Archive for December, 2013

The Chicago Bears Are Precisely What the Cubs Shouldn’t Want to Be

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Most Septembers, Chicagoans end a summer of bickering about whether the Cubs or White Sox were more terrible in any given season and unite to root for the Bears at the start of football season. Since the conclusion of the 2007 Super Bowl, that involved rooting for what is arguably the most mediocre team in football. In the seven seasons since the Bears last played in the world’s biggest annual television spectacle, the Bears finished 7-9 twice (2007 and 2009), 8-8 twice (2011 and 2013), 9-7 once (2008), 10-6 once (2012) and 11-5 once (2010). In only one of those seasons, 2010, the Bears made the playoffs.

In that span, the Bears have never been a bad team, but instead have been consistently mediocre. Even had the Bears slipped into the playoffs this season, no one would have confused them for a Super Bowl contender. And the route to true, Super Bowl contention relevance is… well, it seems like the Bears are as far away from that now as they were a year ago. The Bears have the best offense I can ever remember them having, but now the defense is a mess, and old.

Now, the NFL is different from the MLB in a lot of ways. The NFLPA has nowhere near the power the MLBPA does, and there’s a salary cap, so the ability to build through free agency is greater. Also, success in the NFL is so heavily dependent on good quarterback play, and there’s just no comparable position in baseball, even the ace starting pitcher.

But the Bears’ mediocrity merely begets more mediocrity. It’s been nearly a decade of hole filling, and once one is filled, another opens up. Oh, they were able to fix the problems enough for one year to make a run in the playoffs one season when they drew a favorable matchup at home in the divisional round against a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team, and they’ve been largely competivish for the past few seasons. But no one has mistaken the Bears for a real Super Bowl contender, and they’ve been constantly a step behind the Green Bay Packers.

But the Bears, particularly in the latter half of the Jerry Angelo years, were close enough to competitive that there was a constant excuse to not tear the parts that didn’t work down.

Now, tear downs can fail. They’re risky, and a failed teardown means everyone in the front office and on the coaching staff loses their jobs. If the Cubs’ farm system based rebuild doesn’t work out, Theo Epstein’s legacy will take a significant hit. But the Epstein/Hoyer/McLeod regime are not interested in being competivish.

As a fan, I’d rather have a tear down and rebuild for a shot at a Packers or St. Louis Cardinals like extended run of true competitiveness, even if the tear down might not work, then close to a decade of uninspired mediocrity. Trust me, the latter is far more annoying.

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WWTD? (What will Tanaka do?)

Friday, December 27th, 2013

I hope everyone had a great Christmas. 

Let’s try an exercise. Here’s the scenario: First, imagine you are not a Cubs fan (this is probably harder for some than others). Second, imagine you’re Japanese pitching phenom Masahiro Tanaka (stay with me here). Third, imagine you have the option of signing with any major league team. Which team would you choose? Would you automatically go with the highest bid? Do you want to play on a team with a rich tradition of championships like the Yankees? Do you want to go to a team loaded with win-now major league talent like the Dodgers? Do you want to play in a market where you can maximize endorsement deals and media exposure? …or, do you select a team who is a few years away from being competitive, plays in a historic ballpark, hasn’t won in 100+ years, and (might) offer you the biggest contract (i.e., the Cubs)? Would a chance to bring a championship to this team matter? Do you even know the history of the Cubs?

Multiple reports have indicated that the Cubs will be “all in” on Tanaka. Perhaps they’ve been saving and “shaving” payroll in preparation for this opportunity. Maybe they see this as the first step toward competitiveness over the next 2 to 3 years. It is a rare thing to be able to land a talent of this caliber and to lose nothing but money.

So, for now, let’s assume that the finances will be there (something we won’t be sure of until the deal is made public). What would it take to convince Tanaka to come to Chicago? Even though it’s my favorite city (and I’m not a Chicagoan), I have no idea how known Chicago is in Japan – or how popular the Cubs are there. If Tanaka knows something of Chicago, maybe they have a chance, but if he sees it just as a city in the middle of the country with a bad team (and poor player facilities), would it even be possible to land him at all? Fukodome did sign with the Cubs, but he’s not in the same league as Tanaka as far as demand. Will the Cubs have to overwhelm Tanaka with a contract offer that is significantly larger than other offers? Could – and should – the Cubs do that?

So, imagine you are in Tanaka’s shoes right now. What would you do? What factors would determine your course of action?

Have a safe and happy new year!

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GirlieView (12/26/2013)

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! I wrapped up the tallying a bit early this time around (Sunday afternoon) but all your comments after that will count for next time!

GirlieView Definitions

  • Lizzie = A funny, timely quote made on the VFTB site by our writers or commenters.
  • Lizard = The best Lizzie.
  • MVL = Most Valuable Lizzie’er: The person with the most Lizzies in the period under review (usually the past two weeks.)
  • Top 10 of the 2013/2014 Offseason = The folks with the most aggregate Lizzie points YTD (1 point for every Lizzie, 3 points for every Lizard.)

As you already know, this is all completely subjective and according to my whims.

Lizzies

  • I love being optimistic, but I’m getting worn out!
  • We all want it to happen now but just like Christmas morning we have to wait.
  • I think a part of it is that not all that many major moves really make sense for the Cubs.
  • I am bored, can we make fun of Seymour, CAPS or Jedi?
  • Just eat grass. It works for cows.
  • Not a physician, but I’d suggest adding reduced-fat-by-boiling-it-out-Ramen to that list.
  • Bogusevic for Justin Ruggiano. He is rumored to have more power than Bogusevic, and confirmed to have an easier name to spell.
  • I know that is unconventional out of the box thinking that will garner laughter and ridicule but some day a manager will do that and be successful and then every team will do it. Mark this post, you heard it here first kids.
  • Why are you not in the front office? Those guys could use some of your (fore)sight.
  • Waiting for an offer……………
  • Can I be your minion?
  • Sure, Seymour too so we have someone to entertain us.
  • I Wada preferred Mark Grace in the booth, at least Grace would never deny there is drinking in the game.
  • So we got Hottovy on the hot stovey but we were frozen out of the winter meetings?
  • Seymour was whining about the $22 he was forced to spend at a restaurant that had waitress service, he just didn’t understand why we couldn’t all go to Quizno’s for $8.95 including chips and a fountain drink.
  • BTW my and the missus Thanksgiving meal? Subway! Who knew they would be open.
  • The one problem for Hendricks has been the major leagues
  • That was my one problem too, which is why I ended up in church league softball.
  • Seems to be a recurring theme for most of the guys that the Cubs promote.
  • It’s that pesky ‘major league’ problem that plaques the Cubs, if we could just compete at the AA level we would having a winning season, at least sometimes.
  • Jim Hendry finally got Brian Roberts.
  • Although, in fairness, Hendry probably would have immediately given Roberts a 6 year extension upon signing him, so at least we dodged that bullet.
  • He likes sushi, summer drives to the beach in convertibles and romance movies, he always brings kleenex to the movie theatre.
  • Sorry, romance movies and kleenex are the deal breakers.
  • We do know that Raker is advocating being in, but just a little bit. Just the tip, as it were.
  • they could replace him with Matt Murton and Bryan LaHair type players. They will fill stadiums.
  • You mean they do that as well as star in sitcoms?

Lizard

  • I think the extent to which Adam Dunn would have been a disaster in right field cannot be overstated.

Shout Outs

  • Congratulations to Bones, Katie, and Rob Willer for winning their first off-season Lizzies this time around.

MVL

  • Congratulations to Doc Raker our Most Valuable Lizzie’er this time!

Top 10 of the 2013/2014 Offseason (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. Doc Raker
2. jswanson
2. Sean Powell
4. Joe Aiello
5. Noah
6. Eddie von White
6. Seymour Butts
8. cap’n obvious
9. Jedi Johnson
10. Doug S.

Chit Chat

  • What was your favorite Christmas gift? (This year, or ever! You choose!)
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VFTB Interactive Christmas Challege

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

The other day I came across an entry on Baseball Reference for Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

What made me laugh was the similarity score where it compares him to other players. That brings us to our challenge. Here are the players listed as similar. Your challenge is to come up with as many more that have something to do with the holiday season in any way. Be creative. Have fun. Here are the suggestions to get you started.

  1. Rob Deer (940)
  2. J.T. Snow (924)
  3. Dasher Troy (920)
  4. Cupid Childs (919)
  5. Al Clauss (915)
  6. Steve Christmas (908)
  7. Matt Holliday (905)
  8. Holly Hollingshead (901)
  9. Frosty Thomas (898)
  10. Ozzie Guillen (895)

Make sure you post the name and the link to their player page in Baseball Reference in the comments.

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International Prospects: Is the Hype Worth the Money?

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

If you’ve been following Cubs news (closely or not) the name “Masahiro Tanaka” has appeared in various conversations from time to time. He’s 25, Japanese, and went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season. Say it with me: “Wow. He seems pretty great.”

A few things about Tanaka: he’s eligible for free agency in 2015, and his team may not want to let him go; Also, MLB and NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) have come to a new posting agreement – a $20 million cap for players (before contracts and endorsements). This means that Nippon will make approximately $30 million less than they received for the likes of Yu Darvish or Daisuke Matsuzaka, which also means that his team could decline to post him this season and hang on to him until his contract expires. (If I may play the Devil’s Advocate, I’d hang on to him until his contract expires.)

Now, Tanaka has stated his desire to play in the MLB next season. The Cubs have to fight with the Rangers and Dodgers for him. But this question keeps running through my mind: Are we sure he’s not going to be a big bust?

Don’t get me wrong, his numbers are impressive. But does that mean his success will transfer from the NPB to the MLB? It did for Darvish. It did for Ryu. But it didn’t for Dice-K. And let’s not forget about Kosuke Fukudome.

I’m not an expert in regional variations of baseball. But I have noticed that it seems international players from Latin America experience more success in the Major Leagues than those from other regions of the world (even moreso than American-born players). There have been a few players from the Asian region that have had success (Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, namely; there are several others you could argue are on the path to success). Many former-MLB’ers cross the Pacific in hopes to revive their careers, and usually are able to milk a few years of superstardom out of their waning careers, while the superstars of the NPB come here and don’t quite reach superstardom. Could it have something to do with the differences in pitching and hitting styles? The slap hit/drag bunt is very popular on the continent of Asia. Ichiro made it work for him, but many players who attempt that style of batting are average for a little while and fade into oblivion (see: Kosuke Fukudome).

Like I said earlier, don’t take me wrong. I want so much for Tanaka to be all he’s cracked up to be. I also don’t want to pay a $20 million fee on top of a contract that has to outdo an offer from LA and TEX and have him be a bust. His team might not even let him go yet, which may turn out to work in favor of all teams interested. If he does stay in Japan until 2015, the Cubs could pick him then and add him to a team that is (hopefully) contending for a playoff berth.

Sometimes I get crazy ideas in my head. Good thing I have you folks to share them with. Until next time!

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How “In” Will the Cubs be on Masahiro Tanaka

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Yesterday, Major League Baseball and the Nippon Professional Baseball League agreed to a new posting agreement. Previously, teams made blind bids to the Japanese team posting the player, and the highest bidder won exclusive rights to negotiate with the Japanese player. For example, when the Rangers signed Yu Darvish, they paid a $51.7 million posting fee to the Nippon Ham Fighters. At that point, Darvish had two options: (1) sign with the Rangers; or (2) return to Japan. He eventually signed with the Rangers for 6 years and $60 million.

Under the new system, the maximum posting fee is $20 million, but every team willing to pay the posting fee can then negotiate with the player as if he were a free agent. While the posting fee will be lower, presumably the salaries will get higher for the premier posted players. As a note, only the team that actually signs the player pays the posting fee.

This offseason, the premier Japanese player is right handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Now, no talent evaluator thinks Masahiro Tanaka has the same ceiling as Yu Darvish, who is a true ace no matter your definition of “number 1 pitcher.” Tanaka is likely more a guy who tops out as a 2, which is still immensely valuable. Despite that, most thought Tanaka’s posting fee plus salary would total more than Darvish’s even if the old system was still in effect for three reasons. First, the total Darvish money was depressed because of the debacle that Daisuke Matsuzaka’s contract became after the injuries piled up. Second, Darvish’s success will have the reverse effect on Tanaka’s deal. Third, there is just more money in baseball now than two years ago due to new television deals.

Whether the new system will reduce the total money has yet to be seen, but it is unlikely. While the posting fees will be lower, having multiple teams compete against each other to sign the player after the posting phase will increase the player’s salary. Despite Tanaka not having the Darvish ceiling, as an at least solid mid-rotation pitcher who is available via quasi-free agency with a significant history of success against the best players in the world who are not in the Major Leagues, he is still a rarity in baseball as a 25 year old who can be obtained through free agency. Most believe that, on top of the posting fee, Tanaka will obtain a contract for 5 to 6 years for around $100 million, and potentially exceeding that amount.

Once the new posting agreement and Tanaka’s likelihood of being posted hit the news wires on Monday, Buster Olney quickly Tweeted that the Cubs are expected to be heavily in on Tanaka. But what exactly does “heavily” mean in this context? Will the Cubs honestly open up the checkbook to that extent?

They very well could. First, the new posting system helps the Cubs, at least to the extent it will limit the ability of the Yankees to get involved. Posting fees do not count towards the luxury tax, but salary does. Second, Tanaka is precisely the sort of player the Cubs have said they would spend money on: someone who will still be in his prime when the Cubs are ready to compete.

I’m not saying the Cubs will get Tanaka, but we all know a lot of Cubs fans will, rightly or wrongly, judge the success of this offseason on whether or not the Cubs sign Tanaka. To some extent, the Cubs may be looking at it the same way.

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Cubs Off-season still quiet

Monday, December 16th, 2013

After leaving the winter meetings without a splash the Cubs made some minor moves over the weekend. One of these moves was claiming an intriguing right hander Liam Hendricks from the Minnesota Twins. Hendricks is 24 years old and hails from Australia once regarded as a top 10 prospect with the Minnesota Twins as recent as 2012. The one problem for Hendricks has been the major leagues his numbers are quite pitiful at  2-13 with a 6.08 earned run average in 28 starts (30 games). The Australian righty has a 3.61 ERA with 6.2 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 in 254 career innings at Triple-A and a career 2.99 ERA in the minors as a whole. Hendricks features a fastball that sits between 87-90 miles per hour a good slider and above average changeup. Baseball America had listed him with the ceiling of a number three starter if all were to pan out. At the very least this was a waiver claim and does not cost the Cubs very much which bares no risk money wise.

Bruce Levine tweeted this weekend that the Yankees may look to trade for Darwin Barney to add a second baseman to their roster. Barney batted 208/.266/.303 in 141 games for the Cubs this season. Although, offense isn’t Barney’s strong point as his defense is gold glove worthy the past two seasons. Barney was the recipient in 2012 and turned in another solid campaign in 2013. According to UZR or the Ultimate Zone Rating Barney’s defense the past two seasons is collectively worth three wins for the Chicago Cubs. I’m not exactly what the Cubs would demand in return in a Barney trade I’m assuming young pitching or catching prospects but obviously they wouldn’t be premier prospects as Barney doesn’t warrant that return. Presumably if Barney is traded this off-season it opens the door for Luis Valbuena and Logan Watkins to fight for the job in spring training.

Sean mentioned last Friday that the Cubs were interested in John Axford but news broke last night the Axford has agreed with the Indians on a contract. Other veteran relievers the Cubs have been linked to are Joaquin Benoit, Joba Chamberlain and Drew Storen. I still believe the Cubs should get a veteran reliever even though I’m weary that it might turn into another Shawn Camp situation where the said reliever is over-worked like Russell or out of gas. In other news it seems more and more likely that Ervin Santana won’t be signed until after the Tanaka situation is figured out. I spoke with his agent over the weekend and his words were that “he would guess Santana would sign after Tanaka”.

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Winter Meetings Recap: What’s Next for Shark? Plus Tanaka, Wada, Ruggiano, Cutler

Friday, December 13th, 2013

As expected, there wasn’t much action from the Cubs during the Winter Meetings (and they certainly didn’t make any significant moves). Most of the action around the league came last week, so the meetings themselves were sort of a letdown. Here’s a quick recap of the moves the Cubs did (and didn’t) make this week.

  • First, the Rule 5 draft: The Cubs lost reliever Marcos Mateo to those pesky Diamondbacks. Mateo injured his arm a couple of seasons ago, but he’s been killing it in the DR lately. In the minor league round, the Cubs lost 1B/DH Justin Bour to the Marlins, pitcher A.J. Morris to the Pirates, and OF Julio Borbon (remember him?) to the Orioles. It wasn’t all losses, as the Cubs did select catcher Charles Cutler (no relation to Jay, I assume) from the Pirates. He’ll add organizational depth at a position that desperately needs it. The Cubs players I most feared would be selected (Jae-Hoon Ha, Eric Jokisch, Matt Loosen, Marcus Hatley) were not selected…so that’s good.
  • The Cubs traded OF Brian Bogusevic to the Marlins for OF Justin Ruggiano. Why trade an outfielder for an outfielder? It’s all about the platoon. The Cubs were (oddly) stacked with left-handed outfielders on the major league roster (Bogusevic, Sweeney, Schierholtz), so the team needed a right-handed OF for a platoon (none of these guys are great full-time starting options, so I imagine that Ruggiano will platoon with Sweeney and/or Schierholtz, depending on who has the hot hand). Ruggiano has a career .256/.328/.506 line against lefties, and seems to be a nice defender (especially in the corners, although he can play center as well). This trade isn’t going to make the front page, but it’s definitely one of those “value at the margins” type deals.
  • The Cubs signed 32-year-old left-handed reliever Tommy Hottovy (great name, huh?) to a minor league deal. Eh, maybe he turns into something decent for the middle innings…relief pitching is such a crapshoot, it’s really a numbers game.
  • The Cubs have shown interest in John Axford, but so have many other teams.
  • Joba Chamberlain agreed to a deal with the Tigers.
  • Roberto “Fausto Carmona” Hernandez signed with the Phillies.
  • As we go to press, the Cubs have signed free agent pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada. Wada, formerly of the Japanese league, was signed by the Orioles before the 2012 season – and immediately underwent Tommy John surgery. He was recuperating last year, so he may be ready to go full-steam ahead now. This is the classic Theo/Jed buy-low reclamation project. There’s virtually no risk, since it’s a minor league deal. Don’t look for him to begin the year in the rotation – although he did get an invite to Spring Training.
  • The two big names that are on everyone’s mind are, obviously, Jeff Samardzija and Masahiro Tanaka. In fact, I think the lack of movement on these two, plus David Price, was responsible for the “frozen” state of the winter meetings. Once Tanaka is posted (and signs with someone), the market for Price and Shark should crystalize relatively quickly. I’m too scared to even make a prediction on Tanaka. For Shark, I was thinking that he was definitely going to be traded this offseason. Now? I think it’s 50/50 that we go into the season with Shark and see if we can’t catch a team desperate (either through injury or an unexpected good season) at the trade deadline. Since there’s absolutely no panic to trade him right now, I think Theo will wait it out to get the best possible return. If 2 months of Garza can net Edwards and Olt, we really should wait for a much bigger return for Shark, considering he’s under control for 2 more years.
  • MLB, in an attempt to curb collisions at home plate, is outlawing plate-blocking by catchers and “targeting” by baserunners.
  • Ron Coomer is your new Cubs radio analyst.
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GirlieView (12/12/2013)

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

GirlieView Definitions

  • Lizzie = A funny, timely quote made on the VFTB site by our writers or commenters.
  • Lizard = The best Lizzie.
  • MVL = Most Valuable Lizzie’er: The person with the most Lizzies in the period under review (usually the past two weeks.)
  • Top 10 of the 2013/2014 Offseason = The folks with the most aggregate Lizzie points YTD (1 point for every Lizzie, 3 points for every Lizard.)

As you already know, this is all completely subjective and according to my whims.

Lizzies

  • Here’s to Kottaras adding a bunt, bloop, flare, duck snort, cattle fart or texas leaguer to every 10 at bats to make the saber world quiver. OPA!
  • They are pretty reserved when it comes to duck snorts, due to the vagaries of ducks snorts snorted into the field of play.
  • Why does it worry me when I read “I think Cubs fans will realize quickly how good we had it last year”….???
  • Joe, just how large is your closet that you have all of these old scouting reports in them? Is there room for clothing?
  • I only wear a fig leaf.
  • Did I not tell you? I only wear a fig leaf. They take up little to no room in the closet. I went that route as the scouting reports began to pile up.
  • Happy 50th Birthday to Dr. Raker! On the downward slope to 100 now.
  • There is, of course, no fool like an old fool. Don’t forget to pack your Metamucil.
  • It’s riddled with discontentment and complaints over what we have, coupled with excessive whining over what we don’t have.
  • Fans of a team that simply are exhausted.
  • Did Shark steal your girlfriend at some point?
  • Maybe the Cubs should field a Japanese team. Then we would either win their championship or be a failure on two continents.
  • Stop. You had me at “Stick your hands in my sack and pull out a marble.”
  • Preceded by “Close your eyes.”
  • As so long as DB has developed an out-pitch this off-season, I’m fine with this move.
  • Dude is an OF.
  • Anything can happen when the hot stove is cooking with gas, Chuck.

Lizard

  • Close your eyes. Stick your hands in my sack and pull out a marble.

Shout Outs

  • Congratulations to Chuck, Doug S, Jerry in Wisconsin, and Sherm for winning their first off-season Lizzies this time around.

MVL

  • Congratulations to Joe Aiello our Most Valuable Lizzie’er this time!

Top 10 of the 2013/2014 Offseason (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. Sean Powell
2. jswanson
3. Doc Raker
3. Joe Aiello
5. cap’n Obvious
5. Seymour Butts
7. Noah
8. Eddie von White
8. Jedi Johnson
8. Doug S.

Chit Chat

  • I got nothin’. Who wants to suggest a topic?
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