August 22, 2016

WOOD HE PLEASE STOP?

Will Maddon please stop with the manta of playing players out of position?

There was absolutely no reason to play Travis Wood in LF during yesterday's Rockies blowout of the Cubs. None.

The bullpen has been hit with a surge of injuries and tired arms. You do not need one of your healthy lefties to go out and try to cover the vast space of left field, in thin air, just to save Jason Heyward who had not played in three consecutive games.

Calling it a Maddon "fun" interjection in a bad game is no excuse. Yes, Wood got a single in his only at-bat while the rest of the team mustered three. But what if he got hurt playing left in a meaningless game?

The more times Maddon does this stunt, the odds increase that someone will get hurt.

The Cubs cannot believe they are coasting to the playoffs.  The bullpen continues to be a concern, and the starting rotation needs skip-start rest. With Montgomery and Cahill being the spot-start tandem, that thins out the regular bullpen availability of relievers like Wood.

In September, the Cubs will bring up additional outfielders and infielders and as many live arms that they can find. But until then, Maddon needs to just play players in their natural positions.

August 15, 2016

ARM FATIGUE

John Lackey was pulled from his last start due to soreness in the shoulder.
That is not a good sign. Afterward, he said he'd be "fine." Joe Maddon said some
post game treatment has helped him.

But most likely, he will skip his next start.

There is a doubleheader soon with a 26th man - - - most likely a spot starter like Cahill or Montgomery.

But Lackey's exit continues to spotlight the one weakness in the Cubs team: pitching.

Starting pitching has been the constant for the team with the best record in baseball. But it is a fragile rotation.

But the focus has been on the fragile bullpen. Nathan, Montgomery, Smith have been brought in to solidify a shaky pen. Only Chapman has been the real deal, monster closer.

Rondon was achy to come back and lose the final Cardinal game. Many fans hope it was just rust.

It is becoming one of those games of musical chairs with no real great ending.

The Cubs just signed Joe Thatcher to a minor league contract after the Indians cut him for the third time this season. Thatcher has not pitched in the majors in 2016. But it shows that the Cubs have no pitching depth in the system to overcome a Strop injury, nagging issues with Rondon, or the badness of Smith's home run pitches.

The bullpen will remain an issue for the rest of the season. It seems Maddon only trusts Chapman (for one inning only) and Wood (in any inning or game situation). He wants Rondon to be the 8th inning guy but there is an apparent transition for closers who lose their jobs. One would think that pitching is pitching - - - but players are intense creatures of habit.

Expect Lackey to miss at least one start. Also, each of the other four starters will get an extra day of rest in September as the Cubs need to start planning now for the post season rotation.

August 10, 2016

IAN STEWART 2.0

When Tommy LaStella did not report to AAA Iowa in 72 hours after his option, we knew that was odd. Then it was reported that he was dealing with "personal issues." That was strange since there was no more information. Now, 13 days have past and the truth his filtering out.

La Stella’s me-first refusal to report to Triple-A Iowa isn’t connected to any health issue, personal emergency or family crisis, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Joe Maddon confirmed Tuesday, 11 days after the Cubs optioned out the bench player as a way to make room for outfielder Chris Coghlan and deal with the 25-man roster crunch.

This is the Ian Stewart situation all over again.

The trade for Stewart was the worst under Epstein's tenure with the Cubs. Stewart was supposed to be a high average, power third baseman from Colorado. He turned out to be a dud. He refused an option to AAA to work on his game. Instead, he went home to sulk. In the end, the Cubs had to get rid of him.

La Stella told ESPN that he’s considering retirement if he can’t play for the big-league team. Earlier this season, La Stella explained to his hometown New Jersey newspaper how he temporarily quit baseball in high school and rediscovered the joy of the game with Maddon’s Cubs.

“He’s not angry,” Maddon said before a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels at Wrigley Field. “He’s not upset. He’s just at that point now where he doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do.

“We all have a different lens (for) how we view the world. I know when I went through my Kurt Vonnegut stage, I was kind of screwed up when I was 21.”

However, La Stella is 27. He should know better. He is a  role player on a good team that has more good players than roster spots.  LaStella may be upset that he may not get on the playoff roster if he is viewed as "inventory" by the demotion.

“I think ‘disappointed’ would be the wrong word,” Hoyer said. “Given how much we’ve talked to him, trying to understand where he’s coming from, empathize with him and give him the space.”

Commentators have started to opine on what LaStella is doing to the Cubs. Did he quit on his teammates? Does refusing to go to Iowa hurt the major league team? Is he selfish? He only wants to play in the big leagues? Was he unprofessional? In the modern pampered athlete world is that even possible?  If he reports to Iowa and badmouths his treatment by the Cubs, will that have a negative impact on organizational players?

Why does LaStella think he is more important than the organization making any move necessary to win a championship? The answer is no.

The White Sox have shown the sports world that baseball employees go off the handle at management without any responsibility or harsh accountability. In a normal business, someone who does not show up for work gets fired for cause. But athletes seem to be immune from the realities of the real employment world.

If LaStella does not want to play, cut him.

The Cubs are doing fine without him.

August 3, 2016

RECORD BAD LUCK

Oh, the White Sox.

On paper, the last two years were supposed to be good.

In reality, not so much.

The team has probably set a unique and bitter record this season.

Charlie Tilson was helped off the field by manager Robin Ventura and trainer Herm Schneider after Tilson, making his debut after a trade with the Cardinals, injured his hamstring and knee on an outfield play.

Tilson was the fourth Sox player injured in the White Sox debut game. Catcher Kevan Smith had to be scratched before a game in Toronto in April when he got hurt warming up.  Left fielder Jason Coats cut his lip and was dazed colliding with center fielder J.B. Shuck on June 4 in Detroit.  Matt Davidson fractured his right foot running the bases against the Twins June 30 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Four players hurt in their first games.

Not a great beginning.

During every season, a team needs some luck in order to win. Some teams seem to have a dark cloud over them or bad luck chases them down.

The White Sox have had a strange year. First, the spring training blow up of LaRoche's son being the team mascot. Second, Chris Sale butchering throw back uniforms in a tantrum. Now, four young players going on the DL during their debuts.

The White Sox need to get younger in the field. The free agent veterans acquired in the past three seasons have not panned out this year. Adding speedy Tilson in center field for the injured Austin Jackson was supposed to be the final spark to right the season. Instead, it flamed out.

Tilson was the only trade deadline move the team made. There were inquiries about Sale and Jose Quintana, but the Sox wanted a ransom for either starting pitcher. Besides, what good players do the White Sox have to build a competitive team around besides Sale and Quintana?

August 1, 2016

TAKE AWAY HIS SCORECARD

Last nights Cubs game was terrible display of front office and field management.

First, who cares if Matooze has a contract out on Tuesday if he does not get promoted
to the big league roster? The Cubs sent down bullpen arm Grimm for 10 days to showcase
"Matooze" - - - a terrible slow pitch lefty who is a failed Oriole starter FOUR years ago?!

I commented that after the top of  first inning it looked like a spring training game.

Second, Maddon went Nutty Professor again last night - - - running out of players and
pitchers. I cringed when Wood crashed into the left field brick wall while making a catch.


He is the most valuable middle reliever on the team. Maddon is going to get a player a career ending injury by playing them out of position. Davy Martinez should take away Maddon's scorecard
in the 6th inning of games.

Third, a suicide squeeze with one out in the 12th by Jon Lester? Extremely lucky on the
play because Heyward got a bad jump off third, and the Seattle pitcher did not field the
bunt cleanly and tossed it to the wrong side of the catcher.

Sure, it was an exciting game.
Sure, the fans left happy.

But the Cubs never should have been in a 6-0 deficit.


Unless the Cubs decide on a real six man rotation to save the starting 5's arms for October, this "spot" start "let's throw spaghetti arms on the wall and see what sticks" is a bad plan.

If the Cubs were thinking that they would use last night's spot starter in a possible trade today, well, that notion turned to a charcoal nugget by the end of the second inning. This spot start also adds to the major league roster shortage. We expect Matusz to get cut or waived today - - -  which means the Cubs have to call up someone on their 40 man roster (but it cannot be LaStella or Grimm.) Unless Soler or Cahill is ready to come off the disabled list, the pickings are slim in Iowa.

July 26, 2016

THE SLASHER

MLB.com got the first interview with The Slasher, Chris Sale:

CHICAGO --Chris Sale doesn't want to be traded -- and doesn't believe he will be -- in the wake of Saturday night's pregame outburst that resulted in him being scratched from his start that evening and then suspended five games by the White Sox.

"I want to win a championship in Chicago. That's been my goal from Day 1," Sale told MLB.com Monday afternoon during a 30-minute interview, his first public comments since Saturday. "It has never changed. I only get more passionate about it because I know that it's not easy winning a championship. There's a lot that goes into it.


"Our main focus should be winning. I know that every single player comes in ready to win every day. I can't speak on anybody else. ... I don't think I would be traded. I don't know for sure. I don't know what they are thinking now or what's going on."

For Sale, the core issue wasn't the uniforms themselves, although he did have issues with them, but putting business interests ahead of winning.

"Nothing else matters really," Sale said, in a calm and composed but still passionate manner. "People don't talk about the guys who get paid the most. They talk about the guys with the rings and teams that won the rings. Our guys in this clubhouse deserve, in every single game, the best opportunity to go achieve that goal of winning a championship. That's why we are all here. Nothing else matters."

There are, of course, financial considerations for the White Sox as there are for any business. Throwback days are popular with fans and often are accompanied by a spike in attendance. Switching uniforms at the last moment, without an opportunity to inform fans of the change, certainly could have engendered frustration on the part of fans who came to see the team play in those uniforms.

The issue, for Sale, began in Spring Training when the players were fitted for the special jerseys, which in 2015 were too large and therefore uncomfortable to play in. Sale said that players were not fans of this jersey overall, and he said then that if the jerseys fell on his day to pitch, he didn't want to wear them, in part because he never had pitched in an untucked jersey in his life.

On the night before Sale's Saturday start, he was advised that the '76 throwbacks were set for his start and Sale asked the clubhouse manager for a different uniform, then expressing the sentiment to pitching coach Don Cooper. Sale was in favor of the '83 throwbacks, which eventually were worn Saturday, because he didn't want the untucked style of the '76 uniform.

When he arrived Saturday and the '76 throwbacks were set out for the players, Sale again took his issue to Cooper and manager Robin Ventura, with whom he admittedly lost his cool. He did not get the answer he wanted and, upon returning to the clubhouse, Sale reportedly cut up his uniform and then those of his teammates, rendering them unwearable.

"When I saw that there was something in the way of that 100 percent winning mentality, I had an issue," Sale said. "I tried to bring it up and say, 'Hey listen, these are my thoughts and concerns,' and they got pushed away because of the business deal that was set in place. I'll never understand why we need to do something on the business side on the field that might impede us winning a game.

"[The '76 uniforms] are uncomfortable and unorthodox. I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. ... There's a lot of different things that went into it. Looking bad had absolutely zero to do with it. Nothing."

In the end, Ventura told Sale there would be no last-minute change.

"I didn't put promotion in front of winning," Ventura said. "But I think we all have things that we have to do. There has to be a line somewhere, and that's what ended up happening."

"Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department," Sale said. "If the players don't feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix -- it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that's when I lost it."

Ventura made the decision to scratch Sale, and Sale apologized Monday to the fans who came to see him and to his teammates, especially the bullpen, who he said he owes big time for their carrying the team in his place.

"I have regret, because I play 33 times a year at most in the regular season. So I put a lot of emphasis on when I play and I take a lot of pride in work that I do," Sale said. "When I can't or don't do that, yeah, I have disappointment in myself for not being there for my guys.

"Do I regret standing up for what I believe in? Absolutely not. Do I regret saying business should not be first before winning? Absolutely not."

Sale worked out Monday at the ballpark and said he did not think he and Ventura needed a sitdown. But their working relationship might have been altered.
"We'll find out when he gets back," Ventura said.

"I'm going to show up on Thursday and do what I've always done. That's get ready to play baseball and put everything I got into winning that game," Sale said. "I know my teammates are, too. So that's all that matters to me. It's unfortunate it got to this point."

>>>> From Sale's interview, here are the main points:

1. Sale was aware of the throw back uniforms in spring training when he was fitted for his jersey.
2. Sale said in spring training he did not want to wear it.
3. Sale has "never" worn a untucked jersey. He did not want to alter his mechanics with an untucked jersey.
4. When he was told of the jersey the day before his start, he objected to the clubhouse manager and then to his pitching coach.
5. On the day of the game, he again objected to his pitching coach and manager Ventura, who told him there would be no change in uniforms.
6. Upon hearing the decision, Sale went into the clubhouse and destroyed everyone's jersey.
7. Sale justifies his actions because he believes players need to be 100% comfortable in order to win championships, and business interests should not interfere with winning.

It is hard to believe that a veteran baseball player has such a narrow, self-centered view of the world. 

How does an untucked shirt interfere with one's body mechanics when it is actually a looser garment?
If winning is important, why did Sale think his violent actions and suspension was going to help the White Sox win?

Does he not realize that baseball is a business? A business needs revenue in order to pay its bills, including Sale's salary? And that the White Sox rely on sponsorship and fan giveaways like throwback jersey nights in order to get revenue? 

Does he not respect the game of baseball? The throwback jerseys are to bolster the image of the game and its history. It gives fans an opportunity to re-connect with their teams past.

Why did he destroy ALL his teammate's jerseys? Is it not possible that some players like these throwback uniforms? Sale put his own personal opinion above and beyond anyone else's view point.

What is really troublesome is that Sale's action of destroying a locker room full of expensive jerseys is a felony under Illinois law. An employee has no right to destroy his employer's property. In a normal business situation, Sale's employment would have been terminated and a criminal charge may have been filed against him for restitution. But a pampered athlete gets a pass on serious accountability for their actions.

Yes, a five day suspension probably cost Sale $125,000 in salary. It cost Sale a start. But apparently, those costs have not changed Sale's view point on how the White Sox should be run.

Are the inmates running the asylum? Players may believe the locker room is their own domain but it is not. It is owned and operated by the club. Management has a right to impose its rules and regulations on the players and clubhouse procedures just as any other employer.

The White Sox players have a very anti-management edge which bubbled to the surface during the LaRoche incident in spring training. The Sox also had an issue with the Mariners new policy of taking 60 percent of the visitor clubhouse attendant's player tips and dues. Now, Sale physically tore up management's business promotion because he was not on board with it.

If Sale is truthful about his reasoning that the players "deserve" the best opportunity to win, then as the team's best pitcher, he should have sucked up his pride and pitched in the throwback uniform because it gave the White Sox the best chance to win the game. Instead, the team had to scramble six bullpen pitchers to cover for Sale's actions. 

Sale is dead wrong on this issue. He is a selfish, childish player who has anger management issues. His tantrum is not endearing to the fans or to his bosses. And since this is not the first time he has challenged a management decision, he may get traded this off-season because the White Sox are not winning with him.

THE TRADE

The Cubs overpaid for a 10 week regular season rental player.

Aroldis Chapman is an elite closer.  Chapman, 28, has the highest strikeout rate per nine innings in baseball, and his fastball was recently clocked at 105 mph. The left-hander has a 2.01 ERA in with 20 saves in 21 opportunities for the Yankees.

In order to get the deal done, the Cubs sent four players to New York: #1 prospect Gleyber Torres, #4 prospect OF Billy McKinney, swingman P Adam Warren (who Chicago got from NY in the Starlin Castro trade) and Class A OF Rashad Crawford.


Torres, 19, was the main chip in the deal. He is projected to have plus defensive skills. But he was going to blocked at the major league level by Addison Russell and Javy Baez.

Warren was a mixed bag as Maddon did not use him consistently as the Yankees did last season as a starter and long reliever. McKinney came over from Oakland in the Russell deal, but he seems to also be blocked by Albert Almora who will succeed Dexter Fowler in CF in 2017.

The Yankees were adamant about getting four players for Chapman, because last off-season they traded four players to the Reds to get Chapman, who was in hot water for an alleged domestic violence investigation.

Chapman and his agent negotiated a 30 game suspension with the league which allowed Chapman to earn enough service time this year to become a free agent this off-season. As a Scott Boras client, Chapman will test the free agent market. He had said he had a preference to re-signing with the Yanks.

So Chapman is clearly a rental player for the Cubs.

Some fans may not like the idea of a bad person coming into the good clubhouse the Cubs have fostered under Joe Maddon. Apparently, Ricketts and the front office spoke to Chapman and set forth their expectations of him and his conduct. In a press release, Chapman said he accepted the league punishment and is working with his girlfriend to raise their daughter. Whether this partial apology will stop fans or the media from questioning Chapman is another matter.

The four players traded for Chapman does improve the back of the bullpen.

However, the four players traded for Chapman could have been used to pry a controllable starting pitcher from a team like the Rays.  The Cubs had been advertising that they wanted to get a controllable starting pitcher prior to the Mike Montgomery trade.

But it appears Theo and Jed are in "win now" mode - - - a championship this season or bust. The trade allows Rondon and Strop to pitch the 8th and 7th innings, with Montgomery and Wood being situational pitchers, and Nathan, Edwards and Grimm in mop up roles.