Friday, March 31, 2006

Walker named starter, Koronka dealt

Surprise! The Louisiana Lumberjack won the starting second baseman job.

Despite the fact Jim Hendry tried to trade Todd Walker all offseason. Despite all the rumors about Jerry Hairston replacing Todd Walker at 2B. Despite some comments earlier in the spring that put Walker in both the Manager and GM's doghouse. Despite the fact that the Cubs want to put guys on the field that can catch the ball. Despite all of these things Todd Walker was named the Cubs starting second baseman before the Cubs game today in Las Vegas.

Dusty Baker seemed to be leaning towards Jerry Hairston most of the spring. I guess in the end the Cubs need a bat in their lineup. They'll also be able to use Hairston as a defensive replacement for Walker late in games and give him a few starts. This will probably work into some form of a platoon with Walker getting the starts against right handers and Hairston getting the call when they face leftys. That's just my guess.

Cubs acquire Bynum
This afternoon Cruller Jim was at it again. He took part in a three way deal with the Athletics and Rangers. The three Cactus League clubs exchanged players. Left handed Cub John Koronka went to the Rangers for utility man Freddie Bynum. Bynum and lefty John Rheinecker had been sent from Oakland to Texas for right hander Juan Dominquez.

New Cub Freddie Bynum

The acquisition of Bynum means Ryan Theriot will start the season at Iowa. Bynum will be the Cubs 25th man. The 26 year old Bynum played most of last season at AAA Sacramento. His stats are not really exciting. He hit .278 with 56 runs scored in 102 games. Speed is what Bynum's game is all about. He had 9 triples and 23 steals at Sacramento. Bynum had a great spring for the A's this year. He hit .373 in 23 games with 6 doubles and 3 triples, while stealing 6 bases. For those of you that think this move is insignificant, just remember Dusty Baker plays everybody on his roster.

in its own words

rick morrissey in today's tribune makes the argument for selling the cubs.

The Wall Street Journal is the latest publication to wonder in print whether an ailing stock price and a struggling newspaper industry will prompt Tribune Co. to sell the Cubs.

Tribune Co. has said the club isn't for sale. Say it ain't so.

A newspaper has no business owning a baseball team, in the same way a newspaper would have no business owning a cell-phone company, an insurance company or any other company it might have to cover as a news story.

I was sure of that when Tribune Co. bought the Cubs in 1981, I knew it when I came to the Tribune in 1997 and I was reminded of it the other day when I wrote in my blog that, against all reason, I was picking the Cubs to win the National League Central this season.

morrissey, for the first time in my memory (though i am admittedly an infrequent reader of his column), penned a quite clever piece about his and the paper's conflict of interest in covering the cubs, something he says has made his job -- selling papers by either earning trust or sensationalizing -- much harder by cutting off one of his avenues to success. perhaps that would explain something of the tribune columnists' all-too-frequent resort to hyperbole.

but the very mention of the notion -- which has been gaining momentum for some time, recently with new force from ariel capital's john rogers jr. -- in the pages of the tribune itself is an acknowledgement of its validity and a step toward managing the expectations of tribune readers by taking a sale out of the ethereal realm of financiers and corporate critics and materializing it in widepsread print for daily readers, cub fans and small shareholders. a more conscious and meaningful step toward an eventual transfer of controlling ownership interest could hardly be taken at this point, and that's how, in the opinion of this page, it should be interpreted.

for this page, the eventuality cannot come too soon.

everything man

this page has gone on at length about how ronny cedeno isn't cut out to be a major league player. anyone interested in rehashing the analyses can find them here, here and here. cedeno has summarily obliged this page by confirming the worst we could have feared this spring, posting a pathetic .259 obp and drawing just three walks in 54 plate appearances.

and it's really worse than it appears, for what it's worth. cedeno's defense has been erratic at best, with throwing across the diamond becoming a daily adventure from which cub first basemen duly attempt to rescue him. he's managed just four extra base hits, slapping tentatively at pitches outside the strike zone for all of march, and frequently in the games this writer has seen simply looked lost and overmatched. of course, all this against spring pitching, when a lot of hurlers haven't really broken out the breaking stuff -- which is sure to be a weakness for most any rookie.

factor in dusty baker's oft-denied and oft-apologized preference for veteran players, and it's perhaps unsurprising that today's tribune reports dusty as being ready to pull the plug on cedeno, complete with a ready-made excuse/general condemnation of all rookies.

Manager Dusty Baker hinted Thursday he could pull the plug early on the Cedeno experiment if his hitting doesn't improve in the regular season. Neifi Perez, whom Baker referred to as "my everything man," will be ready to move into the job if Cedeno struggles.

"Cedeno is going to get the first nod, but it's up to him to keep the job without us putting pressure on him," Baker said. "We're not in the giveaway business. We think he earned the situation that he's in, but …"

Baker digressed into a story about Dodgers veteran Ron Fairly telling him as a rookie that it's tougher to stay in the majors than it is to get there.

"With that in mind, you have to play," Baker said. "That's how it is."

sword in hand, then, the pressure is on cedeno to do something that, frankly, he very probably can't. and this page would argue that this development was not only highly predictable but that cub management foresaw its eventuality.

many were amazed when neifi perez was offered a two-year contract. "why would anyone give a utility player a two-year deal? and for that money?" many asked.

but this page understands the truth to be closer to the notion that, once hendry had failed to land rafael furcal and give the cubs their first genuine threat at shortstop since ivan dejesus, once trades for julio lugo and miguel tejada had been explored and deemed impossible, hendry must have known that neifi perez was his probable shortstop. cedeno is a longtime minor leaguer with a .254 career batting average, a 3.2 k:bb ratio and an error-prone arm -- such a player is a million-to-one shot to stick in the bigs, and hendry must have surmised as much. without another viable shortstop prospect in the entire organization, cornered by his inability to trade for the help the team was too cheap to sign, he hoped for cedeno -- but realized that neifi was going to be the cub shortstop for the forseeable future.

and so here we are on the eve of the season opener, looking at another 500 at-bat season for the Everything Man. it's become a question not of whether neifi will play -- rather, it's a question of where in the order he will hit.

given the experience of last season, when neifi took 382 of his 572 at-bats -- 67% -- in either the leadoff or second spot, one has to imagine that baker will ensure that he sees regular plate appearances hitting second.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

marshall made fourth starter, to pitch april 9

while the official announcement hasn't come yet, the tribune reports this morning the salient facts:

Roberto Novoa appears to be the odd man out in the bullpen after missing most of spring training with Valley Fever. Baker said the Cubs would rather take their time with Novoa instead of rushing him back. That probably leaves a seven-man bullpen of Ryan Dempster, Bob Howry, Scott Eyre, Scott Williamson, Will Ohman, Jerome Williams and Michael Wuertz, who has compiled a 14.73 ERA this spring.

Rich Hill was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Thursday, while Michael Restovich was re-assigned to minor-league camp. That means infielder Ryan Theriot may have won the job as the 25th man, despite a .208 spring average. The Cubs remain interested in Oakland utilityman Freddy Bynum, who is out of options and won't make the A's final cut.

with hill moved to iowa and williams named the seventh man in the bullpen, it seems clear that marshall is the choice of baker and rothschild to be the cubs fourth starter on opening day. the daily southtown reports marshall as a lock to make the opening-day 25-man roster, with wuertz, a fever-free novoa and koronka battling for the eleventh spot. restovich was sent off as well, meaning ryan theriot becomes the fifth middle infielder on the club and likely pinch runner of choice. the southtown also carried this slip from carlos zambrano:

The Cubs have not announced their fourth and fifth men in the rotation, but Opening Day starter Carlos Zambrano may have let the cat out of the bag Wednesday when he said Marshall "has the pitches to be in the big leagues. His first test for him will be St. Louis. He would prove there if he can pitch in the big leagues."

it is no secret that this page considers putting an oft-injured pitcher unproven even at double-a west tenn in the permanent rotation of this club over a proven starter with a career 3.92 era to be the pinnacle of folly -- perhaps the single most rash and foolish strategic decision yet made by dusty baker's team. but it seems that there is little option now but to pray for the best and for marshall to defy the odds.

UPDATE: bruce miles of the daily herald is saying marshall is slotted to pitch sunday night, april 9, at wrigley -- national television against the cardinals -- just to be sure there's enough pressure to fracture the kid's soul for good. zambrano will go monday, april 3, and saturday, april 8. rusch is slotted from tuesday the 5th, maddux for friday the 7th.

UPDATE: novoa was optioned to iowa today, narrowing the battle for the last roster spot to wuertz and koronka.

UPDATE: koronka traded in a three way deal which brings freddie bynum to the north side. wuertz makes the club; theriot optioned to iowa.

Predictions Roundtable

It's the start of the season so like everyone else, the gents at the Online Neighborhood Tavern aka "this crappy unpopular blog" sat down to give you our predictions on how the upcoming Cub season will go. (you might wanna bookmark this, it'll be good fodder to rip us later on in the season) So here's what we think:

QUESTION: How many games will the Cubs win this year?

  • Newman - 77
  • John Dooley - 67
  • Mikey P - 78
  • Marino - 84
  • MCav - 79
  • Vehere - 77
  • CCD - 80
  • gaius marius - 78

QUESTION: Will they make the playoffs?

  • Newman - NO
  • John Dooley - See Above
  • Mikey P - No
  • Marino Hell - No
  • MCav - Absolutely Not
  • Vehere - No, I just don't see it
  • CCD - Nope
  • gaius marius - no

QUESTION: Will any Cub player or managemnt member win an end of season award(NL MVP, NL Cy Young, NL ROY, NL Manager of Year, NL Executive of Years, etc...)? If so, who and what?

  • Newman - no
  • John Dooley- No. (I have Wade Miller as a longshot for Comeback Player of the Year, no joking.
  • Mikey P - No
  • Marino - Yes, Lee and Maddux NL Gold Gloves (did the rest of us forget these awards?)
  • MCav - No
  • Vehere - No, Only Award - Tribune Co. Baseball Exec of the Year - 3rd Generation Baseball Czar
  • CCD - Nope
  • gaius marius - no

STARTING PITCHING QUESTIONS: Name the Cubs starter that will...

-make the most starts

  • Newman - Maddux
  • John Dooley - Maddux 32
  • Mikey P - Maddux
  • Marino - Zambrano
  • MCav - Maddux
  • Vehere - Zambrano
  • CCD - Zambrano
  • gaius marius - maddux

-pitch the most innings

  • Newman - Zambrano
  • John Dooley - Maddux
  • Mikey P - Maddux
  • Marino - Zambrano
  • MCav - Maddux
  • Vehere - Zambrano
  • CCD - Zambrano
  • gaius marius - maddux

-record the most k's

  • Newman - Zambrano
  • John Dooley - Zambrano 188
  • Mikey P - Zambrano
  • Marino - Zambrano
  • MCav - Zambrano
  • Vehere - Zambrano
  • CCD - Zambrano
  • gaius marius - hard to say, but maybe wood

-have the most wins

  • Newman - Maddux
  • John Dooley - Zambrano 14
  • Mikey P - Zambrano
  • Marino - Zambrano
  • MCav - Zambrano
  • Vehere - Zambrano and Maddux (tie)
  • CCD - Zambrano 17
  • gaius marius - maddux

-have the best WHIP (min 160 IP)

  • Newman - Maddux
  • John Dooley - Maddux
  • Mikey P - Zambrano
  • Marino - Zambrano
  • MCav - Rusch
  • Vehere - Zambrano
  • CCD - Zambrano
  • gaius marius - maddux

-have the lowest ERA

  • Newman - Zambrano
  • John Dooley - Zambrano 3.23
  • Mikey P - Zambrano
  • Marino - Zambrano
  • MCav - Zambrano
  • Vehere - Zambrano
  • CCD - Zambrano 3.04
  • gaius marius - maddux

RELIEF PITCHING QUESTIONS: Name the Cubs reliever that will...
-have the most appearances

  • Newman - Eyre
  • John Dooley - Eyre, 85(not kidding)
  • Mikey P - Eyre
  • Marino - Howry
  • MCav - Dempster
  • Vehere - Kerry Wood
  • CCD - Eyre
  • gaius marius - eyre

-have the most saves

  • Newman - Dempster
  • John Dooley - Ryan Dempster 21 (out of 28)...notice those aren't a lot of chances, plus, I think he's gonna struggle. Just a hunch. No reasoning
  • Mikey P - Dempster
  • Marino - Dempster
  • MCav - Dempster
  • Vehere - Dempster
  • CCD - Dempster, I wouldn't be surprised if Wood or Howry takes the job at midseason
  • gaius marius - howry

-have the most holds

  • Newman - Eyre
  • John Dooley - Howry
  • Mikey P - Howry
  • Marino - Eyre
  • MCav - Dempster
  • Vehere - Wood
  • CCD - Howry
  • gaius marius - eyre

-have the best WHIP

  • Newman - Howry
  • John Dooley - Eyre, 1.07
  • Mikey P - Eyre
  • Marino - Howry
  • MCav - Dempster
  • Vehere - Eyre
  • CCD - Howry
  • gaius marius- howry

-have the lowest ERA

  • Newman - Howry
  • John Dooley - Eyre, 1.87
  • Mikey P - Eyre
  • Marino - Howry
  • MCav - Dempster
  • Vehere - Wuertz
  • CCD - Howry
  • gaius marius - howry

HITTING QUESTIONS: Name the Cub everyday player who...
-plays in the most games

  • Newman - Lee
  • John Dooley - Pierre (162)
  • Mikey P - Pierre
  • Marino - Pierre
  • MCav - Lee
  • Vehere - Lee
  • CCD - Tie Lee & Pierre
  • gaius marius - pierre

-has the highest batting average (min 502 AB's)

  • Newman - Ramirez
  • John Dooley - Murton .323
  • Mikey P - Lee
  • Marino - Lee
  • MCav - Ramirez
  • Vehere - Ramirez
  • CCD - Ramirez .328
  • gaius marius - ramirez

-has the most hits

  • Newman - Pierre
  • John Dooley - Pierre (notice Murton doesn't get the AB's still. Mabry will start 30 games in left)
  • Mikey P - Lee
  • Marino - Lee
  • MCav - Lee
  • Vehere - Lee
  • CCD - Pierre
  • gaius marius - pierre

-has the most doubles

  • Newman - Lee
  • John Dooley - Lee 40
  • Mikey P - Lee
  • Marino - Lee
  • MCav - Lee
  • Vehere - Murton
  • CCD - Lee
  • gaius marius - lee

-has the most triples

  • Newman - Pierre
  • John Dooley - Pierre 9
  • Mikey P - Pierre
  • Marino - Pierre
  • MCav - Pierre
  • Vehere - Pierre
  • CCD - Pierre
  • gaius marius - pierre

-has the most homeruns

  • Newman - Ramirez
  • John Dooley - Ramirez 46
  • Mikey P - Lee
  • Marino - Ramirez
  • MCav - Ramirez
  • Vehere - Lee & Ramirez (tie)
  • CCD - Lee
  • gaius marius - ramirez

-has the most Runs scored

  • Newman - Pierre
  • John Dooley - Pierre 103
  • Mikey P - Pierre
  • Marino - Pierre
  • MCav - Pierre
  • Vehere - Murton
  • CCD - Pierre
  • gaius marius - lee

-has the most RBi

  • Newman - Ramirez
  • John Dooley - Lee 113
  • Mikey P - Lee
  • Marino - Ramirez
  • MCav - Ramirez
  • Vehere - Ramirez
  • CCD - Lee 106
  • gaius marius - ramirez

-has the most stolen bases

  • Newman - Pierre
  • John Dooley - Pierre 36
  • Mikey P - Pierre
  • Marino - Pierre
  • MCav - Pierre
  • Vehere - Pierre
  • CCD - Pierre 52
  • gaius marius - pierre

QUESTION: What are you watching for in 2006?

  • Newman - Matt Murton proving he can consistently hit Major League pitching.
  • John Dooley -THREE THINGS I WILL BE WATCHING IN 2006: 1) Dusty's use of veterans and how that will inhibit the younger players 2) Jacque Jones. Can he return to form? 3) Will Derek Lee and Ryan Dempster match last years' outputs? I think no. But, we'll see.
    THREE THINGS I HAVE FAITH IN, IN 2006 (added) 1) Matt Murton 2) Juan Pierre 3) Jerry Hairston (don't know why, I just have this weird feeling)
  • Mikey P - The day Baker gets fired!
  • Marino - Will Pierre kickstart the offense?
  • MCav - Shit can Baker
  • Vehere - D. Lee, A Ram, and Murton
  • CCD - Several things:I think Matty Murton will have a solid season. Ronny Cedeno will struggle. How long will Dusty tolerate Cedeno. Can Lee perform at or close to the level hedid in 2005? Can Ramirez stay healthy? Who is going to be the 3-4-5 guys in the rotation. Can Ryan Dempster continue to close games on his high wire act. I expect Juan Pierre to lift the offense and create some excitement on the bases.
  • gaius marius - murton to hit, zambrano to experience significant arm probems

QUESTION: Will Dusty Baker survive the season as Cub manager?

  • Newman - Yes
  • Mikey P - No
  • Marino - Yes
  • MCav - See Above (NO)
  • Vehere - Not a chance. Bring on Crazy Lou Pinella
  • CCD - He will survive the season. But he will not come back for 2007.
  • gaius marius - maybe the year but not the offseason

QUESTION: Will Jim Hendry survive as GM?

  • Newman - yes
  • Mikey P - yes
  • Marino - yes, till just after the season
  • MCav - No
  • Vehere - He shouldn't survive to Opening Day, but he will
  • CCD - He will survive. He will find himself on a short leash after Dusty's departure following the season.
  • gaius marius - shamefully, yes

QUESTION: Who do think will win the following?

-AL East

  • Newman - Yankees
  • John Dooley - Blue Jays
  • Mikey P - Yankees
  • Marino - Yankees
  • MCav - Orioles
  • Vehere - Yankees
  • CCD - Yankees
  • gaius marius - red sox

-AL Central

  • Newman - White Sox
  • John Dooley - White Sox
  • Mikey P - White Sox
  • Marino - White Sox
  • MCav - Indians
  • Vehere - Indians
  • CCD - White Sox
  • gaius marius - twins(great race with the sox)

-AL West

  • Newman - Athletics
  • John Dooley - Angels
  • Mikey P - Angels
  • Marino - Athletics
  • MCav - Angels
  • Vehere - Athletics
  • CCD - Angels
  • gaius marius - athletics (another great race with the angels)

-AL Wildcard

  • Newman - Blue Jays
  • John Dooley- Indias
  • Mikey P - Indians
  • Marino - Orioles
  • MCav - Yankees
  • Vehere - White Sox
  • CCD - Red Sox
  • gaius marius - angels (time for king george to clean house)

-NL East

  • Newman - Mets (dethroning the Braves, finally!)
  • John Dooley - Atlanta
  • Mikey P - Braves
  • Marino - Mets
  • MCav - Mets
  • Vehere - Braves
  • CCD - Braves
  • gaius marius - braves

-NL Central

  • Newman - Cardinals
  • John Dooley - Cardinals(toughest one to pick. Seriously, anyone can win this. I'm picking the veterans.)
  • Mikey P - Cardinals
  • Marino - Cardinals
  • MCav - Cardinals
  • Vehere - Cardinals
  • CCD - Astros
  • gaius marius - cardinals

-NL West

  • Newman - Dodgers
  • John Dooley - San Diego
  • Mikey P - Dodgers
  • Marino - Dodgers
  • MCav - Dodgers
  • Vehere - Dodgers
  • CCD - Dodgers
  • gaius marius - dodgers

-NL Wildcard

  • Newman - Brewers
  • John Dooley - Mets
  • Mikey P - Brewers
  • Marino - Braves
  • MCav - Phillies
  • Vehere - Phillies
  • CCD - Phillies
  • gaius marius - astros

-AL Pennant

  • Newman - A's
  • John Dooley - White Sox
  • Mikey P - Angels
  • Marino - A's
  • MCav - Orioles
  • Vehere - Indians
  • CCD - Angels
  • gaius marius - angels

-NL Pennant

  • Newman - Mets
  • John Dooley - Mets
  • Mikey P - Cardinals
  • Marino - Cardinals
  • MCav - Mets
  • Vehere - Phillies
  • CCD - Phillies
  • gaius marius - dodgers

-2006 World Series Champs

  • Newman - A's
  • John Dooley - White Sox
  • Mikey P - Cardinals
  • Marino - Cardinals
  • Vehere - Indians (Cubs miss their chance in '03 and everyone else gets theirs, '07 - Giants)
  • CCD - Angels
  • gaius marius - dodgers--how's that for a darkhorse!

That's it. Let us know what you think. How many games will the Cubs win, etc...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Pierre: long term solution or short term fix?

Last December when Jim Hendry dealt three prospects to Florida for Juan Pierre it was assumed by most that the Cubs would sign the speedy 28 year old centerfielder to a long term deal. In the last week we heard Steve Stone on the Score mention that it looks like Felix Pie will be the Cub centerfielder next year and Juan Pierre is only a "stop gap" until Pie is ready. Here's hoping the Stone Pony is dead wrong on this one. As we know with the Mark Prior situation, Stone is usually right on the money when it comes to the Cubs.

How long will JP wear the blue pinstripes?

So which is it? Is Pierre a stop-gap until Pie is ready or is he a long term fixture on the northside leading off playing centerfield.

Hendry knows how hard it is to find a decent leadoff man. The Cubs in general have been looking for a leadoff hitter since Bobby Dernier. That's not that far from the truth. It's no coincidence that the years the Cubs have success, they have a good leadoff man. In 2003 Kenny Lofton ignited the Cubs offense. If Pierre does a good job leading off for the Cubs this season will they once again turn to an unproven prospect to play CF?

General managers genrally don't send three young arms to a team for a position player that they let walk after one season. When Hendry went after Pierre, he knew what the price was. Now he needs to sit down and lock up Pierre to a two or three year extension. Otherwise we'll end up seeing something similar to this next year.

williams in jeopardy

enough with this "marshall plan" trope already! can't something better come of this?

the sun-times repeats reports that jerome williams is in danger of losing his starting spot to prospect sean marshall after marshall's impressive spring and william's atrocious one.

marshall's next opportunity to improve his standing comes friday against the san diego padres in las vegas; williams' arrives tomorrow against the hot-hitting diamondbacks at hohokam.

the furtherance of this lark seems laughable to this writer -- but truly now the Cult of Marshall seems to have taken hold even in official quarters. mentioning him in contention with a number of others for a few starts in a temporary arrangement for the fifth spot in one thing; but talking about marshall as though he is the cubs' fourth-best (truly, third-best, taking rusch into account) healthy starter in the organization is either hysterical or a damning indictment of the lack of any pitching quality whatsoever in jim hendry's entire carefully constructed organization.

this writer uses the term "cult" with much consideration. it seems here that much of cubdom has become addicted to the idea of brilliant young starters riding in from the minors to dominate the majors when the team is in need. at least since kerry wood arrived in 1998, it seems every few cub camps has been characterized by one such starlet. in 2003, it was angel guzman. 2004 brought andy pratt. renyel pinto wowed 'em in 2005. but this is the first occasion in this writer's memory of any youngster not named mark prior gaining such cachet with so many so quickly.

marshall is no prior -- of that we can be sure. but what is he? one estimation might be the luckiest pitcher in camp. another might arguably be daytona's fifth-best pitcher last year, behind wells, marmol, mateo and gwaltney -- all of whom (excepting mateo) were called up to west tenn just the same. yet another might be this team's best option out of a bad lot for fifth starter.

whatever the answer to that question ends up being, what is just as sure is that cubdom has now let its imagination run away with respect to marshall, creating a pitcher better than jerome williams out of a sixth-round draft pick with -- whatever his talent or eventual ceiling might be -- no significant indication of ready major-league ability.

to be clear, williams is not a great pitcher. how his season will proceed has been recognized in this space already as a matter of some mystery and intrigue. but, as a matter of fact, williams is a former first-round draft pick who managed a 3.91 era in 18 appearances and 106 innings for this club last year, and has posted a 3.92 career era in 383 major league innings -- all before the age of 24. he is very definitely a good pitcher with a career certifiably ahead of him.

for comparison, marshall has never pitched beyond the southern league -- and made only ten appearances there, posting a 4.33 era in 54 innings over two seasons; spent most of last season putting in an unimpressive line for a 23-year-old at high-a daytona -- 12 gs, 69 ip, 63 h, 26 bb, 61 k; and has never pitched more than 94 innings in any year -- each year having been shortened by injury, which makes this comment by dusty regarding the reasoning behind sending angel guzman back to iowa all the more perplexing:

"Guzman has missed a lot of time," Baker said. "He's very close. You don't know if he's quite ready. Certain guys need to pitch. He has missed parts of the last three years."

is marshall really to be expected to outproduce williams' sub-4 era for the cubs? on the basis of ten innings thrown over three weeks this spring? the notion seems sheer folly to this writer -- and yet, this is what dusty baker's cubs are on the cusp of deciding.

this page would humbly submit that a more sensible and prudent course would involve allowing the marshall to gain experience and prove himself out in the minors this year while relying on williams to provide his usual staid output.

however, it is acknowledged that the cubs seem rarely enough to do the sensible and prudent thing. if marshall defies the odds and succeeds, making the effective leap from daytona to chicago, it will be a triumph for the cubs scouting and management in its minor league system. if he fails, it will be a capital indictment both of jim hendry and andy macfail, who built this team around arms that no one could reasonably expect to be healthy out of a desire to run a team with very little recent farm production inexpensively; and of dusty baker and larry rothschild, who could have stayed with williams and used rich hill or john koronka, but instead chose to pick an unready novice from deep within the minors.

but make no mistake: win or lose, it will have been a terrible gamble to take with marshall -- and a slap in the face of jerome williams, who has already done more than can be asked of most any 24-year-old in the big leagues.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

grissom retires

on the heels of an awful spring, marquis grissom has apparently decided to hang 'em up.

that's probably good news for the cubs -- as a longtime veteran, a 2004 version of grissom could have poached plate appearances from matt murton all year. but with murton's stellar spring confirming his callup performance, there's little threat from angel pagan -- the primary beneficiary, one has to imagine, of grissom's retirement as he tries to make the roster.

wellemeyer traded

the cubs this morning shipped todd wellemeyer to the marlins for two non-prospects. as wellemeyer was out of options, the stark choice facing the cubs was placing him in the cub bullpen or getting rid of him.

thank goodness hendry chose this path and not the other. this page was amazed that hendry didn't move him sooner when he was probably worth marginally more, instead choosing to give him yet another look this spring. that has gone disastrously, with wellemeyer being destroyed to the tune of 22 hits and four walks against only four strikeouts in 12 spring innings -- a performance worsted only by michael wuertz.

the opening day configuration of the pen is starting to emerge from the fog, with dusty baker unusually acquiescing to an 11-man staff to start the year, but with the pitcher temporarily excluded being the fifth starter. roberto novoa is likely still to begin the year on the disabled list with valley fever. so the seven man bullpen can reasonably be assumed to include dempster, howry, eyre, ohman and williamson -- with the final two spots in some dispute.

wuertz, this page assumed before this spring, was a lock to be included after a team-high 75 appearances in 2005. but a scorched-earth camp -- just 6.1 ip, 14 h, 12 r, 6 bb and only one strikeout -- has probably jeopardized him. whatever this page thinks of wuertz -- and it is not favorable -- it would still consider him an odds-on favorite to make it, as management has to appreciate both his veteran status and a lack of alternatives in evaluating his spring performance.

that leaves a last spot open until novoa's return (and possibly longer). curvaceous lefty rich hill, reconstructed angel guzman, "It-boy" sean marshall and throw-in john koronka all figure to see starts at iowa in an effort to sort out the fifth starter business. but, presuming that he has fallen out of the race, double-a prospect jae kuk-ryu might come north with the club after a shaky but not unreasonable spring. also contending might be david aardsma, who was the other guy in the hawkins-williams trade of last year.

again, this page would suggest that the cubs and their prospects are best served in the long term by letting their inexperienced prospects learn and prove their way out of the minors with more time in west tenn and iowa -- and where an inexperienced hand must be called upon, let it be one who has at least pitched his way to iowa. that is neither aardsma nor ryu nor marshall nor guzman -- but it is hill and koronka. both are 26, both are probably as ready now as they will ever be, and neither -- should they implode under the pressure -- will be a major loss to the cub player development system. koronka particularly has chalked 905 minor league innings, pitching reasonably at iowa both of the last two years, and has had a respectable spring -- now is the time to utilize a player like this.

are hill and koronka the best pitchers in the cubs farm system? this page would find that a highly questionable assessment, whatever their virtues. but they are in the right spot at the right time, and they have the dubious distinction of having run out of time and promise.

the third conceivable way, it seems to this writer, would be angel guzman. though 24 this year, his arm has been opened and closed more than a ziploc baggie and he's survived just 47 and 18 innings in 2004 and 2005 respectively -- and he too has never pitched past west tenn. but guzman is in his last option year, meaning that the cubs will soon be faced with finding him a major league role or trading him a la todd wellemeyer -- a fate not facing marshall or ryu for at least three more years. at some point you run out of chances to develop, and guzman may be rounding it.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

2006 cubs: starting pitching

to continue this page's preview of 2006, it will now examine the most important component of any successful team. it might have come earlier, but it was (truthfully) delayed to see what injuries might come public before cub camp broke. then came unsurprising news of prior's shoulder, giving the sorrowful metaphysical go-ahead.

it seems to this writer that the cubs have rarely had so much experienced starting pitching under contract in recent memory. the trouble, of course, is that most of it is injured, some of it rather severely.

carlos zambrano is a dominating starter, worthy of the tag of ace, and perhaps as good right now as he will ever be. not only will his anger management become an growing issue if someone doesn't teach him how to keep from flying apart on the mound -- this writer has also rarely seen a pitcher who relied so much on his stuff and so little on precise location. z's gameplan is often seems simply to throw it down the middle. his movement is incredible, and so he gets away with it -- and that, of course, is a privilege of youth.

as he ages, he will have to follow the time-honored path of young throwers who are forced to learn how to pitch cleverly. we get a preview of that every now and again, when dusty's used him too hard, his velocity falls off a bit and his ball straightens out. that of course doesn't mean "trade him now" -- though, if you want to sell high, players rarely get higher than zambrano is now -- but it is something of a warning bell sounding about how he's being used.

there were troubling signs all last year of overuse and repetitive stress injuries. "internet elbow" in may, complete with mri. his puzzling run in june -- and that series of short starts followed by a return to form -- indicating perhaps that the kid needs to be handled somewhat less roughly. and z has, of course, accumulated more pitcher abuse points over the last two seasons than anyone but livan hernandez and jason schmidt (which, this writer is sure, had nothing at all to do with schmidt's 2005 collapse.)

this isn't to say that zambrano's head on on the block beneath the executioner's axe. but it may be something to watch for in 2006 and 2007.

greg maddux remains this club's most stalwart pitcher -- it would not at all surprise this writer to have him lead the team again in starts and innings, and perhaps add to that wins. maddux was brought to the cubs with the intention of providing an aging but still useful arm to the back of an all-star rotation; he has since been asked to all but lead this pitching staff. it's a tribute to the player and the man that he has responded to the challenge so well -- try to imagine where this team would be now if maddux was not here.

some have written of maddux's renewed vigor in this new season, of his intention to better himself from last year, which was not his best. he faces, now at 40, an ever more difficult battle simply to remain a quality starter. this page would imagine, however, that maddux is the least of this team's worries.

jerome williams made 17 starts for the 2005 cubs after coming in return for latroy hawkins and made a quite reasonable accounting of himself. just 24 years old and already having 63 starts under belt, equipped with quality stuff, he could have a very promising future. but he isn't flawless -- control has proved to be a major issue for williams, walking 45 in 106 innings for the cubs. this writer won't soon forget him painfully, terribly laboring through july and august last season -- walking as many as he struck out, slowing the game to an interminable pace, throwing far too many pitches.

this is a pitcher, it must be said, that has never thrown more than 131 innings in the majors in any year. though durability appears not to be an issue, quality sometimes is. despite his talents, the giants clearly didn't feel they were trading away their best young pitcher in obtaining hawkins; last year's dog days may have indicated why. williams remains somewhat enigmatic -- great virtues and vices -- and his season and development will be an interesting subplot to 2006.

glendon rusch, however, is less enigmatic than simply not very good. this writer finds quite troubling any rotation that might ostensibly call rusch its third starter for any period of time. eminently hittable, rusch frequently was chased early, managing just 110 innings in 19 starts -- just 5.8 innings per. he joins williams (6.1 ip/gs) to make the cubs' rotation potentially a very taxing one for any bullpen -- and particularly for one of suspect depth.

rusch is a fixture at least until some of the wounded return from hospital, though one wonders if williams won't be the first relegated with two competent lefthanders already manning the bullpen and a considerable age difference between the two. one sincerely hopes that the remediation of the injured is such that we find out this year which would be dropped from the rotation first.

much has been made in this early spring of optimism about the progress made by kerry wood and wade miller in their rehabilitations. there should be much caution here; setbacks are altogether too frequent in coming back from shoulder surgeries, and they tend to be quite regressive. but, even if (as we all hope) all goes well for them both, this writer would take issue with the presumption of either wood or miller's capability to pitch in line with their career numbers -- their coming back as they were is going to be difficult because of the severity of the procedures they underwent.

most labrum repairs seem to continue to exact a toll at least in that first year -- matt morris, for example, tossed a full half-run over his career era with a full strikeout/9 less, allowing quite a lot more contact (9.7 hits/9 vs career 8.9). that could easily be expected of wood and miller in what innings they might toss.

what could that mean, if we used morris as a model?

-- wood: 4.20 era, 7.6 h/9, 4.4 bb/9, 1.33 whip, 9.4 k/9
-- miller: 4.50 era, 9.1 h/9, 3.7 bb/9, 1.43 whip, 6.5 k/9

now, using one experience as though it represented a probability is not particularly enlightening perhaps. there's also the possibility that they will react as chris carpenter did (by becoming an all-star) or as mike sirotka and many others did (by never throwing another major-league pitch). the point is simply to note that the pitchers who return so soon after a labrum repair should not be expected to be unchanged -- some falloff in quality, even if only temporary, is only natural and should be anticipated.

mark prior and his bout of shoulder problems is an obvious source of immediate concern, but even an non-surgical improvement of his condition isn't an all-clear. the kid has had spats of elbow pain in 2004 and 2005, never had a cause diagnosed and consequently has never been treated.

this page noted last march:

the cubs have never really discovered what's wrong in there. larry rothschild can say things like "This is something he may have to learn to deal with regularly", and "... it shouldn't be a problem. Medication will calm it down" -- but he knows as much as you or i what is really going on mechanically in there, which is nothing. and how long do you imagine the cubs can or should trot the 25-y/o franchise pitcher out to the mound with consistent elbow pain -- pain debilitating enough to double his walk rate and raise his ERA by more than a run even after two months off -- of an indeterminate origin?

has anything changed since then -- except the marking of another year in which prior felt pain in that elbow?

the logic of passivity catches the cubs out too often, holding the bag on a player that has crapped out when they could've sold high or at least hedged their bets. the cubs have, for all this writer's memory, been a reactionary team, a crisis responder, unmoved and unmovable within their blissful fiscal citadel until it is altogether too late and the walls have collapsed. perhaps that is the nature of corporate management, especially where there are higher goals than building a winning ballclub. almost never does one see this club act with insight on the possibilities and probabilities of the future. they got pierre, for example, not because they had a plan to build a winning club looking forward, but because looking back patterson had been a disaster. they obtained howry and eyre not because they decided on a way to build a winning bullpen, but because hawkins and remlinger had been forced out. they halfheartedly tried and failed to land furcal because nomar had failed to pan out; they had arrived at nomar because alex gonzalez had failed; the obtained gonzalez because ricky gutierrez wore out his welcome. each move was a reaction to the recent past. never in that string, it is felt, did the cubs brain trust sit down, analyze their team and formulate a broader, deeper, multiyear plan to construct a deep, winning team through the future. all was instead reaction -- often enough, to mere fan vicissitude -- invariably, with eyes for a different kind of prize.

injury to starting pitchers was something this club should have actively hedged against -- but didn't. and some part of this year's disappointments will be a result of that passivity -- again.

on this team, given what we're discussing, it's unconscionable not to have at least one if not two more ready starters. a team with one frontline starter looking potentially at a bullpen career, another with the arm pains we are discussing endlessly and a third showing signs of overuse and repetitive stress simply cannot sit tight on a back end of maddux, williams and rusch and pray from the best. but, as is, the 2006 cubs have no hedge against the probabilities we're discussing here -- which is why they're trying to choose now between angel guzman and sean marshall to see who will be the sacrificial lamb to come north.

the cubs needed to add pitching in order to gain competitive depth. they didn't. there will be unpleasant consequences. on the whole, relying on the season-long outputs of rusch and williams -- as well as what will likely be the fogged skills of wood or miller in the pleasure of their returns -- as well as the work of only marginally qualified pitchers in their absence -- as well as the absence of prior for some indeterminate length of time -- will make it very difficult for this staff to improve significantly on their mediocre showing of last season. moreover, lacking any depth early in the year, it would not take much -- surgery for prior, setbacks for wood, any injury to either maddux or zambrano -- for this group to slip into an abyss from which the team could not recover. the margin or error will be razor thin in april and may.

part 1: payroll and expectation
part 2: the outfield
part 3: relief pitching
part 4: the infield
part 5: starting pitching

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A right of spring?

In what has become an annual event for this Cub fan. Friday night I spotted him. He was once a Cub prospect that many compared to A-Rod. A shortstop that one day would be the cornerstone of the franchise. The first round pick from 2000, 3rd overall. The great Luis Montanez!

Last season I stumbled upon Montanez at Fitch Park putting in his time with the minor leaguers. On this March Friday night I found myself in Surprise, AZ watching the Cubs go through the motions against the Rangers. Down 5-0 in the top of the eighth, Montanez came to the plate. The Cub minor leaguer swung a hefty stick on this March night hitting a homerun to the left field gap. All I could do was stand up, clap and question "Luis Montanez?". Had the PA guy gotten this right? I couldn't believe it. There had to be some mistake. Where's Earl Cunningham? Is he on deck?

Sure enough. The boxscore at confirmed my sighting.

This moment may end up being the biggest moment in this #1 picks Cub career. Maybe not. Still I had to wonder. Is this "as good as it gets" for the once promising prospect. If it is, I'll never forget the night I was surprised in Surprise (Sorry, I had to use it) by Mighty Luis.

Sunday Papers
The Tribune has put together a Special Section in Sunday's Print Editions of the world's greatest newspaper. The section titled Wrigley A Fan's Guide To the Home of the Cubs(see below) Posted by Picasa

will give you an insight into what you should do in and around the ballpark on a gameday. Give it a look if you get a chance.

Ready or not Opening Day is right around the corner. Have a great weekend everybody.

Friday, March 24, 2006

a lesson in player development

with the cub rotation tattered by injury for likely the first six weeks of the season at least, much hemming and hawing has gone into who will be pitching in the interim between april 3 and the arrival (if any) of prior, wood and miller. with rusch and williams already being counted upon, the named of youngsters like jae-kuk ryu and sean marshall -- both with potentially bright futures, neither with any experience beyond double-a (and, in marshall's case, precious little of that).

this page has already vented its opinion on the marshall conundrum and the foolhardiness of promoting based upon the need of the franchise and not the merit of the player. it is, in this writer's opinon, the single best way to guarantee that the farm never produces a damn thing of value and destroys as many nascent careers as possible. is it coincidental that the tendency toward needs-based promotion -- the names of gary scott, korey patterson and kevin orie leap to mind, all high-profile busts who learned and accomplished too little in iowa before jumping to chicago to fill a hole, squelching much promise -- and abject sterility have both been longstanding features of the cubs' minor league system? surely not.

this is not to be construed as a naive statement. minor league systems exist to produce players for major league teams. when a need exists on the major league level, the minors are obligated to furnish someone to fill the gap. the question of the moment is whether or not the cubs are creating gaps by their incompetency for which they have no good minor league solution -- and so force a promising but insufficiently prepared youngster into the breach, risking their education, confidence and thus career.

it seems here to be wise to imitate that which has been consistently successful -- and there are few more successful farm systems in recent years than that of the saint louis cardinals. albert pujols. yadier molina. danny haren. j.d. drew. placido polanco. it's not to say that there haven't been failures -- rick ankiel, perhaps, or bud smith -- but the fruit of their farm in the last several years has been remarkable, especially in comparison to the cubs.

there are, of course, a lot of factors that go into the production of able players, and it is inadequate to examine only one in comparing the wholes. but the cardinals are giving a wonderful lesson in how to bring along talent this offseason with adam wainwright and anthony reyes, their two top pitching prospects, in the competition for matt morris' vacated rotation spot.

tony larussa and waly jocketty yesterday sent reyes down and wainwright to the bullpen in favor of experienced but ineffective hurler sid ponson, whom jocketty signed to howls of protest in cardinal nation.

The 24-year-old Wainwright said he always felt it was Ponson's job to lose. Wainwright has been one of the team's top pitching prospects since he was acquired from the Braves in 2003 along with Jason Marquis for J.D. Drew.

"In the back of my mind I'm grinding the entire time competing for the fifth spot knowing that Sidney is going to have every opportunity to make the team," Wainwright said. "Sidney has experience on his side and he's a great pitcher.

"Getting moved to the bullpen is a chance for me to get better and show I can pitch in any situation."

... La Russa said Reyes, 24, needed to work on pitch selection and concentrate less on power.

"The thing about Anthony is he can be a premier pitcher because he's got premier stuff," La Russa said. "He just needs to keep adding looks to the hitter."

walt jocketty is to be credited here for signing a high-era castoff with a drinking problem on the cheap with more on his mind than just how to win right now. jocketty and larussa cannot be ignorant of ponson's record. they know he's going to struggle. and they know they've got a fight on their hands in retaining title to the nl central, having rebuilt their stellar bullpen of last year, not to mention losing morris and reggie sanders and larry walker. wainwright in particular has pitched remarkably this spring, posting an 0.77 era in 11.2 innings, walking only one while fanning six. they could have slotted him in.

but -- rather than panic or taking the shortsighted path -- they've coolly kept the interests of the development of reyes and wainwright foremost, knowing that their future is tied up in bringing these kids along carefully and allowing them to learn all the necessary tools for survival and success before exposing them to the shock and tumult of a major league rotation. the cardinals recently did as much with haren, giving him plenty of time at triple-a and some in their bullpen, with great success. and they acquired ponson, this writer suspects, specifically with an eye toward doing so for these two.

there is a lesson in this as the cubs contemplate placing a pitcher with ten double-a starts in their starting rotation in a fit of reactionary hysteria to the setbacks experienced by wood and prior. winning now isn't the only thing -- and cannot be the only thing -- if you want to win consistently, something the cubs haven't done in nearly seventy years.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

spring training overview

with just eleven days left before the opener, much of what is going to be learned this spring about the 2006 cubs has already been revealed. some of it is good, some of it bad, and what follows is a recap of both.

- ronny cedeno looks lost: the kid to whom the starting shortstop job has been ostensibly handed in the wake of the furcal fiasco has done almost nothing to prove that he really deserves it. dusty baker in the bright one summed up cedeno's spring thusly:

"They're not getting Ronny out," Baker said. "Ronny is getting Ronny out. The whole thing is pitch selection. He's been over-aggressive swinging at low-percentage pitches."

get used to it, cub fans, because this page sees no evidence that the kid has another gear. as if to evidence everything that this page has previously said about him, cedeno has used his team-high 18 appearances to slap the ball weakly all spring, mericlessly chasing pitches early in the count that he can do nothing with. while striking out only thrice in 43 plate appearances, he has also walked only twice and is hitting a paltry .220 with a .256 obp and .622 ops. he's been one (along with neifi and juan pierre) of the least patient batters in camp. worse, he is too often hitting the ball in the air -- 16 flyball outs against 12 groundball outs -- which is quick death for a player with as little power as he has. his continuing emulation of neifi in all these characteristics is stunning.

cedeno's two errors this spring are indicative less of his hands than the inaccuracy of his arm, which has been on display all spring long even when it hasn't resulted in misplays. again, for better or worse, expect neifi to quickly displace cedeno when the team comes north on the strength of his defense if nothing else. the kid simply isn't showing the tools that could keep a veteran with six 500-ab seasons in the last eight and gold glove hardware on the bench.

- matt murton looks to be for real: the only player putting up a more impressive spring for the club is aramis ramirez -- and while it's way too soon to put him in that catagory, murton has clearly put grissom and surprising angel pagan in reserve roles well behind him, helping to defuse a concern of this writer. his 484/556/710 line is almost cartoonish and of course unsustainable -- but particularly heartening is the five walks against just two strikeouts that puts an exclamation point on his remarkable eye. it would take a shocking regression now to unseat him in left, one imagines. despite some relatively poor defense, when compounded with his remarkable run late last year, the probability is growing that murton will after all represent an upgrade in left from what the cubs pathetically managed last season.

- second base remains a close-run thing: if todd walker needed to prove his offensive prowess again, he has. walker's 286/357/543 with a second-best 11 rbi, taken with a flawless performace in the field, seems to this page to have put hairston in the backseat. but hairston will surely see time at second -- his five double plays, two stolen bases and wider range in the field guarantee it -- along with a 321/417/419 line. senseless walker trade rumors regarding luis matos finally seem to be evaporating, so some kind of time-share appears to be in order.

- the bullpen lacks depth: this is an area that seems largely to be holding to predicted form thusfar. while free agents howry (9 ip, 11 h, 4 k/1 bb) and eyre (7 ip, 3 h, 6 k/0 bb), holdover ohman (8 ip, 9 h, 11 k/2 bb) and a rehabilitated williamson (8 ip, 7 h, 8 k/3 bb) have looked solid, the story beyond them has been a depressing one. closer ryan dempster has spent much of his time in side sessions, but has been unimpressive in game action, displaying the control troubles (6 ip, 6 h, 4 k/5 bb) that have plagued him his entire terrible career. and the deeper pen has been an outright disaster -- wellemeyer (10 ip, 19 h, 3 k/4 bb), wuertz (5.1 ip, 13 h, 1 k/5 bb) and novoa (3 ip, 3 h, 2 k/2 bb and having contracted valley fever and likely to miss the start of the year) are a nightmare vision, even by their own standards, for a team with the starting pitching troubles facing this club. the trib briefly mentioned that double-a prospect jae-kuk ryu (8 ip, 7 h, 9 k/2 bb) might make the club in the pen as a result -- but this writer would submit that such a desperate reliance bodes ill for the bullpen as a whole.

- the rotation is in serious trouble: beyond the stalwarts zambrano and maddux, it is increasingly clear that the cubs have very little in the cupboard at the open of 2006. with prior down indefinitely with rotator cuff problems and wood and miller at least six weeks off even in the best case scenario, a load of early-season innings are likely going to fall upon the shoulders of glendon rusch, jerome williams, rich hill and angel guzman. that lot is a combined 4-5 this spring with a 8.78 era, having allowed 56 hits in 40 innings, having walked 21 and struck out 18. rusch and williams, particularly, whose starting spots are theoretically assured, have pitched apocalyptically. one can pooh-pooh their performances as the typical experimentation and strength-building of march baseball, but very few other national league starters have suffered as profoundly as these two this spring -- and that cannot instill confidence. such has the nervousness been even in mesa that sean marshall has been hopefully offered as a possible sacrifice to the cruel baseball gods; here's hoping his nascent career isn't tossed to the wolves for this.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

the euphoria of spring

in new years, the euphoria of primavera often manifests itself in an undue exaggeration of the virtues of youth and a minimization of its vices. as the world is reborn and all things old are made young again, being young suddenly seems perilously close to being best -- placing rationality a distant second to the need to exile the sins of the past.

the euphoria of spring has, in the case of the chicago cubs, poured its elixir over 24-year-old sean marshall. when the chicago tribune is touting your praises, dame fortune and demeter chloe have clearly smiled upon you.

The early leader in the clubhouse for the fifth starting spot April 15 could be left-hander Sean Marshall.

He certainly didn't hurt himself with three scoreless innings Tuesday against the Brewers, running his spring total to 61/3 innings without a run.

"This kid has good stuff," manager Dusty Baker said. "He doesn't seem bothered by too much at all. I really like his control and poise."

this page recently observed marshall's participation in the four-horse race to be april's fifth starter in light of the injuries that once again have decimated the cubs pitching, but yours truly sincerely considered marshall's chances to be a sort of farce. honestly -- who would place a guy in a major league starting rotation who has made just ten careeer starts in double-a, compiling a 4.33 era at west tenn over two seasons?

apparently, the cubs would at least consider it -- and that is a sign of the kind of desperation surrounding the cubs starting pitching situation as april 3 draws near.

this is not to be misinterpreted. this writer considers marshall's output thusfar in the minors to be quite good and would not at all be surprised to see him become a starter for the cubs in years to come.

but that time is not now. marshall spent most of last year putting in a fairly pedestrian performance at high-a daytona, going 4-4 and allowing 63 hits in 69 innings. his season ended last year at west tenn in july with shoulder tendonitis after just 94 innings -- a career high in innings pitched, as he suffered injuries to shorten his season in both 2003 and 2004 as well.

if marshall's ready for the big time, let him prove it at west tenn and iowa. but the last mistake the organization who hurried korey patterson to the majors (or so goes the story) should make is jumping this 24-year-old over two levels of the minors and the bullpen into their starting rotation -- all on the basis of six measly innings pitched in four outings over the last three weeks in mesa. the concept seems so ridiculous to this writer as to leave him agape at the possibility, whether it should or not after years of witnessing the mishandling of young talent.

Wrigley Fd. Opening Day Boxscore

How magical was 1984 Cub fans? The first game of that season at Wrigley Fied the Cubs jumped all over Doc Gooden for 6 earned runs in 3.1 IP. The Cub starter that day was left hander Steve Trout who outpitched Dr. K and 3 Met relievers (including fuuture Cub player and GM Eddie Lynch). Here's a the home opener for the magical 1984 season:

Game Played on Friday, April 13, 1984 (D)
at Wrigley Field
NY N 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 - 2 7 0
CHI N 1 0 0 5 1 1 2 1 x - 11 14 0

New York Mets AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Gardenhire 2b 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
Oquendo ss 2 0 0 0 0 1 1 1
Jones ss 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
Hernandez 1b 4 1 4 0 0 0 9 0
Foster lf 4 1 1 2 0 1 1 0
Strawberry rf 4 0 1 0 0 1 2 0
Wilson cf 4 0 1 0 0 0 2 1
Brooks 3b 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
Gibbons c 3 0 0 0 0 0 7 1
Gooden p 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Lynch p 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Ortiz ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Swan p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Fitzgerald ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tidrow p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Totals 33 2 7 2 0 4 24 10

DP: 1.
HR: Foster (2,7th inning off Trout 1 on, 0 out).
Team LOB: 4.
CS: Hernandez (1,2nd base by Trout/Davis).

Chicago Cubs AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Dernier cf 5 1 0 1 0 0 2 0
Sandberg 2b 4 1 2 2 1 0 1 3
Matthews lf 4 2 3 2 1 1 2 0
Durham 1b 4 0 1 1 1 3 14 0
Cey 3b 4 2 1 1 1 1 0 1
Hall rf 3 2 1 0 1 0 2 0
Davis c 3 2 3 2 1 0 4 1
Bowa ss 4 1 1 2 0 0 2 9
Trout p 4 0 2 0 0 1 0 3
Totals 35 11 14 11 6 6 27 17

2B: Sandberg (1,off Gooden); Hall (1,off Swan).
3B: Durham (1,off Swan).
HR: Cey (2,5th inning off Lynch 0 on, 0 out); Davis (1,7th inning off Swan
1 on, 0 out); Matthews (1,8th inning off Tidrow 0 on, 1 out).
Team LOB: 6.
SB: Matthews (1,2nd base off Gooden/Gibbons); Sandberg (2,2nd base off Gooden/Gibbons);
Cey (1,2nd base off Gooden/Gibbons); Dernier (2,2nd base off Gooden/Gibbons).
CS: Matthews (1,2nd base by Lynch/Gibbons).

New York Mets IP H R ER BB SO HR
Gooden L(1-1) 3.1 7 6 6 3 4 0
Lynch 1.2 3 1 1 1 1 1
Swan 2 3 3 3 1 1 1
Tidrow 1 1 1 1 1 0 1
Totals 8 14 11 11 6 6 3

Chicago Cubs IP H R ER BB SO HR
Trout W(1-1) 9 7 2 2 0 4 1

Time of Game: 2:31 Attendance: 33,436

Thanks to for this boxscore.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Four horse race

Following a weekend that saw the Cubs lose three games, the Cactus League is past the mid-point. With thirteen days to go, the Cubs have 14 games to play. Due to this years version of "Prior/Wood-gate" four Cub minor leaguers have an opportunity to win the fifth spot in the Cubs rotation. The two candidates(Hill & Guzman) who I would have considered favorites just 2-1/2 weeks ago have struggled. Meanwhile two darkhorse(Ryu & Marshall) candidates have emerged. I'd say all things being equal, the guy that pitches the best from this point forward has a real chance at earning the fifth spot in the rotation.

For those of us who follow the organ-eye-zation the names are familiar but what do we know about the candidates?

Rich Hill
Hill is a 26 year old lefty that struggled last year when he was called up to the show. Last season Hill pitched in 10 games for the Cubs. He made 4 starts and went 0-2 with a 9.13 ERA. Hill's WHIP was a whopping 1.77. Still, he is a strikeout pitcher. Hill recorded 21 K's in 23.2 IP last season. This spring has been a real struggle for Hill. After his start on Thursday, Hill is 1-0 with a 13.50 ERA over 6 innings pitched. Still these are just spring numbers, so should we worry about Rich Hill?

A look back at Hill's minor league career shows a pitcher that had never done much outside of the Midwest League until last season. Last season it all seemed to click for Hill at Peoria, West Tenn and at Iowa. While at triple-A Hill went 6-1 with a 3.60 ERA. During this time he struckout 92 while walking only 14. His WHIP at Iowa was a solid 1.03. It looked like Hill had found his comfort zone in his 4th season in the Cub system.

Angel Guzman
They don't come any more touted than this Cub prospect. The Venezuelan native came to the Cubs in 2002 and had very good partial seasons with Lansing and Daytona. Then came Spring Training 2003. We all watched this 21 year old Venezuelan pitch out of his mind in the Cactus League. I still remember the day I watched Angel Guzman on one of those rare WGN spring telecasts. He had electric stuff. A fastball that jumped on the hitters and a Bugs Bunny curveball. Steve Stone, still in the broadcast booth at the time, raved about Guzman. The Cubs had another gem that would find his spot in the rotation alongside Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Matt Clement and Carlos Zambrano sometime in the middle of 2003. As we all know that didn't happen. Guzman would only make 15 starts for West Tenn. Since that time in 2003, Guzman has only started 17 games for the Cub organization--11 games in 2004 and only 6 last season.

This spring the Cubs often injured prospect is back. Now 24 years of age, injuries have kept Guzman from ever making a big league pitch. This spring Guzman has only pitched two innings. His ERA is a whopping 13.50. At 24 is the Cubs can't miss prospect starting to miss?

Jae-Kuk Ryu
Up until now, Ryu was known to most fans for an ugly incident with an osprey in Florida in April 2003. Now the 22 year old Korean born right hander has a chance to win a spot in the Cub rotation. Ryu has spent most of his time over the last three seasons at West Tenn. Last year he spent the whole season there and made 27 starts. He threw 169.2 innings allowing 154 hits and 49 walks, while striking out 133. Ryu's ERA was 3.34 with a 1.20 WHIP.

This spring, Ryu has pitched okay. In 4 games he's thrown 6 innings, allowing 4 hits, 1 BB and 2 earned runs(both on Saturday against the Sox) while striking out 7.

Sean Marshall
The 23 year old Marshall is a 6'6" left hander that probably had no idea he'd find himself vying for a rotation spot when he came to camp. Still with nobody grabbing the job, Marshall has an opportunity to jump from West Tenn to Wrigley Field. Marshall has been a solid performer in the Cubs minor leagues. In his 3 seasons in the organization the Virginia Commonwealth product has struck out 258 while walking 70 in 251.2 innings pitched. Last season Marshall was 4-4 at Daytona when in 12 starts with a 2.74 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. He was promoted to West Tenn where he went 0-1 with a 2.52 ERA and .84 WHIP in 4 starts.

This spring the lefthander has opened some eyes in Cubs camp. In 3 appearances over 3.1 innings Marshall has not allowed a run. He's only allowed a hit, a walk and he's struckout two.

How will this thing shakeout?
Here's how I would handicap the race. I think Rich Hill still has got to be the favorite but his recent poor outing have got to have the Cubs wondering. Angel Guzman may have the best stuff in the group but he can't stay healthy (like our two friends who have put the Cubs in this position). Jae-Kuk Ryu might be two or three good appearances away from pulling off an upset none of us would have thought possible at the start of spring. Marshall is longshot due to his experience, still he may have a bigger upside than all of the candidates listed above.

Friday, March 17, 2006

how to spin a loss into a win

the results of mark prior's mri have hit the wires a day before they were supposed to, and the cubs are making hay. prior has been diagnosed with a moderate strain of the subscapularis, and the team expects that surgery is not required.

Cubs athletic trainer Mark O'Neal said Prior will be shut down from throwing for seven to 10 days. O'Neal will meet with the pitcher, orthopedic specialist Dr. Lewis Yocum and the Cubs medical staff on Saturday to discuss the next phase for Prior. The subscapularis is part of the rotator cuff group of muscles, located under the arm pit behind the pectoralis muscle.

"By no means would it [require] any kind of surgery," O'Neal said of Prior's shoulder problem.

great, right?


well, it could certainly be worse -- but put aside joy at the prospect of no surgery and examine what a "moderate strain of the subscapularis" is. it's a grade 2 tear of the rotator cuff.

while the cubs are talking about 7-10 days of missed time and a resumption of throwing from a lower level afterward -- which would probably mean a may return, with no timetable yet set -- this writer (while not being a doctor, of course) finds that to be a very optimistic prognosis. as was pointed out by commenter maddog, a harder-to-locate version of this injury cost jose contreras half of 2003.

moreover, this injury is very likely the result of stress put on the muscle some time ago -- prior has simply not done the kind of work this spring needed to force this injury. rotator cuff injuries are usually not merely the result of a single act; significant tissue degeneration over time with use is most often prerequisite -- that is, this is a repetitive-stress injury.

A rotator cuff tear can occur at the muscle belly, the muscle-tendon junction, the tendon, or the insertion of the tendon to one of the bones, scapula, or humerus. The symptoms that commonly occur with rotator cuff injuries are pain, weakness, and loss of motion in the shoulder. Some athletes will feel a pop in their shoulder after which they cannot lift their arm very well. Others will report a gradual onset of shoulder symptoms, like grinding or clicking, but may not experience any loss of motion.

A significant traumatic force is required to tear a healthy rotator cuff. Most often, however, rotator cuff tears result from a combination of trauma and degenerative changes.

Degeneration causes muscles and tendons which should not normally be working to assist in producing the equivalent net force and power that the activity demands. The degenerative process usually starts with swelling and inflammation in the bursa from repetitive motion activities at or above shoulder level. This process causes compensatory muscles to engage during the activity to produce the required forces for the sport. This process continues until the rotator cuff tendons fight for space and develop a tendonitis. Continued overuse due to the tendons’ weakened state leads to further degeneration.

Think of a rope fraying from friction around a sharp edge, and the movement of the rope causing further breakdown of the rope’s strands. Eventually the fibers tear at the surface where the point of excess friction is applied.

degeneration in the rotator cuff group destabilizes the shoulder joint, which may well help to explain much of prior's reduced effectiveness late last year, when he lost his fine control and some velocity, laboring with high per-inning pitch counts as a result. whatever prior complained of at that time is in every likelihood what motivated the cubs' queer handling of him this spring, in futile hopes of not reawakening the ghost in his shoulder. the secrecy surrounding his throwing sessions -- none of which were open to the public -- further confirms that prior was probably showing some outward signs of continuing injury, such as decreased velocity.

this damage hasn't healed in the intervening five months; indeed, it would seem that his subscapularis tear is probably a feature of a larger degenerative problem in his rotator cuff resulting from overuse. it seems rash to hope that this can now rectify itself in the next ten days.

taken in this context, and knowing that the cubs are reflexively putting the best possible face on the diagnosis and prognosis, it would be reasonable to expect that this team will be without prior until june is within a stone's throw, if that soon. if he resumes throwing in early april, expect setbacks.

prior will now join the frayed labrum crowd in his training table endeavors, leaving the cubs with a rotation of zambrano, maddux, rusch, williams and a minor league pitcher for what will probably be the first third of the season.

is that great? with this rotation, this page submits that the 2006 cubs may well be too deep a hole by june 1 for whatever comes after to matter. the games played in april matter every bit as much -- and usually more -- than the ones played in september.

the cubs are trying to spin this diagnosis as positively as they can, but this page sees precious little to be happy about. an optimist would say that prior is at least not going under the knife -- and indeed, that is something. but conversely and just as truly, this is not good news for prior or the cubs.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

initial diagnosis

the initial outcome of prior's visit with dr. yocum: posterior shoulder strain -- and not rotator cuff or labrum damage.

the mri has yet to be performed, and that still means 90% of everything. a diagnosis of "strain" is a sort of catchall, as i understand it, of patient pain without an obvious cause that the examining doctor can isolate.

but one can't help but consider that outlook to be good news for the cubs. it seems not to be an obvious rotator cuff tear.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

surprise surprise surprise

mark prior, experiencing pain in his shoulder, is going to have it looked at by the infamous doctor lewis yocum.

read it and weep.

Prior was scheduled to pitch off the mound on Tuesday, but he never got there. The shoulder flared up during long tossing.

"It wasn't getting loose so we weren't going to try it," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said.

The right-hander will be examined by Dr. Lewis Yocum.

"He had some posterior cuff irritation that obviously we need to get evaluated," trainer Mark O'Neal said.

With the Cubs taking Wednesday off and Prior heading home to San Diego, the organization asked him to see Yocum. O'Neal wasn't sure what tests Prior might undergo.

"Hopefully, it's just a little snag," general manager Jim Hendry said. "When he said he had discomfort, that was the first time he had said that all spring."

"He hadn't had anything to this point," manager Dusty Baker said. "We'll keep our fingers crossed."

all this too is, of course, yet another lie. prior's shoulder has been hurting for some time, was probably in fact hurting last year and was obviously known within the cub organization in january. this shoulder pain -- a poorly kept secret -- is what necessitated prior's no-throwing throwing schedule, the delays in his spring, all of which was endlessly, endlessly, endlessly lied about by anyone and everyone, including prior himself.

as an added bonus, derrek lee had his bruised shoulder looked at by yocum. but prior is, of course, at this point the great concern. the sole and solitary comment having any ring of truth at all eminating from cubs camp comes from larry rothschild, who may finally have gotten sick of the constant deception.

Hendry said there were no problems after Prior pitched two simulated innings on Sunday, and he was scheduled to pitch four on Thursday. But Rothschild seemed more concerned.

"It seems like it's a little bit more than that," Rothschild said.

we'll report results if and when they become available.

Shocker: Prior to have shoulder examined

Surprise, surprise, Cub right hander Mark Prior is going to California to have his right shoulder examined. This news from the Cubs team website:

MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Mark Prior, who had been on a strict program in an attempt to avoid any injury, will have his right shoulder examined by Dr. Lewis Yocum after complaining of soreness before a bullpen session on Tuesday.

Prior, 25, has some posterior rotator cuff irritation, Cubs athletic trainer Mark O'Neal said. The pitcher flew home to San Diego on Tuesday and will see Yocum on Wednesday in Los Angeles.

"Everybody's been aware Mark has been under a pretty strict throwing program and we've had absolutely no problems up to now," O'Neal said. "We've been treating him for basically normal symptoms that everybody has when they throw. Unfortunately today, he threw a bullpen and developed some posterior shoulder soreness that we wanted to be evaluated."

Because the Cubs' orthopedic specialist, Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, is in Chicago and Prior has seen Yocum before, the team decided to send the pitcher west. Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Prior halted his scheduled side session before he got on the mound Tuesday.

"We started long tossing and working our way towards the mound and it wasn't getting loose, so we weren't going to try it," Rothschild said.

The Cubs did not know if Prior would need an MRI, and wanted to wait until Yocum had a chance to do an examination.

Guess what people, #22 ain't right. Over the past few months, there has been a firestorm of people criticizing this page for trying to connect the dots on Prior. Well, well, well what our very own Thunderclap Newman wrote on this crappy/unpopular blog on January 22, 2006, what Will Carroll said on Baseball Prospectus on February 20, 2006 it's all turning out to be true.

Ahhhhh, what's another lie from Tribco to you the Cub fan.

wodd talker

the ongoing saga of todd walker continued in today's tabloids with unapproved truth meeting feigned indignation.

After dealing with an Internet report earlier this spring that accused them of hiding an injury to Mark Prior, the Cubs were in no mood to hear Todd Walker question their integrity.

Neither manager Dusty Baker nor general manager Jim Hendry was too pleased to learn Monday that Walker implied they may have told both him and Jerry Hairston that the starting second-base job was his.

walker later tried to meekly back down from those words, which are sure to further animate cub management's efforts to move him -- but truth has a way of hanging in the air no matter many aerosol cans of disinfecting lies are emptied to combat it.

to go back to the start, walker began this entertaining tizzy by noting the discrepency between the words of management and the reality on the field.

Asked to clarify things, Walker said Baker told him over the winter: "I was his guy, whatever that means." But Walker added that Baker told him things could change.

"So I'm trying to make sure it doesn't," Walker said. "If I did say something to that effect, I certainly meant that we had a conversation in the off-season and he said, 'If you're there, you're my guy.'

"But it's also, 'We want to see how your knee is doing, see how your arm is doing, see how you play.' There's always competition out there, whoever you are. As long as I keep doing what I'm doing, I'm in good shape."

He said he wouldn't be surprised if Hairston or Perez were told they'd be the starting second baseman.

"They probably told them that," Walker said. "I don't know what they told Neifi to make him sign a two-year deal. Believe it or not, they don't always tell you the truth.

"We're grown men. Just tell me what the reality of it is. In some cases they have to get people to sign, and they have to tell them certain things to get them signed. I don't know what they told Neifi. I don't know what they told Jerry. I don't want to know.

"I just want to do my thing, and if I do that, I don't have to worry about anything else.

none of this is any stretch of the imagination -- one can all but hear baker saying, "you're my guy, dude." and it certainly isn't news that cub management is completely without ethics.

baker apparently took offense at being exposed in public as someone so weak and morally pathetic as to say most anything at all so long as it makes his immediate situation less confrontational. but that too is, of course, no news -- dusty has now long been recognized as the master enabler, the substitute teacher, as incapable of administering difficult discipline on others as himself. i doubt his dishonesty is maliciously contrived so much as a natural reaction, and his indignation may actually be genuine -- after all, his only intention was, as always, to please.

but hendry's reaction was yet more humorous.

Hendry, who according to a source had Walker traded twice in the off-season only to have the deals fall through at the last minute, said he didn't read Walker's comments in the daily clips of news articles he receives.

"I clearly wouldn't think Todd Walker would have any reason to tell you I've never not told him the truth," Hendry said. "Whether I'm right or wrong, which, obviously, in this business you're wrong a lot, I've spent 27 years of my life telling players what I felt was the truth at that time. My decisions don't always work out, but they are never done with any deception to the player."

beyond the hilarious triple negative -- could one have suspected that hendry reads clippings of the papers to see what they're saying about him? sadly, this writer thinks so.

in any case, this page would reiterate that the 2006 cubs are not strong enough offensively to endure the loss of walker's bat -- so much so that it really doesn't matter what walker says. after all, it isn't words that are going to keep the cubs from winning; it's a lack of ability. as such, the cubs can ill afford to misplace an able player, no matter how brash.