August 31, 2013


ESPN reported on Ryne Sandberg's triumphal return to Wrigley, guiding the Phils to a 6-5 comeback victory over the Cubs.

After the Phillies came back from a five-run deficit, Sandberg has turned a veteran team that was going nowhere into a 9-6 record.  Sandberg has been able to get his players to bust their behinds for him in his quest to become the full-time manager in 2014. "It is a good win to get," he said. "Down 5-0 out of the chute and the guys battle back. It is extra special."

"There is some good energy on the bench," Sandberg said. "Guys were talking it up and pulling for each other. (Jeff) Samardzija was in a good grove for a while, but we were able to get some guys on base and put some hits together."  Sandberg used his bullpen to perfection, getting four shutout innings in relief after Roy Halladay gave up five runs in five innings.

After the game, Sandberg could not resist telling reporters about his warm welcome by the fans and the subtle differences he noticed at the friendly confines.  "The empty seats in the bleachers and the empty seats are something new to me," the manager said. "Most of my career from 1984 on was a tough ticket and a sellout. So it was a little odd to see the bleachers that empty. Other than that I noticed a lot of Phillies fans who made the trip. They got a little bit loud in the ninth inning."

Sandberg, as usual, did not gloat about how personally gratifying the win was for him. He had been passed over twice in interviews for the Chicago manager job. But now in Philadelphia, he has the opportunity to manage a large market club that can be competitive in short order.

For if Sandberg got the Cubs managerial job, he would have had dealt with the Quade and Sveum years of bad teams. However, in my opinion, Sandberg would have done a better job with those squads because he managed and coached most of the Cubs homegrown players. They respected him. James Russell told the media that it was Sandberg as his AA manager that got him to change his approach which led him to become a major league reliever. (A job that may be in jeopardy because of Dale Sveum's overuse of Russell this season like Sveum did last year with Shawn Camp.)

The Cubs new front office had an opportunity to correct Jim Hendry's stubborn mistake of not hiring Sandberg as manager, but Theo Epstein passed for "his guy" Sveum. Both management executives knew that Sandberg would have tremendous public relations capital with Cub fans and with the players. He could be hard to control if things were not going well in regard to roster decisions. And it is now clear that Epstein was going to blow up the major league roster and tank several seasons by sign and trade flips rehabbing veterans and stockpiling low minor league prospects.

So despite the snub, Sandberg landed in a better managerial job. I think Sandberg will relish the opportunity to succeed in Philadelphia. What really shocked Sandberg was the fact that the bleachers were empty on a Friday afternoon prior to the long Labor Day Weekend. During his day, those bleachers were filled with rabid fans. He was taken back by this sight which is a true barometer of how far the Cubs franchise has fallen since he left the organization.

Ryno's return signaled what could have been for the Cubs and what the Cubs have woefully become as a franchise. Fans will not come out anymore to see the Lovable Losers play, even against a Hall of Fame Cub player.

August 30, 2013


Dale Sveum will have one more year on his contract.

He has been dealt a weak hand. A major league roster that is filled with bad players.

His managerial career began as a sudden end of the season replacement for the Brewers. His 12 game stint resulted in a 7-5 record, and second place. It was a disappointing Brewer season.

In 2012, Sveum had his first full year managing a team. His Cubs went 61-101 (.377 WP). As of the start of the Labor Day weekend, his 2013 Cubs have a record of 56-77 (.404 WP), a slight improvement over last season, but still on pace to lose 97 games.

The manager's record is only one part of the puzzle. Even with a bad team, a manager can be judged on whether he has helped to develop young talent into major league impact players. In that regard, Sveum has fallen short. It seems that he has picked on Starlin Castro the most for the ills of the team (when there are plenty of other candidates for being the goat). Castro is having his worst season as a professional. Castro has been moved up and down the line-up, told to change his batting approach, field his position better but at the mid-point of the season Sveum basically threw his hands up and blamed the player for all his problems. Managers cannot abdicate responsibility for player development. Yes, a player must perform but a manager's job is to place each player in the best position to succeed.

Sveum has gone Mike Quade lately by juggling his line up like he was pulling names out of a hat. Anthony Rizzo's ego could not handle batting in the second spot (even though his stats improved) so he was put back into the third slot. Sveum did not call out Rizzo's selfish remarks. Rizzo is also having the worst season of his professional career, but he does not get the attention that Castro does.

There are some executives who believe that there are some managers who are best suited for young developing teams but who are also not suited to take a team to a championship level. The prime Chicago example of this theory is when the Bulls had Doug Collins as head coach, only to get rid of him on the cusp of the Jordan era with Phil Jackson. Jackson was deemed to be a better coach to get the Bulls from Point B (contenders) to Point A (champions).

It is clear that Sveum is not the manager to get the Cubs to Point A, let alone Point B. The only question is whether the Cubs will let him ride out his lame duck season by managing the 2014 Cubs.

August 29, 2013


Don Mattingly played for the Yankees. When a player dons the pinstripes, there is traditional form of professionalism that goes along with the uniform. There is a dress code. There is winning attitude. There are stressed fundamentals. The aura of being a Yankee is in isolator against the harshness of the NY media. It also works, since the Yankees are consistently competitive in the AL East.

Mattingly is now the LA Dodgers manager. Things are more laid back on the West Coast. Pacific rim teams rarely get national coverage with the East Coast bias of network television. So most people failed to realize how bad the Dodgers were in the first half of this year. Injuries and underperforming star players contributed to a near historic collapse. But then things dramatically turned around when the Dodgers called up a 22 year old Cuban defector named Yasiel Puig.

He immediately sparked the team by hitting massive home runs and making diving catches in the outfield. His rookie enthusiasm helped awaken the dormant skills of the rest of the team. The Dodgers have clawed out of the cellar and now are one of the best teams in the majors.

It is quite a turnaround. And the starting point was Puig.

In his first 76 games, he has had 346 PA. He has hit 13 HR, 30 RBI, .406 OBP, .963 OPS and 4.0 WAR. He is an overnight sensation; a Hollywood script star.

And it may have gone to his head. For at least the second time this year, Mattingly has had to pull Puig from the line-up during a game. The last incident was Puig's failure to break up a double play at second by not sliding toward the bag. He also mopes to right field after striking out. He also shows a brass attitude of "me first" over team play. There are times that he just stops concentrating on the game. Mattingly, an old school Yankee professional, cannot stand a showboating non-team player.

LA gave Puig a $42 million contract, tying him up through 2018. It is life changing money for a 22 year old defector who is now living for the first time in a capitalist country with money to spend.

Defenders state that Puig has been thrown a cultural curve ball. That there are language barrier issues with teammates and his manager. That the spotlight of stardom is difficult to control at first. That the team cannot try to change the way Puig plays if it still wants his great production.

A young superstar player does not need to be pampered; he needs to be coached up to a professional level. He needs to correct the flaws in his game, whether mental or physical. The sport's history is littered with fresh hot rookies who crash and burn within a few years. It all depends on how a young foreign player handles the situation and criticism.

Some Latin players are like overgrown children. From the poor streets of third world countries, playing baseball and soccer are their only means of escape. For very good players, the games are second hand without much effort. They don't have to work at it because they are so much better than their local peers. They get stubborn in their ways and their macho heritage comes to the surface when someone tells them to change. Puig has not risen to a Carlos Zambrano phase, yet.

But it does show the beginning of a bad trend. Fellow star defector, Cub prospect Jorge Soler, has had his professional issues in Class A ball this year. The lack of hustle and a on-field altercation with an opponent led to a short suspension. The Cubs tried to write it off quickly as Soler having some emotional issues. Well, Soler is one of the front office's "core" prospects for the future. Why have a ticking time bomb of emotions at the core of your rebuild?

Time will tell if these are isolated incidents or whether there is deep cultural problem with Latin players when they begin playing baseball in America. Many teams have placed great time and resources in signing Latin players in recent years. Some teams have done so in an attempt to cultivate a new Hispanic fan base to raise their yearly attendance. Other teams believe there is a competitive advantage in signing foreign players for less cost than U.S. high school or college players.  But there are new concerns assimilating foreign players into U.S. baseball organizations.


Around the turn of the last century, society began to change. People had more disposal income. They had personal time. They were able to go outside the home and socialize. One of the carry overs from these early cultural changes was the pepper mill. Invented in the early 1900s, the pepper mill was a kitchen tool to season food. But the mill came out of the kitchen to table service with wait staff, for the sole purpose of customer service. The uniqueness of dining out was enhanced by attention to detail and service such as freshly ground pepper table side. This tradition carries forward today. It had expanded to dining out being an entertainment event, with chefs creating Cesar salads or flaming crepes at the table.

The idea that a restaurant needs to add something more than good food to a patron's table is still important today. There are so much competition for the food-entertainment dollar service providers such as restaurants need to enhance the diner's experience in order to keep or grow their business. The wait staff can literally make or break a restaurant.

The exact same principles apply to running a baseball team.

The ball park experience includes many things, including food, drinks and atmosphere. It also has a sense of socialization, history and entertainment. But the focal point of the experience is still the park's "wait staff," i.e. the players on the field. The casual fan comes to the park with family and friends to see "a good game." A die hard fan comes to the park with family and friends to see his team win. Players come to the park each game with the thoughts of winning. In order to have a successful team, fans must believe that the product they are getting on the field is a good value.

 Chicago Cub fans are loyal, almost to a fault. In the past, if a player hustled in the field and tried his best at the plate, the fans accepted his faults because the effort was there. Losses were tempered by hard nose play. Effort over talent could win the day. But late in the Tribune ownership era, the Cubs were re-branded as a championship caliber team (in some ways to charge champagne prices for games). Once the bleacher beach beer party crowd left the scene, all that was left was a mediocre Cubs squad running around the grounds like Keystone cops. The newer Cub fan wanted more.

This leads to the current predicament. On one hand, older fans just want to see a World Series in their lifetime. It has been several generations since the last World Series appearance. For some, time is literally running out. That fan loyalty has not be rewarded but cursed. On the other hand, some fans just want to see a competitive team - - - competent in the basic fundamentals of pitching, hitting and fielding - - - who can gel into the playoffs every now and again. This group just wants to have fun at Wrigley Field.

The dilemma is that older fans do not have the time or patience for a complete organizational rebuild. The other fans don't want to see a AAA team at major league prices. Only a sliver of die hard fans agree that the Cubs should tank for a couple years to get high draft picks and rebuild their minor league system to have a steady stream of home grown talent to be competitive for decades to come. This single track of rebuilding causes great concern because a) it is unproven in Chicago, a big market city; and b) the vast majority of prospects do not make it to the majors (the all-the-eggs-in-one-basket approach is risky).

There is another way. The White Sox have been criticized for having the worst minor league system in the league. The team does not spend much money on draft choices or foreign players. The farm system does not systematically produce new players year after year. However, the team is underrated in its ability to field competitive squads. The White Sox young starting rotation is the envy of the majors. The willingness to trade prospects for veteran players to improve the major league roster is the hallmark for the White Sox blueprint for success. They need to field a good team each year in order to draw fans. The ability to trade prospects for veterans, trade veterans for prospects and sign free agents has worked well for Kenny Williams and the White Sox over the years.

The Cubs and Theo Epstein are holding their prospects close to the vest. They are untouchables. Epstein continues to stress that Cub fans need to wait for these top prospects to develop into major leaguers. A long incubation period in the minors is contrary to the success of other teams who have put very young players (Strasburg and Harper in Washington for example) into the fire.

Bad teams tend to spruce up the ball park (or build a new taxpayer stadium like in Miami) in the hope to continue to lure patrons to games. Cosmetic changes in uniforms, give-a-ways, special promotions do little to enhance the on-field experience. Cubs ownership is focused in on creating their own mini-Disneyworld around Wrigley Field by 2015 which will have little impact on fielding a competitive team by that time. The time, money and resources devoted to building Ricketts real estate developments are not Cub assets but belong to other family business companies. The Cubs are mere tenants in Wrigley Field now. A small market team surrounded by side project, big money ownership dreams. It is taking some time for fans to realize this disconnection between the real estate development and the impact on the Cubs as a baseball franchise.

For Cub fans, the wait continues with a team that is comprised mainly of waiver claims and AAA players grinding through another losing season.

August 27, 2013


In October, 2011, the Cubs released the following press statement:

CHICAGO- The Chicago Cubs today named Theo Epstein as the club's President of Baseball Operations, reporting to Chairman Tom Ricketts.  Epstein and the Cubs have agreed to terms on a five-year contract.  Further terms of the deal were not disclosed.  Epstein will oversee all aspects of the club's baseball operation.  Crane Kenney, President of Business Operations, will continue to oversee all aspects of the club's business operation and report to Ricketts.

"When we began our search a few months ago, I identified three traits our baseball leadership must possess," said Ricketts.  "I talked about finding an individual with a commitment to player development, someone with a strong analytical background and someone who has been in a winning culture with a track record of success.

"With two World Championships, six playoff appearances and nine winning seasons in nine years as Boston's general manager, Theo Epstein has an established track record of winning thanks to a solid balance of analytical thinking and traditional scouting methods.  And with a nucleus of homegrown players contributing to that annual success at the major league level, Theo has shown a strong commitment to player development.

"My family and I are extremely proud to welcome Theo and his family to the Chicago Cubs.  We are eager to begin the next chapter in the storied history of this franchise and have every confidence that Theo will lead us to the championship our great fans so richly deserve."

"It is truly an honor and a privilege to join such a special organization," said Epstein.  "I would like to thank Tom Ricketts and the entire Ricketts family for putting their faith in me and for giving me this incredible opportunity.  I wouldn't be here without their commitment to the fans and their long term vision for the organization.

"Building a foundation for sustained success starts with a commitment to scouting and player development and requires a team of people working passionately to support a common vision of what the Cubs can become.  Together, we will work to define and implement a new vision for the Cubs, and I can't wait to help lead the way."

Epstein, 37, joins the Cubs after 10 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, the last nine as the club's general manager. He built World Champion ballclubs in 2004 and 2007, including the organization's first World Series title in 86 years, and saw four teams advance to the American League Championship Series (2003, 2004, 2007, 2008).  Epstein, the youngest general manager in major league history to win a World Series, is one of only two individuals since World War II to win two World Championships in his first five years as a general manager, joining New York's Brian Cashman, who won the World Series in each of his first three years from 1998-2000.

Overall, Epstein's clubs combined to go 839-619 in the regular season, a .575 winning percentage that included a run that featured six seasons with 95 or more victories during his nine-year tenure as general manager.  He became the youngest general manager in major league history when named to the post on November 25, 2002.

Epstein's commitment to scouting and player development has been the centerpiece of Boston's sustained success at the big league level during his time with the Red Sox.  Boston's first pick (second round) in the 2004 Draft, Dustin Pedroia, was named the 2007 A.L. Rookie of the Year and the 2008 A.L. MVP, and is part of a core of homegrown, developed talent such as Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz and others who have helped the Red Sox to their run of success.

Additionally, the Red Sox were honored by Baseball America as the Best Drafting organization of the decade encompassing the 2000s.

Epstein, who last season marked 20 years working in the major leagues, began his baseball career as a summer intern for the Baltimore Orioles from 1992-94.  He worked for the San Diego Padres for seven seasons from 1995-2001, advancing to the position of director of baseball operations, before joining the Red Sox in March of 2002 as the club's assistant general manager.

Ricketts main criteria for finding a new "baseball man" was
1)  an individual with a commitment to player development,
2)  someone with a strong analytical background and
3) someone who has been in a winning culture with a track record of success.  

Epstein has spent a lot of time and resources on "player development," breaking the bank by overspending in the first two amateur drafts and the recent international player bonus pool. By shear volume, he has added numbers to the Cubs minor league system. But to this point in time, Epstein has yet to "develop" one starting Cub (with the partial exception of Anthony Rizzo who was in Boston with Theo and in San Diego with McLeod).

The analytical approach must be a homage to Moneyball, using deep player statistics to find valuable contributing players on champion caliber squads. The big push was to sign and develop high OBP players. But the players put on the major league roster are far from Moneyball icons. The Cubs rank 28th in MLB in OBP and batting average. The Cubs rank 23rd in MLB in runs scored. The Cubs do not manufacture runs by using tools such as walks, stolen bases, or hit and runs. The Cubs batting average with runners in scoring position is dreadful. By all accounts, the prized prospects in the low minors are also free swingers and not high OBP players.

It is hard to fathom the criteria of a "winning culture" when the Cubs may lose 200 games in the last two seasons. In 2011, the Cubs finished 71-91. Since Epstein's management, the Cubs have had a lower winning percentage than from 2011. Several current Cubs, including starter Jeff Samardzija, have questioned the "winning attitude" or means of rebuilding when a half dozen starting pitchers are moved in the last two years with little to take their place. Last week, manager Dale Sveum basically threw in the towel to create an extended spring training situation by batting struggling Castro and Rizzo at the top of the order to get them more at-bats.

A reoccurring point this season has been the fact that "player development" should not stop at the major league doorstep.  There has been evidence of regression in both "core" players, Castro and Rizzo, this season. Supposedly, the coaching staff have worked with Castro and Rizzo to improve their games, but nothing has worked to turn around their performance funks.

All points look to 2016 as Epstein's watershed or Waterloo moment with the Cubs. There are no impact players in Iowa today who are ready to contribute full time for the Cubs in 2014. We will not see the Epstein signees begin to arrive in the majors until mid-2015 at the earliest.

Leaders lead by example. The front office states that it does not like to lose games, but they never seem really upset about it. The worst the record, the higher the draft position. The higher the draft position, the more money is available to spend in the CBA. Epstein has always have a big budget to paper his major league rosters with talent. Some was well spent, others have been dead money disasters. Epstein has never done a ground up rebuild of an organization. One cannot say at this point in time that he will be successful.  The optimism of the 2011 press release seems to be a distant echo today.

August 26, 2013


After the season, the Cubs can only protect 40 players on their off-season roster (in addition to the younger minor league prospects not subject to the Rule 5 draft).

The Cubs current 40 man roster is as follows:

Pitchers: (24)
Jake Arrieta
Scott Baker DL
Michael Bowden
Alberto Cabrera
Rafael Dolis DL
Kyuji Fujikawa
Kevin Gregg
Justin Grimm
Matt Guerrier DL
Edwin Jackson
Trey McNutt
Blake Parker
Zach Putnam DL
Brooks Raley
Neil Ramirez
Hector Rondon
Chris Rusin
James Russell
Jeff Samardzija
Eduardo Sanchez
Pedro Strop
Carlos Villanueva
Arodys Vizcaino DL
Travis Wood

Catchers: (3)
JC Boscan
Wellington Castillo
Dioner Navarro

Infielders: (10)
Darwin Barney
Starlin Castro
Donnie Murphy
Mike Olt
Cody Ransom
Anthony Rizzo
Luis Valbuena DL
Christian Villanueva
Josh Vitters
Logan Watkins

Outfielders: (11)
Brian Bogusevic
Cole Gillespie
Brett Jackson
Junior Lake
Darnell McDonald
Thomas Neal DL
Dave Sappelt
Nate Schierholtz
Jorge Soler
Ryan Sweeney DL
Matt Szczur

The Cubs currently have 48 players under control due to the those on injured reserve. There will be some movement to protect their top five or so Rule 5 minor league players, so the Cubs at a minimum will need to pare 13 players off the 40 man roster.

A few will fall off by their own accord as FAs: Baker, Gregg, Navarro.
A few more will drop off by virtue of their age and career status: Boscan, McDonald, Guerrier.
A few more will probably drop off because they have fallen out of favor with the front office (deemed no longer key prospects): Dolis, McNutt, Vitters, B. Jackson, Sappelt, Scuzur.

Then there are the journeymen who have no foundational future with the Cubs: Ransom, Gillespie, Neal.

That are 15 cuts right off the top.

That leaves the 2014 Cubs "core" as:

Pitchers: (19)
Jake Arrieta
Michael Bowden
Alberto Cabrera
Kyuji Fujikawa
Justin Grimm
Edwin Jackson
Blake Parker
Zach Putnam DL
Brooks Raley
Neil Ramirez
Hector Rondon
Chris Rusin
James Russell
Jeff Samardzija
Eduardo Sanchez
Pedro Strop
Carlos Villanueva
Arodys Vizcaino DL
Travis Wood

Catchers: (1)
Wellington Castillo

Infielders: (8)
Darwin Barney
Starlin Castro
Donnie Murphy
Mike Olt
Anthony Rizzo
Luis Valbuena DL
Christian Villanueva
Logan Watkins

Outfielders: (5)
Brian Bogusevic
Junior Lake
Nate Schierholtz
Jorge Soler
Ryan Sweeney DL

33 players leaves 7 promotions/acquisitions during the off season.

The 2014 rotation would seem to be Samardzija, T. Wood (LHP), E. Jackson, Arrieta, Rusin (LHP)
Grimm, Carlos Villanueva and injured Arodys Vizcaino are possible starters as well.

The 2014 infield would seem to be set, too. 1B: Rizzo, 2B: Barney, SS: Castro, 3B: Murphy (or Olt if he gets his act together in the minors).

The 2014 outfield seems to be another sore spot. LF: Sweeney or Bogusevic, CF: Lake, RF: Schierholtz. Lake may have a sophomore slump and the rest appear to be journeymen bench players since Soler will not be up next year.

It is interesting to note that the 2014 line up players do not seem to have a lot of post-season trade value which in a backhanded complimentary way, solidifies their roles for the 2014 Cubs. It is also my opinion that the Cubs will not be active in the free agent market due to two circumstances: the payroll budget will continue to be forced down and that Ricketts will want to conserve funds to pay for his massive real estate development projects.

As for potential prospects being added to the 40 man this winter to protect them from Rule 5 draft, the top five are probably:

INF Arismendy Alcantara (#8 prospect), 
Gioskar Amaya (#20),
SP Eric Jokisch, LHP
 (threw a no hitter this season), Dae-Eun Rhee (24 year old AA pitcher)
OF Jae-Hon Ha (#16)

The players subject to Rule 5 loss include Casey Coleman, Lendy Castillo and Gerardo Concepcion.

This would leave the Cubs approximately two open spots to a) make another Rule 5 draft selection of their own - - - which have not been overwhelming so far or b) sign another rehabbing former major league pitcher with the hopes of flipping him for prospects at the 2014 trade deadline. Either option is not very appealing because it would signal that the Cubs plan to continue to mediocre roster plan for 2014 that has been in place in 2012 and 2013.

August 24, 2013


The Cubs acquired Ranger minor leaguer Neil Ramirez as the player to be named later in the Matt Garza trade.The Cubs had an option to select Ramirez or two other minor league pitchers as part of the deal. The Cubs chose Ramirez.

MLBTR reports that Ramirez, 24, was ranked as the 23rd best prospect in the Rangers' system heading into this season by Baseball America, but the publication had him as high as No. 5 at one point thanks to his strong 2011 minor league season.  In 2012, his stock fell a bit as he dealt with shoulder fatigue and was demoted to Double-A to finish out the season.  Ramirez was a starter during his time in the Texas system, but BA writes that the club saw his big league future in the bullpen as he had a tendency to overthink things when in the rotation.

The right-hander has spent all of 2013 with the Rangers' Double-A affiliate, posting a 3.84 ERA with 11.1 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 in 21 starts.  He'll stay at the Double-A level as he will report to the Cubs' affiliate in Tennessee.

If Ramirez stock as a prospect was beginning to fall (from a projected starter now to a projected bullpen arm), then one may question why the Cubs selected Ramirez over two lower prospects whom may have had a higher potential upside.

Ramirez has been in the minors for 6 years. He has reached AAA two times, in 2011 and 2012, but has fallen back to AA.In 6 season, his minor league career record is 36-35, 4.40 ERA, 1.308 WHIP in 126 starts.


The Chicago Cubs scored more runs in the first inning than the Chicago Bears offense did on its first drive against Oakland. In competing sports casts Friday night, the Cubs onslaught meant certain victory and a permanent channel change for Chitown sports fans.

Awaking this morning, we learn that once again the Cubs snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The Padres came back against Edwin Jackson to defeat the Cubs, 8-6. Oh, the humanity!

The Padres bullpen was solid. The Padres chipped away at the lead against Jackson and the Cub bullpen relievers James Russell and Blake Parker. The Cubs meanwhile went into offensive hibernation, scrapping only 5 hits for the rest of the game.

Good teams do not allow this to happen.

August 23, 2013


Dale Sveum has been called a homeless man wearing a nice warm up jacket.  This week he lamented that he was just going to try to get through the last five weeks of the season. There are not many major league assets to use. There are no supermagical winning streaks in the dugout.

Sveum did a 180 by taking demoted Castro from the 8th spot in the lineup to lead off. It was to put less pressure on Castro, but in some respects it adds to the kid's thinking process because lead off hitters are expected to do certain things: walk, bunt, get on base, steal bases.

Sveum also moved Rizzo to the #2 spot in the order to take the pressure off the young hitter that goes with the 3, 4 and 5 slots. But really, how much different would Rizzo be in the second slot? He has not shown the consistence of being able to hit and run, give himself up to move runners along, or drive balls into the gaps for extra bases.

In reality, Sveum is now using the final weeks of the season as prequel spring training. He is managing like spring training, moving players to the top of the order to get more at-bats. It is a surrender to the reality that this is another lost season for the Cubs, whom are wavering between the 5th and 6th worst record in baseball.

Castro did nothing special leading off against the Nats. Rizzo did have two home runs which was an unexpected change of pace. But both players are stuck in the low .240s BA with large holes in their swings. They have been treading water most of the season. Now that Sveum has called a seasonal time out, maybe the pressure will be finally off the youngsters to "not think" about their performance and just go out and play baseball. That is basically what Castro told reporters before his lead off assignment; that there are too many voices in his head - - - he really only needs to be himself. One would have thought he could have come to that conclusion months ago, but better late than never.

August 22, 2013


New National David DeJesus was asked about Starlin Castro's recent problems. He told reporters that Castro needs to become a club house leader, "on and off the field." The "off the field" comment was quite puzzling, especially from a recent teammate.

Castro came to the big leagues out of necessity. He has a quick free swinging bat that could handle major league pitching. The Cubs were about to blow up the team, but needed someone to give fans a reason to come to games. Like a zoo or a circus, the big top banner was that the Cubs finally had a "home grown" superstar in the making in Castro.

After a stunning debut, Castro racked up 390 hits in his first two professional seasons. He was a two time All Star. His fielding was below par, but we were told he was still young. He would improve in all facets of his game.

Now in his fourth season, Castro looks broken. He does not like hitting 8th in the lineup. He told his manager so. But afterward, he went 0-4 with a strikeout and a massively spastic error on a routine double play throw to first. He has 15 errors so far this season. That does not include mental errors or lapses in the field, including allowing a runner from third to score on an infield fly out.

Castro is batting a career low .240, with 7 HR and 32 RBI. He has only 3 RBI total in the second half of the season. He has only 8 stolen bases (Soriano had 10 when he was traded). Castro has a negative 0.7 WAR, which means he is playing below a AAA player value.

Why such a huge tailspin? There are several things, factual and speculation, that are cited as reasons. First, the Cubs front office has a philosophy that players should have a high OBP which means that walks are just as important as hits. Castro, as free swinger, rarely walked. The Cubs wanted him to take more pitches. They wanted him to wait for a pitch that he could drive for a home run. They wanted more power production from him. Well, there are some players who do not fit the high OBP, power to the alley mode.

Second, there are too many voices in his head. He has gone through a handful of batting coaches, including three this season (Rowson, Deer and Sveum). Maybe Castro cannot process so much information or guidance. Castro could be confused by mixed signals. Or maybe, Castro has tuned them all out. In any case, he should have been able to revert to his old hitting ways but this year he has been unable to do so.

Third, Sveum said that at some point Castro needs to figure things out for himself. When a manager washes his hands of the issue and puts everything on the player to fix himself, that is not quite the role of a manager. A manager is supposed to be the one in charge of getting the team to play its best by putting players in the best opportunity to succeed. By Sveum calling out Castro and demoting him in the lineup is like letting Castro hang out to dry. Perhaps, Castro needs to be coddled and not criticized by his manager. Positive reinforcement instead of negative actions.

Fourth, Castro is a highly paid professional. He should take it upon himself to be prepared to play every day. Which brings us back to the DeJesus "off the field" comment. We don't know what DeJesus meant but we can infer that Castro may be partying too much off the field which could affect his ability to play. Soriano, his mentor, liked to party and have a good time. He got angry when his manager would not tell him in advance if he would have a day off so he could party harder. Perhaps, some of Soriano's bad social habits have rubbed off on Castro.

Fifth, the lack of concentration and focus especially in the field has most fans worried that something is wrong with Castro. Speculation has run the gambit from having an attention deficit disorder to laziness to being hungover. Only his manager and teammates would know for sure, but those same potential demons were in play during his first All-Star years. Another rationale is that once Castro signed his big money contract extension, the incentive to perform well faded from his consciousness. Often times, players with big contracts underperform just as players who are in the last year of their contracts tend to overperform. A contract or a starting job is a key motivator for athletes. Part of the problem is that Castro has no current competition for his starting shortstop job. Such security could lead to a lax attitude toward his own game.

Can this tailspin be corrected? Only time will tell. But Castro has become Sveum's whipping boy when things go wrong. Anthony Rizzo is having a similar bad season, but Rizzo does not get the same attention or team scrutiny that Castro has received to date.


Ryne Sandberg has finally been named a major league manager. He replaced Charlie Manuel on the underperforming Phillies.

Sandberg did something most Hall of Fame honorees would never do: go back to the low minors and work oneself up the managerial ranks.  When Sandberg told the Cubs during the Tribune ownership that he wanted to manage someday, GM Jim Hendry appeased him by sending him to Class A ball. Hendry never intended to hire Sandberg as a major league skipper. But he never told him.

Sandberg worked his way through the entire Cub minor league organization. He brought great respect from the young talent on those minor league teams. He was a disciplinarian. He was a good teacher. By all accounts, he brought a winning attitude to each club.

So when the Cubs job opened up, Sandberg was dissed by Cub management. They did not give him even an interview for the job. Many fans, including myself, thought this was a great disservice to Sandberg and to the team.

Baseball management-speak these days is all about "acquiring assets."  When Sandberg was ready to manage at the major league level, he had worked his way up the Cub system. He knew all the talent in the Cubs minor league system. He knew player strengths and weaknesses. He had the experience to put them in the best position to succeed. By any definition, for the Cubs Sandberg was a major organizational asset.

In 2011, Mike Quade became the full time Cub manager. He then went 71-91 and a last place finish.

Under the new front office, the Cubs again refused to interview Sandberg when Quade was released. Sandberg was managing the Phils AAA affiliate. If the new regime wanted to really know what talent the Cubs had in their system, would not have been smart to hire the man who helped develop it?

In 5 of his 6 minor league seasons as a manager, Sandberg had a winning record.

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
2007 Peoria Chiefs Midwest League 71-68 7th Chicago Cubs
2008 Peoria Chiefs Midwest League 60-78 12th Chicago Cubs
2009 Tennessee Smokies Southern League 71-69 3rd Chicago Cubs Lost League Finals
2010 Iowa Cubs Pacific Coast League 82-62 1st (t) Chicago Cubs
2011 Lehigh Valley IronPigs International League 80-64 4th Philadelphia Phillies Lost League Finals
2012 Lehigh Valley IronPigs International League 75-68 5th Philadelphia Phillies

The alleged reason Sandberg was passed over for the Cubs manager was that Sandberg did not have major league bench experience. This reason flies in the face of a Hall of Fame career. It also does not make sense that a bench coach gathers more experience in managing a game than an actual manager in the minors.

It was an excuse to keep a high profile Cub like Sandberg from have the political fire power of the fan base to assert his vision of change on the team. The quiet field leader had become a feisty advocate of the game as stated in his Hall of Fame induction speech. Just because Sandberg would become the face of the franchise and eclipse the current players is no reason not to hire him.

As a result of not hiring Sandberg to manage in 2011, the Cubs franchise has been set back at least five years. Epstein and Hoyer continue to stock pile talent at the Rookie and Class A levels of the Cub system. The hold-overs from the prior regime have been in a state of promotional limbo as the front office continues to sign second and third tier veterans to fill the major league roster in an attempt to flip these new assets at the trade deadline. There is no doubt in most people's minds that Sandberg could have taken the Cubs 2011 talent and made it work better than Quade. And that could have added the impetus for more internal promotion of players Sandberg knew and understood to fill in the gaps in the roster in 2012 and 2013. But the new front office did not want to use the old Cub system anymore than relying on an old Cub to take a leadership role. The new front office wanted to hire its "own guys" who would be loyal to them. As a result, Sandberg had to join another organization to get his chance.

When the Phillies come into town this month, the fans will give Sandberg another standing ovation. They should; he still deserves it.

August 21, 2013


Nate Schierholtz hit his 18th home run to lead the Cubs over the Nationals in game one of their Wrigley series. Fellow journeyman Donnie Murphy also hit 2 home runs, and back up catcher
Dioner Navarro hit his 11th HR of the season.

Schierholtz and Navarro are both 20; Murphy is 30. Murphy was a mid season free agent acquisition. Navarro and Schierholtz were off season role players who had not had a starting chance in a long time.

Schierholtz has one year of arbitration left so he is under control through 2014. This season he has a 2.5 WAR.

Navarro signed a one year deal with the Cubs so he will be a free agent. The switch hitting catcher will get a large raise in the off season through free agency. This season he has a 1.8 WAR.

Murphy, in only 13 games as a Cub, has a 1.2 WAR. Murphy can also be a free agent in 2015.

The question is why did it take so long for these three journeymen to become potential full time starters with the Cubs? First, the Cubs are a bad team short on talent and depth at positions. Second, these guys are entering their prime playing years. Third, they have something to prove to the other teams that let them go. Motivation to succeed can be very powerful, in the short term.

It is doubtful that the front office thought these three players would give the power production spark that has been missing from the team. Sometimes, a GM gets lucky.

But there stays in Chicago will be short lived since the entire rebuild philosophy of the organization is to build from within with home grown prospects. The Cubs want a long term pipeline of young players who can be called up year to year like the Rays. The rebuild Cubs have always traded away veteran talent to acquire more prospects. The Cubs have traded 11 players so far this season. This trend is expected to continue in the off season.

If the Nationals can make the strange move to trade for David DeJesus, when the Nats are 10 games out of a wild card, then other teams may want to cherry pick the Cubs roster with the intent of building for next year today. Schierholtz and Murphy could be valuable pieces for a ball club that believes it is one or two players away from a championship season next year.

And the Cubs will accommodate those bidders. Because the Cubs do not want to build a club through journeymen.

August 20, 2013


Here the growing problem/realization after the Starlin Castro's bone head play from last weekend.

The Kansas City Royals have an exceptional scouting department; they find talent.
The Royal front office has a good minor league instructional system as the top
prospects perform well in the minors.

But then development seems to come to a crashing halt when the prospects are
promoted to the majors. Apparently, all coaching and instruction stops and the young
players wither on their own.

This pattern is happening with the Cubs.

This is Castro's 4th season. He is no rookie. He is a professional.

He has 3 hitting coaches, a fielding coach and veterans on the ball club to help him.
But he continues to regress. Some now think there are too many people talking to him.

Some others think that he has a form of ADD. A few believe that he was spoiled with his
talent at a young age and never had to work to improve his game, until now. It could
be laziness or lack of incentive since he signed a big contract last year.

But Sveum's own comments were damning of his managerial approach. He told the media
after the benching that at some point Castro "has to figure things out himself." Sveum's
inability to correct Castro's faults have been thrown back solely on the player. Sveum
is washing his hands of the situation, throwing up the surrender flag.

Which is stupid. The front office paid Castro to be a "core" player. His performance decline
is directly related to the front office staffing of the manager and coaches (this also applies
to Rizzo's massive decline in performance, and now visible fielding problems that beat
writers have just notice which I told you guys about last year.).

Dusty Baker was blunt in his philosophy: it was up to the player to prepare himself for every game.
Nothing he could say would change things. That is why Dusty was a player's manager because he
leaves his players alone. That may only work for a veteran club, but it is disasterous for a rag-a-muffin collection of cast-offs and journeymen that is the Cubs roster.

Now, in the past Sveum said that the coaches had been working with Castro. So why is their instruction not working? Has Sveum given up? Has Castro just tuned everyone out?  That's the real story.

The side bar question that is starting to get raised is whether Epstein and Hoyer, the Boy Geniuses,
really know talent (since they put a ton of money on Castro and Rizzo) or whether they are slight of hand boardwalk grifters who acquire a ton of players in the statistical hope that a few will pan out. Epstein told us that Castro and Rizzo were foundational players for the future. Based upon both players offense and defensive lapses this season, one has a right to begin to question the front office's talent evaluation and development processes.

August 19, 2013


The Cubs suddenly traded David DeJesus to the Nationals, tonight's opponent, for a player to be named later. A nobody to be named later. The Nats get a spare .250 hitting outfielder with an option for his services at $6.5 million next season.

Why did the Cubs feel the need to send DeJesus packing?

It was to activate outfielder Brian Bogusevic?! There was no other roster room in the inn.

Now, of course Bogusevic costs, at the major league minimum, substantially less than DeJesus, this year and next season.

DeJesus was not doing that great this year, a 1.6 WAR, but even that figure is higher than Bogusevic's negative 0.1 WAR.

So why does a team trade a starter for someone worse than a replacement level player?

To continue to lose games. The Cubs have fallen into the NL Central cellar. That's where management wants to the club to be so it can have a higher draft choice next season. A higher draft choice means a larger amateur bonus signing budget. The Cubs current sag has lifted them to the 4th pick in the 2014 draft. That seems to be the next real cap on Epstein-Hoyer next year, as there is a clear mandate to cut major league payroll in 2014.

UPDATE: GM Hoyer confirms that the DeJesus move was to save money. The Cubs saved $2.5 million (the balance of this year's salary and the buy-out for the 2014 season). Despite all the marketing, the Cubs may still have cash flow issues due to the growing amount of no-shows at Wrigley Field. It also signals that DeJesus was no longer in the Cubs plans for 2014 at a salary of $6.5 million. The bottom line for the rest of the season and into the off season is that the Cubs are trying to save money.

The reason why the Nationals claimed DeJesus is also unclear. He does not fit into their roster very well. The Nats have a set outfield. The team immediately put DeJesus back on waivers so maybe they want to flip him before the playoff rosters are set on August 31st. 


Statistics are no substitute for judgment. ”
— Henry Clay 

The Chicago honeymoon for the Boy Genius from Boston may be wearing thin.

Recently, there has been a web debate on whether Theo Epstein's grand plan is all that grand.

Recall first, that the move of signing Epstein was heralded as a massive stroke of good fortune. Epstein had piloted the Red Sox to two World Series championships. He was a moneyballer, a stat man, a planner and a winner. He could do no wrong.

But one has to realize that the "core" of the Red Sox championships were not Esptein's work, but that of the previous general manager, Dan Duquette. But as is often the case, the man in charge when good things happens gets the glory.  It is also interesting to note that after Esptein left, the Red Sox went through an ugly swoon with snarky bitterness most often reserved for pitched divorce battles.

The Cubs were a muddling middle of the pack pretender rather than contender when Epstein came to town. Even though owner Tom Ricketts kept saying the team was only one or two players away from a championship, those one or two players never materialized. Instead, Epstein nuked to whole roster to create his vision of rebuilding: high OBP hitters, good defenders, and a mass quantity of pitching prospects.

Then the CBA changed which hurt Epstein's Boston Way. In Boston, he was allowed to overspend on free agents and June draft choices because ownership wanted to win over and over again. No longer could he draft a first round talent with signability issues in the 12th round and pay him first round bonus money. The hard bonus pool cap narrowed the ability to overpay for talent in later rounds.

Further, the new CBA put in place for the first time a cap on international player bonus pool money. No longer could a team go out and buy all the talent in the Dominican. 

After two years of operations, people are now seeing what the front office has been doing:

1. Play the numbers game. Draft as many pitchers as possible. Get as many total prospects by draft and trades to fill your system with new talent. Then, as statistics bear out, maybe three to five percent of all those prospects will pan out. In a system of a 100 players, maybe 3 to 5 will be impact players. 
This is a pure mathematician's formula.

2. Use the major league roster as a livestock pen for trade bait. The Cubs have been signing injured-rehabbing free agents who need to work their way back onto a major league roster. The Cubs roster is built as a Class AAAA team. The majority of players on the roster have little future with the Cubs. They are role players, journeymen and questionable arms who may blossom into valuable assets at the trade deadline. Scott Feldman is a prime example of this gambit working; Scott Baker is a prime example when this gambit fails.

3. The front office does not care about winning games now, it is all "about the process." The series of actions taken today is motivated to get as high a draft choice as possible next June (which affects the amateur draft bonus pool figure) and come in low enough in the standings to have a larger than average international bonus pool budget.  This year, the Cubs overspent their draft budget by more than $500,000 (to incur some tax penalties). However, what got some fans to think hard about the process was the international signings. At first glance people thought the Cubs found a "loophole" to overspend on international free agents - - - acquire international bonus slot money from other teams by trade. The Cubs got some extra money from Houston and Baltimore, but then had to give some back in the Marmol trade to LA. Then things stalled on the money acquisition trade. Perhaps other teams caught wind of this game, or decided that they would rather keep their slots and not allow other competitors "overspend" their budgets. Whatever the case, it now appears that the Cubs painted themselves into a corner.

Some people believe that the Cubs had verbally committed to several of the top 10 international players before they could officially sign them July 2. The thought is that the Cubs were going to acquire a boatload of cash to cover these verbal commitments but the plan fell short in getting enough slot money from other teams. 

The team has signed four players ranked in MLB's Top 30 International Players list,  including No. 1 Eloy Jimenez and No. 3 Gleyber Torres. and touted Taiwanese right-handed pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng for a $1.625 million bonus.

With those signings, plus others, the Cubs will face a penalty for exceeding their spending pool by 10 to 15 percent. But president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told they were prepared for that. Because the Cubs had the second-largest amount of pool money -- determined by how the team finished in 2012 -- they wanted to take advantage of their position.

The penalty for surpassing their bonus allotment would be a 100 percent tax on the overage as well as restrictions on 2014-15 spending. Because teams cannot acquire more than 50 percent of their initial international bonus pool, the maximum bonus pool for the Cubs was $6.836 million. With the addition of Tseng, the Cubs have committed $7.895 million to international prospects.

"We budgeted for it with respect to the 100 percent tax," Epstein said. "Next year, we'll spread our money around with some pitching instead of going after the large investments. We like the large investments this year. That [international] market, you're talking $1 million here, $1 million there, and that's the type of thing we can afford," Epstein said. "Right now, we're not in a position to throw around hundreds of millions of dollars in free agency, but we can do it in that [international] market and try to monopolize it as much as we can."

However, besides the 100 percent tax penalty for going over the spending cap, the Cubs are penalized for 2014-2015 by restricting their ability to spend no more than $250,000 on any international player.

The Cubs have justified the penalties going forward because they liked this year's crop of teenagers more than next year's class.

But even some pro-Theo fans began to scratch their heads. The Cubs reasoning for overspending on the foreign player pool makes no sense in the overall rebuilding plan.  In fact, it seems counterproductive when one realizes that the Cubs have handcuffed themselves for the next two years in signing any international player because the team signed Tseng, the 18-year-old Taiwanese right-handed pitcher was ranked 29th on's Top 30 International Prospects rankings. He was the youngest player named to the Chinese Taipei World Baseball Classic roster. Tseng also was part of the 2012 World Junior Championship, and he played in the 2012 Asian Baseball Championship for the national team for Chinese Taipei. His fastball has hit 95 mph. He sports an above-average fastball, ranging from 89-96 mph, and a real good slider in the mid- to upper-80s, Tseng has been used as a closer and a starter. He also has an above-average changeup, which is unique for a prepster, and a very good curveball.

To put it another way, none of the Cubs top international players signed this season would be attainable under the bonus pool restrictions next season. Why would you take yourself out of next's year international player pool?

A logical conclusion is that the Cubs miscalculated their acquisition of bonus pool money and were trapped into the huge penalties based upon their commitments to these prospects. But the front office would never admit such a mistake. And this would be a major dent in Theo's shiny armor.

In rationalizing the talent signings, Epstein let slip that his free spending days are over when he said "$1 million here, $1 million there, and that's the type of thing we can afford. Right now, we're not in a position to throw around hundreds of millions of dollars in free agency. The gushing oil well for talent acquisition has run dry. Common sense dictates that Ricketts is going to divert all the resources at hand to build his Rickettsland real estate project, so that means no big budget foreign player signings and no premium major league free agent contracts. For those who thought the Cubs would take a run at a Robinson Cano, Jacob Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo or a Hunter Pence can forget about it.

But even by spending what money was at hand this year, does not mean that it was money well spent. The foreign players may have limited stats which equate to a large upside ceiling, but they are more likely to fail than succeed compared to American high school and college players. There are so many intangibles to consider when selecting baseball talent beyond pure statistics. That is why the best scouts still rely upon their gut instincts and experience when reviewing prospects.

People are coming around to the viewpoint that Theo's plan is to have a mountain of statistical prospects with the hope that minor league instructors can somehow mine a few golden nuggets in the next five years.

August 18, 2013


The list seems endless: Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Mark Prior, Kevin Orie, Gary Scott, Hee Seop Choi. They were all in some ways labeled as "can't miss" prospects who would have impact careers for the Cubs. History is a cruel reminder for heightened expectations.

One needs to consider the current Cub front office has chosen its words more carefully. They don't address their signed prospects as "can't miss" players. They hedge everything by saying that each player needs to meet development goals in order to be promoted through the system. They think their selections are good, but they admit that they are purely running a numbers game. For every 10 prospects you sign, maybe one will be an impact player and one will have a major league career. The Cubs have been pushing for quantity over quality labels in restocking the minor league system.

Even at the major league level, management only states that Castro and Rizzo are "core players." They are not saying that they are going to be elite, impact players for the next five years. "Core" means the central part of something, in this case creating a major league roster. But a core player may not be the best player or the most improved player on the squad. A core player is a starter who you can play without much criticism. A player that has a season WAR of 2.0. An entire team of 2.0 WAR players can get you on pace to win 70 games. Truly competitive teams need several impact players.

The Cubs continue to state that management has a plan, and that the process needs time. But again, there are vague statements in regard to the overall plan to fill the major league roster year by year and more importantly, no time frame for the plan's completion.  It is possible that despite the efforts to sign the quantity of talent the past two years, none of them will make an impact with the Cubs, due to injury, or just not having the skill level to be a major league ball player.

August 17, 2013


The White Sox team president is not happy. He is not content that his White Sox team he build as general manager has flopped like a dying fish on a Lake Michigan schooner.

But the words from the front office continue to state that the White Sox will only need to "reshape" their roster, and not go into a total rebuild mode. This may be a marketing word in order to hold fan interest over a difficult off season.

“People didn’t see this coming,” Williams told reporters. “How seriously can I take it when people say I left this organization in a dire situation, but in the next paragraph it says but their pitching has been solid? These contracts we were supposedly saddled with, we were able to use them, which was always our plan if we had a situation such as this, that we could use what we had and replenish things that way. … Sometimes if people aren’t in to you they’re just not into you and they’re going to find a reason to step on you.”

He compares this team to the lackluster 2007 squad. But that team quickly turned around and won in 2008. Williams thinks he needs more left handed bats, better defense and a clubhouse spark. He expects to fill those needs by trade or free agency in the off season. The payroll will be trimmed by nearly $37 million when this off season begins, so there may be some flexibility for new GM Hahn.

But the White Sox are at a major cross roads. The team looks old, except for the pitching staff. It does not play at any speed or urgency. The team is counting on newly acquired  outfielder Avisail Garcia to provide an  organization "spark" to the fan base.  However, fan favorite Paul Konerko is probably at the end of his Sox career.

By trading Alex Rios to Texas and plugging in Garcia in the OF, the White Sox have not upgraded their roster. There are huge question marks at 1B, LF, 3B, SS, 2B and C. Adam Dunn will be in his last season as DH/1B. He has been a disappointment. There are question marks whether Dayan Viciedo will bounce back to have a Carlos Quinten type year. He is only hitting .244, 9 HR, 32 RBI. Sox catchers are way behind AJ Pierzynski's 2012 production: Tyler Flowers is batting .194 and Josh Phegley is at .225. Alexi Ramirez has only produced 35 RBI, and Gordon Beckham only 17 RBI. Third base is haunted by a rotation of journeymen players.

The 2014 team only has a quality pitching staff and CF Alejandro De Aza penciled in. De Aza is hitting .276, 13 HR, 50 RBI. Dunn will be the DH/1B. By default, the unproductive double play combo of Ramirez and Beckham will stay unless they are traded in the offseason. I don't think Hahn is willing to trade his young quality starters to field major league ready position players, but he may have no choice considering that there are six position slots in desperate need of an upgrade.

The White Sox will take a different tact than the Cubs. White Sox ownership will spend in free agency now, and will make multiple trades for immediate impact players. The Cubs have decided that they will not pay big money free agent multimillion dollar contracts. Instead, the Cubs will spend millions on multiple international signees and hope that they can develop one or two impact players in the next six years. The White Sox do not have the luxury of time. Fans expect a competitive team. Ownership expects a competitive team. Management expects a competitive team. It should be an active off season for the White Sox.

August 16, 2013


The Tampa Bay Rays have been a successful small market team playing in the worst multipurpose stadium.  Ownership has been trying to get a new public stadium deal for a long time. Talks between the sides has stalled, and commissioner Bud Selig is not happy about it.

But the Rays are stuck with a current lease that runs through 2027. The Rays have a hard time drawing fans and have the increasing expense of upkeeping a stadium built in 1990.

At the recent owners meeting Selig said he is considering assigning someone from his office to become directly involved with the  negotiations to build a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The problem is that the city of St. Petersburg, the landlord for Tropicana Field, does not want to spend millions of dollars on a new stadium for a single purpose tenant like the Rays. And the city does not have to because it has an ironclad lease, and the threat of litigation if any other local city wants to try to lure the Rays to their town.

Every city in America should be skittish about funding new professional sports stadiums. The Miami Marlins got a sweetheart deal for their new digs, complete with all the new revenue streams owners salivate for, but the taxpayers got burned - - - and the team imploded into futility.

The Rays are a better run franchise. The Rays, with the fourth-best record in the American League at 67-51,  are last in AL home attendance and next to last among the 30 Major League teams, averaging 18,330 per game through their first 60 home games. That is a consistent problem throughout Florida: professional sports teams do not draw well, and not includes the championship Miami Heat.

But MLB puffs out its chest to help strong arm a new, favorable deal for its team owners. MLB believes that there is some god-given right for professional sports teams to have taxpayer paid first class facilities for their private business enterprise. There have been numerous economic studies done in regard to the impact of publicly financed stadiums in U.S. cities. The common result and finding is that taxpayers do not reap any benefits from these deals, while the pro sports teams have a major windfall.

When baseball was struggling after the last strike, there were calls against expansion. There was even talk of contraction (the elimination of teams). Ownership solved the small market problem by instituting revenue sharing, luxury taxes on large payroll teams, and league loan programs.  But at some point, even small market teams have to make it on their own.

The Rays may be a model franchise in quality drafting, excellent development of talent, and keen trades of players too expensive to keep in exchange for more promising prospects. The Rays are competitive in the most competitive division in baseball, the AL East. But the road to a new, ownership friendly baseball stadium is going to be harder than beating the Yankees or Red Sox.

August 15, 2013


Former Indian Grady Sizemore is confident he will sign a major league contract in the offseason. He has not played in the majors since 2011. A series of arm, knee and back injuries has derailed his career. At age 32, he will attempt a final comeback.

But what team will take a chance on a player who has not played a full season since 2008?

This profile fits in the Epstein rehab project mold. A chance to give a veteran an opportunity to prove he belongs, then trade him at the deadline for more prospects.

The Cubs have plenty of outfield depth in the minor league system with Jackson, Soler, Almora, Vogelbach and Bryant.

Stat mavens will notice that Sizemore has a career 27.5 WAR over 8 seasons or an average 3.44 WAR which is well above starter level. But his last full season was in 2008 when he hit  33 HR 90 RBI, .268 BA 5 SB. The next year in 106 games he dropped off to a .248 BA.

It would seem to be a longshot that Sizemore would come back to his pre-injury performance levels. Further, the Cubs will need to continue to push their theme of a "youth movement" and Sizemore would be a tough sell when budget constrictions are coming in 2014.

August 14, 2013


The Cubs made their last international signing official.

Steve Adams of MLBTR reports that the Cubs have signed 18-year-old Taiwanese right-hander Jen-Ho Tseng for a $1.625MM bonus. Tseng as the No. 29 prospect in this year's international class,. Tseng's fastball touches 95 mph and sits comfortably in the low 90s, and can add a curveball and slider.

Adams calculates that the Cubs have significantly blown through their CBA allowance for international spending of  $5.52 million. The Cubs can only spend 150% of that pool allowance. With this signing, the Cubs have spent $7.895 million, more than $1 million over the maximum level.

That means the Cubs will face the maximum penalties for overspending this year: a 100% tax on the overage plus severe bonus restrictions for the next two years (bonus limit of $250,000).

The front office will spend more than $9 million on international talent and more than $11.5 million on June draft selections or a total prospect spending of $20.5 million. This follows the Boston Epstein pattern of throwing a ton of money at a problem in hopes of a solution.

Just because one overspends on talent does not mean that talent will mature into impact major league players. Of the dozen bonus babies signed this year, maybe only one or two will actually make it.

This grand spending spree this year foreshadows major cut-backs in spending in the next few years. The Ricketts family will have to reign in team spending in order to pay for the massive real estate redevelopment costs of Wrigley Field and the surrounding properties. Club payroll will continue to fall next year.  Epstein has spent all his money on low minor prospects to buy at least four years of development time while the Ricketts are pre-occupied by their building projects.

Epstein's gamble this year was to place his budget on the black at the talent roulette wheel.

August 13, 2013


Deadspin linked to an interesting article written by Domenic Lanza. He decided to sort through the major league rosters to find each team's Home Grown Talent. It is an exercise to show how well each team's drafting and minor league development has been at the major league level. It would also show what teams would look like if MLB had a "no trade rule," i.e. you had to develop your own talent.

He penned the following Cubs roster:

Chicago Cubs
Starting Pitchers
Andrew Cashner 

 Jon Garland
Kyle Lohse
Ricky Nolasco
Jeff Samardzija 

Al Alburquerque 

 Jerry Blevins
Scott Downs
Rich Hill
Carlos Marmol
Sean Marshall
James Russell  

Jose Molina
Geovany Soto

Darwin Barney
Starlin Castro
Ronny Cedeno
Josh Donaldson 

 Ryan Flaherty
Josh Vitters  

Tony Campana
Tyler Colvin
Sam Fuld
Brett Jackson
Junior Lake 

Lanza opined that this is a bad team. There’s some young talent in Cashner Castro, and Lake but such a club would be near last place in any league. As a result, he can see why Epstein had to blow up the minors to rebuild.

What is interesting is that only five Cubs on their current roster are farm hands, and one (Lake) is playing out of position. Also, most of the Cub talent are utility-bench players and not full time starters.

August 12, 2013


During the low scoring aspects of the Cubs-Cardinals weekend series, the thought of how long has it been since the Cubs had a quality player at each position came to mind.

LF: Soriano, circa 2012 with 33 HR, 108 RBI

CF: Dernier, circa 1984 with 45 SB

RF: Sosa, circa 2001 with 64 HR, 160 RBI

3B: Ramirez, circa 2011, 26 HR, 93 RBI, .301 BA

SS: Castro, circa 2011, 10 HR 66 RBI, .307 BA

2B: Sandberg, circa 1991, 26 HR, 100 RBI, .291 BA

1B: Lee, circa 2009, 35 HR, 111 RBI, .306 BA

C:  Barrett, circa 2006, 16 HR, 53 RBI, .307 BA

Those may not have been an individual player's "best season" but it was still the last quality or impact season for the Cubs. What is interesting is how long the Cubs have lacked impact performance from a position. (Yes, people can debate that this does not take into consideration pure defensive players, but baseball teams need consistent impact offensive players in order to compete.)

People tend to forget that Soriano had a very productive season in 2012 on a very bad team. The Cubs decided that Ramirez was too expensive after his quality 2011 season so he went into free agency. Castro from 2011 is what most fans expected would continue on. (Castro is really the only current player on this list).

Then quality position players quickly drop off into history:

2009 for first baseman Lee. Rizzo is supposed to be the solid core for this spot for years, but he still has not surpassed Lee's last season before his wrist injury.

2006 for catcher Barrett. He may be remembered for the dugout fight with Zambrano, but Barrett was the most consistent offensive catcher the Cubs have had in a long while.

2001 for right field Sosa. Yes, many people believe that Sosa allegedly enhanced his performance, but the Cubs have not gotten the explosive performance from a right fielder since.

1991 for second baseman Sandberg. Sandberg is a Hall of Famer for both offense and defense. The Cubs have not had an impact second baseman since Sandberg. It would seem that this position is trending like third base after Ron Santo retired; no one has taken hold of it.

1984 for center fielder Dernier. This is a surprise since Dernier patrolled CF 29 years ago. But he was a quality defender, a good lead off man, and base stealer. He set the table for the Cubs team. Currently, the Cubs rotate in journeymen outfielders to play center.

If you average the years since a quality position player, the result is 9.8 years. It is possible that the Cubs could plug prospects into the sinkholes of C, RF, CF or believe that current players at SS and 1B will improve to be impact players. But it seems that it takes almost a decade to find a replacement player for an impact player.

August 9, 2013


The White Sox traded Alex Rios to the one team that claimed him off revocable waivers, the Texas Rangers. The Rangers needed an outfield bat due to the suspension of Nelson Cruz.

it is reported that Chicago sends Rios and $1 million to the Rangers for a player to be named later.
Speculation is that player will be infielder Leury Garcia.

The 32-year-old Rios is hitting .277/.328/.421 with 12 homers and 26 stolen bases this season. Originally set to earn $12.5MM next year with a $13.5MM option for 2015, Rios has a clause in his contract that escalates both of those figures by $500K if traded, which is likely the reason that the Sox included the $1MM in cash.

The 22-year-old Garcia is hitting just .192/.236/.231 in 57 plate appearances this season. In Triple A this season, he hit  .264,  4 HR 19 RBI 12 SB. He has been playing both shortstop (.927 field percentage) and outfield.  The switch-hitter entered the season ranked as the Rangers' No. 20 prospect, according to Baseball America. In their scouting report, BA noted that Garcia is the top on the speed scouting scale. He reportedly has the best infield arm in Texas' system. His role may be a super utility player capable of handling second base, shortstop and center field, according to BA.

With the disappointing seasons of current infielders Alexi Ramirez and Gordon Beckham, the White Sox are at least trying to add some depth in the field to compliment their above average pitching staff.


This week there has been a heated discussion in regard to the direction of the Cubs.

Many local sportswriters believe strongly in the plan Theo Epstein has laid out. It is a complete rebuild of the minor league system to add depth within the organization. When the system begins producing major league talent, it has a sustainable infrastructure in place to continue adding talent to the Cubs year after year.

This is a small market philosophy. The supporters acknowledge that this has never been done before in a major market team (unless you go back to the days of the Philadelphia A's who only fielded a farm team in the late teens and early 1920s).

This strategy has several diverse moving parts. First, it takes time to restock an entire farm system of four levels of teams (rookie, A, AA, and AAA). Second, it takes overachieving scouting department to draft and sign an inventory of quality prospects. Third, it takes a significant commitment of resources to develop talent at the minor league levels with the best managers, pitching coaches, batting coaches and trainers. Fourth, it takes ownership to eat several years of operating losses.

On the opposite side of the discussion are vocal critics. They believe that Cub fans have been sold a bill of worthless promises. That this whole idea of being patient and "we have a plan" is a scam. There is evidence that management is diverting its resources away from the major league ball club in order to chase a hunch that they can develop an entire roster of quality impact players. The Cubs payroll under Ricketts has decreased from $145 million to a projected $74.5 million for 2014. Next year's payroll could be reduced further if in the off-season the Cubs trade veterans for more prospects.

The team is horrible. It is not competitive. Fans are forced to pay high ticket prices for a AAA product. Critics claim why should the fans "be patient" when the Cubs job is to field a competitive team year after year. They remember when Ricketts bought the team he said the Cubs were only "one or two players away." That the sole goal was to win championships. But nothing in the past two years shows any major focus on the major league roster. It is a patchwork of injured pitchers on rehab and discarded journeymen.

Critics also stress that Epstein's M.O. in Boston was to pave over mistakes by spending a load of cash. Epstein's system of overspending was eliminated under the new CBA. So he has gone out and overspent on international players this year, to a tune of a 100% tax penalty and a restriction of only a $250,000 signing bonus for the next two years. Some may say that Epstein blew the bank on signing 16, 17 and 18 year old Latin players with little track record because they were ranked highly in scouting service lists. But at best, only 1 in 10 prospects will ever make a major league team. Only 1 in 20 will become an impact All-Star player. So when the Cubs state they have spent more than $20 million on new talent, that is true, but the reality is that the team may only produce one quality player from this year's signees.

The same is true with the amateur draft picks. The Cubs continue to draft a boatload pitchers, but they wind up in the low minors for years. In the best prospect lists of BA or MLB, despite the Cubs drafting so many pitchers, none make the Top 10. Epstein is hoarding and protecting his selections in the low minors for a reason. The reason is that he is trying to buy time by not promoting them or putting artificial thresholds like 500 AB in AAA. If the prospect does not get to the majors (and fails) then he is still considered a prospect and the plan slowly moves forward. A player should be promoted immediately when he excels at that minor league talent level. Baez is the only example of pushing his way up the organizational ladder because of his insane offensive HR production. Lake was a fluke call-up because of the injuries to all the Cubs bargain bin outfielders. What surprised everyone was Lake's enthusiasm and offensive production. Yes, he is a free swinger just like Castro was in his rookie season. He is playing out of position so there will be defensive concerns just like
Castro in his rookie season. Critics think Lake does not fit into the long term plans of the Cubs because he is not an Epstein-Hoyer "pick" or prospect.

Critics also seem concerned about the quality of player coming back in Cub trades. Olt was once considered the Rangers best prospect until he was hit on the head and suffered concussion/vision problems. But the Cubs took Olt in the Garza trade. Olt has struggled in Iowa. Likewise, the bullpen arms acquired in trades have erratic fastballs and control issues.

Critics also think the front office has been reaching too much in second/third tier free agents. Scott Baker was signed for a $5.5 million deal even though he was coming off Tommy John surgery. Baker's rehab hit another set back this week so this signing seems to be a total bust. The Edwin Jackson signing for $52 million still puzzles most Cub fans. If the Cubs were in rebuilding mode, why spend so much money on a .500 pitcher? The only reason for that panic move was that season ticket sales were falling and ownership wanted some public relations story to stem some red ink.

Also, cynics believes ownership sole goal the last few years has been to redevelop the ball park. A bad Cub team, a crumbling infrastructure, and the need for new revenue streams are "the reasons" the Ricketts went all-in on a massive real estate redevelopment plan. But the Cubs management refused to answer sportswriters questions on if or when the Cubs team would be receiving the benefits of these new revenue streams. The reason is simple: the Cubs won't be the beneficiaries of these new properties. It is a classic misdirection. Wrigley Field is not owned by the Cubs, but by a separate company. The Cubs are only a tenant. Ricketts separate company will be fronting the money to redo Wrigley, and it will take those new income streams to pay back new construction debt. This Wrigley Field landlord wants the place to become a year round entertainment venue not just a baseball field. Further, the parking facility is owned by a different company; the triangle parcel is owned by a separate company; and the McDonald's block is owned by a separate LLC. No real money will be trickling down to the Cubs from those entities. The Cubs will have to sink or swim from now on from the baseball operations such as ticket sales, concessions, and broadcast rights fees (which start to turn in 2014 and 2019).

Finally, the critics take issue with the Epstein reasoning that the Cubs have to be built from the minors. Critics state that there is no reason why the Cubs could have a two plan attack: draft and develop prospects and sign quality free agents for the major league roster. This two-prong approach is how other major market teams like the Red Sox and Yankees operate. By relying solely on the prospect model, the Cubs could turn into Kansas City - - - mediocre for a long time because even though the system produces a lot of prospects, none have any real impact at the major league level (the AAAA player curse). Opponents don't trust Epstein's talent evaluation or development track record as a general manager.  And the concern is justified when management refuses to say when the Cubs plan will be completed and a championship caliber team will take the field.

There were a third class of fans who decided to take a "wait and see" attitude with the new Cubs front office. They were told that the boy geniuses had a plan so they decided they would be patient and let them do their jobs. Yes, the Cubs would take a hit for a few seasons but that sacrifice would be worth it in the long run. But as each season passes with little movement at the major league quality level or promotion of hot prospects in the minors, offset with more trades for more prospects, these "wait and see" fans will start to gravitate toward one side of the debate spectrum.

August 8, 2013


It may have been the worst starting lineup the Cubs fielded in generations.

1.  Lake CF
2. Barney 2B
3. Castro SS
4. Navarro C
5. Neal LF
6. Ransom 1B
7. Gillespie RF
8. Murphy 3B
9. T. Wood SP

Four players started the game batting under .215: Barney,  Neal, Ransom and Gillespie.
Hitters five through eight are all players discarded from other organizations.

The bad omen was set. Neal blows up his shoulder making a routine throw to second base. He falls down in the outfield like deer in the middle of hunting season. Then shortly thereafter, Navarro blocks the plate on Old Man Utley to record the out, but has to be carted off with an apparent serious leg injury. (Initial reports say a bruised knee).

The Cubs will have to scramble for two replacement players for today's day game. Catcher is a serious issue. Iowa was down its two catchers so infielder Edwin Maysonet had to catch 4 innings in Tacoma. That produced an emergency promotion for Boise catcher Cael Brockmeyer.  In his debut, he went 1-3 with a walk and 2 strikeouts. The other Iowa catcher is 25 year old Chad Noble, who started the season in High Class A Daytona, and was promoted to Double A Tennessee but was also called up to Iowa recently. The other alternative would be Double A catcher Rafael Manuel Lopez. Lopez, 25, started the season in Rookie ball, but has been promoted three times already from A, A+ and now AA. The problem with Noble and Lopez is that they have been treading water in the low minors based upon their age.

Last night's game opened another wound in the Cubs organization: depth at catcher.

UPDATE: The Cubs called up 33 year old catcher J.C. Boscan. Boscan played only a few games in Atlanta in the past three years. He is a career minor league catcher who is insurance for Navarro, who is now listed day to day with an ankle injury.