As we've painfully come to realize, the Cubs are in desperate need of not only good pitching but reliable pitching. The big free agent names are Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito from stateside and the enigmatic Daisuke Matsuzaka from Japan. Pulling up a stats page on Schmidt and Zito will pretty much tell us all we need to know about those two, but what about Matsuzaka? TCR Commenter "Wes", took a closer look at Matsuzaka and his highly touted gyroball, which it turns out he doesn't really throw. ---- I'm sure many of you are familiar with Daisuke Matsuzaka. He's the kid who just turned 26 that just might be the hottest pitcher on the market this winter. Some folks think that Seibu might post him to the highest MLB bidder. I've heard a couple of rumors about the Cubs getting in the bidding war, since after all, a high end starter might be nice. I did a little research on Daisuke and the highly coveted gyroball he is claimed to throw. First a little history on the elusive baseball wonder called the gyro. There's clips all over the Internet claiming that you're looking at baseball history. The gyro has turned into a bit of baseball folk lore over the past year or two. A lot of folks thought Daisuke might bust out the gyro in front of a national baseball audience at the World Baseball Classic, but it didn't happen. Many of you who are regular Will Carroll readers are familiar with his research on the gyro. Carroll even went so far to teach an Indiana kid how to throw it (scroll to the bottom). Enter Joey Niezer. Joey is the aforementioned Hoosier who learned the gyro from Carroll and is now playing Division III baseball at Wabash College in West Central Indiana. If you haven't already seen it, here's a video of rather poor quality (taken by Carroll, I think) of Joey dropping a gyro. I live pretty close to Wabash and recently graduated from their rival school, DePauw. I called a game against Wabash, but didn't see him pitch. I made a couple of trips up to Wabash and saw a couple more games, but Joey didn't pitch in those either. He's numbers weren't very good as a freshman (0-2, 7.43). That makes me think he doesn't throw the gyro all that often. That said, he's still the only guy this side of the International Date Line who throws it. The scout on the gyro is that it behaves like a slider that's got more steriods in it than Jason Grimsley and Floyd Landis put together. It's supposed to start spinning flat like a slider for the first 45-50 feet and then fall off the table and break away from a right-hander. This one in particular looks a lot like a straight curve that you'd see a right hander throw, however it breaks entirely too much and entirely too late for it to be a curve. Carroll alledges that this thing is capable of breaking three feet or more. The question is whether or not Daisuke throws the gyro. In the Yahoo! Sports article linked above, he has claimed that he's just learning it. This video surfaced a while back and everybody thought they'd struck gyro jackpot. Here he is throwing that pitch from a a different (very bad) angle. Is it a gyro? Despite being perhaps the filthiest pitch I've ever seen, no. Sorry to burst your bubble. Turns out what you're seeing is a pitch called a shuuto, and it's absolutely nasty. It's pretty much like a slider, fastball and a screwball thrown into one. You'd need a boat oar to hit it, especially when paired with Daisuke's fastball that runs up there between 96-98. I work as a radio broadcaster in Chicago for an independent minor league baseball team. I sat down with our pitching coach, a career AAAA guy who has spent time coaching in affiliated ball, a few of our pitchers and a buddy of mine who used to play. All of them know a thing or two about breaking pitches. I showed them these two videos of the shuuto and here's a little bit about what they had to say: 1. Note that the grip of the pitch is similar to that of a typical slide piece, with a couple of exceptions. If you watch the video from CF, you can see that he releases the pitch with his index finger. Typical sliders are released with the middle finger. Looking at the video from behind the dish, he's also not on the seams. Part of the reason that a slider does what it does is because of gripping it on the seams. 2. The ball also reacts much differently than a slider. Duh. When you're on the business end of a slider thrown by somebody who knows what they're doing, the ball spins in such a manner that an optical illusion of a red spot about the size of a dime appears in the center of the ball from the way the seams spin. If you look at the video from behind the plate, there's no such spin on that pitch. My pitching coach said this behaves a lot like a screw, except it's thrown like a slider. By the way, he was absolutely awestruck by this pitch and made me show it to him at least 50 times. It's that good. 3. The arm angle on this pitch is similar to that of a fastball. On a slider or a curve, guys will try to get their arm out and around the baseball to impose a breaking motion on it. On this video, his arm is in more of a fastball slot, giving it motion in towards right handers. Also, imparting the spin with the index finger helps this ball move inside to righties. It's a lot like Maddux's 2-seamer, except the bottom drops straight out of it and it's techincally a slider. The Wikipedia article above about the shuuto claims that what Maddux actually throws is a variation of a shuuto, but I'm not inclined to believe that. Daisuke throws this pitch a lot, and when paired with his live fastball, a good curveball, a slider, a rumored fork, and a change he can be downright devastating. Here's a highlight clip of him in an appearance in May. You get a good look at a couple of curves, a slider or two, and a nice pair of shuutos (shuttoes? shuuti? San Diegoans? San Diegans?) to lefties. He strikes out a ton of guys in the clip mainly because the umpire is giving him a strike zone that you could park a double-wide in, but you get the drift of what he throws. So everything sounds great. Let's sign him up tomorrow, right? Not exactly. There are a few knocks on this kid: 1. He's subject to injury. Daisuke missed a large portion of 2003 with an undiscolsed injury to his pitching elbow. Japanese teams don't exactly run around telling the press what's wrong with their players when they get hurt, so we don't have any way of knowing what that was. Matsuzaka also missed a few starts this season with a groin injury of some nature. The only explanation given was that he didn't need to be hospitalized. Thank the good Lord. I think he should fit right in with the rest of the Cubs staff. 2. When throwing from the wind, he's got a very long pause. The shuuto clip from CF will show you that. A lot of folks, including myself, aren't too sure about the legality of that manuever in the US. I know Hideo Nomo used to have a pause in his wind-up as well, but it wasn't that long. That sounds easily correctable, but you never know. 3. He's thrown a lot (I mean a lot) of pitches over the past several years. Rumor has it he threw 250 pitches in a 17 inning ball game in high school and then came back the next day and threw a no-no. That's high school, I know, but good golly. This year he went 186 innings and posted a 17-5 mark with an ERA of 2.13 for Seibu. He made 25 starts and went the distance 14 times. Many experts (alot of people I've read over at rotoworld, specifically) are very concerned about how much his arm has been taxed over the past 5 years of playing in Japan. Pitch counts aren't that big of a deal over there and guys will go as long as they need to to get the win. When you're arguably the best pitcher on the planet, you'll typically find your way well into the triple digits in pitches. I'm not as concerned about the amount he's thrown over the past few years. Zito' and Schmidt have thrown a lot over the past few years, too. If you're truly going for a top of the rotation guy, that's part of it. I would be concerned, however, about his knack for getting hurt. I've seen numbers as high as $50 million tossed around as the amount that it may take to purchase Daisuke from Seibu. I'd bank on something in the mid $30's, but that's still some cash. You still have to pay him, too. Rotoworld says about 4 years & $50 million. Don't get me wrong here. I like this kid. In my research, somebody said that they thought he had the ability to be a top five pitcher and a Cy Young contender in the majors. With all the tape I've watched, I believe it without a doubt. He is absolutely electric. However, if you have to give up $50 million to get him (and then still pay him), you might want that to be a sound investment. There's about nine teams in the hunt for him. Whoever gets him is going to get somebody to build their rotation around for a long time, assuming he's healthy. I'm under the opinion the Cubs should maybe take a chance here. There is a lot of risk involved, but you'll get the best pitcher out there. The Cubs need pitching. Here's a kid who will give you exactly what you need. ---- Thanks to Wes for his time.
The Cubs have signed former top pitching prospect Matt Harrington to a minor league contract. Back in 2000, the Cubs selected Luis Montanez with their #1 pick (#3 overall), passing on Harrington (the #1 rated high school pitcher in the draft) because of his pre-draft contract demands.
I know that technically the ex-Cub factor is three or more Cubs on your post-season roster, but it's better not to tempt fate. Each division series winner had less ex-Cubs than the team they beat, at least on their pre-playoff rosters. It's going to make the Mets vs. Cardinals series very interesting. Also my Rule #1 of picking a team with a good run over the last few months has been completely blown up over the last two years. White Sox won it all last year despite almost coughing up the division to the Indians, Tigers looked unbeatable after dismantling the almighty Yankees and the Cardinals beat up on the formally hot Padres. It's all luck in the playoffs baby (and pitching). Onto the brief and useless preview and predictions:
It looks like Joe Girardi got his interview today with the Cubs. The article also says that AAA coach Mike Quade and AA coach Pat Listach will get interviews later this week. Interesting. I'm not 100% sold on Girardi quite yet, but some of his quotes in this Daily Herald article sounded promising. I found this one to be the most interesting:
"If you have seven home run hitters, you probably canít run a lot. Same thing with kids or veterans. The kind of players you have dictates how you manage. You adapt."
Beyond being respected in the clubhouse by your players, I personally believe it's the most important trait a manager should possess. We'll see if Girardi is true to his word though.
Those of you who may still be stuck in the rut of only reading the Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune have probably been missing out on some of the best Cubs-related writing out there. Bruce Miles of The Daily Herald has become a must-read on my morning periodical tour, offering a critical, but objective voice on all things Cubs with a sharp wit to spare. And the fella knows what OBP is as well, which is refreshing. He was kind enough to answer a few questions on what it's like to follow the Cubs on an everyday basis and give us his thoughts on the past season and the future off-season. ------ Letís start off with a quick autobiography, how did you eventually come about landing what I can only imagine is a dream job, that of covering a major league team on a daily basis. And if Iím not mistaken, the team you grew up following? Yes, I grew up in Chicago, following both the Cubs and White Sox in baseball season and the other Chicago teams in their seasons. I wanted to get into sports journalism early on as I had a love of sports, reading and writing. Like many writers, I started off covering high school sports before moving to other things, including a stint on the Sports copy desk at the Daily Herald, where I learned how to put the paper out every night. Iíve always found the life of a reporter that follows a certain team to be rather intriguing. Iím guessing that over a course of a season you end up forming some decent relationships with the players, coaches and management, yet at times you may need to be critical of that individual in one of your articles. How difficult is it to balance the personal relationships you form and your duties as a journalist? And how difficult is it to face someone after youíve taken them to task in print? Itís a balancing act, but Iíve always found that if Iím fair in my criticism and never get personal in that criticism, things will be fine. The good players will tell you: ìIf I played poorly, write that I played poorly. Just donít get personal.î And Iíve always made myself available whenever Iíve criticized a player, manager or management person. Earlier this season, Paul Sullivan of the Tribune made some headlines when Andy Macphail and Jim Hendry took exception to a few of his articles (I believe regarding Jacque Jones). Have you ever felt any pressure from the Cubs powers-that-be to temper your criticism of anyone in the organization? Never. Youíve made your presence felt a few places beyond your own paperís site, most notably showing up on the message boards over at North Side Baseball. Why have you embraced fan sites like ours and do they help you in any way with your writing? Iíve never wanted to feel ìaloofî from the readers. I learn a lot from them. Many are much more well versed in aspects of the game than I am. I have the advantage of access. Everybody has their blind spots. Iíve learned to cover a few of mine by listening to the readers. Thereís been much made about the Cubs not being able to get practice time at Wrigley Field this season, either out of lack of desire or scheduling overruns for corporate events. Is this something that has been happening for years and weíre just hearing about it now? Or are these Cubs as ill-prepared as theyíve looked all season? The most recent bunch of Cubs could have been made to work harder. That will be addressed this off-season. The Cubs have held fan clinics before games for several years. This is the first year, however, that I canít remember a Cubs team out there for regular early work. Paint us a picture of the Cubs clubhouse. Who are some of the stronger personalities? How would you compare the clubhouse atmosphere to past teams and possibly to some other organizations? This is a pretty laidback clubhouse. Scott Eyre was a very vocal presence. Phil Nevin tried to bully the reporters. He found out that doesnít work in Chicago. The veteran players the Cubs had this year were more ìlead-by-exampleî types, but I think Derrek Lee has emerged as a ìgo-toî guy. The atmosphere was good overall, even with all the losing. What have you heard about how Dusty Bakerís contract situation will be handled? Aramis Ramirez? Juan Pierre? Kerry Wood? We demand details!!! Actually weíll take whatever you got, weíre easy. (These questions were asked last week before Dusty's departure) By now, you know about Baker. I believe Ramirez will be back. I expect the two sides to exchange proposals next week. The Cubs will allow Pierre to test the market. I believe Kerry Wood will be back, taking an incentive laden deal to be a reliever. Have you heard any names that the Cubs might be coveting this off-season? Donít be vague now. Iíll know more after their organizational meetings. Theyíre evaluating every player in pro ball right now. Certainly, theyíll look at center-field candidates if Pierre leaves. Guys like Dave Roberts, Carl Crawford and Vernon Wells will be talked about a lot. Correct me if Iím mistaken, but you coined the nickname, ìThe Riotî for one of our favorite new Cubbies, Ryan Theriot, is that right? Do you have any other ones you care to unleash? You know, Bob Brenly may have come up with ìThe Riot.î Or we thought of it at the same time. But Iíd be glad to give Bob credit. Iíve come up with no others. Can we get one behind-the-scenes story that your editor wouldnít let you print or at least one you didnít think would fit in one of your articles? Iím not a real big gossip monger, so I donít have much for you here. Pretty much, if I know it, itís going in the paper. I will say that one of the most impressive things Iíve seen was Carlos Zambrano acting as interpreter for Juan Mateo after one game this year. I remember was Carlos first came up and could barely speak English. The fact that he now can serve as interpreter speaks volumes to me. Thatís really a lot of progress. ----- Thanks to Bruce for his time and insight on the state of the Cubs. It's good to hear about Zambrano maturing into a mentor. Not so good to hear about the Cubs not practicing on a regular basis. You can read another Q & A with Bruce over at Bleed Cubbie Blue as well and of course his writing via The Daily Herald.
I was watching Sportscenter just now and the New York Daily News apparently is reporting that Joe Torre is expected to be fired and Lou Piniella will be in as Yankee manager. Hardly the most credible source but if it turns out to be true that'll put a ripple in the coaching carousel.
Knowing that Dusty was going to be shown the door, I had this bright idea of compiling some of the best (or worst) quotes of his Cubs tenure as a sort of farewell to the toothpick chomper. I figured Sir Dusty had enough head-scratchers come out of his mouth the last four years that it would make for a good read. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the Trib must have my computer tapped so they can steal my ideas, and they just went and did it themselves, hogging all the glory. 2003 2004 2005 2006 It's a fun read although Sullivan somehow missed the whole base-clogging quote. I guess there's one from this year where Baker states that he pushed for Rothschild to stay (I assume back in 2002) and really wanted Chris Speier here as well. I always though those were strictly Hendry boys but at least from that one quote it sounded like Baker was more than okay with them. The other article from the Trib that I need to point out is this one by Rick Morrissey. Morrissey lays out the qualities he thinks the next Cubs manager should have and it's quite possibly one of the most spot-on opinion pieces I've ever read. There's just too much good stuff in there to put up here, so you'll have to follow the link. Otherwise, go Padres and Bears! I've got a Q&A with The Daily Herald's Bruce Miles ready to go for Monday, so stay tuned.
John J. "Buck" O'Neil, the ex-Negro Leaguer probably best-known as one of the "stars" of the Ken Burns PBS Documentrary series "Baseball" in the 1990's, died yesterday in Kansas City. He was 94.
''John (McDonough) is going to work with Jim Hendry and the rest of the organization to prepare for 2007. John will be the point person for decision-making with the Cubs." - Trib President Dennis FitzSimons at Andy MacPhail presser last Sunday ''It's important [candidates] understand what a privilege it is to be the manager of the Chicago Cubs. It's a unique culture -- the lights are brighter, the stage is bigger. Whether you're playing the Milwaukee Brewers on a night in April or the Los Angeles Dodgers in July, you're always playing in front of a full house. You need someone who recognizes it's a privilege and respects the logo and the fans and everything about it. It's a unique mystique, and the payoff should be the winning part.'' -- John McDonough telling the Sun-Times yesterday what he expects to see in the new Cubs manager ''They have to bring in someone who is pretty assertive. And someone has to take control of the clubhouse and just try to change the attitude of the whole organization.'' -- Joe Girardi on the type of manager needed by the Cubs, expressed as he left the Cubs as a FA November 2002 OK. So after John McDonough hears Jim Hendry's opinion and decides to hire Joe Girardi instead, what's next?
Let's finish up our look back at the 2006 season with roundtable responses from Derek Smart of Cub Town, Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue, and Chuck Gitles of Ivy Chat. Not surprisingly, there are some significant differences among the three of them when it comes to what the Cubs need to do this off-season. But, there are some pretty solid agreements as well. -------------------- 1. Dusty, Dusty, Dusty, is there any reasonable scenario that you can see him staying? And if he does go, sum up his tenure in 2 sentences or less. Derek: Define reasonable? If we're leaving aliens, rips in the space/time continuum, sordid photos of Andy MacPhail with a jar of mayonaise and their ilk out of the discussion, then I can't envision an extension of Dusty's reign.
Without further ado........ 1. Dusty, Dusty, Dusty, is there any reasonable scenario that you can see him staying? And if he does go, sum up his tenure in 2 sentences or less. (Again, question asked and answers submitted in advance of the firing)
Vorare No, I can't imagine Dusty staying. Even if Hendry wanted to resign him--perhaps to make Ramirez, Pierre, and Zambrano happy--I still don't think Dusty wants to be in Chicago any more. His comments to the media regarding the racist email pretty well demonstrated that; you don't intimate that your team's fanbase is full of racist hatemongers if you plan on sticking with that team. I think pretty much everyone, including Dusty, knows that he's done in Chicago. As for his time here? I can sum it up in two words: Neifi Perez. Perez was emblematic of most of Dusty's problems. Bleeding Blue Can I see him staying, yes. I still can't figure out a logical reason why he wasn't removed long ago. The best guess I can come up with is that Hendry has too much respect for Dusty to fire him mid-season, and he wants to allow Dusty the chance to leave in what will appear to be a mutual decision on good terms. Sadly, that same respect could also get him an extension offer. If Dusty is removed, his term will be best described as Extreme Underperformance. The Cubs have never lived up to their potential under Dusty's Regime, and have always found an excuse for why it's not their fault. Mike C No. Complete and utter disaster. No manager in the history of this franchise was given more and produced less than Dusty Baker.
2. Assuming Dusty joins the unemployment line, what do you want out of the next Cubs manger in terms of personality and qualities. Is there an individual you have in mind?
Vorare I think the manager at the major league level is overrated, so my requirements are simple. I want a guy who will keep the players focused and relatively happy, and I want a guy who will, in terms of filling out the lineup card, put the team in the best possible position to win on a daily basis. Beyond that, I don't think in-game strategy decisions have a significant impact on the team's record at the end of the season unless those decisions are, as we've seen at times over the last four years, mind-bogglingly stupid. I don't have any specific individuals in mind for the job, but I'd definitely prefer that it be someone with a low profile--a current coach, minor league manager, or a major league manager with minimal experience. I hear good things about Ron Washington and I respect Joe Girardi's professionalism, so I'd be happy either either of them. Bleeding Blue More than anything else, I want a manager who will hold the players accountable. He doesn't have to be a hard-ass, and he should have the respect of his players, but he also needs to hold the player accountable, especially in regards to fundamentals. He doesn't have to be a master tactician, but someone with a better sense of strategy will be a welcome change. Freddi Gonzalez is the name I find most interesting, although I will admit that I don't know enough about him to say he's the guy. Girardi is interesting, although based on what I've read I'm not sure that he's the right guy for the job. Mike C I want a manager who has some discipline in his background. I think the last 2-3 Cubs managers have tried to be everyone's best friend, and let the players do what they want when they want. Girardi is a nice example of a manager who is willing to work with players and gain their respect without being their best friend.
3. At what point did you give up your playoff aspirations for the 2006 Cubs? (continued below the fold)
-John Mcdonough grew up a White Sox fan and his interim tag sounds like it's temporary. He said it's safe to assume the payroll will stay in the vicinity of the $100 million range and don't expect a Yankees or Red Sox payroll splurge next year. - All the coaches are gone including Larry Rothschild and Chris Speier. They will be welcome back if the new manager wants them though. - "Joe Girardi will be a candidate, said Cubs general manager Jim Hendry of his search for Bakerís replacement."
Baseball America has released it's post-2006 "Top 10 Prospects," listing the top twenty prospects from each minor league. Here's how the Cubs fared...
If you're suffereing from parachat withdrawal, then feel free to pop in if you want to talk about the playoffs. No promises on who will be there, but give it a shot. The link is on the sidebar. Last year I trotted out the World's Most Useless Playoff Predictor. Let's try it again...
With the year coming to a merciful close, the TCR writers gathered together thanks to the wonders of technology and discussed the past and present. Luckily, cameras were there to catch the event. ---- Dusty, Dusty, Dusty, sum up his tenure in 2 sentences or less. AZ Phil: Dusty Baker is a good people manager, but is lacking in game management skills. He would probably do OK managing a veteran A. L. team (where double-switches are not required) with a lot of big egos like the Yankees or Red Sox or maybe the White Sox, and I suspect one of the main reasons Hendry hired Dusty was because Dusty had somehow managed to lead Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent into the World Series in 2002 and Jimbo thought Dusty would be the best choice to manage a team featuring a superstar prima donna like Sammy Sosa, but with Sammy now just a distant memory, an "ego manager" like Dusty Baker is no longer needed. Rob G. Dusty was more myth than manager. His deficiencies far outweighed his benefits. Transmission: He came. He saw. He complained. (Wait, thatís three sentences, let me try again.) In spite of who he replaced, and in spite of the successes of 2003 and 2004, Dusty failed to leave the Cubs in a better state than how he found them. I donít think I could have imagined such a failure. Ruz: I think his tenure could best be summed up in a haiku: High hopes for winning Quickly changed to excuses And too much Neifi What do you want out of the next Cubs manger in terms of personality and qualities. Is there an individual you have in mind? Ruz: I want a manager who doesn't bunt too much, who understands the value of a walk, and who doesn't prize experience and familiarity over talent. Basically, I think I want Earl Weaver. Rob G. I want a manager who doesnít hides behind excuses, whoís more worried about the team than his own ass, who doesnít treat a major league baseball team like a varsity high school squad, and who understands at the least the very basics of in-game management. Bruce Bochy would be interesting albeit unlikely. Most anyone else I donít know much about beyond their reputations and Iím not falling for that again. AZ Phil: A chicken shit Napoleon with a lot of lame rules isn't necessary, but I do want Hendry to hire a manager who demands excellence in his players' performance, who requires players to take pre-game batting & infield practice so that the team will be properly prepared for each game, who has strong game management skills such that the Cubs can get every little edge they can get every game, and who willingly accepts reponsibility for his own mistakes, shortcomings, and failures, and (most importantly) does something to correct them or make sure they don't happen again. Who? Well, without being present at the interviews, I couldn't say for sure. But Bobby Cox says Fredi Gonzalez will make an excellent manager, so maybe Fredi Gonzalez. Transmission: Dusty Baker lost all credibility ñ in his assessment of his teamís strengths and weaknesses, in his ability to discipline his players, to cope with the media or fans, to identify winning baseball strategies. There just came to be a point where I could not take seriously anything he said, based upon his personal history. I want someone who in his demeanor and personality, his tactical knowledge and disciplinary skills, demonstrates that it is worth my while to listen to him. Iíd like to see Ron Washington in Oakland get a shot. Freddi Gonzalez, of course. Absolutely no retread managers not named Showalter or Valentine. Those two would both be ìname brandî and unlikely to get pushed around by the politicking in the front office and the clubhouse. At what point did you give up your playoff aspirations for the 2006 Cubs? Transmission: If I recall my April prediction correctly, I gave up before the season started. This just wasnít a good team. Ruz: At the beginning of the season I predicted they'd finish two games behind the Cards (missed it by that much) so apparently sometime before Opening Day. Rob G. Probably when Derrek Lee went down, certainly when Kerry Wood went back on the shelf. AZ Phil: Sometime in May, after it became obvious that the team could not withstand the loss of Derrek Lee, and once it became clear that Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were not going to be able to join the starting rotation anytime soon. The deal for Phil Nevin (or somebody like him) should have been made immediately after it was known that D-Lee would miss at least two months. Hendry dropped the ball, in my opinion. There were far too many things that went wrong with the club to address in this space, was there anything that went right? Transmission: I got to see a game in person for the first time in six years. Murton, Theriot and Hill, of course. Jones wasnít the complete disaster I feared. Pierreís second half almost justified his presence. Aramisís second half suggested he has the capacity to carry a team, if he wanted to. We learned that when Barrett embarrasses himself and his team, it inspires him to become an elite hitter. AZ Phil: Not really. I would call 2006 "The Season from Hell." The number and types of injuries this year far exceeds what I believe is reasonably probable. It reminded me a lot of the 1985 season, when the entire Cubs starting rotation was on the DL at one point Ruz: Matt Murton looks like a solid major leaguer, Rich Hill looks like he gets it, Jacque Jones had a decent year, and the Cubs were bad enough that Dusty Baker isn't coming back. Rob G. It ended the Dusty Baker era, Iíd call the season a rousing success. Andy MacPhail resigning is pretty good too. Hill, Murton, Theriot and Marshall (in that order) got opportunities to show they could very well be part of the next good Cubs team or at the least, very tasty trade bait capable of reeling in a big fish. Can the Cubs compete next year without signing Aramis Ramirez? AZ Phil: Yes. It would not be easy to replace A-Ram's bat in the lineup and at 3B, but there are ALWAYS other options (like maybe sign Soriano & Feliz, or trade for V. Wells & Lowell, etc). I definitely want Hendry to do everything he can to re-sign Ramirez, however. Transmission: Realistically, no. It would require replacing his bat with Soriano, and everything else going as right in 2007 as went wrong in 2006. Rob G. Stranger things have happened, but Iíll go with bloody unlikely. Unless Hendry has a miracle trade in him for a third basemen next year, the options are pretty horrid in the free agent market. Ramirez is on the verge of becoming one of the elite hitters in the game. Ruz: I don't think they can compete *with* signing him, but they still have to. A healthy Ramirez/Lee duo, supplemented by another 20-homer guy (look, I'm not asking for the world) is the bare minimum for us to hope the offense can score enough runs to keep the team competitive. The Cubs seem to have more questions marks than the Riddlerís costume; prioritize the Cubs off-season moves in a handy clip and save card for Hendry. Rob G. 1. Resign Aramis Ramirez 2. Sign Jason Schmidt or Barry Zito or Daisuke Matsuzaka 3. Sign or Trade for another reliable, no worse than league average starter 4. Find some power at either CF or 2B, assuming everyone else stays the same. 5. Take a class in learning how to build a major league bench AZ Phil: A. Re-sign Ramirez B. Re-sign Zambrano long-term past 2007 C. Via FA or trade, acquire two reliable starting pitchers who make all of their starts and who can consistently keep their team in the game and pitch into the 7th inning. D. Add two or three proven quality vets to the bench, preferrably ace PH 3B-1B Wes Helms, a versatile lefty hitting PH-3B-1B-LF-RF like Geoff Blum, and maybe Craig Counsell as the utility middle-infielder (or he could start at SS or 2B if necessary). Guys who can get on base or get key hits off the bench late in the game. Ruz 1. Hire a manager quickly so free agents know what they can expect if they sign with the Cubs. 2. Re-sign Ramirez. 3. Sign a decent starting pitcher. 4. Figure out what you want to have happen in the middle infield and then make it happen. Transmission: 1. Begin overhaul of minor league instructional techniques. 2. Begin overhaul of major league strength and conditioning, flexibility, and off-season training programs 3. Add walks to the offense, remove them from the pitching staff. Be as radical as need be in re-creating the roster to do so. 4. Related, do not fall into the trap of dismissing this year as the result of fluke injuries. This year was the product of a systemic failure to develop, promote, and acquire the players and skills necessary for a winning ball-club. You have $13-15 million burning a hole in your budget next year and one roster spot available. Give us the 3 free agents you target with that money. Ruz I'm really bad at this. Alfonso Soriano is a sexy pick right now, but he'll probably demand more than $13-$15M. Jermaine Dye's never going to match his 2006 numbers again. Torii Hunter is the kind of over-30 free swinger that I could see Jim Hendry throwing a 3 or 4 year deal at. I think it might be best to grab two mid-range starting pitchers for that money.** Let's say Miguel Batista and Jeff Suppan. Put them in the rotation behind Zambrano and Hill, find a cheap fifth starter, and try to get back to .500. AZ Phil: A. Jason Schmidt B. Alfonso Soriano C. Barry Zito (however, if Schmidt or Soriano cannot be signed, I would actually prefer the money to be spent on two healthy & reliable rotation starters instead of just on Zito). Transmission: Soriano. Anything left over (or more likely, the full amount, when we fail to land Soriano) should be used to fish for a cheap Frank Catalanotto, one of the three innings-eating left-handers Ted Lilly, Randy Wolf or Barry Zito, and from the right side, one of Jason Schmidt, Tony Armas or Tomo Ohka. God, what a bad off-season for free agency. Rob G. 1. Jason Schmidt 2. Barry Zito 3. Alfonso Soriano (to play CF) What are 3 things the Cubs should avoid doing this off-season at all costs? (asked before Dusty was relieved of duties) AZ Phil: A. Do NOT retain Dusty Baker as manager; B. Do NOT play Larry Himes hard-ass with Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano; C. Do NOT count on Mark Prior as a rotation starter for next season, but give him a chance to get back on the track. Rob G. 1. Go after one year wonders (Gary Matthews Jr., Pedro Feliz, etc) 2. Trade Rich Hill for anything less than a superstar hitter with years of club control left. 3. Sell any of their future for an immediate 2007 fix. Trading prospects is fine if the bounty is a player that will be around for at least 3 years. But risking it all for 2007 wouldnít be wise. Ruz Putting all their eggs in one basket on the free agent market, counting on anything productive out of Mark Prior next year, and thinking they can make a run at the playoffs. Transmission: Entering a land-war in Asia Naming a city after the head of your society or organization Showing mercy on the children who are rightful heirs to the throne. Regarding the Cubs, they are going to be tempted by the same things that have temped the Cubs for as long as I can remember: 1. overpaying on mediocre free-agent pitching. This off-season looks like it might lead to contracts not seen since the Chan Ho Park, Denny Neagle and Darren Dreifort era around the turn of the millennium. 2. overpaying for name-brand, washed-up, over-rated managers 3. messing with Wrigley Field in order simultaneously to squeeze more revenue out of the park itself while also raising ticket prices. Lightning Round: Give us your thoughts on these players and how important they are to next yearís team? Juan Pierre AZ Phil:I would not necessarily have a problem with Hendry re-signing Juan Pierre, but I would prefer Alfonso Soriano or possibly Vernon Wells (if Hendry can acquire him without trading both Matt Murton and Felix Pie), because I like sluggers who can drive the ball. Transmission: gone Rob G.: Not worth what heíll be asking. We should be able to do better. Ruz: The alternatives (Soriano for too much money, Felix Pie before he's ready) might be worse. Aramis Ramirez AZ Phil: Jim Hendry needs to sign Aramis Ramirez to a contract extension. Transmission: essential Rob G.: Vertical blue pin-stripes are very slimming. Ruz: Gotta keep him Kerry Wood AZ Phil: I hope Woody would be willing to accept a 2007 contract with a low base and incentives (maybe $1m guaranteed and $100,000 for each appearance), and that if he is offered and does accept a deal like that, that he will be healthy enough to be a "John Smoltz"-type closer for the Cubs next season. If he isn't consistent enough to be a closer, I wouldn't mind a Kerry Wood pitching in middle relief, either. Transmission: who? Rob G.: ìComing in to lock down his 50th consecutive save for your Chicago Cubs, Kerry Woodî Ruz: Don't even think about it Matt Murton AZ Phil: I believe Matt Murton is on the verge of becoming an outstanding MLB player, and I hope he returns in 2007. The MLB player to whom I would now compare him is Michael Cuddyer. If it is necessary to include Murton in a trade for a proven star like Miguel Cabrera, I certainly would, but otherwise Murt would be my starting LF in 2007. Transmission: worth a shot, weíre not contending next year, anyway. Rob G.: Heís only going to get better. It would be pretty foolish to give up on him unless he brings a superstar with years of club control like Miguel Cabrera. Ruz: Get him 500 AB Rich Hill AZ Phil: Like with Barry Zito, home runs will always be a bug-a-boo for a fly ball pitcher like Rich Hill, but I am happy to see Hill finally trust his stuff and throw strikes. As far as I'm concerned, he has earned a spot in the 2007 starting rotation. Trading him would be stupid, because then there would be another hole in the rotation. Transmission: Zambrano/Hill is a delicious thought. Dark-horse All Star candidate. Rob G.: Virtually untouchable at this point. (within reason) Ruz: The next big Cubs pitching hope -- a #4 in '07, a #2 in '08 Felix Pie AZ Phil: I believe Felix Pie will be an outstanding MLB player in the near future. He can be a Gold Glove-quality CF with a plus-arm, he is coachable, and he has worked hard with Von Joshua to improve his plate discipline and with Bob Dernier to improve his base-stealing. I believe he is very close to the big leagues right now. However, I can't see Pie as a lead-off hitter. To me, he is more of a middle-of-the-order run producer. Transmission: Do Not Open Until 2008 Rob G.: Not Corey Patterson and Not Quite Ready. Should be the first callup if any OFíers go down next year though. Ruz: Not yet, if ever Ryan Theriot AZ Phil: The Riot is an example of a player who became a good hitter by giving up switch-hitting. Once he learned to hit right-handed against RHPs, he became a consistent .300 hitter. Barring injury, he should be the Cubs starting 2B on Opening Day in 2007, and stay there until such time as Eric Patterson is (hopefully) ready to take the job sometime in '07 or '08. When and if E-Pat is ready, I would move Theriot to SS. I believe Theriot is another David Eckstein or Ryan Freel, and I like that type of player. He drives the opposition nutso. He is a good top-of-the-order type hitter, can go deep into the count, and can hit either 1st or 2nd. Transmission: Let him leadoff, hit second if we keep Pierre Rob G.: Damn heís fun to watch. If an All-star caliber second basemen with some pop is available (Durham or Marcus Giles), I wouldnít pass them up. Othwise Iím comfortable with giving him a shot at the job in spring training. Ruz: give him the 2B job and find out if this year was a fluke or a benchmark Mark Prior AZ Phil: If Mark Prior is healthy in 2007, he could easily return to his 2003 form. I just don't know whether he will be healthy or not, so I would want a viable Plan "B" for his spot in the rotation. But I wouldn't give up on him just yet. Transmission: who? Rob G.: Act like he doesnít exist. Ruz: Plan for the season without him. That way anything he gives the team will be a bonus. Can the Cubs be contenders next year without expanding the budget to $150 million and what will it take to do so? Ruz Of course they can. There is no juggernaut in the NL Central, and any team who puts together a smart plan and follows it should be able to win the division. Can you spot the critical word in the last sentence? Transmission: I donít see enough on the market or enough in our system of trade value to be able to turn this runaway freight train of a Titanic towering inferno quagmire around in one off-season. This is going to take time to clean up. AZ Phil: Sure. Absolutely. And not just because the N. L. Central is probably the weakest division in baseball, either. It would not require much more than re-signing Aramis Ramirez to a contract extension, hiring a different manager, putting together a healthy and reliable group of rotation starters, and the return of Derrek Lee as the everyday 1B, to make the team an instant contender. Rob G. Why not us? Why not now? Hmm, that sounds familiar. Itís bloody unlikely unless some of our young pitchers really step up next year (Iím looking at you Angel Guzman and Sean Marshall) and Hendry nails every move he makes next year. Spending lots of money would help the cause tremendously.

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