Monthly archives: December 2004
Beltran and Budgets
Derek touches on the thumb-twiddling state of the Cubs, and I second his thoughts that I've grown impatient as a fan in waiting for some cool Cubs news. But like Sir Smart I too take encouragement in Hendry's record at scoring the big deal, and would like to think he has a surprise or two in store for the Cubs roster.
But what of the offseason's biggest jewel? The new conventional wisdom is that the Cubs are out of the Beltran hunt because they've failed to dump at least part of Sosa's contract. A sampling of Mike Kiley's comments:
The Cubs aren't prepared to say it publicly, but privately they realize their chances to sign free-agent center fielder Carlos Beltran are dimming by the minute and almost completely extinguished.... Beltran has to decide before Jan. 8 whether to remain in Houston or jump to the New York Yankees. The Cubs are no longer viable contenders to sign Beltran because a Sosa deal apparently will take much longer to develop, if it ever does.I agree with Ruz's point that it doesn't make a lot of sense for the Cubs to be so adamant on moving Sosa before trying to land Beltran. What if, for example, they dump Sosa and can't get Beltran (or even Magglio) to replace him? What if they can't move Sosa, period?
Scott Boras is often vilified by fans and the media alike, but regarding Beltran and the Cubs I just think he needs to stop making sense.
"I don't know why people are writing the Cubs aren't in it because they have to trade Sammy Sosa first. We're only talking about one more year [on Sosa's contract]. Who in their right mind would think you could not accommodate signing Carlos Beltran because of that?"In addition, how much money do the Cubs think they can really save by moving Sosa? I don't see Sosa's presence as a barrier to getting Beltran because I don't really see the Cubs saving much money in any deal that gets rid of Sosa. I don't think one necessarily has to do with the other.
However, I can completely understand the Cubs' unwillingness to expand dramatically their budget, which is what it might take to sign Beltran. Signing this year's golden egg may push the payroll to $110M or so. That's a lot of money. And since I suck at handling money, I'm not really the person to tell someone to spend more than they've counted on spending.
Jay Mariotti, on the other hand, has no such qualms:
It wasn't long ago when he was rassling with Sosa, on top of the world at the time, over a deal that became a four-year, $72 million taffy pull. While that agreement now seems a year too long, it illustrated the stinginess of MacPhail, the baseball blueblood who still protects a payroll the way his Hall of Fame father and grandfather did -- even though it's almost 2005 and the Cubs make stinkingly absurd profits. He'd much rather go bar-hopping with his adversary, the mayor, than give Beltran a monster agreement.Did someone get coal in his stocking? With his usual drama queen restraint, Mariotti seems to believe that the Cubs have no budget, or that they at least should ignore any budget that they've set.
While I'd love to see the Cubs go overbudget for a year so they could sign Beltran, I think it is pretty dumb to moan that the Cubs are cheap. We're talking about a team that may have a $100 million payroll. $100 million! This isn't a Twins-sized payroll, or Brewers-sized payroll, or a Padres- or Cardinals- or Astros-sized payroll, either. Given the Cubs' market and revenue, it's appropriate that they have a larger payroll than these teams. But the Cubs aren't cheap. Their spending is going to be near the top of the National League next year.
And stop blaming money! The Twins and A's have been doing just fine with limited funds. The Astros and Cardinals did more with less than the Cubs last year. And at the other end, the Mets did less with more.
I assume that budgets are set for a reason, and unless a budget is egregiously out of line with expectations, I don't think complaining about it is all that fruitful. If the powers that be decide the Cubs can't go over their allotment to get Beltran, then that sucks, but it isn't because the Cubs have a skimpy payroll. Hendry will just need to get creative in adding some more offense, a trait he's displayed often in his young tenure. And who knows what the Cubs' G.M. could come up with?
I can't pretend to speak for all of you, but I don't think I'd be far off if I said that most Cub fans are starting to feel a bit o' the stir crazies. The level of inaction is getting at me to the point where, upon seeing the report that the Cardinals had signed Roberto Alomar to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal for $500K, my initial thought was something like, "Now, why can't the Cubs do something like that!"
The answer, of course, is that there are laws against grave robbing, but even realizing that can't keep the driving beat of cricket song throbbing out of the Cubs' front office from continuing to push me toward madness.
Action for action's sake isn't what I'm after. If I had a predilection for such management stylings I'd be glued to the yearly flailings of the Jim Bowdens and Dan O'Dowds of the world, breathlessly waiting to see if the next move would reveal a plan, or if, like an Escher staircase, it proved only to be a different route to the same spot.
But I do want something to happen, and I want it to be, in the words of Dave Bowman, "Something wonderful."
However, if I'm being realistic, I know that this feeling of helpless impatience is what we have to look forward to for the remainder of Jim Hendry's reign. He's proven to be patient, deliberate, and secretive, revealing his hand only when the outcome is all but decided; and when looking at the situation objectively, it's a fine set of traits for a man in his position. After all, who would you rather have dealing with the likes of a Scott Boras - Hendry, or someone like Omar Minaya who seems to enjoy sharing every idea that flits between his ears?
There are reasons for annoyance to be found in Hendry's record, like his tendency to overpay for bullpen help, or employ batless wonders on the bench, but he's nearly always gotten the big things right. It's these big things - trades for the likes of Nomar, Ramirez, and Lee; signings of Maddux and Walker, among others - that give me hope despite my anxiousness.
I won't say, "don't worry," because I can't ask of you what I can't deliver myself. But I will say, "don't give up," because there's a lot of offseason left, and if the past can teach us anything, it's that Mr. Hendry has at least one more card up his sleeve. Here's to hoping it's an ace.
The Case for Bert Blyleven
Cubs fans can relate to the frustration of not seeing a favorite and deserving player make the Hall of Fame. For me, there are three Cubbies who should be shoo-ins for the Hall but are still on the outside looking in:
Rich over at Rich's BEAT feels the same way about
Back From Florida
I'm back in NYC after vacationing in Florida for the first time since I was about one and a half years old. The weather was pretty good, though only one day was sunny enough to go to the beach. Not that it matters. I'm a New Yorker's shade of pasty white, so the sun isn't necessarily my friend.
The seafood was good in the places I ate, though not nearly as tasty as the shellfish in Maine. I went shelling at some famous shelling place or another, but the trip was a bust since the tide was high the entire time I was digging around at the beach. Other than that... lots of time spent with the family, lots of food eaten. Given the amount I ingested the past few days, I think it's probably time to hit the gym a bit extra hard. I imagine I share that sentiment with a lot of Americans.
Oh, and speaking of eating too much, I really don't know what Derek's talking about when he says he came across Gabe Kapler in my innards. Really, I don't. Honestly.
I'm out of the loop entirely on the baseball front. I had almost zero Internet capability while I was gone, and the papers only had a note here and there about the game. The Dodgers-D'Backs-Yanks trade fell through, though maybe Arizona and New York can rekindle the talks. The Cubs still aren't up to much, and I'm starting to think that even if they do dump Sosa it won't mean they'll be able to pursue a Beltran or a Magglio. If that's the case, does it really even make sense to worry about getting rid of Sosa this year?
More baseball soon. And continued happy holidays to everyone.
Return From the Belly of the Beast
I've had an interesting two weeks.
It all started on the afternoon of the 15th when I began to feel a bit woozy and experience some faint aches. Within 24 hours I had a fever of 103, and muscular pain and weakness that made sitting up for more than 5 minutes at a time an exercise in torture resistance. With no discernable payoff to such activities, I chose to remain recumbent.
Despite my protestations of "Plague!", the doctor informed me that I had textbook influenza, then told me to take the anti-viral prescription he filled out for me, keep popping Tylenol, and get the hell out of his office before I passed the little beasties on to him.
I did as I was told, and within a few days was nearly fully recovered (although, oddly enough, it took another couple of days before I had enough strength in my hands to make typing a bearable endeavor). So, as if my suffering wasn't adequate, just as I was feeling like myself again, Ciepley ate me.
It wasn't a total loss, as I was able to get a quick snapshot off in the name of science.
I have no idea why Gabe Kapler was wearing the uniform from his time in Jacksonville in 1998 (maybe he's been down there all this time, with his doppelganger getting the ring in Boston this year), but he seemed nice enough. He was also very helpful in my escape, although I'll spare you the gory details. I'll just say, Alex is fine, but he'll rue the day he failed to pick Kapler's bat out of his teeth.
In any case, it doesn't look like I missed much during my down time, but there were a couple things worth commenting on, so away we go!
It's good to be back, gang. I hope everyone had/has a wonderful holiday, and here's to the hope that the coming year brings us all some good cheer in the form of the World Champion Chicago Cubs.
But I'm afraid I got hungry again. This time, poor Mr. Smart fell victim to my stomach growlings. Once again, there were rumors hither and thither, something about a plague, this or that about a vacation... but don't be fooled! I'm licking my chops as I type, remembering the Delectable Derek menu option I chose a few days back.
The Smartster sends his regards from my stomach, and promises to rejoin the fold when he can get access to that "Internet" thing.
With a belly full, I'm taking my fat ass down to Florida for some holiday cheer. I haven't been to Florida since I was about nine months old, so I don't know what to expect. I also don't know how much blogging I'll get done over the next 6 days, but I'll try to pop online from time to time.
Until then, happy holidays!
Johnson, Vazquez, and Company
After some twiddling of thumbs and such, it looks like the Dodgers are now comfortable with their part in the megadeal with the Yankees and Diamondbacks. This report indicates that each team will end up with the following:
Who knows who will win this trade in the end. Would it be shocking if Vazquez, for example, had a better 2005 than Johnson? Will Eric Duncan turn into Mike Lowell, v2.0? Is Yhency Brazoban really Francisco Rodriguez in disguise?
There may have been a Cubs slant to this deal as well. A little birdie told me (a birdie like, maybe... a partridge! or a swimming swan!) that if the Dodgers had bailed, the Cubs may have been a fallback option, with the deal looking like:
Who knows how the money would have worked out, but it sure looks like a chunk would've needed to go from Chicago to Arizona. This would seem like a pretty dramatic way to go about dumping Sosa's salary, no? I'm not as high on Guzman as many seem to be, but why include him? Why include Rusch, who in this market was clearly signed to a good deal?
I can only guess that the Cubs' participation would've been a sign that they really think they get a Beltran or a Drew. Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda. It appears to be a moot point now, as the paperwork for the Dodger-Yankee-D'Back threesome is with Mr. Commissioner now.
Wish He Were an Ex-Cub
Yippee. The Cubs have signed Jose Macias for another year. Apparently Hendry thought non-tendering Macias for being his usual sucky self would be too harsh in this, the Christmas season. So lucky Cubbie fans get an early lump of coal in their stockings.
"He's a quality team player with a lot of versatility that can help a team in many ways," said Cubs general manager Jim Hendry. "I'm sure he'll be a good compliment to Neifi Perez as an extra infielder."Yes, Mr. Hendry, Macias will likely be "complimented" often when compared to Neifi!, since Neifi! is the only player on the roster worse than your man Jose.
He is not, however, a very good "complement" to Neifi!, unless you are in fact trying to conceive the worst bench possible for your team. Macias, Blanco, and Neifi! -- stick that in Santa's pipe and smoke it.
Ex-Cub Update #3
Matt Clement was probably the most desirable ex-Cub this offseason, mostly due to his facial hair, but also because he's a pretty good pitcher.
The Red Sox signed Clement to a three-year deal worth $25.5M. Because Clement was a Type B free agent, the Cubs would normally get the Red Sox's first round draft pick next year. Unfortunately, the Sox already signed both Edgar Renteria and David Wells, both of whom are Type A players, so... I don't know what that means, but I do know that the Cubs won't be getting as tasty a draft pick as they could have.
By that way, how crazy are the "official" NL player rankings for pitchers? Mark Prior (6), Carlos Zambrano (7), Greg Maddux (9), and Kerry Wood (12) all are near the top. But any ranking system that puts Russ Ortiz (5) ahead of that foursome is clearly on crack, so whatever to that.
Clement's contract is drawing near-universal praise, but I think that's pretty overblown. The deal only looks good in this market, where Kris Benson and Karl Pavano and Karet Wright all get Krazy money. I love Mattie, but $8.5M a year seems a tad much.
I prefer the 3-year, $32.5M guaranteed (plus team option) contract given Kerry Wood last offseason to pretty much every big pitcher contract given out this year. Wood's an insanely frustrating pitcher, but he's better than most every free agent, too -- I still think that he's been overpenalized in people's mind just because he has yet to turn into Curt Schilling. He's not Curt Schilling, he's Kerry Wood! And he's a great pitcher!
Anyway, Clement was a nice guy to have on the Cubs' staff for the past three years, even if his sulking on the mound was an occasional downer. Red Sox fans are going to be sorely disappointed if they think they've found a Pedro replacement in Clement, but they'll be happy enough if he's seen as just another good, scruffy-faced guy in their idiotic Nation.
Ex-Cub Update #2
Where do second basemen go to die?
Tampa Bay seems like a reasonable destination, and that's where ex-Cub Mark Grudzielanek might be headed. Or maybe Grudz is just the apple of reporter Marc Topkin's eye. Topkin writes in the St. Petersburgh Times:
Among free agents in their price range, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek could be a good fit in terms of providing offense and defense. He hit better than .300 three of the past six seasons, led the majors in 2004 with a .457 average in close/late situations and has the second-best fielding average at second base from 2001-04.Those are some heady qualifications! A couple good batting averages! A great average in a random selection of 46 at-bats in one year! Not a ton of errors, range be damned!
Maybe this is just a Phil Rogersesque foray into idle speculation by a D-Ray writer, or maybe this is the type of logic that Tampa Bay actually employs. If so, maybe Jim Hendry can kindly point out to the D-Rays that Aubrey Huff was 0-for-the-bases loaded last year, (0-10! He's horrible!) while offering up Jose Macias and his .333 AVG with the bases full (1 for 3! He's great!) as a "more-than-adequate" replacement.
Ex-Cub Update #1
"Two of the tires blew out and I had to call for help to tow it. There was not a crash or any injuries."Really, this is news? His tires blew out?
In other reports, my neighbor got locked out her apartment, Toys R Us was sold out of the Magna Doodle thingy I wanted to buy my nephew, and my copy of Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster book was left in front of my door by the postman. And no one stole it!
New York is still colder than a well-digger's butt in Montana, and the Cubs are still sitting in stasis. While there are few rumbles in Cubbieville, the rival Cards have lost their starting shortstop. Edgar Renteria was an option for the Cubs at short had they not re-signed Nomar, but he ended up with the Red Sox for the Starbucks coffeeish price of 4 years, $40 million.
I was eager for some thoughts coming from our red-feathered friends, so I asked a couple writers who follow the Cardinals for their take.
Brian Gunn authored the now-retired Redbird Nation blog.
I'm happy the Cards didn't sign Renteria. $10 mil/year for a guy with only one great season on his resume? No thanks. Here's a fun comparison -- RCAA for the last three years among all shortstops:Dayn Perry writes for both FoxSports and Baseball Prospectus, and mentioned to me earlier this season that he might have gone insane if the Cubs had made the postseason and beaten the Cards in a short series.
My take on Renteria... If the price is $10-million per at four years, I'm not disappointed he's gone.I certainly won't miss seeing Renteria come to the plate against the Cubs, but I also agree that the Cards were fortunate to miss out on what will soon look like folly for the Red Sox. Isn't that Nomar deal looking better by the day?
It's cold in New York. Almost as cold as the Cubs' rumor mill.
The Cubs seem to be playing a waiting game, with everything dependent on whether or not they can rid themselves part of Sosa's contract. Carrie Muskat, in her most recent mailbag, has a few words that imply as much:
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry did talk to Beltran's agent, Scott Boras, over the weekend in Anaheim. However, the Cubs cannot make a push for Beltran as long as they have Sammy Sosa under contract. Sosa is owed $17 million in 2005, and the team faces pay increases for six players (see next question about arbitration-eligible guys).That the Cubs haven't even been making any small moves since the Nomar/Walker signings is interesting, I think. I imagine they really believe they can win the Beltran sweeps if they can free up a bit more money. Why else spend so much energy on the one task of dumping Sosa?
The longer the Cubs keep Sosa a priority, and the larger the volume of teams that remain interested in him, the more I think Sosa will actually be in another uniform sooner than later.
And if it's gonna happen, can it be sooner, please? I'd like to see a bit more action, and trying to sate myself with Grady Little promotions isn't working out too well.
Sunday and Monday at the Winter Meetings
My first forty-eight hours at the Winter Meetings featured an exhausting combination of A-B bonding, rumor-sniffing, quasi-awkward introductions, coughing, and rasping. On Sunday the pace slowed, and my sickliness lessened dramatically. I imagine the seven or so cups of Awake tea from Starbucks helped somewhat.
By Sunday morning my voice had evolved from "I see dead people" whispers to the croakings of Harvey Fierstein, so I could at least communicate a bit. I spent only a few hours in the lobby in the morning, though. Kevin Cash was traded? Nothing was going on.
Knowing you basically had to make up rumors with the way things were going, Will Carroll and Jay Jaffe joked about creating some Sosa-to-Nationals gossip for kicks on their morning walk to the lobby. When they arrived, they discovered that, in fact, there were real rumors to that effect. Fake or real, at this stage it was all just a bunch of talk. The Cubs weren't up to much. They lost out on Kolb, Sosa was staying in place for now, and... that's about it.
My goal at the Meetings was to meet my fellow writers here at A-B as well as some people in the national media. To that effect, my trip was a success. I'm not a beat writer, so I wasn't particularly hot to try to get scoops. And to be honest, most rumors were likely to be making their way around the lobby no faster than they appeared on Rotoworld.com.
That said, I did pick up on a few tidbits:
AC: Hi, Mr. Hendry?So there you go. I got in exactly zero of the fantastic TCR questions, but I did procure some humor. Hey, it's a start.
The weekend ended Monday afternoon, and I'm visiting some friends in L.A. for a couple days. It's a breezy 74 degrees here, just in time for Christmas. I checked my cell phone a minute ago to find Alex B. had left a message with some dreadful news: near freezing in NYC. I plan on soaking in some sunshine before I have to head home.
Something From Nothing
While my two compatriots were in Southern California this weekend, one because he lives there and the other because he was gallivanting, hobnobbing, and apparently spreading a voice-stealing virus along the Pacific coastline, here I lurked under the cold oppression of a no-longer-impending Chicago winter, waiting for some sign of life from The City That Walt Built.
And waiting.....and waiting.....and waiting.....
Nothing came; not on the news, not on the highlight shows, and not on that evil tool of obsessive doom, the internet (where, I've just been told, I'm writing about baseball right now! Perhaps I'd best retract the "evil" statement lest I anger it. The Internet: she's a feisty mistress!). At least the folks who took the trip got to immerse themselves in some atmosphere while they awaited something to quench their thirst for action. But me? I was left sitting on my couch, refreshing Rotoworld.com at five minute intervals. Or was that three minutes....no matter.
Winter Meetings: Anaheim Day Deux
On the second day of the baseball Winter Meetings, I lost my voice. This is, of course, a tragically comic development, since my entire agenda for the weekend is to talk to people. The gal behind the counter in the hotel gift shop was sympathetic to my condition, warning me off one brand of cough drops in favor of another, telling me my first choice "tastes like crap."
I'd like to think that my throaty raspings gave a sexy, Kathleen Turner-esque quality to my mumblings throughout the day, but I'm afraid I spent most of my time freaking out those I was talking with. The leper of the Winter Meetings, that Cub Reporter guy.
One All-Baseball.com member, Ken Arneson, left for home in the morning, but the Dude from Dodger Thoughts, Jon Weisman, filled the void around lunchtime. Alex Belth asked me in a phone conversation what Jon looked like, and I was stumped for a bit. Belth has such a talent for describing people and casting the actors who would play them, I know I need to put some thought into the matter. Is Nicolas Cage an insult or a compliment? It isn't quite right in either case, but I think Cage would at least be called in to audition for the part of Jon in the A-B movie.
Rich's Weekend Winter Meetings Beat was in full effect again Saturday morning. Fresh off an evening in which he had managed to both raise and lower Scott Boras' ire, Rich was all smiles, eager for another day of baseball highs.
SI's Tom Verducci was apparently a Lederer target, and I joined Rich, Jon, and Verducci in mid-conversation. Verducci has the glow of an athlete, a rare claim among the writers in the room. Steve Finley had the glow when walking through the lobby on Friday night. Matt Williams, standing alone outside the hotel's glass doors, has the glow. Even the old-timers, Lou Piniella and Felipe Alou, have it. Verducci, too -- if you didn't know his gig you might think he was a retired outfielder looking for a job.
Verducci might not have known Rich's gig, either, as Rich directed the conversation towards Verducci's Hall of Fame ballot. I knew there was trouble ahead as soon as Verducci admitted he'll only vote for a couple guys this year, and that some of Rich's favorites weren't among them.
Sandberg? Close but no cigar.
Blyleven? (Now the kicker.) Not even close.
For those who aren't familiar with Rich's player fetishes, Blyleven may top the list. He wrote a beautiful and memorable piece detailing Blyleven's qualifications last year, and I braced myself when hearing Verducci say Blyleven was "never dominant" during his career. Did Rich's hair just stand on end? Dum-dum-dum-dum-dee-du-wah. Here it came: 5th in career strikeouts. 9th in career shutouts. Top 20 in a host of other categories. Was Rich able to convince Verducci of the case for Blyleven, or is Rich himself only the lonely on this one?
The rest of my day is peppered with introductions and chance encounters.
Will Carroll mentioned to me on Friday that you can spot the agents by their watches. I don't wear a watch, so the stereotype holds true for me, at least. The agents in the room do stand out, wristwear or no. Just think, "Jay Mohr", and scan the room, and you'll identify at least a half-dozen.
Oddly enough, Will's agent doesn't fit the description. A friendly guy, yes. But there was that sneaky suspicion that you were, as someone put it, sitting next to a member of the Soprano family. I'm glad I'm not an enemy of Will's, that's for sure.
There were some excited rumblings among the baseball nerds when we found out Voros McCracken was in the house. McCracken's work on the Defense Independent Pitching Statistic (DIPS) brought him some minor celebrity and led to an analyst position with the Red Sox. You might anticipate that such a sudden promotion would lead to some serious head-swelling, but this wasn't the Voros way. McCracken was a modest, curious, and friendly chatterbox. A twenty-something Santa Claus, with no beard, no wrinkles, but a lot of jollies.
And finally, a Cubs connection. Scott Nelson, Director of Baseball Operations for the Cubbies, seemed to be familiar with The Cub Reporter. He also seemed familiar with TCR's occasional criticisms of the moves made by the Cubs' front office.
With slight amusement, Nelson reminded me that front offices had more information than the general public. The implication, of course, being that my thoughts might be a bit different if I had this information. Fair enough. It was clear, however, that his mild scolding was all in fun. And was I really just invited to touch base next time I was at Wrigley Field?
The late hours were a bit of a blur for me, as my cold was once again trying to rain on my parade. Jon, Peter White, Jay Jaffe and I hit Downtown Disney for dinner, hoping to find something exciting for dinner. Thirteen bucks and a mildly edible fried sandwich thing later, I can confirm that we failed.
Back at the bar in the Marriott, and there's Jim Hendry! He's hanging out with Bruce Levine (ESPN 1000) and Tony Pena, but I'm a ragged combination of too worn out and too vocally incapacitated to try to butt in with a business card and introduction. After all, isn't that what tomorrow's for?
Look What the Cat Dragged In
Apparently, I sleep through all the fun. Suffering through a bit of a chest and throat cold while camped out here in Anaheim, I took a brief nap mid-evening on the first night of the Winter Meetings. Sadly, I missed out on a scene I would've payed at least a nickel to watch: Rich Lederer in a crowd of reporters, holding court with superagent Scott Boras and grilling him on the Jered Weaver negotiations. Rich is the best, both sincere and filled with a sly humor, and his take on day one of the Meetings is a must-read.
As for me, I spent most of the evening in a daze. Not so much because of the baseball star-power in the room, but because I was fighting both four hours sleep and the aforementioned chest cold. There didn't seem to be a lot of news making the rounds in the lobby; maybe yesterday was just the warm-up act.
Jim Hendry did storm through the lobby at one point in the evening -- he was a larger presence than I expected, complete with entourage. He was filled with hurry last night, though, and appeared and disappeared within five seconds. Those 176 comments-worth of questions will apparently have to wait another day.
Assuming the Position, 2005: Part 5 - Outfield
The Cub outfield for 2004 was set well before opening day - Moises Alou in left, Corey Patterson in center, and Sammy Sosa in right - but while there wasn't reason to question who would be playing, there were plenty of reasons to wonder how often they might take the field together.
Alou came to the Cubs in 2002 with a well earned reputation for being an injury risk, and his first season reinforced that perception as he played in a mere 132 games. But he broke the mold in 2003, rebounding by playing in 151 contests, the second highest total of his career. That was wonderful, especially since he posted a very respectable .280/.357/.462 line that year, but as it was only the fourth time he played 140 games or more in twelve seasons, it was reasonable to fear that 2004 would not bring such good fortune.
But Alou wasn't the only possible DL resident lurking in the Wrigley Field grass. Center fielder Corey Patterson had injured his left knee on July 6, 2003, and while his surgery and recovery had all gone well, no one was sure if he would be fully ready to play by the end of spring training, and if he was, how often the knee would dictate he rest. Long term, the outlook was positive, but the short term impact was unknown.
Ironically (yes, Alanis, I'm using actual irony), the one man in the Cub outfield who wasn't an injury concern coming into the year was the man who was felled in mid-season by a back injury, reportedly brought on by the phrase, "Ah-CHOO!". It sounded funny but the results were serious, landing Sosa on the shelf for a month. And you thought sneezing powder was good clean fun.
Iím going to see the folks I dig
I'm joining a few All-Baseball.com writers, among others, in Anaheim this weekend to attend baseball's Winter Meetings. I'll be at the Meetings from tomorrow afternoon through Monday morning, followed by a couple-day visit with some friends in L.A.
I hope to continue to blog through the weekend, but I don't yet know exactly how the events are going to go, nor what access I'm going to have to the Internet while I'm there.
Regardless, I imagine the trip will be interesting, and I'm looking forward to meeting several people in the flesh with whom I've only had an online relationship to this point.
I'm curious, though, what the readers of TCR would like to find out at the Meetings. Who would you seek out, and why? And if, say, you had five minutes with Jim Hendry, what would you ask him?
The Blanco Draft Pick
There's been much ado about whether or not the signing of Henry Blanco cost the Cubs a draft pick in next year's amateur draft. I still don't have a definitive answer, but I've done a bit of research on the matter, and here's what I've come up with.
Jim Callis, in his Ask BA column for Baseball America, included a list of the Type A, B, and C free agents in an article a while back. The article can be found here, though you need to scroll to the bottom of the page to find the relevant information. Baseball America lists Blanco as a Type C player.
MLB.com, on the other hand, lists Blanco as Type B. Seeing that they have the official-sounding name of "MLB.com", you'd think they would have to be correct, no?
However, you need to keep in mind that MLB.com is not MLB: they are completely separate entities, and MLB.com does not represent the official stances of baseball as an organization. This is why, at the bottom of virtually every single page on MLB.com, you can find the following caveat:
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
The difference between Blanco being a Type B and a Type C free agent couldn't be bigger for the Cubs and Twins. If Blanco is a Type C free agent, the Twins receive no compensation, either in the form of a Cubs draft pick or a supplementary pick.
If, on the other hand, Blanco is a Type B free agent, the Cubs would give the Twins their first-round draft pick. That would be a humiliating place for the Cubs to find themselves, as you simply do not give up high draft picks for a backup catcher.
Looking for some clarity, I asked Callis where he got his info. He kindly pointed me to this AP Report, which clearly ranks Blanco as a Type C player.
I think MLB.com simply messed up when writing and editing their report on the matter, forgetting or accidentally erasing the "Type C" header above the three catchers who qualify for that distinction. Their site lists no Type C catchers at all, which makes no sense given the methods Elias uses to come up with the rankings.
I'm not 100% on this, but that has more to do with my cautiousness than with doubts about Blanco's status. I don't think the Cubs are giving the Twins any picks for this signing.
[update] - 4:40 PM ET - I think I was both right and wrong. It seems that Blanco is a Type C free agent, but the Twins will receive a compensatory draft pick (though no picks are taken from the Cubs). I assumed that since Blanco has been signed as a free agent before, the Twins would receive no 2nd-round supplementary pick were he signed by another team. However, I think the means by which Blanco achieved free agency explain why the Twins would still get a pick for him.
Reader eljefe281 explains this in the comments much more clearly than I do:
Blanco is a Type C free agent.
Hollandsworth and Clement offered arbitration
Busy day for me, so I don't have as much time as I'd like to get into the Nomar (hip hip...) and Walker (...hooray!) signings.
I did want to drop a note pointing out that the Cubs wisely offered Matt Clement arbitration. Clement will undoubtedly sign a multi-year contract with another team, netting a pick for the Cubs in next year's draft.
The Cubs also offered arbitration to Todd Hollandsworth. The team may or may not end up signing him, but offering arbitration lets them continue to talk shop for the near future. Hollandsworth isn't an A-List celeb, so if he signs with another team the Cubs will not receive any compensation.
A New Maddux Caddy
You take the good, you take the badCorrectly thinking that one more year of Paul Bako might be one year too many, the Cubs decided to forego offering him a contract. In a strange twist, though, they chose once again to get a backup catcher who can't hit. Digging down to a lower level of Hell, the Cubs unearthed Henry Blanco and signed him to a two-year, $2.7M contract.
Blanco is a pretty awful hitter, and he's not even left-handed, which you could at least pretend was a plus for Bako.
Hmm, maybe Blanco was added just to give Neifi! and Macias a run for next year's Suck Award.AVG OBP SLG
To be fair, by all accounts Blanco is a genuinely talented defensive catcher, though he wasn't as effective at throwing out runners last year as he has been throughout his career. According to Baseball Prospectus, Blanco saved 14 runs above average on defense in 2004, an excellent number.
And, of course, Blanco comes with his Maddux Gold Mastercard, having caught Greg for a couple years in Atlanta. No finance charges on expenses accrued through April 1, 2005. No OBPs above .260 posted anytime following that date.
It's on ESPN via the AP, and it's on the Cubs' offical site, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say we can now relax and celebrate the signing of Nomar Garciaparra to a one-year deal to play with the Cubs in 2005.
Nothing on the wire yet about money or incentives, so more to say when we know that. Also, nothing yet on Todd Walker, so keep your fingers crossed if you're so inclined.
UPDATE: Walker's a done deal too. It's a one-year deal worth $2.5M with an option for 2006. That sounds right to me.
The word on Nomar as you may have seen in the comments is $8M with incentives tied to games played and plate appearances that could take it up to $11M.
I've yet to see print confirmation on the $11M figure, but assuming it's accurate, and assuming he reaches all the performance goals, the Cubs have made the best deal possible for their shortstop situation.
Hell, they did that if he doesn't reach the goals, because even with his injury history, the risk in this deal is far lower than the risk in signing a Renteria or Cabrera long term, and with a higher ceiling to boot. Kudos to Jim Hendry for getting both of these deals done.
UPDATE 2: Here's a breakdown from Rotoworld.com of Nomar's deal:
On top of his $8 million base salary, Nomar would make $500,000 each for 535 and 550 plate appearances and $400,000 each for making 130, 135, 140, 145 and 150 starts.
Bits 'N Pieces
As the deadline to offer arbitration to free-agents looms, things are starting to gain some clarity in Cubland. Of course, with this clarity comes my insatiable need to comment. Here are some things that caught my attention this morning.
A Cards-to-Cubs Defection
The Cubs have hired former Cardinals Assistant Trainer Mark O'Neal to be the team's Head Trainer. He takes over for Dave Groeschner, who was only with the Cubs for one year. Groeschner was rumored to have had a falling out with the medical staff.
O'Neal's had a good reputation in St. Louis where he was the Assistant Trainer for the last six years. Like all trainers he's worked his way up, and I find myself saying many of the same things as I did last year when the Cubs brought in another highly thought of young assistant to take his first head position. I hope this one is more successful all around.
Assuming the Position 2005: Part 4 - Third Base
At the time it occurred, the trade that made Aramis Ramirez a Cub (Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, and cash (!) from Pittsburgh for Jose Hernandez, Matt Bruback, and a player to be named - eventually Bobby Hill) was widely viewed as an outright win for the Cuddly-Bears. Chicago got a young starting third baseman and a veteran center fielder/leadoff man for the stretch run in exchange for a journeyman infielder and two minor leaguers with low ceilings: it couldn't be clearer who came out on top.
Yet clearer it became in 2004. Forgetting about what the Cubs received for a moment, look at what the Pirates did with their booty:
What the above list means, when factoring in the Cubs' loss of Kenny Lofton to free agency, is that less than a year after the trade was consummated the deal had become a straight-up swap of Aramis Ramirez - with some Pirates cash - in exchange for Bobby Hill. If that unfairness isn't great enough for you, by the end of the 2004 season the deal could be characterized as a player who justifiably received some down-ballot MVP votes for a utility infielder. That's not just unfair, it's downright criminal.
Cubbie Outfielder to the Mets?
No, not that one. David Lennon has a chuckle-inducing line in his article from today's Newsday:
For their other corner outfielder, the Mets are very interested in 38-year-old free agent Moises Alou, both for his ability and his temperament.Boy, those Mets always seem to be pursuing the right guys for the right reasons...
Steroids Stories Slam Sammy's Stock?
Just like I don't like discussing Pete Rose and his various gambling foibles, I find steroids stories to be a big turnoff. Like, a Michael Moore Nudie Video-type turnoff.
There is a Cubs side to the story as well: Newsday suggests that the revelations about Giambi -- and the fact that he, like Sosa, has seen a sharp decline in his production -- have dampened the Mets' enthusiasm for Sammy:
The parallels between Giambi and Sosa are impossible to ignore, and those similarities are giving the Mets second thoughts about falling into the same trap as the Yankees. One baseball official with knowledge of the discussions described Giambi's statement to federal prosecutors as "a wake-up call" that has put a serious scare into the Mets about acquiring Sosa.With the trade rumors having already quieted down some, is this the final straw?
UPDATE: - 3pm EST - The All-Baseball.com crew chimes in with a fast and furious roundtable on the home page.
Not too long ago, minor leaguer David Kelton was the Next Great Hope at third for the Cubs. These were the heady days, pre-Aramis, where memories of Gary Scott had faded and dreams of Kelton clicking his heels seemed plausible.
To be honest, there were always some doubts that he'd stay at third, but few that he wouldn't hit in the bigs. The 2003 Baseball America Prospect Handbook said as much following Kelton's 2002 season:
[A]t 22 he wasn't old for Double-A, led the Southern League in homers, RBIs, and extra-base hits, and managers rated him the league's best batting prospect. Kelton own a pure swing and there's little doubt that he can hit .275 with 20-25 homers in the majors.The publication projected the same results in their 2004 book, if not in the same rosy tone:
[Kelton's] bat speed and plate coverage should make him a .275 hitter with 20-25 homers annually.
In a year, Kelton went from "little doubt" to "should". And after the 2004 season, I think you'd now go with "probably not". Kelton spent the year in AAA putting up the underwhelming line of .245/.303/.448.
For what it's worth, Kelton's having a great go of it in Venezuela this offseason. He's playing for Oriente Carires in the Venezualan Winter League, hitting 323/397/583. With 9 doubles and 8 homers so far (127 at-bats), he's displaying some nice pop.
Unfortunately, he's striking out a third of the time (44 Ks) and not walking much (14 BB), signs that he still can't control the strike zone. I think it's his Achilles heel, and it has yet to be addressed in his game at any level.
I asked All-Baseball.com's prospect maven Bryan Smith for his opinion on Kelton.
Kelton has gotten to the point where his inclusion on the 40-man roster is hardly a given. For too long it was assumed his bat was good enough to allow him not to play any position well, but he just can't hit advanced pitching. There is a chance he'll resurface somewhere on a bench, as a Wes Helms type, but that's sure not saying a lot. Simply put, one of the most disappointing happenings of the Cubs' system in recent years.You know what blows my mind? Kelton is still a few weeks away from turning 25, which is shocking to me because it seems like he's been around forever. Actually, he has been around forever: 2005 will be his eighth season as a pro. How's them apples?
Reason For Hope
Poster extraordinaire, John Hill (who if he continues to correct my mistakes in comments is going to work himself into an ad hoc proofreading gig), wrote this in the previous thread:
Bruce Levine and Dave Kaplan are reporting with extreme confidence that Nomar Garciaparra is very close to signing with the Cubs, and they're expecting major developments within the next 48 hours. A one-year deal with a vesting option is apparently on the table. I don't know about the reliability of those sources, but I hope it's true.
I donít know anything about the reliability of their sources either, but thereís also a piece by Bruce Miles in todayís Daily Herald about the Cubs working toward a deal with Nomar, and contained therein is this quote from Jim Hendry:
I'm definitely going to have some serious talks [with Garciaparraís agent, Art Tellem] this week and try to come to a conclusion either way before the 7th.
Nothing is solid here, but having spent a lot of time overanalyzing stuff like this during his tenure, Iíd say that this degree of press leakage accompanied by an actual quote from Hendry about his intentions implies very strongly that whatís going down is for real. Obviously, anything can still happen as long as names arenít signed on dotted lines, but this sort of talk, direct or through leaks, generally doesnít come out of the Cubsí front office unless all parties are near certain that a deal is in the offing.
Iíll hold off on analyzing any further until something is actually completed and there are some numbers to throw around Ė although if jinxing were possible I imagine Iíve already done my worst - but as Iíve said before, the shortstop with the potential to provide the most production per dollar is Garciaparra, and if/when this signing happens, Iíll be one happy and relieved fella. Keep those fingers crossed, folks!
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com