Monday will be like Christmas morning for Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella as he will get three instrumental parts of his team back for the final six games before the All-Star Break.
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez will make his much-anticipated return Monday and will be joined by outfielder Reed Johnson and right-handed relief pitcher Angel Guzman. And while this is as close to a blessing as the Cubs will get this first half, it means that someone (or in this case, three someones) are going to hit the road back to Triple-A Iowa.
Part of me says these are easy decisions to make, because at 39-39, you just replace the life-suckers on the team. On the other hand, these are the toughest as Piniella needs to start finding the right mix for a contender before he and his ballclub let a third straight division championship slip away.
Luckily, for Lou, I've got some free time on my hands which means the following suggestions for the 25-man roster.
Starters: Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Ted Lilly, Randy Wells, Ryan Dempster.
Relievers: Kevin Gregg, Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, Aaron Heilman, Kevin Hart
Explanation: The Cubs need to trim their pitching staff down, especially with only six games to go in the first half. If they can get quality starts from their starters, which happens more often than not, the extra reliever is almost unnecessary. At this point, Jeff Samardzija needs some more seasoning and David Patton has proven to be nothing more than a worthless piece of garbage throwing waste of roster space. Sorry, David, I'm sure you're a nice guy and all, but a 5.63 ERA and 1.67 WHIP aren't going to cut it in the bigs.
Geovany Soto*, Koyie Hill.
Explanation: Geo is hitting the cover off the ball and Koyie Hill is a better option than, say, Paul Bako.
Derrek Lee*, Andres Blanco*, Ryan Theriot*, Aramis Ramirez*, Jeff Baker, Jake Fox, Micah Hoffpauir.
Explanation: Blanco gets the nod at second base because he is a far superior defender than anyone else the Cubs could throw out there. He can garner the starts against righties with Baker getting the starts against southpaws. Fox and Hoffpauir are power sticks off the bench from the right, and left sides, respectively. Gone are Mike Fontenot to Triple-A and Aaron Miles to an alternate universe. And if Ron Washington can teach Scott Hatteberg to play first, can someone teach Fox to play second?
Alfonso Soriano*, Kosuke Fukudome*, Milton Bradley*, Reed Johnson, Sam Fuld.
Explanation: The Cubs starting outfield is making $32.5 million this year, but are not playing like it. The Reedke Fukujohnson platoon in center could be the most productive, but it is sad when you need two OFs to create the same production as one.
As for the line-up, the Cubs would best be served platooning a few guys. Here is what I would throw out there.
Against Righties: Fukudome (CF) Theriot (SS) Lee (1B) Ramirez (3B) Soto (C) Soriano (LF) Bradley (RF) Blanco (2B)
High OBPs at the top of the order, middle of the order thunder with Lee, Ramirez and a resurgent Soto, and maybe the demotion in the line-up will awaken the bats of Soriano and Bradley.
Against Lefties: Johnson (CF) Theriot (SS) Lee (1B) Ramirez (3B) Bradley (RF) Soriano (LF) Soto (C) Baker (2B)
All of these guys mash lefties. The Cubs could throw out Jake Fox once in a while to spell Bradley in right.
Just a thought for you, Sweet Uncle Lou.