Archive for February, 2008

Welcome Back Baseball, Zell Hell and He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, 1 and 2

Friday, February 29th, 2008

In the words of Harry Caray, “hello again, everybody. It’s a bee-yooo-tiful day for baseball.”

By time everyone reads this, you will have had time to dissect the lineup that included Theriot, Cedeno, Fukudome, D. Lee, Murton, Soto, Cintron, and Pie. You will also have discussed whether Dempster was ‘Rambo-ian’ enough. (Lou’s word, not mine). So, what did you think?

Baseball is back and not moment too soon. Finally, we have news to talk about and arguments to be had. I do warn you however, I felt like this week’s column should have been named, Triple Axis of Evil. Ok, a bit dramatic and it doesn’t really fit.

First things first, I don’t agree with Jay Mariotti often, but once in a blue moon it has been known to happen and this week it did – twice. Ladies and gentlemen, we have truly entered Zell Hell, (Mariotti’s word, not mine) and if you look closely, Sam Zell does look like a billy goat or maybe Golum from Lord of the Rings. Beware Cub fans, the future of the name Wrigley Field is held by a man who makes quotes like this, about advertising that his Tribune Co. properties should be embracing: “If we can run ads for erectile dysfunction and we can run ads for penis enlargement, what’s wrong with gentleman’s clubs? Seems like we have a double standard,”

Huh?

This is one topic that is not going to go away especially since Mariottti has called for a Cub fan crusade to voice the voice their outrage. Here are the cliff notes. Tribune Co. – and Cubs – owner Sam Zell once again stated on CNBC that he may sell the naming rights to the 94-year-old ballpark. His methodology centers around the fact revenue for naming rights are soaring, headlined by the $400 million, 20-year deal the New York Mets negotiated to name their new ballpark Citi Field. Coincidently, the Yankees, just turned down a naming rights offer of $50 million a year. Sorry to say baseball purists, this is not your father’s game anymore. Money talks and Zell has the legal rights to sell the name however he pleases. And somehow, I don’t think he cares about the public relation ramifications.

Me? I am walking a fine line here. I sort of feel it is inevitable that it will happen. Don’t get me wrong I feel the goosebumps when I walk up the steps to my seat for a game. I love watching batting practice in June when the ivy is finally green. The thing is, all that will happen if it is called Wrigley Field or International House of Wing (well maybe not, but you get the point)

Last time I checked, according to a Sun-Times poll, 67 percent of Cub fans said they would not attend another game if Sam Zell changes the name. Do you really think a name change will cause fans not to support the Cubs? You are talking about fans that blew up a silly Bartman ball in effort to get rid of a curse. Fans who watched Lou Brock get traded for Ernie Broglio and Greg Maddox defect to the Atlanta Braves. They’ll come back, they always do.

I am also not naïve enough to believe Zell will take the $500 gazillion plus he makes off the naming rights and use it towards a World Series or more importantly developing a consistent contender. He is going to take the money, put it in his pocket and get the hell out of dodge.

Or at least he better.

In shocking news, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, 10-year personal services contract with the Astros could be affected by a possible perjury investigation into whether he lied to Congress about using steroids. On Wednesday, Congress asked the agency to investigate whether Clemens “committed perjury and made knowingly false statements.”

Astros owner Drayton McLane said Thursday he might reconsider the deal — which kicks in when the pitcher officially retires — in light of Clemens’ legal issues. McLane said he’ll also wait before deciding if he’d want Clemens to play for the Astros again if he decided to make one more comeback.

“We’re going to have to wait and see what happens,” McLane said. “The last year, he didn’t make his decision until May. The year before, it was about May before he made a decision. This is still cold February. Hmm, the real question here is not whether he lied or not (he did) but what gives him the right to decide every year when to come back, how to come back and what team to come back to? That hardly seems right.

Finally, Barry Bonds remains unsigned, despite his remarkable résumé. (You didn’t think I would leave Barry out did you) Pending legal issues aside, he still posted a 1.045 OPS last season. Play GM for the day, would you sign him?

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A Great Big Bag of Randomness

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

“It’s game day today and all I have to write about are these lousy topics.” That’s the shirt I feel like wearing today. So what if spring games start. Don’t we know by now that they’re meaningless, a chasing after the wind? That being said, I’m not going to waste my time posting a lineup or writing game thoughts. What is the point? Every year I enjoy seeing people get ambitious and trying to recap every spring game only to burn themselves out before the real games even start.

Instead, I figured I’d use this time to comment on a couple of things I ran across over the past few days.

  • Just in case you were having Michael Jordan withdrawals since he retired from basketball many moons ago, now you can wear Jordan around your private regions in the form of Air Jordan jeans. Hooray!!! (Source) What I don’t understand is this. Wasn’t the whole “Air Jordan” concept because of the shoes? That’s what Spike Lee told me when I was growing up. What’s “Air” about jeans? You don’t even play sports in jeans. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Why not “Air Jordan” athletic products?
  • The Hardball Times 2008 Preview book has come out and is available for purchase from Acta Sports (Purchase the book, you know you want to) For some strange reason they decided to ask me to write the Cubs section and I feel it went pretty well. I got my copy in the mailbox on Monday and have already read about a third of the team previews. All of them have been very informative. It’s a nice thing to read and finish out the offseason with.
  • MVN has ventured into the idea of putting together an online magazine and decided that the first issue would be a fantasy baseball preview issue. They asked bloggers and other contributors for each team to submit things and once again, they made the mistake of picking my brain on my thoughts. This one I can post a link for you to read. The other one you have to buy the book. Go ahead and head over to the site to read my preview (MVN Roster Magazine)
  • If you’re a fan of Deadspin.com, we had a chance to sit down and talk to Will Leitch, the site’s founder, to talk about his new book and preview the Cardinals. It’s worth listening to just for the simple fact that the Cardinals will stink this year. Here is a link to the MP3 or you can use the built in player in this post.
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Should Jim Hendry Get An Extension?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

“He’s on the last year of his contract,” Piniella said. “He’s done a heck of a job here. I’ve seen where other GMs have been extended. Why not ours?”

~ Lou Piniella on Jim Hendry’s job status

So you know how Lou feels, but how do you feel? This is Jim’s contract year. Does he deserve a contract extension?

Fill up that comment thread.

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The Quest of Forgetful

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

From Right FieldOn Friday I took a badly needed day off. We’ve had a rough winter here, and I’d burned through two days already so I could sit and watch contractors finish work. Not Friday, no sir. I was going to be a couch potato, and do little of anything. Except maybe play some Guitar Hero III. Yeah, that’s right, I’m a air guitarist extraordinaire. Eat your hearts out.

So after I dropped the wife off at the Metra station, I headed back home to watch CSN’s Sports Rise and a little of Sportscenter. I don’t watch much of either lately, as I’m still in the dull drums that is Chicago sports right now. As is my usual luck, they didn’t run much of anything on the Cubs, and did a short little report on the Orlando Cabrera for the White Hose. The big news for Friday was the Bulls trade, so on a day I was craving visual Cubs stimulation, I got nothing.

Then it dawned on me, ticket’s went on sale via the internet at 10 AM. What a day to take off, I had completely forgotten. Which I’m sure you’ll all be questioning my fandom. How could one forget about the day tickets go on sale? While at my old job, I sat between two other die hard Cub fans, it’s all I heard about all year round. In my new job, I’m only sharing a cube with one person, who doesn’t much care for baseball or sports. I don’t have anyone to have water cooler talk with. Which in turn, makes me forgetful.

So I cranked up the old PC, jumped in the shower, cleaned up, and sat back down at my desk. I was prepared for my purgatory in the virtual waiting room to begin. Too bad, it was only nine in the morning, which then led me to checking in at VFTB to see Jacki’s column, then over to Facebook, off to the Tribune site, you get the point. I plum forgot all about what I had sit down to do. By the time it was eleven, I realized I needed to go to the Village Hall to pick up our monthly parking pass for Metra. I raced out the door, and the ticket quest was forgotten.

It was when I picked up my wife later in the evening, that she asked if I had tried to get tickets. I looked at her blankly, and realized what I had wanted to do. She laughed, and went on asking what I did all day. To which I responded, “I forgot…a lot.”

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Soriano is the Best Leadoff Hitter

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

I wanted to take a look as we head into spring training games what the best option should be for the batting order. Lou has already expressed to us that Alfonso Soriano will be the leadoff man. Many, when they heard that statement groaned a collective groan and yearned for better times when Lou would understand that Soriano should not being in the leadoff position. Perhaps we should look at the numbers and see if those wishes are, in fact, justified. Is Soriano a bad choice for the leadoff spot? Is Ryan Theriot better suited for the role. After all, remember how good he did when he was given the chance last year? Let’s take a look at what we received from the two of them last year. Keep in mind that the following numbers are the result of 577 plate appearances by Soriano and 161 plate appearances by Theriot. They’re not even sample sizes, but anything more than 150 plate appearances, in my opinion, is a good enough sample size to get a good reading on what can be done by a player. Here are the results of each player when placed in the top spot in the order last year.

Player Name

AVG

OBP SLG W/L

A. Soriano

.308 .345 .579 69-56

R. Theriot

.300 .342 .420 15-19

As you can see, both players performed particularly well, but had room for improvement. Don’t be fooled by above average batting average and think that they did a great job in that spot. Consider instead the slightly above league average OBP put up by each of them. .334 was the NL average last year for that stat and both were just slightly above that. It’s a stat that’s vital to the leadoff role and our guys had room to improve on it. What got me intrigued was when we delve a little deeper into the numbers. For example, take a look at the team record when each player is in the lineup in the leadoff spot. For Soriano, the team put an above .500 record on the board with him in the leadoff spot, while playing below .500 when Theriot was in that spot. “But when Theriot was in the leadoff spot, Soriano was injured, so his bat was missing in the offense.” That isn’t exactly true. Of the 34 games Theriot was in the leadoff spot, nine of them (26%) of them included Soriano in the lineup.

Maybe we should dive into the alternatives to examine if we really should make a move for change. Let’s take a look at not only how each player performed in non-leadoff positions last year, but also in their career. Let’s start with Soriano in the third spot last year, which consisted of 31 plate appearances. In that limited time, Soriano put up the following numbers:

.179 / .258 / .286 with a team record of 3-4. 31 plate appearances doesn’t seem like a good sample size, so perhaps we should look at his career numbers in various positions to see how they stack up.

Order Position

AVG

OBP SLG Plate App.

Leadoff Spot

.295 .341 .551 2804

Third Spot

.260 .310 .452 687

Fifth Spot

.268 .312 .513 626

That’s a pretty severe drop off when Soriano is moved out of that top spot. The third spot even puts him in the league average OPS numbers. Yuck. That’s certainly not worth the money spent to bring him in. He has always maintained that the leadoff spot is where he feels most comfortable and a good part of the reason is because as the leadoff man, he sees a good deal more fastballs. He may not admit it, but he’s a slugger trapped in a speedy guy body. Sluggers like fastballs and the leadoff spot sees fastballs.

Theriot’s career numbers look like this in the first and second spots.

Order Position

AVG

OBP SLG Plate App.

Leadoff Spot

.289 .329 .409 170

Second Spot

.284 .353 .386 445

There is not nearly as significant a drop off in Theriot’s numbers overall, and one could even argue that his numbers are roughly the same or even better. He gets on base at a more consistent clip and loses just a bit off his slugging.

Let’s assume that Brian Roberts stays in Baltimore and we go into the season with Soriano and Theriot vying for the top spot. After looking at the numbers, are you sure you don’t want Soriano in that top spot? I’m beginning to rethink my position on it.

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Saturday Notes

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Inside the Ivy has a Q & A (Source) with former first round pick in 2005, Mark Pawelek. You might remember that Pawelek injured himself last season when he tripped over his Playstation 3 in the middle of the night. As a result, he fractured his radial head in his non-throwing arm. He’s had two seasons now and has disappointed in both. This year he’s been working on his control as well as conditioning. I have to wonder what happens if he struggles again this season. Because he’s a first round pick I think he earns a big of extra patience, but eventually you have to begin to call an audible much like what happened to Bobby Brownlie.

Baseball America had their recent edition of the Cubs Organization Report (Source) on Tuesday and the first line made me laugh. “Don’t worry. Rocky Roquet is OK.” My first thought was that not only do most fans not know Roquet was injured at the end of the AFL this off-season, but most have probably never even heard of Roquet to begin with. In response to his hernia injury, Roquet said:

“It was nothing too serious, but something that needed to be taken care of,” he said. “I tried working through it for the most part. I worked through it in August and September. It was no problem. After a month in the fall league it was acting up and it wasn’t worth risking further injury. I had surgery the first week in November and I’m back fully now. Everything is working out.”

Ryan Dempster is slated to start the first Cactus League game on the 28th (Source). I’ve seen people get upset about that. I just don’t see how spring training news means that much to people. If I could, I would make it so no spring training news was ever released. It’s useless. Veterans that have their spots locked up are working on new things, so their number should be taken with a grain of salt. Invitees and players on the bubble are playing hard, but oftentimes are facing less than ML ready competition, so their numbers aren’t particularly accurate either. I’m just waiting for March 31st. That’s the day that matters to me.

Kosuke Fukudome is set to hit third in the lineup until tomorrow when he’ll be hitting 5th and then on Tuesday when he’s hitting leadoff. In other words, Lou has no idea what the Opening Day lineup is going to look like, and I’m OK with that. Why should he know already? He’s never seen Fukudome face a live ML pitcher in a game situation before. Give it time and quit pestering the guy.

Don’t forget that we are now giving you the chance to make your voice heard in the form of diaries. Don’t be thrown off by the name, a diary is essentially a blog within a blog. It’s a podium for you to make your opinions heard by tens of thousands of readers each month. Simply click on the contribute icon in the right sidebar to get registered now. Also, don’t forget to sign up for the site using an RSS reader or your e-mail address. All information on that is located in the left sidebar.

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Spotlight on the National League Central

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

It is that time of year again. The time when every Major League baseball team believes they have a shot at winning the division and dreams of playing baseball in October. Well, except maybe the Pirates. So, from now until opening day, I will take you through my predictions for each division. Obviously, these aren’t the most in-depth, groundbreaking predictions ever made; I am not Peter Gammons. They are however, a little preview on how this baseball season could play out. Feel free to laugh at me or agree with me, either way is fine.

Chicago Cubs (89-73) – Just for the record, I am staying away from writing about all things that involve 100 years, anniversaries, curses, goats, fate, destiny and all the other hoopla. With that being said, I believe the Cubs are better than last year, but – there are some questions marks. First things first, someone smack Lou upside the head for his refusal to take Soriano out of the leadoff spot. He says that they will “Just keep talking about this and having a little fun with it.” Stop having fun with it and bat him down in the order, especially if his leg is only 75 percent or so.

Then we have the obvious, bullpen by committee. Some people hate the idea, some people love the idea, but at least Lou has had success shuffling closers in the past. Wood needs to stay healthy (I am going to Google that and see how many times that sentence has been written) but I think he will be effective as a set up man. Howry seems to be the front runner right now. We will also have to keep an eye out for Geovany Soto. While I am glad we went with the youth route, thinking Soto is going to catch 4 days out of 5 (130 games) and not suffer some sort of fatigue is ridiculous. Oh, and who is going to play center field?

Milwaukee Brewers (86-76) – Chicago fans say the Cubs won the division last year; Milwaukee fans say the Brewers choked it away. With names like Fielder, Hardy and Braun, the Brewers will be fun to watch. The starting rotation is OK, but raises many red flags, mainly regarding Ben Sheets’ health and Jeff Suppan’s effectiveness. As far as their bullpen is concerned, I do not think Gagne will return to stud closer form, and that is going to cause some problems. Prince will continue to make Sports Center highlights for both his home runs and his sliding ability. All I can say is here we go again.

Cincinnati Reds (83-79) – This team is very hard for me to predict because they are going to have good pitching, plenty of offense but horrible defense. The starting rotation features Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo which is scary, if they both peak at the same time. Enter Dusty Baker. I feel like I am in a flashback with a solid pitching staff and Baker at the helm. The Red pitchers better insure their arms now because under Baker’s careful eye, they will pitch and pitch and pitch and pitch. You see where I am going there. The Reds need to find a way to minimize the defensive failings and let their offense and pitching shine through and see if Baker will be a fit. Stay tuned.

Houston Astros (80-82) – The Astros are a team I never feel comfortable with. You think they are out of the race, you start to relax and here they come with their late season shenanigans. There is no doubt this team will be able to hit, Berkman, Lee, Tejada, and Wiggington, that type of lineup is going to produce some runs. Will Tejada face a long suspension due to the Mitchell report? Only time will tell. Outside of Oswalt, their pitching staff is rocky. I think it will be a mix of games where the Astros score a billion runs and win and then the next night, they will give up a billion and lose. Without some sort of middle ground, I predict the a .500 season

Cardinals (76-86) – Well, they’ve got Albert Pujols…and, um who else do they have? Scott Rolen…nope, Jim Edmonds…nope. David Eckstein…he’s not there either. Outside of Pujols, this team is full of problems. Do they have a lead of man? Troy Glaus has been injury prone the past few years and strikes out an awful lot. What’s more, I think pitchers will be ready for Rick Ankiel this year. Pitching doesn’t look much better. Anytime your No. 1 and No. 2 starters are out until possibly the second half of the season, you have trouble. Wainwright and Looper might be decent, but our friend Matt Clement will have to pitch like ’03 form for this staff to have any success and seeing that he won’t even be ready for opening day, well that might spell trouble. When it is all said and done, this will be a rebuilding year for the Cardinals and they will end up on the flip side of .500. And they will be frustrating to watch at times, causing manager Tony LaRussa to drink, oh wait…

Pirates (70-92) – I don’t want to be snarly here but the Pirates just can’t seem to get it right or build a team with any kind of cohesive plan in mind. With that being said, Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez are bright spots, but if they don’t find a bat to protect Bay, he is not going to see a pitch all year. Catcher Ronny Paulino has to get back to his 2006 form. What else is there to say here? Veteran players are unhappy with management’s ineffectiveness and it looks like it will be another long season for the Pirates.

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I Disagree…but Am I Wrong?

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Jeff Moore of Dugout Central has a post and lists the “10 Most Important Players to the Success of their Team.” Listed at number four is Carlos Zambrano with the following blurb:

On this, the 100th year anniversary of the Cubs last World Series title, the hopes on the north side of the Windy City are once again high. After a playoff run last season, the Cubs seem primed to take the next step. Zambrano is a true ace who heads a deep rotation, but upon closer look, what would that rotation consist of if he was not in it? The combination of Lilly, Hill, Marshall, Marquis, Lieber and Dempster is not going to get them to the top of any division, even the NL Central. Zambrano is the key to 100 years of shattered hopes. No pressure Z. (Source)

Let me start by saying that Zambrano is a hugely important cog in this machine. I understand that. What I don’t agree with is the fact that he is the most important piece to this team’s success. Why? Because, as I’ve said before, we have pitching depth. We have seven or eight Major League ready guys vying for five spots. There is no question Zambrano is the Ace, but could the Cubs get by with a patchwork job in the rotation without him? I think they could.

I would argue that the most important player on this team from a depth point of view is either Derrek Lee or Aramis Ramirez. If one of them goes down for the season, who replaces them? For Lee, it’s probably someone like Mark DeRosa or Daryle Ward with an outside shot going to Micah Hoffpauir. For Ramirez, who plays for him? DeRosa again? You certainly can’t rush Josh Vitters to the majors, so does Matt Craig get a shot?

The point is this. When I look at the post important pieces, I look at the guys we can’t afford to lose. While it would hurt bad to lose Carlos, it would hurt worse to lose a corner IF. That’s just my opinion. Am I wrong? Who’s the most important guy to this team?

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Five Guys You’ll Know This Time Next Year

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Covering the minor leagues for several websites over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that reader interest in minor leagues often varies from person to person. There are those like myself who check the minor league box scores every morning, others who check out the stats for their team’s farm clubs periodically, still others that browse the top 10′s of their team to see who is going to come to the big club soon, and finally those that could care less until the player shows in the majors. While the latter group probably saves themselves quite a bit of frustration, the minor leagues certainly has it’s place to the daily fan.

Today, I’d like to present to you a few names that likely aren’t on the Cubs’ Top 10 Prospects lists you’ll find on the web. These are guys that will hopefully take a step forward in the organization this year…

Robert Hernandez

Just 19, Hernandez won’t turn 20 until October, but throws strikes, walking just 28 in 103.2 IP, while giving up just over a hit an inning. Hernandez can touch 92-93 but is projectable as he is still filling out his body.

Jovan Rosa

I’ve got to have at least one hitter in the bunch, and Rosa is a good selection. Rosa is a third basemen that has really good pop in his bat and good size, think an Albert Pujols type build.

Rafael Dolis

Dolis has a big arm, and before getting injured last year started to put things together. Dolis just turned 20, and went 3-1 with an ERA of 1.80 last season at Peoria.

Ryan Acosta

The son of former Cubs pitching coach, Oscar Acosta, Ryan was as polished as you will find a 18 year old in his first professional season last year.

Larry Suarez

Suarez has a big arm but just hasn’t figured out the finer arts of pitching. When and if Suarez figures things out, look for his stock to skyrocket.

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