April 29, 2015


Joe Maddon has the young team buying in on his vision of the game.

Two major differences we have seen so far this season.

First, hitters are much more patient at the plate. Maddon says that the players have "bought in" on the concept that they should "accept" walks as being a positive at-bat. He allows them to work the count to have a home run cut, but then try to coax a hit or a walk to finish the at-bat.  The Cubs were taking almost double the amount of walks than the league average/opponents.

The idea of having a baserunner is key to putting pressure on the opposing pitcher and his defense. It seems to work because Pirate third baseman Josh Harrison has had a bad two series against the Cubs.

Second, the Cubs are stealing bases. In the last three years, the Cubs' stolen-base totals were 94 (2012), 63 (2013) and 65 (2014), and the 2012 total was that "high" (they ranked 11th in the National League) only because of Tony Campana stealing  30 bases.

The Cubs stole five bases Tuesday night, four of those in one inning.

Anthony Rizzo has already matched his career high with his sixth steal. He hasn't been caught yet. In fact, the Cubs are picking their spots extremely well for stealing bases, with a team total of 25 with just six caught stealing (80.6 percent success rate). The 25 steals leads the National League. 

This leads to the production increases - - - teammates are picking up for each other. It is like an assembly line moving players around the bases. The focus of attention is not home run swings but driving in runs. Kris Bryant has yet to hit a home run, but he quickly amassed 10 RBIs.

So far, this Cubs team has been fun to watch.

April 28, 2015


The Houston Chronicle notes that in the modern history of the game, there have been two major postponements due to community riots.

In 1992, the Dodgers had four games postponed in Los Angeles following the Rodney King verdict.

In 1967, the Orioles and Tigers had a game postponed because of riots in Detroit. The next two games were shifted to Baltimore.

The White Sox-Orioles game was postponed last night due to riots in Baltimore. The protester-police conflicts were near Camden Yards. The team and league were concerned about the safety of the fans and the players. No decision has been made what to do with the rest of the series. The Maryland National Guard has been called in to protect areas of the city. 

It seems that there is an increasing cycle of community unrest in the nation. The Ferguson Missouri riots kept the national media fires burning for weeks. Like the Ferguson situation, violent riots stem from the alleged killing of unarmed black men. The Baltimore violence was triggered from the death from spinal injuries of a black man who was in the custody of the police. Sadly, this is not a unique event. Reason Magazine has been documenting the growing number of police misconduct cases.

There is no excuse for a community angered by police misconduct to go out and loot, burn and destroy their own neighborhoods. Two wrongs do not create a right of entitlement.

Baseball has been a means of getting away from the stresses and pressures of daily life. Going to a sporting event as entertainment helps to recharge individual's batteries to work another day. But more and more real world events are encroaching on this escapist venue: drug use, cheating, on field violence and now community riots.

Postponing games is the easy decision. But if the city's violence continues, will the Orioles have to begin to forfeit home games? If they are forced to move games out of Baltimore, perhaps to their hated rival the Nationals park, the city and community loses more money, jobs and the cycle of despair increases which could lead to more violence.


April 27, 2015


Nationals megadeal starter Max Scherzer got hurt batting in his last game.

According to the Sporting News, the right-hander said he was unable to throw Sunday morning because of the jammed thumb, which he suffered while batting in last Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Cardinals. 

“I’m not ready to rule it out completely, but I also have to be honest with myself,” Scherzer said. “Anytime you deal with an injury to your pitching hand, you literally have to be 100 percent to go back out there.”

Scherzer described the injury as a sprained ligament and said his thumb is still sore. The 30-year-old pitcher says he wants to play it safe.

“It’s my pitching hand,” Scherzer said. “Any type of discomfort’s going to alter the way I throw the ball. If I alter the way I throw the ball, I can really run the risk of major injury to my arm. So I really respect that. I really respect that I have to be at 100 percent. That’ll be my test: If I can throw all my pitches on flat ground at 100 percent.”

Scherzer said he dealt with a similar nagging injury while at the University of Missouri, returned too soon and almost suffered a major injury as a result.

“I’ve dealt with an injury before in college where I had a cut on my middle finger, and I went back out there and pitched in pain,” he said. “And two weeks later, I had biceps tendinitis and really almost kind of messed up my shoulder. I really respect the fact that you really have to be 100 percent to go back out there. And in this case, that’s how I’m going to treat it.”

This comes on the heels (pun unintended) that Adam Wainwright pooped his Achilles running out a pop fly ball. He is probably lost for the season.

Now, there have been cries that the National League immediately adopt the Designated Hitter rule to save multi-million dollar pitcher investments from getting hurt at the plate. But no where in the story says Scherzer advocated a change to the AL system. Probably a majority of starters in the NL enjoy picking up the lumber during their games.  A good hitting pitcher, like Travis Wood, is a real asset on a team with a short bench.

The DH does take out many strategy options that have been with the game since its inception. The DH rule does propagate the Earl Weaver idea of 3-run HRs is the way to win ball games instead of manufacturing runs with walks, steals, and hit-and-run plays.

Throughout the season, pitchers will get hurt. On and off the field of play. 

April 24, 2015


You can beat fun at the old ball park by beating up each other.

Things started in the bottom of the seventh inning of Thursday night's White Sox-Royals contest.  With two outs, White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton  hit a comebacker to Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura. As Eaton was running to first, Ventura appeared to yell a not so friendly phrase at him. Ventura, yelled back at Eaton running down the line,  prior to throwing the ball to first.

The first base umpire immediately got in front of Eaton, while the home plate ump came out in front of Ventura.

At that moment, both benches cleared.  There was a lot of pushing and shoving, but no punches were thrown. As these tea kettle situations usually lose steam quickly, everyone had stopped their sumo stances and were just about ready to go back to their dugouts.

But then new White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija went after Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain,  causing a scrum on the field. As Samardzija charged at Cain, another Royals player, (another ex-NL Central rival,  the later ejected) Edinson Volquez, took a swing at Samardzija.

Samardzija was eventually separated from the fray. He was held back by Geovany Soto, his teammate with both the Cubs and Athletics. After the game, Cain told reporters Samardzija had been chirping at him during the game - - - probably a hold over from Oakland's post game series. Earlier in the year, Samardzija hit Cain with a pitch that Cain thought was intentional (a carry over from last season).

Once the fight was over, the umpires gathered to figure out which players needed to be ejected from the contest. For the White Sox, that wound up being Samardzija and starting pitcher Chris Sale. Sale was still in the game at that point, though had thrown 99 pitches, so it was unclear whether he would have returned for the next inning.

The Royals lost Ventura, Cain and pitcher Volquez for the rest of the contest. For Ventura, this is the second straight game in which he has been ejected. Ventura was ejected in his last start against Oakland after hitting Brett Lawrie on the elbow with a pitch.  This was an alleged retaliation for a hard slide Lawrie made in breaking up a double play. But that entire Royals-A’s series was mired with hit batters and scrums.

Given his recent history, it would be surprising if Ventura escapes this one without missing some time. Samardzija is also probably in line for a suspension. It's unclear whether Sale or Cain will be punished once Major League Baseball is able to review the entire brawl. Also, if Volquez was the player who threw the punch at Samardzija, it's likely he'll miss a start or two.

Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said the Royals might be playing with too much emotion at the moment, and stressed that fights are never a great way to handle this type of situation.

The Royals are playing with a chip on their shoulder despite last season’s success. Some people thought the Royals just lucked out after decades of small market futility. But a very quick start to 10 wins gave the Royals some swagger which has turned into a macho Bad Boy Mentality.

It is the manager’s job to keep his team’s emotions in check, and channeled to productive aspects of the game. Losing three players in a fight is not a productive use of talent.

The new commissioner has a big decision on his hands. He will need to punish Ventura for his repeat behavior. It is a question whether he can corral the tempers to avoid baseball becoming a poor man’s hockey game.


Chemistry is a science that has repeated results when different compounds are combined or broken a part. It is defined as the branch of science that deals with the identification of the substances of which matter is composed; the investigation of their properties and the ways in which they interact, combine, and change; and the use of these processes to form new substances.

Chemistry in baseball is different.

Joe Maddon defends his overmanaging moves in the Pittsburgh series as helping to define his team's chemistry.

“It looks like a negative when you look at it on a piece of paper, but actually among the group, it can turn out to be a positive situation,” Maddon said Thursday morning according to ESPNChicago. “That’s what it’s kind of grown into. I love it. I’ve been involved in it before. I’ve been involved it in successfully before.”

Maddon is talking about team chemistry. He believes it can grow when the entire roster is being utilized. Yes, guys are playing out of position while pitchers like Travis Wood are pinch-hitting, and in Wednesday’s case, pinch-running, but it's bringing the group together in Maddon’s estimation.

“I can’t tell you how alive that bench is in the latter part of our games,” he said. “I love it. They know they can be called upon. It’s a wonderful vibe we have to nurture and keep going.”

"Vibe" is defined as a person's emotional state or the atmosphere of a place as communicated to and felt by others. Maddon's baseball chemistry lessen is the emotional involvement in the game by his players while the traditional definition of chemistry is more towards putting pieces and gears together in set roles to create a well-oiled machine (like the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati during the 1970s).

It is uncertain how an emotional team vibe can sustain itself over a 162 game roller coaster season. As one famous baseball movie said, "There is no crying in baseball." 

April 23, 2015


Joe Maddon plays 3D video games. Or that is how it looks during this Pirates series.

Last night, some would say he "overmanaged" his squad in a one-run game.

He used all his position players and questionably inserted Travis Wood as a pinch runner in the 9th.

Now, I am all for a manager telling his team that every member of the 25 man roster should come to the ball park ready to play and contribute during the game. I get the idea of hitting match-ups. I get the idea of pinch running for a slow player for the chance to get a runner to third on a single.

But Maddon's moves made little sense in the scope of the game dynamics.

Pinch hitting for Coghlan late in the game meant that Maddon was out of natural outfielders since Fowler left the game with an injury. That meant Bryant would have to move from third base to left field, but Bryant told Maddon in the dugout he was more "comfortable" playing CF since he did not have to worry "about the hooks," Maddon had him play CF for the first time in Bryant's life. Luckily, Bryant did not mess up his first outfield fly out.

Managers are supposed to put players in a position where they can succeed. Putting Bryant in CF late in the game was contrary to that principle.

Then, Bryant was at bat in the bottom of the 9th. Rizzo had reached first base. By then, Maddon had used all his position players including his two spare catchers as pinch hitters. With a two strike count against Watson, a strong side arm slinging lefty, Maddon called time to have Wood pinch run for Rizzo. This is a poor decision for two reasons: first, in a close game that could go to extra innings, there is no reason to take Rizzo out of the game. Second, Rizzo runs the bases well (he has two stolen bases already this season.) It would be better strategy to keep Wood on the bench to pinch hit if the game got to extra innings.

At the time, I thought the insertion of Wood as a pinch runner cost Bryant some concentration at home plate. On the next pitch, Wood was off an running - - - Bryant struck out to end the game.

If the Cubs had tied the score, it would seem that Maddon would have been in another bind - - - Bryant would then be moved to another new position, first base, and Wood presumably to play LF. One of the hallmarks of a good team is good defense, and that possibility would lessen the quality of play at least two key positions.

On the flip side, the Cubs had opportunities in the late innings to have a chance to win. But they did not get a timely hit to extend scoring chances. The young hitters seem to feed off each other's success which is good team chemistry. They are willing to listen to Maddon and all his mad dog moves.

April 22, 2015


Jon Lester has made three starts for the Cubs. Based upon projections, that is about 10 percent of his expected starts for 2015.

PERCOTA estimated Lester's Cub season as follows:

26 Games started
11-9 record
3.62 ERA
182.0 IP
155 H
1.14 WHIP

After 3 games with the Cubs:

0-2 record
6.89 ERA
15.2 IP
24 H
1.79 WHIP

PERCOTA had Lester allowing .85 hits/IP. Currently, Lester is allowing 1.53 hits/IP which is 80 percent more than projected by the stat service.

Control is also an issue. His current WHIP is 57 percent higher than PERCOTA.

It cannot be a difference in the leagues, since MLB no longer has separate umpire crews for the AL and NL (for a more consistent strike zone). The National League should be easier since there is no DH. There have been a few excuses that Lester's "dead" arm in spring training was no big deal, but clearly the idea that Lester needed one or two games in order to "finish" his spring training during the season is problematic. When one adds the national story on how Lester can't throw to first base, one has to wonder whether the big contract, control issues and comic jabs are going to negatively affect him. In order for Lester to come back to be even an average pitcher (.500 record, 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP), he will need to throw three "lights out" games.

April 21, 2015


Everyone has a bad day or two at the office. But when one flips out in public, it is sure to gather a lot of negative attention.

Reds manager Bryan Price lashed out in front of a group of 10 media members Monday, reportedly using the F-word 77 times and 10 more variants of other vulgarities in a five-and-a-half minute rant because he was unhappy about recent reports that in his view could be beneficial to opponents.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer,  Price said  "I don't get it. It's, you know, look, I don't need you guys to be fans of the Reds." I just need to know if there's something we want to keep here, it stays here."

Price was upset that minor league promotions and demotions were hitting the press and public before the actual players were notified by the team. He was also upset with the report that catcher Devin Mesoraco was unavailable to pinch hitter due to a hip injury.  "I've got to f---ing read that on a f---ing tweet on our own people in here that we don't have a f---ing player?" Price said. "How the f--- does that benefit the Reds? It doesn't benefit us one f---ing bit."

Price is naive or stupid on the role of the press in covering the Reds. He did not dispute the accuracy of any of the news reports. The press and local media is supposed to report the news on the Reds team, including roster moves before or after the official announcements by the team. The press represents the fans and public in providing information to them. The press does not work for the Reds.

Many managers are livid that beat reporters ask the same questions day after day, especially after a series of tough losses or during long losing streaks. But a basic story needs to cover the who, what, when, where, how and why a game's outcome was decided by plays and decisions by the manager.

Part of the problem is also that the professional sports teams have packaged their games with the networks in such a way as to have mutual admiration clauses in the contract to self-promote the "good" aspects of the sport. Rarely does a network criticize the NFL during the season (with the exception of player criminal cases or conduct.) Each sports league wants to "control the coverage" of their sport through their public relations marketing departments.  But real life cannot be contained inside a vacuum of press releases.

Newspapers, radio and television stations are all in competition with other forms of media to attract and retain readers, listeners and viewers. In order to do so, they need to give sports fans up to date, breaking news.  Nothing the Cincinnati media did was wrong. Price just made himself and team look foolish by his outburst.

April 20, 2015


The Royals are off to another hot start while the Cubs have been better than expected for some pessimists.

I wondered if there was any early season spring training carryover on plate discipline.  The Cubs were horrible striking out last year. The tone was to take more pitches and walks.

As of April 20th, the Cubs ranked 12th in the majors in team strikeouts with 97.  The Astros were the worst with 114. The least strikeouts belonged to the Royals with 62. The Cubs are about 15% below the Astros current league leading K pace, whereas last year they were pretty much on par. A team cutting down 15% of their strikeouts means a team will have at least 4 ABs where the ball will either be in play or a walk. With a league team batting average of .250, that means at least one more hit per game. As we have seen in the close ball games this season, one more timely hit can mean victory.

The Red Sox lead the majors in getting walks with 55. The Cubs rank 9th with 43. The Rockies, who played a lot of home games in a HR park, had the least walks with 21.

So there appears to be some statistical evidence that the young Cub hitters are taking more pitches, taking more walks and striking out less than the league averages.


From YahooSports.com

 Jon Lester has 155 million reasons to be a complete ball player. Throwing the ball to first base is one of them.

And it should be an easy on. It is the same distance from the mound to first base as it is to home plate, where Lester makes his bread and butter.

From the start of youth baseball to the minors, pitchers normally were the "best" baseball players on their teams. They were usually two way starters. They usually had all the tools to play the game. That is why they rode their skill sets to the major leagues as complete players.

Now, one could say that Lester having been in the American League (with its DH), his batting skills could have atrophied - - - which they have done so. But pitchers in the AL still have to play defense, right?  There is no designated fielder.

Which brings Lester's previously unknown to Chicago yips into comical snowball effect.

Yesterday, in his third Cub start (all at his new home under construction park) Lester had to toss a come-backer to first but used his entire glove to get the job done. Now, this has happened before but not by a pitcher who has a documented problem of throwing the baseball to first on pick-off moves.

Matt Garza was a terrible fielder. Bunts to third or the mound usually wound up in right field. Teams took advantage of Garza's inability to field his position.  It became a long running joke.

Now, Lester seems to have surpassed Garza in the comedy fielding.

Cub fans will groan that this can only happen to them; their "ace" pitcher has a major flaw which will at some point cost us critical games. How hard can it be to throw a baseball to Anthony Rizzo??!

Apparently, for Lester: very.

April 17, 2015


Kris Bryant today makes his major league debut. He was drafted two years ago by the Cubs, a move that I endorsed before the draft because Bryant was the best player in the draft.  He has not disappointed in his short minor league career. Last season, in 138 games, he hit 43 HR, 110 RBI, 15 SB, .325 BA, .438 OBP and .661 SLG.

The "excuse" to call him up today is that injuries to Mike Olt and Tommy LaStella created a need to promote a third baseman. It happens to fall on the cut off date which allows the Cubs to hold onto Bryant for another contract year.

There is so much hype about Bryant's debut, it harks back to only two short years ago when the last great prospect, Brett Jackson, arrived at Wrigley. Jackson had hit 15 HR, 47 RBI, stole 27 bases, hit .256 with .338 OBP and .479 SLG prior to his call-up, but he was touted as a five-tool player. In his 44 game debut, Jackson failed. It started a quick fall out of the organization for the team's #1 prospect.

Or in 2008, Micah Hoffpauir in 71 games in AAA hit 25 HR, 100 RBI and hit .362. His major league career bloomed for a half season (with an All Star selection), then faded faster than a shooting star.

We expect Bryant to be different than Jackson or Hoffpauir. The front office hopes Bryant will be different. The business side of the team needs Bryant to be different.

Fans salivate that the "final" piece of the puzzle is now on the team. But this glosses over a growing issue - - - the stellar bullpen is starting to come a part with injuries (Grimm, now Ramirez). But for now, in a suddenly warm day in Chicago, the sunshine spotlight will fall on Bryant.

How Maddon uses him in the lineup is going to be interesting. Maddon continues to move people around the order. I would prefer that he settle in a set lineup card. By moving the traditional #2 hitter to the 9th spot, he is giving Rizzo and Soler an extra at-bat or two during a series. With Bryant in the middle of the order, Soler will have some greater protection.

1. Fowler cf
2. Rizzo 1b
3. Soler rf
4. Bryant 3b
5. Castro ss
6. Montero c
7. Coghlan lf
8. Pitcher p
9. Alcantara 2b


Tim Brown of Yahoo!Sports notes that there has been a surprising increase in baseball players getting busted for using banned substances. He wonders if there is a "new" wave of players trying to get around the CBA test policy, or getting very bad advice in non-US countries.

Brown notes that 9 pitchers, including Twins veteran starter Ervin Santana, have been caught and suspended for using stanozolol.  

In March, David Rollins, a Rule 5 pitcher for Mariners was suspended 80 games after testing positive for stanozolol. In the prior year, MLB suspended five others – all minor leaguers – for the same. 

Stanozolol is not a new drug. It is easily detected in the MLB drug protocol. It was one of those muscle building equine drugs that got carried over into bodybuilding circles. 

Within two weeks, MLB announced the suspensions of three more pitchers – big leaguers Arodys Vizcaino, Ervin Santana and Jenrry Mejia – for stanozolol. 

Eight of nine pitchers are from the Dominican Republic, while Rollins, a Texan who played winter ball in the off-season in Puerto Rico.

Brown remarks that MLB has noticed this sudden uptick in stanozolol use. He wonders if four players take stanozolol and four get caught? Or Did 104 take stanozolol and four get caught?
MLB says it is investigating and that it has yet to discover a common thread.

The problem is that the average major league salary this year is $4 million. That is at least four million reasons to try to get "an edge" and a major league contract. Players will do anything if they think it will get them to the majors, and its fame and fortune. Normally, people think hitters are the ones who use performance enhancing steroids, but pitchers have admitted that some of these drugs to speed along the healing process in their arms. 

The CBA is very specific about drug use. The players are told about the drug policy in spring training. Their agents are well aware of the consequences of a failed drug test. But the circle of this scandal never seems to fade into the past.

April 16, 2015


When Jorge Soler hit his first two home runs against Cincinnati, one thing was readily apparent: Soler was no longer over-torquing his back swing.  He is big and strong enough to make a normal short stride swing to clear the fences.

This is in stark contrast to last season's call up where Soler (as well as Javy Baez, and then Starlin Castro falling into the habit) of overswinging to generate 16 inch softball hitter power.

Soler has made an adjustment, something hitting coach John Mallee tried with Baez.

Mallee, 45, begins his fifth season as a major league hitting coach, his first with the Cubs. He previously served as a big league hitting coach with the Marlins (2010-11) and Astros (2013-14). Overall, Mallee has 19 seasons of experience in pro baseball. Prior to moving to the big leagues, he spent eight-plus seasons as the Marlins minor league hitting instructor. A Chicago native, Mallee also served as a minor league hitting coach within the Brewers and Expos organizations starting in 1996. He spent two seasons as an infielder in the Phillies system from 1991-92.

In spring, Mallee was trying to get Baez to adjust his swing, especially during an at-bat. He wanted Baez to shorten his swing, "to allow him to stay in the hitting zone longer," as well as closing the huge holes in a long, loopy swing. Baez did make those adjustments in batting practice, but admitted that during games he would go back to his old ways. His old ways got him a surprising demotion to Iowa.

And maybe that demotion was a wake up call to the young players to listen to their coaches.

Joe Maddon has a very laid back approach to dealing with his players. He lets them prepare for games in their own ways and routines. He will only speak to them when he needs to speak to them. Maddon is more a funny uncle motivator than a hands-on teacher. He is trying to keep his team loose and relaxed even though the season started with a continuation of bad fundamentals and lack of plate discipline. 

Confidence is something that has to be turned on inside a person's head. Success is the fuel for self-confidence. Being confident at the plate means a batter will get more pitches and then better pitches to hit.

If Mallee has converted Soler into a more standard hitting posture and mechanics, that bodes well for the team because Soler needs to be a confident and consistent presence in the middle of the order.

April 15, 2015


MLBTR notes the oddity of the Orioles trading a player to a team for whom he immediately gets released.

The Dodgers announced that they have released recently acquired right-hander Ryan Webb. The Dodgers received a draft pick, a minor leaguer and Webb but it appears that LA was only interested in the draft pick while the Orioles were only interested in dumping Webb's salary of $2.75 million.

The Orioles sent the Webb, a Minor League catcher  and a Competitive Balance (Round B) draft pick to Los Angeles in exchange for right-hander ground ball pitcher Ben Rowen and the Dodgers No. 26 prospect, Minor League catcher Chris O'Brien. 

The 29-year-old Webb will now be free to sign anywhere he chooses, and as a player with five-plus years of service time, he is entitled to reject his outright assignment and force the club to trade or release him (with pay). As such, interested parties will only be on the hook for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum on a big league deal, with the Dodgers owing the remainder of his salary. That’s not necessarily a bad outcome for Webb, who is still guaranteed his money and is now free to choose a club that presents him the clearest path to a role to his liking.

As Charlie noted in last night’s analysis, that Webb’s $2.75MM salary is apparently viewed as exorbitant is a bit puzzling in its own right. While he’s not a shutdown reliever, Webb’s never posted an ERA+ lower than 99 and has been better than that in recent years. He’s served as a reasonably effective reliever with the Padres, Marlins and Orioles to this point, working to a 3.38 ERA with 6.3 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a 56.1 percent ground-ball rate in his career. While it’s true that he doesn’t fit the mold of the hard-throwing power relievers that are proliferating today’s game — his 92 mph fastball is notably tamer than the 95 he averaged in his first two seasons — Webb has still shown the ability to retire big league hitters.

As I noted at the time of the trade, the Dodgers will add not only the No. 74 pick in the draft, but also the money that comes along with it. That pick comes with a slot value of $827K, which will be subtracted from Baltimore’s draft pool and added to that of the Dodgers. The Orioles’ draft money pool will drop from $7,677,400 to $6,850,400, while the Dodgers’ pool will rise from $6,954,700 to $7,781,700. And it should, of course, be noted that the Dodgers do come away with Minor Leaguer Brian Ward, a catcher. While he’s not an elite prospect, Ward ranked as the Orioles’ best defensive Minor League catcher (per Baseball America) prior to the 2013 season, so the Dodgers will at the very least add some depth and a strong defender to their ranks, even if Ward has never hit much.

As some general managers will call this deal, "gaming the system," as it allows one team to change their slotted draft money in order to draft first round talent that slip to second round due to signability (i.e. money bonus demand issues).

April 14, 2015


In the first Cubs game, the world first learned of Jon Lester's "issue" with throwing the ball to first base. He had not done so in almost two seasons. Why? Some say he has a mental block or "the yips," which the dictionary has no origin but credits it to golfers who miss hit putts.

This is a major cause of concern for an "ace" pitcher. Even though baser unners did not have a marked historical advantage against Lester, we don't know if that was their leads were cut down because Lester is left handed (and looking in their direction which equates to a quicker throw to first) or if the teams did not really appreciate Lester's fear of throwing to first.

The last Cub pitcher who had defensive issues was Matt Garza. He could not field his position. At all. When a team bunted on him, he would field the ball and most likely it would land in the bullpen beyond first base or in the opponent's dugout. Garza had the command to throw strikes in and out of the zone to home, but on flat ground he was a throwing trainwreck.

In the opener with the Reds, Lester soft tossed a throw to Rizzo who had to leap to his right to catch the lob. Then, Lester quickened his toss and the ball landed beyond the RF bullpen. But for Soler gunning down the runner at third, it would have been a complete disaster.

Scouts and teams create "books" on opposing players showing their strengths and weaknesses. Teams are supposed to exploit a player's weakness. In Lester's case, his inability to keep runners close at first is a huge advantage to an opponent. Some runners have a lead beyond the infield cut circle, almost a third of the way to second base before Lester would pitch home. There is no way a catcher can overcome that kind of lead in a steal situation.

We should expect teams facing Lester will continue to make him throw to the bases. I would not be surprised if a team comes into the game and bunts like crazy to Lester in order to get infield base hits. If nothing else, it gets Lester's mindset out of whack. Frustrating a pitcher is also a means of altering a game in one's favor. There is nothing wrong with playing mind games when your opponent has a mental block in one part of his game.


If Major League Baseball had a big enough headache with Alex Rodriguez's return to the Yankees, the Josh Hamilton saga gets even more down the rabbit hole.

Hamilton has had his personal demons that have been documented in his minor league transgressions. During the spring, there was an alleged relapse. MLB wanted to suspend Hamilton under its substance abuse policy, but Hamilton and the union objected to any punishment, citing that Hamilton would have been a first timer under the major league CBA.

Hamilton avoided suspension after an arbitrator sided with him over Major League Baseball. His Angel teammates are waiting for his return, but during the home opener, Hamilton had no locker.

Angels owner Arte Moreno is upset with Hamilton. Moreno cited a provision in Hamilton's Angels contract that gave the club special remedies against any relapse. Since those type of contract provisions are not allowed under the CBA, the players union is quite upset with the Angel's owner.

Local reports indicate that  it’s a really ugly situation on a number of different levels that’s being made worse and worse by Moreno every time he opens his mouth. The entire Angels organization is handling this as poorly as possible in terms of public relations, managing the clubhouse, and - most importantly - treatment of people. It is clear that the Angels probably want to void Hamilton's deal, or the very least, not allow him to play for the Angels. This is the corner that the Yankees were pinned in all of last year with A-Rod.  But Rodriguez demanded his comeback and the team honoring his contract, which has a $6 million payment the next time A-Rod hits a HR. The Yankees will loathe writing that check.

But since teams cannot put in their own "morals" clauses into player contracts, the Angels are stuck with an underperforming, highly paid, broken down outfielder who has zero trade value.

April 13, 2015


The Los Angeles Times reported late last week that the Dodgers local TV ratings have tumbled.


The new TW-Dodger Channel is still not available in 70% of the LA market due to carrier fee disputes.

The Dodgers new owners signed a multi-billion dollar cable channel deal with TW which now seems to be a money pit disaster.

The Dodgers kicked off the 2015 season with two stadium sellouts and falling TV ratings.

Monday afternoon's opening day telecast on the team-owned cable channel, SportsNet LA, generated a .79 household rating and an estimated 58,146 viewers. That's slightly more than turned out at Dodger Stadium for the sold-out game that culminated with a win over the San Diego Padres.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, which were on the road Monday against the Seattle Mariners, generated a 1.35 household TV rating in Southern California and 88,415 viewers. The Fox Sports West cable channel carries the Angels' games.

The Dodgers and Angels both grew their TV audiences on rain-soaked Tuesday night -- the teams' first prime-time telecasts of the season. The Dodgers captured a 1.04 household rating and 81,670 viewers. The Angels notched a 1.65 household rating and 132,500 viewers.

Fox Sports West is carried by all of the major pay-TV distributors -- making it available in nearly 4.5 million homes in the region.
But because of a bitter fee dispute, Time Warner Cable, which distributes SportsNet LA, is the only major pay-TV provider that offers that channel in Southern California. Other providers have balked at the price that Time Warner Cable has been demanding to carry the channel, leaving more than 70% of the region without regular TV access to Dodger games.

The Dodgers' TV audience took a tumble on Wednesday. The game mustered a .58 household rating and just 35,000 viewers -- far fewer than showed up at Dodger Stadium for the sold-out game.

This is the new reality: that viewers will not pay "extra" for a team channel. Too many cable operators have been burned by these new deals, including Houston. If the Cubs are banking on a huge Cubs channel windfall in 2020, they are probably delusional since the entertainment distribution landscape is shifting dramatically.

April 11, 2015


SI.com and AP reported that MLB has sent about 10 "slow pace: letters have been sent to players since the season started on Sunday.

The new pace of play rules mandates that hitters keep at least one foot in the batter's box during at-bats, with exceptions such as after foul balls. The batter has until there are five seconds remaining on the clock to enter the batter’s box.

A pitcher is expected to begin throwing to the plate as soon as the batter enters the box and becomes alert to the pitcher. Any batter that doesn't enter the box with five seconds left and any pitcher that doesn't throw a pitch with no time remaining will be in violation of the rule.

Pitchers are also required to start innings before 30 seconds remain on the countdown clocks.

Fines up to $500 per offense will start being handed out to players starting May 1 for those who do not adhere to the new rules.

Last year’s games took an average of three hours and two minutes to complete. Though the first 35 games this season, a nine-inning game is taking 2 hours and 51 minutes to complete.

As discussed for years, MLB is worried about the pace of play as today's youth have a video game attention span of minutes not hours. With batters now wearing body armor to the plate, and constantly adjusting their equipment and gloves after each pitch, something had to be done to get all that wasted time corralled for a better game rhythm. However, there are also a lot of pitchers who scuffle around the rubber, wave off signs and take their sweet time between throws. 

Baseball is one of sports where the time between action was a social time for fans in the stands. People would talk about the game, its history, experiences, past events, and predict strategy. But it seems our culture is losing some of the basic conversation and social skills that made baseball the national pasttime. 

April 10, 2015


The White Sox broke camp with 11 pitchers (with Chris Sale in extended spring training with his foot injury). The front office retooled the roster in the off-season. The team was thought to have a real chance of upsetting the Tigers for the AL Central crown.

GM Rick Hahn bolstered last year's weak spot, the bullpen, by adding lefty Zach Duke, lefty Dan Jennings, promoting Javy Guerra and signing off the former "hot prospect" list Kyle Drabek. Drabek's career has floundered since he was deemed a "can't miss" prospect with the Phils and Blue Jays. But injuries and control issues derailed his progress. He still has the potential of a power arm, so the White Sox took a flyer that pitching coach Don Cooper can "fix" what has held Drabek back.

The bullpen also includes veterans Matt Albers, Zach Putnam and new closer David Robertson.

In a surprise but needed move, the White Sox have Geovany Soto as co-catcher with Tyler Flowers.  With major league caliber catching in short supply in the majors, it was this under the radar pick up of Soto on a minor league deal after being released by the Rangers which could solidify the catching position in 2015.

The return of Gordon Beckham as a back up was hailed as another smart move since it is defensive insurance in case rookies Carlos Sanchez or Micah Johnson cannot handle second base duties. Emilio Bonifacio was brought on board as a super-substitute (infield and outfield roles with lead off speed). MVP candidate Jose Abreu will probably share first base/DH roles with newcomer Adam LaRoche, who brings another leader-professional in the clubhouse. Alexi Ramirez continues at shortstop in a contract year while Conor Gillaspie holds down third.

The White Sox are only carrying four outfielders on the current roster. Melky Cabrera was another key offseason acquisition to play LF; Adam Eaton continues to patrol CF; and people expect a big bounce back year from Avsail Garcia in right. The one back up OF is lefty J.B. Shuck.

But it is the starting rotation that will be the key to White Sox success.

Sale will be out for probably a week. Jeff Samardzija started his second consecutive opening day for Chicago, abet last year's was with the Cubs. Jose Quintana is the No. 2, followed by Hector Noesi and John Danks who needs to improve from last year's weak post-injury production.

One would expect an infielder may be dropped when Sale is activated to the 25 man roster.

Overall, the White Sox have built a solid, competitive roster.

April 9, 2015


The Cubs 2015 Opening Day roster had a few surprises.

Spring training pick ups Jason Motte and Phil Coke took spots away from Felix Doubront (released), Zac Rosscup and/or Blake Parker. It was also surprising that Edwin Jackson made the roster as a reliever. With so many teams having pitchers going down with Tommy John issues, there should have been a trade market for Jackson, if the Cubs were willing to eat most of his contract. Jackson now fills the role of mop-up long relief or spot starter, something he has not done in his career.

The other major surprise was the Cubs keeping three catchers on the roster. Welington Castillo was the odd man out with the Cubs bringing in Jon Lester's personal catcher David Ross and trading for Miguel Montero. Castillo is capable of being a starter catcher on most clubs (example, Geo Soto started yesterday's the White Sox road opener against the Royals.) Most people predicted that Castillo would be traded this spring since there is a major league catching shortage. But apparently, the Cubs were asking too much for Castillo.

The Cubs also went against normal perception by keeping only four pure outfielders (Chris Coghlan, Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler and Matt Szczur.) Instead, the Cubs decided to keep more utility players like Arismendy Alcantara (who can play CF) and Tommy LaStella and Jonathan Herrera in the infield. Herrera is a 30 year old, replacement level (6 years, 1.6 career WAR) journeyman who can play 3B, SS and 2B.

The starters were foregone conclusion before camp broke: 1) Lester, 2) Jake Arrieta, 3) Jason Hammel, 4) Travis Wood, and 5) Kyle Hendricks.

The bullpen holdovers were also a given: closer Hector Rondon, set-up man Pedro Strop, late inning relievers Jason Grimm and Neil Ramirez. Coke is the only left hander in the bullpen.

The Cubs kept 12 pitchers and 3 catchers on the roster which puts a strain on Joe Maddon's bench options.

April 8, 2015


After nearly stealing one of the game's best closers, the San Diego Padres continue to hunt for talent to upgrade their roster.  SB Nation opines that the Padres are on the hunt for a shortstop, and those lens sights squarely fall on the Cubs.

The Padres drafted Trea Turner in 2014. Turner led NCAA Division I with 57 steals as a freshman, helped North Carolina State to its first College World Series berth in 45 years as a sophomore and became the highest-drafted position player in Wolfpack history as a junior in 2014. Selected 14th overall and signed for $2.9 million, he played well in his pro debut and in the Arizona Fall League. He won't reach the Majors with the Padres, however, because it's an open secret he's headed to the Nationals in June as the player to be named later in the three-team trade that brought Wil Myers to San Diego.

The Padres have been super-aggressive this year, acquiring  Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Derek Norris, Will Middlebrooks and Craig Kimbrel (as well as signing James Shields), Padres' general manager A.J. Preller is not satisfied and wants to upgrade shortstop.

The Cubs have a surplus of shortstop talent: Castro, Baez, Alcantara, Russell.

SB thinks three alternatives are contract year players Ian Desmond and Jimmy Rollins, or Elvis Andrus who is owed $120 million over the next eight seasons. 

 Castro is available with his team friendly $43 million deal. The question is whether the Padres have enough left to get Castro.

SB thinks the past relationship of the Cubs front office could be the back door to make a deal. , Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer traded for Padres' pitcher Casey Kelly (#10 Padre Prospect), and Hoyer, assistant GM Jason McLeod, and Cubs' president Theo Epstein were working for the Red Sox when Kelly was drafted. Their love for catchers who frame well is known, so maybe top prospect Austin Hedges (#2 Padre prospect) would be of interest. However, in Chicago we know that the Cubs are extremely high on catcher Kyle Schwarber. So catching is not a priority.

The Cubs, like most teams, need young pitching depth. Also, the Cubs could upgrade second and third base (if Kris Bryant is destined for LF). Zech Lemond (#11 Padre prospect) is a college reliever being converted to a starter but who may wind up as a back of the bullpen guy.  Lemond set a Rice record with 14 saves as sophomore, eclipsing future big leaguers David Aardsma and Tony Cingrani, then moved into the Owls' rotation early last spring. He missed time with elbow inflammation yet showed enough to get drafted in the third round and earn a $600,000 bonus. He was fully healthy after signing and made a scoreless four-inning cameo at the end of his pro debut.

Lemond maintained his stuff while moving from reliever to starter, beginning with a 92-96 mph fastball with armside run and downhill plane. He throws a spike curveball that can reach 85 mph and confound hitters, though it can be tough to command and San Diego curtailed his use of it last summer. He also has a fading change-up.He fills the strike zone and works with an efficient delivery, giving Lemond a good chance to remain a starter. He's not very physical, so he'll have to prove he's durable enough. If not, he could be a dynamic late-inning reliever.

The other pitching prospect is Tayron Guerrero (#12 Padres prospect) who reminds me of CJ Edwards.  Guerrero was a skinny 170-pounder who threw 85 mph when the Padres signed him out of Colombia in 2009. Forty pounds and six years later, he's capable of reaching triple digits in his fastball. He had a breakout season in 2014, highlighted by a strikeout of Peter O'Brien on a 97-mph heater in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.

Guerrero generates a 94-98 mph fastballs on a regular basis without expending much effort in his delivery. His heater doesn't feature a lot of life, but its sheer velocity and his ability to use his 6-foot-7 frame to launch it on a steep downhill plane make it tough to catch up to. His low-80s slider shows signs of giving him a second plus pitch and his makeup earns high praise as well.

The key to Guerrero's future will be his ability to throw quality strikes. He walked 3.6 batters per nine innings last year, less than half his rate (7.4) from his first four pro seasons. He's still learning to keep his big body under control, and if he figures it out he could be a closer.

To trade an All-Star shortstop in Castro for two or three pitching prospects who project as relievers does not seem to be a valuable trade for the Cubs. To trade Castro now, the Cubs should get a major league ready player in return.


Joe Maddon took a page out of the Tony LaRussa book when Maddon batted Jon Lester No. 8.

Little did Cub fans know how bad Lester is at the plate (0 for life).

Second baseman Tommy LaStella batted 9th.

It was explained after the game that putting LaStella in the 9th spot adds "a second lead off hitter" to the line up.

When LaRussa first used this gimmick, the Cardinals’ scoring ticked up slightly but  La Russa got more impact as the seasons wore on, when he switched from No. 9 guys like Eli Marrero in 1998 to more leadoff-type players such as Aaron Miles, Tyler Green and Nick Punto.

In theory, this lineup puts the pitcher the furthest possible distance from the No. 3 hitter in the order (considering both directions), and turns the 3 hitter into a cleanup man once the lineup turns over and the 2 hitter into a 3 hitter.

“It’s not your daddy’s 2 hole,” says Maddon, who is intrigued by Soler’s power and pitch selection in that sequence. However, it is still to be seen if Soler has the plate discipline to be a number two hitter. He has tremendous power. Whether he can consistently change his approach from home run torque swing to shortened opposite field swing is going to take time to tell.

“Sometimes the double switch becomes a problem because it’s one hitter sooner, but overall [it's comparable],” La Russa said, adding that communication is key – especially for the hitters who now get stuck behind pitchers. “You always have to explain to the team why you’re doing it. And Joe is very articulate, very knowledgeable.”

Maddon plans to use  La Stella, Arismendy Alcantara and possibly Chris Coghlan at No. 9, and he already has met with La Stella and Alcanatara to explain the thinking.

“You have to deliver the correct message,” Maddon said. “I told them exactly why we’re doing it. This is not a slight on your hitting whatsoever. Actually, for me, you’re going to get better pitches by hitting in this sport, so I’m really going to take advantage of your abilities by hitting you here.

“There’s a lot of stigma of playing the fat kid in right field and hitting your worst hitter ninth that has to be overcome. You want to break it down. It deserves explanation.”

Maddon is quick to say: “I’m not here to say I know everything by any stretch of the imagination.”

In the Cubs pitching staff, Travis Wood is probably the best hitter (having hit two home runs this spring). He would probably be better slotted in the 7th slot, dropping weaker hitters like LaStella, Coghlan or Olt to the bottom.

Traditionally, the pitcher batting 9th was used to create "productive" outs. Pitchers were supposed to learn the art of bunting to move a player to second base, giving a runner in scoring position for your "best" contact hitters at the top of the order. A runner at second with one out with the lead off hitter up means more pressure on the pitcher and his defense. Even with two outs and a runner at second, the lead off hitter should be trained to take pitches to get a walk or slap hit a single since the runner will be off on contact and probably could score. So when the reasoning is that batting pitchers in the 8th spot will create "more" scoring opportunities, that is not necessarily the case.

With the Cubs, if you keep the pitcher in the 9th slot, and the catcher batting 8th, it gives Maddon more opportunities to double switch or flip those batting orders, maximizing the time before a pitcher would hit again.

Each team's lineup has its strengths and weaknesses. A manager needs to understand those strengths and weaknesses in order to give each player the best opportunity to succeed at the plate (i.e. get on base or drive in runs).

In descending order of value as a lead off hitter: Fowler, LaStella, Coghlan.
High priority strike out or weak hitters: Olt, pitchers, Ross, Castillo, Alcantara, Rizzo, Soler.

One does not want to concentrate one type of negative hitter in lineup blocks.

Maddon also said he would probably not use Pitcher in No. 8 spot if he felt the starter was going to go long into the game. Lester was on a pitch count on Opening Night and was destined to pitch only 6 innings or less (he went 4 2/3).

The knock on using gimmick lineups is that it changes the daily hitting card. Many players believe in habit and set structure as they prepare for a game. Not knowing whether you will be hitting No. 2, No. 7 or No. 9 on any given day disrupts a player's preparation (since each slot in the order infers a different batting style or purpose in game situations).

I was never a fan of Lou Piniella's daily tinkering of his lineup card. But some modern managers just think it is about the only tangible thing they do during a game, so they have to mix things up.

April 7, 2015


The Cubs conveniently announced that tonight's second game against the Cardinals 
is cancelled due to the possibility of rain or cold weather. Right. Weather.


Even with a daily dose of Deadspin commentary and a few photographs, the callers on local sports talk radio on the evening commute made it clear that the situation at Wrigley on Opening Night was worse than previously reported.

The Cubs continue to sugar coat the situation as being opening night jitters, construction delays and that it will have fixed for tonight's game with portable toilets.

And the city officials have been silent on the issues that plagued the fans.

As more than one caller said it was a health and safety hazard. The concourse was packed for the entire night with people not moving, a crushing situation. The lines backed up into the stands, causing many sections to be blocked from viewing the game. The men's restroom floor was a soaked with standing urine. People began urinating in cups and discharging themselves on the walls in the concourse. Wrigley was a crowded and open sewer.  If you were any other Chicago business, you would have been red tagged, closed down, and not allowed to open for business.

As other callers stated, this is more evidence of the incompetence of Cubs management. Half of the restrooms were going to be out of commission before the season opened so management should have known there would be an issue for 35,000 fans (the Cubs knew the attendance in advance of opening the gates.) When the upper deck restrooms failed, the Cubs did nothing except adding to the confusion by directing patrons down the jammed and stopped ramps to the lower level two functioning restrooms. It was so bad, callers indicated that they stood in line for one to one and half HOURS. Many of them just quit and left the park to use facilities of neighboring businesses.

The Cubs said that once the bleachers are finished, the restroom capacity will be expanded under the left field area. But that is no comfort for a couple of callers who said they were very concerned about bringing their young children to tonight's game. No one knows whether the Cubs had a top to bottom Hazmat cleaning of the concourses and restrooms. Parents are concerned for the safety and welfare of bringing their children to Wrigley Field. There is no public relations spin today that can change that objective parental concern. Considering the Cubs fan price index puts the cost for a family of four to see a game at more than $300 (third in the MLB in cost), it is probably not worth subjecting children to sardine concourses, urine soaked restrooms and people peeing on stadium walls.

The Cubs also stated that they don't think it will be a problem tonight because they expect less people. But that is not the point. Even if they put in portable toilets inside Wrigley (which are actually made to be outside for ventilation purposes), the damage has been done. The team touted the improvements as enhancing "the fan experience." It was a total fail in the national spotlight.

Neither Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Crane Kenney or Tom Ricketts have stepped up to the podium and admitted this failure of epic proportions. This shows the problem in how the Cubs are organized: Epstein is in charge of the baseball team while Kenney is in charge of the business side. But the business of the Cubs is baseball which includes ticket sales, concessions and fan service. In essence, no one is in charge of this mess. The idea to focus the night on how great the Jumbotron looked while looking away as their customers waded their way through urine soaked concourses is going to negatively affect any future fan goodwill.


The biggest story of Opening Night was along the scroll bar.

The Padres made another blockbuster move.

New Friar general manager A.J. Preller acquired closer Craig Kimbrel, and OF  Melvin Upton from the fire sale Braves.

The Braves acquired veteran outfielders Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin,  pitching prospect Matt Wisler, outfielder Jordan Paroubeck and the 41st pick in the upcoming draft.
YahooSports reports that with Kimbrel, the Padres acquire arguably the most dominant reliever in the game over the past five seasons. The 26-year-old is coming off a season in which he posted a 1.61 ERA over 61 2/3 innings. He saved 47 games and struck out 97 batters. Kimbrel is under contract for at least the next three seasons. He's guaranteed $33 million over that period. Kimbrel also has a $13 million club option for 2018.

For Preller and the Padres, the move doubles-down on the all-in philosophy of the offseason. Kimbrel should combine with Joaquin Benoit, Kevin Quackenbush and Shawn Kelly to wreck havoc on opposing hitters in the late innings. 

The 30-year-old Upton has not performed well in Atlanta, and the move is perceived as a salary dump for the Braves. Upton hit just .208/287/.333 last season, and is still owed $46.35 million over the next three seasons. He'll likely be a fourth outfielder with San Diego.

On the Braves side, both Quentin and Maybin should provide outfield depth. Quentin isn't regarded as highly for his defense, and had been used at first base during camp. Freddie Freeman is firmly entrenched in that spot, so it appears as if Quentin will continue to play the outfield. It is possible that Quentin may be DFA'd.

Wisler, 22, rated as the top prospect in San Diego's system, according to Baseball America. His stats in the minors have been strong up until he was promoted to Triple-A last season. He considered relatively close to major-league ready, and profiles as a No. 3 starter, according to BA. 
Paroubeck was considered a minor-league sleeper to watch by Baseball America, but did not rank among the Padres' top-30 prospects. After being selected in the second round of the 2013 draft, Paraoubeck hit .286/.346/.457 over 157 plate appearances in rookie ball. He's just 20, and remains a few seasons away from the majors.

The Padres have been the most aggressive team this off season. Last year, Oakland's Billy Beane sold the future for a run at the present, and lost that bet. It should be an interesting year in the NL West.

April 6, 2015


The national ESPN Opening Night showcased everything that is wrong with the Cubs.

The one film clip that was overlooked but summed up the night the best was a picture of a grounds crew guy with a metal detector and a bucket looking in the outfield for debris.

The funerary drapes of Ernie Banks to cover up the disastrous unfinished bleachers would have made even the Nixon White House blush. 

If you got one large, in-your-face impression from last night's nightmare, it was this: Cubs ownership knows about how much the fans cared about their iconic and historical ball park, but they basically told them "we don't care, we are in business to make money."  Every flat surface in range of a TV camera had new advertising plastered to it. The "see through" Budweiser sign in RF was much larger and thicker than the "artist's renderings" shown to the public during the zoning approval process.

The jumbotron is so huge and annoying that it makes the CF scoreboard look like a pimple on the face of an old woman. The white glare was shocking, so much so that the background color had to be changed to a light green. It had to affect the batter's line of sight, especially from right handed pitchers.

How the Cubs got an occupancy permit to allow the public to roam the under construction concourse is beyond belief. If you were a little shop owner in Chicago, you would have been red tagged and closed for safety reasons. But even then, the Cubs had condescending signage to remind fans that they have not finished their work, like new restrooms (relieved?)

When the announcers and team kept droning on about the changes to the park were "for the fans," that was not true. Reports this morning said that wait times to get to the open restrooms were from 1 to 2 hours long. The concourse was packed like a sardine can. Some patrons started peeing in cups, while others left the park to use adjoining businesses restrooms. 

It seemed that everything else was secondary to the Cubs having their advertising signage in place.

With all the high expectations for the team, the Cubs fell flat. Joe Maddon was upset in spring training about the lack of fundamentals. The Cubs new management gurus had three years to train the prospects on fundamentals, "the Cubs Way."  Soler booted a ball in RF (but got no error). There were two near collisions in the outfield with players. And we learned for the first time that superstar pitcher has a phobia of being unable to throw a ball to a bag!

Maddon was also screwy with his line-up card. Batting Soler second and Castro fourth made no sense. Also, batting Coghlan sixth and Lester eighth also made little sense (though it was explained that LaStella batting 9th equals a second lead off hitter). But LaStella looks like Sam Fuld's little brother at the plate, and seemingly out of place for cut off throws from the outfield. It could have been opening night nerves, but the whole team reverted to last season's epic woes.  The Cubs were 0-13 with men in scoring position. The Cubs were shut out.  Cubs batters were swinging for the fences and missing contact.

If anything happened last night, it was the deflation of expectations. The Cubs remain a bad ball club until the roster turnover is complete. The prospects and rookies are still unproven commodities.

One thing is certain. The fear that Ricketts would turn Clark and Addison into a mini-Times Square of advertising blight is coming true, but also inside Wrigley Field. The amusement park is open for business, but the baseball ride is still out of commission.

April 3, 2015


The Associated Press reported its estimated 2015 team payrolls:

1. Los Angeles Dodgers$272,789,040
2. New York Yankees$219,282,196
3. Boston Red Sox$187,407,202
4. Detroit Tigers$173,813,750
5. San Francisco Giants$172,672,111
6. Washington Nationals$164,920,505
7. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim$150,933,083
8. Texas Rangers$142,140,873
9. Philadelphia Phillies$135,827,500
10. Toronto Blue Jays$122,506,600
11. St. Louis Cardinals$120,869,458
12. Seattle Mariners$119,798,060
13. Chicago Cubs$119,006,885
14. Cincinnati Reds$117,197,072
15. Chicago White Sox$115,238,678
16. Kansas City Royals$113,618,650
17. Baltimore Orioles$110,146,097
18. Minnesota Twins$108,945,000
19. Milwaukee Brewers$105,002,536
20. Colorado Rockies$102,006,130
21. New York Mets$101,409,244
22. San Diego Padres$100,675,896
23. Atlanta Braves$97,578,565
24. Arizona Diamondbacks$91,518,833
25. Pittsburgh Pirates$88,278,500
26. Cleveland Indians$86,091,175
27. Oakland A's$86,086,667
28. Tampa Bay Rays$76,061,707
29. Houston Astros$70,910,100
30. Miami Marlins$68,479,000

April 2, 2015


The White Sox had an excellent off-season.

And now, the team is bucking the trend of increasing ticket prices for part of the season.

ESPN reported that fans can  buy a package of 11 weekday home games in April and May is near impossible, except if you sell them for close to nothing.

That's exactly what the team is doing, announcing the "Ballpark Plan" that gives a fan every home game the team plays on a Monday through Thursday in the first two months of the season -- for $29 total. The cheapest ticket sold separately this season is $7.18.

"Given the weather we have and the product we've had in the past, we've had crowds under 20,000, it made sense for us to use these games to get people to sample, or snack, on us," said Brooks Boyer, the chief marketing officer of the team.

Actual seat locations for these games, for fans who buy the package, will be based on availability and will be sent to the phones of those fans on the day of the game.

The ultimate goal is to turn the fan into a season ticket holder.

The White Sox are offering another package, which includes every game in April and May for $49. That's $2.33 a game.

Both plans don't include Opening Day or May 23, fan favorite Paul Konerko's retirement ceremony.

Stub Hub ticket prices straight from the box office in order to get more people into the ball park is an excellent idea. Each team has an inventory of seats to sell, and if they don't sell there is no revenue. And once the game is over, unsold seats is lost revenue opportunities so getting anything for the attendance is a positive.

It also brings some tangible proof that some teams are aware that the average cost of going to games is cost prohibitive for a family of four or more. The "affordability" of the game is a sore point in some communities. The White Sox are at least giving every demographic the opportunity to see the team (even if it is in the colder part of the season).

April 1, 2015


Those who praise Theo Epstein's plan for long term success of the Cubs believe the decision to send Kris Bryant to the minors for 12 games in order to keep him under control for another full contract season is a no-brainer.

Yes, the current collective bargaining agreement harshly defines service time and club control of players. Yes, it makes sense to keep Bryant for a 7th year during his projected peak production years.

Yes, no matter what Epstein and the front office says, sending Bryant down was purely "a business decision."

Own it.

Instead, the Cubs use excuses that Bryant needs some final development. It could be adjusting to the outfield (but if that was so, he could have played more than one game in LF during spring training) or resting his sore shoulder (that is what the DL is for).

Owner Tom Ricketts has said time and time again to fans that money would be no object in fielding a championship caliber team. The Cubs went out and spent $155 million on pitcher Jon Lester, who happens to be nursing a dead arm. The Cubs still owe Edwin Jackson $26 million in dead money. So if the Cubs truly believe money is no issue, then it should not matter what Bryant is worth in Year 7.

Own it. Pay it.

Unless of course, you don't want to pay market value to Bryant in Year 7. A small market team would be desperate to keep a star player, a draw, for as long as possible at a 25% discount (last year of arbitration to FMV).  People perceive the Cubs as not a small market team, but at times they act like one.

When management says there are only one or two players away from the playoffs, do they really mean what they say? Ricketts said that in Year One and beyond as the team sunk to the bottom of the barrel. But Epstein's plan was to be bad in order to get high draft picks and more signing bonus money. On paper, it is working as the scouting services and writers believe the Cubs have one of the strongest farm systems in the game.

A small market team trades "hope" for fan support. Small market teams must rely on their farm system and prospect player development in order to compete against large market clubs. The Cubs have marketed "hope" for the past three seasons. Fans have being putting up top dollar to see the touted prospects. It is a tease to sell a mega-prospect to season ticket holders, then withhold his debut.

Some seasoned fans are tuned into this drama as the Cubs were advertising last weekend that Opening Night tickets were still available for purchase (as part of 12 game season ticket packages). That in itself is surprising considering the Cubs don't have any bleacher seats available for that game.

Fans really don't care about Bryant's Year 7. If he is good, the Cubs said money was no object.

But there is no guarantee that Bryant will even be a Cub 7 years from now. Or that he will command superstar contract status.

Here is a historical list of the Cubs top prospects:
2015: Bryant, waiting in AAA
2014: Javy Baez, demoted to Iowa
2013: Baez
2012: Brett Jackson, demoted and out of the organization
2011: Chris Archer, traded for Matt Garza, starter for the Rays
2010: Starlin Castro, Cubs starting shortstop
2009: Josh Vitters, demoted and out of the organization
2008: Vitters
2007: Felix Pie, bench journeyman out of the organization
2006: Pie
2005: Brian Dopirak, out of baseball
2004: Angel Guzman, journeyman pitcher who mostly played outside organization
2003: Hee Seop Choi, out of baseball
2002: Mark Prior, injury killed career early
2001: Corey Patterson, bench journeyman out of the organization
2000: Patterson

Bryant's closest comparison is Jackson, who was great in the minors but only had a cup of coffee in the majors (the strikeout ratio at the plate doomed his playing career). Baez is following in Jackson's footsteps. One would hope Bryant would be different. But then, Micah Hoffpauir destroyed minor league pitching in 2008 and 2010 but his Cub career quickly fizzled out after 2.5 seasons.

Whether Bryant is real gold (which the vast majority including myself believe) or fool's gold can only be determined by his actual playing time in the majors. Does he have anything further to learn in the minors? No. Did the Cubs have some reason to keep a valuable asset under control for the longest possible time? Yes. Does control issues matter when you are projecting a fight for a playoff spot this year? No.

Perhaps, the real issue is the Cubs mixed messages to fans. The flames of championship fireworks is what people have latched onto - - - because it is a good story. But the cold water of reality is that there are so many variables and historical evidence that a prospect's resume is no indication of future success that people should be more guarded with their expectations.

But guarded expectations does not sell tickets.