June 30, 2014


It was the first time since 1932 that the Cubs did not play on a Sunday.

It was more important that the Lakeview Pride Parade take center stage on Sunday than a Cubs-Nationals game.

The Cubs played a day-night doubleheader, meaning the park was cleared for a separate gate for the nigh contest. The Cubs were rewarded for their day off by first losing both games on Saturday.

It was said that there really was no good reason why the Cubs could not play on Sunday. The Cubs gate would be under 30,000. The parade was going to start more than an hour before typical game time. The Cubs could have moved the start time back to 2:20 p.m. if there truly was a traffic concern.

But the decision was made not to play ball.

Then an interesting thing happened: no one noticed that the Cubs did not play yesterday.

The Cubs totally fell off the radar.

The Sunday Cubs used to be a staple program on WGN America, but now that channel has dropped the Cubs from any future national exposure. So the Cubs will further fall off the radar of many non-local Cubs fans.

One could imagine that in the middle of the depression, people could not afford to go to a Cub game. But this is 2014. We are in the final golden years of the Bud Selig leadership era. Baseball has never been better (except on the North Side.)

It is depressing that the Cubs are getting more and more irrelevant.

June 28, 2014


Robinson Cano was last year's best free agent. In 2013, he hit .314, 27 HR, 107 RBI, .383 OBP, and massive 7.6 WAR for the Yankees.

Cano took the biggest money deal and wound up in Seattle.

Never to heard from again.

In most sports, there is an East Coast bias based upon a) New York and b) the early time zone. People can't stay up long enough to catch West Coast night games. Even in the Midwest, the 2 hour difference is enough not to watch the left coast contests.

So how is last year's great free agent doing?

Well, Seattle as a team is 42-37, in third place in the AL West, a very competitive division. So, that is good, right?

Cano himself has played in 75 games (about half the season). He is hitting .324, .384 OBP and 2.3 WAR, but his power numbers are way down: 4 HR, 43 RBI.

It may be a combination of not having the Yankee power line up ahead of him in the order to drive in runs, or solid bats behind him to protect him in the order, and the fact that Seattle plays in one of the biggest, pitcher friendly ball parks in the majors.

It appears that Cano is still driving the ball the same as last year with average and on-base percentage.
It is just the new team just does not fit into his power stroke.

And that is what many free agents do not take into consideration --- how a new team could affect their legacy and future statistics. But for most athletes, respect is spelled R-E-$-P-E-C-T.

Many players will take in account a better franchise over a losing one if the offers are similar. That was the alleged excuse for the Cubs missing out on high tender guys like Tanaka, who wanted to pitch for a consistent winning organization and not be part of a rebuild.

June 27, 2014


CSNChicago reports that White Sox GM Rick Hahn says that recent draftee Carlos Rodon (who went third overall) could be in the club’s rotation as early as next year,  “Based on our scouting evaluation that’s certainly a possibility,” said Hahn. “But until you get a guy in and get to know him and spend day in and day out with him, I think it’s a little risky to put time frames on guys.” Of course, the first step will be to complete a deal with Rodon, who must sign by July 18.

Perhaps this is a carrot to the prospect to have him sign this year, to get a half season in the minors to prep of a spring training audition. I have nothing against it. In fact, a polished college starting pitcher should be able to make it to the majors in the express lane.

The White Sox tend to cultivate left handed starters like a vacant field grows weeds. The White Sox are in need of a consistent fifth starter. Rodon fits that profile.

Other teams, notably the Cardinals, have called up pitchers from their recent draft classes within a year or two of minor league service. Even if a pitcher gets roughed up in a start and sent back to the minors, it does give that player the motivation to correct went wrong and return to the big club as soon as possible. 

The idea that there are hungry minor leaguers wanting your job should be motivation enough for the major league players to up their preparation and performance. But that only works if the team is ready and willing to promote their prospects quickly and put them in the starting line up to sink or swim.

With the up-tick in Tommy John injuries this season, teams have to look at faster promotion of their young live arms, just so that TJS does not happen in the minors (and losing the prospect for 2 years). Every prospect needs to be viewed as a major league asset - - - with a set amount of depreciating skills as he ages. 

It will not surprise me that if Rodon is a White Sox starter in 2015.

June 26, 2014


There is an argument to be made that the Cubs should not be a Seller in this year's free agent market.

If Epstein and Hoyer are confident in their talent as player evaluators, then 2015 is the pivotal season to put up or shut up. There have been 20, 30 and 40 year season ticket holders who cancelled their packages this season. None will return unless the Cubs field a real team. If the plan is to wait until 2020, then you will probably lose a majority of the fan base by then. The Cubs would then be worse off than the White Sox in this town.

If you stand pat on not trading away the present for the hope of the future, and promote the prospects which appear ready, then the 2015 team looks like this:

1. Alcantara 2b
2. Castro ss
3. Rizzo 1b
4. Bryant 3b
5. Baez lf
6. Castillo c
7. Lake/Sweeney cf
8. Ruggiano rf

However, if the Cubs were actual buyers in the off-season free agent market, and get a center and right fielder, the starting lineup is solidified.

The same holds true with the starting pitchers.

1. Samardzija
2. Arrieta
3. T. Wood
4. E. Jackson
5. Wada/Hendricks

The starting rotation would be about the same as this season, which has not been as bad as expected when you take out the E. Jax meltdown games.

So when we were told five years ago the Cubs were only "two players" away from a championship caliber team, the team is still not there, yet. But it is only two or three players away from fielding a competitive team in 2015.

But it takes two real tough decisions by the front office:

1. Promote everyone within striking range of the majors.
2. Spend money on several free agents this off season.

The current consensus is that ownership will not allow decision number two. And as a result, the baseball ops guys won't pull the trigger on their prospects for fear that they will have a hard time without quality veteran support.

June 25, 2014


It is possible that by Game 1 of the 2015 season, the Cubs will have set their infield for the next 5 years. In fact, it makes the most sense to set their infield as soon as possible in order to stem the tide of fan disinterest.

Kris Bryant continues to hit minor league pitching. There is no reason why he needs a full season of "training" at the AAA level. He should be the starting third baseman in 2015 (barring injury). He was an accomplished college player. Scouts believe he already has a major league bat. End of story.

As for the last infield position, Arismendy Alcantara appears ready to make the leap to the Cubs. At Triple-A Iowa, he is hitting .286 with an .843 OPS,  eight homers, 18 doubles, 10 triples and 17 stolen bases while showing off his defensive versatility.  He’s a 22-year-old switch-hitter with more power than his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame would suggest. He proved it last summer at the All-Star Futures Game, blasting a home run into the upper deck of New York’s Citi Field.

Alcantara has the defensive tools to be a major league middle infielder. He can play second base. He has a much higher ceiling than Barney or Valbuena.

If the Cubs believe that the team needs to salvaged quicker than waiting for the alleged rainbow treasure of new broadcasting fees in 2020, 2015 becomes a pivotal year. No one is blocking Bryant and Alcantara's promotion to the major league roster. Rick Renteria was hired specifically to help young players adapt at the major league level.

The starting 2015 infield would be:
3B Bryant   SS Castro    2B Alcantara   1B Rizzo   C Castillo

Suddenly, you have nearly doubled the youth core of the team, and solidified the middle of your daily line-up.  Alcantara is a lead off hitter. Bryant is projected to be a clean up hitter. Rizzo can continue in the third slot, and Castro can move up to a comfortable #2 hole. If Castillo can regain his power, he can hit 5th or 6th.

Once the infield is set, the Cubs can fix the outfield. The current roster is filled with AAA cast-offs with no upside. The Cubs could spend in free agency and quickly turn around the outfield and actually have a competitive team on the field just a year from now.

But that is only true if the Cubs stop messing with their starting pitchers and shore up the rotation. If you think the Cubs can turn around the offense with promotions and OF free agents, then there is no reason to trade Samardzija. It would make more sense to try to extend Hammel.

This plan does involve the Cubs actually spending more money, something that the ownership has clearly decided not to do in the past three years.

June 24, 2014


Remember when some Cubs fans were willing to bet the farm to sign Cub killer Albert Pujols to become a killer Cub?

Instead, Pujols signed a massive contract with the Angels, who in retrospect may have wished they did not.

Early on this season, Pujols, 34,  was healthy and looked pretty close to his old, MVP-winning self, playing every day for the Angels and hitting .302 with 10 homers and a .965 OPS through 32 games.
Unfortunately his production has slipped and now he’s hurt again, sitting out Saturday and shifting to designated hitter Sunday because of back soreness after hitting just .217 in the previous 40 games.
Pujols’ power has remained strong throughout his overall struggles and his 16 home runs rank eighth among AL hitters, but that comes with a lowly .255 batting average and .315 on-base percentage. And after a decade of walking more often than he struck out for the Cardinals he’s whiffed 36 times compared to just 23 walks in 72 total games.

He’s been better than he was last season, but just barely, and overall Pujols looks nothing like the all-time great hitter he was in St. Louis. The Angels are stuck with another seven seasons and $189 million left on his contract.

Pujols had a good first year in LA: 30 HR, 105 RBI, 4.8 WAR. But since then, he has dropped to 2013: 99 GP, 17 HR, 64 RBI, 1.9 WAR and this season: 72 GP, 16 HR, 44 RBI, 1.4 WAR.

So the Cubs by not signing Pujols dodged an expensive bullet.

June 23, 2014


One reason baseball fans stay baseball fans is that baseball is a sport with weird, unexpected plays. For example, the Brewers scored three runs on a wild pitch. A wild pitch???! You don't see that very often.

However, there are times when weirdness is not a baseball play but how a baseball team is run.

An outfield of Coghlan, Lake and Ruggiano would spark an Iowa or Tennessee minor league line up card. But no, that was the Cubs starters in Sunday's game.

On a day when the Algerian national soccer team scored more goals than the Cubs scored runs, as a baseball fan, you know something weird is going on. It is more probable that more Cubs fans were watching the soccer games than tuning into to see the Cubs go nearly hitless against the Pirates.

It is a weird time in Cub history. Repeated stories have quoted television officials as saying that last year the Cubs had several telecasts with zero ratings. That means the viewers have turned off the Cubs as they sank toward the bottom. Well, the Cubs are back on the bottom so ratings are probably floundering more than a weak team soccer goal tender.

When people begin to understand the nuances of soccer, and its set plays and strategies, the same type of fan of baseball can follow soccer. It has a similar pace with baseball. But no one in U.S. ever thought that soccer would ever surpass baseball in TV viewership. But at the local level, and for the World Cup, it probably has done so. Whether it can grow the sport at baseball's expense is a debatable question (as with each World Cup, pundits predict that soccer would explode professionally in the U.S. but that has never happened).

The one event that Ricketts has not touted for his new Wrigley entertainment venue is soccer. Maybe he thinks soccer is too much competition for the Cubs.

June 22, 2014


Ed Sherman recently reported in his Tribune column that the Cubs are trying to find a "multi-channel" solution to their WGN-TV contract woes.

WGN re-opened the broadcast deal, allegedly claiming it was losing $200,000 per telecast because of poor ratings. The Cubs counter that they are not getting paid enough (around $250,000 per game). So the team is exploring options.

One problem is that the Cubs partnership with Comcast prohibits porting the 75 WGN telecasts to another cable outlet. Comcast SportsNet already carries the majority of Cubs and White Sox telecasts.

So the Cubs brain trust is thinking outside the box to go inside the digital box to start its own mini-Cub channel.

Remember when the FCC mandated that all analog television signals change to digital? People got government coupons to pick up television set converter boxes. These boxes would convert new digital over-the-airwaves signals for older television sets. One of the advantages of the new digital air signals is that a broadcaster can split it into several different channels. The old UHF stations used that technology feature to create four channels in one signal (ex., Channel 23.1, 23.2, 23.3 and 23.4)

Now, most television consumers have basic cable service in their homes, or have sat TV dishes on their roofs. So the real audience for these over-the-air only broadcasts is fairly limited (even though some cable operators simulcast them in the triple digit cable channels). Since the Cubs cable contract does not allow a secondary cable channel, the Cubs new mini-digital network would have a tiny footprint in the Chicago metro area.

The problem is that the big four network stations are affiliates with national programs to run. WGN is the one big independent station, but whose management now wants to create its own network programming for national distribution (without the Cubs games). That leaves only the small, independent UHF broadcasters as potential partners in a short term broadcast venture (Comcast's partnership ends after 2020).

So why would the Cubs try to start their own network from scratch and run it on a low signal broadcast outlet for five years? If the WGN-TV numbers are true, the Cubs would be running higher deficits on their own because there is less audience for advertising. But the Cubs are on a quest to get more revenue, apparently at any cost.

This appears to be another strange decision in a line of odd choices the Cubs "business" side has been making in the past few months.

June 21, 2014


The Cubs have been signing several of their high school draft picks, which is good. But that foretells a longer developmental period.

The Cubs have been accelerating the progress of their two best hitters. Newly signed C-1B Kyle Schwarber lasted only about a week in Rookie Ball before being promoted to Class A. Schwarber destroyed the competition in the first week so there was no reason not to move him along.

Kris Bryant was also promoted from AA to AAA Iowa. He had played well above the competition in Tennessee. He hit a HR in his Iowa debut. The front office philosophy is that a AAA player needs 500 ABs in AAA before being called up to the majors. It will be interesting to see whether this rule holds true for Bryant, who now has a clear path to play third base since the Cubs demoted AAA 3B Christian Villaneuva to AA.

In some ways, pushing players faster through the system is better. There are young major leaguers who tell writers all the time that sitting in the minors is a waste of time; that they really only learn how to be professionals at the major league level.

It is also the beginning of the crack in the rebuild armor. Cubs management is very stubborn. When they say they are going to do something, they really don't care what other people think. They have their own unstated internal time table which is different than the expectations and demands of the general public. But the fan base's distaste with the team for "tanking" the last few seasons  may have some bearing on why the Cubs are going to promote their best players faster through the system.

June 20, 2014


The buzz around the net is that the top five pitchers in current trade discussions are:

1. Jason Hammel, Cubs.
2. David Price, Rays.
3. Cliff Lee, Phils.
4. Jeff Samardzija, Cubs.
5. Dellin Betances, Yankees.

Hammel was always a sign and flip guy. This has been the Cubs operating procedure for years. Since Hammel is a pure rental (a free agent at the end of the year), the Cubs hope to make a deal like Scott Feldman to the Orioles last year (which netted a fallen Jake Arrieta).

Price had a great 2012 campaign (20-5, 2.56 ERA). He is still under contract for 1.5 seasons so an acquiring club has a staff ace for two pennant runs. That is why the Rays asking price on Price will be so high. But since the Rays have tumbled this season (and currently are in the position to take the #1 pick in 2015 draft), there are a few observers who think it may be better for the Rays to keep Price through 2016 and draft his replacement in June.

Lee was a quality veteran, but he sustained an elbow injury in May. The problem with Lee is that he is old and expensive: he is owed $25 million in 2015 and $27 million in 2016. No team is willing to take such a payroll hit on pitcher with current injury issues.

Samardzija has been discussed at length on this site. Like Price, Samardzija has 1.5 years of control left so a team can have him for two pennant drives. However, in comparison to Price, there is no comparison. Price is a #1 starter; Samardzija would be a #4. The Cubs are trying to trade Samardzija as a #1 guy (in order to get four top prospects) so the Cubs may be overplaying their hand to a point where they can't trade him.

Betances is an interesting name that popped up in GM circles. He is currently the Yankees 8th inning set up man. He has been lights out. His record: 4-0, 1.51 ERA, 70 K with a strikeout rate of 15.1/9 IP. Teams looking for bullpen help are asking about Betances, but the Yankees would be dumb to move such a valuable piece. The Yanks are in the market for a starting pitcher, but old GMs had a saying that you don't trade a quality starting pitcher for a reliever.

Of all the top pitchers making the trade market rounds, Price is clearly the top name on the board but Hammel is the most likely to get dealt.

June 19, 2014


Multiple reports state that Jeff Samardzija has turned down the Cubs latest contract extension, approximately $85 million for five years. Supposedly, the Cubs prior offer was around $65-70 million.

Samardzija's camp believes that he is "worth" more than Homer Bailey, the Reds starter who earned a six year $105 million extension.

Bailey, 28,  is in his 8th major league season. He has made 157 starts. His record: 56-48, 4.29 ERA, 1.329 WHIP, 5.9 career WAR.

Samardzija, 29,  is in his 7th major league season. He has made 81 starts (in 204 GP). His record: 31-41, 3.96 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, 5.4 career WAR.

Yes, some of the statistics are similar.

But, Bailey has made more career starts. Bailey has a better record, including career WAR. Bailey's new deal pegs his value at $17.5 million per season.

The Cubs peg Samardzija's value at $17.0 million per season.

If Samardzija is thinking that he has "ace" value like Clayton Kershaw, who just threw a complete game 15 K no hitter, he is delusional. Kershaw signed a 7 year $215 million Dodger mega-deal. That is $31.7 million per season.

Kershaw, 26, is also in his 7th major league season. He has made 192 starts. His record: 84-48, 2.60 ERA, 1.083 WHIP and career 34.2 WAR.

By the "ace" measure, Kershaw is at least "worth" 5.33 times more than Samardzija (because of a plus 28.8 WAR differential). By this objective measure, Samardzija is only worth $5.96 million per season.

But most observers will say that the "market" for starting pitching is very high. It is not unreasonable for marginal starters who have large paydays (ex., Edwin Jackson's $52 million deal).

Samardzija by all accounts is willing to risk two more arbitration years with the Cubs to get to his goal of a $20 million plus salary per season when he is 31.

The Cubs public play for a last minute extension for a popular player is just that: public relations. It was clear since spring training that Samardzija wants to test free agency. He hates the constant losing of the Cubs. He has been upset with management trading away 40 percent of the rotation every year. Now, this year is his turn to be traded for prospects. He is okay with that move. It would give him a chance to play for a better team, and improve his statistics for his eventual free agency.

So the Cubs have the excuse "we tried to re-sign The Shark," when they go to beg season ticket holders to renew this November. But it a hollow message.

The Cub fan base has grown tired of the veteran trade for prospects mantra of the front office. With winning now out of sight for most, out of sight is out of mind.

The Cubs hope that a close AL East race between the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Yankees will create a bidding war for Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Kansas City is also mentioned as a trade candidate as the Royals have had a perpetual crop of prospects to promote or trade.  But none of these clubs are going to trade their best pitching prospects for a 29 year old veteran who would project to a #4 or #5 starter in their current rotations.

The Cubs asking price for Samardzija may be as delusional as Samardzija's own self worth.

June 18, 2014


It is a foregone conclusion that the Cubs will trade Jeff Samardzija. It is just when and for how much.

Many believe that the Cubs should be able to get as much as the four players in the Matt Garza-Rangers deal: Edwards, Grimm, Ramirez and Olt.

Olt was once an untouchable third baseman in the Rangers system. Since becoming a Cub, he has become a Cub: horrible batting average, high strikeouts, some power, and below average defense. He is bad.

Edwards is a young string bean starter who got hurt this season in Class A. Every pitching prospect is a long shot but his mechanics and body type increase those odds.

Grimm was once a starter who now finds himself in middle relief. He has consistency and control issues. When the trade was made, he was once considered a replacement starter not a reliever. He has been average on his best days.

Ramirez was also a hot starting pitcher who would be a fixture in a future rotation. But he has been promoted to late relief to vie for the closer duties with Rondon. The jury is still out on Ramirez's long term future as a closer.

So the Garza deal has yielded the major league club one potentially good relief pitcher in Ramirez. Trading quality starters for good relievers is not a sustainable practice for any general manager.

Since Garza's trade, he has made 27 starts with a record of 8-9, 170.2 IP, 174 H, 54 BB, 140 K, 81 ER, 4.28 ERA, 1.324  WHIP. He is averaging 6.1 IP/ start for an overall disappointing Texas squad.

At the beginning of the year, many people thought the Cubs got a treasure trove of talent in the Garza deal; that the Rangers were hoodwinked. But clearly that is not the case. The Cubs got three fringe chips on a last place team.

If Samardzija is traded, the Cubs need to do better than the Garza trade or it is not worth it.

June 17, 2014


One of the few duties of a major league manager is not to run out of players during a game.

It is said that great managers can "see" how the game will unfold three innings in advance, like a chess grandmaster who can anticipate 20 moves ahead in a match.

Cub manager Rick Renteria ran out of batters in the 13th inning. So he had to call on his best hitting pitcher, Travis Wood, to pinch hit. He bailed out his skipper with a game winning RBI double. But again, a manager should not run out of players in a close game. He should always be thinking ahead and not just reacting to the situation.

Speaking of which, the Sun Times reports today that the Theo Epstein is contacting Jeff Samardzija's agent for a final talk on a contract extension. The Shark becomes a free agent in two seasons. He has already indicated that he was going to play through to get to free agency. (He also said he was going to pitch great to get moved out of town.)

Last week, there were rumors that the Cubs had began actively discussing a Samardzija trade well before the deadline. That would make sense since Samardzija has thrown his best start of his career (without run support). The Cubs can get more in return by trading him earlier in the year. (Hammel appears to be flipped at the deadline.)

Though some believe the final extension talk is not public relations on the part of Cubs management which is about to trade away another popular player, it may really signal that the Cubs are not getting their perceived "value" for their ace pitcher. Samardzija may be the Cubs "ace" but on another staff he may be a #3 or #4. If the Cubs are not going to get two major league ready AAA pitchers in return, then it makes sense to try to keep Samardzija, a known commodity. But it also signals that if you believed The Shark is a quality, durable starter - - - very valuable in this TJ season - - - then one would think you'd keep him on board when the rebuild of the roster happens in the next two years.

But that is a tell . . .  the Cubs are also signaling that the team will not be competitive in two years so why keep a high price starting pitcher who will leave in three? At best, Javy Baez is promoted to the club late this year or earns a spot in 2015. Kris Bryant is promoted to the Cubs in late 2015 or 2016. So by the end of the Shark era, the Cubs rebuild will yield only two quality position players, not enough to turn around a team that continues to struggle around .400.

If you want to think ahead, think 2020 as the cross roads season for current management and their plans to fix the Cubs.

June 16, 2014


During a long weekend road trip, I heard a lot of sports radio conversation. Some of the talk reaffirmed many points that I have been making for years in regard to the Cubs. A recap of some of the interesting points I heard while cruising down the interstates:

1. The Cubs continue to propagate the myth that bad teams have a better chance to draft good players.

This point got the strongest reaction from the hosts who made it. The Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, and Cardinals all have had very good drafts for the past decade while selecting well after the Cubs. The real bottom line is that teams drafting in the middle to late rounds are drafting BETTER TALENT. The Cubs need to draft better talent not tank seasons to get high draft picks.

I agree that scouting is fundamentally important to have a consistent and viable farm system. However, that is only one part of the equation. The organization still needs to train and develop the draft picks into major league players. The Cubs have had a woeful track record on developing their own players.

2. People are beginning to question whether ownership knows what it is doing.

The off-the-cuff admission by Crane Kenney that Tom Ricketts gave Kenney a 5 year extension several months ago is still a headline head scratcher. What has Kenney done to deserve such a reward? He is the face of the bungled rehab of Wrigley Field. He is part of the team that put together the Zell Tribune restrictions that allegedly has handcuffed the team financially with high debt and poor broadcast contracts.

I said from the beginning that Ricketts failed to due his own proper due diligence. He did not bring on board his own independent baseball and financial people to review the Zell proposals and the real financial shape of the franchise. As a result, Ricketts overpaid for a franchise by more than $350 million, and carried on with the same failed management group. That does not show confidence or business savvy to run a baseball team.

3. The split between the baseball operations and the "business side" of the equation is a growing canyon.

It really never made much sense to have the baseball operations severed from the "business" operations. Ricketts bought a baseball franchise - - - its business is to run a profitable and winning major league team. For example, the White Sox have one management team reviewing and setting policy for the team. The business of the Cubs is baseball not the growing "side" projects that Ricketts has kicked around Clark and Addison since he bought the team.

Some commentators wonder if Theo Epstein knew what he was getting himself into; he has not come out and said it, but it appears that the baseball team has to "wait" for the business side to "get up to speed" before the Cubs can actually function as a major league contender. Epstein knew or should have known what he was getting into; he may not care because he got his contract and a built-in excuse if things fail: the interference by Ricketts and Kenney.

4. The numbers do not add up.

When Ricketts purchased the franchise, the Cubs had a high payroll and high attendance at Wrigley (3.3 million paid gate).  However, this season is tracking at a low payroll and much lower attendance levels (approx. 2.3 million). In less than five years, the new ownership has sliced 1 million in attendance.

Now, the team the last three years has been barely watchable. You can't sell 100 loss teams as being fun entertainment. So true to the tourism board's statements, it is possible that the majority of people still attending games at Wrigley are not there just to see the Cubs but to experience the "unique" ball yard.

Wrigley Field is the only major league park that has not been transformed into a electronic arcade. It has the same look and feel for the past 8 decades: a manual scoreboard, ivy covered brick walls, a green park in the middle of a residential neighborhood. It is those features that draw tourists to the park; to show their children what baseball was like when they were young and their (grand) parents took them to a game.

So, Ricketts is adamant that he now needs 7 large outfield signs in order to field a competitive team. It is projected that at most, the new park signage could bring in $30 million in revenue per season. But, since the team has already lost 1 million visitors at $70 per patron spending, the new outdoor advertising revenue does not come close to off-setting the lost attendance of $70 million.

Further, of the remaining 2.3 million, there will be a good portion of baseball purists who will no longer feel that Wrigley is Wrigley if all the new video scoreboards and signage is put up. It will ruin the atmosphere, architecture and pristine baseball viewing experience. Even if those baseball purists number 500,000, that means the new revenue enhancements will not off-set the loss of $35 million in future attendance losses from this segment of the fan base.

It was said that it makes more sense to add $10 to every ticket than put in the new signage. You get about the same new revenue increases without destroying the landmarked historic nature of Wrigley Field.   But ownership is hell bent now on dramatically changing Wrigley Field.

5. Wrigley Field is the priority, not the Cubs.

All of the resources and energy of the "business side" of the Cubs has been directed toward non-baseball things: the new buildings and party plaza outside Wrigley; the new Wrigley Field construction plans and ad signs; the new commercial hotel-gym-parking complex across the street. The business managers want to increase night events, concerts, tours, corporate outings and movie nights. Wrigley Field is being transformed from baseball park into a multipurpose entertainment venue like the Rosemont Horizon or Sears Center.

And all this ancillary revenue has nothing to do with the Cubs getting better ball players or winning more games. The Cubs are merely a tenant at Wrigley Field. The non-baseball revenue will go into a different Ricketts bank account.  People are beginning to realize that all the talk about revenue enhancement has nothing to do with the baseball operations. They are not tied together. That is why the payrolls continue to drop, and veterans traded for cheaper prospects. That is why Epstein is cornered with the one thing he can control (and must succeed in order to win): establish an unprecedented stream of home grown impact talent from the minor league system.

June 14, 2014


  • Cubs GM Jed Hoyer spoke with David Kaplan of CSN Chicago and said it’s “likely and definitely possible” that the team will spend on veteran players in free agency this off season. Said Hoyer: “We need to add veterans to the kids that are coming.”

    This is a sea change from the Cubs stated rebuilding goal. The management team has always said that in order to have consistent winning seasons, one needs a strong farm system that allows for new talent to come up year after year to the big league roster. It is the infusion of home grown talent that is the key for long term club viability.

    Now, the Cubs never said they would not spend on free agents after the rebuild process was complete, but said it would do so to fill in any gaps in the roster. Again, this approach is different from the Tribune-Hendry era where the team was constructed mostly through free agent moves and trading for veteran talent.  The Epstein-Hoyer plan was to do the exact opposite.

    "This off season" to spend on free agents is not part of the original plan. As it stands right now, the Cubs are 2 to 3 years away from minor league top prospects from making it to the majors. Kris Bryant is the closest, and he is still in AA. Javy Baez is at AAA but has not had the monster season people expected to be called up any time soon. The touted pitchers like Pierce Johnson or C.J. Edwards have had injury set backs in the low minors. And this year's draft choices, especially the high school pitchers, are 5 years away from major league consideration. 

    It is possible that the realization that the Cubs tanking in 2014 would be the final straw to break the attendance back bone of the franchise. The new TV deals won't be in place until 2020. The team cannot survive in a healthy state with 6 more years of near 100 loss baseball teams. So adding veterans "ahead" of schedule is a means of trying to bale water on a currently sunk ship.

    Now, many people have complained that the Cubs could have spent more on free agents (the non-flipping kind) and built a competitive roster WHILE re-stocking the minor league organization. There was no prohibition against doing a balanced player development program. Perhaps, this notion finally hit home in the front office. Better late than never.

June 13, 2014


There has been a recent rash of bench cleaning, "bad blood" feuds on the diamonds.

First, the Rays and Red Sox apparently do not like each other. It seems that each series is marred by some incident which leads to accusations, fist pumping, shouting and shoving.

Second, the Orioles and A's got into a weird confrontation where a Baltimore player threw his bat at the A's third sacker, inciting a riot on the field.

We all know that there are a hundred of "unwritten" baseball rules of conduct. But this is turning more into a "macho ego" thing than some sort of baseball honor code. It may be from the influx of Latin players who have a different cultural definition of "respect." It also may be from added pressure on major league players to perform well since more and more teams are not leery of calling up hot prospects at any time. It also could mean that there are more crazy idiot players in the league.

The game has had its past "characters," from certified nut jobs to roid ragers to headhunter relievers to mean spirited drunks. But it seems that this year things have started to escalate to a new level.

Who is supposed to manage a hot head player who may cost his team (getting tossed or suspended or even hurt in a fight)? One would think it would be the manager who is responsible for managing his players. Some may think that the player "leaders" on the team should police the squad through a clubhouse hierarchy. A few may even believe that the players themselves should control themselves in those situations.

In any event, the idiots seem to be on the march.

June 11, 2014


MLBTR reports that the Cubs have agreed to a below-slot bonus with first-round selection Kyle Schwarber, citing MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat. He will sign for $3.125MM, which is nearly $1.5MM shy of the $4.621MM allotment that came with the fourth overall choice. Chicago entered the draft with $8.35MM and change in available slot space.

Arguably the best college bat available, Schwarber was nevertheless something of a surprise choice at fourth overall. While he is said to have good hit and power tools at the plate, the real question is whether or not the Indiana University product can stay stay at catcher. As many draft analysts wrote,   Schwarber was around the  16th-best available prospect, but he really does not have a position besides DH, since his throwing and receiving skills are considered below average.

Schwarber will take down a bigger bonus than he would have if taken in the middle of the draft, while the Cubs can put the slot savings towards other choices. In particular, the club selected a series of high school arms with its fourth through sixth-round choices — Carson SandsJustin Steele, and Dylan Cease — who could require above-slot bonuses to forego college. MLB.com Jim Callis opines that the Cubs are likely to land each member of that trio. 
I am not a big fan about drafting lesser prospects higher in the draft in order to "save" bonus money for later (and at the time of the draft, unknown) selections. Schwarber does not project to be a National League player, but as an AL DH, if he can continue to hit better competition in the minors. The Cubs may save bonus money, but may have only acquired a future trade chip in their first round selection.
First rounders have the best chance of making it to the majors, so on one level this may be a wasted opportunity for the Cubs to select the best available player at No. 4. A player who will be able to contribute years ahead of signing high school pitchers in the 4th and 6th rounds.

June 10, 2014


A couple of general observations from the last baseball draft.

Despite the colorful scouting blurbs, less than 6 percent of the players drafted will make the majors. And only one percent or less will be impact major leaguers.

Of the 40 players the Cubs drafted, maybe two will make it to the majors, and the odds are 2-to-1 against either one being an impact player.

Despite what front offices tell the media, the general perception is that teams do not draft for "need" but for the best available player on their board. This can never be true. There are too many factors to consider, and a key one is "organizational needs."

The Cubs have two major problems in their minor league system. They are devoid of catching prospects at any level. As a result, the Cubs did draft several "catchers" in this year's draft, even though some observers believe one is really a first baseman-DH and the other may be a utility outfielder.

The second issue is the depth of pitching talent in the minors. The Cubs best arms in the system have come from trades, not home grown selections. Even though in Epstein's first two drafts, the majority of selections were pitchers, no one has jumped to the top of the "can't miss" lists compiled by independent experts. As a result the Cubs took many pitchers in the draft hoping that there is some strength in numbers.

Then there is the age of the player. The Cubs started with college hitters, who are easier to project and faster to develop. On average, a highly drafted college position player should reach the majors in slightly under 3 years. On the other hand, a high school player may take as much as 5 years.

The Cubs drafted many high school pitchers. This means that the weakness at the major league level, pitching depth, will not have a potential influx of talent for another five years if one goes by the home grown rebuilding strategy of the front office.

It also means that drafting a lot of high school players means that many of them will not sign professional contracts. Many will in turn go to college to improve their draft stock in the future. The difference between a first round selection and an 11th round pick is millions of dollars. The difference between a 10th round pick and an 11th round pick is still hundreds of thousands of dollars. Is it worth it for an 18 year kid to get six figures to ride a minor league bus for 5 years, or go to a major baseball college for 2 years and maybe get a first few round fast track to the majors?

Of all the Cubs prospects that the media and fans have been watching and salivating over the past few years, only Kris Bryant continues to light up the headlines with his HR power. Others have hit slumps or better competition, or have had injury set backs. The same will hold true for this draft class.

June 9, 2014


"The Wave" does not belong in Wrigley Field. Ever.

It happened during Sunday's game against the Marlins.

Purists say the fan stretch has no place except in the 7th inning.

The wave is an imported foreign concept to relieve boredom of long soccer matches or slosh the beer around alumni at college football games. Baseball is a refined social event (despite the two person wave in Field of Dreams.)

The return of the Wave reflects that there is another shift happening with the major league Cubs.
The Sunday crowd was less Cub fans and more . . .  tourists. Purists were outnumbered by the tourists. Tourists are merely casual event seekers who are not there to support a ball club, but have an afternoon in the sun. Next weekend, it will be at the water park. Then, the beach. Then, the zoo. Wrigley was just another check-off on the summer bucket list.

If the Cub management is hoping to draw more tourists to stem the attendance dive, then that explains the push for video boards, beer plazas, flea market gift stands - - - a Disneyland experience and atmosphere inside and outside the park. But that program is going to be a hit and miss proposition, much like the Cubs offense.

Perhaps, ownership is trying to cultivate a "different" kind of fan base. After Arlington Park burned down, the track was rebuilt as an upscale horse track. The new sleek and modern facility did not want the the downtown Chicago "track express" trains with the social security and welfare patrons coming to bet the daily double and go home. No, the track wanted to have a higher class client base. More wagers meant more money, bigger purses, bigger races. Arlington International as it is called today transformed itself. But not without a cost. Having gone to the track this weekend, the friendly weekend crowd is exactly what was envisioned years ago: upscale suburban. However, these are mostly casual $2 bettors. The win-place-show pools were dramatically small throughout the race card, meaning that the odds in each race was narrow. It led to less excitement for long shots to create upsets. Horse racing is in the twilight of state gambling anyway. The crowds on Saturday looked like this was just another summer bucket list check-off event. Once a year at best.

June 7, 2014


In a not so surprising surprise, the Cubs dumped closer Jose Veras.

The Cubs misjudged Veras, who saved 19 games for the Houston Astros last season before getting traded to the Detroit Tigers. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein – who’s called closing “a nice carrot to be able to dangle in free agency” – hoped this would become another sign-and-flip deal that netted a nice prospect.

Veras had a poor spring training (7.00 ERA), got booed at Wrigley Field, lost the closer’s job 10 games into the season and wound up being stashed on the disabled list with an oblique injury. Veras gave the Cubs two blown saves and an 8.10 ERA. Management should have known something was up because Veras had been with 8 different teams before signing with the Cubs.

The Cubs got a total of 13.1 innings from Veras for $4 million. That equates to $100,000 per out.

This almost a full year after Kyuji Fujikawa underwent Tommy John surgery, and the Cubs don’t expect many returns from that $9.5 million investment. Fujikawa only threw 12 innings for the Cubs. That equates to $263,889 per out.

This is just the recent major league questionable contracts.

If you start adding up the bad, broken player contracts:

Edwin Jackson $52 million
Fujikawa  $9.5 million
Veras  $4 million
Barney $2.3 million (2014)
Schierholtz $5 million (2014)
Carlos Villaneuva $10 million
James McDonald $1 million
Ryan Sweeney $3.5 million
Jorge Soler $30 million
Geraldo Concepcion $6 million
Justin Ruggiano $2 million

This list totals $125.3 million. That is more than one-quarter of Ricketts construction budget for the Wrigleyville projects.

Yes, the Cubs have spent money, but clearly the Cubs have not spent wisely.

And these contracts are evidence of how current Cub management values players and potential performance. This is not a good sign since the same tools and perspective is used to evaluate amateur talent.  So far, the progress of the Cubs has been toward the poor house.

June 6, 2014


It seems the White Sox got the best player in the draft.

Carlos Rodon was projected as a #1 pick. No one thought he would get past the Marlins picking at #2. But Rodon fell the White Sox, without blinking an eye, selected the college left hander.

Rodon went 6-7 for the NC State Wolfpack in 14 starts this season, but that hardly told the story. He delivered a 2.01 ERA over 98⅔ innings, with three complete games. Rodon struck out 117 batters and gave up just two home runs. With 31 walks, he had nearly four strikeouts for every one base on balls. In his career at NC State, he won 25 games and had a 2.24 ERA.

Draft expert Keith Law’s take: When Rodon is at his best, his fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s and occasionally reaches 96-97 mph. He didn't throw his heater as much as some scouts would have liked during the 2012 season, but it's a plus offering that he can throw by hitters who choose to wait on his slider. The pitch is all the more effective because of his slider, which is the best breaking ball of any pitcher in this year's class. It sits in the mid 80s with ridiculous movement that will give both left- and right-handed hitters fits thanks to its bite and tilt.

Rodon will be on a fast track to the majors. He could join a dominate and unique left handed starting rotation with the White Sox: Chris Sale, Carlos Quintana and John Danks.

The White Sox followed up on pitching depth by selecting with their second pick, #44 overall, right-hander Spencer Adams, from White County High School in Georgia.

The 6-foot-4, 180-pound Adams -- taken 44th overall -- has a fastball in the low 90-mph range with a slider and a changeup. He has a three-quarters delivery and projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.

The Cubs picked on slot after the White Sox in each round.

The Cubs surprised the media draft experts by selecting Chris Schwarber, a catcher-outfielder from Indiana University. Schwarber hit 18 home runs in 2013 then followed that up with 14 in 2014 while hitting .358. His on-base percentage rose in each of his three years at Indiana, landing at .464 his junior season. He walked 44 times while striking out 30 his final year at Indiana. He registered a .992 fielding percentage and threw out 16 of 43 runners this past season.

Schwarber was a second-team all-state linebacker his senior year in high school in Ohio. and led the Greater Miami conference in hitting with a .474 batting average. However, many scouts question whether Schwarber will stay at catcher. He stands 6 feet tall, 240 pounds. Some project him as a first baseman. Other scouts believe his best position may be designated hitter. The Cubs already have their long term 1B in Rizzo and don't play with the DH.

Keith Law’s take: In a draft light on power-hitting bats -- particularly in terms of college prospects -- Schwarber might have the most raw power of any prospect in the class, showing plus-plus power to right field thanks to tremendous lower-body strength and strong wrists. He transfers his weight well and has the type of raw power that could produce 30-plus homer seasons if he's able to play every day. He shows good feel at the plate, and a willingness to work pitches and get on base via walk, but doesn't have elite bat speed, and there's a lot of swing-and-miss in his bat as well.

“We feel he’s a really good, underrated athlete that could certainly move to an outfield position, in the corner,” Cubs director of scouting Jason McLeod said. “His bat is obviously why we drafted him.” The Cubs believe he had the best bat in the draft so that was the reason for taking him. He could follow the path set by last year's big bat selection, Kris Bryant, who were both were college juniors when drafted. That means time at rookie ball as well as Class-A later this summer. ESPN thinks it is determined if he’ll play outfield or catcher, though the Cubs need players at both positions.

But other scouts have concerns. The scouting community is in a quandary over what to make of Schwarber. He has no natural position, as he's too slow for the outfield and lacks the defensive chops to be a catcher. Many believe first base or designated hitter may be his eventual home.

With their second-round pick -- the Cubs took right-handed pitcher Jake Stinnett from the University of Maryland.

As a senior he’s 7-6 with a 2.65 ERA in 15 starts. He gave up 70 hits in 112 innings pitched while striking out 130. Stinnett was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 29th round last year but chose to return to school and led the Terrapins to the NCAA super regionals.  Stinnett is listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds from Vista, California. Scouting reports say he needed his four years at Maryland, because he has been a full-time pitcher for only two seasons after being converted from third base.

He had an impressive game against Rodon and NC State this year. However, scouts recognized that his frame and side arm delivery was about his ceiling as a #4 starter in the majors. He has a low to mid 90s fastball and good slider, but needs a change up to make it in the pros.

Prior to the draft, I indicated that the Cubs drafting college players would be a signal that management is trying to move up the prospect-rebuild of the major league roster. The reason is obvious: the Cubs tanking seasons is driving away fan interest, including the hype of tracking prospects in the low minors. The two touted pitchers, CJ Edwards and Pierce Johnson, have had set backs this season. The Cubs need to push fresh young talent to the majors at an accelerated level, like the Cardinals have done since their 2011 draft.


The new Cubs radio deal is not "ground breaking," even though the Cubs brass tout it as modern tablets from Mount High.

But what the deal shows should put a shiver down the spines of Cubs fans.

The centerpiece of the deal was not the Cubs. Read that sentence again. Not the Cubs.

What was stressed at the press briefing was the "50-50" deal on putting on concerts at Wrigley Field, Crane Kenney said. The Wrigley concert business is not included in baseball's revenue sharing agreement, so the Ricketts want to maximize this revenue stream. Rumors had it that the Cubs were looking for an all-cash component, but the radio deal includes more than just the team.

"There is a cash component, there's also a joint venture on the music side that is truly a 50-50 partnership between them controlling talent and promotions and we controlling the venue. And there's the marketing aspects. To have access to this platform in this market, even before carrying our games, they cover 65 percent of our market, that's power we've never had to promote tickets and everything else we do here. So this was a multi-layered agreement with all sorts of elements to it. But cash is obviously important, too," Kenney said.

The new deal has unknown amount of cash for the broadcast rights, plus a revenue sharing agreement with CBS for concerts or ticket sales. 

Take a moment to digest the last part of the deal. CBS is not a talent agency. CBS is not a booking agency. CBS is a local AM and FM radio conglomerate, which plays a variety of music on its airwaves. The Cubs marketing department must have wet their pants with the possibility of "free" advertising across all the CBS radio "platforms." But that barter concession does not necessarily equate to new revenue.

There still are night concert restrictions at Wrigley Field. Again, in the land of miscommunications, the Ricketts and Cubs management may think their new plan will amend those restrictions but no one in the city has acknowledged that request. Ricketts does want to skirt the field concert restrictions with "plaza concerts" in the triangle area (complete with open beer sales). How one is going to control plaza concerts with ticket sales in the middle of public streets is going to be impossible. One could stand across Clark Street and hear the concert just as well as person near the front gate at Clark and Addison.

CBS had the same ratings books as WGN did in proposing their bids. WGN was losing money (reportedly $6 million per season). Some games last season got a ZERO rating. So, no radio executive worth his position would bid more for radio rights that trend toward low, unprofitable ratings and demographics. So, one can comfortably assume the Cubs will be receiving less in radio broadcast rights under this new deal.

But what about the concert revenues? That goes to the Cubs, too? It does not. Wrigley Field is owned by a separate legal entity. The Cubs are merely a "tenant" at Wrigley Field. Ricketts is looking for more revenue to pay for his non-Cubs projects, like the commercial-hotel complex across the street. The concert revenue has nothing to do with the Cubs.

This deal reinforces what I have been saying for years that Ricketts main purpose now is to transform Wrigley Field into a year round entertainment venue. The Cubs are merely one act in this venue. The new revenues are going to go to the new real estate ventures and not into the Cubs payroll and operations.


When the White Sox gave up five (5) unearned runs in the 5-2 loss to the Dodgers, pitcher Carlos Quintana got nailed with the loss.

But clearly, Quintana was the cause for the team loss. He made pitches that were hit to his fielders, who made the actual errors, putting runners in scoring position and eventually scoring.

Like quarterbacks and presidents who get too much credit when things are going well, pitchers get too much blame when things go wrong.

The debate about the value of the "win" statistic for pitchers is as apt for the value of the "loss" statistic for pitchers. There is more than one variable involved in the decision on who wins a game. Jeff Samardzija has pitched well enough to win 10 games like Mark Buerhle, but the Shark got no run support from the Cubs. but Samardzija is tagged with losses in those games.

One can weakly argue that a pitcher could be perfect and shut out the opponent to avoid the loss. But that is nearly impossible task as baseball has tweaked its rules to increase the amount of offense.

A better argument is that the win-loss statistic should be purely a "team stat." A pitcher should be primarily judged on his ERA, WHIP and IP. Except, historically, pitchers did throw complete games (there was only a 2 or 3 man rotation and no specialized bullpens) so a hurler's W-L record did accurately reflect his performance.

But a starter in order to qualify for a win must throw 5 innings; but can get tagged with a loss by not getting out of the first. A relief pitcher can get one out and get the win or the loss. There was once a proposal to allow the official scorer to give the "win" to the best pitcher on the winning team and the "loss" to the worst pitcher on the losing team. But that brought opinion into objective baseball statistics so the proposal was quickly dropped.

What came as a pitching stat change was the "save," a statistic that illogically values the final three outs more importantly than the first three outs of a game. It gave washed up starters the opportunity to become millionaire closers. A game can be won or lost in any inning, not just the 9th.

If a win is a nebulous pitching performance statistic, then the save is probably more over rated than a win. In fact, a closer can have a "blown save" then get the win if his  team comes back to break the tie and win the game.  In essence, the winning closer is rewarded for his bad performance.

The win and loss statistics for pitchers are not complete measurement of a player's performance. However, the historical basis for the W-L record of pitchers is still used as a means of comparing pitchers today and pitchers from yesterday. No one today can fathom Cy Young's 511 pitching victories. Most pundits believe we may never see another 300 game winner in the majors (average 15 wins over 15 seasons).

June 5, 2014


Today the baseball world selects high school and college players in the league's draft.

MLB.com Jim Callis projects the first ten picks:

1. Astros: Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic HS (Calif.)
Houston's decision likely will come down to Aiken, Rodon and Jackson, none of whom is expected to command the full $7,922,100 assigned pick value. There's increasing chatter that the Astros might play it safer by going for a bat, but the guess here is that they'll pop the Draft's top-rated prospect in Aiken.

2. Marlins: Carlos Rodon, LHP, North Carolina State
Miami is focusing on the same players as Houston. Ownership may prefer Rodon and some senior club officials may want Jackson, the best bat in the Draft. It's unclear whether the Marlins would take Aiken if he's available.

3. White Sox: Tyler Kolek, RHP, Shepherd HS (Texas)
Rodon may be No. 1 on Chicago's board and likely would be the pick here, but signability could be an issue. The White Sox almost certainly will take an arm and it's hard to ignore the upside of Kolek, the hard throwing high schooler. If the South Siders prefer collegians to prepsters, polished Louisiana State right-hander Aaron Nola could be their man.

4. Cubs: Michael Conforto, OF, Oregon State
Chicago wants pitching and covets Rodon, who could land here if Jackson goes to Houston or Miami. But if Rodon goes in the top three, the Cubs may not like any of the arms enough to take them this high. Hoffman would have been an obvious target before he blew out his elbow, and the Cubs could pass on Kolek or Nola. There's a growing sense that they'll save money to go after pitching later by cutting a deal with Conforto or Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost. Chicago could take Gordon, but it doesn't appear to be in on Jackson.

5. Twins: Nick Gordon, SS, Olympia HS (Fla.)
Minnesota will wait to see which of the five best prospects remains and likely will take the top one remaining on its board, probably Gordon. Other options would be a college pitcher such as Hartford left-hander Sean Newcomb or stockpiling cash by doing a deal with someone such as Lee's Summit (Mo.) West High outfielder Monte Harrison.

6. Mariners: Alex Jackson, C/OF, Rancho Bernardo HS (Calif.)
This would be a dream scenario for Seattle, as Jackson's power would play well even at Safeco Field. He should get here if he doesn't go first or second. Otherwise, the Mariners will turn to the college ranks for Newcomb, Nola, Conforto or North Carolina State shortstop Trea Turner.

7. Phillies: Aaron Nola, RHP, Louisiana State
Neither Gordon nor Nola is expected to get past Philadelphia, with the latter more likely to be available. The Phillies will consider many of the same players as the Mariners, as well as Evansville left-hander Kyle Freeland, who had an MRI last week to clear up confusion involving his elbow arising from an old medical report. This looks like the high-water mark for slugging Clovis (Calif.) High shortstop Jacob Gatewood, but he has swing-and-miss concerns and Philadelphia needs more immediate help.

8. Rockies: Kyle Freeland, LHP, Evansville
Colorado almost certainly will go the college route for the ninth time with its last 11 first-rounders. The Rockies would love to grab Nola, and also will consider Freeland -- they know his medical history well because their team doctor performed Freeland's arthroscopic elbow surgery when he was a Denver high schooler -- and Newcomb. Other options include Indiana catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber and San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer.

9. Blue Jays: Trea Turner, SS, North Carolina State
The same three names come up again and again for Toronto's two picks at Nos. 9 and 11: Hoffman, Turner and Coral Springs (Fla.) Christian Academy right-hander Touki Toussaint. Of that trio, the Mets are most likely to take Turner at No. 10, so he could be the choice here.

10. Mets: Sean Newcomb, LHP, Hartford
After taking high school position players with its previous three first-round selections, New York is tied to college prospects this year. The Mets' top three targets look like Conforto, Newcomb and Turner in some order. If they're all unavailable, Beede and Zimmer could fit.

Most writers believe that this year's draft is deep in pitching, which is good because despite the emphasis in the last two drafts on selecting arms, the Cubs minor league system does not have a dominate reputation for MLB talent in pitching. 

Many observers also believe that teams should not address "needs" in a draft, but select the best available player. It is true that drafts are crapshoots (with only 6% of selections making the majors), but not to draft a "need" position is not a good strategy. The Cubs minor league system does not have any viable catching prospects. This is a clear "need" area. There are several first round quality catchers in this draft: Alex Jackson (projects to OF); Kyle Schwarber; Max Pentecost. Selecting a catcher with the first pick would not be a horrible idea.

The tip off for the Cubs is if they draft high schoolers high in the draft, they are projecting a five year development plan going forward. It means that the rebuilding process will be more toward 2019 at the major league level. If the Cubs concentrate on college players, then there is a shift to speed up the prospect promotion earlier than 2019.

I don't like the idea of "over drafting" a player in the first round to sign him for "a lower number than slot" and use that savings to spend on other players in the next few rounds (first rounders who slip because of injury or signability issues). Use your high round picks on the best talent and don't worry about saving money for later rounds. The Cubs need impact players not cost effective prospects.

June 4, 2014


Crain's Chicago Business reports that the Chicago Cubs and WGN Radio are ending one of the longest broadcasting partnerships in sports history, dating back to 1924.

The Cubs will announce a new seven-year agreement with WBBM-AM/780 to air the team's games beginning in 2015.

The new deal will put the Cubs, Bears and White Sox all under the CBS Radio banner. CBS-owned WBBM and WCFS-AM/105.9 air Bears games, while WSCR-AM/670 airs White Sox games. Since the Cubs are coming late to the CBS party, its broadcasts will take a back seat to other existing sports contracts, such as the Bears. Normally, a professional team would want a "flagship" station to focus its entire attention on the team broadcasts, including during the off-season. WBBM, a news station, continues to fill its schedule with live sports programs.

"The economic terms just don't make sense for us,” WGN Radio President Jimmy de Castro media columnist Robert Feder. “So it's really not us saying we don't want them anymore. It's the Cubs saying that the economics they need are much greater than what we think they're worth or what we'll pay. They chose to go another way economically and made a decision to move on.”

It had been previously reported that the WGN was losing money on Cubs broadcasts because of broad industry changes and fewer advertising dollars rolling in for poor Cubs baseball.

Advertisers typically pay for ads before a season starts based on the most recent ratings, but they can claim free air time when stations don't live up to promised ratings. That has decimated WGN's margins for airing Cubs games.

In addition, WGN parent Tribune Co. is set to spin off its newspaper group later this year from its broadcast operations. CEO Peter Liguori recently announced the company's intention to stop televising Chicago sports nationally on WGN America as it converts it from a superstation to a basic cable channel.

Still to be determined in the months ahead for the Cubs is the fate of the 70 games per year televised by WGN-TV/Channel 9, which will generate far more revenue for the team.

The Cubs last year opted out of their TV deal with the network, giving it a chance to either pay more for broadcasting rights beginning in 2015 than it currently does or lose the games to a rival network.
Those negotiations continue while the team shows few signs of promise on the field and while local TV ratings remain in a slump. There is a problem that no other local station has the air time or coverage that WGN did. Some speculate that the 70 games may be rolled into the current Comcast Sportschannel contract (which the Cubs are a partner until that deal expires in 2020.)

WGN Radio, meanwhile, still has deals to carry Chicago Blackhawks games through 2018-19 and Northwestern Wildcats football and basketball through the 2015-16 season.


Major league baseball has been flummoxed by the length of baseball games. In a video game, instant gratification culture, a four hour baseball game is "too long" according to the guardians of the game.

The league has been tinkering with ideas to speed the process of play. The critical area is the ballet between pitches - - -  the batter getting out of the box to adjust his gloves, kick some dirt, squeeze the bat to the pitcher shaking off pitchers and scuffling around the rubber.

However, there are a few examples that the game is fine if players are smart about it.

Chris Sale threw a 100 pitch complete game on Sunday.

The time of the game: two hours eight minutes.

Quick. Effective. A breeze on a hot Sunday afternoon.

Why was this contest so speedy?

Sale took the return throw from his catcher, and toed the rubber and fired. He did not wait. He got into a rhythm. He threw strikes and out pitches. He was efficient and had control. If pitching is an art form, Sale splashed the box score canvas like Picasso.

The pitcher can control the time of the game more than anyone else. Don't think, just pitch. The catcher throws down a sign, toss. Don't keep looking to the dugout for signs. Keep your defense focused on the game. Everyone is happy.

Why other pitchers don't follow this strategy is unknown.

Mark Buerhle, the former White Sox hurler, is another catch and quick toss his pitches. Buerhle  who is not an overpowering pitcher, is currently 10-1, 2.10 ERA, 1.193 WHIP for the Blue Jays. Most of the games he starts last less than three hours.

If a pitcher throws even 5 seconds faster than his normal routine, in 100 pitches he can shave 17 minutes off the game time.

There was once a thought of putting pitchers on a basketball shot clock, but no one could figure out how many seconds to charge the battery and then what would be the penalty (a ball call?)  Certain aspects of the game, such as throwing towards home plate, should remain consistent with historical precedent. Coaches just need to teach their pitchers to throw faster and more efficiently in order to cut down game times.

June 3, 2014


One third of the 2014 season is in the books.

The Cubs are at 20-34, 12.5 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central.

The Cubs have the worst record in baseball. Even the lowly Astros are 44 basis points better in winning percentage than the Cubs.

The Cubs are on pace to lose 102 games.

In the franchise's 139 year history, the team has NEVER had 4 consecutive seasons of 90 plus losses. The Cubs are primed to get this dubious achievement this year.

The White Sox, which finished worse than the Cubs in 2013, with lower attendance, an allegedly "poor" farm system and a small market budget, is now a .500 ball club in 2014. If Chicago's spit upon little baseball brother can turn around its team in less than a season, what is wrong with the Cubs?

Bad scouting department?
Bad player development?
Bad coaching?
Bad management?
Bad ownership?
All of the Above?

Something is terribly wrong on the North Side. There is not even a silver lining in the dark cloud that is this season. There are no signs that the team is going to get better any time soon. People are tired about talking about the great Theo  "prospects" which have no arrived at Wrigley. People are tired of the bungled renovation plans for Wrigley. People are tired of the "party of the century" slogan for this season - - - baseball fans have nothing to celebrate this season.

June 2, 2014


Apparently, there are never enough cooks to spoil a PR disaster.

Before Milwaukee's opening game thumping of the Cubs, Anthony Rizzo spoke to reporters. He said he was sick about talking about the stalled Wrigley Field rebuilding plans.

“They told us, again, that we were going to get approved and it didn’t get approved,” Rizzo said to CSNChicago reporter. “So I know a lot of guys are not happy about that. It’s kind of a shame, because we get excited about it.

“They’re working their tails off. But, again, it got shut down. It’s kind of a bummer, because we all thought it was going to happen. And now it’s kind of just wait-and-see.”

Except, Rizzo is dead wrong in his assessment of the situation. It is one thing to parrot the corporate line, it is another to understand it.

"They" must mean the Cubs executives, who have been "working their tails off" to get construction going but "got shot down."  

Except, it is the Cubs who derailed their own plans.

The Cubs massive real estate development project was APPROVED last year by the city. Construction was supposed to start LAST YEAR.

But Ricketts and management failed to start the work. The Cubs blocked the Cubs on this point.

And it is naive to say that the new plans which significantly alter the old plans would be "rubber stamped" by the city because the new features are needed by the Cubs. All the brick and ivy at Wrigley is landmarked, meaning that it cannot be changed because it is the historical feature of the ball park. The brick and ivy is Wrigley Field. To alter or destroy the outfield walls destroys the iconic state of Wrigley Field. Why ownership wants to blow up the charm of Wrigley is simple: money. The obsession for new revenue streams means blowing up the past on the non-guaranteed hope for the future.

Why Rizzo and the players would be unhappy with the Cubs not getting the city and neighborhood to roll over and play dead is odd. Unless the players were promised more money from the new revenue streams or they think the payroll will skyrocket, it is only selfish desire for money . . . so there is the synch with ownership. But just to get a better clubhouse and work out facilities . . . again, the Cubs did not need anyone's approval to do that work. Ricketts just refused to do any work because of the threat of a lawsuit his people say he will easily win.

Rizzo may be sick of the politics of the Wrigleyville construction projects, but the fans are sick about the state of the Cubs team. The Cubs are the worst team in the majors. The Cubs have become unwatchable. People are tuning the Cubs out faster than ever before; work men may be able to do the actual construction during games because no one will be around to care about any obstructed views.

Yesterday, Rizzo had a meltdown at home plate during the Brewer series finale. He was called out on a well framed pitch. He went after the umpire (the Cubs were down at this point) and was ejected from the game. He had to be restrained . . . . which is a surprise for one of the young "core" leaders of the club. Rizzo's ejection did not cost the Cubs the game per se, but if one cannot control one's emotions that will hurt the team (i.e., Mike Olt replaced him at first).

Maybe Samardzijaism - - - sick of losing - - - has finally caught up with Rizzo.

June 1, 2014


Mark Gonzalez of the Tribune has a Cubs "core" four prospect update. Going into this weekend:

Shortstop, Iowa Cubs (AAA)
Friday’s game:  at Memphis, 1-for-4, 1 stolen base, 2 strikeouts
Trending: 3 for 14, 6 strikeouts
Season so far:  43 games, .224 batting average, 7 home runs, 25 RBIs

Third baseman, Tennessee (AA)
Friday’s game: At Huntsville: 1-for-3, 1 home run, 1 walk, 1 strikeout
Trending: 5 homers in past 7 games
Season so far: 53 games, .347 batting average, 17 home runs, 46 RBIs

Outfielder, Tennessee (AA)
Injured  (hamstring)
Season so far:  7 games, .333 average, 0 home runs, 7 RBIs

Outfielder, Daytona Beach (A)
Friday’s Game:  1-for-4, 1 double, 2 strikeouts
Trending: 1-for-12, 5 strikeouts
Season so far: 47 games, .259 average, 2 home runs, 24 RBIs

What can we make of these stats?

First, Baez tore up two lower levels of the minors last season. But in each stage of promotion, especially at AAA, he will face stronger competition (including ex-major leaguers). He did have a minor injury, but it seems he is pressing to make a final impression. At least that is the hope. Otherwise, he may one of those players who tops out at AA ball.

Second, Bryant is the real deal. He continues to hit for average and power. One would expect him to move up to AAA late this summer. He could be on the Cub roster in 2015.

Third, Almora does appear to be stuck in A ball. He is younger than the other core prospects, but as a top draft pick one would think he would have progressed faster based upon his scouting report. He also has had a series of minor injuries, but it is too early to say he is an injury risk.

Fourth, Soler is crawling towards the "bust" bin. He has been hurt. He has not made any impact in the low minors except for his mental breakdowns. His stock is dropping fast on independent prospect ranking boards. He should have been on the same path as Baez. It is now a long shot to count Soler as a major league prospect.