Theocracies rely on the belief in a higher power.
And after weeks of roster shaving and tinkering, I’m being forced to put an awful lot of faith in what Theo Epstein has planned for my beloved Chicago Cubs.
Out are familiar faces like Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Sean Marshall, Carlos Pena, Tyler Colvin and Kosuke Fukodome.
In are Travis Wood, Ian Stewart, Chris Volstad, Paul Maholm, David DeJesus, Andy Sonnanstine, Manny Corpas and Anthony Rizzo.
OK, maybe not, but it’s a start. Zambrano, while talented, was toxic and Theo had no choice but to bite the bullet, swallow the $15 million and jettison the Venezuelan headache to Miami. Ramirez, arguably the most productive third baseman in the National League over the past five seasons, didn’t really fit into the rebuilding mode, plus he was looking to hit it big in free agency.
Theo has a plan, and after I digested his early transactions, it’s starting to crystallize.
On paper, the moves offer little excitement. The additions to the starting rotation seem minimal at best. While Stewart and Rizzo, guys who are projected at the corners (do people really believe Bryan LaHair is the answer?), combined for 37 hits in 250 at bats (an anemic .148) with two home runs between them last season.
Stewart hit 53 home runs between 2008-2010, but is coming off a miserable season. Perhaps a change of scenery and a clean bill of health will be good for him – though last year’s solitary homer while playing at Coors Field is concerning.
Prior to his callup last season with the Padres, Rizzo was considered a can’t miss prospect, so I won’t let his rookie struggles get me too down. Plus, he’s only 22 and a Jed Hoyer pet project. Hoyer drafted him with Boston, traded for him at San Diego and now Chicago.
The Cubs brass seems intent on stock-piling 20-somethings and former first-round draft picks – Stewart, No. 10 in 2003; Volstad, No. 16 in 2005; Maholm, No. 8 in 2003; Wood was a second rounder in 2005 – looking to catch lightning in a bottle with at least one. If nothing else, the strategy buys them a year or two of lowered expectations, something Cubs fans are used to. Especially if the exodus continues with in-demand starter Matt Garza.
Volstad, Wood and Maholm went a combined 17-33 last season. But when you consider who they’re replacing it actually provides quite a bit of optimism.
Last year’s starting rotation was the worst in the National League with a 4.79 ERA, which was even worse than Colorado’s 4.73.
Casey Coleman made 17 starts, only four of which were of the “quality” variety. He went 3-9 with a 6.40 ERA.
Rodrigo Lopez made 16 starts (only six quality starts). He finished an indifferent 6-6 with a 4.42 ERA.
Doug Davis made 9 starts (only two were quality starts). He contributed a 1-7 record with a plump 6.50 ERA.
James Russell made 5 starts (not surprisingly none qualified as “quality”). He finished 1-6 with a 4.12 ERA, which isn’t awful but then you realize he gave up 12 home runs in under 70 innings pitched.
In all, between the four men above who shared the No. 5, and at times No. 4, starter’s spot in the Cubs rotation, they went 11-28, with just 12 of their 47 starts qualifying as quality starts (25 percent).
While the trio of Volstad, Wood and Maholm doesn’t provide a strong win-loss record, they did manage 38 quality starts between them in 73 combined starts (52 percent).
Depth at the back end of the Cubs rotation was a major bugaboo last season. You can never have enough arms, no matter how mediocre they are. Because mediocre is better than what the Cubs had last season.
Now, no matter what Theo does the rest of the offseason, the Cubs won’t be in the mix for the NL Central title. It doesn’t matter that Albert Pujols went Hollywood and Tony La Russa is driving drunk in a car filled with stray cats. Or that Milwaukee is staring at a future without Prince Fielder and a 50-game suspension for last year’s MVP Ryan Braun.
Even if Theo’s bargain-bin retreads play above their heads, the Cubs will be hard-pressed to win 80 games next year. But one thing has become apparent in Theo’s first months on the job – it’s not about next year, it’s about the future. And I believe in the Theocracy. I have to.