Monthly archives: January 2005
Did I just read that correctly? Check this out from a new AP report:
Baltimore would pay just $5 million of Sosa's $17 million salary this year, with the Cubs paying $12 million. The Orioles would assume responsibility for the 2006 option, which Baltimore would be able to buy out for $4.5 million.In exchange for Sammy Sosa, the Cubs are getting a middling second baseman who will be asked to produce like a left fielder and two aging sorta-prospects who are redundant within the Cubs system. But they must be saving money, right?
Well, they are. They're saving a whopping total of... $1.5M. Sosa's $17M salary, minus the $12M they're giving Baltimore, minus the $3.5M severance pay. $1.5M! The only real financial advantage for the Cubs is that they owe Sosa absolutely zippo for 2006 (as opposed to $4.5M), but feel free to snicker whenever you hear that this deal allows the Cubs any meaningful financial flexibility. $1.5M!
Oh, the Horror
From the Trib:
Sosa's Going To Birdland
This was a solid looking rumor when I went to bed, and while the deal appears to have some hurdles remaining (passing physicals, approval from the league, etc), the story of Sammy Sosa being traded to the Baltimore Orioles is all over the place this morning. Here's a rundown of what we *ahem* know.
Here are my impressions. I doubt Farnsworth is in the deal, and the only way I can see him being a part of it is if Julio is, indeed, involved. If given my choice, I'd rather have Farnsworth. Both of these gents are head-cases, both walk a ton of men, both gave up double-digits in homers last year despite pitching under 70 innings. If Julio has an advantage, it's that he's three years younger, but dealing these two men for each other seems like nothing more than a challenge trade of very similar guys.
It seems obvious to me in looking at the minor leaguers involved that another trade is in the works that will ship them out of the Cubs' system before they even get a uniform number. The Cubs don't need pitchers, so Crouthers has no purpose for them, and Fontenot looks like the left-handed version of Richard Lewis. They will be going elsewhere, and soon, it's just a question of where and for whom.
In order for this deal to make sense, there has to be another part to it. The wishcaster in me says that those prospects plus another one or two from the Cubs' current crop of youngsters to the Devil Rays for Aubrey Huff would be fine thing to do, but we've been over and over that particular predeliction before, and I have no idea if it's realistic.
As for Hairston, I have to admit I like the idea of him in the leadoff spot. Whether he could keep his OBP in the .370-.390 range for a full season is an open question though, as is his ability to refrain from breaking any bones from now until November. His lack of power in a corner outfield spot is also troubling, but is offset somewhat by the pop brought by the likes of Patterson, Garciaparra, and Walker from traditionally less powerful defensive positions. In any case, here's a lineup I could be very happy with if this deal results in it:
I like the balance, I like the OBP in the first six spots, and there's some very nice power 2-7. However, if that RF spot becomes Preston Wilson or *gack* Jeromy Burnitz, I'm suddenly less enthusiastic. We haven't seen the endgame with this transaction, and that's what will decide whether Jim Hendry pulled off something unspeakable or something wonderful.
In the wake of the Carlos Delgado deal with the Marlins, the Chicago papers are hopped up on Sammy stories. Everyone's speculating that the Mets, losers in the Delgado hunt, will now be more active in pursuing a Floyd-Sosa swap.
Bruce Miles points out that the Mets have other avenues they can consider if they still want another big bopper:
It's interesting to note that as good friends as Sosa and Minaya are purported to be, Minaya has chased several free agents ahead of trying to trade for Sosa this winter. His biggest catches were pitcher Pedro Martinez and center fielder Carlos Beltran.The Tribune has its obligatory Delgado-to-Marlins, Sosa-to-Mets bit, courtesy of Dave van Dyck. Jeff Vorva at the Daily Southtown has a similar take.
The Sun-Times, though, takes the cake, with one... two... three stories on Sosa today. You got the domino-effect column, here. The notes column, here. And the Sun-Times is so out of control today that Ron Rapoport actually has a Sammy-centered letters column about a Sammy-centered monologue he gave a few days ago.
So yes, three months into the offseason, and it's still All Sammy. Pretty tiresome. It's been none too exciting an offseason for Cubs fans.
Thoughts For The Day
A couple of quick hits:
As a postscript, let me re-emphasize Christian's post below: Give Larry a hand if you can.
Friday morning began normally enough; go to work, have some breakfast, get stuff done. I had no plans for the weekend other than to bolt the door and shelter myself from the approaching snowstorm. But that was before Alex emailed me and presented the opportunity to attend some of the Cubs Convention, as he knew someone with an extra pass that I could use for a time.
The offer was too good to pass up, weather be damned, so I arranged to pick up the pass Saturday afternoon and spend a little of my weekend in the basement of the Chicago Hilton soaking up fan enthusiasm and baseball atmosphere. I was only there for a couple of hours, and while I missed any of the events or Q & A sessions, I still saw enough to pass on a few observations:
Some Closers to Ponder
The Orioles are actively shopping the former closer Julio, and rumors persist that the Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Mets may be likely destinations.I think many Cubs fans would look at the following and get rather excited:
A young closer with three years' experience at finishing games? On the surface, it looks promising. The rest of his stats are a much more mixed bag.AGE YEAR SAVES
Julio is fairly difficult to hit, and it's great to see that his strikeout rate is consistently climbing. Unfortunately, his walk rate is stupendously awful, and the number of homers he allows is pretty troublesome as well. Is this really the profile of a pitcher who's any better than the guys already in the Cubs' pen?YEAR ERA IP H HR BB K H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9
And how exactly should you interpret Baltimore's reluctance to use Julio as their closer even if they keep him? Do the Cubs want someone who's about to lose their job... with the Orioles?
The final straw for me: Julio was suspended last year for throwing at the head of dearly beloved ex-Cub Augie Ojeda. Augie! How can you want any part of Julio after knowing that?
Julio isn't the only closer whose name is being tied to the Cubs these days. Robb Nen is reportedly negotiating with the team. I have no complaints about Nen's performance as a closer. If you want to compare a good reliever's line with that of Julio's above, take a gander at the last season Nen was able to put together:
He was great. Hard to hit, decent walk rate, great strikeout rate, and rockin' home run rate. Handsome enough guy, too.YEAR ERA IP H HR BB K H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9
Sadly, that line was from two years ago. Nen, no longer a spring chicken, hasn't been able to pitch in either of the past two seasons due to shoulder woes. So just as I have zero complaints about Nen's performance record, I have zero expectations that he'll ever be able to pitch again, or--at least--effectively.
Corey Leading Off
"As a team we don't have great speed, and if I can get on base as the leadoff man, I can have a lot of stolen bases and get in scoring position. That would be great."Corey's 100% correct. He needs to get on base in order to use his speed. If he doesn't get on, he not only can't steal second or third, but he's not doing his job as a leadoff hitter.
Some readers may be surprised at this, but I really like speedy players. They add a certain tension to the game when they're on that tickles my fancy.
And there's no disputing that Patterson is the Cubs' most exciting (and pretty much only) base stealer. He's also exceptionally successful. For his career, he's 71 for 89 in steal attempts, an 80% success rate. Anything above 70% is considered good, and he's well above that mark. Having watched lots of Cubs games, I'm also pretty sure that a decent number of his "caught stealings" are due to being picked off first--his one problem in the base-stealing department--so his rate of being thrown out at second is probably even better.
As an aside, does anyone know where to find caught stealing numbers broken out between "thrown out"s and "picked off"s? It'd be mighty handy.
Despite Corey's prowess on the basepaths, I still think he's much more suited to hitting down in the order. He's a little guy, but he's a little guy with a good deal of pop. A lot of Cubs fan tend to think that Corey should just concentrate on being speedy and not "something that he's not", but that's silly talk. Corey has legitimate power and he should use it.
I'd rather have Corey hitting with people on base than being the guy who's supposed to get on base, simply because he hasn't fared well at the latter task to this point in his career.
That said, batting orders are overanalyzed and overscrutinized six ways to Sunday. I wrote a bit about it last year (over at my old blog, Ball Talk), when I used a run simulator to see the effects of moving Alex Gonzalez down and Derrek Lee up in the proposed batting order. After "optimizing" the lineup, I concluded:
This new-fangled order only produced marginal gains: 765 runs per season, and almost all of these gains come from moving Lee up in the order. An improvement of 7 runs is worth noting, but it isn't going to single-handedly solve the Cubs' problems. As has been discussed several times by ESPN.com analyst Rob Neyer, what's important isn't where you bat your hitters, but who you put in the lineup to begin with.This has been hashed and rehashed time and again by those who have studied it (Jay Jaffe just wrote about it a couple days ago), but lineup order just doesn't matter that much in the long run. Please feel free to remind me of this when I inevitably moan throughout the year that so-and-so shouldn't be hitting where they are.
Though of course, when Neifi!'s starting, all bets are off.
Great Needs Demand Great Expense
After filing for a record setting arbitration figure of $22M, it appears that Roger Clemens is close to reaching an agreement with the Astros on a one year deal that, while reportedly not quite the amount he asked for, will still make him the highest paid pitcher in the history of the Major Leagues, surpassing the $17.5M paid to Pedro Martinez in 2004.
UPDATE: And just as I post this, I see that ESPN is reporting that the deal is a theory no more, with Clemens getting $18M for his services in 2005.
Talk all you want about whether or not Clemens is worth that kind of money in a vacuum, but the fact remains that with the losses of Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent, the injury that will delay the start of Lance Berkman's season, and the continuing declines of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, the Astros have little choice but to sign Clemens to whatever deal he'll agree to, and thank him for the privilege.
What was once a fearsome offensive machine and a tremendous strength, now looks like the team's biggest weakness, and in order to compete in the NL Central, or anywhere for that matter, it's imperative that Houston keep runs off the board consistently. The best method at their disposal at the moment is Mr. Clemens, and besides, like all teams, the Astros need to put butts in seats, and after losing the kind of offensive star power they did this winter, failing to bring The Rocket back might have served to keep patrons away in droves, as well as killing any hope Houston had for the playoffs.
It might be going a bit far to call this a good move for the Astros, but I'll admit I'm not looking forward to seeing Clemens standing on the Wrigley Field bump, other than in a pure baseball sense (there's something about Clemens/Wood matchups that will never get old for me). Rather, I'll say it's probably the best Houston could do with what they had to work with, and sometimes that has to be good enough.
N-R-ME? No, N-R-I!
All three major Chicago papers ran an apparently compulsory "Everything's Going to be Dandy With Nomar's Achilles" piece this morning, but the Daily Herald's version had a little extra info at the bottom about non-roster spring invites. Here's the list of gentlemen mentioned in the article:
Major League Experience
Cub Minor Leaguers
We've talked about some of these guys before, Fox and Williamson chief among them, but Peter Bergeron jumps out at me for some reason. Perhaps it's because so many thought he was the real deal after a breakout campaign in 1999, splitting action between AA and AAA as a 21 year-old. He's only 27 now, but it's become obvious after failing multiple times to produce at the Major League level that his window of opportunity is nearly closed.
If I had to guess, I'd say he's invited because of his relative youth and because there really isn't an outfielder on the roster who should be allowed to back up Corey Patterson. I sincerely doubt Bergeron makes the cut, but since the other available choices for the gig are Todd Hollandsworth and Jose Macias, it certainly doesn't hurt to give him a look. Nice invite.
I'll also admit to having a perverse soft spot for Angel Echevarria. Oddly, his career numbers over eight years add up to about one full season's worth of playing time, and he's put together a solid .280/.343/.469 line in that time. Not what you want from your first base/corner outfield/DH types, but useful off the bench just the same.
He's spent the last two years in Japan with the Nippon Ham Fighters where he was decent, but not overwhelming. Realistically, he won't make the club, and probably shouldn't, but he could serve as a useful right-handed bat with some pop off the bench - something the Cubs were surprisingly short of last season - and much like Bergeron, could come in handy at some point in the season if he's willing to hang out in Des Moines.
The rest of the NRIs with experience in the Bigs besides Fox, Williamson, Bergeron and Echevarria are of the "break glass in case of emergency" variety, and when I say emergency, I'm talking spine tingling cataclysm. If you need a lefty reliever badly enough that the 33 year-old Oropesa's 7.34 career ERA looks attractive, maybe you should forgo lefties all together, or simply make one of your right-handers throw with their mittened paw.
I know little more about the minor league invites than what their stat lines tell me, and since I couldn't find anything on Valdez, or even anyone on last year's minor league rosters whose name was even close, I'm going to let him pass and move on to the rest.
UPDATE: I knew I'd heard Valdez' name before. I'll claim sickness since I was in the throes of my bout with plague when this transaction occurred, but he's the 27 year-old Cuban pitcher the Cubs signed in December. He's had some nice numbers in the Dominican Leagues, and it will be very interesting to see how that translates when he's facing a higher level of competition. The organization seems pretty hot to trot, so he should at least be fun to watch.
Jermaine Van Buren hadn't played above A-ball his entire career, but when the Cubs signed him last year after he spent his age 23 season with the Fort Worth Cats of the independent Central League, they converted him from a starter to a reliever. The result was a year that began in Lansing and ended in Iowa, with the most time in one spot being the 53 IP he accrued in West Tenn, sporting a 1.87 ERA while striking out 10.9 men per nine. That's some pretty impressive stuff, and I'd guess the Cubs are looking at him as another bullpen right-hander, possibly a closer-in-training.
That pretty much covers it. He's a small man without much power, but he gets on base, and if he hits well enough and is good enough in the outfield, he's got a way outside shot at a bench spot.
UPDATE: I gave a shout out to A-B prospect kingpin (and fellow Cub fan), Bryan Smith, of Wait 'Til Next Year for a little more info on the minor league gents. He was good enough to offer these thoughts on Van Buren and Greenberg:
[O]ne person familiar with the negotiations saying that the Mets are preparing a four-year offer in the $45-million range, with room to edge slightly upward, if necessary. The Rangers' stance, according to another source, is to go no higher than $10 million per season, but with the flexibility to go to four years.I doubt the Marlins can out-bid the Mets, but stranger things happen everyday.
How does this affect the Cubs? If the Mets land Carlos le Deux, then I doubt they would have any interest in acquiring Sosa. And if the Mets don't acquire Sosa, then who? Other teams (Baltimore, DC, Colorado, KC) continue to be bandied about, but are any of these realistic options?
I'm still not even sure a Sosa-Floyd swap would be in the best interests of the Cubs. I think Sosa screwed up at the end of last year, but I'm no hater. And I think more than a few stars would need to align (an impossibly healthy Floyd, a signed and healthy Magglio) for a trade with the Mets to leave the Cubs a better team.
Get Your Huff On
Tagged onto the end of an article in today's Baltimore Sun:
The club also maintains interest in Aubrey Huff, and Beattie spoke with Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMarr yesterday. The Devil Rays have inquired about reliever B.J. Ryan.My ears perk up at both names. I've gone on and on about liking Huff, but I'm a Ryan fan, too, considering him to be one of the elite relievers in baseball. A Huff-Ryan swap doesn't make much sense from Tampa Bay's perspective. They may be justified in their Ryan lovin', but they really aren't in a position to trade a large chunk of offense for some help in the bullpen.
The Cubs can offer Tampa a package that makes much more sense. The Rays need young starting pitching that is years from free agency and big paychecks. Ryan, I believe, is a free agent in 2006, so he fills neither bill.
I'd start a package with a choice of Mitre, Wellemeyer, or Leicester, assuming Mitre is the most desirable morsel. Any of the three could step right into Tampa's rotation, even if none of them have a huge upside. You'd also need to include a premium prospect, with only Brian Dopirak, Felix Pie, and Ryan Harvey as untouchable. Angel Guzman, who--mind you--I really like, would probably do the trick. Would that be enough?
And hey, if the Rays really insisted on getting a reliever who's close to free agency... well, the Cubs have one that I'm sure fans (both human and electric) wouldn't mind passing along.
2005 Payroll (In Progress)
This is a work in progress, since not all the numbers are final. Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez have exchanged arbitration figures with the Cubs, so until their situations are resolved I've simply split the difference in the offers.
I'm also unsure of the details of Barrett's contract, and imagine that the yearly salaries in his 3-year, $12M contract aren't static but get progressively larger. Until I know, though, I've slapped him down for $4M in 2005.
Remember, all of these figures are before performance bonuses. And the Cubs gave their players quite a few of those, so some big surcharges might get added to the final bill pretty quickly.
Drop a note in the comments if you have updates or corrections.
No complaints here. Given the talent in the rotation, the price doesn't look bad at all. After all, Roger Clemens just asked for $22M for his lone contributions to the Houston rotation.STARTING PITCHING
Prior, Zambrano, and Rusch are, combined, making less than Eric Milton will average each year of his shiny new Reds contract.
Spots 6 and 7 are up for grabs. The Cubs really should try to shed some payroll here. Todd Wellemeyer, Michael Wuertz, Sergio Mitre, and Will Ohman are probably each capable of performing (at least) as well as the non-Hawkins names on this list, and all of them could be doing it for the minimum of $316K. Money not-so-well spent.BULLPEN
I think the final numbers for both Barrett and Ramirez will be a bit lower. Ramirez may sign a one-year deal around this figure of $9M, but I bet if the Cubs can give him a 3- or 4-year deal, he'll play for a touch less that $9M in 2005.LINEUP
David Kelton, come on down! You're contestant number 25! As of right now, Kelton would have to be the favorite for the last spot on the bench... and I guess he would also be the backup centerfielder. Or would Macias fill that role? Either way, it ain't too pretty.BENCH
How bad is this bench? I'd run some numbers, but I think I'd get too depressed.
These guys count, too. Minor league dudes get at least $52,600 for being on the 40-man, though some will get a bit more when they pop up in the majors throughout the season (this page gives a bit of info, though it still doesn't answer all of the questions I have on this issue). Scott Williamson will get at least $316,000 next year, and that can be boosted to $.5M if he pitches with the team.NUMBERS 26-40
Different teams treat their buyouts differently in relation to their payrolls, but to be safe I'm including these numbers in the grand total.BUYOUTS
That's a lot of money, and not much wiggle room if they want to stay around $100M for their total payroll.GRAND TOTAL: $98.912M
Think the Cubs can get Magglio signed for $1.088M?
Barrett for three years
I expect that, in the end, this will be one of two multi-year deals given to an arb-eligible Cub, the other being awarded Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez, to me, seems likely to follow last year's Kerry Wood path of signing a one-year deal, then reworking a multi-year deal around spring training.
Update - 7:45 PM ET Barrett's contract is 3 years, $12M. Is he worth it? That depends entirely on whether or not last year was for real. If it was, then he's a pretty big bargain. Catchers who hit .285 with 15 homers don't grow on trees, especially in Wrigleyville. His good contact rate (86%) and power numbers might indicate that he can keep it up.
The downside isn't so bad, either. $4M a year is a pretty manageable risk, especially for a team with the Cubs' payroll. There really isn't much to complain about with this deal, is there?
Cubs sign Williamson
Update - 9:15 PM ET From Cubs.com:
Williamson's contract will pay him the minimum in 2005, and if he is activated, it will increase to $500,000. There is a $2 million club option for 2006.Like with the Dempster deal, the Cubs hold the cards as they wait for a pitcher to recuperate. I think this is a fine deal, though I probably don't like it nearly as much as many of the pundits will. If Williamson can return to being Scott Williamson, reliever superstar, then $2M is a great price. If he's just okay in 2006, though, then you're paying yet another reliever a couple million bucks to be... okay. Still, an interesting deal.
Cubs re-sign Patterson and Farnsworth
At least, that's what Rotoworld tells me. No money details yet, though.
If true, the Cubs avoid arbitration with both players. Of course, you can expect the Cubs to avoid arbitration with all of their players, something that's become a matter of course for them.
Update - 7:30 PM ET Corey Patterson signed for $2.8M, and Farnsworth signed for $1.975M. Earlier this offseason I guessed on some figures for both. I was dead on with Farnsworth, but missed by a wide margin with Patterson, undershooting him by over a million.
Patterson's deal still seems reasonable. If he can continue to work on his plate discipline--and yes, he did make some progress last year--he could end up being a little bargain.
Farnsworth, obviously, I'm less psyched about. But I'm not surprised at the raise, either.
Albert Pujols was hoping that offseason treatment and rest would help clear up the plantar fasciitis he was suffering from. No dice. The pain in his foot has returned, and he now thinks there's nothing for him to do except play through the 2005 season with the discomfort.
"It's something I'm pretty sure I'm going to go through again this year because it's too late for surgery. I don't want to miss spring training, and I don't want to miss the first month and a half of the season."I'll trudge through work even when I have tennis elbow, so why shouldn't Albert play with his little foot owie? Actually, I'm pretty sure what he's dealing with is none too pleasant. I strained a tendon in my right foot some time back, and it was on-again, off-again sore for over two years.
Losing Pujols for any amount of time would be a Death Star-ish blow to the Cardinals, but I doubt they're fretting too much. After all, Big Al played through the injury last year, and his season wasn't exactly a bust. I expect more of the same from him this year, which as a Cubs fan just means more pain.
A lot of the time I spend reading gets used in the pursuit of biographies or history texts. Of the two books I enjoyed most last year, one was the biography of a President, while the other dealt with the British and German Navies during the Great War. Many folks would find this stuff tedious and dry, but it's fascinating to me. Gaining a better understanding of the people and events that shaped our lives, even if the direct force of their impact has been lessened with time, never ceases to bring me pleasure.
Which is why it's so strange that I've never really delved into the history of baseball. I don't have an explanation for it, other than to say it's one of those things I keep meaning to do but somehow manage to lose sight of - like exercising more or improving my parallel parking.
So, with an eye to fixing the deficiency, I recently purchased a number of baseball books that had been recommended to me; and as befits my Cubcentricity, I've begun with a tome titled Wrigleyville that deals with the history of our own beloved Cuddle Bears.
I mention this, not because I'm about to review it (although when I'm done, I just might), but because of this passage about the last man to lead the Cubs to a World Series victory, player/manager Frank Chance:
Now in all fairness, Chance was also enamored of manufacturing runs by using the sacrifice bunt and stealing tons of bases (Chance still holds the Cub team record for most bags thieved in a season with 67), although I'd wager that had as much to do with the dead ball in use at the time as anything else.
I just find it refreshing and encouraging that somewhere in the deep recesses of collective memory, an impulse from past successes might break free and cause a Cub hitter, every once in a while, to be just a little more patient.
or "Crazy Like a Fox"
or "Fox in the Cubhouse"
or any of numerous possible inane headlines. The Cubs have signed righty reliever Chad Fox to a minor league contract. Fox, 34, has often been an effective reliever, but he also may no longer have a throwing arm. At least that's what I gather from the meager 58.7 innings he's pitched over the past three seasons.
Hendry may also be recalling Fox's three appearances against the Cubs in the 2003 NLCS, though it wasn't anything spectacular (3.3 Inn pitched, 5.40 ERA). Overall, Fox gives you lots of strikeouts and lots of (unintentional) walks. Not too many hits allowed, but way too much time missed.AGE YEAR TEAM ERA IP H HR unBB SO
Still, this is a pitcher worth a minor league contract. Why not? Maybe you catch lightning in a bottle, even if only for 30 innings.
I just wouldn't count on Chad Fox being a bullpen savior for the team. After all, a Fox may change its skin but never its character. Doh! I did that asinine tomfoolery with his name again...
Outfield Chatter Addendum
We have this from Chris De Luca in today's Peoples' Paper:
I understand that because of his big salary and lessened stature that a player of obviously equal quality won't come back to the Cubs in a Sosa deal. However, that doesn't mean that a 28 year-old with a nondescript minor league track record who hit .269/.336/.462 with fewer than 400 at bats at the major league level is appropriate compensation, especially when there's only $6M in payroll relief to be had.
I don't know who De Luca's source is on this and I have no idea if there's any veracity to what he writes, but I can only hope that Jim Hendry understands that when the end result of a deal is that you're essentially paying $11M for Terrmel Sledge's services in 2005, failing to run away isn't merely incompetent, it's grounds for flogging and a long stay at Big Muddy River.
I'll readily admit that speculation involving a deal with the Nationals for Brad Wilkerson is of pipe dream quality, but that has a lot to do with Washington continuing to be mentioned as a trade partner for Sosa, coupled with what's actually on the Nationals' roster.
Beyond Wilkerson, Jose Vidro, and possibly Nick Johnson, there isn't a position player on their 40-man who would be worth acquiring in trade, but Vidro and Johnson don't get mentioned as we toss names around because their positions are already filled in Chicago. Wilkerson may not turn out to be available - in fact, I'd bet that Johnson is the only one of those three who could be had for less than a good young Major League starting pitcher, an offer Hendry would never make - but he's the only position player in D.C. who would make a trade worth doing for the Cubs.
On another slow news day, Derek and I exchange emails and daydream about potential Cubs outfielders.
Derek: So there's a rumor going around the TCR comments that Sosa will go to the Mets in exchange for Cliff Floyd and Braden Looper. Two months ago I would've been excited at the idea, but now I've got a weird, sick feeling. Even if the Mets eat all the money, I don't know that I like it.
Sure, a healthy Ordonez would make me feel a lot better (say, wouldn't a healthy, powerful Ordonez in right and a fragile Floyd in left be kinda like Sosa and Alou? or Sosa and Rondell White?), but I'd still be uncomfortable with the whole thing.
Of course, this is the same rag that reported that Greg Maddux was about to sign with the Yankees at the 11th hour last offseason, so I generally think they're full of shit.
I doubt any deal involving Sosa would also include Dubois. And since I'm basically fine with a Dubois/Hollandsworth platoon if the Cubs don't sign anyone, I don't see why I wouldn't be fine with that platoon backing up Floyd and Magglio... if we could get Magglio.
Maybe I'd rather have Cameron than Floyd, though.
I know I'd rather have Wilkerson or Huff. Huff might be on the block, and Hendry has to see him as a viable option. Also, the Cubs have exactly what Tampa needs, young pitching.
Ex-Giant Cody Ransom reportedly will be announced as a minor-league signee on Monday, along with a few other chaps. Ransom plays shortstop and a few other positions, none particularly well. He doesn't hit a lick, either. Not much to say, other than, "nice name".
From what I can tell, there have been three "Cody"s in MLB history. I guess "Cody" is a pretty recent name, as all three players are from the past couple years:
The Cardinals have a young outfielder named Cody Haerther in their minor league system.
There has been one other Ransom in baseball history, Jeff.
Players whose names vaguely remind one of moulah:
When Cubs Blogs Ruled the Earth
Seriously, man, Cubs blogs have taken over at least half the Midwest, all of Canada, and parts of Greenland and Iceland, too.
Long overdue, I've finally updated a few of the links in the Cubs Blog Army section over on the right-hand side. Drop a line if you've been inadvertently left off the list; all ya gotta do is update your site regularly, and we'll stick up a link.
Some of the newer additions to the Army include:
Check 'em out, show some love, spread the good news: Cubbie blogs are bountiful.
Questions in the Central
Just like my recent trip to New Jersey (Trader Joe's was a plus, but other than that it was Jersey), the Cubs' offseason has been mixed. Keeping Nomar, Todd, and Glendon by giving them short, inexpensive contracts was a great start. All three contracts happened fairly early in the offseason, and now look like genuine bargains in the current marketplace.
But it hasn't been too rosy since. The Cubs have failed to fix a couple of their biggest problems. Chicago desperately needed to add some OBP to the lineup, and other than having Nomar around for the entire year, they've failed at that task. OBP, yeah you know me.
They also haven't added a relief ace (no, this doesn't need to be a "closer" per se). Adding another big bullpen arm isn't as crucial as fixing the lineup's lack of on-base skills, but it would be nice to enter the season with a few less question marks in the endgame.
There's still a lot of time between now and the beginning of the season, so we can all play the waiting game and see if Hendry can do some quick wheelin' and dealin' in the next couple months. Until then, can solace be taken in the offseason fate of the Cubs' division mates? Here's a question or two about each team.
1) St. Louis: Mark Mulder was long a great pitcher in Oakland, though most of his numbers (strikeout rate, walk rate, age) were heading in the wrong direction. Will Mulder be much better than Danny Haren, who the Cards gave up in the deal, even next year? Or better than Woody Williams for that matter? How much will the losses of Williams, Renteria, Womack, and Matheny affect the team?
3) Cincinnati: You have $8.5M a year to spend, and you blow it all on... Eric Milton?
5) Milwaukee: Somehow, the Brewers have had the best offseason in the division. Scott Podsednik is now Carlos Lee. Craig Counsell is now J.J. Hardy. Chad Moeller is now Damian Miller. Jose Capellan, young and promising, enters the rotation. Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder are on their way. Could this team sneak into, I dunno, third place next year?
Now how 'bout that. Here we are, biting our nails, looking under rock and stone for a left fielder. And the solution to all these problems, Jim Hendry tells us, might be right under our nose (or is that, "nois").
"What else do you have to do in the minor leagues or winter ball to get a chance? Sometimes we assume there is going to be a marquee name player available in every spot. The best alternative isn't always buying this guy or getting that guy.
I nois I'd like to see Dubois dig his tois into the batter's box more often next year. Hendry doesn't seem averse to the idea, at least. But what will Dusty Baker do when faced with Dubois' impressive minor league track record and ol' reliables Hollandsworth and Macias?
Randolph's major-league record in 95 games is 10-6 with a 4.89 ERA. Opponents have hit only 18 home runs off him, and only five of them were by left-handed batters.
Well, "only" 18 home runs would be a nice achievement in, say, 230 innings, but Randolph's only pitched 141 innings in the majors. No, this isn't the world's worst home run rate, especially considering that Randolph called Arizona's homer-friendly park home, but it's not worth writing home about either.
Has anyone found a reason for this trade yet? Why, again, is Randolph worth a spot on the 40-man roster?
Ex-Cub Update #4
The news may be about a week old, but I still giggle when I think of it: Alex Gonzalez is now the Devil Rays' starting third baseman.
A year ago this time Gonzo was the incumbent shortstop for the Cubs. His resume included good looks, a handful of memorable late-inning homers, and one ugly error that tarred and feathered an otherwise shiny glove. He was generally regarded as adequate but upgradeable filler at short.
The 2004 season saw injuries and o-fers reveal Gonzalez to be a clear liability. The team found a fantastic upgrade in Nomar, and Gonzo was sent off to play musical chairs in Montreal and San Diego.
Now the guy who couldn't hit enough to play short for the Cubs is the starting third baseman for the Devil Rays. Tampa has some exciting young players worth watching, but I'm not exactly glued to the boob tube when the Rays are playing. When management makes moves like this one, why would you be?
Lefty VS Righty: A Cub Conundrum
There's been an occasional mini-debate in the comments about the relative useful/less-ness of right-handed and left-handed hitters when asked to play 81 of their games in Wrigley Field; the specific question being whether the benefits of adding left-handed power to the Cubs' lineup are negated by any disadvantages their home park might hold for them.
No doubt those who swing from starboard have a decided advantage in Wrigley when it comes to lofting it out of the park (according the lefty/righty park factors from the 2005 version of The Bill James Handbook, right-handers have a factor on home runs of 137, with 100 being average), but the debate got me wondering whether the disadvantage for Cub port-siders was enough to discourage their use.
I decided to quickly look at this with the two park factor elements the book had splits on: batting average and home runs. The catch is that we can't just look at the 81 games that would be played at home, we have to account for the other 81 games and the park factors that would be at work in each of those contests to know what the effect is over the course of a season.
For ease of use, I assumed a player who would hit .300 with 30 homers over 162 games in a neutral park. From there, using the three year (2002-2004) park factors for each stadium and the Cubs' 2005 schedule, determined how this fictional character would do in each setting with each type of handedness, weighted it by the number of games they would play there, and compiled all the numbers together to get figures for the season as a whole (in the case of the Nationals, since there are no numbers from 2002-2004 for RFK, I assumed a neutral park for the three games the Cubs will play there). The results are below:
Remember in looking at this that our starting point for the season was a player who hit .300/30 in a neutral environment. A lefty Cub with that baseline actually makes out alright, taking most of the hit on batting average, and all of it from his home park. So that we're clear, assuming 540 at bats in a season with half of them coming at home, the .015 difference in batting average you see between him and the right-hander amounts to 4 hits over 81 games.
Where the difference really comes in is with those homers, and it's not how few the lefty hits but how many the righty does that accounts for the disparity. The very slight advantage the lefty has during the road games is completely trumped by the six home run advantage in Wrigley received by the right-hander.
Therefore, assuming a neutral base, and the Cubs' 2005 schedule, a right-handed hitter should hit for better average and better power as expressed by home runs than his left-handed counterpart. However, it's important to note that when the Cubs put a lefty on the field every day, they get production over the course of a season that's very close to what they could expect in a neutral environment, meaning that there is no inherent disadvantage to playing a lefty, but instead, a large advantage with a right-hander at the dish.
So, to answer the original question, judging from the limited information above, the benefits of adding left-handed power to the Cubs' lineup are not negated by the disadvantages of their home park. Wrigley, in fact, does not look to be terribly hard on lefties. However, if the lineup isn't already leaning heavily to the right, and there's a choice between a left-hander and right-hander of equal ability, it appears the clear choice is the righty.
Cubs Acquire Randolph
The Cubs picked up lefty reliever Stephen Randolph from the Diamondbacks today in exchange for a PTBNL. In taking a quick look at his numbers, I don't get it. He has no special skill against lefties, allowing a .233/.329/.368 line against them versus the .231/.390/.405 line the starboard boys hit him for, and in his 141.2 Major League innings, he's walked 119 and struck out 112. Geez, even Steve Blass is wincing.
I'll assume two things in the interest of making myself feel better about this:
Of course, that strategy would be better if Randolph looked like some sort of diamond in the rough, but I just don't see it, and I'm unsure there weren't better uses for what is now his roster spot (Rule 5 draft anyone?). Maybe there's something that a scout would see that I can't glean from the numbers, but it would have to be something pretty spectacular to make me feel like this was a good idea.
My Final Post On Beltran Or, Can I Get A Hallelujah!
The race to give Carlos Beltran a bath in the green-tinted faces of dead presidents has concluded, with the honor of wielding the gold-plated scrub-brush being given to the New York Mets.
Reports indicate that the price is around $119M over seven years, and as I've written before, I'm more than happy to let him play elsewhere at that price, and especially for that length of time. Too many things can happen over seven years, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if by 2010 or so the Mets were looking to move him. I congratulate Jim Hendry on his restraint.
That said, the Mets have certainly improved themselves in the short term, although his addition to the team raises the question of what to do with Mike Cameron. Word is that he'll move to right to make room for his defensive inferior, but there's always the possibility that he gets traded somewhere: Say, I hear there's a team in Houston that needs a center fielder.
Speaking of the Astros, I'll admit to being a little torn about their non-acquisition of The Dark Prince. Naturally, I'm pleased that the Cubs will only have to play against him for six games at the most, and anything that lessens the Astros' chances for 2005 is alright by me. Yet I'm fairly sure that the deal they had on the table ($105M for seven years) would have made it difficult for them financially, whether by harsh reality or choice, for nearly the entire length of the contract. I'd certainly have no objections to that scenario.
So, while they're in rough shape in the near future, I think Houston was saved from themselves to a certain extent. Certainly they would have been better with Beltran in the fold, but only for the first year or so of the contract, and even then the loss of some other key players might have been enough to make 2005 an exercise in the quixotic.
What they've unwillingly done is exchange a couple years of extra competitiveness for what will likely be a faster convalescence period, and while that might not be fun for their fans to watch in the present, it might be the best thing for the future health of their organization.
I've been waylaid with the flu for the past week, which should've given me the chance to catch up on my pile of DVDs that have been lent to me. Classic movies like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Lolita, neither of which I've seen before. I actually got through half of Woolf, but had to delay the end--it's pretty hard to watch a heavy-duty flic like that when you're hot and bothered with a fever.
So instead of flipping through my A-list of must-watch movies, I rented Dawn of the Dead on demand. It turned out to be an inspired choice, as I immediately identified with the horrifying undead monster people that surround the movie's protagonists. I, with my flu, was an undead monster person!
I'm back among the living, but I'm still out of it, not having caught any of the Cubs news from the past weeks other than Sandberg's happy Hall selection. Research says, though, that I haven't missed much. An offer to Carlos Beltran? Seems like a last-minute token bit to me.
The pisser in all this is that last night, as I was sitting down to do some lookups on leadoff men through the past 20 years of Cubs teams (as a followup to the Ruz-Hawk exchange), the processor in my baby--the Dell portable PC I use at home--went kaput. What good is a return from the flu if I don't have my 'puter toys to play with? I'll spend the next 10 days or so checking in when I can from wherever I can, while my poor Dell gets its new chip at the factory.
We should know Beltran's fate by tomorrow (I still say Astros have him), but we'll have to wait 'til next year to know for sure if the Cubs made the right choice between Todd Walker and Mark Grudzielanek (I think they did). With Grudz signing an extremely affordable $1M (plus incentives) contract with the Cardinals, there should be plenty of chances to see the two second baggers square off head to head during the season.
Ain't That Horse Dead Yet?
Since this week in baseball is almost entirely about where Carlos Beltran will end up, with the Cubs as theoretical players of the game, I may as well comment on the fact that the Astros have decided to toss in for crazy money, making what is termed as a "final offer" for the services of Beltran at $105M over seven years. This is Houston's answer to the Mets reported offer of $112M over the same time period.
If you're not used to the concept already, steel yourself and become inured to the idea that the Cubs aren't in serious pursuit of Beltran, and at those prices, probably shouldn't be. Seven years is an awfully long time, even for a player of Beltran's youth and quality, and a deal like this is the one you let the other teams make: if it's a net positive over the course of the agreement, they've beaten the odds and more power to them. But if it goes sour in the last couple years, or perhaps even sooner, then you've managed to dodge a bullet.
Risk is a part of any contract, especially when you're going after a superstar-quality player, but I'd rather take that risk in big, short doses - an offer to a player like Beltran of, say, 5/90 or even 4/80 - than spread it out over great swaths of time. Bidding higher on a yearly basis in exchange for shorter term commitments strikes me as a sounder long term strategy, particularly for teams with larger budgets. Of course, you'd have to get the player to buy into the concept, but as I said above, if someone else is willing to go longer and higher, by all means let them.
Assuming all the published figures on these offers are correct (including the Cubs supposed offer of $75M over five years), and that no one significantly raises the bar by tomorrow, I'd fully expect that Beltran will be staying in Houston until 2011, or such time as he's traded.
There are factors here we aren't aware of, particularly regarding the structure of the contract offers, that could put the lie to my prediction. But if the main difference between the Astros' and Mets' offers is $7M stretched out over as many years, I'd say it's an aspect small enough to be rendered insignificant if, indeed, Beltran's reported desire to stay in Texas is accurate.
A month or so ago the idea that the Houston Hammer might be returning for many years of Cub pummeling would have sparked my Chicken Little reflex, but not today. The last time the Astros signed one of their marquee players to a huge, long term contract was the day they inked Jeff Bagwell to his current deal, which is still causing Houston significant problems (Bagwell, good as he was and is, isn't worth the $13M and $16M he's getting over the next two years, let alone the $25M in deferred payments he'll be receiving over the course of 2007 and 2008).
It's hard to know for sure without seeing the structure of the contract, but there's strong potential that, for a team with Houston's relatively limited resources, ponying up for a player like Beltran could hurt their ability to compete long term by making other key stars less financially accessible. Will they be able to get a deal done with Lance Berkman next year? How about when Roy Oswalt is freely available after 2006?
It's these considerations that lessen any concern I might have. Do I want to see Cub pitchers get scalded for 130 or so games over the next seven years? Of course not. But while he'll certainly make the Astros a better team for the next couple of seasons, the likelihood that this particular contract could hurt Houston in the long term settles my stomach quite a bit.
Sometimes you have to give something to get something, and getting out of the way as the Astros sign Carlos Beltran might just be the gift for the Cubs that keeps on giving.
Thing To Do While Waiting For News
With the passing of the holidays and the impending January 8 deadline for teams to sign free agents who refused their offered arbitration, the rumor mills are starting to heat up once again. May as well take a moment to toodle around and see where the Cubs factor in.
Sandberg and the Hall
My favorite Cub player of all time is Ryne Sandberg. It has an awful lot to do with timing, as the onset of this chronic disease I'll call Cubfanitis coincides very closely with his debut in blue pinstripes. His emergence in 1984, leading Chicago to their first postseason appearance since 1945 was a seminal moment, not just in my fandom, but in recent Cub history.
Yet it wasn't just the success that was attractive - not merely the surprising power at the plate, the smooth elegance in the field - it was his manner, his shyness, the sense of vague discomfort at the attention he received that I always found endearing. Despite his being a Major League ballplayer, a professional athlete, he seemed like someone you could meet in your local diner; reading the paper, eating ham and eggs.
I hesitate to use the phrase "everyman" - besides being hackneyed, it's a stunningly inappropriate description of a man whose skills were elite among the elite. "Everyman" doesn't win the MVP at 24. "Everyman" doesn't win 9 Gold Gloves. "Everyman" isn't named to 10 consecutive All-Star teams. He may have looked like a regular guy, he may have lacked superstar charisma, he may have been uncomfortable with his fame, but he was not everyman. He was special.
Which is why I'm so happy that he's finally been voted into the Hall of Fame. Election on the third ballot isn't a terribly long wait, there are some who have arguably better cases whose rightful induction is still being delayed well beyond that point - Ron Santo and Bert Blyleven being chief among them - so perhaps the word "finally" is a tad overwrought.
Yet, I'm of the mind that a man worthy of being called a Hall of Famer is worthy at the moment his career has ended. There is no sensible waiting period, no need to indicate degrees of prowess or designate a class system within an already hallowed institution. Either you belong or you don't, and further delineation is fruitless and petty.
So I say "finally" because in a perfect world, no Hall-worthy player should have to wait beyond the initial five years. Ryne Sandberg was a Hall of Famer when he retired for good after the 1997 season, he was a Hall of Famer when he became eligible in January 2003, and now, thankfully, he can officially say with pride and conviction, "I am a Hall of Famer."
Congratulations, Ryno, and thanks for all the memories!
Ryno in the Hall!
Ryne Woo! Sandberg Woo! elected Woo! to the Woo! Hall Woo!
He just snuck in with 76% of the vote.
I'm actually sick as a dog and slightly delirious right now, which is why I've been pretty silent on here in the past few days. I hope to get better and rejoin the living soon.
Until then... Woo!
Assuming the Position 2005: Part 6 - Catcher
One of the big issue areas the Cubs needed to address during the 2004 offseason was offensive production from the backstop. Damian Miller had provided excellent defense and a steadying influence behind the plate, but the price for this was the worst season with the bat Miller had suffered since his 27 year-old rookie campaign in 1997, which featured all of 71 plate appearances with the Twins and a truly unfortunate .273/.282/.379 line.
Outside of that limited exposure in Minnesota, Miller had always hovered around league average with the bat, posting EQAs during his previous four seasons that ranged between .251 and .261 (.260 is considered average), and OPS+ between 93 and 96 (100 being average). Not so in 2003, as his EQA dipped to .239, and his OPS+ to a positively Girardian 78.
He was wonderful with the glove, but his stick was a giant liability, as was illustrated multiple times during the 2003 playoffs when the combination of Alex Gonzalez, Miller, and the pitcher of the day provided easy opportunities for the opposition to extricate themselves from potential Cub rallies. Something had to be done.
Of Things Coming and Going
I could hurl curses in the general direction of 2004 - small scale events like the Cubs' final, ignominious fate, and infinitely more important tragic world events, particularly recent ones, provide plenty of fuel for a tumult of rage at destiny.
However, I won't succumb to the temptation to rail; to all alone beweep my outcast state would not only be without purpose, but would show tremendous disrespect for all the blessings I've received over the past year.
In general, we humans tend to concentrate so much on what went wrong over a given period, that we forget about and therefore do dishonor to the things we have to be thankful for. So in an attempt to rise above my baser instincts, here are a few of the things that, for me, made 2004 worth living.
I have a lovely, healthy baby girl (born 15 minutes before the first pitch of the 2004 Cubs' home opener, no less), I have a wife who continues to be my greatest source of strength and my best friend, and I have been given the opportunity to be a part of a tremendous collection of writers, thinkers, and people here at All-Baseball.
On the Cubs front, we've seen the emergence of young stars like Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano, the establishment of Jim Hendry as one of the more intelligent and creative deal-making GMs in the game, and despite the bitterness of the finish, the first consecutive winning seasons for the Cubs since 1971-72.
These things and many others offer plenty of reason for me to thankful for what's past, and eager for what's to come. The Cubs should be contenders for the foreseeable future, I get to write with some of the finest, most talented gentlemen on the internet, and for some of the most passionate Cub and baseball fans around, and best of all, I get to watch this little beastie grow up.
Thanks to all of you for welcoming me here these past couple of months. I hope you can look back and see the things that made 2004 a good year for you, and that whatever positives might have come your way in the last 366 days, that 2005 brings them again and tenfold.
Happy New Year!
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com