Author Archive

Should the Cubs Add a Villain?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Celebration of the Cubs looking like the Cubs of two week ago lasted long into the wee hours of this morning for this guy. In my glazed-eye state, unsure of why I was still awake, I stumbled upon the final few moments of MLB Network’s late night show with none other than the “great” Harold Reynolds.

Reynolds and Eric Byrnes were discussing players who should be on the move come late June or July when the name Ryan Braun comes up. The Brewers are bad and kind of direction-less after losing Prince Fielder and CC Sabbathia a few years ago, leaving Braun to carry them to a handful of last-place finishes. Moving Braun for younger pieces makes plenty of sense.

The conversation carries on with each former player offering a team Braun would make sense on, including the Indians and Mariners. Byrnes briefly interjects with a notion that Braun would make sense in either league, but his familiarity with the National League could make him a fit with a team like the Phillies.

I shake my head to my cat, Ella, but Byrnes corrects himself by saying that would only make sense if the Phillies surprisingly good start continued further into the season. He adds as a final note that Braun would not be a great add for the top teams in the NL because of their depth in the outfield, to which I do concur and begin to reach for the remote to head to bed.

Since we enjoy hot takes on the interwebs and the fallout from them, I offer to you a hot take from someone other than me.

In what had to be a weird out of body experience or maybe it was just the shandy, Reynolds seems to correct Byrnes in saying that a top team in the NL could be interested in Braun because of his offensive prowess.

At this moment I begin to yell internally, ‘DON’T SAY IT HAROLD.’

He did. He says the Cubs could use Braun and that he would be an upgrade over anyone in their outfield currently.



Yes, I assume you are having the same reaction as me in this moment.

Okay, now that we’ve briefly recovered from such a thought, let’s quickly break it down. Putting aside all ill-fated thoughts about the former* PED user for the Brew Crew, Braun is obviously a great offensive player. He’s made six all-star games and has a lifetime average just over .300, something the Cubs don’t currently have in their outfield.

I’m not going to compare Braun to Dexter Fowler because there’s no way he could play center well with any consistency. In theory you could move Jason Heyward to center, but that just seems like spinning tires for the sake of doing so.

Braun is a better offensive player than Heyward at this juncture and few would doubt that, but what Heyward provides from the depths of the outfield make up for a few of his deficiencies. The Cubs top two outfielders have combined for 156 putouts, three assists and no errors through 44 games, as well as a 1.0 defensive WAR through the first quarter. Heyward’s .6 mark is only lower than David Ross (.8) and Addison Russell (.7).

Braun is essentially average at .1 in 36 games played. He’s not a liability like he was at times during his transition into the outfield earlier in his career, but he’s not even upgrade on Soler despite posting better numbers this year. Soler’s one errors in more limited chances hampers his early-season score, but Braun cannot match the arm strength in left or right.

So essentially it all boils down to offense in Harold’s rhetorical world, but at what cost? The Cubs offense has had its fair share of letdowns this season, including the most recent stretch of futility that cost them a couple series in succession. Soler has been one of the most frustrating of the bunch, often over-swinging on breaking balls away and low. Frustration with Soler is warranted, but he’s one of the lower salaried members of the lineup and was supposed to keep working as a rotational player this year.

Braun would be an upgrade in the lineup over Soler, but where does he fit in reality? Second? Third? Sixth? It would create an embarrassment of bats, but at what cost?

Even if you could get a good deal for a bat like that, would fans ever be able to get over the fact that he’s been an NL Central villain for the better part of eight years?

What say you?

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

The Zobrist Domino Falls

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Of course.

All it took was the getting the old VFTB podcast team reassembled to get the stove bubbling over in Wrigleyville. Sean made his triumphant return on Tuesday to set me up for the easy finish on Wednesday after arguably the busiest offseason window for the Cubs in recent memory.

Lester Watch was all the rage last winter and for good reason, but it may take a few years to fully comprehend just how impactful Tuesday’s Zobrist domino really is in both a micro and macro-level.

David Price and Jordan Zimmerman set off the pitcher market pretty early into free agency, but Ben Zobrist had been the biggest jam in the position player market cog to this point. Unpacking its repercussions both in Chicago and across the league is a challenge I’m not sure I am up to on a grand scale, but away we go.

Zobrist to a National League team made a ton of sense from the very beginning, but it was going to come down to opportunity and preferred position. The Mets posed an interesting threat to the Cubs for the utility man’s services, but the Daniel Murphy conundrum likely kept the Mets from committing to Zobrist at second base—his preferred spot in the infield.

This is me quasi-speculating on that idea, but it wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mets quickly re-sign their postseason GOAT now that Zobrist is locked up.

While the Price-Maddon connection was pumped up throughout the season, Zobrist was always the more likely former Ray to join the organization. I mean, it was far from guaranteed, but there were too many factors that made it a perfect marriage before all this mess even started.

First, obviously Zobrist played for the quirky manager for a few seasons and excelled as an everyman. Second, Zobrist is from Illinois and played for NAIA Olivet Nazarene just an hour south of the city. We have seen a hometown connection for players across the four major sports at an increased rate as guys want to move closer to family. Third, he brings some of that World Series veteran swagger like Jon Lester. The Cubs youth eventually caught up with them in NLCS and a few more high OBP veterans could have made a difference in changing momentum in that series. Lastly, he can play anywhere. We know how much Theo and Joe like the flexibility.

Bringing Zobrist on board further clouded an already clouding infield situation, but Cubs fans received a quick response to that dilemma.

Within minutes—seconds even—Cubs news turned over from Zobrist to full-fledged Starlin Castro rumors. The rumblings of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Castro had cropped it since late Monday, and alleged assurances Castro wasn’t going anywhere ended up just being empty noise.

Keeping both Baez and Castro on the roster in 2016 would have only made sense if Chicago decided to focus solely on holes in center and in the rotation. Baez has yet to settle on a position in the pros due to his youth and is more controllable, which made him a bit more valuable than Castro to both the Cubs and other teams in all likelihood. Trading Castro to New York does not protect Baez from being moved in the coming days, but it certainly lessens the probability there.

With Zobrist in place as the probable opening day second baseman, Castro was rendered expendable by the Cubs after losing his shortstop spot in the middle of the year. Castro was equally loved as he was hated on the Twitterz, but it is sad to see the end of an era after essentially “growing up” with a guy who debuted two years before his 21st birthday.

He immediately improves the second base position for the Yankees, but most importantly he relieves a jam for the Cubs and gives Chicago a pitcher for the back end of the rotation or long relief.

I’ll admit I know very little about Adam Warren despite living in Boston-New York rivalry territory. The Cubs have done pretty well at plucking low-cost pitchers during the Theo era and Warren immediately helps from a consistency standpoint, regardless of what role he settles into. He’s notched 70-plus innings in each of the last three seasons and had a career worst 3.39 ERA in his rookie season in 2013. That’s far from bad in a power-hitting AL East.

At the very least, Warren provides Jason Hammel insurance and the Cubs could use plenty of that.

Brendan Ryan is the other player coming back for Castro. Whatever. Go research the 33-year-old spring fodder for yourself if you feel so inclined.

So where do we go from here?

The Shelby Miller price tag was too high and it’s hard to see the Cubs involved in any other pitchers now that they have a combination of Jake Arrieta, Lester and John Lackey in tow. A few more bullpen arm signings should be expected before the turn of the New Year.

Jason Heyward is the elephant in the room and most people are probably on board with that notion considering what that lineup would look like. The Cubs have the spot and future cash pipeline to pay Heyward a pretty penny, especially after not joining the literal “arms race.” He fits in between the clunky youth of Schwarber and Soler in the outfield well.

Alex Gordon has had his name crop up since the World Series ended, but all that does is likely push Soler out the door. Cubs don’t really need any corner outfielders unless they have a secret plan for Schwarber that no one outside of the organization knows.

If you look at the outfielders on the market, Heyward is the only high-price guy remaining who makes sense for the Cubs. Re-signing Dexter Fowler or Austin Jackson might be the follow up options should they whiff.

And as we depart, let us dream about what an Opening Day lineup would look like for the Cubs in our dream scenario.

1. Ben Zobrist    2B

2. Jason Heyward   CF

3. Anthony Rizzo   1B

4. Kris Bryant    3B

5. Kyle Schwarber  LF

6. Jorge Soler   RF

7. Miguel Montero   C

8. Jake Arrieta  P

9. Addison Russell   SS


Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Random Thoughts from an August Day Game

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

So, I missed my post time earlier today and the craziness of college athletics preseason has already turned me into Robin Williams’ (RIP) character from the horribly directed 90’s children cult classic Flubber—a forgetful buffoon.

In hopes of restoring the trust between writer and reader, I bring to you a few random thoughts from a meaningless August game.

  • Those two weirdly placed home-and-home series with the Rockies has helped get the Cubs out to a six-game lead in the race for being the worst team in the National League. The battle between the Rockies and Rangers to be the worst team in the league will be fierce over the next month. Barring epic collapses, neither preseason favorite (Astros and Cubs) will be blessed with the title of MLB’s worst at the end of 2014.
  • Leave it up to Edwin Jackson to be the guy who breaks a streak of seven straight games with a quality start. I’m still unsure if I’m surprised that Jackson hasn’t been DFA’d yet, but in a season that has been over since the first week of April, it makes sense just to let him try for the occasional win. I wasn’t completely opposed to the Jackson signing at first, but we can strike it up to Theo’s only really poor move thus far in his three-year tenure. Jackson didn’t last five full innings…..again, but his poor performance made room for my next point.
  • Jacob Turner made his Cubs debut, pitching 2.1 innings of no-hit ball out of the ‘pen. Turner was sharp and his velocity on his fastball continues to stay around the 93 mph mark. A week later, it still amazes me how clueless both the Marlins and Rockies were regarding Turner, especially with the quality of players given in return for controlling the 23-year-old for a few more years. Turner relied on the two-seam fastball a lot—17 times—14 of which went for strikes and three were whiffs. The two-seamer topped out at 94 on the gun, which is good news for the Cubs depending on how they use him the rest of the season. I said on twitter last week this deal could be one of the most important Theo makes when the “rebuilding effort” is all said and done. It’s a strong statement, but Turner has that type of talent.
  • Meanwhile the Cubs’ hitters made Brewers Mike Fiers look like a Cy Young candidate. Fiers has been very good in three starts this year, but 14 strikeouts in six innings of work is awesomely depressing to watch. To put it in perspective, Fiers had 15 TOTAL strikeouts in 22 innings of work last season for the Brew Crew. 15. Javier Baez must have lost a bet to Fiers before the game because he was swinging at the high cheese with enthusiasm and grandeur all afternoon. He finished with the infamous Golden Sombrero. Anthony Rizzo seemed to be the only guy who could put the fear in Fiers, going 2-for-3 with a double against him.

Other News

  • Rob Manfred was elected as the next Commish of baseball with a 30-0 election. Good thing baseball voters aren’t involved. That would get complicated. I am also pleased Tom Werner was not elected, because I can only take so much of this.
  • When did MLB Singles by become a thing? When did baseball dating become a thing? Are there happy endings between Cubs and Cards fans who meet through this weird baseball dating site? The internet, where baseball and farmer dating happens.
Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Building a Bullpen

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

In an alternate universe* where I am the youngest general manager in Major League Baseball history—take that Theo—I find the building of a bullpen to be the most fascinating of activities.

While starters get the big-money contracts and deadline buzz, bullpens are pieced together with some strange concoction of failed starters, big-stuff young guns and a handful of oft-travelled veterans. Sometimes they work and sometimes they fail miserably, but no team can survive a season without the band of merry gentlemen coming out of the pen to (hopefully) preserve the occasional tight win.

I’m a bit of a sucker for good relief pitchers, as evidenced by my unnecessary hogging of holds leaders and surprising save-by-committee-competition winners in my friends-only fantasy league every year. But how exactly does a (real) team catch lightning in a bottle and create a group of pitchers that will eek out late-inning wins rather than give up the traumatic gopher ball in the closing moments?

There are two general trains of thought when it comes to building a pen, at least in my experience: developing or buying. Both strategies are rather self explanatory with developing bullpens focusing on mid-level arms in the draft and buying bullpens getting put together with a flurry of back-page trades or free-agent signings.

While I would love to spend the next three years of my life studying what strategy is better is a stand-alone recipe for success—my day job will come calling eventually—so I’ll tell you what I THINK I know.

I think the answer lies somewhere in between the two strategies. Okay fine, maybe this is a copout of a response, “Surely no team builds a bullpen solely one way or the other,” you say. I’ll give you that, but every team has a different identity in how they build their pen, whether their focus is international players or live arms or whatever redeeming quality a front office may want.

The teams with the best bullpens know how to get the most of the guys in their system, while also supplementing them with an assortment of wily vets. The problem with building a bullpen is that, by nature, they are volatile from both performance and longevity standpoint.

Mariano Rivera’s and Lee Smith’s don’t just grow on trees anymore. Injuries, contract demands and lack of sentimentality among players have led to shortened careers or 10-stop careers. For many relievers, this is the life you live. Just ask a guy like Latroy Hawkins.

Only closers get the somewhat royal treatment that starters receive, but even their shimmer as a high-priced cog for teams is fading. My buddy Dave, who I probably reference way too much, always rags on teams who spend big money on closers in free agency. “Teams should instead,” he says, “focus on building up their closer spot from within and spend money elsewhere.” It’s hard to look at the contract doled out to traveling closers in recent years and disagree with his sentiment.

Middle relief is an underappreciated art—that is until something goes wrong. However, I tend to find that the most beloved Cubbies in recent years have been of the mid-inning-eater variety. James Russell and Sean Marshall are two guys that instantly come to mind, as solidly developed guys who have been the glue holding a middling pen from falling completely apart. On the flip side, the Cubs have had their fair share of over-priced closers take a shot at becoming a fix in the role. Unfortunately few, if any, have worked out in the team’s favor in trying times.

The late-night heartburn caused from too many agonizing Carlos Marmol and Hawkins’ blown saves has been relieved a bit after the early-season release of Jose Veras—another example of a FA closer not working out. Sure the Cubs are still losing games at an exorbitant rate, but the losses seem to be piling up more because of a youthful offense in comparison to gauge-your-eyes out collapses.

Chicago’s makeshift bullpen in 2014 has been far from perfect, but their current rank of 17th in ESPN’s relief category is a drastic improvement from their ranks of 29th and dead-last in 2013 and 2012 respectively. Interestingly enough, the Cubs bullpen this year is still seeing time in plenty of pressure situations because of the low ERA numbers on an individual basis from the rotation. Despite an offensive power outage, many of the guys coming in during the middle innings have seen a large number of toss-up scores.

The record might not be any different in 2014, but again, there are many reasons for why this is the case that most educated fans understand. But it is interesting to see the improvement in the pen, despite a lot of question marks surrounding the future of its makeup.

Currently, not a single player in the pen has a set-figure salary following the season. Carlos Villanueva is an unrestricted free agent and a probable goner, while everyone else minus Justin Grimm and Brian Schlitter is arb-eligible. There is the hope, as always, that most of these deals will get done sooner rather than later and the Cubs have shown that arbitration needs to be avoided at all cost. Who can blame them, arbitration is a bit awk(ward for you oldies).

Wesley Wright and Russell could both be moved by the time this article is posted, which changes the dynamic of the unit a bit for the remainder of the year.

Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop will be mainstays in the back half for the time being, as are probable cheap options Justin Grimm and Brian Schlitter. Outside of that the Cubs will probable see another offseason of turnover in the middle of the pen. Management will need to decide if they see Chris Rusin and freshly acquired Felix Doubront as back-end starters or middle relievers.

The continued improvement of the young relievers in their system has been one of the least talked about goals for the team. A farm full of big bats will be able to mask many deficiencies with the staff, as well the likelihood of adding a top-flight pitcher by the time Opening Day in 2016 rolls around. However, figuring out the right collection of players in the bullpen, both current and future, will have a lasting impact on how high the arrow can actually go up for the franchise.


*EDITOR’S NOTE: This universe actually exists in the program called Out of the Park Baseball and not in Josh’s delusional brain.

So what say you VFTBr’s, what does your bullpen look like in two years?



Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Radio vs TV

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

After the VMA snafu on Sunday night I began to look for older music from some of the performing artists at the award show. (Disclaimer: Miley Cyrus was not one of those artists). I knew of Macklemore’s connection to his hometown of Seattle and was pleasantly surprised when I came across a song written as a tribute to Mariners’ great radio announcer Dave Niehaus, who passed away following the 2010 season.

Niehaus had one of the most recognizable voices on the airwaves for decades and was the original announcer for the M’s until his death. He finally was bestowed with the honor of the Ford C. Frick award in 2008, which is given to only the most deserving of baseball broadcasters.

Macklemore’s song “My, Oh, My” recounts the 1995 season where the M’s made the AL Championship Series over the Yankees. The first time listening to the song, it gave me chills hearing Niehaus’ call as Ken Griffey Jr. crosses the plate to send them to the ALCS.

Calls like that are why I grew up dreaming about getting into sports radio. Calls like that are why I was okay with leaving the TV due to mom’s enforced bedtime so I could crawl into the cozy sheets and turn on the radio. Calls like that paint us a picture of a beautiful game that HDTV can only provide on a surface level.

I spent much of my summer observing a good friend Kyle Tait, who is the play-by-play guy for the Mississippi Braves. Kyle’s still learning the tricks of the trades—only three years out of undergrad at Georgia Tech—but sticky Friday nights wouldn’t have been the same without the deep voice of baseball coming through my Apple earbuds.

My grandfather was my idol growing up because of his tireless work ethic and the way he treated people. He told me that radio would always been an important medium because of the craving to be engaged with senses other than sight. As much as television advances have dominated the attention of the general population, I think there is some truth to his ideals.

Experiencing a game with the reliance on someone else painting the picture to you is something that cannot simply be replicated by high-quality picture. Radio allows you to imagine the smells of peanuts and beer, while at the same time picturing the way the bright lights shimmer off of the individual blades of grass in centerfield.

Some of the greatest calls and broadcasters of all time didn’t have the luxury to rely on a television crew to capture the game’s descriptions. They forced themselves to be the eyes and ears for those not lucky enough to be at the game.

I think of the movie Angels in the Outfield where a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his buddy from the orphanage J.P. are outside the California Angels ballpark listening to the call of their floundering Halos. The raw emotion they felt with the twists and turns of the game are the experiences everyone should want to feel when listening.

What say you VFTB family, do you enjoy listening to games on the radio or is TV really the better media?

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us: