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Monthly archives: October 2004

 

Slam 'em Sammy
2004-10-31 11:22
by alex ciepley

Sammy Sosa just can't get out of the news. Yesterday he resumed moaning to the press about how he's been treated by the Cubs. This time around, it has to do with Baker's (wise) decision to drop Sammy down in the order.

"I'm not a sixth batter. I'm a cleanup hitter or third because I've earned that right with almost 600 career home runs."

By this logic, of course, Hank Aaron could unretire at this moment and bat third for the Cubs next year. Or better yet, Jim Hendry could exhume Babe Ruth's bones and stick him in the cleanup spot.

As recently as, say, Friday, I really thought that Sosa was going to be back with the Cubs next year. I'm no longer as confident. It's become apparent that he wants no part of the team, and with clubs like the Mets actually expressing interest, I think there is a good chance he will be gone next year.

I'm not of the camp that says you should trade Sosa just to get rid of him. I think you should trade Sosa if you can get good value back, or at least the financial flexibility to allow you to sign a guy like Carlos Beltran.

Many people will argue that he's become a "distraction" or a "cancer", but I would argue that Sosa has been a distraction for much of his career, and it hasn't affected his teammates' on-field performance to this point. I'd also argue that Sosa himself has faced plenty of off-the-field tempests in his career, and he's not been the type of athlete that lets those issues affect how he performs on the field.

When Sosa is physically hurt, his production goes down. But when his problems are salary disputes, or arguments with the manager over stealing more bases, or criticism over his defense, it generally doesn't show up on the score card.

My hunch is that Sammy will have a fine year next year--nothing close to 2001, mind you--but much closer to 2002 than 2004. I'm just no longer sure that season will take place with the Cubs.

Dempster's option is picked up
2004-10-29 12:24
by alex ciepley

The Cubs have picked up Ryan Dempster's option for next year at a cost of $2 million.

Guys, we wanted walks on the offense, not on the pitching staff.

Miles to go
2004-10-29 11:44
by alex ciepley

Take a quick gander at Bruce Miles' latest at the Daily Herald. He takes a look at Boston and sees just what's missing in the Cubs: OBP.

It's refreshing to see thinking like Miles' appearing in the mainstream press, and especially moreso in the Chicago media.

The 26th Man
2004-10-29 07:48
by alex ciepley

Baseball is a game of traditions, and the Cubs and their fans tend to cling especially hard to theirs. Ivy on the brick, organ music in the stands -- even traditions that should have died off, such as Harry Caray's choral directing of "Take Me Out...", have been maintained in their own (often painful) ways.

Steve Stone has become one of those great traditions. Since his early bumpy days with Caray in the booth, through his careful guidance of a fading Harry in the icon's last years, to his continued excellence with Harry's grandson Chip, Stone has been as much a fixture at Wrigley as Sandberg's flawless throws to first or Sammy's first inning sprints to right. Despite a contentious year in the booth and the departure of his broadcast partner, Stone was expected back next year. Yesterday, he informed Cubs fans that he's resigned.

I came to Chicago on the high road with my credibility and integrity. Thirty years later, I choose to leave the same way.

The phrase I used that angered certain people was "I regret nothing." Well folks, I was wrong about that and want to set the record straight. I regret I won't be calling another Cubs game on WGN-TV for the greatest fans in baseball...the fans of the Chicago Cubs.
Stone has always been such an enjoyable fixture in the Cubs booth in part because of what he wasn't. He's not a slick personality draped in cliches; rather, Stone is honest, sarcastic, and insightful. He always has the appearance of a mischievous kid in the booth, with a sly smile and sometimes bubbly giggle. His voice wasn't that of a great media broadcaster--he sounds like your boss at work or your 5th grade history teacher. His manner wasn't what was important, though. Stone was no flash, all substance.

I'm pretty bummed he's gone. Great players and great teams will always make the fans watch, but Stone gave you a reason to watch the Cubs in all the years the team played poorly. He was a great educator for Cubs fans, and his in-game predictions often left a viewer with the impression that Stone had scripted the game beforehand, and we were just watching the players act out his musings.

How Stone was treated by players and management this past year infuriates me, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone among Cubs fans in this sentiment. A lot of my fury falls on players like Moises Alou and Kent Mercker (both of whom, ironically, are unlikely to be back next year), who should have been concentrating more on learning the fundamentals of baserunning or throwing strikes than complaining about WGN's coverage of them.

Another decent chunk of my ire is thrown at Dusty Baker, who failed to handle an obvious distraction within the clubhouse. Could you imagine Joe Torre standing idly by while one his players fought publicly with the guys in the YES booth?

And finally, I'm irritated at Jim Hendry and even Stone himself, for escalating the problems to the point where it apparently became untenable for Stone to continue his work with the team.

Where will Stone land? There are already speculations that he'll end up broadcasting for another team (such as the D-Backs or, gulp, White Sox), and he also has expressed some interest in working in a front office. I hope he stays on TV, because I'd like to be able to switch over for a few innings some evening and listen to his take on the game. I'll miss him too much not to.

"No" on the Options
2004-10-28 20:15
by alex ciepley

As expected, the Cubs today declined the options of both Mark Grudzielanek and Moises Alou. It is possible but unlikely that either player will be back with the team next year.

I've already given my opinions on Alou's situation. He had a great 2004 season, but the Cubs will do well to let him leave the team on that high note.

Grudzielanek's solid play with the Cubs came as a surprise: he was initially slotted in to be a bench player who helped Bobby Hill develop and get comfortable in the bigs. A long oh-fer streak by Hill in spring training, along with Dusty's general impatience with young position players, gave the starting job to Grudzielanek. He responded well, and his offensive contributions in 2003 were no small part in helping the Cubs to the postseason.

Congratulations
2004-10-28 08:00
by alex ciepley

Congratulations to the Red Sox and their fans. This Cubs fan finds some consolation in knowing that at least one team was able to put old demons to rest this year. That this end was accomplished while delivering a genuine butt-whipping to the Cardinals is an added perk.

Baseball, always in need of a storyline of the downtrodden, will now set its sights clearly on the city of Chicago. 1908. 1917. These are the saddest of possible words.

In actuality, the pain I've felt in following the Cubs is no different from that of many of my peers. If I were born a fan of the Indians, or Astros, or Mariners, or Rangers, I would not have witnessed a World Series victory in my lifetime, either. For many fans my age, the highs and lows provided by the teams we follow are equivalent. The only thing that may differentiate my sadness from fans of the other teams is that I share mine with my father, who, growing up years ago in Chicago, has spent seven decades of his life waiting for a Cubbie victory.

During game two of this series, the broadcasting crew interviewed an older woman in the stands at Fenway. She was an old school, die-hard Red Sox fan, bundled up and busy with her score card. There have been many scenes of rowdy college students or young bar hoppers whooping it up in the afterglow of the Sox victory, but I'm most happy for that lady in the stands and her spiritual kin in Red Sox Nation. Hats off to you.

2005 Schedule
2004-10-26 16:27
by alex ciepley

The "tentative" schedule for the Cubs' 2005 season is up. A brief look-see gave me the impression that the Cubs have a powderpuff April, brutal June, and a mixed bag in September. There are no especially long road trips.

I personally think it'll be a great year to be a New Yorker and a Cubs fan. The Cubs visit the City for six games. Three against the Mets, as always, and a bonus 'round against the Yanks. I'm looking forward to a battle of the Alex's during that stretch.

In addition, I might check out the right-coast games against the Phils and the Washington Grays. I think the "Grays" is the one and only acceptable name for the new Washington team (well, the "Greys" would be okay, too), so I'm sticking to callin' them that.

Skip to m' Alou
2004-10-26 12:10
by alex ciepley

Good riddance, goodbye!

Every trick of his you're on to

But fools will be fools

And where's he gone to?

After three years manning left field, it looks like Moises Alou will say his farewells to the Cubbie faithful. The Trib's reported that the Cubs will decline Alou's $11.5M option sometime this week. There is a "small chance" that he'll come back, but I don't see the Cubs going that route. The Tribune article says the team want to "add more speed" in the outfield (which is cool if the burner can also get on base), and Alou doesn't really fit that profile.

Alou's spent his career with several different teams, but I remember him most vividly from his time with the Astros. He was the guy who I feared most in their lineup. He always seemed to kill the Cubs, pulling doubles off that silly wall they have in left field in Houston.

I thought the Cubs overpaid for Alou when they signed him, but I was still pretty excited. Part of my happiness came from knowing Alou could no longer smash hits off the Cubs, but I was also thrilled to have a guy in the lineup behind Sammy who had just hit .330 with about 30 homers and 30 doubles.

Alou's first season was just awful. Left field is usually reserved for one of your most productive hitters, but Alou missed 30 games and hit just 275/337/419 when he did play. Both his on-base percentage and slugging percentage were exactly league average. It was a huge decline and a huge disappointment.

As I mentioned before this season began, the best thing about his 2003 season was his health. He was always in the lineup that year, and improved on his rookie Cubs campaign with a line of .280/.357/.462. Still not worth the money he was getting, but at least now he was above average.

In my preseason look at Alou, I mentioned that "a true cleanup hitter [Alou] is not." Well, funny boy decided to play a little trick on ol' Alex and make him eat his words. Alou had a great year this season out of the number four spot with the Cubs, setting career highs in both doubles (36) and home runs (39). With the sudden decline of Sosa, Alou really helped carry the Cubs offense all this year.

Unfortunately, Alou's power resurgence was served to Cubs fans along with some Fine Whine. I remember being surprised when Alou was all feisty in the fall of 2003 during that famed St. Louis five-game set. Alou ranted and raved at the umpires, and I remember thinking, "Wow, I rarely see Alou get this upset." Well, it was all downhill from there. He is the primary reason that, while I was happy with a lot that this Cubs team accomplished, I never found them all that likeable.

Alou's production next year will be hard to replace. Barring a Beltran coup, a Magglio find, or a DuBois surprise, the Cubs will take a hit at that position. It still justifies letting him walk, though. Chances are he'll revert to his 2003 line--or worse, 2002--and the Cubs simply can't afford to pay a player $11.5M for those services. Actually, the Cubs shouldn't pay 6 million for Alou either. It's a chance for the Cubs to either make a splash or let a youngster fill the role while applying the money elsewhere.

Status: Bench
2004-10-23 14:45
by alex ciepley

You've got your guys in the lineup, your pitching staff, and the bench warmers. The New York Boston War of 2004 provided a brief glimpse into how a good bench can help provide you with a small edge. Boston used theirs effectively, running out baserunners, platoon players, and defensive specialists. Meanwhile, Joe Torre forgot he had a bench. Sometimes benches are overemphasized, but there's no reason to have a crappy one. The Cubs' bench could use some improvement.

Paul Bako
Greg Maddux inflicts his own unique type of sadism on his teammates by insisting on at least one zero bat on the roster to catch him. Will Bako be back? Much may depend on how much credence the guys upstairs pay to Mark Prior's Bakoriffic ERA of 0.83 (in six starts with the catcher). Lemme tell ya, they should pay none. Six games is likely just a coincidence. Four of those games came in September, which is the only month of the season when Prior was healthy. You don't re-sign Bako because Prior finally found his release point.

At any rate, the situation is this: Bako made $865K last year, and now he's a free agent. The Cubs have a decision to make, but I'll invoke Nancy Reagan on this one: Just Say No.

Jason DuBois
DuBois (pronounced "one of DuBois, not one of de girls") followed up an extraordinary 2003 AFL performance with a great year in AAA. He's under 35, so he's not one of Dusty's boys, which led him to not being played at all down the stretch. Oh, until that last game, which turned out quite nicely.

Will DuBois be given a shot at a starting role on the club? If by "shot", you mean 3 games or so in Spring Training before his manager writes him off, sure. It should be noted that ZiPS sees DuBois putting up a line of 272/345/500 next year, much better than Alou (265/329/462) and about the same as Sosa (255/346/518). As with all projections, there are grains of salt at play here, but I think it's clear that Jason should be considered for a starting role.

If nothing else, it seems extraordinarily likely he'll be given a role as a right-handed bat off the bench. He can play both outfield corners and first base -- none of them well, which sounds a lot like a few other guys on this list.

Tom Goodwin
Boy, that worked out well. You re-sign a washed up, no-hit, 85-year-old outfielder, and you expect him to be of use? You had Vince Coleman as a coach... was there really any difference between the two? Tom Goodwin and his $650K-waste-o-money butt is a free agent. See ya, buddy, you won't be coming 'round here no more.

Ben Grieve
Acquired as a Hollandsworth replacement for the stretch run, Grieve had another of his now-typical high OBP / low SLG years. Grieve is a sad, sad fielder. There's no getting around that fact, and it seems he's most suited to the bench on a team like Boston or his original club, Oakland. That said, he's a free agent who is unlikely to be back, but it would be fine if the Cubs re-signed him. Chances are good he'll outperform Hollandsworth offensively both next year and beyond, seeing as this is just about the first year in their careers he hasn't done so.

Todd Hollandsworth
Hollandsworth was, without doubt, miraculous for the 2004 Cubs until he got injured. This was also entirely unexpected. Other than some super-inflated numbers he put up in Coors Field a few years back, he has been nothing more than an adequate fourth outfielder his entire career. He's a free agent, and I'm going to guess that his performance this year will tempt the Cubbies to bring him back for another turn on the bench. Be warned. Hollandsworth has his uses, and he's a fine pinch-hitter, but the numbers he put up last year were way out of character. Expect a repeat performance and you're sure to be disappointed.

Jose Macias
Jose Macias plays a lot of positions. He has a tiny bit of speed, he doesn't strike out more than Corey Patterson, and he's really short. These are the only nice things I can say about a guy who wasted 194 at-bats while putting up a line of 268/292/376. There were a couple memorable games he had this year, but overall he was just horrid. Macias is not a utility infielder; he is someone you cut from your AA farm club.

Macias made $750K last year, and the Cubs maintain the rights to him for next year. He's also arbitration eligible, and you'd think he'd have a shot, somehow, of pushing $1M if he goes to court. It will be an interesting test of the front office to see if they're blinded by Macias' "versatility" and Dusty's clear loyalty to the dude. Hopefully they'll do the right thing and non-tender him.

Ramon Martinez
Martinez was, in 2003, a valuable bench player. He played the infield positions adequately, and gave you solid if unspectacular production off the bench. He fell apart this year, however, and provided little reason for the Cubs to keep him around next. He's a free agent.

Neifi Perez
A late-season pickup and potential free agent, Neifi stunned the gods, the United Nations, the citizens of Turkmenistan, and the baseball world by hitting 371/400/548 in a Cubs uniform. He even walked three times!

Look, these things happen. You are lucky when they happen to you when your team is in a pennant race. But these things do not continue to happen. Lighting, meet bottle. Now go toss yourself into the sea.

I'm mortified that he's going to be re-signed this year to fill a Macias-Martinez role on the team. Perez is an excellent fielder, but his offensive detriments cannot be overstated. According to Lee Sinins' Runs Created Above Average, Neifi Perez is the fifth-worse offensive player since 1950 (2000 PA min). He will take the title of Worst Hitter, Last 50 Years, sometime around May of next year.

He is awful, awful, awful. And if he's a Cub next year, there will be much gnashing of teeth.

Allegiances
2004-10-20 11:17
by alex ciepley

I am a Cubs fan. I've pledged allegiance to Chicago, for better or worse—though mostly, it seems, for worse. Every year the Cubs don't make the postseason, however, I find myself inevitably drawn to one of the remaining teams. I root fanatically for them, almost as if they were wearing Cubbie blue pinstripes. Almost.

In 2001, I was pulling for the Diamondbacks. If ever there was a year where I would have let down my Yankee-hatin' guard, I suppose this would have been it. 9/11 had just devastated the city (and nation) where I lived, the Bronxers were managing some improbable and inspiring late-inning comebacks, and I suppose I could have been forgiven for cheering my hometown team just once. But no dice. I remember jumping up and down, screaming joyfully when Luis Gonzalez got that dinky hit past Jeter.

2002 surprised me. I was fairly indifferent about the NL teams but was avidly rooting for the Contraction Baby Twins to shove one up Bud's derriere by winning the Series. The Anaheims snuffed out that candle, but I was still okay with them, mostly because they'd embarrassed the Yankees in round one. I fully expected to be rooting for the Angels against the Giants, but from pitch one in the World Series I realized I sided with San Francisco. I was pissed when they lost.

2003? Well, my rooting interests in that postseason are pretty obvious. And let's just say I wanted—somehow, someway—both the Yankees and Marlins to lose the Series in incredibly painful ways.

This year, I knew who I'd be rooting for in the postseason before the first game. If not the Cubs, then Go Sox Go. The sweep in Anaheim was wunnerful, the first three games against the Yanks were disheartening, and the last three have been inspiring.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I can let myself dream big dreams right now, and hope that the Red Sox will win tonight's Game Seven. I still think the Yankees will win (you can drag the Cubs out of the postseason, but you can't drag the doom out of the Cubs fan), but I'm no longer an impartial observer. I'm invested big-time. My eyes caught only slivers of pitches in the final innings of the game yesternight: that's the view when you're bent over, nauseous, peeking through hands that are covering your face.

Even if the Sox lose Game Seven, it'll have been an impressive postseason for them. Buster Olney, in his live analysis last night, said, "If the Red Sox lose, this will rank second to Buckner, just ahead of Grady-gate, in all-time Boston heartbreaks." This sentiment has been echoed throughout news reports: The Great Boston Tease.

I just don't see this at all. What's heartbreaking is to blow a three-games-to-love lead, not to come storming back from such long odds to force one final showdown. If the Red Sox lose, it will be Custer's Last Stand (well, without the tinge of a Lieutenant Colonel's stupidity), not a Buckner ground ball.

It may be little consolation to the die-hard faithful in New England, but win or lose Boston has already provided its fans with a bundle of feel-goods this series. I, by allowing my baseball allegiances to be borrowed for a few weeks, have shared in the feel-goods. We're getting paid for overtime in New York, and I just want one more win for the visitors.

WTNY: Cubs Winter, Part II
2004-10-19 07:01
by alex ciepley

Bryan (or BrYan, as he'll remind you from time to time) at Wait 'Til Next Year is back with a peek at some more of the Cubs prospects playing ball this winter. Today's group includes some of the bigger name prospects in the Cubs system. A potential Alou replacement, a strike-em-out lefty, and a home run king get looked over, so head on over and learn what the young 'uns are up to.

Status: Pitching Staff
2004-10-18 08:27
by alex ciepley

I took a quick glance at the status of the Cubs' starting position player the other day, and here's a look at the pitching staff.

Joe Borowski
What a difference a year makes. I had complete faith that Borowski was going to be fine this year as the closer. JoBo hadn't been good in just 2003, as many of the pundits squawked in the early going this past spring; he was excellent in 2002 as well. I hadn't counted on an arm injury knocking some MPH off his fastball, though. I now have my doubts that he'll ever be the reliable reliever he once was, but the Cubs will get to find out -- he's signed for next year at $2.3M.

Matt Clement
Back in March of 2002, the Cubs traded Julian Tavarez and some prospects for "elite" closer Antonio Alfonseca... and salary dump victim Matt Clement. Clement was seen as an all-talent, no-performance disappointment, but since that trade he's been the best player in the deal -- and yes, I'm including Dontrelle Willis in the discussion. Mattie's time with the Cubs was an unexpected pleasure, despite this season's Lack-o-run-support Blues, but he won't be back with the team next year. Pedro and Clemens are the two free agent pitchers with the grandest history, Pavano has the biggest hype, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if Clement ends up being the smartest signing.

Ryan Dempster
The Cubs have a $2.0M option on Dempster for 2005 that they seem extremely likely to pick up. Oh how I wish they wouldn't.

Kyle Farnsworth
Brilliant one moment, a jackass the next. What to do with Farnsworth? The Cubs still have the rights to him, though he is going to start getting expensive compared to what he provides. He made $1.4M last year, and is eligible for arbitration again. Is he on the trade market, and if so, what is his perceived value?

LaTroy Hawkins
Yes, he has trouble with the ninth inning. But Hawkins was still the Cubs' best reliever last year, and his salary for next year will actually drop $500K to $3.5M. A couple of observations on Hawkins: 1) he gave up a lot more home runs this year than in his previous two, a new hobby he'll hopefully ditch next year. 2) Hawkins had a 4.13 ERA in 28.3 innings pitched on zero days rest (i.e. back-to-back appearances), allowing 8 of the 10 home runs in these games. Meanwhile, he had a 1.84 ERA in 53.6 innings pitched with at least one day of rest. I'm just sayin'...

Jon Leicester
Leicester should be back for a second season in the Cubbie bullpen. His debut featured some nice moments, a solid K-rate (7.56/9), a few too many walks, and too many big flies allowed. He made $300K last year, and won't make much more than that next.

Greg Maddux
Was Maddux worth the $6.0M he made last year? Probably. There were plenty of pitchers who made less and performed better, but there were also plenty who made a lot more (Morris, Brown) and performed a lot worse. Maddux's season compares to Russ Ortiz and Woody Williams, both of whom had similar salaries. Throw in some 300-Win highlights and some feel-good nostalgia moments, and it's a no-brainer. Will Maddux be worth the $9.0M he's owed next year, though? If he continues to give up 527 home runs a year, it's unlikely.

Kent Mercker
Mercker put together a nice year for the Cubs, but the team is willing to let him go. I think the Cubs may have caught a dash of bottled lightning with Mercker this year (ZiPs sees an ERA over 5.00 for next year.), so I'm not too upset if he leaves. Mercker made $1.2M last year.

Sergio Mitre
Mitre was great in AAA last year (2.98 ERA, 102.7 innings, 95/39 K/BB, only 9 home runs), but wasn't so hot with the Cubs (6.62 ERA). He'll only be 25 next year, and his minor league numbers are promising. I'd guess his name would come up often in trade talks with the Cubs.

Mark Prior
Winner of the Most Likely Cub To Return Next Year award. Also nominated in the Likely To Be Underrated Entering 2005 category. Prior had a minor injury this past year. An annoying, minor injury that was slow to heal and threw off his command when he came back. He will make $3.0M next year (the extra $500K is due to his 2003 All Star selection), though he has a clause that says he can opt-out of his contract to arbitration. I'm not even sure if he'd be eligible for arbitration, and I don't know that it would be a smart financial move either, given the year he had.

Mike Remlinger
Remy will be back for a final year. He'll make $3.8M, a $250K raise over last year. Unfortunately, he's worth less than half that amount.

Glendon Rusch
Rusch had a fantastic year, his best since his first year with the Mets in 2000. Rusch is a free agent, but the Cubs have to be thinking about re-signing him to be either the fifth starter or a swingman. Much will depend on what Rusch wants.

Todd Wellemeyer
Blondie was like Leicester in caricature this year. He struck out people at an obscenely good rate (11.10 K/9), but walked almost a batter an inning, completely nullifying the good things he did. He only allowed one home run, though, another point in his favor. Do relief pitchers suddenly find great control? Sure, it happens, but Todd has no choice in this matter: he has to stop walking so many people, or he's not just inexpensive, he's useless.

Kerry Wood
Wood returns for year two of his Big Contract, and the Cubs hope he'll provide a bit more bang for the buck this year. Wood gets a small raise ($500K) to $8.5M in 2005. The injuries Wood dealt with this year virtually guarantee that the mutual option the Cubs and Wood share for 2007 will not become a player option: Wood would have to pitch 260 innings next year for that to happen. [EDIT]: I'm a dummy. Wood's option become a player option if he pitches 400 innings in '05 and '06, not '04 and '05, so it is certainly in the realm of possibility.

Mike Wuertz
Wuertz will vie for a spot in the 'pen next year. Wellemeyer gets more buzz, but Wuertz is younger and pitched much better to boot.

Carlos Zambrano
I'll take this Cy Young candidate for $440K, thank you very much. Z is eligible for arbitration this year. While Hendry is likely to avoid an actual hearing with Zambrano, it'll be interesting to see if he tries to pull an Oakland with Carlos and signs him to a relatively inexpensive multiyear deal.

A Few Quick Notes
2004-10-15 11:20
by alex ciepley

All of these topics are covered by the Trib, but I thought I'd give everyone a chance to discuss them in the comments.

Steve Stone returns
Apparently, management realized it wouldn't be wise to fire their most popular employee. Stone will likely be back, and I'm pretty happy about it: we get at least another year of his sharp, biting, and sometimes clairvoyant commentary on the game. Hopefully next year we'll hear fewer statements like, "Someday Sammy will actually hit the cutoff man" or "That play makes a lot of sense" when a pitcher does the third-and-first fakeout. I hope this not because I want Stone to tone it down -- I just want the Cubs to stop making stupid plays.

Pat Hughes isn't joining Stonie
Radio play-by-play man Pat Hughes apparently won't become Stone's right-hand man in the TV booth. Hughes would have been my second choice (behind pipe dream Jon Miller), but I also recognize that our beloved man Santo would've had a real rough go of it without Pat helping out.

The Cubs will walk the walk
As we've noticed since Jim Hendry took office, it's no longer a fantasy to envision the Cubs pursuing the big names in the free agent market. I've heard the Cubs will pursue Carlos Beltran in the offseason, and why shouldn't they? He's the prize, and he may just have priced his way out of Houston with his performance this postseason. Remember, Houston is going to have to shell out a ton of money to Bagwell and Pettitte in addition to re-signing Clemens and forking over a huge arbitration payment to Berkman. The good news: Beltran is at least open to the idea of playing in Chi-town.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Draft Update
2004-10-14 07:02
by alex ciepley

In his latest edition of Ask BA for Baseball America, Jim Callis provides an update on some of the players the Cubs drafted but were unable to sign:

The Cubs wanted to sign fifth-rounder Adrian Ortiz, a Puerto Rican high school outfielder, but lost him to Pepperdine. Most of the other players they've lost the rights to were late-round gambles who slipped in the draft because of signability and/or disappointing performances in the spring. This group includes Massachusetts prep righthander Ryan Moore (13th round, now at Maryland), Georgia Tech righty Micah Owings (19th, now at Tulane), Baylor lefty Trey Taylor (20th), Miami high school shortstop Walter Diaz (22nd, now at Miami), Gonzaga outfielder Jeff Culpepper (24th), Texas prep righty Kenn Kasparek (41st, now at Texas) and Eastern Oklahoma State JC lefty Adam Daniels (43rd, now at Oklahoma State).

Pursuing these types of prospects with later picks is a low-risk, high-reward proposition. The Cubs just didn't get any of those players signed, though they did get deals done with Florida high school righty Sean Gallagher (12th) and Pennsylvania prep third baseman Russ Canzler (30th), both of whom show promise.

Ortiz is the one major loss, as he's the only player the Cubs really expected to sign. Callis mentions that the Cubs still had a strong draft, and even have nine draft-and-follow players (who will be attending community colleges) that the Cubs will have a chance to sign later next spring.

I still don't like the Cubs' top choice, Grant Johnson, a righty who has a history of labrum problems (not a good injury!), but then again I'm not a prospect guy, know jack about scouting, and base this entirely on the theory that it isn't a good idea to draft damaged goods. I am excited to see how both Mark Reed (an offense-first catcher and brother of Seattle uberprospect Jeremy) and former Stanford outfielder Sam Fuld (an on-base guy) perform in the system.

When We Were Kings
2004-10-13 08:30
by alex ciepley

So most every morning I check ESPN.com's "site lines" to take a look at the headlines about the Cubs in the major media across the continent. Usually there are a few stories (rarely do the competing newspapers have an even marginally different perspective on the topic of the day, which is always a disappointment), but today there was only one:

Cubs took a Chance, won title
Yes, that's right, the only article on the Cubs today is a retrospective on a Cubs team from ninety-six years ago. It's enough to make a grown man cry, if only there were crying in baseball.

Manufacture, Schmanufacture
2004-10-12 07:03
by alex ciepley

The Associated Press's story of the Cubs' firing of third base coach Wendell Kim contains the following nugget:

The Cubs scored most of their runs on homers, and often struggled to manufacture runs in close games.

This is likely to be the refrain this offseason when discussing the Cubs' offense. The Cubs don't manufacture enough runs. The Cubs don't have enough speed guys. The Cubs don't move runners along enough. You win one-run games by playing small ball. I'm even fully prepared to hear the following ludicrous statement: The Cubs hit too many home runs.

It's all hogwash, and don't you believe it for a second. The Cubs' offense was too one-sided, relying primarily on the home run as its offensive weapon. The home runs themselves were not the problem, however. The Cubs hit 235 home runs this year, a monster number, and fans could only wish they'd hit this many every year. The home run is the most devastating play in a batter's repertoire: one swing, one run.

The problem isn't the Cubs' small ball skills. Stolen bases are fine if done at a good success rate, but they're vastly overrated. Bunting runners over often reduces your chances of scoring a run, not the other way around. No, the problem facing the Cubs this offseason is a simple one: they don't get on base.

This isn't news, by the way. Good teams have known the value of getting on base for decades and decades. Branch Rickey, 50 years ago, said in a Life Magazine article, "Batting average is only a partial means of determining a man's effectiveness on offense. It neglects a major factor, the base on balls... Actually, walks are extremely important." Earl Weaver would have liked the Cubs' power, but would have been irritated that more guys weren't getting on in front of the boppers. Whitey Herzog has been horribly miscast as a speed-first guy, when he cared just as much about getting guys on the bases -- he spent virtually his entire tenure in St. Louis trying to get Vince Coleman to take a walk.

If you want to see how good offenses work, you're going to have three mighty good examples in the Championship Series this week. St. Louis and especially Boston and New York score runs in bunches in large part because they're always putting guys on base (Houston isn't bad either -- especially the first half of the lineup, and most especially Lance Berkman). Watch how virtually every Boston batter works the count to their favor, fouling off tough pitches, taking bad ones, creaming mistakes. And yeah, if they don't see something they like, they're fine taking that free pass from the pitcher.

It can make for slowly paced--almost boring--innings, but it is also a lethal attack. The top eight team OBPs this year were, in order: Red Sox, Giants, Yankees, Indians, Phils, Rockies, Orioles, and Cardinals. Six of those eight teams were also in the top eight in runs scored (the Phils and Rockies were 9th and 11th, respectively). You want to score runs, you get on base. Writing that a team needs to manufacture more runs just means you're not paying attention.

Manager Grace?
2004-10-11 15:35
by alex ciepley

According to reports on ESPN.com, the Diamondbacks are seriously considering hiring Mark Grace as their manager. One of the strangest things about being a Cubs fan over the past few years has been the de-Cubification of Grace: he was such a fixture at first base for such a long time, but since he's left it seems he's been forgotten rather quickly. Of course, dissing the city that loved you during a World Series celebration helps people forget a bit faster.

Grace has zippo professional managerial experience, but hey, the D-Backs are a team that don't seem to care about that sort of thing. My question for you is: do you think Grace would make a good manager?

My take: while you never know until you actually see how a person manages, I think he would make, at best, an uninspired manager. I've listened to a few of his broadcasts this season, and he seems quite content to rattle off cliche after cliche about the game. "Boy, that's a nice feat" when Brenneman comments that someone or another had 100 rbi's. "You gotta have those character guys", "He gave himself up and that's as good as a home run in the clubhouse" -- these are the types of comments you're likely to hear from Gracie during a game. I rarely found his comments useful or well thought out, and I imagine he would be a "by-the-book" type of manager that would never question why he was "supposed" to bring in such-and-such a reliever or pinch hit in certain situations.

I could be totally wrong. Maybe he'd be a tactical genius who was great with the guys in the clubhouse. I'm certainly curious to see how he'd perform; I'm just glad we won't be displaying his managerial prowess with the Cubs.

Status: Starting Eight
2004-10-11 07:07
by alex ciepley

I'm enjoying watching the playoff action from my comfortable perch in Eliminated Early Central. I've been hanging around all week with my buds, the Giants and Padres, and have recently been joined by the Twins, Dodgers, Angels. I'm really hoping the Astros swing by later today.

While I wonder if Phil Garner can somehow figure out a way to blow game five against Atlanta, here's a quick look at the current status of the everyday guys on the Cubs.

Catcher
Michael Barrett: I'm vastly confused as to his status entering the offseason. I've consistently thought that he is not a free agent, but Barrett has just completed his sixth year in the bigs, which would normally allow him out of the cage. I think the crux of the matter lies in his 2000 season, when he was optioned down to Ottawa for a month; you have to be on the roster for a full 162 games for it to count as one of your six years. If I'm right, it would make Barrett's 2005 season his walk year, not this year. It's all so confusing.

In any case, it seems highly likely that Barrett, a favorite of Hendry's, will be back next year. He may even be signed to a multi-year contract.

First Base
Derrek Lee: Lee is Cub property for at least the next two seasons, having signed a three-year contract last offseason.

Second Base
Mark Grudzielanek: The Cubs have a $2,500,000 option on Grudz, with a $250,000 buyout. The Cubs will not have both Grudzielanek and Walker next year, so they'll have to decide if they want one, the other, or neither.

Todd Walker: Walker is a free agent. If he is re-signed, he will—unlike this year—be designated the starting second baseman.

Shortstop
Nomar Garciaparra: Nomar is a free agent, and speculation is that the Cubs aren't particularly keen on even trying to sign him. Whether or not these rumors are true, it certainly is no slam dunk that he'll be back with the team next year.

Third Base
Aramis Ramirez: Many Cubs fans have been prone to minor panic attacks this season, thinking that Aramis and his breakout season will leave this offseason via free agency. No fear: he's not a free agent. Yes, the contract he originally signed with the Pirates is now finished, but he has one more year of arbitration left. Just as Hendry did with Kerry Wood and Derrek Lee last offseason, I'd expect Aramis to be offered a three- or four-year deal that buys out his final (expensive) year of arbitration.

Left Field
Moises Alou: The Cubs have an $11,500,000 option on Alou for next year. That's not going to happen. Instead, the Cubs will buy out the remainder of Alou's contract (at a cost of 2 million buckaroos, I believe). Whether or not they sign (or even try to sign) him at a reduced rate this offseason will depend on Alou's asking price, the Cubs' desire to bring back Monsieur Whine, and the available goodies at the market.

Center Field
Corey Patterson: "Strikeout", as John Hill referred to him in the comments a while back, will be back. His salary should get a bit of a bump, but he's not gonna be expensive yet (nor should he be).

Right Field
Sammy Sosa: 2005 is the last guaranteed year on Sosa's contract unless he gets traded, in which case the new team automatically is stuck with covering a souped-up version of Sosa's 2006 salary. The general impression is that Sosa is being shopped this offseason, due to both his shenanigans off the field and his lackluster performance on it. It seems like his contract would make Sosa virtually untradeable; I'm guessing he's back in Wrigley next year for one final tour with the Cubs.

Cubs Quotes
2004-10-07 09:51
by alex ciepley

Season-End Edition: Battle Royale

cubs v. expectations

"I think we all expected it; it started in spring training. The expectations came out and all the polls of where we were supposed to finish before the first day of camp. The expectations and pressure have been there. It comes with the job. We expect to be there, and everyone else is going to expect us to be there. But I don't think it had an effect."
Kerry Wood (Daily Herald - 10/2/04)

"With this team, it's just hard to believe that we're not going to be in the playoffs. I think everyone in this room understands and feels if we were able to make it [into the playoffs] that we could have won it all."
Michael Barrett (Daily Herald - 10/3/04)

"This team was just as good as all the teams I've been on in the past in Atlanta with the exception that we didn't win as many games. That might sound stupid to say but that's the way it is. This team was legit."
Greg Maddux (Cubs.com - 10/3/04)

"Did Florida choke? Did Philly choke? Does that make everybody who didn't win a choker?... I've never had a team that's described as 'choked.' So I'm not going to have one now."
Dusty Baker (Daily Herald - 10/3/04)

cubs v. broadcasters

"You want the truth? You can't handle the truth. Let me tell you something, guys, the truth of this situation is an extremely talented bunch of guys who want to look at all directions except where they should really look, and ... make excuses for what happened. At the end of the day, boys, you don't tell me how rough the water is, you bring in the ship. The best eight go on, the other teams go home. This team should have won the wild-card by six, seven games. No doubt about it."
Steve Stone (Chicago Tribune - 9/30/04)

"If you want to put it delicately, you can say [Dusty Baker] managed a bad game. I thought he managed a very bad baseball game."
Steve Stone (Daily Herald - 10/2/04)

"When you have the job that Steve has, you're entitled to your opinion. We all know that this game is very easy to second-guess and we all realize that the farther we sit from the field, the easier the game looks."
Jim Hendry (Daily Herald - 10/2/04)

"I've know Stone since the 70s. We had talked about the situation before about the team and him. I thought it was done. We talked about it and then shook hands as men. I didn't know where he was coming from in the postgame interview thing."
Dusty Baker (Daily Herald - 10/2/04)

"No one, myself included, would ever expect Steve to not speak his truthful thoughts as a game analyst, whether it's game strategies, managerial moves, player mistakes, front-office decisions."
Jim Hendry (Daily Herald - 10/6/04)

cubs v. sosa

"I felt that even if [Sosa] wasn't playing today, obviously he should have been here in uniform and be with his teammates."
Jim Hendry (Daily Herald - 10/4/04)

"I didn't know [Sammy Sosa] was going to leave. No, I didn't give him permission to leave."
Dusty Baker (Daily Herald - 10/4/04)

"It's inexcusable not to be dressed for the game. He needed permission from the manager or myself to leave, and he didn't have it from either one."
Jim Hendry (Daily Herald - 10/5/04)

"Yeah, I'd want [Sosa] back. He's got to go to work this winter and just get in tip-top, tip-top shape mentally and physically. It's a big year for him next year. So I assume he'll have a very good year, especially since it's his option year."
Dusty Baker (Daily Herald - 10/4/04)

"I'm tired of being blamed by Dusty Baker for all the failures of this club."
Sammy Sosa (Daily Southtown - 10/5/04)

"Have you ever heard me blame Sammy for anything? Where can this emotion be coming from, or where can his comments be coming from? You never heard me say anything blaming Sammy for anything."
Dusty Baker (Daily Herald - 10/5/04)

"I can't figure out where he figured out I blamed him for whatever. I've done nothing but cover the guy. Boy, this is some year."
Dusty Baker (Daily Herald - 10/5/04)

"In this position, I will always do what I feel is in the best interest of the Chicago Cubs. That would be inclusive for all players or personnel."
Jim Hendry, on potentially trading Sosa (Daily Herald - 10/6/04)

cubs v. world

"To tell you the truth, I think [the umpires] are after me."
Moises Alou (Cubs.com - 9/27/04)

"I think [Alou] had a little merit there."
Baker (Cubs.com - 9/27/04)

"Honestly, I think the umpires are not anti-anybody. I don't think they'd hold it against a ballclub. They've been through a lot of stuff with other ballclubs, too."
Jim Hendry (Cubs.com - 9/27/04)

"I've always been outspoken. But when I was in Houston, they always talked to Bagwell and Biggio, and in Florida they talked to Sheffield and Bonilla and everybody else. If I [homered] twice, I got an interview. But here there is so much media, they want to hear from everybody and I've gotten a chance to make a fool out of myself."
Moises Alou (Chicago Tribune - 9/28/04)

"Sometimes I get in trouble, because I'm a person who always says what he feels. And you media guys love to hear that from anybody. Sometimes they want to bury you for what you say. I have to be more careful about what I say now."
Moises Alou (Chicago Sun-Times - 9/29/04)

cubs v. skillz

"Sometimes in Spring Training, you're just going through things. We have to spend more time with [baserunning] and emphasize it more and make it more prevalent in the front of your brain. Sometimes when you've been doing things for so long, you take it that you know how to do these things."
Dusty Baker (Cubs.com - 10/3/04)

"If I knew [why the Cubs can't get a big hit], it wouldn't keep happening. Sometimes you've got the wrong guy at the plate. Sometimes it's a matter of wanting to do it so badly you don't get a good pitch to hit. Sometimes it's a matter of being calm and cool and figuring out what you need."
Dusty Baker (Cubs.com - 10/3/04)

"Yeah, you need on-base percentage guys to put the pitcher in the stretch. I don't agree with going up there looking for a walk unless the game situation dictates it. This isn't Little League."
Dusty Baker (Chicago Sun-Times - 10/4/04)

"The whole thing boils down to that half of on-base percentage is getting a good pitch to hit. Most of the times when guys are striking out, a bad pitch has been swung at during the course of that at-bat."
Dusty Baker (Chicago Sun-Times - 10/4/04)

see ya next year

"As far as [next year's] payroll and budget, that's on Jim. Heck, if he followed my wish list, the payroll would be $200 million."
Dusty Baker (Cubs.com - 10/3/04)

"Without tampering, there are quite a few guys that express interest. They say they'd like to play here or play for me. Let's try to come up with the best solution we can without having a 30 or 40 percent turnover in personnel every year."
Dusty Baker (Chicago Sun-Times - 10/4/04)

"This is definitely a place I'd seriously consider. I love Wrigley, I love the city, I love the fans. The fans have been great and opened their arms as much as my teammates. Do I know what's going to happen or what's going on? That I can't foresee."
Nomar Garciaparra (Cubs.com - 10/3/04)

"Expect better."
Dusty Baker, on next year (Daily Herald - 10/3/04)

Root, Root, Root
2004-10-05 10:01
by alex ciepley

The Cubs' playoff expectations were dashed, but baseball is still being played. The postseason starts today, and it's time to choose sides. Do you root for Athens or Troy? The Hulk or Superman? The tiger or the polar bear?

One man's guide to who he's rooting for, and why:

Dodgers versus Cardinals

Lovin' the Dodgers
This team plays awesome, jaw-dropping defense. They've got a smart GM who stuck the word "chemistry" up the media's tuchus. That goggle-eyed freak is pretty good, too.

Hatin' the Dodgers
Alex Cora and his 256-pitch at-bat. Fans who whine that they've had it bad through the nineties and 'oughts. Cry me a river.

Lovin' the Cardinals
They were, simply, the best team in the National League this year. Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, Walker... this is a fun team to watch at the plate. And it would be good karma to root for Renteria's success; after all, don't we want him in Cubbie blue next year?

Hatin' the Cardinals
Ummm, you're a Cubs fan.

Alex's Verdict
I'm going to risk being torched on a stake, roasted on a spit, and baked in the oven by my fellow fans: I'm rooting for the Cardinals in this series. Both teams enter the series with crappy starting pitching, great bullpens, and fancy defense. The Cards have the edge with their sluggers, and I'd like to see them pound their way to one series win. Inexplicably, I've actually been more annoyed by the Dodgers this year than the Cards. Go ahead, pile on the heat, I'm admittedly freaky about this one.

Astros versus Braves

Lovin' the Astros
As with Renteria, I'm feeling good about cheering for "Now-batting-second-for-the-Cubs" Carlos Beltran, even if the nickname is currently just a pipe dream. And for those into empathy, I guess you can feel for the Astros' fans and their historical postseason "success".

Hatin' the Astros
Bitches. Barf-bags. Buffoons. Butt-holes. I've give you some killer B's. It's irrational, I know, but I've always loathed the goody-two-shoes image of Biggio and Bagwell, and have enjoyed immensely their squirm-worthy incompetence in postseasons past.

Lovin' the Braves
J.D. Drew was traded from the Cardinals and responded with the best season of his career -- I think there's probably a way that a Cubs fan can turn that into a moral victory. Also, I think it would be pretty funny for this year's Braves -- a ramshackle group compared to teams past -- to go all the way with a fearsome rotation of... Jaret Wright, Mike Hampton, and Russ Ortiz?

Hatin' the Braves
The tomahawk chop, performed by the 17 Braves fans in attendance during the postseason, is so, like, 1755.

Alex's Verdict
This one's easy for me. I'd like the Braves to win this series in three games, with scores of 18-1, 27-2, and 50-0. Clemens and Oswalt finish the series with ERAs of 486.00 and 702.00, respectively.

Twins versus Yankees

Lovin' the Twins
Batgirl, Gleeman, Stohs, Bonnes, and TFD. For such a small-market, contract-able team, the Twinkies sure do have a lot of good bloggers. In addition, it is election season, and how can you not vote for the party of the people: Santana/Nathan '04?

Hatin' the Twins
I guess their stadium kinda sucks.

Lovin' the Yankees
Ummm, ahh, err...

Hatin' the Yankees
You're not a Yankees fan, so this one is easy. My hatred of the Yankees, over the course of getting to know some great Yank fans this year, has been mellowed to a strong dislike. But that's as far as I'm willing to bend.

Alex's Verdict
Another slam dunk. You and I and the rest of non-Yankee-fan humankind would like to see the Bronxers slowly and systematically dismantled. You would like to see the New York pitchers quivering in the shadow of Mt. Morneau, the hitters recoiling from the Radke changeup, and Joe Torre melting when Ron Gardenhire inserts Augie Ojeda as a defensive replacement. Vive les Twin Cities!

Red Sox versus Angels

Lovin' the Red Sox
If you can't end one curse, you might as well end the other. There is also my suspicion that -- despite what the won-loss records tell us -- the Red Sox are the best team in baseball. And finally, the Red Sox are the Team of the 'Do: Manny, Pedro, Johnny -- their coifs just melt a man's heart!

Hatin' the Red Sox
Rah, Rah, Rah.
About the Sox I cheer and moan.
Ree, Ree, Ree.
Too bad it's in a screechy tone.

Lovin' the Angels
Vlad. In my mind, he's the only reason to watch an otherwise irritating team. If you're a stathead type, it's easy to justify that Vlad was the most valuable player in the AL this year. If you're a traditionalist more interested in voting for a player with some defining moments in a pennant race, then Vlad had a smorgasbord to choose from over the past few weeks.

Hatin' the Angels
Do you know an Angels fan, pre-2002 version? Didn't think so. Watching their fans in the playoffs is like watching a group of kids go to their first birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's. Monkeys? Thunder Sticks? Count me out.

Alex's Verdict
This round at least, advantage East Coast. Both fanbases have their nail-on-chalkboard qualities, and only the Angels have Vlad, but I want to see October baseball continue in a setting that feels like, well, October.

Down in D.C.
2004-10-04 08:00
by alex ciepley

I was given a reprieve from self-pity this weekend with a trip to the Baseball As America exhibit down in D.C. It was the last weekend of the exhibit at the Museum of Natural History there, so a pride of us baseball groupies--including Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran, and Steven Goldman--all went down to crash with Chris Kahrl and check out the exhibit.

There was a decent amount of Cub memories to be seen at the museum. Sandberg's glove was in a display of the evolution of equipment (There was no explanation why Sandberg was chosen for the display, any ideas?), a chair from Wrigley was against one wall, and Harry Caray belted "Take Me Out" over the loudspeaker in the section about the fans. I thought the coolest thing there, though, was a letter from (then-Senator) John F. Kennedy to Jackie Robinson. It's apparently a continuation of an earlier discussion between the two on the topic of racial discrimination. Kennedy pitches his beliefs to Robinson again, and adds a touch humor:

I have said this on many occasions in the past and will of course continue to say it. I have called for an end to all discrimination -- in voting, in education, in housing, in employment, in the administration of justice, and in public facilities including lunch counters. I have also spoken in favor of the right of peaceful protest, saying that the recent demonstrations have been in the American tradition of people standing up for their rights, even if the new way of standing up for one's rights is to sit down.

Other highlights at the exhibit included a display of bats fashioned after those several famous hitters used -- Rod Carew's handle was thinner than a nickel, one of us observed -- and one of the famed Honus Wagner tobacco cards. The real fun stuff on the trip, though, was the time spent with my travel mates. Baseball was the hot topic, but it wasn't the only topic. All of the talented writers I got to spend the weekend with aren't just talented baseball writers; they're talented thinkers and engaging people to be around.

I was consoled on Friday night for being foolish enough to be devoted to the Cubs, though condolences quickly turned to Kahrl (an A's fan) as the weekend went on. At least Jay, Cliff, and Steven, fans of the Yankees (and Jay of the Dodgers), have their teams still in it.

I figure we've got 4 months or so to lament what went wrong and propose ways to fix the ship, and I'm sure I'll jump right into that discussion soon enough. Until then, though, I'll be back in a bit with a guide to my rooting interests in the upcoming playoffs.

How Dusty Failed
2004-10-01 01:55
by alex ciepley

(Note: this column goes out under Alex's byline, but Christian wrote the second half of it.)

[Alex:] The number one culprit in yesterday's loss was the offense, which failed Mark Prior in a way only Randy Johnson can sympathize with. Dusty Baker, however, did his best in extra-innings to make the task of winning more difficult for his team. Here's why.

CINCINNATI 10TH
With two out in the 10th inning, Jason LaRue singles off Ryan Dempster and is pinch-run for by Ryan Freel. Not only would Freel's threat to steal be lessened with a lefty on the mound, but Andy Machado, who is at the plate, has two at-bats against lefties the entire year. Mike Remlinger has finished warming up, and is ready in the bullpen. Freel promptly steals second and Machado walks, something we're getting awful used to with Dempster (who, let's face it, has always walked way too many people to be a good pitcher). Barry Larkin steps up. Larkin has hit .368 in his career against Dempster, but Baker leaves the matchup as-is. Baker gets away with it, as Larkin grounds out.

CHICAGO 10TH
The most important thing the Cubs need at this moment is a run. It would certainly help things to get the leadoff man on. Tom Goodwin is brought in as the inning's first batter. Unfortunately, Goodwin has a .254 OBP this season, the lowest among every regular on the bench. This would have been a perfect opportunity to bring in Ben Grieve (who has a .360 OBP this season, just below his lifetime mark of .367), whose primary skill is to get on base. Dusty seems to think that Grieve should be reserved to drive in runs, despite having a pedestrian .419 SLG percentage. It apparently doesn't dawn on Dusty that you can pinch run for a slow baserunner, but you have to have the baserunner to begin with.

Goodwin, of course, promptly strikes out.

CINCINNATI 11TH
Mike Remlinger has been brought in and quickly gets two outs. At this point, however, it makes no sense to leave him in to face Sean Casey. Baker must think that Remlinger, a lefty, should be at an advantage against another lefty. Lefties, of course, have pounded Remy this year (806 OPS against lefties, 527 OPS against righties), as they do every year (from 2001-2003, 789 OPS against lefties, 570 versus righties). But even with Dusty ignoring these trends, you'd think he'd notice that Casey is batting a cool .500 against Remlinger (6 for 12) in his career. Baker escapes again, though, and Casey grounds out.

CHICAGO 11TH
With two outs, the Cubs are threatening. They have Sosa at third and Grudz at first with Lee at the plate. Casey is playing behind Grudz, and the Reds are conceding second base. You want to take second, as it eliminates the force out. No one notices this on the Cubs' side for a couple pitches. Whether this is Grudzielanek's fault for not paying attention or the coaching staff's fault for not relaying information, it is inexcusable that Mark doesn't immediately take second. He finally does midway through Lee's at bat. Lee walks and Barrett strikes out on three pitches.

CINCINNATI 12TH
Unfathomably, Remlinger is left in to face lefty slugger Adam Dunn. We've already gone over Remlinger's unsuccessful splits versus lefties in general, but Adam Dunn is batting 833/875/1.333 in his career against Remy! It is pure folly to leave this matchup in the game, and this time Baker pays for it. Remlinger gives up a single to center. Farnsworth (against whom Dunn is 1 for 8 in his career, though that one hit was a home run) is brought in to face Kearns. Kearns strikes out, but Dunn easily steals second and advances to third on a groundout. Javier Valentin drives in Dunn with a double, and the Reds have taken the lead.

CHICAGO 12TH
Given another chance to pinch-hit with Grieve to lead off the inning, Baker chooses out-master Jose Macias to lead off. Again, the lead off hitter is supposed to reach base, and Macias has an OBP of .286. It was the wrong choice, but it works out for Baker as Macias immediately singles.

Then comes the most idiotic part of the game. I'll let asking Patterson to sacrifice slide, since Corey has been no better than a pitcher at the plate this month anyhow. But when Patterson fails and there is now one out and Macias still on first, Nomar Garciaparra tries to sacrifice Macias to second. Nomar enters the game with four sacrifice hits in his entire career. This number is so low because he has a lifetime OPS of .919, the highest OPS of anyone in the Cubs' lineup. Nomar grumbled something or another after the game that it was his idea to bunt, but to me it seemed like he was trying to cover someone else's tracks. It should have been made clear to him that the Cubs needed a big hit at that moment, not an advancement of the runner in exchange for the out.

I'll ask James Click, one of the wise souls over at Baseball Prospectus, to take over from here. James clarified the math in an email:

While I don't like analyzing individual decisions like this, considering how often managers go to matchup sheets, let me offer my own.

Given a runner on first with one out, Nomar then Aramis coming up, and playing for one run, the Cubbies had a roughly 47% chance of scoring if Nomar had swung away. If he attempts to sacrifice, that drops to 43.5%. HOWEVER, if the opposition then chooses to intentionally walk Aramis, then that drops to 40.3%.

In effect, Dusty cost the Cubbies a 6.7% chance to tie the game. That may not sound like much, but it's a lot.

Well guess what. Nomar "successfully" sacrifices Macias to second, Aramis walks, and it all doesn't work out as Alou flies out to end the game.

***

It isn't that the Cubs would have won the game had Baker not made bad decision after bad decision in extra innings. It's that Baker consistently went against the odds, making it all that much harder for his team to win. The Cubs must have known when they hired him that Dusty never has been a good in-game manager, though having Barry Bonds around for a decade helps to cover a lot of failings. The thing of it is, Dusty's shortcomings are supposed to be compensated for by his ability to motivate players and create positive attitudes. He is a "winner" who gets the best out of his players.

So I ask you, as we watch a "motivated" Cubs team collapse on the verge of securing the Wild Card and listen as the Cubs adopt a new attitude characterized by in-your-face arguments and whimpering whines, has the trade-off in in-game management skills really paid off?

[Christian:] If, as has been reported, it was Nomar's idea to bunt, then that seals the question of "should the Cubs bring Nomar back next year" for me. I don't want a player on my team who, with four career sacrifice bunts, thinks that the twelfth inning, with a man on first and one out is the right time to try to lay one down.

(Note -- the next seven paragraphs veer very sharply into theoretical territory. If you're not interested in that, check back in where I say "Given the fact.")

By every measure, it was a bad choice. Lots of people have done lots of studies about how many runs you can expect to score in a specific situation, what the chances of scoring at least one run are, etc. Let's look at three of them:

1. Net Expected Run Values: By going back through previous play-by-play data, we can determine how many runs can be expected to score based on the 24 possible baserunner/out combinations. Depending on what set of data you use, the numbers change slightly, but they are always approximately the same.

With a runner on first and one out, the expected run value for the inning is 0.544 runs. With a runner on second and two out, the expected run value for the inning is 0.347 runs. So even a successful sacrifice bunt decreases the expected run value by 36%.

2. Tangotiger, one of the shining stars of mathematical baseball analysis, has examined the 24 baserunner/out combinations from a couple of different perspectives. One is called "Win Expectancy". Check the website for more info, but basically it's the chance a team has of winning, based on the 24 baserunner/out combinations and the inning of the game. With a runner on first and one out, down by one run, the WE of the home team in the bottom of the ninth (or beyond) 20.8%. With a runner on second and two out, the WE is 14.3%. So, a successful bunt in this situation lowers the chance of winning by 6.5%.

3. Another way to look at this situation is "what are the chances of scoring one or more runs from this point forward"? This is the only way of looking at this where a successful bunt in that situation doesn't hurt the team's chances. The chances of scoring exactly one run with a runner on first and one out is 12.3%, while the chances of scoring exactly one run with a runner on second and two out is 14.7%. So, a successful bunt increases the chance of tying the game slightly, by 2.4%.

But. While the chance of scoring exactly one run goes up, the chance of scoring one or more runs goes down, from 28.4% to 22.2%, a 6.2% drop. Playing for one run in that situation makes a little bit of sense, I guess, but it increasing your chances of tying the game, at the expense of your chances of winning the game, is not good strategy.

The aforementioned James Click had a long, well-researched series published on Baseball Prospectus where he took an in-depth look at sacrificing, in order to determine when (and by whom) it was a good strategic decision. In part three, he endeavored to find out how bad of a hitter you have to be in order for a sacrifice to be a good choice. What he found was that, with a runner on first and one out, anybody better than 199/224/174 is better off swinging away. He said, "Only pitchers should sacrifice a man from first to second in any circumstances. Even then, certain pitchers who are decent hitters should swing away." He also said "When the probability of scoring at least one run is paramount (late in a close game, in a low run-scoring environment, or facing a dominating pitcher, etc)...only pitchers should sacrifice a man from first. Given that a pitcher would likely rarely be batting in this situation where runs are at a premium, this situation is likely to never occur. " Nomar is way, way, waaay too good of a hitter to be bunting in this situation.

*****

Given the fact that Nomar and Dusty have both said Nomar was bunting on his own, I'm willing to give Dusty a pass on what turned out to be the worst decision of the game. The other faults that Alex outlined, however, fall squarely on Dusty's shoulders.

The suspect history of Dusty Baker as a manager in the post-season, and in post-season type regular season games, is well-documented. When I wrote my pro/con article (I know, I keep going back to it -- I had no idea it would turn out to be such a touchstone) about Baker's hiring in November, 2002, I said the following:

For Cubs fans, the prospect of even having to think about who to DH in the World Series is hard to fathom. Seriously, Dusty may not be the best in-game manager, but for the most part that only becomes an issue in the playoffs, and just like millions of other Cubs fans, Iíd love the opportunity to second-guess Bakerís decisions in a Cubs playoff game...Iím not too worried about this, at least for the next few years. If Baker does what everyone hoped he can, the Cubs will face a dilemma come Ď05 or so ó do they stick with the manager who got them to the playoffs, or ditch him for someone who is a better in-game tactician? I hope thatís a decision theyíll need to make."
I don't know if I've ever been so wrong and so right in the same paragraph before. I really didn't think Baker would have the Cubs contending in his first and second seasons at the helm. What I expected was that, by now, the Cubs would have a foundation in place that would allow them to contend in 2005 and beyond. That he has done what he has done (gotten the Cubs to the playoffs one year and to the brink of them the next) is a tremendous achievement. He also deserves credit for apparently changing the attitude of the team. I don't actually like the attitude he appears to have instilled in the players, but I will certainly admit that it is different than the "lovable loser" mentality that seemed to dog them in the past.

Given that he has done what he has done, though, the time frame I laid out turns out to be prescient. The Cubs have cast their lot with a guy who can motivate the hell out of his players, but his game decisions fall apart under scrutiny. In addition, he seems to carry an air of inflexibility that hamstrings him. There's another manager in the game today who often gets labelled as a bad tactician -- Bobby Cox. Perhaps not coincidentally, Cox has presided over a decade of high-talent teams that seem to have a hard time taking the final step. One area in which Baker and Cox differ, however, is that Cox adapts his managerial style to fit the players he has, rather than trying to shoehorn players into a particular paradigm. He's won his division with good hitting and good pitching; he won it with great pitching and mediocre hitting; and he's won it with mediocre pitching and great hitting. Whatever team John Schuerholz has given him, he's found a way to make them win. In eight years of watching Dusty Baker manager, I haven't seen in him a willingness to adapt his style to that of his players. After that long, I don't think he's going to suddenly start doing it, either.

So it's dilemma time for the Cubs. Actually, let me re-phrase that -- it's dilemma time for Cubs fans. Dusty isn't going anywhere. He has two years left on his contract, and he has led the Cubs to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in thirty years (and, rending of garments aside, there's still a chance he'll lead them to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in nearly a century). Plenty of people in Cub Fan Nation are saying things like, "well, he might not make smart decisions, but he's changed the way things are done in Chicago, and it's worth overlooking the game management problems."

I disagree. For the entire time I've been a Cubs fan, my hopes for the team have been the same: to see them win a World Series. It has been a vain hope for a very long time, but it's been the ultimate goal just the same. To celebrate Baker because he's changed the Cubs from a team which can't get close to that goal to a team that can get close but can't seal the deal is a fool's errand. I'm not gonna throw my weight behind a guy just because he's taught the Cubs how to lose a different way.

For the last two years, it has been Dusty's world, and we've just been living in it. I understand that, and I understand that it isn't suddenly going to become someone else's world. But there's room for disagreement in Dusty's world, despite what Dusty thinks. I mean, if there isn't, what the hell is the point of doing what we're doing here?