October 31, 2014


NBC Sports reports that the baseball managerial fraternity is upset with both the Cubs and Joe Maddon. They are both called "classless" in the alleged booting of current manager Rick Renteria.

There are only 32 managerial jobs. It is a unique club. At the time Maddon opted out of his Rays contract, only the Twins had an open vacancy. Three other clubs just hired a new manager. And the Cubs after the season strongly stated that Renteria would be back in 2015. The Cubs then went out and hired a new hitting coach to complete next year's staff.

So when Maddon gets a chance to flee a sinking Tampa franchise, he does so. But most people think he would not jump ship unless someone, through his agent, told them he had a bigger landing spot than just Minnesota. And this potential "tampering" situation is what has the ire of Rays ownership, who feel backstabbed since Maddon publicly said he was staying with the team after GM Andrew Friedman left for the Dodgers.

Now, Cubs cheerleaders say "it's just business." Renteria is not guaranteed a job as skipper. But neither are fans guaranteed a championship by the front office, despite what the new fable is being spun to sell tickets for next year. Now some fans may rejoice in the fact that the Cubs are now getting down and dirty, doing back alley questionable deals - - - in the name of winning. But other people inside the game have long memories.

Theo Epstein is on the clock. He has only two years left on his deal. The pressure is on him to win sooner than later, despite being handcuffed by the "business side" of the organization. It is the budget restrictions which may have led Epstein to make a big name splash with Maddon, to cover the flak for not being able to land a top tier FA pitcher.

Since the Monday reports that it "was a done deal," by Friday morning there is no deal announced by the club. Maddon's agent stated that he was talking to several clubs, which can mean that there are other teams with managers who are willing to torpedo their current field leader, or it can mean that Maddon is trying to make the Cubs bid against themselves for his services.  Either way, this shows how rocky the road is for the Cubs to get anything done.

October 30, 2014


When Rick Renteria was hired as manager, he was touted as a guy who can develop young players, especially Latin talent with language issues.

Under Renteria's first year, the Cubs won 7 more games. That was pretty good.  Does that give Renteria a 7.0 WAR as a manager? No. Most experts believe that a manager wins or loses two games a season. A few believe that a baseball manager has the least influence in the play in any major sport.

In 2013, the Cubs has an offensive WAR of 15.9 and a pitching WAR of 10.5.
In 2013, the Cubs had an offensive WAR of 12.2 and a pitching WAR of 15.7.

Total WAR comparison: 26.4 to 27.9, an increase of 1.5 WAR.

Is this a better measure of Renteria's influence on the 2014 club? Perhaps.

But one has to consider the offense decreased but the pitching staff improved.

The key differences between seasons were three new starters:

Arrieta 5.3 WAR vs. 0.7 WAR (2013 Arrieta)
Hammel 3.1 WAR vs. 0.9 WAR (Feldman)
Hendricks 2.9 WAR vs. 1.5 WAR (Garza)

These three 2014 pitchers made an 11.3 WAR improvement over their 2013 counterparts. But the staff WAR only went up 5.2 WAR. The other starters, especially Edwin Jackson (-2.3) brought the pitching WAR down dramatically.

Joe Maddon's Rays won 92 games in 2013, and lost in the AL divisional series.  In 2014, the Rays stumbled to 77 wins, a decrease of 15 wins. Some Tampa Bay writers believe former GM Andrew Friedman left town because the well of young minor league prospects, the golden goose of the franchise, was drying up and a major rebuild was going to take shape now. Maddon may have seen the writing on the wall, too. At 61, he is in the last run as a major league skipper. He wants to win a World Series to cap his career. Tampa does not seem to be a serious contender in the highly charged AL East. At his age, he would want to win now.

When Maddon surprised the baseball world by opting out of his contract, every major league team except the Twins had a 2014 manager.  The Cubs had already said Renteria would return as the season ended. But does Maddon really fit the Cubs?

 Maddon is a "celebrity" manager - - - a proven winner, especially hard to do in a small market. That is the resume highlight. He puts a new face on the team. He is good with the media. It also strikes me that if the Cubs continue the small market payroll, Maddon would be a good puzzle piece.

On the negative side, Maddon could sit a season and have many more choices with free spending teams. Writers say that the motivation to leave the Rays is that he wants to be paid as a premier manager. He may not be comfortable with the Cubs rebuilding plan, or the lack of pitching depth. He may need real assurances that the Cubs will spend big money to shore up the roster in 2015 before committing to a four year deal.

History is also not on the Cubs side. There was a great deal of hope each time the Cubs hired a "name" manager: Dusty Baker, Don Baylor, Lou Piniella.  Each of those proven winners crashed and burned with the Cubs. Piniella remarked after his tenure he had no idea about the expectations and pressures managing the Cubs. It wore him out.

The other problem Maddon faces in negotiating with the Cubs is that the team already has finalized its coaching staff for 2015. A manager would like to bring his own people, if possible, to fill the vital roles of bench, hitting and pitching coach. But that would not be the case if Maddon joins the Cubs.

As of this post, the reports of Maddon coming to terms with the Cubs have been tempered by other reports claiming that negotiations are still on-going, but expect a contract to be concluded soon.


As Gordon Wittenmyer wrote last month, the Cubs are not in the position to be big players in free agency.

Despite the growing hysteria that the Cubs are going to spend millions to get Joe Maddon, and hundreds of millions to sign Jon Lester and/or James Shields, the off-season motto should be "get a hold of yourselves."

Yes, the Cubs will search for more pitching during the winter, but any payroll flexibility is caused by big contracts falling off the books and as Wittenmyer reported, a $20 million in savings by baseball ops from its 2014 budget.

One has to analyze this closely to find the reality in the Cubs finances.

The Cubs baseball operations has had a "hard" budget, meaning that it was not allowed to exceed a gross number. As a result, the Cubs baseball operations were squeezed in saving as much money today to try to spend tomorrow.

The dead money coming off the books in 2015 is only $14.2 million. If this is considered the "savings" from the 2014 budget, then that is the additional money available to spend. Or, if you are thinking Epstein did save another $20 million in operational costs, then the Cubs could spend $34.2 million more in 2015.

The base line number for the Cubs payroll in 2015 is currently stands  $31.6 million. If one adds in the arbitration costs to retain players, the Cubs payroll may reach $60 million. But that is not guaranteed.

At the end of 2013, the Cubs promised that its payroll would increase $20-35 million. It went from $107 million down to $93 million, which was $21.5 million below the average major league payroll as compiled by Baseball Prospectus.  The Cubs payroll numbers have dropped every year in Ricketts tenure. It probably could drop more because Ricketts construction costs for the Wrigley renovations and the real estate ventures outside the ball park are now in full swing. 

“Eventually it’ll mean some more revenue, but the big mechanism by which we’ll realize significantly more revenue is really the TV deal,” Epstein said. “And the Wrigley improvements will help move the needle. But the paradigm shifter is really the TV deal.”

Another reason a new wave of spending is not going to happen soon is that the Cubs see the youngsters being "competitive" in 2015.  ‘‘So we’re not going to sell out to win in 2015,’’ Epstein said.

Even if the Cubs have $20 million to spend, that will still mean that the Cubs 2015 payroll will only be $80 million, another drop of $13 million in player contracts year over year. And $20 million is not going to pay for one year for an elite pitching prospect. It may not even be enough for an all-star catcher, when this year's qualifying offer is $15.3 million.

And then, for those who think Maddon is the man, his $5 million plus annual salary has to come out of the same hard baseball budget. So the real reality check for fans is that the Cubs will continue their second tier signings of pitchers needing a change of scenery or coming off TJ surgery in the hopes of catching more lightning in a bottle like with Scott Feldman or Jason Hammel.

October 29, 2014


The Sun Times reported Giants pitcher Jake Peavy has a idea: a package deal for the Cubs - - - Jon Lester and himself.

“No, I’m not offering a package to the Cubs,” he said, clarifying the impression he made while talking about himself, the Cubs and his pal Lester. “There’s a package deal out there for any team.”
Lester and Peavy added to a mix that might include star manager Joe Maddon running the show?

Peavy raved about his time in Chicago with the White Sox as a great experience.

What makes more sense than the Cubs is the White Sox. The Sox are much closer to being really good than the Cubs. Jose Abreu is a young Frank Thomas. The Sox starting rotation is very good. The defense has improved. 

The Cubs still only have a few proven players, like Castro and Rizzo. The Cubs can only sell "hope" that all the prospects will become major league talent, while the Sox need to upgrade catcher, left field and the bullpen.

If a fan dreams of an All-Star rotation, the White Sox with Peavy's package:

Chris Sale, Lester, Carlos Quintana, Peavy, Carlos Rodon.

October 28, 2014


Yahoo  Sports reports that the 2015 World Series, despite having great characters and interesting storylines, has hit a ratings low not seen since the first Series broadcast in 1947.

 So why are so few Americans captivated by the drama?

The dynamic, too-young-to-worry Royals that brought Kansas City its first pennant since 1985 and the colorful, resourceful San Francisco Giants back to their third Series in five years have split the first two games.

Yet the ratings for Fox’s game one broadcast were the lowest since the Fall Classic was first televised in 1947, continuing a steady, decade-long slide in the television audience for postseason baseball.

Have Americans, in their 21st century over-stimulated haste, at last lost their patience for the leisurely pace of the game?

“It has now become widely acknowledged,” says  Henry Blodget, “that even Major League Baseball is starting to recognize just the pace of the game takes forever.” While he notes that some game-hastening rules are being tested in the minor leagues, in the majors long breaks, tedious pitcher rituals and TV cutaways cause games to drag.

This year the typical game in the majors this season exceeded three hours, the longest average duration ever. Three decades ago, games were almost a half-hour shorter. MLB, an otherwise thriving industry in terms of attendance and revenues, and its newly elected Commissioner Rob Manfred has assigned a committee to figure out ways to quicken the pace of play. However, the players in the Arizona Fall League are having a tough time adjusting to the new pace of play rules.

Blodget notes that pro football continues to dominate in TV mindshare, with its built-for-TV physical drama and mayhem, augmented by runaway interest in fantasy football and gambling. Tellingly, the NFL’s Thursday night regular season game last week drew 25% more eyeballs than did World Series game one.

October 27, 2014


The news that Cardinals OF prospect Oscar Tavaras was killed in an auto accident is a sad event. The 22 year old had a bright major league future. He was killed when his car veered off the road in the Dominican Republic.

There are a host of issues that are quietly under the radar when dealing with foreign players.

The world is a dangerous place.

A few years ago, Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was kidnapped and held for ransom in his native Venezuela.  Players and their families are prime targets in underdeveloped, poor countries.

There is also an underlying question of lack of team supervision when foreign players return home for the off-season. What players do with their time is not monitored; some play winter ball, some get fat and rest. Some get wrapped up in family dramas. There is always a concern that a third world environment can impact any person's health, welfare and safety.

Since major league teams are investing more resources on Latin American and foreign talent, the normal risk assessments are higher. The political winds in one country could lead to adverse actions against a country's "rich" which include ball players. Visa and passport snafus are common place prior to spring training. With the hysteria about diseases from foreign lands, immigration standards may also change in the coming months.

Teams will probably view the added risk of foreign players as just another cost of doing business. Some try to minimize the risk by keeping the prospects in the AFL. But young kids probably get homesick and want to return home to their families. It is a balancing act.


The Cubs real look at solid starting pitching is best viewed in the reality that if the prospects pan out in 2015, then the Cubs will look to shore up the rotation in 2016.

MLBTR lists the current 2016 FA class:

Starting Pitchers
Clay Buchholz (31) – $13MM club option with a $245K buyout
Mark Buehrle (37)
Trevor Cahill (28) – $13MM club option with a $300K buyout
Jhoulys Chacin (28)
Bartolo Colon (43)
Ross Detwiler (30)
R.A. Dickey (41) – $12MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Marco Estrada (32)
Doug Fister (32)
Jaime Garcia (29) – $11.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Jeremy Guthrie (37) – $10MM mutual option with a $3.2MM buyout
Tim Hudson (40)
Scott Kazmir (32)
Ian Kennedy (31)
Mat Latos (28)
Mike Leake (28)
Tim Lincecum (32)
Kyle Lohse (37)
Corey Luebke (31) – $7.5MM club option with a $1.75MM buyout
Kris Medlen (30)
Bud Norris (31)
Ross Ohlendorf (33)
Mike Pelfrey (32)
Rick Porcello (27)
David Price (30)
Ricky Romero (31) – $13.1MM club option with a $600K buyout
Jeff Samardzija (31)
Alfredo Simon (35)
Jordan Zimmermann (30)

There is clearly more good quantity in this list than in the 2015 free agent class.

Price, Zimmerman, Latos, and Fister are top tier candidates.
Samardzija, Kennedy, Leake, Lincecum, Porcello, Buchholz and Kazmir are second tier candidates that would probably interest the Cubs more than the top liners (in terms of long term investment).
Short term flyers would inlcude Chacin, Detwiler, Medlin and Pelfrey.

If the Cubs are going to spend, this is the market more suitable for their financial restrictions.

October 26, 2014


Mark Texiera remarked that there are two kinds of major league pitchers. Those who have the "stuff" and those who are "location" pitchers.

Location pitchers need to hit their corners in order to be successful. A tight umpire strike zone turns an ace location (or control)  pitcher like Jame Shields into an ordinary pitcher.

A pitcher with "stuff" does not need a wide zone to be successful. A pitcher will throw anything anywhere because it moves and breaks so fast that a batter has no time to adjust. Madison Bumgarner of the Giants is one of those pitchers who can throw any of his pitches by a batter.

This also brings into the discussion the dichotomy of the regular season and post season. Teams may want to have a staff with a 20 game winner like Clayton Kershaw or Adam Wainwright. But in the post season, they have not been as effective. Kershaw got lit up in the NLDS (some point to bad managing by Mattingly as a cause) and Wainwright may have had a tender elbow. But pitchers like Bumgarner thrive on the post season, much like a gritty grinder Jack Morris did during his career. You probably can't tell what kind of playoff arm you have until you get to the post season.

Control pitchers are the type who will keep their team in the game. A pitcher with stuff dominates his opponent for 8 plus innings like Chris Sale. Every team needs a "shut down" starter to avoid long losing streaks during the season. It is very rare to find a shut down pitcher on the open market.

The Cubs current starters are location pitchers not power pitchers. Arrieta, Hendricks, Wood and Jackson are all control pitchers without a dominant out pitch. 

The majority of Cub fans believe that the team is going out and going to spend large on free agent pitching this off-season. As I indicated in previous posts, I don't think that will be the case. The Cubs are not ready to spend on pitching when the hitting is still so raw and immature. Trying to sign a Russell Martin to solidify the offense is also not going to happen because he is going to get multiple  $16 million/year offers from contending teams.

With so much cash going to be needed to rush construction on Wrigley Field (currently, the bleachers have been demolished), I don't see ownership wanting to "risk" overspending on pitching if the prospect rebuild program fails. No matter the initial good impressions of Alcantara, Baez and Soler, they still have not put together an respectable, full, major league season. All three did taper off production by the end of the year. The core group of fielders may take another two years to sort out. And that is probably the business time table to loosen the purse strings on the baseball budget.

October 25, 2014


An ESPN study concluded that the NFL remains the most popular league among 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States, with 38.9 percent of respondents naming it their favorite. The NBA was next at 30.1 percent, surpassing NCAA football at 27.5 percent. Next were college basketball at 23.8 percent, the MLB and Major League Soccer at 18.0 percent, and the National Hockey League at 8.9 percent.
Selig's legacy may be that he lost the next generation of baseball fans. This is Selig's last World Series. Perhaps nothing demonstrates how baseball has turned off young sports fans than how young sports fans have turned off the World Series.

Television ratings were up for last year's World Series. And so was the age of the viewers who watched it. The average age of those who watched the series was nearly 54, which is believed to be the oldest in history.

On the other hand, only 4.1 percent of children between the ages of 6-17 watched the series, the Nielsen media research firm reported.

One criticism of Bud Selig's reign as commissioner is that baseball has lost the next generation of fans. The games are too expensive for a family of four. Teams charge fans for everything, including signing up their children in a team fan club. The games are too long to hold the attention span of more technology astute kids who now have iPads, iPhones and hundred cable channels to explore.

Selig's tenure will be marked by the rise of the massive television contracts, and the huge increase in team values to owners. However, many believe that this is the high water mark of the sport. The television deals will fall due to the new distribution model emerging in the mobile digital age. With the major influx of international players, many young kids do not identify with their local players. And if the kids aren't playing the game with friends, they will have little interest in practicing their favorite ball player's batting stance.

What will be left for baseball: the statistical data farm for fantasy leagues? You don't need to watch games to play fantasy baseball.

There may be a tread of truth in the fact that baseball is as American as apple pie and Chevrolets, but America is not the America of 1950. Its demographics have changed significantly. It's culture embodied in the American Dream has stalled after the financial crisis. And there is no guarantee that any sport will continue to receive widespread, national support. A prime example is professional boxing. It used to be the king of spectator sports, with international superstars like Muhammad Ali. But today, hardly anyone knows who is the heavyweight champion.

October 24, 2014


When Andrew Friedman left the Rays for the Dodgers, Tampa was mildly shocked. But with today's news that manager Joe Maddon has exercised an opt-out clause in his contract, he won't manage the Rays in 2015. That is a death knell to the Rays.

Maddon has a stellar reputation as a major league manager. He has great feel of mentoring young players. As a franchise with a limited payroll, the Rays have been highly competitive in the AL East.

But the Rays are going head first into a transition period after the David Price trade. Times will be difficult, and the departure of two major foundational men is going to accelerate the decline.

But this puts Maddon on the market for a new job. Every other team is going to look hard at their current manager to weigh a potential upgrade.

Does anyone think that Rick Renteria has the skill set to lead the Cubs to a championship?

Does anyone think that Robin Ventura has the skill set to lead the White Sox to a championship?

By most measures, insiders would consider Maddon an upgrade over the two Chicago skippers.

But since Friedman has left for LA, Don Mattingly, who was already on the hot seat for some of his moves (especially in the playoffs), may be on the way out to make room for Maddon.

And since the Dodgers are apparently paying "double" for talent, Maddon will be drawn to the Dodgers by finances alone.



White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu has been named the Sporting News American League Rookie of the Year, as voted on by fellow AL players.

Abreu received 149 votes to run away with the award. The Angels’ Matt Shoemaker received four votes, followed by the Yankees’ Dellin Betances and Masahiro Tanaka (three votes each) and White Sox infielder Marcus Semien (one vote).

“For me, it means a lot that the players who play against me recognize my efforts, my numbers and performance,” Abreu said through an interpreter on a conference call Monday afternoon. “I am thankful for all of them to give me support. It’s a lot. I don’t really have words to describe what I’m feeling right now.”

Abreu, a 27-year-old from Cuba, hit .317 with 35 doubles, 36 home runs, 107 RBIs, a .581 slugging percentage and a .383 on-base percentage in 145 games this season.
He was the first rookie in major league history to rank in the top five in his league in batting average, home runs and RBIs. He also set the Sox rookie record for home runs and ranks among the top three rookies in Sox history for RBIs.

“I really am not a person that follows the numbers and the stats,” Abreu said. “I don’t like to talk about it. But I am sure that I will prepare every year like this to get the numbers I got this year and better. … I prepare myself in the best way possible for every day and every year. I don’t have to work on anything special, just to be more disciplined with my (work ethic) and that’s it.”

Abreu was a real bright spot for the White Sox this season. He can be a long term piece on a competitive team. If the White Sox can fix their bullpen, add a reliable catcher, and shore up left field production, the White Sox can be very competitive in 2015.

October 23, 2014


The Cubs barely hit 40,000 for any of their home games. Television ratings were dismal all season, with some reports the games barely getting 40,000 local viewers.

But that does not seem to be a huge problem in Korea.

Forbes reports that last Sunday,  a World Championship match series was held in Korea, where 40,000 fans sold out Seoul’s World Cup Stadium to watch Korean pros Samsung White and China’s Starhorn Royal Club compete for the honor of being the best team of the most popular game of the world, "League of Legends," which boasts 67 million monthly players.

Last year's championship held in LA had roughly 11,000 were in attendance. This time around the sponsor moved proceedings to Korea, the country that invented eSports where League has unsurprisingly been hugely popular. The venue nearly quadrupled in size, though Forbes had no official stream viewership numbers, the matches aired on Riot’s website, Twitch and even ESPN 3, the channel’s livestream service. Last year's ratings showed the viewership total was 32 million with 8.5 million watching concurrently. While the common assumption might be that this year’s viewership may surpass that, it is important to note that because of the placement of the final in Korea, it aired in essentially the middle of the night for North America, which could affect the total.

No matter. The numbers speak volumes on what interests young, international audiences.

40,000 people watched live  two five-man teams play a video game! And probably more than 8.5 million people watched the Koreans defeat the Chinese, 3 games to 1 in the best of five match.

In one day, this eSports event surpassed Cub viewership probably two-to-one.

And this eSports culture is going to grow, because the winning team won $1 million dollars.

Instead of playing organized sports, a kid today can sit on his sofa and dream of being a champion Legends player.

October 22, 2014


Some researchers use the period of 30 years to define "a generation."

In baseball terms, that means passing the fan torch from parent or grandparent to child.

In all fandom, the purpose to root your team to victory, and enjoy the ultimate success, a World Series championship.

The drought for some teams is staggering:

SeasonsTeamLast Won
104Chicago Cubs1908
64Cleveland Indians1948
52Texas RangersNever (formed 1961)
51Houston AstrosNever (formed 1962)
44San Diego PadresNever (formed 1969)
44Washington NationalsNever (formed 1969)
44Milwaukee BrewersNever (formed 1969)
36Seattle MarinersNever (formed 1977)
34Pittsburgh Pirates1979
30Baltimore Orioles1983

October 21, 2014


Cardinal fans are ripping their manager, Matheny, for losing the NLCS. It was the way he used his pitching staff which was the most damning for fans, especially putting in Wacha, who had not pitched in 20 days, to throw the 9th in a tie game.

Tommy Lasorda once said, "No matter how good you are, you're going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are you're going to win one-third of your games. It's the other third that makes the difference."

Lasorda is probably overstating his case. Statistically, a good manager may actually win only one or two games for his team by his in-game decisions, but a bad manager could lose a team three to five. Since the game is played on the field, the players executing their assigned tasks are the most important aspect of wins and losses. However, there is recognition that a manager needs to put his players in the best position to succeed. Letting a starter who is out of gas continue to pitch, like Dusty Baker did during the Cubs NLCS, led to a demoralizing team collapse.

Lasorda's take on a long season is based on his experience. Every team will lose at least 54 games. Every team will win at least 54 games. So how a team performs in the remaining 54 games is the key to the season. A .500 team only needs to win 27 of those contests. So for a team to be good to competitive, the season really comes down to those last 27 games. 

But those last 27 games are not necessarily at the end of season. Those could be critical contests in April, where teams with great starts tend to be front runners throughout the season. It comes down to about 9 three game series. Even if you go .500 in those 27 games, your team would win 94.5 games.

If you have an ace starter going in those 9 big series, the chances are you are more likely to win. If you have another near ace quality starter also pitching those series, you are more likely to take 2 of 3 games. So that takes the equation down to 18 critical games.

Even if a manager is tuned to this statistical dissection, one cannot manage the post-season like the regular season. In the post-season, you must play each game like it is an elimination game. There is much more pressure on the players. A good manager will try to shift the pressure to the other team, by forcing play on the field with base stealing, bunt hits, long at bats to wear down a pitcher. A good manager will also use his pitching staff differently, especially near the end of a series. An ace starter may be a better option from the pen in a game seven than the set-up man. And these decisions are magnified by the situation; and second guessing becomes a blood sport.

So it is not an exact science to determine whether Matheny deserves any of the fan wrath. On the other side, Ned Yost of the Royals had been considered a terrible manager during his career. But his team, despite his reputation, is in the World Series. This is one of the quirks of baseball. You never know.

October 20, 2014


Fangraphs has an interesting article on the Orioles rise to contention in the highly competitive AL East.

Fangraphs concluded that GM Dan Duquette has done an excellent job in focusing on raising his team’s floor while many clubs are more focused on raising the ceiling.

I have always thought Duquette was one of the brighter GMs in the game. He has not gotten the glowing press that other big market GMs tend to get. Most teams are looking to obtain All-Star caliber talent. A team of quality players, like the Yankees and Dodgers or Angels, should win a boat load of games.

The Orioles are not in the same financial atmosphere to try to buy a pennant. Instead, how a roster is created and sustained can yield very good results.

No doubt Duquette has created a deep Oriole roster, many relatively unknown players.

Fangraphs looked to see how it could calculate the floor for a team. It used negative WAR as a means of illustrating the base talent level for a squad. If you have negative WAR players on your roster, then your floor is lower than Replacement Level (AAA) talent.

Over the past three seasons, the Orioles have received the sixth-lowest cumulative negative WAR total, suggesting that while they may not always have a lot of star power, they don’t stock up on expensive stars while punting roster spots at the bottom of their 25-man group.

Fangraphs noted in 2014, Baltimore gave just 3.2 percent of its innings to negative-WAR pitchers (league average, excluding Baltimore, was 13.4) and 3.2 percent of its plate appearances to negative-WAR position players (league average, excluding Baltimore, was 19.4).

This follows a pattern that new Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman used when he was with the Rayswho have had the lowest negative WAR total over the past three seasons.

In contrast, the 2012 Cubs who lost 101 games had 22 players with a negative WAR. In 2014, with 89 losses, the Cubs had 19 players with a negative WAR. The 12 game improvement shows that the bottom was raised by 3 less negative WAR players and better performance from higher ceiling starters.

October 19, 2014


It has been reported that the Pirates will make a qualifying offer of $15.3 million qualifying offer to star free-agent catcher Russell Martin. 

Rumor around Chicago talking heads believed the Cubs would make a major pitch for Russell in free agency.

The Pirates had tried to re-sign Martin with a multiyear offer during the season, but it was rejected.  The qualifying offer itself represents quite a raise for Martin, although a huge season has set him up to prosper in free agency. Martin hit .290 with 11 home runs and 67 RBI, posted a .402 on-base percentage and a 5.5 WAR.

Martin's big season would seem to make the qualifying offer logical for the Pirates, who don't have revenue to match big-market teams in the open market. If the Pirates lose Martin, they would get a compensatory pick in the June draft.

Even though Martin has premiere numbers for a catcher, paying a backstop $16.0 plus million per season is a risky gamble for any club. Martin will want a multiyear deal in excess of the current "floor" of $15.3 million. And some team will probably meet his demands.

The Cubs may want people to think they are in the discussion on Martin, but there is no compelling need to overspend on a catcher at this time. The priority is on pitching. The Cubs have an adequate catcher in Wellington Castillo. And the front office has high hopes for Kyle Schwarber, who tore up the minors in his first professional season. Scouts think Schwarber could be a solid #3 hitter.

October 18, 2014


Rick Renteria has three years remaining on his Cubs contract. A great deal of Cubs observers believe Renteria is only a caretaker manager. He is supposedly good with young players; a teacher. But he does not have the track record to take a ball club from Point C to Point A (World Series).

What managers could be available in four years?

Current skippers whose contracts expire with Renteria are Bryan Price (Reds), Terry Francona, Walt Weiss, Don Mattingly, Bob Melvin, Bruce Bochy and Ryne Sandberg.

Bochy will probably get extended with the Giants, due to their current long term success. Mattingly does not seem to have the tools to get a superstar team to the next level. Weiss and Melvin are like journeymen players, meh. Sandberg is going to get an extended look in Philadelphia during its pending major roster overhaul. So this possibly puts Francona in play.

The Indians have continued to struggle as a small town franchise. It's player development profile has stalled and their prospects underperformed. Francona has a Boston connection with Theo Epstein. Francona is a big time manager, winning for the Red Sox. But at the same time, he helmed one of the great team implosions.

Cub fans would still like Joe Girardi, but he has 4 years left on his Yankee deal. And he had the chance to become the Cub manager, but declined to say in New York. If the Cubs are going to wait for Girardi, it could be a long and fruitless wait.

October 17, 2014


A fan posted this mid-2015 lineup card for the Cubs:

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

SP: Scherzer/Shields/Lester
SP: Arrieta
SP: Wood
SP: Whatever
SP: Whatever

The surplus of young shortstops are fit into four starting positions. And Kris Bryant moves from third, his natural position, to left field. In fact, half of the starting eight will be playing a new position.

It is fine to speculate what your team could, should, or would look like in a perfect (fantasy) world.

Yes, Baez could be better than Valbuena at third. Yes, Castro could move over to second. Bryant moving to left would be better than Coghlan.

But the poster stumbles across the Big problem that will hold back promotion of young talent and the signing of free agents: starting pitching.  If you think 40% of your rotation is "Whatever," i.e. replacement level AAA talent, then the team won't draw an elite starting pitcher. So the Cubs midsummer dream projects into a nightmare: 60% of your rotation is in flux.

Can the front office rework the starting rotation into a competitive five? If it was that easy, every team would be able to do it. The Cubs have the young talent to trade for proven pitchers, but it seems that the brain trust has fallen in love with their prospects to the point of hoarding them. This may be because this is their plan, their players and they need to prove to the world that they know what they are doing. Many organizations fall into this trap of overvaluing their own prospects and not seeing the big roster needs.

October 16, 2014


The rich get richer, especially in baseball.

The Dodgers may not have won the World Series this year, but they won the executive wars.

ESPN reported that the Dodgers have hired former Rays general manager Andrew Friedman as their new president of baseball operations.

Ned Colletti, who has been the Dodgers' general manager since 2005, will remain with the club in a new role as senior advisor to the president and CEO of the Dodgers, Stan Kasten.

Sources said that Friedman, in his role as president of baseball operations, will have the ability to hire a general manager.

Landing the 37-year-old Friedman is a coup for the Dodgers. A handful of teams have tried unsuccessfully to poach the talented young executive with a Wall Street background, who piloted the small-market, budget-conscious Rays to six consecutive winning seasons and four playoff appearances after taking over in 2008.

"Andrew Friedman is one of the youngest and brightest minds in the game today and we are very fortunate to have him join our organization," Kasten said in a statement. "The success he has had over the past nine years in molding the Tampa Bay Rays team has been incredible."

 Friedman had been one of the names in management circles when Theo Epstein was hired by the Cubs. Friedman has actual experience in building a farm system for a competitive small market team. Epstein was from the big market, free spending Red Sox.

October 15, 2014


For some it still has the cringe of walking down a dark, blind alley to find a serial killer; "five outs away from a World Series."

The 2003 Cubs were soooooooooooooooo close, yet so far away from making dreams come true.

And despite the public lynching of an innocent fan for alleged fan interference of a foul pop, the Cubs lost Game 6 by a butchered error by shortstop Alex Gonzalez and poor managerial decisions of Dusty Baker. And people tend to conveniently forget, the Cubs also lost Game 7 so the team lost its chance for World Series glory, not some kid named Bartman.

It is easier to find excuses than rely on the facts. Why some people wear the Cubs curse as some badge of honor is strange. Normal fans want their team to win, and not justify the losses by some cosmic fate.

The unintended consequences of the 2003 implosion continue to this day. This is when Wrigley Field was The Place to be  . . .  the bleachers will filled with drunken yuppies, sell out after sell out, a real party atmosphere around the park. It was in this intense environment Tom Ricketts noticed that the Cubs as a business drew massive support (money) win or lose. He would later convince his father to invest in the Cubs since it was like buying a money printing press.

So the fortunes of the entire franchise turned in 2003 as Ricketts became the owners of the club.

The heady days of Tribune spending and free spending housing boom would soon crash and burn in 2007, taking the Tribune into bankruptcy and the Cubs being sold. By most objective standards, the Cubs franchise has steadily gone down hill since the Ricketts purchased the team and its assets. Team performance cratered, attendance fell dramatically and ownership was more interested in real estate construction projects or fighting with the neighbors than getting a 2003-type competitive ball club on the field.

There was an instant myth that the Cubs were "saved" from the evil corporation by a billionaire family promising instant success and championships. It would not be a business, but run as a cherished community monument. But what we have learned since those initial press conferences is that the family has not put money into the team due to high debt load restrictions. Instead, the family has bought up property to build commercial venues to make Wrigley a 365 day destination spot like Times Square. Instead of rebuilding the major league roster with expensive major league talent, the money has been diverted to create an enclosed electronic signage wonderland inside Wrigley Field. The Ricketts have been more guarded with spending money than previous owners.

In the grand scheme, the Cubs have been set aside as the ugly stepsister. The Cubs are merely a tenant playing at Wrigley Field. The business side of the team is calling most of the shots. Perhaps some day, the Cubs will turn into a Cinderella story, but it is unlikely.

October 14, 2014

5 IN 3

Theo Epstein remarked that the front office has compressed five years of work into the last three seasons. He was mainly talking about rebuilding the Cubs minor league system. He continues to believe, or at least publicly says, that the Cubs will be competitive in 2015.

But as he said "We are ready to compete,"  he told season ticket holders that "progress is not linear" and that they wouldn't "sell out" the future just to make 2015 "the year."

This is the "I told you so" point when the Cubs don't make a big free agent splash prior to spring training. And he most likely made mention of this because the Cubs won't be active this winter, to the level of the fan base expectations.

There are many other clubs farther along in competitive mode who may truly believe that they are just one or two players away from a post-season run. Even the Brewers, Reds and Pirates are in that win-now mode. The Cubs current payroll sits well below those three clubs, but there are the slumbering big market giants ready to get back into the game - - - the Red Sox and Yankees are the spending monsters ready to pounce this off-season. Even the teams that were a hair length away from moving on in the playoffs, the Dodgers, Angels, will have money to spend to get to the next level.

So Epstein's annual take of when the Cubs will turn things around is another 15 month or so extension. This pushes off the final diagnosis of the rebuild plan to 2016.

Only two players have shown lasting consistency: Castro and Rizzo. Both had bounce back years which means they have learned their profession: the need to adapt in order to succeed.

The rest of the new portion of the roster is unproven. Baez, Alcantara, Lake, Soler, Watkins, Arrieta and Hendricks are still unproven over an entire season. The rest of the major league roster is journeymen. Epstein may find solace that his team is on the cusp of doing something major. But that major move may be more wins, but it is just as likely to be more losses. Rookies and sophomore slumps are too common in baseball. 2015 looks to be a classic shakedown cruise.

October 13, 2014


The Tribune reports:

President Theo Epstein hasn't been shy about the Chicago Cubs' aggressive pursuit of landing as many as two marquee pitchers this winter through free agency and perhaps trades.

But Epstein acknowledged the risks of acquiring pitchers, from the rash of season-ending elbow surgeries to the lack of guarantees that landing top starting pitching would assure a World Series title, as the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers discovered.
Epstein didn't mention teams specifically as examples. All he had to do was look at his own roster, as he expressed regrets over the signing of Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52 million contract before the 2013 season. Since joining the Cubs, Jackson is 14-33 and has two years and $22 million left on his contract with no guarantees of keeping his spot in the rotation for 2015.

“We wouldn’t do it over again,” Epstein told a group of season ticket holders at the Oriental Theatre. “It’s a mistake. But to Edwin’s credit, he’s shown up every day and worked hard.”

Epstein also got a negative return on reliever Kyuji Fujikawa, whom he signed to a two-year, $9.5 million contract before the 2013 season.

>>>  To a house with many disgruntled season ticket holders, Epstein comes clean: he is not infallible. This should signal to the most loyal Theoists that their lord and savior is not perfect. 

The all the eggs in one basket approach is high risk at low cost because home grown talent is a lot cheaper and controllable than an annual spendthrift spending spree in the free agent market. 

Marquee pitchers like Max Scherzer already turned down 7 years/$144 million from the Tigers ($20.5 million/year.) Jon Lester and James Shields will want to command more than that sum as well. 

There is no reason Cubs ownership is willing to spend $300 million on two pitchers when the Ricketts family is in the midst of spending a half billion on real estate projects in and outside of Wrigley Field. The business side may trust Theo to run a baseball team, but not to spend money. Epstein's two big pitching signings have been busts. The stakes are too high to make more costly ones.

Epstein is still selling the season ticket holders and fan base that the turnaround is just around the corner. He states that the goal in 2015 is to be competitive, be a wild card contender. In order for that to happen, all the kids have to play at veteran levels. None of the new guys has a full major league season under their belts. If the cornerstone of the plan is to have Kris Bryant in June put the team on his back and march to the playoffs, that is a fairy tale of epic proportions. 

But Epstein himself is on the clock. His contract has only two years to go. While the business side has given themselves extensions, the baseball side has not. It shows that the priority in this franchise is toward revenue and building projects (as was the case in the dismal reign of P.K. Wrigley) than baseball. 

If Epstein is setting himself up for a pass-fail grade for 2015, there may be a reason for such madness. If the rebuild fails, then he can get himself out of town a year early. If the rebuild works, then he can set his own lucrative terms and wrestle some power back from the business side.

October 12, 2014


The constant drum beat of upbeat Cubs euphoria is getting on some people's nerves. The cheerleading about the great Cubs turnaround for 2015 is loud, clear and ridiculous.  The bandwagon drivers are spouting off that the Cubs great farm system is going to produce great All Star caliber players right out of the gate because Epstein and Hoyer are boy geniuses who had a plan, and made it work.

The reality check is that the Cubs are following the path of the weakest sister. By putting all one's eggs in the minor league system, and needing home grown talent to be scouted, evaluated, drafted, signed, and most critically, developed, is not an easy task. The Royals have had a good farm system for a long time. But despite those awards, it took the Royals 29 years to get to the post season.

But desperate Cub fans are literally dying for the post season after watching the last terrible four years. There has been some progress in the win column, but the team still finished last in the NL Central. And there has been no commitment that the Cubs are going to veer off this minor league only rebuilding plan by splashing into the deep end of the free agent pool.

With the new tender amount at $15.3 million, even second tier free agents are going to be too expensive in a "small market" rebuild program.

The delusion is even more apparent when the bandwagon claims that the Cubs have Cy Youngsters in Arrieta and Hendricks to take the team to the next level. Arrieta was a touted Orioles prospect who has more bad innings in his career than good ones. Hendricks has not had a full season in the majors, and he has yet to adjust to the league that will learn his pitching technique. Even the solid bullpen may have had concurrent career years - - - Rondon could be the next Riveria or the Next Marmol.

There just is not enough evidence to say that the new Cubs are going to be good next year or the year after.  There is more evidence that the big bat prospects have fundamental problems at the plate (an alarming strike out rate). A line up composed mainly of .210 hitters is going to lose 100 games.

Besides the fundamental baseball issues, 2015 cheerleaders have not factored in the probability of injuries. Soler has had an injury every year of his professional career. Hendricks has not pitched a full major league season. Baez has a high torque swing which could lead to back problems. Rizzo has had a bad back at the end of the season. Castro has dinged himself. Castillo has had a heavy workload behind the plate and has had injuries. The Cubs are not deep at any position to sustain a run to be competitive in 2015.

The higher expectations is to draw fans back into the Cubs world - - - i.e., to sell tickets. The expensive Wrigley renovations need cash flow. By marketing to potential season ticket holders "the wait is over" will bring in a few fence sitters. But not enough to make Ricketts borrow money to build the New Wrigley or spend a hundred million dollars on a free agent pitcher.

When the cheerleaders tout the rebuilding plan as a success, they still condition it on the fact that the team needs to fill in the gaps with free agents. Free agents to fill LF, CF and two starting spots. Possibly wanting to upgrade at catcher. Suddenly, you start adding up the "gaps" and you objectively see you still have half the starting positions that are not being adequately filled from within. This is classic double talk. When Ricketts bought the team, he announced it was only one or two players away from a championship. How wrong he was. But it the same story we are hearing now: one or two or three free agents away from a divisional title.

But any free agent will think twice about the Cubs. Recent history shows that quality free agent stars would rather take the money and sign with a real contender (Dodgers, Yankees, Tigers, Rangers, Angels) than a last place rebuilding club like the Cubs. Quality free agents are at the peak of their careers, and want to add to their legacy by getting into the postseason now. If the money is the same, who honestly believes Jon Lester is going to sign with the Cubs over the Yankees? Or the Dodgers? Or the Angels? Big market teams that can spend for talent are a bigger drawing card to a free agent than small market  who are counting on prospects to win now.

The real expectation for the 2015 Cubs is around 72 wins. And that should not move the fan-o-meter very far toward being "all in" next year.

October 11, 2014


It is hard for Nationals fans to get used to losing a playoff game when you opponent only scores on a walk, a ground out and a wild pitch.  A Cub fan would remark, "get used to it."

October 10, 2014


This is not good news for clubs who want to retain stars, or teams who want to bid for free agents because the price of the game is going up, again.

 The Associated Press has calculated the value of the free agent qualifying offer will rise from $14.1 million last off season to $15.3 million this off season, which means teams hoping to receive draft pick compensation for losing a free agent will need to risk the player accepting a one-year deal for that amount.

Last offseason zero of the 22 players who received $14.1 million qualifying offers accepted them, although several players who turned them down and ended up regretting the decision later.

The price of the qualifying offer is the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players in baseball and since being introduced in 2012 has risen from $13.3 million to $14.1 million to $15.3 million.

Among the free agents who seem like good bets to receive qualifying offers this winter: Max Scherzer, James Shields, Hanley Ramirez, Victor Martinez, Pablo Sandoval, J.J. Hardy, Russell Martin, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, David Robertson.

Impending free agents who were traded during the season (Jon Lester, for example) are not eligible to receive qualifying offers.

The question becomes to the current team is a Scherzer worth more than $15.3 million per year? And for other clubs, is a Russell Martin worth $15.3 million a season if he turns down the Pirates qualifying offer?  It seems the price has edged to the balancing point where clubs are hesitant to go either way.

October 9, 2014


MLBTR has a detailed analysis of the Cubs 2015 roster commitments and potential areas that the team will address in the off season.

The Cubs have few guaranteed contracts in 2015: Castro, Rizzo, E. Jackson, Soler and Sweeney. It gives the Cubs great flexibility.

The Cubs have several players who are arbitration eligible: Baker, Wright, McDonald, Coghlan, Valbuena, Ruggiano, T. Wood, Strop, Arrieta, Doubront and Castillo.

The Cubs have contract options for pitchers  Fujikawa, Wada and Turner.

RP Villaneuva is a free agent.

MLBTR article notes that some dead money is coming off the books, namely Soriano's which means the Cubs only currently owe $25.5MM to five players under contract for 2015.  They could spend another $17MM or so on arbitration eligible players, bringing total commitments to around $43MM for 16 players (64% of the roster).

When one factors in the Cubs will probably keep the following players at major league minimums: P Grimm, Hendricks, Ramirez, Vizcaino, Rondon, C Lopez, IN/OF Alcantara, Baez, Watkins, that is 24 players on the opening day roster at a payroll of around $47 million.

The holes are the same ones for the last few seasons.

SP: Arrieta, Hendricks, T. Wood, Doubront and either Turner or Wada, if tendered, are the current rotation.

OF: Soler, Alcantara and Coghlan are your current starting outfielders, with Sweeney and Watkins back ups.

IN: Valbuena, Castro, Baez and Rizzo are set until Bryant makes his debut in late June.

C: Castillo is the starter, and Lopez will probably take Baker's spot to save some money.

People believe the Cubs have critical areas to upgrade: LF, CF, 3B, C and SP. Only Bryant's promotion will solve one of those concerns.

The bullpen of Grimm, Strop, Wright, Vizcaino and Rondon is pretty much set.

What is an appropriate payroll for the 2015 Cubs?  MLBTR  suggests the middle of the pack with a $110 million payroll, or a $70 million war chest to spend on free agents like SP Lester or Shields.

But as I have predicted, the Cubs will not spend greatly in the off season on Tier 1 free agents. On paper and media speculation, the money is there, but in reality with all the construction projects and other activities of ownership, the money has been spent elsewhere.

The only reason the baseball side will push for more spending is that Epstein's contract is up in two years (2017), which is prior to the alleged television windfall of 2020. Epstein may be starting to feel the pressure of his rebuilding plan making the Cubs a real force in the NL Central. He will probably be told to ride his prospects through 2015, and if they show the consistency and improvement to be real major league contributors, then 2016 will be the year to spend real money on quality free agents.

October 8, 2014


For all the talk of Cubs spending big money this off season, the reality comes closer with Jesse Rogers piece this week at espn.com:

League sources indicate that the Cubs could be interested in  Oakland Athletics outfielder Jonny Gomes for this role. He checks the boxes for leadership and playoff experience, having been to the postseason four of the past five years playing for three teams, including the A's in 2012 and 2014. He's exactly the type of player the Cubs' front office is undoubtedly looking for. He won a championship with Boston last season before winding up back to Oakland this year, hitting a combined .234 with six home runs and 37 RBIs between the two teams. "The outfield is always an opportunity where you can add talent and the parts can fit well together," Epstein said.

Translation: the outfield is where a platoon works best, and it's the leadership, not the numbers, that the Cubs are looking for. The right-handed-hitting Gomes will turn 34 in November and isn't an everyday player, but he might fit nicely in left field along with incumbent Chris Coghlan.  Gomes might find an American League team more to his liking because he could find at-bats as a designated hitter as well as in the outfield, but the Cubs could probably lure him to Chicago with the right two-year deal.

Gomes, made $5 million last season for sub-par production. The Cubs may get the player on a steep discount, because of past performance and part time status. But by signing a bunch of platoon players is not going to win more ball games, because they are platoon players for a reason: not good enough to start. Rotating journeymen at the end of their useful careers is not "competitive" roster rebuilding.

October 7, 2014


This is the type of move to expect this off season:

MESA, Ariz. (Cubs.com)-- The Cubs continued to add pitching to the organization, claiming left-hander Joseph Ortiz off waivers from the Rangers on Monday. With the move, the Cubs' 40-man roster is now full.

Ortiz, 24, went 2-2 with a 4.23 ERA in 32 relief appearances for the Rangers in 2013 before being limited to 15 Minor League appearances last season because of a fractured left foot. He was injured when he was hit by a motorcycle while walking on the street in Venezuela.

He began 2014 on the 60-day disabled list and made two rehab appearances with the Rangers' Rookie League team in Arizona in July before joining Double-A Frisco, where he posted a 4.50 ERA in 13 relief outings.

A native of Venezuela, Ortiz originally signed with the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent on Aug. 28, 2006. In 217 relief appearances over eight Minor League seasons, he is 18-15 with 31 saves and a 2.44 ERA.


In 2014, the Cubs as a team, struck out 24.2 percent of the time at plate.

It is a staggering total (1477 Ks).

And all the new prospects, from Baez to Soler, are high torque home run or miss batters.

If a team strikes out 24.2 percent of their at-bats, that means in a game, the Cubs are not putting the ball into play 6.5 times per game (or 7 ABs). With the overall fielding averages around .985 percent, the Cubs are losing a base runner 0.15 percent of the time when their hitters fail to put a ball into play.

It may not sound like much. But that is a full base runner per game eliminated from any chance of scoring. That is 162 base runners lost. Depending on the situation, with no outs a runner on first scores 43 percent of the time, but with 2 outs, only 6.2 percent of the time. Under this opponent error rate view, the Cubs would be losing at least 0.24 runs per game.

If one goes by an old rule of thumb that a team should be able to score a run per every three hits, the Cubs are losing 0.58 runs per game (7 ABs/4) based on team BA of .250.

In 2014, the Cubs scored 614 runs (12th in NL). The Cubs pitchers allowed 707 runs (13th in the NL). If the Cubs strike outs cost the team 0.58 runs/game, over a full season that costs the Cubs potentially 94 runs.  Add that to the total runs, gives the Cubs 708 runs scored - - - even with runs allowed (which some would say a .500 club). 708 runs scored would put the Cubs third in the NL after Colorado and the Dodgers.

The basic rule of thumb is to win, you need to outscore your opponent. But if a team has high strike out totals, then you are giving your opponent a large run advantage of a half a run a game. 

October 6, 2014


Lord Theo made his message clear last week on the State of the Cubs. (See previous post).
Now, minion GM Jed Hoyer was on the Kaplan radio show last week.

On trying to win via free agency: “Well I think if you look at the way baseball has evolved and become a younger man’s game, and look at the playoffs and the teams in the playoffs you can see it’s much less about (buying wins) than ever before. Look at the teams the last two nights with the Royals and Pirates. Those teams are built from within. The Giants have a big payroll but their talent is homegrown. You can’t do this through free agency anymore. It’s an out-of-date look at how to build a team now. … It’s an out-of-date philosophy on team building.”

On what pieces the Cubs are looking to add in free agency: “Theo said the other day that free agency is not for the faint of heart. You go into free agency knowing that 80 percent of players go to the team with the highest bid, and if there’s a lot of teams bidding, the bidding can get really high, and well beyond what you expect. No doubt there are a lot of risky investments in free agency. One of the things we think about as we build our team is we will have a lot of really young and inexpensive position players, so there’s a portfolio aspect of looking at your team. If you get a ton of value out of pre-arbitration players on offense, you can look at it and afford to go out and find some pitching if you don’t have that in the system. In general it’s rare to have no weakness in your farm system. It’s rare to cover every hole, so the area you want to pursue in free agency is to complete your team and figure out what you couldn’t do through the farm system and through the draft. You can complete those things in free agency, and that’s how we look at it.”

On if chairman Tom Ricketts will spend if there is an opportunity to make a splash: “No question. Tom has been so patient and so good to us as we’ve come to him and talked about our process and plan. He’s totally on board. The beauty of having an owner like this is he wants the team to be in the family forever, so let’s take the time to build it the right way so we can become one of those organizations everyone looks to. It’s clear they have a long vision in what they’re doing. When an owner has that vision, things almost always work out. Having patience in this business is almost always rewarded.”

On the criticism that the process is taking too long, and players like Javy Baez don’t look ready: “I think it’s expected. People put their Cubs hats on in the morning, and you’re a Cubs fan and you want to see the team win. When it’s not winning you get frustrated. That’s the nature of being a fan. We’re more likely to be patient than the fan base. And I think on the whole the fan base has been really patient. But not having people be critical of what we’re doing would be unusual.

“As far as Javy goes, we have all the faith in the world that Javy will make the adjustments, but I can guarantee almost all the guys we bring up will go through struggles, and their ability to work through those and make adjustments will impact whether they’re a big leaguer or not. At some point Jorge Soler will go through a slump, and when it happens people will question his swing or whatever is making him unsuccessful. … You can make a lot of really bad mistakes in this game by looking at 21- or 22-year-old players and determining after a short while they won’t make it and giving up on them. We believe in these guys and we’re gonna allow them some playing time and, potentially, some rough patches. Ricky (Renteria) is very patient with these guys. He knows these guys will struggle and he’s willing to go through that pain to get the reward at the other end. As far as Baez, it’s not the last time one of our guys will struggle, and that’s part of living with young players.”

>>>> Whoa, whoa whoa - - - MLB is a "young man's league?" "You can't build a team via free agency any more!"  You have to have homegrown talent. What a bulldozer full of crap: what teams are in the playoffs?  The Dodgers, Angels, Tigers - - - all spend huge dollars in free agents and take huge payroll risks. This is a clearer message than Theo's ramblings: THE CUBS ARE NOT SPENDING MONEY ON FREE AGENTS.

The Cubs value "pre-arbitration" players even in free agency which means FRINGE JOURNEYMEN like Valbuena, Ruggiano, Kalish, the types that got the team to a rousing last place finish. The reason: cost control. A first year arb player may get 25% of his FMV; a second year guy 50% and third year guy 75%. And you don't have to sign them long term and risk them getting injured on a year to year arb program.

If Ricketts wants to own the team "forever" then that really means he needs to save his money, cut down the debt and find more money sources besides baseball. So if he is "on board" with the plan to just get young players, then the plan is not to get old FA players = saving money. So much so, that the team is willing to let their prospects "go thorough rough patches" of pure suckage instead of winning with veterans.

Steve Rosenbloom is right: the Cubs keep talking down to fans as being stupid.

October 4, 2014


Many media members, including head cheerleader David Kaplan, are jumping up and down with joy that the Cubs will be "contenders" in 2015.

Kaplan is the loudest proponent of the Plan. He praises Theo Epstein like a man who was just healed by snakes in a revival tent on a hot summer day in Southern Mississippi.  He claims that the Plan was the only solution to become a contender. But only small small market teams like Kansas City have had to slog through a pure home grown talent search - - - and the Royals took 29 years of their Plan to reach the postseason.

But the media frenzy is part of the Cubs ticket office's need to sell more season ticket packages for 2015. And to get those package deposits in earlier than previous years. You see, Ricketts has to get more cash flow this winter in order to pay for his construction projects.

Kaplan believes that the Cubs prospects are going to be 2015 All-Stars; Rizzo, Castro, Soler, Bryant, Hendricks and Arrieta. But in his Cubbie kool aid stupor, he forgets about all the other "can't miss" prospects from past contending teams: Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Mark Prior, Brett Jackson. And these prospects can come up with a splash but then spin out of control like strike out machine Javy Baez.

To temper his giddiness, Kaplan believes that the Cubs will spend big for a free agent pitcher like Jon Lester and a leadership guy, like catcher Russell Martin. And maybe sign another second tier outfielder. But there is no evidence that Ricketts is going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on free agency this winter. In fact, the evidence clearly points to Ricketts not spending money on baseball. The Cubs payrolls have declined in every year of Ricketts ownership. Ricketts has to save money to pay for his ambitious construction projects. And despite the optimism, the Cubs still finished last in the NL Central. One or two players are not going to turn around the team.

Even Epstein himself infers that he is waiting for the business side to get its act together. He infers that there is not a big market budget for the baseball operations. And he thinks that the time for a big infusion of new team revenue will come only when the Cubs can redo their television deals in 2020.

The Cubs plan under Ricketts has not shown that it is in "win now" mode like the Detroit Tigers. It pans the opposite conclusion. Trade away veterans, including an entire starting rotation, to stock the system with prospects, hoping that a few will pan out. Sell the concept of "hope" to loyal but beaten down fan base. Keep the media drumbeat of things are turning around at high levels of excitement.

Even high school cheerleaders back down when their team is losing by four touchdowns late in the 4th quarter.

October 3, 2014


"I’m just focused on growing the organization. But I’m sure we’ll talk this winter about sort of longer-term plans and how all of the different personnel fit into that mix. It’s not really a pressing issue. I love coming to work each day. I love the people I work with. I love the challenge that we have here.” So said Cubs President Theo Epstein as the Cubs season ended.

The Cubs barely made it out of another historic milestone. The last game victory over the Brewers stopped the record books from reflecting that for the first time in franchise history, the Cubs would have lost 90 or more games in four consecutive seasons. It would have been a new level of futility.

Epstein continues to talk around the fact that the "business side" challenges are impacting on his ability to use all the tools on the baseball side of the business. The bottom line is always money. The team's high debt service, and massive capital improvement projects leaves no free cash for the team to spend on highly priced free agents.

“It’s a good feeling for everyone associated with the Cubs to see the process start,” Epstein said. “It’s been a long time coming, a lot of hard work from many of the folks on the business side overcoming a lot of obstacles. But it’s not something that we monitor on a daily basis or anything like that.
“We’re just trying to go out and execute our baseball plan, and I think eventually it will mean some more revenue. But the big mechanism by which we’ll realize significantly more revenue is really the TV deal. The Wrigley improvements will help move the needle, but the sort of paradigm-shifter is really the TV deal.”

Things budget crunch won't change until 2020, when the Cubs are free to start their own cable network. It’s still unclear where the team will take its WGN games after this season, or how to bridge the TV money while Wrigley Field is under construction.

But the turnaround still has not left the harbor dock. Yes, there have been many prospects called up to the majors, but the boat still has many leaks to fix, including Javy Baez's massive strike out rate. And just as the columnists speculate about an open checkbook to sign free agent pitchers this winter, the fiction continues as well that in 2020 there will be a billion dollar television deal for the Cubs. As technology continues to speed along with mobile connectivity, there may not be a traditional sports cable channel business model in 2020.

So Epstein continues to hedge his bets on his own Plan by saying that it is still all contingent on a great TV deal in 2020.

But a week after the season ended, Epstein was back selling "the hope machine" for 2015.

"Overall, for the organization, I think 2015 will be a little bit different than the previous three seasons in that we now think we have the talent to compete,"said Epstein said on September 30th. "And any time you have enough talent to compete you want to set your sights high. We proved we can be very competitive within this division and when you have a chance to compete you should set your sights high and that means our goal is the NL Central title next year."

Even though his the finished in last place with a 73-89 record, Epstein sounds optimistic.

"We're going to be competing while we develop young talent," Epstein said. "It isn't easy but it's exciting, very exciting. We're in a position, perhaps as soon as this offseason, and certainly over the next 15 months, we're going to be adding some talent from outside the organization that will further round out our club," Epstein said. "We're going to be very involved," Epstein said. "We will add talent from outside the organization. I hope we add impact talent, but it has to make sense. We can't completely sell out for 2015. It's starting to be the right time to add impact talent. We try to look at these things in stages. Between this offseason, next year's trade deadline and next offseason, we will add impact talent from outside the organization."

Okay, we get the bullet point: you are bringing in more talent "from outside the organization."  Which means two things: one, the organization does not have depth; two, the prospects may not be the impact players sold to the public; and three, maybe adding "impact" players will help divert attention that the Cubs have tremendous holes to fill in their 2015 roster. And when do you "skip" adding impact free agents unless you don't have any money to spend?

But then at the same time, he puts the burden of winning back on his coaches with the current talent.
"Their job will be to continue to develop young players but also put the team in a position to win on a nightly basis," Epstein said. "The 2015 Cubs are in a much better position to compete and to win, certainly than the 2012 Cubs," Epstein said. "We acknowledge it's a process. I do think we have so much going for us."

Epstein said the higher expectations are built into the ongoing process of ‘‘developing young players’’ in the big leagues. ‘‘So we’re not going to sell out to win in 2015,’’ he said.

The last quote is the big takeaway from Epstein's State of the Cubs end of season press conference.

For all the quotes, there is little information on how Epstein plans to turnaround the sunken ship. And there is clearly a ramp up of expectations, but a down play on spending money to improve the team.

October 2, 2014


I still vividly remember putting a white 9 volt Emerson radio under my pillow to fall asleep listening to Jack Quinlan broadcast a Cubs-Dodgers game from LA. My parents would get upset with the high cost of batteries during the summer.

It is rare to have a life long constant. For generations, it was WGN radio and Cubs games.

Since 1925, WGN has broadcast Cubs games.

Many of us grew up with Vince Lloyd and Lou "The Good Kid" Boudreau. You'd take your transistor radio to the game to listen to their call. Boudreau was very good and "teaching" kids how to play the game, especially fielding and base running. The descriptions were clear enough to paint a real time picture of the action from the ball park.  And since we played baseball in the park just about every day, we learned the nuisances of the game by practice and listening to the radio.

The Cubs are moving their broadcast from WGN-AM to WBBM AM/FM. The simple reason was money. WGN was losing money due to the Cubs poor teams. WBBM is looking for more sports programming, and packaged the game broadcasts with other content/shows. Now, it is unclear whether the Cubs games may be rotating like TV broadcasts throughout the CBS radio stations, but that is probably the case since other sports teams will have contract priority over any broadcast conflicts.

Change is sometimes difficult for people to accept.

The radio change is minor as compared to the upcoming changes inside Wrigley Field. But it is still an end of a bygone era.


Moving on: Cubs end a remarkable era on WGN Radio

My latest Chicago Tribune column is on the end of an era in Chicago.
Consider this: If the Cubs stay on their new radio outlet, WBBM-AM 780, for as long as they were on WGN-AM 720, fans will be listening to games on that station in 2069. Assuming, of course, there’s radio and baseball.
From the column:
Nothing lasts forever, but the idea of the Cubs leaving WGN-AM 720 seemed as unlikely Ernie Banks suddenly proclaiming that the Cardinals are his favorite team.
WGN and Cubs baseball have been such a fixture in fans’ daily lives that only first names were required. For one generation, it was tuning into “Vince and Lou”; for another it was listening to “Pat and Ron.”
This is a relationship that dates back to 1925, with WGN being the exclusive radio home for the Cubs since 1959, currently the longest-running association in baseball. Yet it all comes to an end with the season finale Sunday.
Next year, the Cubs will begin a seven-year deal to air their games on WBBM-AM 780. As usual, money is a prime factor for the switch. WGN exercised an out-clause in its contract after suffering heavy financial losses because of the Cubs’ recent struggles. While the station wanted to keep the Cubs, WBBM swooped in, offering more cash with a multi-platform package that goes beyond airing games.
Indeed, it is the close of a remarkable era in sports radio, and one that could be repeated on the TV side if the Cubs also leave WGN-9; negotiations are on-going for a new deal. The whole situation is hard to digest for Jack Rosenberg, who spent 45 years as sports editor for WGN Sports.
“I know money talks,” said Rosenberg, 88. “We can’t get around that. But I’m sorry to see this happen. WGN and the Cubs were supposed to be forever. It’s hard to believe it won’t.”
If only the Cubs had similar talent on the field as they did in the radio booth. Dave Eanet, WGN Radio’s sports director, noted that Sports Illustrated recently did a long article lauding the Cardinals’ long run at KMOX-AM that featured Caray and Jack Buck.
“It’s hard to argue with those guys, but we’ve had a star-studded roster doing Cubs games here (Harry Caray, Vince Lloyd, Milo Hamilton, Jack Quinlan),” Eanet said. “It won’t be long before Pat (Hughes) is in the Hall of Fame.”
- See more at: http://www.shermanreport.com/moving-on-cubs-end-a-remarkable-era-on-wgn-radio/#sthash.E5pVwkTD.dpuf


Moving on: Cubs end a remarkable era on WGN Radio

My latest Chicago Tribune column is on the end of an era in Chicago.
Consider this: If the Cubs stay on their new radio outlet, WBBM-AM 780, for as long as they were on WGN-AM 720, fans will be listening to games on that station in 2069. Assuming, of course, there’s radio and baseball.
From the column:
Nothing lasts forever, but the idea of the Cubs leaving WGN-AM 720 seemed as unlikely Ernie Banks suddenly proclaiming that the Cardinals are his favorite team.
WGN and Cubs baseball have been such a fixture in fans’ daily lives that only first names were required. For one generation, it was tuning into “Vince and Lou”; for another it was listening to “Pat and Ron.”
This is a relationship that dates back to 1925, with WGN being the exclusive radio home for the Cubs since 1959, currently the longest-running association in baseball. Yet it all comes to an end with the season finale Sunday.
Next year, the Cubs will begin a seven-year deal to air their games on WBBM-AM 780. As usual, money is a prime factor for the switch. WGN exercised an out-clause in its contract after suffering heavy financial losses because of the Cubs’ recent struggles. While the station wanted to keep the Cubs, WBBM swooped in, offering more cash with a multi-platform package that goes beyond airing games.
Indeed, it is the close of a remarkable era in sports radio, and one that could be repeated on the TV side if the Cubs also leave WGN-9; negotiations are on-going for a new deal. The whole situation is hard to digest for Jack Rosenberg, who spent 45 years as sports editor for WGN Sports.
“I know money talks,” said Rosenberg, 88. “We can’t get around that. But I’m sorry to see this happen. WGN and the Cubs were supposed to be forever. It’s hard to believe it won’t.”
If only the Cubs had similar talent on the field as they did in the radio booth. Dave Eanet, WGN Radio’s sports director, noted that Sports Illustrated recently did a long article lauding the Cardinals’ long run at KMOX-AM that featured Caray and Jack Buck.
“It’s hard to argue with those guys, but we’ve had a star-studded roster doing Cubs games here (Harry Caray, Vince Lloyd, Milo Hamilton, Jack Quinlan),” Eanet said. “It won’t be long before Pat (Hughes) is in the Hall of Fame.”
- See more at: http://www.shermanreport.com/moving-on-cubs-end-a-remarkable-era-on-wgn-radio/#sthash.E5pVwkTD.dpuf

October 1, 2014


The City of Chicago is seeking to remove to federal court the rooftop owners lawsuit against the approval of the Cubs renovation plans. The city's attorneys cite the rooftop owners complaints of constitutional and due process issues.

However, the basis of the action is administrative review of the landmark and city council's actions, which is based upon state law. Federal courts hear only cases that involve federal laws and federal constitutional questions. State courts have concurrent jurisdiction to hear matters that include due process and equal protection claims, under both federal and state constitutions.

The probable reason the city is trying to move the case to the federal court is to delay a decision. State court judges are assigned cases to their individual calendars, and in some respects can make decisions quicker than other court calendars. Federal court judges have individual calendars, but there is standing rule that criminal matters, such as hearings and trials, take precedent over civil matters.

The federal court can conclude it has not compelling reason to keep the case, and send it back to the state court. This procedure does afford the city more time and delay any decision on the merits.

Meanwhile, the delay gives the Cubs a running start on breaking ground on the bleacher expansion and the installation of the seven new outfield signs.