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?
To begin: it is never a good idea to sit down to write just as James Loney hits one about 6 1/2 miles off of Silva the Hutt.
After several near misses and false starts, I finally got together with my fellow old-school Cubs bloggers Tommy Acuff and Troy Church. Beginning around 2002 or so, the three of us started sharing our thoughts about Cubs and life its ownself. As things have evolved, the two of them have gravitated more toward life its ownself and shut their published Cubs thoughts to a trickle. Thorough and iterative disappointment has that impact on healthy minds. I of course am still here, so what does that say about my mental makeup?
Anyway, we convened in the compact white bread capitol of the universe, Des Moines, to break some (fermented) bread, get some Ryno autographs (FAIL) and to turn our eyes to the young men playing for the AAA I-Cubs. After all, if it is in fact true that Head Chad Tom Ricketts has come back from safari and intends to clean house, we need to see if we have someone ready to step into the lineup, perhaps provide a spark to what has been a dog-ass offense. I admit to some pre-conceived notions coming in, because logic dictates that IF there was help on the farm, that it would have been here by now.
Unfortunately, I was right.
We saw three games - a loss to the Marlins' affiliate that got away in the late innings, and two fairly well-pitched wins against the hard-hitting yet free-swinging Marlins farm team. Your 2010 I-Cubs features Micah the Hoff, who has regressed to a below .240 average, which explains why he hasn't come on up to give DP Lee a breather. Their best hitters are corner outfielders, which of course we have a surplus of. Jim Adducci is the best looking of all of them, because he plays a nice outfield as well as makes frequent contact, at least at the present. He looked real nice in Spring Training, too, but somewhere between then and now he must have sucked a lot of pipe, because his BA is below .280. Other members of the AAAA All-Stars include Brian LaHair and Brad Snyder, both displaying modest production, nothing 2009 Jake Fox-like.
Outside of Adducci, the next most impressive I-Cub in the lineup was - wait for it - The Outlaw Bobby Scales. Like I said, not a lot of help on the farm. Darwin Barney is ok, running towards meh. Matt Camp has no power, and Wellington Castillo is probably at this point in his life slightly better than Koyie Hill. No saviors here.
As mentioned, the pitching was somewhat better. Friday's win was due to the efforts of something called Austin Bibens-Dirkx, which we naturally bastardized into Justin Bieber Dirks Bentley. Tommy saw his act earlier in Tennessee, and said J.B.D.B. throws hard, and gets tired early. But J.B.D.B. had them chasing his pitches for five-plus, then gave way to sawed off reliever David Cales, who closed that ish out.
Last night was Jay Jackson's start, and six innings, four hits, and five punchouts later, the I-Cubs were on the way to an easy win. It was a good start. His last start was bad. The one before that, good, and the one before that? Yep, bad. The braintrust have mentioned him recently as a possible callup, for the bullpen, which is the same story I can tell about several of the I-Cubs pitchers. It appears most of the Iowa staff are relievers, with the exception of J.B.D.B., Jackson, J.R Mathes, and Thomas Diamond, who didn't do dick in spring training, and is only 5-3 at the moment, yet is the I-Cubs All-Star representative.
If we decided to trade Ted Lilly and possibly Silva the Hutt, there will be some big, hard, complicated and (to me at least) unpredictable decisions to be made about who would fill in. Would it be Cashner? Would Sean Marshall get what he presumably deserves (but at the same time has proven time and time again to be a mistake?) Would it be Jackson, who is very inconsistent but on his good days can win major league games? Or would we torture what is left of Ron Santo and bring Austin Bibens-Dirkx to town? He may eventually perish in the booth, deprived of air as he chokes himself trying to pronounce that name?
Well, Silva's gone. We obviously waited three weeks too long to trade HIS fat ass. Now he's shown his true Zambranoesque nature, and we will endure the next two years dealing with over 600 pounds and $64 million of uncontrollable Venezuelan dysfunction between Los Dos Carloses.
I DID see Sam Fuld go deep Friday night. Just one more thought about Iowa - the outfield walls are clad with metal signs, and since all the I-Cubs outfielders have been here all year, and longer, they are all adept at playing opponent's drives off the walls and holding the runners to singles. Once they gauge the drive will hit the wall, they retreat forty feel away from the wall and play the lively carom. I mean, I guess I applaud their ability to adjust to their environment, but shouldn't the park more closely resemble and play like Wrigley, a place where NOBODY has ever retreated from the wall to play the carom? Shouldn't your 'dress rehearsal' be more like the real thing?
Just a thought.
It seems like it was just yesterday that people were clambering for Micah Hoffpauir to take over at first base. Derrek Lee was coming off a disappointing year where he hit into a gizzilion double plays, and there was Hoffpauir killing it at AAA for the Iowa Cubs. The problem was Hoffpuair was a little old for AAA, and even after his 25 HR campaign, it was probably a good bet that he wouldn't repeat that in the majors.
Well, the Cubs were tired of seeing Daryle Ward's ample bat and other features, and gave Hoffpauir a chance to be the LH pinch-hitter and sub for Derrek Lee. Needless to say, it didn't go very well. The Hoff hit 10 HR's, but only had a .727 OPS in 234 AB's for the Cubs last season. This year he is battling for a bench spot, but he has a few things going against him. First off, he hasn't hit in Spring Training. Then there is the fact that he isn't as funny as Kevin Millar, which seems to pull a lot of wait these days. We found out last year that Hoff is probably more of your AAAA player and not as much as a MLB player. He will begin the year back down in Iowa, and might be called up if someone gets hurt. I hope that doesn't happen, because that means the Cubs are in for more trouble in 2010.
Today's re-grabbers - Jason Frasor and Kiko Calero
The case for additional bullpen help: starting from the top: Our closer, Mr. Marmol, is capable of paralyzing hitters. The problem is, it could be temporary paralysis due to slider, or permanent paralysis due to fastball in temple. Our set up man, Mr. Guzman, is fragile, currently injured, and relatively stupid. Our lefties, Mr. Marshall and Mr. Grabow, aren't really anything special, outside of being lefties. Every one else I can name has less than one year experience in the majors.
The case for Mr. Calero: he may not pass a physical on his shoulder. However, he has a superior ERA, strikeout/walk ratio, and every other relief indicator the last two plus seasons. Training camps have started, and this man, who finished last year with an ERA under 2, is still on the outside looking in. In a way, it appears this guy is a throwback to a simpler time. His shoulder hurts, dammit, but he still takes the ball and pitches well. Before the Age of Scrutiny, someone would just sign the guy to a contract and let him pitch.
Yes, this is a franchise who has been burned lately by lame pitchers. It appears though that we are not the only team to suffer this misfortune. Mr. Calero seemed to think that his past two years entitled him to a similar two-year commitment by his new team, for mucho dolores. But, he has overestimated his worth. At this point, he is likely to accept a decent one-year deal. His new team will have to pay a few million dollars for one year, for a man whose arm may or may not fall off his shoulder. But when you consider we are paying Silva the Hutt 14 million dollars American for the next two years, is what Calero wants really that big of a deal?
The case for Mr. Frasor: Jason Frasor has performed in, to the casual fan, anonymity for 5+ years in Toronto, and performed well, if not spectacularly. This is his 'contract year', and he would probably command a lot of money in the open market for his somewhat above average performance. Toronto does not appear to be willing anymore to overpay for relievers.
Mr. Frasor is a local boy who would look good in pinstripes. But I must admit, my interest in him isn't so much based on his own prowess, as it is based on the fact that Frasor would have to be acquired in trade, and that trade could and should include one of our young relievers, and one of my favorite players, Micah (first you get the moneey, then you get the) Hoffpauir. The Hoff really doesn't fit for us anymore, now that we have Nady, apparently keeping Fontenot (??), and most likely keeping either Chad Tracy and/or Cowboy Millar. (My money is on Millar, since he might be the only person on the team who may have seen Uncle Lou actually play, and those two can sit around in their tightie whities and reminisce about the old days). Meanwhile, for some reason, the Hoff seems like a Blue Jay to me, he always did. He may thrive there.
Prognosis: you will see a trade before you see Hendry roll dice on Calero. Hopefully that trade includes the Hoff and does not include too many real prospects.
I could make this short-n-sweet: the Hoff - not as bad with the glove as we feared, nowhere near as good with the stick as we hoped.
Ah, but that ain't fun, is it? And, since it appears that Micah Hoffpauir actually seems to have a place in the Cubs 2010 plans, let's look at what we might expect.
He raked like a man in Iowa for about 3 years - the times I saw him there, I felt sorry for him. He seemed to be majors-ready, but with Derrek Lee in his way at first base, there was no real need for him. And yes, I understand that those same three years, Lee didn't do very much for us. Lee first broke his wrist, then had the misfortune of having his daughter come down with a degenerative eye disease, but his wrist healed and there seemed to be progress of a sort concerning his daughter's disease, so we all waited for him to bounce back to something close to his 2005 breakout year, and waited.
In the meantime, the Hoff was right there, and many of us wondered out loud, with various levels of seriousness, if perhaps he shouldn't take Lee's place on the team. As it turns out, there was a few reasons why not. Firstly, Lee's main problem wasn't his wrist or his family - it was his neck. I would assume the Cubs knew that, although we did not. Second, Lee has a huge contract, and he had no trade value. Third, as it has been reported here often, Lee is as close to a clubhouse leader as we have.
Fourth, and most importantly, the team wisely did not make a rash decision based on the Hoff's sizzling late season cameo in 2008. While the man does have the smooth swinging motion that so many left-handed sluggers seem to have, he also has big holes in that swing. The league adjusted to him this year, and from May to July, he simply sucked. Whereas Lee bent the league over in 2009, and those of us tinkerers who wanted to replace him with the Hoff looked pretty damn stupid.
But at the end of the year, the Hoff seemed to make the re-adjustment he needed to make to stay at this level. He was sent back down to Iowa, and when he came back in September, he finished up with a .259/.359/.444. Not exactly Pujols numbers, or even Lee numbers, but definitely trending upward.
This may be the reason why Hendry decided to keep him and trade Jake Fox. This could turn out to be a mistake - for some reason, I keep seeing sine and cosine functions. The math geeks out there know what I am saying right now, but for the rest of you: Micah got his first big taste in 2008, started his 2009 in Chicago, hit well in early, then struggled mightily as the league adjusted to him, then he re-adjusted and his trend curve rose again. Fox is simply one "phase" behind on the curve. He got his first big taste when he came up in May, hit well for two months, but finished poorly when the league adjusted to him. I would figure that Fox will re-adjust himself and bounce back strong in 2010, for Oakland.
Some say you don't need two backup first basemen - Kenny Williams isn't one of them, but some say it. And yes, The Hoff is left-handed, so although Fox may in fact have a somewhat higher ceiling (my guess is that he will end up with .030 more SLG with a similar OBP than Hoffpauir in the long run), the braintrust traded him and kept Hoffpauir. I'm not sure we couldn't use both men as pinch hitters, occasional fill-ins at first base and the corner OF positions? That would mean we wouldn't have room for that 7th infielder (Fontenot?) or that 5th outfielder (Johnson?) Big whoop.
I see why they kept the Hoff - deep down, Sweet Lou still believes he is short on left-handed hitting. So the Hoff Power remains on the North Side. Maybe he takes that next step this year, maybe gets 250 PA, hits .275/.360/.490, and perhaps takes Lee's place in 2011, when Lee's contract expires? That's the ceiling. Maybe he ends up back in Des Moines in June? Let's hope not.
NO, NO, NO, no, no!! You're all doing it all wrong!!!
So, how are you all enjoying your Memorial Day weekend so far? (For Canucks such as Kurt, the fourth weekend in May here in America is set aside for...) Ok, Kurt is actually here somewhere in the lower 48, and of course he grew up in New York, and that's probably the last attempt at humor from me for the rest of this post, because this shit just ain't working. I came out here after the first 20 games, I think we were 11-9, and I pointed out that Geo Soto was fat and sassy, that Milton Bradley completely had his head stuck up his ass, and that Derrek Lee's best days are absolutely behind him, and you all flamed me up one side and down the other, leaving me with a nice charred crust with very little pink in the middle, because by gawd, it's only TWENTY games, give guys a chance, for cripes sake!!
Now, it's forty games in, we're 21-19, which means we've played .500 ball since that last post. I did what you said, I gave them a chance to work things out, and what's happened since?
- Geo Soto still ain't hit dick
- Milton Bradley is still pressing
- Derrek Lee is not only still struggling, but he's now doing it in the cleanup spot
- and, now, we've exposed Mike Fontenot for what HE is, useful as a backup, but not capable of hitting on an everyday basis
- and, as an added bonus, Ryan Theriot has gotten away from what HE does best (go to right field) and he's swinging for the fences, with the predictable result of a plummeting batting average, on-base percentage, and overall usefulness
- and, of course, Aramis Ramirez' shoulder is still fusing itself back into one piece
- and, we now have not one, but two useless utility men burning at-bats and butchering plays in the field. Sometimes, the Orioles aren't stupid, and I know pretty much the Cardinals aren't.
But what worries me the most is looking at Lou Piniella night after night. There is a noticeable cognitive difference in him from 2007 to today. His job is stressful - particularly when he has come so close twice, and have it all slip away so suddenly and completely. This job turns people. When Dusty Baker hit town, he was all California Cool. By his last year, he spoke and acted like someone was spiking him in the groin. When Don Baylor hit town, he was all New Age Enthusiasm. By his last year, he spoke and acted like someone was spiking him in the groin. When Jim Riggleman hit town, he acted like the slimy horndog he was. By his last year, he spoke and acted like someone was spiking him in the groin, which was probably somewhat based in reality, considering his typical nighttime activities. (When he and Mark Grace left town, it left a lot of dental hygenists and flight attendants in their mid-30s unfulfilled)
Now, Lou don't talk like he's in pain, but I have talked to people trained in diagnosing dementia, and they notice how he can't seem to put a coherent sentence together when he is asked a question. He is probably the most confused man in Chicago presently, and not only does that explain why Neal Cotts still has a job, it doesn't bode well for the immediate future of the Cubs. I have backed this man since day one, but I can no longer.
Hendry ain't gonna fire him, no way. But I don't believe Lou has an answer for 2009, and in the meantime, we are wasting some decent-to-good starting pitching. Man, I still think getting Jake Peavy would send a message, but Adrian Gonzalez would look a HELL of a lot better in pinstripes. Too bad he ain't available...
Did you know that if you ignore all the at bats in which Micah Hoffpauir made an out last year, he's a 1.000 hitter at the Major League level? For that reason alone, he should get consideration to start first base.
No, seriously, that's the argument some bloggers are making. If you ignore his 0-for games this spring, then Hoffpauir is considerably outperforming the slow-starting Derrek Lee, and therefore should be the starting first baseman on opening day.
Me, I have a better idea. Micah Hoffpauir should be used as a pinch-hitting backup outfielder and first baseman. He could - and should! - give the Cubs an immensely valuable left-handed bat from the bench. He may - and likely will be! - the bench presence that Daryle Ward was supposed to be last year.
In other words, Micah Hoffpauir as a backup will be one of the most valuable Cubs on the 2009 team. But as a starter, sorry, I have doubts that he'd be able to outperform Derrek Lee.
So let's look at The Hoff. He's really quite the impressive story. After 7 years in the Cubs minor league system, most of which were unimpressive, Hoffpauir tore the cover off the ball in 2008. In 290 minor league at bats, he batted a ridiculous .362 with 25 homers and 100 RBI. His OPS was an astonishing 1.145. He was then promoted to the big leagues for the first time at the age of 28, and he proceeded to capture the imagination and hope of Cub fans everywhere.
Since his success last year, The Hoff has seen a swelling of fan support. People wanted to trade Derrek Lee so Hoff could start first base. They wanted him to get a shot at starting in right field before Milton Bradley signed. Somebody even suggested that the Cubs release Lee outright - thereby eating a hefty salary - and let Hoff start. All of this brings us back full circle to the jabrone Cubs blogger who wants us to ignore certain stats in order to conveniently prove his ridiculous point.
I think that we should be happy for Hoffpauir. He's quite the story. And if he can play well in a minor role in '09, his story will be an even better one. But I remain unconvinced that Lee is finished as an All Star first baseman, much as I remain doubtful that Hoffpauir could be an effective starter at the Major League level.
But for those of you in the Micah Hoffpauir fan club, I'll throw you a bone. If, on June 1st, Derrek Lee is struggling and Micah Hoffpauir is killing major league hitting, then Lou Piniella should revisit his options. Until then, I hope we can be happy for an already impressive success story -- the elevation of Micah Hoffpauir from minor league obscurity to becoming the top bench player on the best team in the National League.
Major league leader in Spring Training total bases: Mike Fontenot: 32
Major league leader in Spring Training RBI (tie): Micah Hoffpauir: 13
Cubs leaders in batting average (tie): Carlos Zambrano&Ryan Dempster: 1.000
In regards to Kyle's review of Alf Soriano - c'mon, kids. We can all agree that Hoppy is being PAID to be a 40/40 guy, and we can all HOPE he will be a 40/40 guy, and we can see that he APPEARS to be in decent shape, perhaps the best he has been as a Cub. But that doesn't mean he WILL be a 40/40 guy. I mean, I can squint my eyes reeeeeal tightly closed and cross my fingers and hope and pray and chant incantations, and I can pray not only that Soriano will go 40/40 but also for Lee to regain his 2005 form, and for Fukudome to be the guy we paid for coming out of Japan, and for Zambrano to win 20 with 2 no-hitters.
Don't mean it's gonna happen, and in fact, you could go to Vegas and get pretty long odds on ALL of those.
Hopefully Kurt isn't sitting up there in Canadia, developing a complex because nobody else wrote this weekend. Let me fill you in a tad on my life - there isn't a computer in my house that I can call "my own", and the only one I know the password to has some funky browser configured in some funky way that does not allow me to post to GROTA. I tried several times to get my Stanton preview in, but hey, you didn't miss much. I can summarize it in two words: burnt. toast. Kurt pretty much covered it anyway. The bullpen is definitely a fluid situation right now, with Gaudin and Vizcaino stinking up the joint, and Kevin Hart actually putting a good one into the books for once - Sweet Lou will need every last fake game to build his pen.
But the good news is: The Hoff is a Lock! Both papers are reporting that our favorite Micah has hit his way on the roster, and Sweet Louie ain't so worried about carrying a "specific 3B backup" anymore. So it appears that Johnson and Gathright and Hoffpauir are coming north. I wonder about the wisdom of this - we all know that Johnson proved himself to be quite a ballplayer last year, and we all can see the potential in a lightning quick stud who can handle the bat a little. It just seems to me both guys fill the same role, and compounded with the over $30 million we are paying Fukie, who also fills roughly the same role, Lou's vaunted versatility takes a hit. He's deep in go-get-it outfielders, but thin in infielders.
I guess he figures good glove infielders are a dime a dozen, and he can dip his fish net into the farm system pool and snag a couple by accident. Guys like Johnson and Gathright aren't as plentiful, I guess. If Fontentot, Theriot, or Milesinot hurt themselves, help is just a bus trip away.
I had heard rumors today that the Cubs had released Vizcaino, but I can find no corraboration out on the webs. I'll keep you posted.
So far this spring, Micah Hoffpauir is doing everything possible to make Lou Piniella's job difficult. He's 7 for 19 (.368) with 2 homers and 8 RBI in 5 games played. Ironically, I can't help but think of the entirely forgettable Major League 2, starring Charlie Sheen, in which a rejuvenated Willie Mays Hayes comes to camp a "power hitter." Early on into the Spring he crushes some homeruns to which his skipper Lou Brown says "sure, but that pitcher's going to be stocking shelves next month."
Much as they were last September when he went on his run, Cub fans are talking about him like he could be the next offensive force, a 30 homerun hitting monster who deserves his chance to play in the bigs. But the skeptic in me keeps looking at a few other factors, like his age - he'll be 29 by opening day - and his slow rise in Iowa - he took three years to flat out dominate the way he did last season. Both of those factors paint The Hoff as a flash-in-the-pan.
Yet there he his, leading the Cubs early in hits, homers, and RBI. It's hard to deny that he's well on his way toward earning a spot on the team, and that would be fine with me. I certainly can't contest that he'd be any worse than Daryle Ward was last year; in fact he's bound to be better. I wouldn't argue that he'll ever be a good defensive outfielder, but if his primary use is as a pinch hitter/spot starter/occassional late-inning substitute/speller for Derrek Lee, then why the heck not?
I just ask that you keep your skepticism glasses on for a little while longer - assuming you were wearing some to begin with. It's early in Spring, where pitchers more often than not throw a lot of fastballs. Let's see where The Hoff winds up once the breaking pitches come into play, and don't be surprised if some points are shaved off his batting average between now and April 6th.
Admittedly, I've been extremely cautious about Hoffpauir, but I'm really hoping to be wrong. Having a bat of his apparent caliber on the team would be an outstanding addition to an already strong squad. However the keyword in that last sentence is - for now - "apparent." Let's not forget that, lest we get our hopes up over nothing.