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This week, the Mets made themselves (arguably) the best team in the National League by acquiring left-handed starting pitcher Johan Santana in exchange for four minor league prospects. Santana, a two-time Cy Young award winner, signed a six-year extension meaning he will be a thorn in the side in the NL for a long time to come.
What does this have to do with the Cubs? Be patient. We will get to that eventually.
The Mets are a team of stars assembled to put up lots of runs on the board. Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and David Wright will provide Santana with the prolific offense and run support that he did not have with the Minnesota Twins. How much better does that make Santana?
I don’t want to know.
The NL was winnable last year, and for most of the off-season, it looked like it would be winnable again. The idea of a Wild Card team winning a one-game playoff and running the table to win the NL pennant gave Cubs fans hope that anything could happen in a playoff that had no dominant team. Getting Santana makes the Mets a dominant team.
Now is the time the Cubs must strike back with a move that puts them in the Mets league. While acquiring second baseman Brian Roberts makes the Cubs better, I’m not sure if the deal makes them significantly better. Acquiring starting pitcher Erik Bedard is the move that could put the Cubs in direct competition with the Mets, but the Cubs have to knock the socks off Baltimore’s Andy MacPhail and owner Peter Angelos. Still, I’m not sure Rich Hill can’t be Bedard-like at a cheaper price. If the Cubs could acquire Bedard without giving up Hill (which is highly unlikely) then the Cubs could be as good as the Mets, almost.
Even if they did get both Roberts and Bedard, the Cubs have ignored three positions that need to be filled before upgrading at second base.
The Cubs still do not have a closer. It seems as if Cubs management wants Kerry Wood to be close games, if only for a nostalgic feeling. However, Wood needs to be healthy before he is given the most crucial role in the bullpen. Bob Howry is the cool, calm customer Cubs fans would like to have on the mound, but he has not closed out games over a full season since 1999. Carlos Marmol has the potential to be a lights-out reliever in the mold of Francisco Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but is not a proven commodity.
The Cubs still do not have a Major League quality shortstop. Don’t get me wrong, Ryan Theriot is a fine ballplayer. He plays good fundamental baseball while providing speed and versatility to a manager who loves those two aspects of the game. But if it's unacceptable for some Cubs fans to have Alfonso Soriano’s career .327 on-base percentage to be in the lead-off spot, then why do Cubs fans clamor for Theriot, and the .326 OBP he put up in 2007, to lead off in 2008?
The Cubs biggest hole in the line-up lives in center field. The Cubs would be able to hide Felix Pie’s .215 batting average in 2007 in the eighth spot if their 1-8 hitters were as good as the Mets, but they aren’t, so they can’t. Pie’s redeeming quality could be his defense. He can cover gap-to-gap and probably more, and his arm is strong as well as accurate. If Pie can be league average at the plate, a defensive outfield of Soriano, Pie and Kosuke Fukudome would be one of the best in baseball.
Even if everything goes right for the Cubs, the Mets are still better than the Cubs, but the Mets aren’t the Cubs' only competition. They’ll have to be better than the Brewers, Braves, D’Backs, Dodgers, Padres, Phillies…and that stupid goat.