Archive for October, 2011

Chet’s Corner : Theo’s Dream Team

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

“Early on he was 28 and a fish out of water. Since then he’s won two world championships, made the playoffs 6 of 9 seasons, and I think there’s great respect among his peers. As one GM said to me, when we get together in a group, he may be the smartest guy in the room.”

-Bruce Levine, responding to a question asked during his live chat on ESPN.com , on how Theo Epstein is viewed by other GM’s in the game.

 

I read the above quote and began to salivate.  I mean, we are this close to a total overhaul in our “baseball operations department”, or whatever title Theo Epstein slaps on his business card when he arrives in Chicago.  You can call him GM, President of Baseball Operations, or head green slime vendor.  Then only thing I care about is that a fundamental change in Chicago Cubs baseball is on it’s way.  Oh, and by the way, that change has created post season teams in six of the last nine years.  Oh, and also, they did it in a division that included the Yankees.      

Developing talent hasn’t exactly been the Cubs forte over the past half century or so.   Joe Posnanski elaborates on this topic in a column he recently penned on his SI blog.  He points to this reason as being the Cubs number one downfall in the history of the team.  What is Theo Epstein’s specialty?  Yup, you guessed it, he develops talent from within. 

Now, all of this being said leads many to wonder, what is holding up this negotiation???

It is one word….. pride!  Neither team wants to give in to the others desires.  You are looking at two men, Larry Luchinno and Tom Ricketts, who love the art of negotiation.  While they flex their collective bartering skills, the rest of baseball, especially the Cubs and Red Sox fans, are left to wait.  All of us are wondering in unison if this thing will ever happen. 

It will, just give it time. 

In response to Joe’s column this morning, I don’t feel anybody is off limits.  Maybe Castro, but the list stops there.  The sad reality is that we don’t have  a farm system stacked with talent.  Heck, we don’t have a 40-man roster stacked with talent.  Hence the importance of bringing aboard Theo Epstein. 

It shouldn’t take much more then the sane minimum to close this thing, but if it came down to crazy, which depending on the ego’s involved could happen, would you really stop them from giving up Trey McNutt or Brett Jackson?  We aren’t talking about obtaining a middle of the rotation starter here, we are talking about changing the face of the ball club.  We are talking about developing a game plan well into the future.

One other sticking point, and what could end up being the more important question in the long run is, who else will the Cubs get in this deal?  Much of the recent talk has been centered around Theo’s counterparts that he will bring along or acquire from other teams.  Many of them worked under Theo while with the Red Sox.  Some are starting to say he is trying to put together a dream team of upper management. 

My question to the readers for today: Who would you most like to see as part of Theo’s “dream team” of upper management?

Can you imagine how great it will be to have an organization with an actual baseball identity?  A philosophy from low A ball all the way up to the majors?  What wouldn’t a Cub fan give for that?

 

 

 

 

 

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The Off-Limits List

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

The question today is short and sweet. If you didn’t see the news the other day and haven;t really been following the Theo saga, the Red Sox asked the Cubs for Matt Garza for compensation, which the Cubs refused.

Who is on the list of players in the system, Major or Minor League, that would be off limits even if it meant that if you said no that Theo would not be coming to Chicago? Give us your list.

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The Bargain Bin: Outfield

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Last Tuesday, I examined infielders the Cubs could potentially bring in at a bargain for the 2012 season.  Today I’ll turn my attention to the outfield, which is a tricky area for the Cubs.  Alfonso Soriano’s monstrosity of an $18 million per year contract is probably stuck in left field most days.  If Soriano has another season where he posts an OBP below .300, the Cubs might make him a platoon player for the final two years of that contract or just eat the contract by releasing Soriano or trading him, but it’s unlikely they’ll do it in 2012.  The Cubs still have Marlon Byrd, whose been a solid addition and a bargain contractually, but is 34 years old and isn’t going to get any better or be around when the Cubs are ready to be competitive.  Top prospect Brett Jackson is probably ready to get called up to the Majors and become the Cubs starting CF for the next several years, but it’s also reported that the Red Sox might be fighting hard to get Brett Jackson as compensation for Theo Epstein (at the time I’m writing this, the compensation issue hasn’t been determined, although it clearly might by the time this is posted on Tuesday).  So the Cubs might be lining up an outfield of Soriano in left, Jackson in center and Byrd in right, or Brett Jackson might be a member of the Boston Red Sox next year.

But Byrd’s solid performance plus only having one year remaining on a pretty team friendly contract make him the most likely position player for the Cubs to trade for any real value this offseason.  If that’s the case, or if the Cubs lost Brett Jackson in compensation for Epstein, the Cubs really have two reasonable ways they can go to fill empty spots in the OF: first, they could give Tyler Colvin an extended look this season and see if he can be an everyday major leaguer.  I doubt that Colvin can, as he strikes out too much and does not walk enough, but I’d be perfectly fine with this plan.  No one else in the Cubs’ system, though, is really ready to take that role.  Tony Campana is not an everyday starter, while the players who have the talent to be starting caliber OFs in the majors (Jae Hoon Ha, Matt Szczur and Reggie Golden head up that list) are not anywhere near ready for the Show.

The second choice is to fill that role cheaply with a bargain player.  Just as a reminder, the standards I’m using for  bargain free agents are: (1) they have to be 30 or under on opening day; (2) they must have posted a 2.0 or higher fWAR season at some point in their career; and (3) they have suffered either a performance downturn, injuries or a combination of both that have decreased their value to the point they are likely looking at one year contracts.  Only two outfielders fit all of my criteria, both of whom are former All Stars.  They are also former center fielders who either probably cannot handle center field anymore due to injuries, or never should have been out there in the first place.  And one used to be considered one of the best players in baseball.

Most of you probably know one of the players I’m referring to is Grady Sizemore.  In his first four full seasons in the Majors from 2005 in 2008, Sizemore posted an insane 27.4 fWAR.  He hit for average, walked, hit for power, stole bases and was one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball.  Sizemore was only 26 years old at the end of the 2008 season, and looked like he may have been the best young CF since Ken Griffey, Jr.

Since the start of 2009, however, Sizemore’s career has been derailed by injuries.  He has only played in 210 games over the past three seasons, and has struggled when he has played, accumulating just 1.9 fWAR since the start of 2009.  A team also shouldn’t expect Grady Sizemore to play center field full time if they want him to stay healthy.

But if Sizemore, who will be 29 on opening day 2012, can get anything close to his former offensive prowess back and even play average defense in right field, he could be an excellent player again.  Cleveland does have an $8.5 million option with a $500K buy out on Sizemore for next season.  Under most circumstances, a team would be very unlikely to pick up an option that size on a player who has been as injured as Sizemore has been over the past three seasons.  But Sizemore might still be the face of Cleveland’s organization, and was probably the best all around everyday player the Indians had since Manny Ramirez.  It’s also possible that the Indians might try and see if they can bring Sizemore back at a reduced rate.  If the Indians decide it’s time to cut ties, though, Sizemore could be quite cheap.  If that is the case, it would at the least be very intriguing to see if Sizemore can get healthy and back to a semblance of his old self in a Cubs uniform.

The other player is Braves outfielder Nate McLouth.  After three years of replacement level to average performance, McLouth broke out big time with the Pirates in 2008, posting a 3.9 fWAR when batting .276/.356/.497, good for a .369 wOBA, with 26 HRs out of centerfield.  In 2009, McLouth posted a strong 3.4 fWAR in a season he split between the Pirates and Braves.

Since the start of 2010, though, McLouth has been pretty close to an unmitigated disaster.  McLouth has always been a bad defensive center fielder, and that has not improved with age.  Over the past two seasons, though, McLouth has both been injured, playing in just 166 games, and ineffective at the plate, posting a .283 wOBA in 2010 and .306 in 2011.  In all, McLouth has accumulated -1.0 fWAR over the last two seasons.  Yes folks, you’re reading that right, he’s been worse than a replacement player for the last two seasons.  But, as described above, he did show an ability to both get on base at a decent clip and hit for power in the not too distant past.  If he can get healthy and rediscover his offensive abilities, McLouth could be valuable.  Moreover, McLouth’s struggles combined with the fact that he never had the same reputation Sizemore had could make him extremely inexpensive.

With that said, how interested the Cubs should be in either Sizemore or McLouth depends heavily on what happens this offseason.  Does Brett Jackson get sent to Boston for Theo?  Because outside of Brett Jackson, the Cubs don’t have any outfielders in the higher levels of the minor leagues who have pretty clear futures as Major League starters.  Do the Cubs want to trade Marlon Byrd in the offseason, or do they think he will have more value midseason?  Do the Cubs want to give Tyler Colvin a shot to be an everyday outfielder?  Depending on the answers to these questions, the Cubs may have at least one hole in the outfield heading into the season.  I’d rather see the Cubs fill those holes with players with the potential upside of Grady Sizemore and Nate McLouth than have Tony Campana in the starting lineup 120 times next season.

Next week I’ll conclude this series by looking at bargain pitchers.  While there are not any pitchers you could predict for the front of the rotation here, there are some potential middle to the back end of the rotation types, plus a former All Star closer available.

 

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Morning Roundup

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Thought #1: Sean Payton got taken down in the first half of Sunday’s game, resulting in a torn MCL and a fractured shinbone. He was taken into the locker room just before halftime and did not return to the sideline. The Saints lost their play-caller, and went on to lose the game.  Maybe coaches should get a little more recognition for being the finishing piece to every team. You could have all the talent in the world, but without good play calling, they will not flow like a well-oiled machine. Do coaches deserve a pay raise? I think so.

Thought #2: The Red Sox are under fire for letting some of their players drink beer and eat fried chicken in the clubhouse. Jon Lester got a little worked up, and ripped the Boston media for making the accused players look fat and lazy. Yes, the Sox had the worst collapse in history. Was the collapse of the Sox really the fault of a delicious combination of food and drink, or was it because they played badly? It couldn’t be in part because the pitching staff acquired a 5.84 ERA in the month of September, could it? Beats me.

Thought #3: The World Series starts on Wednesday. Frankly, I do not care who wins or loses. Yes, I have “friends” that are fans of St. Louis. Yes, they are obnoxious. If the Cardinals win, the Cubs will be average at best next year. The Cardinals have earned their way to here. St. Louis is an excellent ball club, and they have built themselves to where they are now. The Cubs have a ways to go before they will be a solidly good team. The fact that St. Louis is a solid ball club does not make me dislike them any less. It makes me dislike them more. Why is it so hard for the Cubs’ leadership to figure out the formula? But I digress. Nolan Ryan is predicting that the Rangers will win the Series in 6. Is he far off with his prediction?

Thought #4: The Packers and Badgers are still undefeated. It’s great to be a Wisconsinite these days.

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Could He Be A Cub: Michael Cuddyer

Monday, October 17th, 2011

So the Cubs got their man in Theo Epstein. The new GM’s long list of tasks will include addressing the dilemma at 1B, 3B, and possibly RF. Free agent Michael Cuddyer could be a fit for one of those spots.

The 32-year-old Cuddyer has been a fan favorite in Minnesota. In 11 seasons he’s put together a line of .272/.343/.451 with 141 home runs in 4,072 at bats (which is about a homer every 29 at bats). His best season at the plate was probably 2009, when he slugged 32 bombs, easily a career high. His 2006 campaign was solid as well, including a .362 OBP.

“Versatile” is a word frequently used to describe Cuddyer. Since breaking into the majors at age 22, he’s played 690 games in the OF, 210 games at 1B, 171 games at 3B, and 79 games at 2B. I know what some of you are thinking, but forget it. He’s not a 2B.

Cuddyer made $10 million in 2011, so he’s not in the “superstar” salary class. However, when the Pujols-Fielder dust settles, he may get a healthy emergency offer from a desperate GM who missed out on the big two.

How many years will he command on the free agent market? I’m not psychic, but I’d be willing to bet three or four. Would the Cubs be interested at say three years, $33 million? If so, do they settle on one position or move him around the diamond?

Cuddyer is a useful player, but is he a difference-maker in the lineup? My prediction is that Theo will pass on Mr. Cuddyer’s services and let another team overpay for him.

A surprise contender could be the Phillies. In case you missed it, Ryan Howard suffered an Achilles tendon injury on Friday.  Would the Phillies bring in Cuddyer to play 1B in Howard’s absence? If so, where does he play once Howard returns? Does Cuddyer lower his contract expectations to possibly win a title in Philly?

Under any scenario, Cuddyer looks like an unlikely fit in Chicago.

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