Years from now, when sports historians try to come up with a blueprint for big-market failure in baseball, they’ll take a long, hard look at the 2009 Cubs. For the large amount of money poured into the season, nearly all of it was invested in a few aging players, while the lower half of the roster remained below average. The result? An embarrassing failure of a season, 11 games back of the Cardinals with 15 games to play, and a disturbingly bleak outlook on the next few years.
While Alfonso Soriano’s precipitous drop in quality and albatross of a contract are the scariest omens for the team going forward, no personnel move from 2009 seems to have backfired as badly as the signing of Milton Bradley. Bradley, long known for letting his emotions get the best of him, has put forth one of the worst seasons imaginable for someone getting regular at-bats in the middle of the order: .257, 12 HR, 40 RBI. Blame the Cubs for not getting on base in front of Bradley if you’d like, but to get regular at-bats in the middle of the order and come away with 40 RBI on the season is an impressive accomplishment… if perversely so.
And thus a perfect storm of screwyous builds; the Wrigley fans frequently boo Bradley, Bradley’s play suffers, he’s dealing with a sore right knee that’s keeping him out of games… if there’s ever a time to get a choice negative quote out of Bradley, now’s the time, right? Yes indeed, friends… now is the time. (UPDATE: the comments just got him suspended for the rest of the year).
From the DAILY HERALD:
Bradley claimed to have no opinion on where he bats - “In the lineup,” he said of his preferred spot - and the only time he became expansive at all was when he was asked if he had enjoyed his first season in Chicago.
“Not really,” he said. “It’s just not a positive environment. I need a stable, healthy, enjoyable environment. There’s too many people everywhere in your face with a microphone asking the same questions repeatedly. Everything is just bashing you. You got out there and you play harder than anybody on the field and never get credit for it. It’s just negativity.
“And you understand why they haven’t won in 100 years here, because it’s negative. It’s what it is.”
Asked whether he was talking about the fans, the media or even the Cubs organization, he replied: “It’s everything. It’s everybody.”
Actually, the 100-year thing is becoming something of a non sequitur disguised as a convenient excuse; whether the Cubs had won a Series in the ’40s or ’50s has little bearing on the numerous problems at hand for the team. Let’s take a look:
LF: Soriano registered his worst full season as a pro–.241, 20 HR, 9 SB–played utterly wretched defense, and is under contract for four more years. Oh, and he’s off having knee surgery. PROBLEM.
CF: Kosuke Fukudome settled into something of a platoon, but he’s still hardly as productive as the Cubs would have imagined when they signed him for $48 million. Still two years left on that deal. PROBLEM.
RF: Milton Bradley. HOLY CRAP PROBLEM.
3B: Aramis Ramirez beats the cover off the ball when he’s healthy; trouble is, Ramirez has logged over 150 games in a season only three times in his career. He’s never had an injury as severe as his shoulder this season, though, so it’ll probably take one more severe injury to make it a trend. Not a problem… yet.
SS: Ryan Theriot is serviceable and makes $500,000 a year. The .345 OBP is pretty low for someone without much pop in his bat, but… his last name is “the riot.” Riots are bad for cities but still kinda awesome. Not really a problem.
2B: Mike Fontenot fell off the face of the earth this season and has been getting spelled by Aaron Miles and Jeff Baker. These men also suck. PROBLEM.
1B: Derrek Lee has actually had a pretty good season: .303, 30 HR, over 100 RBI, OPS over .900. He’s getting old, but Jake Fox is behind him, and Jake Fox can rake. Not a problem.
C: Geovany Soto took a major step back after a Rookie of the Year-winning 2008, and he admitted to getting in trouble for smoking weed. He’s still young, but seeing his average drop below .230 is disturbing. PROBLEM.
SP: Carlos Zambrano is no longer mentioned as a perennial Cy Young contender, Ryan Dempster came back to earth, Ted Lilly has been good, and Rich Harden, for all his Ks, has been shockingly average elsewhere. Those four starters, by the way, combined for almost $48 million in payroll this season. They certainly didn’t pitch like they earned it. PROBLEM.
RP: Kevin Gregg imploded, Carlos Marmol lost his control, Angel Guzman is ehh, and the situational relievers are a liability. PROBLEM.
Right. So the Cubs have rather serious problems nearly all across the board… and lots of money wrapped up in said problems. This looks like a situation that doesn’t get fixed over just one off-season, and any title talk might need to be tabled for the foreseeable future. That some Cubs are unhappy or that their franchise hasn’t won a title in a century seem like only tangentially relevant facts compared to the larger picture.