Archive for July, 2011

Game 95 – What Else Is On?

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

 Marlins 13, Cubs 3

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • Lone Star  Aramis Ramirez hit his sixteenth homerun of the season, a three-run line-drive to left-center field off Javier Vasquez in the sixth inning.
  • The Hawk Andre Dawson sang the during seventh inning stretch today.  It’s always nice to see Dawson back at Wrigley Field.  If I had only watched that part of the game, it might have been a better day.
  • Nothing Else  Zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.

What Went Wrong

  • Paltry Hitting The Cubs combined for four hits today–three singles, and Ramirez’s homer.  And they only took one walk, for a total of five baserunners in the game.  Those kind of numbers are only acceptable when your starting pitcher is throwing a no-hitter.  And today, he wasn’t.
  • False Start Carlos Zambrano has been on the DL for the last two weeks, and it showed.  He started out bad–giving up three runs in the first–and finished even worse, surrendering a three-run homer to Mike Stanton, his second of the game.  Starting pitchers have to give their teams a chance to win–today Zambrano didn’t.
  • Little Help  Ramon Ortiz gave up three runs in his relief appearance.  Jeff Samardzija gave up another two.  James Russell and–surprise, surprise–John Grabow both pitched effectively in their respective innings, but they were the exception today.

Game Notes

  • Flatliners  Javier Vazquez pitched very well, so give him credit for the win.  But the game seemed over before the Cubs ever came up to bat.  They were lifeless at the plate and in the field.  Mike Quade said after the game that he can’t quit on the team because they haven’t quit on him.  That may be the case, but there’s certainly no fight in this team either.
  • I Weep For The Future Earlier today at mlbtraderumors.com there was a story saying that the Cubs have told other teams Jeff Baker is not available to be traded.  Let that wash over you for a second–Jeff Baker.  The original story, by Ken Rosenthal and John Morosi, said other teams believe the Cubs see him as part of the team next year.  My fear is  Hendry has tagged Baker as the replacement at third base if he can unload Aramis Ramirez.  Someone needs to grab Hendry by his greasy collar and help him understand that Baker’s as valuable as he will ever be, and the Cubs should be pouncing on any chance they have to restock for the future.  The Cubs’ no-trade list should only be three or four names long: Castro, Marshall, Garza, and maybe Soto.  So to sum up, our plan is to protect our bench players for the future.  Baker is thirty years old now, and only occasionally cracks our lineup–that can’t possibly be a foundation we want to build on.

Takeaway

I’m not sure if this is the low point of the season, but you can see it from here.

Stars of the Game

Based on Win Probability Added (WPA)

1st Star – Javier Vazquez (.200 WPA)

2nd Star – Hanley Ramirez (.188 WPA)

3rd Star – Mike Stanton (.100 WPA)

 

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Game 94 – A Gift Win

Friday, July 15th, 2011

 

Cubs 2, Marlins 1

Box Score / Highlights

What Went Right

  • For once the Cubs had some good fortune. Alfonso Soriano hit a fly ball that should have been caught, which dropped in between several Marlins fielders, allowing two runs to score in the fourth inning.  Had the ball been caught, the inning would have been over and the Cubs would have blown a great scoring chance.
  • Hanley Ramirez tried to stretch a single into a double in the ninth inning and was cut down by Marlon Byrd for the second out of the inning.
  • Ryan Dempster pitched a great game.  It looks as if he is starting to return to form after a terrible April.  The Cubs need starters to go deep into games, and so far in the second half they have done just that.
  • Dempster’s good control, which has been an issue for him at times, was key today. He did not walk a man. Ryan gave up just four hits in eight scoreless frames, while recording nine strikeouts.  He also avoided having one bad inning, which has also plagued the right hander this year.
  • Sean Marshall struck out the only man he faced to pick up his second save of the year.

What Went Wrong

  • The Cubs won the game, but the offense did not do much.  If it weren’t for two unearned runs, they would have ended up losing 1-0 .  I would have liked to see the Cubs tack on to the two run lead, but the bats were quiet the entire day.
  • Mike Quade went to Carlos Marmol in the ninth inning again today.  Marmol should at least be given a day or two off to regroup.  Since Dempster gave Q eight innings, both Marshall and Wood were available to come in for the ninth.  With Marmol’s struggles last night, less than 24-hours ago, bringing him in against the same team with the same 2-0 lead was extremely risky. 
  • Marmol was bad once again.  He managed to notch two outs, one of which was on Ramirez trying to stretch his single into a double.  He fell behind in the count to every batter, allowing a run on a walk and two hits in 0.2 innings.  Carlos was yanked in favor of Sean Marshall after allowing an RBI single to make it a one run game.

The Takeaway

It was good to see the Cubs bounce back after what happened last night.  The Cubs have gotten better starting pitching in this series than any prior two day stretch this season.  Let us hope it continues tomorrow with Carlos Zambrano.  The Cubs offense was not expected to do much going into the season, but the starting pitchers have way underperformed.  If Dempster, Garza and Zambrano can all get it together, there is a chance that this team will play .500 ball in the post All-Star Break portion of the season.

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

1st Star – Ryan Dempster (.507 WPA)

2nd Star – Alfonso Soriano (.167 WPA)

3rd Star – Marlon Byrd (.117 WPA)

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The Case Against Jim Hendry: Exhibit C – Trades

Friday, July 15th, 2011

(This is Part 3 in an ongoing series about the failures of Cubs’ GM Jim Hendry.  Click here for Part 1 and Part 2)

We’re currently in the middle of one of the busiest times of the year for baseball front offices–the period between the All Star Break and the end of July.  It’s when, to paraphrase a line from The Shawshank Redemption, teams either get busy winning, or get busy dying*.  Expect a flurry of trade activity in the next few weeks, when contenders try to add any missing pieces, and losers try to unload players with any value and restock for the future.

*Hope is a good thing in baseball; maybe the best of things.  And we’ll enjoy it again next spring–possibly sooner, if the Ricketts can lure Jim Hendry out to the yard and shoot him in the head (metaphorically speaking).

The Cubs have been sellers since early June, when they slipped ten games below .500.  Honestly though, you could rightly say we’ve been out of it since the first week of the season, when we lost two-fifths of our starting pitching staff, and had no viable replacement options.  Since then, we’ve been (unsuccessfully) treading water.  And you might assume our early dismissal from contention would give us an upper hand in the trade market, since we’ve known for so long that we would be sellers.

But that kind of proactive, plan-ahead thinking is not one of Jim Hendry’s strong points.  Instead, he’s a champion of the “Wait and See” method of team management.  As little as three weeks ago, Hendry and his executive staff and scouts had a series of meetings to determine the direction of the team.  Nevermind, Jim, that a poorly assembled roster, mathematical probability, and roughly a hundred and fifty years of professional baseball history strongly suggest that the direction of your team has already been decided.  That he thought the future was even in doubt should be a major concern for all Cubs fans**.

**More recently, Hendry asserted that there won’t be a Cubs fire sale this season. You know, because we’re just one or two pieces away from contending.  Right you are, Jimbo.

No, instead of getting out in front of the rest of the league and making the first big splash in the trade market, Jim Hendry waited.  For all we know, he’s still waiting.  And given his spotty trade record, that might actually be the best thing for the Cubs.

Under Jim Hendry, the Cubs have made trades for a variety of reasons.  He’s had some good luck unloading disgruntled players (Sammy Sosa***) and bad contracts (Milton Bradley) onto other teams, and he’s even had marginal success when he had to bring back a bad contract (Carlos Silva) in return.

***In the case of the Sosa, he even managed to bring back some value to the team in Mike Fontenot (so far the best of Pat Hughes’ “Little Lefthanders”) and Jerry Hairston (he of the tape measure foul balls).

Hendry’s also done a few trades as favors to the players, most notably his trade-deadline deal to send Greg Maddux to the playoff-bound Dodgers.  While he only managed to bring back Cesar Izturis, the trade was nothing more than an attempt to give the future Hall-of-Famer one more shot at postseason glory.  Last year, there was similar motivation behind trading Derrek Lee to the Braves.

And of course Hendry’s defenders are quick to point out the steals he’s enjoyed in some of his past trade.  Back in 2003–when Hendry still had that new GM smell–he traded Jose Hernandez, Matt Bruback, and Bobby Hill to the Pirates for Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton.  You know the rest–Lofton and Ramirez helped carry the team to within five outs of the World Series.  After falling short in the playoffs, Hendry seized on the Marlins’ post-championship fire sale, trading Hee-Soep Choi and Mike Nannini for Derrek Lee.  In less than six months, Hendry’s shrewd trading**** had brought together the anchors our infield and lineup for the rest of the decade.

****Despite my general disgust with Hendry, these two trades were very good.  Of all the players he gave up, Mike Nannini lasted the longest, grinding out a career in the minors through 2008.  It’s safe to say Hendry got the better end of the deals.

That’s not to say all the big pieces Hendry has traded for over the years have been the ones the Cubs were missing.  Prior to the 2006 season–and after he famously swung and missed on signing free agent Rafael Furcal–Hendry traded pitching prospects Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco, and Renyel Pinto to the Marlins for speedy lead-off man Juan Pierre.  Hendry hoped Pierre would mirror the success of Kenny Lofton back in 2003 by getting on base ahead of the Cubs’ power bats.  His plan never came to fruition, as Pierre started cold and stayed that way through most of the first half of the season.  He did eventually get his stats up high enough to score a major free agent contract from the Dodgers the following offseason, but not before the Cubs were already well out of contention.

However, we’re not looking for a couple more pieces to take us the rest of the way–we’re not buyers this year.  Not even close.  We’re sellers, and we need to part off the veterans we can to bring back younger pieces to build on.  And that particular kind of trading has not been a Jim Hendry’s strong suit.

In 2004 the Cubs were primed to be sellers.  Coming out of the All Star Break, we were seven games out of first place.  By the following Monday, we were nine games back–throughout the rest of the season, we’d never get closer to first place in the NL Central.  Even the trade deadline addition of Nomar Garciaparra couldn’t provide a bump in the standings.

And while hope was high within the fanbase, the front office should have known that particular team had a use-by (win-by) date.  Like today in 2011, there were several contracts and a lot of money coming off the books for the Cubs.  But instead of trading productive players like Mark Grudzielanek, Matt Clement, and Moises Alou, Hendry let them all walk as free agents at the end of the season.  He did manage to trade away his problem children–Sosa and Kyle Farnsworth–but the pieces he brought back to the team did not replace what he’d given up, or the other holes on the team created by the free agent exodus.

Instead of adding the pieces it might take to get the Cubs over the hump and back into contention in 2005, Hendry re-signed a few free agents (Nomar, Todd Hollandsworth, Glendon Rusch), signed a few stop-gap players (Jeromy Burnitz, Chad Fox), and called it a day.  That was the beginning of a precipitous, multi-season collapse that led to finishing thirty games below .500 in 2006, cost Dusty Baker his job, and put the Cubs into the desperation mode that led to signing $300M worth of contracts before the 2007 season.

The Cubs were again positioned to be sellers after back-to-back postseason failures in 2007 and 2008.  But once again, instead of trying to part off a team that had the best regular season record in baseball, Hendry tried to fix the Cubs’ problems through free agency.

The one notable trade he did make after the 2008 season was a half-measure at best.  Hendry parted ways with Cubs 2B and super-utility player Mark DeRosa, sending him to Cleveland for a trio of pitching prospects–Chris Archer, John Gaub, and Jeff Stevens.  And while pitching prospects are always nice to have–especially for the Cubs who always seem to need more pitchers–the trade didn’t accomplish much.

To begin with, none of the three pitchers has amounted to much for the Cubs.  Stevens has made a few appearances in middle relief, but can’t seem to stick with the team for too long.  John Gaub’s name is occasionally mentioned as a possible starter in the future, but he was MIA when the Cubs badly needed starters earlier in the season.  And Chris Archer’s only value was as a key piece***** of the trade to bring Matt Garza to the Cubs this past offseason.

*****I like the Garza trade, but if Archer was really so valuable, why did we have to send so many other players to Tampa Bay in that deal?  Until Archer has some consistent success somewhere, I’m inclined to think he was overrated, both by the Cubs and by anyone who defends the DeRosa trade.

But more important than the pieces Hendry brought back to the team was the hole that DeRosa’s absence created.  In early May, Aramis Ramirez injured his shoulder–he’d go on to miss almost half of the 2009 season.  With DeRosa gone, the Cubs were keen to try Mike Fontenot out at 2B, and signed diminutive utility infielder Aaron Miles to replace DeRosa’s versatility.  However, Miles was a disaster at 3B, and for the small portions of the season when Miles himself wasn’t on the DL, he took Fontenot’s spot at 2B.  That forced Fontenot to move across infield and learn to play 3rd on the fly, which in turn killed his production at the plate.  Instead of having DeRosa to back up Ramirez and Fontenot fill in for DeRosa, the Cubs spent most of the season playing musical chairs across the infield.  Whatever value Hendry thought he was bringing to the Cubs by unloading the last year of DeRosa’s (cheap, relative to his value) contract was negated by the disaster his absence created.

Last year was no different.  The Cubs were nine games out of first place after the All Star break, and had shown few signs of life before it.  What was Hendry’s big trade move?  He trade Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Dodgers for Blake DeWitt and a couple inconsequential minor league players.  Theriot had turned into a malcontent after moving from SS to 2B to accommodate Starlin Castro’s rise to the majors, and his time with the Cubs was over one way or another.  But Lilly had been the Cubs most valuable starting pitcher since he signed with the team, and all it took to pry him away from Hendry was a backup infielder.  Hendry could have salvaged the deal after the season–Lilly was very vocal about wanting come back to the Cubs when his contract expired that offseason.  But Hendry didn’t consider that an option, assuming Lilly’s price would be too high and shoehorning a young relief pitcher (Andrew Cashner) into Lilly’s spot in the rotation.

That’s what being a seller looks like to Jim Hendry, and that’s why he needs to go.  While the Cubs have a lot of money freed up after this season, there’s not much available in the free agent market that will immediately fix their problems at a reasonable price (we don’t need another Soriano-type contract).  They need to make a big splash in this trade market if they’re going to improve the team–they need a cannonball.  Jim Hendry only knows how to bellyflop.

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Game 93 – Deathly Hallows Pt. 2: Picking Up Where They Left Off

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Cubs 3, Marlins 6

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What went right:

  • Soto went 4-for-4.
  • Garza pitched an effective 7 innings, scattering six hits and three walks.
  • Campana gets the award for shining when it didn’t matter, throwing out a runner to end the top of the ninth and then bunting his way on before wreaking havoc on the basepaths to come around and score in the bottom of the frame.
  • Perhaps more could be said about things that went right, but after watching the 9th inning debacle it just doesn’t feel right to look for “positives.”

What went wrong:

  • Marmol + Wood + Quade = garbage 9th inning.
  • Marmol’s line – 0.0 IP, 1 H, 4 BBs, 5 ER (18 balls, 7 strikes)
  • Wood’s line – 0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 BBs, 1 ER
  • Marlins ninth inning – BB, BB, BB, 2B, BB, BB, SacFly, 1B, Groundout, IBB, 1B

9th Inning

Quade, clearly already elbow deep in Saturday’s trifecta picks, brilliantly waited to remove Marmol until he had not only blown the save but essentially handed the Marlins as many runs as they were patient enough to wait for.  It wasn’t until Marmol’s third walk had almost been executed (without a single out being recorded, and barely a strike thrown) that Quade and Riggins managed to find that bullpen phone and get someone up.

At that point, either Russell or Wood uncorked a wild one from the pen that made it almost to Marmol on the mound – classy.  That should’ve clued Quade in that our pen was struggling to locate pitches.  But no, he waited until Marmol had completed that horrible line above, then he brought in Wood (who has proven to be ineffective when entering mid-inning recently).  Wood picked up where Marmol left off.  And then when Russell came in, he was at one point instructed to INTENTIONALLY WALK A BATTER even though there were two outs and Mike Stanton (who was intentionally passed) has recorded a stunning 97 strikeouts already this year.  Is it possible that hair really does make you smarter?

Back to Marmol, with no outs and the bases juiced in a 2-0 game, he gives up a double to the RF corner.  Fukudome and Barney combined for a quick, if less than perfect relay that found its way past Soto.  The Marlins’ Dewayne Wise fell down rounding third and was dead meat.  If Marmol is backing up Soto, as he should be, he corrals the errant relay and Wise is at best, stuck on third – likely he’s out.  But instead, Marmol is bystanding in the third base line having a pity party for himself.  Wise scores, the Marlins take the lead and instead of getting the first out of the inning, Marmol goes back to walk his final batter of the game.

It cannot be overstated, especially after the Cubs put together a bit of a threat in the ninth (even scoring another run) – the Marlins 3rd run was huge.  That Marlins run scored because Marmol loafed.  It’s that simple.  After the 3-run double, the Marlins dugout was laughing at their good fortune – Wise falls flat on his face and STILL scores.  The Friendly Confines indeed.

Moreover, 3 different Marlins’ made valiant attempts to bunt in the 9th inning; all three were blessed with 3-0 counts and eventual walks by Cub relievers.  They were TRYING to give us outs and we wouldn’t let them.

Fire Mike Quade; Hire Ryne Sandberg

I’ll bring the All-Star break to a close with this tidbit:

2010 Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs 58-86
2010 Iowa Cubs 82-62

2011 Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs 53-37
2011 Iowa Cubs 41-50

That’s the difference Manager Ryne Sandberg can make.  He was at the helm for the 2010 Iowa Cubs, and he’s led the 2011 Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs to the best first half record in their history.  I know many of you will disagree with me, but I’d rather be going down in flames with Sandberg while Quade bets the fillies, instead of going down in flames with Quade while Ryno manages the AAA-Phillies.  No way Ryno waits until Marmol hand-delivers a win to the Marlins to yank him – and if he does, who cares, he’s still HOFer Ryne Sandberg.  He’s been vocal again recently about his interest in an MLB job; it’s time the Cubs do right by him or he’ll wind up being to the Cubs what Mike Scioscia is to the Dodgers.

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

1st Star – Matt Garza (.477 WPA)

2nd Star – Greg Dobbs (.446 WPA)

3rd Star – Anibal Sanchez (.164 WPA)

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Northside Archives: Post Break Cubs

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

As the first half closed Cubs starter Matt Garza, fresh off a beat down from the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates, offered this analysis; “we know we can compete with everybody in our division…we’re right where we need to be right now.”  Curiously, the Cubs sit 5th in the NL Central, boasting the second-worst record in baseball, and a horri-awful 12-24 record in divisional games.  Yes, Matt – that’s what the Ricketts’ wanted with their $135 million payroll.

If instead the Ricketts’ had put $135 million in a dumpster, soaked the money in Ronsonol, and spun the wheel on a Zippo things would’ve been more memorable (with the right advertising they could get the attendance to make that a better business decision than the 2011 Cubs have proven to be).

But is Garza’s hope warranted?  Do the Cubs still have even a snowball’s chance in 2011?

Success in the second half

Since the inception of the All-Star break in 1933, the Cubs have posted a better record in the second half during 38 of 77 seasons; almost exactly half the time.  In 22 of those 38 seasons, the record has significantly improved, with the best turnaround being in 1935.

To quantify it, 22 times the Cubs have posted a second half winning percentage that was at least .050 better than the first half.  That’s a significant improvement, a .500 team playing .550 ball after the break.

Those 22 seasons can be a bit misleading though – often times those were solid teams turning the corner and becoming great.  1984, 1989, 2003, and the NL Champion 1935 and 1945 teams all posted significant second half improvements en route to the playoffs.  In 1933, 1939, and 1972 the Cubs were better than .500 before the All-Star Game and still managed to significantly improve post-break.

That leaves us with 14 dismal seasons which only brightened after the All-Star break.  Not surprisingly, the most recent occurrence was last year’s team which started .438 and finished .493 for a total winning percentage of .463 on the year.  Sometimes the Cubs were so abysmal to start it would’ve been difficult to repeat their horrid first half (1953, 1954, 1957, 1966, 1981 just to name a few).  There is one season that rises above the rest for its comparability to our current squad – 1982.

1982

The 1982 Cubs had a mix of the old (Larry Bowa, Bill Buckner, and Fergie Jenkins), young (Lee Smith, Jody Davis, and Leon Durham), and largely forgettable names managed by Lee Elia.  On May 30th they started a 13 game losing streak, their longest of the season.  The first half was not pretty.

At the break, the 1982 Cubs were 36-53 (.404) having been outscored by their opponents 364 to 407.

For comparison, the 2011 Cubs are 37-55 (.402) having been outscored by their opponents 375 to 459.

The 1982 Cubs would initially struggle after the break, dropping 12 of their first 16 before things started to click on August 1st.  From that point forward they won 33 of their final 57 games, good for a second half record of 37-36 (.507) – finishing the season at 73-89 (.451).

2011

Would .500 in the second half be a success?  It wouldn’t get us to the playoffs.  But would it again provide false hope that we’d “done something right” in the second half, just as it did last year?  The biggest lie in baseball might be that team momentum gained at the end of one season will carry over to Spring Training the following year.

The 2011 Cubs DO have a reason to watch every day – a shortstop named Starlin Castro.  Castro – or El Yearling, as handicapper Quade has named him – can do anything and everything during the course of a game.  It’s his growth in the second half that will be my greatest interest.

Those 1982 Cubs had something else in common with this year’s team – a young third baseman! named Ryne Sandberg.  Though Ryno hadn’t yet achieved legendary status, and though in his rookie year he wouldn’t put up gaudy numbers like Castro did last year; Sandberg was laying the foundation for his Hall of Fame career during that horrible season.

Though the postseason is no longer a viable possibility, there is hope for improvement and reason to watch.  Take specific note of our young talent, Castro, Soto, Barney, etc. – it’s during these times when there is nothing to play for that individual attention to one’s craft is apparent.

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My Plan for Jim Hendry for the Trade Deadline

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

The success of the Chicago Cubs in 2012 and 2013 depends on how Jim Hendry handles the next three and a half weeks.  The trade deadline is right around the corner and the Cubs have yet to make any noise.  If Hendry elects to do nothing, this will be a total failure.  If he works on many deals and gets several of them done, then he deserves some credit.  Trading older players when a team is out of the race accomplishes three things:

  • creates room for prospects and younger players to receive playing time down the stretch
  • saves money
  • nets the seller minor league players that could end up panning out

Here is what I believe should be Jim Hendry’s priority list at the trading deadline.

1.   Trade Kosuke Fukudome

The Kosuke signing was the first in a series of bad ones by GM Jim Hendry.  Fukudome has not been very productive in any of his four seasons since coming from Japan.  Kosuke has partial no-trade protection, but he can probably be convinced to waive that in order to go to a contender in what could be his last MLB season.  He is strong defensively and provides enough offense that he could be a serviceable fourth outfielder and pinch hitter for a contending club.  Since Kouske is not returning to the team anyway, there is no reason to hang on to him if the Cubs can save any money whatsoever by dumping him.

2.   Ask Aramis Ramirez to Waive His No-Trade

Hendry should be doing everything possible to convince Aramis Ramirez to waive his no-trade clause.  In the scenario that Rami agrees to leave, he’s gone.  The Cubs plan to buy him out of the 2012 option anyway, so they might as well ship him to a contender who would love to rent him for the rest of the year.

3.   Trade Marlon Byrd

Since Marlon Byrd is the one guy on the team that does not have a no-trade clause, he should be easiest to deal.  Hendry should be on the phone trying to find a team that needs outfield assistance.  The Cubs will most likely have to pay a chunk of his salary, but if they save some money and receive a few mid level prospects in return it is worth it.

4.   Trade Reed Johnson

The Cubs should actually be able to get a solid return for Johnson, who is hitting a robust .328.  A team will not be concerned about paying what is left of his $900,000 deal.  He will probably garner some interest and net the Cubs a strong prospect or two.

5.   Search for a Taker for Z

Most likely, no team will give the Cubs much for an under-performing pitcher that is signed for another year, with an option that vests if he is healthy at the end of 2012.  Carlos Zambrano has already said that he will waive his no-trade clause if the team asks him to do so.  I really doubt that there is that much interest in Z, but starting pitching is usually at a premium so there is a chance that someone would be willing to take him off the Cubs hands.

6.   Trade Carlos Pena

Signing Carlos Pena, who hit under .200 in 2010, to a one year contract worth $10 million when the Cubs knew they would probably not compete was a huge mistake.  Dumping Pena could easily have been higher on the priority list.  The Cubs will have to send some cash because no team will want to pay the $5 million in deferred money owed to Carlos in January.  There is always a need for left handed thump off the bench, so I bet there will be a taker out there.

7.   Search for a Team that Wants Grabow or Samardzija

Both relievers are in the final year of their contracts, so there is really no need to have them stick around for the duration of this lost season.  I doubt there is much interest in Grabow, but I’m sure there are several clubs after Samardzija since he has been having a solid year.

 8.   Listen to Offers for Dempster and Garza

If teams are willing to take on the full contracts of Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, I do not have a problem letting either one go.  The Garza trade was a huge mistake, and Demp’s performance continues to decline.  My asking price would not be too high for either one of these guys.  If the Cubs can get back half of the talent they lost in acquiring Garza, I will be satisfied.  Dempster could invoke his ten-and-five rights to block a trade, but I have a feeling he would be willing to go to help the Cubs.

Obviously, if someone wants Alfonso Soriano and he is willing to go, he’s gone.  The same goes for Jeff Baker, Blake DeWitt, Randy Wells (depending on the offer) and Koyie Hill.  Here is the list of players that I would not be willing to part ways with.

1.   Geovany Soto

Despite his offensive struggles, I still have hope that Soto could help the Cubs when they become a contender again.  The only way I would pull a trigger on a deal is if a club was willing to give up a top tier prospect.

2.   Kerry Wood

Kerry Wood probably has a lot of value among teams that need a cheap setup man.  However, he wants to stay in Chicago.  He recently started a foundation with his wife and would like to be in town to help run it.  Baseball is a business, but given the hometown discount that he gave the Cubs I wouldn’t want to ship him out against his wishes.

 3.   Sean Marshall

In the scenario that the Cubs return to contention in 2012 or even 2013, I think the veteran left hander could be a key piece to the squad.  He is one of the few guys on the team that could be valuable to hold on to.

4.   Carlos Marmol

Carlos Marmol has been in a funk as of late.  Trading him now would be similar to selling your stocks when the market hits rock bottom.  Patience will allow Marmol’s stock to increase once he returns to his usually filthy self.  Next season, the Cubs can revisit this and possibly work out a trade or hang on to him.

Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney are the two untouchables.

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Chet’s Corner: Realizing the Inevitable……

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

 

“It’s a perfect storm, no doubt about it, but the icing on the cake is the play on the field.  There is not a compelling reason to make people want to walk up and buy tickets on the day of the game. It’s been one of those teams that’s been hard to wrap your mind around and reach into your wallet and pay for it.”

-Bob Brenly, Cubs television analyst

(For the remainder of the Bruce levine’s colum on Cubs Attendance click here)

Thinking back to March, things seemed so fresh, so new and alive with potential.  We had our second year under new ownership and our first under a new manger to look forward too.  We had a young fiery pitcher in Matt Garza entering a starting rotation that appeared balanced, and at one point, considered to be one of the best in the NL Central for the 2011 season.  We had Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin returning for a sophomore season after finishing at the top of the Rookie of the Year balloting.  Mash this together with the usual pre-season “if everybody stays healthy” propaganda and you have manufactured excitement.  Many of us ate it….and now we are throwing it up.

Halfway through the season and things are looking quite glum.  To be quite honest, the end seems far away.  I find myself in the position of settling for small victories.  I hate small victories.  Here are a few things I relished from the first half….

1) We were swept very few times.

2) Starlin Castro started where he left off in 2010.

3) The Yankees didn’t sweep us.

4) Carlos Zambrano hasn’t totally gone off the reservation. He has also won more then he has lost.

5) Yada yada yada

Small victories…..forgive me for feeling like I have been rooting on the Pirates over the past 12 years.

Here are some expectations for the second half…..

1) Aramis Ramirez gets his option picked up.  Hendry will use his “All-Star” selection as backing evidence that A-Ram still has it.  To be honest, there isn’t a player in the system who is ready at the Major League level, it’s probably best we re-sign him.

2) Mike Quade makes it to seasons end and we see a vote of confidence from Jim Hendry around September in Quade signaling his return in 2012.  I don’t blame Quade for this teams performance, I blame the situation as a whole and how we got here.

3) I see a slight resurgence in this team around mid August.  Don’t ask me why, but it will be enough to screw up our draft pick next year.

 

What are your thoughts? Any expectations? Any highlights from the first half? Please share……

 

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Prince of the League

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

NATIONAL LEAGUE

  • Prince Fielder hit the go-ahead HR in the 4th
  • Roy Hallady and Cliff Lee dominated the AL lineup
  • Brian Wilson and his infamous beard sealed the deal in the 9th.
  • Castro stole a base and had an error. What is with this kid? He has to cut down the errors. But, watching the replay, Votto could have done a better job of trying to scoop the ball, so I won’t put all of the blame on Starlin. Every other aspect of his game is phenomenal.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

  • Gonzalez scored the AL’s only run with a solo home run.
  • Bautista flashed the leather in right field with a great defensive play early in the game.
  • The AL hitters had a hard time figuring out the NL pitchers.

TAKEAWAY

The NL showed pitching prowess and clutch hitting tonight. Bochy was aggressive with his base runners (Quade, pay attention and take notes). The Phillies are lucky to have both Halladay and Lee. Bochy used three of the Braves’ relievers in a row. Somehow, it doesn’t seem fair that these teams get great players for small-ish amounts of money (smaller than the Cubs are paying, anyway). I’m glad that Castro was the Cubs’ representative for this. It would be nice to see more Cubbie blue on the field, though. Maybe someday that wish will come true. Until then, we’ll hope and pray the Cubs can develop some great players like Halladay, Lee, and Fielder.

MISCELLANEOUS

  • Beckett missed the game because… he had an injury? No way! That’s never happened before!
  • Jeter decided to not play in this game. I don’t blame him, considering that the AL would have the most overrated starting fielders in the history of the game.
  • The NL has won for two years in a row. Too bad the Cubs most likely won’t get the privilege of having home-field advantage in the World Series.
  • Seeing Mike Quade in the dugout felt very… wrong. Of all the other decent managers in the National League, Bochy picked him? Weird decision. However, maybe he imparted some fundamental baseball knowledge to Mike.
  • Prince Fielder is a vegetarian. I’d hate to see what would happen to him if he decided to start eating meat.
  • During the game, they compared pictures of Brian Wilson from last year and this year. He looks like a totally different person. Personally, he looks better with that unnaturally black beard.

Closing thought:

Why should the All Star game determine home-field advantage? It’s an exhibition game. With all the substitutions and pitching changes, a team can’t get into a rhythm, so it really just boils down to the luck of the draw with which batters face which pitchers late in the game. But, is there any other good way to decide home-field advantage?

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

1st Star – Prince Fielder (.228 WPA)

2nd Star – Adrian Gonzalez (.127 WPA)

3rd Star – Roy Halladay (.097 WPA)

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Book Review: “Find A Way” by Merril Hoge

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

The complete title of this book is “Find A Way – Three Words That Changed My Life”. The author is Merril Hoge, with Brent Cole. There is a foreword by Ron Jaworski. It was published in 2010.

Merril Hoge is a father, a cancer survivor, a former NFL player, and an ESPN sportscaster with whom I was not familiar. I did not know that he once wore the uniform of the Chicago Bears.

“Find A Way” is an inspirational and motivational book.

“Da Coach”, Mike Ditka, himself a pro football hall-of-famer, says: “The measure of a man’s success is not only what he achieves, but more importantly what he overcomes. When you can look adversity in the eyes and stare it down, you will become a greater success. FIND A WAY – make a way that’s pure Hoge.”

Some of the topics addressed by author Merril Hoge in “Find A Way” include:
- How to live a life with no regrets
- Maximizing your God-given tools
- How to see difficult circumstances as “opportunities”
- A behind-the-scenes look into the world of the NFL

In the first chapter Mr. Hoge advises the reader that:
- “…you are not defined by how many times you fall but by how many times you rise again. You might fall a thousand times, but if you rise a thousand times plus one you will be victorious. I carry this mindset with me wherever I go, in whatever I do. Victory is never the absence of failure. It is the will to be the last one standing.”

In the second chapter, Mr. Hoge recounts a conversation he had with his son:
- “My son, Beau, once asked me about what he had to do to be a winner. I explained the importance of physical and mental training. ‘That,’ I said, ‘is the baseline to play the game. But in the end,’ I continued, ‘resourcefulness is your greatest resource’.
‘No matter what skill set you have been blessed with, you must sharpen those skills like a razor blade and then exhaust yourself to become the very best player you can be.’ I told Beau this did not guarantee he would make it to the NFL or the Hall of Fame. It guaranteed something more important: he would live with no regrets.”

In describing Coach Chuck Noll, Mr. Hoge struck gold with this observation:
- “…his highest ideal of success was not victory but maximum effort. ‘A life of frustration is inevitable,’ he once told a reporter, ‘for any coach whose main enjoyment is winning’.”

Mr. Hoge also reminds us of a saying attributed to Coach John Wooden: “Be quick but don’t hurry.”

Another lesson which Mr. Hoge shares with the reader: “…respect is always a two-way street…”

I enjoyed reading “Find A Way – Three Words That Changed My Life”, and I recommend it to anyone seeking motivation &/or inspiration.

I thank Center Street Books of New York City for providing me with a copy of “Find A Way” to read and to review.

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