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It’s all in how you look at it.

Saturday, September 16th, 2006

It is clear that the Cubs do not have the best player at any position. Their best position players are dwarfed by Poo Holes, Howard, Cabrera, Wright, Rolen, Mauer, McCann, Posada and so on.
It is clear that the Cubs’ only standout pitcher this year, Z, will not win the Cy Young.
The Cubs’ record sucks. Today’s slaparound puts them at 59-89, 2 games better than the Kansas City Royals (and in a worse division).


Look at it this way:
Carlos Zambrano is, by far, the BEST Zambrano in the major leagues.
We have the league’s best Barrett, Theriot, Cedeno, Murton, and Pierre.
Our Ramirez is in the top 3 in the league among Ramirezes.
Our Lee is top 3 as well! Our Izturis is top 2!
Our Jones still sucks, but he’s on the list!
We have the best Marshall, Hill, Eyre, Dempster, Howry, Aardsma, Ohman, Mabry, Bynum, Coats, and Pagan.
We have the second-best Jose Reyes in MLB!
We have the market cornered on Walronds and Marmols!

Best of all, our All-DL team could kick any major league team’s butt! Prior, Wood, and Lee alone would smack anyone else down.

So hold your heads up. Isolated by last name, the Cubs are league leaders!

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From out of the dust…

Sunday, September 10th, 2006

I’m not a Dusty Baker fan. Many in the CBA are not Baker fans. In my opinion he hasn’t done a lot to get people into his corner. All the same, I saw a quote that made me want to shrink myself down to the size of a moth, then fly into his head to the middle of the voluminous space within, then expand myself to normal size so that I can occupy his body and take over the team. And that’s saying a lot, because I know nothing about managing a baseball team and I wouldn’t know where to start on a shrink ray. Maybe cold water?
Anyway, this is the quote, regarding giving Cedeno the job vs. Theriot keeping the job when Izturis returns:

“We’ll see,” Baker said. “Theriot has done pretty good. We’re in the producing business.” …

I don’t have a problem with Lovie Smith saying things like that, because he does it. He’s benched vets in favor of younger players who produce, and vice-versa. Also, he wins. I tend to like that, too.
But this dude is NOT in the “producing” business. If he were in the producing business, he would understand that it’s never bad that a guy gets on base (no matter how much he might clog the bases) because more baserunners means more chances for runs. If he were in the producing business, he wouldn’t have played Neifi Perez, Dusty’s personal Chewbacca, as much as he did. If he were in the producing business, he’d let Matt “The Red Menace” Murton play every day and hit second and would make Jacque Jones sit every time a lefty came into the game.
The Baker approach has many strengths and I think he’d succeed in the right situation. Guys want to play for him because they feel safe. In theory that means free agents would want to come here and the guys we get would produce (the reality has not worked out that way, but given the many variables I’m willing to cut him a little slack). Guys know they can work through a slump without losing their jobs like they would under Bob Boone, or fantasy team owners, or me, probably.
But there is NOTHING in Baker’s history that says he’s “in the producing business.” There’s plenty in his past to suggest that he likes continuity and is comfortable with seeing the same thing every day. That ain’t all bad if you admit to it.

I was thinking about how I would have rephrased Dusty’s answer and I kept coming back to this: Dusty has never presented a plan for successful baseball. Apart from riding your starters until Dr. James Andrews disciples’ eyes turn into dollar signs every time he turns on WGN, and apart from favoring veterans, I don’t have any idea what he thinks a winning team does.

What are your guesses? What’s Dusty’s BIG IDEA for winning? Please share both serious and humorous thoughts.

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Proud of the kids

Friday, September 1st, 2006

Today’s Game Without Meaning against the “Wild Card Hopeful” Giants (now 3 games under .500) showed something I’d like to see a lot in 2007:
Rich Hill pitching 8 lovely innings. 5 of his last 6 starts have been quality starts. He’s earned a full season in the rotation.
Contribution from Ryan Theriot. It’s not beyond hope to see a .340 OBP/.380 SLG from him. That’s a reasonable output from a middle infielder, especially one making the league minimum. I could live with him playing every day at 2b next year. This kid’s so good they’ve already named a town after him.
Matt Murton doing his thing with a walk and a homer. Not counting today, he’s at .355 OBP/.427 SLG. I can certainly live with that, especially assuming some improvement in both numbers as he moves along the growth curve. Again, he’s a cheap contributor and an on-base-getter.

None of these three are hall of famers and probably not even All Stars, but unless you play just north or south of Connecticut you’re not going to field 9 all stars every night. Players like this allow you to pay for Carlos Zambrano and go after useful free agents. When the ineptitude of your team leaves you an emotional quadriplegic, grasping at straws become the only way to get the tasty, bubbly Beverage of Hope to your lips.

Let Carlos Zambrano be Mordecai Brown. Let Derrek Lee be Frank Chance. The ’08 Cubs needed Jack Pfeister, Johnny Evers, and Wildfire Schulte to be the Champs..why not the next ’08 champs with those roles filled by Hill, Theriot, and Murton?

Update from Mastrick: Dave, it’s almost like we’re watching a young pitcher mature before our very eyes. Rich shows confidence now; also I’ve noticed that he’s throwing a new breaking ball. His normal bender is offspeed with a hump in the middle and a sharp break. His new breaking pitch is more slider speed and falls like a sinker at the end. Wicked!

Theriot is starting to become a feel-good story. Surprisingly, Ryan was drafted in the third round, behind Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, Dan Haren, JJ Hardy and Kelly Shoppach. Most of the others in front of him haven’t panned out. He’s a real effort guy, gives you everything he’s got and rarely hurts you. I’d like to see him get the Neifi role next year, backing up at 2B and SS.

Jacque Jones’ continued ability to hit the ball to the opposite field is also to be commended. Sean Marshall goes to the hill tomorrow, it’s going to get pretty crowded out there now that some of the DL’ed players are coming back. I don’t see where it makes any sense to start Miller, his velocity is under 90 so hopefully the Cubs will let him do Glendon Rusch’s job out of the pen and then wish both of them the best of luck in all their future endeavors. No more wounded wing pitchers!

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What of Pierre?

Monday, August 28th, 2006

We’ve had almost a full season to look him up and down. Does Juan Pierre measure up?
ESPN’s sortable stats gives us a look at the league’s top performers in the leadoff spot.
I’ll use brown for indications that he’s crap, Cubbie blue to show he’s great, and White Sox black to show that the stat is largely irrelevant to me.

Pierre has scored 63 runs; 19 other leadoff guys have scored more. That’s not entirely under his control, but his lack of power, low OBP, and 17 CS drag him down.
He’s a surprising 3rd in leadoff hits. Good for him! He’s also 2nd in at-bats, so he’s been healthy.
His .332 OBP puts him 17th among the 20 qualifiers.
His .388 OBP puts him 16th.

44 steals has him in 2nd among leadoff guys, but his 17 CS gives him the #1 spot by 3.
in Pitches per plate appearance, he’s 19th out of 20 qualifiers.
He’s grounded into 5 DP, which is reasonable; middle of the pack in a tie with lots of guys.
His 9 sacrifices lead all major league leadoff hitters! Yay!
In RC/27: 15th out of 20 with 4.73.
Our boy makes contact, at least. 31 Ks is 34th on the list of leadoff guys and a lower number than 5 non-qualifiers.

Pierre is apparently bucking for a sponsorship from UPS.

Fielding measures show his value thusly:
0 Errors! Great!
4 Assists (I guess when people take bases on him as often as they do, he’s bound to throw out a few.)
He’s 17th of 23 in Range Factor (which, incidentally, ranks Korey 3rd, so must be swallowed with a grain of salt)
In Zone Rating he’s 3rd only behind Korey and Beltran. Andruw Jones is 22nd.
Frankly, I don’t know what to make of these numbers. He has a poor defensive reputation and a weak arm, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and call it a wash.

Intangibles? Team leadership? I have heard nothing about him taking young players under his wing or showing any great baseball intelligence. With no data, it’s a wash.

Salary? $5,750,000. He’s terribly overpriced.

My judgment:
He cannot be considered a guy who will be a contributor to a pennant contender within the next 5 years. As a placeholder outfielder occupying a hole until Pie learns to wait on his pitch, he has value at 3 to 4 million per year. However, his strengths lie in counting stats — steals and hits — not in ratio stats like OBP and SLG. He’s a below average total package and I would call anything more than a 2 year, 6.5 million dollar contract a mistake. Even there I’m sure we could find a 4A player to put up a .330 OBP and get caught stealing 28% of the time while contributing passable defense at best and no power.

So if a realistic option like Cameron, Roberts, Lofton, Brady Clark, or (dream on) Ryan Freel become available we should snatch ’em up. Otherwise I guess he’s the devil we know.

Please post your vote. Say Yes to Juan Pierre in ’07 or No?

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Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Among the heralded Cub prospects in the last 10 years we see these names: Wood, Prior, Patterson, Guzman, Pie. Impact players in the past week have included unheralded players like O’Malley, Theriot, Murton, and Zambrano (an unheralded prospect in his day). Obviously this is a selective list; I’m sure I’ve left off a few heralded prospect successes and cast aside the hundreds of unheralded guys who went nowhere.

All the same, it makes me wonder what’s in management’s head that they keep picking the wrong guys to get excited about. Felix Pie is a dead man if he doesn’t learn to get selective at the plate (he’s no Vlad Guerrero). He can look to C-Pat for his future. Guzman and Wood are big question marks and, well, Prior is just bad luck. BUT…

O’Malley, juco product and undrafted, maintained a more than 2:1 K/BB ratio in AA and AAA(although 9+h/ip), rare among starters on the Cubs. Does he have a future? Could he throw 6 innings and give up 3 runs 20 to 25 times a year? Unlikely.

Theriot never gets a breath of hype — and rightly so, given his inability to hit for power OR average, but he takes walks and appears to have a little speed. How much worse can he be than Delino DeShields’ cub days, or — DARE I SAY — Neifi?

I still believe in Rich Hill. He’s gotten some hype recently, but mostly he’s been ignored over the years. Give him time and he’ll make us forget lefties like, um, let’s see….Steve Trout? Greg Hibbard? Not much tradition here.

Since we’re 16 below .500 and only hard math gives us even a possibility of making something of this season, here’s for giving a shot to these unheralded players:
1) Mike Fontenot. .374 OBP in Iowa. Now 27, but again, if Neifi and Ronny are the baseline, how can you go wrong?
2) Micah Hoffpauer. Crap, it’s not like Nevin’s our future. 26 years old — past prospect level — but .362 OBP/.594 SLG in AA and .350/.450 in AAA means he’s not Nevin, but just as productive.
3) Mike Restovich. He’s only 27? He seems like he’s 35. Anyway, if he can play LF and RF he should be a major league backup. .371/.550 in AAA. Why not?

I, for one, would like to see Dusty flouder with a roster made up of these guys:

C: Barrett, Blanco
1B: Hoffpauer, Nevin
2B: Theriot, Fontenot
SS: Izturis because there’s no other option (Neifi)
3B: Ramirez (Neifi)
LF: Murton, Pagan
CF: Pierre, Pagan
RF: Restovich/Jones platoon

SP: Z, Marmol, Hill, Mateo, O’Malley/Marshall
RP: Wuertz, Aardsma, Williams, Howry, (EYRE DL), Ryu, Dempster (can’t get rid of him)

With this club you’ll see what you have. Take the other crapsuckers I don’t have on the roster and sell them for scrap metal. If they don’t help next year, they don’t play. The Cubs have already avoided being the worst team in history. If they play .333 ball the rest of the way they win 66 games. Good enough.

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Hall of Fame

Saturday, August 12th, 2006

On my way up to Canada for a kayaking trip I stopped at the Hall of Fame. It was my first time there and I was thoroughly enthralled by the display of memorabilia. There was plenty of acknowledgment of the segregated era of baseball and a whole section dedicated to women in baseball. Buck O’Neill might not have a plaque, but he has a prominent place in the Hall’s coverage of the Negro Leagues.

I had expectations of a chill going down my spine when I laid eyes on Sandberg’s plaque. Although it was nice (and not far from the inaugural ’37 class’ section), it was underwhelming. I suppose that was because of my expectations. I confess to being a hero worshipper. Reality seldom lives up to the ideal version of the hero one’s mind devises, and his plaque of the greatest honor in baseball should have been enough.

But I found myself wanting more. My wife expressed it perfectly; she thought there’d be uniforms, hats, relics of each player. Instead there’s the plaque. There might be more of the player in the exhibits, but the plaque alone hangs in an appropriately cathedral-like hallway. One row of plaques is below eye level, one at or above eye level throughout the room. It seemed crowded.

The exhibits themselves were striking, informative, and thorough. They seemed to be endless; I could have spent eight hours there. I learned some things about players on the fringe of my personal mythology and, admittedly, passed over the heroes of many, many teams without even slowing down. There was more to see.

They treated the myths and stories of baseball with reverence and did not attempt to debunk any of the controversial ones: Ruth’s ’32 series homer, for example, was practically treated as a certain “called shot.” This did not surprise me; the very location of the hall was chosen on the merits of the popular story and not the fact.

If I were charged with revamping the Hall with infinite money and space, here’s what I’d do:
*Make a locker-sized display for each member of the Hall. There was a Babe Ruth locker with his relics; I’d like to see the same for each hall of famer.
*There should be a full sized replica of a baseball field, complete with dugouts, fences, seats, and so on. You should be able to walk the field, read signs and see relics, look at statues, and so on about famous events in baseball history. There should be a Willie Mays statue making the catch in the ’54 series and the fence should look like the Polo Grounds there. Along the first base side should be a dugout from Yankee Stadium circa 1927, and on the third base side a 2005 Citizens Bank Park. It should be filled with scale statues of great major leaguers. Fans could stand on the mound and stare in at a statue of Ted Williams, with Josh Gibson behind the plate. They’d stand next to Sandy Koufax in mid-windup on the rubber. Markers for Buckner’s error, Freddy Lidstrom’s booted ball, markers for famous hits and where they landed from home plate all over the field. Markers for where the shortstop stood in 1884. You could compare the sizes of players sitting next to each other on the bench and marvel at how small Wee Willie Keeler is next to Big Frank Howard.
*Put in a batting cage or something so that fans can experience a 100 MPH fastball. Standing behind a mesh screen, they could step in as a pitching machine delivers heaters. Do the same for curveballs and sinkers and such. Put video displays up showing a fastball delivered, then stopped when the player has to make the decision to swing. Let people try on gloves and equipment of different eras. Line up baseballs from each era and examine their differences.

What else would you do? What would you like to see in the Hall (apart from Tom Veryzer)? What were your impressions? I’d like to hear them.

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That’s as good as it will be all season

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

Taking those 3 games from the Cards is the best thing that has happened in this miserable season. Regardless of what happens today, we should stop to savor the sweet taste of worming our way through 3 precarious wins against our hated red rivals. Our best chance of a 4 game sweep has come, as ace Big Z takes the hill tonight.
Looking for positives on this team is like looking for the sexy parts of Starr Jones: if they do exist at all, they’re in the eye of the beholder. All the same, here are the few kernels of corn in what is otherwise a steaming turd of a season:

1. Big Z He’s been our ace, and now he’s getting W’s to go with his marvelous pitching. 11-3, 3.27. Note to Hendry. Do what you must do to sign him to a long-term contract.
2. Our defense of Wrigley Field when the Cards come to town: 6-0 on the season! Like many dismal Bears 5-11 seasons when all you can say is “at least they beat the Packers at Soldier Field,” these are battles to remember in a disastrous war. We’re also 9-3 on the year against them!
3. Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol I expected little from these guys, but Sean’s shown some good games and is passable overall. His struggles now are an investment in the future. Marmol, too; he’s been better than expected. They’re both showing ugly K/BB ratios, but all in all they look to be servicable members of a successful rotation in the future.
4. The continuing hitting maturation of Michael Barrett His spaz attack at Pierzynski notwithstanding, Barrett’s been one of the best hitting catchers in the major leagues! I would be open to trading him; the total picture is lacking in my mind, and he’s about to get expensive. But I’ll enjoy having him on the team as long as he’s here.
5. Aramis saving his season Now sporting a .337 OBP and .528 SLG, Ramirez is an offensive force once again. I’ll say it again: TRADE HIM NOW while his value is highest. The things he doesn’t do: hustle, run, play defense (this year he’s been okay, but I think we’ve seen his best), lead, and so on, counterbalance the things he does do: make contact, hit longballs, and be 27 years old. His trade value is SUPER high; we could really rook somebody for monster prospects.
6. Murton getting on base This guy’s had his struggles this year, especially defensively, but if he can mature at the plate a little in the next year or so, this guy’s a keeper. He has a .350 OBP ‘cuz he can take a walk. Walker, Barrett, Lee, and occasionally Aramis (oh, and John Mabry) are the only guys on the team besides him who aren’t hellbent on eating up outs as quickly as they possibly can. If he can bump his SLG from .378 to .440 or so and elevates a few more ground balls and he’ll be a big contributor.
7. Cubs decide to be patient with Lee Shutting down Lee now mystified me. Not because it was the right thing to do, but that the Cubs decided to do it. Pushing your megabuck investment through a .400 season serves no purpose. If he rests the wrist now he comes back mashing next year. Kudos on a no-brainer that the no-brainers actually did right.
8. Prior’s last start So they lost. Prior was tough to hit. Maybe there’s hope. I’m not saying they should build a team around him or anything, but I’d all but given up on him until he no-hit the Mets for 100 pitches. Which, for him, means about 5 2/3 innings.
9. Howry and Eyre They’ve been good. On a contending team, they’d be extremely valuable. That part of Hendry’s plan, at least, has panned out. Trade them now; we’re not going anywhere until 2008 at the EARLIEST.

Anything I missed? Share your good memories of this season — trends, moments, games, quotes, whatever — and give us an oasis of fond reminiscence in our season-long desert of furious railing.

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July must now have purpose

Monday, July 17th, 2006

Mastrick is dead on — this team must be ripped apart. The smartest thing to do would be to smear the roster in ground beef and throw it to the wolves, so that its shredded remains would have nary a recognizable name on it when they tire of playing with it.
These next 2 odd weeks should be treated as auditions for all tradeable players. Put Neifi, Mabry, Blanco, and all the other turds in the lineup every day. Let the rest of the league see them. On second thought, hide Neifi and put him in a plain brown wrapper when you ship him off. A good GM would be as embarrassed about receiving Neifi in a trade as he would be about getting porn in the mail.
So here’s my starting 8 for the rest of the season, featuring all moveable players:

C Blanco
1B Nevin
2B Walker
SS Perez
3B Ramirez (Yeah, I’d trade him)
LF Mabry
CF Pierre
RF Jones

The only players with any measurable value are Ramirez and Jones; the rest I’d take what I could get. Seems like someone would be willing to get fleeced for Pierre, and Todd, Neifi, Hank White, and Mabry are in the Larry Andersen category; perhaps we can get lucky and score a Jeff Bagwell. Take the heavy contracts, like Eyre, Howry, and Jones — and assume a heavy share of the burden. Money ain’t the problem; you want to get something in return.

Starting Rotation:
Maddux Rusch, (The rest are untouchable–Z–or available only in ripoff trades– Marshall, Marmol)

Dempster, Eyre, Howry, Novoa, Ohman, Williamson

The list of teams in contention is as follows:
Boston, New York Yanks, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, Oakland, LA Angels, Texas, Seattle, NY Mets, St. Louis, Houston, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, San Diego, LA Dodgers, Arizona, Colorado, Atlanta

If I’m Hendry, I’m calling each of these teams 3 times a day each to ask if they need spare parts.
Their objective should be to have these fartbags unloaded by 7/31. at 35-56, Ryan Theriot and company can man the big league club with no worse chance to win. I’d rather play with this:

C Barrett, Geovany Soto
1B Lee, somebody to rest Lee
2B Theriot, Mike Fontenot
SS Cedeno, some other turd
3B Scott Moore, Casey Mcgehee
LF Murton, Restovich
RF Pagan, Buck Coats
SP Z, Marshall, Marmol, Guzman, Hill, Williams
RP Aardsma, Wuertz, Ligtenberg, Walrond, Emanuel, and just because of the name, Rocky Cherry.
And have the farm system filled with a few fresh faces.

That’s a crap ball club. But at this point all we have to do is go win 8 more games to avoid being the worst team in MLB history. Lee, Barrett, and Z alone could do that. Tell the rest of these floaters that they’ll have to play their hearts out for the rest of the year if they want to see the major leagues ever again; maybe their enthusiasm and energy will make the team more watchable.

The core of your championship run 3-5 years down the road is who I would keep: Barrett, Lee, and Z. Lee will be at the end of his productive cycle, Barrett will still be able to hit, and Z will be dominant. Sell them — and pay them accordingly– on their importance in that plan, and show your commitment to this plan by dumping everyone else and getting guys who will be helpful 3-5 years down the road.

The time to act is now, Jim Hendry! Do it, or we shall float, rudderless, beyond the 100 year anniversary of our last world series victory with no end to the misery in sight! If you act now, the of winning by year 101 or 102 goes from NONE to VERY SMALL. And that’s a change that’s very big, in my eyes.

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Ryne Sandberg’s Reading Phillies Number (26) Retired

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

Since I’m about one hour from Reading, PA, I drove over on the 2nd of July to watch the Reading Phillies retire Ryno’s number. He played with them in ’80 and I think ’81 before being traded to the Cubs.
Reading has dubbed itself “Baseball City,” although their credentials are pretty shaky. They’ve had minor league baseball there as early as 1883 and featured teams like the “Pretzels,” “Coal Heavers,” “Keys,” and “Actives.”
Minor League Baseball rates the ’83 Phils as the 62nd best minor league team in history. They’ve never had a major league team, of course, and it doesn’t seem like there are a disproportionate number of major league baseball players born in Reading. If anyone can give me the origin of the nickname “Baseball City,” I’d like to hear it.

On to the ceremony: before about 7700 fans, Ryno’s number 26 joined Schmidt and Jackie Robinson as the only retired Reading numbers. More importantly for me, Ryno was there. I was denied a press pass (major outlets only), but was able to snap some pictures from my plebian seats.
Ryno’s speech was underwhelming and brief, like the ceremony itself. More and more I wonder if his magnificent speech at his hall of fame induction ceremony was ghost-written.

The Reading Phillies’ starting lineup was very excited about it.

Notice the shiny silver “diamond,” probably the crummiest mascot I’ve ever seen.
All manner of hangers-on and tools surrounded Sandberg during the ceremony. Admittedly, I asked for a press pass, so I was attempting to be one of those tools and was denied. The players themselves, giddy as schoolchildren, mobbed him for autographs.

The game featured notables like Nook Logan, Michael Bourn (later promoted to AAA), Jason Jaramillo, Brent Clevlen, and Tony Giarratano. I’d put money on Bourn making the majors, and it seems like Jason Jaramillo is well thought-of, but Clevlen and Garratano (Tigers prospects playing for the visiting Erie SeaWolves) have a long way to go. In general (and it’s no surprise) it looks like the thing most of these guys need to work on most is laying off crappy pitches. The pitchers had underwhelming stuff, but they were swinging at bad pitches all night. Both teams.
The R-Phils won 5-2 and afterwards they shot off some INCREDIBLY LOUD fireworks.

Good for Ryno!

As I’m listening to the game, Murton has grounded into yet another double play. He’s grounded into 12 this year and has a 2.91 g/f ratio. With his lack of speed, the Red Menace needs to start lifting some balls.

I wonder if John Paxson knows any baseball guys he can recommend for GM?

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