Every baseball fan's favorite deadline has come and gone, and as you well know, the Cubs' roster is constituted a bit differently today than it was a week ago. You may be wondering what my opinion is on all that's happened. (Or maybe you aren't wondering, in which case: Congratulations! You're sane!)
At this point, the names of the players exchanged in the Cubs' lone deal have been so widely disseminated that stating them again here borders on worthlessness, but for the sake of cohesion I'll do it: the Cubs gave up starter Ted Lilly and infielder Ryan Theriot, in exchange for infielder Blake DeWitt, A-level starter Brett Wallach, and A-level reliever Kyle Smit.
Furthermore, there are two other names that, as far as I can tell, have been omitted from the discussion despite the fact that they probably shouldn't be. Those are Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker.
Every time Theriot started at second base and/or led off leading up to the end of July, folks may have been asking themselves, "Wouldn't a Fontenot/Baker platoon be more effective than this?" And if they had asked me, I would have said to them, "Yes, it would." It would probably be a half-decent option for next year's team, too.
But Fontenot and Baker have each been in the majors for a few years now, meaning they're eligible for some pay raises. And then there's the obvious fact that a platoon requires two rosters spots, which may block a better bat from being available in pinch-hitting scenarios.
With yesterday's trade, I expect the Cubs to non-tender both Baker and Fontenot in this upcoming offseason, giving Blake DeWitt the keys to second base on a full-time basis. Since DeWitt is not yet arbitration-eligible (at least I'm pretty sure he's not), he'll only cost the team about a half-million dollars. Baker plus Fontenot plus additional raises would have cost between $2.5 million and $3 million, I'm guessing, so, look at that! I just found the money we sent to the Dodgers in this recent deal -- not to mention our new 2B is 25 years old rather than 30, which most baseball folks interpret to mean he may still yet increase his skills. And as a member of the 2011 Cubs, by all means he should have every opportunity to do so.
(An aside: You may have your arms in the air right now, saying, "I thought Starlin Castro was going to slide over to second when The Cubs' Other Franchise Player, Hak-Ju Lee, took over at short?!" Not so, my friends; if Castro is to be moved from SS, I think his strong throwing arm plays much better at third base than at second. That'd be one young, talented infield, no?)
One final point: there's a pretty long list of Cubs that weren't traded this weekend that don't exactly fit with the current team, which is very much in rebuilding mode right now. That list includes, but is not limited to: Kosuke Fukudome, Xavier Nady, the aforementioned Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker, Carlos Silva, and perhaps even several established veterans like Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Zambrano.
Remember: there's no guarantee these players will finish the season as Cubs. Likely, most of them will be placed on waivers, which is a-whole-'nother ball game from trades entirely, but it suffices to say that the process could result in some or all of those players being moved.
For now, though, I'm pleased with the return obtained by Jim Hendry in yesterday's deal, and am excited to see the team finally take at least one small step in the direction of a youth movement, rather than patching up our aging roster with 31-year-old, left-handed hitting right fielders.
Hi all. Here are some Cub related notes on today's trade deadline:
The Cubs themselves sent Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Dodgers for second baseman Blake DeWitt and two varying degrees of good prospects. Brett Wallach is the jem here and will immediately move into the Cubs' top 15 prospect lists. Good Bye to Ted and Ryan, both of whom have been key parts of the team over the last four years and deserve our respect and honor. I am very interested to see what DeWitt will be able to do for the Cubs.
The Cardinals traded away Ryan Ludwick and received Jake Westbrook in return. Westbrook is an ok pitcher, everyone keeps speculating that he will be fixed somehow by Dave Duncan and while agree that Westbrook is the type of pitcher who has had success working with Duncan, I also think that rookie John Jay is going to be out of his depth and this deal further hurts the Cardinals' offense. I actually think that overall, the Cardinals have not really improved themselves.
The Astros, of course, traded both Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman away in an effort to turn those 2 out of 3's against the Cubs into sweeps.... I don't think they got back near enough and don't consider Bret Wallace to be anywhere near the offensive force that Berkman has been. I wonder if the Astros wouldn't have just better off keeping both players and trying to swap them in 2011. I don't think they did well.
The Reds did nothing. Kind of surprising. If I were a Red fan, I'd be angry. It may not matter. They could win it anyway. Oh and Jonny Gomes is still a huge Ahole. Just saying.
The Pirates flipped some of their roster for some potentially nice players and pretty much got more from trading Octavio Dotel, Javier Lopez, Bobby Crosby and Ryan Church than the Astros got for dealing Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. Wow.
Ex Cub Kerry Wood got traded to the Yankees. I wish him well and now I'm rooting for the Yankees to win the World Series. Wood is a Cub and will always be one. As such if he wins a title.... in a way we all do. Go Kerry!
Kyle Farnsworth was traded at the deadline to the Braves along with Rick Ankiel for a whole bevy of interesting prospects. Farnsworth doesn't have anywhere near the same level of respect in Chicago that my man Kerry has, thus I am not particularly concerned with this deal. I do find new Royals prospect Tim Collins particularly interesting.
Other than that, the rest of the Cubs are still here. No Fuku trade, no Zambrano trade, Nady will be passed through waivers I'm sure and could be dealt. I am a fan of Mike Fontenot bug with DeWitt on board, I don't really see what he does for the Cubs so I expect Fontenot be also be passed through waivers and possibly traded. Jeff Baker may still have value on the team.
Overall, a massively interesting day. I'm happy with the deal. I would have liked to have seen the Cubs do more but I don't believe I was ever one of those "Blow up the team" people so I won't complain. I will leave this up for two hours before posting today's gamecast.
(Edit) I forgot to mention Will Ohman traded back to the NL to play for the Marlins. He's still around and is pretty effective.
Reader Blog: Week 15 awards: Cancel that shipment of new bats--these actually seem to be working now
It was a short week in the baseball world (and therefore a long week for fans). The Cubs were one Marmol-implosion away from a four-game sweep to begin the second half, and they've been a lot more fun to watch lately--they've scored 67 runs in their last 11 games. Even Roy Halladay had to bow down to the offensive juggernaut that is the Chicago Cubs. You are no match for our muscles and legendary hitting prowess, Roy.
Marlon Byrd may have had the best week of any Cub given the impact he had in the NL's first All-Star Game win in 14 years. And Joey Votto can freakin' suck it. Since when are the Cubs and Reds arch rivals? And it's the All-Star Game, Joey! I understand that fans have a tough time rooting for players they normally root against, but you really can't set that aside for a night and get into the spirit of things? Your team is in the playoff hunt and may need that home field advantage Byrd just earned you, you jackass. Your goal in the All-Star Game is to win the All-Star Game, and if Byrd helps you do that, you should feel free to congratulate him.
Ryno of the Week: This is hard, in a good way. (That's what she said.) Aramis Ramirez had five hits in the series and five RBI. Trevor Sierra, Brian Brennan and I were debating less than two weeks ago what Ramirez's average will be at season's end. He was in the .170s at the time, and we settled on .212 as the over/under. Eleven games later, he's up to .213.
Geovany Soto hit a home run to each side of the park in the series and had four hits overall. Soriano had a couple dingers and five hits. All four Cub starters posted a quality start.
But I'm going with Starlin Castro. He batted .600 in the series with two doubles, a triple and three runs scored, and also stole home.
Honorable mention: Randy Wells hasn't been the beneficiary of the Cubs' recent offensive improvement--they've scored just 11 runs in his last six starts. His last four have all been quality starts and his ERA has dropped nearly a point since late June.
Goat of the Week: Again, not easy. Even Ryan Theriot had three hits, but he was still just 3-for-17. Plus his overall .311 OBP just angers me.
Dishonorable mention: Carlos Marmol (though in Friday's appearance he was absolutely nasty in striking out Jayson Werth, Ryan Howard and Ben Francisco)
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.
The Cubs' strategy at the second base position seems to be to hope that one of their many Grade B- prospects takes the bull by the horn. For the time being, the Cubs are employing a group of mediocre but at times mildly useful trio at the positon.
Major League Level: Ryan Theriot (age 30) : Since Theriot's Home Run explosion last year, he has turned into a terrible hitter. Coming into today's game, he had a .277/.314/.308 triple slash number. His ISO, never particularly good, has completely tanked. He used to be a shortstop where a team could live with that type of productiion if a player were awesome with the glove but Theriot is now a poor fielding second baseman. He's 16 for 20 in SB attempts so at least he has that.
The thing with Theriot is that he is being paid 2.6 Million. It's not much and in a typical year, it wouldn't be a big deal but he's far from earning his paycheck this year and I see no real use to the team next year. I think the Cubs will try to move Theriot at the trade deadline or they will DFA him in the off season. It would surprise me if Theriot were still around in 2011. Sorry Ryan, you were a Riot, but your time as a Cub appears to be coming to an end.
Major League Level: Mike Fontenot (age 30): Fontenot is the prototype perfect left handed hitting half of a platoon at second base. Fontenot is under control of the Cubs for two more seasons and I see no good reason why the Cubs shouldn't maintain that control. Now he's not a great player or a great hitter. He's hitting .294/.341/.412 this year. He's become more of a contact hitter. He occasionally drives the ball and the rumours of his impending power decline have been somewhat exaggerated. That stated, if some other team wants to give us a prospect for him at the trade deadline this year, I say the Cubs need to move him.
Major League Level: Jeff Baker (age 29): Baker is the near perfect bench player and the best player the Cubs could have with Fontenot on the team. He is a good hitter vs LHP's and is a really fantastic glove man. He's under team control for either 2 or 3 more years and would become mildly superfluous if Fontenot is dealt. He shouldn't be a starter ever even for a bad team. Once again, like Fontenot, Baker has his uses. A true Fontenot/Baker platoon at second base with Baker also spelling Ramirez at third from time to time would be a very productive platoon.
AAA level: Bobby Scales (age 32): Nothing special potential bench player playing in Iowa. Everyone remembers him from 2009 on the Cubs. If the Cubs decided to give Scales the job that Baker is now doing, I seriously doubt we'd notice a particularly large drop off. He's the guy who will be starting at second in August and September in all likelyhood if the Cubs trade all 3 players above. Not likely but possible.
AAA level: Matt Camp (age 26): Left handed hitter. 13th round draft pick. Numbers in the minors suggest a poor man's Theriot. Yeah, not good. I give him credit for making it to AAA. He's not a candidate to take the second base job.
AA level: Tony Thomas (age 23): Basically a grade C or grade C+ prospect sitting in Double A and the leading candidate to be someone you never heard of making an impact on the 2011 Cubs. He's got OK power, decent speed. He seems pretty good with the glove. He's repeating Double A and he does have some contact problems and will struggle to keep his batting average over, say, .240 in the big leagues. He walks a decent amount but probably not enough at this time to be better than the Fontenot/Baker combo we have in the big leagues now. I think he should spend all of 2011 in triple A but it's possible that he could impress and make the big league squad.
High A level: Ryan Flaherty (age 23): This is where we get into the potential future at this position for the Cubs. Flaherty was challenged by the Cubs at the start of this season and sent to Double A but he failed miserably and ended up in High A after hitting the cover off the ball in Peoria in 2009. Back in the Florida State League, Flaherty has hit well again. He's a real big guy (6'3", 220) and I worry if he will stay at second base but he has a chance to really move in 2011. He has genuine power but he also has some contact issues. He probably will never be a star but he could hold his own, easily as a solid regular for years. At the rate he's going, he might not enjoy his rookie year until he's 25 or 26 but he should be fine in the majors once he gets there. I am rooting for him to be playing in Iowa and pushing Tony Thomas off of second by this time next year.
High A level: D.J. LaMahieu (age 21): On the bright side, he is very young at just 21 for a former college guy. He is also tall and has "projectable" power. On the negative side, it's hard to imagine a 6'4" second baseman and he just barely hit his first HR as a pro. I'm not calling him a bust as he's 2 years younger than Flaherty and Thomas so he could still make it as a major leaguer but I'm scratching my head right now.
Low A level: Logan Watkins (age 20): Watkins has a decent left handed bat and is just 20 but he was a late round draft pick and hasn't hit well in Peoria this year. I do think he has probably earned a couple more year look in the low minors to make sure but so far I think Watkins is just the left handed version of LaMahieu. At this point, I would be surprised if either of them ever knocked on the door of Wrigley Field.
Short Season: Pierre LePage (age 21): It's early and he's 21 and playing in the Pioneer League but what a great name. I don't know much else about him. He's hitting over .330 in his inagural year as a Cub farmhand.
Conclusion: I think the Cubs might be smart not to get too excited about their middle infield prospects. Flaherty is good and I like him but he stumbled this year. LaMahieu has shown very little power thus far. The Cubs can get by for a year with the Fontenot/Baker platoon or even giving Thomas a shot but eventually someone else is going to have to step up. I think the Cubs should be on a look out for a player at this position at the trading deadline this year or they might have to dip into their free agent budget for a second baseman in the future. That would not be good.
Of course, hoping Hak-Ju Lee plays well enough that they can decide where to play Lee and Castro in a couple of years would be the best possible result. Second base is an interesting situation. We'll see how it plays out.
Generally speaking, I don't blame Lou for the debacle that this season has turned into. When your two best hitters have combined for -.8 WAR midway through June, there isn't much you as a manager can do to improve the situation. That said, I have a nit to pick with the skipper. Why is frat boy favorite Ryan Theriot still leading off? By almost every measure available, Theriot is having an awful season at the plate. His sub par .326 on base percentage and complete lack of power have left Theriot with a weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) of .300. By contrast, hated ex-leadoff man Alfonso Soriano has a respectable .346 on base percentage and his wOBA is a robust .386.
Other regulars/semi regulars who would serve as better leadoff men than Theriot: Derrek Lee (.314 wOBA), Marlon Byrd (.403 wOBA), Geovany Soto (.387 wOBA), Tyler Colvin (.411 wOBA), Kosuke Fukudome (.360 wOBA), Mike Fontenot (.342 wOBA).You get the point. Theriot's empty batting average and gutty scrappitude have kept him at the top of the Cubs lineup for far too long. Piniella would immediately make this team better if he moved Theriot into the 7 or 8 slot in the lineup and gave those extra at bats to one of the better hitters on this team.
(For a detailed description of wOBA and why it's one of the best measures of total offensive contributions, click here: http://saberlibrary.com/offense/woba/.)
The Cubs kept their momentum by taking two of three against LA, but their mojo ran out at the hands of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Two one-run duds were sandwiched around yet another win by Carlos Silva, and the week ended with the Cubs in pretty much the same position they were in when the week started. That's been the team's tendency at home this season; their four homestands have looked like this:
They just can't seem to put together any type of streak at home, mostly because they can't score runs consistently. This was a bit of a strange week in that despite scoring just 16 runs in six games, the Cubs won three times by shutting out their opponents in each win. While Derrek Lee and Mike Fontenot heated up a bit, most of the hitters were ice cold. Averages from last week:
It's hard for a team to get hot when two-thirds of the order is batting like ... well, like Aramis Ramirez. Perhaps it's time to see more of Tyler Colvin? Please? And perhaps it's well-past time to move Ramirez down in the order? Might I suggest 10th?
Ryno of the Week: Ted Lilly looked great and deserved a win when he helped the Cubs beat the Dodgers 1-0, but Carlos Silva edges him out because of this stellar in a very important game against the Cardinals: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K. His performance ultimately prevented a sweep, and Silva became the first Cubs starter to begin a season 7-0 since Ken Holtzman went 9-0 in 1967.
Honorable mentions: Derrek Lee, Mike Fontenot
Goat of the Week: The choices for this "award" on the offensive side were detailed above. John Grabow also threw his name in the hat by allowing five earned runs in two appearances, and then he was placed on the DL with what I believe is being called a "strained ability to pitch effectively in the major leagues." But overall, I have to go with Ryan Theriot who reached base in just 19 percent of his plate appearances and has a .313 OBP for the season. One could say his job is to "set the table," but instead, he's been getting up halfway through dinner and angrily knocking all the plates and glasses off the table.
...Targets, that is.
The Cubs could only score one run in yesterday's game, so the loss is on the offense. But Font and Riot both managed to make terrible throws on the same play in the bottom of the fourth inning, putting Ian Kinsler on third with no outs in front of the Rangers' heavy hitters. So let's gripe about how Fontenot shouldn't be playing third base, and Theriot is a dummy.
FONTENOT SHOULD NOT BE PLAYING THIRD! THERIOT IS A DUMMY!
In all honesty, Font has done a respectable job backing up Ramirez at third, and Theriot has done a stand-up job at second so far this season. It's more unfortunate than it is legitimately concerning.
OK, I really just wanted to title this post, "Cajuns are easy." You caught me.
So about the offense, then. The Cubs had a few chances to score some runs yesterday, and some of our most reliable hitters thus far this year were unable to capitalize:
- In the first, Soriano and Byrd both struck out swinging with runners on first and second. I should mention here that I actually liked Lou's call for the sacrifice bunt (assuming he called for it, and Theriot wasn't just improvising), putting a man in scoring position for our middle of the order dudes. Early leads are good to have.
- First and third with no out in the second, only to have Geo Soto GIDP. A run did come home, but there were other outcomes -- notably, a base hit -- that could have turned a small lead into a potentially serious rally.
- Top eight, men on second and third with two out. Font struck out looking.
OK, so three legitimate chances to score. It's hard to really hoot and holler about a game like this; the breaks just didn't go the Cubs' way, and so we lost.
Nice to see Ted Lilly pitch well, though. Three walks is kind of a lot for him, but no home runs allowed, and a handful of strikeouts to boot are redeeming factors. Two earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched in Texas -- yeah, I'll take that every time out.
And Z pitched 1.1 innings. Hey, if Lou had pulled Lilly after five and put Z in then, we might have had ourselves the first attempt at pairing starters.
But oh well Cubs lose that sucks wah wah.
Despite a win to finish out the week (which I was able to witness in person), the Cubs lost two more series in the last seven days. They've won three series this year and lost nine. It's like people always say: just win one of out of every three and you'll be in good shape at the end of the season. No wait, that doesn't sound right.
The Cubs needed two nail-biter 4-3 victories to keep from getting swept in back-to-back series and to stave off an to 0-6 record against the Pirates this year, a team they lost to eight times the last two years combined. The 2-4 week leaves them six games under .500 with three teams ahead of them in the division. At the top of the heap is a team that wears red but not the one you'd expect: Dusty Baker's Reds. Incidentally, the Cubs have scored just three fewer runs than the Reds and have a better ERA. Either the Reds are over-performing, the Cubs are under-performing, or both.
Here's the other good news: though it may have felt like 50, the Cubs were outscored by only five runs in the last two series. They lost two one-run games and also a two-run decision as they failed to turn the corner offensively. While it's good they're not getting blown out, their tendency to lose pretty much every close game they play is immensely frustrating and the reason for the title of today's post. Why, Cubs? Why must you torture us?
They still have two more games at Wrigley to try to get momentum on their side before hitting the road again.
Ryno of the Week: Tom Gorzelanny went 1-for-2 at the plate, and he was pretty much the Cubs' offensive star. Okay, okay, Soriano did go 8-for-22 with five RBI, which ain't bad. But Sean Marshall gets the nod this week after he earned a hold and a win, playing an instrumental role in both of the Cubs' wins. The man quietly goes about his business every year--he has a 2.45 ERA and a miniscule 0.87 WHIP, which would be the lowest in the league if he had logged enough innings to qualify.
Honorable mention: Carlos Silva
Goat of the Week: Though I feel badly for him after he got plunked on the elbow and had to miss Sunday's game, Ryan Theriot was just 3-for-17 last week with no walks. He also had a chance to tie Saturday's game in the ninth inning, needing only a fly ball to do so. Instead, he struck out.
Dishonorable mention: Carlos Zambrano
Brandon also writes at Wait 'til this year! Check him out over there!
The Cubs walk rate is on the rise. It was down closer to 8 but now it's up to 9.8% and rising. The Cubs are sixth in the NL in this category now and I think they have room for growth.
When you look at the team, you notice that Geovanny Soto is sporting a ridiculous 25.9% walk rate. That should come down but Soto has always had a nice eye. Other than him, only Lee is inflated (just a little at 17.4%). Ramirez is right on his career norm at 8.3% and the following players need to get a move on:
Kosuke Fukudome: 11.3%. Fuku has been over 15% in this first two years. At 15% he comes close to justifying his salary. The problem is, other than playing right field, he is mediocre at all other things he does with the bat. He needs to either keep hitting over .300 with power or start walking even more than he does now.
Ryan Theriot: 6.0%. The Riot has a career walk rate of 9.0% and needs to be closer to that. He currently has an unsustainable .400 BABIP which will come down. If he wants to maintain his value, he needs to get on base in other ways.
Marlon Byrd: 2.5%. This is beyond comical. Byrd has a career walk rate of 7.1% which is ok for a player with his other skills. He dropped into the 5% range in his supposed career year of 2009 and is now down to this joke. No matter what, if he can't get back to the 5-6% ratio here, he will be an out making cipher and will not be worth even the small amount of money he is getting.