Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Eddie's blog

Things I'd like to see from the Cubs this offseason.

This will be a disjointed post. It will encompass all sorts of issues facing the Cubs during this offseason, including personnel, role decisions, and contract decisions. Lets jump right in.

From a management perspective, the Cubs' house is in order very early in the offseason. The new Cubs manager is an Alpaca (he has alopecia). Jumbo Jimbo gets at least one more offseason to fix his own messes. The Ricketts family now has a year of ownership under its belt, and I do believe they have a vision that goes beyond the mens room piss-troughs. At the field level, the Cubs are a team in transition. All time great Cub Derrek Lee (yeah I said it) is gone, as is Terrible Ted Lilly. Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, and Carlos Silva are all in the last year's of their respective contracts. I don't expect any to return in 2012. The window to win with the old guard has slammed decidedly shut, which is why the first move the Cubs should make is....

SIGN STARLIN CASTRO TO A LONG TERM EXTENSION.
This should be a no brainer for Hendry, which is precisely why I doubt it'll get done. The Cubs should be beating down Castro's door with a long term extension that would eat up Starlin's arbitration eligible years, with club options that would keep him off of the free agent market.Starlin was promoted to the majors for good on May 7, 2010. Unless the new CBA does away with "Super Two" status, the 2012 season will be the last year that the Cubs will have Castro for the league minimum salary. The time to sign him to an extension is right now, when the Cubs can lock in substantial long term savings in exchange for security on the player's part. 6 years, $30M, with 2-3 club options at $10-$12M sounds about right for a player who has less than a full year of service time. This would guarantee the Cubs the right to Starlin's best years, and save them a ton of money that can be invested elsewhere. Once the club guarantees its future with its best player, it's time to look to 2011. The Cubs have an opening at 1B which they should fill by....

SIGNING CARLOS PENA TO A 1 YEAR CONTRACT.
The Cubs have nothing in the pipeline at 1B, so they'll be acquiring their starter through free agency or trade. I like Pena for a number of reasons.

1) Pena is likely to be underpaid next year no matter where he signs. Pena had a superficially ugly season, posting a .196 batting average which was anchored by a .222 BABIP. He also failed to hit 30 home runs for the first time since 2006, when he spent substantial time in the minor leagues. Pena has a career OBP of .351 and a career slugging % of .490. A Scott Boras client, Pena may accept a 1 year, incentive laden contract to allow him to rebuild his open market value for a larger payday in 2012. He could provide a handsome return on investment next season with a return to form.

2) Pena is an average 1B. He's no "Rodan", but he fields his position well. I see the acquisition of a decent 1B as an investment in the team's future. Starlin Castro is still learning his position, and he will continue to make mistakes as he grows at the major league level. If for no other reason than to protect the kid's psyche, it behooves the Cubs to acquire a 1B who will be able to corral some of his errant throws. Castro is the Cubs future, and the team should do everything in its power to help him develop.

3) For those of you who put stock in such matters (Rob), Pena has a reputation as a Jim Thome type clubhouse leader. He's both extremely well liked and vocal, and could join Ryan Dempster as the de facto clubhouse leaders.

4) Pena is left handed. The Cubs have lacked a left handed power threat for what seems like decades. Pena makes the offense far more dangerous against right handed pitchers, whom the Cubs continue to struggle against.

5) He's not Adam Dunn. No offense to the Big Donkey, but his signing would be a huge setback for the Cubs. Dunn is a better hitter than Pena, but they are remarkably similar players. Unlike Pena, Dunn is said to be asking for 4 years, at more than $10M per year. The Cubs are only now starting to dig out from their stable of long term, big money contracts to declining veterans. Dunn just turned 31, and his is the kind of body that frequently ages quickly. He's the type of player a team adds when it's one piece away, not 5 or 6 pieces away. This team is just not built to compete for a world championship in 2011, so signing a guy long term who's best days are likely behind him doesn't make much sense.

With Pena in the fold, the "Tyler Colvin to 1B" concept goes out the window. The Cubs still need to figure out exactly what they have with Colvin, which is why they should....

INSTALL TYLER COLVIN AS THE EVERYDAY RIGHT FIELDER.
Colvin might be the Cubs' long term left handed power threat. It will depend on his ability to learn the strike zone at the major league level. Tyler's rookie year was extremely impressive, but I'm still not convinced that he isn't the next Jeff Francoeur. Hopefully, the Cubs will have the patience to give Tyler 600 plate appearances in 2011. If he's really the player he appeared to be this past season, the Cubs will realize substantial savings in free agency that can be invested elsewhere. In a development/consolidation season, it's worth finding out exactly who Tyler Colvin is, and what his future is with the Chicago Cubs. Of course, the Cubs already have a left handed RF on the roster, who would stand to lose significant plate appearances to Colvin if he's no longer "the starter." Many fans are calling for the Cubs to trade Fukudome. Not I. The best way to utilize him is to....

ROTATE KOSUKE FUKUDOME THROUGH ALL 3 OF SPOTS AGAINST RH STARTING PITCHING.
Trading Fukudome is unlikely to net the Cubs anything of value. They'd need to swallow at least half of the $14.5M salary before they could move him at all, and they won't get much more than minor league roster filler in return. His is just a bad, bad contract. However, it's a sunk cost, and a bad contract does not equal a bad ballplayer. The Cubs should utilize Kosuke so as to realize the most return on their investment. Fukudome has a career wOBA of .351 against right handed pitching, which is 11% better than the average hitter. Both his career OBP and his career slugging are significantly higher against righties than against lefties. Considering the Cubs struggles against right handed pitchers, Fukudome SHOULD be playing against right handed starters.

Rotating Fukudome will help keep Soriano and Byrd fresh and healthy, will improve the OF defense on days that he is playing, and will ensure that he stays engaged during the season. On days he doesn't start, Fukudome is the first LH bat off of the bench. Kosuke should get 250-300 plate appearances, even though he isn't the "starter."

At this point, the Cubs would have 38 players on its 40 man roster. They'll need to make some changes to the 40 man roster during the offseason to make room for other additions, and protect their top prospects from the Rule 5 draft. Specifically, the Cubs MUST....

ADD CHRISTOPHER ARCHER, MARQUEZ SMITH AND BRANDON GUYER TO THE 40 MAN ROSTER.
All three of these players would be exposed to the other major league teams in this winter's Rule 5 draft if they are not added to the 40 man roster. Archer is the Cubs' top pitching prospect, and was the most 'projectable' player acquired by the Cubs in the Mark DeRosa trade. What he lacks in his ability to make the Trixies wet, he makes up for with a mid nineties fastball and a sharp, diving curveball. Last year, Archer pitched 142.1 innings split nearly evenly between High-A Daytona and AA Tennessee. He averaged a 3.16 FIP across those two levels with a K/9 rate of 9.45. He's got the chance to be great.

Marquez Smith is not likely to be great, but he might be the Cubs' next 3B. He's a little old for a prospect (26 in March), but he showed good patience and great power in AAA last season. At worst, he should serve as an Aramis Ramirez injury insurance policy, and an acceptable bridge to Josh Vitters. If he's a late bloomer, he could seize the starting job at 3B and hold it for years. It's worth finding, right?

Brandon Guyer is probably the Cubs' second best outfield prospect, after Brett Jackson. He's a speed guy who stole 30 bases in 33 attempts at AA Tennessee this past season. He plays all three outfield positions, although I can't find any data on his center field range. If he can play CF well, it certainly raises his value to the Cubs and other teams.

To make these additions, the Cubs are going to need to make some subtractions first. Koyie Hill and Micah Hoffpauir should both be DFA'd. If they clear waivers, keep them around, but they don't belong on the 40 man roster at this point. That leaves one roster spot available for the Cubs to make a selection in the Rule 5 draft, or for Hendry to give to the mediocre reliever he gives 3 years and $12M to.

You'll notice that my plan leaves no room for big changes on the pitching staff. This is intentional. The Cubs have more than enough quality arms to fill out their rotation and bullpen. The internal roles for a few of the Cubs pitchers are still undefined. Right now, the Cubs seem intent on using Andrew Cashner as a reliever. I hate this idea, and I believe the Cubs should....

GIVE THE #5 STARTER JOB TO ANDREW CASHNER.

Dempster and Los Dos Carloses are already penciled in for the first three rotation slots. Randy Wells probably gets the fourth spot based on incumbency, but I doubt he'll keep his position in the rotation all year. Based on last year's usage, the #5 starter gig probably goes to either Tom Gorzellany or Casey Coleman. GORZ did enough to earn the spot last season, and Coleman has an argument as well based on his late season audition.

The Cubs should disappoint them both, and give the job to Andrew Cashner. Cashner's physical skills are far better than either GORZ or Coleman. He's been a starter in the Cubs' system for a while now, and we know he can do it in the minors. It behooves the Cubs to give him the chance to be a starting pitcher in the majors. If his command and secondary pitches develop, he could be an Ace pitcher. That's worth gambling on in 2011.

Finally, there is the matter of the batting order. I'm a big Lou Piniella homer, but he lost some of my support this season by refusing to let the Cubs' best hitter bat in the middle of the order. The Cubs can improve their offensive output in 2011 by....

BATTING GEOVANY SOTO THIRD IN THE ORDER.
This is another one of those "should be no brainers" that will nevertheless not happen. Soto posted the highest wOBA of any Cubs hitter last year, and at 28 years old next season, is firmly in his prime. He is the Cubs best hitter, and he should be hitting third as a result. 

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.
Follow my plan, and the Cubs look like this to start 2011:

Against RHP
Kosuke Fukudome: CF/LF
Starlin Castro: SS
Geovany Soto: C
Carlos Pena: 1B
Aramis Ramirez: 3B
Alfonso Soriano/Marlon Byrd: CF/LF
Tyler Colvin: RF
Blake Dewitt: 2B

Against LHP
Blake Dewitt: 2B
Starlin Castro: SS
Geovany Soto: C
Aramis Ramirez: 3B
Alfonso Soriano: LF
Carlos Pena: 1B
Marlon Byrd: CF
Tyler Colvin: RF

Rotation:
Ryan Dempster
Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Silva
Randy Wells
Andrew Cashner

Bullpen:
Carlos Marmol
Sean Marshall
Jeff Stevens
Justin Berg
GORZ
Esmailin Caridad/Jeff Samardzija
John Fucking Grabow

Whew. That got long. Thanks for sticking with me, if you made it this far.

CONCLUSION.
I believe if the Cubs follow this plan, they will finish in fourth or fifth again next season, but they will make serious progress towards becoming an NL Central force, year in and year out. Way back at the top, I mentioned that I believed in the Ricketts, and that they do have a plan for this franchise. Tom has stated publicly that he wants to build the team through scouting and development, and I applaud him for that. I believe that this is the only way to ensure a competitive team, year in and year out. The Cubs should take their lumps in 2011, knowing that 2012 might be the start of something special.

Who plays 1B in 2011?

The trade of Derrek Lee to Atlanta has thrown 1B into a state of flux. Charitably speaking, the Cubs now have three first basemen on the roster: Xavier Nady, Micah Hoffpauir, and Tyler Colvin. The Cubs will want a full time first baseman entering the 2011 season. I'll present some of the options before the Cubs, along with pros and cons for each option.

Tyler Colvin:

Tyler has the power to succeed as a major league regular, if not the plate discipline. His .356 season wOBA has been 19% better than league average. However, his on base percentage is a subpar .314, and he's rocking 4 strikeouts for every free pass. He's had a successful rookie season, but I want to see more.

Pros:

  • He's already on the roster and makes the league minimum. Putting Colvin at 1B allows the Cubs to use their resources elsewhere. For instance, a 9 year contract extension for Castro....
  • He hits for enough power to not be a liability at the position. Tyler leads all major league rookies with 19 HR in only 333 plate appearances. Averaged out over 550 plate appearances, that's 31ish HR. If Colvin is a 30 homer hitter, bat him sixth in the lineup and forget about his mediocre plate discipline.
  • If Colvin plays 1B, Fukudome won't be the world's most expensive sub. We all know Kosuke's faults, and I won't reiterate them here. Instead, lets focus on what he does well: He reaches base. This season he's gotten on base at a .374 clip. That's second on the team behind only Soto and his outstanding .403 OBP. In limited PA's, Kosuke has still been worth 1.4 WAR on the season. Yes it's nowhere near what he's being paid, but his contract is a sunk cost. Better to get him off the bench and in the lineup, where he can contribute. Plus, it'll allow the Cubs to audition him for a trade.

Cons:

  • Can he play 1B at the major league level? No one knows because he hasn't played there with any regularity in over five years. I'm inclined to believe he can do it, as he plays an average corner outfield. However, the uncertainty might scare the Cubs brass into looking elsewhere.
  • If the power isn't for real, he'll be a black hole of suck. That's the largest issue with Colvin. 353 career PA is a small sample size, and we know he has holes in his swing that pitchers can exploit. If Colvin can't improve his plate discipline or reproduce his power output, he'll be one of the worst 1B in the majors.

Alfonso Soriano:

Most Cubs fans seem to think that Soriano's eventual move to 1B is fait accompli. If that's true, wouldn't it make sense to move him now, when there is an opening at the position?

Pros:

  • Playing 1B might keep Sori healthier. Alfonso can still hit, even if he can't run, and keeping him healthy and on the field will be the key for the remainder of his career. A shift to 1B means less running, which should help preserve his legs for launching the bat at the baseball.
  • It makes sense to move him before his defense collapses. As he gets older, Soriano will cover less ground in LF, which means more fly balls will fall in and more runs will be scored against the Cubs. Soriano will be here for another 4 seasons, so it seems reasonable to make the move now, before he becomes an epic liability in the outfield.
  • As noted above, there is an opening at the position, so the time seems ripe to let Alfonso start getting comfortable there.
  • Putting Soriano at 1B allows both Colvin and Fukudome to start in the outfield.

Cons:

  • This may come as a shock to you, dear reader, but Soriano is still pretty good in the outfield. This season, his play has been worth 12.3 runs saved over 150 innings, versus the average outfielder. In layman's terms, he is still contributing with the glove, no matter how ugly he looks doing it. Last year he was below average in the outfield, but he was hurt and I'm prepared to give him a pass for it. In 2008, he was worth an impressive 25.5 runs saved above average over 150 innings. The guy is nowhere near the statue that his reputation would have you believe, and moving him from LF next season might actually weaken the outfield defense.

Aramis Ramirez:

Aramis is likely to exercise his $14.6 million player option in the offseason, and return to the Cubs. I'll be happy to see him stay, as the guy is still capable of being a great player. This season was atrocious, but he was playing hurt for much of it and has been victimized by bad luck on balls in play. I fully expect a bounce back 2011 from Rami.

Pros:

  • Ramirez's health is an issue as much as Soriano's is. Moving across the diamond to an easier defensive position might help keep him on the field and productive at the plate.
  • Unlike Soriano, Ramirez is pretty bad in the field. He hasn't posted a league average or better UZR/150 since 2007, and that was 3 years and multiple injuries ago. Moving Ramirez to 1B might improve the Cubs defensively.

Cons:

  • Moving Ramirez shakes up the rest of roster, and probably necessitates a free agent signing. Legend has it that Blake DeWitt is an excellent 3B, but his bat would be pretty pathetic at the hot corner, and I don't see the Cubs going in that direction. There aren't many quality 3B free agents this coming offseason. The class is headed by Adrian Beltre, who I covet, but he'd be expensive and is already 32 years old. Long term, big money contracts to older veterans is the kind of shoddy roster construction that I've accused Cruller Jim of on dozens of occasions around here. I haven't had a sudden change of heart, and dropping millions on a free agent when this team is 4 or 5 players away from contention seems foolish.

Adam Dunn:

I expected the Cubs to sign the big donkey after the 2008 season. Instead, they opted for Milton Bradley. That didn't work, and the popular speculation is that the Cubs won't pass on Dunn twice.

Pros:

  • Dunn seems like a panacea for this roster. He's a left handed slugger who has hit historically well at Wrigley Field (although that might be an indictment of our pitching staffs of yore.) He's always featured old man skills like walking and hitting for power, so he may age more gracefully than players who depend on speed or athleticism. His full time position change to 1B has even made him an average defender. Dunn used to remind me of a buffalo on ice skates in the outfield. He was that comically terrible. This year, as a full time 1B, he has been worth 2 full wins more than last season, with almost 6 weeks left to play. The difference is in his defense, which has been about average at 1B.

Cons:

  • Money and length of contract. MLBTradeRumors speculates that it will take a 4 year offer to get Dunn to sign a contract. That's a lot of years for a guy who is already 31, and should be entering the downside of his career. 4 years/$50 million seems likely to me, and it wouldn't surprise me if that was low. Anybody else think Dunn will fail to produce to the level of that contract?
  • Signing Dunn will cost the Cubs their second round draft pick. Washington intends to offer Dunn arbitration. Dunn projects to be a type "A" free agent, so if the Cubs subsequently signed him as a free agent, they would forfeit a draft pick. Because of their dogshit play this season, the team is projected to have the #6 overall draft pick, which would be protected, and the Cubs would instead lose their second rounder. Although with Pauper Tom in the owners box, the Cubs will probably squander their draft picks on bad but cheap amateurs. Scratch this one.

Some other free agent?

The corner infield cupboard is bare in the Iowa and Tennessee, so the Cubs will have to grab a different free agent if they don't go any of the routes suggested above. This is not an ideal situation.

Lets hear your preferences. How should the Cubs fill their 1B vacancy next season?

All statistics, as always, from fangraphs.com.

Reader Blog: Win now vs. Win later?

I've been advocating a "scorched earth" approach to dismantling this team since Mid April, so this post is not all that timely. That said, I read an interesting article on fangraphs this morning (Link Here: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/rentals-processes-and-flags-fly...). After reading the article, I jumped into the wayback machine and transported myself back to the high flying 2008 season, when the Cubs were kicking ass and cici Sabathia hadn't yet pulled on his beer helmet.

I wanted Sabathia that year. Bad. I was really pissed when the Crew landed him, although I was somewhat assuaged when the Cubs reeled in Harden for minor league flotsam. Milwaukee failed to win a postseason series that season, and Sabathia broke the bank with the Yankees that Winter. Here's the hypothetical I would like to pose to my fellow goatreaders: If the Cubs had a great major league roster but had the chance to trade for a superstar which might put them over the top, would you do it? What if it cost them Starlin Castro? Or Andrew Cashner? Or Brett Jackson? Basically, how do you value the chance to win it all today, vs. the likelihood of getting good to great value from your prospects tomorrow?

Reader Blog: Blow it up.

I don't see any difference between finishing in third and finishing dead last.  No playoffs = failed season. With that in mind, I suggest the Cubs begin the process of razing the roster now, with the goal to be a threat to win the division again in 2012 or 13. Here's the plan:


IN SEASON: Trade Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly and Kosuke Fukudome. None of these players figure into the Cubs' future, and only Fukudome has a toxic contract. Eat as much of his contract as necessary and move him. Gorzellany moves back into the rotation and Tyler Colvin becomes the everyday RF.

POSTSEASON: Trade Carlos Silva, trade or non tender Ryan Theriot, sign a cheap southpaw power bat to be a warm body at 1B. Andrew Cashner moves into the rotation.


IN SEASON 2011: Call up Josh Vitters, Jay Jackson and Brett Jackson. Trade Marlon Byrd. Shift Aramis Ramirez to 1B.


If the Cubs follow this plan, they will probably be awful next year. I don't care. They will clear payroll allowing them to be aggressive in free agency in 2012, when they will have holes to fill on the roster. The players that remain will mostly be young, with some major league experience, and ready to be competitive again for years. The 2012 roster:


C: Geovany Soto

1B: Open ($12m option on Ramirez)


2B: Open (but Starlin Castro should shift over once Hak Ju Lee is ready to be the major league SS).

SS: Castro


3B: Vitters

LF: Soriano

CF: Jackson

RF: Colvin

SP1: Carlos Zambrano

SP2: Ryan Dempster

SP3: Tom Gorzellany

SP4: Andrew Cashner

SP5: Randy Wells/Jay Jackson.

Hopefully the veteran trades will have netted some nice pieces that can be used on the major league roster as well, or flipped to fill additional needs.


Reader Blog: Why is Theriot leading off?

Generally speaking, I don't blame Lou for the debacle that this season has turned into. When your two best hitters have combined for -.8 WAR midway through June, there isn't much you as a manager can do to improve the situation. That said, I have a nit to pick with the skipper. Why is frat boy favorite Ryan Theriot still leading off? By almost every measure available, Theriot is having an awful season at the plate. His sub par .326 on base percentage and complete lack of power have left Theriot with a weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) of .300. By contrast, hated ex-leadoff man Alfonso Soriano has a respectable .346 on base percentage and his wOBA is a robust .386.

Other regulars/semi regulars who would serve as better leadoff men than Theriot: Derrek Lee (.314 wOBA), Marlon Byrd (.403 wOBA), Geovany Soto (.387 wOBA), Tyler Colvin (.411 wOBA), Kosuke Fukudome (.360 wOBA), Mike Fontenot (.342 wOBA).You get the point. Theriot's empty batting average and gutty scrappitude have kept him at the top of the Cubs lineup for far too long. Piniella would immediately make this team better if he moved Theriot into the 7 or 8 slot in the lineup and gave those extra at bats to one of the better hitters on this team.

(For a detailed description of wOBA and why it's one of the best measures of total offensive contributions, click here: http://saberlibrary.com/offense/woba/.)

Reader Blog: Why I don't like the Starlin Castro Promotion

The Cubs have promoted top prospect Starlin Castro. I'm sure this means the Cubs intend to turn over the keys to SS to him full time. I really can't stand this decision. Castro is Twenty years old, and he has played only 32 (albeit dominant) games at the AA level. A promotion is warranted, but to Iowa.

I fear that the Cubs are rushing Castro.What's worse, I think they are doing so out of a misguided sense of self preservation. Calling up Castro buys Cruller Jim some time because it will pacify parts of the fanbase. This is a dangerous situation. A lot of those same fans will now give Castro the 2010 "savior" label. He can't live up to that label because no one can. There are simply too many holes on this squad. So if Castro doesn't explode out of the gate, the drunks WILL get on him.

Then there's Lou. I like Lou Piniella a lot, but his handling of Felix Pie was indefensible. Pie never had a fair shot because Lou didn't give him one. If Castro is with the big league squad, he should be starting, at SS, almost every single game. Anything less and he's better off getting full time AB's in Des Moines. I don't trust Piniella to give him those AB's if he struggles initially.

Finally there's the 'future' of the franchise. 2010 is sunk. This is not a playoff team. Adding Castro doesn't make it a playoff team. So why are we playing games with his service time? Give him a full year to split between Tenn and Iowa. Call him up in September when rosters expand and start him with Theriot at 2B. Give him another month in AAA in 2011, and then he gets the call, to stay, right around May 1st.

This team is not built to win this season. I'd like them to do everything possible to ensure that they will be built to win in the future. Right now, the Cubs are wrongly focused on the short term. Bad move.

Reader Blog: Prospecting with Jim Hendry

Bobbie Brownlie 

Ryan Harvey

Mark Pawelek 

Tyler Colvin 

Josh Vitters 

Andrew Cashner 

Brett Jackson

Those are the Cubs' first round draft picks since 2002. Colvin is the first to make it to the major leagues. You know about him. Chances are you know about Vitters, Cashner and Jackson as well. This is a big year for Vitters. Despite hitting .444 in big league spring camp this Spring, Vitters didn't draw a single walk, and was reassigned to High - A Daytona, where he has a .300 OBP and is OPSing only .657. Last year, split between A - Peoria and High - A Daytona, Vitters had an OBP of .314 and only walked 12 times in almost 500 plate appearances. Not. Good.

Of course if you know anything about Tyler Colvin's minor league career, you know I could be describing him as well. Tyler raked his way onto the big league club this Spring, but he failed to draw a single walk in all of Spring Training. In limited action (27 plate appearances) this April, Colvin has drawn 3 walks and K'd 5 times, for a respectable OBP of .346. He's also played the OF well in limited playing time. This is encouraging, but its an extremely small sample size. It would be the first time in Colvin's professional career that he's shown any kind of strike zone judgment.

Unfortunately, this is the type of position player that Hendry continues to favor. Both Colvin and Vitters were toolsy ameteurs with little regard for the strike zone. Brett Jackson has shown more patience early in his professional career, but his BB% has dropped from 20% in rookie ball, to 16% at low - A Boise, to 8% at A - Peoria. Jackson is a college hitter, so its not as if he's very young for his level. This isn't an encouraging trend.

As for the pitchers, Brownlie and Pawelek were absolute busts. Brownlie is with his third organization and has a career FIP over 5.00. Pawelek hurt his arm tripping over his X Box, and then picked the controller back up and continued playing. He's with the Reds' High - A affiliate right now, praying he doesn't get called up to the big league squad. Dusty Baker has a taste for rookie pitchers' bone marrow. Sucks it right out of their pitching arms. Look it up.

Here's the point: The Cubs have not done well in the draft, and its cost them at the big league level. When you can't develop your own high performing ballplayers, you have to buy them from someone else. That's how you end up with Milton Bradley in RF. Most of the top teams in baseball have star players on the big league roster playing for less than they would receive in free agency. Let me walk you through it:

NYY - Robinson Cano was worth 4.7 WAR last season, and was only paid $6 million.

Boston - Kevin Youkilis was worth 6 WAR, and Dustin Pedroia was worth 4.9. Together they were paid $8 million.

Tampa - Evan Longoria was worth 7.2 WAR. Ben Zobrist was worth 8.3 WAR.Carl Crawford was worth 5.5. This team would have finished with the best record in the National League. Their triumvirate of home grown stars made less than $10 million together, most of it going to Crawford.

Minnesota - Joe Mauer put up 8 WAR despite missing an entire month of the season. Unreal. Morneau, Span and Kubel were all above 3, and Morneau likely would have topped 4 WAR if he'd been healthy. Scott Baker put up 3.5 WAR while making less than a million dollars.

You might inquire how the top NL teams did. It's the same story in the Senior Circuit:

Philadelphia - Chase Utley was worth 7.6 WAR. Ryan Howard was worth 4.9 WAR. Jayson Werth totaled 4.8 WAR.The Phillies actually paid for Howard and Utley, who earned $11 and $15 million a piece, while Werth was a steal at $2.5 million.

St. Louis - Pujols was worth 8.6 WAR.Wainwright was worth 5.7 WAR.Together they earned about what Soriano is being paid in a single season.

Los Angeles - Matt Kemp was worth 5 WAR. Clayton Kershaw was worth 4.2 WAR. Jonathon Broxton somehow contributed 3 WAR as a CLOSER. He's good, folks. That production cost the Dodgers less than $3 million. Or a weekend in Cabo for Jamie McCourt.

Colorado - This team is the Rays of the National League. They are an absolute pipeline of above average, cost controlled talent. Ubaldo Jimenez (he of the no hitter last week) was worth 5.7 WAR.Troy Tulowitzki was worth 5.5 WAR. Jason Hammel contributed 3.8 WAR. Jorge De La Rosa put up 3.7. They got all that for less than $4 million. And they have a host of great players who will make a huge impact this season, like Carlos Gonzalez, Ian Stewart and Franklin Gutierrez.

Lets look at the Cubs now. Care to guess how many homegrown players put up 4 WAR or better last season? The answer is NO ONE. Only Zambrano and Wells even topped the 3 WAR mark, making them above average but not great pitchers. And for the record, Soriano's WAR last season was slightly below zero. For the uninitiated, that implies the Cubs would have been better sending an average AAA outfielder out to LF instead of Soriano. He was paid $17 million for his efforts.

Conclusion:

The ability to develop star players is key to sustained success in today's major leagues. No team, not even the Yankees can simply spend their way to a World Championship. The Cubs continue to scuffle in player development, which is the root cause of their woes in free agency. The free agent market should be a supplement to your roster, not the bedrock on which your team is built. The Cubs entire OF was bought in free agency, and it's a below average group making a ton of money. This isn't working. Unless the Cubs can begin to perform better in the draft, in international free agency, and in developing their young prospects, they will not challenge for a title. I'm excited about the minor leagues for the first time in a long time, but there are plenty of warning signs from even our best prospects. The 'untouchable' Starlin Castro has the same hack first, ask questions later mentality that has held back Vitters and I suspect will limit Colvin. Cashner may not be able to start at the major league level, although I hope the Cubs resist the urge to bring him up now and put him in the bullpen. And years of Korey Patterson/Bobbie Brownlie/Felix Pie/Jeff Samardzija failures have left me a jaded, bitter fan. The farm system just hasn't gotten it done under Hendry's supervision. The Cubs aren't getting the right players into the system, and they aren't developing the players they do have properly. Jim Hendry should be fired.

Reader Blog: Trade Winds

Jim Hendry has been the Cubs GM since mid 2002, so we’ve got a lot of trades to look at. I’m going to highlight one or two from each season that strike me as particularly important or illuminating.

2002: Cubs trade Todd Hundley&Chad Hermansen for Mark Grudzeilanek&Eric Karros.

Hundley is my least favorite Cub of all time. He was shitty.  He was overpaid. And he was a mean son of a bitch. The Cubs handed him a 4 year, $23.5 million contract before the 2001 season. In his two years as a Cub, Hundley totaled 579 plate appearances and posted an OPS below 700. For those who prefer batting average, Todd hit .187 and .211 in 2001 and ’02. He’s most famous in Chicago for flipping off the home fans while rounding the bases after a home run. He was like Fukudome without the production, pleasant demeanor or sobriety.

Somehow, Jimbo convinced the Dodgers to take this sad sack off our hands, and send us something useful in return. Both Grudzeilanek and Karros contributed to the division winning squad in 2003. Grudz became our starting 2B, and he could inside out the ball to the opposite field as well as any hitter I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget watching Karros videotaping the playoffs from the Cubs dugout during the NLCS. It really felt like he was one of us. He wasn’t a bad platoon first baseman either.

Oh, and Hundley was pumped full of steroids for much of his career. So there’s that.

2003: Cubs trade Jose Hernandez, Matt Bruback&a PTBNL for Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton&Cash.

Cubs trade Ray Sadler for Randall Simon.

2003 was Hendry’s finest season. The Cubs would not have won their division that season were it not for Ramirez, Lofton and Simon. Lofton and Simon are long gone, while Aramis remains as the greatest Cubs 3B since Ron Santo. And Hendry gave up practically nothing to get them. Thanks, Pittsburgh!

2004: Cubs trade Hee Seop Choi for Derrek Lee.

Cubs trade Brendan Harris, Alex Gonzalez&Francis Beltran for Nomar Garciappara & Matt Murton.

The Choi for Lee deal rivals the Aramis Ramirez trade for the best of Hendry’s career. Clearly, Jim was on his game in the early nineties. Choi never realized his potential, and is probably best remembered for being carted off the field after an in game collision with Kerry Wood.  Derrek’s achievements speak for themselves. He is my favorite Cub, and I will be sad to see him go if this is truly his last season here.

As much as the Nomar trade did not work out, I believe now as I believed then that is was the right move to make. The Cubs SHOULD have won their division that season and were trying to add the missing piece for a postseason run. Obviously things didn’t work out. Mercker bitched, LaTroy imploded, Sammy stepped out, and the Cubs massively underachieved and missed the postseason altogether. The following April, Nomar suffered the most excruciating injury imaginable, and that was that. He was on the DL until August, and by that time the only interesting question left was whether DLee would win the 2005 NL MVP. The Cubs finished 21 games behind the Ratbirds, who won 100 times that year.

2005: Cubs trade Sammy Sosa & Cash for Jerry Hairston Jr., Mike Fontenot and David Crouthers.

Cubs trade Ricky Nolaso, Sergio Mitre & Renyel Pinto for Juan Pierre.

2005 was the first year that Hendry really pissed me off.  These two trades, which neatly wrap around a lost season, signal a real change in Jim’s ability to maximize value on the trade market. Let’s tackle the Sosa deal first. Sosa was a diva who didn’t mesh well with his teammates. He was getting older and was obviously on the decline. He still hit 35 HR in 2004. He should have brought more in return than he did. I believe he would have, if not for the systematic way the Cubs undermined any leverage they might have had in trading him. As you all undoubtedly remember, Sammy left the ballpark 15 minutes into the final game of the 2004 season. This became public, and it shortly became obvious that Sosa would never be welcomed back into the Cubs clubhouse. When 29 teams know you have to trade a guy, 29 teams will not give you good value in return. Fontenot was the only piece worth mentioning here, and he’s a platoon 2B who was nearly DFA’d by the club this past offseason.

Then there’s Juan Pierre. Hendry’s worst trade as the Cubs’GM. Full disclosure. I despised him then and I still do. Maybe it’s because, along with Josh Beckett and Pudge Rodriguez, I still associate him with the 2003 Marlins. Maybe it’s because he posted a crappy OBP with zero power. Or his limp dick outfield arm. Or maybe it’s because we lost 96 games and I needed a scapegoat. Here’s why this trade still pisses me off to this day: Ricky Nolasco is awesome. He’s exactly the kind of player the Cubs need to keep if they are going to be successful. And Jimbo traded him for one subpar year of a crappy player on a terrible team. GAHHHHHHHHHH.

2006: Cubs trade Greg Maddux for Cesar Izturis.

This one is more emotional than anything else. Hendry traded Maddux to the Dodgers to give him a shot at winning a championship. Respect.

2007: Cubs trade Rocky Cherry and Scott Moore for Steve Trachsel.

WTF? Cherry and Moore were no great shakes, but I can’t begin to fathom what Hendry was hoping to accomplish here. Trachsel was old and finished. Trachsel made a few starts, didn’t pitch well, and was left off the postseason roster.

2008: Cubs trade Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson & Josh Donaldson for Rich Harden & Chad Gaudin.

Cubs trade Jose Ceda for Kevin Gregg.

Like the Nomar trade, the Harden deal was a well meaning, but ultimately failed attempt to improve the team for a deep postseason run. I saw Harden’s first Wrigley Field start in person. He was DOMINANT. If memory serves, he went 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 10 K. I was convinced he was the missing piece.  Two years later, the Cubs have no rings, and Harden struggles to get out of the third inning with fewer than 100 pitches thrown. At least it doesn’t look like those prospects amount to much.

Kevin Gregg was a disaster and I'm glad he's gone.

2009: Cubs trade Mark DeRosa for Jeff Stevens, John Gaub and Christopher Archer.

And the Trixies wept.

2010: Cubs trade Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva & cash.

Cubs trade Aaron Miles, Jake Fox & cash for Jeff Gray, Ronny Morla and Matt Spencer.

Two things are obvious to me about these most recent trades: First, it is far too early to say anything definitive about these deals.  Second, they were all about Hendry fixing his free agency mistakes from the previous offseason. That’s never a good thing for a GM. I was furious with Hendry for suspending Bradley for the last 15 games of the 2009 season, as it robbed him of any leverage he might have had in trade talks. I was furious all over again when the Cubs traded for Silva, who has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball for the last several years. Now I’m just sort of numb. I know Silva isn’t an ace, and his sub – 1.00 ERA is the product of small sample size. I’d be thrilled if he finished the year with an ERA under 4.50, and right now that looks like a possibility. As for Gray, at least he got AAron Miles out of here. Meh.

Conclusions:
Hendry made a number of brilliant trades early in his GM career. Since 2004, he’s been significantly less productive in the trade market. It’s not clear whether other teams simply got smarter, Jim lost his touch, or something else altogether, but Hendry hasn’t had an obvious win since the trade that brought Derrek Lee to Chicago. Hendry’s trades aren’t getting it done anymore. He should be fired.

Editor's Note: If you want to also write on the Readers Blog page of GROTA, drop us a line and let us know!  If you do a bang-up job, we'll even promote your article to the front page of the site!

Reader Blog: Hendry's Free Agent Signings

Lets start with the positives. Hendry signed two of our three best starting pitchers through free agency, and both have wildly exceeded our expectations. Terrible Ted Lilly has been worth 10 WAR since he began his Cubs career in 2007. For comparison's sake, Yovani Gallardo has only been worth 5.5 WAR over the same period of time. Ted has been very, very good.

Ryan Dempster has been even better. In the two seasons since he returned to the rotation, Dempster has been an ace. He's put up 8.7 WAR in that time period, and was able to accumulate 3.6 WAR last season even though he missed a month of the season with a broken toe. Since he joined the rotation, Ryan Dempster has been the Cubs best pitcher.

That's about the extent of the positives. Here are the negatives, in lazy list form: Alfonso Soriano @ 8 years, $136 million with a no trade clause. Kosuke Fukudome @ 4 years, $48 million with a no trade clause. Milton Bradley @ 3 years, $30 million. Jacque Jones @ 3 years, $15 million. Jason Marquis @ 3 years, $21 million. Bob Howry @ 3 years, $12 million. Aaron Miles @ 2 years, $5 million. John Grabow @ 2 years, $7 million. Etc.... These players have a ton in common. Most were coming off a career year. (Jones is a notable exception.) Most did not contribute enough WAR to justify their salaries. All were seemingly signed for too many years. The Cubs roster has been an elephant's graveyard of declining players being paid a ton of money for their past contributions to other teams.

This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Most MLB team's have gotten smarter about keeping their young, high WAR players away from free agency. The majority of players who reach free agency are players that their original teams didn't deem worth extending, because their likely salaries would exceed their likely contributions. In short, free agency isn't a smart way to try and build a ballclub. Jim Hendry has spent a lot of money in free agency and usually hasn't gotten his money worth. The bad, long term contracts on this Cubs squad have hamstrung him in his efforts to improve the team going forward. The Cubs are older, maddeningly mediocre, and expensive. This team won't contend in 2010, and it won't contend in 2011 either. Because of his nasty habit of making it rain on every flavor of the week free agent who comes a knockin, Hendry should be fired.

Editor's Note: If you want to also write on the Readers Blog page of
GROTA, drop us a line and let us know!  If you do a bang-up job, we'll
even promote your article to the front page of the site!

Reader Blog: Fire Jim Hendry

I've made no secret of my desire to see Cruller Jim Hendry given his walking papers. I've heard all the arguments in favor of his retention, and they don't hold water for me. Jim Hendry is a liability to the 2010 Chicago Cubs, and the Cubs should remove him. Hendry should be replaced with a general manager who has a better understanding of the market and of those player skills that more accurately correlate with wins.

Because this is my first blog post, I should share a little about myself. I'm a saber admirer, although I can't do the math myself. I believe a few basic concepts that originated with sabermetrics are so well established as to be taken as fact, and that MLB front offices are negligent if they ignore them. The high correlation between OBP and runs scored is one example.  

I will regularly refer to WAR in my posts. WAR stands for "wins above replacement." It's a handy tool for summarizing the total wins any single player contributes above a hypothetical 'replacement level' player. It's important to note that a replacement level player would be a well below average major leaguer. The replacement level player is basically any interchangeable AAA ballplayer. For any math masochists who are reading this, here's an excellent explanation of how a hitter's WAR is calculated: http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/6/12/906943/war-lords-of-the-diamond-position. WAR is also a handy stat because it can be used to compare a player's individual contributions with his salary.We can then determine whether that player is providing surplus value relative to his salary, or if he is being paid more than he is worth.

I hope that you will agree that Jim Hendry has to go. He is not a good general manager and the roster he has assembled is not a contender, either this season or in the future. Thanks for reading.

Editor's Note: If you want to also write on the Readers Blog page of GROTA, drop us a line and let us know!  If you do a bang-up job, we'll even promote your article to the front page of the site!

Chicago Tribune's Chicago's Best Blogs award