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Cub Town Interview: Len Kasper (part two)
by alex ciepley
Yesterday Kasper and I discussed his role as announcer with the Cubs. Today we turn our focus to the team itself.
CT: I wouldn't be surprised if the Cubs are better year this year than last, but I have a sneaky feeling that any gain in the standings will be mis-attributed to Sammy leaving and not to improvements in other areas. Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus put this very well in a column a while back:
"What the Cubs have done is set up their storyline for '05. They should be better just by getting full seasons from Mark Prior and Nomar Garciaparra, and they could well win a division in which they have the most upside of the three real contenders. If that happens, it will, like the Rangers' success in '04, be sold as the positive result of dealing a superstar. In fact, this trade doesn't make them a better baseball team: They're not saving any money, and they've downgraded their talent base."
To me the Sosa trade seemed like manager appeasement. While I thought Hendry in the past has done a decent job of balancing Dusty's wishes with the best interests of the team, he seems to have gone full tilt in the direction of making Dusty happy.
LK: I don't have any inside info, but I really don't think this deal came down to "Dusty doesn't want Sammy = Get rid of Sammy."
I think the Cubs as an organization decided it was just time to move on. With all the money and everything that's riding on this move, you can't conclude that the Cubs rid themselves of Sammy simply because Dusty didn't want him. Every factor had to be taken into consideration; mainly, "What makes us a better team?"
And as far as the team maybe winning and then claiming it was because Sammy was dealt... well, I hope that situation presents itself! At that point, bring on the debate as to "why," y'know?
CT: Okay, so I was oversimplifying. Of course the decision to move Sosa was complicated. It does seem, though, that the Cubs' roster has become more and more "Dusty's Squad" since Baker took over.
You could argue that there's nothing wrong with it, but I just tend to think that a manager like Baker (who seems to put such a high regard on personal histories) can be sometimes blind to a player's strengths and weaknesses just because he's one of the manager's "guys".
LK: If Burnitz is solid AND if Jerry Hairston contributes at a couple different spots and sports a .370 OBP, it's possible that Sammy's bat won't be missed that much.
I don't know, maybe it will be. But that's the beauty of the discussion. I just know I've seen teams deal away superstars, and you say to yourself, "How could they do that?" And in the end, the team gets better. That's all that really matters, right?
The other possibility is that, statistically, maybe this deal turns out to be a wash for the Cubs. Maybe what they gave up and what they got will balance out. If that happens, it's a good deal considering the personalities, no?
I have a hard time with the "intangibles" people talk about because you can't measure them. But I admit those things exist--I saw it with Florida and Jack McKeon in 2003 and I have to think the Sosa soap opera would have, in at least some small way, had an effect on this team.
CT: Speaking of Burnitz...
LK: He's obviously a huge strikeout guy, but his power is consistent and he's a good outfielder.
CT: I don't mind the strikeouts; he just doesn't get on base enough for my tastes.
LK: His career OBP is .351--which is fine--though his walk totals the last few years haven't matched his 80 and 90+ seasons in Milwaukee from 1999-2001.
I'm also not so worried about his home/road splits with the Rockies. Other than Todd Helton and Larry Walker, there aren't many (if any) guys who become Rockies and have really good road numbers. It seems like you go there and this happens: you're great at Coors and bad everywhere else.
CT: I certainly agree with the notion that Colorado seems to mess with hitters -- I think someone at BP did a study along those lines.
LK: The other thing about Burnitz is his platoon splits aren't bad. He's basically an "average" big league hitter versus LHP and above-average against RHP. In essence, he's an everyday player, not a platoon guy. That might surprise some people who see his violent swing and assume, "God, there's no way this guy can hit lefties."
CT: Burnitz should be "okay"; I guess I'm just a bit less optimistic than you regarding how he'll fare offensively. You know, I just have an Aubrey Huff fetish, and anything less than Mr. Huff in the outfield is like a burnt cookie to me.
LK: I LOVE Aubrey Huff. One of those guys nobody really knows because of where he plays.
CT: Baker obviously does some aspects of the managing job extremely well. Players seem to love working for him, and veterans tend to perform well with him.
It's just so hard to measure the things Dusty does well, while his flaws (bullpen management, breaking in young hitters, protecting pitcher's arms) are easy to pick at.
How much of his success in San Francisco was due to having Barry Bonds? How much in Chicago has been due to the Cubs' starting pitching?
I don't doubt he's a good manager, but in what ways is he good, and how good is he?
LK: I think Dusty is one of the great motivators in the game. The most important job of a manager may be his ability to motivate his players and keep them loose.
I think his record in SF proves how good a manager he is. His in-game maneuvers get criticized, in part, because that's how it works with all managers. That stuff is easy to second-guess when it doesn't work.
I remember growing up following the Tigers. Sparky Anderson was known as Captain Hook and everyone I knew knocked him for pulling his starters too soon. Well, the Tigers were one of the best teams of the '80s and Sparky was a terrific manager. It comes with the territory. I think the Cubs have one of the best skippers in the game.
Cub Town appreciates the time Len Kasper took to conduct this interview, and is greatly looking forward to seeing him call games for the 2005 Cubs.