It's a shame that franchise (KC Royals) can't be competitive. In the 70s and 80s, they had one of the best fan bases in baseball relative to population. The economics of the game have made thriving in KC/Pittsburgh nearly impossible. It's things like that that make me back off of my Republican economic beliefs and start to think the Communists or at least the socialists had a decent idea. KC and Pittsburgh are great small cities with great sports fans. They deserve better than the snot with bats that they are forced to root for. The Cubs bring most of their problems on themselves, as they have the resources to do better. But the Royals and Pirates in particular are truly handicapped. - "X" in TCR, Friday 12-23-05. X is spot-on correct, folks. It will likely be a long, long time before we see the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals in the World Series again, and that is a shame. Which is why from time to time there have been discussions about improving "competietive balance" in MLB. The MLBPA will never accept a NBA or NFL-style salary cap, and the mechanism of free-agency and free-agency "compensation" (draft choice) aren't going to change anytime soon, but there are other ways to equal the playing field a bit. Everyone who's thought about it probably has their own ideas about how best to do it, and I have mine, and I invite all of you to offer your suggestions as well. While you are thinking about it, here are some of the ideas I have for immediately improving MLB "competitive balance," especially as it relates to giving losing clubs and smal market teams a chance at acquiring some pretty decent talent for a reasonable price, and it's a a process which does not involve token compensation for losing free-agents by getting a pick in the "crap shoot" known as the June Draft. Rather, I'm talkng about genuine coin-of-the-realm major leagure players, and good ones, too. Let's start at the end of the regular season, and take it from there...
I'll make this brief and please continute to use the "Blue Christmas?" thread for the Prior/Tejada trade talks.
The #1 topic of conversation these last few days has been the possibility of trading Mark Prior. Speculation, thanks to Ken Rosenthal's column, has centered on Prior going to Baltimore in a trade that brings Migeul Tejada to the Cubs, though there has been talk of a trade to the Phillies, and there may be a West Coast team (like the A's?) involved as well. The Cubs are supposedly holding out for Erik Bedard in return, while the O's may want one of the Cubs' minor leaguers along with Prior. Rob, Trans, John and I had a little discussion about this in email last night (and John even managed to drop a Dr. Who reference like the cheeky Brit he is), and since no matter what we post today the comments are going to be about this trade, we thought we'd just post our exchange here:
Not too much happens, generally, the closer we get to Christmas. But here's one gem: 12-23-1997 - Traded Doug Glanville to the Philadelphia Phillies. Received Mickey Morandini. I believe there will be at least one detailed article, perhaps more, posted today and tomorrow. So feel free to use this as an open-thread, while the articles stay more on-topic.
Gee, I dunno. What do you wanna talk about?
The Cub Reporter has been nominated for Best Sports Blog of 2005. Go on over the Red Reporter and vote. Don't let the Batlings steal the election!
OK, I've come all the way around on the Jones signing and am in favor of it. There are a few caveats, but overall I think it will improve the team. The question I kept asking myself was, "does this make the Cubs better than they were last year?" And the answer, it seems to me, is yes. Signing Jones does two things: it replaces Jeromy Burnitz in the outfield, and it prevents Corey Patterson from starting.
...but not playing dead. I still haven't gotten all my thoughts together about the Jones signing, but I will say the more I think about it the less I hate it. I hope to be able to post a bit on that topic tomorrow, but for now the comments needed to be rolled over. Instead of re-hashing that, though, I want to bring Arizona Phil's trade musings out of the comments. I'm not usually a fan of blue-sky trade talk, but Phil had a couple of ideas that not only seemed good for the Cubs, but seem like they'd make some sense as well:
The player I think now most likely to be traded now is Matt Murton, either in a deal for Bobby Abreu or in a deal for Miguel Tejada. That's why Hendry felt he had to jump on Jacque Jones before Jones went elsewhere.I think ideally Hendry wants Dusty to play Jones in LF, where his below average arm is less of a negative factor. And Hendry would probably want to acquire a stud middle-of-the-order run producer to hit between Lee and Ramirez, with Jones hitting 6th (or at least 5th against RHP, or 6th against LHP). Hendry must knows by now what it would take to do it, and that he thinks he now has the offer it would take to get either Miguel Tejada or Bobby Abreu. It probably starts with Matt Murton, and would include other players like Jerome Williams and Ronny Cedeno (if it's a deal for Tejada) or Rich Hill (if it's a deal for Bobby Abreu). I suspect Barry Zito would be part of a deal for Abreu, and that Hendry has that part already in place. Remember, if the Cubs acquire Tejada or Abreu and pay all of the player's salary (minus Barry Zito's salary), the Orioles and Phillies would have money left over to either sign (although most of the better FAs are already gone) or make a deal for a replacement run producer. If acquiring Barry Zito is crucial to getting Abreu and possibly even as part of a deal for Tejada, the Cubs are in a good position to make Oakland a tempting offer. If you look at what Oakland took back for Tim Hudson (Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer, and Charles Thomas) and Mark Mulder (Dan Haren, Kiko Calero, and Daric Barton), trading Barry Zito to the Cubs for Matt Murton, Rich Hill, and either Michael Wuertz, Roberto Novoa, or Jerome Williams would be a very similar type deal, certainly a better package than what they got back from Atlanta for Hudson. And then the Cubs could trade Zito and Felix Pie to the Phillies to get Abreu, or Zito, Pie, and Cedeno to the Orioles to get Tejada. The Phillies and Orioles could use the $5m differential in 2006 salaries between Abreu and Zito or Tejada and Zito to acquire a replacement run producer.
To recap, Phil is suggesting: * Trade Matt Murton, Rich Hill, and one of Wuertz, Novoa or Williams to the A's for Barry Zito Then, * Trade Zito and Felix Pie to the Phillies for Bobby Abreu OR trade Zito, Pie and Ronnie Cedeno to the Orioles for Miguel Tejada I have a problem with the Orioles scenario, in that it leaves the Cubs short one outfielder, and with both Murton & Pie gone, it would seem to put Corey Patterson back in the starting lineup, which I'm not in favor of. Personally, I'd be happy with the Philly version of this trade as long as the Cubs got a prospect from the A's along with Zito. I'm not really in favor of trading four or five young guys away and not getting any young guys in return, even if Abreu was the result. I'd love to see someone like Jairo Garcia come over, but he wouldn't have a shot at making the 'pen. I wonder if the A's would part with someone like someone like second baseman Kevin Melillo or left-hander Dallas Braden?
As if it isn't bad enough that my wife, my daughter, and I have all been sick for the last three days, today I have to wake up and find out that the Cubs actually went to three years on Jacque Jones. The one thing I've been clinging to these last few weeks was the knowledge that only the Royals had offered him the third guaranteed year. I hoped that would be enough for him to decide to play there instead of in Chicago. So much for that. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that I don't hate this signing. I certainly don't think it's terrible, like giving nearly $40M to Jarrod Washburn, or like giving any money at all to Tony Batista. It's only about $5M a year, so it won't break the bank. In general, I guess I'm ambivalent, leaning barely toward grudging acceptance. Mostly, it's the third year that upsets me. Let's assume that the Cubs are working toward signing Juan Pierre to a long-term deal. If that happens, then Felix Pie has been effectively blocked by the organization, which strikes me as one of those moves that might help the team in the short run but is going to damage them down the road. If they had blocked Pie with a star player, that would be one thing, but to do it with guys like Pierre and Jones exhibits a short-sightedness that is upsetting.
Free agent right fielder Jacque Jones has signed a $16m/3yr deal with the Cubs. And with that I'm off to bed to dream of just how I'll celebrate in September 2008 when this deal expires. More from me in the morning. Trans To repeat a sentiment that I presume has been expressed somewhere in the flood of comments: The Jacque Jones signing does not solve our outfield situation. Jones is adequate enough against right-handed pitching, hitting to a tune of .268/.348/.466/.814 last year. But he simple cannot be played against left-handed pitching (.201/.247/.370/.617). Find me a cheap corner-OF bat that can mash left-handed pitching in a platoon and we have an adequate right-field plan. Not good, but adequate. Several TCR people are hot about the recently released Jeff DaVanon, whose three-year splits against lefties are .307/.425/.455/.880. To this list of right-handed platoon bats I would add Jose Cruz Jr, Kevin Mench, Craig Monroe, Emil Brown, Dustan Mohr, Eli Marrero and Gabe Kapler. None of them are players I'd want to see collecting 500 ABs for the Cubs in a year, but then again, neither is Jacque Jones. And all of these guys are at a point in their life where they should be content with a platoon job mashing lefties, a skill at which they've all proven capable. Until that happens, I would have rather gone with Corey's greater speed and defense, and his lesser age, salary, and length of contract commitment.
The Cubs have named Tim Wilken their new Director of Amateur & Pro Scouting, replacing John Stockstill, who left the Cubs organization to take a similar position with the Orioles. The 52-year old Wilken is an Old School scout who left Toronto after J. P. Ricciardi brought Moneyball to the Blue Jays in 2001. Wilken was named one of the Top Ten GM prospects in baseball by Baseball America in 2003. Wilken is known for drafting high school players (although he claims to have no real preference for high schoolers over college kids, that is his tendency) and believes in building a draft the same way you build a team, with "strength up the middle" (pitchers, catchers, shortstops, and centerfielders).
Today we have a guest column from long-time TCR reader and occasional guest poster RJ Johnson. It's a look at the Cubs' off-season moves so far, something that I think a few people around here have been interested in talking about. Like Trans said, let's try to keep the discussion focused on the article at hand and use the TICH comments for everything else. Enjoy! ========== It's December after the Winter Meetings when all good fans' thoughts turn to, "What did our GM do this time?" Let's see what Santa Hendry has left for us under the tree along with some speculation as to what else might be opened up before the spring thaw. After months of caterwauling about the lack of a competent leadoff hitter, Trader Jim has unwrapped Juan Pierre as the Cubs new center-fielder. Yes, he gave up three pitching prospects and the thought that any one of them might turn out to be the second coming of Dontrelle Willis gives one pause. But I like the trade for what it gives the Cubs now in much the same way that I like the Derrek Lee trade. Maybe one of the pitchers will pan out, but we get several years of Pierre now.
12-20-2002 Signed Shawn Estes as a free agent. I told you today's wasn't an improvement on yesterday's. Although in happier news we also signed Ricky Gutierrez to a two-year deal today, in 1999. Also: On days where someone has written a detailed article, it would be ideal to keep that message board more-or-less on-topic, while using TICH for more free-ranging discourse... Not mandatory or anything, just nice.
Right now, few things are likely to be much further from the mind than the state of our starting pitching, which presently represents a definite strength. But by this time next year things could easily have changed, and the front office needs to be looking very closely at the future of our rotation, showing some foresight for once. Just so we're clear, Cubbies, as to what's meant by "foresight", this is not it... "Look, it's Monday July 25th 2005, we're 50-48, four and a half games out of a wild card race in which we're running fifth out of seven teams. We've placed Kerry Wood on the disabled list today after he left his last start with stiffness in his right shoulder, which has been troubling him all year, and which we now know will at some stage require surgery to correct the problem. But, damn it, Neifi hit a grand slam against the Cardinals on national television last night, we can still do this, we can still win the World Series! Oh my, I've just had a fine foresightful idea: how about we delay Wood's surgery until August 31st and use him as a middle reliever in the meantime?!" The company line has recently become that no one should count on Wood being ready for Opening Day. May heads roll. The increasing likelihood that Wood will not be ready in time for the start of the season is particularly significant because Wood is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract, and he needs a big season to make the Cubs' big decision a little easier: we hold a $13.5m option on Wood for 2007 versus a $3m buyout that would make him a free agent. It's entirely plausible that Wood will not have that big year, especially if he returns with the season already underway, hitters in their stride, without a proper Spring Training. So it's also entirely plausible that Wood won't be back in 2007, much as it pains me to say it when talking about such a ridiculously talented pitcher with time still on his side. Trouble is, Kerry Wood's not the only possible departee. Greg Maddux's deal is now entering its final year, and he probably shouldn't be re-signed, at least not to pitch. He eats his innings, but he's no longer the pitcher he once was, and he'll turn 41 within the first fortnight of the 2007 season. Glendon Rusch meanwhile, if he hasn't been traded, may well have pitched himself out of the rotation anyway. So this time next year, it's entirely possible that our starting pitching will consist of Zambrano and Prior, assuming good health, and three pitchers to be named later. Hendry needs to be alive to the possibility. Acquiring pitching via free agency has become prohibitively expensive. Before, next April rolls around, major league baseball teams will in the space of two offseasons have committed in the region of $600m to the following twenty free agent starting pitchers: Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, AJ Burnett, Kevin Millwood, Matt Clement, Jarrod Washburn, Brad Radke, Jon Lieber, Derek Lowe, Jeff Weaver, Paul Byrd, Esteban Loaiza, Kris Benson, Carl Pavano, Odalis Perez, Matt Morris, Kenny Rogers, Jaret Wright, Eric Milton and Russ Ortiz. And I'd only consider the first two bona-fide top of the rotation aces. At nearly $30m each for these twenty, the market is well established, and it's simply not worth getting involved with, which is why teams are already trying to ditch these contracts in spite of them scarcely being a year old! The Cubs, thankfully, have been able to avoid forking out such crazy money (Maddux perhaps aside) by virtue of drafting and developing their own young pitching. This is a far, far more cost-effective way of doing things, and it's given the Cubs a huge advantage over the last few years that they've spectacularly managed to squander. But if there's one thing that the Cubs shouldn't take from their recent failures, it's that they've got their pitching priorities wrong. Far from it, and that's why, especially with Zambrano and Prior starting to earn the big buck, if or when the Cubs have pitching holes to fill in 2007, they should look to fill them using the minor league system, using young, cheap pitchers. Spend the money on the offence. As of right now, with Andy Sisco, Ricky Nolasco, Renyel Pinto and Sergio Mitre recently gone for good, the Cubs are down to five young pitchers that are viable options for the 2007 rotation: Jerome Williams, Rich Hill, Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall and Jae-Kuk Ryu. It is possible that top prospect Mark Pawelek will fly through the system far quicker than expected, but his mechanical issues make that unlikely. It's possible that Carlos Marmol will continue with his giant leaps and bounds, but it would be a lot to ask. It's possible that Chadd Blasko and Billy Petrick will come back strong from injury, picking up where they left off in 2003 and 2004 respectively, but that's optimistic. And it's possible that someone completely off the radar, like Rich Hill last year, will break out and put his name forward, but don't hold your breath. Realistically, at this stage, it comes down to the first five names: Williams, Hill, Guzman, Marshall and Ryu. With potentially three spots to fill in 2007, even though these young pitchers could fetch a ransom with the widespread need for pitching, and could net us the right right fielder, Hendry needs to be conscious of our own need for pitching, in 2007, and balance that with our need for offence in 2006. In other words, it's not worth the Cubs using The Five to pay for a hitter that's not really going to make that much of an impact. You know, in the same way it wasn't worth using The Eight to pay for Juan Pierre.

Speaking of impact hitter Arizona Phil yesterday was. And I agree: the Cubs should extend Derrek Lee this winter. I see the chances of Lee walking away after another fine year in 2006 as too high, and the consequences of that - the hostile fan reaction, the price and difficulty that would come with replacing him - as too dangerous. That said, I think a deal for Lee such as the one Arizona Phil was proposing is just as dangerous. So here's the pretty complicated new contract I propose the Cubs try to get Lee to sign this winter... In 2006, a guaranteed $13m, a $3.5m improvement or so on what he's owed for 2006 under the terms of his current deal. From 2007-09, a guaranteed $7m per year, with another $2m per year if he reaches 550 plate appearances, another $3m bonus for each top ten placing in NL MVP voting, another $3m bonus for each top three placing (such that a top three placing would earn him $6m in total). A $15m mutual option for 2010 versus a $3m buyout. Finally, a full no-trade clause up until the end of the 2007 season, and the right to block a trade to, say, five teams of his choice thereafter. In total, the deal could be worth anywhere between $37m/4yrs and $73m/5yrs. I did warn you it was pretty complicated. [UPDATE: Trying to build in protection against injury is somewhat superfluous because of the existence of such a thing as insurance, it now occurs to me. Duh! Given also that Lee's recent health history is as good as they come, I'd have little problem guaranteeing the money tied to plate appearances, as such taking the guaranteed money up to $43m/4yrs.] Why might Lee jump at it? Well, he can boost his 2006 salary here and now, and so start reaping the rewards of his superb 2005 right away, which he'd otherwise have to postpone until free agency. He also guarantees himself a very considerable amount of guaranteed money from 2007-09, money that he could quite easily never see if he pushes for free agency but succumbs to injury or has a terrible year in 2006. At the same time though, Lee isn't having to give up on a big pay day for the sake of immediate long-term financial security: this deal allows him to earn $15m a year every time he puts up MVP calibre numbers over a full season, which is roughly what he'd be looking at via free agency based on recent deals given to Konerko, Delgado and Thome. Neither is he completely giving up on the idea of ever seeing free agency, since the deal only ties him to the Cubs through his age 33 season. At that point, if he wanted, he could decline his half of the mutual option and try to get a another big contract on the free agent market. Finally, by signing this contract now, Lee shows loyalty to the Cubs and the city of Chicago, doesn't portray himself as a free agent mercenary, and he can book himself a nice long break in the Caribbean next winter rather than worrying about where his next home will be, where his next paycheck's coming from. Why should the Cubs jump at it? The Cubs show the same loyalty to Lee, they commit to him in advance and they offer him a no-trade clause. But the real key to this particular deal for the Cubs is that has its own built-in insurance. If Derrek Lee was for real in 2005, and Lee rattles off .300/.400/.600 seasons over the next few years, he gets paid accordingly, up to $73m/5yrs. But there's also the very realistic possibility that Lee reverts back to his old .270/.370/.500 self, that he gets injured, that he simply declines with age. Because a lot of the money in the deal is tied up in bonuses and the option, such that Lee would end up with no more than the equivalent of a $27.5m/3yr [UPDATE: $33.5m/3yr) free agent deal from, say, the Dodgers next winter if he were to go Todd Hundley on us, the Cubs can avoid a good chunk of the bad contract-ness. That's still actually better than Lee's current deal, and an awful lot of money, a bad contract still to be sure. Not that Lee's agent is likely to see things that way, maybe arguing that his client can get a much more guaranteed money if he just holds out for free agency. That though would raise the interesting contradiction that Lee trusts his ability to stay healthy and to hit for one year (long enough to get to free agency), but not for three or four. In that case, why should any team, presumably less subjectively bullish than Lee himself as to his career prospects, make him any kind of long-term big-money commitment? In other words, if Lee rejects this kind of deal on the grounds that there isn't enough guaranteed money involved, he's forsaking loyalty and earning his corn for the possibility of financially exploiting the sheer stupidity that strikes other General Managers when the free agent market gets in motion. Greed. I really don't think that that's what Lee's about, which is why I'd offer him this deal, confident that he'd like it, but if it is what he's about, he's probably not what the Cubs really need anyway. No, if that is what he's all about, maybe what we need is some non-tendered Hee Seop Choi! Well, maybe not. I rant and I rave at you these days, Jim, but credit where credit's due, great trade.
It's not often that I take something from the comments and put it on the front page, but I found myself agreeing so strongly with the following "tirade" that got buried in amongst yesterday's Bears talk (guys, you should know better, follow real football - you know, the one in which they use their feet) that I thought I'd give it a little attention...
I just don't get why Hendry has started agreeing to the player option to become a FA mid-contract. All that does is give the player leverage to renegotiate the deal at that point -- if the player CAN become a free agent, he essentially IS a free agent for negotiating purposes. If the player is unable to use the FA opt-out as leverage (because it's unlikely that he would be able to get a better deal elsewhere), that will just mean that he is being paid above market by the Cubs at the time. The thing I dislike most about that option is that it's self-defeating. Here's how. We have to assume that Hendry offers the option as a way to secure a salary that's slightly less attractive to the player in some way (amount, years, structure, etc.) than the player might accept without the option. (If that's not true, then the option wouldn't be offered in the first place.) But if the player agrees to a salary that isn't the absolute best he can get, it just makes it that much more likely that the player will be at a below-market salary when the option kicks in, and consequently able to use the option as renegotiating leverage. So even if the option "works", it backfires. I know that each deal is a unique negotiation and it's likely that Hendry gets something in return for this concession (i.e. it may be the final throw-in in order to get the player comfortable with the dollars offered). But this term really has the potential to blow up in Hendry's face.
It is indeed a trend amongst Hendry's deals of late, and it's one I also don't like. I'm also really not a fan of the more traditional player option at the end of a contract, which can be used to similar ends, and which is the only reason Glendon Rusch has himself a shiny new two-year deal right now. Not that it's a terrible deal in this market - as you probably know, I'm a bit of a Glendon Rusch fan. Still.


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