Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Just when I think you couldn’t be any more stupid, you go and do something like this… And TOTALLY redeem yourself!
$1 million, in the world of baseball, is dirt cheap, and if Miller can prove he’s healthy, he could be an extremely valuable addition to the starting rotation or even the bullpen. Miller throws in the mid-90s, with a 90 MPH slider, and career numbers of 62-43 with a 3.98 ERA. And he’s only 29. So essentially, we’re looking at a guy very similar to Kerry Wood, and maybe between the two of them the Cubs can get a full season of productivity. If not, it’s a drop in the big bucket known as the Cubs’ 2006 budget.
There are a couple fringe benefits to this signing as well. First, it will force Hendry to trade a guy like Todd Wellemeyer who is a card-carrying member of the Todd Squad, but doesn’t need to be on the Cubs’ roster anymore. It also takes the Cubs out of the derby for the services of Jeff Weaver, who recently turned down a 3-year, $24.5 million offer from the Dodgers. Put simply, Weaver sucks. There’s no way he deserves that kind of money, and it would have been a kick to the nuts to see the Cubs pony over that kind of cash for a guy who will likely go 12-15 with a 4.37 ERA next year.
Overall, this has the potential to be a high-reward, low-cost situation, and if everything works according to plan will put the Cubs in a position to trade excess pitching for a big bat around the trade deadline. Granted, there a lot of “ifs” here, but for $1 million this is still a great deal.
Welcome back, Jimbo. I was getting sick of watching your evil twin run the show.
In other baseball news, the mighty Jose Macias signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan to be their starting second baseman, and I couldn't be more happy that there's no chance of seeing him in a Cubs uniform this year. Now, if only we could convince Neifi to go start at shortstop for them.
Friday, January 20, 2006
The Curse of the Neckbeard...
For all of you Bears fans desperately searching for answers over these last few cold, winter months, may I present you the perfect scapegoat - Orton's neckbeard.
After the Bears broke their 8-game winning streak, the good-luck neckbeard actually turned into a curse when Orton refused to shave. And now, because the powers of the neckbeard combined with those of Steve Smith were too overwhelming, the Bears' postseason hopes have been dashed against the rocky shores of Lake Tillman. At least now you have someone, or something, to blame.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Cubs Convention Notes and Arbitration Updates...
I had a chance to attend the Cubs Convention on Saturday, and had some mixed reactions to all the hoopla. This was my first time at the convention, and when I walked in, it felt like my first trip to Disney World as a kid. As soon as we walked through the doors, there was Doug Glanville (my second favorite non-HOFer behind Dascenzo). However, just like Disney World, the fantasy is quickly tainted by the reality – trashy grown men clamoring for autographs, soft-boiled non-answers from management, lines everywhere, etc. Despite all of that, I still had a great time. Some highlights:
- Asking Dusty Baker why management has soured on Todd Walker, and when he gave a typical non-answer, hearing the crowd boo. Such sweet satisfaction.
- Asking bullpen coach Juan “Porky” Lopez what I needed to do to earn a job as a bullpen catcher. Although most of his answer was unintelligible, I did manage to make out one of the main responsibilities – waking the pitchers up on game day.
- The standard fashionably late entrance of Randy “Rebel” Hundley during Cubs Jeopardy, apparently due to a hangover. Gotta love late-stage alcoholism.
- Santo referring to his headphones as “earmuffs.”
- Listening to Rick Sutcliffe talk about how a young Greg Maddux retaliated against a pitch thrown at Andre Dawson, even though it meant he would likely be sent back down to the minors the next day (which he was). Now that’s a teammate.
I feel I need to further elaborate on Baker’s comments about Todd Walker. Baker claimed that management still likes Todd (which we all know isn’t true), and he would just prefer to make guys compete for a job rather than hand the starting job over to someone before Spring Training. That makes sense, but not when you consider that this game, while a business, involves real people, and Cubs management is being pretty cavalier with a man’s entire career.
Todd Walker came to the Cubs as a career .300 hitter who could have likely started for a number of other teams in the league. He arrived with the understanding that he would back up Grudz, but when Grudz left, he would be given the starting job. That’s only fair for a guy who signed a below-market contract as a back-up just because he wanted to play for the Cubs. However, Hendry and Baker have consistently twisted the knife in his back since his injury early last season.
To insist that he has to compete with Neifi Perez and Jerry Hairston, Jr. for a starting job is an insult. What’s worse is that if they trade him, the Cubs will have made, what I consider, a very unethical move. Walker could have been a free agent this off-season, but the Cubs picked up his option on the cheap. To take away his options as a free agent and then trade him to a team he has no say over would say to every player around the league that the Cubs organization is disloyal to its players and only cares about the bottom line. Todd Walker has given up likely a few million dollars elsewhere over the last couple of seasons specifically to play for the Cubs, and this is how they treat him?
There’s one other thing I wanted to discuss, and that’s the impending arbitration process for 5 Cubs players (Zambrano, Pierre, Prior, Hairston, Ohman). During Andy McPhail’s tenure (since 1994), the Cubs have never taken a player to arbitration. This makes a lot of sense, because going to arbitration means that a player essentially has to listen to his own management badmouth him. That doesn’t build a whole lot of mutual respect. However, with the dollars on a few players this year being somewhat far apart, it wouldn’t surprise me if at least one of those guys did make it to a hearing. Let’s hope not.
The player I particularly want to address is Mark Prior. He is asking for $4 million, while the Cubs are offering $3.3 million. That strikes me as ridiculously cheap. AJ Burnett just signed what, a 5-year, $55 million contract? He’s 28 years old, with a career 49-50 record, 853 IP, and a 3.73 ERA. Contrast that with Mark Prior, who is 25 and has a career 41-23 record, 613 IP, and a 3.24 ERA. Both have injury histories, although it can be argued that most of Prior’s weren’t even related to stress on the arm due to pitching (being run over on the bases, line drive off the elbow). Oh, and last I checked, Burnett never finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting. Who looks like the more attractive pitcher of those two?
I’m certainly not suggesting that Mark Prior should get $11 million per year at this point in his career, but one day he very well might be worth that. Quibbling over $700,000 now, when his services are still incredibly cheap, can only serve to alienate him and discount every ounce of loyalty he might feel towards the Cubs organization. Baseball is a business, but in businesses around the world the name of the game is employee retention. Losing your best employees due to dissatisfaction at the workplace costs companies billions of dollars a year and the Cubs have never seemed to be able to figure that out (read: Maddux, Greg c. 1992).
The Cubs are like the company that, on the surface, looks like it has great perks. Maybe Wrigley Field is to players what a great 401(k) program is to us normal folk, and the sell-out crowds look like a great vacation package. But in the end, no matter how attractive a company looks to prospective employees on the surface, if management treats its people poorly, no one will want to work for them. Doesn’t anyone wonder why the Cubs never seem to be able to lock up big name free agents? Perhaps it’s because they have a reputation of nickel-and-diming their best players.
We can only hope that Mark Prior never reaches free agency, but if he does, let’s also hope that he doesn’t remember this little episode. On the other hand, if they make a few minor concessions now, maybe in the future he’ll still feel those warm, fuzzy feelings about the city of Chicago, and the Cubs organization.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Dusty Baker and "The Art of War"
Without even looking at the atrocious sports scene, this time of year is no fun in general. The festive rush of the holidays is over, and I find myself looking out on another 3 months of cold, dreary, filthy snow-filled weather with nothing better than Presidents’ Day to look forward to. Also, I’m stuck in Columbus, Ohio five days a week, where – I kid you not – the following was the lead-in for the news last night, “Creepy photo of a one-eyed kitten, up next at 11.” Needless to say, there’s not much going on around here. It’s gotten so bad that I actually found myself watching “Nanny 911” for lack of anything better to do.
But, despite the general malaise that typifies January and February, now is not the time to watch idly as the Cubs gear up for another triumphant run at .500 baseball. No sir, there is always news to dissect and moves to criticize. The latest out of the PR mill is that the Cubs will likely offer Jim Hendry, and subsequently Dusty Baker, contract extensions either in the very near future or sometime in early spring.
I don’t disagree with Hendry’s extension. This off-season aside, he’s made some wonderful moves for the Cubs over the past few years, and perhaps his hands are tied by the Trib more than we know in terms of making serious runs at big free agents. As much as I’ve criticized the direction he has taken over the past couple of months, there is something to be said for maintaining the same direction long enough to win. Switching general managers in baseball is a hard thing to overcome in the short-term because each individual has his own ideas of what makes a winning team.
On the other hand, re-upping Baker’s contract is a foolish mistake. While switching GM’s may be difficult to overcome, switching managers really shouldn’t be. Especially when your current manager consistently proves he lacks the mental capacity to successfully manage games or censor himself before making ridiculous comments about how the dark skin of Latin players suits them to playing day games. Let’s face it – the guy is a few balls shy of a full count.
Baker’s biggest selling point throughout his career has been his ability to relate to his players. Supposedly, people love playing for him, and we were assured free agents would flock to the Friendly Confines to bask in the glow of Dusty’s toothpicked brilliance. Three years into the campaign has he ever proven he can lure quality players to the North Side? Not so much. I concede that it’s not entirely his fault, as the Trib Co. consistently low-balls free agents in the belief that they would gladly take less money to play in the shrine that is Wrigley. Unfortunately, baseball is a business in which millions of dollars are involved. Not even Baker’s hippie-ish, “Dude, I’ll let you loaf on the base paths” attitude can overcome the profit-dominated bottom line that FitzSimons and Co. forces down Hendry’s throat.
This may all seem like a disconnected rant, but I assure you there is a point. The point is, Baker’s supposed deft ability to relate to his players and appeal to free agents is meaningless without the dollars and sense (pun intended) to back it up. If the Cubs aren’t going to acquire impact players, they need to make the most out of what they have. A half-baked hippie manager is fine for a team with enough talent to overcome his mental lapses and incessant double-switching, but the Cubs are not that team. This is a team that will need to squeeze out every last run and play fundamentally sound baseball for 162 games, but after three years, we know that is exactly not what to expect out of a Dusty Baker-managed team. As Sun-Tzu stated in The Art of War, “Every battle is won before it is ever fought.”* Unfortunately for the Cubs, the opposite is true as well. With Dusty at the helm, this battle has already been lost.
*OK fine, I lifted that quote from Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street." Sue me.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Reason #19,176 the White Sox are totally gay*
What's even funnier is that the Sox didn't even originally intend on drafting Broadway. They originally tagged someone else as their first round pick, but his agent, Scott Boras, was demanding too large a signing bonus. That player's name? Bruce Manhole.
*Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Monday, January 09, 2006
Cubs trade Patterson to O's, Yosh Kawano receives season-long supply of laundry detergent in return
Ok, that was my eulogy for Korey Patterson’s Cubs career. Now that he’s gone I think we can finally look at his tenure with the Cubs objectively. No, he did not live up to his potential, but then again, who could have? He was essentially tagged as the second coming of Willie Mays out of high school. I’m fairly certain he’ll amount to a decent big leaguer if he can manage to get his head on straight and actually listen to his coaches. Half a year does not a career make, but for all the hatred spewed towards him this year, it’s easy to forget the stellar partial ’03 season he played before he got hurt.
My initial reaction to the trade (Korey for 2 average minor leaguers) was not pleasant. I didn’t want to give him away for scraps, and if that was all Hendry could get, I would just as soon have kept him. However, right now he’s a $3 million bust. Trading him for scraps was merely a salary dump, and that extra cash might help the Cubs re-sign guys like Zambrano and Prior when they’re due for huge extensions. This is clearly not the way anyone thought this saga would end back in ’98, but I think we can all be happy that we can finally talk about Corey in the past tense.
Perhaps more comments to come, but maybe I'll just let this one fade away. Sometimes, it's best not to dwell on the past...