Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chicago Cubs---Hot Stove Preview

  • Winter Preview----Chicago Cubs:

This is the last hurrah for this group and they'd better get it right this winter; if they don't, they're going to be torn apart a year a from now in what will be more of a mercy killing than a series of regime-changing assassinations.

What they need: To get rid of Milton Bradley somehow, some way; a second baseman; a center fielder; bullpen help; a veteran starting pitcher.

Free agents: RHP Kevin Gregg; RHP Rich Harden; OF Reed Johnson

Gregg was miscast as the Cubs closer from the beginning. No team with designs on contending can get by using a pitcher who's as wild and gives up as many homers as Gregg does. I understood the thinking when the decision was made----let Carlos Marmol do the heavy lifting in the seventh and eighth innings; let Gregg get the outs and rack up the saves----but it didn't work.

It needn't be said, but I'll say it anyway: Gregg's gone.

Harden has wicked, Cy Young Award caliber stuff, but durability is sometimes as (if not more) important than potential dominance. Someone other than the Cubs will sign Harden to a short-term, incentive-laden contract. I'm not prepared to classify Harden as a Carl Pavano-type who finds injuries to keep him off the field when he's secure with a guaranteed contract; I think Harden's simply always hurt. I'd seriously look at him as a closer. Gone.

Johnson is a speedy, useful backup outfielder. He might be back.

Players available via trade: OF Milton Bradley; RHP Ryan Dempster; OF Kosuke Fukudome; LHP Sean Marshall; OF Alfonso Soriano; 2B Mike Fontenot; RHP Carlos Zambrano

Did you hear the Cubs want to trade Milton Bradley? Not sure why.

Dempster actually had a similar year to his career best season in 2008 after a bad start in 2009, but his record doesn't indicate that. I doubt the Cubs are actively looking to move Dempster, but he's miscast as a number one starter and is making a lot of money. He's due $26 million guaranteed through 2011 with a $14 million player option; my guess is he exercises the option----who does the negotiating on these contracts for the Cubs? Dempster isn't going anywhere.

To me, manager Lou Piniella's biggest mistake in the 2008 playoffs was starting Dempster in the first game. If he's healthy, he's a useful mid-rotation starter.

Piniella's seen enough of Fukudome and I'm not sure why. Yes, Fukudome raised expectations with his clutch, game-tying homer in his first big league game and he's making a lot of money ($26.5 million through 2011), but he's a useful player. He might be moved.

Marshall is a tall lefty with potential as a starter, but he'd likely have to go in a deal as a sweetener if the Cubs are able to move one of the big contracts.

You want Alfonso Soriano? Here are the terrifying truths in no particular order: he's a DH playing in the National League; his selectivity at the plate is gradually getting worse; he's getting streakier as he ages; he's about to turn 34; and, here's the big one, is making $90 million guaranteed through 2014 when he'll be 38-years old.

The only way he's moved is if the Giants desperately want to get rid of Barry Zito and are shutout in all their other attempts to get a bat. Both Soriano and Zito have full no trade clauses too. Forget it.

Fontenot had a bad year and the Cubs are actively looking to replace him at second base, but the world wouldn't end if they went into 2010 with him as their regular at the position.

You want Carlos Zambrano?

Piniella, the front office and the fans have had just about enough of him. Eventually all that potential just becomes a now-familiar lament of "what might have been". He's got $74 million coming to him through 2013; that said, Zambrano's only 28. If the Cubs truly decided to move him, they could do it and wouldn't have to just give him away. They could get something for him.

Non-tender candidates: INF/OF Jeff Baker; LHP Tom Gorzelanny

I doubt the Cubs are going to non-tender either Baker or Gorzelanny. I like the way Baker hits and he's versatile. Gorzelanny is a lefty with great potential even though he's been awful since a 14-10 year in 2007 with the Pirates.

Players to pursue:

Via free agency: LHP Mike Gonzalez (Braves); LHP Doug Davis (Diamondbacks); RHP Danys Baez (Orioles); INF/OF Melvin Mora (Orioles); RHP Octavio Dotel (White Sox); INF/OF Jamey Carroll (Indians); 1B Jason Giambi (Rockies); RHP Kiko Calero (Marlins); RHP Jon Garland (Dodgers); 2B Orlando Hudson (Dodgers); 2B Ronnie Belliard (Dodgers); OF Mike Cameron (Brewers); RHP Braden Looper (Brewers); LHP Ron Mahay (Twins); RHP J.J. Putz (Mets); RHP Justin Duchscherer (Athletics); RHP Pedro Martinez (Phillies); RHP Brett Myers (Phillies); 1B/OF Matt Stairs (Phillies); OF Endy Chavez (Mariners); INF/OF Mark DeRosa (Cardinals); RHP Joel Pineiro (Cardinals); RHP John Smoltz (Cardinals); OF Johnny Damon (Yankees); RHP Russ Springer (Rays); OF Marlon Byrd (Rangers)

The bullpen help/backup closer is out there and available. Gonzalez would dominate as a set-up guy; Putz and Dotel wouldn't be very expensive.

The Cubs are heavily after Cameron contingent on finding someone to take Bradley. They might sign Cameron anyway even before they dump Bradley; it's not as if they're going to get anything much for Bradley; it's no secret they're desperate to get rid of him and his value is almost non-existent aside from taking back a bad contract in return or paying the majority of Bradley's deal just to get him off the team.

Hudson and Belliard are free agent options at second base. I don't think people realize what a useful player Belliard is and he hits in the clutch.

Piniella never wanted to lose DeRosa and he enjoyed playing for the Cubs. I didn't quite understand that trade when it was made. A reunion is very possible.

Via trade: OF Melky Cabrera (Yankees); RHP Manny Delcarmen (Red Sox); RHP Jonathan Papelbon (Red Sox); OF Carl Crawford (Rays); RHP Roy Halladay (Blue Jays); OF David DeJesus (Royals); RHP Gil Meche (Royals); OF Josh Hamilton (Rangers); RHP Kevin Millwood (Rangers); 2B Luis Castillo (Mets); RHP Joe Blanton (Phillies); RHP Javier Vazquez (Braves); LHP Barry Zito (Giants); RHP Heath Bell (Padres); RHP Chris Young (Padres)

The Cubs are interested in Cabrera, but I doubt the Yankees are trading him. I'd check in on Papelbon, just to see what the Red Sox are thinking.

With big names like Crawford, Papelbon, Halladay, Vazquez, the Cubs are either going to have to part with Josh Vitters and Starlin Castro to get it done or find a third team to sweeten any deal with kids. The Cubs themselves don't have many prospects (although it's better within the organization than it was a year ago) and a deal for a star will be complicated.

Meche pitched for Piniella in Seattle and pitched well. The Royals are trying to trade him and are remarkably stupid, so that might happen for very little or even in exchange for Bradley.

  • A question about the Moneyball movie without yelling or screaming:

In case you missed it, Sony's trying to make the Moneyball movie (again) with a different director----NY Times Story.

Without shouting; without over-the-top bellowing; without again going over the same points I've repeated ad nauseam, I have one simple question: Where is the movie here?


I can totally understand the way Hollywood works. With Brad Pitt attached to the project and Michael Lewis's book The Blind Side having been made into a successful film, they'll search for ways to get a Moneyball movie back on track even if realistically and logistically, there's nothing there. If there's one penny to be made on a Moneyball movie, they're going to keep reworking it and trying over and over to get something done.

But there's no movie there.

Not only has the narrative been proven to be a twisted fantasy designed to fit the neat storyline skillfully crafted by the author, but as years have passed, the central characters have not only failed miserably in formulating a "new age" in baseball, they've been fired (J.P. Ricicardi, Paul DePodesta); altered their strategies to suit themselves (Theo Epstein); or are under fire (Josh Byrnes).

Even the exalted Bill James is being looked at questioningly for his canned "quirkiness" including that ridiculous essay defending steroid use over the summer. I'd have concerns about someone who's so egotistical that they say such things as "I'm Bill James and I'm an eccentric."

In addition to that, the main character of the fairy tale----Billy Beane----is starting to feel the heat himself!

The appellation of "genius" was gone years ago, but now Beane's decisionmaking has been, at best, haphazard. Observers are rightfully questioning how far he's going to be able to push the "Teflon Billy" persona based on little more than the book. The stat based building of a team and rampant excuse of financial hardship only goes so far. Repeatedly tearing down the club by dealing stars for prospects eventually grows tiresome; and his attempts to win with aggressive moves on veterans Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi failed horrifically in 2009.

Now, the trade for Jake Fox and bewildering 3-year contract offer to Marco Scutaro are placing Beane directly in the crosshairs of the once-adoring and notoriously gullilble public. Only the hardest of the hard core stat zombies----who have everything invested in the success of the Moneyball theory----are still mining for reasons to defend Beane.

People are jumping ship like the Hindenburg and if Beane has another nuclear winter; if the A's have another bad year, Beane himself could wind up being fired, although I would think that the Athletics would allow him to resign for "other opportunities" to save face.

Beane's under increased scrutiny. His golden touch is faltering. Make no mistake about it, the ground under him is rumbling not just because of the way he participated and took advantage of the way the book portrayed him as this infallible entity and everyone who didn't worship at the altar of Bill James was seen to be an inept moron, but because he's done a bad job.

He put himself in this position and whatever distance he tries to place between himself and Moneyball is just as farcical as the book itself. He'd better turn things around in Oakland. Otherwise, the story is going to have a familiar ending to many fantasies created for public consumption----a crash----and more than a few people will quietly applaud; and it's only because he asked for it.

It's coming.


There could be a movie there if things continue down their current road, but it's ending will be vastly different from what Lewis's book implies.

That movie, I'd like to see. At least it'll be real.

  • The Yankees-Diamondbacks-Tigers trade:

The deal isn't official yet, but it sounds done for all intents and purposes. The Yankees will receive outfielder Curtis Granderson; the Diamondbacks RHPs Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy; the Tigers get RHP Max Scherzer; LHPs Daniel Schlereth and Phil Coke; and outfield prospect Austin Jackson.

There are several interesting background stories to this deal. Let's take a look, team-by-team:

For the Yankees:

It's quite interesting how GM Brian Cashman tried to re-stock the organization of youngsters with the intent of saving money, but has dealt said youngsters without remorse when the opportunity has presented itself. First he did it with Jose Tabata; now with Austin Jackson.

Jackson's the only player for whom the Yankees might look back one day and regret dealing. He was their top outfield prospect and is only going to be 23 in February. He'll get a chance to play in the big leagues with the Tigers and his minor league numbers show he can run and get on base. He also showed some power potential in the lower minors. Truthfully, who knows what Jackson's going to be?

With Coke, he was a non-prospect from whom they got some use out of and discarded.

We'll see what happens with Johnny Damon. Now it's really starting to look like Damon's gone and Hideki Matsui will be back as DH.

Then we get to Ian Kennedy.

The way they propped this guy up from the beginning was ridiculous. I've gotten a lot of mileage from my accurate assessment of Kennedy when everyone was expecting a Mike Mussina-type superstar. I nailed it on Kennedy. He does not have the stuff to even be a middle-of-the rotation starter in the big leagues. Period.

And then there's his mouth.

I was literally shocked----shocked----when I read his comments in today's NY Times. Kennedy, who raised more than a few eyebrows and the the ire of his veteran teammates with his overt reluctance to utter the simple words, "I sucked" when he got pounded and couldn't throw strikes again and again in 2008, came up with excuse after excuse; alibi after alibi to account for his woeful results. He did it again in the spring with his yapping. Apparently he still hasn't learned the cardinal rule for young players in general and young washouts in particular----KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!!!!

Here are the quotes in the Times (if you can stomach them):

Reached at his home in Nevada on Tuesday, Kennedy said he had refined his two-seam fastball in the Arizona Fall League and believed that pitch would make a major difference for him this season.

“Before, I couldn’t command my two-seamer; it was always tailing off the plate and no one would swing at it,” Kennedy said. “It would be really cool to do that famous Greg Maddux thing and start it at a left-hander’s front hip. I’d love to learn that. Right now, it’s something to get guys to swing at and put the ball in play and save pitches.”

“The Yankees have treated me great since I was drafted,” Kennedy said. “If this happens, there’s no bad taste in my mouth or any lack of opportunity at all. I made it in one year; I’d say that’s a pretty good opportunity to have my shot.”

I mean, SHUT UP!!!!

Being confident is one thing. Being a thoughtful worker always trying to improve is another; but this guy has the sheer audacity to mention the words "Greg" and "Maddux" when discussing himself? Is he this delusional?

I have no words for this. It's inexplicable that he's still yapping!!!

After everything that's gone on with him (the aneurysm aside); with all the vitriol he attracted in the clubhouse with his obliviousness to the appropriate behavior for a young pitcher and his rotten performance, he's still yapping!!!

Had Kennedy pitched well, he'd get away with being a big mouthed rookie. Barely. But he...was....hideous. My honest assessment of Kennedy's potential is that of a back-of-the-rotation starter or long reliever. If that. That's it. That's what he is. But as long as he looks in the mirror and still sees Greg Maddux (My GOD!!! Is this guy out of his mind?!?) and comprehends neither the etiquette of the big leagues nor reality, he's going to be a pariah in his own clubhouse.

If I were the Diamondbacks, I'd have Kirk Gibson get into his face on the first day of camp; tell him to adhere to the rookie code of speaking when spoken to and being seen and not heard; that he's not Greg Maddux; he's not going to be Greg Maddux and the sooner he realizes his place, the better off he'll be. Then maybe he'll have some success in the big leagues. The cliches baseball players say to reporters are there for a reason and Kennedy had better learn them. Gibson can add the words "or else" and mean them, because that may be what Kennedy needs---a good ass-kicking.

For the Diamondbacks:

They get Edwin Jackson, who will do well in Arizona. And Kennedy? Who knows. I wouldn't expect much.

In trading Scherzer and Schlereth, the Diamondbacks give up two of their top prospects, but I didn't see enough in either to make them untouchable. Jackson's an upgrade on both.

For the Tigers:

What would concern me if I were a Tiger fan was that the two most marketable trading chips they had went in the same deal and they got Scherzer (who has power stuff and should be a closer----Jim Leyland will see that immediately); Schlereth (a lefty who I think has gotten more attention than his abilities warrant because he's former football star Mark Schlereth's son); and Austin Jackson (great potential, but who knows?); and Coke (a journeyman).

Now what? The Tigers are stuck with the horrible contracts of Dontrelle Willis, Carlos Guillen, Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman----none of whom are going anywhere unless they take a similarly atrocious contract in return.

Things are going to get bad for the Tigers. Very bad.


She-Fan said...

Very excited about Granderson. The Yankees haven't had an All-Star CF-er since Bernie Williams, so it's about time.

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