January 31, 2016


By national consensus, the Cubs are streaking to an overwhelming favorite to win the 2016 World Series. The time has come. This is the year. No doubt about it.

But we have been there before. A lot of times. Can this one be different? Perhaps.

But in all the joyful expectations, there needs to be some rational thought.  The Cubs have a fine young core of players who should get better with experience, but the club still has many weak spots.

WEAKNESS NO. 1: Starting Pitching

The Cubs were extremely lucky last year that there were not many serious injuries to its starting rotation. On the other hand, the rotation started to break down at the end of the season when Maddon could only count on Arrieta and Lester.  That is why the Cubs went out and signed John Lackey to be the veteran No. 3 starter. But Lackey is at the end of his career, and pitching more in hitter friendly Wrigley may not suit him. Plus, Maddon has lost confidence in Hammel, and Hendricks needs to make a major stride in 2016. The back end of the rotation lacks solid starters and depth.

The glaring indictment in the Epstein-Hoyer era is that they have yet to draft and develop a starting pitcher. Most of the prospect pitchers have come in early trades (Ramirez, Edwards, Hendricks, Arrieta, Grimm, etc.) Realizing that failure, the mantra has been "draft hitters and buy pitchers."  But most teams do not want to give up their young starter prospects because they are hard to find. So Plan B is to load the bullpen with former starters as long relievers (Cahill, Richard, T. Wood, Grimm) in case of rotation implosion. It was so bad that Maddon had to use "a bullpen start" for several games late in the season.

WEAKNESS NO. 2: Lead Off Hitter

Dexter Fowler did a competent job as the Cubs CF-lead off hitter, even though he was not the prototypical candidate (he did steal 20 bases). He was playing for a new contract so his power numbers were up. In fact, he is still waiting for a new contact.

The current Cubs roster contains no real lead off hitter, a high OBP guy with speed to put pressure on the opponent's defense. Names tossed around for lead off now include Heyward, Zobrist and even Bryant. Heyward is a contact hitter but with a weird swing so the pressure to get on base may hurt his game. Zobrist is old. Bryant's power potential is better suited batting next to Rizzo. The "second" lead off hitter, Russell, has not hit consistently enough to make the move to lead off. So this is a glaring weakness in the current lineup.

WEAKNESS NO. 3: Outfield Defense

Heyward is a major upgrade on defense. However, his best and most comfortable position in RF. The Cubs plan to play him exclusively in CF. And that move may continue to weaken a shaky outfield defense. An outfield of Schwarber-Heyward-Soler is very weak in the corners. Heyward has to cover much more ground in center to cover up for the corner's lack of range. Many players have problems adjusting to a new position at the major league level. A pet peeve is manager's who constantly play players out of their natural position like it was a video game. If Heyward is unhappy or uncomfortable in center, that can affect his hitting as well.

One solution is to let Schwarber catch more games. Montero is not a long term answer at catcher, but the Cubs are stuck with his contract for the next two years. Ross is Lester's personal catcher for one final year. That leaves maybe Schwarber catching one game a week. The rest of the time is LF or bust. But moving Schwarber behind the plate opens the door for Heyward to move back to RF, slide Soler to LF and put Coghlan or Szczur in CF which improves the overall outfield defense.


For all the young hitters, the bench is still a soft spot. Maddon may want to keep 13 pitchers on the staff, which puts more pressure on the four bench players to be both versatile and good. Baez, who can play SS, 3B and 2B, is a lock for one spot but he has not been a part time player in his career. As a free swinger he needs a lot of at-bats to get into a groove. Many suspect Maddon will use him as a super-utility player like he did with Zobrist in Tampa; play him at various positions during the week to rest his starters. Ross takes up one spot but his hitting is worse than most of the pitchers on the staff. That leaves two open spots: Coghlan, who can play all outfield spots and who is willing to stick his glove at any other position, has to be on the team. Then the final spot goes to either light hitting glove outfielder Szczur or to another out-of-options candidate like 3B Villaneuva or utility infielder LaStella.

None of these bench candidates could start on any major league team except for Baez. There is no one on the AAA roster pushing for a major league position. One would suspect the 25th man is still not on the Cubs roster today; a late spring training pick up off the waiver wire is a real possibility.

January 28, 2016


Dexter Fowler was a competent center fielder for the 2015 Cubs.

Fowler, 29, hit .250, 17 HR, 46 RBI, 20 SB, 2.2 WAR. He made $9.5 million in 2015. He turned down a qualifying offer of $15.3 million. So any team besides the Cubs who sign him have to give up a first round draft pick as compensation.

Currently, two teams have been rumored to have interest in Fowler: the Cubs and White Sox. That would seem redundant since the Sox have Adam Eaton in center, and the Cubs stated that Jason Heyward would play center in 2016.

There is also a question of compensation. Fowler thinks he is worth more than the $15.3 million one year offer. He is at the point of getting one good long term deal in his back pocket. But last year's WAR by some accounts put his value more at $12.5 million than $15 million. The Cubs made that offer because the team had not vaulted into the free agent market.

Teams do want to keep their high draft picks because those players can be cheaply controlled for six years. Prime example, Kris Bryant.

Is Fowler worth losing a chance at the next Kris Bryant? That is what keeps GMs up at night.

But if the Cubs re-sign Fowler to play center, it moves Heyward back to his natural position of right field. That makes the Cubs collective outfield defense better than a Schwarber-Heyward-Soler triad.
It would also put Soler on the bench or part of a major trade package (with prospects like Vogelbach, Villaneuva or Szczur) for more starting pitching.

Fowler is a nice player but not worth a 4 year/$65 million contract.

January 25, 2016


It was a game of musical chairs and Yoenis Cespedes was the last free agent outfielder standing.

He did not get the mega-deal that he was looking for in free agency. In fact, it really comes down to a one year deal with an insurance bonus in case of injury.

Cespedes re-signed with the Mets for 3 years/$75 million deal with a one year opt out clause. That means he will be playing in 2016 for another round of free agency. That should be good for the Mets.
If he gets hurt, he can keep the $50 million guarantee for the next two years.

It was a good and necessary deal for the Mets. The New York Times baseball writer remarked  that  re-signing of Cespedes should go a long way towards restoring fan trust in the organization. The club has taken a lot of flak in recent years for perceived penny pinching and a failure to make big, meaningful moves in the offseason. Much of that can be blamed upon the Bernie Madoff scandal and the fact that minority stakes can be redeemed like loan payments in the near future.

The Mets needed a power hitter to compliment their young starting pitching staff. Cespedes is the key in their line up. But some observe that Cespedes is targeted to play center field, which is not his strong suit.

Yahoo Sports wrote that based on past performance, Cespedes can be a disaster in center field. He has excellent arm strength but he has poor route running and quick recognition skills that a good CF needs to cover ground in both left center and right center. 

In a perfect world, Cespedes would DH for the Mets. And this may be why this off-season there has been more and more talk about bringing the DH to the National League. The Cubs would like to see the DH since Kyle Schwarber is a hitter without a position. He wants to catch but the organization does not believe he has the defensive skills to play behind the plate everyday. However, Schwarber disagrees. Schwarber is a pure hitter who is willing to play an uncomfortable left field in order to get in the line up. He may be best suited as a first basemen, but Rizzo has that position locked up. So the Cubs front office would love to have the DH option for Joe Maddon. 

But that is the last, clear difference between the American and National leagues. As an old school baseball fan, I enjoy the strategy and nuisances of having pitchers bat in the NL. And it is always fun to see good hitting pitchers (which the Cubs have actually been blessed with in the past decade) help their own cause. It is ironic that the best youth hitters are most likely the best hitters on their team gets lost as a prospect moves his way through academic and pro levels of development.

If the NL goes the route of the DH, then there really is no need to have separate leagues anymore. This would spread the discussion of major realignment of all the 30 teams. 

You can divide 30 teams evenly by 6 divisions of 5 teams each. The playoffs get easier with the 6 divisional winners making the playoffs and two "wild cards" for any division rounding out the competition. The best regular season records control home field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the World Series.

The only reasons to realign baseball is to cut down on travel expenses and increase regional rivalries, since it is possible that drawing in-park attendance may become a major factor as cable television ratings continue to decline.

For example, the Midwest division seems easy:

Twins, Brewers, Cubs, White Sox, Royals, Cardinals.

In fact, this division has "double" rivalries built in, such as the Cardinals-Royals and Cardinals-Cubs; Cubs-Cardinals and Cubs-White Sox, etc.

The Western division also seems easy:

Mariners, Giants, A's, Angels, Dodgers, Padres.

The South gets spread between all three time zones:

Diamondbacks, Rangers, Astros, Rockies, Marlins, Rays.

The Central would run North to South:

Blue Jays, Tigers, Indians, Pirates, Reds, Braves.

That leaves the East Coast teams:

Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Orioles, Phillies, Nationals.

January 18, 2016


I will tell you the real reason:

Crain's reports:

The Chicago Cubs want to shut down car traffic on Addison and Clark streets adjacent to Wrigley Field during games, team officials announced today.

In a move to extend the security perimeter around the stadium, the Cubs say they are in advanced talks with the city about limiting traffic on both streets to city vehicles and buses during all events at the park.

The push, the team said, comes from a Major League Baseball security recommendation for ballparks to maintain at least a 100-foot perimeter of control in every direction

>>>> Security is a poor, red herring excuse. The real reason the team wants to control the intersection like a border crossing  is that Ricketts is building an alcoholic plaza at Clark and Addison in which he wants to trap and control pre- and post-game sales to fans. This is not a safety issue at all - - - in fact, it creates one.

Addison and Clark are MAJOR through streets. Police and fire departments need access through this intersection. And what about the buses bringing people to/from the game? Talk about a major disruption. Then adding a hotel across the street, where will the taxi's go? Double park on the side streets?

It is not cynical to think that every move made in the last four years ownership has been an attempt to corral each and every dime from the public for any tangential Cubs experience, including bullying competing bars and venues for their patrons. Just because you own the entire block does not mean you have a right to close the streets for your own private parties. 

UPDATE: 1-19-16

From the Chicago Tribune:

The Cubs' idea of closing Clark and Addison streets to automobiles on game days is a non-starter, according to Mayors office.

Cubs business President Crane Kenney floated the idea at the Cubs Convention last weekend of shutting down the main thoroughfares to allow the team to create a 100-foot security perimeter around  Wrigley Field.

But mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn shot down the idea, which would exponentially worsen already brutal traffic in congested Wrigleyville when the Cubs play.

"Of course we are not going to close Clark and Addison," Quinn said in an email. "Safety and security are everyone's top concern, and we will work with the community, Ald. (Tom) Tunney and the Cubs to achieve that without having to shut down two major roads in a neighborhood."

Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the team is trying to comply with new Major League Baseball security requirements, including a zone around each ballpark within which vehicles get screened. "This wasn't just a trial balloon," Green said of Kenney's talk of closing the streets. "This was a way to try to meet the security mandates."

Green said the team plans to work with the league and the city to meet the standards, hopefully by Opening Day. But he would not say whether there's a plan to do so without closing the streets. "We're going to keep talking and working with the parties, but at this point there aren't any specifics," he said. "If there are other ways to meet the mandates, we will listen." 

>>>> Again, when does MLB control the streets of a major metropolitan city? And when can MLB "mandate" anything on how a team runs its ball park? This is merely a cynical expansion of closing all the streets around Wrigley to have an enclosed theme park atmosphere controlled by the Cubs.

January 13, 2016


The White Sox have added a power hitting third baseman and a solid hitting second baseman.

Now, the attention seems to be toward improving the outfield, especially right field.

The White Sox are mentioned as a possible trade partner with the Rockies, who are shopping all three of their current outfielders. Bruce Levine believes the Sox want to add a productive corner outfielder.

Carlos Gonzalez ("CarGo") is the prize. Levine speculates it would take Avisail Garcia, 24 year old cost control major leaguer and a high pitching prospect, to get the deal done. Garcia has loads of promise but owns a career batting line of just .264/.311/.385 in almost 1,100 plate appearances spanning parts of four seasons. Still, his youth combined with a move to Coors Field might make him an intriguing possibility for the Rockies.

Gonzalez, 30, hit .271, 40 HR 97 RBI, 3.1 WAR for Colorado in 2015. He is under control for two years, making $17 million in 2016 and $20 million in 2017.

The White Sox have a pitching surplus. The starting rotation is pretty much set: Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, Erik Johnson and John Danks. #2 prospect Carson Fulmer is expected to join the rotation sometime in 2016. The Sox also have #3 prospect SP Specer Adams, #5 prospect Tyler Danish and #9 prospect LHP Jose Guerrero. On the 40 man, the Sox also have former starter Scott Carroll and rookie (#10 prospect) SP Chris Beck as possible trade items.

Levine notes that the White Sox likely wouldn't part with any major league starting pitching since it's not necessarily a position of depth, but five of their top 10 prospects are pitchers, led by 2015 first-round pick Carson Fulmer.

I would probably trade Garcia, Guerrerro or Beck for Gonzalez.

January 12, 2016


The Cubs are clearly favored sons to win the World Series.

With a national expectation of greatness, it will put more pressure on the young core.

The 2016 Cubs are built around young power hitters: Anthony Rizzo (26), Kris Bryant (24), Jorge Soler (24), Kyle Schwarber (23) Addison Russell (22) and Jason Heyward (26). Many think Javy Baez (23) will be Joe Maddon's new version of Ben Zobrist, the super-utility player. Baez has experience at second, short (his best position) and third. The team may try him as a center fielder in winter instructional league.

The world knows that the young core guys are good. But can they push through another full season of league adjustments, and not cave to the pressure?

Young fielders plus veteran arms seems to be the plan.  A rotation of Jake Arrieta, John Lester and John Lackey, on paper, appears solid. But most think Arrieta and Lackey will probably have a lesser year from 2015, while some want Lester to have a much better 2016. The back end of the rotation is still unsteady with Jason Hammel (who has to work out of Maddon's doghouse) and Kyle Hendricks. Adam Warren, acquired in the Starlin Castro trade, makes more sense as a 5th starter instead of Hammel.  But that is pretty much it in the pitching department. The Cubs current management has failed to draft, develop and promote a starting pitcher to the majors.

Will it have to be the young fielding corps to lead the Cubs to the playoffs?

As in the Mets series showed, quality pitching can dominate quality hitting. Beating the Cardinals in the playoffs may have been the "victory" that mattered since the Cubs have been looking up at the St. Louis dominance for years. But now, they have to win the toughest division in the NL. So far, the Cardinals, Pirates and Brewers have not made significant moves, while the Reds are still working their garage sale rebuild.

Probably the biggest factor in 2016 will be whether Maddon can keep all the pieces together. Will certain players read their rave reviews and back down a notch or two. Will the dreaded sophmore slump hit half the line up? Will the new Chicago celebrity status (endorsements, clubbing, bar hopping) for players become a distraction?

2016 will be a critical year for the Cubs.

January 9, 2016

2016 HOF

I have no real problem with the two new Hall of Famers.

Ken Griffey was elected in his first year on the ballot. He received 99.32 percent of the vote, the highest total in history. Tom Seaver was the all-time leader at 98.84 percent. Nolan Ryan (98.79 percent), Cal Ripken Jr. (98.53 percent), and Ty Cobb (98.23 percent) round out the top five.

Piazza, meanwhile, appeared on 83.0 percent of the ballots. This was his fourth year on the ballot and his support increased with each passing year. Piazza appeared on 57.8 percent of the ballots in 2013, 62.2 percent in 2014, and 69.9 percent in 2015. Seventy-five percent is needed for induction.
Griffey, now 46, was the best and most exciting player in baseball for much of the 1990s. He spent the vast majority of his career with the Mariners and Reds, and, during his peak from 1991-98, Griffey hit .304/.386/.596 (157 OPS+) while averaging 39 home runs, 14 stolen bases, and 110 RBI per season.

During his 22-season career Griffey amassed 2,781 hits and 630 home runs. He is sixth on the all-time home run list, trailing only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Alex Rodriguez (687), and Willie Mays (660). Griffey is a career .284/.370/.538 (136 OPS+) hitter who went 13 All-Star Games, including 11 consecutively from 1990-2000. He was also the 1997 AL MVP.

Piazza was one of the greatest power-hitting catchers in baseball history. He retired as a career .308/.377/.545 (142 OPS+) hitter with 2,127 hits, 427 home runs, and 1,335 RBI. Piazza was a 12-time All-Star and ranks first among all catchers in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS+. He played the majority of his 16-year career with the Dodgers and Mets.

The Hall voters continue to penalize alleged PED users such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Under the strict reading of the Hall criteria, character is part of the selection process so many voters saying that using illegal performance enhancing substances lacks character or integrity to the game. Griffy and Piazza got into the Hall even though their was once a weak allegation whisper about them.

Now, many fans believe that baseball players have been using illicit substances since the beginning of time: abusing alcohol, tobacco products, uppers, pain killers, steroids, HGH, etc. And many of those abusers are in the Hall. On the other hand, this is a more enlightened time in the sport where branding, marketing and reputation are highly valued commodities. 

Some proponents of letting everyone in the Hall say that Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and McGwire deserve to be in Cooperstown for their achievements. But, they are in the Hall by their various accomplishments in the official record books. It is the ultimate honor to have a plaque on the wall which is reserved for the best of the best. Until the vast majority of baseball writers change their opinion on the illegal PED era, many record breakers will have to stay on the outside with Pete Rose.

January 6, 2016


MLBTR reports that the Royals will retain OF Alex Gordon.

Gordon was one of the top three FA outfielders on the market. But after the pitchers signed their
big deals, the free agent market dried up in December.

So much so that Gordon is taking a contract well below what analysts had predicted he would receive in free agency.

MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan and Yahoo Sports Jeff Passan report the deal is believed to be for four years with a guarantee in the “low-$70MM range,”

Passan wrote that a deal could come together quickly between the two sides, and it appears just that has occurred. An official announcement could come later today, says Flanagan, assuming Gordon passes his physical.

The preliminary figures noted above would appear to suggest that middle ground was found between team and player. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes had credited the veteran with earning power in the five-year, $105MM range entering the winter, and by all appearances there were numerous other teams with serious interest in his services.

Teams have become conservative at this stage of the free agent market. It could be that borderline teams do not want to give up a first round draft choice AND sign a $100 million commitment to an outfielder. The White Sox were among the teams with serious interest. A four year deal is at the far end for ownership's risk level with any player, but it would seem Gordon's decision to stay in KC was to continue with a proven winning team. 

For the sabermetric crowd, Gordon had the most value of the outfield FAs (Cespedes, Upton) because of his high defensive skills, something that teams like the White Sox are desperate to improve.

If Gordon's contract is in the $70 million range, that may drop the market price for Cespedes and Upton below the $100 million mark. That would mark a major turning point in the free agent market.

January 2, 2016


The Cubs still have at least one trade to make this off-season.

AAA 3B Christian Villaneuva (picked up in the Dempster deal to the Rangers) is out of options.
He projects to be about a .260 hitter, moderate power, good defense at third. But he only plays third
so he does not fit into Maddon's "flexibility" roster.

The Cubs need to trade/package Villanueva to a team that needs a third baseman
(there are a lot of teams with that need, including the Reds and Indians) but who can
afford to give up a quality starting center fielder (which is in short supply).

If you find a taker, you would need to package a higher ML salary (Hammel or Montero or Soler)
to get payroll relief since the Cubs are already over the projected 2016 budget.

Villaneuva will not the be center piece of any trade, but he would be the added asset to get a deal done. He is a major league ready player who would be making the major league minimum.