Archive for the ‘General’ Category

How the Astros are falling, and the Cubs thriving

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Fast-forward to the 2017 World Series, as Sports Illustrated did. They predicted that the Astros would win the World Series over the Cubs. Now, obviously, a ton has to go right for just one of these teams to be in playoff contention. Each team has picked in the top 5 of the draft the last two years. It looks like 2015 will see those two teams up towards the top of the draft board again, as both teams could finish in last place again. These two teams have been often compared to each other during their respective rebuilds. The rebuild has been acquire minor league talent by drafting high and trading major league players for more minor league talent. For the Cubs that is looking pretty good. For the Astros, it is not working out so much.

Both the Cubs and the Astros ranked in the top 5 of farm systems in baseball at the beginning of the season, according to Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus. The top prospects on the lists for each team was Javier Baez for the Cubs and Carlos Correa for the Astros, both shortstops. Baez’s stats are known throughout Cub land. Through the first half, Baez has a .240/.305/.449 slash line in AAA Iowa with incredible bat speed and power that has led to 14 home runs so far this year. To go with those solid numbers, Baez also participated in the Future’s Game and got two at bats. One of which, off of Nationals top prospect Lucas Giolito, he took a curveball the other way for a home run. Correa, however, hasn’t had the luck that a top prospect usually has. The former number one overall pick was hitting .325/.416/.510 at High A Lancaster in 62 games. Unfortunately, the 19 year fractured his fibula in late June and has been lost for the season. Who knows in Correa will come back the same; regardless, he has lost a year of development.

In the 2013 MLB Draft, the Astros picked number 1 and the Cubs picked number 2. Houston selected a right handed pitcher from Stanford, Mark Appel. To follow, the Cubs selected a third baseman from San Diego University, Kris Bryant. Appel was the sought after top pick. He failed to sign with the Pirates the year before after being drafted 8th overall by Pittsburgh. The right hander had a decent start to his professional career in 2013, compiling a 3.79 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 10 starts that covered 38 innings. 2014 has been a complete disaster for Appel. The 2013 top pick has pitched all year in High A Lancaster. In 38.1 innings, the right hander has been shelled to the tune of a 10.80 ERA, 69 hits, and 49 runs (46 earned). In Appel’s last two starts, he has pitched a combined 6 innings while giving up 20 hits and 14 earned runs. On the other hand, Kris Bryant has flown through the Cubs system up to AAA Iowa. The third baseman has played 128 games and 463 at bats in his professional career and compiled a slash line of .343/.430/.698 to go with 40 homeruns and 113 RBIs. In 2014, Bryant has spent time in AA Tennessee and AAA Iowa while hitting .346/.444/.701 with 31 home runs and 81 RBIs. Keith Law of ESPN has ranked Kris Bryant the number 1 overall prospect in all of baseball in his midseason rankings.

Now in the 2014 MLB Draft, the Astros again picked number one overall and the Cubs picked 4th. While the Astros took the top talent available, high school lefty Brady Aiken, fears about his elbow have made negotiations between the two sides very tense. As the deadline for signing draft picks approaches, it is possible that the Astros lose Aiken, and possibly other picks that were signed with the savings they thought they would get by signing Aiken. It could turn into a complete mess with the Astros getting a compensation pick in next year’s draft. As for the Cubs fourth overall pick, Kyle Schwarber has made his way all the way up to High A Daytona in just 28 games. Through those 28 games and one game with Daytona, in which he went 0-2 with two walks, he has hit .400/484/.733 with 8 home runs and 9 doubles.

As the rebuilding efforts continue for both teams, the Cubs seem to have the upper hand. The Astros have been that Cinderella story earlier in the season with George Springer and Jonathan Singleton coming up and getting on Sports Illustrated, but that magic has faded as they have come back down to the second worst team in baseball. As for the Cubs, they would pick 5th in the draft next year. They probably have the top farm system in the game and the talent is close to the big leagues. The Astros on the other hand have talent, but it is in the lower minors. Sports Illustrated was correct with their pick of the Cubs to represent the NL in the 2017 World Series, but the Astros might be a few more years after that.

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Grading the Cubs at the All-Star Break

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

When I am not blogging or writing critically acclaimed books about the Chicago Cubs, my “real” job is as a Social Studies teacher.  This fall I will begin my 24th year as an educator.  It is for this reason, that I use the prototypical A-F grading scale when assessing most things in life; a movie, television shows, music, food…anything!  I find this grading system much better than using say…stars.  The A-F system seems more tangible to me, and it allows the nuance of using pluses and minuses.  The differing variation this system permits allows more accuracy and meaning…in my opinion.  However, before I use this system to evaluate the performance thus far of the 2014Chicago Cubs, I have to add a caveat…I rarely award anything an A+.  An A+ has to be absolutely flawless…two examples would be The Sopranos and Goodfellas (yes…I find the mafia interesting!).  I just realized that I really didn’t need to even address my A+ theory, because the Cubs have no A+ players.

For the purpose of this exercise, I am only going to grade players who are currently on the roster (like a class roster I suppose)…so Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, and Jose Veras(yuck!) will not be graded.  So here goes…to debate, laugh at, or agree with…my assessment of the 2014 Chicago Cubs at the All-Star break:

NEIL RAMIREZ                   A

Ramirez has been dominant, as evident by his 11.9 K’s per 9 rate.  The question going forward is whether the Cubs will keep him in the ‘pen or try him in the rotation? At this point, Ramirez is the most valuable commodity from the Garza trade.

ARISMENDY ALCANTARA                  A

Yes, I know, I know…very small sample size, but he is currently on the roster.  For five Major League games, Alcantara has been phenomenal (1.139 OPS).  Aside from the limited stats, by the “eye test” the kid looks like a player to me…smooth in everything he does.

JAKE ARRIETA                   A

Considering that only Clayton Kershaw was more dominant over the last month and a half, Arrieta gets an A even with a smaller sample size due to an early season injury. Arrieta leads the Cubs in most advanced metrics on Fangraphs…even when including the two Oakland cast-offs.

ANTHONY RIZZO               A-

A great first half, but Rizzo’s OPS has dipped below the .900 mark recently…and I would like to see him cut down the K’s just a smidge.

JAMES RUSSELL                B+

Here’s hoping he has pitched himself into a trade (an LOB percentage of 82%!)…a couple of early outings keep Russell from an A-.

STARLIN CASTRO              B

His awful, inexcusable base-running decision on Sunday made me drop him from a B+.  I have been a Starlin defender all year but that miscue (making the 1st out on a passed ball with the bases loaded), should never happen.  His walks are up, power numbers are good, yet not enough defensive improvement to warrant an A-.

WESLEY WRIGHT              B

If you like advanced metrics like WPA (winning percentage added by the pitcher), then Wrights numbers aren’t quite as good as they look…in 8 of his 34 appearances he has decreased the Cubs chances of winning.  His recent numbers have been good, and he is a flip candidate as well.

HECTOR RONDON             B

Rondon’s grade probably should be higher (I like to be tough on pitchers…I have had complaints from parents), but apparently Hector did something to the BAPIP family. While all of his other numbers have improved remarked ably, the .358 BAPIP seems to be a statistical anomaly.

LUIS VALBUENA       B

This grade would have been higher without a bit of a tailspin lately, but I have personally done a 180 on Luis…his defensive metrics aren’t awful, he is versatile, and he has some of the better at bats on the squad.  Valbuena would be the prototypical Oakland A’s type player.

EMILIO BONIFACIO          B (currently on DL)

I really don’t think his first two weeks fooled many Cubs’ fans into thinking he was going to challenge Ted Williams .406…but even after cooling off (in a big way), Bonifacio still has value…to the Cubs or another club.  I am in the minority, but I would like to see the Cubs’ sign him to a reasonable 2-3 year contract.  His versatility and elite speed make him an asset…and we can’t trade ALL of the veterans.

PEDRO STROP           B-

Strop’s 15.4 % HR/FB ratio stands out like a big zit. (Sorry…how about a mole, or a wart?) Strop is one of those maddening guys that looks so, so nasty on occasion.  Strop is a possible flip candidate.

JUSTIN RUGGIANO & CHRIS COGHLAN            C+

I am grading these two together because these two former Marlins’ stats are almost identical! They are like twins, except one bats right-handed and the other is a lefty.  I actually think Ruggiano’s early season injury hurt the Cubs more than we realized…both are now possibly trade bait.

BRIAN SCHLITTER C+

Yes, he looks like Jesus…although I think he also looks like the lead singer from the fictional rock group Stillwater from the film Almost Famous….thus I refer to him as Jesus Stillwater or Fever Dog. (The group’s faux hit single) I have concerns with Schlitters’ low K rate of 4.68 regarding future success…but he has stranded 71% of runners and has a groundball rate of 57.5%.  He has pitched well enough that apparently Ricky Renteria thinks he needs to pitch in every game.

WELLINGTON CASTILLO                   C+

Did anyone else notice that the Cubs’ best stretch of the season happened to be when John Baker and Eli Whiteside were doing the catching? Oh, definitely not for their offense…but the pitching was very good during that stretch.  Castillo’s offense isn’t bad for a catcher, and I will admit that the C+ may be based on one play; when I saw Castillo gun down Billy Hamilton with ease. (Probably shouldn’t determine a grade based on one play)

JUSTIN GRIMM                   C

Grimm shows promise, and he may also suffer from Ricky’s “he can pitch every day plan”. I will throw out the metrics here and just offer an assessment based on the “eye test” again.  Grimm’s fastball appears straight, and at 92-94 that won’t play as a reliever.  I think a conversion back to a starter would be best for Grimm; work on command of that fastball, and develop complimentary pitches.  He’s 25, so I still see much upside.

TRAVIS WOOD          C

Yes…this might seem a bit high for a guy with a 4.96 ERA, but I am giving Travis a break. (Call him a teacher’s pet if you must)  Wood still has 10 quality starts, and a couple of really, really (really) bad outings killed that ERA. I think he gets up to a solid B- by the end of the term. (season)

CARLOS VILLANUEVA     C-

That Carlos gets a passing grade at all may anger some people, but he also has a high BAPIP (.369). At this point in his career Carlos seems to be able to fool a team once through the line-up, which is…ahem…a little tough to do as a starter.

NATE SCHIERHOLTZ        D+

A very slow start, coupled with a career year in 2013 needs to factor into Schierholtz grade not being a bit lower. However, I can’t sugar coat a .564 OPS for an outfielder.

JOHN BAKER             D+

With Baker’s paltry offense, I can’t believe I am passing him.  Here’s why; he was Hammel’s personal catcher, and that worked out pretty well…so Baker avoids the F.

JUNIOR LAKE & MIKE OLT               D+

There two are long overdue for parent/teacher conferences! Their prodigious pop keeps them passing, but their at bats are really tough to watch right now.  Here is what I can’t figure out; are they being coached?…and if they are, they must not be listening.  I was only a high school coach, but I am confident that I see things in their approach and mechanics that should be altered.  These two are way too young to give up on.

EDWIN JACKSON     D

Cubs’ fans favorite punching bag has once again been a huge disappointment.  I won’t even get into ALL of the (mostly ugly) numbers, just this…he needs to at least start getting 6 innings in his starts. Complaining about his contract is silly, $11-13 million a year for 2 years…please…do we forget 2010 when we had Zambrano, Sori, Fukudome, and a washed up D-Lee…eating up over $80 million?  From all accounts he’s a great teammate, just let him pitch and hope (pray?) for the best.

DARWIN BARNEY     D

Yes, he still makes defensive plays that make me go “wow”, and he is a slightly (emphasis on slight) better offensive player than he has shown.  Yet he has had the better part of four seasons to hit now…it’s time to pull the plug.  Alcantara, or any of the other 50 Cubs’ infield prospects with more offensive upside, need to start getting at bats.

RYAN SWEENEY       F

Why is he on the team? That is all.

DALLAS BEELER, TSUYOSHI WADA, CHRIS RUSIN, & KYLE HENDRICKS        INC.

These players have basically just been added to the class.

BILL MUELLER (HITTING COACH)                               INC.

Too early for me to make an accurate assessment…Castro, Rizzo making huge bounce backs, but I see some of the same things over and over again(Lake & Olt). Chris Coghlan recently credited him for his resurgence…so I will wait until the end of the year to assess Mr. Mueller.

CHRIS BOSIO (PITCHING COACH)                                 A

This is the third straight year that Bosio has turned a project into a very valuable flip candidate…and more pitchers seem to be improving than regressing.  The guy is doing something right.

RICKY RENTERIA              C

Some may feel he deserves more time as well…but personally I have been frustrated with his over managing of the bullpen.  I realize that Wood and Jackson rarely give him 6 innings, and he HAS to use the pen…but I have seen many games when he has used 5-6 pitchers and could have easily done it with 3-4.  The bullpen wearing out this season won’t matter much, unless one of them gets injured. On the positive, you have to give him partial credit for the Castro/Rizzo bounce backs.  Renteria also appears to be an upgrade over Svuem in how he deals with the media.  My gut says he will be okay…of course I thought the same about Mike Quade. (I kid, I kid!)

Now it’s your turn! Agree, disagree, tell me I am stupid…I am very interested to hear your opinions,

…class dismissed. (I don’t think I have ever said that in 24 years…kids just get up and leave at the bell…looking at their phones as they walk out the door.)

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What to do with Edwin Jackson?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Heading into the winter of 2012, the Cubs’ biggest free agency target was right handed starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, offering him a 5 year, $75 million deal. Unfortunately for the Cubs and their fans, Sanchez made it clear that he wanted to stay with the Detroit Tigers, the team he was traded to the previous summer, and gave the Tigers the opportunity to match or beat any offer he received from other teams. When the Tigers offered Sanchez a 5 year, $80 million deal, the Cubs moved on to plan B: Edwin Jackson, on a 4 year, $52 million contract.

While no one ever thought Jackson was as good as Sanchez, evidenced by the nearly $30 million difference between their contracts, Jackson had been a solid mid-rotation starter who could eat innings from 2009 to 2012. Yet while Sanchez found the next gear in his career since the start of the 2013 season,  progressing from a solid 2/3 to an ace caliber pitcher in 2013, Jackson took several steps back. While he’s eaten up innings, he’s done it at well below replacement value according the Baseball-Reference’s WAR.

There was an argument last season that it was just bad luck or random variation. His FIP and xFIP have been better than his ERA as a Cub (4.98 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 3.86 xFIP in 2013; 5.64 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 4.04 xFIP in 2014) and his strikeout and walk rates were close to his more successful stretch from 2009-2012, particularly last season. But we’re nearly 300 innings in, he has not been able to get consistent results (except when they’re consistently bad), and nearly 27% of batted balls against him in 2014 have been line drives (league average is 20%), leading credence to the argument that he’s being squared up by opposing hitters this season.

The real question, with nearly two and a half years and approximately $27 million left on Jackson’s deal and the Cubs likely looking to be more competitive next season, what can the Cubs do with Jackson?

The all the stars aligning answer is some fringe contender thinking they can fix what ails Jackson and offering to take a fair amount of the money off the Cubs hands for some lottery ticket prospect.  But is there a team that desperate, or a general manager that dumb with the Phillies being terrible? Probably not. The best target may actually be the Yankees, who just need arms to throw innings with all the injuries they’ve dealt with, and are always capable of adding payroll, but I’d be surprised if Cashman would take on a struggling 30 year old starter with a contract that long this month.

Should Jackson not be tradeable, as presumed, the Cubs really have no choice but to keep pitching Edwin Jackson for the remainder of 2014 to see if Jackson can turn it around. If he can’t? Can the Cubs really go into 2015 planning on Edwin Jackson throwing 180 innings or more? I don’t think so. It would mean admitting an expensive mistake, but not as expensive as continuing to throw Jackson as is out there every fifth game, particularly considering the Cubs’ ability to find solid mid-rotation arms on short term deals. The next two and a half months, though, are going to be very important for the future of Edwin Jackson’s career, and the construction of the 2015 starting rotation.

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All-Star Teams Are Announced, Another Ace Goes Down & More!

Monday, July 14th, 2014

It’s hard to believe, but the MLB All-Star break is now upon us. So much has happened in the first half of the season, and this week was no different. Let’s get to it!

All-Star Teams Finally Set

After being released towards the beginning of last week, the All-Star rosters are finally set following the All-Star Final Vote and the adjustment of the teams due to injuries and starting pitchers having thrown to close to Tuesday’s game.

Fans in Chicago had to be elated at the results of the Final Vote, as it was a clean sweep for the Windy City with Chris Sale and Anthony Rizzo both earning a spot on the respective teams. Rizzo, especially, has a reason to be proud, as he was the leading vote getter among all of the players eligible.

Much like every year, there were a few players who have a right to be upset about the results of the voting. Los Angeles Angels starter Garrett Richards has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball this year but didn’t get the nod, and Miami Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee didn’t make the cut even though he leads all third basemen in hits, and leads National League third basemen in RBI’s.

It’s impossible to create a team like this without leaving out some worthy players, however, so it’s tough to get too upset. With as much talent as there is in baseball, this would be a difficult game to bet on, but if I had to guess I’d say that the National League will wind up taking this one home. Who do you think was the biggest ASG snub? And what are your predictions for the game?

Home Run Derby Contestants Named

One of the best parts of baseball’s All-Star weekend is undoubtedly the Home Run Derby. This year should be no different in terms of excitement, especially considering the heavy hitters that are on both squads.

For the American League, Jose Bautista and reigning champion Yoenis Cespedes should be considered the favorites, but Brian Dozier, Adam Jones and Josh Donaldson certainly won’t be pushovers. With the new bracket-style format, I expect that Cespedes will again make his way to the finals.

Over on the National League side of things, youngsters Giancarlo Stanton and Yasiel Puig headline a team that’s full of pop. They also have a former champion on their side in Justin Morneau, but Todd Frazier and Troy Tulowitzki can’t be forgotten. Ultimately, I think Stanton’s raw power will allow him to advance to take on Cespedes.

If the final ends up being Stanton and Cespedes like I predict, we’re going to be in for quite a show. Stanton has become known for the light tower power that he exhibits, and Cespedes put himself on the scene last year with his performance. When it comes down to it, though, I’m taking Stanton to win it all. Who’s your pick in this year’s Derby? How do you feel about the new bracket format?

Tanaka To Miss Time With Elbow Issues

The dreaded injury bug has taken claim to yet another promising young arm, this time being New York Yankees star Masahiro Tanaka. After leaving against Cleveland this week, the initial reports aren’t that promising, though they could definitely be worse.

It was reported that Tanaka has a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. This is the last thing you want to hear about a pitcher, as it’s tears in this ligament that often result in the infamous Tommy John surgery, which can keep players out for over a year.

Fortunately for the Yankees and Tanaka, it doesn’t appear to warrant surgery at this point. They’re going to go with a six-week plan of rest, rehab and platelet-rich-plasma therapy, which is known to drastically improve recovery times in injuries involving tendons.

It’s far too early to make any judgment regarding the injury, but this could doom the Yankees. Their starting pitching took a hit with the loss of CC Sabathia last week, and Tanaka has been infinitely more important to the team thus far. You have to wonder if the years of strain placed on his arm in Japan had anything to do with this injury. If this injury winds up being season-ending, do you think it could affect the contracts of others making the jump from international leagues to the MLB?

This Week’s MVP: Andrew McCutchen (.357/.406/.929, 4 HR, 8 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: Hisashi Iwakuma (2-0, 1.15 ERA, 18 K)

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Five Things Cub Fans Should Know For Monday

Monday, July 14th, 2014

1. Arismendy Alcantara is making a case to stay – When Darwin Barney went on paternity leave, we were told that Alcantara was going to be recalled for the two days and then sent back down. The weekend is over and he’s still here and he’s still hitting. I just don’t see a point in sending him back now. As guys begin to get traded as we get closer to the non-waiver deadline, fans are going to need things to be excited about. They need a reason to watch the team. Having Alcantara on the team gives them a chance to see a glimpse at the future.

2. Kris Bryant and Javier Baez competed in the Futures Game – Why the game is not the showcased event on Sunday night before the All Star game is beyond me. This is an example of where I think MLB misses the mark. They miss opportunities to market their future stars and showcase them. It’s as if they are just so arrogant to think that there will always be interest in the sport and they don’t need to market. Nonetheless, both Bryant and Baez competed in the game. Baez went 1-for-2 with a two run home run in the 6th inning to give the World team a 2-1 lead. Bryant went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts and walk.

3. Post All Star break pitching rotation announced – The Cubs announced that the weekend series following the break would feature Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, and then Jake Arrieta. The next two slots were not announced. My guess is that it will be Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks based on their outings. Dallas Beeler struggled and Dan Straily has been so so in AAA since being acquired.

4. Trade Rumors have quieted – Don’t get too bummed. My guess is that we’re going to see things heat up after the break. Even GM’s need a little time off.

5. No Cubs in the HR Derby – I’m OK with that. Anthony Rizzo expressed interest in the spot, and it would be cool to see him represent, but that park is a tough park for HR hitters from the left side. I’d rather him not participate and risk not hitting any. Just get the video camera out and enjoy the show. My money is on Yoenes Cespedes to repeat.

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Who could be the next Cub moved?

Friday, July 11th, 2014

While the fireworks were going off on the 4th of July, the Cubs were making fireworks of their own. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer teamed up with Oakland GM Billy Beane to construct the first massive trade of the year. The Cubs sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s for their top two prospects, Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, along with up-and-down pitcher Dan Straily. The Cubs shocked everyone by trading their two biggest chips this early in July, but they aren’t done on the trading market.

There are multiple pieces still left on the roster that can be moved for solid return packages. The Cubs really don’t have any one on their roster that is untradeable. Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jake Arrieta, and Welington Castillo would probably be the closest to that untradeable title. However, the rest of the roster is full of players that can be flipped.

Starting out in the infield, Luis Valbuena is an interesting piece to a contender. Valbuena can play solid defense at third and second while contributing by getting on base. His 11.3 BB% and .334 OPS are both great for a platoon option at second or third, while providing above average defense and 80 grade bat-flipping.  Another infielder that can provide value to a contender is Darwin Barney. Barney, the 2012 Gold Glove award winner at second, doesn’t give much at the plate, but he is one of the best defenders in the game. At the dish this year, Barney is just hitting .224 with a measly .577 OPS. However, as stated above, his value comes from his defense. As a late inning replacement, he can really help out a team in need for that defensive upgrade. With Arismendy Alcantara coming up the last two days and performing quite well at second and at the plate, one of these guys could be on their way out sooner rather than later.

The outfield is much more crowded with names that could be traded. Nate Schierholtz is the name that comes up most often. The right fielder, a free agent at the end of the year, is hitting only .204 on the year with a .566 OPS, but can provide solid defense in right. He is just a half of a year removed from hitting 21 home runs for the Cubs in 2013. A big second half could be in the cards for Schierholtz.  Second player that could be on the move in the Cubs outfield is Chris Coghlan. Brought in on a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training this spring, Coghlan has found himself regularly hitting leadoff and playing left or center for the Cubs.  In July, he is catching fire. In 36 at bats this month, he has 14 hits and a 9.3 BB%.  One player that has been mentioned is Junior Lake. This certainly doesn’t seem likely to happen. A change of scenery is said to be the reason Lake’s name has been out on the market. However, the outfielder has not yet completed a full season in the majors and is still relatively young at 24. Lake has had his struggles, only having 16 hits in 93 June and July at bats, therefore his stock is not high at this point.

Shifting to the pitching side, the rotation looks to stand pat. Edwin Jackson doesn’t look like an attractive piece to a contender, with a 5.05 ERA and walking nearly four men per nine. Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta are both cost controlled beyond this year, so both pitchers can be instrumental parts in the competitive Cubs’ teams that hopefully start winning next year. The bullpen has a few pieces that could be moved to help out contenders. The first of these pitchers is left hander Wesley Wright. The lefty was granted free agency by the Rays and signed by the Cubs in December. Wright is in the second year of arbitration, therefore he will have one year of team control beyond this year.  The lefty has been excellent in his 26.1 innings this season. He enters Friday with a sparkling 2.39 ERA and 2.85 FIP. Plus, his LOB% is at 79.7%, meaning he basically leaves 4 out of every 5 men on base, which is the second highest rate of his career.  The second lefty that could be on the move is James Russell. The reliever is the longest tenured Cub, called up in 2010, and one of the most used relievers in baseball over the last two years. Russell, like Wright, is in the second year of arbitration, meaning he is under team control through 2015. The lefty specialist has a reverse split in his 25.1 innings pitched, which means he is better against right handed hitters than left handed hitters. Against righties, he is allowing a microscopic .108 batting average against in 53 at bats against. His ERA is also fantastic at 2.84 through 35 games with a sparkling .203 BABIP against, which is 76 points lower than his career mark. The final bullpen arm that could be moved prior to the July 31st deadline is swing man Carlos Villanueva.  Villanueva is valuable for several reasons. One of these reasons his he is only owed $2.5 million for the rest of the year. Also, he is a free agent at the end of the year and as stated before, he is a swing man. The right hander can come in and make a spot start or be a long reliever in the pen.  Villanueva’s ERA (6.47) is a bit inflated due to a bad month of April, but he is a solid piece for a contender.

As Theo and Jed have actively said after the Samardzija/Hammel trade, this is the last year of being sellers. The Cubs will trade the pieces that aren’t necessarily in the future plans for players that will fit in the competitive window that has become clearer after this trade. The picture has become a lot more visible and 2015 cannot come soon enough for Cubs fans. It is going to be a fun ride. For now, however, there will be more movement by the front office.

While the fireworks were going off on the 4th of July, the Cubs were making fireworks of their own. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer teamed up with Oakland GM Billy Beane to construct the first massive trade of the year. The Cubs sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s for their top two prospects, Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, along with up-and-down pitcher Dan Straily. The Cubs shocked everyone by trading their two biggest chips this early in July, but they aren’t done on the trading market.

There are multiple pieces still left on the roster that can be moved for solid return packages. The Cubs really don’t have any one on their roster that is untradeable. Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jake Arrieta, and Welington Castillo would probably be the closest to that untradeable title. However, the rest of the roster is full of players that can be flipped.

Starting out in the infield, Luis Valbuena is an interesting piece to a contender. Valbuena can play solid defense at third and second while contributing by getting on base. His 11.3 BB% and .334 OPS are both great for a platoon option at second or third, while providing above average defense and 80 grade bat-flipping.  Another infielder that can provide value to a contender is Darwin Barney. Barney, the 2012 Gold Glove award winner at second, doesn’t give much at the plate, but he is one of the best defenders in the game. At the dish this year, Barney is just hitting .224 with a measly .577 OPS. However, as stated above, his value comes from his defense. As a late inning replacement, he can really help out a team in need for that defensive upgrade. With Arismendy Alcantara coming up the last two days and performing quite well at second and at the plate, one of these guys could be on their way out sooner rather than later.

The outfield is much more crowded with names that could be traded. Nate Schierholtz is the name that comes up most often. The right fielder, a free agent at the end of the year, is hitting only .204 on the year with a .566 OPS, but can provide solid defense in right. He is just a half of a year removed from hitting 21 home runs for the Cubs in 2013. A big second half could be in the cards for Schierholtz.  Second player that could be on the move in the Cubs outfield is Chris Coghlan. Brought in on a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training this spring, Coghlan has found himself regularly hitting leadoff and playing left or center for the Cubs.  In July, he is catching fire. In 36 at bats this month, he has 14 hits and a 9.3 BB%.  One player that has been mentioned is Junior Lake. This certainly doesn’t seem likely to happen. A change of scenery is said to be the reason Lake’s name has been out on the market. However, the outfielder has not yet completed a full season in the majors and is still relatively young at 24. Lake has had his struggles, only having 16 hits in 93 June and July at bats, therefore his stock is not high at this point.

Shifting to the pitching side, the rotation looks to stand pat. Edwin Jackson doesn’t look like an attractive piece to a contender, with a 5.05 ERA and walking nearly four men per nine. Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta are both cost controlled beyond this year, so both pitchers can be instrumental parts in the competitive Cubs’ teams that hopefully start winning next year. The bullpen has a few pieces that could be moved to help out contenders. The first of these pitchers is left hander Wesley Wright. The lefty was granted free agency by the Rays and signed by the Cubs in December. Wright is in the second year of arbitration, therefore he will have one year of team control beyond this year.  The lefty has been excellent in his 26.1 innings this season. He enters Friday with a sparkling 2.39 ERA and 2.85 FIP. Plus, his LOB% is at 79.7%, meaning he basically leaves 4 out of every 5 men on base, which is the second highest rate of his career.  The second lefty that could be on the move is James Russell. The reliever is the longest tenured Cub, called up in 2010, and one of the most used relievers in baseball over the last two years. Russell, like Wright, is in the second year of arbitration, meaning he is under team control through 2015. The lefty specialist has a reverse split in his 25.1 innings pitched, which means he is better against right handed hitters than left handed hitters. Against righties, he is allowing a microscopic .108 batting average against in 53 at bats against. His ERA is also fantastic at 2.84 through 35 games with a sparkling .203 BABIP against, which is 76 points lower than his career mark. The final bullpen arm that could be moved prior to the July 31st deadline is swing man Carlos Villanueva.  Villanueva is valuable for several reasons. One of these reasons his he is only owed $2.5 million for the rest of the year. Also, he is a free agent at the end of the year and as stated before, he is a swing man. The right hander can come in and make a spot start or be a long reliever in the pen.  Villanueva’s ERA (6.47) is a bit inflated due to a bad month of April, but he is a solid piece for a contender.

As Theo and Jed have actively said after the Samardzija/Hammel trade, this is the last year of being sellers. The Cubs will trade the pieces that aren’t necessarily in the future plans for players that will fit in the competitive window that has become clearer after this trade. The picture has become a lot more visible and 2015 cannot come soon enough for Cubs fans. It is going to be a fun ride. For now, however, there will be more movement by the front office.

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There is no such thing as a shortstop “logjam”

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Did you ever play baseball as a kid? Were you ever on any kind of baseball (or softball) team; high school, college, little league, Pony league, Cub Scout ball, church league softball or even beer league softball? If yes, answer this:

Who played shortstop? I am guessing that would be the best freaking player on the team! It may have possibly been the second best if the top player was pitching, playing centerfield or catching.  I have watched, played and coached baseball since 1975…and here are 2 statements I have never heard;

  1. “He looks pretty good in left field and first base, let’s try him at shortstop”.
  2. “I like his bat, let’s try to hide him at shortstop”.

Think about it…have you ever heard of a player moved to shortstop? No, of course not…and it stems from the simple reasoning above…probably 95 percent of the time shortstops are the best athletes on their respective teams.  If they aren’t…it’s a pitcher, catcher or centerfielder.  Therefore when the Cubs acquired Addison Russell last week, I had to remind even my most astute baseball friends about this fact.  Let’s look at some evidence;

Here are Hall of Famers who were drafted (or signed) as shortstops…yet they played other positions during their particular careers; George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Paul Molitor, Ryne Sandberg, Wade Boggs, and Roberto AlomarYikes! Three of the top 3B of all time, and Ryno and Robbie…were all shortstops. Molitor couldn’t even play in the field (he was a DH) for the latter part of his career, yet he was a SS at one time. When the Brewers drafted Molitor in 1977, they already had future Hall-of Famer Robin Yount manning the position.

I guess they weren’t worried about a “shortstop logjam”.

Here are some more names of players from the last 25 years who were originally shortstops (some potential HOFers): Chipper Jones, Jim Thome(look it up if you don’t believe it Jim Thome was drafted as a SS!), Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, Alfonso Soriano(ugh, he could barely play left in the bigs!), Brian Roberts, Michael Young, Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, and Justin Upton. ***side note, I compiled these examples with 20 minutes of research…I am in full Grad-Party Prep Mode and this little column is allowing me a 2 hour break.

What do you notice about the recent names? It includes great second basemen, third baseman, and outfielders…and the reason is very simple…other than catcher, shortstops can play anywhere!  I would wager with much deeper research…including pitchers…you would find many more former shortstops.

Instead of questioning this strategy, Cubs’ fans should be welcoming it.  It’s what good front offices have been doing for years…and the Cubs? Ty Griffin, Brooks Kieschnick, Ryan Harvey, Earl Cunningham…not shortstops. (I apologize for bringing up these names) Luis Montanez and Kevin Orie were drafted as shortstops…so…umm…well…not all shortstops pan out, especially those drafted by the Cubs in the 1990s.

For what it’s worth, here is what I see happening; Starlin Castro slides over to 2B where his contract and bat play very well. Javier Baez, plays 3B or RF depending on how Kris Bryant shakes out.  Arismendy Alcantara plays CF, and Russell, who scouts say has the best glove…plays SS.  I could be way off with these projections…Castro could remain at SS, Baez could play 2B, and Russell could play CF…or some other combination, because…shortstops can play all of these other positions…and usually well.

So when next you hear someone state that the Cubs’ have a shortstop or middle infield logjam, correct them and say;

“The Cubs now have a surplus of some of the best young athletes in the game”

…and if that doesn’t work bring up the Schmidt, Brett, and Boggs thing.

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GirlieView (07/10/2014)

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

GirlieView Definitions

  • Lizzie = A funny, timely quote made on the VFTB site by our writers or commenters.
  • Lizard = The best Lizzie.
  • MVL = Most Valuable Lizzie’er: The person with the most Lizzies in the period under review (usually the past two weeks.)
  • Top 10 of the 2014 Season = The folks with the most aggregate Lizzie points YTD (1 point for every Lizzie, 3 points for every Lizard.)

As you already know, this is all completely subjective and according to my whims.

Lizzies

  • the more die hard and knowledgeable a fan is, the less likely they are to be jerks to another teams’ fans.
  • The day Harry signed with the Cubs he said it was the happiest day of his life. They just got happier after that with the help of Budweiser.
  • Harry always new where his bread was buttered.
  • A larger container of feminine hygiene fluid you will never meet.
  • Deep dish my hairy white butt.
  • I find that hairy white butt comment offensive to Seymour.
  • Nah, it’s OK… after all, he’s talking about Pizza, one of the four essential food groups. Being passionate is perfectly understandable.
  • Drinks on me…you can upgrade to a large Diet Mtn Dew, Seymour. You deserve it.
  • Personally, I’d be all in favor of a Saturday double header each week and Sunday’s off.
  • How about double headers on Sunday with Monday off? We need entertainment on Sunday’s.
  • We have you for that.
  • I believe Ike hit Tina and Bobby Brown hit Houston.
  • Rack it!
  • The spreadsheet also says their offense sucks, incase anyone did not notice. Glad to confirm it for you.
  • That’s 4 wins in a row. The playoff odds are sure to increase! Perhaps not such an achievement considering the odds really don’t have any room to decrease.
  • Sometimes it’s better to just not speak.
  • I like it. Feel free to stockpile great shortstops.
  • I’m banking on Theo to have a better grasp of the rebuild process than I do…
  • Right on, Sherm!
  • Personally, I can’t see why any true Cub fan would have a problem with this trade.
  • Learned about this right here this morning. VFTB your leader in sports news.
  • How come it’s never a woman wearing beer goggles making out with an ugly guy?
  • Because women aren’t that stupid.
  • When you leave 12 men on base, it’s hard to win the ballgame.
  • Look at that…our loss has vaulted our playoff chances by nearly a percent *and* prom dresses are still cheap.

Lizard

  • Last night makes tomorrow look a whole lot better.

Shout Outs

  • A hearty 2014-Season welcome to Let’s Get in the 21st Century and Sherm, both scoring their first in-season Lizzie this time around. Thanks for being here!

MVL

  • Congratulations to Eddie von White, our Most Valuable Lizzie-er this time! Way to go Eddie!

Top 10 of the 2014 Season (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. jswanson
2. Doc Raker
3. Eddie Von White
4. Seymour Butts
5. Joe Aiello
6. Chuck
7. Dork
8. Doug S.
9. Jerry in Wisconsin
9. Mark From Toronto

Chit Chat

Who would you rank as your all time Cubs prospect busts?

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5 Things Cubs Fans Should Know for July 10

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

I’ve seen a lot of fans that are in panic mode, saying we’ll never win again, and that this management has no idea what it’s doing. They are riding the fact that we haven’t won a game since the big trade and that it was all a horrible mistake. To that I say: you’re a moron. Let’s get on with the five things you need to know to start your Cubs fan day.

1. The Cubs lost again to the Reds last night – It brings the losing streak to six games now, and like I mentioned, no wins since the trade. Dallas Beeler got start number two of his ML career, and I would describe it as mediocre. Then again, it’s important to know what Beeler brings to the table. He’s not a guy who is going to overpower you with his stuff. In his minor league career, he has averaged 5.8 strikeouts per 9 innings of work. He’s not that kind of pitcher. Even last night you saw him hovering in the upper 80′s and low 90′s so it’s important to know what we’re getting in a guy like him. We’re looking for serviceable back end of the rotation production, which if you read my piece yesterday, is hard to get. Generally 5th starters do not produce much value. Beeler wasn’t horrible last night and given the fact that our pen is generally regarded as above average, I think you can win with a guy like him in the 5th slot.

The biggest frustration about this series has been the lack of production when it comes to getting runners in. It wasn’t as much of a story this game, but overall so far this series, I feel like we’re wasting our chances and the Reds are taking advantage of just about every one of theirs. It’s been the difference.

2. I hate manager ejections – If you missed it, Ricky Renteria came out to argue a foul ball that was not reviewable about midway through the game and promptly got tossed by the third base umpire. That wasn’t enough and he proceeded to continue to follow the ump to try to get more in, despite the fact that the umpire continued to try to end the confrontation and walk away. Tell me I’m wrong if you will, but I cannot stand it when managers come out and argue to the point of getting tossed. There simply is no place for it and it’s classless. An umpire is not going to toss you unless you’re being disrespectful, generally, which means when there are guys getting tossed (Renteria five times this season), it’s because they crossed that boundary. I don’t like that. MLB has replay. If a call isn’t reviewable, you have no business being on the field unless you’re making a substitution…period. I don’t buy into this garbage that it fires up the team. If my players can’t self motivate, I don’t know that I want them on my team. I want players who are driven to succeed and don’t need me as the manager to act a fool to get them to produce.

3. Jason McLeod got paid – There were rumors about two weeks ago that McLeod was in the running as a candidate to go back to his former team, San Diego, to become their next general manager. McLeod plays a vital role for this team in the Theo / Jed regime so it’s good news to not only know he’s not going to leave to be a GM…yet…but that he’ll get rewarded with some money for staying.

4. Wrigley Renovation process continues…on paper – Is anyone else frustrated with this process? I don’t even like reporting on it. The guys in the Tribune had a nice update on the process yesterday:

With tweaks made at the request of the mayor, the Cubs are ready to present their latest plan to the landmarks panel. Emanuel also required the Cubs to continue negotiating with the rooftop owners as a condition of getting a hearing with the landmarks commission, a City Hall source said.

Another source said the Cubs’ proposal with five additional outfield signs is expected to be approved by the panel, with conditions placed on it.

5. Minor MattersAlbert Almora is on fire. I’ll be honest, I had begun to wonder and worry about his future as a top prospect, but he’s been playing tremendously lately. He went 2-for-3 last night and has his average up to .279. The Daytona Cubs tweeted out after his first hit that he had hit in 16 of the last 17 game and hit almost .500 over that time. I really hope he’s primed for a big second half so he can vault back into elite status because I think some people have soured slightly on him.

We try to end the losing streak behind a Major League debut from Kyle Hendricks today in a matinee game on WGN. I’m a big fan of Hendricks so I look for a quality start from him. We also have the latest edition of Girlieview later this afternoon and a post from Chris Neitzel on why there is no such thing as a shortstop logjam with a look at history.

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