Cubs fandom is the best modern analogy for the Greek conception of eternal suffering. Like Prometheus, I am forever bound to them, with the knowledge that whether in April or October, every year a giant bird, strongly resembling Steve Stone, is going to voraciously feast upon my liver, cackling with delight. Cubs fans are possessed of a Sisyphean fortitude (what Einstein would call madness) as every year we tremble in anticipation of a result different from the hundred and one which came before. Cubs fans have been so perverted by their own masochistic experience of fandom that they cannot imagine rooting for a team like the Yankees or the Braves. Our entire conception of sport is rooted in misery. We prefer the Clippers, the Bills, Andy Roddick, and the French military.
Usually I wait until at least August to declare the season kaputt. This year, it was over almost before it began. The worse part of it is that Jim Hendry might actually keep his job. I berated him throughout the offseason and I stand by my fury, but the half-season results of his recent acquisitions are pretty damn stellar. Carlos Silva for Milton Bradley looks like a heist. Marlon Byrd has been the Cubs best player. It might be nice to have Jake Fox right now, considering the Cubs lack of pop, but he didn't exactly play gangbusters in Oakland, and has since been shipped to Baltimore, while Matt Spencer has played fairly well in AA.
Hendry certainly can't be blamed for the unforeseeable decline of Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee, the utter breakdown of Carlos Zambrano, or the fact that the Cubs had a pretty tough interleague draw. Hopefully, the Cubs new ownership will able to see past Hendry's recent good fortune. He ignored a problem of morale and leadership which had existed before the arrival of Milton Bradley, and has only gotten worse since his departure. He annually over-invested in players with sever and obvious limitations, especially in terms of age, platoon splits, and defensive acumen. With one of the best revenue streams in all of professional sport, including a budget at the very top of his league, he has managed just three playoff appearances in nine seasons, has an overall record of 688-686, and, most importantly, he hasn't broken the curse.
It's not just Hendry, either. Anybody with the slightest hint of objectivity can see that it's time to blow the whole thing up. Thanks for the memories and all, but good riddance. Pinella has lost the clubhouse and maybe his edge. D-Lee, even if he repeats his second-half surge from a season ago, is now just one of those aging first-basemen who are among the most plentiful free agent commodities every offseason (see Huff, Aubrey; Glaus, Troy; etc.). Big Z needs a fresh start, although it will probably mean eating some salary and getting very little in return. Fukudome should be given away, maybe even released. Anybody who's over 30 and can be traded, should be traded. Ted Lilly and Derrek Lee could both fetch a decent return from pennant contenders, even though they will only be two-month rentals. If not, the Cubs can hold them and take the draft picks when they hit free agency.
The good news is, when the smoke clears and the dust settles, whether it is later this season or next spring, the Cubs actually have a decent young core to build on. They clearly rushed Starlin Castro, but his potential is evident, and he could do next year what Elvis Andrus is doing for Texas this year, which is being a very, very good defender and leadoff hitter. Andrew Cashner has looked promising coming out of the bullpen and might get a few starts in the second half. Combined with Silva, Randy Wells, and Ryan Dempster, the Cubs have the makings of a rag-tag rotation. Tyler Colvin has been better than anybody expected. Geovany Soto is among the best backstops in the National League. Carlos Marmol is one of the best closers in the game. Josh Vitters is probably two years away, but Brett Jackson could get a cup of coffee in September, based on his 959 OPS split between A and AA, and might take over as a regular by the middle of 2011.
Even if they have to eat a sizable chunk of the money due to Zambrano and Fukudome, the Cubs should could still enter this offseason with more flexibility than they've had for several seasons. Lee and Lilly alone are making $25 Million, Pinella another $10 Million. The Cubs can use some of that money to fill in the gaps, but should probably plan on treating 2011 as a rebuilding season, which will take a little of the pressure off first-time manager, Ryne Sandberg. Then, when Ramirez, Fukudome, and Silva open up another $40 Million the following year, they'll be primed to compete for a stellar class of free agents in 2012, one that could include Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Dan Uggla, Corey Hart, Carlos Beltran, and many more.
And a man with a striking resemblance to Ron Santo begins pushing his red, white, and blue boulder back up the hill.