February 28, 2015


I mostly agree with Yahoo Sports! assessment of the key spring training roster battles for the Cubs.

The fifth starter competition is probably going to be the one the media will focus upon. Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks are the starting four.  The 5th spot will be won by either Edwin Jackson (ouch), Travis Wood (who turned down 4 year deal before 2014 season, ouch again), Ysuyoshi Wada (who has hamstring issues), Felix Doubront, Jacob Turner or long shot Eric Jokisch.

Third base is a caretaker position for the first two months. It is doubtful Kris Bryant makes the opening day roster. So, terrible Mike Olt (the former #1 prospect in the Rangers organization), Tommy LaStella or Arismendy Alcantara are the probable contenders for the spot. Perhaps, the Cubs attempt to move Javey Baez to third, and train Bryant to learn left field.

Some think Alcantara can be Maddon's new version of Ben Zobrist, a multi-positional player who could hit. Alcantara appears to have a back up CF role (with Fowler's acquisition), and back up roles at second and short stop.

Second base is Baez's spot to lose. If he can't cut down on his strike out ratio, he may start the season in Iowa. That would probably leave a platoon of LaStella and Alcantara at second, and gives third to Olt by default.

February 27, 2015


The Cubs have publicly said that Welington Castillo still has a place with the team.

The idea of having three catchers on the major league roster is really out of the box. With most teams adding an additional pitcher, the position bench is pretty thin. Thus, the rise of the super-sub like Emilio Bonifacio.

There are two reasons for management's comments. First, it is a way to bump up the "trade value" of a surplus catcher. There are many teams that are in need of a quality, major league ready backstop. But no one has pulled the major trigger since the Blue Jays signed Russell Martin. The Jays former starter, Dioner Navarro, had an excellent season so he wants to be traded to start somewhere else. But the Jays have not tried to move him.

Navarro is a better hitting catcher than Miguel Montero, David Ross or Castillo. Navarro's return to the Cubs would have made more sense than replacing Castillo with Montero and Ross, who will be the personal catcher for Jon Lester. Personally, the Montero trade was not an upgrade over Castillo.

Second, there may be some concern that either Montero, who has had two declining years in a row for Arizona, or Ross, who is at the final stage of his career, may break down leaving the Cubs with a huge catching hole since Kyle Schwarber is years away from a big league promotion.

In his major league career, Castillo has only played one game at first base. Otherwise, he has been a catcher. So Castillo does not have the experience to become a super-sub and play multiple positions such as 1B, LF or 3B, the latter two to be manned by journeymen.

The Cubs could try to deal from catching strength if some clubs have spring training injuries to their starting catchers, but at this point that is a long shot. 

It is not to say that Castillo would not be better than the 25th man off the bench. But it is a luxury to carry three catchers. It means that a team has a set 8 man daily lineup, which clearly the Cubs do not have.

February 26, 2015


Lou Piniella would start thinking about his line up card on the drive to the ball park. Piniella would constantly change his line up, batting positions, in theory, to find an edge against his opponent.

But does that really work? We have been told that professional athletes are creatures of habit. They are geared to a set routine, whether it is rest, training, diet, work-outs, practice and in game situations.

So the idea that a baseball manager is going into a new season wanting to mix things up is troublesome.

It is fine to mix things up in intersquad or split square spring training games.  Even though the Cubs have enough position players already in camp to fill a roster for an intrasquad game, manager Joe Maddon hasn't seen enough of them to be able to fill out a lineup card yet.

But Joe Maddon has eluded to the fact that some Cubs fans may be puzzled by some of his lineup combinations.

"You know I'm not going to be afraid to try different things," Maddon told Cubs.com.

That could include batting a pitcher eighth,  depending on who he's facing that day.

Maddon said his bench coach Dave Martinez and himself will meet and write down one week's worth of lineups prior to the start of Cactus League games on March 5th. He said he  likes to think about what he's going to do while riding his bike. "There will be a lot of haphazard stuff," Maddon said.

Maybe Maddon will get the daily tinkering out of his system before the real season starts.

A set lineup brings a level of stability and maturity to a roster. If players know where they will be batting on a daily basis, they can prepare for their role and potential situations better. A lead off hitter needs to bring the mind set of getting on base (hit or walk), while a #2 hitter has to have the skills and mind set to move a runner along (walk or sacrifice or hit and run). Bouncing players up and down the line up card does not allow a hitter to adjust to those requirements.

February 25, 2015


Depending on who discusses the situation, Cuban baseball ranks between Double A and Triple A level on the international stage. Because of the political sanctions between the U.S. and Cuba, baseball has rarely mixed between the countries. That tide is shifting under the current U.S. administration. Before, players had to defect in order to sign a deal. That may be shifting to normalized pacts. More MLB teams are looking to connect with Cuban prospects.

The Red Sox dove in big time. The Sox went over their international spending limit (which means a penalty and restrictions on signings next year) by signing Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada to a  $30 million contract.  Boston can't sign an international player to a bonus of more than $300,000 until July 2 of 2017, but they have Moncada, who is considered talented enough that he would be the first pick in the 2015 MLB Draft were he eligible, since is considdered as a Top 15 prospect by baseball scribes.

The current trend is clearly to seek out South-of-the-Border talent in Cuba, the Caribbean and Latin America. With additional interest in these youth baseball areas, the cost of signing prospects is going up (which is why MLB put in signing restrictions).

February 24, 2015


By most accounts, the White Sox addressed their glaring needs this off-season.

The Cubs started in October with a long list of issues.

Left Field.
Center field.
Third base.
Second base.
Starting pitching.
Bench depth.

Left field has not been solved since Coghlan, Lake and Denofia are in a platoon competition. All track as journeymen bench players.

Center field was changed by the acquisition of Fowler, but how he adapts to the short, windy confines of Wrigley Field is going to be telling. This puts Alcantara into a super substitute role as CF and middle infielder.

Third base will be manned some day by Bryant, but with the trade of Valbuena for Fowler, Olt is the statue that must cover the position for several weeks to months. Olt, by all past measures, is a bust.

Second base is probably going to go to Baez, but his offense and strike out ratio could place him back in the minors. LaStella is another journeyman back up who may edge his way into a starting role, even over Alcanatara.

Starting pitching was problematic with Edwin Jackson and Travis Woods' off years. Lester signing puts a top of the rotation arm in position, but in reality he is only replacing Samardzija.  The return of Hammel is also a 50-50 proposition since he had a good-bad season in 2014.

Bench depth continues to be replacing players with replacement value or less counterparts.

The buzz continues to be about the prospects, but the roster itself has not upgraded much of the glaring needs we have identified this off-season.

February 23, 2015


Via MLBTR, Baseball America has an interesting analysis of team with multiple top level prospects.

It’s well known that the Cubs have an outstanding core of hitting prospects of Bryant, Soler, Castro, Almora, Rizzo,  but it’s it is a crap shoot on how far that core will actually take them.

Baseball America went back to look at various touted prospect lists.   Some of those groups (those of the 2006 Diamondbacks, 2011 Royals and 2004 Brewers) didn’t produce obviously exceptional results in wins and losses, although at least the Royals and Brewers would probably argue that they’re happy with how the intervening years unfolded. The other two great prospect groups (the 2007 Rays and 1992 Braves) helped produce great results by any standard, even if the Braves’ subsequent run was fueled largely by pitching that was already in the big leagues at the time.

It is also interesting to read how well the teams did in turning over their prospects for additional assets (a comparison of WARs).

But the statistical take away from this story is that of the five top prospect heavy teams, only two had success, and one of the those (the Braves) had the boost of stellar pitching in order to succeed.  In essence, a team with prized prospects only has a 40 percent chance to be a core on a winning franchise, but in reality, a twenty percent chance with real help in other areas like pitching.

February 22, 2015


In order to "speed up" play, MLB is instituting a host of new rules.

(Reuters) - Major League Baseball instituted several rule changes on Friday designed to step up the pace of play amid growing concerns that its games are growing too long.

Among the changes is that batters must keep at least one foot in the batter's box unless one of several exceptions occurs, like time is called or the pitcher throws a wild pitch. Timers will also be added to better track time and guide players, the league said.

MLB began to look for ways to address the issue in September amid fears that fans of the national pastime will become bored with the escalating length of games and flee to other quicker-paced sports.
The average MLB game took 3 hours 2 minutes last season, nearly 30 minutes more than it did in 1981.

"These changes represent a step forward in our efforts to streamline the pace of play," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "The most fundamental starting point for improving the pace of the average game involves getting into and out of breaks seamlessly."

The new timers will measure non-game action and the time between innings and pitching changes, counting down from 2:25 for locally televised games and from 2:45 for nationally televised games. Batters will be "encouraged" to get into the batter’s box with 20 seconds left on the timer, MLB said.
Pitchers can throw as many warm-up pitches as they want prior to 30 seconds remaining on the clock but will forfeit any of their traditional eight warm-up pitches that they cannot complete by that deadline.

Braves President John Schuerholz, the chairman of MLB's Pace of Game and Instant Replay committees, said he wants to take "measured steps" to quicken baseball's pace.

"It is not an objective of ours to achieve a dramatic time reduction right away," he said. "It is more important to develop a culture of better habits and a structure with more exact timings for non-game action."

All of the new rules will be enforced through a warning and fine system, MLB said, with discipline resulting for flagrant violators.

MLB also announced several changes to its use of the instant replay system, including allowing managers to challenge a call from the dugout rather than by approaching an umpire.

"We're confident that today's announcements will have a positive impact on the pace of the game without jeopardizing the integrity of the competition," said MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark.

The rule changes will be effective in spring training, the regular season and the postseason.

These "new" rules will only slow down pace of play because coaches, players and umpires will have to learn them on the fly. Warm up pitch and batter clocks are only going to put an added element of chaos. If the last out is a catcher, he needs time to get his equipment back on. What if he takes "too long?" 

Besides, the current rule book gives the home plate umpire the ability to manage the pace of the game. He does not have to give a batter time. He can warn a pitcher for stalling between pitches, including calling an automatic ball. 

The institution of replay challenges has added several minutes to games. To quicken the pace of replay, allowing a coach to throw a towel or gesture at the umpires seems silly. And besides, the manager has to explain his protest in person to the crew chief, who may be at second base. 

The only way to really speed up games is to coach and train pitchers to throw faster. Mark Buerhle is the poster child for a quick and efficient game.  

February 21, 2015


In worst off-season move, according to baseball executives.

Jason Stark of ESPN polled baseball management about the off-season.

Among the questions Stark asked execs was which free agent deal was the worst of this MLB offseason. It turns out some of the Nationals' rivals see little sense in their decision to sign Max Scherzer to a $210 million deal.
Here is how Stark explains it:
"The reason for that isn't actually confusing. We'd sum it up this way: Love the player, hate the contract. There's no better example of that than Scherzer. "It's ridiculous that they'll be paying him forever," one voter said. "But he's a great pitcher."
There are plenty of reasons why MLB executives may feel this way. Some may chalk it up to jealousy or envy or something intangible like that. Not every executive has the resources Nationals GM Mike Rizzo does to make such a move.

Or, one could take it as a reminder of the risk the Nationals are undertaking in committing such a monstrous price tag to Scherzer, who is a pitcher. Often times these deals do not work out - especially for starting pitchers - which essentially makes the Nationals as ones who are betting against history.

It is a valid point. Long term deals, especially with deferred compensation, can hand cuff a franchise down the road. (Aren't the Mets still paying Bobby Bonilla?) There will be a point when the television money will plateau, then recede. At that point, big spenders will be squeezed and dead money contracts will loom large.

But on the other hand, the Nationals are in "win now" mode. Whether the fan base really appreciates that the team is going all out for a championship in 2015 remains to be seen. D.C. is a fickle sports town. Fair weather fans are like the politics of the city.

The Nationals have a rare pitching staff (on paper) in place: three Aces in a row --- Strasburg, Zimmerman and Scherzer. One would expect no long losing streaks for the Nats this year.

February 20, 2015


The White Sox will be in a close race in the AL Central.

Various prediction services have the AL Central in toss-up mode.

The sports betting website Bovada set the win totals as follows:
1. Detroit (84.5)
2. Cleveland (83.5)
3. White Sox (81.5)
4. KC (79.5)
5. Minnesota (70.5)

PECOTA projects the AL Central win totals as follows:

1. Detroit 82
2. Cleveland 81
3. White Sox 78

Fangraphs predicts:

1. Detroit 85
2. Cleveland 84
3. KC 81
4. White Sox 78

All told, the White Sox average within 5 games of the division title. And of all the AL teams, the White Sox have done the most this off season to fill roster needs.

February 19, 2015



Today marks the Chinese New Year. It is the Year of the Goat.

When a goat reference is made, most Cub fans cringe. The Billy Goat Curse is still one of the foundational ulcer creating myths of Cub nation.

Now, with unbelievably high expectations for the 2015 season because of the signings of Joe Maddon and Jon Lester, the goat reference takes on a haunting significance.

Lester may be a good to great pitcher. He is a quiet leader (his actions on the field speak louder than his words). But he is now a Cub. He is not a Cub savior. However, there is no guarantee that he will be better than Samardzija.

Maddon has only managed in the quiet library of Tampa Bay. He has had success with the Rays, but one still must consider he got the talent benefits of one of the best young general managers in the game, Andrew Friedman. Maddon now has to roll the dice with Theo and Jed's take on "can't miss" prospects such as Soler, Bryant, and Russell.

Either Maddon or Lester could be this season's scapegoat.

If the Cubs start slowly, which is probably a given considering the distractions that surround the Wrigley Field rehab circus and at least two months of bleacher ticket holders removed from their seats, the blame game may be the only game in town.

A few hyperstatistic sites have crunched some numbers and predict that Rizzo is going to have a down year. One states that his contact (how hard he hits the ball) is one of the weakest on the team (which equates to more luck than hard contact). My concern with Rizzo is more body type. He has begun to square up, more beefy body frame. Add that weight to the stress of keeping up with the young, hard swinging, full body torque home run hitters like Baez and Soler, Rizzo is primed to have more back issues.

Castro continues to have off-season strange stories, including investigation of two shooting incidents in the Dominican Republic. He has not been charged with any crime, but just the fact he is in the area of questionable behavior is a concern. Some scouts believe that Castro will have his full batting stroke in 2015. It will be interesting to see how Castro performs with the pressure of Russell in AAA ready to take his job at shortstop.

The pressure is on all the young players to perform at veteran levels in order for the Cubs to even reach .500 in 2015.

February 18, 2015


Here is a look at the Cubs 2014 Opening Day roster:

PITCHERS (12 + 3 DL)

11-Kyuji Fujikawa, RHP (15-Day DL)
29-Jeff Samardzija, RHP
33-Carlos Villanueva, RHP
36-Edwin Jackson, RHP
37-Travis Wood, LHP
39-Jason Hammel, RHP
40-James Russell, LHP
41-Jose Veras, RHP
46-Pedro Strop, RHP
49-Jake Arrieta, RHP (15-Day DL)
52-Justin Grimm, RHP
53-Wesley Wright, LHP
55-James McDonald, RHP (60-Day DL)
56-Hector Rondon, RHP
63-Brian Schlitter, RHP

12-John Baker
5-Welington Castillo

13-Starlin Castro
15-Darwin Barney
24-Luis Valbuena
30-Mike Olt
44-Anthony Rizzo
64-Emilio Bonifacio

6-Ryan Sweeney
19-Nate Schierholtz
20-Justin Ruggiano
21-Junior Lake
51-Ryan Kalish



11-Kyuji Fujikawa, RHP
29-Jeff Samardzija, RHP
33-Carlos Villanueva, RHP
36-Edwin Jackson, RHP, on the rocks as a starter; may be gone or cut
37-Travis Wood, LHP, on the cusp of being traded or bullpenned
39-Jason Hammel, RHP, on second tour of combat duty with Cubs
40-James Russell, LHP
41-Jose Veras, RHP
46-Pedro Strop, RHP, key set up man
49-Jake Arrieta, RH, tries to put back-to-back successful seasons for first time in career
52-Justin Grimm, RHP, on the cusp of 5th starter or AAA
53-Wesley Wright, LHP
55-James McDonald, RHP
56-Hector Rondon, RHP, the quiet closer
63-Brian Schlitter, RHP, probably is the last man in the bullpen cuts

12-John Baker
5-Welington Castillo, will be traded since Montero and Ross are signed as catchers

13-Starlin Castro, starting SS will feel some pressure from AAA Russell
15-Darwin Barney
24-Luis Valbuena
30-Mike Olt, the lowly caretaker of 3B until Bryant is called up
44-Anthony Rizzo, has to fight possible slump season
64-Emilio Bonifacio

6-Ryan Sweeney, barely a 5th outfield candidate
19-Nate Schierholtz
20-Justin Ruggiano
21-Junior Lake, is probably out of the mix to make team
51-Ryan Kalish

HALF OF THE FIRST 25 MAN ROSTER WILL NOT BE WITH THE CUBS ON OPENING DAY 2015. This is another dramatic turnover of the roster by the Cubs, who continue to lack consistency in their daily lineups.

February 17, 2015


A nice graphic from Business Insider on Vegas over/under for 2015 wins (with comparison to last season). To note, the top teams are projected to slip downward by a few games while some lower teams may edge up.

The Padres look to improve by 7 wins. The White Sox win 8 more games. The Cubs may win 9 more games. But the Red Sox appear to make the biggest gain with +14 wins.

February 16, 2015


Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports wrote:

Major League Baseball is considering altering the textbook definition of the strike zone for the first time in nearly two decades, fearful that the proliferation of the low strike has sapped too much offense from the game, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Concern around baseball about the strike zone filtered down to the MLB’s Playing Rules Committee, which must formally adopt a rules change before it’s implemented. The committee will pay close attention to the size of the strike zone in 2015 with an eye on change as early as 2016 after studies showed it has expanded significantly since 2009, coinciding with a precipitous dip in run scoring. Of particular concern, sources said, is the low strike, a scourge not only because it has stretched beyond the zone’s boundaries but is considered a significantly more difficult pitch to hit.

Hardball Times study showed Runs per game fell to 4.07 in 2014, the lowest mark since 1981 and the 13th fewest since World War II. The reason for the runs per game drop is alleged to be the low strike zone.

Since 2009, the average size of the called strike zone has jumped from 435 square inches to 475 square inches, according to the article. The results: Pitchers are throwing more in the lower part of the zone, and hitters are swinging at an increased rate, knowing the tough-to-drive pitches will be called strikes.

However, the elephant in the room that no one sees is that the "dramatic" drop off of offense since 2009 is the reduction of PED use in baseball. A major reason for the increased offensive statistics was the use of steroids and HGH. When light hitting second basemen suddenly become home run hitters the era's offensive numbers are out of whack with traditional reality.

Now, since youth baseball, we were taught the strike zone was from the uniform letters (chest) to the knees. It was canon of the sport, just like the distance between the base paths.

However, baseball may be creating a problem it does not have.

The problem, league sources said, stems from technological leaps that caused unintended consequences. In 1996, when the league last changed the strike zone to extend it from the top of the knees to the bottom, beneath the hollow of the kneecap, it did so to encourage umpires to call knee-level strikes. The lower end of the zone, in practice, was about three-quarters of the way down the thigh, so the idea was that by adjusting the eye levels of umpires to look lower, the result would be a more traditional strike zone.

Then along came Questec, the computerized pitch-tracking system, followed by Zone Evaluation, the current version tied in to MLB’s PITCHf/x system. With a tremendous degree of accuracy – especially in recent years – the systems tracked textbook balls and strikes, and the home-plate umpires’ performances were graded on a nightly basis. Over time, not only did umpires’ strike zones move down to the knees, they went to the hollow and even a smidge below.

Prior to these changes, hitters were given a healthy sweet zone of the belt to the letters strike zone. Pitchers had a smaller window of opportunity to get batters out. So the development of "trick" pitches such as fork ball which dives from the smaller strike zone to below the knees was needed to equalize pitching vs. batting. But if you watch enough baseball, you can easily tell that there are many hitters who are "low ball" crushers of the ball, like long hitters in golf. In fact, most teams have detailed hitting zone charts for each player (you can see examples in your baseball video games). 

Baseball is a profession where players need to adapt their skills. Pitchers had to adapt to a squeezed strike zone that favored hitters. Now that the umpires are calling the low strike, hitters should need to adapt back to the traditional plate coverage from youth baseball drills. But since baseball worries that without big offensive ("chicks love the long ball"), it will lose the next generation of fans to high offensive sports like football and basketball.  It is an unjustified fear. Baseball's traditions are what keeps a loyal fan base engaged in the game.

February 15, 2015


Crain's reports:

Owners of two rooftops overlooking Wrigley Field seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the Chicago Cubs from installing planned video boards and advertising signs. It's the latest volley in a string of legal tussles between the two sides.

Lawyer Tom Lombardo of Park Ridge-based firm Di Monte & Lizak filed the motion today in federal court, asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order to halt the construction of signage that his clients—owners of rooftops at 3627 and 3633 N. Sheffield Ave.—believe will illegally block their views of baseball games.

The same group of owners, led by Ed McCarthy and also including Mark Schlenker and Marc Hamid, sued in January the Cubs and owner Tom Ricketts in federal court, accusing them of attempted monopolization in violation of the Sherman Act, breach of contract, defamation, consumer fraud and deceptive practices.

The legal maneuver is the motion asking the judge, Virginia Kendall, to issue a short-term restraining order until the court ultimately decides whether to issue a preliminary injunction—a step that would halt construction of the signs until the lawsuit is resolved. A notice for a hearing on February 18, 2015 was filed by Plaintiffs.

This lawsuit is different than the rooftop owners suit against the City for violation of its own landmark ordinance and procedural due process concerns. This lawsuit did not include the Cubs, which would have brought in the argument of whether the Cubs are breaching their revenue sharing contract with its Wrigley expansion.
If the injunction is granted, it would be another black eye in the Ricketts construction plans. The current bleacher work is well behind schedule. It will not be completed until mid-May. So much so the vaulted Opening Night debut on National television will show an outfield construction site and not the iconic, ivy covered bleachers. The Cubs still had hoped that the  3,990-square-foot video board planned for left center field is slated to be ready by April 5th, while a 2,100-square-foot video board in right field—the one that may block the views of the rooftops that are suing the team—is not scheduled to be done until May. An injunction would stop the progress of the outfield construction, which will impact the bleacher season ticket holders who have been forced to relocate while this construction is in progress.

There are more concerns being raised outside the organization about the manner in which Ricketts and his team is managing these projects and caretaking of Wrigley Field. The new announcement of an AC/DC concert three days before a Cubs home stand has many baseball fans concerned that the grass will be like the bad Soldier Field turf, unplayable. Also, the neighbors have yet to have a full blown rock concert in their neighborhood - - - most concert acts have been middle of the road pop or country.  Hard rock shows bring in a different type of concert goer; louder and younger.

Also, the slow pace for the first phase of the construction has people concerned that the real big projects to come in the next three off-seasons (the clubhouse-dugout reconfigurations and the upper deck changes) will not be ready before the Cubs play the opening games. Long time fans think that the Cubs are getting second class treatment as the owners continue to press for more non-baseball activities at Wrigley. The Wrigley baseball experience is taking a back seat to a new entertainment revenue agenda.

February 14, 2015


Alex Rodriguez apparently apologized this week to his team.

Whether the Yankees want or need A-Rod back in the fold is the $60 million question.

$60 million is what A-Rod is owed on his deal. It may be more with home run bonus clauses. The Yankees have tried to find a way out of the contract, claiming A-Rod breached it, but MLB and the players union would probably not allow it.

Rodriguez is 39. He played in only 44 games last season. He hit .244.

He is the poster child for cheating, PED use.  He apologized once before, and kept on using by all accounts in the Biogenesis scandal.

So why would the Yankees want an old, drug broken cancer in their clubhouse?

Rodriguez wants to play and he will probably fight his way through the door.

But the team does not have to allow it. They can pay him off and cast him aside like many other aged, dead money ball players.

The Yankees are all about pride and winning. The team has finished second and third in the AL East the last two seasons, with win totals around 84.5.

Most people in NY believe A-Rod can't field well anymore. He is a defensive liability. At best, he would be a DH. But a DH with probable limited power. But the team already has Garrett Jones and Chris Young to platoon at DH.

It is how much of a media circus the Yankees are willing to take in 2015.

If baseball really wants to send a message about the steroid era, A-Rod should never play another game. But in essence, A-Rod still wins by cheating: he gets paid for his past enhanced performance.

February 13, 2015


In 2014, the Cubs put a waiver claim on Cole Hamels. It is customary that a team place all its players on revocable waivers after the trade deadline in order to judge potential trade partners. The Cubs surprised many as being a "buyer" on Hamels. The Phils pulled back the ace pitcher and no trade happened.

But this week, Bruce Levine was on the radio talking about the Cubs and Hamels. He believes the Cubs, who lost out on James Shields, are still interested in Hamels. However, the Phillies are looking for a bunch of young prospects from the Cubs in order to move Hamels.
“Eight teams have kicked the tires,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told CSNPhilly.com.
How many teams have made offers?
“Real offers?” Amaro said.
The Cubs are apparently one of the tire kickers.

Hamels is owed $98 million. Levine believes the Cubs have the money to do anything at this point. (Which is an cloudy statement considering the Cubs have huge outlays on Wrigley reconstruction, new litigation fees and the unlikely hope that all the big prospects will turn to gold in 2015). The Cubs were second in the Shields free agency bidding, offering three years, $60 million. The Padres won with four years, $75 million. If the Cubs had no barriers on money, then another $5 million per year would have gotten Shields.

In order to acquire Hamels, the Phillies would probably want a catcher, Welington Castillo, an impact middle infielder, Addison Russell, a young ready starter, Kyle Hendricks and another prospect like Albert Almora or Arismendy Alcantara. The radio hosts immediately turned down that package on behalf of the Cubs organization.

Clearly, the speculation is that Castillo and LHP Travis Wood is not enough to pry Hamels away from Philadelphia, which is going to go through a major rebuild. Castillo has an average annual WAR of 1.54 (1.8 last year), Wood an average annual WAR of 1.0, and Alcantara 0.6 for a benchmark group WAR of 3.1 WAR. Hamels average WAR is 4.4. Hendricks had a 2.9 WAR last year. Hendricks, Castillo and Alcantara is probably a good enough package to acquire Hamels from a neutral observation point-of-view. But the Phils will demand more and the Cubs really covet their own prospects so any deal is a long shot.

Hamels, 31, has played 9 seasons. In 274 career starts, he is 108-83, 3.27 ERA, 1.142 WHIP, 3.77 K/BB ratio and 40.4 WAR.

He has been compared to Shields, 33, 11 years career 26.7 WAR and Zack Greinke, 31, 9 years career 39.4 WAR.

Would Hamels help the Cubs rotation? Of course. And with the current front office's fascination with lefties, a rotation of Lester, Hamels, Arrieta, T. Wood and Hammel would be an upgrade over 2014.

Perhaps the $98 million budget would be better held in reserve for David Price's free agency in 2015.

February 12, 2015


By nearly all national media accounts, the Padres had a great off-season, now capped by the relatively inexpensive signing of ace starter James Shields for $75 million.

For the Padres, landing Shields — who averaged 233 innings and a 124 ERA+ over the last four years — is the icing on top of a spectacular offseason that saw them upgrade their lineup via trades for outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, infielder Will Middlebrooks and catcher Derek Norris.

 With Shields in place, the Padres, whose pitchers already have the advantage of one of the most extreme pitchers' parks in baseball, have a strong top four in their rotation. Shields slots in as the veteran ace, late-bloomer Tyson Ross (an All-Star in 2014 at the age of 27) lands the 1A position, hard-throwing Andrew Cashner takes the No. 3 spot, and 30-year-old Ian Kennedy, who has averaged 201 innings per season with a league-average ERA+ over the last five years, is the way down in the fourth slot. The last starter will come from additions Brandon Morrow or Brandon Mauer (who may start in AAA), or Cuban Odrisamer Despaigne or lefty Robbie Erlin.

San Diego has turned more than over half of their fielders and quickly re-tooled twenty percent of their rotation.

New GM AJ Pellier has decided that he was going to make his mark quickly. The Padres are a small market team that needs to win in order to draw fan support. San Diego proper is an expensive place to live, and contains a transient military-navy population. Adding familiar names like Shields, Kemp and Upton are bound to make the ticket office and public relations easier this season. Fans are excited by the prospect of having a winning team in a very competitive NL West.

The only down side of the moves is that a few of the new acquisitions, Myers and Middlebrooks, seemed to fail at their potential in their last stops. Kemp and Morrow are injury prone players. So it possible that despite all the good moves, bad luck could shut down the season quickly.

However, fans will respect the aggressive behavior of the new general manager.

February 11, 2015


Don Cooper was recently interviewed on WSCR.

He basically said that young pitchers earn their first paycheck with their velocity in high school or college. But he said major league pitchers make their living "hitting the glove."

"Location and change of speed" is the key to professional success, Cooper said. Great pitchers like Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were not "stuff" guys, but pitchers who had movement on their pitches and who could consistently hit the catcher's glove.

A pitcher with "stuff" but no location is pretty much worthless, Cooper said.

But he understood the fascination with speed. Everyone around us, people gauge success by speed: race cars, internet broadband, hockey slap shots, etc. It is probably because the average person cannot reach those levels of performance.

Cooper said that even throwers at 84 MPH like Mark Buerhle consistently throw more than 200 innings a year, which is important component to build a starting rotation and pitching staff. If a coach can count on consistent pitchers with location and movement, then the team has a great shot at winning.

Pitching, like hitting, is a game of adjustments. During the game, a pitcher will have to adjust to the situation. Even during an at-bat, a pitcher may need to adjust his philosophy to second guess the hitter's second guess on the next pitch. Sometimes you have to challenge a hitter's "strong" plate zone in order to keep him honest. How one goes about doing it is the million dollar question. A straight fastball in a hitter's comfort zone will fly a country mile out of the park. An off-speed cutter that floats into that same zone is less likely to be hit.

Cooper does not know what other pitching coaches tell their players. He just counsels each pitcher individually, with the goal of getting him the best opportunity to succeed. Perhaps that is why Cooper is one of the best pitching coaches in the game; he is not a mechanics tinker, but a coach who tries to get the best out of each of his players' current abilities.

February 10, 2015


It is apparent that the Cubs need to trade C Welington Castillo and LHP Travis Wood.

The question is whether the Cubs previous moves have been to stock pile these
trade chips to go after Cole Hamels.

The Cubs did put in an odd waiver claim in September for Hamels, so the interest
was there (but this was prior to Lester signing).

In the NL, Castillo's offense production is probably top ten, and he is a better defender
than most people give him credit for. So he is an upgrade for half the teams, so he is
valuable. Wood was very good two years ago, and not so good last season. But he is
an experienced, cheap left handed starter. He also has value.

Plus, the Cubs have a stock pile of infield talent to trade.
Teams like Alcantara because he has power for a little second baseman.
Bryant is untouchable, but could the Cubs trade a Baez and replace him with Russell?

The Cubs have been touting CF Almora this week, which means that they are pumping
the media to make other teams like this prospect?

Philadelphia would want a ton for Hamels.
But what about the Nationals if they want to move Strasburg or Zimmerman?

But for a package of Castillo, Wood, Almora and another pitching prospect, the Cubs would
need to get an ace in return, with several years of affordable control, not a rental.

February 9, 2015


Normally, one could hear cricket noises at Wrigley Field in late September.

But a recent BBC report indicates that a different type of cricket is making its rounds throughout baseball's minor league systems.

Cricket is an English bat and ball sport with confusing rules, long innings, games that may take days to complete, in the setting of colonial aristocracy. It is considered an international sport because the Brits transported it to all its colonies, including India and Australia. As a result, it is a top three sport after soccer and rugby.

What is interesting is that cricket clubs have started scouting American baseball minor league systems for batters. It seems that baseball hitting swing paths can be easily converted into the upright swipes of a cricket bat. It still takes strong eye and hand coordination to play both sports.  Cricket managers see American minor league hitters, who are stuck, blocked or not good enough to play American baseball, could be the next great Cricket player.

As teams covet their prospects more and more, there is a higher inventory of talent trapped at various levels in a team's system. Under normal circumstances, a new draftee would start in rookie ball. After a year, move up to Class A. Then after a year or so, to Double A. Then by year four, be in Triple AAA waiting for the call up. However, if production begins to fall off at any development stage, a prospect can be passed over for promotion and begin the label as a "career" minor league player.

Cricket teams want to tap the potential of good hit, no field candidates.

It is doubtful that the Cricket world is going to recruit a ton of talent from baseball, but it is another distraction that MLB clubs will have to contend with as youngsters weigh their sports options.

February 7, 2015


SB Nation believes that there are three possible "impact" prospects for 2015.

An impact prospect is a rookie who bursts on the scene as an unbelievable All-Star caliber player like the Angels Mike Trout.

Kris Bryant is projected to be the best prospect in baseball.  In Double- and Triple-A, the 22-year-old obliterated the competition, bashing 43 homers in 138 games while batting .325. He probably strikes out too much, but the competition in Triple-A isn't going to teach him anything: he'll never feel compelled to adjust if he can put up Triple Crown numbers in spite of any issues.  PECOTA, which is often critical of prospects, sees Bryant batting .261/.351/.515 as a rookie which would be a pretty good debut.

The Mets have the best pitching prospect in Noah Syndergaard. But the Mets' rotation right now is set, with Bartolo Colon as fifth starter. Unless he is traded to a contender, or someone gets hurt and a spot opens, then Syndergaard could be the one filling it. The 21 year old starter managed to strike out nearly 10 batters per inning in Triple-A last season. He is expected to burst on the NY scene.

The White Sox have the makings of a great rotation thanks to Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Jeff Samardzija. If they were inclined, they could put 2014 first-round pick Carlos Rodon in their rotation as well -- it won't be out of spring training, but with only John Danks and Hector Noesi in his way, he just might get that push sooner than later. Rodon has only thrown 24 innings in the minors, but finished his first pro season at Triple-A. Rondon has incredible stuff (comparable to Sale's) and already ranks among the game's best pitching prospects in spite of his inexperience. He could end up being a midseason difference maker in that rotation, one that propels the White Sox to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

February 6, 2015


Again, another example of the cautionary tale of what top prospects mean in baseball.

The Rockies signed Josh Vitters to a minor league contract.

Who knew Vitters was out of the Cubs organization?

The 2007 No. 3 overall pick never amounted to anything in the Cubs system despite placing in Baseball Prospectus' Top 50 prospects from 2008-10 (and in the Top 70 of Baseball America during that span).

Vitters is still only 25 (and won't turn 26 until August), but posted just a .276/.322/.440 slash line in eight minor-league seasons with the Cubs.

Vitters hit only .213 with a lowly .607 OPS in 112 games for Triple-A Iowa in 2014.

Vitters was such a prized prospect who never really got over the Triple-A talent hump. He was supposed to be a high average, good third baseman for a decade, an heir to Bill Madlock. But as is the case with most prospects, they fail. Vitters is one of the more recent Cubs casualties. 

February 5, 2015


To contend, or not to contend, that is the question.

If the Cubs really believe they are going to contend for a division title and a deep post-season run, then is the current roster a viable blueprint for success.

By all measures, no.

Left field platoon is bad. A center field placeholder is bad. A right fielder rookie who swings the bejesus out of himself with each pitch may struggle with major league off-speed stuff.

Third base is still underwhelming until Kris Bryant arrives; but he is no "sure thing."  Remember, Mike Olt was a sure thing for the Rangers.

Javy Baez needs to learn second base, cut down on his strikeouts and be a consistent player.

The team believes that it has upgraded its catching with Montero and Ross, leaving the trade value of Welington Castillo falling toward spring training.

There is no guarantee that Arrieta and Hendricks will build upon their surprising 2014.

Ownership and management have publicly stated that this team is ready to contend now. But that is the same marketing line Ricketts gave the public when he first bought the team. "We are only one or two players away."

The Cubs are still one, two, three, four, eight, ten players away.

One cannot plug in minor league stats on a line up card as future major league performance. In fact, most players lose a quarter to half of production value. Some, like Olt, lose almost 2/3 of batting average. There are so many factors, including mental pressure and stress, that major league players face which cause hot prospects to cool.

That is why some teams, like the Tigers, traded away their top prospects for known veterans. As a result, the Tigers have been in contention for many seasons.  But the Cubs do not want to work that way. The management gurus have fallen in love with their acquisitions. Cub fans with short memories will realize that the last general manager, Jim Hendry, also loved his prospects so much he would never trade them. Those prospects did not pan out.

So when the Cubs continue to say that the team will contend in 2015, it is another ring of false hope. For if it was true, and money was no object to obtain a priceless championship, the Cubs would have signed James Shields by now.

February 4, 2015


As spring training looms, the Cubs official website has a graphic on the team's current "depth chart."

It is probably the closest we can get to the mindset of the management.

The starting rotation:

Lester, Arrieta, Hammel, Hendrick, T. Wood.  (Wada, Turner, Doubront)

I would think Hammel would be #2, and the #5 slot a competition between Wood, E. Jackson, Turner and Doubront.

Outfield starters:

Coghlan, Fowler, Soler

No surprise here. The trade for Fowler puts Alcantara in utility role.

Infield starters:

Olt, Castro, Baez, Rizzo, Montero

With Valbuena traded for Montero, the third base caretaker position goes to Olt, who has just been plain terrible since becoming a Cub. If Bryant wants to play third, the position is wide open for him.

Bench players:

Alcantara, La Stella (infielders)
Szczur, Sweeney, Denorfia, Lake (outfielders)
Castillo, Ross, Lopez (catchers)

Rondon (closer), Motte, Strop, Ramirez, Parker, Grimm, Rosscup, Schlitter, E. Jackson, German

UPDATE: The Cubs claimed left-handed relief pitcher Drake Britton from the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday. To make room on the roster, Chicago designated right-handed pitcher Gonzalez Germen for assignment.

With 13 known starting players (8 field + 5 starters), the team only has 12 positions left on the 25 man opening day roster.

Maddon's style has been comparable to NL skippers, so it is likely he would want another position player over a bullpen specialist in order to pinch hit, double move or platoon.

The Cubs will only carry one more catcher, Ross for Lester, so Castillo continues to the be odd man out.  Olt is the weak link in the infield, so Alcantara and La Stella have to make the club (with the prospect that Baez may have to learn another position, third, if Olt fails). The only outfielder who is going to be on the bench is Denorfia. Lake, Sweeney and Szczur have weak journeymen skills at this point in their careers. Alcantara will be the 5th outfielder-super sub like Bonifacio did last season.

With four bench bats, that leaves a maximum  8 bullpen slots. An extra starter, such as Wada or Doubront could make the club, leaving seven pure relievers on the roster.

The bullpen depth has Parker over Grimm which is odd, unless Grimm goes back to AAA to reconvert to being a starter. The fall of E. Jackson appears complete if he is the 9th bullpen option, a role which I don't believe he will take. The Cubs have dead money on his deal so it is possible he will be cut.

The bullpen chart only has one unproven lefty, Rosscup. It is possible that Ortiz or Wada will become the lefty reliever.

As one can judge, the Cubs still really have little depth throughout the 25 man roster. It is still dominated by utility journeymen hitters.

February 3, 2015


A few writing instructions implore that the best novels have their endings written first. In that manner, the author knows where he or she is clearly heading.

There is a growing philosophy in baseball that games are decided at the end, so management must concentrate on the bullpen in order to win. The development of a pitching "staff" is still relatively new to baseball. In the early days, each team had three starters and a mop up reliever. That was it. Pitchers were expected to throw 9, 10, 11, 14 innings a game, whatever it took. Yes, considering it was a dead ball era and scoring was light by today's standards, the pitchers were still throwing complete games as common place. There was no concept of a specialist in the pen to bail out a starter.

The modernization of pitching structure began when starting pitchers started to make more money than their position player counterparts. When a team invests so much money on an injury waiting to happen, owners hedge their bets. As a result, teams started to baby their starters. No more expectations for complete games. Since starters were not going to go the distance, teams had to retain more pitchers on the roster to close out games.

Those "closers" were in fact failed starters or end-of-career veterans who were paid little. The advent of a bullpen cut back on more expensive position players. But it also hindered a manager's ability to double switch, pinch hit or add defensive replacements at the end of games.

The modern bullpen came into being when pitchers were no longer expected to throw 7 or 8 innings per start. This led to a standardized routine of having a middle reliever, a set up man, and a 9th inning closer. Since a starting staff has five pitchers, a team would need six relievers in order to cover for them. Today, the norm is actually a 12 man pitching staff, with the added emphasis on pure specialists, like the lefty that can get out left handed hitters.

Dan Duquette, the Orioles GM (and whom the Blue Jays tried to acquire this winter) has built many franchises into contenders. He has adopted the bullpen strength philosophy the past few years in Baltimore. The O's have been quite successful with a strong bullpen. Britton (Closer), O'Day, Hunter, Matusz, and Webb combined for a staff WAR of 6.0. Reports from Baltimore state that the O's pen will be even better this season.

There is some logic in the concept of making a bullpen a priority than the roster development bastard child. But one of the things one must do is fully commit to the quality of the pen and not treat it as an after thought. But many teams would rather focus the resources on front line pitchers (those are the ones fans like to see).

February 2, 2015


James Shields turning down a $110 million offer has run a chill down the spines of the MLB executive community. Shields asking price is high; it scares off clubs. Now, Max Scherzer's demands were also out of the ball park, but he got signed with a creative deal that deferred much of the dollars. Whether Shields final deal can be as clever will be seen.

Shields is compared to Zach Greinke. Shields went 14-8 in 34 starts for KC last year. He has a 3.21 ERA, 1.181 WHIP and  a 4.3 WAR. In this 9 seasons, Shields, 33, has a career 114-90 record, 3.72 ERA, 1.220 WHIP and 27.7 WAR. Last season he earned $13.5 million.

Greinke, 31, has amassed a 38.9 career WAR. He will be paid $25 million by LA in 2015.

It seems Shields' camp is in the ball park for a $25 million deal for 4 years, but there are two differences. First, Greinke is younger by two years. Second, many believe Shields is an injury waiting to happen (a classic work horse break down after signing a huge deal).

The problem is also that the big market teams have reached their budget limits, and the smaller market teams don't have a budget to stretch $25 million.

In a game of free agent musical chairs, Shields may be the last quality pitcher standing by spring training.