Random Musings from Wrigley Field's Upper Deck

Friday, October 31, 2003

Along with the other members of the Cubs blogger army, I want to express my deepest condolences to Christian over at The Cub Reporter, who lost his home in the ongoing southern California wildfires. Christian, I wish there was something more I could do than to think happy thoughts in your direction. If there is anything I can do, please let me know.
As expected, Sammy Sosa decided this afternoon to pick up his option and stay for the next two years. Presumably, given that the Cubs will have to spend $16 million on Sosa next year, they won't be going after Vlad Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, or some talented young right field star. Sosa will be our starting right fielder for the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

As things stand now, we are set at the following positions:
RF - Sosa
LF - Alou
3B - Ramirez
Starters - Wood, Prior, Zambrano, Clement
Closer - Borowski
Relievers - Remlinger

We likely will also have Patterson in center field, Miller at catcher (either as a starter or backup), Choi at first base (either as a starter or backup), and either Grudzielanek at second base or Gonzalez at shortstop (but probably not both). We will probably have Ramon Martinez on the bench as a super-sub, and we may be able to get Randall Simon and Kenny Lofton back as backup players at first base and in the outfield, respectively. (Lofton would likely have a bigger role than your standard backup outfielder, since Alou is relatively injury-prone, Patterson is coming back off knee surgery, and Sosa is no spring chicken.) Finally, Farnsworth may return in the bullpen.

Here's what's left for Jim Hendry to add (in no particular order):
1. Backups in the outfield, especially if Lofton doesn't return - we need power at these positions, and speed would be goos too. Someone who could back up both Ramirez at third and Alou in left would be nice as well.
2. Fifth starter - we need to fill out the starting rotation, preferably with a left hander.
3. Relief pitching - although some of this might come cheap if we can get some talent from the farm system, the bullpen needs a lot of work. We need a right handed setup man to complement Remlinger, and we need a long reliever who could backup the starters, preferably a left hander. After adding those two, there are two or three pitching spots left on the roster. Filling those with talented young pitchers who can compete for the long relief, setup, and closer roles would be a good idea.
4. First base - this is a huge question mark in my book. Keeping Choi and Simon isn't the worst idea anyone's ever had, especially if we can add some power at the other positions or if Choi turns around next year and performs like he did before this year's Yankees series. Still, if we could pick up a legitimate run-producing first baseman, it would be a great help. He would be backed up by either Choi (in which case someone else gets the sausage meister) or Simon (in which case Choi gets another year to develop in the minors.
5. Middle infield - this all revolves around whether we keep Gonzalez, Grudzielanek, both, or neither. No matter what, Ramon Martinez provides a decent backup at both positions. Despite his drop in NLCS game 6, Gonzalez played well defensively basically all year, but he was something of a disappointment offensively down the stretch. If he could be replaced with someone with real power and/or speed without sacrificing too much in terms of defense, I would like to see the Cubs do so. However, there may be more quality talent available at second base, so replacing Grudzielanek may be easier.
6. Catcher - the Cubs could try to re-sign Bako as the second catcher, but, given the amount of talent on the market, I don't see why they would do so. Obviously, it would be great to get Pudge Rodriguez, but he may be just too expensive for Jim Hendry to go for. I've seen A.J. Pierzynski mentioned as a possibility, and at a salary about 15% of Pudge's, he would fit the bill very nicely.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I would like to wish all the best to Ron Santo as he undergoes his surgery today. I'm sure that all Cubs fans everywhere are pulling for him and are keeping him in their thoughts.

Monday, October 27, 2003

I have to confess that I haven't paid as much attention to the Cubs farm system as I probably should. However, I am aware that it is a source of many future stars of the major-league club (as well as, probably, several other clubs).

Brendan Harris, one of the up-and-coming stars currently in the farm system, is writing a weekly column over at the official site about his experiences in the Arizona Fall League. In this week's entry, he mentions several of the other Cubs prospects with whom he is currently playing. (Brendan introduced himself in last week's column.)

Interestingly, Brendan suggests that the Cubs organization is likely to move him from third base, where he has been playing, over to second. Could he be a possible replacement in the not-too-distant future for Mark Grudzielanek? If he works out, it might be possible for the team to save some money on infielders that they could free up to get a good offensive-producing catcher (to replace Bako), a decent starting first baseman, a lefthanded fifth starter, and/or a good offensive shortstop. (That's a lot of holes to fill, although I suspect that one or more might be filled by some of the folks who played at those positions this season.)

The other Cubs position player that Brendan mentions this week is Jason DuBois, who is playing well. (He is apparently hitting 0.387, with 5 home runs and 17 RBI - all second-place in the league - in 62 at-bats.) Not that I advocate putting anyone other than Sosa or Vlad Guerrero in right field next season, but it's nice to know that we have some talent at the position within the organization.

Things are a bit slow at the moment, but it will be very interesting to watch next year's team develop starting in a couple weeks when free agents are allowed to begin talking to other teams. (Expect a big flurry of news before that point if Sosa makes up his mind about whether to exercise his option.) With some luck, Jim Hendry will be able to start filling some of the holes in the Cubs' 2004 lineup and put together a winning team for next year.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

I wanted to wait to post anything until after I cooled down a little bit following the Cubs' loss in the NLCS. Now that the postseason has ended, I finally feel like I can write reasonably coherently. It's strange - had I watched this Cubs season and postseason on TV, like I did when I was growing up, or on TV from a great distance, like I did while I was in college, I wouldn't have been quite so invested in the outcome. Don't get me wrong - I'm a huge fan, and I always have been. But until now, I never realized the difference between following the team from afar and being at the park on a regular basis. Having sat through all of the home playoff games at Wrigley Field, my emotions went from top of the world to the depths of hell when the Cubs collapsed, and I couldn't do much of anything for a while.

Now, though, it's time to (say it with me, everyone) wait 'til next year. For the first time in a while, it appears that the Cubs could string together a couple of good seasons in a row. The Cub Reporter has a great series going on about how Jim Hendry can go about ensuring that this happens. Generally, I agree with the opinions expressed by David Geiser, the guest author of that site. While it's tempting to want to spend a lot of money on improving the bullpen, relief pitching is such a crapshoot that any money would be better spent elsewhere. While the bullpen needs some changes, it's probably better to take a chance on making those changes on the cheap. We do need to acquire a fifth starter to replace Estes, preferably a lefty, and I could see spending a bit of money there.

Seems like the outfield is in pretty good shape. Alou is a decent, if not great, left fielder, as long as he stays healthy. Sosa will likely excercise his option to stay, and, while there are much better right fielders out there, there isn't any point in paying through the nose to acquire one of them as long as we're stuck with Sosa. Patterson will hopefully be back in center field next year, and he will be a real asset if he returns to his early-2003 form. It would be nice to see Lofton stay on as the fourth outfielder - with potential health problems at all three positions, Lofton might get to play almost every day as a starter. The combination of Lofton (starting, say, for an injured Alou) and Patterson (playing center field) batting 1 and 2 in the order strikes me as awfully similar to the Marlins' devastating Pierre-Castillo leadoff combination, and that's a good thing.

In the infield, everyone seems to expect some changes. Third base is set, since we've got Ramirez under contract for another year. It sounds like Miller, but not Bako, will be back at catcher. Other than that, every other position is up for grabs. With some luck, Jim Hendry will be able to fill in those holes, and the Cubs will have their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1971-1972.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

A personal note: my grandfather was a huge Cubs fan his entire life. When he retired and left the Chicago area for Virginia, he followed the Cubs via shortwave radio broadcasts, then was one of the first people I ever knew to get cable TV so he could watch the TV broadcasts on WGN. He was born in late October 1908, so he just missed the last World Series victory. He died in July 1984, with the Cubs in the midst of a pennant race. I'm sure he would have liked to have seen the team go on and make the postseason that year, although he would have been disappointed when they lost to San Diego in five games. Still, this year would have thrilled him. I hope that, somewhere, he's watching the games along with Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray and just enjoying the hell out of the series.

Monday, October 06, 2003

The Red Sox win in what has to be one of the best baseball games I've ever seen (unless you're an A's fan). Sox up by one in the bottom of the ninth, A's get the bases loaded with two outs, and the last batter strikes out to send the Sox to the ALCS. I just hope that Johnny Damon is all right.

I'm generally not much of an American League fan, but I always root for the Red Sox. As a Cubs fans, I feel a kindred spirit with the fans in Boston.

Both League Championship Series turned out to have a strong Cinderella flavor this year. Like I said last post, the Cubs haven't won a postseason series in 95 years and haven't even gone to the World Series since 1945. The Red Sox have had no end of disappointment in the postseason series they've played in since their last World Series win in 1918. The Marlins were well below .500 until pretty deep into the season. The only team of the four that really "belongs" in the playoffs is the Yankees, with their $160 million payroll.

ESPN put up a graphic yesterday showing what has happened since the Cubs' last postseason series win in 1908. Over that time, there have been eighteen U.S. presidents and 48 Cubs managers. There have been eight different Chief Justices of the Supreme Court and 27 different associate justices. There have been eight popes.

In the same year the Cubs last won a postseason series:
The first Model T was sold for $850.
The FBI was founded.
Bulgaria declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire.
Theodore Roosevelt became the first U.S. president to travel abroad while in office.
I'm new to the blog game, so please forgive me if this is a little bit slow at first.

I am very busy at the moment, and I should be working on some assignments for law school, but I'm going to take the time to procrastinate a little bit.

The name of this blog comes from the seats my wife and I had to the night and weekend games this year in Aisle 528 in the upper deck at beautiful Wrigley Field. I don't know the names of any of the season ticket holders who sat around us, but we all got to know each other a little bit as we sat through one of the most phenomenal Cubs seasons of all time.

I can't claim complete credit for the Cubs making it to the National League Championship Series. Still, though, you can't argue with results. For 95 years, the Cubs didn't win a postseason series, then, I bought tickets for the season, and they win their division and eliminate the Braves.

The Cubs are pretty much the big item of discussion around here right now, so that's probably what I'll be discussing in this space for the near future, but I don't plan to limit myself to that topic in the long run.

Please check back often for updates.

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