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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Critiqueing the Cubs Mailbag

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

One of my favorite things to read on Cubs.com is the mailbag questions and answers. Each week, Carrie Muskat takes a stab at the many questions posed to her by the Cub fans out there. Sometimes I agree with her answers and sometimes I don’t. I’d like to turn it into a semi-regular feature in which we critique her answers and give the questions an answer courtesy of our site. I’ve put the original question in bold followed by Carrie’s reply all in block quotes. I’ve followed that with my response.

Tell us the Cubs are going to hold onto Prior. He is certainly young enough to make a return from rehab and continue to be a top pitcher. ~ Mark B., Cornelius, N.C.

They would like to keep Prior, but what complicates matters is that the right-hander will be a free agent after the 2008 season. Let’s say the Cubs sign him for next year, and he isn’t able to pitch until August — and then choses free agency and leaves for another team. That means the Cubs would’ve paid him for two months of work. He received $3.575 million in 2007 and didn’t make one big league start. The Cubs have invested a lot of money in the right-hander, and in a perfect world, a two-year deal with incentives through 2009 would make more sense. The question becomes whether Prior will accept that.

At this point, Mark Prior is arbitration eligible. What that means is that the Cubs have a few options. First, they can work out a contract for any number of years at any terms. Second, they could outright non-tender him, which essentially means he becomes a free agent. Or third, they could take the case to an independent arbitrator to decide. In that instance, both Prior and his camp submits their case and gives the judge a salary amount for 1 year they feel he deserves. At the same time, the Cubs also submit their case and their number and the arbitrator looks at the information and decides which number the player deserves. He can only choose from the two numbers submitted, and is not able to average the two or give any other type of number. My thinking is that if the Cubs decided to go that route, Prior’s camp is going to bring up his age, his dominant 2003, the fact that some of his injuries have been flukes and current medical reports that have him on a time table to return around opening day. My guess is that it would be a good enough case to get their number accepted. The question will be if the Cubs are willing to risk that or if they want to go the route of trying to work out some sort of deal. I see no reason why Prior would accept. It just wouldn’t be in his best interest. On a side note, Carries spelled chooses incorrectly.

I had to laugh when you said [in the Oct. 22 Mailbag] the fact the Cubs have Aramis Ramirez at third is one of the reasons Chicago wouldn’t go after Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod is decent at third, but he’s a great shortstop and that happens to be the biggest hole the Cubs have. If they don’t pursue A-Rod, it should only be because of the money he commands, not because we already have a third baseman. ~ Mike L., Las Vegas

I do know Rodriguez played shortstop — despite what some e-mailers may think — but I don’t think shortstop is the “biggest hole” the Cubs have. Ryan Theriot may never hit 50 homers or drive in 150 runs, but he’s solid offensively and defensively. Bottom line: the Cubs are not likely to pursue A-Rod because of the money he and his agent, Scott Boras, will ask for.

I agree with Carrie 100% on this one. To pursue A-Rod would he a huge mistake. Scott Boras is going to command upwards of $30 million per year for somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 years. That would put the end of the contract at a ripe old age of 41. Last I checked, we’ve already spent quite a bit of money in a long term contract on Alfonso Soriano. Let’s not forget that the money that goes to pay for those salaries comes ultimately out of your pocket. Seeing as how I don’t attend Wrigley Field, it’s not me who has to pay the $100 tickets that will certainly be coming soon as the payroll gets higher and higher. I agree that A-Rod is a tremendous player, and perhaps one of the best of all time, but the amount of money it’s going to take to get him just doesn’t add up. Remember, no team has ever won a world series with him.

I was wondering if there was any chance the Cubs would sign Kendall again. I read they weren’t expecting to keep him, but I think he would be a good investment because he would be able to mentor Soto and Kendall is one of the better catchers the Cubs have signed. ~ Michael H., Chicago

As far as experience, handling pitchers and being a smart ballplayer, Kendall is one of the best. He can do the little things. The downside is he threw out two of 51 basestealers. If the season opened tomorrow, Soto would be the Cubs’ starting catcher. He does need tutoring, and Kendall, a free agent, has to decide if he wants a backup role.

Not only does Kendall need to accept a backup role if he were to return, but to sign a player that is still capable of being a starter is going to take a good bit of money. With Henry Blanco already signed for $2.8 million, which is one of the most expensive backup catcher salaries in all of baseball, it would be silly to think the Cubs would invest, at a minimum, an additional $6 million to sign Kendall. If you look around the league, one of the ways these teams are winning is by trusting the talent they have within the organization. Give your young guys a chance and develop young talent so you can spend on areas of absolute necessity. It’s time for the Cubs to give that a try at the catcher position with Soto, as much as I love Jason Kendall.

You whiffed on this one. Chuck W. of Highland Park, Ill., asked last week, “Who was the last Cubs manager to make the playoffs twice during his stay in Chicago?” A quick check of history on the website shows the Cubbies won NL pennants in ’32, ’35 and ’38, all led by Jolly Cholly Grimm. Add in ’45 during his second stint, and Charlie Grimm is Chicago’s career leader in championship NL seasons. His four pennants also exceed any South Side manager as well. ~ Herb G., Anaheim, Calif.

Yes, I whiffed. Thanks to others who pointed this out. I misread the question, and thought Chuck W. wanted to know who managed the team to the playoffs in consecutive seasons. I will defer to Cubs historian Ed Hartig from now on.

Way to go Carrie. You’ve got the entire internet at your disposal and you mess it up. I’m just glad I wasn’t asked that one, because I would have been clueless without the internet.

Just before the playoffs, a story circulated that as soon as the Cubs were done playing at Wrigley Field, the field would undergo a major re-do. Is this happening and if so, what is the full nature of the project, what is being done and should it be ready for Opening Day 2008? ~ Tim B., Bensenville, Ill.

I expect an announcement soon. The outfield was re-sodded for the National League Division Series, but the Cubs have been evaluating how to improve the playing surface.

Just to update this one a little. Paul Sullivan ran a story on the 22nd that the Cubs are “awaiting city approval to begin a major renovation of the playing surface at Wrigley Field but expect to have the project completed by early December.” (Full Story)

I’ve heard that Mark Cuban put in a bid to purchase the Cubs. What are his chances of getting the rights to the Cubs? ~ Chris C., Lenoir City, Tenn.

Cuban has expressed an interest in buying the Cubs, but I’m not going to handicap who has the best chance. MLB owners will meet in Chicago in November, and there could be some discussion at that time about the team.

I’m not going to handicap the field, but I will make you this guarantee. Mark Cuban WILL NOT own the Cubs. If I’m wrong, I’ll send out a prize for the first person to e-mail me and call me out when it goes down.

I am a Cubs fan in Japan. On Oct. 18, Hiroki Kuroda, a pitcher for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan, became a free agent. Last year, the Cubs wanted to acquire him. Do the Cubs want him this year? ~ Koji K., Kanagawa, Japan

The Cubs did scout Kuroda, 32, and saw the right-hander pitch several times. An 11-year Japanese league veteran, Kuroda opted not to come to the U.S. last year. It might have been because his father was battling cancer. Kuroda also had bone chips removed from his elbow. The Cubs are always looking to improve their pitching, but I’m not sure if the team will get involved in the bidding. The Cubs would not have to pay a posting fee, such as the Red Sox did to get Daisuke Matsuzaka. This year, Kuroda was 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA in 26 games, including seven complete games.

I’ve heard the Cubs named linked to Kuroda for awhile now, but I don’t think they’re genuinely interested in signing him. There is a difference between scouting and offering. I think the Cubs were merely watching to see what he had to offer. My disappointment comes in the fact that Carrie didn’t explain why there would be no posting fee, as we saw with Dice-K, Igawa, and Iwamura this past off-season. Kuroda was rumored to be coming over from Japan last year, but opted to sign to play one more year in Japan. Because he is an unrestricted free agent, it means he’s free to sign wherever he chooses, including a totally different country. The reason for the posting fee system is two fold. First, it compensates the Japanese team that is losing a player under contract. They get the posting fee to help ease their burdens. Second, it’s designed to be a way to assure every team, including small market teams, have a fair shot at foreign players. The system is broken, which is a post for another day. The main point is why he would not require the posting fee.

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Through The Rear View

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

I was tempted to do this piece earlier in the year, but it still didn’t feel right to me. As I considered the subject matter for this latest installment of Through The Rear View, I was still thinking of the upcoming world series and the drama that it took to get a team like the Rockies to the fall classic. How it seemed, that down the stretch, there was a strange sense of destiny for the Rockies to get where they are now. Every hit that they needed, and every out that they had to have somehow seemed to fall the way of the Rockies. I remember that I felt the same way in 2003 when I felt that the Cubs were riding the same sort of mystical wave into the playoffs and beyond. All they way up until those fateful nights in October, versus the Marlins. My look back on those days will always include certain players and certain events. One of those players is Samuel Sosa Peralta. Sammy Sosa. Slammin’ Sammy.

Sammy represents the paradox of my Cubs fandom. My love for the Cubs blinded me for a while with Sammy. It was hard to look past his incredible late life growth spurt, but I did it. It was hard to not cheer for the guy who seemed to always be smiling and enjoying his time at the ball park. The guy that tried his hardest to steal the home run race away from the Goliath, never mind that it was another extension of the Cubs-Cards rivalry. I was admittedly caught up in it.

Little by little though, it grew harder to not look past his antics, corked bats, and everything else. I became aware that I had become one of those fans. One of those fans who conveniently looks past the problems at home to complain about guys like Barry Bonds and other alleged cheaters. These revelations and realizations are part of the reason that I am (kind of) against the potential sale of the Cubs to one Mark Cuban. I just don’t want to become THAT organization to the rest of the world, if Cuban becomes the owner and the Cubs suddenly win a championship. I don’t want anything to taint the organization more than history already has. I honestly don’t know what would be worse. The scenario that I laid out above, or the Cubs becoming the Washington Redskins of baseball. People giggling, while the organization and owner spends boatloads of money and still can’t build a winner. I almost can’t help to think that it would be door number two, if I had to choose. While Dan Snyder’s prowess as a shrewd businessman may not have translated into success with the Redskins, he does at least dress and act the part, while maintaining some dignity and respect. In a way it’s a catch-22.

Yet, I digress…

I’m not going to get into the whole statistical analysis of Sammy’s 17 year career or his rise to the professional ranks. There are half a dozen statistical web pages that will do that for you. I am simply going to wonder aloud about what might be next for Sammy Sosa. I genuinely hope retirement.

Seriously. Because of the love I once shared for Sammy with the majority of the Cubs Nation, I hope the man retires. Despite all that has transpired with his relationship with the CUbs he is still an indelible part of our history.

Think about it. His walk away now, would be a pretty storybook ending to a colorful and not always storybook career. Look at it. Sammy comes back after a mysterious year off to cleanse his…soul. He comes back to the team where it all started for him. Then he battles back from the minor leagues to get another shot at the big leagues. Showing the talent and ability that he always had, a smaller Sammy comes back to post pretty decent numbers
(AVG .252 | HR 21 | RBI 92 | OBP .311 | SLG .468)

Not a statistical bonanza by any means, but definitely a victory for the sake of his legacy. A milestone year in which he became the first player to hit a home run off of every team in the league. A feat he reached in conjunction with becoming only the fifth player in baseball history to hit 600 home runs. His 600thoff of the team he had built his legend with and doing it while batting against the pitcher wearing his former number. There is something strangely poetic, ironic, and almost scripted about all of that. Isn’t there?

So, why not put the whole thing to bed and retire. While I doubt that Sammy will do it, I wish that he would. There were certainly enough times in Sammy’s life that he did what I wished him to do, why not this?

As we drive on, that’s my View Through The Rear View.

Through the Rear View appears every Wednesday. If you have a topic to suggest, send Tony an E-mail.

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Looking Back at the Transactions – Offseason Edition

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

I’d like to take a look back at the season from a transaction standpoint and break down what went well and what went not so well. I picked out a few key moves that took place this year to look at how our GM did. We’ll start with what happened leading up to the year that was 2007.

November 9th, 2006 – Signed Wade Miller as a free agent

Thought Process: My guess is that with the health of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in doubt, Hendry would take a chance on Wade Miller who returned from surgery in 2006 to start five games for the Cubs. He pitched in a somewhat limited role in an all but meaningless time of the year, but the Cubs were encouraged by the short outings. At a salary of $1.5 million, it’s not to hard to see the rationale.

How it turned out: – Let’s just say it didn’t go too well for Wade. After starting the year at the fifth starter, which is a death sentence in the early part of the year due to rainouts and off days, Miller made three starts. He was shelled in Milwaukee (who wasn’t this year?), got through five innings against San Diego and then ended his year by getting blasted by the Cardinals. He was placed on the 15 day DL in late April and was eventually transferred to the 60 day DL before finally being granted his unconditional release in August.

Verdict: This one was probably the wrong move in hindsight, but it was worth the risk.

November 14, 2006 – Signed Mark DeRosa as a free agent

I’m proud to say that I endorsed this move even before it was made. At the same time, I also wanted the Cubs to bring in Steve Trachsel in that same post. Many saw Mark DeRosa as someone who had a career year in an extended sub / spot starter role in 2006. I really felt good about DeRosa and I’m glad Hendry did too. To me, we saw a player that simply needed to play on a regular basis. Some players are just like that. They can’t do well as a bench player. On a side note, I was way off on the amount I thought it would take to sign Greg Zaun, who signed for $3.5 million, not $1 million.

Verdict: Definite win for Jim Hendry

November 16, 2006 – Traded David Aardsma and Carlos Vasquez (minors) to the Chicago White Sox. Received Neal Cotts

Boy, if the season was just one month, this would have been one of the best trades in history for both teams. Both guys completely stunk in 2006 for their teams. Both were in need of a change of scenery in a bad way. For the Cubs, Aardsma was supposed to be a potential future closer after coming over in the deal that sent LaTroy Hawkins to the Giants in 2005. For Cotts, after a lights out 2005, he bottomed out in 2006. After the month of April, things went sour for both players, with Cotts and Aardsma both out of action by early June.

Verdict: Push

November 20, 2007 – Signed Alfonso Soriano as a free agent

This is probably the biggest area of discussion for everyone. A lot of people are mixed on the feelings for this move. You can make the argument that the Cubs would not have been in the playoffs without this move, but you can also argue that the money could have been spent elsewhere and still improved the team. It’s hard to refute either argument. If I had to make a decision on this move right now, I’d say it was a mistake, but one we had to make. My fear now is that with Soriano having the leg issues, you have to wonder if he’ll be subject to them in the future. Alfonso Soriano without the legs is not worth the money we paid for him. However, if we get the Soriano with power AND speed in 2008, I think you’ll see a lot of people change their tune.

Verdict: TBD, but looking to be a loss for Hendry

December 6, 2006 – Traded Freddie Bynum to the Baltimore Orioles. Received a player to be named later (Kevin Hart)

At the time, no one really cared about this deal. In fact, I would venture to guess that most didn’t even remember the deal until I mentioned it now. When Kevin Hart came over from Baltimore, he had trouble with his motion and was not a major factor in the Baltimore Orioles plans. He was a throw in for the deal to get Bynum and the Cubs turned him into a player who made key contributions down the stretch. Credit the Cubs scouting department and their minor league coaches for turning Hart into a player that has a legit chance at making the rotation outright out of spring training.

Verdict: A win for Hendry with potential to be a big win.

December 7th, 2006 – Drafted Josh Hamilton via Tampa Bay in the Rule 5 draft and then sold him to the Reds

Who knew a doped up addict would turn in a decent year for once? I don’t know where the Cubs would have played Hamilton anyway, especially seeing that they would have had to keep him on the active roster or return him to Tampa Bay. My guess is that they knew that and drafted him for the sole purpose of making a little money in the process.

Verdict: I actually like this move. I’m not sold on Hamilton’s return from addiction. Once you’re an addict, you’re always an addict. I hope he’s completely sober and stays that way, but I like that the Cubs took some money for a player they weren’t able to use anyway.

December 19, 2006 – Signed Jason Marquis as a free agent.

This is another one of those moves that if the season was a lot shorter, it would have looked brilliant. Unfortunately, the Cubs bought a pitcher that pitches well in the first half but not so well in the second half. Lifetime, Marquis is 43-28 with an ERA of 4.22 in the first half and just 25-33 with an ERA of 4.97 in the second half. It’s hard to say that’s worth the money spent.

Verdict: I would have rather seen us spend the money elsewhere. Maybe we can try to move Marquis in June next year around the time he’s due to go in the toilet.

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Expanding on the Hendry Q & A

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Cubs.com ran a Q & A with Jim Hendry the other day. I decided that I’d post my responses to the questions and Jim’s answers. Here is the source of the article.

MLB.com: Did anything that happened in the NLDS help you in terms of determining what needs to be done to make the Cubs better in 2008?

Hendry: Not necessarily. From June 1 on, we were the second-best team in all of baseball. It wasn’t like in April or May we beat the Rockies five out of seven. We finished the second half and played extremely well to get in, and we got beat. That same team that looked so good against us [in the NLDS], they turned around and in the next four games, got swept. I thought the Phillies were the best team in the league in September — that’s what our scouts were telling us. When we played the Phillies, it was a tough match for us. And they were three and out [against Colorado]. It’s baseball. If Cleveland beats Boston, it doesn’t mean Boston wasn’t the best team in the American League over 162 games.

Joe Aiello: I’ve got a few things for you Jim. Double plays sound familiar? How about all the runners left on base? How about the fact that our biggest bats in the lineup forgot to show up for the series? You can tell yourself that your team was the “second-best team in all of baseball” after June 1, but what matters most is what you do from October 1st and on and your team was probably the worst.

MLB.com: So you don’t say, “OK, we need to add players to improve situational hitting?”

Hendry: No. You have to look at it globally. In the second half, we were saying we need to get better on this and that for next year. That was talked about and kicked around before somebody had a bad game in the playoffs. We’re not going to turn our back on Rich Hill, for example, because he had a bad game, or say, “Gee, Ted Lilly was terrible that night [in Game 2 of the NLDS] — what are we going to do with Ted?” We wouldn’t have been playing in the postseason without Ted.

You want to improve and you want to change things. Even if you’re the World Champions, I think you come into camp next year with four or five different guys on your roster. That’s the way the game is now.

Joe Aiello: Jim, the question was about situational hitting and you decide to make your argument with pitching? Why not just answer the writer that called you out with a tough question?

MLB.com: Will most of those changes come from within the Cubs system or will you be active in the free agent market?

Hendry: I don’t know. It’s too early to tell. One thing we’ve been good at in the offseason is with new acquisitions and the free agent signings, which were very good last year, but you can’t predict outside help. You can’t predict somebody wants to come to your place. We’ve had a good track record — people want to play here. Trade-wise, we tried to make a trade or two that would’ve been as significant or more last year than probably any of our free agent signings except [Alfonso] Soriano, and sometimes they don’t work out. The other team isn’t obligated to trade you their better players.

Joe Aiello: What free agents before this year have been overly good? LaTroy Hawkins? Glendon Rusch? Nomar Garciaparra? Perhaps it was the great signing of Neifi Perez or Wade Miller. I’m a fan of your trading, Jim, but don’t get too carried away and think that because your free agent signings did well this year it means you’re the free agent signing god.

MLB.com: I have a tough time convincing fans that.

Hendry: That’s OK. We haven’t made a lot of bad trades over time. You try to look at ways to help your club. If you want to make a trade, you have to go into the offseason thinking you have to have something that’s going to help them, as much as the guy you’re going to get is going to help you.

You probably get a hundred suggestions [from the fans] — “Why don’t they trade this guy and that guy and get so and so?” Those guys, they’re talking about the other team might not want to trade. I think a great majority of the GM’s feel the same way I do, that if you’re going to make a good trade in the modern day now, it’s going to have to be talent for talent.

Every club is doing exactly what we’re doing. Every club is putting their plan together, the one or two things they really need, the things they’d like to get to augment the club. You have to be cognizant of that. You say, “I’m willing to help you maybe even a little more than I’m getting back at times to get that fit.” That’s what we’ll try to do.

Joe Aiello: I agree that sometimes you have to take back less than you want, but don’t go out there and admit that, please.

MLB.com: Is finding a regular catcher a top priority?

Hendry: I’m happy with [Geovany] Soto. I think Soto has a great chance to be the catcher on Opening Day.

Joe Aiello: I agree 100%. I don’t think you can afford to make an offer to Jason Kendall based on his resurgence down the stretch, and you already have close to $3 million invested in Henry Blanco. Give Soto a shot and see if he can turn into the real deal behind the plate for cheap.

MLB.com: Does the Tribune Co.’s situation and the pending sale of the Cubs affect what you can do this offseason?

Hendry: I don’t think so. I believe in the near future, I’ll get the payroll for the offseason. I have no complaints about how we went about our business in the last 12 months. Everything that [team president John McDonough] told me and [Tribune executives Dennis FitzSimons and Crane Kenney] above John told us that we would be able to do last offseason and this season, they backed that up. There’s been no indication that we’re not going to do anything but go forward.

I commend the company for allowing us to try to put the best product on the field in very tough times for them. It’s very admirable to sit in this seat, knowing what they went through in the last 12 months, and whether it was all the things we did in the offseason and signing [Carlos] Zambrano for $91.5 million, there was never a “No.”

I believe our payroll will go up [in 2008]. I don’t know how much. If it stayed the same or close to the same, I wouldn’t complain about it.

Joe Aiello: The one thing that makes me a little nervous about Jim’s response here is the first sentence. Any time he’s been asked about if the sale of the team affects his ability to make trades or sign players, he has always stated that it doesn’t. To see him say now, “I don’t think so”, makes me a little nervous that he’s not 100% certain it won’t come into play. I don’t look for a big off-season from this team.

MLB.com: Will there be any changes to manager Lou Piniella’s coaching staff?

Hendry: I’ll go see Lou this next week [to discuss that]. We won the division, and I felt [the coaches'] work ethic was good. I think you have to give the coaching staff credit, not just Lou, when you’re in last place at the end of May, and you end up having the fortitude to win the division.

Joe Aiello: The only one I could see being removed would be Mike Quade. I’m not sure where they’d send him, but I don’t expect him to coach third base next season.

MLB.com: The Cubs farm system has been maligned in the past, and this season produced several standout players who contributed.

Hendry: We felt last offseason, the farm system was better than advertised. When the big league club had a bad year, like last year, and somebody doesn’t come up and be Willie Mays right away, the whole farm system was maligned. It wasn’t easy to sit back all winter and watch [player development director Oneri Fleita] take some abuse I knew he didn’t deserve, and I’m glad for him now [to be rewarded with a promotion]. [The Cubs' farm system] was never maligned in the general manager world by my peers. I think a lot of people critical of our farm system couldn’t name 10 people in our farm system.

The other thing that people don’t realize is that way larger than 50 percent of the equation of player development is your scouting department. It doesn’t matter who you are, but if you don’t have the talent to begin with, it’s hard to develop them. We now have arguably if not the top, certainly one of the top three scouting directors in baseball [in Tim Wilken]. You have a 20-year history with Tim and you can put his record up against anybody. I see an upswing in our farm system after his first two Drafts. If he can do that for three or four more, and we’re increasing our commitment in Latin America, and increasing our commitment in Asia and Europe, we’ll get even better. Do we have a little gap of the same kind of players maybe the last two drafts from a couple previous? Yes. Maybe some of the guys we were high on in Tim’s Draft, maybe they won’t pan out.

I can promise as a general manager, I have zero worries that between Tim Wilken, and Fleita, and [scouts] Paul Weaver and Steve Wilson in the international market we will have a continual flow of Major League players.

Joe Aiello: I really like Tim Wilken. During his tenure with the Blue Jays, they had 12 straight first round picks reach the Majors. Roy Halladay, Shannon Stewart, and Vernon Wells are just a few of the names. If he can do with the Cubs what he did in Toronto and Tampa Bay in terms of young talent, the Cubs will be in great shape. I’m excited to monitor some of the young talent this year in the minor league focus.

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