Archive for December, 2009

New Possibilities at CF

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Phil Rogers of the Trib brought us this nugget of information buried deep in his column about ranking the rotations in baseball (The Cubs tied for 9th).

If the Red Sox wind up with Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, the Cubs immediately would make a major effort to land Jacoby Ellsbury to fill their center field/leadoff hole, according to sources.

That scenario helps explain why the Cubs have been so patient in studying their options. The best way to do such a trade might be for GM Jim Hendry to facilitate a three-team deal that sends first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres to the Red Sox by packaging a group of prospects, possibly including one or two of their top ones, such as third baseman Josh Vitters, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and pitchers Andrew Cashner and Jay Jackson.

~ Phil Rogers (Chicago Tribune – 12/27/09)

He also mentioned in another column that same day (why he didn’t combine them I have no idea), that perhaps Fernando Perez of the Rays might be a good fit. So we get two new names to throw into the mix with Rick Ankiel and Marlon Byrd and I’d like to see what your feelings are on all four names.

It’s weird, because if this rumor is true, we should actually be cheering for a team like the Red Sox to get richer. We should actually pull for them to add a stud like Gonzalez to play 1B for them and a huge bat like Holliday in the OF so we can pick off some of the excess goodness. It’s as if we’re homeless and the Sox would essentially let us eat off the fruit that falls off the tree. Let me tell you this: Jacoby Ellsbury would be some mighty sweet fruit. The question then becomes “How much talent are you willing to part with to get him”.

Cincinnati Reds v Boston Red Sox
Jacoby Ellsbury makes a catch (Picapp)

If we look at the four names Rogers mentions above and add to it a guy like Starlin Castro to it, we have to ask the question of if we’d be willing to part with two of those names to get Ellsbury. It’s important to keep Vitters based on Ramirez’s health of late and the lack of depth in the system at the position. That leaves the two SS and two Pitchers. I’d package one of each to get Ellsbury with my preference being to include Cashner and Lee, despite the fact that I think both have the higher ceiling. I like Cashner, but he projects at as a bullpen arm in my book, while Jackson should be able to start. Lee probably have a better skill set than Castro, but the fact that we’ve only seen one year of him at such a low level means I’d rather take a chance with the lower ceiling (although not much lower) of Castro. My guess is those two names might be good enough to get him, considering the Sox would have a major logjam in the OF.

Personally, I don’t consider Perez a major option unless his price tag is very cheap. A name I’d look at is Desmond Jennings, who has a lot better skill set than Perez and seems to be a better option to succeed at the Major League level because of the fact that he’s been more successful in the minors and isn’t coming off shoulder surgery like Perez is.

Looking at the three major sources I consult on prospects we get the following on Jennings at the start of 2009

Deric McKamey – “Lean/athletic OF with plus speed and impressive on-base skills, priming himself for a leadoff role. Possesses solid bat speed, with projectable power. Plus range and average arm strength make him solid in CF. Missed most of season (2008) due to shoulder surgery and a strained back”

Baseball America – “…has exceptional speed and the discerning eye to become a prototypical leadoff hitter and center fielder. His strike-zone judgment rates among the best in the system. While he has some pop and the ability to drive the ball in the gaps, he knows his role and focuses on getting on base. He covers a wide swath in center and has an average arm.”

John Sickels – “…has what you need in a leadoff man: lots of speed, good strike-zone judgment, fine OBP skills, and enough pop in his bat to keep the pitchers honest. His arm was weak even before the injury, so his throwing won’t be an asset but otherwise his defense is very good.”

I’m not sure if he’d truly be available for a reasonable price, but he’s a name I’d rather see Jim Hendry look at. I believe the Rays may look at him in CF for 2010, which also might mean someone like B.J. Upton may be available after a down year in 2009.

Rays Index chimed in about the matter via e-mail:

Perez is tough. On the one hand, the Rays don’t have a spot for him on the big league roster, and there will be one or two outfielders in triple-A ahead of him on the organizational depth chart. At 27, he probably is no longer part of the Rays future. He just never learned to hit from the left side of the plate as well as the Rays had hoped. Towards the end of ’09 he was almost exclusively bunting when he faced right-handed pitchers. But the Rays also still have two minor league options on Perez and they know he can contribute if needed, so there is no need to move him. Therefore the Rays aren’t going to give him up for a bag of balls even if there isn’t a need for him in the foreseeable future. My guess is that it would take a legitimate big league prospect. Otherwise, why not keep him around for depth and insurance? If that prospect played catcher, first base or pitcher, they are more likely to listen. In all likelihood, the Rays will want a guy in single-A or double-A. A catcher or a pitcher that projects well to the big leagues and is not on the 40-man roster. But is Perez worth a legit catching or pitching prospect? I doubt it. So what about young, cheap power arm that can contribute in the bullpen this season?

That being said, Perez can be an everyday big league outfielder. He might struggle against righties. But even if he bunts every time he faces a righty, he could still get on base at a .330 clip based on his speed and ability to draw a walk.

Jennings: The Rays will never say a player is untouchable. I mean, everybody has a price. But the price for Jennings will be very high. He is a legit top 5 prospect with all the tools. Unlike Perez, there is a need in the foreseeable future for Jennings, assuming the Rays cannot resign Carl Crawford after the season (or trade him before then). So if the Cubs (or another team) wants to try and pry Jennings away it would probably take a young, cheap player that can contribute at the big league level this season and is a considerable upgrade over the player currently in that position. And the only spots that can stand to use an upgrade are catcher and the bullpen. And the Rays aren’t giving up a top prospect for a relief pitcher. Do the Cubs have a Buster Posey or Matt Wieters laying around?

It’s still a weird situation to be in for this team. There is a good chance we may go into the season with a rather putrid situation at CF or a potentially big impact type player in Ellsbury manning the position. Should be an interesting next month or so.

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Who Am I? – Guess to win a prize

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

I decided to modify the Who Am I game a little and turn it into a more interactive, 20 questionsesque type game. Here are the rules:

  1. Only yes / no questions are allowed.
  2. You are allowed as many questions as you would like, but only one guess per reader unless we open it up for a second
  3. All players may or may not have Cub ties.
  4. Leave your question (one question per comment) in the comments section and it will be answered as soon as I see it.
  5. When making a guess, please use the following phrase “Are You _______?”

Today, because we’re in the Christmas spirit still, we’ll play for a prize. The winner of this first edition of the game will have their choice of one of the following prizes:

Because we’re playing for a prize, this one won’t be easy.

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In the News: Capps to Nats

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Hello, all. I don’t have much time, but here’s a few news items to chew on to get you warmed up for Grandma’s fruitcake later this evening:

Matt Capps chooses the Nationals. Apparently the Nationals sweet talk better than Cubs LHP John Grabow, because Matt Capps has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the perennial NL East punching bags. So he goes from getting few save opportunities with the Pirates to perhaps even fewer with the Nationals. Ah, well. This just opens up another bullpen spot for one of the Cubs’ young arms. Oh, and I also heard Jim Hendry is on vacation and that the Cubs never seriously pursued Capps to begin with. So maybe this was just never meant to be.

The Dread Pirate Kevin Gregg? Apparently, former Cubs closer Kevin Gregg is getting a look-see from the Buccos. Hey, why not? If he does go to Pittsburgh, let’s hope Gregg doesn’t lose the acute case of long-ball-itis that plagued him in ’09.

Your new hitting coach: Hall-of-Famer Ryne Sandberg. Ever want to take some BP under the watchful eye of former Cubs second baseman (and potential future manager) Ryne Sandberg? If so, you could get your chance by attending Mayor Daley’s Chicago Sports Festival sponsored by RCN Corp. on Dec. 28.  Maybe Bruce Sutter will come out of retirement to throw Ryno a couple meatballs.

Class of ’69 catcher speaks out. Randy Hundley was the backstop for the tragic 1969 Cubs and, at a recent appearance in Bloomington, Ill., he spoke candidly about what went wrong that fateful season. This isn’t exactly news if you’re familiar with Cubs history, but interesting nonetheless.

Here comes the Cubs caravan. The Daily Herald reveals when and where it will be arriving. Oh, and this Peoria Journal Star article tells you who will be there.

Happy Holidays to all my fellow Cubs fans!

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Milton Bradley’s Heartfelt Ingratitude

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

I found this too good not to share. It comes from a site called Tauntr. Happy Holidays to everyone.

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In the News: Let’s Go Byrd Watching!

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Greetings, Cubs fans, and welcome to “In the News” with the Daver. Yes, at Joe’s suggestion, I’ve decided to rename my bi-weekly (er so) posts to make the headlines pop a little more. Plus, “Morning News With the Daver” may not have made much sense to many of you slackers anyway, considering you don’t get up before noon. Yeah, I said it.

Anyway, with Milton finally in our collective past, I’d guess the biggest “about to happen” Cubs news stories are: a) Marlon Byrd signed to play centerfield, and b) Matt Capps signed for the bullpen. Sure, I could be wrong on either (or both) counts, but that’s the scuttlebutt on Twitter (Twitterbutt?) and both developments feel pretty likely to me – especially now that the Yankees have traded Melky Cabrera (and others) for Javier Vazquez. We shall see. That bit of Daver-based speculation aside, let’s get to the news:

Giving Milton the last word. I’m assuming most of us have soaked in and sweated out all the vitriolic Bradley-Silva trade coverage by now. But, to give us all a little bit of closure, I suggest taking a Zen approach and letting Milton have the last word. Bruce Miles gives a clear, concise recap of what Bradley said in his trade-announcement conference call. And with that, the story is over.

Ryan Dempster has started a charitable foundation. As noted in last week’s news, Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster’s baby daughter, Riley, was born with DiGeorge Syndrome. Ryan and his wife, Jenny, have formed a foundation to combat the syndrome as well as help fund other charitable causes. Check out this great profile by George Castle.

Cubs in on Cuban lefty fireballer. Aroldis Chapman is a recent defector from Cuba who throws from the left side of the mound at 95+ MPH. I failed to mention the Cubs interest in him last week because, well, I sincerely doubted the team’s financial capacity to sign him. But it does appear the Cubs are in on the bidding, so file his name away for future reference. (Bear in mind, however, that Phil Rogers wrote this story.) For some reason, I have a feeling Chapman may end up a closer. No idea why.

Mesa supporters feeling good. The spring training saga wears on. A group of businessfolk from Mesa, Ariz. met with Cubs officials last week, and they like their chances of retaining the team’s spring training activities.

The new USA Today Team Report is out! The new USA Today Team Report is out! You’d think I’d get a free subscription out of doing this or something. Seriously, give it a read.

It’s back…back…back…HEY! HEY! Yes, the Jack Brickhouse statue that mysteriously disappeared from outside the WGN peep-show studio on Michigan Ave. has been refurbished and returned to its rightful place amongst shoppers, sidewalk marketeers and sad-sack working slobs like me.

Fisted foul…and CAUGHT! for a new job. In other former Cubs broadcaster news, Chip Caray will resume his fanfistic play-by-play for the Atlanta Braves next season. First they lose Vazquez and now this.

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The Tiger and the Mariner

Monday, December 21st, 2009

I recently had a chance to sit down with The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2010 and was completely captivated by the quality writing and analysis it contains.  I cannot recommend a book more highly than this year’s THT annual.  I was honored to contribute a piece on two interesting defensive developments from the 2009 season.  Here’s an excerpt from the article:

The Tigers

Two years ago, in 2008, the Detroit Tigers were going to set the world on fire.  There was talk of scoring 1,000 runs as a team, a feat accomplished only twice in the last 70 years.  They were supposed to be an offensive juggernaut.  They threw defense to the wind.  To bolster the offense, they moved their slick-fielding third baseman (Brandon Inge) to catcher.  This made room for the newly acquired basher Miguel Cabrera.  At that point Cabrera already had proven with his previous team (Marlins) that he was woeful at third, but the idea was that his offense would more than make up for his defense.

That particular experiment lasted exactly 14 games.

Cabrera made five errors and lost three runs defensively in those 14 games.  The Tigers then threw everything and everybody but the kitchen sink at the third base position. It was like tee-ball. (You know: Everyone gets a chance to try out at every position.)  Seven different players played third for the Tigers that season, and every single one of them lost runs defensively for the club.  Except Inge, the guy they could have been playing all along:

Defensive Runs Saved – 2008 Detroit Tigers Third Base

Player

Defensive Runs Saved

Carlos Guillen

-9

Miguel Cabrera

-3

Jeff Larish

-3

Ramon Santiago

-3

Ryan Raburn

-2

Mike Hessman

-2

Brandon Inge

1

This motley third-base crew lost 21 runs defensively for the Tigers, their worst defensive position in 2008.

The thing is, in 2007 the Tigers were a very good defensive club. They had 57 defensive runs saved as a team, fourth best in baseball, and they won 88 games.  And third base was their strongest defensive position with 20 runs saved, thanks to Inge.

In 2008 the Tigers lost 88 games, and third base was their weakest defensive position.

In 2009 the Tigers rediscovered defensive religion.  They realized that what they tried in 2008 simply doesn’t work in major league baseball.  All offense and no defense doesn’t cut it.  A team needs balance.  Inge went back to third base, and the Tigers brought in one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, Gerald Laird, to take his place behind the plate.  At shortstop, the offensive-minded but mediocre defensively Edgar Renteria was sent packing.  He was replaced by the best defensive shortstop of the 21strrd century so far, Adam Everett. (That is my assessment based on my defensive metrics outlined in ! The Fielding Bible and The Fielding Bible, Volume II.)

What happened? The Tigers improved by 29 runs defensively at third base.  They improved by 17 runs at shortstop.  They improved their win total by 12 games and won 86 games for the season. They just missed the playoffs by losing the 163rd game of the year to the Twins, but they spent more time in first place in 2009 than any other team in the American League.

The Mariners

The Seattle Mariners were the most improved team in baseball in 2009.  They improved their record from 61-101 in 2008 to 85-77.  That’s an increase of 24 wins in one year.

The Seattle Mariners also were the most improved defensive team in baseball  this past season. This is not a coincidence.  They improved their Defensive Runs Saved as a team from 17 runs saved in 2008 to 109 runs saved in 2009.  That’s an increase of 92 runs in one year.

The rule of thumb among stat-heads is that 10 runs is about equal to a win.  Using this, we can estimate that Seattle’s defensive improvement gained the Mariners about nine additional wins in 2009 over the 2008 club.  That certainly doesn’t account for the entire 24-win improvement.  After all, hitting and pitching are also essential, but it does show how much defense matters.  Nine games out of the 24-win gain are significant. Give any team in major league baseball 92 more runs and see how far it moves up in the standings.

How did the Mariners do it?  Outfield defense is the main answer.  In 2008 they had only 11 runs saved defensively from their entire outfield.  Defensively, all they had was Ichiro.  He split time between right field and center field.  In right field he saved 15 runs defensively, but in center field he was pretty much average (-1 run saved).  In 2009 the team brought in two of the best defensive outfielders in the game to join Suzuki.  Franklin Gutierrez had just completed two seasons playing right field for the Indians, where he saved a total of 32 runs defensively.  Endy Chavez saved 23 runs playing all three outfield positions in the previous two years for the Mets.  And neither player was a regular on his team those years; neither started as many as 100 games in either season.

On the 2009 Mariners, Ichiro was moved back to right field and Gutierrez became the center fielder.  Chavez didn’t play full time, but played most in left field.  The results were spectacular. The outfield saved 56 runs defensively, the best in baseball.

Don’t like defense? Then you would be clueless in Seattle.

Team defensive charts accompany the article in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2010, and full defensive analysis is available on Bill James Online.  (Full disclosure:  THT 2010 is published by ACTA Sports.)

“Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.”

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Off topic post

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Periodically we stray off topic here at VTFB and I’m certainly no exception. I try to make my posts specific to Chicago sports and it’s likely that most of us are very disappointed in terms of this year’s Bears team. We came into the season hoping for a chance to contend for a Super Bowl; during the offseason the team went out and got a bonafide quarterback and it also appeared that the team had acquired a decent left tackle. Later on in the season Angelo struck again when he traded a second round pick for a defensive lineman with unfulfilled promise.

Now we are looking at a team with a 5-9 team whose quarterback leads the league in interceptions. The erstwhile left tackle looks to be headed toward retirement and there are still a lot of questions regarding Adams and his future with the Bears. Many of us are calling for a clean sweep of the Bears management – Angelo, Lovie Smith and Ron Turner are probably all cooking at home lest they show their faces in Chicago’s restaurants. Jay Cutler sometimes gets his hair cut at the Oxford Barber Shop which is also where I get mine buzzed; I hope I don’t run into him this offseason because I don’t want to say something rude (let it suffice to say that I don’t get mine cut the same way.)

Jay and four other Bears are former Vanderbilt Commodores, as a graduate of that fine university I wish them all well. But I’m truly ashamed of Jay’s lack of maturity and horrible 2009 season. Right now there are 28 reasons why I regret the trade for Cutler – Knowshon Moreno, Kyle Orton, the Bears’ 2010 first round draft pick and the rest are interceptions. I see Vince Young every week and he has acquired some touch – instead of throwing bullets to the Titans’ receivers his passes have a little arc and they are soft balls to catch. Cutler throws fastballs that often bounce off of his receivers and result in interceptions. This year he’s shown all the promise that Bobby Douglas showed when he first came up with the Bears; the fundamental difference being that Bobby didn’t throw 25 interceptions in 14 games and at least he could run the ball. Can Cutler improve? I seriously hope so, he has the talent but the rest is up to him.

The Bears have plenty o’ fish to fry in the offseason; they have glaring needs on the offensive line and they will likely part ways with Brian Urlacher. Their defense also has some areas for improvement and they are going to have to make things happen without a first or second round draft pick. I would like to see Angelo, Smith and Turner gone after the 16th game is completed; this way the Bears will hopefully have a management team in place prior to the 2010 entry draft. While management changes in and of themselves won’t fix the Bears’ maladies they will send a clear and unmistakable message to the team and to the fans. The time for change has come and the trajectory for the team is presently pointing in the wrong direction.

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Here’s a guy to keep on the radar

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Many of you probably remember a little controversy back in 2006 when the Cubs spent late first round draft money on their eleventh round draft pick Christopher Huseby. Chris was projected as a first round high school prospect until he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, consequently he was available in the later rounds and the Cubs made him an eleven million dollar offer he couldn’t refuse.

Huseby kicked around the lower level Arizona instructional league and short season Boise his first two years; in 2008 the light appeared to be dimming when Huseby played but 9 games in rookie ball. Last year he was promoted to low A Peoria and he put up very impressive numbers. He’s now a 6-7 220# right hander who throws in the low to mid-90s; in 2009 Huseby posted a 1.83 ERA with 18 saves in 54 innings pitched. He gave up 43 hits and 10 walks while holding opposing hitters to a .213 batting average. I’ll be interested to see how Chris progresses in 2010, he should start out at high A Daytona or perhaps even AA Tennessee if he has an impressive spring camp.

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Breathe Deeply, Exhale Slowly

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

I can honestly say that when the Cubs signed Milton Bradley (I believe it was during January of 2009), I had never heard of him. I knew nothing about the history of personal problems which have been rehashed ubiquitously since then. Problems with umpires? I knew nothing. Problems with announcers? Ditto. Problems with anger management? Not on my radar.

I didn’t know Milton Bradley from the man in the moon.

I do not think that mental illness is a laughing matter. I don’t think mental illness is something to make fun of, or to joke about. I also don’t think mental illness is something to be overlooked in structuring a long term, multimillion dollar contract.

I was recently reminded of the time when the Cubs traded Lou Brock to the Cardinals for Ernie Broglio. Ernie Broglio, a former multiyear 20 game winner with St. Louis, won less than 20 games total for the Cubs over the next 3 years.

Current reports are that Broglio, prior to the trade, had incurred an injury, a physical infirmity, which might have been identified during a physical exam, had such an exam occurred in conjunction with the trade.

Did the Cardinals know about the preexisting condition? I don’t know. Were they required to disclose the existence of any such condition? I don’t know. Did Ernie Broglio take it upon himself to mention it? I don’t know. Was he required to? I don’t know.

Back then, successful completion of a routine physical exam as a condition of the trade was not commonly required. Now, of course, I cannot imagine a player trade or a free agent signing NOT being contingent upon obtaining a clean bill of physical health.

So, maybe, in the aftermath of Mr. Bradley’s recent situation with the Chicago Cubs, ball clubs will require psychiatric/psychological testing prior to entering into agreements with free agents or with other teams. I expect the player’s union to oppose such a development on the grounds of player confidentiality or some such consideration. But the Cubs/Milton Bradley train wreck demonstrates that the time for universal psychological/psychiatric testing of major league ballplayers has arrived. For the good of the game.

At the very least, the industry standard might evolve to include a clause mandating that player contracts will be voided should a mental illness develop or should a mental disorder become evident during the life of the agreement.

Clearly, there is no upside to the Cubs/Bradley situation. It’s not good for the player. It’s not good for the team. It’s not good for Major League Baseball. It’s not good for the fans. It’s a bad situation. I hope the Chicago Cubs have learned their lesson.

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