AJ Walsh's blog
I'm convinced that there is only one way the Cubs can win a World Series: repeated playoff appearances. This theory is backed by the ninety-something years before the '07 and '08 teams, during which time the Cubs never appeared in the playoffs more than once in a row.
Having said that, I feel very good about the Cubs' chances in the NL Central this year.
Look around this division. What do you see? In reverse order of their finishes in 2008:
Pittsburgh - Paul Maholm might win 10 games, but I don't see anyone else in their rotation that stands a chance of doing so. If you don't have starting pitching, you don't stand a chance over the course of a regular season in my book.
Cincinnati - The only other team in the division with a robust rotation that could get them to a bunch of wins in 2009. Harang's 2008 was atrocious, and I blame it all on Dusty Baker's using him in a relief appearance for no freaking reason. Of course, Dusty will be back in Cincy this year, and is just as likely to make a similarly stupid pitching move. But if Harang returns to form, Volquez and Cueto improve, and Arroyo provides some stability in the #4 spot, they have something there. They also have a closer with experience, something St Louis lacks. On offense, I guess they need a lot of help from Votto and Bruce, but Votto is damn good. Griffey and Dunn are gone, so the outfield defense adds by subtraction. I'm gonna take these guys as the Cubs' stiffest competition in 2009.
St. Louis - Carpenter is still hurt. Mark Mulder can't throw 85 (is he also gone?). That leaves Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse as their front-of-the-rotation starters, and Joel Piniero and Todd Wellemeyer in the back, with a Spring Training success story filling the rotation out. I see a lot of potential for quality starts, but who do they give the ball to after the 6th inning? Russ Springer is gone, and Jason Isringhausen is no longer Jason Isringhausen. It's a good team that will win a lot of games, but I just don't see how they prevent enough runs to win 90 of them.
Houston - Two good starters, two crappy ones. A couple solid relievers, a lot of crappy ones. A few great hitters, and a few crappy ones. There's some talent here, but not enough to win consistently. Oswalt looked bad at times last year, Wandy has never been good on the road, and then their third starter is Brandon Backe? Oy vey. Not too frightened. They'll suck for a long while, make their late push, and end up in the 85-win range.
Milwaukee - Ben Sheets is likely gone, as is CC Sabathia. Without those two, their rotation is really really weak. I expect the same type of results from Jeff Suppan that I do from Jason Marquis, and he's their 2nd starter. These guys could finish 5th in the division.
So that's everyone. The way I see it:
That's a division where the Cubs should win a lot of games. 95 is very reasonable, and that has to be a playoff bound team. Right?
With Heilman coming in and Olson gone, let's recategorize our current pitching staff to see what is reasonable to expect for 2009 as of today.
Four of our starters are easy:
Z, Demp, Lilly, Harden
The "bona fide" relievers:
Marmol, Gregg, Cotts, Vizcaino
Then the swingmen, who might start or relieve, but will be on the 12-man:
Marshall, Gaudin, Heilman
That's 11 of 12, leaving one spot for the three pitchers left on our roster without options:
Wuertz, Guzman, Hill
Then there are the AAA guys, who might be major league ready, but simply don't fit as of right now, and will likely be in the minors since they have options:
Samardzija, Stevens, Hart
I think that's where the list ends for possible '09 contributors, although someone like Cashner might also surprise. Who knows.
So guys, what do we do with all these arms? Who starts? Relieves? Pitches in Iowa? Is traded?
I for one just wanted to let you know where I stand specifically on the 2009 season. I've also got a buddy named Rob who, I think, feels similarly, so since there's two of us, you better take us seriously.
As the new owner of your favorite sports franchise, you're probably excited about the prospect of getting involved in the baseball side of things--making the deals, signing off on big, flashy new acquisitions, and so on and so forth. I bet you're totally psyched about the prospect of getting behind the wheel on things like the pending Jake Peavy deal, and making things happen for our beloved club. I have to say, I'm pretty jealous.
As you well know, many trades in our sport involve two types of players. Most often, one team gives up "young, talented prospects," in exchange for "proven major league level talent." For example, you may be asked to give up some prospects, such as Josh Vitters, Sean Marshall, Garrett Olson, Kevin Hart, Ronny Cedeno, Angel Guzman, and others in exchange for a Jake Peavy-type starting pitcher (in which case, for God's sakes, PULL THE TRIGGER MAN!!!!).
A well-run franchise often balances the need to succeed in the present, with a sense of preparing for the future; win now, while keeping SOMETHING in the farm to build on for the next go-round. This concept of balance brings me to my request for the 2009 season.
Good sir. I implore you. SCREW BALANCE!
You have just purchased a team that is prepared to win now. It is not perfect, but it is damn near close, and much closer than every team in its division, much less its league. Members of the baseball media have led us fans to believe that a deal for Jake Peavy is, at the very least, possible. I strongly urge you to give up whatever it takes to complete this deal.
Furthermore, if Jim or Randy or any other member of Cubs' brass approaches you with a deal that improves the 2009 team, PLEASE do not let 2015 get in the way of that deal. Of course, as I've already mentioned, this team is already really good, and shouldn't need many more upgrades, but you get what I'm saying.
For my part of the bargain, I promise I will not get huffy at any point before 2015 if the Cubs flat out suck. I will direct my attention to the newest Cub acquisitions obtained via the draft. I will go on and on about how spectacular they are, while the glorious veterans of yesteryear slowly fade into average-ness. I will wear my Soto jersey with pride as we restock the farm and prepare for another run at greatness.
The window is closing, Ricksy. Hurry up and win while there's still time.
I understand the bias of the crowd I'm preaching to. However...
I invite any member of the GROTA Army to offer up an NL team that they think is better than ours (i.e., the Cubs). I strongly encourage position-by-position comparisons. Is there a better lineup? A better rotation?
Is anyone else out there incredibly pleased with the terms of Milton Bradley's contract? Only $7MM for 2009?! Potential buyout for 2011?! I mean, we got our guy, for an incredibly reasonable price, with team protection in the third year! This is good news! Really, really good news!!!
In game 4 of the 2006 American League Championship Series versus the Detroit Tigers, Bradley became the third player in Major League History to hit home runs from each side of the plate in a playoff game, joining Bernie Williams and Chipper Jones.
On June 21, 2007, the Athletics designated Bradley for assignment. Eight days later, the San Diego Padres acquired Bradley and cash considerations from the Oakland A's in exchange for minor league pitcher Andrew Brown, marking the second time the two had been traded for each other. The Padres did not require Bradley to pass a physical examination before signing him, as he would have failed it and gone elsewhere. Bradley started his tenure with the Padres on the 15-day disabled list, but came off it right before the All-Star break. After the break, he was a continual starter in left field and one of the most consistent hitters for the Padres throughout the rest of the season.
According to the The Dallas Morning News Bradley attempted to confront Kansas City Royals television announcer Ryan Lefebvre in the press box following a game due to what he believed were unfair comments made on the air. As the Rangers' designated hitter, Bradley was able to watch the broadcast when he wasn't on the field and took offense to a comparison Lefebrve made between him and Josh Hamilton. Manager Ron Washington and general manager Jon Daniels chased after him and stopped Bradley before he got to Lefebvre, at which point Bradley returned to the clubhouse in tears and said
"All I want to do is play baseball and make a better life for my kid than I had, that's it," Bradley said to a quiet clubhouse. "I love all you guys. ... I'm strong, but I'm not that strong."
Daniels said that Bradley was upset that someone that didn't know him was passing judgments about him.
Let's hope to God Milton Bradley doesn't know about this blog.
Well, Jason Marquis-to-Colorado appears to be all but a done deal. Many fans expect Sean Marshall to step in as the new 5th dude in the rotation for 2009. In the Shout Box, Chief has wondered aloud what would happen to the bullpen if this were to actually happen.
Fortunately for the Cubs, there are too many names to list in the Shout Box to complete this discussion. Of course, only one of those names refers to a lefty. If Sean Marshall were to move into the rotation, Neal Cotts would be the Cubs' only left handed reliever.
But who might the Cubs use in the bullpen beyond Cotts?
Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg are near certainties for the 8th and 9th innings (although it's less clear who will pitch when). That likely leaves four spots for the following pitchers, which I now present to you in a particular order:
Jeff Samardzija - Anybody who followed the Cubs in 2008 knows what this kid can do. The Shark throws gas. However, while he ended up with a great ERA, he had some issues throwing strikes toward the end of last season. Might be better off as a starter in AAA, both from an individual standpoint, and as a valueable "sixth starter" for the Cubs. But if he were put in the pen, he certainly has the stuff to succeed.
Michael Wuertz - His out pitch is a plus slider, and I happen to think it's a pretty good pitch. I've seen him get big strikeouts with it. Wuertz' problem is the base on balls - he walks too many opposing hitters. However, before 2008 he did manage to rack up a K per inning every year of his career. Even though many interpreted last year as a down year for him, he had an ERA of 3.63. His career ERA is 3.57; furthermore, his career BAA is .233 (this is against hitters from either side of the plate). This guy should have a chance to pitch for the major league club, and I think Lou will give him that chance in spring training.
Chad Gaudin - People were very pleased with Jim Hendry when he managed to steal this guy away from the A's along with Rich Harden. He was viewed as a "utility pitcher" that could start in case Harden were injured, or pitch out of the 'pen as well. For me, the numbers aren't really there. In 64 innings in 2006, for example, he walked more guys than he struck out. Some people are expecting this guy to contribute in 2009 after he tanked in late '08 (something about a drunken accident with a dumpster?); frankly, I myself don't expect a huge rebound.
Luis Vizcaino - Luis is a newcomer to the Cubs in 2009, and will likely be in the bullpen, if for no other reason than his contract--he's making a few million bucks next year. Had a bad year last year, but was apparently frustrated with his usage. He's had some good years in the past, but cannot get lefties out for the life of him over the course of his career.
Jeff Stevens - Acquired in the DeRosa trade, Stevens is a strong candidate to pitch in relief for the Cubs in 2009. He put together 30 very strong innings at AAA at the end of 2008, with 44 strikeouts, only 19 hits, and only 16 walks. He has a career 3 to 1 K to BB ratio in the minors. Good control, success at the highest level of the minors - he'll definitely have a shot from Day 1.
So that's the crew, as far as I can tell. There are a ton of young, unproven names like Angel Guzman, Randy Wells, Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, Mitch Atkins, and lefty Carmen Pignatiello that may get a shot throughout the course of the season. But I think there's really only a couple of ways Lou can go with his bullpen for Opening Day 2009, depending upon whether Jeff Samardzija starts at AAA or in the 'pen.
My guess: Marmol, Gregg, Samardzija/Stevens, Wuertz, Cotts, Gaudin, Vizcaino.
I'm going to try to address the "RBI Question" by looking at two consecutive years in the career of Brian Giles.
In 2004, Giles had an OPS+ of 128. In 159 games played, he had 94 RBI. As a team, the Padres scored 768 runs that year.
In 2005, Giles had an OPS+ of 146. In 158 games played, he had 83 RBI. As a team, the Padres scored 684 runs that year.
Giles hit third both seasons, had the same home park, played almost the exact same number of games each year. Presumably, his "clutch" ability was the same both years.
This is what I mean when I say RBIs have very little to do with the guy at the plate. He could be an awful hitter, or he could be a fantastic hitter, but HOLDING ALL OTHER FACTORS CONSTANT, his RBI total will vary dramatically based on the other hitters on his team.
So, miltie, are you still worried about Dunn's "clutch" factor? Or do you think he might be able to knock some more runs in if he were brought on to a team with a competent offense?
Keith's comment on Kurt's recent board games update was spot on. I'd like to add to that senitiment by pointing out the highlights of what I think has been a successful offseason thus far for Jim Hendry and the Cubs.
First, though, I should address the one move that clearly has the most potential to look like a disaster for the Cubs: Jose Ceda-for-Kevin Gregg. Ceda was a Top 5, sometimes considered "untouchable" prospect for the Cubs, featuring a fastball consistently in the mid-to-high 90s. In return, we got kind of a crappy closer, whose ERA benefitted from a strangely low HR/FB rate in 2008. Let's hope this doesn't turn out to be as awful a deal as many sportswriters think it might be.
Now on to the successes. Before the Winter Meetings started, I for one saw a distinct possibility that Hendry might sign Abreu or Ibanez. I mean, come on, typical Cub move, right? Pay too much for a big name that's old and on the decline?
But Hendry didn't do that. He was reportedly uninterested in Ibanez, and presumably Abreu, for the same reason we here at GROTA were - poor defense. I'm guessing that's the same reason he hasn't really gone after Dunn yet (although the entire Adam Dunn market has been reallly, really quiet lately, so who knows what's happening there).
Not signing a free agent right fielder who can't play right field? Well done. Not giving up our entire farm system for Jake Peavy? Good decision. Generating interest in a player with sizeable salary and blocked youth behind him, who furthermore had a career year in 2008? Nice. Avoiding Ibreu, retaining Vitters AND Pie AND Cedeno AND Guzman AND Hart AND Marshall instead of moving at least five of those guys for Peavy, and gauging/raising the trade value of Mark DeRosa have all been solid moves.
He's also identified someone that people at GROTA have generally accepted as a legitimate target to fulfill a Cub need. Milton Bradley is athletic, a competent defender, led the AL in OPS last year, and hits from both sides of the plate.
There's nothing Jim Hendry can do to convince Bradley to sign before the Red Sox and Angels address their needs on offense. Bradley, like a boatload of other free agents, is waiting for Mark Teixeira to sign with a team. Once that deal is done, everything else will fall into place. Hopefully, that leaves us in a position where all we have to do is outbid the Rays.
So yeah, I think Jim's done OK for himself so far. And I won't really change that stance unless we miss on Bradley AND Dunn.
A quote from Joe Christensen at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
"The Twins haven't lost hope of prying infielder Mark DeRosa from the Cubs, but they have hit dead ends in their pursuit of Colorado's Garrett Atkins and Seattle's Adrian Beltre."