October 18, 2019


It was announced yesterday that the Cubs Marquee Network signed its
first carriage deal with AT&T's DirectTV (dish) and U-verse (cable) platforms.

No terms were announced, as in how much it will cost subscribers per month.

The Cubs floated numbers around $6 to $12 per month.

The Marquee contract was part of a deal where Sinclair, the Cubs partner,  bundled its 21 regional sports networks into one deal with AT&T to carry their networks.

DirectTV is going with the business model of being Sports heavy in content
while DishTV is cutting or eliminating sports programming to be the
cheaper alternative in the Dish industry.

Also, AT&T has been trying to get its cable platform (fiber optic network) users to move to Direct TV
to save costs of maintaining cables.

I could not find a reference to AT&T's cable market share for Chicago, but
nationally it appears that Comcast has 57% share to AT&T's 8%.

On the bad news side of things, 92% of Cub fans in Chicago metro market could be
blacked out of Cubs games (The Dodgers Network disaster), or at best, 43% could receive it (highly doubtful Comcast is going to carry a competitor and small cable operators are not going to pay hefty new carriage fees.

In reality, the best outcome for the Cubs is actually a 14% decrease in market availability
from the expired Comcast arrangement. Good work Crane Kenney. Good work Tom Ricketts.

In addition, the Marquee Network has no marquee names in the talent department. Len Kasper and Jim DeShaies contracts expired in October. The radio crew may have one year left on their deals.

Bob Costas was interviewed this week. He was asked if wanted to be the face of the Cubs new network. He said he was not contacted but he would say no. He was not interested in local baseball broadcasting at this point in his career. David Kaplan turned down an offer to be the "face" of the Cubs network which was a telling sign by the self-proclaimed number one Cubs fan.

Besides having no "face" of the new network in place, there have been no program announcements other thanthe 150 games of the 2020 season. How will Marquee fill 24 hours a day? That is the expensive question.

October 15, 2019


The Cubs have a monumental work load this off-season. Whether ownership and management realize it is another story.

Front and center is a new managerial hire. The question is whether the new manager will be more effective than Maddon, or will he be handcuffed by front office hires. Maddon had to accept the rotation of coaches hired by the front office. A new, experienced manager would want to hire his "own guys" to make sure his philosophies are implemented with the players. But the Cubs clearly do not operate that way. The front office has embrace high technology and advanced statistics to the point that they believe a baseball game is no different than a computer game. It is more than likely the new Cubs skipper will be a figurehead manager.

For a long time, we have been on the roster construction issue. The Esptein Cubs have drafted quality hitters, but only Kris Bryant has proven to meet expectations when not injured. Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora and Ian Happ have become platoon players. You cannot field a team of .235 hitters and expect to win.

Where are the area needing upgraded improvements?

1. SECOND BASE. There has been a convention of players who tried to play the position. No one has made a lasting impression as a starting second baseman. Theo & Company have fallen into the Jim Hendry trap of drafting and promoting multiple second basemen to play various positions (not well). As it currently stands, is Addison Russell your starting 2020 second baseman? (cringe). Or is it unexpected rookie call up Nico Hoerner? (maybe).

2. CENTER FIELD. Albert Almora had an opportunity to take the CF position but failed. He cannot hit major league pitching. Jason Heyward played center to the detriment of his defense and his offense. When he was playing right field and batting 5th or 6th in the line-up, he was nearly a .300 hitter. When Maddon moved him to center and lead off (out of necessity) he crashed to a .117 hitter. Everyone expects Heyward's untradeable contract to be parked in Right Field in 2020.

3. CLOSER/BULLPEN.  Brandon Morrow was a dead money contract from the get-go. Craig Kimbrel is looking like Morrow 2.0. The bullpen is going to be churned and burned again because the Cubs minor league system is not producing any quality arms. Dillon Maples has a fastball but no control. James Norwood has no long run consistency. Duane Underwood could be the next Carl Edwards. You have the journeyman club of David Phelps, Danny Hultzen, Alec Mills, Rowan Wick, Brad Weick and Kyle Ryan. Of that group, maybe two or three will stay on the roster.

4. STARTING ROTATION. The starters suddenly got old and bad. It was a year long struggle just to complete five innings. Jose Quintana was the most consistent pitcher but he was not great. The professor, Kyle Hendricks, got schooled for most of the second half. Cole Hamels will not return. Jon Lester may have no gas left in the tank. The fifth starter has been a lingering problem since Tyler Chatwood failed to be demoted to the bullpen. The Cubs have only two potential arms in minors: Adbert Alzolay, who was rocked in his spot starts, and Colin Rea, a rehab pitcher who was the best player on the 2019 Iowa Cubs. There may be two or three openings in the rotation for next season.

5. LEFT FIELD. Fans like Kyle Schwarber in left. The front office loves Schwarbie. But even with the Cubs own mantra about big data requirements like OBP, Schwarber fails. His defense is still sub par. His offense is confined to a homer or bust mentality. With his natural short swing, he takes too many pitches and strikes out too often. Is he a trade candidate? Yes. Will the Cubs get a good return? Probably not because DH candidates do not command much trade value. Besides, which team is desperate to find a young Adam Dunn?

There are at least 10 positions that need to be upgraded by the Cubs. Ten. That is an expected  40% roster turnover. It has to be done. It has to be painful. The Cubs window for a championship slams shut in two years when Bryant, Baez and Rizzo become free agents.

Ownership does not appear inclined to spend money in free agent to fix holes. The pending Cubs network is looking like a financial disaster. The Marquee Network has no distribution platform. Cable and dish-tv services are rebelling against regional sports channel subscriber fees as cord cutting continues to rake the industry.

The front office will have to try its stars in order to bolster the roster. But Theo does not like to trade "his guys." Do you trade Bryant for 2 or 3 major league ready players plus prospects? Two years ago that was unthinkable. Today, it is a viable option. But Bryant may not have the most trade value. Javy Baez is the most exciting player. Willson Contreras is a rare catcher with power. Baez and Contreras could fetch the most off-season trade returns. Both are not Theo & Company draft picks but they are part of the core and would be hard to replace.

But something will have to change or the Cubs will continue to slide in the NL Central.

October 5, 2019


The Joe Maddon era is over. He was the most successful modern Cub manager during a five year tenure. But his message failed to get another championship.

There have been references to championship fatigue, "Winner's Traps," etc. After 2016, the Cubs team has been in a slow decline. Expectations were high; player performance was sliding down. Theo Epstein railed against "potential" and "performance" during spring training. He claimed everyday was a playoff game. The Cubs then stumbled out the gate. The Cubs never had a long winning streak to cause separation in the NL Central.  All phases of the team faltered down the stretch.

The Cubs have a major decision to make: who will manage the rest of the Cub championship window. The Cubs have two years left before Kris Bryant becomes a free agent. That is the window to win. But the Cubs ownership has tapped out on money as the front office has exceeded the luxury tax threshold (again). For the past two years, Theo's moves have been costly mistakes. What manager wants to come to a team that is financially hand-cuffed and on the decline?

As it was noted by Joe Girardi many times, there are only 30 such jobs available. It is a unique club. You take the opportunity if you can get it. Girardi really wants to manage the Cubs. He was on his own personal, local publicity tour. He has the experience, winning attitude and character to lead a team. He did so in the sports world's toughest market, New York.  But he is viewed as an expensive, old school manager.

The trend is to hire an inexperienced former player or executive that the front office can control like a puppet. Teams have invested so much in advanced stats that they are forgetting baseball fundamentals for spreadsheet data.

One has to remember that all of Maddon's coaches were not his hires. The three hitting and pitching coaches the last three seasons have all been management decisions. Theo and Jed Hoyer wanted to impose their philosophies on the team. Clearly, it did not work out well.

Part of the problem has to be that when a young team wins early, they get cocky and complacent. They do not think they have to work hard in order to win. They think they are as good as their championship ring says they are. They think they can just turn it on at any time and win again. But it does not happen. They press and then they fail under the pressure because they did not put in the hard work to repeat.

The Michael Jordan Bulls championship runs were fueled by Jordan's own personal drive to excel at the highest level and to win multiple championships. The 2016 Cubs did not have that drive. They sat on their laurels. Maddon did not make the players accountable for their underperformance.

But part of the blame lies with the front office which provided Maddon with a bad roster. The rotation was no longer a strength as the older pitchers began to break down. The bullpen has always been a mess. When you spend money on closers who cannot throw or who cannot pitch, that is a problem. The team overvalued its core players to the point of having no competitive depth. And the scouting and development departments horribly failed to draft any reliable talent to help the major league club.

A Cub managerial candidate has to consider the health of the team he is expected to lead to victory. There will be other major vacancies this off season (Mets, Angels, Padres, Pirates).

It is expected that the Cubs will hire a first time manager, The reasons are simple: cheaper and controllable. The Cubs are not going to spend $5 million on a proven, veteran manager. The going rate for a first time, no-experience candidate is less than $1 million.

There is an old saying "you get what you pay for." Some out of the blue selections have won (Hinch, Cora). But the new Cubs skipper comes into a clubhouse that has a lot of baggage. The players have not faced the consequences of their performance flaws. There is no one in the minors pushing to take their jobs.

David Ross is expected to be given an offer. Ross was a vocal clubhouse leader. It is one thing to be a player or teammate but it is another to be the boss. It will be difficult to turn his friendships into employer-employee relationships.

If Ross is not the hire, then the Cubs most likely will tap one of their internal executives or advanced scouts to run the team to make an analytical impact on the strategy of the season. Many players have quietly said that they are being overloaded with information before and during games. By having a new skipper being an evangelical leader of the stat age may be a bigger turnoff than Maddon.