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There was some surprise expressed yesterday on another thread that Mark Prior won't be a free-agent until after 2008, so here is the list of projected Cubs free-agents through 2009 that I posted a while back: FREE-AGENTS AFTER 2006 SEASON: Henry Blanco Jerry Hairston, Jr Derrek Lee John Mabry Greg Maddux (ìno tradeî through 2006 season) Juan Pierre Aramis Ramirez (player option for 2007) Todd Walker Scott Williamson Kerry Wood (club option to pay $13m salary in 2007 or $3m buy-out - also ìno tradeî through 2006 season) FREE-AGENTS AFTER 2007: Michael Barrett Scott Eyre (player option for 2008) Corey Patterson Neifi Perez Glendon Rusch Carlos Zambrano Kerry Wood (if Cubs decline buy-out after 2006) FREE-AGENTS AFTER 2008: Ryan Dempster Scott Eyre (if player option is not exercised after 2007) Bob Howry Jacque Jones Will Ohman Mark Prior Aramis Ramirez (mutual option for 2009, or vesting option for 2009 if 270 GAMES PLAYED 2007-08) FREE-AGENT AFTER 2009: Jerome Williams
It's a shame that franchise (KC Royals) can't be competitive. In the 70s and 80s, they had one of the best fan bases in baseball relative to population. The economics of the game have made thriving in KC/Pittsburgh nearly impossible. It's things like that that make me back off of my Republican economic beliefs and start to think the Communists or at least the socialists had a decent idea. KC and Pittsburgh are great small cities with great sports fans. They deserve better than the snot with bats that they are forced to root for. The Cubs bring most of their problems on themselves, as they have the resources to do better. But the Royals and Pirates in particular are truly handicapped. - "X" in TCR, Friday 12-23-05. X is spot-on correct, folks. It will likely be a long, long time before we see the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals in the World Series again, and that is a shame. Which is why from time to time there have been discussions about improving "competietive balance" in MLB. The MLBPA will never accept a NBA or NFL-style salary cap, and the mechanism of free-agency and free-agency "compensation" (draft choice) aren't going to change anytime soon, but there are other ways to equal the playing field a bit. Everyone who's thought about it probably has their own ideas about how best to do it, and I have mine, and I invite all of you to offer your suggestions as well. While you are thinking about it, here are some of the ideas I have for immediately improving MLB "competitive balance," especially as it relates to giving losing clubs and smal market teams a chance at acquiring some pretty decent talent for a reasonable price, and it's a a process which does not involve token compensation for losing free-agents by getting a pick in the "crap shoot" known as the June Draft. Rather, I'm talkng about genuine coin-of-the-realm major leagure players, and good ones, too. Let's start at the end of the regular season, and take it from there...
The #1 topic of conversation these last few days has been the possibility of trading Mark Prior. Speculation, thanks to Ken Rosenthal's column, has centered on Prior going to Baltimore in a trade that brings Migeul Tejada to the Cubs, though there has been talk of a trade to the Phillies, and there may be a West Coast team (like the A's?) involved as well. The Cubs are supposedly holding out for Erik Bedard in return, while the O's may want one of the Cubs' minor leaguers along with Prior. Rob, Trans, John and I had a little discussion about this in email last night (and John even managed to drop a Dr. Who reference like the cheeky Brit he is), and since no matter what we post today the comments are going to be about this trade, we thought we'd just post our exchange here:
Gee, I dunno. What do you wanna talk about?
OK, I've come all the way around on the Jones signing and am in favor of it. There are a few caveats, but overall I think it will improve the team. The question I kept asking myself was, "does this make the Cubs better than they were last year?" And the answer, it seems to me, is yes. Signing Jones does two things: it replaces Jeromy Burnitz in the outfield, and it prevents Corey Patterson from starting.
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.
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.


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