Goatriders of the Apocalypse

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Goat Riders of the Apoclypse is soon to be no more

Nope, I'm not joking.

If you've been wondering about the "big news" we've been teasing, wonder no longer.  Effective tomorrow morning, Goat Riders of the Apocalypse will become a dead blog.  This is no joke, nor is it a hoax. 

Um, there's more news to come, and we promise that it's good news. 

Tune in bright and early tomorrow morning to find out what happens next ... but, in all likelihood, tomorrow morning's post will be the final one for this blog. 

Ohh boy, is THIS great?

why...Flounder? Brappp! Why not?

Can I buy ten thousand marbles, pleeeze?

It's coming....

What's this crap about signing washed-up dudes to minor league contracts?

As January comes to a close, let's review what Jim Hendry did to change the pace a little bit this past month, during what Yarbage both recently and appropriately referred to "the slowest few weeks for a baseball fan." We now know that Todd Wellemeyer, Braden Looper, Reed Johnson and Augie Ojeda will be warming up in Mesa in a couple of months, as each signed a minor deal with the team over the past few weeks.

Now, the question is: will any of the four contribute to the major league club in 2011? Is it even possible?

Of course there's a chance that one of these guys rediscovers some of their old magic this year. And over the next few days, I'll make my pick for the most likely to do so. To inform that decision, I'll start by looking at a pair of current players that are now slated to start in the 2011 Cub line-up, but were in the same predicament as those other four players just a few years ago.

The first guy to look at is the most recent addition to the Cubs' starting line-up: Carlos Pena. 

Pena was drafted 10th overall in 1998 by the Texas Rangers. Fun fact: in 2002, he was sent to Detroit as part of a deal that netted the Oakland Athletics the world's meanest bulldog of a lefty, Ted Lilly. (He WILL knock your catcher OUT on his way home from third!) The Tigers kept Pena through his cost-controlled years, but released him in March 2006 after a poor showing in Spring Training despite the fact that he averaged 22 home runs between 2002 and 2005.

(Wait. What? Wow. I guess his batting average was never any good, but still!)

After being cut in '06, Pena would sign minor league deals with the Yankees and Red Sox, but couldn't manage to find a spot on the roster for either team. Then in 2007, Pena would sign yet another minor league deal, this time with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. That year, he went on to hit 46 home runs with a .282 average, a .411 on-base percentage, and even a stolen base.

A real "home run" of a signing, you might say. (Thank you, thank you, I came up with that one myself!)

So how does Pena inform the conversation about potentially impactful minor league free agents? He's a former first round pick; might be considered a sort of one-dimensional player; and had a huge breakout at age 29.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the other former minor league free agent in the Cubs' starting line-up.

My Least Favorite Cub - Numero Uno - Danny effing Jackson

In the winter of 1990-91, we had Greg Maddux entering the prime of his career, but that was not going to be enough.  We had a rapidly fading Rick Sutcliffe, the here today-gone tomorrow Mike Bilecki, and the wasted talent of Mike Harkey.  Offense was not a problem on the 1990 Cubs - Ryne Sandberg had just led the league with 40 homers, Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston were establishing themselves as serious major league hitters, and remember we were only one year removed from the NL East title.

Therefore, it did not seem to be a bad move to bring in Danny Jackson as a highly prized and paid free agent.

A key member of the World Series winning Royals in 1985, a two time all star, who led the League in wins in 1988 with 23 and fresh off of winning a World Series with Lou Piniella's Cincinnati Reds, Jackson would go on to another World Series with Philadelphia in 1993.

But, whoa?  What happened with us?  Wasn't I just talking about 1990 and 1991 a second ago?

I was, and during that off-season, Jackson was signed to a 4-year, 11 million dollar contract to help solidify the Cubs' rotation.  And all he managed to do in Cub pinstripes was win five (5) lousy games, lose 14, compile a 5.19 ERA, and contribute a miserable -2.1 wins below replacement value.

As a Royal, Jackson had a 3.3 ERA.  As a Red, a 3.5 ERA.  As a Cub?  Yep, ka-boom!  His first year as a Cub, he won exactly ONE game, while only making 14 starts due to what they like to call "malingering" injuries.  His second and last year, he went 4-9 before he was traded to the Pirates, whereupon he helped them win their last title with a 3.36 ERA.  The next year, in the first of several thousand Pirate Purges, he was traded again to Philly, where he put up a 3.5 ERA while winning twice as many games as he lost.

So, if you've followed the story, Danny effing Jackson pitched great everywhere else...but here with us.  But lord knows there's been several such stories the past 40 years or so.  Nomar Garciaparra comes to mind, somewhat, although he was starting on the downward side of his career.  Bobby Murcer might be a bit far back for many of you.  Think Jason Marquis, I guess, only even way, way more whiny,

Because the worst thing about D. F. Jackson was that none of the losses were ever, EVER his fault.  The other team hit his best pitches, he didn't get enough support, the umpires were squeezing the plate, he was yanked too quickly, or left out too long....I just remember him not only as a prime example of bad money thrown after bad, and a crushing example of disappointment, but he was the poster boy for those people who are never, ever responsible for their own problems. 

Everyone in Chicago is a "body-language" expert these days in regards to Bears' QB Jay Cutler - these meatballs would be having a field day with Danny effing Jackson.  For a guy who had no trouble taking, at the time, a huge payday, he never acted like he was part of the team, never seemed like he wanted to be a Cub, and if the great numbers surrounding his stint with us wasn't enough evidence for you, his comportment would be.

Think Roger Dorn off of "Major League".  Even more accurately, for those of you who might remember "Little Big League" about the little kid who managed the Twins, think of their high-priced pitcher, McGreevy, before they called his bluff.  Arrogant, haughty, above it all.

That was Danny F--king Jackson, my least favorite Cub.  I'd have a lot more to say about how I feel like he stole my wife and kicked my dog, and how about I would not be heartbroke if it ever came out that he got washed away in a flash flood, but I am thinking about the future of this blog, short-and-long term.  If I ever saw him out in public, I'd cold-cock him and take my chances with our court system, I hated the son of a bitch so badly.  I'd rather carry around Sammy Sosa's first aid kit all summer down in the Dominican slums wearing a big heavy gaudy "30/30" pendant from his cheesy-assed Sosa Jewelry Store from his cheesy ghetto 30/30 mall than be forced to say that Jackson deserved to be a Cub.

I hope Jackson spends eternity as a mop boy in Hell's 25-cent peep-show cinema.

Preferred candidate will have played with the Chicago Cubs

On Dec. 21, the Tribune Company posted a public job listing to its corporate website and Career Builder (which has since been taking down) for the vacant broadcasting position left in the wake of Ron Santo's death. The ad was simple and to the point.

"Preferred candidate will have played with the Chicago Cubs -- or played major league baseball with previous broadcast experience as a game analyst."

I can't imagine there's a market of unemployed former Cubs players and color analysts large enough to necessitate a public listing, but whatever works, I suppose. That being said, January is coming to a close and WGN has yet to name a replacement. Is it fair to ask what is taking so long in replacing Ronnie?

The latest rumors have Keith Moreland and Dave Otto as the finalists for the gig, but shouldn't we be beyond rumors at this point? As far back as I can remember, Ronnie had one foot in the grave and one foot on a banana peel. His dexterity issues became abundantly clear last season as he was frequently prevented from traveling with the team due to his health issues. Am I supposed to believe there was no line of succession in place? Puh-lease.

The way I see it, there exists four possible reasons for this ass-draggin' (not to be confused with the strip club down the street from Rob's house, the Ass Dragon)...

1. Those responsible for hiring Santo's replacement are taking their time in order to honor the departure of a Cubs legend, but methinks the job listing on Career Builder probably ruined that.

2. As rumored a few weeks ago, Kerry Wood does indeed have a post-retirement job as the Cubs radio color analyst secured. If this were to be true, the current opening would be nothing more than a temp job and very unattractive to potential candidates. Every day the position remains open gives this rumor more viability.

3. Tribune Company, WGN and the Cubs are incompetent organizations unable to reach a mutual agreement on a replacement. Occam's razor anyone?

4. Maybe, just maybe, the Cubs aren't the draw they used to be. In concert with AJ's three-day haircut theory, perhaps all those alum the Cubs hoped would offer their services to replace Santo never turned up because they took a look at where this organization might be going in the next few years and they didn't want to be a part of it.

I know the Cubs would prefer to fill Ronnie's position with one of their former players, but at this point I'm willing to settle for the guy who doesn't make it seem like he was the last man standing for a job nobody wanted.

Three days after the Cubs' haircut.

My grandfather raised seven children. Doing so helped him generate a vibrant cadre of sayings for all types of situations. When the pot roast was gone: "Eat gravy bread." Dipping a roll in leftover gravy was supposed to keep hungry mouths from yapping.

There was even a standard procedure for the not-so-rare occasion when a child would come home from a trip to the barber with a haircut he didn't like: "Wait three days, and it'll look great."

The Cub farm system took a pretty substantial haircut several days ago when Jim Hendry pulled the trigger on the Matt Garza trade. When the deal was announced, I immediately went into apologist mode; I'm an optimist, so I wanted to make the deal seem good, even if it wasn't.

Now, I've waited my three days since my team's farm system was trimmed, but unfortunately my grandfather's advice has failed me. The Garza haircut does not look great.

My first reaction to the deal was to call it a successful conversion of unknown quantities into certain production: Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee appear to have tremendous upside, but both are a long ways from the majors. And look what happened to Josh Vitters! (And Felix Pie, and Corey Patterson, and Brian Dopirak, and so on and so forth.)

But the longer I think about it, the more I'm convinced that adding Matt Garza in 2011 is going to be nearly identical to an addition the Cubs made in 2007. It's something I touched on on Jan. 7, and something that Cubs Billy Goat Blog seemed to agree with on Tuesday.

Isn't 2011 Matt Garza basically the same guy Ted Lilly was in 2007? Actually I'm sure I could write an entire saber-style post about the accuracy of that statement, but bare with me here: both guys are pretty-good-but-not-great, both are young-but-not-that-young at the time of acquisition, and both were sorta-kinda-but-not-really-cheap.

So what's wrong with getting back 2007 Ted Lilly? Undeniably, he was a valuable pitcher. But more importantly, he fit in: the Cubs were truly a championship-caliber team, with aging-but-not-old veterans throughout the line-up.

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Now, the proverbial window appears to have closed completely on this team. Where is its star power? Aramis Ramirez used to be deserving of one of my favorite GROTA nicknames, but do you really expect Clutchy McClutcherson to play 120 games at full health this year? Derrek Lee is gone. Alfonso Soriano is 35. And Kerry Wood, God love him, is supposed to save our bullpen?

The 2011 Cubs roster has plenty of above-average players, but lacks superstars (although plenty of folks are being paid like Hall of Famers). Could Archer have become this team's #1? Could Lee have finally provided the line-up with a legitimate lead-off option?

I guess the best thing about bad haircuts is that the hair always grows back. You just have to wait a while.

The times, they change

Spring Training is a scant twoish weeks away.  The Cubs are preparing to trot out a team with many flaws but big potential - in part because of the many flaws of their primary opponents, the other teams in the NL Central.

So maybe things aren't changing too much, because this is pretty common for Chicago.  And yet, things are definitely taking a new direction, at least on the GROTA front.

First, I'm sure you folks have noticed - and welcomed - the return of Kyle Betts, blogger extraordinare who spends his days in Tribune Tower.  I'm also certain that you haven't noticed my continued absence - that's both a testament to GROTA's great blogging crew, and to my own mundane blogging talents.  I'm pretty much a one trick pony.  Always have been.

The presence of Kyle is, in reality, the beginning of some pretty serious changes here at GROTA.  No, I'm not going away for good, but Kyle has opened a few doors for us.  While I'm not going to get into specifics just yet - the ink hasn't dried, after all - within a few weeks you'll all have a clearer idea as to what I'm hinting at.

But what I can say is this: the next phase of GROTA is going to be a big one, and we need you to make it work.  We need intelligent, dedicated fans who are willing to express themselves loudly and with confidence.  We need people who know how to have civil debates, who can express themselves clearly, and who don't lose their heads whenever a bunch of others tell them that they are wrong.

After all, it's the internet.  You're always wrong. 

We'll have more details for you once it's official, but for now I'll only say this: make sure you visit this blog regularly for the next few weeks.  You'll be pleasantly surprised if you do... and you'll probably not need my gentle encouragement to continue visiting daily after that.

Edited to add: No, we are not having daily free porn giveaways.  And no iPods!  So stop asking already!

Cubs, Cubans and Augies Oh My

You have to give to Jim Hendry sometimes, because it now seems that he is intent on getting the band back together. The only problem is that usually does not work in baseball. Lets look at the crop of players that Hendry has brought in and judge if they have a chance to make the team.

Augie Ojeda
Last Seen in Chicago:
Career OPS: .633
Career UZR: 3.6
WAR: 2.1

Ojeda's value comes from defense, because he's had a negative value with the bat except with the Twins in 2004, of course that was a very small sample size of 72 PA. Last season Augie has an OPS under .500 while hitting just a .196. The only thing I see here is that Jim thinks he might provide depth to the system if Darwin Barney makes the big league club. If not, Augie will most likely latch on with some bottom feeder before calling it career. Did you know he's 36 now? Man, I'm really getting old if Augie is now 36.

Reed Johnson
Last Seen in Chicago:
Career OPS: .748
2010 UZR: 6.9 LF, 0.2 CF, -1.4 RF
Career WAR: 8.6 (0.6 Last season)

Reed hit .262 last year in about 200 AB's, which isn't terrible, but it isn't great either. Fangraphs still like's his skills in LF, but he's replacement level or worse everywhere else. The problem with Reed is the Cubs have five OF's on the 40-man right now. Marlon Byrd (9.3 UZR) is not going anywhere in CF, and Reed's defense and the fact he hits RH has well doesn't help. Kosuke Fukudome, Tyler Colvin and Fernando Perez all look to have roles on the club. Perez is the question mark, but his speed might earn him a spot.

This is just a quick look at two options. I will be taking a look at the Cubs compared to the rest of the league pretty soon as the season gets closer.

In other news, it looks like the Cubs have signed two Cuban players to add to the A-ball club. It looks like it is a low-risk kind of signing to help fill out the minor league system after Jim Hendry made the Matt Garza trade, according to Bruce Miles.

Least Favorite Cub - #2 - Sammy Sosa

Well, of course he makes the list.  You might be surprised (provided you hadn't read the introductory post) that he isn't first.  No, no, there was one Cub I hated worse than Swollen Sammy Sofa.  He will get his, man.  I will issue the NSFW on that one.

If I am going to list five Cubs I cannot stand, I have to have this guy on the list.  Now, if you have been around the past few years, you may think there is precious little I can still say about the man.  The most controversial GROTA post ever involved my totally self-righteous patting myself on the back on the day he was finally outed as a steroid test failure.  Some folks felt I should then go bathe with live electrical appliances.  Some folks can kiss my shiney metal ass, too.  Once again, I am not a hard man to find.  You want to literally throw a punch at me, I am here for you whenever, however.

But to my point for today, and it isn't so much focused on Sosa as it is towards the countless numbers of men who have comprised Cubs rosters over the years.  I have known three owners: one named Wrigley, one soulless profit-sucking corporation, and a small handful of superannuated frat boys and their sister.  These ownership entities have managed to compile some of the most inept competitive organizations in professional sports history.

A whole spectrum of beholden general managers and VPs of "baseball operations" have gone out over the past 65 years, and due to a combination of poor evaluation, financial agendas, and irrational obsessions, have brought in a plethora of square pegs to fit round holes.

One of those ill-fitting suits was Larry Himes, who fell in love with a young Dominican ballplayer, and not only filled the player's head with unreasonable expectations, but also did his level best to shove the same expectations down our throats.  As the White Sox GM, he traded away popular players for Sosa, touted him as the next great superstar, and essentially gambled his position on the guy.  Sosa came to America totally raw and utterly consumed with himself, so what does Himes do?  Lavish him with all sorts of undeserved autonomy.  Just go out and do your thing, Sammy.  Don't listen to anyone but me.

It backfired royally.  Himes lost his job.  Sosa was sent to the minors.

Now, since the Sox are in Chicago, most Cub fans have the opportunity to follow what goes on down there if they choose, and I categorized the above scenario as the "Himes/Sosa" debacle, and figured neither one of them would ever, EVER turn up in the big leagues again.

So I was first alarmed, then completely and thorough disgusted, when the Cubs decided to 1) bring Himes in to run the team, and 2) trade a decent hitter (George Bell) for Sosa.  Both of the "actors" in one of the most open failures in recent Chicago sports history were HERE, on MY team! 

So no, I never gave Sosa a chance, or even a shred of consideration during his entire career with us.  From the moment he joined the Cubs, all plans, transactions, scouting and development were done with the firm belief that we had the Best Right Fielder in Baseball.  All the trades that could have been made; all the money he was paid that could have went to shore up other positions; because it was just a given that Sammy Sosa was an Impact Player that would lead us to the elusive Championship.

Good Lord, he hit a lot of home runs, and drove in a lot of guys.  Any one of us can go out to his stat sheet and marvel at the ridiculous power numbers he posted.  To that, I say, yeah, but...

...if he put up a 65 homer, 160 RBI season in, say, 1969, for any team in the league, that team would have won the division.  Those kind of numbers would represent a serious strategic advantage for the team he played for.  Hell, if he posted those numbers LAST year for (nearly) any team in the league, that team would have won a division.  Those numbers are just so much more than what the rest of the league could do. 

But when he posted those numbers, in 2001, there were more than a handful of guys hitting 40-plus, 50-plus homers.  His (best) season was an outlier, sure, and it certainly went a long way toward the relatively decent season we had, but it wasn't SO much better than everyone else that it represented a clear-cut advantage.

The thing is, I have somewhat made peace with Sosa the player.  He cannot be faulted for putting up huge stats when he did.  Therefore, you may think that simply by numbers alone, that he should have been considered the Best Player Alive at that time.  But he wasn't.  He never, ever learned to play situational baseball.  Jeesus, what if he had?  What IF he hit cutoff men, ran the bases intelligently, and knew when to shorten his swing, sacrificing the chance at a home run when a mere single would win a game?  He did not do those things consistently, therefore, he was not one of the best players in baseball.

My main problem with Sosa, in the end, wasn't so much what he did or did not do.  My problem was with his bosses.  They operated as if he WAS the best player in the game, and designed the team around him.  He was crammed down our throats, and this was a problem for me, because I KNEW all along I didn't like the taste of Sammy Sosa, and I bitterly resented Larry Himes and Andy McFail and Jim Riggleman and Don Baylor and Dusty Baker and everyone else who held him as our biggest trump card. 

It was a losing play, which I knew all along, which eventually bore out to be the truth.  Just like many of the other developments I have detected since I started watching the game, just in Sosa's case, it was THE largest gamble and THE largest failure in my lifetime.  What would make me happy?  If some of the squirting jackloads who jump all over me because I "harsh their buzz" would pull their heads out their asses and see the real game as it happens on the field, and not on their precious spreadsheets.

Vaya con Dios, Sammy.  There are others I hate worse than you.

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