Monday, March 31, 2008

Common Threads

The Chicago Cubs start another season today. This season will be something special. The 2008 season will share something with only a few other seasons. High expectations.

In most seasons, smart Cub fans approach the season hoping to see something fun but not really having any plans for success beyond finding a seat at Guthrie's Pub post-game.

Once in a while, a team comes along that we all expect to do well. Included in that list would be 1985 and 2004. That's about it. Ok, you might get 1970 as well, but that's really it.

As has been noted in many places, this team that takes the field today is markedly improved from the team that took the field a year ago simply because of the players that are no longer with the team. If you have a team that wins a division and you can replace Cliff Floyd, Ceasar Izturis, Jacque Jones and Michael Barrett, you are a better team. Say hello to the 2008 Cubs.

Now, if you look at the common years, you also will note another thing. The 1985 and 2004 teams all underperformed. Will this team? HARd to say. Lou Piniella inspires a great deal of confidence. Sam Zell's willingness to open his pocket book and $650 million debt payment due December 4th suggests he will do what he can to maximize that value of the team by spending more money. And Jim Hendry is a good in-season general manager.

Expecting a division championship is something every fan should do, Kool-Aide drinker or bitter realist. Now, if only the 2008 edition will not live up to their compatriots.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Prize to the First Caller Who Knows Who Died Yesterday

Non-sequitur audio clip of someone famous talking to follow
Wally Phillips 1925-2008

This is bad news for the Chicago Bears. They better improve over last year because, with Wally gone, blackouts are a possibility once again.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

First and Third

Heading into the final week of spring training, the Cubs oriented chatter is focused on two issues: 1) Who is the odd man out of the starting pitching rotation; and 2)What's the lineup going to be.

As to issue one, the answer is either Jason Marquis or Rich Hill. Marquis could relinquish his spot via a trade. But if Marquis can't be traded, Rich Hill could Ankiel his way to the minors for a stint. Given that Hill still has minor league options left and a trip to the minors could have the effect of delaying Hill's eligibility for salary arbitration, his being sent to Iowa is a distinct possibility.

As to issue two, the questions still revolve around who is leading off:

(Cubs manager Lou) Piniella did some out-loud thinking Friday morning, before the Cubs' 7-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

The upshot -- for now anyway -- is that Alfonso Soriano will not go back to leading off and that Piniella has toyed with the idea of batting Kosuke Fukudome first and mixing Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez among the 3-4-5 spots.

Most likely, however, Piniella will continue batting Ryan Theriot first, with Fukudome returning to the second spot, where he looked comfortable earlier this spring before being dropped down to fifth, where he has struggled.

"I haven't been all that pleased with the fifth spot," Piniella said. "I don't know what we can do. It's spring training, but we want to make it as comfortable as we can for Fukudome, also. We've just started to swing the bats a little better, which makes it a little easier to look at.

"It seems to me the 2-hole would be right now the best hole for Fukudome, too."

Hearing that Soriano is out of the leadoff spot is a huge plus. Leadoff will be a sore spot for this team unless Brian Roberts gets a "Get Out Of McPhail-Jail Free Card." But Lou was also being coy when he said the problem is the 5-hole. The OTHER problem with the Cubs offense is not the fifth spot, it's the spot for who bats third. The Cubs don't have a player who is really a good #3 hitter.

Alfonso Soriano is cut out for 5th, or maybe even 6th on a really good team. Aramis Ramirez seems to be a solid #4 hitter, but he'd also probably be better off as a #5 hitter and would be so on a great offensive team. Derrek Lee, beyond 2005, has a javascript:void(0)
Publish Postcareer that also looks more like a 5th place hitter. In his final two years with the Marlins, he hit primarily out of the 6th slot followed by the 5th slot. The Cubs batted him 6th, 5th and 2nd when he got here in 2004 and only moved him up to #3 in 2005 after Nomar Garciaparra's groin divorced his femur.

If Lee can return to 2005 level performance, they have a #3 hitter. But given that his performance that year saw him exceed his career averages in hitting, OBP, slugging and RBI by 54 points, 51 points, 160 points and 21 RBU, the chances of seeing him post those numbers is on the small side.

If the Cubs had a leadoff hitter, a lot of problems would be solved. But they also need a real third place hitter, too.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Same Joke, Still Not Funny

Kerry Wood is hurt again. This time, it's his back. While that is a new injury to him in his pro career, Kerry has claimed in the past that he has had back problems as far back as high school.

So, how long is he going to be out? Lou Piniella says at least three days, four if you count today:

"...we were looking forward to seeing him pitch (Wednesday) and (Thursday). Now we're caught with a trip to Tucson this weekend and we don't want him on the bus, so we'll have to wait until Sunday."

If it weren't so predictable and disappointing, this might actually be funny.

This site doesn't hate Kerry Wood the way the hate ran for Korey Patterson. But this site does hate counting on Wood as a valuable member of the team. Maybe MLB create a taxi squad rule just for Kerry. If he's only going to be available a few days a year, carrying a roster spot for him makes less and less sense.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On The Walk

Byron. over at Goatriders, has a man-on-the-street-watching-a-parade encounter with Illinois Governor Rod Balgojevitch. Byron, being well informed, doesn't let the Guv get away with the usual bullshit:

I argued that even if it doesn't cost us taxpayers anything, it's still not right for the state to buy the stadium and the only reason they're planning to do this is to make Sam Zell more money.

And G-Rod replies... and I'm quoting him here. "Well, there is that." Then, covering over his momentary lapse into transparency, G-Rod suggests that if the state doesn't buy Wrigley Field, the Cubs might move away... and we just can't have that.

Don't worry, Byron. The sale is not going to happen. And Blago's next stop is more likely the Graybar Hotel instead of Wrigley Field Owner.

Monday, March 17, 2008

News Real

Crain's posts their latest video on Sam Zell and the Sale of Wrigley Field Boondoggle. Worth six minutes of your time.

Monday Morning Meltdown

Bear Stearns is now a name relegated to history with their collapse and acquisition by JP Morgan Chase. Over at Crooked Timber, John Quiggin tries to determine the company's tangible net worth:

It's just been announced that JP Morgan will buy Bear Stearns for $2 a share, implying a value of about $250 million. Given that the company headquarters is said to be worth about $1.2 billion, that gives the BS banking business a value of negative $1 billion. And that's only after the Fed agreed to take on $30 billion worth of toxic waste from the BS portfolio, politely described as "less-liquid assets."

So, the company may have had a real net worth of negative $31 billion. With $30 billion of that under control of the fed, JP Morgan was able to take on another $1 billion in liabilities and collateralize that investment with Manhattan real estate.

Will this be the model that the government envisions for bailing out troubled Wall Street firms? Bear Stearns will not be the last name to vanish.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Just When You Think You've Heard Everything

Yesterday, Alfonso Soriano batted second in a spring training game. He didn't like it. Why? Because he lost the honor of leading off? No. Because the pitcher threw him fewer fastballs? No. Because the chalk of the batter's box was already messed up? No.

It seems he didn't like hitting with someone on base:

"I never batted second in the big leagues, but the first at-bat was with somebody on base," said Soriano, who was 1-for-3. "I didn't feel very comfortable. But it's the first at-bat. I will have to make a couple little adjustments batting second because I never batted second."

Always great to have a 30 home run guy who hates having men on base. Just think of all the RBI opportunities he can avoid!

What's even more fun is the quotes from Ryan Theriot. Now, here's a guy who clearly has no understanding of baseball:

"I've said it a million times: I really don't care where I am (in the lineup). My approach stays the same. To be able to get on base for Sori, who's liable to hit the ball out of the park any time or hit something in the gap and possibly be scoring on that is always good for the team."

It doesn't matter where you hit in the lineup? Poor guy. Doesn't he know that you are supposed to pick a spot where it will be the best for you and not for the team? Getting on base in front of a RBI guy isn't important, but getting your stats and hitting dingers and hopping before a catch is.

The bile rises and rise.

Dave Pinto chimes in with this factoid (courtesy of his Day-By-Day database):

Soriano is ever so slightly worse with a man on first than with the bases empty. So the idea that a man on first bothers him doesn't really hold water. However, I believe most batters do better with a man on first. In the National League in 2007, a man on first added sixteen points to a player's batting average, twelve points to a player's on base average and eighteen points to his slugging percentage.

Here are the actual stats:
None On27978121841316016013203758100000.2900.3310.537
Men On167645198108046912335223828324800.2690.3220.483

Mr. Pinto correctly notes that Soriano loses .021 in his batting average and .054 in his slugging with men on base over his career, regardless of position in the batting order. And that this trend is contrary to what the results are for the average major league player.

This suggests that something else is up with Soriano. It's not sample size that is the problem as Soriano has 1,676 at bats with runners on base. What it suggests is that his concentration is bothered when men are on base.

In other words, if the situation isn't all about him, he's not the same player.

Statistical evidence of selfishness.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Some Advice

While Derrek Lee is just tearing up Arizona with his .125 batting average (have some meat if you think I hate Derrek), today we offer some advice for Barack Obama and three New York politicians that are currently affecting his campaign for the presidency.

With Hillary Clinton now being sandwiched between Geraldine Ferraro and Elliot Spitzer, there are a few things Barack can do to really box Hillary in.

First, he can call for Spitzer to leave. Now, that may happen this morning before Barack can speak. But, even so. Barack should state that there is no place in government for leaders who ignore laws and create an aura of corruption. Hillary will be unable to respond because of her history with Bill Clinton. If she calls for Spitzer's resignation, she can be asked why Bill didn't resign. If she's silent, the questions of hypocrisy will be floated.

As to Ferraro, Barack has already come out and said the standard response:

I don't think that Geraldine Ferraro's comments have any place in our politics or the Democratic Party. I would expect that the same way those comments don't have a place in my campaign, they shouldn't have a place in Senator Clinton's.

That's OK, but there is a better response that fits in perfectly with Barack's campaign theme and would put Hillary on the defensive.

What he should say is, "I am deeply troubled by what Geraldine Ferraro has said. I am even more troubled by the pattern of troubling statements from the members of the Clinton campaign. While my campaign upholds high standards of ethics, we have come to expect a much lower standard from the Clinton campaign. We have no expectation that Hillary will renounce and reject these comments as such actions remain part of the old, tired politics currently employed in Washington. This is sad and disappointing, but thoroughly expected."

Don't call on Hillary to fire Ferraro. Say that Clinton doesn't have the morals to do what's right. That would be placing Shrillary on the defensive.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Worth Watching

         ERA   IP   H   R   ER   HR   HBP   BB   SO 
R. Hill 7.04 7.2 11 6 6 0 0 5 7

This guy's gonna have to win a Cy Young to get me to believe in him.

Worth A Thousand Laughs

And don't ask me about my connections to Kazakhstan uranium

Friday, March 07, 2008

He Shall, From Time to Time

There you go again.  Always looking for a point.With John McDonough now leading the best run franchise in Chicago (more on that later), it was left to President Pro Tempore to deliver the State of the Cubs Address. In summary? A typical Tribune crapfest. Crane Kenny says stuff that would make Shrillary Clinton blush. The highlights:

...if the Cubs begin a $250 million renovation of Wrigley, Kenney said it's likely they would play part of a season on the South Side...

To be honest, the architects really drive this because they talk about lead time on ordering steel, etc., and how this would all work. There's a school of thought that [sports architectural firm] HOK has that you could actually phase it in and not lose a season at Wrigley. But then the question is, like in [rehabbing] your house, do you want to live through three years of construction? Or do you want to take the pain and maybe lose one season or a major portion of one season and just get it done?

You have to love when a guy with a political angle starts with, "to be honest." Yeah, the decision will be driven by engineers. It won't have anything to do with potential profits and marketing and change in ownership. And, given a single purpose baseball stadium 90 miles north in Milwaukee, there's no reason for reconstruction to take longer than one season. Unless there's a money angle. And there's never a money angle with the Tribune or Sam Zell involved.

Listen, we're not crazy. We know people prefer to keep the name on the building. I prefer to keep the name on the building. If we can make it work to do that, that would be great. But we're not going to leave resources that will go into the payroll and go into our restoration plans on the table to appease people who say, 'I don't think you should do it.' (However, w)e believe the First Amendment protects what letters we write on the marquee.

The Chicago National League Ball Club using a Constitutional argument in support of making money! One wonders why Bank of America never used used this argument to remove the words "Continental Bank of Illinois" off their building on South LaSalle Street. Moreover, instead of the First Amendment, shouldn't they also make a Commerce Clause argument?

On Sam Zell:

In terms of the freedom to get things done, we've never had more freedom to do what we want to do. Does Sam care about his reputation? No, I think he cares about changing Tribune and having it survive.

That sounds more like a commentary on the amount of freedom in the old days of the Stanton Cook - Don Grenesko - Jim Dowdle - Denis FitzSimons regimes.

Look for the Cubs to ask for 40 or 41 night games. Kenney said he understands he has to be sensitive to neighborhood concerns.

"I'll be honest with you, we did a [poor] job reaching out to the neighborhood [before]," he said. "There was an arrogance [by Tribune Co.]."

We'll except that as true. Were you a supporter of the arrogance, Crane?

Clearly, the real games are going on in the battle for hearts and minds and not waiting 24 days to start.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Financially Speaking

Meanwhile, over in the Land of Zell, ex-Governor Thompson says that a state offer to purchase Wrigley Field could happen soon:

Wrigley Field could get a face-lift worth $350 million to $400 million if it is purchased by the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, former Gov. James Thompson, chairman of the authority, estimated Tuesday.

"We have had our engineers start to go through Wrigley Field to give at least a rough estimate of what it would cost to bring it up to par," said Thompson, who also confirmed that the authority will approach Tribune Co., owner of the Cubs and the ballpark, with a purchase offer within a week or two.

But, it's not going to be free. What they want to do is charge the team rent, use the funds from a naming rights sale, and keep all sales taxes generated by the ballpark to pay for the cost of renovations. Those sales taxes are taken from the Cubs and spent on local services. If the state sequesters those funds for Wrigley Field, existing services will need revenue from other sources to replace that used for the bonds.

There is no way this is free.

But let's look at the actual transaction. Basically the state wants to use money already available to the Cubs (naming rights and themoney they'd need to come up with to cover rent) and throw in sales tax revenues to pay for the renovations.

Why not just give the Cubs a 30 year tax break on sales tax and let the team continue to own the park themselves?

Oh yeah. Sales taxes are not a happy topic in Stroegerland right now.

It gets worse and worse and worse and...

Settling In

WSCR's Mike Murphy went off on a rant yesterday about Lou Piniella moving Kosuke Fukudome from the 3rd spot in the order to the 2nd spot. Murph, in his hyped-up-for-radio paranoia was all worried that this would mess with K Fuk. "Leave him alone," Murph bleated over and over.

So, Lou moves K Fuk to second and what happens? A very good day:

In Tuesday's 10-6 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, Fukudome singled up the middle in his first at-bat. He hit his first homer of the spring in the third inning before singling in the fourth.

Fukudome moved back to the second spot in the order after hitting third.

"It doesn't really matter," he said.

If only Alfonso Soriano could understand this simple concept. Fukudome is going to be a very easy Cub to like, both in terms of his play and in terms of his approach to the game.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Let This Pitcher Go

Jason Marquis started flapping his yapper over the weekend:
Marquis is battling for one of the five spots in the starting rotation, but don't tell him that.

"I'm out there battling the hitters and trying to get better day by day. If they don't want me in the rotation here in Chicago, we'll go from there. We'll see what happens."

So would he ask for a trade if he's left out of the rotation?

"We'll cross that path when it comes, obviously," he said.

Marquis was 12-9 with a 4.60 ERA last year for the Cubs in the first season of a three-year, $21 million contract. His ERA was 6.21 in September, and Piniella ignored him in the playoffs.


"I love Chicago; I definitely want to say here," Marquis said. "This is the place I want to be. I signed here for a reason. But I also signed to be a starter, exactly. I think that's where I help the team the most. We'll see what happens when it's time for them to make their decision.

"As much as I want to be here in Chicago -- I love it; I love the fans; I love the stadium -- I still have a family to worry about, too. I can take my services elsewhere, if that's the case. I can help another team in that capacity as a starter. My value doesn't lie in the bullpen, in my mind."

A family to worry about? Maybe Jason needs a new agent because his next $16 million in income is guaranteed so long as the Cubs don't file Chapter 7.

Lou Piniella, easily recognizing a pile of crap, was having none of it:

"Well, if that's the case, he can go somewhere else. How's that? Win a spot in rotation; you don't have to worry about it. I said we had seven starters here for five spots. It's a little bit too early to start talking about what he wants to do or not do."

A minute or so later, Piniella didn't need to be prompted.

"That galls me about Marquis; it really does," he said. "I'm not pleased with that comment at all. We've got a good camp over here. Everybody's getting an opportunity. Go out and win a spot in the rotation. Nobody's going to stand in your way if you do it. That's the easy way out … He can go somewhere else right now if he wants. How's that?"

There's actually an easy way out of this for everyone. Lou needs to tell Marquis that he's been relegated to the bullpen effective immediately. Marquis, now in year two of a three year deal, should exercise his right to demand a trade. The Cubs should then comply and send him to Tampa Bay where he will pitch in obscurity and he will be unable to do what Jason does best - hit.

If Jason doesn't like this, he can declare himself a free agent. The Cubs would then be free of his contract and any obligations to pay him and Jason will be free to care for his family.

I'm sure they will be happy with fewer dollars, but the ability to live in Tampa where Jason's second half crappy pitching won't matter.

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