August 31, 2012


White Sox general manager Kenny Williams does not get enough credit for what he has done this season. His team is currently in first place, 3 games ahead of the pre-season favorite Detroit Tigers. Williams has a reputation as a gambling trader. But it appears that he has gathered a better farm system than most pundits realized; let us compare the rookie pitchers that have been promoted to the big leagues this year.

The Chicago Cubs spent the last several seasons under former GM Jim Hendry on signing pitchers. When it came to crunch time this season by injury or otherwise, the Cubs promoted the following:

Parker 4 G 0-0 record, 0.00 ERA, 4.1 IP 1.63 WHIP
Rusin 1 G, 0-1 record, 1.80 ERA, 5.0 IP, 0.60 WHIP
Ascencio 12 G, 0-0 record, 3.07 ERA, 14. 2 IP, 1.57 WHIP
Beliveau, 11 G, 0-0 record, 3.18 ERA, 11.1 IP, 1.59 WHIP
Bowden 15 G, 0-0 record, 4.67 ERA, 17.1 IP, 1.50 WHIP
Raley 4 G, 1-2 record, 6.64 ERA, 20.1 IP, 1.57 WHIP
Cabrera 13 G 0-0 record, 8.38 ERA, 1.86 WHIP
Castillo, 10 G, 0-1 record, 10.64 ERA, 11 IP 2.55 WHIP

The two spot starters and bullpen fodder combined for a 1-4 record. It is glaring that these young pitchers have series control problems with their high WHIPs.

The White Sox used the following young pitchers to solidify its staff:

Veal 8 G 0-0 record, 1.42 ERA, 6.1 IP, 0.63 WHIP
Sale 24 G, 15-5 record, 2.81 ERA, 157 IP, 1.06 WHIP
Quintana 18 G, 5-2 record, 2.86 ERA, 110 IP, 1.19 WHIP
Jones 49 G, 7-0 record, 3.20 ERA, 50.2 IP, 1.52 WHIP
Santiago 35 G, 2-1 record, 3.99 ERA, 47.1 IP, 1.37 WHIP, 4 saves
Reed 50 G, 3-1 record, 4.11 ERA, 46 IP, 1.30 WHIP, 24 saves
Omogrosso 5 G 0-0 record, 4.26 ERA, 6.1 IP 1.58 WHIP
Axelrod 11 G, 2-2 record, 4.93 ERA, 45.2 IP, 1.38 WHIP

One could argue that Sale was with the club last season, but only in a limited bullpen role. This is his first year as a big league starter. Overall, this group of young pitchers have an impressive 34-11 record. That is outstanding production from the White Sox minor league system.

Clearly, the White Sox are in a better position going into next season with all the quality arms they have promoted this season. The system really stepped up when ace John Danks was sidelined with a shoulder injury and the struggles of Gavin Floyd.

August 30, 2012


The 2013 Cubs media guide will probably herald Darwin Barney's NL consecutive errorless streak at second base as the accomplishment of the season. It is a stretch. Everything is a stretch with the Cubs this season. Barney's errorless streak is tainted by the fact that during his "streak"  he committed an error this season at shortstop. Is it a meaningless stat? Of course. Is it something the Cubs PR department dug up to try to flicker any waning interest in this season? Of course. The Cubs continue to announce crowds of more than 31,000 at home games when the pictures of the stands show less than half show up to actually watch the game. Many fans have abandoned ship.

So what do average Cub fans perceive of their team as it muddles its way to the end of the season?
What does the "C" on the Cubs cap represent today?

CHICAGO. There is an institutionalized feeling that the Second City is somehow inferior to its large metropolitan rivals. There is a historical sense that one has to literally burn down the town in order to rebuild it into a World Class city. In one sense, second place is not deemed a total failure when the goal is first.

CALAMITY. Long time Cub fans expect the worst of their team at any given moment. They are continually amazed by the new ways the team finds to lose. They are trained to expect the worst, like an ace pitcher who can't field a bunt and throw it within 30 feet of first base. It is like the inner desire to watch a car crash unfold in front of your eyes.

CURSED. Long time Cub fans seek comfort in blaming nonsensical things as a reason for their team's losing ways: the goat, the black cat, the Bartman foul ball. But objectively, none of those alleged curses affected the result of any ball game or series. It was the players inability to perform under pressure and not excuses from the grandstands that has led to a permanent legacy of following the Loveable Losers due to supernatural events beyond anyone's control.

CRAP. In a cost-benefit analysis, the Cubs as a form of entertainment is a crappy deal. "Dynamic" high ticket prices for a AAA caliber roster is not a value deal like the bad teams in the late 1970s and early 1980s when fans could just show up to the park for a few bucks and watch a game from the front row of the empty bleachers. Under Tribune ownership, the Cubs became an entertainment venue; the largest open air tavern with a baseball floor show. As a television show, it made money. As a baseball franchise, it was a death knell. A budget philosophy of collecting just enough talent to be "competitive" to draw ratings was more important than winning championships. That leaves the development organization the poor step-sister to the main stage scene stealers. In addition, a loyal fan base has de-emphasized performance and accountability in management and players so crappy fundamentals has become the norm for the club.

CHECK-OUT. With the influx of young 20-somethings in the early 2000s, those who were not more interested in the bleacher beach scene but cared about the game itself, started to realize that the spike in the cost of attending games was supposed to equate with winning championships. These new fans changed the target from full at the ball park (in a Harry Carey haze) to wins. And when the Cubs bumped into the playoffs under Piniella, these fans felt the finish line ahead. But the Cubs collapsed in the playoffs, and the team crawled into bankruptcy with the Tribune. These new fans and Generation Y, in a tough recession with the high cost of living in the city, have given up being die-hard supporters of the team; they have checked out of Party Wrigley.

CONTEMPT. There is a feeling that new ownership and management believe Cub fans are merely paying sheep easily corralled in the lore that is the Cubs. There is an attitude that Cub fans can be milked for some of the highest prices in the sport because of their loyalty and their affection for Wrigley Field. There is an increasing arrogant tone from management who talk down to the media representatives of the fans in a corporate speak gibberish "of the process" to glaze over the harsh reality that they incompetently fielded a roster which will only contend for the most losses in team history. And for every action, there is an equal reaction. There is a growing minority of fans and the community that have contempt for the Cubs. One group has their ire based firmly on the lack of baseball intelligence shown in game after game. The lack of improvement or accountability of players by coaching staff is a disturbing trend. Another group has their ire directed at the Ricketts family, who continue to cry "poor" in order hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local taxpayer funds to rebuild their private property while at the same time spending tens of millions of dollars on adjacent real estate acquisitions and trimming the team payroll dramatically for the next few seasons. For the fan and his/her family that has struggled from pay check (if they are lucky) to pay check, a family of millionaires who want their tax dollars is a great insult when the city is bankrupt, teachers threatening to go on strike for benefits and basic city services are in the decline.

CUBS. The Cubs are a flood debris field of mixed emotions. The "Wait to Next Year" fan loyalty slogan is being eclipsed by "What are You Doing for Me Now?" When ownership says the team is only one or two players away; then it turns out that the team is not competitive at all - - - the seeds of revolutionary thought is sown. Fans have been waiting so long ( a lifetime) that hope turns into mental abuse, which turns into acknowledgement, which leads to resentment, which then can lead to therapeutic "letting go" of one's attachment to the team. If you perceive that "your" team is taking advantage of your patience, there is only so much one can take before breaking the bonds that first group them together. It is a evolution of a child-like passion to a grown-up objective balance of putting that energy into more productive uses.

August 28, 2012


Seven months is not a long time. When the Cub convention last winter ran its course, the new front office pieced together a projected pre-spring training opening day roster which went something like this:

C:   Soto
C:   Castillo
1B: LaHair
2B: Barney
3B: Stewart
SS: Castro
IN: Baker
IN: DeWitt
LF: Soriano
CF: Byrd
RF: DeJesus
OF: R. Johnson
OF: Campana or Sappelt
SP: Garza
SP: Dempster
SP: T. Wood
SP: R. Wells or Volstad
CL: Marmol
SU: K. Wood
RP: Russell
RP: Maine
RP: Samardzija
RP: Corpas

27 players assigned to the opening day roster 25 spots. A mostly veteran group. Most conventioneers were more excited by the re-signing of Kerry Wood than speculating about floundering with a 100 loss season. So what happened to the 2012 Cubs?

C:   Soto, traded away after having another dismal season
C:   Castillo, spent time in minors and platooning with Clevenger
1B: LaHair, All-Star first half, Titanic collapse in second half now splinter collecting on bench
2B: Barney, playing good defense but having bad offensive season
3B: Stewart, a Bust
SS: Castro, All-Star first half, semi-focus issues in second half but rewarded with contract extension
IN: Baker, gone
IN: DeWitt, long gone
LF: Soriano, having better than expected season dragging dead money contract to LF daily
CF: Byrd, traded and PED suspended
RF: DeJesus, turned into Fukudome
OF: R. Johnson, traded to Atlanta for an injured prospect
OF: Campana or Sappelt, both scraping in the minors
SP: Garza, injured before trading deadline; tarnished asset going forward
SP: Dempster, traded then not; then traded for real for a third base prospect
SP:Maholm, traded to Atlanta for an injured prospect
SP: T. Wood, started slow, then went good, then okay, still in rotation
SP: R. Wells or Volstad, Wells never effective and got injured in AAA; Volstad has Bust label, too
CL: Marmol, a bad closer on a bad team so what can go wrong?
SU: K. Wood, bad from the gate and retired
RP: Russell, only consistent relief pitcher on the staff
RP: Maine, just designated for assignment
RP: Samardzija, the lone pitching surprise as he finally bloomed into a starter
RP: Corpas, dead meat in a uniform

Only 9 players have a chance to return in 2013: Castillo, Barney, Castro, Soriano, DeJesus, Garza, T. Wood, Russell and Samardzija. Castillo, Barney and DeJesus roster spots are suspect over the winter as being needed to be upgraded via promotion or free agency. The team as constructed before spring training was poor, and the current Cubs record confirms that fact.


Ken Rosenthal is reporting that Castro will receive a $6MM signing bonus before earning $5MM in 2013 and 2014, $6MM in 2015, $7MM in 2016, $9MM in 2017, $10MM in 2018 and $11MM in 2019. If Castro finishes in the Top 5 of the MVP voting twice over the life of his contract, his 2019 salary and the value of his $16MM option will each increase by $2MM. All told, the maximum value of his contract including escalators would be $79MM over eight years.

This is more than the original reports of a seven year, $60 million extension. Initial reports indicated that the Cubs and Castro's agent are talking a long term deal, which would take out his arbitration years and at least two years of free agency. The numbers being kicked around by pundits infer that the first three years could net $15-20 million and the first two years of free agency at $15 million each, or a total of a five year $50 million deal. A $10 million average would put Castro at #3 in pay for current shortstops (Jeter, Rollins, Reyes).

From Rosenthal's numbers, the first three years of the extension of the Castro deal are worth $22 million (including the bonus), an increase of 10 to 47 percent of original estimates. But the overall average of $9.8 million over 8 years is less than the projected $10 million over 5 years.

Still, it is a long term commitment to Castro. His deal will effectively block the young Cub shortstops in the system (Baez and Lake). The Cubs must really believe that Castro will bust out in the next two seasons to try to get a long term discount as set forth above.

August 27, 2012


The weekend revealed a random bit of opinion in some Cub circles.

The expectation and comparison game is fraught with danger, especially when dealing with young rookies early in their careers.

But when I heard someone favorably compare Brett Jackson to Mike Cameron, my stomach churned and my head said, "really, Mike Cameron is all you expect?"

Some aspects of the comparison are easy to see:
both are speedy left hand hitting outfielders.

Cameron played 17 major league seasons. His career stat line: 278 HR, 968 RBI, 297 SB, .249 BA,  .338 OBP, .986 Field percentage. His career followed a normal path: starter, to journeyman to bench reserve with seven teams (White Sox, Mariners, Mets, Padres, Brewers, Red Sox and Marlins).

If you average Cameron's stats, he was a .249 hitter (which is not very good), 16.35 HR (okay for a center fielder), 57 RBI (marginal for a starting OF), 17.4 SB (probably above average in today's station to station hitting philosophy) and .986 fielding percentage (which is good but not exceptional).
Cameron's average WAR/season is 2.54 which equates to being a starter, but not an All-Star caliber player.

You would think that Cub fans would expect MORE from Jackson since the hype had been that he was a "five tool" player that could hit for power - - - a 3-4-5 hitter in the order, with the advantage of speed to steal bases. The projection would be more like .290 BA, 20 HR, 85 RBI, 20 SB per season.

But the downgrade in expectations may be tempered by the fact that Jackson has been a strike out machine at AAA, and has a large hole in his swing so far in the majors. He has started to adjust, hitting two home runs recently, but how he fits into the Epstein rebuilding plan is unknown. He looks like a younger version of current David DeJesus, who is impersonating the old Koskie Fukudome Cub right fielder. DeJesus current Cub campaign: .269 BA, 6 HR, 39 RBI, 6 SB, .357 OBP, in 118 games. In Fukudome's three Cub seasons, he averaged. 259 BA, 11.3 HR, 52 RBI, 8.3 SB. One cannot argue that either Fukudome or DeJesus have been successful Cub acquisitions. Both played good defense, but underwhelmed in offensive production (especially in the power numbers normal for a corner outfielder).

So the Jackson to Cameron comparison may come true over time, but at present it is not an acceptable goal for a rookie with years of press glowing about his potential. Cub fans should expect more than a Cameron career from Jackson.


It was a head scratcher. The new owners of the Dodgers took on $250 million in player contracts from the Red Sox in a massive waiver wire deal centered around first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

In order for the Dodgers to acquire Gonzalez, the Red Sox demanded that the Dodgers take two other veterans with bad contracts. In many situations, a team often is asked to take a bad contract as the sweetener to close a deal. But two really bad ones?

Carl Crawford, an outfielder, has just had Tommy John surgery and will be out for an extended period of time. The Red Sox overpaid dearly for the free agent a short time ago, and Crawford's production in Beantown has been horrible. Crawford is owed $102.5 million through 2017.

Josh Beckett is an underperforming starter who allegedly was in the center of the chicken and beer tailspin of the 2011 season collapse. Beckett is owed $31.5 million through 2014.

Gonzalez signed a massive extension with Boston after the trade from San Diego. Gonzalez is owed $130 million through 2018.

Gonzalez is the left handed hitting compliment to Matt Kemp. Gonzalez is expected to match his baseball card consistency of .295 BA, 30 HR, 100+ RBI seasons.

The Dodgers also received infielder Nick Punto, who earns $1.5 million per season through 2013. He can play all four infield positions which is a plus, but he is only hitting .200 this season which is a minus. But the Dodgers lost their existing reserve, Jerry Hairston, Jr., so the Punto pick up was to fill a need on the bench.

This big deal was all about the money. Boston getting rid of a massive amount of contractual obligations as a means of rebuilding beginning in 2013.  The Red Sox received five players who have careers in the major league reserve/AAA category.

The key player in the bargain is Allen Webster, one of the Dodgers best pitching prospects. Webster is 6-8, 3.55 ERA, 1.455 WHIP, 2.05 K/BB ratio in AAA. Webster probably will be in the Red Sox rotation in 2013.

The Red Sox also got a rental player in first baseman James Loney, who is a free agent after the season. Loney is a 28 year old player who never had the break out power to be a star first baseman in the league. This year he was batting only .254, with 4 HRs and 33 RBI for LA.

The Red Sox got another young pitcher in the deal, 23 year old Rubby De La Rosa, who is a starter and reliever. For the Dodgers in 2011, he made 10 starts in 13 games. His record was 4-5, 3.71 ERA, 1.401 WHIP, 1.94 K/BB ratio. De La Rosa is coming back late this year from Tommy John surgery.

The Red Sox also received two players that project as bench/utility players: Ivan De Jesus, 25 year old second and third baseman, and Jerry Sands, 24 year old left fielder/first baseman.
DeJesus played in 23 games for the Dodgers this year, having a .273 BA, 0 HR, 4 RBI and 1 SB. Sands played in 9 games this season, batting .194 with 1 RBI. In 2011, he played in 61 games batting .253, 4 HR 26 RBI and 3 SB.

If you pare back the deal to its basic rationale, the trade summary is really Red Sox send 1B Gonzalez and $250 million in contract obligations to the Dodgers for AAA SP Webster and RP De La Rosa. De Jesus and Sands are not long term solutions for Boston. Loney will not challenge Ortiz at first base.

The Dodgers got the power hitter they wanted in the line-up. But they also added two dubious dead money contracts with Crawford and Beckett.  It is an expensive trade for LA to try to keep a neck to neck race with the Giants going this season.

Ownership front man Magic Johnson inferred that the deal was made to show the Dodger fans that the new ownership group was serious about bringing winning talent to the club. It may have been a move to get more fans into the empty stands at Chavez Ravine.  In some circles, you need to spend money to make money; but that principle has little bearing in baseball.

August 24, 2012


Sportswriter Tom Verducci has written extensively that if you give a young pitcher more than 30 innings more than he has ever pitched before, his chances of developing arm troubles increases or he takes a major step backward in his development. The anecdotal evidence of the risk of young arm injuries is about 67 percent using Verducci's methodology.

Teams have become obsessed with pitch counts and innings pitched for their starters. A starter who hits 100 pitches in a game is likely to be pulled from the mound. It is the assumption that like a machine, a pitcher only has so many built-in throws before his body starts to wear out.

Now, some older pitchers from the 1970s believe that the increase in pitcher injuries in the majors is not tied to innings pitched but on how players are being trained and conditioned from amateur to pro levels.  Old school pitchers believed the more one threw, the stronger your arm would become. In addition, a pitcher would want to develop an "elastic" arm with strong leg action. Today, pitchers are into weight training routines that builds up and tones arm muscles which in some ways is the opposite of the old school way. In addition, throwing techniques have changed. Old school pitchers merely released the ball from their grip like a catapult shot. Now, pitchers are taught to "snap" their hands or wrists to add spin to the ball for sharper breaks around the plate. The snap motion puts more stress on a pitcher's elbow. That is why youth baseball teams do not allow their pitchers to even attempt to throw curve balls until the high school level.

This season we have two young star pitchers throwing their teams into the playoffs. But each team is handling their star starter differently.

The Nationals Stephen Strasburg is currently 15-5, 2.85 ERA in 145.1 IP. He is coming off arm surgery last season, which limited his major league innings to 24 and minor leagues to 20. He has added more than 100 innings of work this year, which puts him near the top of the Verducci watch list.  As a result, the Nationals general manager has put a strict limit on IP for Strasburg: 180. Once he hits that mark, Strasburg will be shut down. It is projected that Strasburg will run out of innings with two weeks left in the season; he will miss the playoffs.  Strasburg's success has been pivotal to the Nationals first place position. The Nats have overspent on starting pitching talent to go deep into the playoffs. But as fans know, success is fleeting at the major league level. Some teams (like the Cubs) may only get one shot at glory in a decade. When a team is on the cusp of a championship, it usually goes "all in" and does not think about "next year."  But the Nationals are conserving Strasburg for future years.

The White Sox Chris Sale does not have any restrictions. He is currently 15-4, 2.65 ERA in 153 IP. Last year he pitched 71 innings in the majors. He also has gone past the Verducci number of increased IP.  But the ChiSox are handling Sale much different than the Nationals with Strasburg. Sale has been given extended rest (skipped starts) during the season to "rest" his arm to avoid fatigue or "tired arm" syndrome. At the All-Star break, he was given around 10 days off. In September, he will get another 9-10 day break.  The coaching staff has not limited his innings per start, as Sale continues to go deep into contests, especially when the games are close, In his last outing, he struck out a dozen Yankees.

What is different between these two young pitchers is more than just philosophy. Strasburg is the prototypical power pitcher. He has the large frame build that he leverages to overpower batters. Sale has the capacity of a 96 mph fastball that he showed as a reliever in 2011, but with his lanky frame, Sale  has evolved into a pitcher rather than a thrower. Sale now uses an 88-93 mph fastball to punctuate his slider and change up.

The Nationals have counted on Strasburg to get them the divisional crown. The White Sox are counting on Sale to pitch them deep into the playoffs and possible championship series.

This will be the litmus test for future pitching decisions by major league clubs. Which procedure worked out the best for their team? Is shutting down a pitcher a better long term solution to the injury risk for a young arm, or is in-season rest stops the way to go? Teams may take the objective data from this season to formulate their own hybrid analysis for their young prospects.

August 23, 2012


We probably have unwittingly witnessed history this season: an All-Star to a nobody in less than one month.

The Cubs Byran LaHair may be in the AAAA Hall of Fame for busting out a first half of the season with power and average to be awarded an All-Star selection, and then to obscurity when the Cubs called up prospects Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson.

LaHair joins a line of Cubs AAA players that toiled in the minors most of their careers, putting up huge offensive numbers, making a debut splash then burn out quickly like a July 4th firework.The league's pitchers caught up to his power zones; and there was not place to play regularly in the field.

In 9 minor league seasons, LaHair hit 159 HRs, drove in 651 RBI with a .295 career average. But neither his old club, the Mariners, or the Cubs had room for him on their major league roster. So at age 29, LaHair got his first chance for a full major league season. Which was cut short less than halfway through.

When he hit his 15th home run yesterday in Milwaukee, it was his first shot since July 4th. He got in the lineup for a resting Soriano in left field. He returns to bench for the next series. He knows his role and accepts it. He told ESPNChicago "It's definitely tough. It's not something that I'm used to and it's definitely not something I like. I have a role now and I'm just trying to the best job I can possibly do and learn that role."

He has only started five times since August 4th, and pulled in one game for a pinch hitter. The Cubs tried to trade him before the deadline, but no other team seemed interested in him (including a package deal with Dempster to the Dodgers).

So LaHair sits on the bench with 15 HR, 34 RBI, .254 BA, .338 OBP waiting for limited playing time.

It is clear that LaHair is not in the Cubs rebuilding plans. Rizzo is the long term solution at first base. The Cubs are trying out Jackson for the rest of this year, and have many more outfielders moving up the system for next season. But for a front office that says it is keen on the idea of "assets" being moved to acquire more assets, the LaHair situation basically destroys any value he has to the Cubs, as a player or as a bargaining chip. Baseball can be a cruel business. Opportunities usually only knock once (especially when a promoted player is older).


WAR (Wins over Average Replacement) is a complex formula comparison statistic used to judge a player's value relative to his peers.  The object is to determine how much value a major leaguer has over a "replacement player," i.e. a AAA or AAAA minor leaguer.

How one player during a season affects one win over the collective play of the rest of his team is quite debatable; it is a misnomer to say Player X "wins" a specific game when there were 50 other players which he took no part in that were just as important in determining the outcome of the contest. Only if a pitcher who throws a perfect game could claim he alone was the reason for the victory, if he batted in the game winning run.

So WAR is more esoteric. It tries to compare a major leaguer's production over his potential replacement. Rarely does a minor leaguer come into the majors as an All-Star (however, there are exceptions to that rule like Mike Trout of the Angels this season). Even when a player starts off well in the majors, the league catches up to him.

The WAR scale is fairly simple. An 8 plus means a player is an MVP candidate. A 5 to 8 player is All-Star caliber. A 2-5 player is classified as a starter. A zero to 2 player is classified as a reserve or bench player. A player with a negative WAR is a replacement level player (in reality, if you can't be a reserve player then you are heading for one's release from the team.)

But the WAR stat does not give one an objective view of a player in relation to his peers. Baseball is a stat game with well accepted baseline performance numbers, i.e. a .300 hitter is classified as very good (the goal). Contact with the baseball is a key element of offense.

It may be more useful to actually compare players with their position counterparts to see how they really stack up. For example, we ran a stat screen of the Top Left Fielders in baseball, sorted by batting average. The top 15 LF have a WAR range of 4.4 to -0.4, so that makes that list the control group.

When you total up all the numbers for AB, H, HR, RBI and SB for the control group and divide by 15, you come to the baseline averages for LF players:

.283 BA, 19.67 HR, 68.33 RBI, 9.67 SB

With this baseline stat, you can easily compare it to your team's starting LF to see if he is above or below the norm for his position.

Since these four offensive categories are accepted as basic performance criteria, how many of the Top 15 LF actually exceed the baseline average?  8 players beat in BA; 7 beat in HR, 8 beat in RBI and 6 beat in SB. This confirms that the baseline averages is a good measure of what a quality LF player should be producing at the major league level.

You can further compare the baseline average with each individual player in the list of 15. How many players exceeded the average in all four categories? Only two. How many exceeded the average in three of the four categories? Four. How many exceeded the average in two of the four categories? Four. How many exceeded only one average category? Three. And two players on the list did not exceed any average category. (A 2-4-4-3-2 spread between 15 players again confirms that the baseline average is a viable comparison tool).

August 22, 2012


Even if your team does not make "bad contracts," the dead money deals that overpay and underperforming or disabled list player, other teams' bad contracts can come back to haunt you in the free agent market.

The buzz this week is about Yankees outfielder, Nick Swisher, and his pending free agency at age 31.
Swisher has excelled in the pinstripes the past few seasons.

2010: 29 HR 89 RBI .288 AVG .359 OBP 3.4 WAR
2011: 23 HR 85 RBI .260 AVG .374 OBP 1.5 WAR
2012: 18 HR 69 RBI .270 AVG .355 OBP 2.1 WAR

Swisher and his agent are looking for a Jason Werth type deal, 7 years/$126 million.
Both Werth and Swisher are 31 year olds for these big free agent negotiations.

In Werth's FA year, he hit 27 HR 85 RBI .296 AVG .388 OBP  4.3 WAR.
At the time, most baseball columnists believed the Nationals overpaid for Werth.

Another similar player in age and experience, Albert Pujols signed a huge 10 years/$240 million contract with the Angels. In Pujols' FA year, he hit 37 HR 99 RBI .299 AVG .366 OBP  5.1 WAR.

Werth's contract is $18 million per season for a free agency year 4.3 WAR. ($4.18M/WAR)
Pujols contract is $24 million per season for a free agency year 5.1 WAR ($4.7M/WAR)

Swisher is making $10.25M for 2012 ($4.88M/WAR).
Many people thought Pujols contract was expensive, but palatable because of his career production. Werth's contract pushes players like Swisher to demand a $100 million deal, which looking at the current numbers, is unrealistic.

Jason Bay, as a 30 year old, signed a 4 year/$66M contract. In his free agency season, Bay was paid $7.8M for 4.9 WAR.  Bay's career went immediately downhill after that deal. Michael Cuddyer, as a 32 year old, signed a 3 year/$31.5M contract. In his free agency season, Cuddyer was paid $10.5M for a 1.7 WAR. Cuddyer is having a down year with Colorado this season (0.6 WAR).

Based on age and his current numbers, Swisher is more like Cuddyer than Werth in free agency valuation. But Werth's bad contract will inflate Swisher's demands this off season.

August 20, 2012


When Tom Ricketts hired Theo Epstein, the Cubs clearly stated the team wanted to follow the Red Sox blueprint for success. Ricketts wants Wrigley transformed into the modern Fenway Park, with its sovereign outside the park revenue streams and loyal, overpaying fan base.

At least it was a plan.

But inside the core of this Boston romance lies the darkness of the Boston way of handling things.

The Boston Globe reported over the weekend Cubs personnel are disappointed that Alfonso Soriano won’t waive his 10-and-5 rights to go to the Giants.  The report said that Soriano doesn't want to play in a colder climate that could adversely affect his hitting.

Well, Soriano has that veto right. And he told the Cubs before the trade deadline he would not go to the Giants. A snide little note that Soriano doesn't like the cold as a lame excuse for not accepting a trade is a childish maneuver to shift the focus of the bad roster away from management.

So why is the Cub front office bitching to the press (no less, the Boston paper)?

Because that is the sniping, backstabbing Red Sox culture that Ricketts has imported to his organization.

Look at the Valentine situation. Two weeks ago, most of the ESPN analysts (including former players) said that the players were out of line for their mini-mutiny against the manager; they were looking for excuses for underperforming on the field. But this weekend, the analysts have turned and said Valentine cannot come back next year; he had "lost" the team. No, Valentine was left out in the cold by management to take the blame for another bad season. Valentine's actions were not fully supported by the general manager, team president or ownership. In fact, management undercut Valentine's authority from the beginning by not diffusing negative player comments. Instead, management took the public tact of supporting the players in any clubhouse feud. Are Boston fans so spoiled and self centered to eat this garbage like gourmet cake?

Well, no one blames ownership for the Boston massacre. Ownership hired Valentine to be the anti-Francona, who allowed the beer battered chicken meltdown ruin last season. If you hire a disciplinarian and don't back him up when he tries to get the players accountable early on, then management set him up to fail by empowering the players to backstab their coach. Now, ownership meets with the players - - - further butchering any authority Valentine could have had to save his job.  It is this type of dysfunctional management style with a "who do I blame" excuses of management and intervening ownership group mucking up the normal chain of command that Epstein is bringing to Chicago.

Epstein bullied Dempster out of town. Dempster really did not want to go to the Rangers, but he has several personal issues to deal with including no contract prospects with the Cubs next season. So he was pressured to be "a good teammate" and waive his no trade rights in order to seem more appealing on the free agent market after the season. 

Soriano does not care. He has his last contract. He plays in a party town. He does not have to perform great in order to keep playing. By default, he is the best power hitter on the team. Common sense dictates that he would never leave his comfort zone as a Cub.

Given the fact he told the Cubs several times NO to trades, management should move on instead of leaking negative comments about a player who will be on the team another couple of years. There should have never been any story about the Cubs trying to move Soriano if management  knew he was never going to be moved. By creating these contradictions and blame, Epstein's crew sows the seeds of anti-management in Soriano, who is a role model to some of the younger players, like Castro. This has the aspect of a train going off the rails as it approaches the old wooden bridge. The engineer does not care what happens to the train itself, because he could always blame the passengers for being too heavy when the bridge collapses underneath them.


August 18, 2012


The news about the Cubs approaching Castro about a contract extension has created some Cub buzz in a rather dismal summer of baseball. But like the season itself, it is not all that positive.

Some writers glean that controlling Castro for six years is a good thing; this is a young All-Star caliber player that you can build your new team around.

Other writers question whether Castro has earned a huge Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes or BJ Upton type massive first long term contract.

The numbers are falling in the range of six years and north of $50 million to lock up Castro. That is an average salary of more than $8.33 million per season.

Given the fact that Castro's batting average has fallen, while his home run total is creeping up, we still do not know what type of final product Castro will be as a major leaguer. Clearly, he has shown no real improvement in his defensive skill set. He continues to have lack of focus issues on the field. After 2.5 years in the majors, you cannot say these are rookie mistakes anymore. And if the Cubs are seeking more power numbers from Castro to match his higher salary (like a Ramirez), then he is unlikely to continue to be a .300 hitter.

Then you have the potential problem that a long term contract for Castro will block the promotion of other, "better" shortstop candidates in your system. Jaiver Baez is ranked the second best prospect in the system. In high A ball this season, he has shown both power, batting average and stolen base skills. Junior Lake is ranked tenth best prospect. He has shown the same skill sets, but slightly lower numbers than Baez (but at a higher level of competition). Gioskar Amaya is another middle infield speedster who has shown in A ball the knack of hitting the ball. He is the 16th best prospect in the organization. Marco Hernandez is the 18th best prospect; a very good defensive player and good line drive switch hitter in A ball. The Cubs class of shortstop prospects would seem to reach major league potential all around the same time in three years. If Castro is still in the middle of a long term deal, then the team is potentially blocking several candidates from making an impact on the team.

Now, management could say that having an overload of talent at one position is a good thing. You can move a player from short to second or third. Or you can use that talent in trade to acquire other pieces for your team.  But as we have seen this season, it is harder to actually do. Soriano has spent the past several seasons blocking the crop of young Cub outfielders from being promoted. He will continue to block at least one rookie until his deal expires (or the Cubs cut him).

The Cubs may be looking at the long term with a long term deal with Castro, but they also may not be looking clearly at the long term picture.

August 17, 2012


Comcast Sports is reporting that the Cubs are quietly trying to negotiate a contract extension with Starlin Castro.  That is not unusual, since Castro will be finishing up his third season and would be arbitration eligible this off-season.

In the baseball process, a player who is under six years of playing time but has three years of service time can go into arbitration. The process is meant to get the player's agent and team to agree on a salary amount for the next season. But sometimes the sides are so far apart in the "valuation" that an arbitrator must decide in a winner take all format. The player submits his salary demand and the team submits its final offer. The arbitrator must decide between the two numbers. And during the arbitration hearing, it is the job of the agent to pump up his client's strengths, statistics and comparisons to other players (and their salary levels) while the team tries to diminish the player's attributes, skills and statistics.  In bitter arbitration disputes, the player sometimes comes away with a negative attitude toward his club. Sometimes, the team is so offended by the player's demands, the player is dealt before the next season ends.

Castro is making around $575,000 this season. Under the general guidelines of the arbitration protocols, a first year arb player would get around 40% of the current average salary for his position; a second year arb player around 60% and a final third year player (such as Garza) would get around 80%.  There are exceptions; if you are the best player at your position, like the Giants starter Lincecum, you can set the market.

The risk to the player is that going through the arbitration process is that it only guarantees a single year. If you get hurt, your career may be done.  For the team, a contract extension locks in fix costs over the next several years for a player you want to keep on your team.

The average salary of the top 41 shortstops in baseball in 2012 is $3.12 million. Castro ranks #26 in shortstop salary.  Under the general guidelines, it would be anticipated that in the first year of eligibility, Castro would get around $1.284 million for 2013, an increase of salary of 120%. However, the top 12 shortstops currently get paid $5 million plus, with Jeter on top at $16 million. The parties could be far a part in arbitration numbers based on how Castro perceives himself in the pantheon of current major league shortstops.

So the business side of the equation is whether a young player gives up years of arbitration for the security of a long term contract with a substantial raise, like a three year, $12 million deal.

But the flip side is if the Cubs can get a reasonable buy out of Castro's arbitration years, it makes him more valuable as a trade commodity to other teams. It would be highly unusual for the new Cubs to negotiate a no-trade provision in a Castro extension (the opposite of what Jim Hendry doled out freely as the former general manager).

At the very least, one would expect the Cubs and Castro to settle on a one year deal for 2013.

UPDATE: Other reports indicate that the Cubs and Castro's agent are talking a long term deal, which would take out his arbitration years and at least two years of free agency. The numbers being kicked around by pundits infer that the first three years could net $15-20 million and the first two years of free agency at $15 million each, or a total of a five year $50 million deal. A $10 million average would put Castro at #3 in pay for current shortstops (Jeter, Rollins, Reyes). Is Castro the third best shortstop in baseball? That is is subject to debate. He is certainly younger than the top three, but they have more accomplishments. That would be a huge commitment on a young player that has regressed this season at the plate. 

August 16, 2012


The timing seems odd. And the front office firings and re-assignments the Cubs announced yesterday may be as effective as re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. 

The Sun-Times reported that the players and Cub front office personnel posed for the annual team photograph. But by the next morning, four members of that photo had lost their jobs.

On Tuesday, Cubs players and front-office personnel posed for the annual team photo.

Oneri Fleita, the longtime vice president of player personnel and protege of former Cub GM Jim Hendry, was dismissed just days after a shuffle of the scouting and player development department that saw Jeron Madison hired from the San Diego Padres to become amateur scouting director. Amateur scouting director Tim Wilken was then promoted to a special assistant.

Chuck Wasserstrom, who was manager of baseball information was also fired as his position was eliminated by Epstein.

Ari Kaplan, who was in charge of statistical analysis, was let go as an employee but hired as a team consultant for  Tom Ricketts.  Why does Tom Ricketts need a baseball stat guy? In the organizational flow chart, Ricketts had separated the business operations under Crane Kenney and the baseball operations under Theo Epstein. But there has been a dual feudal system in place during the Tribune ownership tenure, with Kenney pushing himself into baseball decision making under the guise of being team president. Is Ricketts creating a shadow general managership in his office?

Also, Director of baseball operations,  Scott Nelson,  will be offered another position in the organization as well. Longtime Hendry assistant general manager Randy Bush is now a special consultant to Epstein.  The creation of special consultants are merely posts to keep people (and secrets/strategies) off the job market.

It is strange that Fleita got fired so abruptly.  At the end of last season before Epstein was hired, the Tigers were interested in hiring Fleita. But after an interview, Ricketts on his own gave Fleita a four-year contract.  Fleita had been instrumental in getting Ricketts to build an expensive Dominican training camp and beef up the Latin American scouting department. His efforts have resulted in the scouting and signing of players like Castro, Soler, and Concepcion.

The firing of Fleita came 10 months into Epstein’s tenure, with The Sun Times reporting that Epstein says the timing of the termination had to do with the coming end of the minor-league seasons and the review period for minor-league players before the start of Arizona Fall League play.

Epstein said Fleita was free to go and join another organization right away, but in reality there are no job openings to after the season. Those teams who were interested in him when his contract was up last year filled those positions already. This limits the potential landing spots for him.

The Cubs used to have a very small front office by league standards. Epstein's hiring threw a whole new layer over the top of the retained Tribune-Hendry staff. But these firings and shuffling of old staff by Epstein shows a power shift on the baseball side of the organization. Clearly, the firing of Fleita is Epstein telling Ricketts that he was wrong to retain Fleita. Clearly, the Cubs organization structure seems as dysfunctional as when Ricketts purchased the club.

It also shows the oddity of Ricketts himself who set a personal record of approving moves that have him paying huge amounts of money to people who no longer work for the Cubs.

August 14, 2012


All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro is in a serious slump. He has lacked focus on defense. He has also lacked focus at the plate. In 114 games, 487 PA, Castro is hitting .272 with 11 HRs, 56 RBI and .304 OBP. He has stolen 10 bases in 19 attempts. His fielding percentage is .969 with 17 errors.

Part of the problem with Castro is that his quick ascension to the majors may have impeded his development. He was always a free swinging batter. He had a knack of making contact with the ball. He has probably been the best player on his other teams for a long time; the game looks to come naturally to him.

The Cubs have made him the centerpiece of the New Cubs. As such, he has taken the brunt of criticism by managers Quade and Sveum. Some feel that veterans on the team have been given passes on their mistakes or lack of hustle. But with Castro, a manager with little cred, can get away with a woodshed session or two. Some call it "tough love," to make Castro stronger in the long run.

But young athletes have fragile egos. Especially when they were told their entire lives that they were special and great.

Now even Cub veterans who have run the clubhouse for years demand one thing: consistency. They want to know beforehand whether they will be playing the next day. They want to maintain their own personal routine. They like to know where they stand. They like to have the same position in the line up. It brings about a comfort level.

For some reason (possibly team desperation), Castro has not been given that same consideration. He has been moved around the line-up like a second hand couch at a flea market. Does he bat lead-off like a young Soriano? Does he bat second? Does he bat third because he is the "best" hitter on the team? Does he have the power to bat clean up? Does he have the consistent contact in the gaps to be an RBI machine batting fifth?  Castro is being bumped around the line up from second to seventh without any consistent explanation.

ComcastSports tries to address the issue today on its website. But the responses from manager Sveum are more puzzling and instructive:

“I don’t think he really knows where he’s hitting in the lineup or anything, so that makes me a little more comfortable with (moving him around),” Sveum said. “He’s kind of a cut-and-slasher and no matter where he is in the lineup it’s not really going to change his approach right now.”

But that is the whole problem in a nutshell!! Castro is uncomfortable NOT knowing where he is batting in the line up. But the whole batting instruction mantra changes depending on where a player bats. A lead off hitter is instructed to take more pitches. A player batting second is told to move the runner on first along, sometimes sacrificing yourself or hitting pitches without power to the opposite field to protect the runner. A player batting third is supposed to drive in runs with power. A player batting clean up is supposed to do the same, with a reputation such as to give the hitter in front of him better pitches to see (and hit).

A young player comes to the majors with his personal skill set. His approach to the plate is determined by his hand to eye coordination, and individual trigger mechanisms that transfers the motion of his bat swing to contact with the pitch.  CSN Chicago reports that the Cubs have talked a lot about smoothing out Castro’s mechanics and believing that with more experience he will become more selective and start to drive balls with more authority.   But in reality, that is not "developing" Castro's natural talents, but changing him to fit the coaching staff preconceived notions of how a hitter should act at the plate in a given situation.

“People can say what they want about where you are in the lineup: ‘I got to do this. I got to do that,’” Sveum said. “But (it’s) the personalities of the hitter. You can’t expect anybody to take what they are and put them in the leadoff spot and expect them to take more pitches.

“Or hit fifth and think they’re going to do this or hit second and (make them) take pitches because the leadoff guy’s going to steal bases or whatever. You can’t ask people to do that, especially at this stage of his career and really the kind of hitter that he is. You’re asking way too much.”

Except, Sveum's comments make no sense. Good managers demand that players put into certain line up positions do their jobs. Lead off hitters take pitches to draw walks and higher on-base percentage. Second hitters protect runners and advance them. The meat of the line up drives in runs. And in order to have an effective lineup, managers need players in those slot who have the skill sets to succeed.

The Cubs are asking too much of Castro to be something that he is not. Castro's batting success has come from the #2 position. He is most comfortable batting behind the lead off hitter, and ahead of a good hitting third slot (in this case, Rizzo). Castro has failed as a #3 and #4 hitter. And he is struggling in the #5 hole because he is looked upon to drive in runs as a power hitter. He is not a power hitter but a line drive contact hitter. The Cubs management has failed to realize that by bouncing Castro around the line-up, the team is creating the problem.

August 13, 2012


For the past several years, sports teams have allowed filming documentaries on the behind the scenes operations of a football or baseball team. These reality shows are to give the fans some insight in the coach and player dynamics, the grind of the season, and the emotional roller coaster people having trying to compete at the highest level of professional sports.

It is extremely rare for a team to grant access to their draft war room.  But Fox Sports Houston gained such access to the general manager and scouts during this year's Astros draft.

The process of a major league is what most fans assumed would happen.

The general manager met with the New Owner and club president to agree that the team needs to major rebuilding effort through the draft and international free agent signings. With all executives on board with the plan, the general manager then began the process of evaluating players.

The scouting process focused on setting forth what drives players to succeed at the major league level and finding out how "early" in a player's career can you find those characteristics. For example,  Astros identified the major league characteristics as a) contact vs. striking out and b) locating a fastball. In reality, the key to the Astro evaluation process is player "skills" and not what other teams tout as "tools."

Some people may think that the terms "skills" and "tools" are the same thing. A tool is an objective measure of a player: size, speed, range.  When some scouts declare a player is a "five tool" guy, they are talking about the abilities to hit for average, hit for power, base running skills/speed, throwing ability (arm strength) and fielding. Scouts look at the numbers to rank a player's tools. 

But the Astros look deeper than the career stats to determine when a player found major league skill characteristics. It almost goes beyond pure statistics to see if the prospect actually has a "baseball IQ" character to meet the demands of a major league player. The most important thing about success in the major leagues is the ability to adapt. If a player has the personal skills to adapt well at an early age, he is more likely to adapt as his professional career advances.

Then, the scouting reports were compiled to determine what players the team wanted to draft. Then the general manager and his staff tried to figure out how much the players were "worth." In their lexicon, the goal of the draft was to get "the most major league value" out of it. The general manager must project how much each players will cost, and what sort of "return" on investment the team will receive in the future. The best return would be a projected major league starter.

The team goes into the draft with a player ranking and their potential selections. The team then runs simulations of a mock draft to determine what their reaction would be if a certain player is drafted ahead of their pick or not drafted as they thought another team would do. If one looks at all the mock drafts this year by columnists, pundits and scouting services, each one was different because of the truly fluid dynamic of how each team evaluates a player is slightly different; each team has different philosophies in finding talent; each team has different needs to fill at both the major and minor league levels; each team has a different talent budget; and each team has a risk evaluation program to determine whether or not a pick is signable for a reasonable cost.

Once the draft started, the situation changed and internal debates began as "good" players were falling down the board due to perceived signability issues. The new collective bargaining rules may have made some teams much more conservative than in past drafts. In the end, most baseball writers believed that the Astros had an excellent draft, securing three first round talents. The Astros rebuilding process was interesting because it showed a layered evaluation program after identifying areas of solutions: high school, college, international free agents, or major league free agents (which have little impact due to the rebuilding blueprint agreed to with ownership).

The team broke down the scouting reports into objective criteria that most scouts use to rank prospects. Similar information was taken by management to find whether the prospects tools meet with skill characteristics of successful major league players. Then a consensus of prospect rankings comes to the forefront. With that list, a cost-benefit analysis is made by the general manager to determine major league values of each player. Armed with all this information, the team then goes into the draft room to iron out each selection as the draft progressed; not making their picks until they were on the clock to find the best major league value at that slot.

August 9, 2012


 Here is what the media is reporting on the Cubs today:

1. The Cubs finished a WINLESS road trip with 2-0 loss to the Padres.
2. The Cubs have now lost 8 straight games.
3. The Cubs are 0-for-August.
4. The Cubs were shut out for the second time in the Padre series.
5. ESPNChicago notes:

   "Something about the non-waiver trade deadline has seemed to take the wind ouf of the Cubs sails."
   "Sveum has said the passing fo the (trade) deadline has not affected morale, but the Cubs seemed to have much more focus before July 31 and barely any since."
    "Castro was hitless in his first 21 at-bats on the road trip."
   "Samardzija pulled off his best Carlos Zambrano impersonation in the seventh inning (by breaking bat over knee)."

6. The Cubs offense is being compared to laggards from the early 1980s, including the 1981 club that finished in 8th place.
7. The Cubs have played 15 rookies so far this season.
8. Soriano is the last player on the roster from a Cub playoff team.

Bad teams have bad losing streaks. This year's Cub squad has pulled over a couple of nasty losing cascades. But the current malaise has gotten beat writers and observers to comment that the team looks like a dead mule off to the side of canyon trail.

Baseball players are professionals. Their job is to try to win every game. Their job is to perform to the best of their abilities, day in and day out. Cub fans overlooked the lack of talent if the players hustled and tried hard to win. But the reports this week indicate a change that may be hard for fans to accept: lackluster losing.

The observation that the Cubs have lost morale may be a serious leadership problem. Kerry Wood, Dempster, Johnson, Soto  and Baker are all gone. Whether any were vocal leaders or not, a veteran void has been created in an attempt to turn over the roster and get younger players on the field. It is said that Anthony Rizzo has leadership qualities, but rarely do rookies take command of a clubhouse.

It is really the job of the manager to keep the team focused on playing every day. If Sveum can't keep his team together, then is he the man to be trusted with the development of all the new prospects? Team chemistry is over-rated. There have been World Series champion teams where players hated each other, but they worked hard and won on the field. Impeding doom is not the same thing; a team that expects to lose will find a way to lose. It is vicious cycle now: one week it is the lack of pitching, the next it is lack of offense. A team just going through the motions is not a fun team to watch.

A really bad season can have a carry-over effect to the next. Young players may get into bad habits. Starlin Castro has lost the one thing that came natural to him: contact on the baseball. Can the coaches get him back to his normal self? Adjustments seem to come agonizingly slow for this club. This is not just growing pains but real painful to see the glimmer of any substantial change in the way the Cubs have been run for the past few seasons.

August 8, 2012


When the old Cubs acquired Matt Garza for five prospects, at the time some analysts believed that was a steep price to pay for a starting pitcher. The Rays were the beneficiary of the trade, with three of the five prospects reaching the majors, including reserve outfield defensive speedster Sam Fuld.

The Rays had excess starting pitching and did not want to pay Garza $9 million in arbitrated salary. So the Cubs, still believing they could compete, made the deal.  Garza's career in Chicago has been average at best. As a Cub, Garza is 15-17. In 2011, his ERA was 3.32 in 31 starts. In 2012, it was 3.91 in 18 starts. His combined WHIP is around 1.211. So maybe he has been an above average starter on an underperforming team.

But most observers don't perceive Garza as the ace of any staff, like they do with Halladay, Verlander or Kershaw.

The Cubs really wanted to exchange Garza's talents for a boatload of prospects at the trading deadline. Garza's value would never be higher, since a contender could have him for this year and all of next year (after arbitration). It was unlikely that the Cubs would have gotten 5 prospects in return, but at least three quality players. 

But no trade happened because Garza got hurt. First it was reported as a tricep injury. Then fluid in the arm. Then he took some personal time for the birth of his child. The Cubs said he would make a start just before the trade deadline, but that did not come to pass. Now, the word is Garza is on the DL with a "stress reaction," which is just short of a stress fracture in his elbow at the triceps. Blake Parker has a similar injury, and he has been out since June 1st. So that means Garza is done for 2012. That means Garza will not competitively pitch until spring training 2013. That means he won't be traded this off-season. That means his trade value is falling to near zero.

Timing is everything, especially in baseball. If the Cubs, knowing that the team was going to be in the bottom all season, should have tried to deal Garza in June, not July. But they held on to him to juice up the bidding near the deadline. But that strategy backfired.

The diplomatic word from Clark and Addison is that the front office is happy to have Garza in the rotation in 2013.  They have no choice in the matter. Garza will probably get a good raise in his final year of arbitration to $10.5 to $11.25 million, numbers that can't make the business side of the Cubs happy since it has been all about cutting payroll for 2013.

The fallout of this saga is that the Cubs are stuck with a starting pitcher that does not fit into their plans (rebuilding) or their budget for 2013, and may be difficult to trade because of his injury history.

August 7, 2012


The Cubs pitching staff is in free fall. The trades of Dempster and Maholm with the injury of Garza puts the Cubs back floundering in recent seasons. We will now see a humbling turnstyle of AAA pitchers taking turns in the rotation to close out the year.

But the glaring pitching hole will have to be filled in the off season. The rebuilding solution will not be ready in time. The pitchers signed by the new front office are years away.  So, that leaves the free agent market.  The following is a list of FAs (age) (those without team options):

Erik Bedard (34)
Joe Blanton (32)
Bartolo Colon (40)
Aaron Cook (34)
Kevin Correia (32)
Doug Davis (37)
Ryan Dempster (36)
Zach Duke (30)
Jeff Francis (32)
Freddy Garcia (37)
Zack Greinke (28)
Jeremy Guthrie (34)
Rich Harden (31)
Livan Hernandez (38)
Edwin Jackson (29)
Hiroki Kuroda (38)
Colby Lewis (33)
Francisco Liriano (29)
Kyle Lohse (34)
Rodrigo Lopez (37)
Derek Lowe (40)
Shaun Marcum (31)
Jason Marquis (34)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (32)
Brandon McCarthy (29)
Kevin Millwood (38)
Jamie Moyer (50)
Ramon Ortiz (40)
Roy Oswalt (35)
Carl Pavano (37)
Brad Penny (35)
Joel Pineiro (34)
Anibal Sanchez (29)
Jonathan Sanchez (30)
Joe Saunders (32)
Chien-Ming Wang (33)
Kip Wells (36)
Chris Young (34)
Carlos Zambrano (32)

With Garza (29) now projected to be in the starting rotation in 2013 (his trade value at present is nil), and the Cubs management's philosophy of going "young," we can eliminate any free agent pitcher over age 32 for many reasons. First, older pitchers are more unreliable and injury prone. Second, a younger pitcher may get more trade value in July, 2013. Any free agent signings this off season are geared toward flipping the player for more prospects.  So let us look at pitchers under age 33 for the Cub talent pool:

Joe Blanton (32)
Kevin Correia (32)
Zach Duke (30)
Zack Greinke (28)
Rich Harden (31)
Edwin Jackson (29)
Colby Lewis (33)
Francisco Liriano (29)
Shaun Marcum (31)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (32)
Brandon McCarthy (29)
Anibal Sanchez (29)
Jonathan Sanchez (30)
Joe Saunders (32)
Carlos Zambrano (32)

The top five pitchers on this list are probably outside the Cubs price range: Greinke, Jackson, A. Sanchez, Marcum and Harden. Other pitchers, like Lewis, have injuries that make them suspect picks.

What Hoyer will try to do is pick up another Maholm. The two ex-Pirates Correia or Duke could fit that bill. The other flyer could be a discounted Blanton, a risky McCarthy or J. Sanchez.  The Cubs will need to sign two of these players in order to field a legitimate starting rotation with Garza, Samardzija and T. Wood. The only wild card in this blueprint is if someone comes out of nowhere in the last two months (Germano, Raley, Rusin) and has a Chris Sale like run.

August 6, 2012


The Chicago Tribune reported that the Dodgers were upset with the reports that at the trade deadline, pitcher Ryan Dempster was listening into the trade conversations between team representatives.

Theo Epstein now claims that the reporter(s) "misinterpreted" what he said; he meant to say was that Dempster was brought into the room and told what was going on with the Dodgers.

But the initial reports made it appear that Dempster was in the Cubs business offices, listening in (speaker phone) to the trade talk.  Apparently, stung from the "lack of communication" that doomed the Atlanta trade, the Cubs front office put Dempster at ground zero to show him that the Dodgers really were not that interested in him, and that he had to think about alternative destinations.

Now Dempster could have said no to any team but the Dodgers, since he has 10 & 5 trade veto rights. But giving Dempster an insider view of the situation, it may have made it easier to accept a deal to the Rangers knowing that the Dodgers were not making a real play for him.

The Dodgers are upset with the reports in that the conversations between general managers is supposed to remain confidential. You don't want outsiders in on the conversation to know that a team is willing to trade certain players, because the team probably has not told those players. You don't want to upset your current roster with trade rumors (which ironically, is what ticked Dempster off in the Atlanta deal: the media reported the trade before the Cubs told him about it.)

We will never know what exactly happened at the trade deadline. We do know that Dempster was at the Cub offices, and he was told by the Cubs of the trade talks going no where with the Dodgers. Whether Dempster was in the room listening in on the exact conversation, that will be one word against another.

But what this does reveal about the Cubs organization is that the new guys have problems communicating with their players and apparently with other general managers in the area of "professional protocol."  Throughout the history of the game, there have been some general managers that other teams just refused to deal with on any level (due to personality conflicts, ethics, or being blabbermouths at the press bar). There are some teams that refuse to deal with clubs in their own division. Every general manager in the game today needs to have some working relationship with his peers, otherwise the team is at a disadvantage.

The whole two week  Dempster trade saga puts the Cubs in a terrible light with other clubs and the general public.

UPDATE: ESPNChicago updates the saga with a conversation with Dempster, who says he was not in the room when the negotiations between general managers took place. He came in later to discuss things. ESPN quotes:

"I never was listening to the Dodgers and Cubs negotiate this deal," Dempster said. "I was in the other room, and they wanted me there to be informed and also be able to talk about other teams that may come up. They came to me with a couple of other teams, but there was never any deal they had set up. When they came to me eventually with the Yankees and Texas, and it appeared we weren't going to get anything done with the Dodgers, I told them to go ahead.
"At about a half hour before the deadline, they put me on the phone with Ned Colletti. We had a conversation and it was apparent at that time that regardless of how hard all sides worked, that they weren't going to get a deal done. I told him I definitely wanted to come to the Dodgers, and that I'd be interested in signing an extension, and I told him I wasn't just saying that to try to get the deal done. At that point, we just said goodbye and wished each other well."

August 3, 2012


As the way things simmer this summer, this is what the Cubs opening day line up looks today (without any further off season moves):

1. DeJesus RF
2. Castro SS
3. Rizzo 1B
4. Soriano LF
5. B. Jackson  CF
6. Vitters 3B
7. Clevenger C
8. Barney 2B
9. Garza SP

That would equate to a 50% turnover from this year's position starters on opening day 2012.

August 1, 2012


As the trading deadline dust settled last night, and the Cubs being one-hit by the Pirates at a very empty Wrigley Field, one must ask whether this is the franchise bottom and/or the start of the new team construction under Epstein and Hoyer?

On the current roster, who are the players that are clearly the Cubs future?

In the outfield, Soriano, DeJesus and LaHair are not the future. The Cubs tried to unload Soriano and LaHair this year, but with no real takers. Soriano's contract alone anchors him to LF, but he is on the decline. LaHair has turned into another old AAAA player.

In the infield, Valbuena, Barney are not the future. Valbuena is a journeyman covering the bag because the woeful Ian Stewart got hurt (he is also not part of the future rebuild). Barney may be a nice scrappy little player in the popular Ryan Theriot mode, but he is not as productive as the Pirates' Neil Walker (11 HRs, 56 RBI). In modern baseball you need position players with more offensive pop than average defense.  Rizzo and Castro are in the Cubs future.

Behind the plate, Clevenger and Castillo will have to earn their keep quickly. The Cubs will have to promote more and more young pitchers through the system quicker than normal because ownership and the fan base cannot wait to 2015 for a competitive squad. They will platoon for the rest of this summer.

In the rotation, Garza is not the future as the Cubs really wanted to trade him but an injury cost them to opportunity to make the big deal. It is highly unlikely the Cubs will spend big money on a contract extension with Garza, who has not shown Verlander-ace performance while in a Cub uniform. Samardzija is on the fence; as a first year starter he is playing for a contract and a raise. Since the Cubs kept him out of trade discussions means they want to keep him around, at least for the short term. Travis Wood, by default, has to be part of the future rotation, as the only viable lefty starter in the organization.
Volstad, Coleman, Germano appear to be spot starters and placeholders and not keys to the rebuilding plan.

In the bullpen, only Jeff Russell appears to be part of the future. Marmol's inconsistency and his contract dooms him to be moved in the off-season. Maine, Mateo,  Corpas and Camp are not long term assets. Besides, most scouts believe the four right handed pitchers the Cubs obtained at the trade deadline all project to bullpen relievers.

In the minors, who is supposed to be the future? The rebuilding and roster turnover has to begin next year in earnest.

At Iowa, Brett Jackson is the CF in waiting; except his strike out totals are looming large. Josh Vitters has been the perennial third base prospect for years. Due to the lack of depth, he will get his shot next season.

The Cubs front office has an arbitrary 500 AB quota for AAA position players before promotion to the majors, so prospects like Lake, Baez, Sczur, Torreyes must wait at least two years before being "ready" for promotion.

And it will take an IBM supercomputer to sort out all the pitchers the Cubs have acquired in the last six months to see if any of them are keepers.

So as it stands today, the Cubs future is in the hands of the following players:
Castro, Rizzo, Samardzija, T. Wood, Russell, B. Jackson and Vitters.


Maybe Ryan Dempster just wanted a better landing spot for a contender than the Atlanta Braves. He got it with the Texas Rangers, who have the players to continue to go deep in the post-season if their pitching holds up. Injuries to two starters made Texas make a move to find a quality arm for the pennant chase.

The Rangers acquired Dempster  for Class A minor league third baseman Christian Villanueva  and Class A minor league right-hander Kyle Hendricks.  

Dempster was drafted by the Rangers in the third  in 1995 but he was traded to the Marlins in 1996.  Converted from being a closer,  Dempster was a fairly consistent starter for the Cubs. Since  acquiring 10-and-5 rights, Dempster had to approve the trade to the Rangers, which in some respects was a surprise since all indications was he wanted to move to the Dodgers.

Despite a low win total, Dempster posted a 2.25 ERA with 7.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 in 104 innings with the Cubs this year.  He's earning $14MM -- nearly $5MM between now and the end of the season -- and will hit free agency this fall. It was clear that the Cubs would not tender him a contract at the end of the season, so there would be no compensation pick in the next draft. So the Cubs really needed to trade Dempster and receive something in return.

Villanueva, 21, has a .285/.356/.421 batting line in 425 plate appearances with Class A Myrtle Beach this year. The third baseman entered the 2012 season as the 100th-best prospect in MLB, according to Baseball America. He has a .286/.350/.438 batting line in four minor league seasons. However, the Rangers have another third base prospect, Mike Olt, which they believe is better than Villanueva. In a classic case of trading a prospect blocked at his position, the Rangers traded for Dempster, a proven commodity. 

The Cubs have been recently talking about shoring up the lack of depth in the minor league system, especially at third base. Villanueva shows some offensive power but has a weak fielding percentage at third base.  In some respects, he is in the mold of Cub minor leaguer Josh Vitters.

But the key to the deal is the pitching prospect. Hendricks, 22, has a 2.82 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 1.0 BB/9 in 130 2/3 innings over the course of 20 starts at Myrtle Beach. The 6'2" right-hander has 150 strikeouts and just 21 walks in 166 1/3 innings since being selected in the eighth round of the 2011 draft.

On paper, this looks like a good deal for the Cubs. The two prospects will take at least 3 to 4 years in the minor league development ranks before they have a chance to make the major league roster. Project late 2015. The Cubs front office has stressed that it wants to go young and acquire more "assets" under their control. The trade of four major leaguers for five minor league prospects is not quite the volume that most observers expected from the Cubs. And there were no immediate "impact" players in any of the Cub deals.

In fact, most writers believe the Cubs had a better deal with the Braves for Randall Delgado, a major league ready pitcher.