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Will Tanaka be ‘The Man’ in Chicago?

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Bruce Levine got everyone excited with some tweets on Saturday that made the Cubs sound like the frontrunners for Tanaka. Here are some examples:

@MLBBruceLevine:

“Wake up tweeters! Cubs made Tanaka a real offer to be there ace and grow with their other talented young players.” [sic]

“Japanese source said Tanaka loves a challenge and wants to be the man. All that is waiting for him at Clark and Addison.”

“MLB source believes Cubs are lead team for Tanaka.”

David Kaplan (@thekapman) chimed in with this yesterday:

“Finally, NL scout I just talked to believes Tanaka is worth risk, + Cubs willing to spend huge. However, not a contender is huge impediment.”

Besides the obvious issue of landing a potential top-of-the-rotation arm, there are broader implications for the team. If the Cubs have made a serious offer, one that competes with and possibly beats other offers (and there have been many reports from various sources to indicate this) it is an indicator that the team is willing and able to spend money when the team needs it. If this is the case, it’s reassuring, since there have been doubts about ownership’s willingness to spend. As for Tanaka, it sounds like the Cubs are trying to sell him on the idea of “being the man” in Chicago – essentially, he’ll go down in baseball lore if he helps bring a championship to Chicago. We should know within the next few days if this strategy worked.

Speaking of finances, it appears that the Cubs and the rooftop owners are closing in on a deal that would allow the renovations of Wrigley Field to commence. The Ricketts have been unwilling to begin the renovations until the threat of a lawsuit from the rooftops was off the table. Tom Loxas over at Cubs Insider did some nice reporting on this issue.

What do you think about MLB’s expanded replay rules?

I love these alternate throwback jerseys the Cubs will be wearing this season. What do you think?

 

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WWTD? (What will Tanaka do?)

Friday, December 27th, 2013

I hope everyone had a great Christmas. 

Let’s try an exercise. Here’s the scenario: First, imagine you are not a Cubs fan (this is probably harder for some than others). Second, imagine you’re Japanese pitching phenom Masahiro Tanaka (stay with me here). Third, imagine you have the option of signing with any major league team. Which team would you choose? Would you automatically go with the highest bid? Do you want to play on a team with a rich tradition of championships like the Yankees? Do you want to go to a team loaded with win-now major league talent like the Dodgers? Do you want to play in a market where you can maximize endorsement deals and media exposure? …or, do you select a team who is a few years away from being competitive, plays in a historic ballpark, hasn’t won in 100+ years, and (might) offer you the biggest contract (i.e., the Cubs)? Would a chance to bring a championship to this team matter? Do you even know the history of the Cubs?

Multiple reports have indicated that the Cubs will be “all in” on Tanaka. Perhaps they’ve been saving and “shaving” payroll in preparation for this opportunity. Maybe they see this as the first step toward competitiveness over the next 2 to 3 years. It is a rare thing to be able to land a talent of this caliber and to lose nothing but money.

So, for now, let’s assume that the finances will be there (something we won’t be sure of until the deal is made public). What would it take to convince Tanaka to come to Chicago? Even though it’s my favorite city (and I’m not a Chicagoan), I have no idea how known Chicago is in Japan – or how popular the Cubs are there. If Tanaka knows something of Chicago, maybe they have a chance, but if he sees it just as a city in the middle of the country with a bad team (and poor player facilities), would it even be possible to land him at all? Fukodome did sign with the Cubs, but he’s not in the same league as Tanaka as far as demand. Will the Cubs have to overwhelm Tanaka with a contract offer that is significantly larger than other offers? Could – and should – the Cubs do that?

So, imagine you are in Tanaka’s shoes right now. What would you do? What factors would determine your course of action?

Have a safe and happy new year!

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Winter Meetings Recap: What’s Next for Shark? Plus Tanaka, Wada, Ruggiano, Cutler

Friday, December 13th, 2013

As expected, there wasn’t much action from the Cubs during the Winter Meetings (and they certainly didn’t make any significant moves). Most of the action around the league came last week, so the meetings themselves were sort of a letdown. Here’s a quick recap of the moves the Cubs did (and didn’t) make this week.

  • First, the Rule 5 draft: The Cubs lost reliever Marcos Mateo to those pesky Diamondbacks. Mateo injured his arm a couple of seasons ago, but he’s been killing it in the DR lately. In the minor league round, the Cubs lost 1B/DH Justin Bour to the Marlins, pitcher A.J. Morris to the Pirates, and OF Julio Borbon (remember him?) to the Orioles. It wasn’t all losses, as the Cubs did select catcher Charles Cutler (no relation to Jay, I assume) from the Pirates. He’ll add organizational depth at a position that desperately needs it. The Cubs players I most feared would be selected (Jae-Hoon Ha, Eric Jokisch, Matt Loosen, Marcus Hatley) were not selected…so that’s good.
  • The Cubs traded OF Brian Bogusevic to the Marlins for OF Justin Ruggiano. Why trade an outfielder for an outfielder? It’s all about the platoon. The Cubs were (oddly) stacked with left-handed outfielders on the major league roster (Bogusevic, Sweeney, Schierholtz), so the team needed a right-handed OF for a platoon (none of these guys are great full-time starting options, so I imagine that Ruggiano will platoon with Sweeney and/or Schierholtz, depending on who has the hot hand). Ruggiano has a career .256/.328/.506 line against lefties, and seems to be a nice defender (especially in the corners, although he can play center as well). This trade isn’t going to make the front page, but it’s definitely one of those “value at the margins” type deals.
  • The Cubs signed 32-year-old left-handed reliever Tommy Hottovy (great name, huh?) to a minor league deal. Eh, maybe he turns into something decent for the middle innings…relief pitching is such a crapshoot, it’s really a numbers game.
  • The Cubs have shown interest in John Axford, but so have many other teams.
  • Joba Chamberlain agreed to a deal with the Tigers.
  • Roberto “Fausto Carmona” Hernandez signed with the Phillies.
  • As we go to press, the Cubs have signed free agent pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada. Wada, formerly of the Japanese league, was signed by the Orioles before the 2012 season – and immediately underwent Tommy John surgery. He was recuperating last year, so he may be ready to go full-steam ahead now. This is the classic Theo/Jed buy-low reclamation project. There’s virtually no risk, since it’s a minor league deal. Don’t look for him to begin the year in the rotation – although he did get an invite to Spring Training.
  • The two big names that are on everyone’s mind are, obviously, Jeff Samardzija and Masahiro Tanaka. In fact, I think the lack of movement on these two, plus David Price, was responsible for the “frozen” state of the winter meetings. Once Tanaka is posted (and signs with someone), the market for Price and Shark should crystalize relatively quickly. I’m too scared to even make a prediction on Tanaka. For Shark, I was thinking that he was definitely going to be traded this offseason. Now? I think it’s 50/50 that we go into the season with Shark and see if we can’t catch a team desperate (either through injury or an unexpected good season) at the trade deadline. Since there’s absolutely no panic to trade him right now, I think Theo will wait it out to get the best possible return. If 2 months of Garza can net Edwards and Olt, we really should wait for a much bigger return for Shark, considering he’s under control for 2 more years.
  • MLB, in an attempt to curb collisions at home plate, is outlawing plate-blocking by catchers and “targeting” by baserunners.
  • Ron Coomer is your new Cubs radio analyst.
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Could Samardzija Be On His Way To Atlanta?

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Happy Friday! The hot stove is cooking with gas these days. The Cubs haven’t been very active (as expected), but there’s still plenty of speculation to enjoy.

  • Nick Piecoro reports that Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers is more likely to seek a starting pitcher through trade than free agency, but they’ve indicated that they won’t consider trading stud prospect Archie Bradley. Hmm…I still think the Cubs should hold out for the best possible package, but would a deal centering around Tyler Skaggs be enough?
  • In a column on mlb.com, Anthony Castrovince says that “Samardzija would be bargain compared to Price” adding that he has comparable upside, but wouldn’t cost a team as much in trade. Obviously, Price has historically been a much better pitcher than Shark, but the future is what matters. Remember, Price had some arm trouble last year, and his velocity has declined over the last few years. As we’ve seen, though, many teams tend to (over) pay for past performance rather than future potential (see the Ellsbury deal for the most recent, ridiculous example).
  • David O’Brien, Atlanta beat writer, tweeted about some potential interest by the Braves in Shark. Eh, I like their major league pitchers better than their prospects, but I’m not sure we could net any of those.
  • The Phillies filed a grievance with against the Cubs over the “mystery” injury that landed Lendy Castillo (whom the Cubs had to stash on their 40-man) on the DL for what the Phillies considered an inordinate amount of time. Teams do this all the time in order to keep a Rule 5 player and free up a roster spot, but it seems as though the Cubs have been called out on this one. The result is that the Cubs will lose their Rule 5 draft pick this year (they likely wouldn’t have selected anyone anyway, but you can be that at least one of the Cubs unprotected players will be selected).
  • Reportedly, Arodys Vizcaino has been throwing 98 mph with “electric” (according to Theo) stuff. That’s nice to hear! I’m predicting Vizcaino will be the Cubs closer at some point if he can stay healthy.
  • Bringing up Theo Epstein around here can be a dicey proposition, but I think it’s worth reading this quote (from his Sportstalk Live interview). Agree with it or not, I think it’s a nice capsulation of his philosophy. Think about this in contrast with some of the moves the Cubs made before his arrival: “When I see a deal like that [the Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees deal], I say: ‘Look, (who) wouldn’t rather have the first seven years of a star player’s career for $30 million versus the second seven years for $130 million or $150 million?’  You want the first seven years for $30 million and hopefully you work out a deal and you can keep him.”

I’m excited to see all the rumors that will start flying once the Winter Meetings start on Monday. Have a great weekend, and enjoy the hot stove!

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Cubs Interested in a Dodgers Outfielder?

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

  • In a chat over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron mentioned that if the FA process drags out for Robinson Cano (and the price drops) “a smart team like the Cubs will jump in and sign him.” I’m sure Theo and Jed appreciate the comment, but MANY (most?) teams would be in on Cano if there is a significant price drop. Cameron also thinks that a good number for a Shark extension would be around 5yrs/60 million.
  • The Dodgers have an extra outfielder. Would one of Matt Kemp, Andre Either, or Carl Crawford make sense for the Cubs? The only one I would consider would be Matt Kemp IF he comes with a significant injury discount (dude is awesome, but always hurt). Some team(s) will pay full price for him, no doubt, so I don’t see the Cubs landing him. It wouldn’t be smart to overpay for someone with his injury history, IMO. The upfront asking price would have to be palatable, and the Dodgers would need to kick-in some significant salary relief.
  • The Cubs added Dallas Beeler and Arismendy (my favorite prospect first name) Alcantara to the 40-man roster, thus protecting them from the Rule 5 draft. Beeler really pitched his way onto the roster this fall, and he has all the physical tools you want (6’5”, mid-90s fastball). I’d look for Beeler to make a play for a bullpen spot this spring. It has been confirmed that Juan “mystery man” Paniagua is not eligible for the Rule 5 draft, so he didn’t need to be added to the 40-man for protection.
  • Our favorite topic: the proposed renovation of Wrigley Field. The Chicago Plan Commission approved the latest plans (which include bumping out the right field outer wall) and a proposed arch sign over Clark Street (which would take the place of the proposed-but-DOA pedestrian bridge).
  • Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and stay safe during your travels.
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Jed Hoyer Buying a Suzuki?

Friday, November 15th, 2013

The off-season rumors are in full swing, so let’s get to it.

  • The Cubs are looking at Kurt Suzuki as an option at backup catcher. It wouldn’t be a flashy move, but it could signify that the front office sees Wellington Castillo as a long-term piece.
  • Jed Hoyer has reiterated that the Cubs are indeed interested in Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and will be in on the bidding (yay). Patrick Mooney sees them as a long shot, however (boo).
  • Not a rumor, but related: Speaking of bidding for Japanese players, there was an apparent agreement between MLB and the Japanese league that would involve a blind bidding system, with the highest bidding team winning the negotiating rights. However, it seems as though the smaller market teams are making a push to modify or eliminate the posting system, since they feel they are being priced out of the process.
  • No Cub player has been the center of more trade discussion than Jeff Samardzija. We’ve heard about the rumored interest from the Diamondbacks and Nationals, but there are now reports that the Pirates and the Blue Jays are interested as well. For what it’s worth, Gordon Wittenmeyer, after speaking with several GMs, seems to think that Shark will get traded this off-season.
  • Jon Morosi tweeted that the Diamondbacks are interested in Nate Schierholtz. Could a package of Nate and Shark bring back a nice return?
  • Mark Feinsand tweeted that the Cubs could be “stealthily waiting in the wings” on Jacoby Ellsbury. Weird.
  • Matthew Cerrone tweeted that the Cubs (among other teams) have shown an early interest in Curtis Granderson. It sort of sounds like an “agent leak” type story to me, but who knows?
  • Not a rumor: MLB will be instituting NFL-style replay challenges next season.
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Friday Notes

Friday, November 8th, 2013
  • As you know, Rick Renteria is the new manager for the Cubs. It blows me away (but it doesn’t surprise me) that some fans are already calling the hire a failure BEFORE HE HAS EVEN GIVEN A PRESS CONFERENCE, MUCH LESS MANAGED A GAME. The front office really took their time and vetted all their candidates, so there’s no reason to think they aren’t confident that he is the right man for the job. The Renteria hire has been praised by many in baseball, and the Padres consider this a significant loss. I mean, who were we supposed to hire as manager, Jesus Christ? The most important task for the new manager is to facilitate the development of the young players that will be coming up to the big league club in the next few years, and, by all accounts, Renteria is a good teacher. His Latino heritage can only be seen as a plus in this area as well. I, for one, am happy with the move, and I’m looking forward to rooting for his success (rather than proclaiming him to be a failure in November). Besides, if you read my post from October 11, you’ll see that managers don’t really matter all that much anyway!
  • As far as Renteria’s staff is concerned, we already know one member. Chris Bosio has agreed to a two-year deal to remain the Cubs’ pitching coach. I really like this move – Bosio’s work with Travis Wood, among others, has been impressive. I think his emphasis on ground balls will serve our young pitchers well in Wrigley going forward.
  • Via Crain’s, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks granted the Cubs permission to expand the outer right field wall 25 feet into Sheffield Avenue. This step was necessary since the wall will jut into public property. The original plan was to extend the wall by 15 feet, but this compromise was reached when the Clark Street bridge plan was scrapped, along with adjustments to the hotel plans and a reduction in night games from 46 to 43. The battle with the rooftops rages on as ever (ugh). Let the barely-tangential, broad-sweeping political comments begin!
  • Who would you like to see replace Keith Moreland on the radio broadcasts? Gracey would be fun (if unlikely), and I’ve heard Kerry Wood’s name being mentioned. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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Friday News Roundup

Friday, November 1st, 2013

I hope everyone had a great Halloween. I had a dentist appointment yesterday – worlds colliding or worlds aligning?

  • The Cubs installed another mock-up of the proposed sign in right field at Wrigley. The Cubs contend it doesn’t block rooftop views – and of course the rooftop folks contend that it does. Check it out for yourself here. A couple of caveats: it doesn’t look like the sign was completely in place when the photo was taken, and the sign will be 15 feet closer to the rooftops once the extension to the outer wall is complete (which should lower the sign from the rooftops point of view). Obviously, there is money to be made (and potentially lost) on both sides here, so I expect this issue to remain contentious. Maybe the Ricketts could put an end to this issue once and for all and just buy the rooftops in question. (http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2013/10/24/source-cubs-could-buy-rooftops)
  • Free agency has begun, and we should all expect the Cubs to be relatively inactive. The only moves I can see the team making are minor – filling out the bench, minor league depth, etc.. I agree completely with this approach, since a) it’s not a smart way to build a team for long-term success,  b) there’s really no one out there worth pursuing anyway, especially for the cost, c) the young “core” isn’t ready, so it doesn’t make sense to load up on free agents for a team that is a few years away. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cubs go hard after Masahiro Tanaka, though. His age and position make total sense for the club at this point (and how often do you get a change to acquire a proven – albeit in the Japanese league – starting pitcher and give up none of your prospects in return?). For what it’s worth, the Cubs free agents are Scott Baker, Kevin Gregg, Matt Guerrier, and Dioner Navarro. (meh)
  • In case you missed it: THE CARDINALS LOST THE WORLD SERIES
  • Speaking of the Cardinals, there have been whispers that they are looking for a shortstop and could be interested in Starlin Castro. This was apparently discussed on MLB Radio, but I’ll do some more digging and report back if I hear anything more substantive. The guys over at Cubs Den are looking into it as well. I don’t see this having legs – but we all know that if he is traded to the Cardinals, he’ll be a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
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Friday Nuggets

Friday, October 25th, 2013

  • Bloomberg put together an awesome interactive article related to the value of major league baseball franchises. The Cubs are in fifth place in overall value behind, in order, the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Mets, and ahead of the Giants (the Orioles are listed as the seventh most valuable franchise – I would have NEVER guessed that). This is a great piece that lets you explore how teams compare to each other on a variety of metrics, including all sources of incoming and outgoing revenue. The area in which the Cubs fall short in relation to other incoming revenue areas is in “sponsorship” – which may make it easier to understand why the Cubs are busy trying to maximize the value of signage and other ad potential at Wrigley Field.
  • Cubs farmhand (acquired in the Matt Garza trade) C.J. Edwards was named MiLB.com’s Pitcher of the Year (that’s considering all pitchers at all levels in the minors – pretty awesome). If you don’t know much about Edwards, you’ll probably find yourself rooting hard for the kid after reading this profile on him.
  • Someone is suing the City of Chicago and Cubs-affiliated entities over the proposed hotel-on-Wrigley-property construction.
  • The Cardinals lost Game 1 of the World Series, and of course they’re complaining that Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester cheated. You can judge the evidence in question for yourself over at Hardball Talk.
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