Monthly archives: January 2007
Cubs, Prior Avoid Arbitration
Prior will make a base salary of $3,575,000, down from $3.65 million last season, but he can earn another $300,000 if he reaches 30 starts.
Any predictions for Prior's 2007 season?
Here's mine: 24 games, 10-6 record, 4.00 ERA.
A Short Chat With Bob Feller
I had the pleasure of attending the 10th annual Opportunity Through Baseball Charity Dinner and Auction on Sunday night. The event is run by Robin Renner, Varsity baseball coach at Neuqua Valley High School, to fund his week-long summer camp for underprivileged youth in East Aurora. The camp is a spin-off of the nationwide Opportunity Through Baseball summer camp in Denver.
As I happen to know Robin, I was able to talk with one of the evening's guest speakers, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller.
Feller, far from feeble in mind or body at 88-years-old, is quite an interesting fellow. Unwavering in his opinions on everything from baseball to politics (he later went on an anti-Iraq tirade during his talk), Feller exemplifies an old-time ballplayer, or even simply an old man: full of memory, pride, and, at times, disdain for what the game has become.
Pitch counts, five-man rotations, and a bullpen with designated relievers have all become standard practices since he left the game, Feller said. Lost today is the art of the complete game. "Back then, we paced ourselves," he said. "Half of the kids today don't even know what that means, to save up a bit extra for the 8th or 9th inning and the toughest hitters."
When I asked him about the Veterans Committee, of which he is a member, Feller said, "We're trying to get some veterans in," in contrast to the perception that the Committee has no interest in voting in new members.
When I brought up Ron Santo's name, Feller retorted, "I think Riggs Stephenson has a much better chance of getting in than Ron Santo. Ron Santo is borderline, and he may make it. I predicted it and hope he does. ... I have put his name on my list ... I hope he can make it, and I hope Riggs Stephenson makes it, as well as Lefty O'Doul and two or three others."
Feller continued: "We're going to find out in a few days who makes it, and I think we're going to lower the standards, and when we lower the standards, I think [Ron] will have a better chance."
Cubs Convention Photo #1
Ryan Dempster has a reputation as a fun-loving guy, demonstrated here as he yanks on the leg of Matt Murton to prevent the red-head from winning the inflatable obstacle-course challenge at the Cubs Care Clinic, a kid-oriented clinic at which Dempster, Murton, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks gave kids tips on various baseball skills.
Dempster did scale the wall first to win by less than a second, and then dedicated the victory to his 7th-grade gym teacher.
Cubs Convention Report: Day Three
The long-awaited finale to the thrilling five-part Cubs Convention series finally arrives...
Day Three is always, by far, the slowest day. Most fans don't bother to attend for a variety of reasons, ranging from the lack of big-name players to the short hours. This year, though, I'll go out on a rather short limb and say the Bears-Saints game at Soldier Field had something to do with the low attendance Sunday morning and afternoon.
But I was there. Only mildly interested in football, I instead saw a panel of Cubs executives discuss ticket prices, payroll, and why we'll never again see another Cubs Cruise.
The early session, Meet Cubs Business Management, featured such Cubs brass as Executive Vice President of Business Operations Mark McGuire, Senior Vice President of Community Affairs Michael Lufrano, Director of Marketing and Sales Jay Blunk, and Director of Ticketing Operations Frank Maloney. Exciting, I know.
But this session is really quite enjoyable if you have a genuine interest in the team and its operations, not just its players. It gets really fun when grumpy fans are given the opportunity to chide management.
Now, to the shooting range.
Cubs Convention Report: Day Two, Part Three
The last batch of significant questions asked to the powers that be involved health: the status of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Wade Miller, and why so many players suffered injuries last season.
When a fan asked Jim Hendry Saturday morning about the club's efforts to keep Prior healthy, specifically Lou Piniella's involvement and plans for the coming season, Hendry demonstrated some sound judgment in not counting on Prior to help anchor the rotation.
"There is nothing Lou can do about Prior's health," Hendry said. "Prior is throwing well, but we're covered depth-wise. We think [Rich] Hill is here to stay. [Sean] Marshall had a fine season before he was sidetracked by a non-pitching injury. We've got Wade Miller as well."
Hendry also talked about the large number of young pitchers Juan Mateo, Carlos Marmol and company who saw major league action last year, and, of course, Carlos Zambrano, the team's Opening Day starter. As for Prior's early season prospects, Hendry said, "Lou and Larry [Rothschild] will get him ready. Right now we're cautiously-optimistic about him."
Piniella made mention of the abundance of pitchers, saying that he's in an ideal situation with eight potential starters for five spots.
Kerry Wood's health was also addressed. Rothschild said Wood is in great shape and threw 50 pitches at Northwestern University just a few days ago. He will also definitely be pitching from the bullpen this year, and Larry, as well as Ryan Dempster at another session, made clear that Wood has a very bright future as a reliever, possibly even as a closer.
As for Miller, Hendry said, "We feel good about him. He's a very tough guy, a gamer and a winner. ... We think he's well worth the gamble, especially if he can pitch like he did for Houston. It's a low-risk and high-reward situation."
The abundance of Cub injuries last season, particularly those of Prior and Wood, was not caused by poor training, said Hendry. "Prior is excellent with conditioning," the GM continued. "Sometimes things just happen. Prior and Wood have never showed up to camp out of shape. Prior is always in the weight room. ... And his arm is feeling better."
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Remember those crazy collectors I mentioned earlier? Well, boy do I have some stories to tell.
As I have already recounted, I spent some time during the Convention at the Cubs' Locker Room Sale, where game-used memorabilia is sold for charity. The majority of the items are sold for a set price, but the high-demand items from popular players are held aside for auction. I spent a grand total of $30 on three items, and, as you will see, avoided the auction for good reason.
I walked into the Sale room Saturday in the midst of the bidding for a "mystery" equipment bag filled with items unknown. The bids exceeded $600, then $700 and $800. The crowd cheered, hoping to see the bid exceed that magical number, $1000. The auctioneers did their jobs well, and, indeed, managed to coax such a bid from a gentleman. People, myself included, shook their heads in disbelief.
Not to be outdone, it seems, another bidding war soon erupted for an autographed, game-worn Greg Maddux jersey. Thought $1000 was a ridiculous amount to spend on dirty sports gear? According to the security guard next to me, we witnessed a historic event, as no other item had ever been sold through the Locker Room Sale for as much as that Maddux jersey $4000.
It seems the former Cub has truly earned himself a spot among the most beloved Cubs of all time. I just sure hope that winning bidder wasn't a die-hard Chicago Bears fan. For $4000, he could have bought himself a trip to the Super Bowl.
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Day Three Report to follow soon.
Cubs Convention Report: Day Two, Part Two
Continuing from where I ended the preceding post, Larry Rothschild was the sole coach to survive the months following the end of the season. The Piniella 101 session, then, was more "Guess Who?" than anything else. After all, I'd never heard of, much less even seen, new first base coach Matt Sinatro before the session.
Piniella, with his new coaching staff assembled around him, fielded questions both serious and facetious. The winner for funniest comment: Steve from The Heckler, who asked not a question, but made a demand: "Give Carlos Zambrano whatever he wants." Piniella and his staff simply looked at Steve and each other, as if they expected something more. But that was it, and Steve walked away from the microphone to cheers and applause.
Cubs Convention Report: Day Two
In many ways, the Cubs have trimmed away much of the past's excess fat. I say this not merely metaphorically, but quite literally as well.
From the coaching and managerial purging of the fall to the weight loss of key players, this Cub team is now a far leaner club than the team we saw playing just four months ago.
Saturday's first session, Meet Cubs Baseball Management, served as testament to the reshaped Cubs. At this session, fans are given the opportunity to ask questions directly to management, which included GM Jim Hendry, new skipper Lou Piniella, and Assistant GM Randy Bush. The third question involved weight issues and conditioning. Responded Hendry: "[Ryan] Dempster has lost 20 pounds, and Kerry [Wood] is down to 215."
Though I didn't see Kerry, I can confirm that Dempster has indeed lost weight; he looks far more fit now than at any point during his Cub career. Much comment was made about his weight loss in a later session, Tales From The Bullpen, to which he joked, "You know, I used to look like this once." Also at Tales were Rod Beck, Lee Smith and current Cub reliever Scott Eyre, who too looks like he's lost weight. Eyre did mention that he started his offseason training program earlier this winter ("We're going to win a lot of games this year, and I want to pitch in them"), an encouraging trend among Cub players.
Cubs Convention Report: Day One
"We're going to be good, and stay good."
Such were the words of GM Jim Hendry at Friday's Opening Ceremonies, echoing a similar sentiment expressed by both Team President John McDonough and the Director of Marketing and Sales, Jay Blunk.
The Convention theme this year is extremely simple: Win. The letter 'W' is plastered throughout the Hilton and on the Convention passes themselves, and while this is clearly a marketing ploy following a pitiful '06 campaign, the emphasis on winning now is much appreciated, and something fans responded very strongly to today.
Zipping The Cubs: The Pitchers
I pass the following table along to you with little comment not as a signal for mass ridicule to commence concerning the brevity of this post, but because of several things I won't bore you with now. The most important and least-boring of them is simply the sheer lack of time I have tonight, for, as I'm sure many of you are doing, I'll be making my not-really-so-annual trip to the Cubs Convention, and planning and preparation take priority over ZiPS.
Yes, I'll be at the Convention all three days, folks, meaning that those who cannot attend for whatever reason shall not be left in the dust, shall not be forced to read insignificant tidbits in the weekend paper, and shall certainly not be left without vivid images of that glorious event set to commence tomorrow afternoon.
So, check Cub Town throughout the weekend for daily reports and corresponding pictures.
Now then. On to ZiPS.
Until tomorrow and the Convention, good night.
Zambrano Wants Money; Sosa Wants A Home
Carlos Zambrano is asking for $15.5 million in salary arbitration. The Cubs offered a *mere* $11.025 million. If the Cubs can sign Zambrano to a long-term deal at what is now a discount price of $15-16 million, they had better do so; his contractual demands are only going to increase on the free agent market next winter.
Meanwhile, former Cub Sammy Sosa is still trying to find a team to play for in '07, and the Rangers are interested. If Sosa's goal is to reach 600 home runs and beyond, a hitter-friendly AL park, like the Rangers' Ameriquest Field, is the place to go. After the resounding "No" issued by the BBWAA regarding Mark McGwire's candidacy, that may very well be his sole motive.
Zipping The Cubs: The Hitters
The Baseball Think Factory has released its annual ZiPS projections. Though the system is far from perfect (after all, it did project an AVG/OBP/SLG line of .287/.332/.412 for Ronny Cedeno in 2006, and we all know how that little experiment turned out), it makes for great fun nonetheless.
Jim Hendry has spent more money this offseason than I'll ever see in my lifetime. But does ZiPS think Alfonso Soriano will live up to his contract? How improved will the 2007 Cub offense really be? Well, enough bantering. Here are the hitters' projections:
AVG OBP SLG HR BB SO RC C Michael Barrett .285 .349 .481 15 35 56 67 C Henry Blanco .225 .276 .398 8 15 42 25 1B Derrek Lee .299 .383 .567 32 65 106 110 1B Daryle Ward .257 .315 .442 14 28 53 46 2B Mark DeRosa .265 .324 .403 8 32 85 52 2B Ryan Theriot .275 .335 .356 2 34 46 49 SS Ronny Cedeno .256 .286 .358 7 18 86 45 SS Cesar Izturis .272 .320 .356 3 31 49 53 3B Scott Moore .248 .319 .425 19 45 137 63 3B Aramis Ramirez .296 .355 .559 35 46 63 105 OF Matt Murton .299 .361 .446 13 42 65 73 OF Alfonso Soriano .265 .324 .498 36 50 150 102 OF Jacque Jones .263 .320 .456 24 39 123 74 OF Angel Pagan .251 .310 .360 5 32 90 44
Let me first say this: ZiPS hates Soriano. So much for improving on-base skills and an affinity for walks; ZiPS says Soriano will be far worse in both categories than he was in '06 (.351 OBP and 67 BB). And even though Soriano will be leaving pitcher-friendly RFK Stadium, ZiPS still thinks Soriano will record his lowest slugging percentage since 2004.
Because ZiPS does not adjust for playing time, projections for players like Ryan Theriot and Scott Moore become very interesting. Though neither is likely to reach 400 at-bats this season, we can partially satisfy the ever-present question that gnaws without end at the mind of every baseball fan What if?
In the case of Theriot, ZiPS pegs him for 404 at-bats, the same amount allotted for Mark DeRosa. Comparing the two, we see that they are actually quite comparable. DeRosa has a bit more pop, but Theriot has better contact and on-base skills. The result is expressed in Runs Created: 52 vs. 49 for DeRosa and Theriot, respectively.
Moore is another interesting case. He may not even make the big-league club in '07, but his power potential is quite impressive. In 38 at-bats last season (!small sample-size alert!), Moore posted a .474 SLG%, consistent with his minor-league slugging numbers from the same season (.479 in 463 AB at Double-A West Tenn). ZiPS gives Moore 471 '07 at-bats, during which his power is seen pretty clearly. Give him another season in the minors to work on contact skills, and then the Cubs will have to find a spot for him in the majors.
A note on Matt Murton: Give the red-head playing time! His production, based on RC, is very comparable to that of Jacque Jones, and Murton's on-base skills are to be embraced, not ignored. There is no reason he shouldn't be playing every day. If he develops a bit more power, the kid is an All-Star.
Derrek Lee will have a nice post-injury season, says ZiPS. But I'd go so far as to say that Lee will surpass his projection. A .315 AVG and .400 OBP, plus 45 home runs, is certainly plausible, especially with solid lineup protection from Aramis Ramirez, Soriano and others.
Coming soon to a blog near you: Zipping The Cubs: The Pitchers.
Photo From The Crypt #1
Were you one of the 30-40 people who regularly visited my former online abode, you surely saw the start of what I hope to be a recurring feature right here at the Toaster.
Titled "Photo From The Crypt," this series will feature one photo of a former or current Cub player, coach, or other person with a clear Cub connection. For those who didn't check the link above, the photos there were of a 1970s, gym-teaching and high-school-coaching Gary Hughes. Hughes, of course, is a top assistant for Jim Hendry.
For the first installment on the Toaster, I figured I'd steal a page from the Score Bard's book of clever and entertaining post ideas, and let you, the wonderful reader, figure out who in the picture below has a current Cub connection.
Leave your guesses in the comments, and I'll be available for hints as I deem necessary. I know it may seem hard, but if you dedicated Cub fans look hard and put those brains to good use, you might surprise yourselves. I'll post a short update when the correct person is identified.
Oh, and bonus points if you can name the "Where" and "When."
Click on the image for a larger view.
If you have any ancient Cub-related photos of your own and you wish to see them posted here, please e-mail them to phil.bencomo AT gmail.com . The above photo came from my own personal stock, and though I have several more of the same nameless-for-the-moment Cub-related person, it's much more fun to see different faces with each new installment.
UPDATE: Mr. Derek Smart nailed it all. As both he and I expressed in the comments, Derek had no insider information. We wouldn't want to start Toastergate or anything.
#12 in the photo above is indeed current Cub third base coach Mike Quade, an alumnus of Prospect High School in Mt. Prospect, Illinois. The photo is from the pages of a 1974 Prospect yearbook. The giveaway should have been Quade's bald head.
Thanks for all the participation, and don't forget to send in photos of your own. Since this guessing game went so well, I think I'll do the same with any other photos I receive.
Things To Say In Chicago When You're Stupid
One of the tendencies of the blogging community, something we do with regularity and lustful aplomb, is take comments by players/management/MSM writers that are, in our humble opinion, intellectually substandard, and with our combination of rapier wit, flawless logic, and overwhelmingly massive capacity for holding onto petty grudges, craft a response that leaves the originator bleeding and trembling jelly-like on the point of our word-swords (a construct we know is imaginary, since it requires the target to have read the salvo, and as all of us who read blogs know, nobody reads blogs).
I bring this up because the other day I ran across a piece I wrote for Beyond The Boxscore last March as a preview of Cub pitching for 2006. Being an odd combination of narcissist and masochist, I decided to take a tour through the beast and see how I did, and things were going well enough until I reached this gem of a graf about Wade Miller.
Whatever the club's final record at season's end, when the post-mortem on the 2006 campaign is performed, the offseason move that will have clearly returned the most value will be the signing of Miller. For a team that began the winter with rotation question marks, and is heading into the start of that season with more of them, having this type of cheap, high-upside insurance is vital. Let me put it this way: it is perfectly conceivable that from mid-May on, Wade Miller's performance will be equal to, or better than, that of A.J. Burnett. I'm not saying it will happen, but I don't think it's crazy to say that it could, and that possible upside alone makes this deal a steal for the Cubs, and a necessary one, at that.
I try to lay off mind altering substances while writing, but when I read this again it was clear I'd picked a bad week to stop sniffing glue. It's not that I don't get why I wrote it - Miller's pre-injury work and my feeling that Burnett was pretty starkly overvalued combined to make me believe that the above was at least possible - but I had clearly yet to learn the lesson that became abundantly clear to all Cub fans in 2006: shoulder injuries are a bitch.
This is well worth bearing in mind for the season to come and beyond - at least until there's a treatment protocol for shoulders that's as predictable as the one for Tommy John procedures. As relatively simple as were the surgeries that both Miller and Kerry Wood underwent, the recovery was a far dicer proposition, and my failure to take that into consideration resulted in a statement that in hindsight was abjectly ludicrous. Of course, my expressed optimism was only the ranting of an obsessed fan. Jim Hendry's apparent attack of the Pollyannas left the Cubs with a severely depleted rotation for an entire campaign.
Still, I'm not writing this to take a parting shot at the debacle that was 2006, but rather to expose myself as the sinful owner of a particularly shiny glass house, one that I built all on my own on a piece of property surprisingly and disturbingly convenient to multiple stone quarries. I'm not suggesting that I or others should stop pointing out the silliness inherent in other's statements, particularly when they come from people in a position of power - whether it's power within baseball, or power though a voice in established media - but purusing the chronicle of my own folly brought home the fact that I, and the rest of us in this community, should remember when we're hoisting that there's a record of our own words out there, and it could just as easily be us on the business end of that petard.
Positively, Quantitively Bad
Quantifying utter badness is not so unlike having a half-dozen decay-ridden teeth pulled sans anesthetic no less: Both are mighty painful, but not without practical benefits in the end.
Take the 2006 Cubs squad. Though the memories evoke thoughts of pain and agony and a desire to forgo such self-inflicted horrors, wading past the emotions can be a fruitful endeavor, for beyond the melancholy lives the land of quantitative data.
One oft-overlooked aspect of the Cubs' 2006 badness is that of contractual value. That is, how much "bang" the Cubs got for each "buck." Injuries surely played a role, but what about those healthy players who were just plain bad? For this, I turn to the Hardball Times. Their latest baseball annual includes a nifty little article by Dave Studenmund (with accompanying 2006 statistics for each eligible MLB player) on Net Win Shares Value. According to Studenmund:
the system evaluates each player and his contract based on his classification (not eligible for arbitration, arbitration-eligible and free agent) and his production (as measured by Win Shares).
As a tool for putting a monetary figure on a player's contribution to his team, Net Win Shares Value (WS$ for short) is excellent. It is no surprise, then, that the Cubs finished dead last in all of baseball at $23,853,000.
In short, Cub players were worth far less in 2006 than their contracts would suggest. Not that we didn't already know that WS$ just quantifies what was plain to see.
For instance, Ronny Cedeno was obviously downright pitiful. (In fact, even I could have contributed more to the Cubs than Cedeno did last season at least I'd manage to draw more than 21 walks.) Even though Cedeno made only a shade over the league minimum salary, his WS$ total was an astonishing $6,099,000. As Studenmund puts it, that negative six million in salary "is the amount [the Cubs] would have to pay other players, on average, to compensate for [Cedeno's] lack of production."
Some other notable 2006 Cubs:
Aramis Ramirez provided nearly $3 million in unexpected production, based on his classification's average value, a feat bested by Matt Murton. Cedeno well, it suffices to say that he should have been paying the Cubs last year for his performance.
Also of note: Carlos Zambrano was worth approximately $12 million last season (add his contract and WS$). By the same math, Barry Zito provided only a shade under $10 million in value. Given that Zito, he of 3.83 ERA in '06, signed for an average of $18 million per year, Zambrano (3.41 ERA and three years Zito's junior) is due for one monstrous payday, whether it be from the Cubs this winter or on the free agent market in the next.
Toasting The New Year
I've never been sucked into a tornado, caught in a hurricane, or even swallowed by a tidal wave. But I imagine the sensations can't be much different from those I've felt since New Year's Day.
I never aspired to blog for Baseball Toaster, nor did I ever imagine I'd be approached by Derek Smart to do just that. You see, I was content to live out my online existence in relative anonymity at Cubbiepalooza, with a small and loyal group of readersnothing more, nothing less.
Then, on a warm New Year's Day in Chicagoland, a little e-mail arrived in my inbox, with a startling proposition from Mr. Smart: Join Cub Town.
"And abandon my home of nearly two years?" I thought. "Hours upon hours of time lovingly poured into every little pixel that makes up my very own websiteshould I throw it all away?"
Those thoughts lingered for no less than 3.14 seconds, for as Derek himself said so eloquently when he first moved to a new online home, "I'd have to be slack-jawed and simple to not say yes."
The prospect of joining one of the most respected and intelligent blogging communities around made the decision simple, and here I am. At the Toaster. With Derek Smart. And Jon Weisman. And Alex Belth
You'll have to forgive me if I happen to space out like that during these first few weeks, or months, or forever. I'm still a bit (okay, very) shocked and excited about this all, which has happened so very quickly, thanks largely to both Derek and Ken Arneson.
So, you ask, what exactly should I expect of this new guy? Well, as Cubbiepalooza readers already know, I enjoy writing an occasional satirical piece. Readers of The Heckler have seen such work published there as well. But if you really want to know what to expect of me, check out my old site. I'm not going to be doing anything different, just doing it in a new place.
Boy, what a way to toast the New Year.
Addition By Addition
To say things have been slow around here for a number of months would be an understatement on par with declarations like "Kevin Federline is a source of annoyance," "doing taxes is often unpleasant," and "the 2006 Chicago Cubs were not a good baseball team."
Well, it's the new year, and while it's traditionally time to say you're going to fix something, I've actually gone and done something that I hope will put a little more skip in our collective step. I've asked Phil Bencomo, heretofore of Cubbiepalooza fame, to put his skills to work here at Cub Town, and thankfully for me, and for all of you, he has seen fit to accept.
What Phil brings, beyond mere quantity, is significant quality - if he didn't, I wouldn't have asked him aboard. If you're not familiar with his work, I think you'll be happy to have him, and if you are, well that's one less stop on your daily/hourly/non-stop internet troll.
If any of you are concerned about what will become of my contributions, you can stop your hand-wringing right this minute, Betsy. I'm not going anywhere, and hopefully, with some pressure to post removed, I'll be doing more and better work than I have of late.
This is pure addition, folks, no subtraction, so I hope you'll open your arms and your minds, and along with me, bid Phil a hearty Cub Town welcome!
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com