Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Presently, Hendry is preparing to shop Zambrano

Seldom I am able to predict the future, but I can predict one thing: the next GROTA Roundtable will feature a question about which huge salary Hendry will trade away this winter - Soriano, Zambrano, or Fukudome.

It appears the correct answer will be: Big Angry Z.

People I know say that Hendry has been asked to broker a deal to send Zambrano away this winter.  His September brilliance aside, Z is no longer someone the Cubs are choosing to depend on.  And although the first question I have is "just WHO on the staff CAN they depend on anyway", I guess paying Randy Wells a half a million to be hit-or-miss is preferable to paying Zambrano 38 times as much to be just as undependable.

It is also my understanding that there are in fact several interested takers.  If you believe Barry Rozner on the Daily Herald, there is even one team who is willing to take Z on AND assume his contract without sending us back their 2011 version of Silva the Hutt.  Of course, this particular team is on Z's No-Trade List.  The few teams that are not on the list that want him also want us to take their bad money back in return.

The Cubs are not willing to go "upside down" simply to rid themselves of the Stampeding Bull, though.  They owe him 38 million; they are not going to take, say, 39 million of contract from someone else simply to get rid of him.  Unlike the Milton Bradley debacle, if they cannot come out ahead financially in the deal, they will not make the deal.  (And I understand we actually did come out a few million ahead in the Bradley Deal. But they simply had to get rid of him, at all costs. The fact that they regained anything in that deal still bewilders me).

Between the sheer sum of the deal, and the no-trade implications, and the utter unpredictability of the man, it cannot be said with certainty that Zambrano will not be a Cub to start the year.  Just realize that, most likely, in what will be a relatively dull off-season, this is potentially Hendry's most splashy move.

GROTA End of the Year Roundtable: Part 3

Sorry for the delay of Part 3 of our epic Roundtable. Today's focus is on the lackluster 2010 Cubs. Sit back and enjoy. Part 4 will be up tomorrow.

 3.    What was your biggest disappointment in 2010, other than wins and losses?

A.J.: It was sad to see the team fail to innovate in the first two months, as Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez continued to struggle. And in Aramis’ case, it was worse than a struggle — the man just looked lost. I wonder how Byrd, Soriano and Soto would have responded if they were asked to hit, say, 3-4-5 while Aramis took his two weeks on the DL.

Sayers40: I was mildly upset about our first round draft pick. I realize that this isn’t something we really know about yet, but Hayden Simpson just seemed like such a leap and my feeling is that the future of this team is tied up in the ability to develop young talent coupled with going after free agents. I am very skeptical about the future of Simpson with the Cubs. I’m rooting for him, but as #1 draft picks go, I’d rather have had Anthony Ranaudo but that’s just me.

Rob: I had assumed Randy Wells was the kind of mentally tough pitcher that would hone his craft and take a step forward in his third season.  I had also assumed that Carlos Zambrano had finally regulated his online computer usage, his consumption of water, and now that his oldest daughter was watching the games and starting to feel embarrassed about her father's antics, that he would finally function as an adult and perform accordingly. 

The biggest disappointment, though, in my expectations for the Cubs continues to be Alfonso Soriano.  Many people forget that in 2006 he put up one of the all-time great statistical seasons, which is why he was given so much money for so long a period.  Each year since then, he has dealt with leg issues, and my hope is always that he is going to show up one of these years healthy and hungry and put up one more historical season.  I am now 100% convinced that it will never happen.

Mike: Geo Soto's continued inability to stay healthy.  Love the bat, but he's got to be able to get more than 340 AB.

Kurt: I was frankly crushed by the resurgence of Carlos Zambrano.  I really thought the guy was about two weeks away from ripping the foul poles apart with his bare teeth, and he had to disappoint us all by rebounding and giving us the most promising 1/4 of a season he's perhaps EVER had.  Where's the drama?  The hijinx and hilarity?  The bamboozles and tom-foolery?  I just don't get Carlos anymore!

Peter: The Carlos Zambrano Debacle.  Big Z traditionally just gets lit on opening day.  Like clockwork, he gets lit up and the team hits the panic button and throws him in the pen soonafter.  I just hated how all of it was handled from the get-go.  That being said, maybe it did some good with how he ended the season.

Yarbage: Jim Hendry's inability to get value from some of the guys when they are playing well. Hendry could have dealt Kosuke Fukudome when he was red-hot in May, but held onto him. Maybe, I'm naive in thinking he could have dealt him, but I think a lot of teams would have given him a chance if Hendry would have eaten most of the money for 2010. It's kind of like already spent money, so why not move him and open up a spot for Colvin. Other than that, it's the fact that Jim Hendry is getting a third chance at a rebuild. I think the Cubs are years off from actually contending for a title.

GROTA End of the Year Round Table: Part 2

Today's epic roundtable focuses on Mike Quade's stint as manager. Look for other roundtable questions being answered the rest of the week.

Mike Quade’s stint as manager was a positive one with the Cubs playing better baseball. Some people would say a manager doesn’t actually affect a team too much in regards to wins and losses. Do you tend to believe in this mantra? If so, was it more timing of the change or does Quade actually bring something positive to the Cubs?

Peter: Quade does bring someting positive to the Cubs, but I am quite certain what he brings to the table had no correlation to the positive record of the team. Quade is a no-nonsense, gritty guy that seems to see things pretty clearly black and white. I like his attitude and approach to the game a lot more than what Lou showed us over the past few years. Quade isn't afraid to use benchings as a "learning experience," he believes in a team with a strong fundamental foundation, and he seems pretty calm and collected. That being said, the main reason the team performed well after Quade took over has more to do with the fact that the games were meaningless and the team played loose. Add the pressure of a playoff push, and the team collapses just like it did in the start of the season.

AJ: I haven’t studied Quade’s lineups and bullpen changes enough to be able to tell you how his management style differed from Lou’s. But I would guess that the fire and adrenaline that comes with your first chance at managing in the bigs motivated him to make changes to how this team played. I do recall having seen Soto bat higher, for one thing.

Sayers40: Often when there is change on the top of a organization, the organization will thrive in the short term. I believe this along with the fact that the Cubs were always better than they seemed helped Quade out. The next manager needs to set a tone for the team that leads to a winning environment year after year. He needs to help in picking out and developing players and coaches in his image. I’d like the next manager to be someone who can stay around for the next 8-10 years and not be a fly by night solution. I look forward to playing against a Mike Quade managed team but he’s not right for the Chicago Cubs.

Rob: As the "intangibles" guy on this panel, of course I am going to say that I think this mantra is dick.  At the very least, the manager creates the lineups, so he needs to know who deserves to play and which matchups work the best each game.  Managers must follow each game's flow and ensure his players are aware of each situation.  Some say that is unnecessary - I ask if you have ever had a conversation with a big league ballplayer, and tell you that they are fortunate they put their shoes on the correct feet every day.

Most of all though, a manager sets the tone for his club.  Lou Piniella, whether it was due to age-induced inability to grasp the situation, or emotional defeat, appeared to one and all like he didn't give a shit less about competing this year.  Everyone around him picked up on that.  Having him leave the team was like finally putting your stinky old basset hound to sleep.  Everything smelled fresher, and people stopped tripping over the inert lump lying on the carpet.

Mike:  I think a new manager can definitely bring a shake-up to a club, and I think that's what we saw the last quarter of the season.  Will that carry over?  I'm not sure.  That being said, I'd be lying if I said I thought the Cubs were playing the same way in September.

Kurt: Meh.  Timing.  Bad teams have good months, just like good teams have bad months.  I'm sure Quade is a good manager -- or at least I'm sure he's not a bad one -- but I don't put too much weight behind the team's strong showing after Lou retired.

Yarbage: I have to agree with Kurt and Rob here. I said a little of this yesterday about Lou, but managers - at least the good ones - don't get in the way of a team. If he does that one thing, then usually the results are pretty good to where the team should be. I always thought the Cubs should have played better this season, and they got good pitching. So, the record should have been better. That means Q got lucky with the Cubs putting things together. The Cubs still have major flaws and even Quade will not be able to cover them up. I don't think Quade would be a terrible choice for next year, but that discussion is for another day.

GROTA End of the Year Roundtable: Part 1

 We here at GROTA have been sluggish with our posting as of late, but we've been working behind the scenes to produce an end of the year round up. We will post these as often as we can get them written. Have comments? Post them below and let the discussions begin. The questions were given by the all the writers and I combined them into some kind of unifying bond.

Ok, here is part 1 of the end of the year round table. It's pretty lengthy, due to the longwindedness of many of our writers.

1. The 2010 Cubs were flawed from the start. Aging veterans combined with an inexperienced bullpen led to a disastrous start to the season. Who is more to blame, Jim Hendry, Tom Ricketts or Lou Piniella?
 AJ: Gotta be Lou. Tom’s job is to keep the team profitable, and Jim’s job is to get Lou the players he needs (I guess signing John Grabow over Matt Capps was probably his biggest mistake this past offseason, but that Milton-for-Silva trade is a decent counter).

Meanwhile, Lou’s job was to get the most out of the roster of players he was given, and it seems he failed to do that. Why not ask Aramis to consider a DL stint after two months of putrid hitting (look at the difference his 15 days off finally made!)? Why continue to hit a struggling Derrek Lee third in the order? Why keep a hot young bat in Tyler Colvin’s on the bench? Why bat your OPS leader in Geo Soto 8th?

Having said that, Lou was an incredible manager for this team, and just what we needed after trusting Dusty for too long. But after three years of varying disappointment, it appears Lou was going through the motions from day one of the 2010 season. I wish he had retired sooner.

Sayers40: The problem with the 2010 stems from a commitment made by Jim Hendry and the Chicago Tribune trying to increase the value of the Cubs after the putrid 2006 season. Hendry sold out big time trying to turn the team into a champion. It worked, in so much as it got the Cubs into the playoffs of 2007 and 2008 but we have been paying for it since.

Rob: Ricketts is just the owner, and a first year guy at that.  He allegedly has "baseball men" in charge of the on-field product, so even though he's a big Harry Caray-glasses wearing doofus, he can be excused from this ass-whipping.

Hendry overestimated the quality of his pitching prospects, his so-called "proven" veterans, and even his experienced core guys like Theriot.  However, a career lifer like Mike Quade was able to take the same team (minus DPLee and Theriot a/k/a Bunny Foo-Foo) and finish the year strong.  Whether this speaks for the untapped potential of the Cubs roster, or the stinkiness of the rest of the league, I don't know, but it was overwhelmingly damning to the job that Lou Piniella turned in since the 2008 Playoffs.

I honestly believe Lou felt the 2008 team would win a pennant, if not the World Series.  Something inside him died after that, and he put the team on auto-pilot.  He could not possibly have been less interested in earning his money the last two years, and for that, he deserves the blame for the abortion that was the 2010 Cubs.

Mike:  Well I can't believe this is Ricketts fault.  He's not making the roster.  I'm going to give this 50/50 to Lou and Hendry.  Jim's gotta find a better way to put this pen together.  It can't be the way it was in April, and it can't be handing out big multi-year deals to guys like Grabow, Remlinger, and Eyre.  There's got to be a healthy medium.

Kurt: As an architect, you hire the greatest building crew in the world, but if you give them cardboard and plywood, they won't exactly build something amazing.  I can't blame Lou Piniella for getting too little out of what little he had.  I can't blame Tom Ricketts for a hire that occurred back in the days when he was a still watching games from the bleachers.  (I can blame him for keeping that hire around, though...)

The failures of the 2010 Cubs center squarely on the shoulders of one Jim Hendry.  Hendry has had an awful long time to build a team the right way (ie., through developing a deep and rich farm system) and he's been given the bankroll to fill holes with talented names.  He has done neither.  Instead, he's just pissed away a decade of top draft picks and he's signed incredibly talented (but undeniably flawed) "superstars."  This is the not-surprising end result.

Peter: There is very little blame that can be directed away from Jim Hendry after this season.  From the start of the season the holes in the team were both glaring and damning: we had no bullpen, the roster was filled with declining veterans, and key roles were being filled by young and unexperienced talent.  While the development and performance of the latter may have some bearing on Lou's view of young talent, the fact is that Big Jim built this team.  As they say, if you make the bed have to lay in it.

Chris: Say what you want about Lou, but in the end the ax needs to fall on the GM. I know bad managers can lose games, but players win and lose. Jim Hendry is the man behind the curtain and the problems are right there for him. There is just too much money tied up in very few players. Jim gets his third chance to rebuild, but I don't see how he can build another winner as the Cubs are constructed. He's at fault with this mess and he probably won't survive the next season.

Here's to you, Matt Murton.

We may not have a Tyler Colvin tag here at GROTA, but we sure as hell have one for Matt Murton.

Murton was a good baseball player -- which is to say, he wasn't a great one. His power was unimpressive, his defense was sort of roundabout, and he wasn't exactly quick. But if Matt excelled at any of the five tools so often referenced in baseball, it was hitting for average.

In 160 plate appearances at age 23 (that is really, really young), Murton hit .321 with just 22 strikeouts. The next year, he hit .297 in 508 plate appearances over 144 games. Unfortunately, his MLB career would assume a downward trend from there, but the guy does have 272 more major league hits to his name than most people on this earth.

So if he's not in the major leagues anymore, why am I writing about him?

The answer is at this link.

Congratulations, Matt, on a job well done!

Who ya got?

You guys! Don't worry! We've got a plan in the works for a season recap that I'm sure will generate all sorts of excellent discussion. And the winter meetings aren't far away, so it won't be long before we're all debating over whether or not it was a good idea to sign Adam Dunn to a five-year, $60 million contract (I hope you understand how unimpossible that outcome is).

In the meantime, though, we've got some major league playoffs happening. My question is: Who ya got?

Gimme the Rangers.

Gamecast (September 24, 2010) Cardinals @ Cubs

Holy crap! Yep, here he is! The triumphant return of Sayers! Yeah, I know I haven't been around very much lately even though the Cubs are, shockingly, paying their best baseball on the season. And yeah, I was wrong about my earlier predictions, I can admit that. Still, I believe this Cubs team is better than they have seemed this year and I think they are at worst, a .500 team going forward.

Today they are playing an effectively meaningless game against the Cardinals who are now almost as out of the race as the Cubs are. Who'd thunk that would happen? The Reds are the class of the division, shockingly.

Today's Matchup: Adam Wainwright (224.1IP, 2.45ERA, 3.15xFIP) vs Tom Gorzelanny (127.1IP, 3.90ERA,4.37xFIP)

Gorz should make an excellent #5 starter going forward for the Cubs. Being under cubs' control for, I think 4 more years beginning in 2011 is key to his value. He is who we thought he was (sorry, I'm in Bears mode right now!) and should continue to give the Cubs about 140-160 IP with an ERA about 4 for the next 4 years. That will be worth far more than the Cubs will pay for it and allow them to increase team payroll elsewhere. It's how you build a winning team. OTOH, Wainwright is going for 20 "wins" which is an almost meaningless stat but the key here is that he is awesome and a leading candidate to eventually hit the free agent market and possibly come to the Cubs. Today's game is meaningless but it would be nice to beat Wainwright.

Who's Hot: I have no idea. But Starlin Castro's batting average is currently batting .306. He is 20 years old. He is a shrtstop. Yeah.

Who's Not: Unfortunately Castro has only hit .240 with just one Xtra base hit (a double) in the month of September. I hope he picks it up a little. His BABIP this month is a putrid .273.

Conclusion: Go Cubs! Let's pass the Brewers and maybe even the Astros in the standings. There's still time!

Eating crow on Jeff Samardzija -- except not at all.

When Jeff Samardzija won his last start, I wrote about how you shouldn't buy into the kid's long-term stock. Despite shutting his opponent out, the kid with the constant control problems throughout his minor league career gave up four walks and six hits -- against just one strikeout -- in 5.2 innings.

Of course, it's only fitting that Jeff would win his next start as well. This time, he limited the hits to three -- although two were home runs -- but continued to give up walks, allowing another four this time around.

Maybe Samardzija can succeed at the major league level despite a high walk rate and a low ratio of strikeouts to walks (he has just five Ks against his seven BBs in his last two starts). Indeed, the Cubs already have a starting pitcher who has shown he can do just that. (You know who I'm talking about, don't you?)

I'm still not sold myself, but maybe you are.

Also of note in yesterday's blowout win: we got to see a former Cub prospect who's been sort of off the map for a while pitch for an inning. Remember when we traded Jose Ceda for Kevin Gregg? Looks like a NBD-move for now.

Series Review - Cubs vs. Marlins

What the heck has happened?

The gutless, useless, overrated, overpaid, uninteresting Chicago Cubs have ... gotten good?  What The Fizz?

These guys are 8-1 on their road trip.  They are beating good teams badly, including a sweep of their recent opponents, the Florida Marlins.  Let's take a look at what happened.

Friday, September 17th - Cubs 2, Marlins 0 (Ryan Dempster; 7.0 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 5 K, for his 14th win of the season)
All the Cubs did was shut down the Marlins offense and provide just enough of their own to be effective.  Dempster looked great, and now appears almost a lock to be a 15-game-winner.  The bullpen looked alive, throwing 2 innings of 1 hit, 3 walk baseball. 

The offense looked tepid, but so what?  Soriano and Soto both had run-scoring doubles, and that was all she needed. 

Saturday, September 18th - Cubs 5, Marlins 3 (Casey Coleman; 6 IP, 5 H, 4 BB, 5 K, 3 ER, for his 2nd win of the season)
Coleman is really making a pitch to be in the rotation next year.  His stuff doesn't appear overpowering by any means, but he's effective and has pitched well for a month now.  And he was again supported by a strangely-reliable bullpen: the Cubs pen pitched 3 innings, allowed 2 hits, walked 1, and struck out 5 (Cashner struck out 3 all by himself!)

The Cubs offense had 7 hits from 6 different players, 8 walks, and demonstrated what a "team effort can do."  Blake DeWitt is looking good as a Cub.  Dare we say he may actually be a good choice for second base next year?

Sunday, September 19th - Cubs 13, Marlins 3 (Jeff Samardzija; 6 IP, 3 H, 3 BB, 4 K, 3 ER for his 2nd win of the season)
I'd still be reluctant to trust the Shark with winning so much as a game of checkers, but his last two outings haven't been "awful."  This is clearly a make-or-break year for the guy -- he's about 8 months away from entering into the realm of "non-prospect" status.  If Samardzija has any hopes of an even somewhat memorable major league career, then the lightbulb needs to go on now.

Oh, and the Cubs bullpen?  3 more innings of work, 0 hits, 3 BB, 5 K's.  In other words, all told, the Cubs pen pitched 8 innings, gave up 3 hits, 7 BB, and struck out 13 this series, while allowing 0 runs to score.  We'll take it!

Offensively, yesterday's game was pretty great.  13 runs.  A homerun from the Cubs new starting catcher Wellington Castillo, who'll be filling in for the soon-to-be surgically repaired Geo Soto.  A 2 RBI game from Brad Snyder, who'll be filling in for Tyler Colvin, who was apparently mistaken for a vampire and got staked during yesterday's game.  Staked!!

So, just like that, the Cubs have given us a September to remember.  They've crushed the dreams of Cardinal fans everywhere, and they'd have to lose pretty much every game for the rest of the month to not go .500 or better in September.

And the best part -- they've done it on the backs of young players who have a lot to prove.  That's great news for Cub fans.  If the team has any hope of competing next year, it'll have to be because those young guys have actually met some of their potential.  Players like Colvin, Coleman, and Castro will have to deliver, even as veterans like Dempster, Soriano, and Ramirez fade into mediocrity. 

Now, Rob has posted his thoughts.  Mike Quade for manager, 2011 and beyond.  I say, nah.  He's getting wins in garbage time, and that's cool, but as long as Hendry GMs, my vote still goes to Sandberg. 

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Hello? (knock knock) Anyone here?

I don't hate the 2010 Cubs anymore.

In fact, we better get a "Mike Quade" tag made for this site.  It looks like we are going to need it for the foreseeable future.

Did I come out here to bitch, after a six-game winning streak, all on the road?  A 8-1 road trip, the Cubs' best road trip since, well, ever?  The Cubs have NEVER finished a road trip of 9 games or longer with better than the .889 percentage they compiled on this particular jaunt through Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Miami.  Ever.

So yeah, I'm pissed.  Pissed off that they HAD IT IN THEM all along, but because of the miserable neglect of their manager, who kept hitting Derrek Lee third, Alfonso Soriano fifth or sixth, who kept running the same lousy no-name rookies out of the bullpen game after game after game, and this was a 100-loss shipwreck.  So we let Quade run the lineup card, and look what happens?  He actually looks at the math, and places guys in the lineup based on already set precedents.  He doesn't just keep writing names on the lines because they feel comfortable, and "they're bound to hit sooner or later". 

On a ballclub led on the field by comatose Lou Piniella, and in the clubhouse by mealymouth Derrek Lee, and even Travis Bickle is gonna want to lie in the shade and chew seeds.  (Kids, ask your parents)  Players will want to play for a manager who seems to give a shit, particularly when he has the guts to sit a guy down for a game or two when he poops on himself.  Lou always played the "hot hand", which is a fine philosophy when things are going well.  But when things are not, intervention is needed, and Lou never ever acted like he cared to intervene.  In the four years he was here, he let himself get kicked out of a game, once, and he demoted an $18 million dollar pitcher to the bullpen.  That's not managing.

Maybe Quade feels like he has nothing to lose, and maybe if he is given a long-term contract, maybe his sphincter shrinks up tight, like all of his predecessors.  But he is 17-7 as Cubs' manager, and if he manages to finish the year, say, 24-12 or even 22-14, how can you possibly consider another candidate?

Actions always speak louder than words.

Now, we can spend the winter arguing about whether or not they should keep Zambrano or trade him for someone else's bad contract.

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