Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Starlin Castro

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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.

Gamecast (September 24, 2010) Cardinals @ Cubs

Holy crap! Yep, here he is! The triumphant return of Sayers! Yeah, I know I haven't been around very much lately even though the Cubs are, shockingly, paying their best baseball on the season. And yeah, I was wrong about my earlier predictions, I can admit that. Still, I believe this Cubs team is better than they have seemed this year and I think they are at worst, a .500 team going forward.

Today they are playing an effectively meaningless game against the Cardinals who are now almost as out of the race as the Cubs are. Who'd thunk that would happen? The Reds are the class of the division, shockingly.

Today's Matchup: Adam Wainwright (224.1IP, 2.45ERA, 3.15xFIP) vs Tom Gorzelanny (127.1IP, 3.90ERA,4.37xFIP)

Gorz should make an excellent #5 starter going forward for the Cubs. Being under cubs' control for, I think 4 more years beginning in 2011 is key to his value. He is who we thought he was (sorry, I'm in Bears mode right now!) and should continue to give the Cubs about 140-160 IP with an ERA about 4 for the next 4 years. That will be worth far more than the Cubs will pay for it and allow them to increase team payroll elsewhere. It's how you build a winning team. OTOH, Wainwright is going for 20 "wins" which is an almost meaningless stat but the key here is that he is awesome and a leading candidate to eventually hit the free agent market and possibly come to the Cubs. Today's game is meaningless but it would be nice to beat Wainwright.

Who's Hot: I have no idea. But Starlin Castro's batting average is currently batting .306. He is 20 years old. He is a shrtstop. Yeah.

Who's Not: Unfortunately Castro has only hit .240 with just one Xtra base hit (a double) in the month of September. I hope he picks it up a little. His BABIP this month is a putrid .273.

Conclusion: Go Cubs! Let's pass the Brewers and maybe even the Astros in the standings. There's still time!

Week 22 awards: Sure these teams are bad, but better to beat them than lose to them!

Well this is sort of fun, no? I mean sure, the emphasis is on "sort of" since there's a pretty low ceiling on the enjoyment one can glean from a fifth-place team with an interim manager and some guy named Scott Maine in the bullpen. But fun nonetheless.

A second straight 4-2 week resulted in some rather pleasant press conferences for Mike Quade who suddenly has the Cubs looking like they care. The team is scoring runs, two different pitchers (Diamond and Russell) earned their first major league victories, and Carlos Marmol climbed into sixth place on the NL saves leaderboard.

By the way, for those who said the Cubs shouldn't bring in Sandberg mid-season because it's a toxic environment, because it would be unfair to him, etc., etc., do you still think that now? Do you think Quade is sick and tired of managing this unmanageable group of players? For those who want Sandberg at the helm next season, it would be pretty cool if he were 8-4 as manager right now, wouldn't it? He'd have a few press conferences under his belt, he'd be gaining a sense of the team's strengths and weaknesses, and he would have had a month or two to hone his major league management style. Do you think Buck Showalter wishes the Orioles would have waited until the offseason to hire him, given that the Orioles are 19-13 under him after beating the Rays yesterday? But I digress.

On a separate note, the Cardinals are tanking and that brings me joy.

Ryno of the Week: This is probably the toughest one I've had all year. In the one corner we have Starlin Castro who went 11-for-25 with eight runs scored and two RBI, and sits in third in the NL batting race. He also became the first Cubs rookie in 66 years with six straight multi-hit games. In the other corner we have Carlos Zambrano, our resident riddle wrapped in an enigma. He went 2-0 this week with a 1.46 ERA, six walks and 15 strikeouts. He made history of his own, passing Kerry Wood for third on the Cubs' all-time strikeout list. He's 4-0 since returning from the restricted list and has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his six starts. Since Big Z was still plagued by control issues and only pitched 12.1 innings over his two starts, whereas Castro did just about everything right (except for moving forward to accept a throw on a steal attempt, allowing Carlos Beltran to get in safely behind him), I'm going to go with the rook. Man, can this kid hit.

Judd Sirott made an interesting point during Saturday's post-game show, suggesting that Zambrano's numbers as a starter this season are not too shabby. Unless, that is, you look at them as if Big Z were an ace (and of course he's being paid like one, which is the problem). It reminded me of a post I wrote last year in which I explained that Big Z simply isn't an ace and never has been. What Judd said is true: Zambano isn't a bad pitcher, but he's definitely not an ace.

Honorable mentions: Koyie Hill, Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano

Goat of the Week: From the Department of Baseball Makes No Sense, Ryan Dempster got absolutely pasted twice this week after going 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA in his previous five starts. He failed to go five innings in either start this week. He still has a small chance of reaching the 15-win mark for the third time in his career.

Dishonorable mention: Blake DeWitt

To read more from this blogger, visit Wait 'til this Year.

Gamecast (September 5, 2010) Mets @ Cubs

Yeah, it's another gamecast as the Cubs look for the sweep of the Mets. Maybe I should just change this to Starlin-cast because really that's the only thing I care about regarding the Cubs these days. Starlin is now hitting over .320 and Mike Quade had him bunting in the 8th inning!!!! Come on Mike, you need your best hitter to swing the bat. I officially am opposed to making Quade the fulltime manager. I'm squarely in the camp wanting to see what Ryne Sandberg could do.

As for Starlin, he's now hitting .321 and his secondary skills, while not great, haven't exactly been Alcides Escobar-eque either. He's slugging over .440 and closing in on 30 doubles for the season. I think it's going to be tough for him to win the NL batting title but he's currently 3rd in the NL in batting average behind two candidates for the NL MVP. And I think it's fair to say that he's been one of the top 3 or even 2 best shortstops in the NL. He's truly been awesome and his presence on the Cubs makes me very optimistic about the future.

Dempster vs Niese today of course. Ryan has been generally very good this year but is coming off a bad start. Here's hoping he goes out and gives the Cubs a chance to win today just as he's been doing all year. We'll see. Go Cubs!

The defense, unfortunately, rests

It's an underrated facet of baseball, something that's often overlooked when analyzing a team. But when it comes to the 2010 Cubs, it can't be ignored. As the title suggests, I'm talking about defense.

The Cubs lead the majors with 103 errors; they had 105 all of last season. They've turned 102 double plays after turning 144 last year because most of their double play chances are ruined by a bobble or a throw that sails into the outfield. The Cubs have exhibited a scary combination of lack of focus and just plain bad glovework, resulting in more unearned runs allowed than any other team, by far. It's strange that Zambrano chose to lash out at Derrek Lee after a play he probably couldn't have made anyways, given that he's probably had a lot of more legitimate opportunities to complain about one of his defenders' handiwork.

Nearly 20 percent of the team's errors have been committed by Starlin Castro (20)--only Ian Desmond (28) has more errors among shortstops. Aramis Ramirez is only four off the major league-worst pace at third base despite having played fewer than 100 games. Ryan Theriot had six before being shipped to LA, and Blake DeWitt has 11 between the Dodgers and Cubs. Even Derrek Lee has six errors this season, more than 13 other first basemen.

Soriano has five--just one away from the major league-worst in left--while Byrd and Fukudome have actually played well. Colvin has four errors in right field, none in left.

It should go without saying, but the next Cubs manager and his army of coaches will have to do a better job preparing the team defensively. The lazy throws, the missed cutoff men, the slow-to-develop double play attempts ... these are not qualities commonly seen in playoff teams.

Errors are going to happen, quite obviously, but not 103 of them. Earlier this week Blake Dewitt managed to bobble a grounder and walk lazily towards it, unaware that the runner got a slow start out of the box. The bobble's going to happen sometimes, though the Cubs have exceeded their fair share this season. The second part should never happen, but it seems like just about every Cub has done something similar this season: Castro didn't hustle over the weekend and allowed a runner to score from third; Bob Brenly just criticized Ramirez the other day for not getting in front of a grounder down the line; Soriano exerts effort like Drew Barrymore makes good movies--I don't think it's ever happened.

Most of the position players will return in 2011, which means the gloves themselves may not improve much. In fact, the Cubs' best defender--Derrek Lee--is gone. But hopefully the mental mistakes and lapses can be reduced, and clearly Castro has more potential defensively than he has exhibited in his rookie season. Defense can be one of those things you don't think about until you don't have it. Unfortunately, it's been a glaring problem with this year's team. I just hope that whomever's in charge next season realizes that defense must not be left off the list of things that need to be improved upon in 2011.

P.S. I have to commend Marlon Byrd for his superb defense this season. He's in the top ten in assists for center fielders, has just two errors on the season, and has made countless highlight reel catches. The Cubs have a number of players who have been defensive liabilities this season, but Byrd has been nothing but a strength. As Len and Bob have pointed out, he absolutely deserves Gold Glove consideration.

To read more from this blogger, visit Wait 'til this Year

Gamecast (August 22, 2010) Braves @ Cubs

Despite the muttering and anger that many of us have experienced in the last two years, I am happy we had Lou Piniella at the helm for the last 3+ years. He is calling it quits today. I, for one, am happy he was here and I think he is leaving at the perfect time. More on Lou's Cub legacy in the offseason.

Tomorrow begins the Mike Quade era, I guess. I am surprised that Alan Trammell isn't taking over as the manager. The apparent dissing of Trammell means it's unlikely he will be the next manager of the Chicago Cubs. I believe this means Ryne Sandberg is very likely to be the man next year. I know other writers on this site have bemoned the possibility but I, for one, believe that Ryno is the only guy for the job. I welcome his ascension to the job of Cub's manager.

This is a gamecast and the time to discuss legacy is the offseason so here is today's matchup:

Today's Matchup: Mike Minor (12IP, 3.75ERA, 4.25 xFIP) vs Randy Wells (148IP, 4.44ERA, 3.97 xFIP)

The awesomeness of the Cubs' pitching in the first half has faded greatly in the second half and with it the team's chances have gone right down the toilet that they were lodged pretty deep within anyway. Ah well, anyway, Wells has been generally decent. I think a lot of what I wrote about Tom Gorzelanny yesterday applies to Wells. Wells should be back next year and isn't even close to getting expensive. He has been generally effective this year and has an upside as an above average #3 starter or passable #2. Given how little he's being paid, that's an important member of the team.

As for Minor, he's drawing comparisons to a young Barry Zito. I'm not completely convinced in his eventual greatness but I am impressed at how quick he rolled through the Braves' minor league system when he was supposed to be a signability pick. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch.

Who's Hot: His batting average has been dropping but Starlin Castro has drawn 3 walks this week. Who'd thunk? His batting average is down to .309 and he is up to 373 plate appearances so it's just a matter of time before he shows up on the top 10 list at ESPN in batting average. Personally, I think he is the key to the Cubs' future.



Who's Not: Hey, the Cubs won a game yesterday! Of course they did it despite the pitching of Andrew Cashner. I am very impressed with Cashner's stuff and I don't think the Cubs have anything to lose by just running him out there day after day. It is interesting to me that so far Cashner has gotten a pass that the Cubs didn't give the Shark. This is despite the fact that their numbers are very similar. I think this is a sign that the Cubs are higher on Cashner. If he can figure out how to pitch this offseason, the Cubs could have a rather awesome bullpen next year. This should be a project for Larry Rothschild (assuming he's coming back).

Conclusion: Even if the Cubs are out of it, it'd be nice if teams didn't look at them as a gimmee on the schedule. The Cubs need to win today to send Lou off on a happy note. They need to beat a rookier lefty for once. Let's go Cubs!

Gamecast (August 21, 2010) Braves @ Cubs

There are some great stories happening these year. The Cubs, as a team, aren't one of them. Sigh. Yesterday's lost must have sucked, I was already at work when it all went down. Ryan Dempster (who should absolutely, positively not be traded!) pitched great again; but Marmol had a rare bad outing and the Cubs ended up losing.


In next year's draft, the Cubs are currently looking at the fifth pick in the draft. I doubt they end up there but I do think it's going to be interesting whom the Cubs draft next year. They have an extremely high pick. I don't want to see the Cubs keep losing but if they do, there are multiple silver linings.

Today's Matchup: Tommy Hanson (148 IP, 3.41 ERA, 4.02 xFIP) vs Tom Gorzelanny (112.1 IP, 3.85 ERA, 4.36 xFIP)

As if we needed more reason to trust xFIP, I present Tommy Hanson. Hanson has had a 4.03 xFIP in 2009 and has a 4.02 xFIP this year. For those who look at traditional stats, it may appear as though Hanson has regressed this year but his peripheral stats just don't agree. He is a solid pitcher who probably will see his K rate go up a tick in the future and see his ERA drop to the 3.00 level.

As for Gorz, his problem has been walks along with a K rate that has been moving in the wrong direction. It has resulted in a rising xFIP and poor performance in the second half. I consider Gorz to be a fair #3 starter and a good #4 starter. This is especially so because he costs next to nothing to the Cubs. Once he starts making real money, I think his time with the team may become shortened. I like him. There's something happy about his constantly red face but I have to admit he's not a difference maker.

Starlin Watch: Starlin now has 369 PA on the season and would need 381 PA to qualify for the batting title. He's getting there and should be able to qualify by the time we make it to September. His batting average has dipped of late, he's now hitting just .309 and for some reason, his WAR has suddenly dropped at Fangraphs. I happen to believe Starlin is a very good defender but for some reason, UZR suddenly disagrees.

Joey Votto is leading the NL in batting average at .320 so if Castro gets hot again, he could challenge that.

Who's Not: I don't think this is relevant anymore. The Cubs need to just play as hard as they can and see what happens.

I won't be able to watch the game today thanks to Fox but Go Cubs anyway!

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?

Week 18 awards: If you're going to lose, lose to the Reds. That's what I always say.

And, clearly, the Cubs are going to lose. A lot. They already have lost a lot, and they're going to keep losing a lot. But I really don't mind it as much when it helps the Reds keep pace with those dastardly Cardinals. Unfortunately, the Cubs' 1-5 week means they're not even keeping pace with the Astros. Or the Nationals. They do have the same record as the Royals, though. You can't pull away from us, Royals! NEVER!

Yeah, it's sad. It's a sad, sad season, and the main thing that's made fans want to grab a Kleenex (or a fork to simply gouge the eyes right out) has been the bullpen. 28th in the league with a 4.91 relief ERA. That ain't right. But at least Zambrano's coming back tonight, and he can definitely go, what, five innings? So that's good.

Ryno of the Week: Despite going hitless Friday and Sunday, Starlin Castro went 9-for-25 this week with three doubles, a triple, four runs and an RBI. His OBP since July 1 is over .400. He did make some poor defensive plays and needs to work on his focus in the field, in my opinion, but the range is there and he obviously has an arm--he just needs to harness it.

Honorable mentions: Blake DeWitt, Ryan Dempster

Goat of the Week: After hitting .250 in June and .253 in July, Tyler Colvin is just 2-for-22 in August (2-for-18 this week). He can smash a mistake fastball, but right now he can't hit much else.

Dishonorable mentions: Brian Schlitter, Casey Coleman, Randy Wells

To read more from Brandon's blog, visit Wait 'til this Year

Gamecast (August 8, 2010) Reds @ Cubs

Yesterday's gamecast was thrown together very quickly while a five year old Princess (admittedly the most beautiful young lady on the planet, FWIW, and most sweet and, ok, I'm boring you now...) was breathing down my neck. I hope to spend a little more time today. The Cubs, as we all know, are playing poorly right now. They are losing the blowouts (except for one) and the close games, also. They are the double threat!

Today's Matchup: Travis Wood (44.2IP, 2.42ERA, 4.09xFIP) vs Thomas Diamond (6IP, 4.50ERA, 2.63xFIP)


Two severe fly ball rookie pitchers going today. Wood has a nice shiny ERA built on HR luck but he has a ground ball rate of less than 30%. To put that in perspective, that makes him a much bigger fly ball pitcher than Ted Lilly was. Diamond is a noted fly ball pitcher also. I, for one, am hoping Diamond can duplicate his strike out ways from his last start. If the wind is blowing out today, this could be a slugfest.

Who's Hot: Today's Starlin watch. Castro is hitting .312 on the season. His current triple slash number is .312/.360/.449 which gives him a beautiful wOBA of .346. He does have a mildly inflated BABIP of .352 which should come down. I also think his K rate (currently 14.4%) will drop also. That .312 batting average is for real and the power is great for a slick fielding 20 year old shortstop. I also found his realization that he could have gotten Ramon Hernandez yesterday on that great play he made moving to his left to be quite promising. He's learning but I think it's possible that in about 30 years, there will be a statue dedicated to him somewhere around where the Cubs happen to be playing at that time.

Who's Not: I've been pointing out all year how unlucky the Cubs have been and they have been unlucky but they have also been bad. Unlucky+Bad=5th place (gulp!) in the NL Central. Still, after yesterday's loss, they have now played 39 one run games, most in the NL, and have lost 26 of them. Now, I know it's hard to believe this because we've been watching them lose these games all year but a team's record in one run games is usually more luck than skill related. Most teams hover around .500 in one run games.


Both the Reds and the Cardinals are .500 in one run games. The Pirates are 16-17. The Astros are 10-12. The Brewers have the best record in the NL in one run games at 18-11. If the Cubs were .500 (or a game under because they have played an odd number of them) in one run games, they would have six more wins than they do. Their record would be 53-57. Now that's not great and I'm not suggesting that the Cubs would be in contention but there would be less concern and worry in the land of the Cub than there is today.

Conclusion: A win would be nice boys! When that fourth run scored yesterday I removed myself from the TV room and went into the laundry room to pound the wall for awhile. I know it's a small thing but it was at that moment that the frustration finally bubbled over for me. I am still focused on baseball with a left eye still on the Cubs but it's getting harder to watch them. There are good things happening on this team and I hope they can prevent the Reds from sweeping them today but I have to admit, it's becoming torturous to watch. Enjoy the game today and remember, baseball is supposed to be fun so win or lose, I hope everyone has a wonderful and blessed Sunday!

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