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Piniella to retire; looking forward

Posted By Eddie Kim On Jul 20 2010 @ 7:25 pm In Chicago Cubs | 4 Comments

The Chicago Cubs gave Lou Piniella all of his due respect and then some.

In his old age, Piniella has become more senile and less enthusiastic about winning games — a trend that has dramatically grown in the past few years. The Cubs should have cut ties with Piniella halfway through the 2008 season but didn’t. That’s because the team had the best record in the league, even though that wasn’t because of Piniella — but rather in spite of Piniella.

Nonetheless, the old adage goes that you don’t fix something that isn’t broken, so Piniella stayed. But surely he would’ve been gone after an 83-78 record in 2009, right? Well, not exactly. And even despite a 42-52 start to the 2010 season, the Cubs are honoring Piniella by giving him yet another chance to walk out on his own terms. Finally, he’s accepted.

Nobody will question that Piniella was a great manager. He has over 1,800 career wins, 6 division championships and a World Series championship to prove it. But that was in the past and now he’s just a shell of his old self. Piniella needs to go and along with him, many players too.

The next big change is at the first base position. This love fest with Derrek Lee is really starting to make me sick. I saw the downfall of Sammy Sosa two years before everyone else did and I’ve been on my “Derrek Lee is bad” horn for about two years. People who are ignorant to the game will blindly point at Lee’s offensive numbers from the past to claim that he’s a good hitter or refer to his gold gloves to argue that he’s a good defender. But people who actually bother to watch the games should realize that Lee is an average hitter and a below-average defender.

The double plays that Lee consistently grounds into is one thing, but only part of the bigger picture. It’s that Lee is completely clueless at the plate. When he hit .335 in 2005, he was able to use all parts of the field and had some of the quickest hands in baseball: he would drive the pitches that were off the outside corner to right field with authority, forcing the pitchers to pitch inside. When they did, he drove the ball out of the ballpark.

These days, Lee tries to pull every pitch regardless of the location. If the pitch is outside, it turns into a harmless groundball to the shortstop. If the pitch is inside, he’s not quick enough to catch it. His .244 batting average this season is not a slump and not a mystery. And quite honestly, it’s not a surprise; it’s actually pretty consistent with his talents as a baseball player.

Still Lee brings a “veteran presence” to the clubhouse and a contending team that isn’t familiar with him might be tempted to look at his .306 average last season and have hopes that he could provide a late spark to their team’s playoff chase. This makes Lee movable before the trading deadline, despite the $13 million contract.

All other players who are not under contract for 2011 are also trade candidates, including lefty Ted Lilly (2010: $12 million), outfielder Xavier Nady ($3.3 million), infielder Ryan Theriot ($2.6 million), and utilityman Jeff Baker ($975,000).

Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Dempster, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva, and John Grabow are also pieces that the Cubs would wish they could trade, but would probably be unable to because their high-priced contracts extend past the 2010 season. Quite honestly, aside from Marlon Byrd, Tyler Colvin, Andrew Cashner, Carlos Marmol, Geovany Soto, and Starlin Castro, the Cubs should want to trade everyone else.

Whether or not the Cubs are successful in unloading as much of the deadweight from the team as possible, the 2011 season looks very bleak. As things currently stand, there’s not a single reliable starting pitcher for next year and only one full-time position player that is both smarter than the chair that I’m sitting on and can hit. (For those late to the party, I’m talking about Byrd.) This means that regardless of who the new manager is, he is destined to fail.

The managerial options for next season include Ryne Sandberg, Bob Brenly and Alan Trammel, but I hope that the Cubs understand what will happen to whoever it is that takes the 2011 job. The team will be bad and it won’t be long before fans start calling for that new manager’s head. If the team is insistent on letting Sandberg be the manager of the future, it may be wise to leave him in the minor leagues a bit longer.

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