I’ve been a good Cubs fan this year. I know a lot of people don’t believe in you, but they aren’t Cubs fans. Trust me, you won’t find any better believers out there than us. If we can continue to believe that one day our team will win the World Series again, we certainly have it in us to believe in a plump old elf that travels the world on a sleigh to distribute toys to good girls and boys.
I am asking for you to bring a Christmas miracle this year and make this a Cubbie Blue Christmas. Now I know it’s too much to ask for that greatest gift of all this early in the rebuilding process, but I have something in mind that might just bring us a little closer a little faster.
I know you’ve been watching, so you know that the Cubs left the winter meetings without making the proverbial big splash. Justin Ruggiano? That’s a ripple. Wrapped in an enigma. (Yes, he had 15 home runs last year. But he also had a .222 BA and a .298 OBP. He’ll fit right in with the current class of misfits.) But I’m not crying in my Old Style, and not just because the Cubs are taking my fully krausened goodness away from me. No, for a change I’m actually cheering the Cubs for doing nothing, or to be more precise, a fourth outfielder away from nothing.
Going into the winter meetings there was much ado about the Cubs doing something stupid, which is something that they have cornered the baseball market on for the last 105 years. The so-called hot stove had the Cubs listening to trade proposals for their No. 2 starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Now I’m not the biggest fan of the 28-year-old former Notre Dame wide receiver. I don’t think he will ever be the No. 1 pitcher the Cubs hoped he would become when they signed him out of college to a multi-million dollar deal. He shows moments of brilliance but he’s too inconsistent. He reminds me a little of Carlos Zambrano, only without the lunatic fringe. I’m not even sure he’s a No. 2 for a contending team. If he was with the Cardinals, he might make it as a No. 5. But next to Travis Wood, he’s as good as the Cubs have.
More than anything Samardzija represents hope, which is all that I cling to right now. He is still young (relatively) and he is still learning how to be a pitcher. He is one of those blocks, along with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, on which the Cubs are supposed to build. If you take him out of the picture, there is, little hope. Let’s face it, Cubs fans desperately need hope. Hope that this rebuilding process is going to be worth the wait and not just another empty promise.
Hope begins with starting pitching. The last time the Cubs had legitimate hope it was Prior, Wood and Zambrano. I know you meant well, Santa, but that didn’t quite work out the way I hoped. But at least it came close (five outs away close), which is way better than these last two miserable seasons.
It’s become almost cliché but oftentimes the best trades are the ones that are never made. And as you know, the Cubs don’t have the best record at the trading post. When it was made in 1964, the deal that sent Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Ernie Broglio made a lot of sense. Indeed, it was thought initially the Cubs had done better in the deal, as Broglio was coming off some impressive seasons while pitching for the Cardinals, while Brock had been considered a disappointment for the Cubs. Oh, hindsight can be so cruel. Santa, I was only three at the time. Could I have been that bad?
For all the baseball acumen that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are hailed as having, the dynamic duo’s results so far in the trade market have been rather mixed.
They obviously got the better end of the bargain when they acquired Travis Wood from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Sean Marshall. Not only is Wood four years younger than Marshall, he became an All-Star for the Cubs in 2013 and a legitimate No. 2 starter. I’ll take that any day over a set-up guy in the bullpen. Thank you for that gift, Santa!
On the other side, Theo and Jed probably thought that they were getting the better end of the deal when they sent Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu to the Colorado Rockies for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers. It turns out they got a raw deal. Colvin had a breakout year for the Rockies in 2012 (.290 BA, 18 HR) until falling flat last year and ultimately being released. But LeMahieu has emerged as the Rockies’ starting second baseman, hitting .297 in 2012 and .280 in 2013. He also stole 18 bases for the club last year to boot. Boy would the Cubs love that kind of production out of second base. Stewart and Weathers? I think they’re working as a comedy duo at Zanie’s. Don’t laugh, Santa, it’s not flattering for that little round belly of yours.
And then there’s the deal that in some ways defines this new regime and its rebuilding effort. That of course is the trade that saw Andrew Cashner moved to the San Diego Padres and brought Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs. While Cashner was beset by injuries for much of 2012, he developed into the “ace” of the Padres pitching staff in 2013, posting a 10-9 record with a 3.09 ERA and 1.170 WHIP. Rizzo? Well, let’s just hope his .233 BA in 2013 was a blip and not a harbinger of seasons to come, or we could be waiting another 105 years for that return to glory.
Rizzo could surely rebound in 2014 but, boy would I feel better about the Cubs if they were starting the season with a rotation of Wood and Cashner at the top of it and Samardzija at No. 3 where he really belongs?
Santa, the reality is that for all the baseball know-how that Theo and Jed possess, they’re still batting about .500 in the trade department, which is the same average of all those that have come before them and the same average of all those that will follow.
So when I hear that there’s still talk of the Cubs pulling off a deal to trade Samardzija, it makes me shudder. The latest rumor has the Braves as the leading contender to swing a trade for the right-hander. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Braves “won’t trade their best young talent” but “might be able to put together a package good enough to land Samardzija without depleting their minor league system.” Please Santa, don’t leave that package under the Christmas tree. I’ve received one too many lumps of coal already.
No, Santa, I’ve thought long and hard about this, and all I want for Christmas this year is that Japanese star pitcher on the top of the Cubs rotation. I’m referring of course to Masahiro Tanaka, the bright and shining star with the 24-0 record last year while playing for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Imagine him in a Cubs uniform. You’d have Tanaka-Wood- Samardzija. It rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? If you can find it in your jolly old soul to bring me that one thing this year, you will have indeed made this a very merry Cubbie Blue Christmas.
Oh, if you bring me this one thing this year, I presume I won’t have to write to you again next year. You know what I’ll be asking for then.