Goat Riders of the Apocalypse is not going so strong, lately. But, GOOD LORD? Can you blame us?
Even the most optimistic, blue sky Cub fans could not possibly enjoy what they are seeing on a daily basis? Losers of 13 of the last 16? As it happens, Hendry and Piniella are pretty much doing what I asked them to do earlier this week - treat the rest of this year as if it is Spring Training 2011. It began when Derrek Lee and Lou himself removed themselves from the proceedings - neither of them are going to Mesa next spring. We have brought up the freshest produce from the farm.
But, once again, it goes sour, because pretty much everyone we brought up has sucked so far. It would have been nice to see Micah the Hoff hit a few quick welcome-back dongs, or a Marcos Mateo pitch lights-out. It is early in our extended Spring Training, but it doesn't appear that any of our recent call-ups are going to help us anytime soon. So, as was the case going into this season, it appears that most of the heavy lifting in 2011 will be done by the men currently on the roster, a roster, once again, that is last in the majors in one-run losses.
So what have we learned thus far in 2010?
10) Alfonso Soriano may not be the most overpriced sixth hitter in major league history - but then again, he might just be.
As a longtime student of the intangible and the psychological, I understand why Hendry signed #12 back in 2007. The interim owner gave him permission to spend whatever it took, and Alf was the premier free agent that winter. Jim was convinced that the Cubs would win a World Series that year or next, and figured if we had, that people wouldn't care that the club would then owe Soriano $18 million a year for all perpetuity. It was a crap shoot, and the first two years, Jim shot eights, but then last year, the dice came up seven, and now we're stuck with a number six hitter with degenerative legs, a miserable glove, and absolutely no knowledge of situational baseball. For the next three years.
9) Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Silva are the yin and yang of miserable free agent pitching judgement
A few years back, officials at two separate organizations took a look at two big, strong, tough Venezuelan guys named Carlos and decided that yes, these guys were Quality, they would eat innings, win games, and lead men. It would be the wisest thing to sign them to long term contracts worth nearly 8 figures, because everyone knows the work ethic of South Americans is second to none.
Ahem. So it was inevitable that a few years later, los dos Carloses would both be Cubs, serving as twin anchors, keeping us firmly tethered to the bottom, representing the main sunk costs to the most miserable team contract picture in MLB history.
The difference is: Silva the Hutt is a follower, and Z is a leader. There is no way to reign in #38 with the Cubs, none. He appears to respect nobody but himself, which is the very reason why it is going to be so painful when he inevitably moves on to the Yankees a couple of years from now and starts winning games again (hey, Kerry Wood? How YOU doin'?) #52, on the other hand, is a follower, and I honestly feel that in the right situation, with the right guidance from the right pitching coach and staff, that Silva could be poked, prodded, and coaxed in a useful direction. However...
2010 is the death knell of the Larry Rothschild Era
Several of my knowledgeable friends, like the boys over at HJE have called for the head of Rothschild for years now. I personally was torn. For every Wood and Prior who caved in, a Dempster or Marmol seemed to rise up. Maybe, I have always thought, Rothschild wasn't part of the problem.
But lately? Outside of Dempster, Marmol, Marshall, the first three months of Silva and the occasional Gorzellany outing, Cubs pitching 2010 has been beyond dreadful. Walks, mistakes, walks, mistakes. A conveyor belt of arms have made their way back and forth between here and Des Moines.
Here's my problem with Rothschild - these guys pitch well in Iowa, come here, get blasted, go back to Iowa, pitch well, come back, get blasted. And it isn't just a function of the quality of the hitters. It is the command that they seem to lose here. Is it the pressure? Shouldn't be any pressure, throwing for a fifth-place team. And if it is, whose job is it to help these guys acclimate? As I see it, he is taking good arms and turning them bad once they get here.
When the new manager arrives, he should be allowed to pick his own pitching coach.
7) Marmol is a major league closer
Speaking of Marmol, he hasn't had a lot of opportunities in 2010. Yes, the team has the worst one-run record in baseball, but curiously enough, it isn't really the closer's fault. Most of the games have gone the way yesterday's game went - we fall far behind, and either come back to within a run and fall short, or tie it up only to let one of our "middle" guys, usually Cashner, go blow it.
The few saves Marmol has blown, his defense helped blow. Which, speaking of:
6) Our defense utterly sucks
Our catcher is "offensive-minded", a euphemism for a guy who isn't Yadier Molina. Our third baseman is getting old, frail, and losing what little utility he ever had. Our shortstop is better than the man he replaced, yes, but is young and may or may not be a major league shortstop. Our second basemen define 'suck', We got DeWitt because we thought he is better than Theriot, of course, the Dodgers think just the opposite. Uh oh. Our fancy hood ornament, DLee has had his worst fielding year. Soriano has had an Epic Fail year in left. Our slick fielding right fielder can't hit enough to play, and the guy who can hit in RF should be playing left field.
5) Marlon Byrd is a nice player
Byrd does everything pretty well. He is not and will never be an impact major league ballplayer, and his CF play is very average at best. He is the beneficiary of the "Robbie Gould Syndrome", in which he is surrounded by badness, so his relative competence shines brighter in comparison. He is a fourth outfielder on a championship team, and although he actually tries to provide the leadership this team so woefully lacks, he really doesn't have the oomph in his game to back it up.
4) Starlin Castro is a major league hitter
The storybooks are full of great men who started off as middle
infielders who committed a ton of errors in the field, and were
converted to other positions so their teams would not lose their bat.
Mickey Mantle comes immediately to mind, and Alf Soriano is a recent,
close-to-home example. With Hak-Ju Lee in the low minors, there are
discussions that Lee will eventually be the SS, and Castro will play
2nd. Or maybe 3rd, since the 24 year old DeWitt is on board, except
that DeWitt has 'utility guy' written all over him, and don't 3rd
basemen usually hit with more power?
It is easy to forget that Castro was born in 1990, and that he will gain
most of his strength in the next seven years. He will never have
A-Roid power, but maybe Jeter power. The most pleasant development of
2010 has been that, for once, we can believe the hype. Starlin Castro
seems to be for real.
3) Here comes Adam Dunn
A couple of years ago, when it was late in the free-agent season
(this was the year we signed Milton Bradley early, remember) and Adam
Dunn still did not have a team. The only substantial offer for a man
who had averaged 40 homers a year the previous five years was from the
godforesaken Nats, and human nature being what it is, there rose an
effort to find out what, if anything, was wrong with Dunn.
Rumors arose that Dunn did not like playing baseball much, that much of
the conversations that would arise when opposing players would stand on
first base next to the Big Donkey revolved around offseason hunting.
Growing up, Dunn was a football player first, and teams perhaps
questioned his character when formulating contract offers for a
So, he has played nearly every day in Washington, has continued to hit
his 40 homers a year, and has weathered two trade deadlines. You know
what? The man would rather play football and shoot pheasants. But he still hits and we are going to sign a first baseman this winter.
our luck, watch us sign the guy and watch him age faster than the Nazi
mope in "Raiders of the Lost Ark". In my gut, I see us going after
Adrian Gonzalez his off season, and ending up with Adam Dunn. Because
Dunn has always been one of "Hendry's Guys", like the Marquis Du Suck
and Kosuke Fukudome, and we always seem to end up with Hendry's guys.
2) Since nobody seems to know what is going on, Hendry is staying, I guess
The inmates run the asylum at Wrigley Field. As bad as the Cubs have performed, and for as much pressure that the General Manager of a team such as ours ought to be under, compounded by the fact that he has a known history of heart trouble, Jim Hendry looks pretty damn healthy.
Is he taking his statins and his red krill oil? Maybe, but hey, why shouldn't he look healthy? He has the greatest job in the world. Where else in American business can you mess up, again and again, and nobody calls you on it? Wall Street? Well, yeah, but those guys always have the specter of the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission, not the high-falutin college football conference) breathing down their necks. Lots of those guys jump off bridges, lock themselves in their garages with their Bentleys running, but not Jim Hendry. His boss is a failed corporate attorney who doesn't know spit from shinola, who in turn works for a owner who is more concerned with piss troughs and gaudy neon signs than a winning ballclub.
There is only one man on earth who gets to play fantasy baseball for real, and lose all the time, and not get called on the carpet for it. Until there is some accountability established in the Cubs' organization, what you see this year is what you will continue to get in the future.
1) 2011 is going to look a lot like 2010.
Soriano will play for the Cubs next year. Ramirez will play for the Cubs next year. Fukudome will sit on the bench and take the Cubs' money next year. Byrd and Colvin and Castro and DeWitt and Soto will play for the Cubs next year. Jim Hendry has no ability and no gumption to make a blockbuster trade involving young major league talent for impact major leaguers in return. Could you see him somehow packaging Castro and Colvin in a trade for, say, Albert Pujols? Maybe not Pujols, because a Cubs-Cardinals trade will NEVER happen, but something of that magnitude? How about for Miggy Cabrera or Joe Mauer? Young stars for a superstar? Never happen.
As for the pitching, good lord. While the positional outlook seems stale yet static, the pitching outlook is totally fluid, and utterly without direction. We have a #2 starter, maybe a #4, a closer and a utility guy, a LOOGY who isn't really a LOOGY with a torn knee ligament, and about 20 other guys who have walked a lot of batters and given up a lot of late-game home runs. You can't fix that. The only thing you can do is throw a ton of money at it, and HOPE the guys you sign don't get injured or fat-and-sassy.
And Ricketts is NOT going to spend a lot of money in the offseasons. So forget about the Ol' Free Agent Injection.
Fans of the Chicago National League Ballclub have survived the past 102 years on one glorious element: hope. Yep, the same hope that got our president elected, the same hope that is being frittered away by this same president each day. Hope is perishable.
I ate whole platterfuls of Cubs hope as a kid, and into my early adulthood. I confess to have spent good money on the all-you-can-eat hope buffet as recently as fall of 2008. Nowadays, there is very little fresh hope in the steamer, most of it is discolored and spoiled, like the bananas Soriano and the Fukudome skirt steak.
Our third base prospect, Josh Vitters, is rehabbing. The next great Korean hope is still years away. Andrew Cashner was supposed to be the next big thing, but I can't figure out what that thing is supposed to be, unless he is supposed to be a Matt Karchner impersonator. That's something he does quite well.
But hey, Castro went 4-for-5 yesterday. Rookie of the Year, gotta be? Right?
Our long nightmare is finally over. ESPN is confirming that Jason Marquis has officially been dealt to the Rockies for Luis Vizcaino. This frees up a spot in the rotation for Jake Peavy, or Sean Marshall, or Chad Gaudin, or Jeff Samardzija - all of whom are probably better options.
And there was much rejoicing.
Just a very brief post this morning ... Jason Marquis appears possibly maybe headed allegedly to the Rockies, supposedly. It doesn't much matter what the trade would be for, except that it is theoretically for reliever Luis Vizcaino.
Granted, Colorado is no longer the hitter haven and pitcher purgatory that it used to be, but Jason Marquis must've angered somebody in the Cubs to get sent to that place.
Anyway, we'll see how this develops, but I'm hoping beyond hope that it happens. Marquis is a turd sammich and Colorado is the much-needed compost, it would seem.
Contrary to my recent post citing the undeniable failure of Jim Hendry to draft and develop hitting prospects, I actually think he's pretty good at most facets of his job. Since becoming the Cubs GM, he has traded for a first and third basemen who have become cornerstones in the organization. He even took bold steps to give the Cubs the best shortstop the organization has seen since the days of Banks, until the guy tried to trip his testicles from his body in LA a few years back. Hendry went out and acquired one of the best pitchers available in 2008.
When the checkbook has been open to him, he's also gone out and acquired some impressive talent via the free agency market. He took a chance on Ryan Dempster, and we've seen how that's paid off. He delivered unto the Cubs Soriano, DeRosa, and Lilly all in one winter. He rolled the dice with Fukudome, and that still has time to pay off nicely. Oh, and he signed Jason Marquis to a weep-inducing three year deal before the start of the 2007 season.
In retrospect, Marquis isn't Hendry's only boner*, it's not even his most recent one**, but at this point it's one of the most frustrating. Surely by now we can acknowledge that the Cubs have enough pitching depth to not need Marquis, and it can even be argued that they had the necessary depth back in the winter of aught six when de Suck signed his 3-year contract.
(*Heh. I said boner.
**I've still got a bitter taste in my mouth over Hendry's Wood Boner***
***Holy cow, the jokes just keep ... er, coming... gotta stop now)
Anyway, I had a working theory back in October that I'm going to stick with, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The theory is this - there were a surprising number of good free agent pitchers available this year. Since good pitching is always in high demand, some teams in desperate pursuit of the best arms are bound to come up short, and rather than walk away with nothing maybe - just maybe - they'd settle for Marquis on the backside.
The only problem with this little theory is that teams aren't just coming up short in getting the good pitchers, but are also short of money. That doesn't spell doom for the Cubs, who still might be able to find a taker for Marquis, but it's going to be a lot tougher.
Ultimately, I think Hendry will probably have to pay most of de Suck's salary next year if he really wants him gone, or else wait until July and deal him at the deadline. Either way, I don't think we'll have a Marquis conundrum come October. At least, I hope not.
I figure this idea to get mixed results, but the Cubs are trying to move Jason Marquis and aren't likely to get more than a sack of salty peanuts in return - so I have an idea. Why not offer Marquis to the Yankees for Hideki Matsui? But only on the condition that the Yankees send the cubs some cold, hard cash to offset Matsui's higher contract, say somewhere in the neighborhood of $5M. I know he has recently had injury problems with his knee, but when healthy Matsui produces with a .295 career average, 100+ RBI, and he brings a LH bat to the OF with postseason experience (in 41 postseason games he has hit .302, with 6 HR, 26 RBI, and 27 runs scored). If you aren't sold on the cubs having players ready to step into the 5th spot in the rotation then you take the cash from the Yankees, add a little to it, and pick up a starter on a 1 year deal - someone like Andy Pettitte/Randy Johnson/Brad Penny. These 2 moves would benefit both the rotation and the lineup, with a subtraction of only Jason Marquis from the roster & cash. Doing something like this makes more sense to me than signing any free agent outfielder long-term. Also you add another Japanese player, which could greatly benefit Kosuke Fukudome's comfort level on the team along with his production, and the cub's marketing department likely wouldn't argue either.
If it keeps on rainin' the levee's gonna break (Peavy, Derosa, and why I don't like Kevin Towers aka the Vitters issue)
At this hour a great deal of news has been raining down and flooding my brain. Perhaps it is the sheer amount of information saturating my brain, but I feel like I have made a breakthrough on all things Jake Peavy. All of a sudden, the news reports are much more transparent than before.
Today was a bit too much early on: the trade was on, and then off, then on again, and then off again. In the meantime you had Rosenthal blabbering about how no deals can be done until the Cubs find new ownership, despite being told the contrary for the past few weeks. Luckily, Crane Kenney came down with the wrath of God tonight and gave a subtle "f--- off" by saying [and this is paraphrased]:
The Cubs do not need approval from a potential new owner to make the kind of four-year, $63 million commitment Peavy's contract would require, nor do they have to know who the new owner will be before making such a multiyear commitment.
It seems that at this hour, the Peavy deal is down to a three team deal between the Cubs, Padres, and Phightin' Phillies of Illidelph. The framework is set, yet it seems there have been some developments since we last spoke. Marshall is no longer on the table for the deal. Moreover, according to Paul Sullivan, he has been replaced by Jason Marquis going the Padres way. The caveat to the whole thing is the Cubs must eat more than half of the Marquis de Suck's contract. I'm ok with this.
There are also conflicting reports about the inclusion of Mark Derosa. It is clear that the Phils have a very large interest in Mark, as they should. The versitility of Mark Derosa pays dividends in a situation such as this. The Phillies are desparate to fill the whole left by Chase Utley for half of a season. They have two real options:
(1) Sign Raul Ibanez to a 4-year contract at about 10-12 MM a year and suffer through him being in his 40's by the end of the contract. Move up Donald to play second base in the mean time.
(2) Trade for Derosa. Have him fill in until Utley comes back and then move him to LF or 3b (while moving Feliz to LF). Moreover, Derosa is only signed for a year, will be a Type A free agent, and is not likely to accept arbitration... meaning 2 draft picks.
Sullivan thinks that the Phils will send the Padres two pitching prospects as part of the deal (via the Cubs). My best guess would have two of the following be those pitching prospects: JA Happ (obviously), Kyle Kendrick, Kyle Drabek. I personally don't think Carrasco being one of those names. Derosa is worth a lot in this trade, but not worth the Phillies #1 prospect. I think the package is most likely centered around Drabek if anything. Kendrick hasn't shown a whole lot just yet, and Happ is projected to be one of those Mark Redman types: decent K:BB ratio, but if his control is of he's gonna get lit like an alcoholic at an open bar.
Although the transition is not great, this gets me to the topic of Kevin Towers. From the outset, KT stated that he wanted to get something along the lines of a 5-to-1 trade in return for Jake Peavy. Given his current bargaining power, I thought it was a bit ambitious, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt here... for a moment. Of this five player package, Towers stressed that pitching was important. There was nothing wrong with this desire until today.
It seems now that Towers wants to have his cake and eat it too, despite his lack of barganing power to really be able to call the shots. The only power he has been able to rely on is the power of being "transparent" to the media about what is going on in an effort to make the Cubs make a dumb move.* The most recent move involves what he told one of his reporters earlier today:
The Padres continue to like their chances of getting Cubs prospect Josh Vitters and Cubs reliever Kevin Hart, a power right-hander whose upside is that of an eighth-inning reliever. Vitters, 19, is a Single-A third baseman described by Baseball America as a potential All-Star.
Now, let me take a step back. Towers wanted five players. From what I have been able to gather, so far the package coming to SD (assuming Sullivan is right) involves 2 pitching prospects coming from the Phillies, a starting pitcher coming from the Cubs in Marquis. Those are three players, all of them pitchers. Now add to the equation that Towers desparately wants Kevin Hart and that gets you to four players, all of them pitchers. That leaves one spot open: well, that is perfect, you say, he can get Vitters as the last piece of the puzzle and the trade should happen, right? No.
Take a step back again... a little bit more towards the present where the Braves were still in contention for Peavy. It was understood that at the time the Cubs did not have the pitching Towers required to make the deal on their own. Thus, Josh Vitters came into the discussion. Vitters was to do one of two things for the Cubs: (1) He was supposed to be traded to another team for the pieces the Cubs could ship to SD; or (2) he was to be shipped to SD in lieu of pitching/pitching prospects to be either developed or spun off for pitching.
Yet, as of today, it looks like Towers is going to get his pitching pieces. Four of them. Yet he still thinks he is going to get Vitters. That sentiment defies all logic, and I think it is at best hollow posturing. From the beginning he said he wanted quality, not quantity. I think he gets the quality from those proposed (and I understand Marquis is in that statement, but a cheap, way under market value Marquis is a good price for league average).
I am undecided on who the final piece would be to set it to five players going in return to the Padres. Before the mention of JA Happ, I would have volunteered Mitch Atkins, but the two are far too similar pitchers, albiet from different sides. The Padres have been showing a great deal of interest in Phillies catching prospect Jarmarillo. I think what really would seal the deal is the inclusion of Wellington Castillo. He is fairly advanced with his bat right now, is compared to Soto (although a bit behind in defense) and has september callup written all over him. Will likely turn out to be a Bengie Molina/Dionnar Navarro type.
In an ideal world we could use Pie or Cedeno instead of Castillo. I would prefer Cedeno, but I understand the allure of Pie. However, their bigger whole is at shortstop.
In the end, we cannot expect anything to happen until late on Thursday anyways. The Padres do not want to make this trade until after the Rule 5 draft for legitimate reasons. The Padres 40-man currently stands at 37. During the Rule 5 draft, they are able to select as many as 3 players. If the Padres were to perform a 5-1 trade it would put their 40-man at 41, causing them to leave players that were once protected well, unprotected. Soon after the Rule 5 concludes, I expect a great deal movement on this trade front.
However, there is no need to include Vitters if Derosa is involved. Period.
* I kinda want to compare him to a car salesman that wants you to pay sticker price, even though the new model will be out in a day or two: he knows hes screwed, but wants to screw you first.
In the 2008 season, our fifth starter won more games than he lost. He went 11-9, in fact, a year after he went 12-9 for us. He made 28 starts, pitched 167 innings. He ended up with an era of 4.53, which places him in the top 2 or 3 fifth starters in all of baseball. The Cubs won 16 of his 28 starts. Ask the White Sox, for example, if that would work for them?
His high "game score" for the year was 73 on July 11th. In that game, which was won in the late innings 3-1, our fifth starter went seven innings against the Giants, gave up only three lousy singles, and struck out four. He also gave up only 3 hits on June 8 to the Dodgers in 6 1/3 innings. Although our fifth starter has been maligned over the years for his poor second-half showings, in 2008, he managed to win five of his last eight starts.
He did enjoy the fruits of our outstanding regular season run support, but he has managed to offset his somewhat suspect control with his ability to generate groundball outs, which makes him a likely candidate to succeed not only at the Friendly Confines, but in many of the new, smaller retro-parks throughout the NL. His comparables, courtesy of Baseball Reference, are Gil Meche, Cory Lidle, Joel Pinerio, Kyle Lohse, and Mark Clark (?!?!?)
Our fifth starter earned seven million dollars in 2008, and is set to earn eight million more in 2009.
/sound of needle being dragged across phonograph
Good Morning, Americans, and Those Who Want To BE Americans!!! Let me take a second to let you all know how proud I am, prouder than I have been in many years, to live in a place like this. Now I don't have to go live in Carolyn's parents' basement. I can stay right here, with heaping new scoopfuls of hope in my heart, and write about the Marquis duuuuuuuuuuuu Suc!!
He is quite the luxury we "enjoy" on our roster. Most team's fifth starters are either has-beens or never-will-bes. If they're lucky, it will be some young kid from AA who simply has a lot to learn before he is solid in a major league rotation. We, the Cubs, can trot out a guy who has won nearly 80 games in his career, is still on the good side of 30, and very rarely lets games get out of hand early, which is death to bullpens. Some days, he even pitches quite well. He has a tendency to start involuntary twitching, whereas he experiences elevated temperature under his collar, and his head starts turning towards the bullpen, when things get tough after the fifth inning. It is a gruesome, deabilitating disease that I am currently in the process of documenting for a well-respected medical journal (named, oddly enough, "Well Respected Journal of Medicine") that I have tentatively named "Marquis Disjunction". But he eats innings, and wins as least as many as he loses.
In other words, he's a great fifth starter. But we pay him like a #2 starter, and he is nigh untradeable. Perhaps, if he had crafted an 11-9, 4.53 after the 2003 Season of High Steroids, with one year left on his contract, we could have maybe found a taker for him. But, in these kinder, gentler steroid-and-greenie free times, Jason Marquis is a #4 starter making #2 money, and thus he is the proud holder of a Bad Contract. As such, we aren't going to get anything of any worth in return for him unless we, in turn, accept someone else's Bad Contract.
For example, to the young and naive, it might seem logical to include him in a trade for Jake Peavy. Certainly the Padres would not mind receiving a solid starter in return, a quite durable young man with an expiring contract who would take up some of the slack the loss of Peavy would leave behind. But although his contribution might be considered to be a slight plus, the eight million is more than a slight minus, and we would have to take back someone else's momentary folly. In this particular case, it would probably require our welcoming in a fine field, declining hit shortstop with a strange-ass New Age name and a surfer hairdo who in my humble opinion would go over as well in Wrigley Field as a fish taco with a mediocre Chardonnay served out of a box into a plastic cup.
I say folly because my one and only e-mail exchange with David Kaplan, the WGN Radio sports host happened in the fall of 2006, two years ago. I don't even know how or why Dave even decided to write me, but he indicated that Jim Hendry loved Jason Marquis and would end up with him, one way or another. So I was totally unsurprised a few weeks later, when we did end up with him, and at the price he signed for. Please recall that this was coming off of the Cardinals' 2006 championship season (which some here claim never happened), and Marquis was infamously left off of the playoff roster due to his completely atrocious second half, where his ERA approached asymptotic infinity. Hendry felt that Mr. Rothschild (don't begrudge him his silent 'S') could straighten him out, and I dare say to a certain extent, he has.
Marquis was quite consistent in 2008. He was consistently mediocre all year. His first half was kind of meh, and so was his second. We made great fun of him here, outlining in graphic detail how nervous we all were whenever the morning paper listed him as the probable starter. Sure, he kind of sucks. But if you strictly think of him as the fifth starter, he is a far superior option to, say, Angel Guzman.
There is one name I haven't mentioned until now, one Sean Marshall.
Is he a better fifth starter than Jason Marquis? Looking at a strictly dollar value proposition, it is obviously preferable, if possible, to run Marshall out there every fifth day, and spend Marquis' $7MM elsewhere. But Uncle Lou pledged to run out the 25 best guys out there, and that the best five guys would pitch. As much as many of us would prefer the lefthander, and the guy who at least still has his best baseball ahead of him, the 2008 Marshall was not set up to start well, due to his 27 bullpen appearences to go along with his seven starts, none of which were outstanding and a couple were truly bad.
Marquis gave us the better chance at a quality start in 2008 than Marshall did. How about this year? The future of both of these guys depends on what happens with both Ryan Dempster and on whether we are able to bring in an alternative starting option, ala Peavy or Sabathia. I honestly believe that both will start the season with us, and unless we lose out on Dempster AND on all outside help, we still only need one. Jeff Samardjia also figures into the mix (unless we trade him for Brian Roberts, which is what I believe is going to happen). But since this is Jason Marquis' post, my prediction is that he will in fact remain our fifth pitcher, as Hendry tries to wring every last ounce of value out of his late 2006 Momentary Folly.
If you believe in quick-n-dirty trends, as I do, since:
- 2007 - 12-9, 4.66 ERA, 1.39 WHIP
- 2008 - 11-9, 4.53 ERA, 1.45 WHIP
- 2009 - 10-9, 4.40 ERA, 1.51 WHIP
Just think of the embarrassment. Think of the shame. Your name is Jon Niese. You're running hard, making your first cup of coffee count. You're thrust into the key position of starting the first of a four game series that very well may determine if your team reaches the playoffs. You are playing a team with a history of getting their asses handed to them the first time they face a left-handed starter.
And then, you give up a granny to their pitcher who isn't Carlos Zambrano. Aw, snap. The humiliation. The Cubs took the Mets for a ride tonight, and Jon Niese was the bus they rode on. Were it not for the Marquis 4th inning smacker, the Cubs would have been offensively meh-diocre tonight. Their first two hitters combined to go 0 for 10, but the bottom of the Cubs lineup delivered. 10 of the team's 14 hits came from hitters 5 and after. Middle infielders Mark DeRosa and Ryan Theriot had 3-hit games. Derrek Lee smacked his 20th of the season.
Oh, and with 6 likely games remaining, the Cubs have locked in home field advantage, and are 2 wins away from the most they've had since our oldest readers were children. The Cubs won 96 games in 1984, and that was the most since they won 98 in 1945. I think it's fair to suggest that the Cubs could go 4-2 the rest of the way out and finish with 99 wins. Which would be appropriate and perhaps predictable, since they would never play that last, 162nd game. But I digress.
We have to give props to Jason Marquis. Up until the 7th inning, he had the Mets tied up in loops. He won his 11th this season, and while he finished the game having surrendered 4 earned runs on 8 hits and 4 walks, he got 'er done. I think it's fair to say that the Cubs wouldn't have won without him. ::cough::grandslam::cough::
Now, here's the interesting thing. After having taken a ridiculously comfortable lead, Lou Piniella turned to his 3 best relievers - Samardzija, Marmol, and Wood (who got save 33 tonight). This befuddled some of us - GA Hill included - although I maintain that regardless of the situation, Lou needs to keep his Cubs pitchers fresh. He can't let them get rusty just because the Cubs don't technically need to win another game this year.
That said, I'll be disappointed to see any of those three pitchers throw tomorrow. Save them until Wednesday. Then, on Wednesday, regardless of the situation, pitch at least 2 of them. Then, skip them on Thursday. Maybe close a game or two with Samardzija. This is the time to take steps to prepare for all kinds of post season situations, am I right?
Anyway, the Cubs have clinched home field advantage, but more important is this - the distance between them and any other team is wide, and it's getting wider. It's not even close. I know I've said it before, and I'll say it now: these guys are good.
Since there is no baseball today - well, if you're really desperate, WGN will be showing a matchup between Cubs Low-A affiliate Boise Hawks and Padres Low-A Affiliate Eugene Emeralds - it might be a good moment to step back and reflect on the state of the team.
The Cubs are 20 games over .500. Andere Richtigen over at Baseball Think Factory runs down the postwar teams with similar records; it's a small list. Only six Cubs teams have been over .500 in that time frame.
So this is an odd feeling for Cubs fans, being where we’re at right now. On one hand, if we were able to process the idea that this success could be fleeting and transient… well, we probably wouldn’t have been able to stick out as Cubs fans so far. [Or we could be the sort of bitter caricature of a Cubs fan, who can’t figure out what all of the fuss is about, because of course we’re going to blow it all anyway. I don’t understand the point of this line of thinking, but whatever – if you want to be sad and joyless I won’t stop you.] So for the most part, we're just enjoying the ride.
On the other hand, we’re used to being termed the Lovable Losers, and are starting to come to grips with the fact that we may be neither. Lovable teams have Neifi Perez at shortstop – you have to give them credit for even showing up to play under those conditions. Meanwhile, the advance scouting report on the Cubs this season is: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat."
There is nothing lovable about Jaws.
The Cubs, who are serious about acquiring another starting pitcher, may not have enough to get Sabathia, have let the Padres know they're interested in Randy Wolf and Greg Maddux and even let it be known to the Mariners that if they want to discuss Erik Bedard, they want in. In time, if Toronto never gets hitting and keeps sitting near the bottom of the standings, the Jays may deal A.J. Burnett rather than allow him to opt out of his deal in November.
Opinion on Maddux is divided around these parts; I'd love to see the Cubs try to pull off a Maddux-for-Marquis deal, because it would be amazing to see how Kevin Towers works out the logistics of spitting in Jim Hendry's face via telephone.
If the Cubs can get a top-shelf guy - Sabathia, Burnett, maybe Bedard or Harden - that would be great. But if not, then I'm left wondering if a guy like Sean Marshall (who is showing promising signs in AAA) or even Jon Lieber taking Marquis' spot in the rotation wouldn't be a better use of resources. The Cubs don't have a shortage of back-of-the-rotation options.
Speaking of Jason Marquis, Joe Aiello asks:
Jason Marquis is doing well of late, but at this point, does anyone really care? Be honest with yourself. If you’re a Marquis hater, and you know who you are, the truth is that he could have 10 straight starts in which he’s masterful and you’re still going to trust him the same amount. You’re still going to want him off the team as soon as possible. Right? I think that’s the way Cub fans have gotten with him. I went on record and called for his head, only to regret that statement as he’s gone out and been great lately.
Perhaps it’s time for us to bite the bullet and forgive Jason for all the talk we’ve done about wanting him off the team. I understand that he’s notoriously been an above average pitcher in the first half of the season, but as a player ages, he’s got to begin to figure things out, right? Couldn’t this year be that year that he finally figures out how to be successful throughout the entire year? I believe he can.
There's two issues here. The first is believing short-term success over what else we know about a player. Baseball is a game of streaks - just like any other player, Marquis has good streaks and bad streaks. It doesn't mean that he's figured anything out; at the end of the day I'm willing to bet that Jason Marquis is who we thought he was, a pitch-to-contact guy who lacks the necessary ability to keep the ball in the yard. Okay, sure, you ask : "Couldn’t this year be that year that he finally figures out how to be successful throughout the entire year?" And I can't say you're wrong. This could be the year I win the Powerball, too. It's technically feasible. But 9, 11, 20, 31, 15 and the Powerball of 14 is not a retirement plan. And Jason Marquis is not a good investment as a starting pitcher.
As far as trading him... well, when exactly would you propose trading Jason Marquis, when his ERA is above seven? J.C. Bradbury has a great post about trade speculation, and here's the relevant section:
The most popular fan solution to poor performance is to ship the guy out in a trade, especially if the player was once much better. If he’s not good, then you can’t get much for him unless other teams are dumber than the fans suggesting the trade. If you’ve noticed a player has declined, chances are that scouting departments of all teams are also aware. Trades occur when teams agree that they would prefer what the other team has.
The time to demand that Jason Marquis is traded is not when he's doing poorly, but when he's doing well. Nobody's going to trade for an obviously bad player. But if some GM thinks that maybe Jason Marquis has finally figured out how to keep fly balls from ending up on the street, I certainly won't argue with him, so long as that GM isn't Jim Hendry.
For years, the Cubs have had a problem with understanding the idea of selling high on a guy - that's why so often we'd see players piss away their value and end up traded for peanuts. It would be nice to see something different.
UPDATE: Cubs assistant GM Gary Hughes was spotted scouting the A's-Giants crosstown series. No idea what Hughes was looking for - he's based in the area, and could have just been doing usual coverage without there being any particular trade interest.