In a world where there are no secrets, somehow Larry Rothschild, our pitching coach whom I believe was still under contract, has taken a similar position with the Yankees. He cites the ubiquitous "family reasons", since the Yanks' spring training home is in his native Tampa, as well as several scheduled Yankee series every year.
Now, there are those, such as Mike D, who are sipping the bub right now over this news. Others, such as Al Yellon, are not so pleased. The Cubs seem to think they will make an announcement about his replacement after Thanksgiving, which means that they have someone in mind.
Dare I dream - the Mad Dog? I mean, who knows more about pitching than our current special assistant to Jim Hendry?
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...
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.
4) 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
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.
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?
A question I've been pondering lately: how many screw-ups can you get away with at your job before you're finally escorted from the building? At 1060 West, the answer is many. Hell, Dusty Baker couldn't get himself fired. He could have streaked the field, punched out the third base umpire, dry humped the left field foul pole, and finally be taken down with both middle fingers extended and it seems as if he would have been destined to finish out his contract.
I'd say we'll all agree that Lou Piniella has done a damn sight better than Dusty. For one thing he's only rarely started Aaron Miles. If Baker was running the team, the Suckiest Switch Hitter in Baseball would've been playing every single day. But this is like comparing your job performance with the guy you replaced, who happened to get fired after he got caught taking a crap in the boss's chair. It's a pointless comparrison. Terry Schivo could have outmanaged Dusty Baker; that wouldn't have made her a good manager. So maybe we should stop with the comparrisons and instead consider the following:
Lou Piniella bats Alfonso Soriano lead-off. Is the Fonz a prima-donna? If he is, then he's the oddest I've ever seen. He doesn't pout, he doesn't complain, he simply stops producing when a change is forced upon him. Except does he? Really? In baseball we are taught not to obsess over the small sample size. What evidence do we have that Soriano "stops producing" when he bats other than lead-off? A .153 AVG in the #3 spot in 72 at bats in 2006? That's it?
The crime isn't Soriano's imaginary attitude, the crime is that Piniella lets him bat leadoff despite the fact that he's better suited to bat cleanup or 5th. The crime isn't that Soriano isn't able to change his approach to be a more traditional leadoff man, the crime is that Lou has left him there this year despite his .216 AVG in the month of May and .220 AVG so far in June. For God's sake, drop him in the lineup already! You wonder why the Cubs have had an anemic offense in May, maybe it has something to do with Piniella trotting out a guy with an absolutely crappy-since-the-end-of-April OBP as the first batter every game! C'mon already!
Lou Piniella is at least partially responsible for the mental fundamentals and bad attitudes we've seen. Don't get me wrong. I don't really think a good manager can guide a bad team into the playoffs, but he does make some significant differences on a team. Much as Dusty drove a talented Cubs team into the dirt in 2004, we have seen zero evidence that Lou is taking steps -- aside perhaps from dishing out half-hearted scoldings -- to shore up this team's defensive problems. Nor have we seen Lou take control of his clubhouse. How many violent, idiotic outbursts do the Cubs need to have before Piniella lays down the law?
Lou needs to do something! Make these dopes take extra fielding practice if they can't put their gloves on the ball! Make Soriano use both hands when he handles a fly ball, ban that ridiculous hop, and for gawd's sake prep the pitchers for base stealers and the hitters for breaking balls! How hard is it to do this?
Lou Piniella and Larry Rothschild are killing the Cubs' bullpen. If you think Lou Piniella has any idea how to manage a bullpen then you are half way toward being diagnosed as crazy. He doesn't have the patience to force his relievers to work their way through their problems. Instead he runs out and yanks them the first time they fail to do their job. How hard would your job be if you knew that you'd get yanked after the first mistake? And on top of that, if a pitcher actually does a good job Lou will ride him into the dirt. You will never convince me that Carlos Marmol hasn't been damaged by his excessive use from Piniella in '07 and especially '08.
Not to mention that either the entire bullpen has lost the ability to throw strikes or Lou and Larry have some kind of stupid approach toward pitching in the late innings. I'm not sure if every single Cubs reliever is being told to pitch around their opponents, but even if they're not maybe Lou and Larry can step up and emphasize throwing strikes and challenging hitters a little more.
Lou Piniella can't manage in the playoffs. I won't blame Lou for past seasons that I didn't see. But it is true that since his first trip to the playoffs -- when he won the World Series with the Reds -- Lou's playoff record is 15-25. He even managed to not win the World Series -- or even get there! -- with a 116 win team! But forget all that.
Instead I defer to the choices we saw him make in 2007 and 2008. Maybe the players were "tight." Maybe the fans were too tough on the team. Or maybe Lou made blundering pitching decisions and stupid roster choices the last two Octobers. Maybe it's not just the players who over-think the playoffs, but Lou as well.
Lou Piniella is not Moses either. Fine. We'll revisit the first thing I wrote. He's better than Dusty Baker. But I truly believe that if the Cubs reach the World Series and win it it will have little-to-nothing to do with Lou Piniella. And if this year is another one of those failures, if the Cubs -- as talented as they are -- cannot even reach the playoffs, then Lou needs to go. I don't care if they win 98 games and miss the playoffs or 68 games, the Cubs need to be a little tougher on their managers. After all, as another Cubs manager once said ... nice guys finish last. And maybe Lou's not a "nice guy" but he may be too old and too tired to finish first.