Archive for the ‘General’ Category

My Top 5 Cubs Moments of 2015

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

As we approach the new year, we are inundated with (mostly lame) “Best of” lists. Well, friends, I’m here to bring you yet another one of those egregious lists.

Disclaimer: this is my list. These may not actually be the top, most important, best, or your favorite moments from the season, but I’ve been given this space for now, so you’ll just have to put up with my take for a moment–not sorry. Also, I’m only going to include moments from the regular season, since the postseason was amazingly glorious all by itself (except, er, for that ending). Finally, I’m not going to include anything from the offseason, so you won’t see the Joe Maddon or Jon Lester signings. So, in the immortal words of Casey Kasem, let’s start the countdown.

5. The Schwarber Game

This is the moment when we went, “oh yeah, we have that guy, too.” On July 21, just over a year after being selected with the 4th overall pick in the draft (a pick that was roundly criticized by many, include, ahem, *cough* a few commenters on this blog), in Cincinnati, in front of scores of friends and family (he grew up nearby as a Reds fan–Votto was his hero), Schwarber blasted a mammoth (come on, dude doesn’t hit any other kind) homer to tie the game in the ninth, and then another to win it in the 13th. What a night that must have been for him. He’s going to be our Jim Thome for years to come (and no, he won’t catch, at least not primarily).

4. Bryant’s Debut

No, he didn’t get a hit. Yes, he struck out 10,000 times and looked really bad, but remember, this is my list. This moment makes the cut because I was at Wrigley to witness this game, and I can tell you, it was the most electric regular-season-in-negative-million-degrees-meaningless-game I’ve ever attended. The entire crowd stood for every one of his at-bats and lived and died with every pitch. After each inevitable strikeout, the crowd moaned as if we just lost Game 7. After such an fantastically historic rookie season, it’s easy to forget just how long it took Bryant to hit his first homer (I believe it was around 700 at-bats), but the kid makes adjustments and looks like a keeper to me.

3. Bryant’s Walk-Off (well, one of them)

July 27: The Cubs had lost a zillion games in a row and everyone was depressed. We had given up a big lead to the lowly Rockies. Bryant saved the day with a rocket into the dark Lakeview night. Everyone cheered. It was awesome.

2. Sweeping the Giants

I have to admit, after we were swept by the Phillies (the Phillies), I thought that our youth and good luck from the first half (we won so many one-run games, the outcome of which can be pretty random) had finally caught up with us. You can only dodge the coin-flip and the regress-to-the-mean dragon for so long. This four-game sweep of the defending champs in early August bounced us over the Giants for the second wild card spot and announced to all that this team was for real.

1. Arrieta’s No-Hitter

I watched this on TV, but I stood and shouted and leapt with every pitch. I celebrated after the game as though I was in Wrigleyville. A signature moment for a pitcher, a team, a fan. Thanks Jake.

Honorable mention:

All of Addison Russell‘s defensive plays; Rizzo’s brilliant season being almost overlooked; magicians in the clubhouse and on the field; Bryant knocking the videoboard onto Waveland, killing thousands; Lester actually being really good–stop whining; Joe Maddon giving players reading assignments; the inspired benching then re-starting of Castro.

Thoughts? Submit your list in the comments.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays. Happy New Year. Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.

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Players to watch in 2016: Willson Contreras

Monday, December 28th, 2015

I get excited about prospects, especially catching prospects. There’s so much hope, so much reason for optimism, and yes, sometimes so much hype. Last week, I took a look at a pitching prospect who I think will prove useful in the late innings in our bullpen this year, and today I’d like to take a closer look at a prospect who spends a great deal of his time behind the plate and seems to be projecting to potentially have an impact on the Cubs 25 man roster as early as 2017, if not sometime later in the 2016 season.

The obvious problem for Willson Contreras is that, in 2016, he has in many ways three different catchers on the current 25 man roster standing in his way. Though Kyle Schwarber will likely spend the majority of his time defensively in left field, there’s still Miguel Montero and David Ross who will be getting most of the starts behind the plate next season. Ross will likely retire after 2016, but Montero is under contract through 2017, so it could be a slow clime for Contreras, but as we have seen with other up and coming prospects, if the bat is there, they will find a spot.

Contreras is an interesting case, because although he has the defensive flexibility that Joe Maddon seems to appreciate in his players so much, he has seen his appearances behind the plate increase as he has moved up through the ranks of the minor leagues. In 2011, his first professional season, he played at Boise and appeared defensively nearly everywhere except behind the plate. He was primarily a third baseman then, a spot that he has continued to spend time, though with rapidly declining regularity. In 2011, he spent 46 games at third, compared to just 8 for the Tennessee Smokies in 2015. His numbers as a catcher have kept going up, from 39 at Boise in 2012, 72 at Kane County in 2013, 73 at Daytona in 2014, and finally 75 at Tennessee this year. In the Arizona Fall League this year, he played 11 games and was the catcher for 10 of those.

In the 2015 season especially, Contreras used his bat to put himself on the radar of the big league club and get himself added to the 40 man roster for 2016. As far back as September, indications were already showing that the front office had plans for what to do with him this upcoming season. He will likely spend most, if not all, of spring training with the big league team before heading to Iowa to continue to work on his defense behind the plate.

If, and this is a very strong possibility, one (or both) of Montero or Ross gets hurt for a significant amount of time in 2016, we will see Contreras make his debut. I think he’s shown that he’s probably ready offensively, especially if you look at his numbers at Tennessee this past year. There, he jumped his OPS to .891, far surpassing his previous career high of .742 with Kane County in 2013. With the Smokies, he had a 156 wRC+ (just for fun, some guy named Mike Trout had a 156 wRC+ when he was in AA in 2011), and a K % that sits nice and low at 11.9% last season.

There’s plenty to be excited about when it comes to Contreras, as you can see:

But, even given the Cubs recent reluctance to include him in a trade, it should be noted that prior to 2015, Contreras has not had any other season in the minors that has been particularly attention getting. This is not to say that players cannot put things together and earn a spot on a top 100 prospects list where they had not been expected to appear before, but keep in mind that sometimes all of this just ends up being hype or too much hope pinned on a small sample size. But, given what he has shown so far, I think Contreras is very much worth keeping a close eye on in 2016.

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December 27th – This Date in History

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

CUBS HISTORY

1981 - David Aardsma is born

2004 - After the Cubs decline Moises Alou‘s (.293, 39, 106) contract option, the Giants ink the free agent outfielder to a one-year contract with an option for a second year. The signing marks the second time the All-Star will be managed by his dad Felipe, as he did playing with the Expos from 1992-96.

2012 - Hisanori Takahashi signs as a free agent. Takahashi would make three appearances out of the pen for the Cubs in 2013.

2013 - Jose Veras signs as a free agent. Veras will be paid $3.85 mil in 2014 with a club option in 2015 worth $5.5 mil with a $0.15 mil buyout. Veras would be released by the Cubs on June 10, 2014 after being designated for assignment a few days before.


MLB HISTORY

1874 - At Palmar de Junco, a Havanan team plays Matanzas in the first documented baseball game played in Cuba. The game is called after seven innings due to darkness with Havana leading, 51-9.

1963 - Jim Leyritz is born

1983 - Cole Hamels is born

2003 - Ivan Calderon murdered in a bar in Loiza, Puerto Rico

Police are still investigating the murder of former Major Leaguer Ivan Calderón, who was shot in the back on Dec. 27 in his hometown of Loíza, Puerto Rico. According to police reports, Calderon was shot on Dec. 27, 2003 around 8 p.m. at “El Trompo” bar in Loiza, a few blocks from the El Cabo community where he owned a home. Several killings have already been logged at the bar this year alone, police said.

Calderón, 41, was shot six times in the back and once in the head, while he was facing the counter of the bar. During Calderon’s 10-year major league career he played with five teams, finishing up with the Montreal Expos. (Source)


SPORTS HISTORY

1980 - Calvin Murphy (Rockets) begins longest NBA free throw streak of 78

1981 - Wayne Gretzky becomes fastest NHLer to get 100 pts (38th game)

2004 - Peyton Manning breaks the NFL single season passing rating for touchdowns.


WORLD HISTORY

1932 - Radio City Music Hall opens (Story)

1968 – Apollo 8 returns to the United States (Story)

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5 Bold Predictions for the 2016 Chicago Cubs Season

Saturday, December 26th, 2015

The Cubs offseason should be fairly close to over, so let’s begin to take a look forward to the summer of 2016. What can we expect from these new faces? What can we expect from the familiar faces? I would like to take a look into my crystal ball and lay down some bold predictions for the upcoming Cubs baseball season.

The Cubs will have 8 players hit 15, or more home runs

Truthfully, this number could increase to 9 depending on the amount of playing time Javier Baez receives. However, let us focus on the prediction as is. The Cubs have certain players whom anyone who follows baseball would agree will hit at least 15 home runs: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber. We will call those guys “locks” barring injury. A few players that have proven they can drive the ball out of the ballpark, and may be on the brink of big power numbers this season are: Jorge Soler, Addison Russell, and Jason Heyward. None of these men had 15 homers last year, but Soler was injured for a large part of the season, Russell didn’t play in 20 games last year, and Heyward has had noted success in the “Friendly Confines”. There is definitely reason to believe that Soler, Russell, and Heyward could easily surpass 15 home runs this year. The final two players are Miguel Montero, and Ben Zobrist. In 113 games last season, Miguel Montero hit 15 home runs, so I would say that it is fairly safe to assume that he will still hit for a low average, but his power numbers will be there. Zobrist will be the “wild card” in this scenario. The Cubs didn’t sign him because he was a big power threat, but with all the big bats behind him, it is reasonable to believe that Zobrist will get some nice pitches to hit in each of his at bats. Where at first thought 8 players with 15+ home runs may seem a bit far-fetched, for the 2016 Cubs, it is well within reach.

The Cubs pitching staff will have the lowest combined ERA in baseball

If you followed the Cubs at all last year, you know that the pitching staff was much improved from the 2014 season. It had to be if they wanted to win. In 2015, the Cubs were 3rd in the MLB in team ERA behind only the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. For the most part, (Essentially besides Jason Hammel) the Cubs had excellent starting pitching the entire year. The addition of John Lackey will only bolster the starting rotation. Where the Cubs struggled was late in games. According to ESPN, the Cubs’ relievers ranked 8th in total ERA, posting a 3.38 combined total. As a comparison, the Pirates led the league in ERA from relievers posting a 2.67 total ERA. The Cubs’ front office recognized this was an area where the Cubs would need to improve this year, so they have been busy signing, or trading for relievers. Most notably, the Cubs traded Starlin Castro to the Yankees for relief pitcher Adam Warren (and Brendyn Ryan). This clearly shows me that Theo Epstein and Co. were very determined to improve the bullpen this offseason. Ideally, Neil Ramirez would get back to being the Ramirez we saw in 2014, Justin Grimm would become more consistent and be the guy we saw in the postseason, Adam Warren would be the perfect fit for the Cubs’ pen, and Hector Rondon would continue to develop into the closer we saw him becoming toward the end of the year last year. For the most part, the pitching staff was solid last year, but for the Cubs to take a step forward, it will need to be dominant all year.

The Cubs will have 2 players win Gold Glove Awards

This may be the boldest prediction of them all. The Cubs struggled defensively last season. There is no way around that fact. They had the 6th most errors in the entire MLB last year with 111. We all know that number should decrease with the departure of Starlin Castro, and all of the younger players getting a year older. However, the Cubs defense should also get a lift from the additions of Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward. Now, on to the Gold Glovers. We all know how great Jason Heyward is defensively. He has already won 3 Gold Glove Awards (2012, 2014, and 2015) in his career. In fact, the last two years, Heyward has won Wilson Defensive Player of the Year in the National League. So, it shouldn’t be hard for me to convince anyone that Heyward will win a Gold Glove. The other player that I believe could win a Gold Glove is Addison Russell. If he doesn’t this year, I believe he will at some point in his career. We saw after his move to shortstop that he is capable of some dazzling plays. He has unbelievable range, and a cannon for an arm. He is absolutely not a lock because there are some great defensive shortstops in the National League, but it would not surprise me at all if Addison Russell wins a Gold Glove this year.

Jason Hammel will have a solid first half of the year, increasing his trade value, and he will be traded, with prospects, for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline

Most of you reading this will probably stop reading after getting through that heading, but for those of you who stuck with me, here are some stats to back my claim. In 2014, before the All Star break, Jason Hammel posted an 8-5 record with a 2.98 ERA through 17 starts. Last year, before the All Star break, Hammel posted a 5-4 record with a 2.86 ERA through 17 starts. In case you weren’t sure whether or not those numbers were good, at the All Star break last year, Jake Arrieta was 10-5 with a 2.66 ERA through 18 starts. I realize Arrieta improved on his first half numbers with an unbelievable second half, but Hammel has proved that he is capable. If Hammel can post an ERA around 3, his value will surely increase enough so the Cubs front office can blame the groin injury that Hammel suffered midway through the year for the lackluster 2015 second half performance to any prospective trade partner. I’m certainly not saying this is a sure thing, but stats show that this could absolutely happen.

The Cubs will win the 2016 World Series

This prediction is becoming less bold every day. Vegas odds makers have the Cubs and Giants tied as favorites to win the 2016 World Series. All along, Theo Epstein has said that 2016 will be the year that the Cubs will compete for a title. Last year, we all got a glimpse of what a playoff run feels like. So, after this glorious offseason, hopefully the Cubs can perform on the field and bring a title back to the North Side.

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Merry Christmas, Cubs fans

Friday, December 25th, 2015

Merry Christmas, my fellow Cubs fans. 2015 has really been a wonderful year for us, and I only expect that 2016 will be better in a lot of ways. There have been some silly things written (looking at you Paul Sullivan) about why we should temper our expectations for next season, but there is really as much reason for optimism as you can hope to have. On paper, the Cubs front office has done what they need to in order to make this team as capable as possible to make a run even deeper into the playoffs than they did this year. Of course, all of this will depend on what happens as the season begins (slumps, injuries, etc.), but I’d rather spend some time in this post looking at the primary additions to the roster the Cubs have made for this season. Our Cubs Christmas presents, if you will (I’m really sorry, if you’re still reading after this, I promise it gets better):

Lackey to the rotation

Honestly, David Price felt like an inevitability not that long ago, but I think things worked out pretty nicely in this regard. John Lackey will be a very fine addition to the roster, and I think we will learn very quickly to appreciate an innings eater who can pitch as well as he does in the third spot in the rotation. Lackey will probably start somewhere around 28-30 times this season, and he projects to pitch rather nicely in 2016. I went into some detail about this in a different post a couple of weeks ago, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it here, but I would suggest taking at least a look at what Steamer projects for him in 2016 here.

The Lackey signing, though less glamorous than some of us were hoping for as far as our pitching is concerned, stands to be a quietly solid move that will pay off in ways that we might be too busy oohing and aahing over the offense to notice.

Zobrist joins the team of Zobrists

This “Team of Zobrists” idea is not original to me (credit to Gunther Dabynsky for this), but I think it’s very much what we are seeing the philosophy of the team turn into, at least defensively. As Javier Baez seeks to expand his defensive flexibility, and even Kris Bryant has spent some time in the outfield, the Cubs are adding to the flexibilty already offered by Chris Coghlan, who stepped up at second base rather nicely when Starlin Castro was first benched.

Zobrist, who will probably spend most of his time at second base (he spent most of his time there in 2015 – 69 games), but he has shown he can play both of the corner spots in the outfield, and has even appeared briefly at third base recently as well.

To go with that, Zobrist projects to be a 3+ WAR player in 2016 and a wRC+ of 123, well above the average (see wRC+ explained here). To give this some context, Castro was 0.8 WAR last year (take away that monster September, and things get scary), and had his wRC+ was 80, which is considered 20 points below average.

As an aside, while searching Twitter for Zobrist related tweets, I was surprised at the Mets fan reaction to the signing. If somehow you’re bored, take a look.

And of course, Heyward

There are a lot of Heyward tweets that I could have chosen, but the Cardinals fans reacting to Jason Heyward taking less money to leave them and come to Chicago is still paying dividends. They are not happy. And lately, they are trying really hard to make themselves feel better about it with the Mike Leake signing (how cute). Even the high and mightly Adam Wainwright had some interesting things to say about it:

He knows that we’re going to be in a position to win every year. and what it comes down to is this: He didn’t want to play there after myself, and Yadier (Molina) and Matt (Holliday) were gone, on such a long contract. It really comes down to a personality trait to me. The person that we want to give that kind of money to, that big money to, he needs to be a person that wants to be the guy that carries the torch. He needs to be a guy that wants to be the person, that after we leave, he carries on the tradition. And that’s just a personality thing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But we’re looking for that guy who wants to be the man.

And he wasn’t the only one. Current torch bearer for The Right Way Mike Matheny was less diplomatic about it:

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, upon hearing Heyward’s sentiments, said, “I don’t think it’s going to ring too well with our club.

He goes on:

He’s got to go make the decisions he’s going to have to live with. If that (core group comparison) is a big deal to him, he’s just being honest with people.

“But I don’t think we have anything to apologize for in having a group like a Holliday, a Molina, a Wainwright. Those are the kinds of guys everybody wants on a club.

“I see where he’s coming from. I mean, look at what Chicago’s done. It’s very unique in this game — to have that many impact players at that young age. And he’s a young player. But I can’t say I’m in any kind of agreement with that (Chicago) core being better than any kind of core that we have.

“That veteran group (that the Cardinals have) also helps drive what the younger group turns into.”

“I don’t blame him. But I don’t like it. I thought we created a really good atmosphere and he had to weigh what was most important to him.

This is probably more amusing to me than it should be, but I am delighting more than a little bit in how much the Cardinals fans are sweating the Cubs. More importantly, Heyward projects to be about a 5 WAR player (Dexter Fowler was a career best 3.2 WAR last year, to give this some perspective) with a wRC+ of 123, the same as Zobrist. That’s a huge jump in offensive value from Castro and Fowler, and this is coming from a big fan of both of those players. And, this is just the added value on offense. The difference in UZR between Fowler and Heyward is just massive, even if you consider Heyward’s likely move from right field to center.

In all, it’s been a really, really nice December for Cubs fans.

 

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GirlieView (12/24/2015)

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

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 2015 Off-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

  • It’s clear that the rebuild is over: the young core is in place, key veterans have been added, and the team has their ideal manager.
  • This front office understands that the playoffs are a crapshoot, and the best way to win a championship is to buy a lottery ticket every year…not just every decade.
  • I don’t think you trade Baez, who still has monster potential, for a 4th starter with 3rd starter potential. We already have pitchers like that, and Baez is a rare talent.
  • Hold me and tell me everything will be alright.
  • I like the Zobrist signing and moving Castro to the Yanks. But it must be said, that for all of his lapses on and off the field during his time here, Starlin really impressed me this past season. He handled losing his starting position and the subsequent move to second with as much dignity and professionalism as you could ask of anyone. Then, after the move to second, he hit like a monster all fall and was a very important contributor to the play off run. I wish him well.
  • One Cubs move for Christmas? Vancouver, BC please.
  • Sherm is a Lizzie monster, EVW is the Washington Nationals of Lizzies right now, all that hype with little results.
  • It is the off season. I’m busy working out and honing my skills for Opening Day, which can’t get here soon enough by the way.
  • Len would say EVW is Thin on Lizzies right now.
  • I must be on the naughty list, I have been stuck in 10th for a few weeks.
  • When I first starting commenting on this blog a few years ago, I thought, “Eventually I will understand what all these inside jokes are about.” Now I am close to the realization that no, I won’t, either because (like my wife says) I lack common sense, or perhaps there actually aren’t any inside jokes (again, I lack common sense).
  • Come to our VFTB spring training dinner and we will bring you up to speed. Don and Charlie’s in Scottsdale, everyone will be there except Seymour, he usually goes to Subway instead since he doesn’t like to tip.
  • I’d like to thank Lizzie (aka “the Academy”) who gleans through thousands of posts every few weeks, reading over the lunacy and stupidity that we spew forth, and then giving us the chance to re-read the stupidest ones, and hail, each fortnight, a new king of fools.
  • Without Joe, half of you would still be in AOL chat rooms pretending to be teenage girls. So, thanks, Joe.
  • I’d like to thank the Chicago Cubs – because for the first time in almost forever, we’ve gone from Lovable Losers to just LOVABLE.
  • Ton of money, but what the heck. Go Cubs. I’m fine with Coghlan as the 4th OF FWIW. What’s the over / under of different lineups Maddon uses next year?
  • Both of those signings made us better and the Cardinals worse. You have to love that. I wonder if that was happenstance, or by design?
  • The fans in the Rockies are going to need to drink when Schlitt happens. How far will a Schlitter fastball travel in the Rockies?
  • What a great time to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs.
  • I’d feel better having Ross start the game and bringing in Hammel in the 3rd.
  • Hammel hits better than Ross.
  • I feel like Theo and Jed went with the old Konami cheat code to get this done. Everything had to go in a perfect sequence or the deals couldn’t get done.
  • There is no way we youngsters will get that Konami reference.
  • This was some great writing made better by a Konami code reference!
  • I remember now – I was thinking “Sure, Arietta will probably win a Cy Young and become the most dominating pitcher in baseball…but this Strop idiot will likely wear his hat sideways.” Yeah, that’s what it was.
  • This is far from a comprehensive outlook, but in all, the Cubs of 2016 are much, much stronger because of Heyward, both at the plate and in the field.
  • Man, the hatred pouring out from some Cards fans on Heyward is over the top.
  • Well, when the only thing that can motivate you in St Louis is the baseball team losing your best player hurts especially when you lose him to the Cubs. It is going to be a long miserable summer on the Mississippi. I look forward to it, with glee.
  • Rod Johnson, John Peterson, Peter Weenerson.
  • Peter Weenerson chokes up too much
  • Len drives a Hyundai. No. Len drives a – wait for it…REO SPEEDWAGON!!!
  • The Cubs in 2016 will look somewhat different at the outset of the year. But, there is one aspect where continuity should remain: winning.
  • He has a very tall frame.
  • He is rather slender.
  • He reminds me of Heidi Klum, except that he’s black and completely different looking
  • There’s also different dangly bits. Presumably.

Lizard

  • Never been a big Heyward fan but I’m pretty fickle – doesn’t take much to change my mind.

Shout Outs

  • Big shout outs to Brad Lyerla, Chris O’Reilly, Elijah Knepper, and Sean Powell for their first 2015 Off-Season Lizzies!!!! Thanks for being here!

MVL

  • Congratulations to Sherm, our Most Valuable Lizzie-er this time! Way to go Sherm!

Top 10 of the 2015 Off-Season (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. Sherm
2. jswanson
3. Doc Raker
4. Doug S
5. Eddie von White
6. Bryan
6. Seymour Butts
8. Jared
9. Nate Head
10. Jerry in Wisconsin

Chit Chat

First, Merry Christmas to all my friends here at VFTB. And really, you’ve become my friends over the years. I read every word you say then I go back and re-read it all again. We spend a lot of time together, LOL. We quibble, we laugh, we agree, we disagree, we alternately like and don’t like each other on any given day. But we all still show up! That sounds a lot like friends to me. Thanks for being here.

Next, since probably no one’s even around to be reading this on Christmas Eve, I’ll make today’s chit chat question simple. It’s one of my go-to favorites, and it can be asked over and over again since moves are always being made. Who is your favorite current Cub?

Merry Christmas!

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The Sean Marshall Trade: A Look Back

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Four years ago today, the Cubs made a trade with the Cincinnati Reds that saw them trade Sean Marshall at the height of his value. Pundits will talk about a move and dissect it to death, but to fully know who won or lost  a trade you have to let it play out. It’s been four years so it’s time to take a look at where we stand.

The Trade

Cubs Send: Marshall (RP)

Reds Send: Travis Wood (SP), Dave Sappelt (OF), and Ronald Torreyes (2B)

The Initial Reaction

VFTB Said:

I like the trade a lot, despite the fact that Marshall was one of my favorite Cubs. People have clamored that he should have gotten the chance to move back to the rotation, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Look at the comparison between time as a starter vs. time as a reliever.

Split          ERA    IP HR  WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
as Starter    4.86 311.0 45 1.434  6.1  1.79
as Reliever   2.67 219.0 11 1.183  9.4  3.12

Instead we pick up rotation depth with high upside as well as adding depth to the farm system in exchange for a bullpen arm.

Keith Law said:

The Cubs made out well, giving up a good reliever who is a year from free agency and getting back a big league starter and two mid-level prospects who will have major league value.

Sappelt looks like a very good extra outfielder. He has a simple swing, short to the ball with good use of his lower half, but he can’t handle center field except on an emergency basis, and his size and swing aren’t going to produce the power to profile every day in left. He makes a lot of contact, however, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit .300 — but without the OBP or power to make him a regular.

Torreyes is a tiny second baseman — Baseball-Reference has him at 5-foot-9, 140 pounds, and I would bet he’s shorter than that — but he has two above-average tools: hitting and running, with good bat speed and a simple swing for high contact rates. He could end up an average regular at second, but he is probably three full years away from the majors. Wood alone justifies this deal for the Cubs, but the chance that Torreyes becomes an everyday guy turns it into a potential big win.

Where We Stand

Most Cubs bloggers and fans felt the deal was a good one for the Cubs at the time. They were beginning to rebuild and Marshall was a luxury that simply wasn’t needed in a rebuild. Instead, Theo and Jed flipped him for what were considered three very usable pieces in the rebuild. In order to see where the trade stands as of now, let’s take a look at the WAR that each player has produced for their new team.

Marshall - He got his start with the Cubs after being drafted in the 6th round in the 2003 draft. He made his debut in 2006 as a starter and was converted to a lefty setup man out of the pen. In his six seasons with the Cubs, Marshall produced a total WAR of 8.4. Since the trade to the Reds, Marshall has seen his share of injuries. In 2012 he gave them exactly what they paid for, picking up right where he left off as a dominant lefty out of the pen, but 2013 was injury ridden as was 2014, at which point he was feared to be done with baseball all together due to an arm injury. Late in 2015, this article came out saying that Marshall still wanted to pitch, but my guess is that his days as a meaningful contributor of any kind are over. TOTAL WAR FOR NEW TEAM = 1.3

Wood - I want to still believe in Wood’s ability as a starter. Everything in me feels like a kid hanging on to the belief that Santa Clause is real, but the fact of the matter is that the days of Wood pitching as an effective member of the rotation are probably over. In his two seasons as a starter for the Reds, Wood posted a WAR of 1.2. You would assume that he will resume his role in the pen for the Cubs in 2016, but they did get meaningful time out of him as a starter. TOTAL WAR FOR NEW TEAM = 4.6

Sappelt - He never quite turned into the player some thought he could be. To be honest, he didn’t even play well enough to warrant a roster spot so after two seasons the Cubs released him and he’s not been to the Majors since. Closing in on age 29 now, it’s unlikely that Sappelt will amount to anything. TOTAL WAR FOR NEW TEAM = 0.2

Torreyes - He was not really in the system very long before being claimed by the Astros. He’s in the Dodgers system now and has not made a meaningful contribution as of yet in the Majors. TOTAL WAR FOR NEW TEAM = 0

TALE OF THE TAPE

CUBS – 4.8 WAR

REDS – 1.3 WAR

It appears that the Cubs are going to win this trade, but in the end it doesn’t appear to be as lopsided as you might have thought. Had Marshall stayed healthy, this was a fair deal for both sides.

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Looking ahead at Miguel Montero

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Last season, the lineup of the Chicago Cubs was as potent as it’s ever been, with an “easy” out only present in the pitcher’s slot.

The Cubs’ offense was stellar and proved to be a force in the National League. Chicago finished fifth in home runs (171) and OPS (.321) in the NL. Plate discipline was a vital key to success, as the team drew the most walks in the NL and was second to Toronto atop the entire league’s leaders.

However, catcher Miguel Montero was underwhelming at the plate in his first campaign in Chicago.

That will change in the 2015-16′ season.

Montero’s struggles went relatively unnoticed–he can thank the emergence of young sluggers Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Jorge Soler for that. A painful thumb injury limited Montero to just 113 games and he never seemed to settle into his role as a RBI threat in the lower-middle part of the order.

The 32-year-old catcher hit .248/.345/.409 in 347 plate appearances–the lowest total of at-bats for Montero in a season since 2010. “Miggy” hit .274 (15 points lower than the previous season) last year with runners in scoring position and struck out a horrid third of the time (27 of 90).

And Montero’s troubles didn’t stop at the plate. A catcher who usually thrives defensively, his troubles behind the dish were clear last year.

Montero allowed 71 steals in 89 chances, his caught stealing percentage of 20 percent being the lowest of his 10-season career. He also committed 12 errors, and his dWar (defensive wins above replacement) of 0.4 was 34th among catchers last season.

Obviously, fans want him to be better and have a larger impact on the offense. Or at least big enough to justify the $14 million he will earn next season. The front office of the Cubs shares the same wish, but likely for a different reason.

Fast forward to the trade deadline. If Montero gets off to a sizzling start, he will gain appeal around the league and become Theo Epstein’s most valuable trading chip. Pitching is the key on the north side this season, and a contender just might cough one up for a hot middle-of-the-order, left-handed bat.

There’s no reason to believe that Montero won’t bounce back from his subpar showing last season. His confidence is contagious, a smile always on his face. Or at least it feels that way. The fans love him, as Montero and his humorous Twitter presence was the source of many smiles on the north side. After all, he was the originator of the “#WeAreGood” phrase that ultimately became the team’s slogan for the season, used by fans and players alike.

Montero showed signs of life as the season progressed. Before the All-Star break, Montero was hitting a mediocre .230 with 32 RBIs. In the second half of the season, where Montero played 33 games less than the first, he hit an impressive .277 with 21 RBIs. His slash line after the break (.277/.358/.438) was drastically better than his line before the break (.230/.337/.392).

Montero will come along. All the while, he will serve as the mentor for Kyle Schwarber, who is still in the process of learning what it takes to be a catcher in the big leagues. Eventually, the plan is for Schwarber to take over as full-time catcher, which may come sooner than we think if Montero starts the season as sluggish as he did last season, or on flip side, mashes baseballs at a level that sparks a trade at the deadline.

The lineup was a wrecking crew last season, a true terror to opposing pitchers. For the most part, the heavy lifting in the order was done by hitters other than Miguel Montero. This season, set to be his second at Wrigley, should serve as a rebound year for Montero as he tries to regain his All-Star form. If he does, watch out.

Hell, watch out anyway.

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Giving Goes Beyond The Game

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Christmas is just around the corner. The majority of parents who have children will be able to enjoy the excitement on Christmas morning when they wake up and rush to see what Santa has left underneath the tree. But for way too many kids, the horror of cancer forces them to be hospitalized. The only bed they sleep in is away from home. I have taken my youngest to the emergency room but never had to suffer the agony of an extended stay. The strain on families is enormous.

During this holiday season I would like to remind Cubs fans what a great team we love. Yes, we love them for their athletic abilities and what they accomplish on the diamond. There are, however, even greater deeds, which have been performed away from the sport itself.
First baseman, Anthony Rizzo, is a wonderful example of a player who exemplifies what this season of giving is all about.

Anthony was only nineteen years old when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He played for the Boston Red Sox organization at the time. Luckily, after six months of chemotherapy, bolstered by his own resolve and the strong support of a loving family, he was told that the cancer had gone into remission. Fortunately, he has been able to live a normal life. After he kicked cancer’s butt, Anthony decided to become one of baseball’s leading role models and cancer-fighting advocates. He launched the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation in 2012. Anthony and his family have organized many wonderful events to raise awareness and support. The Fourth Annual Walk-Off For Cancer recently raised $215,000. Thank you to Anthony and the foundation, for helping to combat this terrible disease.

Another ex-Cub who personifies the word selfless, is former pitcher, Kerry Wood. This year, Kerry spearheaded The Diamond Project, another offshoot of Cubs Charities , which has helped underserved communities renovate ball diamonds all around Chicago. Funds are utilized to resurface fields, provide training equipment to local schools, and even replace outdated scoreboards with newer, electronic models. Have you ever driven or walked by a run-down ballpark? It’s one of the saddest things to look at. Dilapidated dugouts with weeds and trash all around don’t do much for the area youth. By breathing new life into these playing fields, The Diamond Project is helping to keep kids playing ball, and more so, keeping them out of trouble.

A few months ago, Kerry threw the first pitch out at the new Kerry Wood Cubs Field, located near DeVry University on Chicago’s north side. It was ten years in the making but it all began because Wood learned that area facilities were lacking. Now, a gorgeous new stadium will welcome high school players and families. Since it meets Illinois High School Association standards, high school teams from across the city will be able to face off against each other. What a win win for the City Parks Department and the schools!

Visit the Cubs Charities page for additional info on all the available ways to donate and support causes that are near and dear to the residents of Chicago and surrounding areas. The entire team and also manager Joe Maddon and owner Tom Ricketts have been involved in many charitable events. It is truly heartwarming to know that the organization gets involved to help those in need. Especially kids.

If you prefer to help on a more local basis, contact your favorite charity or volunteer some personal time. Giving does not necessarily mean you have to empty your pockets. It can be done with the gift of time.

My husband, Rick, and I coached league softball for years when our girls were little, all the way up to high school age. We also attended and helped time events at swim meets. These activities took quite a chunk out of our schedules. But I’m so glad we did! I can’t stress enough how much you will receive in return. Number one, you get to be with your children more of the day. You have the opportunity to impart additional confidence, support and love. It can make a huge difference when they look back and remember that you sacrificed yourself to help them succeed. That you cared about being there for them, instead of sitting on the couch at home. It’s not only your own kids that reap the benefits. You can make a positive impact in any child’s life. Sometimes, a coach or mentor is the closest thing to an actual parent a kid may have.

I recall our high school swim coach who, every year, asked parents to help with timing. Not very many hands went up. This lack of parental support is, unfortunately, prevalent in schools across America. Believe me, getting involved makes any sport so much more exciting! Rick and I miss shouting for the swim team members to go faster and harder into those timing pads! He even announced a diving competition once, even though he had never done it before. Sometimes, when you go out on a limb, you find out that it’s something you really enjoy. Not only that, you set a great example for others. No one expects perfection. But everyone respects the effort.
We see what happens when kids are left to tackle a sport or task on their own. With no one to drive, (literally), and support them by getting involved, they oftentimes end up quitting or worse, kicked off the team for non-attendance. A child involved in sports with the support and participation of a parent or other family member is much less likely to travel down a wrong road. It all starts at the family level.

Next year, make that extra effort to give it your all. To a charity or to a child. God Bless the Cubs for hitting it out of the park!

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