x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Issues continue to stunt Cubs growth

For the Chicago Cubs it has been another season of disappointment. So what else is new?

For the Chicago Cubs it has been another season of disappointment. So what else is new? The Cubs, who last won the World Series in 1908, have specialised in heartbreak and dashed expectations for more than a century now. Pre-season favourites to win the National League Central, the Cubs will, instead, be fortunate to finish over .500, and far behind the first-place St Louis Cardinals.

So the Cubs have under-achieved again, but this year they have done so with style. One of their biggest acquisitions was Milton Bradley, the volatile outfielder who signed a three-year, US$30 million (Dh110m) deal last winter. But his first year with the Cubs was marred by controversy and culminated with the team suspending him with two weeks of the season left. In an interview, Bradley said the Cubs lacked a "positive environment", adding: "You understand why they haven't won in 100 years here."

The Major League Players Association reviewed the case and threatened to file a grievance on Bradley's behalf. As a result, the Cubs agreed to pay Bradley for the remainder of the season and he agreed to apologise. Bradley, who enjoyed his best season in 2008 while with the Texas Rangers, had a sub-standard year with the Cubs, hitting just .257 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs. Worse, Bradley made himself a target for unhappy Cubs fans, who booed him for much of the season. At various times, Bradley picked fights with supporters, reporters and the manager Lou Piniella, and by the final month of the season the Cubs had had enough.

A Chicago newspaper even took a poll of readers to determine if Bradley represented the worst signing of all-time for the Cubs. It seems a given that he will not be back with the team next year. Less certain, however, is how the Cubs can deal him. They will probably have to pay a significant amount of the remaining $21m on his deal to get another team to even consider taking on Bradley and his baggage.

But the Cubs' problems were not limited to the outfielder's antics. Their best pitcher, Carlos Zambrano, had an uneven season and is rumoured to be on the trading block, some 26 months after signing the biggest contract in franchise history. Zambrano has nearly $60m left on his deal, with another option year to follow, but has never truly reached elite starter level, having won more than 16 games just once in his career.

Piniella has a year remaining on his deal and, at 66, there are questions about how much energy remains after 22 seasons in the dugout for five different teams. Understandably, Piniella's energy seems to have dipped in recent years and his patience, never a strong suit, has diminished even further. After winning division titles in each of his first two seasons with the Cubs, Piniella might be better served by retirement.

A new manager would provide the Cubs with a fresh perspective. Finally, there is the matter of the sale of the team - delayed for months because of bankruptcy proceedings surrounding the Tribune Co, the current owners. This process has hamstrung the club, since the management have been reluctant to make moves with long-term consequences that saddle the incoming ownership group with additional obligations.

Sometime before the end of the year, the family of the billionaire Tom Ricketts should take control of the team, and ownership of Wrigley Field. It is likely the entire organisation will be examined and changes will be made. Of course, the Cubs being the Cubs, there are no guarantees that the franchise's history is going to change anytime soon. smcadam@thenational.ae