Thursday, October 8, 2009

Worst Move of the Season Nominee: Bullpen Design & Management

I don't know a single Cub fan who was excited about any of Jim Hendry's offseason decisions, particularly his reconstruction of the bullpen. Kerry Wood was a (frustrating at times) fan favorite and a lifetime Cub who was allegedly willing to give the Cubs a hometown free-agent discount. Out of the kindness of his heart, Jim Hendry refused to entertain the offer. Kerry struggled with the Indians, but he, like DeRosa, may have been playing through a broken heart [cue the violins . . . and scene]. Michael Wuertz was dealt to the A's for yet-to-be-called-upon prospects, a move I consider to be one of the worst deals of the offseason. He shined in the Oakland bullpen. Bob Howry was mercifully allowed to walk. Hendry held on to Neal Cotts.

So, in the poor economy that was the Cubs in ownership transition, Hendry traded Ronny Cedeno ($822,500) and Garrett Olson (acquired in the Pie deal) for Aaron Heilman ($1.625 million). He traded Jose Ceda ($dirt) for Kevin Gregg ($4.2 million). This was during the same offseason in which Hendry needed to trade Mark DeRosa ($5.5 million) to save money.

Still, with Marmol looking like the closer of today, I was willing to live with the new-look bullpen. I even suggested Heilman would make a better 5th starter than a reliever. But everything kind of went to pot in spring training. Not only did Heilman miss out on the starter job, so did Chad Gaudin and Jeff Samardzija . . . and they were left out of the bullpen plans too. Gaudin was released and Spellczech went to Iowa. And Marmol looked awful as a closer. He looked to be an ajar-er at best. Gregg landed the closer job and proceeded to hold onto it long enough to ruin all our lives while Marmol did his best to induce cardiac arrest in lesser innings.

The whole ordeal, all season long, was collectively one of the worst moves of the year. Was it the worst? No.

Setting aside ERAs and WHIPs, let's look at the results. The Cubs finished 5th in the National League in save percentage. A mere 4 blown saves separate them from the Cardinal pen, who finished 2nd. The Cubs were, however, 10th in save opportunities. This, fellow Cub fans, is what made Heilman, Marmol, and Gregg look like the three Suckateers. With minimal opportunities, failures felt all the more painful.

I'm not letting Hendry or Lou off the hook here. I'm just saying, the moves that weakened this offseason were far more egregious than the bullpen fiasco. It's also a slight reason for hope if Hendry doesn't wind up overhauling the pen again this year. With an offensive upgrade, we just might be okay.

Other Nominees:
Firing Gerald Perry
Trading Mark DeRosa
Incessant Lineup Changes
Milton Being Milton

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