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PIT/PA Watch

May 15: 3.55
Season: 3.61
NL Average: 3.73
Cubs' NL Rank: 15th

Cubs Season Record 22-15 (--)

This Series
May 14-May 16

Cubs Sweep 3-0



Final Score: 6-1

Final Score: 7-5

Final Score: 4-2


Next Series
May 18-May 20

AT

May 18: Clement (5-2, 2.78) vs
Schmidt (3-2, 3.79)


May 19: Zambrano (4-1, 1.82) vs
Rueter (1-4, 5.52)


May 20: Maddux (3-3, 4.44) vs
Hermanson (1-2, 4.67)



Last Series
May 11-May 13

Dodgers Win 2-1



Final Score: 7-3

Final Score: 4-0

Final Score: 7-3


Know Your Enemy - The Series
Part 1 - The Reds
Part 2 - The Pirates
Part 3 - The Brewers
Part 4A - The Cardinals - Position Players
Part 4B - The Cardinals - Pitching and Bench
Part 5A - The Astros - Position Players
Part 5B - The Astros - Pitching and Bench

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 Archives
08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003
09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003
10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003
11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003
12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004
01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004
02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004
03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004
04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004
05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Surprise!

Well, I didn’t see that coming. Hell, I don’t think Jim Hendry did, either. But when Todd Walker comes knocking on your door, willing to sign a one-year deal for $1.75M, making it clear to you that he just wants to come play for a winning team whether he starts or not, I think you shake his hand, show him his locker, and figure out what it means later.

So, smart guy, what does it mean? Well, it could be as simple as a platoon at second base and the leadoff spot. Put together Walker and Grudz’ splits against opposite-handed pitchers over the last three years, and you get nearly identical lines that translate to something like .300/.360/.450. I’ll take that from my second baseman any time, even if he does have two heads. The drawback in this scenario is Walker’s defense, but that’s going to be an issue no matter what you do with him. A strict platoon means you’ll see that exposed more than if Walker were some kind of super-sub, but with the stikeout rates of the Cubs’ staff, the loss with the leather is worth the gain with the wood.

Option two is mentioned in passing above, and that’s to make Walker a kind of super-sub. This could work alright if most of his time is spent at second, with only the occasional game at first or third, but I still feel like this would be a misallocation of resources. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but why take a player with a pretty solid line against right-handers and then only play him sporadically? Why take the player with the fourth best OBP on the team, and only put him out a couple times a week? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but that never stopped the Cubs from doing something, so don’t count it out.

The third option is some sort of trade. This could happen soon, say, a deal involving Grudz and Barrett in exchange for Jason Kendall (I have no information on this, it’s just a thought from my tiny little brain), or they could be allowed to fight it out in the spring, with the winner being a Cub, and the loser being paid by someone else. I have no objection either way, as long as the swag is good.

How this plays out over the next couple of weeks will give us an idea of whether this was the case of a deal falling into Hendry’s lap and being too good to pass up, or a premeditated move to facilitate something down the line. No matter how it came to be, Hendry did the right thing making this happen. He has several very defensible options for how to deploy the resources at his disposal, and while I think my favorite is probably option one, I’d be happy with any of them. I imagine Hendry would be happy with any of them, too, and that’s the key. If things stay as they are, he’s strengthened the team at minimal cost, and if he wants to deal, he’s in a position to say no and still be happy with the state of the franchise.

The best barganing chip you have in any negotiation is your willingness to walk away. The fact that Hendry has put himself in a postion to walk away from potential trade talks and still have a stronger team speaks volumes about how he’s doing his job.

Happy Holidays from out here in the Great Northwest! I'll be back to Chicago and more regular posting next week. Until then, may the holidays bring you much happiness, and may the new year bring us all peace in our lives and joy in our baseball!

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Posted by Derek @ 3:59 PM

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Thursday, December 18, 2003

One for the Road

Figures I'd be getting ready to get out of town just when the Cubs sign their fourth outfielder. Todd Hollandsworth has been inked to a one year deal worth (paging Mike Myers) ONE..........MILLION..........DOLLARS!!!!!

This looks pretty solid to me. His splits against righties for the last three seasons are pretty nice (.298/.356/.505), if Coors enhanced. Last year he hit .255/.321/.429 against them, and since over half of his AB's were in Pro Player, my guess is that the truth lies somewhere in between. I'd say, without doing any actual math or analysis, that it's pretty safe to expect a .265/.335/.460 line out of him next year, and as long as he doesn't have to start 100 games or bat against any lefties (who murder him), I can live with that. He's an upgrade over Troy O'Leary in every possible category. He hits for better average, makes fewer outs, provides more power, has more speed and plays better defense, doing so at all three outfield postitions. I expected to wait a little longer for this, what with the apparent pursuit of Jeromy Burnitz and all, but whether the issue was from his end or the Cubs, that deal obviously didn't pan out. Plus, Hollandsworth's price tag was so low, there was really no reason to wait until the 20th to see if anything good got non-tendered. At $1M, Hollandsworth looks like he had the best ratio of skills to cost available. I feel like a bit of a patsy continuing to say this, but, nice deal.

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Posted by Derek @ 8:47 PM

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Scattershots

Those of you who have stopped by before (Hi, Mom!) will notice that I changed the look of the site a bit. Obviously, I think it's a little nicer, but I welcome any feedback or suggestions. I figure this whole exercise will be a work in progress until I'm not doing it anymore, so as far as I'm concerned, change is always good.

Some business: The Smart Family's annual Great Northwest Holiday Parent Tour and Sausage Festival kicks off early tomorrow morning. For me, this equals one solid week of holiday family fun! For you, it means no updates until sometime after the holiday with that little kid in the barn and the fat man on the roof. If something earth shattering happens, I'll try to post something, but frankly, chances are good I won't even hear about it.

  • I was thinking last night, if Damian Miller gets shipped to the A's as expected, is there any catcher in the history of the game who has caught more elite pitchers during a three year span? I mean, talk about a charmed life. He spends a couple years catching Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, then he spends last year with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, and now he might be spending next season on the receiving end of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito! That's seven of the best pitchers in the game right now, and he could spend at least one season as the primary catcher for each of them. Granted, most of these guys have given him his share of bruises, but it's still nice work if you can get it.

  • Don't know about the rest of you, but I just want something to happen with A-Rod. I don't even care what it is, just so it gets out of my hair. Trade him, don't trade him, release him, send him to Siberia. Really, I'll take anything. Just do something! There, I feel better now.

  • The one thing that concerns me about going away this week is that I think there's going to be a flurry of activity in the first few days after December 20 (the non-tender deadline for players not eligible for free-agency). This could be the time when we see some action on the fourth outfielder situation, but if not, it might be a while.

  • Of course, just as I'm writing this, it comes across the wire that the Cubs signed Kent Mercker to be the second lefty in the pen. Blech! The good news is, it's a one-year contract, and while it's for too much money ($1.2M), the fact that there isn't even a second-year option means the team realizes there's a decent chance he could stink the joint up. His three-year splits against lefties are decent (.216/.330/.392), but he's hurt by a strangely high walk rate against them. He's going to be the fifth guy out of the pen, so he won't do tremendous damage, unless he's used against right-handers. Seems like one of those signings where you hope to catch a little lightning in a bottle, and if you don't, you fix the problem in July. So, while this isn't a very good signing, it's not one that's likely to painful in the long run.

That's it for now. Here's wishing everyone happy and safe holidays, and a fantastic new year!

CTC offers Cubbies tickets
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Posted by Derek @ 1:59 PM

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Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Barrett on Board

Looks like Christian Ruzich has his fingers on the pulse of the Cubs front office. This is from a post on Saturday at The Cub Reporter, by the Generalissimo of the Cubs Blog Army himself:

Don't expect to see Javy or Pudge in a Cubs uniform anytime soon. Michael Barrett seems much more realistic.

Now, I like to think I'm pretty bright, and when I saw yesterday that the A's had acquired Barrett from Montreal/Portland/Mazatlan/Beijing for a PTBNL, I thought that was that. But then word began to leak out that the A's weren't likely to be Barrett's final destination, and eventually the Cubs started to be mentioned as a possible landing place for the 26 year-old catcher. Lo and behold, it's announced this afternoon that the Cubs now have Barrett and will be sending their own PTBNL over to the A's. Nice call, Christian.

Christian is also speculating that the Cubs will try to deal Damian Miller before Saturday's non-tender deadline, when they will have to make a decision on Paul Bako's future. That seems like a reasonable conclusion, and with his track record on the rest of this deal, I can't say I'd be inclined to doubt him anyway. Barrett is almost certain to be the starter, despite numbers that, since his impressive full-season debut in 1999, look a little scary at first glance, and with that being the case, Miller is too expensive to sit on the bench when you can have someone like Bako get paid less for making a similar on-field contribution. So, without further delay, let's take a look at what we got. Here's what Barrett did last year.

.208/.280/.398

Okay, so that's really bad, but last year, was a hard luck year all around. He struggled horribly for the first three months of the season, before finally figuring it out in July, posting a lovely .333/.404/.725 line for the month. But then, just as he got it together, down he went with a hip flexor strain. A bummer, but not the worst thing that could happen. But to top it all off, during his AAA rehab, he broke his left index finger, keeping him out until September 10. He came back, but never got it going again. Personally, I think a year like that is worth a mulligan, and instead of focusing there, I'd like to take a look at the trend from 2000-2002.

Year Age Hitting Line AB/BB AB/SO XBH%
2000 23 .214/.277/.288 11.8 7.7 29.3
2001 24 .250/.289/.367 18.9 8.7 34.7
2002 25 .263/.332/.418 9.4 5.8 33.3

This, to me, looks like the kind of progression you want to see from a young hitter. His line is improving every year, and while you can point to the increase in strikeouts and decrease in walks in 2001 as a troubling loss of plate discipline, he also made very nice gains in the power department. Then, as if he heard statheads the world over wringing their hands over his free swinging ways, in 2002 he held onto most of those power gains, while greatly improving the strike zone judgment that was becoming so worrisome the previous season. That's movement in the right direction, and it's something you've got to like.

If last year really was an aberration, which I believe it was, we might have a pretty decent young catcher on our hands. Is he likely to be an All-Star? No. Is he likely to be better than Damien Miller? I think so. Better and cheaper.

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Posted by Derek @ 5:52 PM

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Monday, December 15, 2003

Addendum

I'm not sure how I missed this, or when this talk started, but it appears the Cubs are after Jeromy Bernitz to fill the fourth outfield spot. You'd think he could find a starting job somewhere, but maybe his last two seasons have taken the bloom off the rose just enough to scare teams away. Granted, he does come with some hefty risk. He's going to be 35, and he's really only had one good half-season over the last two years.

It was a pretty nice half season though, posting a .274/.344/.581 line in 234 AB's with the Mets, before reverting back to his previous season's form with a .204/.252/.391 line over 230 AB's with the Dodgers. But even that first half really comes down to about 100 good at bats in the beginning of the year, so that's not as promising as it looks. His home/road splits for 2003 make things seem a little better (.216/.281/.401 vs. .262/.316/.570), but you're still looking at an old ballplayer who strikes out a lot, and seems to have lost some of his knack for taking a walk (he hasn't been better than his career OBP mark of .350 since the 2000 season). His power upside is what separates him from the rest of the candidates, and if he gets signed, that's what's likely to put him over the top. He's also capable of playing at least passably anywhere in the outfield, and he still has a cannon for an arm. He's certainly one of the few guys available who would be a legitimate power threat off the bench, and from the left side, to boot. If he's cheap enough, and is willing to sign for only one year, he may well be worth the risk.

In other outfield news, Jose Cruz Jr. is off the table, as the D-Rays signed him for 2 years at $3M per. Can't say I'm surprised, although I would have thought that a contending team in need of a relatively inexpensive yet productive swith-hitting corner outfielder (paging Mr. Jocketty!) might have gotten something done with him rather than forcing him to the purgatory of Tampa. Oh well, there's no accounting for taste.

Also, the Mariners have won the Scott Spiezio sweepstakes, beating the Cubs to the punch with a 3 year, $9M deal. Add in today's trade of Greg Colbrunn for Q-McC, and you've got a team that's beginning to look like it's engaging in an active attempt to fail. If any of you can figure out what the hell is going on in Seattle this year, be sure to let the poor fellas over at the U.S.S. Mariner know. They sure seem like they need a hug right now.

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Posted by Derek @ 2:21 PM

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Saturday, December 13, 2003

Assuming the Position - Part 5 - The Outfield

Continuing my recently established trend of skipping blithely around the diamond with little regard of whence I came or whither I go, I bring you a breakdown of the Cubs' outfield situation.

The Obvious

Right Field - Sammy Sosa

While he has definitely begun the decline phase of his career, I'm not sure we won't see a bit of a rebound next year. He spent a long period before his toe surgery struggling because of the pain he was experiencing, then had a period after his return where he struggled (and, no, I'm not going to rehash the details of that episode) to get his timing and stroke back. Add in his even worse September, which looked to be more a symptom of trying to single-handedly win every game than an actual decline in skills, and I think you're looking at a player who is more likely to get a little better than a little worse. I'm not saying Sammy will have 2001 numbers (.328/.437/.737), or even 2002 numbers (.288/.399/.594), but I don't think he'll sink below the .279/.358/.553 line he put up last year. There's nothing in his previous history, including last year, that would make you think anything but a catastrophic injury would keep him from playing 150-155 games, and while if it were anybody else I might say the numbers over the last three years represent a steady pattern of decline that we can expect to continue into 2004, my instinct tells me that we're more likely to see something along the lines of .285/.370/.580 for 2004.

C'mon, I don't always have to logical, do I?

The Rest

Left Field - Moises Alou

Moises is starting to slip. Despite managing to climb a little ways up the cliff he fell off in 2002, he's still reached a point in his career where his lifetime .300/.367/.508 line is wishful thinking. He remained useful last year, and oddly enough, durable as well, but anyone counting on 151 games from Alou in 2004 will find themselves wondering what to do for those 40-50 games when Mo has a gimpy hamstring/trick knee/sucking chest wound. Luckily, it seems the front office understands that Alou's fragility, combined with some uncertainty in center, make it necessary to pick up a fourth outfielder who can actually play. More on that in a bit.

Center Field - Corey Patterson

Last year was turning into Patterson's coming out party. His .298/.329/.511 line was a giant improvement over his rookie season, and while his patience still left something to be desired, he at least began moving in the right direction, upping his walk rate from an execrable one per 31.2 at bats to an uninspiring, but still improved one per 21.9 at bats. Starting to come into his power, Corey was one short of his previous season's home run total in just over half the at bats. Everything was pointing towards Patterson having a season that fulfilled the promise the organization saw when they selected him as the third overall pick in the 1998 draft.

Then, disaster.

Corey badly injured his knee running out a grounder, tearing both the meniscus and the MCL. His season was over, and while the Cubs were able to get to the postseason without him thanks to some fine wheeling and dealing by Jim Hendry, Patterson still remains an integral part of the Cubs' future plans in the outfield.

Which brings us to 2004. There's no doubt the Cubs want him in the lineup as often as possible, but that's the question: How often is possible? Unfortunately, there's no way to tell what Corey's knee will feel like come spring. Every report I've read says he's making good progress, but they also say he's not likely to be able to play every day right off the bat. There's also uncertainty about what level he'll play at when he does return. Will he feel good enough to get in the cage when he normally would, allowing him to get his timing back before the games start counting? Will he be able to run as well, not just in the short term, but in the long term? If he can't run as well, how does that impact his overall game?

It's reasonable to be unsure about all of these things, and more, but I also think it's reasonable to be optimistic in the long run. While a serious injury, it's one of those owies that athletes often make full recoveries from. It's the short term where the real issues lie, and that brings us to...

Fourth Outfielder - ???

Note that I didn't put Tom Goodwin's name down. Assuming that everyone in the front office doesn't destroy their last functioning brain cells this weekend in various New Orleans speakeasys, Goodwin will be the fifth wheel, used to pinch hit, pinch run, and pinch anyone sitting next to him on the bench who falls asleep. The Cubs are just smart enough to recognize that this is not the season to merely get by with someone like Troy O'Leary. They need a player who can start 100 games and not drag the team down, but can also start only 30 and not be a source of discontent. It's a tough bill to fill, but as usual, I've got some suggestions.

Orlando Palmeiro - If the Cubs don't come out of the Winter Meetings with a fourth outfielder, this guy might be the reason. The Cardinals have until December 20th to offer him arbitration, and if they don't he's free game. Right now, the Cubs would have to make a trade for him, and there's no reason to do that if the Cards are going to set him free anyway. Of course, he's not good enough to trade for, especially with the other options that are freely available, but he might have one of the better ratios of skills to cost if he hits the market, hence the waiting game.

As for his skills, they're about what you'd expect from a fourth outfielder. He's a no power, decent OBP guy who can play good to excellent defense at all three outfield positions. Ideally, he wouldn't get much over 200 AB's, but if he has to push 300 due to circumstances, the world wouldn't end. He's left handed, which is pretty much a prerequisite for getting considered for this gig in the first place, and he got $700,000 from the Cardinals last year, which is probably about what he's worth. He's not my favorite of the bunch from a talent standpoint, but if you're looking for a passable guy from the bargain bin, and you're using the money you save wisely, I'm be fine with him.

Todd Hollandsworth - With a career line of .276/.333/.442, Hollandsworth offers more power than Palmeiro at the expense of OBP and defense. The disparity in the field isn't really a source of concern for me, as we're talking about the difference between someone who can be about average anywhere in the outfield, versus someone who's well above average. I'll take average defense if the bat's there, particularly with the Cubs' strikeout heavy staff. No, my worries stem from Hollandsworth's ability to get on base. Of course, he's not bad for a guy coming off the bench, and the power is definitely a plus, but I'm looking for a guy I can run out there for 100 games if I have to. Is a .333 OBP with moderate power enough for that? If he cost the same as Palmeiro, I might say yes, but last year he got $1.5M from the Marlins for 224 AB's, and if someone wants to pay him that, I think the Cubs have to let them.

Orlando Merced - Yeech! I feel dirty just typing his name. Not only has he been this inexplicable scourge to all of Cubdom, but he's officially become totally ineffective as well. His .231/.283/.373 line last year was easily the worst of his career (I'm ignoring his first season of 24 AB's), and entering the 2004 season at 37, he's not a good candidate to get any better. I'm not even sure why I mentioned him, except he's a switch hitter, and anyone who hits lefty against righties is going to at least get a glance. That's all he'll get, though. Merced won't be a Cub.

Jose Cruz Jr. - His name's been getting tossed around like bird seed at a hippie wedding, and with good reason. Cruz has always shown decent patience at the plate, but for some reason the switch hitter really found religion last season, posting a career high 102 walks in 539 AB's. He's never hit for average, but always had solid power, and if the walk rate proves to be a new performance level (not unheard of for a 29 year-old), he could be an underrated offensive force. Add in his solid to excellent defense anywhere in the outfield (famous dropped balls notwithstanding), and he looks like the one to get.

The problem is playing time, and will he get enough of it to be happy. Cruz is good enough to start. Good enough to start for the Cubs, in fact, and I have my doubts that he would accept the role he would be asked to play. He's also likely to require $2-3M to sign, and that seems awfully steep for someone who might sit on the bench a lot. As much as I like him, I don't think this is a situation he's going to come into willingly.

So, if I was signing a Strat team, I'd go with Cruz, but since we're in the real world, I have to lean towards Palmeiro. He's punchless, but he gets on base and plays good defense for a price I can stomach, and while he's not the ideal, I think he might be the best overall option. Here's hoping, no matter who gets signed, that all the regulars have a healthy 2004.

But don't bet on it.

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Posted by Derek @ 6:02 PM

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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Assuming the Position - Part 4 - Catcher

For those of you who have followed this series, you’ll notice that I’ve gone out of sequence a bit. Third Base was the next most logical position to cover, but since that’s a fairly static situation, I thought I’d go with the last position on the infield where some movement was possible. Don’t want to get beaten to the punch, now, do I?

That being said, offensive punch was severely lacking from the Cubs catching corps in 2003.

(pause for collective groan)

But seriously, ladies and germs, thanks to Lee Sinins' wonderful Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, I’ve been able to shed some blinding, excruciating, cornea-burning light on the sadness that was the collective offensive output of Damian Miller and Paul Bako.

Ranking Team RCAP AVG OBA SLG OPS
1 Braves 52 .297 .347 .568 .916
2 Yankees 48 .278 .388 .505 .893
3 Phillies 37 .306 .380 .455 .835
4 Pirates 31 .323 .396 .413 .809
5 Marlins 27 .286 .354 .454 .809
6 Redsox 26 .267 .338 .493 .831
7 A's 23 .269 .331 .460 .791
8 Twins 22 .300 .351 .453 .804
T9 Dodgers 6 .266 .336 .408 .744
T9 BlueJays 6 .262 .327 .412 .739
11 Mets 4 .262 .333 .423 .755
12 Giants 0 .271 .320 .413 .734
13 Rockies -3 .235 .323 .459 .781
14 Orioles -4 .261 .310 .352 .662
T15 Angels -6 .256 .282 .386 .667
T15 Whitesox -6 .254 .292 .377 .669
T15 Reds -6 .231 .316 .392 .708
18 Indians -7 .255 .303 .361 .664
T19 Devil Rays -13 .246 .286 .375 .661
T19 Mariners -13 .236 .276 .354 .630
21 Brewers -14 .262 .320 .381 .701
22 Diamondbacks -16 .255 .314 .411 .725
T23 Cubs -17 .229 .308 .352 .659
T23 Cardinals -17 .244 .309 .341 .650
25 Royals -20 .248 .304 .360 .664
T26 Padres -22 .226 .294 .307 .602
T26 Rangers -22 .245 .281 .374 .655
28 Tigers -26 .196 .246 .321 .567
29 Expos -30 .221 .297 .396 .693
30 Astros -31 .229 .301 .301 .603

For those of you who are unfamiliar, RCAP stands for Runs Created Above Position. Basically, it takes Bill James’ Runs Created stat and states how many runs the player produced over the average player at his position, with negative numbers indicating that a player was below average.

As you can see from the table above, last year was not a positive one for the Cubs’ backstops when wielding the stick. They were much better with the leather, however, in particular Miller who played 7% better than a league average catcher according to his DT’s over at Baseball Prospectus.

But that’s not good enough for me. This team has a chance to get over the hump now, and into the future, and this position is a prime candidate for an overhaul. Here are the options, as I see them.

Trades

Jason Kendall – He’s really the only trade option left, after AJ Pierzynski was snapped up by the Giants, and I’m going over him first because I just don’t see it happening. Don’t get me wrong, he would be a lovely addition to the lineup, solving the troubling lead-off problem, and serving ably, if unspectacularly, behind the plate.

The real problem here, like in so many other places, is money. Kendall’s contract is absolutely obscene, and the only way to make a deal for him palatable is for the Bucs to pay at least half, and I find that scenario unlikely. Or rather, I’d be shocked to see the Cubs giving up the type of prospects the Bucs would demand in order to make it worth their while to pay over $20M for the privilege of playing against their former catcher for 18+ games. Yeah, the deal is fun to talk about, but practically, I can’t see it working to the satisfaction of both parties.

Free Agents

Javy Lopez – He just blew the hell up in 2003, and nobody saw it coming. He was hands down the most productive offensive catcher in the game last year, posting a .328/.378/.687 line, every bit of it a career high for a full season of play. Just to emphasize how out of the blue this was, here are his lines from the previous three years. Watch out. There’s stuff at the end you shouldn’t let your children see.

2000 .287/.337/.484
2001 .267/.322/.425
2002 .233/.299/.372

2003! .328!/.378!/.687!

That’s a truly stunning transformation. As a point of comparison, Sammy Sosa’s morph from undisciplined slugger to elite offensive threat yielded an increase in production from 85 EQR in 1997 to 139 EQR in 1998, an jump of 63.5%. We all remember how impressed everyone was with that. Well, get ready to pick your jaw up, because Lopez went from 36 EQR in 2002 to 101 EQR in 2003, an astounding bump in production of 180.5%! I don’t know if that’s a historic increase in offensive output, but I’d be willing to bet that it’s never been seen from a 32 year-old catcher with about 1,000 games on his legs.

Of course, I can’t help but think this is too good to be true. Those previous three seasons can’t be meaningless, and there’s nothing in Lopez’ peripheral stats that makes me think he’s changed his approach and become a truly different hitter. He still walks and strikes out at comparable rates. The real difference is that he just hit the ball a whole lot harder. There’s something to be said for that, after all it’s not like you can attribute the increases in BA and SLG to luck. He hit the ball over fences and into gaps, not through fortunate holes in drawn in infields. However, I have my doubts that a now 33 year-old catcher can maintain that power spike through the life of a three or four year contract. I’m not even sure we’ll see comparable numbers next year.

If it looks like a fluke, sounds like a fluke, and smells like a fluke, chances are good it isn’t a new baseline production level. As great as last season was for Lopez, I think whoever winds up signing him is taking a huge risk. The Cubs will, almost certainly, not be that team.

Ivan Rodriguez - This guy is my pipe dream. When he’s healthy, which he finally seems to be, he’ll catch 140 games a year, hitting around .300/.350/.480, absolutely smokin’ numbers for a backstop. The best part is, you can just write that line in. Last year was the first time since 1994 that he hit under .300, batting .297 with half of his games in the decidedly unfriendly hitting environment of Pro Player Stadium, and it was also the first time he slugged under .480 since 1996, with a .474 mark for the year. It’s a pretty safe bet that, with good health, he would be at or above those numbers in a friendlier park.

He’s not the same level of spectacular on defense that he was in the past (his DT’s put him at about 2% better than average last year, versus a series of years where he was percentage over average was consistently in the mid to high teens), but he’s still good, and with the offense he puts on the board, any defense you get out of the package is a bonus.

There are two catches here. I’ve already mentioned health a little, and the reality is, Pudge will be 32 next year, and has already caught over 1,500 games. While the consistency has been there, even in the years shortened by injury, the miles have to start taking their toll eventually. Which brings us to the other catch, Pudge’s contract demands, which will be for something in the $10M range for 3-4 years, substantially higher than anything else out there. The question, or course, is whether the risk is worth the possible reward.

For me, it is. A lot of folks out there have been waiting for the move that would take the Cubs to that next level, from being very good to being an elite force, a source of fear, envy and dread throughout the Majors. This, more than any other deal available this off-season, has the potential to move the team into that lofty stratosphere. There’s a very real danger, of course, that Rodriguez could get hurt, his production could drop off, or he could have troubles working with the pitching staff, making the contract he would garner a millstone around the organization’s neck for several years. Sticking with Damian Miller would be the safe choice, but that’s a little too much like folding for my taste. Sometimes you have to go all in and hope the cards fall your way.

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Posted by Derek @ 9:47 AM

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Monday, December 08, 2003

That’s done, then

As you’ve likely heard by now, the Cubs have signed Mark Grudzielanek to a one-year contract, with a club option for 2005. The money is reasonable (sources differ a bit on details, but the Chicago Tribune reports this morning that its $2.75M in the first year and $2.5M in the option year), and it’s not long term. Worse things could have happened.

The more I think about it, there was no one else out there who was an appreciably better choice. The only other viable options were Todd Walker and Jose Vidro. Walker is left-handed and has a little more pop, but he’s also a much worse defender (Baseball Prospectus had him being 21 runs worse than an average defender last year), so much so that it wipes out any added value his power might bring. Vidro is a better player than both Walker and Grudz, but he’s been somewhat fragile over his career, would likely be expensive in trade, would certainly be more expensive financially, and would likely need to be signed to an extension (he’s a free agent after this season) to make the whole exercise worthwhile. Which brings me to the real reason I like this deal.

Mark Grudzielanek wants to return, but the Cubs are looking at him as a stopgap measure, believing minor-leaguer Brendan Harris could be ready to play by 2005.

This little gem was stuck in the middle of a somewhat related Paul Sullivan article in the Tribune on Saturday. Obviously, Grudz wasn’t signed yet, but this statement and the structure of the contract give me some real hope that the club is at least philosophically interested in developing Harris and making him a part of their future plans. There may still be a significant gap between the philosophy and the practical application, but the implication is that the Cubs have not completely abandoned the idea of building from within, the first such sign we’ve had during the Hendry/Baker tenure. I’ll try to stay cool about it, after all this is one sign among many indications to the contrary, but balancing between winning now and planning for the future is the key to building a contender in the long term. The Cubs organization may finally be realizing this, which is good news for us fans, and horrible news for the rest of the National League.

Yesterday’s other Cubs deal was the signing of Tom Goodwin to a one-year contract for $650,000. It appears that Goodwin will be the Cubs' fifth outfielder, and that’s a good role for him. He can pinch hit occasionally, pinch run some, start sporadically, and go in as a defensive replacement anywhere in the outfield. He’s not so good that he’s in danger of usurping Corey Patterson if he gets off to a slow start, but he’s just good enough to be useful in specific applications. If the Cubs can come up with a solid fourth outfielder, this deal gets that much better. Nicely done.

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Posted by Derek @ 9:42 AM

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Friday, December 05, 2003

Rumors, Hoo-Ha, and Whatnot

Spotted this article in the Sun-Times today.

Maybe I've missed something in the past, but this is the first time I've seen anything in a non-blog resource that mentions the Cubs going after Jose Vidro. Of course, it's with the caveat that talks with Mark Grudzielanek have to fall through, but it's the only real ray of hope I've seen on the Vidro question.

That being said, I don't think there's a snowball's chance a Vidro deal will happen. Even if a Grudz signing doesn't come to fruition (I happen to think that it will), just looking at the recent exchange between the Expos and Yankees makes me think the price for Vidro will be more than the Cubs could stomach. Granted, I don't think the Expos got equal value in the transaction (although Nick Johnson is certainly tasty), but they didn't get mugged and left for dead on Pierre-de-Coubertin Ave. like they did in the Bartolo Colon trade. The desperation isn't wafting from the Montreal/San Juan/Monterrey/Washington/Portland/Kabul front office like it was this time last year. Yes, they may still be looking to deal, but they won't spend another winter shivering in their long underwear with snow up to their knees and a button missing from that flap on their ass in the interest of fiscal responsibility. They'll want something pretty good for their trouble, and it's not likely to be something the Cubs will give.

The other tidbit of interest is the exploratory talks between the Cubs and Pirates over a possible deal for Jason Kendall. I haven't really looked at this in depth (I should be getting to a piece about the situation at catcher soon), but my initial reaction is to be intrigued. Kendall definitely has his flaws (little power, questionable defense), but if the Pirates would eat half the money on his contract (which seems to be what Hendry is insisting on), I could see this as a positive, depending, of course, on who got shipped out of the Friendly Confines.

Kendall could walk more, but he makes excellent contact, consistently taking the free pass more than he whiffs. He's ceased to be a real threat to steal, but he still has good speed, and that coupled with his ability to get on base could make him a decent lead-off solution for the next couple of years. Which gets to my real problem with this deal, and why the Pirates are having so much trouble making something happen. It's not just the expense of the contract, which for the level of production Kendall provides is obscene, it's the length. Kendall will be 30 next year, and he's already caught over 1,000 games, and when he wasn't injured, he's consistently caught over 140 every season. It's therefore reasonable to assume that, with the remaining four years and his pattern of play, that his contract will take him into 1,600 games caught. That's an awful lot of wear and tear, and while Kendall seems to have taken the beatings well over the course of his career, you have to believe that the accumulation of physical abuse will start to catch up to him at some point, and I, for one, don't want the Cubs to be hauling him around when the inevitable comes to pass.

Okay, I guess I didn't really make a call on whether I like this or not. Obviously, I'm torn. If there were only two years left on his deal, I'd say it's a good idea (again, if the Pirates kick in half of the cash). I just get the yips when I start thinking about carrying him around the second half of that contract. Tell you what, I'm going to say that it's interesting, but I'll pass making a judgment on the possibility until I get to a larger piece on the catching situation in general next week.

End of copout.

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Posted by Derek @ 4:41 PM

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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The Hawk

It appears that, pending passing a physical, LaTroy Hawkins will become a member of the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen.

The deal is big, reportedly $11M over 3 years, but I still like it. Hawkins is one of the few guys out there who is likely to be worth his market price. He’s been lights out the last couple of years, and if he gets used in the same late game setup, occasional multi-inning fashion he was with the Twins, he can be an extremely valuable relief pitcher. Hopefully, this is how Dusty deploys him, rather than deciding he’s a “closer” and sticking him out there in the ninth with a three-run lead every three days.

Hawkins was the guy I looked at a month ago and said, “Now there’s a guy Hendry should go after.” He did, and he got him. Well done.

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Posted by Derek @ 9:28 PM

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Assuming the Position - Round 3 - Shortstop

I’ve been putting off writing this for a while. The fact is I haven’t been entirely sure where to start. “What’s there to write?” I say to myself. Alex Gonzalez is a solid, if unspectacular defensive shortstop, good enough to support a slightly below average bat. The problem is, he’s an OBP sinkhole in the worst sense of the word, and while he has excellent power for a middle infielder, that and his defense just don’t make up for getting on base less than 30% of the time and striking out in over 20% of his plate appearances. Gonzalez is a millstone around the neck of the Cubs’ offense. That’s beyond debate. However, could my original supposition be wrong? Could his defense actually be good enough to tolerate his offensive shortcomings?

“Alex Gonzalez is a solid, if unspectacular defensive shortstop.”

Let’s examine that statement. Looking at Range Factor throughout his career, Gonzalez hovers a little above or a little below league average (over his career, Gonzalez has a RF of 4.46 compared to a league average of 4.37). Of course, he has a reputation for being a little better than average, and at first glance that looks to be due to his sure-handedness. Since 1996, every year of his career other than his first year with the Cubs (2002) has been marked by above average fielding percentages, sometimes significantly above average. The year before he was traded to the Cubs, Gonzalez posted a .987 fielding percentage, vs. the league average of .973, while helping turn 120 double plays. However, that looks like something of an outlier, as over the course of his career he’s been at .976, while the league has been at .972, again marking him as slightly above average, but nothing to go tell on a mountain.

So far, my statement looks pretty good. According to Range Factor and fielding percentage, Alex Gonzalez is, indeed, a solid but unspectacular shortstop. Then again, those metrics are for saps. No one has yet to invent a defensive metric that one would really consider “good” or “reliable,” but there are options that come closer to the goal.

I’ll start with some of Clay Davenport’s work over at Baseball Prospectus. Just before Thanksgiving, Davenport completed the 2003 versions of his Davenport Translation (DT) Player Cards, and in looking through these I saw something interesting. According to his DT’s, Alex Gonzalez is a kick-ass defensive shortstop. Ridiculously kick-ass. So much so, that I question how accurate they could possibly be. Let me put it this way, the only shortstops I’m finding who are consistent comps with Gonzalez defensively are guys like Phil Rizzuto and (gasp!) Ozzie Smith. Read that again, you know you want to.

In his full seasons, Gonzalez has had two “bad” defensive years, 2000 when he was about 6% below league average, and 2002 when he was exactly league average. He has played five other full seasons in his career, and during them he has been 19%, 15%, 12%, 14%, and 14% better than a league average shortstop defensively. What does that mean?

Table Time!

Rate2RAA2WARP1G
E Renteria STL 98 -3 8.3 156
O Cabrera MON 104 7 7.0 162
A Gonzalez CHC 114 19 5.3 150
R Furcal ATL 90 -14 5.3 155
A Gonzalez FLA 104 7 5.2 150
J Rollins PHI 101 2 4.5 154
A Cintron ARI 97 -3 4.0 93 (117 Total)
J Reyes NYM 110 7 3.5 69!
R Aurilia SF 98 -3 3.4 123
A Everett HOU 106 7 3.3 128
J Wilson PIT 102 4 2.8 149
C Izturis LA 105 8 2.4 158

I’ve gleaned these stats from the Baseball Prospectus site, and I would direct you there for any in depth questions you might have about them, but the quick and dirty definitions go like this: Rate2 is a defensive rate stat that has been adjusted for league difficulty, with 100 being an average defender. RAA2 is Runs Above Average (since this is defense, it’s more like Runs Prevented Above Average), again adjusted for league difficulty. WARP1 is Wins Above Replacement Player, meaning the number of wins over a predefined “replacement level player” this player was worth when all factors (hitting, defense, pitching) are taken into account, adjusted only for the season in question. Think of it as this players total contribution in 2003. G is games played at shortstop, with total games played tacked on only if they played more than a couple of games at a different position.

According to WARP1, Alex Gonzalez was the third most valuable shortstop in the National League. I know, I don’t believe it either. It’s all defense, too. He rates significantly better than everyone else, and the only player who’s even close is Jose Reyes (who is someone I’d like to build an infield around, by the way, as his numbers projected out over 150 games make him the second best shortstop in the league as a 20 year-old rookie!). My original statement about AGonz may be on shaky ground.

What happens if we take a look at Win Shares (I won’t try to tackle defining them, since Bill James dedicated an entire book to a full explanation of his baby, but suffice it to say, it’s trying to break a player’s contribution down in a way that is similar to WARP by attributing shares of wins (hence the name) to a player’s actions on the field, the mound and the plate, finally coming up with a breakdown of his total contribution)?

Player Team Hit Field Sum
E RenteriaSTL 20.24 5.00 25.23
R Furcal ATL 20.23 4.91 25.14
O Cabrera MON 13.34 6.70 20.04
A Gonzalez FLA 10.73 9.29 20.02
J Rollins PHI 10.66 7.86 18.52
A Gonzalez CHC 6.46 9.11 15.57
A Cintron ARI 10.25 3.81 14.05
R Aurilia SF 7.55 5.56 13.11
J Reyes NYM 8.27 3.79 12.06
J Wilson PIT 6.21 5.09 11.30
C Izturis LA 1.37 9.52 10.89
A Everett HOU 5.78 4.94 10.72

AGonz doesn’t look as spectacular under this system, but he still looks surprisingly good. No longer the best defensive shortstop in the league, he still comes awfully close, barely trailing his Floridian namesake and Cesar Isturis. His offensive contributions are still very weak, but his defense is good enough to make him the sixth most valuable shortstop in the National League. As a sidelight, Jose Reyes is extremely impressive again. His Win Shares extrapolated out to 150 games make him the best shortstop in the NL, and would actually make him the second best in the majors behind some guy in Texas. I’ll take that in a 20 year-old any time. Anyway, back to Gonzo. One more time, what did I say?

“Alex Gonzalez is a solid, if unspectacular defensive shortstop.”

After everything I’ve looked at here, do I still think my previous declaration is accurate? I’ll stop short of saying the statement is dead wrong, but I think the information from BP and Win Shares craft a pretty compelling argument. While they don’t spit out the exact same numbers, they do both make a case that Gonzalez’ defensive contributions make him a valuable shortstop on the whole.

So what to do? Despite his apparent defensive value, any deal that sent Gonzalez away would have to come with a big bag of cash, or the acceptance of someone else’s payroll problem. His offensive woes make it too hard to just trade him for a bag of balls, and what’s your alternative once he’s gone? Sign an unknown quantity from Japan, who will almost certainly sign in New York or in the west anyway, or overpay for several years of an undisciplined (but powerful) hitter who may very well be in his thirties? The risks of signing Tejada or Matsui are too great for my taste, especially in light of the evidence above. If you had asked me before I started to write this, I would have said Gonzalez needs to go.

But Gonzo and His Magic Glove should stay.

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Posted by Derek @ 5:39 PM

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One Option Gone

The Cubs are officially out of the Luis Castillo sweepstakes, as the Marlins have re-signed him to a three-year, $16M deal, with an incentive triggered fourth year that would make the contract worth over $21M. From the wire report, it sounds like Castillo will be guaranteed his fourth year by simply staying healthy this season.

I’m breathing a sigh of relief here. While this is a good PR move for the Marlins, I don’t think Castillo is a guy you lock up for four years. Once his speed goes, so does all of his value (it’s not like he gets his hits with ringing doubles into the gap), and there’s no telling when and if that might happen. With his history of a hip injury, and the already noticeable decline in his success rate in stealing bases, he seems like a risky proposition. Also, I still hold out some hope that the organization might be able to find a use for Brendan Harris at second base in 2005 or 2006, so I’m naturally down on any deal that would make him a cipher.

I still look at the remaining options as Vidro (fairly unlikely, but I can dream), Walker or Grudz, in that order. My fear, of course, is that this will push the organization to get Fernando Vina, since he’s left-handed and used to resemble a lead-off hitter. Let’s hope that nightmare doesn’t come to pass.

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Posted by Derek @ 7:16 AM

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