November 29, 2016


ESPN's Buster Olney reports that teams tell him that they believe the White Sox “are serious about their intention to trade Chris Sale.  Only reports that  Chicago has told rival clubs they’re willing to trade anyone with fewer than four years of team control remaining, which would mean Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, Adam Eaton and Tim Anderson are off the table, but names like Sale, Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera and David Robertson are all in play.

Sale’s name figures to dominate next week’s Winter Meetings, and the wide range of options available to Chicago GM Rick Hahn should mean the White Sox will be connected to plenty of trade scenarios.

Sale has worn out his welcome in Chicago. His clubhouse revolt in spring training on the Adam LaRoche matter, to the cutting of throw back uniforms in a tantrum, has made him an unwanted diva.

And Sale is the premier trading asset this off-season. The free agent starting pitching market is as dry as the desert.

The Sox could go in fire sale mode.

It seems the idea many teams are adopting is the concept of a young "core" of players under control for multiple years. Once you establish a set core of players (like the Cubs did), you can then fill needs through free agency or trade.

Olney's report states that Sox have decided that 4 years of player control is the "core" the team wants to use in order to target for a championship in 2020. But with only four core players (SP Quintana, SP Rodon, OF Eaton and SS Anderson) the White Sox are still far away from the playoffs.

However, to the right team, Sale could bring in five under-25 prospects and major league ready talent. Abreu, Frazier and Cabrera could bring a good prospect and another high ceiling low minor league prospect.

Trading those four players could yield about a dozen new, young players. Adding to the strength of the organization, minor league starting pitching, the White Sox do have the building blocks to make a rebuild work.

November 20, 2016


Qualifying offers in baseball have been the bane of agents and teams for a long time.

When Phllies starter Jeremy Hellickson  decided to accept the Phillies’ $17.2 million qualifying offer ahead of  the deadline, he said he was considering declining the QO but potential suitors told his agent, Scott Boras, that they were reluctant to give up a draft pick in order to sign the right-hander.

Some teams value their draft picks more than free agents. Other teams, like the Yankees, churn their veterans for compensation picks while losing other picks by signing other teams free agents.

Players with attached draft pick compensation have had a tough time finding a home in free agency since the QO system was adopted. Outfielders Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler  did not  sign with their respective teams, the Rangers and Cubs, until late February prior to this past season, due to draft pick compensation being attached to them. Neither player got a multi-year deal and settled for salaries, $8 million and $13 million respectively, below last season’s QO value of $15.8 million.

Yahoo's Jeff Passan wrote that there is “increasing sentiment” coming out of collective bargaining agreement negotiations that the QO system will not be around for the next offseason. That’s great for free agents and teams that want to sign them, obviously, but bad for teams losing those free agents unless they’re allowed to recoup value in some other fashion.

The QO was designed to help small market teams that lost control of their star players to free agency to get something in return to developing talent for the large market teams. Some would say that revenue sharing and protected picks should be enough compensation for those clubs. Others felt that it was leverage for existing clubs to keep their star players. But the formula for setting the QO has gone through the roof, creating an artificially high floor in the free agent market. Some team owners gripe about $17.2 million to retain a player or negotiate with a free agent with that price tag already on similar assets.

In order for the program to change, the small market clubs will demand some other form of compensation. For example, if MLB does institute an international draft (with foreign players and representatives abhor), small market teams may be awarded extra sandwich compensation picks between rounds. Or, a team signing a "restricted" free agent (however that term will be re-defined) may have to pay some cash (development costs). Agents would not like that because a team could shave the payment off their contract offers to players. But in most CBA provisions, it comes down to money either going into the players' or owners' pockets.

November 17, 2016


White Sox GM Rick Hahn said:

“We’ve always been focused on putting ourselves in the best position to win,” Hahn said. “At the same time, I think we’re veering away from the standpoint of looking for stopgaps. A lot of what we did in the last few years had been trying to enhance the short-term potential of the club to put ourselves in a position to win immediately. I feel the approach at this point is focusing on longer-term benefits. It doesn’t mean we won’t necessarily be in a good position in 2017. It means that our targets and whatever we’re hoping to accomplish have a little more longer-term fits in nature.”

The White Sox have been mired in a "win now" re-tooling of their roster since the 2005 championship. The club has signed or traded for veterans to try to get over the hump to win the AL Central and make it deep in the playoffs. But the Tigers, Royals and now the Indians have blocked their path. But now the Tigers are ready for a fire sale and the Royals are regrouping, the White Sox have to make a major decision: stay the course or rebuild the organization?

Critics think the Sox must follow the Cub rebuild plan. Tear it all down. Trade valuable assets like Sale, Quintana, Frazier, Eaton or Abreu to stockpile young, athletic talent.

Fans and ownership still believe the Sox are just one or two players away from a division title.

The problem with the White Sox has been that the team has not drafted well position players. And the team has not spent a lot of money on international free agents. As a result, the farm system has been weak for a long time.

There are two ways to remedy the situation: hire better scouts and development coaches to boost the talent in the minors or trade for quality prospects from other teams.

If you read between the lines, it appears that Hahn is still playing a middle approach. When he says he will look for longer-term benefits, it may mean that trade targets may not be rental players but players under 2 or 3 year deals. Or that prospects will be low minor leaguers under team control for six years. It also means that the White Sox may plan to hold on to their ten quality minor league pitching prospects.

And it also could mean that the team will not pour any more money on free agents this winter. It will let the roster weed itself out by contract expiration.

My guess is the White Sox will continue to on the same path of trying to field a veteran, competitive club with a short term goal of winning now.

November 14, 2016


The Cubs go into the off-season with many open positions/issues.

1. Centerfield and Lead-off Hitter. Dexter Fowler will reject the $17.2 million qualifying offer. He wants to obtain a long term, guaranteed deal. No one can blame him. He is saddled with the lost draft pick like last year. Many writers believe the Cubs need to re-sign Fowler because when he scored, the Cubs won more than 70 percent of those games.

If the Cubs do not re-sign Fowler, the job falls to Albert Almora or a defense weakening shift of Jason Heyward from right. Heyward has enough on his plate to correct his swing to worry about moving full time to CF. He prefers right field. Leave him there. If the Cubs are high on Almora, let him sink or swim in center.

But that does leave a gap at lead-off spot. No one of the club right now is the prototypical lead off hitter (high contact, walks and stolen base threat).

2. Left handed reliever. Travis Wood is a free agent. He is likely to sign elsewhere. He was a workhorse out of the pen (and a pretty good hitter off the bench). He had 77 appearances for 61 IP. With Mike Montgomery penciled in as the 4th starter next season, the job may fall to Rob Zastrynzny, who had 8 appearances (1 start) for a 1-0, 1.13 ERA record in 16 IP. However, the Cubs are weak at starting pitching depth in the minors so Zastrynzny may start 2017 at Iowa in case there is an injury in the rotation.

3. Closer. Will Hector Rondon return from his injury to reclaim his closer role? Or will there be a closer-by-committee approach with Rondon, Pedro Strop and CJ Edwards? Most writers believe that the Cubs will go after a high priced closer to replace Chapman (and thus making the bullpen rebuild less onerous).

4. The Schwarber Problem. Where will Kyle play? With his significant knee injury, most experts doubt that he will be in the position to catch at the major league level. Too much strain and stress on the rebuilt knee. Willson Contreras will be the main catcher, and Miquel Montero the expensive back-up catcher (maybe Lester or Arrieta's personal catcher). In the best case scenario, Schwarber would catch Hendricks starts (30/ year).  Where will he play for the other 120 games? 20 at DH in AL parks? 100 games in LF?

The left field situation gets very crowded with Schwarber, Zobrist and Soler all in the mix for playing time. Zobrist has lost his second base position (unless Baez is at third which moves Bryant to LF). Zobrist has been the only consistent Cub to protect Anthony Rizzo in the line up.

5. Starting pitching. As stated, Montgomery appears to be the guy to take Hammel's spot as the #4 starter (moving Lackey to #5). But the Cubs depth chart as an organization is thin with major league ready starting pitching. Most pundits plead for the Cubs to move several young players to acquire young, durable and controllable starting pitchers. But most clubs will not trade their best pitching prospects, even for really good hitters. The free agent market for starters is also weak.

6. The bullpen. It is an annual make-over for bull pen arms. The Cubs current 40-man roster has this group to potentially fill four (4) opening day bull pen slots: Aaron Brooks, Jake Buchanan, Geraldo Concepcion, Justin Grimm, Conor Mullee, Spencer Patton, Felix Pena, Jose Rosario and Zac Rosscup. Concepcion and Patton had their call-up moments and did not stick. Grimm has been hanging around but is inconsistent. Rosscup is coming back from a major injury. Mullee was a recent waiver pick up. No matter what is in the system, the Cubs still need to look to upgrade bull pen arms.

November 12, 2016


The silly season of writer speculation is upon us.  A blogger just posted a fantasy piece about the Angels Mike Trout, the consensus pick of the best baseball player in the game.

He wrote that if the Angels would trade Trout, there is only one team that could acquire him: the Cubs.

He thought a package of Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jeimer Candelario, Mark Zagunis, Ian Happ and Miguel Montero could get the Angels to make the deal.

Of the list of Cub players, maybe two are even in the trade asset column: Candelario because he is blocked at third by Bryant, and Montero who is a the end of his unhappy but expensive contract.

The Cubs have made it clear that their love for Schwarber is unconditional. His work ethic may surprise people to the point of being able to catch again. Otherwise, he is doomed to be designated as a professional DH.

Baez is the supersub Joe Maddon needs to juggle his lineup. But many fans now realize that Baez success means that he will demand more playing time, which could affect Zobrist or Soler's plate appearances. Almora is poised to take Fowler's CF job. As a top draft pick, the front office is not going to give away "one of their guys." Happ is another one of those "pure" hitters the Cubs have drafted in recent years. He can play 2B-OF. Zagunis is a AAA outfielder who is in line to probably replace Coghlan.

Trout has monster production: 29 HR, 100 RBI, .315 BA, 10.6 WAR. He is on the easy path to the Hall of Fame. And he is only 25 years old.

The hot stove winter is mainly about these type of stories. The bar talk about moves your favorite team should make in order to win next season's championship. The Cubs are in a strange position this off-season. They already have the pieces to win next season's championship.

November 10, 2016


The Cubs started tweaking their 40 man roster ahead of the winter meetings. Many of the moves are to protect prospects from future Rule 5 draft and to help build some bullpen depth for next season.

The  Cubs selected right-hander Jose Rosario from Triple-A Iowa and claimed righty Conor Mullee off waivers from the New York Yankees.

Rosario combined to go 2-1 with 14 saves and a 2.50 ERA for Single-A Myrtle Beach, Double-A Tennessee and Iowa after missing the 2015 season because of a right elbow injury. Mullee debuted with the Yankees this past season and made three appearances over two stints.

Chicago activated Mullee from the 60-day disabled list Monday along with right-hander Aaron Brooks, lefty Zac Rosscup and infielder Christian Villanueva. The Cubs also activated right-hander Dallas Beeler from the 60-day DL and outrighted him to Triple-A Iowa, and they outrighted Andury Acevedo and catcher Tim Federowicz to the minor league club.

Chicago's 40-man roster stands at 34 players.

The six remaining slots can be filled internally or through free agent/trade acquisitions.

Read more here:

November 8, 2016


The 2016 Cubs went 103-58 in the regular season. It had a team WAR of 57.4 (Hitting 37.4 + Pitching 20.0).

Currently, four key players will not be back.

Dexter Fowler: 13 HR, 48 RBI, 13 SB, .276 BA, 4.2 WAR
Jason Hammel: 15010, 166.2 IP, 1.206 WHIP, 1.1 WAR
David Ross: 10 HR, 32 RBI, .229 BA, 1.7 WAR
A. Chapman: 1-1, 1.01 ERA, 16 SV, 0.825 WHIP, 1.1 WAR

For the lack of starting pitching on the free agent market, the release of Hammel's option gives Hammel, 34, leverage to find a new landing spot on a team of his own choosing. It appears lefty Mike Montgomery will take over the 4th starter role in 2017.

Fowler, 30, declined a mutual option to again chase free agency. Last season he was close to signing with Baltimore. Rumors have it that the Blue Jays will take a run at him. It would appear Albert Almora will be the new center fielder. Whether he can be a lead off hitter is unknown.

Ross, 39, decided to retire after a memorable World Series run. He will walk away from the game, take some time off, and probably return in some coaching role. Who will be Jon Lester's new personal catcher. An angry Miguel Montero, who is still owned one year/$14 million from the Cubs, would be the leading candidate over Willson Contreras, who will catch the major of games in 2017. Most people doubt that after his knee injury, Kyle Schwarber will be able to catch games.

Chapman, 28, is set for a big payday in a very good closer free agent class. This leaves a void for Rondon, Strop or Edwards to be used as a closer by committee situation. The bullpen will get murkier as Travis Wood is also a free agent. Wood, 29, went 4-0, 2.55 ERA in 77 GP, 1.131 WHIP and 0.5 WAR. He fell out of favor with Maddon in the playoffs.

The four key departures equates to 14.1 % of total Team WAR.

The hitters departure equates to 15.8% of total Fielder WAR while the pitchers are 11% of Team Pitching WAR.

There will also be positional issues in the 2017 roster. Schwarber has shown he is built to be a DH. But the front office is so enamored with his bat that he falls into the category of a "no trade" player. But as a valuable asset, Schwarber could yield a top line starting pitcher like a Chris Sale.

The Winter Meetings start with the Cubs as the World Champions. Everyone will be gunning at the Cubs in 2017 to measure their own roster strengths. The championship hangover could hurt Chicago with a slow start.  Depth, especially in starting rotation, will be an ongoing concern.

November 6, 2016


The parade had not even started before the angry trolls and out-of-town columnists began to sandbag the historic Cub championship.

It was not mere jealousy. It was more like contempt.

The Lovable Losers moniker has been destroyed in dramatic fashion. The Cubs re-cemented themselves as the national baseball team, to the disdain of the folks in Boston or New York or St. Louis.

It may also be a combination of fear. Fear that the Cubs could go on a vintage Yankees run of several consecutive championship seasons. The young is is still very young. Most of the starting pitchers will be back in 2017. The Cubs could still spend more (given the chance by ownership) to get replacement free agents. Yes, other NL clubs are looking down the double barrel of a shotgun.

There may be also a sense in the negative fandom of other teams that their punching bag is gone. A security blanket that their own team does not suck as bad as the Cubs. The Cubs were destined to never be good. There were annual "Cubbie occurrences" which sabotaged their seasons. People outside Chicago loved to watch the slow car crash that was the Old Cubs.

But that has now changed - - -  forever.

There is no Next Year. There is no joke that the Cubs "can't lose today (because they are not playing.)" There are a hoard of screaming people waving "W" blankets in the streets and bars throughout the country. They are the New Cub Nation. Their overwhelming release of joy and relief was a tsunami of emotions for generations of fans, alive and dead.

The Game 7 telecast was the highest rated baseball game in 15 years. A media pundit may conclude in a few years that Cubs-Indians World Series was the turning point to put baseball back on the same television platform as the NFL, which has been the dominate American sports franchise but is now under the pressure of significant ratings drop.

The Cubs victory puts pressure on other teams and fans to be introspective and critical of their own teams success and failures. And that is usually not an easy thing. Being a fan is a form of escapism. Being a Cub fan was a form of communal penance for a long forgotten sin.

One of the least recognized fears is the Fear of Success. If you attain something important in your life, there is a sudden panic realization of "what's next?!"  Pause for a moment. You are no longer a door mat. You have achieved a life dream. You have had the greatest release of endorphin rush for the past two weeks. You have been in the clouds for the past 36 hours. It is like opening the greatest Christmas present, ever.

How do you top this feeling?

You don't. It is a once in a lifetime burst of wonderment and joy. It cannot be repeated at the same level of newness, surprise or desire. "Just win one in my lifetime" prayer has been answered by the baseball gods.

Even if there is a second, third or fourth championship (like the Bulls or Blackhawks), the first one is the most memorable, the most important, the most connected to the fans. it would be nice to go on a long run of winning to help enhance today's accomplishment. It gives one more ammo in bar talks comparing other teams to the Cubs.

But fans, especially the casual ones, will not mortgage their homes, max out their credit cards, ditch school or work, to spend 10 days in Wrigleyville buying expensive playoff tickets, $150 cover charges just to get into bars to eat and drink during games, or spend $50 for special event T-shirts. No, those premium prices will plummet in 2017. Supply and demand. The 2016 Cubs supplied what the fans always wanted - - - the championship. The 2017 Cubs could repeat, but fans who tapped out to see the promised land will not have the same level of interest to spend $3,000 for a playoff ticket. The casual fan caught up in the moment may not return. The demand for Cubs stuff, including games, will decline so the supply (cost) will have to be lowered to sustain a reasonable, connected fan base.

The great irony is that a Cubs world championship is probably the worst thing to happen to the Ricketts family. They paid a premium for the team because of its history and loyal fan base. The Cubs sold the possibility of ending a century of futility. They are paying a fortune to build a Disneyland of commercial properties around Wrigley Field. This season they received no revenue from these huge real estate projects. If the fan base does temper its expectations and spending habits, the Ricketts may be building an entire white elephant entertainment district.

There will be plenty of Christmas boxes filled with the discount championship logos. And by the time spring training will arrive in Arizona, there will be no crushing presence of whether "this is the year?" because 2016 was The Year. Hope will turn to Expectation of a repeat, but there will not be the emotional investment if the Cubs fail to achieve a second title. And thus, the Cubs marquee franchise will settle down into the peer group of being a very good team year over year to the knowledgeable fan. The only bristle will be the arguments with other team fans on where this Cub team ranks in history of the game. Or the fact the Cubs have only one title in 108 years. So what? Cubs diehards will reply. It does not matter anymore. The Cubs are the World Champions. That can never be taken away or diminished in bar talk or negative columns. It will be the permanent memory in the psyche of many people - - - hardwired in like the memories of where you were when JFK was assassinated, or when the planes hit the towers on 9/11.  But this will be a joyful memory that will comfort people for a long, long time.

November 3, 2016


This season started with hope. There were high expectations for the Cubs.

Since spring training, I thought the key to the season would be Kyle Schwarber. His photo was on this blog for the season. But then he got injured in an outfield collision, he was gone for the season. Two torn ligaments. He would be out to at least spring training.

But by midseason, expectations turned into the final mission: championship or bust.

Clearly, the 2016 Cubs were the best team on paper and in the field. The team had the luxury of five quality starting pitchers. The young core was supplemented by new, energized rookies. Knock on a redwood, the Cubs did not have any further significant injuries, especially to their starting pitchers.

Two midseason pick ups helped the final push. Long relief starter Mike Montgomery and ace closer Aroldis Chapman. The bullpen was set up for a lights out finish.

The mild concerns going into the post season were typical. Would the young Cub players handle the pressure of 108 years of media and fan angst? Would Joe Maddon suddenly change his style to start to overthink and overmanage games?  The latter did come true, even in the critical Game 7 decision to pull Kyle Hendricks with a large lead in favor a Jon Lester who threw at least 2 side sessions waiting in the bullpen for two innings. Maddon second guessed his own pregame blue print when he brought Lester in with a man on base (instead of starting a clean inning.)  The same was true with Chapman.

The saving grace to any Maddon miscues was Terry Francona's own blueprint to use only 3 starters in the series. Running his ace to start three games in 10 days had to have helped the Cub hitters adjust to his curve ball. The idea of having a Kluber-Miller-Allen 9 inning game to win the Series was sound. It was just the Cubs did not cooperate. Or not cooperate fully, since the Indians had several dramatic comebacks in the game to take it to extra innings.

The Indians had three chances to win it. Francona managed Games 5, 6 and 7 as they were final games. He did not want to let up. That is why he is one of the better skippers in the game. But the Indians were just short on big game heroics. In an irony, the Cubs turned into the better AL club with a DH stroking the ball and a better running game.

So I was at peace during the game. No emotional roller coaster as happened to many family members and friends who lived and died on every pitch.  I had predicted Cubs in 5. I thought the last three games set up well for the Cubs starters. The one thing that I kept saying was that the Cubs had to win the championship this season. This was The Year.

The reason was simple. It is so hard to repeat in professional sports, especially baseball with its long season and heavy toll on athletes. 2015 was the dress rehearsal for the Big Dance.

The 2016 Cubs are a very likeable team. The chemistry and purpose was shown when Jason Heyward, mired in a season long funk, spoke to players during the rain delay about being teammates and picking each other up (especially Chapman who had blown the lead). Players said afterward that helped pick them up for the 10th inning and eventual victory.

There will be many players not on the squad next season, including Chapman, Ross, Jason Hammel, Dexter Fowler, and many bullpen arms.  But they will have the vivid memory of being part of the team that won the most important championship in Chicago history. As Jason Stark wrote, it was the greatest post season baseball Game 7 contest in history.

All Hail the Cubs, champions of the world. We spent way too much time watching Cub baseball this summer. We drank way too much watching Cub post season games in the bars or at Wrigley Field. We spent way too much money on tickets and merchandise to physically grasp The Moment. So many people shed a tear for those who missed out on this life milestone.

The Cubs accomplished something they set out to do in Spring Training. Win. Win it All. Well done.