December 30, 2014


The Starlin Castro Saga may be getting darker. Details are sketchy, but one report had Castro "arrested" in regard to a second night club shooting incident in the past month in the Dominican.

The charges alone, if brought, could foul up Castro's Visa status for spring training. A long legal process could affect his 2015 playing status.

But the Cubs are rumored to be talking to a rapidly declining infielder with some past with the front office.

Free agent shortstop Stephen Drew is talking to four teams, including the Cubs.
The 31-year-old Drew was horrible in 2014, hitting for a miserable .162/.237/.299 in 300 plate appearances following a lengthy free agent process that left him unsigned until the end of May. Ultimately his -1.1 WAR was by far a career worst, though he provided some value on defense at shortstop, and later second base, when he moved to the Yankees.  

As reported, Drew's age and deteriorating skillset, should not be viewed as more than a potential reclamation project for the Cubs, who could bring him in on a one year deal and benefit from his veteran guidance and defensive versatility. So the idea to bring in Drew to a crowded infield with Castro at short, Baez at second, with Alcantara and Valbuena as utility men, makes no sense unless Castro is not in the picture. Baez could move to short and Drew could platoon at second, but for a player asking $10 million/year, that is an expensive bad insurance policy for the Cubs.

December 29, 2014


The NFL calls the first Monday after the season ends "Black Monday," because that is when most of the coaches get the axe.

The Jets fired both their general manager and head coach, but immediately hired two former GMs to be consultants to find replacements.

The Bears just fired both their general manager and head coach, but have yet to officially announce the purge.

The concept of "cleaning house" usually means firing the coaching staff, or cutting ties with costly underperforming players. But since there is so much money at stake, and fans paying so much of it to want a quality product, ownership is now aware that only bold moves will keep the fan base content.

The Bears plight is probably a bad example of sports management. The team has constantly hired managers above their level of competency. GM Emery had never been a general manager; he was a scout. So the team promoted him several levels above his experience level. Coach Trestman had only been a QB coach in the NFL. He was an CFL head coach, but that is not at the same level. In NFL terms, Trestman's hire was promoting him three levels above his last NFL gig.

The team passed on an actual winning head coach, Bruce Arians, because the new GM wanted to control all of his staff hires. This is unacceptable to any NFL coach worth his salt. He wants his own coaching staff to fit his system; not a bunch a potential spies loyal to the GM.

So it is not a shock that the Bears woefully underperformed for the last two seasons because the managers put in place were over their head. Trestman, a quarterback coach, was supposed to fix the offense Lovie Smith could not do; and to tame Cutler and make him into a "franchise" quarterback. GM Emery made the mistake of giving Cutler a huge contract not tied to performance. As a result, there was no incentive to change his ways and actually work harder. The results were a dismal season.

A purge was necessary at Halas Hall. But with such cleaning, there still is a problem with the ownership and executives on who to hire next. These are the same people who hired Emery, who hired Trestman. The Bears have been unwilling to hire experienced NFL head coaches (possibly to save money).

The Bears make all their money before the season starts. The NFL is the king of sports television. So there is less an incentive to win because the profits are guaranteed by the league. It comes down to a matter of team pride. Does ownership want to win championships, or just be competitive in their division?

December 28, 2014


It is something I have known and written about in the past, but finally a major publication has gone into detail on what the author calls "The Winner's Curse." (

Lewie Pollis of FoxSports presents the theory for the rise in player salaries which is tied to how teams view their own talent against the rest of the league.   Pollis argues that in free agency, the winning bidder for each free agent generally has the most optimistic view of that players’ likely future output and almost always outbids every other team, the overall spending environment is likely to overstate the actual number wins available for purchase in the market. In large part, says Pollis, the issue boils down to the fact that clubs overrate their own informational and analytical advantages against the rest of the league.

Likewise, I believe that most organizations fall in love with their prospects to the point where they overvalue them to the point of paralysis. High expectation and high ceiling prospects tend to kept longer in the system to the point where their asset value plummets to zero. Nothing hurts a club more than holding on to a player beyond his prime or potential.

December 27, 2014


The easy road to the playoffs is winning your division.

How have the NL Central teams fared so far this off season?

In: Jon Lester, David Ross, Jason Motte, Jason Hammel, Miguel Montero, Tommy La Stella

Out: Justin Ruggiano, Carlos Villanueva, a bunch of prospects

In: Mark Reynolds, Matt Belisle, Jason Heyward, Jordan Walden, Dean Anna

Out: Daniel Descalso, Shelby Miller, Justin Masterson, A.J. Pierzynski, Jason Motte, Mark Ellis, Pat Neshek

In: Adam Lind, Juan Centeno, Luis Jimenez

Out: Marco Estrada, Rickie Weeks, Francisco Rodriguez, Tom Gorzelanny, Zach Duke, Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay

In: Corey Hart, Radhames Liz, Sean Rodriguez, Antonio Bastardo, Pedro Florimon, Francisco Cervelli, Jake Elmore, Jung-Ho Kang
Out: Gaby Sanchez, Ike Davis, Justin Wilson, Russell Martin, Edinson Volquez, Clint Barmes


In: Anthony DeSclafani, Chad Wallach, Eugenio Saurez, Jonathon Crawford, Ramon Cabrera, Neftali Soto, Matt Magill, Jose Flores
Out: Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, Chris Heisey

At first glance, it appears the REDS are in complete demolition, tear-down mode. By trading away two starters from the deepest rotation in the division (because they would be free agents at the end of 2015) is a White Flag move before the season starts. Reds fans cannot be happy, even though the team has tried to stock pile young arms. Cincinnati appears to be a .500 club at best.

The BREWERS have been less active than the Reds, picking up one potential starter in Lind (6 HR, 40 RBI in 96 games). The Brew lost a lot of pitching depth so far this off season, so the team does appear to be falling below .500.

The CARDINALS lost a lot of pitching by trade and free agency, but the big exchange was to get Heywood to bolster a good line up of hitters. Reynolds appears to be a bench signing (insurance) in case Adams eats his way off first base. St. Louis will have to count on their young pitching pipeline to contend in 2015.

The PIRATES lost two key components: Volquez and Martin. But the addition of slick fielding Korean SS Kang is an upgrade, and upgrading the bullpen may help the starting staff. If Hart can get back to his 2012 season (30 HR, 89 RBI, .270 BA) then the Pirates will again be near the top of the division.

The CUBS player departures are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Lester may be the best starter in the division, but the other additions do not help the team which has real trouble scoring runs.  There is a concern that a Montero-Ross catching tandem is a down grade from a healthy Castillo. The Cubs may still be a sub .500 team due to the prospects trying to become major league professionals.

Overall, the NL Central has not been as active as one may have thought this winter.

December 26, 2014


If you want some evidence that the front office does not seem like it has a steady plan, look at the latest rash of moves.

Lasting a Cub career for only four (4) days, recently claimed catcher Ryan Lavarnway and outfielder Shane Peterson were waived by the Cubs. Lavarnway was immediately claimed by the Orioles, and Peterson by the Brewers.

The moves were made to add new catcher David Ross and minor league pitcher Mike Kickham to the 40 man roster. Ross is going to be Lester's personal backstop.

Kickham made 14 BAD appearances (three starts) for the Giants in 2013 and 2014. In his major league career: 30⅓ innings, 54 hits allowed, 11 walks for a 2.143 WHIP and 10.98 ERA. Wow.

The Cubs continue to be thin in the outfield, so cut a recent pick-up to take a left handed relief pitcher that is horrible? This flurry of roster churning is uncomfortable because like a three card Monty game on the boardwalk, there are no winners.

December 23, 2014


In the past few years, the Cubs have been the bridesmaid on several high profile free agents.

If you recall, the local media talkers were foaming at the mouth in their zeal to acquire these big free agents to turn around the Cubs tide. But for whatever reason (money to propaganda), the Cubs could not land the big fish:

Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish, Yoenis Cespedes, Anibal SanchezRussell MartinShin-Soo Choo, Brian McCann, Melky Cabrera, and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Tanaka and Darvish both broke the starting pitcher bank, but both got hurt along the way.
Cespedes was okay in Oakland and Boston, and possibly could be had today in a trade.
Sanchez had a great 2013, but cooled a little in 2014 but still is a quality starter.
Choo, McCann and Ellsbury seem to be underperformers and disappointments.
Cabrera had a PED bump in the road, but came back to continue to be a .300 hitter.

The lesson is that big money free agent don't necessarily pan out. If the Cubs got half the guys they wanted, they could have been stuck with highly paid deadweight in Choo in LF, McCann at C and possibly an arm weary Japanese starter.

December 22, 2014


  1.  Adam Eaton CF
  2. Melky Cabrera LF
  3. Jose Abreu 1B
  4. Adam LaRoche DH
  5. Avisail Garcia RF
  6.  Conor Gillaspie 3B
  7. Alexei Ramirez SS
  8. Tyler Flowers C
  9. Carlos Sanchez 2B
That appears to be the new line up for the 2015 White Sox. The bottom two slots are still "iffy" but the Sox have plenty of middle infield talent to shore up second (i.e. Leury Garcia, Tim Anderson).

A few pundits believe that LaRoche will play more first base (due to his defensive skills) than Abreu which would put a better defense metric in play for the team. Any time a team can acquire a bat that also upgrades the defense, it is a win-win situation, an "A" grade.

Cabrera takes over for Vicideo, who will be traded by the Sox since he is only 25 and has power potential. On the defensive metric, it is probably a push. But Cabrera signing solidifies LF with a consistent bat so it was a "B+" move.

For a bullpen in distress most of last season, the acquisition of Zach Duke and Dan Jennings as lefty relievers must be a godsend for Don Cooper. Duke has had an up and down career, but got good numbers last season in Milwaukee. So these moves rate above par, "B."

The trade to get Jeff Samardzija to be the RHP in the rotation was risky genius because the Shark is a free agent after next year. But GM Hahn said that having Samardzija in the fold gives him "10 months" to negotiate an extension. The rotation clearly lacked a quality right handed starter so this move was needed and fixed, "A" grade.

The final bullpen piece is David Robertson as the new closer. Having succeeded as a closer as a Yankee, the pressure is off in Chicago. It was an expensive and needed stability move for the young pen, another "A" grade.

So far, the White Sox grade out with about an "A-" off-season which is very good.  The one spot that is still lacking is upgrade at catcher, which could lead to one of those rare inter-city deals for the Cubs Welington Castillo.


Both Chicago teams have been active in the off-season.

Surprisingly, the Cubs went out and spend a fortune on Jon Lester ($155 million) on a team that still projects to be several years away from competing for the NL Central title.  The move rates a "A" for audacity but a "C" for impact. The question is that Lester's peak years (one through three) of the contract may be with a team that may not have a Plan B if Baez, Alcantara, Russell, Bryant etc. don't work out. Even if the prospects work out, with most big money deals, the back half performance of the pitcher may not be up to expectations.

The trade for Miguel Montero and the signing of David Ross to be Lester's personal catcher also merits scrutiny since the Montero-Ross battery combination is actually less productive than Welington Castillo's 2014 numbers. Montero has had two sub-par seasons for the Diamondbacks, and Ross will be 38 next season. The Cubs also claimed catcher Ryan Lavarnway off waivers from the Dodgers, but it seems to be a nominal signing. However, he is another former Red Sox so that is the front office connection. Depending if the Cubs can trade Castillo for an impact position player, the re-working of the catching staff merits a "D."

As for adding a legitimate outfielder to the roster, the Cubs only claimed Shane Peterson from the A's. He only has 7 major league at bats (all in 2013). In AAA last year, he hit 11 HR, 90 RBI with a .308 BA in PCL. He can also play first base. But he projects as a AAA/AAAA replacement level player so the Cubs continue to not address a glaring need so this move is an "F."

The Cubs bullpen was not a problem last season. The signing of Jason Motte adds another rehab project into the mix. Some think he is insurance in case both Rondon and Strop fail at the closer position, but other think Ramirez should be the third man up in that role. Motte settles into a middle relief role with the Cubs, so it rates a "C" at best.

December 21, 2014


The Cubs got aggressive and took catcher David Ross away from the Padres.

Ross becomes apparently Jon Lester's new personal catcher.

With the trade for Miguel Montero, it seems Welington Castillo's time as a Cub is over.

And it really makes little sense.

Montero, 31,  has had two bad seasons in a row.

2013: 11 HR 42 RBI .230 BA 0.5 WAR
2014: 13 HR 72 RBI .243 BA 0.7 WAR

Ross, 37, is a nominal performer.

2013: 4 HR 10 RBI .216 BA 0.8 WAR
2014: 7 HR 15 RBI .184 BA Negative 0.3 WAR

Castillo, 27, has been a better performer when healthy.

2013: 8 HR 32 RBI .234 BA 4.5 WAR
2014: 13 HR 46 RBI .237 BA 1.8 WAR.

The Cubs are replacing Castillo with Montero and Ross, but losing 1.5 WAR value in return.

I don't see the motivation to replace Castillo since there are other glaring holes in the line up card. If moving Castillo is going to set a fire under the young players to perform or else, then that just adds more pressure on them. If they think they can get something BIG in return for a proven starting catcher in Castillo, I don't think that will be the case since Toronto still has a better catcher, Dioner Navarro, ready for the trade market.

It makes little sense to trade away pieces just so you have a roster filled "with your guys"when the new guys don't project to be any better than the old guys.

December 20, 2014


This off-season has been puzzling and strange.

Why is Oakland and Atlanta conducting massive fire sales?

Why is San Diego of all clubs, an aggressive buyer?

The whirlwind of transactions for the Padres under new hyper-aggressive GM A.J. Preller. Te Padres made their acquisition of Matt Kemp official (after review of troublesome medicals), and they’re slated to do the same with a three-team trade that will net them power hitter Wil Myers and catcher Ryan Hanigan  from the Rays. The Padres have also struck deals to acquire catcher Derek Norris from the A’s and Justin Upton from the Braves. But won’t be hanging onto Hanigan; he’s reportedly headed to the Red Sox in a swap that will bring third baseman and former hot prospect gone cold, Will Middlebrooks to San Diego.
Oakland's Billy Beane went "all in" last season to trade for veteran pitchers to win it all, and he failed. So he is backing up his truck and re-tooling his small market club.

Atlanta got rid of its old GM and the older executives seem to be content on cutting salary costs and rebuild for a playoff run in 2017, when the Braves get their new, fancy, taxpayer paid new suburban stadium.

The Padres have always been a small market club with not a strong attendance fan base. Even in the tough NL West with power money teams like the Giants and Dodgers, San Diego seems to have taken an Oakland "win now" pill.

It is interesting to note that second tier clubs have been the most aggressive in the trade market.

December 19, 2014


In any professional sport, management is accountable to ownership and players are accountable to coaches and coaches are accountable to management.

Such is the circle of life in pro sports.

Until you cover the Chicago Bears.

A Super Bowl expectation pre-season has turned into a Toilet Bowl of reality.

No one seems to be in charge. No seems to be listening. No one seems to know what to do to correct things. No one seems to take responsibility for their actions.

The latest madness from Halas Hall is that four hours after Coach Trestman told the media that it was not all Cutler's fault for the offensive woes, Cutler is benched for Jimmy Clausen, a player who has not taken this year a first team practice snap.

It could have been the only time that the organization decided to slap their mumbly, pouting franchise quarterback for his poor performances with some accountability, but it seems a little and too late. Management put $54 million guaranteed on the Cutler bandwagon at the beginning of the year when the team did not have to do so. Cutler has a reputation as being a "coach killer" for good reason; look at the graveyard of past offensive coordinators.

The free fall from firing a 10-6 Lovie Smith to a lackluster 8-8 season to now a potential 5-11 disaster, the Trestman era may go down as one of the worst in franchise history. A franchise that has only won 2 championships in the last 51 years.  No doubt the reason Smith was fired was because he did not get to the playoffs. But behind the scenes, Smith was welding too much power and control over personnel decisions. He was solely focused on his defense, an arrogantly outdated Tampa 2 scheme that former Bear Gary Fencik called "high school." But still, Smith's players played hard for him, and they won games.

GM Phil Emery went out of the box thinking when he hired a CFL coach in Trestman. A report surfaced recently that NFL Coach of the Year, Bruce Arians, who guided the Colts to the playoffs during a turmoil year when their head coach was battling cancer, wanted the Bears job. But when it came time to interview, Arians was told he had to go through a "fake" news conference drill, and was also told he could not hire any of his assistant coaches. Arians had dealt with the media under pressure for an entire year. It seemed like Bears management was clueless in how to interview an experienced NFL coach. But based upon the amount of control management wanted to keep, no wonder the Bears hired Trestman, a man with no NFL experience to leverage concessions on his staff.

Trestman was hired to do one thing: fix the offense. So management brought in the worst defensive coordinator from the previous season, Mel Tucker, but told him to "keep" the Lovie Smith defense so as not to offend the returning players. It should not have mattered to the players - - - professionals have to be professional and change with the times. But to hand tie Tucker was also another management intrusion and mistake.

Trestman was supposed to be a quarterback guru. He could fix Cutler's bad mechanics, bad reads, and turnover issues. The team surrounded him with All-Pro caliber wide receivers, running back and tight end. All the pieces were in place for a juggernaut offense.

But this year, the offense regressed to being middle of the pack poor. The team comes out of the gate so poorly in the first half of games that even national commentators are baffled. The team, with all the garbage points at the end of losses, still has not scored more than 28 points this season.

The head coach is responsible to get his players and the three phases of the team ready for each game. Clearly, offense, defense and special teams have been awful. Unprepared, lack of urgency, poor fundamentals and inability to play their positions are damning problems that have not been corrected week after week. Some say the players are not that talented - - - so that goes to the general manager. But he spent a ton of money on "name" free agents to shore up the lines. He made the disastrous investment in Cutler.

If anyone wants to study "How not to Run a Sports Franchise," one only has to review the Bears' 2014 season.

December 18, 2014


With the Cubs paying Jason Motte $4.5 million to be a middle reliever (and insurance if Rondon and Strop go down as closers), there is going to be some issues with the final 25 man roster.

New manager Joe Maddon likes the idea of platoons and match ups.  Since he will have a LF field platoon of Coghlan and Lake since they traded Ruggiano (also, pending an upgrade acquisition) and the possibility to have a CF platoon with Alcantara, and an open second base situation if Baez struggles, and maybe a Valbuena-Olt 3B combo until Bryant is promoted, the Cubs will probably only have 11 pitchers on the staff (6 bullpen arms).

OF: Coghlan, Lake, Alcantara, Soler, Sweeney
IN: Valbuena, Olt, Castro, Baez, La Stella, Watkins, Rizzo
C: Montero, Castillo

SP: Lester, Hammel, Arrieta, Hendricks, Wada

RP: Rondon, Strop, Motte, Ramirez, Grimm, Ortiz

The odd men out on the pitching staff:

SP: T. Wood, Turner, Doubront,  E. Jackson, Straily
RP: Jokisch, Beeler, Parker, Roach, Rosscup, Schlitter

The most trade value would be in T. Wood. There has also been bad contract swap reports for E. Jackson. Parker or Rosscup could provide limited prospect returns in trade.

Again, the bullpen was not the problem in the 2014 club. The Cubs still need to upgrade most position players with starting caliber, professional hitters. As such, players such as Sweeney, Olt, Watkins, LaStella are potentially on the bubble in making the squad after spring training if the Cubs can acquire a starting position player of note.

December 16, 2014


After the happy Jon Lester press conference, the Cubs were back to their old tricks of acquiring damaged pitchers with the hopes of miracle rebirths.

The Cubs have signed former Cardinal pitcher Jason Motte to a one year, $4.5 million (with additional incentives).  Motte, a 32-year-old righty had a nice run with the Cardinals as one of the game’s better back-end relievers. Over 2010-12, he tossed 192 1/3 innings of 2.43 ERA ball with 9.5 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9. He moved into the team’s closer role in 2012, locking down a league-leading 42 games.

But  Motte was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. A long recovery period kept him out until the 2014 season, when he also missed time with a lower back issue. All said, Motte only appeared for 25 innings last year, struggling to a 4.68 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9.

MLBTR notes that  ERA estimators were down on Motte’s work last season: FIP (6.49), xFIP (4.58), and SIERA (4.25) all saw Motte as a below-average contributor. He was hurt significantly by the long ball, giving up a 20.0% HR/FB rate and a whopping 2.52 HR/9 that ranked second to worst in all of baseball among relievers who threw at least 20 frames.

It seems like an expensive insurance policy if Hector Rondon fails in the closer role in 2015.

The Cub bullpen was the real bright spot last year with Rondon, Strop, Ramirez, Schlitter, Parker and Grimm. But since Ricketts has opened the money tap, the baseball ops guys are willing to spend.

December 15, 2014


You have to give the White Sox their due.

They had done an analysis of deficiencies on their 2014 roster, and spent this off-season curing those ills.

They have come away with an interesting mix of players who will contribute immediately.

Adam LaRouche fills a hole at 1B/DH, and puts less pressure on Jose Abreu's sophomore season.

Melky Cabrera solves the LF production issues, and puts Viciedo squarely on the trade block (probably for more pitching depth).

The bullpen issues have been partially solved by signing closer David Robertson, Zach Duke and trading for Dan Jennings.

Jeff Samardzija breaks up the lefty rotation with a RHP at #2 behind Sale. The 2015 rotation appears to be the best in the AL Central (since the Tigers seem hell bent on trading away starters). The rotation of Sale, Samardzija, Quintana, Rodon and Danks is the best since the WS champion club.

There is still one area on the shopping list to upgrade: catcher. Tyler Flowers may be a good defensive catcher, but his offensive numbers are poor.

There will be an open competition for second base starter, but the White Sox have enough talented middle infielders to hold that position.

December 13, 2014


At the end of the Winter Meetings, MLB held the annual Rule 5 draft, which eligible players not protected on 40 man rosters could be selected for full major league service in 2015. A player selected must stay on his team's 25 man roster for the entire year, or be sent back to the original club.

The Cubs lost three players in the draft process. The White Sox lost two players.

What is quite surprising is that the Cubs picked Rockie shortstop Taylor Featherston in the major league phase, putting him on the 25 man roster. Featherston, 25, has never played above Class AA ball. He hit .260, 16 HR, 57 RBI last season. He has some power, and can play three infield positions (SS, 2B, 3B) so he projects as the 25th man, a utility infielder. Afterward, the Cubs traded him to the Angels for cash considerations.


1. Arizona Diamondbacks: C Oscar Hernandez, Rays
2. Colorado Rockies: IF Mark Canha, Marlins
3. Texas Rangers: OF Delino DeShields Jr., Astros
4. Houston Astros: RHP Jason Garcia, Red Sox
5. Minnesota Twins: RHP J.R. Graham, Braves
6. Boston Red Sox: RHP Jandel Gustave, Astros
7. Chicago Cubs: SS Taylor Featherston, Rockies
8. Philadelphia Phillies: IF David Herrera, Rangers
9. Miami Marlins: LHP Andrew McKirahan, Cubs
10. New York Mets: LHP Sean Gilmartin, Twins
11. Atlanta Braves: RHP Daniel Winkler, Rockies
12. Seattle Mariners: LHP David Rollins, Astros
13. Baltimore Orioles: RHP Logan Verrett, Mets

14. Philadelphia Phillies: LHP Andrew Oliver, Pirates

1. Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Timothy Crabbe, Reds
2. Colorado Rockies: RHP Kyle Simon, Phillies
3. Texas Rangers: 1B Roderick Shoulders, Cubs
4. Houston Astros: C Luis Flores, Cubs
5. Minnesota Twins: RHP Greg Peavey, Mets
6. Chicago White Sox: RHP Peter Tago, Rockies
7. Chicago Cubs: OF Ariel Ovando, Astros
8. Cincinnati Reds: C Camden Maron, Mets
9. Miami Marlins: LHP Matthew Tomshaw, Twins
10. San Diego Padres: SS Juan Gamboa, Mets
11. Tampa Bay Rays: RF Luis Urena, Pirates
12. Atlanta Braves: C Steven Rodriguez, D-backs
13. Cleveland Indians: RHP Delvy Francisco, Phillies
14. San Francisco Giants: RHP Ramon Del Orbe, Marlins
15. Detroit Tigers: RHP Jheyson Manzueta, Marlins
16. St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Tyler Waldron, Pirates
17. Los Angeles Dodgers: OF Peter Lavin, Phillies
18. Baltimore Orioles: OF Sean Halton, Brewers
19. Los Angeles Angels: IF Chris Curley, White Sox
20. Texas Rangers: SS Hiram Martinez, Marlins
21. Cincinnati Reds: RHP Euclides Leyer, White Sox
22. Miami Marlins: 1B Harold Riggins, Reds
23. Tampa Bay Rays: RHP Michael O'Brien, Orioles
24. San Francisco Giants: CF Brett Jackson, D-backs
25. Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Alexander Santana, Orioles
26. Los Angeles Angels: SS Pedro Ruiz, D-backs
27. Miami Marlins: LHP Alexander Burgos, Tigers
28. Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Randy Fontanez, Mets
29. Los Angeles Angels: RF Kentrail Davis, Brewers
30. Los Angeles Dodgers: SS Nathan Samson, D-backs

December 12, 2014


For teams bidding for Jon Lester, it was disappointing when he signed with the Cubs.

However, tying up millions of dollars long term on a 31 year old pitcher can be a curse.

Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci wrote a story about the Lester sweepstakes and made the following two declarations:

1) "Whichever team winds up winning the bidding for Jon Lester will get a very good pitcher and a very bad contract."

2) "It's foolish to give a pitcher in the Testing Era a six- or seven-year contract that begins with his age-31 season. In fact, it's so foolish it's never been done before."

Verducci provided statistics to defend his claims.

Although the Giants clearly wanted Lester, Comcast SanFran asked the question of whether the team possibly dodged a bullet?

"Oh I totally agree," TV analyst Mike Krukow said. "You know how I feel about six-, seven-year contracts for pitchers, I just don't think they are realistic ... It's a roll of the dice. I just don't like it ... I don't think that it makes that much sense.

"But you know what, it's a roll of the dice, total roll of the dice. You're betting on a six-year deal to get him for the first four. If you get him for the last two that's a benefit. I don't think anybody giving a contract of six years or more to anybody 30 years of age or older is planning on the back end of that contract. I just don't think they are.

"So I do agree that in a way the Giants did dodge a little bit of a bullet there, but still, it's disappointing."

December 11, 2014


The Cubs traded two minor league players for Diamondback catcher Miguel Montero. Class A pitchers Zack Godley and Jeferson Mejia go to Arizona in the deal.

Godley is a 24-year-old righty who has yet to move past the High-A level in Chicago’s system. Working at Daytona last year, he put up a 3.57 ERA in 40 1/3 frames with 11.6 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9.
Mejia, 20, reached Rookie ball last year after being inked by the Cubs on July 2 of 2013. As Ben Badler of Baseball America wrote,  the 6’7 prospect had been adding weight and fastball velocity at the time of his signing. He ultimately went for a $850K bonus. Mejia features a low-90s heater with a good change and decent curve. Meija was the 17th ranked Cubs prospect. Working mostly as a reliever, he threw to a 2.48 ERA with 10.1 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9 in 40 innings last year.

Montero, a left-handed hitter, has three years and $40 million left on his deal. The 31-year-old has had two down years after establishing himself as one of the best-hitting backstops in the game. Last year, he slashed .243/.329/.370 with 13 home runs in 560 plate appearances. There have been prior reports that Montero is not a good clubhouse guy.

It makes little sense for the Cubs to make this trade. Welington Castillo had a decent year behind the plate. In fact, his numbers are nearly the same as Montero's: Castillo  posted two straight above-average years of offensive production before stepping back slightly in 2014. He slashed .237/.296/.389 last year, with a career-best 13 home runs in 417 plate appearances. So Castillo was generally improving while Montero has been regressing badly.

Over the past two seasons, Montero has accumulated only 1.2 WAR while at the same time, Castillo has accumulated 6.3 WAR. 

In addition, Castillo, 27,  is under team control for another three years. He was going to make only $2.1 million in 2015, much less than Montero.

If the Cubs really wanted to "upgrade" their catching position, the trade for Dioner Navarro would have made more sense. Navarro is out of a starting job because the Jays signed Russell Martin. Navarro had a heady 2014: .274 BA, 12 HR, 69 RBI, 2.3 WAR.

After the deal, Jeff Passon of Yahoo Sports reports that the Cubs will be actively shopping Castillo. Again, that also makes no sense since a) the Cubs have no other catcher on the major league roster; b) prospect Kyle Schwarber is still two years away; and c) if Montero is a bust, the team has no Plan B. But the Cubs seem to be content with no Plan Bs.

Why catching so suddenly the burr under the front office saddle is a mystery, considering the greater weaknesses in left field, center field, and starting pitching.

December 10, 2014


The Cubs went against conventional wisdom and signed the best free agent on the market. The Cubs clearly overpaid for Jon Lester, and made a move prior to the team is ready to win the division. Lester takes the role of Jeff Samardzija, the opening day starter (and possibly the pitcher with the least run support).

By many reports, the Red Sox botched their dealings with Lester. First, the team insulted him last year with a weak $70 million/3 year extension offer. Second, the team traded Lester to Oakland, but told the press that the team wanted Lester back. You don't trade away somebody you really want. Third, the Red Sox final offer was $20 million short of the Cubs (also meaning that the Cubs overpaid the market for Lester).

The Giants GM said he was not given a chance to give his best or final offer. This means that Lester preferred to not be on the West Coast (he lives in Atlanta). But in the end, respect equals money and the Cubs flashed the most green. This sudden spending spree may be a public relations reaction to what the White Sox had accomplished in the off-season: adding players like Samardzija, LaRouche, Robertson, Duke. It would be hard to sell tickets if the White Sox are charging to the top of the AL Central.

The $15 million vesting option for Year 7 of the deal should be no problem if the Cubs in 2020 get their golden Cub channel television deal (like the Dodgers). But since the Cubs still don't even have a local TV in place, the dramatic change in cable and entertainment distribution and the Dodgers disaster of unable to sell their channel to distributors, the Cubs are banking on money the team may never get.

Lester will receive six years and $155 million, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports.  The contract will make Lester one of baseball’s richest pitchers, with an average annual value of $25.8 million, that ranks just ahead of Detroit Tiger Justin Verlander's  $25.7 million/year but behind only Clayton Kershaw's  $30.7 million.

Despite what Cubs management says, the team is still not close to winning a pennant.

Lester will lead a staff of starters that breaks down as follows:
1. LHP Lester
2. RHP Hammel
3. RHP Arrieta
4. RHP Hendrick
5. LHP Wada

The two pitchers immediately out of the rotation are Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson. Jackson has a bad contract, but there has been some reported interest in other teams, like Atlanta, who would swap bad deals. A Brave deal Jackson for B.J. Upton has the potential to upgrade LF over a Coghlan/Ruggiano platoon if Upton's two year funk can be corrected. Wood's 2014 slide is of some concern, which is why Wada was re-signed for 2015.

Lester pitched for Boston and Oakland last year, compiling a 16-11 record, 2.46 ERA, 1.102 WHIP and 4.6 WAR. In his 9 seasons, Lester is 116-67, 3.58 ERA, 32.6 WAR.

From a valuation standpoint, Lester's current WAR equates to $23 million/ year. If one projects out Lester, who will be 31, over the 6 seasons with a 10 percent decline in effectiveness, it is expected that he will contribute another 21.52 WAR, which would put the contract value of the deal at $107.6 million. Therefore, the Cubs paid a 44 percent premium over the expected value of Lester in the next 6 years.

In order for the Lester deal to work out, the Cubs need to score more runs. A lot more runs. This will push the team to promote Kris Bryant earlier than expected, which should appease the fans.

December 9, 2014


The White Sox have been making major moves this off-season. Two glaring needs have suddenly been met: right handed starter and bullpen closer.

The White Sox traded for ex-Cub Jeff Samardzija, sending the A's utility infielder Marcus Semien, right hander Chris Bassitt and a player to be named later. This was less than Oakland's initial asking price which included Alexi Ramirez and prospect Tim Anderson. Samardzija trade is a one-year rental since he really wants to explore free agency, his one and only time to get such a huge contract. However, as a Chicago icon, the Shark may be convinced to stay with the White Sox if things go well in 2015.

The trade for Samardzija does not upset the White Sox top prospects or starting line up.
Samardzija moved into the Cubs' rotation in 2012 and has gone 26-42 as a starter with a 3.86 ERA. He went a combined 7-13 last season with a 2.99 ERA with both the Cubs and A's. He was 5-6 in 16 starts in the American League, posting a 3.14 ERA. He is expected to make between $9 million and $10 million in 2015, his final year of arbitration eligibility.

The White Sox rotation gets seriously deep with this trade. Chris Sale, Samardzija, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon and John Danks.

In addition, the White Sox signed former Yankee closer, David Robertson, to a 4 year, $46 million deal. Roberston went 4-5 with 39 saves and a 3.08 ERA after taking over the closer role in New York. The 29-year old has a 2.81 ERA over seven seasons.

The Yankees made a one-year qualifying offer of $15.3 million to Robertson for 2015, ensuring them draft-pick compensation if he signs with another team. Because the White Sox had among the top 10 initial picks in next year's amateur draft, they lose a second-round selection next June rather than their first-round choice, which is eighth overall. The Yankees receive an extra pick between the first and second rounds.

The White Sox had a 4.28 ERA from their bullpen this past season, 28th in baseball and only better than the Rockies and Astros.  The club's combined 36 saves were better than just five other major league teams. By adding Robertson and Zach Duke, the White Sox are putting veteran pitching on the back end of the pen. Nate Jones is expected to be back in late July, 2015.

No White Sox fan can complain that their team has not been making serious moves to win in 2015.

UPDATE: The deal included 6 players; with the Sox sending catcher Josh Phelgley to Oakland and the A's sending a Class A relief pitcher.

December 8, 2014


And the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, hoping Cole Hamels would be deposited in there.

Such is the holiday song for Cub fans.

The Cubs did sign a starting pitcher, but not that one.

Jason Hammel has struck a two-year, $20MM to return to the Cubs, according to reports. The deal includes a club option for a third season, with a $2MM buyout included as part of the aforementioned guarantee.

Hammel signed a one-year deal with the Cubs last February, at $6 million,  then enjoyed a strong half-season in Chicago before heading to Oakland in the Jeff Samardzija deal. Hammel enjoyed great success a Cub starter (8-5, 2.98 ERA), but was terrible in pitcher friendly Oakland (2-6, 4.26 ERA).

Hammel significantly improved his strikeout rate (8.1 K/9, to go with a 3.47 ERA and 2.2 BB/9) in 2014 following a down season with the Orioles, and he pitched 176 1/3 innings, his highest total since 2010. This offseason, Hammel had been connected to the Marlins, Royals and Astros, along with the Cubs.

This is what we projected this off-season: the Cubs continuing to target second tier pitchers who have the ability to rebound their careers, and be possible trade bait in July. A two year deal gives the Cubs the option of trading Hammel next winter. Hammel is a known Cub commodity so this pick up was not unexpected or unusual.He had a 3.1 WAR last season, which puts him near the top of the current rotation.

December 7, 2014


In the never ending moving target that is the Wrigley "rehabilitiation" project, the Ricketts are going back to the Chicago Landmark Commission, again, to revise their plans.

This time to eliminate one sign and reduce the size of the scoreboard.

These requirements are needed in order to trying to get approximately $70 million in "historic preservation" tax credits from the federal government. For those unaware how tax credits work, it gives a person or corporation in essence non-taxation on other income in order to promote the maintenance of landmark structures.

So when the Ricketts initially said they would not be using any taxpayer money on their project, they lied. Tax credits take tax dollars from government treasuries so taxpayers have to make up the difference.

But the most crazy aspect of this whole scheme is lost by everyone in the media like a deer in headlights: Wrigley Field is a historic landmark in its current structure, but the Ricketts family wants to designate it a "historic landmark" AFTER all the new, modern, electronic signage has been built in the bleachers.

None of the new signage has anything to do with the century old character of the building.

It is like a movie theater chain buying Ford's Theater in D.C., knocking it down to build a 20 screen Cineplex, then ask for huge historic tax credits because Lincoln was shot in the premises.

The whole idea that the new signs have any "historical" significance is absurd. They have not even been built yet! How can any person with common sense believe that preservation tax breaks can be used not to preserve the existing structure but totally change it.

IN many communities, landmark districts have strict rules. Owners of buildings must comply with the type of materials used to repair and maintain their buildings. Paints have to meet historical color standards. It costs more to to replace rotting siding with wood plank than with a modern vinyl product. So that is why tax break assistance is thought to be in the community's best interests to keep the aesthetic nature of an old downtown district.

AS I have mentioned previously in this blog, there is going to be a national jaw drop once the "improvements" at Wrigley Field have been completed. The memories of Wrigley Field that was televised throughout the nation on the WGN superstation will be jarred by the commercial overload of bleacher signage.

But when Ricketts talk about "restoring" Wrigley Field, they are really meaning that they are trying to make the most money as possible from their venue.

December 6, 2014


As the Winter Meetings approach, it will be interesting to see how guarded the Cubs are with their prized prospects.

Many teams often fall in love with their prospects. So much so that the darling saplings wither on the vine over time. Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry was one of those talent managers who keep his prospects too long.

Prospects are nothing but prospects until they prove their worth at the major league market.

Prospects have value to another team if that team believes the prospect will have major league value.

If a prospect makes his team's ML roster and fails, the GM looks bad. If he does great, the GM is validated. If the prospect is just average, then it is a wash.

If a prospect does not make it to the majors quickly, it devalues the player as well. A high school prospect should be able to ramble through a system in four years. A college senior two or three years. Some teams isolated their prospects in the minors, coddle them and "wait" until they are ready. For some, they are never ready.

How well a team can balance the love of their prospects and the need to extract the most "value" from them is how well a team performs in the long run.

There will be plenty of stories naming interest in Bryant, Castro, Russell, Baez, Alcantara, CJ Edwards, Hendricks. Other teams can see the "potential" in their game. Castro actually have a five year track record, so he is no longer a mere prospect.

If the Cubs hold tight and not part with any prized prospect for a major league ready position player or starter, then that may not be a good sign. Positional log jams do not help the club's depth when you have to cool someone's jets in AAA.

December 5, 2014


Everyone knew the Yankees were in the market for a shortstop replacement. We thought that the Cubs would be an ample trading partner for the Yankees. For whatever reason, nothing gelled in that regard because the Yankees apparently found their replacement middle infielder.

The Yankees acquired Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks in a three way trade with Tigers. Gregoriusis a typical good glove weak bat shortstop. But he has major league experience.

The Tigers get a fifth starter in pitcher Shane Green. In his short career, he is about an average major league starter which is okay in the back of a deep rotation.

The Diamondbacks get two players: lefty Robbie Ray, who last year posted a 1.59 ERA through is first five starts at Triple-A, with a 21/5 K/BB ratio in 28 innings, showing his promise, but he is not a flawless prospect, and shortstop Domingo Leyba from the Tigers. He’s only 19 and hasn’t played above A-ball, but he hit very well across two levels in 67 games last season. In leagues in which he was very young.

Apparently, the Yankees were eager to get a deal to solidify their shortstop position before the winter meetings. If the Cubs were inclined to trade a surplus middle infielder to a team that really needed one, this could be a missed opportunity.

December 4, 2014


The Cubs 40 man roster stands at 37 players after not tendering contracts to LHP Wesley Wright and catcher John Baker.

The Cubs tendered contracts (for arb eligible players) as follows:

— Chris Coghlan : $1.4 million
 Luis Valbuena : $3.1 million
 Justin Ruggiano : $2.5 million
 Travis Wood : $5.5 million
 Pedro Strop : $2.4 million
 Jake Arrieta : $4.1 million
 Felix Doubront : $1.3 million
 Welington Castillo : $2.1 million

The projected 2015 salaries are based on MLBTR estimates. The release of Wright and Baker save the Cubs approximately $3.2 million.

Despite what people may "want" to believe, the Cubs are going into next season with basically the same club as last year's. Overtime to get the bleachers done in a reasonable time has to come out of somebody's pocket, and usually that is the players payroll budget.

December 3, 2014


With the winter meetings fast approaching, and the non-tender deadline past, the Cubs like all other teams should be finalizing their winter plans.

It is like an X-Mas list self-evaluation.

The Outfield.  The rock band is still better than the current Cub players.  A platoon of Coghlan-Riggiano, Alcantara and Soler  does not bode well for 2015 and beyond. Soler is the new prototypical free swinger - - - high torque, high power, home runs or bust mentality like Baez. Can he mature and adjust in his first full season is the open question. Alcantara is still playing out of position; he is much more valuable as a second baseman. More likely than not, other clubs will be asking about him in trade because of his power.  Left field is barren. Perhaps, this open stance is because the front office is looking to fill it with either Baez, Bryant or even Castro.

Evaluation: Need major upgrades in left field and center field.

The Infield. The front office continues to claim that Castro is the Cubs core shortstop now and in the future. However, he is the most valuable trade chip the team has (as the Yankees need to replace Jeter). Baez plays a better shortstop than Castro, and Alcantara plays a better second than Baez. Rizzo is going to anchor first base for a long time so that is the only position that is set. Third base is being held for Bryant, who wants to play there and not in the outfield. It is usually better to transition a potential star at his natural position rather than having him learn a new position at the same time as learning major league pitching. Valbuena may also be a trading chip at the winter meetings.

Evaluation: Need upgrade at third (which could be Bryant in June), stability up the middle.

Catcher. There has been a lot of negativity on Castillo. It seems to be mostly unfounded. He is a better defensive catcher than most people think. He is in the upper half in regard to catcher BA. The most probably detriment is potential injury history. But he grades out as a starter. The Cubs were reported to be on the Martin free agent negotiations. With Martin signing with the Blue Jays, the odd man out is D. Navarro, the ex-Cub, who hit .274, 12 HR, 69 RBI in 2014. He could be an upgrade, but not at the cost of a young middle infielder. Baker is a weak back up catcher, so anyone would be an improvement (except for Koy Hill).

Evaluation: Either keep Castillo as the #1, or trade big for an upgrade (Gattis).

Starting Pitching: This has been the trade bin for the Cubs the past several years. The trade and turnover of the starters has been remarkable. The question is whether the Cubs will stop trading starters and actually build a core staff. Arrieta has shown some good stuff, but throughout his career he has never put together back-to-back solid years. Hendricks had a nice debut season, but the league will adjust to him quickly. Neither Arrieta or Hendricks are lock down #1 starters. Wada and Wood are lefty #5 starters at best. E. Jackson is the lump of coal in the stocking. He was supposed to be a solid innings eater, but has been terrible. (There have been plenty of rumors that other teams like him, but no trades means no real interest.) The Cubs have a bunch of other journeymen (Turner, Doubront, Roach, Straily) from other clubs who add spot starter depth.

Evaluation: The Cubs need three quality starters in order to compete. The minor league system is not going to produce quality starters for some time.

Bullpen. The rest of the pitching staff performed above expectations. Grimm, Parker, Ramirez, Strop and Rondon all did quite well in their respective roles. The only upgrade could be adding a lefty specialist to the mix.

Evaluation: The core group is solid, but adding left handers is a possibility.

December 2, 2014


There is a rumor that the A's are shopping Jeff Samardzija, who has one year left on his deal. But the asking price is steep.

The A's are looking for a shortstop, and the White Sox Alexi Ramirez's name has popped up in rumors.

Ramirez has two years left on his deal, at $10 million each, which is not too expensive for a starting shortstop.

The question is whether a Ramirez for Samardzija rental a good trade?

For the White Sox, no. Ramirez is still a valuable top half of the order player for whom the younger players respect. It will take two years before the White Sox top prospect, Tim Anderson, is ready to play short. So it makes more sense to hold on to Ramirez.

Yes, the White Sox are in need of starting pitchers, especially a right hander or two. Unless Samardzija agrees to an extension before trade, the A's are not going to get the bounty that they are asking for.

There was also another rumor about a three team trade with Braves which would include C/1B Evan Gattis. Again, the White Sox are in need of upgrading their catcher spot, but that is not nearly as important has maintaining stability at shortstop.

The A's might as well keep the Shark for 2015, give him a qualifer and then get a high draft pick for 2016.