Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: March 2006


Cubs Acquire Bynum
2006-03-31 20:32
by Derek Smart

According to the Dallas Morning News, the Cubs got involved in a three-team deal with the A's and Rangers, which amounted to them acquiring Freddie Bynum for John Koronka (who will slide into the Rangers' fifth rotation slot. Yikes!), and either a PTBNL or cash.

Without further guidance, I'd guess that Bynum will join the 25-man roster at the expense of Ryan Theriot, which is really no expense at all. What Bynum brings is positional flexibility, a hint of discipline, and speed, which falls nicely in line with what the club's emphasis all offseason, whether you buy into it or not. He certainly has more utility than Theriot, and with the price being Koronka and a bag of balls, it's a solid pickup.

UPDATE: Bynum's officially on the team, and indeed, he's taken the Koronka/Theriot Memorial Roster spot.

Wherein I Expound Further Upon Cub Pitching
2006-03-29 09:07
by Derek Smart

The fine blog, Beyond the Boxscore, has been running a series of team previews of late, and they thought it would be a good idea to have me write the section dealing with the Cub pitching staff. Click here to decide for yourself if it was.

Insert Your Favorite Post-WWII Recovery Effort Reference Here
2006-03-29 07:59
by Derek Smart

According to, well, basically everybody, Sean Marshall isn't just in line to join the club in mid-April, he's got a shot to break camp with the team and supplant Jerome Williams in the rotation.

I'll admit, this whole thing has me torn. I like Marshall quite a lot, and I'd even say he's probably the best solution at the moment for that fifth spot in the rotation, if not the fourth. Yet, I have a little trepidation about how little experience he's had above A-ball, the worry being that, it being Spring, the good that we've seen is something of a mirage and that, once exposed to the reality of Major League competition, Marshall could wilt and perhaps even do serious damage to his development, especially from a psychological standpoint.

I don't know how much of that concern is reality-based and how much is pre-season cold feet, but it certainly makes one wonder how much the potential insertion of Marshall into Jerome Williams' presumed rotation slot is based on Management's need to shore up their case for contract extensions. Much as I like Marshall (and the more I think about it, he reminds me of a left-handed Jon Lieber), his long term prospects are likely best served by at least a half-season of work in West-Tenn, if not considerably more.

Yet, here we are at the season's start, and like it or not, the team is going to use him. We can speculate all we like about how this will affect young Sean, but we won't know until it happens, and happen it will. So, keep your fingers crossed, and hope for the best, because more than this year is riding on the result.

So Long, Mr. Goodbody
2006-03-28 11:32
by Derek Smart

Marquis Grissom has called it quits. While a great nickname has died, I'm willing to sacrifice it for the good of the team.

(Thanks to Tom K for the tip in the previous thread)

Logjam Averted
2006-03-28 09:43
by Derek Smart

At least partially. The Cubs traded Todd Wellemeyer to the Marlins today for two minor league pitchers, righty Lincoln Holdzkom and lefty Zach McCormack. I tried to find some numbers on these guys, but for some reason I couldn't get anything beyond what was in the piece, which basically told me they were both 24, both spent time in A-ball (making them, perhaps, a bit old for the leagues), both are relievers, and both have pretty high strikeout rates. In other words, a live arm from the 40-man for a couple live arms off the 40-man. Fair enough.

Not only does this help clear up the bullpen situation, it also might resolve a possible overall roster crunch, depending on whether or not Marquis Grissom or Michael Restovich break camp with the team. If they don't, then all's good for Opening Day, when Wade Miller will take the spot on the roster vacated by Wellemeyer. If one or both of them come north, then some other shenanigans will be necessary. Stay tuned.

Bud Would Be Proud
2006-03-28 07:40
by Derek Smart

I realize it was an exhibition game, that the purpose is more to prepare than compete, and that it's no rarity to see Spring contests end in ties, but that doesn't make me any less likely to feel a vague sense of dissatisfaction after yesterday's Cubs/White Sox tilt was called after nine due to the South Siders' supposed lack of pitching.

I think my feelings of perturbation comes primarily from the fact that the Sox only used three mound-men, and I have a hard time believing that they didn't come with at least one more hurler prepared to take the ball. Otherwise, they were counting on either Mark Buehrle going seven with Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts each making it through one frame apiece, or Politte and Cotts being able to absorb any extra outs if anyone needed to leave early due to injury or overwork, and while I appreciate a certain degree of confidence, that's just stupid.

Again, I know it's just Spring, and that it's merely an opportunity to sort out your roster and allow your players to get ready for the long season ahead, but I suppose all I want in this situation is a reason for the actions taken that makes sense, and that's not what I got.

But enough kvetching about piddly, meaningless, points of honor. Here's some stuff I saw.

  • There is now, officially, no argument I will hear for keeping Marquis Grissom on the roster that I will except as reasonable. Not only does he seem incapable of impersonating usefulness at the plate, after seeing him play the field in yesterday's game, he wouldn't even be a positive on the defensive side. Perhaps with some well-placed bread-crumbs he wouldn't look so lost, but it'd be a helluva lot of work to get those things laid out with each fly ball, and the logistics and timing issues would be a nightmare.

    Add in the fact that there are still questions about his ability to keep an intact hamstring over the long haul, and that Angel Pagan has done nothing but impress thus far, and keeping Mr. Goodbody around is indefensible unless you put particular stock in mascotism. I don't.

  • Derrek Lee was back yesterday, but he looked completely out of it, dropping a well-thrown ball on the back end of a double-play, and not appearing in the least bit focused at the plate. Of course, all of this is understandable since he just rejoined the team after going home to be with his grandfather in the hospital, so not only was he likely distracted, he was probably exhausted, too.

    All this is a long way of saying, if you see some ugly lines in the boxscore for The Savior in the next little stretch, don't worry yourself. With the week he's had, it's only natural.

  • Aramis Ramirez, on the other hand, looks bloody fantastic. He didn't have a great day at the plate, even though he doubled in a run in the ninth, but that's not what has me excited. His work in the field is smoother and easier than it was at any time last season, and for me, that's the best gauge of his health. When his legs are solid underneath him, and his movements are unimpeded, it shows up in his footwork and the consistency of his throws. Right now, all of that looks better than it has in ages, and as far as Ramirez' season is concerned, that's reason for some hearty optimism.

  • After what I saw yesterday, if I were a White Sox fan, I'd be licking my chops at the thought of Jim Thome in my lineup every day.

  • I tell ya, it's gonna be hard to keep Jerry Hairston out of the lineup, based on his defense alone. He looks a ton sharper in the field than he did last year, and like it or not, it's going to earn him plenty of playing time. I love Todd Walker, and I want to see him out there, but I'll admit, much as it pains me, that I get a sense of comfort with Hairston manning the keystone that simply isn't there with Walker. You may now commence the throwing of stones.

Can I just say how much I enjoy doing this again? I've had an incredibly difficult time writing this offseason - don't ask why, I just don't know - so knowing that soon I'll get to watch a bunch of meaningful ballgames, and in turn, write about those contests, tickles me no end. Six days left. Let the countdown begin!

Weekend Quick Hits
2006-03-27 07:17
by Derek Smart

We're just a week away from starting this thing, and I can hardly wait. Sitting here speculating and gnashing my teeth is only giving me an ulcer and a potential heap of dental bills. I actually got to see some ball this weekend, along with many of you, and while I'm short on time today, I've got a couple quick points.

  • I took a couple of looks at Sean Marshall's work on Saturday, and both times I was duly impressed. Not so much with his stuff, although he has a dandy curveball, but more by his ability to locate his pitches and to keep hitters off balance.

    True, Marshall walked four in the outing, but they were a different variety of free pass than that given out by someone like, say, Rich Hill. It would be a stretch to say Marshall's balls were by design, but even out of the zone they were in line with his intent - he may have missed his spot, but he knew where the ball was going the whole time - whereas with Hill there's a feeling of surprise when he's off target, like he can't believe that ball ended up there.

    Bob Brenly noted that a big difference between the two pitchers was Hill's lack of a secondary fastball, but I think Marshall's control and ability to execute a sound game-plan against a hitter is what sets him apart.

  • I hadn't seen Angel Guzman all spring, so it was good to get a peek at him. He's got good stuff, but honestly, it's not nearly as electric as I remember from Spring 2003 when he was at the height of his powers. Some of that might be the camera angle at the ballpark (it's very difficult to get a read on a ball's movement with where the camera's placed at the Cubs' facility), but I'd imagine some of it is memory inflation.

    In any case, he looked solid enough, although I don't think he looked quite as polished as Marshall does. My gut tells me he's likely to stay in the minors to both work on his approach and be in a situation where his outings can be more controlled, in light of his injury history.

  • According to the Sun-Times, the Cubs aren't going to put in a claim on Tony Graffanino, who was placed on conditional waivers by the Red Sox, the thought being that with so many second basemen in the fold, there's no room for his particular skill set. Alternate translation: any deals for Todd Walker are dead.

  • Then again, the Trib says the Cubs have interest in the A's Freddy Bynum, who is out of options and unlikely to win a roster spot, and whom the article likens to Chone Figgins (ie: he plays a bunch of positions, and he's super-fast). The Cubs are toying with including Ryan Theriot on the roster, so the acquisition of Bynum would put the kibosh on that.

    Bynum has no power, but his on-base skills are passable, and he'd be yet another palpable speed threat on the club's bench. Whether they snag Bynum or not, it's become clear that one of the main thrusts of the team's offseason plans has been to get as much speed as possible. Of course, it's awfully hard to run your way to first base...

News to Me
2006-03-23 05:37
by Derek Smart

Okay, I admit I've been

  1. A little out of it
  2. A little reactionary
  3. A little lazy

Still, I was surprised to find on perusing the papers this morning this little throw away in the Trib:

If Jae Kuk Ryu makes the team as a long man in the bullpen, that leaves Rich Hill, Sean Marshall and Angel Guzman to compete for the fifth-starter's spot.

The competition for the starter's spot I'd seen, but this was the first I'd noticed that Ryu was up for a relief job. I don't know if it was mentioned before and I just missed it (A and/or C), or whether I was so preoccupied with foaming at the mouth and lambasting potential trade scenarios (B, with a soupçon of C) that I overlooked it.

Whatever the reason behind my ignorance of the matter, I'll admit I kinda like the idea, although I'm not clear if Ryu is being thought of as an 11th or 12th man. There could be some serious ramifications for players like Michael Wuertz, or for some of the positional fellas vying for a spot on the bench, depending on which it is.

However, potential implications for other players aside, teams have had success bringing along young pitchers by putting them in a swing man role with the big club before tossing them full time into the lion's den of starting in the Majors, and something tells me this would be a good way to work Ryu into the mix, particularly in light of his past maturity issues. Plus, his K-rate, K/BB, and HR-rate are solid enough that he should fare well when not starting. I'm curious to see how this turns out, and whatever comes down, I'll try to save my lathering up for more important things.

I'll Take Door Number Three, Monty
2006-03-21 08:03
by Derek Smart

From the Washington Post (emphasis mine):

The Orioles remain in contact with the Chicago Cubs, who are pushing for a swap of outfielder Luis Matos for Chicago infielder Todd Walker, according to a baseball source. The source said the Cubs are more eager for such a trade, but the Orioles haven't dismissed it.

If I listed all the reasons why this is wrong I'd end up with my fingers and brain bleeding so profusely they'd have to put me in a giant, plastic bubble equipped with its own recirculating, transfusionary sump pump. That sounds unpleasant, so I'll simply say, again, that this potential deal is, on every conceivable level, a bad one.

Let's add the info from The Boston Globe to the mix (again, emphasis mine):

This presumes the Sox will deal Tony Graffanino, who is expected to bring a decent prospect, probably someone who ranks in the No. 6 to No. 10 range on another club's prospect depth chart. Logical suitors: Mets, Marlins, Cubs, and Orioles.

As an exercise in, I don't know, anger inflammation, here's a couple lists of the Cubs' 6th-10th place prospects.

Baseball America
6. Sean Marshall, lhp
7. Ricky Nolasco, rhp
8. Ryan Harvey, of
9. Brian Dopirak, 1b
10. Eric Patterson, 2b

John Sickels
6. Donald Veal, LHP
7. Sean Gallagher, RHP
8. Angel Guzman, RHP
9. Rich Hill, LHP
10. Carlos Marmol, RHP

Admittedly, when folks in the press are talking about prospect rankings they're almost certainly referring to BA, but I wanted to throw Sickels in there just for spice. Obviously, Nolasco's already gone in the Juan Pierre trade, but I don't have my BA prospect book with me, so I can't fill in the gap.

In any case, I'm not much of a prospect maven, so I'll hold off on giving opinions on the involvement of individual players in these deals and simply make mention of the fact that, what is essentially happening if both of these trades go down is that the Cubs are giving Todd Walker and one of their better prospects for a fourth outfielder and an infield backup. Am I alone in finding the overall price steep?

Spring Rundown
2006-03-20 11:27
by Derek Smart

We've only got two more weeks left of exhibition games, so it seems like a good time to run through who's been doing what out in Arizona. This stuff may not mean a lot, but at least it's distracting.

The Great


Looks like Aramis is ready to go, and since he's simply picked up where he left off after returning from his finger issues, I think it's safe to put any concerns about lingering problems stemming from the infection to rest. Now, if he can just keep his legs.....

It's nice to see Murton getting it done early, if only to give him something of a cushion if he slips a bit upon traveling to cooler climes. Of course, drawing any conclusions this early is folly, as Jacque Jones' obviously made-up line proves with ease.

One of the fun things about Barrett and Blanco being off at the WBC for most of the Spring has been the opportunity to get a couple other guys some time in camp, and both Soto and Fox have responded nicely. Of the two of them, I think Fox has the better chance to eventually be something useful, so hopefully this will serve as a catalyst for greater things.


On the pitching side, I know we're dealing with even smaller sample sizes, but the expensive newbies, Mssrs. Eyre and Howry, are looking pretty good. Eyre in particular is impressing with 6 strikeouts and only 3 hits allowed. Also, while I doubt he'll get the job, Sean Marshall is making it difficult for the Cubs to write him off in the hunt for Mark Prior's early season proxy. In other news, Zambrano's still pretty good, and Greg Maddux ain't so bad himself.

The Good


The race for second base looks pretty tight, but my gut is if both Walker and Hairston are hitting decently and their batting average is within about 15 points of each other, Hairston will get the job. Again, it's not what I want, it's just what I think will happen.

The issue that will keep Restovich from breaking with the team (beyond, perhaps, his lack of a good body and clean living) is his strikeouts. In those 27 at bats he's struck out 9 times, which works out to be nearly 167 Ks over the course of 500 at bats. I just don't see the club looking past that issue and seeing the potential positives, so he'll start in Iowa.

I struggled with where to put Pie, or whether I should include him at all. His average isn't horrible, but his OBP is, yet when he's hitting the ball his power and speed have combined to give him three triples thus far. Still, despite the horrible on-base work, an ISO of .304 is pretty darn impressive, so here he stays.

Brandon Sing can hit the ball very, very hard.


There's not much to see here, since I'm trying to show what's going on that's demonstratively good or bad and most Cub hurlers are either on one of the two extremes or squarely mediocre. The thing of note here is that Ryu's doing quite nicely, and as a result, is one of the guys being looked at for duty come mid-April.

The Gross


The only thing likely saving Cedeno from a pine-bejeweled fate is the craptacular performance the Human Exclamation Point is turning in. Of course, Cedeno needs to use the Spring to prove himself, while Neifi! is merely using this time to get his timing together. In other words, Spring Training means both everything and nothing, depending on who's being measured, and if that doesn't make your head spin and stomach churn you're made of tougher stuff than me.

Say, how's that trade for a leadoff guy working out? Again, for Juan it's only Spring, but if nothing else the above line further illustrates how badly he needs to hit over .300 to be of use at the top of the order. I think he can, and I even believe he will, but it still gives me the yips.


You may have noticed that rumors are starting to surface about the Cubs looking to acquire another starter now that Prior may be out for an extended period. However, while I have no doubt the club is trying to play the market, my guess would be that only some of the desire to deal comes from the injury to The Franchise.

One look at the work turned in thus far by nominal starters Jerome Williams and Glendon Rusch makes me think Jim Hendry would be on his phone whether Prior was hurt or not. There's not a thing encouraging about any of it, especially from Williams, so one has to believe, Spring or not, that this early lack of effectiveness is a factor.

I normally wouldn't have even mentioned Guzman's two innings, but since his start today might go a long way toward earning him a mid-April call-up, I thought it merited some notice. That and the fact that Rich Hill has done nothing to make himself useful as either a pitcher or trade-bait.

I have no idea how a pitcher gives up nearly two hits per inning, while striking out 3 per 9, and only comes out of it with a 7.00 ERA. Yet, there's Todd Wellemeyer doing it just the same, while Wuertz, who hasn't been much worse, has an ERA that can best be described as cata-freakin-clysmic.

Wellemeyer hasn't given up a dinger, so that's part of the formula (although Wuertz has only coughed up one himself), but beyond that I haven't a clue, unless other pitchers are coming in to consistently save his bacon.

Now if only someone would do the same for the Cubs as a whole.

Not So Bad....Yet
2006-03-16 09:53
by Derek Smart

The Tribune says Mark Prior has been preliminarily diagnosed with a shoulder strain, which is about as innocuous as one could hope for at this point.

The MRI has yet to be performed, so don't come in off the ledge yet. You've got more chances to accidentally trip and fall if you're constantly shuttling in and out. It'd be a shame to jump before it was absolutely necessary, and unintentionally at that.

Maybe get a buddy to grab you some coffee and one of those foam seat pads so you can at least be comfortable during the wait. Oh, and don't forget to wear your jacket. It might be a while, and it's cold out there!

My Kingdom for a Kettle!
2006-03-15 07:54
by Derek Smart

In case recent events weren't causing your blood pressure to reach levels that would breach your local fire hydrant, here's this little tidbit from the Baltimore Sun:

Talks between the Orioles and Chicago Cubs about the long-discussed Luis Matos-for-Todd Walker swap have intensified the past couple of days, according to industry sources. The holdup appears to be the Orioles' unwillingness to pick up the entire $2.5 million contract for the Cubs second baseman, who makes about $900,000 more than Matos.

So, not only are the Cubs looking to trade Walker's solid infield bat for an outfield defensive replacement who, if he stayed in Baltimore, would almost certainly lose his job as a starter to Corey Patterson, it's possible they may have to pay for the privilege.

I wish there was some early warning system in place for this sort of confluence of horrifically sickening events. I could at least keep a bucket near my desk.

Here We Go Again
2006-03-14 16:27
by Derek Smart

It's impossible to know for sure if it really is the first time this spring he's felt the pain, as Jim Hendry reportedly says it is, but for those who have felt that something's been fishy all along, one can't help but feel a little vindication mixed with a heaping helping of despair, now that Mark Prior is seeing Dr. Lewis Yocum about his right shoulder tomorrow.

Of course, if that wasn't enough, it appears that Derrek Lee is getting his shoulder checked out by Yocum too, after bruising it while diving for a foul ball during Sunday's WBC game against Japan. Who knows if it's really something to be worried about, but I'm well beyond the point of logic or emotional restraint winning out over abject panic and anguish.

Suffice to say, this is a dark day in the story of the 2006 season, and while there may still be light heading our way, get ready for a long wait to catch sight of it.

That's My Carlos
2006-03-14 07:47
by Derek Smart

Nice work from Big Z last night against a pretty decent lineup from Puerto Rico, going 4 innings and only giving up 2 hits (both singles) and 2 walks, while getting 5 strikeouts. Both hits were the only squarely hit balls Zambrano gave up, and both were smacked by Ivan Rodriguez, who just looked like he had Carlos all figured out.

No one else did, though, as Z recovered nicely from his sub-par, jacked-up outing last week against the Dominicans. He was a bit shaky in the first, having some trouble finding his arm-slot, and thus, finding the plate, but he settled in nicely for his last three frames. However, even when he was struggling a bit early on, he was mostly missing down and to the outside or inside, rather than missing up or over the plate.

If there was a downside to the outing, is was that it took 71 pitches for him to make it through those four innings, mostly due to his first frame struggles (I think he'd thrown 25 after one, but don't quote me on it). That still looks to be a huge issue for Z and the rest of the Cubs' big arms - economy - and until he learns to tighten up his starts, Carlos will risk coming up short of his potential.

Monday Quickie
2006-03-13 07:53
by Derek Smart

Short on time. That's my theme for the next few weeks, so I'll break out some quick projectile points.

  • I'm going to go out on a limb, based on his 2 for 3 with a home run and 3 RBI against the Brewers yesterday, that Mr. Ramirez' finger is all better now. You may commence fretting about something else.

  • Oddly, that something else might not be the state of one Mr. Wood. He threw 12 pitches off the mound yesterday, and he's not even a week removed from his knee surgery. Obviously, he's not out of the woods yet, and an awful lot can happen between now and the end of the year, but I can't think of a way to spin this particular set of circumstances negatively.

  • Prior's making progress, too, although the club is still using maddening qualifying statements when speaking about his work. The good news is, rather than gauzy ideas about how he feels, there appears to be an actual benchmark in place - the ability to throw 80 pitches in order to make his theoretically scheduled April 5th start.

    While encouraging because it gives us something measurable to look at, it's discouraging because it also gives the club a reason to not start him that precludes the need to disclose any reasoning beyond the failure to reach the previously stated goal. No need to tell us why he didn't reach it, just that he didn't.

    Now, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, and I actually think it's pretty likely Prior can make it and see the mound in that second game, but I've been burned just enough by the team's lack of transparency on these matters to remain a little suspicious.

  • Anyone else watching the USA vs. Japan game yesterday? Anyone else leap out of their seat when Derrek Lee crushed the game tying homer? It sure looked to mean a lot to Lee, judging from the way he was yelling at the ball to get over the fence after he made contact. Sure is fun to see him so jacked up.

    Admittedly, my excitement was more because it was Lee making the play than because it was favorable for Team USA in general, but that's first time I've felt that rush in months, and boy, howdy, do I want some more of that.

    By the way, Lee's looks pretty good so far, and based on his work that I've seen, I'm not concerned about a return to his slow starting ways of years past. He's not likely to be the monster he was for so much of last season, but I think any dropoff will be natural regression to the mean, rather than an April/May cold spell.

  • The best line I read this weekend was from Greg Maddux, who when asked if he would follow in his older brother's footsteps by eventually riding the instructional pine said, "I've got too much hair to coach."

Mental Leftovers
2006-03-10 12:48
by Derek Smart

Since I can't seem to force myself to write about a position battle for second that I simply can't get a feel for, or work up the wherewithal to talk about This Week In Mysterious Non-Injury Injury Monitoring, I'm just going to dash off a few random thoughts.

  • I think I found a new favorite baseball player last night. I was watching the Canada/Mexico tilt, and late in the game (it was either the seventh or the eighth), the Braves' Pete Orr came to the plate for Canada, facing the Brewers' Jorge De La Rosa.

    At this point, the game was basically hopeless, with Mexico leading the thing by what was eventually the final score of 9-1. Orr came up - leading off, I believe - and De La Rosa uncorked a curveball that could most charitably be described as errant. It was high, slow, looping, and clearly had an unintentional trajectory that took it straight for Orr. And that's where things got interesting.

    Orr instantly recognized that it was coming for him, and since the pitch was so slow, he had enough time to sit down, pull out a laptop, do a few queries about run expectancies in various situations, stand back up, then decide whether or not to get out of the way.

    Orr opted to take one for the team, but he didn't just turn a fleshy part of his back into the thing. Seeing that it was coming straight for his bean, and that it was the only place this particular pitch would have a chance of hitting him, he not only didn't try to avoid the ball, he turned his head into it like he was in the international tournament the WBC aspires to be.

    He didn't score a goal, or even a run, but that's the kind of reckless disregard for...well...anything that, while it might be spectacularly stupid, is sure to win you a place in the baseball section of my heart.

  • This is the time of year that I have traditionally (and by traditionally, I mean for two years running) done a series that I call "Know Your Enemy." Those of you kind enough to follow me around in my virtual wanderings (which stopped a year ago yesterday, by my reckoning) may be familiar with it, but for those of you who aren't, it's a yearly rundown of what to expect from the Cubs' opponents in the NL Central.

    Needless to say, I'm a little behind this year, and partly because of that, and partly because I just feel like it, I'm going to shift the format slightly. When I first started the thing, my intent was primarily to educate myself, and perhaps by extension those reading it, about the teams in the division, mostly by taking a look at nearly every person likely to be on or have a shot at the club's 25-man rosters.

    Last year, this resulted in approximately 30,000 words being spilled on five teams, which speaks less to any positive traits on my part than it does to my desperate need for a good editor (see the sidebar for examples of the depth and breadth of my ability to prattle on and on and on and on...). Suffice to say, not only don't I have enough time left to write that much this year, the idea of essentially doing more than 125 player comments in a couple of weeks makes me a little queasy.

    So, here's what I'm going for: I'm going to try to write something for each team that is more essay-like, which as one can judge from my tendency to resort to bullet points, will be a bit of a challenge. This will make it at least possible to get these up before the end of the spring, provide a new challenge for me, while additionally making things a lot more readable for you all. That's what I hope for, anyway.

  • I just checked in on the WBC game featuring the U.S. vs. South Africa, and Our Savior, Mr. Lee, has already hit a homer and a double, driving in four and scoring two, helping the Homeland Nine to a 10-0 lead in the top of the second (Michael Barrett and Johnny Damon are the only two players from the U.S. without a hit thus far).

    I'm happy for Lee - I always want to see him do well - but I feel kinda bad for the young South African squad. Like Ken said the other day, don't be the team facing a really great team immediately after they've experienced a big upset. 'Tain't no fun.

Big Z's Unpleasant Adventure
2006-03-08 06:52
by Derek Smart

Carlos Zambrano had a rough day at the WB"C" yesterday, walking three, striking out two, and giving up three hits - one a homer to Adrian Beltre - and four runs against the Dominican Republic.

I got a chance to look at his outing when I got home, and what you had was a prototypical, super-hyped Z performance. He was overthrowing like crazy, all while using nearly every pitch and every arm slot he could find - I think he even borrowed some from his teammates - and as a result, he had no idea where any ball was going, and never really looked comfortable.

The home run he gave up was on a slider, and while it wasn't a "hit me" pitch, it wasn't a good one, either, meandering to the plate, a little high on a little too much of the dish, showing itself for what it was too early along its path, and rolling at the end rather than breaking.

It wasn't a real hanger, it just wasn't sharp or located well, and unfortunately for Z, when you toss something like that up on the inner half to a hitter like Beltre, you're going to wind up being responsible for a souvenir more often than not.

The outing wasn't something to be concerned about as a Cub fan - beyond the usual worries about Carlos being able to stay calm in this sort of situation - just a bad trip to the hill in March. Schedule permitting, I'll talk about Mr. Lee's day later.

Afternoon Delight
2006-03-06 04:41
by Derek Smart

Sunday afternoon treated me to the Cactus League game between the Cubs and the Giants, so as a way of giving back to the universe, I thought I'd go ahead and fire a few shots in the air.

  • Maybe it was the decidedly minor league character of the Giant's lineup, or perhaps it was the funky camera angle, but Rich Hill's fastball had more life in it than I remembered. Not that it had exceptional velocity (he was working consistently around 88-89 according to the WGN gun, with occasional offerings in the low nineties), but it just seemed like there was a little more zip.

    Of course, he still had issues controlling it, particularly when he dialed it up a notch, so that's still something he needs to fix in order to make that curveball a really effective out pitch against Major League hitters. That, and as was noted by the broadcast team, he needs very much to improve his change-up to the point where he can use it without fear. A great curveball is a great thing, but unless he has three good pitches, he's destined for either the bullpen or a lifetime of AAA.

  • One of the items that has come up repeatedly, and justifiably, from people offering up critiques of Todd Walker's fielding abilities has been his lack of alacrity when turning the double-play, which is why Jerry Hairston's play in the top of the first was so important.

    Rich Hill had walked the first man he faced, so when the second man at the plate hit a grounder to Neifi! at short, it was a great opportunity for Hairston to illustrate what separates him from Walker in the field, and he did just that. The turn was smooth, quick, and easy, and while the runner was a long way from interfering with the proceedings, there's no question that it was far more artfully turned than anything Walker did last year. Whether that's worth the dropoff in offense is another question entirely.

  • Speaking of Hairston, here's hoping he comes back quickly from the beaning he received in the head during his first at bat. He got up relatively quickly, despite seeming for a moment like he might be unconscious, so hopefully it wasn't serious. Still, it looked initially to bear a striking resemblance to the shot Adam Greenberg famously took last year, with the ball caroming off the back of his helmet as he turned to avoid it. Whether he starts regularly or not, he's got a chance to be a big help to the club in 2006, so for his sake and the sake of the team: Speedy recovery, Jerry.

  • I've not seen much of Felix Pie in the past, so know when I say this it's essentially a first impression, but that kid has a freakin' huge swing. Not quite Sammy Sosa, or Russell Branyan big, but sizeable enough to make you worry. Of course, with that comes some nice power, and the double he hit in the second really jumped off his bat.

    The statistical comparison that gets made with Pie, particularly when one is weaving a cautionary tale, is to Corey Patterson, and after seeing him swing, I'd say that while I think it's apt when looking at their numerical profiles, that it doesn't hold up as well in looking at the players' at work.

    Yes, Pie's swing is large, and yes, he doesn't appear to have much in the way of discipline, but Patterson's swing always appeared stiff to me, like he would never have even a remote shot of changing the trajectory of his bat once it was set in motion - like his wrists were set in stone - where Pie, while having a big stroke, looks like he's a lot looser in the wrists, and that if he has the hand/eye coordination, he might be a good bad ball hitter. Or maybe that's the residue of the patently ridiculous comparison made by Gene Clines and passed on by the broadcasters, implying that Pie looks like a young Vlad Guerrero. Take your pick.

    In any case, if I were forced at gunpoint to pick a comp after watching a couple of Spring Training at bats (a dubious occupation, at best), I'd say he looks a lot like a lefty version of Alfonso Soriano, which, depending on which version you're talking about (the Yankee edition was actually pretty valuable) could be very, very good or very, very bad. However, it helps immesurably that he's already agreed to play the outfield.

  • You could see Jim Hendry watching the game in the first row behind home plate, spending a decent amount of time on his cell phone, which got me to thinking: why doesn't the man have a Bluetooth earpiece? We're all worried about the shoulders of Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Wade Miller, but the man in charge must be cruisin' for his very own repetitive use injury. Prevention, Jimmy boy, prevention.

  • When Marquis Grissom drilled a double in the first, my immediate thought was that he could go 0 for the rest of the Spring and Dusty would simply point to that hit as proof that he was ready and able to contribute. It may not be fair (and in the interest of said fairness, it was a nice at bat from Grissom), but I'm just working with what I've been given the last three years.

  • Scott Eyre, for as unfortunate as I think his contract is, looked impressive. Good fastball, and a fairly deceptive slider and change-up. Again, this is against inferior competition and it's only one inning, but I'd rather see that than a giant pile of steaming goo.

  • Bob Howry, on the other hand, looked fairly pedestrian. Not bad, just not anything special.

  • I still love Matt Murton's stroke. Frankly, my fascination's starting to get a little sick.

  • Oh, and I just fell in love with Sean Marshall.

  • Perhaps the most disappointing moment of the day was learning that Angel Pagan's name is, in fact, pronounced pa-GONE. The No Fun Police must have been out in force the day he was born. Or would it be the day his father was born. Or his father's father. Oh, hell, I was just happier when he was a pagan.

  • I nearly had seventeen consecutive heart attacks in the bottom of the fifth when the man I thought was Aramis Ramirez churned, stumbled, and bumbled his way into an incredibly awkward slide and out at third after Brian Dopirak hit an RBI single.

    Turns out he'd been replaced on the basepaths immediately after drawing his walk. Now, I realize it's Spring in the booth as well, and that they don't have the same resources at their disposal, but as a suggestion to the gentlemen with the mics, making sure this type of information gets passed on to the masses would go a long way toward extending the lifespans of us poor shlubs still stuck up north.

The Cubs won 5-1, but Cactus League doesn't matter, and it was just fun to see some baseball and some sunshine - particularly with the mild snowstorm that started up mid-afternoon - although in the end, like any good thing, it just left me wanting more.

2006-03-03 12:36
by Derek Smart

The Tribune reports that Kerry Wood will be having knee surgery Tuesday.

Kerry Wood will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Tuesday to repair damage to a torn medial meniscus, the Cubs announced Friday.


"I'm not expecting to miss more than a couple weeks," Wood said.


"It doesn't bother him at all to pitch," Hendry said. "In all honesty, he did not want to have the procedure. He felt like as long as it didn't hurt to pitch, he wanted to continue because his arm is feeling so well. After I talked to the doctors, we felt it was best to do it now. We'd hate to see him in the middle of the summer going along well, from normal activity running the bases, trip over the bag, field bunts, that it might get to the point where it would be a problem.

"I don't want that to happen, where he changes his delivery."

Two things: First, I'm glad the Cubs are being proactive here, unlike last season with Wood's shoulder. It's the right thing to do. Second...I haven't got a second. I'm freakin' speechless.

2006-03-03 07:14
by Derek Smart

There was baseball all over the place yesterday, so it seems like a perfect opportunity to clean my metaphorical firearm and let a few bullets fly.

  • The Cubs won their Cactus League opener yesterday, 8-7 over the A's, and while I didn't get a chance to witness any of the action (there was absolutely no television coverage in Chicago), I did listen to some of the radio broadcast.

    Admittedly, I don't have any particular affection or lack thereof for Pat Hughes and Ron Santo - Hughes is able enough, if uninspiring, and I'm one who isn't especially bothered by Santo's particular brand of expressiveness - but my goodness, did it ever feel good to hear Mr. Hughes cut loose with a hearty, "Chicago Cubs Baseball is on the air!" It may not be "real" baseball yet, but that little moment still made me feel like it was.

  • So while I didn't see anything, it was apparent from the stat line and from what I heard on the radio that Big Z was sharp, efficient, and on his game. If there's one thing I'd love to see from both Z and Prior this year, it's increased efficiency.

    Zambrano in particular has the type of stuff where he has the choice to either make batters hit his pitch, or make them swing and miss. What I'd like to see is a little more of the former and a little less of the latter. Strikeouts may be the most risk-free way of eliminating an opponent, but there's something to be said for a few seven pitch innings, too.

  • Most of the regulars only got a couple shots at the dish, so it's not surprising that there was only one Cub player with more than one hit, that being Aramis Ramirez, who hit two singles and drove in two runs. What's surprising there is that one of the RBI singles was of the infield variety.

    Now, like I said, I couldn't see any of the game, but I was shocked that on a ball Aramis could beat down the line that there was no mention of intervention by a giant, alabaster bunny. After all, as Cub fans know, just about the only way the Third Musketeer reaches first on a play like that is if the ball heads down the rabbit hole.

  • I'm not sure there's anyone out there who's still under the impression that Marquis Grissom (aka: Cleanliver Goodbody) has a battle ahead of him to make this year's team, but just in case there are some of you still out there, here's a tidbit from this morning's Sun-Times to ease your troubled minds.

    Manager Dusty Baker said outfielder Marquis Grissom doesn't have to have the best stats to win a job on this team. The criteria are different for a veteran who turns 39 next month.

    "He doesn't have to have a great spring," Baker said. "Spring training is for the young. I'm looking for health, for bat speed and for leg speed. I'm looking for what's left."

    He's also looking for proof of consciousness, the capacity to stand sans support for up to ten minutes at a time, and the ability to consistently, without the aid of a guide or the repetition of directions, find the clubhouse bathroom.

    Look, I'm not necessarily arguing against Goodbody's inclusion on the roster - there's little else in camp to inspire in that regard - but if that's the criteria he has to meet, why not just say you're giving him the job? It'd save Dusty a lot of time, and then I wouldn't have to be a snarky little prig. In short, everybody wins.

2006-03-02 06:48
by Derek Smart

I know nothing about papers outside of Chicago, so does anyone know if the Boston Herald sports department is the baseball equivalent of Us Weekly? I ask because I see little difference between this quote from the front of today's version of the Us website...

As they prepare for a baby in France, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie raise questions by donning gold bands.

...and this one from an article in today's BH...

Chicago Cubs scout Ken Kravec was spotted observing yesterday's workout, which may be an indication that the National League club is still interested in acquiring infielder Tony Graffanino....

The ellipses are all theirs, by the way. Doesn't it make the item just feel juicier?

I'm not really going anywhere with this - clearly, Graffanino's been on the Cubs' radar all offseason in the event they trade Todd Walker, which would probably set up a really weird non-platoon platoon with Jerry Hairston, since 34 year-olds who've never had 400 at bats in a season don't make good candidates to hold up under a full season of play - I just find the gossipy quality in that blurb fascinating.

I Trust It Like The Ground
2006-03-01 07:49
by Derek Smart

About four or five times yesterday, I started and stopped writing about this Sun-Times piece that makes mention of the interest Scott Williams has been generating during the Cubs' various trade talks this winter. I eventually decided it wasn't worth my energy. It was one report in one paper, and truth be told, it wasn't really saying much of anything.

Then came this morning's article in the same rag, and this time around, instead of being a snippet buried in a larger piece, it was the entire gist of the thing, right down to the quotes from Williamson saying he understood he could be trade bait, and that it would be nice to get a shot at closing games again anyway.

Here's the thing: I don't have an issue with Williamson being dealt if it helps the team as whole - even though if I were handicapping dominance and value in the Cubs' relief corps, he'd be my favorite to take both crowns. What gets me is the logic being used to justify it. Here's a sampling, first from yesterday:

Some scouts view Williamson as a possible eighth- or ninth-inning reliever. With the Cubs signing Bob Howry and Scott Eyre to handle setup roles for closer Ryan Dempster, where Williamson figures into the equation is undetermined.

And here's some of what appears today.

Williamson also might pitch so well in the Cactus League that the Cubs want to keep him as part of an improved bullpen. But where would he fit in with setup men Bob Howry and Scott Eyre brought in to support closer Ryan Dempster?

He has asked himself that.

"Yeah, which is kind of useless for me and useless for this team," Williamson said. "They got two really good pitchers as free agents. You can't send down Michael Wuertz; he's pitched too good the last couple years. [Todd] Wellemeyer is out of options, and he's a young guy you probably want to hold onto."

So, let me get this straight. A team that is stockpiling starting pitchers to provide depth as others recover from injuries, while also providing someone to turn to in case of catastrophe - a strategy which makes perfect sense considering past circumstances, even though there's a good possibility it could result in roster overload down the line - this same team might be so concerned with what to do with the likes of Wuertz and Wellemeyer or when in a game a good reliever pitches that they could ship Williamson off to other climes.

In other words, there's no displacing Eyre or Howry from their financially prescribed "setup" duties, and if fully healthy, Williamson is just too good to be used in anything but the eighth or ninth inning. This is, to put it bluntly, a load of crap. If you "can't have too much pitching," as we've heard so often in this and other years, then the old saw applies equally to rotation and bullpen, and any thoughts that fly in the face of that are disingenuous at worst, and ideologically inconsistent at best.

Now, I also realize that the Cubs themselves haven't made these statements, and that there's a decent chance that Mike Kiley is simply seeing what he perceives as an overflow of talent that should be rearranged and pursuing it as a story in an otherwise boring Spring. However, I think we've all seen the Cubs and other organizations use the media to float these types of ideas enough times to be at least reasonably suspicious of the origin.

In the end, I'll concede that any deal that involves Williamson and helps the Cubs get better is a positive on its own, but what this issue really comes down to for me is this: if talks about acquiring Williamson are being initiated by other teams with an interest in his talents and a will to pay for them, then bully for Jimmy. Talk and deal away. But if the Cubs are shopping him because they lack the imagination to use all the talent their bullpen possesses, then that's a deeper philosophical issue that, while it could reap benefits in the short term, bodes extremely ill going forward.