Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Geovany Soto

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Things I'd like to see from the Cubs this offseason.

This will be a disjointed post. It will encompass all sorts of issues facing the Cubs during this offseason, including personnel, role decisions, and contract decisions. Lets jump right in.

From a management perspective, the Cubs' house is in order very early in the offseason. The new Cubs manager is an Alpaca (he has alopecia). Jumbo Jimbo gets at least one more offseason to fix his own messes. The Ricketts family now has a year of ownership under its belt, and I do believe they have a vision that goes beyond the mens room piss-troughs. At the field level, the Cubs are a team in transition. All time great Cub Derrek Lee (yeah I said it) is gone, as is Terrible Ted Lilly. Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, and Carlos Silva are all in the last year's of their respective contracts. I don't expect any to return in 2012. The window to win with the old guard has slammed decidedly shut, which is why the first move the Cubs should make is....

SIGN STARLIN CASTRO TO A LONG TERM EXTENSION.
This should be a no brainer for Hendry, which is precisely why I doubt it'll get done. The Cubs should be beating down Castro's door with a long term extension that would eat up Starlin's arbitration eligible years, with club options that would keep him off of the free agent market.Starlin was promoted to the majors for good on May 7, 2010. Unless the new CBA does away with "Super Two" status, the 2012 season will be the last year that the Cubs will have Castro for the league minimum salary. The time to sign him to an extension is right now, when the Cubs can lock in substantial long term savings in exchange for security on the player's part. 6 years, $30M, with 2-3 club options at $10-$12M sounds about right for a player who has less than a full year of service time. This would guarantee the Cubs the right to Starlin's best years, and save them a ton of money that can be invested elsewhere. Once the club guarantees its future with its best player, it's time to look to 2011. The Cubs have an opening at 1B which they should fill by....

SIGNING CARLOS PENA TO A 1 YEAR CONTRACT.
The Cubs have nothing in the pipeline at 1B, so they'll be acquiring their starter through free agency or trade. I like Pena for a number of reasons.

1) Pena is likely to be underpaid next year no matter where he signs. Pena had a superficially ugly season, posting a .196 batting average which was anchored by a .222 BABIP. He also failed to hit 30 home runs for the first time since 2006, when he spent substantial time in the minor leagues. Pena has a career OBP of .351 and a career slugging % of .490. A Scott Boras client, Pena may accept a 1 year, incentive laden contract to allow him to rebuild his open market value for a larger payday in 2012. He could provide a handsome return on investment next season with a return to form.

2) Pena is an average 1B. He's no "Rodan", but he fields his position well. I see the acquisition of a decent 1B as an investment in the team's future. Starlin Castro is still learning his position, and he will continue to make mistakes as he grows at the major league level. If for no other reason than to protect the kid's psyche, it behooves the Cubs to acquire a 1B who will be able to corral some of his errant throws. Castro is the Cubs future, and the team should do everything in its power to help him develop.

3) For those of you who put stock in such matters (Rob), Pena has a reputation as a Jim Thome type clubhouse leader. He's both extremely well liked and vocal, and could join Ryan Dempster as the de facto clubhouse leaders.

4) Pena is left handed. The Cubs have lacked a left handed power threat for what seems like decades. Pena makes the offense far more dangerous against right handed pitchers, whom the Cubs continue to struggle against.

5) He's not Adam Dunn. No offense to the Big Donkey, but his signing would be a huge setback for the Cubs. Dunn is a better hitter than Pena, but they are remarkably similar players. Unlike Pena, Dunn is said to be asking for 4 years, at more than $10M per year. The Cubs are only now starting to dig out from their stable of long term, big money contracts to declining veterans. Dunn just turned 31, and his is the kind of body that frequently ages quickly. He's the type of player a team adds when it's one piece away, not 5 or 6 pieces away. This team is just not built to compete for a world championship in 2011, so signing a guy long term who's best days are likely behind him doesn't make much sense.

With Pena in the fold, the "Tyler Colvin to 1B" concept goes out the window. The Cubs still need to figure out exactly what they have with Colvin, which is why they should....

INSTALL TYLER COLVIN AS THE EVERYDAY RIGHT FIELDER.
Colvin might be the Cubs' long term left handed power threat. It will depend on his ability to learn the strike zone at the major league level. Tyler's rookie year was extremely impressive, but I'm still not convinced that he isn't the next Jeff Francoeur. Hopefully, the Cubs will have the patience to give Tyler 600 plate appearances in 2011. If he's really the player he appeared to be this past season, the Cubs will realize substantial savings in free agency that can be invested elsewhere. In a development/consolidation season, it's worth finding out exactly who Tyler Colvin is, and what his future is with the Chicago Cubs. Of course, the Cubs already have a left handed RF on the roster, who would stand to lose significant plate appearances to Colvin if he's no longer "the starter." Many fans are calling for the Cubs to trade Fukudome. Not I. The best way to utilize him is to....

ROTATE KOSUKE FUKUDOME THROUGH ALL 3 OF SPOTS AGAINST RH STARTING PITCHING.
Trading Fukudome is unlikely to net the Cubs anything of value. They'd need to swallow at least half of the $14.5M salary before they could move him at all, and they won't get much more than minor league roster filler in return. His is just a bad, bad contract. However, it's a sunk cost, and a bad contract does not equal a bad ballplayer. The Cubs should utilize Kosuke so as to realize the most return on their investment. Fukudome has a career wOBA of .351 against right handed pitching, which is 11% better than the average hitter. Both his career OBP and his career slugging are significantly higher against righties than against lefties. Considering the Cubs struggles against right handed pitchers, Fukudome SHOULD be playing against right handed starters.

Rotating Fukudome will help keep Soriano and Byrd fresh and healthy, will improve the OF defense on days that he is playing, and will ensure that he stays engaged during the season. On days he doesn't start, Fukudome is the first LH bat off of the bench. Kosuke should get 250-300 plate appearances, even though he isn't the "starter."

At this point, the Cubs would have 38 players on its 40 man roster. They'll need to make some changes to the 40 man roster during the offseason to make room for other additions, and protect their top prospects from the Rule 5 draft. Specifically, the Cubs MUST....

ADD CHRISTOPHER ARCHER, MARQUEZ SMITH AND BRANDON GUYER TO THE 40 MAN ROSTER.
All three of these players would be exposed to the other major league teams in this winter's Rule 5 draft if they are not added to the 40 man roster. Archer is the Cubs' top pitching prospect, and was the most 'projectable' player acquired by the Cubs in the Mark DeRosa trade. What he lacks in his ability to make the Trixies wet, he makes up for with a mid nineties fastball and a sharp, diving curveball. Last year, Archer pitched 142.1 innings split nearly evenly between High-A Daytona and AA Tennessee. He averaged a 3.16 FIP across those two levels with a K/9 rate of 9.45. He's got the chance to be great.

Marquez Smith is not likely to be great, but he might be the Cubs' next 3B. He's a little old for a prospect (26 in March), but he showed good patience and great power in AAA last season. At worst, he should serve as an Aramis Ramirez injury insurance policy, and an acceptable bridge to Josh Vitters. If he's a late bloomer, he could seize the starting job at 3B and hold it for years. It's worth finding, right?

Brandon Guyer is probably the Cubs' second best outfield prospect, after Brett Jackson. He's a speed guy who stole 30 bases in 33 attempts at AA Tennessee this past season. He plays all three outfield positions, although I can't find any data on his center field range. If he can play CF well, it certainly raises his value to the Cubs and other teams.

To make these additions, the Cubs are going to need to make some subtractions first. Koyie Hill and Micah Hoffpauir should both be DFA'd. If they clear waivers, keep them around, but they don't belong on the 40 man roster at this point. That leaves one roster spot available for the Cubs to make a selection in the Rule 5 draft, or for Hendry to give to the mediocre reliever he gives 3 years and $12M to.

You'll notice that my plan leaves no room for big changes on the pitching staff. This is intentional. The Cubs have more than enough quality arms to fill out their rotation and bullpen. The internal roles for a few of the Cubs pitchers are still undefined. Right now, the Cubs seem intent on using Andrew Cashner as a reliever. I hate this idea, and I believe the Cubs should....

GIVE THE #5 STARTER JOB TO ANDREW CASHNER.

Dempster and Los Dos Carloses are already penciled in for the first three rotation slots. Randy Wells probably gets the fourth spot based on incumbency, but I doubt he'll keep his position in the rotation all year. Based on last year's usage, the #5 starter gig probably goes to either Tom Gorzellany or Casey Coleman. GORZ did enough to earn the spot last season, and Coleman has an argument as well based on his late season audition.

The Cubs should disappoint them both, and give the job to Andrew Cashner. Cashner's physical skills are far better than either GORZ or Coleman. He's been a starter in the Cubs' system for a while now, and we know he can do it in the minors. It behooves the Cubs to give him the chance to be a starting pitcher in the majors. If his command and secondary pitches develop, he could be an Ace pitcher. That's worth gambling on in 2011.

Finally, there is the matter of the batting order. I'm a big Lou Piniella homer, but he lost some of my support this season by refusing to let the Cubs' best hitter bat in the middle of the order. The Cubs can improve their offensive output in 2011 by....

BATTING GEOVANY SOTO THIRD IN THE ORDER.
This is another one of those "should be no brainers" that will nevertheless not happen. Soto posted the highest wOBA of any Cubs hitter last year, and at 28 years old next season, is firmly in his prime. He is the Cubs best hitter, and he should be hitting third as a result. 

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.
Follow my plan, and the Cubs look like this to start 2011:

Against RHP
Kosuke Fukudome: CF/LF
Starlin Castro: SS
Geovany Soto: C
Carlos Pena: 1B
Aramis Ramirez: 3B
Alfonso Soriano/Marlon Byrd: CF/LF
Tyler Colvin: RF
Blake Dewitt: 2B

Against LHP
Blake Dewitt: 2B
Starlin Castro: SS
Geovany Soto: C
Aramis Ramirez: 3B
Alfonso Soriano: LF
Carlos Pena: 1B
Marlon Byrd: CF
Tyler Colvin: RF

Rotation:
Ryan Dempster
Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Silva
Randy Wells
Andrew Cashner

Bullpen:
Carlos Marmol
Sean Marshall
Jeff Stevens
Justin Berg
GORZ
Esmailin Caridad/Jeff Samardzija
John Fucking Grabow

Whew. That got long. Thanks for sticking with me, if you made it this far.

CONCLUSION.
I believe if the Cubs follow this plan, they will finish in fourth or fifth again next season, but they will make serious progress towards becoming an NL Central force, year in and year out. Way back at the top, I mentioned that I believed in the Ricketts, and that they do have a plan for this franchise. Tom has stated publicly that he wants to build the team through scouting and development, and I applaud him for that. I believe that this is the only way to ensure a competitive team, year in and year out. The Cubs should take their lumps in 2011, knowing that 2012 might be the start of something special.

Week 21 awards: Mike Quade for Manager of the Year!

Right? Am I right? The new guy comes in and all of a sudden the Cubs pull off their first sweep since early July? And a winning road trip? Just give the guy a three-year deal right now.

I'm kidding, of course. I'm not sure if he'll actually get a real shot at the job next year, but he's not anywhere near the top of my list at the moment. If the Cubs were to play out of their minds for the final month, I suppose it's possible that could change.

It was a solid first week for the former third base coach, though. The Cubs got strong pitching for the most part and some timely hitting, gave the first-place Reds a run for their money but still managed to allow them to gain ground on the struggling Cardinals, which I'm totally okay with. Good stuff.

Ryno of the Week: We've actually got a few to choose from this week. Casey Coleman earned his first major league victory on Monday; Ryan Dempster had a phenomenal start against the Nationals; Xavier Nady hit his first home run since early June and had nine hits over the course of the week; and Andrew Cashner had four scoreless appearances. But even though he started just four of the six games, Kosuke Fukudome wins the award after hitting a game-winning home run and a game-tying home run in back-to-back games. He drove in five runs overall and batted .461. I had to check the calendar make sure it wasn't April.

Goat of the Week: Justin Berg would certainly argue that he had the worst week given that he now resides in Iowa. But fresh off the DL, Geovany Soto looked stale, going 4-for-16 with four strikeouts.

Top Ten Lessons Learned in 2010

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...

Cool 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.

Starlin Castro gets one of his 4 hits4) 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
one-dimensional guy.

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.

And just
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?

Taking care of business (Game Recap: Cubs 5, Astros 2)

A quality win for the Cubs last night, as everyone pretty much did their job: starter Carlos Silva kept the team in the game for five innings, the bullpen closed up shop while allowing just one run, and the offense scored 4+ runs.

To clarify, I don't give Silva credit for being anything more than a fifth starter, so any time he allows fewer than three runs and pitches five or more innings, he's done his job. And I said "4+" instead of five not just because I'm crazy, but also because I think a major league offense should be expected to score four runs when it wants to win a ball game.

The first four Cub runs came early. Soto doubled in Byrd (who had walked) and Soriano (who had doubled just prior) in the second inning, and in the third, a Byrd ground out brought home Derrek Lee (who had doubled) and a Soriano double brought home Aramis Ramirez (who hit a single to get on base).

Ryan Theriot hit a solo homer for the Cubs' fifth run, doubling his home run output over his last 700 or so at-bats.

Also: double double double double double double double single double double. Double.

Speaking of doubles, guess who else doubled? Starlin Castro! A double!

Darlin' Starlin went 2-for-5, raising his average to .309. He also has an .809 OPS for the year. Did I mention I love him? I mean, if you wanna talk about arbitrarily small sample sizes, look at his numbers since July 10: .463/.473/.704. HE IS BATTING .463 OVER HIS LAST 54 AT-BATS. THIS MEANS HE WILL BE A HALL OF FAMER AND THE CUBS WILL WIN SEVERAL WORLD SERIESES.

That's logic, baby. Go Cubs.

Why Lou's retirement announcement is such a non-story

The current state of the Cubs:

All you really need to know is that Aramis Ramirez is hitting mistakes again.

At the beginning of the year, he wasn't.  He wasn't hitting anything.  Neither was Derrek Lee.  And outside of the couple of times our bullpen blew leads early in the season, and the other night with Marmol, this was pretty much the story of the year.  Guys would get on base and Lee and Ramirez would strand them.  Over and over again.

Now Ramirez has healed, and is hitting like he always has, and a few days after that, so has Lee and Soto.  The word is that Lee is the clubhouse leader on the Cubs, and that is unfortunate because not only does he not have the personality to truly lead, he is also largely irrelevant offensively.

He has had two monster years with us, 2005 and 2009.  The Cubs finished below .500 both years.  Ramirez has had big years in 2004, 2007 and 2008, all winning years.  As Ramirez goes, so does the Cubs offense.  There is a greater statistical correlation as well as a practical correlation between what Ramirez contributes and what Lee contributes in terms of offense-to-wins.  This is what makes teammates sit up and listen, and only if Aramis could back up his practical relevance with words.

But he chooses to defer, like he did after each of the playoff sweeps, and this is why I went bat feces when he did.  Ramirez SHOULD lead the Chicago Cubs.  When he hits, we win.  As long as he keeps it up, we should have a winning second half, even though the decent starting pitching is beginning to falter.

Lou's retirement announcement, and why we are yawning

This was the biggest non-announcement ever.  Of course Lou is retiring.  Some say he retired 2 years ago.  He did it so people will quit asking him.  Some say he has earned the right to finish this year on his terms, and he will.  I'm not one of them, but there is the sentimental side of me who will give the man his respect.

Besides, Crane Kenney and Jim Hendry aren't going anywhere, so even if they got to choose a new man this afternoon, he would be no better than the last two guys they hired.

There seems to be no accountability in this organization.  Lou has the freedom to do one wild, crazy move after another, and when he is asked to explain himself, he either stutters and/or gets testy.  Jim has developed a decent drafting mechanism, and he is the king of the desperation trade and the fire-sale steals, but he has never made a good value-for-value straight trade in his whole tenure.  Not to mention, of course, his poor free-agent record, as well as his aversion to conflict, which has resulted in avoidance of arbitration - and overpaying players.

But, neither one of these guys can say they have done their job as badly as the Tribune holdover, Crane Kenney.  What exactly DOES he do?  How is the Triangle building doing?  How about the Great Wrigley Field reclamation?  What great marketing angles have we exploited lately?  When can we expect to watch the Cubs Network?  When Jim Hendry sucks, who calls him on it?  And if Hendry were to get fired, who would pick the next guy?

A corporate lawyer with no baseball background?

I want a baseball man put in Kenney's place.  Someone who can evaluate Hendry fairly, and determine if he is the man or not.  A new manager needs to be found.  Do we do the popular thing and stick Ryno in there?  Is Joe Girardi the guy?  How about Bob Brenly or Alan Trammel?  I heard Joe Torre mentioned?  Who do you choose?  They all have their own qualities.

There needs to be a organizational direction, which is developed and regulated by the President (the Kenney position), communicated throughout the competitive organization by the GM, and implemented on the field by the manager.  Depending on that direction, it could be Brenly, Torre, Ryno, Girardi, the frozen head of Ted Williams...but we need a direction first, and Kenney is not the guy to set it.

The President needs to see the middling-to-slightly above average health of the farm system, as well as the capabilities of what I am calling the Core of the 2011 Cubs, the guys who will definitely be here.

Soriano, Byrd, Marmol, Dempster, Soto, Ramirez, Castro.  Everyone else, even Zambrano, I could see a scenario where they may not be here next year.  These seven individuals will be, and the direction starts with what we are going to surround these seven guys with.

I don't know if Hendry is or isn't that guy.  I'd really like a real baseball man to evaluate what he has done.  I don't like his results, myself, but then again, he hasn't had much to work with from above.  That's the biggest question going forward for us.

We have an offense! (Cubs 14, Astros 7)

FOR THE SEASON, Geovany Soto has the 12th-highest OPS in ALL of major league baseball, with a .293/.412/.516 line.

In 21 games since coming off the DL in late June, Aramis Ramirez is hitting.354/.393/.817. Yes, that's an .817 SLUGGING percentage.

In the month of July, Starlin Castro is hitting .362/.413/.552. He's sporting a .295 average on the season. How many 20-year olds have hit .300 in the history of MLB?

In the six games since the All-Star Break, Derrek Lee is hitting .423/.444/.692. It's one thing to get to face Phillies and Astros pitching; it's another to make something of the opportunity.

These four were the offensive stars in last night's game. Obviously, the headlines go to Aramis Ramirez, who hit three home runs and drove in seven runs. Just like that, Ramirez has 15 HR on the season, good for a .452 slugging percentage (only Soriano, Soto, Colvin and Byrd have better SLGs on the year). But Soto's game-tying home run, Castro's 3-for-5 with 2 R, 1 RBI, and an SB, Lee's 3 R and 3 RBI on a 2-for-4 night -- this is exciting stuff! I actually like playing the Astros again!

On the other side of the ball, Ryan Dempster did not pitch well last night, although allowing four earned runs in five innings pitched doesn't exactly constitute a meltdown. At the same time, he was extremely hittable (eight allowed), and couldn't strike anyone out (1 K, 4 BB).

Fortunately, our bullpen came through, pitching four shutout innings. Andrew Cashner took the 6th and 7th, Marshall handled the 8th, and Marmol pitched the 9th despite the team's seven-run lead. Marmol only got one K, but my favorite bullpen stat of the night: of 23 pitches thrown in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, 20 went for strikes.

I much prefer an Aramis Ramirez with two good thumbs to one with just one. One thumb bad, two thumbs good! For the record, we still oughta be sellers (and it does sound like Lilly and Theriot will be moved in the next seven days, while Fukudome, Nady and Lee are looking like longer shots). But maybe it'll be fun in the meantime!

Go Cubs!

Gamecast (July 16, 2010) Phillies @ Cubs

The Cubs played well last night. The final score doesn't totally show it but the Cubs crushed the Phillies. Tonight they face another stinky pitcher named Joe Blanton. Makes you wonder why the Phillies, upon acquiring Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays would then dispatch Cliff Lee and his rather cheap contract to the Mariners. As Arsenio used to say, things that make you go hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Today's Matchup: Joe Blanton (80IP, 6.41ERA, 4.60xFIP) vs Ted Lilly (97IP, 4.08ERA, 4.75xFIP)

My take on today's starting pitchers is this. They both stink. Blanton is significantly better than than his ERA has been but is still bad. Lilly is mildly worse than his ERA is and is also bad. I hope Lilly has "good" or even "lucky" outings for the next two so the Cubs can turn him into a prospect. He has been uniformily the worse pitcher in the Cubs' rotation this year. I know it's not likely but I hope the wind is blowing in today. Lilly is an extreme fly ball pitcher. Typically it's very hard to win longterm with a ground ball rate well under 40%. Lilly has successfully done that over time while pitching in Wrigley Field. He's likely to give up a HR or 3 today, I just pray he doesn't walk people before the HR or get unlucky on balls in play. Today would be a good day to go with an outfield of Colvin/Byrd/Fuku to increase the chances of balls to the outfield (which will be many) being caught.

Who's Hot: Geovany Soto's wOBA is now 20 points higher than it was in his rookie year. He is close to his rookie season ISO (.219 then vs .206 now) and is crushing his rookie year walk rate. In the month of July, he's hitting .343/.410/.629 and has as many extra base hits as singles on the whole month. His defense is questionable these days but it's not like he's Mike Napoli. Today is a day game after a night game which is the only day he should be resting though with the all star break just concluded and Soto getting to rest 3 straight days, if I were Lou, I'd start him today. He's simply too important to our offense to sit.

Who's Not: Ryan Theriot is not a leadoff hitter and even though he's had an ok month of July batting average wise, he still doesn't come close to walking enough and has  amonthly OBP of .313. That number is serving to kill the Cubs' offense. Mike Fontenot would be so much better in this role. Play Fontey at second base and hit him first unless you're "showcasing" Theriot for a trade. If the Cubs are playing to win, Theriot is, at best, on the bench.

Conclusion: If the Cubs had a better starter going, I'd call today a likely win but I'd say it's a toss up. I think the Cubs win this game at home with this matchup about 52% of the time. Hopefully Lilly can keep the ball from flying onto Waveland or Sheffield and we can fly that W flag.

Five Guys rules. (Game Recap: Cubs 9, Diamondbacks 4)

Regarding the title: when's the last time five different Cubs recorded an RBI in a game? I admit, there's a good chance I haven't been playing close enough attention and it happened, like, two days ago, but really when's the last time this team scored five runs, much less had five different guys do it?

On Monday, the Cubs' "five guys" were Kosuke Fukudome (lead-off dinger), Mike Fontenot (pinch-hit single), Alfonso Soriano (pinch-hit two-run bomb), Geovany Soto (3-for-4, two runs and two RBIs) and Starlin Castro (1-for-4 with a two-run triple).

Speaking of which, guess which catcher leads MLB (as in, ALL OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL) in offensive production according to wOBA? Hint: he's a Cub, and it's not Koyie Hill. Having said that, let's keep splitting up the ABs, shall we? Gosh darn it, Lou.

Anyways.

Tom Gorzelanny started for the Cubs, and did not have very good control of the strike zone, allowing six walks over five innings. I blame The Organization for this. Much in the same way that Jeff Samardzija's development could not have been handled worse by the dudes upstairs (starter! reliever! starter! reliever! relief starter! closer! ham sandwich!), it's gotta be tough for a creature of habit to adjust from starting to relieving to starting again, and doing so while facing major league hitters. If it were my organization and I had six starters, I'd send whoever had options down to Iowa to stay stretched out. Heck, maybe he could even work on his fundamentals and pitch mix in relatively meaningless games, and improve even. But that makes way too much sense, obviously.

Lou used five relievers to get the win. James Russell performed well as a LOOGY, going one-for-one against his assigned hitter, while Andrew Cashner was less successful, allowing three base runners to reach while recording just one out. Beyond those two, however: Justin Berg, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol combined to strike out eight of their eleven batters faced, with Marmol striking out the side in the ninth inning. Super.

Game Recap July 3: Randy Wells is not a one year wonder

With apologies to my fellow goat rider Kurt, who is a great writer and a fantastic Cubs' fan, Randy Wells proved him wrong today and all of those people who have said, incorrectly, that Wells is having a worse year this year than last year. The results have been bad. I mean, coming into today's game, he had an ERA over 4.90 but the truth is, he has done his job better this year than he did last year and probably should have an ERA that is around 1.5 lower than where it is. He was great today against the best hitting team in the NL this year (though like Wells, I think there is a bit of a mirage there also but the Reds are pretty good). He took a no hitter into the 7th and ended up pulled in the 8th for Carlos Marmol.

Marmol is falling off of his historic K pace unfortunately and could use the time off during the all star break. Of course, he won't get it, he will deservedly be selected for the All Star game but he could use the time off. Oh yeah, what about the offense? They were great today but the timing was off. The final was 3-1 Cubs but the Cubs kept cranking out baserunners like Kate Goselin cranking out reality shows only to see them die over and over on the bases.

Finally, Geo came through with a bases loaded double in the 6th. Soto continues to be one of the best hitting catchers in baseball as well as being one of (if not the) most productive hitter on the Cubs. I hope his hit today will result in more playing time.

Anyway, I leave with the following information:

Randy Wells 2009: 5.66K/9 2.50BB/9 76% LOB .294 BABIP
Randy Wells 2010: 7.05K/9 2.58BB/9 67% LOB .354 BABIP

There is no reason to think he won't produce an ERA of around 3.50 or so the second half barring an injury or a sudden collapse in his K rate. Young pitchers with that strikeout to walk rate are NOT to be giving up on by a good organization.

Cubs by position - Catcher

Going into the next few years, I was hoping to take a look at the team's options by position. I wanted to start with catcher. Please chime in with other ideas if you have them.

First I wanted to start with catcher. My view is that catcher is a position that should be relatively stable for the next 3 years or so. Here are some of the options in the system:

Major League Level: Geovanny Soto (age 27). Soto is under the control of the Cubs until 2013 when he will be 30. I don't know what you guys think but as good as Soto seems right now, he doesn't seem like the type of player who will age well past the age of 30. I think the Cubs should ride him out until he's 30 and then let him go. He's a seriously net positive for the team, especially when he's walking like Eddie Stanky. I also believe he's underrated by the organization defensively. He's pretty much an average player on defense. 

Major League Level:Koyie Hill (age 31). I love backup catchers and Hill is a perfect one. He's gritty, he does pretty well with the glove. He can switch hit so he sucks with the bat from both sides of the plate. Thing is, he's played way too much this year. He's hitting .221/.259/.273. That's an OPS of .532. His OPS+ is just 39 (100 being average). He is awful and it wouldn't hurt the Cubs on the field if he is replaced. I see him as a future manager but my God, Lou! Stop playing this guy.

AAA: Wellington Castillo (age 23). Castillo feels like a pretty good backup to me. He's only 23 so he could get better but his overall minor league triple slash line is .259/.315/.404. He's been a generally decent defensive catcher in the minors and he's slugging over .500 this year in Triple A but he rarely walks and usually doesn't hit for much power either. He's ok. If the Cubs didn't have Soto, I could see Castillo being the Cubs place holder at this position. If the Cubs were in contention this year, he'd be awesome trade bait.

AA: Robinson Chirinos (age 26). Chirinos has been in the minor leagues now for 10 years and has yet to play above AA. I think that's about to change but his upside isn't even as high as Castillo who I could see being a possible starter in the majors. Chirinos is only a starter on a team that is terrible and has seen everything else fail at this position. He's a backup at best. He's hitting the crap out of the ball in Double A at .325/.399/.556 but don't be fooled. He's almost the same age as Soto and he's not an option.

High A: Michael Brenly (age 23). Brenly was a 36th round draft pick by the Cubs and he has turned into an organizational player. Of course, none of this is surprising considering his bloodlines but not being able to hit in the Florida State League at the age of 23 is a sign of a player with little or no future. Sorry Bob, your boy is a future high school baseball coach!


High A: Mark Reed (age 24). Reed was once a pretty decent prospect. He was a 3rd round draft pick back in 2004 so he has a pedigree but I'm not kidding when I say he is a worse hitter than Michael Brenly even though he's a year older and has even spent a little time in Double A. Reed has no chance to be a big leaguer.

Low A: Mario Mercedes (age 23). 854 plate appearances in the minors. 2 HR. Yeah. and he's not an especially good hitter for average either. He's a place holder.

Low A: Jonathon Mota (age 23): Yeah, also not really a prospect. He spent an entire year in AA and then got demoted back down to the Midwest league this year. Not good. Can't hit. Ok defensively. That's about it.

Short Season A: Jose Guevara (age 22). Yeah, he's also a non prospect who hasn't shown the ability to hit enough to get out of A ball. At 22, he's rather old for the Northwest League. Notice a trend. This is why I was hoping the Cubs would draft a catcher. They did, btw.

Rookie League: Sergio Burruel (age 18). Here's the first real prospect since Castillo on this list. Burruel was a 19th round draft pick and is interesting enough that he bears keeping an eye on. It's early in the AZL season but after 4 games he is hitting .467, so who knows?

2010 Draft: Micah Gibbs (age 21). Gibbs is a switch hitter who was one of the most highly sought after catchers out of college in 2010 draft and was the Cubs' third round draft pick. He hasn't played a game of professional baseball yet but it's not hard to imagine Gibbs being the man who replaces Soto in about 2014. Here is a good scouting report I found on the 5'11" Gibbs.

Conclusion: Thankfully, the Cubs have Geovany Soto because the rest of the system is bad shape at the position of catcher. Castillo is pretty good and should probably take Hill's place in 2011. Chirinos is another candidate to be the backup catcher in 2011 but will probably be the placeholder at Iowa. Burruel is very young and bears watching and Gibbs looks like he's already the best catching prospect in the organization.

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