April 21, 2019


Maddon said Morrow, who currently is on the 10-day injured list, struggled in his recovery from throwing off the mound earlier this week.

"The bounceback after the last time out wasn't as good," Maddon said. "So, we've got to back off of him once again and just slow things down. That's just where he's at. It's not unlike what had been going on (last season). It was all trending very well and then, like I said, this last time, just not as good. So, we just have to pay attention to what he's saying."

Pat Hughes was marveling yesterday  on the radio that the home crowd could reach 38,000.
Really? A 70 degree Saturday on a holiday weekend and only get 38,000 fans? It should have been
48,000 standing room only. But the game casts continue to hard sell single game, special event and
suite ticket packages like a desperate snake oil salesman. It is another sign that money is tight for the Cubs. Every unsold ticket is a lost asset.

It does go to show that Ricketts have clamped down on pennies and dimes for the baseball club.
Morrow cannot be counted on returning, and there is zero movement to find his replacement.
Kimbrel is still unemployed which is baffling for clubs in need of relief pitching.

But Theo has repeated his Boston downfall: overspending on players who underperform.
Morrow $21 million; Chatwood $33 million; Darvish $126 million = $180 million bust.
If you add the Hamels $20 million option to cover for the bad Darvish deal, that is an entire
season salary budget on four players.

As Maddon is the lame duck manager, I now wonder if cutting off the dollar taps by ownership
is a real signal that Theo & his Gang are also lame ducks (Theo only has 2 years to go on his contract).

Kenney continues to hype that the new Cubs channel will be like finding an untapped gold mine,
but he is as delusional as Theo was with his recent pitching acquisitions. The Dodger Network deal has been a disaster for broadcast partner Time-Warner. Regional sports networks are in flux due to the Disney-Fox merger. The Cubs trying to start their own network in an era of cord cutting cable viewers without a strong local partner is a recipe for disaster.

The Cubs struggled to get to .500, then Darvish gave up two back-to-back jacks in the first inning to set the tone for another bad day. He calmed down some, but was pulled again in the fifth inning when the offense failed to show up. Now, Chatwood takes the mound for a Lester DL start. The consensus is today's pitching is going to be bad as Chatwood became the lame duck when Hamels returned to help anchor the rotation.

The old saying is true: you cannot win the division early in the season, but you can certainly lose it. The NL Central continues to be highly competitive, with the Pirates surging past the Brewers into first place.

April 9, 2019


 Everyone is trying to figure out the dynamics of a weak free agent market and the rash of player extensions. It may be a simple conversion of complex rational behaviors.

First, for the past several years, front offices have gone off the deep end on Big Data. Teams have figured out new statistics on spin rates, hit ball velocity and motion capture mechanics. Teams can break down their players into computer data. Now teams have more stats (good and bad) on their players to justify lower arbitration offers or free agency passes on veterans who used to be paid on past performance.

Second, while baseball is still generating record revenues, there are storm clouds on the horizon as attendance is down, TV ratings are down, TV advertising (and associated broadcast fees) have hit a plateau and demographics are trending to age out. Kids today would rather spend four hours playing Fortnite than watching a baseball game. In order to keep profit margins, teams are relying more on young, cheap and controllable players to fill major league rosters.

Third, the age of the super-agent is fading away. In the last two off-seasons, agents have missed the market trends, especially for the second tier free agents. Teams were armed with weaponized stats proving that older veterans decline in value after age 30. Teams were only going to pay for future performance, hence lower average annual salaries and contract years. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado got their deals because they were both 26, in their prime production years. Other veterans, including pitchers, still sit on the side lines without a job.

Fourth, veteran players and union officials are mad about the free agency market. They whisper collusion but cannot prove it. They are thinking about striking when the current collective bargaining agreement is over. But the prospect of a strike or a lock out does not sit well with a majority of baseball players. Hence, the surge in player extensions (usually at team friendly rates.)

Mid-February  25 contract extensions have been signed, notably by many young players including Ronald Acuña Jr., Blake Snell,  and Eloy Jiménez, who had yet to have a major league at-bat.  Acuña Jr. and Snell were last year’s Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award winners while Jiménez could be this year’s ROY.
Acuña, Snell, and Jiménez’s teams locking them up this early in their careers has a two-fold effect: given how good they are (or, in Jiménez’s case, could be), they stand to potentially set salary records going through arbitration. Acuña, for example, was set to become eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2022. His extension is for eight years and $100 million, meaning he won’t become a free agent until after the 2026 season at the earliest. He will earn $15 million in 2022, and $17 million from 2023-26.

Compare that to Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado (who also signed an extension). Arenado earned a $26 million salary going through his final year of arbitration eligibility. Arenado avoided all the potential drama and cross currents of a broken free agent system by taking the familiar guaranteed money of the Rockies. There is some value in the stability of staying with your current team (professionally and family situations).

Agent Scott Boras, who has had many clients getting paid less than he projected, is not happy with these young prospect extensions:

"Great young players are getting what I call snuff contracts. And a snuff contract is that they’re trying to snuff out the market. They know the player is a great player, and he’s exhibited very little performance. So they’re coming to him at 20 and 21, and I’m going to snuff out your ability to move, to go anywhere, to do anything, and your value. And I’m going to pay you maybe 40 cents on the dollar to do it. What’s my risk?"

Ken Rosenthal recent reported that the players believe team representatives are even circumventing the player and his agent by appealing to the players’ families, especially for players with poor and/or Latin American backgrounds. That may help explain why many young players are taking the guaranteed money.  Contract negotiations do not happen in a vacuum. A multimillion dollar guaranteed contract is life changing for most families.

By taking themselves out of the picture, Acuña and Snell cannot set the bar for the industry for players of their caliber, age, and service time, which makes agents jobs much harder to push the boundaries of free agent money. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel have been caught on the other side looking in as the season started. By testing the free agent waters, Kimbrel and Keuchel have been swept away by teams signing younger players earlier.

But there still are puzzling aspects to contract extensions. The Cubs extended utility infielder David Bote for 5 years, $15 million. Bote is not even a starting player! He is a career .240 hitter. His career WAR is 1.0, not even the level of a AAAA replacement. Yet, Bote went to management and begs for some job security. The 24th man on the roster got his wish with a cash strapped club paying him five times what he was projected to earn in the next 5 years. Teams can still spend oddly in this new era of extensions.

April 4, 2019


The Cubs have started the urgency of the 2019 campaign like a bunch of Keystone cops falling over each other. It started with horrible pitching, then moved on to terrible fielding, then moved on to lack of hitting, and finally to questionable base running. After another bullpen meltdown, Jon Lester claimed that the team feels "the pressure" from the front office.

Yes, Theo Epstein was mad at the end of last season. He wants the players to take accountability for their performance. Prospects are no longer potential players. He wants results. Now.

But in reality, Epstein is both diverting the blame and redirecting his anger against ownership. He created this roster of underperforming, overpaid pitchers. He created the atmosphere of dread by not extending Joe Maddon's contract. He overspent on players in the past two seasons which gave him no payroll flexibility in this off-season to fix any glaring problems.

In all levels of the organization, the Cubs have fallen flat on their faces.

The fan angst will boil with another Yu Darvish start. He says he is fine; his pitching coach thinks there is a problem with his pelvic tilt; or vice versa. The embrace of big data in pitching (the
Cubs have a motion capture system where each pitcher in spring training threw a "base line" delivery) is further messing with the mental aspects of the pitcher's routine. Carl Edwards suddenly showed up in the first series with a new (illegal) delivery. There is no confidence that the coaching staff has any real insight or control of the staff.

But things get stranger. In the midst of the losing streak, David Bote suddenly gets a five year, $15 million extension. WTF? Bote got an extension before Schwarber, Almora, Baez or Contreras? Bote is not even a STARTER. Why is he getting a raise five times more than he would normally earn? Is Theo a spendthrift? Or was this giving ownership a quick middle finger? Clearly, the front office is also on tilt with this extension.

The team is playing bad, the front office has no answers, and the Brewers are off to a hot start. This all plays into the gloom and doom of the season opening 9 game road trip.