Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Happy Birthday Mr. Banks

"Let's Play Two!"

Today is January 31, 2007, it is also Mr. Cub's 76th birthday. The greatest Cub player off all time came up with the Cubs in September 1953 and was a shining star on the awful Cub teams of the 1950's and early 60's. Banks won back-to-back NL MVP's in 1958 and 59.

I don't think I can put the Hall of Famer into proper perspective. He has meant so much to the Cubs organization and Cub fans for 54 years. As most of you know Banks was the Cubs first black player. When he arrived with the Cubs the club record for career homeruns was 231 by Gabby Hartnett. Banks hit his 231st career homerun at the start of his seventh full season with the Cubs in 1960. He went on to hit 512 career homeruns (a record since broken by Sammy Sosa). Ernie has been a great ambassador for the Cubs and baseball since he retired at the end of the 1971 season.

There is only one Mr. Cub. Happy Birthday Ernie Banks!

UPDATE: Thanks to e-mailer poppopfishy for sending me an e-mail about Gene Baker. I mentioned above that Ernie was the Cubs first black player. That is partly right. But, I really should have mentioned Baker when I made that comment. You see, the Cubs signed Baker first. But Ernie made the majors first breaking the Cubs color barrier on September 17, 1953. 3 days later Baker joined Banks making his debut on September 20, 1953.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Cub spinoff part of Tribune restructuring plan?

As I sit and wait for the SuperBowl this Sunday I ran across a bit that seems to show the Cubs are going to be moved in the not-so-distant-future.

Today's Crain's Chicago Business is reporting the Tribune is in talks with priivate equity firms to restructure. As part of the restructuring the TV stations and the Chicago National League Ballclub would be spunoff. Here is what Carin's reported:

Tribune Co. is in talks with private-equity firms about a new deal to restructure the media conglomerate that may include spinning off its television stations and Chicago Cubs baseball team, the company's own Chicago Tribune said Saturday.

Citing sources close to the matter, the Chicago Tribune said management is mulling options from several private-equity firms, including Chicago-based Madison Dearborn Partners, after offers tendered by the Chandlers and Los Angeles billionaires Eli Broad and Ron Burkle were not deemed high enough.

And what would one of these reports be without mention of the Carlyle Group? This from the last paragraph:

A proposal from Washington, D.C.-based private-equity firm Carlyle Group to purchase the television stations for more than $4 billion still stands.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Pep Rally this Weekend!

This page will not be any place for news on the Pep Rally this weekend at Chicago Hilton and Towers. I trust that the guys at GROTA will give you some real good info, Andy Dolan usually writes a fuckin' hillarious piece after the convention and there will probably be some spin from the MSM.

My favorite comment on the Pep Rally came from the Trib's very own Paul Sullivan who wrote this earlier in the week:
The Cubs come out of hibernation this week for the annual off-season spinfest known as the Cubs Convention, hoping to assure a shell-shocked fan base that last year's 96-loss disaster won't be repeated.

Don't tell McVicker, I'm gonna ditch this one and smoke cigarettes in the parking lot. Anyone wanna join me.

More importantly there is a football game on the lakefront this Sunday. Go Bears! (visit Midway Chat for the latest on the Monsters)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

tribune auction fails to generate interest

though it has been cast into the background by events relating more directly to the team on the field, the travails of tribco have not stopped in the interim whilst cub fans have been distracted. a four month auction period technically expired at 3pm yesterday in which no entity came forward to buy tribune as a whole.

The Chandler family, which owned the Los Angeles Times for more than a century, and a partnership of local billionaires Eli Broad and Ron Burkle made competing offers Wednesday for Chicago-based media giant Tribune Co.

The Chandler proposal would put the family and its unnamed minority partner in control of Tribune's 11 newspapers, and would seek to spin off the company's 23 television stations into a separate entity. The billionaires, by contrast, would leave Tribune intact. They would rely on heavy borrowing to take a roughly one-third interest in the company.

The details of the Chandler offer remained unknown Wednesday night, but were expected to be outlined in a regulatory filing this morning.

The Broad-Burkle proposal, a so-called recapitalization that one person described as a "public" leveraged buyout, would roughly triple the company's long-term debt to more than $10 billion, sharply raising the company's financial risks and increasing pressure to sell assets or cut expenses.

The most unusual feature of the proposal is a gigantic cash dividend of $27 a share — about $6.5 billion total — that would be paid to Tribune shareholders soon after the closing of the deal. For many shareholders, the large dividend could be an attractive selling point: receiving cash yet still retaining stock that Broad and Burkle say would be worth $7 a share after the recapitalization. That estimate, however, is much in doubt on Wall Street.

Under the proposal, Broad Investment Co. and Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. would control six of 16 seats on a reconfigured Tribune board and the principals would be named co-chairmen of the panel. The pair promised to leave the company's headquarters in Chicago and to keep Tribune Chief Executive Dennis J. FitzSimons and other top executives in place.

in short, the chandlers continue to seek the breakup of the company in order to unlock value. the broad-burkle bid constitutes a leveraged buyout which is probably tantamount to a breakup -- as they have stated, they are interested mostly in the los angeles times and would likely dispense with the majority of the remaining assets of tribune in order to pay down the enormous debt of acquisition, particularly in the environment of declining ad revenue that tribune faces along with all other newspapers.

the expected bids from private equity simply have not materialized, except for one offer for the broadcasting properties.

Chicago-based Madison Dearborn Partners had been expected to lead one bid. But sources close to the firm said that its consortium, which included Providence Equity Partners and Apollo Management, decided not to make an offer after examining Tribune's books. The investment firm found declining revenue and potential tax problems.

"Everybody there was hoping they could make sense of this and when you added up the value of each of the properties that you would get to a price above market," said one person familiar with Madison Dearborn's thinking. "But when they added up all these prices, they just couldn't get above market price."

In addition, Chicago-based Madison Dearborn took a rosier view than its partners, New York-based Apollo and Rhode Island-based Providence Equity, which were even less inclined to go forward with an offer.

The flagging revenues at Tribune's papers left one Madison Dearborn advisor to conclude, "It's just a crappy industry. I hate to tell you that. But you know."

many possibilities still remain for tribune and the cubs as things are sorted through, but clearly there continues to be good reason to think a sale of the ballclub more likely than not. although this page concluded that a spending splurge was inopportune at a time when throwing off free cash flow could be considered a paramount goal, the organization clearly decided otherwise -- finally deciding to direct a larger proportion of the considerable revenues to payroll, though heavily backloading contracts in an effort to depreciate their real value. this is a move that may do more than hamstring the club over the next few years if revenue growth does not continue to rise -- the impingement upon free cash flow may also serve to scare off some potential buyers, whose costs of borrowing are heaviest immediately following acquisition. still, that will serve probably to marginally depress the price more than kill the deal.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Arbitration Watch: numbers exchanged

The Cubs avoided salary arbitration with Will Ohman signing him to a two year deal, worth $2.5 million. Ohman's signing, along with the trade earlier this winter for Neil Cotts has raised some eyebrows about the availibility of left handed reliever Scott Eyre. We'll have to wait and see.

Below are the numbers exchanged between the Cubs and the two pitchers that are still eligible for arbitration.

Mark Prior

Asking for: $3.875 million
Cubs offer: $3.4 million

2006 salary; $3.65 million

Ahhh the comic relief! I'm glad to see the Cubs offer this guy less than he made in '06. Looks like he will end up right around his 2006 salary. Whatever he gets, unless things change on the mound the guy should wear a ski mask when he picks up his paycheck.

Carlos Zambrano

Asking for: $15.5 million
Cubs offer: $11.025 million

2006 salary; $6.5 million

I stated late last week that the Cubs are in a pickle with Z. Whether they sign him to the mega contract he's gonna get, trade him for prospects, or let him walk at the end of 2007 they are going to get ripped. It's not going to be an easy decision for Jim Hendry and new President John McDonough. If the Cubs seriously want to contend in the Piniella era, they most likely need Z. Still the terms are going to go beyond Barry Zito's deal with the Giants. Are the Cubs ready to shell out more dough and this time to a pitcher in a long term deal. I don't envy Jim Hendry on this one.

$4.475 million looks like a big gap. But these are just the mind-boggling numbers of baeball. Let's hope this thing avoids the ugliness that can come out in an arbitration hearing. If the Cubs have any thoughts of signing Zambrano long term they will settle with him before the case is heard sometime in February.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Three Cubs file for arbitration

On Friday over 100 big league ballplayers filed for arbitration. Included amongst that list were three Chicago Cubs. One should have the Cubs concerned. One isn't a big deal. And one they should laugh at. The three were Carlos Zambrano (the concerning one), Will Ohman (not a big deal), and Mark Prior (the laugher).

This page has spent a bunch of time talking about the Cubs ace. With the monster money Barry Zito pulled from the Giants, the Cubs are coming closer to a day of reckoning with Zambrano. Unlike many of you, I don't see a real easy solution for Zambrano. This is a complicated issue for the Cubs. I understand that you hate to see a pitcher like him leave (like most of you it killed me to watch Greg Maddux win Cy Youngs for the Atlanta Braves). I hate to even consider the fact that the Cubs could down the road make the same mistake with Zambrano. On the other hand, I also understand that giving pitchers long term/dollar filled contracts doesn't make the most financial sense. I don't envy Jim Hendry or the Cubs for the position they are in. They will be criticized regardless of what they do with Big Z.

Now on to the one that is much more fun. The USC graduate Mark "Mr. Reliable" Prior has filed for arbitration. Are you kidding me? I laughed when I saw the kids name. Take your 2006 stats to the arbitrator Mark: 9 games, 1-6 record, a 7.21 ERA, in 43.2 IP, you walked 28, struckout 38, and gaveup 9 HR's. LMAO. He did this damage for $3.65 million! Prior should be paying the Cubs back! Common sense would tell you that Prior should be happy with an invitation to spring training and a chance to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation. But as we know baseball and common sense don't swim in the same waters. I understand that this is nothing but business. Still if I were Prior, I'd be happy with the league minimum. Once again, I'm confusing common sense and baseball.

I'm rooting for this one to wind up in front of the arbitrator. It will be a good laugh!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cubs invite Gallagher, Pignatiello, Patterson, Colvin and seven others to big league camp

One of the things I enjoy most at Spring Training is seeing the minor league players, we hear so much about, get a taste of big league ball. It's usually early on in the spring and of course late in games that don't count. Still, what a thrill it must be for these youngsters (Lou Boudreau would be proud of that phrase!) to play in games with big league managers coaches and players in the dugout next to them.

As I started to look into my own travel plans for Arizona in a month and a half, I noticed the Northsiders have added several "future stars" to this seasons major league camp. Yesterday the Cubs invited 11 minor leaguers to be non-roster players in the big league camp this spring in Mesa. As Maddog points out at TCHLBC, 22 year old prospect Donnie Veal was absent from the list. Hmmm.

Here are the 11 players:

Sean Gallagher
Adam Harben
Ryan O'Malley
Carmen Pignatiello
Randy Wells

Jake Fox

Mike Kinkade
Casey McGehee
Eric Patterson

Tyler Colvin
Chris Walker

O'Malley was of course the toast of Cubdom on the afternoon of August 16, 2006, following his impressive major league debut in Houston. As great a story as O'Malley was in 2006 (let's face it there weren't too many good stories wearing the blue pinstripes), he's really not one of the players that interests me. I'm interested in four names that have popped up on Cub prospect lists in recent years: Gallagher, Pignatiello, Patterson and my favorite first round pick Tyler Colvin.

Outside of Veal, the Cubs most talked about pitching prospect this past season had to be 21 year old right hander Sean Gallagher. As a twelfth round pick in the 2004 draft, Gallagher has moved through the Cub system quickly. In his 2-1/2 seasons in the system Gallagher has put up impressive numbers. He's 26-12 with a 2.65 ERA in 65 games. According to Baseball Prospectus Gallagher found some needed speed in 2006:
He gained 2-3 mph on his fastball from 2005; reached Double-A and needed no adjustment period; now has a 91-93 mph fastball
But he lost the control he has displayed at lower levels. Gallagher could start the year at West Tenn or make the jump to Iowa. There is a good chance he could see big league action late in 2007 or sometime in 2008.

24 year old Carmen Pignatiello is probably of interest to me due to the fact that he's from Chicagoland and he's left handed. Pignatiello has been in the Cub system for seven seasons. His numbers are okay, but not great. Over his seven seasons he has compiled a 47-43 record in 190 games, 112 starts, with an ERA of 3.75. In the Arizona Fall League Pignatiello pitched out of the bullpen and had great success. In 10 games the lefty pitched 10.1 innings racking up 15 strikeouts and only 1 run. The Providence Catholic grad has proven he can pitch at AA. He will pitch at Iowa this season. The realistic hope for Pignatiello is that at some point soon he will contribute at the big league level as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen.

Second sacker Eric Patterson had an exceptional Arizona Fall League. Patterson hit .345 and was named to the 2006 All-Prospects Team. This past summer the Georgia Tech product hit .276 splitting time between West Tenn and Iowa. Unlike his older brother Corey, Eric is willing to take the occasional walk. He took 52 in 2006. Unfortunately like his older brother he strikes out quite a bit. Patterson will be 24 this April, he will start the season at Iowa and will be an injury away from playing second at Wrigley Field.

This past June was a big month for Tyler Colvin. He was Clemson's CWS Super Regionals hero and the Cubs surprising 1st round (13th overall) draft pick. While I question Tim Wilken selecting Colvin with the thirteenth pick, the Cubs have to hope the 21 year old, toolsy, left handed power hitter can make a quick trek through the Cubs minor league system. The issue that I have with Colvin is that he's just another player in the Cub system that doesn't walk and strikesout a bunch. In 64 games at Boise Colvin struckout 55 times while only taking 17 walks. He is young so hopefully he will find some patience. I imagine Colvin will start the season at Peoria, but that's nothing more than a guess.

As much as I look forward to seeing the Arizona sun this spring it will be fun to see these players make late inning appearances in early Cactus League games.

Monday, January 08, 2007

watching paint dry

with the cubs having received their coat of whitewash for 2007, january and february look to, for cubs fans, amount to watching the paint dry. endless iterations of prognostication are sure to hit the web, here as elsewhere, and will almost surely be the main source of conversation between here and the reporting of pitchers and catchers (when we get to start talking about mark prior).

as such, maddog over at tcnlbc points out one of the early projections, which uses this data to land the cubs squarely behind the cardinals at 87 wins and a wild card berth.

the base data is interesting, caveat emptor, and here's how some key cubs players look. first the starters:

PitcherAge IP* H* HR* BB*SO* hb* Run ER* ERA
Zambrano,Carlos 26 205 173 21 87 196 9 89 82 3.60
Hill,Rich 27 167 143 23 68 181 7 78 72 3.89
Lilly,Ted31 169 160 24 68 155 6 88 81 4.32
Marquis,Jason29 200 226 34 68 107 13 127 116 5.23
Prior,Mark 27 110 100 16 41 118 7 55 50 4.11
Miller,Wade 30 74 74 9 34 57 3 40 37 4.50

and then the bullpen:

PitcherAge IP* H* HR* BB* SO* hb* Run ER* ERA
Wuertz,Michael 28 64 53 7 24 75 2 27 25 3.53
Howry,Bob 34 61 57 7 14 49 3 27 24 3.56
Dempster,Ryan 30 78 74 7 35 69 3 38 35 4.05
Wood,Kerry 30 68 61 10 25 68 3 33 31 4.12
Eyre,Scott 35 62 57 8 26 61 2 31 29 4.18
Ohman,Will30 55 48 7 26 60 3 27 25 4.07
Cotts,Neal 27 58 54 8 23 56 3 29 26 4.02

compared to some others -- notably bill james' projections for the pitching staff or even the 2007 zips -- these look somewhat more pragmatic and possible to this writer's eye. there just as little to object to in the individual offensive estimations.

is 87 wins then a good estimate of the approximate level of output for this club? this writer still finds that to be somewhat optimistic considering recent history, despite the ongoing difficulties of the major rivals within the division in finding starting pitching. it's hard not to agree with buccoblog when it wonders:

Someone tell me how the Cubs are going to be +184 runs. Anybody? 75 I see.. 125 a long shot.. but 184???? Man.. I do believe Diamond Minds blew a gasket on that projection.

indeed -- unless soriano turns out to be a minor god, squeezing 804 runs out of this offense will be impossible. perhaps there's a methodological error afoot in the diamondmind simulation, but the results are at least within the bounds of rational analysis.

however, clearly much is being laid at the doorstep of rich hill and mark prior (and, to a lesser extent, wade miller). in the estimation of this page, how they fare in 2007 remains the focus of real aspirations for october.