I'd like to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of what players the Cubs already have, to determine if they have reasonable alternatives to some of their present starters. If they do, we could possibly achieve a better balanced lineup while freeing up money for a Free Agent or two.
The 2008 starting rotation was a strength last year but we have R. Dempster filing for Free Agency. He most certainly deserves a big, long term payday, but is resigning him in the best interests of the team?
There is no doubt his numbers were awfully good last year, 17-6, 2.96 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, .227 BA and 200 + innings. With that said let me ask you this question. Did anyone think Dempster's line would look anything like that? I know I didn't, and this is the problem with signing a player at 31, who is coming off a career year.
We also have to consider Dempster's own admission that the significance of the playoff moment made it a problem for him to stay focused. A pitcher's biggest asset is his ability to out think his opponent, regardless of the stuff he has on any given day. Therefore if he is rattled, he loses one of his most important weapons. Dempster's Free Agent status makes resigning him an expensive risk that needs to be seriously questioned.
If the Cubs don't resign Dempster, could S. Marshall have a similar breakout season? It's a tall order I know but at least Marshall demonstrated that the pressure of the moment in last year's playoffs didn't faze him. Marshall also has been ready to assume a starter's role with the Cubs, but has had big money contracts in the rotation blocking him.
IMHO, replacing Dempster with a LHSP like Marshall who costs nothing, is no more of a risk than last year's gamble that Dempster would work out. With the difference in salary and commitment between the two of them, it's a no brainer for the Cubs to give Marshall the opportunity he has earned.
I know everyone has an idea concerning J. Marquis's value to the Cubs, but at $9.5M for 2009, I just can't see who would take him in a trade without the Cubs eating at least half of his salary. Marquis may not be worth what the Cubs are paying him, but when you consider eating over $4M if they trade him, his real cost is cut in half. At that cost, the Cubs could certainly do worse for a #5 starter.
No matter what course of action the Cubs take on the rotation, the bullpen was also was one of last year's team strengths, and it too has an expensive Free Agent in K. Wood to consider resigning. Wood like Dempster, deserves a big multi-year contract and again we have to ask ourselves, if it's in the best interests of the Cubs to resign him.
If the Cubs have any strength in their organization it is pitching. With Marmol chomping at the bit, it wouldn't be a stretch to see him as effective as Wood in the closer's role at a fraction of the cost.
There are other holes in the bullpen if Howry and Lieber are not resigned, but I doubt anyone would shed a tear to see either of these past their prime pitchers leave. Gaudin should be healthy, Guzman looked good after his September call up and Samardzija should only be more effective after him getting his feet wet this season. The bullpen is short of lefties and although Cotts is serviceable, he is not the typical shut down LHRP the Cubs need. There are Free Agent LHRP's available in Feuntes and Marte, that could fill that role and I can't believe they would cost the Cubs anywhere near the money that a commitment to Wood will.
If these moves in the rotation and bullpen are made, the Cubs could save some $15M to 20M in payroll and have more flexibility to address balancing the lineup with a legitimate lead off man and more productive LHB's.