November 30, 2014


Baseball America, the bible of the minor leagues, has a list of the most intriguing prospects available at the winter meetings Rule 5 draft. Though the Cubs have a full 40 man roster, it is subject to at least three waivers to make room for other acquisitions. The Cubs, like most other teams that have picked a Rule 5 choice (and have to keep him on the major league roster for entire season), have had mixed results.

Here is the list with some personal commentary.

Steven Baron, c, Mariners: An excellent defensive catcher who made it to Double-A last year. His bat is light but he’s not completely lost at the plate, so a team in need of a backup catcher could do a lot worse. Both the Cubs and White Sox are in need for depth at catching. However, the White Sox are looking to upgrade their catcher right now, while the Cubs should be content with Castillo for another year (even despite the Martin FA reports). Baker was a nominal back up last season, so anything is an upgrade on the Cub roster.
Mark Canha, 1b, Marlins: A team looking for a backup corner bat could be interested. Canha has an above-average hit tool with average power. Primarily a first baseman, he can play third base or left field in a pinch, which gives him a potential backup role. He faced a numbers game with the Marlins, as Justin Bour (on the 40-man roster) has a pretty similar profile. Bour is a former Cub prospect, so from a valuation standpoint the Cubs probably will not be interested. The White Sox have added LaRoche to the 1B mix, but still need a back up third baseman.
Edgar de la Rosa, rhp, Tigers: Like velocity? The massive 6-foot-8 de la Rosa can run it up to 100 mph at his best and pairs it with a usable change-up. One Florida State League evaluator said he “goes to the mound with a 7 fastball every start.” He was a starter in high Class A this past season, but would fit in a big league bullpen. The White Sox love Big Arms and power pitchers. The White Sox have a need to shore up their bullpen. The White Sox also have not been hesitant to promote young arms to the team to be coached by pitching guru Don Cooper. If available, the White Sox could chose de la Rosa as a cheap alternative to additional free agent arms.
Delino DeShields, of, Astros: Some teams will be turned off by his well-documented problems with not always showing his best effort—he’s been pulled from multiple games over the years for not running out balls. But other teams may be intrigued by some of the best tools in the Rule 5 draft. The minors’ only 10-100 man ever (12 home runs, 101 steals in 2012), DeShields plays an adequate center field, can also play second base, has more pop than most speedsters and has shown excellent on-base skills. Can a change of scenery do a player a mental make-over? Maybe, maybe not. But since the Cubs have nothing really spectacular in the outfield (except the hope of Soler in RF), De Shields, or someone like him,  could actually give the team a real lead off hitter. Another cheap alternative to a free agent.
Jarlin Garcia, lhp, Marlins: Big arm who would be making a massive jump from low Class A Greensboro to the big leagues; Garcia has earned above-average grades for his fastball (91-94 mph most nights) and curve. He also finished strong, with a 1.03 ERA in his final 35 innings. Class A pitchers elevated to the majors rarely do well; the level of competition jump is too steep. Unless a team already has a solid bullpen, stashing a guy for mop up duty really regresses a pitcher's progress with little return. Most teams will pass here.
Mychal Givens, rhp, Orioles: The converted shortstop has plus velocity (93-95 mph), a solid slider and he throws from a low slot that makes it hard for righthanders to pick up the ball. This guy seems like a righty specialist/project that maybe a team with a deep bullpen can use. Does not fit into Cubs or White Sox plans.
Jandel Gustave, rhp, Astros: In a game in which power arms are coveted, Gustave throws as hard as anyone. Up to 100 mph at his best, Gustave would be making a massive leap to the big leagues. He struggled in the low Class A Midwest League. But a team that isn’t going to compete for a playoff spot in 2015 could decide to stash him in a limited role.  A better ceiling than Givens, but the same leap to the majors problems. But the White Sox brass could be awed by triple digit fastball to take a flyer on him.
Gregory Infante, rhp, Blue Jays: A big league alum (2010 with the White Sox), Infante can’t paint the corners, but his top-of-the-scale fastball (91-97 mph and has touched 100) plus an average slider was effective enough in limited action in Double-A and Triple-A last season. He’s throwing well in the Venezuelan League for La Guaira. A team without a proven or reliable 5th starter could go for a pitcher with some experience (and the White Sox know him), but the inability to control the plate means more minor league seasoning; pass.
Andrew McKirahan, lhp, Cubs: He’s a lefty who has come on lately. A reliever at Texas, McKirahan had Tommy John surgery in 2012 which cost him much of two seasons and has set him back in his development. He started to return to form this season as his fastball jumped up to 92-96 mph this year that he mixes with a fringe-average breaking ball. Just don’t expect him to be a lefty specialist. McKirahan has been tougher on righthanders than lefthanded hitters every where he’s gone since he returned to the mound after his surgery. Rarely do teams select a player who is basically still in rehab mode to a major league contract. This is why the Cubs did not protect him in the draft, injury history is a major factor for teams not to select a Rule 5 candidate.
Breyvic Valera, 2b, Cardinals: An athletic second baseman who had a great start in high Class A and was OK in Double-A last season, Valera also played in the Arizona Fall League (13-for-39). He has always drawn tons of walks but has zero power. He doesn’t play shortstop effectively, which limits his chances of sticking as a backup utility infielder but he can also play in the outfield. That said, the Cardinals acquired and protected middle infielders Ty Kelly and Dean Anna over keeping Valera. If the White Sox trade SS Ramirez in the off-season, the team may want to add depth in the middle infield. But Valera is too raw to give a bench position in 2015.

November 29, 2014


FoxSports reports that the Tampa Bay Rays are slowly getting local permission to start to look for alternative sites in the Tampa area for a new facility. Since the lease with the municipality prohibits actual discussions about a relocation to other areas, the report states the Rays have been approached by at least one other potential relocation spot: Montreal.

Montreal had a franchise, the Expos, who are now the Nationals.

Montreal had a long history as a minor league baseball town before the expansion Expos. But the Expos played in a terrible venue, the old Olympic Stadium. Crowds were sparse and the teams were poor (and the strike season killed the team's best chance for a World Series).

Montreal is also French speaking Quebec, and more traditional to Canadian culture than say a more culturally diverse city like Toronto or Vancouver which are fairly Americanized.

MLB claims that Montreal is a major league viable city. Montreal businessmen have approached the Rays ownership about stakes if the team relocates to Montreal. The powerful local backers would include Bell Media.

Tampa's local TV deal expires after 2018, so a new stadium deal needs to be in place or ownership would be pressed to leverage an out with MLB, which has found that Florida does not support teams well.

And the Rays are going to fall into the small market trap very soon. Despite its very good records for the past several years, the franchise is in transition. The farm system is not as good as it once was; GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon have abandoned ship. There are rough seas ahead.

Bell Media’s interest in a Montreal baseball franchise may be the single most significant change in that market since the Expos left in 2004. A year ago, the NHL entered into a 12-year, $5.2-billion television contract with rival Rogers Communications — leaving Bell (a then-incumbent rights holder) without national packages on its English (TSN) and French (RDS) networks. Bell has yet to secure long-term rights to a sports television property as visible as the NHL (or MLB) with similar programming hours in English and French.

And, presumably, Bell is pondering what to do with the $5 billion or so it reportedly had financed in a failed effort to renew their NHL rights package. According to Forbes, the Rays’ current franchise value is $485 million, so a cash purchase is an option (considering the league office mistake in allowing the Cubs to be acquired with a huge debt load). 

November 28, 2014


Today is the new American tradition to shop (for bargains).

For baseball teams in Chicago, one has been a buyer and the other just window browsing.

The White Sox have identified need positions on their roster. And early on, they started to meet those positions by signing reliever Zach Duke to help with the bullpen woes, and Adam LaRoche to replace Adam Dunn/Paul Konerko.  LaRoche, who plays very good first base, could move Abreu to DH role (which could save some wear and tear on his body). The White Sox also signed several minor league free agents to add depth to their organization.

GM Rick Hahn and President Kenny Williams said they had an off-season plan, and they continue to work towards the goal of being highly competitive in 2015. There is no doubt that the White Sox have made some tangible progress to reach that goal.

The Cubs have only added one waiver claim (pitcher Donn Roach) and traded A. Vizcaino back to the Braves for a utility infielder at best Tommy La Stella, who may not be an upgrade from Logan Wadkins. Both are not expected to be on the opening day roster.

The Cubs were supposedly #2 in the Russell Martin sweepstakes. But the Blue Jays outbid the Cubs. So the Cubs are playing the hope card, again, in snagging other free agents. But Jon Lester interviewed with the Cubs early, then went on a caravan to see the Red Sox and Cardinals, with reports that the Athletics and Rangers are stepping up to the plate. That is not a good sign for Cubbie fans. If Lester has his pick of destinations, he will choose the money and the opportunity for the post-season right away.

The Cubs are still a big unknown for free agents and fans alike. Yes, there are a bevy of exciting young players coming up through the system, but that does not make the team a playoff lock. The Cubs are like an old gold mine town - - - lots of hype but it could go bust at a snap of a finger.

November 27, 2014


The Baseball Writers’ Association of America 2015 Hall of Fame ballot, released Nov. 24, features 34 names, including 17 holdovers from previous elections and 17 newcomers.

The new candidates on the ballot include Cy Young Award winners like Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, along with sluggers Carlos Delgado and Gary Sheffield, two-time batting champion Nomar Garciaparra and closer Troy Percival.

Other first-time candidates include: Rich Aurilia, Aaron Boone, Tony Clark, Jermaine Dye, Darin Erstad, Cliff Floyd, Brian Giles, Tom Gordon, Eddie Guardado and Jason Schmidt.

The 17 candidates returning to the BBWAA ballot (with their 2014 election percentages) are: Craig Biggio (74.8%), Mike Piazza (62.2%), Jeff Bagwell (54.3%), Tim Raines (46.1%), Roger Clemens (35.4%), Barry Bonds (34.7%), Lee Smith (29.9%), Curt Schilling (29.2%), Edgar Martinez (25.2%), Alan Trammell (20.8%), Mike Mussina (20.3%), Jeff Kent (15.2%), Fred McGriff (11.7%), Mark McGwire (11.0%), Larry Walker (10.2%), Don Mattingly (8.2%) and Sammy Sosa (7.2%).

Mattingly is eligible for the BBWAA ballot for the 15th-and-final time. If he is not elected in January, he will become eligible for consideration by the Expansion Era Committee beginning in the fall of 2016.

Biggio came within 2 votes of election last time. Most writers believe that he will be inducted in this ballot.

The Big Unit, Johnson, is clearly a first time Hall of Famer. His 22 year career totals: 303 wins, 166 losses, 3.29 ERA, 1.171 WHIP and 104.3 WAR.

Martinez is a "likely" HOFer because of the East Coast baseball bias. But his numbers don't stack up to Johnson's. Martinez's 18 year career totals: 219 wins 100 losses, 2.93 ERA, 1.054 WHIP and 86 WAR. BR has Roy Halladay, Curt Schilling and Tim Hudson as comparable pitchers. When 300 wins was the "gold" standard for starting pitchers, Martinez falls well short of that total. But he pitched in some big games with a major franchise so he may squeak by as a first timer because the rest of the ballot is weak.

The most interesting candidate is Smoltz. He was a dominate starter early in his career, with a Cy Young season in 1996, then became a dominate closer with a 55 save season in 2002. During his 21 year career, his record was 213-155, 3.33 ERA, 1.179 WHIP, 154 saves and 66.5 WAR. The WAR and number of wins would put Smoltz on the fence or falling short. He is compared to Schilling and Kevin Brown. But the idea of being a starter-closer-then starter during a career is a unique aspect of Smoltz during his era.

November 26, 2014


Jayson Stark reported that the Yankees and Phillies discussed a trade of 35 year old shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

The Phils downplayed the report, stating that Rollins would be hard to replace. Rollins and some other veterans were reportedly at odds with new manager Ryne Sandberg's style.

Rollins is due $11 million this season and his contract is up at the end of 2015. Rollins hit .243 with 55 RBI and stole 28 bases in 2014.

The Yankees need a veteran to replace Derek Jeter.

As proposed here many times, Starlin Castro would be an option for New York. He is young, under a team friendly contract, and the Cubs have a surplus of middle infielders.

But the asking price would be high.

And the Yankees are not known for having a deep minor league system.

But if the Yanks are looking at a 35 year old shortstop for one year, then there is a hint of desperation.

That is the best trade partner one can have.


The Cubs are in the midst of a massive outfield bleacher tear down.

But not letting the destruction go to waste, the Cubs are selling off pieces of the ball park as "authentic" Wrigley souvenirs. For a historical ball park, one would think you would try to preserve as much history as possible (even recent history). Instead, it screams of trying to squeeze another buck or two out of the tired fan base.

The Cubs announced that Cubs Authentics, their official provider of game-used and authenticated memorabilia, has introduced the Wrigley Field Collection for fans looking to collect unique items from the historic ballpark. The Wrigley Field Collection will feature authenticated items in limited quantities throughout the season, including bleacher seats, flags, scoreboard tiles, signage and celebrity-guest memorabilia, plus items related to Wrigley's restoration and expansion.

It also shows that ownership is not the preservationists that some believed when they bought the team from the Tribune. It is like saying to third parties "here are pieces of old Wrigley Field, you keep and preserve them yourself." And many people will gladly do that because it is a physical reminder of past memories at the ball park.

Past memories that will most likely be jolted on Opening Night with the wash of electronic scoreboard lights akin to Times Square.

There is precedence for grave robbing an old ball yard. Old Comiskey Park had an auction when it was determined that the Cell was going to replace it. Thousands of people showed up one weekend to bid on signs, seats, the old scoreboard pin wheels to even toilets. It was the south side garage sale of garage sales. Everything was going to go either to a new home or the land fill.

Why would the Cubs sell "scoreboard tiles?" The answer is simple: the iconic CF scoreboard is going to be retired as the new large Jumbotron will take its place. And, it cuts back on the payroll of the manual scoreboard operators. And who wants 7th inning singers autographs on a program or Pat Hughes napkin? It seems nothing cannot be monetized by the Cubs business managers.

November 25, 2014


The White Sox continue to make moves in the early off season. The signing of 35 year old Adam LaRoche to a two year contract helps replace the Adam Dunn/Paul Konerko DH production, and gives the team flexibility at first base to rest Jose Abreu.

LaRoche hit .259 BA, 26 HR, 92 RBI for the Nationals in 2014. He had a 2.2 WAR.

GM Rick Hahn continues to follow a common sense approach to filling his roster. He needed to shore up the bullpen so he signed Zach Duke. He needed to find a new DH, so he signed a proven hitter in LaRoche. 

The possible other areas needing an upgrade include catcher, another reliever, and possible LF candidate.  A right handed starter seems to be on everyone's wish list, but the White Sox are one team not too concerned about having a heavy left handed rotation.

November 24, 2014


If there was ever a team that should go "all in" in 2015, it is the Cincinnati Reds.

Yes, the Cardinals have been the dominant team in the NL Central, and the Pirates have risen from the bottom to be a contender, but the Reds have one last chance with the current core roster to make a charge.

Many rumors are spreading around the Reds trading off pieces. But some would question why.

Yes, 4/5ths of the current rotation (Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon) are all free agents following the 2015 season. That is the reason why the Reds should go all out to win in 2015. It will be nearly impossible to rebuild that rotation quickly in today's baseball economics.

In 2014, the Reds finished 76-86, 14 GB in the standings.

The team just needs to tweak the bullpen, shore up the outfield with some power and hope the injury bug does not bite them hard.

The Braves are very much shopping Justin Upton but they are requesting a higher return than they received earlier this week when they dealt their other corner outfielder, Jason Heyward.

In exchange for Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden, Atlanta received from St. Louis a pretty good starter with four years of control in Shelby Miller plus pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins.

Like Heyward, Upton can be a free agent after this season and is due $14.5 million in 2015 compared to the $8.3 million that Heyward will earn. Nevertheless, the Braves think Upton has greater value in the trade market because his overall offense — particularly his power — is superior. Upton hit 29 homers and Heyward 11. And Upton brings righty power, which is in particularly short demand.

This would one of those "all in" one year or bust deals if the Reds took a flyer on Upton. It would send a strong message: win now, or go home. Actually, that should be every team's message every spring.

November 22, 2014


The Cubs added RHP C.J. Edwards to the protected 40 man roster. The Cubs 40 man roster stands at 39, which means the team has one space to fill via free agency or selecting another team's unprotected player at the winter meetings in December.

It also means that despite the hype of making a lot of moves, the Cubs are probably going to do just one (and most likely not a major move).

# Pitchers B/T Ht Wt DOB
49 Jake Arrieta R-R 6'4" 225 Mar 6, 1986
32 Dallas Beeler R-R 6'5" 210 Jun 12, 1989
22 Felix Doubront L-L 6'2" 225 Oct 23, 1987

C.J. Edwards R-R 6'2" 155 Sep 3, 1991
52 Justin Grimm R-R 6'3" 210 Aug 16, 1988
28 Kyle Hendricks R-R 6'3" 190 Dec 7, 1989
36 Edwin Jackson R-R 6'3" 210 Sep 9, 1983
43 Eric Jokisch R-L 6'2" 185 Jul 29, 1989

Joseph Ortiz L-L 5'7" 175 Aug 13, 1990
50 Blake Parker R-R 6'3" 225 Jun 19, 1985
54 Neil Ramirez R-R 6'4" 190 May 25, 1989

Donn Roach R-R 6'0" 195 Dec 14, 1989
56 Hector Rondon R-R 6'3" 180 Feb 26, 1988
59 Zac Rosscup R-L 6'2" 205 Jun 9, 1988
63 Brian Schlitter R-R 6'5" 235 Dec 21, 1985
19 Dan Straily R-R 6'2" 215 Dec 1, 1988
46 Pedro Strop R-R 6'1" 220 Jun 13, 1985
38 Jacob Turner R-R 6'5" 215 May 21, 1991
67 Tsuyoshi Wada L-L 5'11" 180 Feb 21, 1981
37 Travis Wood R-L 5'11" 175 Feb 6, 1987
53 Wesley Wright R-L 5'11" 185 Jan 28, 1985
# Catchers B/T Ht Wt DOB
12 John Baker L-R 6'1" 215 Jan 20, 1981
5 Welington Castillo R-R 5'10" 210 Apr 24, 1987
51 Rafael Lopez L-R 5'9" 190 Oct 2, 1987
# Infielders B/T Ht Wt DOB
7 Arismendy Alcantara S-R 5'10" 170 Oct 29, 1991
9 Javier Baez R-R 6'0" 190 Dec 1, 1992
13 Starlin Castro R-R 6'0" 190 Mar 24, 1990

Tommy La Stella L-R 5'11" 185 Jan 31, 1989
30 Mike Olt R-R 6'2" 210 Aug 27, 1988
44 Anthony Rizzo L-L 6'3" 240 Aug 8, 1989
24 Luis Valbuena L-R 5'10" 200 Nov 30, 1985
61 Christian Villanueva R-R 5'11" 210 Jun 19, 1991
45 Logan Watkins L-R 5'11" 195 Aug 29, 1989
# Outfielders B/T Ht Wt DOB
8 Chris Coghlan L-R 6'0" 195 Jun 18, 1985
21 Junior Lake R-R 6'3" 215 Mar 27, 1990
20 Justin Ruggiano R-R 6'1" 210 Apr 12, 1982
68 Jorge Soler R-R 6'4" 215 Feb 25, 1992
6 Ryan Sweeney L-L 6'4" 225 Feb 20, 1985
41 Matt Szczur R-R 6'1" 195 Jul 20, 1989

If there are players on the roster "bubble" (could easily be cut or waived to sign another player), there any many to choose from:

Watkins seems to be expendable since the Cubs just acquired LaStella.
Villanueva and Olt seem to be expendable when Kris Bryant hits the majors.
Szczur and Lake have not shown any consistent production to stick as a 5th outfielder.

So the Cubs have potentially five (5) additional 40 man roster spots available to upgrade their spring training roster. But if recent history is any tell, they are not anxious to pull the trigger on any substantial changes. One spot has to go to Bryant. Another spot may be for Addison Russell.

The above roster is the blueprint for 2015. Depth is still an issue. Young players adjusting to the majors is another issue.

As it stands today, the rotation seems to be Arrieta, Hendricks, Jackson, Wada, Wood with Turner, Doubront and Straily as injury replacements. This would be a downgrade from the 2014 starting rotation (Samardzjia and Hammel).

An outfield of Coghlan/Ruggiano, Alcantara and Soler is suspect.

The infield has Castro and Rizzo, but can Baez play better at second? Is Valbuena going to stay as a bench player until Bryant is called up in June - - - or will the team trade him at the winter meetings (thus allowing Olt to be the caretaker)?

November 21, 2014


In a financial duel for star pitcher Jon Lester, who is going to win?

The Cubs. The Cardinals. The Braves. The Red Sox.

Fans "think" the Cubs have money to burn on star free agents. But nothing has materialized in the last few years. The powder is not dry; it has blown away.

The Cardinals have an interesting budget twist. With Kyle Lohse only making $500,000 on his last front loaded deal, the Cardinals have his "market value" of $10 million as a starter available plus Shelby Miller's potential arb value (another $6 million or so), so St. Louis has free cap space of $16 million to start the bidding for Lester.

The Braves have a new front office after GM Wren's firing, so there may be some incentive to make a big opening splash. The Braves have had a recent history of injured starters. The Cubs sending back Vizcaino for a nominal second baseman may be some insurance. With Medlin and Beachy coming off Tommy John surgeries, the rotation seems it needs a huge shot in the arm.

The Red Sox can be aggressive and they have the best history with Lester. He always said he would be open to returning to Boston. If so, then the trade was a great one for the Red Sox, who acquired Cespedes from Oakland.

It comes down to which team is ready, willing and able to handle a "bad" big money contract (because 70 percent turn out bad)?

I suspect the tale of the tape will be Red Sox, Cardinals, Braves then Cubs running last in a three horse race.

November 20, 2014


The White Sox bullpen was horrible last season. A priority was to fix it.

GM Rick Hahn started by signing LHP Zach Duke for 3 years/$15 million.

The immediate local reaction was that was pretty high cost to get a lefty relief pitcher.

Duke posted his best season year for the Brewers with a stellar 5-1 record, 2.45 ERA, 1.125 WHIP in 74 games of relief. A product of the Pirates system, the former starteris with his 6th team in his 10 year career. He sports a career 7.9 WAR, with 1.2 WAR for 2014.

Duke, 31, puts some veteran stability in the young bullpen.  Most would suspect that pitching guru Don Cooper can keep Duke pitching at this year's level.

But the contract seems long and expensive first puzzle piece for the White Sox.

Ever since the Dodgers ownership change, and the billion dollar TV deal (which has gone badly for the cable partner), baseball contract prices have skyrocketed even for marginal players. In Duke's case, if you use $5 million/WAR, his "value" is $6 million for 2015. He took a value discount to get two extra years. Player agents are now more concerned about the number of years than the average salary.

The White Sox bullpen is still its weak spot.  The Depth Chart:

Closer: Petricka
Set Up: Jones
Relievers: Duke, Belisario, Webb, Putnam, Guerra, Cleto, Snodgress, Carroll, Surkamp.

November 19, 2014


The Cubs protected 40 man roster stands at 38.

In order to protect minor league prospects who have accumulated enough service time in the minors to be eligible for the December winter meetings Rule 5 draft have to be promoted to the 40 man roster.  However, most likely, the Cubs hold open two major league roster spots for potential free agent signings.

If not, the Cubs can only protect two (2) players from this list. (With teams not taking very many players in the Rule 5 draft, since that player must be kept on the team's active 25 man roster for the entire 2015 season or lose him, the chances of the Cubs losing a player is remote.)  However, the one guy that pops out as a possibility is RHP C.J. Edwards.


Gilberto Abreu, RHP
Gioskar Amaya, INF
John Andreoli, OF
Jeffry Antigua, LHP
Delbis Arcila, OF
Jeffrey Baez, OF
Frank Batista, RHP
Marcelo Carreno, RHP
Zach Cates, RHP
Hunter Cervenka, LHP
Pin-Chieh Chen, OF
Gerardo Concepcion, LHP (Article XX-D player - can elect free-agency if drafted & then later re-claimed by Cubs)
Willson Contreras, C
Blake Cooper, RHP
Wes Darvill, INF
Taylor Davis, C
Alberto Diaz, LHP
C. J. Edwards, RHP
Kevin Encarnacion, OF
Luis Flores, C
P. J. Francescon, RHP
Humberto Garcia, INF
Victor Garcia, LHP
Dustin Geiger, INF
Anthony Giansanti, OF
Jae-Hoon Ha, OF
Marco Hernandez, INF
Michael Jensen, RHP
Austin Kirk, LHP
Matt Loosen, RHP
Jeff Lorick, LHP
Barret Loux, RHP
Dillon Maples, RHP
Andrew McKirahan, LHP
Trey McNutt, RHP (Article XX-D player - can elect free-agency if drafted & then later re-claimed by Cubs)
Alberto Mineo, C
Yoanner Negrin, RHP
Carlos Penalver, INF
Felix Pena, RHP
Starling Peralta, RHP (Article XX-D player - can elect free-agency if drafted & then later re-claimed by Cubs)
Ivan Pineyro, RHP
Austin Reed, RHP
Jose Rosario, RHP
Julio Sanchez, RHP
Tayler Scott, RHP
Rock Shoulders, 1B
Rubi Silva, OF
Brian Smith, LHP
Elliot Soto, INF
Antonio Valerio, C
Yao-Lin Wang, RHP
Ben Wells, RHP
Tony Zych, RHP

November 18, 2014


If you are in the camp that the Ricketts ownership is trending towards being "cheap" or "cost effective" in running a major league franchise, then Paul Sullivan's recent column should add wood to your hot stove position.

Sullivan extracts from the last World Series a new vision for how a team can be a contender without an All-Star starting rotation: have a "shut down" bullpen.

Sullivan wrote that the Giants won the World Series this year with a rotation that ranked 16th in the majors, while the runner up Royals team's rotation finished 11th overall.

Sullivan asks this miserly question: So why spend over $100 million on a free-agent starter when an average rotation combined with a few shutdown relievers in the seventh, eighth and ninth seemingly works just as well?
That is the type of "out of the box" thinking that an owner with cash flow problems and large looming construction bills would pounce on.

With relievers David Robertson, Andrew Miller and Sergio Romo are among the free agent relievers in demand this winter, the all project far less in contract costs than a Jon Lester or a Max Scherzer.

Cubs president Theo Epstein believes the Cub already have a strong bullpen with Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez and closer Hector Rondon in the late innings, making that area less of a priority this off-season.

“One thing I always worry about is looking at the postseason and trying to draw broader conclusions about those teams,” Epstein said. “In the postseason, a lock down bullpen becomes more important because with the off days those guys are available to pitch every day and pitch more than they would during the regular season. And it’s a lower run-scoring environment in the postseason.

“So certain things become more important. But also, if you want to have a good back end of the bullpen, getting a lot of innings out of starting pitching takes the burden off those relievers, and means your best relievers are available to pitch more often and stay healthy.

“I think this was a postseason where maybe the bullpens took center stage more than the starting pitchers, but if you look at what (Madison) Bumgarner did, it also emphasizes just how impactful a true No. 1 on a roll can be in October.

“I just think next year, a (World Series) team may not generate much offense except hit a bunch of home runs, and everyone will say, ‘The long ball is king these days because no one has power.’ You have to be a little careful.”

But the Cubs may not have to go outside the organization to bolster the bullpen. RHP Armando Rivero, who posted a combined 2.22 earned-run average and 1.09 WHIP at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, should be one of the first call-ups if he continues to pitch well.

November 17, 2014


The International Business Times recently graded the top free agent contracts in the last 10 years.

  1. Alex Rodriguez, 32, 3B, New York Yankees, 10 years $275 million: Among the worst contracts ever, considering there is three years left and Rodriguez has totaled just 41 home runs since 2011. Verdict: Bad deal.
  2. Albert Pujols, 31, 1B, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 10 years $250 million: He hasn’t made an All-Star appearance since leaving St. Louis despite posting good numbers, though well below what he previously achieved. Verdict: Bad deal.
  3. Robinson Cano, 31, 2B, Seattle Mariners, 10 years $240 million: Replicated his BA and on-base percentage, OBP, from the previous year, though his slugging percentage dipped from .516 to .454. Verdict: Undecided.
  4. Prince Fielder, 26, 1B, Detroit Tigers, nine years $214 million: Failed to hit more than 30 home runs in a season after doing so for five straight years and played just 42 games in 2014. Verdict: Bad deal.
  5. Mark Teixeira, 28, 1B, New York Yankees, eight years $180 million: Hit at least 33 home runs with 108 RBI in each of his first three years, but hit .229, averaging 16 home runs and 53 RBI over the next three years. Verdict: Bad deal.
  6. CC Sabathia, 28, P, New York Yankees, seven years $161 million: The team’s ace for four seasons, but he’s been a disaster since opting out and signing an extension, pitching just eight games in 2014. Verdict: Bad deal.
  7. Masahiro Tanaka, 25, P, New York Yankees, seven years $155 million: A Cy Young candidate through two months, an injury limited him to 20 starts and could force him to have Tommy John surgery. Verdict: Undecided.
  8. Jacoby Ellsbury, 30, OF, New York Yankees, seven years $153 million: Led the Yankees in steals and remained healthy for most of the season, but hit well below his career OBP at .328. Verdict: Undecided.
  9. Zack Greinke, 29, P, Los Angeles Dodgers, six years $147 million: Registered two of his three lowest ERA’s with the Dodgers, winning 32 games in two seasons. Verdict: Good deal.
  10. Carl Crawford, 28, OF, Boston Red Sox, seven years $142 million: Boston traded Crawford after a year and a half, and he hasn’t played more than 116 games in any of the past three seasons. Verdict: Bad deal.
  11. Alfonso Soriano, 30, OF, Chicago Cubs, eight years $136 million: OPS never reached .900 in the entire contract. Stolen bases declined as soon as he joined Chicago. Verdict: Bad deal.
  12. Shin-Soo Choo, 31, OF, Texas Rangers, seven years $130 million: Missed 39 games and hit just .242 with a .374 slugging percentage. Verdict: Bad deal.
  13. Barry Zito, 28, P, San Francisco Giants, seven years $126 million: Went from one of the best pitchers in baseball to a back-of-the-order starter. Finished with an awful 63-80 record and a 4.62 ERA. Verdict: Bad deal.
  14. Jayson Werth, 30, OF, Washington Nationals, seven years $126 million: Has a .303 average over the past three years, but he hit .232 in year No. 1 and missed half of the 2012 season. Verdict Bad deal.
  15. Josh Hamilton, 30, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, five years $123 million: Saw his home run total cut in half to 21 in year No. 1, and only played in 89 games in year No. 2. Verdict: Bad deal.
  16. Cliff Lee, 31, P, Philadelphia Phillies, five years $120 million: Started just 13 games in 2014, but was an All-Star in 2011 and 2013.Verdict: Good deal.
  17. Matt Holliday, 29, OF, St. Louis Cardinals, seven years $120 million: Consistently good on winning teams, Holliday has three All-Star appearances since signing this contract. Verdict: Good deal.
  18. Carlos Beltran, 27, OF, New York Mets, seven years $119 million: Injuries hampered Beltran for stretches, but in 3,300 at-bats, he batted .282 with 202 homers -- good numbers but not worth the contract. Verdict: Bad deal.
  19. Jose Reyes, 27, SS, Miami Marlins, six years $106 million: Hasn’t hit .300 since winning the batting title, averaging 28 steals, 79 runs and 132 games per season. Verdict: Bad deal.
  20. Carlos Lee, 30, OF, Houston Astros, six years $100 million: First half of the contract went fine with a batting average well over .300 and 86 total homers, but it was poor numbers from there on out. Verdict: Bad deal.
The results of the Top 20:

Bad Deal: 14
Undecided: 3
Good Deal: 3

A whopping 70 percent of the major free agent signings turn out to be bad deals.

November 14, 2014


Giancarlo Stanton could be argued as the best major league baseball player in the NL (Clayton Kershaw fans excepted). Stanton, 25, has amassed a 21.2 career WAR in just 5 seasons, an average of 4.24 WAR/season. In his first year of arbitration, he was awarded $6.5 million. He has two arb years left before FA in 2017.

He is expected to break the bank either way. Several reports state that the Marlins are hot to get Stanton signed for a long, long term deal. ESPN reports it could be a 12 year $300 million deal, while CBS Sports thinks the number could be 13 years $320 million. This is record shattering territory.

Stanton commands these high numbers because of his consistent performance. Season WAR totals: 2.8, 4.1, 5.5, 2.3, and 6.5.  His career average for a 162 game season: 39 HR, 102 RBI, .271 BA.

If one uses $5 million/WAR valuation, then Stanton being paid $6.5 million in 2014 was a steal. His performance value would have been $32.5 million. Even if Stanton's arbitration award doubles, he is still only getting paid half his value.

So it may be in the best interests of the player (and his agent) to tap the current controlled value into a long term deal. Teams only do long term deals if it is advantageous to it. The Marlins are a terrible dysfunctional organization with a cheap and arrogant owner. The team burned Miami taxpayers on a new stadium deal; had a fire sale of their veteran talent; and even fired Ozzie Guillen early in his contract term (some of that was Ozzie being Ozzie). Stanton is the one and only shining grace for the franchise.

If one uses the qualifying offer amount of $15.3 million as the floor to negotiations for a top player like Stanton, even a short term extension through his arbitration plus one year of FA would cost the Marlins $46 million. It would be a pay increase for the player, but still very undervalued even at average career WAR ($63.6 million). So the team has to pay a premium to keep Stanton for any free agent year. And it seems to top tier number is Kershaw's $25 million per season number.

Stanton could sign a three year extension for $75 million and hit the free agent market at age 28 for an A-Rod shattering next deal. It comes down to reward of a higher pay day against the risk of premature injury prior to free agency.

In 2012, the Marlins had the 7th highest payroll at $118 million. Then the fire sale, and dropped to the bottom at $36 million in 2013 and $46 million in 2014. Even under the short extension play above, the Marlins would be paying Stanton more than 50% of their payroll on one player. Throughout sports leagues, putting so much capital in one player is dangerous and at times, counterproductive (look at the Bulls and injured Derek Rose who eats of 36% of the team's cap space).

But keeping Stanton may be the Marlins only way to save the franchise from total ruin.

I would expect that any long term deal would be stair-stepped in value (putting more on the back end) hoping that the Marlins could catch fire and be playoff competitive (which equates to more gross revenue). A 10 year extension could be (in millions): $15, 20, 25, 25, 30, 30, 35, 35, 40, 40. That makes the deal worth $295 million. Stanton would become a rich free agent at age 35, and depending on his condition, he could get a Victor Martinez final deal of 4 year/$68 million. 

In any event, there will be no charitable tag days ahead for Stanton.

But based upon his statistical value, Stanton has a limited market in trade or in free agency. Very few teams are willing to spend $200 million on one player. Teams would rather keep their top prospects than trade them for expensive veterans. Even the Dodgers and Angels have overspent in the last few seasons, and they now have payroll digestive problems.

A player is worth what the market will bear. Stanton is going to stretch that market to its outer limits.


The quest for Derek Jeter's replacement has begun. The NY Post speculates on a prime target of the Yankee search:

One shortstop who at least has the Yankees intrigued as they rev up their efforts to find Derek Jeter’s successor is Texas’ Elvis Andrus.

The Yankees would have to feel Andrus is a buy-low candidate whose downturn on both sides of the ball in 2014 was reversible and that, at 26, his best years are ahead of him.

Andrus’ eight-year, $120 million extension does not even begin until next season and runs through at least 2022. Texas would love to unload that deal as it searches this market for starting pitching. The Rangers can go inexpensive in the middle infield with some combination of Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar and Luis Sardinas. However, they would be more comfortable doing that if they knew for sure Profar was going to be healthy moving forward after missing all of 2014 after tearing (then re-tearing) a muscle in his shoulder.

Andrus has played at least 145 games in each of his six Rangers seasons. However, he has yet to translate the promise he showed in helping Texas win the AL pennant in 2010 and 2011 into becoming a star-level player.

He was said to show up overweight last year and that negatively impacted his season. Andrus hit .263 with a .647 OPS in 2014 and, while he stole 27 bases, his 15 caught stealings led the AL. He was 42 out of 50 in 2013.

Starlin Castro is a better bargain for the Yankees. He is signed through 2019 for only $44 million (with a $16 million team option in 2020). Castro has a 9.4 career WAR (2.0 WAR in 2015). I have speculated for more than a year that Castro to the Yankees would make sense. The problem is the Yankees don't have much major league ready prospects that the Cubs could want (with the exception of AA catcher Gary Sanchez, #2 ranked prospect). But Yankee cash can smooth out any transaction.

A story like this one in the Post will start to kick the tires on other clubs to start discussing potential deals with the Yankees. And other teams looking for a shortstop will start to contact the Cubs, who have four major league ready middle infielders (Castro, Baez, Alcantara and Russell) ready for action. I expect one of these four to be traded in 2015, most likely for starting pitching.

November 12, 2014


A report surfaced Tuesday night that the Cubs and Nationals were engaged in trade discussions about starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann.

Paul Sullivan of the Tribune rebukes the story, stating a Cub source said there has been no discussions of a Zimmerman trade. "He is not available," according to the source.

At the moment Zimmerman would be a one-year rental. Zimmermann is owed $16.5 million in 2015 before becoming a free agent.

However, based on recent free-agent starting pitcher contracts, Zimmermann will be in line for more than $100 million. The guess here is that Zimmermann eventually signs for more than what Homer Bailey got (six years, $105 million) but less than what the Phillies gave Cliff Lee (five years, $120 million).

Something in the five-year, $115 million range seems appropriate for Zimmermann, who has a 2.96 ERA over the last three seasons in 96 starts

From the Cubs, the Phillies are likely seeking Kris Bryant and more in a Hamels trade. The Cubs appear unwilling to trade Bryant, their top prospect who hit .325 with 43 homers at Double A and Triple A this past season, his first full one in pro ball. That's just how negotiations begin.

Because Zimmermann is a rental, he would cost the Cubs less in the way of prospects. Chicago may be looking at parting with shortstop Starlin Castro in a proposed Zimmermann deal, or one of their lesser-but-still-intriguing prospects in utilityman Arismendy Alcantara or outfielder Albert Almora.

Other teams will be kicking the Cub tires for hot prospects like Bryant, Javy Baez and Addison Reed, because the Cubs have a surplus of infielders. The Cubs put a waiver claim on Cole Hamels last season, so that may indicate the team is willing to take on a $100 million pitching contract. The Phillies are having a fire sale now, and Hamels is still available in trade.

Zimmerman would cost less in trade than Hamels. Zimmerman's contract status versus Hamels' guarantees. The Cubs could flip Zimmerman at the deadline to restock their prospect list.

The problem with a megadeal at this time is that the Cubs really don't know what they really have with their prospects. Bryant could be the next Mike Schmidt or the next Mike Olt. In one respect, the highest value may be now, before any actual major league swings and misses. In another respect, if Bryant is the real deal, a starting All-Star position player is more valuable than a starting pitcher.

The Nationals would need an impact player in return since they are in championship mode. Alcantara does not make sense since the infield is set and Span in CF. Almora is still several years off. To trade Zimmerman, the Nats would need a major league ready pitcher in return (for at least depth) and the Cubs don't have anyone, unless you think Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks has too many years of cost control to give up in a pitcher rental deal.

It is a long shot that the Cubs make a Zimmerman deal with the Nationals. 

What is picking up early is a market for shortstops. The Mets, Yankees, Dodgers and Mariners are actively seeking a shortstop. The Cubs have three on the roster available for the right deal.


This off-season, there have been a few clear signals from teams on the verge of being highly competitive.

The Angels and Phillies have strongly indicated that they will be sitting out this free agent market. They do not want to add to existing high payrolls. In fact, they would like to shed some high cost talent. The Phillies are willing to trade anyone on their roster, including Cole Hammels, for the right deal (at least three top prospects). The Dodgers also seem to want to pare back their excess outfield talent under new team President Friedman.

The Mariners, Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers appear poised to make a run at bolstering their teams. The Rangers have a protected top draft pick so they could have their cake and it eat it to by signing a top free agent (who refused a qualifying offer). Likewise, the Tigers will get at least one supplemental first round pick for losing a quality free agent to another team (Max Scherzer). The Yankees have been playing possum this off-season, which means that they will make a run at the top guys. The Red Sox always seem to be circling for an acquisition.

The national media is convinced the Cubs will make a splash, but I don't think so. The Cubs are still filling the kiddy pool with water.

The Mariners have been spending money in recent years, but have not come to critical mass. The rumor is that the team will go after Hanley Ramirez and Victor Martinez, two older players, which means that 2015 projects to an "all in" season for Seattle. Detroit is in a similar position: so close, yet so far away from that desperate championship. If the Tigers lose Martinez and Scherzer, then they will have to replace a DH and SP of like quality (David Price may be part of that answer).

If one looks for a dark horse team to fly under the radar and pick up a "name" this off-season, it could be the Cardinals. With SP Kyle Lohse being paid only $500,000 at the end of a front loaded contract, the Redbirds actually have his "real value" plus another SP budget slot to pay a top tier FA $20 million plus.

November 11, 2014


Gordon Wittenmyer of the Sun Times believes the Cubs have $70 million in payroll flexibility while the White Sox have only $40 million.

He believes the teams are at a crossroads - - - the ability to spend money on free agents in order to turn around their franchises in 2015.  But he admits that both general managers are downplaying the spending expectations.

We certainly hope to add talent from outside the organization,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We will add talent from outside the organization, and I hope we add impact talent. But it has to make sense."  The Cubs are looking at an acquisition window that extends through the 2015-16 off-season, so they won’t “sell out for 2015” as Epstein said.

The White Sox have a very good rotation and a solid hitter in Jose Abreu to go after a starting pitcher, a lefty/switch hitter and bullpen help.

“We can deploy that via free agency or via trade and really not be precluded from any opportunity right now for economic reasons,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said recently. However, the White Sox are as dependent on actual attendance to fund the team, so last year's decline will hurt budget projects in 2015.

Real expectations for the clubs this off-season:

The White Sox will sign a RHP to be the fifth starter, and sign one or two bullpen arms. There is a remote chance that the Sox will go after a catcher.

The Cubs will sign a veteran 4th OF to platoon in LF with Coghlan, add a back up catcher and a second tier starting pitcher.

November 10, 2014


A 28 year old multiple World Series champion on the open market is a rarity in baseball.

Pablo Sandoval is such a free agent. The Panda, the Giants third baseman, is seeking a six-year contract on the open market, his agent Gustavo Vasquez told the SF Chronicle.

Vasquez explains that the six-year term of the contract is more important to Sandoval than the average annual value. That comment isn’t surprising, as a player will typically downgrade a contract’s AAV as the years increase. While he said Sandoval has no specific dollar figure in mind, other reports have indicated the deal will cost more than $100 million. So, while the AAV of the deal may be somewhat flexible, it seems Vasquez must be eyeing at least a $17MM annual salary for his client.

With a qualifying offer of $15.3 million, that sets a high base for quality free agents.

Sandoval has played seven years. His career WAR is 21.1. Based on $5 million per WAR, one could say he is worth $15 million per average year. Last season his WAR was 3.3. He would counter by saying is value is $16.5 million. $1.5 million gap over 6 years is $9 million, or 1.8 WAR (and a 0.3 WAR/season application).

The six year time frame puts Sandoval in the prime of his career.

However, he has the chunky body type that some people may consider a risk. For a .279 BA, 16 HR and 79 RBI, he is not the most productive corner infielder in the league. It is his post-season numbers that make him attractive to playoff teams.

A few people believe he will take a "home town" discount and stay with the Giants. But perhaps the Giants will think hard to allocate that $100 million commitment to retention of pitching, which was the key to their World Series championship.

November 8, 2014


Tom Ricketts was recently on Chicago radio. During his interview, he confirmed what I suspected for a long time.

Ricketts stated that the way he budgets, he takes all the revenues, then deducts all the expenses, and what is left over can be used by the baseball operations (such as adding free agents).

However, Ricketts was speaking in a more big picture model as he said that some of the expenses were geared toward the Wrigley reconstruction costs.

As posted many times, the Cubs are a separate legal entity from the corporate owner of Wrigley Field proper. The Cubs are merely a tenant, who may fully or partially share Wrigley revenues (concessions). Parking lots are owned by another separate entity. So when Ricketts says gross revenue, it seems he means "all" affiliated revenues, minus "all" affiliated costs to get to a rainy day fund number.

This also confirms what we learned when Ricketts bought the team. His bankrolled father said that he would not put any more money into the franchise operations. In other words, the Cubs had to be self-sufficient with no new capital calls. (This was also a requirement in the Zell partnership deal, as the Tribune retains a 5% stake). So Ricketts was cornered into having to field large debt service, a massive Cubs payroll and declining attendance revenues.

With the lack of the WGN games on a new local televisions outlet, "gross" revenues are projected to be lower in 2015, which means lower possible payroll numbers for the Cubs team since Wrigley expansion costs are coming hard and fast this off-season. This is why the team accelerated the deposits on season ticket sales . . .  there appears to be a cash flow issue with the team.

So the Cubs, as a baseball operation, is the cornered stepchild in the dinner line. It will be the last aspect of the sports entertainment complex to receive added funds.

November 7, 2014


It is said that people who do not understand or know history, are bound to repeat it.

Rick Morrissey of the Sun Times wrote on the Joe Maddon hire:

Baker and Piniella have said they were not prepared for the oppressive atmosphere on the North Side, a heaviness brought on by a century of futility. Nothing can prepare a manager for that, so it will be interesting to see how the fun-loving Maddon approaches the massive expectations. Baker and Piniella balked at being thought of as the Cubs’ Messiah. To wink at the pressure, Maddon might want to show up for his introductory news conference in white tunic, brown cloak, sandals, fake beard, all-seeing glasses and say, “I have come to proclaim good news to the World Series poor.’’

Maddon is not Baker or Piniella, but one could argue that Baker and Piniella had a better resume prior to taking the helm than Maddon. Maddon may be a goofy free spirit, crazy loose player's manager, but Piniella was no wallflower and Baker was an old school players manager (letting the inmates run the locker room asylum). When Baker left on bad terms, he inferred the r-card as being a major problem in winning on the North Side. When Piniella quit, he admitted that the pressure of winning on the North Side was something he had not expected; it broke him. And Piniella had gone through the intense media circus of New York both as a player and a manager. Perhaps, the Cubs managerial position is a coach killer.

Maddon is aware that if his team could ever when the World Series for the Cubs, he would never have to buy a drink or meal in Chicago for the rest of his days. He would become the next Ditka, a revered local icon. Such is the embrace of the City with Big Shoulders: a crushing one.

No one wants Maddon to fail. But everyone has high expectations for his success, even though he has not managed one game for the Cubs. A divisional title in 2015 is a last call drunken bet at the local tavern. A championship by 2019 (when Maddon's deal is over) is a goal, but not a guarantee. GM Jed Hoyer admitted that the Plan is less than 50% complete, so the team still has a long, long way to go.

November 6, 2014


MLBTR projects 2015 salaries the ten Cubs who can go to arbitration:

Cubs (10)
  • John Baker (5.141) – $1.1MM
  • Wesley Wright (5.105) – $2.0MM
  • Chris Coghlan (4.148) – $1.4MM
  • Luis Valbuena (4.148) – $3.1MM
  • Justin Ruggiano (4.019) – $2.5MM
  • Travis Wood (4.004) – $5.5MM
  • Pedro Strop (3.156) – $2.4MM
  • Jake Arrieta (3.145) – $4.1MM
  • Felix Doubront (3.120) – $1.3MM
  • Welington Castillo (3.009) – $2.1MM

With Cot's having the Cubs 2015 payroll at $30.5 million, $25.5 in arbitration deals projects the Cubs 2015 major league payroll at approximately $56 million.

November 5, 2014


MLB Trade Rumors starts the Hot Stove League with predictions on Chicago teams signing any of the Top 50 free agents.

MLBTR predicts the Cubs have the best shot to sign Jon Lester, Russell Martin, David Robertson, Justin Masterson and Jake Peavy.

For the White Sox, MLBTR predicts Victor Martinez, Colby Rasmus and Luke Gregorson.

This speculative exercise presupposes that the teams will actually have sufficient funds to acquire these free agents.

As for the Cubs, signing five free agents for 2015 season is a pipe dream. Ownership is not going to green light Theo Epstein spending $400 million in new player deals when the Ricketts are attempting to sell part of the team to raise cash for their real estate ventures.

Catcher Martin will decline a qualifying $15.3 million offer from the Pirates, which puts his price tag at $16 million/season in a long term deal.  Do the Cubs then keep a more affordable Wellington Castillo, or trade him?  Martin does not make a good fit for the Cubs. He probably makes more sense with the White Sox.

Ace starter Lester is the top FA, and he will command Kershaw money ($250 million). If the Cubs actually knew that their top prospects were really going to be quality major leagues (Alcantara, Baez, Soler, Bryant, Russell, Almora), then going "all in" for Lester would make some sense. There is no objective argument to pay a starter that kind of money if the jury is still out on whether the Plan will work (and considering the Cubs have no Plan B).

Relief pitcher Robertson is going to be the highest paid bullpen guy on the market, going to get at least a $50 million deal. The Cubs bullpen was not really the problem. On the other hand, the White Sox could use Robertson and Gregorson.

Masterson makes less sense now, since the Cubs re-signed Yoshi Wada for a one year, $4 million deal. The front office has acquired a group of middle of the road, change of scenery starters (Turner, Droubront) to fill out the spring rotation without signing a FA.  Masterson makes more sense as a right handed starter in the middle of the Sox 2015 rotation.

Martinez, at 35, cannot catch very many games. He is a DH/1B candidate who wants a four year deal. He really does not help the Sox that much; finding a DH in the AL can be done in-house (Viecido). Rasmus was a touted prospect who has not met expectations. The Sox already have a solid CF (Eaton). Rasmus hit .225, 18 HR, 40 RBI, 0.9 WAR for the Blue Jays.

November 4, 2014


The hiring of Joe Maddon brings a "new era" to the club, according to many reporters.

Except, since Theo Epstein was hired, there was supposed to be a new "Cubs Way" in place. What that Cubs Way actually is, is vague.

We thought that Epstein was going to bring in sabermetric philosophies to the organization, but we know that all major league teams employ computer models, spreadsheets, computer models to prepare coaches and players for in-game decisions, strike zones and batter shifts.

We thought that Epstein had a history of evaluating and acquiring top talent. To date, the concentration on rebuilding the farm system has not given Epstein the blank check to spend on top tier free agents. The New Way was to operate like a small market team.

We thought that Epstein wrote a manual for players and coaches in the organization on how to develop and train the players at each level. We know that there were some rules, like a full 500 AB at Triple A, before a call up. We also were told that the new Cubs would stress quality at-bats, OBP. But last season, we saw a chorus line of free swinging, high strike out rate batters.

So what can a celebrity manager do to push the team to the promised land?

Objectively, probably not a whole lot.

The field manager's job is rather simple in baseball.

His first priority is to make out the daily line up card. This assumes that he can put each player into the best spot to succeed. This also assumes that the talent on the club fits the manager's personal philosophy on how to score runs. The Royals used a small ball mentality to create run scoring opportunities. Earl Weaver used to wait for the three run HR.

His second duty is to make sure his team is prepared to play. Baseball is a long season. Even though players are professionals, they still need to be prepared to play each game. This means in-season training on fundamentals, accountability and preparation. Some managers, like Dusty Baker, took a hands off approach and let each player do his own thing. Most managers rely upon their coaching staff to have one-on-one sessions with the players.

His most important in-game duty is to manage the pitching staff. In conjunction with his pitching and bench coaches, a manager who can economically use his rotation and bullpen efficiently is more likely to have success. The biggest fail for most managers is not managing starters properly. Since teams are now spending more money on pitching (and at high risk of injury), this is a key element that the front office is worried about each season.

At this point, we don't know if Maddon is going to manage any differently than Rick Renteria, Dale Sveum or Mike Quade, or other "name" managers like Dusty Baker or Lou Piniella. Maddon has a reputation for working well with young players (which is going to be the core of the Cubs teams for the next five years). But Chicago is a different media market from Tampa Bay. Fan expectations are much higher and intense. Media scrutiny is more glaring to an outsider. This new era may fold into the old eras.

What some long time Cubs fans heard at the Maddon press conference could be disturbing or odd. Maddon says that during a season, he wants to see less scouting. He wants to do less batting practice. His two rules are "hustle to first base" for batters, and pitchers working on their defense (fielding position and holding runners). He is not impressed with people first in and last out of the clubhouse. He does not expect to get to the ball park early, because he has a life outside baseball. He wants the players to have fun - - - it is a game. Don't let the pressure interfere with the experience of playing ball. He is a joker who wants a loose clubhouse.

That is fine and good, but in a locker room filled with rookies who need help achieving the final steps in their professional career, Maddon says just keep doing what got you to the bigs. But the majors is a lot different than the minors. Maddon will then rely on "an active coaching staff."  Maddon thinks team meetings are worthless. He prefers one on one sessions with the coaches. One can think that Maddon is a "player's coach."  The last Cubs "player coach" was Dusty Baker.

Jed Hoyer also remarked that the Cubs are not at 50% of their organizational plan. The front office will start to transition toward being competitive, but will not spend just to spend money. The message was clear to pull back real spending expectations from the rhetoric of Maddon, who thinks the team he saw for the first time will be a 2015 playoff contender. Of course a new hire will be optimistic about his new position and team. He called Wrigley Field "a magical place," but he has yet to see the new signage and the new fierce media attention.

November 3, 2014


There is more news than just the Joe Maddon hire.

In April, 2014, Sports Business Daily reported the Ricketts family is "exploring the idea of selling minority ownership shares" in the Cubs as a "way to help finance" the $500M Wrigley Field renovation. Patrick Mooney of also reported a source said that those shares would be for a "non-controlling interest." The source added that the family "hasn’t made any final decisions yet."

On October 27, 2014 , Sports Business Daily reports the Cubs’ value, as speculated by business trade papers to be around $2 billion, calculates for the team’s "pending" sale of around 20 percent of the club to be around $400 million sources said, with that process expected to finish soon. Galatioto Sports Partners is managing the sale. GSP representatives declined to comment.

Citing an anonymous source, the Sports Business Journal reported that the franchise is worth $2 billion — more than double what the Ricketts family paid in 2009 — and that the sale of part of the team is "expected to finish soon."

Crain’s Chicago Business also wrote that  Chicago Cubs are close to selling a 20 percent stake in the team said to be valued at around $300 million, a Cubs spokesman said.

Ricketts family spokesman Dennis Culloton said nothing "officially" has changed since April, when reports surfaced that Cubs ownership was considering selling a noncontrolling share of the franchise to one or more minority investors to help finance the team's $575 million Wrigley Field renovation and redevelopment plan.

Mr. Culloton did not dispute any element of the SBJ report, which said that New York-based Galatioto Sports Partners is "managing" the minority share sale. The financial advisory company has been a Ricketts family consultant in the past, including for the original $845 million purchase of the team. At the time, Forbes estimated the Cubs to be worth only $700 million.

Bringing in minority investors may be one part of a combination of Ricketts family assets used to finance the stadium renovation, adding to other sources like ad revenue from expanded ballpark signage and federal tax breaks that could come from getting Wrigley Field listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the same time, there are reports that the Ricketts are close to buying two rooftop businesses (possibly the ones most affected by the new outfield signs).

What does all mean?

Sam Zell employed a very structured way to sell the Cubs to avoid the Tribune reporting more than $700 million in capital gains. To sell the Chicago Cubs to the Ricketts family,  but not trigger the Chicago Cubs built-in gain, the Tribune pulled a play from its tax play book that it had recently used to sell Newsday to Cablevision Systems, Inc: the  tax structure is referred to as a “leveraged partnership."

In executing the leveraged partnership structure, a new limited liability company – Newco -- taxed as a partnership was formed, to which the Tribune contributed the Chicago Cubs and its associated business for a five-percent interest and the Ricketts family contributed $150 million in cash for a 95 percent interest. The Ricketts family had certain call rights and the right of first refusal with respect to the membership interest owned by the Tribune and the Tribune has certain rights to put the membership interest to Ricketts family. In addition, Newco borrowed $698.75 million and the Tribune guaranteed the repayment of the principal and interest of the loan. From the funds provided by the debt and the equity financing, a special distribution of $740 million was made to the Tribune.

Accountants said to avoid the triggering of the built in gain with respect to the Chicago Cubs assets, the planning employed by the Tribune depended upon avoiding the disguised rules. Under IRS Section 707(a)(2)(B), where there are related transfers of property or money to a partnership and transfers of property or money by the partnership to the partner and when viewed together these transfers are characterized as a sale or exchange, then such transfers will be treated as a sale or exchange. Under Reg. Section 1.707-3(c)(1), if within a two year period, a partner transfers property to a partnership and the partnership transfers money or other consideration to the partner, the transactions are presumed to be a sales of the property to the partnership unless the facts and circumstances clearly establish otherwise. Reg. section 1.707-5(b)(1) provides that, for purposes of Reg. Section 1.707-3(c), if a partner transfers property to a partnership and the partnership incurs a liability and all or portion of the proceeds of that liability are allocable under Reg. Section 1.163-8T to a transfer of money to the partner made within 90 days of incurring the liability, the transfer of money to the partner is taken into account only to the extent that the amount of money transferred exceeds the partner’s allocable share of the liability. Thus, if the partner’s allocable share of the liability equals or exceeds the amount of debt financed money conveyed to that partner within 90 days of incurring the debt, no amount of the money is treated as the proceeds of a disguised sale by the transferring partner. The guarantee of the debt from which the proceeds distributed to the Tribune came created a risk of loss in the Tribune so that the debt was allocated to the Tribune under Section 752. The guarantee of the liability by the Tribune provided it with an increased basis and allowed it to receive the special distribution of cash without any gain recognition.

The key to the success of the leveraged partnership technique is the guarantee of Newco’s debt. However, the I.R.S. could challenge the leveraged partnership technique on the grounds that:
  1. The guarantee should not be respected;
  2. The anti-abuse provisions of Reg. 1.701-2(a) should apply and
  3. The transaction should be recast in accordance with its substance as a sale.
There were reports during the bankruptcy proceedings that there were inquiries in regard to many Tribune accounting techniques.

The Ricketts agreed to be hogtied by massive debt and ownership lock up rules in order for the bankrupt Tribune Company to avoid capital gains. Walking on egg shells is still the prospect that the "minority sale" of Ricketts interest in the Cubs could trigger an IRS audit. This may be why the ownership structure has had to be kept in the status quo; and why the Ricketts cannot make contributions to the partnership because the Tribune would have to put in its 5%.

Beyond the tax implications of a minority sale, there is a structural element most people do not realize. Most people assume that the Cubs own the team, Wrigley Field, and the surrounding parking lots. But that is not true. As stated in the building commission proposals, the Cubs only own the team. Wrigley Field is owned by another legal entity. The Cubs are merely a tenant at Wrigley Field. The parking lots are owned by a different legal entity. So what is Ricketts really going to sell to minority investors? Just part of the team? Or associated stakes in the various other companies surrounding but legally distinct, from the franchise?

And selling a minority stake in the Cubs is not giving the Cubs team the money. Any proceeds from Ricketts selling their shares goes to the Ricketts, personally. So reports that this money is going to be used as capital to rebuild the Cubs or sign free agents is incorrect. Such a sale does not change the Cubs finances one bit. The Ricketts could use this new found cash to help pay for their new hotel complex investment, or to acquire the rooftop buildings. But again, that real estate development has nothing to do with the business operations of the Cubs.

The Cubs continue to appear to be a cash flow poor franchise. The loan covenants and restrictions caused by the Zell deal still haunt the club. Attendance revenue is still the key barometer to team spending, and that continues to go down. The lack of a local TV deal will also squeeze the gross revenue number in 2015, and may cause the bank some concern. 

But it does start to give owners some return on their leveraged investment, or the very least, paying back Daddy Ricketts for his money put into the purchase.

November 1, 2014


How does one measure success in baseball?


The SF Giants have won three World Series in five years. Some skeptics claim that the Giants were not "the best" team, wild card berths, etc. The bottom line is still the rings.


Any team can boast about having a winning season. For some clubs, being over .500 is a "moral victory." It is enough to keep a team's fan base in excitement and expectation mode to continue to be a competitive team. It is enough to sell improvement if you are competitive series to series.

Individual Awards.

This is a participation trophy in the arena of team sports. Individual accomplishments are fine, so long as they support the ultimate fan goal: championships. A batting title champ or a Cy Young award winner are great, but it does not mean a deep play off run - - -  the bitter taste in Detroit is the latest example.

So how do we measure Theo Epstein's first three years at the helm?

In the last three years, the Cubs have lost 286 games. That is an average of 95.33 losses per season.

It is nice to have respected drafts, and publications liking your revamped minor league system, but none of that really matters (it is all speculation) until you can get victories at the major league level.