A friend asked me to create a projected lineup for the Cubs next year, and I'm happy to oblige. I'll even come up with a pitching staff for good measure. This will be an important offseason for Jim Hendry following a very disappointing 2005.
Presenting your 2006 Chicago Cubs...
Manager: Grady Little
CF - Kenny Lofton
SS - Rafael Furcal
1B - Derrek Lee
RF - Adam Dunn
3B - Aramis Ramirez
2B - Todd Walker
C - Michael Barrett
LF - Matt Murton
This winter's free agent outfielder class doesn't seem to offer much for the Cubs. Brian Giles will probably end up in Atlanta. Johnny Damon is coveted by many teams, but the Angels look like the frontunner. A one-year deal for Kenny Lofton to return to Wrigley seems like a reasonable, Hendry-type move. Politically, Lofton's presence for the last Cubs playoff appearance will create some nice soundbites for management.
But the Cubs will be almost required to open up their pocketbooks. Cubs fans have become more demanding since 2003. The Cubs aren't the type of team to trust Ronny Cedeno as a starter, so he'll be dealt along with Corey Patterson in a three-way deal that brings Adam Dunn to Chicago. Brandon Sing had an excellent season at first base for the Cubs AA team this year and he might be necessary to get a deal done. The Reds will probably require some young arms, and Rich Hill and Renyel Pinto could be in the mix. A third team will probably swoop in to acquire Patterson.
Rafael Furcal probably expects four years, $40 million, and the Cubs will be the highest bidder. Nomar Garciaparra owes the Cubs one more incentive-laden contract, but he'll find it tempting to leave. Nomar has hit .327 with six homers since returning from his groin injury, and that performance may have earned him a two-year, $20 million deal from a team other than the Cubs. The Diamondbacks and Mariners are some names that are being thrown about. Read more about Garciaparra's possible contract and destination here.
Matt Murton will be the lone youngster to get a shot, and he'll provide some nice OBP for the Cubs at the bottom of the lineup. After this year's outfield debacle, Hendry won't take chances beyond Murton.
Greg Maddux will be back to finish his career in Chicago, and Glendon Rusch will exercise his option to stay. The Cubs will still be relying on their homegrown Big Three, and will just have to cross their fingers and hope Kerry Wood stays healthy. If money is any motivator, the 2007 free agent-to-be will find a way to have that dominant year the Cubs have been waiting for.
Ryan Dempster has been a success, and the Cubs can probably sign him relatively cheaply. Jim Hendry loves rehabilitation projects like Dempster, Chad Fox, and Scott Williamson. That's why Hendry will sign up Octavio Dotel this winter for $4 million. Dotel may be ready to pitch by May next year, and could be a nice surprise.
After the incredible disappointment of 2004, Cubs management was quick to look to Chip Caray, Steve Stone, and Sammy Sosa as scapegoats. The Sosa Saga took focus off team's late season collapse. As a similar distraction, Dusty Baker will be fired and Grady Little will be brought in to manage the new-look Cubs. Chicago has exposed Dusty Baker's flaws rather cruelly, so Jim Leyland may not want to step into the pressure cooker. He's a dark horse for the job though.
Tim Dierkes posts daily updates to his fantasy baseball blog as The Roto Authority. Check out the site at:
for many more projections, steroid rumors, and deep sleepers. E-mail him at email@example.com with questions, comments, or anything else.