February 17, 2020

THE GENIE IS OUT OF THE BOTTLE

It was only a matter of time when the Truth would leak out about the Cubs disappointing post-championship seasons. Javy Baez recently ran out into the media highway to drop a few bombs on himself and his teammates.

The Associated Press reported that Baez said  the Cubs were lacking last year when it came to their pregame routines and work ethic. “We had a lot of optional things, not mandatory, and everyone kind of sat back on that — including me. I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good,” Baez said. “But this year, I think before the games, everybody should be out there as a team, stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said last week he could think of only two times in 18 years of running major league clubs that he felt “basic organizational standards for work, preparation and behavior” were not being met. (One can easily say that was a shot at Joe Maddon's management style, being a "player's manager.")

New skipper David Ross said at the end of the day, from a manager's standpoint, coaches try to get players prepared and put them in the best possible situation to succeed, but baseball has “always been about the players.”

“So for (Báez) to say that, and saying the group feels they can turn it up a notch, I mean, that’s a powerful message they are sending,” Ross said. “This is never about the manager. It never should be about the manager. When you're in that locker room, the players are the ones affecting the outcome.”
(Ross is defending Maddon because he is right: players have to take the responsibility themselves to prepare for games.)

If the lack of preparation was a problem, then the front office is also to blame. The baseball executives have spent millions on new analytical labs, new coaches and trainers to tell players how to hit and pitch. Theo hired and fired three batting coaches in three years. We suspect that after a while, the players just tuned out everyone.

Dusty Baker, also a players' manager, often said that he left his players alone in their game preparation. He often cited that the players are "professionals" and professionals know how to act. He was relying on his own experience as a player (in a vastly different time.)

Ozzie Guillen was a vocal leader. But he continually stressed the fundamentals and principles of the game. Before the first game of every series, he scheduled mandatory fielding drills for all his players.

Theo wanted performance over potential in 2019. He did not get it because his players did not get the message. The reason is simple. The lack of any farm system talent and budget constraints means that there is no new players pushing the existing core to play their best. There is no real competition for starting position roster spots. There is a lack of urgency and drive if you know that there is no one on the team ready, willing and able to take your job.

The Cubs organization is in a total mess. Ross brings back the championship cred, but it may not translate to a strict manager berating his friends and former teammates to tow the line.  How will he change a culture that has had the players merely going through the motions? It is not that Ross can sit players for not trying hard because he has to win now.

February 13, 2020

JUST STOP

MLB executives have too much time on their collective hands.

While the fan base shrinks, MLB is trying to "juice" up the product with a reality show concept for the playoffs.

First, reality shows suck. Second, if your business model is based off of CHEATERS then just film the Astros 24/7. Third, MLB continues to offend their loyal followers with stupid ideas. Just stop.

The idea of adding four more wild cards to the playoffs is NOT for the benefit of the fans. No, it is merely a new source of revenue to the owners.  It does not enhance the fan experience if you expect playoff fans to sit through snow delays in mid-November.

The dilution of the sacred 162 game schedule is at stake. The record book is hollow ground. The best baseball teams are the ones who grind out the most victories. They should be rewarded for their efforts. They should not have to sit around for a week while additional .500 wild card teams play a best of whatever game series.

The stupid idea that higher wild card seeds can "pick" their opponent in a televised circus should be DOA. Who is going to watch that half-hour train wreck when every GM will pick the opponent with the worst record. Why have fan wrath or job insecurity if you "pick" the best opponent.

Also, in the current division system, three division champs automatically make the playoffs. That means teams with "better" records could miss out of the playoffs. Fans want to see the "best" teams in the playoffs. Either realignment or a smaller playoff system would be a better answer to the current proposal.

Divisions may be used only for scheduling purposes. The top four winning records in each league will be seeded for a best of 7 series opener to a best of 7 series pennant championship. The sudden death wild card round still puts less emphasis on "team" accomplishment for the entire season. Would you rather see two 100 win teams duke it out for 7 games instead of a couple of dogs trying to best 2 wins out of three series?

One major criticism is that the season is too long. Well, it can be shortened by mandating that every Sunday contest be a family doubleheader. Not one of those "split" contests, but an old fashion day at the park. Owners hate the idea of losing a full "gate" but with the outrageous concession prices they can easily make up the difference. But the other problem is that teams have out priced their target market: young families and children. It is too expensive to go to a game. That should be addressed before ownership tries to force feed another round of unneeded playoffs.

January 3, 2020

THE FALL OUT

The house of cards that is our Chicago Cubs seems to falling down after another disappointing end to a season. The 2016 championship seems to be a distant memory. The idea of dynasty seems to be fantasy.

But nothing compared to the Ricketts family's fantasy that the Cubs were a money making ATM machine.

With Maddon's release, the Cubs have moved on to David Ross. But many other things have moved on from the Cubs.

Maddon's Post, a restaurant in the new Ricketts outside-the-park commercial development, abruptly closed after seven months. This is the third restaurant/bar in Ricketts' properties to have closed in the past year. The problem must be that the Ricketts overdeveloped the area, put in high lease rentals, and the businesses could not be profitable.

Also moving on is local over-the-air Cubs games. WGN will no longer broadcast any Chicago sports teams (it began in 1924). The Cubs Marquee Network launches in approximately 50 days. But it has no on-air talent, it has de minis cable contracts in the metro area, and no programming announcements to fill 24 hours/day. Kasper and Deshaies contracts expired at the end of the 2019 season. Hughes and Comer radio contracts may expire at the end of 2020.

The news broke as the season ended that the Ricketts family overspent on the Wrigley renovations by $600 million. That was not unexpected considering they decided to phase the work over three years instead of one intense project. The fact that the Ricketts overspent for the team (by an estimated $500 million) and doubled the cost on Wrigley, the Cubs operations are not generating enough revenue to off-set those financial hurdles.

The fall out from these financial stumbles is clear in that Theo has been handcuffed in spending. He can barely sign dual contracts for minor league reclamation projects. The Cubs are already over the luxury tax threshold by $10-18 million. It means the team must shed current star players in order to get into the business side's budget figures. The rest of the league knows the Cubs want to shed payroll so the trade market will not be as generous as Theo would want it to be to fill the depth and holes in the current roster.

There are problems with the rotation, the bullpen, lead off hitter, and center field that have no solutions in the minor leagues. Free agency and money was to fix roster problems during this "championship window" but Theo overspent to get the 2016 championship and now dead money deals have painted the team into a corner.

It appears the team revenue and finances will not allow the Cubs to be free spenders to acquire talent. They will have to operate as a small market team with the debt burden of a major franchise. If the Cubs' opening roster is the same as 2019, how are fans supposed to react? Three years of underperforming is not a oddity but a trend.

The Cubs were more popular when they were the Lovable Losers. Once the championship happened, die hard fans got their once-in-a-lifetime thrill. Now, many do not want to spend premium ticket and concession prices for a bad team.