Archive for January, 2010

Pat Hughes Named 2009 Illinois Sportscaster of the Year

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

From the Cubs Media Dept:

CHICAGOChicago Cubs/WGN Radio Play-by-Play Announcer Pat Hughes has been named the 2009 Illinois Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

“I would like to thank the Cubs fans for being the greatest audience that a broadcaster could ever dream of,” said Hughes. “I would also like to thank all of those who voted for me.”

This is Hughes’ eighth Sportscaster of the Year honor – and his fifth in Illinois, having previously won the award in 1996, 1999, 2006 and 2007. He was honored as Wisconsin’s Sportscaster of the Year in 1990, 1991 and 1992.

Hughes is entering his 15th season with the Cubs and WGN, teaming with Ron Santo on the Cubs Radio Network. The 2010 season will be Pat’s 28th of broadcasting Major League Baseball.

The award will be presented the first week of May in Salisbury, N.C.

I’ve always been a big fan of Pat. I loved listening to him on the MLB Audio before I upgraded to the Extra Innings Package. I’ve interviewed him a few times and he’s always been incredibly gracious. Good for him to get recognized.

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In the News: Jermaine Dye, a Cub?

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Spring has sprung! What’s that? Check my calendar? Hey, when the temperature is above 30 in Chicago in January, I get spring fever. And with PCR (Pitchers and Catchers Report) Day about a month way, I feel like we’re going into the off-season home stretch here. Anyway, here are some hot Cubs-related news items* to warm your grubby hands to:

You can…putitintherumormill…eeeeYES! Paul Sullivan reports that the Cubs are considering former White Sox right fielder to fill their (as I see it) last remaining roster spot. I’ve generally been against this idea when it’s come up before (I think Jon Heyman suggested it once), but Dye did slug pretty well last season. It appears he was just so God awful on defense that his WAR sunk to negative levels. Could the Cubs mitigate that by playing him in right field only against left-handed pitchers and otherwise using him as a first base backup and pinch hitter? Maybe. I assume this would be only a one-year, fairly cheap deal. Thoughts?

Also check out the video of Cubs manager Lou Piniella waxing philosophic on the team’s 2010 season. He looks like he’s kept himself in pretty good shape in the off-season. Let’s hope Zambrano, Soriano, et al. have done the same.

Start spreadin’ the news…Matt Sinatro out, former Cubs SS Ivan DeJesus in. The Cubs made a coaching change yesterday, replacing Matt “Ol’ Something Eyes” Sinatro with Ivan DeJesus at first base. Sinatro will remain on in an administrative role. No word on why the change was made, but Sinatro has reportedly had some knee surgeries as of late.

Ben Sheets update. Cubs scouts will watch Ben throw next week at the University of Louisiana. There have been rumblings in the Twitterverse that Sheets is asking too much money for the Cubs to consider him. But time will tell whether his price comes down. I’m still wondering whether Greg  Maddux could play a role here, but maybe I’m getting too caught up on that angle.

The Spring Training schmoozefest is drawing to a conclusion. It’s hard to say exactly when. I’ve come across several articles giving differing deadlines for when the Cubs brass will make a decision. So I decided to go conservative and post this USA Today article that reports the choice will be made “within the month.”

Randy Wells wins award for his charitable efforts. How cool is this? The Cubs “outta nowhere” young phenom starting pitcher (wow, that’s a lot of adjectives) has been named St. Louis Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s 2009 Rookie of the Year. Well at least someone gave him that award.

The Cubs Convention is this weekend! The Cubs Convention is this weekend! Any loyal VFTBers going? I won’t be in attendance – haven’t quite crossed that line in my Cubs fandom yet. But I’ll trying to catch some of the radio, TV and, of course, Internet coverage. Click the preceding bolded text for the complete schedule.

*As always, the bolded phrases leading off each paragraph are links to news stories.

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Stat of the Week: The Red Sox Believe in Defense

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

The Boston Red Sox fell from an estimated 20 Defensive Runs Saved as a team in 2008 to second worst in baseball at -52 Runs Saved last year. This, no doubt, was a key contributing factor for the pitching staff’s increased ERA. Mike Lowell played through a hip injury that turned a previously good defender into an abysmal one, totaling -18 Runs Saved at third. Additionally, young shortstop Jed Lowrie hit the DL early in 2009, forcing Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez, and the defensively-challenged Julio Lugo into the lineup as fill-ins. The team acquired another bat in Victor Martinez, a notoriously bad defensive catcher.

Recognizing their defensive shortcomings, General Manager Theo Epstein has brought in three defensively-minded acquisitions this offseason: Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro, and Mike Cameron. Here’s how each performed in 2009 compared to the Red Sox at their respective positions:

Red Sox Offseason Acquisitions
Player Position Runs Saved
Adrian Beltre 3B 22
Red Sox 2009 3B -18
Marco Scutaro SS 12
Red Sox 2009 SS -19
Mike Cameron CF 3
Red Sox 2009 CF -10
Total Acquisitions 3B/SS/CF 37
Red Sox 2009 3B/SS/CF -47
Difference 84

Source: Bill James Online

If the new acquisitions manage to repeat their performances from last year, that’s an upgrade of 84 runs on defense alone. Beltre, Scutaro, and Cameron all had defensive seasons consistent with their previous seasons, based on Defensive Runs Saved, so a repeat of 2009 isn’t out of the question.

Additionally, the Red Sox will move centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to replace average defender Jason Bay in left field, where Ellsbury’s weak arm can hide and his range will shine. Based on his previous performance at the corner outfield spots, Ellsbury is likely to be a five to ten run defensive improvement over Bay.

Using the rule of thumb that 10 runs equals one win, defense could boost Boston as many as eight or nine wins beyond their 2009 win total. While the Red Sox haven’t signed any big name free agent hitters (though they did add pitcher John Lackey), it is our estimation that improved defense alone will easily more than make up for lost offensive production (primarily the loss of Jason Bay).

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


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Spring Training Invites Galore

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

From the Cubs Media Dept:

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs today announced the club has invited 19 non-roster players to Major League Spring Training, which begins Wednesday, February 17 when pitchers and catchers are invited to report in Mesa, Ariz.  Their first workout will take place on Thursday, February 18.  Position players report to camp Monday, February 22 with the team’s first full workout Tuesday, February 23.

Overall, 12 of the 19 invitees are homegrown players either drafted or originally signed by the Cubs.  Additionally, each of the club’s last four first-round draft picks will be in camp: outfielder Tyler Colvin (2006, now on the club’s 40-man roster), infielder Josh Vitters (2007), righthander Andrew Cashner (2008) and outfielder Brett Jackson (2009).

Seven pitchers – lefthanders J.R. Mathes and James Russell and righthanders Cashner, Casey Coleman, Thomas Diamond, Jeff Kennard and Vince Perkins – have been invited to major league camp, as well as catchers Robinson Chirinos, Steve Clevenger, Blake Lalli and Chris Robinson. Infielders Darwin Barney, Matt Camp, Starlin Castro, Bryan LaHair, Bobby Scales and Vitters have also been invited, along with outfielders Jackson and Brad Snyder.

Darwin Barney, 24, begins his fourth pro season after hitting .293 (136-for-464) with 24 doubles and 49 RBI in 137 games with Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa in 2009. A right-handed hitter and fielder, he was selected by Chicago in the fourth round of the 2007 Draft after helping Oregon State University to the 2006 and 2007 College World Series titles.

Matt Camp, 25, was converted from an infielder to an outfielder prior to last season. Camp spent a majority of 2009 with Triple-A Iowa, batting .282 (98-for-348) with 13 doubles, one triple, two homers and 44 RBI in 99 contests. He opened the season with Double-A Tennessee, owning a .298 (14-for-47) average in 14 games before his promotion. This marks the left-handed hitter’s fifth season in the Cubs organization after being selected by Chicago in the 13th round of 2006 Draft.

Andrew Cashner, 23, was selected by the Cubs in the first round (19th overall) of the 2008 Draft. The righthander went 3-4 with a 2.60 ERA (29 ER/100.1 IP) between Single-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee last year, surrendering just one home run in 100.1 innings of work. In five June contests in 2009, the TCU product owned a monthly-best 0.93 ERA (2 ER/19.1 IP) with 14 strikeouts, holding the opponent scoreless in four of those five contests. Cashner is ranked by Baseball America as the Cubs’ Number Four prospect entering 2010

Starlin Castro, 19, was signed by the Cubs prior to the 2007 season and begins his fourth year in the organization. He batted a combined .299 (140-for-469) with three homers and 49 RBI in 127 games between Single-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. The right-handed hitter was named to the 2009 All-Star Futures Game for the World Team, going 1-for-1 with a run scored in the World’s 7-5 victory over the USA. He hit .376 (38-for-101) with 10 RBI in 26 games with the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League. Castro is ranked by Baseball America as the Cubs’ top prospect entering 2010.

Robinson Chirinos, 25, who begins his 10th season in the Cubs organization, was converted from an infielder to a catcher prior to the 2009 campaign. Chirinos set numerous career highs in his first season as a catcher, batting .294 (77-for-262) with 11 homers and 52 RBI in 81 games between Single-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. The right-handed batter and fielder was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Cubs July 2, 2000 at the age of 16.

Steve Clevenger, 23, batted .290 (89-for-307) between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa last season, collecting 16 doubles and 36 RBI in 94 games. The left-handed batter has hit .286 or better in each of his first four pro campaigns since he was selected by the Cubs in the seventh round of the 2006 Draft.

Casey Coleman, 22, went 14-6 with a 3.68 ERA (61 ER/149.0 IP) in 27 starts with Double-A Tennessee en route to the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2009. The righthander surrendered two or fewer walks in 18 of his starts last season, while tossing 6.0 or more innings 13 times. He is entering his third pro season after being selected by the Cubs in the 15th round of the 2008 Draft.

Thomas Diamond, 26, joined the Cubs September 4, 2009 when he was claimed off waivers from Texas. The righty combined to go 2-3 with one save and a 4.20 ERA (26 ER/55.2 IP) in 38 games (one start) between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Oklahoma City. In 117 career minor league games (77 starts) in the Rangers’ system, Diamond is 31-17 with two saves and a 4.01 ERA (194 ER/435.0 IP), striking out 487 batters while walking just 241. He was selected by Texas in the first round (10th overall) of the 2004 draft.

Brett Jackson, 21, compiled a .318 batting average (67-for-211) with six doubles, three triples, eight homers and 36 RBI in 53 games between Rookie-League Mesa, Single-A Boise and Single-A Peoria in 2009. Selected by the Cubs in the first round (31st overall) of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Jackson batted .303 (146-for-481) with 91 runs scored, 25 doubles, 11 triples, 12 home runs and 85 RBI in 152 career games with the University of California-Berkeley. Jackson is ranked by Baseball America as the Cubs’ Number Two prospect entering 2010.

Jeff Kennard, 28, spent the 2009 season with Triple-A Louisville in the Reds’ system, going 3-1 with two saves and a 2.83 ERA (17 ER/54.0 IP) in 40 games before signing a minor league deal with Chicago this offseason. Kennard has appeared in 338 minor league games, all but one in relief, within the Yankees (2001-07), Angels (2007-08) and Reds (2009) organizations. The righty attended Rend Lake Community College in Ina, Illinois.

Bryan LaHair, 27, spent his entire career in Seattle’s organization before signing with the Cubs this offseason, making his major league debut in 2008. In 2009, Bryan batted .289 (132-for-457) in 121 games with Triple-A Tacoma, while setting a career high with 26 home runs. In 45 major league games, the left-handed hitter is 34-for-136 (.250) with four doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI. LaHair owns a .287 batting average (789-for-2746) with 194 doubles, seven triples, 96 home runs and 461 RBI in 716 career minor league games.

Blake Lalli, 26, was named to the Southern League post-season All-Star team after finishing 2009 with a .314 batting average (117-for-373), five home runs and 52 RBI in a career-high 118 games for Double-A Tennessee.  Signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in May of 2006, Lalli boasts a .304 batting average (339-for-1115), 79 doubles, 20 homers and 159 RBI in 332 career minor league contests.

J.R. Mathes, 28, earned Pitcher of the Year honors for Triple-A Iowa, going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA (52 ER/129.1 IP) in 26 games (21 starts) last season. The lefty ranked ninth in the Pacific Coast League in ERA.  This marks his seventh season with the club after being selected by the Cubs in the 16th round of the 2004 Draft. He is 56-37 with a 4.20 ERA (361 ER/773.0 IP) in 146 career minor league games (129 starts).

Vince Perkins, 28, owns a 33-33 mark with six saves and a 3.69 ERA (238 ER/581.0 IP) in 182 career minor league appearances (89 starts) spanning eight seasons. The righthander combined to go 7-2 with five saves and a 3.02 ERA (29 ER/86.1 IP) in 53 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa in 2009. Perkins, who was signed by the Cubs as a minor league free agent prior to the 2009 season, was a member of Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009 and has spent time with the Blue Jays (2001-06), Brewers (2006-07), White Sox (2007-08) and Cubs organizations.

Chris Robinson, 25, earned Iowa’s Most Valuable Player honors after hitting .326 (101-for-310) with 37 runs scored, 22 doubles, three triples, two homers and 48 RBI in 91 games for the I-Cubs last season. The 2009 Pacific Coast League All-Star attended the University of Illinois, played for Team Canada in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006 and was acquired by the Cubs from the Detroit Tigers August 20, 2006 for INF Neifi Perez.

James Russell, 24, was selected by the Cubs in the 14th round of the 2007 Draft. The southpaw combined to go 5-6 with a 4.03 ERA (46 ER/102.2 IP) in 37 games (12 starts) with Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa in 2009. He is 11-16 with a 4.63 ERA (123 ER/239.0 IP) in 66 career minor league games (40 starts) and his father, Jeff Russell, pitched for five teams during a 14-year major league career.

Bobby Scales, 32, made his major league debut with Chicago in 2009 following 11 seasons and more than 1,000 career minor league contests. He appeared in 51 games for the Cubs last season and hit .500 (7-for-14) with two homers and five RBI as a pinch-hitter. A switch-hitter and right-handed fielder, he begins his 12th pro season after he was originally selected by San Diego in the 14th round of the 1999 Draft.

Brad Snyder, 27, batted .278 (66-for-237) with 16 doubles, three triples, 14 homers and 44 RBI with Triple-A Iowa in his first season in the Cubs organization, but was limited to just 69 games due to a sprained left wrist. The left-handed hitter and fielder began his career with Cleveland after he was selected in the first round (18th overall) of the 2003 Draft out of Ball State University.

Josh Vitters, 20, begins his fourth pro season after combining to hit .284 (130-for-458) with 19 doubles, 18 homers and 68 RBI in a career-high 120 games between Single-A Peoria and Single-A Daytona in 2009. The 2009 Midwest League mid-season All-Star was selected by Chicago in the first round (third overall) of the 2007 Draft and is ranked by Baseball America as the Cubs’ Number Three prospect entering 2010

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Renovating the Game: Increase the use of the DH

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Mark McGwire came out recently and admitted that he did what we all knew he did: take steroids. There is no question in my mind that one of the biggest changes to the sport we love is the development and use of PED’s. It’s caused more change than anything ole Bud has instituted in his tenure and it will continue to impact the sport for the bad. To counter that, I’d like to propose a series of changes that I’d like to see instituted to make the game a better overall product. Considering the current labor agreement only runs through 2011, these are changes that could be made fairly quickly. We’ll begin with the always talked about DH (Double Header) and why I think it’s use should increase.

What I Propose: All 30 teams will play a double header every Sunday

How it Would Work: To make this work, there is a need for MLB to alter the way it schedules games. Each series would need to be three games in length, with each team playing a total of six games each week. All games would take place Wednesday – Sunday of each week with all 30 teams schedule to be off on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday – Friday would be the schedule for the first series of the week. Games can be scheduled any time of day for Wednesday and Thursday, but early afternoon games would be scheduled on Friday. The weekend series would feature a day or night game on Saturday and an early game 1 of the double header with the following game taking place shortly after. Tickets for the Sunday DH would cost 50% more on average, but would allow paying customers to view both games.

Before you even say it, I know that DH’s are tough on starting staffs, but if you look at the layout, it works. Let’s take our rotation as an example.

Tuesday – Zambrano
Wednesday – Dempster
Thursday – Wells
Friday – Marshall
Saturday – Gorzellany
Sunday – Zambrano (4 days rest) / Dempster (3 days rest)

The way it works, the rotation would cycle through each week with one of the Sunday pitchers each week pitching on three days rest. A player in the rotation would really only be doing this once every five weeks. The other four weeks they would be making one start on regular rest. That’s more than doable and won’t kill a guy’s arm. In addition, it may be tough on a bullpen to pitch on Sunday, but you get an extra day off after that DH to rest. It all works.

Why it’s Needed:

  • Allows for more off days for players, umpires, and fans – I read a book by Durwood Merrill called You’re Out and You’re Ugly Too. In the book, Mr Merrill mentioned that one of the toughest things to do is be a Major League umpire because of the fact that you never really have a chance to be home during the season like the players do. For a player, if your team is on a homestand, you have the opportunity to go home at night and sleep in your own bed provided that you live in the town of your team. Umpires don’t get that luxury. By scheduling two straight off days in a row each week it would allow for players or umpires to at least fly home for a day off more often. In addition, from a fan perspective, it would give us a few more off days. I don’t know about you, but I get mentally tired and drained from watching baseball every day over the course of a 162 game season. A few extra mental days would do a blogger good.
  • Allows position players more rest – Having two straight days gives managers a chance to get guys with nagging injuries at least two days of rest each and every week. This should allow players to stay fresher and in term more productive over the course of the long season.
  • Allows families and fans more chances to see day baseball – When I was a kid, I loved to go to day baseball and loved watching DH on tv. To this day, I still love going to baseball during the day. There is just something different about the game during the day under the sunshine. By changing to this new format, fans are given at least two day games each week (Friday and Sunday). It also allows people to get a chance to pay a little extra for the Sunday ticket, but be able to see more baseball as a reward.

This is just the first of many changes I’d make to the game. I’ll be sharing more as we slowly creep toward spring training. Until then, let’s kick around this idea and debate the pros and cons to it as presented. What are your thoughts?

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In the News: Tragedy in Venezuela

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

What’s up, Cubs fans? Suggested answer: A lot. The world exploded yesterday with two huge stories. Well, at least I think there were two big stories yesterday. The first one, obviously, was the confession of smooth-faced, wrinkly necked slugger Mark McGwire. (See Mark’s earlier post to discuss. Uh, Mark Strickler, that is. Not Mark McGwire.) And the other is the glorious bombshell that Greg Maddux has been hired as the Cubs Assistant GM. (See Joe’s earlier post to discuss.) But these aren’t the only things going on with the team right now. Here are few more stories* we’re following:

Angel Guzman’s brother shot and killed in Venezuela. Sadly, I must begin on a down note. Cubs RHP Angel Guzman, who had his best (that is, healthiest) season in Major League Baseball last year, lost his brother Daniel on Monday in what appears to be an unsuccessful kidnapping attempt. Condolences to Angel and his family.

Ben Sheets rumors gaining some traction. As reported last week, the Cubs are indeed expected to make a run at rehabbing free agent ace Ben Sheets. Could an incentive-laden deal get it done? I hope so. We probably shouldn’t consider Sheets a silver bullet, but if he could take on Rich Harden’s role as the No. 3 or 4 starter in the Cubs rotation and give the team, say, 20 to 25 starts, the results could be excellent. Imagine an eventual rotation of Big Z, Lilly, Dempster, Sheets and Wells. Those five could help the Cubs put and keep the pressure on incumbent division winners, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Oh, and a last parting thought on this: Could new Asst. GM Greg Maddux play a role in Sheets’ signing? I think so. How would you feel if your cell phone rang and a future Hall of Famer was on the line? I’d pretty feel pretty good about joining that organization. And it’s not like Sheets is unfamiliar with pitching at Wrigley or NL Central hitters.

And now presenting your 2010 Iowa Cubs team manager: Ryne Sandberg! Yes, Ryno was introduced to the press this week. This Trib story even features video! Sandberg’s tenure as Iowa’s manager should have huge implications on his future with the big league team.

Spring Training schmoozefest gets all legal and stuff. The two contestants in the Cubs Spring Training Sweepstakes are bringing out the big guns. Both have introduced legislation to raise tax dollars to pay for the facilities they need to win the war. I’m not always crazy about Levine’s baseball analysis or rumor mongering, but he does a pretty good job of concisely summarizing the situation.

LaHair signed to muss up Hoffpauir’s bench role. The Mariners may have helped out the Cubs yet again this off-season when they recently released Bryan LaHair. I’d never heard of him before this story came out, but apparently he’s a left-handed-hitting first baseman with a power stroke who’s spent plenty of time in the minor leagues. Sound familiar? Yep, he’ll be looking to compete for Micah Hoffpauir’s bench spot in spring training.

RHP Casey Coleman has been invited to spring training! And his high school pitching coach couldn’t be prouder. I don’t know much about Coleman but, hey, it’s probably safe to call him a dark horse candidate for the Cubs bullpen.

We won’t have Nate Spears to kick around anymore. In other Cubs minor league news, former farmhand middle infielder Nate Spears is moving on to the Boston Red Sox. Apparently, Jim Hendry didn’t offer Spears a contract, which is odd because Nate is, y’know, a second baseman. Spears will likely be playing for the Red Sox Triple A affiliate in Pawtucket. (I just love typing “Pawtucket.”) Let’s hope he doesn’t pull a Casey McGehee on us.

The new USA Team Report is out! The new USA Team Report is out! Granted, it hasn’t been updated with the Maddux story. But, as usual, there’s a bunch of interesting little blurbs to take in.

*As always, the bolded phrases at the beginning of each paragraph are links to actual news stories. The stories above are not actual; they are figments of your imagination designed only to taunt and deceive. OK, not really.

NOTE: originally this was posted by Dave, not me

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McGwire admits steroid use

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Today Mark McGwire* finally came clean about steroid use. In a public statement he admitted using PEDs during the 1998 70 home run season as well as others. Said McGwire: “I wish I had never touched steroids…it was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.”

I’m very inclined to forgive Mark for his transgressions, he certainly wasn’t the only one. Do I respect him more as a man and a baseball player? Absolutely, my sense is that most Americans don’t like liars but their inherent instinct is to forgive a man who admits his faults. I’m glad that McGwire is returning to the game he loves and wish him well in his coaching career and other endeavors.

That having been said I’m still adamantly opposed to players who have been incriminated using steroids entering the Hall of Fame. It diminishes the accomplishments of other players who did it with blood, sweat and effort and nothing else. And for guys like Barry Bonds*, Roger Clemens*, Sammy Sosa*, Rafael Palmiero* etc. who can’t man up and admit their mistakes? Hopefully one day if their luck runs out they can have successful careers as hotel greeters but I certainly wouldn’t want to shake their hands.

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Cubs Add Greg Maddux as Special Asst. to Jim Hendry

Monday, January 11th, 2010

My inbox just gave me the following release from the Cubs Media Department

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs today named future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux as an assistant to General Manager Jim Hendry.

Maddux’ responsibilities will include assisting the coaching staffs at major league and minor league spring training, assisting in the development of Cubs minor leaguers during the regular season and assisting Hendry and the baseball operations department in talent evaluation.

“We are thrilled to have Greg back with the Chicago Cubs,” said Hendry.  “He has such a vast knowledge of all phases of the game and the ultimate respect of everyone from the players to the front office.  The addition of Greg Maddux makes us a better organization.”

“I’m looking forward to working my way back into the game and am happy that the Cubs have given me the opportunity to do that,” said Maddux.  “I started my career with the Cubs and Chicago has always been the best place in the league to play.  I’m eager to do whatever I can to help the organization and am looking forward to getting started at spring training.”

Maddux retired from baseball in December of 2008 as the eighth-winningest pitcher in the history of the game with 355 victories, 133 of which occurred during his 10 seasons with the Chicago Cubs.  He won the first of his four career Cy Young Awards with the Cubs in 1992 when he went 20-11 with a 2.18 ERA (65 ER/268.0 IP) in 35 starts.

Originally selected by the Cubs in the second round of the 1984 Draft, Maddux went 133-112 with a 3.61 ERA during two stints with the Cubs from 1986-92 and 2004-06.  His 298 starts and 1,305 strikeouts with the Cubs rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in franchise history.

Maddux also earned the first two of his eight National League All-Star nods with the Cubs and won six of his major-league record 18-career Gold Glove Awards during seasons he pitched for the Cubs.  He was the first pitcher in major league history to win four-consecutive Cy Young Awards (1992-95).

On May 3, 2009, the Cubs retired uniform No. 31 in honor of Maddux and Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins.  Number 31 became the fifth to be retired by the Chicago Cubs, joining No. 14 in honor of Ernie Banks in 1982, No. 26 in honor of Billy Williams in 1987, No. 10 in honor of Ron Santo in 2003 and No. 23 in honor of Ryne Sandberg in 2005.  Jenkins and Maddux are the only pitchers in Cubs history to have their uniform number retired.

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Chatting it up with: Wax Paper Beer Cup

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

This afternoon I had a chance to talk with a blogger I’ve just recently started following, Wax Paper Beer Cup. We talked about a number of topics and thought I’d share.

VFTB: Start by telling me a little about WPBC, a site I just recently found this off-season.

WPBC: Alright, waxpaperbeercup is a site that started back in 2008. I previously had been on a site called 1060west that had several great writers. That site ran its course. Most of us went in different directions. I decided to start my own blog talking about the cubs. I like to look at the business side of the club and give a few of my opinions on the club.

VFTB: Do you have any other writers with you?

WPBC: No just me. During the time away social networking became all of the rage, so I started a twitter page.

VFTB: Shifting focus to baseball, word on Yahoo has Aroldis Chapman signing a $30 mil deal today with a “NL Team” according to Jeff Passan. Is he a player you’d be happy to see the Cubs spend the money on or are you hoping we’re not the team?

WPBC: I’d love to see the cubs sign a prospect of Chapman’s talent. One of the things that Ricketts talked about was building the minor leagues. One of the ways you do that is by acquiring top notch talent. Chapman is that.

VFTB: Would you worry about the fact that $30 mil would be tied up in a prospect and the potential problem that poses for signing or moving at the deadline if we’re in contention this year?

WPBC: I really would not, because I imagine the deal would be back loaded. Left handed power arms like Chapman are not a dime a dozen, they come at a cost. As for the cubs being in contention and having flexibility, I would hope that there would still be a way for them to add a player if they had to at the deadline. I don’t think it will be a matt Holliday, type addition, but I would hope Ricketts still has some flexibility in the budget.

VFTB: Let’s assume it’s not the Cubs. Do you see the team adding anything else this off-season, and if so, what?

WPBC: I see them adding a bullpen arm or two, a veteran outfielder that can pinch hit and maybe if they can find a reclamation project at a cheap price a starting pitcher.

VFTB: I would agree on the OF and bullpen arm, but I’m not sold that either will be acquired before spring training. Looking at the current crop of players, what are you expecting from a guy like Soriano in 2010?

WPBC: You know they could wait and see what players are released during spring training. Think about a guy like Reed Johnson who Hendry added a few years back during spring training. As for Soriano, I see this as a real big season for him. I don’t think we saw the real Alfonso Soriano last season. He was gimpy and injured last season and should have gone on the DL. I think he tried to stay on the field because Ramirez was down, and while it may have been the noble thing to do it made him look awful as a player. If healthy, I expect that we will see Soriano closer to the level he was at in 2007 or 2008. He will probably never run again the way he once did. But if he can find the swing I think cub fans will be happy with his bounce back. It’s funny, a lot of people wanted to write off D. Lee before last season, similar to what they are trying to do with Soriano now.

VFTB: I tend to agree IF he switches to a lighter bat. His swing looked slow last year and I’m hoping Jaramillo will bring that up.

WPBC: Agreed, on the lighter bat. One more thing on Soriano when a player doesn’t have his legs his swing is going to look bad. Soriano tore the cover off the ball the first month of 2009. Then he was injured. He’s still a talent, I’m hopeful we see more of that talent in 2010.

VFTB: Do you expect the same bounce back year from Soto as well?

WPBC: Soto is harder for me to judge. There’s not a lot on the back of Soto’s baseball card. We have one good year followed by a down year for whatever reason. Knowing this, I would have liked to have seen the cubs address this issue by adding a veteran backup catcher that could step in if Soto falters. It appears they are happy with Koyie Hill in that role, I really am not. While I like Koyie hill and think he’s a nice story, I don’t want him to get a lot of AB’s in 2010.

VFTB: Soto is the single player that scares the pants off me

WPBC: He should. As a cub fan you can’t help but think about players like Jerome Walton or even another catcher Rick Wilkins, who had one good season and nothing followed. Soto was a big part of the reason the cubs were the best team in the NL in 2008, we need to see him come back somewhere near that level in 2010 for the cubs to do anything.

VFTB: We have debated at length over Ryan Theriot as a shortstop and offensive player on VFTB. Where do you stand on The Riot?

WPBC: Theriot is such a hot button player for cub fans. You either love Theriot or despise him. I think as an offensive player, Theriot has done a nice job for the team since he has taken over. Yeah, he doesn’t have the greatest numbers but until the cubs can find a better middle infielder in their system, he’s earned the right to start at either SS or 2b in my opinion. I imagine sometime in the near future we will see Theriot move to 2b and Castro take over at short. Theriot to me has defensively always been a 2b, but to his credit when the SS job came open in 2007 he took it.

VFTB: What do you expect from this team in 2010?

WPBC: Good question. As the team stands now, I think we are probably realistically looking at a team that could and should win 83-87 games. Now you a get a break or two and add some decent depth and maybe they can contend. If you get injuries like they had last year, the team will be below .500. It’s not difficult to look at this on paper and see the cardinals as the favorite in the NL central. The cubs are probably a second place club right now. If all goes right they will contend.

VFTB: What grade would you give Jim Hendry as a GM this offseason and as a GM over his tenure?

WPBC: This offseason has been difficult. I’m going to assume it’s not over yet and give Hendry an incomplete. but if you forced me to give him a grade thus far it would have to be a D. the harden move of not getting anything out of him nor offering him arbitration was very hard for me to understand. Grabow signed for too much. After that the offseason was held up by the Bradley situation. It’s been really ugly. I think a D is probably fair. For his entire tenure, I would actually give Jim Hendry a strong B bordering on a B+. The guy has been the gm for three cubs’ teams that won division titles. The cubs are coming off their most successful decade since the 1930′s I think Hendry has done a good job over his tenure with the club. I don’t agree with all of his moves, but it is hard to argue with the results. He has put this franchise in position to win three times. They have not done it yet. But I cannot fault the effort.

VFTB: As we close it out, let me fire some quick ones at you. I’ll say something and you give me the first word that comes to mind.

WPBC: alright

VFTB: Celebrity conductors

WPBC: strange

VFTB: Wrigley Bleachers

WPBC: frat party or beer garden

VFTB: Goat

WPBC: not really an issue

VFTB: Walks clog the bases

WPBC: glad that philosophy is in Cincy

VFTB: Carrie Muskat

WPBC: good beat writer

VFTB: Mike Fontenot

WPBC: on the hot seat

VFTB: Sammy Sosa

WPBC: fun to watch and now a vampire

VFTB: Ron Santo

WPBC: cheerleader in the booth and a player that should be in the HOF

VFTB: Bleed Cubbie Blue

WPBC: lol, you had to go there!

VFTB: that’s my job

WPBC: a strange gigantic corner of the cubs interweb

VFTB: Ryne Sandberg as manager of the 2011 Chicago Cubs

WPBC: I hope not

VFTB: thanks so much for the time I appreciate it

WPBC: thanks Joe. Have a great Sunday. I enjoyed the baseball conversation on this January day.

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