December 27, 2018


Baseball free agency is getting very interesting.
Free agency was meant to give players freedom to find
a new club, balance family lifestyle with professional duties
and to make more money.

But for the two superstars, this FA season is turning sour.

They interviewed with very few teams.

Current reports state that Phillies, Yankees and White Sox
interviewed with Machado, while the Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies
and Cardinals spoke to Harper after he rejected the Nats offer.

Both players don't want to play for the Phils (who seem to
be offering the most money). Both players prefer to play
for the Yankees, but the Yanks have no interest in Harper.

It just leaves Machado with the Yankees, who have signaled
they are not going to spend heavily this off season on players
and the White Sox, who have never spent heavily on free agency.

It just leaves Harper with the Phils as both the Dodgers and
Cubs claim not to have payroll room to sign him, and the Cardinals
don't seem to be the black knight willing to cough up $400 million
on one player.

One speculates that Harper may have to throttle back his 10 year
megacontract demand and take a 5 year deal with an opt out after
3 season (so he can get to FA again before 30). That kind of deal
could open up one or two more teams to bottom feed if the number
is not $40 million/year but more like $25 to $30 million/year.

In other words, Harper may have to settle for a J.D. Martinez
type of deal just before spring training begins.

And considering the current roller coaster stock market where
rich men's savings are are getting whipsawed with losses, team
owners are extra wary of signing a huge contract with problematic players.

This appears not to be collusion but basic economics. Teams are not growing
local revenue streams. A big market team signing a Machado or Harper will not
add any significant numbers to attendance revenue. Cord cutting has hurt
cable operators who see the sports license fees as a major reason households
do not want to pay increasing monthly cable bills. 

Organizations are now more focused on the draft, international free agents
and the trade market to structure their minor and major league systems. Draft
choices are more important than major free agent signings.  Major free agency
signings cripple payroll flexibility, can hit the team with luxury taxes and 
potentially block rising homegrown stars in their minor league system.

Machado and Harper played so well during their career to earn a Tier 1 free agent
status. But by playing so well, they trapped themselves into a very limited market.
Teams and smart players who sign early in free agency, tend to do better at managing
the organizational budgetary pressures. Teams would rather fix their bullpens with
one or two relievers than sign a big money free agent hitter (with subpar defensive

Also, teams have wised up and do not bid against themselves. At the winter meetings,
teams interested in free agents gave agents their best offer (like the Nationals did to Harper
at the end of the season.) It is no longer an auction where the agent controls the flow
of bids or pits teams against each other. Teams with strict ownership budget guidelines
do not have the time or resources to go with the flow in an active auction setting.

Machado and Harper have probably gotten the "best" offers from the various suitors.
And those offers may have been less than their own perceived market value.
So the agents are playing the sports media card, telling Philadelphia their client(s) don't
want to play there (in hopes the Phils will increase their offer) or to have secondary clubs
make a second raise in their final bid to snare a superstar.

 It is a cat and mouse, risk reward type of game that many teams have an advantage. But there
are always some teams that pay stupid money on players who underperform, get hurt or
handcuff the organizational budgets for years. All the big market teams have their golden anchor contracts choking their books. It is harder for player agents to navigate around those ships
trapped in their own dead money harbors.

December 23, 2018


Did Theo's parents want to become a doctor? A hospital administrator?
Because he keeps running an expensive and dumb MASH unit.

But his latest signing makes absolutely no sense at all:

Former A's pitcher Kendall Graveman is not likely to pitch in 2019. He underwent Tommy John surgery this last July and was non-tendered by  Oakland in November. The Chicago Cubs just signed the injured free agent $575,000 anyway. The Cubs have a history of signing unsigned, injured players to pay for their year of rehab. But why? The player would have to do that on his own. I am not aware of any other major league team signing injured players NOT to play them.

This deal is being sold as a long-term return for Chicago. Not necessarily in 2019, but in 2020. While Graveman’s contract will pay him just more than half a million dollars to rehab, it’s the player option for $3 million going into next year’s off-season is the alleged selling point for both sides.

The deal gives the 28-year-old RHP a little more than a full year to get himself healthy and prove that he can pitch the way he did from 2015-17 when he posted a 4.11 ERA over 407 innings with 255 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.359. But those numbers are not stellar for a starting pitcher.

If for some reason Graveman can make it back in 2019, the Cubs will give him a payday of about $2 million, according to Fancred’s Jon Heyman.

But here is the problem: TJ surgery rehab averages 19 months. At best, he comes back mid-September to throw in a couple of games to get $2 million?????  Even if he does not pitch but is fully recovered, why did the Cubs not keep a TEAM OPTION to sign him for 2020?  Graveman can take the Cubs money, get healthy and walk away into the free agent market to make more money as a STARTING pitcher. Do the Cubs think they are "buying" his loyalty for a half million dollars? Think again. If Graveman does not return to form, which is possible, then he gets to stick the Cubs with the option of $3 million more to continue to rehab or sit out another season.

It is stupid to pay a free agent money to rehab when you can spend the major league minimum for a player who will actually be on the major league roster in 2019 (i.e. a player like Bote).

The Cubs have done some strange things this off-season, but this move is absolutely the dumbest thing the front office has done. The team stated it is short of financial capital to make moves this off-season, but this signing is literally throwing money at a player who cannot contribute anything of meaningful value in 2019.

December 19, 2018


The Sun-Times picked up on a Deadspin story about "stolen emails" which
stated that the Ricketts family was upset with Mayor Emanuel who did not
give them $200 million for their private, outside Wrigley real estate development.

The Cubs spokesman did not deny the details of the story, per se.

Deadspin went through the email trail in its story.

In 2013, when the Ricketts had not yet broken ground on their renovations to Wrigley, disagreements with the mayor on public funds for the family projects appeared to have inspired at least some of the family to consider abandoning the project—or moving the Cubs to a friendlier location, possibly in the suburbs, where Mayor Emanuel would not be so dismissive of the family's huge investment in the city.

It was reported at the time that the Ricketts were looking to build a new stadium in Rosemont, next to O'Hare, but those plans fizzled because of the infrastructure costs and site plan did not allow outside development. (Rosemont squeezed in a minor league park instead.)

In the few years after the Ricketts Family Trust purchased the Cubs, they repeatedly sought to use taxpayer money and subsidies to fund the development of Wrigley and its surrounding areas: They first wanted $200 million to develop the Triangle Building near Wrigley Field, sought the use of local amusement tax funds that might otherwise be spent on public services, and attempted to use a hefty federal subsidy to pay for renovations of the historic field. Though the negotiations, Mayor Emanuel remained unimpressed: “I will not put my money in their field so they can take their money, and invest around the field, and get a greater economic value,” the mayor said in 2012. “If it’s important, they should invest there.” 

The angst over Emanuel’s public position apparently lasted even after the Ricketts family offered to put $300 million of their own money into the field, as well as an additional $200 million into surrounding businesses. Having received a final proposal for the Ricketts investment in the Cubs, the mayor said:

When I first started this discussion, the Cubs wanted $200 million in taxpayer dollars. I said no. Then they said we’d like $150 million, and I said no. Then they asked whether they could have $100 million in taxpayer subsidies, and I said no. Then they asked about $55 million in taxpayer subsidies. I said no. The good news is, after 15 months they heard the word ‘No.’”

Todd Ricketts, a prominent Republican fundraiser and the current finance chariman of the Republican National committee, forwarded the story to his father and siblings, writing:

I think we should contemplate moving, or at least recognize that we are maybe not the right organization to own the Cubs.

In a later email, he added:

I just hate the thought of Tom having to grovel to this guy to put money into a building we already own.

Patriarch Joe Ricketts, a prominent conservative, replied:

Yes Todd, it makes me sad, it hurts my feelings to see Tom treated this way. He is way superior to the Mayor in every way.

I have been brought up to deplore the type of value system adopted by the Mayor of Chicago. This is stating it mildly.

Though Tom Ricketts is the chairman and public face of the trust that purchased the Cubs, ownership is split between Joe Ricketts’s children, including Todd. The Ricketts sons did not responded to a request for comment on these emails. 

No public funds were spent on upgrading Wrigley Field, and the Ricketts grudgingly paid for the $575 million, five-year renovations that will conclude this winter. But with changes and cost overruns, the investment was closer to $750 million (a figure Theo Epstein stated during one of his post season press meetings).

This report confirms the mentality of the Ricketts clan as it is "business first, community second if at all" philosophy. They should have been happy that the mayor rode Alderman Tunney to agree to allow the Ricketts to "overzone" and over build the land around Wrigley Field. A lot of neighborhood businesses closed because of this massive redevelopment. Neighbors are still not happy with the result.

And neither is the Ricketts clan. People were not spending all their savings on $11 beers at the 12 new alcohol venues Tom put in their paths on the way to the gates. There has to be a large revenue shortfall from the projections made in their original business plan. (As a side note, prior to the purchase, Tom Ricketts convinced his father that the Cubs were a cash machine. Even when the Cubs were lovable losers, the ball park was filled with people spending money.)

The bean counters and marketing people probably had over-valued the revenue from the projects and team performance. The high density, lower than expected revenue bump has to have the Ricketts hard this year. That is why Theo was grousing about how the Ricketts spent $750 million on new construction and that he has no money to spend on players. (Or as some have speculated, that Epstein overspent and borrowed from future payroll budgets to field the 2018 team). The Ricketts are also upset that the city won't allow them to do whatever they want (unlimited night concerts inside and outside Wrigley Field) to make their place a 365 day theme park.

The Ricketts have an entitlement complex . . . being rich means what you say should be followed like the golden rule. They hate following rules enacted by inferior people (politicians). There should be no road blocks in the path of making money.

Well, that is not how over-regulated America works in the 21st Century. Tom Ricketts must have been naive to think that his vision that the Cubs were a modern day gold mine; an ATM machine printing profits. Baseball economics, lower fan interest, declining sports ratings are severe negative trends that were on the table before the redevelopment process. Ricketts wrote some big checks that he may not be able to cash without spending down his daddy's inheritance.

So, even after a celebrated championship, ownership is starting to finger blame on others. The mayor, who is not running for re-election because of the negative crime news and imploding pension deficits, is an easy target. The family is also moving to try to unseat the local alderman who they perceive is a continuing thorn in their side. The family may have to do a double take if MLB signed away its baseball streaming rights to Fox in its new national TV deal extension. It is clear that the Cubs will not get in 2020 a multi-billion Dodger Network deal.  Cable operators are not going to fall into that trap.

The Ricketts spent a large chunk of the family fortune on their Wrigleyville real estate ventures. The realization that their return on investment has evaporated would send chills down their spines especially when they continue to read about how other billionaires have extracted huge windfalls from cities to build them state-of-the-art sports complexes.

December 14, 2018


The 2019 White Sox have a payroll of around $34 million. The rebuild has stripped the club of most of its veteran contracts. So, in theory, the team is poised to spend money on free agents. However, during Reinsdorf's tenure, the team has only spent $64 million total on one player (Jose Abreu).

But the buzz from the Winter Meetings has been that the White Sox have been talking to the superstar free agents like Bryce Harper. Most people scoff at the prospect of a superstar signing with a 100 loss team.

But the real bottom line for superstars is to go where the money is because
that is why they have high power agents.

There is growing case that teams like the White Sox are the only big dollar landing
spots for Harper, Machado, Kuechel, etc. If the White Sox want a marquee player
to be the face of the franchise, they can pay him and still not even break an $80 million
payroll because of the rebuild. They can be selling (like the Cubs did with Lester) all the
great (pitching) prospects in the minors so the turnaround will be quick.

The Sox drew 1.6 million fans in 2017. If Harper adds 5,000/game attendance (405,000)
the gross revenue could increase by $20 million (based on 2017 average cost to attend game)
which would be 2/3 of Harper's salary.

High attendance high payroll clubs like the Cubs do not have any ball park revenue growth
to justify signing a big money free agent.  Signing Harper would not increase attendance revenues at Wrigley Field. 

Would a superstar like Harper want to be the "brand" of the White Sox. Clearly, if he was, he would get local endorsement deals and his No. 34 jersey would be a top seller. But those in Washington think Harper's personality does not fit that role. He wants to be plugged into a veteran, high win team who can win a championship or two. That is why he has been trolling the Cubs to sign him so he would not have to "carry" the team.

There may be a mystery team in the Harper sweepstakes. For example, the Giants are saying they are in a state of change. They are willing to entertain offers on Bumgartner. They have only 12 veterans on the roster but the projected payroll for 2019 is around $175 million. Adding a $30 million player is feasible to be under the luxury tax threshold, but you could spend the same amount and acquire 5 or 6 second tier free agents to actually create a competitive roster.

Harper's agent, Scott Boras, is still playing the preachy waiting game. It did not work well for last year's client, J.D. Martinez, who signed a team friendly deal with Red Sox prior to the start of spring training. One would think an agent would want to get a deal done sooner than later because teams are now more focused on trading for roster changes than signing free agents.

December 10, 2018


Have you noticed that the Cubs have not been mentioned in any
trade rumors or free agent negotiations?

I heard last week on the radio that one reason may be that
Theo "borrowed" from this year's baseball budget to pay for
Darvish, Morrow and Chatwood. So that may be a bitter pill
on any future spending because it was already spent.

Plus, Darvish, Morrow and Chatwood represent $41.5 million
in 2019 payroll. Add in Heyward, it jumps to 61.5 million
or almost a third of 2019 total payroll budget.

The Cubs are on the hook for $158 million on 13 signed players.
The Cubs still have to sign 27 other players to make the 40 man
roster - - - with some expensive arbitration players like Bryant
in the mix.

The projected salaries for the arb players:

  • Kris Bryant (3.171) – $12.4MM
  • Kyle Hendricks (4.081) – $7.6MM
  • Javier Baez (3.089) – $7.1MM
  • Addison Russell (3.167) – $4.3MM
  • Kyle Schwarber (3.086) – $3.1MM
  • Mike Montgomery (3.089) – $3.0MM
  • Carl Edwards Jr. (2.134) – $1.4MM
That totals at least $38.9 million. I think Bryant will get more.

That leaves another 20 players, even at the minimum of $555,000
or $11.1 million creating a current projected payroll of
$208.00 which is dead on the luxury tax number.

This is the corner that Theo has painted himself in.

And last week, he admitted that 2019 is going to be difficult.

On Thursday, Epstein  called the 2019 season a year of ‘‘reckoning’’ for the organization.

As the SunTimes reported,  Epstein  made it clear that, barring moves that free up significant payroll space, the Cubs won’t be adding a nine-figure commitment to their books for the fourth time in five years.

The big, problematic contracts with large balances are clear:   Jason Heyward’s $184 million deal  Yu Darvish’s $126 million contract, and  the $25.5 million owed to right-hander Tyler Chatwood the next two years.

‘‘You can’t just keep shopping without making things fit for your roster and for your payroll and the situation that you’re in,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘I understand the desire for a big name every winter, and there are winters where we do acquire a big name and there will be winters where we don’t acquire a big name. I don’t know what category this winter will fall into yet, but there’s a chance that it’s going to be a winter where we don’t acquire a big name from outside the organization.’’

Nothing is more telling that the Cubs are up against the payroll wall than:

1. Having to trade Smyly's $7 million contract in order to exercise the $20 million option on Hamels.

2. Not having $4 million extra to spend to re-sign Chavez to stabilize a bullpen that will now not have Morrow at the start of the season (he had late elbow surgery in November after sitting out the second half of the season).

Other media outlets outside of Chicago have reported that other teams have heard that the Cubs do not have money to spend to sign top tier free agents. 

Adding to the problem is that the Cubs have very little trade capital. The Cubs farm system is near the lower ranks in MLB. On a scouting scale of 20-80, the Cubs best prospect rates 50. And the Cubs best prospects are at the Class A level. The only trading chips then are on the major league roster, but those candidates (besides Baez) had very down years.

The Cubs overspent in the past years after they tanked to stockpile high draft choices. The plan worked and a championship was won. But the plan was unsustainable when ownership was directing massive resources ($750 million) on non-baseball improvements and business enterprises. The Cubs team is left high and dry with their old roster and bad contract decisions.
2019 will be a year of transition. The Cubs players could rebound to have a chance for another championship. Or the team could see their championship window shut. There are no guaranteed dynasties in sports even if you throw a lot of money at it . . .  just think of the 1985 Bears.

December 8, 2018


More and more sports leagues are trying to increase "offense" and "scoring" in order to lock in casual viewers into fans.  There is almost a video game expectation that sports leaders want to market toward the public whom are immersed in their Fortnite and other battle royale games.

MLB has been whining about its game for a long time. First it was too much pitching. "Women love the long ball" campaign helped fuel the specter of the steroid era and juiced baseballs. Second, it was pace of play. Games were getting too long, people could not pay attention. Third, it was "engaging" the fans during games by pushing MLB stat and fantasy apps on their phones (ironically, causing fans in the stands to pay less attention to the actual game.)

The current bane of the MLB is the over-gospel use of advanced stats to "improve" the game. The current foil is the defensive shift. The shift is ruining the game, so they say. It is taking away hitting, run scoring - - - offense.

There is nothing against the rules about where you can place fielders on any given play, except for the pitcher, who has be in contact with the rubber 60 feet 6 inches away from the plate, and the catcher who has to sit in the catcher's box behind the plate. Otherwise, a team could place the seven other fielders in the infield - - - as close to the plate as possible (in bunting situations).

Advanced statistics provide data that shows tendencies of hitters. But even general experience will tell you that certain hitters are "pull" hitters and others "slap" or opposite field hitters. Pitchers have been taught to pitch against those tendencies. But adding another fielder, usually in the short outfield, takes away base hits, or so is the theory.

Yahoo Sports notes that the overall analysis of the shift is unclear.

The usage of shifts has gone from a rarity to begin the decade, to almost routine in 2018.
In 2010, Fangraph’s data on the frequency of defensive shifting shows that the Tampa Bay Rays under manager Joe Maddon employed the shift against a league-leading 261 batters.

In 2018, Maddon’s Cubs actually employed the lowest number of shifts to opposing batters with 631. But that low number is still nearly 150 percent higher than the league high just eight years ago.
In fact, only five teams, the Cubs, Angels, Padres, Rangers and Cardinals, shifted for less than 1,000 batters in 2018. The Chicago White Sox set the pace, shifting for 2,150 batters. Overall, teams shifted 17 percent of the time during the past regular season, which is nearly one in every five batters.

It has undeniably become a big part of the strategy across MLB. But has it really impacted the game in a negative way?

The success rate varies, and like all aspects of baseball relies on a degree of luck. Fangraphics digested the types of shifts being used, and the accompanying success rates. The five teams that shifted most frequently (infield and outfield) in 2018 did so an average of 11.9 times per game, with opposing batters averaging 3.3 hits against per games. That’s a .277 batting average. The five teams that shifted the least averaged five shifts per games. Opposing batters averaged 1.5 hits, or a .300 average.

Does that mean shifting more is better? Does that tell us that shifting is even having a notable impact? Not necessarily is the correct answer to both, yet there’s a crowd that’s convinced it’s unfairly dragging down offense in MLB.

There are some variables those numbers don’t account for. It doesn’t tell us the number of times a shifted defender saved a hit, or how often a hit went through his vacated position. But the overriding numbers tell the real story. Shifting does more to get people talking than it does to drain offense from the game.

The best way to counter a shift is to hit the ball where they are not. To stop the shift, a batter needs to be able to place the ball in the vacated area. And that usually means bunting the ball for a base hit. But that is viewed as a cowardly or unmanly way to get a hit. But it is not. It is part of the game. But players and agents focus more on the glamor stats: like HRs and RBIs than whether you got a measly bunt single.

It would be nice to hear the view of the late Tony Gywnn on the shift controversy. He probably would have told you that a batter has to make the adjustments. If you looked at his hitting chart, you could see that he sprayed the ball to all parts of the ball park. He was not a pure pull hitter, or an opposite field slap hitter. Just as others were taught to hit the ball "up the middle" to get solid contact, Gwynn was a pure hitter capable of adjusting his swing to the pitch, circumstance and the elements. But that type of hitting dedication is rare. It would seem scapegoating the shift instead of telling players to adjust is the easy way out to jump start some more offense.

There are old schoolers who just go by the mantra "hit em where they ain't." Some hitting coaches are now focused in on "launch angles" and contact velocity as the statistical means to get past the shift, because harder ground balls get through the shift faster, and no one can catch a HR ball except a fan in the stands.

Baseball should do nothing to affect the strategy evolutions in the game. Let the shift ride out its fad until the next great Big Data thing happens.

December 1, 2018


I was reading comments on a Cubs fan blog, and there is a growing consensus is
that the Cubs organization is quickly falling back into the Tribune ways, i.e.
a crappy organization. When the Trib spent, it was spent unwisely. When the Trib wanted to sell the team, it went small market.

The penny pinching, small market mentality has now seeped to the surface.
Fans were promised a dynasty now see the window closing rapidly.
They are realizing that Ricketts spent all his time and resources building
outside of Wrigley Field than building a second championship team.
The core talent that Theo touts may not be as impressive as the 1929 Yankees.
And the minor league system is now horrible, with no help in sight.

I think fans are getting mad because the Cubs are not tied to talks to ANY notable
free agent, first tier or second tier. They can't understand why they let their best
relief pitcher, Chavez, walk over $4 million when Theo spouted off that performance
now counts more than potential
(we are looking at Chatwood's $36 million contract).

The baseball world still cannot figure out why the Cubs had to trade Smyly and his $7 million contract in order to re-sign Hamels. Why did the Cubs pay Smyly millions in 2018 just to rehab his arm? He would have done it without being on a major league DL. But he was "an asset," or "insurance policy" for the rotation in 2019. But in reality, he seemed to be an expensive budget line item.

We have not heard any updates on Bryant's shoulder. If we compare it to the Bears' Trubisky shoulder watch, it seems more grim. Trubisky was day to day with an apparent shoulder bruise or strain. He is expected to be back for the Rams contest in 8 days. Bryant sat out 6 weeks and came back the same - - - unable to fully follow through on his swing. Is there something more on Bryant's shoulder that we do not know about? 

Running through 3 hitting and pitching coaches in 3 years seems to be counterproductive - - - will the new coaches be able to improve underperforming players like a magician? Or is bringing in new coaches merely an illusion to cover-up the mistakes of the front office?

Is 2019 going to be the Rehab Tour? Russell, Chatwood, Darvish, Edwards, Bryant,
Schwarber, Contreras - - -  are they all going to rebound to have career years??

November 28, 2018


At a charity event in Florida, the Tampa Bay Times caught up with Joe Maddon.

He had several things to say about his new approach in 2019, the status of Jim Hickey and not having a contract extension.

Maddon says he plans a significant change for next year in his managing style with a shift to more on field coaching work, which is apparently tied to baseball ops president Theo Epstein saying he expects Maddon to be "re-energized" by the challenges after last season's disappointing finish.
"That will be the part that will be  different," Maddon said. "I've always kind of stayed free of coaching because I really want to stay out of coaches' way so they can do their job. I've always felt that is the right way to do it. But this year I'm going to get a little more hands-on involved in actually coaching. I think that's where the comment came from. …. I actually want to do less before the game talking to the media and whatever and try to get on the field more often."

Maddon said last week's departure of pitching coach Jim Hickey was not health related but said he couldn't get into specifics of what the "personal reasons" were. "He's fine," Maddon said. "He's not ill. His health is fine."

When asked about his lack of a contract extension, Maddon was nonplussed. He compared the situation as being a "free agent" not a "lame duck."  He compares the situation to Manny Machado and Bryce Harper playing out their contract to get a new, better one. Players often do better in "contract years."  Maddon is not worried about his future.

The three takeaways from the interview:

1. Maddon left too much coaching decisions to his staff in 2018. There will be no excuses for the 2019 results. He is going to take a more active approach in all phases of the players approach and execution. Whether he can get back to developmental basics with his players is going to be interesting.

2. Maddon was not phased by Hickey's departure or bitter by it. Perhaps there was something non-baseball related in the move. Maddon will now have new hitting and pitching coaches for the third year in a row. But he did not deflect it as a criticism of the organization or management.

3. He still wants to manage. He wants to succeed with the Cubs. He is preparing his 2019 campaign like a superstar free agent in his contract year. He is managing for a new contract, with the Cubs or some other organization.

November 21, 2018


After weeks of speculation, pitching coach Jim Hickey resigned for "personal reasons."

Most people do not buy it. Hickey was a friend and colleague of Joe Maddon from his Tampa days. The Cubs won 95 games. The Cubs made the playoffs.

But the front office is bitter by the Wild Card bounce. Now, for the third straight season, the Cubs will have a new hitting and pitching coach. So much for stability. And Maddon is not getting a contract extension, so he will be a lame duck manager.

What did Hickey mess up in order to be bought out to resign his position? The front office spend money on starters Tyler Chatwood, Yu Darvish, reliever Steve Cishek and closer Brandon Morrow. Only Cishek had a good season (80 relief appearances, 2.18 ERA). Chatwood was an uncontrollable disaster, Darvish was hurt and Morrow's injury history took him out for the second half of the season.

Despite the free agent flubs, the Cubs pitching staff year end NL stats were as follows:

2nd in Wins (95)
2nd in ERA (3.65)
4th in Saves
1st in IP
5th in Hits Allowed
4th in HR Allowed
14th in Walks
12th in Strikeouts

The last two bottom of the league states (BB/K) shows that the pitching staff had control issues, but despite those issues won 95 games and was second in team ERA.

Just as hitting coach Chili Davis was brought in last season to improve contact rate, OBP and opposite field hitting, he was fired apparently because his message did not "mesh" with the younger players. Epstein was highly critical that the Cubs offense collapsed in the second half of the season.

The Cubs hitting ranks were:

4th in Runs Scored
11th in HRs
13th in SB
4th in Walks
7th in Strikeouts
1st in Batting Average
2nd in On-Base Percentage (OBP)
6th in Slugging
6th in Total Bases

In today's stat era, having a hitting coach on a team that ranks first in BA and second in OBP would be praised as being successful. The two under performing categories were HRs and SBs, but stat gurus now discount the stolen base as obsolete in the modern game. Despite being middle of the pack in walks, slugging and total bases, the Cubs still won 95 games.

The team stats show that in one respect the Cubs overachieved to win 95 games. Some writers think 2018 was Maddon's best managerial season as he juggled injuries and player slumps in both hitting and fielding. But Maddon critics still think he is failing to develop the young core into superstar talent.

There is mounting circumstantial evidence that there is a rift between ownership, baseball operations and the team (coaches and players). The idea that the Cubs had to dump salary to exercise the option on Cole Hamels set off "small market" alarm bells that the Cubs were not going to spend over the $206 million luxury tax cap. The team is projected to bump up near that cap amount after arbitration awards to their existing players. In Boston, Epstein buried his bad signings and dead money deals by going out and overpaying for big name free agents. That escape plan is not going to happen for 2019. His roster is trapped by bad contracts and under performing young players. If he is going to re-work the roster, it will have to be through trades but the Cubs minor league system has no great major league ready prospects to pull off a mega-deal.

The tension between Epstein and Maddon is clear. Epstein said that Maddon should have not thrown Morrow three days in a row (which allegedly caused the season ending arm injury). But Morrow's injury did not stop the Cubs from winning 95 games as Pedro Strop came in to spot close (until he got hurt running the bases in a move universally critical of Maddon's managing move). It is clear that the front office is hiring the next coaching staff, not Maddon. They have isolated Maddon from gathering his own coaching staff and loyalty. Whether that is a move to force Maddon's hand to resign we do not know. But Maddon's personality is not the type to walk away from a fight, even within the organization. The Cubs cannot outright fire Maddon because he is the figurehead who brought desperate Cubs fans a multi-generational World Series championship.

The firings of Davis and Hickey were sacrifices to ownership for not fully monetizing the season. Someone had to take the brunt of the blame for not going deep in the playoffs (and thus having a large revenue shortfall). It is highly unlikely that a new hitting coach is going to turn .240 career hitters into .300 hitters or a new pitching coach is going to turn Darvish into Cy Young or Chatwood into a All-Star starter.

How Maddon will react to this back office soap opera will be telling; he can either go through the moments in 2019 or try to re-ignite the loose, highly spirited championship locker room. Some believe that Maddon's goofy events worked well with rookies and young players because it made them not "think" about hitting or batting. But as the years went on, Maddon's carefree stunts lost its message and the players seemed to tighten up. It is not that Maddon has lost players confidence, but he lost his edge as a player-friendly manager. At times, coddled players need some tough love (and much of that is messaged through the manager's assistant coaches). If Hickey and Davis' departures are because the players did not get along with them, then this is the beginning of the end as teams that have the players run the asylum are doomed (like late in Dusty Baker's Cub tenure.) We know Epstein wants to be close to "his guys" in the locker room and conversations with players had impact on the Davis dismissal.

If the front office wants a remote control manager who will run the pre-programmed line up and field calls driven by stat percentages, then Maddon is not that type of employee. He still has enough old school baseball instincts that defy new conventions. Change is coming to the Cubs dugout sooner than we as fans expected before the start of the 2018 season.

November 16, 2018


I am more surprised than the average fan.

MLBTR reports that MLB signed a huge deal with Fox.

MLB reached a new seven-year, multiplatform agreement with FOX Sports spanning the 2022-28 seasons. Eric Fisher of Sports Business Journal reports that the contract’s rough value is a staggering $5.1 billion — a near-50 percent increase over the total value of the existing agreement between MLB and FOX. Bloomberg reports a similar total figure and notes that on an annual basis, the agreement represents a 36 percent increase over the prior contract.

Major League Baseball owners approved a three-year, $300MM streaming rights deal with DAZN, wherein DAZN will offer a weeknight show whose coverage bounces from game to game throughout the league — “similar to NFL RedZone.”

Under the terms of the television agreement, FOX Sports and FOX Deportes will retain exclusive rights to airing the World Series, one of the two annual League Championship Series and two of the four annual Division Series and the All-Star Game. FOX will also continue to air a pair of games each Saturday, with today’s release indicating that the number of regular season and postseason games aired on FOX will begin to increase in 2022. FOX also secures expanded streaming, social media and highlight rights, per the announcement.

It’s an enormous windfall for the league and one that further places a spotlight on the ever-increasing revenue available to Major League teams in today’s game — even as league-wide attendance dips and World Series ratings fell dramatically. The financial specifics of each team (or of any team) remain unknown as such information (including revenue sharing figures) is not made publicly available.

But in a general sense, each team will benefit by $170 million or around $24 million/team/year starting in 2022.

From a media standpoint, this is not based on the traditional Nielsen TV ratings book. The rights purchase includes multiplatforms, which would include mobile, streaming, on demand, or the next viewing technology platform (such as the next Facebook). Fox is trying to capture those distribution channels, but it is unclear if this Fox deal hampers the growth of MLB's own internet game applications and subscription based streams.

One thing is certain: the news of this huge extension will be on the minds of the superstar free agents who will not take any idea that the owners are poor or hitting a rough revenue patch.

November 15, 2018


The happy family facade at Clark and Addison is beginning to crack.

The national media is confused by how the Cubs front office is acting this off-season. Even local writers have woken up to the prospect that the Cubs may not be the Midwest, free spending, big market Yankees.

It began when Theo Epstein post season autopsy, er, press conference left a lasting impression that Theo was not happy. He stressed the fact that the team has to focus in on performance and not talent. It means highly prized prospects have to perform better in order to keep their spot. But on the flip side, the Cubs brass have always been enamored with "their guys."  They will keep their guys well past their trade value. And now, Epstein admits, that the 2019 roster improvement will have to come via trades.

It is stunning reversal for the genius baseball gods. The plan was to draft the best bats available and solve pitching via free agency. Young position players are cheap and controllable up to six years. Veteran reliable pitching, though expensive, is less likely to be busts.  Well, until this year.

The Cubs spent more than $185 million on Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Morrow. The next consensus is that the three star pitchers flamed out badly. Darvish had injury problems from the start. Morrow had a long injury history. And Chatwood was plain bad.

The Cubs have drafted 147 pitchers in the past seven years and they have not developed one quality starting pitcher. Last season, Theo-Jed's farm system produced less than 20 innings of home grown pitching talent. It is a disaster. It has crippled the organization.

The quick promotions of Bryant, Schwarber and Happ have created a prospect vacuum in the minors. The best prospects are now at low A, four or five years away from the majors. Triple A is filled with AAA players with little chance to catch on even in a bench role. The minor league system has little trading chips. And the major league roster has very few "marketable" players to other teams because Russell, Schwarber and Happ are now solid .240 hitters which are a dime a dozen nowadays.

What struck the baseball nation odd was the story that in order for the Cubs to exercise the $20 million option on Cole Hamels, the team had to jettison $7 million in salary (Smyly was traded to the Rangers to clear that budget space.)  Now that type of contract shuffling is what a small market team like the Royals, Rays or Marlins would be accused of doing for a long time.

The Cubs have been in the top 5 in spending, just under the luxury tax threshold. The ceiling goes up $9 million to $206 million in 2019. So one would ask why did the Cubs have issues signing Hamels if the team was getting a $9 million budget bump?  Because the soft salary cap and the real Cubs payroll budget are two different things. The Cubs are already committed $350 million to 11 players. This does not include the arbitration awards for players like Bryant, Hendricks, Baez, Russell, Schwarber, Montgomery, Edwards and LaStella. Collectively, these arb players will be paid north of $40 million.

Major caveat: rich people stay rich by not losing money.

Epstein's off-the-cuff remark that the Ricketts have invested $750 million on development around Wrigley Field is telling; the Cubs are secondary in ownership's profit center mindset. You have to realize that the outside development is not owned by the Cubs team. Separate companies own the land and the development of the McDonald's block and the triangle. In fact, the Cubs are a tenant because Wrigley is owned by a different legal entity. Why would Theo know how much the Ricketts invested in the neighborhood? He was told it.

There has always been friction between Epstein, baseball operations and the "business" side of the Cubs run by Crane Kenney and Tom Ricketts. Ricketts wants a return on his "entire" investment and that includes premium events at Wrigley, i.e. concerts or play-off games. When the Cubs bowed out of the playoffs in the Wild Card game, the Cubs lost at least $30 million in gate receipts and the Ricketts enterprises (the hotel, the bars, etc.) lost more than that in revenue. If the business side had counted on annual deep playoff runs in their budget projections, this would have been a huge jolt to ownership.

Perhaps, that is why Epstein has been surly. He cannot buy his way out of bust or dead money deals like he tried to do in Boston. So he has to find a scapegoat, so the hitting coach gets fired after a year (and apparently the pitching coach, Maddon ally Jim Hickey is also out the door.) Epstein blames Maddon for not following "the plan" with Morrow to not pitch him more than two days in a row. Maddon pitched Morrow three times (an extra 6 pitches) that allegedly caused Morrow to get shut down. This deflects the fact that Morrow is a brittle arm, but it gave Epstein some ammo not to extend Maddon's contract. Joe will be a lame duck manager in 2019. And if the league trend continues, he will not be renewed as teams are now hiring inexperienced, stats-savvy guys front offices can control. Such a hiring would save the Cubs at least $5 million in 2020.

As you can tell, these seem to be like nickel and dime, petty things to do. But it may be by necessity. The Cubs have the weakest local television rights contracts for a big market team. In 2020, the Cubs were going to launch their own network. The idea of a multi-billion payday for Cubs broadcasts is now a pipe dream after the Dodgers deal blew up in Time Warner's face. Cable operators are losing subscribers in 2018 at a 300,000/month clip. People will not pay $5/month extra for a sports channel on their already high cable bills. Only a fool would pay a team a Dodger pay-out. (In a telling move, in the past few years, the Steinbrenners, who created the team channel revenue stream,  have divested most of their stake in their YES network.)

It seems that Epstein has hit the wall. He is under strict budget restrictions. That is why there are no rumors, stories or hints that the Cubs are negotiating for Harper or Machado or a starting pitcher like Keuchel. Epstein cannot sign free agents without making room for them in the budget (the Hamels option). He does not have a strong minor league system to either promote players to fill needs or trade prospects for proven talent.

Fans will not complain when the Cubs went "all in" in 2016 to win the World Championship. But now Epstein is sitting a poker table with a very short stack. And he is not happy about it.

November 9, 2018


Baseball is very popular in South Korea. Many KBO stars have made it to the U.S. major leagues. The nation takes pride in its national team when it plays in international contests.

South Korea is a nation of only 51 million. It does field one league with ten sponsored teams (major corporations). The teams play 144 games in the regular season.

But the championship playoffs are interesting alternative to the American version of the post-season.

Five teams make the playoffs in Korea.

The 4th and 5th place teams are the Wild Cards. They play a one game winner-take-all contest. The winner of this Wild Card games goes on to play a best of five series against the 3rd place club the Semi-Playoff.

The winner of the Semi-Playoff plays the 2nd place team in a best of five Playoff series.

Then the winner of the Semi-Playoff series plays the 1st place team for the championship. The championship series is best of seven.

What is clear about the KBO playoff format is that it rewards regular season play. The regular season winner has an automatic berth in the championship series. It also makes teams that finish lower than the league winner to "earn" their way to the championship round.

One negative to this format is that the league regular season winner has to wait until their opponent goes through a playoff gauntlet. This year's Wild Card game was held on October 16. The first championship game (against the 1st and 2nd place clubs) began on November 4.

MLB continues to talk about future expansion or re-alignment. That also means potential more playoff games, which in the current format dilutes regular season accomplishments of the best teams.

November 3, 2018


The off-season begins in earnest with option calls and exclusive negotiation periods for free agents.

Roster rebuilds are the bread and butter of winter work for teams.

The Cubs have built a roster of utility players, i.e. players who can play multiple positions, In the past, utility players were bench substitutes, pinch hitters and Sunday starters. But with the new religion of advanced stats and match-ups, lefty righty, situational OBP, shift and base running at end of games becomes more important than having regular starters and bench players.

Joe Maddon loves multi-use guys. He likes to mix and match lineups to opposing starting pitchers. ESPN Chicago notes that in 2018, Joe Maddon wrote out 152 different lineups in 163 games (and that's not even factoring in the pitcher's spot). That's a bump up from 2017 (143 different lineups) and 2016 (130 lineups in the regular season of the championship year).

How does that relate to the top contenders around the league?
The last four World Series teams (2017 Astros, 2018 Red Sox and the 2017-18 Dodgers) averaged 145 different lineups per regular season. All 2018 MLB playoff teams (excluding Cubs) averaged 129.1 separate lineups throughout the regular season. The Dodgers tallied 155 different lineups in 2018 and 147 in 2017 and they made it to the World Series both seasons. The Astros posted 144 new lineups each of the last two regular seasons while the Red Sox were at 134 lineups and the Brewers and Yankees sat at 137 lineups in 2018.

It seems that all teams are  mixing and matching lineups. Front offices are living in a  world of extreme platooning, bullpening and shifting which equates to a lot of different lineups.

If the rest of the league has adopted this philosophy, why would the Cubs be any different?

In his post season press conference, Theo Epstein indicated that some players told him they would like less daily lineup shakeups. A regular lineup is what they felt would be good for them.

 If the Cubs do not make major personnel moves this off-season (due to budgetary and luxury tax restraints), then the only major change would be how the players on the roster will be used in 2019. A regular, set lineup may be that major move.

In the past, starters earned "their job" and kept their position on the field until injury or demotion. Players in the minors worked hard to "earn" a position on a 25 man roster. It is that competition and fear of losing one's spot that keeps a player focused on playing hard and performing well. But when you have a dozen position players vying for 8 daily spots with a manager who likes to mix and match, you know you will play most of the time (but not necessarily a complete game at a time.)

Professional athletes are creatures of habit. They have set pregame routines (almost superstitions). They want to know their role so they can adjust their play to match the manager/team's expectations. There are two components of knowing your position: the place you play in the field and the number spot in the batting order. Most baseball players are more concerned about the latter - - - because where you hit in the order can affect your mental approach in an at-bat.

For example, a lead off hitter has to have the mentality of getting on base so the heart of the order can drive him home. A free swinging lead off hitter cannot "set the table." When the Cubs had Alfonso Soriano hitting lead off, it was not because it make sense but because Soriano demanded the spot because he felt he would see more fastballs he could hit.

Maddon only used the same lineup a total of 5 times in 2018.

Some believe the causes of this non-regular line up were:
1.  Bryant's shoulder injury became an issue and he was out for an extended period of time.
2. Russell's nagging injuries affected his hitting and fielding in such a manner that he needed more rest.
3. Heyward's defense in RF was more important than his hitting (which then improved under Chili Davis securing more playing time.)
4. Contreras' slumping season at the plate caused him to slowly drop down the order.
5. Maddon likes to play favorites with his veterans like Zobrist, giving him more playing time than with Happ or Almora.
6. And the front office pushing Schwarber as a pure hitter so he had to play LF to get at-bats.
7. Maddon's odd approach of putting struggling hitters (including Rizzo) in the lead off spot. (The Soriano philosophy).

Granted, the Cubs won 95 games with this carousel approach. But in the second half of the season, hitting became a real problem and some players may believe it was because of the daily changes in the lineup.

The platoon situation works if you have multiple players who can evenly perform at a high situational level (righty-lefty matchups). But if your roster is filled with .240 hitting utility players, then it really does not matter which ones start a game. The Cubs multiple position player depth is not the same as having a deep bench where the bench player is as good as a starter who earns that position. The bench or role players on the club are now pretty obvious: Schwarber, Almora, Happ, Zobrist, Russell, LaStella, Heyward, Bote. You could start a game with these 8 players, but why would you?

Which players have "earned" a regular starting position? Those players who do not have enough fatal flaws to become a platoon player:

Rizzo at 1B. Bryant at 3B. Baez at 2B/SS.

If a team objectively self-scouts, you can see the need to upgrade all of the other positions with a full time player.  That may be why fans are anxious to see if the Cubs will legitimately go after Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado. Those players would be penciled in to start 154 games.

Even if the front office is handcuffed into keeping its existing roster, spring training would be an open battle field to determine who will be the starting 8. If Bote can hit enough, that would move Bryant to the outfield. If Russell can regain his ability to hit the ball with power and RBI numbers, Baez can be set at second. Do you trust Almora to be your regular center fielder? Will Heyward be content being only a late inning defensive substitute? This is the perplexing problem the Cubs must address this off-season as Epstein was not happy with the direction of the club as it finished 2018.

Fans are like the players when it comes to a set lineup. They pay to see the best players on their team. If there is a set lineup, they are almost guaranteed to see their favorite player play.

October 26, 2018


Bryce Harper has been waiting for this pay day since he was called up at age 19.

Now at 26, he can get a mega long term deal as a free agent. He has a super agent in Scott Boras.

There are several problems on the bumpy road to mega wealth as the highest paid baseball player in history.

First, he had a down season.

Second, the free agent market dipped significantly last season. There are several big market big spenders who have had enough of luxury tax penalties to stop their spendthift ways.

Third, Harper is a one dimensional player. His defense continues to slide from below average to bad.

Fourth, he has a growing reputation as a clubhouse diva.

Bruce Levine reported this week that Harper's "starting" point for negotiations is 10 years/$350 million.  The agent is trying to set the bar higher than Giancarlo Stanton's current record deal of $325 million.

But in comparative terms, Stanton has earned more of his contract than Harper is asking for.

2018 4.0 WAR .266 BA 38 HR 100 RBI
2017 7.6 WAR .281 BA 59 HR 132 RBI
2016 2.6 WAR .281 BA 27 HR 74 RBI (119 GP)

2018 1.7 WAR .249 BA 34 HR 100 RBI
2017 4.7 WAR .319 BA 29 HR 87 RBI (111 GP)
2016 1.5 WAR .243 BA 24 HR 86 RBI

In 9 seasons, Stanton has 39.2 WAR (an average of 4.36 WAR).
In 7 seasons, Harper has 27.4 WAR (an average of 3.91 WAR).

For a valuation standard, Stanton is still worth .45 WAR per season more than Harper.
On a salary formula basis, Stanton is worth $2.475 million per season more than Harper.

Stanton is set to make $26 million in 2019.
Harper would then project to make only $23.525 million or only $235.25 million over ten years.

If Harper is set on signing a $350 million deal, he may have to wait a long time.
Last year, JD Martinez held out but had to sign a five year, $110 million deal with the Red Sox. Martinez had a 6.4 WAR in 2018 and his team is in the World Series. (Martinez does have several opt out clauses including after the 2019 season, but the market may not have changed by then.)

In order to boost a deal, Harper needs to have more than one club after his services. The only club remotely interested in Harper has been his old team, the Nationals. But the Nats are on the verge of a rebuild as their veteran roster has to start to turn over.

The Phillies could be another suitor. The Phils overachieved last season, but its front office would have to weigh routing their rebuilding process with a high price veteran. Nick Williams is penciled in as the Phils RF for 2019.

The usual big money spenders will probably be quiet this off-season: Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox, Yankees and Angels. The Rangers and Braves may spend money on pitching but not position players.

We will know after the Winter Meetings in December if the free agent market will continue to cool.

October 20, 2018


Justin Verlander spoke to the media about the scandal of the Astros "spying" on their opponent's dugout. He said the company line about the spy was really trying to see if the Red Sox were cheating.

But he went on to say something about sign stealing and speeding up pace of play. Yahoo Sports quotes the Astro ace from his Thursday press conference:

Given that cameras are everywhere, do you have any ideas how to make the sign stealing stuff go away, whether it’s wireless headsets, the communication —
It’s a good question. You know, honestly, I think something that came up for me in talking about pace of game might also help, which is, like you said, some wireless — you see in the NFL with the quarterback, a way to converse between pitcher and catcher and honestly between manager and catcher. I thought — I brought this issue to MLB last year and thought that for pace of game that could probably save 20 minutes a game.
You think of all the signs everybody’s going through — between pitcher/catcher, manager/catcher, especially when a guy gets on second base, I mean the game comes to a halt when that happens because of all the technology and we know that you need to be aware of it.
But I think that can also help. It’s not going to help pitch tipping, but I think it will help a lot with the sign stuff. And I think — I mean, I think this is a lot to do about nothing. I think it’s more peace of mind for the pitchers. Like I said, especially in the playoffs, you don’t want there to be any lingering doubt of anything. You want the only reason you get beat to be because you got beat. You don’t want to have to think it’s something else. That’s why you’re seeing all these advanced signs.
Yahoo Sports calculated that the wireless signal calling could speed up the average game by 10 minutes.

But this discussion does not really address the REAL problem. The real problem is that managers and coaches are trying to micromanage the game into a video realm. In the past, the pitcher and catcher had their own "books" on how to get players out. They would review their pitching strategy for the entire game. The catcher would not look to the dugout before each pitch. He would put down the sign and the pitcher, the ultimate one in control of the situation, would agree or shake off the sign. A pitcher knows what is working that day; he knows how he feels. He should have the baseball IQ to pitch to the situation.  

The NFL having an offensive coordinator calling every play through a headset actually turns the game into a battle of sideline guys. The view from the sideline is not the same from that behind center. The QB is the one who sees the flow of the defense; he can see the matchups at the line of scrimmage. But he is told what to do. He is not supposed to audible. He calls the play and has to get through his check downs quickly before being hit by a defender. 

In the past, the quarterback called the plays. Peyton Manning was the last traditional QB in the game. He called all the plays because he was a "coach" on the field. He understood defenses. He understood his players strengths and weaknesses. He could game plan and adapt on the fly. That is why he was a great, winning QB. 

If you want to speed up the game AND bring it back to its roots, the pitcher (like an old school QB) should call his own pitches, take command of his own performance and own his own accountability. That would be a real game changer.

October 15, 2018


Baseball core principles are changing as advanced stats become the norm.

Batting averages, the key stat in a hitter's success, are now downplayed or discarded in favor of OBP or OPS. The league is now flooded with .230 hitters with high strike out rates because power stats are more "valuable" than a single or a single out (strikeout). If a lineup is filled with .230 hitters, it is more prone to long batting slumps. In 2018, the Cubs found that out the hard way by scoring one or fewer runs in 41 games.

No one is trying to find a traditional lead off hitter. A person who hits for high average, can work a walk, and steal a base with ease. The reason is that stat men believe a steal is a risky and worthless strategy. Teams no longer think on ways to "manufacture" a run when the trend is still the 3- run HR or bust mentality.

There are so many .230 BA strike out machines that pitchers no longer have to "pitch to contact." In other words, starters use to have to conserve energy to pitch 8 innings/start. But today, they are nibble on the corners and try to "trick" batters into missed swings. Other pitchers just rely on two pitches, a fastball and an off-speed pitch, and throw as hard as possible knowing that they are on a 100 pitch count. It does not matter if you are in the third or sixth, at 100 you are going to get yanked. So wins, an old measure of starting pitcher success, is another meaningless stat in the modern age. Pitchers don't have the mind set to go out a "win" a complete game because management has diminished their role by bolstering the bullpen to finish games. It also is driven by the fact that pitchers give up more hits the third time around in the batting order. So teams are planning to get a pitcher, however effective, out by the time the batting order rolls around for the third time.

All the nibbler pitchers have increased the time of games, and contributed to the wide variance in strike zones called by umpires. In the past, a quality pitcher will blister the zone with his best pitch challenging the hitter to hit it. Now, batters are sitting back looking for "a mistake" to hit. Since the pitcher has the advantage, most do themselves no great service by throwing outside the zone.

Traditional pitching coaches preach that it is not velocity that matters most in pitching, it is movement. But velocity speed guns are still the primary tool to evaluate pitchers. A 100 mph straight fast ball can be hit by any major talent. It is the 94 mph pitch that moves sideways or plummets down that causes batters more problems. Bruce Sutter was an ace closer not because he had a dynamic fastball, but because he developed the original fork ball, an enticing pitch that looked like a heart of the plate fastball until it dropped off a table at the last moment. Sutter was looking for swings and misses, but he could throw his fork ball for called strikes. He was a pitcher not a thrower.

A pitcher has a plan for each batter, because each batter has a hole in his swing. A sinker ball master can have opponents beat the ball to the infielders for easy outs. Such a plan limits the starter's pitch count and gets the entire team into the game. A thrower gets on the mound a rears back for every pitch. He does not really know where it will land because control is not his primary principle.

With all the new stat analysis, what is lost is the more basic elements of the game: runs and outs. Each team has 27 outs to score runs. How you use those outs to get runs is important. A "productive" out such as a sacrifice bunt, hitting to the opposite field, a sacrifice fly are all downplayed today. Teams have horrible collective stats with runners in scoring position. Why? An individual stat priority takes precedence over the proper situational play like moving the runner over, of choking up on the bat to hit a single instead of a home run. Scoring runs should be the priority of every player, but there is now an inherent bias to put individual stats (that's how players are paid) ahead of the team.

Front offices continue to hire cheaper, non-old school managers who management can control more with stats than gut strategy. The game is morphing into a video game without controllers.

October 12, 2018


A major league team filled with a roster of "replacement level players" would be expected only to win 48 games. In reviewing the Cubs 2018 season, let us look at a few key statistics.

The Cubs won 95 games. That is 47 games above replacement level.

The Cubs combined hitters had a 24.0 WAR.

The Cubs pitching staff had a 21.1 WAR.

Combined, the roster had a 45.1 WAR.

In the end, the Cubs wins was 1.9 above their collective WAR. So the Cubs won two more games than reasonably expected during the season. Is this the quantitative measure of Maddon's managerial skill?

If you look at the Cubs win total to actual WAR, the 1.9 WAR difference is 4.2 percent. That would equate to a projected seasonal impact in approximately 7 games (6.82).

The Cubs were 11th in the NL with 104 errors made. That means the Cubs gave their opponents 104 more outs, or the equivalent of 3.85 games. For a tired pitching staff, adding another 4 games to 163 regular season contests is a burden. They had to perform 2.4 percent more than the norm.

Errors create base runners which leads to more "highly leveraged" pitching situations. For starters, that means changing one's mechanic's to the stretch position. For relievers, it puts more pressure to get strikes with your best pitch. For relievers, the errors could have added an average hidden  4 1/3 IP  to their work load, or 4 more appearances during the season. Cishek had 80 appearances for 70.1 IP. Wilson had 60 appearances for 52.1 IP.

The Cubs season could be summed up as being conflicted; there was inconsistent offense and tired pitching but it lead to a slight overachievement in the end.

October 11, 2018


Multiple reports having Kris Bryant turning down a $200 million extension offer from the Cubs.

Bryant's agent, Scott Boras, is looking for his MVP winner in three years to hit the open market. A market, which two years ago, thought Bryce Harper would potentially reach the $400 million mark. But Boras and other top agents hit the wall last season when the free agent market tanked on star players. Harper's market value has plummeted with the misfortunes of the Nationals. Being a diva and not a five tool player has hurt Harper's valuation. But the market makers, the large big budget teams, are now more concerned about staying under the luxury tax or spending caps to bankrupt their draft picks and international pool money.

For the Cubs to even offer Bryant such a deal after his weak 2018 campaign is telling; someone in management thinks the Cubs window of opportunity for championships is longer than three years. But to offer any player $200 million is a risky proposition. Bryant has had various injuries that kept him out of the lineup for 60 games. Most troublesome is a shoulder injury for which rest did not help. It screwed up his batting mechanics to the point where he became a weak singles hitter. The Cubs do not need another .275 BA, big money singles hitter (i.e. Heyward.)

Player salaries continued to rocket northward from 2009 to 2016. In 2009 free agency, a star player would receive approximately $1.3 million/WAR. By 2012, the value increased to $3.3 million. It peaked around $6 million/WAR. Last off-season, J.D. Martinez had a 4.2 WAR. He was one of the few power hitting free agents. After a long wait, Boston signed him for decrease in his asking price, around $5.6 million/WAR. Other free agents got less.

Bryant and his agent are still miffed that their grievance on manipulating service time cost Bryant an earlier escape into free agency. But the Cubs did pay him more money than the minimum prior to arbitration eligibility. The Cubs have paid record arb awards to Bryant. He will make from $14 to 16 million in 2019. If you look at Martinez's Red Sox valuation, Bryant only had 1.9 WAR in 2018. That would equate to only a $10.4 million 2019 salary. Bryant's 2019 salary is still based on "talent" and not "performance," something Theo Epstein was in general bitter about his team during the post-season press conference. He had earned a record for a first-year arbitration-eligible player $10.85 million in 2018.

To offer Bryant $20 million/year extension means that the Cubs would not exercise the option on Hamels. The team would have to shed more money to keep under the salary cap, probably packaging Russell ($3 million), Schwarber ($1.3 million) and Chatwood ($12.5 million) in order to pay for Bryant's extension. All three of those Cub players are at their lowest trade value. They may have gone stale from their prospect-scouting talent projections based on recent performance.

Boras may still be misreading the future of MLB. The bottom of the market could crash in the next three years because MLB cannot count on a billion dollar national television deal. MLB teams cannot reasonably believe they will get a billion dollar windfall by creating their own Yankee network or Dodgers channel because cable operators are bleeding to death by cord cutters who refuse to pay for sports channels. Boras and other agents may think smart owners may cash out their investment in the next few years so some new rich guy will come to the table ready to spend money for "star" players.  So the odds are that Bryant will take a dangerous jog down the path of free agency.

October 6, 2018


The Cubs find themselves in the same position as they did last off-season.

The Cubs are in need of the following:

1. TWO STARTING PITCHERS.  Darvish and Chatwood signings were a total disaster. Darvish has an arm injury and Chatwood is a walk machine. Darvish injury is a stress reaction which is a precursor to a stress fracture in his elbow. It was reported that 8 weeks of rest would be the treatment plan, but one has to put a question mark on whether the injury is problematic (due to mechanic's etc). Chatwood may get a second chance, but most believe he can maybe salvageable as a long reliever. Montgomery was the 6th starter for most of the year. In 19 starts, he went 5-6, 3.99 ERA and 1.1 WAR. That may not be enough to claim the 5th starter role in 2019. The Cubs have to prepare to sign two more starting pitchers this off-season (Smyly does not count since he did not recover from his injury in the projected time frame to help the club in 2018).

2. LEAD OFF HITTER. Ever since Dexter Fowler left for free agency, the Cubs have not had a consistent lead off hitter (even though Fowler was not the prototypical lead off batter). It was recently reported that not all Cub players are happy with Maddon's new line-up everyday philosophy. Players want an established lineup order to better prepare for their games. The idea of leading off Rizzo, Bryant, or Baez (usually to get them out of slumps) hurt the run producing slots down the line. The Cubs had a major issue in run scoring. It was feast or famine. The second half was a painful drought. In 40 games, the Cubs scored less than 3 runs. The Cubs could not manufacture a run with a walk, stolen base and a single (only when pinch runner Gore made the club was there a slight glimmer of old school baseball.) When the hitting philosophy changed from launch angle/home run upper cuts to level line drive/opposite field for average, the Cubs offense was more ineffective. Having a high OBP, contact hitter with stolen base speed at the top of the order allows the Cubs the ability to manufacture at least a run every three times through the order. But advanced statistics (which Theo seems to be addicted to) calls out base steals as being counter-productive (risk-reward).

3. CLOSER. Morrow signing was hailed as a good move, but risky. He had a history of arm issues. But the front office said that the team would not "overuse" him. But Maddon, who really has a problem managing his bullpens, used Morrow three games in a row (for no apparent reason) which led to Theo believing that ended Morrow's season. The alternative closers did not step up to replace Morrow. Edwards seems to lose concentration in high leverage situations. Strop can be good, but Maddon making him bat after throwing 1 2/3 innings which led to his hamstring injury killed the final run. Cishek was overused by Maddon throughout the season so that his throwing arm is a foot longer than normal. There is no dominant arm in AAA to be the next closer. It is hard to trust whether Morrow will come back fully healthy, or whether he can be the regular closer in 2019.

The front office was under orders to not go over the luxury tax threshold in 2018. They bumped up to the ceiling by the end of the year. There is not much coming off the payroll for 2019. With arbitration players and existing contracts, the Cubs project to be near the $200 million mark, only $6 million from the new tax cap. If Russell is given his walking papers or traded, that saves around $3 million. A $9 million window will not sign a big FA like Harper, or exercise the $20 million option for Hamels.

You have to realize that there is still tension between baseball operations and the "business" side of the Cubs. Ricketts and Kenney were budgeting and banking on the Cubs going deep in the playoffs. The was the expectation from fans and ownership. If the Cubs would have gotten to the NLCS, the team could have banked at least $60 million in premium post-season revenue. That has to be a sore spot for the bean counters and the huge investment Ricketts has made outside the ball park. There is no reason to expect the Cubs to spend like drunken sailors this off-season to get an ace pitcher and a big expensive bat after spending $186 million on Darvish, Chatwood and Morrow who are under contract.

When Theo said in his state of the Cubs post-season press conference that they would be not looking at "talent" but "performance," he was calling out his young core guys: Schwarber, Happ, Contreras, Almora. Theo has a track record of loving his guys to the point of over-valuing them (and not trading them when they had value). Some reporters believe after the flat finish to the season, no one is untradeable from the roster.  But the front office and scouts may still have rose color glasses on their players "turning things around."  The roster is filled with .230 hitting platoon players. It would be rare for all of them at the same time to have sudden career years in 2019.  Spring training needs to be a battle for starting positions. Give the position to the player who earns it, so he can be hungry enough during the season to perform to keep it. That level of internal competition has been missing in the clubhouse under Maddon because juggles the lineup so everybody plays. But that track may not help in the development of players. Likewise, giving the job to a player on the up-cycle (like Contreras at catcher) does not necessarily guarantee continued success (at least offensively).

In one respect, the Cubs 2019 roster is pretty much hand cuffed by the underperforming core of young players. The Cubs championship window is now (and closing fast). The win-now demands means that they cannot shop for prospects and wait three years to promote them to the major league team. Do you blow up the team and trade for veterans on the downhill side of their careers for one last death march to the pennant? Of do you stay the choppy course with the guys you have?

October 3, 2018


The lunch time sports radio is all about Cub disappointment.
And a storm cloud on the horizon future is the metaphor for the future.

Here's the preliminary Cubs autopsy:

 LEFT FIELD: Is Schwarber's .236 BA, 25 HR, 61 RBI, 1.5 WAR
enough to keep a full time job in 2019? Probably not
if Bryant is going to move to LF to protect his lame shoulder.
Which leads to a bigger question: will Bryant fully recover
from his injuries or is he going to stay a singles hitter?

CENTER FIELD: Will Almora be given the full time job
or will Maddon continue to use Happ as his primary guy?
Almora .286 BA is good but lacks power (5 HR). His overall
1.7 WAR is surprisingly low for a defensive specialist
which equates to be a bench guy. But Happ is not the
answer either: .235 BA, 15 HR 44 RBI 0.5 WAR.

RIGHT FIELD: Heyward has the big money contract so
the management forces him to start. .270 BA, 8 HR, 57 RBI, 1.6 WAR
is not a power corner outfielder. Zobrist's come back year of
.305 BA, 9 HR, 58 RBI, 3.3 WAR took time late in the season
away from Heyward. But Zo is turning 39 and his defensive range
is becoming a real issue.

In essence, the Cubs ran their outfield last season with 6
bench players sharing time instead of getting solid, proven
starters like the Brewers did with Yelich and Cain. There is
strong argument to be made that none of them have won
a starting job for next season, but there is no one in the
minors who will push for a starting role.

THIRD BASE: by default this is Bryant's spot, but
you have to be skeptical with his injuries. Bote was the
surprise call up, but his magic turns to myth when you look
at his final stats: .239 BA, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 1.0 WAR. Again,
Bote looks like a defensive replacement/bench player.

SHORTSTOP: Management likes Russell, but his suspension
and lingering injuries have affected his ability to a two-way player.
.250 BA, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 2.0 WAR are bench player numbers.

SECOND BASE: Baez had a team MVP season.: .290 BA,
34 HR, 111 RBI, 6.3 WAR. He is the first real starter in this
season review.

FIRST BASE: the second is Rizzo. .283 BA, 25 HR, 101 RBI,
2.7 WAR are respectable stats, but it should be noted that
Rizzo's WAR has steadily decreased since its 6.3 peak in 2015.

CATCHER: Contreras fell off the Earth in the second half of the season.
He bolted on the seen as the next great NL catcher. But 2018 was
a struggle: .249 BA, 10 HR, 54 RBI.

The Cubs offensive woes are clearly visible when you look at the
main players final stats. Of the 8 position players, only 3 (if you
include Contreras) rate as major league starters.

A fist full of .235 hitting players platooning with other .235 hitting players
is not going to create a .300 hitting position player.

The Cubs have hit the business side's glass ceiling for payroll in 2018.
There is a question of whether the team has any room to sign a quality free agent
or exercise Hamels $20 million option. The glass ceiling is the luxury tax limit
which Ricketts abhors to pay. The current penalties for overspending two years
in a row handcuffs front offices from both amateur and international signings. 

The Cubs midseason was on pace to spend $193 million with the luxury tax
threshold at $197 million. It will be close. Next year, the tax floor is raised
to $206 million.  But a look at the commitments for 2019, no opening day
salaried player is coming off the books. Instead, there are a few options
to retain players but no big window to spend a great deal more to get a
$25 million player like Bryce Harper.

This would be bearable if the farm system was ready to churn out major
league rookie prospects like the Dodgers organization does on an annual basis.
The Cubs are stuck with their current roster for the foreseeable future.

UPDATE: 10-10-18

MLBTR projects the Cubs will pay their arbitration eligible players a combined $40.1 million next season. That is an increase of approximately $21 million.

According to Sportac, the Cubs had the fourth-highest payroll in 2018 at $194,259,933. As we stated, the roster may not see a lot of  turnover (the bullpen may be the exception), but just adding the increase in arbitration salaries shows the Cubs projected payroll of $215 million for 2019 will be over the luxury cap by $9 million. This projection does not include exercise of Hamels $20 million or Kintzler's $5 million options.