Archive - 2005

December 20th

Free agent right fielder Jacque Jones has signed a $16m/3yr deal with the Cubs. And with that I'm off to bed to dream of just how I'll celebrate in September 2008 when this deal expires. More from me in the morning. Trans To repeat a sentiment that I presume has been expressed somewhere in the flood of comments: The Jacque Jones signing does not solve our outfield situation. Jones is adequate enough against right-handed pitching, hitting to a tune of .268/.348/.466/.814 last year. But he simple cannot be played against left-handed pitching (.201/.247/.370/.617). Find me a cheap corner-OF bat that can mash left-handed pitching in a platoon and we have an adequate right-field plan. Not good, but adequate. Several TCR people are hot about the recently released Jeff DaVanon, whose three-year splits against lefties are .307/.425/.455/.880. To this list of right-handed platoon bats I would add Jose Cruz Jr, Kevin Mench, Craig Monroe, Emil Brown, Dustan Mohr, Eli Marrero and Gabe Kapler. None of them are players I'd want to see collecting 500 ABs for the Cubs in a year, but then again, neither is Jacque Jones. And all of these guys are at a point in their life where they should be content with a platoon job mashing lefties, a skill at which they've all proven capable. Until that happens, I would have rather gone with Corey's greater speed and defense, and his lesser age, salary, and length of contract commitment.

The Cubs have named Tim Wilken their new Director of Amateur & Pro Scouting, replacing John Stockstill, who left the Cubs organization to take a similar position with the Orioles. The 52-year old Wilken is an Old School scout who left Toronto after J. P. Ricciardi brought Moneyball to the Blue Jays in 2001. Wilken was named one of the Top Ten GM prospects in baseball by Baseball America in 2003. Wilken is known for drafting high school players (although he claims to have no real preference for high schoolers over college kids, that is his tendency) and believes in building a draft the same way you build a team, with "strength up the middle" (pitchers, catchers, shortstops, and centerfielders).

Today we have a guest column from long-time TCR reader and occasional guest poster RJ Johnson. It's a look at the Cubs' off-season moves so far, something that I think a few people around here have been interested in talking about. Like Trans said, let's try to keep the discussion focused on the article at hand and use the TICH comments for everything else. Enjoy! ========== It's December after the Winter Meetings when all good fans' thoughts turn to, "What did our GM do this time?" Let's see what Santa Hendry has left for us under the tree along with some speculation as to what else might be opened up before the spring thaw. After months of caterwauling about the lack of a competent leadoff hitter, Trader Jim has unwrapped Juan Pierre as the Cubs new center-fielder. Yes, he gave up three pitching prospects and the thought that any one of them might turn out to be the second coming of Dontrelle Willis gives one pause. But I like the trade for what it gives the Cubs now in much the same way that I like the Derrek Lee trade. Maybe one of the pitchers will pan out, but we get several years of Pierre now.

December 19th

12-20-2002 Signed Shawn Estes as a free agent. I told you today's wasn't an improvement on yesterday's. Although in happier news we also signed Ricky Gutierrez to a two-year deal today, in 1999. Also: On days where someone has written a detailed article, it would be ideal to keep that message board more-or-less on-topic, while using TICH for more free-ranging discourse... Not mandatory or anything, just nice.

Right now, few things are likely to be much further from the mind than the state of our starting pitching, which presently represents a definite strength. But by this time next year things could easily have changed, and the front office needs to be looking very closely at the future of our rotation, showing some foresight for once. Just so we're clear, Cubbies, as to what's meant by "foresight", this is not it... "Look, it's Monday July 25th 2005, we're 50-48, four and a half games out of a wild card race in which we're running fifth out of seven teams. We've placed Kerry Wood on the disabled list today after he left his last start with stiffness in his right shoulder, which has been troubling him all year, and which we now know will at some stage require surgery to correct the problem. But, damn it, Neifi hit a grand slam against the Cardinals on national television last night, we can still do this, we can still win the World Series! Oh my, I've just had a fine foresightful idea: how about we delay Wood's surgery until August 31st and use him as a middle reliever in the meantime?!" The company line has recently become that no one should count on Wood being ready for Opening Day. May heads roll. The increasing likelihood that Wood will not be ready in time for the start of the season is particularly significant because Wood is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract, and he needs a big season to make the Cubs' big decision a little easier: we hold a $13.5m option on Wood for 2007 versus a $3m buyout that would make him a free agent. It's entirely plausible that Wood will not have that big year, especially if he returns with the season already underway, hitters in their stride, without a proper Spring Training. So it's also entirely plausible that Wood won't be back in 2007, much as it pains me to say it when talking about such a ridiculously talented pitcher with time still on his side. Trouble is, Kerry Wood's not the only possible departee. Greg Maddux's deal is now entering its final year, and he probably shouldn't be re-signed, at least not to pitch. He eats his innings, but he's no longer the pitcher he once was, and he'll turn 41 within the first fortnight of the 2007 season. Glendon Rusch meanwhile, if he hasn't been traded, may well have pitched himself out of the rotation anyway. So this time next year, it's entirely possible that our starting pitching will consist of Zambrano and Prior, assuming good health, and three pitchers to be named later. Hendry needs to be alive to the possibility. Acquiring pitching via free agency has become prohibitively expensive. Before, next April rolls around, major league baseball teams will in the space of two offseasons have committed in the region of $600m to the following twenty free agent starting pitchers: Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, AJ Burnett, Kevin Millwood, Matt Clement, Jarrod Washburn, Brad Radke, Jon Lieber, Derek Lowe, Jeff Weaver, Paul Byrd, Esteban Loaiza, Kris Benson, Carl Pavano, Odalis Perez, Matt Morris, Kenny Rogers, Jaret Wright, Eric Milton and Russ Ortiz. And I'd only consider the first two bona-fide top of the rotation aces. At nearly $30m each for these twenty, the market is well established, and it's simply not worth getting involved with, which is why teams are already trying to ditch these contracts in spite of them scarcely being a year old! The Cubs, thankfully, have been able to avoid forking out such crazy money (Maddux perhaps aside) by virtue of drafting and developing their own young pitching. This is a far, far more cost-effective way of doing things, and it's given the Cubs a huge advantage over the last few years that they've spectacularly managed to squander. But if there's one thing that the Cubs shouldn't take from their recent failures, it's that they've got their pitching priorities wrong. Far from it, and that's why, especially with Zambrano and Prior starting to earn the big buck, if or when the Cubs have pitching holes to fill in 2007, they should look to fill them using the minor league system, using young, cheap pitchers. Spend the money on the offence. As of right now, with Andy Sisco, Ricky Nolasco, Renyel Pinto and Sergio Mitre recently gone for good, the Cubs are down to five young pitchers that are viable options for the 2007 rotation: Jerome Williams, Rich Hill, Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall and Jae-Kuk Ryu. It is possible that top prospect Mark Pawelek will fly through the system far quicker than expected, but his mechanical issues make that unlikely. It's possible that Carlos Marmol will continue with his giant leaps and bounds, but it would be a lot to ask. It's possible that Chadd Blasko and Billy Petrick will come back strong from injury, picking up where they left off in 2003 and 2004 respectively, but that's optimistic. And it's possible that someone completely off the radar, like Rich Hill last year, will break out and put his name forward, but don't hold your breath. Realistically, at this stage, it comes down to the first five names: Williams, Hill, Guzman, Marshall and Ryu. With potentially three spots to fill in 2007, even though these young pitchers could fetch a ransom with the widespread need for pitching, and could net us the right right fielder, Hendry needs to be conscious of our own need for pitching, in 2007, and balance that with our need for offence in 2006. In other words, it's not worth the Cubs using The Five to pay for a hitter that's not really going to make that much of an impact. You know, in the same way it wasn't worth using The Eight to pay for Juan Pierre.



Speaking of impact hitter Arizona Phil yesterday was. And I agree: the Cubs should extend Derrek Lee this winter. I see the chances of Lee walking away after another fine year in 2006 as too high, and the consequences of that - the hostile fan reaction, the price and difficulty that would come with replacing him - as too dangerous. That said, I think a deal for Lee such as the one Arizona Phil was proposing is just as dangerous. So here's the pretty complicated new contract I propose the Cubs try to get Lee to sign this winter... In 2006, a guaranteed $13m, a $3.5m improvement or so on what he's owed for 2006 under the terms of his current deal. From 2007-09, a guaranteed $7m per year, with another $2m per year if he reaches 550 plate appearances, another $3m bonus for each top ten placing in NL MVP voting, another $3m bonus for each top three placing (such that a top three placing would earn him $6m in total). A $15m mutual option for 2010 versus a $3m buyout. Finally, a full no-trade clause up until the end of the 2007 season, and the right to block a trade to, say, five teams of his choice thereafter. In total, the deal could be worth anywhere between $37m/4yrs and $73m/5yrs. I did warn you it was pretty complicated. [UPDATE: Trying to build in protection against injury is somewhat superfluous because of the existence of such a thing as insurance, it now occurs to me. Duh! Given also that Lee's recent health history is as good as they come, I'd have little problem guaranteeing the money tied to plate appearances, as such taking the guaranteed money up to $43m/4yrs.] Why might Lee jump at it? Well, he can boost his 2006 salary here and now, and so start reaping the rewards of his superb 2005 right away, which he'd otherwise have to postpone until free agency. He also guarantees himself a very considerable amount of guaranteed money from 2007-09, money that he could quite easily never see if he pushes for free agency but succumbs to injury or has a terrible year in 2006. At the same time though, Lee isn't having to give up on a big pay day for the sake of immediate long-term financial security: this deal allows him to earn $15m a year every time he puts up MVP calibre numbers over a full season, which is roughly what he'd be looking at via free agency based on recent deals given to Konerko, Delgado and Thome. Neither is he completely giving up on the idea of ever seeing free agency, since the deal only ties him to the Cubs through his age 33 season. At that point, if he wanted, he could decline his half of the mutual option and try to get a another big contract on the free agent market. Finally, by signing this contract now, Lee shows loyalty to the Cubs and the city of Chicago, doesn't portray himself as a free agent mercenary, and he can book himself a nice long break in the Caribbean next winter rather than worrying about where his next home will be, where his next paycheck's coming from. Why should the Cubs jump at it? The Cubs show the same loyalty to Lee, they commit to him in advance and they offer him a no-trade clause. But the real key to this particular deal for the Cubs is that has its own built-in insurance. If Derrek Lee was for real in 2005, and Lee rattles off .300/.400/.600 seasons over the next few years, he gets paid accordingly, up to $73m/5yrs. But there's also the very realistic possibility that Lee reverts back to his old .270/.370/.500 self, that he gets injured, that he simply declines with age. Because a lot of the money in the deal is tied up in bonuses and the option, such that Lee would end up with no more than the equivalent of a $27.5m/3yr [UPDATE: $33.5m/3yr) free agent deal from, say, the Dodgers next winter if he were to go Todd Hundley on us, the Cubs can avoid a good chunk of the bad contract-ness. That's still actually better than Lee's current deal, and an awful lot of money, a bad contract still to be sure. Not that Lee's agent is likely to see things that way, maybe arguing that his client can get a much more guaranteed money if he just holds out for free agency. That though would raise the interesting contradiction that Lee trusts his ability to stay healthy and to hit for one year (long enough to get to free agency), but not for three or four. In that case, why should any team, presumably less subjectively bullish than Lee himself as to his career prospects, make him any kind of long-term big-money commitment? In other words, if Lee rejects this kind of deal on the grounds that there isn't enough guaranteed money involved, he's forsaking loyalty and earning his corn for the possibility of financially exploiting the sheer stupidity that strikes other General Managers when the free agent market gets in motion. Greed. I really don't think that that's what Lee's about, which is why I'd offer him this deal, confident that he'd like it, but if it is what he's about, he's probably not what the Cubs really need anyway. No, if that is what he's all about, maybe what we need is some non-tendered Hee Seop Choi! Well, maybe not. I rant and I rave at you these days, Jim, but credit where credit's due, great trade.

It's not often that I take something from the comments and put it on the front page, but I found myself agreeing so strongly with the following "tirade" that got buried in amongst yesterday's Bears talk (guys, you should know better, follow real football - you know, the one in which they use their feet) that I thought I'd give it a little attention...
433--
I just don't get why Hendry has started agreeing to the player option to become a FA mid-contract. All that does is give the player leverage to renegotiate the deal at that point -- if the player CAN become a free agent, he essentially IS a free agent for negotiating purposes. If the player is unable to use the FA opt-out as leverage (because it's unlikely that he would be able to get a better deal elsewhere), that will just mean that he is being paid above market by the Cubs at the time. The thing I dislike most about that option is that it's self-defeating. Here's how. We have to assume that Hendry offers the option as a way to secure a salary that's slightly less attractive to the player in some way (amount, years, structure, etc.) than the player might accept without the option. (If that's not true, then the option wouldn't be offered in the first place.) But if the player agrees to a salary that isn't the absolute best he can get, it just makes it that much more likely that the player will be at a below-market salary when the option kicks in, and consequently able to use the option as renegotiating leverage. So even if the option "works", it backfires. I know that each deal is a unique negotiation and it's likely that Hendry gets something in return for this concession (i.e. it may be the final throw-in in order to get the player comfortable with the dollars offered). But this term really has the potential to blow up in Hendry's face.
It is indeed a trend amongst Hendry's deals of late, and it's one I also don't like. I'm also really not a fan of the more traditional player option at the end of a contract, which can be used to similar ends, and which is the only reason Glendon Rusch has himself a shiny new two-year deal right now. Not that it's a terrible deal in this market - as you probably know, I'm a bit of a Glendon Rusch fan. Still.

December 18th

12-19-2003 - Traded Wilton Chavez to the Montreal Expos. Received Jose Macias. 12-19-2000 - Signed Todd Hundley as a free agent. Think this is bad? Tomorrow isn't any better.

Along with acquiring a middle-of-the-order run producing RF and finding a new home for Corey Patterson, Jim Hendry has at least one other item of importance to accomplish this off-season, or at least sometime prior to Opening Day 2006. And what might that be?

December 17th

Shawn Green. I don't usually get excited about trade rumors. In fact, I rarely acknowledge them; so many rumors fly around during the off-season that keeping track of them is a fool's errand. I try to wait until a player is solidly linked to the Cubs before I consider how that player will help or hurt the team. But I have to make an exception today. Yes, I know the rumor has only shown up on one site, and that that site's track record regarding Cubs moves has been spotty at best (though mlbtraderumors.com calling them out for lack of veracity is one of the funniest things I've read in a while). And yes, I know that even if talks were in progress, the player's no-trade clause makes it very difficult to trade him to the Cubs. And yes, I know that even if they Cubs did get him, it would be costly. He's owed $8M next year, $9.5M in '07, $2M remaining on a signing bonus, and has a $10M nututal option on '08 against a $2M buyout. Plus, we haven't even gotten into what the Diamondbacks would want from the Cubs in return. Let's just say I doubt Corey Patterson would be enough. But still. Shawn Green in right field would be niiiice. He's not the guy who hit 40 homers back-to-back for the Dodgers anymore. but he is a legitimate 20+ homer, 30+ doubles threat, a guy who knows how to walk, hits for power and average, plays a solid right field, and doesn't miss a game. He bats left-handed, too, which would be a nice addition to the Cubs' righty-heavy middle of the lineup. OK, that's enough. I know it isn't going to happen. But leave an old man to his mid-winter, clearing-ice-off-the-sidewalk, imagining-the-Cubs-with-a-real-rightfielder, hot-stove dreams. At least for a few days.

December 16th

Jim Hendry has seemingly made it something of an off-season priority that his Cubs avoid going into 2006 with Todd Walker manning second base. Hendry picked up the $2.5m team option that they hold on Walker for this upcoming season, but he seems not just open to trading Walker, but rather intent upon it, so much so that he's recently been guilty of talking about the keystone position as vacant, as though Walker had already departed the organisation. He hasn't yet, but he's reportedly been openly shopped around the league, with the Cubs not particularly happy with his ability to "catch the ball". The Cubs aren't exactly off-base with such an assessment of Walker's defence: the truth is that it's never been particularly good. His range is unremarkable, his glove isn't particularly golden, and his troubles turning the double play do cost the team runs. As a result, no one is particularly happy with his ability to "catch the ball". On the whole, he's slightly below par when it comes to playing defence, and second base is one of the more important defensive positions. That is problematic. Second base though is also a position where offence is notoriously hard to come by: over the last two years, major league second sackers have hit a meagre .272/.329/.413. Todd Walker, on the other hand, has hit .290/.354/.471 since he joined the Cubs, though Carlos Lee and unnecessary platooning have limited him to just 239 games. That kind of offensive production has made Walker one of the best offensive players at his position, with only Jeff Kent, Chase Utley and Marcus Giles really outperforming him with the bat. What Walker has given away in the field then, he's made up for and then some in the batter's box, establishing himself as comfortably above average. His salary in the last year of his contract, $2.5m in 2006, is comfortably below average, and as such he represents the kind of superb value that teams should be striving for, not striving to give away. None of that is to say that the Cubs should completely disregard the idea of trading him. Walker will turn 33 in May next year, and if his offence slips, as is entirely possible, with his defence not getting any better, he will be a significantly less valuable player. Indeed, his value may never be higher than it is right now, what with the numbers he's put up over the last two years, and, as such, especially at his salary, he makes an attractive trading chip. He's also just one year away from free agency, and the Cubs probably want more of a return than draft pick compensation. Finally, in Jerry Hairston, the Cubs have a decent enough alternative with which to replace him. All the same, none of that justifies the approach that the Cubs so far seemed to have pursued, one of making it entirely clear that he's not wanted around come next April, not least because the Cubs appear more inclined to give the second base job to Neifi Perez (with Cedeno at short) than to Hairston. The $5m contract Neifi's still celebrating says that much. The Cubs are not in a position right now where they can afford to give away much offence, and that's the biggest reason why a Todd Walker trade doesn't make the sense it otherwise might. Presently the most likely lineup scenario for next year sees Murton and Pierre accompanied in the outfield by a reasonable but unspectacular bat in right field, acquired either via free agency or the Walker trade, plus Cedeno and Neifi/Hairston up the middle, the pitcher batting ninth, and not much on the bench capable of stepping in and playing every day. That, as far as I'm concerned, is a completely unacceptable scenario. I'm all for giving the youngsters the chance, but one of the reasons why you put up with whatever they put up is the fact that they're earning just a little over $300k apiece, giving you the opportunity to re-invest the money you'd otherwise have spent filling the positions on impact players elsewhere on the roster. If the Cubs aren't doing that, because they've not had the foresight to avoid a situation where there are no impact players left for them to actually spend their money on, and are instead surrounding the kids with mediocre at best veterans, they're not going to score many runs even in best case scenarios. And we'll be back where we were at last year, entirely dependent upon the health and supreme effectiveness of our pitching staff. How did that work out for us in 2005 again?



The trade went down a while ago now, but one of my favourite pitchers, Jermaine Van Buren, now gets paid by the Boston Red Sox, and here's my take... Van Buren has pretty impressive stuff. He works off a good fastball that sits comfortably in the 91-93mph range, and compliments that with an assortment of breaking stuff: an above average slider, a decent curveball, a changeup. He likes to throw all his pitches, he's a real fighter out there on the mound, and, of course, he has his funky delivery, which means he's extremely fun to watch. It's a delivery that's very herky-jerky drop-and-drive. Because there are so many idiosyncratic movements to it, he finds it very difficult to repeat. Some of the time he's absolutely fine, and though his delivery still looks eccentric, it's thoroughly balanced throughout, and he ends up facing the plate, ready to field the ball. Some of the time though he completely loses his balance mid-delivery and he ends up in a quite ridiculous position, facing left field. Because he tries to keep watching the ball, for obvious reasons, a lot of the rotation in his body and hips in such instances comes very late, and is extremely violent and uncontrolled. His right leg falls completely across his body, and it drags the rest of him around with it, away from the mound. Naturally, in such a position, he'd be completely unable to field the ball. But most of the time Van Buren's delivery falls somewhere between those two extremes, unbalanced but different most times, yet not quite as exaggerated in terms of the position in which he ends up and how ridiculous he looks in the process of getting there. The real problem that Van Buren's poor mechanics cause him is not so much that he sometimes can't field his position, because that's not that important. The real problem, besides his delivery maybe making him more susceptible to injury, though he's a big strong guy, is that most of the time he isn't capable of putting the ball exactly where he wants, and so he's liable to walk a few more hitters than he should. But that's something that you just have to put up with, because attempts to remodel and restrain his delivery (made by the Rockies, for instance) have compromised the rest of his natural game, which certainly has a lot to recommend it. Not least his numbers over the last two years -- a 1.98 ERA in 123 innings (67 hits allowed, 8 home runs, 147 strikeouts), mostly at AA and AAA. Baseball America named him the Triple-A relief pitcher of the year for 2005. Although I think that Van Buren could fashion for himself a pretty decent career as a major league middle reliever, and although he's got three option years left and will be cheap for quite a while yet, and as such should be very handy as the last man in a bullpen, I'm not that disappointed to see him leave the Cubs. We don't have room in our bullpen to accomodate him after the Howry and Eyre signings, and he'd have only seen the time in the major leagues that he deserves in case of injury. As such, he was a perfect trading chip - potentially useful to some one else, but not a great fit for the Cubs, especially because we already have more than enough relievers with good stuff but problems with their control. I am though very disappointed that Jim Hendry parted with him for nothing more than a PTBNL in a deal that he forced upon himself with yet more shoddy management of his 40-man roster. Van Buren could have been used in a package deal to land us something of worth. Instead he was shipped out in a hurry, probably not netting much of a return, just because Hendry, needing to clear roster room, thought him expendable. He was, but less so than a number of guys Hendry's hung onto (Mitre and Wellemeyer in particular, both out of options, plus one of Soto and Reyes, since we have four catchers on the forty), and he was more valuable than some of the other guys that Hendry's hung onto (Koronka and Macias in particular), and if Hendry hadn't made a number of entirely needless additions to the 40-man roster (Dopirak and Moore in particular), there wouldn't have been a roster crunch in the first place. Of course, the entire deal depends on the PTBNL, who still hasn't been named. But my suspicion is that the Red Sox went a little bit of the way to avenging the loss of Matt Murton with this nice piece of opportunitism. Best of luck with the Red Sox, Jermaine.

12-16-1992 - The Giants name Dusty Baker as manager to replace Roger Craig. (taken from Baseball Library) 12-16-1985 - Traded Billy Hatcher and a PTBNL (Steve Engel) to the Houston Astros. Received Jerry Mumphrey.

December 15th

12-15-2003 - Traded Damian Miller and cash to the Oakland Athletics. Received Michael Barrett. 12-15-1997 - Drafted Roosevelt Brown from the Florida Marlins in the 1997 minor league draft. 12-15-1912 - Traded Joe Tinker, Harry Chapman and Grover Lowdermilk to the Cincinnati Reds. Received Bert Humphries, Red Corriden, Pete Knisely, Art Phelan and Mike Mitchell.

December 13th

12-14-2000 - Signed Tom Gordon as a free agent. 12-14-1998 - Traded Brant Brown to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received Jon Lieber. 12-14-1990 - Traded Greg Smith to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Received Jose Vizcaino. 12-14-1987 - Signed Vance Law as a free agent. 12-14-1948 - Traded Hank Borowy and Eddie Waitkus to the Philadelphia Phillies. Received Monk Dubiel and Dutch Leonard.

As everybody around here probably knows, Corey Patterson is among five Cubs (Carlos Zambrano, Jerry Hairston, Jr, Juan Pierre, and Will Ohman are the others) who must be offered salary arbitration by next Tuesday, or they can become free-agents. I'm sure Jim Hendry will tender the offer of arbitration to Zambrano, Pierre, and Ohman, and PROBABLY to Hairston, but I'm beginning to wonder if Patterson might not get non-tendered. Here's why:

December 12th

12-13-1999 - Traded Richard Negrette to the Baltimore Orioles. Received Augie Ojeda. 12-13-1996 - Signed Kevin Tapani as a free agent. 12-13-1995 - Signed Rob Dibble as a free agent.

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