Posted by sportsmaven on July 17, 2009
Is Chicago Cubs IF/OF/C Jake Fox becoming the next Mark DeRosa for the Cubs? Fox’s hitting has been widely praised up and down the Cubs leadership hierarchy, posting downright gaudy numbers this season for the AAA Iowa Cubs. His .409 BA, 17HR, 53RBI and OBP of .495 in just 45 games are completely off the charts. In 29 games with the Cubs, Fox’s stats are .312 BA, 4HR, 15 RBI with an OBP of .356, very impressive for a part-time role player.
Jerry Lai/US Presswire
Fox has forged his reputation as a very solid, strong hitter with no natural fielding position. He was drafted as a catcher in the 3rd round of the 2003 amateur entry draft, out of University of Michigan, but has bounced around the diamond since, with some saying his best position will ultimately be as a designated hitter.
Since his second recall from Iowa this season, Fox has played third base, left field, and this past week before the All-Star game, he played his natural position, catcher in the second game of a day night double-header. In past stints with the Cubs, Fox has also played first base and right field. Fox has quietly developed into a 5 position player with a very strong bat. He hits for power, average, and can get on base. He has delivered in the clutch when the Cubs lacked any clutch hitting in the months of June and July.
As the second half of the season begins, the best use of Jake Fox may be in the role that Mark DeRosa played for the Cubs in the last 2 seasons. Fox has the ability to play multiple positions, maybe not quite as well as DeRosa, but he has shown competence in every position he’s played, and he may develop into a much better hitter than DeRosa as well. Fox is also seven years younger than DeRosa too. Fox can play up to 3-4 games a week to rest players such as 3B Aramis Ramirez, 1B Derrek Lee, OF Alfonso Soriano, and OF Milton Bradley. He can also spot-catch when needed. He may even be a better hitting backup catcher option to C Geovanny Soto than C Koyie Hill, or at least provide Cubs manager Lou Piniella more roster flexibility in late game situations.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Alfonso Soriano, All-Star Game, Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs, Derrek Lee, Geovanny Soto, Iowa Cubs, Jake Fox, Koyie Hill, Lou Piniella, Mark DeRosa, Milton Bradley, University of Michigan | 1 Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on June 10, 2009
Short of P Randy Wells, has anyone on the Chicago baseball landscape had worse luck than Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry? As we pass the first third of the 2009 season, it appears that every significant move that Hendry made in the offseason has stunk to high heaven. Some of those major moves include:
(UPI Photo/Brian Kersey)
Signing OF Milton Bradley — Hendry signed Bradley to his first ever multi-year contract, a 3-year, $30M sweetheart deal, partially to cover last season’s potential mistake of signing OF Kosuke Fukudome. The other part is that Bradley’s a switch hitter, adding yet another left handed hitting bat to what was once a righty dominated regular lineup. All Bradley has done this season is boycott the media, bump an umpire, earning himself a 2 game suspension, appealing said suspension while being in the midst of missing 7 games due to a hamstring injury. Now injured with a calf strain, Bradley is hitting .208 5 HR 14RBI and struggling to stay healthy.
Trading IF/OF Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians for 3 minor league pitchers — evaluating all of Hendry’s moves, this one was the most baffling. DeRosa played at least 6 positions and was an offensive force for the Cubs, keeping a big stick in the lineup while offering rest to regular position players with no drop off in ability. DeRosa, along with former Cubs P Kerry Wood, was the heart and soul of the Cubs 97 win team in 2008. His 10HR and 42RBI would by far lead the 2009 Cubs in both categories. It seems that the right handed hitting DeRosa’s only problem is that he doesn’t hit left handed.
Signing OF Joey Gathright — Gathright was an insurance policy, a way to provide speed and fielding ability at the top of the Cubs lineup. What Gathright amounted to was a poor fit in Chicago. Hendry traded Gathright to the Baltimore Orioles for IF/OF Ryan Freel, whom the Orioles activated from the 15-day DL to complete the trade. Hendry’s luck continues, as three weeks after completing this trade, Freel was back on the DL
Signing IF/OF Aaron Miles — The signing of Miles was a hedge to the DeRosa trade, as Miles is DeRosa lite. Miles plays almost as many positions, but unlike DeRosa, Miles hits with zero power. Miles played sporatically to start the season, but as he began to receive more playing time, he earned himself a seat at the table of the 15-day DL, adding further scrutiny to an already snakebitten Hendry offseason.
Keeping Rule 5 draftee LHP David Patton on the 25-man roster — This move was a particularly tough one and a huge risk, magnified by the roster turmoil the Cubs have seen in the first two months of the season. Patton was outstanding in spring training, making the decision to keep him a very difficult one, considering it would have to be for the entire season, due to the Rule 5 rules. Once the season began, Patton suddenly became hittable and unreliable, which is not a huge suprise from a young player who had never played professional baseball above the Class A minor league level. Keeping Patton tied manager Lou Piniella’s hands in two ways: first, Patton was virtually unusable in any situation outside of blowout victories or losses; second, Patton cost the Cubs a roster spot for a more reliable pitcher, or a position player, which would have been useful when 3B Aramis Ramirez went down with a shoulder injury.
Signing RHP Chad Fox — Hendry took yet another flyer on the oft injured pitcher, and once again, it ends with what appears to be a season and career ending injury. Fox ended last season with a major elbow injury prompting a brief retirement, only to be lured out of retirement for another go at bullpen work. In his second appearance against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 8th, Fox threw a wild pitch and grabbed his arm in obvious pain. He is on the DL again and it appears that this time, his injury may be career-ending.
Other issues that are not directly related to Hendry moves, but have happened under Hendry’s watch as GM this season include:
- The Ramirez injury
- Carlos Zambrano’s injury and subsequent 5-game suspension and $3,000 fine for bumping an umpire while vehemently disputing a call at home plate in a game on May 27th, then 6 days later blows off a team flight to Atlanta without permission.
- LHP Ted Lilly’s fined $1,500 and nearly suspended for being ejected while arguing balls and strikes – in a game where he was not even pitching.
- An injury to RHP Rich Harden, forcing a move to the DL that has been longer than first anticipated
- Building an ineffective bullpen, with struggling LHP Neal Cotts, RHP Aaron Heilman, and set-up man RHP Carlos Marmol’s recent struggles
- Early ineffectiveness from IF Mike Fontenot, C Geovanny Soto, and 1B Derrek Lee
To be fair, not all of Hendry’s moves this season been a total disaster. Some of Hendry’s smaller, under-the-radar moves have been quite strong, mainly:
- Bringing up Randy Wells when Zambrano went on the DL; then keeping Wells in the rotation as he has been the Cubs most dependable and effective starting pitcher of late.
- Promoting rookie IF Bobby Scales, an 11-year minor league player making his major league debut. Scales became the feel good story of the season so far for the Cubs.
- Making an 11th hour decision to keep bubble performer RHP Angel Guzman as the 25th man on the roster after a horrible spring training. All Guzman has done is become the best and most reliable reliever in the Cubs bullpen this season, sporting a 2-0 record (the first two wins of his major league career) with a 2.28 ERA, with 6 holds and a save. Over a span of 12 games since May 8th, Guzman has been perfect, not giving up a single run.
While Jim Hendry’s moves have all backfired so far this season, to his and the Cubs credit, they haven’t panicked. Odds are that players struggling this bad will rebound strongly and if the strong starting pitching continues, the Cubs still can boast the most talent of any team in the NL Central. Only time will tell if this will be enough for a third straight post-season appearance.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Aaron Heilman, Aaron Miles, Angel Guzman, Aramis Ramirez, Bobby Scales, Carlos Marmos, Carlos Zambrano, Chad Fox, Chicago Cubs, David Patton, Derrek Lee, Geovanny Soto, Jim Hendry, Joey Gathright, Kerry Wood, Kosuke Fukudome, Lou Piniella, Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot, Milton Bradley, Milwaukee Brewers, Neal Cotts, Randy Wells, Rich Harden, Ryan Freel, Ted Lilly | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on May 1, 2009
In comparison to 2008, the 2009 season has been brutally unkind to the Chicago Cubs. From top to bottom of the organization, from the ballpark workers to the fans, the fuzzy lovefest that was 2008 has been replaced by a season that has all the markings of struggle written all over the brown, yet to grow ivy outfield walls.
(AP Photo/Kyle Ericson)
The Cubs struggles seem to be set in motion during a devastating post season playoff series against the Los Angeles Dodgers to close out what was then developing into a magical season of 2008. As dominant as the Cubs were in winning 97 games in 2008, they were equally as feeble once the playoffs began. The Dodgers sucked the life out of the Cubs, exposing every weakness and shutting down the most powerful NL lineup and battering around the league’s #3 pitching staff in a NLDS sweep.
In the off season, Cubs GM Jim Hendry, tried in earnest to make his team more flexible for manager Lou Piniella. What he did was inadvertently neutered his two-time division championship team, cutting them off at the knees. Like a mad scientist, Hendry first moved to clear his entire bullpen, short of his All-Star setup man, RHP Carlos Marmol. Included in that purge was All-Star closer RHP Kerry Wood, who finally found a successful niche as a power closer. Not that he didn’t need to purge most of that bullpen, but it’s unclear to me as I watch the Cubs struggle, why Wood, the heart and soul of the Cubs team and the most tenured of all Cubs players, leader on and off the field, was allowed to depart. Essentially, Hendry traded Wood for former Florida Marlins closer, RHP Kevin Gregg, a one-sided trade then, and even more magnified in view of this horrible start.
The other perplexing move was trading 2B Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians, replacing him with free-agent RF Milton Bradley. All Bradley has done since signing a 3-year, $30M contract is injure his hamstring, get kicked out of his first game at Wrigley Field, bump an umpire while arguing, earning himself a 2-game suspension, which he appeals, all while needing to sit out at least 16 games due to that injury, incidentially, while not being added to the disabled list.
This is the type of flexibility that Hendry and Piniella wanted? A further highlight about how “flexible” the 2009 Cubs roster is, C Geovanny Soto injures his throwing shoulder and has to sit out a few games to re-evaluate the injury. While Soto is out, reserve C Koyie Hill filled in very capably, but because the Cubs don’t put Soto on the 15-day DL, they are forced to list 2B Aaron Miles and others as the backup catcher.
3B Aramis Ramirez has missed the last 11 games due to a calf injury, but the Cubs choose not to add him to the 15-day disabled list, instead forcing an out of position 2B Mike Fontenot to play third. In last night’s game, when Piniella needed to pinch-hit for the left-handed hitting Fontenot, he needed to employ Hill to finish out the game at 3rd base! Recently, 1B Derrek Lee missed time with a strained neck. 1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir covered Lee at 1B, pushing RHP Carlos Zambrano into the lefty pinch hitting role. Some flexibility. This is the flexibility that results in 14 errors and many other misplays from players playing out of position.
Not to mention the current mess the pitching staff is in right now, started by the shoddy bullpen performance out of the gate and now spreading to the once very promising performance of the starting rotation. The Cubs bullpen mess begins with the release of RHP Chad Gaudin a trade-off engineered to essentially keep Rule 5 RHP David Patton and RHP Angel Guzman, a player who is out of minor league options. Patton’s been regulary pounded, the highlight, giving up a grand slam to St. Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols in a recent 8-2 loss to the Cardinals last Saturday. LHP Neal Cotts not only hasn’t been able to get anybody out, he has been a bases on balls machine, walking 6 batters in 5 innings. The bullpen picture became even more muddled when Hendry was forced to release RHP Luis Vizcaino and his $3M contract (Vizcaino was picked up in a off-season trade with the Colorado Rockies for RHP Jason Marquis) to bring up power RHP Jeff Samardzjia, who probably should have been in the bullpen in the first place. With both Marmol and Gregg struggling, RHP Aaron Heilman has been exposed and has been used too frequently, resulting in a bullpen that can’t be trusted to get anyone out at this point, much less protect any sort of a lead.
So after 21 games, what do we make of this Cubs team? Apparently, the early showing is that the Cubs are a team that still appear to suffer from the hangover of last season’s crushing playoff sweep. They also can’t stay healthy. They are also a team that can’t hit, field, or pitch. This is a team built to struggle, and struggle they will, and I predict, for the entire season. This Cubs team might not have to worry about a 3rd straight playoff disappointment.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Aaron Heilman, Aaron Miles, Albert Pujols, Angel Guzman, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Marmol, Carlos Zambrano, Chad Gaudin, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, David Patton, Derrek Lee, Florida Marlins, Geovanny Soto, Jason Marquis, Jeff Samardzjia, Jim Hendry, Kerry Wood, Kevin Gregg, Koyie Hill, Los Angeles Dodgers, Lou Piniella, Luis Vizcaino, Mark DeRosa, Micah Hoffpauir, Mike Fontenot, Milton Bradley, Neal Cotts, NLDS, St. Louis Cardinals | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on July 27, 2008
The Chicago Cubs magical first half of the 2008 season has quickly turned into a circus-like atmosphere for destiny’s team in the month of July. The Cubs began the season with few distractions, allowing the team to concentrate on playing very solid baseball, leading to the best record in baseball for much of the first half of the season.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
As of late, a rash of off-field events have provided plenty of distraction for a team already bearing the weight of lofty explanations. Those events include:
- Injuries to OF Alfonso Soriano (twice), P Chad Fox, P Carlos Zambrano, OF Reed Johnson, OF Daryle Ward, P Scott Eyre (twice), P Jon Lieber and now, P Kerry Wood.
- The ownership issue recently picking up steam, with rumors that internet billionaire Mark Cuban is the first round high bidder.
- The Cubs answering the Milwaukee Brewers blockbuster acquisition of P CC Sabathia with their own high-profile deal for P Rich Harden, then the insuing media circus around how the Cubs plan to keep the injury-prone Harden healthy.
- Eight Chicago Cubs players elected to the National League All-Star team, the most in team history, but also preventing the 8 best Cubs players from getting well deserved and needed rest.
- The Cubs receiving a $500,000 fine from MLB for not reporting the signing of a draft pick, prompting Cubs GM Jim Hendry to respond “It was just a clerical error”.
- On July 10th, an 8-year old boy was hit in the head by a foul ball off the bat of Cubs P Ted Lilly, fracturing his skull and ultimately a 10 day stay in the hospital.
- On July 24th, the Cubs Class A minor league affiliate Peoria Chiefs were involved in a bench clearing brawl with the Cincinnati Reds Class A affiliate Dayton Dragons, with 17 total players suspended and the Peoria P Julio Castillo arrested for angrily throwing a baseball towards the Dragons dugout, but instead, hitting a fan in the forehead.
- Finally, the constant and persistent daily reminders from anyone surrounding the Cubs, media, and fans that 2008 marks the the 100 year anniversary of the Cubs last World Series victory.
On the field, the Cubs have been less than stellar, posting a 9-11 record since July 1st. The off-field issues may have played some role in that record, but on-field, the Cubs have been a different team as of late. Some of the on-field issues include:
- OF Kosuke Fukudome hitting .185 in July
- IF/OF Mark DeRosa hitting .188 in July
- IF Aramis Ramirez hitting .176 in July including an 0-28 stretch between July 12-22.
- P Bobby Howry sports a 6.97 ERA in July, giving up earned runs in 3 of his last 5 appearances.
- Scheduling: From June 10th, the Cubs played for 26 consecutive days, including a rained-out affair at the Hall of Fame on June 16th, their only “day off” in that span. On June 29th, the Cubs played the ESPN Sunday Night Game of the week and then had to board a plane to fly to San Francisco to play a game the next night.
- Since June 10th, the Cubs record is 20-21. Coming out of the All-Star break, the Cubs play 20 game in 20 days.
- NL loses to the AL in the All Star game for the 11th straight year, thus securing home field advantage for the AL team, not a good sign for NL contenders such as the Cubs who are substantially under .500 on the road (22-30).
The Cubs are certainly not playing with the same energy that they displayed in amassing the best record in baseball in the days leading to the All-Star break, looking game weary while grinding out a schedule with spans of 26 games in a row and now, 20 in a row.
The Cubs seem as thought they’ve forgotten that playing baseball is fun. The hitters look less patient at the plate, swinging at pitches they took for balls earlier in the season. The once-vaunted bullpen, considered a strength of the team, is in disarray, with the injury to Kerry Wood forcing nearly every other pitcher in the pen to new roles. Jim Hendry is unsure whether to make any moves when considering that considering that when healthy, there could be more players than positions. I don’t know if this is a one week slide or if it’s a longer term issue. I don’t know the cure to what ails the Cubs. I do know that as of today, the Cubs are tied with the Brewers for first in the NL Central and both teams appear to be moving in opposite directions.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, CC Sabathia, Chad Fox, Chicago Cubs, Daryle Ward, Dayton Dragons, Geovanny Soto, Jim Hendry, Jon Lieber, Julio Castillo, Kerry Wood, Kosuke Fukudome, Lou Piniella, Mark Cuban, Mark DeRosa, Milwaukee Brewers, Peoria Chiefs, Reed Johnson, Rich Harden, Scott Eyre, Ted Lilly | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on June 30, 2008
No doubt, so far in the 2008 season, Chicago Cubs fans have been treated to great baseball above and beyond any fathomable expectations. The Cubs entered June with the best record in baseball and have played most of the month of June with that same label, but as June comes to a close, the Cubs are limping to a well deserved and needed break for the 2008 All-Star game at Yankee Stadium in New York.
For the first time this season, the Cubs are facing adversity. The Cubs have played so well that even fickle fans have been spoiled by the lengthy and meaningful success the Cubs have enjoyed so far this season. Their season long dominance at Wrigley Field has provided a sense of dominance in the somewhat weak National League, but injuries are starting to pile up and it’s beginning to take it’s toll on the Cubs dominant run.
When RF Alfonso Soriano went down with a broken hand in the Braves series, all was not lost, as the Cubs lost Soriano earlier in the season and responded as though he was never missed in the lineup. But with this injury plus injuries to RHP Carlos Zambrano, CF Reed Johnson, LHP Scott Eyre, and nagging injuries to CF Jim Edmonds and RF Kosuke Fukudome, the Cubs are finding that all is not well on the “It’s Gonna Happen” bandwagon.
During this weekend’s Sox series, the Cubs started an OF of a mis-cast RF Eric Patterson, injured CF Jim Edmonds, and just returned from injured RF Daryle Ward. The White Sox ran on Patterson all day on Friday and he has yet to see the lineup since. RHP Ryan Dempster also picked a bad time for his worst outing of the season, and P’s Sean Gallagher and Sean Marshall couldn’t stop the bleeding.
The Cubs can’t seem to shake the pesky, smoke and mirrors miracle of the St. Louis Cardinals, now only 2.5 games ahead in the standings. The Milwaukee Brewers are also sneaking up, moving to 4.5 games back. The Cubs played the Sunday night prime time game on ESPN tonight and now have to fly all night to San Francisco to start a 4 game series with the improving Giants (fortunately missing on all world Giants starter RHP Tim Lincecum) and a July 4th weekend series in St. Louis with the Cardinals.
I though Cubs manager Lou Piniella actually did a great job of reminding the Cubs and the fans that although the Sox series has serious emotional hooks in a north/south divide, that this series was one of many series over the course of a full season. Piniella elected to juggle his starting rotation a little, but rested key players such as 2B Mark DeRosa, Kosuke Fukudome, and C Geovanny Soto over the weekend, with the implicit message that the season isn’t won in June by overextending regulars in an interleague matchup that is more glitter than substance.
With Reed Johnson and Carlos Zambrano due to come back this week, and Alfonso Soriano healing very quickly, reinforcements are on the way. With the All-Star break in less than two weeks, much needed rest will soon follow. Once the Cubs are back to full strength, the cream should rise to the top again in the National League. Lets not panic just yet…..
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Alfonso Soriano, All-Star Game, Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cubs, Daryle Ward, Eric Patterson, ESPN, Geovanny Soto, Jim Edmonds, Kosuke Fukudome, Lou Piniella, Mark DeRosa, Milwaukee Brewers, National League, Ryan Dempster, San Francisco Giants, Scott Eyre, Sean Gallager, Sean Marshall, Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Tim Lincecum, White Sox | 2 Comments »