Friday, June 30, 2006

looking forward: third base

continuing the examination of the cubs organization by position, we now turn to third base.

of note here particularly is the status of aramis ramirez, who has the option to escape his contract following this year. even if ramirez continues to hit poorly -- through 78 games, ramirez projects out to 249/311/463 with 29 hr and 87 rbi, but will probably finish better than that if past performance is any indicator -- this page cannot imagine him not testing the free agent market in which he will be the best talent available at one of baseball's hardest-to-fill positions.

ramirez's defense and proneness to mild injuries have been occasion for some grousing on the north side, as has his recent inability to fill the hole left in the cub lineup left by the injury of derrek lee. though his free-swinging style certainly aggravated the problem, this page finds it hard to fault ramirez for being pitched around mercilessly this season as the only material threat for the cubs at the plate. and a cursory glace at ramirez's production from the hot corner in the context of all major league third basemen from 2003-5 reveals how good he has been -- fourth in total bases, fourth in home runs and sixth in extra-base hits despite being 11th in games played, yielding third in ops and second in slugging behind only the yankees' alex rodriguez.

ramirez's 2007 and 2008 with the cubs would be worth $22.5mm with a mutual option in 2009 -- but the chances of him matching or exceeding 3-years/$34mm in free agency seems quite good in a world in which scott rolen is slated for $14.5mm in 2007, rafael furcal is being paid $13mm a year and carlos lee is looking for $15mm. there is simply no other third baseman in his class available in free agency prior to 2008-9, and that should ensure a potentially hefty payday for a player who has slugged .540 in a cub uniform if he exercizes the option.

this is a major potential problem for the cubs, who have casey mcgehee in iowa and scott moore in west tenn. the lefthanded-batting moore is 22 and a former 8th-overall pick of the tigers, and is the leading prospect at third in the cub organization -- but he strikes out every third at-bat in double-a with a 4-to-1 k:bb ratio, and has posted a .338 obp in his minor league career besides being a significantly substandard defender. these characteristics are what allowed detroit to move him to the cubs in good conscience. while there is always some remote chance of metamorphosis with a young player, moore seems highly unlikely be anything like ramirez's caliber as a player despite his draft pedigree.

mcgehee at 23 is powerless and unsuitable, merely a placeholder for moore. jemel spearman in daytona is 25 and not a prospect.

as was said above, there are no free agent solutions remotely approaching ramirez prior to the 2009 season, when morgan ensberg, hank blalock and troy glaus come up -- so the fate of aramis ramirez is quite probably the single most important roster event of the upcoming offseason. third base is one of just two positions (catcher being the other) where the cubs have a clear-cut offensive advantage over most baseball clubs -- and winning teams are built of relative advantage.

this page has heard nothing this season about ramirez's intentions or of any effort of cub management to sway ramirez into staying -- if such negotiations are not underway already, they had best be today. ramirez could provide a bounty of prospective talent in trade before the july 31 deadline if the cubs know that he cannot be retained, and it behooves even an incompetent management to try to rebuild this tattered franchise. while this page certainly feels that ramirez should be retained in light of how rare 28-year-old third basemen of his acumen are and how profitable the cubs are -- aramis could certainly still be here and in his best form in 2009 and 2010 -- ramirez can well decide for himself that he does not want to be a cub anymore and the cubs have to prepare for that possibility.

if he is moved, receiving a legitimate third baseman of some level in trade is a necessity. moore could be brought up as a stopgap for 2006, but this club would have to find a more likely replacement at the position than him.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

another classic disaster

it seems to this writer that part of being a dyed-in-the-wool cub fan -- along with the latent self-pity and the martyr complex that most of us are all too familiar with -- is a morbid fascination with disaster. there have never been studies or statistics produced that confirm this thought, but this page for one would be interested to see if dedicated cub fans are more prone than the average citizen to rubberneck at car crashes on the highway and tune in to discovery channel shows carrying salacious titles laden with chaos like, "supervolcano". one would have to think so -- maybe double the rate.

in any case, there was no need to rummage though the listings last night to get a front-row seat on a catastrophe. all one had to do was stay awake for the ninth. ryan dempster continued his sad but perhaps inevitable mean reversion with two hits, another walk and an error; he was assisted in his cause by ronny cedeno -- now just Ronny! -- whose game-losing between-the-wickets error became just another element of his ongoing implosion as he slowly rides a shaky glove and a .300 obp out of baseball -- two of the several sad spectacles of this damned year in cubdom.

one prominent feature of really bad baseball teams is how they seem to constantly invent miraculous ways to lose and dig for bottoms not imagined -- allowing many a fan to yet again adopt the full regalia of mock persecution consequent to that martyr complex above mentioned, and allowing this page to more fully quote milton:

Hadst thou the same free will and power to stand?
Thou hadst. Whom has thou then, or what, to accuse,
But Heaven’s free love dealt equally to all?
Be then his love accursed, since, love or hate,
To me alike it deals eternal woe.
Nay, cursed be thou; since against his thy will
Chose freely what it now so justly rues.
Me miserable! which way shall I fly
Infinite wrauth and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;
And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven.
O, then, at last relent! Is there no place
Left for repentence, none for pardon left?

you, dear reader, indeed had the same free will and power to stand that milton's doubting satan once had, and thou chose freely what you now so justly rue; but, unlike him, there is certainly place left for repentence -- somewhere under slim pickens. this team is in direst need of complete demolition, and ideas are flowing in from all quarters.

mr de luca has been an estimable bad cop to mike kiley's good cop over at the bright one, but this page considers him to be wrong when he says a total dismantling isn't needed. it is -- half-assed "remodeling projects" are how the cubs fell into this state, as any cursory examination of the recent past will reveal. the cubs have very little farm system, far too little major league talent and are paying a lot for what they have. the coaching is worse than useless, the philosophy bankrupt, the park a detriment and the ownership troubled. such a setting cries out to god for obliteration.

with the loss, the cubs fell to 20 games under .500 for the first time -- an eventuality expected hereabouts seven weeks ago, when this page said

the hard truth is that the vast majority of teams that go five down in may are on their way to going 10, 20 or 30 down. and there's no good reason at this juncture to pretend that the cubs should be an urgent special case.

for what it's worth, dear reader, 30 down is probably just around the bend as this club makes its run at 100 losses. one would hope that it has become clear enough for all to see that kerry wood, mark prior and derrek lee are not going to turn this thing around -- that the cubs are so bad so thoroughly and on so many levels that their participation is perhaps the difference only between 95 losses and 105.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

looking forward: shortstop

as promised, an organizational position-by-position analysis is forthcoming from this page -- though, in doing the preliminary work for it, this writer is compelled first to note that the cub organization is a disaster not only at the major league level. the daemonic management of andy macfail and jim hendry has left the farm system in tatters in most respects as well. if a 100-loss season isn't enough to have their heads put on pikes, this should be. this writer, for one, didn't consider it possible for a major league farm system to produce no quality everyday position player for two decades. this one has done just that, and has no sincere promise of turning it around.

the short version is that the cubs are shot not only for 2006 but quite certainly for years to come. if you don't care to read in detail about that, dear reader, perhaps you can save your efforts for something more useful.

please note that the depth chart herein considered runs only as far at the high-a daytona cubs -- what inhabits the minor league netherworlds of peoria and lower is so far from the majors that nothing can really be reliably said about any player there playing.

we start with shortstop, where ronny cedeno has taken the first half of 2006 to demonstrate that this page is largely spot on about his talents. cedeno is scrapping as hard as he knows how at the dish. to his credit, he seemed to understand early that he has virtually no capacity for power and so ignored that facet of the game, inside-outing the ball as often as possible to try to get on base. an initially horrifying impatience at the plate has mitigated somewhat in the last month, the kind of adjustment that players have to make in the majors.

however, try as he might, cedeno simply isn't a hitter and there's no sugarcoating that. whether you care for sabermetric measurements like runs created (14th among 16 qualified nl shortstops) and secondary average (16th among 16) or k:bb ratio (15th at a stunning 5:1) -- or if you prefer less arcane measures like on-base percentage (14th at .299) or ops (14th at .670) -- any way it's cut, cedeno is a failure in progress as a big leaguer.

let us dispel a couple of myths that have sprung up in cedeno's defense as a means of denial, for there are many of us who, seeing all is lost for the team, still grasp for some shard of hope -- and many have irrationally clung to cedeno, believing that youth may yet forgive all. here is a list of qualified nl rookies. one can clearly see that youth is not a defense for cedeno -- most of these players are younger than he is, and cedeno would nonetheless rank 8th among 10 (were he included) in ops or obp, and dead last in xbh, k:bb, runs created and secondary average. indeed, among all major league players aged 25 and under with at least 200 plate appearances though june 26, cedeno ranks 31st of 37 in ops; 32nd in obp; 36th in k:bb ratio; 30th in vorp rate and 33rd in eqa. among a peer group by age, then, it can be said without reservation that cedeno is as much a laggard as anywhere else.

another myth is that of a positive trend. that is a notion just as easily defrocked.

april: 308/341/474/816, 78 ab, 10 k/4 bb, 1 sb/2 cs
may: 276/294/305/598, 105 ab, 21 k/3 bb, 4 sb/1 cs
june: 260/278/377/655, 77 ab, 13 k/2 bb, 0 sb/2 cs

this is a player who lucked into a brilliant first week and has followed it with months of a 7:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and utterly pathetic offensive output. cedeno has become less and less effective with each passing month, despite being moved down to the 8th spot in the order in an effort to get him easier pitches.

all this of course it compounded by the fact that cedeno is 13th among 15 qualified nl shortstops in fielding percentage at .962 and has posted a range factor of just 4.14, 27th among nl shortstops -- indeed is so questionable defensively that some suggest moving him to second base, where he would be an even greater relative liability on offense -- and it becomes very clear that cedeno is not an everyday player for any good team. indeed, cedeno is proving that he is not a major league player at all. he can't hit; he can't run; he can't field. unless he can pitch, he should have no place in the cubs plans for 2007 and beyond. his 350-odd career plate appearances have been enough to judge.

and that is unfortunate, because the cubs don't have another shortstop of consequence in the organization. neifi perez should never have been signed for two years and then should have been designated for assignment as this year spun out of control and he woefully underperformed even his own standards -- incredibly low at the plate, high in the field, both unmet. perhaps there is some minute hope that he will be moved before august 31 as a veteran defensive substitute for a better team, but this page sincerely doubts it. neifi, it would appear at this writing, will stand as a monument to the desperate stupidity of andy macfail and jim hendry for at least another year.

beyond the major league roster, veteran retread augie ojeda and erstwhile cub ryan theriot have taken turns at the position. the 31-year-old ojeda is a better player than cedeno or neifi at this point, but is also a known quantity and nothing more than a possible defensive substitute for the cubs. theriot may be a less than capable defender as a shortstop (eight errors in 57 games, some of them at second) and nothing more than a utilityman at the highest level, but is likely nonetheless the most promising of any in-house shortstop candidate. he has hit both lefties and righties reasonably well in iowa, draws nearly as many walks as strikeouts, and is 13 of 14 stealing bases this season. theriot barely saw the field under dusty baker during his callup earlier this season -- but, with any luck, baker will be disemployed in the coming weeks and theriot given a chance to prove whether or not he can be an asset to the cubs.

at west tenn, carlos rojas has been completely ineffective with the stick, doing nothing to upset precedent. he never figures to make the majors. the same might be said of nebraska product joe simokaitis in daytona, where he's compiled a .217 average in sixty games. jonathan mota began the year in peoria but has done nothing impressive.

as one can see, the cupboard is bare at shortstop and prospects bleak. shortstop is the position this writer had hoped to see addressed in the 2006 draft by hendry and tim wilken, but nothing of the kind happened and in truth the draft class was weak at shortstop in any case. the 2007 draft will offer another opportunity, as will the trading deadline, but in the meantime shortstop seems a position best filled through free agency for this club.

Monday, June 26, 2006

call in the airstrike

the cubs return to wrigley today having capped the eighth sweep of the year -- this time at the hands of al central also-rans the minnesota twins -- and for the third time in their last four series.

as the 2006 chicago cubs have gone from suspicious to baffling to trainwreck to insiduous and growing vortex of all-consuming sin and blackness, this writer has been rendered powerless with the verbiage at his command to describe the completeness of the disaster and futility. there simply are no words. everything from the completely bungled draft to the useless trades to the flailing rookies to the waiver wire acquisitions -- whom this page has learned by force of endless repetition to spit upon first and ask questions of later -- have been a near-total or total fiasco.

is there a single redeeming aspect to any part of this year that isn't a theoretical having to do with 2009 or later? this page can't find it.

local writers bruce miles and barry rozner have done what they can to drive the point home. dayn perry of fox sports gives a noble try today -- managing finally to include the fanbase, which is of course the final repository of responsibility for the entire mess.

Hobbled franchise cornerstones Prior and Kerry Wood are mere etchings of their former selves; the recent drafts have been awful; the farm system is badly thinned out; the big league club is among the worst in the game; and the city's loyalties may be evolving. All of this is symptomatic of one thing: a rudderless organization in need of sweeping changes. Of course, the Cubs rank second only to the Red Sox in percentage of seats sold this season. So if you're CEO Andy MacPhail or some even loftier honcho, why reinvest in the product if the fans will show up no matter what?

That's mostly why changes are hard-won in Wrigleyville. The Cubs' lemming-like faithful continue to flock to the ballyard in robust numbers, regardless of the product on the field. As a result, the stewards at the Tribune Company generally take an "oh, whatever" approach to improving the team. You'll hear rumblings from time to time, but the Cubs have long been more "charming destination" than "sports franchise," and as long as the tickets sell as they do that's probably not going to change.

In another two seasons, it could be an even century since the Cubs have won a World Series. You can talk about curses and cosmic blights all you want, but in the last two years both flavors of Sox have laid waste to the cold comforts of superstition. It's not the mythologized goat; it's the organization. And the fans are part of that organization.

At some point, loyalty becomes enabling, and the Cubs' fans have long since passed that threshold. Until they use the language of dollars, those who hold the power aren't going to hear them. If they keep showing up blissfully unconcerned with wins and losses and opening their wallets for the cherished ambience and the $6.50 Old Style, then Cubs fans have only themselves to blame.

Change, after all, begins at home.

this writer has no better idea of how to rectify problems of this depth than this: get the whole crowd in the old park today, with all the lemmings in attendance, with andy macfail and jim hendry and dusty baker on hand, with the team on the field anxiously awaiting the first pitch -- and call in the proud forces of the strategic air command and make a glass sheet of wrigleyville.

the more this writer observes the failure -- and we speak here not of 2006 alone but all the years since this writer was but a tot turning the dial to channel 9 and adjusting the rabbit ears -- the more he is convinced that the cubs are a disaster because they can be nothing else as they are. the owners, the park, the neighborhood and the fans are all part and parcel to the problem, all working eagerly if ironically and ignorantly to ensure that the cubs never win a god damned thing. such a conclusion is perhaps blindingly obvious -- it would be frankly all but impossible to lose for a century if they were not so, would it not? -- but may nonetheless come as a shock to those millions of us who have lavished upon this team an attention and affection which not only has not been rewarded but will never be rewarded precisely because it is the engine by which all reward is perfectly mitigated and destroyed.

and it might be noted that this page is clearly no exception, for even critical attention is still attention and it is attention in the end upon which the monster feeds. there's a certain dimness in being a sports fan of any kind, really, in a world so full of better things that go neglected -- magnified a thousand fold in being a cubs fan, where dimness inhabits the ground between high art and religion -- and then to be a cub blogger... well, it is obviously tantamount to being an artist/high priest in the service of completely wasted time. so lest you think we do not practice as we preach, you may find this writer -- should you do your duty as a cub fan as well, find a place under the bomb and spend your final moments looking about carefully -- acting as the forward spotter. i'll be on the roof of the mcdonalds, gps beacon at hand blaring its silent prayer of destruction, statistical abstract in one hand and mint julep in the other. if you can't see me, just listen for the shrieking cacophany echoing down clark street -- that would be wagner's "gotterdammerung", painfully twisted though my vintage boombox and cranked up to eleven.

is the whole lot so permanently irredeemable as to merit final annihilation? one likes to hope not. but there are so many necessary -- not preferable, but absolutely necessary -- preconditions to anything like consistent success. they include but are not limited to the firing of every senior executive in the cub organization, a change in the ownership of the club, a new stadium (wrigley, after all, is nothing but the local office of loserdom, inc.), the destruction of any memorial to an announcer who never played a day in his life for the club and a very, very different fanbase. some of those things are closer than others if left to their own devices -- but they are all equally close when viewed through major kong's bombsight.

so enough patience, then -- enough diplomacy, enough argument, enough protests, enough sanctions, enough effort, enough trying to bring the light of debate and reason to idiots who prefer the quiet dark of a sunny day in the bleachers. if we have learned anything in the postmodern world it is that patience is anything but virtuous -- and that 98 years of patience is in any case simply ridiculous. therefore, in the current of the times, this page now says that you're with us or against us (at least until tomorrow, when we might find you useful enough to ignore that you're against us) and either one means a quick and easy death from above. it's just so much easier.

if anyone reading this has the telephone number to either norad or paul wolfowitz at the world bank, please do your duty and drop us a line at -- your help is kindly appreciated.

but don't forget to be within ten kilometers of the park today. this page dislikes loose ends.

SeriesPreview: Brewers @ Cubs 26-29

The Brewers(37-39) and Cubs(28-46) start a three game series at the ballpark tonite. I cannot muster much beyond that for this series. The fact that the Cubs find themselves 8 games behind the Brewers entering this 4 game set is pretty funny.

Pitching matchups and media info:

Monday 7:05 ct
Greg Maddux(7-7, 4.83) vs. Chris Capuano(8-4, 3.33)
TV-CSN Chicago; FSN-North (for those of you in Wisconsin)
Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-186

Tuesday 7:05 ct
Z(6-3, 2.83) vs. Zach Jackson(1-0, 4.67)
Radio- WGN Radio-720-AM; XM-186

Wednesday 1:20 ct
Carlos Marmol (for the moment)(1-2, 4.98) vs. Dave Bush(5-6, 4.64)
TV-CSN Chicago; FSN-North
Radio- WGN Radio-720-AM; XM-186

Thursday 6:05 ct
Mark Prior (0-2, 9.64) vs. Doug Davis(4-5, 4.82)
Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-186

1060w's Establishment Profile
In an attempt to give back to you the reader, 1060west is going to profile a Wrigleyville neighborhood restaurant/bar before select home series. So when you can't enjoy the season or the games, you might as well enjoy an adult beverage or three to make the play on the field look better. Anyways, we hope to give those of you (21 and above of course) going to the ballgame the opportunity to be "happy" while you watch one of the worst teams in the history of the Chicago National League Ballclub. Here goes.

Posted by Picasa

Neybours on Southport is a great place to go before or after ballgames.(photo by Vehere)

Neybours at 3651 N. Southport(a few doors south of Southport & Waveland) is a great place to go before or after a Cubs game. Neybours is a small/quaint pub that is far enough away from the hustle and bustle right next to the park. On a gameday you can actually hear the people you are talking to. You can also usually find a place to sit down. You can grab a table out front in the beer garden and enjoy watching the passerbys on Southport. (for full diclosure this is a UW bar during college football season)

Menu - The menu at Neybours is a surprise. It's pub grub with a twist. Menu includes salads and wraps for those of you watching your figure. The macaroni-jambalaya is a favorite of many regulars and unique. For appetizer you can't go wrong with my favorite the buffalo calamari.

Waitstaff - The staff is very good, fast and friendly

Beer Selection - A real surprise for a tavern of this size. You can actually get Fat Tire at Neybours.

Your thoughts and comments on anything are always appreciated.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Andy MacPhail returned to the scene of his biggest baseball achievements the 1987 and 1991 World Series Championships for the Minnesota Twins. In front of many old baseball friends in the Twins organization, Andy watched as the Minnesota Twins humiliated his Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs continue to limp through the season. While being swept by the Minnesota Twins, we were able to see two franchises and two teams that are going in different directions. The young Minnesota Twins under Ron Gardenhire may not be as talented as some of their recent AL Central championship clubs, but over the weekend we watched a young Minnesota team that plays the game the right way. In the opposite dugout stood a Cub team that under Dusty Baker played...well...the ball that we have come all too accustomed to in the Dusty Baker era.

The Cubs offense scored 3 times in their Friday-Saturday-Sunday series in Minneapolis. We all know by now that the Cubs are an offensively challenged ballclub, so that's not much of a story. What was again the story, besides the lack of talent Jim Hendry assembled for $94 million, is the way the Cubs played over the weekend. 3 errors on Sunday hurt, so did Matt Murton and Neifi Perez's miscommunication on a routine popup that turned into a single. On Saturday there was Freddie Bynum attempting to steal third with no outs and the Cubs middle of the lineup coming up. These are just more examples of the piss poor fundamentals that this team plays.

It's rather obvious that at this point in his Cub tenure Dusty Baker ain't gonna hold players accountable for their actions. But as the disappointment and dissatisfaction with everything Cub grows, we must remember that these players are professionals. This is how they earn their keep. They might not be very good, but they owe it to you the fans, the organization, and to themselves to play the game the right way. If the manager and the general manager are not going to hold the players accountable, it's time for a player or two to stepup and make sure this happens. Even in a losing season, a major league baseball team should not be making the number of boneheaded plays the Cubs are making.

KUDOS to the Daily Herald's very underrated beat writer Bruce Miles for his report on Friday night's loss. Miles went after Baker and the Cubs for their ridiculous approach at the plate. The gloves came off and Miles took it to Hendry, Baker and the inept staff for the Cubs lack of patience:
Contrary to what the Cubs may believe as an organization, the base
on balls can be a very effective offensive weapon.

This on Baker:

The Cubs are a team that favors an aggressive, hack-away approach at the plate, and manager Dusty Baker once even uttered that walks “clog the bases” for guys who can run.

The Twins didn’t seem to mind a little clogging at all.

“The walks always hurt,” Baker said. “He (Marmol) was throwing the ball well. Sometimes he was throwing real well. Sometimes he couldn’t find the plate. All those rallies were preceded somewhere in there by a walk.

“Like I said many times, that’s what you get when you get young pitchers. Most of them have trouble commanding the strike zone.”

Friday, June 23, 2006

let the axe fall

this page first began its dusty baker watch on july 8, 2005. and it has been a long time coming -- but finally the mainstream media is beginning to show that those first rumblings of dissatisfaction from the tower have led to a decision.

What can Baker and his staff do to stop the growing speculation that a change is on the horizon? Winning four straight games for the first time this year would be a good place to start. Or how about an 18-4 streak? It will have to be something gigantic.

Playing consistently smart baseball also would help. Having outfielders who are able to hit the cutoff man would be a sign someone is listening to something besides the endless racket of clubhouse music.

No, the Cubs can't hit, pitch or run. But managers are charged with setting the tone and being able to teach and adjust to ever-shifting challenges.

Cubs management truly expected to be giving Baker an extension, just as Hendry got his two-year extension in April. But those best-laid plans turned out to be written in pencil.

meanwhile, the mother ship is repeating what this page said a month ago -- this is a team of epic awfulness.

with the Cubs on pace for a 98-loss season, fans who leaped on the bandwagon in 2003 are jumping off. The remaining loyalists are left to compare the current edition with some of the most memorable losing teams of the team's glory-challenged past.

Despite taking two of three in Cleveland, the '06 Cubs go into Minnesota on Friday having lost 35 of their last 50 games, a mind-numbing .300 winning percentage. While there's still more than three months left to turn things around, on their current pace this year's team would finish with the fifth-worst winning percentage since their inaugural season of 1876—excluding the strike-shortened 1981 season.

it 2006 all dusty baker's fault? of course not. jim hendry and andy macfail have constructed one of the worst teams in cub history -- one that has underperformed every minimal expectation of this page, which was in retrospect wholly too optimistic about this season.

baker can only be held to account for how he manages the terrible players he is given. but that is not the reprieve that some who would rather hide from the completeness of this train wreck wish it was. baker has been singularly awful in just about every phase of the game.

tactically, baker is one of the most inept managers this writer has ever seen at the major league level. it is sometimes befuddling as to how a man so incapable of understanding even the simpler aspects of game management ever became a big-league manager. there are hundreds of cases to cite and whole chatroom threads dedicated to the incidents of ineptitude such that there needn't be a recitative here, but a recent favorite is the game dusty helped to lose by needlessly double-switching inferior defender john mabry into right so that he could make the game-losing error in the eighth -- and, of course looming over all the others, there was baker's immortal panic attack in game six of the 2003 nlcs, in which he fell asleep at the switch and had no one up in the pen in the eighth for a visibly wilting mark prior; then, with disaster well underway and kyle farnsworth finally ready, brought on the reliever in a fit of confusion only to ask him to issue an intentional walk.

strategically, it is equally clear that baker is weaker than most. infamous comments and actions from "base-clogging" to lineup construction litter his record. of particular concern to this page is his long record of being one of the most abusive managers in the game to young starting pitching, a seemingly fatal flaw for kerry wood and mark prior. it is impossible to measure with confidence how much damage baker's tragicomical "strategery" have done to this team over time -- but what is certain is that he has done the team no favors and accorded it little if any advantage by his strategic actions.

it's also become clearer than crystal that baker and his staff simply do not handle young talent well. matt murton's failings this season may or may not be related to the coaching he's receiving, but the adventures of korey patterson in baltimore have opened some eyes in chicago as to how the baker regime may be holding player development back. watching prospect ryan theriot be called up to the disaster that is second base in 2006 and not even be used while useless transients like tomy womack are given starting jobs on a team going nowhere was infuriating; equally so has been the ridiculous shuttling of pitching prospects rich hill, angel guzman, jae-kuk ryu and carlos marmol back and forth between chicago and iowa while trash like glendon rusch continued to hold down a roster slot and even made spot starts. those who imagine baker is not part of this problem are deluding themselves. baker has significant say over who plays and who goes to iowa, and is as indictable as hendry on these counts.

but what may have surprised many is how devastating baker has been as a people manager. the cubs have too frequently behaved like a bunch of degenerate children on the field under baker's unleadership, from moises alou to carlos zambrano to michael barrett -- and the clubhouse too often radiates telltale signs of a team out of control, from bullpen pitchers sleeping in the clubhouse to boombox-smashing mysteries. his willingness to unleash the child within the man and refuse to enforce any accountability upon his crew cannot be said to have aided this club in any way -- indeed, one wonders how his unwillingness to force an inconvenience like daily practice upon his players has contributed to the laughable circus that takes the field daily, from regularly missed cutoff men to pitchers commonly forgetting to cover first to a tragic inability of many players to effectively lay down a bunt.

on this record, it seems abundantly clear that baker is simply a poor baseball manager with no outstanding qualities -- eminently replacable by just about anyone the cubs would now interview for the position (and many who they wouldn't). in retrospect it seems that baker had only really been granted the job in the first place due to his celebrity status as an aid in selling tickets, a ploy which was arguably successful. as one interested in winning, however, this page can not see the back of him quickly enough, and the pleasure derived from seeing his tenure come to an end will only be exceeded by seeing the tenures of andy macfail and indeed the tribune ownership end -- and, of course, by the turnaround in some distant age of the chicago national league ballclub from a perpetual loser to a winning franchise, an event in all likelihood predicated on these last three. needless to say, canning baker would be a step in the right direction.

SeriesPreview: Cubs @ Twins June 23-25

I'm sure many of you have had the dis-pleasure of watching a baseball game in downtown Minneapolis at the Metrodome. Calling it a sterile environment inside that dump is too kind. As a fan, I'd have to say the Metrodome is at the bottom of my ballpark list (never having taken in a ballgame at Tropicana). The good news for Cub fans is the next time the Cubs'll make a trip to Minnesota for interleague play a new ballpark will hopefully be finished. Rejoice Twins fans and baseball fans throughout the upper Midwest.

The Twins(36-35) have played well recently, winning 11 of 13. They are back above .500 but still find themselves 11 games behind the front running Tigers and 10-1/2 games behind the Southsiders. Catcher Joe Mauer is blossoming into one of the games finest backstops right in front of us. In only his second full season, the St. Paul native is leading MLB with a .375 batting average. Mauer already has 19 doubles to go along with his .960 OPS. This kid's gonna be a special player in the AL for years to come.

Pitching matchups and media info:
Friday 7:10 ct
Carlos Marmol(1-1, 2.81) vs. Johan Santana(7-4, 2.87)
TV-CSN Chicago
Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-183

Saturday 6:10 ct
Mark Prior(0-1, 17.18-OUCH!) vs. Boof Bonser(1-1, 5.81)
Radio- WGN Radio-720-AM; XM-183

Sunday 1:10 ct
Sean Marshall(4-5, 4.97) vs. Brad Radke(5-7, 5.84)
Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-182

Going to Minneapolis for the Series, visit these establishments:

The land of 10,000 lakes is also the land of the chain restaurant. You will be able to find almost every national chain in and around the Twin Cities. If you wanna try an independent or two, here ya' go:

Hubert's 601 Chicago Ave, Minneapolis, MN
Hubert's is the closest Sports Bar to the Metrodome. This is the place to go before and after the ballgames. You are stumbling distance from the dome, so you can enjoy yourself up until 10 minutes before gametime and still enjoy first pitch.

Gluek's 16 North 6th Street, Minneapolis, MN
Located in downtown Minneapolis, this was an old standby for gm and myself on roadtrips north in bygone years. Oh the memories!

Joe Senser's three locations around the Twin Cities
For those of you staying out in the suburbs, this ain't a bad stop for a cold one and a bite to eat. There's one in Bloomington just off of France. Typical Sports Bar, decent grub, okay beer selection.

UPDATE 4:05 CT--a few more bars/restaurants for you kids that will not be inside the Mall of America.

Brit's 1110 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN
An English Pub with Lawn Bowling that looks like a great place to catch the World Cup. (Thanks for the headsup Mike D.)

Rudolph's BBQ 1933 Lyndale Avenue S, Minneapolis, MN 55403
The Twin Cities favorite ribs. Twice named "Best Ribs in America". Now I'm getting hungry. (Thanks to Chuck for the headsup)

Many's Steakhouse Hyatt, 1300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN
This is a man's place for red meat. Many locals call Manny's the best place for a steak in the Twin Cities.

*Pictures courtesy of Don Turner's homepage of Major League Ballparks &

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The final chapter

Kerry Wood's final Cub season looks to be more and more in jeopardy. This afternoon the Tribune published this Paul Sullivan article on their website. In the article a somber Kerry Wood told us this:

"With each day I get more and more doubts," Wood said. "You can't just give up. You've got to keep going. (Trainer Mark O'Neal) has worked hard with me all year long. So we'll just keep going and keep working at it and hopefully it gets better."

Thus Kerry Wood would end his season with the following line:
4 G, 4 GS, 1 W, 2 L, 19.2 IP, 19 H, 13 R, 9 ER, 5 HR, 8 BB, 13 K, 4.12 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and hitters hit .253 AVG against Wood this season.

Here are Kerry Wood's lifetime stats in his 8 seasons in 9 years with the club:
189 G, 178 GS, 71 W, 56 L, 1128.2 IP, 875 H, 492 R, 461 ER, 128 HR, 546 BB, 1299 K, 3.68 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and batters have hit .215 against Kerry in his career.

It looks like the star crossed Cub career of Kerry Wood is at its end. The Texas native at times had unhittable stuff, but injuries and control issues never allowed Kerry to become the dominant pitcher most Cub fans envisioned. The most games Kerry won in a single season remains the 14(this has been fodder for local sports media for years) he won in 2003.

Woody did have his moments of brilliance though, moments that we will never forget. The 20 strikeout game in 1998 and the two games in Atlanta(Game 1 and Game 5) in the 2003 NLDS when Kerry put the team on his back to get the Cubs their first postseason series win since 1908.

We imagined only bright days lay ahead for the franchise behind Wood and Mark Prior. The Cubs imagined the same thing. After 2003 the Cubs signed Kerry to a monster deal that paid him $32.5 million over three years, and there is an option in 2007 for $13.5 million which the Cubs won't pickup. At the time Jim Hendry was gambling on the fact that Wood would stay healthy and anchor the staff. After signing the contract in February 2004 Wood stated what we all wanted to hear at the time:

"We're going to be a good team for a long time," Wood said. "That's the determining factor for me. I love Chicago, Chicago's been great to me and we're going to be good. That's the whole reason we play this game is to win and we're going to be good for awhile."

And as they say the rest is history. It seems like from that moment on, Kerry Wood has been on the disabled list or rehabbing from surgery. We fans have grown frustrated, and I think Kerry Wood has grown frustrated. The promise and the hope, as often happens in Cubdom, were smashed, like a wax paper Old Style cup on the concourse concrete.

Story book careers are rare on the Northside, Wood's career will sadly just be another "coulda-woulda-shoulda" career in the Cub history books. This is a sad ending to a Cub career that many of us imagined would include bigger years after his ROY season in 1998.

Kerry Wood, we hardly knew yah.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

looking forward: the trade deadline

in the aftermath of failure analysis, having diagnosed some of the things which have gone wrong with the cubs at the major league level in 2006, some sort of prospectus on what lies ahead is the next necessary step toward divining a plan of progress. this entails an organization-wide scope, and is no easy thing to do. plans must be fluid to respond to injury and unexpected developments.

a good first step might be to lay out a five-year horizon of the cubs obligations and rights over players that have some expectation of interaction with the major league team. the one offered here is only generally accurate and changable -- but for the immediate purposes of this page is certainly good enough.

the approach of the july 31 trading deadline and the subsequent august 31 waiver deadline figure to change this picture somewhat. the obvious candidates for shipment are those at the end of their contractual term, who will be of no further use to the cubs but could aid a contending club over the coming weeks.

a look back at the trade deadline of the last few years may provide some useful context. most trades have the look of paul quantrill for tim redding and darrell may or alex cora for ramon vazquez -- the movement of major pieces is really quite rare.

moreover, there are frequently many fantasies indulged in around the deadlines about how valuable the veteran commodities of the team may be in terms of great prospects, but this page would warn against unrealistic expectations. if these following players were truly valuable, the cubs would be a lot better than they are.

juan pierre has hit so poorly since the end of 2004, and particularly this year, that the trade by which he was acquired increasingly seems another heist for florida despite the words of this writer.

i've never really considered mitre or nolasco to be Great Prospects, but reynel pinto is one of the better pitchers in the organization. considered as pinto for pierre, this isn't a bad trade, imo. glad they didn't have to cave in on another first-tier guy like rich hill or sean marshall.... it's a good trade because it was an all-but-necessary trade. kenny lofton is out there too for the right money, but he's not young anymore. pinto is a sensible price to pay, and i consider nolasco and mitre to be very little threat to be shutting out the cubs in years to come.

hope for pierre's redemption has given way to a more grim prognosis -- and in any case, the pierre trade can only be seen as a colossal failure for the cubs. pierre should be shipped if he can be, but he'll fetch nearly nothing and amount to a salary dump. equally troubling is a lack of places for him to go -- texas might be a possible destination, but gary matthews jr. would have to quit hitting first. no other contending club would have a need of pierre.

greg maddux is probably the cubs most marketable asset, despite not being a great starting pitcher anymore. his playoff experience in incomparable, and he would still make a good fifth starter for most contending teams despite the strength of starting pitching that tends to be the hallmark of winning clubs. still, in the twilight of his effectiveness, maddux probably doesn't merit more than a b-level prospect. while he probably retains more value than did tim worrell or al leiter last year, it may not be more than shawn chacon (who fielded ramon ramirez and edwardo sierra) or ron villone (yorman bazardo and mike flannery) or kyle farnsworth (roman colon and zach miner).

then again, there's always a chance you'll land scott kazmir.

rumors of a handshake agreement to cooperate on a destination would seem to put arizona in the front of the possibilities -- maddux lives in las vegas, the d'backs could use him and they have prospects to deal. but the snakes have to stay close enough. houston (despite the impending return of clemens) or texas could be other possibilities, as could the yankees or boston be.

kerry wood isn't a reliable pitcher at the moment and so perhaps has a fraction of the value he might. but there is some speculation that he could be headed to texas, where he'll be a hometown draw -- a sort of poor man's roger clemens, in return for john danks or thomas diamond. these are legitimate prospects for a major league rotation, both former top-ten-overall draft picks, and this writer would count the cubs lucky if they landed anything like one of them for wood. either one would become the best pitching prospect in the cub system.

for that reason, one has to take the rumor with a grain of salt. the likelihood of a team giving up a certain young major league pitcher with a controllable contract for a player that is coming off labrum surgery and may very well never be a big league starter again -- sad facts that the cubs knew all along but only recently have begun to admit -- seems low to this page.

the likes of phil nevin, john mabry and tony womack are, for good teams, marginal bench players that carry little value in terms of trade. todd walker is probably the best of this lot -- but as has been shown by the failure of jim hendry's misguided efforts to find a trading partner for walker earlier this year, aging second basemen who talk too much, don't field exceptionally and have only modest power are not in high demand. this page would expect nothing of great consequence in return for any of them.

relief pitchers like scott williamson would fetch a b-level prospect if healthy, but probably little to get excited about and williamson isn't right anyway.

more attractive could be ryan dempster, bob howry or scott eyre, all of whom have significant remaining contracts and are better pitchers. any of them might be levered into a couple of prospects or possibly one good prospect, and it's to be sincerely hoped that they are. while all three have pitched well for the cubs, any of their equivalents in ability and contract demand are available every single offseason in the free agent market -- they are eminently replacable. for a team like the cubs, which has little enough down on the farm in terms of position players, so many young pitchers to sift through and so little prospect of contending in 2007 or 2008, there's simply no reason to hold an expensive, high-powered relief corps.

moreover, the uncertainty of his option combined with the near-total lack of position prospects in the cub farm to make aramis ramirez a significant question. more will be discussed about this in coming days in the context of an organizational position-by-position rundown, but the contract ramirez was signed to by jim hendry has put the team in an extremely uncomfortable position.

this page would not expect ramirez to be offered around -- replacing his kind of long-term production is nearly impossible -- but the possibility should be contemplated as he may well opt for free agency after 2006. for the right price -- meaning at least one star prospect -- he should be made available. the question of where a talent like ramirez might go is almost moot as so many teams could use him. boston has gotten good production from mike lowell, but lowell could play second ahead of mark loretta. detroit is suffering with brandon inge at third. with the cardinals short albert pujols, ramirez could be asked to play first -- and albert could play a corner outfield spot on his return. cincinnati starts rich aurilia at the hot corner. bill mueller is out for a month for the dodgers and could be relegated to the bench by aramis. the possibilities are clearly manifold.

in summary, then, with cost concerns becoming a pressure from higher up in the tribune company this page would expect significant movement from the cubs as the deadline approaches. the inventive to scrap and rebuild a moribund team combine with cost-cutting incentive to make the probability quite high. but what the cubs receive in return will probably not be earth-shattering without moving players like howry, dempster and ramirez -- and that seems all the more reason to make these dearer properties available.

an iota of sense emerges

this page has often discussed how the tribune company uses its media outlets to manage expectations and, in so doing, often tells their hand. to the extent that what is written in the papers today is intended to be done tomorrow, one has to take heart that finally cub management has been compelled to see the light about dusty baker.

Baker isn't gone yet. But with the Cubs floundering at 15 games under .500 in the final year of his four-year deal, it will be difficult for general manager Jim Hendry to justify giving Baker a contract extension-even though most assumed it was a fait accompli at the outset of the season.

... [M]ost thought an extension was already in the works and the Cubs were simply waiting for the right time to announce it. Hendry repeatedly has said Baker is not to blame for the Cubs' ailments, but unless the team has a miraculous turnaround, Baker's job could be in jeopardy. Hendry likely will have to wait until the end of the season if he wants to re-sign Baker.

Baker has a 283-272 record as Cubs manager after Monday night's win, and his .510 winning percentage makes him only the fourth Cubs manager during the last 40 years to have a winning record, joining Leo Durocher (.504), Jim Frey (.519) and Don Zimmer (.507) But over the last two seasons, the Cubs are 106-125, and they're a combined 35½ games behind St. Louis since the start of 2005.

this page saw a critical moment pass without change three weeks ago following what looked to be (and still looks like) the moment of emotional crescendo following which the rest of the season would be mere denouement and disintegration.

this page has an inkling that the decision to keep baker has already been made by jim hendry and andy macfail and is basically immutable, the organization caring nothing and indeed openly despising its sheepish, slavish fanbase -- expressing its contempt yet again is surely not difficult for such an insular regime.

surely, it hopes otherwise -- if there is no accountability, no impetus, no sincerity of effort here, after all, could one reasonably expect that there will ever be any under macfail? almost certainly not. but hendry has shat out one of the great franchise losers of the last few decades (which is saying something) -- and for it, he was rewarded with a contract extension. should we expect any greater culpability for baker?

but it is possible now that the tribune, barely sensate, has been driven yet again to the peak of angst as the team has fallen steadily further back, consecutive sweeps suffered at the hands of houston and detroit cumulating in the instant and shocking submergence of what flotsam of hope that might have remained in sunday's first inning. the day's result drove the cubs to their low point of the year to date, the 15th of 16 national league teams, 15 back of saint louis and 15 under .500.

ridding the team of the incompetent baker would be just the first step, but is an entirely necessary one. this team's veterans are on the verge of being sold off in an effort to make the accidental youth movement into a more intentional variety for the remainder of this year at least. perhaps the most egregious of baker's manifold failings is his incapacity to handle youth well. he clearly doesn't fit into what is coming.

so this page takes some encouragement from today's paper. it remains to be seen if jim hendry has the fortitude to finally begin to do his job well; he's certainly showed little such capacity before, but firing baker would be heartening.

Monday, June 19, 2006

SeriesPreview: Cubs @ Tribe June 19-21

The Northsiders(26-42) take their show on the road. This week they'll visit a pair of AL Central teams the Cleveland Indians and the Minnesota Twins. Cub catcher Michael Barrett will begin serving his suspension tonight.

Pitching matchups and media info:

Monday 6:05 ct
Sean Marshall(3-5, 4.82) vs. Jason Johnson(3-7, 6.00)
TV-CSN Chicago
Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-176

Tuesday 6:05 ct
Greg Maddux(7-6, 4.82) vs. Cliff Lee(5-5, 5.04)
Radio- WGN Radio-720-AM; XM-176

Thursday 6:05 ct
Carlos Zambrano (5-3, 2.82) vs. CC Sabathia(5-3, 3.08)
TV-CSN Chicago
Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-176

Maximization of Profits

In another great marketing feat by the Tribune Company you can now buy some nostalgia. Don't worry about the product on the field my little lemmings, just get in line with your cash in hand.

Think we could buy enough to sink Commodore McSweatervest's yacht?

Sinking feeling

You see, Jim Hendry told us that if the team held it's ground everything would be better when Mark Prior and Kerry Wood returned. On Sunday Prior gave Cub fans his right handed impersonation of Glendon Rusch. The sad truth is what Rick Morrissey wrote in the morning Trib-Prior's Cubs' bad day doesn't matter. Rick nailed this column, including this:

The main thing, the most incriminating thing, was that none of it mattered in a 12-3 Cubs' loss. Sunday was left to bob aimlessly against the rocks of insignificance. To expect Prior to come in and shift the winds of fortune for the Cubs was silly, and bless the 39,938 fans who showed up Sunday and decided they were having none of it.

Over at Yahoo! Sports Jeff Passon didn't use a nautical reference, but he got the point across:

In another hopeless season for the Chicago Cubs, Prior represented a final glimmer of what could have been, because what might be is not worth thinking about, not with Derrek Lee still disabled, Kerry Wood felled by a sore arm and Dusty Baker's job as manager about as secure as a fast-food worker's. And what came of that gleam? Oh, just your typical leadoff home run, one of three longballs in a six-run first inning that tapered into an 80-car pileup of an outing and 12-3 victory by the Detroit Tigers.
And just in case you cared, Mr. Passon declared the Cub season dead(something this site and many others did months ago):

Not that there was any question of imminence, but the Cubs' season officially died Sunday.

The "rocks of insignificance" and "another hopeless season" that right there is where the Cubs ship has found itself. When you have a GM and manager that have used injuries as an excuse for three seasons, the ship usually winds up near the "rocks of insignificance"(the Commodore must be proud).

I'd love to go on to rant about Hendry and his horrible player personnel decisions, but that has become obvious even to the most optimistic observers. The 2006 Chicago Cubs team now in a run for the worst record in the National League (even I don't think the Cubs can catch the Royals for the worst record in all of baseball, but who knows). With 94 games to play this Cub team and season can now sink to depths even this page didn't think possible.

Friday, June 16, 2006

the bynum platoon

with all of the excitement regarding the possible breakup of the tribune, dusty baker's antics have gotten something of a free pass lately. but when this page noticed this experiment taking perilous flight in schaumberg, it couldn't help but ruminate on whether or not the cubs may in fact be better run by such an arrangement.

to wit:

  • matt murton hasn't been playing well, surely, but that's no excuse for platooning him with freddie bynum. nonetheless, that's dusty's plan.

    "Freddie brings some things to the table that give us a different look," Baker said. "You see the speed he has. He's a pretty good hitter, has good power—surprising power for his physique. And also he's a good defender. Sometimes you're going to need that."

    bynum's .269 obp and 22 strikeouts in 64 ab apparently is just an incidental cost next to the ironic value of his physique-power ratio. does anyone remember when this page worried that marquis grissom would nip at the heels of murton this season? it got the name wrong, but the concept was apparently spot on. at least bynum will tolerate the heat of the upcoming summer days better, right dusty?

  • neifi perez has re-emerged at the top of the cub lineup on a periodic basis -- and when it's not perez, it's tony womack. this month, perez batted second on the 14th and 13th -- notably starting four of the last five games! -- while womack did so on the 15th, 8th, 7th, 5th, 4th, 2nd and actually lead off on the 9th.

    if you imagined that this contributed to the team .626 ops in the second slot, the nl's worst over 2006, you'd be right -- neifi and womack combined to litter the top of the order with a 205/250/294 line over the last two weeks. while it is certainly true that the rules don't allow for enough 8-holes in a lineup to hide all the ineptitude that sees the field daily for the cubs, it boggles the mind to see these two old useless derelicts hitting anywhere near the top of the order.

  • carlos zambrano says his arm feels dead -- and is it any wonder, having the life pounded out of it every fifth day? zambrano now rates 2nd in all of baseball yet again in 2006 in pitcher abuse points, behind only livan hernandez and just ahead of jason schmidt.

    hernandez is a well-known rubber arm who has been pitching 220+ innings a year since he was 23, and many claim that zambrano must be the next livan, that he can also take that kind of abuse and shrug it off. but few talk about the fact that hernandez's fastball, once a lively mid-90s late mover like zambrano's, is now a 84 mph softball used largely to keep hitters honest against his curve and changeup. some wonder what sort of pitcher livan might have been if he hadn't been worn down by, among others, san fran captain dusty baker. hernandez isn't jamie moyer -- he's just 32, and the velocity on his ball has completely vanished. livan was lucky to some extent (and should be credited for his hard work) to be equipped with three plus pitches, two of which still work. zambrano isn't -- at least not yet.

    schmidt, also a fixture on this list over the last couple years, has seen his high-90s arsenal fade last year to a much less impressive level despite being just 33. schmidt encountered similar "dead-arm" periods, losing his primary weapon.

    "I've had my fastball since I was 16," Schmidt said. "I know other ways to get guys out, but it's just like I'm playing long-toss right now. Maybe I'm paying for what happened last year," when he threw 3,608 pitches in 225 innings.

    "Whenever I really try to throw it up there, it's just everything I can do to get it to home plate. Nobody is more frustrated than I am. We had an uplifting hit by Moises. That was huge. The next inning was big. I tried to shut them down, but physically I'm not able to do it. I don't know what it is. The arm is fine, but physically, there's nothing in it. I can't throw strikes. I'm just waiting for one game when it clicks."

    a year later, schmidt is pitching very well using his curve and changeup -- but simply no longer is regularly capable of anything more than a 91 mph fastball.

    this is not a minor point, dear reader. zambrano is being beaten to pieces in exactly the same way as kerry wood and mark prior -- also perennial inhabitants of this list when healthy under baker's management -- were before him. the warning signs are there, possibly including problems with velocity and movement earlier this year. this is a difficult situation for a team whose bullpen is regularly extended by the other starters, but continuing to sacrifice zambrano's future cannot be the solution.

  • there are a hundred other points of contention, of course -- this bit could go on and on with bullet points stretching down for several feet. it often seems that baker has excelled at only one thing: making questionable decisions. but what truly beggars the mind is the notion that the cubs would grant this eminently replacable manager -- one who brings zero value added (indeed, is quite probably a net negative) tactically, strategically and in wins and losses -- an extension.

    it hasn't happened so far, though many speculate that it is just a matter of time. this page has to hope otherwise. baker has been little more than an albatross, dragging an untalented club closer to the bottom by his decisions this year as he has for his entire tenure.

    SeriesPreview: Tigers @ Cubs June 16-18

    The "old English D" is coming to town. The Detroit Tigers who have found new hope and life with Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski are gonna show off their arms to the Chicago Cubs this weekend. But before we talk about the present let's take a quick look at the past. The Tigers are an AL team that actually has some history with the Cubs that's worth talking about.

    The teams played each other in the 1907 World Series. The Cubs won that series four games to none (and there was a tie). '07 marked the Cubs first World Series title. Both squads would defend their pennants in a fiercely contested 1908 season. They would meet again in the 1908 World Series. The series would again take 5 games and the Cubs would take it 4 games to 1. As all of you know, 1908 would be the Cubs last World Series title.

    The Cubs had great teams in the late 20's and throughout the 30's. In 1935 the Cubs won the NL Pennants, as they did every 3 seasons back in those days. This Cub team featured an 18 year old first baseman from Chicago named Phil Cavaretta. The Cubs again met the Tigers in the 1935 World Series. That year the Tigers would prevail 4 games to 2.

    With World War II coming to an end, the 1945 season saw many players return from military service. One of the players the Tigers saw come back was Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. In the 1945 World Series Hammerin' Hank led the Tigers offense. He hit 2 homeruns and had an OPS od 1.163. Still, the Cubs had a chance. Due to the war restrictions the series went 3 games at Tiger Stadium, 4 games at Wrigley Field. The Cubs actually took 2 of 3 in Detroit. They simply had to win 2 games in Chicago to close it out. Well, you know the rest.

    In 1984 many of us were dreaming that we would see the Cubs and the Tigers battle in their fifth World Series. Steve Garvey and Leon Durham made sure that wouldn't be possible. Still for just a moment it seemed like the two historic franchises were bound to face each other again.

    So in 2006 the Cubs and Tigers meet in interleague play. For some reason it lacks the luster of the four meetings discussed above. Here are the matchups and all the other stuff:

    Pitching matchups and media info:
    Friday 1:20 ct
    Glendo Rusch(2-6, 7.29) vs. Nate Robertson(6-3, 3.50)
    Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-180

    Saturday 3:05 ct
    Carlos Marmol(1-0, 0.90) vs. Justin Verlander(7-4, 3.32)
    TV-CSN Chicago
    Radio- WGN Radio-720-AM; XM-180

    Sunday 1:20 ct
    Sean Marshall(3-5, 4.82) or maybe the guy on the White Horse(0-0, 0.00) vs. Kenny Rogers(9-3, 3.25)
    Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-180

    BTW: Z's arm feels heavy, according to Bruce Miles.

    Thursday, June 15, 2006

    Uncle Bud sends us a letter

    As a result of the Jason Grimsely story and the rumors that followed, Bud Selig has written an open letter to us, the fans of major league baseball. You can see a copy of the entire letter at Bud gets tough with his stance on HGH below:

    Seven-hundred-fifty great athletes play Major League Baseball. The overwhelming majority are hard-working, honorable individuals who play to win the right way. But among the seven-hundred-fifty, there have been and still are those who would cheat the game to gain an advantage. They hurt not only themselves, but they unfairly raise questions about the integrity of their teammates who play by the rules and they violate the trust placed in them by you, the fans. These players who use performing-enhancing substances offend all of us who care for the game and I will not tolerate their actions.

    Next, he finally mentions something that many of us have mentioned, these players are breaking the law:

    These individuals break the rules of baseball. But the use of steroids, human growth hormone, and other performance-enhancing drugs in this manner is also against the law. The investigative abilities of the F.B.I. are powerful and baseball players are no different than anyone else in our society. If you break the law, you put yourself at risk.

    And he gives us a little history lesson:

    I am committed to protecting our game. The Office of Commissioner of Baseball was created nearly 86 years ago to ensure the integrity of America's pastime. I know my duty is to uphold that great tradition.

    Many have compared Selig's current circumstances with what Judge Landis faced with the Black Sox scandal when he became the games first commissioner. So Uncle Bud is acknowledging that it is his job to protect the game. I'm real interested to see what follows this letter. Will there be action?

    Wednesday, June 14, 2006

    break up the tribune company!

    just a week after this page pleaded to jim hendry to break up the cubs, it appears we're perhaps getting more than we hoped for. crains's today details the chandler family's plan to break up tribco into salable parts to try to unlock the value in the company that dennis fitzsimons' management has done its best to hide.

    The company had disclosed earlier that the Chandlers opposed the buyback but didn't detail their reasons. In a letter to the company's board of directors included in a regulatory filing Wednesday, the Chandlers called the process by which the board considered the buyback "fundamentally flawed" and "a purely financial device that fails altogether to address the real business issues facing Tribune."

    In their letter, the Chandlers said Tribune must find a way to separate its broadcasting holdings from its newspaper business, saying that the company's strategy of owning broadcasting and newspaper properties in the same cities has failed to deliver growth.

    They also noted that an anticipated change in regulations that would have made the cross-ownership of television and newspaper properties in the same cities permanently legal has not occurred.

    the article was also echoed in bloomberg, with ariel capital weighing in.

    The publisher of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune should sell units or put the whole company up for sale, some of the company's largest shareholders said. They cited a 10 percent drop in the stock in the past year and management's failure to maximize profits of TV stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball franchise.

    ``Something will be done,'' said John Miller, a money manager at Ariel Capital Management, which owns 10.3 million shares, or 3.4 percent, of Tribune. ``You have to take a more aggressive strategy. The true value of the company isn't being reflected in the share price.''

    Ariel wants Tribune, the second-largest U.S. newspaper publisher, to dispose of the broadcast unit and become a pure newspaper company, Miller said. The newspaper company then may be sold, echoing McClatchy Co.'s $4.5 billion purchase of Knight- Ridder Inc., the No. 4 U.S. newspaper publisher.

    ``There's a broad recognition this is a powerful set of assets,'' said Lawrence Haverty, who helps manage $28 billion, including about 4.9 million Tribune shares, at Rye, New York- based Gamco Investors Inc. ``The old-line media companies are realizing they've got assets that if managed correctly can benefit them mightily.''

    ``The best outcome is that the Chandlers continue to push for more value,'' T. Rowe's Cheseby said. ``Management has been undertaking some changes, but the Chandlers going public proves that what the best changes are is still a point of negotiation among the board.''

    how the cubs fall out of this scenario, as this page has said, is not clear -- but note particularly the line of criticism regarding "management's failure to maximize profits of TV stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball franchise." the team is clearly on the radar here, but as a disappointing asset -- this should be news to those many who think of the cubs as one of tribco's most invaluable properties, one which the company would never divest itself of.

    of course, there is the flip side to that coin, which is that tribco's owners think more blood should be squeezed from the rock -- almost certainly, given the rather limited growth characteristics of a sports franchise, meaning that salary and compensation should be cut.

    there is no avoiding change, regardless of how much some would like to stick their heads in the sand and pretend the status quo could always be. tribune company is in severe trouble, and the cubs will be affected by it in one of two probable ways: the team payroll will contract in the immediate future -- likely beginning with greg maddux, kerry wood and aramis ramirez -- or the team will be sold to a different owner.

    those are the options. that is the choice.

    as a result, this page wholeheartedly continues to endorse any direction in which the cubs may move away from tribco. a quarter century of extortive management has not only been more than enough; the prospect of the team being tied to the fiscal rack to finance the mismanagement of the fitzsimons gang is what it has to look forward to. whatever the risks and hazards of ownership change, from a fan's perspective there is now no reason whatsoever not to endure them. break up the tribune company -- and pray that the cubs are spun off for cash.

    UPDATE: more from chuck, whose coverage has been spotless.

    UPDATE: bloomberg reports that moody's today cut tribune company bonds to junk status -- meaning that a great many institutional holders of tribune debt will now, because of bylaws forbidding them from owning anything but investment-grade debt instruments, be forced to liquidate those bonds onto the market. tribco's financing costs for its stock-buyback scheme just went even higher. (hat tip to commenter blueisthecolor.)

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006

    SeriesPreview: Houston @ Cubs June 13-15

    Pitching matchups and media info:

    Tuesday 7:05 ct
    Sean Marshall(3-4, 4.43) vs. Andy Pettitte(5-7, 5.81)
    TV-CSN Chicago
    Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-188

    Wednesday 7:05 ct
    Greg Maddux(7-5, 4.68) or Glendo Rusch(2-6, 7.29) vs. Roy Oswalt(5-3, 3.11)
    Radio- WGN Radio-720-AM; XM-188

    Thursday 1:20 ct
    Maddux or Carlos Zambrano (5-3, 2.93) vs. Fernando Nieve(2-3, 4.85)
    TV-CSN Chicago
    Radio- WGN Radio-720 AM; XM-188

    The Cubs will start a 6 game homestand against Houston and Detroit this week. The Tigers visit promises to bring up talk of 1945 and 1908. Sadly these Cubs are no where near contention, These Cubs will not be facing an AL team in October anytime soon.

    Martin S. sent me the this picture from the last homestand. The photo was taken on Tuesday, May 30th in a game against the Red Legs.

    If you have a photo of you "sticking it to the corporation" please e-mail it to us at But be careful, we just might post what you send.

    Monday, June 12, 2006

    failure analysis: 2006

    last year, somewhat further into the season, this page tried to analyze the failure of the 2005 team in an effort to highlight what needed to be repaired to make the cubs a contender in what was seen as a critical year. the conclusions: an injury-prone rotation wasn't good enough; the insufficient bullpen had been misused and cast off most of its best relievers; the infield was solid even with a hole at short, but the outfield was possibly the worst in baseball and the bench was too thin. these conclusions may have been debatable in detail, but were broadly correct.

    disturbingly, with the possible exception of the bullpen, they're also similar to the general conclusions that can be reached of 2006 so far.


    first, the bad. this has been another year of waiting for godot. with kerry wood recently relapsing to the disabled list for the tenth time in eight years and with free agency pending, it seems certain he will never again contribute meaningfully to the cub organization -- and that may be a blessing. wade miller was signed when injured and always had very little chance of adding anything to this team during his one-year contract in 2006 -- at last report, he is still some weeks away from chicago, has experienced a few setbacks and may very well never get here. mark prior is easily the most promising of the three for 2007, his last year under the reserve clause -- but of course reliance here continues to be foolish, with prior now averaging south of 25 starts a year. greg maddux has continued his slide into senscence, his era slowly tracking northward since his last great year in 2002, now standing at 4.68. moreover, glendon rusch (7.29 era in 45.2 ip) continued to be the terrible pitcher he has long been and jerome williams (7.30 in just 12.1) has, it seems, tested the patience of the team one too many times.

    all this constitutes a near-complete implosion, putting the cubs 14th in nl starting era at 5.05, albeit one that could have been forecast and was.

    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 ... 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.

    this area represents one of the two core failings of this club in 2006.

    the good news, however, is that the blindness of the front office to its weak rotation left the door open for kids -- sean marshall, angel guzman, rich hill, jae-kuk ryu and now carlos marmol -- to gets some starts in at the highest level. however questionably it may have been handled at times, this is a positive development for this team. with wood and maddux entering unrestricted free agency and williams seeming to have run out of rope with the cubs (he is infrequently pitching long relief for iowa at the moment), this team needs to find out what it has going forward. can it build around a core of zambrano and these youngsters? while all of them are certain to struggle this year, the resolution of this question is a large part of the positive purpose that remains in this season.


    many considered this area of the team to have been meaningfully upgraded from 2005 with the signings of scott eyre and bob howry -- and indeed they have pitched as well as expected for the cubs. the difficulty, however, that few seemed to recognize was that this was not enough to make the cub bullpen good.

    this cub bullpen, even with a rejuvenated williamson, is not of the highest caliber; but without his return to form, prospects are grim for an improvement on last year's placement of 9th in the national league in relief era. ... with the major moves being lateral and the planned dependency on a questionable closer, this page sees little enough reason to think that the cub bullpen will be radically improved upon 2005. should dempster defy a reversion to the mean and williamson both remain with the club and rehabilitate to something like his former glory, some improvement could perhaps be expected. but too large a role remains to be played by marginal actors like wuertz and novoa for expectations to run vastly higher than what was seen last year.

    the cub bullpen currently rates 6th in the league in era. both howry and eyre have been somewhat fortunate in their outings -- eyre's 3.88 component era 55% greater than his actual, howry's 2.72 31% greater -- and that has helped exaggerate the quality of the overall performance a bit.

    ryan dempster has looked a bit more like the reliever this page expected than the charmed closer of 2005 -- posting a 3.68 era year to date, blowing three of his six save chances in may and nearly blowing another last week. this page may have underestimated dempster to some extent when it speculated that he would eventually be displaced as closer, however. while there seems less doubt now than ever that he simply isn't a shutdown-type closer, a la billy wagner, dempster has certainly pitched reasonably well in relief and far better than he ever did as a starting pitcher. control remains his fatal flaw and that will likely never change -- for that reason, he shouldn't really be pitching in the ninth for any team. but dempster does seem a viable bullpen pitcher at this point, and he hasn't hurt the club to this point in nearly the manner he might have been expected to here.

    williamson, however, has not experienced the resurgence that many might have wished for in 2006, posting 21.1 innings of 4.22 era baseball. he has always been a high-walk pitcher, but 14 in that span is just too many to be consistently effective. now on the disabled list with elbow soreness, it seems as though the williamson injury-reclamation experiment -- much as the recent experiments in the starting staff have gone, from jason simontacchi to brian boehringer to wade miller to kerry wood -- is in no hazard of being labeled a success. this was to be expected.

    in any case, the bullpen has suffered for a lack of quality depth, with only eyre and howry throwing up eras anywhere near three, and this will again have to be a focal point of remediation if the cubs are to improve.


    the bright spot of the 2005 squad has been terribly disappointing this year, and the difference in output is probably the largest change year over year.

    derrek lee was injured in the third week, and the collective line at first including his 44 at-bats is 258/351/378 -- a .729 ops. this is the first of several positions where the cubs are clearly underperforming in terms of ops -- ranked 15th in the nl -- and just about every other offensive metric. todd walker has done what he can, but in the end simply isn't an offensive leader of the kind needed from this position. lee's return from injury will be carefully observed here and elsewhere -- but this page would expect little from lee this year as he tries to built strength and coordination back into the wrist joint. more important will be avoiding reinjury and looking forward to next year.

    part of walker's move to first has been a revolving door at second, where the team has carried a laughable number of poor actors for the drama. their aggregate output -- 249/300/338 -- is nothing less than disastrous -- even from a position not known for offensive production, a .638 ops puts the cubs aggregate on the bottom of all nl teams at the position and most any list of individual nl second basemen. it is befuddling to this writer as to how ryan theriot could not break into this breathtaking mess. it might also be important to note that, even if walker had played entirely at second this year, his .756 ops would come in only 10th among nl teams.

    third base has also been troubling, as aramis ramirez has remained healthy but simply hasn't hit very well most of the year. the resulting team output at third -- 237/300/449 -- has rated 14th in the nl at the postion, down from 4th in 2005. ramirez has suffered greatly, it seems, for the loss of lee in the lineup; as the only real threat, he hasn't been pitched to much, and has forced the issue as often as not by being less selective. the power is still there, and aramis isn't striking out -- just 18 in 217 ab -- this is no regression to his earlier career, as has sometimes been feared hereabouts. but ramirez is showing that he needs to be protected because he hasn't the plate discipline to function in isolation, a la barry bonds, simply by taking walks.

    the more we see of ronny cedeno, the more convinced this writer is that he is terrible -- but not terrible enough to force hendry's hand. because of the intrinsically weak nature of the position, the cubs as a team rank 10th in nl shortstop production between cedeno and neifi. if cedeno can go 285/315/360 or better and be cheap, that's maybe enough to earn him 2007. he is certainly not a plus at the position, but neither may he be enough of a minus to cut off his chance in an organization that has no shortstop at any level beneath to pressure him.

    the only infield position where the cubs have been better than bad is at catcher, where michael "punchy" barrett has overcome henry blanco to place the cubs fifth in the league with a .766 ops (265/336/430).

    this too is the second total disaster for the team, much of it fallout from lee's injury. the rearrangement of the infield and the inability of jim hendry to find a replacement first baseman to both restore walker to second and offer some protection to ramirez helped to catapult a merely mediocre cubs team into the depths of baseball hell, turning an insufficient offensive club into the travesty of the league by a significant margin.


    but a big part of the reason why one key injury could completely undo the cubs is their offensive thinness at other positions, particularly in the outfield.

    much had been hoped for matt murton, though this page expected less.

    if murton produces 265/320/420 with 17 hr and 67 rbi to equal last year's aggregate cub left field, this page would be pleased. that sort of output is quite a lot to ask of a player with only 140 major-league at-bats to his credit, and demanding more seems a bit foolish. many people forget that he hit .380 vs lhp in 2005 -- a small sample which isn't likely to extrapolate over an entire year -- and went 260/330/480 vs rhp despite being in the hottest streak he could ask for, hitting for the kind of power he simply has never hit for over any sizable length of time in the minors. this time through, if allowed to play everyday, murton is going to take three-quarters of his plate appearances vs rhp. while murton is well capable of playing as a major-league-average left fielder, and may be a fine if somewhat powerless hitter in time, one must be prepared for a bit of a letdown.

    murton currently projects to finish 280/349/389 with 10 hr and 52 rbi. murton's approach has deteriorated markedly as the year has worn on, and in contextualizing him with other nl leftfielders he's an even greater relative disadvantage than cedeno is relative to other shortstops, again ranking the cubs 14th by ops at the position. rather than marquis grissom, freddie bynum has started to inexplicably eat into murton's playing time. it seems as though murton may not, in the end, be an improvement even upon the monstrosity of last season.

    center field had been hoped by this page to be a marked improvement with the signing of juan pierre. even until recently, this page had maintained that pierre would come around with time. but this writer is also interested to note that pierre's babip is still just .262 -- far under his career .320 -- and to read this bit from brew crew ball that clearly outlines the general decline of babip with age. take a good look at pierre's babip trend in the post in which this writer pooh-poohs pierre's struggles -- call 2004 a positive outlier -- and it suggests, ominously, that this page was wrong and that pierre simply isn't likely coming back to a .294 babip, much less .320.

    in any case, his reign in center for the cubs has put the cubs the worst team in the national league in that position, much as they were with korey patterson out there. free agent pierre certainly won't be back next year, may not survive the trade deadline, and felix pie will be on the way for better or worse (though it can hardly be worse).

    it is a sad thing indeed when the much-maligned mistake of free agency ends up the least bad of the outfield spots -- but jacque jones has claimed that dubious honor for himself. jacque's been the best of many bad options in right, but the cubs rank 6th in the league for ops out of that usually productive spot with an .843 mark. only heaven knows how long this can be kept up -- this is rarified air for jacque -- and jacque's contract remains a terrible mistake for its duration and expenditure. but he has hardly been this team's biggest problem this year, in spite of his many faults. moreover, because of his contract, jacque will almost certainly be in right field on opening day 2007 and there's hardly any point in dwelling on it beyond offering up a small prayer for his abnormal performance to continue -- for only it keeps this from again being the worst outfield in the national league.


    it has been shown above that this cub team has gotten better-than-average performances in only two of the eight everyday positions, and in fact ranked 14th or worse at five. that is how a team gets to be the worst offense in baseball. but a team can only fall in danger of mounting a 100-loss campaign by equally failing in pitching -- and this club's disaster year in the rotation has certainly qualified. moreover, this page is hard pressed to identify an unquestionable team strength at any position -- even derrek lee, his future now somewhat clouded by the risks of injury rehabilitation and questions pursuant to the repeatability of his awe-inspiring 2005, isn't safely beyond suspicion.

    more will follow on this page regarding what might be done going forward, but the first step must be problem recognition. the cubs can certainly be said to have severe problems in center, left and in the rotation; as well as moderate problems at short and second, this last being aggravated by the lee injury. despite the lack of production at third, ramirez's history would seem to indicate less trouble here than appears at first blush; conversely, this page suspects more is afoot in right than it would sometimes seem.

    in any case, much work remains to be done in the next 100 games.