Friday, December 30, 2005

happy new year

and to calm your soul, dear reader, keep this gratifying thought in mind as you look for the worm at the bottom of the bottle this saturday night:

the cubs are about to sign marquis grissom.

our troubles are over. we have a neifi perez for our outfield.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

the opportunity lost

as rosters have congealed around baseball into something resembling their final form, one of the great sources of frustration for this page as it watches the macFail regime dither and fritter away another year to join the ninety-seven before it is observing the quality in the national league central -- which was plainly considerable in 2005 -- part to leave open a path of opportunity for a heretofore second-tier squad like the cubs. we have observed ad nauseum that this coming season is an all-or-nothing proposition, with players including derrek lee, aramis ramirez, juan pierre, greg maddux and kerry wood all potential free agents following it. an evaluation of the competition within the division only reinforces that conception of 2006.

the cardinals

the tribulations of walt jocketty have made interesting viewing down i-55. while the cardinals remain potent with a front four of carpenter, mulder, suppan and marquis, the tail of their rotation -- once held by matt morris -- will be split between prospects anthony reyes and adam wainwright and marginal castoff sid ponson. while this is perhaps not disastrous considering reyes' development over the last two seasons in the minors, the bullpen has suffered more considerably. what was unarguably one of the best pens in the majors has lost ray king (77 g, 3.38 era), julian tavarez (74, 3.43) and cal eldred (31, 2.19) to free agency and al reyes (65, 2.15) to injury. replacing them will be braden looper (60, 3.94) and ricardo rincon (67, 4.34), with second-year man brad thompson (40, 2.95) stepping into a bigger role. first-string loogy randy flores (50, 3.46) also has undergone arm surgery, but is expected to be ready for opening day. these downgrades will leave the cards more vulnerable in the seventh and eighth, force their starters to work deeper and get isringhausen out there for a few more two-inning saves.

offensively, the return of scott rolen will be the big story -- but it shouldn't overshadow the fact that the team that started larry walker and reggie sanders in the corners for much of the year is looking at larry bigbie in left and juan encarnacion in right, with larger roles for john rodriguez and so taguchi. this loss will more than offset the gain of rolen's return. junior spivey will negate the departure of mark grudzielanek, but on the whole the vaunted cardinal offense that generated 802 runs a year ago will be something significantly less than its former self -- it should undermine confidence everywhere in redbird nation that 5-through-8 read encarnacion, spivey, bigbie and yadier molina. taken in combination with a downgraded pitching staff, it means the cards are unlikely to amass anything like the 100 wins they compiled in the last campaign.

houston astros

everything here hinges on the possible return of roger clemens for another season -- there can be little doubt that clemens alone could mean ten wins for this club, considering that his cy young-caliber innings would be replaced by the likes of wandy rodriguez and ezequiel astacio. if he returns, the astros front three are unparalleled; if he doesn't, the starting staff that was best in the national league in 2005 by a wide margin will fall back considerably. despite the retention intact of another of the league's best bullpens and the entire starting lineup plus an aged jeff bagwell and an emerging chris burke -- which can only help a team that scored fewer runs than the cubs in 2005 -- clemens is the difference between a .500 club and a potential division winner in houston.

milwaukee brewers

yeah, i said it. everyone's saying it and it's true. the brewers are an emerging force to be reckoned with in 2006, and any serious discussion of quality in the central has to include them (unlike cincinnati and pittsburgh). victor santos, 4-13 in 29 starts, will be replaced by former blue jay dave bush, improving a strong, young rotation. the loss of julio santana (41 g, 4.50 era) and ricky bottalico (40, 4.54) is nothing that the return of dan kolb -- a brilliant buy-low homecoming if contract negotiations work out -- and the continued development of prospects dana eveland and jose capellan can't more than offset. behind matt wise and closer derrick turnbow, the brewer pen should also be improved.

offensively, lyle overbay was shipped to toronto, and that would be a considerable loss if not for the promotion of prince fielder, one of the most talked-about prospects in baseball. gargantuan power and a solid glove will be offset by frequent strikeouts at least initially, but one can hardly consider him a significant downgrade. weeks, hardy and hall complete what must be the most anticipated young infield in baseball in many years. (it's just hard not to get excited talking about this club -- have fun reading al's ramblings this year.) the solid outfield of lee, clark and jenkins will be spelled by more very promising kids in gabe gross and corey hart. gross' readiness mitigates the ramifications of any return of jenkins' erstwhile fragility.

now, for all the excitement, this team managed only 81 wins last season and will have growing pains. though it seems to this page that ninety wins is well within the capability of this fascinating young club even now, their best years might not really begin until 2007.

but, for this page, such a statement -- taken in conjunction with the cardinals' decline and the struggle to maintain an 89-win status quo in houston, is only yet another reason to mourn what appears to be yet another lost opportunity for the chicago cubs in 2006.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

nothing to see here

today brings news from the daily herald that the cubs never even made the oft-rumored and hotly-debated trade offer involving mark prior and miguel tejada.

Despite a report on WMVP 1000-AM that the trade was on the table awaiting a decision, a Cubs source told the Daily Herald on Tuesday that no such offer has been made.

whatever really is true -- and i would ask you, dear reader, to consider that this denial is at least as likely damage control following an offer rebuffed as an admission of any reality -- this can be taken as probably confirmation of what this page said a week ago about the tejada deal.

in summation, dear reader, this page is compelled to say that the hope of a savior in the form of tejada is again yet another phantasm of need and desire more than any real prospect of help for 2006. we here now await the admission from the cub front office that they are essentially done with major moves, are "satisfied" with their squad's "competitiveness" and will thenceforth sit on their hands.

and this page is left to wonder why hendry, in the process of making a three-year offer to jacque jones, didn't realize that such a move constituted powerful evidence that he should instead be trading derrek lee and greg maddux to actual contenders.

to be frank, with no replacement for prior's arm on any near horizon, it's probably just as well.

bcb offers a righteous debunking of the article's fallacious main thrust -- that no acquisiton of a big bat at the cost of young pitching ever worked out -- point by point. it should be easily seen by even the mildly critical reader that anyone can cherrypick worst-case examples to make a case to back up any silly hypothesis. perhaps we could make the exact opposite assertion and cite frank robinson, who was acquired by baltimore after the 1965 season for 26-year-old all-star starter milt pappas, who had a hell of a lot more going for him then than mark prior does now, having placed top ten in the american league in era, whip, complete games, shutouts and k:bb ratio for three years running. robinson went on to win the triple crown, mvp and world series with baltimore in 1966 and the series again in 1970 -- while pappas steadily declined from his pinnacle, enjoying only fleeting episodes of his former regular success.

in any case, the prior-tejada deal appears to be a trade that wasn't, another flight of fancy for desperate cub fans to use in denial of a more difficult truth: the cubs very probably aren't going to improve materially between now and april 3, 2006, when they will take the field with players like jacque jones, ronny cedeno, ryan dempster and glendon rusch playing critical roles.

this writer will defer for some time in making any attempts at prognostication regarding the coming year -- but it must be said that, at this point, if this page is not deeply wrong about a great many things, there is very little to anticipate in the year to come.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

millwood off the board

the holidays have arrived in the millwood household in the form of a $60mm/5-year contract with the texas rangers.

this page has previously considered the fanciful ride into the aether regarding what jim hendry and the cubs might do next to improve a situation that has grown steadily more dire for the entire month of december. fantasizing reached its ostensible climax with miguel tejada, upon which this writer commented:

while this page would not move zambrano, it would consider prior expendable for the reasons there articulated, particularly as kevin millwood is still available in the free agent market at this moment. once he is gone, the window on a prior trade would seem (for this year at least) closed.

truthfully, the notion that the cubs would land tejada and then further go on to sign millwood was always a bit silly, regardless of who reported what rumor or offer. this team as it stands today is committed to in small excess of $100mm in 2006 player payroll. while that is vastly less than this club could afford to expend, it is in the region of last year's $104mm (including the payoff to the orioles in compensation for sammy sosa). in a year in which the tribune company is issuing profit warnings, the likelihood of a payroll increase of any consequence is something less than sure. this is, after all, about making money -- and not about winning.

without a pitcher of prior's caliber (and make no mistake, millwood is exactly that, considering prior's elbow problems and even possible mechanical issues) to fill the void in the cub rotation that would be created by his departure, there is no way for the cubs to responsibly conclude a trade for tejada using prior (or zambrano, for that matter). a rotation of zambrano, maddux, rusch, williams and bedard (as the rumor goes) couldn't win with the 1927 yankees hitting behind it. so with millwood following bradley, furcal and giles into the litany of unrealized cub fantasies, it seems to this writer that there are only two wisps of hope for hope.

one is for jeff weaver, the only remaining free agent starter of any consequence. weaver has acquitted himself reasonably in his time in the majors; however, no one is going to confuse him with mark prior or kevin millwood. he's a competent mid-rotation guy -- but i don't think changing out even the likes of rusch or bedard for weaver is necessarily a pennant-winning upgrade for the rotation. moving him into prior's turn leaves the cubs fatally undermanned.

the other hope is for barry zito -- who still hasn't been moved, despite rumors that have circulated since before thanksgiving. zito is a free agent following 2006, and his stellar young career is the stuff of which $100mm contracts are made -- the kind which payroll-constrained oakland cannot hope to offer. this page has said before that this cubs team is in a closing window -- these cubs have to win now or win never -- his 2007 salary is barely a consideration for us, dear reader. what one can be sure of, given the lack of talk regarding zito, is that billy beane's asking price is high -- probably far too high for the likes of jim hendry. oakland clearly intends to win the american league west this season, having traded for bradley and signed estaban loaiza this last month. despite extremely deep pitching talent in the oakland stable, it would take a special offer of young talent to pry their ace away.

can the cubs make that offer? perhaps. will jim hendry make that offer -- especially considering our earlier analysis? almost certainly not.

at this point, then, with no frontline starter on the horizon, even concluding a trade for tejada essentially can do nothing to make the 2006 cubs a threatening team. whether or not hendry actually manages to land this fish is now largely a moot point, changing only the method by which futility will be realized in this coming year.

this page has recently said:

in summation, dear reader, this page is compelled to say that the hope of a savior in the form of tejada is again yet another phantasm of need and desire more than any real prospect of help for 2006. we here now await the admission from the cub front office that they are essentially done with major moves, are "satisfied" with their squad's "competitiveness" and will thenceforth sit on their hands.

and this page is left to wonder why hendry, in the process of making a three-year offer to jacque jones, didn't realize that such a move constituted powerful evidence that he should instead be trading derrek lee and greg maddux to actual contenders.

those words are truer today than ever before -- for even if tejada actually and improbably makes his way to the north side, at the cost of prior and without a suitable replacement, the promise of his addition is condemned to be a mere phantasm of success.

Minor matters

The biggest move that the Cubs have made so far this offseason could be the bullpen help, it might be acquiring the leadoff man that they have needed since Kenny Lofton left, it may even be a move that is yet to be made. I won't call it a move of the level of a possible Prior/Tejada trade, but the Cubs made a very significant move the week before Christmas.

Last week, the Cubs made a change at the top in their scouting department. While John Stockstill is off to Baltimore to assist Mike Flanagan, the Cubs hired Tim Wilken from Rays. This page and this writer in particular has taken a bunch of shots at the Cubs scouting and player development system. Let's face it for years it has not been up to snuff. Hopefully things will begin to change in that area. Wilken's track record with the Blue Jay's was very impressive. This from the Cubs Official Release:

During his 27-year career, Wilken has seen a distinguished list of players signed and ushered into the big leagues, including: Derek Bell, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Freel, Shawn Green, Roy Halladay, Steve Karsay, Billy Koch, Josh Phelps, Alex Rios, Vernon Wells and Michael Young. While with the Blue Jays, he contributed to the club's streak of seeing 11 straight first-round draft picks reach the major leagues.

Wilken does not come from the Moneyball school. This from Phil Rogers column on Christmas:

The Cubs made a great hire by getting Tim Wilken from Tampa Bay to replace departed scouting director John Stockstill. Wilken made his reputation with Toronto in the days when the Blue Jays won the old-fashioned way, through
scouting and player development. . . .

Well, at least it wasn't Phil playing armchair GM again--making up trade scenarios. The hiring of Wilken is significant for this organization. As Arizona Phil over at the Cub Reporter states:
Wilken is known for drafting high school players (although he claims to have no real preference for high schoolers over college kids, that is his tendency) and believes in building a draft the same way you build a team, with “strength up the middle”

This from Bruce Miles article in the Daily Herald:

“We’re thrilled to have him,” said Cubs GM Jim Hendry. “He’s obviously well respected in the industry. He’s one of the top guys in the game. He built quite a reputation for all these years with (former GM) Pat Gillick in Toronto.

“He was a national guy for years. He ran drafts for the Blue Jays and did well. In back-to-back years, he took (Roy) Halladay and Vernon Wells. So his reputation speaks for itself. He’s a great leader. He’s very well organized and a tireless, tireless worker. He’s done a lot of major-league scouting also.”

Hendry added that he talked with in-house candidate Brad Kelley about the job. Kelley will move from being a cross-checker to advance scout. Hendry also praised Cubs cross-checkers Sam Hughes, Mark Adair and Scott Pleis, all of whom he said were on the right track to becoming scouting directors.

Wilken’s chief duty will be to run the June amateur draft. The Cubs will have a first-round pick, but they lost their second- and third-round choices with this off-season’s free-agent signings of pitchers Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry.

There really is only one direction Wilken can take the Cubs scouting department. If he can get anywhere near the success the had in Toronto, he'll be the toast of this organization. He'll also save Andy MacFAIL's job. (It might be too late for the Baker/Hendry two-headed monster)

Stockstill's Legacy

What is Tim Wilken inheriting? Let's take a brief look back at the Stockstill era. John Stoctskill took over the Cubs Scouting Department in 1999. How'd he do? Here are his first round picks:

1999 Ben Christensen
2000 Luis Montanez
2001 Mark Prior
2002 Bobby Brownlie
2003 Ryan Harvey
2005 Mark Pawelek

Stockstill's two best picks were Mark Prior with the first round pick in 2001 (we all knew that was the choice after the Twins took Joe Mauer) and a lefty with a high leg kick named Dontrelle Willis in the eighth round of the 2000 draft.

Back in May, Bryan Smith at Baseball Analysts took a look at all of the NL Scouting Directors. Take a look at what he said about Stockstill:

The longest tenured NL scouting director, John Stockstill has both success stories and blemishes on his resume. Most consistent in his ideology is the tendency to draft players that have slipped due to economic concerns, using the Chicago market to his advantage. Stockstill also tends to spend late-round picks on players generally seen as hard to sign, and many are names that tend to pop up again: Khalil Greene, Taylor Teagarden, Jeff Larish, etc. Stockstill was unfortunate to come right before the Corey Pattersons and Kerry Woods were drafted, and also is likely bummed that Jim Hendry chose to include Dontrelle Willis in the Matt Clement trade. I'm not sure that Stockstill will have a lot more drafts with the Cubs at this pace, but expect more of the draft-the-undraftable strategy to continue in 2005.

It's hard to find anything bad to say about this move for the Cubs organization. How successful this move is won't be known for 3-4 years. The proof will be over the long haul when we see Wilken's department select players and turn them over to Oneri Fleita's minor league system. The Cubs have to do better developing their talent, of course that whole process starts with the selection process.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Hendry goes for broke?

According to ESPN Radio 1000's Bruce Levine, the Cubs have offered the Orioles Mark Prior and Rich Hill for Miggy Tejada and Erik Bedard. While many on this page love the idea of trading Prior, I'm not so sure. Tejada would give the Cubs the best everyday lineup in the NL. What the hell would they do with a starting staff of Zambrano, Maddux, Rusch, Williams and Bedard? Probably finish 3rd or 4th.

This deal would put Hendry in a very interesting position. He would have to pursue another starter.(we all know how good Hendry is when other GM's know he needs something. How many years did the Cubs need a leadoff hitter?) It's real easy to say go sign Kevin Millwood. Is Millwood realistic with the the addition of Tejada's contract? I don't see it.

Does Tejada make the Cubs a World Series contender? Are they that close? I don't know.

Levine claims that the trade offer is on Peter Angelos' table. We'll wait and see...

Happy Holidays,

Thursday, December 22, 2005

flights of fancy

as the outlook for 2006 gets more and more bleak for cub fans, it seems to this page that the grandiosity of the rumor mill only grows and grows. speculations that would have been laughed out of the barroom just a month ago are now -- after giles, after furcal, after jones -- garnering serious attention.

this page has already commented on the nature of such flights of fancy as salve for the pain and frustration of repetitious, persistent futility. but this writer would like, nonetheless, to record some of the finer fantasies for posterity -- even if only to provide a good laugh this coming july, when we'll almost certainly all need it.

the cub reporter offers this contribution, forwarded by the frequently knowledgable and circumspect arizona phil:

* Trade Matt Murton, Rich Hill, and one of Wuertz, Novoa or Williams to the A’s for Barry Zito


* Trade Zito and Felix Pie to the Phillies for Bobby Abreu OR trade Zito, Pie and Ronnie Cedeno to the Orioles for Miguel Tejada

so two outfield prospects and two pitching prospects -- plus or minus a marginal middle infielder -- for one or the other of two first-tier stars of the game? you'll pardon, i hope, dear reader, my skepticism.

then, over at the venerable font of irresponsible optimism known as bleed cubbie blue, al yellon hopefully offers a couple of notions that have made it into the papers. first from the fair and balanced perspective:

The Cubs, aggressively pursuing a blockbuster trade for Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, are willing to part with a top starting pitcher, most likely right-hander Mark Prior, sources tell The talks are stalled, a source says, over the Cubs' insistence that the Orioles give up left-hander Erik Bedard along with Tejada if they want Prior - and the Cubs' refusal to include top outfield prospect Felix Pie or a top pitching prospect in return.

this at least has the ring of truth in hendry's refusal to properly assess the utility of strikeout-mad double-a outfielders. then from tribune trumpeteer phil rogers:

Think an offer of Carlos Zambrano, Pie and Perez would get the Baltimore Orioles' attention? I do. The Cubs ought to be willing to give up Zambrano to get Tejada, especially if they still can add a free-agent starter (Kevin Millwood, Jeff Weaver or Brett Tomko would do). [brett tomko? really?? -- gm] I would hate to see Pie traded, but if he could help bring Tejada, that could excuse it, especially if the argument next September is which member of a Cubs playoff team most deserves the National League MVP, Lee or Tejada?

with all due respect to rogers, his zeal has carried him into a place even this page wouldn't go -- ridding the team of its best young horse since the early incarnation of greg maddux seems a bridge too far not only for this page but for the cubs front office. it is disturbing, however, that it is rogers who says this -- as this page has long noted, the tribune has a habit of conditoning the masses to accept what it has decided to do before it formally announces what it has done. (UPDATE: as pointed out by commenter maddog over on bcb, perez can't be traded until mid-june. it makes you wonder if they even think about the propaganda before they write it.)

this page would again note that this manner of indulgence is a sort of veiled therapy, and should be regarded as such. it would further enjoin the intelligent and concerned reader to refrain from such denials of likely truths -- such as, the cubs are vastly nearer the end than the beginning of major personnel movements, with very nearly $100mm committed pending the contract offers made to arbitration-eligible players such as pierre, zambrano and prior -- in the interests of staying grounded in some kind of reality. one cannot function as a responsible steward of this baseball team when one is constantly clouded in vision and thought; and it is the very purpose of this page to provide the reader some of the means by which you, dear reader, can become a responsible steward of the chicago cubs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

still hunting for a savior?

with this writer now seriously considering a hiatus until november 2006 for lack of interest and material (save, of course, the inevitable hi-jinks that will now ensue on april 3), any and all resources for maintaining interest in what looks for all the world to be another failing effort for the chicago cubs are to be exploited. many fans have already beat this page to the bottom of the barrel in looking for ways to keep a fading faith.

in times of trouble, frightened and depressed people, their anger past, begin to look for deliverance. so fundamental is the need of salvation in the human soul that the idea pervades the faith of all mankind in one form or another. baseball is surely no different -- and, for cub fans who have been persecuted for their devotion yet again this offseason by an ambivalent and profitable ownership, adding to a century of exasperation, it must seem high time for a helping hand from above.

the desire for deliverance, however, is frequently a chimeric hope. with charged emotion and baneful need driving analysis, phantasms and mirages appear in the eye of the desperate from all corners of the world, virtually all of them false. and, with ghost after saving ghost fading into shadow and then evaporating with the harsh light of reality, many of the beaten devoted have decided to cling to that last and perhaps grandest of hopes -- miguel tejada.

it's not purely coincidental that cub nation went into hysterics at tejada's outburst some weeks ago. with the previous, much more real potential of rafael furcal just having dissolved into the mist, many were anxious to find a newer-and-improved notion (if indeed a less likely actuality) to cling to in order to dull the pain of disappointment.

but this page -- driven, as always, to provide you, dear reader, with the most pragmatic analysis possible -- is compelled to ask: does tejada represent real help on the horizon -- or merely another glorious ghost, invented of the desperation of a battered faithful?

this article from yesterday's baltimore sun casts some light on the workings within the oriole player circle.

[Brian] Roberts, who is one of Tejada's closest friends on the Orioles, said that he talked to the disgruntled shortstop about a week ago and came away thinking that Tejada was simply speaking out of frustration.

"He said, 'I just want to win. If they are committed to winning, then I want to be here,'" said Roberts. "And I said: 'You know what? That's your right.' I can't hold that against him. I think he also understands that he signed a contract to come here and play, and he wants to win here.

"I don't think he wants to back out. Miggy is not a quitter. I got the feeling that yes, he's frustrated and maybe he shouldn't have said it, but I think he wanted to know where we're headed."

the article confirms that the cubs continue to inquire -- as they should -- but also that the team (which is under absolutely no obligation to trade tejada and frankly not very much pressure from the player himself) is determined to retain tejada short of an "overwhelming" offer.

one wonders what the cubs could package that would constitute an overwhelming offer. this page has already considered the dessicated higher levels of the cub farm system. a deal consisting of single-a talent has utterly no chance of prying loose a first-tier star with four remaining contract years. and what players from the major league roster would baltimore consider in trade for tejada? players like derrek lee and aramis ramirez are going to free agency at the end of 2006; chances are that they together would not be sufficient to land tejada.

in the end, there are really only two players in the entire cub organization around whom some kind of deal for tejada could be built: mark prior or carlos zambrano. both are young, fantastically talented, and still short of free agency, which would allow baltimore potentially to craft a long-term deal for them (a precondition, it is here imagined, for any deal to actually take place).

while this page would not move zambrano, it would consider prior expendable for the reasons there articulated, particularly as kevin millwood is still available in the free agent market at this moment. once he is gone, the window on a prior trade would seem (for this year at least) closed.

more relevant, however, would be how such a trade of one of this year's two perceived cornerstones of the franchise is considered between the cub braintrust of jim hendry and andy macFail. given that even the cubs mouthpiece is backing off tejada in puff-pieces, one is regretfully forced to think that hendry and macFail have deemed such a deal out of bounds. and with hendry, the career player-development man, prone to overvalue youth and potential at the expense of performance and durability, this writer cannot profess to be surprised.

in summation, dear reader, this page is compelled to say that the hope of a savior in the form of tejada is again yet another phantasm of need and desire more than any real prospect of help for 2006. we here now await the admission from the cub front office that they are essentially done with major moves, are "satisfied" with their squad's "competitiveness" and will thenceforth sit on their hands.

and this page is left to wonder why hendry, in the process of making a three-year offer to jacque jones, didn't realize that such a move constituted powerful evidence that he should instead be trading derrek lee and greg maddux to actual contenders.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

hendry chooses never

confirming this page's suspicions that genral manager jim hendry had been backed into a corner, news this evening comes that the cubs have inked jacque jones to play rightfield for three years and $16mm. this is slightly more per annum than they paid jeromy burnitz, last year's disappointing rightfield signing. burnitz responded by hitting 258/322/435 with 24 homers. jones last year hit 249/319/438 with 23 homers; the year before, 254/315/427 with 23 homers.

change the name on the uniform, but the cubs essentially just extended the burnitzalypse in right by three long seasons.

"We like a lot of things about Jacque," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Tuesday in announcing the deal. "He's a very versatile guy. We were very intent on trying to get a left-handed hitter. He's very athletic, has some pop in his bat, an outstanding throwing arm. He's a versatile player and had a lot of upside in him."


moreover, jones -- as a type-a free agent, having been offered arbitration this very evening by the minnesota twins -- will also cost the cubs their second, third and fourth round draft picks this next draft year.

while there's little positive to say about this, there is a possibility that another deal may be closed to help things out in right. jones, as a lefty, is a reasonable hitter against righthanded pitching, carrying a 2005 split of 268/348/466. if the cubs found someone like craig wilson or... well, someone who hits lefthanded pitching, they might salvage a reasonable platoon in the sheffield corner. (it was long speculated that kevin mench might be that guy, but the rangers today dealt terrmel sledge as part of the adam eaton trade, effectively creating a need for mench in texas.) but until or unless this is done, jones is clearly the cubs' rightfielder until 2008.

the team also tendered contracts to all its arbitration-eligible players -- including korey patterson, who is now assured of making some $2.4mm in 2006. we have already noted that this princely sum for a pauper's output probably means patterson cannot be traded -- at least, to any sanely managed team -- and will likely end up as the cubs end-of-the-bench outfielder. (UPDATE: jim hendry clearly feels otherwise, saying, "I'm sure once people see he is being tendered a contract -- after a lot of people thought he wasn't going to be tendered -- we'll see an increase of interest for Corey." we sure hope you're right, mr hendry, but color us skeptical.)

this page has been saying for some time that 2006 is a make-or-break season with this group of players. some additional expenditures will befall the team immediately -- both carlos zambrano and mark prior were to be offered arbitration tonight. hendry has never let a player go to arbitration in his tenure as general manager, and as noted above that trend has continued -- so they can be expected to see agreeable raises this year.

but this will be derrek lee's contract year -- with an offensive season that lands somewhere between 2005's triple crown run and his career line of 276/363/501, he will be in line to join the elite first basemen of the game in next year's free agent crop. because of the bizarre and self-defeating contract hendry agreed to with aramis ramirez, 2006 is also effectively his contract year -- as was noted here at the time, such cockamamie deals put all the risk on the club and direct all the reward to the player. if ramirez has a year anything like his 302/358/568 output of 2005, he too will be swimming in richer waters; if he stinks or is injured, the cubs will keep him. moreover, as was noted over at cub reporter, both maddux and wood are probably gone after this season as well and will need to be replaced.

in short, it looks very much like this core of cub players will be disassembled following this year. with extremely little in the cubs player development system to draw from, 2007 looms as a potentially dismal year, with the cubs forced to man the squad with a sprinkling of free agents betwixt holdovers which could include (if no fire sale intermediates) prior, zambrano and jerome williams in the rotation; eyre, howry and dempster in the bullpen; barrett and neifi on the infield; murton, pierre and jacque jones in the outfield. those positions not filled through the free agent market would have to be filled from shallow iowa and west tenn squads. that's what makes 2006 a now-or-never year.

so which did macfail and hendry choose?

having failed to close the deal on furcal, having failed to close the deal on bradley, having failed to even offer at brian giles, the cubs are sitting on ronny cedeno at short and jacque jones in right -- effectively, making no change from last year's neifi and burnitz. the pierre trade, as necessary as it was to remove the spectacularly bad klown from everyday duty if not baseball, remains insufficient to make this team into a winner. with the rotation also basically unchanged from the middle-of-the-pack lot of last year, and with the bullpen arguably as weak or weaker -- and both certainly not of playoff caliber -- one wonders why the cubs even bothered to try to get pierre.

signing jones is an affirmation that the jig is up -- a signal to expect no messiah to deliver the team from a painful mediocrity in 2006 or 2007. bolder paths will remain untaken, and increased quarterly profit goals will be met yet again as scads of sentimental fools selfishly immerse themselves in thoughts of olde tymes past with no concern for the responsibilities of fan stewardship. wrigley field is to remain again this year less a vital, living ballpark than a museum, gathering dust.

"now or never?", came the question. and hendry answered, "never." so much the better.

Wood not ready for opening day?

Well it seems that the Cubs are performing a preemptive strike. Below is the interesting excerpt...
Wood was not expected to be ready to return to the rotation by Opening Day and
won't have to rush.

And now the next sentence...
The Cubs have five starters in right-handers Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior, Greg
Maddux, and Jerome Williams, and left-hander Glendon Rusch.

So they delayed his surgery and had him pitch in relief on team that was going down in flames last season, so he can miss the start of next season. This is unfathomably dumb, even for the ridiculously incompetent Cubs brain trust.

Wood to DC?

Well, here's the rumor of the day (Thanks to 1060West reader Coomerfan for the tip). Wood to the Nats for 2B Jose Vidro and OF Ryan Church. I can't tell you how happy I am to hear that Wood may be moved. If Vidro is reasonably healthy, this would be a very nice trade, IMO. This would allow the Cubs to get in the mix for one of the FA starters still available. Millwood and Weaver should be at the top of Hendry's list. Church would be a nice lefty 4th OF, provide insurance if Murton struggles or gets hurt, and can adequately fill in defensively in CF. A reasonably healthy Vidro allows Hendry to move Walker and pitching propects to Texas for Kevin Mench or Brad Wilkerson (or figure out how to get his hands on Aubrey Huff). The $s are a bit of an issue, but since Vidro will make $7M in '06 it shouldn't be a huge stumbling block. The Cubs might have to eat some of Wood's salary to help even things out.

I hope that Hendry can get this deal done ASAP and then get on to upgrading the starting pitching and finding a RF. Considering where the Cubs are right now, I'd be pleasantly surprised if the '06 25 man roster looked as follows...

five OFs - Murton, Pierre, Mench/Wilkerson/Huff, Church, Mabry
six IFs - Ramirez, Lee, Cedeno, Vidro, Perez, Hairston
two Cs - Barrett, Blanco
five SPs - Z, Prior, Millwood/Weaver, Madduz, Rusch/Williams
seven RPs - Demp, Williamson, Howry, Eyre, Ohman, + two kids (prolly Welly & Wuertz)

Monday, December 19, 2005

keeping wellemeyer

the denver post is reporting that the cubs have decided to refuse to deal reliever todd wellemeyer to the rockies. wellemeyer is out of minor league options, so this constitutes an admission that the cubs intend to give him another shot at the majors on opening day.

with this move, then, cub fans should hold out no hope for additional relief help. it would seem that, barring surprises, the bullpen will form around a lineup of dempster, howry, wellemeyer, novoa, wuertz, eyre and ohman. (UPDATE: contributor newman points out that williamson and jerome williams will also figure into this mess somehow.)

this page has said repeatedly since march of last year that a quality major league bullpen revolves around at least four pitchers who can be reasonably expected to throw a sub-3 era. as we mark it, the cubs currently have one in bob howry, possibly two between lefties eyre and ohman. this is a work that is far from complete, and in fact may represent a slight talent downgrade from last year's planned opening day bullpen of borowski, hawkins, fox, wuertz, leicester, remlinger and rusch.

the problems may well begin with ryan dempster, whose wonderful run in relief last season has blinded many fans to his weaknesses as a pitcher. unfortunately, little has basically changed about dempster except which inning he's pitching in. his big problem is and always has been control. dempster, in 58.1 innings of relief work in 2005, issued 27 walks, which works out to 4.16 walks/9. his career figure in that catagory is 4.72. virtually the entirety of his stellar performance in 2005 relied upon a remarkable reduction in hits allowed per nine innings -- dropping from his career figure of 9.25 to 7.10 -- and home runs allowed. such variances in hits/9 and home runs over a sample as small as 58 innings are not uncommon -- dempster himself has had similar spells, as in july 2001 -- and altogether ephemeral.

even while benefitting of these variances in performance for much of 2005, there were 19 pitchers who closed in the majors last year with more than 30 saves. dempster's earned run average was third-highest in that lot, next to francisco cordero and miguel batista. there were 25 guys with 20 or more saves. the only ones with a higher whip were jose mesa and tyler walker. even if one ignores the period of the year in which dempster worked as a starter, his whip (1.29) and obpa (.315) as a reliever are more comparable to francisco cordero (1.32, .319) and danys baez (1.33, .322) than once-available closers like billy wagner (0.84, .229) and b.j. ryan (1.14, .284).

it seems to this page that the appropriate people to compare dempster with are not wagner and ryan but mesa, walker, baez, fran cordero and batista. that group marked 159 saves in 195 opportunities -- an 80% success rate. does that fill you with confidence? it does not this page. dempster was exceptionally lucky to close 33 of 35. while it is certainly possible for dempster to have found a new and more successful home in the bullpen, without a track record sufficient to say so, one must conclude that 2005's success in closing was an aberration. however much this page hopes otherwise, it's only rational to expect him to revert to something between francisco cordero and jose mesa pretty quickly in 2006.

(EXPANSION dated 1/5/6): much has also been made of the cubs signings of bob howry and scott eyre, who in typical fashion have been hailed -- much as previous signings -- to be the final and incontrovertible solution to long-lingering bullpen problems. this page feels otherwise.

the biggest problem with howry and eyre is that they are only two, and the cubs need about five. howry is a talented pitcher coming off his best year; the same for eyre, though somewhat less so. many have focused on these relievers' 2005 output, but this page considers that to be as much evidence of the cubs unfortunate propensity to buy high and sell low in the bullpen -- but they nonetheless are the kind of pitchers around which a bullpen of some quality might be constructed.

the reason howry and eyre don't represent an upgrade to the cub bullpen is bound up closely with selling low. latroy hawkins and mike remlinger, both at the head of the opening day 2005 pen, were, one after the other, embarrassingly run off -- remlinger actually being designated for assignment. of that this page said:

in the end, this is another example of how poorly managed teams -- like those jim hendry manages -- sell low and buy high in free agency, ensuring that they pay tons of money for players that they are destined to give up on over a short spot of trouble.

howry and eyre could easily be no different, largely because they are no better than these two ex-cubs whose former roles (setup righthander and primary lefthander) they have now taken. since opening day 2002, these players compare thus:

howry: 188 ip, 3.41 era, 1.15 whip
hawkins: 295 ip, 2.53 era, 1.12 whip

eyre: 252 ip, 3.65 era, 1.38 whip
remmy: 212 ip, 3.64 era, 1.32 whip

seen in the light of statistical evidence, it becomes clear that nothing has been done to improve the cub bullpen from april 2005 to this stage; in fact, if anything, the cubs have actually gotten weaker in going from hawkins to howry and remlinger to eyre. (end EXPANSION)

as for the likes of wellemeyer and wuertz, this page has been warning about a reliance on such relatively untalented youngsters since this time last season. add novoa to the list of concerns we evinced.

if the cubs truly are to stand pat, this writer is led to the inescapable conclusion that general manager jim hendry still -- even following on previous years of failure -- does not grasp what constitutes a good major league bullpen. this conclusion is further supported by the cuts made to the bullpen in the course of 2005, a classic pattern of buying high and selling low which eliminated three of the cubs' best four relievers in terms of whip. this page fully expects the cubs bullpen to continue to undermine the team unnecessarily thanks to its architect -- as with last season, this is an experiment destined to fail because it was poorly constructed.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Nomar's time in cubbie blue

The Cubs acquired Nomar Garciaparra with much fanfare and hoopla. Nomar was going to be the catalyst for the Cubs 2004 playoff run. The year they were supposed to finish what they failed to do in 2003. Well everybody knows what happened from that point on. The Cubs choked away the NL Wildcard the last week of 2004, all this while the Red Sox were beating the Yankees and Cardinals to capture the World Series. In 2005 Nomar was the Cactus League MVP. Nomar was going to be the new face of the Cubs in the “post-Sammy” era. But the fragile Garciaparra never made it out of April. By the time he returned to the lineup the Cubs were just playing out the season.

The image we will remember of Nomar as a Cub.

As a Cub fan it’s hard for me to remember a player acquired with so many hopes(maybe McGriff in 2001). Nomar instantly became a fan favorite with Cub fans. The hard part for us fans was to realize that we were not getting the 1999 or 2000 version of Nomar. The Cubs got a player that was beaten down by too many injuries.

Nomar now joins the ranks of the “what if” players that have worn the blue pinstripes. “What if” Nomar had been healthy in 2004 (my guess is the Theo Epstein would have never traded him). “What if” Nomar had been healthy all of 2005. It really does not matter, does it?

Nomar seems to be a nice guy. In his season and two months with the Cubs he represented the organization very well off of the field. Cub players said he was a good teammate. It’s too bad he didn’t stay healthy.

Good Luck Nomar in LA.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

the embarrassment of riches

this writer has encountered many a cub fan in the blogosphere who have rationalized the difficult loss of rafael furcal in free agency by claiming hardship for the cub organization -- by saying that furcal was simply "too greedy", or that the dodgers "overpaid". this is a common method of fictional justification among blindly-devoted cub fans for free agent deals that don't get done which manages to hold the team -- whose virtue cannot be questioned -- harmless.

this page would like to put the lie to that once and for all, disabusing readers of the notion that the cubs run anywhere near some kind of revenue ceiling that they must stay under to avoid generating a loss.

for starters, the cubs have the second-highest average ticket price in the majors. with their average paid attendance in 2005, they cleared $1.22mm a game just in gate receipts. that's just over $100mm for the year. and this before the bleacher expansion, which will be another $4mm or so. and before this year's ticket price increases.

then local television -- and this is a stinker, because the tribune accounts for the revenue generated by broadcasting facetiously in order to shift income into their core businesses (ie channel 9). in 2001, the cubs actually reported 22% less in broadcast revenue than the white sox. moreover, they're now moving away from fsn chicago to a joint venture with comcast, further obscuring revenue with ownership interest. safe to say that actual local television revenue is in the area of $60mm, possibly considerably more.

then their cut of national tv with fox -- $2500mm over six years split 30 ways is $15mm/year

then concessions and merchandising.

other revenue streams -- satellite radio, internet revenues, international broadcasting, what they got from the rooftops, et al -- maybe come in for another $10mm.

in all, revenues total somewhere past $220mm. last year's forbes estimate of $170mm is using old gate receipt data (as noted above, the gate's gone up $20-30mm), of course, politely not adjusted for the income shifting between wgn and the team. revenues increase 10-15% annually in an average year.

now, with $220mm in revenues, we can also say this. the yankees are said to garner $300mm in revenues and spend about $200mm on player payroll. this puts their fixed expenses (stadium, front office, minors, etc) at $100mm -- if they merely break even, and i'll bet they do better than that.

the cubs fixed expenses are certainly not greater than the yankees, playing in new york, paying new york rates. the year-old forbes numbers (revenue less payroll less operating income) suggest $54mm. we could generously guess $60mm for the cubs fixed expenses.

having got that far, some simple math shows about where the actual profitability ceiling in player payroll might be. $220mm less $60mm is $160mm -- split between player payroll and pure profit. of course, this is all back-of-the-napkin -- but i'd be quite surprised if this is very far from the truth.

moreover, the dodgers' profitability looks, in all likelihood, very much like this. remember that when you consider, dear reader, propogating the lie that the dodgers "overpaid" for furcal. what makes the cubs look all the more foolish and negligent for being so outmaneuvered is that there isn't a viable major league shortstop anywhere in the organization (unlike los angeles). the cubs haven't had a threat at the position for more than a few games since 1979.

so, when this team is committed (as they are currently) to something like $85mm in player payroll for next year, and one can hear people actually crying poverty over offering furcal another $3mm a year to close the deal -- such persons can frankly kiss this page's ass. losing furcal isn't about profitability. quite honestly, if this team is any longer to have much hope in 2006, they should (and probably could) trade prior for abreu, dump the farm for huff and lugo (putting murton and cedeno on the bench, in iowa or in sunny miami), go sign kevin millwood and two more righthanded relivers (say tavarez and rudy seanez) -- and in so doing remain profitable, adding some $45mm to the existing $85mm and STILL clearing some $30mm for shareholders.

so, if losing furcal isn't about profitability, what is it about? in this page's heavily considered opinion, it is about a general manager that doesn't know how to close a deal, working for an exploitative engine of profit that cares not a shit about winning but everything about meeting sales projections and creating shareholder value. it's about a middle manager named macFail making his ambitious quarterly goals at the expense of winning ballgames.

this is one of the biggest reasons the cubs desperately need a fan revolt to force the trib to divest itself of a non-core, relatively minor asset in the cubs. tribco's got much more tied up in the wb network venture (which is why they don't need the programming on channel 9 and farm it out to fsn and now comcast) than the cubs. they're close as it is and have looked into it -- a drop in gate revenues of even 10% accompanied with vocal protest would probably get them out of the game, it seems to this page, if they aren't on their way to realizing their $370mm capital gain already.

then, at least, the cubs would stand a chance of getting an owner with an ego large enough to screw increasing quarterly profit goals and try to win for the sake of winning.

(UPDATE: more on the cubs p&l statement here.)

Friday, December 16, 2005

nomar close with dodgers

there had been rumors circulating the blogosphere to the effect that korey patterson was to be offered arbitration per jim hendry's comments only to prevent him from being scooped up on the cheap by teams which would pay for his services more dearly -- including players helpful to the cubs -- if they were forced to. one of the central rumors to that theory was the notion that either los angeles or arizona (both needing a centerfielder) would be interested, and there is only one kenny lofton to go around between them.

that rumor, which seemed vaguely specious to this page from the start, has now essentially evaporated.

arizona got their centerfielder of the future in the vazquez trade with chris young, and they now look set to ink kenny lofton as his placeholder for 2006. shawn green, often mentioned in this rumor as a salary dump onto the cubs to play right at wrigley, is 99% sure not to leave the southwestern us, thanks to a limited no-trade clause inserted into his contract at the behest of his loving, southern california wife. luis gonzalez, also often mentioned, is not a major league rightfielder due to a lack of arm strength -- he hasn't played the position since 1995 -- and matt murton isn't going to cut it over there either.

that was supposed to put the dodgers at the forefront of the patterson bidding (and i use the word 'bidding' loosely).

but it apparently won't. the dodgers are close to signing nomar to play outfield -- they already have jose cruz jr and j.d. drew under contract, one of whom will patrol center with nomar in left. jason werth will be in right, pending injury issues -- but drew in right if he can't go.

another rumored possibility was the florida marlins, but they've gone deep into talks about tampa's joey gathright, a very similar player to juan pierre. their primary opposition in these talks was the dodgers -- but, obviously, in signing nomar they will probably drop out.

so -- who else has an idea for dumping the klown? because this page is about out. one remaining destination might be the texas rangers, where gary matthews jr. patrols center, maybe as part of a deal for not-good-but-better-than-korey kevin mench. the only problem is that matthews -- even gary goddamn matthews junior -- is significantly better than patterson and quite a bit cheaper as well. not sure why texas would bother.

one would hope that the evaporation of these avenues would provoke hendry to reconsider offering patterson arbitration -- particularly considering the unimaginable but definite possibility that korey would actually win. but this page speculates that hendry is going to offer him arbitration -- not to enhance a non-existent trade value -- but because he can't land a good rightfielder at a price he can consider and is genuinely entertaining the thought of running an outfield of murton, pierre and patterson out there on opening day.

and that, folks, would invite legitimate comparisons to last year's contender for worst overall national league outfield.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

the possible return of korey -- and the conditions of abandonment

paul sullivan of the tribune is reporting comments by general manager jim hendry citing the possibility of installing korey the klown in right field for opening day 2006.

this page said at the conclusion of 2005 that the continued employment of patterson by the cubs would be the surest indicator that 2006 would be absolutely no different than 2005 -- and further, that the current cub organization simply does not give the slightest shit about winning, instead content to concentrate on the efficient sale of nostalgia.

in offering patterson arbitration, hendry would kill what meager value korey still has for this organization in ridding itself of him. one of the biggest reasons the cubs can't trade korey is because he makes $2.4mm -- and who would pay that for a fifth outfielder/pinch runner/likely triple-a player? i'll guess that those teams who would bother to take a flyer on korey were counting on his being declined and going into free agency, where they could sign him for a few hundred thousand dollars plus incentives.

by offering him arbitration, hendry has fixed korey's salary at a minimum of $1.9mm -- per the basic agreement, the maximum reduction of player salary in any arbitration year is 20%.

now -- who the hell is going to pay the klown $1.9mm to take up the 25th man's seat -- and give up something to do it? this will put most of the potential suitors out of the game. the cubs, had he signed after being declined arbitration, would have at least received draft pick compensation. korey is now only a possible chip to be used in a major salary dump by some other team onto the cubs -- and, realistically, considering the level of interest proffered by clubs to this point, he's not even very valuable as that.

those who believe arbitration is a precursor to some trade deal should consider this point carefully. most who would have tried patterson in 2006 thought little enough of him to not risk any salary on him; how many would then make him an object of trade acquisition? i think the offering of arbitration to patterson is a concession by hendry not that he is bargaining for more value out of patterson in trade -- but that his search for a right fielder has been completely fruitless, and that he is forced to now consider patterson a legitimate option.

this page warned two weeks ago when brian giles signed that he was the only valid free agent upgrade at the position, and his signing bade ill for the cubs. we then further made the case that abreu should be gotten for the price of mark prior, followed by a free agent signing of jeff weaver -- but hendry has refused to consider that option. as hendry stood still, the league moved on. cincinnati resolved its outfield logjam by sending sean casey and moving adam dunn to first, effectively taking hendry-favorite austin kearns off the market. trade candidate and object of dusty's smooth pitch milton bradley was moved to oakland. jacque jones has apparently received from kansas city the three-year offer he was asking for. cliff floyd is unlikely to leave the mets unless in trade for manny ramirez, reports sullivan. preston wilson remains on the free agent market, but is expensive, will want multiple years and represents a downgrade from burnitz. luis gonzalez might be available, but is set to earn $11.5mm in 2006 and in decline, again representing no real upgrade from burnitz. a rumored deal for texas' kevin mench probably involved todd walker, then leaving hendry with yet another hole to fill -- and mench too is no improvement on burnitz and righthanded as well.

the field of viable candidates had narrowed to one real option -- aubrey huff, a left-handed reasonable-obp power bat who could play right servicably. tampa bay, his current employer, is probably not ignorant of the cubs situation, and almost certainly has felt free to raise the asking price as other options faded into obscurity. a high asking price in prospects is a difficult one for hendry to meet, as we have articulated in detail recently. other teams have been in on the bidding.

this page now considers that hendry's offer of arbitration to patterson and his further comments probably indicate that the huff talks have stalled or even died. if this is so, the cubs will enter the 2006 season, in all likelihood, a rightfielder that is a downgrade from jeromy burnitz (if it is not again burnitz himself, who remains unsigned).

in any case, if patterson if offered arbitration, he will most likely return to the cubs in 2006. putting aside hendry's ridiculous commentary on patterson's "potential", he could only be an end-of-the-bench contributor -- his record shows that he will never be a good player.

but if the cubs further aggravate the mistake of retaining patterson with putting him in right field to start the new season, cub fans should feel free to retaliate against the team in any way possible. such a move would be a clear sign that the current management, like the french monarchs of the late 18th century, view them as a hoi polloi deserving of an attitude that varies between indifference and contempt. this writer, for one, could not brook attending wrigley field under any circumstances if such management were allowed to remain in place. i am not a devotee of this team only to be repeated spat upon by its fabulist, dilettante administration.

however, others are. read the comments in this diary at bleed cubbie blue. if this banter does not, once and for all, prove that cub optimists are among the most delusional of god's creatures, i don't know what could. the idea that korey deserves another chance -- will actually flourish if only we could be more supportive -- is exactly the utterly destructive uncritical thinking that plagues the cub organization from its fan base and fosters the creation of terrible teams by removing impetus for the club to do something constructive and successful. patterson is one of the very worst outfielders of the past century. it is a classic case, yet again, being born just now as it becomes apparent that the cubs are in real trouble in right field, of wishful team-need-based evaluation of players, being totally ignorant of the factual record of the player himself.

such grateful slaves love their chains even as they strengthen them, and this page vigorously urges you, dear reader, not to submit to such sophistry. if the cubs work to earn your hatred, deign neither to love nor despise them -- rather, pity them as the pathetic and amoral engine of mere profitability that they are, and move on. life is better spent loving that which deserves to be loved.

why not cedeno? -- followup

given the modest interest sparked by this page's recent analysis of ronny cedeno and argument against his installation as the cubs starting shortstop in 2006, we felt that it behooves this page to further articulate on one of the research challenges cited in the post.

the idea that players suddenly "turn a corner" -- that they radically change character and go from awful to brilliant with a flash of inspiration and insight -- is difficult to evidence in my experience, and certainly isn't common. there's very little way around the fact that cedeno's record, taken in total, is unpromising. look at every shortstop in the majors that has any meaningful offensive output and try to find one whose minor league career resembles cedeno's -- i can't find one. if such miraculous transformations are not common enough to be easily found, why should anyone believe cedeno is the exception to the rule?

this page did not want to leave the reader -- who is hopefully more gainfully employed in his leisure time than this writer -- to fend entirely for himself in answer to this question.

so this writer spent some hours with the exquisite baseball cube, evaluating the early professional careers (double-a and under) of virtually every player that saw time at shortstop in the major leagues in 2005. this writer examined the stars of the position, of course, but expended particular care to review the marginal players at the position -- the likes of manny alexander, alex cora, juan castro, brian dallimore and frank menechino. all in all, the field of examination was comprised of over 80 players. one wants to be sure to cover all the bases.

and what did we find?

first, let it be noted that the means of comparison was a rather reductive one, due to the size of the task and the inability to download the data en masse for more efficient or comprehensive processing. therefore, the writer selected two parameters -- batting average and strikeout-to-walk ratio. it is the consideration of this page that these two simple metrics provide a crude but sufficient means of comparsion regarding offensive output in a position only rarely characterized by power.

for the record, then, ronny cedeno's relavant statistics measure .238 (350/1473) and a 3.20 k:bb ratio.

in the more than 80 player records examined, the writer could find only one major league shortstop playing in 2005 who had begun his career as poorly. a tabulation of the worst five players from the sample pool follows:

neifi perez .249 (306/1229) -- 2.32
jesse garcia .248 (417/1675) -- 1.49
chris woodward .247 (305/1232) -- 1.36
omar vizquel .244 (333/1365) -- 1.07
jose valentin .232 (372/1601) -- 1.91

only jose valentin had managed to survive hitting under .240 in his early professional career to play shortstop in 2005. and perhaps it's notable that no player in the study even remotely approached cedeno's 3.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- indeed, neifi perez's 2.32 is very nearly the next highest. the reader might be surprised, if he cared to spend the time looking, at how many marginal middle infielders managed to hit at least .260 and maintain a strikeout-to-walk ratio of under 1.5. and that is not to mention the cream of the position, for whom flirting with such minimums was never an issue, most of whom demonstrated other rarer characteristics (such as power) from a very early age.

this is not to say, of course, that no young shortstop has ever underperformed cedeno.

what it is to say, however, is that virtually everyone who ever did is not in the majors for us to examine.

that should be a lesson to jim hendry and the cubs, not to mention those fans who hope to consider the team's chances to win realistically and fairly, on the basis of its merits instead of wishes concocted to provide false comfort.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

crossfire: Ronny Cedeno

This comment was posted on

(BTW: Sorry cubs06 for your difficulty posting here.)

December 14, 2005 at 02:29 PM

Since I can't seem to post this over at 1060 West, let me try here.

The blog author writes that "a player is more than his last 245 at-bats. such a small sample size is particularly vulnerable to abnormalities -- a hot streak. after all, neifi perez can hit .350 for a month. there's no telling whether or not cedeno's 2005 output is just an abnormality."

All true. So let's look at more than 245 at-bats. Ronny Cedeno has now had 445 at-bats this year (nearly 500 PAs) between Iowa, Chicago, and the Venezuelan Winter League, which per Baseball Prospectus is roughly comparable in talent level to AA. His unadjusted line across all those ABs is .348/.394/.483. Adjustments are always guesswork, but using his Chicago performance as a baseline and adjusting his Iowa and Venezuelan performance yields an adjusted line of .305/.350/.425 in nearly a full "major league" season.

Neifi's career line? .270/.301/.380, and that's with four-and-half seasons at Coors Field thrown in. His 2005? .274/.298/.383, remarkably in line with his career numbers. He's 33, so you shouldn't expect any significant improvement in 2006; if anything, you might see a little slippage.

What am I saying here? Well, if you want to believe that a 33-year-old with an established level of (under)performance of .274/.298/.383 will provide the same offense as a 23-year-old whose improvement over each of the last three years culminated in a .305/.350/.425 season, then be my guest. But the numbers don't support that conclusion.

My projection for Cedeno is roughly in line with his adjusted 2005 performance. Throw in what apparently is very good defense and he'll be the player that everyone thinks "All-Star" Cesar Izturis is. He won't be the cure for all of the Cubs many offensive woes -- and I still wish the team had snagged Furcal -- but Cedeno will be an asset, not a liability, to the Cubs next year.

Posted by: Newbie | December 14, 2005 at 02:48 PM

is hendry being frozen out?

with the advent of milton bradley going to oakland and now javier vazquez turning up on the south side, this page is beginning to wonder where in the world the chicago cubs and general manager jim hendry are in all these proceedings. this unease is further fostered by the lack of movement in rumored directions as disparate as bobby abreu, miguel tejada and aubrey huff and julio lugo. despite having serious holes remaining to be filled in his 2006 lineup, hendry hasn't concluded a deal since landing juan pierre. is there something holding the cubs up? is hendry being frozen out?

this page thinks yes -- and it's a sickening feeling to contemplate why.

it's no secret that hendry is a player development man. his entire education in baseball, and particularly with the cubs, has been in scouting and talent evaluation. as such, it seems more than a little possible that hendry overvalues what he perceives to be young talent.

this is not to suggest young talent doesn't make teams winners -- it does. the question isn't of valuing young talent. it is of valuing young talent so dearly that one cannot see it objectively for what it is -- instead, exaggerating the importance of talent over other factors (such as durability) or even imagining to see it in abundance where it in fact only exists in traces.

hendry's establishment of an "untouchable" list of prospects can be seen as a piece of evidence of such a mindset. no team should have an "untouchable" list -- and if they do it surely should never include the likes of felix pie, brian dopirak and rich hill. for a general manager who has the best interests of the entire club -- that is, winning -- in the forefront, there is no player who could not be sent in the right deal, and maybes like pie and dopirak are sometimes exactly the kinds of pieces that can close a deal that really should be done.

however, it seems to this page that the reason why the quality of the "untouchables" is so questionably touchable and the slowness of the cubs progress in trade talks are, terribly, linked. the conclusion must be that the cubs simply don't have much interesting talent to deal in the middle or high minors. shedding a few pitchers for pierre is one thing -- florida had undertaken a housecleaning and had no desire to retain pierre at any cost, making them readily amenable to taking a flyer on reynel pinto and ricky nolasco. few if any other teams, it seems, seriously entered the running for pierre. but trying to come up with the kind of prospect package that would seal miguel tejada -- that is another thing entirely.

this isn't entirely new news. anyone who looked at the 2005 iowa cubs roster to find names like calvin murray, trenidad hubbard, jon koronka and phil norton leading the charge must have had an inkling. it barely matters, in this writer's opinion, what baseball america thought about the cub farm in 2002; evaluations of organization talent are notoriously ephemeral. what matters is that, right now, the cubs probably don't have the ammunition to seal the deals they desperately need to make for 2006.

one of the prices of having a farm whose best talents, if they are that, are still emerging and quite risky is that few if any of them represent really desirable trade objects in return for proven major league players. those that are, it would seem, have been deemed "untouchable" by a general manager who is perhaps overly concerned with player development and not able to divorce himself from the promise of youth to deal in the immediate best interests of the team.

hendry's widely acknowledged best moves as the cubs general manager -- derrek lee and aramis ramirez -- involved gathering the shards of teams imploding themselves in major financially-driven makeovers, which enabled him to gain talent at bargain-basement prices. lee came for hee seop choi; ramirez for jose hernandez, matt bruback and a ptbnl. hendry wasn't forced to divest himself of any young talent at all, which played a big role in why those deals got done. to some extent, this year's acquisition of juan pierre also fits that mold. but just about any general manager can swing such a deal -- participating in fire sales is not the hallmark of greatness.

great management also must involve knowing when potential can and should be converted into immediate kinetic help. does hendry know when that time arrives? does he know it's quite probably right now?

and it's doubly damning of hendry that the dearth of quality in the cubs higher minors is at least in part a consequence of his work as the director of player development for the cubs from 1995-2000 and of scouting from 1996-2000.

a great prospect like andre ethier is how bradley gets shipped. a great prospect like hanley ramirez is how josh beckett gets shipped. a great prospect like chris young is how javier vazquez gets shipped. until and unless the cub organization 1) produces real quality talent in some quantity to at least the double-a level and 2) sees itself capable of parting with those talents in trade for immediate help, the cubs are likely to remain locked out of the big deals that could really make years like 2006 worth watching -- and give the cubs a chance before their window of opportunity with this core of players slams shut.

UPDATE: how desperate are things getting at clark and addison? the mother ship is floating a patterson trial balloon for right field. apparently, things are even bleaker than this page thought possible.

vazquez to the white sox

and kenny williams, a general manager i saw fit to disparage for years, is proving that he has come of age in this game. landing a proven, talented, durable starter like vazquez -- who is under a yankee-cash-payment-assisted contract until after 2007 -- for an ancient and frail duque, a middle-aged middle reliever and one very talented prospect who would soon be caught in a logjam of talented outfielders in the sox organization (jerry owens, ryan sweeney, brian anderson and joe borchard all ready for charlotte or more) is a very smart move -- one that may help the sox run deep into october again in 2006. moreover, with duque slotted to make $4.5mm and luis vizcaino another $1.3mm, as well as the rumor that the deal includes cash going from arizona to chicago, the sox pick up relatively little in additional salary obligation.

meanwhile -- as with the milton bradley deal -- one wonders where jim hendry was in this situation. the price certainly wasn't too steep to pay. rumors have surrounded korey patterson and the d-backs all offseason, particularly since the cubs signed pierre. it's no secret that the cub rotation is pretty average and injury prone, and would have been helped in any case by vazquez.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

bradley traded to oakland

billy beane takes the flyer on the heir apparent to carl everett -- and the pool of potential cub rightfielders gets a little bit smaller.

UPDATE: meanwhile, the cubs feint at jacque jones. take a look at the list provided there, fans, and realize that the most probable candidates for 2006 cub rightfielder at this moment are (in no order): aubrey huff, juan encarnacion and kevin mench.

make you want to take a chance of milton, in retrospect?

why it can't be ronny cedeno

with the prospect of shortstop salvation how fading into the gloaming for a second time this offseason, cubs fans are examining the prospect of inserting 23-year-old ronny cedeno into the starting lineup to play shortstop for the cubs in 2006.

cedeno did very well last year at iowa, it's said, and acquitted himself reasonably in a too-short stint in chicago. moreover, he continues to hit in winter ball. so why not?

well, for some very good reasons, not.

the myth of the minors

first of all, there's the mythologizing of cedeno's minor league output. it's true that, in 2005, he hit quite well at iowa -- but a player is more than his last 245 at-bats. such a small sample size is particularly vulnerable to abnormalities -- a hot streak. after all, neifi perez can hit .350 for a month. there's no telling whether or not cedeno's 2005 output is just an abnormality.

and in the context of his previous career, the chances of 2005 being a strange outlier look quite high. cedeno's career batting average coming into last year was .238 over almost 1500 at-bats -- which is why he was never mentioned among even the dimmest of cub prospects prior to the last few months. moreover, cedeno's career strikeout-to-walk ratio remains nearly 3:1 -- a devastatingly high level, especially for a player devoid of any real power production (career slugging percentage of a miniscule .366). cedeno's continuing inability to take a walk in the venezuelan league -- just five against 109 at-bats and 15 strikeouts -- demonstrates that this is a continuing problem. consider this all in combination with the fact that cedeno has no major-league speed -- his meager minor league stolen base totals and low success rate (69%) indicate that he won't be able to run in the bigs.

the wishful paradigm shift

many suggest that cedeno turned a corner somehow last year and revolutionized his game -- effectively voiding his entire prior history -- going from "zero to hero" in a very short span. this is usually accompanied by a citation of cedeno's age (just 22 at triple-a last year) with the implication that, at such a tender age, such revolutions are most likely. some even point to his 2004 season at west tenn, described as "pretty good", as a precursor, effectively lengthening the time this revolution fomented.

the idea that players suddenly "turn a corner" -- that they radically change character and go from awful to brilliant with a flash of inspiration and insight -- is difficult to evidence in my experience, and certainly isn't common. there's very little way around the fact that cedeno's record, taken in total, is unpromising. look at every shortstop in the majors that has any meaningful offensive output and try to find one whose minor league career resembles cedeno's -- i can't find one. (UPDATE: see followup study.) if such miraculous transformations are not common enough to be easily found, why should anyone believe cedeno is the exception to the rule?

virtually all players that become good major leaguers were consistently good or great minor leaguers, even if they experienced a bad season here or there. cedeno certainly doesn't qualify to aspire to greatness on those grounds -- he's had one good year surrounded by many bad ones.

and as to his 2004, the southern league is a pitchers' league, of course -- but cedeno's line (279/328/401), while better for him, is quite sorry even in that league. he was outhit by geovany soto on the same club, and no one thinks of soto as an budding offensive star even as a catcher. there were eight players on the 2004 djaxx that tallied over 300 at-bats -- cedeno's on-base percentage was 8th out of 8, his slugging 6th, his k:bb ratio 8th.

how is that good? it isn't -- an mere extension of cub fan mythology based on need rather than reality, i'm afraid.

cub fans (and maybe sports fans or just people generally) have a way of reinventing -- even deifying -- players to fit wishes based on needs rather than seeing them as they are, irrespective of what the team needs to have. is it really a coincidence that the two most touted positional prospects in the cub system right now -- cedeno and felix pie -- just happen to fill the 2005 cubs most dire needs? clearly not -- fans (and maybe management) have reinvented these questionable prospects into blue-chip major leaguers not based on their record or talent, but upon a need which they desperately want to fill. i've come to consider the concept of "turning a corner" to be a typical crutch by which wishfully-inclined thinkers justify a faith where none is merited but a need exists -- it allows such folks to shamelessly ignore a player's inconvenient factual history in favor of a more pleasant fictional paradigm shift.

while i think people can change as a matter of free will -- and ballplayers just as much as anyone -- we are all limited by the laws of our nature as well. how does a guy go from hitting .215 every year to hitting .330 sustainably in just a year? does one grow a better set of eyes? a new brain stem with improved hand-eye coordination?

in short, i don't think a mere change in approach at the plate can cover that kind of permanent change -- a lot of his 2005 output in all probability constitutes a statistical outlier. he got hot for a while. when that passes, it's back to .250 or worse and languishing in the minors. it's only the very smallest fraction of players that ever do otherwise. and one can't hinge the cubs 2006 at shortstop on that fraction, imo, while expecting to win.

lurking in the wings

and this because, if one accepts that cedeno is far from a mortal lock to play well for the cubs -- even just early on in 2006 -- one is effectively saying that he cannot be the cubs opening day shortstop. for if he starts slowly, cedeno will shortly be in iowa and neifi will be playing every day at short. neifi's glove is good -- better than cedeno's -- he's here for two years and the wizard likes him.

one can cite the cubs' plight of the klown as evidence of the team's willingness to stick it out with a young player through a lot of downs peppered with sporadic, even nonexistent ups, but patterson's situation was aggravated by his draft position (cedeno was an undrafted signee), his intoxicating power potential and speed (cedeno has neither) and the lack of a viable in-house substitute centerfielder (the cubs have neifi already on the 25-man roster).

we should not deceive ourselves -- if he plays for this team, he HAS to hit from the get-go and consistently. if he can't hit, they'll play neifi. cedeno isn't ozzie smith; he isn't going to hold down the position by the force of his glove. and the cubs desperately need a middle infield that safely relegates neifi, perhaps the least productive offensive player on the roster except the klown, to the bench and less than 150, mostly harmless mop-up-duty at-bats in 2006.

having examined above the likelihood of that occurrence, i am compelled to suggest that starting ronny cedeno at shortstop is effectively starting neifi perez at shortstop for the 2006 season. even with the cubs upgrade in centerfield this season, with the hope remaining of a left-handed power bat (not jacque jones, for gods sake and ours!) in right -- changes which would purportedly make several hundred neifi plate appearances survivable -- i see no reason for the cubs to accept such a glaring hole going into this year. this team will not be of such quality that it can afford to plan for weakness. shortstop remains a need that jim hendry must address -- ronny cedeno simply isn't a solution.

UPDATE: thanks to for the kind words.