Heard this one before: Cubs waiting 'til next year

BY foxsports • September 30, 2011

Carlos Pena's first - and maybe only - season with the Chicago Cubs ended like so many others for a franchise that has stretched its drought without a World Series title to a mind-boggling 103 years.

Sloppy baseball, capped by a 71-91 record, plus the firing of longtime general manager Jim Hendry and the suspension of right-hander Carlos Zambrano, whose latest antics may have finally ended his tenure with the team.

And now manager Mike Quade's future is in doubt after just one full season. The new GM that chairman Tom Ricketts hires may want to bring in his own guy for the dugout.

However it shakes out, Pena got to see firsthand what has been going on for decades on the north side of Chicago.

''This was such a huge disappointment. We had such high hopes, but it didn't work the way we wanted,'' said first baseman Pena, who hit 28 homers with 80 RBIs and a .225 average after signing for one season as a free agent. ''You want to just forget this year, wipe it clean and get back to working hard in the offseason.''

Pena said he'd like to come back. But it will be a busy offseason and the biggest and most important move will come from Ricketts' search for a general manager.

''We'll do it as efficiently and quickly as possible, but it's a big decision,'' Ricketts told reporters in San Diego at the Cubs' final series of the season. ''There's no point in rushing it. We've got to have the right guy at the right time, and whatever it takes, it takes.''

Hendry went on a $300 million spending spree before the 2007 season and the Cubs won two straight division titles before being swept in the first round both seasons. The last two seasons have bottomed out as some of those highly-paid players are no longer living up to their contracts.

Aramis Ramirez, who hit .306 with 26 homers and 93 RBIS this season, said he plans to explore the free agent market after his five-year, $75 million deal ended. There was a $16 mutual option for next season.

Zambrano cleaned out his locker and talked about retiring after giving up five homers and being ejected during a loss to Atlanta on Aug. 12. He was suspended for 30 days without pay and then it was decided he would sit out the rest of the season just a year after undergoing counseling following an outburst in the dugout against teammates.

Zambrano was 9-7 with a 4.82 ERA and has a year left on the five-year, $91.5 million deal he signed in 2007. But his meltdowns and tantrums have gotten old, and Quade acknowledged late in the season it would be difficult for the pitcher to return to the Cubs.

Alfonso Soriano, who has three years remaining on his eight-year, $136 million deal, batted .244 but did hit 26 homers with 88 RBIs.

Starlin Castro emerged as the Cubs' star of the future with a 207-hit season and .307 average, though the 21-year-old drew criticism at times for tuning out - including not being prepared as a pitch was being thrown.

With Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney, the Cubs have a bright spot around which to start their overhaul if one is going to be made.

Pitching is another question. Matt Garza, the team's major offseason acquisition last offseason, finished 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA and was victimized by shaky bullpen support. Veteran Ryan Dempster, who has an option for next season, was 10-14 with a 4.80 ERA.

But after Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner were injured in early April, the Cubs struggled mightily to fill in, using a combination of veterans like Doug Davis and Rodrigo Lopez, relievers such as James Russell and call-ups like Casey Coleman. So finding another starter will be a high priority for the new GM, especially if Zambrano doesn't return.

Closer Carlos Marmol, who signed a three-year, $20 million deal in spring training, blew 10 saves in 44 chances, struggling with his control.

Fundamentals were also lacking. The defense was as shaky as ever with 134 errors.

So much to work on and now fans can expect new faces when the Cubs hit Mesa, Ariz., in February for spring training to begin Ricketts' third season of ownership.

''It will be an interesting offseason,'' Quade said. ''It always is.''



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