Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cubs Mid-Term Report Card Time!

The teacher is only giving out one 'A' this year, I bet you can guess who it is, especially if you look at the tag.

The All-Star break is regarded as the halfway point of the season, but truth be told, the Cubs should play their 81st game this Sunday, besides, the calendar now says July, and truth be told, I have the time today to devote to a report card.  I don't grade on a curve, and it should be no surprise that this teacher is very disappointed in the class standing as a whole.

#1 - Kosuke Fukudome: D
Plusses: fundamentally solid outfielder, high OBP

Minuses: has not, and apparently will not adjust to MLB pitching.  Has admitted he ignored Sweet Lou's instructions this off-season, and did his own thing, because after all, he himself has a whole year of big league experience, and Lou only has 40 or so.  I do not begrudge him an adjustment period, but that should have ended last September or so.  A free agent bust.

Kurt's take
Fangraphs has Fukudome as being the 10th best center fielder in baseball this year.  Which isn't exactly what you want from a guy who's earning, what, 10 or 12 million?  I think that if Fukudome was playing in RF, his defensive prowess might actually make up for his offensive lackings.  But until that time, Rob's right.  He's toast.  Since "10th" is average, but since he's been disappointing since May and is earning "above average" pay, I'm going to say ... C-.

#2 - Ryan Theriot: C
Plusses: sure hands, a sweet little opposite-field hitter when he's not too busy trying to be Babe Ruth.

Minuses: got all full of himself after his little homer binge, forgot what brought him to the big leagues for over a month.  Has no range at shortstop.  My biggest gripe about The Riot - has taken over the Dumbest Baserunner mantle from Ronny Cedeno.

Kurt's Take

Range is an antiquated stat; they have come up with better ways to tell us that Theriot sucks at shortstop.  Except he's actually not bad there.  Despite his weak arm -- probably a fairer criticism than his so-called "lack of range" -- there have only been three shortstops who've done better defensively this year according to Fangraphs.  Then again, offensively Theriot's a Big Zero, despite his homer prowess.  What we've said about him before remains true now ... bat him leadoff or bat him 8th, and with his recent lack of discipline 8th is about where he belongs (assuming no Cub is slumping so bad to warrant it themselves).  B-.

#4 - Ryan Freel: F
Plusses: the highlight of his year was his "manly" brushoff of his John Danks beanball.

Minuses: that brushoff was utterly doucheworthy.  Should be home selling tires.

Kurt's take

Word.  Glad he's gone.

#5 - Jake Fox: B-
Plusses: after hitting like 200 home runs in fifteen games in Iowa, deserved a callup.

Minuses: is showing himself to be the Quadruple-A player he is.  Some days he mashes - other days, he hits five harmless pop flies, which is unacceptable when you have ZERO defensive skill.  Needs to be traded IMMEDIATELY to an AL team with offensive needs.

Kurt's take
Way too early to tell.  No offense, Rob, but name me a rook who doesn't have days in which he hits five harmless pop flies.  Also, so far he's perhaps a Cey or a Moreland on the field, but I haven't seen any gut-wrenchingly bad blunders.  Inc.

#6 - Micah Hoffpauir: C
Plusses: fields slightly better than Fox, and his Micah-on-Micah homer was interesting.

Minuses: needs to be hitting closer to .300.  Of course, unless he gets 600 PAs, we'll never know, but when management has invested $40 million annually into three corner outfielders...

Kurt's take

I'm not sure what you're looking for in a bench hitter, but Hoffpauir should be it.  His .242 AVG looks crappy (ignoring the 17 homeruns he's on pace to hit) but he's a damn sight better in that role than Ward was last year.  Speaking of which ... let's keep him there in that role.  C+.

#7 - Aaron Miles: F
Plusses: has been considerate enough to allow the Cubs to hide him on the DL

Minuses: an utter failure in all respects of baseball playing this year.  A total washout.  And see, I got through this without mentioning the "DeRo" word at all...

Kurt's take

Can't really argue this one at all.

#9 - Reed Johnson: B-
Plusses: he's White Slice!  And, he plays well, when healthy

Minuses: he isn't healthy. 

Kurt's take
Not healthy in the slightest, but he's due back shortly (putting the Cubs in a roster dilemma) and it's hard to fault a guy for playing so hard his back gives out.  B.

#12 - Alfonso Soriano: F
Plusses: hit a lot of early home runs.  Plus, he intends to "take his kid to the zoo" during the All-Star break.  Awww!

Minuses: for $136 million, need more than a .230 batting average and an "open relationship" with outfield defense.  When one night of Sam Fuld in left feels as refreshing like a cool summer breeze, you as the incumbent are doing something wrong.

Kurt's take
Here's the thing.  We were all expecting Soriano to be a long-term bust.  Nobody thought he would be earning his wage in Year Eight of his ridiculous contract, but if he helped the Cubs win the World Series in Year Four, who'd care?  I don't think anybody expected Year Three to be the drop-off year -- he's got time (if not this season) to bounce back, but it's a long, painful downhill slide once those wrists slow down. D-, because he has been good at points.

#13 - Andres Blanco: B
Plusses: master tanner.  Knows his leather.  If I were Sweet Lou, would consider flip-flopping him and The Riot defensively.

Minuses: Andy White and MLB pitching have never been friends.  If we had a normal offense, we could swallow his .240 average in the 8 hole to accomodate his excellent defense.  But, we don't have one of those - an offense, I mean.

Kurt's take
On a team where offensive support is not a given, the Cubs cannot afford to indulge Rob's hetro-love for Andres Blanco.  But considering that Blanco is perhaps the only Cub in the entire organization who can legitimately play second and short, I'd keep him around.  D+.

#16 - Aramis Ramirez: Inc
Plusses: he IS Clutchy McClutcherson.  Plus, he is devoted to his cocks in the offseason.

Minuses: when wearing the uniform, the shirt should drape down uniformly down both sides of the upper body.  Unsightly bulges in the shoulder region are ugly and scare young children and impressionable sportswriters.  Will give the team a short-term boost upon his return, but I myself am trying hard to temper my anticipation. 

Kurt's take

I'm not sold that his return will magically lift the team -- especially if he can't even lift his arm above his head -- but there's no doubt that he makes the Cubs better with his presence.

#17 - Mike Fontenot: D+
Plusses: has been asked to step out of his comfort zone in playing third base.

Minuses: his overall production in 2009 strongly suggests that Font's purpose in life is to be a backup infielder and pinch hitter against righties.

Kurt's take
Epic disagreement.  Fontenot in his comfort zone + right handed hitters = better than anybody else who should be playing second base for the Cubs.  His problem has been the fact that he's 7 for 39 against lefties -- a total turd burger.    Still, D+ about sums it up.

#18 - Geovany Soto: D-
Plusses: appears to be slowly losing weight, and just as slowly finding his way at the plate.

Minuses: adheres to the same off-season fitness regimen as I do: get stoned; eat my weight in deep-fried complex carbs, sleep, repeat.  Seriously, it appears that Geo did not did tend to his craft seriously this off-season, and it is our hope that he has learned a valuable lesson, and does not repeat the same mistake next year.

Kurt's take

I'd give Soto a D for disappointment, but apart from his slow start he's been pretty much all you could ask for in a catcher.  The ridiculous thing is that, among catchers with enough at bats to qualify, he's been the third best in the NL this year.  Yep, catchers suck that badly.  C.

#21 - Milton Bradley: F
Plusses: hasn't murdered anyone, as far as we know, so far in 2009.

Minuses: legally speaking, if someone died from hypertension or stroke while watching this buttstain flip a ball into the crowd with only two outs, it isn't Murder, per se.  I don't really have anything else I can say about him that doesn't contain obscenity.

Kurt's take
He really brings it upon himself.  Seriously, if you have issues with how fans treat you DON'T SIGN WITH THE CUBS!  It's not that Cub fans are bad, per se, but they are passionate.  And if you suck, you will learn about it... passionately.  F+, because he's been hitting the ball since his slow start.

#25 - Derrek Lee: B+
Plusses: reports of his demise have been exaggerated.  Yep, I include myself.  Has had a sensational June.

Minuses: his best days are behind him.  He is the team leader; when anyone else is interviewed about the team, it's always "DLee says this" and "DLee does that".  Thus, I hold him somewhat responsible for some of the dysfunction this year.  Perhaps I am asking too much, to expect a good man to perform a miracle, to lead these morons to a better, more productive place.  Hey, I gave him a B+, I don't REALLY expect miracles.

Kurt's take
I love Derrek Lee for one simple reason: fans turned into total douchebags about him last year.  We haven't forgotten, and it's nice for Broad Proclaimers to be occassionally put in their place.  Since Mr. Lee is not responsible for the clubhouse atmosphere -- I rest that one on the shoulders of Lou -- and since he's having a surprising season considering, I give him an A.

#29 - Jeff Samardzija: F
Plusses: worked on his breaking pitches in Iowa?

Minuses: what? A 6.23 ERA isn't bad, is it?

Kurt's take

Pheh.  I'd probably have given him an incomplete if only because he didn't stick around long enough to earn that F.  Inc.

#30 - Ted Lilly: B-
Plusses: has proven his worth; will run through brick walls and Molinas for us.  Easily the best free-agent signing of Hendry's tenure with us.

Minuses: gives up way too many 4-ply jacks. 

Kurt's take

So did Fergie.  I'd probably give Lilly a B+ -- he's been everything we could ask from him.  On last year's Cubs, this year's Lilly comes damned close to winning 20.  Then again, so did last year's Lilly.

#36 - Randy Wells: A
Plusses: 3-3, 2.57, 1.10 WHIP?  Congratulations, Kroeger.  You're at the top of your pledge class.  Ought to be 6-2, and going to the All-Star game.  The single best May call-up since Kerry Wood.

Minuses: somehow, needs to go more than 7 innings.  A nitpick, certainly, to ask of your fifth starter, but is really the fifth starter anymore?

Kurt's take
I'm waiting for Wells to come back to earth, mostly because I don't believe in the team's ability to grow talent.  Still, he's been great, if not lacking in the spectacular department.  I'm with Rob on this A.

#37 - Angel Guzman: B
Plusses: finally showed why Hendry's kept his tired old bones around so long.  Showed us all a glimpse of getting into the late-inning rotation with Marmol.

Minuses: then he got injured, because just like Tigger, that's what Guzmans do best. 

Kurt's take

The good news is, this may be the first Guzman injury ever in which the result wasn't a season-ender.  He'll be back Tuesday.  B is right due to the injury length.

#38 - Carlos Zambrano: D+
Plusses: Barnum&Bailey can kiss my ass; Big Z is the Greatest Show on Earth!

Minuses: If we had Jake Peavy; if Dempster and Lilly were pitching as well as last year, the Big Z show would be Must-See TV.  But since he himself is the Staff Ace, his spoiled brat tantrums send the wrong message to his teammates, fans and enemies alike.  Guys come into Wrigley licking their chops, wanting to POUND his ass.  Not getting our money's worth when he is 4-3 on July 2nd.

Kurt's take
I wrote a pretty lengthy article on this topic recently.  Blaming Z for being 4-3 is like crediting Kevin Tapani for his 19-win 1998 season.  Some things are just beyond the pitcher's control.  I'd like to see a calmer Carlos, but let's face it -- he destroys dugouts because he cares.  If more players on the Cubs cared about winning that much then Carlos wouldn't have to get so frustrated.  C+

#40 - Rich Harden: C
Plusses: when the Dick Harden is good, he is very good...

Minuses: and when he is hurt, which is often, he's not helping us any.  I know Hendry is trying to trade him for a bat.  Obviously there aren't any takers.

Kurt's take
Harden is 1985 Rick Sutcliffe.  Last year he was the '84 version.  But chin up, everybody -- 1987 is just around the corner!  ...in a couple of years.  D.

#45 - Sean Marshall: B
Plusses: the Teacher's Pet always gets more than he deserves.  His selflessness, to do whatever he is asked without complaint, always sways me.

Minuses: fact is, he ain't all that great, albeit all while being jacked around, from starter to long relief to LOOGY.

Kurt's take

He probably doesn't have the stuff or the pitches to start.  So make him a middle reliever and leave him be... anything else risks ligament damage.  C+.

#46 - Ryan Dempster: B-
Plusses: man is going through a lot in his life, so I give him something of a pass.

Minuses: fact is, last year he seemed to concentrate on every single pitch he threw, and that is the only way he was as effective as he was.  Part of that was the intense conditioning he underwent before the 2008 season, and you wonder what effect his big new paper had?  Also, if we didn't find out about his family problems, would we be so quick to discount what is a below average first half?  What if other players <cough marmol cough> were to publicize their personal problems that were serving to take away from their concentration levels?

Kurt's take
I've said previously that Dempster is the unluckiest pitcher on the team.  If you look at his numbers and how he projects, they just don't line up.  I did a little calculation a while back comparing his projections with last year's stats - and I should write a follow-up article on the subject - which showed that, at the time I did it, his ERA would've been in the mid 3's based on last year's luck.  He's not earning the contract, per se, but I'd say he's a solid B. 

#47 - Aaron Heilman: C+
Plusses: he ain't as bad as we were led to believe, which proves once again that New Yorkers over-exaggerate everything.

Minuses: even in NY, when there is smoke, there's fire, and sometimes after Heilman's been in a game, smoke remains, and other times, a full-out fire.  At least he hasn't bitched to the press yet, mainly because they're too busy with Bradley, and whether or not Sweet Lou knows the difference between a syringe and a spliff.

Kurt's take
He's been just good enough to annoy us with his sucking.  I often wonder what would've happened if he'd won the starter's role back in Spring.  While competing for that job he was practically untouchable, and I can't help but wonder if he's another Ryan Dempster waiting to happen ... average-at-best in the bullpen, 17-game winner in the rotation.  C.

#48 - Neal Cotts: F
Plusses: he's currently in Iowa getting his arm rebuilt.

Minuses: he started the season in Chicago.  I can't imagine what Luis Vizcaino must have done to earn his immediate Heave-Ho while THIS beerfart was allowed to linger as long as he did.  Must be the fact he wears his glove on his right hand.  I think he's really right-handed, and only throws with the left in a desperate attempt to remain in the league.  Utterly sucktastic.

Kurt's take
Agreed.  Is there such a grade as the F-?

#49 - Carlos Marmol: B-
Plusses: we don't have Dan Plesac around anymore to wear his dippy conductor's hat, blathering on about how filthy Marmol is.  I mean, if the man doesn't bathe, that's his own business, I believe.

Minuses: Kurt may argue that the man is showing the wear-and-tear in the third year of Piniellan Bullpen Abuse Syndrome (PBAS), but it appears to me that, like Dempster, if Carlos doesn't have 100% on every single solitary pitch he makes, they end up doing sub-optimal things, like hitting fools and bouncing into the outfield gaps.  Seriously, he has done the job for the most part in 2009, but we may be spoiled by his prior two years.  Plus when I add two-and-two, I think he's hiding some mid-to-major personal problems that may be contributing to his performance.

Kurt says
But I am arguing that the reason he doesn't have 100% is because Piniella's use of him leaves him tired.  I'd say that this is definitely a case of grading on a curve.  Marmol of '07 and '08 was probably an A+ and an A respectively.  For that reason alone, Marmol '09 is a B- at best.  Rob is right.

#54 - David Patton: D
Plusses: he's 3 and 1.  Yay?

Minuses: carrying his ass around all year is like having a 24-man roster, and if we were a 97-win team, we could afford such luxuries as a pinch runner (Oh, Joey Gathright.  We hardly knew ye) or a Rule V pitcher.  Sweet Lou don't trust him, and only uses him as a last resort, or when he wants to issue a subtle "screw you" to his team or his GM.

Kurt says
Ignoring the beating he took in a mop-up game that didn't matter and we see that Patton has been reliable when used correctly.  I'm not sold that he'll finish the year with stats worth discussing, but I'd give him a D+ if only for his surprising reliability since his brutal start to the season.

#55 - Three Finger Hill: C
Plusses: did not play too badly in April and May; cool hand, too!

Minuses: when all was said and done, he's Koyie Hill, the real-life Crash Davis.  He kind of sucks.  Always has, always will.  God, I miss Hank White.

Kurt says
The C is too much for a guy who hasn't done anything for months.  When I saw Hill's line the other day, I was shocked to note a .225 AVG.  I had no idea it had gotten that badly.  Then again, catcher is not an offensive position and he's a backup.  Still, D+.

#58 - Jose Ascanio: D
Plusses: I got to call him the "Ass Can".  Summerguy loves him.  Started off OK.

Minuses: gives up a lot of hits, walks, and hits batters.  Otherwise, he's a good pitcher.  He's still 24 - there may be hope for him.

Kurt says
High WHIP, so yes, he walks too many and surrenders more hits than he should.  Also high strikeout rate and decent ERA.  He's like Marmol but without turning us into a ball of nerves, since Lou doesn't use him in close and late situations.  C+.

#63 - Kevin Gregg: C-
Plusses: has a passing resemblance to Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn.  Has only blown three saves.

Minuses: He's only blown three saves because he's only had 17 chances.  That's an 82% conversion rate, which in my book is minimally acceptable.  C-minus. 

Kurt says
82% = doing his job.  He's not an elite closer.  Nobody ever said he was.  Frankly, I don't know if the Cubs have had an elite closer since Lee Smith (no offense, Rod Beck).  But Gregg started out about as ugly as possible and he's been extremely reliable since the start of May.  I say he deserves a solid B.

#41 - Lou Piniella: D+
Plusses: told Milton Bradley he was a "piece of shit".  Like Bradley, has not murdered a beat-writer so far this year.  Has been handcuffed with a miserable roster (see below).

Minuses: at times, we've all (bloggers and mainstream media alike) wondered if the man is suffering early-onset senility.  Actually, it looks more like the throes of constipation to me.  He was promised complete and total roster support upon joining us in 2007, and he is not getting it.  From all indications, he is fighting an internal battle within himself; between Being a Professional and finishing the job he started; and Giving Up, because that's what his superiors appear to have done.

Regardless, if you are of the mindset that a team takes its cues from the field manager, then based on the dysfunctional hot mess the Cubs have been so far in 2009, then Sweet Lou is to blame.  37-38 with the third highest payroll in the majors is simply unacceptable.

Kurt's take
I apparently stand tallest and nearly-alone in my displeasure with Piniella this year.  (Rob's displeased too, but I haven't seen him call out for a Lou Axing.)  I'm mad at Lou for building a ridiculous roster -- yes, argue that he could work only with the tools he was given, but there were a handful of choices he could have made that might have helped a little.  I'm mad at Lou for failing to control his players' tempers.  If that's not the managers job, then what is?  I'm mad at Lou for leaving Alfonso in the leadoff spot for about two months too long.  I'm mad at Lou.  F.

#250 - Jim Hendry: F
Plusses: it appears that he has lost some weight.

Minuses: he signed Soriano, Fukudome, Bradley, Dempster, Zambrano and don't forget Jason Marquis, who might make the All-Star game for the Rockies.  (The second half is here, though, so stay tuned).  He has failed to secure a legitimate leadoff hitter.  He has stocked this team full of DHs and reserve infielders.  Any trades he has ever made have been pennies-on-the-dollar salary dumps of our worst malcontents (Sosa, Turd Hundley) or fire-sale pickups from the Pirates.

My biggest problem with Hendry is that in the past year, the Pirates have given away: Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth, and Nyjer Morgan, and none of them currently play for us!!  The hell, Jim?  Did you switch cell phones and didn't let the Pirates know?

Yes, players should play, and honor their contracts, especially generous ones, with solid performance.  Blame can be assigned to all the above players making 8-figure salaries.  Fact is, though, there are many other guys out there making 8-figure salaries who are hitting above .230 or winning more games than they lose.  Why do we end up with the Bradleys instead of the Abreus and the Ibanezes?  Why do we end up with the Fukudomes instead of the Torii Hunters?  Why do we end up with the Sorianos, instead of the Carlos Lees?  Why do other teams' incumbent pitchers, like the Oswalts and Halladays, pitch their asses off, and ours just makes an ass of himself?

The biggest job of a GM is to be a judge of talent and character, especially on huge free-agent signings that handcuff a team's financial flexibility, and in that, Hendry has failed. F-minus-minus-minus.

Kurt says
I used to think that Cub fans were a clever bunch who were at least heads above most other fans, if not head-and-shoulders.  I thought we all knew that Hendry was mediocre at developing talent and saved his ass through a free agent fiesta that is now entering its hangover period.  I thought we all agreed that if winning is the objective than loyalty is a perk, not an expectation. 

And yet, when I said "blame Jim Hendry" last week even members of the GROTA crew responded with "don't you remember how he won us 2007 and 2008 with his roster moves?"  As if he didn't cost us 2005 and 2006 with his refusal to fire Baker, among other things.

I used to think we were better than that as fans.  Obviously that makes me an idiot.  Still, short of a miracle second-half, Hendry belongs on the Needs to be Fired list.  I won't say "fire Lou" again, but I'm all Hendry'd out. 

Freel traded to Kansas City for a PTBNL

I hope it's Zach Grienke.




You'll see... YOU WILL ALL SEE! Ascanio is going to make himself known as the 2nd coming to Marmol. He'll be back with vengeance.

In Hendry's defense on trades...

Last year he turned Gallagher and Murton into Rich Harden, he turned Alex Gonzalez into Nomahhhh (not his fault that he didn't work out), got us DLee for Hee Sop Choi, signed Ted Lilly and managed to get somebody to actually give something up for Corey Patterson. (I don't remember who it was, but it was better than the giant bag of peanuts we should have gotten) I give Kurt his talent development claim and you both have a point with his constant free agent bonanzas, but I really do think he's better than you guys give him credit for. I'm of the opinion that he can't totally be held accountable for some unexpected poor performances this year, and I believe he's given us a more talented team to watch than anybody who was around in my lifetime.

No Defense for Hendry

The organization under Hendry's watch failed to develop Patterson and Pie. Last year Pie had value, but Hendry waited till this year when he had no value to trade him.

D Lee was a salary dump, did not take a great deal maker to pull that one off.

Signed Marquis to an over priced contract at the same time he signed Lilly. So he only was 50% successful in signing free agent pitchers. Then to add insult to injury he trades Marquis for Vizcaino who gets cut in the first month of the season.

Gives Gaudin a raise and then releases him.

Our position call ups from the minors are a 31 year old career minor leaguer, a DH and a 28 year old who has had only a cup of coffee in the majors. The best pitcher we have in the minors is a 26 year old converted catcher. Where is the good young talent?

Have I given you enough reasons that Hendry has to go?

And back in the 1980s Dallas

And back in the 1980s Dallas Green drafted some tremendous talent, traded for a Cy Young pitcher, and signed the best clean right fielder of our lifetimes. Perhaps HE should be the Cubs GM!

(The point being that whatever Hendry did back in 2004/2005 means absolutely nothing because those moves are not really impacting 2009. As a GM, nobody can make one brilliant move -- or even several -- and rest on his laurels for the remainder of his employment. Hendry's flaws have always been known to us, the problem that - this year in particular - those flaws are costing the Cubs)

Anyway, the ultimate objective of baseball is to win. How many years should Hendry get before his failure to build a World Champion becomes a problem? And it's not like he didn't inherit an already talented team poised for victory ... Hendry has had two lives, two chances with the Cubs. I really think that '09 should be his last dance ... unless the Cubs shock us all and win.

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