When Mike Fontenot chose not to hit last year, Jim Hendry went out and got a Colorado Rockie cast off that wasn't playing any more. Jeff Baker came over to the Cubs and played pretty well, but it was a case of too little, too late when it came to the Cubs playoff hopes.
Baker hit .305 with the Cubs with an .810 OPS in 203 at bats. Not bad out of the second base spot, but is he likely to repeat that this year? Ehh....I doubt it. For the spring stats, it looks like Mike Fontenot will get the starting nod, with Baker getting some AB's against lefties. Baker doesn't have a great split difference, so he is serviceable against LH and RH pitchers.
My hope is that Baker takes the utility role on the infield and gets a couple starts a week. That would be good for Aramis Ramirez and Fontenot. Baker rates fine with defense at 3B and 2B. His UZR at 2B is 10.6 and at 3B is 7.7, so he shouldn't hurt the Cubs in the field.
If Fontenot struggles, I imagine that Baker will get the first shot, but he fails the Cubs should look at Starlin Castro and Theriot as middle infielders.
If it were another '09 recap, there'd be a lot more to say. Hill appeared in a whopping 83 games last season, collecting 253 at-bats in the process. He was pretty ungood on offense, posting a .237/.312/.324, but at least he tried.
But let's talk about 2010. This year, if Soto's apparently super-healthy appearance is worth anything, Hill won't get near as many at-bats. In 2009, Soto and Hill combined for something like 650 plate appearances. And in 2008, a healthy Soto took about 550 for himself. So Koyie might get 100-200 PAs in 2010, which is really too few to cause a huge ruckus.
At any rate, he's good defensively, so that's nice. Pretty much your perfect backup catcher, for what it's worth.
A long time ago, Jim Hendry would pull off obvious one-sided trades to fill the Cubs needs. they were usually a thing of genious. Are we sure Jim wasn't invaded by a body snatcher one night? This was the man that brought us Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee for Bobby Hill, Hee Sop Choi and a set steak knives in the span of a few months.
That brings us to today's subject of player previews: Derrek Lee. Lee has been a success for the Cubs. He's had a huge years and played solid defense, even though that has slipped in the past few seasons. Many people were calling for Micah Hoffpauir last season, only to see Lee rebound to form and bet 35 HR's and quite all the critics about Lee being too old.
The only bad thing is that the Cubs wasted his two best years of 2005 and 2009 by not making the playoffs. In those two seasons, Lee hit 81 home runs in total. It's tragic that Lee has been unable to see the postseason in either of those two seasons.
What can we expect this year? My guess is that Lee will be provide an OPS of around .900, which would be a little more than his career average, but down from last year's .972. Of course, Lee is in a contract year, which could mean big things. Then again, he is about to turn 35 this year, so his best baseball should be behind him. The one thing I don't want the the Cubs to do is sign him to a long-term extension. I would be ok with one year, but beyond that the Cubs will likely kill any flexibility in the future.
Ah, D-Lee. He who evoked the phrase coinage of MVLee. The defacto Clubhouse Leader. The best first baseman we've seen in Chicago since the days when Ernie Banks would lumber around out there.
This very well could be his swan song.
Milton Bradley was right about one thing -- Cub fans are fickle. Just ask Lee: in 2005, we loved him and his ridiculous statistics with an indescribable passion. Fast forward to 2008, and suddenly there were fans decrying Lee, fantasizing about trading him, calling him broke down and washed up because he grounded into more double plays than homeruns hit. They wanted the Cubs to deal him to San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez (the equivalent thought would be for me to complain loudly about how my three-year-old Corolla has a break problem, only to take it into the dealership and try to trade it straight up for a '10 Mustang).
Or even less believable, they wanted to unload Lee and his big contract because they believed that Micah Hoffpauir -- a then 28-year-old journeyman minor league first baseman who needed 3 solid tries to figure out Triple A pitching -- would somehow be better than Lee.
But these Cub fans did not taunt Lee with racist remarks, they simply booed the holy hell out of him every time he grounded into a double play.
Anyway, Lee proved in 2009 what we knew all along. Double plays are flukish and not symptoms of an ongoing offensive malady. As Yarbage mentioned, he put on a clinic in 2009. Now in the final year of his contract, we can probably expect to see similar production in 2010 from the guy who, in 7 fewer seasons, has already hit more homeruns than Mark Grace, the "greatest Cubs first baseman" of my lifetime.
It seems unlikely that Lee will be back for more in 2011, but if this truly is his swan song, here's to hoping that it's a glorious one.
Behold, the destruction or salvation of the 2010 Chicago Cubs. Carlos Marmol is the key. In a bullpen rife with weakness, with no other option available, Jim Hendry is putting all of his closer eggs into Marmol's basket. Looking purely at his stuff, it is evident that Carlos is the right choice to make. He is at times unhittable. In 307.2 career innings of work, Marmol has surrendered a mere 195 hits. That's freaking ridiculous.
But he is also at times unable to hit the strike zone. His BB/9 ratio went up dramatically between 2008 and 2009 (from a respectable 4.2 per 9 innings to a terrifying 7.9 per 9 last year). In other words, up until 2009 Marmol was effective, but last year he was effectively wild. This is a risky scenario for a guy who's expected to end each game he pitches in. There aren't many pitchers I can think of who had long, successful careers while walking 7.9 batters per 9 innings of work.
If Carlos is able to face down his pitching demons and regularly locate the strike zone, then I anticipate that he will have an outstanding season and the Cubs will be that much more likely to compete successfully. But if he falls, so fall the Cubs. There's just nobody else in the bullpen who can assume that role, and Jim Hendry is unlikely to pull a trade for anybody who can.
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Fun with other cultures - many of the Cubs' Latin American relievers have names that tend to lend themselves to lame-o nicknames. There's Carlos Marmol, who some call "the Marmot". There was former Cub Jose Ascanio, who I was emotionally unable to refer to as anything else but the "Asscan". And now we have Esmailin Caridad, who I am going to have to dub "Smiley". It is like throwing salt over your left shoulder after knocking over a salt shaker. There's no reason why - I just have to do it.
Get used to Smiley. After watching a weekend of guys with 60's and 70's, and occasionally 20 on their back (yeah, Thomas Diamond, you suck, too) walk batter after batter, you quickly realize why Lou Piniella likes guys who throw strikes. Caridad throws strikes, and unless we can finally complete a trade for Jason Frasor, I think Smiley is going to end up as the new 8th inning guy.
One negative is that out of 6 inherited runners last year, 4 scored. Another negative, as I perceive it, is that he was used exclusively as a starter in the minors. A third strike against him - he is only in his third season of professional baseball. Perhaps in his brief stint last year, he was too dumb to realize what he was doing, but he was very impressive with his 1.40 ERA and his 17/3 K/BB ratio. These are numbers that please Sweet Lou, and they have continued this spring.
All in all, I still strongly advocate a trade for Frasor, especially if it involves Micah Hoffpauir, who more and more looks headed back to Iowa this spring. Of course, the worse Hoff looks, the less likely Toronto will want him. I'm sure they are holding out for Tyler Colvin, who they simply cannot have. I am not comfortable, myself, handing the set-up man job to Caridad. But he will at least come north with us, hopefully as a 7th inning guy, or something else. It is only fair to him to have the time to develop.
Rob is right: If Caridad continues to not walk opponents, Lou will be very pleased.
I also wanted to direct your attention to a few words on Caridad as written by a guy whose writing I really enjoy, Harry Pavlidis of Cubs f/x. Of Esmailin's recent spring performance, Pavlidis writes:
"Caridad looks headed towards later innings than expected, barring a move by Trader Jim. Caridad is… just about 2 mph off his 93+ average fastball from 2009. He did crack 94 a couple of times, so he's not far from his 95 that makes me so giddy.
"He broke 95 mph 39 times last year, 97 seven times, including his top pitch of 98.2 mph."
In other words, this kid throws heat. Just thought you'd like to know.
In those 31 innings, Gray totaled 23 strikeouts and allowed just five walks. His strikeouts per nine innings rate could be higher, but that's solid control.
And it's a skill he's demonstrated throughout his career. The highest walk rates he's ever posted came in 2007 and 2008, in Triple A both times, and were barely above 3.00. And when Gray went back down to Triple A in 2009, he only walked six batters in 41 innings.
The kid's got good stuff, too. His average fastball velocity clocks in around 94mph, and he's also got a slider, curve, and change in his repertoire.
From the limited sample available, Gray's numbers make it seem like he stands a decent chance of contributing to the major league club's bullpen once his groin strain heals up. Apparently that might take a while, though? Oh well.
Yesterday, we talked about how Jim Hendry gives out big contracts. Well, today's subject is no different. Jeff Samardzija was given a huge deal out of Notre Dame to skip the NFL entirely. It was a great deal for Jeff. For the Cubs? Well, that verdict is still out.
Samardzija has been tossed around more than a toddler would a Raggedy-Anne doll. The Cubs don't seem to know what they want him to do. Starter-Reliever-Starter-Reliever-Starter-----no back to Reliever....you get the point. It really showed last year when "The Shark" was all out of whack. Samardzija threw 34 2/3 innings last year with a 7.53 ERA and a 1.76 WHIP, which was, well, terrible for any pitcher. Even more so for one being paid like a Major Leaguer.
Samardzija really hasn't pitched great at any level, expect two years ago with the Cubs. Most of that was probably because the hitters hadn't seen his stuff. He has struggled with his control, which will keep him from reaching his goals if he can't locate pitches.
This season the Cubs are going to let him battle for one of the two starting spots open with Ted Lilly still rehabbing his shoulder. He pitched the other day and threw two scoreless inning, but gave up a walk, a hit and hit somebody as well. I still think that Samardzija's best place will be in the pen, but he still has to learn control. WIth Guzman out of the picture now, it looks like he will at least break camp with the Cubs.
I'll tell you that it is not John Grabow, or at least it shouldn't be. The Cubs picked up Grabow at the trade deadline last year, which was probably the best they could do. The problem is that they decieded to resign him to a two-year $7.5 million contract this offseason for some reason. If there is one thing that Jim Hendry is good at, it is signing relievers to mulit-year deals for lots of money. It's not a very good trait, but a trait he owns and uses quite often.
Grabow finished 2009 with a respectable 3.36 ERA, but his WHIP was 1.41, which is not great for a releiver. Against lefties, Grabow held them to a .222 average with a .607 OPS against. That's not terrible again, but I would rather have a lefty that shut lefties down even more than that. Against righties, Grabow was worse, which is to be suspected. Righties hit .238 with a .697 OPS against. The Cubs could do worse for relievers, but they could do much better. His numbers last year match his three-year average, so there shouldn't be any shock with the preformance Grabow gives in 2010.
Yarbage couldn't be more right about Hendry's tendency to sign middling veteran relievers to relatively exorbitant contracts. But in terms of Grabow's likely performance, I have to disagree with Yarbage on this one. I'm afraid he might be very, very bad next season.
Last year, Grabow walked about five guys per nine innings. The year before, the number was about 4.5 per nine. In America, we call that "not very good" in terms of control.
Lucky for Johnnie G, he only gave up five home runs in his 72 IP last year, so the walks didn't bite him in the ass. But if you look at how many of his fly balls allowed turned into home runs -- roughly 5.7% last year -- you realize how appropriate the word "lucky" is in this discussion, because for most pitchers (and on average over John's career) about 10% of your fly balls will leave the yard.
Grabow will probably keep walking guys, and he'll probably give up more home runs than he did in 2009, which will inflate his ERA. Expect an earned run average close to 4.50. OK, so, maybe not terrible, like Yarbage was saying to begin with, but not set-up worthy, I wouldn't think. And if he doesn't cut down on the walks, definitely a chance to be shockingly bad.
Remember how mad Lou used to get when Heilman and Marmol and Gregg refused to stop walking dudes? That anger may resume so long as Grabow continues to get a significant number of innings.
Not a LOOGY. However, I am not as reticent about Grabow's salary as my friends are.
I like choo-choo trains!
It's not that Marshall's been bad for the Cubs. In fact, he posted a 3.23 ERA in 39.0 innings of relief last year, while racking up 7 holds. He did his job, and he did it well enough to be back in 2010, hopefully as a bright spot in an otherwise murky bullpen.
Over the span of his tumultuous career in Chicago, Marshall's made 134 appearances, including 59 lackluster starts. He's won 19, lost 29, and posted a mediocre ERA of 4.55 while allowing 390 hits and 149 walks in 379.2 innings of work. None of those stats are bad enough to hate him, nor are they good enough to expect success from him.
Chances are, if Piniella uses Marshall correctly in 2010, the Cubs lefty will toss between 50 and 60 innings of work, serving not as the LOOGY (lefties batted .243 against him, which is not good enough to warrant that role) but as a standard 5th/6th inning guy. What Lou should not do is use Sean Marshall in a starter's role.
I nicknamed him Doghouse, but he's still a bullpen option I'd trust over most of the other guys out there. He just as easily could be renamed "Reliable," or perhaps "Regular" (or "Depends"). Let's hope for the former, for many reasons.
The thing that makes Marshall so interesting to me is his mix of pitches. For example, did you know only 21% of his pitches thrown last year were a straight-up fastball? In contrast, nearly a third of his pitches were curve balls.
Marshall doesn't throw a fastball very often because he doesn't throw very hard. He averaged 87mph on it last year. What's worse, the vast majority of his pitches were thrown within 6mph of each other, between 81 and 87. Only his curve ball generates significant difference in velocity, which he throws at 71.
I'm afraid that, given his repertoire, it will be difficult for Marshall to ever make it through a major league line-up more than twice. But given the status of Lilly's shoulder, he may be asked to do that a few times at the beginning of the season. I bet he's the fifth starter through April, which'll give him something like three starts for the month. From there, who knows?
Although 2009 was hardly the year we'd hoped for, there were a few pleasant surprises. First among them was the breakout season of one Randy David Wells, a late-blooming starter who was almost lost to the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 during the 2008 season.
Wells made 1 appearance in Toronto before being sent back to the Cubs, and in '09 he was promoted out of necessity. Turns out it was the right move to make, as he'd begin his '09 campaign with an inexplicable 0-3 record through 7 starts (including 4 in which he pitched into the 7th inning) and an ERA in the high 1's to mid 2's. Were it me, I would have probably been giving first-hand, one-on-one, beat-downesque examples of how to use a bat to my offense after every failure to provide support. But not Wells.
In an EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Goat Riders, Wells said "You know, I wasn't frustrated at all. It was one of those situations where you just couldnt explain it. Guys would tell me, 'Hey, we are gonna get this one for you today,' or, 'we got you today,' and the whole team was pulling for me which I thought this is cool. I was just having fun. I mean I spent a whole lot of years in AAA on the cuff so to be up there pitching well was all I was trying to do, (and) you can't control the unknown
inner demons of the game of baseball sometimes. That's just the way things shake out, plus to get my win on Fathers Day made the wait even more special."
In 2010, fans and GROTA alike are hoping that Wells will build on the success he eventually found last year. After netting his first win, he'd go 8-1 in his next 9 decisions, and he finished the year with a 12-10 record and an ERA of 3.05 -- the best rookie pitching performance the Cubs have seen since Kerry Wood way back in 1998. Wells also expects to build on last year's successes.
In the EXCLUSIVE! INTERVIEW!! with Goat Riders, Wells said, "My personal goals for this year are to just be better than last year in every category. Go back, watch tape, and talk to Larry, Geo and Koyie (in order to) figure out why I was successful and why I wasn't. I want to eliminate the mistakes I can eliminate, and exploit the things I did good, and stay focused for an entire season and stay strong and healthy and win ball games. If I can do that, I should be in good shape and the team will win because Z and Demp and everyone in camp is getting after it and ready to win."
Certainly Wells will face sophomore obstacles. But he will at least have had a full season to prepare for the endurance of a 162 game schedule. Last year by September it seemed as though he was running on fumes on the mount, although he remained successful until the last game he played. Wells may even perform at a higher level as he learned recently that he was suffering from blurry vision, resulting in a need to wear glasses while on the mound. The press ribbed him about this, joking that he was the "Wild Thing." But don't look for Wells to act the part, as he says he will not be wearing black framed,silver-skull glasses any time soon.
In his EXCLUSIVE!!! GROTA!!!! INTERVIEW!!!!! ASDFJKL!!, Wells said, "If it wouldn't be such a knock, and rip off of one of the best movies of all time I would wear them and get the Wild Thing haircut too, but it would also be too much of a distraction. The media would be in my locker all the time and the Wrigley clubhouse is small, and it would be a mess. Plus, that's not my personality. I don't like to bring a lot of attention to myself so I'll just stick with the Oakleys."
We appreciate his candor, his willingness to respond, and we hope that he will provide the team with a reliable arm from a spot in the rotation in 2010. We also challenge Wells to the following: if at any point he wins 10 decisions in a row, he must either wear the Wild Thing glasses OR grow a foo-man-choo mustache and a mullet.
Regardless, though, we will obviously be pulling for him and hoping for the best.