Monday, February 26, 2007

same old song and dance

it might surprise you, dear reader, to learn that this writer has in recent weeks slowly grown more and more optimistic about the chances of the chicago national league ballclub in 2007. there's plenty to criticize, of course -- counterproductive trades, deferred salaries neutering future seasons, insufficient acquisitions -- and, good criticism being the vehicle of improvement, this page of course didn't hesitate.

but there are also a few good things to talk about. this club kept aramis ramirez in the 11th hour. this club signed alfonso soriano. and while those additions were made to a 66-win club which placed 15th of sixteen in runs scored and 14th in runs allowed, one could be excused for thinking that -- with a healthy derrek lee -- the offense might even muster an output that would at least be comparable with that of 2004's club, which scored 789 runs on the bats of ramirez, lee, moises alou and sammy sosa. that's a tally that would put the cubs into the second quartile -- 789 would've placed 6th in runs scored the nl in 2006 -- and, with good pitching, lead to more wins than losses (as it did in 2004 with 89 wins).

that might be a bit too optimistic a comparison. after all, where that club had todd walker and mark grudzielanek combining to form a 290/348/464 second baseman with 23 hr and 77 rbi, this club will field mark derosa and ryan theriot. where that club -- with korey patterson between alou and sosa -- slugged 103 homers from the outfield, this club will likely struggle mightily to reach that mark. but a middling offense would be a major improvement on last season.

but where hope for something more than 'middling' remains with the pitching. of course that 2004 club mounted a stellar pitching effort behind carlos zambrano, greg maddux, matt clement -- and a combined 43 starts from kerry wood and mark prior, not to mention the best/luckiest work of glendon rusch's career. that staff was one of the best in the league, finishing third in runs allowed.

flickers of hope for such a performance rest, as has been said, on two arms -- rich hill and mark prior. with wood's flagging career hanging in the balance of a bullpen adventure, and wade miller probably now approaching an end that has long been predicted for him, with big money nailing down spots for ted lilly and jason marquis behind carlos zambrano, it's clear that these two are the cream of the remaining crop. both can be, at their best, better than any other pitcher on the staff -- as hill made clear in last year's brilliant second half and prior demonstrated in 2003.

the question is, can they reach and maintain their best for an entire year? and -- more to the point, can it be this year?

this page has been hill's biggest cheerleader for a long time based on the weight of his minor league output. what he does with this opportunity -- a situation in which he, whatever the cubs say publicly about new-boy lilly, will be counted on to take the reins as clement did for that 2004 club, to be a full-season front-of-the-rotation starter if the cubs are to succeed -- will determine much of the team's fate. with the mediocre lilly and marginal marquis likely to get scads of starts, he will have to produce with real quality.

and this writer, for one, thinks he can. it may not be the sub-3 era we were treated to through july, august and september last -- but it may well be enough to remind of clement and improve upon lilly and marquis.

but that in the end leaves the club with a starting staff that can aspire to be little more than average. zambrano is a fine pitcher, but every good nl club has one -- houston and saint louis particularly have more than a match for him in roy oswalt and chris carpenter. hill may be a fine lieutenant, but again he is unlikely to be radically more to his team than other clubs will muster. lilly is the very definition of a league-average starter, and marquis unlikely to rise to that status. in order to make the difference -- the difference that an offensively-solid-but-unspectacular club will need to threaten in october -- this club need that last rotation spot to behave not like a 5 but like a 2.

and that spot is mark prior's.

there should be no doubt that prior is an excellent pitcher -- taken in context, he's one of the best cub hurlers of the last twenty seasons. by the measure of talent, he is certainly capable of pitching the cubs into the playoffs. but the question is -- as it ever was -- one of durability.

and that, dear reader -- at the end of this exhaustive diatribe -- is why this news is so demoralizing for yours truly.

Right-hander Mark Prior, who's being treated with caution this spring in his comeback from shoulder problems, did not throw to hitters with his usual group, instead doing a lighter, flat-ground throw session, at the pitcher's request, Rothschild said.

It's worth keeping an eye on over the next few days, but Rothschild said Prior was just taking an extra day between live-BP sessions that all the pitchers are getting -- most of them getting that extra day before they throw again Tuesday.

further, prior won't be making starts in the first week of exhibitions.

"We just want to make sure he really feels good, that he's ready," Piniella said. "There's no sense in rushing that situation. I would think by the following Wednesday or Thursday we'll get him into a ballgame."

Informed that Cubs fans had heard this story before, Piniella asked that no one "jump to any conclusions" about Prior's health.

"This is precautionary," he said. "Nothing more. Nothing less. No issues. Nothing. We want to keep it positive. We want to see small but steady progress. You rush something, and then you have to stop it, and then you lose double the time."

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild was asked if Prior would be ready to start the season.

"I have no indication that he won't be," Rothschild said.

someone might also tell lou we've grown wary of rothschild's halfhearted denials.

UPDATE: the cubs have conspicuously reversed their field this afternoon:

Piniella had a meeting with Prior Monday morning at Fitch Park, and announced the change in the schedule following the daily workout.

"Prior is pitching game five of our exhibition season (against Seattle)," Piniella said. "(Ted) Lilly and Prior both (will pitch), but he needs a little more time to warm up, so he'll start game 5 and Lilly will follow."

Piniella said he told Prior in their meeting that "we wanted to give him a little more time and make sure in his mind that he was perfectly set to go."

"Unless there's a setback, and we don't anticipate any at all, he'll be ready to go game 5," he said.

prior had been throwing in the first week of spring for the first time since this blog was started -- in fact since the spring of 2004. while many took a gloomier and more cautious approach, it was hard for this writer not to notice that prior has managed to battle through injuries to start at least 21 games in every full year of his career before 2006. and if prior could manage to start games totaling in the mid-20s at his high level of acumen, with a reasonable bullpen and reasonable health for key players this club would really have a chance to do some damage in a weak central division.

but, coming off an offseason shoulder strengthening program that should have had him in throwing shape faster than most, prior is instead missing scheduled sessions. as we saw last year, laggards tend only to get further behind -- and, too often, that the team obfuscates both that fact and the seriousness of what is transpiring. if prior is not feeling pain and missing mound sessions, he's probably the only pitcher in all of baseball doing so -- clearly, it's more likely that prior has not rebounded from last year's disaster. and that very probably means some of a myriad of things for prior and the cubs, few if any of them good. a pitcher who has pain after a few sessions following months off following a nine-appearance season is probably headed under the knife at some point soon, if not just out of baseball.

here's hoping that prior can somehow overcome and that his tarnished talent pushes the 2007 cubs over the top. but hoping for all that is just the same old song and dance around here, and it's gotten pretty hard to watch.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Wonder Twins

Earlier today I read this article on Kerry Wood's "live session" at Fitch Park in Mesa. In case you missed it the news was upbeat for Woody, despite his hot tub accident over a week ago.

"If I were Kerry Wood, I'd be very pleased with the way I threw," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He looked nice and comfortable out there. He threw the ball nice and easy. [For the] first time out on the mound, [it was] very encouraging."

Not only was Piniella impressed, but so were the hitters who faced him. Just ask infielder Casey McGehee, a non-roster invitee to camp.

Back on Thursday there was real exciting news when Mark Prior took the hill and threw 25 pitches in his first "live session" of the spring.

"I felt good out there," Prior said. "It's nice to have normal days. Show up, get a good's night sleep, and have some fun.

"I just take it every day and keep having positive days, and the more positive days the better," he said.

I know it's exciting that these two are actually throwing with no reported injuries. (Our friends at Wrigleyville23 were amazed with Prior and got a different version of SI than I saw this week!)As most of you know I believe Mark Prior is a key to this season being a success for the bruins. Still when I pull myself away from the excitement, isn't it rather ironic that the biggest news that surrounds these two-- one-time phenoms-- is the fact that they actually are participating in early spring training bp sessions? By now the news that most of us expected them to be making was no-hit ballgames, strikeout records, and dare I say championships. These were the two right arms that the Cubs were going to dominate the NL with throughout the 00's. Since the magical 2003 season neither pitcher has returned to the brilliant form they displayed during their run into the NL playoffs.

Things work in a very funny way. Back in 2003 the Cubs were probably looking ahead to 2007 and trying to figure out how they could afford to keep both Wood and Prior. If the Cubs put aside any money for this past offseason they didn't have to give much of it to either one. Last November Wood signed a $1.75 million deal loaded with incentives. This was a huge pay cut for Wood. Mark Prior also agreed to a paycut, avoiding arbitration, the USC grad signed for $3.575 million. If all had went according to plan the Cubs could have $20 million+ tied up in these two for 2007. Instead it's just over $5 million. Thus Jim Hendry was able to open the Tribune wallet and spend or did he?

Now we look ahead and Cubdom holds it's collective breath that these two pitchers will once again find "it" and help make 2007 a successful one for the Northsiders. Here's hoping these two make news later this year besides side sessions, towel drills and simulated games.

In A League of Her Own...
gravedigger broke some cub blogging news in the comments below:

Recently, Chuck mentioned that cubbiejulie was thinking of starting her own
blog. Those thoughts transformed into chunks of PHP, HTML, and CSS, and became
In a League of Her Own. Personally, I think it is a catchy title.

The site is meant to be more offbeat, less serious, and a true community. As a "contributing editor", I invite you all to Julie's blog! Head on over, register, comment, and bookmark. Also, it is still being worked on, so feel free to leave feedback with Julie.

The URL is

Friday, February 23, 2007

single game tickets on sale today at 10am

spin to win. create a account (if you don't have one); go to the schedule and click on the green "t" for the date you want; join the virtual waiting room beginning at 9:30, probably don't get randomly drawn from it until tickets sell out.

this writer can't speak for anyone but himself, but -- in spite of the reservations held over what exactly has been spent -- signing ramirez and soriano is enough to lift my boycott.

and it's about time -- my wife is complaining about the condition (read: smell) of my ancient home cap.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

the spending spree that wasn't

now that carlos zambrano's cotract for 2007 has been arrived at, there remains very little about the final 2007 roster that isn't known. there are likely to be moves around the fringes, of course, and possible disasters await in mesa. but the economics of the club are largely set -- and the dimensions of what has been accomplished in this surprising offseason can be measured. jim hendry's efforts have been touted as a "spending spree for the ages" -- but was it?

sadly, dear reader, no it wasn't. that may come as something of a shock to many, considering the endless publicity that followed in the wake of signing aramis ramirez and alfonso soriano -- after all, didn't the cubs spend some $300mm?

that trope, oft-repeated by many a sports journalist this winter, isn't nearly so true as one would like to think -- indeed, it is a case of a thing being too good to be true. what has been handed out are contracts whose total value will, over the next eight years or so, dispense that amount. but this writer would submit that the cubs, if they didn't spend any more per season than they have in 2005 and 2006 in nominal terms, were going to spend about $800mm over that span. all that's been decided is how $300mm of it is going to be allocated.

is that a payroll increase?

indeed, one need only view the latest missive at the newly-re-retitled another cub blog to see that the cubs' obligations for 2007 amount to about $104mm. that is an increase over the season opening outlay for 2006, which came in around $95mm -- but that of course was itself a significant cut from 2005's $104mm. indeed, the cubs haven't added to payroll at all from the 2005 level -- in fact, by the dubious virtue of inflation, they are in real terms spending considerably less than two years ago.

how can it be, in light of these massive signings? the accounting was accomplished by heavily backloading the contracts of virtually all the signees of these last months. jason marquis, for example, though being owed $21mm over the next three years, will draw just $4.75mm in 2007. ramirez will draw just $8mm despite being owed an average of $13.6mm a year -- soriano just $9mm from a contract that averages $17mm a year.

the reason why this was done can be argued, of course, but it would seem that the tribune company was unwilling to part with the beloved cash flow that eminates from this minor unit in a short term plagued with declining corporate profits -- but still wanted to do something to pump up a potentially flagging brand. and so the trick was turned, making today's performance tomorrow's fiscal problem, having their cake and eating it too.

of course, one of life's great lessons is that there is no free lunch -- you don't get to eat the cake and have it for long -- and for the cubs that means having some $71mm tied up in just six players in 2009 (soriano $16mm, ramirez $15.65mm, derrek lee $13mm, ted lilly $12mm, marquis $9.875mm, mark derosa $4.33mm). if one adds to that the potential salary of zambrano, the number approaches $90mm for seven players -- quite possibly leaving not very much at all to fill the other 18 roster spots.

one could further surmise that this was done precisely because 2009 cash flow is not anticipated to be the problem of tribco -- that it plans instead to rid itself the team long before that ominous day. or one could hope that the team plans on expanding its payroll out to a more appropriate percentage of its monstrous revenues -- which would be truly rare for tribco. or both. or neither.

but what one can definitely say is that this "spending spree" -- trumpeted from every rooftop this dreary winter by any public mouth that could be bent to shouting to maximum public relations effect -- wasn't a spending spree at all. it was an allocation decision -- and one with quite troubling implications for the not-too-distant future for the club.

there is a way out of the payroll crunch. should the cub farm suddenly, after many moribund years, spark to life and start producing the talented and productive youngsters that any vorp-efficient club must have -- but in a quantity that can fill not just a few positions but several -- the crunch would be wonderfully mitigated while the team could retain some significant hope of winning baseball.

it is not impossible -- but that of course is something of a long shot nonetheless, in spite of a logjam of major-league ready pitchers in iowa, with the cub farm overall languishing in expert opinion and having produced so little of value in the last 20 years. and it constitutes in some respects the most irresponsible gamble yet taken with the club under the pecuniary aegis of the tribune.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

big z's arbitration day

a firestorm of speculation was unleashed last week when carlos zambrano took a third-person detour on his way to spring training. clearly such comments constitute a bit of public negotiation on the part of the prospective free agent to turn up the pressure on general manager jim hendry in the aftermath of his offseason spending binge.

zambrano and his agents turned down the heat a bit this week, climbing down from what sounded very much like a six-week window to decide zambrano's long-term status. but even so, zambrano is playing this negotiation the only way he seems to know how to play -- heavy on the throttle, light on the caution and one unforeseen circumstance from running off the rails.

at 8pm the evening previous, there is still no announced deal to avoid an arbitration hearing where the cubs have bid just north of $11mm and the self-appointed "big z" set the ask at a very aggressive $15mm (which would make his the largest arbitration award in history by half -- indeed, it will be the largest on record either way). regardless of what any side says, there's a reason the cubs have made it policy to avoid arbitration at almost any cost over the last decade -- it bodes ill for the long-term partnership between player and team that the cubs have relied on over the years to help keep their own. one need only to have looked to south florida over the last couple months as miguel cabrera and the marlins dug in to understand that arbitration hearings are a characteristic of dysfunctional relationships. and zambrano is clearly using the process to make a point to the club -- he knows very well that he's a better pitcher than barry zito, and he wants to be paid like it.

whatever the state of the team's relationship with zambrano, it is going to get a massive injection of stress when talks open up on a long-term deal for the club's most valuable potential free agent starting pitcher since greg maddux left for atlanta -- and it's hard to say how the structure of the relationship will handle it, let alone in the aftermath of an arbitration hearing.

how serious are things? what are the chances of losing zambrano one way or another? in keeping with years of managing expectations under tribco, phil rogers was today assigned to prepare the mob for the possibility of a trade.

If Zambrano insists on a deal for seven or eight years—and he told reporters Thursday he's only looking for five—or if it takes more than $20 million a year to get a shorter contract, then it might be more than general manager Jim Hendry should swallow. That would leave two options:

Let Zambrano play out the season, hoping he will help the team vault into the playoffs only one year after a 66-96, last-place season;

Start shopping him for a trade, most likely at the July 31 deadline but possibly even one as soon as the end of spring training.

Hendry would need an iron fortitude to deal Zambrano, no doubt about that. But there are ways that could work out.

The Cubs could be as good with Zambrano as without him. It sounds crazy, but for as well as Clemens pitched a year ago, the Astros were only 10-9 in his starts. And the Philadelphia Phillies mysteriously started winning after trading their best hitter, Bobby Abreu. It's baseball, and silly stuff happens.

when phil sobers up, we'd like for him to explain in detail how the cubs don't get worse for losing their one bona fide front-of-the-rotation starter and one of the top five starters in the national league. the odds of bringing in a younger and better version of the 25-year-old caballo who refuses to break down like seattle did in shipping mark langston for randy johnson and more are so low that it needn't be discussed.

it's been said here that hendry is between scylla and charibdis with zambrano -- don't envy the man. the fact of rogers' column demonstrates just how deeply into the gray these negotiations are for the team, and only zambrano knows what he would settle for. but this much seems relatively certain -- going to the hearing does nothing to improve the odds of a long-term agreement, and probably will do something to make that harder to achieve.

UPDATE: the cubs say it's headed to a hearing, the first such case for the club since 1993 and mark grace -- some fourteen years ago. the hearing would kick off at 3pm chicago time, so there's still a bit of wiggle room.

UPDATE: the 3pm deadline is past and still no news -- it looks like a hearing.

the point has been made that the deleterious effect of arbitration hearings may be overstated. but even if you put aside the idea that arbitration itself can be a cause of damage to the relationship between player and team — and it surely sometimes can be, even if it needn’t be — the bigger point is that such hearings are a consequence of a dysfunctional relationship.

what would it take to get z to sign? not much more than the cubs' bid, in the grand scheme. and yet the cubs won’t pay it — this team that paid jason marquis $7mm per.

and zambrano obviously knows that a win for him is unlikely, given the immense gap between his $15mm and soriano’s record $10mm. and yet he persists. why?

both sides are either standing on principle or consenting to a rancorous and very public first battle of the negotiation of his long-term future — and that is not a good sign, it seems, no matter how you slice it.

UPDATE: the score reports a deal got done -- one year, $12.5mm. that's good news all the way around, folks.

Friday, February 16, 2007

wood injured (sort of)

just a day in, dear reader, and the gods have sent us a warning against our hubris.

Kerry Wood skipped the first throwing session after hurting his ribs Monday slipping out of a hot tub, making him the first Cub to be sidelined with an injury. ... Wood was able to laugh about his minor injury.

Piniella surprised reporters when he announced Wood was unable to throw because of an injury sustained falling out of "his hot spa" then asked that no one make a big deal out of it. Wood said his injury was minor and that he expects to begin throwing off a mound in a few days.

"It's about that time of year, isn't it?" he said. "Just typical. I was getting out of the hot tub at the house and took a little spill. Didn't think anything of it, and it hurt a little more than I thought. Nothing's wrong.

"It's just going to be a few extra days. My arm feels great. My body feels good."

certainly this isn't much of an injury, but this writer cannot describe how sickeningly familiar it is to write that headline.

moreover, it does illuminate a different and more meaningful topic, which is the state of wood's shoulder and how it may affect his new role. it's no slight to his intentions, which are wholly honest to be sure -- but there's little doubt that wood's shoulder is screwed up and that isn't just going to go away. let's revisit what we know.

by the spring of 2005 -- some two years ago -- wood's reliability as a team building block being seriously questioned here and elsewhere on the back of what at that time was mostly elbow trouble. he of course went on that year to start just ten games -- five in april, and after a hiatus another five in july with what what first called "tendonitis" and then a "strained shoulder". this was followed by the first instance of the club proactively taking wood out of such a critical role, moving him to the bullpen that august. the statement, however, came at a very high cost -- for wood was destined to have surgery in that offseason, and rather than having it the club trotted him out to the mound in an utterly lost cause.

this needless delay shortened wood's recovery time, and indeed -- as may have been expected -- he was not ready for spring of 2006. but the more damaging long term news that emerged from the procedure was that, besides the expected debridement of his rotator cuff, wood's labrum has been repaired -- a surgery that often means the end of professional pitchers. minor surgery on his medial meniscus (knee) compounded his delay.

still many hoped for the best, while this page urged low expectations for both wood and wade miller, who joined mark prior to form the dl triplets. shoulder problems continued to plague his rehabilitation, and his first start of 2006 did not come until may 18.

wood's season was over just three games later. the diagnosis finally came in as a torn rotator cuff. he subsequently decided against yet another surgery, with the hope that a program of exercize could undo the damage.

the cubs found a way (to the surprise of this writer) to bring him back in 2007 with the expectation of pitching out of the bullpen, but what this page said on the eve of that may 18 return remains trenchant.

wood's rehabilitation is far from over -- the lingering effects of labrum repair run over years, not weeks. it is in fact quite likely that he will never be the pitcher he once was nor ever fulfill his considerable lost promise. ... he has proven beyond any doubt that he is simply not the kind of reliable pitcher that a team can build around -- his gifted arm is also cursed, it would seem.

given the disastrous pitching of ryan dempster, who fulfilled this page's every damning expectation in 2006, giving fits to fans and management alike, many have tagged wood as a potential closer this season. but examine again the litany recounted above, dear reader, and ask yourself if wood really should be placed in another high-leverage role on a club that finally showed the good sense to remove him from one in 2005.

after all that has transpired, it is in the estimation of this page impossible that wood will be the pitcher he once promised to be -- and highly unlikely to even be the pitcher that he was even over the last couple years. now approaching 30 years old with a laundry list of surgical procedures to his credit, his ephermeral talents are likely already slipping away. his drive remains unquestioned -- the sisyphean efforts which he has applied to his livelihood are testament to that, and this writer for one would feel a triumphant return justice for the man. sadly, however, the harsher light of reason calculates long odds for such a sentimentally satisfying outcome.

putting wood in the role of closer for as long as he may be able to endure it may not be the greatest risk this team will take this year, but it will form the bullpen around him and -- in the event of his remission -- leave a gaping hole in its most crucial spot. with dempster continuing to revert to pathetic career norms, it seems a far more durable solution to promote bob howry -- who has been the most effective reliever on the staff over his career -- and allow him to command the role as his own from the start. wood will certainly find use if and when healthy, but this bit of prudence may do much to maintain the stability of the bullpen over the course of the coming season.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

prelude to a season

one of the most shocking offseasons in recent cub history is ending this week as pitchers and catchers report in mesa to begin the annual rite of reinitiation known as spring training. there certainly is no shortage of opinion in informed circles regarding the cubs and their installment plan for success which has seen the team distribute over $300mm in promises with very little current expense -- joe sheehan sums up the zeitgeist of a crowd that is characterized by, for once, measured optimism.

If you just look at the very short term, though—2007, in this case—it's clear that the Cubs will be better for having made all of these acquisitions. In fact, there's a reasonable argument that the Cubs have the best team in the NL Central. Make a tallest midget argument if you care to, but the Cardinals’ rings aren’t going to shine any less brightly because they won a weak division on their way to a world championship. In the three-division era, it’s enough to be better than the other guys, and the Cubs can do that in ’07.

Jim Hendry’s $300 million bet isn’t likely to pay off at the individual levels. I don’t feel any more sanguine about the back end of the Soriano contract or the overspending on DeRosa and Marquis than I did two months ago. Flags fly forever, though, and the Cubs are in better position to fly one next year thanks in part to that $300 million. The value of winning even one championship is measured in nine-digit numbers, and for a franchise like the Cubs, it’s not hard to see a scenario where the benefits dwarf that $300 million. I am genuinely on the fence about the conflict between long-term concerns and short-term goals, but I can say with certainty that the 2007 Chicago Cubs are my pick to win the NL Central.

Maybe, at a time like this, it’s best to be a fan, to just sit back in the sun, chow down on that mustard, ketchup and relish dog, and enjoy watching a team that has more than enough talent to play its way into October.

many have taken note of the struggles of the two power centers of the national league central, saint louis and houston, to return teams for 2007 that are likely to strike fear into opponents.

when we last left them, the astros were looking at an improved offense backing a youthful rotation -- but perhaps leaning on the potential return of andy pettitte and roger clemens to vault them clear of the competition. pettitte has since left for new york, and the youth of the rotation in jason hirsh and taylor buchholz was packaged for jason jennings, also opening an everyday spot of chris burke in center. mark loretta was subsequently signed to bolster the offense further.

but worse is afoot for houston, as the randy johnson move has left a spot open in new york. time will tell how this ends, but losing even four months of clemens would be a critical blow to the astros. roy oswalt, jennings, woody williams, and some combination of wandy rodriguez, chris sampson and fernando nieve is not a lot of hope to salt away a playoff appearance behind an offense that, however improved, was 12th in the league last year.

meanwhile, down interstate 55, the cardinals -- whose mildly upgraded offense was suddenly bereft of starting pitching to help it win -- lost out on miguel batista and have instead moved to resign mark mulder and take on ryan franklin. mulder is out until midyear at least rehabbing from surgery on his rotator cuff, and even then cannot be expected to pitch at his customary high level. franklin -- who almost surely becomes a starter on this club alongside chris carpenter, anthony reyes, adam wainwright and kip wells -- is, while better than wells, a very mean candidate as a starter. he does however keep braden looper in the bullpen where he belongs.

these are two clubs without the sort of firepower to close out any division except the nl central, which looks to be the weakest in the sport -- and chances are that neither can run away from both the other and the cubs in 2007. this chicago club is no powerhouse -- indeed, one can make a solid argument that they are very little changed in caliber from 2006 or 2005. but they can hardly help, if reasonably healthy and modestly lucky, having spent what jim hendry spent, to fall into contention in this lot.

many may expect, having read isolated clippings of an expensive revolution in the confines, for the cubs to run off and hide sometime before june 1. this writer sincerely doubts that -- but what may come instead is a long and suspenseful twilight race between closely-matched flawed ballclubs decided more by the difference between the quality of their fortunes, good or bad, than the balance of their strengths.

wildcards and x-factors abound for all three -- can anthony reyes and adam wainwright bring cardinal pitching to respectability? can woody williams and jason jennings limit the letdown in houston to a level that carlos lee, luke scott and chris burke can ameliorate? can jason marquis and wade miller show that they have some meaningful career left? can rich hill follow through on a beautiful second-half run? and -- perhaps most crucially of all for cub fans -- can mark prior's program of shoulder strengthening pay dividends enough to get him to the mound 25 times?

and lest we forget -- the general weakness of these three paves an avenue of opportunity for the remainder, particularly the milwaukee brewers. should potential become reality, this is a year in which an upstart can make a run at a division crown.

so this page would hope over the coming month to awaken from the solitude of winter and quietly begin to offer its views on what 2007 may have in store. there can be little doubt that this season looks to be one of the least predictable in recent memory, both for the strangeness of the makeup of the clubs and the similarity of their aggregate abilities -- so please forgive if reasoned opinions are sometimes not strongly held. but opinions and arguments will nonetheless be offered, and one hopes anew that the critical and the hopeful can at last be found a common destination.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ryu dealt to Rays

This afternoon, Cubs GM Jim Hendry dealt 23 year old South Korean right hander Jae-Kuk Ryu to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for two minor leaguers. Ryu struggled last season at the big league level going 0-1 with an 8.40 ERA in 10 games, including 1 start. Still at Iowa he showed some ability going 8-8 with a 3.23 ERA in 24 games, 23 of which were starts. Ryu will compete for the fifth spot in the Rays rotation which is anchored by Scott Kazmir.

The Cubs received two minor leaguers in the deal. 20 year old outfielder Andrew Lopez has spent parts of the last two seasons in rookie ball. Right handed pitcher, 23 year old, Greg Reinhard is the other player in the deal. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Here's what Rotoworld thinks of the deal:
Still, it would have been nice if the Cubs could have received a quality prospect in return.


Here are some warm thoughts to make Cub fans worry on this snowy/windy winter day.

As Uncle Lou prepares to start his first Cub camp, this headline flashes from the morning Tribune: Cubs' Zambrano: 'I must go' if no deal. Referring to himself in the third person(LMAO), Big Z tells the fans and more importantly Cruller Jim that there are only 47 shopping days left if the Cubs hope to have Z's services beyond 2007.
"I'm ready to sign, and I would do my job anyway with the Cubs this year," Zambrano said. "Whatever happens, I don't want to know [anything] about a contract during the season. I want to sign with the Cubs before the season starts. If they don't sign me, sorry, but I must go. That's what Carlos Zambrano thinks."

Next Carlos makes it very clear that he wants Barry Zito type money:

"When you're a great pitcher and have talent, you deserve the money no matter who gives it to you," he said. "Zito is a great pitcher. Good for him he has that contract, and I think that will help me."

The last line of the article leaves no doubt as to who these comments are aimed at:

"[Cubs general manager] Jim [Hendry] spent a lot of money. I hope he has more for 'Big Z.'"

I think this comment says it all. The modern day athlete really is a hard person for Joe Six-Pack to understand. We really want to like these guys for what they do on the field. But off the field...YUCK. When I see an athlete talking about himself in the third-person and making demands it just makes me wonder: who is advising this guy?

Ahhh, it's the Cubs, what would spring training be without a little controversey.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Let 2007 begin

I was paging through the unhappy Super Bowl section in this morning's Bright One, when I saw it. On page 21 of the paper there was "Fonzie", with the soon to be familiar leg kick, posing in his batting stance in his brand new Cubs uniform. On the side was the 2007 schedule and on the left was the slogan "Play like there's no tomorrow". Well, I guess the new marketing guy is trying. He has to do something to earn his keep.

Next I stumbled onto and noticed that Felix Pie was the cover boy this morning. I clicked through and Jim Callis had listed the Cubs Top 10 Prospects. One thing that I found real interesting on Callis list was he had Samardzija listed as the Cubs third highest prospect behind Pie and Donnie Veal. I guess that tells us about the state of the Cubs farm system in Callis' eyes. If you don't believe me, this line probably says it best:

With that pressure to win and a farm system thinned out by injuries, trades and attrition, Chicago plunged heavily into the free-agent market this offseason.

Finally Jack P. posted this link in the comments to Jayson Stark's article on the Cubs offseason spending spree. Stark writes:

As the Cubs head for spring training next week, they'll be hauling along 11 newly signed free agents, four of their own free agents whom they re-signed, a couple of new pitchers they traded for and one record that Bud Selig hopes will never be broken:

This team committed more dollars in one offseason ($317.55 million) than any franchise in the history of baseball -- or the history of dollars, for that matter.

Yeah baby! Bud Selig's mad at Cruller Jim for spending too much. LOL. Anything that makes Bud's headspin gives me a chuckle. Way to go JH.

So with the end of football season yesterday, today was the unofficial start of the 2007 baseball season. The MSM seemed to oblige with a couple of article on the boys in blue. Now we just have 9 more days until we see the video and pics of Cub pitchers and catcher reporting to Fitch Park in Mesa. So here's hoping the Cubs can "Play like there's no tomorrow" in 2007. Whatever that means.

Saturday, February 03, 2007