Archive for July, 2011

Mid-season Minor League All-Stars

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

As a follow-up to last week’s Cubs mid-season top 10 prospect list, this week I decided to choose my mid-season minor league all-star team.  As opposed to last week’s list, which looks at performance and upside, this all-star team is decided purely on who has the best stats this year at their respective position.

So, without further ado, here are your 2011 All-Stars:

CATCHERWelington Castillo, Iowa(.304/.370/.557)

Castillo has hit 16 homers between class A Daytona and Iowa.  Could he be the Cubs catcher of the future?

Honorable Mention:  Steve Clevenger, Iowa/Tennessee (.309/.368/.481)

FIRST BASEBryan LaHair, Iowa (.338/.415/.671)

In addition to his ridiculous slash line, LaHair has posted 28 homers in just 331 AB’s at Iowa.  At 28, he’s a little old to be a prospect, but a Carlos Pena trade could give him a shot to prove he’s not a 4-A guy.

Honorable Mention:  Richard Jones, Peoria (.304/.353/.541)

SECOND BASED.J. LeMahieu, Iowa/Tennessee (.348/.378/.462)

LeMahieu has split his time this year between third (41 games) and second (38 games), but he played mostly at second during his brief stint in the majors, which is why I put him here.  However, he would be an all-star at either position.

Honorable Mention:  Logan Watkins, Daytona (.288/.375/.405)

THIRD BASEGreg Rohan, Daytona/Peoria (.317/.370/.436)

Third is a pretty weak position for the Cubs, so Rohan takes the prize.  He hasn’t shown much power this year (just 5 HR’s), but has hit for a good average and gets on base at a good clip.

Honorable Mention:  Marquez Smith, Iowa (.283/.353/.448)

SHORT STOPMarwin Gonzalez, Iowa/Tennessee (.314/.365/.446)

With Starlin Castro in the majors and Hak-Ju Lee now with Tampa, Gonzalez may be the Cubs top short stop prospect.  But that’s not saying much.

Honorable Mention:  Junior Lake, Tennessee/Daytona (.276/.307/.433)

OUTFIELDEvan Crawford, Daytona (.333/.393/.436); Matt Szczur, Daytona/Peoria (.300/.348/.415); Brad Snyder, Iowa (.306/.349/.506)

While Crawford’s season stats looks nice, he’s old for class A (23).  Snyder has been at AAA for the last 5 years, so he should have it mastered by now.  Szczur is the one to watch here.

Honorable Mention:  Jae-Hoon Ha (.270/.308/.425)

STARTING PITCHERSRobert Whitenack, Tennessee/Daytona (7-0, 1.93 ERA); Nicholas Struck, Iowa/Tennessee/Daytona (8-6, 3.25 ERA); Austin Kirk, Peoria (5-7, 3.63 ERA); Zach Rosscup, Daytona (4-2, 2.54 ERA); and Aaron Kurcz, Daytona (4-4, 3.53 ERA).

Whitenack is lost for the rest of the season due to Tommy John surgery.  Struck has advanced quickly and has held his own in the notoriously hitter friendly PCL.  Kirk and Rosscup may not wow you with their stuff, but they get outs.  Kurcz has split his time between starting (12 games) and relieving (10 games) and has a 3.72 ERA as a starter.

Honorable Mention:  Chris Rusin, Iowa/Tennessee (4-2, 3.96 ERA)

RELIEVERSFrank Batista, Daytona (2.05 ERA, 19 saves); Jeff Beliveau, Tennessee/Daytona (1.29 ERA, 3 saves)

Right hander Batista leads all Cubs minor leaguers with 19 saves.

Lefty Beliveau has been dominant, striking out 70 in 55.2 IP (11.3 K/9).

Honorable Mention:  Scott Maine, Iowa (3.67 ERA, 9 saves)

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Should the Cubs Have Waited to Call Up Castro?

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Let’s start with the obvious: Starlin Castro is the most exciting thing about the Cubs right now.  Four of the six View from the Bleachers writers participating in the July 19 Roundtable named him the team MVP thus far.  He’s a legitimate star in the making, and the things he’s doing at age 21 are pretty amazing.

But was it a mistake for the Cubs to call him up on May 7, 2010?  Thanks to Jonah Keri, many of us know a lot more about the Tampa Bay Rays organization than we did six months ago, including one basic organizational tenet they follow: the Rays do not call up prospects until they are sure they are ready.  This is for a pretty simple reason.  The Rays have a very small payroll, so those six to six and a half years of team control are vitally important for them.  They can’t hang on to most players once they hit free agency, so it’s important for them to get the most out of their players while they are cheap.

So let’s go back to May 7, 2009.  The Cubs were 13-16 heading into the first game in a series against at Cincinnati.  In an attempt to put a jolt in the team, the Cubs called up the 20 year old Castro.  I should note that I think the idea that calling up a prospect can charge a team up to turn a bad team into a good team is a pretty laughable idea, but it is something approaching that general baseball “common knowledge” that a lot of players and former players buy in to.

Since that time, the Cubs have gone 102-131 (I’m writing this on the evening of July 22.)  In other words, the Cubs have been bad since Castro has been a member of them.  This isn’t to say that Castro has been bad.  Over that period he’s been worth 3.9 WAR according to FanGraphs and 1.1 WAR according to Baseball Reference.  The Cubs being bad hasn’t been Castro’s fault.  They just aren’t a good team.

But it’s clear that Castro is a flawed player at this point in his career.  On the plus side, Castro has elite contact skills, including an ability to make solid contact on balls outside of the zone that rivals Vladimir Guerrero, has good gap power for a shortstop, and has improved his base stealing efficiency.  On the other hand, he’s an impatient hitter (4.2% BB%) and is a work in progress in the field.

It’s not clear that spending more time in the minors would have done anything to improve Castro’s walk rate.  Not only is it a notoriously difficult skill to teach, but the Cubs also don’t have a great track record with improving their top prospects’ walk rates (Josh Vitters anyone?)  On the defensive side, Castro’s been spending much of the past year working on his footwork this season, and has improved as the season progressed.  After accumulating 7 errors in April, Castro has since added 11 more.  That’s still a rate of about 4 and a half errors per month, which is too many despite being a significant improvement.  But Castro could have worked on those same defensive skills in Tennessee and Iowa with strong odds of similar improvement.

The problem is that bringing Castro up in May 2010 is going to cost the Cubs millions of dollars.  Cots currently shows Castro hitting free agency after the 2015 season.  He’s going to hit arbitration for the first time in the 2013 season.  Had the Cubs kept Castro in the minor leagues until June of this year, they may have lost a couple more games since May 7, 2010.  But Castro would not hit arbitration until the 2015 season, and wouldn’t be a free agent until after the 2017 season.  In other words, rushing Castro to the majors for seasons where they haven’t been in a position to compete is going to make the Cubs pay Castro something approaching market rates for two seasons they otherwise wouldn’t have.  While watching Castro right now is almost unarguably the most exciting part of being a Cubs fan, the fact that he’s been in the Majors for almost a year and a half already is going to negatively impact the Cubs’ budget in the future.

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GirlieView

Monday, July 25th, 2011

I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend as much as I did! Through scorching temperatures, rolling thunderstorms and trade rumors, we now find the Cubs riding their first three game winning streak of the summer. Sure, it doesn’t change much about the season, but it definitely feels good to see. Why not have a little fun?

THE WIZZIES

  • I shudder to think even Cubs management might want to look at the new regime in Pittsburgh for pointers. Has it gotten that bad?
  • The nickname for Lopez is RoLo. Not just a fantastic caramel-filled chocolate candy, now also an emerging veteran starter for the Chicago Cubs! “Emerging veteran” sounds like an oxymoron…
  • I once saw Neifi Perez walk, so anything is possible!
  • With 40 or so more episodes of heat stroke in the opposing dugout we can contend in this thing. Turn up the heat in the visitors lockeroom, I think we found an edge.
  • You mean his smoldering sensuality and luscious Latin looks don’t make you fluttery deep in your loins????? Must just be me!!
  • McNutt has blister issues, that must hurt. It hurts me to read about blisters and nuts in the same sentence.
  • Dear Cubs,
    Please remove that ridiculous “It’s A Way Of Life” banner with the W flag from your web site. Who are you kidding? At 39 – 60 and .394 the W is not a way of life.
  • So I go to the Ham Fighters web site, and guess what.. no pictures of ham.
    Guess you have to go somewhere else to see bacon strips on a legal pad. Probably Hendry’s desk no doubt.
  • That the Ham Fighters don’t have a mascot dressed like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird is a continual disappointment.
  • I bet “someone is interested in Grabow” triggered the spam moderation. No human would write that.
  • Keep in mind, also, that the article just says teams have shown interest in Grabow; it doesn’t specify what type of interest. Maybe other teams are in the market for a new scapegoat. Or a pool cleaner. Or they’re looking for a good time (“Who wants a mustache ride??”). Incidentally, John Grabow is owned in 0.0% of ESPN fantasy baseball leagues.
  • Wait a minute…..(pulling off Grabow’s mask) AHA!!! Just as I thought….it’s Will Ohman!!

Top Ten Wizzie Contributors

  1. Buddy-22
  2. Doc Raker-22
  3. jswanson-19
  4. Doug S.-18
  5. PackerCubBull-16
  6. Aaron-12
  7. Seymour Butts-12
  8. Chet-9
  9. Larry Sproul-8
  10. Rich Beckman-6

Poll of the Week

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Roundtable: Who’s Your Prospect?

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Which prospect(s) are you most rooting for in the system?


They haven’t signed as of this writing, but I’m really pulling for Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach. The Cubs are starved for impact bats, and these players have a chance to develop into that category. Of course, no prospect discussion would be complete without a quick comment about Brett Jackson. John Sickels rates Jackson as a B+ prospect and “loves his broad base of skills.” Baseball America ranked Jackson as the 37th best prospect in baseball. He can’t get to Wrigley soon enough for me. ~ Buddy

I am rooting for Bryan LaHair to continue his success at the minor league level.  I am a fan of LaHair, who is still in the minors at age 28, because I think his numbers are deserving of a shot in the big leagues but his break has not yet come.  I know that Father Time is working against him, but there is still a chance for LaHair to have a career as a reserve or even a starting first baseman in the bigs.  In 93 games at Triple-A Iowa, his numbers are almost unbelievable.  LaHair owns a .346 average, has launched 28 home runs and drove in 78.  He leads the Pacific Coast League in homers, ranks fourth in RBIs and eighth in batting average.  He swings a powerful stick from the left side, which could be a major asset to the Cubs next season.  When I check the minor league box scores, I hope to see big numbers next too LaHair’s name because I think he has already earned a shot with the Cubs.  If he continues to produce, Bryan LaHair cannot be ignored much longer. ~ Brandon Vickrey

For position players, the prospect I’m rooting for most is also a guy with one of the prettiest swings in all of minor league baseball, Josh Vitters. He’s fallen off most Top Prospect lists because he swings at everything and it seems he’s allergic to take walks. His walk rate this season is a putrid 4.0% which puts him in the bottom three of the Southern League. On the plus side, he only strikes out in 10% of his at bats, which puts him in the top 10. If he never improves, he might be a Shea Hillenbrand type player, and that’s not a compliment for the number three overall pick in the draft. With a little plate discipline he can become much more than that and would be a boon to the Cubs future.

Another position player I’m interested in, who is not yet officially a Cub, is this past June’s second round draft pick, Dan Vogelbach. Watch this and tell me he’s not going to be a fun guy to watch!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPZwAIZzEmg

The second coming of Prince Fielder!

As for pitchers, I’ll go with Austin Kirk, a third round pick in 2009. Looks to be a good control type pitcher, something the Cubs always seem to lack. Earlier this season he threw a no-hitter for Class A Peoria. Above average strikeouts, above average control, but a long ways off; he was selected by John Manuel as a Breakout Candidate and that selection appears to have been a good one. ~ Norm Bothwell

If you would have asked me this question last year, I would have ended up giving you two names, both hitters. Instead, this year I can give you the same exact names and yet one is a hitter and one is a newly converted pitcher. Ryan Flaherty is a versatile infielder that can even play in the OF if needed and may end up at third when all is said and done. He was picked in the supplemental picks of the first round in 2008 out of Vanderbilt. He’s got the potential to be a 20-25 homerun guy in the majors as his power develops. He’s slowly working his way through the system and I think you’ll see him with a chance to compete for a spot on the roster next year at some point. The fact that he lacks a true position could actually make him more valuable as a Mark DeRosa super-sub type guy.

On the mound, Kyler Burke is a guy I’ve been hoping on for the last four years since he was acquired from the Padres in the Michael Barrett deal. He’s a former 1st round pick of the Friars who just couldn’t turn the hype into production at the plate, save a really nice 2009 when things fell into place and he won the player of the year award in the Cubs system. Aside from that hiccup of good production, he just couldn’t hit with any consistency. This year, at age 23, he’s converted to the mound in an effort to try to harness the raw power his arm possesses and try to make it to the majors as a reliever. As of this writing, pitching for Peoria (Low-A), he’s appeared in eight games with an ERA of 3.92 in 20.2 innings of work. The encouraging part is the fact that he’s struck out 16 and walked just 7. ~ Joe Aiello

Although I don’t know if he still qualifies as a prospect, I’m rooting for Tyler Colvin to rediscover his swing and hit his way back up to the majors.  At times last season he excelled in a difficult, fluctuating role in the outfield.  But even when he wasn’t at his best, he was still as good as most of our other OF options.  I’d like to see what he can do with some consistent playing time, but we won’t find out until he can hit big league pitching again.

I’m also rooting for Wellington Castillo, mainly because I’m a fan of catchers who can hit, and his promotion to the bigs gives the Cubs some flexibility.  Should we try to trade Soto or dump Hill? Until Castillo takes the next step, neither really seems like a viable option. ~ Jeremiah Johnson

I’m pulling for Trevor Gretzky, 18 y/o firstbaseman, signed in the 7th round of the June 2011 baseball draft.  It’s not for Trevor’s sake that I hope he makes it, it’s for the sake of the Chicago Cubs.

Trevor’s “woulda been” baseball coach at San Diego State University, HOFer Tony Gwynn, says good things about young Mr. Gretzky.
Trevor impressed Cubs scouts at a predraft workout at Mesa, AZ.
Trevor played football at Oaks Christian H.S. (Westlake Village, CA) along with the sons of some other famous people (until a torn labrum ended his season).
Trevor grew up in sunny Southern California.
Trevor signed for an “undisclosed amount” (which usually indicates the contract is worth more that the league’s recommended slot).

Baseball America says of Trevor Gretzky:

  • He’s a “poor runner”.
  • BA questioned his defense, and added
  • “He has plenty of holes in his swing.” ~ CubbieDude
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Game 102 – Three In A Row!

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Cubs 5, Astros 4

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What went right:

  • Offense – Back to back doubles by Byrd and Soto to lead off the 2nd gave us the lead, then 1 out later Barney drove in Soto. Garza got his first career RBI with a single that scored Barney. The second inning was a great show for the offense. Soriano had the game-tying RBI single in the 8th inning to score Byrd. When the game went into extras, Marlon Byrd led off the 10th with a triple. The Astros then decided to intentionally walk Tony Campana (What??), who stole second base without a fight. Then Darwin Barney got a free pass, and Jeff Baker had the RBI single to end the game.
  • Defense – Soriano made a surprisingly good, waist-high catch. Soto had a great arm by gunning down a man trying to steal second. Those kinds of plays are my favorite.
  • Garza – Once again, Garza pitched an excellent game. He gave up 2 ER in 7 IP while striking out 9. He even helped his own cause with his first career RBI in the second inning. Let’s keep him around for a while.

What went wrong:

  • Clint Barmes hit a solo home run with 1 out in the first inning.
  • Garza gave up a leadoff walk in the 3rd, then loaded the bases.
  • Samardzija
  • Marmol had some control issues and loaded the bases, but luckily he got out of the jam without allowing any runs.
  • Barney failed to execute a sac bunt to move Soto over. Why does Quade try to move Soto on a sac bunt? He is so slow. It makes no sense. Have Barney hit or do a hit and run. Or even better, pinch run someone (Campana, maybe???).
  • Castro took too long to get set and allowed an infield hit in the 9th. That same runner advanced to third on a misplay by Campana (the dugout did not offer him any help on that play, though. They should have gotten out of the way.).

Notes:

  • The Cubs finally won three in a row!!
  • Why does Quade stand in the corner of the dugout like that? He should be conversing with his team or something.
  • Marlon Byrd played his 1,000th career game today.

Takeaway:

Despite getting no help from his bullpen, Garza was fantastic. We need to get guys that can back up his great outings. He lowered his ERA to 3.72 and leads the team with 119 Ks. On that note, our bullpen stinks. Samardzija gave up the go-ahead 2 run homer to Carlos Lee in the 8th. Quade should not be using him in those situations. Lopez wasn’t completely terrible, but I like him as a starter more than as a set up guy, and Marmol needs more work.

It was great to see our offense come through in the clutch. Campana stole 2nd without contest, and everybody’s favorite Cub (sarcasm, people) Jeff Baker came through in the clutch. Thank goodness that we beat the Astros.

Stars of the Game
Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Marlon Byrd (.455 WPA)

2nd Star – Michael Bourn (.299 WPA)

3rd Star – Matt Garza (.254 WPA)

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Game 101 – Half a Win is Better Than No Win at All

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

 

Cubs 5, Astros 1

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • Lucky or Good?  In his last five starts combined, Randy Wells has allowed twelve runs in the first inning.  Today he didn’t allow any.  It wasn’t for lack of trying–he gave up a lead-off single and a walk before retiring the next three hitters.  But instead of falling apart early, he held on to throw six strong innings for the win.
  • Do the Hustle  Marlon Byrd led off the Cubs scoring Saturday with a long homer to center.  His second hit–an infield single in the seventh–was classic Byrd.  Sprinting out of the box, Byrd was able to advance to second on a bad throw from Astros’ 3B Chris Johnson.  If the rumors are true and Byrd is headed to a contender in the next week or so, I’ll miss his constant hustle.  It’s a rare commodity with this Cubs team.
  • I Want You to Want Me, Part 1  Kosuke Fukudome didn’t start on Saturday–he came in as a defensive replacement in the eighth, when it was still a one-run game.  He tripled in the bottom of the inning (we can thank Hunter Pence for taking a bad line and stretching an easy stand-up double into a triple), and scored the first of three insurance runs.  I hope the scouts were still watching–that kind of hitting is his ticket out of town.
  • I Want You to Want Me, Part 2  Geovany Soto hit a solo humerun to lead off the fifth inning.  He also ran out an infield single in the eighth, bringing in two more insurance runs to give the Cubs a 5-1 lead.  I don’t know how much his performance today will interest scouts around the league–certainly it has to do more than the Golden Sombrero he posted yesterday.  But maybe–just maybe–this is the kind of performance that will warm the cold, dead heart of our blog-father Joe, finally bringing Soto into his good graces.  Geovany isn’t holding his breath.

What Went Wrong

  • Riding the Pine  Alfonso Soriano didn’t play today.  He can’t increase his trade value if he doesn’t play.  On the other hand, he can’t decrease it either.  Perhaps this was a positive after all.  Turns out Soriano did play, he just didn’t make a dent.  Only two strikeouts and a line-out before getting replaced in the eighth for defense to further drive down his trade value.  However the lesson here is simple: don’t recap games late at night.
  • That’s Gonna Leave a Mark  I understand using Marmol in the ninth to get him some work without the game on the line.  And I suppose it worked out alright–Marmol didn’t give up any runs.  He did however give up a lead-off single and then hit the next batter, Carlos Corporan, on the ankle, forcing him to leave the game.  Marmol then retired the next three batters to finish the game.  Sure, it worked.  But it was ugly, and not really the kind of improvement he needs to show the Cubs.

Takeaway

Saturday was the Cubs’ second consecutive win, meaning Sunday they’ll try again to win three-straight for the first time this season.  Not that it will necessarily mark a huge turning point for the season, but it would be nice not to have to hear about that particularly lousy stat for the rest of the year.  Hopefully tomorrow won’t be their last chance to get that third win, but facing down the Astros might make it their best one yet.

Stars of the Game
Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Randy Wells (.261)

2nd Star – Marlon Byrd (.148)

3rd Star – Sean Marshall (.125)

Cubs Pitching: .501 WPA

Cubs Hitting: -.001 WPA

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Game 100 – Does it Count as a Full Win When You Beat the Astros?

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Cubs 4, Astros 2

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Carlos Zambrano – My first thought when I turned on the game, seeing that I don’t live in Chicago, is that I hoped it wasn’t hot during the game. I had talked with my brother the other day and he told me about how hot it had been this week so I immediately feared dehydration for Zambrano, which would lead to an early exit due to cramps. Instead, we got an ugly looking quality start that was just enough to net the Cubs a win. He flirted with danger in the early innings on a regular basis and usually you get burned when you flirt with the whore that is walks and wildness. He got out of it each time and when the dust settled, exited with a two run lead, only surrendering two runs. He also contributed at the plate, as is usually the case, with a nice bunt that he beat out at first base.
  • Bud Norris Baserunning Brain Fart – Not that it would have made a difference in the final result, but in the 3rd inning, Bud Norris should have scored from third base on a line drive out by Hunter Pence. With one out, Pence ripped a line drive that had the looks of a hard hit single that was going to drop in front of Soriano. Instead, because of how hard it was hit, it hung up for Soriano to catch waste high. It’s hard to hard on a guy that doesn’t get on base on a regular basis, but you can blame the third base coach for not informing him what to do. He was positive that ball was going to fall so he started for home only to see it be caught. The better plan of action would have been to hold your ground at third, watch it drop and then sprint home, or see it get caught and be ready to tag. Either way you’re scoring.
  • Soriano Power – Coming into the game, Soriano was hitting .048 since the All Star break. With his name littered all over the trade rumors these days, it’s imperative for him to show some power and so some presence at the plate. Please Sori, hit your way out of town. Today he did his job with a double and a home run.
  • Bullpen Effectiveness – I’ll be honest with you. The bullpen these days scares the ever lovin’ crap out of me. Thankfully it was a blemish free bullpen day.

WHAT WENT WRONG

  • Geovany Soto was hitless in four at bats with a pair of strikeouts. On a positive note, he looked dreamy doing it, right Liz?
  • It took five pitchers to get through three innings at the end of the game. This drives me batty and I think it borderlines on over thinking the concept of being a manager.
  • I try not to pay attention to the guest in the booth with Len and Bob in the bottom half of the 7th, but Jeff Garland just annoyed the piss out of me. He was too loud, talked too much, and wasn’t very funny. Ironically, he made the comment that he gets a kick out of it when Len and Bob give the guest the early hook before the inning ends and I kept hoping today would be the day that happened, with two pitching changes in the inning. No such luck.

Stars of the Game
Base on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Aramis Ramirez (.289 WPA)

2nd Star – Michael Bourn (.204 WPA)

3rd Star – Alfonso Soriano (.180 WPA)

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Let’s Talk Blueprints

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Every team needs a blueprint—some plan of action laid out by the front office.  For example, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ blueprint has been to trade away young talent and stock up their farm system.  And although the cycle of dumping young stars before they became too expensive to keep seemed endless, they are finally starting to reap the rewards.

Contrast that with the Yankees’ blueprint of routinely outbidding the rest of the league for free agent talent, and largely using their farm system to trade for the players they can’t buy.

Our own Jim Hendry’s blueprint for the Cubs looks like the maze from the back of a children’s restaurant menu, covered in crayon and ketchup stains.

But rather than further railing on Hendry’s failures and inadequacies this week, I want to look ahead to what the future of the Cubs could be by looking back at the past of one recent “worst-to-first” success story: the Texas Rangers.

In 2007 the Rangers finished dead last in the AL West, nineteen games out of first place.  Just three years later, they represented the AL in the World Series.  How did they make such a dramatic turnaround?

Any story you read about the Rangers’ success starts with Jon Daniels.  Daniels was twenty-eight when he was named GM of the Rangers—the youngest GM in baseball history, and he was an unpopular choice with some Rangers fans before his team ever stepped onto the field.  After taking over in the 2005-2006 offseason, he traded away Alfonso Soriano, who went on to have a 40-40 year for the Nationals*.  He also traded away Texas native Chris Young and minor league prospect Adrian Gonzalez (yes, that one) to the Padres.

*Daniels made the controversial deal to open a spot for 2B prospect Ian Kinsler.  Rangers fans would quickly get over it.

In 2006, Texas hovered in and out of contention.  Daniels tried to put the team over the top at the trade deadline with a deal to bring Carlos Lee to the Rangers, but the team was never able to fight their way back into a playoff spot, finishing the season in third place, thirteen games out of first.

That following offseason, Daniels let Lee, Mark DeRosa, and MVP-candidate Gary Matthews Jr. go in free agency, and traded away John Danks.  What was left of the team in 2007 team quickly took up residence in the AL West cellar.  Spending almost $70M on a team entrenched in fourth place for most of the season, Daniels was faced with some hard choices and a seething fanbase.

That’s when the young GM laid out a five-year strategy that emphasized player development and long-term growth.  Under Daniels, the Rangers would target and acquire young prospects in trades, put an increased emphasis on the draft and developing talent, and build a young, winning team from the ground up.

He kick-started “the plan” at the 2007 trade deadline, sending Mark Texeira and Ron Mahay to the Braves for young catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and minor league prospects Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Beau Jones.  He also traded veteran reliever Eric Gagne to Boston for Kason Gabbard, David Murphy, and Engel Beltre.

The Texeira trade in particular was a major risk.  The power-hitting 1B had one more year of arbitration ahead of him, but when he rejected a long-term contract extension from the Rangers, Daniels seized on the opportunity to restock his farm system.  And while Saltalamacchia was the only big leaguer at the time of the deal, Daniels and his staff were confident in the investment they had made.

At the same time, Daniels wasn’t tight-fisted with his prospects.  After the 2007 season, he traded Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera to the Reds for OF slugger Josh Hamilton**.  Hamilton’s past made him a questionable investment to many teams, but Texas gambled that his best baseball was still ahead of him.  He rewarded their confidence by becoming a four-time All Star and the 2010 AL MVP.

**The Cubs briefly had possession of Hamilton, but sold him to the Reds as part of a pre-arranged deal.  I’m not sure of the price tag, but I can’t imagine it was enough to stomach the season Hamilton had for the Reds, and the career he has had in Texas.

Daniels also took a risk on noted head-case Milton Bradley in 2007, signing him to a one-year deal***.  Bradley thrived in the Texas clubhouse, posting one of the best statistical and most controversy-free seasons of his checkered career.

***Daniels had similar success in 2010 signing another slugger with something to prove—Vladimir Guerrero.

The results?  The 2008 Rangers showed a slight improvement in the standings.  They preached patience to the fans and fielded a team of veterans like Gerald Laird, Michael Young, and Bradley, while developing younger guys like Ian Kinsler and Chris Davis.

However, the 2009 Rangers were much more competitive.  They posted the team’s first winning record in five seasons, and finished second in both he AL West and Wild Card races.  More important, that young core of players began to take shape at the major-league level.  Kinsler was already a fixture, but Andrus and Feliz were just making their debuts.  And young OF Nelson Cruz (part of the Carlos Lee deal) reclaimed his starting spot in the lineup.

The rest you already know.  The Rangers jettisoned older players like Vincente Padilla, Marlon Byrd, and Kevin Millwood before the 2010 season, and Daniels’ core of young stars carried them to the World Series.  Kinsler, Andrus, Hamilton, and Feliz were All Stars, and Feliz set the save record for rookies (40).  Maybe the best indicator of how far the team had progressed is that they were buyers at the 2010 trade deadline, not sellers, picking up Cliff Lee to bolster their pitching staff for the playoff run.

Daniels had built a winner—one that beat the Yankees’ collection of expensive talent.  He had transformed his team from a perennial doormat to a legitimate contender—not just in 2010, but for the foreseeable future.

The question is, can Jim Hendry or his replacement do the same for the Cubs?  The current roster has more overpriced veterans and no Texeira-esque trade bait—the closest we’ve got is Aramis Ramirez (who doesn’t want to be traded yet) or Sean Marshall (who, it seems, is too valuable to trade).  So while one clutch trade probably won’t kick-start a team-wide transformation like it did for the Rangers, the Cubs could—and should—follow Daniels’ simple blueprint for success.  We need to shed some wasted payroll, get younger, and build for the future.

What that looks like is up for discussion.

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Things Could Be Worse, You Could Be a Phillies Fan

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

These are not exactly salad days for Cubs fans. Full disclosure here: I actually don’t know what salad days are, but I’m pretty sure they don’t involve being a loyal follower of a terrible team (potentially historically terrible) with an overmatched manager that appears to be edging nearer to a complete meltdown as he oversees a roster full of  “untouchables” and “untradeables”.  There is no way to put a positive spin on what Cubs fans have watched this year…but it could be worse.

Imagine for a moment what it must be like to publicly admit to being a fan of the losingest team in the history of professional sports. Consider the pain of supporting the only franchise in any sport that has amassed 10,000 losses, a franchise that has treated its fans to just 13 postseason appearances and 7 pennants in it’s 125+ year history (as compared to 16 and 10 for the Cubs). Think what it must be like to know that your favorite team would have to go undefeated for the next six and a half seasons just to get back to a .500 record all-time. Yes, just think how painful it must be to be a Philadelphia Phillies fan.

Ok, saying such a thing today as the Phillies sit atop the National League East yet again and appear to be cruising towards their fifth consecutive post-season appearance may seem a bit absurd, and with good reason…it is. No, sorrow for a Phillies fan was not a common sentiment this week as the visitors from the East came into Wrigley and dropped the Cubs’ to 21-games under .500. It was tough to watch the two teams and see any parallels between the organizations at all.

It’s easy to forget that the Phillies haven’t been such a juggernaut for long, in fact, it wasn’t so long ago that they were just like us.  Five years ago, I moved from the Midwest to my current home in Philadelphia and upon my arrival discovered an unexpected kinship with Phillies supporters. Here was a group that, like that of the Cubs, considered themselves to be the heir to the thrown of “most tortured fan base” following the World Series titles that had recently been won by the Sox (both Red and White). I would have spirited discussions with my new friends about which of us had put up with more disappointment and would argue about which of our teams would finally break through with a title first.

It is amazing to see how quickly fortunes and perceptions can change as we all now know who ended up being on the right side of that argument and there is certainly no debate any longer about which franchise is the most tortured.  While the Cubs enjoyed a modicum of success in 2007 and 2008, we find ourselves right back where we so often do – waiting for our day in the sun, all the while assuming that sun will burn out before we ever get there and knowing full well that we’ll be more than happy with a brief break in the clouds. Phillies fans, on the other hand, will never be able to find enjoyment in mediocrity again. Now that they’ve tasted paradise, it is going to be extremely difficult for them when their run finally ends. Take a good hard look and realize how close the Cubs were to becoming what the Phillies are today …a traditionally bad team that will never again be able to handle failure. So rejoice Cubs fans and take solace in the fact that no matter how bad things get, we very well may never have to suffer the same fate as those poor, poor fans from Philadelphia.

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