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 September 10, 2008
South Siders, you think the Sox have it bad? You haven’t seen the September 2008 version of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs entered September with the best record in baseball, a 4.5 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central Division standings, and a good shot to win 100 games for the first time since 1935. The Cubs appeared to be the best team in the National League and arguably the best team in baseball. Then came September, the most dreaded month for Cubs fans, especially when the Cubs are contending for post-season play. The Cubs September schedule was already brutal, but mix in a slumping offense, a huge turn of injury fate for key Cubs pitchers, and the typical unusual Cubs karma of September, and the faith of Chicago Cubs fans is being shaken, stirred, and tested like never before. The last 18 games will be the ride of a lifetime.
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
The MLB schedule makers have played a cruel joke on the Cubs this season by the looks of the September schedule. The Cubs have 16 road games (9 home games) and 22 of their final 25 games with teams that are 10 games over .500 or better, i.e. the teams that are chasing the Cubs. This is the most difficult schedule for any of the contending teams in baseball for a team that until recently, struggles on the road. The Houston Astros have been the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star break and are quickly moving into wild card contention. Could they be this season’s version of the Colorado Rockies?
The Cubs have played all season in baseball’s best division, the NL Central. The Cubs have had the best record in baseball at key moments of the season. The Brewers have the second best record in the NL behind the Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals have been on the heels of the two division upstarts. And now the surging Astros are putting pressure on all the division leaders with their remarkable run of 12 wins in their last 13 including a home sweep of the Cubs last week. The Cubs still have 3 games to play in Houston, 2 more in St, Louis, 4 games against the New York Mets in Shea Stadium and 3 in Milwaukee to end the season. The schedule couldn’t be any worse for the Cubs until adding strange and unusual injuries and the lack of offense in the last 10 days that is disturbing to say the least.
The schedule withstanding, the Cubs needed to enter September with a healthy roster to close out a run to the NL Central Division title that started on May 11th. The position players appear to be healthy and ready to play, but the pitching is in disarray, due to untimely injuries to staff ace, RHP Carlos Zambrano, RHP Rich Harden, and now RHP Chad Gaudin. Zambrano, who historically fights ailments in August (his worst month of the season) provided Cubs management and fans a scare with a potential rotator cuff injury that cut his last start on Sept. 1st short. After examination and an MRI, it appears the injury is inflammation of the shoulder muscle, a much lesser concern. Zambrano is due to miss a turn in the rotation before making his next start on Sept. 13th in Houston. Harden was being rested for two starts due to a tired arm. Harden repeatedly told reporters that he is not injured and the Cubs are being extra cautious of his workload going into the post-season, but combined with the Zambrano scare and the timing of the precautionary moves, potentially upsets the Cubs rotation for a decisive final series against Milwaukee, or the first series of the post-season.
Adding to the injuries above is the very unusual injury of the glue to the Cubs bullpen, RHP Chad Gaudin. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Gaudin said he bruised his lower back in a fall away from the ballpark, apparently sometime between his Aug. 29 appearance against the [Philadelphia] Phillies and the next morning when he got to the park. Initial medical tests revealed no serious damage, but Gaudin hasn’t been able to pitch since. With Gaudin out, the Cubs bullpen has been shuffled, with LHP Sean Marshall moving into the rotation, RHP Jeff Samardzija moved into middle relief and LHP Neal Cotts the only left-handed pitcher in the bullpen. RHP Bobby Howry has been ineffective and for all intents and purposes, unusable in games, being hit hard virtually the entire season and risks being left off the 25 man playoff roster. The pitching appears to be a mess right in the middle of the most important stretch of the season.
If that doesn’t scare you, how about the inconsistency of the Cubs offense? The Cubs lead the NL in runs scored and are first in nearly every offensive category that matters (batting avg, runs, OBP, OPS, SLG, BB’s) but in their current stretch of losing, their offense has disappeared. In their current 1-8 stretch, the offense has scored 3 or fewer runs 7 times. In their last 8 losses, the Cubs have left 67 men on base, or an average of 8.3 runners per game. They have also hit into a whopping 12 double plays in those 8 games, including 4 in one game against the Astros. The Cubs have also lacked timely hitting, scoring well above their 5.29 runs per game average.
The scenario may seem doom and gloom to the pessimistic Cubs fans, and after 100 years of futility, the disasters of 1969, 1986, and close calls of 1998, 2003, and 2007 who would blame anyone if a bit of cynicism set into Cub Nation. But consider this: The Milwaukee Brewers, the team closest to the Cubs in the standings have picked up exactly 0 games in the standings during the 1-8 stretch. The Astros have won 12 of 13 and are still 8.5 games behind the Cubs. The Cubs are 8.5 games ahead of the 2nd place wild-card team (Philadelphia Phillies). Even Steve Stone said on AM670 The Score this afternoon that the Cubs will make the playoffs, just a question of where. Just my prediction — The Cubs finish the season 13-6 and win 99 games. They win the NL Central Division title for the second year in a row. Anything beyond that — your guess is as good as mine.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Bobby Howry, Carlos Zambrano, Chad Gaudin, Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Jeff Samardzija, Milwaukee Brewers, Neal Cotts, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Rich Harden, Sean Marshall, Steve Stone | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on July 13, 2008
Sitting in the left field bleachers for today’s Cubs game against the San Francisco Giants, I, along with 41,554 other people, am wondering what exactly is wrong with Carlos Marmol? After witnessing Marmol completely implode (with a little help from Cubs SS Ryan Theriot) the enormously feeble Giants offense completely exploded for 5 runs in the 9th inning of this afternoon’s game. Five runs is a good week for the Giants lately, so pardon my utter shock when Marmol made the Giants lineup look like the 1929 Yankees.
Marmol clearly didn’t have it today and the Giants knew it. For the last 3 weeks, Marmol has been unable to get his slider consistently over the plate for strikes. Because of that, fewer batters are swinging at his slider, preferring to sit on his fastball, which he’s also struggled to locate. Up until 3 weeks ago, Marmol was garnering considerable attention from the national media labeling him as possibly the best pitcher in baseball this season, but his stuff has all of a sudden become hittable, his ERA bloating from 1.93 to 4.13 after today’s appearance.
At one point in the 9th inning, Cubs trainer Mark O’Neal came out to the mound to inquire about a potential injury. After a couple of supervised practice pitches, Marmol shook everyone off and proceeded back onto the mound to continue his disasterous performance. I don’t entirely blame Marmol for his horrific outing afternoon. Cubs manager Lou Piniella left Marmol in 4 batters too long in this game, most likely due to the unavailability of closer Kerry Wood for today’s game. A manager’s first responsibility in this situation is to secure the victory and Piniella seemed to be willing to let Marmol try to put out the fire he created, in hindsight, not the wisest of moves. ESPN had a great quote on their website today, highlighting the recent struggle of Marmol describing an outing in Tampa Bay a couple of weeks ago against the Rays:
• Another hitless wonder dept.: Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol, June 19 vs. Tampa Bay: 0 IP, 0 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 2 HBP.
Marmol’s claim to fame: Marmol has been unhittable all year, but a lot of good it did him in this game. He was the first pitcher in the past 53 seasons to give up no hits and only two walks in a game, but still allow four earned runs — thanks to a Carl Crawford grand slam on the second pitch after Marmol departed, off a reliever (Scott Eyre) who hadn’t allowed a home run in more than a year.
So Cub fans ask as we wander out of Wrigley this afternoon with a huge sigh of relief, “What exactly is wrong with Carlos Marmol?” You can believe that Cubs GM Jim Hendry, Piniella, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are wondering the exact same thing. With the All Star break next week and two more weeks after that until the trade deadline, Hendry is in a peculiar position. He has watched his vaunted bullpen, considered a team strength, barf up a few leads in the past couple of weeks. The stuggles of P Michael Wuertz, his demotion to AAA Iowa yesterday, the callup of P Kevin Hart, and Hart’s ieffectiveness in giving up 2 runs this afternoon is a tell tale sign. Adding to the concern is the inconsistency of Neal Cotts, Bobby Howry getting hit harder than normal, and the yet to be defined role of Sean Marshall. Does Hendry need to make a trade for some consistent bullpen help? My senses tell me that’s the new hot item on Hendry’s list, although I would still love to see a Brian Roberts trade as the cherry on top of this stud Cubs lineup.
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: 1929 Yankees, Bobby Howry, Brian Roberts, Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs, Jim Hendry, Kevin Hart, Larry Rothschild, Mark O'Neal, Michael Wuertz, Neal Cotts, Ryan Theriot, San Francisco Giants, Sean Marshall | 1 Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on March 10, 2007
The hot competition for the Chicago Cubs 5th starter job has officially hit the level of disaster. LHP Neal Cotts was the leader for that spot, going into this afternoon, but Cotts got pounded again today against the Texas Rangers, giving up 4 unearned runs and 7 hits in 2 innings of work. That is a completely abysmal line, to the point that there is no longer a front runner for the 5th starter role. Mark Prior is scheduled to pitch in a relief role tomorrow and Wade Miller pitched 3 innings yesterday, giving up 6 hits and 1 earned run. Miller may have moved back into being the favorite for the 5th starter job, his fastball topping out at 88 mph, which is a bit scary to me.
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
On a more positive note, although Kerry Wood gave up 4 runs on a grand slam to Padres OF Terrmel Sledge, he struck out 3 in his one inning of work, feeling no pain at all in his right shoulder. The Cubs have a few positions open for competition this spring, and none more highly visible than the 5th starter in the rotation. I believe that 1-4 should be solid, with Rich Hill turning in another solid outing today against the San Diego Padres. It will be safe to say that one of the three of Prior, Cotts, and Miller will be the 5th starter. Right now, my money is on Wade Miller, with Cotts going to the pen and Prior not being ready to go when the season opens. Overall, through the first 3 weeks of spring training, I have been impressed with the Cubs pitching to date, minus the 5th starter competition. Guys who have no chance of making the big league roster are pitching well, guys like Jeff Samardzjia, Sean Gallagher, Angel Guzman, and even minor league veteran Les Walrond. Surprises so far on the pitching staff: Jason Marquis, 5 IP, 6 SO, 1.80 ERA, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly giving up no earned runs so far this spring (Carlos Zambrano has also not given up an earned run this spring) and no pitchers injured or on the DL. Now, if we can only get the 5th starter resolved…….who wants it?
Posted in Chicago Cubs | Tagged: Angel Guzman, Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs, Jason Marquis, Jeff Samardzija, Kerry Wood, Les Walrond, Mark Prior, Neal Cotts, Rich Hill, Ryan Dempster, San Diego Padres, Sean Gallagher, Ted Lilly, Termel Sledge, Texas Rangers, Wade Miller | Leave a Comment »