Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Prior dis-engagement....

It's always good when the Chicago Cubs let us know in March that they have a snowball's chance of going to the postseason, instead than teasing us for six or seven months and then completely blowing it in the last week of play, as they did two years ago.

Up to now, I've been cautious about lumping pitching phenom Mark Prior in with the permanently injured Kerry Wood. Many of Prior's problem periods have not been internal, but the result of freak accidents, such as when he took a smash line-drive off his elbow early last season.

Now, however, after getting babied all pre-season--leading many suspicious fans, who over the years have tended to (justifiably) become wary of statements from the Cubs organization--Prior has now gone to see a bigwig sports medicine doctor due to some previously unmentioned shoulder pain. The organization is saying this is entirely new, and fairly or unfairly, about 5% of fans are willing to take their word for it.

In any case, it's clear the main operating principle of the Cubs over the last several years, to build the team around Prior and Wood, is now dead. Wood has one year left on his hugely renumirative contract, and then it's adios. And at this point, with the fanbase sickened by year after year of clockwork injuries of one prominent player after another (Prior, Wood, Garciaparra, Sosa, Ramirez, and so forth and so on), we can only assume that Prior, who could still turn out to be a wonderful pitcher someday, will be gone in a couple of years when his contract is up, or maybe even sooner, via a trade.

That leaves Carlos Zambrano, a real ace and a workhorse who gets better and better every year. That makes it essential that lame duck (at least, I hope he's a lame duck) putz Dusty Baker not be allowed to ruin Zambrano's arm in a predestined-to-fail attempt to keep his job. CZ is the real deal, and we need to keep him healthy and on the roster for another ten years.

The Tribune company has to keep spending money at the current clip, and we desperately need to rebuilding this team almost from the ground up. At this point I'd say Zambrano, Derrik Lee and Aramis Ramirez are your only must have players, although hopefully rookies Matt Murton or Ronny Cedano will put themselves on that list.

I still expect, barring further injuries (which in the last few seasons we've had on a pretty much weekly basis), to see better baseball this year than last. We have a lead-off hitter, our bullpen is significantly shored up--which also means less episodes of the Dusty Baker Follies--and if nothing else, Corry "The Bum" Patterson is off the team.

I really have to hope that Baker is going down with this ship, and perhaps GM Jim Hendry will too, although he's not as much to blame as Dusty is. However, whoever has the reigns next year, it's clear he must not count on Prior (much less the gone-somewhere-else Wood) to be a significant factor for us. If he is, then it's gravy. However, we just can't rely on him anymore.


At 11:37 PM, Anonymous jurb said...

Well, at least it is not a serious injury like a torn rotator cuff or a torn labrum. But no doubt about it, it is make or break time for Baker and Hendry. And for that matter, perhaps the Tribune Company. What, with declining newspaper subscriptions and properties (Trib, LA Times, etc.), the Tribune's stock has been in a free fall. You just never know.


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