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Posts Tagged ‘Lou Piniella’

UPDATE: Questions Surround Chicago Cubs As Annual Fan Convention Starts

Posted by sportsmaven on May 23, 2011

Loyal Chicago Cubs fans arrive in town today to kick off the 26th Annual Cubs Convention at the Chicago Hilton and Towers. Besides the obvious challenge on how to effectively market a 5th place baseball team, the failed attempts of ownership to get the public to finance upgrades to Wrigley Field, and finding a classy and respectful way to honor a Cubs folk hero after the death of Cubs legend Ron Santo, questions surround the team on and off the field after an offseason that receives a mixed review to date. Some of the questions i’m sure will be brought up this weekend include:

Why Mike Quade over Ryne Sandberg when hiring Lou Piniella’s replacement as Cubs manager?

Why did Carlos Pena hit only .196 last season and was that worth the $10 million salary that was given to him to play 1B for the Cubs? (By the way, what was the deal about deferring half his salary? Are the Cubs in such a financial state that they have to start deferring salary on a player with a 1-year contract? Will he hit over .200 playing half his games in Wrigley this season?

Will you ever find mid-season homes for Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome when the Cubs hit double digits in games behind in the division standings? When do the Cubs start calling up kids from the minors?

How did Cubs P Kerry Wood turn down reported 2 year, $10 million contract offers to accept a 1-year, $1.5 million Cubs offer, including the infamous “Cub for life” clause that was rumored to include broadcasting for the Cubs after he retires. How do you become a Cub for life off a 1-year contract?

Was Cubs P Matt Garza worth the 5 players he was traded for? Do you think any of those 5 players will eclipse the career that Garza has (and will) put together as a Cub? Is he the front of the rotation talent that required 5 minor league prospects to close the deal?

Who will step up in the rotation after Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Garza? Does a rotation of Dempster, Zambrano and Garza even scare anyone other than Cubs fans?

Will the strong back end of the bullpen ever get into some meaningful games this season? Will Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, and Wood continue to dominate?

Will young talent Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, and Andrew Cashner continue their ascent in becoming cornerstones of a revived Cubs farm system that appears to be on the verge of regularly developing major league quality talent? Who will be this season’s Starlin Castro?

Off the field, there are even bigger challenges facing the Ricketts family:

Are last season’s empty seats an aberration or a indictment from fans on the quality on the field?

Will Crane Kenney and Jim Hendry survive another abysmal season as the Cubs top on-field and off-field management?

Will this be the year that the fruit of Cubs Director of Scouting Tim Wilken’s tree starts blossoming?

Will we ever see a Cubs Triangle Building and more investments in infrastructure of Wrigley Field with the Ricketts footing the bill, instead of the taxpayers?

Stay tuned as I will update this post with a progress report around mid-season/All-Star break.

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Is Chicago Cubs Jake Fox The New Mark DeRosa?

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

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.

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Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry’s Unlucky Season

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)

(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.

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Chicago Cubs Begin Their Struggling Season

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)

(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.

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Top 4 Things To Know About Chicago Cubs Milton Bradley

Posted by sportsmaven on January 13, 2009

Now that the ink is finally dry on the Milton Bradley contract, the Chicago Cubs are pondering the effect of Bradley’s presence in a lineup that badly needed his left handed bat. They’ll also get his right handed bat, as Bradley is a switch hitter, providing yet more flexibility for Manager Lou Piniella, who likes to mix and tweak his lineups up like a mad scientist. But what do we really want to know about Milton Bradley? Well here are the top 4 things we all want to know:

Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, left, introduces outfielder Milton Bradley as the newest member of the baseball team at a news conference Thursday, Jan. 8, 2008 in Chicago. Bradley, formally with the Texas Rangers, signed a three-year contract with the Cubs. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, left, introduces outfielder Milton Bradley as the newest member of the baseball team at a news conference Thursday, Jan. 8, 2008 in Chicago. Bradley, formally with the Texas Rangers, signed a three-year contract with the Cubs. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

1. How will Milton Bradley’s fiery, sometimes volatile temperment fit into the laid back Cub locker room?  Bradley is definitely an emotional player.  He plays with a fire that is certainly recognized and appreciated by his teammates, managers, coaches and front office management.  Bradley gave fans a glimpse of his persona in a New York Times blog on his first All-Star appearance in 2008.  He is also known for wildly volatile incidents, such as:

  • Spitting gum at an umpire while with the Montreal Expos
  • Dugout altercation with Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge
  • Throwing a bag of baseballs onto the field at Dodger Stadium after an ejection
  • Throwing  a water bottle in the direction of a fan
  • Three incidents of domestic violence complaints in 2005 (no arrests were made)
  • Altercation with Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Jeff Kent
  • Public altercations with Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane
  • Attempt to confront Kansas City Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre, whom Bradley felt had made derogatory remarks about him during a broadcast.

Whichever way the wind blows could blow the fine line between fiery and volatile for Milton Bradley.  Either way, it makes for a most interesting upcoming 2009 season for the Cubs, manager Lou Piniella, fans, and media.

2. Bradley is an OBP machine. He knows how to get on base. His OBP for his career is .370. His last 6 seasons OBP: .436, .402, .370, .350, .362, .421. For those non-Sabremetricians, these numbers are completely off the charts. By comparison, in 2008, no Cub regular had a higher OPS and no Cub has a career OBP higher than Bradley.  Furthermore,  Bradley’s  80 walks would be second only to RF Kosuke Fukudome, who happened to play 24 more games than Bradley.

3. Bradley’s 3-year, $30M contract with the Cubs is the first multi-year contract he’s  signed in his career.  The Cubs are the 7th team in 10 seasons for Bradley.  While the Cubs are the first team to offer a multi-year contract, Bradley picked the right season to blossom.  There is concern that Bradley played only 20 games in the field last season, serving the Texas Rangers primarily as a DH, so Bradley will have to polish his fielding skills to prevent becoming a defensive liability in an otherwise strong Cub outfield.

4. To most who know and have played with Milton Bradley, he is seen as a positive influence in the locker room and on the field.  Despite his altercations and volatility, most everyone that has been associated with Bradley had nothing but kind words for him.

In a recent Chicgo Sun-Times article discussing the Bradley signing by the Cubs, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington stated:

”He’s a class act,” Washington said Friday by phone. ”A winner. The Chicago Cubs really made a very good move in bringing him in. He will make their team better.”

The article continues with another glowing comment by a former manager, San Diego Padres Bud Black:

San Diego Padres manager Bud Black coached Bradley for only 42 games in 2007, and wish he’d had him the entire season.

”I love him,” Black said by phone. ”He was great for us. After we acquired him from Oakland [in June] he was an integral part of our club during the second half of the season. He was well received by the guys and the coaching staff.”

Lou Piniella might be the perfect manager for Milton Bradley to play for.  Piniella is a veteran, highly respected manager who certainly can appreciate a fiery side of a player, especially one of Milton Bradley’s reputation and pedigree.  Piniella will know exactly how to give Bradley slack and when to reign him in.  This could be the season that Bradley puts it all together with yet another huge breakout season.

Cubs GM Jim Hendry has taken a huge and potentially risky step in signing Bradley to a lucrative deal.  Remember, Hendry had to clear payroll by trading Cubs fan favorite and quite possibly, the 2008 Cubs team MVP Mark DeRosa as well as let closer Kerry Wood walk to the Indians in order to make the Bradley deal fit into the financial structure of the team.  All this will be a distant memory if Bradley is able to have a monster full season of successful baseball, with an added new maturity level with no volatile incidents, bring a more balanced lineup for the Cubs, and be a player on what hopes to be a World Series title.

Then again, Milton Bradley could be the undoing of all that is good in Cubdom — whichever way the winds of fate blows,  2009 will be an interesting, eagerly anticipated baseball season on the North Side.

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