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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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Friday News & Notes

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Friday Notes

  • “Asia’s Heartbeat,” Arirang News (“Arirang,” by the way, is the title of a traditional Korean folk song) reports that the Cubs could be one of the favorites to land Korean RHP Suk-Min Yoon, a 27-year-old who probably projects to be a reliever in MLB. He’s young and has had some success in Korea, so he would be an intriguing target for the Cubs. He doesn’t appear to be the caliber of pitcher that the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu is, though.
  • Dave Martinez interviewed for the Cubs’ managerial gig yesterday. His work with Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay seems to be his strongest résumé bullet. I won’t go into the rumors regarding the situation with Martinez and Ryne Sandberg’s wife, because you can read it on virtually every other page on the internet. It looks like the next Cubs manager is going to be one of Martinez, Renteria, Acta, or Hinch.
  • Daniel Bard – the once-awesome reliever that the Cubs picked up off waivers from the Red Sox – will pitch for the Puerto Rican Winter League. If he can reclaim even 80% of his old form, it will be a great pickup for the Cubs.
  • WGN Radio is taking the option to renegotiate their deal with the Cubs. Like many Cubs fans, I have a special, nostalgic place in my heart for WGN (both radio and TV). Apparently, WGN Radio is losing money on Cubs games, so they’d like to start paying less for them. Maybe this opens the door for other stations.

Discuss

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Do Managers Matter?

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Happy Friday, fellow Viewers!

I wrote in August about the concept of team “chemistry,” and whether that nebulous concept had in bearing on baseball team performance. In this post, I’m going to look at a separate but related issue that’s a hot topic of late: the manager’s effect on the W/L record.

A few studies have examined the effect of the manager on team performance, and the results have been mixed.  An analysis by Smart and Wolfe (2003) found that managers accounted for a little more than 1% of the variance in team wins, although their operationalization of “leadership” may have been too narrow. For a really thorough look at the managerial effect, check out Chris Jaffe’s (The Hardball Times) book, Evaluating Baseball’s Managers: A History and Analysis of Performance in the Major Leagues, 1876-2008. It’s worth a read, but essentially Jaffe’s analysis breaks-down to this: managers are very hard to evaluate on an isolated basis. Managers cannot be separated from their team environments, and it’s that interaction between person and environment that matters most. Context is key. In Jaffe’s words: “Managers are first and foremost managers of men.  Managing the game is only a secondary job function.” He believes that a manager, alone, accounts for maybe a couple of wins a year, although the effect of a manager could be more than that in a given situation – again, it’s all about environment.

Here’s an interesting bit from an SI.com article from Cliff Corcoran. “It’s interesting to note, however, that Cliff’s 2006 study did make one relatively firm conclusion regarding the impact of certain in-game decisions. ‘Only six times in thirty-three years has any manager used sacrifice attempts, stolen base attempts, and intentional walks to increase his team’s win expectation over an entire season. Even the best managers cost their team more than a game per season by employing these tactics. At worst they can cost a team three games per season.’ Over multiple seasons, no manager employed those tactics for a positive effect.” This seems to support the idea that the manager’s most important job is managing the players: the manager’s in-game strategy (the subject of rabid ire by fans on blogs) seems to have little impact on team record. As Cliff notes (pun not intended): “That supports the belief that the best baseball manager is one with a strong roster who is smart enough to let his players play and stay out of the way.” In football, a coach like Chip Kelly is directly involved with every one of his teams offense plays, since he calls each play in real time in reaction to the game context. Even in basketball, Phil Jackson could yell “Scottie” and position players and call plays and defenses during the game. If you’re a baseball manager, when your guy is in the box or on the mound, you’re a spectator just like the rest of us.

I think that’s the key thing to remember: successful managers tend to be those that have good players, and managers with poor records tend to have weak rosters.  Let’s be honest – if we could pencil-in the ’27 Yankees starting lineup every night, most of us could probably at least manage them to the playoffs. On the other hand, not even Joe McCarthy (who is, according to Jaffe, the undisputed best manager of all time) could have managed the 2013 Cubs to a winning record. I’m not saying that dropping Sveum was the wrong move – I’m just saying that we can’t blame him for the Cubs poor record this year. It was a bad roster.

I was in an annoying “conversation” earlier in the season with some folks on Twitter who insisted that we could have been a playoff team this season if only Ryno was the manager. Yes, I know, that’s absurd. The reason given was “I’ve never seen the Peoria Chiefs play better than when he was manager.” Um…yeah…I’m just going to leave that out there with no further comment.

So, what should the Cubs be looking for in the next manager? Well, as Bill James said,  “the only indispensable quality for a manager to have is the respect of the players.” Since managers tend to have more of an effect by allotting playing time properly, motivating players, creating a positive work environment, and generally staying out of the way, the Cubs should (and I trust will) look for a manager that manages “men” first – and whose philosophy of player development aligns with that of the front office. As we’ve seen, the in-game strategies of any given manager don’t seem to matter that much over the long haul.

So, to address the question, do managers matter? Well, it’s hard to say – it’s a complex issue, and it’s very difficult to tease out exactly what factors are due to one manager vs. another. If the players respect him and feel comfortable playing for him, he’s probably going to be as good as anyone else. In baseball, the general manager is greater than the manager, so I’m going to be much more interested in who’s actually on the field for the Cubs going forward.

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Racks on Racks on Racks? The Cubs Financial Sitch

Friday, September 6th, 2013

We heard from two of the Cubs’ leaders this week in regard to the team’s financial situation….well, it doesn’t sound too rosy. On Sunday, Theo Epstein gave an interview to WSCR in Chicago and, among many other things, gave his thoughts about the team’s ability to spend on free agents:

“We simply don’t have the payroll flexibility that we would need for a quicker talent infusion given some of the limitations and timing of our business plan and the realities of a lot of circumstances surrounding the ball club right now.”

That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Obviously, we don’t know just how much this is a bit of posturing to put pressure on the stakeholders involved in the renovation discussions – or how much is a hedge in case 2014 is as long a season as it appears it will be. Given the popularity of the Cubs – and how valuable the franchise is overall – it may seem obvious that the Cubs could have a top-end payroll if they wanted it.

Well, things may not be so bad. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts spoke to Gordon Wittenmyer on Wednesday, and he said that the long-term rebuilding strategy, not money, is the main reason that the Cubs won’t be going after high-priced free agents this winter. From the Wittenmyer piece:

“I know it’s not a money issue,’’ Ricketts said of the methods the baseball department is using to restock the farm system and overhaul the organization — and the consequent results at the big-league level. “You can’t just throw money at the problem. We have to build the organization from the ground up. And that’s what we’re doing right now.”

Despite these quotes from the front office (or perhaps because of them) we still don’t really have a clear picture of the team’s finances. For me, it actually doesn’t matter at this point, and here’s why: spending big on free agents this off-season isn’t going to do anything for the long-term development of this team into a consistent winner. First, I don’t see any young, big-time free agents becoming available this off-season that would really be the kind of player that could help turn a franchise around. Second, the timing isn’t right: it would be better to sign a major free agent or two to compliment the young “core” (whatever that winds-up being) so that the team is ready to compete top-to-bottom when they’re ready – we’re not there yet. Third, and this is a secondary concern, I don’t want to block any up-and-coming prospects before they have a chance to show what they can do in the big leagues.

The one free agent I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cubs pursue (in fact, I would love it) is Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka is considered by most scouts to be the best Japanese pitching prospect since Yu Darvish, and he has top-of-the-rotation potential (some have said he may have the best splitter on the planet). He’s only 24, so Tanaka would fit the mold of a player who could be in his prime when the Cubs young “core” is ready for the bigs. I’d love to see the Cubs go all in on him (and if they don’t win the bid…please, please don’t let it be the Dodgers!).  John Arguello over at Cubs Den seems to think that the Cubs will be in on Tanaka, so we’ll see.

OK, Cubs fans, I have a question for you. All of us that read, and especially post (and especially write articles!), for Cubs blogs are obviously die hard fans who have stuck – and will stick – with this team through the tough times. However, even Job had a limit, so the question is this: when, if ever, will you throw your hands in the air and stop caring about this team? I’m not asking if any of you would ever stop being fans of the Cubs (I doubt any of you would say that), but will there come a time when you’re just going to refuse to put in any emotional investment? I know that I haven’t been watching all the games lately. My classes have started back, so I’m busier than I was most of the summer, but I’ve also grown a little weary. Moreover, I’ll have to admit that even though I root for the Cubs to win every game I watch, I’m actually hoping that they lose when I don’t watch. I want the better draft pick next summer (although I always hope that Castro and Rizzo have good games). So, when will it be for you? Middle of next season? 2015? Will you ever stop checking Cubs blogs or keeping up with the farm system? I’d love to hear what you think.

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Does Team “Chemistry” Really Matter?

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

I’ve been thinking about this issue quite a bit lately. “Chemistry” is a word that one usually hears thrown around by fans of struggling teams. It seems, to me, like a convenient factor to point to when looking for reasons to blame for failures. What do we really know about “chemistry” as it relates to professional baseball?

Here’s a quote from Joe Torre, as quoted by Jim Caple “Winning creates chemistry more than the other way around. I’ve seen clubs that don’t necessarily like each other, but they respected each other once they got on the field, and that’s more important than being happy to go out to dinner with each other.” (Source) Ozzie Guillen (I know, I’m referencing Ozzie) said that chemistry follows winning, and clubhouse strife follows losing, not the other way around.

Caple, in the same article, references the 2002 National League Champion Giants – the team of Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent (who were never accused of being great team guys). Caple quotes Jason Schmidt, who played for the Giants that season, and he provided a few gems:

“I’ve been on teams where there was one guy — and it wasn’t Barry — who made everyone miserable. But you’re not thinking about that when you’re on the field. Not at all. It’s a nonissue. I don’t really see how it affects the team’s play. Will you throw 95 instead of 90 because you’re happier in the clubhouse? Will you throw strikes?”

Since I’m writing this article, I guess I’ll give you my personal opinion. Most of us are not professional athletes, but most of us are a professionals of some sort that work as part of a “team” (however you want to define it), and we all know, anecdotally, that one’s work environment can affect your job performance and morale. So, I think there is probably something to “chemistry,” even if it can’t be quantified – but the question is, how much does it actually affect the bottom line of wins and losses? Moreover, is there any evidence, beyond our own personal anecdotes (which can’t be generalized to other situations, especially situations as unique as a pro baseball clubhouse), that “chemistry” makes any real difference in the end?

It seems that whatever bad “mojo” Bonds and Kent brought to the 2002 Giants was far outweighed by their production on the field (Schmidt’s quote indicates that he agrees). So, as much as we romanticize the idea of “chemistry” – and as much as it makes intuitive sense to us – I don’t think the evidence is there for us to focus upon it as the main reason for any team’s struggles or success. If a team were better on the field, they’d probably have better chemistry, and that’s probably the most important interaction between the two concepts.

I think a better approach would be to be more precise in our language. In my day job, I do quantitative and qualitative research, so I’m not just a numbers geek – numbers can tell us what is happening, but not always why. Since we’re dealing with human beings, there really are factors at play that help determine why we’re seeing a particular quantitative result, and it can differ greatly from person to person (morale, motivation, comfort-level, etc.. are all legitimate concerns). Guessing blindly about the interpersonal factors that are affecting a player without evidence seems counterproductive, though.

One of the most important things for digging beneath the surface of numbers to examine qualitative factors is to define terms clearly and precisely. The term “chemistry” is just ill-defined. What does it mean? It’s impossible to determine the effect of something when we don’t have a precise definition of it in the first place. For me, “chemistry” is right up there with TWTW (Hawk Harrelson’s “The Will to Win”), “bellyfire” and “grit.” It’s the old-school “gut feeling” approach to analysis that doesn’t really get us anywhere, but it can make us sound like we vaguely know what we’re talking about. I think we’d be better served to be more precise: what is actually happening, and what are the exact factors that may be contributing to a team’s (or an individual’s) performance? Even if we are just guessing, I think we’ll advance the conversation – and gain more insight – if we stick to precise, knowable concepts. I could go on – and I’ll probably return to this topic in the future – but you don’t want to spend an hour reading this post (thank you if you’ve stuck with me this far).

Aside: Speaking of research, here’s a terrible example. I came across a Psychology Today article attempting to determine the effect of “chemistry” on team performance. One of the factors they examined was how much a good manager could mitigate bad team chemistry. As a measure of manager effectiveness, they defined good managers as those that had won or had been named a finalist for the Manager of the Year award. Well, you can probably see the problem here: MOY winners and finalists are always from good teams! Of course bad chemistry wasn’t hurting those teams. Ugh, bad research, it makes me angry. Anyway, they used the Uptons as a test case (it was written before this season). Following their premise (that the Uptons are bad chemistry guys), chemistry doesn’t matter at all, since the Braves are crushing.


Do we really want to relive this game? The Cubs offense returned to their usual form, with the only runs coming off solo shots from Brian Bogusevic and Donnie “Babe Ruth” Murphy. The game was actually close until the ninth, when the Nationals put up two runs to make the game all but out of reach. Chris Rusin was banged around a lot, although he only gave up two runs in 5.2 innings. On the other side, almost-Cub Dan Haren pitched really well for D.C.. I think we’re going to see a ton of games like this one from here on out. Bring on the race for a better draft pick.

Follow Sean Powell on Twitter @powell_sean

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