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Five Things Cub Fans Should Know For Monday

Monday, July 14th, 2014

1. Arismendy Alcantara is making a case to stay – When Darwin Barney went on paternity leave, we were told that Alcantara was going to be recalled for the two days and then sent back down. The weekend is over and he’s still here and he’s still hitting. I just don’t see a point in sending him back now. As guys begin to get traded as we get closer to the non-waiver deadline, fans are going to need things to be excited about. They need a reason to watch the team. Having Alcantara on the team gives them a chance to see a glimpse at the future.

2. Kris Bryant and Javier Baez competed in the Futures Game – Why the game is not the showcased event on Sunday night before the All Star game is beyond me. This is an example of where I think MLB misses the mark. They miss opportunities to market their future stars and showcase them. It’s as if they are just so arrogant to think that there will always be interest in the sport and they don’t need to market. Nonetheless, both Bryant and Baez competed in the game. Baez went 1-for-2 with a two run home run in the 6th inning to give the World team a 2-1 lead. Bryant went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and walk.

3. Post All Star break pitching rotation announced – The Cubs announced that the weekend series following the break would feature Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, and then Jake Arrieta. The next two slots were not announced. My guess is that it will be Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks based on their outings. Dallas Beeler struggled and Dan Straily has been so so in AAA since being acquired.

4. Trade Rumors have quieted – Don’t get too bummed. My guess is that we’re going to see things heat up after the break. Even GM’s need a little time off.

5. No Cubs in the HR Derby – I’m OK with that. Anthony Rizzo expressed interest in the spot, and it would be cool to see him represent, but that park is a tough park for HR hitters from the left side. I’d rather him not participate and risk not hitting any. Just get the video camera out and enjoy the show. My money is on Yoenes Cespedes to repeat.

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5 Things Cubs Fans Should Know for July 10

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

I’ve seen a lot of fans that are in panic mode, saying we’ll never win again, and that this management has no idea what it’s doing. They are riding the fact that we haven’t won a game since the big trade and that it was all a horrible mistake. To that I say: you’re a moron. Let’s get on with the five things you need to know to start your Cubs fan day.

1. The Cubs lost again to the Reds last night – It brings the losing streak to six games now, and like I mentioned, no wins since the trade. Dallas Beeler got start number two of his ML career, and I would describe it as mediocre. Then again, it’s important to know what Beeler brings to the table. He’s not a guy who is going to overpower you with his stuff. In his minor league career, he has averaged 5.8 strikeouts per 9 innings of work. He’s not that kind of pitcher. Even last night you saw him hovering in the upper 80′s and low 90′s so it’s important to know what we’re getting in a guy like him. We’re looking for serviceable back end of the rotation production, which if you read my piece yesterday, is hard to get. Generally 5th starters do not produce much value. Beeler wasn’t horrible last night and given the fact that our pen is generally regarded as above average, I think you can win with a guy like him in the 5th slot.

The biggest frustration about this series has been the lack of production when it comes to getting runners in. It wasn’t as much of a story this game, but overall so far this series, I feel like we’re wasting our chances and the Reds are taking advantage of just about every one of theirs. It’s been the difference.

2. I hate manager ejections – If you missed it, Ricky Renteria came out to argue a foul ball that was not reviewable about midway through the game and promptly got tossed by the third base umpire. That wasn’t enough and he proceeded to continue to follow the ump to try to get more in, despite the fact that the umpire continued to try to end the confrontation and walk away. Tell me I’m wrong if you will, but I cannot stand it when managers come out and argue to the point of getting tossed. There simply is no place for it and it’s classless. An umpire is not going to toss you unless you’re being disrespectful, generally, which means when there are guys getting tossed (Renteria five times this season), it’s because they crossed that boundary. I don’t like that. MLB has replay. If a call isn’t reviewable, you have no business being on the field unless you’re making a substitution…period. I don’t buy into this garbage that it fires up the team. If my players can’t self motivate, I don’t know that I want them on my team. I want players who are driven to succeed and don’t need me as the manager to act a fool to get them to produce.

3. Jason McLeod got paid – There were rumors about two weeks ago that McLeod was in the running as a candidate to go back to his former team, San Diego, to become their next general manager. McLeod plays a vital role for this team in the Theo / Jed regime so it’s good news to not only know he’s not going to leave to be a GM…yet…but that he’ll get rewarded with some money for staying.

4. Wrigley Renovation process continues…on paper – Is anyone else frustrated with this process? I don’t even like reporting on it. The guys in the Tribune had a nice update on the process yesterday:

With tweaks made at the request of the mayor, the Cubs are ready to present their latest plan to the landmarks panel. Emanuel also required the Cubs to continue negotiating with the rooftop owners as a condition of getting a hearing with the landmarks commission, a City Hall source said.

Another source said the Cubs’ proposal with five additional outfield signs is expected to be approved by the panel, with conditions placed on it.

5. Minor MattersAlbert Almora is on fire. I’ll be honest, I had begun to wonder and worry about his future as a top prospect, but he’s been playing tremendously lately. He went 2-for-3 last night and has his average up to .279. The Daytona Cubs tweeted out after his first hit that he had hit in 16 of the last 17 game and hit almost .500 over that time. I really hope he’s primed for a big second half so he can vault back into elite status because I think some people have soured slightly on him.

We try to end the losing streak behind a Major League debut from Kyle Hendricks today in a matinee game on WGN. I’m a big fan of Hendricks so I look for a quality start from him. We also have the latest edition of Girlieview later this afternoon and a post from Chris Neitzel on why there is no such thing as a shortstop logjam with a look at history.

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How Do You Define An Ace?

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

As we watch prospects begin to develop or even see new players acquired via trade or free agency, when it comes to starting pitchers, everyone is always quick to classify the player into a spot in the rotation. We hear things like “He projects to be a low end # 2 or high end # 3 starter” or “He’s an ace.”, but what exactly does that mean? I decided to do a small bit of research as part of my Sunday afternoon and dive into numbers to see what exactly the spots in the rotation actually look like. There were a few things I found that I felt were fairly interesting.

If you’ve not ever played with it, the Baseball Reference Play Index Tool is an amazingly useful tool whenever you feel the need to dork out and immerse yourself in numbers. It requires a subscription, but it’s well worth it. For my study, I used the tool to gather data from 2000 – 2013 in a quest to find out what exactly an ace pitcher looks like.

To put a qualifier on the data, I filtered to only pull pitchers each year who qualified for the ERA title, which means they pitched at least 162 innings in the season. This basically gave me a group of pitchers that, essentially, pitched the entire year. They may have missed a few starts here or there, but for the most part it weeds out guys who either split time between the pen and the rotation as well as guys who pitched a small amount of time and either got hurt or replaced due to inefficiency. To make this list, you really had to be a starter all season long. All of my data was then collected and dumped into a spreadsheet where it could be massaged and summarized into useful nuggets of information.

If you’re like me, you feel a little frustration when your team can’t see five consistent starters in the rotation all season long. If you’ve been reading my blog at all over the last 10 years, I make no secret that I hate bullpens with a passion and believe strongly in filling them with guys from your system and spending money on other components of the team. However, exactly how feasible is that request when it comes to the rotation? I was a little surprised by what I found. Looking at the chart, you will see the number of players who pitched at least 162 innings in each season.

What this data showed me is that, to put it simply, there really aren’t enough guys who can give you 162+ innings to fill out each rotation in baseball. Over the last 14 seasons, the average number of guys who met the requirement per season was 87. That’s less than three per team. Stop and think about that for a second. If all was distributed equally, each team would only have two, maybe three pitchers who pitched enough innings to qualify. That’s insane to me. What’s even more insane is that we know that the pitchers are not distributed equally, which means there is the potential that a team could have no pitchers who meet the requirements. There simply isn’t enough talent there.

The other thing I noticed was that there really doesn’t appear to be any sort of trend with this data. It’s pretty random across each year as to what you’ll get. Some years we see over 90 guys and other years we see just below 80, but things seem to hover in the mid-80’s.

Now that we have the knowledge that there aren’t enough quality starters to go around, we have to figure out a good way to then classify pitchers. Seeing that we don’t have enough guys to simply take 1-30 and call them aces and downward through 150, I decided that I would simply divide the average number of qualifiers by five, the number of spots in a rotation, and group guys into one of those five tiers. What I got in terms of results was actually quite nice.

For sorting purposes, I decided to rank players by WAR, which summarizes nicely into a single number that tends to lend itself perfectly to Cy Young award / MVP voting. Generally the higher WAR guys tend to be right in the mix for those awards, so it seemed the most logical stat to use. After taking all the results, I organized it into a summary that showed the average WAR by spot in the rotation, assuming a 17 slot tier for each spot in the rotation. For the 5th spot, I used 17+ players as some years there were leftovers. The result was fascinating.

There were two main things that stood out to me about this data that I thought were worth pointing out.

First, we need some perspective as to what the scale is generally considered when it comes to WAR. Fan Graphs does a nice job explaining the stat and providing some context.

Aces, should you be able to get one, are huge difference makers. – A true # 1 starter is a guy who is capable of winning the Cy Young award when all is said and done. These are guys that are losing streak stoppers. They are guys that the other team comes into the game essentially expecting to punt and try again the next day. However, how difficult is it to get a guy who pitches so well that he compiles a WAR at 6+?

Seeing that I write a Cubs blog, I decided to look back at the rotations we’ve seen in the past and see what we find. I looked only at the expansion era (1961-2013) and came up with a total of just 15 instances where the Cubs had a player who did this. Here is the list:

It’s not as easy as you might think, so when it happens in Chicago, we need to pay attention. That’s what made 2003 so special. Watching guys like Mark Prior and Kerry Wood pitch was something I’ll never forget. That year was wonderful. Most teams don’t have a single guy with 6+ WAR and we had two of them that season. However, what’s even crazier is that, aside from Fergie Jenkins, we haven’t had a guy actually repeat this for more than a season.

The 5th starter spot is essentially garbage. – Looking at the chart and the legend, we see that the average WAR of 0.2 is essentially replacement level. Again Fan Graphs comes in handy to define this term:

We can define a replacement level player as one who costs no marginal resources to acquire. This is the type of player who would fill in for the starter in case of injuries, slumps, alien abductions, etc. If we use replacement level as a baseline for our ‘runs above <x>’ statistics, we introduce durability into our statistic, and we’re therefore measuring marginal productivity, which is what we want.

Basically this is the equivalent to calling up that organizational filler type player and putting him into the starter role. That got me wondering if it was even worth it to go with the five man rotation. Would it be better to find a way to pitch on a four man rotation in an effort to get more out of the quality guys and simply use them less innings or is it better to go with the five man rotation? I’m not sure what the answer is there, but I’d like to know. Ultimately, it shows me that if you can have even a replacement level type guy in the 5th spot, you’re probably ahead of the game. Essentially just minimize the damage in that spot.

The other thing I found interesting was that over the last five seasons, there is a clear downward trend when it comes to the quality produced by the fifth spot in the rotation, and I don’t know a clear reason to account for that. It could just be small sample size and in the grand scheme we’d see it balance itself out, but I’m not sure. In the 14 year period, 2012 & 2013 were the only years we saw a negative production from the guys who were the back end guys. I feel like there is something there, I’m just not sure how important it is.

After collecting all the data and summarizing it into the chart that shows us what we can expect from each slot, I decided to go back to look to see how the Cubs grade out since 2000 on each of these spots in the rotation based only on guys who qualified for the ERA title with their WAR in parenthesis.

2000 – (65-97 record) – Jon Lieber (3.7) & Kevin Tapani (1.2)

2001 - (88-74 record) – Lieber (3.9), Wood (3.3), Jason Bere (1.7), Tapani (1.0) & Julian Tavarez (-0.1). (NOTE: Tavarez missed the 162 inning mark by 2 outs, so I included him anyway.)

2002 – (67-95 record) – Matt Clement (4.4) & Wood (4.3)

2003 – (88-74 record) – Prior (7.4), Wood (6.2), Carlos Zambrano (5.5) & Clement (2.8)

2004 – (89-73 record) – Zambrano (6.7), Clement (3.7) & Greg Maddux (3.2)

2005 – (79-83 record) – Zambrano (5.6), Prior (3.6) & Maddux (2.8)

2006 – (66-96 record) – Zambrano (5.2)

2007 – (85-77 record) – Ted Lilly (4.1), Zambrano (3.4), Rich Hill (3.4) & Jason Marquis (0.8)

2008 – (97-64 record) – Ryan Dempster (7.0), Zambrano (4.3), Lilly (4.1) & Marquis (2.5)

2009 – (83-78 record) – Lilly (5.0), Randy Wells (4.2), Dempster (3.5) & Zambrano (3.0)

2010 – (75-87 record) – Wells (3.2) & Dempster (3.0)

2011 – (71-91 record) – Matt Garza (2.8) & Dempster (0.8)

2012 – (61-101 record) – Jeff Samardzija (1.8)

2013 – (66-96 record) – Travis Wood (4.4), Samardzija (1.0) & Edwin Jackson (-1.3)

Finally, there were some interesting trivial things that I noticed doing my research that make for fun nuggets.

  • In 2000, Pedro Martinez was the top WAR pitcher with an astounding 11.7, which was 3.6 higher than the 2nd highest qualifier, Randy Johnson. It was also 7.7 above the 2nd place finisher, Tim Hudson, in the Cy Young race in the AL.
  • In 2011, Tim Lincecum finished the season ranked 17th, which put him in the top tier, “Ace” category. Just the next year he finished, not only in the bottom team, but with the lowest WAR of all qualified starters in baseball.
  • In 2010, James Shields did the opposite and finished with the worst WAR only to rebound the following year and be ranked in the “Ace” tier.
  • 2007 was the only year in my data that did not yield a pitcher with a 7+ WAR.

2013 yielded the lowest WAR of all the seasons examined and was turned in by Edinson Volquez, who posted a dreadful -2.4 WAR. What does that look like? Try a 5.71 ERA over 32 starts.

This article was originally published on the ESPN SweetSpot Blog.

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Five Things Every Cub Fan Needs To Know for July 9th, 2014

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

1. The Cubs were swept in a double header – I looked at game one as a probable loss. Travis Wood hasn’t been the same pitcher this year that he was last season. It’s a good thing I’m not running the team because I was ready to lock him up to a long term deal after the development last season. This year it’s just not been there. Throw in the fact that he had to face Johnny Cueto, one of the hottest starters in the game this season and you have the makings for the a loss. That’s not to say we didn’t have our chances in game one. When we fell down 3-0 early I thought it was over, but back to back home runs by Chris Coghlan and Ryan Sweeney in the 6th made it close. We had more chances from there that were wasted, including a bases loaded situation in the 7th with one out. We just couldn’t get the run in. It was frustrating to watch it happen again after we had chances the day before.

In game two, we saw the debut of Tsuyoshi Wada, who came over from Japan to sign a deal with the Orioles a few years ago, but never got a chance to pitch due to the need for Tommy John surgery. He’s not a young kid, so he’s not really a “prospect”, but then again you never know what he can bring to the table for the next few years and that’s all I look for in pitching. Wada threw the ball well enough to get a win, but the bullpen completely wet the bed. When Wada left the game after five, the Cubs had a 5-0 lead and things looked good. When all was said and done, every Cubs reliever that entered the game had been charged with an earned run, which I can’t remember happening any other time this season aside from when it’s been just one reliever entering, and the Cubs had coughed up the lead.

If we have to find positives, we saw continued hitting out of Coghlan. We saw Anthony Rizzo go deep for the 19th time this season and Mike Olt didn’t strike out every at bat, which means he hit a home run.

Kyle Hendricks gets the start today, making his big league debut and I can’t be more excited. The game is on WGN, which I’m thrilled about considering the fact that the MLB.tv package wet the bed last night and was basically unusable.

2. The Athletics Like Luis ValbuenaKen Rosenthal reported in his column on Tuesday that the A’s were trying to get the Cubs to include Valbuena as part of the deal over the weekend. Theo and Jed balked at the idea, but Rosenthal speculates that perhaps a deal may happen still prior to the non-waiver deadline. I have done a complete 180 on Valbuena. I can vividly remember calling for him to be off the team just two seasons ago and now he’s blossomed into a very useful part of this team. He has good patience at the plate and generally plays a good third base. With the plethora of infield talent in the farm, if we can turn that into more pieces, I’m all about it. His value should be higher given that he’s inexpensive and still under club control on the cheap.

3. Who Needs a Shortstop? – The Washington Nationals are rumored to be in the market to acquire a young shortstop. The Mets also need a shortstop, though Keith Hernandez doesn’t think Starlin Castro is any good and doesn’t want him. What I think is important to point out to reassure those who worry about the “logjam” at the shortstop position. There is no such thing as too many shortstops. Just the rumors over the last two days about people’s interested in middle infield help should be enough to reassure that we’re going to be just fine with these guys.

4.The Red Sox are looking to deal Jake Peavy – Peter Gammons is reporting that Peavy has said he’s ready to go if Boston finds a deal. That doesn’t have a direct influence on the Cubs, but it makes me wonder if they would also want to deal Jon Lester before the deadline since they’ve had a hard time in negotiations with him. I believe they missed their opportunity to sign him and that he’s going to walk at the end of the year. I want him in this rotation next year so I wonder if Boston will look to deal him. Ideally, I’d rather him come here via free agency, so my hope is that Boston will not deal him and then he walks. We shall see. The Sox are looking more and more like sellers.

5. Minor MattersKyle Schwarber continues his assault on minor league pitching since being drafted in June. He went 3-f0r-5 with two doubles, a run scored and two RBI. Since being drafted, Kyle has played in Boise and Kane County (Go see him now before you miss your chance if you’re in the Chicago area), and has posted a line of .436 / .511 / .872 with 8 HR and 23 RBI in 21 games. He’s a college hitter, so you’ll expect his bat to move quickly through the minors, but I didn’t expect him to come out this hot. I worry that his bat will far out pace his development at the catcher position and he’ll end up playing somewhere else. If we could develop him as a catcher it would be huge.

Bonus Thing To Know:

We’re giving away a copy of OOTP 15 – If you’ve never played the game, you need to. It’s a tremendous simulation baseball game and we’re giving away a copy of it at the end of the month to one lucky Twitter follower. Follow me on Twitter @vftb for a chance to win.

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Five Things Cubs Fans Need To Know – 7/8/14

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

As you start your Tuesday, here are the things you need to know as a Cubs fans to make sure you can talk Cubs around the water cooler. Then again, do people still do that? Nonetheless, here are your five things for this Tuesday morning.

1. The Cubs lost the opening game of a five game series with the Reds at Great American Ballpark last nightEdwin Jackson took the mound, which usually means an automatic loss, and pitched a little better than normal Jackson. By no means do I say he had a good game, but he was respectable and kept us in the game through six innings of work. It was the combined two inning effort of Blake Parker and James Russell that put the game out of reach as they allowed five earned runs. Justin Ruggiano and Chris Coghlan both continue to hit, especially Ruggiano. He’s got his split line up to .290 / .365 / .473 and has been an interesting surprise this season. At this point, he may have more value than someone like Nate Schierholtz on the trade market.

2. There is a double header today, but rain is in the forecast – A quick check of weather shows rain all day, including a 2-3 hour window right before game two. I’ll be surprised if both of these games get played two without any delay or even get played at all. It’s already a makeup game, so you’d like to see us get them in, but I’m not hopeful. My guess would be the issue will come with the first game as most of the heavy rain is scheduled for this afternoon. A long delay in that game would seriously mess up the start time of the second game since they have to clear the stadium and re-admit new fans.

3. Starters from the farm are coming – The probable Cubs starters have been filled in on their website. We’re scheduled to see the Major League debut of both Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks as well as a second edition of the Dallas Beeler experiment. I’m excited to see what all three bring to the table. If I had to predict, I’m looking for Hendricks to have the best outing among the three.

4. Down on the FarmJavier Baez hit his 14th home run of the season for the Iowa Cubs. I continue to believe he’ll be the odd man out among the core three shortstops in the organization that is traded for front line starting pitching. Newly acquired starting pitcher, Dan Straily made his Cubs debut and tossed five innings, allowing four runs (all unearned) and got the no decision. Jorge Soler also hit another home run, his second in two days since returning from the DL. It’s easy to forget about Soler because of the injuries, but when he’s healthy, he’s a legit prospect.

5. Listen to Joe talk about the state of the team on ESPN Radio is Des Moines – I was on as part of my regular appearance on their afternoon show and talked about the current team as well as what we can expect going forward. You can listen to the spot here. It’s about a 12 minute listen and I’d love feedback in the comments section on it.

That should get you set for your day in Cubs. Remember to check back this afternoon as Noah will be chiming in with what the recent trade means for the farm going forward.

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Cubs 1, Nationals 2 – Game Notes

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

MVP – Jordan Zimmermann (.355 WPA)

When you leave 12 men on base, it’s hard to win the ballgame. The Cubs had their chance today with guys on base all day. They just couldn’t capitalize on it and convert for more than one run. It’s a little frustrating to come away from the Nationals series on the road with just one win, but when you think about the start to the trip so far, we’re 4-2 heading to Cincinnati. I’ll take that.

Looking at the box score, you’ll see that both Jake Arrieta and Zimmermann had a game score of 62, but I thought Arrieta was much more effective, especially later in the start when he started striking guys out. His lone earned run came in the first inning after Denard Span hit a double to lead off the game. From then on, Arrieta really wasn’t in much trouble and finished the day with a quality start. He did his job, and the offense didn’t help. When you look at this team and their expected record base on run differential, you’ll see they should be better than they are. However, that has been due to the outstanding pitching, and not the offense. The offense continues to be the problem. Thankfully there is offense on the horizon.

Misc. Nuggets

  • The Cubs recalled Blake Parker from AAA Iowa to take the open roster spot from the trade. Parker has been closing games in Iowa this season and doing a good job at it. He’s finished 23 games in 25 innings of work, accounting for a 18 saves.
  • The Cubs announced their starting pitchers for the five game series in Cincinnati. Monday will be Edwin Jackson, Tuesday will be Travis Wood in game one and Tsuyoshi Wada making his Major League debut in the nightcap. Wednesday will be a guy named TBD, who is apparently really durable and will take the ball again in the series finale on Thursday. In all seriousness I’d look for Dallas Beeler to get one of those starts. The other one I’m not so sure on. Chris Rusin would make sense since he’s already on the roster, but I’d really rather not see that. I’d rather see him get optioned in favor of Dan Straily.
  • The Yankees designated long time Cubs outfielder, Alfonso Soriano, for assignment. Considering the Cubs were already paying $14 million of the $19 million that was owed to him, it actually would make sense to bring him back. This outfield can’t really be any worse. With the exception of Justin Ruggiano, who’s really hitting enough to warrant an every day job?
  • Kris Bryant and Juan Paniagua were named minor league hitter and pitcher of the month for June in the Cubs system.
  • There was a dude in the 7th inning at Nationals park that played God Bless America on a baseball bat violin. It was amazing.
  • Starlin Castro was elected to the All Star game and Anthony Rizzo is on the final ballot for the fans.
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“We Spit Out A Bad Ballgame”

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

MVP – Gio Gonzalez (.173 WPA)

The title were the words uttered by Renteria when asked if the loss today was a direct result of the trade last night that gutted 40% of the starting rotation. Obviously he played the good soldier and said that it wasn’t. From the emotional standpoint, I actually agree with him. From a logistical standpoint, I don’t. Unfortunately, Jeff Samardzija was scheduled to start the game today, which left the team in a mini bind in that area. The names on the 40 man roster who are candidates to take the spot in the rotation (Dallas Beeler, Chris Rusin, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Kyle Hendricks) were all on short rest, which meant Carlos Villanueva was tabbed as the emergency starter. Wada will get in the rotation for a start as part of the double header on Tuesday. Prior to the game, Noah asked me on Twitter if I thought it might be better for the Cubs to let Villanueva get a few starts before the deadline in an effort to drum up some trade interest. Today is exactly why I don’t think it’s a good idea. Villanueva is not a good pitcher and really shouldn’t even be on the roster. I do not want him in my rotation. I’d rather see what we have in the minors. I know what we have in Villanueva.

I’m not sure what you say about a game like this. We flat-lined fairly early in this one and there really wasn’t a good way to come back. I was going to write this game off as a loss and not even watch, but instead I watched it and feel foolish for doing so. We just have to put it in the books and come out tomorrow with a chance to win the series behind Jake Arrieta, who has been darn near perfect of late.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • I feel like we’re inching closer and closer to seeing a demotion of Mike Olt to AAA in an effort to get him on track. Had the Cubs not promoted Kris Bryant, I think it would have happened already. He’s not an effective part of this roster today and it’s harder and harder each game to justify giving him at bats. I like Olt and I like the power he brings to the table, but another 0-f0r-day with multiple strikeouts just seems to be the norm. With Arismendy Alcantara knocking at the door in the minor leagues, I think Olt and / or Darwin Barney are seeing their jobs in jeopardy.
  • Jonathan Sanchez has been released by the organization. Sanchez had planned on pitching out of the pen in AAA, got in one game and sucked. Happy trails, Mr Sanchez.
  • 6th round pick, Dylan Cease, has agreed to terms over the weekend. Cease was considered by many to be a first or second round talent, but is scheduled for Tommy John surgery and so he dropped. Jim Callis really likes the signing. It means the Cubs have agreed to terms with all of their first 10 selections and came in under budget.
  • John Sickels of Minorleagueball.com checked in with his thoughts on the deal yesterday with the A’s.
  • Theo Epstein talked about the trade, saying “There was no pitcher available who was even close to the caliber of player that Addison Russell is”. I agree with the philosophy. Trade for talent and sort it out from there.
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Why You Should Be In Favor of the Cubs Weekend Trade

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

Admit it. You’ve done things at night that when you wake up the next morning, your feelings toward those actions have changed, most often for the worse. There’s that tattoo on the small of your back or, God forbid, your butt. Perhaps it’s that hideous looking young lady you made out with as a result of beer goggles the night before. It’s happened to everyone. Last night Theo and Jed pulled the trigger on a massive deal involving both of their major assets in the rotation. There have been some who have praised the deal and other fans who have been quite critical of it, particularly on Twitter. After sleeping on it last night, I’d like to present my case for why a skeptical Cubs fan who’s tired of losing can get behind this deal.

Combining Both Pitchers in One Trade – The fact of the matter is, the Cubs are not in an position to contend this year. We knew a deal was going to go down for Jason Hammel and we knew a deal was probably going to happen with Jeff Samardzija. What we didn’t know was that they would both go together. It’s easy to criticize that move and complain that the combined deal may have caused the return to be diminished, but I would argue that it’s hard to know the full picture without being in the room when discussions are taking place. We simply don’t know what the value of Samardzija and Hammel was to other teams. We’ve seen rumors of what the Cubs were asking for, but asking for and getting in return are two separate animals. If nothing else, the leaked Astros trade discussions should have taught us that. If you’re going to trust that Theo and Jed have a plan, then it’s important to trust that they had a reason combining the two into the same deal. My guess would be that the market for these guys just wasn’t what they wanted it to be on their own and by combining them, it allowed the Cubs to get a player in Addison Russell, who can either be a major part of the future or who can be a major part of a deal to acquire starting pitching down the road.

The Hugeness of Russell in the Deal – Russell is a shortstop. So is Javier Baez and Starlin Castro. Even Arismendy Alcantara could be considered a shortstop. Why the need to deal for a shortstop and not a starting pitcher? That is a valid question and I have a valid answer for you. I believe the acquisition of Russell is a precursor to another move to bring in the type of starting pitcher that the Cubs want to build around, and I don’t think it’s a prospect. My guess is that by bringing in Russell, it allows the Cubs a surplus of talent at one of the most highly coveted positions in the game. With Castro rebounding and signed on the cheap for a long term deal and Baez and Russell both on the cusp of the Majors, the Cubs have elite talent at that position. I believe one of those names will be used in a deal to acquire a front line starter. Couple that move with a free agency to bring in someone like Jon Lester or Max Scherzer and I think this rotation can be right back in line with where it needs to be, if not better.

Keith Law’s take on Russell serves for more encouragement:

Russell is a top-five prospect in the game, a true shortstop with an advanced bat who shows good on-base skills and line-drive power, even though he’s just 20 years old in Class AA. He has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen on a prospect, both as a fielder and at the plate. He slimmed down before his senior year of high school to prove to scouts that he could stay at shortstop, and he has the soft, quick hands for the position, as well as plenty of arm, though he needs refinement on his footwork to remain there. At the plate, he has a simple, fluid swing that produces hard line-drive contact and should eventually lead to 15 to 20 homers a year, if not more. His approach at the plate is already advanced and continues to improve; he came into July 4 with as many walks as strikeouts in his brief Double-A tenure, which was interrupted by a hamstring tear that cost him more than two months. He could still be ready for the major league club next spring, though a return engagement in the Arizona Fall League to make up for the lost at-bats would help significantly. In the long term, he’s a potential All-Star at shortstop who posts high OBPs with the aforementioned power and above-average defense.

Getting the deal for Russell is huge. You can never have enough shortstops in your system. They are the best athletes on the field and can easily adjust to one of the other positions on the diamond.

The Continued Success of the Starting Pitcher Flip – This is the part of this organization that continues to be amazing to me, and we saw it again this season. Take a look at the recent success with this strategy by this regime and you can’t help but step back and be excited about the fact that we did it again.

2012 – Cubs sign Paul Maholm to a one year deal with the intention of capitalizing on his low price tag and moving him in a flip deal. Maholm does well and is moved to the Braves for Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino. While Chapman didn’t factor into the long term plans of the organization, Vizcaino currently sits as the # 10 prospect in a loaded farm system. He’s got a power arm and should be a factor in the bullpen for this team moving forward. I’m a big believer in what he brings to the table.

2012 – Cubs trade Ryan Dempster, who was on his way out anyway, to the Rangers for Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva. Hendricks went 13-4 last season with an ERA of 2.00 combined over two levels in the minors. He ranks 16th on the top 20 list in the organization and Villanueva sits at 13th. Once again, rebuilding the stockpile with guys who were going to go anyway.

2013Scott Feldman enters the picture with a one year deal and is shipped to the Orioles with Steve Clevenger for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. I think we have seen how this deal has worked out.

2013Matt Garza is moved before free agency to the Rangers (they didn’t learn from the year before) for C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm Neil Ramirez, and Mike Olt. Edwards ranks 5th on our list and Grimm and Ramirez have both been useful pieces in the bullpen. If Mike Olt can do anything, this would be a complete whitewash of a deal.

Take comfort in this deal. Trust that the return is one that we should be proud of.

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Cubs Send Jeff Samardzija AND Jason Hammel to Oakland

Friday, July 4th, 2014

Tonight the Cubs celebrated the 4th of July with some fireworks of their own. Late this evening, Twitter was abuzz about a deal involving not one, but both of the main trade pieces the Cubs had on the market this season. The deal has reportedly been finalized and will look as follows:

Chicago SendsJeff Samardzija & Jason Hammel

Oakland SendsAddison Russell, Billy McKinney, and Dan Straily

It’s going to take a few days before we can really know the final workings of the deal, as some are reporting their is also a player to be named later also coming to Chicago as part of the deal. In the meantime, here are my thoughts.

Samardzija - It’s been pretty clear over the last few weeks that the Cubs seemed to be at an impasse with him and that he was all but gone. However, watching the recent success of the team, I began to wonder if it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to pay the price and extend him. I couldn’t really come to a feeling either way. One one hand, we’re seeing so many arms blow out so early now that it’s hard to justify paying for pitching on a long term basis, but on the other hand, you can’t win without it.

HammelI wrote about the fact that Hammel was a little frustrated about being pulled after just over 90 pitches and I think we now know why. My guess is the deal began to seriously heat up while the game was going on and as a result, word was probably sent to the dugout to end his outing after six innings of work. We knew what we had in Hammel, a guy who was brought hear to show that the worry about his arm was nothing and to hopefully catch lightning in a bottle for a flip deal. That’s exactly what we got. I don’t think he’s going to be the type of player that Oakland is expecting him to be, but I don’t think it will work out as poorly for them as it has for the Rangers and Orioles in their dealings for Cubs starting pitching the last two years. Hammel filled a role and we wave goodbye.

RussellThis is the piece that is returning that appears to be the piece that most frustrates Cubs fans, which baffles me. While Russell is a SS, he’s so incredibly young for the level he’s been playing at since he was drafted and projects as a future star. Here are his scouting grades on a 20-80 scale.

Russell Scouting Grades: Hit: 60 | Power: 60 | Run: 55 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 65

Now, compare those with Javier Baez

Baez Scouting Grades: Hit: 60 | Power: 70 | Run: 50 | Arm: 65 | Field: 50 | Overall: 65

Russell is a huge piece of the deal and is currently listed as the 11th best prospect in all of baseball on MiLB.com’s top 100 list. Remember, it’s not always about getting what you “need”, but getting value in return. If Russell brings value, and he definitely does, then it continues to accelerate the rebuild process. Getting Russell is huge.

Billy McKinneyI talked today in my game notes that I was a little worried about the state of the OF in this system. Junior Lake is not the answer to any long term OF question. Former top guys like Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson are not either. That leaves two main names in the system that the Cubs are counting on as true outfielders, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. Almora has struggled a little this season and Soler can’t seem to stay on the field due to injuries. Adding another OF bat is a big plus.

Dan Straily - He immediately slots into the Cubs rotation, with two slots open. My guess is that the other spot will be filled by Tsuyoshi Wada, but no word has come out as of yet. Other options could be Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, and Chris Rusin. Straily is young and is working on his third year of starting in the Majors. I’ll take that.

There are also rumors that a PTBNL could be coming and some have speculated that it would be Raul Alcantara, who is the A’s 4th rated prospect, but who is rehabbing from Tommy John this season. We’ll have to see how that shakes out.

Ultimately, I like the deal. We add more high ceiling guys for two guys we weren’t going to build around. The more talent we have, the easier it becomes to acquire the missing pieces we need via trade. Overall, I like what went down tonight.

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