For the first time since 2006, the Cubs are focused on the future rather than the present. Though we've known it for months, Saturday's trade made it official: this year is over, and Cubs fans must once again wait 'til next year.
I'm just happy it's next week after a 1-5 week that pushed the Cubs' record to a season-low 13 games under .500. They lost two of three to the Astros for the fourth time this season and then gave up 31 runs in three games while getting swept by the Rockies (though 12 of those runs came in run inning--I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse).
In addition to truly losing Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot, the Cubs may have lost Carlos Silva for awhile after he left yesterday's game with an abnormal heart rate. Hopefully he'll be all right even though his team has been anything but all right here in 2010.
Ryno of the Week: While Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin combined to go 13-for-41 with a home run, eight runs scored and three RBI, I'm going with the sentimental choice: Ted Lilly. Knowing he was likely making his final start as a Cub, Lilly threw 5.2 scoreless innings in Houston but suffered yet again from a lack of run support in a 6-1 loss.
As a Cub for the last 3 1/2 seasons, Lilly made Jim Hendry's decision to sign him four years ago look like a very good one (in an offseason with many bad signings; see: Zito, Barry and Suppan, Jeff), winning 44 games in his first three years in Chicago. He has been one of the best and most consistent Cubs since 2007, and I wholeheartedly wish him well in L.A.
Goat of the Week: I have zero choice but to go with the entire bullpen. Holy crap. Cubs relievers were forced to throw 22 innings last week, and boy was that unfortunate. They allowed 31 runs in those innings, which works out to a ... carry the three ... add the six ... 12.68 ERA! When even Sean Marshall can't get anybody out, you know it's going to be a bad week for the bullpen.
Every baseball fan's favorite deadline has come and gone, and as you well know, the Cubs' roster is constituted a bit differently today than it was a week ago. You may be wondering what my opinion is on all that's happened. (Or maybe you aren't wondering, in which case: Congratulations! You're sane!)
At this point, the names of the players exchanged in the Cubs' lone deal have been so widely disseminated that stating them again here borders on worthlessness, but for the sake of cohesion I'll do it: the Cubs gave up starter Ted Lilly and infielder Ryan Theriot, in exchange for infielder Blake DeWitt, A-level starter Brett Wallach, and A-level reliever Kyle Smit.
Furthermore, there are two other names that, as far as I can tell, have been omitted from the discussion despite the fact that they probably shouldn't be. Those are Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker.
Every time Theriot started at second base and/or led off leading up to the end of July, folks may have been asking themselves, "Wouldn't a Fontenot/Baker platoon be more effective than this?" And if they had asked me, I would have said to them, "Yes, it would." It would probably be a half-decent option for next year's team, too.
But Fontenot and Baker have each been in the majors for a few years now, meaning they're eligible for some pay raises. And then there's the obvious fact that a platoon requires two rosters spots, which may block a better bat from being available in pinch-hitting scenarios.
With yesterday's trade, I expect the Cubs to non-tender both Baker and Fontenot in this upcoming offseason, giving Blake DeWitt the keys to second base on a full-time basis. Since DeWitt is not yet arbitration-eligible (at least I'm pretty sure he's not), he'll only cost the team about a half-million dollars. Baker plus Fontenot plus additional raises would have cost between $2.5 million and $3 million, I'm guessing, so, look at that! I just found the money we sent to the Dodgers in this recent deal -- not to mention our new 2B is 25 years old rather than 30, which most baseball folks interpret to mean he may still yet increase his skills. And as a member of the 2011 Cubs, by all means he should have every opportunity to do so.
(An aside: You may have your arms in the air right now, saying, "I thought Starlin Castro was going to slide over to second when The Cubs' Other Franchise Player, Hak-Ju Lee, took over at short?!" Not so, my friends; if Castro is to be moved from SS, I think his strong throwing arm plays much better at third base than at second. That'd be one young, talented infield, no?)
One final point: there's a pretty long list of Cubs that weren't traded this weekend that don't exactly fit with the current team, which is very much in rebuilding mode right now. That list includes, but is not limited to: Kosuke Fukudome, Xavier Nady, the aforementioned Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker, Carlos Silva, and perhaps even several established veterans like Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Zambrano.
Remember: there's no guarantee these players will finish the season as Cubs. Likely, most of them will be placed on waivers, which is a-whole-'nother ball game from trades entirely, but it suffices to say that the process could result in some or all of those players being moved.
For now, though, I'm pleased with the return obtained by Jim Hendry in yesterday's deal, and am excited to see the team finally take at least one small step in the direction of a youth movement, rather than patching up our aging roster with 31-year-old, left-handed hitting right fielders.
Hi all. Here are some Cub related notes on today's trade deadline:
The Cubs themselves sent Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Dodgers for second baseman Blake DeWitt and two varying degrees of good prospects. Brett Wallach is the jem here and will immediately move into the Cubs' top 15 prospect lists. Good Bye to Ted and Ryan, both of whom have been key parts of the team over the last four years and deserve our respect and honor. I am very interested to see what DeWitt will be able to do for the Cubs.
The Cardinals traded away Ryan Ludwick and received Jake Westbrook in return. Westbrook is an ok pitcher, everyone keeps speculating that he will be fixed somehow by Dave Duncan and while agree that Westbrook is the type of pitcher who has had success working with Duncan, I also think that rookie John Jay is going to be out of his depth and this deal further hurts the Cardinals' offense. I actually think that overall, the Cardinals have not really improved themselves.
The Astros, of course, traded both Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman away in an effort to turn those 2 out of 3's against the Cubs into sweeps.... I don't think they got back near enough and don't consider Bret Wallace to be anywhere near the offensive force that Berkman has been. I wonder if the Astros wouldn't have just better off keeping both players and trying to swap them in 2011. I don't think they did well.
The Reds did nothing. Kind of surprising. If I were a Red fan, I'd be angry. It may not matter. They could win it anyway. Oh and Jonny Gomes is still a huge Ahole. Just saying.
The Pirates flipped some of their roster for some potentially nice players and pretty much got more from trading Octavio Dotel, Javier Lopez, Bobby Crosby and Ryan Church than the Astros got for dealing Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. Wow.
Ex Cub Kerry Wood got traded to the Yankees. I wish him well and now I'm rooting for the Yankees to win the World Series. Wood is a Cub and will always be one. As such if he wins a title.... in a way we all do. Go Kerry!
Kyle Farnsworth was traded at the deadline to the Braves along with Rick Ankiel for a whole bevy of interesting prospects. Farnsworth doesn't have anywhere near the same level of respect in Chicago that my man Kerry has, thus I am not particularly concerned with this deal. I do find new Royals prospect Tim Collins particularly interesting.
Other than that, the rest of the Cubs are still here. No Fuku trade, no Zambrano trade, Nady will be passed through waivers I'm sure and could be dealt. I am a fan of Mike Fontenot bug with DeWitt on board, I don't really see what he does for the Cubs so I expect Fontenot be also be passed through waivers and possibly traded. Jeff Baker may still have value on the team.
Overall, a massively interesting day. I'm happy with the deal. I would have liked to have seen the Cubs do more but I don't believe I was ever one of those "Blow up the team" people so I won't complain. I will leave this up for two hours before posting today's gamecast.
(Edit) I forgot to mention Will Ohman traded back to the NL to play for the Marlins. He's still around and is pretty effective.
Most of the Cub trade hubbub lately has focused on Derrek Lee's decision to invoke his no-trade clause and prevent a deal with the Angels. That led to a debate about Lee's interest in winning, his skills as a leader, and other intangibles discussion points.
Pardon my lack of segue. Call it a quick left turn:
Last night, the Minnesota Twins traded for Matt Capps, the Nationals' closer. In the deal, they gave up Wilson Ramos, a 22-year-old catcher who hit .317 in AA last year, a guy who apparently has a super arm when it comes to throwing out runners.
In a potential Ted Lilly trade, the Cubs are asking the Mets for Josh Thole, according to some reports. Thole has a .783 OPS in his career in the minors, but in 48 plate appearances with the big league club this year has managed to post a .941 OPS.
Three lefts, just one more to go:
Until very recently, the Twins had been considered a likely landing spot for Lilly. They wanted him pretty badly, and given the deal they just made with Washington, it seems like they had a guy in mind that they were willing to give up to get Ted.
Fourth left, now we're back to where we started:
Some folks seem to have been bothered by the fact that Derrek Lee used his no-trade clause (the one he earned from having played in the league for 10 years, spending five of those with one team) to block a Los Angeles deal. Let me be honest: the Cubs may have possibly saved some money, but given Lee's performance this year we probably weren't going to get anything valuable back.
Having said that, it looks like up until last night, a Ted Lilly-for-Wilson Ramos swap was distinctly possible. And according to reports, the only thing that held the deal up was Ted Lilly's decision to invoke his limited no-trade clause, which happens to include the Twins.
If you want to talk about "wanting to win," turning down the Angels, who trail the Rangers by a sizable margin, is one thing. But the Twins are getting tons of buzz as a World Series favorite. If you want to give a guy flak for not wanting to go after a championship, take everything you've said about Derrek Lee and triple it, because that's what Ted Lilly deserves, not to mention his role in denying the Cubs a Top 100 catching prospect.
The current state of the Cubs:
All you really need to know is that Aramis Ramirez is hitting mistakes again.
At the beginning of the year, he wasn't. He wasn't hitting anything. Neither was Derrek Lee. And outside of the couple of times our bullpen blew leads early in the season, and the other night with Marmol, this was pretty much the story of the year. Guys would get on base and Lee and Ramirez would strand them. Over and over again.
Now Ramirez has healed, and is hitting like he always has, and a few days after that, so has Lee and Soto. The word is that Lee is the clubhouse leader on the Cubs, and that is unfortunate because not only does he not have the personality to truly lead, he is also largely irrelevant offensively.
He has had two monster years with us, 2005 and 2009. The Cubs finished below .500 both years. Ramirez has had big years in 2004, 2007 and 2008, all winning years. As Ramirez goes, so does the Cubs offense. There is a greater statistical correlation as well as a practical correlation between what Ramirez contributes and what Lee contributes in terms of offense-to-wins. This is what makes teammates sit up and listen, and only if Aramis could back up his practical relevance with words.
But he chooses to defer, like he did after each of the playoff sweeps, and this is why I went bat feces when he did. Ramirez SHOULD lead the Chicago Cubs. When he hits, we win. As long as he keeps it up, we should have a winning second half, even though the decent starting pitching is beginning to falter.
Lou's retirement announcement, and why we are yawning
This was the biggest non-announcement ever. Of course Lou is retiring. Some say he retired 2 years ago. He did it so people will quit asking him. Some say he has earned the right to finish this year on his terms, and he will. I'm not one of them, but there is the sentimental side of me who will give the man his respect.
Besides, Crane Kenney and Jim Hendry aren't going anywhere, so even if they got to choose a new man this afternoon, he would be no better than the last two guys they hired.
There seems to be no accountability in this organization. Lou has the freedom to do one wild, crazy move after another, and when he is asked to explain himself, he either stutters and/or gets testy. Jim has developed a decent drafting mechanism, and he is the king of the desperation trade and the fire-sale steals, but he has never made a good value-for-value straight trade in his whole tenure. Not to mention, of course, his poor free-agent record, as well as his aversion to conflict, which has resulted in avoidance of arbitration - and overpaying players.
But, neither one of these guys can say they have done their job as badly as the Tribune holdover, Crane Kenney. What exactly DOES he do? How is the Triangle building doing? How about the Great Wrigley Field reclamation? What great marketing angles have we exploited lately? When can we expect to watch the Cubs Network? When Jim Hendry sucks, who calls him on it? And if Hendry were to get fired, who would pick the next guy?
A corporate lawyer with no baseball background?
I want a baseball man put in Kenney's place. Someone who can evaluate Hendry fairly, and determine if he is the man or not. A new manager needs to be found. Do we do the popular thing and stick Ryno in there? Is Joe Girardi the guy? How about Bob Brenly or Alan Trammel? I heard Joe Torre mentioned? Who do you choose? They all have their own qualities.
There needs to be a organizational direction, which is developed and regulated by the President (the Kenney position), communicated throughout the competitive organization by the GM, and implemented on the field by the manager. Depending on that direction, it could be Brenly, Torre, Ryno, Girardi, the frozen head of Ted Williams...but we need a direction first, and Kenney is not the guy to set it.
The President needs to see the middling-to-slightly above average health of the farm system, as well as the capabilities of what I am calling the Core of the 2011 Cubs, the guys who will definitely be here.
Soriano, Byrd, Marmol, Dempster, Soto, Ramirez, Castro. Everyone else, even Zambrano, I could see a scenario where they may not be here next year. These seven individuals will be, and the direction starts with what we are going to surround these seven guys with.
I don't know if Hendry is or isn't that guy. I'd really like a real baseball man to evaluate what he has done. I don't like his results, myself, but then again, he hasn't had much to work with from above. That's the biggest question going forward for us.
The Cubs played well last night. The final score doesn't totally show it but the Cubs crushed the Phillies. Tonight they face another stinky pitcher named Joe Blanton. Makes you wonder why the Phillies, upon acquiring Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays would then dispatch Cliff Lee and his rather cheap contract to the Mariners. As Arsenio used to say, things that make you go hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Today's Matchup: Joe Blanton (80IP, 6.41ERA, 4.60xFIP) vs Ted Lilly (97IP, 4.08ERA, 4.75xFIP)
My take on today's starting pitchers is this. They both stink. Blanton is significantly better than than his ERA has been but is still bad. Lilly is mildly worse than his ERA is and is also bad. I hope Lilly has "good" or even "lucky" outings for the next two so the Cubs can turn him into a prospect. He has been uniformily the worse pitcher in the Cubs' rotation this year. I know it's not likely but I hope the wind is blowing in today. Lilly is an extreme fly ball pitcher. Typically it's very hard to win longterm with a ground ball rate well under 40%. Lilly has successfully done that over time while pitching in Wrigley Field. He's likely to give up a HR or 3 today, I just pray he doesn't walk people before the HR or get unlucky on balls in play. Today would be a good day to go with an outfield of Colvin/Byrd/Fuku to increase the chances of balls to the outfield (which will be many) being caught.
Who's Hot: Geovany Soto's wOBA is now 20 points higher than it was in his rookie year. He is close to his rookie season ISO (.219 then vs .206 now) and is crushing his rookie year walk rate. In the month of July, he's hitting .343/.410/.629 and has as many extra base hits as singles on the whole month. His defense is questionable these days but it's not like he's Mike Napoli. Today is a day game after a night game which is the only day he should be resting though with the all star break just concluded and Soto getting to rest 3 straight days, if I were Lou, I'd start him today. He's simply too important to our offense to sit.
Who's Not: Ryan Theriot is not a leadoff hitter and even though he's had an ok month of July batting average wise, he still doesn't come close to walking enough and has amonthly OBP of .313. That number is serving to kill the Cubs' offense. Mike Fontenot would be so much better in this role. Play Fontey at second base and hit him first unless you're "showcasing" Theriot for a trade. If the Cubs are playing to win, Theriot is, at best, on the bench.
Conclusion: If the Cubs had a better starter going, I'd call today a likely win but I'd say it's a toss up. I think the Cubs win this game at home with this matchup about 52% of the time. Hopefully Lilly can keep the ball from flying onto Waveland or Sheffield and we can fly that W flag.
Not exactly the outing you want to see from a pitcher your team is trying to trade. Or, you might say, exactly not the outing you want to see.
Ted Lilly didn't make it out of the fourth inning last night, allowing seven hits, two walks, and a home run, for a total of five earned runs in 3.2 innings pitched. The home run was hit by Russell Martin, immediately after Lilly allowed a walk and a single.
The Cub offense showed up last night, putting up seven runs over the course of the game, including two in the ninth when Aramis Ramirez drove in Kosuke Fukudome on a triple, and was then brought home on a Marlon Byrd single. But it wasn't enough.
Gold stars go to Marlon Byrd, who went 4-for-5 on the night (all singles) with three RBI and a run scored; Tyler Colvin, who went 1-for-3 with a double, a run scored, and two walks; and Aramis Ramirez, who posted his fourth consecutive multi-hit game, going 3-for-4, with a walk to boot. Aramis ended up a home run short of the cycle, while scoring twice and driving in one run. His post-DL stint stats now look like this:
.333/.381/.628 (1.009 OPS), 10 R, 9 RBI, 4 HR
So much for my analysis a month ago, when I said Derrek Lee looked capable of a comeback while Aramis looked toast. The only defense I can offer up is that I wish Aramis spoke up sooner about his bum thumb. I guess athletes are supposed to tough it out, but Ramirez' at-bats have truly been as different as night and day pre- and post-DL. I'll try to take another look at each hitter's peripheral stats later on to figure out what the problem is.
In the meantime, as trade speculation continues, the Cubs continue to lose games. So that's too bad.
Happy Independence Day Everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It's July 4th and the Cubs have a game today. We live in the greatest country on the planet Earth so let's not get too down (well, Kurt lives in Canada, but let's not hold that against him! I wanted to mention one other thing from yesterday's game. During the game there was a play where Randy Wells laid down a bunt and didn't run hard to first and it resulted in a near wild throw that should have ended up with Wells on first base.
Now, Bob Brenly lost his mind. He screamed at Wells for not booking down the line but realistically, I am happy he didn't. I don't want these guys to risk hurting themselves running the bases. Please, Randy, jog down the line. Don't hurt yourself. You're an automatic out anyway. Whenever you reach base, it's gravy. If Wells pitches like he did yesterday all year, I don't care if he walks up to the plate and takes 3 batting practice fastballs down the middle of the plate and then takes a left turn back to the dugout.
On to today's game:
Today's Matchup: Mike Leake (95.1 IP, 3.30 ERA, 4.42 xFIP) vs Ted Lilly (86.2IP, 3.12 ERA, 4.61 xFIP)
Two pitchers who have an ERA significanly lower than it should be hook up today. Lilly is a fly ball pitcher who needs to keep people off the bases per the walk. But you all know that. Leake needs to get ground balls to win. He has a ground ball rate near 50%. The question is this. Can Leake keep the ball on the ground. I do think the Cubs will have the advantage if the wind is blowing in but the Reds will have the advantage if it's blowing out. Of if the Cubs offense takes the field
Who's Hot: My man Starlin is 8 for 20 with 4 doubles and 4 unintentional walks since June 26th. People who say there is no good reason to watch the Cubs this year should focus on this player. He is 20 years old and I think he's at the beginning of what is going to be a great career. That is enough reason to keep watching.
Who's Not: There's no longer a good reason for the Cubs to keep batting Tyler Colvin near the top of the lineup. His OBP has drifted down to .316. I don't think he's that bad at that aspect of the game but he is always going to be a bit of an out machine. He will need to hit the ball out of the park regularly to be valuable long term. It's been a nice 3 months but I think we're finally starting to see the real Colvin.
Conclusion: The result of yesterday's game is the reason why I have been dumbfounded by the Cubs this year. See, the starting pitching is so good that they should win games like this. Fairly low scoring games that the Cubs come out on top of should be their forte this year. Instead they've been losing those games all year. The truth is one of two things is going to happen in the second half. Either the Cubs' starting pitching will get worse or the team will surprise people by putting together a bunch of unexpected wins. It shouldn't be enough to get them into playoff contention but I confess, I've never seen a team with starting pitching this good lose so regularly.
Ted Lilly was his usual self last night: he challenged Pirates hitters, gave up a home run and a walk, struck out a handful, topped out at about 86 mph on the heater, and went seven innings. And this time, he even won the game. Bravo, Theodore.
Not that the Cub offense really did all that much to get him the W, of course. But Alfonso "Streaky McStreakerson" Soriano is back into "hot mode," and hit two homers last night, which turned out to be enough to get Lilly the favorable decision. Also, kudos to Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol for their shutdown innings in relief. Each of their ERAs remains just a touch above 2.00.
Also of note: as a team, the Cubs threw 93 of their 127 pitches for strikes last night, a 73% ratio.
As far as positive offensive performances beyond Soriano's, Koyie Hill went 2-for-3 with two doubles, and Starlin Castro went 1-for-1, doubling in his only at-bat (walked intentionally and brought in a run with a sac fly in his other plate appearances).
Cubs win! Yippee skippy. What's more (less?), they play again in two hours. Go Cubs!