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Through The Rear View #2

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Okay, I realize this might be a little early, but I still felt like doing it. My look back today is on the very recent former Cub, Michael Barrett. Why, so fast? Because I like him and I know that a lot of other Cubs fans do, or did, too. Plus, I sort of feel bad for the guy. Seriously. I realize that saying that may draw some heat, but I can take it. Regardless, I’ll get back to that stuff in a minute or two.

I grew up in the Rockford, Illinois area. From 1988-1993 Rockford had a single-A team in the Midwest League called the Rockford Expos and they were a Montreal affiliate. During that time in my life I worked for a man who was a big sponsor, so I was around the ball park a lot and got the pleasure of meeting several up and coming ball players. Because of that, I followed the Expos fairly close for the following five or six years. I was always curious about the fate of some of the guys that I knew. So with a little extended Expos knowledge, I ended up knowing a little bit about Michael Barrett long before he was a Cub. The little that I remembered was that he could hit and that the Expos regarded him as a pretty good all-around athlete. When the Cubs acquired Barrett back in ’03 I remember being fairly positive about it and telling some friends that he might bring a little offense to the bottom of the order.

The Expos thought very highly of the young Michael Barrett. They drafted him as a shortstop in the 1st round of the 1995 amateur draft, straight out of high school. Barrett had led Pace Academy to three straight Georgia class A high school championships in 1993-1995. His short stint in the minor leagues lasted only about three and half years and his debut was on September 19th, 1998 as a third baseman. After just eight games in the big leagues, Barrett was sent back to AA Harrisburg. That year, he would go on to post gaudy hitting numbers and claim the Montreal Expos Minor Leaguer Player of The Year Award. Playing most of that time as a catcher. Along with his award, he earned a roster spot for the 1999 Expos opening day roster. He would battle ups and downs in his hitting and defense, and for the remainder of his Expos tenure Barrett tried to find a permanent position. After trying him at catcher, shortstop, third base, and even first base the Expos finally decided he was their permanent catcher in 2003. Further inconsistency and eventually injuries, would finally lead to Montreal trading Barrett in the off-season of 2003. He was first traded to the Oakland Athletics, and then traded again the next day to the Cubs for Damian Miller and cash considerations.

His history with the Cubs is still recent enough that I won’t bother bringing up numbers and stats. Let’s just say that overall, his numbers as a Cub were pretty good. In the past his offensive numbers had been good enough to cover some up some of his other deficiencies. Not this year though. Along with the rest of the Cubs, Barrett started this season in a funk. Barrett became an early target for blame as his lack of defense became glaring. Barrett also showed an unusual lack of focus that led to miscues both behind the plate and on the base paths. All of those factors, along with a sudden ineptitude in handling the pitching staff made it tough to watch Barrett fail over and over. It seemed to be grinding on everyone, including Barrett himself. Then, it came to a boil. I still laugh every time I see the replay that shows Barrett pointing to the 13 hits on the scoreboard as Big Z goes from mad, to raging in less than one-tenth of a second. Zambrano is a hot head and Barrett is too, but to see Barrett stand up to the mighty Venezuelan was both honorable and stupid all at once.

I, like many, liked Barrett for just those reasons though. Because outside of his numbers he was tough and had a little chip on his shoulder. It made him an instant hit with the Wrigley Field faithful when he took on Roy Oswalt in 2004. Then Barrett cemented his legacy when he punched AJ Pierzynski in his fat head in 2006. While I didn’t quite agree with Michael’s explanation/rationalization of the ‘Pandemonium at the Plate’ incident, I did thoroughly enjoy it. It seemed to be pure retribution and frustration rather than the feeble self defense that Barrett claimed it to be. Either way, I am sure that Barrett received anonymous Thank-You cards from all over the league for that one. All in all, I liked Michael Barrett because he played hard, even if not always well. He did always appear to be trying and giving it his all. How can you say anything else about a guy who played through an intrascrotal hematoma for his team!? For those not versed in medical jargon, that injury is also know as a busted nutsack. His public comments and perception made it well known that Barrett respected and enjoyed being a Cub. Because of that, I think that Cubs fans respected and enjoyed Michael Barrett too. From all accounts he was highly regarded in the community and the clubhouse. His involvement in numerous charitable events, children’s baseball programs, and Derrick Lee’s Project 3000 all point to Barrett being a decent human being outside of baseball.

That is partly why I stated that I feel bad for him at the beginning of this post. It seems unfair that the focus of the Cubs early troubles, and the subsequent “turning point” was initially pointed towards the significance of Michael Barrett leaving. The Chicago media did what they do. They weren’t very complimentary upon Barrett’s departure and he became a bit of a scapegoat. Then the Cubs began to turn around their season. Coincidence? It’s hard to say. Maybe partly, but now the focus of the turnaround has been shifted to Uncle Lou’s tirade. Funny how something like that can go from being called a meltdown to magical. I’m just glad that Barrett got out from under that stigma.

Barrett’s year continues in San Diego just as it was in Chicago. His offensive numbers have dropped a little, but his defense has tightened up a bit. Barring any contract extension, Barrett will be a 30 year old free agent at the end of this season. He has made comments that he would like to stay on in San Diego. That may just be lip service. What the Padres intend to do with him will probably be directly dependent on how they finish this season. Personally, I think Barrett would be a great fit for an AL club. I think he would make a pretty good DH and part time catcher/first baseman. We will never know when we might see Michael Barrett at Wrigley Field again. October versus the Padres? You never know. Whenever that time comes, I hope that the Cubs nation will give the man a deserved ovation for three tough seasons of gutty determination and entertainment. He deserves at least that much.

As we drive on, that’s my look Through The Rear View.

Through the Rear View appears every Wednesday. If you have a topic to suggest, send Tony an e-mail.

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Through The Rear View

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Today is the first in a weekly column that I am going to write in a “Where are they now?” sort of format. The column is devoted to former Cub players. In the process of deciding who would lead off my column, I stumbled across this tidbit and my choice became easy.

“After a successful, but frustrating, five-inning outing Sunday, sources said Olsen scuffled with fellow starter Sergio Mitre in a tunnel behind the Florida dugout during the bottom of the fifth.”

That news was in regards to Marlins pitcher Scott Olsen, fighting with former Cub Sergio Mitre. News of former Cubs always catches my eye, but this had the makings of something a little more interesting. There were several versions of the story, but from most accounts it appears that Olsen (emerging candidate for MLB Bonehead of The Year) was being an ass his usual self. His frustration boiled over to berating a clubhouse attendant for a loose button on his uniform shirt. Supposedly Mitre admonished Olsen for his behavior and that is when all hell broke loose. Olsen ended up getting a two game suspension for insubordination. I really liked the sound of Mitre being the good guy. Put that together with the fact that he is having a decent season, and it made profiling Sergio an easy choice for me.

A little history: The Cubs selected Sergio Mitre in the 7th round of the 2001 amateur draft. His rise through the Cubs lower farm system was pretty quick, spending just a year each at Boise and Lansing. His steady improvements at the minor league levels made him a candidate for a call up when Mark Prior and Kerry Wood began to have health problems. Mitre made the jump from AA West Tennessee for his big league debut in July of 2003. In a spot start for an injured Mark Prior, Mitre drew a tough first assignment. He went up against Greg Maddux and the Braves at Turner Field. It proved to be more than the 22 year-old Mitre was ready for. In 3 and 2/3 innings he gave up 8 earned runs on 10 hits and three walks. He went on to take the loss and was sent back down to West Tenn the very next day. Despite his unmemorable major league experience, Mitre enjoyed reasonable success that year in AA ball. All totaled Mitre struck out 128 in 145 innings of work at West Tenn and continued to show promise. All of that promise, along with Prior being hurt AGAIN, led to a 2004 opening day roster spot for Mitre. He would go on to start nine times for the injured Prior, but with fairly unremarkable results. Mitre would spend most of 2004 and 2005 bouncing between Iowa and Chicago. Yet in 2005, he would end up enjoying his longest and most successful run with the big league club. He appeared in a total of 21 games and pitched 60.1 innings as both a starter and reliever that year. The highlight of which, was a complete game shutout against the Florida Marlins. Which may have ended up being an audition of sorts, because in December of 2005 the Cubs shipped Mitre to Florida as part of the Juan Pierre trade.

Now in his second season with the Marlins, the 26 year-old Mitre appears to have finally found his stride. After an injury plagued 2006 campaign, Mitre came back strong for the start of 2007. He had a very good spring for the Marlins and earned himself a spot in the rotation. Since then he has gone on to start 18 games and pitch 105 innings. While his record of 4-5 may not look especially great, he is playing pretty well. The Marlins team is not real good and the bullpen has let Mitre down several times resulting in quite a few no decisions after quality outings. At the time that I started writing this column Mitre was sporting a 2.82 ERA, which was sixth best in all of baseball. However, perfect timing led to Mitre starting last night against the Diamondbacks, and he had a rough night. His ERA is now 3.34, still good enough to be ninth best in the National League. Despite not being a big strikeout guy, Mitre has individual numbers similar to Ben Sheets and Josh Beckett. He simply gets far less help, offensively and defensively. His control is better this year (BB/9 1.89), as well as his efficiency (P/IP 14.30). Unfortunately for Mitre, he is a ground ball pitcher on a team that ranks second to last in fielding percentage and tied for second in team fielding errors. In his return to Wrigley earlier this year, Mitre showed just how much he has grown since leaving the Cubs organization. He allowed just 3 hits, one walk and struck out 7 in just 4 innings of work. He left that game with a hamstring injury, but he looked good.

Personally, my memories of Sergio Mitre have always been tied to the disappointments of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. It probably isn’t fair to lump him into that situation, it’s just hard not to. Mitre spent the early part of his career being shuffled around, based upon the health of those two guys. If the Cubs could have been more patient with Mitre he may have paid dividends for them. He was doing what all teams hope for out of a young prospect by improving every year at every level. Bad timing simply forced the Cubs to put him on a faster development schedule than he was capable of. Consequently, the team struggled to find his identity and pitching role. Now he appears settled as a starter for the Marlins.

I don’t usually end up rooting for a lot of former Cub players to be successful. Yet, I always kind of liked Mitre and only hope for his continued success. Unless of course, his spot in the rotation comes up on September 25th, 26th, or 27th.

As we drive on, that’s my look Through The Rear View.

Through the Rear View appears every Wednesday. If you have a topic to suggest, send Tony an e-mail.

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Small Pieces To A Big Puzzle

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

In my random and relatively small sampling of Cub fans, I have found a mixed reaction to the Kendall deal. The reaction has been mostly positive, but not by all. There are Cub fans out there that wanted to see what Geovany Soto could do. To those people I say, be patient. If Soto is that good, he’ll be back, maybe even by the end of the season. Joe warned that Hank White’s herniated disk may be a season ender, and I cant help but think that this move might be related to the fact that Blanco’s rehab was just delayed due to “unrelated” shoulder pain.

There are others who have the attitude that you “don’t fix, what ain’t broke”. With the Cubs playing well, why would anyone mess with the chemistry of the team? To them I say: Despite how well we play against the Nats, Astros, Rockies, and White Sox, none of those teams will be in the playoffs. There are others who think that we gave away a good prospect on an old rent-a-player. To those people I say: You gotta break a few eggs to make a cake.

Personally, here is how I feel about the Kendall move. Adding a role player with a great work ethic and a team first attitude can only be good for the Cubs. It is a move that I think will have an immediate positive impact. This is not a blockbuster earth-shattering move by any means, but it adds another piece to the puzzle for the Cubs. They are obviously pretty good RIGHT NOW. Does adding guys that will show up every day with hard hat and lunch pail in hand, make them better? Most definitely, and Kendall is that type of guy. A Chicago type of guy.

It was obvious that whatever change the Cubs made at catcher, all they needed for an upgrade was someone who could bat .220+ and provide a decent backstop to the pitching staff. They have done so much better than that. Kendall is more than just an improvement. He is a good catcher, a great handler of the pitching staff, and a pretty good defender. This is a guy that you know who is not only solid, but has the potential to be really good at times. Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes for a guy to feel rejuvenated. A stretch run with a contender may put a little fire back in his belly. All reports say that Kendall is enthusiastic about the deal and excited to be in Chicago. From his early days as a Pirate, Kendall was tough, gritty, and dependable. We all know that he is on the downward side of his 12-year career, but he still carries a good fielding percentage, decent batting average, and fair on-base percentage. Also, don’t forget that he has been to the post season before and gives the Cubs a little veteran leadership. Which was something that the Cubs were supposedly missing at the beginning of the season.

Think big picture people. Kendall is just a small piece of the puzzle that is slowly but surely coming together.

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Friday’s Rumors and Rumblings

Friday, July 13th, 2007

Seems that the Cubs are a hot topic all over the place right now. Lots of interest from a lot of different ‘news’ sources. I wanted to highlight a couple of things and comment on them.

  • The Impending Sale. It is official: A sign that the apocalypse is truly upon us. I have publicly stated it and I’ll say it again. If Mark Cuban happens to buy the Cubs, it will be the biggest test of my Cubs loyalty ever! I don’t like the Tribune ownership and I don’t doubt that some new blood is needed to place the emphasis back on on winning. HOWEVER, if the Cubs nation sells their soul to Mark Cuban for a championship, not even Daniel Friggin’ Webster will be able to save our collective butts. The only Cuban I want running the Cubs is Fidel Castro. He would accept nothing less than victory, and a Havana ‘farm team’ certainly couldn’t hurt.
  • Ken Griffey. There are published reports out of Ohio that say that Griffey himself has limited his trade opportunities to just Atlanta and Chicago. Many so called experts and analysts seem to think that it would be big for the Cubs. I’m not so sure. Let’s see, we’ve got a crowded outfield and we need to be concerned with payroll. Unless Griffey has begun pitching, why on Earth would adding Griffey help? He’s expensive and fragile. I’d rather have Dunn.
  • Contracts, Cash, and Confidence. Here’s an interesting piece of reading that is just one of a few different sources, that state that the league had nothing to do with the squashed JJ to the Marlins deal. Which is a relief. At least to me. It makes me feel like the Cubs may not be as financially handcuffed as I thought that they were because of the impending sale. I think that Hendry did the right thing not just letting JJ go for peanuts. I know that he is a salary dump, but that’s a double edged sword for Hendry. If JJ moves to a new city and picks up a hot stick, while the prospect that we get in exchange does absolutely nothing. Well then, it will just be additional fodder for all of the “I can do better” arm chair GMs. There are quiet a few decent pitchers out there being named as trade bait. I’m a firm believer that the Cubs just aren’t being creative enough to put together a good package that would land someone who can contribute now. With several teams very nearly going into fire sale mode, there are a lot of possibilities. I personally think that Houston is ripe for the picking and hope that Big Jim is feeling them out while they are in town. I don’t know what it would take to get Oswalt, but supposedly he’s being dangled. I know we probably need long to middle relief, but I really like Oswalt. Hill or Marshall could always move to the ‘pen if needed,Anyway, I am excited that we’re finally getting back to the baseball that REALLY matters. Go Cubs!
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    A Look Towards The Weekend

    Thursday, June 28th, 2007

    As we approach the all-star break and the Cubs sit one game below .500, I cannot help but feel pretty good about where the team stands. Seriously, despite how things look in the win/loss columns, the fact of the matter is that the Cubs are in a pretty good position to enter the break within striking distance of Milwaukee. A series win versus Milwaukee and a successful road trip versus two teams that the Cubs should beat up on, could result in the Cubs being 45-42. Hopefully within 5 games of the Brewers come July 10th. Mark my words. Still, I’m getting ahead of myself.

    All of this week’s excitement has been great, but now the real build up starts. Don’t get me wrong, the last seven days have been a wild ride for the Cubs and their fans. The Sox sweep was a much needed confidence boost, and the “The Comeback” was a terrific momentum builder. While the Cubs fought their way back into that game, I think we know that we all owe a large “Domo Arigato” to Kaz Matsui. Yet in the grand scheme of things, it is the upcoming weekend that now looks bigger than ever. So let’s take a little peek ahead.

    The probable pitchers look to be:
    Friday: Yovani Gallardo, RHP (1-0, 2.70) vs. Rich Hill, LHP (5-5, 3.13)
    Saturday: Ben Sheets, RHP (9-3, 3.09) vs. Sean Marshall, LHP (4-2, 2.44)
    Sunday: Dave Bush (6-6, 5.06) vs. Jason Marquis, RHP (5-4, 3.46)

    The Cubs are 5-4 versus the Brewers this year, 4-2 in Milwaukee and 1-2 at home. Overall we have outscored them 51-41.

    The importance of this weekends games cannot be overstated. After this series, the oppurtunities to take head-to-head games versus the Brewers comes down to one more 3 game set in late August. There may not be a better time for the Cubs to be hot. Yet the Brewers are pretty warm themselves. They come in off of a sweep of Houston and winning 13 of their last 15. Buckle up folks, this should be a great series to watch.

    Back to the Brewers pitching. While the Cubs have enjoyed a reasonable amount of success against Dave Bush and Ben Sheets this year, and in the past, they have never seen Gallardo. Gallardo is billed as a “rookie phenom”, and games versus new pitchers are always tough. I visited a few different baseball sites to try and get the book on Gallardo. I pooled and condensed what I read, and here it is.

    Gallardo was called up June 14 to replace Cris Capuano after Capuano went on the 15 day DL. Gallardo was drafted by the Brewers out of high school and has enjoyed a fast rise through High A and AA thanks to a combined 188 Ks last season. This year Gallardo has been having a pretty good year, already amassing 110 Ks in 77 2/3 for AAA Nashville. Gallardo supposedly has 3 very good pitches. A mid 90’s fastball, high 80’s slider, and a very good curveball that has been called the best in all of AAA baseball. He also has a developing change up but supposedly lives on steady use of his fastball and curve. Scouts say that he is very mature in his approach and uses all of his pitches to set up hitters. They also say that he uses drastic changes in speed and various arm slots to keep hitters off balance. His first major league start was a win versus SF, although his numbers were a little less than phenomenal. In 6 1/3 he gave up 4 hits, 3 walks, and struck out 4. He was charged with 3 earned runs and gave up 1 solo HR. Gallardo’s second outing was a little more impressive. In 7 innings of work versus the Royals, Gallardo gave up 5 hits, 2 walks, and struck out 8. He gave up one earned run. The jury is still out on whether to call him a power pitcher or a finesse guy. Apparently he has the ability to us both approaches. A lot of sites did mention the fact that he is a fly ball pitcher and can be beat up with the long ball.

    Looking over the Brewers last month of games, it is obvious that the name of the game for them is run support. Their pitching gives up plenty of runs, but their powerful hitting usually compensates. So really the key to this series has to be the Cubs pitching. The starters continue to do a pretty good job, but the Cubs bullpen is a mess and the Rockies series showed just how vulnerable ANY lead can be going into the late innings. That will have to change for the Cubs to have any success against the Brew Crew. I guess we will find out tomorrow if this day off has helped the bullpen get some rest. If the Cubs hot hitting continues. If Jacques Jones remains a Cub. Most importantly, if “Big Mo” is still hanging around Wrigley. I can hardly wait!

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