Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Welcome to the Bandwagon

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Today, Javier Baez made his Wrigley Field debut. For those of us who have followed Cubs prospects the last few years (“prospect hipsters” according to Jon Greenberg), this marks the beginning of the long-awaited turnaround. Perhaps this is the “Tipping Point” that Chris wrote about.

I totally understand that most fans are casual fans. That is, they keep up with the overall play of the big league club and don’t care too much about the minor leagues – I get it. I also understand that even more serious fans aren’t going to be interested in the teams’ prospects as much as someone who writes for a blog or is active in the Cubs Twitter community is. Most fans are going to lose quite a bit of interest if the major league club isn’t playing well…or, they will complain loudly that this team is the “same old losers”/Ricketts is a cheap bum/Theo is overrated/whatever. Now that the prospects that many of us were following and anxiously anticipating are finally making it to the big league team, many bandwagon fans will follow. You know what? I’m OK with that. After all, we’re all on the same side, and I think Cubs fans spend a little too much energy criticizing each other (it happens out in the bleachers all the time). Yes, I find it absolutely frustrating when I hear ignorant folks criticize the front office for moves that they totally don’t understand (it’s usually the same people that argue that wins are the most important stat for a pitcher), but I’m ready to welcome those fans aboard the prospect-driven bandwagon with open arms. Come on in, it should be a fun ride.

I have a theory about why so many baseball fans don’t see to understand the farm system/prospect development aspect of baseball. I blame the NFL and NBA. In those leagues, players who are drafted (especially those who are early-round picks in the NFL and lottery picks in the NBA) can often step right into the starting lineup of a team and contribute right away. In those sports, if you are a gifted athlete, you can use your talents to play the game at a high level right away while learning the finer nuances of the sport as you go. Baseball is more about applying athleticism to discrete skills – and those skills simply take time to develop. You can be the greatest athlete in the world, but if you can’t recognize pitches at the plate or control a breaking ball, it’s all for naught. It’s very rare to have a player like Bryce Harper who can come straight out of high school and play at the major league level. Many casual fans – who are influenced by the way things work in those other sports – don’t understand this need for skill development. I’ve had friends ask me why it took Javier Baez (if he’s so great) so long to make the majors – and he’s TWENTY-ONE YEARS OLD.

So, like I said, I get it. It’s up to those of us who follow prospects to educate those who don’t understand, although it can be difficult in the face of so many losing seasons. It’s been fun to follow these prospects in the minors the last few years, but I am looking forward to shifting my attention to the big league club. I just hope that the “casual” fan can appreciate the planning and patience it took to build the system the way it was built – the pay-off is coming. After all, all great players were once prospects. I mean, we can’t all own Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler Tennessee Smokies shirseys.

In other news:

  • The Cubs completed the trade for Marlins’ starter Jacob Turner, and the Cubs gave up a pair of minor league relievers – Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer. This is a slam-dunk no-brainer for the Cubs. Turner is a former top prospect with good velocity, solid stuff, and promising peripherals. He’s been down lately, but the potential is there. With Chris Bosio’s track record of success working with these type of pitchers (see Arrieta, Jake), it makes so much sense to make this deal. Arias and Bremer’s absolute ceilings were as middle relievers, and they are a dime a dozen (have any of you stayed up late to see Arias/Bremer stat lines from recaps?). Turner had to be added to the 25- and 40-man rosters, so the Cubs DFA’d Ryan Kalish, who showed so much promise during spring training.

[As an aside, I remember being laughed at in the comments when I mentioned that the decision to keep Bosio on the staff was a great one because of his work turning around pitchers and increasing ground ball rates through work on the two-seam fastball – and it was by the same guy who defended pitcher wins.]

  • The Cubs did not complete a trade for Cole Hamels, whom they had claimed off waivers from the Phillies. Apparently, the Phillies were asking for Addison Russell as the beginning of any package, and I think it makes sense for both teams that the trade wasn’t made right now. At least we know that the Cubs were willing to take on his hefty contract, which is a great sign (and should – but won’t – silence critics who say that Ricketts won’t spend money). Perhaps they will revisit acquiring Hamels in the offseason.
  • The Cubs held a private workout at Wrigley Field for Cuban 3B/OF free agent Rusney Castillo. Scouting reports on Castillo vary from top-of-the-order impact player to good fourth outfielder. The Cubs seem to be interested, especially since they did the “sell job” of working him out at Wrigley rather than at their spring training facility in Arizona. It will be interesting to follow this story. The Cubs could certainly use another outfielder going into next season, even with the impending arrival of Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant.


Happy Weekend!

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GirlieView (08/07/2014)

Thursday, August 7th, 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.


  • “Theory” is not a guess…In academic usage, the word theory refers to analytical tools for understanding, explaining, and making predictions in various fields of study.
  • Get off your soapbox. Just yesterday our insightful Wood commentary was praised by a newcomer.
  • I need some vodka for my kool aid.
  • I shall send you some.
  • Should Rizzo even be in consideration at all? I mean with his well documented anti-social behavior in Iowa and all.
  • Moot. He hit two homers for a sick kid, so we’re good to go.
  • I believe that in all of the commotion of Jeff and Jason leaving someone forgot to close the door and the Bupkiss’ dogs came in and ate all of the homework
  • Instead of following the unsolicited advice of Mark from Toronto and making sure I get enough sleep every night, I stayed up to watch the Cubs
  • I’m on the west coast. The time zone means I’m awake for Cubs games, good and train wrecks like last night.
  • I couldn’t take it I flipped over to the Iowa cubs
  • Congrats Jswan. Let’s meet at the Vegan Eaterie for a granola bar and some soymilk to celebrate your commentary brilliance. How about around 4PM, Seymours Chevy Volt starts running out of battery power around 5PM so we need to do a blue hair special.
  • I could use some flax.
  • I write to you from sunny Denton, Texas, where it is a refreshing 102 degrees.
  • When done in the right way, I think acquiring pitching through free agency and through trades is a lower-risk proposition than spending first-round draft picks on pitching.
  • I think that the nature of the market these days is that it’s unavoidable to assume some of the age-related risks of established starters. It’s the other side of the coin of avoiding assuming the risk of first-round pitching prospects in the draft … Either you’re going to assume the risk in the front end with the draft, or on the back end in the after-30 years.
  • Shift ban. I’ve heard it all now.
  • That only leaves 2 options. Direct drive, or a continuously variable transmission.
  • I have an idea – why don’t the hitters just learn how to hit better?
  • that’s just crazy talk
  • Looks like the Cubs officially have no chance at the playoffs now as I see the playoff odds are now down to 0.0%. At least that also means those odds can’t get any worse!
  • That’s lower than a prom dress at 1:15AM.
  • Darwin Barney traded to the Dodgers for a PTBNL …good for him.
  • I bet it’s Puig.
  • Everyone knows the next chapter in this story right? Plays well for the Dodgers, makes playoff roster, gets World Series ring.
  • Disney approaching Barney this week for movie deal. Johnny Depp lined up for role.
  • I met Darwin in the locker room at Fitch Park a few years ago. Over the past few seasons I’ve also had conversations there with Jeff Samardzija and Ryan Dempster. Perhaps speaking to me is not in the best interest of any player who wants to stay a Cub.
  • I met Seymour in the locker room at Fitch Park, we chatted. I didn’t get signed to be a Cub. Now I know why.
  • This comment is not Lizzie-worthy because realism.
  • FYI – there are other reasons that your comment isn’t Lizzie-worthy, but hey, why rub it in?
  • Just subtly mention wieners and you’ll be good to go.
  • What is this “subtly” of which you speak.
  • I am pretty sure that if Baez, Bryant, and Soler hit .350 with 35 HR each season coupled with normal progress from Castro and Rizzo and the rest of the guys, Theo could cobble together a pitching staff good enough to make the playoffs. The Cubs would have the #1 offence in the NL by far. Heck, even Edwin Jackson would be able to win a game or three with that kind of run support.
  • If Theo can shop Jackson at his contract price he’s a genius….or a swindler.
  • Sometimes they work and sometimes they fail miserably, but no team can survive a season without the band of merry gentlemen coming out of the pen
  • arbitration is a bit awk(ward for you oldies).
  • Switch hitting catcher/3b – #7 prospect in the ATL organization, so I wouldn’t say hosed. You think those two trade aways were long term in the Cubs plans? I don’t.
  • A 20 year old at that. A good trade, thought the net hair balance is unchanged on the club
  • Wait. What? The NHB?
  • Bonny bald – Russell well a few too many hairs – it all evens out
  • I still haven’t figured out why they all want to look like Karen Carpenter on the mound. Real intimidating, fellas.
  • If we can just get Schlitter to tone down his mountain-man look we can have a presentable ball club again.
  • The Cubs received their player to be named from the Dodgers in the Darwin Barney trade – and hey, he isn’t nothing!
  • For now, Doubront has been placed on the disabled list with a, ahem, *cough* real leg injury, so the Cubs won’t have to find a spot for him on the MLB team right now. Isn’t it convenient that this injury would pop up right now? I mean, what are the odds?!
  • I almost think that they are hoping he will struggle and use that as motivation to make the final tweaks he needs to make in order to get back and stay for good.
  • Is it time for the hope wood pitches hard tomorrow comments?
  • Not quite. But if he gets a start in Boston on Patriots Day, it would be morning wood. I think we all know how hard that can be.
  • Unobjective homerism is fun and all, but not meaningful analysis.
  • Finally, please, for the sake of the children, never say the phrase “splash the cash” again. Every time you say that phrase, a kitten is swallowed up by the earth right in front of her child owner, who has no friends aside for that kitten.
  • I know it won’t happen, but I hope enough fans are patient enough that he’s allowed to struggle and adjust without too much pressure.
  • I have high hopes for this week’s ode as well.


  • When your worst case scenario is sending a 22 year old player back to Triple A for a half season to work on a pitch recognition and plate approach refinement, you’re in pretty good shape.

Shout Outs

  • Big shout outs to cap’n obvious, Jim Jones, and Josh Cornwall for their first 2014 in-season Lizzies!!!! Thanks for being here. Except for Jim. He’s not particularly welcome.


  • Congratulations to jswanson and Seymour Butts, our co-Most Valuable Lizzie-ers this time! Thank you for giving us so many laughs!

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

1. jswanson
2. Doc Raker
3. Seymour Butts
4. Eddie Von White
5. Joe Aiello
6. Dork
7. Doug S.
8. Chuck
9. Noah Eisner
10. Mark From Toronto
10. Sean Powell

Chit Chat

Which would you rather, and why?
a.) A 2015 team which is in the playoff race all season long with no assurance of post season appearance or success
b.) A mediocre 2015 team but a guaranteed playoff spot in 2016?
(Yes I am aware this is fiction. Just trying to see how hungry you are, or if you’d be willing to sit through another season of boredom if the 2016 payoff was guaranteed good.)

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Are the Chicago Cubs at the Tipping Point?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

95,242. That’s my place in line.

This morning I decided to sign up for the Cubs’ season ticket waiting list.  I did so knowing I would have no chance of having them anytime soon. Considering I will have a child in college for 12 of the next 13 years, my disposable income will be…let’s just say… limited. I joined just to see where I would place on the list. I have heard unconfirmed (maybe one of you can confirm) reports that waiting listers were getting calls just last winter from the Chicago Cubs…stating that their numbers had come up and they could get tickets.  If this is true, and anyone passed…that person may be waiting a long time for another opportunity.

I know very little about the ins and outs of season tickets and ticket brokering, but I know a little about supply and demand.  For the last couple of summers, I have heard angry callers to sports radio begin conversations with “I am a season-ticket holder, and…” they then rant about Jeff Samardzija being traded or whatever other move they are upset about.  My thought when I hear these rants? Get rid of your tickets then. I have a friend who has a ticket business on the side…and I have listened to him lament for the last 3 summers regarding the Cubs.  This may sound insensitive to those who have had tickets for the last 3 summers, and watched bad, bad baseball…but they didn’t have to keep them.  Yet if you did, I think you are about to be rewarded for your patience.  I view season tickets like stocks…buy low, sell high. If you bought Chicago Blackhawks season tickets in 2006, the idea would have seemed rather silly. Yet, in 2014, those lucky enough to have done so have 41 sold-out dates each year to use or sell at their leisure….and they have benefited greatly during two Stanley Cup runs.

I spoke with my long-time friend, Dale Bradley, a financial adviser with 25 years of experience, of Bradley Investment Center in Evanston…and a Cubs’ season ticket holder for the last 20 years. In regards to his tickets, Bradley stated; “You love them and you hate them…when times are bad you are tempted to sell.  When times are good, they are golden”. In my opinion…times are about to be very good for the patient ones.

This brings me to my “Tipping Point” regarding the Chicago Cubs.  The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is a book that combines economics, human nature, and social trends.  The book may be a bit “thinky” for some, but here is how Gladwell defines a tipping point: “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”.   Gladwell demonstrates messages, ideas, products and behaviors that race like wildfire through our society…after reaching their tipping point.  In my opinion, as year three of the Theo Epstein regime comes to a close…the Cubs are either at a tipping point or on the precipice of one.

Am I just a Cubbie blue Kool-Aid drinker?  I will let the reader be the judge, as I give my reasons why the tipping point for the Cubs’ organization is nigh:

  1. Before we get to the fun stuff (players)…lets address an off the field issue.  It appears as though the renovations to Wrigley will finally begin.  With the way this issue has played out, I will keep my fingers and toes crossed, but the Cubs finally give the impression that they have their “ducks in a row” on this. The dark cloud regarding future revenues concerning the park…might finally be lifting.  In fact (fingers crossed, fingers crossed), we may see some of these changes take root during the 2015 season.
  2. The contract of Alfonso Soriano (the equivalent of two Presidential terms) is finally off the books in 2015.  Not including players eligible for arbitration, the Cubs currently have $31.2 million allotted to salaries in 2015.  Let’s give them a modest payroll of $85 million for 2015…you are looking at a heck of a lot of dough the Cubs will have to allocate to free-agents.  They will not enter 2015 with a $40 million dollar salary.  However, I would like to caution those of you who already have Jon Lester in the 2015 Cubs’ rotation…if Lester wants anything more than a five-year deal…that might not be where the money goes.  Regardless of Jon Lester and other top of the line free-agents, the Cubs will have the flexibility to sign, and trade for contracts they have not had for the past six off seasons.
  3. Recent events, the call ups of Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks, and now (cue, shining light coming through the clouds) Javy Baez, have me thinking that Theo and Jed are ready to at least compete in 2015.  They have stated numerous times they like to call players up to stay…if that’s true, these players will be on the opening day roster in 2015.  A line-up that will include the current NL home-run leader in Rizzo…and perhaps some of the other amazing offensive prospects the Cubs have in the system. These call-ups signal to me that the regime is not concerned about tanking the last two months. I am not alluding that Baez, Alcantara and Hendricks are going to give the Cubs a winning record for August and September…but I get the feeling that the regime isn’t  worried as much if the pick 3rd or 7th overall next June.
  4.  I know some people will always be suspicious of prospects…but when you have respected national writers stating that this may be the best assortment of position prospects ever assembled…you can dismiss those thoughts of Ty Griffin, Corey Patterson and Felix Pie. Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber seem to hit home runs daily.  Alcantara (yes, small sample size) has looked as smooth to me as any prospect in recent memory upon arriving in the Majors.  The Cubs system is “boiling over” with offensive potential.  The “graduation” of these prospects will not leave the minors barren of talent, as players such as Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres will ascend to the top of prospect lists.
  5. Almost under the radar, the Cubs have done an excellent job of stockpiling young power arms for the bullpen.  Justin Grimm has shown flashes, yet still inconsistent. (side not…you don’t have to pitch him every day Ricky) Hector Rondon has stepped in nicely as the current closer, and Neil Ramirez has been filthy for most of the season.  Pedro Strop, although not as young, has displayed his magic slider recently.  At Iowa, the Cubs actually may have the two best power relievers in the system in Armando Rivero (83 k’s in 54 innings) and Arodys Vizcaino.  The Cubs could enter spring training next year with 6-7 relievers who throw 95 mph.

I have had this Tipping Point concept floating in my head for the last month or so…and I finally decided to own it.  I loved Gladwell’s book and the analogies made sense to me.  Some of you may take a much more pessimistic view about 2015 for the Chicago Cubs…and that’s fine. If you do have a negative outlook on the future for the Cubs…please try to convince the 95,241 people ahead of me on the season ticket list that they should drop off.

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What to Expect from Javier Baez

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Nearly a month ago, the first fruits of the Cubs’ elite farm system reached Wrigley Field when the team recalled Arismendy Alcantara. Tonight, Javier Baez, one of the Cubs’ top three prospects and one of the top ten prospects in baseball, makes his Chicago Cubs debut at second base against the Rockies at Coors Field.

Whereas most Cub fans felt that Alcantara was ready for the call up, Baez is a bit more controversial due to an extremely slow start in Iowa and season numbers (.260/.323/.510, 23 HRs, 8% walk rate, 30% strikeout rate) that are good, but not indicative of destroying the PCL. In particular, the high strikeout rate concerns many Cub fans and prospect analysts.

However, Baez’s season is probably best described in three separate portions. The first is from Opening Day to May 16, when he was terrible. The second is from May 17 to June 30, when he was much better. The third is from July 1 to August 3, when he was flat out awesome.

Opening Day to May 16: 122 PAs, .145/.230/.255, 36.9 K%, 8.2 BB%, 3 HRs

May 17 to June 30: 176 PAs, .310/.358/.563, 29.5 K%, 7.4 BB%, 8 HRs

July 1 to August 3: 136 PAs, .300/.360/.675, 24.3 K%, 8.1 BB%, 12 HRs

This type of progression is not out of the ordinary for Baez. Since moving up from the Low A Peoria Chiefs to the High A Daytona Cubs in 2012, Baez has struggled upon reaching each new level before, eventually, dominating enough that he spent no more than four months at any level of the minors.

The Cubs have been fairly aggressive in promoting Baez, moving him up a level once he showed a month or so of consistent performance demonstrating improvement on his problems upon each promotion, typically dealing with his overaggressive approach leading to struggles with improved breaking pitches he saw as he moved up. This call up is right in line with that approach.

But what should we expect from Baez in his first stint in the Majors?

I’d caution not to set expectations too high. As I stated above, Baez struggled at each of the three highest levels of the Minor Leagues before adjusting, and he will consistently face pitchers with better stuff and control than at any prior point in his career. Nor would Baez be the first elite prospect to struggle in his first stint in the Majors and have a bright career soon thereafter. Antony Rizzo’s struggles in his first call up to San Diego in 2011 were widely reported, hitting just .141/.281/.242 in 153 plate appearances. Rizzo has emerged as one of the best hitters in baseball this season. Mike Trout, who has a meaningful chance of being the best baseball player many of us have ever seen when his career is finished, hit just .220/.281/.390 in his first 135 plate appearances in the Show.

If Baez hits .250/.300/.400 and keeps his strikeout rate below 30%, I’ll be fairly pleased. If the slugging percentage is .450, meaning he’s making solid enough contact to get to his power, I’ll be quite happy. Anything beyond that from a 21 year old middle infielder with historical troubles upon moving up to a new level making him MLB debut? Well, my wife may need to tell me stop doing my ridiculous happy dance a few times over the rest of the season.

But if Baez does struggle, people should hold off on the Felix Pie/Gary Scott/etc. comparisons. When your worst case scenario is sending a 22 year old player back to Triple A for a half season to work on a pitch recognition and plate approach refinement, you’re in pretty good shape.

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5 Things Cub Fans Need to Know for August 4th

Monday, August 4th, 2014

1. The Cubs won on Sunday to cap off a series win against the Dodgers – I didn’t think we’d get the series win going into Sunday’s game, considering that Edwin Jackson was on the mound. When you rank dead last in the NL among qualified starting pitchers, you don’t garner much confidence. Jackson was decent and was able to give us six innings of work. Going forward, the plan has to be to ride Jackson over the 100 pitch mark each and every start, regardless of the result. The results of the games going forward are meaningless and right now it’s more about eating innings and giving the young arms in the bullpen some rest down the stretch until reinforcements arrive in September. At that point, Renteria will be in hog heaven as he’ll be able to carry a 15 man bullpen. He can over-manage the crap out of some late inning September situations.

Starlin Castro got the “day off” to rest, but still managed to make a pinch hit appearance late. Stuff like that drives me insane. Give the guy a true day off. Don’t play him. Let him just take some time to clear his head and make art with John Baker.

2. There are still names who could be leaving before September 1st – Just because July 31st has passed, it doesn’t mean the Cubs are 100% done dealing. Trades can still happen, but it takes a little more work. At this point, a player would need to clear waivers before being eligible to be traded. Looking at the list of guys on the roster, there are a couple names that stand out to me as potentials: Jackson (if for some reason someone thinks they can fix him), Carlos Villanueva, and Nate Schierholtz are all names I could see potentially having some interest if a team feels they can get them on the cheap (they can) and that they can fix them (they can’t).

3. Arismendy Alcantara can pick it – If you missed the game, he made a dandy play going to the shortstop side of the diamond on Sunday.

4. Jed Hoyer is still keeping Javier Baez in AAA – Or at least that’s what they are saying. It’s just a matter of time before Baez is called up. Honestly, I could see it happen Friday when the Cubs return from the west coast trip to start a home stand. It’s a weekend series against the Rays and it would make a great time to get him up here to drum up interest. Then, a few weeks later, you call up Jorge Soler and let the two show what they have for the remainder of the season. The problem for Baez is that he’s not on the 40 man roster, which means someone has to be cleared off to make room for him. Soler is already on the roster, so the call up for him would be easy.

5. Minor Matters – Since being acquired from the Athletics, Addison Russell has played 25 games for AA Tennessee and has hit 8 home runs. He’s hitting .295 / .333 / .566 over that time and my guess is that he’s close to being promoted to AAA Iowa to get a taste there before the end of the season.

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Cubs Trade Deadline Recap

Friday, August 1st, 2014

It was a crazy day on Thursday as the MLB trade deadline arrived. It was the best trade deadline I can remember, with many huge names being moved, many surprises, and many moves made at the very last minute, adding to the excitement.

Around baseball, you had Jon Lester going from Boston to the A’s (Billy Beane has gone full Brad Pitt on us), and the Tigers countering by getting (stealing? – we’ll see) David Price from the Rays. How good do those rotations look now? I wonder how much Hammel’s struggles since joining the A’s contributed to the decision to trade for Lester (I would imagine quite a bit). By the way, I think the Cubs look REALLY smart by jumping the market and trading Shark and Hammel at the beginning of the month. The pitching market became really crowded yesterday, and Hammel has regressed since the trade. If we found ourselves competing with a crowded starting pitcher market plus a scuffling Hammel? No way we get the return that we got from the A’s on July 4th. I mean, I’m much happier with what we got then I would be as a Rays fan today (I know some of them, and let me tell you, they are miffed).

To me, the most confusing move was the Marlins-Astros trade. The Marlins are trying to win this year (I can’t blame them for that), but they gave up a ton. They moved 3B Colin Moran (the sixth overall pick in last year’s draft!), OF Jake Marisnick, RHP Francis Martes and a 2015 compensatory draft pick to the Astros for starter Jarred Cosart (he of the 4.41 ERA), utility man Kike Hernandez, and OF Austin Wates. Think about this: The Astros pretty much got the #1 and #4 draft picks last year, and they’ll have the #2 pick (since they didn’t sign Brady Aiken this year) plus whatever pick the wind up getting through their record next year (so, they could wind up picking #1 and #2) – PLUS they’ll have a compensatory round pick next year as well. Even though they didn’t sign their first pick this season, they’re going to have a crazy top-end system after next year’s draft. What did the Marlins get for this? A young starter who perhaps isn’t all that good. Maybe he helps them win a few more this year, maybe not. Meh.

OK, onto the Cubs moves. There were basically three transactions yesterday, so let’s take a look:

The Cubs received their player to be named from the Dodgers in the Darwin Barney trade – and hey, he isn’t nothing! Jonathan Martinez is a young pitcher who may actually play in the big leagues one day! That’s much more than I was expecting to get from Barney (honestly, I thought we’d just get a bit of salary relief and open up a roster spot). Martinez is a top-20 organizational type player – he was ranked the #11 Dodgers prospect by Baseball America. He’s 20, so he has some time to develop, but he’ll probably end up as a middle relief guy – hey, I’ll take it.

The second transaction the Cubs made was trading for Red Sox pitcher Felix Doubront. Doubront was a former Theo Epstein International Free Agent signing who was ranked as the #5 Red Sox prospect just three years ago (and that was in a good system). The lefty has the stuff the be a starter in the big leagues, but he’s been inconsistent – and he’s had his share of drama recently. He has been explicitly unhappy about being moved from the rotation to the bullpen. I know you generally want to avoid drama on a team, but perhaps this can be used to motivate him. Chris Bosio has had incredible success with reclamation projects like this recently – and Doubront’s numbers are actually a little better than Arrieta’s were when he came over from Baltimore. I’m not saying that we should expect that level of success, but if he can be a solid member of a rotation, it was more than worth the low price we paid – a player to be named after the Rule 5 draft (don’t worry, it will be a low-level guy, not someone on whom we’re counting on for the future). For now, Doubront has been placed on the disabled list with a, ahem, *cough* real leg injury, so the Cubs won’t have to find a spot for him on the MLB team right now. Isn’t it convenient that this injury would pop up right now? I mean, what are the odds?!

The third transaction the Cubs made, of course, was trading Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell to the Braves for catching prospect Victor Caratini. Apparently, this deal came together no sooner than 45 minutes before the deadline. The clubs had talked about Boni and Russell independently, but the deal came together when a package was suggested. This deal aligns with the Cubs FO’s trading philosophy as of late: rather than trading players individually for a quantity of prospects, they have been packaging players to yield a better quality prospect in return (and, in this case, kicking in more salary to up the level of the prospect). This was also the strategy employed in the Shark/Hammel trade this year and the Feldman/Clevenger trade last year. Caratini is a switch-hitting catcher who was ranked as the #7 prospect in the Braves system by Fangraphs. MLB already has him as the Cubs #13 prospect (and we’re talking about the #1 system in all of baseball), so it’s obvious that at least some scouts believe he can stick at catcher and make a big-league team. If he can indeed stick at catcher, his bat profiles very well there. Catcher was definitely the weakness of our farm system, but after this trade and the last draft, we have a handful of intriguing prospects at the position. If even one of those emerges, you’d be elated.

As with all transactions in sports, only time will tell who “won” the trade. This front office’s trade record has been pretty stellar in the past, so there’s reason to be optimistic. None of the transactions made yesterday were franchise-altering – no players envisioned in future plans were traded away, and no future all-stars were likely obtained in return. However, it’s these types of smaller moves that add up to an overall competitive club.

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Building a Bullpen

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

In an alternate universe* where I am the youngest general manager in Major League Baseball history—take that Theo—I find the building of a bullpen to be the most fascinating of activities.

While starters get the big-money contracts and deadline buzz, bullpens are pieced together with some strange concoction of failed starters, big-stuff young guns and a handful of oft-travelled veterans. Sometimes they work and sometimes they fail miserably, but no team can survive a season without the band of merry gentlemen coming out of the pen to (hopefully) preserve the occasional tight win.

I’m a bit of a sucker for good relief pitchers, as evidenced by my unnecessary hogging of holds leaders and surprising save-by-committee-competition winners in my friends-only fantasy league every year. But how exactly does a (real) team catch lightning in a bottle and create a group of pitchers that will eek out late-inning wins rather than give up the traumatic gopher ball in the closing moments?

There are two general trains of thought when it comes to building a pen, at least in my experience: developing or buying. Both strategies are rather self explanatory with developing bullpens focusing on mid-level arms in the draft and buying bullpens getting put together with a flurry of back-page trades or free-agent signings.

While I would love to spend the next three years of my life studying what strategy is better is a stand-alone recipe for success—my day job will come calling eventually—so I’ll tell you what I THINK I know.

I think the answer lies somewhere in between the two strategies. Okay fine, maybe this is a copout of a response, “Surely no team builds a bullpen solely one way or the other,” you say. I’ll give you that, but every team has a different identity in how they build their pen, whether their focus is international players or live arms or whatever redeeming quality a front office may want.

The teams with the best bullpens know how to get the most of the guys in their system, while also supplementing them with an assortment of wily vets. The problem with building a bullpen is that, by nature, they are volatile from both performance and longevity standpoint.

Mariano Rivera’s and Lee Smith’s don’t just grow on trees anymore. Injuries, contract demands and lack of sentimentality among players have led to shortened careers or 10-stop careers. For many relievers, this is the life you live. Just ask a guy like Latroy Hawkins.

Only closers get the somewhat royal treatment that starters receive, but even their shimmer as a high-priced cog for teams is fading. My buddy Dave, who I probably reference way too much, always rags on teams who spend big money on closers in free agency. “Teams should instead,” he says, “focus on building up their closer spot from within and spend money elsewhere.” It’s hard to look at the contract doled out to traveling closers in recent years and disagree with his sentiment.

Middle relief is an underappreciated art—that is until something goes wrong. However, I tend to find that the most beloved Cubbies in recent years have been of the mid-inning-eater variety. James Russell and Sean Marshall are two guys that instantly come to mind, as solidly developed guys who have been the glue holding a middling pen from falling completely apart. On the flip side, the Cubs have had their fair share of over-priced closers take a shot at becoming a fix in the role. Unfortunately few, if any, have worked out in the team’s favor in trying times.

The late-night heartburn caused from too many agonizing Carlos Marmol and Hawkins’ blown saves has been relieved a bit after the early-season release of Jose Veras—another example of a FA closer not working out. Sure the Cubs are still losing games at an exorbitant rate, but the losses seem to be piling up more because of a youthful offense in comparison to gauge-your-eyes out collapses.

Chicago’s makeshift bullpen in 2014 has been far from perfect, but their current rank of 17th in ESPN’s relief category is a drastic improvement from their ranks of 29th and dead-last in 2013 and 2012 respectively. Interestingly enough, the Cubs bullpen this year is still seeing time in plenty of pressure situations because of the low ERA numbers on an individual basis from the rotation. Despite an offensive power outage, many of the guys coming in during the middle innings have seen a large number of toss-up scores.

The record might not be any different in 2014, but again, there are many reasons for why this is the case that most educated fans understand. But it is interesting to see the improvement in the pen, despite a lot of question marks surrounding the future of its makeup.

Currently, not a single player in the pen has a set-figure salary following the season. Carlos Villanueva is an unrestricted free agent and a probable goner, while everyone else minus Justin Grimm and Brian Schlitter is arb-eligible. There is the hope, as always, that most of these deals will get done sooner rather than later and the Cubs have shown that arbitration needs to be avoided at all cost. Who can blame them, arbitration is a bit awk(ward for you oldies).

Wesley Wright and Russell could both be moved by the time this article is posted, which changes the dynamic of the unit a bit for the remainder of the year.

Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop will be mainstays in the back half for the time being, as are probable cheap options Justin Grimm and Brian Schlitter. Outside of that the Cubs will probable see another offseason of turnover in the middle of the pen. Management will need to decide if they see Chris Rusin and freshly acquired Felix Doubront as back-end starters or middle relievers.

The continued improvement of the young relievers in their system has been one of the least talked about goals for the team. A farm full of big bats will be able to mask many deficiencies with the staff, as well the likelihood of adding a top-flight pitcher by the time Opening Day in 2016 rolls around. However, figuring out the right collection of players in the bullpen, both current and future, will have a lasting impact on how high the arrow can actually go up for the franchise.


*EDITOR’S NOTE: This universe actually exists in the program called Out of the Park Baseball and not in Josh’s delusional brain.

So what say you VFTBr’s, what does your bullpen look like in two years?



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A Belated Cubs’ Hall of Fame Point

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

I am old…okay 45…not that old.  My experience as a Cubs’ fan growing up was much different than many of you. My favorite players were Rick Monday, Rick Reuschel, Bruce Sutter, Bill Buckner and Bobby Murcer. Of course in the ‘80s,  I was a huge fan of Ryno and the ’84 team  However as I aged, and the players were the same age as me…and then even younger than men…it just kind of felt weird.  The last player that I was truly just a “fan” of was Greg Maddux.  Oh I love watching Rizzo, and ‘Mendy might currently be my favorite Cub, but I have viewed players through a different lens for many years.

So Maddux is the last one whose cards I collect, am proud to have his autograph, etc.  Obviously, I was not a happy fan when he went to Atlanta.  Therefore when I wrote my book (not a plug), I knew that the Cubs’ handling of the situation was going to be one of my main “reasons”.  Instead of rehashing what I wrote, I have decided to include an excerpt from the book(not a plug).  This section comes from Reason 91 “The Crimes of Larry Himes”:

Greg Maddux could have stayed with the Cubs; he even wanted to stay with the Cubs! Larry Himes is the man most responsible for the exit of Greg Maddux. The following excerpt (an excerpt within an excerpt!) is from the November 22, 1992 edition of the Rome Daily Times:

            The Chicago Cubs decided Saturday to give up bidding for 1992 CY Young winner Greg Maddux. General manager Larry Himes said that a $27.5 million, five-year offer which Maddux rejected in July still stands-but maybe not for long. Himes said the offer will be withdrawn as soon as he signs someone else.  “I looked at myself bidding against myself and decided to stop.” Himes said.

Himes wasn’t bidding against himself; he was bidding against the Yankees and the Braves.  Himes’ “bidding against myself” statement may have been an attempt to paint Maddux and agent Scott Boras as unreasonable or greedy.  A few facts shred any argument that Himes would make in that regard:

  1. 1.     Maddux was ready to sign a five-year, $25 million extension the previous winter until it was Himes who dragged his feet on the deal and did not return a call to Maddux and Boras.  This event prompted Maddux to go into the 1992 season without a deal in place.
  2. 2.     Maddux eventually signed with the Braves for $28 million over five years…a whopping $500,000 more than the Cubs’ offer. 
  3. 3.     The Yankees were offering Maddux a reported $ 9 million more than the Braves; if Maddux was greedy…he takes the Yankees deal.

Mr. Himes made a horrendous mistake that cost Cubs’ fans the prime years of arguably the greatest pitcher of all time.  I am not sure if Mr. Himes was lacking intelligence, was too arrogant, or let his pride get in the way.  If Himes would have simply beaten the Braves offer by $1-2 million over the course of the deal, Maddux likely remains a Cub.  The Tribune Company had the money; Himes went and spent it on the wonderful Jose Guzman, Randy Myers, and Candy Maldonado combination!

The Chicago Cubs decided that they did not need or want Greg Maddux anymore; and that decision was made by Larry Himes. This idiotic choice earns Larry Himes the distinction of being Reason 91.

Ugh! I get angry just reading that again! The reason I felt it relevant is that during his HOF induction speech on Sunday Maddux stated “I went to Atlanta to start a family and win a World Series…sorry Chicago”. On Monday I heard longtime Chicago scribe, and Maddux confidant Barry Rozner reflect on that comment:

“That was a little revisionist history by Greg, he didn’t want to leave Chicago, he was kicked out of the house”.  Wow…let that sink in.  355 wins, 17 straight 15 wins seasons, the only pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks…and the Cubs kicked him out.

If you have never been to the Hall of Fame, its great of course, but it’s out in the middle of nowhere and there is like one way in…and one way out.  You seemingly drive forever down a never ending road, and then have to back track on the same road to get back to normal civilization.  I had absolutely zero interest in going to Cooperstown this weekend…because to me it wasn’t a celebration…at least not as a Cubs’ fan.  To me, it was a grim reminder of one of the most incompetent decisions my favorite baseball team has ever made.

Wow…that was kind of depressing.

Well…let’s try this…Jake Arrieta is pitching awesome! Rizzo leads the NL in homers! It seems Bryant, Baez, and Russell are doing something remarkable every day! Barney got traded!

Ahhh…that feels better.

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An Ode to Darwin Barney

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

It has become official. Darwin Barney is no longer a Cub. On Monday, the second baseman was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers with a cash consideration for a Player to be Named Later. The Cubs had only a few days left to trade their third longest tenured Cub after designating him for assignment last week. After the trade became official, I figured I would do a tribute to Barney’s time with the Cubs organization. Before this, I’ll make a few notes. I completely agree with and understand the DFA and trade. This isn’t a, “OMG! Epstink is terrible!!” piece, I promise. This is purely a final ode to the Cubs life of Darwin Barney.

In the 2007 draft, the Cubs had the third pick in the fourth round, number 127 overall. The Royals had the pick before the Cubs and they selected Mitch Hodge, who never made it past Low A. With their selection, the Cubs took a shortstop from Oregon State University, fresh off of back to back national titles. On June 7th, Darwin James Kunane Barney was a Cub. He signed on July 9th and was ready to get back on the field.

Barney started his Cubs career in Arizona in the Rookie League. He only played 5 games and was ready for a new challenge. The shortstop hit .444 (8-18) with three doubles to go along with a .545 OBP and a 1.157 OPS. He moved to Low A Peoria to finish his first pro season. In 44 games, Barney hit .273/.313/.392 with nine doubles and 27 runs scored. In the field, he made eight errors in 165 chances at short in those 44 games. Was he ready for High A Daytona after just 49 games in pro ball? Apparently he was, as he was promoted to start the 2008 season. Barney spent all year in Daytona, playing shortstop for 123 games. In his first full pro season, Darwin didn’t blow anyone away with the bat, as he hit .262/.325/.357 with 107 hits, 22 doubles, and 46 runs scored while making 21 errors at short in 565 chances.

Going into the 2009 season, the fast moving Barney found his way onto the AA Tennessee roster. The shortstop played in 74 games with the Smokies, hitting a career high .317 with an OPS of .769. 12 more doubles for the former OSU Beaver and 30 runs scored as Barney was one step closer to the big leagues after being promoted to AAA Iowa mid-season. He spent the rest of 2009 and the majority of 2010 with the I-Cubs. Barney played 177 games during that span with Iowa, compiling 199 hits, 36 doubles, and scoring 97 runs. On August 12th, 2010, the dream was realized.

Barney made his major league debut by being a defensive replacement at second base in San Francisco that night. The next night, he started for the first time, batting seventh and playing second base in St. Louis against the Cardinals. Barney went 0-4, but did not strikeout and did not make an error in the Cubs 6-3 loss. From that point on, Darwin Barney was the second baseman of the Cubs future. In 2011, Barney moved permanently to second base, playing 143 games that year and hitting like a key piece to the Cubs future plans. The second baseman hit .276/.313/.353 in 2011 compiling 146 hits, 23 doubles, scoring 66 runs, and driving in 43, while putting together a 1.7 WAR season. He did make 12 errors in 135 games a second, but it was still an adjusting period. None of us, however, could possibly imagine what he was going to do in 2012.

Darwin Barney cemented himself as one of the best defensive players in baseball in 2012. He played in a career high 156 games, all but one of which was at second. Incredibly, he posted a .997 fielding percentage, while only making two (!!) errors in 731 chances at second base. He was honored at the end of the year with the Gold Glove at second, beating out the Reds’ Brandon Phillips for the honor. Oh, and he didn’t hit terrible in 2012, but nothing compared to his defensive value (you see a theme developing). Barney hit .254/.288/.354 in that season, with 139 hits and 26 doubles, along with a career high seven home runs and compiling a 4.6 WAR season, largely in part to his defense. In 2013, however, the downfall began.

In 144 games in 2013, Barney only hit a measly .208 with a .569 OPS. He did hit seven home runs, matching a career high, but only had a total of 104 hits in those 144 games. The defense was there, again, but a .993 fielding percentage wasn’t good enough to win his second straight Gold Glove. Barney’s WAR fell from 4.6 in 2012 to -0.5 in 2013. His struggles continued, as Barney had a combination of lack of hitting, .230 with a .593 OPS in 72 games, and young prospects coming up to diminish his role on the team. As he left for paternity leave on August 9th, Arismendy Alcantara took his spot on the roster. Barney only played two games after coming back and was DFA’d by the Cubs on July 22nd.

The Darwin Barney era in Chicago will always be remembered, whether it was for his unbelievable plays at second or his inability to get a big hit when the Cubs needed it. I’ll always have a spot for Darwin in my Cubs history books. He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, but unfortunately a good thing can’t last forever.

Goodbye, Darwin.

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