Believe it or not, there are some Cubs fans out there who are kind, decent, intelligent people. Byron Clarke, who writes for the Cubs site Goat Riders of the Apocalypse, is one of them. Byron and I traded questions to get us ready for the first series of the year.
As soon as he posts the Q&A with me, I'll add a link to that as well.
Jeff: Every year in recent memory, optimistic Cubs fans have talked up Mark Prior and Kerry Wood--this would be the year they'll be healthy and lead the Cubs to the playoffs. Prior is gone, but Wood is healthy. What are you expecting from him in 2008?
Byron: Prior's gone and most everybody in Chicago is thrilled about that. Our sports radio talkers and idiotic columnists always seem to choose a target to blame for each year's failure. Sometimes the targets are selected fairly... and others aren't. Almost without exception, the public execution is never pretty. Prior wasn't great at handling the media, and all the injuries seemed to boil over last year. So no one's weeping for his absence.
Wood, on the other hand has mastered his own PR. Two years ago, people complained that he didn't 'want it' enough, but as soon as he took less money to stay in Chicago, I think it became illegal to question his desire. Now, Wood's story is the tale of an epic hero. The will to succeed is legendary, but he's afflicted with a body that just won't hold up. That's the commonly accepted story at least. As to your question of what we expect? If healthy, we expect 40 - 50 saves. If he gets injured, it will be blamed on fate, people will weep in their Old Style, and we'll ask ourselves why we though we could count on Woody again?
Jeff: What's your take on the Brian Roberts talks? It sounds like they're dead right now; do you wish a deal had been made? Is this something that the Cubs will have to revisit midseason?
Byron: On paper, Brian Roberts is the missing piece of the pie. He makes sense from a lineup standpoint. We could really use a speedy switch-hitting lead-off hitter. It would make it easier to push Soriano down the lineup into an RBI producing spot. The problem with the Roberts trade is he doesn't play shortstop or centerfield. We already have a fine second baseman, so there's no need to make the trade unless he strengthens the roster. There's no question he would be handy, but I imagine the Orioles are probably insisting on both Felix Pie and Sean Gallagher, and that just creates a hole in center and gives away a pretty good prospect. I do think the trade will be revisited mid-season. An injury could make the Cubs more desperate, or the Orioles may blink and take less for him. Regardless, I predict Roberts will be traded before the end of the year, and he'll most likely come to the Northside.
Jeff: Fill us in on the back end of the rotation. Does Jason Marquis really deserve a spot? What happens when somebody goes down?
Byron: I don't think Marquis deserves a spot. I'd have to look up the stats to see how he's done for the spring, but he got absolutely shelled in his last outing in Vegas. The problem remains the same as the day we signed him. He's not a good pitcher... but he's getting about $7 million a year, so it looks like he's in the rotation until Jim Hendry can send him packing. As for pitching depth, we have a lot of depth. Jon Lieber is in the bullpen and until he proves otherwise, I still remember him as the 20 game winner he was about seven years ago. We also have Sean Marshall and Sean Gallagher in AAA.
Jeff: Is Wrigley Field ever going to go away? Would it really be such a bad thing if our grandkids only knew it as a punchline in The Blues Brothers?
Byron: Wrigley's not going away, it will just change gradually every off-season until we don't recognize it twenty years from now. (I'm sure that's what they said in '87 before the lights.) What's interesting right now is that we have an owner who doesn't care about maintaining the long-term value of the franchise. His goal is to get every single possible dollar out of the franchise, and that lends itself to some interesting long-term/short-term trade-offs. Hopefully, state politics will step in and disrupt the sale of the park to the state sports commission.
Jeff: What's the one thing that worries you the most about this Cubs team?
Byron: The Cubs weakness is pretty much the same as last year's club. We don't have enough quality starting pitching. We've got Carlos Zambrano as our ace, Ted Lilly as the #2, and then a large collection of #5 starters. In the NLDS last season, none of our guys matched up well enough against the D-Backs staff, and that led to the three game sweep. What remains to be seen is if the improved lineup and bullpen are enough to make up for the lack of pitching. The biggest disappointment of the off-season was not the failure to acquire Brian Roberts, but the absolute failure to even attempt to get in on the Johan Santana trade. (I wouldn't be surprised if the package of prospects that Andy MacPhail is asking for Roberts would have been enough to land Santana... or maybe I'm just full of do-do.