Monday, May 22, 2006

whither go jerome williams and rich hill?

with this season cooked a as christmas goose, this page is appalled to see rich hill demoted yet again to iowa following his brutal (in more ways than one) saturday start. erstwhile firestarting reliever michael wuertz was recalled. hill had first displaced reliever david aardsma on may 1.

this follows on the heels of jae-kuk ryu's demotion at the hands of kerry wood; ryu was brought up the week before to replace angel guzman. jerome williams was sent down to iowa on april 23 when guzman was called up, where he hasn't pitched well. so goes the shuffling of deck chairs on a sinking ship.

williams has since spent more than 20 days on optional assignment, his last option year has been used and he will not be optionable in 2007. guzman's case is more complex -- he is in his sixth year of professional ball, and has this year again spent more than 20 days on optional assignment, thus making 2006 his third option year. however, guzman's injury time in previous seasons may make him eligible for a fourth option year, as he appears not to have accrued four full years -- that is, years with 60 or more days spent on the active/non-disabled roster -- in his six years. hill has had his second option year expended this season and has one option year remaining; the same situation applies to wuertz and aardsma.

it is completely beyond this writer's ability to explain why williams was not recalled prior to may 11 in order to preserve his final option year -- perhaps jim hendry felt he was simply too bad to pitch often at the major league level to work out his problems, and had not yet recognized that 2006 was a lost cause (though this page certainly had). but with hill and guzman in the cub rotation at the time, and waste of roster space glendon rusch sitting in the bullpen, it seems difficult if not impossible to justify keeping williams down simply because he was having a difficult spell. nonetheless, it has happened.

it seems to this writer that at least four of these pitchers should be permanent fixtures in the cub 25-man for the remainder of this year. ryu, the case can easily be made, needs more time to matriculate in the minors -- he is still just 23, and his experience is still rather limited. guzman too, even at 24, having accumulated just 344 innings in six previous years, could be asked to spend some more time demonstrating his capacities in the pcl.

but these are luxuries unaffordable to wuertz, aardsma, hill and especially williams. hill is 26 and is already proving again this year that the pacific coast league is no trial for him -- he's nothing left to prove there, and is a talented pitcher who simply needs to throw strikes to have some measure of major league success. and williams is now in his do-or-die year with the cub organization -- if he is to remain with the team, he will have to do so without the benefit of recursive trips to des moines. moreover, he is a 24-year-old with 23 major league wins and a career 4.03 era. this is a player who, whatever his shortcomings or current struggles, should receive long consideration for a place in the cubs future plans.

moreover, aardsma is no spring chicken at 24 and is likewise demonstrating that the pcl is beneath him. most egregiously of all, wuertz is 27 and has again been blindingly effective this year for the i-cubs.

now is the time to begin sorting out the futures of these players. if hendry and macfail actually think that this team can somehow correct itself -- and reports for the house organ seem to indicate that they might -- they're an even greater pair of boobs that this page might have suspected.

"We have to right the ship," Hendry said. "Obviously, the White Sox are the best team in the world, and we certainly haven't responded in the past couple of days playing like we would like to. We've taken a slip here the last couple of weeks that I didn't think we would do. Any team is going to be short without Derrek Lee, but a lot of other guys are probably trying to step up and take the place of his production, and are putting themselves in a spot where they've done less."

not only is it too late to right the ship -- the ship is nestled comfortably if fatally into the ocean floor. to continue to manage the roster as though this team has a chance to be competitive is the height of destructive delusion. this year is a failure, but that failure can yet be turned to constructive purpose -- if only the officers still clinging to the tiller have the sense to let go and swim for the surface.

this page certainly understands that there are contingencies that must be allowed for. wood will have to, if he can, be allowed to showcase himself for a possible midseason trade -- as has been noted, the cubs will not under any circumstance exercize their $13mm option on wood at the end of this year, and cannot offer him a contract that represents a decline in total value without him declaring himself an unrestricted free agent first. it must be hoped that he can be dealt for prospective help for 2007 and beyond. likewise, greg maddux is probably the cubs most valuable potential commodity before july 31. relief pitchers such as ryan dempster, scott eyre, bob howry and scott williamson could all be targets of contending clubs. thus they all must pitch. carlos zambrano is going nowhere, and sean marshall too is where he should stay for the duration.

however, that leaves a rotation spot and three bullpen spots that are currently occupied by rusch, will ohman, roberto novoa and wuertz.

rusch should be designated for assignment immediately -- he has no purpose here, and macfail and hendry were fools to sign him to a contract extension in the first place. they should admit their mistake and move on. novoa is 26 and has one option remaining and has already spent two weeks in the minors this year, making him most of the way toward burning it. the cubs are faced with retaining him on the major league roster for the remainder of his time here -- given the lack of quality in his performances and the limitations of roster space, it is here recommended that he be designated for assignment. ohman is now 29 and has one option year remaining. despite a nice year in 2005, he has never been much of a pitcher -- he simply hasn't shown any ability at any level to control his walk rate. he too should be designated for assignment or possibly traded.

wuertz, for his part, has had a yet longer trial in the majors than these last two and has shown only the slightest glimmer of hope in becoming a servicable reliever. his ability to get a strikeout and strong splits versus righthanded batters are tempered by a critical lack of control and propensity for wild pitches in key situations. he also might be recommended to find employment elsewhere, though perhaps less vigorously.

simply ridding the team of rusch, novoa, and ohman would clear the brush off this club's roster and enable new growth -- williams, hill, aardsma -- to break through for the remainder of the season. williams could take final residence in the rotation, and hill be tried as a lefty reliever with the potential of moving into the rotation should he prove able out of the bullpen.

should the cubs be successful in moving wood, maddux, and one or more of the four veteran relievers, yet more room would become available -- possibly opening the way for the trials of players like ryu, guzman and carlos marmol (all on the 40-man), as well as andy shipman, juan mateo and rocky cherry. in any case, disabled vets mark prior and wade miller should be generously extended in rehabilitation until after such deadline trades could be made. prior is as yet a controlled contract, and miller is a player no contender will want to hazard. neither having much if any immediate trade appeal, neither should stand in the way of youth that could be tried now -- miller, for all this writer cares, could never throw a pitch for the cubs.

this page isn't going to sit here and try to sell you, dear reader, on the notion that what talent lies in the cub farm is the immediate salvation of the club. it seems here that not enough can be projected to come of what is in iowa and west tenn over the next two years to make a contending pitching staff of its own accord. and players like mark pawalek, grant johnson, tim layden, sean gallagher and donald veal are still much too distant to be estimated.

but come september, much more could be known about some of these players and what roles they might be able to play for the cubs in 2007, 2008 and beyond -- and, paticularly in the cases of williams, hill, wuertz and aardsma, which the cubs might be better off without. and that would be a step forward, finally.

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