Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Kosuke Fukudome

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Hot Stove Warms Up on Fukudome, Zambrano and Dunn

The Cubs get some love from Jayson Stark in his latest Rumblings and Grumblings column. You should read his version (click the link!!!), but here's my understanding of what he said, plus some pontificating on my part.

- Unlike this time last year, there's not an absolute need to trade away one of the Cubs' higher paid players. Stark specifically mentions Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Zambrano, saying their respective performances once the team changed managers have inspired confidence about their futures. Perhaps the best Cub-centric quote from Stark's column was this:

"Scouts who followed the Cubs said they saw young players and the bullpen crew, in particular, relax and perform without the high-strung Piniella around."

Tangent alert: if Lou had any managerial weakness from Day 1 of his Cub tenure, it was an impatience with his bullpen. He let Bob Howry pitch a billion innings for him, and not because The Gas Can was particularly great, but because he didn't walk anyone. Lou HATED walks, and knowing that might have wracked some young relievers' nerves. (On that note, how did Lou survive 3+ years of handing the ball to Carlos Marmol in the 9th? That slider sure is an amazing pitch...)

Having said that, might Lou's departure have changed the culture for the entire Cubs team? Almost certainly. I'm excited to see what Mike Quade can do with this bunch. Hopefully, the Fukster and Z can be part of the group that benefits, as they did at the end of last year.

The other Cubbie nugget Stark drops in his column (that's Cubbie as an ADJECTIVE, not a NOUN, I'm still obeying the rules!!) referred to a rumor that was once thought to be a near certainty, which is that the Cubs want to sign Adam Dunn to be their first baseman for the next few years. (Haha, Stark dropped a nugget.)

Stark says the Cubs have much less interest in Dunn than had been assumed at the beginning of the offseason, citing his below-average glove -- a problem that might hurt the Cubs even more than usual in 2011 with the still-young Starlin Castro manning short on an everyday basis.

So the cash-strapped Cubs want a 1B with a plus glove, you say? And what's that -- they've been lacking in left-handed power for the last 100 years? In that case, I am now willing to wager a six-pack of Honker's Ale (or Old Style if you prefer, I guess that's more fitting) that Carlos Pena will be the Cubs' starting first baseman on Opening Day 2011.

Any takers?

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.

Perhaps we should be encouraged by the Todd Ricketts "Undercover Boss" episode

For those of you who may have missed it, "Undercover Boss" is a show where the presumed "boss" of a company goes incognito and does menial jobs with menial schlubs in his own company, generally fails miserably, then cleans himself up and makes futile conciliatory gestures towards said schlubs, the end.  Todd Ricketts was featured in this week's show.

The masses didn't really enjoy it very much.  Andy very nicely summarizes for us here.

I choose to be encouraged, and here's why:

In all the other episodes, the "boss" is usually the boss due to his or her own merits.  It is not necessary that the head of FedEx be able to wrap a package more quickly than his trained package wrappers, for example.  He got to his lofty position because of his other abilities, that far outweigh the abilities of mere mortal men.  The show, by and large, is nothing more than a feel-good device for the Tea Party set: a garbageman can handle a garbage can more effectively than the CEO of his company; thus, in some small, ultimately trivial way, Sam Schlub is better than G. Thurston Gotrocks.

Of course, in our specific case, the Ricketts children are nothing more than the lottery winners of the Lucky Sperm club.  They did nothing to build the 900 million dollars American it took to buy the Cubs: that was thanks to their father, as well as the butt crazy dot.com economy which eventually crashed and left us where we are at today. 

In fact, most of the angst Cub Fan Nation is feeling right now is because none of us really know what the Ricketts kids are truly capable of, outside of swilling Old Styles and picking up chicks in the bleachers.  (Yep, that goes for all the kids).

So this particular episode of "UB" took on far more importance than the usual weekly doses of "Freaky Friday" schlock.  I don't give a rip if a billionaire isn't a very good panhandler.  But, hey, I DID want to see what one of the Ricketts kids is made of.

It wasn't real encouraging that Toddy didn't know how to operate a hose, or a hand truck.  But I don't hold it against him that he wanted to spend as little time as possible in the Wrigley Field bathrooms. I usually dash in and out of there myself, holding my breath as long as possible.  I don't always give the best high-fives, either, although I would know better than to try to give one to an authentic black guy.  An enthusiastic nod and a loud "YEAH" always seems to work.

But what made me sit up in my chair and take notice was his hot-dog vending effort.  After several hours sitting in his heated box, Todd (rightly) determined that the last four weiners were no longer fit for human consumption, so he dipped into his own pocket to "buy off" the Foul Four, and surreptiously dumped them in the trash. 

Now, it may have had nothing to do with the condition of the dogs, he might have just been lazy, but hear me out:

Aren't the four lousy hot dogs an apt metaphor for the expiring utility of Fukudome, Zambrano and Soriano?  Or how about the financials of Crane Kenney's and Jim Hendry's employment?  Yes, $15MM+ is a ridiculous amount of money to waste on a player contract, but $4.50 is a ridiculous amount of money to waste on a skinny hot dog in a soggy bun.  Might Todd be setting a precedent here, one where the Ricketts are encouraged to dip into their pockets, pay down the bills, and throw out some of their more useless employees?  Put some new baseball people in charge; let another set of eyes look at the organization, and determine whether we should be buyers, sellers, or builders?

I think the Great Hot Dog Toss might be a small first step towards something much more substantial: namely; rather than sitting on their asses and waiting for the bad Hendry contracts to expire, maybe the kids are gonna go out a year or two sooner to try to win?

In the meantime, I'll just be sitting here, waiting for the economy to bounce back.  Should be any day now. 

What's with Kosuke?

"Somebody HAS to talk about Kosuke," George demands, and here at GROTA, what are we if not crowd pleasers? (Answer: schlubs!)

Kosuke Fukudome has hit 12 home runs this year, a new stateside record for him. What makes that number so remarkable, despite the fact that it's just one higher than his previous mark, is that the Fuk has managed to do it in just over half the number of plate appearances he's received in previous years.

So what's with the power surge? Is it all a Fuk fluke (man, that should have been the title of the article)?

Actually, Kosuke has improved across the board as a hitter this year, for the second year in a row. In 2008, Fuk posted a .257/.359/.379, and while those stats were dragged down by a truly dismal second half (.639 OPS post break), he never managed to surpass the .800 OPS in a month after April. A year later, Kosuke's numbers went up a touch, with a 16-point boost in on-base percentage and a 42-point rise in slugging percentage.

Did Kosuke's peripheral stats change from year to year in that instance? A quick glance at his Fangraphs player page shows that they did. His batting average on balls in play went up five points, but that leaves about 50 points worth of OPS that needs explaining, most of it slugging. What else changed?

As it turns out, Kosuke hit more line drives in 2009, going from a 19.1% line-drive rate to a 24.0% mark. And his ratio of home runs to fly balls increased slightly, from 8.3% to 9.6%.

So what about 2010? Has Kosuke maintained his improved BABIP, line-drive ability, and power ratio on fly balls?

Put simply: no, no, and yes. He has given back four points in BABIP this year; his line-drive rate is down significantly -- all the way to 16.1%; and 14.8% of his fly balls are leaving the park as home runs.

And while you might expected a decreased line-drive rate to hurt Kosuke's average, indeed it has not; the extra homers have actually boosted Fuk's average to the .281 mark so far this year.

So what does all this mean? I would guess two things: first, that the extra rest this season is helping Kosuke maintain his strength later into the year; and second, that the Fukster may have adjusted his swing, aiming for the fences more often as opposed to hitting doubles to the gaps.

Here's some visual evidence that may support the rest claim:

Anybody wanna check out his swing this year compared to last year?

Also the Cubs won yesterday. Look, I turned this into a Game Recap with one sentence! HAH!

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?

I don't get it. (Game Recap: Cubs 8, Giants 6)

You mean to tell me the Cubs won last night?

I thought it was pretty funny myself. I was using them Twitterdecks last night when the game started, and when Kosuke hit his bomb into McCovey Cove to put the Cubs up 4-0, EVERYONE had the same response, which was some variation of, "Who are these guys, and what have the done with the Cubs?"

Then again, when the inning ended, another rampant bout of groupthink -- tweet after tweet asked, "How quickly will Demp give this lead up?"

The defense tried its best to lose the game last night, with errors from Blake DeWitt, Micah Hoffpauir, Starlin Castro (his 17th) and Tyler Colvin (not a centerfielder). But somehow we came through.

Castro had a nice night, going 2-for-5 with three RBI, a run scored, and a stolen base. Kosuke's blast into the cove in the first was super, and Mike Fontenot contributed a late pinch-hit two-run double that would give Carlos Marmol much-needed insurance for later in the game.

Ryan Dempster was hittable (8 H in 6.2 IP) and didn't blow it past anyone (3 K, 2 BB) but managed to post yet another quality start (4 R, 3 ER). Cashner, Marshall, and Marmol closed the game out, striking out three and walking one in 2.1 innings of relief (Marmol allowed two runs on four hits but managed to secure the win eventually).

Finally, last night's Photo of the Night, brought to you by the Associated Press:


Don't worry about the errors, folks -- this guy is for real.

All About Kosuke (Game Recap: Cubs 3, Athletics 2)

The Cubs won their series against the Athletics last night behind the bat of Kosuke Fukudome who, after having to wait until the eighth inning for an at-bat, eventually both scored the tying run and later drove in the winning run.

Randy Wells pitched seven pretty decent innings, allowing just two runs on seven hits and one walk, while also collecting six strikeouts. And fortunately, it only took him 128 pitches to do so.

(Grumblegrumble... EVERY DAY this team feels more and more like it's being managed by Dusty Baker instead of Lou Piniella... grumblegrumble)

Andrew Cashner was the first guy out of the 'pen to relieve Wells, and he did well in his first inning of work. But a leadoff single advanced to second on a wild pitch, and then to third on a groundout, forcing Lou to bring in the Strikeout Machine That Is Carlos Marmol to prevent the Athletics from scoring the go-ahead run.

The plan worked, albeit without anyone striking out against Marmol, and the Cubs had a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth, which they did, as Geo Soto walked, Castro bunted him over, Koyie Hill and Ryan Theriot walked to load the bases, and then Kosuke singled to drive in Soto.

Heads up to the Athletics: you deserve to lose any game in which you walk both Koyie Hill AND Ryan Theriot while the game is tied.

And for today's Young Cub Update: Starlin Castro has a four-game hitting streak going on.

Good times, go Cubs!

Poor Gorz (Game Recap: Cubs 5, Dodgers 8)

When asked if the constant chatter about the Cubs' oversupply of starting pitchers had affected his performance in last night's game, Tom Gorzelanny answered, "No."

"But you read it."

Of course you read it, and of course it affects you. Tom was clearly off his game last night. In the game's first at-bat, he had Rafael Furcal in a 1-2 count before giving up a single, and then followed that up with a dreaded four-pitch walk to Russell Martin. Three runs would eventually score.

In the second inning, he started the at-bat against Dodgers' starting pitcher Chad Billingsley with three straight balls, before eventually walking him. It's little things like that that make you think, "Something's not right."

Pressured or not, however, that's probably that -- Gorz will likely head to the 'pen, and James Russell will likely head back to Iowa. Having said that, I know it would not at all be fair to Tom, but I'd almost be in favor of sending him to Iowa to have him continue to start games, with the understanding that the Cubs would soon trade either him, Lilly, or Silva for either some relief help, or some quasi-talented young players. But what do I know?

On offense, there were some blown opportunities, sure, but five runs are five runs, definitely enough to give your team a chance to win. Perhaps more importantly in the long run, I don't know who looked worse last night: Kosuke Fukudome or Tyler Colvin.

I think it's pretty clear that, with Soriano and Byrd carrying most of the load on offense so far this year, Kosuke should be feeling the most pressure in terms of being replaced as an everyday starter in favor of Colvin. But for Tylermania! to replace anyone at all, he has to earn it, regardless of how poorly the Fook performs in May (.254/.338/.397 as of right now).

Colvin looked ugly in his first inning at-bat, swinging at two super-low breaking pitches to strike out. He walked in the third, but then didn't take the bat off his shoulder in the fifth, striking out again. So, yeah, he isn't seeing the ball real well lately. And it's not like he ever has -- the kid didn't walk once in spring training this year. But you know what might help improve his eye? Maybe some regular playing time. But again, what do I know?

The Cubs go for the series win this afternoon. Theo gets the start against some young guy. Have fun with that.

Reader Blog: Walking Men

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.

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