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Wake up, Mr. Hendry.

Monday, May 28th, 2007

I stood all I could, and I can’t stands no more.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that, or possibly Popeye. Either way, the phrase surely fits for any Cubs fan who has been watching the 2007 version of the team. While this year’s version of the Cubs is not nearly as atrocious as say, last year’s, they are exceedingly more frustrating. Perhaps it’s the way they are in every game, and always seem to find a way to lose it at the last minute (like hitting a guy with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th inning, for example). Or that our bullpen cannot seem to hold a lead of less than 5 runs. Or that Jim Hendry has put together one of the most oddly constructed rosters I’ve ever seen. Regardless, my point is this: we have played a quarter of the baseball season, and the Cubs have scored 224 runs, while giving up 197. According to the formula for calculating Pythagorean record this should result in a record of 27-21. In reality, the Cubs have a record of 22-26. Some people think this is just the result of bad luck, and that eventually this situation has to even itself out. However, those who have been watching the team play know that this is no fluke.

Despite Lou Piniella’s best efforts, the Cubs are still playing dumb baseball. Bad base running, botched rundowns, and lead-off walks still plague the team, just as they did under Dusty Baker. And while I’m glad that Lou is at least willing to try new things and play the players who are actually producing, it’s clear that something more needs to be done.

That’s where Jim Hendry comes in. As I’m sure he’s aware, the Cubs are going to be sold this offseason. Most new ownership groups want to put their own General Manager in place, the only thing that might stop them is tremendous success by the current regime. I’d say puts Hendry on the spot, basically, he needs to win the NL Pennant or he’s gone. The good news is the NL Central may be worse than it was last year. Currently, the only team over .500 is the Brewers, and after a fast start in April, they appear to be plummeting back to the pack. The bad news, of course, is that the team has some gaping holes. Let’s look at the most immediate problems:

The Bullpen
This was supposed to be a strength this year. While Ryan Dempster and Michael Weurtz have been solid this season, the rest of this group has ranged from questionable at best to putrid at worst. In particular, Hendry’s big buys of 2006, Eyre and Howry have been terrible. Neal Cotts has already been sent to AAA, and Will Ohman somehow managed to escape the same fate after a terrible April. Angel Guzman and Carlos Marmol are still unknowns. Oh, and bullpen addition Kerry Wood has yet to fire a baseball in anger this season. Already 10 saves have been blown this year, mostly by setup men. This unit urgently needs an upgrade, and I don’t mean waiting for Wood to come back healthy and pitch.

The Outfield
Only the Cubs could play and outfield that consists of a 2nd baseman in left, a right fielder in center and 2 leftfielders in right. Soriano’s been the best of the bunch defensively, while the rest have been disappointing (with the exception of Cliff Floyd). The outfield defense is definitely terrible, with Jacque Jones’ throwing problems continuing, and Matt Murton butchering plays in right. You could justify poor outfield defense if these guys were hitting, but they’ve been mostly below average at the plate, and when they do manage to get on base, they often run themselves into inexplicable outs. Cliff Floyd has been pretty good, but counting on him to play a full season is almost as crazy and depending on Wood and Prior to anchor your starting rotation. Basically, the team needs to either acquire a real, live centerfielder and use a platoon in right, or try to get a good right fielder and call up Felix Pie to play center.

Catcher
Michael Barrett is described as a good offensive catcher. This is code for “bad defensive catcher”. Unfortunately, Barrett’s numbers are down a bit this year, and even worse, he’d need to be hitting .340 with 15 homers to make up for his rock-headed play this season. Every offseason, Barrett goes somewhere to work on his defense, and while I admire his work ethic, it’s clear he’s simply not going to get any better. Even worse than his defense though, have been his mental errors. Barrett’s been playing dumb baseball this year. There’s no other way to describe it. In yesterday’s game alone, he made the third out of an inning when he was caught trying to steal 3rd(!!!) and later in the game botched a rundown by throwing to the base behind a runner, allowing him to advance. These aren’t isolated incidents. On top of all this, Barrett is now on the wrong side of 30, a time when catchers start to break down. If the Cubs can sell another team on Barrett’s offense and use him to facilitate a trade, they need to do it.

Obviously, there are other issues with this team, but these seem to be the most glaring. As to what the Cubs can trade, only the starting pitchers, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez should be considered irreplaceable. Every other player on this team should be trade bait for the right deal. And while Jim Hendry has usually been loath to trade his prized minor league prospects, now is the time for him start considering it. That is, if he wants a chance to keep his job.

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And the first injury of the year goes to…

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

Kerry Wood, with the torso, in the hot tub.

Unbelievable.

Read about it.

Note from Mastrick:The Cubs have announced their second injury of the season; minor league prospect Adam Harben (obtained from the Twins for Phil Nevin) apparently had Tommy John surgery in November and is out until the 2008 season. It perplexes me why the Cubs gave up Jae-kuk Ryu’s spot on the 40 man when they kept Brian Dopirak, a guy who plays first base and who has been hurt two years in a row. What is Hendry thinking? And why are they announcing Harben’s TJ three months after the fact? Getting information out of the Cubs is somewhat like trying to get information out of the Chinese.

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JD Drew Files for Free Agency

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

Looks like JD Drew of the Dodgers had a clause in his contract that was similar to Aramis Ramirez. Drew is a terrific player, but does have a penchant for injuries. Should the Cubs make a run at him?

Read about it.

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Pre-Season Prognostication (AL edition)

Monday, October 9th, 2006

It’s been a long week, so I’m going to dispense with the pleasantries and dive right in:

AL East
This seemed to be a pretty easy division to call. Only Tommy broke ranks and picked the Blue Jays to win it, and Dave and I actually both picked the entire finish correctly.

Good Call: Dave and I both pegged the Blue Jays leap frogging Boston for 2nd.

Bad Call: Joe picks the Devil Rays for third. He was blinded by the D-Ray love, even back in March.

AL Central
All of us saw this is a 3 team race, the only problem was, we thought that the 3rd team was Cleveland, not Detroit. None of us predicted the Twins to take the division, and we all had the Tigers 4th.

Good Calls:

Dave: “if Mauer/Cuddyer/Morneau have big years they(Minnesota) could take the division.
Chris: “If Jim Thome really is healthy, the White Sox offense will be better than last year”
Joe: “When you look at Mauer and Morneau, they just seem ready to shine.”
All: Kansas City stinks (yeah, we went out on a limb, I know).

Bad Calls:
Chris and Dave: predicted injuries to Detroit’s: Pudge, Guillen, Mags and Young. Only Young missed significant time.
Everyone but Joe had Cleveland finishing 2nd or higher.

AL West
Wow, seems like an easy division to predict. Only Joe’s pick of LA beating out Oakland for 1st place prevented us from a clean sweep on the AL West.

Good Calls:
Everyone but Joe picked this division exactly right.
Tommy: “Blalock fizzles after the break” (.651 OPS after June)
Mastrick: “anticipate another late season onslaught from the A’s.” (Oakland 48-26 after the break)

Bad Calls:
Joe and Tommy predicted big things from Casey Kotchman, but Kotchman did little in 29 games before being placed on the DL.

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Does the manager matter?

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

So, it appears there are only 3 days left in the Dusty Baker Era. The rumor mill is running rampant about who will be the new manager. Joe Girardi is currently the front runner in most people’s minds, but it’s also known that Jim Hendry likes Atlanta’s Freddy Gonzales (who would have been hired prior to 2003 had Baker not been available) and today in the Tribune, Phil Rogers floated the name of Trey Hillman, the current skipper of the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese League.

My question is, will it matter? The team was dreadful this year. Dusty Baker surely didn’t distinguish himself, but who could have? And no, I’m not advocating that Baker be retained. He should have been fired at the All-Star Break. Would it have done any good for the season? Maybe not in the standings. But it might have sent a message: the excuse making is over, the country club is closed, you will play the game correctly, or not at all in Chicago. Instead, Jim Hendry continued his “evaluation” and Andy MacPhail continued taking clavichord lessons or whatever it is he does with his time. And now that we’ve seen that this team can lose 90 games, in the worst division of a bad league, Jim Hendry will hold a press conference soon to announce the name of the new Cubs manager. And there will be much talk of a new beginning, and a different direction and concentration on fundamentals and all that. And I ask again does it matter?

No, it doesn’t. Not initially. I will not look at our new manager and say “the day is saved, surely with Joe Girardi/Lou Pinella/Trey Hillman/Freddy Gonzales/St. Jude at the helm, this team will be turned around. It won’t. So don’t let the Cubs sell you on the fiction that a new manager will change everything. Because this team is going into the offseason with the following needs:

Two starting outfielders
Starting shortstop
Starting second baseman
Two, possibly three good starting pitchers
Most of a bullpen
Possibly a starting third baseman

Experts consider this to be a weak free agent class, but that doesn’t matter much, as the Cubs haven’t exactly distinguished themselves in the free agent market, regardless of what players are available. While it would seem to be the ideal time to try and rebuild the entire team with youngsters, that often takes a long time (Florida notwithstanding) and GM Jim Hendry has neither the minor league talent, nor the time (with a 2 year contract) to enact such a plan. My fear is that the Cubs will introduce a new manager this offseason, and sign some mediocre veterans to supplement whichever young players they consider building blocks and be done with it. Maybe they’ll catch lightning in a bottle, probably, they won’t.

So when the Cubs hold that press conference, that is supposed to bring hope to our hearts; remember one thing. Without an upgrade to the players on the field, the manager won’t make much difference.

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Nevin Traded

Friday, September 1st, 2006

Just a quick update, Phil Nevin has been traded to the Minnesota Twins for a player to be named later. I hope the Twins have better luck with Phil than we did.

The story.

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Still crazy…

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Yes, yes, I know it’s been a while since I posted, and I apologize. To tell the truth, the Cubs haven’t provided much inspiration (at least to say anything good) lately, so I’ve been holding my tongue (and boy is it dry). So first, I will react to the Neifi trade. Well, it was nice that we traded him and don’t have to pay his salary and even got a decent prospect, but I’m more bothered by the fact that there are still 3 guys on the team who are WORSE(Bynum, Cedeno and Izturis) than Neifi!

mp3 andru donalds all out of love
That out of the way, I will now provide you with the real reason I jumped into action and posted today: Dusty Baker said something stupid. Yes, not usually news, but it got me so aggravated that I needed to get it off my chest. Actually, before the main event, here’s something to get me warmed up:

“I’ve always said since I started managing that I’d like to have a team full of young guys and young players who you can teach to play the game the right way,” Baker said.

All I’ll say is that if somebody can go back through various newspaper archives and find any quote from the beginning, middle or end of Dusty’s managerial career in which he expressed the idea that he wanted to teach and manage young players, e-mail it to me, and I will send you one of my cats as a prize.

On to the main event, asked about the club’s need to improve it’s NL low .318 on-base percentage, Dusty said this:

On-base percentage is great if you can score runs and do something with that on-base percentage,” Baker said. “Clogging up the bases isn’t that great to me. The problem we have to address more than anything is the home run problem.”

While Baker is right about the team’s power outage, he has once again brought up the insane idea that there is something wrong with walks, that they “clog” the bases. I do not understand this concept. Not at all. Here’s the way I see it. If a slow guy(say Aramis Ramirez) gets on base via a walk he is clogging the bases, because if a fast guy(say Juan Pierre) comes up after him and hits a ball that could be triple, Juan will only get a double, because Aramis will be too slow to score. But isn’t it still better to have men on 2nd and 3rd than just a man on 3rd? What am I missing here? Please, if you think you can adequately explain to me what is wrong with clogging the bases with walks, e-mail me said explanation along with your name and home address, so that I can tell your local mental health professionals where to find you.

Okay enough of Dusty. Hopefully he’s not going to be around next year anyway. September is approaching, and with the season over since July, what do you hope to see from the Cubs in the final month? Do you want to see a big winning streak? Maybe you want the team to be overtaken by the Pirates so they get the top draft pick? Here’s what I’d like to see in September:

1. Felix Pie: I know he’s probably not ready for the show yet, but remember, in September, a lot of teams are playing AAA players, and there are no great teams in the NL anyway, so I’d like to see what Pie can do in the bigs. Frankly, I’m curious to see the kid play, and after sitting through this crapfest, it’d be nice to see somebody with some promise on the field.

2. Ryan Theriot: I think I’ve made it known that I don’t particularly care for Ronny Cedeno. He seems like a nice kid who plays hard, but he lacks in two areas: hitting and fielding. The Cubs said earlier that they planned on playing Cedeno and Izturis at SS and 2nd next year, perhaps in some twisted quest to field the worst hitting middle infield since the deadball era. No, I want to see Ryan Theriot at 2nd, for the rest of the year. He shows patience at the plate, and actually has a track record of hitting in the minors and also seems to be able to catch the ball. And if he can stick in the majors, that’s one less spot to fill for 2007.

3. Carlos Zambrano rested: He’s one of my favorite pitchers, but the guy is being ridden too hard during a season that means nothing. I’m not saying bench Zambrano (who’d want to tell him that?), but maybe he doesn’t need to throw 120 pitches every outing. The once promising Cubs staff now lies in a twisted wreckage of broken arms and shoulders, and while we all want to believe that Carlos is some sort of freak of nature, the truth is that if you put enough weight on anything, it eventually breaks.

Those are the top 3 things I’d like to see in September of 2006. What are yours?

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More Sunshine from the Tribune & Cubs.com

Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

Good news from today’s Chicago Tribune! Now that there’s no pressure at all, the Cubs are playing better!

Meanwhile, over at Cubs.com, Carrie Muskat says that Dusty Baker thinks the Cubs are still in this thing.

This kind of confuses me. I mean, if the Cubs actually win enough games to get close to a playoff spot, won’t the pressure be back on? Is there anyway they can play the rest of their games at an undisclosed location (perhaps somewhere in the Yukon Territory) where no one can see them? That should keep the boys loose.

Of course, this being Cubs.com, Dusty gets a chance to blow a little smoke at us.

“Basically, we have the same team, but we have some guys who have gotten hot and are performing,” Baker said. “We’ve got some kids who are getting better through experience. Half the guys here hadn’t had a Major League start yet. Time brings about change, hopefully a positive change. It brings a learning curve. That’s our job to teach them. A lot of these guys have had to learn on the job.

“I know what I can do,” he said. “I just manage the best I can.”

So, I guess the good news is, Dusty, the man who previously claimed that young guys should get all their learnin’ in the minor leagues has become a great teacher. He’s taught hitters to hit, and the pitchers to hit. Dusty is the reason for the Cubs current winning streak. It has nothing to do with the fact that even the worst teams usually have at least one hot streak during the season. Anyway, this all seems to be setting us up for the inevitable, Dusty Baker extension talk. Personally, I think that Baker will be offered, and will accept a one year deal to manage the Cubs for 2007, and redeem the last two seasons. If he isn’t able to do that, then both he, and Jim Hendry will be shown the door.

What do you all think?

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I don’t get it

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

Maybe I just lack vision. Did I miss something? Does Jim Hendry have some sort of plan for 2007? It sure didn’t seem like based on the Cubs deadline trades. Gone are Todd Walker and Greg Maddux. Still with us is, uh, everybody else. The Walker deal was pretty much a way to get Todd out of town as soon as possible. Jose Ceda is still in rookie ball, and unless something drastic takes place, Jim Hendry will likely be gone before Ceda ever sees the big leagues. More puzzling to me is the trade of Maddux for Cesar Izturis. Not that I mind Maddux being traded, but why would the Cubs want a guy who pretty much does the same thing as Neifi, but for more money? Other than the first half of 2005, Izturis has never been much of a hitter, and his career on-base percentage of .295 is putrid. Naturally, Dusty Baker says that he sees Izutris as a natural fit in the no. 2 spot in the batting order. I’m not sure if Dusty meant that, or if he was just pushing the needle a little deeper. It also tells us that the Cubs can’t be too satisfied with Ronny Cedeno since they jumped at the chance to acquire a player who plays the same position as him, but for a lot more money.

I do have one other theory. Jim Hendry is hoarding light-hitting middle infielders for a reason. You see, he’s anticipating that most of the league’s sluggers and power pitchers will be getting suspended for using steroids and HGH once the proper tests are developed. At that time, he’ll be able to field a team of Tony Womack, Cesar Izturis, Ronny Cedeno, Neifi Perez and Augie Ojeda and easily win the pennant. That’s so crazy, it just might work.

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