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For The Love Of The… Game?

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Baseball is a wonderful sport and I know that everyone who reads this blog agrees on that (well, maybe it’s questionable whether a few of you like anything, but I digress). This offseason has been long and unforgiving, and depending on your involvement in the happenings (or non-happenings) of the Theo and Jed regime, you have probably experienced a lot of angst as well.

The idea of feeling angst about baseball in the offseason is something that is relatively new to me. You see, before sabermetrics were the trend, before prospects were analyzed to death, and before the rooftops had seats on them, before Twitter was a thing, baseball was just… baseball. It was an escape from the real world – a place where a person could go to get wrapped up in chalk lines, the popping sounds of bats hitting balls, and the snap of the catcher’s mitt when it received 95 MPH fastball.

If a minor-leaguer made his debut people got excited, but poring over his stats in AA against lefties on Sundays versus his AAA stats against a 12-6 curve on Wednesdays was left to the scouts and player development people. Sure, some regular fans my have had a vested interest in prospects, but what mattered to most was the experience of the game. Baseball was heaven on a plot of grass or sand.

The pure, unadulterated love of baseball ran through the veins of fans. They heckled the players they disliked, they lauded the players they loved. People didn’t pick favorites based on WAR, wRC+, UZR, etc, etc. They picked their favorites based on players which helped the team win; because, you know, baseball was a team sport. It took all 9 guys working together to win a game.

But somewhere between then and now the pure love for baseball has been lost in the controversy of the Steroid Era, the recent surfacing of sabermetrics as the “end-all be-all” for a player, the enormous contracts and no-trade clauses, and the growing impatience of the Cubs’ fan base. Arguing with strangers on the internet about frivolous details strips joy out of the sport and makes enemies of people who would normally have been friends (Thanks, Twitter. You jerk!). Civil discussions about have turned into personal attacks.

When baseball season rolls around, everyone needs to attend a local Little League game, and I’m not talking Little League World Series craziness. I’m talking about local kids playing a game. Watch the passion on the boys’ (and sometimes girls’! You go, girls!) faces. Observe the effort they put into every play they make, how they encourage and cheer for each other, how they hustle on and off the field in anticipation of how they can contribute to their team in the next half-inning.

Those kids don’t get paid. They don’t know what WAR or UZR mean. They just play baseball.

That is what baseball should be – pure desire to play a game they love.

What’s so bad about loving baseball without all the extra stuff?

 

 

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International Prospects: Is the Hype Worth the Money?

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

If you’ve been following Cubs news (closely or not) the name “Masahiro Tanaka” has appeared in various conversations from time to time. He’s 25, Japanese, and went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season. Say it with me: “Wow. He seems pretty great.”

A few things about Tanaka: he’s eligible for free agency in 2015, and his team may not want to let him go; Also, MLB and NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) have come to a new posting agreement – a $20 million cap for players (before contracts and endorsements). This means that Nippon will make approximately $30 million less than they received for the likes of Yu Darvish or Daisuke Matsuzaka, which also means that his team could decline to post him this season and hang on to him until his contract expires. (If I may play the Devil’s Advocate, I’d hang on to him until his contract expires.)

Now, Tanaka has stated his desire to play in the MLB next season. The Cubs have to fight with the Rangers and Dodgers for him. But this question keeps running through my mind: Are we sure he’s not going to be a big bust?

Don’t get me wrong, his numbers are impressive. But does that mean his success will transfer from the NPB to the MLB? It did for Darvish. It did for Ryu. But it didn’t for Dice-K. And let’s not forget about Kosuke Fukudome.

I’m not an expert in regional variations of baseball. But I have noticed that it seems international players from Latin America experience more success in the Major Leagues than those from other regions of the world (even moreso than American-born players). There have been a few players from the Asian region that have had success (Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, namely; there are several others you could argue are on the path to success). Many former-MLB’ers cross the Pacific in hopes to revive their careers, and usually are able to milk a few years of superstardom out of their waning careers, while the superstars of the NPB come here and don’t quite reach superstardom. Could it have something to do with the differences in pitching and hitting styles? The slap hit/drag bunt is very popular on the continent of Asia. Ichiro made it work for him, but many players who attempt that style of batting are average for a little while and fade into oblivion (see: Kosuke Fukudome).

Like I said earlier, don’t take me wrong. I want so much for Tanaka to be all he’s cracked up to be. I also don’t want to pay a $20 million fee on top of a contract that has to outdo an offer from LA and TEX and have him be a bust. His team might not even let him go yet, which may turn out to work in favor of all teams interested. If he does stay in Japan until 2015, the Cubs could pick him then and add him to a team that is (hopefully) contending for a playoff berth.

Sometimes I get crazy ideas in my head. Good thing I have you folks to share them with. Until next time!

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The Winter Meetings are Happening. Aren’t They?

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

The Winter Meetings are happening as we speak.

 

You know, where baseball guys get together and do baseball stuff. Only this time, Theo and Jed seem to have missed the memo. The Cubs have done nothing. Nada. Zilch. Other teams have been doing plenty.

 

For example: Did you know that Curtis Granderson signed with the Mets last week? I didn’t. Turns out the same day that Robbie Cano signed his ridiculous deal, Granderson slipped from The Bronx to Queens right under our noses! What a sneaky guy! He’s only locked up for four years, so maybe he’ll have a good year or two left and he’ll bring his talents to the North Side. He is a Chicago native, after all. He belongs here.

 

The other Chicago team has made a deal as well. The White Sox acquired Adam Eaton in a trade that sent Hector Santiago to the Angels, Tyler Skaggs (from AZ) to LAA, and Mark Trumbo and two prospects to Arizona. I never would have imagined Trumbo moving. But you can describe baseball in just three words: “You just never know.”

 

I will admit I was sad when Trumbo went to AZ. Now, you SABR-heads probably are not that sad, because something about his OBP ¬†wasn’t that great. But he hits for power, and Lord knows we need power. And starting pitching, infield defense, outfield defense, plate patience, guys with high OBP, and bullpen help.

 

Am I the only one whose head is reeling, trying to figure out what Theo and Jed are doing? Why they are doing nothing? WHAT ARE THEY DOING? I’m assuming it’s huge. It probably won’t be, but I like to entertain that thought in my head, just to keep things interesting.

 

If it wasn’t evident by the writing leading up to this point, I am anxious to see what Theo and Jed do. I would have liked to snag someone like Curtis Granderson and/or Mark Trumbo, but there is still time to find players with similar abilities for a much more affordable price. I don’t know where they are, but I’m trusting that Theo and Jed do.

I’m going to be very transparent and honest here. Bear with me:

I’m glad we have a (seemingly) spectacular farm system. But it seems like if we want well-developed players (which we do!) we are going to have to wait a few years. I’m tired of waiting. I can’t even imagine how my 104-year-old Aunt Rubie feels about it, let alone my father who is a mere three months away from senior citizen status.

Be honest, no need to sugarcoat anything (or be ruthlessly brash, either), but tell me how you really feel about what’s going on. I love being optimistic, but I’m getting worn out! I have faith that Theo and Jed will make good decisions. I just want to see them happening very, very soon.

 

Maybe by this time next week I’ll have learned how to be a little more patient. I’ll see you on the flip side!

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What In The Sam Heck Just Happened?

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

In case you missed it:

Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the Yankees for a 7-year/$153 million deal.

The Rockies traded Dexter Fowler to the Astros for OF Brandon Barnes and OF Jordan Lyles.

Ricky Nolasco signed a 4-year deal with the Twins.

Brian McCann and the Yankees agreed to a 5-year deal.

The Rangers are trying to kill their (female) fans and traded Craig Gentry yesterday.

Tampa Bay acquired Ryan Hanigan (C, Reds) and Heath Bell.

Miami acquired Saltalamacchia.

John Axford remains unsigned.

Oh, and the Cubs named Eric Hinske as the new first base coach.

 

The baseball hot stove has been on fire! Like it or not, the Cubs haven’t done anything drastic thus far. Personally, I like it. I am mostly glad that Schierholtz hasn’t been in any major trade rumors. Samardzija has, but nothing intriguing or good has been offered for him. If the price is right I’d be glad to see him go… But that price would include a Jose Fernandez-type arm that nobody realizes is that great until he starts pitching. Is that too much to ask?

 

All of this craziness has kept the baseball side of Twitter very interesting. News drops as soon as it happens and the rumor mills are constantly spinning. There is a lot of good information, reasonable and logical ideas for trades, and intelligent conversation.

On the other hand you have the people who say that AAA pitchers are old and washed up, and AA pitchers far superior. That being said, certain third basemen prospects who excelled in AA will do fine in the Majors because AAA performances mean nothing.

Ah, baseball. It brings out the best in us. It brings out the worst in us.

I miss it. I miss shaking my head and my fist at my TV when they do something dumb. I miss cheering over home runs that mean nothing.

But until then we can feast on ridiculous trades and speculations. And Christmas is coming soon! If you could give a (realistic) Christmas list to Theo and Jed, who would be on it? Do you have your Christmas shopping done? I do. I am so excited!

 

Until next Wednesday, I leave you with glad tidings of baseball news.

 

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Game 71 – Nothing To Write Home About

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Cardinals 6, Cubs 1

Box Score / Highlights

The Cubs and the Cardinals faced off in what would be a yawner of a finale, with the Cubs losing 6-1. Feldman looked a little rusty, earning 5 runs, one of them a Matt Holliday solo home run. His performance tonight makes me wonder if he was having flashbacks to the 2011 World Series. That Game 6 has scarred me for life, and I wasn’t even a part of it. I can’t image what it would have been like to be a part of that Texas Rangers team.

Other than Castillo’s second home run of the season (first since April 8!), the offense was quiet and left 6 men on base. I was really hoping for an offensive breakout late in the game, and was thrilled when Hairston came in to replace Schierholtz in the 8th (there was sarcasm in there somewhere). Unfortunately, Hairston struck out looking and my hopes of an offensive resurrection were dashed.

It seems like this Chicago/St. Louis rivalry is much less intense than I remember it being in the past. The past couple years have been anticlimactic, but I’m not upset about the lack of tension between the teams. With the number of brawls taking place around the league lately, I’m glad the Cubs aren’t involved in them for a couple reasons: 1) The whole team would get injured and land on the DL, and 2) Nobody would be available to trade due to injury, except for Marmol and Camp. Everybody knows that nobody wants those guys on their team.

On the downside, the television broadcast of the game was pretty unenthusiastic. I muted the TV and turned on Pat and Keith on the radio. It amazes me how Pat always has something to talk about and it’s somewhat interesting. He manages to call the game, keep Keith from rambling about obscure details, and incorporates Judd’s scoring reports all while discussing his top five favorite musicians. And people say that men can’t multitask.

The Cubs leave St. Louis tonight to turn around and face the Astros tomorrow afternoon at Wrigley at 1:20 PM. Maybe the short turn around will put some fire into their bats. Or maybe it will just make them tired and their woes at the plate will continue. We’ll find out this afternoon. Aren’t you excited?!

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