With the Cubs entering their final six games of the season, various bloggers and media types will begin to put a prospective on the Cubs’ 2o11 season as a whole. Traditionally, the season recaps come after the Cubs play their final game of the regular season, but the Cubs’ season was essentially over before it ever began. But regardless of their disappointing play this season, the 2011 season will go down as being memorable and may be the Cubs most significant season since they were 5 outs away from the World Series in 2003.
Not because of anything the Cubs have done on the field–though Starlin Castro and Matt Garza have emerged as the cornerstones’ of the Cubs going forward–but because of what has transpired off the field. The 2011 season will mark a changing of the guard for the Cubs’ organization, and close the book on the Cubs’ team of the past decade.
The biggest move to come from the 2011 season is that Jim Hendry is no longer the general manager of the Cubs. Hendry survived the initial ownership transition, but after observing Hendry–more specifically the lack of success he has had the three previous seasons–chairman Tom Ricketts has finally decided to dip into the baseball operations of the organization and enter input on the front office personnel. From this season going forward, I would expect to Ricketts to have an increased involvement in how the front office of the Cubs operates. Ricketts has already made executive decisions in signing vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita, and assuring scouting director Tim Wilken that he will be a part of the Cubs’ plan for the 2012 season.
The next step for Ricketts is hiring a new general manager. Ricketts is seeking a young analytical general manager that can be viewed as long-term solution to the Cubs’ current general managerial vacancy. Ricketts wants to emulate the Boston Red Sox blueprint of success, and that could very well mean that Ricketts will try to lure a Red Sox official away from Boston to Chicago to become the Cubs’ next general manager. Both Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, and Red Sox assistant general manager Ben Cherington have been mentioned as top candidates to become the Cubs’ next general manager. While the chances are unlikely that Epstein would be allowed to leave the Red Sox organization, Cherington would likely be available to Ricketts. In addition to Epstein and Cherington, Billy Beane, Andrew Friedman, Rick Hahn, and Josh Byrnes have all been mentioned as candidates for the Cubs’ general manager position.
Whoever the Cubs next general manager is, they are likely going to have an immediate plan of action on how to shape the Cubs’ roster to their liking. Closing the book on the Cubs’ team from the past decade is likely going to be a part of that process. The 2011 season could mark the final season with the Cubs for Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, and Alfonso Soriano.
Aramis Ramirez’s comment over the past week have essentially confirmed that Ramirez will walk after the season and sign with a new team–possibly the Florida Marlins who have already expressed interest in the third baseman. Ramirez brought consistency to the Cubs third base position–something they had been searching for since the days of the late Ron Santo. But as the years went by, Ramirez’s flaws started to become increasingly clearer. Ramirez is one of the best run producers in the game when he wants to be, but more times than not, fans are left wondering how motivated Ramirez is when he is playing.
When speaking of memorable, it is nearly impossible not to bring up starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano. When the season started most felt like Zambrano was a changed man and that the anger management sessions he took last season was a success–little did we know Zambrano was a ticking time bomb. It did not take long for Zambrano to publicy upstage his manager, though, that can be understandable considering how inept Mike Quade is at managing a major league team. But Zambrano took a turn for the worst as the season drew on and now he has reached the point of no return. Zambrano’s “We stinks” tirade–where he publicly called out closer Carlos Marmol–was only the tip of the iceberg, as Zambrano’s season and career with the Cubs ended when he walked out on his team last month.
Meanwhile, the new general manager will likely do everything in his power to rid the Cubs of Alfonso Soriano. At this point in his career, Soriano is a one-dimensional player that is better off in the American League. As long as Ricketts is willing to absorb most of approximate $64 million remaining on Soriano’s contract, the new general manager should be able to find a willing trade partner. There will always be the question of who signed off on the mega-Soriano contract, but the consensus is that Crane Kenney and the Tribune’s ownership group forced Hendry into making the deal–adding an additional year and $36 million. In any event, Soriano was brought in to bridge the gap from the Cubs being pretenders into a World Series contender. Soriano seemed to understand that during the 2007 and 2008 regular seasons, but like the rest of the Cubs’ roster, Soriano vanished in post-season.
There has been a lot of negatives in the Cubs 2011 season, but the positive is that the 2011 season has marked the end of a regime that faltered while operating the Cubs’ organization.