Archive for November, 2011

Bringing a South Side Hero to the North Side

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

If you asked 100 White Sox fans to name the pitcher who best represents the White Sox since the turn of the 21st century, you would get 100 responses of “Mark Buehrle.”  In his 12 seasons on the South Side, Buehrle has posted 45.9 fWAR, a 161-119 win loss record and a 3.83 ERA.  Buehrle has been the absolute model of consistency, throwing at least 201 innings every year since 2001, and at least 3.4 fWAR in ten of the last eleven seasons.  He also just entered free agency.

In my opinion, Buehrle should be the Cubs’ number one free agency priority thisMark Buehrle offseason.  Looking over the next couple of seasons, one of the biggest problems the Cubs have is a lack of clear starting pitching talent in the upper minors.  Trey McNutt is the Cubs’ top pitching prospect, but he has control issues and needs to find a pitching motion he can repeat more consistently.  Jay Jackson had a bad first three quarters of 2011 with reduced velocity before having a strong last month and a half of the season.  If his velocity does not return, the odds of him being a Major League starter are slim.  Robert Whitenack is going to miss most of next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery midway through last season.  After that, the cupboard is pretty bare in the high minors.

The Cubs need starting pitching help, and not just for 2012.  If Carlos Zambrano is with the Cubs next season, he certainly will not be in 2013.  Ryan Dempster’s contract ends after this season as well, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return to the Cubs at a discounted rate to finish his career with the team.  It is not clear if the Cubs see Andrew Cashner’s future in the rotation or the bullpen.  The Cubs need pitchers they can count on to throw 200 innings year in and year out behind Matt Garza.

Buehrle may be 33 on opening day next season, but he is about as safe a bet as a pitcher over age 30 could be.  Buehrle has never thrown hard, with a fastball in the mid-80s.  Instead, he found success with a sweeping cutter, a strong change up, excellent control and being the best fielding pitcher since Greg Maddux.  He’s a minimum effort pitcher whose pitching tools are unlikely to leave him as he goes through his mid-30s.  Buehrle is not an ace who you bring in to lead your rotation (he honestly never was), but he has strong odds of being a solid middle of the rotation pitcher for several years yet.

A set of coincidences has made the Cubs a potentially attractive destination to Buehrle.  Buehrle has spent his whole career with the White Sox and is from the St. Louis area.  He would almost certainly give the White Sox and Cardinals the first two shots to bring him in.  But the White Sox probably do not have the money to keep Buehrle, while the Cardinals will almost certainly not have any  money to add significant free agents if they re-sign Albert Pujols.  That means the two teams that Buehrle would give preferential treatment to are probably closed off to him.

The idea of being able to stay in Chicago might appeal greatly to Buehrle.  And while the Cubs do not look like a contender for 2012, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer might be able to sell Buehrle on the team’s potential for 2013 and 2014.  Personally, I’d love to see Buehrle penciled in the third spot of the Cubs’ rotation for the next three years.  If I were Theo, I would be willing to go as high as 4 years and $48 million.  I do know that if I were a betting man, I would be much more willing to put money down on the idea of Buehrle being a 3+ WAR pitcher through his age 36 season than betting on C.J. Wilson being able to continue his recent health and success.  The Cubs need help in the starting rotation, and Buehrle is a great bet to be worth what he will earn on the open market and more.

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Morning Roundup

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Strike One: Aramis is gone  Earlier today in Milwaukee for the MLB general managers meetings, Ramirez’s agent Paul Kinzer spoke to reporters and confirmed that “the ship has sailed” on Ramirez returning to the Cubs.  There is some indication in that ESPN article that the Brewers might look to add Ramirez to fill the gap in their offense made by Prince Fielder’s free agent departure.  The consensus was split here at VFTB about whether the Cubs should try to extend Ramirez or let him walk.  Now that he’s seemingly left for good, who would you like to see fill his spot at third base?  Kinzer also took a shot at Bob Brenly for his comments earlier in the season about Ramirez being a “numbers gatherer” and calling into question his leadership, among other things.  For some reason, it struck me as odd that Brenly’s comments made such a dent with Ramirez.

Strike Two:  Zambrano might be staying  Also earlier today, Cubs President and potential savior Theo Epstein had lunch with volatile starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano and discussed the possibility of him returning to the team next season.  Epstein’s summary was that Zambrano has some work to do to earn back the trust of his teammates and the confidence of the front office, but that it’s possible he could be back with the Cubs in time for Spring Training.  Much was made in the days after about it being the latest in Zambrano’s long string of on-field explosions, but there were some significant differences from his other escapades–in short, it was pretty dadgum calm for an “explosion.”  The real heart of the issue is that he walked out on his teammates that August night in Atlanta.  What remains to be seen is if he can patch up the damage with the rest of the team.  I could probably guess some, if not many of your answers, but if you’re a Cub, would you be open to having him back?

Strike Three:  Sports News Grab Bag  In a move that is sure to extend the NBA lockout and possibly kill the season, the Players’ Union de-certified.  Which should give commissioner David Stern to complete the rest of the Darth Vader leadership training courses.  The dude seems like he’s just pure, straight evil.  His lack of warmth makes Bud Selig look like Andy Griffith……  The man at the center of the Penn State scandal, Jerry Sandusky, proclaimed his innocence to Bob Costas and the world last night during NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams.  The interview was conducted over the phone in the presence of Sandusky’s attorney, who appears to be wildly optimistic or insane, since the interview was perhaps the least-convincing self-defense ever given.  Costas did a good job expressing the outrage felt across the nation, but nothing about the interview felt like it really needed to happen.  Of course he’s going to claim to be innocent, of course he won’t give a detailed defense, and of course he won’t change the minds of anyone watching at home.  Sandusky will have his day in court–until then, I don’t care what he has to say.  “I shouldn’t have showered with those kids” is neither revelatory or newsworthy.  However, it is probably just what the news/talk show needed to boost it’s failing ratings……  Stanford’s loss to Oregon Saturday night appears to have derailed the Heisman campaign of future NFL Hall of Famer Andrew Luck, opening the door to other possible candidates like Boise State’s Kellen Moore, Alabama’s Trent Richardson, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, and maybe even Houston’s Case Keenum.  As an Oklahoma State fan, I’d be thrilled to see Weeden win it, but my imaginary vote would instead go to OSU wide receiver Justin Blackmon.  Who gets yours?

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The Great Candidate Debate

Monday, November 14th, 2011

This weekend, Paul Sullivan ran a piece that summarized the four candidates thoughts and feelings on a various amount of topics related to the team. Let’s break it down and discuss. Excerpts from Sullivan’s post are in italics.

On Handling Modern Players

Mackanin said a manager has to “appeal to their sense of accountability, righteousness, humanity.”

Maddux said he would be a manager who “would trust his players — be demanding, hold them accountable.”

Sveum said he doesn’t show much emotion because he doesn’t like the players knowing his feelings, “whether you’re nervous or mad, or whatever.”

Alomar said respect was the key, and the “bottom line: is trying to “create a team concept, a family concept. I think communicating is a big part of players responding to you.”

My Thoughts – I hate all these answers. If I had to choose one, though it seems more like a campaign promise than what we’d actually see happen, I’d choose to favor the answer given by Maddux. This is still a team with aging veterans that haven’t really ever been held accountable. The problem is that a first time manager will probably have a hard time setting that tone. Sveum’s answer seems idiotic. Why would you not want to show any emotion?

On Objective Analysis

Mackanin – “The bottom line is the more tools you have to make those decisions, it might lead you to a decision you wouldn’t make if you didn’t have those tools.”

Maddux – compared statistics to “art,” saying you can make whatever you want from them.

Sveum – stats are “just part of the game now, and you use what you can, but a lot of that stuff we do throw out, too.”

Alomar – it doesn’t tell you the whole story in the game. There are also a lot of gut decisions you have to make.

My Thoughts – I’m siding with Mackanin. Everything I’ve read about him is that he’s a total stat junky. That’s interesting to me. I’m not saying it’s the best way. It’s simply a way. What I do think is that, especially if he lends insight into his thought process, it would make for some really cool discussions as moves work and don’t work.

On Carlos Zambrano

Maddux – Zambrano is a “teddy bear,” according to Maddux, who joked the best way to handle the pitcher was to “burp him.”

Alomar – conceded the next manager would have to address Zambrano’s behavior, joking he might have to “bring a stun gun” with him.

My Thoughts – This was an incomplete debate question as only two of the candidates shared thoughts on it, but both answers seem to laugh off the issue that needs to be addressed. I can’t see a way Zambrano is part of this team next year. Anyone that is interested in trying to bring him back causes me to raise my eyebrows.

There were a number of other topics covered in the article by Sullivan, including thoughts on the current needs of the team and their thoughts on Theo and Jed. Overall, I feel like my order I’m pulling for guys is:

1. Mackanin

2. Maddux

3. Sveum

4. Alomar

What about you? What’s the order for you?

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It’s Monday!

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Baseball:

  • Mike Matheny is going to be the Cardinals’ new manager and Jim Edmonds is a big fan. I was not much a baseball fan when Matheny became popular in the early 2000′s, but Cardinals fans love him. That is enough of a reason to have an unreasonable hatred for the man and anything good he may do, and gives plenty of license to revel in any misfortune that comes his way (on the baseball field, of course). He has a .239 career BA, but his defense was apparently pretty dang good, and he ended up as the starter for the Cardinals and became a hometown favorite. I’m a little surprised that the organization passed up a great opportunity to spite the Cubs by passing on Ryne Sandberg for the job.
  • Jonathan Papelbon has left Boston. Now the confident son-of-a-gun is in Philly to “add to his ring collection.” Last I checked, Philadelphia got beat in the playoffs. The last time they won it all was in 2008 and they have the most losses of any team in baseball history with over 10,000. Papelbon is pretty good, but no team is 100% safe from a collapse, and he should be aware of that fact more than anybody else.
  • The Cubs should pick up Ryan Madson.
  • Wilson Ramos was rescued from his kidnappers on Saturday!

Football:

  • Tim Tebow only completed two (TWO?!) passes on Sunday, but the Broncos still managed to squeak out a win over the Chiefs. Two completions. That is unreal. It is even more unreal that Denver managed to win. Tebow may not have the best arm, but the kid knows how to win somehow.
  • The Bears’ Defense was its originally dominant self on Sunday and dominated Detroit. 4 INTs, two pick-6′s, and Hester’s 12th career punt return buried the Lions. It’s about time they came back to Earth.
  • Monday Night Football features Green Bay vs. Minnesota. It is the 2nd time in four weeks that these two teams have met and the Packers will probably go 9-0. Fortunately for Green Bay, the Vikings’ most effective attack is the run. The Packers rank 31st in pass defense.
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GirlieView

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Happy Sunday! I hope everyone had as fulfilling a week as I did. Like the saying goes, a new dawn brings a new day. But this one also brings you a new installment of the latest and greatest in the world of humor. Enjoy :)

The Wizzies

  • Oh……..I got to go……..I have a phone call coming in………..caller ID “Theo”……………………maybe this is it.
  • He probably wants to know if he can use you as a way to get in contact with Eddie Vedder for lead singer of Zach Attack.
  • Famous people are pampered and loved when they are winning – just ask that Sheen guy.
  • Maybe there’s something to be learned about a manager’s personality, wits, etc. by putting him/her in a stressful and unpredictable situation. Since the law probably wouldn’t allow for Gladiator type combat in a pit with a Bear and a dulled wooden sword, he had to settle for the media show.
  • In fact I want the new guy to be cozy with the media, if he can master that relationship, he’ll have more time to focus upon more pressing issues like making sure James Russell never, ever starts a game again.
  • The big rock that flew by the earth yesterday was Bush’s fault also. Just saying.
  • I still blame Barry Bonds and Rex Grossman for all the problems in the world.
  • I blame Neifi.
  • George W spent a lot of money, but didn’t pay for it. He left it for the new regime. Kind of like what the Tribune did with Soriano…leave the albatross for the new guy.
  • I will heartily agree with you there. I’m not a hunter but I’d welcome that type of open season!
  • I hope it is not Mike Maddux simply because I don’t want to see his brother’s ugly mug around Wrigley in any way, shape or form. I intensely dislike Greg and that feeling extends to all things Maddux. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest his jock. 
  • In Theo-usty we trusty?
  • Now if you’ll excuse me, I think my ears and nose are bleeding.
  • The Cardinals who? Never heard of them.
  • If you want a good laugh, check out the Marlins new uniforms.
  • Ozzie acts and talks like a clown, now he gets to look the part. BRILLIANT!

Top Wizzie Contributors

 

Doc Raker-40

Buddy-40

Jswanson-34

BLPCB-25

Seymour Butts-21

Doug S.-20

Aaron-17

Jedi-14

Chet-11

MJ-10

Question of the Week

I might be a week early, but I’m tired and have nothing else. As I recently changed my floor bulletin board to ask and in lieu of the upcoming holiday: What are you thankful for?

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Underdog Schmunderdog

Friday, November 11th, 2011

The St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series.  (I need to pause here for a few minutes of dry heaving.  Be right back.)

OK, that’s better.  As I was saying, the Cardinals…  (Nope, here comes another wave.  Hold on.)

(My eyes are watering.  Perhaps it’s best just to press on.)

One of the dominant story lines of their (wretch) championship run (double wretch) was their comeback from the precipice of elimination.  In late August, they were more than ten games out of the lead in the NL Central and the Wild Card race, which they eventually won (full-body shudder).  It’s been hailed as one of the great underdog victories in recent memory.

But were they really underdogs in the truest sense?  Was this a team that had virtually no chance at the postseason, that clawed it’s way back in spite of their own disadvantages and the near-insurmountable opposition?  Most in the media would say yes, and certainly Cardinals fans everywhere have been eager to loudly proclaim their supposed Cinderella story.

But I disagree.

No doubt the Cardinals looked to be out of the playoff race with more than a month left in the season.  Some said their odds of winning were at one point as bad as 500-1.  But should we have ever counted them out in the first place?  Their roster is littered with All Stars, including  Cy Young winner and three-time MVP who many consider to be the greatest hitter to ever play the game.  And they played like it–how can you be a team of underdogs when you lead the NL in hits, runs, total bases, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS?

What’s more, the Cardinals are a (gag) perennial contender.  Since 2000, St. Louis has only finished with a sub-.500 record once.  Much of the legacy of Tony La Russa is built on his ability to get great performance out of less-than-great players.  Likewise, his pitching coach Dave Duncan has made a career out of reviving dead-armed and broken-down pitchers.

So why has a team with such consistent (hurl) success been portrayed as come-from-behind underdogs?

Probably because it makes the for the best story.

Nobody wants to hear about how the Atlanta Braves punched the Cardinals’ ticket to the playoffs with their historic collapse, going 9-18 in the final month of the season.

Similarly, no one wants to point out that the Cardinals had a significant scheduling advantage.  From August 25th–the day they were 10.5 games out of the Wild Card race–up to the end of the season, they played seven games against the Pirates, and a three–game series each against the Reds, Mets, Cubs, and Astros.  They even picked up three wins against the imploding Braves, and took five of six games from slumping Brewers team.  That’s the kind of sub-.500 competition you want to face if you’re trying to make a run at the playoffs.

Bottom line: the Cardinals went 23-8 to clinch the NL Wild Card–no small feat.  But they also got a lot of help from the relative ease of their schedule, and the Braves’ season-ending collapse.  That’s just not as exciting or memorable a story line.

History will likely remember them incorrectly as underdogs.  Because unfortunately, history is written by the winners.

(Now if you’ll excuse me, I think my ears and nose are bleeding.)

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Kidnappings and HGH Testing

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Kidnapping: In a country that eats, sleeps, and breathes baseball- from the poorest of the poor the richest of the rich- Major League ballplayers are celebrities. The kids want to be like them – the villains want them. In a country where a large majority of the people have very little money (or very little of anything), taking a celebrity for ransom will probably get the money you are looking for. 

That leads to the story of Wilson Ramos, the rookie starting catcher for the Nationals. He was kidnapped in his hometown in Venezuela this week. This is the first time an actual player has been taken hostage; family members of various other players have been taken, and sometimes killed, for ransom. Do you think Major League Baseball should take larger steps in protecting its players, or should it be more of a “every man for himself” type deal?

HGH Testing: The NFLPA has suggested that NFL players may have a naturally higher level of HGH in their systems than the everyday population, and they want a testing program that finds the average level of the hormone in its players. After the average is found, it will be what all other HGH tests will be compared to.  This test just seems silly. Even if, compared to the everyday population, an NFL player had increased levels of HGH, what will happen? A one-game suspension and $20,000 fine? What are they trying to do, preserve the credibility of their players and the league? There has been plenty done to taint the image of the NFL (see: O.J. Simpson, Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, Donte Stallworth, and Plaxico Burress). Test results with a high level HGH are a bit insignificant.

 

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Northside Archives: Another First Time Manager?

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

“The managerial search process begins immediately. We are looking for someone with whom and around whom we can build a foundation for sustained success. The next manager must have leadership and communication skills; he must place an emphasis on preparation and accountability; he must establish high standards and a winning culture; he must have integrity and an open mind; and he must have managerial or coaching experience at the major league level.”

With these words, Epstein sent baseball speculators and insiders compiling theoretical lists. Who fits these qualifications? Who are the top targets for the Cubs new opening? As we are now 8 days removed from this release, that list has started to take shape. One common theme among most (but not all) candidates is that they have previous experience as an MLB coach, not as manager. It’s still possible that Epstein and Hoyer will land on someone who does have managerial experience, but if they don’t they will add to the list below.

A few qualifications first; 1) we’re looking at only first-time managers, 2) we’re going to skip past interims (Bruce Kimm), 3) fill-ins during suspension (Alan Trammell), 4) and guys technically hired as manager, but who only performed mop-up duty for part of a single season (Jim Essian). We’re also going to go in reverse order, for effect, followed by a few questions for discussion.

Mike Quade – this one’s fresh in our minds. No need to rehash it all, suffice it to say that he was less than an overwhelming success.

Lee Elia – that’s right, every single manager hired by the Cubs in almost 30 years has had previous experience as an MLB manager with some other club (see above for why I’m not including Jim Essian). Epstein and Hoyer are tackling a task that the Cubs haven’t visited in some time – Hendry’s lackluster search last off-season notwithstanding. Elia is most famous for expressing in a profanity-laced tirade his discontent with what he perceived to be the fickle nature of Cubs fans. Let’s just say he could probably teach the eight parts of speech with a single word.

Joey Amalfitano – Elia’s immediate predecessor (see, we’ve done this before; hired two guys without experience back-to-back!). Amalfitano had a unique career with the Cubs, he was the interim manager to finish the 1979 season after Herman Franks was fired. He then was on the staff with the new manager in 1980, Preston Gomez. When Gomez was fired 90 games into the season, Amalfitano was promoted to manager (not interim), a job which he held through the 1981 season. Those Cubs teams were hideous, which is reflected in his 66-116 career record as manager.

Jim Marshall – presided over 2.5 largely mediocre seasons, posting identical 75-87 records in 1975 & 1976. Apparently these things come in twos, because his predecessor was…

Whitey Lockman – succeeded Leo Durocher as manager with 65 games remaining in 1972. Finishing 39-26 that year would be the end of his success. By the time he was fired in 1974 the Cubs were ready to repeat the process with Marshall.

Bob Kennedy – his most significant contribution to Cubs history is that his tenure makes us forget that the College of Coaches was actually a 5-year experiment. If Leo Durocher is the manager who brought respectability to the Cubs, Kennedy is the one that makes that farcical period seem much shorter. In 1961 and 1962 the College of Coaches was more like a rotating pie display. But when Bob Kennedy led the Cubs to a surprising 82-80 record in 1963, it enabled him to hold the managerial title until mid-1965. At the end of 1965, the Cubs abandoned the College of Coaches experiment.

In almost 50 years, the Cubs have hired 6 managers without previous MLB experience. They combined for an 800-951 record over parts of 15 seasons, and in some ways, the latest failure was the greatest success on the list.

Whoever the next manager of the Cubs is, assuming he lacks MLB managerial experience, he won’t have to do much to fight his way to the top of this list.  What do you think?  Should we get ourselves another first time manager?  And if you had to pick today, who would it be?

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Morning Roundup

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Strike One: Jorge Posada, one of the three remaining members of the Yankees’ “Core Four” (possibly the worst nickname for a team or group of players ever, by the way) indicated Wednesday night that he’s still uncertain about where, or even if, he’ll play in 2012, but one thing is certain: he won’t be returning the Bronx. The future hall-of-famer has a half dozen offers from other teams, but is understandably uncertain about starting over with a new team at age 40. It would certainly be strange to see Posada in anything other than Yankees pinstripes, and my guess is he opts for retirement. Where do you see Hip Hip Jorge next season?

Strike Two: In non-baseball (and non-surprising) news, congratulations if you had Week 10 in the “When will the Patriots cut ties with Albert Haynesworth” pool. One of Bill Belichick’s patented reclamation projects ended in exactly the fashion many people predicted it would, with Haynesworth getting another mid-season pink slip. Has there been a more overrated player in any sport during the last decade? He managed to parlay an on-field attempted murder and two good seasons with Tennessee into a $100 million contract, which he then threw away by refusing to get in shape and then refusing to play nose tackle. Of course, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers immediately picked him up off waivers, so maybe there is hope for Fat Albert yet. Also, can we officially call this the end of the “Genius Bill Belichick Era”?

Strike Three: Now onto the Cubs and their quest for Mike Quade’s replacement. Mike Maddux met with Theo and the Boys on Wednesday and then took his turn in front of the media for his press conference audition. Of the names currently being bandied about, Maddux has become my favorite candidate. I think he’d bring a great energy to the job, and his relationship with Greg Maddux doesn’t hurt either. If nothing else, his presser today showed that he certainly has a sense of humor. My favorite lines (culled from today’s Muskat Ramblings post), in no particular order:

  • On how he would deal with Carlos Zambrano: “How would I handle him? I don’t know him,” Maddux said. “The first thing you have to do is meet him. I heard he was a big teddy bear. I might pick him up and just burp him.”
  • On his impression of Theo and the Boys: “I can’t do an impression of them,” Maddux said.
  • On why he didn’t want to relocate to Boston, but stayed in the running for the Cubs job: “Chicago’s a neat place,” Mike said. “I like being in Chicago.”

Good luck following that performance, Sandy Alomar Jr…

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