With teams preparing to head to their respective spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona this week, there is a palpable excitement in the air as fans prepare for baseball season to finally arrive.
With those preparations taking place, Las Vegas is ratcheting up its game as well, as website and sports books come out with their projections for how the baseball season will shake out. Bovada is one such place, and they released their over/under win projections for all 30 teams on Monday.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals top the list, with both teams seeing their win totals set at 92 ½. The Los Angeles Angels follow close behind at 89 ½, and the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, and Seattle Mariners round out the top five (the Red Sox and Mariners are tied at 86 ½ wins).
Sitting just outside of the top 10 are the two Chicago teams, with the Cubs at 82 ½ wins and the White Sox just behind them at 81 ½. Both teams made some significant moves this offseason, with the Cubs bringing in guys like Jon Lester, Miguel Montero, and Joe Maddon and the Sox adding Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, and Jeff Samardzija. Both teams are optimistic that their farm systems will begin yielding talent this year. Hopes are, needless to say, high on both sides of town.
The question then is whether or not we would bet the over or the under on those win totals. For the Cubs, that number seems about dead on with what we’re expecting from them this season (we’ll delve more into that as spring training begins and we really start to hammer out our predictions), but the under seems like a safer bet. They could end up going way over that win total if the prospects they’re calling up have good seasons, but we still have questions about the pitching staff and whether or not guys like Javier Baez will perform as advertised, so we’ll put our money on the under.
As for the White Sox, the over seems like the better bet. Their pitching rotation is really solid at the top, and their offense should be pretty good as well with Jose Abreu and Alexei Ramirez leading the way. Questions do arise with their bullpen even after the acquisitions of Robertson and Zack Duke, but in a weak division, we’ll go with the over on their win total.
To say the 2014 Chicago White Sox team was disappointing would be a hefty understatement. The point of last season was to retool instead of rebuilding while trying to save money on payroll at the same time. The plan ended up being an ultimate failure and it showed in the fact the stadium looked 90 percent empty during most games. The message from the fans didn’t fall on deaf ears.
There were so many holes left on the White Sox roster heading into this offseason. General Manager Rick Hahn had to find out from Owner Jerry Reinsdorf exactly how much money he had to work with for payroll. Last season the White Sox hovered around $91 million dollars for payroll last season. Reinsdorf told Hahn he could raise the payroll to address the needs of the team.
Need #1 – Finding a designated hitter/back-up first baseman
When Hahn went to work on fixing the roster, one of the first signings he made was on a back-up first baseman and designated hitter. He hooked former Washington National’s first baseman Adam LaRoche to a 2-year, $25 million contract.
LaRoche was the arguably the best first baseman on the market, but he also gives the White Sox a left-handed hitter. The 35-year old brings a career .264 average to a lineup in desperate need of protection in the heart of the lineup for Jose Abreu. While he doesn’t bring a lot of power with him, only averaging 22 home runs a season, in such a hitter friendly ballpark like U.S. Cellular he should be able to reach 20-25 home runs pretty easily.
One concern fans might have with his signing could be that at his age there’s possibility of deterioration of skills. One argument against that mind set is that he improved his average .022 over the previous season and had his second highest WAR of his career with a 2.1.
Another concern that may face the club is the fact LaRoche has had very little experience hitting in the designated hitter position. He holds a career .190 average in 21 at-bats, and as Sox fans remember with Adam Dunn, it could be challenging for a career national league player to get used to being a designated hitter. It’ll be important for Manager Robin Ventura to try to use him as much as possible in that position during spring training to get a jump start on getting him used to not playing the field.
Grade on the move – B
Need #2 – Bullpen bridge work
What ended up actually being the first move of the free agency period for the White Sox, management snagged left-handed reliever Zach Duke with a 3-year, $15 million contract. Duke was a non-roster invitee last season for the Milwaukee Brewer and made the team out of spring training. He would go on to post his third best ERA in his 10-year career with a 2.45. Even though he may be used as a left-handed specialist, Duke did his best damage in the eighth inning of games where he carried a 1.10 ERA in 19 appearances last season during that inning. He showed up 35 times in the seventh inning and posted a 2.70 ERA. Either way, the most important thing is if he’s able to repeat or even come close to what he threw out there last season, he’ll be a huge improvement over pretty much anyone the White Sox rolled out of the pen last season.
The Sox has been busy since the signing of Zach Duke trying to bring in as many relievers they can to try to help improve the pen. At the end of the winter meetings in San Diego, the Sox pulled the string on a trade with Miami for 27-year old, left-handed reliever Dan Jennings.
Jennings is in his third year in the league and has a career 2.43 ERA in 100 innings pitched. An area that needs big improvement in his game is his WHIP. Last season he carried a 1.537 WHIP and for his career 1.460. On the bright side he held a 1.34 ERA last season even though he had such a high WHIP. So if he can manage to keep hitters off base, he could be a big plus in the pen for the next couple seasons since he doesn’t reach free agency until the 2020 season.
This month the Sox have also added former Sox players Jesse Crain and Scott Carroll to the non-roster invitees list for spring training in the hopes to find a spark.
Crain is coming off a biceps tendinitis surgery in 2013 and didn’t throw one pitch in the pros last season for the Astros. So to expect this move to come up aces for the Sox is taking a leap, but he did pitch relatively well for the Sox from 2011-2013. In his two and a half seasons with the south side club, Crain carried a 2.11 ERA for those seasons. If his stuff comes back to the level it was prior to his surgery, Crain could find himself in the setup role for the Sox allowing Duke and the others to be the specialists coming out of the pen.
Scott Carroll was mostly a starter for the team last season and didn’t fair very well in the 19 starts he had. However, he did come out of the pen seven times last season and was much better in the short term use. Out of the pen he carried a 1.99 ERA in 22 innings pitched and hitters’ averages dropped .095 compared to his starts. Carroll could be more successful in limited spurts from the pen. If they could use him as a specialist in the seventh or eighth innings, he could end up being more successful.
The Sox have also invited right-handers J.D. Martin, Nolan Sanburn, Chris Beck, Brad Penny, Shawn Haviland, and the organization’s 7th overall prospect Tyler Danish.
Danish was the organization’s second round pick in 2013, and could end up in the bullpen as a setup man or closer in the next couple seasons. He has a unique delivery that is in a side arm slot but he still is able to bring his hand more over the top. It’s an extreme angle that has a lot of people a little nervous about him having future arm troubles, but it’s the delivery that could make him a very successful reliever. He is expected to push through the minors quickly and could be up with the big club in 2016 or 2017.
They’ve also invited 2014’s number three overall draft pick Carlos Rodon to spring training. The left-handed pitcher has tons of hype surrounding him and is expected to see pro ball at some point throughout the coming season. The Sox could use him out of the pen in his first season or two like they did with Chris Sale. He jumped his way through the minors in his half season with the organization, but could be held back at the beginning of the year to help delay the clock starting on his service time in the league.
Grade on the moves – C
Need #3 – Fishing for a closer
Through the process of the winter meetings GM Rick Hahn had to keep checking in on how much he would be able to spend on payroll. Things fell in place for the Sox that Hahn was able to give Jerry Reinsdorf a plan that could work but it would require him to spend a little more than what was originally planned. Reinsdorf liked the plan so much that he approved the management team to spend more on payroll.
On the third day of the winter meetings, Hahn and the Sox were able to convince right-handed closer David Robertson to sign with the club. MLB.com quoted Robertson on a conference call talking about the signing with Rick Hahn and the Sox, “I like the moves he’s making with getting [Adam] LaRoche and Zach Duke and the trade for [Jeff] Samardzija. I feel like he’s building a good squad that’s really going to be a competitor next year, and I’m hoping we end up back in the playoffs.”
“Every time we played the White Sox, they were an incredibly tough team to beat. They just grinded it out against us. Obviously, they were on my radar from the beginning and I was glad that I was approached by them and once they – making those extra moves really helped solidify the direction I wanted to go, which was being a Chicago White Sox.”
Robertson put his name to a 4-year, $46 million contract to become the closer for the Sox.
The top player at his position on the market, Robertson brings a career 2.21 ERA in save situations to the club. He saved 39 games last season in 44 attempts for the Yankees last season. He will bring credibility to the position for the Sox which was searching all last season for someone to fill the role after they had traded their young closer Addison Reed to Arizona last offseason.
Grade on the move – A
Need #4 – A quality left fielder
To improve the lineup and the defense, Rick Hahn needed to find someone who could not only hit better and field better than Alejandro DeAza and Dayan Viciedo have in recent seasons. Hahn looked at who was available on the free agency market and was able to get former Yankee Melky Cabrera to ink to a 3-year, $42 million contract.
The switch hitting left fielder’s history says he’s going to be a player that gets on base and doesn’t strike out much. He’s a player that makes contact often and puts the ball in play which is an asset the Sox miss from the lineup year in and year out. Those skills in theory should make him a solid pick for the two holes in the lineup and would allow him to set up the heart of the lineup to have more opportunities to drive in runs. Also with his ability to switch hit he could allow Ventura to set up a left and right combo down the lineup through the heart of it.
The 30-year old also hasn’t had more than four errors in the field during any season, and is half of what the departed Dayan Viciedo put up in 2014 alone. 2015 could end up being one of the best fielding outfields the White Sox have fielded in a while. Cabrera and Eaton offer a wide fielding range, and with the weight loss Garcia has focused on this offseason, the outfield should have fewer gaps in it this season. Its skills the Sox have needed because they play in a division with teams that have massive outfields.
The only concern Sox fans might have is if Cabrera gets caught on PEDs again. If he does it again he would be out for a whole season’s worth of games. It’s a concern, but one would have to assume that Hahn looked into it and flat out asked Cabrera about it. He apparently heard what he needed and the Sox got a much better player than what they’ve had in left field the last several seasons.
Grade on the move – A
Need #5 – Quality starter
Last season the Sox’s fourth and fifth starters were highly questionable. In order to save on payroll the Sox used pitchers like Felipe Paulino, Erik Johnson, Andre Rienzo, and Scott Carroll in those spots and were pretty much complete failures.
In an unexpected move, Rick Hahn and Billy Bean were able to pull off a trade in which Hahn would send right-handed pitcher Chris Bassitt, catcher Josh Phegley, first baseman Rangel Ravelo and shortstop Marcus Semien to Oakland for right-handed pitcher Jeff Samardzija and prospect pitcher Michael Ynoa.
It’s a move that lured David Robertson to the club and showed that the White Sox were serious about retooling and were making a commitment to compete in 2015. It also has Sox fans buying tickets again according to Rick Hahn, and because of that they were able to spend more money on payroll for players like Melky Cabrera.
Samardzija grew up a Sox fan in the Valparasio, Indiana area and has said he’s excited about getting the chance to be “home.” The former Cubs ace had a 2.99 combined ERA last season pitching for both the Cubs and A’s. He’ll fit in nicely as the number two pitcher on the team and gives the Sox one of the best top of the rotation combinations in the majors.
According to WhiteSox.com, Samardzija’s agent, Mark Rodgers told MLB Network Radio’s “The Front Office” with Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette on Sunday that both he and his client would be open to listening to offers if the club would like to throw numbers at them.
“Obviously they really put in a lot of effort this offseason to make that club better,” Rogers said. “And so out of due respect to [White Sox chairman] Mr. [Jerry] Reinsdorf and to [general manager] Rick Hahn, who’s done a heck of a job, and [executive vice president] Kenny Williams, I told those guys, ‘Any time you want to talk, I’ll listen. Jeff and I will certainly talk.”
The Sox have both Chris Sale and Jose Quintana locked up till 2019 and 2020 so it’s possible that they would be able to sign Samardzija to a favorable contract on both sides. It would likely depend on the length of contract Samardzija would want, but until then, the Sox hope that he can continue his success and help carry the team to the playoffs.
Grade on the move – A
Need #6 – Utility players
The trade of Marcus Semien and designating Jordan Danks for assignment opens up holes at utility players for both the infield and outfield. So Rick Hahn needed to find players who were good defenders that would be able to give breaks to the starters but not lose a ton at the plate.
Journeyman Emilio Bonifacio was the perfect example of someone Hahn was looking for. He has the ability to play all infield positions except for first base and has played all the outfield field positions well. He has a .262 career batting average for seven different teams. Thoughts are he may platoon at third base with Conor Gillaspie but will more than likely see some time at shortstop and second base as well.
The Sox were also reached out to another former Cub, Tony Campana for their utility outfield position. The non-roster invitee has a career .249 batting average in 438 at-bats, and will be used as a defensive replacement player unless there’s an injury to the starters.
The latest player that will come to camp is former Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham. Sox management acquired him from free agency on a one-year, $2 million contract and is planning to use him as a utility infielder that will fill in at all the positions in the infield other than first base. He posted a .293 average last season versus left-handed pitchers which is the type of player the Sox were looking to lock in for this season. Unfortunately his history says he’s a career .244 average versus left-handed pitchers. It’ll be interesting to see how Beckham does in his second go around with the club.
Grade on the move – D/D-
This offseason has Sox fans energized again for baseball to start again for the first time in a while. As a fan it’s been fun hearing other fans, tv and radio personalities talking about the Sox making the playoffs. Even though Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections have the Sox falling into third place in the division, it hasn’t put out the flame of Sox fans expectations and excitement!
In the next couple of weeks leading up to the start of the season, we’ll look into each position individually, a preview of each division, and other topics to get you ready and informed for the 2015 season!
If someone wanted to see the power of a fan base not showing up to games at a record pace to make management notice it, one would have to look no further than the south side of Chicago. The White Sox organization have taken the message to heart and have done a massive amount of wheeling and dealing to fix chinks in the lineup, rotation and bullpen.
The Sox didn’t take long to get to work as they turned their attention to the black hole they had in 2014, the bullpen. The bullpen was responsible for 32 losses in relief, most in Major League Baseball. It shouldn’t be too shocking to most considering their ERA in the eighth and ninth innings were 5.42 and 4.74 respectively. So how do you fix a bullpen that was amazingly horrendous?
The Sox started with signing Zach Duke to a 3-year, $15 million contract in the middle of November. Duke’s coming off one of his better seasons of his career playing for Milwaukee as a non-roster invitee in 2014. The Sox were desperate to get Duke off the free agent market with how dreadful their left-handed relievers were last season. If Duke were to carry an ERA near his career average of 4.46 out of the pen, he still would be almost a whole run better than the combined ERA of 5.21 from Eric Surkamp and Donnie Veal of 2014. The former Brewer however has had an under 2.50 ERA in two and a half of the last three seasons. So the hope is he’d continue the trend and help solidify a rough spot for the Sox last season.
After they filled the first glaring hole in the bullpen the Sox looked to replace the retiring Paul Konerko and the traded Adam Dunn at designated hitter and backup first baseman. Former Washington National Adam LaRoche put his name to a two-years, $25 million contract to help fill the void in the lineup. LaRoche holds a .264 batting average and has hit 20 or more home runs in four of the last five seasons. If the Sox were to hit him third, in front of Jose Abreu, LaRoche’s numbers could be even better with the more hitter friendly pitches he’d see with protection like that. It could be similar to the benefit Alexei Ramirez had in 2014. He may not hit as many home runs as Dunn and Konerko have had in the past but especially compared to 2014, he’d provide more offense in the way of his batting average being near .040 higher than Dunn and .060 higher than Konerko.
Once the MLB winter meetings came about last week, the Sox offseason was thought of as being just ok since they filled a couple holes. General Manager Rick Hahn saw an opportunity very few people saw coming from them, the chance to get an ace-like pitcher to slide behind Chris Sale in the rotation and they pulled it off. The Sox sent infielder Marcus Semien, catcher Josh Phegley, right-handed pitcher Chris Bassitt, and first baseman Rangel Ravelo to the Oakland Athletics for former Cub Jeff Samardzija and fellow right-hander Michael Ynoa.
The Northern Indiana native, who grew up a Sox fan, gets the opportunity to give the Sox one of the best top of the rotation duos in baseball. His 2.99 combined ERA with his time on the north side and on the west coast in 2014 is what Rick Hahn and the Sox are hoping to be a fix to the carousel of starters in the bottom of the rotation. Pending any surprises coming out of next spring, the Sox should be able to trot out a lefty, righty combination throughout their rotation.
Lefties Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and John Danks should anchor the first, third and fifth starts while Samardzija and Hector Noesi take on the second and fourth day starts. The wild card in that plan could be the Sox’s first round pick from 2014, lefty Carlos Rodon.
The Sox started Rodon in Winston-Salem at A level baseball and quickly elevated him to triple-A Charlotte after he posted a 1.86 ERA in 4 games. Rodon’s 2014 season went 24.2 innings with 38 strikes outs and a 2.92 total ERA. If he lives up to the hype and shows the same level of skill in the majors as he did this past season in the minors, the Sox could be looking at having one of the best rotations in baseball. Several White Sox management members have said that Rodon will start the season in the minors and then possibly come up later in the year if he continues his success. We’ll have to wait till spring training to see if Rodon forces their hand with an outstanding spring and makes the team out of Arizona.
Even if Rodon doesn’t make it to Chicago in the spring, the rotation will be solid as is. The front spots are covered by a Cy Young runner up and former Cubs’ ace. Quintana will get his usual amount of quality starts and hopefully some offense to go with it for wins. Danks and Noesi will have their rough games but should be serviceable in a majority of their starts. It’ll be exciting for fans to come out and see this staff do its thing on a daily basis especially compared to what they witnessed last season.
A day after Samardzija was acquired; the Sox stole another hot target off the free agent market with former Yankee, David Robertson. The right-handed closer signed with the club for 4 years, $46 million.
A quote from Robertson in the Chicago Sun-Times gives a glimpse into what he was thinking leading up to his signing and it also says exactly what Sox fans and baseball analysts are thinking as well of the busy offseason.
“First of all, I think the White Sox have a great club,” he said. “I love the city of Chicago, and I love what [general manager] Rick Hahn has been doing this offseason. I like the moves he’s making with getting LaRoche and Duke and the trade for Samardzija, I feel like he’s building a competitor next year, and I’m hoping we end up back in the playoffs.”
As a life-long Sox fan, I completely agree with every word!
All that being said Rick Hahn still wasn’t done tweaking the roster. He sent pitcher Andre Rienzo to the Miami Marlins in return for relief pitcher Dan Jennings. The third year south paw has a 2.43 ERA in his career with 100.0 innings pitched. The only concern to be had in this trade seems to be Jennings WHIP. His walks and hits per innings pitched has been over 1.500 for two of his three seasons in South Beach. In both of those seasons however he carried an under 2.00 ERA as well. So while he may let them on, he seems to keep them from scoring.
That brings up to the latest signing in Melky Cabrera. The right-handed hitting outfielder inked his name to a three-year deal with the White Sox for $45 million. With this deal it shows that the talk for the last couple weeks has been Seattle’s interest in Dayan Viciedo for their outfield was getting serious. Viciedo has three years left of team control before he hits free agency which makes him a favorable piece to move. Unfortunately with the deal the Mariners pulled off yesterday with the Cubs for a 32-year old Justin Ruggiano may have put any Viciedo deal to the northwest on hold. The move for Melky though was simply to improve upon the lack of production from the third spot in the outfield and to have back to back hitters at the top of the lineup that get on base and make contact on a consistent basis.
The traded Alejandro DeAza and Viciedo combined to hit for a .236 batting average last season. Cabrera comes to the team off a season he hit .301 and only 67 strike outs in 568 at-bats. Rick Hahn said yesterday on the Waddle and Silvy show on ESPN 1000AM that he liked what Cabrera brought to the team and he would be a nice piece in the second spot of the lineup.
There’s a breeze of fresh air coming through the Sox’s fan base. With 2014 so awful the Sox attendance last season was the in the bottom third of the league. There were games where there were maybe 1,000 people in the stands for the first few innings. It had to have embarrassed the front office daily. Now that they’ve shown they will spend money on quality players to turn things around, Rick Hahn’s said in interviews that the fan base has responded at the box office. 2015 will be different in Chicago for sure. As a fan I’m excited to see what’s to come!
The Chicago Cubs trotted out their biggest free agent acquisition in nearly a decade on Monday as they introduced Jon Lester to the media.
You know the numbers (6 years, $155 million, $30 million in signing bonuses), but if you didn’t watch the press conference, here are the five most important things we learned about what the Lester signing means for the Cubs.
Lester Hungry for New Challenge
The Cubs’ sales pitch was much different than that of the Boston Red Sox or San Francisco Giants. While those teams could point to past results (Red Sox) or the fact that they have won World Series in three of the past five seasons (Giants), either one of the destinations would have been a safe one for Lester to go to.
As for the Cubs, their pitch was that they are on the verge of something great, but sometimes that isn’t enough to convince a free agent to come to town (see: Masahiro Tanaka). For Lester, it was.
“I believe in the plan they have in place for the future of the Cubs,” Lester said of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. “Leaving a place you’ve already won is difficult, but also relishing the chance of winning a World Series in a place that never has adds that little extra for me.”
Lester’s grasp of history isn’t quite where it should be (the Cubs have won two World Series titles), but his heart is in the right place.
Epstein Feels that Rebuild Was “Quick”
While the last three years have felt like an eternity for Cubs fans, it hasn’t felt like that long of a process for Epstein.
“It’s been a pretty quick rebuild,” Epstein said. “It wasn’t perfect, but thanks to a lot of the good decisions in the draft and trades, and the hard work of our scouts and our player development, we had a competitive team on the field (toward the end) of 2014. If it weren’t for those things, I don’t think Jon Lester would be choosing the Cubs.”
Epstein did also thank Cubs fans for their patience, but the point is clear. He looks at the whole rebuild as a long-term process, and three years really feels like a drop in the bucket compared to the long-term success that he envisions for the team.
Theo, Cubs Occasionally Do Appreciate the Role of Tradition
The Cubs are a tradition-rich team, and while you may be forgiven for thinking that they’ve been ignoring that tradition in recent years, thanks to new signage all over the ballpark and the big renovations occurring, there is still an element that persists in this front office.
When Lester was introduced to the media on Monday, he was given a jersey with the number 34 on it. Lester says the jersey was meant to honor Walter Payton and Nolan Ryan, but it also immediately brought up memories of Kerry Wood, who struck out 20 batters in a game while wearing the number.
According to reports, Epstein texted Wood and asked him for his blessing to use the number, and the former Cubs hurler said he would be “honored” for Lester to wear it.
Kudos to Wood for agreeing to it, and kudos to Epstein for reaching out to the pitcher about using the number. It wasn’t a requirement by any stretch, but it was a nice gesture.
Samardzija, Hammel Played a Role in Recruiting Lester
The Cubs may have traded away Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel during the regular season, but even while they were in Oakland they played a role in selling Lester on the benefits of playing in Chicago.
“I asked a lot of questions to a lot of different guys about different teams and organizations, and I wanted to get their feel for Chicago and what made them happy here,” Lester said. “They weren’t the only guys I questioned, but obviously playing with them I had the privilege of talking to them more often about it.”
Now, both players are back in Chicago along with Lester, although Samardzija will be plying his craft on the south side with the White Sox while Hammel returns to the Cubs.
Love of Hunting Bonded Lester, Ricketts
While Joe Maddon bonded with Epstein and Hoyer at an RV park in Pensacola, Florida, Cubs majority owner Tom Ricketts used a different tactic: talking to him about hunting.
According to Epstein, Lester and Ricketts discussed the sport at dinner in Chicago while the team was courting the free agent pitcher. Epstein also added the helpful mental image of him soaked in deer urine, which he said he was willing to do if it meant that he would land Lester.
The Chicago White Sox have been playing second fiddle to the Chicago Cubs in the rebuilding game over the past few years, but on Monday they launched a massive counter-attack as they signed relief pitcher David Robertson to a four-year deal and reportedly agreed to a trade that would send Jeff Samardzija to the south side of Chicago.
Going into this offseason, the Sox had needs at a slew of positions. They needed bullpen help from both sides of the rubber. They needed a powerful left-handed bat to help protect Jose Abreu in the lineup and to take advantage of the hitter-friendly confines of US Cellular Field. They needed a right-handed starter in their rotation to help balance out a rotation that is lefty-dominated with guys like Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.
Now, with the entire baseball world paying attention to where Jon Lester is going to end up, the White Sox threw a massive punch and put a huge dent into their shopping list. Yes, the money on Robertson is big, with $46 million going into his pocket after a 39-save season with the New York Yankees, and yes, there is no guarantee that Samardzija will be around long-term, as he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season. Despite those limitations, the moves that the Sox made on Monday not only make them an instant contender in a winnable AL Central, but it also signals that they mean business when it comes to being the dominant team in Chicago.
The Chicago Cubs are in the process of celebrating the 100th birthday of Wrigley Field, and as part of the festivities, they are adding a couple of wrinkles to the Friendly Confines.
One of those wrinkles was unveiled on Wednesday, as the team painted the iconic red marquee green, in honor of its original color when it was erected in 1934. There’s no word yet on whether they’ll also paint it blue at some point (another color from its history as the face of the ballpark), but apparently the gesture didn’t sit well with some of the Chicago media’s elite.
Take what Chicago Sun-Times scribe and long-time Cubs critic Rick Telander had to say about the sign on Thursday. In a scathing column that hit a grand slam in terms of bombast, intellectual dishonesty, confusing logical leaps, and good old fashioned hatred, Telander tried his best to not only tear down the sign, but also to make sure that the Ricketts family and the Cubs’ front office was standing beneath it as he went to work with his verbal crowbar.
Here are some of the samplings of the wisdom Telander gave to us:
“Of course, there’s money afoot. Sparkling down at me from the electronic message board on the legendary baseball marquee were the words all Cubs fans have been dying to see: “BENJAMIN MOORE: Official Paint of the Chicago Cubs.”
Considering what he ends up going on to say later in the column, it’s hilarious that Telander is criticizing the team for trying to monetize something. I guess there are some money trees hidden under the left field bleachers that we don’t know about, because Telander apparently wants the Cubs to pull a magic trick of being able to spend money without having ways to generate it.
“The Cubs, as I type this, reek.
“Their record is 13-25. They are in last place in the NL Central, 11 games behind the Brewers. They are the worst team in the National League and trail only the AL’s Houston Astros for the most losses in the majors.
“It’s not a stretch to say – and I will say it, for those of you who won’t or gag trying to get it out – that they are the worst team in baseball.”
Naturally, Telander ignores a couple of key factors as he throws the Cubs under the bus as the “worst team in baseball.” The first is that Houston’s run differential is already at negative-55, while the Cubs is a much more pleasing negative-5. Four other teams in the National League have a worse run-differential than the Cubs, and one of those team is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who currently sit at 17-22.
According to Baseball Prospectus, the Cubs have been the victim of some bad luck, and they, not the Pirates, should actually be in fourth place in the NL Central, with their expected winning percentage sitting at .485. They would only be a game behind the Cardinals for third place in the BP projections, but never mind all of that. Telander has some more drum beating to do!
“Oh, there are promises and bear-with-us-pleases and crooked smiles. Just wait. Hold on. Give us time. It’s coming soon. Next year. OK, two years from now. Three? Someday?
“The Cubs trounced the Cardinals 17-5 on Monday night. Awesome. And then Tuesday night they took a 2-0 lead, let the Cardinals come back, and lost in the 12th inning 4-3. Reliever Justin Grimm hit Greg Garcia with the bases loaded, forcing in the winning run.”
Oh noes! A team scored a ton of runs one night and then didn’t score quite as many runs the next night and ended up barely losing a game in 12 innings! Any statistician worth their salt will tell you that winning and losing baseball games is no more than a coin flip proposition, and it just so happened that the Cubs called heads on a night that the quarter landed on tails. Oh well, stuff happens. This is a very weak attempt at pushing the narrative.
“They outscored the Cardinals 20-9 in two games and split. Cub-like? Cub-like.
“Could they have given maybe 11 of those unneeded runs on Monday to luckless pitcher Jeff Samardzija in earlier games? No, of course not. Could they have taken those 17 runs and combined them with the 12 they scored against the White Sox in a 12-5 victory last Thursday and just spread them around?”
No Rick, they can’t. I’m not really sure how these paragraphs bolster your argument, but it’s pretty obvious that you’re ignoring the way that offense works in baseball. You see, some nights pitchers are having a bad night. Some nights, batters are seeing pitches better than others. Asking players to “spread the wealth” when it comes to runs is a really weird request, and not one that even baseball’s best teams are at all capable of doing.
On another note, are you seriously complaining that the Cubs would have the audacity to score a bunch of runs? I thought they were terrible? Do you not want them to score gobs of runs Rick?
“Epstein’s brain is not quite officially fried. But it must be close. Meanwhile, he’s practicing his guitar for a big charity music fest with studs such as Spring-steen guitarist Tom Morello coming up at Metro.”
This is the end of a lengthy screed in which he criticizes Cubs owners and front office personnel for daring to have lives outside of the ballpark while the team is struggling. I’m sure Rick sits in his office all the time pondering ways to boost revenues at the Sun-Times, turning down invitations to hang out with friends or to perform charitable acts in what little spare time he is forced to allow himself.
Get serious, Mr. Telander. Of course the Ricketts family and Theo Epstein are going to have lives outside of the Friendly Confines. They’re human beings, and their lives don’t begin and end with baseball. In fact, just about your entire readership is the same way, in that they have interests other than continuing to beat a dead horse as they crow about how the Cubs aren’t spending money or taking their losing ways seriously enough.
This entire column basically reads as a compendium of every criticism that Telander has levied against the Cubs all season long, and most of it is complete bunk. He criticizes prospects like Javier Baez and Jorge Soler for their slow starts, but completely ignores how great Kris Bryant is playing. The fact that he also ignores this notion that maybe we’re talking about too small of a sample size before throwing guys under the bus, but of course, it wouldn’t make for good copy for him to do that.
Instead, he’s going to continue trotting out these nonsensical arguments and preying upon those Cubs fans who are already impatient for a winner. I’m not one of those fans. I don’t want this team to spend a bunch of money on free agents and win 80 games. I want them to slowly build the foundation for a winner, and frankly, they are doing that. Telander and other members of the media who are harping on the Cubs are nothing better than the guy who shows up at the scene of an accident and snaps pictures of it on his cell phone, chomping on gum and criticizing the EMT’s for taking too long to clean up the debris.
Coming into the season, we were looking forward to providing some high-quality analysis of the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, but as it so often does, life gets in the way.
I’ll let David explain the real world stuff that’s been going on in his life lately (hint: it’s awesome news), but as for me, it’s simple: my paying journalism gigs have been ratcheting up in recent weeks. The Chicago Blackhawks are in the Western Conference Final for the second consecutive year. I’m covering the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings for NBC Los Angeles for the second straight season. I also had to cover the Chicago Bears and the run-up to the NFL Draft. Finally, there’s my job where I cover high school sports for a local newspaper.
All of those gigs can take a huge toll on my enthusiasm and my time, but for now, I’m going to try to bounce back more and write up as much about the Cubs as I can. It won’t be an everyday kind of thing, and there may be other times during the year where I miss some time in writing, but I’ll do my best to get back in the swing of things and actually keep this page somewhat updated.
For now, I hope you’ll settle for a few assorted thoughts that I have about the Cubs through their first 38 games of the season (and I’ll expound more on these thoughts when I release my First Quarter Report Card this weekend).
-Before the season started, I said that I didn’t think that Jeff Samardzija was worth the ace-money that he was going to be seeking, and so far, I’ve been proven completely wrong. In seven starts, Samardzija has a WAR of 2.3, a WHIP of 1.05, and an ERA of 1.45. Despite that success, he has an 0-3 record so far this season, and I wouldn’t blame him if he wanted to punch out a couple of Gatorade coolers in a fit of Zambrano-esque rage.
Granted, a great stretch of starts doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m wrong about how much money to pay him, but I still remain convinced that his best chance at success remains elsewhere. The Cubs are doing a good job of getting the most out of him now, and they are making progress in terms of their rebuilding project, but they won’t be good enough soon enough to warrant Samardzija sticking around. His value is shooting ever higher, and the return the team could get in a trade for him could be the final piece to the puzzle for the club.
-Speaking of pitchers I made predictions about before the season, Jason Hammel has been proving me right when I called him this year’s version of Scott Feldman or Paul Maholm. In seven starts, he has a 4-1 record, a WAR of 1.7, and a WHIP of 0.86. He is still mixing his pitches as well as he was during spring training, and if he can keep doing that, then the team should get an even better return than they did in the Feldman deal, when they got Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.
-Last season, both Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo struggled in a big way, leading some to question whether or not the two hotshot youngsters were going to flame out before the Cubs’ rebuild could be completed. They’re definitely answering those questions well, with Castro batting .279 with five home runs and 19 RBI in 154 at-bats. Rizzo has slugged seven home runs and driven in 21 runs, and he’s already got 27 walks, which puts his OBP at nearly .400 (and his OPS at a very impressive .860).
The teammates are only a quarter of the way through the season, but their adjustments at the plate have already produced some serious results. Castro is making much better contact than he was for most of last season, and Rizzo seems to have a more consistent approach too. If they can keep that up, then Rick Renteria has to be given a good deal of credit for resurrecting them.
When the Chicago Cubs hired Rick Renteria to be the team’s manager, the book on him was that he was a guy that was going to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of adversity, and would mentor the younger players on the roster and to help them to rebound after a largely disappointing 2013 season.
In the first three games of his tenure with the team, however, Renteria has also begun to develop another reputation, which is that he has a tendency to overmanage at times.
It may come as a bit of a surprise since the weather outside has been so abysmal lately, but Opening Day is indeed upon us, as the Chicago Cubs will kick off their season on Monday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
The Cubs will be looking to build upon a 2013 season that can only be viewed as a disappointment, even by the measure of where they are in their current rebuilding phase. Several players took big steps back, and the firing of Dale Sveum and the hiring of Rick Renteria to manage the club are an indicator that the front office feels the same way.
With the news last week that University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam was gay, the NFL world has been turned on its ear as it tries to come to grips with the fact that there will likely be an openly gay player in the league for the first time in its history.
Ever since that news broke with Sam’s admission, the rest of the sports world has been evaluating whether they too would be ready for a gay player to enter the ranks of their game. While the NHL has been the most forward about this situation with the embracing of the group “You Can Play” and other organizations, both the NBA and MLB have been a bit quieter on that front.
In the cases of the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox though, there is one thread that seems to run through both organizations: the only thing that matters about a player is whether he helps us win, not what sexual orientation he is.
White Sox pitcher Chris Sale was the most vocal about it.
“For me personally, if you show up, you’re ready to play, I don’t care what you believe in, who you are, where you’re from, any of that stuff,” he told Comcast SportsNet. “If you’re going to play hard and you’re going to play with respect, give him a jersey and put him the locker right next to me. I don’t care.”
Sale also didn’t mince words when asked about those players that would judge a player based on their sexuality. “The people that get all bent out of shape about that need a reality check,” he said.
On the Cubs’ side of things, pitcher Jeff Samardzija told media members that he did have a gay teammate in the minor leagues, and echoed Sale’s sentiments about what he looks for in a teammate.
“You win games with talent and good numbers and things like that,” he said. “You don’t win games with looks and styles and this and that. As a teammate, all you want is a guy to have your back, a guy to play hard for you and a guy that goes out there and battles with you every day of the week, regardless of preferences.”
True to his reputation as a scholar and a savvy forward-thinking executive, Cubs President Theo Epstein summed his feelings up on the matter very well.
“I think it’s important to be on the right side of history,” he said. “Clearly, we’ve reached that time in this society where you can do the right thing and it’s not any brave stand anymore. It’s just the right thing to do.”
“If there’s a player that can help you, you can’t look at things that don’t matter. Sexual orientation doesn’t matter with respect to winning games, with respect to having strong character, with respect to fitting into the clubhouse and making strong bonds with teammates,” he added.
All three of these guys, simply put, get it. A player’s sexual orientation matters about as much on the baseball field and in the locker room as what kind of cereal he eats in the morning. All that matters about a player is whether or not they can help a team win at the end of the game, and the more athletes and front office executives that can accept that irrefutable truth, the better.
Kudos to Epstein, Samardzija, and especially Sale for not only being grown-ups about this topic, but speaking up forcefully for equality in the locker room.