In the summer of 2002, with the White Sox 13 games out of first place, general manager Ken Williams unloaded Ray Durham, Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Bob Howry in a seven-day stretch in late July, purging the clubhouse of players who weren't in the team's future plans.
Most of the prospects the Sox received in return turned out to be minor-league roster fillers, but Williams was making a statement about his '02 club while giving young players such as Aaron Rowand and Willie Harris an opportunity to audition for roster spots in '03.
In another month or so, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry may find himself in the same position as Williams was only four years ago. If the Cubs can't snap out of their May malaise and continue to swoon in June, Hendry will be forced to answer the age-old question baseball GMs have dealt with forever:
Hold or fold?
Should the Cubs keep this team together and hope for a rebound in '07, or start dismantling and start over again? Here are some reasons to keep or dump some of their most tradeable commodities if things don't change soon:
Hold 'em: He came into the season with a lifetime .305 average and deserves a chance to turn it around, especially because the Cubs sent three pitching prospects to Florida for him. Felix Pie shouldn't be rushed.
Fold 'em: He hit .276 last year in Florida and has shown no signs of coming out of his season-long slump. He will be a free agent in November, anyway, and will ask for big bucks, so why not give Pie a two-month chance in July?
Hold 'em: He's the Cubs' best hitting third baseman since Ron Santo and always has heated up with the weather. Ramirez says he wants to stay, has a limited no-trade clause in his contract and is their only real power hitter besides Derrek Lee. Oh, and there's no replacement ready.
Fold 'em: The Cubs could get two or three prospects in return and would be able to invest the millions they save on Ramirez to put into other areas of need. Ramirez hasn't carried his share of the load since Lee's injury.
Hold 'em: He also has a no-trade clause and loves being a Cub. Although his $13 million option year may be out of the question, the Cubs still could negotiate a new deal if they decline the option.
Fold 'em: If he shows some signs of being the Kerry Wood of old, he could become a valuable commodity to a contender, and every contender is looking for starting pitching in late July. Let Wood get a fresh start in a new town.
Hold 'em: He's a future Hall of Famer and should finish his career in a Cubs uniform. They already made the mistake of letting him go once before.
Fold 'em: His sensational April was followed by a poor performance in May. The Cubs should think from a practical standpoint rather than an emotional standpoint when assessing Maddux, just as Williams did last winter with Frank Thomas.
Hold 'em: He's throwing like the Zambrano everyone knows and has been one of the few bright spots during the dismal month of May. He's not a free agent until after '07, and probably should be signed to a multiyear deal before then.
Fold 'em: He can bring the most in return, and questions remain as to whether he really has the ability to stay focused for a prolonged period. His emotional outbursts are getting old.
Hold 'em: He won't fetch much in a trade at this point, so why not keep him and see if he can become a valuable utilityman, even if he hasn't proved himself as a starting second baseman in Chicago.
Fold 'em: He has shown no evidence of becoming the player the Cubs thought they got when he was acquired in the Sammy Sosa deal. Why prolong it?
Hold 'em: He has handled first base for the most part since Lee's injury and remains one of the better hitters in the lineup, even though his production has dropped off since the move to the No. 3 hole.
Fold 'em: The Cubs probably have no intention of re-signing him as a free agent and spent most of the off-season trying to trade him in the first place. He should have more value playing two positions.
Hold 'em: He's Mark Prior, the building block of the future. He deserves a chance to fulfill his promise in Chicago, and, generally, has pitched very well when he's healthy.
Fold 'em: He's Mark Prior, the accident-prone pitcher who can not be counted on to remain healthy. Just because he's called "Franchise" by some doesn't make him a franchise player.
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