Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cuban to Buy Cubs...Someday...Maybe

This is how rumors get started. A website called published an article indicating that billionaire famous guy Mark Cuban is on the verge of making a $625 million offer for the Cubs. credited the scoop to “a source familiar with the matter.” Then it must be true. picked up on the story and published it on their website. The story was picked up by Then, as if on queue, we all got excited. What are we, lemmings?

Eventually the truth came out. Cuban has indicated in the past that in the right circumstances, he would be interested in purchasing the Cubs. However, the Chicago Tribune contacted Cuban via email and he denied that an offer was in the works. “Not true,” Cuban said. “I have no idea where they got their info.”

I’m all for Cuban purchasing the Cubs. I’m also in favor of accurate reporting and professional journalism. Unfortunately, we missed out on both in this case.

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The Veterans Committee blew it again. Once again they failed to elect anyone into the Hall of Fame, including Ron Santo. As a consolation prize, Santo received the most votes of anyone under consideration, but he still came up four votes shy of the 67 votes needed.

I’ve written in the past about why Santo should be enshrined, so I won’t go over all of the arguments again. However, there is one salient point that stands out above the rest: Santo’s offensive statistics were better than the majority of the third basemen that are currently in the HOF. They are also better than the majority of all of the position players in the Hall. Defensively, Santo is one of the top third basemen to ever play the game. Bottom line: Ron Santo belongs in the Hall of Fame.

There is another issue that needs to be dealt with. The new, revamped Veterans Committee has been in existence for six years. The way the process is set up, the Veterans Committee considers players, managers, and others that were considered by the Baseball Writers of America (BBWWA), but were not elected to the Hall. The Veterans Committee votes every other year.

So in six years – or three elections – the Veterans Committee has elected a total of… wait for it…zero players. That’s right, none, zero, zip, zilch. According to the Veterans Committee, no one that is not currently in the Hall deserves to be in the Hall. Baldersdash (and I don’t say that lightly).

The Veterans Committee voting process needs to be revisited. The percentage needed to get into the Hall (currently set at 75%) needs to be lowered or committee members need to be required to vote for a minimum number of candidates. Right now, too many committee members are submitting blank ballots.

If the Veterans Committee has its way, they will never elect anyone. And that's not good for the HOF, which is in the business of enshrining former ball players. The six year Veterans Committee experiement has been a failure. They need to try something else.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Barrett Talking New Contract

Michael Barrett is talking about a new contract, but his tone is quite a bit different than Carlos Zambrano’s. Barrett says he’s willing to talk before, during, or after the season. He’s not setting any deadlines and he wants the Cubs to know that he wants to stay as their everyday catcher.

This may not be the strongest negotiating tactic, but I have to say that it is refreshing to hear a guy who feels strong loyalty toward his team.

“I will put no deadline or nothing on anything,” Barrett said. “For me, I feel like I’ve been through a lot as a player, and I feel completely blessed to be a part of this team. For me, if there’s a distraction that keeps you from appreciating putting on a Cubs uniform, then something ain’t right. That’s the way I feel.”

Barrett is one of the premier offensive catchers in the NL (not to mention a fine linguist). During a 2006 season that the Cubs would rather forget, Barrett was a bright spot. He hit .307 with 16 HR and 53 RBI in 107 games. His season was cut short when he suffered an intra-scrotal hematoma, an injury so dire that it actually makes me cringe to write it.

I have mixed emotions about Barrett. Although his defense has improved over the years, he’s still not a strong defensive catcher. He worked some this off season with former Cubs catcher and current coach Jody Davis on his defense, but it remains to be seen what impact this will have.

The last several World Series teams each had a “defense first, offense second” type catcher. Does that mean that is the best way to go? No, not necessarily. Several teams that made it to the post-season and even into the World Series had strong offensive catchers. It seems that the most important attribute a catcher can have is a good working relationship with his pitching staff. Despite his defensive woes, Barrett seems to have a good relationship with his pitchers.

Only time will tell what direction the Cubs decide to go with their catcher. It seems to me that in the end, it will be very difficult to give up Barrett’s offense.

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Nothing new on the Geoff Jenkins – Jacque Jones rumor I talked about at the end of last week. The rumor originated (as far as I can tell) with former Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone. I contacted Tim Dierkes at, but he had not heard anything about it. I’ve been checking his site to see if any of his contacts were hearing anything, but nothing so far.

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Trans at The Cub Reporter posted a terrific article today about why Greg Maddux left the Cubs in favor of the Braves in 1992. For a lot of us, I think we remember the reasons differently than they actually occurred. Trans’ article is both educational and entertaining.

The thing I took away from the article is just how “small market minded” the Cubs were back in the early ‘90’s. Not only did GM Larry Himes alienate Maddux, but he also alienated another future HOF in Andre Dawson. I can’t pin the blame on Himes for institutionalizing the small market mentality, but he certainly did perpetuate it. In fact, it was so well ingrained in the organization that it took nearly $300 million this past winter in off season signings to overcome it, at least temporarily. Only the future will tell us if it’s gone for good.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Jacque Jones Trade Rumor

The boys over at The Cub Reporter are discussing a rumored trade that would send Geoff Jenkins to the Cubs in exchange for OF Jacque Jones. The rumor apparently was uttered by former Cubs pitcher and broadcaster Steve Stone on “The Score” sports talk radio station in Chicago.

At first blush, this deal didn’t make sense to me. Trading these two guys for each other would be pretty much of a wash. Both players have a difficult time hitting left-handed pitching. Jones provides more speed, is probably better defensively, is a year younger, and is $3 million cheaper than Jenkins for the 2007 season (he is signed for $5 million for 2008).

Jenkins is a more patient hitter, puts up better offensive numbers, has more power (2006 notwithstanding), and strikes out far less. He also has a better throwing arm.

Another difference between the two players is that Jones is coming off a terrific year and Jenkins is coming off a down year (although not as down as people would have you think). In addition, Jenkins looks a little like Brett Favre and Jones doesn’t. I don’t know if that will matter in the end, but it’s something to consider.

So why would the two teams make this trade? From the Cubs perspective, Jones allegedly asked for a trade after the 2006 season because of some racist remarks that were directed towards him by some Neanderthal Cubs fans. His wife (or mother, I can’t remember) also got into it with some fans. Cubs GM Jim Hendry apparently told Jones he would trade him if he could, but now reports are coming out of Cubs camp that Jones never requested the trade. Who knows?

By adding Jenkins, the Cubs would be able to grant Jones’ wish (if in fact it is his wish) and would get a slight upgrade offensively. Jenkins would be more expensive in 2007 (what do the Cubs care about money?), and then they’d have a club option on him for 2008. The Cubs could either buy him out for $500,000 after the 2007 season and they’d be done with him, or they could pick up his option for $9 million. With Felix Pie expected to be ready late in 2007 or at the beginning of the 2008 season, my guess is that the Cubs would cut Jenkins loose.

What’s in it for the Brewers? One thing is money. Rather than paying Jenkins $7 million this year and then buying him out for $500,000 at the end of the season, they could have Jones for $4 million this year and $5 million next year. That means it would only cost the Brewers $1.5 million more to have Jones for two years as it would to have Jenkins for just one year. What a bargain.

Trading one outfielder for another one really doesn’t help the Brewers logjam issues in the outfield, but it doesn’t make them worse either. Plus, with Jones more reasonable contract, it would likely be easier to trade him (although he does have a limited no-trade clause).

Also, and on this one I’m just guessing, Jones may be more accepting of a platoon assignment with Kevin Mench (or Gabe Gross)than Jenkins is. Right now for the Brewers, both Jenkins and Mench are saying they would rather be traded than platoon. Yost has made it clear that he is going to do what is best for the team regardless of whether Jenkins or Mench think it’s a good idea. But maybe it would be easier to move Jenkins than fight with him about the possible platoon.

Finally, I don’t know if Milwaukee is a place that Jones has indicated he would be willing to go as part of his limited no-trade clause, but he has a very good reason to approve the trade. It’s a little confusing, so I’ll let AZ Phil from The Cub Reporter explain it:

“If the Brewers are not on Jones’ “no go” list (or even if they are), there is one reason why Jacque might be THRILLED with such a deal. That’s because he signed his three-year contract with the Cubs under the old CBA, and as such, if he is traded prior to the last year of his contract, he can demand a trade during the FA filing period immediately following the season he gets traded. And if he doesn’t get traded by March 15th, he has the option to become a FA (and there is no compensation required for such a player, even if the player is rated by Elias as a Type “A”).

"So let’s say the Brewers whisper to Jones that if he agrees to be traded to MIL, and if he were to then demand a trade (per the old CBA) after the 2007 season, the Brewers will agree to NOT trade him, which would allow Jones instead to have the option to be a FA during Spring Training 2008 (3-15-2008).

"While mid-March is not the optimum time to be an MLB FA, it still might net Jacque a new FA contract with a 2008 salary in excess of the $5M he was supposed to get under the terms of the deal he signed with the Cubs, especially if the other MLB clubs know four months in advance that he will be a FA at that time (just as everybody knew well in advance that Javier Vazquez had demanded to be traded from the D’backs after the 2005 season, and would be a FA on 3-15-2006 if he wasn’t traded).”

In other words, Jones could potentially have millions of reasons to want this deal to go through.

At the moment, this is just a rumor. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Except when there isn’t…

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dream a Little Dream

Sit back my friend. Relax, and dream a little dream about the 2007 Cubs.

It’s September and the ’07 Cubs have just clinching the NL Central. To the surprise of many, it was the pitching that carried the club through the season and into the playoffs.

Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano was spectacular, posting a 19-7 record with a 3.13 ERA. To no ones surprise, Zambrano stayed healthy all year and pitched over 200 innings. He also helped his own cause by batting .196 with 4 HR.

Ted Lilly was solid all year and like Zambrano, was a workhorse, logging 204 2/3 innings. His 16-10 record was impressive, as was his 3.88 ERA. Much was written about the foibles of adding a flyball pitcher like Lilly to a ballpark like Wrigley Field, but in the end it didn’t prove to be a problem.

Mark Prior returned to his 2003 form and posted a record of 14-6 and an impressive ERA of 2.96. Although he missed a game here and there with a nagging injury, he still started 26 games and pitched well, even in the losses. Prior threw 174 1/3 innings, the most since his 2003 campaign. The highlight of the year for Prior was the no-hitter he threw against the Padres on a warm May evening in San Diego. It was definitely a comeback year for the young right-hander who is still working on realizing his tremendous potential.

Rich Hill had an up and down year, including a stint on the DL. He ended the year with an 8-7 record, but was fully recovered in time for the playoffs. Hill’s ERA of 4.75 is a bit misleading, since he was pounded in two games that accounted for many of the runs he allowed.

Jason Marquis was a pleasant surprise. Although a lot of negative things were said about him when he signed with the Cubs, he produced a nice 11-8 season with a 4.15 ERA. He also turned out to be a great influence in the clubhouse and a team leader.

Wade Miller was healthy and ready to go at the beginning of the season, but there just wasn’t room for him in the rotation. Trade rumors that included Miller’s name were almost constant from the beginning of the season, but Miller ignored the rumors and concentrated on pitching out of the bullpen. When Rich Hill was put on the DL, Miller filled in admirably. He posted a record of 4-3 in his eight starts for the Cubs and an overall record of 5-5 with a 4.54 ERA. Miller was traded as part of a package at the trade deadline. Of course, I would have to be a psychic to know who the Cubs got in return.

The bullpen was outstanding, led by closer Kerry Wood. A lot of people said Wood had control issues and would not make a good closer, but what those people didn’t realize was that only throwing one inning to close out a ball game is completely different that starting a game and having to pace yourself. Wood saved 33 out of 36 chances for the Cubs. Just having him available and knowing he could be counted on gave the team a boost and allowed Lou Piniella to manage more aggressively and with much more confidence.

So what about Ryan Dempster? I don’t know. He was either traded or got hurt. Does it really matter?

Two other guys who really distinguished themselves in the bullpen were Neal Cotts and Bob Howry. Cotts did a great job in long relief for the Cubs, and filled in nicely when Hill or one of the other starters were injured. Cotts ended the year with a 4-2 record and an ERA of 4.00.

Howry did a solid job as the set up man in front of Kerry Wood. He ended the year with a record of 5-6 and a 3.30 ERA.

The pitching staff was a bit of a question mark at the beginning of the year, but they came through and led the team into the post-sesaon.

Ahh, that was a nice dream. But it’s time to go back to work. If there’s time later, we can dream a little dream about the offense.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cubs Sign Zambrano

Okay, it’s not like Zambrano was a free agent, but it’s still exciting that Z and the Cubs avoided arbitration and got a deal done. They agreed on a one-year, $12.4 million contract that will likely last less than six weeks. That’s how long the two sides have to negotiate a long-term deal before the start of the season, Zambrano’s self-imposed deadline.

I have mixed emotions about a long-term deal. As I’ve chronicled here in the past, there is no reason to work out a long-term agreement right now. Let’s see what Z does during the course of the year. If he does well and stays healthy, then sign him.

On the other hand, if Zambrano is not signed before he becomes a free agent after the 2007 season, there is always the possibility that he will sign elsewhere. There are very few pitchers of Z’s caliber in the game. It doesn’t make sense to lose him, only to have to overspend to get someone less capable to replace him.

Whatever happens, it’s good to have Z signed and ready to pitch this season. Let’s win a World Series this year and worry about who’s signed and who isn’t next year.

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Kerry Wood is a skinny person. Over the off-season, Wood lost a considerable amount of weight and eye witnesses are reporting that he looks younger and healthier than he has in years. Unfortunately for Wood, he suffered the first injury of the year when he slipped in his hot tub and bruised his chest.

Wood reports that he’s fine and he’s ready to pitch full speed. However, Pinella says that he’s going to take it easy on Wood for now and doesn’t plan on using Wood in back-to-back games until he feels Wood is ready.

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Having signed Carlos Zambrano to a one-year deal, the Cubs have now signed all of their arbitration-eligible players without having to go to arbitration. As it turns out, that isn’t all that unusual. Since 1980, the Cubs have only gone to arbitration with five players. In those five arbitration cases, the Cubs have won three and lost two.

One of those they won occurred in 1988 with Andre Dawson. Dawson was asking for $2 million and the Cubs were offering $1.85 million. The two sides were only $115,000 apart, yet they couldn’t reach an agreement. The arbitrator sided with the Cubs. Just to avoid any bad karma, Jim Hendry should send The Hawk a check for $115,000 and ask for his forgiveness.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A "Glass is Half Empty" Look at the 2007 Cubs

Spring Training is finally underway. Pitchers and catchers reported this week and position players report next week. The off-season was very busy and very exciting for the Cubs. The prayers of millions of Cubs fans were answered when the Tribune Company opened up their wallet big time. It reminds me of the time I went to a restaurant for lunch and found out they offered a 25-foot all-you-can-eat ice cream buffet. I was so excited I couldn’t stop smiling.

But there’s something about this off-season that is unsettling to me. Just like my AYCE ice cream binge, a nasty headache followed the sugar overload. And although I’m normally a “glass is half full” kind of guy, especially when it comes to the Cubs, I have to admit that the sugar rush of the off-season is wearing off and I’m starting to feel the crash coming on.

During the past off-season, the Cubs spent like drunken sailors. They signed Aramis Ramiez, Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Mark DeRosa, Daryle Ward, and Cliff Floyd. When all is said and done (including Zambrano’s new contract), the Cubs will have a payroll pushing $130 million. Trust me, that’s not a complaint. I’ve opined for some time that an organization like the Cubs (big market and wealthy corporate owner) should be spending around $125 million per year.

I’m not upset about the dollars spent. What I’m concerned about is what the Cubs got for all of that money. First, let me tell you what they should have gotten: total domination.

In a division like the NL Central (i.e. weaker teams with no really big spenders), $130 million should buy more than a competitive team. It should buy a sure thing, or at least as much of a sure thing as you can get with any endeavor that involves humans.

The payroll numbers for each of the teams have not been finalized yet, but in round numbers, here’s how much the other NL Central teams will be spending in 2007:

Houston Astros $90 million
St. Louis Cardinals $90 million
Cincinnati Reds $65 million
Milwaukee Brewers $60 million
Pittsburgh Pirates $50 million

The Cubs are spending more than 40% more than their next closet rivals, and yet they are by no means the prohibitive favorite to win the division. They are spending more than twice as much as Milwaukee and many pundits are predicting that the Brewers will be the team to beat in 2007.

Obviously, money alone does not buy championships (just ask George Steinbrenner), but spending so much more money than the other teams in the division should at least give the Cubs a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, at least at this point, it doesn’t look like that is going to be the case.

I’m not sure who is to blame for this. I guess it starts with the hole that was the 2006 team. Entering the off-season, the Cubs had to improve quite a bit just to get back to being a .500 team.

The market also contributed to the Cubs having to spend a lot more than they should have had to spend just to be competitive. The price of pitching in particular went through the roof, and the Cubs needed pitching.

Finally, Jim Hendry has to accept part of the blame, not just for building the ineffective 2006 team, but also for not spending money in the off-season as effectively as he could have (although it’s easier to say that than to actually point to the specific deals he should have or could have made).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ready to go into panic mode or write the season off. In fact, just the opposite. I’m stoked about the season and I’m optimistic about the Cubs chances. And I’m sure I’ll go back to my positive, optimistic, homerish self very soon. But in the back of my mind, I will remain concerned that it’s all going to fall apart and a team that spent half as much as the Cubs will win the NL Central.

2007 NL Central Predictions

The Pittsburgh Lumber Company (Pirates Blog) has posted a really good article predicting the 2007 NL Central. I’ll be posting my own predictions later during Spring Training, but I wanted to share this article with you because I think it was really well done.

The link for the article is here.

The contribution from Red Hot Mama (Reds Blog) is delusional, but is well written and funny.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A New Perspective on Zambrano's Contract Demands

The news about Carlos Zambrano’s “mini tantrum” on WGN Radio is all over the news. Yesterday’s post detailed Z’s remarks, but in a nutshell he said he wants a long-term deal from the Cubs at Barry Zito-type money, or he’s walking away from the Cubs after the 2007 season.

Jim Hendry responded today with what I thought were rather low-key, unconcerned comments:

"Basically, that statement has never been conveyed to me," Hendry said. "Carlos and his representatives have always made it clear that the Cubs are where he wants to be. I certainly have no problem with a player with five-plus years wanting to have a deal by Opening Day, but if you don't have one, it doesn't necessarily mean there will be a parting of ways."

I spent the day thinking about this, and I think it would be a mistake to sign Z to a long-term deal right now. There really is no reason to sign him long-term. If we’ve learned anything from Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, it’s that even the most promising pitchers get injured. What if the Cubs sign Z to a five (or six or seven) year deal and then Z blows out his elbow and needs Tommy John surgery? I know it could happen anytime, and that’s just my point. Why sign Z long-term if you don’t have to.

Instead, if I was Jim Hendry I would avoid arbitration with Z by agreeing to a one-year, $13-14 million deal. Heck, pay him the $15.5 million he’s asking for. The goal is to keep him happy for a year so the Cubs can negotiate a long-term deal late in the season or early next off-season. And if he gets hurt or pitches horribly during the 2007 campaign, the Cubs have the luxury of re-evaluating their needs before negotiating with Z. Sure, it might cost a couple of million dollars extra to handle things this way, but it will be worth it if it keeps Z happy and in love with the Cubs.

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I’m a big Steve Stone fan. I think he is one of the best analysts I have ever heard and I really wish he was back doing Cubs games on CSN/WGN. Alas, that is not to be this year anyway. Stone remains close with Cubs President John McDonough, so maybe something can be worked out in the future.

In the meantime, Stone has signed on to do analysis on Chicago’s WSCR radio. Having more Stone on “the Score” is welcome if for no other reason than to get a little more Cubs talk on the White Sox flagship station. The steady diet of White Sox talk frustrates some Cubs fans, so Stone’s excellent commentary will be a nice break from all of the Southside banter.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Zambrano Threatens to Leave If He Doesn't Get His Way

Carlos Zambrano is threatening to look elsewhere for employment if the Cubs don’t give him what he’s asking for. In an interview on WGN Radio, Zambrano said:

“I'm ready to sign, and I would do my job anyway with the Cubs this year. Whatever happens, I don't want to know [anything] about a contract during the season. I want to sign with the Cubs before the season starts. If they don't sign me, sorry, but I must go. That's what Carlos Zambrano thinks."

As I’ve stated before, Zambrano is a proud guy who wears his heart on his sleeve (and suddenly speaks in the third person). But let’s be honest, Z and his agent asked for too much money in arbitration. They asked for $15.5 million while the Cubs offered a fair $11.025 million. Remember, Z is arbitration eligible, he’s not a free agent. Z’s asking price might be reasonable for the FA market, but he’s still a year away from that.

Even so, Jim Hendry needs to lock up his ace with a long-term contract and he needs to do it before opening day. Even better, get it done before February 20 and both sides can avoid arbitration.

I’ve got to believe that the two sides will eventually get together. Z is going to get his money and has expressed a desire to stay with the Cubs. The Cubs have spent a fortune signing players this off-season. They would be foolish to spend all of that money and then devastate their rotation by letting Z go. The deal will eventually get done.

That’s what Lou Mindar thinks.

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In other news, the Cubs traded Jae Kuk Ryu to the D-Rays for two prospects. Ryu was going nowhere with the Cubs and will now have the opportunity to crack the D-Rays rotation. In return for Ryu, the Cubs got RHP Greg Reinhard and OF Andy Lopez.

The 23-year old Reinhard pitched in single-A last year and has a combined 8-13 record and a 4.29 ERA in two minor league seasons.. He is a former 5th round draft pick who has some upside potential.

Lopez is only 20-years old. He spent the past two years playing Rookie Ball in the Appalachian League. Lopez will likely start the year in Peoria.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Still No Deal for Z; Prior Tougher Than You Think

I just spent the past week in Florida. Man, it was nice being in 75 degree temps while everyone back home was suffering with temps of 25-35 degrees below zero.

I really thought that the Cubs and Carlos Zambrano would reach a long-term deal while I was gone, but it doesn’t look like they’ve made any progress. I still expect the two sides to avoid arbitration, even if they just agree to a one-year deal and continue to talk about a long-term contract. Going to arbitration with the sensitive and emotional Zambrano could backfire on the Cubs.

I also had an idea during my vacation about writing an article about why Mark Prior has gotten such a bad rap over the years. My thesis is that although Prior has been on the DL eight times in the past three years, it is wrong to call into question his commitment, toughness, and even his manhood. I had this great article in mind, but then I couldn’t find anywhere on the Internet where a player’s trips to the DL are chronicled.

Here’s what I do know: Of the eight times Prior has been on the DL, three of those trips occurred in 2006. Prior had a shoulder injury and an oblique strain that kept him on the DL during the season. At the end of the year he was sent to the DL for what was described as congenital looseness in his shoulder. In other words, Prior has a congenital condition in his shoulder that makes it looser and more “sloppy” than most people’s shoulders.

On two other occasions, Prior was placed on the DL after being hurt during a game. I remember one time he injured himself when he ran into Marcus Giles. Another time I think he was injured when a ball was hit back at him. In both of these cases, it’s hardly a case of a guy whose not tough just being a baby and refusing to play because of a hangnail.

My whole point is that Prior has had a tough three years (2004-2006), but it’s not a lack of toughness that has landed him on the DL. He’s had legitimate injuries, some that occurred while playing aggressively, and he’s struggled with a congenital problem with his shoulder. If I could have only found all of the facts on Prior’s injuries, this would have been such a good article.

I understand people being tired of hearing about Prior’s potential and his perfect mechanics, only to see him placed on the DL time and time again. But I suspect that there is no one more sick of it than Prior himself.

The truth is, injuries have hampered what was once viewed as a “can’t miss” career for Prior. But he is still young (just 26) and he still shows a tremendous amount of potential. At the moment both Prior and the Cubs are reporting that he is healthy and is ready for Spring Training. If he can stay healthy, Prior should have a breakout year and the Cubs should have one of the best and deepest rotations in the NL.

Of course, Prior staying healthy all year is a big “if.” But if he ends up on the DL yet again, it won’t be because he lacks commitment or toughness. It will simply be because he has suffered yet another legitimate injury.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Cubs, Prior Agree to Deal; Zambrano is Next

Although I’m a couple days late on this, the Cubs and P Mark Prior avoided salary arbitration and agreed to a one-year, $3.575 million contract. The agreement includes a bonus for starting 27 games, and another $150,000 bonus for starting 30 games.

The oft-injured Prior is in a make or break situation with the Cubs. Although the right-hander continues to have great potential, it is likely that the Cubs will cut bait after this year if Prior doesn’t realize some of that potential. While it is true that another team will probably be willing to throw some money at Prior next off-season even if he doesn’t pitch much or well in 2007, the Cubs are likely done spending money on his unrealized potential.

Having said that, I remain cautiously optimistic that Prior will rebound in 2007. At the moment, he appears healthy and prepared to do the hard work necessary to come back from injury. I’m not ready to say he’ll return to his 2003 form, but I do expect him to battle for a place in the starting rotation and will make a positive contribution to the team.

Prior’s signing leaves only Carlos Zambrano without a deal for 2007. The Cubs and Zambrano are rather far apart in the numbers they submitted for arbitration and the rumor over the past few days is that the two sides may not be able to reach a long term agreement before the arbitration hearing.

The arbitration process is set up to where a team necessarily has to bash their own player in order to influence the arbitrator. Everyone understands that the process is set up this way, but that will not stop the very emotional Zambrano from taking exception with the things Jim Hendry has to say about him as part of the process. Worst case scenario, the Cubs could win the arbitration proceeding, but end up alienating their best pitcher to the point where he loses interest in signing with the Cubs before testing the free agency waters.

My personal opinion is that at the moment, Zambrano is not worth the $15.5 million he is asking for in arbitration. The Cubs agree, but Zambrano and his agent are acting as if Z is already a free agent and they are asking for free agent money. The best thing Hendry can do at this point is work with Zambrano in a way that allows Z to save face while still getting a lucrative, long-term contract. Because with Zambrano, it’s not just about the money. It’s about the money and his pride.