The Cubs are without a caretaker for the first time in four years and Teflon Jim has been busy gathering the greatest minds in baseball, letting them know what a privilege it would be to manage the worst team in the N.L., for a franchise that hasn't won anything in 98 years. You've got your work cutout for you Jim. God Speed. Some of us TCR-folk (kind of like river folk) had a little chat on the candidates: ---- 1) What's the most important question that Jim Hendry needs to be asking the candidates in their interviews? Rob G. - Know any good places to eat? (just kidding) "What are your methods for preparing the team, not only on a daily basis, but to withstand the rigors of a six to seven month season?" I'm going to cheat here and throw in a second question - "From an outsider's viewpoint, what were the most obvious mistakes this organization has made over the last four years?" AZ PHIL- "What makes you think you can do a better job than the three previous permanent managers (Riggleman, Baylor, Baker), or to put it another way, what (if anything) did they do that you would have not done, or what did they not do that you would have done?" Ruz - "Pop quiz, hotshot: It's the bottom of the first inning. The leadoff man is on first. Ryan Theriot, a pretty good bat-handler is at the plate. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?"
The Mesa Solar Sox played their AFL home opener tonight at HoHoKam Park in Mesa. No wind, and cool temps. A couple of hundred fans and a couple of hundred scouts. A very pleasant evening.
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...

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