Saturday, July 05, 2014

Find out how smart a Cubs fan is using this one weird trick

If you're curious to know how baseball-educated the Cubs fan is that you're talking to, try asking them what they think of the trade with the A's.  You know, the one that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel - our two best starters this year but for the sudden emergence of Jake Arrieta - to Oakland for prospects.  Really good prospects - Addison Russell and Billy McKinney represent the last two first round picks of a franchise that is known for how it builds through the draft - but, nevertheless, prospects, right?

Well, right, but completely missing the point.  No matter what news source you read this story on, if comments are enabled, it is a virtual certainty that one of the first ones you will see will say something like this: "Looks like the five-year plan is turning into a twenty-year plan."

The people who write these comments undoubtedly think they are very clever.  And I'm sure they legitimately feel aggrieved by the notion that every time a Cubs pitcher starts to look really good, Epstein and Hoyer ship him out.  But these people also do not understand, at all, what Epstein and Hoyer are doing.

First of all, I would love to hear how trading Jason Hammel - signed to a one-year deal - constitutes pushing back any sort of plan.  It's true that this year's Cubs are better than their record suggests - they've now scored one more run than they've allowed, meaning their Pythagorean record is 42-42 rather than the 38-46 of real life.  42-42 would still be last place in what has been a very competitive NL Central, of course, but it would be closer to where you could dream about one of those wild card spots.  But that's about all you could do.  Even if they snuck into the playoffs, it is extremely unlikely at best that this year's Cubs have anything close to the talent to put together a serious pennant run.

The same goes for Samardzija, really.  He's under contract through next year, but he recently turned down a five-year extension which would have paid him $17 million per season.  That's not a misprint.  Jeff Samardzija, whose career ERA+ is 101 - i.e. for his career he's been 1% better than an average pitcher - thinks he is worth more than $17 million a year.  Okay.  I mean, someone may give him that money - his ERA+ this year is 135 and he's still just 29 - but you can see why the Cubs didn't, right?  Epstein has said that his plan is to stockpile bats - a much less volatile commodity than pitching - and then cross the pitching bridge when he comes to it.  There is an outside chance that the Cubs will be ready to contend in 2015, and they may miss Shark then if so... but even if the window begins next year, it likely doesn't fully open until 2016 or 2017 at the earliest.  Samardzija wouldn't have been around anyway.

(It's also worth noting that the Cubs could always re-sign Hammel and/or Samardzija as free agents, should they want to.  Although this move means a clear punt on 2014 - but again, this team was never going anywhere this year - it doesn't really say that much about the next several years.  And it's pretty unlikely that Oakland will even try to meet Samardzija's apparent asking price.)

So what, really, did the Cubs trade?  They traded three months of Jason Hammel (who is my age and has a career ERA of 4.62) and a year plus three months of Jeff Samardzija.  And in return, they got Addison Russell, one of the best prospects in baseball; Billy McKinney, the A's 2013 first round pick who only turns 20 in August; and Dan Straily, who so far has been a slightly below average major league pitcher but who is only 25 and has several more years of club control.  At the very least, he eats a lot of the innings that Samardzija and Hammel are vacating; at best, he was once a top-100 prospect and could maybe still turn into something.

The bottom line is that in Russell alone the Cubs got a great deal.  It's unclear what it means for the future of the Cubs infield - between Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and Castro, the Cubs already had every position pretty well covered.  It does mean, though, that there is some room for one or two of those guys not to work out.  Baez is still pretty raw and has been scuffling at AAA Iowa this year (though he's still just 21); Alcantara and Bryant, though, could both be with the big league club come Opening Day 2015.  Russell could be insurance in case Castro never quite puts it all together, or Castro could slide over to second if Alcantara doesn't work out.

Or, perhaps more likely, one or two of these guys could be dealt for the pitching the Cubs lack in the farm system when the bats are actually ready to contend.  This is what Jim Hendry tended to get wrong.  He plundered the Cubs' farm system (already thin at the time) to land pitching that couldn't get a mediocre team over the hump.  Matt Garza is long gone from Chicago, while Chris Archer is starring in Tampa.  It's obvious who got the better end of that deal.  Epstein is willing to make deals like that, but only when the pitcher in question is the obvious final piece of the puzzle.  Hammel and Samardzija weren't final puzzle pieces.  Russell might yet be.  That's why this was a great trade.  And why you should be giving mega side-eye to anyone who suggests otherwise.

Friday, October 28, 2011

It happened again

Ever since the Cubs should have made the World Series in 2003 but blew it, every World Series winner has been in one way or another a kick in the teeth for Cubs fans.

2003: Marlins win. I ended up rooting for the Marlins since I hate the Yankees so much, but to have a ten-year-old team win its second World Series, and with the way the Cubs lost to them... ugh.

2004: Red Sox win and are no longer our partners in "curses" (though at least they beat the Cardinals and Yankees on the way).

2005: White Sox win and are (a) the White Sox and (b) another team breaking a very long streak of not winning.

2006: Cardinals win, and with a horrible 83-win team no less.

2007: Red Sox win again, and in just a handful of years go from being our "twin" franchise to looking more like a modern dynasty.

2008: Phillies, the only pre-expansion team with fewer World Series titles than the Cubs, win their second World Series to equal the Cubs.

2009: Yankees win. Ordinarily whatever, I doubt most Cubs fans hate the Yankees as much as I do, but the icing on the cake was how all the Yankees players talked about how it had been so long for their fans since their last World Series win in 2000. FUCK Yankees fans.

2010: Giants win, ending the third-longest title drought in MLB and leaving only the Cubs and Indians as the last pre-expansion teams not to have won a title in the expansion era.

2011: Cardinals win a-fucking-gain. The icing on this one? The fact that Ryan Theriot was hitting leadoff for the Cardinals in the clinching Game Seven. Ryan Theriot shouldn't be hitting leadoff for anyone at any time, least of all a team that's winning the World Series. What a joke. Also, it's the fucking Cardinals.

Your move, Theo.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Scared Miklasz

There are two types of rivalry in the sports world: the kind that spring up between two great teams - Lakers/Celtics in the NBA, for one key example - and the kind that spring up for simple reasons of geography and playing each other a lot. Yankees/Red Sox is perhaps the key example of the form - it only turned into more in the last decade or so, really - but Cubs/Cardinals is perhaps an even better illustration. The two teams have been in the same division since the Cardinals (then the St. Louis Browns) joined the National League in 1892. But post World War II, as the Cubs' fortunes dropped, that aspect of the rivalry tailed off. For two decades, between 1925 and 1945, the Cardinals and Cubs were perhaps the two most dominant franchises in the National League. The Cardinals played in eight World Series and won five. The Cubs didn't win any but represented their league in the Fall Classic fully five times in that span. Between 1942 and 1946, the Cardinals won four pennants; the one they didn't, in 1945, was won by the Cubs. (To be fair, those WWII years were a bit goofy.)

Obviously, however, the rivalry has been a bit different since then. It's more about a rivalry between two major Midwestern cities, and two teams that simply go back a long way and have played each other well over two thousand times. The Cardinals have won nine more pennants and four more World Series since 1946; they could add a fifth World Series this year. The Cubs, I don't need to tell you, have won none of either.

But this is clearly still a rivalry. And what's more, it's clearly still a rivalry that matters even to the more successful team in it. Why else would Bernie Miklasz, long-time columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write a column - during the World Series that his team is playing in! - like, well, this?

The St. Louis Cardinals have been so dominant in the NL Central, it looks like the rival Chicago Cubs are hiring two general managers in a desperate attempt to topple their rivals.

I just got done enumerating how much more successful the Cardinals have been over the last 65 years. However, ten points for answering the following question: in the last five years, who has won more NL Central titles, the Cubs or the Cardinals?

Of course, the answer is the Cubs, who won in 2007 and 2008. The Cardinals won in 2009 but finished second to the Reds in 2010 and to the Brewers this year. Really, over the last five years, the Brewers have at least as good a claim to NL Central "dominance" as the Cardinals. I know the Cardinals are in the World Series having beaten the Brewers, but this is about the division, right?

Anyway, this is a stupid argument regardless. Aside from the fact that the announcement of Theo Epstein's hiring happens to have come during the playoffs, and that the Cubs simply would have to do better than the Cardinals to win a division title, what do the Cubs' moves have to do with St. Louis that they don't have to do with "it's been 103 years since we won the World Series and we would like to win one at some point in the not too distant future"? Get a hold of yourself, Bernie.

The boy wonder, Theo Epstein, is defecting from Boston to take over the Cubs. He'll be given the title of team president and $18.5 million over five years. According to media reports, Epstein is hiring his buddy, Jed Hoyer, away from the San Diego Padres. If and when that becomes official, Hoyer will leave the GM post in San Diego for the GM title with the Cubs.

Adorably pejorative use of the term "boy wonder." Epstein does have two World Series teams under his belt, at least. It's not like he has Billy Beane's track record, say.

The Cubs are obviously desperate to win a World Series. They haven't played in one since 1945, or won one since 1908. The Cardinals, currently competing in their 18th World Series, have been in three of the last eight Fall Classics.

Yes, I'm sure the Cubs would rather have the Cardinals' record. So would a lot of teams. Even the Yankees haven't played in three of the last eight World Series.

Since Bill DeWitt Jr. bought the franchise in 1996, which is also the same year Tony La Russa arrived as manager, the Cardinals have qualified for the postseason nine times.

They won the NL Central five times in seven years between 2000 and 2006, which is pretty impressive, although since then, as mentioned, they've only won it once in the last five years. But yes. They've been fairly successful the last 15 years.

Going into Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night at Rangers Ballpark, the Cardinals have won 11 postseason series and 47 postseason games during the La Russa Era.

The other five teams in the NL Central, combined, have won only five postseason series and 27 postseason games while competing against La Russa.

The other NL Central teams don't tend to compete against LaRussa in the postseason, this year notwithstanding. The Cardinals certainly have had more success than their NL Central counterparts in the playoffs - in the seven seasons since 1996 that they won the division, the Cardinals won at least one playoff series in six of them (a 2009 NLDS loss to the Dodgers the exception) and made the World Series twice. The combined power of the teams that won the NL Central in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011, meanwhile, yielded exactly zero trips to the World Series and seven first-round losses out of nine (the 2003 Cubs and this year's Brewers were the only ones to make it as far as the NLCS).

So, yes. Job well done. The Cardinals are currently playing in the World Series, you know. Did you really need to whip their dick out and ask the other teams in the division if anyone wants to compare lengths?

The Cubs obviously believe that Epstein, 37, can break the many curses in Chicago, whether it be the Billy Goat, the black cat, or Bartman. To attain success, Epstein must also break the Cardinals' firm hold on the NL Central.

One division title in the last five years. And the Cubs could easily finish second to the Cardinals and still win the World Series as a wild card, as Epstein's Red Sox did in 2004 and as the Cardinals themselves are attempting to do this year. But yes, it is likely that in order to do well, the Cubs will have to be better than the Cardinals in the long term.

After all, Epstein put an end to the curse — and cursing — in Boston by guiding the Red Sox to World Series championships in 2004 and 2007. The Red Sox had gone 86 years without capturing a World Series until Epstein ended the torment.

Factual statement. Although is anyone else getting the feeling that Miklasz legitimately believes in "curses"? What a maroon.

In the AL East, Boston ownership cast the New York Yankees as the "Evil Empire" that had to be taken down. The Cardinals are to the Cubs what the Yankees are to the Red Sox. So Epstein's hiring should increase the competitive intensity of a Cubs-Cardinals rivalry that's turned into a baseball-and-beer happy hour.

Pretty much what I said earlier. Although the Cardinals definitely do not have the Yankees' money, which is likely to prove one big difference should the Cubs succeed in righting their operational ship.

Mozeliak respects Epstein and thinks the Cubs have made an impressive hire. But it's not as if the Cubs are the first team to step up and take aim at the Cardinals.

Houston had a positive run between 1997 and 2005. Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin won the division this year and has led the Brewers to two postseason berths in the last four years. The Pittsburgh Pirates are improving. And former Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty revived the Cincinnati Reds, at least for a season (2010). The Cubs won the division in 2007 and 2008.

I see one big similarity between the Yankees and Cardinals - they both feel like it's divine right that they win the division every year. Houston had a "positive run" between 1997 and 2005? Hey, if you just want to completely discount nine-year stretches, what say we ignore everything between 2000 and 2008? Now the Cardinals have just two division titles to their credit and a single WS appearance. And of course if you correctly parse that last paragraph, you can see what Miklasz is obviously avoiding but what I already pointed out: the Cardinals have won the division once in the last five years. That is not a stranglehold. Aside from Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter, there is almost no resemblance between the current team and even the 2006 Cardinals, the last year of their most dominant stretch between 2000 and 2006 when they made the playoffs six out of seven years and won a World Series.

Cardinals fans have seen this before; his name was Andy MacPhail. Remember that? MacPhail was the young GM behind the Minnesota Twins' two World Series titles, in 1987 and 1991. The Cubs hired MacPhail to lead them out of the poison ivy. How did that work out? Other baseball saviors included Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella.

"Hey, I know my team's in the World Series, but what if I wrote a piece just making fun of the Cubs? Now that's serious journalism."

The Cardinals will have to work harder, and be even better, to ward off challengers. And the franchise must confront a major issue — the future of free-agent Albert Pujols in a matter of weeks.

Will Pujols stay, or will he go?

Either way, Mozeliak is confident of maintaining the winning tradition.

Replace Pujols with a replacement player and the Cardinals aren't in the playoffs this year, nor in most years. I would expect he's probably not going anywhere, though, if only because I can't imagine other teams lining up to pay him what he wants, and if he's not going to get a massive contract, he'll probably stay in St. Louis for a merely very large contract.

It starts with a 2012 rotation that will feature the return of Adam Wainwright from elbow surgery. He'll join his co-ace Chris Carpenter, promising lefthander Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook and a couple of intriguing rotation candidates in Lance Lynn and Marc Rzepczynski.

"There's definitely going to be the Pujols factor. But putting that aside, I like what we have in place," Mozeliak said before Game 3. "When you look in our rotation for next year, you can see the quality there, and the depth. On the pitching side, we have a very positive outlook for 2012."

Re-signing corner outfielder Lance Berkman to a one-year deal for 2012 provides a backup plan should Pujols depart. And if Pujols leaves, that would create an opportunity for Allen Craig to receive hundreds of additional at-bats. If Pujols goes, the Cardinals would have some money to spend on other free agents. But Mozeliak certainly will make an effort to sign Pujols.

"When we look at our everyday lineup, obviously we have a question mark with Albert, and at shortstop," Mozeliak said. "And if we can fill those in the offseason, and re-sign Albert, the St. Louis Cardinals have a very bright future."

There's also a chance of La Russa deciding to retire at the end of the season, but the internal expectation is that La Russa will return in 2012.

Wow, you actually talked about the Cardinals for a while! Congratulations. I love the idea that Pujols leaving could be okay because at least it would mean Allen Craig could get some more at-bats.

Could the Cubs emerge as a player in the Pujols sweepstakes? Media insiders in Chicago downgrade the possibility, insisting that Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts wants to rebuild through the draft, player development and an expanded scouting presence in the Dominican Republic.

The Cubs are still trying to get out from under some toxic contracts handed out to Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and others. The Tribune Co., which sold the Cubs to Ricketts, pushed a win-now approach that turned Wrigley into a vast money pit, filled with wasted dollars.

Still, I wouldn't rule the Cubs out on Pujols.

"Could one plus one equal three? All evidence suggests that combining one and one will get you two. Still, I wouldn't rule out that one plus one could equal three."

The Cubs had a $125 million payroll this season, and for all of the hype over Epstein's sabermetric-based, value-driven philosophies, he developed expensive tastes in Boston. The Red Sox failed to make the playoffs in 2010 and 2011 despite spending $331 million in player payroll over the last two seasons. Epstein signed off on nonsensical free-agent contracts for pitcher John Lackey, left fielder Carl Crawford and setup reliever Bobby Jenks, among others.

While the entirety of the Crawford deal was pretty ludicrous, Crawford was worth between 7 and 8 wins in 2010. The fact that he played poorly in 2011 does not seem like something you can pin on Epstein. In addition, one of the reasons why Epstein "developed expensive tastes" in Boston was because it was DEMANDED by an ownership and fanbase that loved the rings and wanted more, and in the AL East the easiest way to compete with the Yankees is to splash the cash. (Yes, the Rays, but think about this: if the Rays had $100 million to play with, wouldn't they just win the division every year?) This year's and last year's Red Sox teams both had injury issues, and this year's team was the highest-scoring in the AL. Unforeseen things happen in baseball. It's easy to second-guess Epstein in hindsight, but if the Red Sox pull one more win out somewhere along the line, they could easily have found their way into the World Series (since it's not like great pitching has been a theme of this postseason), and then what would everyone be saying about Epstein?

How much credit should Epstein get for the two World Series titles in Boston? Obviously he made some good moves. He hit it big on some draft picks, including Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbob [sic], Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz. But even with the second-highest payroll in baseball, Epstein's creation went sour.

No doubt all attributable to Epstein's presence.

Moreover, Epstein took over a 93-win team when he became Boston GM in 2003. His challenge in Chicago is more challenging, and vexing.

True for a number of reasons, almost none of which have anything to do with St. Louis, the team you cover that is in the World Series right now.

And the Cardinals aren't moving out of the division.

Well, I guess the Cubs will have to figure out a way to finish ahead of the Cardinals, like they did in 2007 and 2008, when they were winning more division titles in those two years than the Cardinals and their division stranglehold have won in the last five. I mean, honestly, I would expect this kind of arrogance from the Yankees, but the Cardinals haven't exactly earned it of late. Yeah, they won the World Series in 2006 and made it again this year, but in between those two they did exactly jack squat, making one playoffs and winning zero games in it.

Besides, if Epstein could survive in a division with the Yankees (and, for that matter, Tampa), do you think he's worried about the Cardinals? Once the organization is, hopefully, strengthened, if the Cubs have a strong front office AND more money than the Cardinals, don't you think the Cubs will have a pretty good chance to dominate? Which is why this reads, in the words of Hire Jim Essian's Bad Kermit, like "whistling past the graveyard." St. Louis has already lost the iron grip they held on the division from 2000 to 2006, and if the Cubs' organization can get its act in gear for the first time since World War II, that iron grip may just pass to the Cards' biggest rival. I'm not saying it's going to happen. But I'm saying it could happen, and Bernie Miklasz is clearly terrified that it will.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Q rating

It's okay to think that Ryne Sandberg should have been made the next Cubs manager. It's not okay to think it the way Gene Wojciechowski thinks it, however.

Maybe this will work. Maybe a guy who would have never gotten a sniff at the full-time job if Lou Piniella hadn't flamed out will break the Chicago Cubs' 102-year starvation diet. Maybe Mike Quade is the next Jim Leyland or Earl Weaver, a nobody who became a baseball somebody.

But I doubt it.

I also doubt it, but mostly because the Cubs are not a great team right now. Other managers who I doubt could lead the Cubs to a World Series title next year: Ryne Sandberg, Joe Girardi, Joe Torre, the ghost of Frank Chance.

If it happens, if Quade can lead the Cubs to their first World Series championship since 1908, then I'll believe anything -- that Barry Bonds hit all those home runs because of flaxseed oil, that Wade Phillips will be the 2010 NFL Coach of the Year.

Ha ha! Take that, Barry Bonds and the Cowboys! Wait - what is this article about again?

There are reasons why the Cubs are the Cubs -- and the decision to hire Quade is one of them. I'm not saying it's a terrible choice; just the wrong choice.

Nothing personal, but Ryne Sandberg, not Quade, should have been introduced Tuesday as the 51st manager of the Cubs. It would have made so much sense.

I mean, I guess. Sandberg had been managing in the Cubs' system for four years. Quade was a minor league manager as early as 1985 and managed the Iowa Cubs for three years. In 2004 he took them to the PCL finals, for whatever that's worth.

Sandberg isn't some Mark McGwire big-timer whose first coaching job was on the major league level. Sandberg grinded for four years as a manager in the bus and drive-thru-window leagues of the minors. He did his time for the Cubs in Class A, Double-A and Triple-A, earning Pacific Coast League manager of the year honors this past season.

He's done a nice job. He also has four years of minor league experience to Quade's 17, and zero years of big league coaching experience to Quade's four, so trying to sell him as someone who "paid his dues" as though Quade hasn't is just kind of stupid.

He also has a bronze plaque in Cooperstown, which should count for something. And he's wearing a Cubs cap on it.

The last guy to be a Hall of Famer as a player and then win a World Series as a manager: no one. It's never happened. The closest we come - ignoring player/managers, of whom there were a few in the first half of the 20th century - is Red Schoendienst, who led the 1967 Cardinals to the World Series title four years after retiring. Of course it also took Red until 1989 to make the Hall, getting in only via the Veterans Committee, and you could certainly argue that he's one of the weaker members of the Hall. On the other hand, he was also a second baseman! Draft Sandberg!

Sandberg was the consummate professional as a player, and he would have been the consummate Cubs manager. He spoke with his bat and glove when he played those 15 seasons in Chicago. But once out of uniform, he spoke from his heart.

What Sandberg's playing career has to do with his potential managerial career: little to nothing.

Go back and listen to his HOF induction speech in 2005, when he vaporized a certain unnamed former teammate (hello, Sammy Sosa). Sandberg has always been about playing the game the right way. You think he would have been intimidated managing the bizarre and undependable Carlos Zambrano? Something would have had to give, and it wouldn't have been Sandberg.

This seems to imply that someone else was intimidated by Zambrano, but Piniella was only too happy to send Zambrano home and Quade didn't have to deal with Z at his angriest or flakiest anyway. So, what are you talking about?

Sandberg would have been good for the Cubs and also good for business. If you don't think that matters, then you weren't at Wrigley Field during the final month or so of another lost season.

The Cubs drew more than 3 million fans in 2010, behind only Philly, the Dodgers and St. Louis in the NL, and ahead of the other three NL playoff teams. (Only three other teams in baseball - the Yankees, Angels and Twins - drew more. The Cubs drew more than the Red Sox.) I'm sure Sandberg would be a popular enough manager, but business isn't really suffering. And you need only ask Dusty Baker about how popularity will dwindle when you're not managing a winning team.

There are no guarantees Sandberg would have won a division, a pennant or a World Series. But he couldn't have done any worse than Piniella, whose teams failed to win a playoff game in six tries. And after the magic and heartbreak of 2003, Dusty Baker never led the Cubs to another postseason appearance. Nor did Don Baylor before him.

Sandberg: he might not win, but hey, who has? Of course, I could just as easily say this of Quade, whom you're busy crushing. And for the record, Piniella's teams may not have won a postseason game but they did win the NL Central in back to back years, the first time the Cubs made two straight postseasons in literally a century. So I'm going to go out on a limb and say that yes, Sandberg could have done worse than that. For all I've said about Dusty Baker over the years, he got the Cubs closer to the World Series than at any time since 1945. Sandberg could certainly have done worse than him.

There weren't a dozen baseball fans outside the city of Chicago who knew who Quade was when the Cubs asked him to pitch long managerial relief for the final 37 games this summer. I'm not sure there were a dozen fans in Chicago who knew who he was.

Ha ha hyperbole! Quade was the third base coach. Plenty of people who follow the team knew who he was.

Even after he was hired Tuesday, I had two baseball fans tell me, "You hear about the Cubs and Quade?" But they mispronounced his name: calling him, Qu-aid, instead of Quad-ee.

"Two non-Cubs fans I spoke to had only seen Mike Quade's name written down, therefore he sucks."

People know Sandberg's name. People name their kids after Sandberg.

Not a reason he should be hired as manager.

I'm all for rewarding loyalty. Quade spent 17 years managing in the minors and four years as a major league coach. On Aug. 22, he replaced the beleaguered Piniella, who called it quits and returned home to Tampa to care for his ailing mother.

Love how buried this was when he talked about Sandberg's four years of "grinding" at the top.

Quade finished 24-13 as interim manager and showed a nice, firm touch when handling players such as shortstop Starlin Castro, a gifted but sometimes brain-cramped rookie who needed the occasional tough love. Quade also got seven wins out of the revitalized Zambrano. And he earned the support of key Cubs veterans.

Douchebag. Shouldn't be hired.

That support, those 24 victories and the fact that the Cubs are on their second 100-year rebuilding plan likely had a lot to do with Quade's hiring. Plus, he's a likable, personable, grinder type of guy.

Wait, they're both grinders? How will we settle this grudge match? Quick: both go to the outfield and take turns shagging David Eckstein pop flies. Winner gets a football punted and then signed by Darin Erstad, and also the job as Cubs manager.

Still, Quade has only 37 more games of big league managerial experience than Sandberg. Now compare that to Sandberg's big-game experience. And with all due respect to Quade, those 37 games were played when nothing was on the line for the Cubs.

37 more games of big league managerial experience... plus 13 extra seasons in the minors. Might count for something. Also, at the risk of bashing my own team, what big game experience does Ryno really have? He has ten career playoff games under his belt and his team lost seven of them (though his personal playoff numbers are great, albeit in a very small sample). During his 15 seasons with the Cubs, he played on two first place teams, zero other teams that finished even as high as second, and three last place teams. I love the guy, but it is hard to find many recent Hall of Famers with less "big game experience."

Make no mistake: The Cubs' payroll isn't going to approach the $145 million the Ricketts family spent in 2010 to finish fifth in the NL Central. It is a roster with a handful of talented young players, but also a roster with the ball-and-chain contracts of Alfonso Soriano and Zambrano.

So, maybe it doesn't matter that much who the manager is, huh?

You wonder if owner Tom Ricketts liked Quade not only because of those 24 victories but also because he might have come more cheaply than Sandberg. He definitely was a less expensive alternative to Piniella, as well as to New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who told reporters Tuesday that he had considered the idea of managing the Cubs. No way would Girardi have signed the same contract as Quade: a two-year deal with a club option for a third.

Given how little value the average manager adds to a team, I'm definitely cool with not shelling out big dollars. As, again, you yourself mentioned just a few paragraphs ago, Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker - high-priced managers with pedigrees - couldn't get the Cubs to the World Series. If someone who has never managed in the big leagues couldn't possibly do worse, as you claim, why am I supposed to believe that Quade would do worse either?

Sandberg was slightly surprised and more than slightly disappointed when he learned he hadn't gotten the Cubs job. But that's baseball. It's like in "Bull Durham," when Nuke LaLoosh says, "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Think about that for a while."

It's exactly like that. Or something.

It rained on Sandberg Tuesday. By the end of next season, we'll know if Cubs fans got soaked too.

If the Cubs don't win next year, and they almost certainly won't, it's not going to be due to Quade vs. Sandberg. Okay? You wrote this whole article around why Quade was a bad choice and I don't see a single good reason. Pretty much all you have is "Well, Sandberg played for the Cubs and was good at it." That's not a reason not to give a guy a job, but it's certainly not a reason to give him a job without question, is it?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Jim's not so dandy

As I write this, my mood is elevated. Carlos Silva is continuing to defy the odds and/or prove that the NL really is that much worse than the AL. Alfonso Soriano is 3-for-3 with a home run. The Cubs lead the Mets 5-1 in the 7th and look like they might actually win a game after losing four straight to the Mets and Astros, arguably the two worst teams in the NL at this exact moment (and not counting the Cubs).

Still, all is not right in Cub World. Today it was announced that when Ted Lilly returned, the starter moving to the bullpen would not be Carlos Silva or Tom Gorzelanny. It would, instead, be purported ace and 18-million-dollar man Carlos Zambrano. This decision irked me, to put it mildly.

This is not to say that Zambrano has been pitching great; his ERA is 7.45 and in fact he's allowed more earned runs (16) than Dempster, Gorzelanny, Silva and Wells combined (15). With that said, he's made more starts than anyone else on the team, with four already, and only one of them was notably awful (the Opening Day 8 ER in 1.1 IP debacle). In fact, two of the other three were quality starts and his K/9 and K/BB are at historic highs. He hasn't pitched in the bullpen since 2002. Oh, and he makes eighteen million dollars. To give you some perspective, the highest-paid relief pitcher is Mariano Rivera at 15 million; the highest-paid non-closer is Fernando Rodney at a mere 5.5 million. Also bear in mind that despite his poor start, Z is most likely to return to his career average, which is 3.56. He's never had an ERA over 3.95 in a full season. By comparison, Gorzelanny's career ERA is 4.80 and Silva's is 4.67. I know I complained about the bullpen needing to be fixed, but this wasn't exactly what I was talking about.

Do you start to wonder if maybe Piniella and Hendry just don't have a clue what they're doing? Because I do. When Piniella came in, people thought he was a potential savior. He was a big name and he'd had success. So we all overlooked things. He won a World Series! (In 1990, and hadn't even been to one since.) He won 116 games with the Mariners! (They didn't even get to the World Series that year.) His Tampa teams were lousy... but that wasn't his fault. And when the Cubs won the division in 2007 and then 97 games and another division title in 2008 for their first back-to-back playoff appearances in 100 years... who could say Piniella wasn't a great manager?

But I've heard it said that managers don't do as much to win games as they can do to lose them. The players will play and win without the manager, but the manager can make dumb decisions that compromise the players' ability to win. And you have to wonder about Piniella a little bit. I mean, he honestly thinks that putting Zambrano in the bullpen is the best thing for the club. I like to think that if another starter struggles Z will be back in the rotation... but I don't know. Piniella seems like a pretty old-school baseball guy, the type who plays hunches and judges players by the look in their eye and thinks that Joba Chamberlain is more valuable pitching 60 innings a year than 180. He gave Tom Gorzelanny the starting job over Sean Marshall even though Marshall is pretty much inarguably a better pitcher. He can't decide where to hit Ryan Theriot. He has, in the past, seriously suggested trying to play Soriano at second again even though Soriano has spent less than four innings at the position since 2005.

But then I wonder how much of it is really Lou's fault. I mean, I'm not convinced he's a great manager. But isn't he doing pretty much the best he can with the pieces he's been handed? And then I think about Jim Hendry, and how I'm pretty sure he's a lousy GM. I did a post in June of 2007 on Hendry's GM tenure as a trader, concluding that he had been basically average, at least if by average you meant that he'd basically made as many bad deals as good ones (though I would argue that his two best trades to that point, for Ramirez and Lee, pretty much outweighed all the bad ones with the exception of the Juan Pierre deal). I think that's pretty much still true - the Kevin Gregg deal was lousy, but the Rich Harden one was pretty good, at least from the standpoint that no one traded away in it has done anything for Oakland (in fact, only Eric Patterson plays for their major league team, and not well - Sean Gallagher is mopping up for the Padres and Matt Murton currently plays in Japan). Et cetera.

Of course, Hendry has been pretty lousy when it comes to free agents. His major signings since taking over the GM job in July of 2002, from oldest to most recent:

Mike Remlinger
Shawn Estes
LaTroy Hawkins
Todd Walker
Ryan Dempster
Greg Maddux
Glendon Rusch
Neifi Perez
Henry Blanco
Jeromy Burnitz
Scott Eyre
Bob Howry
Jacque Jones
Mark DeRosa
Alfonso Soriano
Ted Lilly
Daryle Ward
Jason Marquis
Cliff Floyd
Kosuke Fukudome
Jon Lieber
Reed Johnson
Jim Edmonds
Aaron Miles
Milton Bradley
Marlon Byrd
Xavier Nady

Granted, calling some of those "major signings" may be a stretch - Ward, for instance, had 212 at-bats over two seasons with the Cubs. But I included everyone I thought had made a difference to the Cubs, either positively or negatively; guys like, say, Chad Fox, I didn't bother counting because they were so insignificant overall (though Hendry's love affair with Fox could be another whole post). The point is, look at that list. Now tell me, who on it was an unqualified success as a signing? I vote for the following: Walker, Dempster, DeRosa, Lilly, Johnson, Edmonds. Six out of 27 (though granted the jury is still out on Byrd and Nady, technically). Now, who was an unqualified disaster? I vote for Hawkins, Perez, Jones, Miles and Bradley. That's only five, but really, isn't a ratio that close pretty lousy? Plus a lot of people would probably argue I was being generous with Soriano and Fukudome (mostly due to the size of their contracts), and potentially Marquis as well.

You also have to consider JUST HOW awful the Perez, Miles and Bradley signings were. Perez is one of the worst baseball players of all time. In 2002 for the Royals, his OPS+ was 44. The next year in San Francisco, it was 65. In 2004, it was 48, and the Giants had finally had enough and released him. The Cubs snapped him up for some reason, and over a tiny, tiny stretch sample of 23 games, he hit .371/.400/.548. So they brought him back for 2005, and he turned back into a pumpkin with a .274/.298/.383 line. Yet Hendry re-signed him for 2006, possibly because Dusty Baker loved Neifi for no good reason and insisted on hitting him first or second a lot of the time and giving him 609 PAs. No wonder the '05 team couldn't finish .500 even though Derrek Lee had an MVP-type season. (And no wonder Lee only had 107 RBI despite hitting 46 home runs - Neifi and Corey Patterson had a combined 1,090 plate appearances, many in the leadoff and 2nd spots, despite a combined OBP of .275.) He continued to suck in 2006, and was finally, mercifully traded to the Tigers in August.

Miles was coming off a career year for the Cardinals in 2008, with a .317/.355/.398 line. He was intended to be a cheaper Mark DeRosa, in that he could play a lot of different positions but for less money. As it turned out, there was a reason he was cheaper. Miles' line for the Cubs: .185/.224/.242, for an OPS+ of 20, which makes Neifi Perez look like fucking Ernie Banks.

A lot has been said about Bradley already, and there's no real need to rehash it here. His year for the Cubs could have been worse: .257/.378/.397. Bradley later complained the Cubs had expected him to hit home runs, and that since his career high was 22, this was misguided. This is probably true, but Bradley's below-.400 SLG (his first since 2001) shows that he wasn't hitting with power at all. Of his 101 Cub hits, just 30 went for extra bases (17 doubles, a triple, and 12 homers).

But what the Bradley signing really said to me was that Hendry just wasn't paying attention. The whole point behind the Bradley signing was that the Cubs wanted a left-handed-hitting outfielder, since Kosuke Fukudome hadn't fully panned out in 2008. Bradley, a switch-hitter, would surely fit the bill after he punched up a .436 OBP to lead the AL in 2008. This completely ignored:

1. that Bradley had mostly played DH in 2008
2. that even when mostly playing DH he had trouble staying healthy
3. perhaps most importantly, that Bradley was a better right-handed batter than left

Bradley, for his career, hits .264/.364/.430 as a lefty and .303/.384/.492 as a righty. This was the lefty bat we were missing? A corner outfielder who slugs .430 and can't stay on the field? Bradley may not have had as bad a season as some would paint it, and it may not have been his fault that he couldn't meet the inflated expectations - but the point is that for what Hendry was thinking he was going to get, it was clearly a botched signing.

So who's to blame for the mess the 2010 Cubs are in? Hendry has handed out huge contracts to aging players and has shown an alarming tendency to pillage an already thin farm system to obtain guys who aren't that good to begin with. Piniella has made some head-scratching decisions, but to the extent that he affects the games, he's only as good as what he has to work with. I just pray that Hendry doesn't ruin the 2014 Cubs' chances by trading Starlin Castro or Josh Vitters for Heath Bell or something stupid like that.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bullshit pen

I can't say I was especially optimistic before this season. The big offseason acquisition was Marlon Byrd, a career 98 OPS+er with a history of being unable to stay on the field. On the one hand, the pieces from the dominant '08 team were almost all still in place and many (Soto, Soriano, Ramirez) were candidates for rebound years; on the other hand, all were also two years older. Soto is the only everyday player under 30. Etc.

Yet so far, things haven't been quite as bad as maybe one would think. Derrek Lee has once again started strong. Byrd and Ramirez have three home runs each, even if they haven't hit much else yet. Soto hasn't really started hitting yet but he is getting on base. Fukudome is off to another pretty good start (although today he went 0-for-5 and struck out three times).

More importantly, the starting pitching has kept the Cubs in almost every game. In nine games so far, Cubs starters have five quality starts. Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells have both looked pretty good, and Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny both had surprisingly effective outings in the Cincinnati series. Carlos Zambrano has been up and down so far, but he is 1-0 with a no-decision since the Opening Day debacle. No, the real problem here... is the bullpen.

You already know this, of course. Last year's Cubs bullpen wasn't exactly stellar. Angel Guzman was a revelation, but of course he's now injured. Kevin Gregg disappointed, perhaps predictably. Nobody liked seeing Aaron Heilman enter a game. Jeff Samardzija went from his seemingly revelatory August 2008 to a 7.53 ERA, which included a handful of mostly awful starts. The David Patton experiment was a complete train wreck. The team's total ERA was 3.84 even though the ERAs of the top four starters were 3.05, 3.10, 3.64 and 3.77.

So the bullpen was mostly turned over. Heilman is gone. Gregg is in Toronto. Carlos Marmol, coming off his iffiest year yet, was handed the closer's job that he should have been given in '09 and has so far thrived - granted, it's only been four games, but in 4.1 innings he's struck out nine, walked just two (and hit one), and allowed a single hit and no runs. Time will tell if he's going to be the shutdown closer we all thought he would eventually be following his 2007 season, but he's off to a good start.

The rest of the pen? Well, it features a lot of guys you haven't heard of but who have one thing in common: they probably don't belong in a major league bullpen.

Here is the list of players who have appeared in a relief role for the Cubs this season, by innings pitched:

Sean Marshall (6.0)
Carlos Marmol (4.1)
John Grabow (3.2)
James Russell (3.1)
Jeff Samardzija (3.1)
Esmailin Caridad (2.2)
Justin Berg (2.1)
Jeff Gray (1.0)

I suspect a lot of Cubs fans have only heard of three or four of these guys. I believe James Russell came over in the DeRosa trade, but that's all I know about him, if that's even right. Jeff Gray used to be an Athletic, which I only know because he's wearing an A's hat in his profile photo. I think Caridad and Berg are Cubs farmhands. That's all I know, pretty much. And I typically follow baseball pretty closely.

Oh, and here are the ERAs of these players:

Marshall: 1.50
Marmol: 0.00
Grabow: 9.82
Russell: 0.00
Samardzija: 16.20
Caridad: 13.50
Berg: 7.71
Gray: 18.00

Well, say this much: at least (Grabow excepted) it's pretty much gone in the right order.

Just to make this as long and obnoxious as possible, here's a quick breakdown of EVERY INNING the Cubs bullpen has pitched so far this year. You might sense a pattern forming.

Cubs @ Braves, 4/5/10, bottom 2: Sean Marshall comes in and records two outs.
Cubs @ Braves, 4/5/10, bottom 3: Sean Marshall 1-2-3 inning.
Cubs @ Braves, 4/5/10, bottom 4: Sean Marshall 1-2-3 inning.
Cubs @ Braves, 4/5/10, bottom 5: James Russell allows a single, no runs.
Cubs @ Braves, 4/5/10, bottom 6: James Russell allows a single, no runs.
Cubs @ Braves, 4/5/10, bottom 7: Jeff Samardzija walks the bases loaded and is eventually charged with six runs, four earned, while recording a single out. Justin Berg gets the last two outs (while also giving up a single allowing his inherited runner to score). The Braves bat around in this inning and turn the game from 8-5 to 14-5.
Cubs @ Braves, 4/5/10, bottom 8: Berg's turn to walk the bases loaded while getting just one out and giving up two more runs for the 16-5 final. John Grabow has to get the last two outs.

Cubs @ Braves, 4/7/10, bottom 7: Sean Marshall 1-2-3 inning.
Cubs @ Braves, 4/7/10, bottom 8: With the Cubs up one and one out, John Grabow gives up a double followed by a home run to put the Braves up 3-2 (the score they win by). Esmailin Caridad gets the inning's last out.

Cubs @ Braves, 4/8/10, bottom 7: Sean Marshall gets two outs and Esmailin Caridad finishes the 1-2-3 inning.
Cubs @ Braves, 4/8/10, bottom 8: Caridad gets two outs but gives up a single. John Grabow comes in and immediately walks the tying run aboard. Carlos Marmol enters and ends the inning with a groundout.
Cubs @ Braves, 4/8/10, bottom 9: Marmol gives up a single and a walk but allows no runs to get the save, striking out two.

Cubs @ Reds, 4/9/10, bottom 7: Justin Berg 1-2-3 inning.
Cubs @ Reds, 4/9/10, bottom 8: Esmailin Caridad loads the bases with no outs thanks to two walks and a bunt single, then gives up a grand slam to someone called "Drew Stubbs." The Cubs go from up 3-1 to down 5-3. Caridad proceeds to record three straight outs, proving that the magic was in him all along!

Cubs @ Reds, 4/10/10, bottom 8: John Grabow gives up one single but is otherwise unscathed.
Cubs @ Reds, 4/10/10, bottom 9: Carlos Marmol 1-2-3 inning (strikes out the side) for the save.

Cubs @ Reds, 4/11/10, bottom 7: Tom Gorzelanny, previously cruising, loads the bases with one out and gets pulled in favor of Sean Marshall. A run scores on a weak infield single, but Marshall strikes out the next two to end the inning with the score tied at 1.
Cubs @ Reds, 4/11/10, bottom 8: John Grabow loads the bases with one out. Esmailin Caridad comes in and walks in the go-ahead run, then gives up a sac fly for good measure. James Russell enters to get the the final out.

Cubs v. Brewers, 4/12/10, top 7: Ryan Dempster leaves with one out and a man on third. James Russell strikes out two of the next three batters, though he does allow a single that scores the inherited runner.
Cubs v. Brewers, 4/12/10, top 8: Jeff Samardzija 1-2-3 inning (his first as a reliever since September 2008!).
Cubs v. Brewers, 4/12/10, top 9: Not Carlos Marmol's neatest finish - walk, strikeout, HBP, double play - but no runs and a game finished (four-run lead, no save).

Cubs v. Brewers, 4/14/10, top 7: With one out, one on and the Cubs down two, Justin Berg and James Russell record an out each to end the threat.
Cubs v. Brewers, 4/14/10, top 8: Jeff Gray (called up in place of the now-injured Caridad) makes his first and to date only appearance, going out, single, RBI triple, RBI triple, walk, double play.
Cubs v. Brewers, 4/14/10, top 9: After the Cubs miraculously score four runs to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth after being down to their last strike of the inning, Carlos Marmol strikes out the side for his third save.

Cubs v. Brewers, 4/15/10, top 6: Sean Marshall loads the bases with one out, but at least holds Milwaukee to a sac fly (though one that gives them the lead at the time).
Cubs v. Brewers, 4/15/10, top 7: With the game tied again, Jeff Samardzija gets two quick outs, then gives up a walk, a stolen base and the go-ahead single before ending the inning.
Cubs v. Brewers, 4/15/10, top 8: Samardzija allows a home run to make it 7-5 Brewers but at least gets out of the inning with nothing more than a walk after that.
Cubs v. Brewers, 4/15/10, top 9: The Brewers score another run off John Grabow without ever getting the ball out of the infield - infield single, sac bunt (man reaches on a Grabow error), groundout, groundout, run-scoring infield single, HBP, fielder's choice to end the inning.

So let's do a quick count:

Innings in which the bullpen got at least one out: 28
Innings in which the bullpen did not allow a man they faced to reach: 10 (36%)
Innings, of those, pitched exclusively by Sean Marshall or Carlos Marmol: 6 (60%)
Innings in which the bullpen allowed at least one run to score (including inherited runners): 12 (43%)
Losses, of the Cubs' five, which the bullpen was directly responsible for: 4 (80%)

To sum things up, if the Cubs had a better bullpen they could be like 7-2 and in first place right now, they will allow someone to at least reach base nearly two-thirds of the time, and they are closing on allowing runs in half the innings they pitch.

In fact, of the 49 runs the Cubs have allowed in nine games, 22 - 45% of the total runs allowed! - have been charged to the bullpen. What percentage of the Cubs' innings has the bullpen pitched? Well, it's not 45%, I can tell you that. It is, in fact, 35%. 45% of the runs in 35% of the innings.

Of course, you don't need me, or all this, to tell you the bullpen sucks. So, what's to be done?

1. Can we please end the Jeff Samardzija thing already?

I get it. They spent a lot of money to tempt him away from football and so felt like they had to rush him to the pros, and now they feel like they have to keep him. But the bare fact is this: since the start of the 2009 season, he has given up 35 earned runs in 38 innings. He isn't good right now and I think it's pretty clear that he isn't learning how to pitch on the big club. I know it's hard because he's making $3 million - an obscene amount for someone so unaccomplished; Carlos Marmol is making $2.125 million this year, by comparison - on top of the huge signing bonus he got. But he SUCKS. Is this about trying to be right, Hendry, or is it about trying to win ball games? Oh, yeah.

2. John Grabow: mistake.

If there's one thing Jim Hendry likes it's pitching well for the Cubs for a month. Besides Samardzija's apparently unrepeatable 2008, there was Grabow coming from Pittsburgh in an attempt to shore up the bullpen last year. It didn't really work, but Grabow pitched well enough (3.24 ERA in 25 innings) and hey, he's a lefty. So Hendry signed him for two years, $7.5 million. John Grabow, who might pitch like 80 innings, makes more than the starting shortstop, the two second basemen combined... he makes nearly two million more than Sean Marshall, who is also a lefty and is a much better pitcher. Next year he'll make almost five million dollars, which will make him one of the highest paid non-closer relief pitchers in baseball. Oh, and he's already lost the Cubs two games this season and only once in six appearances has he simply recorded the outs he was tasked with and allowed nothing more. Hey, I'm left-handed - can I have a couple million to be bad at pitching?

Of course, that doesn't really answer the question of what's to be done. The sad answer is "nothing, because he was signed to a ridiculously expensive contract relative to his role and no one is going to want him unless the Cubs eat a bunch of the money and I think we've seen them make enough trades like that recently."

3. Call up Andrew Cashner.

The guy's already been to college - how much more seasoning could he need? I'm going to say without hesitating that he's better than Jeff Samardzija right now. He's got 20 Ks in just 10.1 minor league innings this year. Yes, his ERA is 4.35, but he also won't be starting in the pros - give him the 8th inning, right now, and see what he can do. I mean, why wouldn't you? Right now the bullpen is costing you games left and right. This could very well be the last year in this window for the Cubs - if indeed the window is still open at all - so you might as well take a couple risks to try and improve the team.

If I'm Lou Piniella, I'm pretty frustrated right now. It must be awful to be in a close game and have to pull your starter, knowing that half the time, whoever you call from the pen is going to give up some runs. (Take away Marmol's four game-finishing innings, all ninth innings with the Cubs ahead, and the bullpen allowed runs in 12 of 24 innings in which it appeared. Boom, 50%.) So what do you think, Jim? Can we take a chance on getting Lou some help in the pen? And I don't mean doing something stupid like trading Jose Ceda for Kevin Gregg.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Stove me up

It's impressive that by May 24 I had already decided that the 2009 Cubs were (a) unlikable and (b) going nowhere, but both turned out to be completely true, so can you blame me? Hope springs eternal for 2010, of course, with (finally) new ownership and hopefully healthier and/or more productive seasons from Ramirez, Soriano and Soto, among others.

Still, it wouldn't be the offseason without the hot stove, and since the Cubs are supposedly doing everything in their power to dump Milton Bradley, they're coming up a lot. (This is a typical Cubs move, of course: try to sell a guy at the absolute low point of his value from both on-field and off-field perspectives. They did the same thing with Sammy Sosa and what did it get them? Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Mike Fontenot.)

But it's not just for that reason. The Cubs remain a big-market team, and with several mid-market teams supposedly losing money and needing to dump assets, the Cubs are suddenly coming up in trade rumors. Trade rumors that have been completely invented by Chicago sports columnists who lack anything else to talk about. But let's look at just one of these, which I saw today: Phil Rogers suggesting the Cubs should offer Carlos Marmol and Starlin Castro for Curtis Granderson.

Granderson's from the area, and he's a left-handed-hitting center fielder. But that's where the fit would seem to end. He turns 29 before the start of next season, and while that qualifies as youthful on the current Cubs squad, he peaked in the 2007 season and has dropped in each of the last two, falling to a league-average 100 OPS+ in 2009. Even Kosuke Fukudome (104) topped that, and Fukudome's bat plays better in center than in right.

It's also not clear why Detroit would want to trade Granderson now. His contract for 2010 is a still pretty affordable $5.5m, and while it leaps upward in following years ($8.25m in 2011, $10m in 2012, and $13m in 2013, although that's a club option with a $2m buyout), he's hardly the contract that's choking Detroit in 2010 - that would be Magglio Ordonez ($18m), Miguel Cabrera ($20m), Jeremy Bonderman ($12.5m), Carlos Guillen ($13m), Dontrelle Willis ($12m), Nate Robertson ($10m)... you get the point. Granderson's $5.5m, in those circumstances, is hardly unaffordable, and the only reason he might be traded is simply because he can be - who's taking any of those other guys? (Well, I can imagine someone taking Cabrera, even at 20 mil.) Still, I would hardly consider it a slam-dunk.

And then, would it make sense for the Cubs to trade Marmol and Castro? Sure, Marmol's ERA has been climbing, but isn't this guy supposed to be your closer in 2010? Who's the next option? And Castro doesn't even turn 20 until late in spring training; granted, you could argue that he wouldn't be ready in 2010 anyway, that the Cubs' window with its current core is closing fast, and that Castro's stock has risen due to hype to the point where he might be able to be dealt for much more than he'll end up being worth. (Of course, if he does live up to the hype, it has potential to be the Juan Pierre trade all over again.) On the other hand, you could also argue that the Cubs' organization is somewhat bizarrely swimming in shortstops with some promise - Hak-Ju Lee is even younger than Castro (having only just turned 19) and he OBPed .399 at Boise last year, and further up the chain is Darwin Barney, whose name I've at least heard before (although a glance at his stats isn't going to wow anyone as of now). So maybe Castro is expendable. Marmol, however, may not be.

If the Cubs are serious about winning in 2010 - and they should be, as the NL looks to be pretty wide open once more - it may well take a bold move. But I don't think this would be that move.