May 31, 2014


The Cubs signing 41 year old knucklehead Manny Ramirez to a AAA contract to be a "player-coach" is another odd piece of news from Clark and Addison.

The move makes little sense.

Ramirez is a two time PED violator. Six years after pushing a 65 man year old Red Sox employee down to the ground over a ticket dispute, Manny finally apologized. He is a baseball diva. He is a distraction.

And perhaps that is why the Cubs hired him. The team is the worst in baseball. The Iowa Cubs have little talent. Theo Epstein said Manny is not going to be promoted to the majors, but then why sign him as a "player?"

Ramirez is to play a couple times a week for Iowa. What's the point?

He will take away at bats from younger players and prospects. How does that help your ball club in the long run?

He is supposed to help teach prospects (Baez in particular) how to hit. Baez has been doing pretty good on his own. Some say if Manny imparts any "wisdom" on young players on how to prepare for games, that is a positive. But you already have coaches in Iowa whose job is to be hitting and fielding coaches.

What could possibly go wrong?

Baez and other prospects could become Mini-Mannies . . . privileged players who want special treatment and attention. Baseball is still a team sport. Unless you can produce big (non PED) numbers now, managers will not put up with personal antics.

Some say that this hire may be just Epstein paying back an old player of his - - - - but Ramirez was well compensated for his work with the Red Sox. He just wore out his welcome. How fast will that happen in Iowa?

May 30, 2014


The more time passes, the more the public understands the moving target which is the Ricketts plan for his massive Lakeview real estate development projects. The Cubs play a nominal role in the specter of the latest grand plan - - - the excuse - - - for a more overzoned and higher density use of the space at Clark and Addison.

The Cubs claim their new development project, a $575 million - - - increased by  $75 million - - -on will add more signs, seats and lights at Wrigley Field so  the team is allowed to “control our ballpark.” 

But that brash statement by Crane Kenney is a grenade to say the team will move to the suburbs if they don't get "everything" in the new plan. Whether the threat is real is irrelevant; the idea that the Ricketts family should be exempt from city building, zoning and community safety regulations is what is at issue.

Every business man and property owner in the City has to circumvent a maze of rules and regulations to do anything with their property. Chicago is a difficult place to open and run a business. No other business would get any traction trying to stuff more and more uses into a building than the Cubs latest plan: including  a 30,000-square-foot clubhouse in a two-level basement beneath an outdoor plaza; adding seven (7) outfield signs to block all rooftop views; adding outfield light towers; adding a 200-seat restaurant and 200-person auditorium behind the home dugout; adding three or four rows of bleacher seats and claiming even more seats by relocating the home and visiting bullpens from foul territory to a protected area beneath the expanded bleachers that gives relief pitchers a view of the field.

For some delusional reason, Ricketts believes that the neighborhood is "stealing" money from him because they are near Wrigley Field. Ricketts continues to expand year round bars and restaurants inside Wrigley Field to "recapture" dollars spent with local businesses. He will add more bar spaces in the triangle plaza (where he wants an open liquor license) and in the commercial space across from Wrigley. The auditorium has to be a means of taking business away from nearby clubs like the Cubby Bear Lounge. In other words, the new development plan is an all-out assault to create a 24/7 Times Square Ricketts owned entertainment area.

The Sun-Times reported that  Kenney said the Cubs have worked hand-in-glove with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration in recent months to develop the scorched earth plan that includes seven outfield signs, including two video scoreboards and literally dares rooftop club owners to sue.
Kenney said city landmarks officials  insisted that there be a “65-foot buffer” between the manual scoreboard in centerfield and the video boards in right and left fields. City Hall further demanded that there be “at least 20 feet between each of the seven outfield signs and that each of the four new LED signs added to the two video scoreboards be no more than 650 square feet.

“You wouldn’t just drop this on the city without them seeing it. We started talking about, `What are the important dimensions from the city’s perspective that need to be maintained. That’s where we came up with ideas around 65 feet, shrinking down the video board [already approved in left-field], putting these signs in these spots and creating these envelopes,” Kenney said.

But the mayor's office issued a statement that seemed to pare back Kenney's enthusiasm and spin that the city was on board with the revised plans, which will be submitted to the Landmark Commission on June 5th.
The Sun-Times also reported that "with a straight face,"  Kenney insisted that he has no idea what impact, if any, the seven outfield signs would have on the view from rooftop clubs that share 17 percent of their revenues with the team. He argued that a “perfect view” may not even be required from rooftop patrons who are more interested in “tailgating” than watching the game.

But that is not what the contract states with the rooftop owners. 
Kenney claims the Cubs had made many offers to settle the dispute (which the rooftop owners say is not a dispute but the Cubs unilateral anticipatory breach of contract) but they are at an impasse.

“There’s no animosity. There’s no hard feelings. . . .  Sometimes you’d like to see this as a big dramatic gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It’s none of that. It’s simply a math problem. We need to generate revenue inside the ballpark. We’re financing this ourselves. We’re unlike every team building a new facility,” Kenney said.

Right. Rooftop club owners beg to differ. Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association, said the lawsuit the Cubs seem determined to provoke will be filed shortly.“A contract is a contract. It’s unclear why the Cubs feel they can break a contract with rooftop owners, but they do not break contracts with vendors, baseball players or whomever,” McLaughlin said.
Noting that the rooftops share $3.5 million-to-$4 million of their annual profits with the Cubs, McLaughlin said, “Why would they do that if they didn’t’ feel they had a contract that protected their rights?"

Kenney said he’s confident the Cubs are on solid legal ground. However, if the Ricketts were so confident in their legal position, they could have gone to court last year and filed for relief and would have received a decision by now!

The public needs to understand that these real estate development projects are rolled into one package, using the Cubs futility as the reason for massive concessions from the city and neighborhood. But Wrigley Field is not "owned" by the Cubs, but a separate legal entity. The Cubs are merely a tenant at the facility. The facility, which Ricketts wants to change into a massive multi-purpose entertainment complex for concerts, other sports, corporate events, movie nights, etc. All the new revenue from signage, advertising and other events does not go to the baseball operations but into Ricketts other pockets. It is a disingenuous argument to make that this revised plan is going to help the Cubs win a championship.

It is also disingenuous to "celebrate" historic Wrigley Field this season in order to sell tickets for games while fielding a woeful team, then at the same time totally gut iconic Wrigley with video signs, advertising marquees and changes that will eliminate the historic look and feel of the park. But the bottom line for this ownership is to make more money; not running a ball club.

Ricketts has spent millions of dollars on lawyers, architects and consultants to plan and revise plans for his Clark and Addison shrine. The one unanswered question is: does he even have the money to fund these grand plans? Or is this another excuse to blame the rooftop, the neighbors, or government officials from blocking his new revenue streams to make the illogical jump that someone else has ruined the Cubs baseball team? Ricketts World is a highly concentrated, overzoned and burdensome development project that needs strict scrutiny from all interested parties because the impact could have long term negative consequences on the community and the city. Because no matter how much more money Ricketts takes in, that is not a guarantee that any of Theo's touted prospects can make it at the major league level. It is this diversion with real estate plans that cloud what fans want to see: improvements in the club and not the grounds the team plays on.

May 29, 2014


There has been much grousing about one baseball stat: wins.

Just because Jeff Samardzija is pitching great, but getting no run support, there is no reason to eliminate the win statistic. A pitcher's win stats are not irrelevant. It is a historical base line to compare pitchers from various eras.

A major league starting pitcher comes into the game with a mental state of throwing a complete game victory. At the beginning of professional baseball, pitchers were expected to throw complete games. There were no five man rotations or bullpen specialists. Cy Young started more than 40 games a season throughout his career. He averaged in his 22 years as a major league pitcher more than 334 innings per season, which led to an amazing 511 total victories.

A starter is the one player on the field that has the most control of the game. A commanding starting pitcher can make a bad team look good. Steve Carlton won 27 games in 1972 for a Phillies team that only went 59-97. Carlton was the victor in 45.6 percent of the Phillies wins that season.

Of course, the "win" stat is a "team" stat. But since scoring rules require a starter to throw 5 innings in order to "qualify" for a win, this shows the historic value of starting pitchers to the game. The old saying that a pitcher must keep his team "in the game" is a paramount aspect of the chess match between hitter (offense) and defense (pitching and fielding). Since the pitcher starts each play, what he does has a major impact on whether his team wins or loses.

And it makes sense that a starting pitcher that holds his opponent to three runs or less should be in a good position to lead his team to a win.

There are other stats that help evaluate a pitcher: ERA, WHIP, K/BB.

But wins is an easy stat to understand. It is the purpose of the game itself.

Pitchers put the burden upon themselves to will their teams to victories. As Ferguson Jenkins often tells when he got the ball to pitch, he expected from himself a complete game victory. Anything less was unacceptable. That is the approach he was taught as a young player.

But today, the modern pitcher is one of specialization. A starter is no longer pressured into complete games. Pitch counts plus a rotation of bullpen pitchers diminishes the number of innings a starter is expected to throw. A five man rotation decreases the number of starts. Those factor limit a pitcher's win total more than anything else.

Wins for pitchers is a historical stat which still has value. It is a starting point in comparing pitchers.
It is a starting point to sort good pitchers from bad ones. It is also a factor in determining how well teams play when various pitchers are on the mound. But most of all, win totals are still used as evidence in pitcher arbitration and contract negotiations.

May 28, 2014


Occasionally, the White Sox radio broadcast will have an interesting side story.

Ed Farmer relayed a story when he was a young pitcher in spring training. He went to the Cubs came and met Fergie Jenkins. Jenkins knew Farmer had pitched a game against a AAA club the previous day. Farmer told the future Hall of Famer that he threw 6 innings, and struck out 12 batters. Jenkins then asked how many pitches did Farmer throw. Farmer thought maybe a hundred. Jenkins then remarked his last game he pitched 6 innings, but only threw 48 pitches.

Jenkins told him that strike outs are fine for high school or college pitchers. But in the major leagues, pitchers need to throw "outs." He called it being democratic; getting his fielders in the game early and often. Inducing a grounder on one pitch is better than throwing 6 to get a strike out.

Farmer said he learned a valuable lesson that day.

Teams still focus in on strike outs as a measure of a pitcher. General managers love power arms because they tend to have more strike outs on their resumes. However, power pitchers tend to break down faster than pitchers with less velocity but more control.

Steve Stone recently remarked that some starters have trouble in the first two innings of a ball game. He blames it on preparation. He said the average starter throws around 70 bullpen pitches to get loose. Some players, if they are coming off injury, may throw half as many thinking that they are saving their arm. But it takes two innings of tosses to get to throwing shape, thereby costing the team several runs to make up.

In addition to 70 pregame tosses, each pitcher has 8 warm ups per inning. A six inning starter then throws 118 pitches in non-game situations per game. So when a team is concerned about pitch counts at 100 for a starter, in reality that number is more like 200 plus.

If teams are really concerned about pitch counts and arm injuries, they should teach pitchers how to throw outs - - - induce fly balls or grounders - - - rather than strike outs.

May 26, 2014


Baseball America does an excellent job of scouting and projecting players in the major league drafts.

In the last mock draft, BA notes that president Theo Epstein was part of a Cubs contingent that scouted Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost in last weekend’s Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament. If one of the three touted pitchers doesn’t fall to the Cubs at No. 4, the team could sign Pentecost to a "money-saving deal" that would allow them to spend more in the later portions of the draft. BA’s current projection is for that very scenario to play out.

A money saving deal is paying for a player under his slot value price, and then use that savings to sign a player lower in the draft above that player's slot value price.  It is moving first round money into the second or third round in order to sign a player who has fallen (by performance or injury but still has upside potential) to a near first round deal.

Why would a player sign a below slot deal? Because, in essence, the prospect is being drafted higher than his real projection. He may be a good player, even a first rounder, but in an objective field may fall to the bottom half of the round (and millions of slot dollars less). If one compromises on that value toward the projected slot value, the savings is what teams can use in the signing pool for other players.

The only other avenue to bring down slot values is to draft college seniors and offer below slot. The reason is simple; if the prospect does not sign he has to wait a year to become a free agent. A year without competitive ball (rookie league or college) is a huge negative on a player's development track. On the flip side, high school draft choices have more leverage to say "no thanks" and return to school.

It is not to say that the Cubs don't need to draft a first round caliber catcher. The Cubs system is barren of catching prospects, so signing Pentecost can be justified without the contract savings loophole.

May 24, 2014


One would think, no, expect, that a manager should know the in-game situation before heading out to the mound.  The manager has a bench coach, pitching coach, and other coaches near him throughout the game. They should work as a team, discussing strategy, go over pitching and hitting charts, and making game adjustments.

So it is highly unusual when a manager goes to the mound and makes a seriously dumb gaffe.

Brewer manager Ron Roenicke went to the mound on Thursday night and signaled for a relief pitcher. The problem? No one was warming up in the pen.

Because Roenicke called for a reliever, he had to insert left-hander Will Smith into the game, without a normal bullpen warm up session.  Smith was only allowed the eight courtesy pitches on the game mound.

The Braves took advantage, scoring three runs in the seventh inning, coming from behind to take the lead before winning 5-4 at Turner Field.
"I feel bad about everything," said Roenicke, who took the blame for the botched communications in the Milwaukee dugout and bullpen. "It's going to be hard on me."
Ryan Doumit's pinch-hit single brought home the tying and go-ahead run after the Brewers summoned Smith, who was just sitting around in the bullpen with his jacket on.
This loss clearly goes into the "manager's loss" column. His decision clearly changed the outcome of the game.

Different pitchers have different warm up needs. Steve Stone was recently on the radio discussing the question of why some starters get roughed up in the early innings, then settle down.  Stone said that it because they don't warm up enough in the pre-game. Stone said the average starter throws around 70 warm up pitches before the game; some from the wind-up and some from the stretch. However, some pitchers (especially coming off an injury) cut back on the tosses and only throw 30-35 pitches. Stone thinks that is not enough to stretch out an arm or get a rhythm. As a result, it takes a luke warm pitcher two innings on the mound to get warmed up and in control. But by that time, the opponent may have scored a lot of runs.

It is up to the pitching and bullpen coaches to make sure their pitchers are sufficiently warmed up to play. Ryan Dempster was also quoted as saying recently that he believes pitch counts are overrated. He said he felt the best when he pitched 8 games in a row as a closer, than pitching every five days as a starter. 

There are some "quick start" relievers who can quickly toss 6 or 7 bullpen pitches and they are ready to go. But that also may be that they have trained themselves through "over use" to be ready quickly. Now, since many relievers are getting big money deals, management keeps pitch counts on relievers too. Some times a reliever will not throw three games in a row for fear of injury. 

A manager should know how many pitches it takes each pitcher on his staff to warm up. He should be able to anticipate when to get a reliever up in the pen and into the game several batters ahead of the actual game action. The worst thing for a reliever is being told to warm up, sit down, warm up, sit down over the course of a few innings. It leads to overthrowing in the bullpen, and being ineffective when called to the mound later in the game.

With all the technology and communications equipment available to a manager, there is no excuse for a call to the bullpen be such as gaffe as seen in the Brewers contest. It cost the Brewers a victory, which could loom large in a close pennant race.

May 22, 2014


It is hard to imagine that any major league team would want to trade their Number One and Number Two starting pitchers. Pitching is such a scarcity in baseball. But the consensus is that is exactly what the Cubs will do before the July trade deadline.

Jeff Samardzija has pitched his way out of town. He has yet to get any run support, but he is making headlines for his stellar quality starts so far this season. In 10 starts, he is 0-4, 1.46 ERA, 1.088 WHIP.

In 9 starts, Jason Hammel has a record of 5-2, 2.91 ERA, and fantastic 0.903 WHIP.

Hammel is on a one year deal so he knew he was pitching for a big contract next season. Samardzija has refused to sign an extension with the Cubs because the Cubs have not shown him any signs of building a winner; he has been ticked off that every season 40 percent of the rotation has been dealt. He wants to be traded to a winning team.

After the Yankees series, most people believe either Hammel or Samardzija would be in NY pinstripes by mid-Summer.

The question is only what will be the asking price by Epstein and Hoyer. Belief: a lot.

But it also begs the question, if you receive five or six prospects in return for Samardzija and Hammel, are any of those prospects going to be a proven #1 or #2 major league pitcher? And if so, why would the trading partner give up those extremely valuable (and cheap - - - under 6 years of team control) for two costly veteran starters?


No wonder the neighbors don't trust Tom Ricketts. He continues to change his mind when he does not get his way. His latest tantrum is that since the rooftop owners won't agree to his approved plans that block their views (which the rooftops claim violates their agreement with the team), then he is going back to the city to revise his Wrigley plans to add MORE signs and MORE expansion.

The Chicago Tribune reports this morning that Ricketts will push for "revised" plans with the city.

There are two ways of looking at this latest development in the Wrigley development saga:

1. Ricketts was insincere when his last grand plan was approved when he said that was all that was needed to bring in the necessary revenues to build a championship team. Or,

2. Ricketts does not have the money to do any redevelopment projects so in order to save face he will revise the plans (to delay the project) and blame someone else for the delay. For if he worried about the rooftops suing over the old plan, why up the ante now with more signs (and the costs of revising plans that may be shot down in court?)

Ricketts has a selfish, spoiled child reasoning for this latest forway into city hall politics: If the rooftop owners are going to sue the Cubs anyway over blocked views into the stadium, the Cubs might as well get more of what we want in an upgraded ballpark. Ricketts blames the rooftop owners for not agreeing to his original new signage plans. The rooftop owners cite their revenue sharing settlement agreement that provides unobstructed views into Wrigley through 2023. That means no electronic billboard or advertising signage in the bleachers. As a result, the rooftop owners don't have to agree to any changes proposed by Ricketts because the parties already have a contract in place.

The Trib reports Ricketts will submit a revised proposal to City Hall that would feature:

1. more large electronic signs
2. additional seats
3. bigger clubhouses
4. relocation of the bullpens from foul territory to a spot under the bleachers by removing bricks and some of the iconic ivy and covering the space with a material that would allow relievers to see onto the field.

The Sun-Times reports that part of the revised plan will include 92 foot tall outfield light towers to illuminate the outfield during night games. This aspect of the new plan severely alters the historic view from home plate to the bleachers and beyond. 

The revised proposal would ask for seven signs lining the outfield, including three 650-square-foot LED signs in left field, along with a video board of nearly 4,000 square feet. In right, there would be another, 2,400-square-foot video board, along with a 650-square-foot LED sign and the illuminated script sign.

Capacity at the ballpark would be increased by 600, to 42,495, with the addition of 300 new seats and 300 new standing room positions, according to the team.

This is a significant change from the compromise plan approved by the city last year. Under the compromise plan, the Cubs were allowed to put up a 5,700-square-foot Jumbotron-like video board in left field and a 650-square-foot, illuminated script sign in right as part of a $300 million, five-year renovation of the ballpark. The Cubs also won the right to build a nearby hotel, plaza and office complex, replete with several more additional signs, at a cost of $200 million.

Alderman Tom Tunney made it clear that the Rickettses could be in for a battle. "Through lots of pain last year, we approved a very generous sign package and they haven't done anything with it," Tunney said. "I think we gave them a fair package to get going (on renovations), and I think the neighborhood gave them a lot of concessions. We rolled out the red carpet to keep the team at the historic corner of Clark and Addison."

For the Cubs ownership and management, this is another public relations disaster. They spent all of their PR capital convincing the general public and fan base that the changes to Wrigley Field was necessary in order to pay for talent on the field.  They had the elements of an old, broken down ball park and a bad team as reasons for massive renovation needs. But, the team also wanted to have city zoning and building breaks no other business development in the city would ever get - - - because the Cubs are a unique property.

But here is the real reasons the Cubs are in such a mess. The Cubs cannot redo their local broadcasting deals until after the 2020 season. The Tribune stuck Ricketts with allegedly bad radio and TV deals as part of the sale process. (But again, Ricketts knew or should have known about them when he bid on the team.) The rooftop deal was also a known factor when Ricketts made his bid. For many people, this seems to be Ricketts realizing that he made a "bad" or "costly" purchase of the team and Wrigley Field, and now is trying to find a way around the financial binds of his purchase agreement. But only Ricketts is to blame for cornering himself.

Ricketts will have to convince  the Landmarks Commission, the Plan Commission and the City Council that he should be allowed more drastic changes to Wrigley Field as set forth in his revised plans. This will be a harder sell than the last proposal. These commissioners and alderman will ask why the team is coming back in less than a year with revised plans. What has really changed to cause a drastic change in the approved plans? The fact that the Cubs may be losing money is not a good reason to alter what had already been approved by the city.

To be honest, the revisions will forever alter the look and feel of Wrigley Field into a Times Square billboard hell hole. It seems the real plan is to squeeze every dime out of every nook, cranny and patron at Wrigley.

But for all the hue and cry Ricketts will make, it is possible the neighbors and city will say they have had enough and deny the revised plans. This would be calling Ricketts weak bluff of moving the team to the suburbs. But for $500 million, Ricketts could build exactly what he wants to build in the suburbs. If he was truly worried about keeping the historic Wrigley Field as a iconic venue, then why is he smothering all of its charm with electronic signage?

It is all about money. The bottom line is the bottom line. This is another signal that the Cubs revenue projections going forward, even under the old plan, may be insufficient to keep the team (and its debt service) in order. Ricketts will never open his private ledgers to public scrutiny, so no one can feel sorry for his plight.

The final straw may be that Ricketts ownership has made the Cubs an "unwatchable" team. An unlikeable team. An unlikeable ownership group. All of these grand plans may come off for naught if the fan base stops caring about its team. Loyalty can last only so long in the face of adversity.

May 21, 2014


CSNChicago story with Theo Epstein has this revealing quote at the end:

“‘We don’t know (bleep)’ is a way to remind yourself – and remind everyone around you – that there is way more we don’t know about the game than what we do know about the game,” Epstein said. “All you can really do is set a vision, hire great people, make sure your processes are really sound and keep trying to get better each day and let things fall where they may. That’s as true now as it was then.”

This is not what you want your team president or general manager barking to the media.

We were told that Epstein was a baseball boy genius; the architect of two World Series championships. He was the savior of the doomed Cub franchise. He was a turnaround artist. He had a plan.

This quote basically says:

a) have a plan;
b) hire good people; and
c) let the chips fall where they may.

That is not a plan but the mental state of a losing shooter at the craps table.

The Cubs chips have fallen and broken into thousands of pieces (as much as the no-shows at Wrigley Field). 


May 20, 2014


MLBTR reports that the White Sox have placed slugger Jose Abreu on the 15-day disabled list with posterior tibial tendinitis in his left ankle.  Abreu returned to Chicago for an examination and was placed in a boot to immobilize the ankle and help facilitate the recovery process. He also will undergo further tests, such as another MRI, and further treatment for at least another day.  Abreu was batting .260/.312/.595 with a MLB-leading 15 home runs and 42 RBIs in 189 plate appearances.

There is no doubt that the White Sox spent their money wisely on Abreu. The rookie sensation produced immediate results on his 6 year $68 million contract.

Someone remarked over the weekend that the White Sox got production from Abreu's big deal, while the Cubs have yet to see anything from their big signee, Jorge Soler.  In 2012, Soler signed a 9 year / $30 million contract with the Cubs, including a $6,000,000 signing bonus, and an annual average salary of $3,333,333.

Soler has had injury issues and a couple of mental incidents so far in the minors. He is only reached Class AA ball. Since he has been with the Cubs organization, he has only played in 97 minor league games, hitting 13 HRs and 67 RBI. Soler had been the Cubs #1 prospect when he signed, but now he has fallen down those rankings. It seems an expensive developmental player who has been slowly dropping in status. After this season, scouts and pundits will probably put the final "tag" on Soler on whether he is still a high quality prospect or just another minor league player.

May 19, 2014


About a quarter of the season is over, and the Cubs are mired in last place.

Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel have led the staff in quality starts.

With the exploding rash of Tommy John injuries around the league, the value of Samardzija and Hammel will be never higher than it is today.

Don't wait for the July trade deadline.

Don't even wait to June 15th.

If Samardzija and Hammel are not going to be cornerstone pieces for the 2016-2017 Cubs, then you have to trade them now. Samardzija has all but said "trade me," since he will not sign an extension and he is following Matt Garza's advice of "pitch yourself out of town."  Hammel was signed specifically to play and trade this season.

 The Cubs could probably get at least two major league ready starting pitchers each for Samardzija and Hammel. That is four new starting pitchers for 2015 rotation. Considering the Cubs current AAA team does not have a major league ready stopper, this is the only way to quickly stock the organization with quality arms (the major deficiency of the team).

The argument that if a team waits to the deadline, there will be more interest and competition for players, the more prospects a team will get in return. As we have seen the past few years, teams are more likely to protect their top prospects than trade them for a rent-a-player veteran pitcher. Samardzija is still under club control which makes him more valuable than Hammel. One would believe that if either is traded to a contender, they would sign an extension.

But will the front office be bold enough to make a trade market for their top two starters now?

Probably not.

May 18, 2014


The Chicago Cubs are operating like a zany Don Knotts movie about a gunfighter who can't shoot straight. In the last series of management gaffes, has found that the historic muruals painted on Wrigley Field actually depict an event held at Comiskey Park.

According to the report, in August, 1927, famed aviator Charles Lindbergh came through Chicago as part of his triumphant, whirlwind tour of the country celebrating his historic trans-Atlantic flight from Long Island to Paris.  He landed his Spirit of St. Louis plane at what is now Midway Airport, at 55th and Cicero, and then drove to Comiskey Park, at 35th and Shields, on his way to a big reception and rally at Soldier field, at about 14th and Lake Shore Drive. However, no where in the records did Lindbergh travel to Wrigley Field.  An analysis of the photographs and mural show upper deck arches which identify the picture is from Old Comiskey Park and not Wrigley Field.

How can Cubs management make such an error? If the business and marketing people were so focused on celebrating Wrigley Field this year, how do they NOT know Lindbergh did not attend a game at Wrigley Field in 1927? Was it just laziness to connect a global celebrity icon to an aging ball park to juice the marketing campaign? Probably.

But one of the continuing issues I have with the current management is that the focus of this celebration is more and more away from the actual baseball being played on the field. It seems the Cubs don't want the public to know about the Cubs because the current Cubs are so bad. Instead, promote famous aviators, old Chicago Bear greats and the green marquee sign over the main entrance.

May 17, 2014


By some accounts, White Sox player Jose Abreu is putting up "Ruthian" numbers.

In his first 42 games, Abreu is hitting .271 BA, .320 OBP, .620 SLG, with 15 HR and 41 RBI. He has an in-season WAR of 1.1.

If you want to make a true comparison, you need to go back to 1922 when Babe Ruth was also 27 years old. In 1922, Ruth played in 110 games. He hit .315 BA, .434 OBP, .672 SLG with 35 HR and 96 RBI.

Abreu will have the opportunity to play more games than 1922 Ruth.

But if we confine the ratio to Ruth's GP, Abreu would project o 39.28 HR and 107.38 RBI.  Abreu's numbers calculate to +12.2 percent in HRs and +11.8 percent in RBIs.

The White Sox would be happy if Abreu ends the season hitting 39 HR, 107 RBI, .271 BA and 4.4 WAR.

May 16, 2014


During a rain-out, news still can be made even if it is under the radar.

When the Cubs-Cards game was rained out, CSNChicago posted an interview with GM Jed Hoyer. It was about the Cubs spring training hero, Javy Baez, who is mired in a AAA slump after an injury.

“He’s in a big slump,”  Jed Hoyer said. “He’s going to have to figure his way out of it. He’ll be stronger for having to go through this. A team almost expects a little bit of a lag at the end of spring training, and then early in the year because there probably is emotionally a little bit of a letdown after you sort of audition, if you will, in spring training. You have the adrenaline and then you go down. But I think we’re past that point.”

He added,  “Now it’s just a matter of Javy kind of figuring out what he needs to do to get through this.” Hoyer said. 

Baez is only 21 years old. He was pushed through the lower levels of the minors with relative ease. But now with better competition at AAA, he has began to struggle. Pitchers are more experienced. Adjustments are made quicker. 

But what Hoyer said is troubling about how he perceives the final stages of player development. Hoyer said that Baez was the one who has to "figure his way out of it."

When Dusty Baker managed the Cubs, he had a viewpoint that every player on his roster was a professional ball player. As a professional, it was up to the individual player to prepare himself for each game and each game situation. That was how he was taught as a player; he was expected to be ready without any coaching.

But the Cubs have preached about impressing a "Cubs way" in the minor league development of their players. However, what Hoyer said was more to the Baker spectrum that it is all on the player to figure things out on his own in order to learn from his mistakes and failures.

Just as a hot spring training can explode confidence, a long minor league slump can create huge doubts in a player.  It is important that the teachers continue to teach players throughout their careers. I recall Ozzie Guillen as the White Sox manager teaching veterans  infield drills before major league games in order to keep their skills sharp and to make sure they avoid bad habits.

A young player like Baez may not know how to correct his listing ship. But putting the burden on the player seems like the front office pulling away from responsibility if Baez does not pan out like the pumped up expectations that the Cubs have been selling for the past three years.

In another interview, Hoyer said “I’ll be really happy when we talk about our team only. But I get it. I totally understand why people want to talk about the future and why people want to ask about our prospects and want to ask about the draft. We are building for the future.”

Well, that's all the Cubs have been selling: THE FUTURE. Now, when the future is supposed to yield results, Hoyer and the team want to back away from talking about it? That is not a very good sign. It seems like the first step in a hasty retreat from the battlefield which the marketing department has created in the fan base.

May 15, 2014


Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago may have made the observation of the year.

"CHICAGO -- In their eternal search for sponsorship dollars, the Chicago Cubs have done the impossible: They marketed watching paint dry.

No, they haven't found a sponsor for the Cubs' offense.

As part of the season-long 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, the Cubs and new sponsor Benjamin Moore held an event at Wrigley's famous red marquee Wednesday morning. At the event, painters turned the marquee green.

The marquee paint was chipped away to find the old green color from the mid-1930s, and Benjamin Moore used a handheld spectrophotometer to match that green to its own "mallard green" color."

Is there nothing that Crane Kenney and the "business" side of the franchise won't do?
Are the Cubs so cash strapped that they are bartering for maintenance services  like a small town radio station?

What could be next? On off-days, hiring out Cub players to be baby-sitters for season ticket holders?

May 14, 2014


During last night's telecast, Len Kasper made the observation that when the Cubs have won this year, their run total averages to 7.26. When the Cubs have lost this year, the run total averages only 2.21.

A five run differential between wins and losses means that the Cubs competitive imbalance is widening. To put it another way, a pitcher today is recognized with a "quality start" if he pitches 6 innings and gives up 3 runs.  I think that definition is too high because that means the pitcher has a 4.50 ERA.  A better stat would be 2 runs over 6 innings (3.00 ERA), or 3 runs over 7 innings (3.86 ERA).

When the Cubs win, the offense produces 42 percent more scoring than a 3.00 ERA quality start.

When the Cubs lose, the offense produces 26 percent less scoring than a 3.00 ERA quality start.

That is a consistency range of plus/minus 68 percent. Or, the gulf between the "feast or famine" play of the Cubs roster.

One would hope that a professional team would have some sort of zen balance to hitting and scoring runs. One would think that a consistent and competitive team would have a plus or minus of a couple of runs per victory or loss. The Cubs appear to have doubled that anticipated run spread.

There is no such thing as finite number of hits in a player's swing. When a player gets three hits one game, he can get three hits the next game. Perhaps, a hot hitter is overconfident and tries to make single contact into home runs (a formula for failure). Or, MLB advanced scouting is so good now that pitching reports on how to get out hitters is communicated in real time. It is hard to watch a player hit like Babe Ruth in game one of a series, then look like a hapless T-baller in game two.  Now, managers will tell you that over the long season, a player will always revert to "the back of his baseball card." But hitting gurus like Charlie Lau preached that if one has a consistent swing mechanics (he believed in a flat plane approach that Frank Thomas adopted successfully for his Hall of Fame career), the player will have consistent results.

If you look at the Cub hitters, there is no consistent hitting philosophy on display. You have a lot of free swingers like Castro and Lake, a couple of crouch guys like Schierholtz and a couple of tall, quiet hitters like Rizzo. All those types have different swing planes and different strike zone coverages as a result. Even though the front office has preached teaching "the Cubs Way," it certainly has not been taught or adopted at the major league level.

May 13, 2014


The Cubs passed another dubious milestone.

The franchise has lost its 10,000th game.

It becomes the third franchise to pass that losing mark (the Phillies and Braves are the other two clubs).

With its 44 Hall of Famers, the Cubs surprisingly still hold a franchise winning percentage of .511. But we all know, the Cubs have not won it all in more than a century.

The Cubs have settled in to .333 baseball. That is about replacement player level (AAA). That is also not surprising due to the make-up of the squad and the multiple platooning being done by manager Renteria.

The Cubs have been digging themselves quite the large hole trying to find "bottom." The hole was a means of obtaining high draft picks in order to re-stock the farm system. In construction, you need to dig deep holes to have a sturdy foundation.

But how interesting is it to watch someone dig a hole?  Perhaps it is slightly more interesting than watching paint dry.

The Cubs are on pace to lose 108 games, or in a parlance of the day, be "Astro bad."

It is not an honorable honor.

But I think this Deep Dig Project may have more lasting effects. The team is so bad for so long it will affect future free agents from signing with the Cubs. The team's constant losing will wear on veteran players who will want to get out of town like Matt Garza. The team's constant losing becomes the culture of the clubhouse and will affect young players who may never learn how to win. They may get lulled into becoming the next generation of lovable losers. Except, this time the love is not showing up to the ball park. There are die hard fan sites contemplating doing dark because the Cubs are unwatchable, and the "prospect watch" stories are now merely collective white noise.

It is not the loss milestone that is the headline here; it is the sinking ship on Lake Michigan that may not be salvageable when the prospects row out into the choppy waters.

May 12, 2014


The Cubs needed a right handed hitting outfielder. Junior Lake is the de facto RH OF on the roster, along with super-sub Emilio Bonifacio. When they broke camp, you would think the front office would not be content with its roster.

Injuries spurred the White Sox to troll the waiver wire. The team may have found a gem in Moises Sierra, who was released by the Blue Jays. He was not hitting in Toronto, but Rick Hahn must have seen something in the 25 year old AAAA type player.

Sierra is hitting .364, 1 HR, 2 RBI in 22 ABs for the White Sox. He had a 12 pitch at bat yesterday where he fouled off pitch after pitch until he got a single. That is a good sign of a professional hitter.

Sierra may be only the 5th outfielder/reverse once Adam Eaton returns from the disabled list, but the whole idea of managing a roster is not be static; when needs arise, a general manager must take action to find a solution. Sierra may return to his career form at some time, but there have been cases where a "change of scenery" and new opportunities spark a player to immediate and lasting improvement.

It probably will help that Sierra is playing most every day.  The Cubs continue to multi-platoon their position players except for first, short and catcher (the only consistent hitters so far this season).

And the funny thing is that Steve Stone during his broadcasts has only called Sierra "Moises Alou" a couple of times.

May 9, 2014


It was like watching one of those overhyped gold mining reality shows . . . there are hours of episodes but at the end of the season the miners crap out.

Last season, more fans spent their time researching, watching and following the Cubs vaulted minor league prospects. Several, including Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, were tearing the cover off the ball. It was more enjoyable to invest time and resources in tracking the development of those prospects than watch the major league team stumble from series to series.

But all reality shows get stale real fast.

So far, word from down on the farm is that those golden prospects have tarnished to brass.

No one at AAA Iowa is so far above the fray as to demand a call-up to the major league roster. And that is a bad sign. The Cubs front office signed a bunch of young prospects and put them in the low minors because they had "high ceilings."  The question becomes when do the prospects actually "hit" their ceilings. If it is at the AAA level, then those prospects have crapped out like the gold miners.

The season is still young, but slow starts seem to compound on young players. Take Brett Jackson for example. After his blazing AAA season, he earned a call-up to the majors at the end of the season. He struggled badly. The next year, he was back at AAA, and he struggled so badly he was demoted to AA by the end of the year. He is back in AAA, but only hitting .198.

Jackson is the poster boy for prospect gold. He was the five tool outfield prospect that was the "can't miss" Kid. Now at age 25, he is not even on the radar for a major league job.

But it is not that unusual. Most prospects have the fate of Jackson. But when the major league team is so poor, it can only sell one thing: the future. But the future may not be as bright as presented; and if the vaulted prospects don't pan out, the Cubs may be in store for decades of poor teams. I don't think the current fan base will support a second "ten year" rebuild plan for this organization.

May 8, 2014


There was as much sizzle for the Cubs-Sox Crosstown Classic as a sidewalk dog turd in the middle of a February blizzard.

Both teams are coming off horrible 2013 campaigns.

And this year has not been too kind. One team has lost two starting pitchers, their third baseman, their second baseman, their right fielder and center fielder to injuries. The bullpen started off in a mess. But this White Sox team is still light years ahead of the Cubs.

The Cubs front office duo of Epstein and Hoyer have been in their positions longer than White Sox GM Hahn. Yes, Hahn was an assistant under Kenny Williams, so the White Sox management "team" is still together. But from all reports, Hahn is making the baseball calls.

He pulled outfielder Moises Sierra off the waiver wire last week when Avisail Garcia went down with a season ending injury. Sierra took to Cub pitching like a fish to water: he is 5 for 9 (.556 BA).  A career minor league pitcher, Scott Carroll, is called up and makes two quality starts (1-1, 0.68 ERA and 1.05 WHIP).

And the Cubs have struggling Mike Olt.

And Darwin Barney who in the field is looking like a lost little leaguer.

This is a tale of two different baseball team philosophies.

The White Sox have to win in order to draw fan support. The Sox do not have the financial resources of the Cubs, but the team does not have the time to do a "rebuild." Instead, the Sox went out and traded and signed international free agents like Jose Abreu. Some call the roster turnover as "re-tooling" than rebuilding.

On the other side of town, the Cubs allegedly had the money to "re-tool" but stubbornly want to stay bad in order to re-stock the minor league system with high draft picks and Latin American teenagers.

The White Sox, even with their player injuries, are built to compete in 2014 while the Cubs are a complete journeyman AAAA team which as settled in to the bottom.


When Bryce Harper got benched for not running out a tapped grounder back to the mound (which I disagreed with the manager's decision), the two schools of thought are a) always hustle and b) don't hurt yourself.

Harper's bench play - - - he got out of the box when the pitcher already had the ball and was throwing to first. There is no reason for Harper, on that play, to sprint down first and risk a hammy injury. But the Nationals manager wanted to set an example, so he pulled Harper from the game. (A columnist later said that move probably cost the team the game as Harper's batting slot came up in a critical time in the 8th and the utility player could not get a hit.)

Fans like players who hustle. It is the physical means of showing that you are giving effort. It is the performance that fans want to see. I get that; but baseball is a long season. You have to play smart, not reckless.

And a few weeks later, Harper is hustling around second to steam into third base. He slides head first and jams his thumb. He is gone to the disabled list for at least two weeks. Now, no one criticized Harper for legging it into third or his slide. But it was his slide that was the problem.

Teams allegedly go to spring training to work on the fundamentals of the game. It is apparent that base running and especially sliding is not taught at the major league level. There really is no reason to slide head first into any base. A runners momentum engine is his legs not his upper body. It actually slows down a player when he dives toward a bag instead of running and sliding with his legs.

Why coaches don't realize this or drill in the base running fundamentals is baffling since offense stats are down, and teams need to manufacture more runs in order to stay competitive.

The golden era of base running had to do with the stealers, like Maury Wills and Ricky Henderson, who can steal 100 bases a year. A single or a walk to an accomplished base runner was like hitting a lead off double every game. But ever since the Steroid Era, the game has shifted to individual stats like HR, RBI, Slugging Percentage - -  - the numbers that generate the big money contracts. The wily base stealer is no longer a priority for most major league clubs.

A player who wants to go out and perform at 100% is fine if he has the fundamentals to keep himself from getting hurt. It is like giving your 11 year old the keys to your sports car so he can go a few laps around the block. He may get around the first corner fine, but once he accelerates the odds are he will crash and burn on the next corner.

Some managers and player agents treat their star players like thoroughbred horses. They are pampered until race day when they are whipped into a frenzy. But baseball players should be seen more like work horses who are built not for a mile and half race but a four hour work day.

May 7, 2014


Cubs GM thinks Garza is still stinging from the rejection he must have felt when the Cubs traded him to the Rangers. However, Garza could not be clearer in his recent statements: he thought the Cubs losing hopeless and terrible. "You go through three years of constantly hoping, you kind of run out of hope,” Garza said. He compared it to a prison.

“We have to deal with those comments,” Hoyer said. “Until we’re winning, until we prove that we’re an organization that he would want to play for, I don’t think we can really comment on it. It’s his opinion and he expressed it.”

So Hoyer got around to responding to those comments. “Garza got his payday,” Hoyer said in CSNChicago article before the Cardinals series. “He’s on a team that’s winning. I guess he feels like he’s in a position right now to make comments. It’s on us now to flip that script, to show that we’re a place that people want to be, to show that we’re a winning organization.”

“It doesn’t really bother me,” Hoyer said. “Being traded is a hard thing, emotionally, for people. Even in a situation like that where we had a good relationship with him, there’s probably a feeling of rejection, for lack of a better word. People say emotional things when asked about it, because there’s probably some resentment they’re harboring.”

May 6, 2014


As Yahoo Sports reported recently, umpires are humans. They make mistakes. But in a recent Dodger-Twins game, the worst call in the history of the sport may have occurred against the Dodgers.

Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers, hit a high chopper up the middle of the diamond. He clearly beat the throw to first base. The throw skipped past the first baseman, but the Twins catcher backed up the play. The film clearly shows that Puig stayed on the right side of the foul line all the way through his run past first base. His body never crossed the foul line toward second.  However umpire Tim Welke called Puig out after he made a phantom "lean" toward second base after an infield single

Welke mistook Puig sharply turning his head to the right to check for the ball's location as an attempt of the runner to advance to second base.  It was evident from Puig's body language that Puig wanted to take an extra base, but when saw Pinto with the ball, he applied the brakes. If Puig's left shoulder began to dip toward second, the rest of his body actually leaned right. He never left the baseline, never crossed the foul line. He stopped, turned around clockwise (that's away from second base), and started walking back to the bag like an innocent man who just had hit an infield single.

Now, some believe that umpires are more sensitive to their calls because of instant replay. But here is a situation where the call was blatantly wrong, but nothing was done about it. The play was not reviewed, and the Dodgers first base coach did not put up an argument. Puig just stood there in shock until his coach told him to head to the dugout.

One could argue that if MLB is going to rely on replay technology to make its game better, there should be an instant "alert" to the crew chief from the league office or official scorer to correct a blatant missed call. Then have the crew chief review the play and make the correct call. Of course, replay itself is not perfect. At least twice this season, calls were reviewed during games and afterward, the umpires got the play wrong.

May 5, 2014


After discussing the Mets fan "loyalty letter" with friends, they suggested I write one on behalf of the Cubs.  This is what I wrote:

Five score and six years ago, our fathers brought forth in this city, a new championship, conceived in grit and determination, and dedicated to the proposition that all Cub fans are loyal and true.

Now we are engaged in a great civil unrest - - -  we can not hit - - - we can not field - - - on this hallow ground, Wrigley Field. The players, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated this franchise, far above fans power to add or detract victories. The baseball world will little note, no long remember, what we say today, but we can never forget what the 1908 Cubs did. That is for us, the living fan, rather, to be dedicated to the Cubs cause and the unfinished work which those champions fought as so nobly advanced. It is rather for us fans to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - - - to support a failing franchise - - - so that these champion dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the full measure of devotion - - - that we highly resolve here that these dead champions shall not have died in vain - - - that this Cub nation, under Ricketts, shall have a new birth of performance - - - and that the support of the fans, by the fans, for the fans, shall not perish from this season.

May 4, 2014


The New York Mets blasted an email throughout its mailing lists this week which took many off guard. It was basically a letter to their fan base extolling them to take a "loyalty oath" to support the team, especially in the upcoming series against the Yankees.

Now, why would a bunch of ex-Met players sign on to this letter is unclear. But the tone of the email got several writers, including a New York Post columnist in an angry mood. He reminded the team that the team has been horrible for the last several years. That the team did little to change the steady decline since its last playoff appearance. The franchise had been rocked by ownership scandal (the Madoff case) and fans were asked to pay more and more for a lesser product on the field.

The Mets may have misread the fans anger against ownership and management as losing interest in the team. But, in some circles, an angry fan base shows their passion for their team. They don't like losing, and neither should the team.

The takeaway from this controversy was anger is good; apathy is death.

In some respects, the Cubs are in worse shape than the Mets. The Mets are averaging 27,000 at Citifield (19th in the majors) while the Cubs are scrapping around 30,000 per home game. But the Cubs no-shows seem to have been accelerating the past two seasons. That is the most important signal of the state of the fan base.

There are several stages to a fan's appreciation of their team. First is basic joy to watch and experience their team play the sport at a high level. But if the team starts to lose regularly, or starts to look like the players are not hustling (or just going through the motions), then indifference sets in. Indifference is the "take it or leave it" attitude on whether to go or watch a game. A fan becomes a neutral observer (at best) rather than an interested spectator. The next stage is anger. When a fan gets angry, he knows what is wrong with his team. He knows how to solve the problems he sees with his team. But he is angry that the team is not correcting those mistakes or making any effort to change for the better. Anger is a high energy state of mind which can easily drain a fan's passion so he turns to apathy for his team.

Apathy is lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. Apathy is the kiss of death for a professional sports franchise. If a fan lacks interest, enthusiasm or concern for the daily ups and downs of his team, then the team loses someone who has in the past spend his or her time, money and resources to support the franchise. Apathy means lower attendance. Apathy means lower concession and licensing sales of merchandise. Apathy means lower television and broadcast ratings.  All of those things are happening to the Cubs.

Since the second year of Ricketts ownership, the Cubs have gone from a contending team to a pretender. Even the anger that the Cubs have been tanking their last two seasons in order to get highly regarded draft prospects as part of the rebuilding plan has started to wane as those touted prospects have never reached the majors.

When die-hard Cub fans become indifferent, it is a quick and slippery slope to apathy.

May 3, 2014



Sometimes, even a rutting pig gets lucky and finds a truffle.

It could be argued that the Cubs best player in the first part of this season is Emilio Bonifacio.

Bonifacio in his first 24 games has hit .337, .395 OBP, with 10 SB and a 0.9 WAR (which projects for the full season at 5.6 WAR).  He also has a fine fielding percentage of .974 while playing 5 different positions. As a super-utility player, Bonifacio has turned into a de facto starter.

When the Royals released him, Bonifacio was probably the 751st best player in baseball (based upon every team had 25 players on their major league rosters). If you exclude the Cubs, then he moves up to the 725th best player in the majors. And if you extrapolate his WAR pace, he is playing at a level of a Top 60 player in baseball.

So the best player on the Cubs current roster was ranked as a AAAA player by the league at the end of spring training. Nothing really happened to Bonifacio except that he got playing time with the Cubs, and earned a roster spot. A roster spot on one of the worst Cubs squads in 50 years. For if Bonifacio started the year as the 751st player in baseball, and quickly rose to the ranks of Best Cub, that implies that the rest of the 24 man roster for the team is also collectively wandering at the 750 level. (There are a few exceptions, such as Rizzo, Castro hitting and Samardzija pitching, but as a team of interchangeable spare AAAA parts, it is easy to see how a motivated Bonifacio has risen to the top of the depth chart.)

May 1, 2014


Jose Abreu is the real deal. In his first 26 games as a White Sox, he has set records according to ESPN:

• Abreu extended his MLB rookie home run record for March/April with his 10th.

• Abreu’s 10 home runs are the most by a White Sox rookie in any month.
• The 10 home runs in March/April are the most for a White Sox player since Paul Konerkohad 11 in 2001.

• Abreu’s 31 RBIs set an MLB rookie record for March/April, as he broke out of a tie for the top spot with Albert Pujols. 

• Abreu's 31 RBIs are a franchise record for the opening month, topping Konerko’s mark of 28 in 2002.

• Abreu tied Zeke Bonura’s mark for most home runs through the first 26 games of his career. Bonura did it in 1934.

• Abreu’s 31 RBIs are the most by a White Sox player in their first 26 games, and are the most by a White Sox player in any month since Frank Thomas had 31 in August 2003.

• Abreu became the first player in MLB history to have four games with four or more RBIs in his first 26 games. 

Abreu, 27, appears to be an accomplished player. After 29 MLB games, he is hitting .270, .336 OBP, .617 SLG, with 10 HR, 32 RBI and 0.7 WAR. If you project that WAR for a full season, it would be 4.9 WAR, which is All-Star caliber.

The season still has a way to go, and other teams will try to adjust to Abreu's swing. But an analysis of his strike zone shows that his plate coverage so far has been excellent.