That was enough to get general manager Jim Hendry fired (finally) in August, and it might cost field manager Mike Quade his job, too.
What the Cubs learned was that they were woefully short of depth, particularly in starting pitching. Right-handers Randy Wells (forearm) and Andrew Cashner (rotator cuff) went down after their first starts of the season, and there was nothing homegrown with which to replace them.
The Cubs had to sign retreads such as Doug Davis, Ramon Ortiz and Rodrigo Lopez, and the results were predictable: woefully inadequate. It was an indictment of a minor league system without any starters close to being major league ready.
The offense flashed power at times, with first baseman Carlos Pena, left fielder Alfonso Soriano and third baseman Aramis Ramirez each hitting at least 25 homers. But the Cubs ranked at or near the bottom of the National League in walks all season long.
Shortstop Starlin Castro is a star in the making, as he led the NL in hits with 207. He's still a work in progress defensively, but he's also only 21 years old and figures to be a fixture for this franchise for years to come.
While the starting pitching came up short, the bullpen performed generally well despite some monumental lapses in control and effectiveness by closer Carlos Marmol. Lefty Sean Marshall might be the best left-handed setup man in the league, and right-hander Jeff Samardzija made significant strides.
Team owner Tom Ricketts says he wants his new GM to be more analytical from a statistical standpoint than the old-school Hendry. The Cubs need to stress getting on base more. The new GM will have his work cut out in finding at least two solid starting pitchers and possible replacements at first base, third base and in the outfield.
--RHP Ryan Dempster reached the 200-innings mark for the fourth straight season. He endured a rough final start, giving up eight hits and nine runs in 5.2 innings. He needed 3.1 innings to reach 200. Dempster finished the season 10-14 with an ERA of 4.80. His ERA has risen from 2.96 in 2008 to 3.65 in 2009 to 3.85 in 2010. Dempster has a $14 million player option for next year that he's likely to pick up. He said he wanted time to "breathe" before he thinks too much about next year. "I'm proud of the way I battled all year," he said. "I was able to make my starts and give us a chance to win."
--Castro wound up leading the National League in hits and became the youngest player (and the first 21-year-old) ever to lead the NL in hits. Castro is the third Cub in the last seven years to lead the NL in hits, joining Juan Pierre (2006) and Derrek Lee (2005). Castro also ended the season with an 11-game hitting streak and a 40-game on-base streak. He finished the season with a .307 batting average and a .341 on-base percentage.
--Pena fell short of the 30-homer mark, finishing with a team-leading 28, to go along with 80 RBI. Pena led the club by far with 101 walks. It was the 12th 100-plus-walk season for the Cubs. Pena is a free agent at season's end. "I'm very grateful," Pena said of his year with the Cubs. He added that he hopes to be back but that he understands how the business of the game works if the Cubs choose to go in a different direction.
--Soriano tied for second on the club in homers with Ramirez (both players had 26). Ramirez has stated that he'll test the free-agent waters and that he's likely done as a member of the Cubs. Soriano still has three seasons remaining on his eight-year, $136 million deal.
"I'm (a) Chicago Cub," Soriano said. "We'll see what happens in the offseason. I hope to come back with a good year on a very good team to contend with next year."
There has been speculation the Cubs will try to trade the one-dimensional Soriano even if they have to eat money.
--C Steve Clevenger picked up his first major league hit in the season finale, a pinch-hit double leading off the fifth inning. Clevenger remained in the game replacing Koyie Hill behind the plate. Clevenger, 25, came up from Class AA (Kodak) Tennessee Sept. 19. He has a chance to make the club out of spring training next year. "Left-handed (hitting) catcher, and he can hit," said Quade.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- The Cubs hit no grand slams all year. It's the first time they went an entire season without a grand slam since 1997.
HE SAID IT: "I think one thing you've seen in baseball over the last few years is that turnarounds can happen pretty quickly. I don't think it's meaningful to describe a year as a rebuilding year." -- Team chairman Tom Ricketts, on whether he considers 2012 a rebuilding year.
The Cubs were every bit as bad as their 71-91 record indicated. Their starting pitching is thin, and their offense continues to be on-base challenged. Most important, the Cubs need a new general manager to replace Hendry. The new GM inherits much of Hendry's front office as key personnel were retained. But whoever the new GM is will decide the fate of Quade, who is under contract for one more year. Ricketts likely would take the entire month of October before deciding on his GM choice.
BIGGEST NEEDS: Although the bullpen performed reasonably well, Cubs starting pitchers finished the season with an ERA of 4.79. The Cubs need two decent starting pitchers and after that there are still plenty of holes to fill. The new GM is looking at potential vacancies at first base, third base and right field, and ownership must decide what to do with Soriano, who still has three years left on his eight-year, $136 million contract.
FREE AGENTS: 3B Aramis Ramirez (mutual option), 1B Carlos Pena, RHP Ryan Dempster (player option), LHP John Grabow, OF Reed Johnson, RHP Kerry Wood.
Ramirez has repeatedly stated that his days in Chicago are likely over as he'll decline his part of the mutual option and seek a multiyear deal on the open market. The Cubs seem to want Pena back, but that will be up to the new GM and also if ownership decides to get into a bidding war for either Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, should they hit the market. Dempster is weighing his options, but he's likely to return. Grabow is a goner after two ineffective years. Johnson's return will depend on the new GM. Wood, a Chicago favorite, has said he'll either pitch for the Cubs next year or retire.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: C Geovany Soto, IF Jeff Baker, C Koyie Hill, IF Blake DeWitt, RHP Matt Garza, RHP Randy Wells.
The Cubs had only one case go to arbitration in the Hendry years, and it will be interesting to see if there's a philosophy change with a new regime. Ownership no doubt would like to tie up Garza with a long-term deal. Soto has had an up-and-down career, but the Cubs likely will keep him. Wells will be entering arbitration eligibility for the first time, and he figures to be a back-of-the-rotation guy the Cubs will keep. Baker is a useful part, but DeWitt may be a non-tender candidate.
IN LIMBO: RHP Carlos Zambrano, LF Alfonso Soriano, RHP Carlos Marmol.
Zambrano has a grievance pending on his being put on the disqualified list. The Cubs will try to move him and eat money on the final year of his contract. Soriano ended the year with decent numbers, but he's become a one-dimensional player and his contract is an albatross. The Cubs no doubt want to move him, but they will have to eat a significant portion of the money. Marmol had a rough year as closer, but he signed a three-year contract before the season. The Cubs might have been best served dealing him at the July 31 trading deadline, but they might not get much in return now, and the money is a problem.
--Cashner missed five months of the season with a strained right rotator cuff. He'll go to the Arizona Fall League to build on the innings he got out of the bullpen in September. Right now, it's not known whether the Cubs see him as a starter or a late-inning reliever next year. His health and the new GM will determine that.
--Wood was scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He'll be a rehab case if he and the Cubs decide to continue their relationship.
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