Wednesday, July 30, 2008

33 Hours To Go

The non-waiver trading deadline is tomorrow. According to Bruce Miles, the Cubs will be standing pat:

General manager Jim Hendry is back in Chicago and working the phones, but he seems happy with the team as it stands.

Over at the SunTimes, Chris DeLuca suggests that Lou Piniella isn't happy about that:

On Tuesday afternoon -- less than 48 hours before the trade deadline -- Piniella was playing it as close to the vest as he ever has. Asked if he needed anything before the stretch run, he wasn't biting.

''You can talk to Jim Hendry about that,'' Piniella said of the Cubs' general manager, who was back in Chicago. ''That's his area.''

Then came the natural follow-up question after such a brief answer: Do you like your team?

''I've said I like my team,'' he said. ''If you can improve it, why not?''

The look on his face, the rigid body language -- and the fact that he later repeated the comment about improving if you can -- revealed Piniella isn't comfortable standing pat.

DeLuca goes on to talk about how other teams including the Mets, Phillies and Dodgers are pursing additional players (including Manny Ramirez, Raul Ibanez and Brian Roberts).

But, he's going to do it again, isn't he? Jim has always seems to leave his teams one move short. Unlike the Angels, who upgraded from the good Casey Kotchman to the excellent Mark Texiera, Jim is happy to go with a bullpen that includes the ineffective Bob Howry, the blistered Kerry Wood, and the invisible away from the buffet Scott Eyre.

In addition to center field, doesn't this roster just scream for some more experienced bullpen help? Buster Olney can call Jeff Samardzija the Cubs version of K-Rod all he wants. That doesn't make it true. Felix Pie can't be counted on to hit anything in Chicago that doesn't wear a dress. How much longer can this team count on Jim Edmonds to be a contributor on offense? His numbers are sagging along with the arches on his feet.

One of the great things about the Rich Harden trade was that the Cubs gave up close to nothing to get him and Chad Gaudin. So, give up something and solidify this team. If you rely on Kerry Wood to anchor this team's pen, you may get nothing more than a dead weight. If you want to live with Reed Johnson and Edmonds, you can probably survive, but not as well as you could if you add a Roberts and move Mark DeRosa to right and Kosuke Fukudome to center.

Go for it, Jim. All you have to save is your reputation and future job prospects.

Time To Bring Him Back?

PLAYER     POS   AB   R   H   BI   AVG     
Pie, Felix CF 6 0 3 2 .288 2B (14), CS (4)

With Jim Edmonds hurt and old, maybe it's time again.

And maybe Felix will grow up.

Monday, July 28, 2008


ESPN's Baseball Tonight, a show more about marketing ESPN than baseball, led off their 11 PM Central show with a montage homage to C.C. Sabathia. You just know that ESPN was all ready to go with the storyline of C.C. launching the Brewers into first place. They had the video. They set the mood. They started the show.

And the Cubs messed up the storyline.

Sorry ESPN, you, like the Brewers, lose.

Not only did the Cubs win, but they beat the guy that Milwaukee was counting on to be their Rick Sutcliffe. They also taxed the Brewer pen something serious. The Brewers better hope for a huge lead tomorrow because if the game is close late, Salomon Torres will be sitting and Eric Gagne will be entrusted to saving a win for Ben Sheets.

I'll bet Carlos Zambrano will have something to say about that.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Final Five

Crain's Chicago Business has identified the Final Five bidders for the Cubs. They are:

Mark Cuban
Tom Ricketts
Hersch Klaff
Leo Hindery
Michael Tokarz/Fred Malek

The final two on the list are combining their previously individual bids. Unless something outlandish occurs, the Cubs new owner is likely on the above list.

It's just too bad none of them look like Tricia Helfer.
Can I be in the Final Five even if I'm Six?

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Last night's fight between the Peoria Cheifs and the Dayton Dragons. Some audio NSFW.

Can't imagine how this would have gone down had Ryne Sandberg been there.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pony Up

Just a few weeks ago, we kicked around the idea that the Cubs would be sold to the highest bidder and not who Bud Selig wanted. With billions of dollars in debt to pay off with Cubs sale proceeds, there's no way that Sam Zell could accept a substantial discount to the highest offer he receives for the team.

Certainly, that seems to be true:

It is certainly a business deal on Tribune Co.'s end.

The media company went private late last year in a heavily leveraged $8.2 billion transaction engineered by real estate investor Sam Zell, who has said he expects proceeds from the auction of the Cubs, Wrigley Field and related assets will help meet a major payment obligation due next year. That is why the company is intent on wringing every dollar it can.

What Phil Rosenthal does is some further speculation on the recent $500,000 fine the Cubs paid for violation of draft rules.

The decision not to move Canning's group to the next round came on the heels of Major League Baseball's recently reported $500,000 fine of the Cubs for violating draft rules.

The severity has been seen by some of those who follow the sport's behind-the-scenes politics as a sign that the once strong relationship between Selig and the franchise's ownership may be fraying. Some, however, interpret the steep fine as less a message to Tribune Co. than to all franchises about adherence to MLB rules.

There was speculation by commenters here that a fight between Selig and Zell would be a lot of fun to watch. The $500,000 fine may have been Bud's salvo back to Zell once Bud knew Canning was going to be eliminated.

Selig needs to have a nice, cozy group of owners who won't rattle the cart and will do everything possible to keep costs under control and have governments pay for stadiums. Zell doesn't care about any of that (hell, he said "Fuck you," to one of his own employees in a public, broadcast forum). He's selling for the most money and he'll go as far as he can to accomplish that goal.

In a battle between Sam Zell, billionaire real estate mogul, and Bud Selig, used car salesman and mouthpiece for baseball, the bet here would be on Zell to win in a knockout.

Additional note: It looks like Don Levin has been elimianted. Too bad. But if losing Levin meant losing Canning, that's a net positive from the fans' perspective.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

And Then There Were Three

Big News on the Cubs' sale front. The initial ten bids have been weeded down to three. That was expected. What was not expected (but was guessed as to be a good possibility by this writer) is who got knocked out:

A group led by John Canning, chairman of Chicago private-equity firm Madison Dearborn, valued the Cubs, Wrigley and the team's stake in Comcast SportsNet at far less than the $1 billion or more that the four or five groups team owner Tribune Co. deemed satisfactory to continue, a source with knowledge of the process said.

Canning declined comment.

Madison Dearborn Partners, the company that Canning chairs, has had some financial difficulty of late. It was suspected that this might hinder Canning's ability to match maximum bids on the team.

If Canning is out, especially after making a low-ball offer, this is tremendous news for the fans. Canning would own the team just like the Trib does - as a portfolio investment. That's a negative for the fans. We want an owner who will view the team as a toy on which he would spend the income he's earned from his real business in a carefree manner.

As this page has suspected all along, Sam Zell needs to squeeze every dollar out of this sale to pay down all the debt on Tribune Company books. By blowing out Canning now, Zell has sent a message, not to Canning, but to Bud Selig. The message? "I'm selling this team to the guy who offers me the most cash, not your crony, no matter how connected he is."

Three Groups are left in. Word should leak very quickly who those three are.

Ivy Chat Speculation on the identities: Mark Cuban, Tom Ricketts, Don Levin.

Oh Good, Oh No

Sometime around 8:40 PM this evening, Alfonso Soriano will step into the batters box at Not-Yet-FDIC-Run-Bank Ballpark in Arizona. He'll likely flail away at the first pitch and a sigh of relief will likely be heard from several sources. The biggest sighs will come from the direction of Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. Just maybe having Soriano in the lineup will take some pressure off these guys and get them back to producing.

The reality is that the 2008 Cubs can live without Soriano in the lineup if they are getting solid contributions from Lee and A Ram. Lee has had two home runs since the end of May and seen 50 points drop off his OPS (81 points of it due to a drop in slugging) since that time. Ramirez has been in a funk for almost a month, as well. He's only had 9 hits since June 26th.

Just maybe with Soriano out, these guys were pressing. And as the team has treaded water for a month and burdened with heavy expectations, maybe they felt a need to press even harder.

This page holds no brief for Soriano. But, if his presence can get Lee and Ramirez to relax and get their games back, then Soriano can't get back soon enough.

Does this post really say that?

Monday, July 21, 2008

After The Movie - The Dark Knight

Why So Seriously do you hate Alfonso Soriano?There's so much talk about "The Dark Knight" re-defining the comic book movie genre. It did not re-define it so much as it charted a completely new path.

Most comic book films simply try to translate the comic book to the screen. They incorporate all the physical impossibilities of those stories into the movie. Dark Knight builds on what they did in Batman Begins: The Batman of these films lives in the real world.

And this is perfect. Batman always was a regular person in a mask. Christopher Nolan has taken that concept and extended it to all the characters in this movie. There's nothing super about the Joker. He's brilliant and evil, but he's just a man. Even Gotham City is a regular city. Nolan even toned down the look of Chicago. The CGI Narrows are gone and just the city shows through.

(And boy, does the city shine through. It seemed like every scene had floor to ceiling windows so you could see the city clearly. They went out of their way to make this world as real and familiar as possible. And when the opening shot is of a building you used to work in, the movie is very real.)

For as good as Heath Ledger was in the film, it's really an ensemble picture. Everyone gets screen time and gets to do something in the time they are given. Alfred gets to make a huge choice that could affect the rest of Bruce Wayne's life. Lt. Gordon makes a choice to save his family. Lucious Fox makes a choice about who he really works for. And Harvey Dent isn't just some crazed lunatic who became that way because of how he was scarred. Dent becomes evil because someone else was scarred.

Ironically, the one who seemed to get the least screen time is Christian Bale. And his best moment is setup by the final scene. And it sets up Batman 3 in a way you could never imagine when you walked into the theater.

The movie is tremendously complex, layered with commentary on current society, incorporates some excellent action set pieces, and is filled with outstanding acting performances. Well worth the wait for it to be made and for the wait in line to see it.

Nolan continues to show that he is one of the best, young directors working today.

Ivy Chat Rating: Home run way up Kenmore

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Watching The Unwatchable

You just couldn’t take your eyes off of it. After the ninth inning of the 2008 All Star Game, the only thing left to hope for was a tie. Why? Well first and foremost, to shove Bud Selig’s non-Fox inspired “decision” to make the All Star Game count up his rectum and out his ear holes. The second reason was to watch another 2 hours of some of the most awful broadcast announcing ever seen.

To Joe Buck and Tim McCarver: Yeah, your shtick is to preach to the least educated viewer out there. For those of us who don’t know that the 10th inning has just as many outs as every other inning, your insight into the game is invaluable. But, you know, by the thirteenth inning when it’s after midnight for 65% of the US population, just maybe the people still watching know a little about the game? Do you really need to insult the people still watching by talking to us like this is our first baseball experience?

But the capper was Buck’s line when the game ended about how the most relieved person in the stadium was Terry Francona. Now, Joe. Dude. We all know the reason last night was a disaster was because Fox told Bud that that he needed to do something to pimp up the ratings and that making home field advantage for the World Series just might do the trick. But are you telling us that with the AL out of pitchers Bud would have been LESS embarrassed than Terry? It’s Bud’s (and your bosses’) fault that the game was still going on!

The All Star Game should serve two purposes for baseball fans:

1) The All Star Game should allow hard core baseball fans get to see the one-on-one matchups that have dramatic appeal. It’s an exhibition show. Let’s see something show-worthy.

2) The All Star Game should allow fans of teams with no post-season shot to at least see a player or two from their team get a chance to perform on a premier stage. Back in the 70’s when the Cubs were putrid, the All Star Game had some meaning because of Bruce Sutter and his two wins and a save in three consecutive years.

Going forward, the game needs to have a set ending. Call it a maximum of 10 innings. And what to do about home field advantage in the World Series? Simple. Go back to alternating the advantage like it had from 1900 to 2002.

But what we saw last night must stop. Ironically, Fox wanted the change because the 2002 All Star Game was the lowest rated in history at that point. Last night’s mess won’t do anything to improve Fox’s Nielsen report anytime soon.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Missing You... Not So Much

Got a call from a friend yesterday who postulated this theory: The Cubs don't miss Alfonso Soriano. Well, this baseball watcher does not miss seeing him strike out and misplay balls in the outfield. But how does the team fare, record-wise, with him and without him?

With Alfonso Soriano in the lineup, the Cubs have gone 31-18 or a .633 winning percentage. Without him in the lineup the team has gone 24-19 which equates to a .558 winning percentage. At first glance, it appears that the Cubs are a much better team with him than without him.

But we also have to factor in who replaced him. Usually, with Soriano out, he gets replaced by Reed Johnson. Reed has had a better offensive season than anyone could expect so far and will always bring a plus glove to the outfield.

During two weeks of Soriano's latest DL stint, Reed was also on the DL. He was replaced in those games by a combo of the now departed Matt Murton and Eric Patterson. How did the team do in those games without Soriano and Johnson?

They were below .500 posting a 6-8 record which included a rare home series loss to Baltimore.

So, if we net out the games both Reed and Soriano missed from the team's record, how do the Cubs do without Soriano, but with a competent player left field (i.e. no Murton or Patterson)? They posted a record of 18-11 for a .621 winning percentage. And, if the Cubs sweep the Giants this weekend, the team will have a better winning percentage without Soriano than with him.

The reality is that, on this team, Soriano is a luxury component. He's not a necessity.

Where Have You Gone, Carlos Huerta?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Pressure Plussed

Cub fans everywhere, outside of three children in Glenview, cheered wildly as Jim Hendry countered Milwaukee’s acquisition with one of his own. Yes, Rich Hardin is a riskier move than CC Sabathia due to Rich’s Prior-esque medical charts. But Rich cost next to nothing to get.

Matt Murton never lived up to the promise he showed when he first arrived to replace Corey Patterson. The steady approach at the plate disappeared, the power never arrived, and the defensive skills were spelled D-H. Corey’s brother, Eric, had been trade bait since he was drafted. His minor league numbers were always good because he was old for the leagues he was in. He is not a major league player (although he is worth $100 to some as a minor leaguer). Eric was finally able to deliver something of value to the Cubs. Josh Donaldson has a roadblock ahead of him at catcher named Geovany Soto and the Cubs still have Wellington Castillo at AA. Josh was expendable. Sean Gallagher was the only real cost to the trade. But with three spots in the rotation locked in for the next two seasons and Ryan Dempster bidding for a long term deal, there was only one spot open. Either Gallagher or Sean Marshall had higher value in trade than as a player on the team. Hendry did a good job monetizing that value.

An added plus is Chad Gaudin. Chad may be the real find in the deal. He allows Lou Piniella to cut off one head on the Neal Cotts – Scott Eyre – John Lieber hydra and replace it with some quality.

But the biggest upside to the deal is who is not in the deal. And who is not is Felix Pie, Jeff Samardzija, Donald Veal, Jeremy Papelbon, Billy Petrick and Josh Vitters. All those names are still available for another deal.

If there remains a week spot on this team it is center field. Jim Edmonds, despite playing way beyond expectations and finally realizing that Tony LaRussa is a pud, is in a race with the Wrigley Field concrete to see who collapses first. To still have all these guys available for an attempt a trade for a Brian Roberts or a David DeJesus is tremendous.

In past years, Jim Hendry has always left his teams a player short. He needed more relief pitching in 2003 and 2004. He needed another starter in 2007.

Go for broke, Jim. The chance of any of those guys turning out to be a real major league stud is lower than your chance of winning a title if you get one more really good offensive player.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Closing In

The All Star Break will be big for the six Cubs participating in the All Star Game (yes, seven were chosen, but despite his wishes to put Yankee Stadium Glory above Cub pennant aspirations, Alfonso "No Minor League Rehab" Soriano will not play in the game), but the following Friday will have far greater repercussions. Friday, July 18th is when first bids are due on the sale of the team:

Ten potential owner groups were approved to bid on the Cubs by Major League Baseball, which must approve any sale, said the sources, who asked not to be identified because the sale process is ongoing. Bidders received the financial books for the Cubs last month.

"It's cooking," one source said. "It's happening. There's 10 approved bidders right now."

The source expects four to five bidders to make it to the next round, and expects a winner could be identified at or near the end of the baseball season, with a deal closing by year end or very early next year.

The next news should be who gets eliminated. If their bids are near the top, t's going to be hard for MLB to cut Jim Canning, Don Levin, Mark Cuban, and Jim Anixter at the first pass.

This sale is going to come down to total dollars. The Red Sox were sold for $90 million under the top offer. The reason the top offer was rejected was insufficient financing. Sam Zell will sell to the group that puts the most cash on the table, not jsut the highest offer. Don't believe anyone who says that any of the big players are out yet. No one outside of the groups knows the financing currently available. And, given where banks are these days, financing is harder to come by.

A guy with ready cash, not goofy financing, will likely find himself the winner.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Post Season Game On

With the Brewers acquisition of C.C. Sabathia, the message to the Cubs is unmistakable: We’re going to be in the post season and we want to win now.

The CC trade isn’t so much about the regular season. This probably ups the Brewers expected win total by about 5 games. That may or may not be enough to win the Central, but it will almost certainly be enough to lock in a Wild Card.

As it appears, both the Cubs and the Brewers will have post season slots. The Cubs were already good enough to get there and the Brewers certainly are now. The question now becomes who would have the best shot in the post season.

You need at least two good starters in the post season. If you have three, you have flexibility. The Cubs go to war with Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster. The three of them have 6 career post-season starts with no wins and 2 losses. The Brewers originally countered with Ben Sheets, Manny Parra and either Jeff Suppan or Dave Bush. Sheets and Parra have no post season experience and Suppan’s playoffs don’t count because they were for St. Louis. Now, those two guys are out and in is CC with his 4 playoff starts and a 2-2 record in those starts. That’s a massive upgrade.

This trade is all about the post-season. What does it mean for the Cubs? It means Jim Hendry has to counter and counter quickly. The teams looking to add arms could include Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, the Dodgers, and maybe even the Red Sox. Hendry doesn’t have much powder to play with as the farm system is fairly barren of 2009-ready talent.

Hendry also knows that he’s going to have a new boss in the next few months. If he has any hope of keeping his job beyond 2008, Hendry not only needs to have his team in the playoffs, but the team has to have success in those playoffs.

From a fan’s perspective, having a GM with pressure on him is a plus. Also, the best part of Jim’s GM tenure has been his ability to get deals done. His career hangs on that very skill right now. He has to go out and upgrade from Lilly/Dempster.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Boot Hill

From the Arizona Rookie League:

Player               IP  H  R  ER  BB SO  HR  ERA
Rich Hill (L, 0-1) 0.1 1 5 3 3 0 0 81.00

If Mark Prior needs a roommate...

Who To Trade

It's pretty obvious that the Cubs need to step up their pitching. The entire rotation is a series of question marks right now. This includes Carlos Zambrano and his shoulder. Until we see him throw two or three starts in a row without showing that weird arm angle that caused Geovany Soto to call out the medical staff, we can’t be sure that Z is healthy.

The names expected to be available have been bandied about in nearly every corner of the media. What hasn’t really been discussed is who to trade away. There always seems to be a guy on a team who is obvious to trade because he fits the following criteria:

He’s playing well right now
He’s young (read: cheap)
He’s got the appearance of upside for his career path.
He’s got some a shortcoming that could be exposed as he continues playing

In 2006, that player was Matt Murton. If he'd been traded then, the Cubs could have gotten back something of value. Today he’s a candidate to be non-tendered as soon as he becomes arbitration eligible.

In 2007, that player was Rich Hill. Statistically, Hill had a good 2007. But there was always something off about him. Then, the final third of the season didn't go so well for him and the playoffs lasted a grand total of one pitch before he was hanging his head and kicking the dirt in despair. Today, Rich is in Arizona trying to find himself, the strike zone, and Rick Ankiel’s coach.

So, who is the 2008 person? It's not Ronny Cedeno or Eric Patterson. Both of them have shown that they are not major league players due to a lack of IQ points. Felix Pie could have been the guy, but, if The Cub Reporter is right (and given Felix's history, there's no reason to believe they are wrong), Felix has a little too much Corey "I deserve it" Patterson in him to have maximum value in a trade right now.

The guy to trade who fits all the criteria is Ryan Theriot. He has the most value right now that he will likely ever have in his career. And he continues to show that there is just something about him (like his getting doubled off Sunday night on the rather common 4-3-6 that started with a lineout) that probably will prevent Ryan from ever being much more than a decent player.

Theriot doesn’t need to be traded, but to get value you have to give up value. You want to see Rich Harden or CC Sabathia here? You’ve got to give up something.

Ryan Theriot should be offered without hesitation as part of a deal for one of those top line players.

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