December 31, 2015


Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon have something in common. They are all outfielders and free agents in a market that seems to be moving at a glacier's pace.

The problem is valuation. What teams are willing to spend vs. a player's expectations. Skewed in the discussion was Jason Heyward's 8 year/$184 million contract (which is less because of the two opt out years). It really calculates to a 3 year/$85.5 million deal (including signing bonus) or a very high $28.5 million AAV.

Heyward, 26, had a 6.5 WAR in 2015 and was paid $7.5 million. His production value was $37.5 million last year. He was due a substantial raise.

Upton, 28, had a 4.4 WAR in 2015, and he was paid $14.5 million. His production value was $25 million last year.

Cespedes, 30, had a 6.3 WAR and was paid $10.5 million last season. His production value was $35.9 million.

Gordon, 31, had a down WAR (dropping from 6.6 to 2.8). He was paid $12.5 million last season. His production value was $15.96 million.

Age is clearly a factor. A player over the age of 30 is starting his decline (as evidenced by Gordon's last two seasons).

MLBTR estimated that Upton would receive $147 million, Cespedes $140 million and Gordon $105 million this off-season. With Heyward's deal moving the meter higher, there may be team push back at giving any of these players $25 million AAV.

Each of the free agents has issues. Upton has beenhaving a dropping batting average and inconsistent play. Cespedes has been on four teams in five years which leads some to speculate he may have clubhouse issues. Gordon is being productive more on the defensive end of the scale and GMs do not like to pay for defense alone.

Each player agent can argue that his client is good as Heyward so they should be in the $185 million contract range.

The market is further depressed because there has been no reported interest by any big market money teams (Yankees, Angels, Rangers) on any of these players. Even teams that lost out on the David Price sweepstakes, like the Cardinals, have not used that budget money on signing any of the free agent outfielders.

Which player will blink first and sign to re-set this outfield market?

December 29, 2015


MLBTR reports that the Yankees paid a high price to acquire a closer.

After months of trying to add a third dominant reliever to their bullpen, the Yankees on Monday announced the acquisition of left-hander Aroldis Chapman from the Reds in exchange for a quartet of minor leaguers. Third baseman Eric Jagielo will head to Cincinnati, as will second baseman Tony Renda and right-handers Rookie Davis and Caleb Cotham. Chapman will presumably slide into the Yankees’ closer role, combining with fellow southpaw Andrew Miller and right-hander Dellin Betances to create perhaps the most formidable bullpen trio in all of Major League Baseball next season.

Chapman, 27, is arguably baseball’s best relief pitcher, is set to become a free agent in 2017. But there is a domestic violence allegations that ultimately halted a trade to the Dodgers from being finalized earlier this month. Chapman is currently being investigated by the league, and if he is found in violation of the league’s new domestic violence policy, he could fall short of the six years service time needed to become a free agent. It would seem the Yankees acquired Chapman in order to have exclusive negotiating rights to him during the 2016 season.

Cincinnati is the garage sale rebuild mode after trading All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier to the White Sox. The Reds have added two minor leaguers from the Yankees’ second tier of prospects (Jagielo  #6 prospect and Davis #10 prospect) in addition to a pair of prospects that didn’t crack the Top 30 lists of either or Baseball America.

Jagielo, 23, was selected in the first round of the 2013 draft out of Notre Dame. A knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery shortened his 2015 season, but when he was healthy, he batted .284/.347/.495 with nine homers in 58 games/248 plate appearances at the Double-A level.’s scouting report notes that Jagielo is strong and has “good loft in his swing,” giving him the ability to drive the ball to all fields. His penchant for strikeouts (23.3 percent in 2015; 24.4 percent in 2014) is a red flag, but notes that he draws enough walks to post sound OBP numbers even if his batting average is lackluster. The question surrounding Jagielo is whether he’ll stay at third base or move across the diamond to first, as questions about his range and arm strength are oft-cited strikes against him. Despite those potential issues, did rate him as the No. 7 third-base prospect in the game.

As for Davis, Norris notes in his scouting report over at BA that alterations to his delivery led to a breakout of sorts in 2015. Davis pitched to a combined 3.86 ERA with 8.9 K/9 against 1.8 BB/9 in in 130 2/3 innings between Class-A Advanced and Double-A. The mechanical changes resulted in increased velocity, per Norris, who writes that Davis sits 93 to 95 mph with his heater — a pitch that is complemented by a sharp mid-70s curve and a low-80s changeup. BA indicates that he could be a mid-rotation starter, while notes that he has good control but spotty command (i.e. throws strikes but doesn’t command the pitches within the strike zone) and could be best suited for a relief role, where his velocity could approach triple digits.

The Yankees acquired Renda, 24, from the Nationals this past season in exchange for right-hander David Carpenter.  The fleet-footed infielder batted .269/.330/.358 in 532 Double-A plate appearances between the two organizations, adding three homers and 23 steals (in 29 attempts). Renda rated 12th among Nationals farmhands last season and was 22nd on’s Top 30 at the time of the trade to the Yankees in early June. BA praised his compact swing and line-drive stroke in last winter’s scouting report, noting that his bat has a chance to be above-average, and he’s tough to strike out. He’s drawn praise for his makeup and work ethic as well as his advanced bat control while noting that he lacked power.

Cotham, who turned 28 in November, made his big league debut with the Yankees this past season but struggled, yielding seven runs on 14 hits (four homers) and a walk with 11 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings. That 11-to-1 K/BB ratio is encouraging, however, as is the 1.74 ERA that Cotham recorded in 31 innings at the Triple-A level, where he struck out 30 batters and walked just five. Cotham worked exclusively out of the bullpen between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015, totaling a 2.21 ERA with 9.6 K/9 against 2.1 BB/9. He could potentially step directly into the Reds’ bullpen, where he’d bring a fastball that averaged 92.6 mph in his brief big league tenure this past season.

MLBTR concludes that  the Reds added mid-level prospects and an MLB-ready bullpen arm in exchange for one year of the game’s best closer. Some may think the return is somewhat disappointing in a vacuum, it’s clear that Chapman’s domestic violence allegations rightly lowered the asking price and prevented Cincinnati from maximizing his value in a trade. But in reality, the Reds did receive four (4) prospects with potential upsides to add depth to their minor league system.

The Reds ended last season with five rookie starting pitchers. The team is on a development track by quickly advancing prospects to the major leagues. In that type of environment, there is an incentive for players to work harder to get to the majors quicker - - - which can quickly mold a core of good, young players.

December 27, 2015


Former Cub catcher John Baker has recently signed as an operations assistant for the team.

His job description:

In his new role with the organization, Baker will contribute to all elements within the club’s baseball operations department, including player development and scouting with an eye towards catching and mental skills. He will visit the club’s affiliates to work with the minor league players on and off the field, evaluate amateur players leading up to the draft, and spend time around the major league club among additional responsibilities and opportunities.

What caught my eye was "player development" and "catching and mental skills."

Kyle Schwarber still wants to learn to be a major league catcher. In the minors, he caught and he hit extremely well. There are some players who thrive on being "into" the game on defense. (This is why so many National League hitters fail when they move to DH in the American League, i.e. Adam Dunn and Adam LaRoche.)

And if Schwarber can catch, that is a huge upgrade at a position that is league-wide devoid of power hitters. And moving him back to the plate will make the Cubs outfield defense better by putting a natural outfielder in left.

Schwarber is not suited to play a daily left field. The post season showed his fundamental flaws of trying to learn the position on the fly (in a pressure situation). The Cubs need his bat in the line up because he is a contact hitter who is learning to adjust to major league pitchers. You can't use him as the third catcher all season. (I thought that Montero would catch 3 games a week; Ross catch Lester and Schwarber could catch Hendricks, since they did so in the minors.)

So I would not be surprised that Baker becomes Schwarber's catching tutor.

December 24, 2015


For all the Cubs winning the off-season, the everyday lineup
is not very stable, at least defensively.

It may come down to this:

LF: Soler and Schwarber platoon
CF: Coghlan and Szczur platoon
RF: Heyward
3B: Bryant
SS: Russell
2B: Zobrist
1B: Rizzo
C: Montero, Ross (catching Lester), Schwarber (catching Hendricks)

Joe Maddon may have to become a master magician to balance the offensive potential with the defense weakness. One way of doing that is to play Heyward in his natural right field spot. Wrigley right field is a hard sun field so the quicker Heyward can adapt, the better for the defense.

Soler and Schwarber are both similar batters: high power potential but with inconsistent batting average and OBP. It is often said that left field is where you put your worst defensive outfielders. Soler and Schwarber are those players.

A center field platoon of Coghlan and Szczur is not the best solution, but since the Cubs are already overbudget on payroll, a new center fielder is not a viable option. Unless the Cubs can trade some salary (Hammel, who is believed the odd man out in the rotation), the Cubs will run with better defensive options in center than Heyward.

In order to make the Castro trade make sense, Warren will probably be the 5th starter on opening day. He made 17 starts for the Yankees last season, and reports indicate that he did well. Maddon lost confidence in Hammel, so I don't think he sets up well as the Edwin Jackson bullpen replacement when he was demoted from his starting spot.

You need to keep Schwarber's bat in the line up so becoming Hendricks personal catcher could help. They both worked together in the minors, so that may be a solution.

December 21, 2015


I cannot recall such vile vitriol from a city and fan base after a player leaves via free agency. 

When the Cubs signed Jason Heyward, Cardinal fans went nuts on social media. The insults were harsh and stupid. The St. Louis media also jumped on this hate bandwagon, calling Heyward "disloyal," a "traitor," and a "Benedict Arnold." They could not believe Heyward turned down a "better" offer from the Cardinals to play for the hated Cubs.

Heyward only played for the Cardinals for one year! He did not come up through the St. Louis system; he was an Atlanta Brave for most of his career. 

And if you break down his new deal, the Cubs actually are paying more than the Cardinals AAV deal. With the signing bonus and the op out clause, the Cubs are paying Heyward $26 million/season for the first three years. 

Is this still crass bitterness that the Cubs defeated the Cardinals in the post season? 

Or the impending fear and doom that the Cubs are now a championship caliber team?

But Heyward's explanation of his decision is noteworthy.

In his introductory press conference this week, Heyward explained that he was drawn to the Cubs in part because of the roster stability he expects them to have going forward. 

 “Knowing the core is young and those guys are going to be around for a while is very exciting,” Heyward said, according to ESPN. “I don’t want to take the highest dollar amount when my gut is telling me to go somewhere else. Being 26 years old and knowing that my contract would put me in any clubhouse for longer than most people there, you have to look at age, how fast the team is changing and how soon those changes will come about.”

December 19, 2015


As this off-season has shown, starting pitching is a scare commodity. Even more valuable is "controllable" young starters. The Mets have amassed an envious young starting rotation.

But the White Sox also have a wealth of pitching arms. Currently starters are pretty good: Sale, Quintana, Rodon, and Danks. And they are left handed.

This is why the White Sox are never in a "rebuild" mode when the pitching staff is so good.

And it seems it will get better.

Of the Top 12 prospects, 6 are pitchers.

Carson Fulmer is #2 and he will get a chance to take Samardzija's spot in the rotation. Scouts project him to be a solid #2 starter.

Francelis Montas is another flamethrower. He is the team's #3 prospect. He finished well in AA and is expected to start in AAA Charlotte this year. Scouts project his stuff at a #2 starter level. He was just traded to the Dodgers in a three team deal to land 3B Todd Frazier from the Reds.

At #4 is pitcher Spencer Adams. He went 12-5 with 2.99 ERA in low minors last year. He has an effortless delivery of his four pitches with great command. Scouts think he may be better than Rodon, who has ace potential.

At #7 is another highly touted arm in Tyler Danish. Some scouts compare his size and make-up to that of Jake Peavy, who has had a long starting career in the majors. He will probably start in AAA this year.

At #11 is left hander Jordan Guerrero. He went 13-4 with 3.04 ERA in the low minors. His stuff ranges from 90-93, with a cutter and a curve ball. He may have the makings of a crafty lefty starter who would fit into the back of the rotation.

At #12 is hard throwing Chris Beck, who may get a chance to be the long reliever/spot starter in 2016. He is working on four pitch command. Scouts figure he may be a future #3 starter.

Look at the projections for these pitching prospects: two #2 starters, a potential ace, one #3, and two back of the rotation starters.

The White Sox have two prospects who are major league ready with good potential (Fulmer and Beck). Adams and Danish may be just two years away.

For whatever reason, the White Sox seem to draft and develop starting pitchers.

And the White Sox do not have to deal any of their current starters, which puts the team in the position to concentrate of field position needs.

December 17, 2015


This was a move that caught many off-guard: The White Sox fixing their third base problem by trading for Reds All-Star Todd Frazier.

In the three team deal, the White Sox send to the Dodgers three high level prospects: SP Frankie Montas, OF Trayce Thompson and IN Micah Johnson. The Dodgers send to the Reds a package of quality prospects: IN Jose Peraza, OF Scott Schebler and IN Brandon Dixon.

Montas is a flamethrower starting minor league pitcher and listed as the team's #3 prospect. Thompson was the White Sox's #14 prospect, but had a good debut last year to the point that he would compete for a starting OF position. Johnson was the Sox's #5 prospect. He is a solid infield defender with speed. But the acquisition of Brett Lawrie made Johnson expendable depth.

Frazier, 29, is under team control through 2017. He will be paid $7.5 million in 2016.

Frazier hit .255, 35 HR, 89 RBI, 13 SB with the Reds. He had a season 4.0 WAR. In his 4.25 seasons in the majors, his career WAR is 15.3.

This move immediately re-tools the Sox infield and line-up.

Frazier will anchor third, sophomore Tyler Saladino will compete for shortstop, Lawrie at second and Jose Abreu at first.

Along with two new proven catchers, the White Sox lineup looks more powerful:

1. Eaton CF
2. Cabrera LF
3. Abreu 1B
4. Frazier 3B
5. Lawrie 2B
6. Garcia RF
7. LaRoche DH
8. Navarro/Avila C
9. Saladino SS

December 15, 2015


Service time earned towards free agency was collectively bargained between the players union and MLB. A contract is a contract; a deal is a deal.

Back in May, Kris Bryant's agent groused about the Cubs "holding back" his star player from the major leagues. But it standard procedure of front offices to balance promoting rookies to the major league roster vs. how many "years of control" do they have with the player. Control means cost control.

But Bryant's agent, the boisterous Scott Boras, comes to the annual Winter Meetings with a chip on his shoulder. He again cries foul on how the Cubs treated his star client.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said the club has been aware of the Major League Baseball Players Association action since May. “Nothing’s really changed since then,” Hoyer said. “The fact that the news came out today doesn’t really change anything about where we are. Obviously, we feel like we were in the right, but I’m not going to comment on the case or open this back up.”

“It was filed in May – and to the best of my knowledge – it sits in the same place it has been,” Hoyer said. “It’s something we’ve known about for a long time. And it certainly doesn’t change our impression of the player or his representation at all. We’ve got a great relationship with Kris. We’ve got a great relationship with Scott.”

The Yahoo! Sports report also identified Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco as involved in the grievance process. Franco (170) and Bryant (171) finished just short of the 172 days needed for a full year of service, closing their free-agent windows until after the 2021 season.

Setting service-time clocks for elite young players is essentially viewed as standard operating procedure within front offices and Bryant became a billboard for the issue in spring training.
Bryant – the second overall pick in the 2013 draft – began this year as Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect after hitting .325 with 43 homers and 110 RBI in 2014.

“I think Kris proved his point that he didn’t need any further minor-league (experience),” Boras said during last month’s GM meetings in South Florida. “Unless you can argue the seven games of Triple-A baseball dramatically allowed him to improve, I think he proved his point that he’s an All-Star player and a huge part of a franchise. Our point was that in the ethic of the game, I think it’s good for Kris – and for the fans and everyone (else) – that they understand that the rules of the game often allow teams to do things that are unrelated to the best interests of the team or the true talent evaluation of the player," Boras said.

He added, “It’s perfectly appropriate under the rules for clubs to say that they can do that. I just think you (should) have (better rules), a better ethic to it. Because in the end, we want to make sure our fans know the best players are always playing in the big leagues all the time.”

But it is part of the rules and the teams have a right to use the rules to their benefit.  It is not that Bryant will be starving or not have his own free agency payday down the road. It is not an ethical issue but a contractual one.

And with the current CBA expiring after next season, this topic will be brought up by the players' agents as something that needs to be changed. The owners will fight back, knowing that the "sports bubble" of cable and network television money may soon burst by all the young cable-cutters who are finding entertainment on other technology platforms.

December 14, 2015


The Cubs have blown past their projected 2016 payroll budget.

According to Cot's Baseball contracts, the Cubs are obligated to 13 players for $108.83 million. There are 7 players going to arbitration which is estimated to cost the team another $34 million. Heyward's contract is said to be $23 million AAV. Five second year players at the major league minimum and the 15 players with major league contracts on the 40 man roster will total around $13.3 million. And the Cubs are still carrying $14.1 million in dead money.

This totals a $176 million payroll.

It is clear Theo Epstein changed his "Plan" dramatically after last season's success. Jed Hoyer commented last week that there was a short championship window. With all the young core players under control, it was an odd statement.  But in current context, Epstein and Hoyer's contracts expire in October, 2016. There has been no word of any extensions. The pressure to get to the World Series has caused the baseball front office to go "all in" this year.

Another reason could be the dysfunction in the Cub organization. Ricketts does not own just a baseball team. He is trying to create his own Disneyland at Clark and Addison, with the Cubs being just one tenant. He is putting more effort into developing real estate than developing quality starting pitchers.

Epstein seems to have begged, borrowed and groveled for money to spend on the baseball side. Gordon Wittenmyer said that the Cubs netted $12 million because of the surprising post season run. Epstein begged to use that money windfall to sign players for 2016. Wittenmyer said the Cubs business side gave Theo "some" of that money.

In order to sign Lackey, Zobrist and Heyward, Epstein has been basically juggling financial chain saws. He had to trade Castro to dump salary, he had to structure part of Lackey's contract to apply unused 2015 payroll for 2016 obligations and beg for post season revenue to sign Heyward. And he may not be done dumping payroll in the search for a true center fielder.

One can see why Epstein and Hoyer would be frustrated to be treated like little children with a set allowance for a team in the major market. Normally, the baseball operation is the king pins of the organization. But in the Cub world, it is the opposite.

For fans who endured three horrible Cub seasons, the "going for broke" win-it-now attitude is a refreshing breath of playoff fresh air. Epstein has to spend like a drunken sailor now because the Chicago expectations are now at a fever championship pitch. He has tried to hedge sophomore slumps of his young core with expensive veteran players. I suspect there will be many "World Series or Bust" t-shirts when spring training opens in February.

December 13, 2015


There is still the report that some team has offered Jeff Samardzija $100 million.

No pitcher of Samardzija's value has signed a $100 million contract. Jordan Zimmermann has been worth 16.7 WAR over the past four seasons -- more than double Samardzija's 6.8 -- and just signed for five years and $110 million.

Based on a contract value of $5.7 million per WAR, Zimmermann's past value has been $95.19 million. He received a 15.5 percent premium in his new Tiger deal. This assumes that he will have the same performance going forward.

$38.76 million is the value of Samardzija's past performance, which is 40.7 percent less than Zimmerman's value. $44.77 million is 40.7 percent of Zimmermann's value.

So why is the report so off the current formula?

First, it could be that this is agent talk to goose up the player's market.

Second, it could be that the agent is looking to other factors such as durability, innings pitched and other advanced metrics to compare Samardzija to more valuable starting pitchers.

However, Zimmermann has #1 ace characteristics and is being paid at that level at $22 million AAV.

Samardzija is not a #1 starter now. He fits into a #3 or #4 starter based on last season with the White Sox.

In a market filled with quality starting pitchers, Samardzija is not expected to bring a premium value to a club's final payroll.

Well, the Giants, having lost Greinke to divisional rival Arizona, stepped up and gave the Shark 5 years/$90 million. At $18 million AAV, Samardzija actually made $5 million more than the Cubs deal he turned down 2 years ago (and having a bad season with the White Sox).

The Giants are paying the equivalent of $13.2 million/WAR for Samardzija which is a 233 percent premium over standard value.

The Shark still is a #3 pitcher in San Francisco after Bumgarner and Cain. Bumgarner will be paid this year $9.75 million for his 4.8 WAR in 2015. Cain is going to be paid $21 million for his negative 0.7 WAR in 2015.

If you think pitching valuations make no sense, then the Giants payroll is a good exhibit.

December 12, 2015


Two aggressive general managers in new places can make odd deals.

There is an old baseball saying that "you don't trade a starter for a relief pitcher." That seems obvious: relievers are failed starters. It is harder to find quality starters.

So this Winter Meeting trade is a little odd. Per CSNNE:

Dave Dombrowski's breakneck reconstruction of the Boston Red Sox continued Monday on the first day of baseball's Winter Meetings, as he dealt some of the team's starting pitching depth for more relief help.

The Red Sox traded left-hander Wade Miley (11-11 with a 4.46 ERA for the Sox in 2015) and reliever Jonathan Aro (0-1, 6.97) to the Mariners on Monday for hard-throwing right-handed reliever Carson Smith and left-handed starter Roenis Elias.

In the last three weeks, Dombrowski, the team's new director of baseball operations, has signed a rotation ace (David Price) as a free agent and traded for a closer (Craig Kimbrel). With Price on board, Dombrowski took the opportunity to use the team's excess starting pitching to continue to rebuilt the bullpen.

Carson, 26, is a big (6-foot-6) power bullpen arm, with 92 strikeouts in 70 IP last year and an ERA of 2.31. Elias is 27, from Cuba, and has made 49 starts in the last two years. He was 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA in 2014 and 5-8 with a 4.14 ERA last year.

Miley spent one season with the Red Sox after being traded over by the Diamondbacks for right-handers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster.

The Red Sox trade a veteran starter for a veteran relief pitcher, but then get a young starter for a young reliever so some may think this is a positional wash.

December 11, 2015


Multiple reports state that the Cubs will sign free agent Justin Heyward.

This is a shocking development since the Cubs have been gerrymandering their books in order to sign Ben Zobrist and John Lackey.

It may go back to a comment made last week.

"We have a sense of urgency. We have a short championship window."

Jed Hoyer said that last week.

Talk about "the Plan" being turned inside out.

The front office has been frantic in their change in philosophy, spending
2015 "leftover" money (maybe the extra revenue from this post season),
deferring/back loading contracts and trading veterans for salary dumps.

Perhaps it is because Theo Epstein's contract expires in October 2016.
Perhaps the writing is on the wall that the Boom Revenue of 2020 is a mirage.
Perhaps because the Cubs won't be able to afford signing Bryant, Schwarber,
Soler and Russell.

And because the core of the pitching staff is on the downside of career
(Lester and Lackey) and one (Arrieta) who had an unrepeatable magical season.

One report said the Nationals offered Heyward $200 million. The Cub report says Heyward will sign for less than $200 million.

Analysts have had a wide range of opinions on Heyward's value, from a low of $100 million to a high end $192 million. It was reported that Heyward was looking for $24 million/season, money usually reserved for power hitters like Pujols and Cano (Heyward only hit .293, 13 HR, 60 RBI last year).

There is also an open question whether Heyward can play an expanded center field between slow footed, negative defenders Schwarber and Soler. 

By coming to the Cubs, Heyward can hide in the shadows of other players such as Lester, Rizzo, Bryant and Schwarber. 

And the Cubs have gone "all in" in 2016 so that may have convinced Heyward to sign with Chicago.

December 10, 2015


The Cubs minor league system is not know for being deep in pitching.

So it was surprising to note that four minor league Cub pitchers were taken in the AAA phase of the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings.

The results of Cub farm hands changing teams:

Cincinnati Reds took Pin-Chieh Chen, 2B, Cubs
AA/AAA Age 23: 5 HR 46 RBI 21 SB, .263 BA

Los Angeles Angels took Ariel Ovando, LHP, Cubs, RF/1B
2014 A ball hitting: 1 HR 14 RBI .237 BA in 58 games
2015 Rk pitching: 15 games 21 IP 4-0 0.43 ERA, 0.952 WHIP

A converted hitter into a pitcher with little experience is kind of a wild card pick.

New York Yankees took Julian Aybar, RHP, Cubs
Age 23, Rk pitching 20 games: 8-1, 1.82 ERA, 0.882 WHIP

St. Louis Cardinals took  Michael Heesch, LHP, Cubs
Age 25

 In 2014 A/AAA:  4-1, 2.03 ERA, 1.147 WHIP in 25 games
In 2015 A+ ball : 8-2, 2.24 ERA, 1.259 WHIP in 33 games

Heesch was on some prospect boards:

The 25-year old left-handed starter (22 games, 22 starts) was the Cubs 8th round pick in 2012. This year he spent the entire season in advanced-A going 8-2 with a 2.24 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and held opponents to a .238 average. He throws a heavy fastball in the low 90′s with good tailing action that actually broke 4 bats in a two innings span this year. The 6’5 pitcher could fit the a roster as a LOOGY after holding lefty hitters to a .165/.259/.186 slash line in 2015.


The reason why there is such little activity on Jason Heyward this off season
is that teams cannot get a handle on how to evaluate him.

As one old time front office person says, "we don't pay for defense."

But in the modern advanced metric evaluation systems, defense and WAR
are more complete measuring sticks. By that valuation, Heyward, 26 and
still not in his prime, has averaged a 5.2 WAR during his career (6.5 last year).

Just by his average WAR alone, this equates to $31.2 million per year.

The top hitters in 2015 were paid $24 million (Robinson Cano and Albert Pujols).
But no one compares Heyward to Cano and Pujols in regard to offensive production.

In 2015, Heyward hit /293, 13 HR 60 RBI with .359 OBP.

If you take out the defensive WAR for his career, he is at 21.3 or an annual average of 3.55.
At 3.55, his annual salary would be around $21.3 million/season.

And here is the gulf: $10.00 million per season on a four or five year deal.

Teams and Heyward's people are not in the same universe starting points.

At $24 million per season, teams expect a hitter to be a #3 or #4 power hitter/run producer.
Heyward is not that type of hitter, even though the Cardinals used him in the No. 3 slot
because of injuries to other players, like Matt Holliday.

The whole financial structure of the league could fall off its foundation if a 60 RBI guy
is suddenly the highest paid hitter in the majors. I don't see a team owner getting the
wrath of the other clubs for overpaying Heyward.

December 9, 2015


Starlin Castro should have been traded two years ago to the Yankees. Well, some may think it was better later than never.

Castro's trade to the Yankees was a salary dump move by the Cubs in order to sign Ben Zobrist. Zobrist, who has had a fabulous history as a super utility guy, had a significant drop off in his WAR last season. At 35 and in a full time role in a major market, one would expect Zobrist's contract will have some dead money attached to it.

Last season with two clubs, Zobrist hit .276 with 13 HR and 56 RBI. His WAR was 1.9. In his prior four years his WAR totals were 4.9, 5.0, 5.7, and 8.7.  In ten major league seasons, his career WAR is 38.5.

Zobrist's 4 year/$56 million deal was about a third less than the claimed deal he had with the Mets at $80 million. Still, it more than double last year's salary.

With these two moves, by my calculation the Cubs have hit the ceiling of their 2016 payroll budget. This means that the Cubs will have a CF platoon of Coghlan and Szczur. 

Mark Gonzales of the Tribune reports the way that the contracts of John Lackey and Zobrist were structured would allow the Cubs to continue to look for pitching as well as address their void in center field with the expected departure of free agent center fielder Dexter Fowler.

"We’ll continue to pursue smaller moves for depth," President Theo Epstein said. "Obviously we’d welcome an impact move if it’s out there. All the moves we have been pursuing previously here are potentially alive for us."

Zobrist's four-year, $56 million contract was structured so that he'll receive a $2 million bonus with a $10 million salary in 2016, followed by salaries of $16 million in 2017 and 2018 and $12 million in 2019.

Lackey will receive a $7 million bonus with a salary of $12.5 million in 2016 and 2017. The Cubs have earmarked about $90 million to 12 players for 2016 - including $11 million for since-departed Edwin Jackson.

The Cubs were looking to obtain cheap, young, controllable pitchers. Adam Warren from the Yankees meets those requirements. Warren, 28, is a classic 6th starter/long reliever. He probably will make the opening day roster as swing man out of the pen if Jason Hammel is still on the roster, or as a long shot to be the 5th starter. With this move, either Grimm or Ramirez is on the bullpen bubble.

The Cubs front office has used all of its powder this off-season, mostly bringing in veterans to shore up a few holes, and juggling a tight payroll budget. Joe Maddon said to the press that repeating last season's 97 wins would be a challenge. That is not what fans want to hear.

December 8, 2015


Opening Day is far, far away. But looking at the Cubs 40 man roster before the Winter Meetings start, the Cubs have more holes to fill than I first thought. The team only has 4 outfielders
including catcher Schwarber. And the recent addition of Cahill to the pen creates a long jam that will probably have to do with the Cubs trading away young relievers for CF or SP.




If nothing significant happens, your Opening Day roster will be (I can't see the Cubs carrying 13 pitchers):

SP: Arrieta, Lester, Lackey, Hendricks, Hammel,
RP: Richard, Wood, Brothers, Cahill, Grimm, Strop, Ramirez, Rondon

C: Montero, Ross, Schwarber

1B: Rizzo
2B: Castro
SS: Russell
3B: Bryant
IN: Baez
IN: LaStella

LF: Coghlan
CF: Szczur
RF: Soler

December 6, 2015


David Price is the best starting pitcher available this off-season.

He will probably earn $30 million AAV, i.e. an 8 year/$240 million deal.

The usual suspects for high profile free agents on the Price watch are the Cubs, Rangers, Red Sox and probably a mystery team like the Dodgers, Giants or Yankees.

The Red Sox needed an ace, the Boston Globe first reported that the team signed Price to  a seven-year contract worth $217 million deal.

People had been pushing the Cubs as the favorite, but that does not make a lot of sense.

Baseball Reference's Cubs guaranteed contracts, 2016-2020:

2016: $81.7 million
2017: $61.5 million
2018: $50 million
2019: $55 million
2020: $27.7 million

Most of those last three years are a combination of Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. The Cubs will have big arbitration awards to hand out and long-term extensions to sign for players like Jake Arrieta. And there is still the gaping hole in center field to fill.

And the fact that 2020 is the magic year where the Cubs could launch their own network, there is no guarantee that it will be the revenue producing juggernaut people think it could be given the current flux in the cable TV industry.

As previously mentioned, based on reports and educated guesses, the Cubs only have $20 million in new money to spend this off-season for 8 players. Price at $30 million per year will probably get ownership or business side veto under the guise that the Cubs won 97 games without Price. Now, some could argue that the Cubs ticket price increases could net $30 million if the team reaches 3 million attendees at Wrigley, but the ball park and plaza construction projects are in full build mode so any new money will probably be diverted to those priority projects.

It would have been a major surprise if the Cubs can sign Price, without trading away $15-20 million in current salary obligations. But at that point, is it team subtraction by addition of one great pitcher?

December 5, 2015


Jason Hammel had a bad second half. Joe Maddon lost confidence in him.
He has one year to go on his current deal for $9 million. Hammel did post a 1.7 WAR last season, which is worth about $9.52 million, so he actually performed above his WAR value (like himself plus a minimum 25 man roster player).

Because of the flux in the free agent pitching market, and some teams not willing to overpay for second tier pitching, Hammel can be an affordable option. The Cubs are in the same position trying to find affordable pitching on a tight budget.  But in order to fill an urgent need in CF, the Cubs have to trade salary in order to make acquisitions.

Hammel seems to be a trade candidate for a center fielder.

If you look at the value spectrum for starting rotations, it looks like this:

Fifth starter: $4.5 million
Fourth starter: $ 9 million
Third starter: $13.5 million
Second starter: $18 million
Ace: $22.5 million

Hammel fits into the 4th starter realm.

But to get a center fielder making $9 million in value puts end of the road veterans or journeymen like Matt Kemp, Coco Crisp or even Austin Jackson in the mix. To trade Hammel, the Cubs would need to get a center fielder who platooned last year on a club but who could play full time, or an excess outfielder with potential (like the Red Sox now have an outfield surplus with the signing of Chris Young.)

If Hammel cannot be used as trade chip, he may be moved just to add $9 million in unused payroll to help sign a free agent.

December 4, 2015


As expected, the Cubs tendered offers to Jake Arrieta, Travis Wood, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm, and Chris Coghlan on Wednesday, and also agreed to terms with left-handed relievers Rex Brothers ($1.42 million) and Clayton Richard ($2.1 million) on 2016 contracts.

The Cubs did not tender contracts to right-hander Ryan Cook and lefty Jack Leathersich (who was injured and on rehab). All but Leathersich were arbitration-eligible.

Cook and Leathersich never suited up for the Cubs. 

The front office continues to cull through waiver wire claims and now, non-tender lists, in order to add more bodies to the 40 man roster (which sits at 36 players) or to the AAA club.

The focus has been adding AAA replacement level pitchers for bullpen depth. Richard gives the Cubs the long reliever-spot starter that it needs to stabilize the rotation. This could also mean that the Cubs may actually give Wood the opportunity to try to regain his starter status. Wood was much more effective in relief because Bosio made him throw more fastballs instead of trying to paint the corners with off-speed pitches.  Wood seems the only in-house option to be the Cubs #5 starter.

December 3, 2015


If the Cubs are looking for affordable starting pitching. the Marlins may have given them a chance.

Just one year after making the All-Star team and finishing 12th in NL Cy Young voting, starter Henderson Alvarez has been cut loose by the Miami Marlins, Yahoo Sports reports.

Miami non-tendered Alvarez on Wednesday night to release him into free agency. Alvarez can now sign with any team.

Alvarez is a five-year pro who had his worst season in 2015. He went 0-4 with a 6.45 ERA before having season-ending shoulder surgery in June.

Alvarez made the All-Star team in 2014 and finished 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA in 30 starts. He has a 3.80 ERA in 92 career games.

The shoulder issue could be a big problem for Alvarez, as it's not often teams give up on players this early. Alvarez is only 25 and was one of the NL's best pitchers just a year ago. But some team will take a chance on the right-hander, who will look to revive a once-promising career.

The Cubs have not been afraid to sign injured pitchers with the hope of rehabbing them. However, shoulder injuries are more problematic for pitchers because the shoulder is the weakest body part in the mechanics of throwing.

For example, Labral tears is an injury to the labrum of the shoulder in a thrower is not something is significant. . Labral tears are just part of the territory for a major league pitcher; it's just a question of degree and disability. In other words, if you were to look through a surgical scope at the inside of a thrower's shoulder, including those that had no reported symptoms, you would find damage to the labrum more often than not. Some pitchers manage to throw and throw well despite the presence of significant tissue damage. Other pitchers have relatively minor injuries, but are completely incapacitated. The reason for this is unclear. It is not necessarily a question of pain tolerance; rather it appears to be a much more complicated mechanical picture.

The labrum is a ring of cartilage that surrounds the glenoid or the "socket" portion of the shoulder joint and actually serves to enhance shoulder joint stability. When torn, the labrum can catch, causing the shoulder to be painful and potentially feel unstable. The biceps tendon has an attachment to the labrum, so if the biceps is involved, it can lead to problems at the labrum. The labrum undergoes great strain where it attaches to the biceps at the extremes of motion, when the shoulder is at its fully cocked position before ball delivery, and at the end of ball release (during follow through). Since a pitcher repeats that motion time and again -- not only during a game but also during warm-ups, bullpen sessions and any other episode of throwing -- the labrum is constantly subject to stress. 

Surgical repair may be the eventual treatment in a thrower who does not respond to a period of rest and conservative rehabilitation, and the recovery is lengthy. Pitchers do return from labral repair, but their timetable to return and their effectiveness when they do come back is variable. A pitcher coming off of labral surgery in the offseason should recognize that there is a bit of a risk involved until the athlete shows that he has indeed fully regained his form.

The Miami Herald reports that according to projections provided by, Alvarez is positioned to receive about $4 million through arbitration. Alvarez is coming off shoulder surgery and -- assuming there are no setbacks along the way -- likely wouldn't be ready to pitch again until a month or two into the season.

Even if the Marlins felt convinced that Alvarez will make it back and give them 20 or so starts, there's no guarantee he'll be the same pitcher he was before. On the other hand, $4 million isn't a lot to pay for a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. Now the Cubs have to determine whether the Marlins were correct in passing on an injured former All Star pitcher.

December 1, 2015


Over the holiday weekend,  Comcast just dropped the YES network.

Putting together the pieces, the cable operator said it was too expensive to carry the network.

From reports:

 Comcast dropped YES Network, the television home of the New York Yankees, Brooklyn Nets and other programming, in Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania at midnight Wednesday.

The Yankees have a 20 percent stake in YES, while 21st Century Fox owns the remaining 80 percent. Comcast claims Fox's demand for a 33 percent increase in subscriber fees is too high for the network, which leans heavily on its Yankees programming for viewers.

The two parties' previous agreement expired earlier this year during the Yankees' season. Comcast and Fox agreed to temporary deals to keep broadcasting during the Yankees' playoff hunt.

However, now that the season is over and the Nets are one of the worst teams in the NBA, Comcast has hardened its line and Fox won't budge. The final midnight deadline passed, and YES Network was blacked out.

Comcast said in a statement:

YES Network carried approximately 130 baseball games this past season and well over 90 percent of our 900,000 plus customers who receive YES Network didn’t watch the equivalent of even one quarter of those games during the season, even while the Yankees were in the hunt for a playoff berth. Viewership of the network in the baseball offseason is even lower. FOX and the Yankees are asking all of our customers to pay them hundreds of millions of dollars over the next several years to continue receiving the channel. The price FOX and the Yankees are requiring from our customers is not acceptable given the Network’s minimal viewership, which is why we have decided we can no longer justify continuing to carry the Network. YES simply does not present an appropriate price-value proposition for our customers.

A Comcast spokesman declined to comment on whether negotiations would continue.

Comcast has 900,000 YES subscribers in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey — the latter two states will be most affected by the loss of hometown sports broadcasts. Comcast is not currently franchised in New York, where YES will continue to broadcast.

 With the Yankees season over and the Brooklyn Nets off to a less-than-stellar start, losing nine of the last 10 games, the YES Network may not have much leverage on its side at the moment. Moreover, the network is the most costly regional sports network, according to SNL Kagan, raking in $4.89 a month on average per cable TV customer. YES Network is carried in more than nine million homes in the New York market.

>>>> Two key points from the reports: 1. YES Network was extremely expensive to pass on to cable viewers, which shows in that only 10% of Comcast customers carried the channel. 2. The YES network received about $53 million per year from Comcast, which is a huge revenue source.

This also bodes ill for the Cubs planned 2020 launch of the Cubs Network. New York-New Jersey-Philadelphia market is about double the Chicago television market. The YES Network wanted a 33% increase in its carriage fees. Now, cable operators have been losing subscribers for years, mostly from the high cost of sports channels that many do not want to have on their bills. Comcast made a business decision that puts approximately 225,000 Yankee-Nets fans in the dark.

If you try to tie down the projected Cubs numbers off the YES model, with a 10 percent saturation rate, the Cubs cable base would be around 450,000 paid viewers, at only $13.5 million in annual revenue. This is a far cry from the billion dollar Dodger network deal, which now seems like a total disaster for Time Warner cable, the Dodgers' partner.

ESPN has been the kingpin in cable channels, but its luck has turned for the worse.

A steep drop in subscribers over the last two years has resulted in a $900 million annual hit to ESPN's bottom line.Analyst reports and SEC filings indicate that between 2013 to 2015, ESPN lost about 7 million total subscribers, with the flagship channels ESPN and ESPN 2 each dropping 4 percent from a high of 99 million to 95 million subs today. Dropping most dramatically was ESPN Classic, which is down 16.1 percent to 26 million subscribers.

The launch last year of the SEC Network, which has around 63 million subs, has helped "mask" a huge drop in affiliate revenue from ESPN's other networks. Based on an average per-subscriber carriage fee of $6.61 for ESPN, $0.83 for ESPN2, $0.63 for the SEC Network and $0.22 for ESPNU, the national sports conglomerate is taking in around $650 million less each year in affiliate fees compared to two years ago.

Meanwhile, he estimates the resulting loss of advertiser reach has shaved off another $200 million to $300 million from ESPN's bottom line.

So the gold standard of cable sports channels is getting hammered by lower subscriber base and declining cable advertising revenues. If ESPN and YES have major problems with their sports networks, how can anyone in the Cubs business office think they can do better on a more limited product in a smaller market?

November 30, 2015


The early market for starting pitching seems to be soft at the upper tier. reports  that Johnny Cueto turned down a six-year, $120 million offer from the Diamondbacks. On an average annual value basis, that would come in $2 million per year under what  Jordan Zimmerman will allegedly sign with the Tigers, at 5 years/$110 million.

With J.A. Happ leading the second tier starters at 3 years/$36 million, there is caution so far in free agency. It may pick up in two weeks at the Winter Meetings.

With pitchers who declined a qualifying offer of $15.6 million, the club that signs them loses a first round draft selection. Pitchers like Jeff Samardzija may believe they they are worth $16 million plus per season, but other teams may balk at the double cost.

Zimmerman's annual cost is $22 million.
Cueto turned down $20 million.
These two are in the top tier four with Price and Greinke.
We expect the top market to round out at $22-25 million per year.

Happ is a second tier starter at an annual cost of $13 million. He did not have a qualifying offer tag.
This means the second tier market will probably shake out to $12-18 million per year.

November 27, 2015


In the realistic post-season crystal ball of the Cubs off-season, there are several hard truths:

One, the Cubs baseball front office has less to spend than most people realize. I estimate that from press reports and current contract obligations, the Cubs can only spend around $25 million on new players. The acquisition of three AAA relievers prior to the 40 man deadline does not mean that the Cubs bullpen and pitching issues have been resolved for 2016.

Two, with a tight payroll cap, the Cubs are extremely unlikely to find a good CF/lead off hitter on the open market. The internal solution of either Albert Almora or Billy McKinney are years off in the future. The most likely scenario now is that the Cubs will have to move veteran salary off the books in order to free up cash to sign free agents to fill more urgent needs.

Three, as the post-season clearly showed, pitching is a priority for the Cubs to compete in 2016. The Cubs need to find two good starting pitchers to compliment Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta.

On the free agent pitching front, the Cubs cannot and will not throw hundreds of millions of dollars on Price, Zimmerman, Greinke or Cueto. In fact, more teams are going to stray away from the top tier guys to bid up second tier veteran arms. The Cubs really cannot afford a bidding war in this market.

The Cubs offer a young club with upswing potential and playoff experience is a benefit to some free agents looking for a good landing spot.

In culling the lists, I believe the two best fits of free agent pitchers for the Cubs this off-season are J.A. Happ and Mike Leake. Their acquisition basically eats up the payroll budget as it current stands without other roster moves.

Happ, 33, was traded at the deadline to the Pirates. He helped stabilize their rotation. He went 11-8 in 32 starts with a 3.41 ERA and 3.0 WAR. He made $6.7 million last season. He is projected to sign for either 2 years/$20 million or 3 years/$30 million.

Leake, 28, was traded by the Reds to the Giants at the deadline. He struggled a little in San Francisco. In 30 starts, he compiled a 11-10 record, 3.70 ERA and 2.9 WAR. He made $9.775 million last season. He is projected to sign for 5 years/$80 million.

Happ and Leake would offer a consistent #3 and #4 starters for a rotation that would consist of LHP Lester, RHP Arrieta, LHP Happ, RHP Leake and RHP Hendricks.

UPDATE: Happ signed a three-year deal valued at $36 million to return to Toronto, where he pitched for two-plus seasons from 2012-14. While far from a model of consistency throughout his nine-year Major League career, Happ boosted his stock with a strong finish to his 2015 campaign. After being traded from Seattle to Pittsburgh in July, Happ went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA over his final 11 starts. He signed for about $2 million/ per season more than projected but he appears to take the place of Price in the rotation.

November 25, 2015


One method of constructing a line up card is to have the next batter "cover" or protect the preceding hitter.

For example, a typical good lead-off batter would be covered by a #2 batter who can take pitches, draw walks, bunt, hit or run or move runners by hitting the opposite way. At the same time, the pitcher has to be wary of putting the #2 hitter on base knowing that the team's best hitter will be up next.

The Cubs currently have no established, traditional lead-off hitter.

Rizzo could be a #2 hitter since he meets most of the requirements of coverage. But he is a double play ground ball hitter, too. He would good better pitches to hit if the #3 hitter was Bryant, who has shown good plate discipline and power. If he can cut down on strike outs and play like his post-season form, Soler would be a good cover at #4 for Bryant. It gets harder to cover Soler because the #5 hitter should be able to drive in runners with gap power. Will Russell grow into this role (which would be a major promotion from batting mostly #9) or is it Castro's position to lose? Depending on where Schwarber will play full time, he makes the most sense at #5. That could push Castro to #6 and Russell to #7 and the catcher hitting ahead of the pitcher.

It gives a balance hitting line up: ?, lefty, righty, righty, lefty, righty, righty, lefty/righty, pitcher.

The idea of two right handers batting in a row is to help the second batter see how the pitcher is setting up right handed hitters. Pitchers throw differently to lefties than righties. This can help in game adjustments.

But most managers like the idea of flipping the batters box: R, L, R, L, R, L. But none of this really works unless each hitter knows his role and can understand the situation when he enters the batter's box.

That is why I am a proponent of a set line up card. The players, who are creatures of habit, can settle in to a clear routine. But Maddon, like most managers, likes to change things up based on stat analysis and gut feelings.

November 23, 2015


Kris Bryant won the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Joe Maddon won the NL Manager of the Year award.

Who was more valuable to the Cubs 2015 season?

Bryant had a stellar 5.9 WAR. I previously calculated that Maddon's managerial WAR was 7.0. Bryant's WAR could have increased by .40 WAR if he was not held back at the beginning of the season. This is a bar debate with no correct answer.

How does Bryant compare to other Cubs ROY?

In 1961, Billy Williams won with a 1.2 WAR. His Hall of Fame career of 16 full seasons yielded a 63.5 WAR.  This is the gold standard for Cub ROY winners.

In 1962, Ken Hubbs won the award with a replacement level zero WAR. This must have been a down year in the NL, because Hubbs led the league in strike outs. He must have been an exceptional defender. Tragically, he was killed in an accident and he only played 2 full seasons in the majors (with accrued 1.1 WAR).

In 1989, Jerome Walton won with a 1.9 WAR. He was one of the those "five tool" players that GMs at the time started to fawn over. Over Walton's 10 year ML career, he amassed only a 3.7 WAR.

In 1998, Kerry Wood won the award with a 3.9 WAR. The next year he was injured (an omen for his career), but in 14 seasons he did end with a 26.7 WAR.

In 2008, Geo Soto won the rookie award with a 3.3 WAR, which was unique because there were few  power hitting catchers in the league. After 8 seasons, Soto has a 11.4 WAR. He is still an active major leaguer.

Bryant's rookie season (measured by WAR) was 4.9 times better than Williams' rookie year. Bryant's single season WAR is 9.2 percent of Williams' career WAR. Clearly, Bryant is the "best" Cub rookie of the year winner.

But as the list foretells, a ROY plaque does not mean a long or stellar career.

If you use 2.0 WAR as being a "starter" level, only Williams meets that standard. Wood is at 1.9 and Soto is at 1.425. That means one in five ROY winners have very good major league careers.

Bryant and the Cubs should be proud of the ROY achievement, but it does not mean Bryant will be guaranteed a Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown.

November 21, 2015


There seems to be a new approach to the Cubs as the team tries to rebuild its major league bullpen.

The Cubs have acquired righty Spencer Patton from the Rangers in exchange for infielder Frandy De La Rosa.  The team previously claimed injured pitcher Jack Leathersich on waivers and signed  minor league free agent righty Audury Acevedo to a major league deal.  

These transactions show a clear pattern: assemble a number cheap AAA arms and sees what pans out in spring training.

Leathersich will not be an option for a long time. Another Cub rehab project, Leathersich, 25,  had Tommy John surgery in July. He was a first round selection of the Mets. In 5 minor league seasons, he is 9-9, 3.55 ERA with 7 saves. He has thrown only 11.3 major league innings. He has middle reliever status.

Patton, 27, has a 15-14, 3.49 ERA in 5 minor league seasons. He only has less than 34 innings of major league experience.

The 25-year-old Acevedo sped up the ladder in the Yankees organization last year after starting the season at High-A. He ultimately reached the Triple-A level in time to make ten late-season appearances.

Acevedo, a converted infielder, worked to a composite 2.59 ERA with 7.5 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 over 59 total frames. He seemed to have limited the severe control issues he showed in his first couple of seasons after moving to the mound, but he did allow nine free passes in his 10 2/3 frames at the highest level of the minors.

These three Cubs signings represent another example of teams recently handing 40-man spots to minor league free agents. Usually, minor league free agents average 27 years of age which is still younger than an average veteran journeyman looking to latch on to a team in the off-season. Many teams may sign these minor leaguers to major league minimum deals because they are cheaper than veterans. Also, the minor leaguers may have more perceived upside than a journeyman.

November 20, 2015


The Cubs have had only five Cy Young Award winners.

1992: Greg Maddux
1984: Rick Sutcliffe
1979: Bruce Sutter
1971: Ferguson Jenkins

2015: Jake Arrieta

Both Maddux and Jenkins lead their league in wins, and Sutter led in saves.

In their Cy Young years:

Maddux: 20-11, 2.18 ERA, 1.011 WHIP, 9.2 WAR
Sutcliffe: 20-6, 3.64 ERA, 1.304 WHIP, 3.9 WAR (he was 16-1, 2.69 ERA with the Cubs)
Sutter: 6-6, 2.22 ERA, 0.977 WHIP, 37 saves, 4.9 WAR
Jenkins: 24-13, 2.77 ERA, 1.049 WHIP,  10.4 WAR
Arrieta: 22-6, 1.77 ERA, 0.865 WHIP, 6.9 WAR

To say Arrieta joins elite company would be an understatement.

With 8.0 WAR being classified as "MVP" candidate, Maddux and Jenkins Cy Young WARs were epic. Arrieta did not best them in WAR, but he crushed it on ERA and WHIP.


The Atlanta Braves is one of the best run MLB franchises. It is a subsidiary of Liberty Media, a massive communication conglomerate. It has the financial resources to be competitive year in and year out, even though the team got a suburban county to fund a brand new stadium for the team.

Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk who, gave an interview to the Atlanta Business Chronicle He had a lot to say, and for context one should read it all, but this answer, in response to a question about whether Braves’ profits are reinvested in the club or, rather, sent back up to corporate parent Liberty Media, was quite a head-turner:
Basically, all of the money at the Braves. We’ve never really lost money with the Braves. Baseball is not a widely profitable business. If you took all of the free-cash flow of all of the 30 teams, it’s pretty much zero. That’s sort of a fairly well known fact. If you actually, do have free cash flow, you’re among a minority. We have always managed the team to at least break even on free cash flow or make a little. Sometimes we’ve made more than a little. But, that puts in a minority in this business.
There are a lot of ways to measure the financial health of a baseball team and cash profit is only one of them. Indeed, it may be the least significant part of the financial picture for a team. The real game is the appreciation of franchise value, and the Braves have certainly appreciated for Liberty media. When they purchased the team in 2007 the franchise was worth $450 million. This year Forbes valued the club at $1.15 billion. And that’s despite the fact that the Braves have one of the worst local TV deals of any club. Of course, based on what McGuirk is saying, the Braves are pursuing both tracks: watching the franchise value appreciate and doing its best to break even on cash flow “or make a little.” The best of both worlds if you’re an executive in charge of a division of a large corporation.

Since baseball is a private enterprise, their "books" are not open to public inspection or audit. But realize that baseball teams have several legal accounting tricks to minimize profits (and therefore reduce taxes) as do any other major corporation. But baseball has the Veeck rule, which allows a team to both deduct the salaries of players and depreciate their contracts as a declining asset. This is a double deduction accounting method which reduces "profits" on paper.

In addition, baseball is just starting to reap the benefits of new revenue sources like the MLB Network and streaming game services.

Owners would not pay billions of dollars to lose money operating a franchise. So take any mention that baseball owners are break even propositions with a grain of salt.

November 18, 2015


On average, Cub ticket prices for 2016 will go up approximately 10 percent.

The number of marquee games also has been increased from nine to 14 in the bowl and the bleachers, while one section of outfield terrace reserve has been reclassified to corner box reserve, with a 38 percent increase.

Colin Faulkner, senior vice president of sales and partnerships, said the team's annual analysis of ticket sales from 2015, along with its renewal numbers, the waiting list for tickets and the huge demand for postseason tickets, led to the team's highest increase since 2010.

"We've clearly seen an increase in demand, so that helped factor into an increase in our prices," Faulkner said. "Our goal is to remain competitive for the long term and provide value to our fans for a competitive baseball team, but also (value) in their tickets."

Faulkner said a team analysis found there was a 20 percent increase in 2015 for tickets on the secondary market over 2014, while postseason tickets were going for three to four times face value.
The first payment deadline of 20 percent is Dec. 2, with the full amount due Jan. 12. Faulkner said the majority of fans have put their postseason ticket refunds for the unplayed playoff games (Game 5 of the NLCS and three World Series games) toward next year's tickets.

In other words, the Cubs are trying to capture some of the "secondary market" value of Cub tickets. This goes back to the philosophy that ownership seethes about: no one but the Cubs should make money off the Cubs. The spike in prices for post season tickets is a natural occurrence and a benefit to season ticket holders who paid for years of dreadful teams. But the Cubs only want the team to profit from its success.

The Cubs had the third-highest average ticket price in the game in 2015, according to Team Marketing Report. They finished sixth in major-league attendance at 2.959 million fans after ranking 11th at 2.562 million in 2014.

The Trib reports  the increases will range from about 7 percent in the upper box midfield/outfield to 14.5 percent in upper infield reserve to more than the 38 percent increase in some of the newly reclassified terrace boxes.

The highest average ticket price, a club infield box, is $105.24 per game, or $118 with the 12 percent amusement tax added. The lowest, upper deck outfield reserve, is $20.37, or about $23 with the amusement tax. Bleacher tickets remain about the same, from $16 to $65 before taxes, though the addition of marquee games will increase the total price.

One section of the terrace reserved outfield, affecting about 900 seats, or about 350 season-ticket holders, will be reclassified.

"Those are going up 43 percent," Faulkner said. "We found the first five or six rows are much different than the seats that could potentially be in Row 28-29 or 30 at the back of those sections."

November 16, 2015


If there was one untouchable player on the White Sox roster it would be starter Chris Sale.

Sale is one of the best pitchers in baseball, probably the best left handed ace in the American League (even though David Price looks to break the bank this off-season).

White Sox GM Hahn has been quoted that no player is untouchable. What would it take to pry Sale from the White Sox. A ton of talent. 

Dave Dombrowski is the new baseball leader for the Red Sox. He has a history of being a shrewd trader. Pundits believe if anyone could get Sale in a deal it would be Dombrowski.

The Red Sox do have many trading chips that the White Sox could use.

CSN speculated:

Hahn likely would begin negotiations by aiming incredibly high and asking for a package revolving around shortstop Xander Bogaerts, 22, who produced a .320/.355/.421 slash line with seven home runs and 81 RBIs in his second full season in 2015.

But Boston also has young catcher Blake Swihart, of whom the White Sox are said to be fond. Not only have the Red Sox sought a front-of-the-rotation pitcher since last offseason, they also have a new head of baseball operations in Dave Dombrowski, who has to turn around a 78-84 club that was 14th in the AL with a 4.31 ERA in 2015.

It would take more than two starting position players to get Sale. It would also probably take one or two top prospects, including a pitcher, to swing a deal. AAA pitcher Brian Johnson, 24, #1 pick in 2012, is a LHP who is trying to avoid off-season surgery. He is the most major league ready pitcher in the Red Sox system.

The fan base backlash over trading Sale is something the attendance weary front office has to take into consideration. Unless is it a lopsided deal, fans will not accept Sale in another uniform.

November 14, 2015


The White Sox have a wealth of pitching. Pundits want to trade Jose Quintana for missing offensive pieces. But does that make sense? No.

Quintana, 26, is signed through 2020 on a team friendly deal: 5 years/$43.5 million.

Quintana had a 4.0 WAR last season, and a career 15.3 WAR. As such, he has outperformed his past contract value.

If the White Sox ever gave him even normal run support, Quintana could have been an easy 18 game winner.

With Jeff Samardzija set to reject the qualifying offer, the White Sox rotation is still good but not as great as it was last spring: Sale, Quintana, Rodon, Danks and Erik Johnson (with rookie Frankie Montas or new pick up but often injured Jacob Turner in the mix for the 6th starter spot).

This shows that Quintana is an extremely valuable #2 starter to bridge to Rodon, who may have a sophomore slump as the league adjusts to him, and Danks, who still is on a career downward spiral.

November 12, 2015


As I predicted, the Cubs are not going to be big free agent spenders this off-season.

The Sun-Times reported the "Cubs are still waiting for business president Crane Kenney’s promised wheelbarrow of cash to find its way to baseball president Theo Epstein’s office."

Theo Epstein said he did not expect the kind of spending on free agent pitching national baseball pundits seem to assume the Cubs have planned this winter – no matter how much more the Cubs plan to draw at Wrigley Field next year or make on ballpark/video board sponsorships.

As much as David Price might want to reunite with his old manager, Joe Maddon, in Chicago, his Price tag could put him out of the Cubs’ reach. The article stresses that the Cubs effective payroll was $120 million in 2015, of which $20 million was carry-over from prior years. The whole emphasis on drafting and signing international players for cheap control was the blueprint sold to the fans four years ago. Ownership is not going to open the checkbook when Ricketts is in the costly beginning of massive construction projects to Wrigley Field and surrounding properties.

The article believes that the Cubs 2016 payroll could be at best $130 million, about $10 million more than last season. Considering the amount of empty roster slots in CF, starting pitching, half the bullpen and arbitration players like Arrieta, the unspent $30 million for 2016 would have to be parsed between ten to twelve players.

What the meetings probably don’t signify is any inclination by the Cubs’ brass to attempt to add two high-end free agents.  Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have recently downplayed that possibility. “If we want to do two things we have to get pretty creative,” Epstein said, referring to managing payroll. “Even if we do one really big thing we have to get creative. We have the ability to add a little bit from where we are right now. I don’t think we have room to do everything that’s been speculated in some areas.”

So Epstein has publicly admitted what we assumed for a year or more. He does not control the Cubs checkbook. As such, he cannot create a complete vision of his Cubs team. As a result, it has to be frustrating to deal with the business side of the organization. And this may be the reason there is no talk for an Epstein contract extension because he may believe this is an unworkable situation.

With his hands tied by the business side, the baseball guys have to be "creative" if they want to sign a big money free agent. That means two things: 1) add more years and greater amount of "dead money" to the end of a deal or 2) create more payroll space by trading away higher priced players. It seems the only true alternative is the trade route.

To open up payroll space, the most likely candidates would be:

Montero, who is owed $28 million for the next two years;
Castro, who is owed $40.43 million over next four years (with $1 million buyout of option);
Soler, who is owed 21.35 million over next five years, but has an opt out after three.

Montero is owed $14 million for 2016; Castro, $7.86 million; and Soler, $3.76 million. 

The Cubs would have to move Montero and Castro to free up enough cash to sign a top tier starter.
the Cubs would have to move Castro and Soler to free up enough cash to sign a second tier starter.

If Schwarber can catch, then Montero is expendable. If the Cubs move Castro, Baez can play second. If the Cubs move Soler, RF becomes another outfield hole to fill in free agency. This also ties the Cubs off-season moves because the current roster does not have the quality depth to take a starter's place for an entire season.

November 10, 2015


It is a tale of two city teams.

The White Sox were a divisional contender on paper during spring training.
The Cubs were still mired in a long rebuilding process. The top prospects were still years away from the talk in spring training.

But the exact opposite happened: the White Sox failed in their fans' expectations while the Cubs surprised their fans with a playoff run, which included beating the rival Cardinals.

Both teams have a lot of work to do this off-season to have a "contender" tag during spring training. The Cubs are desperate for starting pitching while the White Sox are desperate for hitting.

The teams are natural trade partners on a needs basis, but since they share the same territory, they rarely trade. Which is a shame since each team has valuable usable parts for the other. The White Sox declined an option on Alexi Ramirez so the team is in need of a shortstop, which the Cubs have a surplus. The White Sox have a stacked deck of starting pitchers, with two more youngsters working up the high minors. There could be a blockbuster deal if the teams would put their organizational hatred aside.

And it seems that the trade market may be more active this year because of the high cost of free agents like Price, Zimmerman, Heyward and Greinke.

Four days before the GM meetings began in South Florida, the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays had already engineered a six-player trade. Seattle acquired right-hander Nathan Karns, lefty C.J. Riefenhauser and minor-league outfielder Boog Powell, sending first baseman Logan Morrison, infielder/outfielder Brad Miller and right-hander Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay – all before the free-agent marketplace even opened. None of these players are big names, but they fill existing needs in the teams' depth charts.

November 7, 2015


Cub fans may think the front office has a blank check to spend in 2016 because of the strong finish to the 2015 season.

Think again.

The Cubs know they have two top tier starters in Lester and Arrieta. They have the top 2 rotation slots filled already.

The Cubs need #3 and #4 starters. And the business side will not allow the team to overspend on those two positions.

Besides, the Cubs have a few positional questions (CF, for example), and will have to re-tool half of the bullpen, again.

So those who have their sites on the Cubs landing Price, Zimmerman or Greinke in free agency, forget about it. The Cubs are not going to spend another $150 to $210 million on another arm.

It is more likely the Cubs target pitchers like Mike Leake or Scott Kazmir.

Leake, 27, went 11-10, 3.70 ERA, 1.161 WHIP and 2.9 WAR for two clubs in 2015. He was paid $9.775 million.

Kazmir, 31, went 7-11, 3.10 ERA, 1.208 WHIP, 3.3 WAR in 2015. He was paid $13 million.

One would expect these pitchers to command $12-15 million per season (depending upon discount for number of years of the contract).

Signing both these pitchers would be nice, but would probably eat up the entire off season FA budget. One has to realize that the Cubs do not have a real good lead off/center field option on their current roster. Fowler was the catalyst for the Cubs offense. When he did well, the team did well. I do not see the Cubs trying to move an infielder (Castro or Baez) into center to fill a need in-house. The transition to center field is a tough position to learn on the fly.

At best, the Cubs will sign one second tier starter, use Hendricks at #4 and try to cobble together a fifth starter from the minors during spring training.

November 4, 2015


Every team goes into the Winter Meetings with a plan on how to improve their club.

There are critical needs assessments. There are target players to fill those needs.

In the last week, we have heard from various sources, including NY Post writer Joel Sherman and baseball veteran Peter Gammons, on what the Cubs may be up to this off-season.

From an outsider's perspective, here are the Cubs critical needs:

1. New CF/lead off hitter.  Fowler is a free agent who will be seeking a long term contract.

2. #3 starter. As Gammons said, "an innings eater."

3. #4 starter. The starting pitching was a glaring weakness in the post season run.

4. Middle relievers: Cahill, Richard and Hunter are free agents. Wood may try to earn a starting role. This leaves have the bullpen open.

5. Back up Catcher: If the Cubs really want Schwarber to work on his catching skills (since the outfield has been questionable) he needs to spend the winter in the instructional league. If Schwarber is not going to be a serviceable catcher, then the Cubs will need to find Montero's replacement either inside the organization or outside since Ross only has one year left on his deal.

Surprisingly, Sherman and Gammons indicated that the big target for the Cubs this off season will be Royals LF Alex Gordon. Gordon can opt out of his final year, $12.5 million deal. He says he wants to stay with the Royals, but he should command a long term extension at more than the qualifying offer value of $15.8 million.

Gordon, 32, in 104 GP hit .271, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 2 SB and had a 2.8 WAR. That does not seem to be special production for the alleged "best left fielder in the game." He does not meet the critical needs of the team: center field or lead off.

The writers also agree that in order to upgrade pitching, the Cubs will have to go into the market and find several veteran, quality arms for the #3 and #4 slots. Gammons believes that the Cubs will probably trade both Soler and Castro in order to find pitchers. As discussed in a previous post, Soler's trade value is at its highest level due to his post-season performance. Power around the leagues is in short supply, and Soler appears to be a DH candidate. Castro's value was higher a year and half ago, but with a surplus of middle infielders, he is the likely candidate to be moved to another team.

If the Cubs are looking to go into the free agent pitching market, they will not be targeting the big names. Ironically, the type of innings eater (200 IP) would be a Samardzija, whose 2015 performance may have put him in the second tier of value. He may not accept what the Cubs had offered him prior to the trade to Oakland, but his year with the White Sox really devalued his position in the free agent market.

In the free agent center field market, the crop is very thin (it contains two ex-Cubs):

Rajai Davis (age, 35)
Dexter Fowler (30)
Austin Jackson (29)
Justin Maxwell (32)
Colby Rasmus (29)
Shane Robinson (30)
Denard Span (32)
Drew Stubbs (31)

Span was hurt for most of last season, and Stubbs was terrible. Rasmus has turned into a journeyman who hit 25 HR in Houston this year, but batted only .238. This is why Fowler is the cream of the CF crop this off season.