Goatriders of the Apocalypse

It's a Sad Day for all Chicago Cubs.

By now you know that Cub legend Ron Santo passed away last night after slipping into a coma on Wednesday. There are things that hurt in life, but this truly hurt me this morning. I felt sad, not of his passing, but of the unfair nature of his life.

Santo, by all accounts, was a tremendous person and fan. It is something that all people in our society could take from him. He played baseball with pain, while keeping a secret from his teammates. I'm not sure Santo would have been able to deal with playing in today's game, because we know everything about our athletes. I only wish I could have lived to actually see him play, because he was a true joy to listen to on the radio.

Granted, Ron was not the most talented broadcaster, but he was the most honest one I know. He didn't blow smoke, only a few "Oh noos!" and "gosh darnits" when things were bad. Ah, but when things were good it was easy to get lost in his laughter as he brought true sense of excitement every time the Cubs were playing well. Santo had our dream job of being able to root from the press box and not get in trouble. That is something I don't take for granted, because it is frowned upon in most journalism circles. I only wish I could have

Winning a World Series would have been a nice ending for Santo, but those things are hard to come by as we all know far too well. The true tragedy was the fact that the Hall of Fame is missing on the great third baseman's of all time. I get sick just thinking about it today. My guess is that he will get in at some point, but it will feel empty since we will not be able to see the joy on his face.

If you have never seen This Old Cub, it is time for you to go out and find a copy. It will be something that you will never forget. It's a wonderful film for all Cub fans and the best tribute for a man that was one of us. The only difference was he got to wear the uniform that we only dreamed of wearing. Please comment below with your favorite memories as this becomes a day we celebrate the life of a true Cub Fan.

RIP, Ron.

Donut Jim is looking for more Dempster-esque resurrection action! Who do you want to see pitch towels for us?

Brandon Webb
46% (6 votes)
Erik Bedard
8% (1 vote)
Aaron Harang
8% (1 vote)
Jeff Francis
0% (0 votes)
Mark Prior
15% (2 votes)
Loaded gun to head
8% (1 vote)
The Sox have, do, and always will suck
15% (2 votes)
Total votes: 13

Theriot to STL: Cards maintain monopoly on midget futility infielders.

Ever wanted to play in the middle infield for the St. Louis Cardinals?

Are you 5'8" or shorter? Have you failed to show any consistent amount of slugging ability? Does it seem like you get on base a lot, even though you kinda don't? Can you get thrown out while trying to steal second at least once every week? Would you consider yourself "scrappy," and also "white"?

Ladies and gentlemen, the heir apparent to the starting spot at second base for your 2011 St. Louis Cardinals is Ryan Theriot!

The Birds gave up Blake Hawksworth, against whom the Cubs scored nine runs in 10.2 innings, to get the Riot.


It's been a long time, GROTA

When I started this blog, along with Rob, Byron, and Jason way back after the 2004 season, I knew that, sooner or later, the real world would steal my time and my posting contributions would drop.  I just didn't know how quickly it would happen.

Nevertheless, I'm sure  you've noticed that I haven't been around.  Probably you haven't missed me too much.  But I've been one busy hombre -- I am doing regular photoshop images for another baseball blogger, which eats up some of my time, and I've also been writing a whole lot of non-baseball stuff in my spare time (some of which has already seen print.)

And that's all my hobby time -- my "real life" time is equally busy, as I am now teaching regularly.  In other words, the time for Cubs baseball, and for baseball blogging, has dropped to a minimum. 

Of course, I still want GROTA to stick around.  We probably will never be a daily blog again, even if I keep adding writers by the half dozen.  But every once in a while, the Cubs will certainly do something worth commentary, even from us busy writers who have too much going on in the "real world" to spend a lot of time thinking about the Cubs.

Regardless, this might be the last post I make for a while.  Maybe I'll post again if/when the Cubs make a big free agent signing, or a trade, but who knows?  I'm burned out on baseball.  I don't feel as emotionally invested anymore.  I think it's just a part of getting older.

In any event, I'll be back... sometime.  In the meantime, there should always be something going on here, at least when "big stuff" happens like Quade being signed instead of Ryno.  I've truly loved writing at GROTA.  This is one of the coolest ideas I've ever had, and I'm amazed that a half decade later, it's still here.  Let's give it a half decade more!

(at which point the cubs will have won a World Series and this blog will be redundant...)

Larry Rothschild and Damn Yankees

In a world where there are no secrets, somehow Larry Rothschild, our pitching coach whom I believe was still under contract, has taken a similar position with the Yankees.  He cites the ubiquitous "family reasons", since the Yanks' spring training home is in his native Tampa, as well as several scheduled Yankee series every year. 

Now, there are those, such as Mike D, who are sipping the bub right now over this news.  Others, such as Al Yellon, are not so pleased.  The Cubs seem to think they will make an announcement about his replacement after Thanksgiving, which means that they have someone in mind.

Dare I dream - the Mad Dog?  I mean, who knows more about pitching than our current special assistant to Jim Hendry? 

Hot Stove Warms Up on Fukudome, Zambrano and Dunn

The Cubs get some love from Jayson Stark in his latest Rumblings and Grumblings column. You should read his version (click the link!!!), but here's my understanding of what he said, plus some pontificating on my part.

- Unlike this time last year, there's not an absolute need to trade away one of the Cubs' higher paid players. Stark specifically mentions Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Zambrano, saying their respective performances once the team changed managers have inspired confidence about their futures. Perhaps the best Cub-centric quote from Stark's column was this:

"Scouts who followed the Cubs said they saw young players and the bullpen crew, in particular, relax and perform without the high-strung Piniella around."

Tangent alert: if Lou had any managerial weakness from Day 1 of his Cub tenure, it was an impatience with his bullpen. He let Bob Howry pitch a billion innings for him, and not because The Gas Can was particularly great, but because he didn't walk anyone. Lou HATED walks, and knowing that might have wracked some young relievers' nerves. (On that note, how did Lou survive 3+ years of handing the ball to Carlos Marmol in the 9th? That slider sure is an amazing pitch...)

Having said that, might Lou's departure have changed the culture for the entire Cubs team? Almost certainly. I'm excited to see what Mike Quade can do with this bunch. Hopefully, the Fukster and Z can be part of the group that benefits, as they did at the end of last year.

The other Cubbie nugget Stark drops in his column (that's Cubbie as an ADJECTIVE, not a NOUN, I'm still obeying the rules!!) referred to a rumor that was once thought to be a near certainty, which is that the Cubs want to sign Adam Dunn to be their first baseman for the next few years. (Haha, Stark dropped a nugget.)

Stark says the Cubs have much less interest in Dunn than had been assumed at the beginning of the offseason, citing his below-average glove -- a problem that might hurt the Cubs even more than usual in 2011 with the still-young Starlin Castro manning short on an everyday basis.

So the cash-strapped Cubs want a 1B with a plus glove, you say? And what's that -- they've been lacking in left-handed power for the last 100 years? In that case, I am now willing to wager a six-pack of Honker's Ale (or Old Style if you prefer, I guess that's more fitting) that Carlos Pena will be the Cubs' starting first baseman on Opening Day 2011.

Any takers?

Now, what would I like to see happen this winter?

I mean, besides a massive overhaul of our "tags" dropdown menu?

In the spirit of Eddie's post last week, I will start by getting onboard the Carlos Pena bandwagon, such that it is.  We must be aware of the limitations the Wricketts have imposed, and understand that although Hendry may love the big Donkey, Adam Dunn, the owners have no intentions on taking on any more long term contracts at this point in time.  This coming year, and probably 2012, will be characterized by a short-term, seat of the pants approach to staffing a roster, which sounds like bad news.

thanks ChicagoistOf course, could it work out much worse than this past season?

So, even though I am not in love with a .197 batting average, it isn't like any of the other names mentioned (Dunn, LaRoche, and Huff) are high batting average guys, either.  I don't necessarily want Pena, but honestly, I don't want any of the other guys, either, and Pena is exactly the "buy low" kind of player the Ricketts will want.  I would probably bat him fifth or sixth, however.

I don't think it is time yet, though, to sign Starlin Castro to a long term contract.  He is under control for the next five years, it still remains to be seen that he can play the shortstop position (I think he will improve), and once again, you will not see the Wricketts (Wrigleys + Ricketts) enter any long term commitments this year.

I also disagree with Eddie on the aspect of a Fukudome trade.  Yes, he is a sunk cost and no, we won't get anything but a bag of used balls in return.  But even if we can realize a couple of million in salary relief, this would be useful.  More useful, in fact, than actually having him on the team.  We know what he is, and outside of his arm in right field, there is nothing else he brings that a replacement level guy has.

Speaking of replacement guys, I do think it is time to let Hoffpauir and Koyie Hill enter their next careers.  Why not let Wellington Castillo back up Soto?  And as far as Soto, I do understand that he is one of our remaining better hitters.  But one of the most intriguing developments of the past season was his .500 OBP as the eighth hitter.  Because of his eye and his relative strength as an eighth hitter, he drew a butt-tonload of walks.  It is unconventional, but I am not sure he is a good enough hitter to bat third (Byrd bats third in my lineup), and I am intrigued about the idea of a guy who gets on base every other time he walks to the plate. Yeah, he is followed by a pitcher....

I think Castro bats second, Byrd third, Ramirez fourth, Pena fifth, Soriano sixth, Colvin seventh and Soto eighth.  Leadoff would be Baker vs lefties and Barney vs righties.  Unless you like Blake DeWitt better than Barney, which I don't. He showed me nothing last year.  Which still meant he was better than Theriot, but maybe he could net us a decent relief pitching prospect.

Let Sam Fuld be Soriano's glove caddy, and have an open competition for the last bench spots amongst the Marquez Smiths and Brad Snyders of the world.  This should allow the club to concentrate more resources to refining the pitching staff, which is actually a much more high risk, high reward activity for 2011.

Without a talent influx from the farm system or a money infusion from ownership, our weak 2010 offense will not improve much next year.  If we can score 75 more runs than last year, we should be pleased.  The Cubs should concentrate their efforts on minimizing walks and improve situational pitching, which means solidifying the rotation and eliminating question marks in the pen. The 2011 Cubs will only go as far as their pitching and defense will take them.

How this gets done?  I'll let someone else address it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Follow my plan, and the Cubs look like this to start 2011:

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

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

Ryan Dempster
Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Silva
Randy Wells
Andrew Cashner

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

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

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

Perhaps we should be encouraged by the Todd Ricketts "Undercover Boss" episode

For those of you who may have missed it, "Undercover Boss" is a show where the presumed "boss" of a company goes incognito and does menial jobs with menial schlubs in his own company, generally fails miserably, then cleans himself up and makes futile conciliatory gestures towards said schlubs, the end.  Todd Ricketts was featured in this week's show.

The masses didn't really enjoy it very much.  Andy very nicely summarizes for us here.

I choose to be encouraged, and here's why:

In all the other episodes, the "boss" is usually the boss due to his or her own merits.  It is not necessary that the head of FedEx be able to wrap a package more quickly than his trained package wrappers, for example.  He got to his lofty position because of his other abilities, that far outweigh the abilities of mere mortal men.  The show, by and large, is nothing more than a feel-good device for the Tea Party set: a garbageman can handle a garbage can more effectively than the CEO of his company; thus, in some small, ultimately trivial way, Sam Schlub is better than G. Thurston Gotrocks.

Of course, in our specific case, the Ricketts children are nothing more than the lottery winners of the Lucky Sperm club.  They did nothing to build the 900 million dollars American it took to buy the Cubs: that was thanks to their father, as well as the butt crazy dot.com economy which eventually crashed and left us where we are at today. 

In fact, most of the angst Cub Fan Nation is feeling right now is because none of us really know what the Ricketts kids are truly capable of, outside of swilling Old Styles and picking up chicks in the bleachers.  (Yep, that goes for all the kids).

So this particular episode of "UB" took on far more importance than the usual weekly doses of "Freaky Friday" schlock.  I don't give a rip if a billionaire isn't a very good panhandler.  But, hey, I DID want to see what one of the Ricketts kids is made of.

It wasn't real encouraging that Toddy didn't know how to operate a hose, or a hand truck.  But I don't hold it against him that he wanted to spend as little time as possible in the Wrigley Field bathrooms. I usually dash in and out of there myself, holding my breath as long as possible.  I don't always give the best high-fives, either, although I would know better than to try to give one to an authentic black guy.  An enthusiastic nod and a loud "YEAH" always seems to work.

But what made me sit up in my chair and take notice was his hot-dog vending effort.  After several hours sitting in his heated box, Todd (rightly) determined that the last four weiners were no longer fit for human consumption, so he dipped into his own pocket to "buy off" the Foul Four, and surreptiously dumped them in the trash. 

Now, it may have had nothing to do with the condition of the dogs, he might have just been lazy, but hear me out:

Aren't the four lousy hot dogs an apt metaphor for the expiring utility of Fukudome, Zambrano and Soriano?  Or how about the financials of Crane Kenney's and Jim Hendry's employment?  Yes, $15MM+ is a ridiculous amount of money to waste on a player contract, but $4.50 is a ridiculous amount of money to waste on a skinny hot dog in a soggy bun.  Might Todd be setting a precedent here, one where the Ricketts are encouraged to dip into their pockets, pay down the bills, and throw out some of their more useless employees?  Put some new baseball people in charge; let another set of eyes look at the organization, and determine whether we should be buyers, sellers, or builders?

I think the Great Hot Dog Toss might be a small first step towards something much more substantial: namely; rather than sitting on their asses and waiting for the bad Hendry contracts to expire, maybe the kids are gonna go out a year or two sooner to try to win?

In the meantime, I'll just be sitting here, waiting for the economy to bounce back.  Should be any day now. 

Bill James projections at Fangraphs

Greetings, all; I hope your fantasy football teams are doing well.

Today is a good day for baseball, because Fangraphs has recently released its Bill James projection data for 2011. Just go to the player page of your favorite Cub to see how James' system predicts he will perform next year.

Of note:

- Carlos Zambrano is projected to have the staff's best ERA, with a 3.67 over 221 innings. Next is Ryan Dempster at 3.83 over 214, followed by Randy Wells at 4.12 over 201.

- Geovany Soto is projected to be our best hitter, with a .276/.373/.486 -- which is actually worse than he did last season, incredibly. After him, it's Aramis, who's expected to bounce back with a .275/.342/.498.

- In addition to those two, Soriano, Byrd, Colvin, and Castro are all projected as above-average offensive players, with Blake DeWitt projected to be just below average. Castro gets a .310/.359/.428 line from the Bill James system.

- Kosuke Fukudome (.263/.367/.431) is projected to have a better year than Tyler Colvin (.259/.307/.471).

- As for free agent first basemen, they are projected to post the following wRC+ (100 is average): Lance Berkman 143, Adam Dunn 141, Derrek Lee 131, Adam LaRoche 119, Xavier Nady 97.

Please, leave any additional notes you discover in the comments!

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