I think the Cubs should consider signing free agent C Javier Valentin. He is a solid switch hitting veteran catcher, and most teams are chasing the big prizes in the market right now. It would be a quiet move, but it would be a good move that addresses several team needs. Valentin is a professional hitter that can pound the ball when he plays, which would allow the cubs to rest Geo more throughout the season so that he can can be more productive and healthier down the stretch. Also by pursuing him now the cubs would have very little competition, with the exception of the Reds, who just acquired Ramon Hernandez to be their everyday catcher. So the cubs would be offering him the same role except on a contending team. He likely could be had for a modest price, somewhere in the neighborhood of $1-$1.5M on a 1-2 year deal. So by swapping Valentin for Blanco the team gets a younger, cheaper player at the position, who is also a switch hitter.
This is my maiden voyage on blogging on this site, outside of a couple of comments occasionally, and a few random ideas I put in the shout box. Hopefully, my occasional rantings can create some good discussion points about some topics that possibly havent been discussed as much.
By the title of this posting, I assume many of you will assume that I am in favor of, like most Cub fans are, of moving Soriano down in the order to a more traditional RBI slot. While that idea admittedly does have some limited appeal for me, I basically differ from most of you when I tell you that I really like having him bat leadoff for us. His power potential for extra base hits and home runs changes how an opposing manager has to configure his bullpen late, and it gives our most dangerous hitter extra at bats in a game potentially. When you look at it like that, having Soriano bat 5 times in a game vs having a Ryan Theriot type bat 5 times seems like a very good idea.
Also keeping in mind that our bottom hitters in our 6-8 spots last year were among the best in the league, it is obvious to me at least that for an efficient offensive team that we will need an RBI producer to be batting in the 1 hole, so he can drive in some of those players on base at that time. This is emphasized often I know, but it is true: A "leadoff man" only actually bats leadoff once a game as a guarantee, at any other time we need everyone to be a run producer as often as can be.
So, therefore I agree with having Alfonso Soriano bat leadoff, as other players such as Rickey Henderson and Brian Downing have in the past although I realize those players were much more patient than Soriano is, and each had much higher OBP.
But, so often we seem to be a team that is completely dependent offensively on Soriano. When he is playing, our Cubs were the best team in baseball. When he was injured our out of the lineup, we were a mediocre team. Not only did we miss his power, we missed his explosiveness, and in reality were a much easier team for opposing managers to manage against.
Add to that fact that Soriano is a player who I think we all agree feasts against average to bad pitching, and who struggles against the premier pitchers in the league. Since all you see in the playoffs is big time pitching, Soriano will always likely struggle in those situations, at least on the whole. It isn't a matter of "choking" in his case, it is just in my judgment a lack of ability.....Soriano is what he is. And when your most critical player has a big flaw, it is no shock that your team might struggle.
And so, here was my conclusion watching the Cubs in the playoffs, and which has been in my mind since the season was over: The best answer to make us a better lineup isn't to REPLACE Soriano, it is to both make him MORE EFFICIENT, and LESS IMPORTANT to the overall success of the roster. But how could we do that?
I have a couple of ideas for us to discuss.
First, let's talk about making him more efficient. I mentioned above that we need a thumper at the top of the lineup who can drive in runs, because we have an unspectacular but efficient bottom of the lineup, which can often give alot of opportunities to drive in runs. What I think we can do to maximize the use of Soriano's power is to not discuss the top of the order so much, but to instead discuss the batting order at the bottom!
This idea may be counterintuitive, but I want to put a high on base pct player in the nine spot, right ahead of Soriano. In the national league, the nine spot is traditionally the pitchers spot. While we have decent hitting pitchers (Zembrano and Marquis come to mind), the still aren't as good as everyday players. Plus, late in games we are often using bench players in pinch hitting roles in this nine spot, who are often not that effective. This means that we usually have our worst hitters consistently batting right ahead of our best, most dangerous hitter arguably.
So, I think we can make Soriano more efficient, and perhaps can produce 10-15 more runs for the year if we bat our starting pitcher 8th instead of 9th. This isn't unprecedented....Ned Yost and Tony LaRussa each did this often last year, albeit for a different reason than I am proposing it for us.
Using Theriot for an example, how many more runs would Soriano drive in with Theriot batting in front of him? I would estimate that Soriano could get about 40 or so more runners on ahead of him for an entire season with a player with a .350 OBP batting in the 9th spot instead of a .200 or so OBP out of our 9 spot a year ago. Now, I realize that making this move also has other effects throughout the lineup, but I think in general that just making this simple little adjustment makes us about 10-15 runs better as a team. I'll be interested in seeing some of the smarter, more stat conscious posters opinions on this matter. I think it at least merits discussion and some analyzation.
The second step is to make Soriano LESS IMPORTANT to the overall offense. In other words, since he likely will slump in the playoffs again, we don't want to just be screwed when that happens. But how can we do that?
This means to me that we have to really really focus on getting a great OBP out of whomever we bat second, and we need to develop more speed so we can score in multiple ways. By adding speed, I do not mean stealing more bases necessarily, but I do mean that we need to develop an ability to hit and run more, and to run the bases better. We don't go from first to third enough on singles, and we don't score enough from second on singles. We are conservative, which is ok.....but we can improve in this area a little by adding a bit more speed and aggressiveness somewhere on our team, particularly on our bench. I think Joey Gathright was a good addition to our bench for that reason.
So, with Soriano leading off, what we really need to maximize our chances offensively is to put a very high quality hitter who can get on base a ton right behind him. Ideally, this guy bats left handed and also can improve our defense at some position too, and it would help us immensely if he could run the bases well and aggressively. On our current roster, this ideal player doesnt exist, unless Fukodome would happen to emerge. There is considerable doubt about whether that will happen, but it isn't out of the question. Evaluating our own players/roster correctly will be the most important task Jim Hendry faces this winter.
So, what I think we need is not necessarily a new leadoff guy....in fact, I believe moving Soriano would be a major mistake. But what we really need to do is to concentrate on adding a player who can bat SECOND (behind Soriano, in front of our sluggers), SEVENTH (we need a high OBP here to bat in front of the pitchers spot in my new batting order idea) and NINTH (we need a guy to get on base alot ahead of Soriano).
So, who is available who may fit those multiple criterias?
Well, there aren't very many (if any at all) perfect fits.....which I think more than the budget and ownership uncertainty is why we haven't done much yet. The perfect move isn't a clear one, especially in the shaky free agent world.
I'll have some suggestions on possible trade targets in my next blog post, but this first maiden voyage on goatriders.org is already too long. Hopefully, some of these rantings have made sense to you, and we can discuss them as smart baseball people and crazy cub fanatics.
As always, the above is just my opinion.
I figure this idea to get mixed results, but the Cubs are trying to move Jason Marquis and aren't likely to get more than a sack of salty peanuts in return - so I have an idea. Why not offer Marquis to the Yankees for Hideki Matsui? But only on the condition that the Yankees send the cubs some cold, hard cash to offset Matsui's higher contract, say somewhere in the neighborhood of $5M. I know he has recently had injury problems with his knee, but when healthy Matsui produces with a .295 career average, 100+ RBI, and he brings a LH bat to the OF with postseason experience (in 41 postseason games he has hit .302, with 6 HR, 26 RBI, and 27 runs scored). If you aren't sold on the cubs having players ready to step into the 5th spot in the rotation then you take the cash from the Yankees, add a little to it, and pick up a starter on a 1 year deal - someone like Andy Pettitte/Randy Johnson/Brad Penny. These 2 moves would benefit both the rotation and the lineup, with a subtraction of only Jason Marquis from the roster & cash. Doing something like this makes more sense to me than signing any free agent outfielder long-term. Also you add another Japanese player, which could greatly benefit Kosuke Fukudome's comfort level on the team along with his production, and the cub's marketing department likely wouldn't argue either.
First I would like to apologize to all on the site for not putting my thoughts into this type of blogging format before. I'm the new guy, my bad. Well here goes. I am not going to comment on Mark DeRosa, as I would rather bang my head off the bricks at Wrigley than talk any more about his situation.
Instead I am going to concentrate on the one team weakness that I feel is consistently being overlooked; which is the Cubs Bullpen. I was one of the many that was upset to see the Cubs let Kerry Wood walk, and then that fire had gasoline poured all over it soon after the news of the trade for Kevin Gregg broke. So here the team sits on Christmas day with question marks up and down the bullpen, and no one in the organization is willing to actually address the issue. The closer from 2008 is now a member of the Cleveland Indians and God bless America Bob Howry is gone too; so that's basically one step forward and two steps back. Hendry then turns and hands the Marlins an early Christmas present in the form of Jose Ceda, who is and has been a highly regarded relief pitching prospect in the organization. When the news of the trade first broke I expected Jeremy Hermida to be coming to town, but instead we picked up Kevin freakin' Gregg. A player that the Marlins didn't even want to keep around because even they realized he is going to be overpayed in comparison to the production he will give a team. The decision to let Woody go was supposedly based on dollars, but then the Cubs turn around and hand over half of the money it would have taken to keep him to acquire a terrible pitcher with virtually no upside; and we gave up a quality prospect in the process. So where do the Cubs go from here? Do you hand the keys to the car to Marmol and let him be the closer? If not, then I would assume Marmol remains the setup man and Smardjz becomes our closer for 2009. And the final scenario, a true sign of the apacalypse, Kevin Gregg is the Cub's closer with Marmol and Smardjz working as setup men.
So that being said, the back end of the bullpen needs some help. Along those same lines those within the organization that could step in and contribute in the bullpen are mostly younger guys; in which the Cubs really don't know what they can expect from them over the course of a full season. Some of those names include: Sean Marshall, Kevin Hart, Angel Guzman, Chad Gaudin, Michael Wuertz, Neal Cotts, Jose Ascanio, and the unknown soldier Rich Hill. Looking at what we've got and what we need the idea of the bullpen having to finish the game from the 6th inning on is a pretty scary prospect. So basically the bullpen goes from being a strength in 2008 to a weakness in 2009 overnight. I am currently holding my breath until the season starts, in hopes that Angel Guzman joins forces with Carlos Marmol and the two of them transform into the 2-headed Megatron that the Cubs need at the back-end of the bullpen.
So I will end this by asking a few questions. First, what does the team do with Marmol? Do you move him or leave him in a role that he has flourished in? Is Smardjz ready to close at the Major League level? Should the Cubs attempt to trade any of their surplus of middle infielders (Ronny Cedeno) or outfielders (Felix Pie) or starters (Jason Marquis) to add some quality relievers to the bullpen? Finally, would it be worth it to extend a 1 year offer to someone like Trevor Hoffman to bridge the gap to Marmol closing in 2010?
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."
From a Ken Davidoff article today:
Got a holiday card from the Padres. It features Adrian Gonzalez, Trevor Hoffman, Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson (what, when you think of Rickey, you don't think 'Padres!'?), the 1984 team and Dave Winfield. I can't help but think that someone is missing...
Hooray, wild speculation!
If it keeps on rainin' the levee's gonna break (Peavy, Derosa, and why I don't like Kevin Towers aka the Vitters issue)
At this hour a great deal of news has been raining down and flooding my brain. Perhaps it is the sheer amount of information saturating my brain, but I feel like I have made a breakthrough on all things Jake Peavy. All of a sudden, the news reports are much more transparent than before.
Today was a bit too much early on: the trade was on, and then off, then on again, and then off again. In the meantime you had Rosenthal blabbering about how no deals can be done until the Cubs find new ownership, despite being told the contrary for the past few weeks. Luckily, Crane Kenney came down with the wrath of God tonight and gave a subtle "f--- off" by saying [and this is paraphrased]:
The Cubs do not need approval from a potential new owner to make the kind of four-year, $63 million commitment Peavy's contract would require, nor do they have to know who the new owner will be before making such a multiyear commitment.
It seems that at this hour, the Peavy deal is down to a three team deal between the Cubs, Padres, and Phightin' Phillies of Illidelph. The framework is set, yet it seems there have been some developments since we last spoke. Marshall is no longer on the table for the deal. Moreover, according to Paul Sullivan, he has been replaced by Jason Marquis going the Padres way. The caveat to the whole thing is the Cubs must eat more than half of the Marquis de Suck's contract. I'm ok with this.
There are also conflicting reports about the inclusion of Mark Derosa. It is clear that the Phils have a very large interest in Mark, as they should. The versitility of Mark Derosa pays dividends in a situation such as this. The Phillies are desparate to fill the whole left by Chase Utley for half of a season. They have two real options:
(1) Sign Raul Ibanez to a 4-year contract at about 10-12 MM a year and suffer through him being in his 40's by the end of the contract. Move up Donald to play second base in the mean time.
(2) Trade for Derosa. Have him fill in until Utley comes back and then move him to LF or 3b (while moving Feliz to LF). Moreover, Derosa is only signed for a year, will be a Type A free agent, and is not likely to accept arbitration... meaning 2 draft picks.
Sullivan thinks that the Phils will send the Padres two pitching prospects as part of the deal (via the Cubs). My best guess would have two of the following be those pitching prospects: JA Happ (obviously), Kyle Kendrick, Kyle Drabek. I personally don't think Carrasco being one of those names. Derosa is worth a lot in this trade, but not worth the Phillies #1 prospect. I think the package is most likely centered around Drabek if anything. Kendrick hasn't shown a whole lot just yet, and Happ is projected to be one of those Mark Redman types: decent K:BB ratio, but if his control is of he's gonna get lit like an alcoholic at an open bar.
Although the transition is not great, this gets me to the topic of Kevin Towers. From the outset, KT stated that he wanted to get something along the lines of a 5-to-1 trade in return for Jake Peavy. Given his current bargaining power, I thought it was a bit ambitious, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt here... for a moment. Of this five player package, Towers stressed that pitching was important. There was nothing wrong with this desire until today.
It seems now that Towers wants to have his cake and eat it too, despite his lack of barganing power to really be able to call the shots. The only power he has been able to rely on is the power of being "transparent" to the media about what is going on in an effort to make the Cubs make a dumb move.* The most recent move involves what he told one of his reporters earlier today:
The Padres continue to like their chances of getting Cubs prospect Josh Vitters and Cubs reliever Kevin Hart, a power right-hander whose upside is that of an eighth-inning reliever. Vitters, 19, is a Single-A third baseman described by Baseball America as a potential All-Star.
Now, let me take a step back. Towers wanted five players. From what I have been able to gather, so far the package coming to SD (assuming Sullivan is right) involves 2 pitching prospects coming from the Phillies, a starting pitcher coming from the Cubs in Marquis. Those are three players, all of them pitchers. Now add to the equation that Towers desparately wants Kevin Hart and that gets you to four players, all of them pitchers. That leaves one spot open: well, that is perfect, you say, he can get Vitters as the last piece of the puzzle and the trade should happen, right? No.
Take a step back again... a little bit more towards the present where the Braves were still in contention for Peavy. It was understood that at the time the Cubs did not have the pitching Towers required to make the deal on their own. Thus, Josh Vitters came into the discussion. Vitters was to do one of two things for the Cubs: (1) He was supposed to be traded to another team for the pieces the Cubs could ship to SD; or (2) he was to be shipped to SD in lieu of pitching/pitching prospects to be either developed or spun off for pitching.
Yet, as of today, it looks like Towers is going to get his pitching pieces. Four of them. Yet he still thinks he is going to get Vitters. That sentiment defies all logic, and I think it is at best hollow posturing. From the beginning he said he wanted quality, not quantity. I think he gets the quality from those proposed (and I understand Marquis is in that statement, but a cheap, way under market value Marquis is a good price for league average).
I am undecided on who the final piece would be to set it to five players going in return to the Padres. Before the mention of JA Happ, I would have volunteered Mitch Atkins, but the two are far too similar pitchers, albiet from different sides. The Padres have been showing a great deal of interest in Phillies catching prospect Jarmarillo. I think what really would seal the deal is the inclusion of Wellington Castillo. He is fairly advanced with his bat right now, is compared to Soto (although a bit behind in defense) and has september callup written all over him. Will likely turn out to be a Bengie Molina/Dionnar Navarro type.
In an ideal world we could use Pie or Cedeno instead of Castillo. I would prefer Cedeno, but I understand the allure of Pie. However, their bigger whole is at shortstop.
In the end, we cannot expect anything to happen until late on Thursday anyways. The Padres do not want to make this trade until after the Rule 5 draft for legitimate reasons. The Padres 40-man currently stands at 37. During the Rule 5 draft, they are able to select as many as 3 players. If the Padres were to perform a 5-1 trade it would put their 40-man at 41, causing them to leave players that were once protected well, unprotected. Soon after the Rule 5 concludes, I expect a great deal movement on this trade front.
However, there is no need to include Vitters if Derosa is involved. Period.
* I kinda want to compare him to a car salesman that wants you to pay sticker price, even though the new model will be out in a day or two: he knows hes screwed, but wants to screw you first.