Friday, December 15, 2006

Cliff Floyd Rumors Just Won't Stop

I have to admit that I’m a little confused by all of the rumors that say Cliff Floyd will soon be a member of the Cubs. I’ve always liked Floyd. I like guys who hustle, get the most out of their talent, and seem like genuinely nice people. It doesn’t hurt that he grew up in the Chicago area either. But I just don’t see where he fits in with the 2007 Cubs.

If Floyd is being added to the Cubs to be a bench player, then I’m okay with signing him. But there are two problems with this possibility. First, despite his injury history, Floyd still has the potential to be a starting outfielder somewhere. Not for the Cubs, but somewhere. Plus, Floyd is a proud guy and I would guess that he still thinks of himself as a starter, not a bench guy.

Second, the rumor is that Floyd is looking for a $6 million a year pay day. That’s a lot of money for a guy destined to ride the pines. Plus, the Cubs just signed Daryle Ward for $1.05 million to be the left-handed bat off the bench. There’s nothing wrong with having another left-handed bat on the bench, but Floyd would be an expensive pinch hitter.

Of course, my fear, and the fear of a lot of Cubs fans, is that Floyd is being brought in to platoon in LF with Matt Murton. If that is the plan, it is a bad one. Murton proved last year that he can hit both right-handed and left-handed pitching. He is young and is bound to improve even more with additional at-bats. It makes no sense to stunt Murton’s growth by platooning him with Floyd.

Hendry has always had a soft spot for Floyd. Hendry recruited Floyd when he (Hendry) was coach at Creighton. Floyd opted for the bright lights and big money of MLB, but he and Hendry remained close. Hendry has shown an interest in Floyd in the past, but the situation was never right. The situation still isn’t right, but Hendry may force the issue anyway.

If Floyd can stay healthy, he’s a very good baseball player and an excellent hitter. Even so, the Cubs don’t have room for him unless he’s willing to be a reserve. Since this is unlikely, the Cubs should just say “no” to Floyd.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bits and Pieces From the Cubs Front

It's been a little slow the past few days for the Cubs, but that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. Here are a few things in the works:

*** The deals for Jason Marquis and Daryle Ward are still not completed. The only hang up for both appears to be completing the player physicals. Both players are supposed to have their physicals done by the end of next week.

I have to admit, I don’t understand the delay. If I was being offered a big contract, I would be completing my physical right away. What if either player suffers some sort of career-ending injury? Would they be out of luck? For so much money, that’s not a risk I would be willing to take.

*** The Jacque Jones saga continues. During the Winter Meetings, the Sun-Times reported that Jones had requested a trade at the end of last season. Jones was interviewed on ESPN 2 and asked about the report. He danced all around it, but didn’t deny it. When Hendry was asked about it, he didn’t confirm it, but said that his policy is to try to accommodate a player that no longer wants to be part of the team. He then went on to state that he empathized with Jones’ struggles early in the 2006 season and that the Cubs had been very supportive of him. Despite this, Carrie Muskat from reported that Jones never asked for a trade. Okay, I’m confused…

*** Speaking of Muskat, she reported today that Felix Pie could be the starting CF for the Cubs in 2007. Her reasoning for this news was a bit puzzling to me. Pie is playing in the Dominican Republic and is batting .216 with 1 HR and 16 RBI. He’s not exactly setting the league on fire. But as Muskat explained, the Cubs are only concerned with Pie working on his defense. And according to Oneri Flieta, the Cubs player development director, Pie is doing a great job.

Even so, I don’t see any reason to rush Pie. He’s only 21-years old. There’s no urgency to move him up to the big club. What the Cubs need is a reliable stop gap to play CF in 2007.

At the moment, my vote goes to Jones. The team already has him, he’s reasonably priced, he’s an above-average fielder (albeit with a weak arm), and he bats left-handed. Jones is the perfect candidate. And when Pie is ready to move up, then the Cubs can trade Jones. Trust me, I like Vernon Wells, Andruw Jones and Carl Crawford, but according to Hendry, Pie is the CF of the future and his plan is to not do anything to block his path to the big club. If Pie is off limits in trade talks, then let Jones play CF this year and let Pie get more at-bats at AAA.

***Hendry made the rounds of the radio shows today. One of the most interesting things he said was that he very much dislikes signing free agents. He said that the Cubs were in a desperate situation and that he was forced to sign free agents this off-season, but that he would much prefer staying out of the free agent market.

He also spoke about the signing of Alfonso Soriano. He said that if the Cubs didn’t give Soriano an 8 year/$136 million contract, then someone else would have. Hendry said that he didn’t want to give Soriano an 8 year contract, but he was determined to do whatever it took to sign the outfielder, so he reluctantly offered 8-years.

*** Are the Cubs done signing free agents? Probably, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make any trades. Unfortunately, it still looks like they will trade Jones. But so far, it looks like they won’t get much back for him. In addition to being their best option for CF, this is another reason the Cubs shouldn’t trade the outfielder.

The Cubs also have too many bullpen arms. There are no rumored trades in the works, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Will Ohman, Michael Wuertz, Roberto Novoa, and/or Juan Mateo pitching elsewhere next year.

*** The Astros picked up P Jason Jennings from the Rockies in exchange for CF Willy Taveras and pitchers Taylor Buckholz and Jason Hirsch. The Astros also received P Miguel Ascencio in the deal.

The Cubs coveted the former Rockies pitcher this off-season, but could not put a deal together to acquire him. The 28-year old pitcher was 9-13 last year with a 3.78 ERA.

If the Cubs wanted to see more of Jennings, they are going to get their wish. Unfortunately, he’ll be wearing an Astros uniform when they do.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Not So Fast, Mr. Marquis

Not so fast. Chris DeLuca at the Sun-Times is reporting that the deal between the Cubs and RHP Jason Marquis is not completed yet. DeLuca reports that although there is a verbal agreement in place, nothing has been signed. Even the number of years and amount per year are still up in the air.

My guess is that the deal will be completed next week, probably after Marquis takes his physical. Some teams won’t announce a signing until after the physical has been taken, others announce before the physical. The Cubs have done it both ways.

After thinking about adding Marquis to the rotation all day yesterday, I actually have come to accept it. There’s no doubt that Marquis had a bad year last year, but his unusually high ERA was due in large part to two very bad outings where he was left in the game to save the bullpen. He also did not have much help from the bullpen during the second half of the season, when his W-L record went south and his ERA went north.

Plus, Marquis is an excellent innings eater. He's averaged over 200 innings per year during his major league career and he does have a winning record over his career.

One thing that does concern me are the reports that Marquis could not get along with Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan, or his teammates. I’ve got to believe that the reports are at least partially overblown, but it just might be that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

So it looks like the Cubs are going to trot out a rotation that looks like this:


That really isn’t a bad rotation. And if Prior is healthy and can get back to his old form… I know, we’ve been down that road before.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Cubs Sign Marquis

The Cubs signed another starting pitcher today when they inked 26-year old Jason Marquis to a 3 year/$20 million deal. Marquis pitched for the Cardinals last year where he went 14-16 with a 6.02 ERA in 2006. He has a career record of 56-52 with a 4.55 ERA.

Marquis was very inconsistent in 2006 and was ultimately excluded from the Cards post-season roster. Marquis discovered a flaw in his mechanics after the season and worked with a private coach to fix the problem. Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild visited with Marquis after the World Series and reported to Cubs officials that Marquis’ mechanical problems had in fact been discovered and fixed.

As I’ve stated previously, I don’t think Marquis is the answer to the Cubs pitching woes. In fact, in recent days I have come to the conclusion that the Cubs would be better off starting the season with Zambrano, Lilly, Hill, Marshall, and Prior/Miller, and then pick up a starting pitcher (maybe Willis?) at the trade deadline. Marquis’ signing makes that scenario very unlikely.

So how can I spin this in a positive way? Well, it isn’t all bad news. Marquis has shown signs of being effective. In 2004, he was 15-7 with a 3.71 ERA with the Cards. So if he really has found and corrected the problem with his mechanics, perhaps he can return to his 2004 performance. Also, Marquis is a workhorse. Over the past three years he has averaged over 200 innings pitched per season. So that's good news.

I’m not a fan of the signing, but I’m not suicidal over it either. I’ll keep an open mind and hope for the best, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “This just wasn’t a smart move.”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Cubs Lose to Royals

The Cubs lost to the Royals today in the Gil Meche sweepstakes. The Cubs and Blue Jays were supposed to be the leading candidates for Meche’s services. Each team was rumored to be offering a contract in the neighborhood of 4 years and $40 million. Then the Royals swept in and offered a contract of 5 years and $55 million. Meche grabbed the offer and the Cubs remain short one starting pitcher.

So where do the Cubs go from here? There are still a handful of FA pitchers out there. Barry Zito tops the list, but it is unlikely that the Cubs will get involved in that bidding.

Former St. Louis pitchers Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis, and Jeff Weaver are also still available. There’s a rumor floating around that the Cubs may be close to a deal on Marquis and have made a three year offer to Suppan. Of the three, I would much prefer Suppan.

Miguel Batista is also still available. Batista is interesting because he can either start or come out of the bullpen. If either Prior or Miller get healthy in 2007, they could be moved into the starting rotation and Batista would be moved into the pen. It would be a nice problem to have, but there have been no rumors connecting Batista to the Cubs.

Then there are always trade possibilities. Trades for either Jason Jennings (Colorado) or Jake Westbrook (Cleveland) have been discussed, but those possibilities look dead right now. Brad Penny is rumored to be available now that the Dodgers signed Jason Schmidt. The White Sox traded Freddy Garcia to Philadelphia and are rumored to be willing to trade Jon Garland, although they appear to be in serious negotiations with Houston on Garland. Philadelphia is willing to trade Jon Lieber, but do the Cubs really want Jon Lieber?

Then there’s my favorite. I would like the Cubs to pursue a trade with Florida for Dontrelle Willis. I’ve talked about this before and I still think it makes sense for both teams. I strongly believe that the Marlins are going to trade Willis, but it might not be until the trade deadline next year.

New York Newsday is reporting that the Dodgers and Cubs may be talking about Dodgers LHP Mark Hendrickson. The 32-year old Hendrickson (who is 6’9” tall) pitched for Toronto and Tampa Bay before joining the Dodgers in 2006 where he went 6-15 with a 4.21 ERA. If it is true that the Cubs and Dodgers are talking, it certainly is not very well reported.

In other Cubs news, the team is close to signing Daryle Ward to a one-year, $1.05 million contract. Ward will likely be used as a left-handed pinch hitter and an occasional fill-in at first base. The 31-year-old Ward hit .308 with 7 HRs and 26 RBI in limited action with the Nationals in 2006.

Rule 5 Draft Review

The Cubs selected two players, sold one of them, and lost five players in the Rule 5 draft today.

The first player the Cubs selected was OF Josh Hamilton from Tampa Bay. Hamilton is 25 years old and was the first overall selection by the Devil Rays in the 1999 draft. The Cubs then turned around and sold Hamilton to the Cincinnati Reds.

Although a promising prospect, Hamilton has had some personal troubles. He has allegedly had run-ins with the police involving both drinking and cocaine use.

The Cubs also picked up James Henderson, a RHP, from the Washington Nationals. Henderson was originally selected in the 26th round of the 2003 draft. He had a 2-2 record with a 4.50 ERA for Class A Potomac in 2006.

The Cubs also lost five players in the draft. They are:

LHP Edward Campusano (selected by Milwaukee)
RHP Lincoln Holdzkom (selected by Houston)
IF Jason Smith (selected by Toronto)
IF Richard Lewis (selected by Kansas City)
RHP Andy Shipman (selected by Oakland)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Winter Meetings: Day 3

Here are some notes from Day 3 at the Winter Meetings:

***The big news is that the Cubs signed FA lefty Ted Lilly. For the full scoop on the Lilly signing see here or here.

***Gil Meche is trying to decide who will make him a millionaire; the Cubs or Blue Jays. The Cubs are making a hard run at him, even having Lou Piniella phone him at home. Early in the day it appeared that the Cubs had the upper hand, but Toronto jumped right back in the picture. Having lost out on Lilly, the Blue Jays may be desperate to sign Meche. Whether he signs with the Cubs or Blue Jays, the contract will probably be very similar to Lilly’s.

***The Cubs traded Freddy “Boom-Boom” Bynum to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later. The Cubs needed to make room on the 40 man roster to accommodate Ted Lilly. There was no word on who the PTBNL would be, but you can be sure it will be someone you’ve never heard of before and will likely not hear from again.

***Kenny Lofton continues to be on the Cubs radar. The team needs a CF, but they don’t want to block the path of budding star Felix Pie. Lofton is asking for $6 million, which seems awfully high to me, but he is still getting interest from several teams.

***No new trade rumors involving Jacque Jones today. Jones was on ESPN 2 last night and admitted (in a round about way) that he would prefer to play somewhere other than in Chicago next year. Jim Hendry also admitted that Jones would like to be traded and that he will try to accommodate the outfielder if the right deal can be made.

***GM Jim Hendry was rushed to the hospital complaining of chest pains. There was no immediate word on his condition, but Larry O’Brien, the agent for Ted Lilly, said that the deal for Lilly was signed while Hendry was hooked up to an EKG machine.

***According to Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Cubs have offered 3 years/ $30 million to right hander Jeff Suppan. The Cardinals offered $3 years/$20 million and apparently are not interested in getting in a bidding war over Suppan. Houston also has an interest in Suppan and is likely to overspend in order to add one of the more elite FA to their rotation. It will be interesting to see what the Cubs do if both Suppan and Meche accept their offers.

***Hendry said in an interview today that the price for FA pitching is ridiculous, but it’s still not as bad as the price to trade for starting pitching. The Cubs have shown interest in both Jason Jennings (Colorado) and Jake Westbrook (Cleveland), but the price has just been too high.

***Several outlets reported that the Dodgers had signed Jason Schmidt. But even after the announcement, agents for the former Giants starter were contacting other teams to let them know that the deal with the Dodgers was not completed. The hold up apparently is the requirement that Schmidt take a physical for the Dodgers. The physical is scheduled for tomorrow, and Schmidt’s agents want to keep all doors open until the deal with the Dodgers is done. The Cubs had reportedly offered Schmidt 4 years/ $44 million. The Dodgers deal is for 3 years and $47 million.

Cubs Land Lilly

According to Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports, the Cubs have signed LHP Ted Lilly. The 30-year old pitcher inked a deal with the Cubs for 4 years/$40 million.

The day started out with the Cubs, Blue Jays and Yankees being in the running for the pitcher. As the day progressed, the Blue Jays fell out of the running when the Cubs firmed up their offer. Lilly apparently told the Yankees that if they would match the Cubs offer, he would prefer to pitch for them. However, the Yankees were only luke warm on Lilly, preferring to pursue Andy Pettitte.

Later in the afternoon, Pettitte announced through his agent that he would pitch in 2007, with the Yankees and Astros having the best shot at signing the southpaw. Upon hearing the news on Pettitte, the Yankees decided they would not match the Cubs offer for Lilly and he decided to sign with the Cubs.

Lilly was 15-13 with the Blue Jays last year and had a 4.31 ERA. He is known as a fly ball pitcher, which could be a problem in Wrigley Field, particularly when the wind is blowing out. Lilly also has a history of arm injuries and has never exceeded 200 innings pitched in a season. In 2004 he threw 197.1 innings for Toronto, the most innings he has pitched in a season at the major league level.

Lilly’s talent level would slot him in as a #3 pitcher in the rotation. At the moment, he slots in as a #2 for the Cubs pending further off-season moves.

Although I’m not a huge fan of Ted Lilly, I think Jim Hendry did what he could do to shore up the Cubs starting rotation. Hendry flirted with Jason Schmidt, but was eventually outbid by the Dodgers. He is also dealing with Gil Meche and is rumored to be involved in the bidding for Jeff Suppan. The Cubs do not figure to be players in the Barry Zito sweepstakes.

Lilly is just one piece of the puzzle and by himself doesn’t put the Cubs over the top. However, his addition does improve the starting rotation and allows Hendry to zero in on one more starting pitcher.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Winter Meetings: Day 2

Notes from Day 2 of the Winter Meetings:

***Last night, Steve Phillips reported on ESPN that the Cubs and Rockies were in the midst of talks that would send Jacque Jones to Colorado in return for pitcher Jason Jennings. Later, the report turned in to a three way deal involving Pittsburgh. However, ESPNs Jayson Stark threw the BS flag on the rumors earlier today and quoted an official with knowledge of the talks as saying there is “no way” that is going to happen. As they say, where there's smoke, there's fire, So stay tuned.
***Ken Rosenthal from Fox Sports is reporting that the Cubs and Blue Jays are the leading candidates for Ted Lilly. Lilly’s agent Larry O’Brien is continuing to talk to other teams, but it appears the Cubs and Blue Jays have the inside track.
***Amidst all of the trade talk involving Jacque Jones comes the rather surprising revelation that Jones requested a trade at the close of the 2006 season. Initial reports indicated that Jones was upset that Dusty Baker’s services were not retained, but it may have just as much, if not more, to do with the run ins Jones had with some obnoxious Cubs fans early in the 2006 season.
***The Cubs continue to be a suitor of Jason Schmidt’s. Jim Hendry indicated that even if the club signs Ted Lilly, that does not mean they will not continue their pursuit of Schmidt. However, the Dodgers have emerged as a prime suitor for Schmidt today. Schmidt has ties to Dodgers GM Ned Colletti and new Dodger trainer Stan Conte from their days with the Giants.
***Rumors are circulating that the Cubs and Phillies may be working a trade that would send former Southsider Aaron Rowand to the Cubs. There was no word on who the Cubs would send to Philadelphia to make this happen. From the Cubs perspective, they could use the scrappy center fielder, who hit .262 for the Phillies in 2006 with 12 HRs and 47 RBI.
***Other Activity: J.D. Drew signed with the Red Sox for 5 years/$70 Million…The Dodgers signed closer Takashi Saito for 1 year/$1 million plus $300,000 in incentives…Oakland and Texas continue to be the teams pursuing Mike Piazza…The Dodgers former closer, Eric Gagne, is drawing interest from the Red Sox, Reds, Braves, Indians, Giants, and Phillies…Andy Pettitte is still contemplating whether or not he will pitch in 2007. The New York Yankees made his decision a little easier today by offering him a 1 year/$15 million contract…The Mets still seem to be the front runner for Barry Zito’s services, but the Rangers are rumored to be dangling an offer of 6 years and between $94 million and $102 million…The Brewers are talking to both the Phillies and Orioles about a trade for OF Kevin Mench. The Phillies have talked about sending Jon Lieber or Aaron Rowand to the Brewers, but Milwaukee would have to sweeten the deal a bit. The Orioles have discussed sending pitcher Rodrigo Lopez to the Brewers…Greg Maddux is on the verge of signing a 1 year/$10 million deal with San Diego. The deal would also include a team option for a second year.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Winter Meetings: Day 1

The first day of the Winter Meetings in Orlando was fairly anticlimactic. In the morning, ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote that a rumor was spreading that the Cubs were about to sign Ted Lilly. The imminent signing proved to be false, but officials did confirm that Jim Hendry was scheduled to meet with Lilly’s agent, Larry O’Brien tonight.

It was also reported that Hendry spoke to Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd about a Jacques Jones for Jason Jennings swap. Several other teams were also interested in Jennings, including the Astros and Cardinals, but Hendry’s big pitch was that with both players having the same initials, the Rockies would not have to incur additional expenses buying a new set of monogrammed towels for Jones. There was no immediate word from O’Dowd on whether the Rockies were interested in the Cubs offer.

My hope for a quick trade for Dontrelle Willis did not happen, but the meetings are just beginning. Maybe it’s a deal Hendry and Beinfest can put together after a few cocktails tonight at the bar.

Former Cub Greg Maddux is rumored to be going to either San Diego or back to the Dodgers. Considering what the pitching market looks like, the Cubs would be well advised to giveMaddux a look. His price is high (rumored to be between $10.5 and $12.5 million per year), but unlike other high priced pitchers, Maddux is only looking for a two-year deal. Bringing Maddux back for a third stint with the Cubs may make more sense than signing one of the several second tier pitchers available for four years.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Cubs Could Fill Pitching Hole With Willis

Here’s a crazy idea. The Cubs are looking for starting pitching and have even offered a rather generous contract to Ted Lilly, a second tier lefty who has trouble pitching past the sixth inning. Like many teams, the Cubs have an interest in Jason Schmidt, but as Seattle Mariners blog Lookout Landing points out, Schmidt is a guy whose name value exceeds his actual performance. So who should the Cubs go after? How about the Marlins’ Dontrelle Willis?

I know at first blush this may seem ridiculous, but let’s look a little closer. From the Cubs point of view, they’d love to add Willis to their rotation. That’s a no-brainer. But why would the Marlins entertain trading Willis?

First, the Marlins have a couple of needs that the Cubs could fill. The Fish need a center fielder and a closer. And like most teams, they could always use pitching prospects. As it turns out, the Cubs have players that could fill these holes.

For center field the Cubs could offer hot prospect Felix Pie. The feeling is that he needs another half season at AAA to be ready for the big leagues, but he has a tremendous amount of potential and the Marlins have proven they are not averse to playing AAA players on the big club.

If Pie does not intrigue the Fish, Jacque Jones might. Jones began his career in center field, has the speed to cover the position, and is an effective left handed bat with some pop. Most importantly for the Marlins, Jones is signed for the next two years at the reasonable price of $9 million total.

At closer, the Cubs could offer Ryan Dempster. Dempster had a down year in 2006, but that could be explained away as both over use and inconsistent use. In 2005, Dempster saved an impressive 33 out of 35 games and looked to become one of the top closers in the league.

Scott Eyre is another option at closer. He has been used primarily as a set up man with the Cubs, but he has closed for the Indians in the past and looks to have the make up to do it again. And again, Eyre's contract is reasonable, particularly in this FA market.

On the pitching prospect front, the Cubs are loaded. They could offer any prospect(s) from a list that includes Sean Marshall, Juan Mateo, Angel Guzman, Jae-Kuk Ryu, Will Ohman, Rocky Cherry, Carlos Marmol, Roberto Novoa, Clay Rapada, Ryan O’Malley, and even more.

So the Cubs have what the Marlins need. But why would the Marlins part with Willis instead of one of their other pitchers? The reason is because of money. Willis is going to be arbitration eligible after the 2007 season and is likely to earn a big pay day. The Marlins don’t like big pay days. Although the team is reportedly ready to increase their payroll from $15 million in 2006 to $25 million in 2007, they do not appear to be willing to expand it to the extent necessary to keep Willis after 2007. Why not deal him now and get the pieces needed for 2006? Brilliant!

Of course, the wild cards in all of this are the GMs. Jim Hendry and Larry Beinfest are buddies. They were together at Creighton University and Beinfest followed Hendry into the big leagues. Neither GM is going to just roll over for the other, but the fact that they can and have worked deals together before could be the grease needed to get this deal done.

With the Winter Meeting starting tomorrow, I would suggest that Hendry make Beinfest’s room his first stop when he gets to Orlando today. He might be able to fill his most pressing need before the meetings even begin.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Cubs Make Offer to Lilly

The Cubs have reportedly made an offer to FA pitcher Ted Lilly. The offer is reportedly for 4 years and $40 million. Southpaw Lilly pitched for the Blue Jays last year and is still coveted by his former team. The Yankees and Giants are also interested in Lilly, although the Yankees interest may have cooled since they won the bid to negotiate with Japanese LHP Kei Igawa.

Lilly was 15-13 with a 4.31 ERA in 2006 with Toronto. Lilly is known as a fly ball pitcher who is not an innings eater. He routinely hits the 100 pitch mark in the sixth inning and his effectiveness goes downhill fast from there. The bull pen better be ready to pitch on days Lilly starts.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not completely opposed to signing Lilly. The Cubs need pitching and Lilly is one of the few FA pitchers worth pursuing. But Jim Hendry is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. The Cubs need two starting pitchers and there are very few FA pitchers worth pursuing. The market is demanding big dollar contracts, but I think most teams are reluctant to give what the market demands.

This reluctance even applies to Jason Schmidt, largely regarded as the most highly sought after FA pitcher on the market. Schmidt will likely demand $15 million per year or more for three or four years, but even he comes with large question marks. Schmidt’s fast ball has dropped in velocity rather significantly and he has a history of injuries.

So I can understand Hendry’s interest in Lilly. He’s not as good as Schmidt, but he’s pretty good and he’ll cost about $5 million per year less. Even so, I’m not thrilled with Lilly, especially if he is slotted in as the #2 starter. But as I said, the Cubs have to add someone, so who would I prefer?

I honestly can’t make a really strong case to sign someone other than Lilly, but there are a couple of guys I prefer. First on that list is Jeff Suppan. In previous posts, I referred to Suppan as the poor man’s Barry Zito. Suppan has good stuff and he’s an innings eater. But although his price tag may not be as high as Zito’s, he’s anything but cheap. Expect Suppan to sign for $10-$12 million per year.

Vicente Padilla is another guy I like better than Lilly. He’ll cost about the same as Lilly, has better stuff, and is more durable, although injuries have been a problem in the past for Padilla as well.

By this time next week, I expect the Cubs to have their two new starting pitchers. I think they’ll sign one FA (probably Lilly) and they’ll trade for another pitcher (probably Indians RHP Jake Westbrook, although Rockies RHP Jason Jennings is still a possibility). But no matter who the Cubs add to their rotation, it likely won’t please all Cubs fans. Of course, that’s the nature of the game…and the nature of being a Cubs fan.

Friday, December 01, 2006

With or Without Steroids, McGwire Doesn't Make the Grade

The Winter Meetings get started next Monday. I expect a lot of action and I expect the Cubs to be in the middle of much of it. Don’t be surprised if they sign a FA pitcher and make a trade for another one. It should be exciting.

In the meantime, let me jump into the discussion about the players that become eligible for the Hall of Fame this year. Like everyone else, I expect Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. to be first ballot HOFers. They both deserve it and the baseball writers love them, so they should start getting their acceptance speeches ready.

On the other end of the spectrum are former players who will likely not get enough votes to remain on the ballot for a second year. These players include Dante Bichette, Scott Brosius, Ken Caminiti, Devon White, Bobby Witt, among others.

In the middle sits Mark McGwire. The former home run machine will be a tough call for baseball writers. Several, including Tim Kurkjian, are making the argument that McGwire should not be penalized for alleged steroid abuse that has never been proven. Other writers claim that they will never vote for McGwire due to his alleged steroid abuse. Yet others say that they feel McGwire deserves to be in the HOF, but they can not in good conscience vote him in on the first ballot. All of these arguments have their merits, but they all focus on the wrong thing. With or without steroids, Mark McGwire does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

For anyone who followed the homerun race in 1998 between McGwire and Sammy Sosa, you have to admit that it was a thrilling time. Every night we’d watch as Big Mac and Slammin’ Sammy made their bid to beat Roger Maris’ single season HR record and to out slug the other. It was an exciting time.

But what else did McGwire do during his career. Sure, he hit a lot of other homeruns. He ended his career with 583. But other than that, he didn’t do much. He was a one dimensional player who was very good at that one dimension, but didn’t bring much else to the game.

McGwire had a .263 lifetime batting average, meaning he wasn’t a particularly good hitter. He had a lot of power, but he otherwise didn’t hit very well. calls McGwire a “glorified Dave Kingman.” He also wasn’t a particularly good fielder. All he really did well was hit homeruns.

There's an adage when it comes to the HOF. If you hit 500 homeruns, you’re automatically in. Balderdash! There’s no longer anything magical about 500 homeruns. McGwire, Sosa (588), and Rafael Palmiero (569) all have more than 500 career homeruns and none of them belong in the Hall. The HOF should be for players who did more than just hit homeruns.

With McGwire’s name on the ballot for the first time this year, all of the talk has centered around whether he did or didn’t use performance enhancing drugs, and if he did, does he deserve to get into the Hall. In my mind, it simply doesn’t matter. If you judge his performance on the field and completely ignore the PEDs question, Mark McGwire simply doesn’t make the grade.

But you know who does make the grade? Andre Dawson. I’m not just saying this because I have an autographed “Hawk” jersey hanging in my house. I’m saying it because he was perhaps the most complete player of his era. Dawson’s started his career as ROY in 1977. He went on to compile an impressive array of stats including a career .279 batting average over 21 seasons and 438 homeruns. Don’t get these stats confused with McGwire’s. The two HOF nominees played during very different times.

Dawson won the NL MVP with the Cubs in 1987 and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting four times. He played on eight all-star teams, won eight gold gloves, and was twice named the Sporting News NL Player of the Year. He did all of this while hobbling around on two of the most chronically painful knees the game has ever seen. He was feared by opposing teams and revered by his teammates. Andre Dawson was the type of player and had the type of career that was made for the HOF. Now it's up to the baseball writers to do the right thing and put "The Hawk" up on stage in Cooperstown with Gwynn and Ripkin.