If The Horse Isn't Dead Continue The Beatings
In sports, the window closes.
Any team that decides to make a move for the championship will select a few key stars to lead their team for the foreseeable future. In Detroit, the Pistons had a solid starting five of Rip, Sheed, Chauncey, Ben and Prince for years. In Indianapolis, the Colts offense spent many years revolving around Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Eddgerin James.
The problem with the concept of the "core" is that, eventually, they get old. Just a couple years after winning it all, the Boston Celtics will have this problem, with KG, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce all aging quickly (and three good knees between them). The Phoenix Suns' core of Steve Nash, Amare Stoudamire, and Shawn Marion has already been dissolved, even without having won a championship.
In Chicago, the Cubs have their core. They've invested tens of millions of dollars in three position players that simply can't be moved. For the foreseeable future, third base belongs to Aramis Ramirez; Derrek Lee owns 1B; and Soriano gets left field. That's how it is.
The Cubs' offensive core has had their days. They tasted the postseason in 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately, those days were short. But more importantly, they happened--this team had its chance.
As our core ages, as Aramis' shoulder acts up, as Derrek's neck spasms continue to flare, as Soriano's quick hands start slowing down, we're beginning to notice a major flaw with the group. Fans are convinced, along with the team's manager, that this group needs a lefty power bat to win.
Unfortunately, there's no place to put that bat. We've decided on our core, and there really isn't a lot of wiggle room one way or the other.
Jim Hendry tried to fill the lefty power gap by signing players like Fukudome and Bradley. In doing so, I think Hendry was wise not to ignore one crucial element of the game--defense. The guys we've got are not oafs. Bradley's brain hasn't quite caught up to his legs yet, but the guy can still move around.
As an example, look at the top five lefty outfielders in slugging this season: Raul Ibanez, Brad Hawpe, Adam Dunn, Jason Bay, and Jonny Damon. Those guys will all most assuredly see a rapid decline in their defensive skills over the next one to three years, assuming of course that it hasn't happened already.
Basically what I'm saying is--if you're convinced that the Cubs need a left-handed power bat to win it all (and I'm almost convinced of the fact at this point), then you're going to have to wait until 2011, when Lee vacates his spot at first base, for a championship team on the North Side of Chicago.
Until then, perhaps you should advocate having the Cubs act as sellers in the trade market, to prepare them for their next run. At this point, I think that's the side I'm on.
As Chris pointed out in the post directly below mine, Gerald Perry looked to be on the hot-seat. Well, in fact, according to Carry Muskat, Gerald Perry was fired at 11:00 a.m. today and will be replaced by Von Joshua.
As for me, I disagree with the move. The recent lack of offense is both recent, somewhat short-lived, and most definitely not Gerald Perry's fault. Jim Hendry has generally conducted his personnel moves with class, but firing a guy mid-season because his hitters are slumping looks rather desparate. Maybe there's pressure from above, but I think that Jim Hendry should take a closer look at his own performance as well. Afterall, Perry was the hitting coach during last year's amazing run of offensive performance.
This post is not to continue the Hoffpauir debate, but to draw attention to a greater debate. The greatest flash in the pans in Cub's history. My vote goes to Ced Landrum. In 1991 he stole 27 bases in 86 at bats. Did not make a major league roster in in 1992 and ended his career in 1993 after a cup of coffee with the Met's. Let's see if anyone can beat that.
A couple of times today, I referred to an article I wrote toward the end of November about why starting Mark DeRosa in RF is not a brilliant plan. I won't rehash the entire article, but I'll point out again a few figures for you folks so you can see my standpoint.
First and foremost, Mark DeRosa is not a viable option in RF next year for two primary reasons. 1) Defensively he'd probably be below average in RF (to be fair, Colin thinks he'd be average, or maybe even slightly plus) and B) Offensively he'd be below average compared with the league.
Consider the following three lines as evidence:
2008 AVG - .285 AVG, 30 2B, 3 3B, 21 HR, 87 RBI, .376 OBP .857 OPS
Career AVG - .279 AVG, 27 2B, 2 3B, 13 HR, 64 RBI, .348 OBP, .770 OPS
MLB 08 AVG - .270 AVG, 37 2B, 4 3B, 21 HR, 87 RBI, .347 OBP, .797 OPS
The third line represents the overall production, by average, of every RFer in baseball last year. DeRosa was actually on par, if not slightly better than average in 2008, although his numbers would have placed him as the 14th-or-so best right fielder in 2008.
In other words, DeRosa's career year puts him as an average starting right fielder with below average defensive tools. Does anybody really think he'll match his career year numbers in 2009?
Contrast that with DeRosa's career average and the average output of a second baseman in baseball:
Him - .279 AVG, 27 2B, 2 3B, 13 HR, 64 RBI, .348 OBP, .770 OPS
Them - .275 AVG, 36 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 72 RBI, .338 OBP, .747 OPS
Here, DeRosa's likely output next year puts him slightly better than average compared with the league's second basemen.
Basically what I'm getting at is this: the Cubs don't need to turn a strength into a weakness. They need to turn their weakness in right field into a strength. Moving DeRosa to right field doesn't fix their offensive holes, it just shifts them around a little. After all, they will no longer have the 3rd best production in CF, which is what the Cubs had last year.
In other words, last year, the Cubs looked like this offensively: they were above average at 5 positions, average at 2, and below average at 1
Moving DeRosa to RF and starting Fontenot - or Hudson - at 2B won't improve that figure. They will be a weaker team offensively when last year's biggest failings were the offense in October. So, I'll say it again, and again, and again. Mark DeRosa is not a good option to play right field in 2009.
It is hell playing for a team with a miserable, laughable baseball history. But, things are looking up for you, as you enter this playoff round with a sizable statistical edge against your opponent. Things start off great, but with a seven run lead, and only nine outs away from a World Series, the dream unravells as your opponent comes back and takes the game, along with the next game.
And so, heading into Game 7, you have no shot, right? I mean, the momentum you held as recently as the 7th inning two games ago slipped away, fell into the other guys' laps. They clawed back, came roaring back in fact, and it is your role now to lie in the middle of the tracks, waiting to get run over. Statistical superiority be damned, we're doomed, I've seen it before, over and over again, and it is inevitable. THAT is what's gonna happen, right?
Of course not. Not if you're on nearly any other team on the face of the earth. You have a Game 7, at home, in the warehouse you play in, the score starts at zero to zero, and you have a shot at winning, same as the other guy. And if you're the Tampa Bay Rays, despite your previously miserable existence and your disinterested fanbase, you send something called Matt Garza out to start, and a guy you called up in September gets the last four massive outs against the defending World Champs, and you win a pennant, pop corks, and get ready for your first World Series.
Even though you've only existed for 11 years. Even though you've never won more than 70 games before now. Even though you coughed up an insurmountable lead in an elimination situation against an opponent who has won the championship in two of the past four years. Even after having to Change Your Name before the start of the season, picking fights in Spring Training and having other teams condescend to you, petting your head like a toy terrier and gushing how cute it is that the wee little Rays are acting all scrappy. Even though your most famous player is only famous because his name sounds almost like the same name as some hott actress!
Even after all that, you pick yourself up and win Game 7, because you can, because you're good, because after all, this is just a game, and you both put your pants on one leg at a time, and all the other cliches you can dig up. Because your hitters hit, your pitchers pitch, and your manager pushes the right buttons. Because you're Not cursed, because you don't have a Hundred years of negative dissonance you're trying to overcome, and because you simply played better, made fewer mistakes, and you ran out of innings and your run total was more than the other guys.
Doesn't that all sound so simple, so obvious?
Then Why The Hell can't WE ever do it?
Wood pitched one inning Tuesday against Houston, and had his charity bowling tournament Wednesday. But he wasn't in the bullpen during Friday's 11-inning affair, leading to the question of whether he was available to pitch.
"No, he wasn't available," Piniella said.
Is Wood OK?
"He wasn't available," Piniella repeated. "He was OK, but he wasn't available."
After stonewalling the question and turning to another subject, Piniella eventually went back to Wood's situation.
"Woody's back was bothering him," he said reluctantly.
So the blister problem was fine?
"Yeah, it was his back," Piniella said.
Can Wood pitch Saturday?
"We'll see when we come to the ballpark," he said.
I promise at some point I’ll write about something that isn’t Rich Harden. (Maybe I could follow up with a Ryan Theriot post later today?)
Ironically, adding Harden, a great pitcher, barely increases their chances of getting into the post-season, as they were almost a lock before. Of course, he greatly increases their chances of winning IN the post-season - if he lasts that long, which might be 50-50 at best.)
BTW, losing Harden only decreases OAK chances of making the post by 4% and that is not including any possible value from Patterson, Murton, and Gallagher, over and above what they have now.
AccuScore comes up with similar numbers.
Harden is obviously the better pitcher, but we have to account for the difference in durability as well, so let’s add Harden’s theoretical replacement into the equation. The A’s are one of the best organizations in baseball at finding spare parts to put up solid performances in their rotation (their defense and home park don’t hurt), so let’s assume that Amalgamation Of Harden Replacements will make up the 80 inning difference by posting a 5.50 FIP, a tick or two above league wide replacement level.
That brings the combined totals for Harden + Harden Replacements to 180 innings with a 4.25 FIP, compared to the 180 innings we were projecting from Gallagher at a 5.00 FIP. That’s a difference of three-fourths of a run per nine innings, which while significant, adds up to a grand total of about 15 runs over the course of an entire season.
Fifteen runs, or roughly 1.5 wins - that’s the entirety of downgrading from Rich Harden to Sean Gallagher, based on the assumptions I made above. If you don’t like the numbers I used, feel free to plug in your own, but unless you’re very bullish on Harden’s health, you’re going to come to the conclusion that the swap will cost the A’s at most two or three wins between now and the end of 2009, when Harden’s contract expires.
We did get Gaudin as well, which Dave doesn’t take into account.
The Phillies shied away from dealing for Harden due to health issues. I think the Cubs were the one team that really matched up well for Harden; they wanted a top-shelf pitcher but don’t have the need to ride him like a horse to the playoffs – other buyers like the Phills and Brewers are looking more for a horse they can ride down the stretch.
The New York press has noticed fly-over country long enough to make the Prior-Wood reference.
ESPN’s Keith Law (because if there’s anything GROTA’s been missing the past day, it’s reactions from ESPN writers) has some nice things to say:
When he's 100 percent, Rich Harden is an ace, a potential No. 1 starter with dominant stuff who can miss bats. Only A.J. Burnett can match Harden's stuff among pitchers we believe are available in trades, and Harden carries neither Burnett's baggage nor his horribly team-unfriendly player option.
By getting Harden, the Cubs added to a strength; their rotation already led the National League in ERA. They can push Sean Marshall back to the bullpen, which is probably his best role, or roll the dice on Marshall's recent success as a starter and bump Jason Marquis, their worst starter and someone unlikely to improve anytime soon, to the bullpen.
Of course, Harden has thrown more than 130 big league innings just once in his career, and has already thrown more major league innings in 2008 than he did in the past two seasons combined. He's an extremely high risk, and you could argue that Oakland was already playing with house money, having received 13 more starts from Harden than they had any reason to expect.
Chad Gaudin is an outstanding second player -- hate to call him a "throw-in" here -- for the Cubs, as a short reliever who could be dominant in that role in the NL. His fastball/slider combo has produced over 300 innings of above-average pitching since Toronto discarded him after a grand total of two big league starts, and his career-long vulnerability against left-handed batters has vanished this year, in large part because of his improved control.
How about know Cardinals fan Dayn Perry?
But there's another concern: Parting with Gallagher means that Jason Marquis must hold down the fifth starter's job. It's almost a historical imperative that Marquis will collapse in the second half. For his career, Marquis' ERA before the break is an acceptable 4.29; after the break, however, that figure rises to 4.97. At present, the Cubs' other options for the five hole include Rich Hill, whose control problems have forced him all the way down to rookie ball, and the newly acquired Gaudin, who's much more effective when deployed as a reliever. So if Harden goes down and Marquis struggles in the second half (neither is particularly unlikely), then the Cubs suddenly have serious issues in the rotation. In other words, the loss of Gallagher is not to be discounted.
Hi, Dayn, I’d like to introduce you to “being wrong.” Starters the Cubs could use to replace Jason Marquis right the hell now:
- Sean Marshall
- Chad Gaudin
- Jon Lieber
- Kevin Hart
And those are just the guys on the 40-man roster. We have others in AAA if need-be. Please, please get rid of Jason Marquis, Cubs.
First, here's what I think the keys are to understanding the Harden trade:
- Jim Hendry has a way of getting what he wants at the trade deadline, and he deserves to be congratulated for what he's accomplished here. I know Harden is an injury risk, but Hendry got arguably a better pitcher than the Brewers, with a sweet club option for next season. He got a throw-in in Chad Gaudin that's really a pretty good prize. And he did it while probably not trading away a player as good as the Player To Be Named Later in the Sabathia deal.
- And Hendry is not out of trading chips. He still has Donnie Veal, Jeff Samardzija, Ronny Cedeno, Felix Pie, Tony Thomas and others. We still have our best catching prospect left, as well. (I mean Wellington Castillo, under the assumption that once you're elected to the All-Star Game you're no longer a prospect.) And we're still a ways away from the trading deadline.
- That said, the Cubs did give away real talent in the Harden deal, and he did give away a lot of guys I really liked - Murton, Gallagher, even Patterson. And Beane has a gift for finding diamonds in the rough. So don't be surprised to be hearing good things about these guys in the years to come. (Or even months - I think the A's may still be in the race in the AL West, and the players they got could very well contribute.)
- The big win was doing this trade weeks before the deadline, thus maximizing the value.
Now, I'd love to sit here and tell you that I think Harden is worth X number of wins to the Cubs this season, like I did with the Sabathia trade. But there's a lot more moving parts and pieces to this trade, and the chaining is going to take a lot more work to figure out. Lou Piniella himself admitted tonight in the postgame presser that he didn't know what moves the Cubs would make tomorrow to accommodate this trade. So let's just consider the roster implications for now, and we'll figure out the cost/benefit analysis later.
Losing Murton and Patterson shortens up the Cubs bench options, which may only be an issue until Soriano gets off the disabled list, but unless the Cubs decide to carry 13 pitchers until he returns (and I consider that unlikely), some roster moves are going to have to be made.
I'm going to have to grit my teeth for this, but the most likely arrangement of our rotation (in some order) for the time being is:
- Carlos Zambrano
- Rich Harden
- Ryan Dempster
- Ted Lilly
- Jason Marquis
There's too much Jason Marquis in that rotation, but I don't see the Cubs moving him to the pen, at least not yet.
The remaining pitchers on the 25-man roster:
- Neal Cotts *
- Bob Howry
- Jon Lieber
- Carlos Marmol *
- Sean Marshall *
- Kerry Wood
- Michael Wuertz
- Chad Gaudin
An asterisk represents players who can be optioned to the minors. Obviously Marmol will stay with the big-league team; that leaves Neal Cotts and Sean Marshall playing Odd Man Out; Marshall looked very good in his last start and Cotts had to be taken out for Marmol in tonight's game, so Cotts might be the one returning to Des Moines.
Not counting Mark DeRosa, the Cubs only have three outfielders on the 25-man roster currently, something I think they'll want to address at least until Soriano's return. Being generous to certain people's defense, the guys who are on the 40-man who fit that description:
- Micah Hoffpauir
- Felix Pie
- Sam Fuld
- Jake Fox
Jake Fox is an outfielder only in the sense that he's a failed catcher, and probably isn't an option. Sam Fuld is currently hitting .241/.335/.329 for our AA team, which doesn't normally auger a callup. So the most likely options are Pie and Hoffpauir.
Hoffpauir continues to decimate AAA pitching, going .347/.362/.694 down in the minors, but he seems to fill the same niche as Daryle Ward on the team. (And I just want to note that he's being outhit by Jason Dubois on the I-Cubs, for those of you who are tempted to say we just have to find room for his bat somewhere on the team.) Pie's posting a less-than-stellar .241/.293/.400 line for the I-Cubs, but his bat is starting to heat up; he's gone .300/.363/.425 in his last ten PCL games. The answer could have as much to do with what the Cubs think is best for Pie's continued development as what they think the needs of the big-league team are.
I do want to say something here - the effects of this trade on the team are likely to be far less than the emotional high that we're all feeling from this trade right now. Even if Harden goes out and lives up to his potential as an ace starter, he's likely not going to have an impact of more than three or four marginal wins. (And that could be the irrational fan in me talking - it could well be less than that.)
But as much as that, the trade is also a signal to fans that the team is serious about competing for a World Series, and fans tend to respond to such signals very strongly, regardless of the particulars underneath.
Cardinals fans are going to be looking for such a signal in the coming days, and I think they'll be disappointed. They're the real loser of the NL Central arms race; Harden won't make the Brewers go away, and I have a feeling we're going to have to get through them to make it into the Series at some point. Should make for some good baseball.
And, if you're not already tired of hearing about Harden - and I have a feeling you're not - here's some more reactions from around the web.
ESPN's Jason Stark is more favorable to the Cubs than his colleagues at the Worldwide Leader:
In fact, one baseball man called Oakland's decision to trade Harden now -- while he's pitching great and the A's are still in a race -- a "serious red flag." Meanwhile, in a potentially related development, a scout we surveyed reported that Harden's velocity hasn't been quite the same in his most recent couple of starts, since his eight-inning, 11-strikeout two-hitter against the Phillies on June 26.
But the Cubs have watched every pitch he has thrown for weeks. They saw him hit 96 mph on the gun Sunday with their own eyes. So clearly, they'll take their chances on the odds of getting him out there 14 or 15 times between now and Sept. 28.
True, Harden comes with no get-your-four-trade-chips-back health guarantees. But unlike Sabathia, he's also not a rental. The Cubs get to keep him for a year and a half. Plus, they add very useful Chad Gaudin to their bullpen -- and, potentially, to their rotation in case of (a) emergency, (b) a Harden health mishap and/or (c) a patience meltdown by Lou Piniella with, say, Jason Marquis.
"The Cubs," one scout said Tuesday night, "have the best rotation in the league right now" -- CC in Cheesehead Town or no CC in Cheesehead Town.
Asked Tuesday whether the A's got enough for one of the most overpowering pitchers in baseball, one scout chuckled: "For a guy who might break down tomorrow? Yeah."
But the Cubs understood that, too. Understood exactly what they were dealing for in Harden. He might miss a turn or two. Or 10. But at this point in the life of their quasi-tragic franchise, they weren't interested in playing it safe. Not anymore.
Gallagher is a decent 22-year-old who isn’t that far away from being a useful #4 starter. He commands three pitches and throws an occasional change-up, and while he’s got slightly better stuff, he’s probably going to have a Joe Blanton career. Useful, but not much star potential, and he’s the main guy in this deal.
Murton, we’ve talked about as a potential M’s target - solid role player, good defensive corner OF who can hit lefties. Could be a league average player if given the chance, but not enough power to be more that that.
Eric Patterson is Corey’s younger brother, but not the same type of player - gap hitter, decent idea of what to do at the plate, but can’t really field second base well and was moved to the OF to try to find a spot he could fit in with Chicago. The A’s probably move him back to second base and groom him as Mark Ellis’ replacement next year. That’s some kind of defensive drop off to go from Ellis to Patterson, but the bats are similar.
Donaldson was a second round pick last year who hasn’t hit in his first year in the pros, but he’s got some long term potential. A nice gamble, but not a guy you want to count in your plans anytime soon.
So, the A’s get a mid-rotation starter who isn’t going to be going anywhere anytime soon, a part time outfielder, a guy who might be able to keep second base warm for a few years while not killing them, and a catcher who is years away from the show.
David Pinto, former chief researcher for ESPN's Baseball Tonight and Baseball Musings writer:
Obviously, Harden answers the Sabathia trade very well. He doesn't go as deep in games as CC, but the Cubs now send out three aces with Zambrano, Dempster and Harden. It's like having Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz from the mid 1990s. It looks like a great move for both clubs.
He's more optimistic about Dempster than I am, I'll say that.
Billy Beane learns what we knew back during the Ted Lilly signing - Trader Jim answers his phone no matter what:
On Sunday evening -- the same night when word broke that the Brewers had worked out a deal for CC Sabathia -- Hendry indicated to Beane for the first time that he would make Gallagher available in a Harden deal, but it would create a problem: If Gallagher was traded, the Cubs wouldn't have the kind of depth they needed to deal with an injury.
"Let me call you back," Beane said.
Beane had an idea. He could fill Hendry's need for depth by adding veteran swingman Chad Gaudin in the trade. He phoned Hendry back on Monday night with the suggestion. "That could work," Hendry said, and the two general managers began piecing together other parts of the trade. Beane called Hendry with a detail of the trade very late on Monday night, California time, figuring the call would switch over to voice mail on Hendry's cell phone because it was so late.
But Hendry answered the phone, wide awake. "Jim, what are [you] doing awake?" Beane asked.
"I'm just laying here on my couch," Hendry said.
Oh, and about that dead arm thing. Checking with Fangraphs, Harden's fastball this season has averaged 92.6 MPH. In the past seven days? 91.9 MPH. I wouldn't worry too much about that yet.
Murton is excited about his new opportunities, which means he hasn't been told yet that the A's are assigning him to their AAA affiliate in Sacramento.
Just in case, you know, I haven’t said enough about him yet. On May 21st, Bruce Miles wrote:
The reporter wanted to ask Ryan Theriot about stats.
"Uh, oh," the Cubs shortstop said.
No, this time, the stats are on Theriot's side. Not only did Theriot bring an on-base percentage of .410 and a batting average of .333 into Tuesday night's game against the Astros, he was tied for the National League lead in multihit games (20) with Houston's Lance Berkman and Atlanta's Chipper Jones.
That's some heady company for any player, especially one who ran afoul of the stats-oriented crowd last year when his numbers dropped precipitously in September.
Theriot won the starting shortstop job early last season but finished with an OBP of .326 and a slugging percentage of .346 for an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of only .672. Entering Tuesday, Theriot's OPS was a nice .828.
Theriot made some changes to his swing over the winter and came to spring training in good shape, proving that perhaps you can work and "grit" your way to better numbers.
So, did he prove that? Let’s take a look at the game logs. Since Bruce wrote that article, Theriot has hit .288/.368/.308, or a .678 OPS, pretty much a dead ringer for his production last season. Well, except for the fact that his OBP is higher than his SLG. [I have to take this moment to say, I saw that one coming. Again – I’m still not sure that it’s meaningful, other than for its novelty value.]
So, which is the real Ryan Theriot – the .828 OPS guy that Miles wrote about, or the .678 OPS guy he’s been since? Or is it somewhere inbetween - the .755 OPS guy he’s been if you combine the two together?
The problem is in looking at selective endpoints – good hitters go through cold streaks, and poor hitters have hot streaks. You need to look at a large number of plate appearances to get a bead on a player’s true talent level.
We can looking at the preseason projections of Theriot’s talent level – according to Cubs fans, looking at the Bleed Cubbie Blue community projections, or cold, heartless machines, looking at ZiPS, the picture is basically the same. Theriot’s performance has dropped substantially since his hot start to the season, and I expect continued decline out of Theriot.
I am not a magician. I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do have a spreadsheet. It thinks that, based on his performance to date, Theriot is most likely to hit .281/.346/.356 the rest of the season, or a .702 OPS.
I guess we’ll find out.