Baseball Toaster Cub Town
Monthly archives: November 2006


The C.O. (Cautious Optimism)
2006-11-22 05:20
by Derek Smart

It's all Alfonso, all the time right now, so I thought I'd give something a whirl. One of the notions being cast about when wringing hands over the Soriano deal is the concept that he has cashed in on a 'career year,' rather than getting a deal based on a new established level of performance. Setting aside the question of whether even a baseline from his 2006 performance - .277/.351/.560 - would make his contract appropriate, I thought I'd take a look at a couple of factors to see if there's actually a chance that some of the good in his work last season seems likely to translate into a long-term change.

What I want to do is see if there's a reason for optimism regarding his performance, regardless of the price involved, to see if the positive strides he appeared to have made in his walk rate and power numbers were something he's likely to continue or even build on, or if it was just a blip on his career radar. This isn't going to be in depth, just the basis for a discussion, so here are the quick and dirty stats I've assembled.


Told you it wasn't in depth.

Still, I think there's a lot of interesting information here. What we have is his career previous to last year compared to his 2006 season through a couple of key indicators. The thing we've all heard about is his increased ability to take a base on balls, and while it's still not great in 2006, walking unintentionally at a rate 41.9% higher than you have in your career to that point is an undeniable positive. Then in the power department, we see he was launching dingers at a rate about 26.5% higher in 2006 than he had in the past - and doing it while playing in the extremely unfriendly power environment of RFK stadium after having spent two far less productive seasons at Arlington's Coors Light. Again, totally a positive.

In fact, all the development in 2006 - beyond the strikeouts, which I think of more of a by-product in this case - can be seen as a positive. The real question when trying to figure if this alteration is a lasting one is to address some root causes, and I think we have a very specific one worthy of some hope in his pitches seen per plate appearance. It is a sizeable increase, and to my mind, everything else that we see in the numbers above stems from that - or more precisely, from the change in approach that difference implies.

I think it is not unreasonable to surmise the following:

  • For whatever reason - conversations with a mentor, working with coaches, the ingestion of large quantities of hallucinogens - Soriano took an approach that allowed him to see more pitches
  • As a result, he got into deeper counts, resulting in more walks
  • The deeper counts also resulted in more strikeouts
  • By seeing more pitches, he also saw more mistakes, resulting in more balls being hit hard and - because he as an uppercut swing - in the air
  • Those balls in the air, because they were more often the result of solid contact on hittable pitches, went out of the yard at a higher rate

The short of it is, based on what I see in the stats (I've simply not seen him enough to compare in a more 'scout-like' way) I think this increased output could very well be a new baseline, as it appears to be built, not on luck, but on an actual change in the way he plays the game. A boost in his raw stats unaccompanied by any changes in ancillary indicators would be suspicious, but that's not what happened here. He appears to have made a positive change at a fundamental level.

That said, this merely scratches the surface and shouldn't be labeled as anything close to real 'analysis'. Besides, while as a result of this little exercise I now think this new level is sustainable, sustainability is not in itself a guarantee of performance. That can only come through Soriano's continued hard work and dedication to whatever idea fostered this change in the first place, and I have absolutely no way to measure that.

Wow - Now With 1614.9% More Words
2006-11-20 13:25
by Derek Smart

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that my initial, gut reaction to the signing of Alfonso Soriano was unbridled elation. It was, to put it bluntly, a logic-free response, inspired not by any objective analysis, but by the joy that comes from identifying the one available part you think is a must-have and seeing your club, for once, come up with the scratch.

It is, I think, a sort of loser's reaction, and when I say loser I don't mean it in the standard, derogatory, epithetical fashion - ie: "You're a loser!" I don't mean to imply that my reaction was one had by an individual who lacks character and is destined to a life of finishing at the back of the pack due to their inherent personality flaws. Rather, I mean it was the reaction of someone who, while not necessarily destined to lose, has nonetheless experienced a ton of defeat - a response born of long-term victory starvation, if you will.

"Victory?" you ask, "Doesn't victory come during the season from playing games and such?" True, that's the tradition, but understand where we come from here. The Chicago Cubs are a team that has had the resources in recent years to be players for any number of top-flight free agents, men who could potentially change the direction of the franchise, and every time they've come up short. Well short. So short, that you begin to wonder why they even try.

So, while inking the man who is arguably the biggest free agent on the market guarantees nothing on the field, when even that little bit of theoretical success has eluded you, the mere culmination of the deal is a victory in itself. So for that, I did a little jig.

Eight years is a damn long time, though, and while I don't have an issue with the average yearly dollars, that time commitment is not just a potential problem, it's nearly certain to blow up in the team's face. Of course, if the Cubs end their string of futility sometime during the first four years of the contract, no one will care about the last four years. A truism, if a lousy reason to do a deal.


It occurs to me that one of the reasons this deal got done in this way this year, versus something like this getting done, say, when Carlos Beltran was on the market, likely has more to do with Jim Hendry's personal status than that of the Cubs or the Trib or anything else.

"Duh," say you all. Of course, we know that Hendry feels the need to win now because, if we're all facing facts, this team has to have a damn good showing next season for him to see year two of his extension. The difference, though, isn't the immediate pressure to win so much as it is the lack of pressure to win three or four years from now.

In other words, any past offers Hendry might have made to free agents, or trades he might have considered making, were likely mitigated by concerns for the team's future, if such a thing can be gleaned from the execution (although, those moderating influences could have just been Andy MacPhail). With the way Hendry is spending this offseason, those mitigating factors have clearly been throttled in their sleep.

What I'm seeing is a man who is no longer willing to settle for anything but Plan A for the season to come. Where in the past he might have felt concern for the effect on the club from around 2012 forward of a contract of Soriano's magnitude, this is no longer a worry - if the club doesn't win now, he won't be around for any bad effects anyway, and if they do win, in a World Series to boot, well, he'll trade any problems down the line for the title today.

The result is contracts that, even as we all brace ourselves for a winter of prosperity induced insanity, seem well out of line with expectations. This, I believe, is because when Jim Hendry wants a free agent on his team this offseason he's asking himself one question: What's an offer that no one else will match?

Then he tacks on a year and 25% more cash and signs the fella.


If I'm reading this new tendency of Hendry's correctly, there's not a single player in the minor league system who should count on being in the organization next year. He's been ultra conservative in holding onto his prospects in the past, something which I think has been a fault. I'd be more than happy to see him willing to make some deals, but if he spends personnel the way he's been spending money, I'm worried about an already thin system getting gutted.

That said, if you're placing bets on the most likely guy to get shipped, now that Soriano's on board I'd start thinking about laying money on Felix Pie. If, indeed, Soriano's going to play center for the next eight years or so (and there are reports that put him in any of the three outfield spots at this point), then the need for Pie becomes considerably reduced, at least in the near term (he still needs another year in the minors, after all, and Jacque Jones, thankfully, won't be around forever).

What isn't reduced is the immediate need for some Major League pitching, which is why I could see Pie getting moved. I'd imagine that a truly useful starter would require other components to get the job done, but Pie would make a fine centerpiece for such a deal. Not that I'm necessarily advocating the move, I just see some writing on the wall.


I don't really have a 'final word' on this deal. There's some work I want to do examining Soriano's record, and I think there's a need to see what else comes to pass so that we can see what the entire plan is - and, yes, contrary to last season, I do think there's a plan.

I'm pleased to have Soriano on the club, and I'm concerned about the length of the deal, but mostly I've got this strange tingling that I'm pretty sure is excitement, because for once, it looks like the Cubs are out for blood. I'm not sure they're going about it the right way, but for now, I'm happy they're going about it at all.

2006-11-19 12:50
by Derek Smart

I've got nothing beyond that at the moment for the reported 8-year, $136M deal Alfonso Soriano just signed with the Cubs. If nothing else, Jim Hendry is working spending like hell to keep his job.

I need time to digest this, and once I have you can bet I'll have more to say, but in the meantime, I leave it to you all to have at it.

The Week In Review
2006-11-17 08:08
by Derek Smart

Again, my friends, I'm relegated to playing catchup. I hate being behind like this, but that's sort of the nature of the beast at the moment. In any case, things actually happened this week, and it's my duty to comment, by gum, so away we go.


It occurs to me that I haven't said word one about the signing of Aramis Ramirez. This is partly because I made Aramis contract related comments about 24 hours before his deal went down, and partly because, other than a sense of relief, I have little to express, with not a whit of it original.

What this has taught me, if anything, is that the Cubs need to rethink the way they commit to their star players. The reason they were in this mess to begin with is because Jim Hendry was unwilling to accommodate either Ramirez' original fiduciary demands, or his demands on time commitment, or some combination of both, and as a compromise took on nearly all the contract's risk factors himself.

As a result, he's left essentially giving out the same contract he refused to give then, only likely $15M-$20M larger, to a player who is two years closer to his eventual decline - a decline which will surely begin during the life of the deal.

I don't question the current deal - I don't consider that the Cubs had a choice, as Ramirez is clearly one of the main offensive cogs of the team, and any hope that they have of competing over the next several years would be deeply harmed by losing him. It's the process that led us here that's the problem.

Here's my suggestion: In the future, when confronted with a star player in his mid-twenties who wants a near-market value deal that would take him into his age 30-31 season or so, if the only other alternative is to give the sort of power that was given to Ramirez in this case, I say make the long-term deal while you have the opportunity. If you can think of anyone on the current roster this applies to, let me know....


Ah, Mark DeRosa. I can't exactly say I've gone back and forth on this, because to say that implies that there was a point in the continuum when I was happy with the deal, and that's decidedly not the case. That said, I haven't come all the way down on the side of outright condemnation, either. Call me an agnostic.

In truth, I think DeRosa's a good guy to have on your team, in the same way someone like Rob Mackowiak fits that mold. To be somewhat useful with the bat, while being able to move around the diamond defensively in a non-harmful way is of serious utility.

However, simply being better at being Jose Macias - okay, much better - doesn't justify the length or expense of the commitment. He's being paid like a starter, a pretty good starter, and so a starter he will be, manning the keystone most days, and that's where the issue comes.

Again, I'm not expressing a unique idea here, as many of us in the blogging community think this deal is, to put it diplomatically, less than optimal. Taking a guy's career year and blowing the rest of the market out of the water because of it has been a Hendry MO for a while now, and it's a method of doing things that I don't particularly care for.

Still, as I said before, I think DeRosa's a good guy to have around, and chances are solid he'll be as productive as someone like Ryan Theriot would have been, so the only way in which he truly hurts the team at this point is in the pocketbook. But, in the end, if his deal doesn't keep the team from signing or trading for other parts it needs, and doesn't end up blocking a clearly superior player from getting into the game, while it might be philosophically offensive and indicative of a disturbing trend, the contract in itself is not purest evil.


In Henry Blanco, we have a similar situation to DeRosa, in that he's a valuable player to have on board, despite his weaknesses, who is being tremendously overcompensated for his services. The only big difference being that there's no pretense that he'll be a regular starter, which makes everything a little more palatable for me.

No, he's not worth the $2.5M he'll be making in each of the next two years, but he is worth having on the roster, particularly when your starting catcher is as defensively challenged as Michael Barrett. Again, as long as the extra money spent isn't suddenly missed during negotiations with a true impact player, I see no terrible harm in this.

Neal Cotts, eh?

I'm waiting to make a call on this one, as I can't imagine a scenario where this deal doesn't result in another deal involving either Cotts himself, or one of either Scott Eyre or Will Ohman.

I may not have a high opinion of Jim Hendry, but dealing an arguably superior pitcher and another live minor league arm for Cotts only makes since if there's a larger picture whose image we're not yet privy to. Pray with me, friends, that the picture is a pretty one.

I don't cover the business side of the Cubs, as I'm neither qualified from a knowledge perspective, nor interested enough to gain traction in that niche. Thankfully, there's Ivy Chat, for what Chuck has brought to the table in his analysis of the inner workings of the dealings of TribCo recently has been invaluable.

The latest word makes it seem like a sale of the club to a non-corporate owner is not only likely, but coming sooner rather than later. Without going into a lengthy discourse, let me just say that any developments on this front can't come soon enough for me.

An owner who wants more than anything else to see this club win would be a boon worthy of the most unhinged of celebrations. May it be so, and quickly.

Seeing The World Through DeRosa Colored Glasses?
2006-11-14 14:11
by Derek Smart

In a move sure to elicit more bad puns through 2009 than any sentient being should have to endure, the Cubs have signed Mark DeRosa to a three-year deal worth $13M, and will use him as the team's every day second baseman.

More on this later, but my initial reaction is a combination of relief that Ronnie Cedeno will not be cracking the starting lineup on a regular basis, and "You're paying how much for what, now?"

Perhaps as the evening wears on I'll be more sanguine about the thing, but my in-the-moment-no-information-thought is that it appears Ryan Theriot just got screwed.

Catching Up Is Hard To Do
2006-11-11 12:59
by Derek Smart

I'm not going to make a big deal of my recent lack of activity (I've tried that a couple times already in recent months, and fat lot of good its done me). Let's just say I feel Jon's pain when it comes to the impact of work responsibilities.

What this means for me is that I have to make an adjustment. Because I do my best work in the mornings, and the time to spend on ancillary pursuits (sadly, yes, that's what this is) simply isn't there within that timeframe anymore, I have to figure out how to do this in the couple hours between toddler wrangling and sweet, sweet sleep, which is where I've been falling down.

In the end, all I can tell you is that I'm going to be working on making this little beast viable in and at the time I have at my disposal, and if those of you who still regularly stop by have any patience left - and I can't say I'd blame you if you don't - I'd just ask a little bit more while I make a more concerted effort to get my bearings in what is a fairly new configuration to me. I thank you in advance, and now that the naval gazing's out of the way, I've got some catching up to do.


As I write this, the clock is ticking on the Cubs' exclusive negotiating window with Aramis Ramirez, and if the Brain Trust can't feel the hot breath of other clubs' anticipation singeing their neck hairs, or hear their feet splashing in the pools of drool flowing freely from the wolfy jowls on the other side of the door, they are as insensate as the block of wood I often fear is their intellectual equal.

The interesting part of the history here is that, as I understand it, the arrangement that led us to this point was essentially a compromise between the two sides - the opt-out clause given by the team in exchange for the player not pursuing a guaranteed five-year deal.

In general, avoiding such massive commitments is positive, and in the environment in which the original deal was signed, I think five years for Ramirez might have seemed excessive and terrifically risky. However, with hindsight as our friend and bosom pal, the idea of locking up Ramirez from ages 27-31 seems positively divine, compared to that of nailing him down from, at the very least, 29-33 (if not to 34 or 35), and at a far heftier price to boot.

This whole episode makes the guest post by Rich Lederer in the contract's immediate aftermath seem positively prescient, and while I was certainly not thrilled with the deal at the outset, I didn't have Rich's level of distaste for the risk imbalance inherent in both this and J.D. Drew's deal - which not coincidentally, has also been scrapped for the possibility of greater green. Not that it does anyone any good now, but Rich couldn't have been more right about this type of agreement, and one can only hope that the teams who have felt their sting this offseason have taught themselves and the rest of the league a lesson in risk management.


Speaking of Drew, I know he's injury prone, and we all get understandably twitchy about that sort of thing, but to my mind, if the moment he opted out of his Dodger deal you didn't feel a ripple in the Force and start having visions of J.D. patrolling Wrigley's center field for 81 70 56 games a year, there's something not quite right with you.

Of course, that doesn't mean the Cubs will get anywhere near him, just that they should consider it. When he became available, he instantly moved to the front of the line of center field options on the market, and with the teams obvious issues there, combined with Drew's skillset - a perfect fit for what ails this team, with his ability to consistently get on base, and even hit for solid power - and the sorry state of the rest of the available options, not looking into what it would take to get him to Chicago would be malpractice.

It might be too costly - giving him much, if any, more than what was left on the rest of his extant contract seems a wee bit nuts - but the idea bears investigation, and I only hope the gents in the front office see it that way too.


Speaking of injury risks, I'm torn on the Wade Miller deal. I like it as an upside play, but in the context of the Cubs' current starting staff, it's little more than a down payment on a wish. If there's one thing this club should have learned last season it's just because something is possible, doesn't mean it's in the least bit likely.

Yes, it's possible that Miller is a passable fourth or fifth starter who stays healthy and effective for the balance of the season, it's even possible that he gives you 150-180 innings of well above average work, but there's no way it makes even a modicum of sense for the team to count on getting a single frame out of him, which means that there's still a gap on the roster that either needs to be filled internally or through the market.

I guess my point is, that while I like the idea of Miller's potential, if the Cubs don't proceed with the rest of their offseason as if Miller doesn't exist, they'll be setting themselves up for a repeat of last year's abject horror.


Those of you paying attention will see some inconsistency in the way I look at the Miller and Drew situations, and you wouldn't be terribly wrong. Or even wrong at all. In fact, you're probably dead on.

My only defense is that a) I've always had a thing for Drew, for whatever reason, and b) that even in years when he hasn't been able to play in more than 100 games or so, Drew's been productive while he's been in there. I don't think it's unreasonable to pencil in a .280/.390/.490 line for him, and getting that out of center field would be a huge boost, even if it's only for around 400 plate appearances. Drew's production is a known quantity, it's how often he plays that's in question.

Miller's question marks come on both the production and durability side, which makes his availability and utility much more problematic. It would be one thing if you could count on a 3.50 ERA with solid peripherals with the only point of contention being where within the 100-200 inning continuum he would fall, but you can't. He could be anywhere from 3.50 to 6.50, and really, anywhere from 1 to 180 in innings.

Miller is a complete wildcard, while Drew is only a partial one, and I'd add that the Cubs would likely have an easier time finding an outfielder solid enough to take the 200 PAs that you have to plan on Drew missing every year - Jose Cruz Jr., perhaps? - than you would garnering a spare starter to take Miller's skipped frames.

I'm not saying it makes great sense, but it is the way I'm thinking about it at the moment.


I'm not going to get into speculation about whether or not various Japanese pitchers will find their way into a Cub uniform, but if one does, it will at least make me take notice. There's nothing like curiosity about an unknown quantity to get my attention, and I imagine there would be a decent amount of novelty value for many fans.

Which brings me to this bit of concern: are the Cubs going after these guys because they think they'll help them win, or because they figure they can get more marketing value out of this type of deal than they can by signing, say, Miguel Batista? Thus is the state of my cynicism, folks.