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 cubs.com:
"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.

Cubs freeze ticket prices

In response to the empty seats seen throughout Wrigley Field in August and September, the Chicago Cubs announced that they will not be raising season ticket prices for 2007. This from Toni Ginnetti in this mornings Bright One:

The Cubs will hold the line on ticket prices for 2007 after having their second-most successful season at the box office despite finishing in last place in the National League Central.

In a letter sent Monday to season-ticket holders, interim president John McDonough said last season's attendance was ''a tremendous tribute to our fans and speaks volumes about [their] commitment'' to the team, adding, ''we recognize the importance of our season-ticket holders and to reward you, we have frozen season-ticket prices for 2007.''

Cubs' ticket prices still rank second only to the Boston Red Sox as the most expensive in the majors, according to the annual survey released by the Team Marketing Report last April. The Cubs' average ticket price was listed as $34.30 (Boston's averaged $46.46; White Sox tickets averaged $26.19).

So for the record: boycotts and protests don't work. But empty seats sure seem to get peoples attention at Clark and Addison.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

the moment of failure success

was there ever really a doubt, dear reader?

after protracted negotiations between general manager jim hendry and agent paul kinzer nearly led nowhere, aramis ramirez late yesterday declined to sign with the chicago cubs aramis ramirez this morning reversed course and signed with the chicago cubs.


With a midnight deadline looming, the Cubs couldn't close a deal with free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez late Saturday night, meaning a complicated offseason just got a whole lot tougher.

The Cubs no longer have exclusive negotiating rights with Ramirez. Starting at 12:01 a.m. today, other clubs could begin bidding, and agent Paul Kinzer's phone lines must have been burning up.

Kinzer said Ramirez's demands will rise to a six- or seven-year deal in the $100 million range once the power hitter hits the open market. Sources say the Cubs had discussed a five-year, $75 million package.

Even once the outside bidding begins, Kinzer insisted the Cubs would get a ''a hometown discount'' because Ramirez's first choice is to stay in Chicago. However, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry knows there will be a feeding frenzy for Ramirez when Kinzer begins shopping his client Monday at the general managers meetings in Naples, Fla.

Even with a hometown discount, the price surely will rise if the Cubs don't act quickly. The deep-pocketed Los Angeles Angels have Ramirez as their No. 1 free-agent target.

As for Hendry, Ramirez is square one in what looks like a 12-step program to get the Cubs straightened out in time for spring training. With Ramirez and Derrek Lee, the Cubs have a solid foundation in the middle of their lineup to begin building a winner. Without Ramirez, they have Lee and a lot of question marks.

and this, as reported by fox sports, who broke the story:

The only bright side for the Cubs – if you're looking for positive spin - is that the elimination of Ramirez's $22.5 million guarantee over the next two seasons would better enable the team to add pitching and sign a major free-agent hitter such as Alfonso Soriano.

The competition for Soriano will be fierce, with the Phillies and Dodgers also expected to be leading suitors. But rather than overpay for starting pitching, the Cubs might prefer to make Soriano their new franchise player and patch elsewhere.

To address their rotation, the Cubs could trade for one starting pitcher and sign another as a free agent. It's easier to buy hitters than pitchers; that's why it would be more logical for the Cubs to use their trading chips on a pitcher rather than a hitter such as Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells.

Oh, and lest anyone forget, the Cubs still must sign their best pitcher, right-hander Carlos Zambrano, to a contract extension or risk losing him as a free agent after next season. The additional payroll room also should help in that regard.

The Cubs suddenly have plenty of money. What they don't have is Ramirez.

was dramatically followed by a last-minute push from jim hendry to render this:

Ramirez, 28, has agreed to a five-year contract with a vesting option, FOXSports.com has learned. While exact terms of the deal were not immediately available, it was believed to be for at least $70 million.

Just in time, too.

The Cubs' exclusive negotiating period with Ramirez ran out at midnight Saturday. And the Angels were reportedly expected to make a big push for Ramirez as early as Sunday.

But the Cubs shouldn't be too fired up about keeping Ramirez in the fold, at least from a financial perspective.

Think maybe now the Cubs regret giving Ramirez an escape clause rather than additional money in the four-year, $42 million extension he signed at the start of the 2005 season?

If the Cubs had increased the size of that contract, by, say, an additional $10 million, Ramirez likely would have dropped his demand for the out clause. The Cubs then would have had him signed through '08, at a far lesser salary than they will pay him in his new deal.

Talk about a hollow victory: Proud as the Cubs might be that first baseman Derrek Lee is signed through 2010 and Ramirez through 2011, they still must pursue two starting pitchers, an outfield slugger, a center fielder and maybe a second baseman this off-season.

ramirez will instead test forego free agency, where he will would in every likelihood be paid on a scale that will leave many market-ignorant cub fans (not to mention the cub marketing department) shaking their heads and crying "overpaid" -- when the hard truth is that ramirez is an underappreciated first-tier talent working on a potential hall-of-fame career.

yes, that's right -- potential hall-of-fame career. some will call that a bridge too far, but through nine seasons through age 28 ramirez has amassed 3897 at-bats, 224 doubles, 196 home runs and 669 rbi, slugged .493, scored 517 runs, and collected 1089 hits at third base, a position he looks to easily continue playing for several more seasons. take a moment to forecast the trajectory of his career -- which probably includes three more years similar to those that have made him one of the premier slugging infielders in baseball, followed by a decline into a retirement at age 38 some ten seasons hence -- and, should one unscientifically presume an average of 142 games played per year henceforth and 4% declines in all major stat catagories (which leaves aramis in his age-38 year a paltry hitter) one realizes that it is quite possible that ramirez could finish with totals approaching 2500 hits, 500 doubles, 450 home runs, and 1500 rbi. these totals will be higher still if ramirez plays longer and ages better. compare that to the third basemen in the hall of fame today, and health is the only thing that is likely to keep ramirez from showing up on hall ballots in the early 2020s.

that is, of course, a limiting factor in many careers -- this is not a prediction, so much as it is a contextualization of just what a massive offensive force ramirez is, and how proper it is for him to be the best paid free agent this year. the money he is going to get from the angels or dodgers or some other club cubs is hardly overpayment -- indeed, it is what the market for a hall-of-fame-caliber offensive third baseman is and should be.

is that an argument for the cubs to pay him $90mm over six years? yes -- especially for a team that allowed greg maddux to escape under similarly inauspicious circumstances some fourteen years ago. but, even failing that, it is at least also a howl of righteous indignation at a drunken, obese, dimwitted little man ineptly and undeservedly holding down the title of general manager -- who nakedly and completely derelicted took a huge risk with his position by refusing to either sign ramirez or trade him at the deadline -- as so many of us called for precisely to avert this very a possible disaster.

jim hendry should be summarily fired on the spot crowned with wilting laurels this very morning -- for this is a moment of which could have been a particularly scintillating, brilliant and spectacular explosive failure in a long and growing history of such moments on his resume -- and he would be by any club that pretended to make a claim at anything more than total mismanagement and utter buffoonery. the cubs under hendry have become a vaudeville circus, a comedy of errors that comports exactly with the long and venerated history of the most idiotic and star-crossed franchise in the history of sport on earth. these are indeed among the darkest days in all the history of this club -- regardless of what the tribune, always quick with a baseless propagandistic excuse to self-excuplate and distract, would have you believe.

but hendry made a difficult decision last july pay off by closing the deal that he absolutely had to in order to carry any pretense of winning in 2007 -- and for that he must be credited.

and what's on the tribune sport website's lead this morning? a series of vapid stories about sammy sosa's 38th birthday -- even photos from the party, don't you know?

a hearty "fuck you", tribune company, for insulting the fans of this club in this manner. lying to us about improbable payroll expansions -- which is what this means, with little uncertainty -- should be enough, shouldn't it? but it wasn't. the injury is compounded by the insult of waving sammy sosa in our faces like a shiny ball -- comtemptuously presuming us all morons enough to be distracted and diverted by a bit of rote sensationalism, thus lessening the public outcry. dreams of expanded payroll may very well still be fantasy, but paying what it takes to get ramirez is an absolutely vital first step in effecting any hopeful longshot plan at a one-year turnaround. and yet -- must we talk again about sosa?

worse still, of course, is that -- having failed to deal for gary sheffield and still looking to upgrade in the outfield -- the paper is possibly laying the groundwork for sosa's return on a cheap contract flyer.

this should provide plenty of reason for any true fan of this club to join the hue and cry for a change of ownership, which is more clearly now that ever the only, only, only hope at even mere competence in the future. the risk is meaningless -- what have cubs fans to fear? a bad owner? news flash, people: YOU HAVE ONE. this club will never win a goddamned thing under the tribune, and men like macfail, hendry and mcdonough are why. if you as a fan want to win, you want the team to be sold -- if you have reservations, then it is plain as day that you put other priorities first and winning is an afterthought. there has never been a clearer litmus test in the history of litmus tests....

lol -- reader, i'm laughing too hard at the moment to strike this last paragraph. it's still true that the tribune and its ballclub are both ineptly run -- two decades of results aren't reversed by a last-ditch success in landing ramirez. the final question remains:

do you want to win, dear reader?

and the answer is still just as surely tied to wanting new ownership. but let the dog have his day -- and never let it be said that this writer is always right! hendry was in a very tough spot and made it work. the wisdom of the deal can be argued when the terms emerge, but the chasing of the lightning is still an operational plan.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

moment of truth

it has come earlier this year than most, dear reader.

published reports earlier this offseason had the cubs expanding payroll to $115mm in an effort to win immediately under new hire manager lou piniella. piniella himself clearly believed that such a resurgence was in the offing -- though he has been careful, as an old hand, to loudly and publicly qualify his capabilities as a magician.

"Just get me two starting pitchers, two position players, and, I'm telling you, we'll win."

oh, lou -- did you do no due diligence at all?

this writer, among others, has remained deeply skeptical of that possibility since it arose -- such a number doesn't make much sense in terms of the fluid ownership situation as the tribune company falls to pieces all around the team. with tribco shopping the superstation around, it has become all but a foregone conclusion that the cubs will be under new management next year. why would the club compromise dozens of potential leveraged bidders by expanding payroll and cutting free cash flow by $20mm?

this page has also called for months the decision surrounding aramis ramirez the most important fork in the road facing the club -- ramirez is the best free agent on the market this year, and the cubs both losing him and attempting to win in 2007 seems a farce beyond farces. whether or not there really is any truth to either a meaningful payroll expansion or a semiserious attempt at winning in 2007 will be told by monday morning.

and it does not look good.

Agent Paul Kinzer told ESPN.com it will take a six-year deal for a team to sign Ramirez once the Cubs' negotiating window expires this weekend and the third baseman hits the open market.

"If we go out, we're going to look for six years," Kinzer said Friday. "I'm pretty confident it would go there. Aramis is only 28 years old, and that puts him in his prime."

Chicago general manager Jim Hendry met with Kinzer on Thursday night in Arizona, and it appeared likely the two sides would speak again Friday. But Kinzer wasn't optimistic about Ramirez re-signing with the Cubs before the team's exclusive negotiating window runs out Saturday night.

"We're running out of time to get it done before then," said Kinzer, who plans to travel to the general managers' meetings in Naples, Fla., and begin discussions with other clubs Sunday. Several baseball sources said the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will make a strong push for Ramirez.

let it be said -- agents in negotiations will talk, and there is still a sliver of hope that jim hendry will add a sixth year that kinzer and his player deserve (as the market would apparently have it) to the reported five-year/$75mm bid currently on the table. but in truth there is no promise that going to 6/90 would land ramirez -- he is, after all, the best player available and still only 28. bidding could easily hit or top 6/100 and even go to seven years. in any case it would seem aramis has little to risk in trying for it.

does anyone dare hope hendry and the cubs will commit to what it may take to avert that? no matter how buffoonish and rotely incompetent hendry will be exposed to be for not having dealt ramirez at the deadline?

instead, it seems increasingly likely that hendry and the cubs will fail with ramirez as he failed with furcal -- and spin the failure furiously, bleating madly about the only-recently-revealed no-trade clause in ramirez's contract while trying to ignore both the stupidity of granting a no-trade along with an opt-out as well as the simple fact that ramirez could easily have been convinced to waive the clause for a price and quite possibly for nothing to head to a certain southern california winner.

but is it fair to say that, if aramis is lost, all is lost for 2007? is there really no other recourse? having failed to get ramirez, hendry would -- in order to harbor any real pretense at winning -- indeed have to improve radically elsewhere and land a couple of the second-best free agents on the market.

rumored cub target gary sheffield was yesterday dealt to the detroit tigers and is so out of consideration. unofficial reports have daisuke matsuzaka headed into negotiations with boston. jim edmonds will return to saint louis. but dodger slugger j.d. drew opted out of his contract and is a potential target for the cubs, who are currently measuring babip-phenomenon gary matthews and the vastly inferior likes of dave roberts in center field.

but there are more concessions. of the other two pitchers beyond matsuzaka that are head-of-the-rotation material, the high-mileage jason schmidt appears close with seattle and the cavernous safeco that could help him to a cy young if he doesn't stay in california -- and barry zito has drawn a tremendous crowd that includes the mets, dodgers, angels, padres and rangers, a field which the cubs are unlikely in any case to come ahead of. there is no real free agent help in the pitching market beyond these that wouldn't take a great deal of plain old luck to materialize.

on the other side of the ball, alfonso soriano may be hendry's top target -- but so is he pat gillick's in philadelphia, and the cubs will have to beat an aggressive bid from a general manager who has landed his share of big whales. and this of course is not to mention any other club that may get involved.

in truth, this page has come to the opinion that it will be difficult if not all but impossible to spend a $20mm payroll expansion in any manner other than absolutely foolishly if ramirez is let to walk. perhaps that is no surprise -- after all, the cubs last signed george bell and danny jackson (and dave smith) as first-tier free agents -- but this weekend remains a moment of truth for the 2007 cubs. the hiring of piniella was supposed prelude to a fury of purpose in turning a chaotic and flailing franchise around. did it? or did it merely signal that piniella isn't as critically bright as he'd like to think he is?

stay tuned, dear reader. ramirez must stay -- and soriano must be signed to play second -- and drew must be signed to play center -- and the probable best of the pitching rest, ted lilly, signed to the cub rotation for anything like a one-year turnaround to become a true contender to be countenanced. that improbable sequence could only possibly survive one failure and still render a club remotely capable of 90 wins.

if ramirez is the first failure... you can kiss the 2007 miracle resuscitation goodnight.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Having fun with Trib Co

This morning I woke up and headed to the front door to pick up the morning paper from the porch. I sat down on the couch and pulled the Sun Times out of the plastic sheath. After reading a few of the articles I went back to the front page to something that had initially caught my eye. Above the Front Page Headline/Picture was a line something like Tribune Trouble: Cubs For Sale. In small print beside it stated "see page 55". So I anxiously flipped through to page 55 and what did I find...

(dramatic pause)

The funnies.

I'd like to think this was the bright one taking a swipe at the Trib, but I'm sure it was just an honest mistake. Either way, I got a nice chuckle out of it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Matsuzaka Watch

Above pitcture is courtesy the Matsuzaka Watch

The bids are all in and we should know in the next couple of days where the Cubs stand in the pursuit of Japanese phenom RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Seibu Lions have received the bids from MLB. The Lions may disclose who the winner is as early as Friday, after a meeting by their Board of Directors, or as late as Sunday. Surfing the interweb for news on Matsuzaka I found several interesting items:

  • At BTI one of the diaries is declaring the Cubs have won the bidding (you can't make this stuff up. LMAO)
  • Here are: 5 things we should know about Matsuzaka from NY's Times Herald-Record.
  • The New York Daily News confirmed the Yankees bid on Matsuzaka.
  • At Bob Bavasi's JapanBall.com I found the AP style story on Matsuzaka
  • Next I found a really interesting blog here on blogger. The Matsuzaka Watch is put together by Yankee fan Mike Plugh. Mike has been following Daisuke on his blog since back in June. I find it real interesting that Mike has heard a few rumors that the Lions might have been low balled by the MLB teams.
  • And what would international baseball rumors (or should I say rumours) be without Breaking News from the UK? Here's what the Guardian Unlimited (ahhh baseball talk and the Tower of London, what could be better?) had to say.

As most of you know who have been following this for some time, having the highest bid is only the start to a long process. After receiving the bids Wednesday, Seibu has four days to consider the offer. They can accept or reject the offer. If they don't accept the offer, Matsuzaka will return to the Lions next season. If Seibu accepts the offer, that only gives the winning bidder the right to negotiate with Scott Boras for 30 days. What fun!

In other JapanBall news: Bidding will close on Friday for Yakult Swallows third sacker Akinori Iwamura. The Red Sox, Indians, and Padres are in the running. The Phillies were rumored to be interested, but Pat Gillick decided to pass on both Iwamura and Matsuzaka according to Phillies.com.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Random Boxscore: 5/5/59

It's early May of 1959. The Cubs and Bucs will meet at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh...

Chicago Cubs 6, Pittsburgh Pirates 3
DayGame Played on Tuesday, May 5, 1959 (N)
at Forbes Field
CHI N 0 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 - 6 10 1
PIT N 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 0 0 - 3 6 0

Chicago Cubs AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Goryl 2b 5 0 2 2 0 1 3 3
Marshall 1b 3 0 2 2 2 0 8 0
Walls rf 5 0 0 0 0 2 2 0
Banks ss 4 0 0 0 0 1 1 3
Altman cf 4 1 1 1 0 0 3 1
Moryn lf 4 1 2 0 0 0 2 0
Eaddy pr 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Thomson lf 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Dark 3b 4 1 2 0 0 0 1 1
S. Taylor c 3 2 1 1 1 0 7 0
Hobbie p 4 0 0 0 0 1 0 3
Totals 36 6 10 6 3 5 27 11

DP: 1. Altman-Goryl-Marshall.
E: Dark (5).
2B: Dark (3,off Friend); Moryn (4,off Giel).
HR: Altman (3,6th inning off Friend 0 on 1 out).
IBB: S. Taylor (2,by Friend).
Team LOB: 6.

Pittsburgh Pirates AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Hoak 3b 3 1 0 0 1 0 3 2
Clemente rf 4 0 1 1 0 3 1 0
Burgess c 3 1 1 0 1 0 4 0
Schofield pr 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Foiles c 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
Stuart 1b 4 0 1 1 0 1 9 3
Skinner lf 4 0 0 0 0 2 1 0
Mazeroski 2b 4 0 0 0 0 0 3 2
Groat ss 3 1 1 0 1 0 0 7
Virdon cf 4 0 2 0 0 1 3 0
Friend p 2 0 0 1 0 0 1 1
Kluszewski ph 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Giel p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Smith p 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 32 3 6 3 3 7 27 15

3B: Burgess (2,off Hobbie).
Team LOB: 5.
SB: Stuart (1,2nd base off Hobbie/S. Taylor); Hoak (1,2nd base off Hobbie/S.

Chicago Cubs IP H R ER BB SO HR
Hobbie W(3-2) 9 6 3 3 3 7 0

Pittsburgh Pirates IP H R ER BB SO HR
Friend L(0-5) 7 6 4 4 2 3 1
Giel 1.2 4 2 2 0 1 0
Smith 0.1 0 0 0 1 1 0
Totals 9 10 6 6 3 5 1

WP: Hobbie 2 (2).
IBB: Friend (2,S. Taylor).
Umpires: Vic Delmore, Al Barlick, Bill Jackowski, Shag Crawford
Time of Game: 2:39 Attendance: 17,429

Thanks to Retrosheet.org for this boxscore (and many more).

Monday, November 06, 2006

free cash flow

events keep moving inexorably forward on the biggest off-field event surrounding the chicago cubs since 1981. tribune company, the team's owner since that year, continues to field bids from investors for isolated bits of business -- the los angeles times, baltimore sun, newsday and the cubs have all received mention as attractive properties.

but the auction, which has (as these things often do) taken on a life and momentum of its own, has been a singularly disappointing and disheartening event for all involved. the executive clan surrounding tribco ceo dennis fitzsimons has been all but sidelined since its leveraged stock buyback failed to boost the company's stock price, which has been deteriorating for more than two years under the weight of perceived mismanagement and a declining core business. but the chandler family, former owners of the la times and current victorious party in the boardroom, have also been forced to consider that a cherished view of their holding may be just wrong. as reported in today's wall street journal:

Now that Tribune has finally taken their advice, putting the company on the market, the situation isn't looking so bright. With conditions in the newspaper industry deteriorating rapidly, the consensus on Wall Street is that Tribune shareholders should expect a sale to generate no more than the $32-$33 level at which the stock has lately been trading.

Yesterday, a day after reports emerged that several private-equity groups had submitted preliminary bids valuing Tribune in the "low $30s," Tribune stock fell 1.1% to $32.26 on the New York Stock Exchange. And even though Tribune is signaling it is now willing to accept offers for individual assets -- and many well-heeled buyers have been circling some of Tribune's better-known properties, such as the Los Angeles Times -- analysts are doubtful the combined value of a breakup of the company would be much higher.

Several analyst reports issued yesterday predict that Tribune's assets will fetch about the same amount broken into parts as it is valued at today: about $8 billion in market capitalization.

bids across the board suggest that wall street, smelling the blood in the water, is convinced that tribco can be pried apart for bargain prices -- and such a situation, if any can, could dissipate some of the momentum behind the complete breakup that has seemed all but inevitable in recent weeks. some assets will almost certainly be divested, however, even if tribco merely reorganizes itself into a more focused and managable company with a lower debt load.

But some investors feel that Tribune could still sell of some of its larger assets, such as the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Cubs baseball team, where potential buyers may be willing to pay more for their "vanity" value, some investors say.

the cubs have been receiving ever more frequent mention in financial publications addressing tribco's situation, and for some good reasons. the team is a cash flow generator but a poor growth asset -- which is exactly the same definition that might be applied to newspapers, making the team a small and redundant part of the portfolio of tribco. and a baseball club in a media company is all but the paragon of "non-core asset" -- an enterprise far from tribco's expertise or interests. perhaps the inevitability of a change of ownership helped motivate the resignation of andy macphail last month, and the nomination of a conspicuously "interim" president who has some of the earmarks of a placeholder.

that is of course not to say that the team is of no interest to anyone. this page has before said that the team is at this point "not a good investment for the tribune" -- but it could be a good investment for a buyer with a different set of priorities. as was noted in this week's economist:

Private-equity firms like media companies better than public markets do. Public markets love a growth story. Private equity appreciates cash flow. Radio and television stations and even newspapers throw off loads of cash, which private-equity firms can borrow against, using this leverage to repay their equity fast. That is true even of businesses whose cash flow is in long-term decline, such as newspapers, as long as the rate of decline is relatively predictable. The biggest risk in many of the current batch of deals is that the private-equity firms discover the cash-flow models to be less predictable than they thought, says Colin Blaydon of Tuck Business School's Centre for the Study of Private Equity and Entrepreneurship.

Private equity's biggest advantage today is its access to vast quantities of debt, on what old-time bankers might regard as recklessly generous terms. They can borrow at far higher multiples to earnings than the public stockmarket is willing to sustain. That makes it hard for public companies to compete against private-equity buyers.

it has long been hoped that the cubs could attract a wealthy individual (most americans fantasize about mark cuban, but the global exemplar has to be roman abramovich) whose outsized ego and need to win would drive management far more than concerns for reliable profitability. but, as has been noted by some commenters, the cubs could also make an attractive target for private equity funds seeking a reliable source of strong cash flow, which could be used to pay down the significant debt used to purchase the club in a leveraged buyout. and the truth is that there are a hundred such funds for every would-be abramovich. moreover, historically low interest rates continue to fuel an international debt boom that has pushed private dealmaking to the fore of public financial consciousness -- this is the heyday of cheap debt, and that makes a private deal just that much more likely.

such purchases are hardly unprecedented -- indeed, they're quite common. wycliffe grousbeck, of highland capital, and steve pagliuca, partner is private buyout giant bain capital, snared the boston celtics in 2002 in just such a deal. and bain itself bid first $3.5bn, then $4.3bn for the entire national hockey league in 2005. and they needn't be soulless searches for percentage points.

but most any such deal for the cubs should be accompanied by reasonable expectations. the need for cash to service debt incurred at purchase would continue to require the cubs to direct significant cash away from payroll. and the team would continue to take steps -- as it has under tribco, but perhaps more aggressively -- to maximize cash flow through increased advertising sales, park renovations, and (perhaps most importantly) new deals for broadcast rights.

that isn't a forecast of devastation -- the tribune has been running the club in all these directions for years. but it may mean changes to the heavily nostalgic "wrigley experience" as constructed by john mcdonough. and this writer can see reason to expect that an lbo deal could translate into a compromised payroll. it certainly has for some other clubs similarly structured, such as the celtics -- who have, however, notably gone young under danny ainge in an effort to rebuild a franchise that hasn't won its league title in 20 years and whose team payroll came in 19th of 30 in 2006, down perhaps 15% from 2002-3.

so that for the future, perhaps -- but what of the present? it may be worth recognizing tribune is not in a position now to actively depress the bids that may come in for its assets, including the cubs -- and that the likely bidders are more probably now than ever interested in free cash flow -- and that a major splurge into the free agent market may be, for these reasons at this time, inopportune. much has been made in cubdom about the possibility of the club expanding payroll significantly in an effort to effect a one-year turnaround -- indeed, the only way this page can see such an unlikely avenue working out is a huge free agent binge. and perhaps just a few months ago, when many in tribco still considered that the team would be part of the same basically intact company, it would have made some amount of sense given the late-season collapse in attendance.

but what is the intelligence of taking such a step just now? for better or worse, this writer just doesn't see it. as talks with aramis ramirez linger on with the player in a convincing position of strength, the fiscal wisdom of granting a five-, six- or seven-year free agent contract to any player for the better part of $100mm has seemed to fade (regardless of what it means on the field). that's not to say, of course, that the cubs will be a $80mm team come april -- they won't -- or even that they won't resign ramirez. but it is to say that the hope a sudden revitalization under a wave of money looks terribly chimerical.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

the cubs are on the market

a lot of anticipation is over -- the cubs are unofficially for sale.

With bids for the mammoth Tribune Co. coming in far lower than expected, the media giant is telling prospective bidders that individual pieces are now available for sale, according to published reports.

Tribune Co. representatives made a series of calls Wednesday signaling their new intention to those who have expressed interest in the company's individual holdings, according to unnamed sources cited Thursday in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

... investors have shown the strongest interest in the company's individual units, including the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, The (Baltimore) Sun and The Hartford Courant, the report said.

as reported in the new york times, however, this is not necessarily everything that one can hope for.

(S)ales of individual assets by Tribune is not a foregone conclusion. Such sales could cause substantial tax consequences for the company.

Another option for Tribune would be to take itself private, which could create substantial debt. That could involve selling off some of the smaller newspapers and perhaps the television group as a whole to finance the deal, leaving a core company with major assets like The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and the Cubs.

Those involved in the process said yesterday that the next step would be to open up a data room where bidders could examine the company’s books in detail. Only a book with sketchy details was available until now.

One person involved cautioned that at this stage of such auctions, companies sometimes say they are disappointed with early bids in order to increase them. Another said that the bids were low for a reason. “These are difficult businesses in troubled times and they are all underperforming,” he said of many newspapers.

this process has, as predicted, spiralled well beyond the control of tribune executives like dennis fitzsimons, who it seems clear hubristically overestimated their position. what was once a poorly conceived stock buyback has become the pending complete disintegration of the company. tribune has little say now over which assets will be dealt -- the market is what will determine what can and will be sold, and the market is telling us now that some local papers and broadcasting stations can go to smaller individual bidders. certainly it seems reasonable that high-growth properties like careerbuilder.com and the food network may receive interest as isolated units as well.

the tax implications of the sales of assets is a point to be considered but certainly not a deal-breaker -- tribco will be able to foot almost any tax bill out of realized capital gain. from a tax perspective, the stickiest property may be, ironically, the los angeles times.

One of the reasons Tribune management has been reluctant to sell the Los Angeles Times, despite the heavy interest, is because its tax basis in the paper is so low. To make up for a heavy capital-gains bill, Tribune would have to get a price well above what the market would bear to make a straight-ahead sale worthwhile.

The person contacted by Tribune's investment banker said the only way to do a deal would be a tax-free spinoff.

According to one large Tribune shareholder, such a deal would require Tribune to spin the paper off into a separate company owned by existing shareholders, perhaps valued at 10 to 12 times cash flow, or as much as $2.8 billion. That company could then borrow about half its worth from banks or other lenders and use that money to pay shareholders a fat, one-time dividend. At the same time, a buyer would buy 49 percent of the company and the money would be used to retire the debt. Finally, after the tax implications expired in a couple of years, the buyer would acquire the rest.

The same sort of deal has been contemplated for Tribune's television stations, which Goldman Sachs valued at $3.5 billion to $4 billion earlier this year. Goldman valued the total newspaper assets at a high of $8.3 billion and the radio and entertainment assets--including the Chicago Cubs--at $603 million. Including all of Tribune's assets and less its debt, Goldman valued the company at around $10 billion, or $39.70 a share.

what of the cubs? again, it's very hard to say -- without a bid, the team can't be sold. but today's news will provoke those who have seriously mulled buying the cubs to put their proposal together and submit a bid. make no mistake -- the cubs are on the market, even if tribune execs try to deny it or even genuinely believe the team won't be divorced from the local media group. they simply aren't calling the shots unilaterally from a position of strength anymore -- the whole process has moved well past that more orderly stage.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Not so Random Boxscore

This boxscore is from October 14, 1908. This was the deciding game of the 1908 World Series. The Cubs would take the series 4 games to 1. Take a look at the time! The game took 1 hour and 25 minutes. I guess FOX skipped the Chevy Truck Commercials with John Mellencamp that year.

Chicago Cubs 2, Detroit Tigers 0
World Series Game 5 Played on Wednesday, October 14, 1908 (D) at Bennett Park
CHI N 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 - 2 10 0
DET A 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 0 3 0

Chicago Cubs AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
Sheckard lf 3 0 1 0 1 0 2 0
Evers 2b 4 1 3 1 0 0 2 3
Schulte rf 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Chance 1b 4 0 3 1 0 0 11 0
Steinfeldt 3b 2 0 0 0 1 1 0 3
Hofman cf 4 0 0 0 0 2 2 0
Tinker ss 4 0 1 0 0 0 1 4
Kling c 3 1 0 0 1 0 9 2
Overall p 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 29 2 10 2 3 3 27 12
2B: Evers (1,off Donovan).
SH: Overall (1,off Donovan); Steinfeldt (2,off Donovan); Schulte (2,off Donovan).
Team LOB: 6.
CS: Steinfeldt (1,2nd base by Donovan/Schmidt); Evers (2,Home by Donovan/Schmidt).

Detroit Tigers AB R H RBI BB SO PO A
McIntyre lf 3 0 1 0 1 0 2 0
O'Leary ss 4 0 0 0 0 1 2 2
Crawford cf 4 0 1 0 0 1 3 0
Cobb rf 3 0 0 0 1 1 1 0
Rossman 1b 4 0 0 0 0 2 7 3
Schaefer 2b 3 0 0 0 1 2 4 1
Schmidt c 4 0 0 0 0 2 5 4
Coughlin 3b 3 0 1 0 0 0 2 1
Donovan p 2 0 0 0 1 1 1 1
Totals 30 0 3 0 4 10 27 12
DP: 2. Schmidt-Schaefer-Schmidt, O'Leary-Rossman-Coughlin.
2B: McIntyre (1,off Overall).
Team LOB: 7.
SB: Donovan (1,2nd base off Overall/Kling).
CS: Schaefer (1,2nd base by Overall/Kling).

Chicago Cubs IP H R ER BB SO HR
Overall W(2-0) 9 3 0 0 4 10 0
Detroit Tigers IP H R ER BB SO HR
Donovan L(0-2) 9 10 2 2 3 3 0
WP: Overall (1).
Umpires: Jack Sheridan, Hank O'Day

Time of Game: 1:25 Attendance: 6210

Thanks, as always, to retrosheet.org for this and every boxscore we use at 1060w.