Goatriders of the Apocalypse

We Pick Three, Pt. 3

The Garza trade gave us something to blog about, but from here on out it might be entirely up to us to think of things to write as we trudge through January and February, waiting for pitchers and catchers to report.

Here's one idea: pick three Cub players you expect to improve in 2011 relative to the prior year, and three others that might, for lack of a better word, "unimprove."

AJ's picks

Most likely to improve:

1. Aramis Ramirez: This is mostly based on health. As I mentioned in the Shout Box, Aramis was worth -1.1 wins over a replacement player in the first two months of the 2010 season. In 2008, he was worth more than 2 wins. There's one way the Cubs could gain three games in the standings early on: Aramis hits, and does so from day one.

2. Matt Garza: I don't think this was the time to empty out the farm system for an SP2; I'm not sure the 2010 Cubs were, as Hendy argued, a few moves away from winning a championship. That said, would you rather pitch against the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles (who suck at pitching, but can hit plenty) and their designated hitters, or the Reds, Cardinals, Brewers, Astros and Pirates? Of course, there are plenty of quality hitters in the NL Central (about two per team by my count), but there's really no comparison between the two divisions.

3. Andrew Cashner: Of the three young "Killer C's" (?), I think Cashner stands the best chance of improving. Colvin's lack of on-base ability will catch up to him next season, and while Castro's glove should improve, I can't imagine him actually hitting better than he did last year. But Cashner's contribution to the Cubs will grow next season, either as a starter, or as a more experienced major league reliever.

Most likely to unimprove:

1. Marlon Byrd: An all-star last year, Byrd had been worth close to replacement level over the course of his entire career previous to his joining the Cubs. He could still be an above-average player, but he was on a hot streak for 162 games last year.

2. Alfonso Soriano: One of last year's most frequently used picks for "Surprise of the Year" was, "Alfonso Soriano will not suck as much as you expect him to." And indeed, he went from essentially a replacement level player in 2009 to a 3-win guy in 2010. Similar to Byrd, Soriano could contribute in a positive way to the 2011 Cubs, but at age 35, it will likely be in a slightly-less positive fashion than the year before.

3. Tyler Colvin: Here's a link to Tyler Colvin's slugging percentage over the course of 2010. If he can't hit above .260 and he can't draw a bunch of walks, he'll have to rely on his power to continue to earn a spot in the starting lineup. Of note, however: he had an above-average wOBA against lefties last season.

FROM WEDNESDAY: Whaddayathink, Kyle?

Most likely to improve:

1. Carlos Pena: Can it get worse than batting .196? Yes, yes it can. Will it? Sweet fancy Moses, it better not.

2. Carlos Zambrano: Mike Quade and Z are both under contract through the 2012 season with third-year options. It seems their fates are tied together like star-crossed lovers or "Biggest Loser: Couples" contestants. I'm a Quade fan, so I got to believe Zambrano will improve under his stewardship. 

3. Andrew Cashner and/or Jeff Samardzija: With Lou gone, no one will be yelling at the young pitchers to get off the lawn. Some real instruction from the coaching staff might, you know, help.

Most likely to unimprove:
1. Marlon Byrd: At 32 years old, it's difficult to believe Byrd will be able to replicate his All-Star season. Also, everyone knows the racist Cubs fans will finally break his will to play hard.

2. Kosuke Fukudome: Fukudome finished with his highest batting average and home run total since joining the Cubs. Hey Boston, sounds pretty good, right? 

3. John Grabow: It's hard for a guy who only appeared in 28 games last season to get worse. Ladies and gentlemen, John Grabow.

FROM TUESDAY: Rob, what say you?

Most likely to Improve:

1) Zambrano - I am going to go out on a limb and declare that his latest "change" is somewhat long-lasting in nature.  As his career winds towards the end of his current contract, I think he is going to concentrate more and suck less, in a ploy for another huge deal.

2) Soto - check the posts - I never said he was a bad ballplayer.  I said he was a bad guy for spending the whole offseason after his ROY year lying around, eating and smoking dope.  I think he did learn his lesson, and I expect him to continue his improvement from last year.

3) Jeff Baker - had a hard time coming up with a third name.  I think somehow he ends up taking most of the AB at 2nd this year, perhaps because Blake Dewitt doesn't.

Most likely to unimprove:

1) Castro - after the success he had as a 20 year old last year, how many of us truly think he is going to spend this off-season honing his craft, instead of going out and celebrating?  If he does?  Then he may end up as one of the Greats.  What are the chances of that?  A Cub?  

2) Colvin - has huge holes in his swing, needs plate discipline to avoid becoming Micah Hofpauir's teammate in Hiroshima.

3) Wells - I was very disappointed that he turned out to be yet another Chicago-nightlife-lover. 

Why didn't I blast on Wells last year like I did Soto in 2009?

To be honest, I don't know.

I guess it was because, in my opinion, the Cubs were the best team in baseball during the 2008 regular season, so when they crapped the bed the next year, there was the reigning Rookie of the Year, all fat and satisfied.  By the next year, we are all just numb, I guess, so when Wells showed up all fat and satisfied, it just didn't sting as much.  There were few expectations on my part.

Yes, Randy Wells admitted to Paul Sullivan that he got too caught up in himself and stopped caring about his craft.  If you click the link and read the article, it sounds like Greg Maddux got ahold of him and shook him up and down until the brain hit the brainpan.  Wells is not the old Kerry Wood, or Zambrano, or Marmol.  He does not have 'stuff', and he must concentrate on every pitch he throws if he wants to succeed.  It sounds like either he didn't realize that, or simply thought better of it.

My question is: wasn't Maddux around the whole year?  Why didn't somebody get ahold of this pixystick sooner, bench him, send him to the pen, send him to Iowa, send him to Pittsburgh?  Why was he allowed to live in la-la-land the whole season, pissing away at least 16 games (the ones he was credited for losing, and perhaps a few others besides)?  Where the hell was his manager and pitching coach??

Oh.  Well.  We know the answer to the last question.  The pitching coach was plotting his exit strategy to New York, and the manager was looking for more pudding.

How can we blame Hendry for this one?  Hendry fills the uniforms, but it is up to the on-field personnel to do their jobs, once they put the uniform on.  Should a GM be able to judge a player's mental make-up prior to committing to him?  I think so.  You may disagree, you may say a GM need only to judge based on results. 

Let's hope Wells is taking this lesson to heart, and that he does bounce back and become the solid staff contributor.  It just pisses me off that we wasted at least one entire year of our lives last year, pinning our hopes on a bunch of guys who were not being led, not managed, not coached, and in (at the very least) in Randy Wells' case, were more concerned with themselves than the game.

You owe us, chief.

Cubs sign Reed Johnson

Nice guy and all, but I only have one question:


Koyie Hill is almost a millionaire.

The Cubs avoided arbitration with Koyie Hill today, agreeing to pay him $850,000 in 2011. Last year, Hill hit .214/.254/.298 and threw out 18% of the runners who attempted to steal on him. I only have one question about the deal:


Pick 13, Sam Fuld hangover, journalistic hubris

The Cubs announced a new ticket plan today titled the "We have Starlin Castro so for the love of God come watch him play" Plan...errr...I mean, the Pick 13 Plan.

Each package guarantees one ticket to two of three home series with the Yankees, White Sox, and Cardinals. You get to choose the other 11 games a la carte style. By the way, if you choose a package featuring the Yankees, you are guaranteed a ticket to a Diamondbacks series.

Year Two.

Got a Sam Fuld hangover? A tall glass of Fernando Perez can cure what ails you.

The 27-year-old was acquired from Tampa in the Garza trade in what essentially amounted to a spit swap of aging outfield prospects. At best, Perez is a decent defender without much of a bat who will probably be nothing more than a 4th or 5th outfielder, but let's just say he's a triple-threat of sorts...

Twitter. Tumblr. YouTube.

Get on-board the Perez bandwagon before all the Wrigley floozies proclaim him the next prince of Theriotistan.

Both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Daily Herald printed a photo of Joaquin Benoit instead of the newly-acquired Matt Garza in their Saturday sports sections.

This embarrassing mistake was eventually attributed to an error in the cutline written by the AP photographer who took the picture. Sure, whatever.

What's really disappointing amidst the confusion is the journalistic hubris on display by The Bright One's Joe Cowley. Cowley, known for his general asshattery, tweeted the following prose on Friday night in regards to his paper's superior coverage of the Garza trade...

"Trib Dictator, you keep running a section like this an you'll be guessing my weight at some carnie in a few years. Stay hot."

As a famous dead English guy once said, "How much easier is it to be critical than to be correct." As long as you can blame the photo guy, it seems pretty easy.

That being said, does GROTA have a photo guy?

Reverse Psychology sometimes takes a long time to come around

I guess we are also gonna need a #Matt Garza tag on here, as well.  Eeeh, we don't need no stinkin' Matt Garza.

This post is for the dweebs hyperventilating about the "price we paid" as well as those who feel like Tom Ricketts lied to us about our use of the farm system.

Have any of you truly tracked Baseball America and their so-called top-prospects?  Probably not, since you need a subscription to do so.  I was able to get ahold, thanks to Jeff Zimmerman of Royals Review, of a compiled list of the top 100 prospects per year since 1990.  Granted, our farm system is nearly unmatched in its suckiness.  But, going over the lists over the years, it does tend to lend some perspective to the bleating cry that the "Cubs traded 2 of their top 3 prospects" for Matt Garza, a young, solid member who would look at home on 29 of the 30 starting staffs in baseball.

Doubt the Phillies have any room for him.

Anyway, over the past 21 years:
- 42 individuals made the list as part of the Cubs organization, which is truly pathetic.
- 24 of these magic 42 "top 100, can't miss" prospects actually played in the major leagues.  That means 18 so-called "can't miss" prospects never even made a roster.  We're talking the Earl Cunninghams, Ty Griffins, as well as the Brian Dopriaks and something named Ryan Hawblitzel???
- Out of the 24 that actually saw a major league roster, 9 would be characterized as "bust-outs".  These include Gary Scott, Kevin Orie, Jesse Hollins, but do NOT include Ronny Cedeno, Mark Prior, and Felix Pie.
- Of the 15 who have had a passable major league career, besides Cedeno, Prior, and Pie, the 15 also includes Carlos Zambrano.
- They also include Doug Glanville, Rick Wilkins, and Juan Cruz.
- The top three names on the lists?  Kerry Wood, Kosuke Fukudome, and Starlin Castro.
- The 2008 ROY, Geovany Soto, was never on any of the lists.

Point?  There is nothing more infantile and pointless than the hand-wringing that goes on when "prospects" are traded for proven players.  A very small percentage of the so-called "can't miss" sure things actually make an impact in the major leagues.  It is an even smaller percentage when the Cubs are doing the drafting.

Would I want to have traded Zambrano, Glanville, Wood and Prior for a 3.88 career ERA pitcher?  Of course not, but it is more likely we just traded away Lance Dickson, Pat Cline, Luis Montanez, and...uh...Sam Fuld.

Will Matt Garza improve the 2011 Cubs?

The short answer to this question is, "Probably." You might also go with, "Jimbo Hendry better damn well hope so!" But it's not too hard to come up with a way to answer that question in a way that actually uses some statistics from 2010.

Let's assume, for the sake of convenience, that Matt Garza will start 32 games for the Cubs next season. It just so happens that there's a group of four pitchers who started exactly 32 games between them for the 2010 Cubs. They are: Ted Lilly, Casey Coleman, Thomas Diamond, and Jeff Samardzija.

Lilly pitched pretty well last season when he was healthy enough to take the mound. In fact, his strikeout and walk rates were pretty darn close to Garza's, although Lilly's home run rate was a bit higher than Garza's likely will be. Again, for the sake of convenience, let's call these 18 starts a wash.

In that case, one way to look at the deal is, Hendry has replaced 14 starts he got in 2010 from Casey Coleman, Thomas Diamond and Jeff Samardzija with 14 Matt Garza starts.

That's probably an upgrade, isn't it?

It's a pretty tricky business trying to guess how a starting rotation will fare from one year to the next. Carlos Silva was great in the first half last year; Carlos Zambrano was relegated to the bullpen for a ridiculously long amount of time; and even though they've shown the ability to succeed in recent seasons, it's still hard to know what to expect from relatively young guys like Randy Wells and Tom Gorzelanny going forward. But if you look at the deal as basically having gotten a full season of the 2010 version of Ted Lilly back for next year (about 10 years younger, with much more upside), I think the rotation looks much better than it would have without him.

The best rotations in baseball have been worth around 19-21 wins above replacement over the past several years. The 2010 Cubs were worth 15. Could Dempster, Garza, Zambrano, Wells, Gorzelanny and Silva put us toward the top of the NL in terms of starting rotation? I do believe so.

As for that godawful bullpen and meh-diocre offense...

Garza plus two minor leaguers to Cubs for Archer, Lee, Guyer, Chirinos, Fuld

Update: Wow, deal is done. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

From a few minutes ago: After years of being told there were deals in hand for Brian Roberts and Jake Peavy, it's hard to believe a trade rumor will actually come to fruition until the Cubs issue an official press release. But now Bruce Miles is saying this Matt Garza deal is closer to reality than ever before.

Miles doesn't say what else the Cubs might get back from the Rays (presumably nothing?), but apparently Jim Hendry is ready to give up Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer, and Robinson Chirinos to get Garza.

At first glance, it seems like a lot to give up for a 27-year-old pitcher due for a significant raise in salary. But if you did want to justify the deal were it to go through, you could say things like:

- Archer and Lee both look like five-star guys, but Archer is 22 and Lee is 20. Each has a long way to go before making it to the bigs (Lee much more so, but even in Archer's case, Double A is Double A.)

- Brandon Guyer mashed at Double A last year, but he struggled in 205 at-bats at that level the year prior. It also doesn't look like he's going to stick in center field; after playing essentially all of his games at center in 2009, he was used there in only 15 out of 102 games in 2010, and appeared at the corners more often.

- Not only do the Cubs already have a young catcher at the major league level (i <3 u soto), Chirinos is 2nd on the Cubs' depth chart among minor league catchers, with Wellington Castillo ahead of him. Actually, the Cubs are pretty strong at catcher at every level of their system, as far as I understand it.

We'll see if a deal actually goes down; I'm sort of inclined to believe it won't. But feel free to pontificate on what Miles is saying might happen in the meantime. HOT STOVE BABY!

The Schlillter Splitter is No More

Well, I really thought this post would be in Rob's wheelhouse, because a guy with a questionable name was claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees.

I noted a while ago that Kerry Wood put the Cubs 40-man roster at 41, when he signed. It turned out that Kerry actually wasn't added to the roster until last week. That, probably, gave the Cubs time to work out a trade for one of their players, but the other clubs were biting. So, the Yankees put in a waiver claim for the aforementioned Schlitter and brought the 40-man back to 40-men, so to speak.

On other Cub news, Matt Garza was coming, but then he wasn't according to Sun-Times and ESPN sources. I just don't see it happening. The Cubs probably want to trade Vitters, because they realize he's not as good as once suspected. The problem is the Rays have a pretty good one manning the hot corner.

Hopefully, we here at GROTA will start ramping up the content as we inch closer to the season.

If I didn't know better

If I didn't know better, I could jump to the first conclusion that this is Cubness At Its Finest: like Holtzman, Jenkins, Maddux, Reuschel, Lieber, etc. let's bring back a great old name from the past, because they were good once?  That means they will be good again!

Then, once I got past that notion, then I might consider the presumed mode of operation of the Ricketts Regime, and deem the return of Kerry Wood a stop-gap move.  One that seems far more cynical than bringing in Carlos Pena, since the re-acquisition of Wood most certainly triggers a torrential flood of nostalgia that will result in lots of tickets sold, increased ratings on TV and radio, and big-time sales of #34 jerseys.

And, if I were able to get past the second obstacle, I might go back to his previous season, in which he gave up 2 runs in the entire span of his appearances with the Yankees.  I might opine that he might have been acquired to not only free up Andrew Cashner for a rotation spot (a bit premature IMO: Cashner could not have been much worse last year) but based on his Yankee stint, to possibly fill the closer void if Carlos Marmol loses command of his weapons-grade slider?

Yes, in fact, bringing back Kid K might in some respects be all of the above.  But honestly, I believe it was just a matter of a guy who wanted to be a Cub, at all costs, and a General manager who figured why not.  It is as simple as that.  Kerry Wood is not going to save the Cubs, and if you remember, as I do, when he was going to be the next Nolan Ryan, his return is bittersweet. 

In a sport where so many wrong things happen (hello, Nationals and Jayson Werth?), sometimes it is just so easy to do the right thing.  It is just that Kerry Wood is a Cub.  He never should have been allowed to leave.

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