Mailbag: Should Wood be the closer?

Mailbag: Should Wood be the closer?

Kerry Wood, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Marmol and the Cubs' closer situation, some Alfonso Soriano stats, Spring Training 2008 and a potential condo conversion are among the topics in this week's mailbag.

With the late struggles of Dempster and late dominant performance from Wood, can you see the Cubs re-signing Wood and offering him the closer spot? He has proved he can pitch one to two innings on consecutive days, and his experience and resurging dominance can make him an elite closer in this league.
-- Carlos F., Vallejo, Calif.

The Cubs would like to keep Wood, and I think he enjoyed his relief role enough that he wants to do it again. Whether he'll be the closer may depend on what the team decides to do with Dempster and if they put him back into the rotation, which is something he wants to do. That's a topic the Cubs brass has to talk about.

What is holding Marmol back from being the full-time closer? He was lights out this season and has electric stuff. Do the Cubs plan on seeing how he does in the closer role?
-- Josh B., Louisburg, Kan.

What held Marmol back was experience. He has no fear, which is a good quality for a closer, plus two very effective pitches, but this was his first season in the bullpen. If you watched closely, he was eased into late-inning work as the season progressed. Could he be a closer? Yes. Don't forget Bob Howry, who was 8-for-12 in save situations when Dempster was hurt. If Dempster goes into the rotation, Marmol could still set up Howry or Wood. The more arms, the better.

As one of many Cubs fans who were photographed weeping during the last game of the National League Division Series out on Waveland Avenue, I was wondering if the Cubs have plans on looking at pitchers this offseason? And if so, who might be the hot commodity?
-- Matthew B., Des Moines, Iowa

If I had to list items on the Cubs' wish list this offseason, it would be a left-handed power hitter and another starting pitcher. Let's see who's available. Players have two weeks after the World Series ends to file for free agency. And, Matthew, there's no crying in baseball.

With Dusty Baker taking over the Cincinnati managerial job, I was wondering who previously was the last Cubs manager to ever manage again after leaving the team? I think it goes back before Jim Frey in the early '80s. Maybe Jim Marshall in the '70s? Amazing if you think about it.
-- David J., Glendale Heights, Ill.

Lee Elia managed the Cubs in 1982-83, and took over the Philadelphia Phillies after 61 games in 1987 as interim manager, posting a 51-50 record. He started the '88 season as the Phillies skipper, but was fired with a week and a half remaining and a 60-92 record. Marshall managed the Cubs from 1974-76, and was named the Oakland Athletics manager in 1979, compiling a 54-108 record, and then left.

Herb G. whiffed on this one [in the Oct. 22 mailbag]. When he corrected the answer to the question, "Who was the last manager to lead the Cubs to two different playoffs," he stated that Charlie Grimm managed the Cubs to the 1938 pennant. Actually, Grimm was fired during the season and replaced by Gabby Hartnett, who managed the last 71 games of the regular season and the World Series.
-- Deren K., Jackson, Miss.

You are correct. And I am deferring all future historical questions to Ed Hartig.

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Question:

Regarding your comment about Ryan Theriot and shortstop being "solid offensively," the evidence is to the contrary. The NL average OPS (on-base plus slugging) at shortstop was .758 in 2007. Theriot was at .672. That's minus-86 compared to the NL average at the position, by far the largest differential on the club in '07. No other position was close to that in terms of substandard compared to league average. There's no reason to infer that Theriot will be better in '08. Alex Rodriguez is unrealistic, but the best way to improve the '08 Cubs offense is at shortstop. It's a hole offensively.
-- Mark K., Washington, D.C.

Yes, the shortstop position for the Cubs was weakest in terms of OPS in comparison to the NL average and the Major League average. It wasn't the only offensive hole. The Cubs also were deficient at catcher (.039 points below the league OPS) and at center field (.049 points below league OPS). Derrek Lee plus Aramis Ramirez plus Soriano did well enough to bring them back to the league average, and the Cubs ended up eighth in runs scored and eighth in OPS.

(If you're scratching your head, Jeff Chernow at STATS Inc. says OPS corresponds more closely to run production, mathematically speaking, than pretty much any other offensive statistic.

When Theriot subbed in the leadoff spot for Soriano and hit .321, I got a zillion e-mails from people saying that Theriot should bump the $136 million outfielder at the top of the order. Theriot provides a lot of intangibles that don't show up in the stats -- like energy -- and he and Mike Fontenot provided a spark in June and July. Theriot just ran out of gas in the last month. I didn't say Theriot was a superstar, I said he was solid, and I still believe that.

I know many Cubs fans are excited about the possibility of acquiring Rodriguez. What about the slugger who batted behind him in the Yankees lineup? Bobby Abreu is a free agent this winter and would be the potent everyday left-handed batter the Cubs so desperately need. What are the odds the organization targets Abreu in the offseason?
-- T.R.F., Palm Beach Co., Fla.

Abreu could be a free agent. His contract includes a team option for 2008 worth $16 million, or a $2 million buyout, so we'll have to see what the Yankees do.

Everybody (fans) and so called radio experts keep saying Soriano should bat fourth or fifth. The power numbers would be more beneficial to the team that way. Has manager Lou Piniella ever considered batting him second? With Theriot on base before him, hopefully he would still get plenty of fastballs to hit.
-- Dan M., Hinsdale, Ill.

This topic was discussed all season, and no matter what the numbers, or the so called experts say, the Cubs made a commitment to Soriano to be the leadoff hitter. For your information, he batted .308 (167-for-542) batting first; hit .179 (5-for-28) batting third; and was 0-for-8 hitting fifth.

I know Soriano led off with homers seven times during the 2007 season. However, is there a breakdown of what he did in the other games he led off in? I'm guessing he led off in about 115-125 games. Example, how many times did he strike out, walk, reach base?
-- Mike M., Eden Praire, Minn.

Actually, Soriano hit 12 leadoff homers during the season. According to STATS Inc., Soriano was 38-for-125 (.304) leading off games in 2007, including eight doubles, one triple and 12 homers, which resulted in 12 RBIs. He walked five times, struck out 16 times, had an on-base percentage of .331 and a slugging percentage of .672.

My wife and I are trying to plan a trip to Mesa, Ariz., to see the Cubs in Spring Training. When do they post the schedule? Also, how early do tickets go on sale for Spring Training games, and who do we need to go through to get the tickets?
-- Tim W., St. Louis, Mo.

Last year, the Cubs' Spring Training schedule was posted in early November, and tickets went on sale on Jan. 4, so look for an announcement, maybe as early as next week, and details on how to buy tickets then. You'll know at that time whether the Cubs will return to Las Vegas for exhibition games.

I heard that if the Cubs don't win the World Series, Major League Baseball is going to award them a "participation trophy," disband the franchise and turn Wrigley Field into condos. Any truth to this, and do you think it's a good idea?
-- Scott W., Chicago

I haven't heard that rumor, but it's good only if I can get a top-floor corner unit with a balcony looking south.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.