Monday, July 31, 2006

maddux, walker dealt

this page has over the past two months repeatedly called for the chicago cubs to use this season as a means of remediating one of the great major-market baseball disasters of modern times in part though a divestment of veteran players like greg maddux, juan pierre, todd walker, ryan dempster, bob howry, scott eyre and aramis ramirez.

as we have said, none of the first six of these players is likely to play any part in a competitive cub squad with the daunting mountain of rebuilding from this cesspit before the club, a process sure to take some years. indeed, the pitching merely obstructs the potential development of ready minor league talent at the major league level in a low-pressure rebuilding environment -- though injury seems to have cleared a path for rich hill for the time being at least.

the last one is very likely to opt out of his contract for free agency following this season, at which point the cubs would be as likely as any team to retain him. the possibility is now all but assured in the context of carlos lee's refusal of a 4-year, $48mm offer from the brewers (which quickly prompted his trade to al west contender texas). as has been said elsewhere, this is the final notice that ramirez is in for a certain massive payday if he voids his remaining contract with the cubs -- the market has moved well beyond ramirez's extant contract. indeed, the cubs are even apparently aware of this probability. getting prospects for ramirez from some contending club -- the angels, for example -- simply makes a lot of sense.

but instead of seizing on these probabilities and attacking the team's problems proactively, jim hendry, andy macfail and the cubs have succeeded only halfway in capitalizing on one of the better opportunities to fix some of the things that are wrong with this club.

reliever scott williamson and walker were moved well before the deadline, receiving in return non-prospects joel santo and fabian jimenez angulo for williamson, and the more intriguing 19-year-old power pitcher jose ceda for walker.

for some time, it had appeared that hendry had beleaguered himself into imagining that he was getting insufficient value in return for maddux in the offers he did receive. rumors had the dodgers offering two triple-a players from one of the most loaded systems in baseball. it is hard for this page to imagine how maddux might be worth more than a b-level prospect as a 40-year-old pending free agent pitcher who has gone 4-11 with a 5.77 era since may 1 -- one has to wonder, in fact, what hendry had believed he should get in return.

however, as time expired, hendry sensibly did conclude a deal with the dodgers, bringing that b-level prospect in the form of no-hit good-glove cesar izturis to chicago. this seems a disappointing return for the cubs considering what the dodgers have in the cupboard, but izturis will at least replace the completely incompetent ronny cedeno at shortstop and solidify the position in the field.

hendry bafflingly retained the flaccid dusty baker as manager and kept his coaching staff for the remainder of the season despite their highly questionable record of competence. and he gave off indications that he would stand pat around at the trade deadline, deleriously convincing himself against all evidence that the cubs are not far from being a good team. but it seems at least that hendry understood that maddux was worthless to the cubs.

that hendry did not go further in moving ramirez and more bullpen pieces is tantamount to evidence that hendry -- confronted with responsibility for having constructed one of the great laughingstocks in cub history -- has withdrawn deep into a world of abject denial and self-reinforcing fantasy rather than acknowledging the harsh reality and taking responsibility for repairing the damage that he has done as best he can. it should not be denied that the flight from truth has wrought incalculable damage to the franchise yet again. the cubs seem here to have done little of lasting significance to make the club competitive again -- indeed, the only possible redemption of this deadline day looks to be ceda, who is still a question mark.

the best possible scenario now seems to be to hope that the cubs can offer ramirez and pierre arbitration in the offseason and have other teams sign them away in free agency, thereby receiving compensatory draft picks (as both are likely type-a free agents). but that is a tricky situation with pierre, as he may actually accept the offer of arbitration -- effectively sticking the cubs with a centerfielder that has been expensively unproductive since the end of the 2004 season. speculation has also circulated that pierre may in fact be resigned for 2007; that would be a mistake, it seems here, even if felix pie amounts to naught.

it also seems that dempster, howry and eyre will return to the 2007 cubs despite the likelihood that the cubs will be nowhere near good enough to justify the expense of a high-powered bullpen. spare parts like phil nevin may yet be dealt before the waiver deadline of august 31, but are unlikely to bring anything important in trade.

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