March 2009

Sam Fuld and Andres Blanco slammed home runs and Sean Marshall took a shutout into the 5th inning, as a Cubs "split squad" drubbed a Seattle Mariners "split squad" 8-1 in front of 10,910 happy fans at sunny Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park this afternoon in Mesa

box score

Apparently unhappy with what they've seen so far from Luis Rivas, the Cubs have signed 30-year old super-sub IF-OF Esteban German to a minor league contract, with an NRI to Spring Training. German was released by the Kansas City Royals last Friday.

In 388 MLB games (with OAK, TEX, and mostly KC), German has played 2B-3B-SS-LF-CF, and even has gone behind the plate on ocacasion. A right-handed hitter, German has hit 277/358/383 over his big league career, with 28 SB (14 CS).

German possibly has a chance to make the Cubs 25-man Opening Day roster, although it would probably require the Cubs going with an 11-man pitching staff. Otherwise he will probably end up at Iowa.

In addition, the Cubs have cut five players, optioning OF Richie Robnett (acquired from OAK in the Michael Wuertz deal) to AAA Iowa, and sending Pitchers J. R. Mathes, Brian Schlitter, and Matt Smith, and Catcher Steve Clevenger to minor league camp. None of the cuts are a surprise. Contrary to what it says in the Official Press Release, the Cubs big league camp Spring Training roster actually now stands at 54 (not 53). They didn't count Esteban German when they added up the total).

Also, veteran 3B Corey Koskie has arrived at Cubs camp, and will be given a chance to show what he can do and if he has anything left. The 35-year old Koskie was a member of Team Canada in the WBC, after missing the 2006 and 2007 seasons with Post-Concussion Syndrome.  

My guess is that Koskie will go to Iowa to start the season as insurance in case something bad happens to Aramis Ramirez, with the understanding that he can request his release every 30 days (after 30 days, after 60 days, etc). The Cubs have had that type of arrangement in the past with veteran players who agree to play at AAA. 

 

As noted here and everywhere else yesterday, Lou Piniella has decided to give Carlos Zambrano the Opening Day assignment at Houston. It will be the fifth time Zambrano has had the honor; the Cubs have gone 2-2 in Z's previous Opening Day outings.

Fergie Jenkins started seven openers for the Cubs, while Rick Sutcliffe started five, and Rick Reuschel, four. The real fun in looking over this list at Baseball-Reference.com is noting which Cub pitchers got to go in Game #1 once, but never again. Here are the last ten such Cub pitchers:

Prepping for the first game of 2nd Round WBC play in San Diego on Sunday, Team Japan edged the Chicago Cubs 3-2 at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park on a cool & breezy Thursday afternoon in Mesa, AZ. 

box score

The headline pretty much says it all as Lou made it official today on the Cubs' Opening Day starter. If Lou skips the 5th starter as he mentioned, the rotation for the month of April could look like this.

I harp a lot about BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) and how it's a good indicator if a player is due for a slump or a rebound from year to year, and even within a season. The general guideline is that a player will generally settle within a range of .290-.320 on their BABIP, with the league average being .300 for a hitter and .290 for a pitcher. Now pitchers have much less control over their BABIP than hitters, that is unless they throw a knuckleball or particulary good change-up that is hard to get good contact on, but hitters actually can outperform or underperform that guideline quite significantly thanks to an ability to hit line drives, speed and a few other minor factors. That being said, they don't outperform it by that much. If you look at the 3-year leaderboard for BABIP on Fangraphs, only three players have topped the .360 mark (Jeter, Holliday and Chipper Jones with Ichiro just missing). Now those are some of the best hitters in the game and their career BABIP's are pretty high as well (except for Chipper who has a .328 career BABIP) and it's been shown that players regress more towards their own BABIP levels than the league averages. That all being said, when you see a player hitting anything over .340, you need to start worrying that it will fall back a bit unless they've been able to sustain it for a few seasons. On the flip side, if a guy is suddenly below .280 he's either had a really unlucky season or he's about to leave major league baseball (see Jones, Andruw).

(Hat tip to MLBTR for the link)

This article will do Milton Bradley no favors with the fans or the press that is already trying to poke him with a stick like 10-year olds at a zoo trying to wake up a sleeping lion.

I believe I heard in the promo that on today's 30 Clubs in 30 Days show on MLB Network that covers the Chicago Cubs that they're going to announce their all-time greatest Cubs team. That seems pretty easy for the most part and I'm not sure of their criteria, but let's see if we can guess.

I don't put much stock in what Lou says about the lineup order a month before the season, but he seemed to indicate that Kosuke Fukudome is in line to bat second after the outfielder dropped by camp today with Team Japan.

"He looks wonderful," Piniella said of Fukudome. "He's in really good
shape. I told him we're holding a spot for him, and we'll put him out
in center field and we'll try him in the No. 2 hole in the lineup. 

 

and

"We're going to try it initially with Soriano and Fukudome, one-two,
against right-handed pitching and see how that works," he said. "I
think that'll work quite well."

You have to assume that means Soriano, Fukudome, Lee, Bradley, Ramirez, Fontenot, Soto, Theriot, Pitcher, with the possibility of Soto and Fontenot getting flipped. You also have to assume that Lou will change his mind a dozen more times during the course of the season.

Rich Harden gets his first start of Cactus League play with Aaron Heilman set to pitch as well. Lineup is Miles 2b, Theriot SS, Hoffpauir 1B, Fox DH, Fontenot 3B, Johnson CF, Deeds RF,  Hill C, Taguchi LF

Ronny Cedeno will start at 2B  and Cub-for-a-minute Garrett Olson will start for the Mariners.

As part of this Cubs history kick that started with Wiklifield, I had this idea of trying to figure out what was the best individual season by a member of the Cubs. As I started pouring through the research I decided that the burden of annointing the best Cubs' season ever was too much for this humble Cubs fan. Now I realize as a blogger and top 10 list-maker, I'm suppose to just present my opinion as fact and not accept any other arguments, but I decided for this instance to enlist the rest of the TCR writers.

I put together a list of 27 great Cubs seasons and put it to a vote and would weigh it MVP-style (10 pts for a first place vote, 9 for a second place vote, etc). The criteria for this list were all the Cubs' NL MVP seasons and Cy Young winners and then the best of the rest based on sabermetric dominance in either WARP-3 or Win Shares (Lee in 2005) , historical signifcance  (Wilson's RBI record in 1930) or place in Cubs history (Sutcliffe in 1984). Now there may have been a few names that deserved to be in that
original top 27 list over some other names, but I'm sure I didn't miss
the top season. As I mentioned in the poll, just think of it as the
NCAA tournament...there's a lot of arguments on who deserved to be in
the original 65 picks, but those that are left out never really had a
chance to win the whole thing. 

The only instruction I laid out for their votes was to use whatever
criteria each writer saw fit. Some of us have a sabermetric slant to
the world, some like MVP trophies, some just remember what we saw and
its impact at the time and so forth and so on. Transmission, Cubnut, Dr. Hecht and myself ended up participating and our ballots are listed at the end of the post. The final results for the readers voting is also at the end. We by no means believe this is the list to rule all lists, but it was an interesting exercise nonetheless. I mean if Arizona Phil or Christian had submitted their ballots, the final results could have been very different. Also, we tend to believe with our eyes and hearts and I don't think any of us saw much baseball before 1950 - and for some of us - not much before 1980. Speaking for myself, I had a hard time giving double credit for a player, generally focusing on what I felt to be their best season, even if they had a second or third great season that deserved to be recognized. But this is more art than science and the final results certainly are skewed by a small sample size.

Alfonso Soriano belted a two-run home run, Mike Fontenot drove in two runs with a homer and a double, So Taguchi drove in three runs with a bases-loaded triple, Joey Gathright scored three runs and drove in one, and Derrek Lee had an RBI double, as the Cubs drubbed the Kansas City Royals 9-1 in afternoon Cactus League action at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in Mesa this afternoon, before 8,987 fans under overcast skies and in mid-60's temperatures

box score

I know you all come here for your Cubs fix and I don't pretend to be some sort of fantasty baseball expert (that would be readers "The Joe" and "JD"), but my fantasy draft is Saturday and I feel like sharing. I much prefer a points league over the traditional 5x5 roto leagues, but mostly the same advice applies. If anything, the points league is a bettter reflection of the reality of baseball and our playing fantasy baseball gives us a better understanding of the sport itself. If you do play in a roto league, you need to be more worried about stolen bases than I am.

And just so you know that I'm not completely full of it, I have been playing since 1999 and besides one very unfortunate injury-riddled season, I usually finish "in the money" so to speak. I don't alway take the league, but I'm almost always in contention. Once again, not trying to pass myself off as some fantasy baseball expert, but you could do worse. If anything, I hope to convince you to acquire Troy Tulowitzki if you're in a keeper league. He's going to be a monster for the next six seasons.

So here's some general draft strategies and ideas on a handful of players. Those who play in a league with me are probably going to be wondering why there are so many players mentioned that are on my current team or have been recently or I've inquired about. Well, I liked them for a reason, so there you go.

Gordon Wittenmyer in his Sunday Sun-Times article extolled the virtues of Cubs trainer, Mark O'Neal. It's a really nice piece explaining how valuable an athletic trainer can be to the ballclub. Beyond the obvious treating of injured athletes, the job involves organizing effective treatment protocols, reviewing medical histories and records and something as simple as honest communication of his medical opinions to both the athlete and management after assessing all this medical input. It took some time but he's created a sense of trust of his judgement from athletes and management.

The line between keeping the manager and GM fully informed and not betraying a player's confidence is not a tough one to walk, O'Neal said, as long as it comes with honesty, straight talk and the confidence he and his staff know what they're doing.

Sean Marshall threw four shutout innings as the Cubs jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but the bullpen could not keep the Rangers down, as Texas rallied to defeat the Cubs 7-2 at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in Mesa today, before a crowd of 11,082 under cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid-60's.

box score

The Rangers travel to Mesa and Sean Marshall has another audition for the 5th starter spot.  Milton Bradley is playing right field as well and batting fourth. Matt Harrison goes for the Rangers.

Please take a moment today or tomorrow to vote on the best Cubs Season Ever.

Below is a list of 27 great seasons by Cubs players since 1900. We're in search of the greatest Cub season and while they're may be some that deserved to be in the top 27, we're sure that we didn't miss any that deserved the top spot. It's like our own version of the NCAA tournament. Choose whatever criteria you wish:  awards, historical significance, sabermetric dominance...whatever you feel makes it worthy of the title "Best Cubs Season Ever". We are going to close comments on the poll and ask that you wait until Tuesday when we'll have a full post up on this to discuss.

In Friday's New York Times, Alan Schwarz profiled Geo
Soto, and we learn that despite being born in Puerto Rico and attending
high school there, Soto played his first "significant game" in New
York. The Cub catcher lived with his family in the Bronx from the time
he was four until age eight.

Soto remembers it very clearly. It might have been just
below the reservoir. Or maybe down near that ice rink. But it was
definitely in Manhattan's Central Park.


"It was awesome," said Soto... "You go with your dad to
the practice field, but never in my life I'd ever put a uniform on and
played with other kids. I felt like, 'Wow, it's really happening—I'm
going to play baseball.'"

Schwarz also writes about Soto's rapport with the Cubs pitching staff.

Just a few quick hits worth mentioning...

- First round pick Andrew Cashner, who was cut yesterday, has a strained oblique.

- Bud says talks are still ongoing on the sale betweeen Ricketts and the Tribune. It doesn't sound too optimistic that it will get done by Opening Day with Selig saying that there are still issues that need to be resolved.

 

I know as a flag-loving American and blogger that it's my duty to be critical of just about everything, especially something new and different. But I just can't find the energy or a good reason to hate on the World Baseball Classic. The set-up certainly is not ideal, the biggest problems being the inability to get all the top talent and the schedule, but I'm not sure how to fix either situation. They could try playing in November after the World Series, and maybe a few extra bodies would show up on rosters...or maybe not. Teams and players would still have injury issues to deal with and most of the top pitchers would be wary of adding extra innings to their arms. At least having it in March, the pitchers are on their normal spring training schedule. Having it in March also capitalizes on the enthusiasm of not having any baseball for the last four months, put it in November and the average fan has been a bit burned out over the last seven months and probably already moved on to football (either version).

As far as I see it, it's competitive baseball in March with some of the best players on the planet. That sounds a lot more fun than watching So Taguchi getting four at-bats a game. 

I'm going to go get my face paint and flag as Team USA takes on Canada at 1pm CST on ESPN today...I'll try and stop by Parachat for the festivities.

Doug Mientkiewicz homered, drove in two runs, and made a spectacular sliding catch, and a 9th inning Cubs rally fell one run short for the second day in a row, as the Dodgers edged the Cubs 5-4 in Cactus League action at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Arizona, in a game played before a capacity crowd under partly cloudy skies and in mid-60’s temperatures

box score

Muskat says club-jester Ed Campusano, porn star Rocky Roquet and bonus baby Andrew Cashner have been re-assigned to the currently non-existent minor league camp. Mitch Atkins and his 15.75 ERA remains. Jeff Stevens didn't do himself any favors today either.


I've been doing links for most of the week so no TCR Friday Notes, but I thought this excerpt about Milton Bradley and the media crush was worth mentioning from one of my favorite new Cubs blogs - Tales from Aisle 424.

...That will be preferable to having a daily Bradley Tantrum Watch that will only serve to antagonize the man:

"Hey
Milton, you pissed yet? How about now? A little angry? Even a little?
Seriously? Everything is good and happy? You think you'll get pissed?
When do you think? Now? How about now? No? OK..... BOOOO!! How about
now? 'Cause if you don't get off to a good start, you'll be hearing
some of that from the bleachers. Ask Jacque Jones. Does that piss you
off? Hypothetically? Still all good? OK - see you tomorrow. Unless, you
know, you want to get something off your chest now. No? OK, then. You
should talk to Jacque though, he'll tell you. Maybe Corey Patterson.
They'll both tell you how it is. Want Todd Hundley's number too? I have
to tell you, you seem like you are a bit agitated. Is it because you're
hurt? You know, because you're always hurt? I know I'd be frustrated.
You know what helps with that? Talking it out. Just vent it all out.
No? Alright then. Hey! Oh, sorry... you just wanted to shake my hand. I
thought you were going to take a swing at me. You don't want to do
that, right? Yeah - my bad. Sorry. OK, this time I really have to go.
Here I go. Now. Nothing? Damn...."

 

The Cubs return to Mesa and take on the Dodgers. Batting second and pitching for them is Randy Wolf, the Cubs send out Dempster. The lineup from Muskat:

3B Aaron Miles, SS Ryan Theriot, 1B Derrek Lee, RF Milton Bradley, LF
Micah Hoffpauir, 2B Bobby Scales, C Koyie Hill, CF Joey Gathright and P
Ryan Dempster.

Rich Harden threw a 43-pitch simulated game and could start Tuesday.

The Cubs finish their Vegas tour with Aaron Heilman taking the mound. The game is on WGN television and WSCR radio and on MLB.com as well.

A few more links from this afternoon and an invitation to Parachat for tonight's game on WGN per request by Carlos. I may stop by after the kids are in bed.

- If you're worried about Milton Bradley being healthy enough this season and need a national writer in your corner, Joe Sheehan has your back.

That's why this signing was a mistake. It has nothing to do with Bradley's anger-management issues, ones that have defined his career. It has nothing to do with Bradley's skill set as a hitter. It has nothing to do with the money, which was in line with what Adam Dunn and Raul Ibañez signed for. No, the problem is that the Cubs signed a player to do a job that he's not capable of doing. Signing Milton Bradley to be an everyday outfielder is like signing Mark Prior to make 34 starts, or trading for Carlos Delgado to be your catcher, or bringing in Will Carroll to endorse hair-care products. You're asking people to do things their bodies long ago stopped being able to do, and that's a recipe for failure.

- Bradley did return to the lineup and went 1-3 with a double. On cue, the beat writers get to file their weekly "Is Milton Crazy or Not?" report.  

- This shouldn't be news to any of our loyal readers, but Fangraphs notices that the Cubs pitchers have a eight year streak of leading the majors in strikeout rate and wonders if the Giants staff can surpass them this year. I'm a bit too lazy to look it up, but I believe the Cubs were in second or third for a good portion of last season until they acquired Rich Harden (and probably some injuries to the staffs ahead of them).

- "Blame Paul Bako" - the title says it all. (Hat tip to Wrigleyville23)

A tour of the latest from the web...

-  A rather random rumor that the Cubs may have some interest in A's shortstop Bobby Crosby.He's set to make $5.25M this year, so you know he wouldn't cost much in prospects and the A's would probably have to eat at least half his salary. If he's willing to be a utility guy, he'd be a step up from Aaron Miles. Baseball Prospectus projects Crosby at a .243 EqA versus Miles .232. Defensively, Crosby's been a bit above average (according to UZR) to below average (according to BP) at shortstop but probably has a strong enough arm to handle third base. Of course, he'd be replacing Joey Gathright or Micah Hoffpauir on the roster - unless Lou comes through with a six-man bench - and in that case he'd be replacing Bobby Scales, Jake Fox, Luis Rivas or Corey Koskie, in which we'd finally have an acceptable scenario for acquiring Crosby. That is unless the Cubs wise up quickly on this Aaron Miles fiasco that is about to be unleased upon unsuspecting fans.

- Caption fun with Ted Lilly at Big League Stew. Comment #3 has to be the winner.

- Dave Pinto runs through the Cubs expected offensive output. Marcel Projections and the Lineup Tool come up with 5.15 runs per game with the projected lineup, 5.42 with the optimum lineup. The Cubs scored 5.31 runs per game last year.

UPDATE: One wonderful reader pointed out that the probable lineup has Fukudome batting second which(to steal kmokeefe's line) is improbable (at least to begin the season). Let's try it on our own using the lineup of Soriano, Fontenot, Lee, Bradley, Ramirez, Fukudome, Soto, Theriot and the pitcher as suggested by Lou (actually Lou suggested Aaron Miles batting second, but we'll do that next).

That comes up with 5.29 runs per game. The optimal lineup of Bradley, Soto, Fukudome, Ramirez, Lee, Soriano, Fontenot, Pitcher and Theriot comes up with 5.469 runs per game. Flipping Miles for Fontenot results in: 5.025 runs per game and 5.317 with the computer-generated optimal lineup. 

- Lou took on Steve Phillips...Lou will win.

- Baseball Analysts takes a look at the All-Time One Teamers - the best player at each position to play for only one club. I checked on Ryne Sandberg(80.8) and Ernie Banks (80), but both are out-WARP'd by the author's choices of  Charlie Gehringer (85.3) and Cal Ripken Jr. (120.7). I was quite surprised to see Lou Whitaker(85.7) with a better career WARP-3 than Sandberg; I think I'll need to add him to my subjective Hall of Fame class.

UPDATE #2: Clearly I need an editor, as it was pointed out that Sandberg played 13 games for the Phillies in 1981.

- The miracles of science. We'll be taking donations for TCR's own $10,000 electrolysis machine in April.

- Split-squad action today, Cubs travel to Goodyear to take on the Indians; Carl Pavano vs. Chad Gaudin to start. Milton Bradley will DH in that game as well. Here's the lineup from Muskat:

CF Joey Gathright, SS Aaron Miles, 1B Derrek Lee, DH Bradley, LF Jason Dubois, RF Brad Snyder, 3B Bobby Scales, 2B Nate Spears.

Jeff Samardzija will lead the team in Las Vegas tonight versus the White Sox. MLB.com shows radio for the Indians game and TV for the White Sox game.

Sean Marshall,threw three perfect innings and Alfonso Soriano, Jake Fox, and Aramis Ramirez slammed home runs, helping the Cubs dump the Oakland A's 6-4 under overcast skies and 80-degree temperatures and in front of 6.500 fans at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in Mesa this afternoon.

box score

As a service to our readers, I will avoid the obligatory double Sean puns for today's starters - Marshall vs. Gallagher. Here's the lineup from Muskat:

LF Alfonso Soriano, SS Ryan Theriot, 3B Aramis Ramirez, 1B Jake Fox, RF
Richie Robnett, CF Reed Johnson, C Paul Bako, 2B Andres Blanco, P Sean
Marshall.

You can listen to this one on the radio if you have the means.

Chris Snyder stroked a three-run homer off the scoreboard to key a five-run 4th, and the Arizona Diamondbacks drubbed the Chicago Cubs 9-1 in record-setting heat at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park this afternoon in Mesa.

box score

Carlos Zambrano gets his first start of the spring, the Diamondbacks send Dan Haren out to begin the game.

Muskat says Lou is deciding between Zambrano or Dempster for the Opening Day start versus the Houston Astros. 

The Cubs travel to Peoria to play the San Diego Padres. Ryan Dempster and Jake Peavy will start. Here is the lineup from Muskat:

SS Ryan Theriot, 2B Aaron Miles, CF Reed Johnson, 1B Jake Fox, 3B
Fontenot, RF Doug Deeds, LF Richie Robnett, C Paul Bako, P Ryan
Dempster.

Carlos Marmol has changed his mind and will pitch in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic. Zambrano is still sitting out though.

Curt Schilling said if he does pitch this year, he would like it to be for either the Tampa Bay Rays or the Chicago Cubs. A Cubs source seems open to the idea.  Of course, I'm not sure if anyone has seen if he can still pitch.

Sam Fuld was named to Baseball America's All Winter League Team.

Thanks to the readers for the links.

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