January 31, 2014


Last year, the front office continued their blueprint of signing rehabbing or down players to one year deals with the hopes of flipping them for prospects at the trade deadline. Exhibit A was former Twins pitcher Scott Baker, who was recovering from Tommy John surgery, signed for a $5.5 million deal.

Baker spent nearly the entire season in rehab.

Baker gave the Cubs 15 innings pitched in the last weeks of the season.  the Cubs paid $366,000 per inning pitched for Baker to get healthy and go back on the free agent market.

Well, Baker did go back into free agency, but he did not land a major league deal.

Baker has already passed his physical, so the Mariners signed Baker to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Baker will earn $1MM if he makes the team and can earn up to $3.25MM more via incentives.

There are a few telling aspects of this story:

1. There is no player loyalty to a team that basically paid him $5.5 million to get healthy.
2. The Cubs apparently did not offer Baker a new contract; or 
3. Baker would rather sign a minor league deal for 2014 than to pitch for the Cubs.

January 30, 2014


If the Cubs were granted all the legal requirements in order to expand Wrigley Field and place two new large outfield signs which will obstruct rooftop views, then why would the Cubs still want to negotiate a settlement with the rooftop owners?

There must be some gray area in the revenue sharing agreement that makes it not a slam dunk for the Cubs.

A possible wrinkle in the whole Wrigley rehab is what actually the Landmark Commission approved last July. The master signage approval was subject to five conditions:

1. Any of the information submitted by the applicant that references the size of the outfield
signs will need to be updated to match the agreed upon sizes as approved at the July 1, 2013
CCL meeting. A final draft of the corrected documents will be submitted as a record copy to
Historic Preservation staff before application of any permits.

2. Final details, specifications, cut-sheets, etc. for the proposed signs and lighting shall be
submitted for Historic Preservation staff review and approval as part of the permit
application. Any major change (as determined by the Commission staff) to the size, location
or height of the proposed sign shall be submitted to the Commission for review pursuant to
Article III, Sec. C(2) of the Commission’s Rules and Regulations.

3. The exterior of the right field sign and the neon left field sign will be a matte green paint
to match the exterior of the ballpark.

4. The exterior of the left field LED board will be designed with an architectural treatment
that will be reviewed pre-permit with Historic Preservation staff.

5. The Commission will consider future outfield sign proposals relative to the cumulative
visual impact of signage on the historic and architectural character of the ballpark. The size,
scale and spacing between signs would all be considered in future proposals.

The public has not actually seen the final architectural renderings for the signs. But throughout
process, the Cubs have continually changed the plans after discussions or preliminary approvals.
It could be that the actual final sign plans are different than what was discussed before the commission. It is not clear whether the Cubs have passed these conditions with their final sign plans.
And this may be the sticking point if the Cubs want changes to what was shown or discussed in 2013.

In any event, the final plans still need historical landmark staff approvals, which may or may not
be open to public comment.

January 29, 2014


Baseball arbitration is both an art form and cutthroat business negotiation.

The player submits a figure of his worth through his agent, and the team submits its figure for a one year contract. The arbitrator can only decide on one or the other figure. It is winner take all after arguments from both sides.

Part of the process is that if it goes to a hearing, players hear for the first time highly negative comments about their skills from their team. Teams attempt to downgrade the player's accomplishments or stat lines in order to convince the arbitrator that a lower salary is correct.

Normally, the player and team come to an agreement (an inbetween sum) and avoid the hassles of an actual hearing. But not always. Ryan Theriot took the Cubs through the hearing process, and was later traded within that year.

Sabermetrics has filled volumes of information on how one can value a player.

But there has been a fairly standard rule of thumb in regard to arbitration figures. Normally, a first time arb player would get around 1/3 of a comparable veteran's salary. A second year player, 50 percent. A third and final year arb player would get 2/3. Each time the young player would be receiving a hefty raise. However, there are exceptions when, say, a pitcher wins the Cy Young and demands current market value.

Travis Wood signed a new deal with the Cubs to avoid his first year arbitration. The sum was $3.9 million. Wood had a break-out season in 2013, with a 4.4 WAR, leading the Cubs pitching staff.

A veteran with a 4.4 WAR could probably command around $24.2 million (based upon $5.5 million/WAR). Under that valuation, Wood would have been worth $7.99 million. However, the team would look at it more towards career performance, at 6.3 WAR over 4 seasons. The average WAR times value would equate to a current player contract value of $2.8 million.

And this is the type of argument that both sides would engage in at a hearing. So it always better to try to keep the peace and settle arbitration cases prior to the hearing. In Wood's case, it seems that the sides agreed to a contract which rewarded Wood for his fine 2014 season.

January 28, 2014


The Cubs announced the Non-Roster Invitees to Spring Training.

The Cubs have invited 24 non-roster players to Spring Training, including top prospects Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Albert Almora.

Cubs pitchers and catchers will report on Feb. 13 to the team's new facility in Mesa, Ariz., and have their first workout the next day. Position players are set to report on Feb. 18, with new manager Rick Renteria's first full squad workout scheduled for Feb. 19.

Among the pitchers invited to Major League camp are right-handers Marcus Hatley, Kyle Hendricks, Carlos Pimentel, Armando Rivero and Brian Schlitter, and lefties Tommy Hottovy, Eric Jokisch, Jonathan Sanchez and Tsuyoshi Wada. Hendricks was the Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013.

Five infielders were invited, including Baez, Bryant, Ryan Roberts, Chris Valaika and Jeudy Valdez.

The list of outfielders invited includes Almora, Chris Coghlan,  Aaron Cunningham, Ryan Kalish, Mitch Maier, Darnell McDonald, and Casper Wells.

Kalish, 25, a left-handed-hitting outfielder, was voted the Red Sox's Rookie of the Year in 2010. He's coming off surgery on his right shoulder in January 2013, which was followed by cervical fusion surgery last August, similar to a procedure Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning underwent.

Catchers John Baker, Rafael Lopez and Eli Whiteside also are on the list of non-roster invitees. The Cubs said Minor League catchers Luis Flores and Will Remillard also will assist at times in big league camp.

These players are in addition to those on the 40 man roster, including Jorge Soler.

The NRIs are showcasing for possibly one or two spots on the final opening day roster. The Cubs core prospects (Baez, Bryant, Almora, Soler) are going to stay in the minors in 2014, but their appearance in Mesa is to showcase them to increase fan interest in the future Cubs.

January 27, 2014


The Cubs have applied for a city permit to construct a 650 square foot advertising sign (with a beer sponsor name) as represented in this Cubs press release graphic.  When a mock up was shown to rooftop owners last year, it confirmed to them that their views into Wrigley Field would be obstructed by the new sign.

The Cubs and the rooftop businesses are in the middle of a 20 year peace agreement in which the Cubs were given 17 percent of the rooftop revenue in exchange for the Cubs not putting up anything that would obstruct the rooftop views. Ricketts assumed this agreement when his family bought the Cubs from the Tribune.

The Cubs have been wanting to kill off the rooftop businesses because executives believe that the rooftops are taking away revenue that rightfully belongs to the team. The Cubs keep squawking to the media that the rooftop owners need to compromise so the team can start their $500 million rehab/real estate development projects. However, the rooftop owners don't have to do anything - - - they have a contract with the Cubs. It is the Cubs who unilateral want to change the terms. And besides, the real estate development projects, including capital improvements in the clubhouses, has nothing to do with added outfield signage. The Cubs are trying to get the city to push back at the rooftop owners. It probably will not work.

For the rooftop owners know the Cubs will not renew their agreement when it ends in 2023. So in order to recoup their investment, the rooftop businesses need to maintain the status quo. Any obstructions would dramatically kill their sales. And perhaps, that is the whole point of the Cubs pushing the new signage. It may be because fielding a bad team for three years has not driven away business from the rooftops. Or, perhaps, the Cubs plan to take away that business segment by building their own RF party deck has been a failure. 

In a statement reacting to the news that the  Cubs applied for a sign permit the rooftop owners released a statement saying that they will sue.

“Rooftop owners believe a blockage of our views violates the contract we have with the owners of the Cubs,” said Ryan McLaughlin, spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association. “We have instructed our legal team to proceed accordingly.”

The statement adds only that the Cubs' move was “an unfortunate turn of events because our hope was to find a solution to this matter.”

The Cubs defense to any legal action to enforce the settlement contract appears weak. The Cubs are planning to say that the city approved the new signs, so the team should be able to do it. The team cites a paragraph in the agreement that states that an expansion of the ball park is not a breach. But all contracts have the concept of "good faith" and "fair dealing" incorporated into the performance of them. How an advertising sign could be considered an "expansion" but not a barrier is a tough sell. In addition, the city was not a party to the settlement agreement. Constitutionally, the city cannot take away any contract or property rights of the rooftop business owners without public condemnation and paying fair market value for those rights. However, there is no public purpose here since the Cubs are a private business and the signage in question serves no public purpose. The Cubs could also fall back to say so what we're in breach, we will go ahead and pay damages. But since the unique character of the contract, the rooftop owners could seek an injunction to prevent the new signage as damages could be inadequate if the default destroys their businesses. What is at stake is approximately $200 million in gross revenue left in the 10 years remaining on the deal. It is highly doubtful the Ricketts will write a check for $100 million plus to buy themselves out of the rooftop deal.

When the Ricketts bought the Cubs from the Tribune, they were aware of a few critical dates.

2014: when the Cubs could open the WGN TV and radio deal.
2020: when the Cubs exclusive cable deal expires.
2023: when the Cubs rooftop deal expires.

If these three revenue areas are key for the Ricketts rebuilding projects, as eluded to during the Cub convention, then it is possible that nothing could happen for another 10 years.


Just what is the Cubs selling?

The team is at a marketing crossroads. For the past several months, executives continually state that they won't tell their fans how to spend their money, but they should continue to come to Cubs games to experience the progress in the grand rebuilding plan for the future. The executives claim that fans who ride out these bad years will get a better sense of happiness or sense of accomplishment when the team eventually turns around.

It is a soft sell approach. But the hard truth is that the 2014 team will not feature any new pieces to the rebuilding puzzle. The first two "core" players, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, regressed in 2013. It will be years away when the touted prospects in the low minors will have a chance to make the major league roster.

Long time Chicagoan and sports fan, Hub Arkush, the past publisher of Pro Football Weekly, recently said that he was a Cubs season ticket holder for more than 20 years. But when it came time to renew his Cub season tickets, he made the decision to give them up. He explained that he could not give away his unused tickets last season. He said that the way he views the rebuilding plan, the Cubs will not be competitive for two, three or four more years. Based on that viewpoint, he said it was not worth spending $25,000 for a 2014 season ticket package, let alone $75,000 for the next three years of the same bad team.

You can see his point. A business decision finally outweighed a fan decision. In an economy that still in-flux, $25,000 to $75,000 is a lot of money to spend on a luxury item such as entertainment. That type of savings could pay for a most of a state college education, a down payment on a house or a major cushion for retirement.

So the Cubs are selling The Future. Hope.

But it will be 69 years since the Cubs last played in a World Series. That is really two full generations of fans that have lived under the Hope banner. At a certain point in time, Hope turns into Harsh Reality.

What does a fan expect when he or she buys a ticket? They expect their team to win. In baseball, a small market team with limited resources that fields a replacement level quality squad would be expected to only win 30 percent of their games. An average but competitive team would be expected to win 50 percent of their games. A championship caliber team would be expected to win 60 percent of their games. There is a much closer gap between a championship caliber team and a .500 club than a .500 club and AAAA team. It is the closer gap between 50 and 60 percent expectation that should drive attendance because people will know that it is more than likely their team will win the game.

So what is a baseball team's owner's role? It depends on how the owner views his ownership of the team. In a corporate setting, where executives have to answer to shareholders, the concern is profits. If the owner is a wealthy individual or family, profit may be a concern but at times it is will to win that is controlling baseball decisions. So there are is a spectrum gulf in ownership strategy, from pure profits to having a fan's expectations.

The idea that you want fans to come to your team's games with the "hope" that the team will win is not the same as fielding a team that has the opportunity to win the game. The former has a 20 percent or more chance it will not win the game, which is a significant variation from the average.

So what keeps the Wrigley Field turn styles spinning?

There is a part of the fan base that is so absorbed in the Cub culture that they will come to support their team without any expectations; like patients who love to go to the dentist to get their teeth drilled.

There is a part of the fan base that likes baseball that they will come to see the stars of other teams play at Wrigley Field; like historians mentally documenting their era of their favorite sport.

There is part of the fan base that is there to experience and pass down to the next generation the aura and history of baseball. Tom Ricketts has been adamant that he is not running a museum, but the perception of many fans is that 100 year old Wrigley Field, with its ivy covered brick walls, manual scoreboard, antiquated restroom troughs and city neighborhood setting is a rare moment of the national past time frozen in time. A grandparent cannot take their grandson to Petco Field and point to the field and tell a story that the great Babe Ruth stood their during championship game; but he could at Wrigley Field.

The easiest thing to sell Americans is nostalgia. It is an easy sell because it tugs at the fond memories from someone's past. A weekend game at Wrigley Field used to be a family outing. A tradition. An experience. A father with a young family may want to rekindle what he experienced as boy with his children. He could go to Wrigley Field and find it exactly the same as he remembered it.

There is a societal comfort level in such touchstones. A culture built upon strong institutions will survive longer than those who do not have strong bonds with the people. In a small way, the Cubs and Wrigley Field are a city institution. But there are cracks developing in that foundation.

The Cubs cannot sell nostalgia if ownership dramatically changes Wrigley Field. There are many fans who came to Wrigley and found the RF party deck and LED scoreboard totally out of place. It was not in character with the traditional cathedral of baseball. It ruined the symmetry and sight lines of the outfield walls. The plan to add a jumbrotron and large beer sign in RF bleachers will further erode the iconic vision of Wrigley Field as a time capsule to the past. To most, the new elements will detract from the beauty of old Wrigley Field; it would begin to look like any other cookie cutter stadium design.  It is clear that the Ricketts have no plans to preserve Wrigley Field for the purists, traditionalists or the past generations.

Change is a natural cycle in life. But dramatic change creates dramatic results, some of which have unintended consequences. Many fans may become disillusioned or turned off by the commercialism if they are looking for the Ernie Banks statue but find it lost amongst a congested mini-Times Square of electronic advertising signs and beer carts. Many fans may become disillusioned or turned off by the changes inside the ball park: the additional party decks, advertising signage, aggressive non-stop concession stands. The consequence could be that portion of the fan base which likes Wrigley Field for its nostalgia factor will no longer come to the games because the their memories have no further connection to the new Wrigley.

It would seem that new ownership has dismissed the powerful draw of nostalgia as it relates to Wrigley Field when it created its new business plan. A business plan which does not focus solely on the Cubs team, but tries to create a multi-purpose entertainment complex.

January 25, 2014


The Yankees returned to their Evil Empire spending by locking up Masahiro Tanaka to wrap up an expensive off-season of acquisitions.

Shortstop Derek Jeter will probably retire after the 2014 season. As such, NY media reports that the Yankees are kicking the tires on free agent Stephen Drew.

Drew, 30, has played 8 seasons. His career stats: 90 HR, 416 RBI,.264 BA, 16.1 WAR (3.1 WAR last year with Red Sox). For his average career, he is 2.01 WAR which is a starter.

I always felt that once Jeter retired, the Cubs could offer Starlin Castro to the Yankees. Castro, after 4 seasons, has hit 37 HR, 229 RBI, .283 BA and 7.4 WAR (last year negative 0.6). For his average career, he is a 1.85 WAR, which is pretty similar to Drew.

Castro is only 23 and has much more upside than Drew. Drew has experience which blends well with a veteran team. However, Castro could get a good recommendation from his buddy, Alfonso Soriano.

Trading Castro next year would open the shortstop position to Javier Baez. The front office claims that Baez is still going to be playing short at Iowa this year. So if not the Yankees, Castro could be traded to another team in need of a starting shortstop.


When Rich Renteria was announced as Cubs manager, I had no personal opinion about him. His name seemed vaguely familiar. At his first press conference, he reminded me of a jovial Lee Trevino.

Renteria had a marginal major league career for three teams. In 5 seasons, he played in only 184 games, hitting 4 HR, 41 RBI, .237 BA, 6 SB, a .975 career fielding percentage (at 4 total positions) but with a negative 0.5 WAR.  He is the classic AAAA player.

There is no detriment to have a AAAA player become a team's manager. In fact, if he realizes what he could not do well in his own career, he may be able to understand the frustrations of young players when they hit their first set-backs. As a struggling player who did reach the majors, he has that life experience of what he had to do, how he had to train, and what he needed to do to stay in the majors. He should be able to cope with stress, since his career was basically the last bench player on the roster year after year.

Renteria being bilingual should help with the communication skills with players. I got the impression that with Sveum and Piniella, they would only speak to their players when they had something to say to them. Renteria seems like a guy who is more extroverted and conversational which could be a needed change of pace in the clubhouse.

But there are few key things I want to see from the new manager from Day One:

1. I want him to create a set line-up and hold fast to it. I don't want to see 110 different positional line-up cards next season. I don't want to see Castro batting 1st, 5th, 2nd and 4th in a week. Players are creatures of habit. A routine is important so that they don't have to overthink what they are supposed to do. A set batting order is an easy way organize the team and set individual expectations of each batter's role.

2. I want him to create a set bullpen order to finish games. Since today's modern game is adverse to starting pitchers completing games, let alone getting through the 7th inning stretch, I want him to communicate the bullpen roles clearly. Yes, he will have Veras as his closer. But he should also have a "spot" closer on days when Veras is not available or is ineffective. If this is the 8th inning bridge guy, fine. Or it could be what I call the "fireman" whose role is to put out bad situations in any inning (1st through extra innings). I also want a defined long reliever/spot starter who can go two innings or more. Villaneuva was close to that guy last season. If a starter only lasts 5 innings, I want the long reliever to take the ball and pass it off to the bridge guy or closer. I also want him to downgrade the notion that there is lefty specialist in the bullpen, whose job is only to get out left handed hitters. He should instill the expectation that all relievers should know how to get out all batters in all situations.

3. I want him to stress after spring training the importance of defense. I would like to see him install defensive drills at least once per series like Ozzie Guillen did with the White Sox.  So many players leave spring training thinking that they have done all their work. But it is a process, a regiment and a repetitive eye and muscle coordination that needs to be sharpened like a chef's knife.

4. I would really like the catcher to "call" the game with the pitcher. I get quite annoyed by major league catchers looking into the dugout for signals on which pitch to throw. A pitcher and catcher should go through the opposing teams scouting reports and their own notes prior to each game to formulate how they will attack the opponent's line-up. Greg Maddux knew how he was going to pitch batters innings ahead when he was on the mound. And on his days off, he could accurately predict what pitchers throwing sequences were going to be. But in the sabermetric era, where managers tend to view the field as a video screen that they can control, no catcher has the real authority anymore to call a game. Which is a shame, because if they were allowed to,  it would actually speed up the game, and get the pitcher into a quick rhythm.

5. I want him to teach the team the various ways of "manufacturing" runs through the use of walks, "productive outs," stolen bases, taking the extra base on a hit, hitting and running and bunting to advance a runner into scoring position. Even a team that does not have any power or high batting averages, can manufacture a run via a walk, stolen base, bunt and sacrifice fly. But that is not the modern or glamorous way to play the game. Players are obsessed with their own stats because that is how the market values their talent level. Players believe they need to hit .300, and hit home runs to be paid big dollars. With a bad team like the Cubs, Renteria needs to re-educate the players into putting the team ahead of personal stats in order to generate more wins. This is going to be his hardest sell.

January 24, 2014


There was a discussion last night on CSN Sports Live program. It was frustrating to watch the segment because the sports reporters on the panel failed to grasp the basic framework of business transactions and the reality of municipal zoning laws throughout the state of Illinois.

David Kaplan started off enraged that the neighborhood businesses
are holding up the Cubs renovation plans for no reason,
which is costing the Cubs baseball team revenue and ability
to compete. The theme was the neighbors were the bad actors
in this situation. It was only at the end of the rant segment that
he did acknowledge the rooftop owners have a legally binding
contract which preserves their current views.

The Cubs keep telling the media that they are working on a deal
with the rooftop owners so the team can go forward with its
new ballpark signage. But no one fails to realize that the Cubs
already have a deal with the rooftop owners - - - it is the Cubs
who unilaterally want to change it, to the detriment of the rooftop

None of the panelists appeared to grasp the legal realities.
Apparently, none of them has ever tried to get a zoning variation
from the city council where they live. They have never had to
deal with city planners or alderman who want to meddle in a businesses'
owners plans because they have the veto over it. It happens all the time,

everywhere in the city and suburbs. In fact, the Cubs have been granted
fantastic free reign in their development objectives, including taking
large amounts of city streets and sidewalks for free.

But the biggest gaffe in the whole discussion was so obvious:
the rooftop issue of the jumbotron and OF sign has NOTHING TO DO
with Ricketts grand real estate development projects outside of Wrigley,
including the Triangle and McDonald's block. The rooftops have

nothing to do with the proposed internal improvements
inside Wrigley like new restrooms, new clubhouse, new weight room, etc.

Ricketts could have starting digging those projects last year.
The real question in all the blame on the neighborhood is WHY has
Ricketts decided NOT to go forward with those non-OF signage issues?

Because the cost of construction is going to go UP the longer you delay,

one would want to begin work on construction projects as soon as possible.
The Cubs said they had a piece meal five year plan in place. But they
now refuse to go forward without everything Ricketts wants locked down.

No one has pressed the Cubs on why that HAS to happen.

And if the whole scheme depends upon the advertising revenue of a
jumbotron and beer sign - - - then why isn't anyone asking Ricketts
about that?  Have the Cubs run out of money for capital improvements?

Sportswriters have zero business experience so they don't know the
nuances of the business side of the team. But they can at least ask
the important questions instead of parroting Ricketts' silly tantrum speeches.

If you are upset that the reconstruction has stalled, it is all Ricketts fault.
He overpaid for the team by at least $300 million.
I wrote many articles at the time of the sale, I said that Ricketts was an idiot for
not negotiating basic elements of the deal. If you buy a house and a home inspection
shows the roof is shot, the buyer goes back to the Seller for a repair credit of $15,000
to fix the roof as a condition of purchase. In Ricketts case, there had been media stories
for months that Zell was looking for public financing of $300 million to FIX Wrigley Field.
So, he should have demanded a massive repair credit off the purchase price from Zell; a final purchase price which was $250 million higher than the next bidder.

Ricketts now complains about the WGN radio and TV deals not providing him with enough licensing fees.  He could have told the Tribune, which owns those properties, that those deals would have to be re-written in order for the sale to go through since they were controlled by the seller. Ricketts could have demanded a fair market valuation of the broadcast rights fees.  But Ricketts took them "as is."

Ricketts bent over and took what Zell shoved down his brain hole.
$745 million in debt, which takes more than $38 million a year in interest payments alone, to pay down. Loan covenants which restrict how the team can use its collateral/revenue.
A stadium which needs $100 plus million in repairs, but apparently has  no lines of credit available to finance it. He bought a LANDMARK building with massive amounts of legal restrictions.
He bought a business that has a binding contract with the rooftop owners that goes through 2023.

There are growing rumors that the Cubs are not in the best of fiscal shape. We know that since the sale, the Cubs have been on the MLB watch list because its debt ratio is above the league standards. The purchase price was based upon top revenue figures of 3.3 million attendance, which has now fallen to 2.6 million with a rash of non-renewals by season ticket holders. (That is an estimated loss of $31.8 million in gate revenue alone). He can wave his arms and magically turn back the clock to re-write the bad deal. He is stuck with a local radio and TV market today which is highly depressed, especially when the Cubs ratings have fallen dramatically the last 3 years. He may not get the current license fees if the Cubs move to another station. The split cable-TV deals cannot synch up until after 2019, so he cannot leverage the team into his own regional Dodger network.

Ricketts made a bad business deal.
Ricketts has no one to blame but himself.
Ricketts purchased surrounding property to put together his own bar-heavy theme park, but
now is land rich but cash poor so he can't start any project without new revenue resources.

So he is looking for someone else to blame for his current folly.  And many sports reporters have bought this sad tale of woe from Ricketts because they don't understand how the Cubs got into its current situation.

January 23, 2014


The media consensus is that the Cubs have had another bad off-season to stack up with three bad seasons in a row. People believe that the Cubs will not spent the alleged Tanaka money on any other high priced free agents.

As the team's own web site states, the Cubs have not spent heavily on free agents this off-season as the team continues its rebuilding process and waits for impact prospects such as Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez to arrive. Losing out on Tanaka does not mean they now will pursue free-agent pitchers Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza,  but they'll most likely shift their focus to who is available after the 2014 season.

Epstein hasn't thrown in the towel on the 2014 season.

"This season starting, we don't show up in Spring Training saying, 'Hey, let's get ready for 2000 whatever year down the road,'" Epstein said. "We're trying to compete and win as many games as we can in 2014. We want to show improvement, and we'd love to show a lot of improvement. There's room for improvement.

"We have a lot of talented players on the roster who didn't have their best years last year, and I know they're really committed with the work they've done this offseason to doing better next year," he said, "and we have guys who did make breakthroughs last year, and they want to sustain that progress and build from there."

However, Epstein and Hoyer are bringing back basically the same team that nudged near another 100 loss season last year. In fact, some believe the starting rotation is actually worse than last season's opening day roster, as it will be filled by holdovers Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, and then the final two spots going to Jake Arrieta, Chris Rusin, Justin Grimm or swingman Carlos Villanueva.  For some, it is time to see if the Epstein front office and scouting department knows what is doing by seeing if Arrieta, and Grimm can crack the rotation and perform well. If not, that bodes badly for the future.

The position players are basically the same from last year, too. Castillo and Kottaras are the catching corps - - - with the latter being a down grade from Narvarro's comeback season. The infield remains the same: Rizzo, Barney, Castro and Valbuena, with Murphy and Olt possible platoon players if they have good springs. Watkins appears to be in the mix for a bench spot. In the outfield, Lake, Ruggiano, Schierholtz will be starters, with Sweeney as the fourth outfielder. Realistically, only two or three of these players were be starters on any other major league team.

In addition, the Cubs have another new coaching staff. That may cause additional erosion in the team's projected record.

Free agent pitchers, including those second tier guys the Cubs like to sign and flip, are now more hesitant  to sign with Chicago, for that very reason. As it stands, it is likely that most of the last tradeable assets on the current roster will be gone in July: Samardzija, Veras, Wright and Schierholtz.

Expectations for the Cubs are at an all time low. Yesterday, several fans commented that they were five digits long on the season ticket waiting list, but have been constantly getting cold calls from the Cubs to buy packages. Everyone will be settling in for a long winter of hibernation.

January 22, 2014


So much for the vow that the Cubs would not be outbid for Tanaka.

The Japanese pitcher not surprisingly chose the Yankees and its 7 year/$155 million, no trade offer with a player kick-out option after 4 years.

So much was said about the local Chicago media's tweets that the Cubs would be offering 8 years/$180 million for Tanaka. Clearly, either the Cubs did not outbid the Yankees or Tanaka decided that it was not in his best interest to play for the Cubs who are on the verge of losing another 100 games in 2014.

If the whole off-season was tailored to sign Tanaka, then the Cubs have no Plan B. The best available free agent pitcher still on the market is Matt Garza, but we have already sailed that boat.


As the Tanaka sweepstakes comes to an end, there is a question for many teams, including the Cubs who will not be in contention for several more years: is it better to wait?

Proven commodities in the pitching department are gold mines. The Cubs won't have their vaulted prospects ready until 2016 at the earliest. The Cubs continue to trim payroll. The front office won't spend in the free agent market until the team is ready to win the division.

So, instead of getting an unproven player in Tanaka, it is probably better to wait for a proven major league starter to come to market.

Case in point, David Price. He will hit he free agent market in 2016. This year he will make $14 million for the Rays. He will also be on the trade block within a year.

Price has been dominate at times. His 6 year career record is 71-39, 3.19 ERA, 1.158 WHIP. His career WAR is 18.6 (2013 was 2.8; 2012 it was 6.9). His average WAR is 3.1.

If you use $5.5 million value per WAR, then Price's current value is $17.05 million per season. By the time he reaches free agency, he will be commanding $20 million/year.  This is the same amount of money in the current Tanaka rumors.

The Cubs could wait two years, save $40 million, and attempt to sign a player like Price when the team was truly ready to compete for the divisional crown.

January 21, 2014


This morning there are various tweets on Mashiro Tanaka's twitter feed which can either be poorly translated as "I cannot decide" or "I have decided." So no one knows what really is going on.

There is also a whirlwind of speculative gossip about what the five teams bid for Tanaka's services. Anywhere from 6 years $120 million to 8 years $180 million.

Tanaka needs to have a signed contract in the hands of MLB by Friday. It seems that this negotiation is dragging on. Maybe it is language barrier. Maybe it is personal, since Tanaka is moving his family to the States and his wife wants to continue her singing career. Maybe it is because Tanaka wants the team he would like to go to to up their last bid. Maybe there is a new last minute bidder gumming up the process (like the Mariners or Giants).

What is lost in translation so far is any real indication of where Tanaka would prefer to play. Does he want to play in the American League and face a DH? Or does he want to take his swings in the National League?

I suspect that will take a minor role to the major factors of a) guaranteed money and b) a competitive team.

If Tanaka was confident in his skills, he would actually want to sign a short term, high annual salary ($20 million/year) then hit the free agent market again at age 28 to get Kershaw-type deal in the $30 million/year range for more seasons. But he will probably sign a Darvish-like deal in terms of money and years.


When Clayton Kershaw broke the bank with his new contract, which pays him an average annual salary of $30 million, that is the "ace" of ace money.

In six major league seasons, Kershaw has amassed an amazing record. He is 77-46, 2.60 ERA and 32.3 WAR. In 2013, his WAR was 7.8.

If one uses the range of player value of being $5.5 million per win above replacement, Kershaw's 2013 value would have been $42.9 million.

In contrast, the Cubs "ace" last season was Jeff Samardzija. However, he only had a 1.0 WAR in 2013. That would mean his value would be around $5.5 million. He has asked in arbitration for $6.2 million. This may be a little high, but starting pitching is a premium position. However, the Cubs definitely low balled him with their arbitration figure of $4.4 million. If the Cubs win the arbitration, it would be much easier to trade a 200 IP player at that lower salary figure.

But what is truly the realistic value of a starting rotation? Unless you have an unlimited budget, you can't stack five All-Star quality (5.0 WAR plus) pitchers.

Realistically, a starting rotation would be like this:

1. Pitcher A with a 5.0 WAR, an All-Star caliber player
2. Pitcher B with a 4.0 WAR, a very good pitcher.
3. Pitcher C with a 3.0 WAR, a solid starter.
4. Pitcher D with a 2.0 WAR, a starter who has consistency issues to be around a .500 pitcher.
5. Pitcher E with a 1.0 WAR, just above AAA replacement level.

If you look at it this way, Samardzija would fit the "value" of a 5th starter and not a staff "ace."

Many people believe Travis Wood had a better year than Samardzija, and the stats would back that up. Wood had a 2013 WAR of 4.4, which would make him a rock solid #2 starter.When Edwin Jackson was a National his last season, he had a 2.0 WAR which put him as a #4 starter on a good Nat team which was about right. The Cubs paid him a premium to be the #3 starter, but last season Jackson's WAR was a negative 1.3, which would have been below a #5 starter.

If Samardzija is the Cubs ace at 1.0 WAR, then the Cubs would be fielding four other starters at replacement level, which actually could happen in 2014 if the Cubs trade Wood. But of the two, Wood is more valuable than Samardzija.

January 20, 2014


Jeff Samardzija is heading out of town soon.

The pitcher and Cubs can't agree on an extension.
And they can't come close on valuing the Shark's services.

In arbitration, Samardzija has filed for $6.2 million, with the Cubs are at $4.4 million.

The Cubs low balled him because $4.4 million is easier to trade for a mid-level
starting pitcher than $6.2 million.

Samardzija continues to loudly hint that he is fed up with management's "R word,"
now a derogatory term for "rebuilding." He hinted that if the Cubs were serious about
fielding a good team, the signing of Masahiro Tanaka would be a good start;  good
enough to get Samardzija to think about a contract extension.

No matter all the media reports of the Cubs at the table ready to spend whatever it
takes to sign Tanaka, the Japanese star is not coming to Chicago. There is no reason
to when high profile teams like the Dodgers and Yankees really want his services.
It is better to get established on a winning team at age 25, with the possibility of a
second huge contract at age 30-31. The Cubs cannot offer Tanaka, or even Samardzija,
the roster support to become a 20 game winner anytime soon.

And the Cubs pitch to Tanaka that he would be part of a historic "rebuilding" process
has to sound absurd even in translation. If he wanted to play for a AAA caliber team,
he could have stayed in Japan.

Samardzija is not buying the front office sales pitch. He doesn't have to. He has two more years of Cub contract control before he hits the free agent market. So long as he remains healthy, he will have a second chance with another team, sooner or later. That is his career rebuilding plan.

January 19, 2014


The Cubs announced that in celebration of Wrigley Field's 100th birthday, the Cubs will wear various historic uniforms for every Sunday game.

Celebration is a relative term.

It seems to be more like marketing sales pitch to fans to buy a bunch of new jerseys in the Wrigley gift shops.

January 18, 2014


The Cubs state that they are a "family friendly" organization. Clark the new mascot was the latest outreach to families with young children. The Cubs want families to come to Wrigley Field to have a nice, safe and happy place to spend a day (at $53/ticket plus food and souvenirs).

But in the same business/marketing department meetings, the sausage grinding that is the extraction of money from the fans stars the most profitable service in the park: beer sales.

Since Ricketts ownership, beer stands in and around Wrigley have exploded in number and in size. The push to sell alcohol has been dramatic. It is so prevalent now that someone unfamiliar with the history of the team or park would think Wrigley Field is a sports tavern that occasionally has a live lawn show.

A recent op-ed column in Crain's Chicago Business opined that if the Cubs were really "family friendly" then the team should institute a "two beer maximum" rule in and around the ball park. That will never happen. In fact, the opposite may be true . . . you may have to have a two drink minimum just to get inside Wrigley Field.

The latest manifestations of the Wrigley "renovations" includes a large fan plaza across from a new hotel near the new main entrance to the park. This new fan plaza will have digital advertising obelisks.  It will also have enough space for many beer carts. Also, anchoring the north end will be a new building, that will house several taverns and party decks. And on weekend home games, the team wants to close Sheffield to have a fan concourse, which of course will include more beer vendors. It seems that the plan is to create a bizarro world where AA stands for "Always Alcohol."

Wrigley has a pre-history for alcohol excess. The legendary Harry Carey filled the ball park with his drunken legions. It was once speculated that Carey was the most unpaid person in baseball, because it was calculated that his fandom's consumption of his favorite adult beverage increased beer profits at Wrigley by $250,000 per game.

Prior to Ricketts buying the Cubs from the Tribune, the bleachers had turned in the summer to North Avenue Beach with alcohol. It was the place where the twenty-somethings went to hang out in the sun, get hammered and stumble home. Very few were actual baseball fans. Wrigley became a party place that sold out every game. And that what Tom sold his old man.

But even back then, the crowds began to get rowdy. There were fights in the stands during most games. It got to the point where beer sales were curbed after the 7th inning, but even that rule is no longer enforced by security. A major complaint for the last decade has been the abusive language and drunken behavior observed in the stands during Cub games. Some parents no longer take their children to games because of juvenile behavior of intoxicated patrons.

But once the economy hit the skids during the financial crisis, and the twenty-somethings lost their jobs, got married or left the city, attendance of hard core drinkers declined along with season ticket holders who are rapidly giving up their season tickets. Less attendance means less beer sales which means less revenue. But the intoxicated behavior of some fans still persists.

It was once thought that Wrigley Field alone could draw in a million fans per year because it is such a throwback baseball park. But even that is no longer the case with its new digital scoreboards and advertising signage. The atmosphere of being a cathedral of old time baseball has changed to that of being a sports bar.

And do not be fooled . . . it was intentional. Ownership is desperate to jack up the revenue from the Cubs in any means possible. Clark the mascot is another method of selling a bunch of new Clark souvenirs to young families, while at the same time trying to entice mom and dad into buying just one or two more beers.

There is nothing evil or wrong about selling beer at a baseball park. It is part of the national past time. But one cannot exclude the negatives of excessive beer sales under the same banner of being a family friendly atmosphere.

January 17, 2014


Baseball approved "expanded" replay today.
What is actually reviewable is unclear.
But managers get a challenge flag, and up
to two challenges per game if the first one works.

This is going to slow down the game even more.
And it is not going to stop players and managers
from arguing calls? Or do you get tossed if the
manager has already used his challenge?

And what happens if there is an argument on the
field and not a challenge, can the umpires still
meet among themselves to review the play?
And can they use replay or just their memory?

According to media reports, managers will be allowed to challenge no more than two plays per game, with a second challenge only being allowed if the manager wins his first challenge, i.e. the objection to the play is sustained.  Challenges will be made verbally to that day's crew chief. The umpiring crew will also be allowed to initiate a review on any "qualified play" from the seventh inning on, even if there are no managerial challenges left.  Most plays will be eligible for challenge, including: ground-rule doubles, fan interference, stadium boundary calls, force plays (with the exception of a fielder touching second base on a double play), tag plays, fair/foul calls in the outfield, trap calls in the outfield, hit by pitch calls, timing plays such as whether a runner scores before a third out is recorded on the field, touching a base, passing runners and record-keeping errors (e.g. ball and strike counts, outs, substitutions, line up violations.)

Home run calls will continue to be reviewable upon the crew chief's discretion. Managers can request that the umpiring crew review a home run call but cannot directly challenge a home run ruling.

The hot button issue excluded from the new replay rules is the "neighborhood play" around second base during a double play. The rule book says to make a force out, a fielder must touch the bag before the runner. However, it has gotten enforced in a sloppy fashion at second, with umpires routinely giving the fielder a "safety cushion" around second base to avoid a player's sliding spikes. However, some of the out calls at second base have been horrendous . . . the fielder was not even close to the bag because of bad positioning or a poor throw. Traditionalists would want the rule enforced to the letter. 

Umpires will still perceive themselves being second guessed even more because of the new replay rules. The argument for the rules is that the integrity of the game should be that the "right" call be made. But when you exempt the double play bag tag from the rules, then that does not make much sense in the total picture of the sport. In addition, the problem with the length of major league games is only going to grow with more replay delays.

January 16, 2014


If there is anything to be learned about the new Cub mascot flap is a) the Cub front office has a very narrow view of public reaction in an Internet world of satire, bitterness, meanness and photoshop skills; and b) Cub fan frustration levels are reaching their limit.

No one should really care if the Cubs introduced a cartoon mascot and a large furry costume wearing employee to go visit children in hospitals.

But the perception from the adult fans was "that's all your going to do this off-season?"

Make no mistake about it, Clark the mascot is a another "revenue stream" devised by the business side of the organization to attempt to keep young families buying tickets to games. Clark will have his own "clubhouse" to greet kids and parents before the games . . . a "clubhouse" which is actually going to be a gift shop.

Perhaps it was the way that Clark was suddenly announced to the world. By management's reasoning, their focus groups were clamoring for a team mascot. But those commentators and season ticket holder bloggers have stated the idea of a mascot being a priority for the Cubs was non-existent in their minds. There are more important aspects of the team to address, including finding quality starting pitchers, signing a Samardzija extension, finding a real third baseman to play a full season, find a real lead off hitter, shore up the defense, etc.

It is not disingenuous to think the mascot announcement was going to be the "big thing" at the Cubs convention this weekend. The Cubs like to "surprise" those in attendance with something they'd like, when they brought back Kerry Wood for his disastrous final season. The fan expectation for a big announcement would have been Mashiro Tanaka, the star Japanese pitcher, donning the blue pinstripes. But the idea the Cubs were ever in contention to sign Tanaka was a pipe dream fed to local news outlets.

The Cubs continue to herd a bunch of minor league signees who have not had any big league success in 2, 3 or 4 years. Some speculate that the plan is not to "block" the hot prospects like Bryant, Baez, Soler, and Almora when they are promoted in the next few years. This plan assumes that all the Epstein-Hoyer prospects are going to be "impact" major league talent. Cub fans are aware of the hype to reality of great Cub prospects. So all the trivial moves the Cubs have made this off season are trivial in the big picture.

It is now assumed that pitchers Wesley Wright and Jose Veras, if they perform well, will be traded at the July deadline for more prospects. If Samardzija is not signed to an extension by opening day, odds are that he will also be traded by the deadline. Nate Schierholtz, in his final contract year, is another candidate for a deadline trade. This will be the third year of signing players in order to use them as trade chips.

The backlash against the mascot is part of the wave of frustration percolating in Cub nation. There continues to be no time table when the management will turn the team around and make it a competitive playoff caliber team. The mascot news is deemed a a bad diversion away from those hard questions the front office refuses to answer. As a result, the Cub off-season is much to do about nothing.

January 15, 2014


There have been several local articles this week in regard to the Cubs seeking a new television deal for their local broadcast rights.

As you recall, the Cubs are partners with other clubs and Comcast for ChicagoSportsNet. The Cubs are locked in through 2019 with this cable deal. The Cubs opened their other TV and radio deal with WGN. That deal now expires in 2014.

There is a five year gap before the cable and over-air television rights can synch up into one contract (or be placed on a new Cubs cable channel).

WGN welcomed the opening of the contract with the Cubs because the station says that it is losing money on the broadcasts. Poor teams equal poor ratings. But the Cubs are wanting to double the existing license fee.

WGN will not pay more money for programming that will lose money. WGN is now not locally owned (it is run by investment bankers in NYC). There is no local community tie or history to uphold for the new owners.

So the Cubs are in a quadmire of their own choosing: if WGN will not pay more, what other local TV station would pick up 60 Cubs games a season?  ABC, NBC and CBS are all network owned stations with set programming. Channel 32 FoxChicago is also a network owned station with its own national programming schedules. Fox does have a new cable sports channel, but the CSN deal prevents the Cubs from parking those extra TV games on a cable outlet.

The only other alternatives would be old UHF channels, whose programming is basically syndicated talk, reality, game and classic re-runs of network shows from the 1950s-1990s. Those stations do not have any news or sports departments, or "live" broadcast studios to support telecasting 60 Cubs games per season (home and away). It would take a large capital investment for one of those stations to carry the Cubs for only 5 seasons. It makes no business sense to do so.

The Cubs really want to stay with WGN, because it gets to Iowa and downstate on local cable systems. Also, WGN America is the last vestige of the cable superstation across several region cable systems. This keeps the Cubs in the minds of their fans downstate in Springfield, or out west into Iowa.

The new radio home is also in a similar straight. The two local sports stations already have their programming pretty much locked up with other sports teams and nationally syndicated programs. The one alternative would be to convert a news-talk station with no pro sports programming into the new Cubs flag station, i.e. WLS. But that would further dilute the weak sports advertising dollar in the Chicago market. Again, it is cheaper to pay two hosts in a studio than an entire remote crew and announcing crew for 162 games plus travel if it will not be profitable (as WGN claims).

The Cubs have taken the worst time to try to get a new local television deal. The Cubs have no leverage. The team is not competitive. The team's current ratings are poor. They are not giving any new suitor any assurance of a long term deal.

It may be speculation to say that trial balloons of going to a Fox UHF affiliate would be a means to get WGN to re-up at a higher license fee, but there is little incentive for the current local broadcast rights holders to pay more for the Cubs.

January 13, 2014


An arbitrator reduced Alex Rodruiguez's MLB PED suspension to 162 games, or in the entire 2014 season. As a result, A-Rod will lose approximately $25 million in salary.

But don't feel sorry for him. After 2014 season, the Yankees still owe him $61 million in base salary and up to $30 million in incentives for home run mile stones over 660 (which he is currently 6 HR shy).  One suspects that within a year, the Yankees were merely cut A-Rod and have all that dead money on their balance sheet for the next four years. It is also highly unlikely that any other team will then pick up an injured, old and tainted third baseman.

Rodriguez vows to appeal the ruling, even though he did not personally testify or refute the charges. He claims that the MLB star witness was a biased and uncredible witness. But that is not what the arbitrator found. Rodriguez tried to mount more of a public relations defense than a legal one. Recall, he admitted in interviews several years ago he used steroids after receiving the first big contract with the Rangers due to the pressure to perform. The Biogenesis matter made Rodriguez a multiple-drug policy cheater in the eyes of MLB.  One of the most outrageous statement he made was that Bud Selig was out to get him, and conspiring with the Yankees to take food out of his family's mouths. As referenced above, even if A-Rod does not play another game, he will be extremely well paid.

Which is part of the dark lining in the PED cloud. Cheaters, even when caught, still get to reap the rewards of their cheating. In order to get big money, life altering contracts players are tempted to cheat and enhance their performance (legally or illegally). Once they have signed the big money deal, the money is guaranteed. So even with the harsh penalty of a year long ban, the temptation is still there for players to get around the testing.

The designer drug merchants are always one step ahead of the testing facilities and professional sports collective bargaining agreements. It is doubtful the players union will ever agree to a lifetime ban (and forfeiture of the balance due on a player's guaranteed contract) if a player is caught cheating multiple times.

A-Rod will not go quietly because he craved the limelight. MLB and Yankees management just want him to go away. But this circus will last for at least another two years.


The Cubs own web site reveals the current team depth chart:

J. Lake

J. Ruggiano
J. Lake
R. Sweeney

N. Schierholtz

S. Castro
D. Barney
D. Murphy

D. Barney
L. Watkins

A. Rizzo

D. Murphy
L. Valbuena

W. Castillo
G. Kottaras

1. T. Wood
2. E. Jackson
3. J. Samardzija
4. C. Rusin
5. J. Arrieta

J. Veras (CL)
J. Russell
K. Fujikawa
A. Vizcaino
B. Parker
P. Strop
H. Rondon
C. Villanueva
A. Cabrera
J. Grimm
B. Raley
Z. Rosscup

The outfield seems pretty well set with Lake, Ruggs, and Schierholtz as starters with Sweeney as the back up. The Cubs failed to "upgrade" any of those positions, even though Lake still may have some upside potential.

The infield seems set as well, with Murphy/Valbuena platoon at third, Castro at short, Barney at second and Rizzo at first. Again, the Cubs failed to upgrade any of those positions.

At catcher, Castillo is the starter (barring injury) and Kottaras is the new back-up, which is a downgrade from Navarro.

The depth chart for the rotation is probably out of order, with Samardzija the default #1, Wood #2 and Jackson #3. Rusin gets a promotion to the #4 starter and Arrieta gets a chance at the 5th spot. Overall, the rotation seems slightly weaker than last season (Feldman was a consistent starter). Villaneuva could be a dark horse candidate to take the 5th starter role.

The bullpen has several names who will not make the 25 man roster, such as Vizcaino (injury rehab), Cabrera, Raley and Grimm (AAA). Veras takes over fro Gregg as closer, which may be a slight upgrade. Strop will be the set up man, again a slight upgrade. Fujikawa could be an improvement for the 7th if he is healthy since he was originally signed to be the closer. Parker was adequate in middle relief. Russell may have been overused and burned out. Overall, the bullpen could be a tad better but not much.

The Cubs have not done much to improve their major league roster during this off-season.

January 10, 2014


In all the scant objective criteria for the Baseball Hall of Fame, nothing has been more true than a pitcher winning 300 games.  Twenty-four men have accomplished this feat.

1. Cy Young – 511
2. Walter Johnson – 417
3. Pete (Grover Cleveland) Alexander – 373
3. Christy Mathewson – 373
5. Pud Galvin – 365
6. Warren Spahn – 363
7. Kid Nichols – 361
8. Greg Maddux – 355
9. Roger Clemens – 354
10. Tim Keefe – 342
11. Steve Carlton – 329
12. John Clarkson – 328
13. Eddie Plank – 326
14. Nolan Ryan – 324
14. Don Sutton – 324
16. Phil Niekro – 318
17. Gaylord Perry – 314
18. Tom Seaver – 311
19. Old Hoss Radbourn – 309
20. Mickey Welch – 307
21. Tom Glavine – 305
22. Randy Johnson – 303
23. Lefty Grove – 300
      Early Wynn – 300

All of them are in the Hall of Fame except Clemens and Randy Johnson (who will be on the ballot for the first time next year).

It takes an extra-ordinary and productive career to win 300 games in the major leagues.  A pitcher would have to average 15 wins over 20 full seasons. And considering that most pitchers in five man rotations start 33-35 games at most, a candidate for the 300 win club needs to be the pitcher of record in more than half their games (more like 75% when losses are factored in). That means that a pitcher needs to throw deep in each and every game in order to get the win. And in an era of pitch counts, that does not happen much anymore.

The debate is also whether there will be another 300 game winner.  Probably not. The closest acctive players with the most wins are far behind, such as Tim Wakefield – 200, Roy Halladay – 203, Tim Hudson – 205,  Livan Hernandez – 178,  CC Sabathia – 205 (33) Sabathia is the youngest at age 33.  Hudson and Hernandez are 38. Sabathia would have to average 13.5 wins for the next 7 seasons to get to 300 wins. Considering his recent injury history and the amount of innings already pitched, it is doubtful he could reach 300.

So it is probable that Randy Johnson will be the last 300 hitter to be elected to the Hall of Fame (as voters are trending against alleged steroid uses becoming hall of famers such as perception of Clemens).

Baseball probably will not want to push development of stud pitchers anymore. Baseball executives, like most sports managers, want more offense to drive casual fan interest.

January 9, 2014


Reports have Japanese star pitcher Mashiro Tanaka making a call this week on both the Cubs and White Sox. Tanaka will get a taste of an arctic weather blast, as cold and foreboding as the teams last season records.

The Cubs claim they are "all in" in the Tanaka signing derby. The White Sox are laying in the weeds not making a big deal about it. Of the two teams, it is more probable yet still highly remote that the White Sox would sign Tanaka over the Cubs.

Talk is free and signing free agents is quite expensive.

Media columnists are now wondering out loud whether the Ricketts family is willing to spend a ton of money to acquire premier free agents like Tanaka. The Ricketts have not tapped any new revenue streams that they have been pushing for the last year or two. Attendance, a major revenue source, continues to decline. The question is why would ownership spend millions of dollars for a good pitcher for a team that will continue to be bad for at least the next two or three years?

The same media pundits are also beginning to question the front office. This is Theo Epstein's third winter with the Cubs, and he has basically nothing tangible to show for his efforts. Yes, he has made trades and signed free agents, but those were second tier assets that have been moved for more prospects.  The constant tale of the great prospects down the line is turning into a hollow promise.

Many are looking at Epstein's Cub tenure as "kicking the can down the road."  You put off something for tomorrow that you should be doing today. Epstein's job was to build a competitive major league team. So far, it has been a utter failure. The excuse has been the reason for failure is that the Cubs minor league system was so poor it could not support the major league team. But that does not stop big market teams like the Red Sox or Yankees from fielding quality teams. And that does not stop small market clubs like the Orioles quickly promoting quality prospects to majors (especially young starting pitchers). So why not the Cubs?

The one-prong strategy of betting the farm on the farm is the reason why the Cubs are unwinding their major league roster to a basic AAA/AAAA squad. It is not to win the hearts and minds of the fans or the media. It is pare back the payroll with the hope of hitting a dozen prospect home runs in the near future. A near future which also according to the pundits seems to be inside the can being kicked down the road.

January 8, 2014


Just when you thought the television and cable window for local broadcast rights fees would be closing, another large baseball contract was made. 

The Phillies have agreed to a new local TV contract with Comcast SportsNet, according to the Philadelpha Daily News. Terms of the deal weren't announced, but it is estimated that the overall value of contract is more than $1 billion. The contract is between 20-25 years in length and is worth a "massive" amount of money, according to a source.  The Phillies were already getting roughly $35 million per year in their current deal with CSN, and the new contract will begin once the current deal expires following the 2015 season. $35 million times 20 years is $700 million on the low end, and one would expect the Phils would have gotten an annual boost of at least $10 million per season.

Cable operators appear content on locking up baseball as content in long term contracts, even though overall cable viewership has been declining. A local cable operator must believe that the sunk costs in broadcasting 81 home games is sufficient to off-set declining ratings. 

It is also unclear how the extra revenue will impact the Phils' player payroll. The Phillies were an older team that missed its championship window. Many of their starters are on the trade block, and there will be a rebuilding process for the next several years.

A Philadelphia newspaper columnist ran the numbers of the contract, 25 years at $2.5 billion, and found that if one takes into account inflation, the Phils are not getting the full $100 million in revenue value over the course of the contract, but only approximately $1.65 billion. Part of the problem the writer said is that 34 percent of such a deal is set to the league office for revenue sharing between all the clubs. He figures that in reality, the Phils current $25 million local broadcast revenue deal will only effectively double to $51 million. However, he says that in year 20, that $50 million is not going to buy a $50 million player in today's dollars. In twenty years, today's $50 million player will cost $70 million.

So the new deal does gives the Phils new revenue to at least keep pace, in the short term, with rising player contracts and team expenses. But clearly, these mega-deals are not the major cash windfalls people are led to believe in.

January 6, 2014


A Brewers fan site has projected the 2014 NL Central wins based on current roster WAR values.

NL Central Projected 2014 WAR
Team Cardinals Pirates Reds Brewers Cubs
Total Wins

January 3, 2014


Despite the statistical fact that most minor league prospects do not make it to the major leagues, Cubs and their fans continue to march down the untraveled road that the Cub stockpile of minor league talent will be paved with gold. But to put it into perspective, and assuming the Cubs know and can develop talent at double the actual statistical rate of success, it still would mean only 1 player from each affiliate would make it to the majors with any sort of impact (2.0 WAR/starter role).

For example, off the Iowa roster, pick one who will succeed:

Watkins, 2b
Olt, 3b
Nelson, 1b
Ha, cf
Grimm, sp
Hendricks, sp

From Tennessee, pick one:

Alcantara, ss
Villaneuva, 3b
Baez, ss
Jokisch, sp
Cabrera, sp
Batista, rp

From Daytona, pick one:

Soler, rf
Vogelbach, qb
Bryant, 3b
Wells, sp
Black, sp
Cates, sp

From Kane County, pick one:

Candelario, 3b
Amaya, 2b
Almora, cf
Johnson, sp
Zastryzny, sp
Scott, sp

From Boise, pick one:

Rogers, 3b
Dunston, cf
Encarnacion, of
Pugliese, sp
Underwood, sp
Blackburn, sp

If you had to guess on who had the most upside in each list, Hendricks, Baez, Bryant, Almora, and Underwood. That is six players contributing possibly in the next four seasons. That is only a quarter of the major league roster. That is why the road to the majors is not paved with gold, but speed bumps and pot holes.

January 2, 2014


I have heard of former players coming down from the broadcast booth to coach a team,
but it is very rare for a former player turned TV analyst to return to the field of play,
especially after a long lay-off.

ESPN's Mark Mulder has agreed to a minor league deal with a big league invite with the Angels.  Fox Sports reports Mulder can earn more than $6MM if all incentives are met,The deal comes with a guaranteed $1MM base salary.

Mulder, 36, hasn't pitched since 2008 because of shoulder issues, and has been working as an analyst with ESPN since 2011.  Mulder began his comeback in Arizona in November and auditioned for the Giants, Diamondbacks, and numerous other clubs before reaching agreement with the Halos.  In nine seasons with the Athletics and Cardinals, Mulder owns a 4.18 ERA with 5.7 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9.

The Angels have been acquiring young starting pitching this off-season, so this move (a major roll of the dice) is uncharacteristic. Some may say it is a low risk move since it is only a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, and most likely if Mulder doesn't make the 25 man roster he will go back into retirement. But still, his presence will take away innings from someone already in the Angels system who is trying to make the majors for the first time.

Five years without pitching is also going to be hard to overcome. Players are creatures of habit. With the salaries they have now, they train all year round to keep in the best shape possible. Spring training is not to get players "into shape," but to refine skills. Mulder has not had any competitive action for more than 5 years. That is a major hurdle on the come back trail.

It also signals to some that the quantity of starting pitching is thin. There are several starting pitchers who are still in the free agent pool. But teams are now more weary of losing a first round draft pick to sign one of them, unless they are truly ready to win right now. The Angels must question whether they can win the AL West after a disappointing 2013 campaign.