September 21, 2019


The Cubs are going to have a difficult 2019 off-season.

Whether the team sneaks into the playoffs or crashes & burns in St. Louis, the on-paper team has not lived up to expectations after the 2016 World Series. A dynasty it did not become.

There should be changes. It is almost certain that manager Joe Maddon ($6 million) will not be re-signed by the Cubs. In an era of paying managers a million bucks, Maddon is a dinosaur. It is not that he will not get work. National columnists believe he will land either with the Angels, Giants or Phillies.

Gone from the 2020 Cub roster is an easy exercise of expiring contracts:

SP Hamels ($20M), IN Zobrist ($12.5M), CL Morrow ($9M), RP Cishek ($6.5M), RP Strop ($6.25M), RP Kintzler ($5M), IN Delcasco ($1.5M/ buyout).  Approximately $62.5 million will be shed from the current payroll. But that figure alone does not give the front office much firepower to retool the club.

The starting rotation became a collective laboring crew. 2020 will have Lester, Darvish, Hendricks and Quintana as starters by default. The 5th starter projects to be AAA SP Colin Rea, who had an MVP minor league season at Iowa. Also in the mix would be RHP Chatwood or reclamation project LHP Hultzen.

The bullpen is going to have major turnover as well. For good or ill, Kimbrel is the closer. Wick and Ryan have earned a spot on next year's roster. The jury is still out on Underwood, Mills, Maples and Weick.With an added man on the 2020 roster, one could easily see another relief pitcher for a 15 man pitching staff.

The question remains whether the position core is good enough to compete next year.

OF: Schwarber, Almora, Happ, Heyward
IN: Bryant, Baez, Bote, Russell, Rizzo
C: Contreras, Caratini

Every single one of these players has had up and downs in 2019. The concept of having a roster of multi-positional utility fielders has run its course. The platoon situation has not worked well for the Cubs in CF and 2B. There is still a glaring need for a traditional lead off hitter. New age stats be damned: the Cubs need contact hitters with high BA to manufacture runs in close games.

Of the 11 position players above, it is possible that 4 of them will not be on the 2020 opening roster. Russell could easily be replaced by Nico Hoerner. Bryant, Almora, Happ and Caratini could be trade chips for a load of prospects since the Cubs minor league system now ranks as one of the league's worst.

Even if the Cubs sign a young ace pitcher (Gerrit Cole) or a real veteran lead off hitting second baseman or center fielder, is that squad any better than the Cardinals or the Brewers?

September 19, 2019


As baseballs are flying out of ball parks at record numbers, the whole concept of a pitching staff is slowly beginning to change.

Starters are no longer geared toward pitching to contact or going complete games. It is now a rarity that a starter goes past 7 innings.  The new normal is 5 innings. This puts a huge strain on the bullpen, which is now bloated to at least 9 relievers.

Some managers are using "bullpen" days to get through series. The relief corps pitch the entire game, usually 2 or 3 innings for long relievers and then the set up men and closer.  A few managers have decided to start a tough reliever to get through the top of the order, then bring in their normal starter in the second inning. This avoids seeing the opponent's top three hitters three times in a game (as stats show a dramatic fall off in pitching performance the third time through the line up card).

The need for bullpen arms absorbing more innings per season is not lost on GMs (or player agents). Middle relievers or swingmen have had steady salary increases in free agency because teams now find Andrew Miller type relievers golden (they can be middle inning "stoppers," long relievers or even closers).

There are still several stud "ace" starters in the major leagues. But there are turning into baseball's dinosaurs: high salaries and less performance.

The real push for change in starting pitching is going to be economic.

The Cubs example is telling: the team was squeezed by an business mandate not to go over the luxury cap of $206 million. The five starters are being paid $85.5 million for 2019. That is 41.5% of the lux cap space. The 9 relievers in the bullpen are being paid $55.6 million. That is 27.2 % of the lux cap space. In total, pitching at the start of the season took up $141.1 million (68.7%) of payroll budget. Or an average of $10.1 million/pitcher.

That only leaves $64.9 million to be distributed to 11 position players (for an average of $5.9 million per player.) This is why the Cubs could not make any major off-season moves for position bats because it is hard to find very good every day players for $6 million/year. Veteran bench players get that kind of money.

The budget dollars will be allocated away from pitching toward hitting if traditional starter roles are going to be decreased in the near future. (We have discussed the concept of pitching pods in the past; a system where 3 pitchers are grouped together to pitch a game; 4 pods equal 12 pitchers - - - with two additional relievers in reserve. It is a modified bullpen game but with designated pitching squads instead of a traditional rotation.)  A pitching staff of relievers may cost $6 million/arm or $84 million, which is still less than the Cubs opening rotation cost of $85.5 million. Then you almost have double the amount to spend on position players.

Will this work? We will not know until it is tried and tested in a real season(s).

September 10, 2019


The baseball world was shocked when the Red Sox dismissed President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski less than a year after winning the World Series.

The reasoning for the termination of the man who helped produce a championship is vague. There is speculation that there was a rift between baseball operations and ownership/business side of the organization. There is speculation that the Red Sox are saddled with big money contracts that can quickly turn into dead money deals. There is always the rivalry with the Yankees, who have overcome 26 injuries to runaway with the AL East title.

Ricketts fancies himself as a follower of the Red Sox baseball operations. He wants to create an outside venue for fans (and profit) like Boston did around Fenway Park. The Cubs also have a split organizational structure: one baseball side and one business side. It has been clear for years that the Cubs baseball side has been at odds with the business side over payroll and spending issues.

Theo Epstein is also sitting on several potential dead money deals with the second highest payroll in the majors. He also has brought in many new players who have not helped the team surge into first place. The team is currently floundering in second place in the NL Central and losing a grip on the second wild card.

Someone will be the scapegoat. He was chosen last off-season: Joe Maddon. Maddon did not get a contract extension because the team does not want him (and his $6 million salary). Theo has been rotating coaches in Maddon's dugout to little success. Four batting coaches in four years has not improved the offense. Pitching has become erratic at best. Baseball is trending toward management hiring cheap, inexperienced and controllable managers. Maddon does not fit that role.

The farm system has not produced any sustainable help for this team. In fact, the farm system rates near the bottom because Theo has not drafted and developed one starting pitcher in his tenure with Chicago. This major flaw has a cascade affect on the team and its financing as he paid dearly to acquire pitching. With little help in the minors available, this off-season will come after a disappointing season. What will happen?

It is possible that the roster will have to be blown up. But it would have to be a dramatic change in attitude because Theo overvalues "his guys." He does not trade "his guys." He always talks about his championship core of starters. But many of these core players are breaking down with injuries, underperformance or pending free agency. The farm system is devoid of talent to make quality trades. Trades would have to be made from the current 40 man roster.

The current roster is filled with platoon situations, utility players and aging veterans. The starting rotation will be Lester, Hendricks, Darvish and Quintana. Hamels will not be re-signed. The bullpen will have to be retooled as well.

Your 2020 outfield appears to be Schwarber, Happ/Almora and Heyward. You cannot trade Heyward's contract. Schwarber has turned into an Adam Dunn DH. Happ and Almora are too inconsistent at the plate to have a .225 platoon in CF. Can you trade Happ and/or Almora? Yes, but they would get little in return because they are not proven starters. Can you trade Schwarber? Yes, but a DH/LF will not bring any great return.

Your 2020 infield appears to be Bryant, Baez, Russell/Garcia/Kemp/Hoerner and Rizzo. Rizzo is tradeable but lost in first base depth throughout the league. No one is desperate for a new first baseman. Bryant and Baez are good trade chips. Bryant, if healthy, could bring in 5 players in return (including quality minor league prospects). Baez could bring in a good haul, too.  But the one who could bring in the most MLB ready starters is Contreras because a power hitting, good catcher is very hard to find. Could the Cubs have a Caritini/Lecroy platoon in 2020? Yes, but its production would pale without Contreras.

If the 2019 Cubs get brushed aside like last season, then wholesale changes should be on the way. The business side is going to push hard for cost reductions since the new Cubs network launch is going to be a financial dud. If the Cubs management believe this current team is still a championship caliber one, then nothing will change and the final result will be disappointing fans. Fans could take trading away the heart of your core players if you got exciting young talent in return (since the championship is still in everyone's back pocket.) Otherwise, this is a slow and painful death to the bottom of the standings.