Archive for October, 2012

Morning News: Offseason Prep

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Now that the 2012 season is officially over (remind me to send God a thank you note on that), it’s time to look at this team to see what is on the horizon.

Several players are eligible for salary arbitration this off-season. Salary values in parenthesis are predictions based on MLB Trade Rumors calculations.

  • First time: Luis Valbuena ($900K), Jeff Samardzija ($2.9MM), James Russell ($900K)
  • Second time: None
  • Third time: Ian Stewart ($2.3MM)
  • Fourth time: Matt Garza ($10MM)

If you’re unfamiliar with how the process works, teams and players have the option of trying to work out a deal before the hearings take place, but regardless of that, should the Cubs offer arbitration to these players (which means they aren’t outright released or traded), both the player and the team must submit a salary number for 2013 to an arbitrator. The arbitrator then hears both sides and chooses one of the submitted amounts. Generally, most players tend to work out a deal before the hearings, but it’s not a lock. We don’t have a great deal of history on the Epstein / Hoyer era, so we’ll see what happens there. I can see Stewart getting non-tendered. The others should be back.

There are also several players who have guaranteed deals for 2013 and beyond.

  • Starlin Castro, SS: $60MM through 2019
  • Alfonso Soriano, OF: $38MM through 2014
  • Jorge Soler, OF: $26MM through 2020
  • Carlos Marmol, RP: $9.8MM through 2013
  • David DeJesus, OF: $5.75MM through 2013
  • Gerardo Concepcion, SP: $4.8MM through 2016

There are rumors that Soriano wants to play for a contender and try to win a world series before he retires. Given the fact that his deal is slowing reaching the end and the fact that he proved he can be a productive member of a lineup, I can actually see a deal happening sometime this off-season.

In the coming week or so, you’ll probably see various plans on how to improve this team. In my opinion, if those plans include a big name free agent signing this year, it’s a mistake. We’ll see what happens.

~~~~~

Sad news out of the Arizona Fall League as one of our top prospects, Javier Baez, injured his thumb and is probably done for the rest of the fall league season. According to the story on Cubs.com “The Cubs’ No. 1 Draft pick in 2011, Baez batted .333 in 57 games with Class A Peoria and .188 in 23 games with Class A Daytona this season, his first in pro ball. The injury will not keep Baez from being ready for Spring Training.”

Anytime you have a player playing in the off-season, you obviously risk injury. Based on how he was performing, some may say that it’s probably for the best that he can sit so it doesn’t go to his head. I’d disagree and argue that any plate appearances in the AFL help develop due to the level of competition. Despite the injury, I’m still very excited about what the future holds for Baez.

~~~~~

In other news, the NBA started last night. Raise your hand if you care. OK, I’ll be honest, I don’t care if you care, case I don’t care. When Derek Rose broke himself in the playoffs, it broke my heart and caused me to not be excited about this season whatsoever. I’m going to watch should we make the playoffs, but it’s just hard to get excited about regular season basketball. Maybe I’m just a scrooge, but I’m not buying the NBA.

~~~~~

Joe’s iPod Song of the Day

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Morning News: Sandy, Smith, and Coping Mechanisms

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Hurricane: Sandy made landfall yesterday. Just before reaching land, she was downgraded to a Superstorm, but still, much damage was done. At least 5.7 million people were left without power, and 13 people lost their lives.

This is reportedly going to be one of the costliest storms in U.S. history, with the estimated damage being anywhere between 10 – 20 billion dollars. New York’s transit system has been shut down, and rain and snow are barraging the East Coast. Times like this make my heart ache for those caught in the disaster. Times like this also make me appreciate the Midwest and its generally-consistent weather patterns. My favorite weather patterns are the ones consistent with Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois: Almost Winter, Winter, Almost Summer, and Road Construction. No unexpected tsunamis for us (fingers crossed)!

But in all seriousness, thoughts and prayers to those caught in the storm’s path. Be safe.

NFL: Anyone who owns Alex Smith on a fantasy team has some kind of love/hate relationship with him. He is inconsistent. Anyone who owns Alex Smith and Vernon Davis on the same fantasy team have a hate relationship with Smith. I speak on terms of personal experience.

Alex Smith threw a nearly perfect game last night, going 18-for-19 with three TDs. Great for him. Too bad Vernon Davis wasn’t on the receiving end for any of them!

All bitterness aside, it was a good game for Smith. It is good to see him coming to his own as a QB. Thankfully, he beat Rodgers for the first overall pick in ’05. That’s probably the only category he’ll ever beat Rodgers.

MLB: Baseball season is over. Is anyone else’s spirit crushed? Thankfully, there is approximately only 153 days until Opening Day. Yes, I am counting. No, I cannot wait. Coping strategies that may work for you: 1) Wearing Cubs attire on a regular basis. 2) joining twitter under a pseudonym and incessantly tweeting about baseball. 3) Perhaps find a website that streams Dominican Winter League games.

Hopefully those tips are helpful! Happy Tuesday!

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Morning News: The Littlest Giant Slays Tigers

Monday, October 29th, 2012

World Series Ends
So maybe Ryan Theriot isn’t technically the littlest Giant, but the former Cub got a second consecutive World Series ring last night by setting the table in the 10th inning and eventually scoring the winning run for the victorious Giants. How quickly these MLB playoffs ended, with decidedly less interest than the new playoff format was designed for. The Giants vanquished the 7th best (record-wise) team in the AL in a very quick sweep that will inevitably usher in analysts everywhere parroting some form of the axiom, good pitching always beats good hitting.

Cubs Shake Up The 40-Man
I’ll let Carrie Muskat explain it to you!

Rod Stewart Does With Weird Stuff With Cocaine
I don’t want to talk about it.

Hurricane
Why do we name hurricanes after people? More importantly, why are these names not good enough? Frankenstorm (perhaps to laziest nickname a journalist ever authored) is battering the East Coast the beginning part of this week. I’ll be ready to batter the greater Richmond, Virginia area on Thursday; maybe someone can write a news article about me riffing on my first name. I’m sure it’ll be just as lazy a tagline…

DIY Aviary – In Illinois!
This guy really, really loves his birds. Even the dead ones.

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Morning News: Giants, Tigers, and Badgers, Oh My!

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Might as well start with the World Series. Unlike Wednesday’s lop-sided Game 1, Game 2 was a pitchers’ duel, locked in a 0-0 tie into the seventh. The Giants came out on top in the 2-0 victory to take a moderately commanding 2-0 lead in the series. I know there was some controversy at one point when Prince Fielder was thrown out at the plate, and some drama when Tigers’ pitcher Doug Fister was hit in the head by a line drive (the ball wound up in center field, but Fister managed to stay on the mound). But I can’t offer you much specific detail about the game, since my nephews were visiting. Their viewing choice was less mainstream–a British stop-motion cartoon about the adventures of a group of bath toys called the Rubbadubbers. It was a weird evening.

In a happy footnote to a tragic story, Giants fan and beating victim Bryan Stow was in attendance for Game 2 last night. Stow’s recovery is progressing slowly, but it had to be nice for him and his family to take in a victory for their beloved Giants.

Elsewhere in the MLB, Mariano Rivera is contemplating retirement, and that Cardinals are ready to part ways with Kyle Lohse and Lance Berkman.

Sad news for former Cub Mark Grace–he was indicted Thursday on drunk driving charges, and could face as much as four years in prison. Since it was his second DUI arrest in less than fifteen months, it seems he’s facing at least some jail time. So you can go ahead and take his name off the list of potential replacements for Bob Brenly. On a personal note, Grace is one of my all-time favorite Cubs, so while I can’t abide his crime I do hope he’s able to avoid the harshest punishment. And that whatever his sentence, he’s able to get his life together.

Speaking of frustrating stupidity, Honey Badger don’t care about playing football for LSU ever again.

Longtime NBA Sith Lord commissioner David Stern announced he will retire on February 1st, 2014–the thirty-year anniversary of him first taking the job. Since I couldn’t care less about the NBA, this doesn’t matter much to me. What about you basketball fans out there–is this good news or bad?

A ninety year-old shooting victim is being sued by the man who broke into his house, tied him up, and shot him. By comparison, the guy who robbed a Church’s Chicken with a samurai sword looks like a criminal mastermind.

And to get your weekend started right, here are the top ten greatest car jumps in Hollywood history. (And be sure to click the link to the tractor fight video–it’s magical.)

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Northside Archives: Tiger Ace Fail

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

The Tigers had it taken to them from the start in Game 1. Their ace, and reigning MVP award winner, was battered and bruised early and often leaving little doubt of how this World Series would start. The 88-win Tigers have an uphill battle in Game 2 against their 98-win foes from the National League.

FACT-CHECK: But the Giants only won 94 games this year!

That’s right, this is not the first time that the Tigers have thrown up all over themselves with their ace on the mound in Game 1 of the World Series. Hal Newhouser had won the MVP award in 1944 and would win it again in 1945 (the first Cy Young Award was given in 1956). But in the Cubs’ last World Series appearance, they battered Newhouser for 4 runs in the first, and another 3 in the third knocking out the Hall of Famer after a scant 2.2 IP. The Cubs won Game 1 on the strength of a complete(ly unnecessary complete) game from Hank Borowy.

The Cubs left Detroit with a 2-1 series lead and the final four games at Wrigley Field. But it would be Game 5, a rematch between Newhouser and Borowy that would reshape the series.

After Dizzy Trout pitched a gem in Game 4 to tie the series at 2 games apiece, Newhouser and Borowy had dueled to a 1-1 tie after five innings of Game 5. That’s when Hank Borowy ran out of steam. The Tigers tagged Borowy for 4 runs in the sixth, taking a 5-1 lead on the way to an 8-4 victory that provided them a stranglehold on the series.

In must-win Game 6, the Cubs held a 5-1 lead after six innings. After starter Claude Passeau got into some trouble in the seventh, Cubs manager Charlie Grimm turned to two unlikely relievers, Hank Wyse and Ray Prim. Each had been tagged for big innings by the Tigers earlier in the World Series. Wyse got the Cubs out of the seventh with a 5-3 lead; the Cubs pushed the count to 7-3 before starting the eighth. Wyse and Prim would combine to cough up the lead in the eighth inning and game would go to extra innings tied at 7.

Enter Hank Borowy…you mean the Cubs Game 5 starter? Yes, the Cubs turned to Borowy in the ninth. Not until a two-out double in the bottom of the twelfth off the bat of Stan Hack were the Cubs able to guarantee a Game 7. Dizzy Trout suffered the loss in relief for the Tigers who were certain to start Newhouser in the series finale.

Enter Hank Borowy…you mean the Cubs winning pitcher from Game 6? Yes, the Cubs again turned to Borowy as Newhouser’s foil. Borowy opened the game by surrendering three straight singles, Grimm immediately pulled him and inserted Paul Derringer. Derringer was a long-time Cincinnati Red, then 38-years old and in what would be his final appearance in MLB. After getting two outs, having the bases loaded, and down only 1-0, Derringer needed a break – something needed to go his way to get out of the mess. But Derringer walked Jimmy Outlaw (this is starting to sound like a bad western) to give the Tigers a second run. And with Newhouser in the on-deck circle, Derringer coughed up a bases-clearing double to Paul Richards. The Cubs were in a 5-0 hole, had not yet come to the plate to hit, facing a dominant pitcher, and had no bullpen left to speak of. The Tigers cruised to a 9-3 victory, and Newhouser’s Game 1 meltdown was lost to history.

So while Verlander and the Tigers probably tossed and turned all night, it’s just one game. One very big game; but just one game. If Verlander and Zito meet twice more in this series, none of us will be surprised to see Verlander take a page from Newhouser’s book and rewrite his impact on the series by establishing his dominance on the mound. Then again…the Giants aren’t the Cubs, and I don’t expect we’ll see Zito on the mound in each of the final 3 games of the series.

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The Flat Bat Award 2012

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

With the regular season behind us, it is time once again to hand out the Flat Bat Award for the best bunter in baseball in 2012. In 2011, Emilio Bonifacio beat out the two-time defending champion Erick Aybar. However, Bonifacio only played in 64 games this season because of a series of injuries. Will it be Aybar who reclaims the title or someone else?

To decide, we will first look at which players were most successful on bunt hit attempts. These players had the best batting averages on bunt hit attempts with a minimum of 10 attempts:

2012 Bunt Hit Leaders

Name

Bunt Hit Results

Batting Average

Alcides Escobar, KC

11 out of 13

.846

Denard Span, Min

8 out of 10

.800

Alejandro De Aza, CWS

8 out of 11

.727

Emilio Bonifacio, Mia

9 out of 13

.692

Will Venable, SD

8 out of 12

.667

Danny Espinosa, Was

6 out of 10

.600

Ben Revere, Min

9 out of 16

.563

Erick Aybar, LAA

15 out of 27

.556

Juan Pierre, Phi

10 out of 18

.556

Jose Reyes, Mia

8 out of 15

.533

Erick Aybar set the pace for bunt hits with 15, which were four more than Alcides Escobar, the nearest bunter to him. However, Aybar also attempted 27 bunt hits, which were far and away the most in baseball. The result was a .556 average on bunt hit attempts, which is a excellent but still well behind the leaders. Escobar led baseball with a .846 average, and Denard Span and Alejandro De Aza were close behind.

Next, we will consider the most successful sacrifice bunters with a minimum of 10 attempts:

2012 Sacrifice Bunt Leaders

Name

Sacrifice Hit Results

Percentage

Elvis Andrus, Tex

17 for 17

100%

Clayton Kershaw, LAD

14 for 14

100%

Chris Capuano, LAD

13 for 13

100%

Marco Scutaro, 2 Tms

10 for 10

100%

Juan Pierre, Phi

17 for 18

94%

Johnny Cueto, Cin

17 for 18

94%

Bobby Wilson, LAA

13 for 14

93%

R.A. Dickey, NYM

10 for 11

91%

Barry Zito, SF

10 for 11

91%

Ian Kennedy, Ari

10 for 11

91%

Elvis Andrus was an impressive 17 for 17 in sacrifice bunt attempts. He led the American League in sacrifices and did not fail once. Juan Pierre and Johnny Cueto put down 17 successful sacrifices in the National League. Each had just one failed attempt.

Pierre is the one player who appeared on both lists. He bunted 36 times, which was the most in baseball. That is nothing new for Pierre, who led baseball with an incredible 61 total bunt attempts in 2011. The major change for Pierre was with his success rate. A year ago, Pierre batted .438 on his bunt hit attempts and had an 86 percent success rate on sacrifice bunt attempts. This year, Pierre increased his average to .556 on bunt hit attempts and his success rate on sacrifice attempts to 94 percent.

With those improvements, we were tempted to call Pierre the winner. However, Pierre’s edge comes from his sacrifice bunts, which are not nearly as valuable as bunts for hits. In aggregate, players were successful in their sacrifice attempts 85 percent of the time in 2012. Pierre attempted a sacrifice 18 times and was successful 17 of them. In a similar number of attempts, an average bunter would have succeeded between 15 and 16 times. The difference in their run expectancies is only a third of a run.

In contrast, even with his high volume of bunt-for-hit attempts, Erick Aybar had four more successes than anyone else (five more than Pierre), and those successes each create nearly half a run in value, on average. Despite the fewer sacrifice attempts and the more-frequent failed bunt-for-hit attempts, Aybar still outpaced the field by two runs of expected value. That is why Erick Aybar is the 2012 Flat Bat Award winner.

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

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Morning News: Ozzie Guillen, Naked X-Rays, and PCP-Induced Mayhem

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

I’ll be honest, I’m still giddy from the Cardinals’ elimination from the postseason Monday night. And regardless of the spectacular and endlessly satisfying outcome, how beautiful were those final moments of monsoon baseball? I’m sure many of them are suffering from low-grade pneumonia right now, but I’m a little jealous of the fans who got to witness Game 7 live in the rain-soaked stands. On to the news:

The Cubs have named a new third base coach and made some other moves to round out the coaching staff. Nothing groundbreaking here–just some housekeeping before the offseason stove heats up.

Elsewhere in the National League, if you had October 23rd in your When Will Ozzie Guillen Get Fired pool, congratulations. After spending more than $630M on a new stadium and much more on filling out the roster, Guillen’s praise for Fidel Castro hobbled what might have been a breakout season just as it was starting. The question I’m left with, and the one I want your thoughts on below is if Ozzie is even employable in the big leagues right now. Is there a team that can afford to take a risk on him, with all the guaranteed headaches he brings with him? I say it’s possible there’s a team for him, but I think it’s far more likely he has to head down to the minors and earn some trust before another GM hands him the keys.

And in other disgruntled former manager news, Bobby Valentine isn’t finished burning bridges yet. Tuesday Valentine accused Big Papi himself of quitting on the team after the blockbuster (and ultimately futile) trade between the Red Sox and the Dodgers. You can read his version of the story in his forthcoming memoir, I Never Had to Put Up With This Crap in Japan. (And just for fun, let’s extend the whole “is he unemployable” discussion to Bobby V, too.)

Tuesday was a big day for Apple devotees. In addition to the debut of the new iPad Mini, Apple announced a whole wave of improved and updated products, including a new full-sized iPad and a radically sleeker iMac.

I’m no political mastermind, so I have to ask: is combining your opponent’s name with a mental disorder and adopting worn-out tropes from Jeff Foxworthy’s standup supposed to be a sign that your campaign is going well? Stay classy, Mr. President.

Big news for travelers here: the TSA is swapping out the controversial Backscatter security scanners–or in the parlance of our time, the naked x-ray machines–in most major airports. Soon frequent flyers won’t be subject to regular tidal waves of radiation, not to mention the possibility of TSA lowlifes posting their naked x-rays online.

It won’t be often that back-to-back stories in my morning news posts will involve nudity, but this story was too bizarre not to post. The man ate his own finger!

A top-ten list of amazing parking spaces. What more do you need to know.

Let’s try to go out on a high note: the first trailer for Iron Man 3 premiered Tuesday. And if it’s your kind of thing, here’s an collection of 10 revelations and/or insights the intensely observant viewer can draw from the trailer.

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Should the Cubs Eschew the Big Name Free Agent Forever?

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

With my return to non-minor league topical posting, I actually spent quite a bit of time considering what I wanted to write about today. At first, I thought I might write about what free agents I thought the Cubs should pick up, but then thought that would be a better post when we get closer to free agency. Next, I thought about a post regarding why the Cubs should keep Alfonso Soriano, but thought that would be better to put in my back pocket until after we see what the Cubs do to start their offseason from a personnel standpoint? And then I thought maybe I should write about what I think the master plan Theo and Jed for the Cubs is. But that would honestly be too obvious, as I don’t think they’ve made any mystery of that.

However, one clear part of the plan for the first couple off seasons under current management is to entirely avoid big name free agents. Last year, the Cubs’ biggest free agent pickups were Paul Maholm and David DeJesus. And, by all accounts, the Cubs will not be involved in the big name free agents this season, so for those of you hoping to see Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke in Cubby blue, you’re likely to be disappointed.

The general viewpoint among most insiders is that a team should avoid the big name free agent until they are poised to compete for the postseason. But look at the $100 million plus contracts that have been signed. How many of those contracts worked out?

And think of Theo Epstein’s history with big time free agent contracts. Carl Crawford was a disaster. John Lackey was a disaster who also was involved in the largest controversy involving fried chicken in United States history.

The big name free agent is problematic for several reasons. First, players who reach free agency are almost always flawed in one way or another. This year’s top free agent position player, Josh Hamilton, has a long history of injury issues and personal demons, not to mention the fact that he will turn 32 shortly after next season starts. A lot of big market teams are concerned that Zack Greinke, the best free agent pitcher, would struggle with his mental health issues in a higher pressure environment like New York, Boston or Chicago. Even Albert Pujols, the best player of the last decade, had a big red flag in the combination of his age and contractual demands when he hit free agency a year ago. The players that lack red flags simply don’t reach free agency… until they are old enough that their age becomes that red flag.

This past year, the best free agent acquisitions were Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Beltran and Josh Willingham. The Brewers signed Ramirez $36 million over 3 years. He put up a .300/.360/.540 line to go along 27 home runs. His .900 OPS was 40 points higher than Albert Pujols’ this season. The Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran for $26 million over 2 years. He hit .269/.346/.495 while playing a respectable right field. Josh Willingham batted .260/.366/.524 in the first year of a 3 year, $21 million deal.  The combined money in those three deals is less than 1/3 of the Albert Pujols contract.

Big name free agents might just not be worth the risk. Ever. Especially when you can often get players who will put up similar numbers but require not only a commitment of a lot fewer years, but also a lot fewer dollars per year.

This is not to say that I think the Cubs should never attempt to obtain a superstar. But I think the path to do that is the trade market. And if you look where Theo Epstein had the most success in Boston, it was in the trade market. You can attain younger players who are not only cheaper, but have more of their primes ahead of them than free agents, who already have at least six seasons of service time, do.

Also, Ronnie Woo Woo was on my train home tonight. In his Cubs’ uniform and a Bears helmet. Just thought I’d close with that.

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Morning News: Good Triumphs Over…

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Last night the Giants completed the collapse of the undeserving playoff participants from St. Louis. No truth to the rumor that Montgomery Burns Bud Selig was retroactively seeking to make the NLCS a best-of-five series. Giants v. Tigers on Wednesday…speaking of Tigers, the Lions and Bears met in a forgettable MNF matchup. The Bears managed a workmanlike 13-7 victory that convinced the Packers that Green Bay is still the team to beat in the NFC North, and it convinced Brandon Marshall that Ndamukong Suh is still a dirty player…speaking of an irrelevant lying, serial falsehood propagator and infamous cyclist, Lance Armstrong was effectively and officially blackballed by anyone and everyone who had a role in making him famous. His teammates. Cycling leaders. His sponsors. Chris Rock has even weighed in, “Nike dropped Lance Armstrong, but didn’t drop Tiger Woods. I guess in America you can cheat on your wife, but not on your bike.” A sad commentary to be sure; I wonder if the comedian would have a similar commentary were the situation reversed (I doubt it; probably would be joining a chorus accusing Nike of racism). It’s a good reminder that major companies are simply about money, supporting Armstrong is financially untenable – especially since his career is over. Supporting the No. 2 golfer in the world, the sport’s generational icon will always be a moneymaker – the decision has nothing to do with their offenses OR skin color…speaking of racism, the debate last night was followed by accusations of exactly that on MSNBC. Ah race-baiting, so attractive. Chris Matthews’ preposterous assessment was perhaps the most entertaining event on an otherwise melancholy evening. The President wasn’t terribly Presidential, Romney didn’t do a lot to distinguish himself, and much of the foreign policy debate wasn’t spent discussing actual foreign policy. If you missed it, Romney talked about peace 12 times – Obama, not once. We’re two weeks from this whole thing being over, after which we can drop the words ‘swing state’ from our vocabulary for another 3.5 years. Maybe by then the Cubs will be relevant!!

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