January 29, 2013


At least the front office admits its mistakes. When the new regime tagged Lendy Castillo in their first Rule 5 draft, it meant keeping the AA pitcher on the roster a full season. That happened, but most the year was dragged down by injury.

So when the Carlos Villanueva signing was official, the Cubs needed to move a player off the protected list. Lendy was designated for assignment, which means the team has a short time to deal him or waive him.

Castillo was another one of these fashionable "reclamation" projects. He began his career as a shortstop in the Phillies organization, but converted to a pitcher in 2010 because of his arm velocity. That is why the Cubs selected him in the 2011 Rule 5 draft.

The 23-year-old Castillo appeared in 13 games for Cubs last season, posting a 7.88 ERA and 2.25 WHIP in 16 non-pressure innings.

Castillo went on the disabled list May 11 with a groin strain and missed several months before being recalled in mid August. He had never pitched above the Single-A level before 2012.

It is possible that the Cubs think that Castillo will clear waivers this time because of his poor performance and injury history. If he clears waivers, the Cubs could send him to the minors where he should have been last season, a season by all accounts was totally lost in the development cycle of a young player.

January 28, 2013


Darwin Barney may have been the best player at his position. He had the best player WAR in 2012, at 4.6. However, he defensive WAR was 3.6. His offensive numbers were below average: .254 BA, 7 HR, 44 RBI, .299 OBP, 6 SB. In a dismal season, Barney's defense was the one good story of the year.

He is Ryan Theriot 2.0. Because he hustles, fans like him. He is not flashy or an off-field problem, so fans like him. And once Cub fans like a player, there is an upgrade in job security. The Cubs PR department made Barney one of the centerpieces for the Cubs convention.

That's all fine and good, but celebrating the defense of a second baseman misses the big point: every position needs to be reviewed for a season to season upgrade. And Barney's defense stats are over-rated in comparison to the consenus view in baseball.

When one organizes a team, what are the most important defensive positions?

1. Catcher. The catcher is the most important because he handles the ball the most during a game. He calls the pitches, he helps set the infield, he holds runners and really sets the tone for the game. A good catcher, like A.J. Pierzynski, could get under a competitor's skin and throw an opponent off their game. A gold glove caliber catcher makes the pitching staff better.

2. Shortstop. It is clear that the shortstop needs to be the most athletic infielder. He has to have the best range and strong, accurate arm for both throws deep in the hole and crossing over second base (against his body). All quality teams have to have a quality shortstop anchoring the infield.

3. First base. A good glove at first base will save games for a team. It was estimated that Mark Grace probably was worth five victories for getting to errant throws to stop runs scored or big innings. It makes sense because first base is the place for most put outs in a game.

4. Third base. They do not call it the "hot corner" for nothing. Quick reaction time and a strong arm are needed to cover third base area properly. A bad third baseman without reaction time or range turns an opponent into a doubles hitting machine.

5. Center field. Center fielder is the quarterback of the outfield. A speedy center fielder who anticipates the play can cover a tremendous amount of ground and can make up for corner outfield defensive short comings. A great defender can take away extra bases hit into the gaps.

6. Right field. The most important part of a right fielder is arm strength. A cannon arm is important to hold runners going from first to third, or for plays at the plate. A quality right fielder changes the strategy of a third base coach on whether to send an average runner home in a close game.

7. Second base. The second baseman has the easiest infield throws of any player. The only tough play is turning the double play at the bag.

8. Left field. A team's worst position player usually winds up in left field because it has the shortest distances to cover throws to third base. As a result, a team's best hitter but worst fielder is usually exiled to left. In a progression example, Alfonso Soriano's career path went from being a bad second baseman to a forced move by manager Frank Robinson to left field.

9. Pitcher. A pitcher is not expected to be a great fielder, even though there are stellar examples of players who fielded the mound with precision like Jim Kaat, Greg Maddux and Mark Buerhle. Commentators believe that pitchers should concentrate on pitching and not fielding. However, a horrible fielder such as Matt Garza can be exploited by opponents by merely bunting down the third base side.

So, Barney's defensive skills only rank #7 on total team defensive skills. And if Barney was the best fielder on the team, it means that every position except Soriano and the pitcher needs to be improved.

January 26, 2013


Spring training is less than a month away.
Most teams are pretty set now on their rosters.
You are what you are, so to speak.

Now, the projection software, stats guys and pundits have crunched their variables to begin the guessing game: how many wins for the Cubs in 2013.

The consensus range is surprising: 72 to 85 wins. That would be an improvement of 18 to 39 percent.
How can that be realistic?

The off season focus has been on improving the pitching staff. A player to player gut check is in order.

1. Ryan Dempster replaced by free agent Scott Baker, who is coming off major surgery. Baker will not be ready by Opening Day, and may not pitch until May. Dempster had a great first half of 2012, but got no run or bullpen support. There is no realistic chance that Baker will be better than Dempster. However, to hedge against total Baker failure, the Cubs signed Edwin Jackson. Jackson is an innings eater, but highly inconsistent from outing to outing. He projects as a similar hit-or-miss guy like Baker. Combined, it is still doubtful they can garner the same quality starts and innings of 2012 Dempster.

2. Old Garza vs. Rehabbed Garza. The Old Garza was fairly average for the Cubs. The Rehabbed Garza may not be ready until May. Pitchers coming off injuries tend to have mechanic issues, brought on by the psychology of "not" hurting their arm upon their return. At best, Garza will be the same as 2012.

3. Samardzija vs. Sophomore Starter Samardzija. The training wheels (limited innings) will be off for Smardzilla in 2013. One would expect that with experience, Samardzija will continue to improve, but batters will have a complete scouting report on him now - - - one would think that he would still be slightly better than last season.

4. Scott Feldman has replaced Chris Volstad. Volstad was horrible. Feldman fell out of favor in pitching rich Texas to bullpen-long relief role. Whether Feldman can rebound to his very good form of several years ago is a real question mark. But it is hard to imagine that Feldman will be as bad as Volstad. This fifth starter spot seems to be improved.

5. Travis Wood replaces Paul Maholm as the lefty starter in the rotation. Maholm was really the most consistent and steady pitcher the Cubs staff had last season. Wood started off in the minors, but was recalled to provide some depth after the trades and injuries. Based on last year's performance, Wood will probably not match Maholm's production.

So if you look at the rotation comparisons, it would seem that two pitchers will be worse, one slightly better, one better and one the same. Formula: -2.0 + 0.5 +1.0 + 0.0 = -0.5.
So the rotation appears to be the same to slightly worse as a collective whole.

The bullpen is hard to gauge at this stage. Last year was a merry-go-round circle of bad AAA pitchers and injured journeymen trying comebacks.

You have the returning core of Marmol, J. Russell, and Camp.
You have new arms in Villanueva (who will probably spot start), Fujikawa, and Rondon (who is basically the same AA gamble as Lendy Castillo who failed last year).
So anyone else to fill out the pen will be AAA-AAAA type of thrower.

The only thing the Cubs may think they have is extra MLB experienced back up starters in T. Wood, Villanueva and Feldman. But are they really that good, especially when the position players are basically the same core and cast-off utility players?

The bottom line is that the Cubs are still basically the same team as last season. The changes in players are merely cosmetic and not long term solutions to becoming competitive now. The Cubs project in my mind to another 100 loss team.

January 25, 2013


It seems the Cubs are now done assembling their 2013 cast for the League of Gentlemen Journeymen.
There still has to be two roster moves to add Scott Hairston and Carlos Villaneuva to the team with one possible utility infielder and one bullpen reliever added during spring training (which means Clevenger and Rusin/Raley/McNutt will be DFA'd). I expect Baker to start the season on the DL, and Garza may also miss some action too.

Here is the current projected depth chart:

LF     Soriano                  CF        DeJesus        RF   Schierholtz
                                                     Sappelt                 Hairston


3B     I. Stewart               SS     Castro           2B  Barney           1B  Rizzo
         Valbuena                                                      Lillibridge

C     W. Castillo


       E. Jackson        Samardzija       Garza     T. Wood     Feldman   


      C. Villaneuva   J. Russell     Fujikawa      Marmol   Rondon   Camp  Takahashi

January 24, 2013


For those who still give management the benefit of the doubt, here is more evidence to wonder:
the Cubs are now collecting platoon players like former GM Jim Hendry did with second basemen.

The Cubs signed 33 year old reserve outfielder Scott Hairston to a two year contract. He only really hits left handed pitching and has never played full time in his career.

Last season with the Mets, he had 398 PA, hit .263, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 8 SB, .299 OBP, 1.5 WAR.
It is hit or miss for Hairston. He had a .994 fielding percentage for the outfield positions; he has only played second twice since 2009.

So technically, Hairston is now the second best outfielder on the roster after Soriano.
His signing means that two-thirds of the opening day outfield roster will be in a platoon situation:
DeJesus/Sappelt and Schierholtz/Hairston. It is sort of Little League: everyone plays.

But this is another signal that the Cubs are going to sign marginal part time journeymen for the next several seasons. It is called "Rebuilding While Standing Still." Epstein and Hoyer are putting all their competitive eggs in their draft choice basket, hoping that the young players they have signed will be a collective of Mike Trouts in 2015.

January 23, 2013


Some people believe in the saying, "you get what you pay for."

In the case of the Theo Epstein compensation pick to the Red Sox, it seems it was nothing.

An ESPN source with knowledge of the situation indicated the Cubs would be interested in signing relief pitcher Chris Carpenter if he is put on waivers. He was designated for assignment in order to the Red Sox to sign Mike Napoli.

Carpenter was the final compensation that the Red Sox received for allowing former general manager  Epstein to leave in order to become the Cubs' president of baseball operations.

Carpenter, who had elbow surgery in the summer of 2011, pitched for the Red Sox's Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket and with the parent club briefly toward the end of the 2012 season. He appeared in eight games and had a 1-0 record with a 9.00 ERA, recording 10 walks and two strikeouts.

The Red Sox have 10 days to trade Carpenter before they must put him on waivers. If no club claims Carpenter, Boston could re-sign him to a minor league contract.

Like Boston, the Cubs also have a full 40-man roster, which would most likely preclude a trade between the clubs.

Of course the Cubs are interested in any young pitcher with a history of arm issues. Carpenter only pitched 21 innings in all of 2012 (AAA and the majors).

January 21, 2013


There was some sour cynicism at the Cubs convention. The Ricketts family touted the new ball park renovations to such an extreme, that one fan asked whether the owners had any plans to rebuild the ball club.

The hype surrounding the family's retreat from public funding for their private property was only masked by the rapid fire improvements and architect renderings. The $300 million project does not seem to make any movement on building a better team for the fans; but merely attempts to bring more revenue from fans to the team bank account.

The Cubs will gut and rebuild the clubhouse under the lower deck, with a concealed batting cage behind an expanded dugout. The idea is to enlarge the Cubs locker room, add more space for a weight and training room, and other amenities. Jed Hoyer called the clubhouse "AA." For some fans, the idea of pampering the players more does not equate to better performance on the field.

The Cubs also said the entire rebuild would be contingent on the city relaxing some of the landmark restrictions. Well, that is not going to happen. The Cubs have no leverage to change the landmark restrictions, or add new burdens on the residents of the neighborhood. The Cubs want more night games, more "other" events without clearance from the city or neighborhood. The gist is that the Ricketts family deems Wrigley as an entertainment venue, and they want to run a 24/7, 365 day per year entertainment complex. The renovation plan includes more patios, more restaurants and more skyboxes, which means more opportunity to keep the gates open during the off-season.

The Cubs also want unlimited signage in and outside the park. The Cubs want to add another LED screen like the RF one on the LF catwalk area. Purists hated the Fenway mini-wall in RF. The Cubs were also looking to add more signage, including a jumbotron (which could only truly mean replacing the manual scoreboard). A Cubs spokesman said the electronic scoreboard met with fan favor "so long as it did not interfere with the historic scoreboard." All the signage does is add revenue to the club. It fact, it could turn into a billboard palace like some Class AA venues.

The artist sketches appear to literally raise the upper deck roof to create a higher upper deck, with a "party patio" concession area behind it. I don't know what the fascination of Tom Ricketts to party patios, but Wrigley will have them everywhere. Which is strange, since the upper deck ones won't have a view to the playing field. A skeptic would call that normal, if the baseball team is merely secondary to the venue itself. The raised upper deck would slide in a new set of luxury boxes, which could be a hard sell. But the new renovation won't change the obstructed seats in the lower level grandstands, because Cub management said it wanted to "keep the historic charm and the overhang of the upper deck" so the support posts must stay. It is also an indirect means to have fans buy more expensive, non-obstructed seats.

With the huge plans to add a 175 room hotel in a commercial complex across the street, the Cubs are more focused on real estate development and revenue enhancement than baseball operations. Some would say that without new revenue sources, the Cubs could not be competitive in present or the future. The reply is, "at what real cost?"

A major reason people came to Wrigley Field was that it was stepping back into time. To a time before night games; a place where one's grandparents went to see Hall of Fame players, including legends like Babe Ruth. The manual scoreboard, ivy brick walls, and neighborhood views were unique in baseball, which is now filled with theme park industrial designs like in Miami and Houston. There is a fine line to rehabbing a landmark and ruining the place.

The Ricketts family continually told fans "we are not running a museum."  But baseball is all about memories and times long gone. The Cubs have sold tradition for generations. The landmark status shows that the public wants Wrigley to be preserved and not perverted into an entertainment theme park.

The rebuilding proposals may be part of a bait and switch since the actual baseball rebuilding process has stalled; ESPN projects the Cubs being competitive in 2015. That is when the young Class A players like Soler and Almora would debut with the Cubs. The five year physical construction plans are to keep the fans interested until 2016. That is going to be a hard sell to maintain.

January 18, 2013


It seems like an inexpensive deal for all three teams involved in the Michael Morse deal. It was expected that Morse would not bring a blockbuster deal, but each team did add a piece to the puzzle, most notably Seattle, which was desperate to add power to a weak roster.

SI reports:

The Mariners acquired Michael Morse from Washington in a three-team deal that moved catcher John Jaso from Seattle to Oakland.

The NL East champion Nationals reacquired pitching prospect A.J. Cole, dealt from Washington to Oakland 13 months ago in the trade for Gio Gonzalez. Washington also got minor league pitcher Blake Treinen and a player to be named.

Morse hit .291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs last year in an injury-shortened season, playing mostly as a corner outfielder. He was with the Mariners from 2005-08 before he was traded to the Nationals for Ryan Langerhans in June 2009.

The Nationals acquired speedy center fielder Denard Span from Minnesota this offseason and contemplated moving the 30-year-old Morse to first base but then re-signed Adam LaRoche. They are set at the corner outfield spots with Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth.

Jaso, 29, batted .276 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs last year but became expendable when Seattle obtained Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez, moves that shift Jesus Montero from a catcher-DH split to primarily behind the plate. The AL West champion A's traded starting catcher Kurt Suzuki to the Nationals last season and replaced him with rookie Derek Norris. To open a roster spot for Jaso, Oakland designated catcher George Kottaras for assignment.

Jaso, a left-handed hitter, had a .394 on-base percentage last season and batted .378 with runners in scoring position. He gives the A's another option at DH and a catching complement for Norris, a right-handed hitter who batted .201 with seven homers in 60 games last year.

Cole, a 21-year-old right-hander, was among four players traded by Washington to Oakland in December 2011 for Gonzalez. Cole was 0-7 with a 7.82 ERA in eight games at Stockton of the California League and 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA at Burlington of the Midwest League, both Class A level.
Baseball America recently rated Cole as the top pitching prospect in Oakland's organization.
Treinen was 7-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 24 games at Stockton last year. The 24-year-old righty was selected by the A's in the seventh round of the 2011 draft.

January 17, 2013


Paul Sullivan of the Tribune writes about the turnabout belief in the Cubs organization that the 2013 team will be competitive, and its goal is to get into the post season. Epstein said the 2013 season can be considered a "failure" if the Cubs don’t make the playoffs.  

Otherwise, there’s no reason to show up or build a team,” Epstein said. “It’s postseason or bust every year. That’s what our goal is. That said, we’re obviously building for something greater, which is a time when we can expect to get into the postseason every year.  “Behind the scenes, regardless of the results, there’s progress being made. But as far as 2013, you can define it as a success or failure by whether we make the postseason, and ultimately whether we win the World Series. But absolutely. There are stories every year about teams that don’t necessarily look like the favorites on paper that find their way playing meaningful games in September, playing into October, playing into deep October. Baltimore, Oakland last year, they are great inspirations for teams in our position.”

Well, further in the column, manager Dale Sveum gives evidence that major failure is on the 2013 horizon. 

Sveum said being .500 “is not acceptable.”  Sveum expects the Cubs to compete with a revamped rotation, a new set-up man and another year of growth from the kids.

“The one thing you hate doing is saying .500 will be good, because it’s not good,” Sveum said. “It’s not 101 losses, but .500 isn’t getting you to the playoffs. Just getting in the playoffs is what’s satisfactory.”
But then Sveum leaks some real news. Sveum said the Cubs have “an above average chance we might be 100 percent healthy on May 1,” referring to the two unknowns-- rehabbing pitchers Matt Garza and Scott Baker.  Garza was sidelined in late July for elbow issues, while Baker, a free agent signing, is coming off elbow reconstruction surgery.
If it is postseason or failure, there will be no postseason chance if 2/5ths of your starting rotation may not be available until May. There is also a total lack of power and speed on the team to manufacture runs. The Cubs will go with weak hitting DeJesus in CF and bench player thrust into a full time role in Schierholtz in RF. 
In another article, ESPN projects that the Cubs will be "competitive" in 2015. That means three more years of rebuilding from the minors. However, 2015 may still be optimistic since Epstein still demands all hitters have 500 AB in AAA. At the present slow progression, Soler and Almora will not have that full season in AAA until 2015.
The Cubs will be a bad team in 2013. The idea that management believes their current squad can compete for the playoffs this year is the marketing department's Hail Mary ploy to try to sell season tickets to a skeptic public. 

January 14, 2013


Michael Morse is a National without a home. At age 30, he has been displaced by the team resigning first baseman Adam LaRoche. Morse is not a good defender in the outfielder or first base, but he is a bat.

In 102 games last season, he hit .291, 18 HR, 62 RBI, .321 OBP, 0.6 WAR.
In 2011, he played full time and hit .303, 31 HR, 95 RBI, .360 OBP, 3.8 WAR.

He is one year away from free agency. He may be considered a late bloomer (he was drafted in the third round in 2000).

He projects as a left field/first baseman.

The Cubs have Soriano locked in left, and Rizzo locked at first.
However, the Cubs have no true replacement/back up for Soriano or Rizzo. The Cubs have no player insurance on the roster if Soriano or Rizzo gets hurt during the season.

The Cubs have three durable HR hitters on the squad: Soriano, Rizzo and Castro.

If the Cubs think Nate Schierholtz can transform into a full time right fielder, they are dreaming. He played only 114 games last season, and hit .257, 6 HR, 21 RBI, .321 OBP, negative 0.1 WAR. He was worse than a replacement (AAA) player.

So it is strange that the Cubs are not mentioned as a possible trade partner to acquire Morse. Teams should be trying to improve every position during the off season. Morse is a clear upgrade over the current RF choices and any utility player on the bench.

The Nationals may be willing to give up Morse for a low price ( a left handed reliever). It would easy to slide Morse into a right field platoon and spell Rizzo at first against hard left handed starters. It would seem to be a no-brainer to at least talk to the Nationals about Morse. It is only for one year.

January 11, 2013


Arizona has a problem. It has too many outfielders, which in most circumstances, is a good problem.

The Associated Press reported this morning that Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton vetoed a trade to the Seattle Mariners, a person with knowledge of the situation said Thursday.

Upton's contract gave him the power to turn down a trade to a short list of cities, Seattle included.

The Diamondbacks have a glut of outfielders and Upton, a former All-Star, is by far the most marketable. He is coming off a subpar season in which he was bothered by a thumb injury.

Upton's rejection of the trade first was reported by FoxSports.com, which said Seattle offered four players in the deal - relievers Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor, infield prospect Nick Franklin, and one of three pitching prospects; James Paxton, Danny Hultzen or Taijuan Walker.

From the Mariner's web pages:

Walker is the Mariner's #1 prospect.  The way Walker pitched in his first full season, in 2011, helped the Mariners forget they didn't have a first-round pick in 2010. The SoCal high school product was a multi-sport star and, as a result, is really focusing on pitching full time for the first time as a professional. So far, so good, as Walker was dominant in the Arizona League in 2010 and the Midwest League in ’11 and then held his own in ’12 at Double-A Jackson, where he pitched most of the season at age 19. The stuff is there, with a mid-to-high 90s fastball and excellent curve. His change-up is rapidly improving. That three-pitch mix, his size and athleticism could all add up to a front line starter in the future.

Hultzen is a lefty handed starter and the Mariners #2 prospect. While most thought Seattle would go after Anthony Rendon with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2011 Draft, the Mariners had their sights set on Hultzen all along. The University of Virginia product is the kind of college lefty expected to move quickly, but he's more than just a command/pitchability type. Hultzen's velocity increased in his junior season, giving him a plus fastball from the left side as well as a plus changeup. His slider isn't quite as good as those first two, but it's a serviceable pitch and Hultzen will work to improve it. He has indeed moved quickly through the Mariners system, pitching in the Arizona Fall League in 2011, then Double-A and Triple-A in his first full season in 2012.

Paxton is another lefty starter and ranked the Mariners #5 prospect. Paxton didn't sign with the Mariners until March 2011, but he made up for lost time quickly by double-jumping from Class A to Double-A during the season, pitching well at both levels. He followed that up with a very solid season at Double-A Jackson. Paxton's two best pitches are his fastball, a truly plus offering he can crank up into the upper 90s, and an excellent power breaking ball. The improvement he's shown with his changeup is a big reason the Mariners are even more excited about his potential as a Major League starter. He was shut down a bit early in 2011, more as a precaution than anything, and he missed the month of June in 2012 with a sore right knee, but, assuming he's healthy, seeing him in Seattle's rotation soon is not out of the question.

Franklin is the team's #3 prospect. The switch hitting shortstop has made an impression. After going 20-20 in his first full season, everyone was excited to see what Franklin would do in year No. 2 with the Mariners. But the 2011 season really never got going full-bore for the infielder because he was hit in the face with a bat during batting practice in June. He did eventually return and played well in the Arizona Fall League, named the No. 14 prospect there by MLB.com. He then hit .322 over 57 games at Double-A Jackson to start the 2012 season before being bumped up to Tacoma, where he split time evenly between shortstop and second base, perhaps signalling the beginning of his transition away from short.

Furbush is a lefty reliever that went 5-2, 2.72 ERA in 48 games for Seattle last season. Pryor was also a reliever who went 3-1, 3.91 ERA in 26 games last season.

The package from the Mariners was two good middle relievers plus two of their top 5 prospects in return for Upton.

The reason for the high cost is that Upton is just 25 years old, Upton has played five full major league seasons, so his best years could well be ahead of him. Last season he hit .280 with 17 home runs and 67 RBIs but did score a career-high 107 runs. In 2011, while helping Arizona to its surprising NL West crown, Upton hit .289, with 31 home runs and 88 RBIs, the latter two categories are career bests. Overall, he's a career .278 hitter with 108 home runs.

The younger brother of major leaguer B.J. Upton, Justin was the first overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft. He has three years and $38.5 million left on his contract, making him highly affordable by today's salary standards.

The Cubs do not have the top pitching prospects to turn a deal for a player like Upton. The Cubs list their top five prospects as Baez, Almora, B. Jackson, A. Vizcaino (who is injured) and Soler. Of those prospects, only Baez seems to be blocked by Castro. However, Baez has more upside than the other four. As for major league ready relief pitchers, only Russell would seem to fill that role for other clubs.


The Cubs announced non- 40 man roster invitees to spring training.

Non-roster invitees serve several purposes in camp. First, they eat up innings to rest starters and known position players rehabbing from injury. Second, they get a chance to impress the team and maybe enhance their chances catching on with another club if they are cut. Third, there is a slim chance that one or two may actual make the opening day roster. Fourth, most likely, they are playing for a spot at Iowa.

The names of 16 non-roster invitees who have signed Minor League contracts and will be invited to Spring Training include Brian Bogusevic, Brent Lillibridge and Darnell McDonald.

Bogusevic, 28, an Oak Lawn native, who attended De La Salle Institute in Chicago. A left-handed hitter, he batted .203 with seven home runs, nine doubles and 28 RBIs in 146 games last season with the Astros.

McDonald, 34, is a former first-round pick, who has played for the Orioles, Twins, Reds, Red Sox and Yankees since 2004. A right-handed hitter, he batted .205 combined for the Red Sox and Yankees last season.

Another outfielder invited includes Johermyn Chavez, 23, who has not played above the Double-A level. He batted .232 in 75 games with the Mariners' Jackson team last season.

Lillibridge, 29, has played for the Braves, White Sox, Red Sox and Indians, and posted a .213 average over five seasons. Last season, the infielder was dealt twice. He opened the season with the White Sox, was traded to the Red Sox in the Kevin Youkilis deal, then dealt one month later to the Indians for Jose De La Torre. In four seasons with the White Sox, Lillibridge batted .217. He is a versatile player and has played all positions except catcher.

The Cubs also invited infielder Alberto Gonzalez, 29, who has played for the Yankees, Nationals, Padres and Rangers. Last season, he batted .241 in 24 games with Texas.

Edwin Maysonet, 31, who batted .250 in 30 games with the Brewers last season, also received an invite, as did first baseman/outfielder Brad Nelson, 30, who has not played in the big leagues since 2009 with the Brewers. A fourth-round pick by the Brewers in 2001, he spent all of 2012 with the Rangers' Triple-A Round Rock team, batting .279 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs in 132 games.

Catcher J.C. Boscan, 33, who has spent 16 seasons in the Minor Leagues, also received an invite to Spring Training. Last season, he batted .189 for the Braves' Triple-A Gwinnett team.

The Cubs also invited eight pitchers, including right-handers Andrew Carpenter, Jaye Chapman, Dayan Diaz, Jensen Lewis, Blake Parker, Zack Putnam and Cory Wade, and lefty Hisanori Takahashi.

Carpenter, 27, has appeared in 23 Major League games over five seasons with the Phillies, Padres and Blue Jays. The Cubs acquired Chapman, 25, from the Braves last July in the Paul Maholm deal, and he appeared in 14 games.

Parker, 27, was selected by the Cubs' in the 16th round of the 2006 Draft and opened last year at Triple-A Iowa. He was promoted to the big league team in mid-May, but appeared in seven games before he was shut down with a right elbow injury.

Putnam, 25, has compiled a 3.90 ERA over 171 games in five Minor League seasons with the Indians and Rockies, while Lewis, 28, has a 3.32 ERA in 196 games over eight seasons in the Indians' Minor League system.

Takahashi, 37, has a 14-12 record, 3.97 ERA in 165 games (12 starts) for the Mets, Angels and Pirates. He pitched for the Yomiuri Giants before coming to the U.S. Major Leagues in 2010.

The Cubs also signed former big league pitcher Dontrelle Willis, but he received a Minor League deal and was invited to the Minor League camp.

Willis, who turns 31 on Saturday, has pitched for the Marlins, Tigers, Diamondbacks and Reds, compiling a 72-69 record and 4.17 ERA over nine seasons. He was on the World Series champion Marlins team in 2003, and won National League Rookie of the Year honors that year, posting a 14-6 record and 3.30 ERA. He finished second in the Cy Young Award balloting in 2005, when he won 22 games.

All four outfielder- infielders have batted well under .250.  These are pure journeymen hanging on to a thread of a career. The only one who may have a chance to stick is Lillibridge, based upon the amount of positions he can play, as the 25th man bench player.

Catcher Boscan is headed toward Iowa. He is in camp to catch the pitchers in their workouts like bullpen catchers would do during the season.

There may be one or two bullpen pitching slots open. I believe that Takahashi will make the squad unless he has a horrible spring training or he gets hurt. Willis is a scratch off lottery ticket; extremely doubtful that he will make any strides with his control issues. The rest of the pitchers are a cast of career minor-league types, mostly with limited big league experience. Out of the group, the one with the best shot of making the team would be Putnam, who the Cubs re-acquired this off-season after the winter meetings.

January 8, 2013


Baseball is a great game because you can compare eras through statistics. You can compare individuals by team, league, position, etc.

So it got me to consider this lineup:

1. Randy Winn
2. Bill Doran
3. Matt Williams
4. Travis Jackson
5. Shane Andrews
6. Reid Nichols
7. Terrmel Sledge
8. Tom Haller

Is this impressive? I did not remember more than half of those players.

But this is your current 2013 Cubs lineup!

Baseball Reference has a statistical tool that compares a current players statistics to all the other players current and historical based upon performance and age. The similarity score function requires 500 AB (so Rizzo and Wellington Castillo do not have an equivalent ghost player from the past; I used the players they replaced: Soto and LaHair).

So here are the dopplegangers:

1. Randy Winn (DeJesus)
2. Bill Doran (Barney)
3. Matt Williams (Soriano)
4. Travis Jackson (Castro)
5. Shane Andrews (Stewart)
6. Reid Nichols (Schierholtz)
7. Terrmel Sledge (LaHair/Rizzo)
8. Tom Haller (Soto/W. Castillo)

Winn and Williams were consistent starters in their day. Doran, Haller and Nichols were second tier players. Andrews and Sledge were short term journeymen. Jackson played for the NY Giants (1922-1936). Jackson was inducted in the Hall of Fame by the Veteran's committee in 1982.

It shows, at a comparable level, that the 2013 Cubs have only three legitimate starters in their starting position lineup. It shows that there is a long, long way to go to rebuild the team.

January 7, 2013


A steam locomotive could be ahead of schedule, barreling down the tracks, only to miss the sign that the bridge over the next mountain pass is out of order. But Cubs president Theo Epstein and General manager Jed Hoyer are filtering the message to the press that the Cubs will be competitive sooner than they had expected (in their previous non-committal time line).

In a column in the Boston Globe,  Epstein takes a the long-range view by "an all-out gutting and rebuilding,"  as opposed to the Dodgers’ approach of buying up the best players.

But the writer, Nick Cafardo, states that  Epstein has surprised some people by bidding for Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson to a four-year deal. Most people thought Epstein would hold off on big free agent expenditures until the time was right.

“We’re certainly farther along than we were last year at this time,” said Epstein. “When we got here, we identified one core player [Starlin Castro] and now we can look around and see Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Jeff Samardzija , and others. We do have more positional prospects than pitchers, so we felt Jackson will be with us for many years to come.”

Cafardo writes that Epstein is hoping his top prospects — namely outfielders Jorge Soler (a Cuban
defector), Brett Jackson, and Albert Almora, shortstop Javier Baez , and pitcher Arodys Vizcaino — will all be in the majors together by 2015.

Epstein claims that he always wanted to build a team from the ground up.  “I think, initially, what I’d been through in Boston was of interest to our fan base,” he said. “But I think they have bought into our plan and our vision. People are excited about good young players and we hope to keep adding to it and get to the point where we’re an exciting contending team year in and year out.”

The problem with Epstein's evidence that the Cubs are ahead of schedule in rebuilding the team so he can sign free agents is that his mentioned core is small and unproven. Barney is a weak .250 hitter, a utility player on most championship teams. Castro is a hitting star, but his defense is still a long term liability. Rizzo has only been in the line up for a half season. He could have a sophomore slump like All-Star Bryan LaHair, who is now exiled to Japan. And Samardzija has only started one full season in the majors, so his skill set is still unknown. It also means that Epstein has to admit that the rest of his roster (84%) is not really that good. So how can the Cubs truly believe they will be competitive in 2013?

In a team webpage interview, Hoyer kept the ahead of schedule theme in the forefront of the off-season message. Hoyer's message is that the Cubs could be one of the most improved teams in the baseball in 2013. 

"It's a line we're committed to walking," said Hoyer, on building the talent core. "Our goal here is to build a consistently good team ... and hopefully a team that wins a championship. In order to do that, we're not going to sacrifice the future now for wins. But at the same time, every season is precious, and you never know when that team might catch lightning in a bottle. You never want to sacrifice that season entirely."

The challenge for the front office of a rebuilding team -- to keep bringing in talent for the next contending team while also putting a competitive team on the field in the short term.

"We just weren't deep enough [in 2012]," Hoyer said. "That's been our biggest focus, especially pitching-wise. We just [didn't] have the pitching depth in the system to withstand injuries, and we've worked hard to build a pitching staff where we feel like we have some depth."

Hoyer notes a desire to teach a selective approach in Cubs hitters, leading to greater on-base percentages (and as a result, more power too).

It appears that now the Nationals are the Cubs rebuilding model. Washington had a series of dreadful seasons, leading to number one draft picks. By drafting "can't miss" players, the Nationals quickly turned over their roster with young quality players in a span of three seasons.

"We know we can't transform this organization in one year, so every year we should be able to stop and look and say we have a lot more assets, a lot more talent than we had before," Hoyer said.
"We just have to keep on adding to it. There's plenty of examples of teams that have done a good job of that, the Nationals being the clearest. It wasn't a gradual, five-wins-per-year improvement. They struggled, they had a decent season in 2011 and they exploded in 2012. That's probably the model more than anything. At some point you get a critical mass where you become a talented team."

Hoyer is preaching a Nationals style turnaround in two years based upon high prospects reaching the majors quickly. But Epstein contradicts this statement, stating that his new core of top prospects, Soler and #1 pick Almora, won't be in the majors until 2015.

So why the disconnect? The message that the Cubs need to send to their eroding fan base is this: we will be competitive sooner than our system will develop talent. The team will be improved in 2013. The message is to keep season ticket holders from bolting and stem the bloody tide of no-shows in the latter third of last season season. Wrigley Field in August and September was not a ball park but a seagull sanctuary. So the business side of the Cubs is pushing the "ahead of schedule" mantra in order to keep fan interest for what appears to be another 100 loss season in 2013.

January 5, 2013


Oh boy.

The last post opined about the Cubs still needing to find more pitching for the 2013 campaign, including looking toward bottom of the barrel, secondary free agents.

One suggestion was problem child, Carlos Zambrano.

It was not meant to be an affirmative direction, just a commentary on how the Cubs have been operating the last two seasons during the slow rebuild.

But today, reports announce that the Cubs did sign an out-of-favor problem child, but not Z.

MLBTR reports that the Cubs signed Dontrelle Willis, citing Heyman/CBSSports. As stated,  Willis officially gets an invitation to minor league Spring Training, but could get a look in big league camp if he's throwing well. The 2003 NL Rookie of the Year with the quirky wind-up wound up retiring from baseball when his total command abandoned him.

Willis, 31, retired last mid-season after he allowed eight runs in 6 1/3 innings with the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate.  Willis last appeared in the big leagues with the Reds in 2011, when he pitched to a 1-6 record, 5.00 ERA, 1.520 WHIP,  with 6.8 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in 75 2/3 innings across 13 starts.

Willis returns to the start of his professional career (2000 draft choice), to a bad, pitching starved Cubs team. This is another example of the Cubs trying to find warm arms to eat up spring training innings with the long shot prayer that one of these injured or head cases can make a miracle comeback and contribute to the big club for at least part of the season.

He was last a full time starter in 2007 for Florida. He started 35 games, going 10-15, 5.17 ERA in 205.1 IP. His last winning season was in 2005, going 22-10 with 2.63 ERA.

Willis' return to the Cubs can only be considered a winter diversion than a possible solution.

January 4, 2013


The Cubs are still on the down-low looking for pitching to tide the club until the minor league system starts generating Epstein starters (TBD; 2015 or later).

Epstein was on a Boston radio show lamenting about hard it is under the new collective bargaining agreement to sign free agents who have a qualifying offer. Teams are unwilling to sign those players and lose their high first round picks (the Cubs have the #2 choice; I say the Cubs should choose 3B Kris Bryant, but other writers claim the Cubs will draft another pitcher). Epstein said that in the current market, it is actually better for a player to be traded mid-season than run out his contract with his old club (to avoid that dreaded noose of the qualifying offer). In other words, a rent-a-player deal with the plan of trading him after a half season is what Epstein is looking to do in the short term. Baker and Feldman signed one year deals to prove themselves, not to the Cubs, but to the open market after the 2013 season.

So it is probable that the Cubs will try to trade off one, two or three starting pitchers before the July, 2013 trade deadline. Epstein said he values "impact" drafts where a team can control a player for six professional seasons.

So, the Cubs need to continue to search the free agent patch for more potential starters since last season's Iowa fillers turned out to be terrible.

What about a 31 year old veteran of 12 professional seasons, mostly as a starter? The free agent has career numbers of 132 wins, 91 losses, 3.66 ERA, 1.331 WHIP, 1.82 K/BB ratio and 35.8 WAR. Last season was not so good; a 7-10 record, 4.49 ERA, 1.496 WHIP in 20 starts. But considering Feldman's 2012 season was worse at 6-11, 5.09 ERA, 1.383 WHIP in 21 starts, this 31 year old free agent seems like a candidate for short term duty with the Cubs.

But he is not on the radar. In fact, he is not on any team's reported radar.

For he is the problem child, Carlos Zambrano. Even pitching starved Rockies fans blog about a rotation upgrade, but know history is not kind to Z. He started off fine for a month with Ozzie's circus in Miami, but then control problems and walks doomed Zambrano into another tirade to a final bullpen demotion on a bad Marlins team.

If Epstein is running a pitching M*A*SH unit for arms returning from injury and Tommy John surgeries, does Epstein have room for a psychiatric unit to sign Zambrano? Zambrano may be too toxic now for any team to take another chance on him.


The Cubs active roster as of the New Year is what we expect for spring training:

The Cubs active 40 man roster as of the New Year is probably what will be in spring training (with current projected status), with two exceptions:

Scott Baker, SP, currently rehabbing from injury, may not be ready by opening day.
Michael Bowden, RP, borderline bullpen long reliever
Alberto Cabrera, RP, borderline bullpen reliever, probable AAA season start
Shawn Camp, RP, re-signed to be set up man
Lendy Castillo, RP who probably will start season in AA
Rafael Dolis, RP, has a chance to make squad or continue work in AAA
Scott Feldman, SP, was told he'd be in the rotation
K. Fujikawa, RP, signed to be late inning reliever
Matt Garza, SP, currently rehabbing from injury, may not be ready by opening day.
Edwin Jackson, SP, in rotation
Carlos Marmol, RP, starts season as closer
Trey McNutt, P, will be assigned to minors
Brooks Raley, P, will be assigned to AAA
Hector Rondon, RP, Rule 5 draftee must stay on 25 man roster, will be hid in the pen
Chris Rusin, P, will be assigned to AAA
James Russell, RP, will be the lefty specialist in the pen
Jeff Samardzija, SP, in the rotation
A. Vizcaino, SP, currently rehabbing from injury, will not be ready on opening day
Robert Whitenack, P, will be assigned to the minors
Travis Wood, SP, will start the season as swing starter

Wellington Castillo, will make the squad and platoon
Steve Clevenger, will start season at AAA
Dioner Navarro, will push to be main starter

Darwin Barney, 2B, starter
Starlin Castro, SS, starter
Junior Lake, INF will be assigned to the minors, possible move to outfield
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, starter
Ian Stewart, 3B, starter rehabbing from wrist surgery; health questionable
Luis Valbuena, IN, on team as reserved infielder
Christian Villanueva, 3B, will start in the minors, probably AA
Josh Vitters, 3B, will probably start in AAA
Logan Watkins, 2B, will probably start in AA

Tony Campana, reserve outfielder, pinch runner if makes squad
David Dejesus, CF, starter
Brett Jackson, will start in AAA
Dave Sappelt, reserve outfielder
Nate Schierholtz, RF, starter by default
Jorge Soler, will be assigned to minors, if on fast track to AA
Alfonso Soriano, LF, starter
Matt Szczur, will be assigned to minors, probably AAA

Carlos Villanueva and Hisanori Takahashi have been announced as Cub signees, with Takashashi signed to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. Villanueva has not "officially" signed yet, so there will be at least one roster move ahead (expect McNutt or Whitenack to be designated). Villanueva will audition for a starter role, but may be assigned to the bullpen in the end. Takahashi has a good chance at another bullpen slot.

Starters look fairly set from this group of Baker (injured), Garza (rehab), Samardzija, Feldman, T. Wood, E. Jackson.

Bullpen is trending towards  Marmol, Russell, Camp, Fujikawa, Villanueva, Rondon, and Hakahashi making the team.

The bench continues to be weak with Campana, Sappelt and Valbuena. The Cubs need to find another reserve infielder (preferably with some power).

The off-season is all about upgrading positions. So far, how have the Cubs done?

New rotation (player replaced):
E. Jackson (Dempster), Baker (Maholm), Garza, Samardzija, T. Wood, Feldman (Volstad)

New infield (player replaced):
I. Stewart, Castro, Barney, Rizzo (LaHair), W. Castillo (Soto)

New outfield:
Soriano, DeJesus, Schierholtz (Byrd)


Campana (Mather), Sappelt (R. Johnson), Navarro (Clevenger), Baker (Valbuena) , _____ (DeWitt),


Marmol, Camp, Russell, Fujikawa (K.Wood), Rondon (L. Castilo), Villanueva ( Dolis), Hakahashi (R. Lopez)

January 3, 2013


There continues to be great emphasis on pitching in major league baseball. Scouts tend to summarize prospects to veterans by the type of pitches throw, velocity and control. Pitching coaches tend to work on throwing mechanics such as finding a repetitive slot, arm motion, wrist snap and ball grip. Managers tend to sort pitchers by starters and relievers. Starters need to have at least three pitches; relievers need just two. Some organizations like the Athletics had a rule that all their minor league pitchers had to learn to throw a change up. Some teams look to each pitcher having their "out" pitch.

So most of the time we hear about pitchers velocity (90-96 mph) or types of pitches (fastball, slider, curve, cutter, forkball, knuckleball or change).

Now field managers and coaches want their pitchers to work the batter, and set up their out pitch.
But the emphasis is on throwing the ball at speed and location rather than understanding the art of pitching. As Greg Maddux used to point out he was not a thrower, but a pitcher. His greatest weapon was the ability to change speeds of his fastball to throw off the batter.

The batter has less than a second to digest a lot of information. First, where is the pitcher's release point. Second, what is the rotation on the ball. Third, what is the velocity of the ball. Fourth, is it in my hitting zone. The harder it is to pick up the first flight of the pitch, the harder it is to adjust and hit it.  A batter relies upon eyesight, intuition and quick reflexes in order to hit major league pitching.

A pitcher should realize that he has the initial advantage. He knows what pitch he is about to throw the hitter.

Now coaching has given pitchers the concept of consistency as being the key to success. Coaches prefer to coach players who are like batting cage machines. They have the same delivery, arm motion and arm slot. For coaches, this is important in a job preservation sense. When a pitcher loses command over his pitches, the coach can compare film on the player to determine what changes, if any, is in his delivery. Pitching coaches are more concerned about throwing the ball than the art of pitching to a batter.

A starter may have three pitches: fastball, slider and curve. He may throw his fastball 55% of the time, his slider 35% of the time, and his curve 10% of the time. Scouting reports will break down the data, frequency, pitch counts and out pitches. But this does not take into consideration the variables to standard pitching: change of speeds and change of release angles.

Change of speeds as Maddux stated is probably more important than location. If one has a 94 mph fastball, if you can change its speed to 88 mph with the same motion, the batter will be fooled into swinging early. In essence, the pitcher has created a "second pitch" with the same grip and delivery.

The least used variable is change to pitching angles.

If you divide a pitcher in clock sections, you can see the zones where a pitcher's arm will pass through on the way toward the plate. Some famous curve balls were called "noon to six" pitches because they looked like they released over the head of the pitcher and dropped steeply when crossing the plate. It is rare for a pitcher to have a pure overhead delivery. Most pitchers today use a 3/4 delivery where they can power their shoulder down the line toward the plate for the most leverage. A sidearm delivery can be effective with the full body torque. Rick Reuschel had this easy motion which complimented his slider into ground ball outs. The submarine pitcher is one who is looking to surprise a batter with an odd pitching angle. Usually, these submariners have a quirky body rotation to further conceal the ball as long as possible since these style pitchers normally have a lower ball velocity. On some occasions, a veteran pitcher like Jake Peavy, will submarine a pitch to a batter late in the count in a tight situation to increase his chances for a strike out.

Pitchers do no use all their arm angles during a game. They are taught to find one arm slot and use it over and over again to get repetition control. But in theory, a two pitch 3/4 pitcher (fastball and slider) can create "four" more pitches just by going sidearm or submarine. Again, if a pitcher is looking for an edge against a batter, the change or disguise of his pitching release point angle is the first thing a pitcher can do to confuse a batter.