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Well glad thatís all over, onto baseballís fourth season, the oven is warminí and the rumors are poppiní. Free Agents With the World Series ending, players can begin to file for free agency. The first Cub casualty was Jeromy Burnitz who appears to have had his $7 million option bought out by the team for $500,000. A lot of folks spent last season comparing Sosa and Burnitzís 2005 seasons. I always felt that Burnitz needed to equal Sosaís 2004 season and in my ever-present early season optimism, thought he was up for the task. And I was wrongÖ 2005 Burnitz: .258/.322/.435 24 HR, 87 RBI, 84 R, 57 BB, 109 K, 160 Games 2004 Sosa: .253/.332/.517 35 HR, 80 RBI, 69 R, 56 BB, 133 K, 126 Games
The other day in the comments, the mysteriously-monikered "X" said this:
"I can't think of any STUDS (don't Todd Walker me - please) who have wanted to come to this team since [Andre] Dawson left a signed contract with the amount blank on the GM's desk. I'm sure there are some - I just can't think of them off the top of my head."
That sounded like a call for me to waste some time at work. Of course, it's next-to-impossible to determine which players might have "wanted" to cme to the Cubs -- all we can really do is examine who actually did come. So I hit Baseball Reference, and took a look at the free agents the Cubs have signed since 1987, and leaving aside the fact that he originally got Dawson's first name wrong (hey, if he's gonna post anonymously, I'm not going to feel to bad about giving him a hard time), 'X' raises an intersting point. In general, the Cubs have not sparkled on the free agent market. With all signs pointing to the Cubs having some money to throw around in what's shaping up to be a disappointing free agent market, it's instructive to look back on how the Cubs have fared in past off-seasons. Jim Hendry's tenure as G.M. only goes back to 2002, but I'm going back further because how many chances do I get to write about Danny Jackson? The pre-Hendry moves probably don't mean a whole lot these days, but they're still interesting to reminisce about. If I had only listed players who could be considered "studs" it would be a short list. So instead here's a list of significant free agents the Cubs signed between Dawson and Walker: * Danny Jackson, 1991. Two years removed from a 23-win season, he signed with the Cubs for 2Y-$5.25M back when that was a lot of money. He was the Cubs' Opening Day starter, but got hurt in his third start and missed two months. He came back, got hurt again, came back again, lost his rotation spot, and while he was a bit better in 1992, the Cubs eventually traded him for Steve Buechele. * George Bell, 1991. On the downslope of his career, but only 3 years removed from an MVP 47/134 season. His 1991 numbers were his best since '87, but the best thing he did in a Cubs uniform was get traded for Samy Sosa. * Dave Smith, 1991. Also on the downslope of his career, a fact that should have been obvious based on his age (36) but which may have been obscured by six straight 20+ save seasons. Pitched a total of 47 1/3 innings for the Cubs, and got paid $4.4M for them * Mike Morgan, 1992. Apparently undeterred by the Jackson debacle of the previous season, the Cubs gave Morgan a multi-year deal and it worked out a bit better. Morgan threw 200+ innings in both 1992 and 1993, but got hurt in '94 on his way to going 2-10, and the next year was traded for Todd Zeile. Reacquired at the 1998 trade deadline from the Twins, he did his best to keep the Cubs out of the playoffs (a 7.15 ERA in 22 2/3 innings) but they managed to sneak in anyway. * Jose Guzman, 1993. 4Y-$14.25M. Had one decent year, got hurt at the beginning of year two, and never pitched again. Nicely done. * Randy Myers, 1993. 3Y-$11.7M. Saved 112 games over three years, kept a grenade in his locker, took down a guy who rushed onto the field during a game. What's not to love? * Candy Maldonado, 1993. Only lasted 70 games (during which he hit 186/260/286) before being traded for Glenallen Hill, who hit a ball onto the roof of a building across Waveland. So this signing wasn't a *total* loss. * Jaime Navarro, 1995. The Cubs' first significant post-strike foray into the free agent market turned out pretty well. Navarro signed for less than he had been making with Milwaukee due to injury concerns, went 29-18 in his two years on the north side, and then went across town for $20M and never had another winning season. * Terry Mulholland, 1997, 1998, 1999. Mulholland's 1997 deal was for over $2M, and though he pitched OK the Cubs let him get claimed on waivers by the Giants. He was back, and effective out of the bullpen, in '98, and spent some time in the rotation in '99 before being traded for three guys who didn't amount to much. Total investment: just under $6M. * Mel Rojas, 1997. 3Y-$13.75M but by mid-season Terry Adams was doing better for less money and Rojas found his way to the Mets in a deal that send almost $9M in salary and netted The One Dog, Manny Alexander, and a surprisingly good Mark Clark. * Kevin Tapani, 1997. 3Y-$11M and worth it. The follow-up contract, not so much. * Jeff Blauser, 1998. Ouch. * Rod Beck, 1998. 1Y-$3.6M and worth it. The follow-up contract, not so much. Was later traded for Mark Guthrie, who was traded for Brant Brown, who dropped the ball. * Gary Gaetti, 1998. Got picked up in August, had a great month-and-a-half, got re-signed for 1999, and sucked. Replace "1999" with "2005" and who do you have? * Benito Santiago, 1999. Signed at a discount to prove he was healthy after a serious car accident. He was, and for once the Cubs were smart enough to not re-sign him. * Ricky Gutierrez, 2000. The Cubs paid almost $6M for the two best years of Gutierrez' career, which isn't saying a whole lot. * Tim Worrell, 2000. Easily the best in-season free-agent pickup the team has made. The Cubs paid him the league minimum, he threw 62 innings of 2.47 ERA relief, and the next year they traded him for Bil Mueller. * Julian Tavarez, 2001. Again, more useful for who he fetched in trade (Matt Clement) than what he did in a Cubs uniform (pissed me off). * Jeff Fassero, 2001. Two years for an old reliever? If it was the first time the Cubs had done it, I'd dismiss it, but looking over this list it appears to be the sixth. Two of them (Myers and Beck) panned out, the rest did not. That's not a good return. * Tom Gordon, 2001. Make it seven, and we can put him in the "win" column if we ignore the size of the contract. * Jason Bere, 2001. Wasn't as bad in 2002 as his 1-10 record would suggest. Then again, wasn't as good in 2001 as his 11-11 record would suggest, either. * Todd Hundley, 2001. I just threw up in my mouth again. * Moises Alou, 2002. The only bonafide offensive force on this list. And I mean offensive at least two different ways. * Mike Remlinger, 2003. Guess what? That was too much money to spend on a relief pitcher. * Ramon Martinez, 2003. The first of Dusty's Guys to show up, He wouldn't be the last. * Shawn Estes, 2003. The closer we get to the present, the more it hurts to type these names. * LaTroy Hawkins, 2004. See what I mean? * Todd Hollandsworth, 2004. Now we're recent enough that we can actually look at what I wrote about these moves at the time. When Holly was signed, I said: "Nice pickup for the Cubs. Getting a league-average player who can fill in at all three outfield spots and act as lefty power off the bench for a million bucks is a pretty good deal." I was right -- I just wish they hadn't re-signed him last winter. When they did that, I said, "Iíd really like to see the Cubs install DuBois or Kelton in left and keep Holly where he belongs, which is on the bench as a pinch-hitter and spot starter in right." Hey, look, I was right again! * Glendon Rusch, 2004. Turned out to be a pretty good scrap-heap pickup. I hope you enjoyed this forced march down memory lane. I left off quite a few other, more minor, signings, but I think we've seen enough. It's not a pretty picture. With the exception of Moises Alou, the Cubs haven't signed a bona fide star since, well, Dawson. And remember that Dawson only signed with the Cubs because of collusion between the MLB owners. Given this track record, I don't have high hopes for a guy like Rafael Furcal to find his way to Wrigley next year.
We have had our differences over the years, our battles, our disagreements, our love/hate relationship, as in we love to hate each other. But in the end I'm happy for the fans of the Chicago White Sox, the ones who are actually fans, who lived and died with their team with the same fervor that we've done time and time again with our beloved Cubbies. For those Sox fans who jumped on the bandwagon just not to be Cubs fans, and let us know at every turn how your team is doing better, you can eat human waste and find an untimely demise. You're the worst of the worst among fans, your fandom built by bitterness and fueled by an identity crisis. I have no place in my heart for you. So I tip my cap in reverance to all the REAL White Sox fans out there and can only dream a little dream of how it must feel. If I was in Chicago at this moment, I'd buy a round for some of my dearest friends who are White Sox fans, Marc and Tom in particular. They've fought the good fight year in and year out for as many years as I have and I can only imagine the euphoria that you must be feeling now (probably feels a lot like 10 beers). So congrats White Sox fans and let's hope next year the baseball gods smile northward.
Pity the White Sox and their fans. And believe me, I don't mean "pity the White Sox and their fans" in a "I'm a Cubs fan and therefore I look down on the other team in my city" sense, though it's not a surprise you might think that considering where you're reading this. I'm serious -- I actually feel bad for the White Sox right now. Here they are, in the World Series, and I keep seeing tons of articles talking about how Cubs fans feel about them being there. Are we glad? Cranky? Should we root for them? Against them? Madison Street (not Avenue, you Fox nitwits) has been fetishized into a baseball Hyujeonseon (look it up). Tomorrow, maybe someone will dig up Ray Rayner's old two-logoed hat and place it in the middle of State Street and people can take pictures straddling it like they do on the Prime Meridian. This is wrong. Believe me, I'm as self-obsessed about the Cubs as they come. Everything that happens in the baseball world goes through my "how does this affect the Cubs" filter. I pore over every story about Manny Ramirez for the remotest crumb of news that might show he'd be interested in a trade to the North Side. I read that Billy Wagner has ddecided to test the free agent market and I think, "well, they did just re-sign Dempster, but he could pitch the 8th instead." But when it comes to the Sox in the World Series, it's gone too far. Here are just a few of the Cubs-related articles that have popped up on my Google News tracker over the last few days: * The Root of the Problem For Cubs Fans, from the Houston Chronicle. At least this one talks about the fact that the White Sox' opponents are rivals of the Cubs. * Title Would Upset Pathetic Harmony in the City, from the Sun-Times. Actually, Telander wrote that one so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. * Even Some Cubs Fans Are Willing to Root For the White Sox in the World Series, an AP story that showed up on a TV station website in Jonesboro, Arkansas. * Cubs' Fans in World Class Dilemma, from something called RealGMBaseball.com. * Cubs Fans Struggle With White Sox Success, a Reuters story published in the Daily Times (of Pakistan!) that checked in with Chris Yarbage and Al Yellon but not us. The unspoken assumption in these articles, and so many more, is that what Cub fan think about the White Sox is somehow newsworthy. It isn't. I know these reporters are just looking for a fresh angle, and I commend them for not writing the 34,239th article about Shoeless Joe (hey, did you know he hit .375 in the 1919 Series??!?), but there's gotta be something else worth writing about other than how the fans of a team not even in the World Series feel about the teams that are there. I don't remember any articles last year asking Mariners fans how they felt about the Cardinals being in the Series. Hell, I don't remember too many articles talking about how Yankees fans felt about the Red Sox being there, and that's an actual rivalry between two teams with more than a century of history. I know, I know, there's more to Cubs-White Sox than there is to Mariners-Cardinals, or even Yankees-Red Sox. But contrary to what many may say, there's nothing in the Cubs Fan Handbook that says you have to root against the Sox. The two often go together, and it can be serendipitious when they do, but it's not like you have to swear an anti-Nellie Fox oath in order to get your first Old Style in the bleachers or anything. True, some might go too far the other way (like my Mom, who suggested last week that since I wasn't rooting for her White Sox, I wasn't a real baseball fan) but the truth of the matter is that, like any other large diverse group of people, Cubs fans have a lot of different takes on this issue. We're not all obnoxious 25-year-old management consultants who care more about scoping Trixies than what's happening on the field, you know. Some of us are 35, and haven't worked for a management consulting firm in a decade. So the answer to "how should Cubs fans feel about the Sox being in the Series" is, simply, you should feel how you want to feel, and you shouldn't let anyone else tell you to feel a certain way. Are you jealous that they made it when our boys didn't? That's valid. Happy that someone is finally representing our city in the Fall Classic? Also good. There is no wrong answer. But here's the thing -- no one should really care. Personally, I'm rooting for the Astros, but not out of any sense of anti-loyalty to the Sox -- I'm doing it because I can't stand AJ Pierzynski. It's as simple as that. I'm happy that guys like Biggio and Bagwell are getting their shot, but really it all comes down to hating AJ. Because I do. A lot. Rather than focusing on that hate, though, I'm trying to focus on some more positive emotions, like being happy for the people I know are feeling really, really good right now. I'm happy for Vince Galloro, the writer of the best White Sox blog out there, Exile in Wrigleyville. He has put up with my taunting (and, I imagine, much worse taunting from lots of other people) with grace and wit. I'm happy for David Schaffer, a family friend who is Senior Director of Park Operations at Comiskey Park, and lots of other White Sox employees who remember Bill Veeck, the South Side Hit Men, Winning Ugly, and even the Go-Go Sox. I'm happy for my Mom, because I'd be a bad son if I weren't. I'm happy for all the White Sox fans out there, even the ones who feel the need to come by TCR occasionally and talk about how much the Cubs suck. I'm happy for all of them. Honestly. Do I wish my team was in the World Series? Absolutely. But when that does finally happen, I'll have the chance to bask in that success without the media constantly reminding me about some other team's issues. Fans of every team should get the same chance. So go Sox. Or Astros. Whichever. Just pay attention to those two teams for the next week or so. They deserve it. Except for that bastard Pierzynski.
From rotoworld.com and The Rocky Mountain News:
REUNION PLANS? Right-hander Pedro Astacio and infielder Neifi Perez, both former Rockies, are on the list of players the team has interest in signing this off-season. Perez would project as a super utility player, although it wouldn't be a surprise if he won the second base job
No word if they also plan on signing Dante Bichette, Andres Galarraga or Ellis Burks. Let's pass the collection plate around and see if we can get Neifi a one-way ticket back to Denver.
It was just over a year ago now that the Cubs imploded in the season's final days, losing 7 of their last 9 when the wild card was theirs for the taking. For all its flaws, and there were a good number, that was a playoff team, and so inanimately watching the postseason last year hurt all the more. At the same time though, there was at least the prospect that, if the Cubs continued to improve under Hendry, next year, or at least the year after that, would at last not yield the same October disappointment. The Cubs under Hendry, with a bit more work and a bit more luck, would be going places. So much for that... Part I: The Sosa Affair The story of the 2004/05 off-season was Sammy Sosa. As the final game of the season was approaching its conclusion on the afternoon of Sunday October 3rd, it was rumoured that Sosa had left early. After the Saturday game, Sosa, interviewed earlier that day by New York police regarding a cousin wanted for attempted murder, had approached Baker to tell him that he was hurt and wanted Sunday off. Baker had duly obliged, but in explaining the decision to the press before the game on Sunday, Baker, probably inadvertently, questioned Sosa's dedication by commenting "yeah, I want him back [next year], especially if he goes to work this winter and gets in tip-top shape mentally and physically". Though Sosa was only later informed of that comment by reporters, and thus it didn't contribute to his decision to leave early, the fact that Baker was then the first to go on the record about the walk-out after the game didn't help. Inevitably Baker only succeeded in inflaming the situation: first he implicitly acknowledged Sosa's guilt ("I didn't know he was going to leave early"), made a point of his own innocence ("I didn't give him permission"), then called upon punishment for Sosa's transgression ("Jim [Hendry]'s got to take some action"). Someone smashed the boombox Sosa kept in the clubhouse. A public relations disaster was in the making. Sosa, given his strained relationship with Baker, took things personally, too personally, and, having refused to speak to reporters before the game, and having avoided reporters after the game by leaving early, that night organised an interview with the Sun Times, which was published on the Monday morning. "I'm tired of being blamed by Dusty Baker for all the failures of this club," Sosa somewhat melodramatically lamented. "I resent the inference that I'm not prepared. I live my life every minute every day to prepare for combat. No one has ever questioned my mental or physical preparation at any level. They always find something to blame me for. I'm always the guy they are going to blame. They blame me for not going to the World Series last year. They blame me for not going to the playoffs this year. I'm tired of it." In the same interview, Sosa mentioned that he'd only left the game during the seventh inning. The Cubs, upon reading that claim in Monday's newspaper, were quick to react, checking security cameras to catch Sosa actually leaving at 1.35pm, just 15 minutes or so after the game's first pitch. That information was quickly disseminated nationally by unnamed team officials. If authorised to do so by Jim Hendry, the Cubs' GM had just made the biggest mistake of his off-season. If not, someone else made it for him. Regardless, the Cubs' offseason was rendered a disaster waiting to happen the moment they embarked on the full-scale smear campaign against the man that for years carried the franchise on his back. With every swipe the Cubs took at Sosa, and every swipe Sosa took back, the team was backed further into a corner. The rebranding Sosa as the devil-reincarnate did little to entice potential buyers. Those with any interest at all, given the Cubs' obvious desperation to offload, were awarded the upper hand in all negotiations. And other free agents, looking on from the outside, can hardly have been impressed with the underhand tricks that the Cubs employed against one of their greatest players ever. All of that certainly contributed to the all-consuming Sosa saga stretching into February, only netting a pretty pathetic haul in the end (regardless of the fact that Sosa had a horrible year in Baltimore, the Cubs ought to have been able to turn $16.15m and a big name one-time superstar into a lot more than a utility player, a Triple-A middle infielder and a retired reliever), seemingly indoctrinating within Hendry an irrational dislike of players with any sort of supposed chemistry issues (Moises Alou, Kent Mercker, Kyle Farnsworth and Andy Sisco were shown the door for little return), and significantly limiting the moves that the Cubs were able to make in other areas. That last point is critical. Hendry went into the off-season with a number of issues that he had to resolve. The leadoff spot, the team on-base percentage, the bench, starting pitching injuries, the bullpen, the closer's role, Dusty Baker, all had been significant impediments in 2004, and all ought to have been addressed as best possible by Hendry over the winter. The Cubs though went into Opening Day 2005 hardly any better equipped in those areas than they had been when things went wrong six months earlier, since by the time Sosa was out of the picture and Hendry finally had the numbers to work towards and the time to give, most of the winter's best options were already off the table. As a result, for instance, Jeromy Burnitz would have to do in right, for what other quick-fix alternatives were there? The end result of it all was a lot of talent lost and not all of it replaced, more holes and flaws created than filled, and a lot of that was the fault of the Cubs' handling of the Sosa affair. Only the legitimate prospect of healthy seasons from Nomar, Prior and Wood sustained the many that believed this year would turn out better than the last. Oh well. None of all of this, for the record, is to say that Sosa didn't act deplorably that Sunday afternoon when he slunk out, nor that he shouldn't have lied about it later that evening. It's not to say in fact that Sosa didn't disgrace himself for much of his last year in Chicago, arguing with Baker about his rightful position in the lineup, refusing to listen to any advice regarding his hitting, and it's certainly not to say that Sosa shouldn't have been traded over the winter. But the way that the Cubs handled the whole process was quite appalling, and Jim Hendry must bear the brunt of the blame. The team could have weathered the surprise trade of an unsmeared legend, as the Red Sox did the trade of Nomar. The foreseeable trade of a villified scapegoat, well what does 79-83 say to you? My response is simple. When public relations take precedence over baseball, baseball is the loser; but losing baseball, it just so happens, is bad PR. That's a lesson Hendry, whose performance this last year we'll continue to look at in the days to come, learnt too late.
I just stumbled onto the Common Census website, which attempts to track the local cultural spheres of influence within the United States. As part of that project, Common Census has developed a Sports Map Project that tracks the popularity of sports teams by geography. Basically, it tries to color-code a map to show which sports team is most popular from place to place across all of America. They have maps for the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and NCAA Football. The MLB map has a few surprises in it. For instance, a small sliver of the east bay-area is colored brown for the Athletics, swimming in a larger sea of Red that covers northern California and Western Nevada and represents the Giants. But then, oddly, there is a brown splotch around Lake Tahoe and a big brown stripe running through north-central Nevada. What makes these regions hotbeds for A's fans? Looking at the Cubs, you see just about what you'd expect. They're color-coded light green, and the northern half of Illinois, most of Indiana and most of Iowa are bathed in the color. Their dominion expands westward just to Omaha, where I was raised to be a Cub fan. But like Oakland, the Cubs have islands of support dispersed across America. North-eastern Oklahoma and central Arkansas has its own little hotbed of Cubdom, and so does a little blotch in central Nebraska that I believe is Grand Island It's quite interesting, and I encourage you to go to the site and participate. You have to take the regular survey in order to state your baseball affiliation. It's 12 clicks total, and they don't ask for a name or email address, just an address. Let's see if we can claim a larger portion of this country as part of Cub Kingdom! I know we have many readers from beyond the continental U.S., and unfortunately Common Census does not include options to allow you to register your opinion. (Unless of course you want to say that you live in, say, St. Louis.... wouldn't it be fun to turn the St. Louis area of the map to the Cubs?)
There's only one other combination that would have made the World Series any less interesting for most Cubs fans. I'm really not sure how to go about rooting in this series. Sure I'd have to hear it from my White Sox friends if they won, but that might be better than watching Roy Oswalt win one or Berkman. To the notes: - Anyone else think this vacuum of silence over the last few weeks is a calculated plan by the Cubs brass and PR departments to stay low? The less noise we make over here on the north side, the less people will notice that we finished below .500 despite a substantially higher payroll then that other team in Chicago who'll be playing for a World Series this week. I see one of two things happening this off-season because of the White Sox success. Option #1) Endorsed by Jim Hendry himself is that the Cubs stay the course and do whatever they were planning to do this off-season anyway. Not sure what that course is, but I think it involves accumulating every "versatile", light-hitting middle infielder available. Option #2) That the Cubs PR department isn't about to let the White Sox steal their thunder and there are some discussions going behind closed doors that the Cubs need to make some splashy moves this off-season. I'm not saying expensive, cause when you work for the Trib you stick to the budget, rain, wind or snow. But I do think splashy, some trade or free agent signing that will bring in one of those players that people can't help but talk about. The first name that comes to mind is Manny Ramirez, but he is grossly expensive, a headcase and will make us remember just how good Jason Dubois and Moises Alou actually were in left field. But the boy can rake. All speculation on my part, but one of the advantages of being owned by a mega-conglomerate is the PR department is ready to go at a moments notice.
Earth-shattering I know. Here's the link, although I'm guessing it requires a subscription. Wake me when the free agency period begins.
Baseball America has gotten around to summing up the past season in the minors. For each league, they ranked the top 20 prospects in terms of major league longevity and impact. Here's a recap of all things Cubs I could find for your reading enjoyment in these dark days. Arizona League (AZL Cubs RL): #1 Mark Pawelek Chat Wrap with Allan Simpson No discussion on any Cubs players but there's a note that Pawelek was the only first rounder in the entire league. Northwest League (Boise Hawks SS A): #2 Donald Veal #20 Mark Reed

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