a pitcher of prior's caliber (and make no mistake, millwood is exactly that, considering prior's elbow problems and even possible mechanical issues) to fill the void in the cub rotation that would be created by his departure, there is no way for the cubs to responsibly conclude a trade for tejada using prior (or zambrano, for that matter). a rotation of zambrano, maddux, rusch, williams and bedard (as the rumor goes) couldn't win with the 1927 yankees hitting behind it. so with millwood following bradley, furcal and giles into the litany of unrealized cub fantasies, it seems to this writer that there are only two wisps of hope for hope.

one is for jeff weaver, the only remaining free agent starter of any consequence. weaver has acquitted himself reasonably in his time in the majors; however, no one is going to confuse him with mark prior or kevin millwood. he's a competent mid-rotation guy -- but i don't think changing out even the likes of rusch or bedard for weaver is necessarily a pennant-winning upgrade for the rotation. moving him into prior's turn leaves the cubs fatally undermanned.

the other hope is for barry zito -- who still hasn't been moved, despite rumors that have circulated since before thanksgiving. zito is a free agent following 2006, and his stellar young career is the stuff of which $100mm contracts are made -- the kind which payroll-constrained oakland cannot hope to offer. this page has said before that this cubs team is in a closing window -- these cubs have to win now or win never -- his 2007 salary is barely a consideration for us, dear reader. what one can be sure of, given the lack of talk regarding zito, is that billy beane's asking price is high -- probably far too high for the likes of jim hendry. oakland clearly intends to win the american league west this season, having traded for bradley and signed estaban loaiza this last month. despite extremely deep pitching talent in the oakland stable, it would take a special offer of young talent to pry their ace away.

can the cubs make that offer? perhaps. will jim hendry make that offer -- especially considering our earlier analysis? almost certainly not.

at this point, then, with no frontline starter on the horizon, even concluding a trade for tejada essentially can do nothing to make the 2006 cubs a threatening team. whether or not hendry actually manages to land this fish is now largely a moot point, changing only the method by which futility will be realized in this coming year.

this page has recently said:

in summation, dear reader, this page is compelled to say that the hope of a savior in the form of tejada is again yet another phantasm of need and desire more than any real prospect of help for 2006. we here now await the admission from the cub front office that they are essentially done with major moves, are "satisfied" with their squad's "competitiveness" and will thenceforth sit on their hands.

and this page is left to wonder why hendry, in the process of making a three-year offer to jacque jones, didn't realize that such a move constituted powerful evidence that he should instead be trading derrek lee and greg maddux to actual contenders.

those words are truer today than ever before -- for even if tejada actually and improbably makes his way to the north side, at the cost of prior and without a suitable replacement, the promise of his addition is condemned to be a mere phantasm of success.

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