Roster Spot 21- P- Jon Lieber #32
Ht:6'22'' Wt:240 Bats: Left Throws: Right
Jon Lieber circa 2001: Age 6 years to ferment mediocrity
If you're like me, when you heard in January that the Cubs were bringing back their one time ace for a second go-round, you couldn't help but go back in time to the summer of 2001, when Don Baylor was manager, Sosa was in his prime and still adored, Ricky Gutierrez was second on the team in rbis, Fred McGriff was supposed to be our savior and sucked balls, and Matt Stairs brought hope to the chubby masses. In that year, Jon Lieber was as good as it gets and lead the National League in games started and innings pitched, with a 20 win campaign and an All Star invite. Jon's line for the season?
34 games, 34 games started, 232.3 innings pitched, 20-6, 3.80 era.
Which was the third season in a row in which Jon posted 200+ innings and had double digit wins, and the first in which he became a true major league ace.
Those 2001 Cubs came so close, contending for a playoff spot until the last week of the season before wilting and finishing a respectable 88-74, and with Lieber and the then healthy Kerry Wood as the bedrocks of their staff, the Cubs looked forward to contending in 2002.
But, as always happens with the Cubs, the wheels fell off for both the team and Lieber. With the Cubs falling to 65-97, Jon struggled to a 6-8 record through his first 21 starts of the year before blowing out his elbow.
After having Tommy John surgery to repair the elbow, Lieber spurned the Cubs contract offer and signed a two year deal with the Yankees and spent the 2003 season recuperating before leading the Yankees in wins with 14 in 2004. Lieber then bounced to the Philadelphia Phillies where he did even better by posting a 17 win season and looked to be the same pitcher of 2001. Then in 2006 Lieber fell to 9-11, and entered the 2007 fighting to keep his spot in the Phillies rotation, failed, and was sent to the bullpen. After managing to land in the rotation once more due to injuries to several other members of the rotation, Lieber went a mediocre 3-6 with a 4.73 era before ending his season prematurely with a torn ankle ligament, and was released by the Phillies in October.
So, twice stricken with season-ending injuries and coming off of the least productive season of his career, Jon rejoined the team where he enjoyed his greatest success, and once more finds himself fighting for a rotation spot. Due to the recent strong outings by Ryan Dempster and Marquis, Lieber is more than likely going to find himself in the bullpen when the season starts.
Once the ace, now the sixth best starting option. Its not entirely stupid to wish for the old Lieber again, and to think that he's still only 2 seasons removed from a 17 win campaign. But 2001 is gone, Sosa is retired, and reality is reality, and that reality is that this is not the Jon Lieber we knew.