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Rumors, Rumblings, and Rants

By Garrett Monaghan

With the Colorado Rockies on a roll and their playoff hopes effectively dead, the Cubs are clearly starting to look ahead to next year. Alfonso Soriano is finally on the bench, and some of the younger guys are starting to get a bit more playing time. While a number of the Cubs' minor league teams are in the playoffs, we're still getting a chance to see the next wave of Cubs talent get some badly needed audition time.

The rumor mill is already starting to pick up regarding the team's potential off-season moves, particularly regarding Angel's utility guru Chone Figgins. Figgins has been holding down the hot corner for the Angels, but the Cubs would be looking at him to take over second base from the Fontenot/Baker platoon. On paper, Figgins could be a very exciting player, but he's exactly the kind of free agent pick-up that Jim Hendry has a tendency to badly bungle. While he's a switch hitter who runs well and hit for a good average; Figgins is also on the wrong side of thirty and enjoying a career year offensively, much like Hendry's most recent off-season bust Milton "The Mouth" Bradley.

Prior to this year, Figgins never drew more than 65 walks in a season, and he's on pace to draw well over 90 this year. Part of this sudden spike in patience (an across the board increase for the Angels as a team) has been the influence of the eternally patient Bobby Abreu. It's hard to believe that a move to a hack-happy organization like the Cubs would do anything positive for Figgins' OBP, particularly if he transitions into the National League.

Figgins' only real standout offensive tool is his speed, and speed doesn't generally age well. Figgins has never been a power threat, and once his legs start to go, his offensive value will go right along with them. There are a lot of teams apparently interested in adding him to the roster, but Hendry needs to be very careful if he throws his hat into the bidding war. Figgins is already making $5.75 million a year, and he'll undoubtedly be looking for a raise. The last thing the Cubs need right now is another 5-year $50 million deal for another player who isn't going to get any better.

The same set of arguments could apply to Orlando Hudson, the other free agent second baseman teams will be fighting over this winter. Hudson is a better defender than Figgins, and is also a switch hitter; but he's also the same age and doesn't have Figgins' speed. The Cubs' farm system is particularly well stocked with middle infielders; and with Andres Blanco, Jeff Baker, and Mike Fontenot already on the major league roster, Hendry could probably find a better position to upgrade.

While I've been reluctant to engage in a lot of Lou-Bashing for most of the season, Pinella's recent on-field run-ins with Angel Guzman and Carlos Zambrano have completely convinced me that a managerial change is desperately needed. Pinella hasn't shown much energy for most of the season, and what little he has displayed seems to have been directed at arguing with his own players. It seems likely that Lou's lost control of the team, and lost the respect of his players; and that means it's time for a change in Wrigleyville. Personally, I'd love to see Bob Brenly in charge of the team. He's got the no-nonsense approach and emphasis on good fundamentals that the Cubs desperately need, and he's a proven winner. Brenly's been harshly critical of the team's play during August, and he probably hasn't endeared himself to the current front office as a result. With a new owner coming in, however, the front office is likely to undergo some major changes, and Brenly could find himself moving from the broadcast booth to the dugout.

I'm very glad to see Milton Bradley coming on strong over the last month or so, as it might make him a bit easier to move over the winter. Bradley clearly hates playing in Chicago, and Chicago clearly hates Bradley playing at Wrigley. He appears to have been a clubhouse cancer all year, hasn't been healthy, and hasn't produced at the level the Cubs were (unrealistically) expecting. If Hendry or his successor can find someone willing to take this guy on, Bradley should be the first guy out on his butt this off-season. Frankly, given the way he's behaved, I'd be sorely tempted just to cut him and leave it at that.

Sam Fuld has shown he can play major league-caliber defense anywhere in the outfield, and that he's got the patience to be a top of the order hitter on a regular basis. If the Cubs can get rid of Bradley, Fuld could take over in center and move Fukudome back to his natural position in right. Regardless of what happens with Bradley, Fuld's earned a spot on the team, and will most likely take over Reed Johnson's role as the regular fourth outfielder.

Unless the Cubs decide to deal him or make room for him in the outfield, Jake Fox is going to find himself as a man without a position again going into spring training. Fox has clearly exceeded expectations with his bat, and seems to be showing that he won't kill the team in left or at first with his glove. The Cubs should make every effort to get Alfonso Soriano out of town right after Bradley, but I'm not getting my hopes up about that one. What seems more likely is that Fox will spend another season backing up at first, third, and in left. If he performs well enough, he could very well find himself in a position to take over for Derrek Lee at first base when Lee becomes a free agent at the end of the 2010 season. Fox is still young enough to make this a viable option for everybody, and the Cubs don't have another power bat at first in the minors, so I'm guessing that if Fox stays with the team, this is what we'll probably see.

A bigger question for the Cubs this off-season is going to be the pitching staff. The Cubs have four pitchers entering free agency this winter in Rich Harden, John Grabow, Aaron Heilmann, and Kevin Gregg. Gregg, at least, is gone without question. "Gopherball Gregg" hasn't been able to get anyone out for two months, and he's been an embarrassment to the organization in general. Likewise Heilmann, whose Paul Maineri connections aren't going to be enough to save him. Grabow could go either way. I'm inclined to think the Cubs will make a fair attempt at keeping him, even though he hasn't pitched well since coming to Chicago. If the Cubs can't or don't choose to resign Grabow, they might give AAA lefty John Gaub a serious look. Gaub's numbers this year have been jaw-dropping, and Hendry will want to show he got something worthwhile for Mark DeRosa.

The big question mark, of course, is Harden. I've made the case for keeping Harden here before, and I'm sticking to it. More to the point, the Cubs don't have a clear successor to take his place if he walks. Jeff Samardzjia has gotten his brains beat out as a starter in Iowa, and Sean Marshall hasn't fared well as a starter either. The next best option within the organization is Esmailin Caridad, who's looked excellent so far this year. Pinella has said Caridad will get at least one spot start by the end of the year, and he's really the organization's only high-level starting pitching prospect besides Samardzjia. The list of free agent starters for the 2010 season isn't impressive at all, with the sole exception being John Lackey of the Angels. Lackey's likely to be even more expensive than Harden, so it's hard to see the Cubs losing Harden and finding a decent replacement outside the organization.

Regardless of what happens the rest of the regular season, winter is likely to bring a number of major changes for the Cubs, whether they come in the front office, the dugout, or both. Let's just hope somebody finally makes the moves to put this team back in contention.

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