Monday, April 04, 2005

Opening Day! (and my predictions)

The Real Opening Day is here folks!

After months of speculation, worrying, and discussing all sorts of not-likely-to-happen scenario's we can finally get down to some real games.

The Cubs open their season at Arizona this afternoon with Carlos Zambrano going against Javier Vasquez. It's only fitting that Carlos is able to start opening day. He was the rock of the pitching staff last year and it's an honor he deserves. Unfortunately, I'll be stuck at work until 6:00pm tonight so I'll miss watching the game live. Thanks to the wonders of Tivo though, I'll still be able to catch. I'll just have to stop looking at sports websites so that I don't see the score ;).

One kink in that plan though. The Fighting Illini will be playing in their first ever national championship game tonight. So, what the heck should I watch? Cubs Opening Day or Illinois Championship.

While this is the kind of "tough" decision I like to have, it's a bit of a pain in the ass. If only I wasn't stuck here at work this wouldn't be a problem. Damn work getting in the way of really important stuff like baseball!

Alrighty, time for a few predictions...

AL East:

Boston
New York (Wild Card)
Toronto
Baltimore
Tampa Bay

AL Central:

Twins
Cleveland
Detroit
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City

AL West:

Anaheim
Texas
Seattle
Oakland

Analysis and Quick Notes (Larry King style): I think Toronto will be a lot better then people think. They'll have some payroll flexibility midseason and should turn in a decent performance. I'd like to give the WC to Cleveland, but even my hatred of the Yankees doesn't obscure the fact that they'll get it in a walk. Oakland will be much worse then people are hoping. Billy Beane doesn't do re-building projects? He needs to. Small ball in U.S. Cellular is a spectacularly bad idea.

NL East:

Florida
Atlanta
Philidelphia
New York
Washington

NL Central:

Chicago Cubs
St. Louis (WC)
Milwaukee
Houston
Cincinnati
Pittsburgh

NL West:

San Diego
Los Angeles
San Francisco
Arizona
Colorado

Analyis and Quick Notes: I'm a homer, Cubs win the division when St. Louis gets hit by the injury bug. St. Louis will still make the playoffs, even though it hurts me to say it. Atlanta's outfield will be their downfall. LA will miss Beltre a lot more then he'll miss them. Houston will be just plain bad 3 out of every 5 games. The Mets will figure out they wasted a lot of money before the all-star break.

So, there ya go. Here's hoping I'm not too far off. Even if I end up being as wrong as I could be, it's nice to have baseball back.

Play Ball!

Monday, January 31, 2005

He Gawn!

Well, we finally have some real Cubs news to talk about.

Sammy Sosa will most likely be traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Jerry Hairston and a couple of "eh" prospects.

I have to say I'm pretty happy with the deal, though the reaction in Cub Nation has been a bit mixed.

I think the cut and dry of it is, is that Sosa had to be traded. Period. We all heard about the reactions from last weekend's Cubs Convention. If Sosa had run out to RF on opening and been greeted by a chorus of boos, you might as well have just tossed out his season then.

As it is, this move is good for Sosa, it's alright for Baltimore, and it could be good for the Cubs.

I say "could" because how this works out for us depends on what Hendry's next move is (and we all know he has one up his sleeve). Right now there are a couple possibilties...

1) Cubs trade for Aubrey Huff in Tampa Bay. This is the ideal solution. If we can turn some of our prospects into a young OF with good patience (yay for walks) and good power, then the Sosa trade is a great move.

2) Cubs sign Jeromy Burnitz. This would be the worst-case scenario. Burnitz is just a slightly younger version of Sosa, who isn't as good. He showed good power last year but that was in Coors where I could post good numbers. If this is the next move then the Cubs will be worse off then they would have been with Sosa.

So, all we can do right now is sit back, wait for the Sosa trade to go through and hope Hendry makes the right decision. Should make for an interesting week at the very least.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

It's as slow as slow can get....

It's been a few weeks since I've posted an update here, mainly due to the holidays. I got a new Cubs hat, since my old one was rather beat up and I think it was beginning to gross my wife out.

That was pretty much the only Cubs-related present I got this year, unless you count the new TV which will be playing Cubs games all summer ;).

But none of that is very interesting. What is interesting is that, despite not updating for 3 weeks, we missed not one, single important Cubs news item.

Zip. Nada. Zilch. Not a one.

Sure, there have been random news reports of the Cubs making Beltran an offer or that they're considering Magglio Ordonez but we've known all that for a while. I've been waiting for some sort of bullpen signing to take place, but there haven't even been any rumors on that.

So we just wait and hope that Hendry has something up sleeve. Maybe in the down time I'll get around to posting my "Why I'm a Cubs fan" story. Hopefully Ed will be around with a Red Sox update here soon as well.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Winter Meetings come to a close.

The Winter Meetings have come to an end and surprisingly the Cubs leave without making any major deals. They got off to a quick start, re-signing Nomar, Todd Walker, and signing Blanco. Since then, nothing. There have been quite a few rumors, many involving our erstwhile slugger Sammy Sosa. There was talk about acquiring Danny Kolb, but that came to an end when he was dealt to Atlanta.

So, where are the Cubs now. They filled one hole in their lineup by getting the infield set. In addition, if Dusty is smart he'll use Todd Walker to fix the problem at the leadoff spot.

Other then those patches however, the Cubs still have the same problems they did prior to the meetings. They still need to get another high OBP guy, they still need an OF, they still need a closer, and hopefully they'll be able to deal Sosa.

All in all, it was a fairly disappointing weekend. We can only hope Hendry has a couple big moves in mind before Jan. 8th.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Closing Time...

Now that Danny Kolb has been traded to the Braves the number of quality closers on the market is pretty much zero.

So, where does that leave our beloved Cubs? It leaves them with 4 internal and 1 external possibilities. Let's break them down real fast...

Kyle Farnsworth - Seemingly has all the tools to be a closer, but he's never really put it all together. He had one good season in 2001, but has been very erratic since then. He has a 95-100mph fastball and a very sharp slider which he has trouble locating at times. Farnsworth has also worked in a change-up the last couple seasons but it's not his best pitch by any stretch of the imagination.

Kyle's biggest upside is the fact that, despite his troubles, he still strikes more then a batter per inning. If he can get his walks down, this ability could make him into a very effective closer.

Kyle is my #1 choice to take over the role in 2005.

Ryan Dempster - Dempster is coming off Tommy John surgery and is expected to play his first full season in a couple years. He was used a reliever last season and didn't look very good. He has 18 K's to 13 BB's. For a closer you usually want to K twice as many batters as you walk since you're only in there for one inning. Dempster has only done this one time, in 2000 when he was an all-star for the Florida Marlins.

Dempster certainly has the stuff to be a closer. John Hendry said this morning in the Sun-Times that "He has got a 94-to-96-mph fastball and a slider that most hitters will tell you is well above average, and he certainly has the makeup and fortitude that's required."

Like Farnsworth, if Dempster can get his control back to 2000 levels he could be a very effective closer.

Ryan would be my #2 choice.

Latroy Hawkins - The argument against making Hawkins the closer is very simple...he's one of the best setup men in the NL. He performed very well in this role with the Cubs last season and was even better when he was with Minnesota. He was forced into the closer role last season when Borowski went down. Now that we have other options for closer, he should be returned to his natural role.

Latroy is my #3 choice.

Joe Borowski - Joe was a very good closer in 2003. Joe was a horrible closer in 2004. After off-season shoulder surgery there's no way to tell how he'll perform in 2005. He could come back stronger then ever (ie: Kerry Wood) or he might come back as a slower version of Borowski 2003. While we all hope it's the former, odds are it's the latter.

Until we know for sure how Borowski will perform he should be used as a backup setup man or a long reliever.

Joe is my #4 choice.

Now, the one external candidate I can see would be Ugueth Urbina. Detroit went out and got Troy Percival this offseason, giving them two established closers. They might be looking to trade one of them.

As most Cubs fans remember, Urbina can be a very good closer at times. He dominated the Cubs in the 2003 NLCS, closing out games 6 and 7. He struggled a bit last season with Detroit, but there were a number of personal issues that could have affected his performance. The downside is his cost. In terms of salary he's easily the most expensive, plus you have to factor in whichever player we would have to give up.

What it come down too with Urbina is that with so many internal candidates he is just too expensive to take a risk on.

So, after all is said and done it looks like one of the Cubs relievers will end up as our closer this season. It will most likely be Farnsworth or Dempster, either one could be great or they could be horrible. We have to hope it's the former because if not we'll be watching the Cubs blow a lead to the Mets in the last week of September yet again.


Sunday, December 12, 2004

Sosa Trade Rumors

Chicago Sun-Times - Mr. Sosa goes to Washington?

Sosa going to the new Washington Nationals seems to be the hot new rumor. Looking through their roster I noticed a couple trade possibilities, the most likely of which is Jose Guillen.

Guillen plays RF, the same position as Sosa, so he would seem to be extraneous should a trade go through. He's a good hitter, posting a .294/.352/.497 line last year. He has had some personal issues but Dusty seems to have a way of calming these types of players down.

Other then Guillen, there doesn't appear to be much in the way of OF on the Nationals. So, unless there are going to be a bunch of prospects sent to the Cubs (unlikely due to the money situation) Guillen seems to be about it.

My opinion of this trade would be a fairly positive one. While I'm wary of Guillen due to his past, he's younger then Sosa, plays better defense, and draws more walks. Washington would get the big name star they want, even though he's the inferior player.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Pavano going to the Bronx...

...and I couldn't be happier. The talk around the Baseball Blogosphere is that Pavano is going to sign a 4 year - $42 million contract with the Yankees. Let's look at his stats real quick...

Year Ag Tm  Lg  W   L   G   GS  CG SHO  GF SV   IP     H    R   ER   HR  BB   SO  HBP  WP  BFP   ERA *lgERA *ERA+

+--------------+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+--+------+----+----+----+---+----+----+---+---+-----+-----+-----+----+
1998 22 MON NL 6 9 24 23 0 0 0 0 134.7 130 70 63 18 43 83 8 1 580 4.21 4.11 98
1999 23 MON NL 6 8 19 18 1 1 0 0 104.0 117 66 65 8 35 70 4 1 457 5.62 4.70 84
2000 24 MON NL 8 4 15 15 0 0 0 0 97.0 89 40 33 8 34 64 8 1 408 3.06 4.64 151
2001 25 MON NL 1 6 8 8 0 0 0 0 42.7 59 33 30 7 16 36 2 0 199 6.33 4.62 73
2002 26 MON NL 3 8 15 14 0 0 0 0 74.3 98 55 52 14 31 51 7 2 350 6.30 4.16 66
FLA NL 3 2 22 8 0 0 2 0 61.7 76 33 26 5 14 41 3 1 269 3.79 3.99 105
TOT NL 6 10 37 22 0 0 2 0 136.0 174 88 78 19 45 92 10 3 619 5.16 4.08 79
2003 27 FLA NL 12 13 33 32 2 0 1 0 201.0 204 99 96 19 49 133 7 3 846 4.30 4.03 94
2004 28 FLA NL 18 8 31 31 2 2 0 0 222.3 212 80 74 16 49 139 11 2 909 3.00 4.10 137
+--------------+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+--+------+----+----+----+---+----+----+---+---+-----+-----+-----+----+
7 Yr WL% .496 57 58 167 149 5 3 3 0 937.7 985 476 439 95 271 617 50 11 4018 4.21 4.23 100
+--------------+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+--+------+----+----+----+---+----+----+---+---+-----+-----+-----+----+
162 Game Avg 12 12 35 32 1 0 0 0 201.7 211 102 94 20 58 132 10 2 864 4.21 4.23 100
Career High 18 13 37 32 2 2 2 0 222.3 212 99 96 19 49 139 11 3 909 3.00 4.71 152

* indicates the value is park adjusted
Does this look a pitcher who's worth $10 million a year? Admittedly, he's a good pitcher who had a very good season last year. He's not an ace, however, and he isn't the answer to the Yankees pitching problems.

Currently the Yankees rotation looks like it will be Mussina, Vazquez, Pavano, Milton (maybe), and whoever they throw in the 5th spot. Mussina used to be an ace, but he experienced a significant decline last season as his ERA+ dropped from 129 to 98. He's also going to be 36 years old when spring training opens so the chances of him rebounding are pretty slim. Vazquez turned out to be a huge disappointment and looks like he'll be Jeff Weaver Redux. Pavano and Milton are both average pitchers.

So, if Milton signs at 3 years - $21 million the Yankees will have spent $42 million for a collection of #3 or #4 starters. When their biggest competitor, the Red Sox, have a rotation consisting of Pedro Martinez (it appears likely he'll re-sign), Schilling, Tim Wakefield, and David Wells these 4 Yankees just aren't going to cut it.

The Yankees will certainly contend with their lineup, but for this team the only thing that really matters is the playoffs. Unless something big happens, and currently there aren't any rumors out there, the Yanks won't have the arms to compete in October. Like I said, I couldn't be happier.

Cubs News

Chicago Sun-Times - Hendry supports Sosa but still could trade him

First off, I'm thinking about re-tooling this blog into a Cubs/Baseball blog rather then a politically-oriented anything goes blog. I'm finding I just don't have much to say when it comes to politics lately and there are a million other blogs that cover that area pretty well. I feel I can contribute more to a baseball discussion so I'm going to start focusing on that.

That said, I was combing the Chicago newspapers this morning and I found this little gem of an article.

The main topic is regarding Sosa and whether or not he'll be back next season. I have a lot to say about that, but I think the most important thing mentioned in this article is regarding the Cubs payroll. Apparently, Hendry has been authorized to spend up to $100 million on players this season. For the Cubs, a team which has always maintained a low payroll despite being one of the most profitable teams in the league, this is a huge step. It seems as though they're finally committed to using their vast financial resources to field a successful team.

Now, obviously one does not have to spend a lot of money to compete in MLB. Just look at the Oakland A's and the Minnesota Twins. No one can deny, however, that having some spending money gives you a bit more room for error when making personnel decisions. It's all in how you spend it, but if Hendry has shown us anything it's that he's a smart GM who isn't prone to wasting money (Blanco and Neife aside).

The most obvious way to spend the money would be to go after Carlos Beltran. They could, potentially, sign him even if they don't trade Sosa but that is unlikely. If Sosa stays then J.D. Drew becomes the most likely candidate to replace Alou in the OF. I assert, however, that even if Sosa is traded J.D. Drew would be a better fit then Beltran would. Let's compare...

Beltran:
 Year Ag Tm  Lg  PA  Outs  RC   xR  xR27  xW   OWP    BA *lgBA   OBP *lgOBP  SLG *lgSLG  OPS *lgOPS*OPS+ psOPS  SB%


+--------------+----+----+----+----+----+----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+----+-----+----+
7 Seasons 3911 2621 603 | .284 .278| .353 .348| .490 .446| .844 .794| 111 89%

* indicates the value is park adjusted


Over the past 7 seasons, Beltran has consistently hit above league average in all major catagories. Most importantly, he's had a decent OBP in his career. As I said in my earlier Cubs article, their biggest failing right now is their in-ability to get on base. They just can't do it. They can hit HR's with the best of them, but no one is getting knocked in. In addition, Beltran has a very good Stolen Base (SB) rate which is another area where the Cubs are sorely lacking.

Now let's look at Mr. Drew...

Drew:
 Year Ag Tm  Lg  PA  Outs  RC   xR  xR27  xW   OWP    BA *lgBA   OBP *lgOBP  SLG *lgSLG  OPS *lgOPS*OPS+ psOPS  SB%


+--------------+----+----+----+----+----+----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+----+-----+----+
7 Seasons 2869 1811 484 | .287 .268| .391 .341| .513 .433| .904 .775| 133 76%

* indicates the value is park adjusted


As we can see JD has is well above league average in OBP, much more so then Beltran. He's also higher in SLG% and BA. His SB rate is also good, though Beltran has him beat there. On the surface it looks like a no-brainer, but there is one statistic that is troubling. We notice that Drew, in the same number of seasons, have more then 1000 fewer Plate Appearences (PA) then Beltran does. This is due to a number of significant injuries that Drew has suffered throughout his career. Last season, with the Braves, was Drew's first full season. He hit very well last year, but the injuries are still a cause for concern.

Oh yeah, Drew used to play for St. Louis. BOOO!!!!

So, why do I believe that Drew would be a better fit then Beltran? It's simple, the Cubs need people on base and Drew is ahead of Beltran in that respect. While his injury history is a concern, that is mitigated by the fact that Drew will, most likely, be much easier for the Cubs to sign. They're not competing with the Yankees for Drew and their increased payroll should give them the ability to out-bid most other teams.

If the Cubs can sign Drew, they will have filled their biggest hole. There will finally be someone on base for Ramirez and Lee to drive in. Couple that with full seasons from Wood and Prior and I think you have the makings for a much improved Cubs team, with or without Sosa.




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