Chips Ahoy

According to Sun-Times beat reporter, Gordon Wittenmeyer, with the signing of John Grabow to a 2/7.5 contract (backended as only Jim Hendry can do) and the trading of Aaron Heilman to the Snakes, the Cubs have supposedly made their final bullpen move of the offseason.

The deal appears to secure the final key piece to the Cubs' projected 2010 bullpen, coming one day after the team traded veteran Aaron Heilman to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

I'm pretty happy to see Heilman move out of town but replacing him with Grabow seems kind of blah. It's a Hendry thing to get a grizzled veteran for that 8th inning setup role and since Grabow is able to get lefty and righty hitters out (i.e. not a LOOGY), he's the heir apparent for the crusty veteran out of the bullpen for 2010.

List em. Since Jim Hendry was given the reins to the GM job in 2002, he's added through trade or free agency the following veteran bullpen lugnuts: Antonio Alfonseca, Mike Remlinger, Dave Veres, Mark Guthrie, Alan Benes, Phil Norton, Joe Borowoski, LaTroy Hawkins, Glendon Rusch, Cliff Bartosh, Scott Williamson, Chad Fox (twice), Bob Howry, Scott Eyre, Neal Cotts, Chad Gaudin, Jon Lieber, Luis Vizcaino, Aaron Heilman and lastly Grabow. I'd say for the most part, that's the ugly underbelly of MLB pitching although I know the Cubs are far from being alone in accumulating pitchers like these. Hence, I'm hoping the 2010 Cubs get more out of their young pitching so we don't see Chad Fox (round three?) ever again. Esmalin Caridad, Jeff Stevens and Justin Berg, I'm talking to you. It would be really nice to see productive seasons out of the recent 40 man roster additions including John Gaub, Blake Parker and even longshot/hotshot Raphael Dolis.

Grabow's career has been fairly lackluster but we all know how magically important lefty's are in the bullpen. Guys like Will Ohman, Scott Eyre, Joe Beimel, Brian Shouse, Scott Schowenweis, Ron Mahay,  Ron Villone, Eddie Guardado and Alan Embree keep hanging around when righty's of their ilk would be long retired.

Looking at fangraphs, including charts on lefty/righty splits on Grabow, we see his strength is a fairly low HR/9 (0.95/9) rate, a decent LOB% (around 75%) and his weakness is walks (4.15/9).He's gonna drive Lou crazy if that walk rate continues.

The kicker on Grabow though is that he's got a time bomb in his elbow. He has a history of left (pitching) elbow bone chips. Again from the sun-times piece:

As recently as 2007, Grabow pitched with pain and spent time on the disabled list for the problem, but he did not have surgery to remove the chips. He opted for a treatment and maintenance program that allowed him to make 149 appearances the last two seasons.



''If you look at a lot of pitchers, they're going to have something going on in their shoulder or in their elbow,'' Grabow said. ''Just throwing a baseball all these years, your arm's going to develop a lot of things that are just part of the wear and tear. It's something you learn to manage. I've got a routine every day to be able to pitch every day.



''Thank God it hasn't been an issue the last two years. Maybe it's something I've put in the past and can just pitch through.''

Grabow was on the DL from the beginning of the 2007 season, after being shut down in spring training on March 11th with "elbow inflammation" (the inflammation was due to loose bodies/chips). He returned on April 25th but only pitched 51 innings that year. The last two seasons he went 72 and 76 innings, so the problem hasn't acted up lately. 

Where do these loose bodies aka bone/cartilage chips in the elbow come from?

The elbow joint (anatomy video) is a complex hinge joint made up from the distal humerus (arm bone) and the two forearm bones that rotate (supination/palm up and pronation/palm down) around each other, the radius (radial head at the elbow) and the ulna (olecranon at the elbow which is the main hinge).

Elbow mechanics in throwing a baseball with spin, create significant compressive and shear forces across the elbow which can lead to damaging the articular cartilage and subsequently break off little pieces of cartilage or even bigger pieces that have bone and cartilage. This is the equivalent of getting sand in your shoe. Smaller grit isn't as irritating as larger pebbles. The larger pieces float around and if they wind up in tighter parts of the joint can cause it to lock up or get stuck. Usually they will move around to make the locking temporary but if the symptoms get more recurrent it makes more sense to treat this problem more agressively.

Grabow mentioned that he has a rehab routine to manage his elbow condition but there is luck involved in how well this works. Hopefully the loose debris is small enough he can work through it. Other non-surgical options include the usual non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds or possibly a cortisone injection. If the symptoms are enough of a problem there is elbow arthroscopy to look inside the joint and remove the loose pieces of cartilage. MRI imaging usually does a good job of seeing these small loose cartilage pieces. X-Rays don't image cartilage well but they are useful to see bony loose pieces and spurs. 

Elbow arthroscopy / (image), like other joint arthroscopy is done under fluid to distend the joint. The elbow anatomy has many important nerves (such as the ulnar and radial nerves) passing nearby so the portals (or entry incisions) to the joint are very precise to minimize nerve damage risk. Because the elbow is a smaller joint, some of the equipment like shavers and grasping tools are smaller as well. Loose bodies and debris are fairly straightforward to remove but for the same reason they developed in the first place they can recur.

Elbow bone chips aren't limited to pitchers. NL MVP, Albert Pujols just underwent removal of bone chips from his right elbow (his 2nd surgery as in 2008 he had ulnar nerve surgery). Kosuke Fukudome missed the end of his 2007 season in Japan to undergo an elbow scope to remove bone chips. I wrote on this last season at TCR when he was quoted about the impact of his elbow problem on his subsequent play.

Fukudome had elbow surgery late in the 2007 season, and the elbow started bothering him last season right about the time his decline began in May. By the end of the season, his hitting mechanics were a mess.



''I didn't feel the pain physically, but I must have been subconsciously feeling the pain of the elbow,'' said Fukudome, still reluctant to openly admit pain. But when asked if it was a factor last season, he said, ''Probably it was.'' 

Of course, the issues are different for a pitcher than a hitter. The repetition, particularly a reliever who has to warm up and might not get into a game makes them more likely to get into this kind of problem. Lets just hope that Grabow's subconscious remains as calm as his elbow for 2010.

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Comments

Why? He could have been an inexpensive starting pitcher. He thinks of himself as a starter, and I think he's right.

And he gave us a hint this year. When allowed to pitch 2 innings, which he did six times, he allowed only 1 earned run in 12 IP.

Cubs are loaded on inexpensive starters that may or may not be good...

Marshall, Gorzelanny, Samardzija, Atkins, Wells

Aaron Heilman:

as a starter: 25G, 133 IP, .279/.362/.468 against, WHIP 1.571
as a reliever: 350G, 389 IP, .235/.317/.355 against, WHIP 1.262

What about this says "starting pitcher?"

Generally, after 7 seasons in MLB, you are what you are, and Heilman is a reliever.

How quick we forget.

What said "starter" is the Cubs organization. In spring training the 5th starter job boiled down to Heilman(the conventional "what else was he brought in here for?" favorite) vs. Marshall(the perennial heir apparent).

Then there's the fact that his ERA was better than Marshall, Gorzelanny and Somarginal who got 26 starts combined. And his ERA and other numbers were almost identical, except for K's, to Hardin's.

Of course, maybe that's why Hardin isn't coming back. Stats that are too similar to Heilman's.

Heilman is a reliever. His secondary stuff isnt good enough for him to be a starter. A 4.11 ERA ain't so great. Better than Samardizja of course, but Marshall has done decently as the 5th starter b4, and Gorzelanny has had success as a starter as well. Heilman is 31, and has been in the league 7 seasons. He isn't suddenly a starting pitcher because he wants to be.

Ah yes..the wisdom of the Cub organization. Right.

so Marmol, Grabow, Guzman until he hits the DL, and 4 other guys...

Marshall, Gorzelanny, Berg, Caridad, Gaub, Parker, Mateo, Stevens, Patton, Cotts, Samardzija, Atkins and Dolis in the running, plus I assume a few vet pick-ups right before spring training.

compelling.

Marshall and Gorzelanny and the 4th and 5th starters right now. Unless Samjay learns a 2nd 3rd and 4th pitch between now and April.

well right now it's November too...

also seems that Ninja wants to be a starter and Cubs don't want to mess with him in the bullpen until giving him a fair opportunity as a starter...I should add Thomas Diamond to one of those lists as well, Jackson and Cashner could make themselves part of the conversation as well with a good spring.

I'm shocked that Hendry didn't add a 3rd year player option in the 8-10 range.

That would make the deal worth $15.5 to $17.5 million over three years, which works out to almost $6 million per. Totally unreasonable. He's no Farnsworth.

fwiw, I don't think Miller was signed for the bullpen...

I looked it up. Wade Miller's 8 Cub appearances (over 2 years) were all as a starter. None out of the pen. I'll correct the post.
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On another unrelated note...WSux sign Andruw Jones 1/0.5 (plus $1M incentives)

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=4689589

According to White Sox sources, Jones is not being considered as a starting outfielder at this point.

wsox sign Andruw Jones, Williams is 2/9 of the way to the putting together his retro 2001 All-Defensive Team together...

Buck Coats signs minor league deal with Royals

For $ 500k, for that I would not have mind the Cubs using him in CF

Elbow joint swelling is always caused by loose particles, or was that just a summarization of some other source?

Elbow joint swelling is always caused by loose particles, or was that just a summarization of some other source?
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not sure where you are reading this from (maybe one of the links?). There are many things that can cause elbow joint swelling and loose particles are only one of them. Inflammatory conditions (gout and pseudogout, rheumatoid arthritis, infection), damage from old fractures (hi Rob), mechanical issues like loose bodies, local blood supply damage to bone called osteochondritis dessicans occurs at the elbow too.

Some conditions are not actually swelling in the elbow joint proper but the bursa (called the olecranon bursa).

here's a link although I'm not sure I have confidence in a site that calls themselves "wrong diagnosis.com":

http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/sym/elbow_swelling.htm

I got it from this:

Grabow was on the DL from the beginning of the 2007 season, after being shut down in spring training on March 11th with "elbow inflammation" (essentially elbow loose bodies or chips).

Thanks for the clarification.

might be 3/44, but Baseball Prospectus Jim Callus had a Q&A session on Cub prospects (just after they released their top 10 Cub prospect list:

http://www.baseballamerica.com/online/prospects/ra...
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here's a samplin':

Q: How does Brett Jackson now compare to Felix Pie when he first began his career?

Jim Callis: Hmmm, hadn't really thought about that comparison before. They were both very good athletes with five-tool potential. The biggest difference is that Jackson's instincts and polish were far ahead of Pie's, though that's to be expected because Jackson was older and had faced tougher competition. They were comparable talents, maybe it was easier to dream on Pie because he was younger and had more projection remaining.

Q): Your thoughts on Chris Archer's excellent comeback year, and how close was he?

Jim Callis: As much as I don't think the Cubs should have traded Mark DeRosa, they did get three good arms back in Archer, John Gaub and Jeff Stevens. Archer just missed the top 10 and will fall in the 11-15 range in the Prospect Handbook. He has an electric arm and didn't allow a home run all year, and he'll take off as soon as he develops some command.

Q: Who would be the biggest sleeper in this entire system?

Jim Callis: I'll give you five underappreciated players. One scout told me he thought Jon Gaub was the best lefthanded relief prospect in the entire minors. He's not flashy, but if I was a team in need of a regular shortstop, I'd try to acquire Darwin Barney. Righthander Trey McNutt, a 32nd-round pick who fell through the cracks in this year's draft, has ridiculous stuff. Righthander reliever David Cales and outfielder Jim Adduci get little attention, but both can help a major league club and will get there.

mcnutt 1- is a cub 2- was a 32nd round pick?

...he did get $110K bonus, though. must have been a lure pick. i know he was young in his college career, but he throws 95mph.

McNutt's a name I don't recall. He's listed as "Kenneth" at MLB.com

http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/stats/stat...

21/12 K/BB's in 20.1 short-season innings.

Hopefully Barney will continue to build some value in Iowa next year and we can trade him for a nice deadline piece in July. Though I guess Toronto can have him in the Hallady deal that I am sure is going to be anounced any day.

he kinda wasn't expected to sign with anyone last i heard. he was expected to continue with college and refining his stuff to move to a higher draft level. he sure didn't get paid like a 32nd rounder...

On average what does $110K for a guy with college elgibility remaining usually get you? Is that third round money?

yeah 4-8th round loot...it gets sketchy in rounds 3+ where people sign guys too cheap or try to buy higher-round guys with a few grand more kicked in.

Thanks.

All in all it seems like the Cubs had a pretty good haul in the draft. Raley was probably my favorite pick, and he hasn't even been talked about much.

I am almost ready to give the benefit of the doubt on Jackson.

Trey's the middle name he apparently goes by...

Phil didn't have much on him on draft day....

http://thecubreporter.com/2009/06/11/2009-cubs-dra...

yeah, 1st year juco freshman...was expected to put another year in or move to a bigger program. 95+mph fastball and not much else. he's only recently turned 20, though. lot of time...

-edit- a site mentions he has a "power curve" fwiw.

"A relative unknown in the 2009 draft, the Cubs selected McNutt in the 32nd round of the 2009 draft out of community college and gave him an over slot bonus. McNutt only logged 27.3 innings between Arizona and Boise in his debut, but he garnered attention for having a fastball in the mid-90s to go with a power curveball. With two good pitches, McNutt could make an impact as a reliever and move quickly through the Cubs’ system."

NSBB Prospect Rankings

Just taking a quick look at his stats, he looks a lot like Marmol. He had more BB's than hits (12 vs. 9) in 20.1 IP at Boise (along with 21 K's) for a 1.0333 WHIP. They ain't hittin' him -- if only he can get the ball over the plate.

What the fook?

The Cubs bullpen was one of the worst in baseball and cost the team a lot of games. I sure hope Wittenmyer is wrong when he says "The deal appears to secure the final key piece to the Cubs' projected 2010 bullpen".

I mean that would be nothing short of a tragedy. Even if you leave the starters and starting position players alone * this off season you HAVE to reassemble the bullpen.

* Aaron Miles not included.

What's your suggestion, more Heilman's and Eyres?

I don't have a suggestion. I'm just saying I hope the RP squad looks much different than it does now come April 2010.

http://blogs.dailyherald.com/node/2978

in which he updates nothing...

says Castro is untouchable at this point

GM Jim Hendry appears to be working steadily on trading right fielder Milton Bradley. Cubs people still express confidence Hendry will get a deal done as he continues to haggle over the price.

I think the untouchable flag wouldn't seem so stupid if any of the untouchables actually, you know, stayed untouchable. We have a maybe LOOGy to show for the last two, Hill and Pie.

I understand that Castro is good, but is it really worth it to make him untouchable? If it's a ploy to increase his value, okay, that makes sense. But to really make him off limits regardless of the return is short-sighted IMO. Isn't this the same thing the Cubs did with Felix Pie?

I hope Castro turns into an all-star shortstop and I hope he does it for the Cubs. But at the moment, Castro is unproven. And I think it is almost always a good idea to be willing to trade unproven potential for a proven commodity.

well if the Cubs had some payroll flexibilty, I have a feeling he wouldn't be so untouchable...

With a guy who's got more polish above him (Barney) and more offensive potential below him (Lee) you would think that Hendry would be willing to deal Castro in a move that brings us back an all-star who's in his 2nd to 5th year.

But this is Hendry we're talking about. I wonder how he felt about Cedeno... at least good enough to hand him the starting job on a team that was supposed to compete for the playoffs.

fwiw, all the cubs scouts are drooling over him.

i still don't know about all this talk that we could be seeing him by the end of the year.

110K seems more in the 5th-9th round range judging by the last 4 Cubs drafts and Baseball Cube info
in 2009, they have Blair Springfield at 127,500 (7th round pick), whitenack at 125K(8th round pick) and Richard Jones $110K (9th round pick).

No I'm not on acid...

I think the Cubs could trade Zambrano to the Mets for Beltran. I know Z has a no trade...

Then trade a package of prospects and major league ready talent (fuld, fox, samardzija) to the Jays for Holliday.

I'm ready for the backlash-bring it on!

You're right about Z. He has a NTC and it's anyone's guess if he'd waive it. Personally, I think he might. I think Z's ego would want a shot at New York.

The problem you're going to have trading for Halladay isn't the money. The Cubs can absorb his salary if they choose to. They have the funds and they could easily justify it by 1) adding one of the best pitchers in baseball, and 2) the new owners wanting to make a splash and show their commitment to winning.

The real problem the Cubs are going to have trading for Halladay is that the Red Sox are apparently willing to offer Clay Bucholz. I don't think the Cubs have an MLB-ready arm that matches up with Bucholz. Toronto's GM has said that he'd be willing to trade within the division for the right deal, so that may not be an issue.

Also, Samardjzia has a NTC also. He might waive it if he thought he could start right away in Toronto, but I'm not so sure he could.

I would tend to agree on Halladay. In a bidding war the Cubs simply can't hang with most teams when it comes to trading chips. The farm system blows.

You're very Manny today.

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised when the top 100 prospect lists and organizational rankings come out over the winter.

Though Buckholz surely must be tempting, we don't know what the Jays 'new' plan is. It may be that they take things all the way down, in which case guys who are ML ready won't be nearly as important.

If Mark Prior was an outfielder and tripled his estrogen level, he'd be Carlos Beltran.

What the hell are you talking about?

any mark prior references not involving sand i just ignore.

The Blue Jays desperately need a shortstop and a catcher. Say the Cubs won't part with Castro, we still have LeMahieu, Barney and Lee to offer, along with Castillo. I can't imagine that LeMahieu, Castillo, Samardzija and Fox wouldn't be a competitive offer. You can't tell me they want to trade Holliday within their division.

Halladay is going to be a free agent after the 2010 season, and he's not re-signing with the Jays. The Jays with or without Halladay are not going to win the AL East in 2010, at which point Halladay will be free to sign with whomever he would like. The new GM has figured this out.

LeMahieu cannot be traded. I would think if the center piece of the deal is a shortstop, it's going to be Castro or Lee. Samardijzia also has a NTC and is sort of paid a lot. MLB rules aside, though, I agree that would get the Jay's attention.

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