June 26, 2017

TEN PERCENT SOLUTION

Joe Maddon thinks the Cubs have been playing better in the past week.

The team has gone 6-4; mostly due to the spark of Rizzo in the lead off spot.  However, it has been feast or famine for both hitting and then pitching which keeps the Cubs mired at .500.

Even if the Cubs play at a 6-4 pace through the end of the season, they would win 90 games. 90 games could win the NL Central as most people believe the Brewers do not have the pitching to contend late in the season. Both wild cards are expected to come from the NL West.

With Schwarber demoted, Russell with a shoulder issue, Hendricks have finger tendonitis for more than a month, Zobrist has nagging injuries, Heyward on the DL, things are much rougher this season than last year's championship run.

The biggest missing pieces have been:

1. Lead off hitter. Fowler was the catalyst for the Cubs offense. As noted, for 140 years, your lead off hitter got on base, the second hitter moved him over or got on, setting the RBI table for your best hitters in the three and four slots. Bryant and Rizzo should be hitting 3 and 4. But there is no one Maddon trusts to lead off or bat second.

2. Consistent starting pitching. Arrieta is still an enigma. He has reverted to his Baltimore problems. Lackey is just about out a gas. Butler is a fifth starter which means that he can throw innings but not much is expected from him except to eat innings. The lack of starters going deep into games is taxing the bullpen. Long relief has been the premium this year, and now that Montgomery is in the #4 spot in the rotation, the Cubs are carrying an extra arm in the pen.

3. Lack of focus. It seems the Cubs are not playing with the same enthusiasm as the club did in 2016. It may be natural for a champion to let down his guard. He was won the trophy. He expects to be treated like a king. He wants to bask in the glory of his accomplishment. He wants to hold on to his place in history. He wants to reap the rewards. There have been so many Cubs with new endorsement deals and media shows that it has to have some level of distraction. There is not a concrete goal in place where the team can focus on to achieve. Getting back to the Series is not the same as remembering they won the Series.

The national baseball writers still believe that the Cubs will turn things around and play like last year's team. They still believe there is plenty of time to get on a "hot streak."  Remember when Maddon said the Cub bats would come alive in the hot weather? This June was one of the hottest on record and the Cubs bats are still in a funk.

Sending Schwarber down to the minors may have been the wake up call the team needed, but many may have slept through it. The Cubs are expected to make several major deals by the trade deadline. But finding a professional lead off hitter and a quality starter will be tough.

June 17, 2017

DRAFTING PITCHERS

In the 2017 draft, the Cubs selected 25 pitchers.  61 percent of their choices were pitchers.

20 of the 25 pitchers were in college.

7 of the 20 college pitchers were seniors.

19 of the 25 pitchers were right handed.

What does this mean?

As we have written about in this blog before, the Cubs in the Theo era have drafted more pitchers than position players. However, Theo and the gang have yet to develop one home-grown starting pitcher.

Instead, the first round emphasis had been on pure bat skills (Bryant, Schwarber, Happ, Almora).

But as this season has shown, you cannot always count on a starting staff made up of free agents (Lester, Lackey) or trade (Hendricks, Arrieta, Butler, Montgomery).

A well run organization moves players through their system on an annual basis. At each level, a prospect has to show improvement or it is time to cut bait. Players want to move up to the next level because you get more time with better coaches and better competition to hone skills.

High school prospects normally are targeted for Rookie Ball. It makes sense because the talent level is entry and a team has years of control over an 18 year. High schoolers are raw talent, usually the best player on their team or high school conference. They may be local studs but there are still years behind a college player in terms of total hours of baseball development.

Also, a 2014 draft study showed if you're going to spend a first-round pick on a player, it seems like you'd be better off drafting a college player who has a 75.39 percent chance of one day playing in the majors than a high schooler at 58.00 percent.

A team can hold onto a minor league prospect for 7 years. But there is a limitation on the number of players a team can have at each level:

Here are the roster limits by league:

Triple-A: International, Pacific Coast — 25 active.
Double-A: Eastern, Southern, Texas — 25 active.
Class A Advanced: California, Carolina, Florida State — 25 active; 35 under control; no more than two players and one player-coach on active list may have six or more years of prior Minor League service.
Class A: Midwest, South Atlantic — 25 active; 35 under control; no more than two players on active list may have five or more years of prior Minor League service.
Class A Short-Season: New York-Penn, Northwest — 35 active. No more than three players on the Active List may have four or more years of prior Minor League service.
Rookie: Appalachian, Pioneer leagues — 35 active. No more than three players on the Active List may have three or more years of prior Minor League service.
Rookie: Arizona, Gulf Coast leagues — 35 active. No player on the Active List may have three or more years of prior Minor League service.
Rookie: Venezuelan Summer, Dominican Summer — 35 active. No player on the Active List may have four or more years of prior Minor League Service. No Draft-eligible player from the U.S. or Canada (not including players from Puerto Rico) may participate in the DSL or VSL.

The Cubs, if they would sign all 41 players (highly unlikely) would need to release 41 players from their minor league system. Signability is an issue with both high school and college players. Normally, college seniors have little leverage because they cannot pass on signing to go back to school for another year. High schoolers have the option of going to college or signing a pro contract. College juniors have the most leverage; they have more experience/track record than high schoolers but can go back for their senior year if they fall below what they think is their signing bonus amount.

By drafting 7 college senior pitchers, the Cubs insure themselves of at least 7 news arms in their Class A minor teams for next season. If they hit on 40 percent of the rest of the pitchers, that is another 6 prospects in the mix.

The Cubs management realizes that it needs to draft and sign more and more pitchers to get a statistical edge that at least one or two will make it to the major league roster as a starter.

June 15, 2017

BY THE NUMBERS

Forty percent of the season has been played but the Cubs are still stuck in a bad neutral position. Nothing is consistent except their inconsistency.

People are trying to find out what is wrong with the new Cub dynasty. Maddon said yesterday maybe "youth" is to blame.

Both hitters and pitchers are to blame.

In 2016, the Cubs hit .256 BA (6th in NL). In 2017, the team is hitting only .235 (14th).  It is more than an 8 percent drop in production.

In 2016, the Cubs scored 808 runs (2nd in the NL). In 2017, the team has scored only 304 runs (8th). The Cubs 2017 run scoring is down 6 percent from 2016.

In 2016, the Cubs had 1409 hits (7th in NL). In 2017, only 517 hits (14th). It is an 8.6 percent decline in hits per game (8.7 vs. 7.95).

In 2016, the Cubs 199 HRs (5th in NL). In 2017, 90 HR (5th). The current Cubs are hitting more HR/G than last season, but scoring less runs.

In 2016, the Cubs stole 66 bases (11th in NL). In 2017, the team has 18 SB (last in NL). That is a 27.7 percent decrease in stolen bases.

In 2016, the Cubs walked 656 times (1st in NL). In 2017, the team has 260 walks (1st). Walks are only down 1.25 percent this season.

In 2016, the team OBP was .343 (1st in NL). In 2017, it is .324 (9th). That is more than a 5.5 percent decline in production.

For team pitching, it is more severe.

In 2016, the team ERA was 3.15 (1st). In 2017, team ERA is 4.20 (5th). It is more than one run higher this year. It is a 33 percent increase in ERA.

In 2016, the Cubs were best in hits allowed at 1125. In 2017, the staff has allowed 542 hits (5th in NL). That is 1.40 more hits per game (a 20 percent increase).

In 2016, the Cubs walked 495 batters (7th in NL). In 2017, the staff has walked 223 (9th in NL). That is a 12.5 percent increase in walks.

In 2016, the Cubs truck out 1441 batters (3rd in NL). In 2017, it is 593 (4th).  The 2017 Cubs are striking out more batters this season 9.12/G vs. 2016 8.9/G.

In 2016, the staff WHIP was 1.110. In 2017, it is 1.308. That is a 17.8 percent increase in WHIP.

The 2017 Cubs have maintained or done better than last year in only these categories:

HITTING:
Home Runs
Team walks

PITCHING:
Strike Outs

The striking double digit declines come in pitching categories (ERA, hits allowed, walks allowed, WHIP). There is more than 8 percent decline in hitting categories (BA, hits per game, stolen bases).

June 14, 2017

MAKING GREEN

The Cubs have announced three more private clubs for season ticket holders. Underneath the entire bowl of box seats will be private clubs where season ticket holders can spend a lot of money for an exclusive place to eat and drink before, during and after the game. The infield clubs have no views of the field and the bleacher club will have a peek into the Cubs bullpen.

It is another aspect of the Ricketts family trying to seize every dime from Cub fans who come to Lakeview for games.

But there is more.

ESPN's business sports reporter, Darrem Rovell, the Cubs are marketing to their season ticket holders a "piece" of the championship season. Literally, a piece of the ivy from 2016.

The  Cubs are offering up leaves of ivy that covered Wrigley Field's outfield wall last season to season ticket holders — and the price tag is $200 per leaf.

From Rovell:

The team emailed premier clients and season ticket holders on Tuesday offering the Ivy leaves that cover Wrigley Field's outfield walls from the 2016 season. Typically discarded when the ivy turns to red and sheds its leaves in November, the team, after the 2016 historic season, instead chose to collect the leaves for the first time and have them each authenticated with a hologram.

2,016 leaves will be sold. $403,200 in additional revenue to the Cubs.

How much more will premier season ticket holders have to pay to support their team?


June 10, 2017

LOAD UP THE BUS

Joe Maddon has never been shy about using platoons.

He says that he needs to keep his bench players "fresh" so he tries to start them at least one a week.

A platoon situation in the major leagues is really a concession that the team does not have one full-time major league player at that position. You have a player who may hit right handers better than the other guy, and thus the lineup card is dictated purely by match-ups.

The Cubs have found themselves in an unusual Triple Platoon situation. Ian Happ, Albert Almora and Jon Jay are all playing regular center field for the Cubs. Add in the occasion move of Jason Heyward to center to have Ben Zobrist in right, center field has become a summer park district program.

Center field production is one of the many Cub 2017 issues.

Almora has played in 49 games. He is hitting .268, 3 HR, 12 RBI, .322 OBP.
Newcomer Happ has played in 24 games. He is hitting .213, 5 HR, 10 RBI, .315 OBP.
Bench player Jay has played in 49 games. He is hitting .296, 0 HR, 10 RBI, .386 OBP.

You don't think your center fielder will be the tops in any category (Colorado's Blackmon is an exception in RBI), but the leaders in categories show how far off the Cubs players are:

HR leader: Judge 18.
RBI leader: Lamb 56.
BA leader: Zimmerman .365.
OBP leader: Trout .461.

Contributing to the Cubs offensive woes is that default starting LF Kyle Schwarber is hitting a season low .170, 10 HR, 25 RBI, .297 OBP. Also in a funk (on and off the field) is Addison Russell. He is hitting only .209, 3 HR, 19 RBI and .291 OBP.

Normally,  Happ, Schwarber, and Russell would be candidates to be sent down to the minors to work on their game (physically and mentally). But there is no one in Iowa is begging for a promotion. The best CF is Jacob Hanneman, but he is hitting .400 in only 5 games (0 HR, 3 RBI). He must have been hastily promoted because in AA he only hit .180, 1 HT, 6 RBI in 34 games. Likewise, the Iowa shortstop, Ozzie Martinez, is hitting a light .219, o HR and 8 RBI in 40 games. The best Iowa middle infielder this season was Happ.

In one respect, the Cubs could load up the bus and send a bunch of players to Iowa. But in another respect, there is no one worthy of being called up to fill their places.

June 3, 2017

QUICK FADE

In 2015, Pirate OF Andrew McCutcheon was on top of the baseball world. He was an All-Star. He was 5th in the MVP voting. He was only 28 years old. He was a leader in a resurgent, young Pittsburgh club.

He was rumored to be in trade talks (his contract expires in 2017). But the Pirates kept him to anchor CF and hit third in the lineup.

In 2015, McCutcheon hit .292, 23 HR, 96 RBI, .401 OBP, 4.9 WAR. Great production. Great teammate. Great clubhouse leader.

Then in 2016, things quickly began to turn. He hit .256, 24 HR, 79 RBI, .376 OBP and a negative 0.7 WAR. At age 29, his plate discipline (OBP) and defense began to diminish.

Now, 51 games into the 2017 season, writers are saying it is shocking that a 30 year old former All Star is a shell of his former self. He is hitting only .217, 8 HR, 24 RBI, .290 OBP, and negative 0.4 WAR. He can no longer handle center field duties.  For an entire season, he projects to hit .217, 24 HR, 72 RBI, .290 OBP and negative 1.2 WAR.

One would think that injuries would be the cause of the massive production drop. In 2014, he had an oblique injury. In 2015, he was hit by a pitch on his elbow. Since then, there has been no reported major injury news.

This season he has been benched for lack of production, and dropped in the lineup to #6 (where he has recently responded with a GW HR).

But no one is seeing a great turnover by the former All Star.

Baseball is a hard and cruel game. There are so many moving mental and physical parts that a break down in one element can signal the end of a career. It is still shocking to see it happen so quickly to a player of the caliber of McCutcheon.

May 30, 2017

OUT OF ORDER

Fifty games into the season and the Cubs ship still lists in the harbor.

A .500 team with flaws in each element of the game is not what we expected from the defending world champs.

Either Maddon believes (hopes) or expects his lineup to start to produce factory perfect six run games by getting on base and bashing homers. But the only consistent thing so far is inconsistency.

Slumping players are still playing big roles.  The discouragement is growing daily. The excuses no longer sound legit after two months of play.

The bold experiment of Schwarber in the lead off spot is over. He did not get on base to set the table for Bryant and Rizzo. His strike out rate of 33% was too high with his low batting average of .181.

The Cubs have no prototypical lead off man. Fowler was the table setter last season (but is struggling himself in St. Louis.)  Zobrist has been moved into the spot, but he is not a speedy, run manufacturing type player.

If you were going to set the order based on merit alone. it would look something like this:

1. Bryant 3B
2. Rizzo 1B
3. Zobrist LF
4. Happ CF
5. Contreras C
6. Heyward RF
7. Russell SS
8. Baez 2B


May 24, 2017

IS IT A DUNN DEAL?

Kyle Schwarber continues to get a lot of attention in Chicago. He is a fan favorite. He is a likeable, blue collar player. He has done great things since arriving on the scene. He has the most post-season home runs in franchise history. His epic return for the World Series after a serious knee injury is a story of legend.

But what is Schwarber?

Is he the new Bambino? Or is he something else?

People are perplexed because Schwarber has the label of being a "pure" hitter. He gets contact. He can drive the ball. He has a good eye. He is an "on base" machine. But the myth may have overtaken the man.

Schwarber's first season in 2015 showed promise. At 22, he played in 69 games, had 232 AB, hit 16 HR, 43 RBI. His batting average was only .246. He struck out 77 times (+33% of the time).

In 2016, his season was lost due to an outfield collision. He returned to become a World Series hero.

Now, at age 24, he has played 41 games. In 156 AB, he has 7 HR and 19 RBI. He has a .186 BA. He has struck out 51 times (32.7%).  The low batting average and continued high strike out totals is a real concern.

A comparison that comes to mind is Adam Dunn. Chicago fans remember Dunn's time as a struggling White Sox at the end of his career.

Dunn debuted at age 21 for the Reds. In 2001, he played in 56 games, hit 19 HR, 43 RBI, hit .262.
In his first full season at age 22, he hit 26 HR, 71 RBI, .249 BA.
In his third year, he hit 27 HR, 57 RBI, .215 BA.

Dunn played in 14 seasons. He ended his career with 462 HR, 1168 RBI and .237 BA.

The question is whether you would accept Schwarber with a Dunne-like career.

The expectations and initial comparisons had him starting at Babe Ruth to being another Anthony Rizzo, a .300 hitting power bat near the top of the order. But Schwarber has yet to sustain a high batting average in his major league career. 

The Cubs want to keep Schwarber in the daily line up because of his bat. But look at the other players missing time because of it: Almora, Happ and Jay. Happ has taken the local media by storm. In 31 AB, he has hit 2 HR, 5 RBI, .323 BA playing mostly out of position in the OF.

The log jam of young players is a positive for the Cubs. But there will be a point of diminishing returns if they do not receive sufficient playing time in order succeed.

Schwarber was once considered an untouchable trade chip. We will have to see if the front office changes its mind on him.

May 18, 2017

NEW ARM OLD STORY

Steve Stone once said that all bullpen arms are failed starters.

The Cubs under Theo have failed to draft and develop one starter of their own.

The streak continues even though the team called up one fading prospect.

The Cubs have optioned infielder Jeimer Candelario to Triple-A Iowa and added Pierce Johnson to their bullpen.

Johnson — the first pitcher the Theo Epstein regime drafted for the Cubs — will be available to make his big-league debut against the Cincinnati Reds.

Johnson — the 43rd overall pick out of Missouri State University in 2012 and the compensation for losing free agent Aramis Ramirez — struggled with command issues and health problems as a starter and pivoted toward a bullpen role last summer.

Johnson went 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA in 12 appearances for Iowa this season, putting up 21 strikeouts against 11 walks and 15 hits through 14 innings.

But when Johnson was drafted, the front office painted the picture that he was the prototype pitcher the Cubs would stock pile in the minors. It never happened. Even though more than 50% of all Cub draft selections have been pitchers, none have made the majors as a starter. The inability to develop a home grown starter is the black hole in the Cubs organization. Every team is desperate for pitching, especially quality inning-eating starters. The premium spot is an ace starter. The inability to develop starters has led the Cubs to the market to overspend on free agents and pitchers on the decline in their careers.

But as we have seen this season, a starting rotation can crumble quickly. A five-man Opening Day rotation now looks for a 5th starter, and two replacements for Arrieta and Lackey when their deals expire at the end of the year. Some predict that Arrieta and Lackey may not last the entire season. It then gets to the proposition of Peter stealing to pay Paul; trading the depth of position prospects to either rent or take on a bad contract at the deadline for an experienced major league starter.

May 16, 2017

A TIME FOR CONCERN

The Cubs stand 18-17 record, 3.5 GB the Cardinals in the NL Central.

Some pundits believe that there is no reason to panic. Everything will be fine. The Cubs will come around. The team has too much talent to fail.

Except that is mere hope and expectation. An objective view of the 2017 season finds:

1. 22.8% of the season has been completed.
2. The Cubs record is upside down from last season.
3. The 2016 Cubs had two starters who hit over .290, hit 30 HRs and drove in 100 RBIs.
4. The 2017 club has only one player hitting over .290 or on pace to hit 30 HR (with 7, Bryant).
5. No current player is on pace to drive in 100 RBI.
6. No Cub starting pitcher is on pace to win 20 games, let alone 18 (accomplished by 2 last year).
7. The only starter on pace to exceed his win total from 2016 is Lackey (on +1 pace to win 12 games).
8. There is no current starter on the team who can replace Hammel's 15 win total from 2016.

The 2016 Cubs had a winning percentage of .640 (103 wins). If the Cubs "turn it around," as the bandwagon drivers claim, in the next 125 games, the Cubs would win 80 games for a season total of 98 (5 games worse than last year). However, that means that the Cubs have to win every series played for the rest of the season.

As the team has played, it is more realistic to divide the remaining 125 games by three. 42 games at 66 winning percent; 42 games split; 41 games at 33 percent equals 66 more wins (or a total of 84 wins). The Cubs have not had a long win streak this season. The starting pitching and lack of hitting is the reason. Even if you factor in a 9 game win streak, but a third (33%), third (50%) and third (55%), you project only to 63 more wins or a .500 season.

The major excuse is that Kyle Schwarber will eventually hit and drive base runners from the lead off position. Except, his post season legend is more than his current track record. In 106 major league games, 370 AB, he is only hitting .219 with 21 HR and 57 RBI. In a full 162 game season, that only projects to 32 HR, 87 RBI.  In 2017, he is only on pace for 20 HR, 56 RBI. 

He may not get more dramatic contact. In 2016, his strike out ratio was 33.2 %. In 2017, his strike out rate is 32.8%. In the next 500 AB, he has a projected chance to make bat-to-ball contact 20 more times, and at his current BA pace - - - 4.38 more hits. Can all four be game winners? Probably not.

Schwarber is not the only player to blame. It is systemic. And if fans do not want to accept that their team is not the same as last season, then you will have something in common with the Giants fans after their post-championship seasons of despair. 

Then, there is another view that the Cubs' front office will right the ship by acquiring new starting pitching with all the young talent in their organization. It is clear that the Cubs tried to show case 3B Candelario, but he went 1-7 but showed some above average defense. Happ was brought up and hit a home run in his first game, solidifying the minor league Baby Schwarber bat legend. But the problem with Theo and Jed is that they have fallen in love with their young players so much they won't trade them easily. Especially when they view them as insurance against veteran injury (such as the current MASH unit of Heyward (thumb), Russell (shoulder), Zobrist (back), Jay (back).

The last beef is the remark that the season is still early. People oddly place more significance in late season wins than early season wins. But in a 162 game schedule, wins in April count equally with wins in September. There is no "bonus" fraction for winning games at the end of the season. It is a clouded perception because most fan interest peaks after August when the pennant races come into view.

What were the preseason expectations?

100 win season: need to play .656 baseball (better than last year) to achieve goal
95 win season: need to play .616 baseball to achieve goal
90 win season: need to play .567 baseball to achieve goal

Those figures show how far behind the Cubs currently are in their goal to repeat in the NL Central and contend for a second championship.

If the front office, the fans and commentators are not concerned about the state of the Cubs, then they are a mild state of denial.

May 12, 2017

THE BUTLER DID IT!

One trope in mysteries is that a band of people are together in a mansion when during the course of the evening a person is murdered. Everyone immediately begins to suspect every guest, every motive, every nuance, until it is revealed at the end the butler did it.

The Cubs mysterious bad season has a Butler going to the mound to murder the Cardinals.
Or so we hope.

But Eddie Butler has a career 6-16 record in 36 games played (28 GS), with an ERA of 6.50, 1.770 WHIP and a negative 2.7 WAR. And he is touted as the fifth starter savior?

The hope lies in the small Iowa sample size: 5 starts, 1-0 record, 1.17 ERA, 1.109 WHIP in 30 IP with 17 Ks, 8 BB.

Can he hold back the staff's double digit 1st inning ERA disaster?

The Cardinals are in first place, 2.5 games ahead of the slumping Cubs. In St. Louis, the home town folk will want their team to stomp on the Cubs' collective neck to get some real separation in the NL Central.

Joe Maddon has run out of excuses ("fatigue," "championship hangover," "cold weather," "distractions") since the calendar has turned over to May.

Between #1 starter Lester and closer Davis, the pitching staff has been a mess. No one has been consistent. The Cubs had been carrying 9 pitchers in the bullpen just to try to survive long games which led to several starters pitch hitting in extra inning contests.

To compound the pitching woes, the Cubs defense has been below average. One person remarked when Rizzo had the day off, the Cubs fielded four second basemen to play the infield. Zobrist has not been good in any outfield spot. Baez is trying to make every play a Sportscenter highlight reel instead of getting sure outs.

It is clear that the Cubs lack focus. It may be hard to get yourself up to do a daily grind when you have already won a championship, but this team is young and should be hungry enough to continue history by winning multiple championships. That means laid back Joe needs to start sitting players when they screw up to send a message (remember all the tough love Starlin Castro received when he was a Cub?)




May 8, 2017

108 & OUT

It took 6 hours and 5 minutes to shatter many records. The 18 inning Sunday night contest between the Yankees and Cubs was the longest interleague game in history. It also crushed the number of strikeouts in a game with 48. Of the 108 outs, 44.4 percent were by strike out. Yankees set a franchise record by striking out 26 batters in a game, while also recording a history 22 strikeouts on their own.

The Cubs used 22 players, including 8 pitchers. Only 8 batters got a hit during the marathon game.
The Cubs mounted a 9th inning comeback, erasing a 3 run deficit off Yankees star closer, Chapman.

But during the game, Baez hit a stinger foul off the top of his foot. Hobbled, he stayed in the game and played second. Rizzo was hit on the forearm with a fastball. He also stayed in the game in some pain, but an x-ray later showed no broken bones.

The Cubs had 108 outs but could only score 4 runs in 18 innings. The Cubs left 18 runners on base (10 courtesy of Yankee walks). 108 was a magical number in 2016. But in 2017, it merely reflects the doldrums of the post championship hangover the Cubs are experiencing this season.

The Cubs got swept by their mirror cousins. The Yankees, the old money team that used to try to buy championships with expensive free agents, now boasts a young core as talented as the 2016 Cubs. Rookie outfielder Judge leads the majors with 13 HRs. Outfielder Hicks provides speed on the bases. Gregorius and Castro are a young double play combination. The Yanks boast two quality catchers in Sanchez and Romine, who can also play first. 

The Yankees are 20-5 while the Cubs are slumping at 16-15. If this was a statement series or a test of how good your team is, then the Yankees won by a wide margin. The Yankees have quietly emerged as the best team in the AL East because the ongoing bean ball war distraction between the Red Sox and Orioles.

May 3, 2017

THE ROTATION

Pitching coaches will often say in spring training that you have to wait five regular season games to tell how well your starting pitchers are going to be for the season.

The Cubs have reached that point. It is not pretty.

The starting rotation after 16% of their season complete  is not on pace to be an average starter.

Lackey: 2-3, 5.10 ERA, 30 IP, 9 BB, 1.333 WHIP -0.3 WAR
Lester: 0-1, 3.68 ERA, 29.1 IP, 9 BB, 1.432 WHIP 0.3 WAR
Arrieta: 3-1, 4.66 ERA, 29 IP, 8 BB, 1.310 WHIP, -0.1 WAR
Hendricks: 2-1, 4.18 ERA, 28 IP, 12 BB, 1.214 WHIP, 0.2 WAR
Anderson: 2-1, 6.23 ERA, 21.2 IP, 12 BB, 1.846 ERA, -0.5 WAR

The starting rotation has accumulated a total negative 0.4 WAR.


It is the high ERA and high walk totals that is killing the rotation.

May 2, 2017

IT'S NOT EARLY

"It's still early."

That is the catch phrase from those who want to put pink lipstick on a pig.

The sample size is too small to make accurate projections.

But a month into the season with 25 games played does give one pause to reflect on one's team.

The Cubs are in first place with a meager 13-12 record. The .520 pace is only good for a projected 84 wins, a significant decrease from 2016's 103 victories.

The 2016 Cubs started off to a blazing 25-6 record and never looked back.

So, what is the difference?

One could argue the Cubs are still in championship hangover mode. Spring training was more like spa days for the veterans. There was no competition for starting jobs. The players knew they were good because they had bathed in champagne.

The Cubs returned 4 of the 5 starting pitchers who combined to have an exemplary season. But Brett Anderson, the often injured, new #4 starter replacing Jason Hammel has been a disappointment. He looks a little like Travis Wood, but he throws like an arthritic old man.

But none of the other starters have been very sharp. Velocity has been down. The coaching staff is not worried thinking April would be the month to get past any "dead arm" problems.

The bullpen is currently 4-5 with 4 blown saves. Wade Davis seems to be a good closer when he is on, but there is still times his set up men (Uehara, Strop, Montgomery, Rondon) get lit up.

The defense has been disappointing. Javy Baez has made 3 errors in 39 attempts at second base. It may affect his hitting as he is only at .222 BA, .275 OBP, 2 HR, 6 RBI with 21 strikeouts. But Baez is not the leader in Ks. Contreras has 22K/70 AB; Bryant has 27K/99 AB; and Schwarber has 35 K/97 AB.

The team is 7th in the NL with a team BA of .251 but 12th with 227 strikeouts.

Len Casper said that Joe Maddon believes that putting players in "uncomfortable" defensive positions, i.e. playing outside their natural position, helps them relax at the plate. The concentration on defense takes the pressure off their hitting.  In a crazy blow out last night, Maddon had all three of his catchers play new positions: Schwarber made his debut at catcher; Montero played first base; and Contreras played third base. Maddon will be shaking up the line up to get his players to believe the game is still "fun."

When one says it is too early to worry, just remember that games played in April count as much as those played in September. A win is a win and a loss is a loss. Everyone expects the Cubs to play better, especially in a weak division. But April has put the spot light on the team's weaknesses.

April 26, 2017

DRAFTING VALUE

Tomorrow begins the annual NFL draft. It is now largely a media event. The NFL wants to create a circus atmosphere to enhance fan interest for fall ticket and merchandise sales. It is essentially a meat market auction for college talent. But it is wrapped in inconsistent statements, philosophies and dumb moves.

Leading up to the first selection, the hype is on the "skilled" positions such as quarterback, running back or "edge rusher."  But most of this smoke is misguided tripe. The NFL has made the running back position a mere commodity. Running backs get burned out quicker than most positions so teams now have RB squads to carry the ball during the season. Most GMs figure they can find a quality back in the 4th round of any draft.

The "edge" rusher is the bling for defensive stat coaches who look to the "sack" as the key to a strong defense. The sack is an overrated marker. A good offensive tackle can neutralize an edge rusher, who is usually a thinner, quicker version of the defensive end. A great sack machine can have 15 in a season, but in reality that is probably less than two percent of the player's defensive snaps. Most edge rushers only look to sacks, so the other 98 percent of the time they are a non-factor.

The most focus in pre-draft mocks is the quarterback position. It is still the glamour spot on any team. Every owner wants a "franchise" quarterback to be the "face of the team."  It is said that without a franchise QB, a team cannot win a Super Bowl (but tell that to Doug Williams.) Columnists admit that teams "overvalue" the quarterback position in the first round of the draft because quality, pro-ready quarterbacks are harder to find. The reason is simple: colleges are not running pro-style offenses. If a college education is supposed to prepare young men and women for their careers, college athletes does not prepare QBs for the pros because college coaches are all about winning to retain their huge salary and benefit packages. That is why some teams will reach to the lower college ranks to pick a Carson Wentz, who played a pro-style offense in college.

Another reason why QBs get picked in the first round is that the CBA allows teams to keep a QB an extra (5th year) under the rookie contract. Teams rarely put a rookie QB in charge of the offense so they use the first professional year for training and development. But there is another school of thought: baptism under fire. Some old coaches believe that it is better to put a rookie into battle right away so he can learn at "game speed."  The biggest difference between college and pros is that in the NFL the opponent is bigger, faster and more skilled than college competition.  The more reps a player gets against that talent level, the quicker a team will know whether their player is going to make it.

The scouting consensus is that none of the top 4 QB prospects is "worthy" of a first round selection. But everyone concedes that at least 3 QBs will be drafted in the top 15. If teams stuck with their internal valuations, all the quarterbacks would fall to the second round - - - and if a team needed to draft one, that would be the place to do it. Part of the reason for over-drafting a QB is to appease fans of bad teams. Drafting a new QB means that there will be competition at the most important position on the field. Competition should bring out the best in a player.  But some front offices have taken competition out of the equation. The Bears never brought in a new, young QB to compete with Jay Cutler. The team did not want a "quarterback controversy." Cutler was their QB, period. As a result, the Bears did not draft a successor to Cutler. The position languished under Cutler, but it was reasoned that Cutler still had "potential" to get better. He never did. Now, the Bears have the third draft pick - - - and the team is still uncomfortable in selecting a QB.

Many teams tell us the overriding strategy on their draft boards is to select "the best player available." This strategy can lead to mismanaging resources and overdrafting a position of strength. Teams are supposed to use the draft to make their teams better. To improve the overall talent pool. If a team is in desperate need for a cornerback, select a cornerback - - - not a running back who has better "numbers."  Old school scouts and GMs scoff at the Combine as being an irrelevant side show. Who cares if a offensive line man can dead lift a Mack truck twenty times if he is a traffic cone when it comes to pass protection. How high a man can jump, his 40 yard dash time, his "wing span" and cone drill time is meaningless because an NFL game is not made of those drills. The only thing a good general manager should ask is "can this kid play football?" Does a prospect have the football IQ to adapt to the professional level? Does he understand the fundamental concepts of the playbook? Does he understand his role and assignments on the field? You can tell the quality of the NFL product has diminished because there are so many "combine heros" on the field who do not know what they are doing - - - especially glaring in the secondary when a free safety is running around like he is trying to herd cats.

Draft boards are closely guarded secrets. Sports media tries to find ways to get scoops on how their local team plans to draft. But most of the dialog is misinformation. If a team thinks Player X is the best player on their board, they will not hype him so some other team will take him before their pick. Likewise, some teams will say a player with off-the-field issues will not impact his status on their board, when in fact some coaches and GMs will eliminate that player totally from any consideration. The Commissioner's complete discretion in player discipline has made some teams extremely uncomfortable in drafting drug users or domestic abusers because of potential long suspensions for a second offense.

There is also misinformation from the clubs who continually state that the "prime" rounds are in the middle. But this philosophy makes little sense. If you value third round talent more than first round talent, then you should always trade your highest picks for multiple middle round selections. It is a method of covering for first round mistakes or blunder picks, such as picking an injured first rounder who never makes it on to the field.

In 2011, SB Nation did a review of the 2000-2007 drafts for all pro selections. The results contradict the middle round philosophy.

Round 1:  In each of these years, 31 players were taken in round 1.  Out of those players, 13, 16, 10, 13, 15, 10, 13, and 10 in years 2000-2007, respectively, have made the Pro Bowl.  In only one year did at least half the players drafted in round 1 eventually become Pro Bowlers.  The average for the 8 yrs is 12.5.

Round 2:  Again, 31 players were drafted in round 2 in each of these years.  Those becoming Pro Bowlers number 5, 11, 4, 6, 2, 5, 6, and 5, for an average of 5.5 per year.  This is less than 1 in 5 players drafted in this round.  Again, 2001 appears to behave been a banner year.

Round 3:  The numbers in round 3 are: 1, 3, 2, 2, 6, 2, 0, and 0, for an average of 2.0, or less than 1 in every 15 players chosen (note that compensatory picks make the number of players chosen in rounds 3-7 higher than 31).

The average for Round 4 was 2.375, for round 5 it was 1.625, for round 6 it was 1.5, and for round 7 it was 0.75.

The author's conclusion was the odds of finding that Pro Bowler are not that good, even in the first round (40%) And the odds of finding quality talent after the first round drops significantly as the second round is only 20%, the third round 6.7%.   It shows  how important it is to address your biggest need(s) in the first round or two. The odds are that your team will not pick a pro bowler in any round of the draft. 

If you look at it objectively, even the best GM over a seven year draft cycle will only pick 6 pro bowl quality players or around 12% of total picks. An average GM over the same time period may only select 3 pro bowl quality players.

So, an NFL team needs to draft their primary, urgent needs each and every draft cycle; not the best player available but the best player at the position of need available. If you bet on the best player but he will not play because of a current starter is a veteran, then what is the point of stockpiling talent? And that does not help the problem positions on the team.

Drafts get screwed up because the nature of the clock and GMs, coaches and owners who disagree in the war room when they are on the clock. For years, commentators would wait for a team like the Raiders to pick someone out of the blue which would have a cascade effect across the rest of the NFL teams. That is part of the drama of the draft that NFL executives like to see. 

But year after year, teams drafting lower in the order like the New England Patriots, seem to find more talent than the lowly Cleveland Browns. But the Pats do not necessarily draft or sign the fastest, strongest or more impressive Combine stars. They draft football players.

April 18, 2017

THE CURSE REVIVED

The Cubs continued to bask in the glow of the championship.

But that light is turning dark.

The Cubs have lost 4 home games in a row for the first time in three years.

The championship hangover continues.

And then there is the weirdness about their diamond rings.

When shown after the ceremony, it was learned that on the inside there was an image of a goat.

Why is there a goat on a Cubs ring?

When Ricketts purchased the club, they were adamant that they did not believe in any curses. When Epstein arrived in town to run the team, he said he did not believe in curses - - - and he came from Boston, the home of the Bambino Curse. He said building a quality organization leads to championships. And he backed up his words with an aggressive and painful rebuilding program.

So by putting a goat on the championship ring, the Ricketts have directly acknowledged the mythical curse. There was no logical reason to do so. And some fans, seeing the Cubs are in a slow, bad baseball start, will believe that putting the goat on the championship ring has revived the curse.

But as gracious and generous the Ricketts family was at the ring ceremony, the Sun Times reported that there is an another strange twist in the Cubs championship. The paper reported:

The Cubs organization is handing out World Series Championship rings to players and other employees, describing the bling as a “priceless memento of the greatest championship quest in all of sports.”

In fact, each ring does have a price — $1, to be precise — even though appraisers say they could fetch anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 on the open market.

That’s because the rings come with strings attached. The Cubs are discouraging ring recipients from selling the hardware. But if they get the urge, the Cubs reserve the right to buy each ring back for $1, according to a memo the organization is asking each ring recipient — including players — to sign.

“We regret the formal nature of this memo, and we do not intend for this information to overshadow our joy in being able to provide this ring to you,” the memo states. “However, we think it is important to communicate this information to you.”

Those planning to sell “or otherwise transfer your ring,” must give the Cubs written notice of “the proposed transaction and a complete accounting of the terms. If the Cubs elect not to purchase the ring, then you may transfer it according to the terms you provided to the Cubs; however, each subsequent owner shall also be bound by these terms in the event of a subsequent proposed sale or other transfer.”

The memo makes an exception for rings that are given as gifts — say to a child, spouse or grandchild. Cubs spokesman Julian Green stated that it was not unusual for this stipulation.

However,  Sun Times contacted the White Sox about their 2005 championship rings, The Sox said the rings given to players and staff had no conditions attached to them. The Sox said that the rings were gifts to the players who could do whatever they wanted with them.

And sports writers have never heard of this stipulation in past champions.

It seems like a petty power grab by the Ricketts to assert control over their players and their assets. The players "earned" those rings by performing at the highest level. The players success has directly increased the Ricketts' value of the club by approximately two billion dollars. So why are the owners trying to seize back the $70,000 ring if a player needs to convert it to cash?

It is the same reason why Crain's reported earlier in the year that the Ricketts push to control the surrounding Wrigley Field blocks is pushing old neighborhood merchants farther and farther away from the facility. By pushing away the competition, the Cubs are casting a monopoly upon fans coming to games with pre-game merchandise sales at their huge new store and beer or food stands outside the park. It comes down to the Ricketts continuing philosophy (that blew a part the rooftop settlement)  that only the family has the right to make any money off the Cubs. And this includes the players and their championship rings.

 We all know stories of players after their careers are over who become down on their luck. Many players do not save their wealth, or find themselves making poor investment decisions because their focus was on their career and not business. Many athletes get into bitter, expensive divorces where cash is the only way out. So the Ricketts have effectively "cursed" their future former championship players with a "generous gift" that is only worth $1 outside the family. Experts believe that a championship ring of Bryant, Rizzo or Lester could command $250,000 or more on the open, auction market. But instead, the Ricketts want fans to pay them  $10,000 for a cheaper replica of the ring.

The whole ring dynamic tarnishes the Cubs championship.
 

April 17, 2017

THE HANGOVER

Last season, it took the Cubs 31 games to lose their 6th game of the season.

In 2017, it took 12 games.


A 19 game swing even early in the season is a huge red flag.

There is probably a huge championship hangover, with all the celebrations and
spring press expectations for a repeat.


The players off-seasons were probably quite different than seasons past in having to deal with the celebrity interaction with fans about the championship.

The Cubs were only swept once last season. The Pirates took that honor over the weekend when the Cubs re-tooled bullpen blew up.

Most people believe the Cubs will be fine. The Reds are not sustainable in first place in the NL Central. The Cardinals are in panic mode after dropping to dead last without a pulse. The early season is not a prediction of October. But, every game counts the same in the end. The Cubs are only on pace to win 81 games, which would be a huge nuclear meltdown if it would occur.

There was no drama, no real competition in spring training. It was a quiet, professional work out. The pundits believed that it would take 5 appearances before the pitchers would get into their groove.

The concern about new closer Davis was wrong. He is off to a good start; 1-0, 6 G, 2 SV, 0.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP.

It is the middle of the bullpen that has been surprisingly bad.

Grimm: 6 G, 9.53 ERA, 1.59 WHIP
Strop: 6 G, 0-1, 9.00 ERA , 2.00 WHIP
Uehara: 7 G, 3.18 ERA, 1.41 WHIP
Montgomery, 0-2, 4 G, 3.00 ERA, 1.67 WHIP

The WHIP numbers indicate control issues which have led to half of the team's current losses.

It looks like the back end of the pen is set with Davis at closer, and Edwards and Rondon as 8th inning set up men. But since Maddon does not want to overtax his starters early in the season, long relievers like Montgomery and Grimm have to step it up. The bridge to the back end of the pen is broken.

What will cure a weak middle bullpen? An explosive offense. 
The Cubs team batting average of .240 ranks 7th of 15 in the NL.
The Cubs 47 runs scored is 11th in the NL.
The Cubs 9 HR is last in the NL.
The Cubs OBP of .366 is 3rd in the NL.

The Cubs can get on base, but cannot get timely hitting to score adequate runs.  

The tipping point will be May 1. That is when you will really know if your team is a contender or a pretender.  

April 11, 2017

BANNER NIGHT

Waiting two hours watching ESPN filler was like 108 years of torture.

Instead of a 6:15 p.m. championship ceremony, it was put off by the Cubs until 8:15 p.m. The team could have done all the opening junk before the rains hit around 7 p.m. but the PR people did not want to repeat the White Sox home opener stinker where the players were introduced and the game was not played.

The banner raising ceremony lasted too long. The temperature dropped 30 degrees from the time the pregame show started until the first pitch was thrown. But for the Cub players, the 45 minutes used to wander around the field and into the center field stands to timidly raise the WS banner was circus animal parade overkill. It looked like they were on an elementary school field trip to a textile mill. And only a few of them got to pull on the cord to actually raise the banner.

Then the cameras followed them through the underbelly of the bleachers, and past the new metal dungeons called the bullpens, and back into the light of the field. This time, Anthony Rizzo emerged holding the championship trophy. From the march to home plate, the players followed his lead, then dispersed when he handed the trophy to Tom Ricketts. Many people may have lost the symbolism of that moment: the players who won the championship were giving it to ownership who will keep it for themselves.

In the constant re-construction of Wrigley Field, the team installed four new flagpoles in center field. In the past, banners flew on the foul pole standards or on top of the upper deck roof. But now there are new flag poles for the banners. The one oddity is that the fourth pole now has the 2016 NL pennant on it (which someone diminishes the other NL championships).  I thought that they would raise the banner on the old center field scoreboard flag pole since this scoreboard is now merely an unused shadow of its former glory. Who needs pennants to tell the standings? Use it to fill the banners on those flag poles. But the team wanted BIG banners and more space to fly in last night's stiff winds.

ESPN announcers stressed for hours that this was the celebration of a championship season for players and fans. True. But it also marks the end of last season's wonderful run, and the beginning of the 2017 title defense. And it also marks the end of innocent traditions of baseball history as the Cathedral of Baseball is now another modern park with all the trappings of commercialism.

The start of another rash of merchandising sales, such as the special gold lettering Cubs home jerseys, were already on sale before the game. The championship banners will be for sale, too. And as Crain's pointed out before the game, the new "Park" construction outside Wrigley is forcing old merchants blocks away from Wrigley Field as the Cubs continue to monopolize the block around the field with its own proprietary and expensive merch centers.

April 5, 2017

DEFENSE WINS GAMES

For those who doubt that defense wins games, last nights Cubs-Cardinals game should make them believers.

Albert Almora leaped over the center field wall to rob Matt Adams of a home run and Javier Baez made a difficult sliding stop on Kolten Wong's  game-ending grounder, giving the Cubs to a 2-1 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night.

Jake Arrieta was very good in his opener. He pitched 6 strong innings, striking out 6 and yielding only one unearned run (on a Baez error).

Heyward is a gold glove caliber right fielder. Last season he had 18 defensive runs saved when he played the outfield. That is an outstanding defensive metric.

But the kids are on pace to surpass his defensive milestones.

In just 41 games played in 2016, Almora had 3 defensive runs saved. For a full season, that would equate to around 11 defensive runs saved.

But the wizard of the glove has to be Baez. In part time work last season, Baez had an amazing 11 defensive runs saved when he played second base (in only 59 games)! He had 18 defensive runs saved in total.

So in 2016, just three Cubs amassed 39 runs saved by playing solid defense.The Cubs lead the National League with the fewest runs scored at 556. Based on this metric, he three Cubs bring a 7 percent decrease in an opponent scoring a run. In a close, one-run ball game, defense is the key to victory.

Like last night's contest. If Almora and Baez to not make those clutch plays, the Cardinals win 3-2.

From a purists' standpoint, it is really nice to see the leather being thrown around the field.


March 25, 2017

FIVE REASONS

There are good reasons for the Cubs to repeat their championship in 2017. There are also bad reasons why the team will not defend its crown.

FIVE REASONS CUBS CAN REPEAT

1. Kyle Schwarber.

Having Schwarber for a full season is a significant upgrade to the offense. His serious knee injury downgrades the offensive depth at the catching position, and adds to left field negative defensive stats, but Schwarber is the inspirational contact hitter the Cubs lineup really needs to help settle it into a consistent machine.

2. Experience.

The experience factor is huge. The current Cubs now know how to win. They know how to pace themselves through a season. Pitchers are now more savvy on conserving their energy for a long season. Position players know how Maddon likes to move them around on the field and in the line up.

3.  Wade Davis.

Davis is no Chapman, but he is a quality closer. Last season, Davis went 2-1, 1.87 ERA, 27 saves and 1.131 WHIP for a 1.8 WAR.  He will add the stabilizer to another bullpen in the midst of a retooling. If Davis cannot go, the Cubs have some insurance with Rondon, Strop and Uehara who have closed games in the past.

4. Less Pressure.

The Cubs enter this season with less expectations. Fans are still drifting on Cloud Nine with their first multi-generational championship season. They are not clamoring for a repeat with the drumbeat of a spoiled brat. The players themselves have less pressure on to win a championship. They can continue to relax and play the game instead of grinding out wins. This Cubs team is best when it takes a carefree approach.

5. Javy Baez.

Baez was the most electric player in the World Baseball Championship (WBC) series. He now rates as an international superstar player. He has the skills and the flash to become a national baseball icon. The Cubs will have to get him more playing time because his talent demands it. And the fans want to see him play.

FIVE REASONS CUBS CANNOT REPEAT

1. Injuries.

Some core aspects of the team are young. But the starting pitching staff (Lester, Arrieta and Lackey) have experience but there is always the nagging thought of reliability. The Cubs went through 2016 without a significant long term injury to key players. The odds are against them this year. When Rizzo had back tightness early in spring training, it was dismissed quickly. But if you look at the roster, there are positions like first base and starting rotation that is devoid of quality depth.

2. Rotation.

Maddon has set his rotation: Lester, Arrieta, Lackey, Anderson and Hendricks.  Lester deserves the status of being the ace of the staff. Arrieta has been unreal at times. Lackey being the 3rd starter shows the level of concern. He is at the end of the line as a 5th starter. Brian Anderson is the new guy having a terrible spring. But Mike Montgomery has not blown him away to earn the starting spot. In fact, Maddon likes Montgomery as swing man in the bullpen. Hendricks being the 5th starter may be the best one in the National League, but it is a protection move from the career workload of innings pitched last season. This season's rotation does not seem as strong as last year's.

3. Log jams.

The players get along. The clubhouse seems to be a happy place. But this year there will be some tension over the amount of playing time for position players. There will be public debates on how much playing time Baez gets as compared to Zobrist, Schwarber or even a LaStella. Even though Maddon can move players to multiple positions, he will not be able to appease each of them because they believe they have earned a full time starting position. Depth is a great asset but it can be a liability of dissent. If the Cubs have significant injuries, one or more of their young players could be pressured to be traded to shore up the roster. That can create tension between the manager and the front office.

4. Malaise.

The Ricketts family's 2017 focus is not on the Cubs but all its real estate projects around Wrigley Field. The Chicago real estate market is not in rebound mode. For the second consecutive year, Cook County and Chicago led the nation in population flight. The large corporate base that used to spend millions on sky boxes and luxury tickets has been tempered in the metro area. The Cubs raised ticket prices an average of 31 percent in order to capture more revenue from the Cubs while the slow construction of new revenue sources goes on. Epstein has acknowledged that the Cubs did not do much this off-season because he is under a strict budget cap. Ricketts does not want to spend any money on baseball luxury taxes as he had to do last season. As such, Epstein is again cornered with having to find a creative solution to a money squeeze. The last thing he wants to do is to trade away young, cheap and talented players to shore up his pitching staff. But he might have to do it since the organization has no minor league pitching depth.

5. Maddon.

Maddon kept his team loose and on the same page since his tenure as the Cubs skipper. His magic act has led to a championship. He deserves some credit for the team's success. But his juggling act, tee shirt slogans and funny bits can prove to be tiresome to some veteran players who may want more professionalism on the team than a fraternity carnival. If there was a tipping point against Maddon, it was in the Series where many of his moves got immediately questioned by both players and fans. One can pinpoint the players only rain delay meeting that could be the first rail split between manager and his players when they decided to win the series in spite of their manager's moves. Maddon still needs to both motivate and develop his players through another season. He now has to balance bigger egos and real competition for positions. It will be a new minefield to navigate especially when the local press is ready, willing and able to criticize his every move.

March 22, 2017

A SURPRISE EXTENSION

In Chicago, the talk was about possible extension for Champion Cub players like Kris Bryant or Jake Arrieta.  But it is the White Sox that raised eyebrows with a long term signing of their second year shortstop.

The Tribune reports the  Sox have signed 23-year-old shortstop Tim Anderson to a six-year contract extension.
The contract includes two club options that would give the Sox control of the 23-year-old through 2024 and would bring the value of the deal to $50.5 million if both are exercised. Anderson likely would have been arbitration-eligible for the 2020 season and a free agent after the 2022 season.
It is being reported that no player with less than a year of major-league service time has ever signed such a lucrative deal. Anderson, who hit .283/.306/.432 last year and struck out nine times as often as he walked in 410 at-bats while playing solid defense, will attempt to become the first homegrown White Sox position player to amass 10 WAR with the team since Joe Crede, who last played with the team in 2008. The story notes that Fangraphs only projects Anderson for a .260/.284/.381 batting line.

The White Sox have done well in drafting and developing pitching prospects. But the organization fell into a deep, dark hole when it came to developing position players and hitters. Anderson is really the first farm system position player that fans saw real potential.

But to knock out an extension THREE years before any normal club would even think about one is strange. Rookies often show promise in their first call up, but there is never a guarantee that they will put together a long term career. There is an air of desperation to calm the nerves of fans who don't like the concept of a "total rebuild." But this marks Anderson as one of the White Sox's new "core" players that the team will be built around. It seems like a risk that did not have to be taken so soon.

March 21, 2017

SPRING CLEANING

Spring training is meant for players to get back into the "swing" of baseball.

No one has had more attention on his swing than Jason Heyward. He spent the off-season changing his 2016 swing into a better, less rocking, more stable thus reliable stroke.

But he is only hitting .132 in camp. He has 6 RBIs but only 5 base hits. He continues to pull grounders to second base. His set up may be different, but the result is the same.

Joe Maddon spoke with ESPN Chicago about Heyward.

Some scouts think the changes to Heyward's off-season routine has not changed his overall swing.

“I had a scout sit in my office two days ago and say the opposite,” Maddon said over the weekend. “He thinks it’s entirely different. He kind of liked it. Regardless of what a scout says in the stands, it doesn’t really impact my feelings at all. I know what I’m seeing -- a totally different swing. The guy that says it’s the same, I’m totally disappointed in the scout, actually.”

But another scout saw the flaw. “He has an arm bar [straight arm] and he’s late,” one NL scout said. “When you’re late, everything breaks down.”

Last season, Heyward's approach in the box was too "handsy." He was rocking his hands front to back with a chicken swing arm motion. It is a busy set-up with a lot of moving parts. Every batter has a trigger move to start his swing. In Heyward's case, depending on the rocking motion as the pitch is thrown, he has to "catch up" to his trigger point.

By contrast, Kris Bryant has a very quiet set up. His bat rests nearly perpendicular to his shoulder. He waits and makes a samurai level to upper cut swing in the zone. He is already set in his trigger position before the pitcher throws the ball.

Off-season videos of Heyward showed a different set up. He did not have the chicken swing nervousness. His hands stayed more central. However, he still has a level swing through the zone so he is not elevating the ball on contact.

I thought that Heyward should have gone to see Bryant's father, who is a batting guru who helped perfect Bryant's swing. Or sought advice from a hitting professional like ex-Cub Darryl Ward who constantly talked with teammates about hitting, contact and how to hit in situations.

But perhaps Heyward is getting too much advice that it has become a mental thing.

Regardless, Heyward will find his bat in the lower third of the line-up.

March 9, 2017

PITCHING STAFF

The only key spot left for discussion is the Cubs' fifth starter.

The main rotation is set: Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey.

The fifth starter spot will go to Mike Montgomery or Brett Anderson.  Montgomery showed his versatility coming out of the bullpen in different situations. But at the end of the season, he was semi-promised to return to the rotation. But with the Cubs organizational starting depth weak, the Cubs signed oft-injured Anderson to compete for a position.

It is still early in camp, but the numbers after 2 games played:

Montgomery: 0-1, 2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP
Anderson: 1-0, 3 IP, 6.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

Joe Maddon has said that he could use both Montgomery and Anderson in hybrid pitching roles.

"The big thing with both of them (is) neither one has really been stretched out anywhere close to 200 innings over the last couple years. So we're thinking it's almost like a hybrid moment. Maybe fold one back into the bullpen while the other one starts. And vice versa. Or just jump a sixth guy in there now and then to keep the other guys from being overworked too early," Maddon said.

"It's in theory right now. We haven't actually laid it down on paper. We feel pretty fortunate. If everybody stays healthy, you got six guys that you like right there. It's hard for anybody to say that. That's the point. These guys have not been really satisfactorily stretched out over the last couple years," Maddon concluded.

Because of the amount of work the five starters did last season, Maddon has been cautious with his front line arms. It is possible that he will break camp with 6 starting pitchers, and keeping one as a long reliever-spot starter to control the number of pitches and innings for his veterans like Lester and Lackey. A spot start could add a "rest" day for each starter.

The bullpen seems set with Wade Davis the new closer. He will be joined by Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Koji Uehara, Justin Grimm and Brian Duensing.

That means the Cubs will probably break camp with an extra pitcher on a 13 man staff. Which means that the final roster battle will be on the last bench player, whether it be a utility infielder or 5th outfielder.

The 12 position players would appear to include Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javy Baez, Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Miguel Montero, John Jay, and Jason Heyward. That would leave 2 spots between Matt Szczur (who is out of options), Tommy LaStella or Albert Almora. With Schwarber, Bryant and Zobrist able to handle outfield duties, it would be surprising if both Szczur and Almora would make the final cut.

March 4, 2017

THE NEW RULES

In the age where sports executives make new rules for the sake of making rules, the 2017 baseball will have the following changes:

1. THE NO PITCH INTENTIONAL WALK

Debated for years, baseball has decided the time has come to "speed up" the game by discarding the traditional four intentional pitches outside the zone to create a "clear pass" to first base.  Instead of lobbing four pitches to the catcher standing nowhere near home plate, the pitching team's manager now just needs to signal to the umpire  that he wants an intentional walk and the batter gets to go to first base with no pitches thrown.

This is a dumb and unnecessary rule change. One of the basic tenets of the game is that the pitcher has to throw a ball to a batter at home plate. Professional baseball is not youth tee-ball. The rule rule takes out strategy from the game. I have seen a batter with going from an 0-2 count in a clutch situation get to 2-2, when the pitching manager calls for an intentional walk. The 3-2 pitch was thrown to the catcher in the opposite batter's box. But the next pitch was fired down the middle for a called strike three. The pitching team lulled the batter to sleep. Also, I have seen numerous times a team try to intentionally walk a batter to load the bases for a force out at home plate with runners at second and third. I have seen pitchers throw wild pitches on the intentional walk leading to the runner on third scoring on the play. These examples are part of the history and drama of a baseball game.

Struggling pitchers will like the new rule. For many, intentional walks disrupt their mechanics and location for the next batter, usually causes a big inning to erupt. In an era of closely guarded pitch counts, the batting team wants a starter to throw 4 pitches, even if lobs, to get an intentional walk. It will get a pitcher out of the game quicker if he has to throw more pitches. This is especially true for closers - - - if you have to walk 2 players for a home force, that is 8 pitches throw against a normal inning of 12 to 18. If you make a closer throw more than 20 pitches in an inning, that could cause him to be unavailable in the next game of the series.

The stated reason for the move, "speeding up the pace of play," is spurious once you consider that the batter's stepping out after each pitch to re-set their gloves and guard equipment takes more time than a four pitch walk.

2. TIME DEADLINE FOR REPLAY CALL

A manager now has only 30 seconds to decide if he wants to challenge a play or invoke replay review.

Every team has a replay employee in the suite or clubhouse who calls to the dugout on whether it is a good challenge. Managers cannot always take their players word or reaction.

The stated reason for replay in general is to get the call on the field right. The unstated reason for replay is that it calmed the gambling industry against blown calls and irate bettor conspiracies.  Human umpire judgment has always been part of the game. But only subjective judgment calls are reviewable (balls and strikes are not) so if it is so important to "get it right," then every play should be subject to replay review. But an open ended replay discussion would bog down the pace of play.

3. UMPIRE REVIEWS MOVE TO THE 8TH

After a manager is out of challenges, umpires can get a replay review going starting in the eight inning instead of the seventh.

Again, if you want to get calls correct, why is there an arbitrary after the 7th inning condition on umpires reviewing a play? A game could be won or lost on a play in the 5th, 6th or 7th and not just in the 8th or 9th innings.

4. SHORTER REPLAY REVIEW TIME

A new rule requires a  conditional two-minute guideline for replay officials to make a decision during a replay review, though there are exceptions.

The league office wants to speed up the game to keep it under 3 hours. Replays can be time consuming delays, especially for a pitcher on the mound.  If it is beyond 3 minutes, many pitchers start soft tossing with their catcher to keep their arm loose. The problem with this hard deadline for review is that it is counter-productive to the goal of getting the call right. Rushing a call may not get a full review of all angles of the play. What happens at the two minute mark? Does the line to the league office cut off? Does a manager lose his challenge if nothing is decided? Won't there be more managerial conferences if someone wants to protest going over 2 minutes?

5. FIELDERS CANNOT MARK THE FIELD

Fielders are now prohibited from the use of a marker of any kind on the field to create a type of reference system.

It has recently come to the attention of fans that players on the field carry with them "defensive position" sheets, whether in their pocket or on a wrist band (like NFL quarterbacks with plays).  With all the data mining analysis of baseball, defensive play charts per batter (and his tendencies) can be very valuable to defenders.

So some infielders have begun leaving marks on the dirt to where to position themselves. So what? It is just dirt. What is the competitive advantage or disadvantage to the other club. Their fielders can go out and erase those marks in the next half inning, or put down their own guide posts. Also, this rule does not affect baser runners from marking their leads against pitchers.

6. DEFINED ILLEGAL PITCH MOVES

Baseball was confronted with quirky pitchers who have herky-jerky wind-ups that start and stop (to confuse the batter). Many players believe these motions were balks.  Baseball now bans abnormal wind-ups by stipulating that a pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. With runners on base, it's a balk, with no one on base, it's an illegal pitch.

This rule goes to the mechanics of pitching. Before a valid pitch can be thrown home, a pitcher must have one part of his anchor foot touching the rubber. In order to make a valid pick off move, the pitcher must disengage from the rubber and not move more than 45 degrees toward home plate when throwing to a base.

Deception is part of baseball. But uniformity as to the standard of pitching in general is more important.

7. COACHING BOX RULES

Base coaches must now stand in their coach's box prior to a pitch being delivered. They are  allowed to move outside the box after a ball is put into play.

When 110 mile per hour pulled screamers down the line hit a base coach, fans groan because of the inherent danger. But it makes little sense to require a base coach to start the pitch sequence near the foul line, in harm's way, when he can move immediately after the pitch is thrown. It makes more sense to move the base coach box nearer to the dugout. But more ball parks have less foul ground (including Wrigley Field) so most coaching boxes will always be nearer to the playing field than the dugout. 

This is a rule that will never be enforced. Umpires only care that the base coaches are not interfering with their line-of-sight in making their calls. The better rule would be to allow the coaches to set themselves anywhere they feel comfortable.  Or, eliminate base coaches all together if safety is a major concern.

March 1, 2017

SPRINGING AHEAD

The Cubs apparently still have a swagger during the first weeks of spring training. The champions return basically their World Series championship club for 2017.

But there is clearly an unspoken word: caution.

In the first 5 spring training games, none of last year's starters has pitched an inning.

It is clear that the arms that threw deep into the stress of the post-season are not being put into a normal spring training routine. One could assume arm rest is still more important than working loose to gain mechanics and control.

It makes sense with Jon Lester and John Lackey pitching with age. Kyle Hendricks threw a personal best in number of innings pitched. Jake Arrieta seemed to wear down at the end of the season after putting together a mythical 1.5 year dominant pitching stretch.

The Cubs can afford to be cautious with its starting rotation because it is the weakest link in a possible repeat.

The front office has collected a bunch of AAA starters to work most of camp, hoping that one or two may show enough promise to challenge Mike Montgomery for the 5th starter or be an emergency 6th or 7th starter if Lester or Lackey fails during the season.

Theo Epstein indicated before camp that the Cubs are going to be cautious spenders and trade partners. It is a clue that the Cubs are at their baseball operations budget ceiling. Tom Ricketts abhors getting caught paying luxury taxes to MLB (which happened at the end of last season). It will be very hard for the Cubs to replace one of their 5 current starters if any one goes down with a significant injury.

The only way to compensate for that would be to trade one or two young position players for young, controllable (inexpensive) starting pitchers. Most teams guard their pitching prospects more than their own family members. Besides, the front office loves their young players too much to let them go.

February 16, 2017

MADDON BEING ?

Spring training usually opens with hope and optimism.

But Cubs camp opened with the strange ramblings of its manager, Joe Maddon.

Maddon spent a great deal of time inarticulately trying to explain his tee-shirt slogan for the 2017 campaign. It left the packed room of reporters puzzled by his statements.

Maddon rambled on with his buzzwords for the new year: uncomfortable, authenticity and heart. In a long speech, he tried to communicate that he wanted his players to continue to feel "uncomfortable" in order for there to be growth. He wanted his players to retain their authenticity. Except, Maddon was not really discussing his desire that his players retain their reliability. He was off in his own tangent. He also stressed that he wanted the team to retain its Heart, which may or may not refer to the players resolve and love of the game.

Maddon, having won the World Series, could have been more reserved and stately in addressing the media. It raised immediate questions of whether Maddon's 2016 routine is going to work in 2017.

In 2016, Maddon kept his squad loose with antics, dress up days and pajama flights. He wanted his young squad to keep playing the game fun. It was a pressure valve release mechanism. The team bought into his management style.

But some writers question whether the "rain delay" players meeting in Game 7 changes the Maddon coaching chemistry. It was the players who were upset with Maddon's decision making in Games 6 and 7. The bottom line from numerous sources after the series confirmed that the players took it upon themselves to win the championship in spite of Maddon's moves. It was not a full blown mutiny, but it was the first crack in the genius armor.

Some pundits do not believe that grizzly veterans like John Lackey or Jon Lester are going to put up with the off-the-field clubhouse antics of magicians, side shows and zoo animal diversions. Some believe it is time to take the club to a professional level. The players are now veterans. They know what it takes to win a championship. They do not need to be coddled or treated like children.

And things may not be perfect in 2017. The Giants won a world series, then failed to get in the playoffs the next year, then won it all again the following year. Baseball is a game of attrition. The Cubs weathered Kyle Schwarber's lost season and Jason Heyward's batting slump. The Cubs lucked out with a healthy and productive five man rotation.

There were many questions that have not been answered by the Cubs. The off-season collection of cast-off starters to stock AAA Iowa enough to hold the rotation together for a full season when Lackey may be on his last fumes? Will Mike Montgomery become a quality starter or fade to an expendable arm like he did in Seattle? Can the Cubs pitching staff overcome the losses of Jason Hammel and Travis Wood's contributions? Will the young players like Schwarber and Javy Baez get enough playing time to soothe their egos?  Will Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant continue to improve or will they have a regression year as the league studies their tendencies?

If Maddon continues to be the lovable, hippie uncle to his players, one wonders how long will it take for the players to zone out and disconnect from the Maddon circus wagon. The showman needs to show the baseball world that last year's managerial run was not a fluke. Early statistical projections have the Cubs sitting at 91 wins, which is more than a 10 percent decline from 2016. It is clear that media honeymoon period with the media is over. Maddon is going to get more criticism in 2017 than in the past. His team is expected to repeat, a feat that has not been accomplished since the Big Red Machine of the 1970s. This spring Maddon may need to re-invent himself to meet this challenge.

February 9, 2017

STOP RULEMAKING

Why do people in charge of sports have an incessant need to tinker with the rules in order make themselves seem important?

Major league baseball is going to experiment with rule changes on how extra inning games will be played in the future.

One of the great assets of baseball is that it is timeless. The basic rules have been in place since its inception. The ebb and flow of the game, with pauses between pitches, makes it the most social of sporting contests. Fans can converse while watching the action. And the foundation of the game is the inning, three outs and winning at nine or extras. Baseball has no time limit. It is one of its greatest charms.

But that will change in an artificially stupid rule which demeans the most sacred aspect of the sport: statistics.

Major League Baseball plans on testing a rule change in the lowest levels of the minor leagues this season that automatically would place a runner on second base at the start of extra innings, a distinct break from the game’s orthodoxy that nonetheless has wide-ranging support at the highest levels of the league, sources familiar with the plan told Yahoo Sports.

A derivation of the rule has been used in international baseball for nearly a decade and will be implemented in the World Baseball Classic this spring. MLB’s desire to test it in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Arizona League this summer is part of an effort to understand its wide in-game consequences – and whether its implementation at higher levels, and even the major leagues, may be warranted.

“Let’s see what it looks like,” said Joe Torre, the longtime major league manager who’s now MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer and a strong proponent of the testing. “It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time.

So what? Fans love long, extra inning games. It makes managers work their rosters. It makes players do unprepared things - - - like infielders becoming relief pitchers or relief pitchers playing the outfield.

If MLB is so worried about long games (which must have some basis in their network television contracts), then shorten the game to seven innings (which be abhorrent to traditional fans). No, it must be that television broadcasters want nice, neat and tight 3 hour sports program blocks. But baseball is a round peg that you cannot fit squarely in a box.

This new rule of putting a runner on at second to start an extra inning is stupid. If you have a pitching duel of a zero zero tie after 9, why reward teams by gifting a runner in scoring position? Fans want the pitchers to battle it out to the natural end.

This new rule is as crazy as having the managers come to home plate if a game is tied after 9 innings to play three rounds of rock-paper-scissors. The outcome has little to do with the fundamental principles of the game.

January 24, 2017

A LEFTY QUESTION MARK

The Cubs signing lefty Brett Anderson for $3.5 million with incentives to make a $10 million pitcher is another exhibit on how desperate the team is to get starting pitching depth.

In 8 big league seasons, Anderson has only started 30 games twice. And in his 8 big league seasons, he has only had one good year, in 2015, when he went 10-9 3.69 ERA. He has a career 7.3 WAR (0.9125 career average WAR). He is a career 38-43, 3.86 ERA, 1.318 WHIP.

He is injury prone. He only was in a few games last season. Anderson, who’ll turn 29 on February 1st, made just four major league starts last year after missing the bulk of the season due to back surgery.

Reports indicate that Anderson, if he is healthy, will compete with Mike Montgomery for the 5th starter spot. Montgomery looks to be the clubhouse leader by a wide margin due to his end of season and post-season record. Back injuries are tricky conditions as they tend to flare up over time. Anderson is just 28 but is coming off his second back surgery in three years, having undergone an arthroscopic procedure during spring training last year.

The Cubs need to have eight quality starters in camp. They only will have six actively seeking a 25 man roster spot. With the pitching market must be so thin, it is still strange that Jason Hammel has not received any offers. Hammel went 15-10 in 30 starts, with an 3.83 ERA and 1.1 WAR for the Cubs. He was bought out of his option in November. Hammel struggled at the end of last season (which was his habit) so he was not on the post-season roster. But considering the lack of experienced starters on the market, the Cubs selecting an injured pitcher over Hammel puts a label "damaged" goods on his back (is it a clubhouse attitude issue? a mechanical breakdown issue? a financial issue?) From an objective analysis, Hammel appears to be a more reliable pitcher than Anderson.

January 19, 2017

THE BAEZ QUESTION

Bruce Levine was on Chicago radio this week discussing the Cubs situation with Javy Baez.

The scope of the discussion centered around the Cubs need to acquire young, controllable starting pitchers. The Cubs will have a real problem at the end of the season if Lackey retires and Arrieta goes to free agency (both expected to do so.)

The Cubs have many trade chips to get a young starter, but management is cautious about trading any of "their guys."

The roster squeeze problem is Javy Baez. He believes that he deserves to be a full time player. He has great defensive skills at all three infield positions with 62 defensive runs saved over average fielders.

Baez also excelled at the plate, hitting a respectable .273, 14 HR, 59 RBI, 12 SB in 450 PA.

The blocks of Baez being a full time starter is the Cubs favoritism towards Kyle Schwarber, who has been labeled "untradable" by the front office, and WS MVP Ben Zobrist, who is also a super-sub.

Schwarber appears to be penciled in as the regular left fielder (despite his injury history). That means that Zobrist will have to play second base as Addison Russell is the starting shortstop and league MVP Kris Bryant is locked in at third. This assumes that Justin Heyward can correct his swing to be a productive offensive player in right field.

The only way Baez plays full time in the field is there is a misfortune to some other player.

Levine stated that the Cubs feel Baez is too valuable to trade because if the third baseman, shortstop or second baseman gets hurt, Baez can step in and the Cubs don't lose any potential production.

Normally, if a young player is blocked by a veteran under contract, other teams will make solid offers to acquire him. In the speculative trade market, the Cubs could trade Baez straight up for White Sox starter Jose Quintana, a young starter with four years of contract control.

The clubhouse issue will be whether Joe Maddon can get Baez enough playing time to keep sharp during the season. It would seem that at best, Baez could get three starts a week while Maddon rests Bryant, Russell and Zobrist. But that would only occur later in the season.  And whether Baez is mentally tough enough to accept a super-bench role on the club, especially if other players are struggling at the plate (Heyward) or in the field (Schwarber).

For some, this is a good problem to have; too many good players on the roster competing for playing time. But the question will remain throughout spring training: is Baez more valuable to trade or stay?

January 15, 2017

CASTRO

SNY reviews the Starlin Castro trade:


How Castro fared in 2016:
There were positives, yet some results left something to be desired concerning Castro's performance last season. It is difficult to get upset with 51 extra-base hits from a second baseman, but Castro has room for offensive improvement after hitting .270 with a .300 on-base percentage and a .433 slugging percentage (.734 OPS, 93 OPS+ and 94 wRC+). In his first full season as a second baseman, Castro wasn't awful at the position, but the club hopes he can improve in the department in which advanced metrics cast an ill light (-8 defensive runs saved).

Castro's OPS was significantly higher than the collections of players from 2014 (.693) and 2015 (.683), so in that respect, the Yankees received improved production from the position without spending an exorbitant salary (just under $8 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017). Better, the Yankees ended up receiving Adam Warren, whom they traded for Castro, back in the Aroldis Chapman deal last summer, so the move was more or less like signing a young free agent.

What to expect in 2017
With seven years of major-league experience under his belt, if Castro is going to turn into an elite player, the time should be now. Unfortunately, Castro's inability to be more selective at the plate will likely deter him from turning in the monster season that he could with a different approach at the plate.

Castro has averaged just 3.67 pitches per plate appearance in his career (league average during the time frame was 3.83) and his career contact rate at pitches outside the zone is 66.9 percent (league averages have sat between 62-64 percent during his career). I'm not suggesting that Castro try to work more walks -- that's completely out of his comfort zone (his career-best walk rate is 6.2 percent in 2014; the league average was 7.6 percent). However, he might benefit from swinging at better pitches in an effort to increase the potential balls he contacts result in base hits. Castro could further work to reduce strikeouts, in which he set a career-high rate (19.3 percent) in 2016.

In his early seasons with the Cubs, Castro benefited from an inflated batting average with balls in play (BABIP) which elevated his on-base percentage. As his BABIP dropped in subsequent seasons, so has his on-base percentage. Castro getting on base just 30 percent of the time is a hindrance to the lineup and something he has the capability to remedy.

It is safe to assume that Castro can minimally attain 50-plus extra-base hits again in 2017. The upside with Castro is 60 extra base hits -- think 35 doubles and 25 home runs. The frustrating part with Castro is that he continually leaves people wanting more. The talent certainly exists, but whether Castro has the necessary drive to push himself enough to elevate his game is questionable.
In the field, any improvement would again come from Castro putting in extra effort. Castro has the benefit of having a full season playing second base under his belt, so the growing pains should be diminished. While Castro has the ability to turn in the fantastic play, the mind lapses and being a poor position for routine grounders drag his performance and metrics down.

Bottom line
Castro is a fine player. The Yankees are not breaking the bank to employ him and at the moment he is not blocking any minor leaguers. However, while Castro flashes spurts of brilliance at the plate and in the field, the knock is taking his talent and matching it with full-blown effort through an entire season. Until Castro improves his approach at the plate and his all-around focus, he will be viewed a nice piece, not the elite star he has the potential to reach.

MY TAKE:

The Yankees clearly won the trade by obtaining Castro and getting Warren back (because Chapman was leaving for free agency at the end of season and the Yanks had no chance of winning the AL East).

Castro had a 2.1 oWAR and a 1.2 overall WAR in 2016. Warren contributed a negative 0.9 WAR when he was with the Cubs.

Granted, Ben Zobrist had a better year. He had a 4.2 oWAR and 3.8 overall WAR in 2016. 

With the emergence of Javy Baez, we don't know how much playing time Zobrist will have in 2017. But it is clear that Castro did not have a starting job in Chicago so he had to be traded to give Joe Maddon the championship roster pieces.