Monthly Archives: November 2012

Cubs Bullpen Still In Shambles

Don’t forget about the Cubs’ bullpen this offseason. It remains a glaring weakness and aside from re-signing Shawn Camp, not much has been done to improve the relief staff.

Adding a couple of quality starter (Scott Baker & Scott Feldman) should help in theory, reducing the number of relief innings, but there’s still a ton of work to be done.

Only the Rockies, Brewers and Astros relievers allowed more earned-runs than Chicago in the National League last season.

The Cubs’ pen also allowed the second most HR in the NL (56) and worse, issued the most walks in all of baseball (259).

Carlos Marmol could be traded by the end of the Winter Meetings next week. Michael Bowden and Alberto Cabrera are being stretched out as starters this offseason. That basically leaves Camp and James Russell as the only reliable relief arms.

Meanwhile, Lendy Castillo, Jaye Chapman and Jeff Beliveau are still unproven. So is Rafael Dolis. Maybe there’s a pleasant bullpen surprise this spring among Arodys Vizcaino, Trey McNutt or Robert Whitenack, but even so that’s not enough for a formidable bullpen.

So in addition to finding the right fit at third base and a center fielder, improving the bullpen must be high on the Cubs’ list of repairs.

I wouldn’t suspect the bullpen issues get ironed out at the Winter Meetings, there might be a move (Marmol), but it’s something to keep an eye on as we move deeper into the offseason.

I have to believe at some point Team Theo will add at least one, if not two, quality relievers before the start of spring training.

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Steroids Era and The Hall of Fame

We knew this day was coming. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are eligible to become members of baseball’s Hall of Fame.

The question is whether or not suspected PEDs users, such as the three above, among others, should be elected.

I think they should be enshrined.

Now, before you start throwing stones…I’m not foolish enough to believe none of the eligible candidates cheated the game. In fact, I’d bet money I don’t have they did use performance-enhancers. Who are we kidding?

However, if baseball is ever going to move on from the Steroids Era it can’t allow this debate to fester on year-after-year, which it will, as long as a seven-time MVP is without a plaque in Cooperstown.

There’s no better example than Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader, whose legacy only grows with his exclusion from the hall. Granted, Rose wasn’t banished for steroids use, but cheating is cheating.

What I’m saying is Bonds, Clemens, Sosa etc. shouldn’t be given the privilege of such attention, like what Rose receives during the election announcements each year.

Instead, the writers must remind themselves the Steroids Era cannot be erased. What happened, happened. Yes, it’s a black on the game, but it can be healed.

Just as we learned to separate the Dead Ball Era from the Live Ball Era, fans will learn to do the same with the Steroids Era.

By the numbers we’ll know Bonds is the all-time home runs leaders and Clemens is one of the best hurlers ever. But we’ll also have an understanding they accumulated their numbers artificially, at least partially, and against other steroids users, no less.

Baseball’s most cherished statistics become no less sacred by electing players from the Steroids Era into the HOF. Rather, it will only help make the game’s history more transparent.

On the contrary, if the baseball writers chose to withhold their votes for highly suspected PEDs users the Steroids Era will never come to a close. And what could be worse than future Hall of Famers, even those decades from now, being overshadowed by the eternal debate of Bonds’ exclusion from the hall?

The writers can lop the head off the ugly Steroids Era monster by simply voting the roid players in, even though we know in our hearts, none are truly deserving of the honor.

Strangely, the decision to enshrine Steroids Era players would actually devalue the players’ accomplishments over time, thus bettering the game and the Hall of Fame itself. So put the cheaters in and move on with the understanding a certain period of the game’s history was chemically enhanced.

That doesn’t mean voters from this point forward should issue a free pass to future PEDs users eligible for the hall. We’re in a new era, more aware, more informed and better educated. Baseball’s steroid rules have been revised and most importantly, enforced. For all intents and purposes, it should be a non-issue.

In the meantime, reliving the Steroids Era with each new HOF ballot does the game no good. The writers need to bury baseball’s dead past and close the chapter on the Steroids Era once and for all.

Unfortunately, it takes putting some more scoundrels in Cooperstown. Call it an unpleasant, but necessary evil if you will.

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Cubs Rotation Respectable

The addition of Scott Feldman on Tuesday shores up the Cubs’ minimal starting pitching needs this offseason and actually gives Chicago a respectable rotation behind Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Scott Baker.

“We’d have liked him back, but he got a better opportunity, I won’t be surprised to see him have a big year.” -Rangers GM Jon Daniels on Feldman.

It’s another step forward to increasing the odds the Cubs avoid another 100-loss season, but re-tooling the rotation is far from over.

There’s still the possibility Garza is dealt during the Winter Meetings next week in Nashville, and the jury’s still out on Shark and Wood improving on last season.

There’s also no telling how long it will take Baker to bounce back from Tommy John surgery, if at all, and can Feldman sustain an entire season as a starter?

Per the usual, lots of question remain.

In part this explains the Cubs’ decision to stretch out relievers Michael Bowden and Alberto Cabrera as starters this winter.

Arodys Vizcaino (acquired from Atlanta for Reed Johnson & Paul Maholm) is recovering from TJS in March and is another potential starting option, especially if Garza is dealt.

Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley each made a handful of starts with the Cubs last season and could also make a run at the rotation this spring.

In theory it appears the Cubs finally have some decent rotation depth, but that’s assuming the progression of the arms-in-waiting go as planned; and precisely why Team Theo will try to fetch more starting pitching during the Winter Meetings next week.

Even if the Cubs come up empty in Nashville we at least know the rotation is better heading into 2013 than it finished in 2012, at least on paper.

Ultimately the Cubs’ starting rotation still poses more questions than answers, and will remain as such while trade opportunities, injuries and slumps continually shape the starting five through next season.

But that’s life for a rebuilding team. Every question can’t be answered immediately.

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Marmol, Maddux, Marlins

When Kerry Wood retired in May he marked the last player to remain in a Cubs uniform from the 2003 playoff team.

Currently there are three holdovers from Chicago’s last postseason appearance in 2008: Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol and Jeff Samardzija.

Marmol will likely be traded this offseason. A Soriano trade is more possibility than certainty. However, if he and Marmol are both dealt this winter Samardizja becomes the lone remaining player from the Cubs’ last playoff team.

What does it all mean? Nothing, really. But man, time sure does fly…

Greg Maddux has been named the pitching coach for Team USA in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. The team’s skipper, Joe Torre, also tabbed Gerald Perry (hitting), Dale Murphy (first base), Willie Randolph (third base), Marcel Lachemann (bullpen) and former Cub Larry Bowa (bench) to his coaching staff.

Maddux could prove a valuable recruiting tool for American pitchers still wavering with their decision to participate. There isn’t a pitcher alive who couldn’t learn a little something from The Professor. A few weeks of one-on-one counseling with Mad Dog should be an enticing offer for any hurler.

–The Miami Herald reported a poll by Bendixen & Amandi International conducted last week of 400 South Florida baseball fans‘ opinions of Marlins owner Jeffery Loria.

The majority polled are self described Marlins fans (90-percent) and the results revealed little surprise…87-percent are still seething over Loria’s fire-sale trade with Toronto.

If there’s any surprise, it’s the 13-percent who were not outraged by the move. That’s 52 votes. Really?

Aside from Loria and the Blue Jays, I couldn’t imagine any Marlins fans agreeing with the salary dump. Even the Marlins NL East rivals had to think the move was ridiculous and made in poor judgment.

What’s more, a small percentage (6-percent) actually responded with a ‘favorable’ vote for the team’s owner. Favorable!

Granted a few of the folks polled know the owner personally, but I’d have to fairly assume the rest of Loria’s supporters are in some way tied to his payroll.

But seriously, how can you be a baseball fan, let alone a Marlins fan, and not be disgusted with Loria’s leadership as the club’s owner? Some things I’ll just never understand…but my vote is Marlins fans deserve better.

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Happy Birthday Matt Garza!

Happy 29th birthday to Matt Garza!

Will the fiery right-hander celebrate his next birthday as a Cub? It’s hard to say given the Cubs’ decision to hold-off signing Garza to a long-term deal and his pending recovery from a stress reaction in his right elbow.

I don’t have any predictions on whether Garza remains in Chicago. He could be dealt this offseason or next July. Who knows?

I do know quality pitching is hard to find and trading a proven top of the rotation arm like Garza’s would come with plenty of risk. Like any potential trade, it’s largely a matter of what’s coming back in return…

As for the b-day celebrations, Garza shares his birth date with a number of current and former MLB players, most notably:

Chuck Finley – 1962

Harold Reynolds – 1960

Jeff Torborg – 1941

Lefty Gomez (HOF) – 1908

Hugh Duffy (HOF) – 1866

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Cubs Trade For Derrek Lee Nov. 25, 2003

Nov. 25, 2003: the Cubs trade minor leaguer Mike Nannini and Hee-Seop Choi to the Marlins for Derrek Lee.

For all the heat Jim Hendry received during his tenure as Cubs GM, this was one of his better deals.

Lee, then 28, had just wrapped up his first Gold Glove and a World Championship with Florida. He was in the prime of his career, his best seasons were still ahead and he would soon become the clubhouse leader in Chicago.

Meanwhile, Nannini never reached the majors and Choi finished his underwhelming career with the Dodgers two-years later.

Lee of course went on to have the best season of his career in 2005. He played 158-games, won the NL Batting Title (.335), Silver Slugger Award (46 HR, 107 RBI), his second Gold Glove and finished third in the MVP race (5.7 WAR).

It’s hard to know what happens in Lee’s career had he not broke his wrist in April of 2006 after colliding with Rafael Furcal near first base in Los Angeles. He returned from the injury two months later, but clearly wasn’t the same hitter as before the collision.

Lee’s recovering wrist appeared to cripple his power during the next two seasons, including the playoffs, before his return to form in 2009: .972 OPS, 35 HR, 111 RBI. Now 34, however, it proved the last glimpse of Lee as the power-hitting threat from four-years earlier.

Lee’s numbers offensively didn’t live up to his 5-year, $65 million contract in 2006 (in fact, the ink had yet to dry when the wrist injury occurred) but his value on defense and outstanding leadership arguably made him the face of the franchise until Starlin Castro‘s arrival in May of 2010.

Three months later Lee was traded to the Braves for three minor leaguers, none of which have yet to reach the big leagues. Lee’s seven years spent on the North Side were over and soon so was his major league career.

Nevertheless, Lee’s arrival in Chicago ultimately proved a landslide trade-win for Hendry and the Cubs.

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Mitchell Report Five Years Later

We’re coming up on the 5-year anniversary of the Mitchell Report (Dec. 13, 2007).

The investigation most notably uncovered and published the names of 89 MLB players of either highly suspicious or confirmed uses of performance-enhancing drugs (steroids, HGH, amphetamines, etc.).

I was curious to know how many players listed in the Mitchell Report were still playing in the major leagues as of 2012.

By my count there are 5: Rick Ankiel, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Jerry Hairston and Brian Roberts.

Ankiel, 33, is the youngest of the five and could still play several more seasons. He was, however, cut by the Nationals on July 27 and failed to play another game last season. The remaining four are 35 and older with Giambi and Pettitte both in their 40s.

If Ankile fails to latch on with another club, it’s nearly a certainty 2013 will prove the final season for both Giambi and Pettitte–if either plays at all. But that doesn’t mean the Mitchell Report players vanish from the present game entirely.

The names of Bonds, Palmeiro and Clemens will resurface during Hall of Fame discussions. Mark McGwire is still around as the hitting coach for the Dodgers and Matt Williams (also listed) appears poised to become a big league manager.

To baseball’s credit, in the five seasons since the Mitchell Report the league has taken great strides to clean up the game with improved testing practices and harsher penalties. But, as Melky Cabrera proved this past summer, there’s still work to be done.

I’m not suggesting there’s a policy baseball can put forth to prevent all players from cheating. But I do believe more can be done to discourage players from using PEDs by implementing stauncher penalties.

Further preventative measures are the responsibility of the Players Union, the owners and Bud Selig. It’s up to all three parties to cooperate on hammering out the details of stricter penalties to ensure the integrity of the game will not be compromised any further by steroids offenders. This is the best way for baseball to stay ahead of the players seeking new and improved artificial advantages in the coming years.

An unyielding stance on PEDs users would mean five years from now we’ll be able to look at the game and know, without question, we’re well into the post ‘Steroids Era’ and past the ugly black eye of the Mitchell Report.

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