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??