July 31, 2014


Mark Gonzales of the Tribune reports:

The Chicago Cubs are close to acquiring left-hander Felix Doubront from the Boston Red Sox, according to a scouting source.

Doubront, 26, is 2-4 with a 6.07 ERA in 17 games (10 starts) and has allowed 10 home runs in 59 1/3 innings. But the Cubs apparently believe Doubront has plenty of upside as they saw when they acquired Jake Arrieta from the Baltimore Orioles last July. It is hard to catch lightning in bottle, especially for a second time, but that seems to be the Cubs Plan A.

Doubront won't be arbitration eligible until 2015. He has a lifetime record of 26-22 with a 4.82 ERA. He struck out 167 batters in 161 innings but allowed 24 home runs in 2011. He will earn $586,000 this season.

The Cubs, under the leadership of President Theo Epstein, have acquired former Red Sox pitchers Michael Bowden and Daniel Bard in past seasons. Both pitchers played for the Red Sox when Epstein was the general manager. Both turned out to be terrible with the Cubs.

What the Cubs should be asking the Red Sox is about Jon Lester, but Lester is heading to megamillions free agency. And the Red Sox are double digits out of first place in the AL East so there is little reason to trade Lester if they want to re-sign him in the off season.

Cubs infielders Emilio Bonifacio and Luis Valbuena are the most likely nominal in-return trade items still on the block. Both infielders can be useful utility players for a contending team.

July 30, 2014


Here has been the pattern of Edwin Jackson starts: watch just the first inning. Game over.

Last night, the pattern held true, with the Cubs down 3-1 to the Rockies.

Nothing more to see.

It was just as well.

The Cubs set a few records.  It was the longest game in club history at 6 hours 27 minutes. So much for the early morning curfew.

And the first Cub position player, John Baker, got the pitching victory. It had never happened before in club lore, not even by accident. Also, Baker scored the winning run in the 16th inning.

Both the Rockies and the Cubs used up their entire bullpens by the end of the 15th inning. The Rockies, which are as bad as the Cubs, had not scored since the first. Colorado used a starter while Rick Renteria went to Baker, who had not pitched in jest since the Cape Code league.

The Cubs had to grind through more than 6 hours of action in order to get a victory from an Edwin Jackson start. Early in the game, there was some discussion whether Jackson would be demoted to the bullpen or even released. But neither makes any sense since the Cubs really have no starter to replace him.

Jackson has a pattern of giving up runs in the first inning. Lots of runs.

Steve Stone remarked earlier this season that some pitchers do not take enough warm up pitches in their pregame routine. It means that they do not have their arm stretched fully for speed and control. In other words, the first inning and higher pitch count is a result of not being fully warmed up. Then pitchers seem to settle in after the second inning. One could wonder if this is Jackson's problem (since he really did not have it when he was with the White Sox and pitching guru Don Cooper).

If that is the simple solution, it will save an already taxed bullpen, which had reliever Neil Ramirez's arm fatigue go on the 15 day DL (instead of Iowa for "rest" because of player's union objection since a disabled player still gets major league salary and service time).

July 29, 2014


After 9 seasons in Japan, and 3 injury plagued U.S, minor league years, Yoshie Wada got his first NL win. On the Cub pre-season depth chart, he ranked around the club's # 10 starter.

Wada reminds me a little of Ted Lilly just before Lilly retired. There is no overpowering stuff from this left hander. And in reality, he is not part of the long term answer.

In fact, no one of the Cubs current pitching staff is the long term answer. Other clubs have asked on Jake Arrieta, and the Cubs said no. Arrieta is under team control for 3 more years. But will the Cubs actually be competitive in three years?

The answer is no. And the reason is pitching, or the lack thereof.

Edwin Jackson is horrible. Travis Wood is perplexingly bad. Chris Rusin, Dallas Beeler, and Kyle Hendricks are AAA fodder. Grimm could be stretched out to be a starter in 2015, and James Russell wants to be one too (but his track record is really bad). There is no one arm to build an entire staff around.

I really don't see Ricketts writing Yankee size $200 million checks to acquire the best starting pitchers in the winter of 2017.  So many of the best prospects will have to be traded in order to build a quality major league staff of veteran talent. But that seems to be contrary to The Plan.

You can try to outhit the competition, but over time pitchers have an advantage over hitters. Hitting prospects are usually easier to develop, have a broader resume, than pitchers. Pitchers tend to have more development issues with body mechanics, arm slot changes, and adding new pitches in the mix. Pitchers can go through high school and college with a plus fastball and a change up. Major league starters need at least 3 quality pitches, especially since major league hitters live off fastballs.

Wada joins a growing list of journeymen pitchers on the Cubs roster. It is not his fault. But his destiny is written on the new Wrigley bricks.

July 28, 2014


No one can really argue that the six men inducted into the 2014 Hall of Fame did not deserve the honor.

Maddux, Glavine and Frank Thomas were all All-Star/MVP caliber players during their eras.

Cox, LaRussa and Torre all had long managerial careers, with plenty of playoff teams and at least one World Series title.

The Hall is in the process of changing its rules. Instead of a player being on the ballot for 15 years (if he continues to get 5% of the vote), it is going down to a 10 year window.  Many have argued that if you are a Hall of Fame player, you should get on the ballot in the first year.

Yes and no. Yes, a player's stats don't change as the ballots pass from year to year. Yes, if you are Hall worthy, waiting a decade does not make a lot of sense. But, there are a few "no" issues. There are several sportswriters who believe that no one is entitled to first ballot selection, unless you are the monster equivalent of Babe Ruth, who totally transformed the game. So there is a current ballot bias. Also, each voter can only select up to ten candidates. And to get into the Hall, there needs to be 75% approval.  Last year, 571 members voted. One needed to get voted in by 429 votes.

Besides ballot bias, there is also hometown and league bias. There is very little turnover in the sportswriter membership. Many will have to write columns about their own hometown players on the ballot. And many may not have seen much of the other league players (but with today's overexposure on internet and MLB.com that excuse should fade over time).  So many voters are pressured to "waste" their votes on players who will not get 75%.

Since 10 years only gives a player a shorter chance to be elected to the Hall, writers may actually not use all their 10 selection votes in an attempt to narrow the process further to truly "worthy" candidates. In the same process, a worthy candidate may lose support quicker after a couple of years and never have a chance to be elected by the writers.

There has been no reason stated for the rule change. It could be to allow players falling off the ballot to be reviewed by a veteran's committee. But history has shown that the veteran's committee is a harder vote to get than from the writers.

July 26, 2014


It used to be no matter what, there was an intensity when the Cubs played the Cardinals. In baseball Civil Wars, the front lines in the territorial loyalties splits Central Illinois in half. No matter how good or bad the opponent's record, fans were "all in" in rooting for their team to win.

A series sweep over one's rival takes the sting out of a 100 loss season.

Or it used to.

Since the financial crash of 2008, the Cubs-Cardinals series has been in decline. The buzz was lost. Ticket prices got expensive, and the quality of baseball got weak. Then it got lopsided with the Cardinals making deep play off runs while the Cubs struggled under new ownership.

In a rare occurrence, 41,500 people actually showed up to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play the Cardinals. Now, perhaps half of the crowd were St. Louis fans, but this was the best crowd of the year. And the Cubs scraped to a 7-6 victory in a see-saw contest which saw home runs, errors, base running mistakes and wild pitches.

One game does not revitalize the rivalry because while the Cards are a competitive team year in and year out, the Cubs continue to be mired in its self-proclaimed AAA exile.  When many fans and season ticket holders lost interest in the season before it started, Chicago does not have rabid fan base it once had to drive the rivalry forward from generation to generation.

Fantasy leagues has also contributed to the lack of pure rivalries. Since fantasy players use baseball players from every team roster, they begin to root for individual players over individual teams. This dilutes the rivalry experience. A fantasy and Cub fan may have Matt Holliday on his team roster - - - so it is hard to root against him when he hits a home run.

Cubs-Cards is turning into a light verbal cue of two old guys in a nursing home, one being a ex-Marine and the other an Army veteran. Which service was better? But at some point, they will both forget that they were in the service altogether.

July 25, 2014


In the financial commodity business, there are instruments in which people can lock in a specific price for a good for delivery at a future time. These future calls are used to hedge against wild market swings in price. If you lock in a price you are willing to pay today for delivery next January, a business can budget more accurately than trying to buy the goods in January at open market prices. If you lock in lower than that market price, then you are ahead of the game.

The Cubs original plan was to have their wave of future call-ups of their top prospects several years from now, around 2017-2018, based upon the slow promotion of talent in the low minors.

But after the Samardzija and Hammel trade, there had to be a sudden budgetary shift inside the Cubs front office because the team is now moving to promote young players faster than expected.

Very few people thought Kyle Hendricks would be called up this soon, even in spot starter duty. The same was true for Dallas Beeler. But since the Cubs system is so thin on starting pitchers, the front office's hands were tied. But since they performed pretty well for rookies, it returned the near dead "hope" moniker to Cubland.

Then the call-up of A. Alcantara was a surprise to replace Darwin Barney who was on paternity leave for a couple of games. Alcantara had a blistering start (very much like Junior Lake the year before). And when Barney returned to the club, he was Wally Pipped, given his release as Alcantara had taken his roster spot.

Now, terrible third baseman Mike Olt was been sent back down (in order to get Wada on the roster for another spot start), there is speculation that the open 40 man roster spot will be filled by Javy Baez, who has been taking grounders at second in Iowa. Baez is either the Cubs #1, #1A or #2 prospect, depending on your scouting service.

With Alcantara moving the CF, Baez going to play second and Olt being demoted to open up third base, the whispers of an early Kris Bryant September call up are in the air. Bryant has hit at every level in the minors, so there is no reason to waste his at bats in AAA (even though Epstein said there was no way Bryant was making the team this year.) If Bryant does get a late season call up, the Cubs have altered their plan to try to win sooner than later.

The Cubs are so far behind (on the business side) that the baseball operations has to take the lead in order to stem the tide of red ink. Adding young, exciting prospects to the major league roster does create interest from a fan base that had written off this season.

If Bonifacio can get his legs again and hit, he will be traded before the deadline. If a team is looking for a 5th outfielder, Coghlan is gone. Or Sweeney. Or Lake. In other words, the trend is to open positions for the call-ups. Jorge Soler, who is on the 40 man roster, has been promoted to AAA ball. It is expected that he will get a September call up and play RF.  Soler, who has been set back by hamstring injuries, was one of the new front office's "big" signs so they want, and need, to see some tangible results from Soler.

The view that the September Cubs will be more interesting than the April Cubs is apparent. The call-ups present a dress rehearsal for the Future Cubs. It is also possible that such a newly constructed squad will stem the tide of dropping gate and increasing no-shows which have hurt the Cubs team finances. Do not forget, no matter what is said, the Cubs and its owners are all about the money.

It is possible that a September Cub line up could be:

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

There are a lot of "slash" hitters in that line-up, and the possibility of high strike out rates. Is it enough "hope" to bring fans flocking back to the ball park? Only the future will tell.

July 24, 2014


Whew, the Padres are bad.

A team is last in most offensive categories. The team batting average is hovering around a historic low of .215. There is only one real part time platoon starter in the line-up consistently, Seth Smith.
Smith is batting .285, with 11 HR and only 29 RBI.

The Padres are dead last in the NL in runs scored (291), hits (688), BA (.215), OBP (.274), SLG (.355), OPS (.609) and total bases (1075).

But the Pads are 3rd in the NL West because of pitching.

The Padres rank first in the NL in team ERA (3.18), runs allowed (341) and earned runs allowed (311).

The Padres play in a pitcher friendly ball park, but still, even a below average offense would dramatically improve their 43-56 record (.434 winning percentage).

The difference between runs scored and runs allowed is -50, and over 99 games a half a run per game.

July 23, 2014


In certain respects, the Cubs have mimicked the Astros in the course of recent draft history. The Astros have tanked many seasons in order to get the top draft picks. In theory, high picks like #1s are easier to identify potential star players.

But with all draft prospects, even picking high does not yield high grades.

In the past four drafts, the Astros have selected the following first round players:

2010 (#8) Delino DeShields Jr., OF
Currently AA ball: .239 BA, 5 HR, 34 RBI

2010 (#19) Mike Foltynewicz RHP
Current AAA ball: 7-6,  5.12 ERA, 1.469 WHIP, 1.96 K/BB

2010 (#33) Michael Kvasnicka C
Twins AA ball: .275 BA, 9 HR, 44 RBI

(Acquired RHP Gonzlo Sanudo: A ball: 3-0, 4.20 ERA, 1.283 WHIP)

2011 (#11) George Springer OF
Astros: 78 GP, .231 BA, 20 HR, 51 RBI, 5 SB, 1.8 WAR

2012 (#1) Carlos Correa SS
Current A ball: .325 BA, 6 HR, 57 RBI, 20 SB

2013 (#1) Mark Appel, RHP
Current A ball: 1-5, 10.80 ERA, 2.087 WHIP, 3.00 K/BB

2014 (#1) Brady Aiken
Current: Failed to Sign

While many teams have promoted their best 2010 prospects to the majors, the Astros, with three picks, have not had any one set the minor league world on fire. 2011 first rounder George Springer made a huge splash in his debut this season. He has shown the power numbers to stick in the majors, but his batting average (plate disclipine) is light. All in all, Houston is pleased with Springer's progress.

Likewise, 2012 #1 overall pick Correa is doing well in A ball. Remember, he was a high school draft choice so many teams allow for more low minor league time to get adjusted to pro ball.  However, 2013 #1 overall pick Appel has been disappointing in A ball.  A college standout pitcher, Appel was seen as a difficult signing in 2011. In 2012, he was classified as the best pitching prospect. Clearly, the hype has not translated into pro ball.

The fiasco about the injury-non-injury status of 2014's overall #1 pick Aiken also sets back the 2014 draft as a total bust. The juggling of the slot bonus pool with Aiken, and the pull back of offers, led to Houston losing their next two prized draft choices as well. 

This is a real cautionary tale that any major league baseball fan needs to appreciate. In 7 first round draft picks, the Astros have currently only 1 major leaguer (Springer). That is a 14.2% success rate. Of the other six minor leaguers, only 1 has met his pre-draft potential (Correa). So there is a 17% chance that another first rounder will become a major league starter. Even the best prospects don't necessarily pan out.

The Astros main strategy was to draft high and acquire six years of cheap control of  home grown major league players. With the lack of first round success, it will be hard to imagine the plan coming together any time soon.

July 22, 2014


The Athletics are dominating the AL West. With 61 victories, they are cruising ahead of the competition. The Rangers are already 22 games behind in the standings!

What is remarkable is that the A's runs differential is an outlandish +150. This is more than double the next highest team.

Baseball is a simple game with one simple rule: score more runs and you win the game.

Oakland is the master of that rule.

The A's starting pitching staff has been outstanding in ERA. The bullpen has been solid with closer Sean Doolittle.

And the A's can manufacture runs and put up crooked numbers, even though they play in a pitcher friendly ball park.

But can the A's success turn into post-season victories?

One study concluded that the most important factors in the post season are:

a) power arms in the starting rotation;
b) plus defensive fielding.

Great power arms can shut down great hitters.
A good defensive team can save a run a game.
In short series which usually are fairly even in talent, the better pitching staff and defensive team will usually win close contests.

 The funny thing is that the team with the most regular season wins does not equate to World Series championships. More and more wild card teams are getting to the Series. Whether it is part underdog status or the ability to win "one and done" games, wild card teams position themselves with at least a mental advantage.

The A's traded into the team's strength when they picked up Samardzija and Hammel from the Cubs. It would appear that Oakland wants to make a deeper run in the playoffs.

July 21, 2014


As the fans get re-energized with the reports of how well certain prospects are doing in the minors, attention away from the field play comes back around to what trading chips the Cubs have left.

Two of the names coming up in conversation are James Russell and Wesley Wright. Both are left handed relievers. Both are having good seasons. Both could solidify a contender's bullpen with a lefty specialist. But both will not bring back much in return.

I always felt that Starlin Castro would wind up with the Yankees. However, there have been several reports that the Mets are interested in Castro, and one proposal has the Cubs acquiring 29 year old second baseman Daniel Murphy. Murphy in 5.5 seasons has a career 10.6 WAR. This year he is hitting .289, with 7 HRs. Murphy and a package of prospects does not seem feasible to pry Castro from the Cubs. The good point in that discussion is that the Cubs would be receiving a major league player in return. The bad point is that Murphy does not help the long term roster, and the Cubs have more high ceiling players who can play second (Alcantara and Baez).

The one area of system need continues to be starting pitching. Relievers like Russell and Wright can not get a high level or major league ready AAA pitcher in a trade. Castro could get maybe one major league ready AAA pitcher.  More likely, the front office would want several lower level pitching prospects as greater numbers improve the chances that a prospect will turn out okay.

There are plenty of players who have played themselves into trade crumbs: Olt, Lake, Schierholtz, Barney, Villaneuva, and even T. Wood.

July 18, 2014


The Cubs may be a woeful franchise, but at least they are not the Astros.Yet.

The Astros had the first pick in the draft (again). They made an under slot offer to their  selection, high school pitcher Brady Aiken. A deal was inked for $6.5 million, subject to passing a physical. The Astros also had a deal with their 5th round pick, Jacob Nix, for an over-slot deal. The same was rumored with another hard to sign guy, 21st rounder Mac Marshall.  The saber-guru plan was to move the slot money around to get three quality prospects for the price of one (and a half).

But the house of cards fell a part when the Astros front office, including sabermetric favorite and new GM Jeff Luhnow, had an issue with an undersized UCL ligament in his throwing elbow. The Astros medical concern was that this abnormality would lead to Tommy John surgery. So the team invoked an "injury" clause in the CBA to offer a 40% of slot deal to Aiken. Aiken and his camp balked, saying he was not injured. That is his natural body, and he throws fine with it. Aiken's advisors cried foul and were claiming the medical studies and opinions were false.

Today's signing deadline passed with MLB.com reporting that the Astros failed to sign Aiken, Nix or Marshall.  However, the Astros will receive the No. 2 pick in next year’s draft because the team Houston did at least offer Aiken 40 percent of his slot value ($3,168,840), which Aiken did not accept.

Obviously, losing three players will set back the Astros rebuilding plan. The Astros have been tanking for years to get back to back Number One picks to boost their core young talent. New owner Jim Crane has slashed the payroll to pitiful levels (according the players association). And the Astros new local cable deal has been a financial disaster.

All the elements of a disaster movie have come to roost in Houston.  Smart number crunching looking for loopholes to juice the system sometimes themselves get squeezed out of the action. As the Astros start to bring up good prospects like George Springer, then are other "great" prospects like pitcher Mark Appel crashing in Class A.

And this story is why Cubs fans have to be cautious about their expectations. The Cubs front office is following the Astro path more than the Boston Way.

July 17, 2014


Sports columnist Mike Downey opined on CNN.com that the game of baseball is not as healthy as the headlines around All-Star break claim to be.

"Baseball's Philadelphia Phillies' attendance is down 8,290 per home game from a year ago. Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, each down more than 4,000. Minnesota Twins, more than 3,000. Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, 2,000-plus.

Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays .... down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down."
Downey writes that  17 of the leagues' 30 teams have poorer attendance than a year ago at this time. World Series television ratings get more disappointing year after year.

He also concludes that Baseball is losing its luster. As ticket prices get higher, interest goes lower. he writes. As options on television expand, baseball's grip on the American public gets ever more slippery. He cites that for Game 1 of the 2004 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals came to approximately 25.4 million viewers. When the same two teams met in the World Series last October, Game 1's viewership was pegged at around 15 million.

One year earlier a series between the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers attracted the worst TV ratings of any World Series in the past 30 years.

As great players like Derek Jeter retire, there are new baseball starts like Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen,  Robinson Cano, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout,  Jose Abreu, Yu Darvish, and Yasiel Puig. But do these new players have the lasting draw of the old ones?

Apparently not, if one sees both attendance and television ratings falling in a majority of major league teams. I agree with some of Downey's assumptions. But there is a larger picture.

Historically, baseball has been a mirror to the American population growth. At the turn of the 20th century, it was played by white men and an influx of new immigrants. As each immigrant type, whether it be Jewish, Irish, Polish, etc., came to the United States in numbers, those groups would become Americanized and take up baseball. Each new group contributed to the baseball rosters. When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, black players made their contributions to the sport. Likewise, the current wave of Hispanic/Latin immigration has fueled the increase in Hispanic/Latin players in the majors. 

So why are the influx of new talent and new immigrants not kept baseball moving forward in attendance and ratings? Economics and culture may play a part. The current wave of new immigrants are mostly semi-skilled laborers who do not have the disposal income to take a family to the major league game. It is too expensive. In addition, they come from countries where baseball is not the number one sport - - - soccer is the national game. Also, cultural in the 21st century, there has been a movement NOT to assimilate new immigrants into the American culture. Politics has made it possible to keep your own language and culture as a "special interest" group than become part of the silent majority.

Finally, there are vast more entertainment choices today than 50 years ago. Baseball would have been a priority summer event several generations ago. But today, organized sports for kids and the electronic babysitting age has fractured demographics into small diverse sub-culture groups with smaller attention spans.

Baseball may not fit the needs of the next generation.

July 16, 2014


Tim Britton of the Providence Journal has an excellent break down of how the Oakland Athletics became a quality team.

He acknowledges that the A's  operate on a smaller budget than most major league teams due to their market and stadium deal.  Oakland opened the season with the game’s 25th-highest payroll at $85 million, and its seven All-Stars — including recently acquired Jeff Samardzija — will make a grand total of $28.55 million this season. The Athletics have acquired those seven players in very different ways, most of them highlighting superior evaluation of unknowns — and of course a healthy dose of good fortune.

The A’s have built through the draft. All-Star closer Sean Doolitte was a first-round pick in 2007 out of the University of Virginia, albeit as a position player. Doolitte shifted to the mound after his development stagnated at the plate, and he’s quickly evolved into one of the game’s best late-inning relievers.

The A’s have built through the international market. As fewer big-name stars hit free agency — and the ones that do hit it at a more advanced age — the international market has grown in significance. Fifteen different All-Stars signed with their current teams as international free agents, including seven who were into their 20s and played in the majors almost immediately. That includes pitchers from Japan in Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, and multiple sluggers from Cuba, like Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu and Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes.

Cespedes was 26 and known mainly for an over-the-top workout video when the A’s inked him to a four-year, $36-million deal shortly before the 2012 season — a surprising outlay of cash from the Athletics. Cespedes’ production has exceeded that expense already — something that can rarely be said about free-agent outfielders these days. (That same offseason, Michael Cuddyer signed a three-year deal in Colorado for $31.5 million; he’s been about 60 percent as valuable as Cespedes since.)

The A’s have built through other teams’ farm systems. Oakland has long had to deal established players in order to get something of value in return before they departed in free agency. Catcher Derek Norris and third baseman Josh Donaldson both came to the Athletics as minor-leaguers in deals for veteran pitchers — Norris from Washington for Gio Gonzalez, Donaldson from the Cubs for Rich Harden. It’s rare for a team to hit on that kind of return more than once. Just look at how little Cliff Lee brought back each of the three times he was traded as an ace.

The A’s have found value in the free-agency clearance aisle, snatching Brandon Moss on a minor-league contract after the 2011 season. At the time, Moss had been a replacement-level player; in five seasons for three different organizations, he was worth exactly 0.0 wins above replacement. Since, he’s slugged 71 home runs and been worth seven wins to the Athletics.

Finding that kind of value on the cheap allows room for the occasional expense, like shelling out $22 million this past winter for Scott Kazmir. The approach of using free agency to find complementary pieces obviously worked quite well for the Red Sox last season.

In a pool of 81 All-Stars overall, Kazmir is one of just 15 who signed with their current team through the regular free-agent market. The Zack Greinkes and Robinson Canos are increasingly the outlier among All-Stars, not the rule.

Drafting well will always be the best strategy for building a consistently competitive team. But compensating for poor drafts in the free-agent market has become harder and harder as more and more of the game’s best players stay home with long-range extensions. Creating a talented roster demands a varied approach to collecting that talent — something the A’s have excelled at in recent years.

I call this a balanced approach tempered by the financial realities of the club. Draft well in June and sign good international players; make good trades to acquire other teams best prospects; find value in second tier free agent market; and make occasional big trade or premium free agent signing. But that is easier said than done.

Unlike the Cubs, the A's went into the international market to land major league starters. Finding gold in toss in players in trades like Donaldson are quite rare. But once you get new players into your system, a team needs to finalize their development which the A's have an excellent track record in doing, especially with their pitching staffs.

July 15, 2014


What happens when more people turn down a position than actual candidates?

It is a strange situation.

The Padres fired their general manager. The team has started a search for a new general manager. But many potential candidates, including the Cubs Jason McLeod, have taken their names out of consideration.

For front office baseball people, becoming a general manager is a life goal. There are only 30 such jobs available, and they do not come up very often (the last was in 2011).  So why are so many people turning down San Diego?

San Diego is a nice community. It is very expensive to live there, but a GM usually gets paid very well so that should not be an issue. The Padres have a newer downtown ball park. It is a small market team, but it is in warm California so that has to be a draw.

So why is there a lack of interest?

San Diego operates as a semi-small market team. According to Cot's Baseball payrolls, the Padres have committed $90.1 million to players, which is more than the Cubs.

Baseball Perspectives states that in August, 2012, an investment group led by Ron Fowler bought the Padres for about $800 million. Forbes magazine valued the club at $615M in March, 2014. Bloomberg valued the franchise at $685M in October, 2013. This may be part of the reason as it appears, like the Ricketts family, the new owner significantly overpaid for the franchise. On the other hand, a group willing to spend to acquire a club usually has money to spend to maintain it. However, in the Ricketts-Cubs situation there are real concerns that the Cubs do not have the financial strength to put more money in baseball operations, i.e. free agent market.

Baseball America's Mid-Season Top 50 Prospect List has Padre prospects, catcher Austin Hedges  checked in at No. 17, and right-hander Matt Wisler was ranked 41st. Baseball Prospectus ranks the Padre minor league system 11th in the majors; ESPN's Keith Law ranks it 9th. So there is a strong base already in place for a new general manager.

With a new ownership group, like with the Ricketts purchase, one has to raise a question why the buyer did not have their own baseball people in place if there was a question about the current general manager fitting into the new management team. There may have been a perception things would work out fine.

In 2012 and 2013, the Padres finished 76-84. In 2014, the team is worse at 41-54. The main news focus has been the possible trades of starter Ian Kennedy and closer Huston Street prior to the deadline.

the Padres’ search for a new general manager has grown to eight interviewees, while another in-house name became the sixth candidate to pull out of the running.

Kim Ng, senior vice president for baseball operations for Major League Baseball, has interviewed for the position, but  Padres assistant GM A.J. Hinch has informed the club he will not interview. Hinch met with Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler, president and CEO Mike Dee and lead investor Peter Seidler on Thursday to share his decision.

“I certainly assessed everything and looked at a lot of things, and for me, it wasn’t the right situation. I’ll just leave it at that,” Hinch said Friday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. “They’ll find the right leader for them and move the organization forward. We had a good conversation on a lot of topics.”

In the interim, Hinch, along with Omar Minaya and Fred Uhlman Jr., will continue running the Padres’ baseball operations -- a three-man arrangement that has been in place since Josh Byrnes’ firing as GM on June 22.

Hinch joins Minaya, David Forst of Oakland, Mike Chernoff of Cleveland, Jason McLeod of the Cubs and Michael Girsch of St. Louis among candidates who have declined a chance to interview for the Padres’ vacancy.

Ng previously interviewed for the Padres’ GM opening in 2009. Now she joins the following group of official candidates: former Marlins GM Larry Beinfest, Dodgers scouting director Logan White, Diamondbacks scouting director Ray Montgomery, Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler, Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen and Padres assistant GM Josh Stein.

The Padres expect to have a new GM in place sometime after the July 31 trading deadline. But the signal that two "in house" candidates have declined to interview for the job has to send a message to the small community of front office personnel that something strange is going on. One expects that the general manager will appoint and hire his own people to be his or her assistants. Speculation could be from a micro-managing and second guessing from the new owners to long term budget cuts and baseball personnel moves that the current employees do not believe should happen.

Whatever the situation, a general manager position is the pinnacle job for front office baseball people. Why San Diego is having a hard time filling its position is unclear.


Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago has some facts to back up the open secret that Chicago baseball television ratings have been tanking like the teams.

Greenberg quotes information from Sports Business Journal on the state of cable ratings for the two clubs, on Comcast Chicago.

Both the Cubs' and White Sox's local cable ratings at the All-Star break are in the bottom five of the 29 U.S.-based teams, according to a Sports Business Journal study of Nielsen ratings for regional sports networks.

The last-place Cubs rank No. 25 with a 1.48 average rating, that's down 7 percent from this point last season and 8 percent overall. The White Sox rating is up 16 percent from this point last season and 24 percent from last year's final numbers, but that's only good enough for a 1.39 rating, and only two teams are lower. 

Last season, the Cubs ended with a dismal 1.6 rating, while the White Sox were essentially last with a 1.14. Only Houston, which had major carriage problems with its RSN, CSN Houston, was lower.
Comcast SportsNet Chicago senior director of communications Jeff Nuich told ESPN Chicago that Sox ratings are up 30 percent, compared to 2013 final numbers, in the key adults 25-54 demographic. The Cubs are down 11 percent in that demographic.

The two teams' household averages are stunningly close, 52,000 for the Cubs and 49,000 for the White Sox, Nos. 21 and 22, respectively, in baseball.

It's not like everyone's flocking to the ballparks either. The Cubs are down slightly (179 fans) from this point last season, averaging 32,469 in paid attendance, while the Sox are down around 1,700 fans per game from this point last season, and are the third-worst draw in baseball at 20,657.

It didn't use to be this way. In 2009
, the year after both teams last made the playoffs, Cubs' ratings were a hearty 4.18. Their household average was 145,000, the fourth-highest in baseball. The White Sox actually had a 2.28 rating with 80,000 households tuned in. 

The Cubs are locked into their Comcast partnership through the 2019 season. The local broadcast rights are in flux, with WGN bowing out of both radio and television deals. In a recent Chicago Tribune article, contributor Ed Sherman wrote that WGN is losing a reported $200,000 per game because of low ratings. He also reported the Cubs could put those "70 to 75" WGN games on a multicast channel, a "sub-channel for local over-the-air broadcast stations," for a few years until they can put all their games on one branded network. 

It is hard to sell any new television partner, let alone advertisers, that the Cubs are a valuable broadcast property when fan and viewer interest is waning dramatically. If one counts the no-shows to the Wrigley attendance figures, the numbers are much worse, down so far approximately 300,000 from stated paid attendance figures at the All-Star Break.  

Nielsen, the ratings giant, states that the Chicago media market is third in the nation with 3.95 million viewers.  The Cubs are drawing around 1 in 100 viewers. That is not enough to generate a billion dollar megadeal to create a new Cubs channel in 2020. Even if one uses the Dodger demand of $4 per cable subscriber to carry games, a new Cubs channel would only gross $16 million per season or perhaps $320 million over a 20 year contract in the Chicago metro area. 

The baseball rebuild has created a very bad team that is losing attendance at Wrigley Field and turning off fans from watching the Cubs on television. In the past, whether the team was good or bad, fans continued to support the club. But clearly, this has changed. The public's entertainment choices continue to expand and the prospect of the premium pricing to watch losing baseball teams is not to appealing to fans.

The Cubs are entering their own perfect storm. The team may be bad for so long that it permanently turns off their fan base. As a result of lack of interest, and the changing dynamics of entertainment media, the Cubs will not be able to create their own billion dollar a year Cubs channel. Without that huge influx of new money, the Cubs will not be able to spend for quality free agents to make a championship caliber team. The Cubs do not become the current Dodgers, but the current Astros.

July 14, 2014


The Cubs have had three All-Stars this year.

Jeff Samardzija counts, but since he was traded to Oakland, is not on the NL roster.
Starlin Castro was put on the NL roster, and Anthony Rizzo was voted in by the supplemental ballot.

In theory, these are the teams best players. In fact, the Cubs traded away 1/3 of the best players this season in another hopeful trade for the future.

Baseball America has four Cubs in its Midseason Top 50 Prospects list.

At number 2, Kris Bryant. We are all aware that Bryant has hit at every level in the minors. He is currently at AAA Iowa, with management telling fans that there is no chance that he will be promoted this year.

At number 5, newly acquired Addison Russell. This shortstop has missed most the season with injuries, but BA and other scouting organizations believe Russell was on the fast track within the A's organization to make the majors in 2015. The Cubs have put him in Class AA which tracks more towards a debut in 2016.

At number 7, Javy Baez, who was the unanimous top Cub prospect until Bryant was drafted. Baez is at AAA Iowa, and he has had an uneven season so far but shows the flashes of the power bat.

At number 33, infielder Arismendy Alcantara. Ironically, the lowest level top prospect made it to the majors first. Alcantara has raised eyebrows by his hitting and speed. In only 5 games, he is hitting .391, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 6 runs scored and a 0.7 WAR.  Many believe Darwin Barney should be Wally Pipped to allow Alcantara to play the rest of the season at second base.

The team may want fans to believe that the other Cub prospects will have the same type of smashing debuts as Alcantara, but that performance is rare.

The Cubs sit at the bottom of the NL Central with a record of 40-54. The team is on pace for a 93 loss season. The Alcantara call up gives a temporary jolt in the "we got great prospects coming up" story line, but it won't hold fan attention for very long.

July 13, 2014


The Chicago Landmark Commission basically decommissioned Wrigley Field from historic preservation status by voting to allow the Cubs to drastically change the ball park.

Even today, the general public still does not know what the final blueprints will be since the Cubs plans seem to be a moving target to even those deeply interested in its outcome. A few startling revelations happened at the commission hearing, when it was said that the bleachers would be demolished and the upper deck removed to allow for five additional sky suites. No one heard about those actions prior to the meeting.

Chicago Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin wrote that the landmark commission has basically wiped the preservation ordinance off the map. He said the outer facade and its view as well as the interior bleachers, ivy, scoreboard and view were all landmarked elements of Wrigley Field. Adding seven outfield signs impacts the landmarked view toward the bleachers. The removal of the upper deck will impact on the landmarked exterior facade. And most galling, the landmarked center field scoreboard will be altered with an advertising sign around the clock. Each major element of Wrigley will be altered under the last proposal. A landmark is meant to be preserved on how it looked 20, 30, 50 or 100 years ago. Clearly, that is not going to happen at Wrigley.

And as neighbors have been saying for years, the Cubs keep changing their plans without telling anyone until the last minute, if at all. The only thing for certain is that the Wrigley Field that generations grew up with will be not the same Wrigley Field of the future.

For whatever reason, the Cubs and Ricketts have taken to bulldozing their revised, revised plans through city hall without any regard to public relations or neighborhood input. They may be confident enough that the rooftop owners will not sue, or that the city will back them up in any legal fight. But this new plan basically puts the rooftop owners out of business, so the only recourse is to sue to enforce their contract rights.  The Cubs have been harping on the revised plans as "an expansion" of Wrigley Field in an attempt to get a contract loophole to stop any rooftop injunction. However, legal experts are not in agreement on who would win a contract enforcement action because the contract refers to the possible 2006 bleacher expansion proposal and not additional signage that would block rooftop views.

There are still a few possible outcomes to play out.

First, the Ricketts get everything they want. The Ricketts find financing and build their dream entertainment district at Clark and Addison. The Cubs will become a mere seasonal tenant as Wrigley will become a place for concerts, corporate outings, expositions and other entertainment programs. It will be either a great success or a great failure.

Second, the Cubs don't share in the additional ball park and real estate revenues. The Cubs payroll continues to decline. The team is successful like the Rays by having brilliant prospects perform to expectations or the team is great failure if they are mostly busts.

Third, the element that Wrigley Field was an important tourist attraction turns sour as groups and visitors no longer come to the park because it is not the historic landmark from their youth. Coupled with bad teams, attendance will fall and the Cubs will sink to a small market franchise.

Fourth, the Cubs get a new super broadcast deal in 2020 so the team can go out and buy a competitive championship caliber club. The signing of top free agents and a winning record propels new fans to Wrigley Field.

In the undercurrent of these possible future events is the riptide that the Chicago metro area's economy is still not doing well. Chicago's government finances are in a mess; some analysts believe that it is heading toward Detroit. If property taxes skyrocket as projected to meet pension obligations, people will continue to leave the city. High unemployment and lack of business growth will also hurt the city's prospects of having viable neighborhoods with people with disposal income to spend on entertainment items such as premium Cubs tickets. Even the Millennials, the next generation of fans, have a pessimistic outlook for their future earnings and careers.

In the moniker of baseball lore, Ricketts may build his dream Wrigley, but no one may come to see it.

July 12, 2014


A veteran Chicago sportswriter remarked this week that he does not understand the logic behind the Cubs trading away six quality pitchers when in fact, the hardest thing a team has to accomplish is to build a quality pitching core.

The Cubs continue to fall apart after trading 40 percent of their rotation. The team fell apart after the 2012 trades of Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm and the 2013 trades of Scott Feldman and Matt Garza. This season, the Cubs had a long losing streak after Jeff Samardzija and  Jason Hammel were traded to Oakland. The Cubs best pitching prospect, Andrew Cashner, was also traded.

Jim Litke of the Associated Press opined that the Cubs (like most teams) are in need of pitching in order to be a competitive ball club. But the Cubs have traded away six quality starting pitchers in three years which is counter-intuitive on how to build a team.

This is a point that is often overlooked in the rebuilding story.

The Cubs have traded valuable assets, major league starting pitchers, for prospects.

There are only 150 starters in the majors at any given time. But that is still 20 percent of the league's active rosters. And at any given time, there may only be 50 quality starters in the majors. Starting pitchers are the hardest players to find and keep.

There is no doubt that any general manager would have drooled over the prospect of having Dempster, Garza, Maholm, Feldman, Samardzija, Hammel and Cashner to choose a starting rotation. But the current management team has taken these players and turned them into two unproven starters (Arrieta and Hendricks) and bullpen arms (Grimm, Strop, Ramirez). By most accounts, trading proven starters for relief pitchers is a horrible strategy.

Some may say the Cubs traded away their starters at the right time. Collectively, Dempster, Maholm, Garza and Feldman only have contributed a 1.0 WAR since leaving Chicago. Feldman has a 1.2 WAR since leaving the Cubs. 

If the plan is to have an inventory of cheap, controllable position players on your roster - - - at the expense of home grown pitching talent - - - then one has to spend huge money for free agent starters (in the hundreds of millions of dollar range with the Kershaws and Tanakas). That is a risky and expensive proposition considering most free agent pitchers are veterans who if not already broken down have much wear and tear on their bodies that injury is a risk. There is probably more dead money contracts tied to failed veteran pitchers than any other position in baseball.

So the basic point is that the Cubs are building a team differently than most other teams who prize pitching first. As you can tell in the current trade market, teams are not trading their major league ready pitching prospects. And other teams are wary of trading their starting aces (unless they are about to become free agents).  To acquire a David Price will cost a team like the Cubs four of their top prospects, which puts the Cubs prospect inventory back to almost square one.

This is why the balanced approach to rebuilding a major league franchise is the common sense way to do business. But the Cubs think they are smarter than the other teams. But as a result, the Cubs have a huge pitching deficit in their organization.

July 11, 2014


"You get what you pay for."

That is an old saying, usually referring to underpaying for a product then finding out that it is quite inferior to another similar product.

I have heard from several Cubs season ticket holders who continue to pay the major league prices for a vastly inferior product.

Some admit they are dumb for continuing to pay thousands of dollars on season seats at Wrigley. They like baseball. They like Wrigley. They are Cub fans. But they are not fans of the team as it currently is constructed for 2014.

They admit that they understand the baseball rebuilding plan, but it is hard to swallow a team tanking three seasons in a row.  They are coming down on the side that the front office could do their minor league rebuilding program but also field a competitive team. They cite even the White Sox 2014 turnaround as an example. They also find the Cardinals, who consistently draft lower than the Cubs, being able to bring up their prospects faster to the majors.

Then there are those who are angry. Many in this group gave up and canceled their season ticket packages. Some say they had been season ticket holders for decades. They felt they were being played for fools: paying premium prices for minor league games. They felt they deserved a major league, i.e. competitive team, which is what ownership said it was going to strive for when Ricketts took over the club. They don't feel it is their responsibility or obligation to fund the Ricketts expansion plans which seem to constrict what the baseball team can do, financially.

There would be less distrust, anger or resentment from the paying Cub fan if there was a secondary market to unload their expensive tickets. But that market collapsed when the Cubs lost 100 games. It is nearly impossible to give away Cubs tickets. Not even a casual fan wants to spend the effort to go see the Cubs when there is a 60 percent chance they will lose the game.

And when the Cubs market the team the past few years, it was under the guile that fans should continue to come out and "see the future" core players in action. Well, Castro and Rizzo have been up for a while, and they may be part of the future - - - but they are no longer young prospects. The marketing department got ahead of the actual baseball team player development. This leads to a perception of a disconnected organization.

In a similar light, long time Cub standard bearer, WGN, decided it was not getting what it was paying for in local broadcast rights.  With some late season games registering a zero rating, and the station losing money on every game, WGN sought to renegotiate the contract. Too bad season ticket holders can't renegotiate their ticket prices during the season. But WGN bowed out and will no longer be the flagship station for the Cubs. Many fans think this a bad milestone for the franchise.

Cubs fans are willing to pay premium dollars for baseball. But they are not willing to pay for bad baseball. That past golden goose is cooked.

July 10, 2014


The Cubs lost five games after the Samardzija-Hammel trade. That is to be expected when the team goes into extended spring training mode for the rest of the season.

The revolving door to Iowa has opened and this minor league portal is delivering Beeler, Rusin, Wada, Hendricks and Alcantara (who is to sub for Barney who is on paternity leave for two games).

The one player not expected to be called up is Bryant, because the team does not want to start his arbitration clock until next year. For a team that claims that it has enough money to spend, taking a three year view out to save a year's arb increase seems petty.

The Cubs have to do extended spring training at the majors now because their entire roster needs to be reshuffled next season.  We have enough body of work on Olt, Lake, Schierholtz, Barney, Sweeney, Ruggiano, Kalish, Baker and Coghlan. They are all bad.

And considering that the bullpen will be taxed if rumors are true that teams are asking about LHRPs Russell and Wright before the trade deadline, the Cubs need to work out at least four potential 2015 starters and three relief pitchers to see if the organization has any sustainable major league talent under its control.

It seems like the accumulation of infield prospects and the lack of outfield talent is part of the plan to move the athletic infielders to new positions in the outfield. Some believe Alcantara will be a centerfielder, and Baez will wind up in left field. Bryant may stick at third, or move to right field. At present, none of these players has any real experience in those new spots. But front office personnel say that it is an easy transition because athletes are athletes.

Some fans are already penciling in their 2015 line-up cards with AAA and AA prospects like this is a Strat-O-Matic game. It is too early for that. It is too early to project 2015, let alone 2016 and beyond. Lake was hitting .295 in AAA prior to being promoted; now he has settled in at an up-and-down .250 roller coaster at the majors. In 2012, Olt was the talk of AA ball hitting .288 with 28 HR and 82 RBI. He was and untouchable prospect. With the Cubs, he is hitting a low .150 with some power. The level of competition gets greater, the probability of injury increases and a player's true ceiling comes into focus the closer one gets to the majors. So one cannot fully project any minor league player's talent with any sort of accuracy.

But the Cubs are close to running out of time with the patient fan base. The major league roster should turn over by 50%. It is going to be sink-or-swim for many of the Cubs prospects in 2015 because next year will be their best chance to make their mark. This is all conditional on whether Epstein-Hoyer will let them try.

July 9, 2014


The fall out continues on the Samardzija-Hammel trade.
Again, any criticism of the Cubs front office getting prospects in return has been met with vile abuse.

Hammel was signed to be traded for prospects. That was a given.
Samardzija was also going to be traded since the Cubs could not sign him to a long term deal.

The Cubs got the A's best two prospects in Addison Russell and Billy McKinney. That is what excites the pro-Theo crowd. It follows "the Plan" of rebuilding the farm by acquiring quality prospects. That is the way the front office is going to operate.

It is fine that fans buy into the Plan of gathering prospects. Many vocal fans have bought it hook, line and sinker. They have bought into the "hope" that these prospects will be great players, foundational talent that will win championships. Hope is an expectation not a guarantee.

But early on, several people questioned the Plan as being too narrow for a big market club like the Cubs. No one except a few bottom small market teams can expect to compete by just using home grown talent. Statistically, only 6 percent of prospects make the majors. What the Cubs are trying to goose is that percentage by doubling down on prospects via trade in order to boost the percentage. Again, that is a strategy that may work.

People give Epstein and Hoyer the benefit of the doubt because they won championships with the Red Sox. But the foundation of that team was built by Dan Duquette, not Theo. And Boston spent huge on free agent talent, something that Ricketts has not authorized during his tenure. And with ownership set to spend $575 million on real estate developments, with no large new revenue streams like broadcast revenue in the near future, it is doubtful that the Cubs will be able to spend like Boston did on championship caliber free agents.

The vast majority of baseball teams have a balanced approach to creating their rosters. They draft amateur talent. They develop quality baseball players. They trade for players to fill needs. They sign impact free agents to fit needs. The Cubs focus on one aspect of a normal approach to team building makes the plan riskier. Prospects are just prospects until they make significant contributions at the major league level.

The smallest market teams put more emphasis on home grown talent due to budget restrictions of operating in a small media market. But those teams get league money to stay "competitive." Even if you buy into the Theo plan of developing a pipeline of young talent that will be the envy of baseball, consider this: the Royals have been basically in rebuild mode since 1985. The first hard phase came to hit in 1994; and the second phase of the rebuild that continues to today began in 2004. As a result, the Royals have yet to get to the post-season. Royals prospects have been in the top player lists for decades, yet the team has not performed as well as their minor league scouting reports.

The mantra this week is that the Cubs have so many talented athletes that they can move the excess infielders to any position and they will succeed. Perhaps, but in the mental game of baseball each player's comfort level is different. Even veterans like Alfonso Soriano took years to adapt to a new position. The pressure on rookies to hit and learn a new position adds to a stressful situation.

The list of under 25 prospects is large: Baez, Alcantara, Soler, Bryant, Almora, Russell, McKinney, Schwarber, Edwards, Candelario, Vogelbach and Johnson. Not all of them will make it to the Cubs major league roster. But proponents of the plan counter by saying that several of these quality prospects can be used to acquire major leaguers like Giancarlo Stanton via trades.  Perhaps, but All-Star caliber talent rarely get moved in trades unless they are about to become expensive free agents, at which point it makes more sense to make the best offer to the FA and keep your top prospects.

The other problem with hanging all your chips on prospects is the unknown time table. With each promotion comes greater competition. A Class A phenom can hit his ceiling in Class AA. There are volumes of Class AAA wunderkinds who turn out to be replacement level major leaguers. Everyone is looking for their own Miguel Cabrera to burst on the scene. But that is as rare as finding diamonds in the beach sand.

The proponents of the prospect plan cover their ears when anyone tries to raise a counter-position to the plan. They will not accept any alternatives because they are fully invested in the promise. The promise was a championship. They don't want to even think about the possibility of the prospect plan being a failure because their is no Plan B. There is no goat, black cat or Bartman to blame for that failure.

We all hope that the Cubs get their act together and bring a great team to the majors. The fan base has been waiting for more than a century. But the mere acquisition of prospects does not automatically equate to success. Fans who pay premium prices for major league games have grown tired of the hope and dream story of prospects. At a certain point in the near future, the prospect story needs to play the big theater at Clark and Addison.

From a baseball business perspective, fans should be concerned about the direction of the team. Theo was hired to bring a championship caliber team to Wrigley Field. The Cubs are a major league franchise. The team is asking its fans to pay major league premium prices for Cubs games. The focus of any business should be customer service today not a promise that customer service will "hopefully" be better in the future. If Theo thought he would have more power and control over the club than he did in Boston, then he made a foolish mistake.  The business side run by Crane Kenney controls the budgets and revenue. Theo may be handcuffed but it has been reported that the team has increased its scouting department, used more money to sign amateur talent, upgraded facilities and developed foreign academies. The one thing that has not been fully addressed is the major league team, which fields a small market AAA team on a daily basis. The prospect story does not make the Cubs any better on the field in 2015.

The final problem is that the prospect plan has no end game. Epstein refuses to discuss when the new, quality talent will reach the Cubs and make significant contributions. Is it 2016? 2017? 2018? Or even 2020? Some fans and media commentators question why certain prospects seem to be "held back" year after year in the minor league system. Other teams promote their potential stars quickly. Is it the fear of failure? That if the first prospects that hit the majors do not do well, is their a final fan revolt? Does the plan collapse crumble on the weight of expectations? That is the huge gamble on prospects - - - no one truly knows until they reach the majors whether they are any good.

July 8, 2014


Cot's baseball contracts projects that the Cubs will trim their payroll obligations by approximately two-thirds for the 2015 season. Cot's figures show the Cubs 2015 payroll at $31.5 million. It also projects the 2017 payroll (where many fans think the Cubs turnaround begins in earnest) at a shocking $20 million.

It is shocking that a major market team like the Cubs would pull a Houston Astros move and contract the payroll budget to semi-pro levels in order to conserve money.

The Cubs have signed second tier free agents, but with the plan to trade them for cheaper (and riskier) minor league prospects, who if promoted only carry the major league minimum price tag of $550,000 per year. An entire 40 man roster of minimum salary players is $22 million.

The trend to slash payroll under Ricketts leadership is apparent.

The reasons are clouded in the vagueness of the concept of "rebuilding."  Rebuilding has taken on many areas of gray: is it the rebuilding of the farm system to become an actual major league team? Or is it the rebuilding of the real estate in and outside Wrigley Field that has a whopping price tag of $575 million.

Or is it a scheme to make the team so bad that the ownership can shove massive changes to the neighborhood down the city's throat? Without the changes, Ricketts implores, he can't field a competitive team. Talent costs money and he needs massive new revenue streams from things like seven new outfield signs and a dense commercial real estate and sign orgy plaza outside of Wrigley.

A friend indicated that all this non-baseball nonsense could be the final excuse for Ricketts to throw up his hands and move the Cubs to the suburbs. He could take his AAA team and find a suburban mayor too desperate enough to subsidize with millions taxpayer dollars a new Cubs park.

At this point, anything is on the table except an expanding Cubs payroll.

July 7, 2014


In his first A's post-game press conference, Jeff Samardzija was beaming about his new team.

It was like he had just been released from prison and on the way home
he used his last dollar to purchase a winning lottery ticket.

He was happy with his new situation and teammates. He liked that during the games the players are discussing the game as it unfolds. He likes the atmosphere and the drive to win in the clubhouse. It is like when he first came up, and teammates like Greg Maddux would discuss strategy and what would happen during the game. There was a mentoring process, and a winning attitude present at that time.

While he was praising his new team, Samardzija was also mentally ticking off the things he felt was wrong about his former team, the Cubs. He had been vocal in the past about the Cubs trading away its pitching staff for prospects; he had been vocal about the losing culture. So he painted from a player's perspective a bleak picture of the current Cub team.

Now, there were some nasty comments by media members and fans who lashed out at any criticism of the trade. They called dissenters "idiots" because they don't "understand" the great haul the Cubs received in return for two starting pitchers. They are fully invested in Theo Epstein's rebuilding plan. But if you listen to Epstein's own words, he is not fully sure what is going to happen. He said he was "hopeful" that the front office would not have another year of trading away starters for prospects (and tanking the season for higher draft pick).  Epstein again had no timetable for when the Cubs will be competitive. 

The key to the trade was acquiring shortstop Addison Russell, who is listed as a Top Ten prospect in all of baseball by scouting services. He was the #14 draft pick in the first round. Scouts rave about his abilities and projections. However, he has played only 19 games this year due to hamstring injuries. And statistically, any prospect has a 6 percent chance to develop into an impact player. A first rounder should have better odds to making the majors (12%-to 25%). There is no guarantee that Russell will make his mark at the major league level or even be a Cub. And that is a real concern.

One must start to realize that the majority of Cub organizational prospects that scouts like have come from outside the Cubs own draft picks. Trading for players is one tool to build a team. But if a team has a problem developing their own picks, then trading for better developed prospects from other organizations becomes a long term problem. One of the statements on why this trade was done weeks before the deadline was that Oakland wanting pitching now. And other teams, such as the Blue Jays, did not want to give up one or two premiere pitching prospects for Samardzija or Jason Hammel. The Cubs need starting pitchers but took two position players and a AAA starter in return.

So even if one accepts the premise that the trade was good for the Cubs because it helps re-stock the minor league system with quality players, it does create a present problem in that the Cubs have no solution to their pitching woes. Samardzija and Hammel were projected to pitch another 210 innings this season. (This is the reason the A's wanted an early deal: they get at least 8 additional starts from their new pitchers). The Cubs have no one to take those innings. Carlos Villaneuva was put in the awkward position of being the spot starter from his bullpen duties and he failed in the great 13-0 letdown game after the trade. Chris Rusin was brought up (but oddly did not start), and he could not stop the damage after Villaneuva was pulled from the game. 

Tsuyoshi Wada, 33, will probably take one starter position. He was 9-5, 2.66 ERA and 1.161 WHIP for Iowa. Then the Hammel slot will probably filled by a rotating committee of Villaneuva, Russell or Dallas Beeler. The trade of 40% of one's starting rotation is a major team disruption that the Cubs have had a problem addressing in the past and the present.

The other problem is perception. The Cubs had actually won four games in a row. They were no longer the worst club in baseball. (In fact, the team was heading outside of the top ten draft pick slot for next year's draft). But even before the team could start to sow the seeds of a turnaround, the trade wipes out the clubhouse. And even casual fans see that the Cubs don't want to win this year; another "tanked" season is what the front office wants. The trade does nothing to stop the falling attendance figures at Wrigley.

The other perception is the players. Samardzija pitched his way off the Cubs roster by refusing an extension request. He saw better opportunities elsewhere. His former teammates in Chicago no doubt have mixed emotions when their best players and leaders are traded away year after year with no immediate major league help coming in return. Free agents see the Cubs as a sign and flip destination for rehabbing players, not a place to sign a long term deal for a championship run. Even if the front office believes it can suddenly open the faucet and spend big money on free agents, there is no guarantee that they will want to come to the Cubs (see, Tanaka FA derby). 

Yes, this deal fits into the pattern of Epstein's rebuilding program, but its consequences continues to create new problems that many fans don't see or don't want acknowledge.


July 5, 2014


The Cubs swept the Red Sox at Fenway. But the talk of the town was the surge of Jake Arrieta, who nearly threw a no-hitter. This is not the same pitcher the Red Sox saw in a Baltimore uniform.

There’s been some talk the Cubs’ rising star could be on the trade block, along with Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.  Arrieta’s contract situation, he is under club control through 2017 -- he hasn’t even hit arbitration yet -- it would be a surprise if the 28-year-old was dealt. It wasn’t a surprise, though, that GM Jed Hoyer wouldn’t directly answer if Arrieta would be with the Cubs after the July 31 trade deadline. “It’s been fun to be here and talk to people with the Red Sox, what they thought of that outing because they did see him so much,” Hoyer said of Arrieta’s one-hitter on Monday. “They saw a different guy pounding the strike zone, and the cutter/slider he’s been throwing has been the talk of those guys.”

When Arrieta was with the Orioles he faced the Red Sox six times, going 0-3 with a 5.89 ERA. On Monday he gave up one hit and one walk in 7 2/3 innings pitched. He’s 5-1 with a 1.81 ERA.

“One of the beauties of our situation [is] opportunity,” Hoyer said. “There will be a day in the future where we won’t have that much opportunity to play. But right now we do. He knows he’ll be in the rotation. He can pitch with confidence.”

As for Arrieta being part of any potential trade scenarios, Hoyer had little to offer.

“I’m not going to comment on any other part of it, but I’m glad we have him,” he said.

The internal question is whether the Cubs will be good in 2017. If not, then Arrieta can be traded this year at his "peak" value. So it is possible that the Cubs could put their entire rotation on the market today in order to increase "opportunities" (prospects) for the future (which means 2020). In some respects, Arrieta could bring more in return than Samardzija, who is closer to free agency.

But with Samardzija and Hammel being traded to Oakland, Arrieta falls into the de facto #1 starter role with the Cubs.


What Oakland did was get about 10 extra starts from their newly acquired pitchers, who statistically fit into #2 and #3 in a low ERA rotation after revived Scott Kazimer. In the competitive AL West, the A's have signaled that they are going for the divisional crown and deep in the playoffs. The Athletics currently have the best record in the major leagues at 53-33.

With Friday's trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, ESPN states all five members of the Athletics' new rotation now rank among the top 35 qualified starters in the majors in ERA. 
Pitcher ERA Rank
Scott Kazmir 2.61 12th
Jeff Samardzija 2.83 18th
Jason Hammel 2.98 23rd
Sonny Gray 3.08 27th
Jesse Chavez 3.23 33rd

In addition, Samardzija and Hammel go to a pitcher friendly ball park in Oakland.

The Cubs, who had a 6 percent chance of making the playoffs, decided to back up the truck and kill their competitive spirit for 2014. On paper, the Cubs received less in return for starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel than they received for Matt Garza or Scott Feldman. It is certainly less than the rumored Blue Jay deal where the Cubs were trying to get 2 of the top 3 Jay pitching prospects plus major league ready position players.

Samardzija, 29, is 2-7 with a 2.83 ERA this season. Hammel, 31, is 7-5 with a 2.98 ERA.
Hammel is set to become a free agent after this season, while Samardzija has one more year of arbitration before becoming a free agent. They had been on the trading block for weeks, and received intense scouting from AL East teams.

The Cubs received only four players for the two starters: the A's 2012 first-round pick, shortstop Addison Russell: 2013 first-round pick,  outfielder Billy McKinney;  pitcher Dan Straily;  and a player to be named later,

Russell, 20, is ranked third among all prospects on ESPN's Keith Law's recent Top 100 Prospects list.   The troubling issue with the trade is that Russell has appeared in only 18 games this season due to a hamstring strain. He was hitting .333 in 58 at-bats at Double-A Midland. There is a question why the A's would part with their #1 prospect . The team's #2 prospect was also a quality shortstop, so it may have been an educated guess on Russell's injury propensity that allowed Oakland to deal him.

McKinney, 19, has a .241 batting average with 10 home runs and 33 RBIs in 75 games for Class A Stockton this year.

Straily, 25, is 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA in seven starts for the A's.  This season he has a NEGATIVE 0.1 WAR in his 7 starts, only averaging 5.4 IP/start. He was demoted to AAA in May where  he was pitching to the tune of a 4.71 ERA for Sacramento. The right-hander career record 13-11 in 41 starts for Oakland over the past three seasons, with 1.257 WHIP and 2.16 K/BB ratio. He has performed like a fifth starter.

So the "big" trade of the top of the Cubs rotation only netted the team an injured AA shortstop, another projected corner outfielder with power swing but low BA, and a AAA starter. (The player to be named later is usually a non-factor prospect). This trade does not help the major league ball club today, or in the next two seasons.

The question remains that if Russell is an elite shortstop that is the key to this deal, then this deal puts the front office in a situation where both Starlin Castro and Javy Baez slide down the priority list for the Cubs future (into future trade chips).  Castro has had a bounce back year but still has critics, and Baez has not been tearing up AAA as people had projected earlier this year.

This trade is a good deal for Oakland, and an underwhelming one for Chicago.

July 4, 2014


The last time the Cubs won the World Series, the United States only had 46 states in the union.

New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii were not states yet.

July 3, 2014


The Cubs will go before the city Landmarks Commission on July 10 to get final approval for the revised Wrigley Field plans. Despite what the Cubs PR department says, the revisions are not minor changes to the approved plan.

The Cubs continue to release renderings for their plans, except that the drawings do not fully represent what their proposal states. In this drawing, there are three new signs - - - including two video scoreboards. However, the submitted plans calls for seven (7) outfield signs. This drawing is missing four (4) signs. At this late stage, this can't be an oversight but a means of glossing over potential objections.

The Sun-Times city hall reporter on Tuesday reported that the Cubs were going "all or nothing" with the latest proposal because the team assumes it will wind up in court. Besides stumbling over the moving the bullpens to under the bleachers and destroying ivy and bricks in the outfield walls, the "new" plan contains  seven outfield signs, including two video scoreboards, 300 new seats, 300 standing room positions and new outfield light standards rising 92 feet high.

The addition of 600 patrons in the "new" plans is a response to the legal argument that the Cubs have been making that any city approval of "Wrigley Field expansion" would trump the rooftop owners agreement, including blocking the rooftop views. In prior plans, there was no additional seating. This has to be in response to the notion that "expansion" of a park means more seating or spectators. But it is unclear whether this will actually convince a judge to rule in the Cubs favor, since the rooftop settlement really only contemplated the existing bleacher expansion proposal at the time of prior court case. Further, every contract calls for "good faith" performance by both sides. One could argue that the Cubs, who are not selling out every game in the past three years, don't need to sell 600 additional tickets per game in order to make it. One could rule that this was a scheme to circumvent the good faith requirement of the existing contract.

The Cubs claim that the team is moving forward on these plans because of the promises made to their players, fans and advertising partners. The promise made to players was upgraded facilities like clubhouse, which could have been done years ago without any landmark approvals. The promise made to the fans was that ownership would field a championship caliber ball club. The Cubs have been bottom dwellers since those first statements. So the real "promises" at stake in these revisions are the ones made to the Cubs new "advertising partners."  Ricketts is obsessed with new revenue sources that he will destroy the look and feel of the old Wrigley Field in order to add a few million dollars in new advertising revenue. No one has told him that he may be about to kill his only golden goose, as iconic Wrigley Field is the historic draw for fans to the park, and not the team.

July 2, 2014


Oh brother.

Cubs President Theo Epstein said the organization is concerned about the two hamstring injuries top prospect Jorge Soler has had this season.

"We did a full-body assessment," Epstein said. "We tried to take a real close look in terms of his whole body anatomy and bio mechanically. We thought maybe there were some ways we could re-program his posture and muscle distribution on his body — posterior and anterior — to allow him to change the way his feet work and hit the ground.

"There are some small adjustments we can make to assure it won't happen again, it won't become a chronic thing. He has put in the work to have that happen and we're just kind of easing him back into full game mode and hope it continues to go well. It won't be too long before he's at (Double-A) Tennessee."

For those of you who believe that the front office kids are like little T-ball sluggers flaying away at the plate, this is another clue to support that belief.

Soler was THE best Cuban prospect when the Cubs signed him to $30 million contract. He was the Cubs best prospect at the time. It was a signal that this is how the new Cubs would roll.

You would think the organization would have focused on the development of Soler.

Now, several disappointing years into this situation, the Cubs come down to decision that body mechanics and gait is the key to turning Soler around?

Since 2012, Soler has only played 101 games in the minors. He has only played 12 games this year. He gets to AA, then falls back down to A/Rookie ball. Prospect scouts don't talk about him anymore.

Injuries and a mental break down or two on the field has not helped Soler. But the way the Cubs have gone about correcting the situation raises it own questions. Did Soler have an injury history in Cuba because we all assume his body mechanics have been the same throughout his life? Did the Cubs try to "change" his approach and if so, did that lead to injuries? Or did Soler start a new exercise routine that may have contributed to his problems?

But to say the Cubs need to "re-program" his posture and muscle distribution seems bizarre. It is so out there that people will not question this organizational excuse.  Soler is a player and not a crashed hard drive; you don't reboot a 22 year old at the snap of a finger.

The new Cubs have not yet developed their own impact major league player. Soler was supposed to be that guy. But at it stands right now, his ceiling appears to be at Class AA.

July 1, 2014


The only way to stumble upon the Cubs game is to flip through Storm Terror Watch channels during the thunderstorms. Jake Arrieta was pitching a no-hitter in the sixth. He had a repeating, sweeping slider into the corner of the zone like a sniper using a semi-automatic.

Arrieta set a career high in pitches before he gave up his first hit in the 8th. He was pulled, and the Cubs hung on for a 2-0 victory over Boston. Note to Samardzija: this is how one pitches he way out of Chicago.

Besides the actual drama of the no-hitter in progress, what I took away from the game was the panoramic shots of Fenway Park. Then it hit me.

Everyone knows about the Green Monster. The Red Sox added rows of seats on top of it. The Cubs created their own mini-Green Monster in the RF corner, complete with rows of terraced seats.

Down the Fenway right field corner, there is a large old fashion, scripted Budweiser sign. The Cubs original renovation plans had a large scripted sign just like this one to be placed in the middle of the RF outfield.

Fenway has two electronic scoreboards: one in straight away center field and one in left-center, just to the right of the Green Monster. The Cubs have to keep the landmarked center field scoreboard at Wrigley, but ownership wants to put in a large video scoreboard in left field.

There are also other advertising signs on the upper decks at Fenway. The Cubs now want to squeeze in a total of seven (7) outfield signs, including it is believed two (2) electronic video boards.

Ricketts brought in Boston's former general manager, Theo Epstein, to run the baseball operations. Epstein had been the GM when Boston lifted its curse and won two championships. But Epstein was let go in a power scrape with the team president and ownership over credit for their franchise's success.

When adding up all of these elements last night, I came to the conclusion that Ricketts did not buy the Cubs, he was in a personal delusion, thinking that he was really trying to buy the Red Sox. By trying to transform Wrigley Field into Fenway Park, Ricketts thinks he will be the successful championship Red Sox owner - - - the model for all other league owners. But doing major cosmetic surgery on Wrigley Field will not transform the Cubs into a championship team. The Red Sox spent hundreds of millions of dollars to create winning teams. The Cubs continue to spend down their payroll like an elderly nursing home patient trying to qualify for public aid assistance. The Cubs actual payroll for actual players on their roster is falling to the $60 million level. Next year, dead money deals will fall away putting the payroll toward $31 million. This is opposite of the championship style Red Sox. Instead, the Chicago Beancounters are in charge of the baseball operations, turning it into a small market franchise selling hopes and dreams.

Perhaps this is why Epstein said he would stay with the Cubs as long as the owners wanted him. It left him an out not to extend his own contract term. Maybe he thought that the deep pocket Ricketts would run the Cubs like his former bosses did in Boston: spend to win. But when confronted with a business operation run by Crane Kenney and the stumbling grand real estate plans of Tommy Boy, there was no money for Theo. So what could he do? His only alternative to get talent for the team is through the minor league system. The original two year plan has crawled past the four year plan and is heading toward the ten year plan. Successful teams cannot win just by home grown talent because the odds of consistently finding and developing impact ball players is nearly impossible. So all Theo has is his repeated phrase that they have a plan, a process but no time table for success.

So Ricketts may have purchased his dream Red Sox franchise, but little did we realize that it was the 1906 Red Sox.