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Wednesday, July 24

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Cubs in Five

Blowing Up the Cubs, Part 2
by Jeff Webber

So Jim Hendry says no fire sale is coming, but we're still blowing the Cubs up here at Cubs in Five, and this week we've got another whole list of names headed out of town. Nothing as mind-blowing as the Aramis and Jacque for A-Rod deal proposed over at Bleed Cubbie Blue, but some big ideas to think about all the same. It'll give you something positive to think about now that the Cubs' defending World Champ crosstown rivals have packed up their bags and headed home.

One: Casting Off Prior Commitments, or, Mark Prior to Tampa Bay for Carl Crawford
I saw Mark Prior's first start at Wrigley Field from a seat just 10 rows back from home plate. I dreamed the same dreams we all dreamt of that right arm of his. But whatever's going to happen with him, it's becoming increasingly clear that it's not going to happen here. So why not give him a chance to join the Devil Rays' Scott Kazmir as the best young righty/lefty starting tandem in baseball? It'd be a nice fresh start for Prior, and as highly as that arm of his is still regarded, you can only imagine the Rays would cheerfully cash in that Carl Crawford chip they've been dangling all summer. And Crawford is the kind of five tool player you build around.

Two: Build Yr Own Blockbuster, or, Rusch, Williamson and Pierre to Atlanta for Wilson Betemit, Minor Leaguer Wes Timmons
Well, if you're gonna blow up the team, you might as well do it with some flair. The Braves have two glaring needs at this point that GM John Schuerholz has been working hard to address: they need bullpen depth to replace the injured Chris Reitsma, and they need a speedy outfielder who can hit leadoff. Well, they can have both from us, and all we'll ask in return is the criminally underappreciated Betemit (who can play pretty much anywhere, but mostly at 2B, SS and 3B) and AAA third baseman/shortstop Wes Timmons, who is already 27, but has recently turned a solid batting eye into some terrific minor league numbers.

Three: You Can Go Home Again, or, Todd Walker to the Minnesota Twins for Minor Leaguer Alex Romero
Who is Alex Romero? Minor league outfielder, 22, pretty good. That's not the fun part though. The fun part is, if we're going to send away the likable Walker (and with him not in our long term plans, we really should), the team that could best find a use for his 2B/DH skills is the team he started with, Minnesota. Walker liked it there once upon a time, but manager Tom Kelly didn't like him. Well, Kelly is long gone now, and here's Walker's chance to head home and try to lead the Twins to the Wild Card. Happy Trails, Todd.

Four: Selling High, for Once, or, Jacque Jones to the Yankees for Minor League Pitcher Tyler Clippard
This is the part that it's important for a rebuilding team to get right (and don't kid yourselves — that's exactly what the Cubbies are). Yes, Jones is hitting .308 right now, and with power and good defense on top of that. But we're still talking about a 31-year-old guy who hit .249 last year and .254 the year before. And he's still striking out five times as often as he draws a walk. So what you're looking at here is an insanely streaky player on a hot streak. The normal Cubs M.O. would be to fantasize that this is some kind of career turnaround; you'd start planning on years and years of Jones hitting the same or better in Cubbie blue. But the smart thing to do it to look at his career numbers and figure that a cold streak is on the way. And so, we trade him now, now now! A promising second-tier minor league pitcher would be an easy price for the Yanks to get a ".300 hitter" and we'd have another young arm, instead of more dead contract weight.

Five: So We've Saved Millions... Where Does It Go?
With the contracts of Rusch, Jones, Ramirez, Prior, Wood, Walker and Maddux off the books, where do the Cubs spend their money? Well, how about, for once, they go out and sign two or three of the best free agents on the market... outfielder Carlos Lee and starting pitcher Barry Zito are set to be available, and maybe even Jason Schmidt. You add names like that to holdovers like Derrek Lee and Carlos Zambrano, fill out the roster with some promising newcomers and... Hey, maybe next year could be our year.

Yeah, maybe.

Fire in Five

Another World Cup in Five
by Steve Gillies

Even though the Fire seems to have put together a couple of good games at their new home stadium and are looking to creep their way up to mid-table respectability, the World Cup is going on and I can't pay much attention anything else. So here is another column about the World Cup, because no one involved in soccer is going to want to talk about the Fire for another two weeks.

One: Look Who Else is Playing Hookie
Maybe you've read articles about the expected 300-percent loss in productivity that will happen in Europe this summer due to the World Cup. Maybe you've seen the commercial where Bono tells you about how people will be calling in sick to watch the games and their bosses won't mind because they'll be calling in sick, too. With that in mind, you'd think MLS officials were prepared for Alexi Lalas shirking his duties as the President/General Manager of the LA Galaxy to do pre and post-game analysis for ABC. But I think everyone was taken by surprise when New York Red Bulls striker, Youri Djorkaeff, informed the Red Bulls he had to take a leave of absence for an urgent family matter in France. Then in a scene that could have come straight out of Ferris Bueller, he was caught by cameras in the crowd cheering his former teammates on at the France-Brazil quarterfinal. I don't feel as bad about blowing off a couple of Fire in Fives now.

Two: Biggest Surprise of the World Cup
One of the best things about the World Cup is that for once every four years the world gets to discover that soccer isn't a game played only by five countries in Europe and two in South America. Giants get humbled and new stars are made. Except that hasn't happened this World Cup. Other than Trinidad and Tobago managing to grind out a 0-0 draw with Sweden, there haven't been many upsets. Of the eight teams to advance to the quarterfinal stage, six of them had previously won the tournament. The final four consists exclusively of teams from Europe, a depressingly predictable outcome for a tournament that hasn't been won on European soil by a non-European team since 1958. This is a tournament that in recent years has seen Bulgaria beat Germany, the US beat Portugal, Cameroon beat Argentina, and Korea advance to the semifinals. The fact that there hasn't been a real upset or Cinderella story is surprising and a little disappointing.

Three: Everyone's Acting Like Their Reliable Old Selves, Except the Germans
Even the behavior of the teams involved has followed the formbook. Argentina proved their ability to play incredibly skillful soccer can only be matched by their ability to show zero class in defeat when they ended their tournament in an ugly melee with the Germans. England once again found a way to lose nobly and blame it all on "cheaters." If you read the English press, it's apparently Christian Ronaldo's fault that Wayne Rooney got a red card for stepping on Ricardo Carvahlo's testicles. The Italians have once again offered little in creativity but been virtually impossible to score against, the Brazilians showed brilliant individual skills that never meshed together, and the Portuguese have managed further their reputation for creating bitter feuds with every other soccer team in the world. France have shown that their team, like their wine, just gets better with age. Believe it or not, the only team to go against the stereotypes has been reliable old Germany, who have managed to throw aside their usual bland brand of pragmatic soccer and still keep on winning. I'd wonder if this exciting, attacking, entertaining team was some Germany from a Bizarro world if it weren't for the fact that they still don't miss in penalty kicks.

Four: The Refs
I don't want to talk about the refs. They're clearly behaving like they want to be talked about. They've had way too much of an influence on way too many games. Let's leave it at that and ignore them. Maybe they'll go away.

Four-point-one: Screw the Refs, Let's Talk About the Stars
It's a lot more fun to talk about the stars and their performances: who played well, who didn't. So, let's start with David Beckham. He proved he was good for trotting around looking pretty and taking free kicks but not much else. Also, he threw up on the field in one game and cried on the bench in the next. This was the best he's ever played in a World Cup. Ronaldo broke the all time World Cup scoring record with goals against Japan and Ghana, but all anyone will remember him for in this Cup is being fat. I'd say something about Ronaldinho, but it was hard to tell if he was even playing in this World Cup. That's a giant disappointment, because watching him play at Barcelona the last few seasons, I really thought we were going to see another Pele or Maradona this World Cup.

Actually, I have seen a player of that caliber in this Cup, but where I thought this would be the crowning of Ronaldinho as the World's Greatest Player, it's been a reconfirmation of Zinedine Zidane's immense talent. He recently announced his retirement directly after this World Cup, so we're literally watching one of the best players to ever live playing every game as if it's his last. For me, that's been the story of this World Cup.

Other players have impressed as well. Miroslav Klose, with his goal against Argentina and his role in beating Sweden, proved he's good for more than just beating up on Saudi Arabia and other first round teams. Ronaldo's new scoring record might be in jeopardy if Klose plays in the next World Cup. Thierry Henry has made a mockery of the notion that he doesn't play well in big games. We've seen cameos from Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi that promise great things to come. Figo, Deco, Totti and Ballack still have the chance to make their mark on the tournament. But for me, no matter what happens in the next two games, this World Cup's going to be remembered as Zidane's. I just hope some ref trying to get in the headlines doesn't give him a yellow card in the semi-final and force him to spend his last game sitting out with a suspension.

Five: Who am I betting on?
A few columns ago I said I thought Germany was going to win. I'm going to stick with that. I definitely think they'll go past Italy to get into the finals, if for no other reason than that Italy is as bad at shootouts as Germany is good at them. If I had to say who I wanted to win though, I'd go with France. I'd love to see Zidane go out on top. Also, it would be great to see the likes of Thierry Henry and Lillian Thuram stick it to National Front Leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen who has been very vocal in his disapproval of the ethnically mixed French team.

Sox in Five

by Steve Gozdecki on vacation.

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Alex / July 5, 2006 7:59 AM

Carlos Lee and starting pitcher Barry Zito are set to be available... add names like ...Derrek Lee and Carlos Zambrano... maybe next year could be our year.

My heart just skipped a beat with the possibilities.

Just this morning, on the way to work, all I kept saying to myself was, "WHAT CAN WE DO? WHAT?!"

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About the Author(s)

Jeff Webber spends hours and hours every day taking in every printed, spoken, and broadcast word he can find about the Chicago Cubs, and each week till the end of the season he's boiling them down into five simple crib notes you can use to stay on top of any watercooler or corner bar Cubs discussion. Send comments to

Steve Gillies watches too much soccer to be completely healthy. He's been a Fire fan since he stood in a torrential downpour while the Fire beat New England 6-0 and he realized watching American soccer games in person was a lot better than watching European football matches on television. Each week he'll give you five things to talk about if you happen to get cornered by one of those soccer people at a party. Send comments to

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