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Cubs' roster needs radical surgery
The Cubs look to be playing out the string in September, but general manager Jim Hendry's to-do list figures to keep him busy.
Besides going over his list of potential managerial candidates for 2007, Hendry must decide how much Juan Pierre is worth, whether to renegotiate Aramis Ramirez's contract, which rookie pitchers to keep and whether Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are in the picture for next year.
He can take the easy route and bring almost everyone back, hoping a healthy Derrek Lee, the maturation of some young pitchers and a few acquisitions can turn things around. Or Hendry can shake up the franchise with a radical redesign and force Pierre, Ramirez and Wood to choose between loyalty to the organization and a few extra million.
Hendry signed a contract extension in the spring and thus has two years to win or likely follow current manager Dusty Baker out the door. The coming off-season will be the most important one of his career so he can't afford to make personnel decisions based on whether a player is a "character guy" or whether they will be criticized.
His local standing already is at an all-time low, so Hendry should make the tough calls as he sees them.
The biggest decision involves Ramirez, who can exercise an opt-out clause that allows him to renegotiate his contract or become a free agent. There are reports Ramirez has told friends that's exactly what he'll do.
If so, Hendry should thank him for his time and wish him luck. Ramirez may be the best third baseman the Cubs have had in years, and he probably can increase his $11 million salary elsewhere. But when the team needed him in April and May, Ramirez was missing. Does he deserve a raise, no matter how good the numbers look? The Cubs might be better off with a stopgapBoston's Mike Lowell?until promising Double-A All-Star third baseman Scott Moore is ready.
If Pierre wants to remain a Cub, he should sign now. If not, see you later, Juan, and thanks for playing. Ex-Cub Gary Matthews Jr., a free agent, is ninth in the American League in on-base leadoff percentage at .366 and his defense in center field is solid as well.
The Wood decision is tricky. Wood has said he would be willing to return as a reliever, but that's easy to say now. If some club looking for a name pitcher offers Wood a big-money deal, would he pass it up to return for a low base salary and incentives?
The Cubs should tell Wood to make a decision now, without testing the market. They have been more than patient with him. It's time for him to show his appreciation.
The Cubs obviously need a prime-time starter, but free agents Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt are likely to seek long-term deals for megamillions. Another option is an older pitcher such as Mike Mussina, who is 13-5, ranks second in the AL in opponent's batting average (.238) and wouldn't need a five-year deal at age 38.
Ryan Dempster doesn't want to switch roles again, but the Cubs would be better served if he went back to the rotation. A starting five of Carlos Zambrano, Mussina, Dempster, Rich Hill and a healthy Prior or Sean Marshall should be good enough in a weak NL Central.
Bob Howry and Scott Eyre could become co-closers, with Wood, Michael Wuertz, Carlos Marmol and Will Ohman as setup men.
Ronny Cedeno's future is a tough call, but his free-fall since April suggests he's not ready to be a regular at shortstop or second base. San Francisco's Ray Durham is a free agent who could be had for a two- or three-year deal. Durham has tied a career-high with 20 homers and has driven in 81 runs in 112 games.
Matt Murton is a nice hitter, but the Cubs desperately need power from left field, so Murton should be their fourth outfielder. Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano will seek long-term deals, so Hendry must think outside the box.
The Yankees are unlikely to pick up Gary Sheffield's $13 million option, and though he has missed most of '06 with a torn ligament in his left hand, Sheffield hit 34 homers with 123 RBIs in '05 and would be motivated to prove the Yankees wrong.
Sheffield, who has a .398 career on-base percentage, could play right field, allowing Jacque Jones to move to left, where his arm wouldn't be as much of a liability.
Hendry would hurt a lot of players' feelings if he made these moves. But if he believes the Cubs will return to life magically with most of the same players in the same roles, he's deluding himself.