September 30, 2014


The Cubs over-promoted Wrigley's 100th anniversary to ironically use the season as the platform to totally change the ball park. The result of the special giveaways was that the Cubs stated attendance grew 9,000 from last year's total. Without the extra promotions, the Cubs would not have had a rebound in the attendance slip from 2008.

As fans were leaving Wrigley after the last home game, some felt that the new improvements would be good for the team and their fan experience. However, there was an equal number who were concerned about Wrigley no longer being Wrigley Field of the past 100 years.

Proponents believe that fans will get used to the new electronic video screens like they did when the lights were put in 26 years ago. But adding night games did not alter the landmarked bleachers and views.

Fans left the last home game with another piece of the puzzle looking brighter: the Cubs finished with a 41-40 home record. One could assume that the team may have bottomed out.

But there is still a large disconnect between the team, the fans and how the roster is being created through this period of dramatic change.  All the new signage will have a dramatic effect on the wind conditions inside Wrigley Field. Swirling winds will make it more difficult for Cub outfielders, many who will be playing not their natural positions. In addition, the blueprints show that the bullpen areas will be removed for additional seating, which means that the foul ground will be smaller. The lack of foul territory will hurt pitchers as foul pop outs will turn into souvenirs.

The Cubs front office is building a club which will probably not work well in the New Wrigley Field configuration. The team has depth in young sluggers, but it the large video boards are going to block the winds from blowing out, home run power is going to diminish - - - and you have a line up of free swinging strike out kings. Also, the Cubs lack pitching depth, so the removal of foul territory is going to tax their pitchers over the long season.

And then there is the unknown fan reaction to the improvements. The team assumes that fans will return in droves. One fan interviewed after the game remarked that normally after major improvements, teams increase ticket prices. With the Cubs near the top of the cost-to-attend-games chart, there are many fans leery of spending more money just to see a video replay. The only thing that will bring the casual fan back would be a winning team, but the Cubs cannot guarantee that any of their young stars will actually become stars (or clones of Junior Lake, Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, etc.) The large construction costs will come from the Cubs payroll. The Cubs are not set up to play big market free agent buyers until they can get a new television deal in 2020.

No one wants to talk about it, but there is a good chance that despite all of the moves Ricketts, Kenney, Epstein and Hoyer have done, that both the construction of the New Wrigley and the future Cubs will fail. What if fans look at the New Wrigley as "not special" but just another commercialized ball yard. If so, then the team will have to cater to "fair weather fans" who won't come to games unless there is a winning product on the field. (This is the White Sox situation). So one cannot say that the Cubs have bottomed out and are now on the golden path to success.

September 29, 2014


Derek Jeter finishes his major league career and now waits for his first ballot Hall of Fame induction. There are a few cat calls about whether he is worthy of the shrine.

In 20 pro seasons, Jeter hit .310, 260 HR, 1311 RBI, 358 SB and career 71.8 WAR.
BR compares Jeter's career play to Craig Biggio, Paul Molitor (*), Robin Yount (*), Joe Sewell (*) and Joe Cronin (*). (*) indicates HOF player.

What puts Jeter into the Hall is a) he is a beloved Yankee in media heavy NYC; and b) he was a part of 5 World Series champion teams.

In contrast, Paul Konerko is also retiring. But there is little discussion about his Hall candidacy.

Konerko, in his 18 pro seasons, amassed a .279 BA, 439 HR, 1412 RBI, 9 SB and career 28.1 WAR.
BR compares Konerko to Andres Galarraga, Jason Giambi, Orlando Cepeda (*), Willie Stargell (*), Bernie Carbo, Alvin Davis, and Fred McGriff.

What puts Konerko outside an immediate Hall discussion is a) he played in Chicago; and b) he won only one World Series.

Both men have been classified as good clubhouse leaders. Both have the reputation of being highly professional.

But for most stats geeks, a current Hall of Famer should have a career WAR in excess of 66. Jeter meets that criteria, Konerko falls well short.  Jeter's average WAR is 3.59 which is only 0.41 from All-Star quality throughout his career.  Konerko's average WAR is 1.58 which is only 0.42 from major league starter quality throughout his career.

Konerko was a good player but not a great one in his era. Jeter maybe considered a very good player on great teams. And that is the probable distinction for Hall of Fame voters. Konerko will probably hang around for several rounds of votes, but he probably places in the second tier of major league players.

September 27, 2014


CHICAGO (AP) -- The mob arrived as soon as Salvador Perez squeezed that final foul popup, officially bringing Kansas City's playoff drought to an end.

Yes, the Royals are going back to the postseason.

Kansas City clinched a playoff spot Friday night for the first time in 29 years, beating the Chicago White Sox  3-1 behind seven scoreless innings from Jeremy Guthrie.

Kansas City secured at least a wild card and ended the longest active postseason drought among the major North American sports leagues. The last time the Royals made it to the playoffs, George Brett led Kansas City to a World Series victory over St. Louis in 1985.

''It feels better than expected,'' said Billy Butler, a 2004 draft pick and eight-year veteran. ''It's a great thing. I'm proud to bring this organization something they envisioned when they drafted me.''

>>>>  It took the Royals 28 years to get back to the post season, even though:

A. They continually drafted high each year in the amateur drafts.
B. They had a consistently good farm system of prospects.
C. They promoted their valued home grown prospects on a regular basis.

As a small market team, the Royals did not have the financial standing to compete on the major free agent market. Therefore, the team had to rely on its scouting and development departments in order to build a winning organization. This is the classic small market approach.

Which is exactly the approach the Cubs have been using the past four years. The emphasis on home grown talent (which is cheaper and under 6 years of cost control) is a noble quest, but it does not mean instant or continuous success. The Royals are the perfect example; it took almost three decades to achieve the minimum goal of each spring training - - - to make the playoffs. 

So when the Cub media cheerleaders are jumping up and down this winter, saying that the Cubs are going to be in the wild card hunt, don't believe them. Remember the Royals journey to success. 


In the short attention span world in which we live, MLB has decided that it needs to re-vamp the game in order to keep younger, more connected (and easily distracted) fans.

Of course, that misses the entire point of baseball.

Commissioner Bud Selig announced that he has formed a committee to investigate and recommend ways to improve the pace of the game. More and more games are lasting 3.5 hours or longer. Adding replay review does not help the situation.

All baseball needs to do is re-watch the Little League World Series to see how baseball can be a swift and enjoyable contest. Here are some things the little guys can teach the committee of baseball overlords:

1. Once a batter gets in the box, he has to stay in the box for the entire at bat. No stepping out to prine and adjust equipment. The only time the batter can leave the box is with umpire permission. Otherwise, the ball in the pitcher's hand is live.

2. Let the pitcher and catcher call the game. Several major league pitchers who work quickly, like Mark Buerhle, find a good tempo and rhythm to their game. A pitcher and catcher should know their game plan on how to pitch batters before the game starts. Many veteran pitchers cringe on the fact that some manager or pitching coach is calling "their" game and that the pitcher gets whacked with the consequences.

3. If a pitcher is taking too much time on the mound between pitches, warn him about "delay of game." In the LLWS, pitchers got the ball back, looked at the catcher, and got into their wind up in less than 10 seconds. Major leaguers take triple that time. You can shave an hour off a game if the pitchers just get the sign and wind up in less than 15 seconds.

Traditionalists believe that baseball's greatest strength is that it has no clock. The game can last as long as it takes. This allows baseball to be both a spectator and social sport, as fans in the stands have the opportunity to converse, predict and analyze each and every play. But those fans will still appreciate a pitcher who gets into a fast tempo (especially since this probably improves control since a pitcher has less time to "think" about his pitch and its mechanics.)

September 26, 2014


The Tribune repeats in a business article this week on the plight of the Cubs in trying to leverage their wayward local television broadcast rights after opting out of the WGN deal.

WGN was happy to get out of the deal early, because reports indicated that WGN-TV was losing money on every game because of poor ratings.

The team currently has no 2015 deal for the WGN portion of its 70 or so games.  According to sources, WGN, which is losing an estimated $200,000 per game on the current deal because of sliding Cubs ratings,offered the team a continuation deal, but at a much lower license fee. The Cubs rejected the idea. Tribune also suggested a "revenue sharing" partnership, which the Cubs also rejected.

Comcast, the team's cable partner for the rest of the telecasts, has stated that it has no programming room to add 70 Cubs games to its schedule. 

The Cubs continue to play hard ball on the their over-air broadcast games. The Cubs make the case that the team can be ratings winners, as evidenced in 2008.  But that evidence of their potential to deliver big ratings was with a successful, competitive team. The Cubs have slid to the bottom of the NL Central. Ratings have slid even further.

But the Cubs hang their hat on "hope" for the future. There was evidence when Javier Baez's debut on Tuesday did a 2.0 rating (92,000 homes), up 43 percent for the Cubs' season average on CSN. However, it appears that that ratings spike was short lived, like Baez's batting average.

WGN and the Tribune are well aware of the Cubs' rating "potential," but the sting of baseball programming as being a lost leader in a highly revenue channeled industry like television will get executives fired for incompetence. The Cubs losing track record is the only thing any television operator can use to reasonable predict the next few years of Cubs baseball interest.

As the Tribune has reported previously, the Cubs also are looking at the possibility of airing their non-cable games on a multicast station, which is a sub-channel for local over-the-air broadcast stations. That would provide the Cubs the opportunity to start some sort of a team-branded channel. The Cubs would produce the telecasts and sell and keep all the advertising revenue. It might be their only option beyond WGN because the Cubs are locked in for their cable games with CSN through 2019. However, this option requires the Cubs to invest a great deal of capital to build out their own television production team. And, by all indications, Ricketts is adverse to spending money other than on redeveloping the real estate around Wrigley Field.

The Tribune reports that the team is looking to partner with a Texas private equity firm "to maximize" local broadcast rights. However, the blueprint for creating a Chicago version of the Yankees YES network is trying to lock the barn door after the horses have fled to greener pastures. Comcast is the predominate cable provider in the Chicago metro area. It is not likely to give a new Cubs channel access on its system prior to 2020, if at all. Subscribers have balked on paying additional monthly fees for new sports channels, such as the Dodgers in the LA market. This option also seems to be DOA for 2015.

Which brings the team back to crawling back to WGN. I don't think the business side of the Cubs have the stomachs to crawl back on WGN's terms. The lone alternative is Fox, which owns Channel 32 (a network O&O) and Channel 50 (a UHF station). The Cubs are not a priority for local Fox station as it has to run national programs (including its weekly Saturday baseball package).  Channel 50 does not have the marketing sweep of a WGN, so the license fee would be smaller than what WGN would offer the Cubs.

Without a broadcaster for 70 games next year, the Cubs are probably losing $14 million or more in gross revenue. The new signage and advertising deals at Wrigley is not going to make up for this lost revenue. The Cubs have painted themselves into a corner with the prospect of 42 percent of their games not being broadcast in Chicago. With ratings so low, fans may not even notice the missing games. But you have to realize that $14 million is equivalent to a front line starting pitcher.

September 25, 2014


It took to the end of the season for many media types to realize
that on a cool, clear September Sunday afternoon, they were watching
the last Cubs day game at the old Wrigley Field.

By the time next season rolls around (injunctions not withstanding),
the press box, box seat, reserved terrace and upper deck views to the north-northeast
will be totally different.

I expect next year's opening day game stories to include "shocking" "surprised" "gaudy,"
and "overcommercialized" eye pollution when the Cubs put up the large Jumbotron and the
six (6) other outfield signs. Some will snicker that it is appropriate that the Cubs take a historic
landmark major league Field of Dreams and slap enough billboard signage to make even minor league ball yards blush.

It is not a "sky is falling" riff. The mayor and the city all said in bending over backwards for the Ricketts grand real estate development projects that Wrigley Field was one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. But they never considered why Wrigley Field was the top tourist venue: it certainly could not be because of stellar baseball teams. It was a major draw because it was different, unique, and "old." The sight lines to the rooftops of the neighborhood, the large last of its kind manual center field scoreboard which mimics the lush green grass of the field. The iconic features will be buried by the flashing lights of electronic signage.

Purists still cringe at the small video board and the mini-Green Monster in the right field bleacher corner. By most accounts, the party deck has been a poop deck - - - an expensive gimmick that was not worth changing the character of the park. Purists will have cranial explosions when first viewing the final "modern" Wrigley lay out. The first 2015 promotion should be brain splatter ponchos.

So this week will have the sentimental columns by older writers who may slither nostalgic sentiment towards the company lines about the need for new revenue sources in order to build a championship team. That the old ways have to be part of the new way in order to get out of the old rut of not being a World Series champion for 107 years. Change is progress.  But people don't have to like it.

As with many major tourist attraction changes, there will be the curiosity seekers who want to see what is different. It will be interesting to determine a year later whether the new park has any lasting draw on the next generation of paying fan.

September 24, 2014


Edwin Jackson is bad.
John Danks has been pretty bad.

Jackson has control issues.
Danks has had injury issues.

Both are probably in the need for a change of clubs.

Jackson, 31, is owed $22 million for the next two years.
Danks, 29, is owed $28.5 million for the next two years.

Jackson is 6-15, 6.38 ERA, 1.657 WHIP and a negative 2.3 WAR in 2014.
Danks is 10-11, 4.82 ERA, 1.457 WHIP and 0.9 WAR.
Danks is a little better, but is owed $6.5 million more money.

The White Sox will be a predominate left handed rotation in 2015.
The team can't find a right hander from their own system.
The Cubs are primarily a right handed staff. Yoshi Wada will probably
not be back next season, and Travis Wood has struggled.

A swap of Jackson for Danks would be swapping damaged goods for damaged goods.
The Cubs could make that deal; the White Sox would pass.

Danks makes a better #4 starter than Jackson in a rotation of Sale, Quintana, Rodon, Danks and TBD.

The problems with teams that have big money tied up to underperforming players is that the urge is to continue to play these players because of the money.

September 23, 2014


The Texas Rangers season fell off the planet. Dead last with a load of bullets.  The manager fled in disgrace and the team has suffered in the bottom of the well for months.

How did it happen? The Rangers were cursed like no other club.

The Rangers have 12 guys on the 60-day DL.


That is almost half the roster.

None of those guys currently count against the 40-man roster, but all of them must be re-added to the 40-man roster after the season. In addition to those moves,  minor leaguers such as top pitching prospect Luke Jackson, must be added to the roster to be protected from the Rule 5 draft.

It begs the question:  How do you fit more than  50 players onto a 40-man roster?

“We’ve got some tough calls coming up,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said last Friday.
“The injuries complicate things because we need to carry some guys over the winter that won’t be ready to help us right away.  The system is maturing to where we need to protect some of our better young talent,” Daniels added. “And we’ve got some interesting guys who have shown very well recently.”

September 22, 2014


Columnists are looking to ride Edwin Jackson out of town on a rail. The worst starting pitcher in the majors this year could not get out of the first inning in his first start after rehab.

But Jackson is going no where. The Cubs still owe him the last two years of his $52 million deal. The Cubs have no more quality starting pitching prospects in the high minors. And despite laced Kool Aid dreams that the Cubs can contend in 2015, the team is not even close to .500 with the current 40 man roster.  No, Jackson will be on the pitching staff for 2015 and 2016, if for nothing else, to burn through 150 innings of work to put less stress on the bullpen or younger arms.

Hawk Harrelson and Steve Steve have observed that there has been a dramatic fall in quality hitters. Quality hitters are harder to find. This means that even marginal pitchers should be better, in the short run. (And possibly by accident, the Cubs stumbled toward gold by drafting the "best" college hitter the last two drafts).

Jackson, 31, has a 14-35 record as a Cub starter, with a negative 3.6 WAR. When the negative WAR is this deep, it is hard to fathom that Jackson is four replacement players short of being a replacement player (AAA) or basically, he has shown the skill set of an 18 year old promoted to the majors from short season Rookie ball. By comparison, catcher John Baker's one inning blow-out relief stint garnered a 0.1 WAR. But one cannot really argue that Baker is 3.7 times better a pitcher than Jackson.

Unless the Cubs go with a six man rotation in 2015, Jackson will get the ball every 5th game. The Cubs have no other alternative but slide him down the rotation to the #4 or #5 starter and pray that he can get out the first inning. This shows the continuing problem with the team: lack of depth. No one is really going to push Jackson off the club in spring training.

September 21, 2014


When Starlin Castro went down to injury, Javy Baez stepped in at short. Even though the front office said Castro is their shortstop for the future, and Baez had been promoted to "learn" second at the major league level, Baez continues to play exclusively short. (I don't count the need of putting in .238 hitting powerhouse Chris Valakia at short).

Which does beg the question: why?

If Baez is supposed to be your second baseman in 2015, why not let him get fully acclimated at second this year? It seems like a wasted opportunity.

One could think that it is the Cubs being the Cubs by playing everyone out of their natural position, such as true second basemen Alcantara and Watkins roaming the outfield.

But if Baez is going to be a foundational infield piece, not playing him at second seems to foretell that Castro is not the long term Cubs shortstop.

I have been saying that a Castro trade to the Yankees (to replace All-Star Jeter) makes sense, except that the Yankees do not have a deep farm system of products. But at this point, the Cubs really need major league ready players in return for trades - - - especially pitchers.

And even Baez is not penciled in to be the Cubs shortstop of the future. Addison Russell is the front office choice.

Baez: .178 BA, 9 HR, 18 RBI, negative 0.4 WAR.
Baez (Iowa): .260 BA, 23 HR, 80 RBI.
Russell (A/AA): .295 BA, 13 HR, 45 RBI.

It would seem that Russell is 2 years away from his major league debut (late 2016). And Baez had not locked down a spot. After homering seven times in his first 19 games Baez has gone deep just twice in his last 24 games while hitting .146 with 44 strikeouts. Baez is hitting .178 with 78 strikeouts in 43 games overall, which is worrisome even for a free-swinging 21-year-old slugger who also struck out a ton in the minors.

The surplus is in middle infield talent. But most of that talent, except for Castro, is unknown. Which makes Castro the easiest piece to trade this off season.

September 20, 2014


In a long ago post, I mentioned the fact that pitching mechanics are slight individual variations on a theme. Youngsters are taught basically the same thing: foot on the middle edge of the rubber, hold the ball this way for a fastball, and throw 3/4 to overhand while pushing off the mound downhill toward the plate. The few that get the mechanics know that the power of pitching comes from the lower body and not the whip of the arm. It is the concert of the physics of motion, stored torque energy and release that is the foundation to the art of pitching.

Pitching coaches stress repeatable release points. If you divide an old analog watch dial in half, those are the potential release points from overhand near noon position to submariner near the 6 o'clock position. Even with the same grip on the ball, a pitcher can have a dozen different "pitches" based upon release point alone.

But that is not the only adjustment a pitcher can make to help pinpoint his control. One of the pitchers I remember clearly who used a different approach on the mound to help temper his wildness was Dontrelle Willis. The quirky lefty had an old corkscrew wind-up to begin with, but he found out that if he moved is push-off foot to the farthest edge of the rubber toward first base, he would sidearm his fastball and slider at left handed hitters and catch the inside strike while the batters are bailing out of the box (since the pitch looks like it begins inside the batter's box and coming toward the batter's rib cage). If a pitcher moves his foot location on the rubber, he changes the angle of attack toward the plate.

It is strange that more pitchers and pitching coaches do not experiment with these slight variations. Because the results can be significant.

Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan looks at Jake Arrieta‘s breakout season through a historical lens, noting that he has the sixth-largest season-to-season K-BB% improvement since 1920 (min. 75 IP each season) and the single largest FIP- improvement in that same span. Sullivan looks at how much more effectively Arrieta has repeated his mechanics with the Cubs, and he also points to the fact that Arrieta has doubled the usage of his hard slider/cutter while moving to the third-base side of the rubber. Both David Ross and Ryan Zimmerman  have noted that Arrieta now busts right-handed hitters inside at a much greater rate because he appears to be “throwing behind you” before his ball breaks over the plate.

September 19, 2014


Cubs announcer Pat Hughes brought up an interesting observation.

There has been some debate recently on whether "wins" is a good measure for a starting pitcher's performance. In the age of sabermetrics, wins seems to be an unconditional after thought.

Hughes brought up the point that if a starting pitcher has a record of 18-8, that means that his team has won 10 more games with him on the mound. Therefore, if the rest of the team went .500, the team would end up the season 10 games over .500 (and probably in the playoffs)

It would also mean that pitcher would be the team's most valuable player.

Hughes was referencing Johnny Cueto, who was 18-8 at the time. After the loss to the Cubs, Cueto still has a 6.1 WAR for the season. That is six games above replacement value.

Other pitchers with large W-L variables include Clayton Kershaw who is 19-3, with a 7.6 WAR.

Chris Sale is 12-3 with a 6.5 WAR. Felix Hernandez is 14-5 with a 6.8 WAR. Corey Kluber is 16-9 with 6.3 WAR.

The Win Variable to WAR:

Kershaw + 13 = 7.6 WAR
Hernandez +9 = 6.8 WAR
Sale +9 = 6.5 WAR
Kluber +7 = 6.3 WAR
Cueto +9 = 6.1 WAR

The top five pitchers in the majors have a win differential of +47 and WAR of 33.3.

WAR/Win Variable = .709 wins above replacement ratio.

There may be other factors on a starter getting the ability to get wins, foremost, the ability to pitch deep into games. There also may be a psychological team effect that fielders will play better when they know their "ace" is pitching.

What about other good pitchers?

Madison Bumgarner is 18-9 with a 3.7 WAR or .411 wins above replacement ratio.
Jon Lester is 15-10 with a 4.2 WAR or .840 wins above replacement ratio.

While league average changes on a year-to-year basis, replacement level stays the same: a .380 win percentage is the replacement level for starting pitcher.

FanGraphs and Baseball Reference calculate pitching WAR differently. 

BA Computing WAR: starts with runs allowed by the pitcher and compares it to the league average pitcher (adjusting for quality of opposition), parks pitched in, and quality of defense behind the pitcher. 

WAR = WAR_rep + WAA + WAA_adj
 FanGraphs Pitcher WAR:

FG begins with FIP, which is a fielding independent pitching stat comparable in scale to ERA that is computed using only pitcher dependent stats. 

FIP = ((13*HR)+(3*(BB+HBP-IBB))-(2*K))/IP + lg_specific_constant(around 3.20 or so)
In FIP, hits allowed and non-strikeout outs recorded have no role in the calculation other than in the number of total innings pitched. The assumption is that once the ball is put into play (other than a home run) the entire outcome is determined by random chance and team defensive quality.

So even the stats gurus cannot agree on the best formula to determine how well a starter pitcher is to his team. So maybe Hughes has hit upon the simplest comparison possible: the pitcher's win differential since the single goal in any game is to win.

September 18, 2014


ESPN reports that general manager Jed Hoyer said the team’s offseason needs -- other than pitching -- is finding veteran leadership.

“We need to add some guys to our roster that can help provide that,” Hoyer said. “We also have to lengthen out our position-player group.”

As much as Rizzo and Castro have taken over leadership roles, Hoyer still thinks they need help.

“They probably need some guys around them that can teach them the right things to do,” Hoyer said. “I’ve talked to them both individually about that and they want to do it, but I don’t think right now they have enough experience, or I don’t think they’ve been around enough guys that are real clubhouse leaders that have taught them the ropes. I think we need to provide that for those guys.”

So who can the Cubs bring in and where would they play? Hoyer said many starting jobs will be filled by young prospects, some of whom have already made their major league debuts this season.

“That takes up a fair number of positions," Hoyer said, "but we wouldn’t rule out adding a starting player or two that can help there as well."

What Hoyer is saying is that he cannot trust his coaching staff to "teach" young players how to become professional players. Even though Renteria was specifically hired to do just that, the front office believes that players listen to other players more than coaches.

To fix this problem, proven veterans from winning clubs are used to bring in a proper attitude. In the Cubs clubhouse, that is a tall order since a losing culture has settled in. What Hoyer is also saying is that he is not going out to get a "star" championship caliber player to guide the young core to greatness. Just a veteran presence that players will listen to and respect.

I don't know if starting outfield free agents like De Aza or Parra fit that bill. One suggests that a catcher like Russell Martin could be good candidate, but he would be an expensive alternative to Wellington Castillo. And one does not think adding a 5th outfielder in the Reed Johnson mold is going to get the same voice as a starting corner outfielder whose performance is at an All-Star level.

September 17, 2014


The Orioles, Angels and Nationals have run away with their divisions, with double digit leads going into the final stretch of the season.

The Angels have had a big comeback year. But the story is that the A's went "all in" and got crushed by a surging Angels team. Oakland revamped 3/5ths of their starting rotation at the trade deadline as a means to spark the bullpen since the offense was putting up huge run differentials. But the Angels quickly closed the gap in the summer.

The Nationals pulled away from the Braves, who did not make any significant changes during the season. As with any team, some high profile players failed to meet expectations.

The one team that was supposed to run away with their division was Detroit. The Tigers both spent on talent and traded for an ace, David Price, to sew up the AL Central. But the pesky Royals are still in reach of the lead.

It is interesting to note that the breakdown of small market vs. big market teams is pretty even. The Orioles, A's and Royals are clearly not the big spenders compared to the Tigers, Angels and Nationals. But the small market teams clearly have been just as competitive for most of the season.

It gives other small market teams pause to hope, as well as big market teams pause to spend less going forward.

September 16, 2014


The Cubs plugging in "needs" for 2015 will have a thin free agent market.

The Cubs will try to play Soler in RF in 2015. Alcantara is better suited to play second base/bench than full time CG. The crew of Ruggiano, Sweeney, Baker and Kalish have no future with the rebuilt Cubs of the future. So the Cubs could dabble to upgrade OF and back up catcher in the off season.

You don't want to block Bryant's promotion to 3B.

Potential Free agent list:

Alex Avila (29)
Chris Iannetta (33)
John Jaso (32)
George Kottaras (32)
Jose Molina (41)
Dioner Navarro (32)
Brayan Pena (34)
Matt Wieters (30)

Left Fielders
Jeff Baker (35)
Roger Bernadina (32)
Willie Bloomquist (38)
Yoenis Cespedes (30)
Rajai Davis (35)
Alejandro De Aza (32)
Matt Joyce (31)
Don Kelly (36)
Gerardo Parra (29)
Steve Pearce (33)
Sean Rodriguez (31)
Justin Upton (28)

Center Fielders
Roger Bernadina (32)
Rajai Davis (35)
Alejandro De Aza (32)
Dexter Fowler (30)
Tony Gwynn Jr. (33)
Austin Jackson (29)
Don Kelly (36)
Gerardo Parra (29)
Drew Stubbs (31)
Shane Victorino (35)

Right Fielders
Jeff Baker (35)
Jason Heyward (26)
Matt Joyce (31)
Gerardo Parra (29)
Justin Upton (28)
Will Venable (33)
Shane Victorino (35)

Strike through players are too old or too expensive for stop gap players. However, those still on the list could be "too expensive" for the Cubs as well, as there will be interest in players like Heywood, Parra, Jackson just on age alone. Cespedes is on the list, and he would be expensive catch,  but if the Cubs are going to make one "big" free agent signing this off-season, it would be more likely an every day player than breaking the bank for a big name pitcher like Lester.

September 15, 2014


It is beginning to dawn on many that the Cubs need to temper expectations for 2015. Yes, the Kids may be able to play, but maybe not.  Until the "business" side, i.e. Ricketts, is assured that the kids can play, there will be no free-wheeling free agent spending on pitchers.

The MLBTR current free agent list is out. However, "realistically" the type of players that the Cubs may have a chance of signing is very limited:

Starting Pitchers

Mark Buehrle (37)
Jhoulys Chacin (28)
Bartolo Colon (43)
Ross Detwiler (30)
Marco Estrada (32)
Doug Fister (32)
Tim Hudson (40)
Scott Kazmir (32)
Ian Kennedy (31)
Mat Latos (28)
Mike Leake (28)
Tim Lincecum (32)
Kyle Lohse (37)
Kris Medlen (30)
Bud Norris (31)
Ross Ohlendorf (33)
Mike Pelfrey (32)
Rick Porcello (27)
David Price (30)
Jeff Samardzija (31)
Alfredo Simon (35)
Jordan Zimmermann (30)

Players with strike-throughs project to long term, big money deals with competitive clubs or too old to spend money to wait three years for the rest of the team to catch up in skill level.

Even then, change of scenery pitchers like Lincecum will probably command much more than the Cubs are willing to offer a failed starter. Second tier guys like Detwiler, Estrada, Leak and Ohlendorf may get short term deals in order to get rotation starts to get to a competitive team by July, 2015 (see, the Feldman-Hammel signings).

But no one on this list appear to be long term solutions for the rebuilding Cubs.

September 14, 2014


Gordon Wittenmyer had a good column in regard to the state of the Cubs pitching. The team has a lot of young arms being showcased this September. But as staff, are they any good? No one really knows.

He compares the current Cubs to the pitching wealth of the competitive Pirates:

Hard-throwing Gerrit Cole, 24, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft is quickly becoming a staff ace.  He is followed by 2013 All-Star Jeff Locke, 26, a second-rounder who has won five of his last six decisions.

Wittenmyer notes that the Cubs had starters with great ERAs this season:
Jeff Samardzija (2.83 ERA), Jason Hammel (2.98), Jake Arrieta (2.82), Kyle Hendricks (2.38) and Tsuyoshi Wada (2.95) giving the Cubs exceptional performances in more than half (78) of the team’s starts this season. But the Cubs still rank near the bottom of the National League in starting pitching (4.05 ERA). Only the Marlins, Diamondbacks and Rockies are worse.

With Samardzija and Hammel off the roster, and Wada, who turns 34 next spring, won’t have his $5 million option picked up and likely will seek greener offers as opposed to a bargain renegotiation, the Cubs will be stuck with these pitching options for 2015:

1. Former All-Stars Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson who have seen much better days.
2. Pitchers who have not thrown a full major league season in Arrieta and Hendricks.
3. And a possible rotation of 5th starters in the reclamation projects of Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront.

September 13, 2014


Giancarlo Stanton is the face of the Marlins franchise. He is the team's best player by a wide margin.

Stanton, 24, was leading the league in home runs (37), RBI (105), slugging percentage (.555) and OPS (.950). In 2014, he had a 5.8 WAR. In his five years in the majors, his career WAR is 18.4.

He is always a trade rumor candidate. He has shown consistent power over the past five seasons. In any trade, Miami would get a blockbuster package in return.

But the Marlins have done fire sales in the past. And the fan base stays away in droves. Any team needs at least one player who performs well, stays out of trouble, and is fan friendly. Stanton is the face of the Marlins; an All-Star player with Hall of Fame potential.

Thursday night, Stanton was hit in the face with a fastball. Stanton took an 88-mph fast in the mouth off Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mike Friers in the 5th inning. Stanton was taken off the field in an ambulance and is reported to have suffered multiple facial fractures, lacerations, and dental damage. He is likely out for the remainder of the season.

This is a player's worst nightmare, getting hit in the head. Cubs fans will remember that rookie prospect Adam Greenberg's first major league at-bat ended with him being hit by a pitch. That one pitch ended Greenberg's baseball career.

No matter what happens next, this injury will affect Stanton. One's body will program itself to defend against danger. His basic survival instinct may kick in for a split second to protect himself from inside pitches. Batting and contact with a baseball itself is a matter of split second coordination.  In addition, there may be lingering effects from the facial fractures or possible eyesight issues to concussion concerns.

For baseball superstars, the high return in compensation is also tempered by high risk. One play can end a career. One injury can end a career.

September 12, 2014


Roger Goodell has 44 million reasons to scrap together plausible denial in his handling of the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal. Goodell's compensation package for being NFL Commissioner is $44 million per year.  That is almost double a star major league pitching ace's annual salary.

Goodell is now the target of social and political quivers. Pro sports in America has taken over as the largest institutions in conjunction, perhaps, with the rise of entertainment technology and more leisure time due to underemployment in various traditional work sectors. Entertainment is escapism. When real world issues collide with an entertainment game, things can get complicated quickly.

Goodell muffled the punt, and is being called for unsportsmanlike conduct. He may get ejected from his own game.

The world was revolted by the release of the elevator tape which showed a brutal act of domestic violence. The question is whether Goodell, who as judge and jury of all player behavior in his league, saw this tape prior to giving Rice only a two game suspension. If so, he was an idiot and liar because he said this week he never saw the tape until recently. The AP story states the police gave the NFL a copy of the tape three months ago, and has a voice mail confirmation from the league office of its receipt and viewing. The public backlash is getting intense. NY Post headline rewrites the NFL as standing for "National Football Liars."

Major sports are all about public image because major corporations do not want associate themselves with negative public perception. There still is a guilt by association in brand marketing.

Goodell has lashed severe penalties in his 8 year tenure as commissioner. He whacked the New Orleans Saints and coach Sean Payton for Bountygate. In that scandal, he stated that "ignorance is no defense" to the team's explanation of the events.

The growing problem with all professional sports is that the commissioners are seizing too much authority over teams, players under the cover of some kind of "institutional control." To protect the game, he must police the game. Now, this goes beyond in-game infractions to outside criminal behavior and moral indiscretions. A prime example of this was the NCAA penalties against Penn St. for criminal child abuse at the school. Many people, including the governor, deplored the interference and sanctions against Penn St. which is beyond the charter of the NCAA. Recently, the NCAA backed off some of the sanctions but the matter is still in litigation.

Now, many employers have moral clauses in the employee contracts. But football, baseball, basketball, hockey all have collective bargaining agreements which should take care of player disciplinary actions. However, the union has been silent in the Rice case. Commissioners are using the old baseball "best interests of the game" as an inherit power to do whatever they want to preserve the status of the sport and their iron fist control over it. But many people really believe it should be the team, not the league, that should take action against one of its employees for bad behavior which is disruptive to the team.

Also, there is a large percentage of people who believe that in criminal matters, the team and league should just defer to punishment and judgments of the court system against its players. But in the Rice case, Rice skated because he made a quick deal for a diversion program so the charges will go away without a conviction. Prosecutors made that decision after seeing the evidence, including the tapes, so it hard to imagine that Baltimore citizens won't be upset with their local authorities.

Since Goodell is employed by the NFL owners, they will have to make the ultimate decision on Goodell's fate. As more and more negative press, possible pending Congressional investigations, and now an expensive external investigation, the Rice scandal continues to grow. Owners do not like to be in the negative spot light. It is bad for business. It is bad for their reputation. And they don't want to be ambushed by reporters asking embarrassing questions.

In Goodell's case, he lived by his sword, and that same sword may take himself down.

September 11, 2014


Max Scherzer turned down 6 years/$144 million from the Tigers. He will hit the free agent market setting the bar near $160 million or $26.7 million per season.

Jon Lester, who will be 32, will ask for the same big money contract.

Multiple reports indicate that the Cubs are going strong to sign Lester in the off-season.

There is an old Boston connection at play, so the reports say. But baseball is a business, and players and their agents want two things: money and post-season money.

The Cubs 2015 payroll currently stands at an expansion team level of around $45 million. Clearly, everyone postulates, the Cubs have a boatload of money to spend to acquire ace pitching the team so dearly needs.  Except, no one knows outside the organization if the $100 million payrolls are truth or a myth. From the evidence, it appears more likely myth than reality.

The Cubs go into 2015 with no local TV revenue for a large portion of the television rights package. Attendance, especially no-shows, has become a real problem. Attendance is down and no-shows are going up. The Cubs raising ticket prices for the best seats is sure to tick off some long suffering fans who paid premium prices for minor league ball for five years. The Cubs are pushing the load to see where the camel's back (fans) is broken.

The big dreams of the new, young, fun players may turn to an awakening of reality. The big guns have cooled as we go into late September. There is no guarantee that they will perform at a high level in 2015.

So that is why the front office would like to make a splash with a Lester signing. It would give the team a confidence boost that yes, the team really wants to win.

But the money for Lester is going to be diverted to Ricketts construction plans, now several years in arrears. In any construction project, delays mean cost overruns. There are still litigation uncertainty and neighborhood complaints. The business side is not ready to give the baseball side the financial checkbook to buy the expensive pieces of the competitive puzzle.

The team may say they are "all in" for bidding on Lester, but the Cubs stack is not going to match up with the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Rangers, Dodgers, Tigers or Mariners.  Most likely it plays out like the Tanaka story from last spring.

Which leaves the Cubs with a patchwork starting rotation, and a batting order loaded with inconsistent young players.

September 10, 2014


As the season winds down, 2015 will bring a new level of expectations on the Cubs.

First, the prospects that will earn an opening day roster spot, Baez, Hendricks, Alcantara, and Soler, must show the ability to adapt to the league (which now has major league books on them). There are such things such as sophomore slumps. The team can't afford to hype these young guns only to have them slide into Josh Vitters-Brett Jackson-Corey Patterson-Felix Pie territory.

Second, the pitching staff is a continuing work in progress. Most of the promoted arms have fallen to the bullpen. The ones being showcased as potential starters, Hendricks, Beeler, Turner and Jokisch have to solidify their role in spring training as well as Wada, Doubront and Straily. Yes, the Cubs have plenty of arms to evaluate, but none of them has the power or poise of a young star like Chris Sale.

Third, manager Rick Renteria will have his seat begin to warm toward hot. Will he be another caretaker like Mike Quade? No one can say that he has been an outstanding skipper because the team has not played above its low expectations. It is hard to tell whether his teaching and development skills (the main reason he was hired) are actually taking hold. The Cubs as a team have not shown a dramatic improvement in fundamentals or baseball IQ.

Fourth, the bounce back years of Castro and Rizzo may be tempered in 2015 because of the late season injuries. As anyone who has had a back problem, it never really goes away. Rizzo's health will be a major question in spring training. And considering the massive swing paths and body torque of Soler, Baez and now Castillo, back issues may be a depressing story line going forward.

Fifth, there is a growing concern about ownership. Can the Ricketts get their business act together with the Wrigley renovation and new revenue streams, or will the franchise falter into a real small market, penny pinching disaster?

September 9, 2014


Travis Wood has probably pitched himself off the Cubs 2015 roster.

Wood came over from the Reds in the Shaun Marshall deal.  It started off well for the Cubs.

In 2012, Wood went 6-13, 4.27 ERA, 1.199 WHIP and 0.7 WAR.  This is acceptable for a back of the rotation starter on a bad team.

In 2013, Wood was an All-Star. He went 9-12, 3.11 ERA, 1.145 WHIP and 4.4 WAR. He was probably the most consistent starter on the staff that season.

In 2014, Wood regressed badly. He has gone 8-12, 5.15 ERA, 1.543 WHIP and negative 0.8 WAR. Some observers think that Wood may be pitching hurt. Others think the league may have caught up to his style of pitching since he can't overpower hitters.

He is under team control through arbitration through 2017. As a lefty starter, that is an in-demand commodity for any team.

The Cubs are stock piling a bunch of starting pitchers with histories that are similar to Wood's. Whether Jacob Turner returns to his prospect scouting sheet hype is unknown. Yoshi Wada has been a nice addition, but he is another lefty soft-tosser new to the league this year. And Kyle Hendricks looks Maddux-like in some of his starts, but does he have long term control to be an effective #2 starter? Jake Arrieta took over for Jeff Samardzija and looked better than advertised, but even Arrieta has slowly slid back to being around a .500 pitcher.

It is rare to find a starting pitcher with a consistent long term career. Those guys get the hundred million dollar deals.

The Cubs need to evaluate Wood closely this off-season. Was he injured or have a tired arm? Is there a mechanical flaw? Or as with many major league players, he has run his course and is destined to be a journeyman like former Pirate,  Zach Duke.

September 8, 2014


There were many fans who grumbled about paying premium prices for less than minor league talent for the past four seasons. There were thousands who canceled their season ticket packages because they could not even give away their spare tickets. The Cubs refused to lower ticket prices during their "blow up the team" rebuild.

The Sun-Times reported on Saturday that the Cubs will not give long time suffering fans a break. 

The Cubs’ biggest prospects have barely started paying dividends on the field, but the club has decided to raise ticket prices for some of the most popular sections at Wrigley Field in 2015.

Season-ticket prices will increase an average of 6 percent in the club, field and lower terrace reserved sections of the park. That increase will affect 20 percent of season-ticket holders, while the other 80 percent will have no change or a price drop.

According to Team Marketing Report, the Cubs had the third-highest ticket price in baseball this season at $44.15. The price is high despite the fact Cubs attendance has been on the decline since 2008. 

The Cubs sent invoices to fans a month earlier than usual to give them more time between making the down payment and full payment.. The earlier timeline is one of a handful of changes being made to the renewal process.

Ten percent of the balance must be paid by Oct. 13, with the remainder due by Jan. 13, 2015. Fans can also opt instead for the four-month installment plan and pay 25 percent at a time.

The club has set up a website to ease the payment process. Account holders will have personalized Web pages with tabs to provide information about their account and the renewal process.

The price hike coincides with the renewed fan interest in the club, as young prospects appear on the roster.

It still is a money first, performance second strategy from the Cubs.

September 7, 2014


The Ricketts family has told the us time and time again that the Wrigley renovation project was not going to funded by any public money. Well, that turns out to be a rather big white lie.

First, the city gave away parts of the public streets for the bleacher expansion. Normally, the city sells the property to the private developer at fair market value, which could have put millions into the city's coffers. 

Second. the Cubs are seeking a $75 million tax credit from the IRS to help off-set (and pay for) much of the Wrigley Field project. The tax credit is supposed to help people restore historic and landmark buildings. That is money that other taxpayers, such as ourselves, will have to make up. As the Tribune reports, the Park Service and the IRS have raised serious issues about the historic "restoration" of Wrigley:

In a memo to the Cubs obtained by the Tribune, the agency expressed concern about advertising overkill at Wrigley, which is known for its ivy-covered outfield walls, hand-turned scoreboard and intimate dimensions as opposed to typical corporate billboards at every other baseball stadium.

"It is important that the cumulative impact of new signage in the outfield does not, in itself, create such a defining feature that the historic character of the stadium is altered," stated the memo, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In a statement, the Cubs said that it is "normal for there to be changes to design and construction as a project evolves and we are working with" the Park Service to finalize approval for those changes. The team said the entire project has been approved by the city of Chicago, and it intends to start construction at the end of the season.

But the federal government does not cede authority over its determination to a rubber-stamped city council. The article also states:

The Cubs are not required to get final certification of their rehabilitation plans before starting work. But the Park Service in general cautions property owners that any work begun before getting formal approval is done at their own risk of losing potential tax credits. If such work is subsequently deemed not to meet the Park Service's standards, then the entire project may be disqualified for consideration of benefits from the federal government.

One of the standards deals with new construction and states, "New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment."

The team was hoping to have the Park Service give the team the thumbs up on the revisions before the landmarks commission voted on the changes in July, said Carol Dyson, chief architect and tax incentives coordinator at the state preservation agency.

"Much of the work being proposed can meet the guidelines," Dyson said. "The additional signage is something that's a little more complicated to evaluate. It has some visual impact."

As we have posted at length before, the plans for Wrigley Field is not "restoration" of a historic building and its landmark elements, but a massive real estate development project to create new advertising and commercial revenue streams to ownership. If the money was just going to rebrick the outfield walls, repair the manual center field scoreboard, or replace all the seats with traditional wood ones from the original era of the ball park, that would be "restoration" of the facility to its former glory. But adding electronic jumbotrons, expanding the footprint to add restaurants and bars, and advertising signage in and around the ball park has nothing to do with historic preservation but corporate greed. And that is why federal officials are balking at the tax credit request; how are these plans conserving any historical feature of Wrigley Field?

In the big picture, the tax credit is more important than the advertising signage. It amounts to 25 percent of the projected construction budget for the Wrigley Field portion of the plan. If it is not granted, the Ricketts cannot off-set or shield $75 million of income. This windfall may be critical in keeping the financial ship from listing further as any tax savings bolsters the bottom line of profitability.

September 6, 2014


Chicago baseball has been trending down. But, the near future may see a major turnaround for both franchises. Which one is closer to success?

The Cubs plan with current players seems to be cautious wait and see for 2015:

LF: Coghlan
CF: Alcantara
RF: Soler
3B: Bryant
SS: Castro
2B: Baez
1B: Rizzo
C: Castillo

SP1: Arrieta
SP2: Hendricks
SP3: T. Wood
SP4: Wada
SP5: E. Jackson

The White Sox plan is to rebuild quickly and compete in 2015:

LF: Vicideo
CF: Eaton
RF: Garcia
3B: Gillaspie
SS: Ramirez
2B: Sanchez/Simien
1B: Abreu
C: Flowers

SP1: Sale
SP2: Rodon
SP3: Quintana
SP4: Danks
SP5: Noesi

Both teams have found decent lead off hitters (Coghlan and Eaton). Both teams are comfortable with their projected infields. The White Sox have a much stronger rotation with Sale, Rodon and Quintana (#1, #1A, #2 quality starters) than the Cubs with Arrieta, Hendricks and Woods. However, the White Sox bullpen needs to be blown up and rebuilt.

The problem with the Cubs is that they may field a youthful bunch of free swinging .230 hitters. the White Sox have much more consistent hitters in the daily line up. The removal of Konerko and Dunn means the White Sox are in need of a DH, as well as a fifth starter.  The Cubs still need to bolster their starting rotation and outfield (LF and CF) with more consistent play.

Both team appear to be poised to be better in 2015. But neither seems to be over the .500 mark as their rosters stand today.

September 5, 2014


Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo's seasons are all but over due to injury. Castro caused a high ankle sprain when he stumbled a slide into home plate. Rizzo has been having back soreness/tightness. Of the two injuries, Rizzo seems to be more troublesome long term.

But most believe that Castro and Rizzo's 2014 seasons were good "bounce back" years.


2013: .245 BA, 10 HR, 44 RBI, .284 OBP, -0.6 WAR
2014: .292 BA, 14 HR, 65 RBI, .292 OBP, 2.1 WAR


2013: .233 BA, 23 HR, 80 RBI, .323 OBP, 2.8 WAR
2014: .278 BA, 30 HR, 71 RBI , .375 OBP, 3.8 WAR

Both players increased their batting averages by more than 40 points.
Both players increased their home run totals.
Both players increased their on-base percentages.

While Castro's defense improved from .967 to .973 fielding percentage,
Rizzo's went down from .997 to .993. Both players have a better fielding reputation
than from observation (range, mental errors, out of position sets, etc.) But most
fans think their defense is adequate for the offensive production they create.

With better hitters around them in the line-up, one could hope that Castro and Rizzo will have better years in 2015. But nothing is a guarantee.

There will be injuries to take care of. There will be the added pressure to win (something that has been lacking the past several seasons). They will have the added exposure to be team leaders, and be more media savvy as the bandwagon begins to re-fill with believers.

September 4, 2014


I don't really know why the Cubs continue down the Henry-Quade spectrum of playing second basemen all over the ball yard. Logan Watkins playing right field? Really?  He plays well defensively at second. Alcantara in center? He is still learning the position on the fly which is very hard, since Jimmy Piersall said repeatedly that CF is the hardest outfield position to play. Baez is learning second, and is doing well, but when he fills in for Castro at short, Baez is much better SS than Castro.

I know the concept that managers and general managers like: versatility. If you can play more than one position, then the team has more options (platoons, double switches, etc.). But all those utility players, in general, have to be utility players because they can't hold down one position as a true starter. A team filled with utility players is just a replacement level team in training.

So it is a little surprising that Kyle Schwarber is being pegged as a catching prospect. In 72 pro games, he hit .344, 18 HR, 53 RBI and 1.061 OPS. He should start in Class AA in 2015, with a possible promotion to Iowa mid season if he continues to hit well.

Schwarber's draft scouting report showed that he was probably the best fundamental college hitter, but he did not have the defensive skill set (and body type) to be a catcher. Most organizations felt he was destined to play left field.

The same is actually the chord on third baseman Kris Bryant. His size and range questions had him moving his bat to left field. But Bryant has told the Cubs that he wants to continue to play third base. In 138 pro games, Bryant hit .325, 43 HR, 110 RBI and 1.098 OPS.

One takeaway from the success of both Schwarber and Bryant is that despite the perceived defensive short comings, both players are comfortable playing their current positions. And if they are comfortable on defense, then they have less to worry about at the plate.

It is in the Cubs best interest to accommodate them because the team has no alternative players who can put up .300 BA, 30 HR, 90 RBI production at catcher or third base.

You let them come to spring training and win their starting spots. If the next crop of prospects, like Addison Reed, are going to be the shortstop of the future, then Castro needs to move to another position or be traded to another team. That's how the system has worked for a century.

But by tagging Schwarber and Bryant as left fielders, you just move the position iceberg to the outfield but not solve the problem of getting the best hitters in the daily line up. Barring injuries, Jorge Soler is going to play right. Schwarber or Bryant do not have the speed to play center.

Here is the current "push" chart of prospects depth chart:

3B: Valbuena - - - -> Bryant
SS: Castro - - - > Russell
2B: Baez
1B: Rizzo
C: Castillo - - - > Schwarber
LF: Coghlan - - - > Castro?
CF: Alcantara - - - > Almora
RF: Soler

Valbuena, Coghlan, Watkins and Alcantara fall to their roles as utility players.

But this push chart also shows that despite the huzzah of a prospect pipeline, the Cubs organization is still very thin. But pundits believe that the team having so many similar good prospects is a "good problem" to have. The Cubs may have fallen in love with their collection of prospects, and over-value their talent level so as to freeze themselves out of key veteran trades in the future.

September 3, 2014


There is a small undercurrent that will grow in the next few years into an interesting dynamic.

The Cubs have had a losing culture for generations.

When the Tribune sold the team in a bankruptcy move to raise cash, the new owners vowed to win a world championship.

When the front office changed to young geniuses with championship resumes, the fans bought into the rebuilding story line.

And the team continued to lose at historic levels of badness.

But as the team slowly turns around, there are several touchy points to consider as a fan.

The Ricketts family. They run hot and cold in the public mindset. But there is a growing trend that they are deemed unlikeable. Some take issue with the family politics, political issue baggage and blundering in Chicago politics on the Wrigley real estate ventures. A few take issue on how the Ricketts are running the team, as a secondary tenant in a grand scheme of building a mini-Disneyland at Clark and Addison. Some take issue that Tom Ricketts may know how to run a meeting, he does not know how to run a franchise. Ricketts has been compared to P.K. Wrigley.

The front office. Theo and Jed continue to be, in a word, smug. They continue to tell us they have a "plan" and "a process," which is corporate speak for "I know what I am doing" and "you can't understand it."  Critics still believe that despite the small blimp of rookie success, that one did not have to do a minor league rebuild only - - - that a balanced approached could have brought 3 years of respectful, competitive play on the field for premium ticket prices. The counter is that the fans have to pay the high prices "to invest" in the hope of the future home grown products. That is condescending to the fan base. Fans don't pay for future performance, they pay to see their team win on the day printed on their game ticket.

The players. The channel of Rizzo, Castro, Alcantara, Baez and Soler have perked up dormant fans. They seem enthusiastic, energetic and having fun in the dugout. They sure swing for the fence like mad men. But box scores of team double digit strike out totals is alarming to a knowledgeable person. Despite hot starts, there is an illusion of success as Baez has fallen to batting .189 and Alcantara around .220. You can't have a roster of six batters hitting under .240 and expect to win a division.

At some point, fans are going to be confronted with mixed actions in regard to their team. Ricketts focus is on real estate development, not the Cubs. The front office is concerned about pooling minor league talent than spending on a competitive major league team. The players may have an undisciplined good time swinging for the fences, but their below average fundamentals will have long term negative consequences.

Can a fan dislike ownership, and still be deeply invested in his or her team?
Can a fan dislike the front office, and still be deeply invested in his or her team?

We have seen that fans can turn off the loyalty switch when their team is filled "unlikeable" players. It will be interesting to see how the factions come together in the near future, when money really has to be spent to get a winning team on the North Side while different agendas are at play.

September 2, 2014


The big takeaway from Labor Day baseball is that the Cubs will labor at the plate.

Everyone, including veterans like Wellington Castillo, are now in games  free swinging their bats to jack homers in batting practice. These overswings are going to take a toll on player bodies.

Anthony Rizzo has been out seven straight games with a bad back. Backs don't heal like other body parts. As anyone who has had a back issue, they never really go away. A person needs to be preventative.

Javy Baez followed rookie Starlin Castro's free wheeling approach to the plate. Both started off strong with hitting balls out of the zone and out of the part. When Jorge Soler arrived, he has the same overcut that creates massive power and majestic home runs. But the torque created in the back is a contorted sight.

The home run power may dazzle the fans but may cause more problems in the future. The Cubs may hit more home runs, but actually score less because they don't get on base. It's feast or famine: homer or strikeout. This is not a consistent approach to winning.

But the Cubs are not at the point of winning, yet. They just want to revive interest in the team with their home run happy rookies. Winning will come later.

But bad plate discipline is a bad habit to break, especially in younger players. The league will quickly catch up with rookie hitters, and it is the adjustments that need to be taken will either make or break a young career.

September 1, 2014


If the whole financial apple cart rides on the Cubs creating their own "Dodger" cable channel, then there are going to be more potholes in the road to 2020.

The Hollywood Reporter reports that MLB is facing its toughest anti-trust suit to date. It involves the very lucrative television rights revenue streams.

Major League Baseball could be on the cusp of enduring something almost unimaginable: The end of the lucrative system by which professional baseball games are televised by region, consumers pay high prices for out-of-market package fees, and some digital telecasts are blacked out in home markets. 

With the prospect that sports broadcasting might forever change, the league is seeking permission to file an interlocutory review of U.S. District decision that ruled against MLB's motion for summary judgment in the claims in a proposed class-action lawsuit.

In Judge Scheindlin's ruling, she determined that MLB's antitrust exemption doesn't apply "to a subject that is not central to the business of baseball, and that Congress did not intend to exempt — namely, baseball’s contracts for television broadcasting rights." As a result, she allowed the plaintiffs to pursue claims that MLB, Comcast and DirecTV have violated antitrust law by making anticompetitive agreements that negatively impact the output, price and perhaps even quality of game telecasts.

MLB is quite disturbed by the opinion and now wants to go before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to present this issue: "Whether the professional baseball exemption to the antitrust laws bars Plaintiffs' claims against Major League Baseball with respect to Major League Baseball's territorial broadcast rules and structure."

Baseball's  antitrust exemption dates back nearly a century and has been addressed in several big court cases, including Supreme Court rulings. However, legal scholars have debated whether the antitrust exemption merely covers labor matters like restrictions on free agency or goes further. Over the years, Congress has adjusted sports broadcasting rules but hasn't offered substantial clarity on the matter.

In a memorandum to support the interlocutory appeal filed on Wednesday, MLB says that every appellate court has "held that the exemption applies broadly to the business of baseball and is not limited to any particular facet of that business."

The ruling is important because it could upset the original club power and control over territorial licensing fees. Washington and Baltimore are current in court over their television territorial rights and provisions which stem from the Expos relocation into part of the Orioles territory. The Oakland A's have been stymied by the Giants who have much of the territory south into Silicon Valley as their exclusive domain. The A's could not move to Santa Clara. Baseball was not happy about it, but it will not upset the club's rights set forth in their original charters.

Exclusive territorial rights extend to radio and television broadcasting games. The home team controls the airwaves in their own community (or share it with a dual club city like New York or Chicago). Any team that comes into a pre-existing team's market will have to pay to do so.

The concept of exclusive local broadcasting has been eaten away by MLB itself, with its own cable channel and national television contracts with several networks who push games to everyone just about every night of the week. The advent of digital mobile apps and streaming video has taken away the territorial reach of over-the-air broadcast signals. The league would like to continue to package baseball as seller; but clubs protect their local rights like a Tiger mom to her cubs.

If baseball loses it stronghold on local broadcast rights, and national television deals, the overall price for "baseball as a commodity" will fall. In some circles, like large market teams,  that could be a significant loss of revenue. Further complicating matters is large cable carriers have stopped paying for more sports channels because the fee structure is not supported by their average customers. The new Dodger network wallows in obscurity in the LA market because no transmission deals were made with other carriers. Some reports say that three-quarters of LA fans have lost their ability to see Dodger games.

The Cubs are banking on a huge revenue boost with television money. This is betting on the old baseball revenue model which is being attacked internally and externally in the courts.