Monthly archives: January 2006
And Jerry Makes Two
The Cubs are slowly picking off their arbitration cases, and today's signee is Jerry Hairston, who came to an agreement with the club on a one year, $2.3M contract.
I recently bought the Hardball Times Annual (the contributions of some of my most favorite bloggers being no small incentive - but I digress), and one of the fun stats they have in the book is one that quantifies baserunners' contributions based on how they advance on the basepaths in three specific scenarios, all with the base ahead of the runner vacant: a) runner on first, batter singles b) runner on second, batter singles c) runner on first, batter doubles.
Hairston was 13th in the Majors in terms of the total run value above expectations of his baserunning contributions as described, and was 3rd in terms of the rate at which he converted these type of baserunning opportunities into extra bases, and therefore, runs. And that was without his wheels at 100%.
If you're looking for a cause beyond the defensive reasons we've all been given that Hairston appears to have o'erleapt Todd Walker in the eyes of the organization, his work advancing on his teammate's base hits might be the kicker.
One Down, Four To Go
As one can see from things I've written in the past, just about the last of the organization's five potential arbitration cases I expected to get settled was the one that came off the board today, with Mark Prior and the Cubs splitting it right down the middle and agreeing to a one-year, $3.65M deal. I was pretty obviously over optimistic about the whole process, because while I may have had Prior as the last to sign, he's also the guy whose signing date I guessed best.
Of course, I made my little predictions before the parties submitted their figures, and once that came down, I probably would have pegged Prior as the third to sign, and even assuming the club made his deal a priority, I would have expected something to happen first with the mere $250K gap between the team and Will Ohman. Still, it's good to get this done, because if someone has to be the first arb hearing for the current Cub regime, Prior's one of the two men in the process whom the team cannot afford to annoy.
The Silent Pain of Polytheism
This was a minor thing that went down late yesterday, but I almost missed it. The Cubs purchased the contract of an outfielder from the Mets' system named Angel Pagan, and added him to the 40-man roster. Not begin much of a prospect guy, I turned to my handy-dandy 2005 version of John Sickels' Prospect Book for some insight.
Pagan is a switch-hitter with good speed. He doesn't have much power, and his on-base abilities are inconsistent. His walk rate is mediocre, leaving his OBP highly dependent on his batting average. I think he projects as a reserve outfielder.
A quick look at his stat lines confirms that assessment, and the fact mentioned in the Cubs.com piece linked above, that he managed to commit nine errors while playing all three outfield positions last season, implies that he's not much use defensively, either (I know, errors are misleading, but nine miscues in one season is a lot for an outfielder).
In other words, beyond any snickers that can be had from the implication that the Cubs have gotten so desperate that they've finally turned to Paganism to eradicate their curse, there's little to be interested in here, and far more to question.
Why use your last available roster spot on a player like this? Why use this roster spot this way when there's a decent chance you'll want to add Cleanliver Goodbody by the end of the spring? Why fill your 40-man at the end of January when you have a pitcher you've just signed to a deal that guarantees them a spot on said roster by Opening Day?
To be honest, I'm not sure what this move implies, or why it was made. I suppose it could be a favor to the Mets, but since there's only cash involved it seems like a small favor at best. The Cubs aren't in tremendous need of outfield depth, so that doesn't fly with me, either.
What's very clear is that certainly one, and probably two, players will need to depart the club's roster by the time the season opens, and while it was likely going to happen anyway, I'd guess that this addition only increases the internal pressure to trade Todd Walker, and now, to do it for non-roster minor leaguers, or in a package deal with other denizens of the 40-man for fewer roster players in return.
Perhaps I'm missing something (alright, it's a near certainty), but I'm really scratching my head here. I'd like to think that there's a solid reason and a good idea here, but hell if I can find it. Help me out, folks. What's going on?
This morning we have this bit o' fun buried way down in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer (emphasis mine).
The Phillies have talked with free-agent catcher Mike Piazza about a possible contract, a baseball source said, but it seems Piazza might have better options with the San Diego Padres or Chicago Cubs.
If you're like me, you're wondering who this "baseball source" is that's fingering the Cubs as an interested party in the Piazza game. Granted, I know nothing about the realibility of the Inquirer or the individual whose name is on the piece, but in my itty widdle brain, I envision an exchange with his editor that goes something like this:
Reporter: You wanted to see me?
Editor: Yeah. Sit down. I was noticing that you wrote in your piece here that the Cubs were interested in Mike Piazza. That doesn't make any kinda sense to me. Who was your source on this?
Reporter: It's a new guy I'm trying out.
Editor: A new guy, huh? Do I know him? What's his name?
Reporter: I don't think so. He's a foreign fella. Goes by the name of Auta Miaz.
Editor: Auta Miaz?
Reporter: Yessir, that's his name.
Editor: So, wait a minute. You're telling me that the information in your article came...
Reporter: Straight from Auta Miaz. That's right, sir.
Editor [with a large sigh]: Kid, get the hell auta miovise.
Somebody was going to take a flyer on Wade Miller, and it turns out that somebody is the Cubs. According to the club's official site, he's signed for one year at $1M, with an opportunity to make another million in incentives.
Would I have preferred that this deal looked a little more like what Ryan Dempster got in 2004 (a little less expenditure on the front end with a team option for the following season)? Sure. But methinks that's nitpicking.
This is a good signing, and classic Jim Hendry - taking on the relatively inexpensive risk of an injured pitcher in exchange for the upside that his healthy self would represent. Miller likely won't be available until May, but if he's throwing well at all it gives the team a lot of flexibility and some insurance mid-season, should they have a need for such a thing. There hasn't been a lot to be positive about of late, but Hendry gets kudos on this move.
It Could Have Been Worse, But It Could Get Better
For those of you still incredulous that Neifi! will likely be starting a majority of the time in 2006, look on this and thank whatever power you thank when spared horrors beyond imagining that the Cubs did not go in this direction.
I've not seen terms reported anywhere, but for those who aren't ardent link followers, the Red Sox have chosen to fill their hole at shortstop with the
Granted, as they both bring similar levels of offensive incompetence, whether you think this is truly a "there but for the grace of God" situation, or just a different riff off the same sheet of music depends largely on whether you think Neifi! has significantly better defensive chops (you can find statistical evidence to support either contention depending on your source), but I happen to think he does, so even with the fact that Gonzalez was never really on the Cubs brass' radar, and the fact the Neifi!'s utility will be lessened considerably by his manning the keystone, I'd still rather have the guy we have than the one the Red Sox settled for.
But, perhaps we won't have to live with that Pyrrhic victory. What the Red Sox have done, by choosing to use Andy Marte to acquire Coco Crisp for center field and then signing Gonzalez for short, is effectively remove the only seemingly major player for the services of Julio Lugo from the market.
The Cubs have been involved in similar discussions, as has been widely reported, but with the D-Rays apparently asking for Marte to do a deal with the Sox, I'd figured that the asking price would be too high. However, that may not be the case any longer, now that Marte and the Sox themselves are out of the picture.
I know it smacks of pipe dreaming, particularly since the D-Rays still seem willing, even under different leadership, to keep their pricier veterans and perhaps collect draft picks during their free agency next offseason rather than ship them off for second-rate goods, but even so, this development has to make it more difficult for Tampa to exact the highest possible price in trade, which could present an opening for the Cubs.
Such a deal would be the best shot the Cubs have at fielding a middle infield that was not only good defensively, but useful offensively as well. This requires a leap of faith that Dusty would start Cedeno and Lugo together should such a deal come to pass, but I'm willing to jump if it happens, because if I jump now, I know there's nothing but cement collisions in my future. At least with Lugo on board there's a possibility, however small, that someone will remember to fill the pool.
Money Money Money
For those of you with interest in such things, here's a very rough breakdown of the two possible extremes for the Cubs' player salary budget. In the interest of guaging the range of possibilities, I've assumed all five players who have submitted figures will go to a hearing, and have presented the situation if they all won, and the situation if they all lost.
Most of this data was culled from the extremely useful Hardball Dollars site, with the submitted arb figures coming from the related article at cubs.com, and a few other numbers springing forth from my head. There are five players who I've pegged at the league minimum ($327K, which I've rounded to $330K for simplicity's sake), and while they might make a few thousand more here or there, it won't be enough extra to impact the totals significantly. I've also chosen to deal exclusively with what I think the 25-man roster is right now in order to save myself a massive headache. In any case, here are the numbers.
If you're looking for a gist, it's probably that - assuming the club's payroll limit is in the $100M - $105M range - there is some, but not a ton, of wiggle room available. Some more will be created when they deal Todd Walker, thus also making room for one of the NRIs to join the big club (most likely, Cleanliver Goodbody), but depending on what his replacement on the roster would get paid, it's likely not a huge savings.
If things play out right, they should have enough in their somewhat artificially capped budget to add one other player with significant salary, but then, they'd have to find such a player first.
The Figures Are Got
The Cubs exchanged figures with their five strays today, and the Cubs' MLB site is kind enough to list them in the text of the linked article. However, since some of you may not be interested in wading through a bunch of words and stuff in search of a bunch of numbers and stuff, I thought I'd toss it into handy table form for your easy reference.
As you can guess from what I wrote earlier, I'm only really surprised about Zambrano's numbers (that, and the size of the gap between the club and Pierre), particularly since this morning's Sun-Times indicated that they'd be trying to hold him under $5M, while indicating that he'd be asking for something in the neighborhood of $5.5M (which experience should only serve to teach me a lesson I should have learned more completely long ago, which is to take anything written about the Cubs in the aforementioned rag with a grain of salt......truck).
In any case, if distance between numbers is a fair indication of nearness to resolution, it looks like Mr. Ohman should be set very soon, while Mr. Pierre and Mr. Zambrano could take it to the edge of a hearing. I doubt they'll get to that point, but I bet they make each other sweat.
Get Yer Figures!
As noted in the Daily Herald and Sun-Times this morning, today is the day teams and players who are arb-eligible and have yet to reach an agreement must file the salary figures they could potentially do battle over. As of now, the gents who could find themselves beginning the process are Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Juan Pierre, Jerry Hairston, and Will Ohman.
Of course, since the current regime has famously yet to go to a hearing with a player, it's also a non-event in Cubland, beyond the fact that we'll all have a more concrete idea of what the overall payroll will look like tomorrow morning. So since there's very little suspense to be had, I'll make a feeble attempt at manufacturing some: in the comments below, list each player, the day you think they'll sign, and for what amount. Whoever is closest in total dollars, with the dates (in total days from the day of signing) acting as the tiebreaker, will receive...oh, let's say...the people's ovation and fame forever. My guesses:
Have at it people!
All Hail Cleanliver Goodbody!
Yet another slow day here at Cub Town HQ, so why not take this opportunity to inspire a little panic in my faithful readers? The subject? Some quotes from his Dustiness in today's Daily Southtown (with a hat tip to BTF). Here's the one that should make the skin of all Cub fans crawl, regarding Marquis Grissom:
"To me, he's like an Eric Karros type of guy. He'll help everybody."
Yes, Karros was a great help to Hee Seop Choi, as I recall.
To be fair, some quotes later on mitigate my twitchiness:
"Marquis already said he will do anything he can to help this team," Baker said. "He can pinch run and pinch hit. Spot play. If there is a tough lefty for Jacque (Jones), he could be a late-inning replacement or double-switch. The guy's been deadly against lefties his whole career."
Now that reads like a reasonable application of Grissom should he make the team (although, qualifying his statement about lefties and Jones with an 'if' just makes me shake my head), and while I'll admit that when it comes to Murton and Cedeno I'm only willing to believe they're full-time starters when I've seen their names in the lineup for months at a time, I think over-interpreting the Karros quote is typical of the hairtrigger, tragedy seeking mindset Cub fans (myself included) have adopted of late.
Of course, the reason we have that type of mindset is because it's been bludgeoned into us over time, and the last few seasons in particular. Why do we lend more credence to what we read into seeming off-hand comments like the Karros quote than we do to more detailed descriptions of a player's possible duties? Because our experience has taught us that the detail is a smokescreen, whether intentional or not, and that the workings of Baker's subconscious are more likely to make themselves visible in those off the cuff moments. It's not that way all the time, but more often than not, those little items are where the meat of the matter lies.
But finally, as is typical with any good Dusty session, not only do you have the quote that strikes fear followed by the one that seems reasoned, we also have the one that you know no one else in the game would utter in public, and I leave you folks with that.
"He's a clean liver, he works hard and he's a good-body guy," Baker added. "Those good-body guys don't get as old as quick as others."
You're a good man, Cleanliver Goodbody, and forever in peace may you wave.
A couple of the papers have printed pre-convention Q & A sessions this morning, one with Dusty Baker, and one...um...not. Actually, Bruce Miles' piece in the Daily Herald, which was a series of potential questions the front office might face at the convention with some often tongue in cheek expected answers, was considerably more entertaining, and likely, more truthful at root. My favorite "exchange."
You gotta hand it to Bruce. He's the only beat writer covering this team with the courage to poke a little fun at the men he covers, and he's easily the most overtly progressive of the group. Not only that, but the answer provides a spot-on critique along with what appears to be an accurate view of the organization's sentiment toward the undeservedly out of favor Walker. It's not word for word what Jim Hendry said a couple of days ago, but it captures the gist.
Then there's this from Dave van Dyck's interview with Baker in the Trib:
If there's one thing that could save us all from the prospect of Neifi! manning the keystone, it's Baker and his unwillingness to change. This is normally a weakness, but if the Cubs don't deal Walker before the season, I'd guess that Dusty would keep him in the lineup until he showed inconclusively that he didn't deserve it. Recall, if you will, the seeming decades of incompetence Todd Hollandsworth was required to show before he lost his starting job.
That doesn't mean if Walker's on the team that Neifi! won't find his way into the lineup. Of course, if I'm going to take Dusty's words about Walker at face value, then I suppose I'm at least required to consider the veracity of this exchange.
Here's the thing: I'm willing to buy Baker's statements about Walker because I've seen a pattern of behavior in the past that lends credence to his words. When it comes to what he says about Cedeno, though, his past makes me believe that part of his answer was truncated, and that the last bit should go like this: "He was the rookie of the year in Venezuela (winter league) and I was proud of him for going to play. He's ready to play for us. Once a week."
In the end, this is all speculation, even when we've got the words of the individuals involved to work with. If there's one thing I've learned from the last couple years, it's that it ain't the words, it's the deeds, and until the deeds get done, we don't know a damn thing.
Jose, Jose, He Just Won't Go Away
I was a little distracted yesterday, and as a result, I almost missed this tidbit from the Trib:
[The White Sox are] one of six teams interested in signing Jose Macias, who can play five positions and recently won the batting title in the Venezuelan League.
Two things: first, I have no idea what the White Sox, or any team for that matter, would want with Macias. In the Sox case it's especially odd, even though I'd imagine he'd only be getting an NRI, since they already traded for a superior Jack-of-all-trades player in Rob Mackowiack. It simply doesn't make sense. Still, I can't help but root a little mean-spiritedly for Jose to show up on the South Side. Schadenfreude's ugly, but it's very, very real.
The second thing that made me blink was that Macias won the Venezuelan League's batting title. That's the same Venezuelan League Our Boy Ronny has been excelling in this winter.
So, I took a quick peek, and yes, Jose's line was pretty impressive at .405/.451/.583, which, naturally, makes me call into question any positive vibe I get from Cedeno's performance. Of course, Macias did his work in 84 at bats, so sample size issues apply (and my goodness, I know the season is short down there, but when 84 at bats qualifies one for the batting title, it's not much of a title in my book), but I've reached a point in my mental/emotional state where I'm certain that anything positive I find in the club's offseason will quickly be quashed by some further influx of info, and this is no exception.
It speaks to the failures of the organization this winter and their effect on my psyche that a freakish few plate appearances by a known mediocrity can make me question the cumulative positives shown by a reasonably promising youngster. It shouldn't, but it does, and that the doubt stems from the work of one of Cub fans' greatest nemeses over the last few seasons makes it feel that much worse.
Patterson to the Orioles......Seriously
There, that's better isn't it. First the Orioles were the favorites, then they weren't, but in the end they're the proud owners of a slightly used Corey Patterson at the cost of two minor leaguers: shortstop Nate Spears and left-handed pitcher Carlos Perez.
The truth is, I know nothing about the players the Cubs acquired, so rather than regurgitate information that can readily be found on Spears' and Perez' Baseball Cube pages, I'll direct you there if you have the interest, and simply say that Spears looks like the guy who could be worth something eventually - Perez having spent his age 23 season in the Sally League, and performing only decently to boot - as he's at least young (20 last year) with the appearance of passable plate discipline (although, it looks like that's taken a hit each time he's moved up a league).
So while, barring vacation plans, neither of these gents will be seeing the North Side of Chicago anytime soon, the gist is, getting anything for Patterson is a bonus, considering the obviousness of his status with the club, so if either one of these acquisitions ever does anything on the major league level, it'll be a huge coup. As it is, it's simply enough to have the whole thing over and done with so everyone can get on with their lives.
The View Through the Shoebox
I just can't spend all day in the doom-and-gloom - well, okay, so I can, but I'm going to choose not to - so here's a little something to perk you all up. While the various winter leagues aren't exactly pitching havens, we can all take some heart from the way our rookie (though ROY ineligible) shortstop is conducting himself in Venezuela.
Combining his regular season and postseason work thus far, Ronny Cedeno has put up a .349/.394/.478 line with 10 doubles, 4 triples and 2 homers in 186 at bats this winter. No, we aren't likely to see that level of play when he comes up north - a drop in his average and power would be likely, methinks - but I don't think it's unreasonable to look at that line combined with what he did last year and be reassured that he can be a help, not a hindrance, in 2006.
Is it a reach as far as good news goes? Sure. But I go with what I got, folks.
When Exclamation Points Attack
As the Patterson talk swirls and a deal seems imminent, even if we have no idea who the partner might be or what is to be exchanged, there were some words buried in Sun-Times articles today and Saturday that, if unsurprising, are nonetheless discouraging.
Again, it should come as a surprise to no one with the failure to land Rafael Furcal and the Tejada fiasco apparently at a predictably fizzling end, that what we're left with is a team unwilling to give Todd Walker another shot, and apparently unable to do anything else to fix a middle infield that might be very sharp defensively, but with Neifi! in the daily lineup and, if past transgressions are reliable predictors of future sins, wailing away in the second spot in the order, will only serve to perpetuate the offensive horror show we were a party to last season.
If there's a bright spot - and it's a small one, like the pinhole in your shoebox you used to view that solar eclipse - it's that a middle infield made up primarily of Cedeno, Neifi!, and Jerry Hairston will almost certainly be one where Cedeno gets a lot of time, since Hairston was far from being an organizational favorite.
Still, I am reminded of something I said in early November when discussing the pending shortstop situation.
Well, signing Neifi! with the express purpose of playing him at second is actually worse, so while I'm still enough of a glass-half-full-fool to not surrender before a game's played, you'd best believe, unless something happens to fix this, that I'll have my towel (or grenade, I can't decide) in the air, ready for the tossing when play begins.
You know what I wrote on Friday? Well, scratch that. Okay, maybe not entirely. Corey should still be going elsewhere soon, but according to the Baltimore Sun Article cited above, the Orioles aren't the favorites anymore, with rumors saying the Rangers, Mariners, and Nationals are the other teams in the mix.
In other words, it looks as if Jim Hendry might have actually gotten a bidding war started for Patterson's services. I have no idea how such a thing could happen in a world where sentient beings rule, but you won't see me complaining, even if it means negotiating with twelve-foot tall ants bent on world destruction. They have no concept of relative market value anyway.
Baltimore: The Island of Misfit Outfielders
The Trib is reporting this morning that the Cubs are close to dealing Corey Patterson to...wait for it...the Orioles, in exchange for a minor leaguer - and while no names were dropped, one of the article's sources implied that it would not be one of the Orioles' "top five or so prospects." 'Tis too shocking to behold.
Needless to say, this isn't what I had in mind yesterday, but it's something, and frankly, if the Cubs don't have to pay money and still get something of even marginal value in return for Patterson - a bucket of roughly used baseballs, a "Camden Yards Spittoon", an autographed Sammy Sosa jersey - they'll have done better than I thought possible.
We'll never know how much of Patterson's failure to live up to his hyped potential lay at his feet, how much was due to the organization's inability to teach, how much was due to his being rushed, or how much was just an overstatement of expectations, but despite all the frustrations I truly wish him well, because if nothing else, I saw little that would make me think he was a bad guy. Assuming this deal goes down, I wish you luck Corey. And watch out for those high, hard ones.
This might be my least favorite time of year. Not just from a baseball perspective, but in general. It is the point in the annual agenda where the length and depth of the winter one is about to experience becomes most clear. There are no big Winter Meetings to look forward to, no holidays with celebrations filled with food and family. It's all one long, bleak road stretching out to a spring that is somewhere unseen over the horizon.
In short, January is the calendar's equivalent to a DMV waiting room. It is dark, it is dingy, you will be there seemingly forever, and while you can recognize the necessity of passing through to get to where you want to be, you still wish you could be anywhere else, and spend nearly all of your time in that dank hole dreaming of more pleasant climes.
So here we are, waiting for spring, or at the very least some sort of baseball news or action worth our attention. Because even with the cold wind chafing our faces, and the snow pelting our eyes to slits, nothing makes baseball fans flip into a spring-time reverie like news of a big trade and the contemplation of their team's newly-minted lineup.
That's what we're listening for, straining to hear through the stillness - some word that something has happened, something big that can turn this offseason into something other than the thudding failure it has been. I have hope - I always have hope - but I'm not stupid. I invited some crickets in from the cold. I'd rather have peace from the company of their song than the restlessness of silence.
As expected (and as noted by our intrepid Mr. Timmermann), the Cubs officially announced that they had signed Marquis Grissom to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training, and at the same time, added to their offseason haul of former Twins, coming to similar terms with outfielder Michael Restovich and shortstop Augie Ojeda.
Of course, Cub fans are already familiar with Ojeda, who spent parts of four seasons in Chicago, earning the love of the faithful with a ton of hustle and a great attitude. Unfortunately, there's little else to recommend him other than a halfway decent glove up the middle, so he'll be spending all of his time in Iowa and off the forty-man unless something goes horribly, horribly wrong. The same goes for Restovich, who has never really shown much to be excited about. Both of these guys are on board for organizational depth in an emergency, and nothing more.
This may not be the case with Grissom. As I mentioned earlier, a healthy Grissom could be a passable center field backup and platoon partner with Jacque Jones. But that doesn't mean he's Dusty-Proof - and at this point, I sincerely doubt that anyone is - so while I think this is a good, cheap flyer when talking about it in a vacuum, I have my doubts about what this means in reality. Suffice to say, if Grissom makes the team and does anything but spell Matt Murton when he needs a day off, I'll be spittin' nails.
Baseball Content After the Jump
As I begin writing this Sunday evening, my daughter is playing with her favorite Christmas present, which she only got yesterday. We go to Oregon every year to visit all the grandparents over the holiday, and as a result, much of what the toddler received was going to be shipped, rather than shoved into seventeen separate suitcases (the grands do like to go overboard) and left to the whims of airport baggage handlers.
Anticipating this, my wife and I planned to wait until after we got back to purchase the large "toy" item we intended to give her (storage is at a premium in our condo), thus hoping to lessen the impact of missing things that she had become attached to during the trip out west, and with our schedules and automobile situation being what they were (the battery was dead when we got back), Saturday was the first chance we had to hit a store.
We had decided a while back to get her a riding toy (some sort of plastic contraption that she would sit on like a bike, but would cause to move with the Flintstones-style pushing of her feet). It was a need manifested by her intentionally sitting on various things as if she would pilot them around the room, a behavior which only increased during our stay in Oregon - "Uh... your daughter's riding Noah's Ark again." Clearly, it was time.
When we got to the store we found a number of choices, settling upon this model, as she's fascinated by farm things at the moment, and with all the "Little People" items she received from others, it fit into the gestalt. What we neglected to notice in our rush to supply our daughter with a toy we thought she would enjoy, was that this rider not only performed the basic function, it also made noises. Musical noises. Loud musical noises. So loud as to drown out your thoughts of killing the scurvy bastard who thought it was okay to manufacture this thing without volume controls or an on/off switch.
Naturally, she adores it.
So if, in the days and weeks to come, you notice phrases creeping into my work having to do with circling a red barn, or how I love all the animals on the farm, or if you hear tell of me curled up in a ball, rocking in a corner like Leo Mazzone on a crack binge, all the while covering my ears and yelling "You know where you can stick that chicken coop, buddy!" you'll at least know why.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com