Saturday, July 31, 2010

Play of the Day: Boom Goes the Dynamite

Sean Marshall is going to start having a complex about pitching in Colorado.  After successfully navigating the 8th inning without giving up a billion hits in a row (unlike last night), he stayed in to pitch the bottom of the 9th.  That lasted one pitch.

Carlos Gonzalez deposited that pitch into the upper deck in right field to complete his personal cycle and end the game for a 6-5 Rockies victory.


Only two more months left of this crap.

Bye, Ryan




We'll always have the TOOTBLANs.

Bye, Ted





I haz a sad.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Play of the Day: Escaping the Eighth Inning (AKA Satan's Asshole)

Have you ever played a baseball video game against the computer and just kicked the living hell out of it?  I remember playing Baseball Stars on my Nintendo where you could name your own players and improve the players as you progressed through the game.  Eventually, you would have a team of greek gods who could do no wrong and the computer just didn't stand a chance.  Any outs were recorded entirely by luck.

I remember putting up ten runs per inning and thinking to myself, "Wow, if this ever really happened, I'd hate to be a fan of the team on the receiving end of this."  Tonight I got to experience that.

When the 8th inning started in Colorado, dinosaurs still ruled the world, or so it seemed.

Here is how it went: Double, Single, Strikeout, Strikeout, Single, Double, Double, pitching change, Triple, Homerun, Single, Double, Homerun, Single, pitching change, Single, Double, Walk, Walk, Flyout.

Eighteen batters came to the plate. Twelve of them scored.

There were eleven straight hits.  That's a major league record.  It was also after two were out.

There were three relievers used and the coaching staff wore a path in the grass between the dugout and the mound.

So today's Play of the Day (nominated by @jjhparker) is the merciful last out of the inning.  The bases were loaded and Clint Barmes was on deck getting ready to bat for the third time in the inning.  Ian Stewart stepped in and damn near made it 21-2.  But instead, Marlon Byrd made the catch in deep centerfield and ended the inning.


Thank the sweet lord.

Chicago Cubs Rebuild Update: Still No Friggin' Updates

Today if you were listening to Wrigley Talk Friday (Hi Mom!), you know we had WGN radio personality George Ofman on as a guest and one of the things he mentioned is that the Cubs have known internally for over a month that the season was lost.  This came as somewhat of a surprise because you would think that if you assumed the Cubs' front office was filled with logical and rational human beings, they had to have come to that conclusion.  On the other hand, this is the Cubs we are talking about so you can never really make that assumption.

George also told us that the Dodgers had inquired about Ryan Dempster a while back and Hendry considered it and said no.  I don't know what the Dodgers were offering, but if Chad Billingsley were on the table I would have to assume that when the call was made, Mr. Hendry hadn't completely come to grips with the fact that the Cubs season was done.  He was probably still evaluating.

Anyway, when it is all said and done we are still looking at a number of players that the Cubs could trade to get back some decent value (Marmol, Soto, Marshall, Byrd) and players that everyone just wants to be rid of (pretty much everyone else except Cashner, Colvin, and Castro).  Last we checked, the rebuild was not moving very quickly.

So where are we now?

Time: About 20 hours left until non-waiver trade deadline.

Ted Lilly - Still a Cub.  For now.  Supposedly the Dodgers want him, but not enough to give us anything good.  The best thing I have seen is John Ely and unless you look only at his first start against the Cubs, he isn't all that good.  The Cubs would be better off just taking the compensatory picks they get when Lilly leaves via free agency.

Derrek Lee - Still a Cub.  For the rest of the season.  Derrek doesn't want to go anywhere, so he's not.  Frankly, I'm a little glad since he can still field the throws from our infielders for the rest of the season and keep making them all look better.  Contrary to what some folks believe, Derrek wasn't bringing much in return anyway.

Ryan Theriot - Still a Cub.  The market for scrappy appears to be down this year, and what makes matters worse, any team that expresses interest in Theriot starts to play so bad they go from buyers to sellers.  Detroit?  Check.  Colorado?  Check.  Watch out, Los Angeles, you may be next to fall to the Curse of the TOOTBLAN.

Xavier Nady - Still a Cub.  I read somewhere that Nady might have more trade value than Lee.  If that is the case, Lee has negative trade value because I haven't heard a peep about Nady going anywhere even though we would all really, really like it if he did.

Carlos Zambrano - Still a Cub.  Still crazy.  Still apologizing.  Still in the bullpen.  One bright side is that Bob Howry is no longer a Cub to make room for him.  Schlitter lives!

Kosuke Fukudome - Still a Cub.  Again, I haven't heard anything other than blog speculation about who might possibly want Fukudome.

Aramis Ramirez - Still a Cub.  At least he is hitting the ball now, but he's sticking around and will probably be here next year too since he played himself out of another big free agency payday.

So as the time ticks away, the Cubs know they suck, they know they should be selling, and we anxiously await an action that would reflect that sentiment.  Tick... tick... tick...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

MLB Gives Me Another Reason to Not Buy Cubs Season Tickets Next Year

I just came one step closer to not giving a damn if I give up my Cubs season ticket package for next year.  Earlier today one of my intrepid podcast buddies, Adam Kellogg, tweeted out the following message:



Upon clicking the link, it took me to this page at mlb.com:



That's right, mlb.com is selling me the right to purchase Cubs 2010 World Series tickets for a mere $20 each.  Not the ticket, mind you, the right to buy the ticket at full face value if and when they qualify for the World Series costs $20.

Adam believes this would be a waste of money this year, and he is right.  This year, you would be better off setting your money on fire and then flushing it down the toilet.  You would be better off giving it to me (feel free to do that if you'd like). But let's say this was 2008 and the Cubs were beating the crap out of teams left and right.  Or even 2007 as the Cubs made a charge for the playoffs with a fantastic second half.  It would be totally worth it, right?

How about 2001?  The Year of Mack Newton.  The Cubs came out strong under Don Baylor and the positive thinkin' of Mack Newton and were making a push to the playoffs.  The team crumbled down the stretch, but the Cubs were in the race long enough that the ticket office sent out their post-season ticket invoices to the season ticket holders.  I had to plunk down something like $750 per seat to the Cubs for the playoff package that year. (Thus somewhere in a box, I have a sheet of mint condition 2001 playoff tickets to Wrigley Field.)  Sure, it eventually just became a down payment on my 2002 package, but I was still out of pocket $750 as Christmas season was approaching.

That is a lot of coin to be forking over to reserve some post-season tickets.

PLUS, in order to maintain that right to get my hands on post-season tickets (if the planets align correctly and a miracle occurs), I have to come up with about $3,500 (and rising) per seat to hold onto my ticket package. 

Now, I love baseball.  I love going to 40-50 baseball games a year and watching the Cubs play.  Even when they are bad, I usually find some amount of joy in going (watching Colvin, Castro, Byrd, Marshall).  But I don't have a compulsive need to be at the ballpark for every night or weekend game. I could easily get through a summer by attending only ten games or so.  Even when there is an historic season like 1998 or 2003 or 2007, I could have lived with not attending ALL of those games.  The television and radio provide plenty of access to the games in most cases.

I saw exactly one game in 1984 because I lived in New York at the time.  Granted, it was The Sandberg Game, but it was still only one game in one of the most magical seasons the Cubs have ever had.  I lived with that just fine (without any therapy or anything).

The reason I have stuck with the season ticket package for so long is because, in addition to the forty to fifty  home games I get access to, I get guaranteed post-season tickets at face value.  This was a HUGE selling point because without that access, I would most likely have to pay secondary market prices to be able to see a post-season game at Wrigley.  The World Series tickets on Stub Hub in 2003 were hitting thousands of dollars each (and they weren't always even good tickets).  That fact, plus the enjoyment I usually derive from going to so many baseball games made the price tag more palatable.

Now, thanks to MLB, I can potentially guarantee myself a ticket to every single potential playoff game held at Wrigley Field for a total of $170?  (Three NLDS x $10 + four NLCS x $15 + four WS x $20 = $170.)

I don't have to plop down $3,500 for that right anymore?  That is a savings of over 95%!  Holy shit!  Beat that, Groupon!

Plus, if the Cubs absolutely blow like they do this year, I don't have to pay a nickel.  This just keeps getting better.

So let me do some math.  Let's say next year I don't want to hand over $3,500 to the Cubs as some form of tacit agreement with how they have been running the team.  Instead, I can just go and buy a reservation to every Cubs post-season game (hell, I'll buy two so Kris can also come with me).  Then I'll do their little 20% reverse pre-sale and buy tickets to ten Platinum Level seats in the Upper Deck Infield Boxes for the regular season.  That would be $70 each, plus the 20% markup of another $14 for a total of $84 per game.  That is $840 total.  Again, let's buy two just because now I can.  That is $1,680 for enough live baseball for us to enjoy together during the season and $340 to get us into a potential of eleven post-season games.  Grand total spent: $2,020 or $1010 each.  I save 42% if I include Kris in my plans.  I can save 71% if I'm a selfish bastard.

Granted, there is some risk involved.  What if there is a run on post-season ticket reservations as soon as they are put on sale?  The Yankees reservations are completely sold out.  The Reds and Cardinals have sold out of a few post-season games already as well.

I may not get the tickets I want in the pre-sale either.  I won't get my same seat and sit with my summer family who help me get through the pain of most Cubs seasons.  I'll have to change the name of this blog.

But still, I could use that additional $1,500 saved per year and I wouldn't be feeling obligated to go to forty games when the Cubs suck, which unfortunately, is most of the time.

It is definitely something to think about for next year.  Thanks, Major League Baseball!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Play of the Day: Carlos Lee Remembers He's Facing the Cubs

It just wouldn't be a series against the Astros without Carlos Lee junk-punching the Cubs at least once.  In today's game, he did twice, but its the first one that is the Play of the Day.

The sixth inning started ominously enough when Randy Wells walked Fat Elvis to start the inning and gave up an RBI double to the ever-annoying Hunter Pence.  Any thought of the Cubs getting it together and still winning a game that stood at 1-1 ended on the second pitch of the next at-bat when Lee took a Wells pitch down the left field line for a two-run homerun that put the Astros up 3-1.  They never looked back.


Lee added another two-run homer in the seventh inning, but that was just piling on at that point.

Top Ten Reasons Derrek Lee Won't Accept a Trade

Bruce Levine has reported on ESPN Chicago that Derrek Lee "prefers to remain a Cub rather than accept a trade," which leads one to ask the question: Why the hell not?

Aisle 424 has learned that Derrek's reasons are multifold:


Top Ten Reasons Derrek Lee Won't Accept a Trade

10.  He really, really likes the Cubs' .4% chance at the playoffs.

9.  He is so opposed to the designated hitter rule he will stick with this crappy-ass team.

8.  Let's just say he got a call from Oprah and not speak of it again.

7.  He'll miss the tender dulcet tones of Ronnie Woo.

6.  Racist fans you know are better than the racist fans you don't.

5.  He just likes pissing off Jim Hendry.

4.  You can't put a price on good deepdish pizza.

3.  The Rally Monkey really freaks him out.

2.  If Hendry hadn't intended for him to use his No Trade Clause, Hendry wouldn't have given him one.

1.  Bleacher babes.  'Nuff said.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Play of the Day: Ted Drops an Awesome Bomb on Michael Bourn

It should not be surprising that Ted Lilly was awesome in his probable final start as a Chicago Cub.  It should also not be surprising that the Cubs couldn't score to save their lives, that the Astros' go-ahead run scored without a hit, or that Lance "Fat Elvis" Berkman would remember for the first time this year that he is supposed to be a good hitter.

So even though the squeeze play that broke the tie or the Berkman grand slam were bigger plays, today's Play of the Game is in honor of Theodore Roosevelt Lilly's awesomeness.

Ted gave up a couple of leadoff singles in the fifth to Chris Johnson and Humberto Quintero to put runners on the corners with nobody out.  He got Brett Myers to pop up on the infield, but Michael Bourn stood in with an opportunity to drive in a run with any sort of hit into the outfield or even a groundball since he would be near impossible to double up.

Ted immediately got him down 0-2 and on the fourth pitch dropped a beautiful curve ball on Bourn that just wasn't fair.  Bourn swung and missed by a mile. 



He then retired Angel Sanchez to get out of the inning.

Vintage Ted.  I'll miss him.

Chicago Cubs Rebuild Update: Still No Updates

The Cubs rebuilding process is going full steam ahead as Jim Hendry takes on the task of fixing what has been wrong with the team this year.  Let's check on his progress so far.
Time: 4 days until non-waiver trade deadline.

Ted Lilly: Still a Cub (and pitching tonight in Houston).
 
Derrek Lee: Still a Cub (and apparently willing to excercise his no-trade rights to remain that way).
 
Ryan Theriot: Still a Cub (and reportedly having his stock rise amongst scouts that value bad defense, terrible baserunning, and weak bats).
 
Xavier Nady: Still a Cub. (Seriously, he is. Check the box scores.  He can usually be found under GIDP.)
 
Carlos Zambrano: Still a Cub (and apologizing for his actions, but apparently he is doing it wrong).
 
Kosuke Fukudome: Still a Cub (and can usually be found coming into games only after Xavier Nady has been used).
 
Aramis Ramirez:
 
 
Still a Cub (and will unsurprisingly pick up his player option to stay a Cub next year too).
 
The progress is impressive when measured on a geological timeline, but otherwise not so much.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Play of the Day: El Caballo es Muy Frio

Yes, Carlos Marmol retired Carlos Lee for the last out of the game, but Carlos Lee's at-bat in the 7th inning is tonight's Aisle 424 Play of the Day.

Justin Berg had come in to relieve Silva in the 6th and had allowed only one hit in an inning and two-thirds.  But then he gave up a two-out single to someone named Angel Sanchez.  No big deal, right?  But then Lance Berkman grounded to Derrek Lee and Castro failed to cover second for the force and Berg didn't cover first quickly enough, so now the Astros have been given an extra out to play with since th einning should have been over.

Hunter Pence, who pisses me off by simply existing, followed with an RBI single and suddenly all-time Cub-killer Carlos Lee came to the plate as the tying run.

Lou went to the bullpen to bring in young Andrew Cashner to face Lee.  Two pitches later, the inning was over as Lee grounded to Castro and the Cubs actually recorded an out at second base:



While I don't know if this speaks louder about Cashner's abilities or Lee's crappy year, I still enjoy seeing Carlos Lee retired when he represents the tying run in a ballgame.

State of Cubs Ticket Demand: Not Good

The Cubs just finished a weekend series with their biggest rivals (sorry, Sox fans, you aren't in the National League, so the Cubs don't care as much about your team as they do about the Cardinals).  The weather was cooperative for the most part.  A bit hot and sticky, but the games dodged the rain completely.

The Cubs announced attendances for the weekend were:
  • Friday - 40,687
  • Saturday - 41,009
  • Sunday - 41,406
Those are all healthy numbers, but last I knew in 2009, the seating capacity in Wrigley is 41,120, so only Sunday's crowd reflected a healthy number of Standing Room Only tickets being sold.

Also, compare those numbers to the series last year that occurred on July 24-26 against the Cincinnati Reds. Sure, the Reds are another division rival, but they are not the Cardinals:
  • Friday - 41,406
  • Saturday - 41,364
  • Sunday - 41,528
Friday was down 1.7% from last year, Saturday down .8%, and Sunday down .3%.  Nothing terrible, but any downturn in attendance is bad news for the Cubs.

The biggest indicator that Cubs ticket demand is still way down is who was using all of those sold tickets.  Saturday's game was about 40% Cardinals fans.  I don't think I am exaggerating.  There was red everywhere.  I got to the game a bit late and was walking up the ramp as Gorzelanny was trying to get out of the early scoring threat.  As I walked up, I heard a tremendous cheer and I assumed Gorzelanny had struck out the batter.  Then I looked down at the terrace reserved seating area and it was all Cardinal fans and they were all standing and cheering.

The cheers for Aaron Miles hitting the ball over Tyler Colvin's head were almost as loud as the cheers for Starlin Castro's homerun.

Sunday was probably more like 25% Cardinal fans.  The main seating area was heavily blue, but the bleachers and terrace reserved sections were dominated by red.

The Cardinal fans always bring a large contingent to Wrigley, no matter how much it costs them to get in, but this year seemed particularly easy.  When I spoke to a couple of scalpers and ticket brokers, I found out why.  They were asking for face value, which means if you aren't a rube buying on the secondary market for the first time, you can probably talk them down to $5 or $10 under face.

I didn't look at Stub Hub this weekend because I didn't think to write a post about it until during the game last night, but Craigslist had lots of 400 level seats ($70 face) selling in the $40-$50 range.  I imagine that the tickets on Stub Hub were probably similar to the street market.

Basically, if you are a Cardinals fan and you wanted to see your mighty Cardinals beat up on the hapless Cubs this past weekend, then you could easily get a ticket.  Judging by the amount of red, that is exactly what they did.

So those numbers put up this weekend were definitely a bit soft.  Granted, the Ricketts will take it.  Cardinal fan money spends just as easily as Cub fan money, so for that series, they probably couldn't have cared less.  But it is probably a harbinger of some sparse days to come at Wrigley.

Meanwhile, the rooftop owners are also apparently having some difficulty selling their seats.  I got this in my e-mail today:



Generally, trying to sell your product at 68% off is not a sign that your product has been selling well.

This can't please the Cubs too much since the rooftop prices at this level (that include all-you-can-eat-and-drink packages) are suddenly better values than buying a face value ticket from the Cubs and having to buy all your food and beer.

Plus, you have the added bonus of being further away and not having to see some little turd like Felipe Lopez pose like he's Barry Bonds after hitting a homerun off an AAAA pitcher.

--------------
UPDATE
--------------

Apparently tickets and rooftop seats aren't the only things that are not selling well.  According to Al Yellon at BCB, the price of the Cubs Fantasy Camp has also been dropped precipitously. (h/t @talkchibaseball):

The price of the Wrigley fantasy camp, scheduled for August 8-9, has been reduced from $7500 to $3000. Interns were handing out flyers at the ballpark today.

It's hard to believe that the city of Chicago lost out on the Olympic bid with the steady hand of Wally Hayward at the helm running effective promotions like this one.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Play of the Day: Letting Carpenter Off the Hook

The obvious game-turning play occurred as Felipe fucking Lopez launched a shot into the right field bleachers for the eventual winning run in the 11th inning, but for me the game-changing play occurred in the 6th inning.

Albert Pujols had just tied the game in the top half of the inning, giving the Cardinals new life after watching their ace give up the lead in the bottom of the 5th.  Now they put runners on the corners after one out singles by Byrd and Soriano.  For the third inning in a row, the Cubs were threatening to score on Chris Carpenter and deal a psychological blow to St. Louis, which, if nothing else, is fun in and of itself.

Then Geovany Soto came up:


Boom. Double play. That was the end of the threat and Carpenter walked away with a no-decision and a quality start.  Then Felipe fucking Lopez got to be a hero later on after nobody else scored in the next four innings.  It's a Way of Life.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Play of the Day: Theriot Caught It! Do You Believe in Miracles?

I wanted to pick Starlin Castro's first Wrigley Field homerun that gave the Cubs the lead for good, or the 2-run wild pitch and error allowed by Yadier Molina. However, after watching Ryan Theriot treat the baseball like it was invisible and coated with bacon grease for most of the afternoon, I had to pick the final out of the game that Theriot somehow managed to catch without falling down or anything.


The axiom about blind squirrels occasionally finding a nut comes to mind.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Play of the Day: Yep, That Was Aaron Miles

Of course, Aaron Miles is hitting .327 for the Cardinals this year.  Of course he is.  I would expect nothing else.  Still, it was nice to see the Cubs' version of Aaron Miles show up today with two outs in the 9th as the Cardinals' last hope.


Thanks for the memories!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chicago Cubs Rebuild Update: No Updates

Since Jim Hendry has been allowed to keep the controls and oversee the retooling of the Cubs roster, I thought we should periodically check in on the progress as the July trade deadline grows nearer.

Time: 9 days until non-waiver trade deadline.

Ted Lilly



Still a Cub (and  it's hard to say how he feels about it).

Derrek Lee



Still a Cub (and seems pretty psyched about it).

Ryan Theriot


Still a Cub (and still wandering aimlessly around the basepaths).

Xavier Nady


Still a Cub (and potentially filing a sexual harassment suit against Marlon Byrd).

Carlos Zambrano


Still a Cub (and thrilled to be in Iowa).

Kosuke Fukudome


Still a Cub (and trying to figure out who would want him).

I could go on like this all day, but I figure these are the only guys that have any chance at all of having to fill out change-of-address cards to have their Vineline magazine delivered to their new homes.  We'll check in periodically to see how Trader Jim is doing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Cubs Want You to Think Changes Are Coming

I don't know what it is about the Cubs and their inability to beat really crappy teams, but it has to be the most irritating of the innumerable frustrating things about the 2010 season.

Seriously, the Astros and the Pirates?  Who can't beat them?  Besides the Cubs, I mean.

The Astros are 39-56.  That is a 96 loss pace.  They are 6-3 against the Cubs.  They are 4-2 against the Cubs at Wrigley.  The Astros are 14-28 against everyone else on the road, but there they are beating the Cubs and killing a perfectly good post-All-Star game feel-good story.

The Cubs' performance against the Pirates is worse.  They are 3-9 against the Pirates.  The Pirates are on pace to lose 102 games and the Cubs have lost nine of twelve against them.  Do you know the next most wins the Pirates have against any other team?  Four.  FOUR! 

The Brewers blow as much as the Cubs do, but they've managed to beat Pittsburgh nine times.  Houston has beat them seven times.

The Pirates are 24-57 against everybody else.  That would come out to 114 losses over 162 games. 

People in St. Louis are laughing their asses off.  Cincinnati can't get too condescending yet, but they are definitely smirking.

Who can possibly look at this team and think it only needs some minor adjustments to get back into contention?  I'll tell you who.  Probably these guys:



And these people:



They'll probably mention that if the Cubs had only played .500 ball against the Pirates and Astros, the Cubs would be at .500 and within striking distance of both the Cardinals and the Reds.  Holy underwear!  All we have to do is beat those shitty teams half the time and we could be within five games of first place?  That's easy! 

That fact alone will justify them not completely blowing up the team and starting over like they should.  That will be enough to sell to the fanbase that the Cubs can contend next year, so you better not give up your season tickets!  Make sure you get in line for your wristbands in February!  You better take advantage of the OPPORTUNITY to buy Cubs tickets at 20% mark-up before they go on sale for real to the less loyal, non-believing, fair weather fans that are waiting until they go on sale for face value... or you'll be sorry!

So they'll hold onto the veterans with most trade value so that by the time Brett Jackson, Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Andrew Cashner, Jay Jackson, and whoever else are actual impact players instead of feel-good youngsters with a lot of upside, Marmol, Soto, Marshall, and Byrd will be part of the problem.

So then they'll trade away the under-performing, overpaid veterans again for nothing of consequence and the cycle will continue.

Stop believing these people when they tell you they have a dedication to winning.  They do not.  Their first priority is to pay down their massive debt.  That doesn't mean they don't care if they win or not because I'm sure their lives would be a hell of a lot easier if the team was wiping the floor with teams like the Astros and Pirates instead of having their heads held in the toilet by them. 

But to do it right, you have to strip it down.  Look at the Blackhawks.  They stripped everything down.  They changed coaches.  They changed the GM.  They made commitments to a core of players they felt they could build around.  They made some errors in judgement (Huet), but they didn't hold onto old fan favorites just for nostalgia and to sell a few extra tickets.  They paid for it by having very sparse crowds for quite awhile.  Hell, it took a surprising deep run in the playoffs last year to get the city even kind of interested in the early going this past year.

Now the Blackhawks are probably the hardest ticket in Chicago.

But the Cubs can't do that on the timetable the Ricketts had undoubtedly mapped out when they planned to borrow $450 million to buy the Cubs.  You can't pay that kind of debt down by having half the stadium go unsold because the team sucks, or by lowering ticket prices enough so that no one cares how good the baseball is because of all the sun and ivy.

The team absolutely has to be able to sell itself as a contender even if they are not.  I don't necessarily blame the Ricketts.  They have to do what they have to do to make the most out of their massive investment.  But that doesn't mean I have to believe they will actually make the Cubs into a winning franchise in the near future by half-assing it as they try to afford their debt payments and massive repairs and upgrades to Wrigley Field.

They have every right to try and sell me on the fact that Zell and McDonough were the bad guys that forced Hendry into creating the overpaid, untradeable team from hell and that he knows how to correct those errors.  They can move Zambrano to a team far, far away and make him a scapegoat.  They can wish Lou a happy retirement and basically call him a part of the past problems as they turn the hype machine on full blast after they hire Unknown Managerial Candidate X as soon as he can get here from Iowa.

They can and they will, but I don't have to buy it.  For crying out loud, they can't even beat the Astros or Pirates.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Oh Captain, My Captain

Lou Piniella is the first manager the Cubs have had in my life that I didn't want to see go, so he will, of course, retire at the end of the season.

A good portion of Cubdom will throw a party, but this is a sad day for me.

Now, in addition to a team that is aging faster than this guy...



... the Cubs will likely have a rookie manager who "played the game right," a Northwestern alum that no one seems interested in holding onto despite having success, or God help me, Bob Brenly.

It's a Way of Life.


I'll miss you, Lou.  Thanks.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Big Mo

The Cubs won a series and the WGN phone lines were ablaze last night calling George Ofman a killjoy for suggesting that one series win doesn't make a comeback any more probable.  Who does he think he is anyway?  Afterall, the Cubs just won their ninth series this year (out of 29).  That is some serious momentum with a capital M.  The Big Mo.


Just for fun, let's see how the Cubs did in the series after their previous eight series victories.

April 12-15 - Cubs take two of three from the Brewers.  This was considered a big deal at the time since we thought the Brewers might actually be kind of good.

Next series:  Lost two of three to the Astros.

April 23-25 - This time, the Cubs swept three from the Brewers and folks thought a nice little run was coming since the hapless Nationals were coming to town next. 

Next series: Lost two of three to the Nationals

April 29-May 2 - The Cubs won three of four from the Diamondbacks and the offense was starting to look decent again.  A trip to home-away-from-home PNC Park was next.  I didn't like the feel, but a lot of people thought this would be the big momentum changer.

Next series:  Lost three-game sweep to the Pirates.

May 17-18 - The Cubs sweep a two-game mini-series from Colorado.  Normally, you wouldn't get excited about a two-game series win, but seeing as this is the Cubs and it was almost Memorial Day and they had managed to beat only two teams in a series so far (Milwaukee twice), we'll take it.

Next series: Split two-game series with Phillies.  Woohoo, it's not a loss!

May 21-23 - The Cubs shockingly go down to the Ballpark at Arlington to play a Rangers team that is in first place and playing very well at home, and somehow win two out of three.

Next series:  They won two of three from the Dodgers!  Holy crap!  Two series wins in a row!

Next series: Lost two of three to the Cardinals.

June 15-17 - The Cubs take two of three from Oakland, which they should if they are a good team, but it is clear by now they aren't, so we're pretty psyched about it.

Next series:  Lost two of three to the Angels.

July 5-7 - The Cubs went to whatever they call the B.O.B. now (where they traditionally can't win to save their lives) and beat the crap out of Arizona "pitching" to sweep all three games.

Next series: Lost three of four to the Dodgers.

So the Cubs' record in series following a series victory is 1-6-1.  Bring on the Astros and tell the Cardinals and Reds to watch their backs because the big blue Cubs wave is very slowly bearing down on them.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

So Close, Yet So Far Away

Comcast SportsNet gave away a Baseball Bingo Game card as a promotion at the Cubs game today.  If you filled up the whole card, you win a package of Cubs stuff and a chance to win four tickets to a future game and a visit into the press box.

I came really close.  Check it out.  (You can click on it for a slightly more readable version.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cubs Have Long Way to Climb

After the Cubs' second half winning streak has hit the epic level of two, the Cubs record stands at 41-50.  The Reds have already won their game to go to 50-41, and barring a major collapse, the Cardinals will win their game (they currently lead the Dodgers 8-2 in the 6th) to bring their record to 49-41.

So, let's say both the Reds and the Cardinals maintain their current paces of play.  This is a perfectly reasonable assumption since neither team is exactly playing over their heads.

If the Reds maintain their .549 win percentage, they will finish 89-63.  The Cardinals at their pace would finish 88-64.  That means the Cubs would have to go 49-22 for a .690 clip to win 90 games to win the Central.

If the Reds and Cardinals each only play .500 ball the rest of the way, the Reds would finish 86-76 and the Cardinals would be 85-77.  To catch two teams that tread water, the Cubs need to go 46-25, otherwise known as a .648 win percentage.

This from a team that was winning at a .438 pace before the aforementioned two game winning streak.

I just thought we should have some respect for the depth of the hole the Cubs have dug for themselves. 


Go Cubs!!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cubs Pitching: Marshall is Good, Grabow is Bad, Gorzelanny is Ugly

Yesterday, we did the position players.  Today, we find a little bit of good and a little bit of bad for each member of the pitching staff.

Mitch Atkins

Good:  He has appeared in only two games for the Cubs this year.

Bad:  The Cubs lost both games and he gave up a run in each one.

Justin Berg

Good:  Except for one horrible outing in Cincinnati, he's actually been pretty good at preventing runs. Also, he has a great John Houseman name.

Bad:  He has walked 11 and struck out 6 in his 16+ innings.  "You seem to be a little erratic, Mr. Berrrggg."

Esmailin Caridad

Good:  Jim Hendry's dependence on him to be a major positive factor in the bullpen may end up being one of the final straws that gets Jim replaced.

Bad:  He only pitched 4 innings and was so bad, he statistically cost the Cubs half of a win all by himself.  To put that in perspective, Carlos Zambrano has pitched over 55 innings and has a WAR of -.4.

Andrew Cashner

Good:  He's a shiny new hard-throwing pitching prospect that won a lot of veteran respect for drilling Blake DeWitt in retaliation for Vicente Padilla hitting Marlon Byrd.

Bad:  We would have preferred he drilled Rafael Furcal.

Ryan Dempster

Good:  Pretty much everything he does on the baseball diamond.

Bad:  His Harry Caray impression.

Tom Gorzelanny

Good:  He has the best ERA of the starting staff, highest strikeout rate, and he's not giving up homeruns.

Bad:  He kind of looks like a Glurpy Slurpy Skakagrall:




John Grabow

Good:  His pitching has not been determined to cause cancer.

Bad:  ...that we know of.

Jeff Gray

Good:  This is the guy they got for Aaron Miles.

Bad:  He sucks too.

Bob Howry

Good:  He actually has a 1.69 ERA with a 1.25 WHIP since being picked off the Arizona Diamondbacks' scrapheap.

Bad:  Now he'll probably get re-signed.

Ted Lilly

Good:  He has pitched well enough in the final year of his contract (and after shoulder surgery) to get some teams interested in trading for him.

Bad:  He has pitched poorly enough in July to make everyone worried about giving up anything of actual value for him.

Carlos Marmol

Good:  He is on pace to break the K/9 record held by a 'roided up Eric Gagne. Gagne finished 2003 at 14.98. Marmol is currently at 16.8.


Bad: The Cubs will never trade him while he is at the peak of his value.

Sean Marshall
 
Good:  Does absolutely everything Lou asks him to do out of the bullpen and does it exceptionally and without complaint.


Bad:  He gave up the only homerun he's allowed this season on my birthday.  Jerk.

James Russell
 
Good:  He has pitched exceptionally well on the road, allowing a slash line of .208/.246/.340/.585.
 
Bad:  He doesn't like pitching in Wrigley Field as much: .327/.345/.636/.981.

Jeff Samardzija

Good:  He is pitching fairly decently in AAA.

Bad:  We probably haven't seen the last of him on the major league roster.

Brian Schlitter

Good:  His name is easy to mock.

Bad:  His 15.00 ERA is even easier to mock.

Carlos Silva

Good:  He is eight billion times more pleasant to root for as a member of the Cubs than Milton Bradley was.

Bad:  He just can't possibly keep this up.  Can he?

Jeff Stevens

Good:  He has contributed more than Chris Archer or John Gaub after being acquired for Mark DeRosa.

Bad:  He isn't helping to make anyone shut up about trading Mark DeRosa.

Randy Wells

Good:  Ladies, he's single.

Bad:  He tends to get tagged during day games (.317/.355/.454/.808 during the day vs .251/.309/.363/.672 at night ).  So ladies, let's get him home at a reasonable hour, huh?

Carlos Zambrano

Good:  Carlos tried to enter this season a bit more calm and professional, perhaps realizing that his outbursts were not the best for the team.  Remember when he calmly discussed the flaming he took on Opening Day?

Bad:  Somewhere after being shuttled into and back out of the bullpen, and after getting shelled again against the White Sox, all of the "serenity nows" weren't going to do him any good and all the pent up emotion flowed out into Derrek Lee's face and he's now basically useless to the team.

So that's the good, the bad, and in Gorzelanny's case, the ugly.  But if you want to see real ugly, wait for the second half of the season to start in a few hours.  That is going to be fugly.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Yin and Yang of the Cubs

The All-Star break is a time when bloggy nerds like me trot out a report card for the players on their favorite team.  My problem with that method is that grading a player is pretty subjective.  For instance, Tyler Colvin has a .263 batting average and a .313 OBP, neither of which is setting the world on fire.  But he's hitting for power and he's a young guy who is breaking his way onto a veteran team.  It was fairly unexpected for him to be performing as he has, so people may be inclined to give him a low A or high B for beating expectations.

Meanwhile, Alfonso Soriano is bettering his career numbers in every batting slash category except batting average, but he is getting paid a gazillion dollars, he sometimes hops when he catches a flyball, and Bob Brenly doesn't like him, so people might give him a low B or even a C for coming in under expectations that may have been too high in the first place.  How fair is that?

So I'm not going to try to come up with an objective grading system.  I'm just going to try to say one good thing about every player and one critical thing about every player and leave it at that.

Jeff Baker

Good: He provided some good internet fodder by alledgedly burning his ass while lighting farts.

Bad:  He has exactly one hit in 36 at-bats against right handed pitchers this year.  That is only one more than I have.

Marlon Byrd

Good: He was the lone Cubs All-Star and is having one of the best seasons of his career. Everyone but Joey Votto loves Marlon Byrd.

Bad:  He still thinks that the Cubs can turn things around.  That is dangerous to say around Jim Hendry and the Rickettses because they'll want to believe him and not trade anybody.

Starlin Castro

Good: We no longer have to watch Ryan Theriot "play" shortstop.

Bad: He might already have 20 errors if there was someone besides Derrek Lee receiving most of his throws.

Tyler Colvin

Good:  The kid has put on some weight and really started smoking the ball with power.

Bad:  He is striking out at almost the same rate as Adam Dunn.

Mike Fontenot

Good:  He isn't as bad as he was last year.

Bad:  He isn't as good as he was in 2008.

Kosuke Fukudome

Good:  Kosuke was one of the few players that started out hot when the year began.

Bad:  He is still not good at hitting in months that don't rhyme with Bapril.

Koyie Hill

Good:  Seems like a good guy and his teammates like him.

Bad:  His hitting line of .213/.253/.281/.534 is getting dangerously close to the .185/.224/.242/.466 line put up last year by Aaron Miles.

Derrek Lee

Good:  Remember last year?  Last year, Derrek was awesome.

Bad:  He's been so bad that the Anaheim Angels of Anaheim would rather play two catchers in their lineup than trade for him to play first.

Xavier Nady

Good: He kind of has a cool name.

Bad:  Everything else about him.

Aramis Ramirez

Good:  In the last couple of weeks, Aramis has put up a slash line of .361/.395/.806/1.200 which is more like it.

Bad:  It's pretty much too late to make a damn bit of difference.

Alfonso Soriano

Good:  He has rebounded nicely from a horrible season last year and is actually having the best season in OPS+ he has had as a Cub.

Bad:  Even with his production, his contract is still virtually untradeable.

Geovany Soto

Good:  Statistically so far, he is having as good a year or better than his breakout 2008 season.

Bad:  He apparently pissed in Lou's Cheerios at some point because he keeps losing at-bats to Three Finger Hill far more often than makes logical sense.

Ryan Theriot

Good: He didn't win his arbitration case, so the Cubs are paying him less money than they would have had he settled or won.

Bad:  He has surpassed Dwight Smith as the all-time worst baserunner in the history of the Cubs.

I'll work on the pitchers later.  Trying to think of good things to say about Ryan Theriot and Koyie Hill broke my brain.  I have to go lie down.

---------------
UPDATE
---------------

The pitching good/bad post is here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For If You Want Ricketts to Be More Like Steinbrenner

After the news of George Steinbrenner's death this morning, there has been more than one proposal on Twitter that Tom Ricketts take a lesson from Steinbrenner on how to run a baseball team.  I guess my feelings depend on whether you want him to take lessons from the Steinbrenner of the first 17 years that took over the Yankees in 1973 and ruled like a dictator until getting banned for life in 1990 or the Steinbrenner of the last 17 years after being reinstated from his ban in 1993.

1973 Steinbrenner systematically destroyed the legacy of the Yankees and was one of the most hated owners by a team's own fan base this side of Michael McCaskey and Bill Wirtz.  In his maniacal need to be the best, he repeatedly lacked the patience necessary to build a baseball team correctly and led to overpriced free agent signings and trades of promising talent for established players that didn't work out.

Cubs fans bitch about how Dontrelle Willis was included in a deal for Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca, how Jon Garland was traded for Matt Karchner, or how a pre-steroid Rafael Palmeiro was basically traded for Mitch Williams.  In the eighties alone, the Yankees traded away Al Leiter, Doug Drabek, Jose Rijo, Willie McGee, Fred McGriff and Jay Buhner for "proven talent" that ended up getting the Yankees zero playoff appearances from 1982 to 1994.  That might sound like a cakewalk to Cubs fans, but that might as well be a 102 year drought to fans of the team that featured twenty World Series titles before he took over.

I've seen disposable razors last longer than some of Steinbrenner's managers and general managers and that kind of turnover is going to take its toll on an organization, and it did.  There is a reason SNL had a skit that involved Steinbrenner selling Slim Fast alongside dictators like Idi Amin.  There is a reason that the skit where he was a store manager that didn't have a taste for firing people is one of the most hilarious and cutting skits of all time on SNL (and I give Steinbrenner a lot of credit for appearing in those two skits).  There is a reason the Steinbrenner caricature on Seinfeld was such a ridiculous blowhard.  This is one of my favorite scenes from Seinfeld that sums it up:



It got to the point where I started to feel bad for my relatives who were Yankees fans.  I remember talking to my Uncle Dave on my first visit to Yankee Stadium he was being cautiously optimistic about the young core of players they had in Andy Pettite, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada that was supplemented by solid veterans like Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez.  He said he was really glad that the Yankees were finally "being smart" about developing their own players and using free agency to plug holes instead of trying to build a whole team that way.

When the Yankees were playing the Braves in the 1996 World Series, God help me, I was actually rooting for the Yankees.  I didn't hate Greg Maddux for leaving the Cubs, but I would be damned if I was going to root for the team that was winning division title after division title with him in the rotation with two other potential Hall of Famers.  That is how far the Yankees had fallen. They were sympathetic characters up against the big bad machine that was the defending World Champion Atlanta Braves.

The whole reason for the renaissance was that Steinbrenner was forcibly removed from the equation in 1990 when he was banned for paying a gambler to dig up information to use against Dave Winfield in one of his legendary feuds with his star players and managers.  Without George's meddling, Gene Michael and his assistants, including Brian Cashman were freer to manage the roster appropriately and it still took five years to return to the post-season in 1995.

Luckily, when Steinbrenner returned, he didn't meddle quite as openly.  He obviously had standards that were high and he held people accountable (Buck Showalter got the gate after their first playoff appearance in 14 years), but he was a bit more restrained.  The money for free agents was always there and I'm sure he still had plenty of input in the acquisition of guys like Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens onto otherwise already loaded teams, but you didn't see a pillaging of the farm system in a pursuit of proven talent.

I have no information to prove this, but I have always believed that the Cubs would have found a way to trade Sammy Sosa for a young Alfonso Soriano and additional players with the former Steinbrenner.  As it was, the Cubs couldn't get the new and improved Steinbrenner and the Yankees to bite on a rich enough bounty of prospects, Sosa remained a Cub, and he entered a death spiral shortly after.

Also keep in mind that Steinbrenner knew how to drive revenues.  Sure the Cubs have a higher average ticket price than the Yankees, but the Cubs also have (for reasons passing understanding) more inherent demand for tickets.  If the Yankees could have gotten away with charging $70 for the bleacher seats at Yankee Stadium, you can bet your butt they would have.  The difference is that Yankee fans would spit at you if you tried to get them to pay $70 for a seat 400 feet away from the plate to see a team that was under .500.  If Steinbrenner owned the Cubs and had won five World Series since 1996, Cubs bleacher seats would probably be around the $200 range and there would be corporate logos plastered all over that ballpark.

So, Steinbrenner was obviously a man who was larger than life as he turned the Yankees from a team he bought for about $10 million into a team worth something like $1.6 billion.  He revolutionized how baseball is viewed on the team's own cable network.  He was probably the single biggest reason that free agent salaries (and player salaries in general) spiked up as dramatically as they did during his tenure.  He returned the Yankees to the greatness that their fans love and fans of other teams hate.  He was, in the end, a great owner.

That is the owner that I want Tom Ricketts to be.  Bold, tough, strong, and allowing the baseball people he hires to do their thing.  He needs to hold them accountable and not talk about how disappointing seasons are to him and his family and that no one could have foreseen the problems.  That kind of talk would have made both the former and the latter versions of George Steinbrenner fire somebody just out of principle.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Do We Suck? Stay Tuned!

The Cubs suck, but Hendry is still evaluating them to make sure they suck.  I'm sure Ari Kaplan keeps coming in with charts and graphs that all prove quite conclusively that the Cubs do indeed suck, but Jim doesn't have time for spreadsheets and charts.  He has some scoutin' to do to assess the human element and can't be bothered, so he sends Ari back to the broom closet they assigned him as an office.

Meanwhile, the media keeps asking Tom Ricketts about Hendry's job security, and Tom is understandably unable to provide a satisfactory answer.  Afterall, he is awaiting Hendry's final analysis about whether the Cubs suck or not.  It would be foolish to fire the general manager of a team that doesn't suck, right?  How could he say for sure until he knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Cubs suck?

So, Tom went out and gave the not-that-confident vote of confidence to Hendry:

''The fact is that right now Jim is our general manager,'' he said. ''I support him. I think he does a great job. And after that, we'll just take it one day at a time.''

The whole situation is quite unbelievable and something that could really only happen in a poorly written sitcom about a terrible baseball team and its bungling executives.  I'm working on the script for a pilot now that I'll shop around.  I was going to call it "One Day at a Time," but lawyers have told me that it was once a show that made Mackenzie Phillips famous without having to reveal she slept with her father, so maybe I should call it "It's a Way of Life" instead. Here's an exclusive preview:

(Tom Rickett's enters Crane Kenney's office in Wrigley Field.)

Tom:  Crane, I keep getting asked about Jim and whether he will be back next year.  Has he finished his analysis of the team?  Do we suck?

Crane:  I followed up with Jim this morning and he said he is really doing some great analyzing of the human element that has led us to never be able to score runs and he is getting there.  He should have an answer soon.

Tom:  What is taking so long?  Didn't we hire that Kaplan guy to help Jim out?  What is going on there?  Shouldn't we have this figured out by now?  This is a baseball team, not an oil spill!

Audience: (Laughing and applause)

Crane:  Ari is doing a great job.  He showed us something about some dealy-bob called a FIP and then there was a bit about a BABIP thingamajig?  I don't know, but he seemed to feel pretty strongly that Soto shouldn't be batting 8th and we are ruining Cashner's development by keeping him in the bullpen.

(Sad trombone)

Audience: (Laughing)

Tom:  Well, if he is giving such great information, why don't we know if we suck yet or not?

Crane:  Jim is having Ari color-code his spreadsheets and make them into pretty pie graphs.  Jim likes pie.

Audience: (Laughing)

Tom:  (facepalm) Oh holy hell.  I should fire him just to save on the food budget around here.

Audience: (Laughing)

Tom:  What do you think?

Crane:  You want my advice?

Tom:  Yes.

Crane:  You sure? You're not going to like it.

Tom:  Definitely.  I want to hear it.  Tell me.

Crane:  You paid too much for this team.

Audience: (Laughing)

Tom:  That isn't advice!

Crane:  I said you wouldn't like it.

Audience:  (Laughing)

Jim:  Hey guys, I thought I heard someone talking about pie in here.

Audience: Wooooooooo!!!!  (Applause)

Tom:  Jim!  Thank god!  What have you got?  Do we suck?

Jim:  Hey now, I was just looking for a little pie.  I didn't know I was going to get ambushed like Derrek Lee in the dugout.  HA HA HA HA HA.  Get it?  Derrek Lee in the dugout?

Audience:  (Crickets)

Tom:  Yeah, real fucking funny, Jim.  How do you expect me to go and answer questions about whether I should fire your ass without knowing if we suck or not?  Maybe I should just tell them that, yeah, I cleaned house.  I not only fired you and Oneiri and Wilken, but I took all your stuff, piled it on the noodle and set fire to it.  What do you think of that?

Audience: Ooooooooooohhh.....

Jim:  Hold on!  Let's not get crazy here...

Crane:  Wait, you set fire to the noodle?  Dude!  Kraft is going to kill me!

Audience: (Laughing)

Tom:  I didn't really set fire to the noodle!  Holy crap you guys are idiots!  All I want is a simple answer to this simple question!  Do. We. Suck?

Ari:  Hey guys, I just finished a projection model that compares players' current...

Tom, Jim, and Crane:  SHUT UP, ARI!!

Audience: (Laughing) WOOOOOOO!!!! (Applause)  Go Cubs!!

("Go Cubs Go!" Theme Song)

Fin

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Jim Hendry Thinks Cubs Are Close to Contending

Jim Hendry is starting to make noise that he may finally have added up that two plus two equals more runs than the Cubs will usually score in a game.  While still not using a label as a "seller," Paul Sullivan reports that Hendry is looking at the trade market with an eye on the future.

The problem is, he is still talking like this is a team that needs a little minor tweaking:

"Anything we do I will try to set ourselves up for the future," Hendry said. "We're not ever going to go into a season thinking we're not going to contend. In our mindset, we should've been in the thick of contention now.

"(But) we're starting to get better young players come up. A lot more of those guys are going to be coming the next two or three years. But it's not like 'Oh, we're going to be young a couple years and can't win.' "

Jim Hendry is like the big, fat hairy guy that thinks he only needs to lose a couple of pounds to look good in a Speedo swimsuit.

Hendry has tweaked this same basic team repeatedly over the years and not been able to even win a single playoff game.  He stockpiled diminutive middle infielders.  He signed relievers to three-year deals.  He became hellbent on getting more left-handed.  He said screw left-handedness and went for a happy, clappy clubhouse.  Nothing has worked and now the main cogs in the offense, Lee and Ramirez, are reaching the ends of their careers as difference makers.

Meanwhile, there really isn't anybody who has been able to step up into the void to take over.  Soriano has improved over last year, but he's not getting any younger and his periods of dominance are fewer and further between.  Colvin has been nice, but I don't think many people who look beyond the boyish good looks think he is a solid three or four hitter.  Castro could eventually be one of the better hitting shortstops in the league, but he probably isn't ever going to hit 40 homeruns.

The Cubs need to stockpile some high ceiling talent and the way they do that is selling off the viable pieces they have that will be problems two or three years from now.  Marmol is going to be a problem eventually.  Marshall is going to force his way into the rotation and probably show that he is decent but not great at it.  Soto is a catcher and they decline faster than the other positions.  Dempster isn't getting any younger.  Silva will eventually remember that he is Carlos Silva.

As ccd (from Waxpaperbeercup.com) and I were discussing the last couple of days in the comments, the reason Hendry is taking this angle has nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with not having the balls to take a flamethrower to the current team and rebuild it from the ground up.  They don't think that fans will pay to see that process (especially given that we have seen the Bulls working on their third five-year plan since the demolition of Jordan's Bulls) and they are probably right because Cubs fans can't let go of decent players in order to get younger unproven talent with higher ceilings and higher flameout risk.

Get used to seeing the baseball equivalent of cellulite muffin-topping over a banana hammock, because all the Cubs are going to do in the next few months is a couple of sit-ups.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day at Wrigley Was Nice, But Probably Not Worth Another $3,500

The Season Ticket Holder Appreciation Day was a bag of mixed emotions for me.  To start, we were herded into the park and shown seats in the designated sections of the Terrace Box and Reserved sections on the third base line so that we could be addressed by Tom Ricketts.

Tom may be a new owner, but he knew exactly what topics to hit on, what to avoid, and where to be self-deprecating to get a good reaction from the group.  He talked about Marlon Byrd (big cheers), he talked about the trade of Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva (big cheers), he talked about how disappointing the team has performed so far and that no one is more disappointed than he is (smattering of applause).

He good-naturedly threw Wally Hayward under the bus by saying that anyone who had a comment or complaint about the Toyota sign should talk to him (big laughs).

Crane Kenney was also there (he got applauded) with Hayward, Frank McGuire was there as head of the ticket sales department, the head of special events was there to talk about the Northwestern game and concerts and such.  The guy who heads up the community awareness and charities was there as well.  I may be missing someone, but I can tell you for sure that no one from the baseball operations side was there.

I was not expecting Jim Hendry to be there, but I thought maybe Randy Bush, or at least an introduction to the new baseball statistics guru, Ari Kaplan would have been nice as a sign that the Cubs are moving forward to re-tooling the team into a consistent winner.  Nothing.

After Ricketts spoke, we were pretty much given free reign in the park.  We could go into the clubhouses, the dugouts, the pressbox, the PNC Club, and out onto the field.

I have seen the Cubs let people onto the field before for tours and special events before, but it was always pretty restricted.  Generally, they won't let you on the infield grass. They don't let you touch the ivy.  Only little kids get to run the bases.

They let us do all of that.  They let people play catch.  People were laying out making diving attempts and getting their clothes all grass stained (WRIGLEY GRASS STAINS!!!).  Some people went to the concession stands and got discounted food and beer and had little picnics on the field.


(Photo by Laurie Olson)

I spent most of my time wandering the outfield. I got the perspective from Sammy Sosa's "spot" in right field (and they are not kidding when they say that right field is tough to play in the afternoon - I'm not sure how anyone ever catches anything coming out of that glare).  I went over to where Bartman deflected the ball from Moises.  I "warmed up" on the bullpen mound.  Kris and I had some photos taken by the ivy with some friends.

We went in by the infield as people of all ages ran the bases.  Some were actually sliding and some fake sliding for a picture.  I went over to the short left-field grass in the hole and marveled over how much of a cannon Castro has to have to make that throw across with ease.

We also checked out the PNC Club, which is very nice, but small.  I noticed they let people into the TV booth in the pressbox so they could pretend they were conducting "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

The ushers and staff on hand were very friendly and would often offer to take our picture so that everyone could be in a few shots together. (I'm hoping to have some more photos up later tonight or tomorrow.)

Overall, it was a very nice experience and I was shocked at the free reign they gave us.  Ricketts always had a line of about twenty to thirty people waiting to talk to him, so I didn't bother trying.  I'll give him credit, he stood there and talked with people for at least the hour and a half we were free in the ballpark (and I assume he did the same for each of the 4 or 5 other sessions that day), and probably for a bit after that as they herded us all out.  It had to have been one of the longest days of his life.

But as much as I was sucked in by being on the actual playing field of Wrigley Field, it didn't make me any more or less apt to renew my seat for next year.  At the end of the day, I just want this team to stop holding onto its current incarnation to maybe win a couple of extra games and instead maximize the value of some of its individual pieces that can make the team a lot better in a couple of years.  I need a reason to justify the huge expense they expect of me every year and touching the ivy a few times isn't going to do that.

I don't know if that is true of the bulk of the people that were at my session.  There wasn't much cynicism over the future of the team that I heard.  It was mostly discussing great memories in the ballpark and lifelong love affairs with the Cubs.  These are the people that don't get the ironic nature of the "It's a Way of Life" campaign.

(By the way, you need to go to my Wrigley Talk Friday co-podcast partner, Adam Kellogg's blog to see his posts on the It's a Way of Life campaign.)

So for the Cubs, the day had to be a pretty good success.  They played up to the very people that have been their bread and butter for years and probably won a couple more honeymoon years to get things right.

For me, I'm disheartened at how easily Cubs fans lose sight of the fact that the team just isn't very good, and never really has been for all intents and purposes.  I include myself in that.  I'm back to the bitter, snarky person you all know and love tolerate, but while I was out on the field, it really was pretty cool.  This is how they get us to fork over money that could probably better be spent on nicer cars, a bigger house, or pissed away at the blackjack table.

So, thanks Mr. Ricketts, for a nice afternoon at the ballpark.  You didn't have to do that, and it was a welcome change from the Tribune Company basically pointing a gun at us and demanding money. It was particularly nice that the experience wasn't ruined by having to watch the actual team play a game.

I still don't know if I'll be back next year though.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Getting Ready To Be Appreciated By the Cubs

Today is the day that the Cubs have set aside to do some real appreciating of the most loyal and stupid fans, the season ticket holders.  As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I received a very nice letter ghostwritten by someone in the marketing department and then signed by Tom Ricketts (or rather, just "Tom") that has invited me and a guest to come to Wrigley Field to be appreciated by the Ricketts family and other key members of the staff.

Whoever runs the Cubs Insider twitter account posted this photo earlier, so I know that Tom actually did show up. 



God bless him for that.  You know the bulk of the day has been filled with the same stupid questions and comments that fill up the WGN post-game shows:
  • "How come this team doesn't have more spirit?!"
  • "You never should have traded DeRosa!"
  • "That Toyota sign is terrible and you don't spend enough money on good players!"
  • "Bob Brenly for manager!"
  • "Hi, I run a stupid blog and I want to interview you like I'm a real journalist."
So I have to figure that by the time I get there for the last of the scheduled times, he will have either fled the scene and made one of his brothers or sister stand in for him, or put a gun in his mouth.

But we'll see.  Kris is bringing her camera to capture some of the moments for posterity and I'll have an update later unless the world explodes under the weight of the Lebron decision before I have a chance.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Do You Want Door #1, Door #2, or Ryan Theriot?

I spend a good amount of time ripping on Chicago sportswriters who spend inordinate amounts of their time writing dumb things just to get a reaction (which I then provide because I'm an idiot).  So today, I thought I'd point out something by one of the Chicago writers that I actually enjoy reading.

Today, the Daily Herald's Bruce Miles put up a blog post about the various players that the Cubs could be looking to move if they become "sellers."  I know Jim Hendry doesn't like labels, but Lou doesn't mind looking at a big pile of steaming horse manure and calling it what it is.

2B Ryan Theriot. The Riot has had a bad year. His line currently is .277/.315/.309 and his WAR is –0.1. The walk rate is 4.8 percent, and the ISO is a microscopic .032. If the Cubs don’t trade him, they’re likely to non-tender him this fall. Theriot could be serviceable to somebody, but the rate of return isn’t going to be high - maybe a middling A-ball player.

Theriot had more value as a shortstop last year than he does as the main part of a platoon at second this year.  At this point, it might be worth having Ari Kaplan crunch the numbers to see if he wouldn't be more useful as a semi-cost-controlled utility player (he'll be back to arbitration next year and his arguments to be higher paid didn't get any stronger this year).  I definitely don't want him as a major part of any Cubs team, but his versatility on the middle infield could be handy to have on the bench.

C Geovany Soto. I’m not saying the Cubs are shopping Soto. In fact, I think they’d be crazy to do so, as he’s been one of their most productive, and underutilized, assets. His line is .281/.406/.473. The wOBA is .390. The walk rate is 17.5 percent. The ISO is .193. The WAR is 2.1. Soto will be arb-eligible for the first time this winter. To me, he’s the kind of guy you build around. On the other hand...

...One of the few times GM Jim Hendry “sold high” in a trade was with Mark DeRosa. You could get a similar return for Soto.

I've said before that the only "untouchables" on the roster are Castro, Colvin, and Cashner, but Soto is one where I would need to get a decent return to move.  He's still young enough to build around if you get on with it.  He's always seemed coachable, and he has no problems handling some big egos on the pitching staff.  A young staff may need some of that leadership on the field.  Plus, for whatever reason, Lou doesn't really like Soto and keeps playing Koyie Hill more than I think most people would like.  A new manager could very well move him up in the lineup where his hitting numbers suggest he should be, and he could improve even more next year.

LHP Ted Lilly. Teddy Ballgame isn’t Cliff Lee, but he’d certainly be attractive to a contender out there. There are some red flags, as pointed out by David Golebiewski, who writes on fangraphs.com: “…There are concerns about his waning ability to fool hitters.”

Lilly has pitched better than his 3-7 record. The ERA is 3.76, and the WHIP is a solid 1.10. The K/9 is down to 6.17. The BB/9 is 2.12. The HR/9 is 1.45, a little on the uptick. Lilly’s BABIP is .249, but because he’s a flyball pitcher, the BABIP might not creep as close to .300 as it might for other pitchers, but it still figures to rise in the final two and a half months. Lilly’s FIP is 4.62. He has 10 quality starts and a WAR of 0.9.

I’m sure the Cubs could move him; other teams have to love the guy’s competitiveness.

Trading Ted Lilly is where Hendry has to find a GM in the league who loves intangibles that is actually in a position to win.  Ted's next salary is almost assuredly going to pay him more for his past performance with the Cubs rather than what he actually does for his next employer, so any team that wants him will either be trading for a rental or won't mind overpaying a bit to have Ted's "bulldog" attitude in the clubhouse. 

1B Derrek Lee. I don’t think he’s going anywhere. He’s got 10-5 rights and the no-trade. But he gets us back to the question of whom he could help. Lee’s line is .230/.327/.370. He’s got a .312 wOBA. The ISO is .273, and the BABIP is .327.

Get used to it, folks.  Lee is probably worth more in the compensation picks he would bring than anything another team would give up to get him this year.  You know how sometimes an old pet that has been showing its age suddenly has a burst of energy like it was 10 years younger, but then dies shortly after?  Think of Derrek Lee's 2009 season like it was his last burst of energy.
RF Kosuke Fukudome. He could be helping his value while getting some productive playing time of late. From what I’ve been told, it might be easier for Hendry to mix and match in the off-season, much as he did with Milton Bradley. Fukudome’s line is .266/.362/.440. The wOBA is .351, and the WAR is 0.9. Even though Fukudome has been one of the biggest disappointments of the Hendry regime, somebody might bite.

Kosuke is the one piece from which Hendry still might be able to squeeze a bit of value.  The man managed to get value for Todd Hundley and Milton Bradley, for crying out loud, so surely he can get something for a mediocre hitter with decent defensive skills and isn't a pain-in-the-ass in the locker room.
 
Closer Carlos Marmol. I’m sure there will be a rumor or two, but I don’t trade him. He became arb-eligible for the first time this year, and he’s one of your young assets. Marmol’s K/9 of 17.04 is ridiculous. The 5.98 BB/9 is down from last year. The WHIP is 1.18, which is way down from last year. I don’t trade him.
 
Here is where Bruce and I disagree.  I love how good Carlos Marmol is.  You know what carlos Marmol and White Castle have in common?  A slider that will make you crap your pants.  He's that good.  So why do I want to trade him?
 
My problem with guys like Marmol is that they have a very short shelf-life.  That herky-jerky motion of his is going to catch up with him, or he'll lose a little velocity or motion on it and it will become a hittable pitch.  The consistent closers are the guys that seem to have that one simple pitch that they can locate wherever they want and get guys out.  The catcher could yell out to Mariano Rivera that he wants him to throw a cut fastball, and not only would it surprise absolutely no one, but the batter still wouldn't be able to hit it.
 
Marmol's slider is like that right now.  You can know it's coming and you are not going to hit it without getting lucky.  I just don't think that is going to be true with him for as long as it has been true with Rivera.  Combine that with his walk rate and you get a guy who is going to start giving up runs at a much higher rate and it might be sooner rather than later. 
 
My fear is that just as the Cubs retool and get all the other pieces in place, Marmol will be declining and blowing leads and they'll have to scramble to find a closer again.  I'd rather they get the crapload in return that they can get for the unhittable Marmol of today, but that's just me.
 
LF Alfonso Soriano. Four years to go on an egregious contract. Anything can happen, but he seems virtually untradable.

He's not a clubhouse cancer so the best course is to close our eyes and pray he continues to be decent as he has been this year and not an offense-sucking hole in the lineup as he was last year.  The Cubs should have a rabbit's foot giveaway as a promotional day next year so we can all rub them and wish.

RHP Carlos Zambrano. The bad contract, not the no-trade, is the biggest obstacle. We’ll see what happens when Big Z comes back from the anger-management sessions.

Zambrano is Hendry's newest untradeable piece that absolutely has to be traded.  With the amount of money and years still due to Zambrano, coupled with his various emotional issues, this could be harder to accomplish than moving Milton Bradley for anything of value, and we didn't think that was even theoretically possible.

I still don't even know why people trade with Hendry anymore.  Say what you want, but he generally gets the better end of the trades he makes.  If only he knew how to manage his roster and budget so he didn't have to resort to smoke and mirrors to make most of his trades.