December 21, 2014

NEW BATTERY

The Cubs got aggressive and took catcher David Ross away from the Padres.

Ross becomes apparently Jon Lester's new personal catcher.

With the trade for Miguel Montero, it seems Welington Castillo's time as a Cub is over.

And it really makes little sense.

Montero, 31,  has had two bad seasons in a row.

2013: 11 HR 42 RBI .230 BA 0.5 WAR
2014: 13 HR 72 RBI .243 BA 0.7 WAR

Ross, 37, is a nominal performer.

2013: 4 HR 10 RBI .216 BA 0.8 WAR
2014: 7 HR 15 RBI .184 BA Negative 0.3 WAR

Castillo, 27, has been a better performer when healthy.

2013: 8 HR 32 RBI .234 BA 4.5 WAR
2014: 13 HR 46 RBI .237 BA 1.8 WAR.

The Cubs are replacing Castillo with Montero and Ross, but losing 1.5 WAR value in return.

I don't see the motivation to replace Castillo since there are other glaring holes in the line up card. If moving Castillo is going to set a fire under the young players to perform or else, then that just adds more pressure on them. If they think they can get something BIG in return for a proven starting catcher in Castillo, I don't think that will be the case since Toronto still has a better catcher, Dioner Navarro, ready for the trade market.

It makes little sense to trade away pieces just so you have a roster filled "with your guys"when the new guys don't project to be any better than the old guys.


December 20, 2014

FIRE SALE BUYERS

This off-season has been puzzling and strange.

Why is Oakland and Atlanta conducting massive fire sales?

Why is San Diego of all clubs, an aggressive buyer?

The whirlwind of transactions for the Padres under new hyper-aggressive GM A.J. Preller. Te Padres made their acquisition of Matt Kemp official (after review of troublesome medicals), and they’re slated to do the same with a three-team trade that will net them power hitter Wil Myers and catcher Ryan Hanigan  from the Rays. The Padres have also struck deals to acquire catcher Derek Norris from the A’s and Justin Upton from the Braves. But won’t be hanging onto Hanigan; he’s reportedly headed to the Red Sox in a swap that will bring third baseman and former hot prospect gone cold, Will Middlebrooks to San Diego.
Oakland's Billy Beane went "all in" last season to trade for veteran pitchers to win it all, and he failed. So he is backing up his truck and re-tooling his small market club.

Atlanta got rid of its old GM and the older executives seem to be content on cutting salary costs and rebuild for a playoff run in 2017, when the Braves get their new, fancy, taxpayer paid new suburban stadium.

The Padres have always been a small market club with not a strong attendance fan base. Even in the tough NL West with power money teams like the Giants and Dodgers, San Diego seems to have taken an Oakland "win now" pill.

It is interesting to note that second tier clubs have been the most aggressive in the trade market.

December 19, 2014

BEAR (BLEEPS) IN THE WOODS

In any professional sport, management is accountable to ownership and players are accountable to coaches and coaches are accountable to management.

Such is the circle of life in pro sports.

Until you cover the Chicago Bears.

A Super Bowl expectation pre-season has turned into a Toilet Bowl of reality.

No one seems to be in charge. No seems to be listening. No one seems to know what to do to correct things. No one seems to take responsibility for their actions.

The latest madness from Halas Hall is that four hours after Coach Trestman told the media that it was not all Cutler's fault for the offensive woes, Cutler is benched for Jimmy Clausen, a player who has not taken this year a first team practice snap.

It could have been the only time that the organization decided to slap their mumbly, pouting franchise quarterback for his poor performances with some accountability, but it seems a little and too late. Management put $54 million guaranteed on the Cutler bandwagon at the beginning of the year when the team did not have to do so. Cutler has a reputation as being a "coach killer" for good reason; look at the graveyard of past offensive coordinators.

The free fall from firing a 10-6 Lovie Smith to a lackluster 8-8 season to now a potential 5-11 disaster, the Trestman era may go down as one of the worst in franchise history. A franchise that has only won 2 championships in the last 51 years.  No doubt the reason Smith was fired was because he did not get to the playoffs. But behind the scenes, Smith was welding too much power and control over personnel decisions. He was solely focused on his defense, an arrogantly outdated Tampa 2 scheme that former Bear Gary Fencik called "high school." But still, Smith's players played hard for him, and they won games.

GM Phil Emery went out of the box thinking when he hired a CFL coach in Trestman. A report surfaced recently that NFL Coach of the Year, Bruce Arians, who guided the Colts to the playoffs during a turmoil year when their head coach was battling cancer, wanted the Bears job. But when it came time to interview, Arians was told he had to go through a "fake" news conference drill, and was also told he could not hire any of his assistant coaches. Arians had dealt with the media under pressure for an entire year. It seemed like Bears management was clueless in how to interview an experienced NFL coach. But based upon the amount of control management wanted to keep, no wonder the Bears hired Trestman, a man with no NFL experience to leverage concessions on his staff.

Trestman was hired to do one thing: fix the offense. So management brought in the worst defensive coordinator from the previous season, Mel Tucker, but told him to "keep" the Lovie Smith defense so as not to offend the returning players. It should not have mattered to the players - - - professionals have to be professional and change with the times. But to hand tie Tucker was also another management intrusion and mistake.

Trestman was supposed to be a quarterback guru. He could fix Cutler's bad mechanics, bad reads, and turnover issues. The team surrounded him with All-Pro caliber wide receivers, running back and tight end. All the pieces were in place for a juggernaut offense.

But this year, the offense regressed to being middle of the pack poor. The team comes out of the gate so poorly in the first half of games that even national commentators are baffled. The team, with all the garbage points at the end of losses, still has not scored more than 28 points this season.

The head coach is responsible to get his players and the three phases of the team ready for each game. Clearly, offense, defense and special teams have been awful. Unprepared, lack of urgency, poor fundamentals and inability to play their positions are damning problems that have not been corrected week after week. Some say the players are not that talented - - - so that goes to the general manager. But he spent a ton of money on "name" free agents to shore up the lines. He made the disastrous investment in Cutler.

If anyone wants to study "How not to Run a Sports Franchise," one only has to review the Bears' 2014 season.

December 18, 2014

ODD MEN OUT

With the Cubs paying Jason Motte $4.5 million to be a middle reliever (and insurance if Rondon and Strop go down as closers), there is going to be some issues with the final 25 man roster.

New manager Joe Maddon likes the idea of platoons and match ups.  Since he will have a LF field platoon of Coghlan and Lake since they traded Ruggiano (also, pending an upgrade acquisition) and the possibility to have a CF platoon with Alcantara, and an open second base situation if Baez struggles, and maybe a Valbuena-Olt 3B combo until Bryant is promoted, the Cubs will probably only have 11 pitchers on the staff (6 bullpen arms).

OF: Coghlan, Lake, Alcantara, Soler, Sweeney
IN: Valbuena, Olt, Castro, Baez, La Stella, Watkins, Rizzo
C: Montero, Castillo

SP: Lester, Hammel, Arrieta, Hendricks, Wada

RP: Rondon, Strop, Motte, Ramirez, Grimm, Ortiz

The odd men out on the pitching staff:

SP: T. Wood, Turner, Doubront,  E. Jackson, Straily
RP: Jokisch, Beeler, Parker, Roach, Rosscup, Schlitter

The most trade value would be in T. Wood. There has also been bad contract swap reports for E. Jackson. Parker or Rosscup could provide limited prospect returns in trade.

Again, the bullpen was not the problem in the 2014 club. The Cubs still need to upgrade most position players with starting caliber, professional hitters. As such, players such as Sweeney, Olt, Watkins, LaStella are potentially on the bubble in making the squad after spring training if the Cubs can acquire a starting position player of note.

December 16, 2014

BACK TO THE SAME BUSINESS

After the happy Jon Lester press conference, the Cubs were back to their old tricks of acquiring damaged pitchers with the hopes of miracle rebirths.

The Cubs have signed former Cardinal pitcher Jason Motte to a one year, $4.5 million (with additional incentives).  Motte, a 32-year-old righty had a nice run with the Cardinals as one of the game’s better back-end relievers. Over 2010-12, he tossed 192 1/3 innings of 2.43 ERA ball with 9.5 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9. He moved into the team’s closer role in 2012, locking down a league-leading 42 games.

But  Motte was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. A long recovery period kept him out until the 2014 season, when he also missed time with a lower back issue. All said, Motte only appeared for 25 innings last year, struggling to a 4.68 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9.

MLBTR notes that  ERA estimators were down on Motte’s work last season: FIP (6.49), xFIP (4.58), and SIERA (4.25) all saw Motte as a below-average contributor. He was hurt significantly by the long ball, giving up a 20.0% HR/FB rate and a whopping 2.52 HR/9 that ranked second to worst in all of baseball among relievers who threw at least 20 frames.

It seems like an expensive insurance policy if Hector Rondon fails in the closer role in 2015.

The Cub bullpen was the real bright spot last year with Rondon, Strop, Ramirez, Schlitter, Parker and Grimm. But since Ricketts has opened the money tap, the baseball ops guys are willing to spend.

December 15, 2014

BEST OFF SEASON SO FAR

You have to give the White Sox their due.

They had done an analysis of deficiencies on their 2014 roster, and spent this off-season curing those ills.

They have come away with an interesting mix of players who will contribute immediately.

Adam LaRouche fills a hole at 1B/DH, and puts less pressure on Jose Abreu's sophomore season.

Melky Cabrera solves the LF production issues, and puts Viciedo squarely on the trade block (probably for more pitching depth).

The bullpen issues have been partially solved by signing closer David Robertson, Zach Duke and trading for Dan Jennings.

Jeff Samardzija breaks up the lefty rotation with a RHP at #2 behind Sale. The 2015 rotation appears to be the best in the AL Central (since the Tigers seem hell bent on trading away starters). The rotation of Sale, Samardzija, Quintana, Rodon and Danks is the best since the WS champion club.

There is still one area on the shopping list to upgrade: catcher. Tyler Flowers may be a good defensive catcher, but his offensive numbers are poor.

There will be an open competition for second base starter, but the White Sox have enough talented middle infielders to hold that position.

December 13, 2014

RULE 5 RESULTS

At the end of the Winter Meetings, MLB held the annual Rule 5 draft, which eligible players not protected on 40 man rosters could be selected for full major league service in 2015. A player selected must stay on his team's 25 man roster for the entire year, or be sent back to the original club.

The Cubs lost three players in the draft process. The White Sox lost two players.

What is quite surprising is that the Cubs picked Rockie shortstop Taylor Featherston in the major league phase, putting him on the 25 man roster. Featherston, 25, has never played above Class AA ball. He hit .260, 16 HR, 57 RBI last season. He has some power, and can play three infield positions (SS, 2B, 3B) so he projects as the 25th man, a utility infielder. Afterward, the Cubs traded him to the Angels for cash considerations.

ROUND 1

1. Arizona Diamondbacks: C Oscar Hernandez, Rays
2. Colorado Rockies: IF Mark Canha, Marlins
3. Texas Rangers: OF Delino DeShields Jr., Astros
4. Houston Astros: RHP Jason Garcia, Red Sox
5. Minnesota Twins: RHP J.R. Graham, Braves
6. Boston Red Sox: RHP Jandel Gustave, Astros
7. Chicago Cubs: SS Taylor Featherston, Rockies
8. Philadelphia Phillies: IF David Herrera, Rangers
9. Miami Marlins: LHP Andrew McKirahan, Cubs
10. New York Mets: LHP Sean Gilmartin, Twins
11. Atlanta Braves: RHP Daniel Winkler, Rockies
12. Seattle Mariners: LHP David Rollins, Astros
13. Baltimore Orioles: RHP Logan Verrett, Mets

ROUND 2
14. Philadelphia Phillies: LHP Andrew Oliver, Pirates

TRIPLE-A PHASE
1. Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Timothy Crabbe, Reds
2. Colorado Rockies: RHP Kyle Simon, Phillies
3. Texas Rangers: 1B Roderick Shoulders, Cubs
4. Houston Astros: C Luis Flores, Cubs
5. Minnesota Twins: RHP Greg Peavey, Mets
6. Chicago White Sox: RHP Peter Tago, Rockies
7. Chicago Cubs: OF Ariel Ovando, Astros
8. Cincinnati Reds: C Camden Maron, Mets
9. Miami Marlins: LHP Matthew Tomshaw, Twins
10. San Diego Padres: SS Juan Gamboa, Mets
11. Tampa Bay Rays: RF Luis Urena, Pirates
12. Atlanta Braves: C Steven Rodriguez, D-backs
13. Cleveland Indians: RHP Delvy Francisco, Phillies
14. San Francisco Giants: RHP Ramon Del Orbe, Marlins
15. Detroit Tigers: RHP Jheyson Manzueta, Marlins
16. St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Tyler Waldron, Pirates
17. Los Angeles Dodgers: OF Peter Lavin, Phillies
18. Baltimore Orioles: OF Sean Halton, Brewers
19. Los Angeles Angels: IF Chris Curley, White Sox
20. Texas Rangers: SS Hiram Martinez, Marlins
21. Cincinnati Reds: RHP Euclides Leyer, White Sox
22. Miami Marlins: 1B Harold Riggins, Reds
23. Tampa Bay Rays: RHP Michael O'Brien, Orioles
24. San Francisco Giants: CF Brett Jackson, D-backs
25. Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Alexander Santana, Orioles
26. Los Angeles Angels: SS Pedro Ruiz, D-backs
27. Miami Marlins: LHP Alexander Burgos, Tigers
28. Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Randy Fontanez, Mets
29. Los Angeles Angels: RF Kentrail Davis, Brewers
30. Los Angeles Dodgers: SS Nathan Samson, D-backs