Monthly archives: February 2005
Thanks to the BTF Newsblog, I ran across Vincent Galloro’s interview of Daily Herald Sox beat writer, Scot Gregor, and Tribune Cub beat writer, Paul Sullivan, in the Chicago Sports Review. It gives a nice feel for how these two writers go about their business, so check it out.
The thing of particular interest to me were the questions that Galloro asked about the impact of the internet and statistical analysis on their work: Gregor seems open to it, Sullivan - not so much. Here’s a snippet from Sullivan on bloggers (which I’m re-culling from both the interview and BTF):
Some of these people are downright nuts. No offense to you, but everyone with a PC and a printer believes they’re a writer. That’s the worst aspect of the Internet Age — everyone has something to say and a blog to say it in.
I’d respond, but I have to change out of my pajamas, polish my tinfoil hat, and refill my Thorazine prescription, so I just don’t have the time.
This tidbit from yesterday’s People’s Paper made me warm and fuzzy all over:
Just think: if Hairston can handle third, there is officially no reason for Macias to be on the roster. That doesn’t mean he won’t be, but if he’s not filling a specific need, there’s at least a shot he’ll be jettisoned, and that’s…….mmmmmmmm…….yummy.
Just Beat It
Pal Rich Lederer, spruced up in his new digs at Baseball Analysts, has just finished a three-part series where he asked baseball writers near and far who their favorite players were growing up. It’s a great read. Christian and I both participated, and—perhaps not surprisingly—both named Cubs as our favorite players from our youth.
Another Bullet Dodged
Even if Cubs fans wish that Jim Hendry could have been a wee bit more active this winter, he certainly has dodged some bullets over the past few months, whether intentionally or not. The latest:
Baltimore Orioles reliever Jorge Julio has been sidelined with a strained right forearm, an injury that could force him to miss the regular-season opener and definitely hinders his chances of winning the closer’s job out of spring training.
The weather in New York isn’t cooperating with the beginning of the baseball season. Last night it snowed. Snowed! It feels like some sort of punishment to be in a winter wonderland while the baseball boys are doing wind sprints.
Does anyone else hold their breath when checking baseball news updates during this period of spring training? While I’m eager to finally get information about players actually playing, I also get a tingly sense of dread, worried that ESPN or rotowire will have some dastardly note about Prior’s heel or Zambrano’s arm.
So far, so good. No injuries or scary rumors. In fact, there are good reports about both Joe Borowski and Mike Remlinger. Dusty Baker explains, “[Borowski]’s better now than at any point we saw him last year”. And on Remlinger: “He’s way ahead of where he was last year at this time.”
A return to good health by both players would greatly ease the mind of Cub fans who are anticipating Armageddon II with this year’s bullpen. A Borowski comeback would be especially sweet. I’d written him off—pretty much permanently—but haven’t forgotten how excellent he was when healthy. JoBo has shown a lot of determination throughout his career, and hopefully can find a way to help the team once more.
“It’s the first day and I heard the word ‘fundamentals’ about 30 times,” Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood said.Isn’t this the spring training refrain? It’s official song? Don’t ghost authors everywhere scramble every February to sign some Wendell Kimish coach to write Fundamentals and Spring Training: Why This Year is Different?
It would, of course, actually behoove the Cubbies to pay attention during this year’s rites of spring. 2004 was the year of the baserunning blunder, the missed sign, the throw to the wrong base.
Perhaps Cubbies Past confused the words “fundamental” and “fundament”. We certainly watched our share of ass plays last year. Here’s hoping that with 30 reps of the word a day, the true definition takes hold. It would be nice to see an opposing runner stop at first for a change, rather than gliding into second on yet another ill-advised throw to the plate.
Some Spring Training-style hyperbolic poetry, with many apologies and deep bows of obeisance to the all-powerful Score Bard.
The good arms of all the Cub starters
Maddux, Zambrano, and Prior
Cub shortstops in last year’s fell era
Birds duck and swerve from
Like belles with their fans
The Much Less Ewwwy Files
While reports of coveting Monsieur Julio (see, I’m practicing French!) are met in this corner with several retches and a sniff of disgust, the ongoing rumblings that the Cubs might be following Octavio Dotel are more to my liking.
Dotel struggled a bit last year in Oakland, leading to some speculation that his large doses of innings were finally catching up to him, but his final numbers weren’t too shabby:
INN H HR BB K Sv BlSv ERA
Only the home runs allowed ups the rate on my ticker a bit, but Dotel had good numbers in that column the three years previous, and I guess it isn’t that horrifying.
PECOTA thinks he’ll be just dandy this season, and I doubt many Cubs fans wouldn’t take a line from a closer that looked like…
INN H HR BB K ERA
A lot of things, however, would have to happen for the Cubs to get Dotel.
This leaves aside the whole talent issue: who do the Cubs have that Oakland covets?
And then there’s the whole angle that maybe the Cubs aren’t interested in Dotel at all. At least, that’s what the man who’d know, Jim Hendry, hints:
The Cubs are downplaying speculation that they are pursuing either the Oakland Athletics’ Octavio Dotel or the Detroit Tigers’ Ugueth Urbina in a trade, though their scouts will be surveying other camps closely for bullpen help. Hendry said he has had no conversations with A’s general manager Billy Beane about trading for Dotel.Hopefully this is just a run-of-the-mill denial, ‘cause it’s a whole lot less ewwwy to think of Hendry going after Dotel and not Julio, dontcha think?
The Eww Eww Files
Buried deep within Fred Mitchell's "Around Town" column in today's Trib is this unfortunate snippet:
The Cubs, who have been trying to pry away Orioles closer Jorge Julio all winter, continue to covet him. Baltimore would not accept Kyle Farnsworth, who wound up being dealt to Detroit last week.
The Cubs are coveting who? Behind whose barn?!?
If the Orioles were unwilling to exchange fireballing, walk and homer-prone nutbars, what would they be willing to accept to make a deal? I have no idea, but I have a hard time coming up with an answer I'd like, and unfortunately, if Barrett and Burnitz are any indication, when Jim Hendry gets a player stuck in his head, he doesn't stop until he gets 'em.
Be afraid, my friends. Be very afraid.
A Break From Baseball
I've been on more or less of a break from writing the past few weeks. This hasn't been due to lack of Cub news, but lack of time. It isn't just the blog that's fallen by the wayside, but baseball itself.
What do I do when I'm off the baseball drug for a short time? Well, work-work, for starters. I'm a New Yorker who has the luxury of not having a New Yorker's typical overworked lifestyle. My job is rarely take-home stressful, and the hours aren't extravagant. But every season or so there is a two-week period which kicks my ass a bit, days when I have to hang up on friends when they call and eschew web-browsing lunch breaks for wage-earning duties. I've been in one of those two-week periods.
What else does this Cub Reporter do when taking a vacation from baseball? He plans a vacation to France. I'm going to Paris and Normandy for a week in mid-March with my best friend, in honor of our ahem-ahem-th birthdays.
I may be the world's most annoying person when it comes to vacation planning. I've bought more books (used! I swear!) about Paris and France in the past month than the number of days I'm going to actually be in France. I've received approximately 15 emails from friends with lists of things I have to do. And I'm still a month away from the trip... just wait until I start visiting the French bistros and cheese shops in NYC to do a dry run of ordering food en francais. Pathetic, neurotic, and uncontrollable, appropriate epithets pour moi.
How do I end my baseball hiatus? By taking one final step back and enjoying the city I call home. Despite living in New York for six years now, I've only recently understood my love for the place. And my planning for Paris has made me realize that I should try being a tourist in my own town from time to time.
Yesterday, I got on the M86 crosstown bus and went through Central Park on the way to the Guggenheim (pic 1, pic 2, pic 3) over on the Upper East Side. Central Park, if you haven't heard, is a bit different these days. The bizarro installation artist Christo has stuck up poles with hanging orange sheets (pic 1, pic 2, pic 3) all around. I thought it looked like something out of that dumb movie The Village; a friend left a message for me--panicked and unaware of the project--wondering if it was some sort of memorial for dead people. The cynic in me would reply, No, not a memorial to dead people, just to excess.
Has baseball been happening? I didn't find out about the Farnsworth trade for a couple days after it happened, a totally disorienting experience since I'm usually obsessive about transactions, acquisitions and the like. I have yet to wrap my head around the Sosa mess, though I figure I may need months and months of distance from Sammy before I can begin to think rationally about both the trade and his place in Cubs history. I have a lot of catching up to do, but thankfully there are still a few days left before pitchers and catchers end their baseball hiatus and show up for their work-work.
One Hundred Thirty Down, Six to Go
Despite some actual tidings coming down the pike yesterday, the paucity of activity at the onset of February makes the period hard to take. The lack of news or even rumor combined with the lack of on-field action that, its proximity notwithstanding, seems aeons removed as a reality, makes these few remaining days before players report the most maddening in the calendar.
It's during these times of trial that men turn to the things that comfort them most, and what can be more comforting to one who fancies himself a literate baseball fan than the words of Roger Angell? I've had the distinct pleasure this week of beginning what I'm sure will be the first of many perusals of The Summer Game, and as will often happen when media mix, I had a lovely moment this morning when the words on the page and the music in my ears amplified each other's meaning and made for an experience that was greater combined than it could have been separate.
First, we have Angell's words, delightful and uplifting on their own:
Mornings are the best time at a winter ballpark. After calisthenics, the players scatter - pickups and pepper, outfield wind-sprints, batting for the scrubeenies, infield practice for the regulars. The batting-practice pitcher throws and, with the same motion, drops his head below the low screen just in front of him; the man in the cage swings away, the ball flies over second, and, an instant later, coaches on the first and third baselines tap grounders that cross each other on the way to opposite sides of the infield. A couple of sportswriters, wearing T-shirts, shades, and team caps, emerge from the dugout carrying cardboard containers of coffee. The smell of coffee fills the air, mixing with the smell of freshly mown grass.
It's a complete picture, and even in the cramped rush-hour confines of the Red Line, I can feel the grass and hear the sound of bat on ball. The smell of my coffee transporting me, I stand among the sportswriters, admiring the men going through their preparations, warmed by the sun, caressed by the wind.
Then in comes, of all things, a song by Eels called Fresh Feeling. It has the languid aura of summer on the porch, and as I'm reading the words above, the chorus keeps easing its way into the affair, gently joining with the printed page, each welcoming the other as unexpected but pleasant guests in their respective worlds.
birds singing a song,
Not meant to be together, composed over thirty years apart, they still mesh and make a moment that can carry a man through the most glacial of winter days, and carry me they will. I don't know what will get me though tomorrow, none of us do, but it's the hope and faith that something will come to make it worthwhile, big or small, that gets me up in the morning. And it's moments like I experienced today that make me anxious to see what it will be.
One Hundred Twenty-Nine Down, Seven to Go
As recently as Monday, things were looking up in Chicago and its environs. After a brutal series of days filled with wind and snow, cold and darkness, there was a glorious five day stretch filled with brightness and warmth (at least in a relative sense) that not only melted the winter's accumulated snowfall, but served to thaw this baseball fan's near-frozen heart.
Temperatures rose as the time until men were to meet and play over oceans of grass fell away like a Grizzly's winter fur on a soft, vernal breeze. Walking outside was transformed from an act of necessity to one of pure pleasure. Layers were shed, and as the city's sidewalks filled with those freed from their prisons of goose down, one could smell the hope in the air.
It was early, we knew that, but on these days when by all rights we should still be tightly gripped by the Old Man's frigid fist, it's impossible not to think defiant thoughts of short sleeves and sunglasses. "Spring!" As one mind we transmitted the word, as if the intensity of our combined mental efforts would make what was temporary permanent, bringing the final push that sent the Old Man to his annual grave.
That's gone now. This morning was gloomy and chill, bringing a thin coating of what I'll call "surprise snow" (the laziness of dog owners, once revealed by the thaw, is now concealed by the ensuing dusting: too thin to protect unwary pedestrians, too thick to warn the vigilant). It's like the slamming of opportunity's door, or waking in a hovel from a dream of riches.
It is jarring. Disconcerting. And despite continuing to creep nearer our object of desire - sans thought, sans effort, always moving forward - it seems farther now than ever; the perception of time's passing stretched from inches into feet and feet into fathoms by anticipation and need.
Yet closer still it comes, and thank the Maker for small mercies. One week from today, those men will meet and they will play, and more men will follow upon them. Together, they will signal an end and a beginning, both of them welcome as an old friend. The number today is seven, tomorrow it will be six, and the days will come and go until our long wait is through. It will all be over soon, but how I wish it were sooner!
No Time For L.O.V.E.
Yikes! Work is kicking my bootay, and I don't have any time at the moment, but wanted quickly to slip in a post so there is a fresh comments thread to impregnate with new Cubbie thoughts.
Oh, and this from last week is worth a mention:
Pitcher Angel Guzman, whom Baseball America has named the Cubs' top pitching prospect for two straight years, managed just 11 appearances in the minors last year after recovering from shoulder surgery in 2003.I of course L.O.V.E. the 40-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio Guzman put up at one level last year, but I'm still not as raving mad happy about him as many Cubs fans seem to be. Guzman has been treated gingerly since his shoulderish injury, which is good, but he still hasn't proven that he can throw a lot of innings in a year.
Still, he may be the most likely candidate from the minors to bully his way into the rotation at some point this year.
Ramirez and Zambrano Sign
Big props to Alex for nearly predicting their salaries exactly a couple of weeks ago. He had Zambrano at $3.65 and Ramirez at $9.125 for a total of $12.775M between them. The actual total of their contracts is $12.71M. Carnac Lives!
The deals themselves are perfectly reasonable, and there's not much more to say about them, beyond mentioning that Ramirez' contract will likely be torn up before the season starts in favor of a multi-year deal. It's Wood and Lee all over again on this one.
On an interesting side note, especially in light of my last post, the Cubs signed Dave Hansen to a minor league deal today. When I talk about getting good players for the bench Hansen's the type of guy I mean. There's no question his game is flawed, that's why he's not a starter, but he has a very specific and useful skillset at the plate that gives him value.
In his case, he does a nice job of getting on base and doesn't strike out a ton, which can be valuable if the pitcher's spot comes up in the middle of a rally. I'd be more excited about this if I knew where he fit in (Yeah, he fits in where Jose Macias goes, but Macias has a Major League contract, doncha know!), but if the club makes room on the 40-man (I'm lookin' at you, Kyle Farnsworth!), and they decide to go with eleven pitchers, he has a great shot at making the team, and I'll definitely be rooting for him.
With the resolution of this offseason's big question finally coming down this week (the answer being, "Run! Run for your lives!"), it's time to turn our attention to some of those nagging little queries that have been dutifully placed on the backburner for months. So I figure, what with recent events filling the 40-man roster, it's the perfect moment to begin speculation on who will be the last member of the bench - the Twenty-Fifth Man.
Here's a list of the position players who are currently assured spots on the big club:
I know, it's not nice to list the bench all together like that, but I'm hoping that no one will read this while eating. In any case, that's twelve men by my count, and assuming the Cubs take twelve pitchers with them when they leave Arizona in April, that leaves one more spot for a position player on the Major League roster.
As I mentioned earlier, the 40-man roster appears to be full (I'm not aware of anyone on the 60-day DL, but please correct me if I'm wrong), so barring a trade that sends away more roster-bound men than it nets, we likely have a pretty set group of guys to work from, and all those NRIs are SOL. The position players remaining on the 40-man are:
I may not always agree with the Cubs' bench construction, but one fetish I have thankfully yet to see Dusty Baker or Jim Hendry indulge in is that of carrying a third catcher. Unless the Cubs suddenly hire Tony LaRussa, Soto will remain on the farm.
The infielders above are in various stages of development with their order of current Major League usefulness being Fontenot, Lewis, then Cedeno. Of course, Macias, Hairston, and Neifi! already thoroughly cover any defensive positions the three minor leaguers play, so it would take some prodigious woodworking to force their way north. Don't count on it.
That leaves Kelton and Dubois battling it out for the final spot. Take away a pitcher and you don't have a problem; both men can come along for the ride, keeping each other company playing Pinochle and Whist, while Jose Macias gets the first call from the bench day after day after day. Unfortunately, I don't see the Cubs bringing only eleven pitchers north, so a decision must be made.
Considering talent alone, it's Dubois' call to get. He's been a better hitter for his entire career, and he's got nothing left to prove as a minor league player. Naturally, it's not that simple. Kelton is out of options, which means that he'll have to pass through waivers in order to be sent down to Iowa, and the Cubs could easily lose him. Not that they have anywhere to put him anymore, but it would be a shame to have him taking up a roster spot all this time when all along there was a willingness to let another team snap him up.
However, despite the risk of losing him, I think Kelton will be sent down and Dubois will be with the Cubs. Dubois is simply too good a hitter to keep off a roster completely devoid of right-handed power off the bench. Yet, I'd still expect to see this drag on for the entire spring. The Cubs' 25-man roster doesn't have to be set until the clock strikes twelve on April 3, and if they wait long enough, there might be enough 40-man rosters at capacity to render Kelton unworthy of a waiver claim.
Dubois stays and Kelton goes back to Iowa, slipping though the waiver wire - that's what I think the Cubs are aiming for, and I think it's the best they can do with what they've got.
Help! I don't understand the money involved in the final tally with the Cubs-Orioles trade:
Under terms of the addendum to Sosa's contract that he signed Wednesday, the Cubs will pay $16.15 million of the $25 million Sosa was still owed under his $72 million, four-year agreement, according to details obtained by The Associated Press.Umm, what happened to Baltimore picking up the tab on that $4.5M? I just don't get it.
Baltimore is responsible for just $8.85 million of Sosa's $17 million salary this year, with the Cubs paying the rest. Because Sosa is paid on a 12-month basis and already had received $1,307,692 of his salary this year, that amount was credited to what the Cubs owe Baltimore, meaning the Orioles will receive $6,842,308 in cash from Chicago.
As part of the trade, Chicago will pay Sosa $3.5 million in severance within 30 days. The $18 million 2006 option in his contract was eliminated, and the $4.5 million buyout was converted to a $4.5 million assignment bonus, which the Cubs must pay by March 15. He also agreed to eliminate the $19 million option for 2007 that his contract said would be added if he was traded.
Turns out I'm exactly as dumb as I thought I was. Those PECOTA numbers in yesterday's article do seem to factor in the player's parks, inflating and deflating numbers accordingly. I first noticed this when reading through Joe Sheehan's great article on Sosa and Dusty and the Cubs in BP. Reader Shawn then passed along an email to me with the correct data, showing the equivalent OBP and SLG numbers that PECOTA projects:
Oh well. The one glimmer of hope I was holding onto--that PECOTA seemed to think Burnitz wasn't all that bad--turned out to be a mirage. Desert oasis, meet sand. Cubs outfield, meet dung heap.EqOBP EqSLG
Alou 343 460
Sosa 349 513
Burnitz 327 483
Dubois 342 485
Hairston 352 383
Hollandsworth 336 449
Last winter, when St. Louis signed out machine and snappy dresser, Tony Womack, to play second base, Brian Gunn coined a phrase in his dearly departed blog, Redbird Nation, that at the time seemed to perfectly capture the essence of what I would be feeling if I rooted for the Cardinals. Brian called it "The Womackalypse", and with all that has gone down this week - from the trade of Sammy Sosa to the imminent signing of Jeromy Burnitz - I found myself searching for a word or phrase that I could bend to my purposes in a similar way. Here's a quick list of the candidates:
They're fine candidates all, but the more thought I put into it, the more I lean toward a phrase that specifically describes the role Burnitz will play in the Earth-engulfing conflagration to come; that properly puts in perspective this entire winter and the horror sure to visit the Cub outfield during 2005. The offseason of fumbling, the trade of Sosa, the acquisition of Burnitz, I dub thee: Jeromageddon
The ironic thing is that after the consternation Gunn and other Cardinals fans expressed at his acquisition, Sir 'Alypse went on to have his finest season ever at the age of 34. The soon-to-be-Cub, J-Burn (Hey, aren't we all required by Federal Statute to have a nickname comprised of the first initial of our first name and first syllable of our last?), will be 36 in the season to come, so the parallel isn't exact, but maybe - just maybe - if we say enough monstrously cruel things about his signing, Mr. Burnitz will reward us with a season for the ages. I, for one, intend to take the challenge.
Alright, we're talking here. Talking lots of home runs, lots of slugging points, lots of middle-of-the-order thunder scattered to both coasts. Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa were at the heart of the Cubs' lineup for the past three years. If Sammy was more valuable the first two years, Alou was better in the third.
Now it looks like both guys are history, leaving a pair of holes at the outfield corners. What will the Cubs be missing that they had last year?
Sosa's year, heavy on the homers but low on the OBP, was less valuable than his OPS makes it look. His on-the-field contributions shouldn't be particularly difficult to replace, and his off-the-field shenanigans won't be especially missed.2004
AVG OBP SLG OPS
Alou: 293 361 557 918
Sosa: 253 332 517 849
Alou, on the other hand, had a very good offensive year. Having Nomar around should make up some of the lost ground on offense, but it's still a mighty tasty chunk of hitting to fall off the cheese wagon.
I'm not clamboring for the return of Alou, though, or even shedding a tear that he's moved on. It's important to remember that Alou himself is rather unlikely to provide another year for a team like he did for the 2004 Cubs. Alou is old, and in his first two years with the Cubs he simply wasn't very good. I expect a pretty sharp decline, and I don't think it's going to be all that beautiful to witness.
The Cubs' remaining options in the outfield give one pause. Burnitz? Dubois? Holly? Hairston? These are the types of players the 2002 Mets put their faith in. That said, how much different would the 2005 Cubs look if they were simply trotting out Alou and Sosa for one more year?
I have no crystal balls, but thankfully the Internet is filled with wannabe Tiresiases. I've cobbled together a few 2005 projections from Baseball Prospectus, Ron Shandler, and folks at Baseball Primer. I believe every stat is park neutral, so the Burnitz forecasts aren't predicting what he'd do at Coors, but what he'd do at, I dunno, Pittsburgh. The projections are listed in order of sophistication and, presumably, accuracy.
PECOTA's my favorite of these, even if BP's fantasy product--based around PECOTA--royally screwed over my fantasy teams last year (thank you, disastrous Montreal park factors). PECOTA also, interestingly, not only thinks Burnitz wouldn't be a bad pickup, but actually forecasts that Burnitz and Dubois would produce at better rates than Sosa and Alou next year. That comes as a complete surprise.AVG OBP SLG OPS
PECOTA: Sosa: 259 351 515 866
Alou: 270 342 443 785
Burnitz: 276 349 536 885
Dubois: 262 344 487 831
Hollandsworth: 266 338 451 789
Hairston: 274 348 376 724
Shandler: Sosa: 270 355 536 891
Alou: 290 361 474 835
Burnitz: 246 324 490 814
Dubois: 262 320 492 812
Hollandsworth: 286 304 502 806
Hairston: 272 336 367 703
ZiPS: Sosa: 255 346 518 864
Alou: 271 333 453 786
Burnitz: 257 332 513 845
Dubois: 272 345 500 845
Hollandsworth: 266 333 432 765
Hairston: 286 354 387 741
Marcel: Sosa: 264 348 524 872
Alou: 276 345 479 824
Burnitz: 252 325 476 801
Dubois: 270 336 450 786
Hollandsworth: 278 342 466 808
Hairston: 282 353 396 749
The other systems spit out numbers more along the lines of what you'd guess from the ex-Cubs. A mild uptick for Sosa, a big decline in Alou's power. They also predict years out of Burnitz that somewhat resemble Sosa's 2003.
ZiPS likes Dubois even more than PECOTA does: both think he'd be a pretty good regular. Hollandsworth is all over the place, and Hairston is predicted to, well, hit like Mark Grudzielanek. And would you really want Mark Grudzielanek in right field next year?
What does all this mean? I'd venture that while the Cubs are likely to miss the numbers Alou and Sosa gave them last year, they may not miss the numbers the pair would have given them this year.
I suppose it is mildly reassuring that all this moving and shaking leaves the team in a similar place to where it would've been had they done nothing to their outfield but re-signed Alou. It's a step backwards nonetheless. Replacing "Alou, version '04" is perhaps the biggest offensive task facing next year's Cubs. And considering that the 2004 Cubs were no offensive juggernaut to begin with, it's a task worth fretting over.
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com