Well at least I haven't woken up to the headlines of "Jose Macias signed to lifetime contract by Cubs" yet. Give it time. Don't forget to check out the Free Agent Frenzy contest we're piggy-backing off of MLB.com. It's the post right below this one. A fun little game to see where you think some of this year's free-agent class will land.
MLB.com is sponsoring another year of Free Agent Frenzy. They give you a list of the top 15 free agents in their opinion and you rank them by team and by confidence level. Winner gets free opening day tickets. Try to use the comments to ONLY post your own picks. (So don't go looking at the comments and then posting your picks, please do that first) Once all the players on the list sign, I'll try and calculate a winner. I'll figure out a prize later. Signing period begins tomorrow so get your picks in quick!!! You can view mine after the jump:
Not much going on, but we're over 100 comments on the last post, so I thought I'd give you all a fresh canvas. So that today's post isn't totally content-free here's what Pro Sports Daily has to say about the Cubs: * Hideki Matsui might be interested in signing with the Cubs. An interesting possibility if he can handle right field and doesn't want a $10M contract. * The Cubs might be one of 20+ teams in the mix for A.J. Burnett. I'm not interested for the money he'll command. * There is some sort of multi-team blockbuster in the works that involves Corey Patterson and Juan Pierre. Pierre was a stellar 57/74 in steals last year, but his OBP dropped to a career-low .326. If he's getting on base at a .350+ clip, he's a good choice at the leadoff position.
I am, as many others are, upset about the Neifi Perez signing. My feelings about Neifi are well-documented here, so there's no need to re-hash them, and Rob pretty much covered the potential problems, which we all assume will become reality, in giving Perez a two-year deal. Searching for any sort of silver lining, I grab onto the fact that Neifi and Rafael Furcal are buddies, and Neifi has already made a recruiting call to Furcal, trying to get him to come to Chicago. Furcal has had some well-documented troubles with the law, including two DUIs, the second of which led to actual jail time. In a discussion about this signing, a friend mentioned the possibility that Neifi had been retained to sort of keep Furcal on the straight and narrow. It's highly speculative, of course, but isn't that what the off-season is about? So here's where my thinking is right now: Maybe re-signing Perez helps the Cubs sign Furcal. And maybe having Perez around makes it easier for Furcal to stay off the sauce and concentrate on playing shortstop and hitting leadoff, two things he does well. If so, then I'm willing to write off the $6M that Neifi got. I'll even mentally add it to whatever contract Furcal signs -- if it's a five-year deal as rumored, then that's only just over a million more per year. That's walking-around money to a major league franchise. If Furcal comes to Chicago and as a result Derrek Lee sees more than the anemic 379 runners on base he saw last year, I'll consider it money well-spent. Lee came to the plate with 379 runners on base, and drove in 61 of them. That's 0.161 RBI per runner. Not a great rate, but a decent one. By comparison, Alex Rodriguez had a worse rate than Lee's (0.159) but ended up driving in 82 runners because he had 516 opportunities. Think about that for a second: A-Rod had 137 more RBI opportunities than Lee last year. That's almost one additional runner on base per game. Giving Lee (and A-Ram behind him) one more runner a game to try to drive in is worth six million dollars, I think. This doesn't address the issue of playing time, of course. Perez has been given "no guarantees that he'll be a starter," which brings the number of players on the Cubs roster signed to multi-year contracts without any guarantees of starting to two, and I'd say I believe it in approximately zero cases. Anyone who thinks that Dusty can be handed a loaded Neifi without expecting him to point it at the lineup hasn't been paying attention the last few years. I haven't figured out a way to justify the playing time, but there are still almost five months until Opening Day -- give me time.
I proclaim that I have absolutely no clue what Jim Hendry's plans are this off-season. Cause this one is just baffling. The Cubs resigned TCR whipping boy Neifi Perez for not one, but 2 years. Re-read that if you have too, although that may be too painful. Details have yet to be disclosed about the contract but judging by how much Dusty and Hendry both love the guy so much I'm sure it includes access to the company yacht, a stake in ownership and guardian rights to Darren Baker. No word from anybody about the deal other than the press release, although Hendry had this to say:
"I've decided I really like the guys who catch the ball."
Fantastic, I whole-heartedly agree. But at $100 million+ payroll, maybe we could find some guys who can catch the ball AND hit the ball. Just a thought. There's a rumor out there that deal is for $5 million over those 2 years, which means the Cubs have shelled out close to $6 mil next year to shore up pitching and middle infield depth. We needed to do this BEFORE the free agent signing period begins? Isn't this the stuff you wait to do after you've addressed the bigger issues on the club? Apparently Neifi and Rafael Furcal share the same agent and are good friends. Maybe this is just a signing to show Furcal that he'll have some buddies here if he ends up signing with us. There's a small sliver of hope inside me that this is what it should be. A minor move to keep a bench guy who will only be used on spot starts and as a defensive replacement. More likely he ends up with far too many at-bats next year over more deserving players. Obvious Prediction: Cubs trade Todd Walker and go into spring training with Neifi Perez and Ronny Cedeno battling for the second base job. Guess who Baker picks? And get ready for this quotable from Baker, "I just can't forget what Perez did for us last year." And he'll bat second. At which point, I'll gouge my eyes out with a rusty nail. UPDATE: Thanks to "Weeks T. Olive" for providing this link to a Dominican paper that states the contract is for $5 million over 2 years PLUS a one million bonus. Great signing as long as the Cubs payroll is over $110 million next year.
This is about the time where everyone and anyone's name will fly around in a trade rumor. Last year I heard something about Eric Gagne for Kerry Wood, I mean seriously. Here's some fun gossip from benmaller.com (notorious rumor monger) and a few other newspapers joining in the fun: Cards: "The Cardinals are among those teams interested in the availability of Los Angeles Angels outfielders Steve Finley and Darin Erstad in addition to the Cincinnati Reds' Austin Kearns and Adam Dunn. Accompanied at the meetings by assistant GM John Mozeliak and vice president for player personnel Jerry Walker, Jocketty also confirmed the club's interest in free agents Brian Giles and Jacque Jones." "Likely landing spots Brian Giles: 1. Cardinals (three years, $27 million overcomes the West Coast disadvantage for Larry Walker's replacement). 2. Dodgers. 3. Cubs (but if his heart is into returning to his original organization, the Indians would love to do a two-year deal)."
As the Hot Stove Heats Up, so do the length of my articles. Bear with me! Rusched Signing Glendon Rusch for 2 more years, huh? At the moment I donít get this signing at all. Especially when the prime reason given by Hendry seems to be just for the sake of pitching depth.
"I'm just not going to get caught shortî
Congratulations to Greg Maddux and Derrek Lee, 2005 Gold Glove recipients. This is Maddux's 15th Gold Glove. He won 13 straight from 1990-2002 before his string was stopped by Mike Hampton, and has now won two in a row. He is one short of the all-time record, held by Jim Kaat (1962-77) and Brooks Robinson (1960-75). For Lee, it's his second win. He won in 2003 before previous two-time winner Todd Helton took the award back last year. It's also probably the only significant post-season award he's going to win, as the smart money appears to be on Albert Pujols for MVP. Lee won both the Gold Glove and the Silver Sluger at first base. Both of these awards are voted on by managers and coaches, so that means that people involved in the game think he's the best offensive first baseman in the league, as well as the best defensive first baseman. And yet, the writers are most likely not going to name him the Most Valuable Player in the league. That doesn't seem right.
According to multiple sources, Deadspin.com is reporting that Matt Lawton is the "AL outfielder from a playoff team" that tested positive for steroids. Rumors have been floating about for quite awhile now. Apparently he's in the appeals process at the moment, which is why you haven't heard anything from MLB yet. Also from Deadspin.com, they have been rating the best blogs out there for most of the major sports franchises. I was trying to keep my eye out for their take on the Cubbies blogs, but those sneaky devils posted it way back on October 3rd, which is a national mourning day for Cubs fans everywhere, so I missed it apparently. Anyway, we finished first:
1. The Cub Reporter. Part of the consistently excellent All-Baseball network, this immensely popular Cubs site covers everything you might possibly want to know and more. Smart, and able to resist Cub Fan Fatigue.
So, um, yeah, Cool!!! We'd like to thank....[orchestra warming up in the background already]. Hey wait!!! All-baseball.com was all over their rankings: Boston: 3rd place for Fire Brand of the American League Chicago White Sox: 2nd place for Exile in Wrigleyville San Diego Padres: 2nd place for Ducksnorts Kansas City Royals: 1st place for Kauffman Confidential So win, place or show, congrats to all who were mentioned by Deadspin. And look, we get a fancy graphic to display as well, what more could a blog ask for?
The Transaction Guy hasn't returned from his post-season sabbatical (that he didn't tell anyone about), but I'm here to talk about the fact that the Cubs re-signed Glendon Rusch to a two-year deal. Contract specifics: 2006: $2.75M 2007: $3.25M There is up to $500K in incentives (based on games started) in each season. I don't have a problem with the cost of the contract, but I question the need for a two-year deal. This is a situation where Rusch is being rewarded for not going on the free agent market, which is nice. My concern is whether the Cubs are going to give him the benefit of the doubt over Jerome Williams for the #5 spot in the rotation because of a sense of duty.
Last week, Jim Callis of Baseball America weighed in on Felix Pie, responding to an email asking what he thought the Cubs should do with him. The key line: "He needs another season or two in the minors. If they promote him now, the Cubs run the risk of sending the wrong message to Pie, just as they did to [Corey] Patterson." I'm doing my best not to let my excitement about Pie get ahead of me. I keep telling myself he's only 21, and he hasn't played above AA. But then Arizona Phil stops by and raves about him, and I'm torn. Is this the right time to promote a skilled but unpolished 21-year-old to the majors and give him the center field/lead-off job? I agree with Callis that it isn't. If there's one positive aspect to Corey Patterson's career, it's as a cautionary tale. Now, I'mnot saying that Pie is the same type of player as Patterson, or that he'll have the same type of career. I'm just saying that the Cubs would be unwise to forget such a recent object lesson in rushing talent to the bigs. So as much as I want the Center Fielder of the Future to be in the lineup come April, I think it would be better if he weren't. Of course, the Cubs don't have too many alternatives. The starting CF for the I-Cubs this year was 34-year-old Calvin Murray. Given that he's one of Dusty's Guys, it wouldn't surprise me if he was on the major league roster next year, which would be really bad. My suggestion would be to send Pie to AAA, sign Kenny Lofton to a one-year deal, and expect Pie to be in center by the end of the season.
No real surprise here, but it's being reported on cubs.com that the Cubs picked up the options on Todd Walker ($2.5 mil) and Scott Williamson ($2 mil) for next season. As previously mentioned, Burnitz's option was bought out for $500,000 and he's already filed for free agency. Apparently ESPN radio in Chicago is also reporting that the Cubs are close to a 2 year/$6 million deal with Glendon Rusch. I'll spare you my opinion until I know if it's true or not.
Well glad thatís all over, onto baseballís fourth season, the oven is warminí and the rumors are poppiní. Free Agents With the World Series ending, players can begin to file for free agency. The first Cub casualty was Jeromy Burnitz who appears to have had his $7 million option bought out by the team for $500,000. A lot of folks spent last season comparing Sosa and Burnitzís 2005 seasons. I always felt that Burnitz needed to equal Sosaís 2004 season and in my ever-present early season optimism, thought he was up for the task. And I was wrongÖ 2005 Burnitz: .258/.322/.435 24 HR, 87 RBI, 84 R, 57 BB, 109 K, 160 Games 2004 Sosa: .253/.332/.517 35 HR, 80 RBI, 69 R, 56 BB, 133 K, 126 Games
The other day in the comments, the mysteriously-monikered "X" said this:
"I can't think of any STUDS (don't Todd Walker me - please) who have wanted to come to this team since [Andre] Dawson left a signed contract with the amount blank on the GM's desk. I'm sure there are some - I just can't think of them off the top of my head."
That sounded like a call for me to waste some time at work. Of course, it's next-to-impossible to determine which players might have "wanted" to cme to the Cubs -- all we can really do is examine who actually did come. So I hit Baseball Reference, and took a look at the free agents the Cubs have signed since 1987, and leaving aside the fact that he originally got Dawson's first name wrong (hey, if he's gonna post anonymously, I'm not going to feel to bad about giving him a hard time), 'X' raises an intersting point. In general, the Cubs have not sparkled on the free agent market. With all signs pointing to the Cubs having some money to throw around in what's shaping up to be a disappointing free agent market, it's instructive to look back on how the Cubs have fared in past off-seasons. Jim Hendry's tenure as G.M. only goes back to 2002, but I'm going back further because how many chances do I get to write about Danny Jackson? The pre-Hendry moves probably don't mean a whole lot these days, but they're still interesting to reminisce about. If I had only listed players who could be considered "studs" it would be a short list. So instead here's a list of significant free agents the Cubs signed between Dawson and Walker: * Danny Jackson, 1991. Two years removed from a 23-win season, he signed with the Cubs for 2Y-$5.25M back when that was a lot of money. He was the Cubs' Opening Day starter, but got hurt in his third start and missed two months. He came back, got hurt again, came back again, lost his rotation spot, and while he was a bit better in 1992, the Cubs eventually traded him for Steve Buechele. * George Bell, 1991. On the downslope of his career, but only 3 years removed from an MVP 47/134 season. His 1991 numbers were his best since '87, but the best thing he did in a Cubs uniform was get traded for Samy Sosa. * Dave Smith, 1991. Also on the downslope of his career, a fact that should have been obvious based on his age (36) but which may have been obscured by six straight 20+ save seasons. Pitched a total of 47 1/3 innings for the Cubs, and got paid $4.4M for them * Mike Morgan, 1992. Apparently undeterred by the Jackson debacle of the previous season, the Cubs gave Morgan a multi-year deal and it worked out a bit better. Morgan threw 200+ innings in both 1992 and 1993, but got hurt in '94 on his way to going 2-10, and the next year was traded for Todd Zeile. Reacquired at the 1998 trade deadline from the Twins, he did his best to keep the Cubs out of the playoffs (a 7.15 ERA in 22 2/3 innings) but they managed to sneak in anyway. * Jose Guzman, 1993. 4Y-$14.25M. Had one decent year, got hurt at the beginning of year two, and never pitched again. Nicely done. * Randy Myers, 1993. 3Y-$11.7M. Saved 112 games over three years, kept a grenade in his locker, took down a guy who rushed onto the field during a game. What's not to love? * Candy Maldonado, 1993. Only lasted 70 games (during which he hit 186/260/286) before being traded for Glenallen Hill, who hit a ball onto the roof of a building across Waveland. So this signing wasn't a *total* loss. * Jaime Navarro, 1995. The Cubs' first significant post-strike foray into the free agent market turned out pretty well. Navarro signed for less than he had been making with Milwaukee due to injury concerns, went 29-18 in his two years on the north side, and then went across town for $20M and never had another winning season. * Terry Mulholland, 1997, 1998, 1999. Mulholland's 1997 deal was for over $2M, and though he pitched OK the Cubs let him get claimed on waivers by the Giants. He was back, and effective out of the bullpen, in '98, and spent some time in the rotation in '99 before being traded for three guys who didn't amount to much. Total investment: just under $6M. * Mel Rojas, 1997. 3Y-$13.75M but by mid-season Terry Adams was doing better for less money and Rojas found his way to the Mets in a deal that send almost $9M in salary and netted The One Dog, Manny Alexander, and a surprisingly good Mark Clark. * Kevin Tapani, 1997. 3Y-$11M and worth it. The follow-up contract, not so much. * Jeff Blauser, 1998. Ouch. * Rod Beck, 1998. 1Y-$3.6M and worth it. The follow-up contract, not so much. Was later traded for Mark Guthrie, who was traded for Brant Brown, who dropped the ball. * Gary Gaetti, 1998. Got picked up in August, had a great month-and-a-half, got re-signed for 1999, and sucked. Replace "1999" with "2005" and who do you have? * Benito Santiago, 1999. Signed at a discount to prove he was healthy after a serious car accident. He was, and for once the Cubs were smart enough to not re-sign him. * Ricky Gutierrez, 2000. The Cubs paid almost $6M for the two best years of Gutierrez' career, which isn't saying a whole lot. * Tim Worrell, 2000. Easily the best in-season free-agent pickup the team has made. The Cubs paid him the league minimum, he threw 62 innings of 2.47 ERA relief, and the next year they traded him for Bil Mueller. * Julian Tavarez, 2001. Again, more useful for who he fetched in trade (Matt Clement) than what he did in a Cubs uniform (pissed me off). * Jeff Fassero, 2001. Two years for an old reliever? If it was the first time the Cubs had done it, I'd dismiss it, but looking over this list it appears to be the sixth. Two of them (Myers and Beck) panned out, the rest did not. That's not a good return. * Tom Gordon, 2001. Make it seven, and we can put him in the "win" column if we ignore the size of the contract. * Jason Bere, 2001. Wasn't as bad in 2002 as his 1-10 record would suggest. Then again, wasn't as good in 2001 as his 11-11 record would suggest, either. * Todd Hundley, 2001. I just threw up in my mouth again. * Moises Alou, 2002. The only bonafide offensive force on this list. And I mean offensive at least two different ways. * Mike Remlinger, 2003. Guess what? That was too much money to spend on a relief pitcher. * Ramon Martinez, 2003. The first of Dusty's Guys to show up, He wouldn't be the last. * Shawn Estes, 2003. The closer we get to the present, the more it hurts to type these names. * LaTroy Hawkins, 2004. See what I mean? * Todd Hollandsworth, 2004. Now we're recent enough that we can actually look at what I wrote about these moves at the time. When Holly was signed, I said: "Nice pickup for the Cubs. Getting a league-average player who can fill in at all three outfield spots and act as lefty power off the bench for a million bucks is a pretty good deal." I was right -- I just wish they hadn't re-signed him last winter. When they did that, I said, "Iíd really like to see the Cubs install DuBois or Kelton in left and keep Holly where he belongs, which is on the bench as a pinch-hitter and spot starter in right." Hey, look, I was right again! * Glendon Rusch, 2004. Turned out to be a pretty good scrap-heap pickup. I hope you enjoyed this forced march down memory lane. I left off quite a few other, more minor, signings, but I think we've seen enough. It's not a pretty picture. With the exception of Moises Alou, the Cubs haven't signed a bona fide star since, well, Dawson. And remember that Dawson only signed with the Cubs because of collusion between the MLB owners. Given this track record, I don't have high hopes for a guy like Rafael Furcal to find his way to Wrigley next year.
We have had our differences over the years, our battles, our disagreements, our love/hate relationship, as in we love to hate each other. But in the end I'm happy for the fans of the Chicago White Sox, the ones who are actually fans, who lived and died with their team with the same fervor that we've done time and time again with our beloved Cubbies. For those Sox fans who jumped on the bandwagon just not to be Cubs fans, and let us know at every turn how your team is doing better, you can eat human waste and find an untimely demise. You're the worst of the worst among fans, your fandom built by bitterness and fueled by an identity crisis. I have no place in my heart for you. So I tip my cap in reverance to all the REAL White Sox fans out there and can only dream a little dream of how it must feel. If I was in Chicago at this moment, I'd buy a round for some of my dearest friends who are White Sox fans, Marc and Tom in particular. They've fought the good fight year in and year out for as many years as I have and I can only imagine the euphoria that you must be feeling now (probably feels a lot like 10 beers). So congrats White Sox fans and let's hope next year the baseball gods smile northward.

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