It will never happen. I don't even think it should happen. I'm not saying I want it to happen. I'm prefacing this post with that, and it will also be how I finish the post for one reason: there will be somebody who reads this idea of mine and thinks I'm serious, and will take time from his/her otherwise extremely busy day to scold me because it's so ridiculous.
Over in the GROTA shout box, we've been talking about pitching decisions. One reader made the point that if the Cubs traded for Peavy, then Sean Marshall would have to be demoted back to the bullpen - eliciting a series of "duhs" from the listening audience. But this got me thinking ...
What if a team essentially went with a 10 man pitching staff, comprised entirely of starters? They would all be pitchers relegated to entering games on certain days, regardless of match-ups, and they would throw a certain number of innings regardless of consequences. Think about it.
There would be 5 pitchers responsible for starting regularly. They would throw a maximum of 5 innings per start. Never more, never less (unless they were just getting rocked).
After 5 innings pitched, no matter what the score, the "relief pitcher" would come in and throw the remaining 4 innings of the game.
In other words, the 5 starters, if healthy, would average about 160 innings a year. No arm strain there. The 5 relievers would average about 128 innings pitched a year.
For example, if it were to happen this year, it would probably resemble something like this:
Innings 1-5 Carlos Zambrano; Innings 6-9 Sean Marshall
Innings 1-5 Ryan Dempster; Innings 6-9 Neal Cotts
Innings 1-5 Ted Lilly; Innings 6-9 Chad Gaudin
Innings 1-5 Rich Harden; Innings 6-9 Jeff Samardzija
Innings 1-5 Aaron Heilman; Innings 6-9 Kevin Hart
A few factors to note with this ridiculous concept:
- If the starter is a righty, if possible the reliever should be a lefty
- If the game goes to extra innings, the reliever should be capable of throwing into the 12th inning. After that point, it might be necessary to have an 11th spot reliever/starter to step in and go the rest of the distance, however long it might take.
The basic premise of this concept is that starting pitchers are, on a whole, supposed to be better than relievers. Obviously there are relievers who are outstanding at their roles - Carlos Marmol - but it would be a way to 1. save the arms of your starters and 2. get you as many as 3 or 4 saves leaders per season, because any time those relievers inherited a game with a lead, they'd likely be up for the save.
Of course, it would never work. No pitcher would want to be a part of that program. Even if it was a sound concept - and it's not - and your team won, say, 100 games with this kind of pitching staff, the wins would be very evenly distributed between the 10 pitchers on the staff. Your "ace" might have 12 wins, 15 at the most, but since wins mean money he wouldn't want to pitch in such a regulated manner.
Meanwhile, your relievers would all want to be starters themselves and even if they averaged between 10-20 saves each, they'd be pretty unhappy with their situations.
Besides, it will never happen. I don't even think it should happen. I'm not even saying I want it to happen. This is just a process of thinking aloud about a very strange and stupid concept.
Confession time: I'm no fan of Spring Training. It's about as entertaining to me as learning algebra. But for perhaps the final time, we'll be taking a look at the Cubs Spring Training numbers of interest. And if I list a player who's already been cut, well, it's only because I'd rather chew my arm off than be forced to actively follow along.
In no particular order ...
Micah Hoffpauir - 21 for 71 (.296) 5 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 19 RBI, .905 OPS
The Hoff has slowed down just a bit. We've still got some Cub fans who believe that he's the Next Big Thing. I hope I'm wrong, but if you still really believe that he'd be a better starting first baseman than Derrek Lee, then I have an awesome, authentic Rolex watch I'd like to sell you for $50.
The Demoted Jake Fox - 21 for 60 (.350), 5 2B, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 1.033 OPS
How could I have been the only one to appreciate his amazing production this year, coupled with his ability to play minimally five positions in the field? Anyway, he never spent a moment's time at catcher this Spring. But if he had, then he could've been the backup catcher assuming he outplayed these two:
Paul Bako - 11 for 31 (.355) 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI .910 OPS
I am admittedly impressed that Bako has discovered his stroke. (No, he hasn't rediscovered his stroke, because he never had one to begin with.) But I'm heartbroken because his successful hitting makes him the likely backup catcher, which means that we have to suffer through another season of Gabor being the first line backup for Geovany Soto.
Koyie Hill - 15 for 39 (.385) 3 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI .967 OPS
Hill has sipped from many cups of coffee in his playing career, but he's never been successful in the majors post-march. And as impressive as his numbers have been so far this spring, I'd just like to remind everybody that in 21 at bats last year, the guy struck out 12 times. Even Dave Kingman and Rob Deer are impressed by that ridiculous ratio.
Outfielders vying for a spot they will not likely get
Joey Gathright - 11 for 40 (.275) 0 extra bases, 6 SB, .658 OPS
So Taguchi - 9 for 37 (.243), 2 2B, 1 3B, 10 RBI, .742 OPS
Notice the difference here... in 3 fewer at bats, Taguchi has 2 fewer hits, equating for a difference of 30 points of batting average. I can't see Lou going with 3 backup outfielders and 7 relief pitchers, but that's the position he'd be in if either Joey or So make the squad. If neither of them do, I hope that one or the other will be willing to play in Iowa because, chances are, they'd be called upon before too long regardless. Just ask Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley, who are not permitted to travel without a tire jack and spare wheel for fear of breaking down.
Infielders vying for a spot
Bobby Scales - 14 for 42 (.333) 5 2B, 11 RBI, .843 OPS
Luis Rivas - 6 for 26 (.231) 0 extra bases .490 OPS
Andres Blanco - 14 for 45 (.311) 1 2B, 1 HR, 8 RBI .733 OPS
If the Cubs do not go with another backup outfielder, then either Scales, Rivas, or Blanco will make the team. My vote goes to Scales, although Blanco is an adept Neifi-like sub who can play a number of positions. But Bobby Scales is BOBBY effin' SCALES. Besides, everybody likes the story of the career minor leaguer who finally gets his chance, and Jake Fox has already been demoted.
The Bullpen Conundrum
Aaron Heilman - 15.2 IP, 2.30 ERA, 18 SO, 6 BB
It could be just me, but it seems that, since Heilman lost out on the rotation, he's come a little undone. I'm not saying we should toss the guy under a microscope (or a bus) but his ERA was sub-2 before a decision was made.
Chad Gaudin - 11.2 IP, 10.03 ERA, 7 SO, 8 BB
He might make the bullpen due to a contractual obligation, but Gaudin has done nothing at this point to justify that kind of decision. If he can't have a solid week before the season starts, then I'm predicting that he will suffer from a mystery injury in order to buy him some time at extended Spring Training.
Kevin Gregg - 8.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 10 SO, 2 BB
Carlos Marmol - 8 IP, 4.50 ERA, 10 SO, 1 BB
I still argue that in order to save Marmol, Marmol must save. His roughest patches last year came at a time when Lou was using him almost daily. That's no good. If he closes, Lou will be less inclined to pitch him multiple innings multiple days in a row. I'll probably write more on this this weekend, or on Monday.
Neal Cotts - 7.2 IP, 3.52 ERA, 5 SO, 2 BB
Luis Vizcaino - 7.1 IP, 3.68 ERA, 9 SO, 4 BB
Earlier this Spring, Piniella said regarding Vizcaino that he wouldn't be afraid to cut deadweight pitchers with big contracts. Since then, the former Rockie has buckled down and now has a respectable ERA and K total. Maybe Piniella should reiterate that sentiment for Golf-Ball-Through-a-Garden-House Gaudin. (That's a cumbersome nickname)
In a dog fight for the last spot
Tim Waddell - 8.2 IP, 1.04 ERA, 9 SO, 4 BB
Waddell - who is NOT the Rule V selection according to intrepid reader Chief - is really trying to stay on the Major League roster. Goat Writer Jason even points out that he throws with the right hand to make the team! (Lefty) But will he defy all odds and stay in Lou's good graces? Stay tuned to find out!
Dave Patton - 9.2 IP, 0.93 ERA, 10 SO, 2 BB
It's Patton who is the Cubs Rule V pick, and he's doing even better than Waddell. It'd be awesome if he could make the team - I love underdog stories; I'm a lifelong Cubs fan - but it remains to be seen if Piniella has the stones to find a spot for the kid.
Jeff Samardzija - 12 IP, 9.75 ERA, 8 SO, 5 BB
I just can't see the Cubs going with Shark in any circumstances to start the season. His numbers clearly imply that he belongs in Iowa for now.
Chad Fox - 9.1 IP, 1.93 ERA, 8 SO, 2 BB
When, oh Lord? When will Chad Fox retire? If the Cubs cut him, another team may give him a shot. But I'm starting to think that Fox is a masochist who pitches only because he enjoys the pain.
Randy Wells - 8.2 IP, 3.12 ERA, 7 SO, 3 BB
Mike Stanton - 8 IP, 6.75 ERA, 5 SO, 3 BB
Stanton must have recently gotten rocked. He'd had half-decent numbers but his ERA is now half way toward Gaudin territory. He remains Lou's only lefty-alternative option, but I think I'd rather see Piniella use somebody who throws right handed but gets out lefties.
Besides, this whole "two lefty" approach is stupid. After all ... conventional wisdom says that if you have a right handed relief pitcher, your opponent will go to a left handed hitter. But what if the righty reliever mows down the lefty hitters like they're weeds in his garden? Isn't it an advantage to defy convention in the name of success and use that guy in those situations?
Yesterday, we took a look at the contingency plans in place for the Cubs hitters. We discovered that as many as three regulars could be injured at one time and the Cubs would have the ability to pick up the slack and continue to rain a glorious and holy offensive fire upon the pitching staffs of the league. ("A glorious and holy offensive fire..."? Now THAT is a descriptive!) So, let's see what the Cubs do if...
Jeff Samardzija - The first arm I tap to replace an injured starting pitcher is the Shark. Maybe he's ready, maybe he's not. Maybe he has growing pains to go through. But for his potential alone I'd give him the first nod.
Yesterday, we took a look at the contingency plans in place for the Cubs hitters. We discovered that as many as three regulars could be injured at one time and the Cubs would have the ability to pick up the slack and continue to rain a glorious and holy offensive fire upon the pitching staffs of the league. ("A glorious and holy offensive fire..."? Now THAT is a descriptive!) So, let's see what the Cubs do if...Carlos Zambrano gets hurt
...and Ryan Dempster
Aaron Heilman - If two starters go down at once, I'd work on the Aaron Heilman reconditioning program. Once Heilman is ready to start, he might effortlessly become one of the better pitchers in the rotation based on his solid play this Spring.
...and Rich Harden
Chad Gaudin - Here's where it starts to get ugly. I still believe that Gaudin has the potential to be a good'un (get it? Gaudin, good'un? They almost sound similar!), and it wouldn't be the first time a pitcher totally sucked in March and cranked it up in April, but Gaudin no longer appears to be the great insurance policy that he once was.
...and Ted Lilly
Mitch Atkins - This is a tough call. If Angel Guzman is still a Cub, then he gets the first nod just because of his experience. Atkins, though, is the 15th prospect on our Top Prospects list and in Iowa last year went 8-1 with an ERA of 4.47 in 10 starts. The ERA is not exactly something to be excited about, but he's probably as close as the Cubs get in 2009 to having a Sean Gallagher-type who might be ready to pitch in the majors when called upon.
...and Sean Marshall
Kevin Hart - Again, a tough call. This is the worst case scenario. Remember - Hart only gets promoted to replace Marshall if every other Cubs starting pitcher has already been hurt at the same time. (Maybe they piled into somebody's vehicle clown-car style and had a crash or something.) Hart is also a little old now to be considered a viable prospect - 27 - but he's pitched exceptionally well in Iowa and he did well this Spring with the Cubs. Hart actually has had a very interesting Spring. He's tossed 9 innings, allowed 6 ER, and struck out 14 to 2 walks. I wouldn't count on him to deliver reliable, winnable performances every single game, but if he can give the Cubs 5+ innings of work every outing while the Cubs desperately await any of their other starting pitchers to return from our theoretical injuries, then that's really about all they could ask for.
Carlos Marmol gets hurt
Kevin Gregg - Assuming Marmol is the closer, Gregg becomes the replacement closer. Obviously, it's vice-versa if Gregg gets the nod and is hurt. Gregg has demonstrated that he should be reliable to close in '09. Actually he just might have a smaller chance of flaking out than Marmol does.
Again, the Cubs show a lot of strength here despite what some of the talking heads might say. Back when the Cubs dealt Marquis to Colorado, some of the bored Chicago sports writers about went Bree Gordon on us and flipped out because there was some fear about the Cubs having less depth in case of a variety of worst case scenarios. But assuming that Gaudin gets his groove back, the Cubs could probably survive as many as three rotational injuries at once. Find for me one team that can say the same thing.
Better yet, find me one team that wouldn't take one of the Cubs alternates right now. There are probably a handful with solid, filled rotations, but most teams have trainwrecks for 5th starters. Not the Cubs.
As much as I detest his ability to draft and develop prospects, I'll give Jim Hendry credit this time. The Cubs are deep, they are solid, and they will win a lot of games in 2009 ... even if the worst case scenario happens up to six times at once.
It wasn't too long ago that one of the biggest acquisitions on the Cubs was a talented outfielder with injury proneness. And when he was healthy, Rondell White put up great numbers. In a season and a half with the Cubs, White managed to play in 114 games - 14 after he was acquired in 2000, and 95 in 2001. In 390 at bats, he batted .310 with 19 homers, 59 RBI, and he broke about 12 million hearts with his inability to stay healthy. The problem wasn't that we didn't expect him to get hurt - you'd have to have been an idiot not to think it was bound to happen. The problem was that the Cubs had nobody of substance to replace him when he was on the DL. In other words, when White went down, the backups were Delino DeShields and Roosevelt Brown - neither of whom were world breakers.
This year, the Cubs have invested a lot of money and hope in another extremely talented, often injured outfielder. But what happens when Milton Bradley gets hurt? Who do the Cubs have to replace this year's starters, and how well will they play? Let's take a look.
Geo Soto gets hurt
Wellington Castillo - Young and talented, Castillo may be the next Cubs minor league catcher talented enough to play in major league baseball. (He'd also only be the second or third one in 60 years.) He's not expected to be a heavy hitter like Soto is, but he makes contact and has defensive tools on the same level as Henry Blanco. Regardless of whether or not Bako becomes the backup this year, Castillo would be the call I'd make to replace an injured Soto on the team.
Derrek Lee gets hurt
Micah Hoffpauir - Ah, the hottest topic of debate amongst semi-illiterate Cub fans. Apparently all you need to have a fan club in Chicago is an immense season at Iowa in your 3rd or 4th year there and one good month at the Major League level. If you can achieve that feat, fans will be ready to burn their favorite player's jersey in order to insert you in his place on the roster. Maybe they're transient White Sox fans. Anyway, if Lee goes down with an injury, Hoffpauir is the obvious first choice to replace him at first base. Sorry Cub fans - Hoff almost certainly will not surpass Lee's productive (or defensive) capabilities in 2009, but he'll be a passable replacement.
Mike Fontenot gets hurt
Aaron Miles - Miles is a soft-hitting singles hitter who would be a starter on many teams in baseball. If he becomes the replacement for a dinged Fontenot, he'd be the #8 hitter in the Cubs lineup and the team probably would get by just fine for a while without their Lil' Babe Ruth.
Ryan Theriot gets hurt
Aaron Miles/Andres Blanco - Shortstop is one of the thin positions on the Cubs right now. If Theriot gets hurt, then the likeliest choice is Aaron Miles. But if it's Andres, then we should know that Blanco is a light-hitting shortstop like Theriot who is batting better than .300 this spring and is a career .252 hitter at the Major League level. He's only 24, though, so maybe he can improve on that.
Aramis Ramirez gets hurt
Jake Fox/Bobby Scales - Welcome to the next thinnest position on the Cubs. If Ramirez misses a prolongued period of time, the Cubs are screwed. Best case scenario, they move Fontenot over to this position and he gives them very thin defense. Worst case, the Cubs turn to Jake Fox or Bobby Scales. Both guys have had great springs, with Fox hitting 4 homeruns and driving in 16 RBI before being cut by Piniella yesterday. Bobby Scales is another versatile guy who has batted .333 so far this Spring. I'm not convinced either will translate well into full-time starting at the major league level, so probably the best option is moving Fontenot to third and starting Miles at second.
Alfonso Soriano gets hurt
Reed Johnson/Micah Hoffpauir - When the Fonz goes down, it will probably be Reed Johson who gets the bulk of the starts in left field. Reed has proven to be a very scrappy, white ballplayer. Should Reed need to play elsewhere, Micah Hoffpauir will probably get the nod.
Kosuke Fukudome gets hurt
Reed Johnson - At the moment, the only Cub with center field cred is Reed. Should Soriano and Fukudome collide in the outfield and both require time off, it will be Johnson who starts in center while Hoffpauir pulls duty in left. Another player who can patrol the outfield on a limited capacity is Aaron Miles.
Milton Bradley gets hurt
Reed Johnson/Micah Hoffpauir - Let's say that all three outfielders get hurt at the same time, then the likely promoted player might be Sam Fuld (who had a great Spring before getting cut), who could play any outfield position along with Reed and Micah. Fuld is also quite scrappy and fun to watch, although he lacks the offensive punch of even Kosuke Fukudome.
I think it's safe to say that because of Reed Johnson, Aaron Miles, and Micah Hoffpauir, the Cubs have the ability to survive up to three injuries at one go. But if they lose anything more than that for a prolongued period of time, it'll be tough to win with offense.
Maybe to you that sounds dire or grim, but ask yourselves ... how many other teams out there could survive for a few weeks (or even a month) at a time with three regulars on the DL? The answer is: few or none. The Cubs definitely have some depth problems on the left side of the infield, but they are a solid looking ballclub.
So, what did we learn yesterday? Let's try to recap:
- Micah Hoffpauir will break camp with the big team, according to Rob quoting Lou Piniella. I wonder if that means that Joey Gathright and So Taguchi are now officially playing for pride? Or will the Cubs go with - gasp! - a six man bullpen, allowing for another hitter to make the team?
What remains to be seen is if the Cubs will be employing a player actually capable of backing up Ramirez at third, or if they'll be expecting Mike Fontenot to pull double duty. At the moment, Jake Fox and Bobby Scales are both capable of playing third, are hitting the ball well, and face imminent cuts by Lou Piniella, while Koyie Hill is hoping to get a chance to improve upon his lifetime .190 AVG as a big leaguer. By the way - in 21 at bats last year, Hill struck out 12 times. Seriously, can Jake Fox still catch?
- Alfonso Soriano - will he play in 120 games and hit the cork out of the ball, or will he play in 162 games and steal the shiz out of the bases too? I'll just ask that we consider this: 1. His injuries have been flukish, 2. even young, powerful, speedy players have trouble hitting 40 and stealing 40, and 3. can't we just hope for health and helacious offensive production, forgetting all about this illustrious 40-40 figure? Just saying.
- Jeff Samardzija - looks like he might pitch in the pen after all. Blame Chad Gaudin for trying to suck golf balls through garden hoses on the mound.
And now, your pitchers of interest.
Sean Marshall - 13.1 IP, 0.68 ERA, 8 SO, 1 BB. Marshall has to be favored to get the 5th starter's gig, although the Cubs still don't have any standout reliable lefty relievers. Lou just might have to ignore Marshall's outstanding performance and go with the second best choice ...
Aaron Heilman - 10 IP, 1.80 ERA, 13 SO, 3 BB. Ignoring the ERA, Heilman's been pitching with authority and leads the Cubs in Spring Training strikeouts. At this point, I'd honestly not be even the slightest bit upset if he got the job.
Jeff Samardzija - 10 IP, 9.90 ERA, 6 SO, 4 BB. No offense to the Shark, but he hasn't really done anything to even warrant bullpen consideration in my opinion. Maybe Piniella will give him a shot to win a bullpen spot, and if he fails to even succeed at that then they can send him to Iowa to work on his pitches.
Jason Waddell - 8 IP, 1.13 ERA, 9 SO, 3 BB. Jason Waddell? I don't even know who that is!! He's too old to be a prospect, he's never pitched above AA ball, and he appears to have been signed as a minor league free agent from the Giants organization. Also, he's a lefty. I'd consider him to be the dark horse to make the team, but if he somehow managed to crack the squad it frees up Sean Marshall to start.
David Patton - 6.2 IP, 1.35 ERA, 7 SO, 0 BB. Patton was one of the players brought over in the Marquis trade. He's always been a strikeout pitcher, but he's never thrown above A ball. He's also not exactly known for his pinpoint control. Still, it's nice to see him have some confidence-building success. (Or he may have been the Cubs Rule 5 pick ...)
Justin Berg - 6.1 IP, 1.42 ERA, 3 SO, 3 BB. A career minor league starter with an accumulated ERA of 4.81, I don't think anybody's expecting Berg to be on the team in April.
Kevin Hart - 6.1 IP, 7.11 ERA, 10 SO 2 BB. I'm only mentioning Hart because he has 10 K's in just over 6 innings of work. He's recently put up some good numbers in the minors, but last year he was a doormat at the Major League level. The strikeout total is interesting, but I don't think Lou's paying him any attention.
Chad Gaudin - 8.2 IP, 10.38 ERA, 5 SO, 5 BB. Once a competitor for the starter's spot, once the pocket-ace of the Harden trade, Chad Gaudin is now known for pitching like crap while looking like an incest survivor. He needs a new gimmick - it's time to cut the beard and start pitching effectively. His position on the Cubs roster is no longer secure.
Angel Guzman - 5 IP, 14.40 ERA, 3 SO, 3 BB. Guzman is quickly blowing what may be his final chance to be a Cub. I know some of our readers think he could be - or should be - a huge contributor to the '09 season, but it appears as if the surgeons have shaved off some of the God-given talent that he once had. Pity.
Kevin Gregg - 5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 5 SO, 1 BB. Gregg's been extremely efficient this spring, although he's going to have to be absolutely perfect to steal the closer's role from Carlos Marmol.
Carlos Marmol - 4 IP, 2.25 ERA, 5 SO, 1 BB. Marmol had a scary moment a few days ago in which he almost allowed the Angels to have a Big Inning. He gave up a hit and then hit two batters before striking out two to end the inning. Nobody's expecting the Dramatic Hamster to be perfect, but he's got to do better if he wants to close.
Conclusions - The bullpen situation of the Cubs is hardly resolved, but it doesn't appear shaky either. The Cubs have a lot of arms - many of them young, some of them unproven - competing for roster spots. If there are surprises to be had, they will be in the pitching staff. But what won't be surprising is if the six (or seven) men left standing turn out to be very reliable.
Hey, it's Rob, chiming in: if I were Uncle Lou, and went about this totally logically ala Mr. Spock, Heilman would be my fifth starter, Marshall would be my swing man, Gregg would close, Marmol would pitch the 8th, the Shark would start in Iowa, Gaudin and Vizcaino would be released, Guzman would be humanely euthanized, Mike Stanton would be encouraged to choose Medicare Plan D for its prescription drug benefits, Waddell would be my LOOGY which leaves Cotts, Patton and maybe Hart to fill out the rest of the pen.
But if you have read all the articles from all the "legitimate" sources, and pieced them together like an old jigsaw puzzle with most of the edges chewed off by moths, it appears that Marshall will be the 5th starter, Heilman will be the swing guy, Marmol will close, Gregg will pitch the 8th (until such time that Lou gets sick of watching Marmol repeatedly shart himself), Stanton, if he is still alive and can lift his arm on April Fools Day, will be the LOOGY, Patton, Waddell, and Hart would enjoy another year at BaconFest in Des Moines, and Vizcaino, Cotts, and Gaudin live to enjoy another year of MLB per diem.
Quick Links: Spring Training Review from March 10th
The baseball season remains just under a month away. There are plenty of opportunities for surprise players to surge to the forefront. There are even more opportunities for heavy favorites to evaporate in a cloud of injury and suck. But at this moment, on the Chicago Cubs, the following hitters warrant watching:
(Note: we'll do the pitchers for tomorrow morning, this article will be plenty long enough even without them)
Micah Hoffpauir - The Hoff continues to hit. He now leads the Cubs in at bats this spring. He's 14 for 45 with 2 doubles, 2 homers, 10 RBI, and a .311 AVG. His OPS: .822.
Joey Gathright - 6 for 22, 0 extra bases, .273 AVG, .633 OPS. Gathright is pretty much who we thought he was - a soft hitting outfielder with speed. This might actually be a case where Hoffpauir needs to outhit him by a lot to actually take his roster spot, but so far to me it's a no brainer that Gathright loses this battle.
So Taguchi - 4 for 18, 1 3B, .222 AVG, .724 OPS. I have to wonder - if So Taguchi grabs the 5th outfielder spot, how will Lou justify it? His veteran presence? His ability to speak Japanese? I'm not sure. But at this point, he has to be second to Hoffpauir in the race for this roster spot.
Sam Fuld - Just thought I'd throw this one out there. Fuld is the darkest horse in this race, but right now he's 6 for 21, with 1 2B, 2 HR, a .286 AVG and a .994 OPS. Remember when he made that phenomenal catch in 2007? Since Lou seems to love Short 'n Scrappy, maybe Fuld's got a better chance than meets the eye.
Luis Rivas - 6 for 25, 0 extra base hits, .240 AVG, .509 OPS. Rivas probably has a fair shot of being the team's backup middle infielder. But if it was an elected position, I'd probably vote for ...
Bobby Scales - 7 for 24, 2 2B, .292 AVG, .768 OPS. Scales is a substitute teacher in the off season. He's a Crash Davis. His name sounds like that of a deadly hitman. And that's what he'd be - Bobby Scales, off-the-bench hitman. I can already see the marketing campaign.
Jake Fox - 10 for 34, 2 2B, 2 HR, .294 AVG, .897 OPS. If Jake Fox could be a suitable backup catcher, then he'd almost be a no-brainer at this point. The only problem is that he doesn't really catch anymore - hasn't since 2007, when he caught for 13 games. But he also plays 1B, 3B, and LF. We all know that Lou likes versatile players, and if Fox can catch, then just maybe he gets the nod ahead of Paul Bako.
Paul Bako - 3 for 18, 0 extra bases, .167 AVG, .417 OPS. Note to Lou: please take out your trusty fork and stick it in Bako. He's done.
Mike Fontenot - 13 for 35, 4 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, .371 AVG, 1.192 OPS. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your next Cubs second baseman Mike Fontenot. Actually this reminds me of a question I've been asked a few times - if the Cubs ever win the World Series, doesn't that make GROTA irrelevant? Similarly - if Fontenot is awarded the starting gig at second base from opening day, doesn't that make Bench Aaron Miles! irrelevant? I can't speak for AJ Walsh, but on the fateful day that the Cubs win a championship, GROTA will become a blog in which we say I told you so. BAM! can be the same.
Aaron Miles - 8 for 30, 0 extra bases, .267 AVG, .600 OPS. Aaron Miles is a no-brainer backup who can pinch hit from either side of the plate. That's the way it should be, and that's the way it will be.
Corey Koskie - still 0 plate appearances. I get the feeling that Koskie isn't serious about playing baseball and will be gone long before he and Dempster have the chance to bond.
Conclusions - Baseball is a funny game. The best Cubs hitters - Fontenot and Hoffpauir - have 13 and 14 hits. The guys they're "beating" for a roster or positional spot have anywhere from 4-8 hits in far fewer at bats. It's amazing to think that opinions are being formed and decisions are being made based on a player having perhaps as few as 2 more hits than another guy. What if Taguchi has a day in which he goes 3 for 3 with 2 doubles? What if Hoff or Fontenot go 0 for their next 10? It's very possible, and it's all still a very small sample size for important decisions to be made. And it can also be argued that none of it is really fair.
As promised, we're going to take a look today at the only thing that counts in Spring Training - the clutch hitting of Derrek Lee. Wait, that's not right.
No my friends, we're going to look at the competitions. Presently, the major ones on the Cubs are for the 5th spot in the outfield, the starting gig at second base, and the starting rotation. Also, the losers of the latter two competitions are probably bound for spots backing up the infield or pitching middle relief, while being forced to carry about the backpack of backup shame. Anyway, here's how it looks:
Micah Hoffpauir - 12 for 37 (.324 AVG 2 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, .891 OPS)
Joey Gathright - 6 for 18 (.333 AVG, 0 extra bases .762 OPS)
So Taguchi - 3 for 12 (.250 AVG, 1 3B, .817 OPS)
Jason Dubois - 2 for 12 (.167 AVG, 0 extra bases, .500 OPS)
Sam Fuld - 3 for 15 (.200 AVG, 1 HR, 1 RBI, .694 OPS)
At this point, based on pure hitting ability it's Hoffpauir's gig to lose. But if Joey Gathright even stays close, he just might get the nod due to his defensive versatility. It's pretty easy to suggest that the Hoff's offensive power gives him an edge over his defensive ineptitude, but it's a heck of a lot harder to prove with the power of numbers.
Meanwhile, So Taguchi joins Jason Dubois and Sam Fuld at the street corner, waiting for the next bus out of town. These guys just really aren't having an outstanding Spring.
Mike Fontenot - 11 for 30 (.367 AVG, 3 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1.206 OPS
Aaron Miles - 6 for 27 (.222 AVG, 0 extra bases, .498 OPS)
Luis Rivas - 4 for 19 (.211 AVG, 0 extra bases, .461 OPS)
Corey Koskie - No At Bats Yet (WBC, where he's also had no at bats)
Bobby Scales - 5 for 17 (.294 AVG, 1 2B, 4 RBI, .721 OPS)
Fontenot is running away with it at this point. I only mention Rivas and Koskie because one of those two guys will probably make the team as backups, although Bobby Scales arguably deserves it more at this point. Scales has to be the true Dark Horse in this competition, but I have a suspicion that his status as Career Minor Leaguer will work against him, even if he continues to hit the ball.
Paul Bako - 3 for 15 (.200 AVG, 0 extra bases, .494 OPS)
Koyie Hill - 5 for 14 (.357 AVG, 2 2B, .938 OPS)
It's the same deal as Koskie/Rivas vs. Scales ... Koyie Hill is hitting the ball very nicely, but he will be hard pressed to take the job from veteran Paul Bako -- not because Bako is better, but because of baseball politics.
Sean Marshall - 9 IP, 1.00 ERA, 5 SO 0 BB
Jeff Samardzija - 8 IP, 6.75 ERA, 5 SO, 2 BB
Chad Gaudin - 7 IP, 5.14 ERA, 5 SO, 1 BB
Aaron Heilman - 5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 7 SO, 2 BB
Angel Guzman - 4 IP, 9.00 ERA, 2 SO, 1 BB
If opening day was tomorrow, I think Lou would have to pick Heilman even over Marshall as the 5th starter. The reason is this - apart from Sean, none of the lefty specialists competing for a gig have experienced anything even remotely resembling success. Samardzija might still also have a shot at the job, but he needs to buckle down and have a few outings where he makes no mistakes.
Things shockingly appear to be working out the way you'd expect. Usually there are a few Spring surprises, so far I don't really see any this year. I think that if anybody surprises us this spring, it'll be Bobby Scales who just might earn his way onto the roster in front of fringe major leaguers Corey Koskie and Luis Rivas. And speaking of Koskie - have I missed a news story explaining why he hasn't actually played yet? Somebody please fill me in.
Regardless of how much some of us here love lil' Fonty, Uncle Lou isn't sold on the idea of his being the backup third baseman. (Maybe because he's the starting second baseman). Lou isn't sold on Aaron Miles over there either.
In Lou's words, hell, I don't blame him.
So Lou wants a guy who presumably can "backup 1B and 3B". Translated, this means a power hitting someone who can play third, because since time immemorial, third basemen are expected to hit for power. Incidentally, this has never seemed truly fair to me. Sure, power hitting first basemen are great if you have them (See: Santo, Ron, and Ramirez, Aramis), and sucks when the other guys have them. (See Schmidt, Mike, and Roid, A.). But in my mind, the position is as hard to play as shortstop, or damn close, and we never seemed to mind when our shortstops don't break the double digits for homers, career. In the Steroid Era, certainly, even our shortstops hit homers, everyone hits homers, pitchers hit homers, bullpen catchers hit homers, beer vendors hit homers, even Frank Pellico came down from the organ loft and hit a dinger in 2004, I believe.
Soory, as Kurt's future in-laws might say, that was a digression.
Fact is, Lou wants another guy that can hit like Hoffpauir off the bench, yet can fill in at third about once a week. Too bad Hoffpauir himself can't do it. But he CAN'T do it. The other day, I wondered if Corey Koskie could do it. It seems to me like he would be ideal, if he were completely healthy. However, we must assume that perhaps Koskie is not all the way back, because Lou is publicly beseeching his boss for outside help in this regard. Presumably he's looking to trade for a Bill Hall-type figure - not that Milwaukee would send us Bill Hall, even if he were the last backup third baseman on Earth, but someone like that. Hey, is Russell Branyan still alive?
Anyway, our recent history indicates that if Lou wants something, Jim Hendry will get it, so be looking for that real soon. Personally, I back Lou up in this particular endavor. What's Eric Hinske doing with himself lately?
My point of business today is - how does this fit? I'm sure Lou wants to carry 12 pitchers - he has carried at least that many throughout his entire tenure here. I'm sure Lou wants a backup catcher for Soto. (minor laugh intended). The numbers start to dwindle. That's 13 position players, then 11 non-catchers, then 4 non-catching-non-starters. Miles is one. The Hall-esque figure discussed above is another. The third would be the CF-platoon-player-du-jour, either Johnson or Fukudome, depending on what arm the starting pitcher brushes his teeth with.
How about that fourth guy? When I was discussing Koskie the other day, I was wondering who should be worried about him, whether it was Joey Gathright, or the aforementioned Hoffpauir? It sounds like they shouldn't worry about Koskies, but they should worry about this new mystery meat Lou wants to bring in. And out of the two? If I'm the quick guy who can jump over cars, steal bases and chase down gappers, I'm not as worried. Lou loves guys like me, because I can play all the outfield positions, I can pinch run, and if I ever get caught in a rundown, I can just jump over fools.
The Old Skipper in the Sky knows I loves me some Micah, as only a big solid free-swinging lefty can love another. But the more I hear from Band Camp, the more it appears that he isn't going north with us. If we had the DH, or a 26th man, he's in, but Lou has convinced himself that the problems we've had all boil down to Not Enough Rest for the Regulars, and thus he needs versatile, multi-positionals on his bench. Since Hoffpauir's three best positions are DH, 1B and Post-Game Spread, he seems to be odd man out.
It doesn't make much sense for another team to accept him in a trade for this Theoretical Healthy Corey Koskie-esque figure, so I figure it will take a portion of our pitching depth (Heilman/Gaudin) to pry this asset loose.
UPDATE - Robothal seems to think that Micah can rest easy, that the Battle of the Bench has been fought and won, that every last word I wrote here is a big fat lie. Well, while I would be happy for my guy, it might not be the best thing for the team if Hendry stands pat with what we have.
To conclude, it also sounds like our best LOOGY in camp is...Kevin Gregg? Well, that's not gonna happen. Lou doesn't appear satisfied with Cotts or Stanton thus far (once again, who can blame him?) so perhaps our beloved Hoff is the price we will end up paying for a man who pitches to single solitary left-handed batters for a living, a man named after phlegmy spittle. Mom, look at the LOOGY I left on the sidewalk!!
Even though Jim Hendry did what I consider to be an admirable job in trading a lot of our "spare parts" this off season, the Cubs are still blessed with a few competitions in training camp this spring.
There are 19 guys who I would bet my paycheck that, barring injury, will start the season with us in Houston. Soriano, Fukudome, Bradley, Ramirez, Lee, Zambrano, Dempster, Harden, Lilly, Vizcaino, Gregg, Heilman and Gaudin, based on their contracts alone. Then there are also Theriot, Fontenot, and Miles - this is your middle infield core. The Rookie of the year, Soto, along with Bako, the catchers. Of course, Marmol. None of these guys has to compete for a roster spot.
Now, let's look at what else is going on:
- Marshall and the Shark are competing for the "fifth" starter role.
- Hoffpauir and Jake Fox are competing for the "power hitting backup to Lee" role.
- Gaudin and Heilman are competing for the "ugliest, most disgruntled" reliever role, but I already counted them above. Never mind...
- Cotts and Mike Stanton are competing for the "token bullpen lefty" role.
- Finally, let's hope that Miles and/or Fontenot can show some success in the role of "backup third baseman". Because, otherwise, we're going to be forced to carry someone who can, out of the cesspool of Andres Blanco, Luis Rivas, etc. AND, to make matters worse, this then creates a competition for "fourth outfielder" between GROTA Fave Reed Johnson and Joey Gathright, because assuming Lou is bringing 12 pitchers north, that leaves only 4 outfield positions if the infield is taking up 7.
- As it is, some may say that Johnson and Gathright are already competing for the coveted role of "sometimes center fielder".
I am about to make my point, for those of you patient enough to stay with me so far, however I must make the disclaimer that my assumptions to follow are, as always, "barring injuries" to one of the 19 fortunate sons above. But if worse came to worse, and if one of them were to injure themselves, there is always the short-term fix of the farm system, and a longer-term fix in the mid-season trade market.
But I maintain the following:
- The 2009 Cubs do not need Samardzija AND Marshall;
- The 2009 Cubs do not need Hoffpauir AND Fox;
- The 2009 Cubs, hopefully, do not need another piss-hitting short guy to be a backup infielder. But even if they don't, they don't need Reed Johnson AND Gathright.
- The 2009 Cubs do not need Jeff Stevens OR Josh Vitters...
OH GAWD!! You cry...NOT THIS AGAIN....
Yep. It is lovely to win early spring games, it is entertaining to discuss the chances of Red Sock Schill park his ample ass along the third base bullpen. It is delightful to see the former LSU Tigers beat up on guys who will be parking cars next month. But in my world, this is not a World Championship club we are seeing right now.
However, kids, what we do have today is a club that is close, real close, two fingers held really close together close, only ONE major pickup close. We don't need a 42-year-old fame whore; we don't need a fifth starter; what we need is something we don't have.
And yes, I do understand that there isn't much that can be done until the ownerships for both franchises are set in concrete, but that's ok. All it should take on our end is a few more outings like the one Peavy threw at us yesterday. And all it should take on their end is several more outings where the only runs they score are unearned runs.
I'd toss Marshall-Fox-Gathright-Stevens-Vitters at them for Peavy, and if they wanted either Johnson or Hoffpauir (but not both) instead of Gathright or Fox, I'd give it to them. If they wanted both, I'd take Vitters off the table, so a Marshall-Hoffpauir-Johnson-Stevens for Peavy. This is what we'd have left:
- We'd still have Samardzija for a "sixth" starter to fill in when needed;
- We'd still have a power hitting backup for Lee;
- We'd still have a great-fielding platoon CF with Fukudome;
- Heilman and Gaudin would be full-fledged bullpen members. But for perhaps the first time in their respective careers, they would not have the ability to say "Hey, I am better than X - I should be starting for us", and since that is understood, both can concentrate all of their energies to being the best set-up guys they can be;
- We'd still have the balance and depth Uncle Lou claimed cost us the last two playoffs;
- Oh, yeah. We'd have the best MLB starting rotation of the last 40 years.
Now, THERE's a World Series team!