Archive for October, 2007

Critiqueing the Cubs Mailbag

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Each Wednesday we take a look at some of the questions posed to our beloved Cubs beat writer, Carrie Muskat and see how she did with answering the tough questions. Did she tow the company line, or give us some actual insight into the inner workings of Cubdom?

With the late struggles of Dempster and late dominant performance from Wood, can you see the Cubs re-signing Wood and offering him the closer spot? He has proved he can pitch one to two innings on consecutive days, and his experience and resurging dominance can make him an elite closer in this league.
— Carlos F., Vallejo, Calif.

The Cubs would like to keep Wood, and I think he enjoyed his relief role enough that he wants to do it again. Whether he’ll be the closer may depend on what the team decides to do with Dempster and if they put him back into the rotation, which is something he wants to do. That’s a topic the Cubs brass has to talk about.

I’m happy with the job that Dempster has done. He’s a more effective pitcher as a reliever than a starter. When he was starting, he had a career ERA of 4.99 as opposed to the 4.11 ERA as a reliever. In addition, is he really any better than we already have in the rotation? We have Zambrano, Lilly, Hill as locks, and Marquis and Marshall who should be the 4th and 5th guys. Do you really want to give Dempster a chance over a young lefty in Sean Marshall? I don’t. Just because Wood has good stuff doesn’t mean he needs to be the closer. Look at the Cleveland Indians this year with Joe Borowski and the Detroit Tigers last year with Todd Jones. Both bullpens had guys with electric stuff in the late innings and then gave the ball to a guy with less than ideal stuff.

What is holding Marmol back from being the full-time closer? He was lights out this season and has electric stuff. Do the Cubs plan on seeing how he does in the closer role?
— Josh B., Louisburg, Kan.

What held Marmol back was experience. He has no fear, which is a good quality for a closer, plus two very effective pitches, but this was his first season in the bullpen. If you watched closely, he was eased into late-inning work as the season progressed. Could he be a closer? Yes. Don’t forget Bob Howry, who was 8-for-12 in save situations when Dempster was hurt. If Dempster goes into the rotation, Marmol could still set up Howry or Wood. The more arms, the better.

I like the role that Marmol played on this team last year. He was brought into the game in some of the biggest situations and delivered most of the time. Why take one of your best relievers out of that role. There are other times beside the 9th inning that call for a lights out guy. In fact, I would venture to guess that the 9th inning is the key inning less than the majority of the time. I want my best guy available in the most crucial time, and that’s what Marmol gives us.

As one of many Cubs fans who were photographed weeping during the last game of the National League Division Series out on Waveland Avenue, I was wondering if the Cubs have plans on looking at pitchers this offseason? And if so, who might be the hot commodity?
— Matthew B., Des Moines, Iowa

If I had to list items on the Cubs’ wish list this offseason, it would be a left-handed power hitter and another starting pitcher. Let’s see who’s available. Players have two weeks after the World Series ends to file for free agency. And, Matthew, there’s no crying in baseball.

Am I missing something? Please explain to me why the Cubs need to add to their rotation? Their 4.19 starters ERA as a team was tied for 2nd in all of baseball, just 0.08 behind the ML leading Padres. We don’t need a starting pitcher this off-season. In addition to what we saw last year, we have Sean Gallagher and Kevin Hart that deserve a look at the job this spring. It’s time to start trusting the system.

Regarding your comment about Ryan Theriot and shortstop being “solid offensively,” the evidence is to the contrary. The NL average OPS (on-base plus slugging) at shortstop was .758 in 2007. Theriot was at .672. That’s minus-86 compared to the NL average at the position, by far the largest differential on the club in ’07. No other position was close to that in terms of substandard compared to league average. There’s no reason to infer that Theriot will be better in ’08. Alex Rodriguez is unrealistic, but the best way to improve the ’08 Cubs offense is at shortstop. It’s a hole offensively.
— Mark K., Washington, D.C.

Yes, the shortstop position for the Cubs was weakest in terms of OPS in comparison to the NL average and the Major League average. It wasn’t the only offensive hole. The Cubs also were deficient at catcher (.039 points below the league OPS) and at center field (.049 points below league OPS). Derrek Lee plus Aramis Ramirez plus Soriano did well enough to bring them back to the league average, and the Cubs ended up eighth in runs scored and eighth in OPS.

(If you’re scratching your head, Jeff Chernow at STATS Inc. says OPS corresponds more closely to run production, mathematically speaking, than pretty much any other offensive statistic.

When Theriot subbed in the leadoff spot for Soriano and hit .321, I got a zillion e-mails from people saying that Theriot should bump the $136 million outfielder at the top of the order. Theriot provides a lot of intangibles that don’t show up in the stats — like energy — and he and Mike Fontenot provided a spark in June and July. Theriot just ran out of gas in the last month. I didn’t say Theriot was a superstar, I said he was solid, and I still believe that.

The problem with Carrie’s argument is that we’re comparing Ryan Theriot to what we’ve had recently at the shortstop position? It’s become a bit of a black hole for the team since Shawon Dunston. We thought we had addressed it with Garciaparra, but it seems like it’s a position that has been tough to fill. I like Ryan Theriot’s style of play and his energy. However, remember how much the Cardinal fans loved the energy and performance out of Bo Hart, only to see him stink in limited action the next year. I’m still fine with Theriot in the lineup, but it’s a position I would resist changing if an upgrade was on the horizon.

I know many Cubs fans are excited about the possibility of acquiring Rodriguez. What about the slugger who batted behind him in the Yankees lineup? Bobby Abreu is a free agent this winter and would be the potent everyday left-handed batter the Cubs so desperately need. What are the odds the organization targets Abreu in the offseason?
— T.R.F., Palm Beach Co., Fla.

Abreu could be a free agent. His contract includes a team option for 2008 worth $16 million, or a $2 million buyout, so we’ll have to see what the Yankees do.

I don’t want Bobby Abreu. I understand he’s the kind of bat we need, but the price tag he’ll command is more than we need to spend for a player who will be 34 years old in 2008.

Everybody (fans) and so called radio experts keep saying Soriano should bat fourth or fifth. The power numbers would be more beneficial to the team that way. Has manager Lou Piniella ever considered batting him second? With Theriot on base before him, hopefully he would still get plenty of fastballs to hit.
— Dan M., Hinsdale, Ill.

This topic was discussed all season, and no matter what the numbers, or the so called experts say, the Cubs made a commitment to Soriano to be the leadoff hitter. For your information, he batted .308 (167-for-542) batting first; hit .179 (5-for-28) batting third; and was 0-for-8 hitting fifth.

Soriano wants to bat leadoff. The Cubs knew that before they brought him into the fold. It isn’t a big surprise. We have him, now we have to deal with what we bought.

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It’s the off-season – Now What?

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

With the Red Sox taking down the Rockies, it’s time to look toward 2008. I can’t tell you how much my wife gets annoyed with the idea that baseball never seems to sleep. The regular season is fun, but the off-season can be just as fun and suspenseful now that free agency has boomed over the past 15 to 20 years. I’d like to put a spotlight on some key dates to watch as we inch closer to the new season.



Fresh off his recent resignation, Joe Torre, appears ready to sign on as the new manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers plan to fire Grady Little to make room. (Source)

The Yankees have offered their coaching job to Joe Girardi, who is expected. Don Mattingly is expected to not return as part of the coaching staff as a result. (Source)

Alex Rodriguez has decided to opt out of his contract and become a free agent this off-season. He joins a pretty good crop of household names in the pool this offseason. The timing of the announcement angered the commissioners office because of the fact that it stole some of the spotlight of the World Series. (Source)

Even though the Yankees appear to be dominating the news of late, I really don’t expect them to be the talk of the town this off-season. With George Steinbrenner in the final stages of his ownership of the team, I really think the way the Yankees do business is going to change.


November 12th, 2007 – Last day for eligible players to file for free agency. Until this day, the former club has exclusive rights to negotiate a new deal with the player. This came into play with Aramis Ramirez when the Cubs went right to the wire trying to re-sign him. Ramirez went to the open market but quickly re-signed with the Cubs, despite being able to listen to other offers. Here are some potential players who are eligible to file for free agency from the Cubs:

– Jason Kendall
– Steve Trachsel (Club Option for $4.75 million)
– Kerry Wood
– Daryle Ward (Club Option for $1.2 million)
– Cliff Floyd (Mutual Option)
– Scott Eyre ($3.8 million player option)

November 13th, 2007 – First day Major League free agents may negotiate and sign with a club other than their former club

November 5th – 8th, 2007 – General Managers meetings in Orlando, FL

December 1st, 2007 – Last day for a team to offer arbitration to their players who have filed for free agency. Some teams elect not to do this for fear that the player will accept the offer and win in arbitration. A team must offer arbitration if they want to receive draft pick compensation for their lost player in the June draft. Failure to offer arbitration means you take the safe route, but get nothing if the player leaves to another team.

December 3rd – 6th, 2007 – Winter Meetings in Nashville, TN
These used to be a lot more exciting in terms of franchise type deals and big signings, but now they simply seem to be a lot more smoke and less fire. Maybe this year will be different with A-Rod dangling out there for teams and an upset Johan Santana after the Twins laid an egg around the trade deadline.

December 6th, 2007 – Rule 5 Draft

Here is a real good description of the Rule 5 from Wikipedia:

As in the amateur draft, the selection order of the teams is based on each team’s win-loss record from the prior regular season, each round starting with the team with the worst record and proceeding in order to the team with the best record. Any player selected under Rule 5 is immediately added to his new team’s 40-man roster; thus, teams who do not have an available roster spot may not participate in the Rule 5 draft. Players who are not currently on their team’s 40-man roster are eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft, but only after a standard exemption period has elapsed. See Exemptions to Selection Eligibility below.

If chosen in the Rule 5 draft, a player must be kept on the selecting team’s 25-man major league roster for the entire season after the draft–he may not be optioned or designated to the minors. The selecting team may, at any time, waive the Rule 5 draftee. If a Rule 5 draftee clears waivers by not signing with a new MLB team, he must be offered back to the original team, effectively canceling the Rule 5 draft choice. Once a Rule 5 draftee spends an entire season on his new team’s 25-man roster, his status reverts to normal and he may be optioned or designated for assignment.

To prevent the abuse of the Rule 5 draft, the rule also states that the draftee must be active for at least 90 days. This keeps teams from drafting players, then placing them on the disabled list for the majority of the season. For example, if a Rule 5 draftee was only active for 67 days in his first season with his new club, he must be active for an additional 23 games in his second season to satisfy the Rule 5 requirements.

Any player chosen in the Rule 5 draft may be traded to any team while under the Rule 5 restrictions, but the restrictions transfer to the new team. If the new team does not want to keep the player on its 25-man roster for the season, he must be offered back to the team of which he was a member when chosen in the draft.

December 7th, 2007 – Last day for players who have been offered salary arbitration to accept or decline the offer. The team may continue to try to work out a deal with the player in the event that he declines the arbitration offer.

February 1st – 21st, 2008 – Salary arbitration hearings are held and players are either rewarded with their desire or are forced to settle for what the team requested. It’s one or the other.

February 14th, 2008 – Voluntary reporting date for pitchers & catchers.

February 26th, 2008 – Mandatory reporting day for all other players

March 30th, 2008 – Opening Day. All rosters reduced to 25 players before today.

Hopefully that helps and will serve as a nice reference point as you follow throughout this off-season.

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Final Closure

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Now that the Red Sox have brought a second championship in four seasons to Boston (after zero in the previous eighty plus), I would like to make a final statement about how far the Cubs came this year. And I will say right at the outset that I believe much of the distance that they journeyed this year can be attributed to Lou Piniella working with and fixing a broken situation that was handed to him by Jim Hendry. Hendry did spend a lot of money in the previous off season, somewhat haphazardly. Throughout the year Lou made adjustments here and there, stood up to some, called some guys out, and eventually made it work, which gives me some encouragement for next year. I will never forget Lou’s press conference where he called Jim Hendry out by saying “Give me some guys who know how to catch and throw the ball (or something to that effect). However, I also fear that the big contracts might be too constricting and the team that got swept from the playoffs is going to pretty much be the team that we will see for a few years to come.

To consider how far the team has come I want to remind you about the opening day lineup from the beginning of this year:

Alfonso Soriano CF
Matt Murton LF
Derrek Lee 1B
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Jacque Jones RF
Michael Barrett C
Mark DeRosa 2B
Cesar Izturis SS

Think about all of the adjustments Lou had to make and figure out throughout the year with this lineup on paper.

Let’s begin with Alfonso Soriano playing Center Field. It is almost unthinkable that Jim Hendry guaranteed Soriano that he would play Center when he presented him the contract (Again, I still believe that this contract will go down as the worst contract signing in the history of the Cubs. I fear that this contract could be a franchise killer for years to come. I really hope I am wrong, but I don’t think so.) But just look at this outfield defense on paper: Soriano in Center, Jones in Right, and a Murton/Floyd platoon in Left. Again…HUH??? How could a team go into a season comfortable with this defense in the outfield. Lou had to work, along with some injuries, to move Soriano into Left Field where he would not be as much of a defensive liability. Now, I believe, he will work in the off season to move Soriano from the lead off spot.

What more have we learned about Matt Murton this year? We know that he is poor, poor, defensively. Some might not be so hard, but I think so. We know that he has some hitting potential, but can he be counted on every day? We don’t know. It seems that the Cubs need a new outfielder in the off season, unless they are going to trust Felix Pie…who I don’t think we know more about either.

For Lee and Ramirez I just can’t understand where the power went. One of the biggest issues that the team faced was why the home run numbers plummeted from previous years. There were suggestions given about injuries, and wind patterns, and weather issues, and on and on. Whatever the reason, you see what happens when a team is so one dimensional.

The Cubs worked their best to trade Jones and get him out of town. For some reason the trade was revoked, and Jones was changed. He became a team MVP candidate in the second half, and is one of the top three reasons why the Cubs even made the playoffs. I began to love watching him play, and thought that he was the most clutch hitter down the stretch. He is probably the most replaceable player on this team. But he became a hero for a couple months.

Speaking of getting out of town, the trade of Barrett was to me the biggest turning point of the season…I think this is pretty much conventional wisdom. Barrett seemed to be the opposite of what Lou wanted from a player. I think it had to do with his smarts. There was no question that Barrett worked hard and played with heart. It was also painfully obvious that he wasn’t very skilled as a defensive catcher. This one player demonstrated where the team was and where it was going. Barrett is Jim Hendry’s boy. He was probably the player that Jim Hendry was proudest of. He was a diamond in the rough that Hendry found and made a star of. It would be like pulling a tooth for Hendry to move on from Michael Barrett. When Michael Barrett was traded, it was a clear sign that Lou Piniella would be the major voice in giving direction to the team.

I think one of the biggest surprises of the year was the emergence of Mark DeRosa. He is a tremendous utility player who should play everyday. The trade of Cesar Izturis was another move of necessity. It was great to see Ryan Theriot have a chance to become the everyday shortstop. While, I think he was good this year, and could potentially lead off next year, I also think there is the outside chance that the Cubs will make a run at Alex Rodriguez and play him at short stop next year. I do not think this is probable, but mildly possible.

Think about where this team would have been under the Dusty Baker regime. I wonder if some of the criticism of Dusty, was caused by not having as strong a position as Lou. With a new team president, and a clear decision to do what it takes to win, and to build a team that Lou can manage. Lou could demand the trade of players. Could Dusty do the same, or did he not want to? I don’t know. Would Dusty have stuck with Izturis, and continued Soriano in Center? Would Theriot have gotten a chance? How about Marmol? How would Dusty have handled the fight between Zambrano and Barrett? Would the team look like it had given up in May and June and been done by the end of July? How much did the firing of Andy MacPhail and the hiring of McDonough change things around Wrigley? I think all of these things came together and made the situation better.

As I have said before, if you want a reminder of how for the Cubs came this year, just remember that the first Cubs brought in from the bullpen this year were Neal Cotts, Michael Wuertz, and Will Ohman. And one final note, did our year with Carlos Zambrano actually seem like it was ten years long.

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Varsity vs. Junior Varsity and Name That Quote

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

It is almost November and the first game of the 2007 World Series is behind us. Here are my thoughts and observations.

The Talent Pool
It has never been as evident as it was Wednesday night that the National League just does not stack up against the American League. That pains me to admit because I am a fan of National League baseball. Although I don’t think it is quite as evident as in football with the AFC against the NFC, nonetheless, in baseball the talent disparity is there. Like most major newspapers across the country, I will hop on the “varsity vs. junior varsity” bandwagon. Is the American League just light years better than the National League or is one or two games blowing things out of proportion?

Josh Beckett
OK, I will admit I was wrong. The two-man Cy Young Award race is now down to one man, Josh-tober as Jay Mariotti likes to refer to post season darling Josh Beckett. I knew the Rockies were in for a long night when Beckett struck out the first four batters he faced. Think about his numbers, he is 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in the post season and has three shutouts in nine October starts. So, after allowing a run and six hits in seven innings and making hitters look silly with an almost unhittable curveball, his response? I did enough to survive.While most pitchers wind down in September and October, Beckett is just getting locked in and while he may never admit it, his enough to survive is pretty special to watch.

The Rockies
This years Cinderella team was sent spiraling back to earth Wednesday night as the Boston Red Sox mangled the Colorado Rockies 13-1. Although the Rockies will say the eight day layoff did nothing to effect their rhythm, it was blatantly obvious they were rusty and probably a tad overwhelmed. Fenway can be a frightening place for the opposition and the Cleveland Indian hitters, while no disrespect to them, do not invoke fear like the Boston Red Sox lineup. Maybe the Rockies pitchers came in and tried to do too much on a night the Red Sox looked right at home. One thing is for certain, to have any chance the Rockies pitchers will have to have good command of their pitches and even then against a potent Boston lineup there are no guarantees that is in fact enough.

While I do not think the series is necessarily over, it all depends if the Rockies can shake off Game 1 and prove to me and all sports writers across the country, that the National League does not deserve it Junior Varsity label. Plus, what are the odds of Boston scoring 11 runs with two outs the rest of the series? We will soon find out.

Part Time Player; Big Time Ego

“If I’m a part-time player, I’m still better than your full-time player, and it’s a wise idea to keep me.”

Now for the first edition of name that quote. I will give you some hints, well actually just one. He broke Hank Aaron’s home run record with No. 756 on Aug. 7, 2007.

You guessed it; Barry Bonds was back in the news again Wednesday evening at a special speaking forum hosted by the Commonwealth Club. As he listened to his list of accomplishments being read, a record seven NL MVPs check, fourteen All-Star game selections check and Eight Gold Glove awards, Bonds drew standing ovations from the adoring, albeit mostly San Francisco in nature, crowd.

Barry Bond loves San Francisco, or so he says. He says San Francisco is his family and may have even hinted at the fact McCovey Cove should be renamed in honor of his splash hit home runs. Bonds has so much love mind you; he did not even stick around for a video tribute to him during the Giants final home game of the year. Some love Barry.

Although people outside of San Francisco may not like Barry Bonds,” the person,” I don’t think anyone is arguing Barry Bonds is a great baseball player, one of the all time best. As time is running down on the 43 year-old sluggers baseball career, how much is Barry Bonds worth? Should the Giants pay him 4 or 5 million to bat fifth and play every other day in 2008? Is he worth more than that as a DH? The Yankees probably don’t need him but somebody will. Is he worth the risk?

By the way, Bonds “the person” also said a tad bitterly, that if he were running the franchise, the Giants would have won a World Series by now. Right Barry, right.

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Looking Back at the Transactions – Regular Season

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Earlier in the week, we took a stroll down memory lane and looked at some of the rather important transactions that took place this past off-season. Now we set our sites on the ones that Jim Hendry made while the games were being played. Here were some of the key moves.

June 20, 2007 – Traded Michael Barrett and cash to the San Diego Padres. Received Rob Bowen and Kyler Burke (minors)

This one made some waves when it went down. There were a lot of people that hated it, myself included. At the time, The Cubs were 8 games out of first place and it looked to be a white flag trade. Rob Bowen, why possessing decent plate discipline and solid defense, was not the hitter the Cubs needed in their lineup. This move forced the Cubs to go to a platoon with Bowen and Koyie Hill, both of which were completely inept at the plate. Bowen would eventually be moved in a later deal and Hill would later be sent back to AAA after clearing waivers to remove him from the 40 man roster. What intrigued me about the deal was Kyler Burke. After a very uneventful 2006 in which he hit .209 in 45 games for the Padres Arizona Rookie League team, he was promoted to the A level team to fast track him to the big leagues in 2007. After bombing out there, the Padres began to lose patience with him. After coming to Chicago, he started to work himself out of the funk that was San Diego and actually play a little better. He hasn’t shown the type of numbers that made him a first round pick out of high school, but a fresh start appears to have done him good. I’m keeping my eye on him and watching for a much improved 2008 out of him.

Verdict: If taken by itself, this deal appears to be a wash. San Diego doesn’t get much out of Barrett and the Cubs appear to have received little value in return. This is the type of deal that really needs to be evaluated down the road and as part of the later deal with the A’s.

July 16, 2007 – Traded Jerry Blevins and Rob Bowen to the Oakland Athletics. Received Jason Kendall and cash

This was the other shoe. Jim Hendry did a good job and realizing that Bowen was not the answer and moving him to Oakland for a player they really couldn’t afford anymore. Kendall was struggling mightily in Oakland and it was time for a change. He turned his game around in a big way after coming over and this move may have been the key to the season, in my mind. If Jim Hendry lets us go the rest of the year with Bowen and Hill behind the plate, we don’t beat the Brewers for the division. I also love the fact that Bowen played decent after going to Oakland, because it means the waters with Oakland and Chicago in terms of future trading should be fine. You never like it when a team consistently gets the better of a deal because eventually the other team quits listening.

Verdict: A great move for Jim Hendry. This was the key in season move.

July 19, 2007 – Traded Cesar Izturis and cash to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received PTBNL

This one just made me laugh. Hendry traded trash to a division team. Until we know whether we received trash back, though, we really can’t evaluate this one.

Verdict: TBD

August 6, 2007 – Released Wade Miller

Thank God!!!

There were a few other moves this season, but those were the ones that I found particularly intriguing. What are your thoughts? If you ask me, Hendry had a pretty good year.

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