Thursday, December 28, 2006

Who can be centerfield?

One by one the Free Agent crop of centerfielders has slipped off of that list and onto various MLB rosters. Gary Matthews is now an Angel. Juan Pierre is now a Dodger. Dave Roberts has landed in San Francisco. Kenny Lofton has found work in Texas. Meanwhile the position that Pierre vacated with the Cubs remains vacant, or is it?

I know, I know, Hendry had a full plate going into the offseason. To be fair, IMO the Cubs General Manager has done a good job reshaping the Cubs roster and trying to turn the good ship Cubbie around in one offseason (still a near impossible task). With few options left what will Jim Hendry do with the centerfield position?

Jacques Jones
Jones wants out of Chicago. Apparently the Cubs brass wouldn't mind making this happen after Jones rocky season at Clark and Addison. With Soriano now slated to play rightfield and a Murton/Floyd platoon in leftfield, there appears to be only two options for Jones. Trade him or take your chances with him in center.

Jones has played center before. Early in Jones' career in Minnesota he played quite a bit of center. In his rookie year of 1999 he played 82 games in center and in his second year 63 games in center. Since 2001 he has only played occasionally in center.

Felix Pie
One of my least favorite topics in the world of Cubdom. You see I bought into the whole Corey Patterson "can't miss prospect" stuff. I ain't ready to buy another centerfield phenom as fast these days. Still with the offense the Cubs can put around Pie, maybe they can just ask him to go catch the ball. Wait, I just forgot, we're using that excuse for the all-glove/no-hit shortstop. The time is not now for Pie.

Alfonso Soriano
Would the Cubs actually move their prized offseason acquisition to centerfield? To be fair, rightfield is actually a harder position to play at Wrigley Field due to the large quantity of afternoon games with the sun playing havoc on many more experienced outfielders. When you look at it from this perspective and if Jones is still on the roster, Soriano may be the Cubs best option in both center and right. (That ain't saying much considering last year was his first year in the outfield).

Free Agent Leftovers
Aside from making a trade the Cubs only other options look to be 41 year old free agent Steve Finley and 32 year old, but often injured, Darrin Erstad. It really doesn't look like either of these players has much left. Finley in the last two years has hit .222 and .246. Erstad has not been able to stay healthy since he was a big part of the Angels 2002 team that won the World Series. In 2004 and 2005 he spent the majority of his time playing first for the halos. This season the former Nebraska Cornhusker kicker only played 40 games.

The pickings in centerfield are thin to say the least.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

rich hill and mark prior

the topic has certainly been addressed here previously -- with a look at the cubs' new free agent pitchers individually here and as part of the team here -- but as this writer found himself addressing comments in a thread, the reply wound up so long as to be be barred by haloscan from posting as a comment. such is the birth of a new post on an old topic.

where commenter kt cubs wondered:

Do the Cubs understand Vorp or is the management at the Cubs just stabbing in the dark with moves that dont appear to have any chance of a positive effect . . . ie Marquis and Derosa?

the reply went as follows:

there's actually room for a plug for hendry just once here, kt -- marquis is an example of buying low, something the cubs don't do nearly enough.

plug over. why does it have to be upon marquis that they finally do this?

marquis is not a great pitcher, though that his 6.02 era in 2006 is unusually high is unquestionable. but it has to be said that his 2005 and 2004 mask significant effects that make him look a lot better than he is. he was the beneficiary of wonderful luck in 2004, and had the good fortune of allowing an unusually high number of unearned runs in 2005.

a better way of contextualizing marquis (and lilly) may be to show them not by era but by runs allowed per nine (RA) -- adjusted by delta-r to remove the benefices of good fortune that can heavily skew annual performances as measured by era. put them into a list of familiar names, and one can begin to see why the rotation shouldn't probably be considered anything like a strength.

player 2006 2005 2004 2003 career
zambrano 3.74 3.22 3.56 3.62 3.68
maddux 3.94 4.32 4.40 3.963.40
wood 5.94 4.09 4.23 3.673.92
prior 7.00 3.89 4.32 3.15 3.92
lilly 4.95 5.77 4.33 4.64 4.93
marquis 6.16 4.74 5.10 4.86 5.18

then further consider that marquis has pitched in front of quality defense all his career -- his defense-adjusted era is 0.58 higher than his actual (as opposed to lilly, whose similar difference is just 0.13). anyone who expects one of these two to just step in for wood, maddux or prior (or zambrano, god forbid) is going to be sorely disappointed -- particularly in marquis. either one is likely to surrender a run per game more than any of them.

it's hard to look at the numbers and get a good feel for where lilly and marquis might fall into our range of experience. does anyone really want to see a list that contextualizes them?

you fellow sadists. ;)

here then is the list of cub starters (or mostly starters), innings pitched in a cub uni (minimum 150, with one exception) and corresponding RA net of del-r -- with career numbers for lilly, marquis and rich hill interposed -- 2007's front four are highlighted.

player ip ra(net)
carlos zambrano 977.0 3.68
greg maddux 1 1442.0 3.74
matt clement 587.7 3.81
kerry wood 1128.7 3.92
mark prior 657.0 3.92
rick sutcliffe 1267.3 4.14
jon lieber 827.6 4.18
mike harkey 422.3 4.18
mark clark 276.7 4.23
jaime navarro 437.0 4.32
greg maddux 2 574.0 4.36
rich hill 123.0 4.39
mike morgan 575.3 4.45
mike bielecki 600.7 4.47
frank castillo 949.7 4.58
jason bere 273.7 4.64
jeremi gonzalez 254.0 4.64
terry mulholland 379.0 4.68
kevin tapani 804.0 4.78
ted lilly 936.0 4.89
steve trachsel 1146.3 4.90
jose guzman 210.7 4.91
kevin foster 485.3 4.99
julian tavarez 161.3 5.08
shawn boskie 387.0 5.12
jason marquis 910.3 5.18
jim bullinger 481.0 5.22
glendon rusch 341.3 5.24
danny jackson 183.7 5.39
willie banks 150.0 5.70
amaury telemaco 163.0 6.02
shawn estes 152.3 7.03

if you take comfort from an analysis that leagues lilly with trachsel or tapani and marquis with boskie or bullinger, you are more an optimist than i am. the more it's examined, the more it seems that hope for real performance hinges on two players:

1) rich hill
2) mark prior

if hill can deliver the kind of year maddux did in 2005 and 2004 -- particularly the 34-35 starts -- and prior can re-emerge from his shoulder problems to toss the kind of year he did in 2005 and 2004 -- 20-odd starts of sub-4 era pitching -- there's hope.

if either one fail, short of a remarkable emergence from the kids at iowa, it seems here that the cubs will suffer from inadequacies in starting pitching. there seems precious little reason to have little faith in marquis approaching anything like a 19.2 vorp projection, and lilly too is a good candidate to underperform a 23.0 projection.

if both fail, 2007 could be a year surprisingly similar to 2006, though probably buoyed by an improved offense that should keep it from the lower deep.

Time for a little holiday cheer*...

Sung to the tune of Rudolph the red nosed reindeer:

Pollyellon the crazy Cub fan
Used to have a fancy site
And if you ever read it
You’d probably say it’s shite

All of the other bloggers
Like to laugh and call him names
They’d never sit in LF
Cause that’s where he is during home games

Then one foggy January eve
Jim Hendry called to say
Come over to the Cub convention tonight
And we can take a photo for your site

And all his lemmings loved him
As they shouted out with glee
Pollyellon the crazy Cub fan
You’ll go down in history

Happy Holidays!

*Satire, not to be taken seriously.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

an initial appraisal

major acquisitions are now behind as the cubs steam toward 2007.

"We'd like to do a few more things, but there's nothing urgent," Hendry said.

The new to-do list includes adding a left-handed-hitting outfielder, although the team seems to be in no hurry to sign free-agent outfielder Cliff Floyd, who has physical questions after missing parts of last season with Achilles' tendon problems.

And while a new list of free agents was created Wednesday after teams did not tender arbitration-eligible players, Hendry appears to have little interest in any of them. There's obviously a reason teams did not ask certain players back, and it's not always financial.

The Cubs did not non-tender any of their major-leaguers. They did let minor-league catcher Jose Reyes go but could re-sign him.

If a thorny spot remains, it is in the outfield, where the Cubs basically have no center fielder to replace the departed Juan Pierre. And another hole might open up if Hendry trades Jacque Jones, which is not an automatic.

So why didn't the Cubs get into the bidding for Kenny Lofton, who just signed with the Rangers for $6 million for one year?

Indications are they wanted to have a spot ready for top prospect Felix Pie. If Pie is ready for the big time, the $6 million would have been poorly spent and Lofton would have been unhappy on the bench. If Pie isn't ready, then the problem may be addressed in spring training. The Cubs' options would be to start Angel Pagan in center, or even Jones. And newcomer Alfonso Soriano could play there if Pie seems to be a long way off, which the Cubs don't believe is the case.

As for pitching, Hendry is satisfied, having earmarked $17 million per year on free agents Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis and by adding Neal Cotts in a trade with the White Sox.

"I've very comfortable with the pitching," Hendry said. "We wanted to add two starters and we did. We have options when we see if [Wade] Miller and [Mark] Prior are healthy. We have some depth there. We have people who are going to have to fight for jobs, and that's [good]."

with mark derosa being loudly proclaimed the starting second baseman, soriano is ticketed to play outfield on this team in 2007 with matt murton and jacque. one can even scour the recent archives of the cubs' obedient little strumpet to find soriano headed to the outfield as recently as three days ago -- in the same bit where it is said that jacque in fact has not formally requested the trade he clearly wouldn't be opposed to, a point further reinforced today by dave van dyck in saying that moving jacque is "not an automatic". murton's only outfield position due to physical limitation is clearly left, where he may or may not receive a platoon partner (likely the lefthanded cliff floyd if any). that leaves jacque and soriano to split center and right between them -- and given that the cubs put no pursuit on lofton, continue to maintain that hype-victim pie will man center at some point soon "when he's ready" (whatever that truly means) and to mention pagan as though he were really an option, this would seem unlikely to change despite entreats in the mouthpiece.

further, with marquis and lilly joining carlos zambrano and rich hill, the rotation looks largely set to emerge from spring -- as does the core of the bullpen with bob howry, ryan dempster, kerry wood, michael wuertz, scott eyre and one or the other of will ohman and neal cotts.

in short, dear reader, what you see is what you get. the time has come to start evaluating what jim hendry hath wrought. there are a number of possible methods of gauging expectation -- this page has in the past utilized normalized payroll as a proxy for doing so and will do so again. but one might also take another avenue, utilizing value over replacement in a comprehensive estimate of the team total vorp that has been found to correlate rather well with winning percentage.

this writer has undertaken a basic examination of the last three seasons in the national league using the published statistic of value over replacement with an eye toward developing in steps a method of prediction. a trailing three-year moving average of vorp for constituent roster players was taken as a reasonable first approximation of the next year's production; these approximations were then totaled to produce a total team vorp estimate for the upcoming season.

several simplifications were used. first, the moving average was simple and contained no method of adjustment or depreciation for age or any other factor. second, forward projections only included the starting members of the opening day active roster for the club -- eight position players and the top eleven pitchers. this may seem inadequate at first consideration, but (beyond being a convenient concession for prediction) in the majority of cases this is shown to be a quite reasonable presumption -- bench players and bullpen callups from the minors usually count for nearly nothing in aggregate terms of vorp over an average year, with positive contributions canceling negative. also, midseason acquisitions generally tend to have lesser impacts being frequently (though not always) roughly equivalent in contribution to the players they replace and in any case having a smaller time window to contribute in. in short, phil nevins and tony womacks vastly outnumber rick sutcliffes -- this is not to say that scintillating midseason acquisitions cannot happen, but it is to say that the hope for such saviors are a very thin straw upon which to wager. third, for the initial run of the study, only three years (2004-6) of one club (you know which) were used; this is a limitation granted to the initial examination to determine what merit might underpin the concept, if any, that may support further effort.

so what has been found? the results are summarized in this table.

yearoffensepitchingoverallwin pct projectionactual win pct
avg dev 42.0 58.6 73.1   
2007193.2 194.0 387.2 0.534  

over the total of the three-year trial, expected values for both overall team vorp and for offensive and pitching subsets converge upon the subsequent actual values within 1.3%. variance within each individual year is considerable, with an average deviation from the overall of 6%, the variances of each year being 30.3%, (-1.4%) and (-26.8%) in the most recent season.

considerable variations occur of course from year to year among individual players. some have to do with injury, others with playing time, others with distortions of insufficiently large sample size ("slumps" and "streaks"). but what can here be seen is that, even over a window as small as three years and in the context of a team, these variations perhaps matter less than may be initially thought -- projected values closely approach actual, with such variations being symmetrically distributed about a zero mean. even unexpected large negative events -- such as a major injury to a player like derrek lee in 2006 -- are over time compensated by other events of similar proportion and inverse direction -- such as the unlikely contributions of glendon rusch and an initially-injured mark prior in the second half of 2004.

seasons can be parsed in retrospect for the effects and possible expectations of such events -- one could say, for example, that prior's contribution in 2004 was not entirely unexpected and that therefore some outperformance in the pitching component of 2004's season was to be anticipated. likewise, in the negative direction, some might suggest that sammy sosa's 2004 performance -- significantly diminished from his trailing three-year average -- was also not to be unexpected and constituted a negative likelihood evident to the observer but unaccounted for by the projection. this page would not disagree that in isolated cases such anticipations are possible; they remain, however, outside the scope of this study and fodder for subjective argument. they are also often minor in comparison with unanticipated and probably unpredictable events.

on the whole, then, it would appear that further investigation is in fact merited, but that any projection should be taken with the appropriate caveat that past projections have been shown to be at variance with final totals of up to one-third of the final in either direction.

using the same methods applied to these past seasons, the probable opening day roster for the 2007 cubs has been included here. a breakdown of the appropriate estimates by player follow.

cmichael barrett31.328.124.828.1
1bderrek lee7.595.632.145.1
2bmark derosa21.53.7(13.9)3.8
3baramis ramirez44.542.350.845.9
sscesar izturis(4.6)(4.2)21.74.3
lfmatt murton16.212.5--14.4
cfalfonso soriano48.839.431.039.7
rfjacque jones24.69.61.812.0
alloffense     193.2
spcarlos zambrano53.851.262.855.9
spted lilly25.62.341.123.0
sprich hill16.8(9.1)--3.9
spjason marquis(4.9)20.741.719.2
spwade miller2.86.921.810.5
lhrpscott eyre16.520.97.715.0
lhrpwill ohman14.212.6--13.4
rhrpbob howry23.823.315.620.9
rhrpmichael wuertz13.510.44.69.5
rhrpryan dempster3.921.84.310.0
rhrpkerry wood0.29.228.812.7
allpitching     194.0
alltotal     387.2

it is notable, perhaps, that for all the cries of joy and relief regarding the acquisitions made by this team during this offseason, the projected team overall vorp is -- while at a four-year high -- just 2.7% greater than the three-year average of expected vorp for the club. this hardly constitutes a revolution in firepower or expectation.

to the extent that events looking forward can be anticipated beyond the scope of study, there are reasons for optimism. neither kerry wood nor prior factor prominently into the projection -- which was also the case in 2006 but has not always been in the past -- and positive surprises of some size are quite possible from prior and rich hill, who has not done a great deal on the balance of previous major league seasons despite his promising performances. on the offensive side, questions remain in the aftermath of a career year in 2005 about the true normal level of lee's output -- can he surprise to the upside of a 45 vorp projection in 2007? like questions can be applied to mark derosa and alfonso soriano as well.

but the cold-eyed analysis must clearly suggest that the cubs are made up of some different names but in similar basic form to years previous that saw them compile a .481 overall winning percentage. it would seem from this vantage point that the club is again riding the whirlwind of random variation, hoping for the fates to spin them a long yarn.

Monday, December 11, 2006

ted lilly and jason marquis

with the signing of jason marquis following on the landing of ted lilly, the cubs pitching situation for the next couple years has congealed markedly in just a few days. both of these pitchers are contractually obligated to the cubs for years beyond carlos zambrano at this point, so it behooves us to examine them closely in order to determine what fortunes await the team.

sadly, such analysis is not entirely kind.

lilly has been signed as an ostensible second fiddle to zambrano. it should perhaps be a warning to even casual fans that the cubs are lilly's fifth major league team despite the fact that lilly is just 31. and further warning is given by the fact that the toronto blue jays saw fit to acquire a.j. burnett at some expense and risk for that role in 2006 behind roy halladay.

upon longer investigation, the merit of those warnings can be confirmed. lilly statistically simply doesn't rise to the standard of a front-of-the-rotation starter. clearly, he is not a bad pitcher -- a career record of 59-58 is respectable, and though his career era is 4.60 over his last four years he has allowed 340 earned in 683.2 innings to amount a 4.48 era. he will on occasion dazzle as do most decent pitchers. twice in 2006 he managed ten or more strikeout in a start; twice he managed to pitch eight complete.

but just as clearly, neither to such numbers make for a very good pitcher. lilly has over the same span allowed about a hit an inning (664), which would be fine if he had demonstrated an ability to limit walks. but he has not -- lilly is one of the more walk-prone starters on the junior circuit, allowing 286 over that same four-year span to make 3.8 per nine innings and a whip of 1.39. he also failed to pitch into the sixth in nine of his 32 starts last year. while some mild mitigation of his downside can be expected in coming to the national league, the move will not in and of itself transform lilly into a different pitcher. he will walk over 80 men if he can (for the first time in his career) pitch 200 innings. those who have found zambrano's control difficulties hard to stomach will find themselves in somewhat better but still familiar territory with lilly, whose capacity to escape hits nowhere near approaches zambrano's -- lilly walked at least four in nine different starts in 2006, compared to zambrano's 14, compiling a 4.31 era in those outings.

measurement by more advanced metrics confirms a tepid assessment. lilly for his career stands at 3 pitching runs above average in 936 innings; over the last four years -- the probable peak of his career output -- that same figure stands at 9. in terms of vorp, lilly's last four seasons totals are 26.4 in 2006, 4.0 in 2005, 46.8 in his career year of 2004 and with oakland in 2003 25.8 -- an annual average of 25.7. this is the model profile of an average major league starter, which is what the cubs have indeed signed. expectations for him in 2007 should be similar to those held for greg maddux in recent years with the cubs -- solid, but unspectacular and prone to the typical maddening bouts of difficulty.

for those who have been watching the cardinals in recent seasons, it will be perhaps evident that marquis is yet less than that as a pitcher. if we evaluate lilly by his praa and vorp totals, we should do the same for marquis: (-62) praa in 910.1 career innings, a four-year vorp line of (-5.7), 18.2, 36.7 and (-1.9) that averages 11.8. decidedly, this is a well-below-average major league starter.

while marquis pitched brilliantly at times for the cardinals, he also there benefitted from one of the most brilliant of national league defenses. by most measures 2004 was his career season, in which he posted a 3.71 era that jim hendry surely hopes to see replicated. but marquis, it must be said, was exceptionally fortunate that season -- totaling a rare (-24) in delta-r, an approximation of runs unallowed by luck. with that benefit, marquis' defense-adjusted era that year was 4.36, putting him some half a run better for the assistance of his defense -- but still a standout year for a pitcher with a dismal career dera of 5.13.

to be sure, marquis is not as disastrous as his 2006 campaign totals would indicate -- marquis may not be a good pitcher, but this last was a bad year even for him. but a broader view still must find marquis wanting -- the cubs would probably have done better to trust in the arrival of pitchers like sean marshall or juan mateo that to make a three-year commitment to marquis, whom was outperformed handily by both in a simple comparison. indeed, against marquis' 5.13 career dera, marshall posted in his rookie year 5.32 and mateo likewise 5.34. on balance, this writer finds it very hard to expect much more from marquis than from these two novices.

in the final analysis, following on a 66-win campaign in which the pitching staff frequently collapsed under the weight of uncertainty, it must be said that here hendry bought in marquis what he perceives to be a known factor. and certainty has a value. however, whether or not that value is of any assistance in pursuing the playoffs is questionable when this team is in a position to need luck to prevail.

when added to an in situ rotation of zambrano, rich hill and wade miller, the likelihood would seem to be that lilly and marquis show just what a terrible hazard it is to try to assemble by free agency a winner from a club so low as the 2006 cubs. immense strides had to be taken, and even if one or two were successful they would not be enough to climb out of such a deep crevasse to the mountain peak of a league pennant without others.

it seems here that these others the cubs have now failed to take -- with jason schmidt having landed in los angeles and the cubs having shot their bolt on these two, any meaningful pursuit of a difference-making pitcher is now over. and the cubs would seem to be left in a no-man's land of mediocrity so familiar to so many of us -- neither atop the peak nor deep in the crevasse, but stranded upon the face of the mountain to face the elements, praying for good fortune and fearing bad.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


After the high this team reached before Thanksgiving, I guess it was inevitable. Teams can go on large spending sprees and try to remake a ballclub in one offseason. Reality at some point will hit you smack dab in the face. For many of us the reality hit today with the rumored signing of Jason Marquis (3 years/$21 million).

I think the reality is simple. It's never a good idea to allow a club to fall apart the way MacPhail and Hendry did following 2004. Compound the poor job they did with the major league roster with poor minor league player development and you have a recipe for the desperate moves we have seen this offseason. The Cubs have been forced to overspend for players. The sad part with the recent pitching signings is the Cubs will be saddled with these players for awhile.

Earlier this week the Cubs added Ted Lilly. Today it's Jason Marquis. Nothing makes me want Gil Meche like Jason Marquis! Thus concludes the Cubs offseason shopping spree for the starting rotation. The results are not what we hoped, just days ago. Behind Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs 2007 rotation has no valid number two starter. Here's what they got: Zambrano, Lilly, Hill, Marquis, & Cotts/Marmol/Marshall/Prior (take your pick).

Here we go again. Once again, the Cubs hopes for 2007 involve getting Mark Prior's arm healthy. GULP. Healthy enough so he can take the ball every fifth day. If Prior can get healthy and be the pitcher we saw in 2003, well I like the Cubs chances. But how many times have we said this before? What are the odds that Prior will be healthy and pitch like he did in 2003? Slim and none. The Cubs know this, and that is why they overpaid for two middle of the road pitchers. I don't fault Hendry for getting the additional arms. They needed to do this. I just wish the two middle of the road starters weren't these two.

Oh well, I guess even when you spend money like a drunken sailor, you can't have everything.

Friday, December 08, 2006

rule 5 draft

one often-overlooked feature of the recently concluded winter meetings is the rule 5 draft, whereupon (in the major league phase of the draft) clubs are allowed to swoop down upon eligible unprotected players left off the 40-man roster of other organizations for a nominal fee -- and are allowed to keep them permanently if they manage to retain the player on their active roster for the entire upcoming year. players acquired in the minor league phases face no such roster restrictions.

this is a difficult feat, but not unprecedented -- and, as the most famous rule 5 pickup of recent years has demonstrated, it can also be significant.

the cubs were involved this year, picking up troubled former first-overall-pick josh hamilton in the major league phase only to trade him on to the reds. they further acquired from the minor phases jim henderson, and then by trade kevin hart for freddie bynum, clearing a spot on the 40-man (to which hart will not be added).

taken out of the cub system were (in the major league phase) ed campusano, lincoln holdzkom and jason smith, and (in the minor league phases) richard lewis and andy shipman.

arizona phil at cub reporter runs down the details best. henderson and hart are non-prospects of whom we figure never to hear again, and (unlike last year) the same can be said for much of what the cubs lost. but the team has potentially lost something in holdzkom. campusano may be the more likely to stick on a roster given that he is a lefty reliever and shipman was talked out highly before struggling in 2006, but former marlin draftee holdzkom has been near-impossible to hit for much of his interrupted career as a righthanded reliever. he pitched much of 2003 with a torn ligament in his elbow, undergoing a tommy john procedure that put him on the shelf for 2004 and much of 2005. he was subseqently traded to the cubs in the todd wellemeyer deal prior to the 2006 season, but his performance last year was impressive -- holdzkom returned to throw in the mid-90s with better command of his fastball-curve-slider repertoire than he had exhibited in years past. if the surgery rehabilitation has left holdzkom with better mechanics and command than he showed in the arizona fall league last month -- 13 walks in 20.1 ip, too small a sample to say much -- holdzkom may make it with the tigers.

"a spending spree for the ages"

that lead line is lifted from paul sullivan's bit today in the trib, where he avers:

The good news is that general manager Jim Hendry has been on a spending spree for the ages, and has proved over the years he won't let his own players get away if he really wants them back. The recent revelation that Hendry can sign free agents while hooked up to an EKG machine made him the Kirk Gibson of general managers.

The bad news is Zambrano's market value may have risen over the last couple of weeks like the price of oil, and the law of supply and demand suggests he may be worth much, much more in next year's market.

Hendry has allotted more than $270 million this off-season, and at the going rate he may have to add another $100 million to keep Zambrano a Cub.

it's a strange way to characterize the kind of free agent activity the cubs have certainly been capable of for many years and yet consistently refused to engage in. finally seeing one of the financial powerhouses of baseball make up for more than a decade of directing profits into the pockets of the shareholder instead of reinvesting it into the product on the field is a change, to be sure, but hardly one fit for lionization in any pages except those published by the team's owner itself.

coming out of the winter meetings which saw the cubs add ted lilly and daryle ward while moving freddie bynum, the consensus of opinion seems clear. as was pointed out in the comments of this page, from espn to sports illustrated to cbs sportsline to mlb itself, the air is thick with praise for heroic jim hendry and the cubs -- even the doltish masses have by plurality proclaimed the cubs to be the most improved of the lot.

new manager lou piniella has even outlined his fearsome lineup.

"[Alfonso] Soriano's going to lead off," Piniella said. "I mean this guy here has got just a special combination of speed and power. And he's comfortable in that spot, and we're going to leave him there.

"Derrek Lee is just a really, really fine professional hitter, and he is going to hit in the three hole," Piniella said. "And then we got the kid, [Aramis] Ramirez, that we signed. I was astounded when I read he only struck out 60 some times last year. For a power hitter, I mean that is a great ratio. He's going to hit fourth.

"We've got Jacque Jones in the fifth hole," he said. "We've got [Michael] Barrett, [Mark] DeRosa, and I haven't figured out really what we are going to do in the second and eighth holes. [Cesar] Izturis will be in one of them. It depends on what we do."

Piniella said Matt Murton will get plenty of playing time, and added he liked having Ryan Theriot, Henry Blanco and Angel Pagan on the bench.

heady days, dear reader, heady days.

but -- as you might suspect, if you read here often -- it all rings a bit hollow to this writer. hendry has spent the club's money commensurate with its revenues, and that is welcome -- but what has it profited the team?

once hendry resigned aramis ramirez, the cubs were all but guaranteed to be better than in 2006 even if they did nothing more -- the return of derrek lee, the probable permanent demotion of ronny cedeno and the merciful death of kerry wood's star-crossed contract were going to see to that. but how much better was and is a very questionable issue. the club had lost 96 games without lee, true, but it also got peak offensive years from jacque jones and michael barrett, not to mention an unexpected nova of production from ryan theriot in the second half.

to that mix has now been added alfonso soriano, mark derosa, lilly and ward, with jones interjecting a request to be traded.

where does that leave the team? presuming that jones' request is somehow honored, at least one starting pitcher and a rightfielder from a complete club -- a strange place to be after a quarter of a billion dollars committed.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The way it SHOULD be.

So far this college basketball season the hands-down greatest story has been the performance of my alma mater, Butler University. Butler is a school of 4000 students located in Indianapolis competing in Division 1 athletics. (I played football and ran track there)

So far this season, the Bulldogs are 10-0, ranked 15th by the AP, 14 in the Coaches, 1st in RPI, and this is what SI has to say about the team this week:

SI.COM'S College Basketball Power Rankings! "And if the Bulldogs had the same credentials, but were named Florida, they'd be in the top three. So why not just put them there?"

To all the, "Butler?!%! How can Butler be ahead of my [insert blueblood powerhouse here]" people, please take the following evidence into consideration:
• The Bulldogs are No. 1 in the RPI.
• They've played the sixth-toughest schedule in the nation.
• They've beaten six top-100 RPI teams, two more than anyone else in the country.
• They rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (and therefore are not a fluke).
• They're undefeated.
From that standpoint, it's a travesty not to have Butler in the top five.

Next three: 12/9 at Indiana State, 12/16 vs. Purdue, 12/22 vs. Evansville.

So if your sick of reading about our woe-be-gone favorite professional baseball team, try to catch the Butler Bulldogs this winter you'll surely be satisfied.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

From the hospital bed...

Tonight the Cubs signed Ted Lilly to a 4-year, 40 million dollar contract that was completed in the hospital as Jim Hendry was hooked up to an EKG machine!!! Read about it here.

schmidt off the board

a day after greg maddux came to terms with san diego, jason schmidt has apparently agreed to sign with the dodgers for three years and $47mm.

thus ends what was considered by many the best hope for the cubs to field a truly intimidating starting staff in 2007.

divisional progress report

as the winter meetings reach their climax, many cub fans have followed the travails of the club in some detail over the last month -- first the resigning of aramis ramirez, then the landing of alfonso soriano. such moves and the money that closed them stoked long-dormant dreams for many a watcher, even provoking some to speculate that the budget had been tossed aside and that there was no ceiling to what the cubs would spend to redeem themselves before their fans for years of passivity.

that dream -- always far more a selfish wish than empirical fact -- is showing some cracks with rumors regarding who might fill the vacancies in the rotation centering not on barry zito but ted lilly.

but, for a moment, this page would like to focus on what is afoot in rival power centers in the national league central -- houston and saint louis.

the houston astros face the loss of starters roger clemens and andy pettitte, third baseman aubrey huff and reliever russ springer, have already shed useless 2006 free-agent preston wilson and will further be without starter brandon backe who is recovering from surgery for all of 2007. but they are also finally climbing out from beneath the $16mm obligation to jeff bagwell -- and that in combination with the lapsing of contracts to pettitte ($10.5 mm in 2006) and clemens ($15.75mm) gives houston a titanic sum to go to market with this winter.

they boosted one of the more anemic offenses in the league by investing bagwell's freed paycheck in carlos lee, who will now take over the tiny left field in their bandbox park. lee will be a material threat between lance berkman and lefthanded slugging rightfielder luke scott, who (like rich hill) translated two years of success in destroying the minor leagues as a post-collegiate late bloomer to the majors in late 2006. still, hopes for an improved offense must rely on as much on a return to form of third baseman morgan ensberg -- who survived a tremendous slump and a benching to post a 235/396/463 line with 23 hr in 387 ab -- and continued performance by scott as lee. the ageless craig biggio is finally wearing down, but his decline is met by the rise of chris burke, who has become a central role player for the club and deserves an everyday spot.

to the rotation of peaking superstar roy oswalt, exciting prospect jason hirsh and replacement-level wandy rodriguez, the club has already added woody williams from san diego, probable source of a league-average 150 innings. but what could make the astros dangerous is the return of the 34-year-old pettite and the 44-year-old clemens. pettitte had been rumored to be considering retirement but is now likely to return to houston for 2007 at least, pending possible interferences by the yankees. still, he is likely to be only a handful of runs better than the average starter. the threat lies in clemens, who remains at 44 one of the best pitchers in the game.

if the astros can find a way to bring clemens and pettitte back for 2007 -- both have been approached by the yankees -- they feature a powerhouse pitching staff which looks to improve on a 2006 which saw them arguably the best in baseball despite 43 starts granted to rodriguez and struggling prospect taylor buchholz. a fivesome of oswalt, clemens, pettitte, williams and hirsh backed by rodriguez, buchholz and a bullpen that (even without springer) is top quartile could steamroll the central with any kind of an offensive threat behind it. and with lee, burke and scott to complement ensberg and berkman, this club may finally be able to overcome the offensive deadweight of catcher brad ausmus, shortstop adam everett, centerfielder willy tavares and past missteps like wilson and jason lane.

but, much as last year, much rides on clemens. pettitte could perhaps be replaced -- starters who provide 200 innings of 25-30 vorp are hard to come by but not impossible, and the money is already there. the astros could yet become major players for any of the remaining free agents if pettitte concludes a deal in new york. but clemens cannot be replaced -- his loss would be a major blow. general manager tim purpurra came to the winter meetings with ostensibly a starter and yet more bullpen depth in mind to safeguard against pettitte's defection. but clemens is the key. a decision is expected sometime in december.

turning to the world champion saint louis cardinals, they too have been busy -- and have to be. with all of jason marquis ($5.2mm), jeff suppan ($4mm), late acquisition and postseason hero jeff weaver and the injured mark mulder ($7.3mm) testing free agency, the pitching citadel of the amazing cardinal run of recent years -- the best in the history of the franchise -- is suddenly and unnervingly exposed. some of the $16.5mm freed was reinvested in ace chris carpenter, who remains locked up as does young anthony reyes, who contributed meaningfully in 17 starts last season. gm walt jocketty has also obtained kip wells under startlingly good terms, whom pitching coach dave duncan will try to guide back to the form of 2002-3 but probably unsuccessfully. wells can hardly be relied on for more than sid ponson was last season.

so it is perhaps not surprising to hear that the cardinals attacked jason schmidt at the winter meetings, by some reports making themselves a frontrunner. but they've apparently failed, with schmidt headed to the dodgers. they're also a finalist for miguel batista, with an in-house fallback position of adam wainwright and perhaps even reliever braden looper. batista can offer them 200 league-average innings, and that has its value to a team in need of innings. but the cardinals still need to find a head of the rotation starter to make themselves formidable, and they'll have resources left to deploy even after landing batista (if they do).

on offense, little turnover is expected from 2006's second-quartile outfit. still-productive jim edmonds at 37 following a down year had his option picked up at $10mm, a $2mm cut from 2006. that cash was redeployed when second baseman ronnie belliard was replaced by adam kennedy for $3mm a year over three years, who should provide more playing in front of aaron miles than belliard did last year. jocketty also signed scott spiezio to a small contract to reward his series heroics, but he figures to be a bench player. the team again intends to ride edmonds, all-world first baseman albert pujols and third baseman scott rolen, seeking supporting contributions from kennedy, shortstop david eckstein, rightfielder juan encarnacion and outfielders chris duncan, so taguchi and john rodriguez. duncan was something of a surprise contributor in 2006, having sparked to life from a rather dull minor league career. it's very hard to credibly forecast another season of .952 ops and 25 vorp for duncan, and what kennedy may do to improve the state of offensive affairs is likely to be offset by duncan's reversion to something closer to his career means. with catchers yadier molina and gary bennett along for the ride, this is an offensive club that needs pitching performance to win.

will they get it? carpenter in front of batista, reyes, wainwright and wells would be something well short of what houston is aiming for. the offense isn't quite as sour -- but still, without that plus starter, the cards will be vulnerable.

but the greatest advantage either club has over the cubs has yet gone unmentioned -- and that is the cubs themselves. having added alfonso soriano is a fine step, but one must recognize that he is being added to what was the 15th-best offense of 16 in 2006. and of course the cub pitching staff, a source alternately of strength and weakness in recent seasons, looks at this moment unproven at best and at worst simply weak.

in short, all three of these clubs have major acquisitions to yet make before staking any early claim to the division. how the next three weeks play out for all three clubs will do much to decide who goes to the playoffs representing the central.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

1,000 words

photo from

That's Jim Hendry's assistant, and moneyball expert, Gary Hughes talking to Tommy Lasorda at the winter meeting in Florida! Still no news to report out of Orlando, but at least we have a photo of Hughes! Anyone wanna take a guess who our Booze Cruisin' Gym Teacher takes his fashion cues from?

Monday, December 04, 2006

winter meetings begin

this page has become a much more managable workload since the contributors collectively and unconsiously cut posting down to once or twice a week, dear reader -- to that extent, this writer is somewhat happier for it. maybe quietude is the aftershock of the twin ramirez and soriano deals. maybe it's waiting for something else spectacular to happen, for another shoe to drop. maybe it's the nervousness of actually having expectations again after what seems like an age of having nothing to risk.

regardless, winter meetings have begun and the cubs are, expectations or no, still at least a couple proven quality starters and perhaps more from completing anything like a successful plan of a single-season turnaround. it has been noted here that, upon preliminary examination, even the offense plus soriano is some distance trailing the national league's best. make no mistake: as it is, this offense would need a truly stellar rotation to really win, an improbable and scintillating metamorphosis from one of the worst staffs in the nl last year and even from the incarnation as of this date.

is the door still open? unequivocably, yes -- despite the signings of a handful of possible targets, there is enough cream left atop the free agent churn to radically alter the destiny of the 2007 cubs.

but it is disconcerting at best to hear the cubs making offers to players like ted lilly while other reports put true potential difference-makers like barry zito and jason schmidt at arm's length. the likes of lilly or gil meche simply won't be enough -- if one or both are in the rotation on opening day, this page will say with the sole exemption of other stupendous acquisitions that the cubs would have every expectation of staying home in october next.

curiously, this page has as yet heard of no connection to the southsiders, who have a starter to deal whose quality is every bit that of schmidt or even zito. the sox apparently could use a young centerfielder -- pardon the rumormongering without substantiation, but is it unreasonable to think that felix pie might be the linchpin of a mutually-beneficial deal here that might include more pitching from the pool of inexperienced cub hurlers who tasted the majors in 2006? if the future truly is now for jim hendry, why should he be averse to trades (though hopefully not for jason jennings, who is no better an idea that meche or lilly)?

the winter meetings are sometimes all about striking such brave deals -- but are more often still about disappointment and even disillusionment. coming home without a star starter is permissable, certainly -- but coming home with lilly or meche in tow would take the shine off of soriano very quickly and signal that the cubs may yet prove this page essentially correct in its advocacy of a deep rebuilding by demonstrating that they have -- for all their new willingness to reinvest profits into the product -- not the firepower after all to follow through on what many have perhaps prematurely hoped to be a stunning reversal of decades of poor practice and evil fortune.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

eyeing jason schmidt

cub fans everywhere have been afforded a good long time now to savor the moment of signing alfonso soriano on the heels of resigning aramis ramirez. hendry himself claims to have paused in advance of the winter meetings.

but that apparently doesn't mean all is at rest. jake westbrook continues to feed the hot stove, most recently with ryan dempster's name attached. and rumors have surfaced regarding a three-year/$44mm offer to jason schmidt that would as likely as not make schmidt a cub.

with adam eaton signing with philadelphia and randy wolf going to the dodgers, the market for pitching is taking shape -- both landed deals averaging $8mm a season, which is somewhat less than might have been expected in light of what has been splashed out on offensive talent around baseball over the last few weeks. and that has to bode well for the cubs getting schmidt if this rumored offer turns out to be true -- schmidt has a career head and shoulders above a pitcher like eaton, but such a deal puts a 34-year-old with peripherals and performance that are declining from his peak seasons on a financial par per annum with soriano, who is coming off a career year and was widely tagged the most desirable free agent available.

schmidt is something of a difficult prospect to assess. he has long been one of the most abused starters in baseball -- ranking top ten in pap every year since 2002 -- and it is difficult not to believe that the wear and tear is compounding the normal ageing of his talent. schmidt's deteriorated velocity has episodically been the talk of san francisco, and of his last four halves of baseball three have been accompanied by whip in excess of 1.42. even if he remains a good pitcher -- one who compiled 45 pitching runs above replacement even in a disappointing 2005 campaign -- this is probably no longer the dominant figure that drove the 2003 giants.

is he worth this contract? the answer largely depends on whether or not the signing would preclude obtaining the rest of the help that the cubs would still need in the event of his signing. for everything the cubs have done since october to improve, the club started from such an abysmally low point that a fair prognosis of the club as it stands plus jason schmidt would still be a season-long struggle with the .500 mark.

but the apparent new fiscal environment has put any guesswork as to what the ceiling for payroll will ultimately be on hold -- and there can be little question that even a declining schmidt would be, even if falling short of high expectations, an improvement on what the cubs have heading to the mound today. and there's always the chance that he could experience a continuation of his former glory.

UPDATE: the mother ship denies the bid.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Colangelo interested in buying Cubs

Last week the names started coming out about who would be interested in buying the Cubs. You can add a Chicago native to the list and this one has a World Series ring. Jerry Colangelo put his hat in the ring today, confirming that he has interest in Cubs. Colangelo grew up following the Cubs.

Here is most of the Dave Carpenter's AP article in the San Jose Mercury News:

CHICAGO - Former Arizona Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo would be interested in buying the Chicago Cubs if Tribune Co. puts his hometown franchise up for sale.

Colangelo, chairman of the NBA's Phoenix Suns and former controlling owner of both the Suns and Diamondbacks, said Wednesday he has held "preliminary discussion" with unspecified other people who share his interest in buying the Cubs.

He declined to say whether he had spoken to Tribune Co. or the Cubs about his interest, but said: "You can speculate that."

"If in fact the Cubs become available, and that's a big if, I've stated that I would have great interest," he told The Associated Press. "I'm just trying to keep my options open at this point, that's all."

Colangelo said he had spoken with two different groups of prospective bidders. However, he added, "I have my own interest, not necessarily tied to any particular group."

The 67-year-old Colangelo grew up a Cubs fan in suburban Chicago Heights. A four-time NBA executive of the year and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he brought major league baseball to Arizona in 1998 as managing general partner of the Diamondbacks, who won the World Series in 2001.

He told WSCR-AM on Tuesday that owning his hometown team would be "quite an exciting possibility" and would represent "coming full circle."

Tribune, under pressure from large shareholders disappointed with its sagging stock price, has said it hopes to decide by year's end on a strategic overhaul that could include selling the entire company or certain assets. Those assets also include 11 newspapers, led by the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, and 25 television stations.

The media conglomerate reportedly has told buyers it would focus first on a possible sale of the entire company before the sale of pieces.

"I think everyone is awaiting what they decide to do," Colangelo said. "What I've been advised is that may come down early in December."

One of the things that I find real interesting is we are finally seeing a timeline. It's Thanksgiving and we will know something in early December. Wow. Things are moving quick in this process. The fact that Colangelo was part of the ownership group in Arizona might help his group in the approval process.

In an article from the East Valley Tribune, Colangelo gave a little more insight on his interest in the Cubs:

“I’ve had calls from people in Chicago encouraging me to step forward. I’ve been told by others, ‘Jerry, if you step in, it’s a natural.’ I’ve always had a great relationship with the city, the people and the Cubs. I’d like to be part of it.”

Colangelo says the Cubs are one of the few ventures in sport that still interests him:

“There are very few things in sports that would entice me in recent months,” Colangelo said. “This just happens to be one.”

Stay tuned...

Jake Westbrook?

Jim Hendry's spending spree which was capped off by the Sunday signing of Alfonso Soriano has Cub nation salivating for the next move. While rumors circulate that the Cubs may add another position player or two, we all know that the real concern has to be starting pitching. Jim Hendry admitted it when he said this in a Muskat article on
"We will have to add some pitching, whether it's through free agency or potential trades," Hendry said. "We'll be looking at different options in role players and try to get stronger from the left side."
Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt are the big names on the free agent market. A name that keeps coming up here, here and here in rumors is Tribe hurler Jake Westbrook.

Ironically at one time, when Westbrook was in the Yankee system, he was rumored to be part of a deal that would have sent Sammy Sosa to the Bronx and a young Alfonso Soriano to the Cubs along with the prospect Westbrook and possibly others. As you know, that deal never went down. Since those rumors several managers, a couple of GM's and a team president have departed the northside. Now more than half a decade later Soriano has made his way to Clark and Addison and Westbrook could be next.

Westbrook's salary for 2007 is only $5.6 million (a team option that was part of the deal he signed before 2005). After the season Westbrook will walk. With 44 wins over the last three years, Westbrook's agent has to be watching this years free agent pitching crop with much interest.

Rumors are circling that Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro would be willing to deal Westbrook if the deal helps his sieve-like bullpen. Shapiro needs a new closer and he needs good arms to fill out the rest of their 'pen. Fausto Carmona and Adam Miller could join the join the Indians starting staff. This would make Westbrook or Cliff Lee good candidates to be dealt. All of this could play into Cruller Jim's hands. The Cub bullpen right now has a surplus of arms and with the addition of Neil Cotts they have three lefthanders. The Cubs could sweeten the deal with one of the young starters that we saw last season (excluding Rich Hill) and maybe throw in a second-tier minor league prospect.

The one thing that really stands out with Westbrook is he keeps the ball on the ground. Each of the last three years he has been in the top four for GB%. In 2006 he finished 4th in GB% (pitchers with 175+ IP) behind Derek Lowe, 2006 NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb and Chien-ming Wang. Just for the sake of comparison, Jason Schmidt's GB% was 38.5% (finishing 71 of 73) and Barry Zito's was 40.8% (64 of 73).

When you look at Westbrook's salary, the groundballs at Wrigley Field, and Westbrook's age (he'll be 30 this September) he just might add up to being the Cubs smartest play to bolster their starting rotation behind Carlos Zambrano.

I saw it on the interweb
Frequent 1060west commentor Clute has a new blog called Lollygaggers.

Monday, November 20, 2006

hendry throws the door open

something has changed.

the writers of this blog, along with cub fans everywhere, have long since been buried in years and years of excuses, spin, lies and bullshit as the club lost and lost and lost again. indeed these last years have been as bad as any -- and anyone with eyes to see and a brain to learn from what has transpired since the tribune bought this team in 1981 was daft if they told you they were essentially happy or optimistic. there simply hasn't been much to be optimistic about in twenty years. the ballclub this blog follows hadn't landed a first-tier offensive free agent since george bell, hadn't taken the cream of the crop since andre dawson in 1987 and hadn't reaped the harvest of its farm since mark grace.

there are those who would tell you that the club has always been a big money club, but the evidence is clearly otherwise -- tribune teams have rarely spent like even a standard-issue playoff club, and that fact is one of the reasons the club hasn't gone to the playoffs much. and that sin of put-upon penury has been compounded by rote incompetence, as the cubs have gotten less out of what dollars they have spent than most -- a fatal flaw, to be sure. with the club insistently refusing to even attempt to competently buy their way out of the hole created by a dearth of homegrown talent, only those motivated by something other than honesty could manage a smile when assessing the team and its chances.

but something has changed.

this offseason saw exactly two first-tier offensive free agents hit the market -- aramis ramirez and alfonso soriano. this page lobbied for a trading deadline move including the first to avoid having to find an improbable deal. jim hendry didn't trade him -- and cut that deal in the eleventh hour. this page found it quite unlikely that the cubs would, after decades of taking second place or worse in free agent bidding, find a way to the second. jim hendry cut that deal too. say what you want about his skills as a general manager -- the man can spend money when he has been given license to spend it.

what exactly has changed will be a subject of some debate, one can imagine. is it the shadow of an imminent sale? is it fear of empty seats and lost revenues? is it one man's effort at gaining public credibility -- or another's desperate attempt at retaining his job? this writer doesn't know that the reason is any one of these so much as all of them in concert, and to what extent one dominates may never be settled. and it sure as hell has surprised around here.

but something has changed.

and you cannot know, dear reader, how happy it makes this writer to say it. it is well understood that the wider impression of yours truly is that of a dark and sinister brooder, a bitter and spiteful soul who seeks illness in all things and cannot see light when it shines nor feel warmth upon his thick scales. but there is a more difficult reconciliation of words and temperament for those who have the inconvenience of knowing better. the terrible truth is that this blackhearted, cold-veined analyst sings to his young daughter in the bathtub every night, gets kind of excited to trim a christmas tree and spent twenty minutes just today mulling with his elderly neighbor over what joy can still be found in the holidays despite having lost a husband of some five decades.

some will say that all this is said as a defense of many sins for which instead should be begged mere forgiveness -- but rather, dear reader, it is said to prepare you for the shock of and provide some semblance of appropriate context for how this writer reacted upon sharing a phone call with old friend ccd and getting the news: after a quarter hour of shock mingled with laughter, i went to the fridge -- where a trusty bottle of veuve clicquot ponsardin awaited -- and it is with its fine celebratory graces coursing through my heart and wide grin on my face that i have the distinct pleasure of penning these words again.

something has changed.

to be sure, the rationalist that shrouds the soul knows better than to gush. even with soriano and a healthy derrek lee, this is still a 66-win club plus soriano and lee -- and that is not in most likelihoods a playoff club in and of itself. this is, after all, a club that mounted the third-worst nl team total vorp. what of pitching? deep within, there is a grain of resentment -- where was this organizational fortitude in november of 2003, when the last missing piece ended up in baltimore and a genuinely good pitching staff was wasted? why do we see it only now, when the club is so bad that even these herculean efforts best augur merely sisyphean results?

sadly, that isn't just the dour iron of old school thinking in a new world -- much more needs to be done to metamorphose the 2006 cubs into a 2007 playoff club.

but something has changed. hendry (and more importantly, lest they be ignored, the tribune company accounting department) has thrown open the door for 2007. this is the sort of acquisition that this writer has been tirelessly pointing toward since long before the blog began -- just seeing it happen has elicited some modest concern around the marius household as daddy keeps breaking into unsolicited chuckles, though mostly from my lovely wife as baby is all too happy just to laugh along no matter what the joke -- and is exactly what hendry had to have in order to hold out any hope of something so crazy really coming off. the terms of the deal are shocking -- indeed, maybe awful -- but not nearly so much as watching 25 years of rust and decay that has been the invidious toll of tribune ownership heretofore begin to fall away.

something has changed, dear reader. and today it would seem fitting -- for once, finally -- to simply hang on for the next six weeks and hope for the best as the cubs just maybe -- finally! -- try to spend in accordance with their considerable revenues.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Shock and awe

Over the past eight days Cub General Manager Jim Hendry has spent almost $230 million dollars in an attempt to rebuild our Chicago Cubs. During the last eight days we have watched as the Cubs inked players to not one but two contracts that would set the all-time club record. Last Sunday, Jim Hendry signed Aramis Ramirez to a team record $73 million deal. One week later he shattered that record setting deal signing Alfonso Soriano to $136 million deal. In between Hendry was busy signing Kerry Wood (1.75 million), Mark DeRosa ($13 million), Henry Blanco ($5.25 million) he also traded for LHP Neil Cotts.

In the last eight days, Jim Hendry has signed the top two offensive players on the Free Agent market. Something unheard of during the reign of Andy MacPhail.

This flurry of activity is unlike anything I can remember. It looks to this fan like Jim Hendry and John McDonough are on a spend to win crusade. Something we have not seen under 25 years of Tribune ownership. It would be real easy to speculate on the reasons that they are doing this. It is also easy to look at the deals and question the ways in which Hendry is spending the money. I'm not gonna do either. (There will be plenty of time to do that later). What I would like to do is speculate on what will be next.

When the Cubs hired Lou Piniella over Joe Girardi, they committed to getting Uncle Lou veteran players to try and win now. Jim Hendry has done just that with his everyday position players. While a hole still exists in CF (IMO Cruller Jim has not finished shaping his OF) the big issues that everyone will point to are in the starting rotation. The Cubs need at least two starters.

In years past after a big move (never at this level) I would expect to see the Cubs make a few small deals and call it an offseason. But these are desperate times in the winter of Tribune ownership. Hendry and McDonough are trying in one offseason to correct the mistakes and circumstances that have surrounded the Tribs mis-management of the club.

So after signing Soriano, I hope that the Cubs GM is not done. Don't just make a few tweaks and head to Mesa happy. Now is the time for Jim Hendry to make a big play for a veteran starting pitcher that can be a solid number 2 next to Zambrano.

Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito are the big names on the free agent market. Roger Clemens can be had on a one year deal for several brinks trucks filled with cash. Rumors out of Atlanta have Tim Hudson possibly being available. After Hendry has surprised us all, and given Cub fans hope for 2007, he can push this thing over the top by somehow acquiring a top notch hurler.

Here is wishing you well Mr. Hendry in your next quest.

Cubs sign Soriano

Jim Hendry's offseason of trying to build the Cubs into immediate contender took another turn this afternoon. While most of us were worrying about the Bears and Jets, Jim Hendry was busy signing Alfonso Soriano to an 8 year $136 million deal. At an average of $17 million a year Soraino will joing Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in one of the most exciting offenses in the National League.

Soriano brings a unique mixture of speed and power to the Cubs. The Cubs have never had a 40/40 player. Soriano joined the club last season while playing leftfield for the Washington Nationals. The short power alleys at Wrigley Field will be inviting to Dominican native. Since 2001 Soriano has hit 18, 39, 38, 28, 36 and last season a career high 46 homeruns. Durning the same time he has stolen 43, 41, 35, 18, 30 and 41.

Soriano is a five time All Star. The only question that remains is where will Soriano play for the Cubs. Rumors have him possibly taking over CF for Juan Pierre. I'm sure we will learn more in the next few days.

This move along with the signing of Ramirez has given Hendry and the Cubs the biggest MLB offseason to date. Before we eat our Thanksgiving Turkey the Cubs look completely different from the team that finished dead last in the NL. While there continues to be a ton of work needed on the Cubs pitching, Hendry is well on his way to the one year turnaround he aimed for.

Excuse me but this is just setting in. All that I can say is "WOW!". Congrats to Jim Hendry and the Chicago Cubs.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Eyes on the prize

While this blog and many others dedicated to the Cubs focus on the moves of our hero Cruller Jim this offseason, the real action surrounding the Chicago National League Ballclub is being tracked by the business media and in the Cub blogosphere by Chuck at Ivychat. Today was a big day kiddies. You see today Crain's Chicago Business started naming local businessmen who are assembling groups to buy the Chicago Cubs. Not to get religious or anything, but: Allelujah!

At least two local businessmen — industrialist Thomas Begel and restaurant owner and politico William Marovitz — say they’re assembling ownership groups to make separate bids that probably will top $500 million.

As you can see in the Crain's article several other local businessmen including Bruce Rauner, Don Levin (featured earlier in the week in a Mike Downey column that didn't mention Los Angeles), John Canning Jr., (gulp) William Wrigley Jr., Mr. Cub Ernie Banks and Howard Bernick are mentioned as having interest in the team.

Even the Chicago Tribune got in on the act with Susan Chandler's article titled: Tribune Co.'s troubles start run on the Cubs. Chandler's article shows that excitement is circling in the Chicago business community:

He knows that other groups are out there and that some deep-pocketed folks are talking to more than one.

"Everybody is so excited the Cubs might be for sale that people are moving from group to group," Weisbach said.

As a fan watching this unfold I have to tell you that I think this is pretty cool. The Cubs might actually be bought by a group of local rich men who want to see the Cubs win sometime in their lifetime. I see this as great news for the fans. This is not another corporation. It's a group of rich Cub fans. Not a bad thing IMO. Can you imagine an owner that actually considers a ballclub to be something other than programming?

So while we discuss Ramirez, Wood, DeRosa, Blanco and Cotts, keep one eye on the business section. Something bigger than any offseason move Hendry will make is about to happen.

I think it's only fitting on this page to give Chuck the last word on this:
The sale of the Cubs is no longer speculation. This is going to happen. Soon. Like, in the next 6 months.

cubs trade aardsma for neal cotts

the cubs have concluded a deal with the white sox, dealing david aardsma and double-a pitching prospect carlos vasquez for lefthanded reliever neal cotts.

aardsma's quality season -- his 53 innings of 4.08 era was good for 11.0 vorp in 2006 -- was taken by some to be a harbinger of better things to come for the control-afflicted fireballer. but, for all the promise of that stint, this page has a hard time imagining that the 25-year-old aardsma will improve much on that level of production, which is that of a mop-up reliever.

vasquez, for his part, was 23 at west tenn in 2006 and -- despite managing 10.7 k/9 in his second season as a reliever, having been removed from an unpromising starting role -- also walked 5.7 per nine compiling a 1.44 whip and a very unimpressive southern league era of 3.55.

if they have lost nothing, the cubs have also gained nothing in cotts. probably a better pitcher than either of the players he was traded for, but famous for his one good professional season in which he helped the 2005 white sox to the glory of a world championship, cotts returned to earth in 2006 -- allowing 64 hits and walking 24 in 54 innings, good for a 1.63 whip and 5.17 era. this means little in and of itself, but cotts' career line as a reliever -- 4.52 era, 1.44 whip in 193 innings -- is only slightly less comforting.

the cubs are almost certainly indicating that another trade is in the works here -- cotts would be the third lefthanded reliever on the club with scott eyre and will ohman. rumors of discussions with the indians over jake westbrook and cliff lee may have materialized, and the price would seem to have included either ohman or eyre. stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

the mark derosa era begins

only days after resigning aramis ramirez and kerry wood -- dramatically and much to the confusion of this writer -- jim hendry has begun the task of actually improving the 2006 version of the club in preparation for 2007.

or, at least, sort of. hendry baffling offered what must have been twice the going rate for mark derosa, signing the 32-year-old journeyman to a reported three-year/$13mm deal. if that isn't enough to catch in your throat, dear reader, consider that -- as the arbitration deadline has not yet passed -- the cubs will be sacrificing the third pick of the second round for the right to sign derosa, a type b free agent, away from texas. (update: this is incorrect -- the rangers will be granted a compensatory sandwich pick between the first and second rounds in return for the loss of a type b arbitration-offered free agent.)

derosa is said to have been on hendry's radar for some time now. he has played all the infield positions and both corner outfield spots in his time in the majors, and flexibility is something hendry cherishes along with athleticism.

what hendry also apparently cherishes is the ability to sign replacement-level players to multiyear contracts. this page was baffled last season when neifi perez was granted a stunning outsized two-year contract, and it is nearly as baffled now. derosa isn't the offensive sinkhole that neifi! was, but he quite probably would have real trouble outplaying even ryan theriot in a fair fight -- something that doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of materializing due to the need to justify derosa's contract. derosa is a career 273/331/404 hitter who offers a good glove; theriot's glovework is probably not as sharp, but this page would wager his on-base percentage will be higher than derosa's come next september.

the cubs clearly see derosa as the solution at second base.

"I love our infield," Hendry said Tuesday night, referring to first baseman Derrek Lee, shortstop Cesar Izturis, Ramirez and DeRosa.

which is bolstered by other comments as well.

“We certainly look at him in the second-base situation as a quality guy there,” Hendry said. “We’re hoping he can do that job there. We don’t have any plans to put him out in the outfield like he was in Texas, but he does give Lou (manager Piniella) a lot of options.”

but derosa offers shades of jacque jones, in that he a platoon player who has been signed to play everyday. derosa's career split against righthanded pitching in 1166 at-bats is just 260/316/366 -- a .683 ops that barely outpaces ronny cedeno's .654. much is being made of adjustments to derosa's swing this year:

Given a chance to play 136 games for Texas in 2006, he hit .296 with 13 homers and 74 RBIs. The improvement came from a strong work ethic and a willingness to revamp his swing under hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Hendry is gambling that he has turned a corner.

"He got himself to this point, but we feel the best is still to come," Hendry said. "This will give him a chance to continue his improvement. … We've liked him for a long time, [but] I have to give the Texas Rangers a lot of credit. Rudy is one of the best hitting coaches ever."

but it should be noted that derosa hit righthanded pitching to the tune of 278/342/404 in his career year of 2006 -- and that too is the kind of powerless production that a lot of marginal major leaguers can provide, probably including ryan theriot.

what significant credit might have been afforded hendry following the ramirez deal -- a five-year/$73mm contract that is enough below expected rates to leave this writer reserving judgment for future revelations of no-trade clauses and opt-out years -- has seemingly been dashed in this singular idiocy. this is a contract to rival neifi's, ryan dempster's or jones' among the great boondoggles of his run at the head of the shop. indeed, consider that the combined 2007 cost for aramis ($14.6mm) and derosa ($4.3mm) comes to some $19mm. if that had been allocated at $17mm to ramirez and $2mm to derosa, many would be outraged at the sum total of the negotiations -- and so should they be here, for the cubs have apparently signed a replacement-level second baseman to start in 2007 for far too much money.