November 27, 2015


In the realistic post-season crystal ball of the Cubs off-season, there are several hard truths:

One, the Cubs baseball front office has less to spend than most people realize. I estimate that from press reports and current contract obligations, the Cubs can only spend around $25 million on new players. The acquisition of three AAA relievers prior to the 40 man deadline does not mean that the Cubs bullpen and pitching issues have been resolved for 2016.

Two, with a tight payroll cap, the Cubs are extremely unlikely to find a good CF/lead off hitter on the open market. The internal solution of either Albert Almora or Billy McKinney are years off in the future. The most likely scenario now is that the Cubs will have to move veteran salary off the books in order to free up cash to sign free agents to fill more urgent needs.

Three, as the post-season clearly showed, pitching is a priority for the Cubs to compete in 2016. The Cubs need to find two good starting pitchers to compliment Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta.

On the free agent pitching front, the Cubs cannot and will not throw hundreds of millions of dollars on Price, Zimmerman, Greinke or Cueto. In fact, more teams are going to stray away from the top tier guys to bid up second tier veteran arms. The Cubs really cannot afford a bidding war in this market.

The Cubs offer a young club with upswing potential and playoff experience is a benefit to some free agents looking for a good landing spot.

In culling the lists, I believe the two best fits of free agent pitchers for the Cubs this off-season are J.A. Happ and Mike Leake. Their acquisition basically eats up the payroll budget as it current stands without other roster moves.

Happ, 33, was traded at the deadline to the Pirates. He helped stabilize their rotation. He went 11-8 in 32 starts with a 3.41 ERA and 3.0 WAR. He made $6.7 million last season. He is projected to sign for either 2 years/$20 million or 3 years/$30 million.

Leake, 28, was traded by the Reds to the Giants at the deadline. He struggled a little in San Francisco. In 30 starts, he compiled a 11-10 record, 3.70 ERA and 2.9 WAR. He made $9.775 million last season. He is projected to sign for 5 years/$80 million.

Happ and Leake would offer a consistent #3 and #4 starters for a rotation that would consist of LHP Lester, RHP Arrieta, LHP Happ, RHP Leake and RHP Hendricks.

November 25, 2015


One method of constructing a line up card is to have the next batter "cover" or protect the preceding hitter.

For example, a typical good lead-off batter would be covered by a #2 batter who can take pitches, draw walks, bunt, hit or run or move runners by hitting the opposite way. At the same time, the pitcher has to be wary of putting the #2 hitter on base knowing that the team's best hitter will be up next.

The Cubs currently have no established, traditional lead-off hitter.

Rizzo could be a #2 hitter since he meets most of the requirements of coverage. But he is a double play ground ball hitter, too. He would good better pitches to hit if the #3 hitter was Bryant, who has shown good plate discipline and power. If he can cut down on strike outs and play like his post-season form, Soler would be a good cover at #4 for Bryant. It gets harder to cover Soler because the #5 hitter should be able to drive in runners with gap power. Will Russell grow into this role (which would be a major promotion from batting mostly #9) or is it Castro's position to lose? Depending on where Schwarber will play full time, he makes the most sense at #5. That could push Castro to #6 and Russell to #7 and the catcher hitting ahead of the pitcher.

It gives a balance hitting line up: ?, lefty, righty, righty, lefty, righty, righty, lefty/righty, pitcher.

The idea of two right handers batting in a row is to help the second batter see how the pitcher is setting up right handed hitters. Pitchers throw differently to lefties than righties. This can help in game adjustments.

But most managers like the idea of flipping the batters box: R, L, R, L, R, L. But none of this really works unless each hitter knows his role and can understand the situation when he enters the batter's box.

That is why I am a proponent of a set line up card. The players, who are creatures of habit, can settle in to a clear routine. But Maddon, like most managers, likes to change things up based on stat analysis and gut feelings.

November 23, 2015


Kris Bryant won the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Joe Maddon won the NL Manager of the Year award.

Who was more valuable to the Cubs 2015 season?

Bryant had a stellar 5.9 WAR. I previously calculated that Maddon's managerial WAR was 7.0. Bryant's WAR could have increased by .40 WAR if he was not held back at the beginning of the season. This is a bar debate with no correct answer.

How does Bryant compare to other Cubs ROY?

In 1961, Billy Williams won with a 1.2 WAR. His Hall of Fame career of 16 full seasons yielded a 63.5 WAR.  This is the gold standard for Cub ROY winners.

In 1962, Ken Hubbs won the award with a replacement level zero WAR. This must have been a down year in the NL, because Hubbs led the league in strike outs. He must have been an exceptional defender. Tragically, he was killed in an accident and he only played 2 full seasons in the majors (with accrued 1.1 WAR).

In 1989, Jerome Walton won with a 1.9 WAR. He was one of the those "five tool" players that GMs at the time started to fawn over. Over Walton's 10 year ML career, he amassed only a 3.7 WAR.

In 1998, Kerry Wood won the award with a 3.9 WAR. The next year he was injured (an omen for his career), but in 14 seasons he did end with a 26.7 WAR.

In 2008, Geo Soto won the rookie award with a 3.3 WAR, which was unique because there were few  power hitting catchers in the league. After 8 seasons, Soto has a 11.4 WAR. He is still an active major leaguer.

Bryant's rookie season (measured by WAR) was 4.9 times better than Williams' rookie year. Bryant's single season WAR is 9.2 percent of Williams' career WAR. Clearly, Bryant is the "best" Cub rookie of the year winner.

But as the list foretells, a ROY plaque does not mean a long or stellar career.

If you use 2.0 WAR as being a "starter" level, only Williams meets that standard. Wood is at 1.9 and Soto is at 1.425. That means one in five ROY winners have very good major league careers.

Bryant and the Cubs should be proud of the ROY achievement, but it does not mean Bryant will be guaranteed a Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown.

November 21, 2015


There seems to be a new approach to the Cubs as the team tries to rebuild its major league bullpen.

The Cubs have acquired righty Spencer Patton from the Rangers in exchange for infielder Frandy De La Rosa.  The team previously claimed injured pitcher Jack Leathersich on waivers and signed  minor league free agent righty Audury Acevedo to a major league deal.  

These transactions show a clear pattern: assemble a number cheap AAA arms and sees what pans out in spring training.

Leathersich will not be an option for a long time. Another Cub rehab project, Leathersich, 25,  had Tommy John surgery in July. He was a first round selection of the Mets. In 5 minor league seasons, he is 9-9, 3.55 ERA with 7 saves. He has thrown only 11.3 major league innings. He has middle reliever status.

Patton, 27, has a 15-14, 3.49 ERA in 5 minor league seasons. He only has less than 34 innings of major league experience.

The 25-year-old Acevedo sped up the ladder in the Yankees organization last year after starting the season at High-A. He ultimately reached the Triple-A level in time to make ten late-season appearances.

Acevedo, a converted infielder, worked to a composite 2.59 ERA with 7.5 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 over 59 total frames. He seemed to have limited the severe control issues he showed in his first couple of seasons after moving to the mound, but he did allow nine free passes in his 10 2/3 frames at the highest level of the minors.

These three Cubs signings represent another example of teams recently handing 40-man spots to minor league free agents. Usually, minor league free agents average 27 years of age which is still younger than an average veteran journeyman looking to latch on to a team in the off-season. Many teams may sign these minor leaguers to major league minimum deals because they are cheaper than veterans. Also, the minor leaguers may have more perceived upside than a journeyman.

November 20, 2015


The Cubs have had only five Cy Young Award winners.

1992: Greg Maddux
1984: Rick Sutcliffe
1979: Bruce Sutter
1971: Ferguson Jenkins

2015: Jake Arrieta

Both Maddux and Jenkins lead their league in wins, and Sutter led in saves.

In their Cy Young years:

Maddux: 20-11, 2.18 ERA, 1.011 WHIP, 9.2 WAR
Sutcliffe: 20-6, 3.64 ERA, 1.304 WHIP, 3.9 WAR (he was 16-1, 2.69 ERA with the Cubs)
Sutter: 6-6, 2.22 ERA, 0.977 WHIP, 37 saves, 4.9 WAR
Jenkins: 24-13, 2.77 ERA, 1.049 WHIP,  10.4 WAR
Arrieta: 22-6, 1.77 ERA, 0.865 WHIP, 6.9 WAR

To say Arrieta joins elite company would be an understatement.

With 8.0 WAR being classified as "MVP" candidate, Maddux and Jenkins Cy Young WARs were epic. Arrieta did not best them in WAR, but he crushed it on ERA and WHIP.


The Atlanta Braves is one of the best run MLB franchises. It is a subsidiary of Liberty Media, a massive communication conglomerate. It has the financial resources to be competitive year in and year out, even though the team got a suburban county to fund a brand new stadium for the team.

Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk who, gave an interview to the Atlanta Business Chronicle He had a lot to say, and for context one should read it all, but this answer, in response to a question about whether Braves’ profits are reinvested in the club or, rather, sent back up to corporate parent Liberty Media, was quite a head-turner:
Basically, all of the money at the Braves. We’ve never really lost money with the Braves. Baseball is not a widely profitable business. If you took all of the free-cash flow of all of the 30 teams, it’s pretty much zero. That’s sort of a fairly well known fact. If you actually, do have free cash flow, you’re among a minority. We have always managed the team to at least break even on free cash flow or make a little. Sometimes we’ve made more than a little. But, that puts in a minority in this business.
There are a lot of ways to measure the financial health of a baseball team and cash profit is only one of them. Indeed, it may be the least significant part of the financial picture for a team. The real game is the appreciation of franchise value, and the Braves have certainly appreciated for Liberty media. When they purchased the team in 2007 the franchise was worth $450 million. This year Forbes valued the club at $1.15 billion. And that’s despite the fact that the Braves have one of the worst local TV deals of any club. Of course, based on what McGuirk is saying, the Braves are pursuing both tracks: watching the franchise value appreciate and doing its best to break even on cash flow “or make a little.” The best of both worlds if you’re an executive in charge of a division of a large corporation.

Since baseball is a private enterprise, their "books" are not open to public inspection or audit. But realize that baseball teams have several legal accounting tricks to minimize profits (and therefore reduce taxes) as do any other major corporation. But baseball has the Veeck rule, which allows a team to both deduct the salaries of players and depreciate their contracts as a declining asset. This is a double deduction accounting method which reduces "profits" on paper.

In addition, baseball is just starting to reap the benefits of new revenue sources like the MLB Network and streaming game services.

Owners would not pay billions of dollars to lose money operating a franchise. So take any mention that baseball owners are break even propositions with a grain of salt.

November 18, 2015


On average, Cub ticket prices for 2016 will go up approximately 10 percent.

The number of marquee games also has been increased from nine to 14 in the bowl and the bleachers, while one section of outfield terrace reserve has been reclassified to corner box reserve, with a 38 percent increase.

Colin Faulkner, senior vice president of sales and partnerships, said the team's annual analysis of ticket sales from 2015, along with its renewal numbers, the waiting list for tickets and the huge demand for postseason tickets, led to the team's highest increase since 2010.

"We've clearly seen an increase in demand, so that helped factor into an increase in our prices," Faulkner said. "Our goal is to remain competitive for the long term and provide value to our fans for a competitive baseball team, but also (value) in their tickets."

Faulkner said a team analysis found there was a 20 percent increase in 2015 for tickets on the secondary market over 2014, while postseason tickets were going for three to four times face value.
The first payment deadline of 20 percent is Dec. 2, with the full amount due Jan. 12. Faulkner said the majority of fans have put their postseason ticket refunds for the unplayed playoff games (Game 5 of the NLCS and three World Series games) toward next year's tickets.

In other words, the Cubs are trying to capture some of the "secondary market" value of Cub tickets. This goes back to the philosophy that ownership seethes about: no one but the Cubs should make money off the Cubs. The spike in prices for post season tickets is a natural occurrence and a benefit to season ticket holders who paid for years of dreadful teams. But the Cubs only want the team to profit from its success.

The Cubs had the third-highest average ticket price in the game in 2015, according to Team Marketing Report. They finished sixth in major-league attendance at 2.959 million fans after ranking 11th at 2.562 million in 2014.

The Trib reports  the increases will range from about 7 percent in the upper box midfield/outfield to 14.5 percent in upper infield reserve to more than the 38 percent increase in some of the newly reclassified terrace boxes.

The highest average ticket price, a club infield box, is $105.24 per game, or $118 with the 12 percent amusement tax added. The lowest, upper deck outfield reserve, is $20.37, or about $23 with the amusement tax. Bleacher tickets remain about the same, from $16 to $65 before taxes, though the addition of marquee games will increase the total price.

One section of the terrace reserved outfield, affecting about 900 seats, or about 350 season-ticket holders, will be reclassified.

"Those are going up 43 percent," Faulkner said. "We found the first five or six rows are much different than the seats that could potentially be in Row 28-29 or 30 at the back of those sections."