January 31, 2012


The Cubs announced that they signed infielders Edgar Gonzalez and Matt Tolbert to minor league deals that include invitations to MLB Spring Training. 

Tolbert appeared at short, second and third for the 2011 Twins, posting a .518 OPS in 226 plate appearances. Tolber, 29, played 87 games before being cut in October. His stats were not earth shattering: 

0 HR -11 RBI - 2 SB .198 BA. Scouts consider him  below average defense infielder.

Gonzalez, 33, picked up MLB experience with the Padres in 2008-09, but spent last year with San Francisco's top affiliate. He posted a .315/.378/.457 line in 564 Triple-A plate appearances last year. He hit 14 HR-82 RBI- 14 SB while playing second and OF in AAA.

In addition, the Cubs invited long time farm hand Bobby Scales, 34, to spring training. Last season Scales played at Iowa and in Japan.

In 2011, between Iowa and Nippon Ham Fighters, 18 HR -73 RBI- 7 SB, .280 BA.
Average fielder at second base.

In 2010, in limited duty with the Cubs, Scales  batted .308, 0 HR-2 RBI-1SB in 10 games.

An invitation to spring training is really "show me what your got" try out for the major league roster. It usually means the team has a concern or weakness at certain positions. The Cubs appear to be unsettled on infield depth, and especially second base.

Darwin Barney, in his rookie season, started off fast but had a significant drop-off in the second half. HIs season line was:

      143 games:  570 PA  66 R 146 H  2 HR 43 RBI  9 SB 22 BB 67 K .276 BA

The concerns with Barney's production are two fold: lack of power, and high strikeout to walk ratio. Since he does not walk very often, he is not a top of the lineup type of hitter (lead off or #2). That puts him down at the bottom of the order (#8) for which you need more power or on-base percentage to turnover the order quicker during games. 

Hoyer is apparently looking to see if Scales or Gonzalez have enough home run pop left in their bats to be a regular infielder or to supply something off the bench.  This is the cheap but risky solution to the second base issue. It could be easily solved if the Cubs would trade for a veteran on the market, like the Braves Martin Prado. But the Cubs decided to use the slow, uphill route in filling their roster with cast-offs and AAA players.

In any event, Barney will be on the hot seat this spring. The pressure will be on him to have an excellent spring in order to convince Hoyer that he is an everyday second baseman.

January 30, 2012


News and rumors from the weekend papers:

(1) An AL GM who is not associated with the Red Sox or Cubs believes that Commissioner Bud Selig will give Boston a significant player in the compensation agreement:  "I don’t think MLB wants executives leaving their teams before their contracts are up and therefore he will try to deter teams from doing that again."

>>>> Whoa. That means the Cubs interest in Cuban OF defectors Cespedes and Soler may be because #1 prospect Brett Jackson may be that compensation. That would send a message; but one has to realize that Epstein was on the way out anyway with the conflict with the team owners and president. But will Selig realize that? Probably not.

(2) The Cardinals are actively shopping pitcher Kyle McClellan ($2.5 million salary) in order to free up payroll to sign Roy Oswalt to a one year deal. McClellan, 27, is under team control for 2012-2013.

>>>> This is a type of player Espstein and Hoyer would like to pick up: young pitchers under control for several seasons. McClellan would be a fine middle rotation guy. He went 12-7 last year with a 4.19 ERA. However, I don't think the Cubs have the money or the player(s) to make a deal with the Cardinals.

(3) The Rays are looking for a veteran catcher, and Geo Soto's name has come up in the discussion as one of three veteran catchers on Tampa's radar.

>>>> Since the Cubs will not be competitive in 2012, you might as well just trade Soto for prospects (maybe some of those the Cubs sent for Garza) and run with the two high level catchers that are ready for major league duty (Castillo and Clevenger).

January 27, 2012


Spring training is only a few weeks away.  All the hard work of the off-season will be on display (or in some quarters, dismay).  The Cubs are in full re-build mode, but Ricketts cannot afford too long before the turnover is complete. Let us project ahead to the 2014 spring training, which will be the final transition year of the old regime and the focal point of Epstein's new beginning.

Based upon the contracts (years of "control" is a critical mantra by Epstein and Hoyer) and players in the system today, this list are the players who would be in Mesa in February, 2014:

2014 Cubs:
Position Players:
DeJesus rf
Castro ss
Soriano lf
Stewart 3b
Barney 2b
Castillo c
DeWitt inf
Campana of
Rizzo 1b
Lake inf
M. Gonzales ss
B. Jackson cf
Szcur of
Sappelt of

Starting Pitchers:
T. Wood sp
Volstad sp
McNutt sp
Maples sp
Rhee sp

Relief Pitchers:
Carpenter closer
Dolis rp
Cates rp
Maine rp
Russell rp
L. Castillo rp
B. Wells rp

The projected opening day line up would be:

1. DeJesus rf
2. Castro ss
3. Jackson cf
4. Rizzo 1b
5. Szcur lf
6. W. Castillo c
7. J. Lake 2b
8. Stewart 3b
9. T. Wood sp

January 26, 2012


Yoenis Cespedes, through his agent, sent a weird 20 minute video to major league teams to drum up interest for his services since his defection from Cuba in 2011. It was a strange YouTube, self produced video that was heavy on personality and light on actual baseball footage. It was made to smooth over some international scout impressions because Cespedes international career has highs and lows.

Cespedes is an allegedly 26 years old, 5’ 10” 187 lb center fielder.  His mother was an athlete, a Cuban softball pitcher who appeared in the 2000 Olympics.

He started the 2009 Baseball World Cup as Cuba's starting center fielder but struggled and only hit .194/.275/.333 while being caught in his only steal attempt. Cespedes  pinch-hit and got a 9th-inning single off Brad Lincoln in Cuba's 10-5 loss to Team USA title game.

Cespedes hit .345/.426/.617 in the 2009-2010 season with 87 runs and 22 homers in 87 contests. He was third in the league in runs, 10th in hits (118), 8th in home runs, 4th in total bases  and was 9th in slugging.

Cespedes was 11 for 22 with 12 runs, 14 RBI, 2 doubles and four homers in six games at the 2010 World University Baseball Championship. He drove in six against South Korea and five against China. In the Gold Medal game, he was 0 for 4 with a strikeout as Cuba's #5 batter in a 4-3 win over Team USA.

He played for Cuba when they finished second in the 2010 Pan American Games Qualifying Tournament. In the 2010 Intercontinental Cup, he was 3 for 10 with a double, 3 runs, 4 RBI and a walk as a backup.

Cespedes put up a .333/.424/.667 batting line with 89 runs, 33 home runs and 99 RBI in 90 games in the 2010-2011 season. He led the league in runs, tied  for the home run lead (breaking the league record by one),[tied for the most total bases (236), tiedfor 7th in steals (11 in 14 tries), led in RBI  and finished 5th in slugging. He was named the All-Star center fielder.

Pro scouts believe Cespedes is a five-tool player; one who excels at hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning skills and speed, throwing ability, and fielding abilities. If you try to imagine the Cuban National League as a AAA-AA talent league, his numbers are pretty consistent:

2009          .284    26    78
2010         .345    22     76
2011          .333   33     99

However, there lacks the critical element of comparison to the talent he was playing against in Cuba. It makes it harder to project how he will do against major league pitching. So it is a real crap shoot in the dark to evaluate a player whose age, competition and major projections are mere speculation. It is also a more difficult decision since the agent is looking for a 5 year/$60 million deal.

The Cubs were one of six teams mentioned in the mix for Cespedes. That would mean that Epstein and Hoyer do not have the same evaluation of Brett Jackson, the team's center fielder in waiting, as did Hendry and the fans. Right now, Byrd is blocking Jackson from starting in CF in 2012. Jackson is ready to be promoted as he has excelled at all levels, including AAA last season. If Cespedes is signed, Byrd may be either a) the 4th OF with Reed Johnson or b) traded for low prospects. Soriano and DeJesus will not lose their starting roles.

If you are looking to fill in the middle of the order, we know Byrd is not productive in the #3 or #4 spot. Cespedes projects into the middle of the line up, and Jackson projects to a #3 hitter.  Byrd's contract is up after 2012; Cespedes and Jackson can be under the same number of years of control (an aspect near and dear to Epstein's rebuild project).

Since CF is not a pressing need, the Cubs may be better off using the money needed to pay for Cespedes into acquiring depth in pitchers.

January 25, 2012


With the last prize of the free agent derby signed (Fielder with the Tigers), let us review the transactions of the new Cub management team:

    RHP Rodrigo Lopez elected free agency.
    RHP Ramon Ortiz elected free agency.
    1B Carlos Pena elected free agency.
    RHP Kerry Wood elected free agency.
    LHP John Grabow elected free agency.
    LF Reed Johnson elected free agency.
    Chicago Cubs outrighted Justin Berg to Iowa Cubs.
    Chicago Cubs outrighted RHP Brian Schlitter to Iowa Cubs.
11/30/11    Chicago Cubs signed free agent RF David DeJesus.
    Chicago Cubs outrighted Esmailin Caridad to Iowa Cubs.
    Chicago Cubs outrighted Lou Montanez to Iowa Cubs.
    Chicago Cubs outrighted Kyle Smit to Iowa Cubs.
    Chicago Cubs called up Junior Lake from Tennessee Smokies.
    Chicago Cubs called up Jeff Beliveau from Tennessee Smokies.
    Chicago Cubs called up Josh Vitters from Tennessee Smokies.
    Chicago Cubs called up Matthew Szczur from Daytona Cubs.
11/15/11    RHP Justin Berg assigned to Chicago Cubs.
11/01/11    3B Aramis Ramirez elected free agency.

    Chicago Cubs signed free agent RHP Andy Sonnanstine.
    Chicago Cubs signed free agent RHP Manuel Corpas.
    Chicago Cubs traded LHP Sean Marshall to Cincinnati Reds; Cincinnati Reds traded LHP Travis Wood and CF Dave Sappelt to Chicago Cubs and Dayton Dragons traded Ronald Torreyes to Peoria Chiefs.
    Chicago Cubs signed free agent C Jason Jaramillo.
12/13/11    Chicago Cubs signed free agent 2B Edgar Gonzalez.
    C Koyie Hill elected free agency.
    Chicago Cubs signed free agent RF Joe Mather.
12/09/11    Chicago Cubs claim Jeff Bianchi off waivers from Kansas City Royals.
    Chicago Cubs traded 2B DJ LeMahieu and LF Tyler Colvin to Colorado Rockies for P Casey Weathers and 3B Ian Stewart.
    Chicago Cubs claim Lendy Castillo off waivers from Lakewood BlueClaws.

    Chicago Cubs signed free agent 2B Alfredo Amezaga.
    Chicago Cubs signed free agent RHP Kerry Wood.
01/11/12    Milwaukee Brewers claim Jeff Bianchi off waivers from Chicago Cubs.
    Chicago Cubs signed free agent C Mario Mercedes.
    Chicago Cubs signed free agent LHP Paul Maholm.
01/09/12    Chicago Cubs signed free agent RHP Rodrigo Lopez.
    LF Kyung-Min Na assigned to Chicago Cubs.
    Chicago Cubs traded RHP Andrew Cashner and LF Kyung-Min Na to San Diego Padres for 1B Anthony Rizzo and RHP Zach Cates.
    Chicago Cubs traded RHP Carlos Zambrano to Miami Marlins for SP Chris Volstad.
    Chicago Cubs signed free agent C Juan Apodaca.
01/03/12    Chicago Cubs signed free agent LF Reed Johnson.

Chicago Cubs Non-Roster Invitees to spring training major league camp:
RP Justin Berg   
P  Rodrigo Lopez     
C Jason Jaramillo  

January 24, 2012


Now that the 2012 Cubs roster is pretty much set, there is a hue and cry about how bad the offense will be, especially in the deficiency of home run power.  There are only two batters with a good probability of hitting 20 or more home runs this season: Soriano and LaHair. There are only two batters with a good probability of hitting 15 home runs: Soto and Castro.

How does a lack of a strong home run hitter impact on the Cubs overall record? Chicks did the long ball, but it is necessary in order to win?

From 1982 through 2011, the answer is a surprising no.

Year    HR Leader    Team HR    HR Leader %    Team Wins
1982    22                     102         0.21568627451    73
1983    24                     140         0.17142857143    71
1984    25                     136         0.18382352941    96
1985    26                     150         0.17333333333    77
1986    21                     155         0.13548387097    70
1987    49                     209         0.23444976077    76
1988    24                     113         0.21238938053    77
1989    30                     124         0.24193548387    93
1990    40                     136         0.29411764706    77
1991    31                     159         0.19496855346    77
1992    26                     104         0.25                      78
1993    33                     161         0.2049689441      84
1994    25                     109         0.22935779817    49
1995    36                     158         0.22784810127    73
1996    40                     175         0.22857142857    76
1997    36                     127         0.28346456693    68
1998    66                     212         0.31132075472    90
1999    63                     189         0.33333333333    67
2000    50                     183         0.27322404372    65
2001    64                     194         0.32989690722    88
2002    49                     200         0.245                    67
2003    40                     172         0.23255813953    88
2004    39                     235         0.16595744681    89
2005    46                     194         0.23711340206    79
2006    38                     166         0.22891566265    66
2007    33                     151         0.21854304636    85
2008    29                     184         0.15760869565    97
2009    35                     161         0.21739130435    83
2010    25                     149         0.1677852349      75
2011    28                     148         0.18918918919    71

           1093                4796         0.22789824854

The lowest Team HR year was 1982 in this study. The Cubs won 73 games. The HR leader hit 21.57% of the team homers. One would assume that if you hit more home runs, you'd get more wins. The highest team HR year is 2004 with 235. The Cubs won 89 games, which is not the most during this time period. Four teams had more wins: 2008 (97 with 184 HR), 2004 (96 with 136 HR), 1989 (93 with 124 HR) and 1998 (90 with 212 HR).  During the peak home run era (1998-2004), the Cubs averaged only 79 wins.

On average, the Cubs leading home run hitter hit 22.79% of the teams round trippers. Sammy Sosa's 33.33% average in 1999 was the highest in this period, but the Cubs only won 67 games that season. Even when the batting order was more "balanced," with the top home run leader was at only 13.55% of the team total in 1986, the Cubs won only 70 games.

So there is no statistical link between having a big home run hitter(s) in the line up and number of team victories.

January 20, 2012


There has been some off-season discussion about teams looking to upgrade with patient batters who can work a count, and get on base. The "quality at-bat" may be a misnomer unless the at-bats leads to runs scored.

In 2011, the NL Central teams had the following statistics:

Team      Runs Scored      Plate Appearances
Reds       735                     6328
Brewers  721                     6113
Cards      762                     6242
Pirates     610                    6063
Astros     615                     6148
Cubs       654                     6128

How many plate appearances generated a run scored?

Team      RS/ PA            PA/RS
Reds       735/6328        8.61
Brewers  721/6113        8.48
Cards      762/6242        8.19
Pirates     610/6063        9.94
Astros     615/6148         9.99
Cubs       654/ 6128        9.37

But how "efficient" were teams in producing runs per plate appearance?
Which teams scored more runs per plate appearance?

Team      RS/ PA            RS/PA

Reds       735/6328        0.116

Brewers  721/6113        0.118

Cards      762/6242        0.122

Pirates     610/6063       0.100

Astros     615/6148        0.100

Cubs       654/ 6128       0.107

The Cardinals, who finished second with 90 wins, scored almost 20% more runs than the Pirates (72 wins) and the Astros (56 wins). The Cards were 3.4% more efficient in their team at-bats than the first place Brewers (96 wins) who were close to efficiency of the Reds (79 wins). To look at it another way, it took the Astros almost 2 more at-bats than the Cardinals to score a run. It took the Cubs almost 1.33 more at-bats than the Cardinals to score a run.

January 18, 2012


Major league general managers have this point of personal pride of not having players test their judgment or authority by going to a salary arbitration hearing. Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry was boastful about his signing record, until Ryan Theriot refused his offer and went to arbitration (and lost). Within the year, Theriot was traded by the Cubs, which some may not see as a "cause and effect" move while others will say the message was pretty clear. Hendry demanded loyalty.

New Cubs GM Theo Epstein has a record of never having a player go to an arbitration hearing. The Cubs had seven eligible players. The Cubs settled six of the seven before the deadline to submit salary figures. Starting pitcher Matt Garza was the lone Cub hold-out. Garza had been the center of attention in trade talks to the Tigers and Yankees. Then the Yankees made a blockbuster prospect deal with the Mariners to find a young stud starter, and then the Tigers shifted emphasis to acquiring a replacement bat for injured DH Victor Martinez. Garza, 28,  is the Cubs #1 starter by a wide margin. And Garza and his agent expect to be paid like a top tier starter.

Which brings into play the illogical disconnect and inconsistency of arbitration demands and negotiated salaries. In the arbitration procedure, the player submits a sum for a one year deal, and the team submits its figure. The arbitrator hears evidence from both sides then picks which number is the best fit for based on that evidence. It is either the player's or the owner's number that wins out. It is the roll of the loaded dice. However, both sides can settle the case before an award is decided.

The baseball community was that Garza would get between $8 to $9 million in an arbitration. The consensus was $8.75 million.   Garza made $5.95 million last season.

Garza has submitted a figure of $12.5 million, which is a 111.9 percent raise from 2011.  The Cubs submitted a figure of $7.95 million, which is a 33.9 percent raise from 2011. No one will be sponsoring a tag day for Garza if he loses the arbitration, but the difference between the two valuations is quite wide. If the consensus is the fair market valuation for Garza, it is more probable he would not win the arbitration. However, veteran 4th starters commanded more than $10 million in free agency this off season.

By comparison, Epstein and Hoyer re-signed the other arbitration players (arbitration year) (consensus award amount) in this fashion:

    * Jeff Baker (3rd year): $1.4m; signed for $1.375m (17% raise)
    * Blake DeWitt (1st year): $1.2m; signed for $1.1m  (139% raise)
    * Matt Garza (3rd year): $8.7m  NO DEAL
    * Geovany Soto (2nd year): $4m; signed for $4.3m (43.33% raise)
    * Ian Stewart (2nd year): $2.3m; signed for $2.237 (0.4% raise)
    * Chris Volstad (1st year): $2.7m; signed for $2.655m (497% raise)
    * Randy Wells (1st year): $2.2m signed for $2.705m (470% raise)

In the real world, none of these players would deserve a raise based upon their 2011 performance. But this is baseball, a fantasy league within itself.

If you use the measure how management values its employees by how BIG a raise they grant, then by that measure, Epstein and Hoyer value Volstad, Wells and DeWitt more than Garza. The Cubs pretty much hit consensus marks on all their arbitration players except Wells, for whom they will pay 23% more than expected for a pitcher that may not even be the team's fifth starter (current rotation projection is Garza, Maholm, Dempster, T. Wood and Volstad). Of course, that changes if Garza is traded, which is now more likely based upon the gulf between the two arbitration figures. If Garza wins the arbitration, it makes him harder to trade.

January 16, 2012


New Wrigley RF scoreboard bleacher project
When P.K. Wrigley bought the Cubs before the Great Depression, he went on the most extensive Wrigley Field rebuilding projects, which included new bleachers, the ivy brick walls,  and the iconic manual center field scoreboard. Some historians criticize that Wrigley put more money into his field namesake than into the Cubs as a team.

New owner Tom Ricketts is apparently falling into the same renovation trap, with the same old emphasis of creating more business revenue.

The announcement of the new 10 foot by 75 foot LED scoreboard in right field was clearly to increase advertising dollars at Wrigley Field. This park has the least amount of ad signage in the major leagues. After the brouhaha of the LF fence Toyota sign, the flood gates were open for more marketing prospects. Traditionalists will curse the conventions of advertising banners within the confines of their baseball cathedral.

This new RF building project falls under the domain of business operations maven, Crane Kenney. He is the one who announced it at the Cub convention. This is a revenue enhancement so he believes that he controls it. But this project will cost money that Ricketts claimed months ago he did not have (he asked the state and city for hundreds of millions of tax dollars for renovations for Wrigley and the Triangle parcel). This is on top of Ricketts family buying the McDonald's property across the street from Wrigley for approximately $23 million.

The new RF stands replaces the current 107 group box seats with 150 group seats and standing room party patio (sponsored, of course). No ticket prices were announced for this new area, but speculation is that it will be in the neighborhood of Red Sox Monster seats of $117.00. Ricketts obsession with the Red Sox is apparent in this out of character multilayered six to seven foot mini-wall seat tiers. (The artist rendering is so bad and amateurish it is hard to see the proper dimensions in perspective.)

The Wedge looks to have the following shape: the RF wall is approximately 16 ft. tall. The new scoreboard dimension are 10 ft tall by 75 ft. wide. On top of the scoreboard is the first section which is backed by an apparent 6 foot plus wall; on top of that wall is more seating backed by another 6 foot plus wall; which leads up 3 or 4 feet to a patio section. The artist's rendering shows this wedge at a vertigo incline of 45 degrees.  If you add up these wedge segments, this new structure would rise minimally 42 to 45 feet about the field. That is putting up a 4.5 story building in the RF corner of Wrigley. What will be clear is that the eye-sore underside steel girders will be visible to the homeowners on Sheffield Avenue.  All this construction to add 43 seats and standing room area?

The old RF box seats, even if using the overall average ticket price of $85, equated to $9,095.00 per game. However, this section was rarely sold out last season. If you have 150 new party seats at $117, you could command $17,550.00 per game. If you could sell out the new party patio for 162 games, the revenue increase would be $1.37 million. But who would pay more than the people in the bleachers in the right center field bleacher section, who would be at a more gradual eye level to the playing field? And how many years (decades?) will the increase in revenue pay off the construction costs?

It seems Ricketts is more focused in on adding Wrigley amenities or vending locations than sinking money in the actual ball club, i.e. player payroll. The current Cub payroll will be down from $140 million in 2011 to approximately $100 million for 2012. One can readily see that the payroll differential has been spent on new executives, land acquisition and Wrigley Field projects.

Most Cub fans at the team convention were hyped up by the new regime's "rebuilding" mantra to be lulled into another off-season of the rhetoric of hope and a competitive team.

January 14, 2012


Theo Epstein threw away his principles and long term blueprint last night
when he announced the return to the mass of delusional sentimental fans
of KId K. It had to be on Friday the 13th. It had to be at the Cub convention.
It had to give the attendees some warm and fuzzy overtones of their past idols.

What the hell?
Again, what the hell?

A 34 year old relief pitcher coming off another knee surgery gets $3 million
while the New Management has no qualms about trading away the best
left handed reliever in MLB (Sean Marshall)?

Kerry Wood got Marshall's money, simple as that. But Marshall is a better pitcher - - -
well, he does not have a 14 year old 20 strikeout performance against a hapless
overjuiced Astros lineup on the old short and tattered resume that is Kerry Wood.

So the Cubs are back to PR moves instead of baseball moves. This has the
smell of a Ricketts-Kenney-old Tribune marketing intervention in order to put
lipstick on a pig before the prom.

But what misplaced loyalty.  This is another blindsided slap at Ryne Sandberg.
He never got the respect from ownership or new management. Epstein announced
before the managerial search began that Sandberg was not a candidate. Why?
He had only won 4 years straight in the minors, with two championships. He had
paid his dues. He was loyal to the Cubs organization. He is a Hall of Famer!
And he is a fan favorite.  But somehow, all these good works makes Sandberg
unqualified to be a manager.  But somehow, Wood's total career of major disappointments,
blown expectations, injury plagued seasons is more important public relations
hiring a former manager who has shown clear success in winning to manage the Cubs.

This also puts Garza on the next plane out of town, for Maholm's $4.75 million plus
Wood's $3 million equals Garza's 2012 projected salary. In a zero sum game that the
Cubs payroll is going to be, PR wins out over performance, again.

This also puts more pressure on James Russell in the bullpen. As the only projected
left handed reliever, he must suddenly turn into the Next Sean Marshall. In a hurry.

Russell appeared in 64 games, 1-6 record, 4.12 ERA in 67.2 IP. He gave up 37 runs, 
had a WHIP of 1.330, with 43 K and 14 BB.
Marshall appeared in 78 games, 6-6 record with 5 saves, 2.26 ERA in 75.2 IP. Marshall
gave up 21 runs, had a stellar WHIP of 1.097, with 79 K and 17 BB.

Russell needs to pitch 21% more innings at the same time cut down on runs allowed by
43% in order to come close to Marshall's performance.

January 13, 2012


There is so much media and fan torch and pitchfork yelling about the Cubs not re-signing Kerry Wood for 2012.  Whatever the side deal Wood had with Jim Hendry to return at a discount for 2011 is water under the bridge. New management. New Day. New payroll budget which is shaping up to be dramatically less than 2011. Epstein and Hoyer have already turned over 25% of the Cubs end season 40 man roster. The dead wood is being burned quickly as everyone can see that 2012 is going to be a Lost Season.

It is reported that Wood wanted a multi-year deal at $4 million per season. The Cubs have said they have made him an offer with a "substantial raise." It must not be substantial enough for the current "Mr. Cub" in some fan's eyes. But if one takes off the rose colored glasses, is Wood taking a roster spot at $3-$4 million a long term step to improve the club or just short term fan service? To sign Wood now would mean the Cubs bullpen would have only one lefty reliever (Russell) instead of the projected two (Maine). The idea of blocking a young pitcher's development for the sake of some alleged intangible "clubhouse leadership" Wood brings to the locker room is just bad business. Wood, as a leader in 2011, led the team to a woeful 71 victory campaign. Wood is not an ace starter nor a premier closer. He is a 34 year old injury prone journeyman relief pitcher.

Last season, Wood appeared in 55 games, and threw only 51 innings. He had a 3-5 record, 3.35 ERA, 57 Ks, 21 BB, 1.294 WHIP.
In 2010, in the American League, Wood appeared in 47 games, and threw only 46 innings. He had a 3-4 record, 3.13 ERA, 49 Ks, 29 BB, 1.329 WHIP.

As stated in an older post, in constructing a bullpen, you want your set up man to have an ERA under 3.00 and pitch 60 innings. Wood does not meet that criteria for the past two seasons. In the same article, we stated that your middle reliever needs to throw 75 2/3 innings and have an ERA of under 2.85 to have a competitive team in the NL Central.  Again, Wood does not meet that criteria.

Even if the Cubs had a spare $4 million to spend (which is doubtful they way the transactions have been going so far), it would be far more productive to spend that money upgrading second base, buying insurance at third if Stewart flops, or finding a power hitter off the bench.

Wood is not productive enough to make a difference for the Cubs, especially when the team is in nuclear winter re-build mode. The Cubs should not re-sign Wood for 2012.

January 12, 2012


Professional athletes regard their bodies as sports temples. A pro's livelihood depends on staying in peak physical condition. They take great concern on what is ingested into their bodies (and that is why ignorance is no defense in any steroid/PED testing rules). Teams hire sabermetic analysts, athletic trainers, physicians and nutritionists to make sure their players stay on course to good health. But again, baseball players have some strange superstitions.

Cy Young winning Detroit ace pitcher Justin Verlander told Conan O'Brien is pre-game routine the night before every start: a special diet. From Yahoo! Sports report on the interview:

Verlander: "The night before, as you can tell from my amazing physique, I eat Taco Bell."
Conan: "You eat Taco Bell the night before you pitch, every time?"
Verlander: (looks toward camera) "Yes, the night before every start. You're welcome, Taco Bell."
Conan: "It also results in your gameday diarrhea tradition."
Verlander: (laughing) "Right?"
Conan: (looks and points toward camera) "You're welcome, Taco Bell ... I'm curious, do you get a specific food at Taco Bell?"
Verlander: "Same thing every time. Three crunchy taco supremes, no tomato. Cheesy gordita crunch. And a Mexican pizza, no tomato."

January 11, 2012


If the Cubs make no further moves, we can speculate on the 2012 major league roster and attempt to forecast the team's final win-loss record based upon the basic elements of the game, runs allowed and runs scored (see earlier post).

The starting rotation (pitcher/runs allowed/IP):
Garza 90/198
Maholm 72/162
Dempster 111/202
T. Wood 57/106
Volstad 96/166
Marmol 33/74
Samardzija 35/88
Russell 37/168
Corpas 33/62 (2010 stats)
Sonnanstine 22/36
S. Maine 8/7

The pitching staff history projects 594 runs allowed over 1169 IP.  We calculated earlier that a team needs to pitch 1458 innings in a season. Based on the available information, the team ERA projects to 4.57.

The roster (with runs scored) breaks down with an extra hitter than in past years because scoring is going to be an issue:

Soto 46, Castillo (38 AAA), Baker 20, Barney 66, Castro 91, Bianchi (63 AA), LaHair 9 (91 AAA), Stewart 14 (29 AAA), Byrd 51, Soriano 50, DeJesus 60, R. Johnson 33, Sappelt 14 (40 AAA) and DeWitt 21. (Update: Bianchi was waived by the Cubs to make roster room for Maholm. Bianchi was then claimed by the Brewers. We had him as the 25th man on the roster, adding 38 Rs to team projected total. It seems Hoyer is not wed to players he acquires to fill gaps. Campana may be a roster choice now, with similar reserve results).

Taking into account minor league numbers at 60% (discounted for major league pitching), and not taking into consideration the "comeback seasons" management is praying for on most of the roster, the Cubs are projected to to score approximately 631 runs in 2012.  The runs per game average is 3.90.

The differential between RPG and ERA is (0.67).

In the NL Central last year, such a RPG/ERA differential would put you near the bottom.
The Cubs had a (0.30) for 71 wins and the Astros had a (0.78) for 56 wins.

Based on these ratios, the Cubs project to a 60 wins, 102 losses,  2012 season.

January 10, 2012


New Cubs management sort of let their strategy out of the bag. Epstein and Hoyer have identified a list of players who they believe will have "bounce back seasons" to target for acquisition. The latest comeback player candidate is lefty starter, Paul Maholm, who signed a $4.25 million contract with a $500k buyout with a club option in 2013. Maholm's season ended early with a shoulder strain issue. This move is similar to the Jim Hendry pick up Tom Gorzelanny from the Pirates a few years earlier.  Pirate left hand starters seem to pitch quite well at Wrigley the last few years, and Maholm fits the bill as a ground ball out pitcher in a HR alley friendly ball yard.

Maholm, 29, went 6-14, 3.66 ERA, 1.294 WHIP in 26 games for the improved Pirates in 2011. Gorzelanny came to the Cubs after a weak 2008 season of 6-9, 6.66 ERA, 1.804 WHIP in 21 games. The Cubs picked him up and made him a swing starter/long reliever and in 2009 he had a 4-2 record, 5.63 ERA, 1.357 WHIP in 13 games.  There was some improvement, but not substantial.

In the financial world, after a stock quickly falls in price, there are times buyers pick it up cheaply and the stock begins to rise from the bottom of the chart. But usually, it is a short term "dead cat bounce" before the stock falls back to the bottom. Epstein and Hoyer have a lot of bouncing fur so far this off-season, including pitchers Volstad, Sonnastine, and Weathers.

The signing of Maholm also puts into play the strong probability that Matt Garza will be traded soon. David Kaplan of WGN Chicago stated that the Cubs and Tigers are in advanced talks on a Garza deal. The Cubs apparently want two Tiger top prospects, 19 year old third baseman Nick Castellanos, who hit .313, 7 HR 76 RBI in A ball, but is a defensive project, and 20 year old starter Jacob Turner, who bolted up from AA to 3 appearances in the majors late last season. Turner is the Tigers #1 system prospect. In AA-AAA last season, Turner was 4-5, 3.44 ERA, 1.160 WHIP, 110 K/35 BB which is quite good. Both of these Tiger prospects are years away from major league duty.

If Maholm is the replacement for Garza in the rotation, it is another downgrade by the new administration for the sake of roster turnover and acquisition of low prospects to re-fill the minor league ranks. The Cubs have the 6th and 41st picks in this year's draft which could lead to 2 impact players in 2014. It would also be another move to pare back payroll, as Garza is expected to make $9 million in arbitration for 2012, or about double what Maholm will make. Do not discount the fact that the Cubs have no real money to spend on free agents or veterans without dumping a corresponding amount in existing payroll. So the plan is to throw on a quick patch of new stucco on the major league roster to get some fan interest, but really pray for the new minor league system to produce a dozen quality players by 2014.

January 9, 2012


There is an old adage that states a good baseball team has defense up the middle and powers on the corners. It is another way of describing a balanced team in a non-sabermetric way.

On the power side, one's best home run hitters are usually RF and 1B. Next would be 3B. Then LF, and if you have one, a catcher. Four of one's regular fielders should have consistent home run power.

On the defensive side, your best defenders should be your C, SS, CF (for all the ground to cover) and 2B (to turn the double play). Your shortstop, center fielder and/or second basemen would be the fastest guys in the starting lineup, with the most "steal" potential. You want your best base stealer to lead off, which usually is a SS, CF or 2B.

You have the speedy defender lead off, and the best contact, average hitter second. Then you go through your RBI man, then all the power hitters in a row until whoever is left over at the end.

So how do the current Cubs roster (still under construction) stack up under the old school blue print?

RF, DeJesus NO.
1B, LaHair MAYBE
3B, Stewart NO
LF, Soriano, YES.


The old school line up would be:
1. Castro, ss
2. Byrd, cf
3. LaHair, 1b
4. Soriano, lf
5. Soto, c
6. DeJesus, rf
7. Stewart, 3b
8. Barney, 2b

January 7, 2012


The reaction to the Cubs trade for Padre prospect Anthony Rizzo has been mixed; the fan base has been underwhelmed by the moves of Epstein and Hoyer this off-season.

Rizzo was one of the players San Diego received from Theo's Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. But once new Pads GM Josh Byrnes took over for Hoyer, he traded to young starter Matt Latos to the Reds for prospect Alonso, thereby creating a jam at first base with Rizzo.

So it is apparent that the scouts and GM in San Diego thought better of Alonso than Rizzo as the first baseman of the future. Rizzo fizzled in his time in the majors last season, batting a mere .141.  However, in Triple A, he had good power numbers (but LaHair had slightly better overall numbers at Iowa, and better numbers with lesser at bats with the Cubs.)

Fans were upbeat about the new Cub management team finding a solution at first base, then paused when Hoyer said that Rizzo needed "more time to develop." That leaves LaHair as the placeholder at first base in 2012. Most project a sophomore slump a la Micah Hoffpauir for LaHair.

But some fans are weary of the trade of Andrew Cashner, a known commodity, for a "prospect." Cashner, who was misused last season which contributed to his shoulder injury, will return to the bullpen in San Diego. In a pitcher friendly park, he is projected to be the set-up man with about 10 wins, 35 holds and an ERA under 3.00 (a right handed Sean Marshall). Then, he is in line to be promoted to replace Health Bell as the Padre closer, a role he had in college.

There is no guarantee that LaHair is a late bloomer, or that Rizzo is a AAAA player like Hoffpauir.

But one thing is clear, Epstein and Hoyer are discounting the Hendry prospects and signees like week old tuna at the fish market. Gone are Colvin, LeMathieu, Cashner, and Marshall. It puts a bull's eye on the back of Cubs #1 prospect, Brett Jackson, on whether he will be in the Cubs 2012 plans.

January 5, 2012


Cubs problem child, Carlos Zambrano, was rewarded for his bad behavior because he got his wish, to join fellow off-center manager Ozzie Guillen in Miami. The Cubs have traded Zambrano and $15 million in cash (to offset the $18 million owed Z in 2012) in exchange for Marlins starter Chris Volstad. The deal is still subject to league approval.

Volstad is a marginal fifth starter. Zambrano was traded at his low value point, to the only team with any tangible interest in him. Jim  Hendry suspended Z after he bolted the locker room last year (and that matter is still pending with the league). Of the three "can't miss" starters the Cubs had (Wood, Prior and Zambrano), only Z made it consistently to the mound to actually pitch. He won 125 games (1 no hitter) and a career ERA of 3.60.

Volstad, a first-round draft pick in 2005, finished 5-13 with a 4.89 ERA last season after a 12-9 showing the year before. The 230-pounder made $445,000 last season. Tribune writer Dave Van Dyke states he could get up to $2 million this year in arbitration. That figure seems high for a player with bad stats in 2011 (and in essence the player's first "contract" season - - - where performance could land a big payday in arbitration. ) However, Volstad is really costing the Cubs $15 million plus his salary, or the highest paid 5th starter in the majors). The Cubs control his rights through 2014 which is the key element in most of Epstein and Hoyer's roster moves so far this off-season.

Zambrano was just 9-7 with a 4.82 ERA in 24 games last season, missing the last two months when the Cubs placed him on the restricted list for bad behavior. He goes to a team that has suddenly spent money on big free agents (Reyes, Buerhle) and now expect to contend in the NL East.

The trade gets rid of a trouble maker, but leaves the Cubs starting rotation in shambles.  As it stands now, the Cubs starting rotation is (2011 stats):

1. Garza, 10-10, 3.32 ERA, 1.258 WHIP,  198 IP
2. Dempster, 10-14, 4.41 ERA, 1.450 WHIP, 202.1 IP
3. T. Wood, 6-6, 4.84 ERA, 1.289 WHIP, 106 IP
4. Sonnanstine, 0-2, 5.55 ERA, 1.458 WHIP, 35.2 IP (minors 3-6, 4.82 ERA, 1.411 WHIP, 56 IP)
5. Volstad, 5-13, 4.89 ERA, 1.425 WHIP, 165.2 IP

A staff that has a combined 31-45 record (.408 winning percentage). If your starting rotation is the precursor of your final team record, this projects to a woeful 66 win season. But Epstein and Hoyer are looking for "bounce back" seasons from every player they have signed or traded for this off-season. That is going to be a really hard sell, especially if Garza is traded next.

January 4, 2012


Managers dwell on the concept of turning over their batting order as quick as possible to get more scoring chances. But many are welded to the Earl Weaver philosophy of waiting for the 3 run HR to score. You put your best hitters at the top and power hitters in the middle and let them swing for the fences.

"Small ball" is the opposite. It tries to use different baseball skills to move runners from station to station. It is not practiced by many teams because it goes against what the modern baseball player is all about: personal stats.

The art of manufacturing a run is based upon the elements of patience, speed and "productive outs." A productive out is one which advances a base runner into scoring position. A strike out is never a productive out, but in the home run era, strikeouts were no longer badges of shame for hitters. The Golden Sombrero of three strike outs in a game is no longer a symbol of failure. The lone strike out exception would be "the long at-bat," in which the batter fouls off so many pitches that it works the opponent pitcher's game pitch count higher than normal (which means the starter would get out of the game sooner).

If a team lacks power hitters to score runs, it needs to set up its batting order to manufacture runs.

(1) The lead off hitter must have a high OBP (average plus walks). The league leaders last year only had an OBP of .416.  The lead off hitter must not just have speed, but base running skills (stolen bases and taking the extra base).
(2) The number 2 hitter must be a very disciplined contact hitter. His objective is to get the lead off man to third base with one out or less (stolen base + sacrifice/fielder choice or hit and run). This hitter must be able to hit to the opposite field, work a pitch count, have excellent bunting skills and protect the runner on first.
(3) The number 3 hitter must be a high contact, fly ball batter. For if the two players in front of him have done their jobs correctly, there would be a runner on third with one out. He is not the team's home run power, but someone who can get a runner home from third by any means (sac fly, suicide squeeze, ground out to right side, base hit).
(4) The clean up hitter is the last insurance policy to get a run home with 2 outs. He must be a high average hitter with good clean, line drive contact (hopefully gap power) that can get a solid base hit to score a runner from second or third.
(5) The 5th hitter is the final batter in the scoring zone. This should be the team's best power hitter. If it gets to this point, there would be two outs and at least one runner on base (2 if no one scored). This is your Earl Weaver scoring chance.

The bottom of your order can also manufacture a run:
(6) The 6th hitter would be the team's second best lead off man.
(7) The 7th hitter would be the team's second best disciplined contact hitter.
(8) The 8th hitter would be a player that could get the ball in play to score a runner from third with one out.

Under this system, manufacturing a run costs two productive outs. With 27 outs in a game, a team has 18 productive out chances. If a team can convert on 50% of those opportunities, that would be 9 runs per game (RPG). 40% success rate would be approximately 7 RPG.

It is more likely that the top of the order would have the best scoring chances. The top 4 in the order would get 4 to 5 chances to bat per game. So they have an opportunity to manufacture 4 or 5 runs per game. In 2011, MLB teams averaged 4.28 RPG. A team built to manufacture 4.5 RPG would be highly likely to be over .500.

The top of the order in a manufactured run line-up would put more pressure on the opponent's pitcher and defense. Pitchers pitch differently when there is a runner on first, especially one that can steal bases. A runner in motion puts the defense in motion, which creates gaps in a defense that a good contact hitter can exploit.

A team built to manufacture runs is a contradiction to present pro baseball theory. It requires skills that are not used very often in major league games: looking to walk, stealing bases, giving yourself up to advance a runner, plate discipline, contact hitting to appropriate field, bunting, and base running skills. All those skills were called "fundamentals" when children first learned the game at an early age. By the time prospects reach the majors, most of these fundamentals are rusty or lost. And veterans don't practice them because they are professionals who have made it to the Big Show. And managers would meet huge resistance from players who want personal stats as much as team victories.

January 3, 2012


MLBTR reports that the Baltimore Orioles acquired outfielder Jai Miller from the Athletics for cash considerations.  Orioles executive Dan Duquette said in a press release, "Jai Miller has the power, speed, base stealing skills and good athletic ability to be an asset in our outfield as he competes for a spot on our ballclub this spring."  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Orioles paid only $45,000.

Miller, 26, hit .276/.368/.588 with 32 home runs, 88 RBI and 16 SB in AAA in 2011. He spent most of his time in center and right field.

We highlighted Jai Miller as a cheap, risk free option for the Cubs in this blog's first post. At the time, the A's had put the AAA OF on waivers hoping to reclaim him, which they did. Now, with later roster move considerations, the A's trade Miller to the O's for cash.  So, in essence, the Cubs had two inexpensive ways to bolster their roster with a power hitter, but passed.

With the Cubs devoid of power hitters on the roster, and reserve outfielders of only Reed Johnson and Dave Sappelt, Miller would have been at least a spring training option to be a fourth outfielder and insurance if David DeJesus' performance downfall in 2011 was not an anomaly but a serious trend.


GM Kenny Williams is in the process of cleaning house. Ozzie Guillen has been spun out of town to the Marlins, and replaced by a manager who will listen to the GM, Robin Ventura, who has zero managerial experience.

Williams surprised many by trading his closer, Santos, to the Blue Jays for a good, 22 year old pitching prospect. Williams further surprised when he sent back reliever Jason Frasor back to the Jays for two low minor pitching prospects (one good, one not so good). Then feeling good about that, Williams finally traded RF Carlos Quentin to the Padres for two low minor league pitching prospects (one good, one not so good). Clearly, a pattern is developing here: trade for low level prospects and cut the payroll for 2012. Williams has pared $34 million off the 2011 payroll, which in a long recession and announced ticket price reductions, is a prudent course. But the cleaning of payroll is not over; rumors have it Williams wants to dump reliever Thorton ($12 million owed for 2 years) and starter Floyd ($16 million/2 years). Since 4th starter free agents are commanding $10 million, Floyd could be moved to a contender by the trade deadline.

But the real trading chip for Williams was power hitting RF Quentin. As the off-season began, a good match for a trade partner would have been the Atlanta Braves, who were looking for a power hitting right handed outfielder. And the Braves put it out there that starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens and second baseman Martin Prado were available. It would have been a good match to send Quentin (and Gordon Beckman and prospect/cash) to Atlanta for the Jurrjens and Prado, who would be two position upgrades for the Sox. But the teams were never linked in any trade discussions. (The Rockies were looking for a package deal with the Braves, but it stalled.)

Even the Cubs were not in the discussion, which can only be explained by the fact that the team cannot take on the salaries of Jurrjens and/or Prado, who would be huge upgrades for the Cubs. At the time, the Cubs had Colvin, LeMathieu and could toss in pitching prospects such as Carpenter or McNutt, to make the deal. The Braves have a surplus of young pitching so Jurrjens, who had an injury last season but is still has All Star potential, was available. The Braves price may be too high for any team.