Aaron Heilman

The Cubs have traded RHP Aaron Heilman to the Arizona Diamondbacks for two minor leaguers, LHP Scott Maine and 1B Ryne White. No one on the Cubs or their fans is probably gonna miss Heilman so I won't waste much space on him, but it was a good way for the Cubs to get something for a guy that was probably a good bet to get non-tendered.

Cubs SS Ryan Theriot officially qualified for post-2009 salary arbitration yesterday, and Aaron Heilman hit five years of MLB service time a week ago, meaning that although he has two minor league options left, he can't be sent to the minors without his permission.

Also, the Cubs have released OF Richie Robnett from AAA Iowa and RHP Jesse Estrada from AA Tennessee, and have signed minor league FA OF John-Ford Griffin, with Griffin replacing Robnett on the I-Cubs roster. 

Robnett was one of two players the Cubs got from Oakland for Michael Wuertz in February. The other one (INF Justin Sellers) was traded to LAD at the end of Minor League Camp for a PTBNL (or ca$h) and is presently at AA Chattanooga. I wonder how Wuertz is doing at Oakland?

Now 28, Griffin was the Yankees 1st round draft pick out of Florida State in 2001, and was rated by Baseball America as a Top 100 prospect and one of the Yankees Top 10 prospects in 2002, and one of the A's Top 10 Prospects in 2003 after he was traded to Oakland along with Ted Lilly in the deal that sent 1B Carlos Pena and RHP Franklyn German from OAK to DET and RHP Jeff Weaver from DET to NYY.

Griffin hit 310/386/527 at Las Vegas (Dodgers AAA) in 2008, but was released by the Dodgers recently after hitting only .122 with 13 K in only 41 PA in his first 16 games in AAA in 2009. He has logged 13 games in the big leagues (with Toronto 2005-07), and he will be a Rule 55 minor league FA post-2009 if he is not added to the Cubs 40-man roster by the end of the World Series.

In addition, LHP James Russell has been promoted from Tennessee to Iowa and LHP Jayson Ruhlman has been demoted from Iowa back to Tennessee, and RHP Marco Carrillo has been promoted from Daytona to Tennessee (replacing Estrada). The son of ex-MLB closer Jeff Russell, James Russell was the Cubs 14th round draft pick of out the U. of Texas in 2007, although he got "3rd round money" to give up his college career (he dropped to the 14th round only because he was considered to be a "tough sign," because he was telling everybody that he wanted to return to Texas for his senior season). Along with 2008 draft picks RHP Jay Jackson and RHP Casey Coleman (who is also the son of an ex-MLB pitcher), Russell is one of the more-polished pitchers in the Cubs system.  

Drafted by the Cubs out of a Texas JC in 2004 but signed as a "Draft & Follow" in May 2005, the now 25-year old 6'8 300+ Estrada progressed steadily through the Cubs system over the past few seasons, and was considered enough of a prospect that the Cubs sent him to the AFL last fall, and he looked OK there. But he was not added to the Cubs 40-man roster in November, and then he pitched poorly at Minor League Camp in march with Iowa, where he was given every opportunity to nab a spot in the I-Cubs starting rotation. So instead he began the 2009 season in the Iowa bullpen, but he was demoted to Tennessee earlier this month, and he continued to perform poorly when given a chance to start at AA. 

Besides the PTBNL the Cubs are yet to get back from the Dodgers for Sellers, the Cubs are stilled owed a PTBNL from BAL (for LHP Rich Hill), one from OAK (for RHP Rocky Roquet), and another from TOR (for RHP Dumas Garcia), although I wouldn't be surprised if the Cubs will get ca$h instead in all four cases (probably around $20,000, which they could use to claim a player off waivers at a time & place of their own choosing).

And Rule 5 LHP Donald Veal is still on the Pirates 25-man roster. although he has appeared in only one game in the last three weeks (and he has pitched in just five games & logged only 6.1 IP so far in 2009), although he did throw two innings in relief versus the Astros last night. 

In an embarrassing conclusion to the saturday night game against the Brewers, the Cubs bullpen literally and figuratively exploded.

In a highlight on TV for Mr. Brenly, he went out on the ledge and predicted the two run HR from Micah Hoffpauir in the 5th inning as the big first baseman strode up to the plate. Brenly had given a handsignal to Hoffpauir before the game indicating his swing was just a pinch off the night before and he expected a sweet spot power shot tonight. Hoffpauir's blast to right was on the first pitch, making that a magic moment in the booth and both Len and Bob were somewhat giddy. Len Kasper couldn't recall any such prognostication from his partner in their 5 years together. It brought a game that felt like the Cubs were behind by a million runs actually back to a 3-2 defecit and made me realize that Ryan Dempster was having quite a solid outing.

Brenly the Prognosticator? Ryan Dempster deftly lasted into the 7th
inning although on TV, Len and Bob thought he was done after 6 and
they expressed their surprise to see him out on the mound beginning the 7th
after over 100 pitches. After back to back HR's to Counsell and Braun,
Dempster was done at 121 pitches. Cotts and Patton made the really ugly 7th a six spot for the Brewers.

During the disgusting 7th and 8th innings, the walkmasters paraded their stuff including walk(s) from Cotts, Patton, Fox and Heilman. I was suffering along with Ron Santo who said on the radio: "anytime you have 7 walks you don't deserve to win." Six of the nine walks the Cubs pitchers gave up came from the bullpen.

In the top of the 8th, the Cubs brought it back to  9-6 defecit with a 4 spot including back to back doubles by Fukudome and Bradley but the bullpen was yet to complete pouring kerosene on the ballgame.

The bottom of the 8th started with Chad Fox on the mound who promptly walked Braun (on 7 pitches) then blew out his right elbow on a pitch that was five feet high and wide above the strike zone. As we all know Fox's elbow has had multiple reconstructions and after his last term with the Cubs in which his usage by Dusty Baker drew criticism, he didn't get another surgery...just a miracle feeling that he could pitch on scar and duct tape. Apologies to Mr. Baker, time didn't heal that wound. In a 24 hour period the Cubs have exposed both the proximal humerus and the distal humerus. Ouch.

Chad Fox is now on the DL and the Cubs have called up Jose Ascanio from AAA Iowa as the bullpen parade continues.

Injury Delay...photo of Chad Fox after icing his elbow postgame.

Aaron Heilman replaces Chad Fox

Heilman promptly wets his pants by walking Fielder (4 pitches), Hardy (4 pitches) and Hart (6 pitches), with Hart's for the second run of the inning. Nobody to the rescue (Mets fans must be laughing their asses off). The cliche coaching visit to the mound does no good and then Duffy singles for another run and Kendall hits a sac fly for the Brewer's12th run.

As Arizona Phil has explained, Chad Fox was brought to the majors so that the Cubs will have roster flexibility if they get to the post-season. The Boy Scouts 60 day DL mastery merit badge goes to Jim Hendry.

 

Like the Cub hitters who failed to come through in the clutch, the Cub bullpen left its fingerprints all over Thursday's loss to the Cardinals.

From the Cubs.com game story:

The bullpen...is not in sync. Aaron Heilman, who came on in relief
of starter Sean Marshall, served up Greene's homer on his third pitch.
Rookie David Patton (0-1) took the loss, giving up Yadier Molina's
tie-breaking RBI single in the seventh. Albert Pujols was intentionally
walked, but the other two Cardinals who were walked both scored.

"All we can do is preach," Piniella said. "That's all we can do is say what's good for the individual."

Heilman says there's only one thing they can do.

"Pitch better," Heilman said. "There's no other way to get
around it. There's no real magic formula that you can say, 'Do this,
this and this' and everything's going to click. Sometimes it takes
days, sometimes it takes weeks, sometimes it takes longer to figure
out. We have to keep going out there, be aggressive and keep pitching,
and things will fall into place."

Game by game, here is how the Cub bullpen has fared so far in 2009.

Brad Snyder smacked a grand slam home run and Bobby Scales batted twice and drove in three runs with two singles to highlight a nine-run 7th, as the Cubs shutout the White Sox 13-0 before an all-time record crowd of 13,010 at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park this afternoon in hot & sunny Mesa, Arizona.  

box score

Before I get to what's going on with Aaron Heilman's knee, I've got a few odds and ends to mention.

I've figured out what the heck Cubs GM, Jim Hendry, is up to this offseason. In a nutshell, in an attempt to beef up the middle of the lineup he wanted to add one of the all time great sluggers to the Cub lineup. Unfortunately Hank Aaron is just about to turn 75 years old. So this great idea came to him in a dream...swap out Hanks (Blanco, Williamson) and accumulate Aarons (Miles, Heilman). Voilà, plan #44!

The newest acquisition (Aaron Heilman) grew up as a Cub fan. It seems that this is the first directive from Tom Ricketts, all new organizational members must be diehard fans.

On to Aaron Heilman's medical issues. I've not been able to find a precise diagnosis to his 2008 left knee ailment other than it being labeled tendonitis. This LINK goes to an article from Sept 12th, 2008 discussing what problems Heilman was dealing with last year.

Last night on WGN radio, David Kaplan interviewed Aaron Heilman and specifically asked him about his knee problems. All we got was "athlete speak." It does seem that they have a therapy treatment plan that was worked out for him to address his issues this offseason.

Kaplan:  In terms of your knee. I'm reading an article on ESPN today, it said knee pain played a role in your 2008 struggles. Would you agree that your knee was a problem and how is it today?

AH: Right now it's great. I feel healthy, everything feels good. I struggled a bit early on in the season trying to figure out a routine that would work best for me. By the end of the year I had figured that out. It certainly took a lot longer than I thought it would and that I hoped it would. It certainly wasn't 'the' factor that caused me to have a year I wasn't particularly pleased with. When you are going through something like that, you're trying to figure it out, you're trying to do different things every day, you don't really quite have a routine because you're not sure how you're going to feel the next day, that can play a role into it.  We've got all those issues hammered out. I'm looking forward to staying with a good program, staying healthy all year and just going out there and competing. 

Tendonitis refers to inflammation of a tendon and there are several tendons around the knee. The largest two are the quadriceps tendon (which inserts into the patella/kneecap) and the patellar tendon (which goes from the patella to the tibia below the knee).  Tendonitis of either one is common. There are also hamstrings (medial or lateral) and even the gastrocnemius which is more of a calf muscle but the tendons go behind and above the knee attaching to the femur.

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