April 30, 2013


There are red flags and then there are warning signs.

Prized Cubs prospect Jorge Soler was benched on Sunday because he failed to hustle during a game.

The Daytona Beach Journal reported that manager Dave Keller was sending a message to everyone on the team. Soler did not run hard during two at-bats on Saturday night. The newspaper quotes Keller as saying  “(Soler) sat (Sunday) because within the philosophy and the work ethic that we are trying to create in this organization -- and that we are trying to get our players to understand – work ethic, energy, determination, playing hard and running hard is part of the whole program. When you don't do that, then you don't get to play. That's something that has really been emphasized over the last two years.”

This incident comes after Soler's five game suspension for an on-field incident where he charged another team's dugout with a baseball bat. At that time, the team said Soler was dealing "with emotional issues."

ESPN's Bruce Levine quipped that he was not sure if the Cubs had an opportunity to really know Soler since he played in Cuba. Levine stated that the Cubs signed Soler to a $30 million contract based upon private work-outs and not based on competitive game observations.

That raises a question on how diligent the Cubs scouting department was in checking out all aspects of a player, including his mental toughness to play a professional sport. A young man can have all the physical tools to become a great player, but if there are mental or emotional issues then a promising career can implode quickly (see, Carlos Zambrano.)

Soler is 21 years old. He has moved away from his home country. Those factors could be contributing to his apparent inability to focus on his profession at this starting point for his career. But there are many other prospects throughout the majors with similar factors who have not caused so much negative attention in such a short time.

Keller is right on one thing: the only way to get through to highly talented players who don't listen is to bench them. To take an athlete off the field of play is the only punishment that will connect to their mindset of playing every day. 

It is the only thing available to Dale Sveum, but he has yet to pull the trigger to bench Starlin Castro or Anthony Rizzo for mistakes on the field.  Castro continues to have mental lapses in the field. But Sveum is cornered; he has to play his young players because that is the only real draw this season.

Soler's issues and Gerardo Concepcion's disappearance should be a concern to Cubs fans. These Cubans were the first two big money international signees by Theo Epstein. The team invested $36 million on two players that have not set the baseball world on fire. With the Cubs finances heavily burdened by debt, spending wisely is a critical component for any future success.

April 29, 2013


The Cubs won three out of four games from the Marlins. The Marlins fielded what could be best described as a Class AA 1/2 squad. Even if you bought a scorecard, you would not know most of the players.

The new Marlins Park was basically empty. It looked like a closed tourist beach after a toxic waste spill. There was little excitement, little noise, little fan activity . . . it was like playing baseball inside an airplane hanger.

The series does not bode well for the Marlins, as a team and as a franchise. The taxpayers of Dade County are fuming about the more than sweetheart deal the Marlins owner extracted from the public treasury. The fans are fuming about the fire sale trade of most of the roster over the winter. The slash in payroll for prospects plus all the revenue streams from the new stadium deal is a huge windfall for one of the worst owners in professional sports.

But that is what happens when you give a sports owner everything he wants under the vague threat of relocation. Miami, as a sports city, does not support its teams in sell-out attendance. Only when the Dolphins are good and playoff caliber do local sports fans jump on a bandwagon to go to games.

So the taxpayers got stuck with a $2.4 billion debt burden and the fans got a 100 plus loss team on the field.

There is an echo of Miami in the tone of Tom Ricketts recent statements. He said he needed his renovation deal for Wrigley to go through otherwise the team could not win. Most people believe that was self-centered pandering to fans to get politicians or community groups off their opposition to the project. But just because a city gives a team everything it wants or needs, it does not mean that the team will deliver on its promises.

April 26, 2013


For the past few weeks, the Cubs have paraded their owner, president, general manager and now a few players (current and former) to tell the city and  fan base that without an immediate deal on what Ricketts wants to do with Wrigley Field, the Cubs will or cannot win a championship.

Of course, this is all a shameful scare tactic with no actual supportive evidence. The Cubs made the playoffs twice with Lou Piniella's teams (and when Wrigley was literally falling down on the fans).

Epstein is quoted as saying that the baseball budget has been "maxed out" this season. The Cubs payroll has been taking a nose dive for the past four seasons. The Cubs started the year under $99 million in payroll. The peak payroll was around $157 million. Epstein further went on to allege that without the Wrigley renovation plan with all its new "revenue streams" and new player friendly features, the Cubs will not have the funds to sign free agents.

Well, that is bold lie. Look at this last off-season with a smaller payroll budget and no new Wrigley improvements, the Cubs went out and signed several free agents: Edwin Jackson, Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Scott Hairston, Nick Schierholtz and a bunch of minor league scrub infielders. It is wrong to say that major league free agents will not come to Chicago because of the condition of Wrigley Field. Players will go to where they will play and/or where they will get paid.

The Cubs "the sky is falling" financial chicken dance may have some internal validity, but it does nothing to help the Cubs case in the court of public opinion. In fact, it continues to damage the fading reputation of the loyal Cub franchise bond between team and fans. Ricketts bought the team and said he had the financial resources to run the club. Ricketts said that every dime would be put

The Cubs are in a financial squeeze by their own doing. The Ricketts family took a strange Zell-debt loaded purchase deal. Instead of putting the bulk of real capital to purchase the team, the new owners allowed most of the inflated purchase price to be covered by new debt. Now, the team must made huge principal and interest payments to its bankers. That burden falls on the owners. Ricketts took the rosy projections of continued sell-outs and 3 million fans filling Wrigley as a golden annuity. But a soft economy and a really bad team has attendance falling like a stone down a deep well. No one knows the real finances of major league teams because they are private businesses. So what is disclosed may not tell the full story. However, we do have one piece of concrete evidence. Cash flow must be a real issue because the Cubs failed to pay the Wrigley Field property taxes when due on March 1, 2013. 

The Cubs exceed the league's standard debt-equity ratios. The league is queasy about allowing teams leverage their assets to the maximum because the league does not want to deal with powerful bankruptcy court judges who can sell the teams without league approval (i.e. Baltimore Orioles example). If the Cubs are going to allegedly spend (and borrow) another $300 million to fix up Wrigley, the debt load the team will have should make Commissioner Selig turn blue.

Epstein must be cornered on the baseball side because the normal baseball team president role has been split in two: he controls the baseball operations side while Tom Ricketts and Crane Kenney control the business side. As a result, the business side has more internal clout. And if the Cubs operational revenue stream needs to be diverted to pay family debt service, then Epstein's budget will be constrained (in his opinion).

The story that the big market Cubs have to act like a small market team is a sob-story that few people truly believe; if the Cubs have the resources to spend $500 million to materially change Lakeview into Ricketts entertainment center, then they should have sufficient resources to field a competitive team.

April 24, 2013


The Cubs season has fallen into a tug-of-war blame game.

The front office is still supportive of besieged manager Dale Sveum.

“He’s got our full support,” GM Hoyer said Tuesday in a rare road trip appearance.  “We’re all in this together.”

The Cubs are 6-13 and nearly destroyed a great pitching performance by Carlos Villanueva (1.53 ERA)  Carlos Marmol blew another save with one pitch in the ninth inning.  Darwin Barney hit a rare home run and Kevin Gregg  closed it out for his first save of the season.
“We needed it,” Villanueva said. “You can’t dwell too much on those close games. They’ll crush the spirits sometimes.”

“It’s been painful to watch because we keep on squandering leads,” Hoyer said. “That’s on Theo and that’s on me. We look at it and we have to figure out ways to get better. We’re not the most talented team in the league right now. We’re trying to build to get there. But as we get there, we can’t continue to make the kind of mistakes we’ve been making. We have to clean it up. We have to get better. That’s on us. Dale has our complete support. (Job security is) not what he should be thinking about in the least.”

The pitching staff is a woeful mess. That blame is squarely on the front office. News that Matt Garza's rehab start was scrubbed because of a "dead arm" issue, then any hope of a quick change in fortune is lost. Garza's set back, Scott Baker's MIA rehab and Vizcaino not even on the radar shows that the dice Epstein & Hoyer rolled in the off-season came up snake eyes. It is quite the gamble to rely upon injured pitchers suddenly pitching like they did in 2009. 

Gregg is a type of reclamation project, too. His best years are behind him, too. He is just an experienced arm who may be able to throw an occasional strike. The Cubs bullpen has no fastball, strike out artist. The Reds closer Chapman can come into a game and intimidate an opponent with a high 90s heater. The Cubs roll out Marmol with control issues, or any one of several bullpen pitchers who tip the radar gun at 91.

Yes, the Cubs players are constantly making mistakes, but so is the front office. The admission that the current roster is not very talented speaks volumes to fans who feel misled by the fanfare of the boy geniuses who are running the team. At the major league level, the team has not been trying to rebuild - - - become the components being used are washed up or broken players. Ownership must believe that loyal fans are brain dead to pay to see this team play.

April 23, 2013


A quick calculation from today's standings shows that the Cubs are on pace to lose 117 games.


After the Cubs found a new way to lose last night in Cincinnati, the pressure was mounting on the Cubs manager, Dale Sveum. He finally realized that the poor talent assembled on his roster is going to RUIN his career. And he is not happy about it.

Paul Sullivan quoted the steamed manager in the Chicago Tribune:

“Yeah, I’d be lying if you didn’t think about yourself through some of this stuff too,” Sveum said. “But that’s stuff you don’t have control over. I’ve got control over my job and the coaching staff to prepare everybody every day in spring training and this and that, and that’s all I can do.”

Sveum realizes that other teams (potential employers) will look at his Cub win-loss record as a barometer of his managerial abilities. With the losses piling up quickly, and the Cubs players making the same mistakes over and over again, Sveum's personal frustration is coming to light.

Sveum admits that it’s up to him and his coaching staff  “to get (the players) to respond to all of us.”

But Sveum fails to answer WHY his team is not responding to his coaching instructions. The reason is simple: there is no pressure on the players to perform because there are no ramifications for poor play. For the starters, there are no prospects ready to take their jobs from them. And maybe that's why Sveum is angry; he has been boxed into a corner with no exit.

Sveum's tenor began to percolate over the weekend when he was asked whether some of the position players could be sent down to the minor leagues "to send a message." Reporters inferred that they were discussing Rizzo (for his offensive woes) and Castro (for his defensive lapses).

“You guys asked me if those guys couldn’t get sent down. I said nobody was exempt (from) it. They're not the only ones.”

Sveum added: “That’s all basically what (I’m) talking about. I’m not pointing fingers at them or anything. I’m just (saying), 'Hey, we’re all (culpable for) this. I’m (not) exempt (from) being fired, and so is my coaching staff. We’re all in this together as a team.”

Except, there is a perception that is reality with the 2013 Cubs. Rizzo, Castro, Valbuena, Barney, and the rest are not going to be sent down to the minors (barring injury rehabs) because the Cubs have no ready replacements in Iowa. The only shuffle continues to be pitchers, but that deck of cards is so thin that the Cubs are playing waiver wire roulette just to find arms for the bullpen. The team, as constructed, is flawed. When Sveum tries to motivate by playing the demotion to the minors card, he has no clout to pull off such a move. And the players (and their agents) know it. It is an idle threat.

Instead, Sveum has the only weapon in his arsenal that professions do understand: playing time. Sveum could bench underperforming players to "send a message" to focus more, train better and play harder. Which would be fine on a competitive team. But the idea that Castro will be benched for whom? The Cubs roster has no true back up shortstop. The same goes for Rizzo at first; there is no competent back up on the roster. And the front office is pushing to keep the "young stars" in the line up because, frankly, why else would any fan buy a ticket to see this Cub team play.

The dogma of the Cubs history is that losing teams breed the acceptance of losing. Even if managers do their best to get their players focused on playing "winning baseball," i.e. handling the fundamentals of the game by instinct and making the correct situational decisions, if the locker room has accepted losing as a way of life with no accountability for poor play, the team will have another lost season.

April 22, 2013


The Cubs could not get through a month without the wheels coming off the bus.

The Cubs bumbled away the first two games of the Brewers series in Milwaukee. In typical Cub fashion, there were fielding errors, pitchers unable to cover first base, and incredibly bad pitches in key situations that constantly spell D-E-F-E-A-T. The Cubs cannot score runners (3-for last 30 with RISP).

In Sunday's post game autopsy on the flagship radio station, the hosts and callers were in agreement: the blame should be shared by everyone in the organization.

“Find options,” Dale Sveum said. “If people keep playing like that, you have to find options. Get people playing time in Triple-A to figure this stuff out.”

 People believe Sveum was talking about Castro and Rizzo. Together, they are the post boys of the problems with the team: Castro cannot field routine plays and has the "gips" in throws to first, and Rizzo has little plate control and is hitting below .200.

The problem with the lack of production is tied to performance. People have begun to notice that the Cubs are not "performing" at all. Batters approach the plate like it is a continuation of batting practice: three swings and take a seat on the bench. Where is the new "Cub Way?" High OBP, taking pitches, selective situational hitting? Cub players admitted that they took it upon themselves to "hit agressively" which means that they are not listening to the coaching staff.

As Koz said on WGN radio last night, a good manager instills enough "fear and loyalty" to make his club respond and play well. Sveum has shown no leadership skills because the same mistakes keep getting made over and over and over again. Castro signed a $60 million extension. He is not going to get demoted or benched because the Cubs are not carrying a true back-up shortstop. Rizzo is not going to get demoted because he is the Epstein future cornerstone acquisition. And the Cubs have no back up first baseman ready in the minors. The Cubs are playing like a bad Triple A team because the talent is that of a Triple A team.

So the blame for that falls on the team president and general manager. But they keep saying that fans need to be "patient" and let them "rebuild" from the ground up. They said that the CBA has changed their plans so it will take longer. But if the current roster is any indication, the new front office may have very little baseball intelligence to find passable talent. The bullpen has been imploded and now is mostly of waiver pick-ups like Loe and Gregg, rejects from other organizations - -- journeymen or players whose best season was in 2009. 

If the Cubs are focused on player development, none of those principles is apparent on the major league roster. It appears that Soriano has given up playing any professional defense. All he wants to do is swing the bat. In the first two weeks of the season, he batted clean up and had zero RBI. But it was cold, and his knees hurt. But when Soriano vetoed last year's trade to San Francisco, the writing was on the wall: Soriano would rather play for a bad team than the pressure of winning on a championship team. There were no consequences for this mind set. In fact, it was a statement given to all the other teammates that winning is not the most important aspect of being a Cub. Showing up and going through the motions is all that is required - - - which is starting to burn fans.

Fans will accept mistakes if they can see that their players are hustling to make plays. They can forgive occasional mental lapses or bonehead running mistakes if the players are really trying to win. But the current Cubs have shown no "drive" to win games. Either they don't understand what they are doing wrong or they don't care. And that puts the brick of accountability squarely on the manager's doorstep.

Sveum has turned into Mike Quade 2.0. The team is not responding to his instruction or rants. The Cubs are now 3-11 against teams that were over .500 last season. The current players know that there is job security on the team because the Iowa Cubs are just as awful.  So bad, that the Cubs picked up another cast-off outfielder, Borbon, off waivers from Texas. 

Now, some Sveum defenders will say that the manager is only as good as the talent he is given. True, the blame for the skills of the players put on the roster is squarely on the general manager Hoyer. However, a manager must motivate and coach players to give them the best opportunity to succeed, even if they lack certain skills. That is what makes the good managers great.  The Cubs coaching staff has not changed any player's approach to the game. It is apparent that the players play how they want to play and not how they should play as a team. There is little accountability and no responsibility for the current Cub situation.

And this dark cloud over the franchise is going to pour many rainy days this year. Already, it is seen in the dramatic drop off in attendance at Wrigley. It was also quite apparent that many Cub fans did not make the trip to Milwaukee to see the Brewers (who did not sell out the weekend series). The Cubs only have approximately 25,000 season ticket holders (die hard fans), but even in this group, only about one-third are showing up for games. A bad product at high prices are turning even die-hard fans into non-believers.

The sad thing is that it is too late to right this sinking ship. The blueprint of drafting and signing young free agent players and stuffing the Class A ranks with prospects will not show returns, if any, until 2015 or beyond. But by that season, it may be too late. Then who would be left to blame?

April 20, 2013


A good team needs to push home runners in scoring position.

In 2012, the Cubs team batting average with RISP was .231, dead last in the major league.
In 2012, with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, the Cubs batting average was .220 (22nd in the majors).

In 2013, the Cubs are having more trouble scoring base runners.

The Cubs team batting average for RISP is currently .144, dead last in the majors. This is 38 percent worse than last season's dreadful pace.

The Cubs team batting average for RISP with two outs is .182 (26th in the majors). This is 17.2 percent worse than last season.

April 19, 2013


The Cubs have turned to flea market aspect of the waiver wire to fill widening gaps in its major league roster.

The Cubs claimed outfielder Julio Borbon off waivers from Rangers. To make room for Borbon, the Cubs designated back up infielder Alberto Gonzalez for assignment. Gonzalez batted .217 in 11 games for the Cubs.

Borbon, 27, is a career .283 hitter who spent parts of four seasons with the Rangers. He was designated for assignment on April 9 and the Rangers had 10 days to try to trade him.

Borbon made the Rangers after batting .317 in 32 games in spring training. But he he wound up in third position in center field depth chart.  Borbon, who was selected by Texas in the supplemental first round (35th overall) of the 2007 June draft, played in just one game for the Rangers this season.

Borbon, 27, is a left handed hitter who has not played in the majors in 2012. In 2011, he played in only 32 games for the Rangers, hitting .270, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 6 SB in 89 AB. He spent all of 2012 in the minors at Triple A. In 2010, he played in 137 games for the Rangers and had 468 PA, batting .276, 3 HR 42 RBI, 15 SB, .309 OBP.

The Cubs are now carrying mostly outfielders: Soriano, DeJesus, Schierholtz, Hairston, Sappelt and now Borbon. Unless Soriano has nagging knee issues, one could expect Sappelt to be moved if and when Ian Stewart ever comes back.

This also means that the Cubs did not look for Brett Jackson to help the club any time soon. Jackson's stock continues to fall under new management.


The pundits are beginning in earnest to gear up for baseball's June draft. Now that the new CBA has limited the amount of money teams can spend on signing amateur and international talent, it becomes more critical than ever to select the right player at the right price.

The Cubs have the second overall pick in the draft. The Astros have the first selection.

ESPN's Keith Law believes that Stanford's Mark Appel and Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray are the top two pitchers in this year's draft. The Astros attempted to negotiate with Appel before the 2012 draft, but Appel wanted above slot bonus money. Instead, the Astros used the top pick to draft a high school player then overspend on their next two selections, in effect, giving the Astros three first round talents for the price of one.

The Cubs Theo Epstein was used to overspending without any caps when he was in Boston. That franchise believed that money can pave over mistakes. But the fans are looking for results not talk. Drafting starting pitchers is like drafting touted quarterbacks in the NFL: you never can tell. The Cubs drafted Hayden Simpson a few years ago with their top pick, and now Simpson is not in baseball. He did not pitch at all last season. He was an overreach and a bust.

So many columnists believe that Appel is the best player available, it makes one to pause. As a team, are you going to overpay for a pitcher or try to get more balance in the early rounds? Appel is out of options as he cannot go back to college. In theory he could play internationally, but the money and programs would not be the same as American baseball. He could sit out a year then try to sign with another club, but that would be a diva move that most teams would want to avoid. However, there was one report that Appel still has some "leverage" in that any team that drafts him must have a deal in place otherwise they can't "over slot" their following selections because the penalty for overspending is losing valuable picks next year. But logically, a team can tell any first round draft choice "this is what we are paying, take it or leave it." If the player goes unsigned, the team gets a compensation pick next year. So it would appear Appel will have little leverage.

But in pro sports, money equals respect and some team will try to calm the waters and give him some "respect" and overslot him. But that does not mean Appel will be happy.

So if Houston passes on Appel, then he falls to the Cubs. And this is where it gets interesting. Though the Cubs are not as bad as the Astros, they are close. Epstein has been bellowing that he inherited a minor league system devoid of talent. He has no pitching prospects in the high minors. So scouts believe the Cubs must pick the best available starter and pray for Strasburg type immediate returns.

That would be if the Cubs want to win now. But the Cubs don't want to win now. The Cubs want to pare back the payroll to help pay for the Wrigley Field entertainment complex. The projection for having a competitive, play-off caliber team has now moved out to 2015 and beyond.

It was reported that the Cubs had their short list of players whittled down to six. The consensus speculation is Appel, Gray, college LHP  Sean Manaea, high school outfielders, Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows. The sixth could be collegiate pitching prospect Ryne Stanek, or San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant.

The Cubs have enough new outfielders in their system for now to draft a high school player. As we posted before, Bryant has the best power bat in the draft. He also would fill an immediate critical need at third base. The other potential third base first round talent is North Carolina's Colin Moran, who has the most fluid, natural swing in the draft according to some scouting services.

My call is that the Cubs draft Bryant to address the needs at third and taking a power bat. The Cubs drafted 17 pitchers in last year's draft so if you trust Epstein and Hoyer's talent evaluation judgment, then other critical areas need to be addressed now. Also, for many scouts, projecting position players is easier than projecting pitchers since there are more variables that can go wrong with a pitching prospect.


With all the rebuilding and hope centered on Class A rosters, the Cubs may have stored up on more hope than talent.

Lendy Castillo was a Rule 5 draft pick last season. The Cubs picked him and had to put him on their 25 man roster for the entire year or lose him back to the Phillies. Rule 5 players are available because they have spent significant time already in the minors, and this supplemental draft allows players new opportunities toward the major leagues. Castillo had pitched well in 2011 Class A.

Last season with the major league Cubs in limited duty, Castillo, 24, was 0-0, 7.88 ERA, 2.225 WHIP in 13 game appearances.

So Castillo remains a Cub prospect, but back in Class A Kane County.

Yesterday's box score shows no improvement:

Kane County Cougars
Lendy Castillo 4.0 7 5 5 2 6 1 6.00
Justin Amlung 3.2 3 3 3 2 1 0 5.54
Steve Perakslis (L, 0-2) 2.1 2 1 1 1 1 0 9.35
Totals 10.0 12 9 9 5 8 1 4.75

April 17, 2013


The Cubs stock Class A Daytona with their "high A" level prospects.

Daytona is where  Mr. Baez and the currently suspended Mr. Soler are playing this year.

But last night, the Daytona Cubs got thrashed by Clearwater, 16-5. The Cubs gave up 27 hits in 8 innings (with no home runs).

An amazing pitching box score resulted:

Daytona Cubs
Ryan Searle (L, 1-1) 4.2 15 7 7 0 5 0 4.85
Hunter Cervenka 2.0 4 3 3 2 2 0 13.50
Luis Liria 0.1 4 4 4 1 1 0 24.75
Taylor Davis 1.0 4 1 1 0 0 0 9.00
Totals 8.0 27 15 15 3 8 0 4.67   


The Cubs futility in driving runners in scoring position continues this season. Last night, Barney lines out to centerfield with the bases loaded to end the game.

After 13 games (8 percent of the season), the Cubs clean-up hitter, Soriano has 0 HR and 0 RBI.

And many other team broadcasters have remarked that the Cubs line-up from the 5th hitter on is "not intimidating" or "weak."

The team only has three hitters batting over .300: W. Castillo, Castro and Schierholtz. That's two starters and a platoon outfielder.

The only hope at Triple AAA would be Ryan Sweeney, the ex-Red Sox player. He is batting .382 with 3 HR and 8 RBI. Brett Jackson continues to struggle with strike outs. He is batting .244 with 15 strikeouts in 41 AB. Ian Stewart has played in two games is 0-for-7 at the plate. Josh Vitters has played one game, one AB, no hit.

April 16, 2013


This is one of those days when a team takes out the trash and replaces it with fresher trash.

As expected, the Cubs activated Darwin Barney from the DL. Steve Clevenger was put on the 60 day DL to open a spot on the roster for Kameron Loe, a Mariner relief pitcher who was waived last week by Seattle.  Loe was not very good in Seattle this season.

The Cubs opened up some bullpen spots by optioning Rafael Dolis to Iowa and designating lefty reliever Hinsanori Takahashi for assignment. The Cubs have 10 days to trade, release or waive Takahashi. Takahashi appeared in 3 games for the Cubs, leaving with a 6.00 ERA and 1.667 WHIP.

Kevin Gregg replaces Takahashi in the bullpen. Gregg was released from the Dodgers at the end of spring training. Gregg pitched in 40 games for Baltimore last season, going 3-2, 4.95 ERA, 0 saves, and 1.695 WHIP.

Further, the Cubs designated Brett Lillibridge for assignment. Lillibridge had one hit in 24 at-bats (.042).  The Cubs then claimed from San Diego infielder Cody Ransom. Ransom, a .215 career hitter, has played with seven teams over 10 seasons. He played in five games with the Padres this season, going hitless in 11 at-bats. In 2012, for the Brewers he batted .196, 6 HR, 26 RBI, .93 OBP. Previously, he was with Arizona. He hit .269, 5 HR, 16 RBI.

None of these new Cub players are building blocks for the future. These are more used sandbags thrown against the rising tide of defeat.


The first big international free agent signing by the new Cubs front office was a 20 year old Cuban left handed pitcher named Gerardo Concepcion. He was touted as a quality prospect. The Cubs signed him to a major league contract for $6 million.

Last season, Concepcion was assigned to Class A Peoria.

He pitched poorly.  One scout from another organization said Concepcion did not know how to pitch. Another scout said that he did not understand why the Cubs paid so much for a marginal talent.

Concepcion stat line was:

2-6 record, 12 starts, 0 complete games, 52.1 IP, 6 HR allowed, 30 BB, 28 K, 1.911 WHIP

On December 21, 2012, the Cubs took Concepcion off the protected 40 man roster and outrighted him to Kane County (Class A).

However, the current Kane County roster does not have Concepcion as a player. There is no injury/transaction note on the Cubs web site. Concepcion is not listed on any Cub affiliate roster, including Arizona development league. He is not listed as one of the Cubs top 20 prospects.

Concepcion, the Cubs $6 million man, is missing in action. He is under contract with the Cubs, but he is not listed as injured or on a current roster. Did Concepcion and/or the Cubs give up?


There is little bullpen help in Iowa.

From last night's Iowa Cubs box score (pitching):

Iowa Cubs
Drew Carpenter (L, 1-2) 4.1 7 5 5 2 1 2 8.10
Esmailin Caridad 1.2 3 1 1 0 3 0 16.88
Jensen Lewis 1.0 2 2 2 2 1 2 17.18
Jaye Chapman 2.0 3 3 3 0 2 0 17.05
Totals 9.0 15 11 11 4 7 4 6.95

April 15, 2013


The Cubs bullpen imploded over the weekend. New closer Fujikawa will go on the DL with arm issues. Marmol was demoted and not restored to the closer role. Camp took that spot yesterday and allowed the Giants to make a patented come-back victory.

As a result, the front office is scrambling to find late inning relief. A bucket of TUMS is not enough.

The Cubs signed relief pitcher Kevin Gregg to a minor league deal on Sunday.

Last season, Gregg went 2-3, 4.95 ERA, 1.695 WHIP, zero Saves in 40 games for Baltimore.

Gregg was one of the last cuts this spring training with the Dodgers. Gregg saved 23 games and had a 4.72 ERA with the Cubs in 2009. Along with the Cubs, he's spent parts of ten seasons with the Angels, Marlins, Blue Jays and, most recently, the Orioles. He's racked up 144 saves and a 4.13 ERA for his career.

This is another journeyman signing that the Cubs have fixated on. If the Cubs are looking for performance from 4 years ago, that is an unrealistic hope. It also shows that the Cubs have no confidence on any of the AAA pitchers inherited from the old regime.

The Cubs also picked up Kameron Loe off waivers from Seattle. That is not much to talk about here.
This season, Loe pitched in 4 games, went 1-1 in 6.2 IP, 10.80 ERA, gave up 6 HR, and had 1.80 WHIP. No wonder he was waived.

As a career, he is 33-41 with 4.44 ERA with 4 saves out of 22 save opportunities, with a 1.42 WHIP.
Again, marginal relief numbers and not those of a quality closer. 

Gregg and Loe transactions show the Cubs are grasping at straws now to fix their bullpen woes.

April 12, 2013


A baseball fight used to be like an English rugby scrum: lots of pushing, shoving and holding but not much violent conduct. But when San Diego's Carlos Quentin charged the mound like a linebacker, he came at the pitcher, Zach Greinke, like he was an undefended quarterback.

Greinke is the Dodgers $147 million man. As a result of hitting Quentin on a 3-2 pitch count in a one run game in the 6th inning (all factors of being not intentional), Greinke broke his left collarbone. With this type of injury, he could be out anywhere from one to three months. It could be more depending on how the injury affects his mobility, mechanics and velocity.

The Dodgers gave away starter Aaron Harang for nothing. Two other former starters, Chris Capusano and Ted Lilly, remain on the roster. They will be pulled from the pen to start in Greinke's place.

Quentin is going to be suspended for his actions. The Dodgers could also be facing suspensions for Matt Kemp and Jerry Hairston, who started a second bench clearing incident. It is uncertain if either player bumped an umpire, which is an immediate suspension. Former player Joe Torre is the new MLB sheriff. Torre is an old school player, used to the era where players retaliated to protect their teammates. But since teams commit so much money to star players, the league may have to protect those assets against the old school rules.

Quentin and Greinke have a history of brush backs, hit by pitch and retaliation during their Royal-White Sox days. Quentin is the most hit batter in baseball today. He lunges at ball over the plate, opening up his arm to the inside pitch. Greinke has the reputation for throwing at batters after a teammate got hit. So both players were fused if something sparked a fight.

The teams play again next weekend, which should be another umpire nightmare. A blood feud between the high payroll Dodgers and the low payroll small market Padres is sure to boil over. It will depend if the umpires warn both benches before the first pitch, or allow the Dodgers to get their pound of flesh to end it.

The Dodgers bumped up their payroll on pitching to keep up with the arms race with the champion Giants. The Giants continue to roll with their rotation and bullpen to first place in the NL West. The Dodgers will continue to play catch up all season. The loss of Greinke is a major blow for LA especially since the injury was caused by the "macho" unwritten rules of the game.


After nine games, the Cubs have committed ten official errors. This total leads the majors. But the total does not include the mental mistakes and other miscues like Feldman not covering first base in time, or bad foot work at first by Rizzo, or Castro's continued rush to flippy throws across the diamond, to horrible breaks on line drives by outfielders. The mental mistakes show a lack of what we call "baseball IQ."

Castro led shortstops with 27 errors last year. Yesterday's errors led to four unearned runs scoring, which turned around the game for the Giants.

The Cubs in 2012 had 105 team errors. That was 11th out of the 16 teams, or below the mean.
The 2012 NL total team field percentage was .983. The Cubs was .982, 7th out of 16 teams or average. The Cubs combined defensive WAR was 1.2.

The Cubs defense allowed an additional 51 runs to score. (Cubs allowed 759 runs, 708 were earned runs). Opponents scored 6.72 percent more runs just because of the Cubs defense.

If one was to objectively look at cutting down the defensive lapses, one needs to get to a core problem: Castro.  He was responsible for 25% of the team's 2012 error total. Even if the coaching staff says that they have been working with Castro to improve his defense, it is not working. In nine games, he was three errors and a woeful .931 fielding percentage.

One could argue that the Cubs have been playing in cold weather. That conditions have been tough. But every team is playing under the same conditions. When Castro rushed a throw on a slow grounder, manager Sveum said Castro needs to know the situation - - - he did not have to rush a throw because the batter was the Giant's pitcher, Vogelsong.  Castro is leading the team with 33 percent of the errors committed, which is at a higher pace than last season. So whatever the coaches did in spring training has not migrated into real game situations.

Defensive statistics are undervalued today because player contracts are bent towards offensive statistics. But for a team that has difficulty scoring runs, defensive lapses put more pressure on the offense. As it stands, it takes the Cubs 1.07 runs to each opponent's 1.0 run just to play even.  That is generating another 1/3 of a run each game or a full run/per series. A good team manages to win series, but that is more difficult if you give your opponent a full run head start.

April 11, 2013


The Cubs season just went over a bizarre Rolling Stones in their destructive prime edge.

At 2:30 p.m. yesterday, a package arrived at Wrigley Field addressed to Tom Ricketts. Inside, it contained a severed goat's head. The police were called to the scene to investigate the "intimidating" package.

At 3 p.m., the Cubs abruptly canceled their night game with the Brewers. The cold weather was given as the reason. Some people are not so sure.

Last night, Theo Epstein's star international prospect, Jorge Soler, was ejected from a Class A ball game. There was an altercation on the field during the game. The teams were separated, but Soler went back to the bench, got a baseball bat, and then charged the opposing team. Baseball altercations are mild pushing and shoving events. But running to get a deadly weapon in a wood bat is criminal assault. Afterward, the Cubs manager Dave Keller said that Soler was dealing with some "emotional issues." Really? Every player has to deal with emotional issues.

The Daytona Beach newspaper reported the problem started at the end of the seventh inning. Soler slid into second base following the final play of the inning. The opponent appeared to have landed on Soler, and Soler took offense.  Soler and Clearwater second baseman Edgar Alonso exchanged words. Teammates came out to separate the two. Then the teams headed for their dugouts. But Soler came "sprinting" out of the Cub dugout with a bat toward the Clearwater dugout. Keller said those few seconds were “kind of like a nightmare.”

Soler was the Cuban star that the Cubs invested $30 million. Now, early in his U.S. professional career, the Cubs have a Baby Zambrano on their hands. It calls into question on how the Cubs new baseball gurus failed to realize or deal with Soler's anger and emotional issues. This is a severe blow to Epstein's talent character evaluation/scouting skills.

These events come after another stormy day of counterattacks on the Wrigley Field redevelopment issues. Alderman Tunney has thrown up his hands, saying that each side keeps changing the terms of any proposal. The neighborhood associations continue to stress that they are not at the table in these discussions with the city. The rooftop owners have threatened a lawsuit to force the Cubs to honor their agreement. Ricketts admitted that the rooftop deal is "awkward" for the Cubs, i.e. has no loopholes to block the rooftop views which will occur with new jumbotron or advertising signage.

The last report was that the Cubs, who are allowed 20 night games per season, want to increase the total to 40 baseball games and 4 other events (concerts). This more than doubles the current status quo. Neighbors objected to that proposal on traffic, parking and security reasons. Then MLB injected that it wants the city to allow the league to "flex" any Cub game into a night game (which means all 81 home games and playoffs) when the team is "competitive" (which is a vague concept).

The neighborhood residents and businesses believe they are being steamrolled by the Ricketts grand plans to pour $500 million into Lakeview. Plans, they say, they have never seen so most of these "negotiations" are being conducted blindly. Which is to a developer's advantage to cloud the participants in multiple plans then in the end do what he wants to do because he will argue that everyone was aware of it and "agreed" to it.

Ricketts has said that the Cubs do not plan to move out of Wrigley Field. However, he is steadfast in saying that he won't put any of his money into Wrigley unless he gets what he wants - - - which is a significant change in the current building structure, more scoreboard/advertising signs in the outfield, and a massive hotel-retail-fitness center complex across the street. It appears that the Cubs do not want to go through the normal public zoning hearing process (where one presents a proposal, the public gets to review and comment on it, and public officials make a decision on the proposal). The Cubs just want a rubber stamp deal on their own terms. Wrigley is a unique property in a unique setting (a residential neighborhood). There are competitive interests that go beyond the Ricketts need to generate millions more in ball park revenue to fund his business and redevelopment plans.

The goat's head in a box delivered to Wrigley Field is not symbolic of lifting the curse of the baseball team, but an apparent angry response to the deteriorating situation between neighbors. It will be interesting to see how the Cubs deal with their new emotional partners, the Lakeview residents and Soler.

April 10, 2013


Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports on how far the Cubs management team is going to squeeze every single quarter out of the Cubs.

Sullivan reports that during the home opener, the television cameras panned into the Cubs dugout where the relief pitchers sit during the game. Many of the relievers chew gum. The audience was shown Double Bubble gum wrappers.

Sullivan states that the bullpen received a message to stop chewing that brand of gum because the Cubs have "an exclusive deal" with Wrigley's "Brand 5."

So it has come to this: contraband bubble gum.


In the midst of a four game losing streak to start the season, the front office business department is more concerned about what brand of gum the bullpen pitchers are consuming than winning the actual game?

The drumbeat for the last two months has been "revenue, revenue, more revenue, revenue, revenue, revenue . . . " The Ricketts claim that they need more revenue. More revenue to pay for the massive redevelopment project which includes rehabbing Wrigley Field. But the owners also state that the Tribune's big market payroll was "unsustainable" so it has been drastically cut.  Also, in a roundabout way, GM Hoyer stated that the free agent window "was closing" and it will be difficult in the future to sign quality free agents. The basis for that remark is the massive long term deals signed over the winter by the star free agents. That is a means to tell the fans that the Cubs won't pay for free agents because the one and only plan is to grow an entire team from within one's own minor league system. But that would mean that Cubs would be in less need of increased revenue since they would control their own players longer and cheaper than going out into the free agent market.  The baseball message has been garbled in all this redevelopment deal talk.

There is no rule or law that states that all the increased revenue the Ricketts receives do to new advertising signs, new television contracts, or chewing gum deals will actually go into improving the product on the field. The Cubs have a massive debt load from the purchase of the team. The Cubs are going to spend millions on new buildings (a hotel, health club, retail block) which will require new operating costs to maintain. There is no assurance that the Cubs will take all that new money and go out and spend like the Dodgers, Angels, Red Sox or Yankees to acquire the best talent.

For a team that is allegedly the most profitable in baseball, yelling at players for partaking in the "wrong" gum is extremely petty penny pinching.

April 9, 2013


Carlos Marmol was not that upset with the fans booing his appearance during the Cubs home opener. However, James Russell called out the fans. He said that fans should never boo their team players. He said that he lost respect for the fans who boo. He said that Marmol is doing his best, and the fans should accept the effort.

Win or lose, the Cub players get paid. On the other hand, fans investment in their team is a fragile commodity. They pay their hard earned money to see a good product on the field. They boo players who don't perform well, but then they will applaud when they do well (including in the same game). But for Russell to have a chip on his shoulder after seven games shows that this is going to be a long season for everyone.

The Cubs have been stressing to the fans that they must remain "patient." Ricketts and Epstein said this is all "part of the process." However, those statements do not guarantee a competitive team on the field, now or in the future.

Forbes Magazine recently published an article stating that it believed the Cubs were the most profitable team in baseball. However, since it is a private business, there is no public information to verify. In addition, the Ricketts took on a substantial amount of debt in order to close the purchase (which still currently exceeds MLB ownership standards). But Commissioner Selig said he is not worried about the Cubs debt levels.

Patience appears to be a moving target term. Fans must endure the painful process of rebuilding with the speculative hope that there will be a championship on the horizon. Players want the fans to be patient, in the sense of quietly supportive, even when the team makes mistakes or fails to perform.

Epstein and Hoyer have preached that they want players who are patient at the plate. They fall on the Oakland A's/Billy Beane sabermetric of on-base percentage as a key statistic to winning games. Len Kasper was on his off-flagship weekly radio show saying that he heard from a player that the players had decided that they would be "more aggressive early in the count."  When confronted with the fact that the front office wants patient hitters, Kasper said that would come in time, after the Cubs "turn over the roster" i.e. have Epstein OBP players in the line up.

The problem is that the Cubs are free swingers and strike out machines. They are not patient at the plate at all. One walk and ten strikeouts in the last game is a bad ratio. Further, Kasper is incorrect on the statement that the new front office has not had time to field their line-up.

The Cubs home opener was filled with "their guys:" DeJesus, Rizzo, Schierholtz, Castillo, Lillibridge, and Valbuena. All these guys were signed and/or promoted by Epstein and Hoyer. It is becoming disingenuous to say that fans need to wait for the younger players to work their way up the ladder from Class A in four years as being the "patient" hitters - - - when the team cannot get veterans on board with the program.

If patience is a virtue, which means behavior of a high moral character, stringing along the fans with concepts such as patient hitters, blueprint for rebuilding the organization, fielding a competitive team, etc is not taking the high ground when the players take offense to the fans demanding accountability.

April 8, 2013


This is an odd trade.

The Dodgers have a surplus of three veteran starting pitchers. The Dodgers need to move them off the roster. So the Dodgers dealt Aaron Harang to divisional rival Colorado in exchange for back up veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez, a player the Rockies were looking to unload or cut.

It seemed like a surplus for surplus trade. Dodger fans were upset with the deal because the team did not receive any prospects to re-stock their minor league system.

But then the Rockies immediately designated Harang for assignment. That means the club has 10 days to trade or release him. 

Harang posted a 3.61 ERA for the Dodgers last season with 6.6 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9 across 179 2/3 innings of work.  The Rockies already are hearing from teams with interest in Harang and the Red Sox are one possibility as they look to replace John Lackey, who was recently injured. The Twins are also rumored to have some interest in Harang.

The Dodgers were put into a corner by their free agent spending spree this off season. Starting pitchers are in high demand normally, but the Dodgers waited too long to unload Harang. Now, the Rockies are going to take the pitcher to flip for prospects. This seems odd because the Rockies don't have a deep starting rotation in place. Colorado must not want to take on more payroll.

MLBTR reports that Harang signed a backloaded two-year, $12MM deal prior to the 2012 season. The deal paid him $3MM last year and $7MM this year with a $2MM buyout if his mutual option for 2014 is not exercised.  If his option is triggered, it could be worth $7MM-$8MM depending on his performance.  With the $2MM buyout off of the Dodgers' books, they'll wind up saving some money in luxury tax penalties next season.

April 6, 2013


First impressions can be lasting impressions. Scott Feldman's performance last night in Atlanta was bad. Chris Volstad bad.

On Friday his control was a mess, hence the walks, wild pitches and hit batter. Plus, the Braves stole three bases on him. He threw 102 pitches in less than five innings of work. In his Cubs debut, Feldman gave up four runs on five hits and four walks. He threw two wild pitches and hit another batter. He left the game with a 7.71 ERA and 1,929 WHIP.

Recall, Volstad's 2012 Cub season:

3-12, 6.31 ERA, 21 starts, 111.1 IP,  137 H, 81 R, 78 ER, 43 BB, 63 K, 1.617 WHIP

Recall, Feldman's spring training:

0-3, 11.25 ERA, 6 starts, 20 IP, 38 H, 25 R, 25 ER, 6 BB, 17 K, 2.200 WHIP.

Pitching coach Chris Bosio has not corrected the problem that the Rangers found in Feldman when Texas last season demoted Feldman to bullpen duty. But since Garza and Baker are on extended rehabs, Feldman is projected to start through May.  There is at least 9 more starts for Feldman before Garza may return.


There has to be a report card soon on Epstein and Hoyer's ability to find and/or develop pitchers. In most organizational scouting reports of minor league talent, Cub pitching is not mentioned as a strength even though the Cubs drafted 17 arms in the last draft. Iowa is stocked with AAA arms. Chris Rusin is the default number six starter until Baker and Garza get off the DL. The Cubs traded Maholm for Vizcaino who is again on the 60 day DL with no time line to return to the majors (he may be out until next season). The overall record of Cubs finding quality starting pitching continues to be poor. 

April 5, 2013


Various media reports state that the Cubs and the city of Chicago have worked out a deal to allow the Ricketts family to "invest" more money at Wrigley in exchange for loosening landmark and city restrictions on events at Clark and Addison.

Ricketts has been posturing that the family would spend $500 million of their own money into the rehab of Wrigley. But that number includes the redevelopment of McDonald's block across the street which the family purchased last year. Ricketts said that the team no longer wanted public funds to pay for his private improvements, which was a non-starter at city hall and the community.

But considering most neighborhood associations have been kept in the dark ("we have not seen any real plans for the rehab project"), in some respects the dealmakers are keeping the various competing parties in the dark until "the deal" is announced next week. Then, the sparks will fly.

To be perfectly clear, the Ricketts are not "caretakers" for the Cubs franchise. The Ricketts are now major property developers on the north side of town. They are attempting to create a theme park called Cubville, with Wrigley Field as the key venue for more than just baseball games. The Ricketts want all restrictions off the field so they can do what they want with their property. But that is naive and arrogant since every business in the city is subject to strict zoning and building ordinances.

Further complicating matters is the Tribune's deal with rooftop owners. In exchange for 17 percent of the rooftop gate, the neighbors bought unrestricted sight lines to the game action inside Wrigley. Ricketts does not like the roof toppers and wants to shut them out. He wants to build large new scoreboards which would block views (which would be a breach of the current agreement). How the city is going to appease both sides on this is going to be a difficult ballet, as the local alderman holds the preemptive zoning veto on any Wrigley plans.

The dirty secret is that the Ricketts want Wrigley Field to be turned into all event, Allstate Arena kind of 12 month, 24/7 kind of destination place. They want corporate events, concerts, football games, hockey contests, college and high school sports. They want to keep the special ball park restaurants and bars open to compete with the neighborhood establishments. They have the paranoid feeling that everyone around them is making money off their team - - - and they want to curtail it. Ricketts wants to own Lakeview and take a bigger piece of the business pie.

And all of these new potential revenue schemes has nothing really to do with improving the Cubs as a baseball team. Wrigley Field's new advertising, new events and venue status is what is going to drive revenue growth, not the Cubs win loss record. Wrigley will be reconfigured to fit more events into its small footprint than just baseball. The plan is to have Wrigley itself be the revenue and marketing star (a self generating resource). But, the whole reason why tourists come to Wrigley during the summer is to see the old ball park, a throw back to a by-gone era. Once you change the character of the field by stuffing it with beer carts and massive jumbotrons, the landmark draw will quickly fade away. The undercurrent is a whisper "so what?" The switch to baseball fan only facility to an entertainment complex is the real bottom line here.


One could say that the Cubs are in an uncomfortable position. First place after three games. The team just won their first opening series in four years. The optimism must be tempered by realism.

The Cubs play their next 19 games against teams with winning 2012 records. The next opponent, the Braves, have been penciled in as a wild card team this season.

But this first 22 game stretch (13.5% of the season) will tell you how well the Cubs are going to be this season. Good. Average. Below Average. Bad. Really Bad.

Manager Dale Sveum talked about the need for his club to have "a fast start" to the season. The front office also wants a winning April in order to sell tickets and keep up fan interest after a 100 loss season.

But from a pure statistical standpoint, the first 22 games count "the same" as as other games in the schedule.

But there is an inherit axiom in athletics. Former players will tell you that getting off to a fast start helps with individual confidence and team chemistry. In some respects, baseball is not as high energy as a hockey or basketball game where all the teammates are in fluid motion. Baseball is an individual on individual game (throw and catch, pitching and hitting). Some people call the idea of team chemistry hog wash. Some historians will reference the bad chemistry of some teams, where players hated each other or the manager (like the Yankees), led to championship seasons.

We can objectively see when a player loses his confidence. A batter swings wildly at pitches way out of the strike zone. A pitcher, like Carlos Marmol, cannot locate his slider or has no confidence that his fastball will not be a flat, fat home run offering to the batter. There is a real mental component to professional sports.

For the Cubs, a fast start may be important for a more long term reason. The Cubs are hoping that the core young players (Castro, Rizzo, Samardzija, Barney, Castillo) will continue to improve to set the foundation for a competitive team by 2015. However, young players follow the example set by the clubhouse veterans. If year after year a team loses, then losing becomes an acceptable way of life in the locker room. It is not like the players don't want to win; but there are no ramifications to them personally (since they are "the future") because of the team losses. The Cubs are nearing a tipping point with their young core players; they need to quickly learn how to win at the major league level.

And winning at the team level is complex. Throughout their lives, professional players were probably the best player on their youth team. They have been told by parents, family and friends how great they were at their position. They would garner more accolades for personal accomplishments (stats) because that is how scouts compare players. As a result, most players are quite self-centered about how they go about playing the game. Winning at a team level needs a certain amount of re-education. Teams that win together learn to sacrifice individual stats for the greater good, like bunting a base runner over, or taking an extra base on a hit to the outfield even though it will physically drain you. Teams without a basic knowledge and application of the proper way to play the game as a team are doomed for failure. We call it "baseball intelligence." Does a player have the baseball IQ to succeed? Can he predict what will happen, know the situation, know how to instinctively react, and know his role?

If the Cubs lose 3 of 5 game sets in this next stretch, then it would confirm that the 2013 Cubs would be on the same path as last season, at a .409 winning percentage (or 66 win pace).

April 4, 2013


There has been a great range on how many wins the Cubs will have this season. The predictions began in the winter when the Cubs began acquiring starting pitchers and journeymen to the start of opening day. The range is wide: from 52 wins to 78. This is the gulf of expectations between various levels of Cub fans.

If we just take the opening day roster as the starting point, we find that the position players collectively have a 12.7 WAR (wins above replacement). For the pitching staff, they have a collective 8.5 WAR (for pitching alone).

The team projected WAR would be 21.2 if the players did as well as they did last season. Since WAR basically postulates that a AAA team would win 32 percent of the games, or 51.84 wins per season, the Cubs 21.2 projected WAR would equate to 73.04 wins.

The 2012 Cubs were 61-101 (.376 winning percentage).
The 2013 Cubs WAR record is 73-89 (.450 winning percentage).

That is a 12 game improvement from last season. That means this year's Cubs would be 19.7 percent better. How could that be?

WAR is a comparison tool. It is not an absolute indicator or predictor.

This huge increase in competitive play is for a team that lost twenty percentage of its rotation (Baker and Garza) and its starting third baseman (Stewart) may be a statistical mirage. The Cubs bench is filled with .200 hitters, with two of them now starting at third and second base. The bullpen is shaky with Marmol as the closer. Rondon as another Rule 5 flyer is probably over matched from jumping from AA pitching to the majors. The 2013 Cubs look no different than the 2012 club. And as such, one is more likely to see the Cubs repeating a 100 loss season than improving by a dozen victories.


I got home last night in time to see a few innings of the Cubs-Pirates game. The broadcasters said it was  a breezy 32 degrees. The Cubs offense was as cold as the weather. Two measly hits off of former Astro lefty Wandy Rodruiguez.

The Cubs were in mid-2012 season form. Edwin Jackson was cruising along in his Cub debut, until he lost his command in one long inning. And that was the ball game. Unless you can throw a shutout like Samardzija, the Cubs have trouble coming from behind.

Castro looked weird in his modern chain mail hood. Lillibridge looked like an escaped Wonka employee when he played third base. Sappelt at the plate looked like he was trying to capture butterflies with a garden rake.

No wonder the Cubs cannot sell out Opening Day. The PR department emails continue to flood our in-folders on a daily basis. 

The story of this year's Cubs is more to do with the off-season business arbitrage between the owners and the city than fielding a real competitive team. Reduced payroll, emphasis on prospects at the Class A level and below, and a triage for journeymen pitchers to trade is a blueprint that most fans deep into year three of a recession won't afford to watch.

Further dampening the historic Cub town vibe is the fast start of the White Sox, who had back to back quality starts from Sale and Peavy. And the White Sox offense has hit 6 home runs in two games. As Greg Maddux said, "chicks dig the long ball." The White Sox are poised to surprise the national stage to be better than expected while the Cubs are no surprise at all.

April 3, 2013


After the Samardzija victory on opening day, the Cubs made one small move. Ex-Red Sox outfielder Ryan Sweeney was signed to a minor league deal.

Sweeney, 28, has played for the White Sox, A's and Red Sox.  He has a career .280 BA, 14 HR and 185 RBI in 6 MLB seasons.

Sweeney is another journeyman flier that Epstein brings from his old roster lists.

It does show that the Cubs talent pool continues to be weak at the upper levels of the system and on the major league roster. At this point, Sweeney is the same commodity talent as Hairston, Sappelt or DeJesus.

Also, the media reaction to the Cubs first victory of the season was on the high side. People thought the core of the team played well. The "core" means the principal young talent on the squad who are the building blocks of the future: Castro, Rizzo, Wellington Castillo and Samardzija. One could add Russell in that discussion, too. But that makes only five core players on a roster of 25 (20%). So the Cubs are still playing as a AAAA team compared to other major league rosters.

GM Hoyer stressed the fact that the Cubs had to get off to a fast start this year. But the next four starts will be commanded by .500 to sub-.500 pitchers. Without an explosive offense, the Cubs will get down to their projected seasonal winning percentage quickly.

April 1, 2013


The best team in baseball this morning is the Houston Astros, who beat the Rangers on opening night. The Astros feature newly acquired Ronny Cedeno at shortstop. Cedeno was released twice this off season, but somehow he wound up as the Astro's starting shortstop. The Astros are a bad team in a tough AL Western division this year.

The Cubs play in a competitive NL Central. The Reds are poised for another 90 plus win season. The Cardinals are still in the pre-season wild card chase. The Brewers and Pirates continue to hover around .500. The Cubs will settle to the bottom.

Even before the first pitch of opening day, the Cubs have had their set backs. The last was Darwin Barney ripping up his knee in the last exhibition game. He will probably go on the disabled list. Which means that non-roster invitee Brent Lillibridge becomes the Cubs opening day starter at second base.

Ian Stewart, Scott Baker and Matt Garza have all been placed on the DL. Latest word on Baker and Garza is that they may be available in June. Arodys Vizcaino, the injured pitcher from the Braves trade last season, was put on the 60 day DL. There is no word if he will pitch at all this season.

So the Cubs have had a bumpy start before the first pitch in Pittsburgh today.