Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Monday, August 29, 2005
but somehow the wind shifted yet again, blowing the vacillary vagaries of aimless public opinion back somewhere closer to the truth as the cubs have sunk down to fifth in the NL central. perhaps it was the hendry mea culpa and the subsequent move of doomed-playoff-drive-acquisition matt lawton to the yankees.
no matter. whatever spurred the mob to abandon the cubs this year, it was a long time coming. we forecast back in may on a brewer message board that the brewers would finish better than the cubs this season. it only rational to observe that the cubs had lost a lot from a good-to-middling 2004 club, did nothing to replace it and would struggle to win more than they lost in 2005 even as far back as february.
little did anyone suspect we'd be tangling with the reds and pirates for the very cellar of the division. this team has proven itself even worse than expected, having very little hope now of climbing back to even on the year with only a month left to play and a good chance of staying exactly where they are, guttering back and forth between fourth and fifth.
of such a magnitude is this collapse -- on a team with, mind you, a $104 million outlay in player payroll, it has few precedents in the free agency era of baseball -- that heads must roll, even in the uniquely unresponsive world of dollar-obsessed corporate management. such a total failure is so embarrassing that it must seek accountability, as it threatens the very apathy and nostalgia upon which profitability depends.
the obvious candidate for execution is dusty baker, for whom the skids have already been well greased. i think there is very little chance that he'll be back next season. macFail's feared and heavily ironic "vote of confidence" for general manager jim hendry raises the possibility that the doughnut man will feel the blade upon his neck as well.
but would even that be enough?
as the ongoing celebration of the 11 years of the era of macFail -- initiated by our own resident genius corncobdress (the 1060west version of both james carville and the maharishi mahesh yogi) -- shows, the problem reaches all the way to the top. the numbers prove it out.
in the eleven seasons from 1984 to 1994 the chicago cubs:
since bringing on board our third-generation baseball czar in 1995, in the almost eleven seasons since, what have the cubs done?
fewer titles. more losses. slower rate of winning. ladies and gentlemen, remove the veil of 2003's fortunate september and the epic october disaster it cumulated in, and it becomes quite easy to see that the cubs have in fact significantly regressed under the leadership of andy macFail. it is time to declare the macFail era to be the failure that it is -- not from the corporate marketing perspective, of course, which has never seen pure nostalgia sold for higher prices so successfully at any point anywhere in sports -- but from the perspective of the fan who loves this team and wants to see it succeed on the field as well as a balance sheet.
it isn't enough for baker and hendry to go. if the problem reaches to the top -- if it starts at the top -- then the top must go too. for the sake of long-suffering cubs fans, andy macFail must be relieved.
and it is the fans that must demand for it to happen.
2003 - Florida Marlins (eventual World Series champs)
2004 - Houston Astros (lost in Game 7 of the NLCS)
2005 - Cincinnati Reds
Now we all know the Reds aren't going to the playoffs, but they seem to be creating some nice positive momentum as they head toward the end of the season. They have a real good chance to finish 3rd in the NL Central and an outside chance of catching Houston for 2nd (6 back with 3 head-to-head matchups yet to play). I wouldn't bet on the Reds finishing 2nd in the division this year, but I won't be betting against it either.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
I was really not looking forward to the game today. I went on Friday afternoon to the 7-5 loss. I have tickets again on Monday night (who needs two?). There's much work to be done at home. Etc.
But yet it was an opportunity to watch one of the heroes of my youth get his just desserts. The soft-spoken second baseman, whom you could count on day in and day out to play hard; to give it his all. His playing did the talking. And, hoo boy he could play! Little did I know at the time how heroes would change in the next 15 years. But I digress.
The scene kind of played out as you would expect. The other three "retirees" were there. Some ex-players from the 1980's were there. The requisite speeches from Cubs brass, McFAIL and McDonough, were preceded by a smattering of boos at the mere mention of their names (I did not join in... No need to be negative on Ryno's big day). And, of course, fanfare and the raising of the banner on the right field foul pole. Cindy and her dress did not make an appearance.
Ryno's speech couldn't live up to Cooperstown, so there's no point in being a critic. It was simply a day to enjoy some good vibrations, to celebrate the man in front of his fans, let him throw out the first pitch, take a victory lap around the field with his wife and sing the 7th inning stretch (quite well, actually).
I considered leaving after the ceremony, as the chores at home were more on my mind than the game. But Carlos was pitching, so I decided to stay. Good decision! Who's that Hairston kid leading off? He had a pretty good game. Too bad he wasn't on the team in April. Oh wait.. I think he was!
OK, enough blabbering. Hope y'all like the pics.
The Kyle Orton Era has officially started.
Cedric Benson finally signed.
The season opener is Sept 11th at Washington and the Windy City Rollers are kicking it at the Congress Theater that evening. Since one 1060West contributor is a big Skins fan (you know who you are), I suggested a day full of watching the Bears kick the living snot out of Washington topped off with a trip to the roller derby that night. Tickets are cheap in advance ($10, $15 @ the door) and can be picked up at either the Gingerman (3740 N Clark, corner of Clark & Racine) or Horseshoe (4115 N Lincoln Ave). If you happen to stop at either of these drinking establishments, be sure to say hello to the rollers that work there. Lucy Furr is a striking raven-haired beauty behind the bar at the Gingerman and Broken Cherry is the tall, rough & tumble, lovely-one pouring drinks at Horseshoe.
Details to be posted later if this all comes together, but the likely starting point for football viewing will be the Full Schilling.
- Ryne's #23 hoisted high up in the Wrigley sky to spend eternity with Banks, Williams, & Santo.
- The Cubs offense wakes from it's slumber to pummel Josh Beckett and the rest of the Florida pen.
- Big Z dealin' on the bump and slashing a triple to start the 8 run out burst in the bottom of the seventh.
- Neifi riding the pine.
- Patterson riding the pine.
- Cedeno starting and providing a couple two-out run-scoring hits.
So what do you think Dusty does with a 9 run lead going into the 8th and fresh 7-man pen (1 day after Mad Dog's complete game)? Obviously he pulls Z, right?
Of course not, this is Dusty we're talking about. Z had only thrown 89 pitches, so our wonderful manager has to ensure the big man gets his requisite 100+ pitches. For those of you who still believe Dusty is a good manager, I have a lovely bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. This decision was beyond lunacy. It may not have any lasting negative effects (and Lord I hope it doesn't), but it was still one of the absolute dumbest decisions in an almost 3 year tenure of folly.
Please Hendry, MacPhail, Tribune brass, one of you wake up and get rid of this bumbling fool before his decisions cause irreparable harm to the future of this team!!!!
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Lawton's time with the Cubs was short. The Cubs acquired the outfielder for Jody Gerut from Pittsburgh on July 31st. Lawton was a disappointment with the Cubs. He did not provide the spark at the lineup the Cubs expected. The real bummer was the lack of hustle from Lawton in the field.
Berg is a right handed pitcher(an Antigo, WI native) selected by the Yankees in the 43rd round of the 2003 June Amateur Draft. This year at Class-A Staten Island the 21 year old has started 9 games. In 14 appearances he has pithced 55.2 Innings, allowed 44 Hits, 22 Runs, 19 Earned Runs, 19 Walks, 48 Strikeouts, 3.53 ERA.
So, Lawton's gone...can Walker and Holly follow?
Friday, August 26, 2005
How does Baker know he has detractors in Chicago?
"FireDustyBaker.com," Baker said. "That's a pretty good indicator, don't you think? You don't have other top managers hearing that too much, right?"
"other top managers" implies that the great and powerful wizard is one among them. would anyone but baker make that contention? i surely wouldn't.
but some reality must finally be seeping in over at clark and addison. the mother ship offers space for hendry's mea culpa today, the preliminary statement to moving on to 2006. it really doesn't matter much what he says therein -- none of it reflects anything real -- but i am glad to see the team a step closer (however belated) to getting down to work.
but then, it eventually becomes widely acknowledged even by the most selfish optimists -- and what is left to talk about?
the klown doing his blind-man-with-a-flyswatter imitation for the umpteenth time? dusty's latest symptom of a permanent vegitative state? yet another injury? it all gets a bit droning after a while, doesn't it? nothing's changing. nothing's interesting. so why bother?
no, really. that's not a rhetorical lead-in to a rousing pep talk as to why we all should care deeply. to quote my colleague and friend corncobdress in one of his more profound moments of eternal wisdom from years ago: "who cares?"
i don't have an answer, cub fans. until or unless the cubs start making some deals to arrange for their future, or start playing kids like matt murton and rich hill at every opportunity, win lose or fail -- instead of giving rotting carcasses like patterson, macias, neifi and hollandsworth playing time for no material reason -- i don't see a reason to watch.
here's a bit of heresy for you: do yourself a favor and go watch the white sox. at least over there, something exciting is happening. something's on the line. someone is trying to win something. and maybe, just maybe, the vision of what a competitive ballclub looks like will hone your senses for the criticism that is so desperately needed closer to the heart.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
I still think the Cubs are not going to make the playoffs, but I wouldn't mind if they'd provide a few more games like that one down the stretch. Last night was truly a blast. It seemed rather poetic that on a night when the Cubs are dropping the smackdown on Eastern Division leading Braves that the Sox lose a no-hit bid and the game in the bottom of the 8th. I'm not a White Sox hater. I just wanted to bask in the glory of a fun Cubs win without being upstaged on the same night by the team from the Southside.
And to top it all off, this bit of good news from yesterday (blurb copied from KFFL.com).
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Todd Zolecki reports Phillies CL Billy Wagner doubts the team's interest to re-sign him. They have eight days before his self-imposed deadline, and he's looking for a three-year, $24 million deal with a complete no-trade clause and no option years. The sides aren't close, and it's likely Wagner could get this amount and more on the open market.
Can a man dream of a 2006 Cubs pen anchored by...
Well, this man can!
UPDATE 4:32PM Aug 24th: And now back to your regularly scheduled programming. We'll jump back for the last few minutes of "The Cubs season of failure" with this episode's guest star, a former regular, Kyle Farnsworth.
Andy ain't worried about the Cubs. Why should you be?
If expectations come from the top of an organization, you'll understand why the Cubs have done nothing under Andy MacFAIL.
MacFAIL came out in all of the local papers earlier this week giving Dusty Baker and Jim Hendry votes of confidence. The Bright One, The Mothership, and Chicagolands best Sports Section The Daily Herald all reported Andy's satisfaction in the direction the franchise is taking. Here are some tidbits from Bruce Miles' Column, followed by my take in RED:
“In some ways, we’ve made significant progress,” MacPhail said before the Cubs lost 9-7 to the Colorado Rockies. “What I really wanted to accomplish when I came here was to have an organization that could rely on a productive farm system.
“Now on my 11th season, I counted it the other day, we’ve had three Rookies of the Year. We’ve had at least six all-stars come up through our system in those 11 years."
“We’ve had three or four different attendance records. I think those things we’ve done to the park are going to help keep the ballpark viable for the next generation of Cub fans.”
To put MacPhail’s take into proper perspective, two of the those Rookies of the Year — infielder Eric Hinske and pitcher Dontrelle Willis — won the award with other teams. Pitcher Jon Garland went to the All-Star Game as a member of the White Sox.
Since when did Ex-Cubs contribute to this franchise winning a championship?If Andy MacFail thinks this minor league system is producing talent he is lying to himself.
I like that he mentions the attendence records, at least it shows us how the Cubs measure success--at the box office, not on the field.
More from the Miles article:
“Everybody suffers injuries,” said MacPhail, whose team again endured injuries, mainly to its pitching staff. “We are not the lone soldier in that respect. You just have to deal with them.”
MacPhail stopped short of counting the Cubs out of the playoff race, but he conceded they have an uphill climb.
“We could still do it, but it’s hard to get too excited about it
when you’re under .500,” he said. “We could put together a 28-11 run the rest of the way and qualify, but that’s a lot easier to believe if you’re over .500.
“To me, it’s the number of wins that’s going to get you there. They’ve all got to play each other. Most of them are in the East. Plus, the one team we’ve got to beat (Houston), we play them seven times.”
I'll actually agree with the Cub President on the statement regarding injuries. I don't hear the Cardinals or Braves complaining about injuries.
His comment about going 28-11 is insulting to the fans. He is simply tugging at Cub fans loyalty. He wants to make sure we continue to show up sing the seventh inning stretch, drink beer and buy dogs.
Now this from the Miles column...
“I really thought once we got past ’01 we were going to have a fairly consistent run,” MacPhail said. “And ’02 was a tremendous disappointment to me. We won more games in ’04 than ’03. To have us hovering around .500 going into September is not nearly where we should be.
“Even in a year where we may not qualify for the playoffs, it’s disappointing to think that … we’re really actually not out of it now because the way the wild card’s starting to look, it’s going to be one of those 87-, 88-win seasons that’s going to end up qualifying for the playoffs.”
Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano have enjoyed the most success among homegrown players who have remained with the Cubs, and they’re all pitchers.
Center fielder Corey Patterson, the organization’s No. 1 draft pick in 1998, spent a month in the minor leagues this year after it looked like he had established himself in the big leagues.
“I keep a close eye on this, and we’re in the top four teams of bringing talent to the big leagues over the last 11 years,” MacPhail said. “A great predominance of that’s been pitching. I think at the end of the day, you’re going to win with pitching.”
Since '01 the Cubs have fired two Managers and a GM(plus MacFail resigned as GM promote Tubby Hendry). How long will Andy have the buffer of GM's and Managers? At some point this guys job should be on the line.
He continues to say the minor leagues are producing players. The Cubs are in the top four teams bringing talent to the majors? How the hell is Andy measuring this? If MacFail considers this to be the case this is an indictment of either Baker or Hendry. If the Cubs are this good at bringing players to the Majors why do they have a Manager that is known as a veteran players manager? Why are these young players not playing on teams Hendry builds?
Back to the Miles article:
“I am very content with Jim, and I know he’s very content with Dusty,” MacPhail said. “I’m confident we’re going to put it together. Jim is the last guy in America who’s going to want to talk about it. Not unlike a player, when you get into spring training, that might be something you discuss.”
MacPhail noted that as long as revenues continued to support it, the Cubs would continue to have a “relatively high (player) payroll that’s going to allow you to do certain things at the major-league level.”
While expressing his disappointment over the Cubs not getting to the World Series since 1945, MacPhail stuck by his assertion that the organization is going about things the right way.
“You have to be disappointed that the No. 1 job has eluded you, and that’s getting to the World Series and winning a world championship,” he said.
“We’ve not done that yet. I’m confident we are going to do that, but if you had asked me whether we were going to do that or not in my first 11 years, I would have said we would have done it. So that’s a source of disappointment to us.
“I’m confident that the formula is going to get us there and that, despite having what appears now to be hovering around .500 year, I’m still confident we’re going in the right direction. And that’s essentially getting a good system.”
According to Andy: Baker ain't going anywhere, dude.
Bottomline: MacFAIL is happy with Hendry and Dusty. This guy (MacFAIL) should thank his lucky stars the Cubs have John McDonough doing the marketing.
A good sytem? What is he talking about? Somebody please let me know what the "formula" is that he is so confident in. If he's talking about selling tickets that's fine, if he's confident they are going to win the NL Pennant please quit calling us Cub fans stupid.
It sounds to me like Mr. MacFail has a handshake agreement that he'll have this gig for life. Either that or he has so much money he doesn't care about losing this job. He can throw the World Series word out there in the paper, but the bottomline is Andy MacFAIL is happy with the status quo. I don't think many of us fans are.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Each of these players could contribute in the right role with a contending team. Hopefully the Cubs brass will have the balls to deal these guys for some prospects and begin looking to future. We shall see...
Monday, August 22, 2005
In the top of the ninth, I was talking with Soupy in Atlanta. He said that he thought the Cubs would win this one. I assured him he had very little to worry about. The 2005 Cubs don't win these ballgames, come to think of it, very few Cub teams do. The Braves on the other hand have been doing this since 1991. The cast of characters has changed-- with the exception of Bobby Cox, Leo Mazzone, and John Smoltz-- but the results have not. The results are mind boggling and awesome.
Sid Bream celebrates the Braves Pennant win in 1991. Atlanta has won their division every year since.
A couple of years ago, Ron Santo told me that the Cubs were going to be like the Braves. They'd be there every year. The Ever-Optimistic old third baseman was probably looking at the Cubs core of young starting pitchers and comparing them to the Braves staff of the early 90's. That was easy to do. Many of us imagined years of the Cubs winning with the great Prior, Wood and Zambrano. What Ron (and many of us) missed was the fact that the Braves have a great GM in John Schuerholz, a great Manager in Cox, great scouting, and great player development. Do the Cubs have any of these? I haven't seen it.
Following the Braves surprise "worst to first" climb in '91, their system would develop position players Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Ryan Klesko, Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal (just to name a few) to go with the great starting staff. These players were surrounded by prospects that the Braves would turn into players like Fred McGriff, Marquis Grissom, Gary Sheffield and the like. The Braves organization led by Cox and GM John Schuerholz gets winning ballplayers, schools them in how they want them to play, and Bobby Cox puts these players in position to win baseball games. It's a simple formula...but it sure isn't easy to do.
The current Braves roster is filled with a bunch of kids that started the year in the minors. When the Braves had injuries Kelly Johnson, Ryan Langerhans, Brian McCann, Wilson Betemit and Jeff Francouer came up ready to play and win. The Braves scout kids that they think have the tools, they train them how they want them to play the game, they give them that opportunity. Some of these kids will be part of the nucleus the Braves win with over the next 5-7 years, others will be traded to get the pieces that make that happen. The Braves train will role on.
As a Cub fan, I tip my cap to the Braves Organization. I am envious.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
if you want to know why the 2005 cubs have never had a chance at any point, including april 4, you need look no farther than the fact that korey patterson has been so predictably handed, without any merit as justification, a stunning 352 at-bats this year. no team that does that can win.
in going 1-for-5 with a strikeout, the klown put in what was perhaps the most frustrating individual performance i've seen this year. in one game, he managed to
but of course, the piece de resistance was reserved for the ninth, when the rockies intentionally walked neifi perez to load the bases for patterson -- who dutifully fanned on three pitches almost as though he were trying to.
most bewildering, however, isn't the physical and mental quality of patterson's output but dusty baker's totally infantile management. any manager who puts the bat in patterson's hands in the ninth -- with a bench full of better options, with part-time centerfielder hairston already in the game as a pinch-hitter -- after watching season upon stubborn season, indeed an entire career of dismal and pathetic failure from this player -- is actively destroying his team. how many wins, i wonder, has dusty's stupidity cost this team? far more than it's won for them, surely. that dusty is still here boggles me -- and one wonders if anyone in tribune tower is watching and wondering, as i am, why general manager jim hendry isn't protecting the company's investment by executing baker summarily.
but then, what is happening with the cubs appears to be hendry's fault as much as anyone's. matt murton was sent down yesterday to make room for jerry hairston's return from the disabled list. murton, a potential player in the 2006 outfield situation, sacrifices two crucial weeks of evaluation time before september 1 -- and for what? so that doorknobs and deadbeats like todd hollandsworth and korey patterson, who will contribute nothing to the 2006 squad, about whom nothing remains to be discovered, can remain on the team.
as this page has said, the cubs need to be looking ahead to 2006 now in an effort to find out if players like murton and rich hill and scott williamson can help in next year's reconstruction. playing in a stupid, utterly stupid hope for this dead year to miraculously resurrect itself is far more malicious than a harmless indulgent optimism of fools and simpleminds. there is right now work to be done toward 2006, and a rational optimist can take pleasure in the opportunity to work towards it. instead, this drooling, idiotic optimism infects the brood over at clark and addison, and the team works assiduously against its own best interests in harboring it.
again, in the interest of rallying those catatonic optimists to the cause of 2006: let's pretend that philly, the nats, houston and the marlins all play .500 ball the rest of the way -- which won't happen, but let's just say. the cubs would have to go 26-14 the rest of the way to overtake them. that's .650 baseball. does ANYONE think this team can play .650 ball for 40 games?
i can tell you that, over any 20-game stretch, the 2005 cubs have only won 13 or more in 19-of-102 possible sample periods -- 19% of the time. so one might say that the chance of them doing so for two such periods consecutively is about 19% of 19% -- or 3.5%. and i can also tell you that at no point this year have they won 26 of their previous 40 -- in fact, the best they've managed is 24-16, which they attained for a brief spell in late june.
now imagine that any one of those four teams actually plays winning baseball -- even a game or two over even -- the rest of the way.
it's no longer simply a matter of maintaining a cheery perspective versus a dour one to hope for success this year. it's statistically naive and quite ridiculous to believe at this point (and was quite some time ago, imo, only moreso now) that 2005 is anything but a dead letter.
far worse -- that hope is actively damaging the cubs prospects in 2006 in more than one way. this is how the silly optimism of irrational fans can coincide with a weak-willed, popularity-obsessed management to contribute to making losing an inevitable downward spiral from modest success.
and cub fans have to be the ones to make it stop -- because shortsighted dollar-obsessed corporate management won't.
Friday, August 19, 2005
as far as the minors go, i have to say that my personal opinion is that there's extremely little laying around at iowa and west tenn that can help (unless you think calvin murray is a key cog on any winning team). felix pie, all injuries aside, is not ready for prime time and has to learn how not to be korey patterson before he play a role at the big league level. matt murton is what he is, and could be a legitimate fourth outfielder right now. rich hill might need more time before stepping into the cub rotation after getting roughed up in his first taste of the show. in short, free agency is going to play a big part in determining the fortunes of the 2006 cubs.
a look at the cubs obligations for 2006 shows what they don't need -- both catchers, both corner infielders, prior and wood are all under contract for a sum of $44mm. maddux is almost certain to have his 2006 $9mm option vest, putting the expended total at $53mm. todd walker's $2.75mm team option vests at an unknown number of plate appearances, but the cubs are likely to exercise it anyway -- pushing the total up to ~$56mm.
the cubs hold a mutual option with jeromy burnitz at $7mm with a $500k buyout, and i can't imagine his production is worth $7mm for a team that badly needs an offensive upgrade in the outfield. glendon rusch holds a player option for $2mm plus incentives for 2006. he's certainly pitched well enough to test the market, it seems to me, and his return is questionable. the cubs also hold a team option on scott williamson.
hairston, macias, patterson and zambrano are arbitration-eligible -- being protected players, having no 2006 contract, more than three years of major-league service time (or two years and being in the top 17% in service time among those with at least 86 days on the 25-man roster in the second year, known as "super-two"...) but less than six. (prior would also be, but is under contract for 2006.) patterson conceivably could be non-tendered, making him a free agent, but he should be inexpensive and may be back, thanks to the cubs irrational hope beyond hope for him to suddenly morph into willie mays. the same fate should befall macias, who doesn't need to be kept.
auto-renewals (players with less than three years of 25-man-roster service time) on the 40-man roster include aardsma, cedeno, fontenot, greenberg, hill, koronka, leicester, lewis, mitre, murton, novoa, ohman, pinto, rohlicek, soto, wellemeyer, williams and wuertz.
guzman, mitre, wellemeyer and williams (as well as ohman and leicester, i think) will be out of options following 2005, all having been on a 40-man roster (in order to be protected from rule 5 drafts) for three years in which they were assigned to the minors. all but williams could find themselves adrift, although ohman too is probably a 2006 fixture. (UPDATE: guzman and williams are still optionable, according to cub reporter's exhaustive survey.)
free agents include lawton, nomar, hollandsworth, fox, grieve, neifi and dempster. (burnitz, maddux, rusch, walker and williamson could also be, if their options -- player, team or mutual -- are not exercized.)
the upshot of all this is that the rotation for 2006 is likely to be set -- prior, maddux, williams, wood and zambrano will all return. the cubs will find it difficult to move maddux or wood because of the size of their contract and their 2005 performance. williams is out of options, and so will have to pass waivers to be moved down to iowa -- an unlikely hurdle for a 23-year-old with 50-odd major league starts to clear, and i doubt the cubs are willing to lose him despite his tepid 2005. zambrano and prior aren't going anywhere. so i'd expect the rotation, whatever its flaws, to return essentially intact. (more on wood later.)
the bullpen is another matter. rusch may or may not be back. dempster is a free agent. mitre and wellemeyer are out of options. this is a place where the cubs could be aggressive and really improve their club. whatever one thinks about will ohman's ceiling, he has pitched more than well enough to maintain his spot as a loogy, obviating the dire need for a scott sauerbeck. scott williamson remains an enigma so far, having only six unimpressive appearances since his tommy john. how he pitches the remainder of the way will probably determine his future with the cubs.
but it will be key to the success of this club to replace disasters-in-waiting like novoa and wuertz with proven professional relievers. good teams simply don't rely on guys like them. potential help is widely available, but the cream looks to me bob howry, julian tavarez, felix rodriguez, tom gordon, mike timlin, rudy seanez, al reyes, brian meadows, jay witasick, jim mecir, trevor hoffman and ugueth urbina -- and, from the left side, mike stanton, billy wagner, alan embree, sauerbeck, chris hammond, and b.j. ryan. if we don't see at least three of these guys on the cub roster in early april 2006 to compliment ohman and possibly dempster and williamson, hendry will have left this team yet again with a glaring achilles heel.
with wood's success in his short stint as a reliever, there is a temptation to think that he could serve as the closer for this team in 2006. and i think he's certainly suited for the job -- his first two pitches are devastating, and relief work hides the rest of them. his control problems are somewhat masked by short appearances. however, he has to want to move out to the bullpen -- and i doubt he really does. the cubs can't force him to be a reliever in the long term; wood will simply insist on changing teams, by trade or free agency. and the team, for its part, has a $12mm salary to justify -- there is a heavy incentive to seek value out of wood in starting him. so i think that, despite his effectiveness in relief, wood is probably a starter in 2006, for april and may at least. (that is, if he's pitching at all.)
the infield is mostly a known quantity as well -- it's quite likely, it seems, for better or for worse, that nomar will return at shortstop. he's a marketing asset and a potential offensive gem as a middle infielder, but his fielding is a serious drawback at this point and his injury history is increasingly troubling. he'll have to be handcuffed to a better backup than neifi perez, because that guy will end up playing a lot.
there is the possibility, however, that the cubs would make a splash and really pursue free agent rafael furcal, the best overall shortstop on the market, who would definitively solve the leadoff problem on this team. he'd come at a higher price than nomar, but would really be worth it in my humble opinion. furcal's not the best leadoff hitter in the majors with a career obp of .345, but he has speed to burn and a fine defensive presence that the cubs (with the third-most errors in the NL) could really use. considering the need of the cubs for both those qualities, he's the guy i'd rather see the cubs pick up.
the outfield is another area ripe (stinking, in fact) for upgrade. murton doesn't have the power to be a starter for a contending team at this point, and hairston would be a better bench player. patterson shouldn't be playing everyday in the majors. burnitz is likely to leave. lawton is a free agent. so the field is open -- and this is where the cubs may make or break 2006 to a greater extent even than in the bullpen.
first of all, lawton should be resigned to play left. his career .370 obp and reasonable speed make him the leadoff hitter if furcal isn't signed and the team hits nomar into the middle of the order. if the cubs do manage to land furcal or another leadoff hitter, lawton can hit second.
other potential candidates in the pool include brian giles, preston wilson, reggie sanders, jacque jones and others. i'd love to see giles come to wrigley after years of killing us with the pirates. he can play right and is only 35, making him fairly safe for a two- or three-year deal. his power numbers, playing in massive petco park, are down this year -- but his away split reads 333/458/588. he'd be a tremendous addition for any club, but may command $10mm a year.
center is a real problem spot for this team, and the free agent field includes potential expensive disasters like preston wilson and jose cruz jr. this is the position more than any other, i think, that the cubs would benefit from a trade -- juan pierre, for example, would be ideally suited to the cubs -- because there don't appear to be any great answers in the marketplace. but without a trade, i'd like to see the cubs go for someone steady and productive. the more i think about it, the more i reconcile to the idea of kenny lofton. he won't cost much (about $3mm), will still steal a base and get aboard at a .350 clip. he'd also be an excellent bench addition if the cubs can swing a deal for a better starting centerfielder. lofton isn't the great player he was, but he won't be the spectacular mistake wilson or cruz would likely be.
so the bench, in the ideal situation, will already be staffed by perhaps blanco, macias, hairston, and maybe murton. i hate to think that patterson will be retained even as a lefty-hitting fifth outfielder almost as much as i hate the idea of macias being signed through 2006 -- but as a pinch runner and defensive outfielder one could have worse options. murton certainly doesn't have to be kept around either if the cubs find a way to staff a better right-handed corner outfielder.
from the right side, tim salmon will be available at something significantly less than his $9mm+ 2005 salary after his recent injury problems and would be an outstanding fourth corner outfielder and big bench bat. from the left, lofton, orlando palmeiro and bobby higginson are all free agents, palmeiro being the much cheaper of the three. in the infield, hairston is a capable second bagger if he isn't moved for value (he really should start for someone). damion easley and miggy cairo, who are a bit more versatile around the infield, will also be in the pool. if the cubs do resign nomar, however, they need a major-league shortstop on the bench, and there aren't just too many. of course, the cubs could always resign neifi, which is probably the most likely event even if not the most attractive.
but i'd also like to forward the notion of a return to a cub past -- bobby hill, who was amazingly sent back to triple-a by the pirates this week. hill is a switch-hitter, has a good glove, can play all three infield positions (he was an all-american college shortstop, even if his range isn't major-league caliber), draws walks, can steal bases quite well even though he has rarely been given the opportunity and is an effective pinch-hitter (career .363 obp as a ph). things clearly aren't working out for him with the pirates -- the cubs might pick up the hotline to dave littlefield's office again and give him a try.
and then there's the manager. it's no secret that i think dusty's a fool and a horrid manager. whatever service he does perform for this team is more than cancelled by his many negative attributes. when a candidate like joe girardi is out there, i think it's a no-brainer to scuttle dusty, and i'd like to think that he'll be gone.
so where does that leave this team? a new manager; the same rotation at around $30mm, depending on how zambrano shakes out; a far better bullpen for something like $8-10; the same infield, give or take furcal, for $30mm; a $20-25mm outfield of giles, lawton and pierre or lofton; and an upgraded bench for $10mm. the price tag for this team will run a bit over $100mm -- an increase over this year, but not radically.
i'd be the last person to think anyone over at clark and addison is going to follow any advice i give. but this team is one that could contend, even with the health problems in the rotation. add another quality starter and things get that much better, though there's obviously a fiscal ceiling somewhere. more importantly, with some combination of lawton, pierre, lofton and maybe even furcal, it would be a team that can run as well as get aboard in front of the bangers in lee, ramirez and giles. with guys like barrett, walker, hairston, cairo, salmon, higginson and palmeiro in the mix, the bottom of the order is no longer the black hole that it's been so often for this club. and that adds up to actual scoring, which is a notion verging on misty heroic mythology on the north side.
here's hoping something even vaguely resembling these ideas make it to the field in 2006.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Carlos Zambrano may have not been feeling well Wednesday night. You know what usually happens when that happens to a great athlete?
Zambrano had another one of those games, where he looked like the big kid on the little league field. He sparkled on the hill, at the plate--hitting his first homer of the year, and on the field making a great play on a bunt attempt in the 8th.
The game brought back memories of Carlos' game at Minute Maid (or whatever they called it at that time) in July 2003. The Cubs now make their way to Denver, 6th place in the NL Wildcard race and 5-1/2 games back with 41 games to play.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
If you remember back to the day before the start of Spring Training in 2004-the day the Cubs signed Maddux-he was added to be the teams 5th starter. Injuries and lack of progression by the other starters have turned Maddux into a very important cog in the Cub rotation. Check out where Maddux stands compared to the other Cubs starting pitchers since he came back at the start of '04:
Pitcher -- GS-W-IP-CG-SHO
Maddux -- 59 - 26 - 376.1 - 3 - 1
Zambrano -- 55 - 25 - 365.2 - 2 - 1
Prior -- 40 - 14 - 238 - 1 - 0
Wood -- 32 - 11 - 201.1 - 0 - 0
(where's the great Angel Guzman?)
So when Dusty Baker decides to chime in his 3 cents that Maddux may retire after the season. As a Cub fan I cringe. What the hell is Dusty doing? His best Larry Himes imitation? Maddux has already left this franchise once because he was treated like shit. In the sunset of his Hall of Fame you would think Dusty and the rest of Cub management would have the class not to speculate on Maddux's future. You would think they'd look at their starting staff and realize they'll need a 40 year old Greg Maddux to eat up innings in 2006.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
The last Tawd watch that I recall, Tawd was hiding out in a Tijuana brothel in a bottle. I guess he has graduated up from the booze.
Monday, August 15, 2005
but has the klown really changed years of enduring failure in a three-week jaunt down at iowa? should we really allow ourselves to believe that to be possible, much less that it's just occured? turning the most-overhyped cub player in recent memory, with a tragic record for more than 2000 major-league at-bats, from the worst everyday player in the majors into the wish-fulfillment of millions of cub fans?
many will believe exactly what they want to. they'll take his august 11 game as proof positive that everything is now peachy, and that k-pat is now a young jim edmonds all over again.
i, however, would rather look at the small sum of his performances since returning. and there isn't a lot to be excited about. in six games, the klown has gone 6-for-22 (.273) with a walk and four strikeouts, a homer and three rbi. on base percentage over those games: an abysmal .304 -- still pegged just at his career obp of .298.
the most talked-about aspect of the return of the klown has been the reduction in his strikeout rate -- and, one must say, only four in six games is an improvement for a guy who had fanned 84 times in 82 games previous. but is it durable -- has patience become a calling card for the notorious free-swinger? will the klown now work himself into hitters counts with regularity?
in short: no. the klown's seen 72 pitches in 23 plate appearances since his callup -- 3.13 per pa. this is actually significantly less than his rate for the year before being sent down (3.41), indicating a greater-than-ever willingness to swing early and often.
don't get me wrong -- i was amazed to watch korey in the sixth last night take the first four pitches he saw from a struggling matt morris to get to 3-0 and then 3-1 before grounding into a fielder's choice. and he took two balls to get a 2-0 pitch to crush his homer in the second. this is a better approach than any we've seen from this guy in a long time.
however, along with that, korey grounded out on the second pitch in the fourth, and failed pathetically to get a bunt down in three attempts in the eighth. and there was friday, where he lined out on the first pitch in the sixth and went flailing on three pitches in the eighth. this is still a shaky, inconsistent player who exists -- even in this, his rehabilitation as the new-and-improved klown -- on the outer fringe of major-league viability.
with jerry hairston now at iowa on rehab, there seems to me to be little evidence that would force the cubs to continue to play the hapless patterson in center once hairston returns. the klown is and remains a loss as a major-league ballplayer, and the odds of his reversing a six-year, 552-game, 2,061-at-bat track record of consistent failure are vanishingly small. if he can play well enough over the next week or so to encourage some other team to accept him as a castoff in a waiver deal, so much the better -- it's time for korey to become someone else's false five-tool fantasy.
Friday, August 12, 2005
rozner speculates on what is motivating the man behind the curtain as he bewilders all observers yet again.
it's easy to see why the team has quit on him. would you put anything on the line for the great and powerful oz?
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
i'm just dumb enough to bet that, if the slide goes into the weekend against the cardinals -- mulder v maddux (L), marquis v big z (?) and carpenter v williams (L) -- the furor by sunday will be so deafening that the trib will have to act out of sheer embarrassment and a belated concern for their $105mm investment. they can use the sunday sports page to deficate all over baker, as they've already begun to, in order to make themselves look like the good guys yet again if this slow-motion trainwreck hasn't ended by saturday night.
so today's matchup of hill v milton is huge for dusty, i think -- and so is marquis v zambrano on saturday. he might be saved -- perhaps reprieved is a better word -- if he gets a W in one of those. maybe.
there's also a contingent (including bleed cubbie blue) which points out correctly that firing baker isn't the end of the cubs problems. this team's failure is multifaceted, as this very page has long argued.
however, if you're going to clean out the closet, you have to start by throwing something out. and dusty is an excellent place to start, even if just to assure that he won't have to be placated in the roster changes that are certainly coming. there's nothing more retrogressive for this franchise than hanging onto deadweight dusty-cronies like neifi perez, trenidad hubbard and calvin murray -- one and all glue-factory candidates and former frisco giants collecting checks in either chicago or iowa as recipients of dusty's patronage.
this team will have capital to work with in the offseason before 2006 -- a season which, to me, looks increasingly like a possible turning point year. zambrano comes up for arbitration, and he has earned a raise from $3.76mm. but the real breaker could be after 2006, when prior comes in for arbitration and derrek lee for free agency. prior, for all his injury problems, is sure to command a big contract from the cubs that will go multiple years to avoid his testing free agency after 2007. and lee is showing why he may well get double his current $7.77mm 2005 salary. those two deals may be mutually exclusive even for a team willing to dump $105mm on this year's disaster -- and thus start to break up the cubs maturing talent core of prior/zambrano/lee/ramirez/barrett.
time will tell, of course. but i'd certainly rather see the back of this fool of a manager before this team has to start constructing what may be the most important cub roster of the decade.
UPDATE: you can add desipio to the mob screaming for the head of dusty.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
in the eighth with two away and cubs down by one, the reds bring in ultimate-loogy kent mercker to face burnitz. burnie is 1-for-22 lifetime against mercker. the cubs have matt murton, hitting 12-of-24 against lefty pitching this year, on the bench.
no brainer, right? get murton up there, slide lawton from left into right. give yourself a chance, yeah?
nope -- not if you're dusty. you let burnitz fan swinging to end the inning.
and here's the kicker. then you sub hollandsworth in for burnitz as part of a ninth-inning double switch!
if you were going to lift burnie anyway, shouldn't you take advantage of the matchup and not let him face an at-bat that he has almost no chance of producing in? down by one late, with the game in the balance?
and why are you making double-switches in the ninth when you're down a run for a lineup spot that is due up fourth in the bottom half of the frame? if you actually did get a guy on, wouldn't you want to be free to pinch-hit according to the situation and not be tied down by your goofy substitution?
i realize you could second-guess this guy all day. and he's hardly the only reason the cubs messed in their bed today. but it really does seem that dusty has zero, zilch, nada ability to manage on his feet. it's almost like he had a plan at 11am today to get holly some time today -- and by golly, he did! and no actual game situation was going to make him deviate from the plan.
Pitt - 5
SF - 4
Cin - 3
Mil - 3
StL - 7
Hou - 7
It is quite possible that none of these games will be meaningful to either team involved. Pitt, Cincy, and SF are already toast. Although not mathematically eliminated, Milwaukee is done. That creates 15 meaningless games. The Cards have all but wrapped up the best record in the NL and homefield for both NL playoff series. If Houston continues their current roll, they'll have run away with the WC by the time they arrive in Wrigley on Sept 23rd. Dusty will then be able to wrap up the season with his typical strong showing. He'll continue to play his veteran team against clubs playing minor leaguers called up when the rosters expand and good teams that will be resting their star players. The Trib and Cubs management will use this as justification to keep Johnnie B as the Cubs resident buffoon, i.e. manager for 2006.
Look who's coming to Wrigleyville this afternoon!
This morning on the flagship, Dusty Baker told Spike O'Dell and all of the midwest that the Cubs would have a new/old centerfielder this afternoon. Korey Patterson is back from his trip to Des Moines. Baker says that the Klown will hit lower in the lineup. He then mentioned something about the playoffs and all I could hear in my head was that Jim Mora press conference from years ago "PLAYOFFS?"
So the Walkathon is back in biz. Any bets on Patterson's walk total by the end of the year?
Monday, August 08, 2005
Now let's take a look at the 2005 numbers for one Kyle Farnsworth.
AL - 42.2IP 2.32ERA 1.15WHIP 55K
After his recent trip back to the NL
3.2IP 4.91ERA 1.36WHIP 3K
Obviously this is a tiny sample size, but it should be interesting to see if the trend continues and (as Sloth would say) Capt Tightpants turns into an unreliable reliever again. We all can watch this intently as we wait for Hendry and company to decide whether the Cubs are out of the WC race. We all know the Cubs won't be worth our attention again this year until the kids get to see some more playing time.
jose macias as a starting centerfielder is a violation of the natural order and an abomination unto god
but i had forgot something. i forgot that these are the cubs, and i forgot that dusty baker is their manager (for now).
so much so that, when jerry hairston went down in last week's horror show, dusty used the unfortunate event to justify giving an everyday role to jose macias in center field. the stupefyingly underqualified macias -- who is essentially incapable of getting on base over the long term -- has acquitted himself reasonably well in the short term, going 5-for-14 with a couple k's over four games.
but the perversity of his daily inclusion has contributed to what appears to be a complete karmic breakdown of the team. let's face it -- a team that starts an outfield of lawton-macias-hollandsworth for even one game is destined to lose. a team that allows itself a 6-through-8 lineup of neifi, macias and blanco on any night is never going to win.
i can't explain why burnitz -- who played half of 2004 in center for colorado at spacious coors field -- isn't in center now; and i can't explain why lawton hasn't been shaded over to right -- where he played virtually all of this year before coming to chicago; and i can't explain why the servicable left field platoon of hollandsworth and murton hasn't temporarily returned awaiting hairston's recovery.
what i can explain is that, if you believe in a power that exists beyond the perception of a feeble man, it's hard not to view this latest losing streak as punishment from a god who would like to be benevolent but must be vengeful in order to maintain the balance of the natural world. he has smote the cubs for their manager's mocking defiance of him -- and will go on smiting them until order is restored.
to please god, dusty, return the gremlin to the bench where he belongs. better yet, make a sacrifice of him to quell god's anger. i don't care about the playoffs anymore. i just want to avoid the locusts and the north branch running red with blood and so forth.
Manager Dusty Baker issued an appeal Sunday to the Cubs organization, including general manager Jim Hendry, to re-sign all of his coaches for 2006.
As for himself, however, while Baker emphasized that he is not opposed to the idea of re-signing with the Cubs after 2006, he believes any talk about a contract extension is premature.
"What I would like to happen to quiet some people is sign my coaches and let us know we are going to have continuity of leadership going into next year,'' Baker said. "This year and next year are big years for all of us. My contract and Jim's end at the same time. As long as ownership is satisfied with the job I'm doing, that's all that matters.''
Hendry left no doubt about that Friday when he reiterated that Baker is the right man for him and the Cubs. Teams typically don't re-sign coaches until their jobs are reviewed after the season.
this seems an odd time to begin contract negotiations, with the cubs finalizing their slide into an october spent raking leaves, now in an anticlimactic race with the brewers for third in the division. but baker clearly is insecure regarding his tenure in chicago -- he can read the paper as well as anyone. if he can force a reaction by the cub front office, it will clarify his situation as he probes other 2006 managerial openings around the majors. dusty's looking here either for an honest-to-god material commitment to 2006 or a clear indication that he's not coming back because he knows he's in jeopardy -- something far more than the judas-kiss hendry gave him this weekend. either way, he gets clarity.
odds are he'll get a mix of stony silence and empty platitudes. and that will be all he needs to keep looking for a new job for next season. i sincerely hope he's successful.
Friday, August 05, 2005
today, in order to make way for the return of nomar, wood and williamson, the cubs stupidly dfa'd mike remlinger to make room. (sergio mitre was also optioned to iowa, with jerry hairston going to the DL thanks to ligament damamge in his shoulder. despite speculation, the klown was not called up -- putting burnitz in center for a while.)
now, i'll be the first to admit that remlinger hasn't been at his best this year. nonetheless, he's arguably the best reliever the cubs have on staff.
how can i say that? after all, it seems to go against received wisdom in the cubosphere -- there's no shortage of people calling for remlinger's head.
i can say it because i have more concern for what remlinger has pitched like over the last 300 innings than the last 30 -- or, in the worst cases of attention-deficit disorder, three.
take a look at the cubs relief output this year sorted by whip. top four? borowski. remlinger. dempster. hawkins. how many of them are still on the team?
it's almost as though the cubs are trying to sabotage their bullpen.
hawkins, because of some difficulty in a few save situations, was ridden out of town on a rail by fans and media alike despite having a 3.32 era and being one of the best cub relievers of the last five years. he has a handful of rough outings and they dump him? appalling. one might quickly note that hawkins has posted a 1.97 era over his last 13 outings in san francisco, with 12 ks against four walks.
i myself has concerns about borowski when he came back from surgery having lost a considerable amount of velocity. despite having been the cubs best reliever in 2002 and 2003 before his injury, jim hendry apparently believed borowski was done, dfa'ing jobo for another kerry wood comeback after just 11 innings, in which he recorded 11 k's and one walk (although allowing five longballs). borowski went to tampa bay, where he has been absolutely stellar -- zero runs allowed and only three hits and two walks in 9.1 innings of work.
now comes remlinger, a guy who has been more unlucky than bad this season, seeing as he puts fewer men aboard than any other cub who was on the roster yesterday. this is a pitcher who, since moving to the bullpen in atlanta in 1999, has chalked 438 innings of 3.04 era -- making him one of the most effective relievers in all of baseball over that span. he's allowed only 31 hits and 12 walks this year in 33 innings, while fanning 30 -- not his best year, but hardly the cubs least effective reliever, with future gas station attendants like novoa inexplicably hanging around. and yet, hendry saw fit to designate him for assignment.
i'm fairly certain remlinger will now join a pennant contender and pitch brilliantly down the stretch. and bully for him.
in the end, this is another example of how poorly managed teams -- like those jim hendry manages -- sell low and buy high in free agency, ensuring that they pay tons of money for players that they are destined to give up on over a short spot of trouble.
hawkins. borowski. remlinger. when the cubs bullpen is as horrifyingly bad over the next few seasons as it's been over the last couple, while hawkins, borowski and remlinger are continuing to put in quality innings for other clubs, remember what hendry did these last few months to prove that he is not equipped to be a major-league general manager.
when the mother ship puts you in a negative light in print, you can consider your days numbered.
dusty won't be back for 2006 barring a miracle finish. the dusty watch is now 28 days old, and looking stronger than ever.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
given that the cubs claim just this year to be getting around to examining wood's mechanics, i wouldn't be entirely shocked to see the legendary atlanta pitching coach turn that million-dollar arm into a very fearsome cub-killing weapon.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Michael Barrett and the boys put on a display that would have made the Buttermaker proud!
I have spent countless hours watching the Cubs through the years. This means I have wasted too much time. Time that would have been better spent doing anything. So why did I expect Wednesday night to be any different? Because I'm a Cub fan, I guess.
The Cub players put on a pathetic display on Wednesday night. Cub pitchers forgot to cover first on three different occasions, threw two wild pitches and recorded one error. Despite all of this the Cubs had a chance to send the game to extra innings.
Michael Barrett watches Jimmy Rollins cross the plate with the winning run. Poor defensive players have cost the Cubs all year long. Wednesday was no exception.
With one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Michael Wuertz struck out Pat Burrell. The pitch got by Michael Barrett. Jimmy Rollins was more than halfway down the line from third. Instead of picking up the ball and running Rollins back to third, Michael Barrett (he must not have played "running bases" or "hop-box" as a kid) picked up the ball and threw it to Ramirez back at third. Rollins rolled in with the winning run. It was a real bonehead play by the Cub catcher. (I could go on and on about Barrett's defense this year, but is it worth it anymore?)
There really is very little to say about how this team has played the past week and throughout the season. They have invented new ways to lose games this year. Common sense would tell me to quit wasting time on this team. What time is the game Thursday?
Franklin would not discuss what he tested positive for. But he did say that he took supplements he bought at a nutrition store. Franklin said he gave up all supplements after the positive test. After that, he said he tested negative.
"I'll never take (supplements) again. ... I won't even take a vitamin until I'm done with baseball," he said. "I hate what's happened for the organization, for me, and my family. I'm done with taking anything."
rafael palmiero's positive test (now said to be stanozolole, something far beyond what can be the result of over-the-counter supplements) excludes him and many other ballplayers from this situation evidentially -- but not morally. franklin's lesson, if he is being genuine, is one to be learned not only by hardcore abusers but all of us. if you allow your drive to self-expression and self-determination -- be it in baseball or anything else -- to become a consuming, unhealthy enormity that allows you to justify pursuing the nth degree of selfishness by any means necessary, including costs to your peers, family and health, you are not fulfilling but rather undermining yourself, your society and whatever gifts god has granted you.
i think it's far too much to ask of baseball's new drug policy or one hall of fame speech to plant that philosophical seed in the head of an entire society. but they are certainly a step in the right direction.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
18 G, 70 AB, 9 R, 15 H, 4 2b, 3 HR, 7 RBi, 5 BB, 15 SO, 6 SB, 1 CS, .276 OBP .400 SLG, .214 BA, 0 Errors
This does not look promising for the Cubs or young Patterson. Well, the Cubs can use him as a pinch runner this September.
Monday, August 01, 2005
I'm sure that there will be a bit of speculation about the Gladiator and his alleged use since they are team mates, but its just interesting that Palmeiro was so adamant about not using in March. How will this affect his legacy in the wake of geting his 3,000th hit?
in a year when the cubs themselves are characterized by undiscipline and responsibility avoidance, and in an age whence civility is dissolving on all sides (and not just of the game), i was both deeply pleased and somewhat sad to hear sandberg's words -- satisfied at the correctness of his sentiments, saddened at how obviously archaic they are in today's atmosphere of self-indulgence.
kudos, mr sandberg. you deserve it.
lawton is a pretty solid answer to two cub problems -- leadoff and left field. his current .380 on-base percentage makes him the second-best on the club, while his 16 stolen bases lead by a healthy margin. lawton's history is also as a slightly-better-than-average corner outfielder, with good range and a very nice left-field arm that allows him to play right servicably.
there's very little downside for the cubs here, besides the expense of the salary (lawton gets $7.5mm for 2005 with no further obligation thereafter, further mitigated by cash considerations coming the cubs way). gerut was no loss except as a project possibility, and lawton will head a lineup that has in the last month shorn itself of the non-contributions of korey patterson and jason dubois and installed jerry hairston in center. these may seem minor shifts to some -- but i admit to thinking that the cub lineup is improved by half at least with lawton, hairston and walker all seeing the field, with hollandsworth filling the left-handed-bat bench role he seems destined to play.
if these moves are now compounded by a successful return of nomar to shortstop -- putting neifi back into the defensive-substitute/pinch-hitting role he was designed to play on this team -- this cub club will have made massive strides from midyear to becoming a legitimate and consistent scoring threat.
the cubs might also be making significant additions to the bullpen, long a sore spot, by relegating wood and a rehabbed scott williamson to relief. wood is likely to remain a control-plagued enigma, i suspect, but could perhaps join ryan dempster in becoming a qualified success story. williamson, for his part, has been a dominating reliever in the past; how tommy john surgery will have affected his velocity and movement remains to be seen, but early returns have been positive.
rich hill continues to look servicable as a major-league starter, adding himself to prior, zambrano, jerome williams and a tailspinning maddux. this is not the powerhouse rotation many expected -- indeed, it looks much like two aces and three fifth starters at the moment. but williams, along with hill, has been pretty good in the early returns, although showing flashes of the control trouble which ended his time in san francisco.
this is still a team with massive question marks. maddux may be experiencing the end of his legendary career out on the mound this month; williamson and wood may not be what we hope for in the bullpen -- that is, a reprieve from the hackery of novoa, mitre, wuertz and wellemeyer and some legitimate help for remlinger and dempster. and -- most of all -- it's simply really hard to make up ground in the playoff races -- the cubs remain four back (now of white-hot houston) looking up at four teams. so these moves, encouraging as they are, may simply be too little too late to make a difference. but the dog days are bringing some optimism -- and if it isn't sure to be rewarded, it also isn't entirely unwarranted.