This week's edition of Ask Paul explores Bob Brenly's critique of Alfonso Soriano's defense, the Jim Edmonds' conundrum, whether Carlos Marmol should be moved into the rotation, and how Paul picks the questions he answers:
How strange is it that the one time Soriano doesn't "hop" to catch a fly ball, he ends up dropping it anyway because of the sun in his eyes? How much longer is this going to go on? Oh yeah, approximately 6.75 years! -- Sam W., Lake Bluff
Hi Paul -- While the current, popular topic is where Alfonso hits in the order, aren't the most important questions about starting pitching? It's good to see Lilly and Dempster going but there is still a lot of uncertainty. If Rich Hill doesn't get back to his 2007 form, who is in the best position to step up for the Cubs this year? What about trade possibilities? It'll be a tough year for Hendry if he doesn't make the right moves. -- Mike Kupkowski, Oakland, Calif.
Thanks for the non-Soriano question. Rich Hill's demotion has hurt the Cubs more than anything because they're relying on Sean Gallagher to replace his innings, and now Sean Marshall has a hamstring injury. That places more stress on the bullpen, which has already been overtaxed. I don't look for Hill to return before the All-Star break, so Hendry should be looking for a starter near the July trading deadline. It's too early to say who will be available, but we'll deal with that in our annual Wacky Trade edition of Ask Paul.
Why did Jim Hendry feel like he had to get Jim Edmonds to play center when he had already made what some might argue is the pre-season move of the year by signing Reed Johnson? All Johnson has done as a Cub is play stellar defense, swing a hot bat and score runs. He's on pace for 96 runs scored and 92 RBIs, which would be personal bests (and yes, I know he probably won't hit those milestones). Meanwhile, other than that great catch in Houston, Edmonds has done nothing. Why spend money that might be used later in the year to get an impact player for 0 runs and 0 RBIs? Usually I think Hendry makes good moves but this really seems to not be one. Will Johnson continue to get the playing time he deserves? -- John Doshan, Hoboken, N.J.
Hendry felt it was a safe risk since it was low-cost and Edmonds is a proven playoff performer. But Edmonds has done nothing to disprove the assessment of most scouts and everyone in the general vicinity of San Diego that he's no longer a viable hitter. Hendry asked not to make "knee-jerk" reactions to Edmonds, but it's hard to see this one going on much longer, barring a sudden turnaround.
Carlos Marmol is pitching great now, would the Cubs ever re-consider and make him a starter again, or is he too valuable in relief? -- Dale, South Bend, Ind.
He's too valuable in relief. The Cubs would probably be a .500 team this season without Marmol's performance in a set-up role. He should be an All-Star, along with Soto, Zambrano, Dempster and Lee.
We hear all the time about mentors in other sports, not to mention in many other professions. Here's how the typical scenario goes: Veteran player takes young gun under their wings and teaches them how to play the pro game. Heck, in hockey they even invite the rookies to live with the veterans during their first year. So, why doesn't this happen on the Cubs? When is the last time a big-time prospect from within their organization succeeded? Why can't Felix Pie learn on the job from a guy who happens to play the same position he does and also happens to be one of the best to ever play the game? -- Ignatius Riley, Philadelphia
Well, Pie actually lived with Soriano in his first year, but it was not for mentoring reasons. I assume you're asking why Jim Edmonds can't mentor Pie when you mention "one of the best to ever play the game." Pie doesn't need any defensive mentoring from Edmonds, and offensively, you wouldn't want Edmonds giving Pie any advice right now. The Cubs have no left-handed power hitter, so Micah Hoffpauir had to come up to provide some lefty power, and Pie wasn't playing anyways.
Paul, taking a look at last year's numbers for Micah Hoffpauir, this guy was en route to hit over .300, with 40 doubles, 30 homers and 130 RBIs if he wouldn't have a season-ending injury. I believe that this guy is ready for the big team the way he continued hitting the ball during spring training and at the beginning of the season in Iowa. What the Cubs are going to have to do to give him a chance. If you ask me I would put Fukudome in center and him in right field. -- Carlos Muniz, Jacksonville, Fla.
I think you're reading Jim Hendry's mind, Carlos.
Paul, two questions: one, why do the Cubs send players who are struggling with their swing or their mechanics to Iowa to "work it out" or "get right?" Isn't that what Rothschild and Perry are for -- to fix these types of things? And two, whatever happened to Angel Guzman? Does he still have a future with the Cubs, or is he another in a long line of potential Cub aces flaming out due to injury? -- Corey, Normal
Obviously they were not fixed at the major league level, so "work it out" and "get right" are simply euphemisms for "demoted for non-performance." I don't believe you can blame it all on the coaches. Guzman is not going to pitch until the second half, if then, and has a long way to go to prove himself after so many arm injuries.
Paul, If I were a dumber man, I'd say something like "I can't believed you whiffed that batting practice pitch Andrew L. threw at you for the most recent mailbag! You offend every Cub fan over 15 when you forget Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith going back to back for the CUBS in 1989!" I'm not going to say that, however, because I think you're more clever than that. You ignored their feat because the increased volume of e-mail you received would justify the continued publishing of this column. Bravo! -- Charles Hewins, Evansville, Ind.
Actually, there is no justification for the continued publishing of this column, as I'm often reminded via e-mails, especially ones that wondered how the Tribune beat writer could forget about Jerome Walton-Dwight Smith finishing 1-2 in the 1989 Rookie of the Year race. Making it worse, I actually covered that team as the back-up to former Tribune legend Andrew Bagnato. But, hey, everyone loses one in the sun once in a while, so thanks to everyone for reminding me of this grievous oversight.
Is Maddux going to be wearing a Braves or Cubs cap in the HOF? What will Cooperstown mandate? -- Todd, San Diego
Knowing Maddux, he'll probably be wearing a golf cap, perhaps from one of his favorite courses, Medinah.