"Wait 'til next year" has been the Cubs' rallying cry since before ever even christening Wrigley Field. The Cubs, after all, haven't won a World Series in 102 years or been to the Fall Classic since 1945. This isn't their year either, as they are 20 ½ games behind in the National League Central and selling off parts on a regular basis.
The Cubs continued looking to the future when they traded first baseman Derrek Lee to the Braves for three pitching prospects. Lee was the latest veteran dealt by the Cubs, following left-hander Ted Lilly and infielders Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot. The Cubs would love to part with a few more of their mainstays, but the big-money contracts of right-hander Carlos Zambrano, third baseman Aramis Ramirez, left fielder Alfonso Soriano, and right fielder Kosuke Fukudome make them nearly impossible to move.
"Certainly, it's unfortunate we've gotten ourselves in a spot we're in now, and obviously looking forward to the offseason and working toward next year," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "Derrek and I talked about it last month when the other trade possibility arose, that none of us thought this was going happen this year. We really didn't. We thought we left camp in a situation to be able to contend, maybe tinker here or there like you have to do during the year. Our lack of success, I think, caught everyone by surprise, and I think Derrek certainly didn't want to leave in the past."
Lee spent seven seasons with the Cubs and invoked his no-trade clause to veto a deal that would have sent him to the Angels last month. However, he decided to accept the trade to the Braves and a chance at the postseason.
The Cubs went to the postseason in 2007 and 2008 after winning the National League Central title. However, the Cubs are spending the rest of this season sorting through their youngsters in order to see who could be part of a rebuilding phase.
The Cubs have 10 rookies on their current 25-man roster. The Cubs set a franchise record when all 10, including six pitchers, played in Wednesday's loss to the Padres. Afterward, Hendry said, "The situation we're in, we're somewhere between sad and miserable every day."
The Cubs plan to call up even more young players when the roster limit expands to 40 on September 1. While it isn't going to be the sendoff into retirement that manager Lou Piniella would have wanted, he is not complaining.
"Truthfully, I look forward to it," Piniella said. "We get young kids to look at, the future of this organization, and give us a few more options if we need them."
The Cubs ideally would like Piniella's successor to have a strong teaching background. That would seem to work in favor of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, the manager of the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa farm club, though such former major-league skippers as Fredi Gonzalez, Lloyd McClendon, and Eric Wedge would also fit the bill.
Whoever the next manager is and whatever young players wind up becoming fixtures with the Cubs will have to deal with the spectre of the World Series drought. Lee believes it is definitely a factor with the Cubs, in both good and bad ways.
“Having to hear about losing kind of puts you in a negative environment," Lee said. "That’s not what you want. You want a little more positive energy going on. But you know that when you come here. That’s one of the enticing things coming here. Everybody wants to be on the team that breaks the so-called curse."
The playoff hopes of the team on the other side of Chicago, the White Sox, have taken a hit in the last two weeks as they have lost four of six against the Twins. That has given the Twins a four-game lead over the White Sox in the American League Central.
Twins designated hitter Jim Thome went 6-for-14 with two home runs while playing in four of those games, causing White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to take his share of heat. Thome spent the past four seasons with the White Sox, but they made no effort to re-sign him as a free agent last winter because Guillen and the White Sox wanted to shift the offensive focus away from home runs and more toward manufacturing runs. Not surprisingly, Guillen fired back at the critics.
"I'm not going to hide from people when we made that decision," Guillen said. "I say 'we' because I'm the only one who faces it. I talked to (Thome) before I made that decision. I told him why I don't see him fitting here. And believe me, I love Jim having a season like that because I look up there and he's very close to 600 home runs. For all those people there saying it was my fault about Jim Thome, yes, it's my fault. If those people don't like that, (bleep) them."
Guillen believes the White Sox are a better team without Thome because he has had the roster flexibility to use the DH to give partial days of rest to such regulars as first baseman Paul Konerko, left fielder Juan Pierre, and right fielder Carlos Quentin. Guillen also made it a point to say that no one has criticized the White Sox for not re-signing right fielder Jermaine Dye, who has sat out the entire season after not getting any offers to his liking as a free agent.
"I can care less what people think," Guillen said. "We're in second place. When Jim Thome was here, we finished third three times out of four years. We went to one playoff (in 2008) because he hit a home run to go to the playoffs. We finished third, almost fourth, three times.
"Listen, I don't make that decision, we made that decision. It was hard for me to do this. A lot of people in Chicago talk about Jim Thome. How about J.D.? I think Jermaine Dye did more stuff for the Chicago White Sox than Jim Thome did, with all my respect to Jimbo. What's going on here? I don't get it. Why do people forget about J.D.? People don't even talk about J.D. at all.
"You want to have Jim Thome here? They're a fan, a radio announcer or a newspaper. We don't want him because we don't need him. Right now we don't. Is he playing good? Good for him. All of a sudden people are going to say, 'Oh, Ozzie’s going crazy.' No. Because I'm the one sitting here taking the beating."
The Rangers took a bit of a beating this week when they went to St. Petersburg and were swept in a three-game series by the Rays. That raised some red flags because the Rangers, who lead the AL West, could face the Rays, who are one game behind the Yankees in the AL East and leading the wild-card race, in the postseason.
Furthermore, the Rangers are a combined 0-9 on the road this season against the Rays, Yankees, and Twins, who would join Texas in the AL playoffs if they started today. However, Rangers manager Ron Washington says he is not worried.
"We'll be better equipped the next time we see them," Washington said. "If it so happens down the line we do see these guys again, then come ask me that question and see what happens. Stay tuned."
The Rangers played the Rays without second baseman Ian Kinsler and right fielder Nelson Cruz, who are both on the disabled list. Third baseman Michael Young sat out the last two games of the series with a stiff neck. It marked the first time all three had been out of the Rangers' starting lineup since July 20, 2007.
"We can play better baseball, no doubt about that," Washington said after the sweep. "But we know we can play with New York, Minnesota, and these guys. It just didn't happen this series."
Dusty Baker has the Reds in first place in the NL Central by 3 1/2 games over the Cardinals as they try to reach the postseason for the first time since 1995. Reds ownership has taken notice and offered the manager a contract extension.
Baker, whose contract expires at the end of this season, declined to reveal the length of the offer. However, he has made it clear throughout the season that he wants to return.
"I'm concentrating on winning," he said. "I've said that all along. Everything is cool. It will work out. We just got the proposal a few days ago. We're still evaluating it."
The Reds are 70-51 after finishing 74-88 and 78-84 in his first two seasons.
MLB Rumors & Rumblings: The Yankees and Rangers are both expected to make strong bids for right fielder/first baseman Brad Hawpe, who is a free agent after being released by the Rockies, and the Red Sox, White Sox, and Twins are also expected to be in the picture. … Diamondbacks first baseman Adam LaRoche is also likely to be of interest to those aforementioned teams as he has cleared waivers and can be traded. … The Orioles won't be trading infielder Ty Wigginton or outfielder Luke Scott as neither cleared waivers.
Three series to watch with probable pitchers and all times Eastern:
Reds (70-51) at Dodgers (62-60), Friday-Sunday August 20-22
Homer Bailey vs. Carlos Monasterios, 10:10 p.m.; Johnny Cueto vs. Chad Billingsley, 10:10 p.m.; Bronson Arroyo vs. Clayton Kershaw, 4:10 p.m.