December 13, 2017

UPGRADES

One of the main objectives of any sports' general manager is to take an objective view of his team's performance, then spend the off-season to upgrade positions lost or of need.

Objectively, 2017 Cubs fell down the sink hole with inconsistent hitting, poorer defense than 2016 and worn out pitching down the stretch.

The team lost two starting pitchers, a closer, bullpen arms and back up catcher.

The team has major needs in the pitching department (2 starters, a closer and relievers).

The team also needs to find consistent .300 hitters to balance out the feast-or-famine hitters. A traditional lead off hitter would be nice, too.

As it currently stands, Tyler Chatwood was signed to be a starting pitcher. He projects to be a back of the rotation arm. So does he replace Arrieta in the rotation? No. Does he replace Lackey? Maybe. But the other starter on the depth chart is AAA Eddie Butler. He does not appear to replace or upgrade either Arrieta or Lackey.

The Cubs signed reliever Brandon Morrow. He is projected to be either the set up man or closer. Is he an upgrade over Wade Davis? Probably not. Morrow was the workhorse for the Dodgers in the playoffs, throwing in 14 of 15 games. As we have seen in the recent past, managers who abuse pitchers at the end of their contracts usually have a bad next season (example, Chapman).

Drew Smyly was signed to a two year deal, but he had Tommy John surgery last July so he may not even pitch in 2018. (The current Cubs philosophy of signing injured pitchers and pay for a year of rehab without production is very odd.) You really cannot count on Smyly being a starter or reliever.

The Cubs acquired reliever Dario Alvarez. Is he an upgrade from Hector Rondon? No. Alvarez has only 56 major league appearances.

As we stand today, none of the Cubs off-season moves have objectively upgraded the roster.

What still bothers many is that the Cubs could have made a major upgrade by trading for Giancarlo Stanton. Objectively, Stanton would have been the best outfielder on the Cubs roster. He would have only cost one 25 man roster player (Baez or Russell) and two minor leaguers.

Unless the front office believes that they have internal solutions to their roster problems. But just counting on a player to have a "rebound" year is more hope and an position upgrade.

A Stanton trade would have opened up second base to be platooned by Happ and Zobrist. Heyward would have been moved to center with a platoon with Almora. Schwarber and Happ could platoon in left field. And Stanton would have anchored the line up at clean up spot, protecting Rizzo.

It is still early on a slow hot stove winter, but clearly the Cubs still need to upgrade several positions.

December 11, 2017

THEY DID IT!

Well, a Giancarlo Stanton deal got done. And the Cubs were no where in the neighborhood.

The Yankees made a fantastic deal to acquire the power hitting MVP.

Yahoo Sports summarizes the deal: The Marlins will receive veteran second baseman Starlin Castro, Yankees No. 9 minor league prospect,  right-hander Jorge Guzman and infielder Jose Devers in exchange for Stanton and approximately $30 million. The New York Post reports the $30 million will only be paid out in full if Stanton elects not to opt out after the 2020 season. The Yankees will absorb the remaining $265 million left on his contract.

With the price break the Yankees are getting in the deal, it is likely the Yankees will be able to avoid going over the luxury tax threshold in 2018. After offloading Castro’s $7.57 million salary and taking into account the $25 million Stanton is due next season, the club is looking at a payroll increase of just under $17.5 million. The $30 million the Yankees receive from Miami will be paid out in $3 million installments to help offset the luxury tax restrictions each year.

Pitcher Guzman is expected to break into the big leagues as soon as 2019. The 21-year-old pitched exclusively out of the rotation for Low-A Staten Island last season with a 5-3 record in 13 starts and a 2.30 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 11.9 SO/9 through 66 2/3 innings.

Devers, 18, was also included in the deal. The shortstop/DH made his first foray into pro ball in 2017, slashing a combined .245/.336/.342 with 13 extra-base hits and 16 stolen bases in 216 PA for the Yankees’ rookie-level affiliates in the Gulf Coast League and Dominican Summer League.

The Marlins were desperate to unload Stanton's contract and the Yankees got a bargain fire-sale price for the one of the best hitters in baseball.

As I said previously, it would not have taken much to get Stanton on the Cubs roster. And Stanton would have solved a major problem in the Cubs everyday lineup: consistent hitting for average and power.

The Marlins only received a starting second baseman,  the Yankees fifth best pitching prospect, and a low level minor leaguer. Miami also lost a great deal of production: Castro hit .300, 16 HR, 63 RBI with a 2.0 WAR as compared to Stanton's .281 BA, 59 HR, 132 RBI and 7.6 WAR.

Look at this way: would you trade Javy Baez, No. 4 prospect SP Alex Lange and a low Class A minor leaguer for Stanton?

Of course you would. That is the basic cost the Marlins were looking to take to get rid of Stanton. So I am surprised that the Cubs were not a factor in the Stanton trade discussions. Yankees GM Cashman made the deal of the year.

December 8, 2017

JUST DO IT!

The news broke early this morning that should have the Cubs front office changing everything they planned for this off-season.

Yahoo Sports quotes a Miami-based host for SiriusXM who has been all over the Giancarlo Stanton story, reported that the reigning NL MVP will not approve a trade to either the Giants or the Cardinals.   Stanton has a full no-trade clause in his 13-year, $325 million deal with the Marlins so he has all the leverage on where he will go.  He is under contract control through the 2020 season.
Furthermore, the report says Stanton "would" accept a trade to four teams and they’re the four teams that were in the ALCS and NLCS: the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs and Astros. 



Clearly, Stanton wants to win NOW.



What the Cubs need to do is make a strong pitch for Stanton NOW.

Here is the argument for a blockbuster trade for Stanton I made on August 16, 2017:

1. He is young.
2. He is proven hitter.
3. He immediately makes any lackluster batting order better.
4. He is under long term control.

And his contract is such that if the market in 2020 is $30 million per year (Harper potential deal, now probably more than that figure), then he will opt out - - - and the team acquiring him by trade now is only out $77 million.

For the Marlins to take the PR hit to trade their star player, Miami will need to get a substantial return for Stanton: cheap controllable major league players and top prospects.

In the current situation, the Cubs may not have enough assets to acquire Stanton, who would be the perfect solution to the left field platoon situation.

The package the Cubs would have to offer to get Stanton:

1. Baez or Russell.  A controllable middle infielder with defensive skills is a premium position. One would think Miami, catering to Latin market, would prefer Baez's versatility over Russell (including injury history).

2. Schwarber. Even though Theo-Jed adore their Baby Ruth wannabee, there would be no position left for Schwarber if Stanton is acquired (since Heyward's best position is Gold Glove RF).  Miami could use Schwarber as a trade flip to an AL club for more prospects.

3. Almora. The Marlins need to market hometown players to their fans. Almora is young and talented to be a long term marketing piece.

4. Edwards. The Marlins would prefer to get a starter (like Hendricks) but the Cubs cannot spare one. A bullpen piece with some upside would off-set the weakness in Cub farm prospects since Edwards has a major league track record.

5. One of the Top 4 pitching prospects (De La Cruz, Albertos, Alzolany, or Lange) and/or International Bonus pool money.

If you look at this possible transaction from a long term Cub prospective, Stanton fills a need to provide offense, solidify the outfield and give protection to Bryant and Rizzo in the batting order.
It is also an affordable transaction.

The Cubs have $55 million in contracts coming off the books at the end of the year (net $46 million with Quintana's salary for 2018). Stanton's salary in 2018 is $25 million, leaving $21 million to sign a free agent starting pitcher.

As a footnote to the argument, the Cubs would have to either extend the opt out clause with Stanton or pay less in major league talent for a potential 2-year contract (maybe three players and a prospect). The Cubs spent $13 million/season on Chatwood to be the 4th starter. So the team is still under budget (but with several key roles to fill including the closer position). 

But this is a one-in-a-generation type move. The three years Stanton has to his opt out is the prime years for the current Cubs core. It also fits into the time frame for the Cubs to attempt to launch their own Cubs channel. Stanton is a superstar who solves a major problem in the current lineup: a consistent hitter that other teams fear.

November 29, 2017

THE NEW WORLD INTERVIEW

The Otani Sweepstakes got complicated as MLB nears to the actual start line for the posting of the Japanese star.

USA Today reports:

Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, asked teams not to submit financial terms. More significantly, restrictions on international signings will limit Ohtani's bonus to a maximum of about $3.5 million, depending on the club he chooses, and allow him to sign only a minor-league deal.

That makes him affordable to all teams, although they would also have to put up a posting fee of $20 million for the right to negotiate with him.


The letter asks the teams to provide information, in English and Japanese, on matters such as their player-development and medical staffs, their facilities, resources to ease Otani's assimilation and the desirability of the franchise, city and marketplace. It also requests the clubs' evaluation of Otani as a hitter and/or pitcher.

For all MLB teams, including the Cubs, landing Otani would be a coup. However, even though the agent is not saying money is not an issue (at this point), the final decision will be based on money.

The Cubs have had Japanese players on the team before, their performances did not reach expectations. There were never any reports of issues in communication between player and coaches. Chicago is an international city so the culture shock would be less. 

The issue of player development is interesting. It may be code for a "winning tradition" or the ability to win a championship now. The Cubs have recently been able to develop young hitters, but current management has a horrible record developing pitchers.

The medical staff issue is also interesting.  Most players do not have a concern about medical and training staffs because it is believed that all clubs have the same quality personnel. But maybe Otani's own medical history and/or how he treats his body with alternative medicine principles could be an issue for an American team.

The resources required to bring Otani into the clubhouse, city and American culture would include a translator, tutor and/or roommate who can guide the foreigner through the nuances of American baseball-celebrity life. Otani is only 23. He is young, but most reports indicate that he is mature for his age. But this would be his first time away from his native country. There needs to be a strong support system to avoid him becoming home sick which could lead to performance issues. One strong MLB team with connections to Japan is the Mariners, who are building resources to try to sign Otani. Seattle has a large Asian community and is closer to Japan than Midwest and East Coast teams.

The desirability of the franchise means the ability to win championships and to have a national presence (for endorsements). The Cubs, Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox would be the top tier national franchises. Again, a team like the Mariners would immediately make Otani the face of their franchise.

All MLB scouts rate Otani above average as a pitcher and hitter. The consensus is that he is a four-pitch #1 starter as a pitcher and a potential 35 HR corner outfielder. Otani wants to be a two way player (the first full timer since Babe Ruth). In most people's minds, that means that an American league team would be the most likely landing spot since Otani could DH when not pitching. But if Otani wants to play in the outfield, then that makes an NL team a possibility. Most 90 percent of all teams do not want to risk injury for a "gimmick" player - - -  if Otani's value is as a #1 ace, then his pitching routine, rest between starts and ability to throw take absolute precedence over playing in the field. 

For the Cubs to accommodate Otani's request, the team would have to get rid of one or two outfielders (Schwarber, Almora or Happ).   The Cubs have been unwilling to entertain any serious offers for any of these young players. And it would be risky to trade one of them on the unknown of whether Otani can adapt as a hitter to American pitchers.

 The Cubs are probably near the bottom of potential Otani suitors (even though there are media reports that the Cubs are trying very hard to sign him.) The Cubs can only offer him 1/10th of the potential signing bonus ($300,000) and pay him the minimum ($545,000) for two years. Otani and his agent are not going to walk away from $3 million from another club who can make the same accommodations outlined in the agent's letter.



November 24, 2017

SALARY SUSHI

Several teams including the Mariners and Yankees are adding international signing bonus pool money to go after Japanese two-position star, Shohei Otani.

MLB, the players union and Japanese baseball have a tentative agreement for a "posting" fee. That means teams must post an amount of money with the Japanese club to negotiate a deal with Otani. If Ontani signs with a MLB club, the posting fee (approx. $20 million) goes to his Japanese club as a transfer fee.

Why teams are collecting additional international signing bonus money is simple. Under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, the 23-year-old Otani can only agree to a minor league contract that is subject to signing bonus pools. If added to a big league roster, he would have a salary for about the minimum $545,000 next season and not be eligible for salary arbitration until 2020 at the earliest.
If he waits until he is 25 to enter MLB, there would be no restrictions and he likely would get a deal for more than $100 million. MLB has warned of severe penalties if a team attempts to sign Otani to a secret long-term contract, then announce it in future years.

The current amounts teams can pay over a million dollars is small. Both the Yankees and Mariners have made post-season trades to acquire additional bonus money,

Texas Rangers — $3,535,000
New York Yankees — $3,250,000

Minnesota Twins - - -$3,245,000
Pittsburgh Pirates — $2,266,750
Miami Marlins — $1,740,000
Seattle Mariners — $1,570,500


In addition, Otani's current club will take 25 percent of any bonus allotment. So the real contenders for his services are down to the Rangers, Yankees and Twins, all clubs with the DH.

Otani wants to play both in the field and as a starting pitcher. Most teams balk at that notion, claiming that being a starting pitcher requires daily preparation including rest. He will only talk to teams that will assure he will be a two-way player.

The Mariners, being in the AL, think they can accommodate his demands. They can play him at DH, and in the outfield. The DH could save wear and tear and possible injury (example, Kyle Schwarber's knee injury).

Otani, who underwent surgery on his right ankle last month, is 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA in five seasons with the Sapporo-based Fighters in the Pacific League.

At the plate, he hit .286 with 296 hits, including 48 home runs, and 166 RBIs in 1,170 plate appearances, mostly as a designated hitter.

November 18, 2017

HARD SELL

Agent Scott Boras went to the GM meeting demanding that teams spend big money on his clients like J.D. Martinez and Jake Arrieta. He is looking for $200 million plus deals for his players.

But his rants only caught the attention of a few reporters.

The luxury tax threshold and penalties of the new CBA are starting to take effect. Simply put, the penalty for going over the threshold of $195 million payroll is a percentage of the overage. If you go over year after year, that percentage increases to 100%. And then, you start having your draft choices being downgraded 10 slots. So the payroll cap has now both financial and operational penalties.

Owners want to control unnecessary costs and scouting departments do not want to be handcuffed with their draft picks. It puts teams more in line with the spirit of the rule. It also lessens the big market teams from overspending on free agents who are demanding long term deals.

The longer the deal for a veteran, the more likely it is that there will be more dead money at the end.

So it will be a harder sell for agents to get top dollar for an above average, free agent player.

Some speculate that many teams, including the Cubs, are holding back overspending this year because next year's free agent class is better (with Bryce Harper the star who may blow past the $400 million contract line.)

Others speculate that a few teams would rather collect international signing bonus money to try to get 23 year old Japanese star Ontani. The Mariners just traded a young, 100 mph flame throwing reliever to the White Sox for $500,00 international cash. Seattle now has $1.55 million in international cash to attempt to sign Ontani.

The Cubs and a few other clubs previously went over the international pool cap. They are penalized by not being allowed to spend over $300,000 for any foreign player. This effectively puts them out of the Ontani sweepstakes (if he gets posted by his current club).

It has been reported that baseball revenues have increased while the CBA is effectively not allowing those new dollars to flow into player salaries. The Marlins talk about trading Stanton (who has a no trade clause) to drop their payroll is another item that irks player agents. If Stanton and few other higher cost players are traded, the Marlins (under new ownership) will field a low-cost,  AAAA team in 2018.

November 16, 2017

WINTER CHECKLIST

Once the self-evaluation is completed, the Cubs front office should have a check list of items to correct/fill for 2018.

The shake-up in the coaching staff gives a clear message that last season's players were underperforming or lacking in development.

Even if the Cubs can get more production from Schwarber, Heyward, Russell, Baez and Almora, it cannot make up for the gaping holes in the 25 man roster.

PITCHING:

An aging Jon Lester leads the rotation, followed by Hendricks and Quintana. The entire rotation last season did not get into the 7th inning enough times to save the bullpen from being worn thin. Lester threw 180.2 IP/32 GS = 5.63 IP/GS. Henricks threw 139 IP/24 GS = 5.70 IP/GS. Quintana threw 84 IP/14 GS = 6 IP/GS. Over an entire season of 32 starts, these three will log in 557 IP.

A team needs to cover 1458 IP during a season. If you get 7 IP/starter, that covers 1,000 IP. That leaves 458 IP divided amongst 8 bullpen arms or 57.1 IP per reliever. Considering the specialization of the bullpen, that means each reliever probably gets 55 or more game appearances.

If your 4th and 5th starters only average 5 IP/start, that means the projected 2018 starters are only going to cover 857 innings. That is short 143 IP which adds to the bullpen arms an average 75 IP per reliever or a 31.5 percent increase in workload.

So the Cubs really need to find two starting pitchers capable of a) starting 32 games, and b) pitching at least 6 IP/GS to save the bullpen. Those workhorse starters are hard to find or expensive to acquire.

HITTING:

The Cubs really need more .300 bats in the line up. OBP stats are great, but the Cubs tend to feast or famine on home run hitters. A .300 hitting lead off man could solve many of the offensive issues of not having a set order, men on base for the heart of the order, and too many platoons. The Cubs really need to find a set batting order so players can know their roles, and get comfortable in the daily routine of preparation and play.

It really depends on how management views Almora, Happ and Schwarber. Are these three players everyday starters or are they trade chips?

If they are platoon players, then it may be better served to find everyday starters in CF and LF (preferably .300 hitter candidates).

The same is true with Zobrist and Heyward. Are they going to be regular starters or will they now become bench players due to their hitting woes?

If they are bench players, it may come to moving Bryant to the outfield, Baez to third and Happ to second.

CHECKLIST:

1. Lead off hitter, OF candidate with .300 career BA.
2. Two starting pitchers.
3. Four relief pitchers, including a closer.
4. Back up veteran catcher.

November 12, 2017

IMPORTED FROM JAPAN

The biggest baseball free agent may be the less known.

Shohei Otani is a pitcher-outfielder in Japan. At 23 years old, he is a major league talent.
In 5 pro seasons, he has hit .286 BA, 48 HR, 166 RBI and 13 SB. In 2016 he hit 22 HR in 104 games.
As a pitcher, he has a career 42-25 record, 2.52 ERA, 1.076 WHIP and 7 SHO. Last year he was limited in games played by a thigh injury.

But Otani and his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, have agreed to post him for MLB.

The Associated Press has written that Texas, the New York Yankees and Minnesota can pay the most for Otani if Major League Baseball and its Japanese counterpart can agree to the outlines of a deal to keep the old posting system for this off-season.
The Rangers can agree to a maximum $3,535,000 signing bonus from their pool that covers July 2 through next June 15, according to figures compiled by Major League Baseball and obtained by The Associated Press. New York can pay $3.25 million and the Twins $3,245,000.

Just three other teams can give him a seven-figure signing bonus: Pittsburgh ($2,266,750), Miami ($1.74 million) and Seattle ($1,570,500).

After that comes Philadelphia ($900,000), Milwaukee ($765,000), Arizona ($731,250), Baltimore ($660,000), Boston ($462,000) and Tampa Bay ($440,500).

Twelve teams are capped at $300,000 as penalties for exceeding their signing bonus pool under baseball's previous collective bargaining agreement, which did not have a cap: Atlanta, the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington.

Other clubs have even less available: Detroit ($159,500), the Los Angeles Angels ($150,000), the New York Mets ($105,000), Toronto ($50,000), and Cleveland and Colorado ($10,000 apiece).
Each team started with a pool of $4.75 million, $5.25 million or $5.75 million, and amounts could be traded. Most of the pool money already has been spent on Latin American prospects.

Under baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, the 23-year-old Otani can only agree to a minor league contract that is subject to signing bonus pools. If added to a big league roster, he would have a salary for about the minimum $545,000 next season and not be eligible for salary arbitration until 2020 at the earliest.

If he waits until he is 25 to enter MLB, there would be no restrictions and he likely would get a deal for more than $100 million. MLB has warned of severe penalties if a team attempts to sign Otani to a secret long-term contract, then announce it in future years.

November 9, 2017

FREE AGENT CHECK LIST

With only 9 qualified offers still pending on the table, it is time to look at the Cubs' holes and the readily available free agents. (From MLBTR).

The Cubs want a veteran, pack up catcher for Contreras. The three they had last year are now available. Two other ex-Cubs (Castillo and Soto) are also available. Of this group, a return of Rene Rivera makes the most sense.

Catchers

Alex Avila (31)
Welington Castillo (31)
A.J. Ellis (37)
Nick Hundley (34)
Chris Iannetta (35)
Jose Lobaton (33)
Jonathan Lucroy (32)
Miguel Montero (34)
Rene Rivera (34)
Carlos Ruiz (39)
Hector Sanchez (28)
Geovany Soto (35)
Chris Stewart (36)


The Cubs are stuck with several platoon outfielders. Schwarber, Almora, Heyward are going to be on the 2018 roster unless there is a trade. Happ appears to be the super-utility player and Zobrist most likely getting less playing time behind Baez at second base. So it would appear that the Cubs would need one 4th outfield candidate. Maddon favorite, Jon Jay, is available but he may want a chance to start with another team. What would be ideal would be a traditional lead off hitter. A Cain, Gomez or Maybin would be expensive signee,  pushing Almora to the bench or trade market. I would not be surprised if the Cubs signed Granderson on a one-year deal to close out his career in his hometown.

Left Fielders
Norichika Aoki (36)
Cody Asche (28)
Peter Bourjos (31)
Melky Cabrera (33)
Rajai Davis (37)
Jarrod Dyson (33)
Andre Ethier (36)
Craig Gentry (34)
Curtis Granderson (37)
Franklin Gutierrez (35)
Chris Heisey (33)
Austin Jackson (31)
Jon Jay (33)
Howie Kendrick (34)
Hyun Soo Kim (30)
Adam Lind (34)
Cameron Maybin (31)
Daniel Nava (35)
Eduardo Nunez (31)
Alex Presley (32)
Colby Rasmus (31)
Ben Revere (30)
Michael Saunders (31)
Ah-seop Son (30)
Jayson Werth (39)
Chris B. Young (34)
Eric Young Jr. (33)

Center Fielders
Peter Bourjos (31)
Lorenzo Cain (32)
Rajai Davis (37)
Jaff Decker (28)
Jarrod Dyson (33)
Pedro Florimon (31)
Carlos Gomez (32)
Austin Jackson (31)
Jon Jay (33)
Cameron Maybin (31)
Alex Presley (32)

Right Fielders
Norichika Aoki (36)
Jose Bautista (37)
Jay Bruce (31)
Melky Cabrera (33)
Craig Gentry (34)
Carlos Gonzalez (32)
Curtis Granderson (37)
Austin Jackson (31)
John Jaso (34)
Jon Jay (33)
J.D. Martinez (30)
Alex Presley (32)
Michael Saunders (31)
Seth Smith (35)
Ah-seop Son (30)
Ichiro Suzuki (44)
Jayson Werth (39)


The Cubs will have rotation issues in 2018. The team needs to replace Arrieta and Lackey, but also has to consider that Lester is older and the organization has no minor league pitching. The Cubs really need to sign three starters this off-season. The names on the radar include Darvish, Cobb, Lynn and Ross. But all those pitchers will want in excess of the qualifying offer price of $17.4 million/season. A player like Cashner now projects to convert to a closer role (which is another Cub need). The Cubs may go cheaper with some rehab/re-boot pitchers like Tillman, Locke, Peralta or Pineda.


Starting Pitchers
Brett Anderson (30)
Jake Arrieta (32)
Christian Bergman (30)
Mike Bolsinger (30)
Clay Buchholz (33)
Trevor Cahill (30)
Andrew Cashner (31)
Jhoulys Chacin (30)
Tyler Chatwood (28)
Jesse Chavez (34)
Wei-Yin Chen (32)
Alex Cobb (30)
Bartolo Colon (45)
Johnny Cueto (32)
Yu Darvish (31)
R.A. Dickey (43)
Scott Feldman (35)
Doug Fister (34)
Yovani Gallardo (32)
Jaime Garcia (31)
Matt Garza (34)
Dillon Gee (32)
Miguel Gonzalez (34)
Jeremy Hellickson (31)
Derek Holland (31)
David Holmberg (26)
Drew Hutchison (27)
Hisashi Iwakuma (37)
Ubaldo Jimenez (34)
John Lackey (39)
Francisco Liriano (34)
Jeff Locke (30)
Jordan Lyles (27)
Lance Lynn (31)
Miles Mikolas (29)
Wade Miley (31)
Ricky Nolasco (35)
Wily Peralta (29)
Michael Pineda (29)
Tyson Ross (31)
CC Sabathia (37)
Anibal Sanchez (34)
Hector Santiago (30)
Chris Smith (37)
Chris Tillman (30)
Jacob Turner (27)
Jason Vargas (35)
Hideaki Wakui (32)
Asher Wojciechowski (29)
Chris Young (39)


The Cubs will have to rebuild their bullpen with a closer and solid middle relievers. Only Edwards, Strop and Montgomery are sure bets to return to the pen. Wilson is an enigma since he failed to impress or take the 2018 closer role. Wade Davis appears to be the best closer available, but he will want a long term deal.  Jake McGee is a possibility but he has some health red flags. If you are looking at potential bounce back candidates, Rodruiguez or Gomez are possibilities. For set up men, Shaw and Watson appear to be the most durable arms on the market.
 
For potential closers, Morrow and Reed probably fit the Cubs budget better than Davis.
Kintzler, Clippard, Swarzak and Krol may be the under the radar bullpen guys that most teams would like to fill out their roster.

Right-Handed Relievers
Matt Albers (35)
John Axford (35)
Tony Barnette (34)
Matt Belisle (38)
Joaquin Benoit (40)
Christian Bergman (30)
Mike Bolsinger (30)
Blaine Boyer (36)
Trevor Cahill (30)
Jesse Chavez (34)
Josh Collmenter (32)
Tyler Clippard (33)
Steve Cishek (32)
Wade Davis (32)
Neftali Feliz (30)
Dillon Gee (32)
Jeanmar Gomez (30)
Luke Gregerson (34)
Jason Grilli (41)
Deolis Guerra (29)
David Hernandez (33)
Yoshihisa Hirano (34)
Greg Holland (32)
Tommy Hunter (31)
Brandon Kintzler (33)
Chris Martin (32)
Dustin McGowan (36)
Brandon Morrow (33)
Jason Motte (36)
Peter Moylan (39)
Pat Neshek (37)
Juan Nicasio (31)
Bud Norris (33)
Seung-hwan Oh (35)
Yusmeiro Petit (33)
Chad Qualls (39)
Addison Reed (29)
Fernando Rodney (41)
Francisco Rodriguez (36)
Sergio Romo (35)
Trevor Rosenthal (28)
Fernando Salas (33)
Rob Scahill (31)
Bryan Shaw (30)
Joe Smith (34)
Craig Stammen (34)
Drew Storen (30)
Huston Street (34)
Anthony Swarzak (32)
Carlos Torres (35)
Koji Uehara (43)
Tom Wilhelmsen (34)
Asher Wojciechowski (29)
Chris Young (39)

Left-Handed Relievers
Fernando Abad (32)
Craig Breslow (37)
Jorge De La Rosa (37)
Brian Duensing (35)
Zach Duke (35)
Josh Edgin (31)
David Holmberg (26)
Ian Krol (27)
Francisco Liriano (34)
Boone Logan (33)
Jake McGee (31)
Mike Minor (30)
Eric O’Flaherty (33)
Oliver Perez (36)
Glen Perkins (35)
Robbie Ross (29)
Kevin Siegrist (28)
Tony Watson (32)

November 8, 2017

BAD MONEY TRADES

It is projected that the Cubs will have approximately $70 million to spend on 8 major league roster spots ( 2- SP; 1-C, 1- OF, 4-RP).

Unless a team is really close to going deep into the playoffs, like the Cubs were last season, general managers are not likely to trade their minor league talent to acquire pricey veterans. Teams now value young players who are cost controllable for 6 years more than star, free agents.

The winter trade market is different than the trade deadline. In the winter, every team is re-tooling their roster and making organizational talent evaluations. They review what worked and what did not work last season. They have to project how their minor league players will develop in the first and second half of next season. They have to project how their major league roster is strong and weak to adapt/compensate for a long season ahead.

But the most jarring evaluation point is the dead money portion of the payroll. Owners loathe paying millions of dollars for players no longer with the club, or players who are drastically underperforming their contract value.

In the winter you see more "change of scenery" deals where teams are willing to trade an underperforming player for another team's underperforming player with the hope that the new team can "fix" the player. Many of these deals are trying to lessen the dead money portion of the payroll budget.

The first speculative dead money deal of the winter had numerous reports involving the Giants and the Cubs. Yahoo Sports and MLB.com reported that the the Giants have their eye acquiring  Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, for starter Jeff Samardzija and closer Mark Melancon.

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, is still owed $134 million over the next six years of his contract. While he's proved dependable with the glove, his production with the bat has fallen off in recent years. This past season, the 28-year-old hit .259/.326/.389 with 15 doubles, 11 homers and 59 RBI in 126 games.

The Giants are looking for a new center fielder. Heyward's primary position is right field, but he has started 63 career games in center field, including 12 in 2017

Samardzija is owed $59.4 million for the next three years. While Samardzija finished with a 9-15 record and a 4.42 ERA this past season, he finished with a 6.41 strikeout-to-walk ratio,  good for second in the National League and fourth overall in the majors. He also surpassed 200 innings for the fifth straight season, finishing with 207.2 innings pitched. In the past two seasons with the Giants, he has a5.2 WAR, much better than his Cub years.

Melancon's first season with the Giants didn't go as planned. After signing a four-year, $62 million deal last winter, he battled an arm injury all year. He spent chunks of the season on the disabled list and appeared in just 32 games. When he returned in August, he served as the setup man to Sam Dyson. In early September,  He finished with a 4.50 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 30 innings.

Melancon underwent pronator release surgery for nerve entrapments in the proximal forearm  In a study of 205 patients using a self-assessment questionnaire, 45 months after the operation. The questionnaire consisted of visual analogue scale recordings of pre- and postoperative pain during rest and activity, questions about remaining symptoms and appreciation of the result and the Disabilities of Arm, Shoulder and Hand form (DASH). Altogether, 59% of the patients were satisfied, 58% considered themselves improved, and 3% as being entirely relieved of all symptoms. 

Melacon, 32, is owed $53 million for the next three years. There is a current medical condition that is problematic. You could not count on him to be a viable closer candidate.

The Giants are trying to unload two players and $102.4 million in salary. The Cubs would like to shed Heyward's contract, but would only get about $30 million in relief. But this rumor is a typical dead money type trade. They look for upside potential while trying to shed downside player negatives.

November 7, 2017

QUALIFIED

The new CBA rules on free agency took effect after the World Series. The old Qualifying Offer rules have been diluted and complicated to a point where there is less incentive to make offers and more incentive to sign players who rejected them (as the loss of a first or second round draft pick has been lessened based on revenue sharing and luxury tax components in a compensation formula).

Only 9 players received the $17.4 million one year offer from their clubs. The Cubs offered SP Arrieta and closer Davis contracts.

Arrieta had been adamant that he was going to reject a QO and head into free agency looking for a career ending 7 year $180 million plus contract. But his advanced statistics have shown the wear and tear of the last two seasons. He may have missed the golden parachute by a year. He may still get $20 million annual salary over 5 years.

Davis is the more interesting question. Closers are in high demand and there is a shortage on the open market (unless you think teams will convert some second tier starters like Andrew Cashner into closers). The Cubs have had a philosophy of not paying high value free agent closers. The long term contract requirements scare off the Cubs sinking potential dead money on older pitchers dead arms. And the way Joe Maddon tends to burn out his bullpen in the post-season is also an issue. (There is no question Chapman was not the same pitcher this year after his Cubs post-season abuse.)

But the Cubs have no closer on their current roster. Edwards may be projected into that role, but his lack of command at the end of last season has given some Cub observers the Marmol chills.

The front office has admitted that the minor league system is bare. It means that if the team wants to find a quality starter or a closer in the trade market, it will have to send one or two players off their current 25 man roster. The likely trade chips are Russell, Baez, Schwarber and/or Happ.

One rumor is that the Cubs could package two position players for Tampa's Chris Archer, a quality starter with four more years of team control. But like Arrieta, Archer's advanced pitching stats indicate that his 4 to 1 strikeout ratio and innings pitched have made him more ineffective in the last two season. The quality of his pitches is down.

There was also another rumor that the Cubs could try to package a deal to swap bad money deals. What was floated in the speculative bubble of the internet was the Cubs trading Heyward and half his salary to the Giants for Jeff Samardzija and his $59 million, 3 year contract. There are two problems with this speculation: one, Samardzija had a poor year with a 4.42 ERA and two, Heyward still has one more year of a no-trade clause. It is doubtful that Heyward would waive his no trade to move to a rebuilding club in San Francisco. The Cubs really do not have a great right field player to push Heyward to the bench.

The Cubs painted themselves into a corner. The minor league system is not producing quality starting pitchers. AAA Iowa does not have quality arms to re-stock the major league bullpen. Edwards is not ready for a prime time closer role. The Cubs have two starting rotation slots to fill. The Brewers are one or two players away from taking the NL Central.

October 30, 2017

THE NEW ORDER

One of the major deficiencies the Cubs had in 2017 was the lack of timely hitting.

In the playoffs, the Cubs could only score runs on homers.

The front office stats department has been keen on signing OBP hitters. On base percentage was more important than batting average. This led to a line up devoid of any .300 hitters.

On base is great if you actually get on base. In the playoffs, the Cubs batters looked at less than the league average in pitches per at bat. The Dodgers threw more than 200 less pitches to the Cubs during the NLCS. You cannot walk on less than 4 pitches per at bat.

The other problem with the Cubs line up was that it really could not manufacture runs.

Joe Maddon has an issue in "giving up outs" to sacrifice a hitter to move up a runner (the exception is the pitcher's spot.) But in close games, one cannot count on .250 hitters coming through to drive in runners in scoring position.

The way to manufacture runs is through the lead off hitter. Traditionally, the lead off hitter has been a high average, speedy base stealer. Once on base, the lead off man has many options to put pressure on the pitcher/defense: steal a base; hit and run; move from first to third on a single; move to second on sac bunt.

The Cubs have used many unconventional lead off hitters: Schwarber, Rizzo, Bryant, Zobrist.

One of the glaring needs is a solid, consistent lead off hitter to create a stable line up.
Players are creatures of habit. They like to know their role. They like to know where they will be batting in the lineup because their approach may differ.

A good lead off man will come up three times in a game with the opportunity to be the engine to manufacture a run. After reaching first, a steal and a sacrifice to third puts a runner 90 feet away with less than two outs. The odds are more than 50 percent that the runner will score. That is much greater than waiting for a hitter to hit a home run. The Cubs home run/at bat percentage was just three percent.

Unless the Cubs are going to try out Almora as the new lead off man (and that is a big "if" since Maddon refused to start him against right handers on a regular basis), the 2018 lead off man is not currently on the Cubs active roster.

Without runners on base, the meat of the order has less chance of driving in runs.

The Cubs need to refine their line up decisions to create a dynamic options for the offense.
The order needs to look like this:

1. A new lead off hitter who can get on and steal bases.
2. A new protection hitter who can get the lead off hitter into scoring position.
3. Traditionally, the team's best hitter for average.
4. Traditionally, the team's best power hitter.
5. The team's second best hitter for average and power.

Barring a day off, these top five hitters should remain in their slots for the entire season.

But Maddon likes "match ups" more than players "adjusting" to pitchers. Maddon will like to platoon two outfield positions with righty-lefty matches than try to get a consistent chemistry in a batting order.

A side note on the start of the off-season. The front office purged the coaching staff. Theo and Jed have added more ex-Boston coaches, including new hitting coach Chili Davis. It would appear that management is looking for more production from the players they currently have on the roster. 

October 27, 2017

A DIP IN THE POOL

A dip in the current free agent pool is lukewarm.

Excluding players with contract options, the positions of Cubs 2018 need find little help.

MLBTR Updated 10-23-17 Player (Age)

Catchers



Alex Avila (31)
A.J. Ellis (37)
Nick Hundley (34)
Chris Iannetta (35)
Jose Lobaton (33)
Jonathan Lucroy (32)
Miguel Montero (34)
Rene Rivera (34)
Carlos Ruiz (39)
Geovany Soto (35)

 

Left Fielders
Cody Asche (28)
Peter Bourjos (31)
Melky Cabrera (33)
Rajai Davis (37)
Jarrod Dyson (33)
Craig Gentry (34)
Curtis Granderson (37)
Franklin Gutierrez (35)
Chris Heisey (33)
Austin Jackson (31)
Jon Jay (33)
Howie Kendrick (34)
Hyun Soo Kim (30)

Cameron Maybin (31)
Tyler Moore (31)
Daniel Nava (35)
Eduardo Nunez (31)
Colby Rasmus (31)
Ben Revere (30)
Michael Saunders (31)
Scott Van Slyke (31)
Jayson Werth (39)
Chris B. Young (34)
Eric Young Jr. (33)


Center Fielders
Peter Bourjos (31)
Lorenzo Cain (32)
Rajai Davis (37)
Jaff Decker (28)
Jarrod Dyson (33)
Carlos Gomez (32)
Austin Jackson (31)
Jon Jay (33)
Cameron Maybin (31)
Andrew McCutchen (31) — $14.75MM club option with a $1MM buyout


Right Fielders

Jay Bruce (31)
Melky Cabrera (33)
Craig Gentry (34)
Carlos Gonzalez (32)
Curtis Granderson (37)
Austin Jackson (31)
John Jaso (34)
Jon Jay (33)
J.D. Martinez (30)
Carlos Moncrief (29)
Tyler Moore (31)
Michael Saunders (31)
Seth Smith (35)
Scott Van Slyke (31)
Jayson Werth (39)


Starting Pitchers
Brett Anderson (30)
Jake Arrieta (32)
Christian Bergman (30)
Mike Bolsinger (30)
Clay Buchholz (33)
Trevor Cahill (30)
Andrew Cashner (31)
Jhoulys Chacin (30)
Tyler Chatwood (28)
Jesse Chavez (34)
Alex Cobb (30)
Josh Collmenter (32)
Bartolo Colon (45)
Yu Darvish (31)
R.A. Dickey (43)
Scott Feldman (35)
Doug Fister (34)
Jaime Garcia (31)
Matt Garza (34)
Dillon Gee (32)
Miguel Gonzalez (34)
Jeremy Hellickson (31)
Derek Holland (31)
David Holmberg (26)
Drew Hutchison (27)
Ubaldo Jimenez (34)
John Lackey (39)
Francisco Liriano (34)
Jeff Locke (30)
Jordan Lyles (27)
Lance Lynn (31)
Miles Mikolas (29)
Wily Peralta (29)
Michael Pineda (29)
Tyson Ross (31)
CC Sabathia (37)
Anibal Sanchez (34)
Hector Santiago (30)
Chris Tillman (30)
Jason Vargas (35)
Hideaki Wakui (32)
Asher Wojciechowski (29)
Chris Young (39)


Right-Handed Relievers
Matt Albers (35)
John Axford (35)
Matt Belisle (38)
Joaquin Benoit (40)
Christian Bergman (30)
Mike Bolsinger (30)
Blaine Boyer (36)
Trevor Cahill (30)
Jesse Chavez (34)
Josh Collmenter (32)
Tyler Clippard (33)
Steve Cishek (32)
Wade Davis (32)
Neftali Feliz (30)
Dillon Gee (32)
Jeanmar Gomez (30)
Luke Gregerson (34)
Jason Grilli (41)
David Hernandez (33)
Yoshihisa Hirano (34)
Greg Holland (32)
Tommy Hunter (31)
Brandon Kintzler (33)
Seth Maness (29)
Chris Martin (32)
Dustin McGowan (36)
Brandon Morrow (33)
Jason Motte (36)
Peter Moylan (39)
Pat Neshek (37)
Juan Nicasio (31)
Bud Norris (33)
Seung-hwan Oh (35)
Kevin Quackenbush (29)
Chad Qualls (39)
Addison Reed (29)
Fernando Rodney (41)
Francisco Rodriguez (36)
Sergio Romo (35)
Fernando Salas (33)
Rob Scahill (31)
Bryan Shaw (30)
Joe Smith (34)
Craig Stammen (34)
Drew Storen (30)
Anthony Swarzak (32)
Koji Uehara (43)
Tom Wilhelmsen (34)
Asher Wojciechowski (29)
Chris Young (39)


Left-Handed Relievers
Fernando Abad (32)
Craig Breslow (37)
Jorge De La Rosa (37)
Brian Duensing (35)
Zach Duke (35)
Josh Edgin (31)
David Holmberg (26)
Francisco Liriano (34)
Jake McGee (31)
Eric O’Flaherty (33)
Oliver Perez (36)
Glen Perkins (35)
Kevin Siegrist (28)
Tony Watson (32)


All of these players probably have the dream to start next season, especially the catchers and starting pitchers.

The Cubs need a back up catcher, and the two best available, Avila and Rivera, were on last year's roster.  Avila wants to start so he is out of the picture.

Depending on how the Cubs want to structure their outfield (trade Schwarber, play Almora in center, and/or bench Heyward), there is a case that the team needs two corner outfielders with starter credentials. JD Martinez will be the prize FA. Cabrera, Gonzalez, Cain and Bruce will round out the second tier starters. Jay seems to be the best 4th OF candidate in the FA class.

Can the Cubs find two quality starting pitchers without breaking the bank? Probably not.

The top tier starters are Arrieta, Chatwood, Cobb, Darvish, and Tanaka if he opts out.
Reclamation projects include Hellickson, Peralta, Tillman, Sanchez and Holland.
The homecoming crew could be Cahill, Cashner and Feldman.

Quality relievers are hard to find. The best of the bunch appear to be Morrow, Davis, Watson and Kintzler.

In the educated guess department, the Cubs will probably target one premiere starter and one reclamation arm; Cobb and Tillman. Or  the team might end up with one arm like Cashner.

For the bullpen, the Cubs often hunt under the radar arms like Gomez, Collmenter or Reed.

Currently, the Cubs can shed $45.7 million off its 2017 payroll via free agency and non-tender arbitration. 

October 24, 2017

PROBLEMS

The Cubs are at a cross road. It can take the first fork and try to regain its championship form by spending a lot of money in free agency to compete with the Dodgers, Nationals and Yankees. Or it can take the second fork and try to bandage its wounds with the hope that the current core will rebound to their 2016 performance levels.

The Cubs are also at a financial cross road. 2016's success saw massive spikes in the costs of going to a Cub game. The gravy train was open for business. But a slow start and the novelty of not winning haven been worn off, made a destination to Wrigley not a prime ticket in 2017. Even during the playoffs, tickets were being sold under face value. The Ricketts problem continues to be how to maximize revenue for their huge development costs outside of Wrigley. If fans don't have to be part of the "experience" of winning (since they experienced the championship already), then the Cubs have to try to excite the fan base with a "dynasty team."

But Theo has been under a tight financial budget for the last three seasons. It is unlikely that the front office will be given a blank check to solve its baseball operation problems.

Part of the current issues are self-inflicted philosophical errors. The draft strategy has been simple: in the early rounds take the best college hitter available (Bryant, Schwarber, Happ). All three have made it quickly to the majors, with a varying degree of success. At the same time, the front office felt that signing free agent pitchers was the way to build a rotation. Then the final piece was to overdraft pitchers with the statistical hope that a few would pan out. In the Epstein Cub era, he has not developed one major league starting pitcher.

There are no potential solutions in Iowa. The AAA staff has not shown promise.
Starters:
Brooks: 8-10, 6.12 ERA
Perez: 7-10, 5.01 ERA
Freeoff: 2-8, 4.40 ERA
Buchannon: 7-2, 4.46 ERA
Kelly: 7-5, 4.46 ERA
Tseng: 6-1, 1.80 (7.50 ERA in two major league starts)
Zastryzny: 2-3, 5.94 ERA.

Closer:
Carasiti: 21 saves, 1-3, 3.26 ERA, 1.45 WHIP.
 
And this problem led to the Cubs trying to trade for pitching. Pitching is the diamond asset in most organizations. It takes a fortune to give up on young pitchers. This year the Cubs paid the price to get Quintana for the stretch run. Arrieta, Strop, Hendricks, Davis, and Montgomery came through trades. But is really hard to find a AAAA pitcher who just needs "a change of scenery" to blossom into a star.

The minor league system is out of high value assets. In Iowa, only two players had good seasons. Catcher Catatini hit .342, with 10 HR and 61 RBI. He has been on the major league roster and appears to be the 2017 back up to Contreras. Infielder Freeman hit .306, 3 HR, 31 RBI appears to be a defensive utility man at best.

Who are the Cubs most valuable trade assets?

Bryant and Rizzo, but they are going no where. They are the face of the franchise that needs "star power" to hold fan interest.

Russell and Baez are similar players that could anchor the middle infield for years to come. If one had to guess, the front office to keep Baez over Russell.

Contreras has worked his way to untouchable status. He may be the best catcher in the NL. He could become the next Molina.

Schwarber, Almora and Happ are all outfielders with various skill levels. Schwarber is a pure hitter than does not hit the ball as much as everyone thought he would. He is turning into an Adam Dunn/DH. Almora is one of Epstein's guys, a #1 pick, who does not get enough opportunities under Maddon's managing style. Happ is an infielder who is playing the outfield in order to get his bat into the lineup, but in a desperate time to find playoff offense, Maddon sat Happ on the bench.

Zobrist and Heyward are declining players who have no trade clauses. They have to be slated to be expensive bench players in 2018. Which means the Cubs are in a market for a power hitting right fielder.

The Cubs current depth chart shows the holes to fill:

ROTATION: Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, UNKNOWN, UNKNOWN.
BULLPEN:
Closer: UNKNOWN
Set up Man: UNKNOWN
Relievers: Strop, Montgomery, Wilson, Edwards, UNKNOWN, UNKNOWN.

POSITION STARTERS:
OUTFIELD: Schwarber, Almora, UNKNOWN
Reserve OF: Heyward, Happ

Infield: Bryant, Russell, Baez, Rizzo
Catcher: Contreras
Reserves: Caratini, LaStella 


October 23, 2017

HARD CHOICES

“Sooner or later you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club.  We’re entering a phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.” --- Theo Epstein

General managers often fall in love "with their guys." To the point of overvaluing them; overprotecting them from the trade market; and hyping potential over performance.

The Epstein-Hoyer management has their own guys like Lester, Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber and Happ.

Whether they will stick with their guys or move them will be the major story in the off-season. Much of the early blame to the playoff flame out was on the faltering bullpen and pitching staff (which led to the firing of pitching coach Chris Bosio.) But in reality, the offensive was so bad it would have taken perfect pitching to win against the Dodgers.

The Cubs go into the off-season with a lot of work to do.

The starting pitchers on the roster with major league experience as of this moment: Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Zastryzny, Montgomery, Tseng.

Relievers on the roster with major league experience: Maples, Strop, Wilson.

From first glance, the Cubs have to sign three more starting pitchers this off season and find seven more major league ready relief pitchers in order to have pitching staff depth in 2018.

One of the great failures of the current Cubs front office is the inability to draft and develop starting pitchers. Approximately 48 percent of all Cub draft choices have been pitchers. The minor leagues is devoid of any can't miss pitching prospects. It puts pressure on the team to go out and trade or sign pitchers (which is the highest value commodity in the off-season).

The projected 2018 rotation is simple: Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, UNKNOWN, UNKNOWN.

The bullpen is more a mess considering Wilson was pegged to be the next closer, and he got dropped from the playoff roster because of his bad performance.

Another problem with the current Cubs team is Maddon's tendency to "over manage" his club. He likes players who can play multiple positions, even if they have never played it before or are not the best at it. Prime example was playing Zobrist in RF. At times, he was slow to break on balls and did not cover much ground. Heyward is a defensive gold glove, but has a concrete bat.

Both Zobrist and Heyward appear to be expensive bench players. Heyward and Zobrist both have not trade clauses. Heyward will make $21.5 million and Zobrist $16.5 million next year.

The infield is set with Bryant, Russell, Baez, Rizzo and Contreras. Caratini projects to be the back up at catcher and first. LaStella projects to be the second super sub off the bench.

The outfield appears to have only Schwarber, Almora and Heyward. Happ seems to Joe's new Tampa Zo, moving from infield and outfield game by game.

With so many major holes to fill with little left in the minors to trade, some contract controlled player will have to be moved in a trade. Schwarber, Baez or Happ seem to be the most likely candidates.

Theo has painted himself into a corner to make some hard choices. The championship hangover is now over. Fans expect the Cubs to be in the playoffs next year to erase the disappointing finish to this season.

October 18, 2017

A WHIMPER, A WHINE

Joe Maddon said the Cubs have four Game 7s in a row.

Such the optimist.

He also said there was nothing he could say to motivate his team in this time of crisis.

We thought he was the great motivator when the Cubs hired him.

Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Sun-Times got Bryant and Rizzo to admit that they are physically tired in this Dodgers series.

The whole team looks lethargic. The mental fielding errors show a glaring problem. The lack of plate discipline is the reason for weak offensive production. The whole team seems to be dragging their heels from game to game.

But how can the team be collectively "tired?"

Yes, the Nationals series was a roller coaster ride. But the Cubs have only played 8 games since the season ended in early October. And the Cubs had 7 days off during that time period. And Maddon rested his regulars prior to the end of the regular season.

Part of it could be mental, part physical.

And the way Maddon managed the Nationals series had a direct, negative impact on the NLCS. He has a habit of doing things drastically different in the post-season than in the regular season, especially with his pitching staff. Starters as relievers, relievers pitching more innings than normal, and the quick hook on starters.

Perhaps the hitters are feeling the pressure of a weak bullpen. Perhaps the starters feel pressure of having to be perfect since the offense is not scoring runs. Perhaps the bullpen is imploding because of the pressure of bad defense plays leading to stressful relief appearances.

The Cubs are backed into a corner. A cornered, battered dog should attack. But in the case of the Cubs, they may just go out with a whimper.

If we look back at the preseason expectations, the Cubs were destined to get to the World Series and probably repeat. The young core had just learned how to win championships.

But apparently, the continuing excuse has been the young core has not learned how to celebrate championships. The championship "hang over" lasted to the All-Star break (and some whisper it is still present). If the Cub players and staff thought the Cubs were so good that they could "turn it on" at any point in the season or a series, we know now that is not true. It has never been true. Preparation, research, training, repetition and baseball intelligence of a pro player is a daily exercise.

The teams remaining in the playoffs have one thing in common: a lights out bullpen. The Yankees have former closer Robertson coming in at any inning like a firefighter containing a potential out-of-control blaze. The Dodgers use Morrow in a way to take down the other team's best hitters. A bullpen that can take the ball in the 6th and shut out an opponent is the key to victory - - - it gives the offense 12 outs to mount a comeback or hold the lead.

The 2017 Cubs did rest on their 2016 laurels. Schwarber is no longer Mr. October. Arrieta is no longer Cy Young, Jr. Hendricks looks like Older Greg Maddux. Baez looks like a lost rookie at the plate. The general expectations for 2017 were diminished by the WS win. But it is how the Cubs are losing is disappointing to many fans.

Some people are comparing the Cubs to the Blackhawks. The current Hawks won their first Stanley Cup with a young core surrounded by veterans. But they could not repeat. The team had to re-tool for the second championship and then again for the third. They had to re-learn the hunger to get the title. Hopefully, this can be the Cubs projected cycle: re-tool to win another championship before the window closes (i.e., Bryant and/or Rizzo's free agency).

October 17, 2017

MADDENING SERIES

As the NLCS returns to Wrigley Field with the tenor of "must win" games, the focus is still on Joe Maddon strange managerial moves. From the time he mule whipped Wade Davis to pitch in three innings in the NLDS finals to putting in a cold John Lackey to hold NLCS Game 2 in the 9th, Maddon has been soundly criticized for his actions.

When the Cubs charter plane had to make an emergency landing because of a player's family member's medical issue, it could have been seen as a bad omen. The players had to sit on the plane for 5 hours because regulations required a crew change. It was a stressful cross country trek to get to LA for Game 1.

The debate for the Game 1 starter was between Quintana, who just pitched in relief, and Lackey who was on the roster as an observer in the NLDS. Considering the weakness and overwork of the bullpen, many people thought Lackey should start Game 1 for the following reasons: 1) he was fresh; 2) Dodgers stadium is a big ball park, a pitcher's park; 3) he has post-season experience; and 4) if he is on the roster, use him. You could get 7 innings out of him and Montgomery to save the bullpen for the series.

But Maddon chose Quintana to start. But it was reported just before the game started that the player's family member stricken on the charter flight was Quintana's wife. They stayed in New Mexico on Friday. And that she was still recovering in LA on Saturday. Why would you summon a player to the mound when there are still serious personal issues on his mind?

In order to set up the rotation on proper rest, Maddon should have had Lackey pitch Game 1 followed by Quintana, Lester, Arrieta and Hendricks.

Quintana pitched 5 innings, keeping the game close. It was the bullpen that let the Dodgers secure the lead. Hector Rondon replaced Justin Wilson on the roster (which was a good move considering Maddon did not trust Wilson in any key situation). Rondon gave up a home run - - - it was a good pitch that was taken deep.

To compound the rotation issue, Maddon called on Lester to pitch Game 2 on short rest. Lester struggled through 4 2/3 innings. Edwards and Strop came in to pitch well. But in the 9th inning, Maddon had Lackey come in to stop a Dodger rally. It was a disaster. Lackey clearly was not ready to come into the game as he wandered around the mound in a five minute time span to pitch to two batters. Normally, a starting pitcher takes at least a half hour to warm up. An older pitcher may take longer to get loose. In Game 2, Lackey was called in the 9th to relieve. It appeared he was not physically or mentally prepared to shut down the Dodgers. He gave up the walk off HR to Turner.

Maddon explained that he did not go to closer Davis in the bottom of the 9th in a tie game because he wanted to save him "for a save situation." He said Davis would only be able to throw an inning so he did not want to use him in a non-save situation. But Maddon's comments shows the flaws in his own logic. The only reason Davis could only throw an inning in Game 2 is that he had been burned out in Game 5 of the NLDS. Maddon was looking ahead for the Cubs to score in the 10th inning to set up a save opportunity. But the Cubs offense was dormant - - - there was no guarantee that the Cubs would  bat again. There is a general philosophy in baseball that a visiting team uses its closer in the 9th inning of a tied game because it is a sudden death situation. Maddon did the opposite.

Maddon continues to defy his seasonal decisions. He keeps on putting players in situations which they have never done before in their career, let alone in the regular season. A prime example of this was putting Lackey in Game 2. Lackey had never pitched in back to back games in his entire career. Lackey is not a relief pitcher, let alone taking on a closer's role.

Maddon cornered himself with his post-season pitching decisions because he only had Montgomery and Davis available in the pen for the end of Game 2. Montgomery has experience closing out playoff games (Game 7 of the 2016 WS) but he may have been physically drained to be put into a high pressure 9th. Maddon may have also thought he needed a "long" reliever in extra innings.

On the opposite dugout, Dodgers manager Roberts told reporters that he does not hesitate to take out a starter early in a game. He places his relievers to face certain batters. For example, he said he would make sure that Morrow would face Bryant, Rizzo and Contreras (the 2-3-4 hitters) and not use him for the bottom of the order. By assigning his relievers to where he wants them to pitch before the game starts allows Roberts not to second guess himself.

While the focal point of Maddon's decisions has been pitching, the Cubs hitters are in a terrible slump. They are not taking walks. They are fishing for breaking balls in the dirt. They are deer in the headlights of change ups. But Maddon kept putting in players who are struggling at the plate.  He has done two double switches which had Almora, his most consistent batter, taken out of the game. He has also forgotten about playing Happ at any position. And the post-season magic of Schwarber appears to be at its end.

It will take a Cubs home sweep to give the team a remote chance to make it to the World Series. Maddon's moves to date have not helped his team win games.

October 13, 2017

PLEADING IN THE FIFTH

It was a strange, wild and epic NLDS Game 5. It had everything.

The bottom line is that the Nationals are the heirs to any post season curse. For the fourth time, the favored Nationals bowed out in the first round.

Teams have this pirate mentality in elimination games; "all hands on deck."  It means everyone has to be ready to contribute to the cause. There is no tomorrow. Backs to the wall. Do or die.

Both teams tried to kill themselves off during the rollercoaster contest.

The 7 out Wade Davis save was cringe worthy since Davis barely got out of the 8th inning.

And this shows how managers lose their baseball IQ during the playoffs by trying to force players to do something they had never done in the real season, like having Davis pitch in three consecutive innings.

His teammates said after the game Davis had "big stones."  The real issue is whether he has any arm left to pitch on Saturday night in LA.

Or whether any pitcher has any viable arms to start Game 1 of the NLCS. Maddon used both Lester and Quintana in relief. That was his playoff rotation used up in the last two games. For some unexplained reason, Maddon refused to warm up Lackey for either Game 4 or 5. If you are on a playoff roster, you should be able to contribute.  But Maddon lost confidence in his bullpen (as shown by carting out Edwards in every single game).

For most people it does not matter because last night's game was so insane.

A rested Dodger team will start Kershaw in Game 1. The logical choice would be the Cubs starting Lackey in the large confines of Dodgers Stadium in Game 1, but some people think Maddon will try to start Quintana on one and one-half days rest.  If Lackey is not going to start a NLCS game and Maddon has no confidence in him coming to pitch in relief, then Lackey should be dropped from the playoff roster. In close, wild games like last night, you cannot run out of players. The Cubs almost did.

September 28, 2017

THE NEXT STEP

The Cubs won the NL Central last night with a good performance by John Lackey.

Which puts into question how the Cubs will arrange their post season roster.

Almost everyone believed a week ago that Lackey would be this year's Hammel, the odd man out of the post season roster.

But with Arrieta admitting that he could "not push off properly" during his last start, no one can guarantee that Jake will be good Jake in the playoffs. If he continues to struggle, then that puts Montgomery into long relief role which cuts down on his usefulness and situational strengths like how Francona used Miller in the Indians World Series run.

But the other issue is whether Lester can return to being playoff good Lester. He still seems to be struggling and getting hit hard early in games. He is another candidate for a quick pull in the playoffs. That means that the Cubs need another long reliever on the 25 man roster. Hence, Lackey, who never has pitched out of the pen, may make the roster as an emergency starter-long reliever.

Playoff games are tighter by definition. Pitching becomes a premium along with good defense. The Cubs pitching in the second half has been good and bad.

The Nationals have some pop from the left side so Maddon will want to have enough quality lefties on the pitching staff. But can he trust Wilson out of the pen to neutralize Harper in a key situation?

The Cubs have a week to evaluate the bullpen to make final choices.

The current buzz in social media is that the presumed rotation should be flipped: start Hendricks game 1, then Quintana, then Lester, then Arrieta. It may not matter the final order if the bullpen is called to pick up games in the 6th inning (or earlier).

Maddon has tried lately to get the bullpen in rhythm. He has used Strop-Rondon-Davis to pitch an inning a piece to close out games.

Maddon has also used all three catchers (a banged up Contreras, Avila and Rivera) down the stretch. He may be thinking about keeping all three (in case Contreras injuries flare up). That would mean one less field bench player, most like LaStella, who may lose a spot anyway if Maddon wants to have an extra relief pitcher.

Barring another injury or something strange, the preliminary playoff roster:

OF (5)  Heyward, Jay, Happ, Schwarber, Almora
IN (5)  Bryant, Russell, Baez, Rizzo, Zobrist
C (2) Contreras, Avila
SP (4) Hendricks, Quintana, Lester, Arrieta
RP (9) Montgomery, Duensing, Wilson, Edwards, Strop, Rondon, Davis, Lackey, Grimm


September 23, 2017

THE REAL ROTATION

After two nail biting victories over the Brewers, the Cubs are crawling to the post season.

Talk has turned to the playoff starting rotation. There are questions for every current Cub starter including the swing man Montgomery.

Lester has not been the sharp playoff ace in his last 3 starts.
Arrieta is coming back from a hamstring injury.
Quintana has good outings and bad innings.
Lackey has been very consistent in his last 4 starts, but not overpowering.
Hendricks seems to be finding his last season groove but does he have the stamina to finish strong?

Montgomery pitched a quality start one-hitter in his last spot start. Maddon seems to be clear that he wants Monty in the bullpen in the playoffs.

Most assume that you want your "ace" to start Game 1 of the playoffs. But the post season games have tightened a bit with less travel days so if you are really projecting a World Series appearance, you have to manage the rotation prior to the end of the season.

Everyone projects the Cubs to use a four man rotation (with Lackey as being the odd man out).

The NL playoffs for the Cubs looks like this:

Game 1 NLDS Friday Oct 6
Game 2 NLDS Sat Oct 7
Game 3 NLDS Mon Oct 9 (home)
Game 4 NLDS Tue Oct 10 (home)
Game 5 NLDS Thur Oct 12  (6 days after Game 1)

When you look at this set up, the Cubs get two home games. Lester and Hendricks pitch better at home than on the road. So do you put Arrieta and Quintana 1-2?

The next round of the playoffs looks like this:

Game 1 NLCS  Sat Oct 14 (2 days after Game 5; 7 days after Game 2 NLDS)
Game 2 NLCS Sun Oct 15
Game 3 NLCS Tue Oct 17
Game 4 NLCS Wed Oct 18
Game 5 NLCS Thur Oct 19 (5 days after Game 1 NLCS)
Game 6 NLCS Sat Oct 20 (6 days after Game 2)
Game 7 NLCS Sun Oct 21 (5 days after Game 3)

The oddity is that the Game 6 pitcher will have more rest than the Game 5 or Game 7 starter.
Would it be prudent to make sure an older pitcher like Lester fit into Game 6?

The World Series looks like this:

Game 1 Tue Oct 24 (2 days after pennant series; 5 days since Game 5 start)
Game 2 Wed Oct 25
Game 3 Fri Oct 26
Game 4 Sat Oct 28
Game 5 Sun Oct 29 (5 days after Game 1)
Game 6 Tue Oct 31 (6 days after Game 2)
Game 7 Wed Nov 1 (5 days after Game 3)

It would appear your Game 5 NLCS starter would be the WS Game 1 starter on 5 days rest.
The Game 1 starter would also be the Game 5 starter on 5 days rest (and would be available in the bullpen for Game 7 like Maddon did with Lester last season).

If you think each round will be very close, then the pitching staff has to determine who should pitch the final game in each series.

You have to work backwards from WS Game 7 with your ace.
Your ace would pitch WS Game 7 and 3; Game 6 and  2 of the NLCS; Game 3 of the NLDS.
Game 3 of the NLDS is a key game coming off two road games in a short series against the Nationals. Perhaps Lester with his better home record and playoff experience in meaningful games would fit in as the #3 pitcher in the Cubs playoff rotation.

The other argument is to give him an extra day of rest during the playoff run.
Lester would then pitch WS Game 6 (on 6 days rest) and 2; NLCS Game 5 (on 5 days rest) and 1 (on 7 days rest) and start Game 2 of the NLDS.

This is the chess game within the game for managers. How you set up your roster and rotation is a critical component on how well your team will perform in the post season. There is no easy answer. Some will say just start your "best" pitchers first because you have to win each round to advance. There is not enough time between series to "reset" the rotation back to Game 1.

People have emphasized the rotation as being the key of this Cub post season since the bullpen continues to be in flux. People are looking for starters to go 7 strong innings, but that has been a rarity all season long.

It will be interesting to see how Maddon and the front office creates its 25 man post season roster. One expects that there may be an additional relief pitcher in the mix (but no one believes Lackey will be that guy).

September 19, 2017

THE MATH

It is crunch time in the NL Central.

Today's standings:

Cubs 83-66
Brewers 80-70  3.5 GB
Cardinals 77-72 6 GB

The Cubs and Cards have 13 games to play; Brewers 12.

The Cubs have a 97.1 percent chance to make the playoffs. The Brewers have 14.8%. The Cardinals only 4.0%.

But what will it take to win the division?

The Brewers are currently on an 8-2 streak. At that pace to the end of the season, the Brewers would win 88 games. So really, the mark to take the crown is 88 wins.

The Cardinals are currently on a 5-5 streak. They would have to win 11 of their last 13 games to reach 88 wins. That is highly unlikely.

The Cubs would have to go 5-8 to reach 88 games.Considering the Cubs have been good in their last ten games (7-3), they should easily reach 88 wins. The Cubs current winning percentage projects 90 wins which means the Brewers would have to win every remaining game to tie the Cubs.

The Cubs appear to be on the cusp of repeating their NL Central championship. The only potential spoiler remains the pesky Brewers.

September 14, 2017

CHOICES

We do not know what more Albert Almora can do to secure a starting job.

Last night, Almora became the first Cubs player to drive in six runs during a game he did not start since Mandy Brooks did it at Philadelphia on Aug. 25, 1925.

The 2017 Cubs have been marred by the lack of scoring and lapses in defense. A solution to part of those woes has been sitting on the bench for most of the season.

Almora is the best defensive center fielder on the team. But he has been used in 117 games as mostly a defensive replacement.

Almora stat line: 270 AB, 34 R, .285 BA, 6 HR, 35 RBI, 1 SB, .330 OBP, 0.8 WAR.

But Joe Maddon has preferred to put infielder Ian Happ in the outfield.

Happ's stat line: 321 AB, 51 R, .255 BA, 22 HR, 56 RBI, 8 SB, .329 OBP, 1.5 WAR (-0.2 dWAR).

Happ has more versatility by playing both outfield and infield positions. He is also a switch hitter with power.

But Maddon used to preach defense as a means of winning. That is why he continues to play Heyward in RF even during his batting slumps.

Maddon made the choice of power over defense with Happ over Almora.

The best defensive outfield Maddon could put on the field is Jay in LF, Almora in CF and Heyward in RF. The best power outfield is Schwarber, Happ and Zobrist. Maddon has been mixing and matching all season to find some sort of balance. 

The Cubs will have some tough choices in the off-season.  The farm system has no real premium assets to trade for missing pieces for 2018 (starting pitching, back up catcher, closer, bullpen arms). Someone from the current major league roster will have to be dealt.

Kyle Schwarber falls in and out of favor. He is hitting just above .200 with power numbers. But he is still a defensive liability in LF and he has not returned to catching since his serious knee injury. Most scouts believe he is destined to be a DH in the American League. But the front office loves "their guys" and Schwarber is one of their guys.

So is Happ and Almora, both first rounders. Maybe in the post-season line up where defense is valued more, both Happ and Almora will be starters. But it is doubtful. If Russell comes back, he will start at short and Baez will move to second (blocking Happ from his natural position). That would move Happ to the outfield, to displace Schwarber (doubtful because of his post-season heroics) or to start in center over Jay and Almora.

No matter what happens this year, Almora has great value being some team's starting center fielder in 2018.

September 12, 2017

SURRENDER

The turning point for the Cubs season may well be when Maddon surrendered a game when the Brewers were leading 8-0 in the 3rd inning. Pulling starters and running it like a spring training game gave the Brewers more opportunities to stomp the Cubs, 15-2. The Brewers went on to sweep the Cubs to push to only 2 games behind the NL Central Race (along with the Cardinals).

With 4 games left with Milwaukee and 7 games left with the Cardinals, the Cubs are on the verge of a historic meltdown.  The season has been tempered by a multitude of excuses: the Cubs played late into last season so they are tired (but the Indians did as well and currently have won 19 in a row); players were distracted by all the off-season celebratory events; the weather was cold early in the season; every club they played came into series with an attitude to beat the champions; there were some injuries; bad play would be turned around into consistent team performance; the club needs more Friday night games.

The idea that the 2017 Cubs, in the midst of their dull drum behavior, could turn around their performance on the dime into the 2016 Cubs juggernaut is a myth. But appears management and the team believed the myth. The recent Milwaukee series proved it was a myth. 

The Brewers were not supposed to contend for a title. The Cardinals were having a down year. The Cubs were supposed to cake walk through the division and into the playoffs. Many fans are now saying the 2017 season could be one of the great disappointments - - - a choke - - - if the Cubs fail to make the playoffs. In bad times, it is said you will find the best character in an individual. So far, we only see the Cubs on the ropes.

September 1, 2017

DESPERATION?

The Cubs are at a season high 13 games above .500. But the Brewers are still only 3.5 GB.

For the second time this season, the Cubs are messing with Brewers in regard to playing a game.
First, the Cubs called a game for an alleged rain out on a day that it did not rain. It created a
doubleheader disadvantage for Milwaukee.

Now, the Cubs got a "one time exception" to the Friday night home game ban. The reason:
the Cubs are coming home from a night game in Pittsburgh. Well, the team knew that a year ago
and the Cubs set the start times for their home games - - - a year ago.

The Brewers wanted the day game to go on as scheduled. They appealed to the league office.
No action was taken.

The Cubs may be "tired" on the trip home (?) but it is September - - - you can have 40 men on your roster!
Being tired in September is a weak excuse.

You are the defending World Champs. Why pull bush league schedule changes against your closest rival?

Perhaps it is because the Ricketts are so invested in the new infrastructure that they are desperate for
post-season revenue - - - a lot of post season revenue. World Series type revenue.

Attendance has not been max this year. The official seating number is around 42,000 but local business owners think the "real" capacity with standing room and party decks is more like 45,000. The Cubs have drawn 2.6 million in 66 home games (39,393). If the Cubs owners were banking on a full house for a full home schedule, revenue projections have been light by more than $18 million.

August 24, 2017

5 & 7

Barring an epic collapse, the rule of thumb is that a team can realistically make up one game per week in the standings.

There are approximately 5 weeks left to go in the season.

The Brewers are 3.5 games behind the Cubs. The Cardinals are 4.5 games behind.

The NL Central rivals may be looking more toward a tightening wild card race than a division win.

But the Cubs still have 7 games left with each of the Brewers and Cardinals. That means that the Brewers and Cardinals are not out of the race even if they trail by 7 games before meeting the Cubs.

Another rule of thumb is that a team needs to take care of business in its own division. The only two teams left with an above .500 record are the Brewers and Cardinals. The Cubs still need to play well against division teams in order to avoid a bitter September surprise.

August 19, 2017

THE FUTURE

There has been one constant throughout the history of baseball: owners desire to make a profit.

In order to keep a competitive balance (and profit sharing), MLB has a luxury tax on payrolls currently pegged at $195 million. The penalty for going over the ceiling is 50 percent to 92 percent. This is a soft salary cap where big market teams like the Dodgers and Yankees can easily absorb.

But the future is rapidly changing that overspend model. The Yankees sold most of their interest in the YES Network, which was the cash cow that fueled those free agent filled teams. The Dodgers got a billion dollar team network deal with TW, which turned into a bust when cable operators balked at paying high subscription fees.

The cable industry, the tinder for the rapid rise in profits and player salaries, is losing three million subscribers a quarter. The biggest reason was the surcharge of sports network fees on monthly bills.  The second reason was the internet and other means of consuming sports than television sets. The third, and possibly most glaring reason, is that the younger generation is less interested in traditional sports franchises. Young kids are more involved in their technology of video games and e-sports than play baseball in the park. In addition, teams have made it almost cost prohibitive for a family to go attend a major league game.

The outside profit center for many teams, the publicly financed sweetheart ball park deal, like the cable money is going to go extinct. Not one publicly financed sports stadium has created an "economic boom" for the municipality. In fact, the associated debt with those deals can be crippling taxpayers. With more and more cities, counties and states in massive fiscal holes and bankruptcy, the community revolt against such capitalism welfare projects will end.

But on the other side, star players are looking for massive contracts. Bryce Harper nears free agency with agent speculation that he will demand anywhere from $30 million to $50 million per season. ESPN opined that Harper could easily become the first $500 million player in sports history. When baseball franchises are worth at the high tide level of $1.5 billion, a superstar player's demand for a third of the team value makes the business model absurd.

Teams are no longer owned or controlled by millionaires looking to massage their country club egos with sports championships. Most teams are corporations who have to answer to shareholders. Investors demand return on their capital in the form of dividends, earnings and appreciation. The easy cost control item on a team is payroll.

In the near future, baseball as a game will fundamentally change. There are growing calls to eliminate much of the subjective, human element of game by turning ball and strike calls over to computer grid technology. In essence, the game will be played without umpires - - - merely sensors and real time play reviews at the league office. But even the elimination of umpires will not drastically alter the erosion of the economics of the game.

If the next generation of fans accept virtual reality for reality, then baseball will probably forge ahead to create a digital platform to replace the timeless past time. Whether it be 3D or holographic representation of past, present or computer generated players, baseball could morph into super computer super charged video game.

Fans like their fantasy leagues. They like their smart phone apps. If baseball was compressed into a graphic rich, high octane video game, many would watch. The elimination of players, ball parks, infrastructure costs, team travel, etc. is like a dream to a team accountant.  If the owners can keep a fan base happy without incurring normal costs, then it is virtual game on.

Since most states have privacy and image rights laws, the new virtual baseball game would probably be run by superstar programmers than old player profiles. Instead of expensive Bryce Harper batting third for the Nationals, it could be RobotOF127. The league could set input parameters for team programmers in setting up algorithms for player stats/performance guides. The league would then run on its own servers simulated games using those team rosters. Whether there would be an real time manager making decisions or strategy calls would be possible. It would also be possible that teams would employ a few gamers to act as pitcher, hitters and fielders to add a "human" element to the simulated game.

Simulated games could be played quicker than real ones. Simulated seasons could be finished rather quickly. Playoff games could be subscription or theater events across the country (or across the globe).

One could argue that this is merely a technological fantasy. That there will always be enough players wanting to play professional sports to field teams. That may be true, but in some sports there is a major shift on whether the health risks outweigh the playing time. More parents are taking their children out of contact football at earlier ages. Even professional players are retiring early because of the current research on the ramifications of concussions. Football could be the first major sport to have a serious personnel shortage. In addition, marketing executives note that in order to capture fans early, those kids need to appreciate the sport, i.e. have played it at some level. That is the fantasy connection between seeing your favorite player juke through the line for a touchdown then going outside to play football with friends.

The same could hold true for baseball. It is a time consuming and expensive spectator sport. The lure of going to the ball park for a game is that it was a social event. There was enough time between pitches to converse with friends. But in this internet age, people are less social. They don't see the need to spend three hours talking to other people at an event. They can poke, text or email them.

All consumption of all forms of entertainment are under fire. Baseball is just one option in this ever changing landscape.

August 16, 2017

THE BOLDEST MOVE

Jeffrey Loria is the worst MLB baseball owner. He is a crass, arrogant and flippant businessman who even sued his Marlin season ticket holders. But he was clever enough to bamboozle a brothel stadium from the taxpayers of Miami. Now, he is in the midst of trying to sell his team for $1.2 billion to an investment group led by former Yankee Derek Jeter (who wants to put no money into the club but have an equity position and total control over the franchise.)

The Marlins weak attendance and fan base mirrors its weak performance. Despite the millions in incentives and baseball revenue sharing, the Marlins are expected to lose $60 million this season.

When a business wants to sell at top dollar, it needs to massage its balance sheet to make a buyer think he is getting a great deal. The only way a small market club can do that is to cut payroll, the team's largest cost center.

News filtered today that the Marlins star player, Giancarlo Stanton, cleared waivers. After the trade deadline, teams put their players through waivers to clear them for possible August trades prior to the September 1 playoff roster deadline. (The other use of the waiver system is to try to get rid of an expensive contract.)

The Marlins are committed to six players $95 million in 2018 ($25 million is to Stanton).

Stanton, 27, hit his 44th HR of the season. He has achieved 5.2 WAR so far this year. At a salary of $14.5 million, his performance has outpaced his contract by $14.1 million. Next year, his contract jumps to $25 million. He is signed for 10 years at $295 million, but he can opt out after the 2020 season at age 30 (after being paid $77 million for three years).

Stanton is a legitimate superstar. He already has a 32.7 WAR. In 7.5 years, he has 252 HR, 634 RBI, .359 OBP, .268 BA.

Here is the argument for a blockbuster trade for Stanton:

1. He is young.
2. He is proven hitter.
3. He immediately makes any lackluster batting order better.
4. He is under long term control.

And his contract is such that if the market in 2020 is $30 million per year (Harper potential deal), then he will opt out - - - and the team acquiring him by trade now is only out $77 million.

For the Marlins to take the PR hit to trade their star player, Miami will need to get a substantial return for Stanton: cheap controllable major league players and top prospects.

In the current situation, the Cubs may not have enough assets to acquire Stanton, who would be the perfect solution to the left field platoon situation.

The package the Cubs would have to offer to get Stanton:

1. Baez or Russell.  A controllable middle infielder with defensive skills is a premium position. One would think Miami, catering to Latin market, would prefer Baez's versatility over Russell (including injury history).

2. Schwarber. Even though Theo-Jed adore their Baby Ruth wannabee, there would be no position left for Schwarber if Stanton is acquired (since Heyward's best position is Gold Glove RF).  Miami could use Schwarber as a trade flip to an AL club for more prospects.

3. Almora. The Marlins need to market hometown players to their fans. Almora is young and talented to be a long term marketing piece.

4. Edwards. The Marlins would prefer to get a starter (like Hendricks) but the Cubs cannot spare one. A bullpen piece with some upside would off-set the weakness in Cub farm prospects since Edwards has a major league track record.

5. One of the Top 4 pitching prospects (De La Cruz, Albertos, Alzolany, or Lange) and/or International Bonus pool money.

If you look at this possible transaction from a long term Cub prospective, Stanton fills a need to provide offense, solidify the outfield and give protection to Bryant and Rizzo in the batting order.
It is also an affordable transaction.

The Cubs have $55 million in contracts coming off the books at the end of the year (net $46 million with Quintana's salary for 2018). Stanton's salary in 2018 is $25 million, leaving $21 million to sign a free agent starting pitcher.

If any team trades for Stanton, it would not be a blockbuster move - - - but a nuclear one.