With the departure of slugger Sammy Sosa, the offensive output for the Chicago Cubs has been replaced by the likes of superstars Derek Lee (.335 46 107) and Aramis Ramirez (.302 31 92). Both players came into their own in 2005 along with the help of Jeremy Burnitz (.258 24 87), catcher Michael Barrett (.276 16 61) and 2nd baseman Todd Walker (.305 12 40). Lee in particular impressed in 2005, hitting 27 home runs prior to the all star break and leading the league in hitting by the end of the season. Starters Carlos Zambrano (14 6 3.26), Greg Maddux (13 15 4.24), and Mark Prior (11 7 3.67) joined closer Ryan Dempster (5-3 3.13 35 saves) to provide the pitching depth in 2005 as the Cubs posted a 79-83 record to end the season 21 games behind the division leading St. Louis Cardinals.
Off Season Moves:
GM Jim Hendry traded for Florida Marlin’s Juan Pierre (.276 2 47), who will lead off and play center in 2006, both of which were troublesome spots last year. Hendry also strengthened the Chicago Cubs bullpen with two free-agent signings: lefty Scott Eyre (2-2 2.63 – obtained from the San Francisco Giants) and right hander Bobby Howry (7-4 3.47 – acquired from the Cleveland Indians). The Cubs spent $23 million to lock those two players under contract for the next three years.
Pitcher Wade Miller (4-4 4.95) was also picked up from the Boston Red Sox. The other noteworthy signings were free agent right fielder Jacque Jones (.249 23 73 from the Minnesota Twins), who will be looked upon to replace the offense for the departed Jeromy Burnitz. John Mabry (.240 8 32) was also traded from the Cardinals to help in the outfield. The Cubs are hopeful he can return to his 2004 offensive form when he tied a career high in home runs with 13.
The restructured bullpen should help improve the pitching in 2006. Hendry also did well to pick up Pierre and Jones. Pierre improves the defense and leadoff position and should spell more RBI opportunities for Lee and Ramirez. The biggest non-pitching question remains at shortstop, where veteran Neifi Perez and 23-year-old Ronny Cedeno will be expected to help provide the answer. Lee and Ramierez will need to continue to provide the bulk of the offense in 2006.
The starting pitching remains a question mark. If Kerry Wood can return and pitch more then the 66.0 innings he did last year and Maddux can improve a bit on his record the pitching might surprise some fans as a strong point in 2006. If the Chicago Cubs hope to make it to postseason play they will need to get more from the starters in order for the recent off season bullpen moves to work. Hendry hopes the $23 million is spent on Howry and Eyre will be money well invested. Fans should be patient in 2006 – if the team is close at the all star break expect a midseason trade or two to perhaps make the difference.
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