Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Kosuke Fukudome

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Reader Blog: Hendry's Free Agent Signings

Lets start with the positives. Hendry signed two of our three best starting pitchers through free agency, and both have wildly exceeded our expectations. Terrible Ted Lilly has been worth 10 WAR since he began his Cubs career in 2007. For comparison's sake, Yovani Gallardo has only been worth 5.5 WAR over the same period of time. Ted has been very, very good.

Ryan Dempster has been even better. In the two seasons since he returned to the rotation, Dempster has been an ace. He's put up 8.7 WAR in that time period, and was able to accumulate 3.6 WAR last season even though he missed a month of the season with a broken toe. Since he joined the rotation, Ryan Dempster has been the Cubs best pitcher.

That's about the extent of the positives. Here are the negatives, in lazy list form: Alfonso Soriano @ 8 years, $136 million with a no trade clause. Kosuke Fukudome @ 4 years, $48 million with a no trade clause. Milton Bradley @ 3 years, $30 million. Jacque Jones @ 3 years, $15 million. Jason Marquis @ 3 years, $21 million. Bob Howry @ 3 years, $12 million. Aaron Miles @ 2 years, $5 million. John Grabow @ 2 years, $7 million. Etc.... These players have a ton in common. Most were coming off a career year. (Jones is a notable exception.) Most did not contribute enough WAR to justify their salaries. All were seemingly signed for too many years. The Cubs roster has been an elephant's graveyard of declining players being paid a ton of money for their past contributions to other teams.

This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Most MLB team's have gotten smarter about keeping their young, high WAR players away from free agency. The majority of players who reach free agency are players that their original teams didn't deem worth extending, because their likely salaries would exceed their likely contributions. In short, free agency isn't a smart way to try and build a ballclub. Jim Hendry has spent a lot of money in free agency and usually hasn't gotten his money worth. The bad, long term contracts on this Cubs squad have hamstrung him in his efforts to improve the team going forward. The Cubs are older, maddeningly mediocre, and expensive. This team won't contend in 2010, and it won't contend in 2011 either. Because of his nasty habit of making it rain on every flavor of the week free agent who comes a knockin, Hendry should be fired.

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Game Recap: Cubs 7, Brewers 6 -- Unbelievable!

Nothing like some good home cookin' to get the offense going.

Today's game got good in the bottom of the eighth, when Ryan Theriot and MVP of the Day Kosuke Fukudome each drove home two runs on singles. Kosuke also drove a run in in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly to the opposite field with the bases loaded and one out.

Ryan Theriot certainly made a case for getting most of today's kudos, going 4-for-5, driving in two runs, stealing 2nd to get into scoring position in the bottom of the eighth and then coming home on the Fuk's single later in the inning. But Kosuke's sac fly and super single just felt more important to me. Call me crazy.

Other positive performers on offense included Geovany Soto, who absolutely blasted a solo shot on to Waveland Ave., and Tyler Colvin, who had two productive plate appearances, including a bunt and a walk.

Of course, you've gotta score runs to win ball games, but perhaps the most exciting half inning of the day took place in the top of the ninth. Carlos Marmol struck out the side -- and not just any side, but one consisting of Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder. Holy crap, awesome!

Had the Cubs lost the game, most fingers would likely have pointed at Randy Wells, who made the grave mistake of walking the pitcher in a close game. It cost him -- not only on the scoreboard, but perhaps more importantly, in pitch count as well.

Actually, that's not exactly true. Most people probably would have blamed Alfonso Soriano, who struck out once and allowed Rickie Weeks to get to third on what should have been a double. However, the Fonz did have a double, and scored once. So I don't see what all the fuss is about.

Neither Aramis Ramirez nor Marlon Byrd did much to help on offense. Both went 0-for-4. However, Byrd did make a sick throw to get Carlos Gomez out at third in the fifth, which was pretty super.

Jeff Gray also sucked in one inning of relief, allowing two runs on three hits in the eighth. His velocity seemed down from all the stuff I've read about him throwing fastballs in the mid to high nineties. We'll see how that goes I guess.

Anyways, let's savor the win for what it was -- a super clutch outing from Riot, Fooker, and Marmolito.

Cubs win! Go Cubs! Yeah!

Kosuke Fukudome

Bill James projection: 520 ABs, 138 H, 76 R, 13 HR, 61 RBI, .265/.365/.792

What we think: sounds about right.  This is what $10 million buys you in MLB, 2010?  The very essence of Mehdiocre?  Yes, he is going back to right field, and we will benefit from that, alone.  Byrd in CF and Fukudome in RF will be better than Fukudome in CF and Bradley in RF.  We are halfway through the Fukudome era in Chicago, and although the first two years seemed far different in trajectory, in the end, both years were darn similar. The above projection is pretty much the average of 2008 and 2009, and there really is no reason to suggest he will perform otherwise.

But honestly, I thought we were getting a 20/80 guy, with .300/.400/.900 when he was signed as our key free agent of 2008.  He went on a tear his first two months with us, then was a complete offensive drag after that.  Last year, Fooky had a nice first month, then cooled down, not quite as bad as the last part of 2008, but enough to where he ended up with nearly the same offensive production as his first year.

There is no reason whatsoever to believe he is going to find a next gear, and ratchet his offensive game up.  Basically, if you didn't know what his contract calls for, you would look at this guy, a guy who gets on base, plays decent outfield defense, and call him a great fourth outfielder.  However, he is being paid as a starter, and based on everything we have seen, heard, and read, he is our starting right fielder.

What would I like to see?  I want to see Tyler Colvin start in RF, and Fukudome become the 4th outfielder.  Why?  Because, someday, Colvin COULD be that 20/80 guy.  I think he has a better chance of doing that in 2010 than Kosuke.  Honest to God, I do.

I think Colvin is one of our three best outfielders.  He might be the very best, in fact.  At least he could be the best.  What do we know about him?  Very little, I admit.  But what we know is that Byrd will not give us 20/80, nor will Fukudome, nor will Soriano, if I had to guess.  Soriano COULD give us 40/100, if he were 30 years old and healthy.  But he is 33 with a bad knee.  Kurt says just because somebody is 33 years old with a bad knee doesn't automatically make him a bustout.  He cites Andre Dawson.  Dawson was a Hall of Famer.  Soriano is not.

What does any of this have to do with Fukudome?  Well, I want him to be our first outfielder off the bench.  If we had confidence in Colvin, if Byrd was assured to hit as well as he did in Texas, and if Soriano was 30 and healthy, Fukudome would be our fourth outfielder.  But none of those things are true, so the Dome will play, and give us our .270/.370/.770 and make us like it.  And, we'll be in the bottom half in offense again this year.

So, what hope do we have?  Silva the Hutt winning 15?  Sure, if that happens, we'll win the division, whether or not Fukudome improves or not.

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2009 Recap: Kosuke Fukudome

Before applying our palms to our faces about how the Cubs owe Kosuke Fukudome $13 million next year (and $13.5 million the year after that!), let's pause and reflect on his 2009 performance.

With the bat in his hand, there's one thing Kosuke can do extremely well: the guy knows how to take a pitch. In 2009, Kosuke only swung at 17.8% of the pitches he saw outside the strike zone (compared to a league average of 25.1%). That ability got him to first pretty frequently, as he walked 93 times in 603 plate appearances.

His power was about the same as league average; his SLG was .421 for 2009, compared to .418 across the game. Combine that, and his .260 batting average, with his walkability, and you get an OPS+ of 104 -- just slightly above average, but for all intents and purposes a league average hitter.

In the field, you get a solid right fielder, or a below average -- but certainly useable -- center fielder. For me, Kosuke in center passes the eye exam; he looks like he can do the job.  But numbers don't lie, do they?

Slightly above average bat, slightly above average glove for an outfielder -- combine the two for a guy worth about $10 million a year. In other words, he more or less earned his wages last season.

Next year, projections make it seem like he'll be worth almost precisely the same value, making him slightly overpaid.  Now THAT'S more like it! 

Go Cubs!

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If Fukudome is underrated, then what is Ryan Theriot?

Apparently the guys who frequent Desipio -- and Desipio spin-off Hire Jim Essian -- are not particularly fond of being mentioned in other places.  A couple of days ago I did just that in this article, where I highlighted the debate on the value of Kosuke Fukudome which had been started on the Desipio forums.  

A loyal Goat Reader who wishes to remain anonymous EMailed me the following discussion:

Bort  "Pretty awesome of Kurt to take his bitchfest to GROTA."
Dr. Kenneth Noisewater  "Kurt is such a douche."
Dr. Kenneth Noisewater  "He seriously cried wee wee wee all the way home to his queercastke* of wrong at GROTA."

(*I think he meant "queercastle")

ChuckDickens  "F**king Kurt posts a rebuttal at GROTA?"
ChuckDickens  "Is that a canard to get me to read his site or something?"
SKO  "and then he name drops you and Pre like anyone there would know who the f**k that was"
T to E to C  "he posted the rebuttal at GROTA because he figured no one would read it if it was over there"

I'm not sure if T to E to C meant to say that GROTA has no readers, or I was expecting nobody from Desipio to notice.   Either way I posted the "rebuttal" because it's an interesting debate topic about the Cubs** in which a pack of idiots -- that would apparently include you, T to E to C -- took a ridiculous stance apparently for the simple reason that I took the opposite one.  The response to my post, ironically a major bitch fest by several individuals, is pretty damned funny.

(**GROTA, being predominately a content-hungry website that covers the Cubs seems like the ideal place to debate the merits of a player like Fukudome, incidentally)

RV  "Kurt just wanted to make sure there was absolutely zero doubt that he's an insufferable pudleak."
SKO  "i used to feel sorry for Kurt. i thought he was an awkward but well meaning guy that everyone mercilessly attacked."
SKO  "i see now that he's just a completely oblivious twit"
Mr. Tank  "There's nothing more interesting for the readers of you blog than a recap of an internet discussion you've had somewhere else"
T to E to C  "I used to read GROTA regularly like three years ago. Now I wonder what the hell was wrong with me back then."

Thanks for all the love, guys.  Again, stay classy with the sniveling hatefest directed toward me.  All I did was highlight a ridiculous stance ChuckD had on the value of Kosuke Fukudome on this, a Cubs blog.  All you did was rattle off insults highlighting what tremendous folks you are.  And while I'm sure that some Goat Readers have never heard of any of you, the Cubs blogging community isn't so big.  Surely some people here know "who the f**k that was" and have their own bad experiences with your crowd. 

Anyway, I bring the topic up again for two reasons -- first because it obviously annoyed the holy hell out of them, and second because the fallacy of their Fuku-love is hypocritically contrasted by their lukewarm feelings toward Ryan Theriot, the topic of this article.

Theriot, you may have heard, is an average-at-best shortstop with no base running skills and a terrible defensive ability.  

For example -- we learned last week that Fukudome's season, as determined by wRC, puts him in elite company (ignoring the 70-or-so players who have better wRC than him this season).  Theriot at this moment has a very similar wRC to Fukudome -- 65.3 to Kosuke's 67.7.  Since we've already established that some people mistakenly feel that Fooky's wRC is something special, then I'm sure these same jabrones have a similar appreciation for the year Theriot is having.  Except, they might argue, Theriot's defensive value detracts from his contributions compared with the stellar-gloved Fukudome.

But Fangraphs tells us something interesting -- according to the UZR stat, Theriot is a Top 10 defensive shortstop in all of baseball with an UZR/150 of 3.2.  For comparisson's sake, Fukudome is 11th amongst all center fielders, with an UZR/150 of -5.2***.  In the NL alone, Theriot is 5th best defensively, while Kosuke is 7th best.  

(***-5.2?!?  So much for being near Gold-Glove caliber)

Mix that in with Fangraphs' estimated value of Theriot compared with Fukudome -- $11.4 to $13.4, (with a WAR of 2.5 to 3.0).  In other words, while Fukudome has been slightly more valuable to the Cubs than Theriot (until you consider that Kosuke is making perhaps 24 times as much money, if not more), where's the Cajun Love from the Desipio crowd?

After my Fukudome article, AJ posted one regarding his opinion that the Cubs' CF is the MVP of the team.  I won't contest that, first because part of Fukudome's value is the fact that he's not easily replaced, and second because on this under-performing team it makes perfect sense that such an average player would be one of the best in the lineup.  But if we're going to make our judgment on the Cubs players based purely on an analytical, statistical outlook, then Theriot should not be overlooked.  Like a lot of people out there I would support his move to second base, but he's apparently been a pretty decent shortstop this year despite what biased public sentiment might be.  

As for the Desipio guys, I like many of them and respect their opinions.  It's a little unfortunate that some of them have to be so hostile toward people they dislike -- and they certainly present themselves in an extremely unpleasant manner the majority of the time -- but hey, they're the funniest guys on the internet.  Just ask them.

Anyway, I've never said GROTA is the best Cubs blog on the net -- I can easily think of a bunch that are funnier, and more analytical, and more compelling.  And if you'd like to see for yourself some of the personal blogs of the guys who think I am an "insufferable pudleak" living in my "queercastke of wrong at GROTA" then feel free to follow these links:

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater -- Wrigleyville23, named apparently after his love of the Chicago neighborhood with the highest quantity of puke per square mile and his love of Ryne Sandberg.  DKN only contributes sparringly to this blog.
Slaky - Slak's Index, a blog that is apparently about Slaky's music tastes, because that's what the internet needed -- another music blog by some guy nobody cares about
Eli - Eli Gieryna, the internet's least-prolific blogger, which sort of resembles a bot-created phish site
SKO - Start Kyle Orton ... considering that SKO hasn't apparently invested any money in his blog, it's probably not too late to create a Jay Cutler worship site for which he can migrate his compelling rhetoric, kind of like how HJE used to be FLP.
ChuckDickens - Pseubermetrics, which I have absolutely nothing bad to say about.  It's a clever and well-done site.

Bort/Jon, who apparently whined a lot because I didn't include a link to his blogs, runs Hitler Getting Punched, contributes on Thunder Matt's Saloon, and also The Slog.  Since I like the first two and know nothing of the latter I won't bother to come up with any pointless insults.  Sorry for hurting your feelings by leaving you out, Jon. ***END UPDATE***

I'm sure you that you'll enjoy some of those, although I also have a feeling that the guys who own them would rather lose a testicle than take on GROTA readers, who they surely feel are inferior to themselves. 

Ko-su-ke for M-V-P

Over in the comment section of a "Roster Talk" post I did recently, vigilant Goat Reader faustus1500 posed a question about the identity of the Cubs' most valuable position player this season. According to Fangraphs, a site I'm very fond of, that distinction belongs to one Kosuke Fukudome, a guy Kurt recently had a few words about whom to say.

faustus wondered aloud (or rather, textually...?) if Kosuke was more or less valuable than the Cubs current 1B, Mr. Derrek Lee.

To address faustus' question, I will consider a concept that is extremely valuable in determining a player's value to his team--replacement.

Imagine, if you will, a 2009 Cubs season in which Derrek Lee ended up missing a ton of time.* Who would play at first? 

(*Note - I realize Aramis Ramirez actually DID miss a bunch of games, and is himself the most reasonable choice for Cub MVP. However, this discussion focuses on Cubs who actually were healthy this season. Just thought I'd clarify that.)

If Lee were hurt, we'd likely see a lot of Jake Fox at first base (earlier in the season we might've seen a Fox/Hoffpauir platoon). Based on how Jakie Q. has been swinging the bat this year, do you think the Cubs would miss Lee's bat that badly? Maybe yes--and maybe no. 

Additionally, how do you think Lee's replacements would fare defensively? While it's true that, over the course of the season, Gold Glove McLee will probably save a few errant throws from ending up in the dugout, I think Fox/Hoff/whoever could probably play adequate defense at first. I mean, all you have to do is stand there, right?

Now, think about what we'd do if Kosuke went down. For the sake of simplicity, let's assume Reed Johnson were healthy while the Fukster was down. That'd put a platoon in center, with Reed facing lefties and some righties, and Fuld getting a look against some other righties.

Offensively, Fuld has had a pretty amazing 2009 thus far. But I can't honestly say I'd expect him to keep that pace up. I bet his numbers would end up looking pretty similar to ReJo's, who has an overall slash line of .252/.327/.395 so far this season.

Then there's the larger issue of center field defense. Sure, Reed has made some fantastic plays on balls hit deep, but you've got to admit that Kosuke has a distinct advantage over ReJo in speed, lateral range, and arm strength. 

faustus is right that Lee has come up huge for this team at times when they desperately needed it. But because of the position he plays, it's easier to find a replacement for his bat. While I've been pleasantly surprised with Sam Fuld's excellent '09 numbers, I shudder to think what might have been if he were needed to play every day. 

Maybe y'all disagree. But for me, it's not too difficult for me to see why Kosuke Fukudome might be the 2009 Cubs' most valuable position player.

Kosuke Fukudome - the best player ever, or only the best Cub?

I was browsing through the Desipio forums last night when I noticed an on-going debate about the craptacularness of Milton Bradley. Pretty much everybody involved was arguing against a participant named Dave B, who feels that Bradley is not living up to his expectations, and furthermore suggested that Kosuke Fukudome has also been an epic disappointment. This resulted in another forum participant to ask why they'd "get on" Fukudome, who's "been great this year."

I like Kosuke myself, and am particularly happy that he's turned things around after an attrocious June. But has he been "great?" I posted his line (before last night's 3 for 3 effort) -- .271 AVG, .387 OBP, .846 OPS, 10 homers, 44 RBI, 6 steals in 14 attempts, .171 AVG v. LHP, and described his performance as being "better than bad but way, way less than 'great.'" That's when the shit-storm happened.

One guy called Pre told me I was "cherry picking his stats" -- apparently unaware that I mentioned both his positives and negatives -- and I responded by saying that I thought Fooky is good, but he has had no success hitting lefties and I don't know if his production so far can really justify his 8-figure contract. Pre's response was to criticize me because he knew I would "back-track" on my original comment and a request that I would "f**k off and die." Stay classy, Pre.

At that point the discussion kind of devolved into how I was a clearly-wrong piece of crap, it's not Kosuke's fault that he hasn't scored or driven in many runs (can't expect a leadoff guy to do the latter, although the majority of his at bats this season come from 3rd in the lineup or later) -- after all, (and I agree with this) Babe Ruth at his peak would probably have struggled to drive in 100 or score 100 in this cesspool of an offense. On top of that, I was told that if Fukudome had 15-20 major league seasons just like this one he would be one of the all-time greats and Hall of Fame worthy. (My fault on that one for suggesting he wouldn't have a chance.)

The proof in Fukudome's greatness comes, apparently, from his numbers in the Runs Created statistic. If Fukudome had a career of seasons just like this one, he would land up there amongst greats like George Brett and Al Kaline.

Runs Created, incidentally, is antiquated according to Fangraphs. They've developed a better means of tracking that stat, called wRC. wRC "is total runs created based of wOBA. It is calculated as (((wOBA – lgwOBA) / wOBAScale) + (lgR/PA)) * PA." Lost already? No worries - wOBA is defined by FanGraphs as the following: "created by Tom Tango, (wOBA) is a version of linear weights that has been weighted to fit an OBP scale. The weights have been properly adjusted by season and for the minor leagues by season and by league."

Above all other things, I have learned, wOBA and wRC should apparently be the best way to determine a player's offensive success. And Fukudome's wRC this year is presently on pace to be 86.6. If he could maintain that rate for 18 seasons, he would -- by the standards of wRC -- be amongst some true giants and some Hall of Fame hitters. When we consider that Fukudome is, generally speaking, seen as being a very good defensive center fielder as well, then it becomes obvious that his standard statistics -- a .277 AVG as of today, 11 homeruns, 27 doubles, 5 triples, a near-.400 OBP and a mid .800's OPS -- do not tell the full story.  Fukudome hasn't merely been good this year, he's been great. As have, apparently, the 68 players who've put up higher wRC's than Fooky this season, including 6 guys who also spend their time in center field.

Comparatively, Fukudome is on pace to have a similar wRC to Sammy Sosa, the 1993, 1996, and 1997 editions, and he's on pace to barely surpass the finest season ever had by that offensive juggernaut, Rob Deer. If only Rob could have duplicated his 1987 season 15 to 20 times, then we'd all get to debate the merits of whether or not he should be voted into the Hall of Fame. (We would find him lacking, though, because unlike Fukudome he doesn't have that nearly-Gold-Glove-caliber defensive talent.)

Anyway, I don't want to be a semantics guy, but I do believe there's a significant difference between a player being good and great. Fukudome -- for all our protests when he is unable to so much as hit his own face with an open palm slap -- has been good this year, and at times he's been very good.  I was wrong to say that he was merely "better than bad."  Still, as Rob wrote earlier, I think many of us had higher expectations about the kind of production he'd deliver. If this is Fukudome's finest season as a Cub, I think many fans will be left feeling disappointed. But still, don't be too critical of him folks. And certainly don't focus on his faults. If you do, ChuckDickens might think you're dense -- and you'd be lucky to get off that easy.

"I was watching a television program before, with a kind of roving moderator who spoke to a seated panel of young women who were having some sort of problem with their boyfriends - apparently, because the boyfriends had all slept with the girlfriends' mothers. And they brought the boyfriends out, and they fought, right there on television. Toby, tell me: these people don't vote, do they?"
-Martin Sheen as President Bartlet, asking questions about individuals extremely similar to those who post on Desipio

The Hendry conundrum

What do Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, and Milton Bradley all have in common?  Scratch that -- the more appropriate question is what don't they have in common.

All three have big contracts, given to them by a general manager who was likely bidding against himself.

All three are putting up "worst case scenario" numbers -- statistics you won't likely see from a playoff-bound outfield.  Soriano is batting a meager .243 with a .303 OBP, 19 homers, 52 RBI, and 110 strikeouts in 108 games.  (That's 7 more than he had last season in 12 more at bats.)  Fukudome is batting .272 with a .390 OBP, 10 homers, 43 RBI, and a 43% success rate at stealing bases.  And Bradley is batting .259 with a .390 OBP, 8 homers, 30 RBI, and a bad attitude.  Oh, and collectively they're making something like 40 million dollars this season.

But apart from their big contracts and offensive suck, they have something else in common too -- they were coveted by OCD Hendry for years before he signed them.  Soriano had been a target of the Cubs since his earliest days with the Yankees, where he was a reported Target of Interest in the never-occurred Sosa trade.  Fukudome was being spoken of at Wrigley from as early as 2003, and Hendry had vowed to pursue him even before the 2006 season.  And Bradley was a target of Jim's back in the Dusty days, with Baker pondering his ability to manage the troubled star should a trade come-to-fruition.

At this point, Hendry's idiosyncracies aren't even disputed anymore.  He will always go out and acquire three of whatever he needs -- when the one that would suffice goes elsewhere.  And he'll always covet certain players who, mark our words, will someday make their way to Wrigleyville.  In a way, it's miraculous that ex Reds (and current Nationals) Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns -- perhaps Hendry's Most Coveted -- have avoided a Cubs uniform, but if Jim remains in charge it's probably only a matter of time.

So now we're left asking how the Cubs repair these mistakes.  Let's break it down by player and problem:

Alfonso Soriano
When Soriano signed with the Cubs, my initial reaction was of joy and despair, mixed in equal portions.  I wrote at the time that only Hendry could turn the joy of such an acquisition into a move that we'd all hate within three-or-so years (while also saying I wouldn't care if the Cubs won a Series beforehand). 

So, here we are, at Year Three on the cusp of a possible -- if not probable -- Soriano decline.  He has 5 years remaining, he'll make something like 18 million per year until he's done, and the Cubs are stuck with him.  One reader suggested that Sori should be waived and given to the first team that claims him, although that's putting a huge assumption in any team stepping up to eat that albatross of a contract.  I EMailed one Cubs beat writer asking if he knew as to whether or not Sori passed through waivers, and he said, "clubs, and particularly the Cubs, try to keep that stuff private. But I'm sure he was put on waivers, and I'm sure he cleared easily. Who would want that contract? Nobody in their right mind."

Therefore the Cubs may need to first hope that he will rebound from this horrible season, which remains a strong possibility.  Soriano is 34 next season, and while he will almost certainly never hit 40 homeruns again it's still possible that he'll be a 30 homer guy if he gets everything working.  As for his defense, he clearly belongs in the American League where they can hide him in the DH spot, but since that's not going to happen then the Cubs probably have to consider posturing to move him to first base once Lee's contract ends.

Otherwise, Hendry will need to consider dealing Soriano and eating probably half his remaining contract to find an interested buyer.  For a guy already in his 30's when he signed, an 8-year 130+ million deal was just ridiculous.  There's no way his career ends on a high note, unless his last homerun is a walk-off that wins the World Series.

Kosuke Fukudome
We were hoping he'd be Our Ichiro.  Turns out that was a bit of a mistake on our part.  But while Fukudome is not, based on his numbers, a 14-million-a-year guy, he is defensively solid and he's not a negative presence in the lineup.  It's just that he doesn't give enough positive, either.  Still, in 160 fewer at bats this season he's already matched-or-surpassed last year's totals in doubles, triples and homers.  I don't know if Rob would still call Fukudome a "bust," but he's certainly a winner only if we view him with diminished expectations.

On a team where Soriano is killing the ball, Fukudome's decent-but-not-rah-rah-great statistics would be acceptable.  On a team where he is flanked by Milton Bradley, however, Fooky is a disappointment.

Milton Bradley
Earlier this year I compared him with Moises Alou, whose first-of-three years with the Cubs was a huge disappointment.  The difference was that Alou got mad, stayed mad, and hit the crap out of the ball.  When Milton gets mad, though, he seems to come apart mentally.  Not good.  He may not have the fortitude to ever succeed in Chicago.

But I'm willing to give him the chance.  Maybe he's not the guy you want to be the face of the organization, but contrary to what fans seem to hope for, he does not appear to be a clubhouse cancer like Sosa was.  Maybe he's never going to play in 150 games in a season, but we knew that coming in.  What we were hoping for -- if not expecting, though -- was an OPS around 1.000 in his 120 games played. If he stays strong mentally, I expect him to meet that hope next season. 

Still, it's pretty crappy that we have to basically hope for the unlikely -- in his and Sori's return to productivity -- because Hendry has left us with no alternative.

So, that brings us back to the general manager Jim Hendry.  His time with the Cubs has been very mixed.  He was, at the onset, viewed as a prospect guy.  Only that's turned into a bust.  Therefore to save his job he had to turn to expensive, somewhat old free agents.  It worked, he's still got a gig, but burning the field to save the farm has its setbacks and we are experiencing that now.

So, since he hasn't been able to draft and develop, and since he's backing the Cubs into an unwinnable corner when it comes to huge contracts for untradable players, and since he can't seem to fill his team's gaping holes in a sensible way ...

...perhaps it's time for Jim Hendry to resign, or be fired, or get turned into a scout, or anything to get him out of a decision-making role in Chicago.  Enough is enough.

On Batting Kosuke 5th: Nice Job, Lou

There's only so many things a manager has control over.

He's gotta keep an eye on his starting pitcher, and he's gotta know which reliever to go to when it's time to make a change. He's the one that pulls the trigger on pinch hitters, and he'd better know the lefty/righty splits when he makes the change.

And every day, he sets the lineup for his team's offensive attack.

The Cubs have always had a few quirks regarding their approach to the lineup. Most notably, the "leadoff hitter" debate had (until very recently) gone on and on among Cub fans (e.g., "Drop Soriano!", or, "We need Brian Roberts!").

The Cubs have also struggled, for a few years now, to find a left-handed hitting RBI producer for the middle of their order. To that end, you know you have a problem when you allow a 36-year old Jermoy Burnitz to play right field for your major league team.

However, after two and a half years of unrest among the Wrigley Faithful, I think it's safe to say that Lou has settled upon the Absolutely, Positively Correct Lineup against right handed hitters.

If there's one thing about lineups that every baseball fan can agree on, it's this: when you set your lineup correctly, your 1 and 2 hitters will get on base in front of your 3-through-6 guys, who will slug in some RBIs for your team. On that note, here are the slugging percentages for the Cubs' three bona fide RBI guys (A-Ram, Lee and Soriano), in order, with a fourth mystery hitter included in the rankings.

  1. A. Ramirez, .543
  2. D. Lee, .539
  3. Player X, .461
  4. A. Soriano, .443

Player X is Kosuke Fukudome, and for the foreseeable future, the Cubs' left-handed RBI producer. On Sunday, Lou made the last needed change to improve an otherwise optimal Cub lineup by moving Kosuke into the 5th spot, and pushing Milton Bradley up to the 2-hole.

Fuk hasn't always been the clear choice for the 5-hole on this team. He started well in 2009, posting solid numbers in April and May, before seriously slumping in June (his slash line for that month was .169/.266/.241). At that point, the question was whether Kosuke should pay at all, not where he should hit.

Since then, however, the Fukster has been on fire. As proof of his deserving a regular spot in the Cub lineup, he recently broke his habit of posting declining numbers in each subsequent month of the season.

Furthermore, he did so in glorious fashion. His July slash: .307/.392/.534. Wonderful.

Kosuke's .461 slugging percentage is roughly 60 points higher than that of the man he's replacing, the famously infamous Milton Bradley. But Bradley isn't beat in every category; despite a .230 average against righties, as of today MB is sporting an overall on-base percentage of .401, which is very nice (and 53 points higher than Ryan "Sluggo" Theriot's).

Rest assured, Cubdom. Even as the team struggles through a stretch of tough games, made more painful by the Cardinals' feasting on weak opponents, at least we've got the right lineup in place. Finally.

The "I don't have any big weekend plans so why not" post

In case you haven't heard by now, the All-Star reserves have been chosen, and because it's the Law, Ted Lilly is our lone representative.  Ted is deserving, not so much for his 2009 more than his overall performance since coming here three years ago.  He is the best big-money free agent signing Jim Hendry has made for us (other than the renewal of Aramis Ramirez) and congratulations to Ted for his honor.  Perhaps one of the chosen first basemen will beg out of the game for one reason or another, and Derrek Lee might get to go, for he is deserving, but first base is quite the deep position in the NL. 

Kurt gave us his batting order thoughts on today's game preview.  I know he loves him some Sam Fuld, but unfortunately he may not have him around much longer, unless Hendry can invent an injury for Soriano and/or Bradley.  As you know, tomorrow, ARam is back, as is Reed Johnson and Angel Guzman.  Will tomorrow be the end of the David Patton era in Chicago?  Probably ought to be, but all indications are that to make room for the three returnees, the Cubs will be shoving aside two pitchers and one position player, which is either going to be Fox, Fuld, or Blanco. 

If that was the choice I was left with, Fuld is my choice.  I honestly believe that if Hendry was worth a damn, he'd work on either Bradley or Soriano to get them to take one of these "anxiety" DL trips that have been so popular in 2009.  Frankly, Bradley is a shoo-in.  That way we get to keep all the young guys that are busting ass.

Batting orders now.  I am still in favor of trading for a legitimate leadoff man - in fact, since Lilly made the All-Star team, his value will never be higher in scoring an Ian Kinzler or Curtis Granderson type (ain't NOBODY wanting Harden, unfortunately). 

Buuuuut, going with what we have, I am in favor of leaving Kosuke Fukudome up there.  He only has one offensive skill in the MLB - on base percentage.  I thought, coming here, he was born to hit second.  He has not hit with enough consistency, control or authority to be that second hitter.  Like we want some guy getting thrown out on a hit-and-run while Fooky spins like a top.  But he still has a .390 OBP.  He should bat leadoff until his contract expires, until we can trade him, or until we get a real leadoff hitter.  For $12.5 million, that's the least he can do for us.

So based on what is lying on the shelf, whether we can stick Don't Wake Daddy on the DL or not, this is what I'd run out there every day, starting tomorrow:

  1. Fukudome - CF (with White Slice against lefties)
  2. Theriot - 2B  (yep, second base)
  3. Ramirez - 3B
  4. Lee - 1B
  5. Hoffpauir - RF (with Fox against lefties)
  6. Soriano - LF (with frequent fill-ins from the Slice and Fox)
  7. Soto - C
  8. Blanco - SS (because, yes, I loves me some Andy White)

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