Q&A with Len Kasper: Part I

As the Cubs wrap up the 2006 season, Len Kasper wraps up his second year as the club's television play-by-play analyst in the broadcast booth. Inside, Len shares his thoughts on 2006, the things that lie ahead for the Cubs and more in the first of this two-part interview.

With the season winding down, the big thing on everyone's mind now is obviously Dusty Baker's future. In your opinion, what lies in store there?

That's a good question. Only one person could really answer that question and it's Jim Hendry. It's been a disappointing season obviously and Dusty is a good manager. I'm not sure if the Cubs are going to look to go in a different direction, or if Jim will decide in the end that Dusty is the best manager for the team. One thing that I would guess will happen is that Jim will probably make a decision pretty soon after the season. I would guess that within the first week of October, we should have a pretty good idea of whether Dusty will be back.

How much does Dusty deserve to be held accountable for this team's play?

I think the entire organization deserves responsibility for both success and failure, and I think the manager is right up front when you talk about the team's record and who takes the "blame" or the "credit." I've always believed that you have to have talent and generally that's going to win out. To be honest, if you'd put any other manager in this situation, I still think the Cubs would be well under .500.

I think Dusty has done what he can do and what he believes is in the best interest of this team to play well and post a winning record. To me, offensively, this team doesn't get on base enough and doesn't hit for enough power. When you look at the pitching, it has given up too many walks and too many home runs. When you do those things, there's only so much a manager can do to play with the lineup and to mix and match with his pitching staff. There have been a ton of rookies that have had to be used because of injuries to veterans, and I think overall the problems that the Cubs have had in 2006 have very little to do with who has managed the team.

What do you make of the Joe Girardi situation in Florida? He seems to be the so-called "Fans Choice."

I really don't know – you'd have to poll the fans. I'm not sure what the fans or the people here want. All I know about the Florida situation is what I've read, and I'm sure it's the same things that you've read about it. I have no idea that if Jim decides to go in another direction whether Joe will be at the top of the list or not. I will say this: it's going to be odd to see a probable Manager of the Year fired, if in fact he doesn't come back. That would be probably unprecedented. I can't think of another situation where a Manager of the Year was not brought back after just one year. I know Joe is well-respected around baseball and certainly the job he's done with the Marlins this year speaks very highly of him.

Ryan Theriot has played well at second base and there seems to be some thought that he could be the starter there going into next season. What's your read on Theriot's role with the club?

I think he's getting a pretty good look right now. To be honest, I haven't seen him play enough at this level and I don't know if the Cubs have, either. I do think Ryan is a major league caliber middle infielder, whether that means he's a starter or a super-utility guy, or what have you. I'm not sure of the answer to that, but I would be surprised at this point if he's not on the active 25-man roster when we start the season next year.

Looking ahead to the off-season, there are plenty of free agents that should be on the market. With Matt Murton developing in his first full season at the major league level, what do you feel are the chances the Cubs will look to add an Alfonso Soriano or a Carlos Lee-type player?

I think it's possible, but I saw a great note the other day where Matt Murton, with his on-base, slugging and maybe even his home runs and RBIs in the second half, has been better than Carlos Lee. You're going to get a lot more value in Matt Murton than you would Lee at this point, because Lee is going to command a huge salary coming up next year. I like Carlos Lee, but in my opinion, Matt has done everything the Cubs have asked, and I think there are other positions on the team – especially in the starting rotation – where I think the Cubs may be better served spending a lot of money and letting Matt Murton develop in left field; and having him be a very good bargain. That would be the way I would probably go, but again it's just my opinion.

If Soriano and Lee were available, I think the Cubs would consider those guys. My only concern with Soriano is that while he provides a lot of power and speed, he's not a guy that's going to walk a whole lot. I think that's what the Cubs are going to need to add to this offense. They are going to need some patience and some guys that give you some good at-bats. I think Matt Murton is one of those guys.

You mentioned pitching. Would Barry Zito be a good fit at Wrigley Field 15 some-odd times a year?

I haven't really looked up his numbers, so I can't really give you a great answer on that. I know that he's going to be one of the top two or three pitchers available. I've seen Jason Schmidt more and I know that he's got some good years and good mileage on his arm. I really like him. You might have to overpay for him at 33 or 34 years old, so it might be kind of a risk. The only thing about Zito is, you have a guy who's pretty similar and a really good bargain in the end in Rich Hill. If they determine in the end that Barry Zito is a guy that fits Wrigley really well, I'm sure we'd love to have him in the starting rotation.

At this point, I think you have (Carlos) Zambrano, Hill, and then I think you probably need to pick up two more solid starting pitchers. That's four, and then your fifth guy could be starting the season – Mark Prior if he's healthy, but I don't think you count on him to be healthy on opening day. The fifth guy could be Juan Mateo or one of the other young guys we've seen that could possibly fill in. But I think the Cubs are probably going to have to go out and sign or trade for a couple of starting pitchers; maybe three.

Going into next season, is there a favorite between Rich Hill, who started to dominate in the second half, versus Sean Marshall, who was here from day one?

I think Rich has the advantage. I think Sean has been disappointing since he came back from his oblique injury. We haven't really seen the same guy from before the injury. I think the biggest difference – and Bob Brenly talks a lot about it on the air – is that Rich has a strikeout pitch: the big breaking curveball. In the case of Sean Marshall, he doesn't really have one big strikeout pitch. Because he doesn't throw as hard as Rich, it's really important that he throws strikes. When he doesn't command his pitches extremely well, he gets hurt. So I think Sean is going to have a lot of work to do to put himself in a position where he's going to make the opening day roster next year. Let's remember he skipped Triple-A starting this year and is still a very young guy. I don't think it's out of the question that he could start next year at Triple-A and then have a chance to come back to the big leagues at some point. I don't think that would be an indictment of Sean at all; I just think in the end that Rich Hill's stuff is better. I think he's put it all together. Over the last month, he's been one of the best starting pitchers in the National League. I think Rich has already made the roster pretty much for next year.

Part Two of our sitdown with Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper will appear later this week.


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