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In the News: The Final Edition (For Now)

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

 Cubbie kool aid

Greetings, Cubs fans. Well, first things first, some sad news (uh, depending on how you feel about me): I’m afraid this will be my last “In the News” report for a while. I’m heading out on vacation this Thursday and will miss the last week or so of the Cubs’ season. And, after that, I’m going to be focusing more on my contributions to SB Nation Chicago. If you’re fan of Chicago’s other sports teams, please check it out.

I do want to thank Joe for giving me the opportunity to write here. Even though the 2010 Cubs haven’t exactly made it easy to stay inspired and motivated, it has been fun keeping everyone up to date on the some (most?) of the major team-related story lines as well as getting in my two cents regarding various issues. I’d also like to thank Lizzie, Chet, Mark, CubbieDude and everyone else who’s been so welcoming. I hope to be back again to contribute at some point, and I’ll definitely be checking in via the comments section when I get a chance.

And now … on with the news:

Tyler Colvin is recovering. It appears the Cubs’ young outfielder’s gruesome impaling hasn’t been officially covered here, so let’s get up to speed: Tyler was nailed in the upper chest by a piece of catcher Welington Castillo’s broken bat on Sunday afternoon. Colvin was rushed to a local hospital where he will remain for another day or so. You can see the injury and read Tyler’s statement from his hospital bed here.

As it should be, Colvin is done for the season. And what a season it was. After making a very brief appearance as a defensive replacement in 2009 (he may have gotten one start), Tyler showed up to spring training with those now-mythical “extra 25 lbs.,” and absolutely crushed the ball throughout the team’s Cactus League schedule. Although his plate discipline problems didn’t exactly evaporate at the big league level, he hit for a remarkable amount of power, earning him a decent (if slow to materialize) amount of playing time under Sweet Lou and then Mike Quade.

Tyler ends his 2010 campaign as follows: .254/.316/.500 (.816 OPS, .350 wOBA) in 295 plate appearances, good for a 1.8 WAR. Although the low OBP is (and will remain) concerning, he hit for enough power to counteract its shortcomings. (That’s what wOBA is for.) As rookie campaigns go, I’d declare his a success — if for no other reason than he forced the team to keep him in consideration as a starting player next year. Whether he’ll actually be one will, in part, depend on what becomes of Fukudome next season. If Kosuke is dealt, Colvin should get the nod as the starting right fielder.

I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Tyler all the best on a speedy recovery and restful off-season. In a season that turned out to be more about the future than the present, he’s given us all some hope.

Also done for the year: Geo. A few hours before Colvin’s horrific on-field accident, the news came down that Geovany Soto, in consultation with the Cubs’ training staff, has decided to undergo arthroscopic shoulder surgery. As detailed in this Bruce Miles’ blogpost, the successful surgery went down yesterday and Geo has already been discharged from the hospital. The team (and player) decided to go forward with the surgery now to enable Soto to be fully ready for baseball-related activities by January 1st. That should have him fine playing shape by spring training.

Geo ends his 2010 campaign as follows: .280/.393/.497 (.890 OPS, .385 wOBA) in 387 plate appearances, good for a 3.5 WAR. Those are, in my humble opinion, spectacular numbers for a catcher. I was hoping throughout the season that Geo would be able to keep his OBP at or over .400, but I’d say a slugging percentage that flirts with .500 makes up for the .007 shortage. Among all MLB catchers with at least 300 plate appearances, Soto placed 5th in value (WAR). And, among NL catchers under those criteria, he still leads all in wOBA, though the Giants’ Buster Posey or perhaps the Braves’ Brian McCann could still pass him.

So, again, we thank you, Geo, for doing pretty much everything you could to quell any remaining suspicions that your rookie year may have been a fluke. It wasn’t. You are a good and valuable player at a premium position. May you also have a speedy recovery and restful (though not too restful) off-season. I’d like to see the Cubs go into the 2011 season with a Soto/Castillo catching crew.

A couple remaining questions as the season winds down:

1. Can Big Z keep it up? Since returning to the rotation from the restricted list on Aug. 9, Carlos Zambrano has won six of eight starts, struck out 42 batters in 51 innings, surrendered only one home run and has a 1.59 ERA in that time. He’s lowered his overall season ERA to 3.75 (.381 FIP, 4.45 xFIP). A strong finish to the season may either convince Jim Hendry to say, “Aw, shucks, Z. I can’t stay mad at you,” and keep him around. Or it could boost Z’s trade value enough to enable Jimbo to work out some sort of deal with another team, though that still seems pretty unlikely given how much money is involved. And I don’t feel a bad contract swap is justified at this time. Then again, I’ve always been able to let Z’s bad/strange behavior roll off my back better than others.

Again, at this point, assuming Cliff Lee is not a viable option (which he probably isn’t), the Cubs don’t have many viable options for the top of the rotation. So they might as well hang on to the anger-management-mellowed Z for another year of his deal.

2. Can Marmol pull it off? And by “it” I don’t mean one of his patented, filthier-than-thou sliders. I’m referring to the single-season K/9 record. The Cubs wiggly armed closer currently has a K/9 (ratio of strikeouts to nine innings) of 15.64 (124 Ks in 71.1 innings pitched). That’s well ahead of the MLB record, which I believe is held by Eric Gagne, who compiled a 14.98 K/9 in 2003 with the Dodgers. I guess it’s a little too early to call it, but Carlos is still on the road to making history. He’s been a 2.7 WAR pitcher in the closer’s role and, I believe, is due for an arbitration hearing this off-season. So that should be interesting.

And, last but not least, one more…

Cubs Next Manager Power Rankings

1. Ryne Sandberg. What the hell — I’m just going to leave Ryno in the top spot. If only because of the comments Tom Ricketts made at a recent sports business event hosted by a local Chicago sports radio station. He basically said the next manager needs to be someone who:

  • Knows the team’s history, culture and general atmosphere,
  • Who’s young enough to stick with them for a while, and
  • Who can still act as a coach (not just a manager).

That pretty much describes Sandberg, though, on the other hand, it also describes …

2. Mike Quade. Yes, I think the former third base coach has built up his resume quite substantially since taking over. He has all the qualities that Ricketts mentions — and even more minor league coaching experience. He also has a 17-7 (as of this writing) record since taking over, including the best road trip (in terms of winning teacher) IN CUBS’ HISTORY. I have to admit, I like Quade a lot more than I thought I would. He’s intense, focused, engaged and, in particular, I like how he gives a round of applause to a starting pitcher he’s about to pull from the game. I just dig little things like that.

It would not surprise me at this point if the Cubs shocked the universe and offered him the job. He’s youngish (53), from the Chicago area, very familiar with the current players and Wrigley atmosphere, an accomplished minor and major league coach, and now, in an admittedly very small sample, a successful big league manager.

3. Bob Brenly. The Sun-Times reported last week that BB will interview for the job. He’s not exactly young — he’ll be 57 next year. But he could conceivably stick with the team for a good 10 to 12 years at that age. Brenly is presumably well-acquainted with the players as well as Cubs culture at this point, so he fits the bill. He’s also a fan favorite who would bring a certain amount of butt-kicking to the table. I’m just not sure that’s what the team is looking for and why I think a more “positively motivational” guy like Quade has the edge.

4. Eric Wedge. Baseball guru Peter Gammons caused a kerfluffle this past week by supposedly “predicting” that the former Indians manager would become the Cubs next manager. He actually said Wedge would be the “best fit,” which isn’t really a prediction. It’s just an opinion.

Still, Wedge will be only 43 next year, so he has youth on his side. I don’t really know how familiar he is with Cubs history or the fan/media atmosphere around Wrigley, however. I guess if Hendry does want to go with an “experienced” choice, Wedge seems fairly feasible as he’s younger (as noted) and available.

5. Bob Melvin. ESPN has reported that Hendry will be interviewing the former Mariners and Diamondbacks field general sometime around “the end of the season.” Melvin turns 49 next month, so he’s not as old as I suspected and still younger than Brenly. But he’s another outsider who I can only assume is being given a shot for due diligence purposes. He’d make for a boring choice in my opinion, but I guess you can’t count him out.

6. Joe Girardi. I know I should count ol’ Joe out, but I just can’t. He’s a dark horse. He probably won’t escape the clutches of the playoff-bound Yankees. But you never know.

Eliminated: Alan Trammell and, reportedly, Fredi Gonzalez.

Naturally, there are probably a variety of other candidates I’ve neglected to mention. (I simply can’t imagine Torre or LaRussa coming here.) But those are the guys on my radar at the moment. Feel free to chime in with others in the comments section.

OK, guys and gals, that’s all I’ve got. Enjoy the rest of the season and … yeah, I’ll say it … go Cubs!

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In the News: We’ve got Aramis!

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Good day to you, Cubs fans. And I don’t mean that in a snide way. Well, we haven’t had much to cheer about as of late, but the win last night (Monday) at least put the St. Louis Cardinals a full seven games behind the division-leading Cincinnati Reds and it gave us at least some modicum of hope for Mr. Jeffrey Alan Samardzija.

I managed to catch some of his innings pitched on TV and, well, there’s something there. (♪♫ What it is ain’t exactly clear. ♪♫) He still gave up some walks, though four isn’t too bad and, with Pujols and Holiday in the lineup, perhaps a base on balls isn’t the worst result. His breaking stuff did look a little better than I remember it being — especially a pitch he kept landing on the outside corner to left-handed hitters. And he’s still got the mid- to upper-90s fastball. So, though I’m far from completely sold, I’d say he made a nice first step toward respectability. The Shark will pitch again this weekend against the Marlins.

And now on with the rest of today’s news:

“Hey, Aramis Ramirez, would you like to stay for dinner next season? We’re serving Stove Top stuffing!”

“Stove Top Stuffing? I’m stayin’!”

Or so the conversation went, sorta, between the Cubs’ third baseman and Sun-Times beat writer Gordon Wittenmyer. Aramis mumbled something over the weekend (or maybe it was late last week) about perhaps testing the free agent market after this season, citing the fact that, despite his many problems at the plate, he’s hit 20 home runs and 70-some RBI this year. Granted. In fact, to be exact, he’s hit 22 home runs and driven in 73 runs as of this writing.

But that conveniently ignores his ghastly .295 OBP (.322 wOBA) and 18.8% strikeout rate — both the worst in his Cubs career. And I’m not sure whether WAR has made it into contract negotiations yet, but Aramis is currently a 0.9 WAR player with just a couple weeks left to go. That’s just flat-out embarassing for a player of his caliber. He’ll be putting up his lowest WAR since his 2002 campaign with the Pirates. (Was he injured or something that year? He got 570 plate appearances. Clearly, I need to brush up on my Aramis Ramirez history.)

Long story short, given his value as a player this season and the economy in general, he and his agent probably don’t want to spend the off-season getting low-balled by various big league GMs. So expect to see Aramis back at the hot corner next year. This may not be a bad thing if he’s fully healthy and can somehow get back to the player he was from 2004-2008. Those were all 4+ WAR seasons (i.e., good ones).

Chris Archer: A name to remember. The news came down yesterday that Chris Archer was named the Cubs minor league pitcher of the year. And that’s a name to file in your mental rolodex and expect to hear mentioned a lot during spring training next year, much as Tyler Colvin was last year.

I’ve heard from a couple of credible sources that Archer is being fast-tracked through the Cubs system and could be a surprise addition to the rotation in 2011. Of course with Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Carlos Silva, Tom Gorzelanny, Casey Coleman, and Jeff Samardzija already either claiming or vying for a rotation spot, it’s hard to see how Archer could find a toe-hold. But there’s a whole off-season to go, and we don’t know who might be traded.

Also, let us not ignore the Cubs 2010 minor league player of the year, Brandon Guyer. A fifth round draft pick in 2007, Guyer put up a .986 OPS (.398 OBP, .588 slugging) in 410 plate appearances for the Double-A Smokies this season. Sadly, he appears to be a dedicated outfielder and the Cubs currently have plenty of those. I can’t help wondering whether the Cubs would shock the world and convert him to a first baseman for next season. Seems highly doubtful, but it would make a great story, would it not?

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, the aforementioned Tennessee Smokies are facing the Jacksonville Suns in the Southern League Championship Series. Game one is tonight (Tuesday)! You can listen in here. Go Smokies!

Speaking of Tyler Colvin … He got nailed by a Jaime Garcia pitch in last night’s Cubs-Cards game and is day-to-day with an elbow contusion. I really hope he can play through the pain and make it to an even 20 home runs. Just because. It seems unlikely he’ll be able to tie or break Billy Williams’ record of 25 bombs for a Cubs rookie. But I guess you never know.

In “Aw, Isn’t That Sweet?” News … The Portland Tribune is doing an occasional “DARWIN BARNEY WATCH” feature to track their hometown boy’s triumphs and travails with the Cubs. I love stuff like this.

Hendry interviews Bob Melvin. This was the “big” news today. Mr. Melvin shall have a place in my next “Cubs Next Manager Power Rankings,” assuming I find the energy to resurrect that feature at some point.

And, last but not least …

The Boston Red Sox have called up former Cub Rich Hill. He’s a bullpen guy now who struck out 55 batters in 53 innings pitched for the Pawtucket Red Sox this year. His walk rate was still pretty high.

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In the News: Catching Up With the Recently Traded

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

‘sup, ‘sup, Cubs fans? Whew. Did our boys get pwned last night or what? OK, raise your hands: Who was kinda/sorta hoping Brett Myers would pitch a no-no just so it would make the game more interesting? Don’t be ashamed. C’mon, get ‘em up there.

YOU TRAITORS! GET OUT!

Ha, just kidding. I had mixed feelings throughout the first five innings. One major factor was, well, I just don’t like Brett Myers or his caveman hunter shtick, so I was more than happy to see the walk followed by Soriano’s line single. Would’ve been nice to score at least a run off of him, though. Sigh … the sad, waning days of a losing season. In any case, let’s get on with the news:

How is Derrek Lee doing? Not too well. Click on that link and you’ll find that Braves manager Bobby Cox is already fielding questions as to why DLee is in the lineup at first base over Troy Glaus or rookie Freddie Freeman. In 18 games (69 plate appearances), Derrek is hitting .250/.348/.350 for a .698 OPS. He’s grounded into three double-plays, including the rally killer mentioned in that article. And, of course, the Braves have now fallen out of first place — they’re a half game back of the Phillies as of this writing.

Of course, DLee still has time to turn things around and finish the season hot. But that particular trade is looking good for the Cubs. A couple of questions come to mind, too: 1) Is this the end of Derrek Lee’s career? 2) Should the Cubs invite him back on a one-year deal if they intend to pursue one of the Big Three in the 2011-2012 off-season? The Magic Daver 8-Ball says, “Seems doubtful,” in both cases.

Derrek’s struggles also got me wondering about how the other recently traded Cubs are doing. Let’s find out:

Ted Lilly. He’s probably gotten the most press of any of the Cubs’ recent tradees. Lilly was lights out in his first four starts for the Dodgers. He struggled a little bit in his fifth one against the Brewers (who’ve seen him a lot over the last few years) but still got the win. It was in his sixth start vs. the Rockies that Ted hit a wall, getting lit up for seven earned runs. But he bounced back this past weekend, going seven strong (in a loss) against the Giants. Overall, his Tedness has a 3.18 ERA over 45.1 innings pitched for L.A. with a 8.5 K/9. I’m predicting right here and now that he signs on to stay in L.A.. His flyball tendencies make the NL West a good place to wind down his career.

Ryan Theriot. In 35 games (147 plate appearances) for the Dodgers, The Riot has played a touch better than he did in the 96 games (412 PAs) he played for the Cubs this season. Unfortunately, a “touch better” doesn’t mean “good.” He’s hitting .281/.354/.344 for a .698 OPS. OK, that is a decent OBP and, interestingly, he has hit a home run for L.A.

Meanwhile, Blake DeWitt has hit .271/.326/.398 for a .724 OPS in 35 games (129 PAs). Blake does have four home runs, however. I still think this particular trade was a break-even at the least, with the Cubs still in line to come out ahead if DeWitt can flourish under Rudy Jaramillo.

Mike Fontenot. Lil’ Babe Ruth is a lil’ ole bench player for the contending San Francisco Giants. He’s appeared in only 11 games (35 PAs), hitting .281/.343/.313 for a .655 OPS. The good news is I got a few amusing tweets from the minor leaguer, Evan Crawford, whom the Cubs got in trade for Fontenot, before, inexplicably, he blocked me. Let’s call that trade a break-even, too.

An Adam Dunn update. According to one report, the Nationals won’t be re-signing the Big Donkey — mainly because of his poor defense. This clears the way for the Cubs to sign him, which ESPN’s Bruce Levine is predicting (in this live chat) to happen. So if the idea of Dunn in a Cubs uniform excites you, get excited (at least a little bit). And if it worries you, get a bit concerned. Assuming Hendry either has no interest or confidence in acquiring one of the Big Three, Dunn on a three-year deal would be a relatively acceptable pickup (uh, assuming one can live in denial about his defensive shortcomings, which aren’t as pronounced at first base as they are in the outfield, though still present).

Call-ups, Caridad and Grabow. You’ve heard about the Cubs’ September call-ups right? Say it with me: Berg, Samardzija, Fuld, Scales (!!!) and Snyder. Shameless self-promotion: I wrote about Samardzija and Scales here. (Warning: Contains White Sox content.) Berg we’ve seen plenty of. Fuld is, um, speedy. Snyder has had only one at-bat that I know of – his MLB debut. I happened to see it on TV and let’s just say he struck out on three pitches, looking awful against Astros LOOGY Byrdak. Honestly, Brad looked like a local college student who’d won a contest. I’d be curious to know what the team intends to do with him. Bruce Miles also notes in that article that two notorious ’10 no-shows, Esmailin Caridad and John Grabow, have been transferred to the 60-day DL.

Joe Giradi: All but out. Well, Joe was, in an ideal world, my top choice to take over as Cubs manager. But I’ve read a couple items recently that have led me to believe that what was unlikely initially is now all but impossible.

First, recently I read something from a New York writer (can’t remember who or where, sorry) that Girardi is on excellent terms with Yankees management. So not only is he being well compensated to manage a winning team, but he likes his boss. (And that wasn’t the case in Florida.)

Second, buried in this Bruce Levine post, is a mention that the Cubs want to be settled on a candidate by Nov. 2, and the Yankees could very well still be playing the World Series by then. So, perhaps if the Yanks are eliminated earlier in the postseason, Girardi may take a little more time to reflect and maybe even interview for the Cubs job. But, odds are, he’s going to be too occupied to even consider it.

That’s all I’ve got for the moment. Enjoy this day off from the agony. We bid adieu to the NL Central this weekend and next week with two series against the Brewers and Cardinals, respectively.

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In the News: Are the ’10 Padres the ’69 Cubs?

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Good day, Cubs fans. Well, I seem to be suffering from an acute case of the post-Labor-Day blues. Despite the fact that the Cubs have, overall, played decidedly well under manager Mike Quade (whom I’m liking more and more with every postgame press conference), winning three of the four series they’ve completed thus far and, dare I say, in position to take yet another from the Houston Astros, I feel … edgy, dissatisfied, irritable, sad. (Wow, was that a ridiculously long sentence or what?) Nonetheless, I shall forge ahead with another “In the News” broadcast:

Schadenfreude, indeed. It’s been with some bitter, acrimonious delight that I’ve watched the downfall of the San Diego Padres as of late. Oh, I know; “downfall” is a bit strong with another three weeks of baseball to be played. But the young fathers have been the darlings of the NL all season, outperforming many, if not most, pundits predictions.

But then, from Aug. 26 until yesterday (Sunday) Sept. 5, they went on a staggering 10-game losing streak. The San Francisco Giants are now a mere game back in the standings. So I ask you, Cubs fans of a certain age as well as historical buffs: Are the 2010 Padres the modern day equivalent of the famous 1969 Cubs? Will the Padres crash and burn in the waning weeks of the regular season as that legendary North Side team did? (And in this day and age of carefully regulated playing time and pitch counts?!) Do you want them to fail (because of lingering bitterness over 1984, perhaps, hm?) or don’t you care either way?

I don’t possess the wherewithal at the moment to do an in-depth comparison of the two teams. ‘Twould seem an imposing task. But it’s a storyline worth following as September winds down, and we head toward another Cubs-less postseason.

Interestingly enough, much of the Padres’ success can be attributed to our own wonderful NL Central. The Padres are 16 games over .500 vs. the Central (23-7), while being two games below .500 vs. the East (16-18) and just one game above vs. their own division (29-28). They’re a perfect 4-0 against the Cubs so far. But there’s the rub: Our guys finish the season with a four-game series against the Padres. Could we knock them out of postseason? Or at least the NL West? Like I said, it’s an interesting storyline to keep an eye on.

The Castro question. Don’t look for rookie phenom Starlin Castro in tonight’s (Tuesday’s) game against the Astros. Mike Quade is letting young Starlin serve as an observer rather than a participant for at least a couple days. A certain contingent of Cubs fans are up in arms over this decision, mainly because of the public way the team seems to be punishing young Castro for some recent missteps on the field.

Although the hearts of these fans may be in the right place — hey, I miss seeing his name in the lineup, too — I don’t think a mountain should be made of this molehill. The position of shortstop on a major league team is a huge responsibility. It’s referred to as a “premium” position for a reason. And while Starlin can surely handle the workload physically, he may be struggling to keep up mentally. And I certainly don’t blame him for that. I have trouble remembering my keys in the morning.

So let him rest for a day or two, maybe get him back in there against the ‘Stros in the series finale — especially if the Cubs lose today — and let that be the end of it. I personally like seeing Darwin Barney out there. Again, we probably shouldn’t expect Barney to be a starting player anytime soon, but he appears to be a strong defensive backup that could bring some nice depth to the Cubs 25-man for several years to come.

Hi-ho Silva, away! No, it’s a home game! Tonight (Tuesday)! And the other Carlos will be back on the mound! His is another interesting “Silva lining” (ha, do you see what I did there? I’m so sorry) story to follow. He’s thrown 108 innings and his ERA sits under 4.0 (as does his FIP and xFIP). Can he finish the season strong, making the Milton Bradley trade perhaps one of the most remarkable deals in our respective lifetimes? (I guess that depends on the lifetime, eh?) I’m rooting for Carlos, for sure.

It’s good news/bad news for Ryne Sandberg. On the plus side, he was named Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year last week. You gotta believe he fired up his laptop and updated his resume after that announcement. On the downside, his Iowa Cubs dropped a heartbreaking “play-in” tiebreaker game yesterday (Monday), losing 7-6 to the Memphis Redbirds. That effectively ends the Iowa Cubs excellent 2010 season, which means two things: 1) Ryno can now presumably concentrate on winning the heart (um…?) and mind (yes!) of Jim Hendry for the Chicago Cubs managerial job, and 2) We may actually see some September call-ups in the next day or so.

Mark Prior Update No. 6,450.  I feel like I’ve been doing Prior updates in every post but, in case you missed the news, here it is: Mark has been signed to a minor league deal with Oklahoma City RedHawks, a Texas Rangers farm team and has already made his “affiliated” debut. Check out the photo in that article — Prior’s “crafty vet” status is absolutely cemented by that beard.

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In the News: Another Focus On The Future Post

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Good day, Cubs fans. Well, we’ve finally reached the last month of an agonizing season that has most of us focused on the future. So, if you’ll forgive my brevity, here’s a rundown of some pertinent “focus on the future” items:

Here come the callups! The concept of September callups is a little laughable this year, as the Cubs have been calling up (and sending down and calling up and sending down and …) guys since, like, May. But, nonetheless, we should soon get a look at, well, one new face: outfielder Brad Snyder. He’s expected to be called up along with Mitch Atkins (seen him), Justin Berg (seen him), Sam Fuld (seen him) and, gulp, Jeff Samardzija (oh boy, have we seen him). The reason they aren’t up for their respective cups o’ coffee yet: The Iowa Cubs are in the Pacific Coast League playoffs.

The Arizona Fall League beckons. The Cubs are sending seven players to the prestigious Arizona Fall League, where some of the better prospects in both leagues get a chance to get a little extra playing time. Representin’ for the North Siders this fall will be pitchers David Cales, Chris Carpenter, Jake Muyco and Kyle Smit as well as position players Josh Vitters (rehabbing from a hand injury earlier this season), Ryan Flaherty and Brett Jackson. They’ll be playin’ for the fightin’ Mesa Solar Sox.

And now, appropos of nothing and for no particular reason, my …

Top Five Awesomely Named Cubs Minor Leaguers

  1. Rebel Ridling 1B, Peoria Cubs
  2. Trey McNutt, RHP, Tennessee Smokies
  3. Austin Bibens-Dirkx, RHP, Iowa Cubs
  4. Cameron Greathouse, LHP, Boise Hawks
  5. Arismendy Alcantara, SS, Boise Hawks

Ahem. Back to the news …

A dark horse from the south. Most of us have dismissed Fredi Gonzalez as a viable candidate for the Cubs manager job but, in case you missed it, check out this recent Sun-Times article. It reveals that, though Gonzalez does indeed have a long-standing relationship with the Atlanta Braves, he also has one with Cubs GM Jim Hendry. Could he unseat Ryno for the top spot? If I were feeling a little more ambitious today, I’d do another “Cubs Next Manager Power Rankings” and tell you. In any case, perhaps we should not count Fredi out entirely. One thing about him I like: He speaks Spanish, which is likely a useful communication skill for any big league manager these days.

 The future for statues in general vicinity of Wrigley Field: Bright. Harry’s has been moved. Billy’s is comin’ in. So the Noodle is cursed — who cares? We shall line the streets with them. And the people will like it.

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In the News: What to do, what to do … with Big Z?

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Hello, Cubs fans. Whew! What a game last night. Did you know that if you combined the big league and Triple-A Cubs’ run production from yesterday, you’d get 34 runs? Yep, Iowa beat the Albuquerque Isotopes 20-9 yesterday while, as you presumably know, a sparse Monday night crowd at Wrigley witnessed the big boys trounce the Pirates 14-2.  The (MLB) Cubs now have a 4-9 record against the Bucs this year so, if they win the next two games in the series … well, they’ll still finish the year with an embarrassing 6-9 record. (69, dude!) But at least it’ll be somewhat less embarrassing. Anyway, let’s get on with the news:

So what do we do with Carlos Zambrano?  He’s 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA since returning to the rotation from the restricted list and initiating anger management therapy. His velocity is still somewhat questionable and his walks are still too high, but I guess you can’t argue with those results. (Uh, can you?) To be honest, he appears to me at the moment like a souped-up version of Carlos Silva — basically a ground ball pitcher who goes out there and battles through five or six innings (albeit with, as mentioned, a much higher walk rate).

So I ask you, loyal readers. Should the Cubs cast aside any plans they might have had to trade Big Z during the off-season, or should these better results actually fuel trade efforts. (You see, every other team in baseball, he’s still a starting pitcher! We were just kidding around with the bullpen thing! The line starts here!)

To be honest, I’m pretty open to arguments on both sides at this point. I’m no Z hater — I still think moving him to the bullpen early in the season was an embarrassing panic move (and Carlos himself recently said as much) and his overall season stats aren’t all that bad considering his uneven playing time.

Plus, as I’ve mentioned in past posts, the Cubs rotation for next season is chock full of middle- to lower-level starters without many higher-end guys. Now I’m not saying Big Z is a No. 1 or even a No. 2 starting pitcher at this point. But if he can pull himself together enough to be a No. 3ish guy next season, wouldn’t that — along with Demp — be better than nothing at the top of the rotation? Carlos is still only 29.

The benefits of trading him are, obviously, the Cubs could presumably, maybe (depending on the deal) shed some of his salary and lose the perennial distraction he’s become. But much depends on whether Jim Hendry feels that Zambrano’s relationship with the team really did hit the end of the road with this year’s meltdown. If it did, then Jimbo will presumably be pulling out the stops to move Z once the season is over.

Let’s have the Adam Dunn debate!  C’mon, everybody’s doin’ it. Marlon Byrd likes Adam Dunn, and Adam Dunn likes Wrigley Field. So should the Cubs sign the Big Donkey to be their starting first baseman next season? Maybe a two-year deal like the Nationals gave him? Three years, tops?

I’m loathe to use this phrase again, but “much depends” on whether the Cubs intend to pursue one of the Big Three (Pujols-Gonzalez-Fielder) first base free agents in 2012. Now I’d guess Pujols will remain in St. Louis, commanding a truly massive deal, and Gonzalez will either stay in San Diego (as the face of the franchise) or move on to Boston. That leaves Prince, who will be the youngest of the three and certainly familiar with the NL Central. Granted, he’s got some mountain-sized risks of his own, but Fielder is still the guy I’d go after if the Cubs are serious about putting a big name at first base.

If not, then Dunn would be a decent option as long as the price is right. He’ll turn 32 this fall, so the Cubs could still get a decent level of production out of him for at least a couple of seasons. Y’know, .500+ slugging and good OBP to offset bad defense (which is less bad at first base) and a high strikeout rate. Might be worth a shot.

A few miscellaneous notes:

  • An MRI on Geo’s knee came back negative and he’ll probably play tomorrow (Wednesday) in the season-series-ending game against the Pirates. Soto’s OBP currently sits at .401. Will he finish the season at or above .400? I hope so, though it would only serve to make me more frustrated with the fact that neither Lou nor Mike Quade will bat him higher than eighth in the lineup.
  • The Hawk mentioned being open to serving on Ryne Sandberg’s coaching staff, should Ryno get the Cubs managerial job. Imagine a staff with names like Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Greg Maddux, Bob Dernier and Ivan DeJesus. You couldn’t say the Cubs don’t promote from within.
  • I called it! It felt a little dubious to include former Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge in my latest Cubs Next Manager Power Rankings but, sure enough, Jim Hendry did interview the Wedgie last week. Here’s a handy resume to peruse.

That’s all the news I can muster today. See you next time, Cubs fans. And, remember, it’s not Quade-mania it’s Quaderophenia.

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In The News: Cubs Win! Booooo!

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Greetings, Cubs fans. Are you enjoying “The Quade Bounce”? Yeah, I realize it’s only the perennial under-performing Washington Nationals, who recently had to DL their pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg AGAIN, but I still go to bed a little happier at night with a Cubs win in the books.

Of course, not everyone feels that way. I’ve read a few rants on these here Interwebz as of late decrying how the team is actually hurting itself by winning games and, thereby, lowering its 2011 draft pick position. Look, I understand this line of thinking and agree in a sense. About a month or so ago, I started wishing the Pirates were a better team this year so the Cubs could really hit bottom and get a better draft pick. Of course, as this chart (courtesy of Tales from Aisle 424) demonstrates, the Bucs aren’t the only problem. Remember, the Orioles, Diamondbacks, Mariners and Indians are also God-awful this year.

But, more to the point, I’d like to ask anyone truly angry that the Cubs are winning a few more games: Precisely what would you do to rectify the problem? I mean, if you, angry Cubs fan, were given a managerial or coaching position on the team, would you advise Starlin Castro to intentionally strike out rather than get a clutch hit, as he did last night? Would you advise Ryan Dempster to lower his strikeout rate? Would you engage Aramis Ramirez in a thumb war in hopes of causing a recurrence of the injury that plagued him earlier in the season?

I guess what I’m saying is: The remainder of the 2010 season is going to play out as its going to play out. Yeah, there would be a benefit to being the worst of the worst, but there’s really no realistic way of competing in that arena. So let it go, let the team play and let’s hope the young players get as much good experience as possible.

And now, on with the news:

Joe Girardi to address the Chicago media on the morrow.  The Yankees roll into town tomorrow to take on the contending (argh!) Chicago White Sox and their manager, Joe Girardi, is no dummy. He’s expecting the media throng to pelt him with queries regarding whether he would/will manage the Cubs next season, and Joe’s gone on record as saying he will answer those questions — one last time. Should be interesting.

Carlos Silva to swing by Peoria.  Rehabbing hurler Carlos Silva is expected to pitch a few innings for the Peoria Chiefs tomorrow (Friday) night. Assuming all goes well, he’ll likely be back in the Cubs rotation later next week. I’m curious to see how the team handles its starting pitching staff come September. I mean, Casey Coleman pitched pretty well the last time out. And I believe Jeff Samardzija is still going to get a chance or two. How are they going to fit these guys in with Demp, Da Gorz, Big Z, Wells and Silva firmly ensconced?

Speaking of pitchers … remember the Maine!  How am I supposed to remember him when I don’t know who the hell he is? In case you didn’t hear, the Cubs sent looks-like-a-knuckleballer Justin Berg back down the minors a day or two ago and called up left-hander John Maine. He was acquired in the Aaron Heilman deal and has yet to make an appearance for the North Siders. His strikeout numbers, noted by Bruce Miles in that article, look good. Maybe he’s the LOOGY the Cubs have long been looking for. Or not.

Sammy Sosa, on the record.  Maybe you’ve read it, maybe you haven’t. But click on that link for the full text of Sammy Sosa’s recent interview with Chicago Magazine. To be honest, I haven’t had a chance to read the whole thing but, from what I can gather, Slammin’ Sammy says precious little about the ‘roids issue.  Still, given Roger Clemens recent indictment and Mark McGwire’s apparent success with the Cardinals, the timing is interesting. Would you want to see the Cubs welcome Sosa back to Wrigley Field?

Andre Dawson Day: August 30, 2010.Yes, the Cubs will honor the Hall of Famer Hawk before Monday’s game against the dreaded Pittsburgh Pirates. I still think the timing is a little odd – why not do it on a weekend when more people will be there? But so it goes.

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In the News: Cubs Next Manager Power Rankings

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

 LWDYWMTD?

Hey, Cubs fans. I’m a little pressed for time today – doing the Dad thing as my daughter’s summer vacation winds down. Obviously, the earth-shaking news since my last post is Lou’s abrupt left turn into retirement. So let’s jump right into the action with an, uh, action-packed edition of …

Cubs Next Manager Power Rankings

1. Ryne Sandberg.His name is echoing throughout the complex set of tubes that makes up this thing we call “the Internet.” Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith has endorsed him. The New York Times has profiled him. And he’s still taking interviews.

When Jim Hendry named Mike Quade the interim manager, he may have been putting someone in place to hold down the fort so Ryno can take over come spring training. He still seems like the guy to beat, though I’d guess Jimbo is going to explore every avenue to ensure he’s not missing out on a better candidate.

2.  Joe Girardi. I know, I know … I saw the quote this morningin which Girardi established that he’s focused on the Yankees. But what else is he supposed to say? Interestingly, the Yankees won’t be discussingJoe’s contract until after the season, meaning anything can still happen. And, for what it’s worth, WGN/Comcast’s Dave Kaplan continues to beat the drum for Girardi. And, for what it’s even further worth, MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds agrees that Joe could shock the world and come to the Cubs.

* 3. Mike Quade. He had a nice debut yesterday and has said himself that he considers the next few weeks an audition. So this odd-looking gentleman, who’s from the Chicago area, has skyrocketed onto the chart. I mean, laugh if you want, but if the Cubs somehow play .500+ or even .500 ball here on out, Quade may do a little shocking of his own – assuming things go south with Sandberg (Seattle?) and Girardi stays out East.

:-| 4. Bob Brenly. BB’s acerbic comments from the booth are getting attention. He called out Aramis the other day. And many fans want an enforcer in the dugout — especially given the teams ungodly error and unearned run totals this season. And Brenly himself has confirmed that he’s interested managing again … somewhere. So maybe he would give up his cushy seat in the sky. But will the Cubs have him?

5. Don Wakamatsu.  Hey, he’s available. I didn’t see many bloggers or pundits linking him to the Cubs. In fact, if anything, Wakamatsu’s ouster earlier this month could mean Ryne Sandberg could wind up in Seattle (where he’s from originally) rather than Chicago. But if Hendry is doing an exhaustive search, I’d have to think Waka-Waka will get at least a courtesy interview.

* 6. Eric Wedge. I’ve seen the former Indians manager’s name making its way into discussions lately. His seven years in Cleveland were up and down – only three of the seven were winning seasons. But he’s another under-the-radar guy to keep an eye on.

7. Alan Trammell. ELIMINATED. But he’s cool with it. I was a little baffled by Hendry’s decision to be so explicit about rejecting current bench coach Alan Trammell for the Cubs manager job. But Tram doesn’t seem to have taken it personally and who knows what’s going on behind the scenes. I still suspect that Trammell is simply too valuable as a hands-on coach to Starlin Castro (among others) to tie up amongst managerial responsibilities.

________________________

* Debut!

:-| Back again!

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In the News: DLee, The Day After

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

 
chicago-cubs-photo-day

Greetings, Cubs fans. I’m in a marginally better mood today. Well, sorta. I still find myself looking ahead to each new Cubs game with a cornucopia of mixed emotions. Kind of like when you seen an ex-girlfriend who you’re not really sorry you broke up with but you still kind of miss her and you want to be nice because you still want to be friends but you’re also bitter and disappointed and can’t believe things turned out this horribly after having such high hopes and yet she’s still cute and sometimes funny and you share all these memories and you know you’re never going to be able to completely cut off contact with her so you better not say what you really want to, which is…aw, geez, this metaphor has gotten completely out of control. Let’s get on with the news:

Derrek Lee was traded! (← Click on that link for a really cool narrative of the deal by Fox Sports’ Ken “Robothal” Rosenthal.) Once again, Mark was in the right place at the right time with his game recap yesterday. He got to break the story that, indeed, the Chicago Cubs have traded first baseman Derrek Leon Lee to the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Robinson Lopez (the good one!), Jeffrey Lorick (the LOOGY) and Tyrelle Harris (the other guy). One minor point of clarification: The Cubs did not get to dump all of DLee’s $3.4 million salary — they agreed to pick up $1.7 of it.

That could turn out to be a wise choice as I’ve read generally positive reviews of the trade from all of the pundits I’ve managed to engage on the topic. Our own benevolent benefactor Rob Neyer says:

I can’t really fault the Braves for doing this deal. But unless Lee helps get them into the playoffs, the trade might look really, really silly in a few years.

And, when I posed the simple question of “How excited should Cubs fans be about Robinson Lopez?” to prospect expert Kevin Goldstein on Twitter. He replied back with:

“[I'm] shocked [the] Braves gave him up for [a] late rental.”

Basically, the deal here is that Lopez is a 19-year-old kid with great stuff and a ton of upside – we’re talking starting rotation upside. As intimated above, the other two dudes are more than likely bullpen candidates – Lorick probably winding up a lefty specialist and Harris due to become a middle reliever (at best), if not part of a future trade package. But Lopez could turn out to be a real steal from a Braves system known for its pitching, and he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on going forward.

All in all, it appears Trader Jim has done a good job getting prospects back for DLee as well as Ted Lilly and the Cajun Connection (great garage band from the 60s). I don’t think any of these trades are spectacular, but teams 21 games under .500 (sweet merciful pete) rarely make spectacular trades. Nonetheless, any of them could turn out to be quite fruitful if the Cubs get a solid, cheap, cost-controlled starting pitcher or if the Joey Gathright guy we got from the Giants turns out to be the second coming of Lou Brock. He’s on Twitter, y’know.

And should we mourn the loss of Derrek Lee? Well, yeah, of course. He was, overall, a great player for the Cubs – and one of the best first baseman in their long history. Derrek also appears to be a fine human being and one of the “nicer guys to ever play the game” as the cliche goes.

But, as I’ve probably written here before, it was time. His contract was just about up and the Cubs need to start plugging new and preferably young pieces into this team where spots are available. I thank Derrek for all the times I’ve screamed/typed/tweeted “DEEEEEEEEEEEEELEEEEEEEEEEEEE” after he jacked one into the bleachers or dug out one of Ryan Theriot’s dying goose throws. And I wish him all the best in the future — yeah, even with the Braves.

So what else is going on? Well …

Tyler Colvin is taking ground balls at first base.  So I guess we should have this debate. Good idea? Bad idea? I’m still not crazy about it for a couple reasons: 1) We still don’t know whether Colvin’s remarkable slugging this season is for real or whether it would hold up for a full season, and 2) It’s still a big detraction from Tyler’s value to turn a guy who can play all three outfield spots with pretty solid defense (at the corners at least) into a first baseman.

Then again, I think much depends on whether the Cubs can deal away Fukudome during (presumably) the off-season. If Kosuke must finish out his contract, maybe you give him back his starting job in right field and put Colvin at first base next season. They could presumably still move Tyler back to the outfield once Dome’s deal is up. Crazy? Kinda. But it would maximize payroll flexibility. Remember, when it comes to first basemen, The Big Three (Pujols-Gonzalez-Fielder) head to free agency in 2012.

Here comes Slammin’ Sammy.  No, not Sosa, though he does give a lengthy interview in the September issue of Chicago Magazine. (Details here.) I’m talkin’ about the Sammy who slams into walls. Fuld, that is. Short guy. Really smart. He’s been called up instead of Hoffpauir, because, as you might recall, Micah can’t be recalled until Monday due to an MLB rule calling for a restriction on recalling a player recently called up. Call me about it. We’ll talk.

They’re playing musical statues at Wrigley. The Cubs have announced they’ll be unveiling a Sweet Swingin’ Billy Williams statue at the corner of Addison and Sheffield. Sweet. Problem is, that means they’ll have to move the Harry Caray statue to the bleacher entrance, which has upset the Caray family.

Much like the Toyota sign brouhaha, this statue snafu does not inspire much passion in me. What’s the big deal? Didn’t Harry pretty much pass himself off as a “drink a Bud in the bleachers” kinda guy anyway? Wouldn’t he want to be heading up to bleachers to knock back a few cold ones and get a little crazy? And, y’know, let’s not forget Billy Williams actually played the game — and played it rather well, I might add. Check his stats: Billy freakin’ raked. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Move it or lose it, I say.

OK, that’s the news for today. D’oh — I guess I should turn on the game. It’s just starting as I finish this. Oh, and by the way, I’ll be at the game vs. the Braves on Saturday, so keep an eye on my Twitter page for some Twitpics and such. It’ll be awfully weird seeing DLee on the other side.

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