Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nevin Joins the Cubs

The Cubs traded 2B Jerry Hairston, Jr. today to Texas for 1B Phil Nevin. This is not exactly a blockbuster trade, but there are a few interesting facets to it.

First, why now? Derrick Lee is on the mend and is only 2-3 weeks away from returning. If the Cubs were going to add a 1st baseman, it would have made a lot more sense a month ago.

Having said that, can anyone legitimately complain about the job that Todd Walker has done filling in for DLee? Granted, he’s not DLee (few players are), but he has done an admirable job.

Phil Nevin is not setting the world on fire this year and many people will complain that he is washed up. Even so, Nevin arrives on the Cubs and immediately becomes the team’s top RBI man and is tied for the team lead in HRs. Not bad for a guy that’s washed up.

My guess is that Nevin will play first until DLee gets back and then will occasionally spell Lee or Aramis Ramirez at 3rd (Nevin was originally drafted by Houston as a 3rd baseman). His biggest role will likely be as the Cubs right-handed power hitter off the bench and will fill the DH slot during the Cubs remaining six games at AL parks.

All-in-all, this was not a bad move. The Cubs only had to give up one of the members of the largest 2nd basemen contingent in MLB history and they got a guy that can do one thing (hit for power) that the Cubs’ bench is lacking. The Rangers are even picking up a part of Nevin’s salary.

This trade has virtually no down side, and very little upside. In other words, it’s a typical Jim Hendry trade. Hendry is not a horse trader. He doesn’t like to take chances and he normally will only make safe moves that can’t possibly blow up in his face. Unfortunately, the Cubs don’t need safe right now. Safe got them into the predicament they’re in now. The Cubs need a GM with the “internal fortitude” to make some bold moves and turn this team around. Safe simply won’t get the job done.

Friday, May 26, 2006

More Inane Ramblings From Andy MacPhail

Cubs President Andy MacPhail sat down for a hard hitting interview on Thursday with his fellow Chicago Tribune employee Fred Mitchell. The interview appeared in the Friday, May 26 issue of the Chicago Tribune.

After delving deep into such things as MacPhail's favorite foods and what colors he likes best, the interview turned to Cubs baseball. According to MacPhail, the Cubs are planning to attack their ineptitude by throwing money at their problems. GM Jim Hendry did such a good job with the first $95 million the Cubs gave him this year, I guess they think he can do even better with another $5 or $10 million.

Seriously, I have expressed the opinion in the past that the Cubs are not spending more, but the overriding concern is how the Cubs spend money, not just on how much they spend.

MacPhail went on to say that the main problem with the '06 Cubs is their inability to hit with runners in scoring position. He pointed to the fact that the Cubs are hitting .150 as a team with runners in scoring position.

If MacPhail was a doctor, he would examine a cancer patient and claim that their problem was that they were losing too much weight. Not hitting with runners in scoring position, like the cancer patient's weight loss, is a symptom of the larger problem. The Cubs were built to lose in '06. Their roster construction is horrible. Jim Hendry spent a lot of money on mediocre players. That is the problem. And the problem, not the symptoms of the problem, need to be addressed.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Thought for the Day

The team had high hopes at the beginning of the year, but one of their all-star players is on the DL with a broken wrist and the star pitcher they counted on to lead the team to the promised land is injured and hasn't thrown a pitch yet this year. Sound familiar? I'm sure you probably thought I was talking about the Cubs, but I wasn't.

The team I described is the New York Yankees and they are battling the Red Sox in the AL East with a 26-19 record. In contrast, the Cubs have a record of 18-28 and are battling the mighty Pittsburgh Pirates for the basement in the NL Central. The moral: Well constructed teams have expensive, but excellent players, have a Plan B, and demonstrate character when they face adversity. Poorly constructed teams overpay for mediocre players, have no plan if things go wrong, and respond to adversity by punching their opponents. The Cubs desperately need a makeover and they need to start at the top.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Few Random Thoughts

* Have you noticed that New York (and especially the New York press) is getting down on A-Rod? It appears that A-Rod is not a good fit for NY and vice versa. This may just be wishful thinking, but might the Yankees and A-Rod mutually agree to part company in the form of a trade? And might the Yankees turn to the Cubs for some pitching help? If Mark Prior comes back and comes out of the gate strong, Prior (and a couple of others) might be the bait that's needed to reel in A-Rod to be the shortstop of the Cubs.

* I have advocated in previous posts for Mark Cuban to purchase the Cubs from the Tribune Company and turn this bunch of hapless losers into perrenial winners. As proof of what he can do as the owner of a team, his upstart Mavericks beat the Spurs last night in overtime in San Antonio. That was no small feat. I was happy for him. But did it disturb anyone else to watch Cuban give a prolonged, unnecessary "Johnny Cochran hug" to one of the Dallas players? The poor guy couldn't pull away because it was the guy who signs his checks that was giving him the hug. And it was evident that Cuban had no intention of letting him go. As much as I like Mark Cuban, I think I (and the rest of America) would be more comfortable having him sit - and remain - in the stands during the game.

* I'm still reeling from the inane comments made by Andy MacPhail concerning the problems faced by the Cubs. The Cubs are last or next to last in eleven different offensive categories in all of baseball. Not just in the NL, but in all of MLB. Yet MacPhail claims that the real problem is that the Cubs aren't driving in enough runs. Maybe that's because no one is getting on base. And that could be because Jim Hendry built the 2006 Cubs around speed rather than OBP. The fact that MacPhail doesn't recognize this fact after so many years at the helm of the Cubs is just one more reason why he should get his walking papers.

* I read an interesting point on another blog. The post indicated that the current situation with the Cubs is so frustrating because it is so static. No one on the team is showing any signs of improvement, the front office isn't showing any signs of working a trade or otherwise improving the team, and the payroll is too high for the Cubs to blow things up and start over (Read: rebuild). The knuckleheads who built this mess are still firmly entrenched and the guy that they brought in to manage the mess continues to do a poor job of firing up his minions. And to add insult to injury, the Cubs field general is rumored to being on the verge of receiving a contract extension. In other words, things are bad and nothing is changing. Interesting way of looking at things.

* I've read several posts around the net about how the poster felt good about Barrett punching AJP over the weekend because it showed some life on Barrett's part and some competitive fire. BS. Barrett did something stupid that didn't help the Cubs in the short term and will hurt them in the long term. And after watching the replay of Barrett's sucker punch, I'm still trying to figure out why AJP was thrown out of the game. If the target of a punch is going to be thrown out of a game, I would suggest Dusty have Neifi Perez start every game by punching out the best player on the other team. Neifi will get thrown out, which won't be much of a loss, and the other team will lose their best player. MLB needs to figure this one out before teams go to the baseball version of hack-a-Shaq.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Now I Understand

I've been trying to figure out why the Cubs have been playing so poorly and what can be done about it. Thankfully, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail has come out of the bunker in an undisclosed location that he occassionally shares with VP Dick Cheney to shed some light on the situation.

According to MacPhail, the Cubs are not doing a very good job of driving in runs. Ahh, that makes sense. Further, accounding to MacPhail, the Cubs can address the problem by driving in more runs. I guess that's why MacPhail makes the big bucks running the Cubs and I'm stuck out here in cyberspace writing about the Cubs.

I don't mean to second guess or over-analyze MacPhail's analysis of the Cubs' problems, but there is a tiny voice in the back of my head saying, "that's not the whole problem." For instance, that little voice wants to ask, "why aren't the Cubs driving in enough runs?" And as soon as the little voice asks the question, a louder, more angry voice answers, "Because that idiot Hendry built a roster that can't score runs."

I guess what the loud, angry voice in my head is saying is that Hendry built this team to fail. He counted on starting pitchers with a history of injuries. He signed free agents and traded for players with poor OPS numbers and who are on the downward side of their careers. He brought in guys to man the bench that didn't stand a chance of picking up the slack in the event of an injury to a starter. Hendry was given $95 - $100 million to build a team and he squandered the money.

Much has been said about the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers over paying for players. Actually, the same can be said about Hendry and the Cubs. But the difference with Hendry is that he overpays for mediocrity. The Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers may have overpaid for some of their players (i.e, Damon, Furcal, Beckett), but they all overpaid for excellence, not mediocrity. To borrow a cliche, Jim Hendry has been penneywise and pound foolish.

So, although it was good of Andy MacPhail to come out of hiding and talk to the masses, I'm afraid he may have been less than accurate about the Cubs problems. The times for the Cubs are desperate and they call for desperate measures. And the first measure should be for Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker to find employment elsewhere.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Stealing My Thunder

Jay Mariotti from the Chicago Sun-Times obviously read this blog last night and then paraphrased everything I had to say in today's paper. Okay, that's probably not what happened, but Mariotti expressed some of the same thoughts I did in yesterday's post. Unfortunately for me, he did a better job. To add insult to injury, he even spelled "MacPhail" correctly. Show off...

Here are some excerpts:

"Unfortunately, when dealing with the Tribune Co. baseball operation, a simple way out becomes impossible. Not only will the Cubs avoid Piniella -- seems he wouldn't be Andy MacPhail's cup of tea, not that MacPhail knows what he's doing these days -- but they aren't going to fire Baker because the man who hired him, general manager Jim Hendry, never will admit his error and still wants to give His Guy Dusty [egads!] a contract extension. Of course, Hendry never should have received a two-year extension himself but did because his boss, MacPhail, thinks Hendry is doing a great job. Of course, MacPhail should have been fired years ago but wasn't because his boss, Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons, cares more about the club's profit margin within the company's wobbly financial foundation and loves how MacPhail milks the cash cow, which must be related in some way to the billy goat...

"Which makes this the optimum time to sell the team. They (The Tribune Co.) could fetch maybe $600 million for the franchise and ballpark, which could help offset the $1 billion judgment against the conglomerate in U.S. Tax Court. And from an image perspective, unloading the Cubs now would let the Tribsters avoid a potentially gloomy period ahead. The only thing worse than owning the Cubs in the heyday of the White Sox is owning the Cubs when they stink in the heyday of the White Sox. And, oh, do the Cubs stink under the Three Stooges leadership of MacPhail, Hendry and Baker, providing no reason to think a South Side championship will be duplicated at Wrigley in the foreseeable future."

Mariotti's point about selling the Cubs is an interesting one. The Tribune Co. needs money and the Cubs are a $600 million asset. What the Cubs need is an owner committed to winning. Love him or hate him, George Steinbrenner is that kind of owner. And in case you haven't noticed, he finds a way to win AND make a ton of money. I'm sure there would be a long list of potential buyers if the Cubs were put on the block. One guy that has already said he would be interested and who is all about winning is Mark Cuban.

Cuban has done wonders with the NBA Mavericks in Dallas and would bring the same kind of excitement and win-at-all-costs attitude to the Northside. And since I'm fairly certain that Mark, er...I mean, Mr. Cuban reads this blog on a daily basis, I have just one thing to ask. Please Mr. Cuban, save us from this long national nightmare. Buy the Cubs and bring us a World Series Championship.

BTW Mr. Cuban, you can email me directly if you'd rather not put your thoughts in the comments. I understand.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Divergence of Expectations

I'm disgusted with the way the Cubs are playing right now. They lost again today to the Padres and again got shutout (9-0). They have now lost 14 out of their last 17 games. Dusty Baker has been taking a lot of the heat for the "unusual" lineups he has been trotting out on the field and his inability to motivate his troops. The critcism of Baker is deserved, but in my mind, one of the most unusual things about this long struggle is the lack of comment and/or action on the part of GM Jim Hendry.

It seems to me that the current situation screams for some sort of action on Hendry's part, even if that action is to simply address the situation with the press and convey his thoughts, whatever they may be. Instead, Hendry has gone into hiding and hasn't said a word about his intentions.

Of course, as a fan, my expectations for the Cubs are different than the expectations the Tribune Company has for the Cubs. I want them to win a World Series and I expect them to do whatever it takes to do that. The Trib Co., on the other hand, simply wants to make money. For some teams, winning equals making money, but not for the Cubs. The beloved Cubs make money win or lose. It's a luxury that the Trib Co. takes full advantage of. It's not that they don't spend money. They do, but they don't spend it very wisely. That brings us back to Jim Hendry.

While Dusty is getting blasted by fans and the media, Hendry is getting a free pass from the only critiques that matter to him: Andy McPhail and the Trib Co. Unlike us fans, McPhail and the Trib Co. are happy with Hendry because the Cubs continue to make money. And as long as the losing doesn't negatively impact the bottom line, expect Hendry to continue as GM of the Cubs.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

It's in the Stars

The stars are starting to line up so that my crazy idea can come to fruition (see 4/17 post). The Yankees lack of pitching is more apparent now after the Red Sox series than it has been all year. Randy Johnson stunk up the place in the first game of the series, and Mike Mussina was nearly as bad in the second (although the Yankee bats saved him). Joe Torre is trying to put a good face on things, but he (and everyone else) knows that the Yankees do not have the arms to get them to the post season.

At the same time, Alex Rodriguez has suddenly fallen out of favor with the Yankees brass. After making two errors in the first game of the Red Sox series, George Steinbrenner said he wasn't happy with the effort the team was making, particularly "the third baseman." Is there any doubt that Steinbrenner is on Brian Cashman's butt to find some more pitching? Maybe now A-Rod will be the trade bait they dangle to get the arm(s) they need.

It might just be wishful thinking on my part, but I think this is just the beginning of a series of events that will eventually lead to Mark Prior, et al becoming property of the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez becoming the Cubs new shortstop (sorry Ronny Cedeno). In case you haven't read my 4/17 post, Dontrelle Willis will also be returning to the Cubs.

I admit, I might be nuts, but if things go the way I've described, remember you heard it here first.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Bringing Up The Rear

The Cubs offense is in a slump. Wait, do you think that is too big of an understatement? Maybe it is. After all, the Cubs have lost eight of their last nine games and have scored a grand total of only nine runs in those nine games. So far this season, the Cubs are 14th (out of 16 teams) in the NL in batting average and on-base percentage, 15th in slugging percentage, walks, and home runs, and 16th in hits, runs scored, and RBI. Maybe it would be more accurate to call the Cubs offense anemic...or pathetic.. or miserable...or really, really bad.

Losing Derrek Lee didn't help matters any, but the loss of Lee is not the problem. The problem is that GM Jim Hendry spent $100 million dollars assembling an $80 million team. Sound too harsh? Let's take a hard look at the facts.

The Cubs are struggling mightily and someone is to blame. Is it the players? Yeah, they deserve part of the blame. Juan Pierre is hitting barely .200, Jacque Jones has been completely inept, particularly against left handed pitching, and Aramis Ramirez is hitting so poorly that Cubs fans now look fondly back on the Kevin Orie era. If history is any indication, Ramirez should turn things around. But relying on history doesn't bode so well for Pierre and Jones.

Pierre was signed by the Cubs after coming off of one of his worst years as a pro in 2005 and so far this year his offense has continued to slide. Jones had his best offensive year in 2003 with the Twins, but has been going progressively down hill since then. So while the Cubs players have to take some of the blame, Hendry's two key off-season moves are not paying off too well. And considering their history, Hendry should not be totally surprised.

Manager Dusty Baker has made some rather odd moves this year - in particular, some double switches that defy explanation - but he is rather limited in what he can do considering the limited talent pool he has to draw from. So, I would say that Dusty has to take some of the blame for the Cubs poor showing this year. But the majority of the blame rests with the man who put the team together, Jim Hendry.

If Hendry shouldn't have been surprised about what he got when he picked up Pierre and Jones, he should have expected what he is getting (or isn't getting) from Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Look at the injury history for these two guys. Are you surprised that they are both injured yet again? If you're not, then Jim Hendry certainly shouldn't be surprised.

I understand that I'm jumping on the anti-Jim Hendry bandwagon here. In fact, I'm a little late to the game. But someone has to take responsibility for what is happening to the Cubs right now and the finger has to be pointed at Hendry. And I think you can guess which finger I'm using.

I've written in the past about how the Cubs are not a $100 million team, even though that is what the players are being paid. Just looking at the talent on the field, the Cubs are not worth $100 million. They need two more bats (even with Lee in the lineup) and they could certainly use one or two more starting pitchers. If you look around at the talent on other teams and what their payroll is, the Cubs (or should I say, Hendry) should have been able to assemble a much better team for the money they are spending.

Of course, that's all water under the bridge now. The question is, what should Hendry do to remedy the situation? I'll answer that next time.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Oops...What Happened?

I'm not sure what happened, but my last two posts have disappeared. It's too bad, because they were two of the finest, most astute posts in blogging history. The Internet will never be the same...

Anyway, just a couple of quick thoughts today. First, the Cubs are in trouble. Their offense has disappeared and their pitching, although not horrible in the last few days, has nonetheless been inadequate. And the fact is, the Cubs can't blame all of their woes on injuries to three of their star players. Sure, it has hurt having Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Derrek Lee on the DL, but every team has to deal with injuries. It's part of the game. The really good teams persevere and find a way to win. So far, the Cubs are proving that they're not really good.

I'm not sure what the answer is to fix things, but I'm beginning to believe that maintaining the status quo is not the answer (contrary to what I said in one of the posts that disappeared). Things need to be shaken up and if I was Jim Hendry, I wouldn't wait too long to shake them up. The problem is that adding a mediocre 1st baseman to cover for Derrek Lee while he's out healing his broken wrist isn't going to fix the problem...or is it?

Let's face it, no player currently available is going to replace Lee's offense. But what if the Cubs were to go out and get Kevin Millar? His bat wouldn't replace Lee's, but his enthusiasm, irreverent spirit and leadership might be enough to help turn things around for the Cubs. Trust me, I recognize that I am grabbing at straws here, but you know what they say: "Any port in a storm."

I'm bumming a little bit right now. I watched the Giants play the Phillies tonight and Barry Bonds hit his 713th career HR. I had hoped that Barry would do the honorable thing and retire before he passed the Babe. It was foolish of me to think that Barry was capable of doing anything honorable. Now, it appears that we are only days away from Barry catching and passing the Babe to move into 2nd place for career HRs. I guess it is inevitable, but I don't have to like it.