The smell of freshly-cut grass, and temperatures in the 60's with nary a cloud in the sky. A smilin' Lou Piniella strolling from field to field, bantering with the fans and signing autographs. The sound of bat on ball, and pitchers practicing covering first on a ball hit to the first-baseman. Ah, yes. While it might not be absolutely as good as it gets, it's pretty close. Your pal AZ Phil and about 100 hopeful Cub fans attended the Cubs first Spring Training workout of 2007 this morning at Fitch Park in Mesa. It was a mandatory work-out for the Cubs' 30 pitchers and six catchers, but six position players (infielders and outfielders) who were not required to report showed up anyway.
Just letting you guys know that you can read my NL Central prediction over at MVN's Pittsburgh Lumber Co. A little roundtable with some fellow NL Central bloggers. Also I've got a bit on the Cubs in The Hardball Times 2007 Season Preview. I don't know the particulars yet on when it ships or the cost, but I did want to give everyone a heads up so you can save your allowances.
The rain has stopped, skies have cleared, Kerry Wood is a lean, mean, fighting machine, and with pitchers, catchers, and a few of the position players having reported to Fitch Park yesterday (minus Carlos Zambrano, whose arrival was delayed), and with the first offical Spring Training workout scheduled for this morning, here is the up-to-date Cubs 40-man roster and ST NRI list, the contract status and minor league option status for all players on the 40-man roster, the list of Cubs minor league players who will be eligible to be free-agents after the 2007 season and those who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next December, and AZ Phil's pre-ST Cubs organizational depth chart:
Reader "Virginia Phil" recently brought up an interesting comparision of some recent "5-tool" prospects in the comments last week on our "Prospect List-mania" article. He's expanded a bit on his original effort and we hope you enjoy....
"If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all." --Hamlet
Is Felix Pie ready? Here are Felix Pie's minor-league stats and those of three other fairly recent toolsy centerfield prospects, Carlos Beltran, Vernon Wells and Carl Crawford. (Actually, Crawford plays left in a crowded young outfield at TB.)
Bruce Levine of ESPN1000 and Rotoworld are reporting the Cubs have sent Jae-kuk Ryu to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for prospects RHP Greg Reinhard and OF Andy Lopez (thanks to reader Bogey for the tip). That should clear off the 40-man roster spot needed to add Cliff Floyd.
This time each year, I get stoked. It's automatic. It never fails. I'm in Arizona. The weather's great. It's time for Spring Training. But there's this one thing that gnaws at me, that keeps me from enjoying the experience quite as much as I would like to enjoy it. The start of Spring Training is fun, but there's this one memory from my youth--it's kind of a Long Sorrow--that I guess will be in the back of my mind for the rest of my life. For those of you who don't remember him or who aren't all that familar with his career, Ken Hubbs was born in Riverside, CA on December 23, 1941, and as a 12-year old, he led his Colton (California) Little League team to the Little League World Series championship game in Williamsport in August 1954. Colton lost the game to future Cub Billy Connors and his Schenectady (New York) team, but by the time he was a senior in high school (1959), Kenny Hubbs was nothing but a winner. President of his high school class and a star football, basketball, and baseball player, he could have followed his older brother Keith to BYU--where he probably would have been a two or three-sport star and BMOC. But Kenny instead chose to sign a professional baseball contract with the Chicago Cubs (yes, YOUR Chicago Cubs), all the more significant because this was before the amateur draft, and Hubbs had the option to sign with any of the then-16 MLB clubs.
Since I didn't get around to a TCR Friday Notes, I'll post a few interesting articles from the most wonderful Hardball Times. The first is a look at the best hitting pitchers in baseball and to no one's suprise, Z and Marquis were among the best in the bunch in 2006. But other than just ranking the current and the past pitchers and their hitting prowess, it's one of the first articles I've seen that actually tries to answer how much of an effect a pitcher's hitting abilities has on the days they start. I'll let you guys do the reading but here's the cliff notes version.
  • Top 5 hitting pitchers last year were Willis, Mulder, Z, Marquis, Suppan. The Cards will not only be hurting on the mound from Marquis and Suppan's departures and Mulder's early season absence, but it might end up hurting their offense as well.
  • The best hitting pitchers can shave a quarter run off their ERA over the course of a season.
  • The career leader in home runs by a pitcher is Ned Williamson at 51. Watch out Ned, Z's coming for you (he's at 10).
The conclusion was also worth noting:
Let’s promise to no longer ignore a pitcher’s accomplishments at the plate. Sure, they might seem inconsequential compared to what he does on the mound, but every little bit of performance is important. Good hitting pitchers can provide themselves with a small advantage worth maybe half-a-win a season. Nevertheless, in today’s world, half-a-win is worth well over $2 million, so it’s nothing to scoff at either. Maybe that might start to explain Jason Marquis’ contract.
The second article is a look at ten pitchers in baseball and their projected stats from PECOTA, CHONE and Marcel. Z gets a mention and I imagine his projections seem a bit high to us Cub fans (here's the abbreviated table):
           IP    ERA    BABIP   K/9    BB/9    HR/9   K/BB
PECOTA     215   3.79   0.278   8.8    3.9     0.92   2.3
CHONE 2.1  205   3.45   0.285   8.7    4.0     0.83   2.2

Marcel     189   3.48           8.4    4.0     0.86   2.1

AVERAGE    203   3.57   0.282   8.6    3.9     0.87   2.2
If Z is in the 3.50 range in ERA, 2007 will not be a good season for the Cubs, no matter how well he hits. And while everyone is counting down until pitchers and catchers report (4 days by the way), I've got my eye on 8 days, which is when Z's arbitration hearing is scheduled for and what could be a big day for the future of the franchise. If Z and his entourage have to sit through an arbitration hearing listening to the Cubs take shots at his game, his future as a Cub beyond 2007 grows ever more unlikely.
What Hall of Famer, the first catcher to don shin guards, ended his 17-year Major League career with a pair of seasons with the Cubs?
As always, try to answer without a web search.
Ahhh, spring training. A time for doubt, self-pity, hopelessness, and the bitter, burning anger that comes from realizing your heydays are now so far behind you, they’re barely specks in your rear view mirror. At least, that’s what I imagine spring training means to fans of the Royals and the Pirates, and, if you take away the heydays part, to loyalists of the Rockies and Devil Rays. (A Cubs fan feeling sorry for other teams’ fans—pretty funny, huh?) Ever since I first became acquainted with it, I’ve been fascinated by the tiered structure of professional soccer in places like England and Italy, where clubs compete for championships only within their tiers, the top finishing teams at the end of each season are promoted to the next level for the subsequent season, and the bottom finishers are demoted or “relegated” to the next lower rung on the ladder. Such a system would be completely unacceptable in Major League Baseball for a thousand reasons. One of the most obvious is the travel burden it would impose on a team from the West Coast, say, if it was in a division with nine teams from the east. But logic aside…
Some quick reviews of what's going on elsewhere: Gonfalon Cubs looks at the possibility of a 98+ win season, and the connection between declining Cubs attendance and the off-season spending spree Cub Town uses the cool Sparklines to play guess the hitter and pitcher Bleed Cubbie Blue is down to number 9 on its All-time Great Cubs list, with Fergie Jenkins Cub Fan Nation has several funny Cubs-related photoshops CubsHub previews the 2007 Cardinals Goat Riders of the Apocalypse has a very good, funny look at the career arc of Bobby Hill. The View from the Bleachers asks Who Should the Cubs Draft? come June Allcubs.com prefers baseball without Sosa Our own Cubnut mourns the retirement of Jeff Fassero at A Hundred Next Years Regarding the role of bloggers and baseball, Bleed Cubbie Blue and Temporary Bleachers both have good commentaries. Pittsburgh Lumber Company, one of our fellow MVN blogs, previews the 2007 Cubs Also: I just saw the King of the Hill episode about The Jack and his Aces, little did I know that it was about legendary Softball pitcher Eddie Feigner, who has passed away John Smoltz, great advocate for Traditional Values, is getting a divorce Bernie Williams looks like he's going to lose out in the Yankees' roster crunch ESPN has been subpoenaed in the Harold Reynolds wrongful termination lawsuit. Regarding the termination of most of the Baseball Tonight crew: I'm in favor of it. The Hardball Times matches song titles with the state of Baseball entering 2007 Project Prospect compares Hughes and Bailey to once-prospects Prior and Beckett And Baseball Musings live-blogs from the Sports Business Conference at MIT
A couple of events this week have left me thinking about just where TCR and other sports blogs fit in the world of sports journalism. On the Thursday episode of ESPN’s “Around the Horn,” an execrable show in which sports “journalists” with faces made for radio “compete” at offering ten-second bits of “analysis” that are scored by some point system that is as arbitrary as it is absurd, Jay Mariotti concluded the program with a brief commentary about bloggers. No one has yet gone broke betting on Mariotti’s ability to explore new depths of idiocy, but this was new territory even for him.
I'm not sure if I'll have time to put up another edition of TCR Friday Notes, but I do have a double dose of Cubs trivia for you. Reader Jacos sent this one:
Who are (hopefully) the only three players ever to play for the Cubs, White Sox, Yankees and Mets?
And today's calendar questions was:
The Cubs first used a designated hitter on June 16, 1997, as Interleague Play was introduced that season. Who was the Cubs DH in that game?
As always, please attempt to answer without a web search.
My first exposure to fantasy baseball was through a guy who I was sort of friends with in middle school. There were maybe eight of us in the league, maybe five of whom were regulars, maybe three of whom sort of knew what we were doing, sort of. One guy, for instance, used his first eight draft picks to pick the Detroit Tigers' lineup. The guy who ran the league would “publish” a little newsletter at random intervals, updating the point standings (which he calculated on his own) and with funny little faux baseball articles. That must have been the 1990 or 1991 baseball season, but I still remember some of the players I picked for that team. God, they sucked. Sadly, it wouldn’t be the last team I owned that I then proceeded to populate with Has-beens, Never-would-be’s, The Suspended and The Dead. Here’s a fun romp through some of the low-lights of my fantasy career. (In a topic as bountiful as this, it will be tough to limit myself.) Hensley "Bam-Bam" Meulens, 1991 I’ve always been a sucker for players with cool names or nicknames....
The Super Bowl is over, March Madness isn't until next month, and the NBA and NHL regular seasons (AKA the playoffs) haven't started yet. So what time IS it? Well, it's time again for Spring Training, which is when professional baseball teams gather in Florida and Arizona to prepare for the coming season.
Chicago real estate bigshot Sam Zell and international despot Rupert Murdoch were mentioned today in separate stories about the possible sale of Tribune Company. The piece in the Trib says Zell has not made a bid on the company but has entered into "preliminary" talks to see if a deal could be put in place, probably involving some sort of partnership between himself and the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which is run by current and former Tribune Company execs, including former Chairman John Madigan and current Chairman/CEO Dennis FitzSimons. The possible involvement of Murdoch, meanwhile, was reported at chicagobusiness.com. Like a feral cat who’s sniffed out the alley behind restaurant row, Murdoch has been prowling around the edges of this affair. His name has come up in connection to the Chandler family, former owners of the Los Angeles Times, who sold out to Tribune Company a few years ago, becoming Tribune’s largest shareholder. Murdoch is interested in "working with" the Chandlers on their bid to buy. So sayeth the devil:
"We are interested quite openly; and frankly, if we could do something — not too expensive — that will lead to a joint operating agreement between the New York Post and Newsday."
(Newsday is a Tribune property.) Nowhere in either of these stories are the Cubs mentioned specifically, and given how little I really understand of the five or six paragraphs I’ve just written, I would have to guess the future of Cub ownership will remain mostly cloudy until a deal for Tribune Company is actually struck.

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