Sports column: Making sense of the Cubs

By Mike Szwaja

I remember when my parents told me they were getting rid of my first car. It was a sky-blue, four-cylinder Dodge Caravan – not exactly the kind of car you lean against in the parking lot at the end of the day in high school, hoping you look cool in front of that girl you have your eye on.

Regardless, I loved that van and hated to see it go, but at the same time, I knew if I kept it any longer it would just cause more problems in the future.

That’s pretty much how Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry has to feel about Sammy Sosa these days. Hendry had some great times with Sosa, and he would probably love to have the old Sosa back. But at this point, keeping him spells nothing but trouble.

Few people who have anything to do with the organization respect Sosa anymore. The Cubs fans who would have once taken a bullet for their star right fielder now shower Aramis Ramirez with their praises.

Dusty Baker told Sosa he needed to work his butt off this winter and report to spring training in the best shape of his life. Sosa responded by saying he was sick of Baker blaming him for the Cubs’ late-season collapse, which kind of makes you wonder how bad Sosa really wants a ring.

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Hendry and the Tribune Co. fined him $87,000 – one day’s pay – for not showing up for the final game of the season. Seemed reasonable, right? Sosa didn’t think so. Somehow, he thought he should have been paid to abandon his teammates.

Rumor has it Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were so peeved they took baseball bats to his infamous, salsa-blaring boom box.

Hendry’s problem is Sosa could very well have another 55 home run, 120 RBI season in him. Those are tough numbers to just throw away in exchange for lifetime disappointment Cliff Floyd or the unpredictable Aubrey Huff – two players recently mentioned in Sosa trade rumors. But Hendry no doubt realizes there is way too much potential for a team-chemistry disaster if Sosa stays around.

Hendry, Sosa, Sosa’s agent Andy Katz and anyone else involved in trade rumors insist Sosa will remain a Cub. Believe none of it. Hendry is working hard to get something done; he’s proved in the past he is an inventive, knowledgeable GM.

Once Hendry finally seals the deal to make Sosa the permanent right fielder at Shea Stadium, he will immediately turn his attention toward his other team needs. He’s going to need another outfielder, a shortstop, a second baseman and bullpen help.

The Cubs set a team-attendance record by going over the 3 million mark last season, so we know Hendry has some serious spending money, especially when you consider the $17 million the Cubs were paying Moises Alou and Alex Gonzalez last season.

If Hendry doesn’t make a splash in the free agent market, the fan expectations won’t be there like they were prior to last season. As a result, Hendry won’t be able to rely on 3 million fans paying their money to show up at Wrigley in 2005 … unless he peaks their interests with something huge this winter.

With the money to spend and the need to make some free agent noise, there isn’t any reason Hendry shouldn’t be able to lure in Carlos Beltran. It’s hard to imagine the Yankees – the only other team considered to have a shot at this year’s free agent pearl – outbidding the Cubs.

George Steinbrenner is already in financial trouble with Jason Giambi. He’s paying A-Rod about $20 million a year. And landing Randy Johnson – another huge contract – seems to be his number one concern of the winter.

Add into the equation that Bud Selig vowed to enforce luxury taxes with an iron fist next year, and Steinbrenner and Yankees GM Brian Cashman could be left in Hendry’s dust. Sure, they’re the Evil Empire, and we never know what to expect from them. But making a run at Beltran would be high risk when you consider all those huge contracts.

Beltran has said in the past he loves swinging at Wrigley. It makes sense to see Beltran in a Cubs hat at a press conference in the near future. But when it comes to the Cubs, hardly anything ends up making sense.

In the end, Cubs fans, Cashman will probably find a way to get Beltran in pinstripes and nobody will dare touch Sosa. At least Hendry will get his man in Troy Percival … ohh … wait.

Mike Szwaja is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected].