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30 Years at Second Base

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

In 1982, the Chicago Cubs shipped Larry Bowa to the Phillies for Ivan DeJesus and a young Ryne Sandberg. Two years later, Ryne put up his MVP season and helped the Cubs to the NL East championship. Year after year Sandberg consistently exhibited stellar offense and excellent defense from second base, pulling in nine gold gloves, seven silver sluggers, and  ten all-star recognitions. By the mid nineties, he was a Wrigley mainstay and a lock for Hall of Fame enshrinement upon hanging up his cleats.

Sandberg retired in 1997, carrying a legacy as the one of the best second basemen of all time, with multiple records at his position and a reputation as man who played for the true love of the game. For all of those that support the Cubs, Ryno’s retirement was bittersweet. Cubs fans were united by the common belief that they had witnessed a remarkable career come to a close and thanked Ryne for his time. Shortly after, however, our gaze fell on an unfamiliar and unsettling sight: the gaping hole left at second base, with enormous cleats to fill. In the thirteen years to follow, the Cubs would fill the void with a number of players, but obviously none have reached the heights of Sandberg’s career. Here’s the breakdown of Cubs second basemen, starting in 1998

Mickey Morandini

Year     G  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
1998   154 93 172 20  4  8  53 13 .296 .380 .385 .765  100
1999   144 60 110 18  5  4  37  6 .241 .319 .329 .648   67

Eric Young

Year     G  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2000   153 98 180 40  2  6  47 54 .297 .367 .399 .766   97
2001   149 98 168 43  4  6  42 31 .279 .333 .393 .726   92

Mark Belhorn

Year     G  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2002   146 86 115 24  4 27  56  7 .258 .374 .512 .886  133

Mark Grudzielanek

Year     G  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2003   121 73 151 38  1  3  38  6 .314 .366 .416 .782  103
2004    81 32  79 12  1  6  23  1 .307 .347 .432 .779   98

Todd Walker

Year     G  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2004   129 60 102 19  4 15  50  0 .274 .352 .468 .820  108
2005   110 50 121 25  3 12  40  1 .305 .355 .474 .829  112
2006    94 38  88 16  1  6  40  0 .277 .352 .390 .742   88

Mark DeRosa

Year     G   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2007   149  64 147 28  3 10  72  1 .293 .371 .420 .792  101
2008   149 103 144 30  3 21  87  6 .285 .376 .481 .857  117

Mike Fontenot

Year     G  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2009   135 38 89 22  2  9  43  4 .236 .301 .377 .677   73

Ryan Theriot

Year    G  R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
2010   96 45 110 10  2  1  21 16 .284 .320 .327 .647   70

This crew didn’t play all of their games at second base, but more or less could be considered the starting second basemen for their respective years as Cubs. Others would pass quickly through the revolving door as well; utility players like Jerry Hairston Jr. and Bobby Hill put in 40-80 games when needed. Since the Sandberg Era, the Cubs mostly reaped the skills of guys who could hit for decent average, could score runs, and apparently liked to shoot the gaps (they averaged over 25 doubles per year). And the only player to stick around more than two years was Todd Walker, who was arguably consistent at best. The same could be said about the defensive capabilities of these eight players as well- nothing special, but they got the job done.

Once the bayou boys were shipped off to the West Coast in 2010, second base was left in the hands of Jeff Baker and newly acquired Blake DeWitt. Enter Darwin Barney and we have our 2011 trio. Baker is currently smashing lefties, and DeWitt might be the closest to an everyday player. Barney looks like he could collect some hits and runs, and is evolving on defense (ha). Will any of them ascend to parallel Sandberg’s career? Probably not. But could they surpass, whether individually or as a trifecta, the performances of the Cubs second basemen since Ryno’s departure? Let’s hope so.

Discussion Questions

  • Which previous Cubs second basemen do you think Barney, DeWitt, and Baker will mirror in performance in 2011?
  • Who will play second in 2012?
  • Who has been the best second basemen since Ryno’s reign?
  • How in blue blazes did Mark Bellhorn hit 27 home runs in 2002?
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Around the MLB: Breakout Players

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Like any fan of the game, right now is an anxious time for me. We’re under 30 days away from 7 months of stolen bases, double plays, and diving catches. Three weeks from a first look at new rookies and to reconnect with familiar faces, some in different uniforms.

By February, I’m out of hibernation and thinking and reading about baseball all through out the day, just to have something to snack on until April. Most of the time, the same names pop up: Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, and for some reason, Ozzie Guillen. The current media storm is in perpetual motion, swirling over the same stories as it awaits results, any results at all, from baseball. But I’m just not interested in how much more monopoly money Mr. Pujols will have dumped in his back yard come payday, since negotiations aren’t even currently in progress. Instead, how about turning up the hype on a fresh batch of players who could be ready to make headlines on the diamond in the next couple of months?

Last year, I spotlighted a couple players in my mind, researching their statistics from the following year and looking ahead to how their 2010 season may develop.

Here was my list, in no particular order, of players I wanted to keep an eye on:

Lind & Hill in Toronto

A. Jones & Markakis in Baltimore

Ubaldo Jimenez

Evan Longoria

Shin-Soo Choo

Franklin Gutierrez

Sean Marshall

Ryan Theriot

As we now know, Choo, Longoria, and Marshall put up another solid season. Jones & Markakis were more or less static (more on that later). Ubaldo seemed poised for a 20+ win season, only to fizzle in the second half and wind up a win short. After that, though, the list was a bit disappointing. Lind & Hill both dropped off considerably in batting average and couldn’t approach their powers numbers from 2009. Gutierrez’s numbers regressed, and Ryan Theriot left for LA, and then came back to the NL Central on what he called the “right” side of the rivalry (Whatever. It’s spelled “Ryne” by the way, Mr. Redbird.)

The closest to a breakout season in 2010 was Ubaldo. By July last year, he was the hands-down pick for Cy Young. After that, it varies across the board, and you could get into a range of debates as to how the 2010 season fits into each player’s overall career. Personally, I just wanted to remember some guys playing for teams who were likely to miss the playoffs. If these players have breakout seasons, and everything clicks, they could begin to reverse that general assumption for the organization. Or they just put up another good year, and need to be recognized for it, a la Shin Soo Choo.

Obviously my list has changed going into 2011. I had to accommodate some rookies who pounced on the 2010 season, as well as give veteran status to the guys who were earning it (Yep, that eliminates Longoria, Marshall, and Choo). I’m also excluding no-brainers like Buster Posey, Carlos Gonzales and Aroldis Chapman because I know they’ll be applauded (if they’re good) or exiled (if they struggle) by the media on a daily basis.

First off, I’m keeping Adam Jones & Nick Markakis in mind again because they’re the closest to gaining vet status, or at least a better idea of what to expect from them. The last two years, they have each put up an exceptional season. From here, it’s either break out in 2011 and go from good to great in batting average & run production, or produce another consistent season. Either scenario works for these two, but I’m sure Baltimore would like to know what they have in their outfielders so they can figure out how they can build their young team around them.

Tyler Colvin & Andrew Cashner

Attention Cubs fans- these two are potentially dangerous. They hit the scene in 2010 with surprisingly good numbers, and played like they deserved to be in the bigs. But don’t go betting all of your marbles just yet- it’s possible they’re still a year away from a breakout season, and sophomore year can be a tough one. For these two, 2011 is more a question of whether or not to consider them as potential superstars. Will 24 year old Cashner venture in to the rotation after going 2-6 from the pen in 2010? Will Colvin receive more at bats, and if so, can he match his slugging percentage (.500) from last year? And by the way, Starlin Castro may have gotten his breakout season out of the way already, even though I’ll still be paying close attention to how much he improves on defense.

Jason Heyward

He didn’t waste any time last year, lighting up the Cubs on opening day if I remember correctly. What stood out to me was the sound the ball made coming off his bat and a sweet swing that seemed to resemble Ken Griffey Jr.’s. He was a sure fire runner up for rookie of the year, with 18 knocks, 72 runs driven in and a robust OBP (.393), even while sustaining a minor injury. Heyward is my pick for this year. I don’t think he’s going to waste any time in putting up elite Major League numbers, as long as he stays healthy.

James Loney

I still resent Loney for what he did to the Cubs in 2008, but you can’t ignore his talent. He represents the middle of a young Dodger core, just about at the same level as Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier as they steadily produce runs. Loney contributed with 88 RBI last year, but his batting average dipped to .267. If Ethier returns to 2009 form, and Kemp and Loney can raise their averages, the Dodgers have a reliable trio on the right side of the field.

Ike Davis

Davis was fun to watch in 2010. Amidst a full bloom of NL rookies, Davis played stellar defense in his first full year; He also produced on offense with a .791 OPS, even chipping in a couple times in the clutch with some walk-off hits. The problem- Davis plays for the Mets. He seems an obvious cornerstone candidate for a rebuilding franchise, but will instead have to silently play as his team crumbles around him. Above anything else, I’m rooting for Davis to get traded to, well, any other team. Unfortunately, it’s still highly unlikely he changes uniforms, even though the Mets are imploding going into 2011.

Mike Leake

Similar to his NL Central counterparts on this list, the question is a matter of how seriously to take Mike Leake. He put on some brilliant clinics from the mound last year, making hitters look foolish with Greg Maddux-like poise and control. This only amounted to 8 wins for the Reds in 2010, but each one seemed a masterpiece. Those kinds of pitchers, if they can maintain in the pros, have long, solid careers, and that’s no easy feat. At 23, Leake was somewhat rushed to the Majors, and his impressive numbers could just be a reflection of hitters being ambushed by his potent arsenal of pitches. He’s at least worth keeping tabs on in 2011 and could have a high ceiling in the coming years.

Nelson Cruz

Cruz may be a bit of a throw-in, since he’s already well established in the majors. He finally shined in 2010 with an all star selection and a playoff performance worth noticing. The question for Cruz in 2011 is whether or not he can carry a team. Cruz failed to crack 80 RBI for the second year in a row, but improved his OBP (.374) and SLG (.576) while cutting down on strikeouts. As we saw in 2010, the time to win in Texas is now. Will Cruz rise to superstar status and push them over the brink? If he evolves into a .300/30/110 player, the departure of Cliff Lee and impending loss of Michael Young will sting a little less as the Rangers defend their AL crown.

Ditto to: Jeremy Hellickson, Kurt Suzuki, Mike Napoli, Gaby Sanchez, Shaun Marcum, Cody Ross, & Mat Latos

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As the Clock Ticks Down…

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Make sure you follow us on Twitter for all notifications as we head to the deadline.

The deadline is finally upon us. All the speculation and rumors will swirl into one flurry of moves, or the black clouds may pass overhead with only a sprinkle. All through the MLB, the trade front has changed on a daily basis with injuries, volatile standings, and already completed transactions.

The Cubs have everyone- fans and Lilly suitors alike- wondering just how they will erupt. While everyone had them penciled in as sellers before the break, the Northsiders started playing much better ball and still have many meaningful games left against division rivals. It’s pretty tough to predict who will be donning new threads come August, but one thing I expect is for a lot of players to move, which certainly involves the Cubs. Even if they are serious about contending this year, they need to consider 2011 for their own good. They have expendable, MLB caliber players and a few expiring contracts.

If the Cubs decide to…

Hold

Trade Lilly, Nady, and either Baker or Fontenot.

A large priority is shoring up the bullpen, while also aggressively pursuing a first baseman that can be a 1-2 year stop gap, if not more. If Lilly moves, call up Jay Jackson and take chances between him, Marhsall, and Cashner as spot starters. Darwin Barney could also be granted a shot as a backup bench player if Baker or Fontenot departs.

Sell

Trade Lilly, Lee, Nady, Baker and Theriot.

Open up gaps for more young players to get a shot. A solid first baseman for the future should be the top priority, and guys like Lilly or Lee could bring one in. For example, Yonder Alonso is blocked at first base in Cincinnati, but would still demand a sophisticated package for the Cubs to acquire him. Other slightly more attainable upgrades include Scott Sizemore & Chris Davis, depending on how desperately the Tigers need pitching or the Rangers need a first baseman for the stretch. These may be the best possible aspirations, and they should be willing to take less, especially if they have an opportunity to shed any large contracts. That means Silva, Soriano, Fukudome, Zambrano, & Ramirez could see have new area codes as well.

Buy/Free Agents

Trade Lilly, Nady, and make young pitchers and catchers available.

Since the Cubs should definitely not be in buying mode this year, let’s also consider their free agent options at the end of this season. For one, I can’t stop thinking about who could replace Derrek at first base. They could also try to reel in a solid middle reliever. The Cubs have quite a few good young arms in Jeff Stevens, James Russell, Justin Berg, Mitch Atkins, & Esmalin Caridad. The middle relief market is unique, and most arms are highly unpredictable. If they can be included in a package deal to help facilitate a trade then pull the trigger. I would try to sell especially high on Jeff Samardzija.

Trade/Free Agent Targets:

-Jorge Cantu- A high strikeout rate could be worrisome, but he’s a consistent hitter with some pop. He would add a veteran presence in replacing Derrek Lee and can play some third base when A-Ram is ailing. Cantu could either be acquired this week (unlikely) or signed in the offseason; he would probably come cheaper via trade, though.

-Carlos Pena- Could be signed as a free agent, granted the deal isn’t ridiculous (in other words, he would inevitably have to lower his asking price). Pena is streaky, but provides excellent run production and respectable defense at first.

-Brandon Inge- I just want to see him play in the NL. A scrappy ballplayer, Inge plays multiple positions with stellar defense and is a good clutch hitter. The Cubs are still pretty locked down at third base and catcher, though, so this deal really has no urgency- he would jam up the infield. But he’s such a good role player that I would at least pursue him on the free agent market as a defensive upgrade and then try to find a way to get him in the lineup if he signs.

-Franklin Morales- I consider most relief pitchers practically impossible to predict on a season to season basis. But Morales represents the type of pitcher I wouldn’t mind taking a chance on- he’s pitched in the playoffs and has shown signs of success. Since the Cubs are almost all youngsters out of the pen, a little experience and another lefty arm to support Sean Marshall couldn’t hurt. That doesn’t mean that Hendry needs to give him a 7 million dollar deal, however.

A few lesser-impact options at first: Daric Barton, Adam LaRoche, Matt LaPorta…any others?

Trademania!

Let’s pretend Hendry allows the fans to call in for some proposals this year. What deals would you like to see, and what are some that you feel can (or will) legitimately take place? Here are a few ideas- some with fairness to both teams, and some with my bias left unattended:

Xavier Nady for a PTBNL. Salary dump for the Cubs with hopefully a decent draft pick in return. Likelihood=9.

Jeff Baker or Mike Fontenot to the Padres for a minor league pitcher. The Padres are looking for affordable infield depth last I heard, so the Cubs can personally phone them and tell them to take their pick. If the Padres have talent to deal, Ryan Theriot could yield an even better player for the Cubs. Likelihood=7.

Ted Lilly for Matt Joyce. More of a foundation for a deal- if the Rays are looking for a solid lefty with a good repertoire in the AL East, then the Cubs can try to capitalize on their needs by starting with a high asking price. They may not be able to get Desmond Jennings, but could probably wrench away one solid prospect from the Rays fertile farm. I like this as a potential sleeper deal. Likelihood=5.

Derrek Lee and Wellington Castillo for Mike Napoli or Jeff Mathis. The Angels are a tad overloaded with C/1B’s, and the Cubs should try to pounce on that. Napoli is a great option for an instant impact bat at first if he can handle the adjustment to a full-on position switch and a new league. The Cubs stay young, but also risk downgrading defensively. The Angels get a rental and another good young catcher to fill the void. Likelihood= 4.

The Double Play

Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot for Brandon Inge and Scott Sizemore. A whole mess of infielders changing leagues. Who could resist the Bayou Boys, packaged together like that? Realistically, though, I think the Cubs would have to spice up this deal a little more to make it genuinely appealing to the Tigers- perhaps Darwin Barney instead of Fontenot. Inge is still injured and the Tigers just acquired Jhonny Peralta, so this proposal is more a pipe dream, but it has a fun combination of risk and reward in the infield for both teams. (In case you haven’t noticed, I really want to see Inge in the NL.) Likelihood=3.

The “Apocalypse Now.”

Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome for Ike Davis, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, and Jeff Francoeur. A combination of popular names all brought together as one dangerous recipe for both teams. The Cubs are in favor here because they get Davis, so let’s say they kick in most of the insane amounts of money owed in this deal. Lilly would prosper pitching in front of the gigantic basin that is Citi Field, and the Mets unload a lot of money at the end of the season. Time’s running out for this one! Likelihood=2.

The Blockbuster.

Starlin Castro and Randy Wells for Mike Leake and Yonder Alonso.  Somebody take Leake away from Dusty Baker! I still would not give up Castro, but I’d be salivating and very tempted to just cover my eyes and press the button on this one. I threw in Alonso for good measure and still couldn’t fully justify it. What makes this a blockbuster is that the Reds would probably be equally intrigued and apprehensive at the same time. Likelihood= -1.

The deadline will be filled with surprises as usual. All I can say is that I hope the Cubs are at least active, as I expect a lot of players in the MLB to be moving around. There’s a great opportunity for the Cubs to begin moving in a new direction as they prepare for the 2011 season- they have some money coming off the books at season’s end and a crop of promising prospects on the horizon. Since the trade market changes on a hourly basis, all we can do for the time being is look forward to any incoming talent and wave goodbye to those who have already put their time in.

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Cubs Legends: Frank Chance

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

As Derrek Lee’s contract comes to a close, the Cubs may very well see the end of an era at first base by the end of the year, if not sooner. Lee has occupied the corner since being acquired for Hee-Seop Choi from the Marlins in 2003 (stifle those giggles- the Marlins would seek revenge 6 years later by sending Kevin “Walk-Walk-Homer” Gregg to the Cubs and actually receiving a player in return). Having both fascinated and frustrated the Wrigley faithful over the years, Lee is finally at a point where it may be time for him to move on, which will leave a noticeable vacancy at first base. When he does depart, Lee will join the pantheon of memorable Cubs first basemen alongside names such as Grace, Cavarretta, and one of the greatest Cubs’ legends of all time: Frank Chance.

Let me first acknowledge that Chance was not the first Cub to play first base, but the second- he was preceded by the immortal Cap Anson. Anson turned over his duties around 1898 to Chance, but not before compiling a mountain of team records that most Cubs- at any position- will have a tough time surpassing. But since the theme here is who will fill Lee’s shoes, let’s take a look at a moment when the Cubs lost a legend, and replaced him with another.

Frank Chance, 1st Basemen
Nicknamed “Husk” because of his stocky 6-foot, 190 lb. build, Chance played 15 seasons with the Cubs from 1898 to 1912. During that time, the California-born right hander clocked over 1200 hits, 200 doubles, and 400 stolen bases, with a lifetime .296 BA and .394 OBP. A constant threat on the base paths, Chance led the league in SB’s in 1903 and 1906, with 67 and 57 thefts respectively. He also batted .421 in the fall of 1908 to help secure a second straight World Series victory for the Cubs.

Tinkers to Evers to Chance
Although the actual trio existed about one hundred years ago, this shortstop-second base-first base combination is still heralded as one of the best infields of all time (to complete the thought, Harry Steinfeldt manned third for the majority of this era- he was acquired by Chance’s request the year after he became manager). With Tinker’s sure hands and Evers’ swift turns from second to first, the trio worked their way into regular baseball vernacular. Chance actually came into the bigs as a catcher, but was moved from behind the plate to the outfield and then to first base in 1902. He was a solid fielder, posting a career .987 fielding percentage, and also led the league in fielding percentage in two separate years (1909- .994; 1910- .996).

Frank Chance, Manager
In today’s game, most managers keep relatively quiet about their teams, doing everything they can to avoid drama in an age where the media jumps to exploit the tiniest headlines. A century ago, things were a little different. Managers were fiery and profane, fearlessly jumping on their players for all sorts on personality conflicts. It wasn’t a major headline if a manager had to sock a player in the jaw to keep him in line, and many old timers would readily admit to their ruthless methods for motivation.

Frank Chance was no different. Elected as the manager in 1905, and on the brink of his prime, the 27 year-old Chance led the Cubs to a .635 winning percentage in his first year as both player and manager, and captured two titles out of three World Series appearances from 1906-1908. He won games using the ideal national league elements- smart fundamentals, great defense, and good pitching. But Chance also added a little pepper to the game for more motivation. He was known to handpick his players, which may seem normal enough. Yet it wasn’t always with good intentions. For example, according to Doug Myers in Essential Cubs:

“When a pitcher named Jack Harper beaned him once too often for his liking, he traded for him, cut his salary by two-thirds, refused to pitch him, and drove him into retirement at the age of 28.”

A product of his time, Chance was known to participate in riots and brawls just as frequently as he instigated them, with both fans and players. He received retribution just as often; Chance actually lost hearing in one ear and suffered from blood clots in his brain from frequent bean balls. Chance managed until 1912 and never had a team winning percentage under .597. He is cemented in history (and the brickwork around Wrigley Field) as one of the best Cubs first basemen and managers of all time.

Frank Chance died in 1947, but enjoyed the glory of a Hall of Fame induction the year before due to election by the Old Timers Committee.

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Minor League Report

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Question: with the Cubs expected to stir the pot during the trade deadline, what exactly will we build around? Temporary solutions are ideal so as not to block prospects, but if we can get good prospects in return, what are our needs? The Cubs have worked hard in the last year and a half to boost a lackluster farm system, and there are now a number of prized players in the minor leagues at various levels, giving the team a solid base to build around It’s too bad we don’t have much of a chance to watch these guys perform, and therefore have mostly stats to go by. But the numbers do look promising…

Daytona Cubs (Florida State League- A)
Brett Jackson, OF- Recently moved up to the Tennessee Smokies, the 21 year old lefty may be the best in the Cubs’ system. He’s batting .333 in his first 9 games with Tenn., coming off of a league leading .937 OPS in the Florida State League. In Daytona, Brett exhibited how well rounded a player he is, with a high OBP & SLG, 19 doubles, 8 triples, 12 SB’s and 56 runs over 67 games. Between both leagues he’s .318/.425/.952 (BA/OBP/OPS) with 8 HR’s, 45 RBI’s, and 15 SB’s. Sounds like a soon to be great leadoff hitter to me.

Chris Archer, P- Also 21, Archer has collected 82 strikeouts in 72.1 innings so far this year, while walking only 26 batters. He’s been very effective as a starter, posting a 7-1 record and 2.86 ERA in 14 starts. His high K/9 (10.26) and low BB/9 would make him a bullpen candidate as well, depending on the team’s needs in the near future.

Trey McNutt, P has been a breakout case this year; in Peoria, the 20 year old righty is 6-0 over 13 games started with a 1.51 ERA and 70 strikeouts. With just under 60 innings under his belt, McNutt will now pitch in the Florida State League.

Tennessee Smokies (Southern League- AA)
Josh Vitters, 3B- Another promoted player from Daytona, the 20 year old was last seen hitting .292 before being promoted after 28 games. Since then, he has struggled in the Southern League, batting a meager .222.

At such a ripe young age, Vitters has time to polish his approach and improve on defense as he moves through the Cubs’ farm system. Given his reputation, Vitters could be a good prospect trade chip, but also retains some value since he adds needed depth at 3B.

Ty Wright, LF has been promoted to Iowa after tearing up the Southern League. For Tennessee, the 25 year old flexed his muscles, hitting 10 homers and 21 doubles, and batting .298 and driving in 51 runs in 73 games before his promotion.

Wright joins prospects Brad Snyder and Bryan LaHair in Iowa as possible outfielders or first basemen if needed in the immediate future. Given the glut of talent at these positions, any of these players has a chance to step up and render the other two expendable.

Chris Carpenter, P- 24 year old Carpenter has been performing quite well and seems ready for the next level since signing with the Cubs in 2009. In 15 starts this year, Chris has a 3.16 ERA and 6 wins. He has also exhibited his tendency toward throwing groundballs rather than strikeouts, with a 1.49 GO/FO ratio but only 55 K’s in 74 innings. At this rate, Carpenter may replicate or even surpass his 2009 numbers, when he had an even higher groundout rate (1.74) and a 2.82 ERA in 130+ innings between three leagues.

Iowa Cubs (Pacific Coast League- AAA)
Darwin Barney, SS- One of many good, young shortstops in the organization, Barney is temporarily blocked, but needs room to grow anyway. In his last two years, the 24 year old has put up batting average over .280 and a standard amount of RBI’s. He’s approaching 20 doubles again, and shows that he can swipe bases time to time. Combine his solid offense with a defense that is beginning to creep above the average, and Barney seems to be coming along quite nicely.

Jay Jackson, P – will not turn 23 until autumn. This year, he sports a 3.63 ERA in 90.1 IP, and has only walked 22 over 84 innings- that’s an impressive 2.3 BB/9. Jackson has cruised through the farm system since 2008, and should continue to be closely monitored as he holds his own in Triple-A. Hopefully, by the end of the season the right-handed Jacskon will join Andrew Cashner as a valuable member of future pitching staff.

These players have a couple things in common: all are 25 or under, none have played in the Major leagues, and they all seem to be different pieces of a good young foundation for the team to build around. The Cubs are definitely in good shape right now in the middle of the infield, as well as outfield depth and a handful of promising pitchers. Since the departure of the three C’s from the farm since the spring- Colvin, Castro, Cashner- and their results so far, the team has options on moving forward, and can even afford to dismantle a good chunk of their current starting roster if they choose to do so.

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Cubs Legends & Hall of Fame Snubs

Monday, June 28th, 2010

It’s tough to stay positive about the Cubs at the moment. Thanks to a weak NL Central, they’re barely staying in the hunt, even though they can not seem to win a 3 game series against anyone. It’s times like this that us life long Cubs fans must close our eyes and let the humid Chicago breeze take us back to older days.

If you were born in the 80’s, you instantly had reason to be a Cubs fan. The Ryno, the Hawk, the pennant races- there was plenty to be excited about. But the Cubs history goes well beyond that. Yes, even further back than Ernie Banks & Billy Williams. As a matter of fact, right toward the end of the dead ball era, two players (among many, many others) came along who delivered particularly exciting seasons in Cubs’ uniforms.

Hack Wilson played 850 games, roughly two thirds of his career, with the Chicago Cubs.  Of course, everyone should at least know his name, thanks to his memorable season in 1930, when he belted 56 home runs (an NL record until the Steroid Era) and tallied 191 RBI’s, which remains the Major League single season record. If the MVP were awarded in 1930, Wilson would have been an obvious shoo-in to receive the honor by a huge margin.

Hack was only 5’6”, but had a stocky 190 lb. build and roved center field from 1926 until 1931 with the Cubs. A career .307 hitter, Wilson led the NL in home runs four out of his six Cubs seasons. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.

Gabby Hartnett, a lifetime .297 hitter, caught over 100 games for 12 years. A six time All Star from 1933-37, Hartnett was named the NL MVP in 1935 with 13 home runs, 91 RBI’s, and a stellar .344 BA in 116 games. He played 19 of his 20 professional seasons with the Cubs, amassing over 1900 hits, almost 400 doubles, and 236 career homeruns.

What solidified Hartnett as an elite player was his strong defense. With a career .987 fielding percentage, including an unbelievable .996 mark as catcher in 1934 and 1937, Hartnett also frequently led the league in runners caught stealing, throwing out 54% of attempting base thieves on average.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the famous “Homer in the Gloamin”- a shot hit by Hartnett into the left field bleachers against the division leading Pirates on September 28, 1938. Hartnett connected while down 0-2 in the bottom of the ninth, as darkening conditions threatened to render the game meaningless*. According to Gabby, the player/manager at the time: “A lot of people have told me they didn’t know the ball was in the bleachers. Well, I did- maybe I was the only one in the park who did. I knew the minute I hit it…I don’t think I walked a step to the plate- I was carried in.” They Cubs would go on to overtake the Pirates and win the pennant, their fourth in ten years.

Hartnett was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955.

HOF Snubs:

Jimmy Ryan’s 2500 career hits and lifetime .306 is comparable to HOF inductees such as Jim O’Rourke (Ryan’s career 118 HR’s doubles O’Rourke’s total of 56) and surpasses George Kell in HR’s and hits by a considerable amount, while tying him in lifetime average. So why are they enshrined, while Ryan’s left out? The right fielder was equally effective on defense, playing numerous positions and even pitching in 24 games.

Ryan played 16 of his 18 pro seasons with the Cubs, from 1885-1900. He had one particularly exciting year in 1888, when he led the NL in Hits, 2B’s, HR’s, SLG., and TB’s (182/33/16/.515/283, respectively). Ryan hit for average and power, stole bases and drew walks. The leadoff hitter for the 1880’s dynasty fell one home run shy of being the first Cub to have over 2000 hits, 100 HR’s, and a .300+ BA, a feat that would not fully be accomplished until 1999, by a fella named Mark Grace. It’s a little late now, but if his campaign were revisited, would he have your vote?

Stan Hack is the slightly lesser known Cubs snub at 3B. Like Jimmy Ryan, Hack also amassed 16 impressive seasons with the Cubs, from 1932-1947. He was a fixture at third base as well as a very productive leadoff hitter, scoring over 100 runs seven times. Also like Ryan, Smilin’ Stan compiled over 2000 hits and maintained a .300+ career batting average, while posing a consistent threat on the base paths with 165 career stolen bases.

On defense, Stan Hack was a shining star for the Cubs at one of the toughest positions in the game. In 1942, he played 54 consecutive games without committing an error while posted at the hot corner, a record at the time. If gold gloves were awarded during the 30’s and 40’s, Hack’s fielding stats indicate that he would have been honored at least four times, which would have matched his All Star appearances.

To further the case, Stan Hack batted .348 over four World Series. He may never have had a truly breakout season, but his consistency gives him a strong case to join the legion of legends. And yet he has only ever received 8 votes toward the Hall of Fame (8 more than Jimmy Ryan). Hack was undoubtedly an above average ballplayer, but was he one of the best?

All stats and excerpts courtesy of baseball-reference.com and Doug Myers’ encyclopedic Essential Cubs, published in 1999. A fantastic read and reference for any Cubs fan.

*According to Doug Myers in Essential Cubs, games that were suspended due to darkness or rain during that time period were played all over again as part of a double header the next day, making the original game meaningless.

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Game 64: Lou’s Blues

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

After yet another tough loss, it’s no surprise that Lou is completely confounded in the post game interview. Night after night he is bombarded with defensive lapses, lack of run support to the point of total stagnancy, and bullpen implosions. No doubt, he will sit there hunched over the podium and reel out the same responses:

“Lou, what do you think went wrong tonight?”
“I don’t know.”
“Will so-and-so see less/more playing time?”
“I don’t know”
“Lou, blah blah blah yadda yadda?”
“They need to swing the bat.”
“How do you feel about the melting of major glaciers in Greenland?”
“We need to score more runs.”

Poor Lou keeps his eyes fixed on the mic, his cap down low, and his answers short and consistently inconclusive. But amidst the strong inclination that Lou is toward the end of managing, at least for the Cubs, it helps to remember that he has to face the Chicago media, an industry that operates night and day for a sports-crazed, immensely passionate city. Reporters lob contrived questions at Lou on a daily basis, and he has to find the words to explain why the Cubs aren’t winning. Did defense hurt us tonight? Yes, of course. You didn’t need to ask, just watch the Cubs lose. They happen to be doing that very well lately.

Yet I still think Lou should be grilled with questions- he is, after all, largely responsible for his team’s performance. But it’s time to look at the bigger picture. For example:

-How does the result of this home stand effect the organization’s stance as either buyers or sellers?
-What internal solutions are on the horizon to upgrade the team?
-What managerial adjustments have been made to promote better performance, and how has your coaching strategy changed over the season?
-What is the overall plan to improve in the short term and long term scope of the season?

Anyone can tell you that Lou’s no rain man. He’s supposedly not fond of dealing with the media in the first place, let alone under these circumstances. But he should be able to create a coherent response as to how he, as manager, plans to improve this team. No more clichéd “I put nine guys out there every night and hope to win.” To get back into contention, the Cubs need a plan. In addition to that, they need to upgrade as a team. So there should be answers, however indefinite they may sound from night to night, regarding who will play more, who is needed at what position, and who best fits into each role. I agree with the whole “whoever produces, plays” mantra as of late, but by the time it was employed, everyone saw what a knee jerk, crowd pleasing reaction it was. Everyone knows Colvin needs more playing time, someone just had to wake Lou out of his slumber and tell him to make it happen.

The fans are just as frustrated and just as displeased as Lou must be after each game. But he should be leading the charge out of these dark times, not sleeping through it.

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Deadline Dreams

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

OK, settle down. It’s not time to give up yet. No, really, the Cubs are just below .500. I know that sometimes they look like a little league team in the field, but they are one hot streak away from being back in contention. And sure, most times it looks like our lineup is sleeping at the dish, but they have to start hitting soon. Right? Right?!

I fully believe in being optimistic. The Cubs definitely still have a chance at making the playoffs and even winning the World Series. It’s just not fair to count a team out completely until, say, July 31st.

Oh hey, that’s the trade deadline you say? Well you know what? If the Cubs are out of it- IF- they should make a big splash. I was strolling past Wrigley Field on my way back from my buddy’s house last night, and starting dreaming up some scenarios:

Most plausible trade targets:

Ted Lilly ($12M)

Moving Lilly would be for the sake of dumping a large contract. Teams will probably be a little skeptical with him but he would (or should) get a good return. I would expect an everyday MLB player and 1-2 good prospects- consider it a first step towards rebuilding, which is why this is less likely if the Cubs are still in the hunt come July. Additionally, there’s his stunt-double replacement, Gorzelanny, to fill his vacancy in the rotation.

Derrek Lee (13M)

Sigh. I would hate to see Derrek go. He’s not even a year removed from an MVP-caliber season, and his defense at first remains practically impenetrable. But, his contract is nearing an end and teams are interested. If it has to be done, then we may have to wave goodbye to a Wrigley staple. Trading Lee only seems plausible to me if the Cubs get a good return (prospects with some reasonable MLB experience would suffice) and if we have an instant replacement at 1B. Otherwise, trading Lee could leave a gap at first larger than the Citi Field outfield.

Xavier Nady (3.3M).

There’s just no room for him. You know that guy Tyler? He deserves pretty much all of his at bats. Sorry Xavier- no hard feelings.The problem with Nady is his value. I wouldn’t expect anything in return. A clever GM (earmuffs, Hendry) would just shoot for a bullpen guy that is either unproven or currently struggling. Those guys are always liable to pull 180’s in their year to year performances. As for backing up first base, I still don’t see what’s wrong with Micah Hoffpauir. He even plays a decent right field.

Jeff Baker (975K).

Same deal as Nady. You could argue Fontenot here, but I choose Bake because Font’s a lefty and just may be settling into his fitting role as a utility player.

Alfonso Soriano (nevermind).

I know, I know, it’s possibly the worst contract in baseball. Throw in Jim Hendry’s patented no trade clause and this guy looks like a lock until 2014. And we should be doing everything possible to avoid that. Look, I don’t know how old Soriano is- he probably doesn’t even know- but he runs like he’s 40. And I have sat in the bleachers and watched him turn around and play with the crowd as the pitcher begins his windup. I don’t hate Soriano- I do hate his swing- I still believe he is an above average player. But his defense is killing us. And the final nail in his coffin is that Colvin is ready to play. He’s 25 and deserves his shot. No more wasting talent. Let him flounder, let him struggle; just let him play a full season. And the way to do that is to move Soriano- under any circumstance.

Remember in the recent past when the Cubs got rid of their franchise face? Everyone hemmed and hawed, and bitterly acknowledged “Well, at least we got Jerry Hairston Jr…I guess that’s something.” You know who else came over in the Sammy Sosa trade? Mike Fontenot. Ok, so he didn’t turn into a superstar. But he’s been playing and even starting ever since. Not bad, right?

Then the Cubs decided this past offseason that Bradley had to go, under any circumstance. Keeping him was a liability that outweighed eating the contract or a poor return; the Cubs just had to swallow a very bitter pill and recognize that Jim Hendry made a huge mistake in signing Bradley. But you know what? The Mariners had a similar situation. When that trade went down, if someone said to you that Silva will not have recorded a loss by June, would you have believed it?  Say Soriano is untradeable all you want, but that’s if you want something in return. We have a solution from within- and outfield depth in the minors- so let’s make a change, and take a chance.

John Grabow (2.7M, then 4.8M).

There’s got to be a little league team out there willing to at least kick the tires on this guy. How about some new batting gloves and a pack of big league chew? Sounds fair to me!

And how about more package deals? You could throw in: David Patton, Sam Fuld, Justin Berg or Jeff Stevens. Thoughts on them or any others? I would, however, deem Castro, Theriot, Colvin, Soto, Byrd, Marshall, & Wells untouchable at the moment.

Just to keep us grounded, a lot can still change over two months. If the Cubs are in serious contention, I wouldn’t suggest 90% of these scenarios (Nady=10%). And player values can change dramatically- injuries, hot streaks, PED suspensions, extensions and other trades, etc etc. But if I’m Tom Ricketts, I would be yearning for a clean slate, a new lineup- and there are options that could open up around 20M in payroll or more. We Chicagoans know promises of “change” quite well. And (most) of us understand that change does not always mean success or immediate reward. It could even get worse. But either way, you have to be willing to shake things up.

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