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A few days ago, right here at TCR, I dared Ryne Sandberg to take the open Peoria manager's job. Well, guess what happened?
Chicago media is reporting that Jim Hendry has made an offer to Toronto Blue Jays FA LHP Ted Lilly. The offer is believed to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $36-$40M over four years, comparable to the contract Jarrod Washburn got from the Seattle Mariners last off-season (4/37.5). However, Lillyís agent has said that the while an offer has been received from the Cubs, there are other MLB clubs interested in his client (believed to be NYY, TOR, and SF), and while he has been impressed by the moves the Cubs have made so far, Lilly has not made a decision yet. One thing pretty clear is that if Hendry has indeed offered Lilly $9M or $10M per year, then itís EXTREMELY unlikely that Hendry will have any further conversations about Jason Schmidt. If the $15M in 2007 payroll that would have been needed to sign Schmidt is instead split two-ways, and if Lilly gets about $9M of it, then figure Hendry will be able to spend about $6M of ìSchmidt Moneyî on another rotation starter, possibly by acquiring Jake Westbrook or Jason Jennings (both of whom make about $6M in 2007) via trade, or by signing a veteran ìswing-manî (starter/reliever) like Miguel Batista (also likely to get around $6M per year). So who exactly is Ted Lilly? Well, Ted Lilly is the poor man's Barry Zito. Like Zito (and Rich Hill), Lilly is an extreme fly ball pitcher who relies on pop-ups and strikeouts to get his outs, and when he is on his game and when the wind isn't blowing out at Wrigley or when he isn't pitching in a bandbox like the parks in Houston, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati, he can roll through a lineup, racking up Ks (Lilly was 7th in the A. L. in K/IP last season). However, while Zito (and Hill) frequently will give his club seven strong innings and sometimes pitch into the eight or ninth, Lilly doesn't do that. He is NOT a "horse" and he is NOT an "innings eater." In a typical start, Lilly throws about 17-18 pitches per inning (second-most P/IP in MLB last year, and second only to another presumed Hendry target, Gil Meche) and because he usually ìhits the wallî at about 90-100 pitches, he has trouble getting through the sixth inning. So the bullpen usually gets an early call when Lilly is on the mound. I consider Lilly to be a lower-half #2 or upper-half #3 starter, a decent middle of the rotation guy, but I would be more enthused about Lilly if the Cubs didnít already have some IP challenged starters (Mark Prior and Wade Miller) and a Zito-clone (Rich Hill) in the rotation. I believe Lilly is a better choice and a class above Meche, Marquis, Redman, et al, but he is not Jason Schmidt and neither is he Vicente Padilla. If the Cubs do manage to sign Lilly, the 2007 starting rotation would look like this (pending any additional acquisitions): 1. Zambrano 2. Lilly 3. Hill 4. Prior/Miller/Marshall 5. Miller/Marshall/Guzman/Mateo/Ryu
Every year going into the off-season, I usually informally rate the MLB starting pitchers, as either a #1, #2, #3, #4, #5-A, #5-B, or "emerging prospect" starter. Naturally, the list changes from year-to-year. Since there are 30 MLB clubs, I list 30 #1 starters, 30 #2 starters, 30 #3 starters, etc. Some clubs have more than one "ace #1 starter," while others don't have any. It's just my subjective opinion--and I'm sure you have your's, and normally I just keep the list in my head, using it as a reference when posting something here about pitchers the Cubs might be pursuing as free-agents or in a trade. But with the Winter Meetings set to commence at Lake Buena Vista, FL (near Disney World) on Monday, with MLB GMs likely to begin congregating at the hotel bar Sunday evening, and with Jim Hendry hoping to acquire two (or possibly three) starting pitchers while he's there, I thought I would post my list, just to provide a starting point for discussions about pitchers Hendry might be considering.
The Cubs announced their 2007 minor league managing and coaching assignments a couple of days ago, and together with a previous announcement regarding minor league coordinators, the MLB field staff and Player Development field staff for the upcoming season is just about finalized.
Althouugh no official announcement has been made by the Cubs, LHP Ryan O'Malley and OF Miguel Negron have quietly been removed from the Cubs 40-man roster. I suspect both have been Designated for Assignment, with their final disposition TBD within 10 days.
With today being the deadline for moving players from the minor leagues to the 40-man roster, the Cubs announced today that they have added LHP Clay Rapada and RHP Rocky Cherry to their 40-man reserve list. All players still remaining on a Cubs minor league roster will remain "frozen" (cannot be added to the 40-man roster and cannot be traded) until after the conclusion of the Rule 5 Draft, which will be held on December 7th at the MLB Winter Meetings. If any player currently on a Cub minor league roster is to be part of a trade consummated sometime in the next couple of weeks, that player will have to be identified as a"Player to be Named Later" (PTBNL), and cannot be named until the Rule 5 Draft concludes. Although players on minor league rosters are now "frozen," players on major league 40-man rosters are not. Players on MLB 40-man rosters can be traded, and players on MLB 40-man rosters can even be assigned outright to the minors during the "frozen" period. Also, free-agents can be signed to minor league contracts and can be assigned to a minor league club during this period. By adding Rapada and Cherry, the Cubs would seem to now have 42 players on their 40-man roster, which (of course) is not allowed. So the only obvious explanation is that apparently Mark DeRosa and Alfonso Soriano have yet to be officially added to the Cubs roster, because no other roster moves were made today. Some of you may remember the same thing happened last year when Bob Howry was signed as a free-agent, but wasn't officially added to the Cubs 40-man roster for several days. But at least two more roster moves will need to be made in the near future, possibly by means of a a two-fer-one or three-fer-one trade for a starting pitcher. A lanky side-armin' slinger who is death on left-handed hitters, the 25-year old Rapada was THE best reliever I saw in the Arizona Fall League this year. I believe he can pitch in the big leagues right now. Signed out of Virginia State University by Cubs "bird dog" scout Billy Swoope in 2002, Rapada is notable for being a one-time "Non-drafted Free-Agent" (NDFA) who made good. Cherry, 27, was drafted by the Cubs out of the University of Oklahoma in the 14th round of the 2002 Rule 4 Draft (June Draft), but didn't sign until January 2003. He made his pro debut at Boise that season. The Rock underwent Tommy John transplannt surgery in 2005, after suffering a torn elbow ligament. A starter earlier in his career, Cherry returned to action this season, working out of the bullpen at AA West Tenn (Cherry and Rapada were an extremely effective 1-2 punch out of the DiamondJaxx pen). Like Rapada, Cherry pitched well-enough to earn a mid-season promotion to AAA Iowa. Showing a mid-90's heater and a devastating breaking ball, Rocky was supposedly about to be called up to the Cubs when he suffered a season-ending finger injury that required surgery.
While we are waiting for the details of the reported eight year $136M contract, chew on this: Thom Brennaman mentioned in a D'backs broadcast in August that Nats manager Frank Robinson told him that Alfonso Soriano is the happiest and most positive player he has known in MLB since our very own "Mr. Cub" (Ernie Banks), that he is very popular with his teammates, that he worked hard to improve his defense in what was a new position for him this past season, and that he now loves playing the outfield so much that he doesn't want to go back to 2B. I am one who believes that if you have the speed and range to cover the ground, CF is actually an easier position to play than LF or RF. Certainly Soriano still needs to improve his outfield defense (he made 11 errors last year), and there will be questions about his ability to play CF until he can prove it, but the fact is he has a strong arm (an ex-shortstop, he threw out 22 opposing baserunners last season--by far, leading all of MLB). And if he plays CF, he will get more straight-on fly balls, not the evil hooks & slices you get in a corner outfield spot. And there is no bullpen mound to trip over in CF at Wrigley, either. I may be a lot more optimistic than the average TCR poster (hey, I grew up watching the Cubs on Channel 9 and listening to Jack Brickhouse!), but speaking as a long-suffering Cub fan of 47 years, I am abso-freakin-lutely thrilled that McDonough-Hendry-Piniella & Company are at least trying to make the Cubs the best team it can be. How many of you actually thought it was possible that the Cubs would or could sign Soriano away from the Angels, especially after Angels owner Artie Moreno never even got a chance to sign Aramis Ramirez? Look, the Cubs still need to acquire a couple of reliable starting pitchers (I've got Schmidt, Westbrook, and Jennings as 1-2-3 "Most Wanted" on my board), but AZ Phil's bottom line is this: So far... EXCELLENT, BABY! Pass the Kool-Aid! And GO CUBS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Monday is the last day players on minor league rosters can be traded or moved up to a major league roster. Starting next Tuesday, and until the completion of the Rule 5 Draft on December 7th, players on minor league rosters are "frozen." That is, any player on a minor league roster as of this coming Tuesday cannot be traded and cannot be added to an MLB 40-man roster until the conclusion of the Rule 5 Draft. Players on an MLB 40-man roster can be sent outright to the minors during this period, but it's strictly a one-way highway. (Three years ago, the Cubs acquired Derrek Lee from the Florida Marlins for Hee Seop Choi and a Player to Be Named Later (PTBNL), but because the deal was made during the period between November 20th and the Rule 5 Draft, the PTBNL--RHP Mike Nannini--was not identified and could not be sent to the Marlins until the Rule 5 Draft had been completed).
In our first Spring Training story of the year, six players recently signed by the Cubs to 2007 minor league contracts have received Non-Rroster Invitations (NRIs) to Spring Training: * bats or throws left # bats both Jason Anderson, RHP # Koyie Hill, C Ben Howard, RHP * Jason Smith, IF-OF * Les Walrond, LHP John Webb, RHP If some of the names sound familiar, it's probably because all six have at least some MLB experience. Webb and Smith are both one-time members of the Cubs organization, both have done time on the Cubs 40-man roster, and both were rated as Top 10 Cubs Prospects by Baseball America at various times (Smith in 1999, and Webb in 2001). Smith was one of two players sent to Tampa Bay for Fred McGriff in July 2001, and Webb was claimed off outright waivers by the Devil Rays in February 2004 after suffering a broken leg while walking his dog during the off-season. (Tough break). Now 27, Webb has evolved into a jouneyman AAA rotation starter, spending last season in the Cardinals organization. But Jason Smith would appear to have something to offer. An athletic left-handed hitter who started his career as a shortstop, Smith is capable of playing all four infield positions and both corner outfield spots. In 49 games with the Colorado Rockies in 2006, he hit .263 with five HR in just 107 PA. In 166 career MLB games with TB, DET, and COL (about equal to one full season's worth of games), Smith has gone 230/260/385, with 11 HR, 10 doubles, eight triples, and nine SB (12 CS). Depending on who else Jim Hendry is able to sign this off-season, Smith, who is now 29, might have an outside chance to win a bench job with the Cubs in 2007. A lefty "swingman" and a one-time Kansas Jayhawk, Walrond had some previous MLB experience with the KC Royals in 2003 before signing a minor league contract with the Cubs after the 2005 season. Walrond received an invitation to Spring Training with the Cubs, but was sent to Iowa after failing to make Dusty Baker's Opening Day pitching staff. Walrond had a decent year at AAA Iowa that earned him a September call-up with the big club, and Les showed a pretty good strikeout pitch with the Cubs (21 K in 17 IP). Unfortunately, between the punch-outs he was pretty bad (6.23 ERA and 1.79 WHIP). Walrond is 30 years old. A switch-hitting catcher, Koyie Hill played college ball at Wichita State and is a one-time BA Dodgers Top 10 Prospect (2003-04) who failed to seize opportunities over the past couple of years with the Diamondbacks after being acquired by Arizona from the Dodgers in the 2004 Steve Finley trade. Hill suffered a broken ankle in August 2004 shortly after arriving in Arizona, and that likely has had a negative impact on his career. But he is an MLB-ready catcher, and he could be a viable back-up catcher for the Cubs in 2007 in case anything happens to Barrett or Blanco. Hill will turn 28 during Spring Training. Jason Anderson, who pitched collegiately at the University of Illinois, got into 28 games (combined) as a middle reliever with the Yankees and the Mets in 2003, and Ben Howard is a one-time 2nd round draft pick of the San Diego Padres and BA Top 10 Padres Prospect (2002-04) who got six starts with the Pads in 2003 before getting traded to Florida in 2004, where he got into 31 games out of the bullpen (5.50 ERA & 1.54 WHIP). However, both Anderson and Howard have settled into life as AAA middle relievers, and "considerable AAA experience" is their primary attribute at this point. Both are presently 27 years old, although Howard will turn 28 in January.
The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the Cubs have acquired LHP Neal Cotts from the White Sox for RHP David Aardsma and LHP Carlos Vasquez. The 26-year old Cotts attended Illinois State University, and was selected by the Oakland A's in the second round of the 2001 June Draft. He was traded to the White Sox four years ago in a multi-player deal where Keith Foulke went to Oakland and Billy Koch came to Chicago. Cotts has spent the last three seasons in the White Sox bullpen, and had (by far) his best year in the Sox World Series Championship season of 2005 (when he was virtually unhittable and probably one of the three best lefty relievers in baseball), but he struggled this past season. Cotts will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this off-season A 25-year old hard-throwing right-handed reliever with a mid-90's fastball, Aardsma was the closer for the 2003 NCAA National Champion Rice University team, before being selected by the San Francisco Giants in the first round (22nd overall pick) of the '03 June Draft. "Aardvark" and Jerome Williams were the two pitchers acquired by the Cubs from the Giants for LaTroy Hawkins in May 2005. The 23-year old Vasquez was a one-time member of the Cubs 40-man roster (2004-05) who underwent shoulder surgery in 2005 before returning to action as a LOOGY at AA this past season. Vasquez was eligible to be a six-year minor league FA on October 15th, but he signed a minor league contract with the Cubs for 2007. Vasquez is currently pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League, and will be eligible for selection in next month's Rule 5 Draft if he is not added to the White Sox 40-man roster by next Monday. Acquiring Cotts gives the Cubs three (possibly four) left-handers in their bullpen for 2007. Besides Cotts, the Cubs pen now features Scott Eyre and Will Ohman, and quite possibly Clay Rapada (who has been the best reliever in the Arizona Fall,League). With the hassle Jim Hendry had negotiating a contract with Will Ohman last off-season, I would imagine Ohman (who once again will be eligible for salary arbitration) will now almost certainly be traded. That is, unless the Cubs intend to use Cotts as a rotation starter. Prior to the 2004 season, Baseball America had Cotts rated as the White Sox #3 prospect--and as a STARTING PITCHER, not as a reliever. Cotts was converted to a relief pitcher by the White Sox in 2004.

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