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The Final Frontier: The Cubs’ Convention

Friday, January 16th, 2015

I used to have an ongoing argument with one of my co-workers; which franchise is cooler…Star Wars or Star Trek? Having seen Star Wars (now referred to as Episode IV: A New Hope) three times in the theater as an eight year old, it’s pretty obvious where I stood on the divide.  I never had any interest in Star Trek as a kid, although I may have had a toy or two.  As I aged, and “Trekkies” and their conventions were labeled as gatherings of basement dwelling nerds, (see the classic William Shatner SNL sketch) I became further entrenched in my Star Wars preference. (In my defense this was prior to the putrid prequels… Damn you, Lucas!) Perhaps I was stereotyping Star Trek fans…but I never planned on attending a convention to validate or refute my preconceptions.

I had also never attended the convention for my favorite baseball team until last year. (I really don’t have a phobia of conventions…I did go to Beatle Fest when I was in college.) However, after authoring a semi-successful (and very well- reviewed) book, I was “chosen” to be a vendor at the 2014 Cubs’ Convention.  Unfortunately when you are “chosen”, you still have to pay for the booth and hotel room…but that’s what my accountant is for.  It was a great experience, and I came away with three overarching themes for the weekend.

  1. It was Fun

It was surreal and humbling to be in this place; my booth next to the great Pat Hughes, signing and fortunately selling about 110 copies of my book.  The days were long, yet the time flew by as I sat at my booth the entire time, my brothers the beneficiaries of my convention passes to all of the presentations. I loved interacting with the fans, signing my book…people wanting me to sign for them (hence the “surreal” feeling).  These types of moments have been the most rewarding part of the book writing experience, just meeting and talking to people.

One family I met was particularly intriguing. They informed me they were close personal friends of the Bartmans. Yes…that Bartman family.  Being that I have always been a Steve Bartman sympathizer and never in the least bit held him responsible for the 2003 disaster, (heck…it’s one of the reasons I wrote the book!) I asked if they could get a copy to Steve and they agreed to try. Unfortunately, he declined the offer.  Leaving me to wonder if he did not realize my book exonerates him, or that the poor guy is still suffering from shell-shock.  If you are out there, Steve Bartman, I would still love to get you a copy!

Other than that missed rare opportunity, the interactions at my booth were wonderful, humbling and just plain fun….and I look forward to it again on Friday, January 16, 2015.

  1. It was Weird

Okay, here is where the Star Trek connection comes in. I think a portion of Cubs’ fans who attend the convention are the equivalent to Trekkies.  I mean this in the nicest way, (Does that sound sincere?) but I felt like I was in an alternate Cubiverse. The outfits: hats that would make Elton John blush, jerseys with names of players who played ten games for the Cubs, and loads and loads of people cavorting in Cubs pajamas.  Cubs’ tattoos were also aplenty; in fact, one fellow with the numbers 10, 26, and 14 emblazoned permanently on his shiny dome. (Google it…please)

Yet the weirdest part of my weekend occurred in the men’s room (Insert your own joke). I must warn you, this story borders on the tasteless. If you are easily offended, you may want to skip to the next section.  As I was standing at the urinal in one of the luxurious (seriously…they are very nice!) washrooms of the Sheraton, I was startled by an incredible noise emanating from one of the stalls.  It sounded…all at once…like a murder taking place, a birth occurring, or some regurgitating an entire marching band.  I am NOT exaggerating; it was like nothing I ever heard before or since. (In fact, back to Star Wars…it was a sound possibly reminiscent of what a Wookie’s washroom might sound like). I was honestly frightened, and decided to finish my business and hightail it out of there. Alas…I was too late. The door of the stall flew open like an old western saloon door and out walked an individual I instantly recognized.

I really don’t want to besmirch or embarrass this person too much, so I will conceal his identity as much as possible…and if you don’t want to know, skip ahead to the next section. The man who walked out of the stall was dressed in a full Cubs uniform, is a self-appointed Cubs’ mascot and his name rhymes with Donnie Boo-Boo.

  1. Pat Hughes is Awesome

I was very excited to find out my booth was located next to the Cubs’ radio play-by-play voice.  When he arrived to his booth, I approached him stating, “Mr. Hughes.” He immediately stopped me and said, “Call me Pat.”

Of all the experiences of my initial Cubs’ Convention, my impression of Pat Hughes will always remain the strongest.  Even if I were the world’s most proficient writer, I could not do justice to the grace and humility this man showed.  Throughout the weekend, he was constantly under siege for photo-ops and autographs…requests that make many celebrities and semi-celebrities run away screaming, as if this is beneath them.  “Pat” treated them all as if they were all old friends, remembering many by name, and taking time to engage with each of them.  I was truly amazed, and I wish others handled “celebrity status” with the same modesty and elegance. I learned that I should try to emulate Pat in any future endeavors dealing with people, but his is a lofty standard.

The 2015 Convention is almost upon us, and this year should have a much more positive vibe with Joe Maddon, Jon Lester and prospects galore! I highly recommend it if you have the opportunity. I have decided to give it another go this year.  I hope to sell some books, meet some people, and hopefully experience all of the weirdness and fun again.

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2015 Free Agent Pitchers: My Quick Take

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

I think the Cubs signed Jon Lester this week…at least that’s what I heard? No really, apparently his “friends” expect him to sign with the Cubs. I am not sure which of his friends said this or even how many friends Jon Lester has. I have a lot of friends…many of whom I am not sure I would label as “friends” more like “acquaintances” or even “potential acquaintance”.   Hopefully these were some of the closest friendliest friendly friends that Mr. Lester has. I just imagine this: Jon Lester’s cousins’ friends’ sister said she saw Jon at 31 Flavors last night; and she said she heard Jon say he is most definitely possibly considering thinking about the idea of signing with the Cubs.

All rumors from “friends” aside (and the cast of Friends), the Cubs will have money to spend, and Lester could be a prime target. If you want to see a FULL list of potential free-agents…I would advise against looking at it. It’s a bit like going through your grandparents attic…you will find some valuable things…but much of it is worthless and smelly. So, I did the digging for us…and I will list some potential Cubs’ targets. I will examine the possibility of that player becoming a Cub, and add my own take/opinion. I decided to focus on pitchers this week, because we all know the Cubs’ are totally set at ALL other positions forever!(seriously, I may tackle other needs later)


I am going to have to disagree with Jon’s friends; I am not sure I see it happening. If he would sign a contract similar to what Cole Hamels has left on his deal (4 years at $90M plus) then the Cubs will be in. If it takes a 6-7 year deal…I wouldn’t blame the Cubs’ for passing. I will give this a POSSIBLE. 4 for 100(maybe)… 5 for 125(pushing it)…6 for 150(no thanks)


If it’s true that Scherzer turned down a 6 year $144 M deal during the offseason…I see no way Cubs top that. If they pass, it’s not because they are cheap…I just think without a warranty guarantee on his velocity…it would be a really bad signing. I give this signing a chance of NO WAY. Some team is going to over pay…and they may be stuck with a Justin Verlander type contract…without the benefit of Kate Upton being around.


Shields has been a consistent starter for the past for seasons. Shields will be 33 on Opening Day 2015 and unless he goes to the Roger Clemens’ Fountain/Pharmacy of Youth (…hey, I worked that one in again!) he is not going to improve. Never underestimate the AL to NL benefit though…Shields could be dominant for a year or two in the NL. I give it a chance of SLIGHTLY POSSIBLE, but with most of the guys in this group it will all come down to the length of the deal.


Masterson’s has a history with Theo and Jed; therefore this is definitely POSSIBLE. I hate to rely on my fantasy baseball experience here…but I would say, please GOD NO! The Cardinals (the smartest baseball organization in the history of the universe)…are finding out that his velocity is down, and his “rockings” are up…way up. Masterson is currently sporting a 5.94 ERA this season, and 11.25 for the Cards. (Geez…that’s too bad) He may yet turn it around this season, but he is maddeningly inconsistent….and he is murder on your fantasy team’s ERA.


If you are a Simpsons’ fan like me; when you see his name you may think of Santos De Los Halpos. If the pitching market doesn’t go completely crazy (not bloody likely), De La Rosa is a lefty who could benefit from playing somewhere not named Coors Field. De La Rosa has put up pretty decent numbers including an ERA plus of 126; for non-Saber types, this adjusts for his ball park and 100 is considered league average…so De La Rosa has been good again this year. He will be 34 next season, so a 3 year deal would probably be max. POSSIBLE


Maybe we can sign him to a one year deal, and then flip….oh yeah.


I am highly in favor of the Cubs signing Josh Beckett…as long as they have a time machine and get the 2003 version of Josh. NO CHANCE


Whenever players get traded away midseason…there are usually people who say “They can sign him over the winter anyway”….the problem is, it almost NEVER happens. However, I would not dismiss the possibility with Hammel. Hammel found his greatest success as a Cub, and a return to the NL on a reasonable 3 year deal (?)…and I would say SLIGHTLY MORE THAN POSSIBLE.


MLB Trade Rumors does not list him as a free agent, but Baseball Reference does…I am saying he is…and if he is, I want him. His injury history may deflate his price, and he will only be 31 next season. If anybody out there could settle this for me, I would greatly appreciate it…Free Agent or Not? Assuming he is, I would still put him as DOUBTFUL due to teams that will overpay. Full disclosure, I watched him pitch the other night and I was just drooling over the way his change-up was diving away from righties and he was hitting 95 on the gun…that was just one outing…so I probably shouldn’t ever be a scout.


While not the sexiest name on the list, he has been pitching really well since being traded to the Yankees. McCarthy will be 32 next season, and peripheral numbers outshine his traditional baseball stats. Example: McCarthy’s FIP (fielding independent pitching) has been much lower than his ERA, the last 4 seasons…meaning he has pitched better than his ERA suggests. I could see the Cubs taking a “flyer” on McCarthy if he remains unsigned close to spring training, but otherwise…I say HIGHLY DOUBTFUL.

There are too many variables for one to accurately predict if the Cubs will wind up with any of these arms…but just for the fun of it…I will complete a quick wish list, then I am interested to hear what you have to say. Mine would be

  1. Lester 2. Liriano   3. Shields  4. De La Rosa   5.Hammel

I have already mentally prepared myself for the possibility of the Cubs getting NONE of these guys. Oh, and before we get your opinion…here are the guys I deemed not good enough to include:

Kevin Correia, Chris Capuano, Gavin Floyd, Aaron Harang, Roberto Hernandez, Josh Johnson, John Lannan, Colby Lewis, Paul Maholm, Jake Peavy, Edinson Volquez, and Jerome(we had him like ten years ago) Williams

I told you there wasn’t much else to see on the list.

I did not include pitchers that have either a club or player option and are likely to remain with their current clubs.

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Are the Chicago Cubs at the Tipping Point?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

95,242. That’s my place in line.

This morning I decided to sign up for the Cubs’ season ticket waiting list.  I did so knowing I would have no chance of having them anytime soon. Considering I will have a child in college for 12 of the next 13 years, my disposable income will be…let’s just say… limited. I joined just to see where I would place on the list. I have heard unconfirmed (maybe one of you can confirm) reports that waiting listers were getting calls just last winter from the Chicago Cubs…stating that their numbers had come up and they could get tickets.  If this is true, and anyone passed…that person may be waiting a long time for another opportunity.

I know very little about the ins and outs of season tickets and ticket brokering, but I know a little about supply and demand.  For the last couple of summers, I have heard angry callers to sports radio begin conversations with “I am a season-ticket holder, and…” they then rant about Jeff Samardzija being traded or whatever other move they are upset about.  My thought when I hear these rants? Get rid of your tickets then. I have a friend who has a ticket business on the side…and I have listened to him lament for the last 3 summers regarding the Cubs.  This may sound insensitive to those who have had tickets for the last 3 summers, and watched bad, bad baseball…but they didn’t have to keep them.  Yet if you did, I think you are about to be rewarded for your patience.  I view season tickets like stocks…buy low, sell high. If you bought Chicago Blackhawks season tickets in 2006, the idea would have seemed rather silly. Yet, in 2014, those lucky enough to have done so have 41 sold-out dates each year to use or sell at their leisure….and they have benefited greatly during two Stanley Cup runs.

I spoke with my long-time friend, Dale Bradley, a financial adviser with 25 years of experience, of Bradley Investment Center in Evanston…and a Cubs’ season ticket holder for the last 20 years. In regards to his tickets, Bradley stated; “You love them and you hate them…when times are bad you are tempted to sell.  When times are good, they are golden”. In my opinion…times are about to be very good for the patient ones.

This brings me to my “Tipping Point” regarding the Chicago Cubs.  The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is a book that combines economics, human nature, and social trends.  The book may be a bit “thinky” for some, but here is how Gladwell defines a tipping point: “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”.   Gladwell demonstrates messages, ideas, products and behaviors that race like wildfire through our society…after reaching their tipping point.  In my opinion, as year three of the Theo Epstein regime comes to a close…the Cubs are either at a tipping point or on the precipice of one.

Am I just a Cubbie blue Kool-Aid drinker?  I will let the reader be the judge, as I give my reasons why the tipping point for the Cubs’ organization is nigh:

  1. Before we get to the fun stuff (players)…lets address an off the field issue.  It appears as though the renovations to Wrigley will finally begin.  With the way this issue has played out, I will keep my fingers and toes crossed, but the Cubs finally give the impression that they have their “ducks in a row” on this. The dark cloud regarding future revenues concerning the park…might finally be lifting.  In fact (fingers crossed, fingers crossed), we may see some of these changes take root during the 2015 season.
  2. The contract of Alfonso Soriano (the equivalent of two Presidential terms) is finally off the books in 2015.  Not including players eligible for arbitration, the Cubs currently have $31.2 million allotted to salaries in 2015.  Let’s give them a modest payroll of $85 million for 2015…you are looking at a heck of a lot of dough the Cubs will have to allocate to free-agents.  They will not enter 2015 with a $40 million dollar salary.  However, I would like to caution those of you who already have Jon Lester in the 2015 Cubs’ rotation…if Lester wants anything more than a five-year deal…that might not be where the money goes.  Regardless of Jon Lester and other top of the line free-agents, the Cubs will have the flexibility to sign, and trade for contracts they have not had for the past six off seasons.
  3. Recent events, the call ups of Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks, and now (cue, shining light coming through the clouds) Javy Baez, have me thinking that Theo and Jed are ready to at least compete in 2015.  They have stated numerous times they like to call players up to stay…if that’s true, these players will be on the opening day roster in 2015.  A line-up that will include the current NL home-run leader in Rizzo…and perhaps some of the other amazing offensive prospects the Cubs have in the system. These call-ups signal to me that the regime is not concerned about tanking the last two months. I am not alluding that Baez, Alcantara and Hendricks are going to give the Cubs a winning record for August and September…but I get the feeling that the regime isn’t  worried as much if the pick 3rd or 7th overall next June.
  4.  I know some people will always be suspicious of prospects…but when you have respected national writers stating that this may be the best assortment of position prospects ever assembled…you can dismiss those thoughts of Ty Griffin, Corey Patterson and Felix Pie. Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber seem to hit home runs daily.  Alcantara (yes, small sample size) has looked as smooth to me as any prospect in recent memory upon arriving in the Majors.  The Cubs system is “boiling over” with offensive potential.  The “graduation” of these prospects will not leave the minors barren of talent, as players such as Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres will ascend to the top of prospect lists.
  5. Almost under the radar, the Cubs have done an excellent job of stockpiling young power arms for the bullpen.  Justin Grimm has shown flashes, yet still inconsistent. (side not…you don’t have to pitch him every day Ricky) Hector Rondon has stepped in nicely as the current closer, and Neil Ramirez has been filthy for most of the season.  Pedro Strop, although not as young, has displayed his magic slider recently.  At Iowa, the Cubs actually may have the two best power relievers in the system in Armando Rivero (83 k’s in 54 innings) and Arodys Vizcaino.  The Cubs could enter spring training next year with 6-7 relievers who throw 95 mph.

I have had this Tipping Point concept floating in my head for the last month or so…and I finally decided to own it.  I loved Gladwell’s book and the analogies made sense to me.  Some of you may take a much more pessimistic view about 2015 for the Chicago Cubs…and that’s fine. If you do have a negative outlook on the future for the Cubs…please try to convince the 95,241 people ahead of me on the season ticket list that they should drop off.

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A Belated Cubs’ Hall of Fame Point

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

I am old…okay 45…not that old.  My experience as a Cubs’ fan growing up was much different than many of you. My favorite players were Rick Monday, Rick Reuschel, Bruce Sutter, Bill Buckner and Bobby Murcer. Of course in the ‘80s,  I was a huge fan of Ryno and the ’84 team  However as I aged, and the players were the same age as me…and then even younger than men…it just kind of felt weird.  The last player that I was truly just a “fan” of was Greg Maddux.  Oh I love watching Rizzo, and ‘Mendy might currently be my favorite Cub, but I have viewed players through a different lens for many years.

So Maddux is the last one whose cards I collect, am proud to have his autograph, etc.  Obviously, I was not a happy fan when he went to Atlanta.  Therefore when I wrote my book (not a plug), I knew that the Cubs’ handling of the situation was going to be one of my main “reasons”.  Instead of rehashing what I wrote, I have decided to include an excerpt from the book(not a plug).  This section comes from Reason 91 “The Crimes of Larry Himes”:

Greg Maddux could have stayed with the Cubs; he even wanted to stay with the Cubs! Larry Himes is the man most responsible for the exit of Greg Maddux. The following excerpt (an excerpt within an excerpt!) is from the November 22, 1992 edition of the Rome Daily Times:

            The Chicago Cubs decided Saturday to give up bidding for 1992 CY Young winner Greg Maddux. General manager Larry Himes said that a $27.5 million, five-year offer which Maddux rejected in July still stands-but maybe not for long. Himes said the offer will be withdrawn as soon as he signs someone else.  “I looked at myself bidding against myself and decided to stop.” Himes said.

Himes wasn’t bidding against himself; he was bidding against the Yankees and the Braves.  Himes’ “bidding against myself” statement may have been an attempt to paint Maddux and agent Scott Boras as unreasonable or greedy.  A few facts shred any argument that Himes would make in that regard:

  1. 1.     Maddux was ready to sign a five-year, $25 million extension the previous winter until it was Himes who dragged his feet on the deal and did not return a call to Maddux and Boras.  This event prompted Maddux to go into the 1992 season without a deal in place.
  2. 2.     Maddux eventually signed with the Braves for $28 million over five years…a whopping $500,000 more than the Cubs’ offer. 
  3. 3.     The Yankees were offering Maddux a reported $ 9 million more than the Braves; if Maddux was greedy…he takes the Yankees deal.

Mr. Himes made a horrendous mistake that cost Cubs’ fans the prime years of arguably the greatest pitcher of all time.  I am not sure if Mr. Himes was lacking intelligence, was too arrogant, or let his pride get in the way.  If Himes would have simply beaten the Braves offer by $1-2 million over the course of the deal, Maddux likely remains a Cub.  The Tribune Company had the money; Himes went and spent it on the wonderful Jose Guzman, Randy Myers, and Candy Maldonado combination!

The Chicago Cubs decided that they did not need or want Greg Maddux anymore; and that decision was made by Larry Himes. This idiotic choice earns Larry Himes the distinction of being Reason 91.

Ugh! I get angry just reading that again! The reason I felt it relevant is that during his HOF induction speech on Sunday Maddux stated “I went to Atlanta to start a family and win a World Series…sorry Chicago”. On Monday I heard longtime Chicago scribe, and Maddux confidant Barry Rozner reflect on that comment:

“That was a little revisionist history by Greg, he didn’t want to leave Chicago, he was kicked out of the house”.  Wow…let that sink in.  355 wins, 17 straight 15 wins seasons, the only pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks…and the Cubs kicked him out.

If you have never been to the Hall of Fame, its great of course, but it’s out in the middle of nowhere and there is like one way in…and one way out.  You seemingly drive forever down a never ending road, and then have to back track on the same road to get back to normal civilization.  I had absolutely zero interest in going to Cooperstown this weekend…because to me it wasn’t a celebration…at least not as a Cubs’ fan.  To me, it was a grim reminder of one of the most incompetent decisions my favorite baseball team has ever made.

Wow…that was kind of depressing.

Well…let’s try this…Jake Arrieta is pitching awesome! Rizzo leads the NL in homers! It seems Bryant, Baez, and Russell are doing something remarkable every day! Barney got traded!

Ahhh…that feels better.

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Grading the Cubs at the All-Star Break

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

When I am not blogging or writing critically acclaimed books about the Chicago Cubs, my “real” job is as a Social Studies teacher.  This fall I will begin my 24th year as an educator.  It is for this reason, that I use the prototypical A-F grading scale when assessing most things in life; a movie, television shows, music, food…anything!  I find this grading system much better than using say…stars.  The A-F system seems more tangible to me, and it allows the nuance of using pluses and minuses.  The differing variation this system permits allows more accuracy and meaning…in my opinion.  However, before I use this system to evaluate the performance thus far of the 2014Chicago Cubs, I have to add a caveat…I rarely award anything an A+.  An A+ has to be absolutely flawless…two examples would be The Sopranos and Goodfellas (yes…I find the mafia interesting!).  I just realized that I really didn’t need to even address my A+ theory, because the Cubs have no A+ players.

For the purpose of this exercise, I am only going to grade players who are currently on the roster (like a class roster I suppose)…so Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, and Jose Veras(yuck!) will not be graded.  So here goes…to debate, laugh at, or agree with…my assessment of the 2014 Chicago Cubs at the All-Star break:

NEIL RAMIREZ                   A

Ramirez has been dominant, as evident by his 11.9 K’s per 9 rate.  The question going forward is whether the Cubs will keep him in the ‘pen or try him in the rotation? At this point, Ramirez is the most valuable commodity from the Garza trade.

ARISMENDY ALCANTARA                  A

Yes, I know, I know…very small sample size, but he is currently on the roster.  For five Major League games, Alcantara has been phenomenal (1.139 OPS).  Aside from the limited stats, by the “eye test” the kid looks like a player to me…smooth in everything he does.

JAKE ARRIETA                   A

Considering that only Clayton Kershaw was more dominant over the last month and a half, Arrieta gets an A even with a smaller sample size due to an early season injury. Arrieta leads the Cubs in most advanced metrics on Fangraphs…even when including the two Oakland cast-offs.

ANTHONY RIZZO               A-

A great first half, but Rizzo’s OPS has dipped below the .900 mark recently…and I would like to see him cut down the K’s just a smidge.

JAMES RUSSELL                B+

Here’s hoping he has pitched himself into a trade (an LOB percentage of 82%!)…a couple of early outings keep Russell from an A-.

STARLIN CASTRO              B

His awful, inexcusable base-running decision on Sunday made me drop him from a B+.  I have been a Starlin defender all year but that miscue (making the 1st out on a passed ball with the bases loaded), should never happen.  His walks are up, power numbers are good, yet not enough defensive improvement to warrant an A-.

WESLEY WRIGHT              B

If you like advanced metrics like WPA (winning percentage added by the pitcher), then Wrights numbers aren’t quite as good as they look…in 8 of his 34 appearances he has decreased the Cubs chances of winning.  His recent numbers have been good, and he is a flip candidate as well.

HECTOR RONDON             B

Rondon’s grade probably should be higher (I like to be tough on pitchers…I have had complaints from parents), but apparently Hector did something to the BAPIP family. While all of his other numbers have improved remarked ably, the .358 BAPIP seems to be a statistical anomaly.


This grade would have been higher without a bit of a tailspin lately, but I have personally done a 180 on Luis…his defensive metrics aren’t awful, he is versatile, and he has some of the better at bats on the squad.  Valbuena would be the prototypical Oakland A’s type player.

EMILIO BONIFACIO          B (currently on DL)

I really don’t think his first two weeks fooled many Cubs’ fans into thinking he was going to challenge Ted Williams .406…but even after cooling off (in a big way), Bonifacio still has value…to the Cubs or another club.  I am in the minority, but I would like to see the Cubs’ sign him to a reasonable 2-3 year contract.  His versatility and elite speed make him an asset…and we can’t trade ALL of the veterans.

PEDRO STROP           B-

Strop’s 15.4 % HR/FB ratio stands out like a big zit. (Sorry…how about a mole, or a wart?) Strop is one of those maddening guys that looks so, so nasty on occasion.  Strop is a possible flip candidate.


I am grading these two together because these two former Marlins’ stats are almost identical! They are like twins, except one bats right-handed and the other is a lefty.  I actually think Ruggiano’s early season injury hurt the Cubs more than we realized…both are now possibly trade bait.


Yes, he looks like Jesus…although I think he also looks like the lead singer from the fictional rock group Stillwater from the film Almost Famous….thus I refer to him as Jesus Stillwater or Fever Dog. (The group’s faux hit single) I have concerns with Schlitters’ low K rate of 4.68 regarding future success…but he has stranded 71% of runners and has a groundball rate of 57.5%.  He has pitched well enough that apparently Ricky Renteria thinks he needs to pitch in every game.

WELLINGTON CASTILLO                   C+

Did anyone else notice that the Cubs’ best stretch of the season happened to be when John Baker and Eli Whiteside were doing the catching? Oh, definitely not for their offense…but the pitching was very good during that stretch.  Castillo’s offense isn’t bad for a catcher, and I will admit that the C+ may be based on one play; when I saw Castillo gun down Billy Hamilton with ease. (Probably shouldn’t determine a grade based on one play)

JUSTIN GRIMM                   C

Grimm shows promise, and he may also suffer from Ricky’s “he can pitch every day plan”. I will throw out the metrics here and just offer an assessment based on the “eye test” again.  Grimm’s fastball appears straight, and at 92-94 that won’t play as a reliever.  I think a conversion back to a starter would be best for Grimm; work on command of that fastball, and develop complimentary pitches.  He’s 25, so I still see much upside.

TRAVIS WOOD          C

Yes…this might seem a bit high for a guy with a 4.96 ERA, but I am giving Travis a break. (Call him a teacher’s pet if you must)  Wood still has 10 quality starts, and a couple of really, really (really) bad outings killed that ERA. I think he gets up to a solid B- by the end of the term. (season)


That Carlos gets a passing grade at all may anger some people, but he also has a high BAPIP (.369). At this point in his career Carlos seems to be able to fool a team once through the line-up, which is…ahem…a little tough to do as a starter.


A very slow start, coupled with a career year in 2013 needs to factor into Schierholtz grade not being a bit lower. However, I can’t sugar coat a .564 OPS for an outfielder.

JOHN BAKER             D+

With Baker’s paltry offense, I can’t believe I am passing him.  Here’s why; he was Hammel’s personal catcher, and that worked out pretty well…so Baker avoids the F.

JUNIOR LAKE & MIKE OLT               D+

There two are long overdue for parent/teacher conferences! Their prodigious pop keeps them passing, but their at bats are really tough to watch right now.  Here is what I can’t figure out; are they being coached?…and if they are, they must not be listening.  I was only a high school coach, but I am confident that I see things in their approach and mechanics that should be altered.  These two are way too young to give up on.


Cubs’ fans favorite punching bag has once again been a huge disappointment.  I won’t even get into ALL of the (mostly ugly) numbers, just this…he needs to at least start getting 6 innings in his starts. Complaining about his contract is silly, $11-13 million a year for 2 years…please…do we forget 2010 when we had Zambrano, Sori, Fukudome, and a washed up D-Lee…eating up over $80 million?  From all accounts he’s a great teammate, just let him pitch and hope (pray?) for the best.


Yes, he still makes defensive plays that make me go “wow”, and he is a slightly (emphasis on slight) better offensive player than he has shown.  Yet he has had the better part of four seasons to hit now…it’s time to pull the plug.  Alcantara, or any of the other 50 Cubs’ infield prospects with more offensive upside, need to start getting at bats.


Why is he on the team? That is all.


These players have basically just been added to the class.

BILL MUELLER (HITTING COACH)                               INC.

Too early for me to make an accurate assessment…Castro, Rizzo making huge bounce backs, but I see some of the same things over and over again(Lake & Olt). Chris Coghlan recently credited him for his resurgence…so I will wait until the end of the year to assess Mr. Mueller.

CHRIS BOSIO (PITCHING COACH)                                 A

This is the third straight year that Bosio has turned a project into a very valuable flip candidate…and more pitchers seem to be improving than regressing.  The guy is doing something right.

RICKY RENTERIA              C

Some may feel he deserves more time as well…but personally I have been frustrated with his over managing of the bullpen.  I realize that Wood and Jackson rarely give him 6 innings, and he HAS to use the pen…but I have seen many games when he has used 5-6 pitchers and could have easily done it with 3-4.  The bullpen wearing out this season won’t matter much, unless one of them gets injured. On the positive, you have to give him partial credit for the Castro/Rizzo bounce backs.  Renteria also appears to be an upgrade over Svuem in how he deals with the media.  My gut says he will be okay…of course I thought the same about Mike Quade. (I kid, I kid!)

Now it’s your turn! Agree, disagree, tell me I am stupid…I am very interested to hear your opinions,

…class dismissed. (I don’t think I have ever said that in 24 years…kids just get up and leave at the bell…looking at their phones as they walk out the door.)

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There is no such thing as a shortstop “logjam”

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Did you ever play baseball as a kid? Were you ever on any kind of baseball (or softball) team; high school, college, little league, Pony league, Cub Scout ball, church league softball or even beer league softball? If yes, answer this:

Who played shortstop? I am guessing that would be the best freaking player on the team! It may have possibly been the second best if the top player was pitching, playing centerfield or catching.  I have watched, played and coached baseball since 1975…and here are 2 statements I have never heard;

  1. “He looks pretty good in left field and first base, let’s try him at shortstop”.
  2. “I like his bat, let’s try to hide him at shortstop”.

Think about it…have you ever heard of a player moved to shortstop? No, of course not…and it stems from the simple reasoning above…probably 95 percent of the time shortstops are the best athletes on their respective teams.  If they aren’t…it’s a pitcher, catcher or centerfielder.  Therefore when the Cubs acquired Addison Russell last week, I had to remind even my most astute baseball friends about this fact.  Let’s look at some evidence;

Here are Hall of Famers who were drafted (or signed) as shortstops…yet they played other positions during their particular careers; George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Paul Molitor, Ryne Sandberg, Wade Boggs, and Roberto AlomarYikes! Three of the top 3B of all time, and Ryno and Robbie…were all shortstops. Molitor couldn’t even play in the field (he was a DH) for the latter part of his career, yet he was a SS at one time. When the Brewers drafted Molitor in 1977, they already had future Hall-of Famer Robin Yount manning the position.

I guess they weren’t worried about a “shortstop logjam”.

Here are some more names of players from the last 25 years who were originally shortstops (some potential HOFers): Chipper Jones, Jim Thome(look it up if you don’t believe it Jim Thome was drafted as a SS!), Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, Alfonso Soriano(ugh, he could barely play left in the bigs!), Brian Roberts, Michael Young, Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, and Justin Upton. ***side note, I compiled these examples with 20 minutes of research…I am in full Grad-Party Prep Mode and this little column is allowing me a 2 hour break.

What do you notice about the recent names? It includes great second basemen, third baseman, and outfielders…and the reason is very simple…other than catcher, shortstops can play anywhere!  I would wager with much deeper research…including pitchers…you would find many more former shortstops.

Instead of questioning this strategy, Cubs’ fans should be welcoming it.  It’s what good front offices have been doing for years…and the Cubs? Ty Griffin, Brooks Kieschnick, Ryan Harvey, Earl Cunningham…not shortstops. (I apologize for bringing up these names) Luis Montanez and Kevin Orie were drafted as shortstops…so…umm…well…not all shortstops pan out, especially those drafted by the Cubs in the 1990s.

For what it’s worth, here is what I see happening; Starlin Castro slides over to 2B where his contract and bat play very well. Javier Baez, plays 3B or RF depending on how Kris Bryant shakes out.  Arismendy Alcantara plays CF, and Russell, who scouts say has the best glove…plays SS.  I could be way off with these projections…Castro could remain at SS, Baez could play 2B, and Russell could play CF…or some other combination, because…shortstops can play all of these other positions…and usually well.

So when next you hear someone state that the Cubs’ have a shortstop or middle infield logjam, correct them and say;

“The Cubs now have a surplus of some of the best young athletes in the game”

…and if that doesn’t work bring up the Schmidt, Brett, and Boggs thing.

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Buried By the 4th of July

Friday, July 4th, 2014

Summer vacation when I was a kid meant playing baseball every day…literally every day.  I am sure you younglings (…you know, in your thirties) have heard this before…from grumpy old curmudgeons like myself.  Atari didn’t arrive until the late 70’s, and even when it did…the sports games (how can I say this?…sucked!), so we still preferred going outside and playing the real thing.  We played 1 on 1, 2 on 2, and 3 on 3…whatever we had.  We creatively game up with ways to adapt; the prototypical one field out (not really the best for developing hitters), estimation ball (this was for one on one match-ups, pitcher and hitter would estimate what the ball in play would be…a hit or an out…yes, it did cause a few arguments), and my favorite option of limited numbers baseball…a Series.

We needed at least two on two for a “Series”, but the general parameters were this; we would play a best of 7 World Series of 3 inning games…with one team picking an American League team and the other selecting a team from the Senior Circuit.  Playing these “series” may be one of my fondest childhood memories; there was no finer way to spend a summer afternoon. Play a series, go for a swim and then hopefully repeat the process the next day.

There was one slight problem with this…my brothers and my neighborhood buddies were all serious baseball fans…and we were sticklers for realism.  Therefore when we would select a team to pretend to be in these little pseudo-series…it had to be a team that was currently a contender.

Guess which team this usually eliminated, and was not considered a realistic choice?

When doing the research for this piece, it really took me back to the process I went through while writing my book. (Details on a July “special” at the end of this column!) While coming up with 105(logical and rational) reasons why the Cubs have not won a World Series in 105 years, I would come up with a theory…do the research on the awesome, and then get a huge sense of reward at how well the research backed up my theory.   I felt the same satisfaction while completing this piece.

That pounding of the Red Sox was enjoying…and the young guys are knocking at the door…and things may be trending up for the Cubs.  Yet, as far as the 2014 season…the fact is here on July 4th, at best the Cubs will be 8 games under .500 and 11.5 games out of 1st place.  If my buddies and I went out and had a Series today…we wouldn’t be able to choose the Cubs.

These thoughts lead me to examine the Cubs historical positioning on the 4th of July.  I decided to use 1969 as year 1 of my study for a couple reasons; the first, while not the Cubs’ entire history, it provides 45 seasons of evidence. The second; Cubs’ history prior to that are pretty easy to sum up…the Cubs were competitive in the 20’s, really, really good in the 30’s, and just dreadfully rotten from 1945-1967.  Consequently, I began with 1969 and researched where the Cubs stood every year up until 2014 on the 4th of July.  Caution…an alcoholic beverage or an anti-depressant may be required after reading this.

1.     How many times since 1969, have the Cubs been in 1st place on July 4th?

The answer to question 1 is…6 times. Wow, that’s 13 percent! A .130 average…only a little worse than Mike Olt!  The years:

1969       53-28       7.5 game lead                     1984        45-35       1 game lead           

1973      49-34         6 game lead                        2001        48-34       4 game lead

1977      48-28         4 game lead                                   2008         52-35       2.5 game lead

So the first year of our study…46 years ago…is the best.

That’s not a good start.

2.     Okay, so we now know they are rarely in 1st place on July 4th…how about contending? How about seasons where they were within 5 games of 1st place on July 4th?

Including the 6 seasons in which they were actually in 1st place, there have been 16 seasons of the 46 where the Cubs are within 5 games of 1st. (debatably contending) That’s almost 35 percent…an average of .347! Of course that puts the average of not-contending at .652.

3.     Forget standings…how many times have the Cubs been at, our above .500 on July 4th?

As expected, there is a direct correlation here with the last question, but the answer is 17.  Captain Obvious here…but a winning record helps a team contend.  Unfortunately, the Cubs have only had a winning record on July 4th in 37 percent of the seasons since 1969.

4.     Okay…now for some ugliness. How many times have the Cubs been at least 10 games below .500 on July 4th?

17 times of the last 46 seasons the Cubs have been 10 games under the .500 mark on July 4th.  So if we combine that with the 17 seasons where the Cubs were over .500, it displays to us that in 34 of the 46 seasons the Cubs were either in it…or pretty bad.

5.     In how many of those seasons were the Cubs already at least 10 games out of 1st place by July 4th?

Another direct correlation, as the number is 17…but how about this ugliness?

1976   31-46   22.5 games out, 1981(strike year) 15-37 17.5 games out, 1986  31-46 24 games out, 2000 33-49 16 games out…ugh!

One more way to look at this atrociousness:

Years in which the Cubs were in 1st place on July 4th:  6

Years in which the Cubs were at least 15 games out of 1st place on July 4th:  8

So what does all of this “Cubs on July 4th research” tell us? They are rarely in first, they infrequently contend, and more often they are completely out of it.

Yes, it’s a bit depressing….but now for the proverbial silver linings which we Cubs’ fans always have to search for; I think the current front office is well aware of this history…and are attempting to build an organization that is not as feast or famine(mostly famine) as the Cubs have been.  I am a huge Chicago Blackhawks fan, and of course I was upset when they lost the heart-breaking series to the L.A. Kings. Nonetheless, it did not devastate me as Cubs’ losses have historically done. I know with the current state of the Hawks’ organization they will be Cup contenders for years to come.  The Cubs’ failures have a different feel…Cubs’ fans sense that a blown play-off opportunity means the next chance will most likely be years away…and historically they have been correct.

I do believe the team is on the path to consistent contending, but I doubt any kids will be choosing the team when playing a “series” with their neighborhood buddies.

But!…the team will be much better to play with on PlayStation 5, 6 and 7 and all future inclinations of X-Box….that’s progress.

Authors’ note:

If you would like to join the hundreds (okay…it’s probably thousands now) of Cubs fans who have enjoyed my book I will be selling them directly from home during the month of July.  You see, we starving artist types make very little from Amazon, and selling directly is more profitable.  I have two different promos I am running.

1.      A copy of the updated 105 version for $15.99…$16.00 with personalized inscription! (shipping included!)

2.     Buy a copy of 105 and get the 104 version for a total of 18.99…$19.00 with 2 inscriptions! (shipping included!)…keep the 105, and gift the first addition to an in-law that’s a Cubs’ fan

My web-site should be up and running (finally) in a couple of weeks; but if interested the easiest way is to email me at, or if you follow me on twitter @BBCG105Reasons…contact me directl

Finally, here is a link to the book on Amazon

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3 Passes the White Sox Get that the Cubs Would Not

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

My first experience with White Sox fans were Jamie McCauley and his dad Ed who lived down the street from me.  Jamie was a borderline friend/bully, and his dad was just kind of a bully.  He would actually call me “Chrissy” instead of Chris…an in genius method of questioning my 6 year old manhood I suppose…and this was a grown man talking to a very young boy.  He used the same method when disparaging my Cubs…calling them the Cubbies and using a woman’s voice to do it.  When this is your first impression of a fandom…and you are only 6…it leaves a lasting impression on your little brain.

The next neighborhood was not much different…Sox fans were bullies and blowhards…and once again I was outnumbered and always defending my Cubs.  Now, almost 40 years later, I really have evolved and grown up as a baseball fan.  I don’t automatically hate everything about the White Sox.  As a baseball fan, I watch them occasionally, and I respect some of their players and I love listening to new GM Rick Hahn (an especially bright fellow).  I no longer have to deal with any White Sox bullies…and I know longer live and die with the results of the crosstown classic. Therefore my position on the White Sox has softened in my old(er) age.

However, even with this new evolved stance on the South Siders; I still have some problems with the White Sox and how they are compared and contrasted with the Cubs.  The first being the air of supremacy that Sox fans display; they assume they are “smarter baseball fans” and they quickly shout “2005!” in response to any current criticism. My psychology background tells me they have a huge inferiority complex and are overcompensating for it. Sox fans also seem to feel/think that they have been a much better organization historically.

The second is that since the Cubs have the image as the lovable losers/cursed team/bumbling organization of Chicago, the Sox have benefitted by having some historic blunders of their own get swept under the rug.  While Cubs’ mistakes have been magnified and rehashed over and over again, little is ever said about Sox mistakes that are equally as substantial or behavior or performance that is equally as bad.  Let’s take a look at examples that fall under these two categories:

1.     The History of the Teams.

When comparing the Cubs and White Sox, Sox fans assume their team has been so much more successful than the “loser” Cubs. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 it was their first title since 1917.  So assuming neither team wins a title this year (about as safe a bet as the sun coming up tomorrow) it will mean the Sox have 1 title in the last 97 years.  Obviously, I credit them greatly for winning recently in 2005…but 1 for 97 is just marginally better than 0 for the last 106. (But it’s still 1!!!! 2005! 2005!) Aside from World Series titles, let’s compare the teams from the date of the Cubs last title in 1908:


SOX                2                      4                      8                      5                                 

CUBS              0                      10                   16                   6

Once again, the 2005 World Series title trumps much of this…but I really expected to see a closer picture here…or even White Sox dominance. (Yes…I know…2005!)

While the Cubs’ have been historically inept at winning a World Series title, the White Sox have been equally incompetent in making the post-season. If the Cubs are “106 year losers”…the White Sox haven’t exactly had a century of glory.  Not even mentioning the fact (…yet) that the White Sox threw the 1919 World Series, which almost was almost the death knell for Major League Baseball.

It may at times appear the Cubs are trying to lose on purpose…but at least they have never been put on trial for it.

2.     Historical Blunders

As I wrote in my book, the Cubs have been mercifully crucified for the trade of Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio for over 50 years.  It was a bad trade, and the Cubs have made many others (…see my book). Yet the South Side Squad as just as many historical blunders that are not mentioned near as frequently.

-         the aforementioned 1917 Black Sox scandal…most baseball fans have seen the film Eight Men Out…and it’s still debatable which players were in on it, and who’s to blame…cheapskate owner Charles Commisky or the mobsters behind the scenes? It really doesn’t matter…the Sox were involved in one of the biggest sports scandals ever, and had Babe Ruth not come around…baseball may have died.

-         letting Harry Caray leave to the Cubs…You young bucks probably only think of Harry with the Cubs, but I was more accustomed to him as a White Sox announcer as a youngster.  Let’s play Back to the Future for a minute and assume this never happened…Cubs’ history would be altered for the worse. A Cubs’ history without Harry Caray would be quite dim. Other than the 1984 season, Harry Caray is the single biggest reason for the Cubs(and the neighborhoods) 20 year boom.  The Sox let a valuable asset go to their crosstown competitors, who helped them assert economic dominance over them for the next 2 decades.

-         firing Tony LaRussa…Hey…young managers get fired all of the time, and on many occasions their second stints are much more successful.  Therefore I am not criticizing the Sox for firing LaRussa…but can you imagine if the Cubs had down this? It would be Brock for Broglio all over again. If Ryno wins a World Series as a manager in the next few years…how do you think that will go over?

-         Trading Sosa for Bell…As an old fella’, with perspective, I can honestly say that I was stunned when I heard about this deal.  George Bell had been an absolute dog for the Cubs, and I can remember trying to convince giddy Sox fans about how poor of a trade this would turn out to be.  Sosa may or may not have been cheating…but he hit a ton of home runs and made the Cubs a sh#t-load of money.  What Harry Caray did for the Cubs in the ‘80s, Sosa did for the team in the ‘90s.  Thank you White Sox.

If the Cubs had been guilty of any of the above infractions, they would still be constantly referenced among the teams many failures…for some reason, the Sox have gotten a pass.

3.     Hawk Harrelson and his “chip on their shoulders” brethren

I can do a very good Hawk Harrelson impersonation, although it won’t translate as well in print. Here goes:

Start with about 47 seconds of silence, then say in Hawks’ voice with no emotion; “…and that’s a record setting 6th triple play turned by the Royals today” or “and that’s an 8-8 double cycle for Joe Mauer”

Hawk amazes me…I’m sorry…but he is a 72 year old baby.  While professional announcers endure the challenge of keeping the game interesting for the fan…no matter how the home team is doing…Hawk blames umps, talks about his own greatness, or just sits quietly and pouts.  While Len Kasper espouses how lucky he is to have a job millions of people would want, Hawk acts like we are the privileged ones to listen to his pathetic stories of Yaz.

Over the last few years, I have noticed that others in the Sox organization share this certain bit of curmudgeon-dry with Hawk.   Radio announcer Ed Farmer can be just as grumpy, self-serving and condescending as Harrelson.  Studio-analyst Bill Melton will be short and rage-filled after a Sox loss. The finest pitching coach in the universe (at least that’s the way he is perceived for some reason) Don Cooper treats every question like a personal affront during his morning radio appearances. No one knows pitching like Cooper…and he is not afraid to tell that to anyone who will listen. Every one of these White Sox contributors comes off as joy-less, humor-free, and a downright a##-hole.

Back to my Psychology background, I attribute this to the fact that the Sox have been the 2nd team in the city for quite some time, and since most of these men are White sox-lifers…I guess those “shoulder chips” are deeply implanted.

I really didn’t want this piece to come off as a guy who just hates the White Sox. I just wanted to point out that as Chicago losers go, the Cubs are only a rung or two below the Sox.  I could never root for them as I do the Cubs, but I could at least be indifferent towards them if it weren’t for Hawk and the things mentioned above.

It is often forgotten now, but the White Sox were oh so close to moving back in the late 80’s. Jerry Reinsdorf was able to get public assistance in building the perfect 1980’s ballpark as the Orioles were making history with the cutting edge Camden Yards.  It may have been an outdated “new” stadium…but Reinsdorf got it, and the Sox stayed.

Can you imagine the outcry if the Cubs ever asked for public assistance for their park?

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Be Careful of Contract Lunacy

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

This weekend I was signing/selling books at a local summer festival. (Trust me; it’s not as glamorous as it sounds) All weekend, as I sat at my booth numerous non-book buyers would comment to me about the Chicago Cubs. Sox fans, would assert their “one World Series title in 100 year dominance” by taunting me.  Cardinal fans would give me their arrogant disapproving glances.  I also heard from the Chicago “meatheads”…one in particular who was quite amusing.

A fella came up to my booth with a combination swagger/drunken stumbling…and announced to me that he had the simple wisdom that apparently my book lacked.

“They never spend any f#&king money…that’s what it is…same thing with the f#&king Bears. V#gina(a very clever pun on Virginia) McCaskey won’t let em’ spend any money.” I found his rambling so entertaining that I decided to engage this guy with a very subtle response.

“But the Bears just signed Jared Allen…and Lamar Houston”, I stated in a calm purposefully understated tone.  The man used his right hand to simulate an obscene gesture around his nether regions, spouted a few more expletives, and staggered away from my booth.  He did not purchase my book, and apparently isn’t impressed with the Bears offseason moves thus far.  This seems to be the default mode for assessing blame of the Chicago fan base…when in doubt, just call them a bunch of cheap b#stards! In regards to our Cubs, this has been an accurate portrayal for portions of their history (see the 1970s); while the late 2000’s Zell spend-a-thon had the team with a $144 million payroll by 2010, its highest ever.

This “cheap” label has re-emerged during the Rickett’s era. The Cubs’ salary has dropped 35 percent from 2010…down to just $93 million. Considering that $14 million is going to Alfonso Soriano, the club essentially has a $79 million dollar Major League payroll…a number much too small for most fans’ liking. Possessing a $79 million dollar payroll for a big market team makes the organization an easy target… for fans like the gentleman who visited my booth.  To avoid being labeled a Kool-Aid drinking Ricketts’ apologist, perhaps that $79 million payroll does warrant criticism.  The question I always come back to though is; who would they be spending on?

  1. Do you spend to lock up Samardzjia?

I think with every outing my thoughts on this change.  At 30, even with limited arm wear and tear…I still think you only extend him if there is a bit of a “hometown discount”. The contracts that are brought up most often when discussing a Jeff Samardzjia extension are Homer Bailey and Matt Cain…the consensus being that a Samardzjia contract would be comparable or even higher.  Homer Bailey is 28 years old, and has a 4.68 ERA over 84 plus innings thus far in 2014.  Bailey has allowed 93 hits and struck out 76.  Bailey’s 2014 season is far from over, and he may yet prove to be a solid pitching investment.  Here is what the Reds will be paying Bailey:

2015-$10 million, 2016-$18 million, 2017-$19 million, 2018-$21 million, 2019-$23 million, and 2020-$25 million (mutual option…that I highly doubt will be exercised)

Considering the vile directed at the contract of Edwin Jackson, who is owed $13 million for each of 2015 and 2016, how might Cubs’ fans view a player with Bailey’s current performance and future earnings?  Now we look at Cain:

2014 through 2017- $20 million annually, 2018 $21 million club option

Bailey and Cain will be 33 and 34 respectively at the end of their deals…will they be worth it?  If I were a betting man (…I am actually), I would bet strongly against it.  This does give us a base-line for a Samardzjia extension; it will take $20 million annually and at least four years. At that price…I just don’t see it.  I don’t care how “young” his arm appears to be, pitching is too volatile.

  1. 2.     Do you sign a free-agent pitcher to a big deal?

How unpredictable is pitching? If Justin Verlander had been a free-agent in 2013, the Cubs would have been highly criticized for not attempting to sign him?  Verlander never hit the free market as the Tigers decided to lock up their ace. Verlander, a 31 year old former Cy-Young award winner, has struggled mightily this year to the tune of a 4.98 E.R.A. Verlander has allowed 111 hits in 97 innings and his strikeout rate is at its lowest, while his walk rate is at its peak.  Here is what the Tigers will paying Verlander until 2020:

2015- $28 million, 2016 -$28 million, 2017 -$28 million, 2018-$28 million, 2019-$28 million, 2020- $22 million vesting opt…sorry, I just burst out laughing at the idea that this “option” will be exercised

Yikes!  That contract is sheer lunacy…that’s $140 million dollars guaranteed after this season.  Verlander may well rebound from his horrid start to 2014, but unless he visits the same Roger Clemens’ fountain/pharmacy of youth, I don’t see a happy ending to this contract.

Ironically, while working on this piece, I was listening to Theo Epstein being interviewed on 670 AM the Score.  Theo was asked specifically about the Verlander contract:

It is a core tenet of our organizational philosophy that we can better predict positional player performance than pitcher performance. It’s hard for either one, but there’s more consistency with positional players. You can’t ignore pitching. Once we start to turn the corner and have the makings of a competitive team, it is possible to go out and get good, healthy, effective pitching – we’ve had some success before doing that. For a top of the rotation starter, you have to take on more risk. That’s just the nature of the beast – it’s a huge contract or a huge trade.”

Wow.  That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for Samardzjia or a big free-agent pitcher.  Earlier in the interview Epstein stated his fondness for Samardzjia, and that they had never “stopped talking extension”…we will know what the truth is sometime before July 31st.

  1. 3.     Do you spend on free-agent hitting?

For us older folks who have watched baseball since the dawn of the free-agent era, we have witnessed a huge shift in free-agency: teams rarely allow good players to reach free-agency prior to the age of 30. Although the deals of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro might have looked a bit shaky and premature last year…how do they look now?

RIZZO                                                                        CASTRO

2014              $1.535M                                                      $5.9M

2015              $5.286M                                                      $6.85M

2016              $5.286M                                                      $7.85M

2017              $7.286M                                                      $9.85M

2018              $7.286M                                                      $10.85M

2019              $11.286M                                                    $11.85M


Five full seasons from now, Castro and Rizzo will not be making collectively what Verlander will be earning in a single season. Let’s look at the Cubs core “two” (yeah, that’s really it right now) compared to all three pitchers:

Homer Bailey 5 years $91M, Matt Cain 5 years $100 M, Justin Verlander 5 years $140 M= 15 years of team control for $331 Million

Starlin Castro 5 years at $60 M, Anthony Rizzo 5 years at $40 M= 10 years of team control for $100 Million

Yes, I know, we are comparing apples and oranges (or however that saying goes), but simplistically…where is the most value?  Pitching is extremely expensive and highly unstable.  So let’s examine some hitting contracts…how would you like to have these on your teams’ “books”?

PLAYER                     2015              2016              2017              2018              2019             

Albert Pujols          $24M                        $25M                        $26M                        $27M                        $28M

Josh Hamilton        $25M                        $32M                        $32M                        FA

Prince Fielder         $24M                        $24M                        $24M                        $24M                        $24M

Shin-Soo Choo        $14M                        $20M                        $20M                        $20M                        $21M

Robinson Cano       $24M                        $24M                        $24M                        $24M                        $24M

All of the above players were free agents during the first two and a half years of Theo Epstein’s tenure…and I will admit I would have been excited had they signed any of them.  With hindsight, I am not sure any of them look like deals that you would like now.

I have to give one more example of sheer “contract lunacy”…let’s look at what the Dodgers will have on their ledger at the start of 2016:

Clayton Kershaw $34.5M, Zack Greinke $26M, Adrian Gonzalez $21.8, Matt Kemp $21.7, Carl Crawford $21.6, Andre Eithier $18M

Throwing in some other contracts, the Dodgers already have $170 million for the 2016 season!…I don’t care how much money your team has…good luck with that.

Reason 84 in my book of “105 Reasons It’s Been 105 Years” is the 2010 team, or what I call; The Worst Team Money Could Buy.  The Cubs’ team with the aforementioned $144 payroll included Alfonso Soriano $19M, Carlos Zambrano $18.9M, Aramis Ramirez $16.7M, Kosuke Fukudome $14M, and the following four; Ryan Dempster, Derek Lee, Ted Lilly and Carlos Silva all right at about $13M. Some highlights from this pathetic assortment:

-         Only one top 10 finisher in ANY offensive category(Soriano 6th in doubles)

-         Not one of these players finished in the top ten in voting for ANY major award.

-         None of these players were All-Stars

-         Back to the first one…no really, not one other offensive category did any of these players crack the top 10.

I apologize to you for bringing up this squad if you have already blocked it out of your memory.

Have the Cubs been cheap in the past? Absolutely. Have they also spent like mad? Check.  I will give the team the benefit of the doubt that they are currently taking a measured approach to future expenditures.  Although I am skeptical as to how much they were really “in” the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes last winter. (See what I did there? I played both sides of the fence) 2014 has been painful to watch, yet aside from landing Tanaka…I am not sure where money would have mattered.  The fan base has been assured that when it’s time to spend…the team will be able to do it…and with how smoothly the remodeling and expansion of Wrigley is going we are assured the Cubs’ coffers will soon be overflowing. (Where is that sarcasm font?)

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