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Throwing Praise Cubs’ Way

I’m not the only one pleased with the direction the “new” Cubs are taking. Former baseball GM Jim Bowden came out in favor of Theo and Jed’s winter moves on ESPN.

thumbnailWhile I still have cringe-inducing memories of Bowden as GM of my “other” team, the Nationals — namely his man-crush on toolsy, troubled outfielders — I still think he basically knows what he’s talking about. And he makes some good points in the ESPN piece.

Basically, Bowden said the new regime entered Phase 1 of the rebuilding project with the goals of adding more depth to the rotation, making the lineup more left-handed, improving the defense and beefing up the farm system, and the Cubs’ recent moves have accomplished these tasks.

There’s no doubting that the rotation is now over-run with arms, for lack of a more flattering word. Not pitchers, mind you, but arms. A pitcher is someone who is at least somewhat a master of his craft; an arm is a guy who can throw a baseball fairly well. Chris Volstad, Travis Wood and the more recent add-on, Paul Maholm, are arms. What they are today is what they will be tomorrow, next year and probably the rest of their careers. They are guys that expansion teams populate their rotations with.

But I’m not knocking them. I’d rather have experienced arms like this trio than baby arms like Casey Coleman who are more likely to give you 2 innings and 6 earned runs than a quality start, or geezer arms like Rodrigo Lopez who wouldn’t even make an expansion team. Keep in mind, this is a rebuilding project. It will take time to develop and acquire pitchers, so in the meantime, and for the sake of being at least mildly competitive, we need solid arms. And now the Cubs have more arms than Vishnu.

When it comes to restocking the farm system, I love the Anthony Rizzo acquisition. Yes, he flopped horribly with the Padres last year — I think he had like a negative 300 WAR, but he was actually a 0.1 WAHSC (Wins Above Hee-seop Choi) – but he probably wasn’t quite ready for the big stage and San Diego’s Petco Park is so huge it can sap the confidence of any young slugger. All Rizzo might need is to pop a couple of wind-aided taters over the ivy on a hot summer day in order to feel like he belongs in The Show, and from there the sky is the limit. All indications are that he has the maturity and drive to ultimately make it — it’s just a question of how good he will be.

So all in all, a promising start to The New Era. Now if we could only get rid of those damn blue alternate jerseys …

Reality Sets In

Finally put the finishing touches on the latest book and now can return to my “other” passion.

Say this for the Cubs new regime — it’s grounded in reality. No proclamations about how we’re going for it in 2012. No scoffing at the thought of rebuilding. Nope, the Cubs’ new honchos know full well that (A) the team they took over stinks and (B) that team will continue to stink for at least a little while longer.

Acting upon these sensible notions, GM Jed Hoyer recently made some moves that will have no consequence on the team when he signed pitchers Andy Sonnanstine and Manny Corpas. Sonnanstine had decent years in 2008 and ’10 and was atrocious in ’07, ’09 and ’11. Since 2012 is an even-numbered year, I guess we should expect blessed medocrity. Even so, given Andy’s penchant for serving up homers, the Bleacher Bums should get their throwing arms loosened up whenever they see him warming up in the bullpen.

Corpas came out of nowhere to capably fill in as Colorado’s closer when the Rockies made their unlikely run to the 2007 World Series. Then he became terrible, and then he became seriously injured (Tommy John surgery) and missed last season. So there’s a good chance he won’t even make the team.

With skads of real pitchers still available on the open market, this is what we get. And that’s a good thing. No sense in blowing meaningful money in order to turn a bad team into an average one. But in case you have any doubts about Hoyer’s dim view of the Cubs’ immediate future, look no further than the recent trade of Sean Marshall to the Reds. Simply put, you don’t deal one of your best hurlers to a division rival unless you’re basically conceding defeat before Spring Training has even begun.

Sure, it hurts. No one wants to see their favorite team go all San Diego Padres on them. 2012 will be an ugly year. All indications are Matt Garza will be the next out the door. Prince Fielder won’t be racing to the North Side on a white horse any time soon. It’s tough to swallow, but it’s our reality. And we can only have faith that Jed and the gang will get the job done … some day.

Prince Fielder: Do We Want Him?

There is only one real plum left in the free agent class among hittNLCS Cardinals Brewers Baseballers — a very plump and scruffy plum who would fill a gaping hole in the Cubs’ lineup. While the Cubs could certainly use Prince Fielder, the question is should they plunk down $200 million-plus to obtain his services?

 The answer is no, and here’s why. While a talent like Fielder doesn’t hit the market that often, the fact remains there are always quality players to be had from any free agent class. So why pull the trigger now for a talented player whose skills will largely be wasted for a couple of years while you try to build the team up around him when you can take the more sensible and cost-effective approach: build up the team first, then add in key players where they are needed.

The sad reality is the Cubs could clearly upgrade at every single position except shortstop. Here are some of the players who could be free agents next winter: Howie Kendrick, Brandon Phillips, David Wright, Josh Hamilton (although his age and injury history are concerns), B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino, Andre Ethier, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Dan Haren and Shaun Marcum. There surely will be many more gems in 2013 and 2014. So why blow a big chunk of your budget now when you can take your time, assess what you have on hand and then buy accordingly in the future, when your team is more competitive?

Another important factor is Fielder’s position. First base is chock full of quality players and it usually isn’t too hard to find a useful dude to man the bag, either through free agency or trade or (here’s a wild concept, Cubs front office) the farm system. Other positions — namely the up-the-middle posts of catcher, short, second and center, in addition to pitcher — aren’t so easy to fill.

A Moneyball afficiendo like Theo surely knows that it makes more sense to spend big on hard-to-fill positions and look for bargains to play the corners than the other way around. And so that’s what the Cubbies should do. They already have the shortstop (we think). Soto might be a long-term option at catcher. Brett Jackson might be an answer for center. If not, let’s spend there and at second and on the mound and round out the roster with corner players who won’t cost $20-plus mil a year.

A Look Back at the Chicago Cubs’ Off-Season

Marlon ByrdThe Cubs were pretty quite this past off-season. They didn’t make too many moves, and the ones that they did make were more to sure up the bench rather than to provide a punch to the lineup.

They were, however, able to get rid of last season’s big mistake. Milton Bradley will be ruining the Seattle Mariners this season, after his work of art in Chicago.

However, if you ask Bradley, it was Chicago that ruined him, not the other way around, just ask the wordsmith known as Milton.

“Two years ago, I played, and I was good. I go to Chicago, not good.”

So lets see if Bradley returns to “good” this season, it should be interesting.

However, the Cubs didn’t just get rid of Bradley, they also found a couple of players who will come in and be pivotal to helping the Cubs try to get back to the top of the NL Central. Read the rest of this entry »

Cubs Defeat Astros, Send Away Winning Pitcher

1It’s all good for Cubs fans, at least for now. The Cubs beat the Astros 12-3 on Thursday to close up a big four-game series, where the Cubs won three of the games.

The Cubs’ slamming of the Astros came after routing them 12-0 the day before. Everyone in the lineup is contributing, and you no longer hear anyone saying the word “slump.” Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Cubs Quick Hits: Lilly, Dempster and Ryan

1According to Chicago Tribune writer Paul Sullivan, the Cubs’ lone All-Star is likely heading to the disabled list.

“Oh gosh, we were just talking about getting [ Ryan] Dempster back,” manager Lou Piniella said. “We were happy about that, and all of a sudden, the Lilly situation [comes up]. It seems like every time we get a player, we lose one. But let’s see what the MRI says on Theodore, and we can go from there.”

Lilly has been the most consistent Cubs starter this season, going 9-7 with a 3.59 ERA. Read the rest of this entry »

Cubs Add Utility Player Jeff Baker

1The Cubs traded minor league pitcher Al Alburquerque to the Rockies for infielder Jeff Baker.

Baker has spent his career in Colorado but has only played consistently over two seasons.

He has spent most of this season on the DL thanks to troubles with his wrist, but he will be activated today and brought right to the majors. Read the rest of this entry »

Come to Think of It…If Boston is Selling, the Cubs Should be Buying

11First of all, I realize that this may never happen.

But Buster Olney of ESPN.com raised the possibility, so we should at least examine the opportunity.

According to Olney, the Boston Red Sox have a surplus of pitching and may use some of that to fill other needs that their ballclub has.

For example, Daisuke Matsuzaka is expected to return to the rotation soon, so Justin Masterson will likely go back to the bullpen.

And don’t forget, the Sox have John Smoltz waiting in the wings. Also, they have Clay Buccholz in the minors.

So, as Olney speculates, Brad Penny may become available at some point in the very near future. Read the rest of this entry »

Come to Think of It…Cubs Get Ryan Freel

Ken Rosenthal from Fox Sports is reporting that the Cubs and Orioles are talking about a possible deal for disgruntled utility man Ryan Freel.

Freel is a high on-base kind of guy, with little to no power. He has been unhappy with his role in Baltimore and GM Andy MacPhail is actively trying to move him.

Rosenthal suggests that Joey Gathright would likely be the player that Jim Hendry would send the Orioles in return for Freel.

MLBTradeRumors.com reports that “The Orioles are talking to other clubs about Freel, who has about $3.3MM remaining on this year’s contract.”

I’m sure that MacPhail will have to eat some of that contract in order to move Freel, but if he is willing, I think he would add some veteran depth to the Cubs.

Freel doesn’t have the speed he once had, but, according to Rosenthal, the Cubs are “seeking more versatility for their bench.”

Freel once stole 35-plus bases in three consecutive seasons, from 2004-2006 with the Cincinnati Reds.

The 33-year-old plays second and third base, as well as all three outfield positions. He recently completed an injury-rehabilitation assignment that left a bad taste in his mouth.

Freel has a career line of .271/.357/.374.

This could make sense, come to think of it. What do you think?

-Bob Warja

Come to Think Of It…Cubs Given Green Light to Shop at Midseason

chicagocubsblack_featureThe Chicago Sun-Times reported today that Cubs Chairman Crane Kenny anticipates payroll room to make moves around the July trading deadline.

This is good news for Cubs fans in that it gives the team a competitive advantage if the Cubs discover they need some help around midseason.

This also means that the sale of the team will be done by then. The Sun Times quotes Kenney as saying the Tribune and the Ricketts family are “very close to the terms of their deal,” which could be wrapped up in May.

While other teams react to the economy and talk about slashing payroll, the Cubs will be active bidders. Let’s take a quick look at who may be on the market by the deadline:

Jason Bay

I don’t think the Red Sox will trade Bay, as they are always in contention and Bay is a big part in their success. But he will be a free agent following the season and can play center field in a pinch. The Sox have been unable to get the former Buc signed to a long-term deal.

Erik Bedard

The left hander was injured for much of last season, but appears healthier this spring. If the Mariners fall out of contention, they could make him available. If the Cubs have injuries to their staff, or Sean Marshall doesn’t pitch well in the 5th starter role, this could be an interesting pick up.

Justin Duchscherer

The potential free agent is always a health concern, but if he is strong and pitching well, the A’s could look to move him rather than risk losing him after the season and getting nothing in return. Batters hit only .210 against him last year. Of course, the Cubs didn’t let an injury history stop them from acquiring another A’s pitcher last year.

Randy Johnson

If the Giants falter early, they could make the Big Unit available. While 46, Johnson did post a 2.41 ERA after the All-Star break last season with 78 strikeouts in 86 innings and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 5-to-1. The Cubs did express some interest in him over the winter, so who knows?

John Lackey

Lackey is eligible for free agency after the season and the Angels have been unable to sign him. It is doubtful that they would move him since they will almost assuredly be in contention, but it bears watching. He has been strong so far this spring.

Joe Beimel

The Nationals just signed the lefty relief specialist, who had a 2.02 ERA in 2008, but they could move him to a contender if they get the right young player in return. The Cubs need a southpaw for the bullpen, with only Neal Cotts available (assuming Marshall is in the rotation), and this need may be exasperated if Cotts pitches poorly.

Jake Peavy

The often rumored trade of Peavy to the Cubs just won’t die. It is very unlikely that new owner Tom Ricketts would sink so much money into Peavy, but we know the Padres will be looking for payroll flexibility. We also know that Jim Hendry likes Peavy. An injury to Carlos Zambrano or Rich Harden could force his hand.

-Bob Warja