Lou Piniella Archives
"He is certainly welcome to return to Iowa. We think he did a great job there. This was a very tough decision and one that I tossed and turned over. However, I love Ryne Sandberg and have tremendous respect for him," Hendry told me this morning.
In an interview with Dave Van Dyck of the Chicago Tribune, he said, "I haven't been offered anything," not long after the phone call came informing him of the decision. Not a coaching job on Quade's staff, not his old post at Triple-A Iowa, where he had just been voted Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year.
Asked if he would return to Iowa, Sandberg said on Tuesday, "I don't know. I'm hoping there's something else out there. I'm hoping to manage or coach at the big-league level.I'm just kind of digesting it right now and I have my agent getting feelers out.
This morning when I reached Sandberg at his home in Phoenix he told me "there was nothing offered to me yesterday. I was unaware that they wanted me back until I heard it from you. I guess it is an option. I'm going to take my time and see what is out there."
According to Ryne Sandberg who just appeared on multiple radio shows and spoke with the Chicago Tribune's Dave Van Dyck, he was informed by team chairman Tom Ricketts on Tuesday morning that the Cubs were going with Quade over him because, according to Sandberg, Ricketts said, "it was a tough decision" choosing Quade over him, but that "it was (general manager) Jim Hendry's call and he was going with his gut feeling."
"I told him I'm disappointed and that I appreciated the process and being involved," Sandberg said by phone. "That was the end of the conversation."
not "offered anything" by Ricketts, including the top job at Triple-A Iowa,
where he was just named Pacific Coast League manager of the year. "I'm just
kind of digesting it right now and I've got my agent getting feelers out," said
Sandberg, who wears a Cubs cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. Asked if he
would return to Iowa, Sandberg said, "I don't know. I'm hoping there's
something else out there. I'm hoping to manage or coach at the big-league
So now the question is why was Sandberg passed over and why wouldn't the Cubs wait to at least talk to Joe Girardi whose contract with the New York Yankees is up whenever the Yanks finish their postseason run? These are questions that will be asked at the press conference this afternoon to introduce Quade. The answers should be very telling.
Quade is a solid baseball man and a terrific guy. He grew up in the Chicago area and he understands the Cubs culture. He was well liked as a member of Lou Piniella's coaching staff and he impressed the current Cubs players when he was named the interim manager for the last six weeks of the 2010 season. However, whether or not he can take the Cubs where they haven't been for 102 years remains to be seen.
This much is for sure. General Manager Jim Hendry has made his final managerial hire for a long time because if this one doesn't work he probably won't be around to hire the next one. He needs to have a solid winter and he must show that the direction of the club is pointed upward because after a rough 2009 and a horrific 2010 he must get things turned around and it must happen relatively quickly. He turned the trick when he was named GM in 2002 and had his first team 5 outs from the World Series in 2003. He turned the trick again in 2007 after a terrible 2006 season winning back to back division titles and crafting a team that won a National League best 97 games in 2008. He had better be able to pull a rabbit out of his hat in 2011 or he may be looking for work.
Before he makes a hire he had better look himself in the mirror and realize that the last two full time managers of this team were unwilling to hold players accountable despite coming in with reputations as locker room leaders. From the ridiculousness that derailed the 2004 Cubs to the antics of Carlos Zambrano this season no one has ever had the courage to lay down the law and be the tough guy that the Cubs have needed for far too long. That is squarely on the field manager and upper management who did absolutely nothing to control the players who let the broadcasters and the extraneous noise distract them in 2004 to Lou Piniella completely losing his team in 2010 as the season spiraled out of control. Set down a way to play and let no one operate outside the rules. Period, end of story. If a player misses a team flight because of his birthday then he doesn't pitch no matter who he is (think Big Z in 2009). If a player doesn't run hard out of the box then he is removed from the game and he sits. Whether he signed a 136 million dollar contract or is a minimum salaried rookie. Operate that way and you have a chance. Anything less and you will lose the respect of your team very quickly.
What Went Right
The signing of Marlon Byrd was a solid decision as he was excellent defensively, was well liked in the clubhouse, and contributed a solid season offensively. Ryan Dempster was solid winning 15 games and throwing over 200 innings as well as providing tremendous leadership in the clubhouse. Carlos Marmol was excellent all season long saving 38 games and dominating like no other reliever in the game. He does have his occasional control problems but he should be an elite closer for many years to come. Sean Marshall settled into the setup role very well and has emerged as one of the better relievers in the National League. His emergence calmed a very shaky bullpen that struggled in April and May. Finally, shortstop Starlin Castro exploded on the scene when he was called up to the big leagues in early May. He was solid at the plate and showed flashes of brilliance defensively despite commiting 27 errors. He should be a fixture in the Cubs infield for many years to come.
MLB Network Analyst Harold Reynolds told Dan Patrick on his radio show Monday he believes Yankees Manager Joe Girardi will be the next skipper of the Chicago Cubs. In the interview, Reynolds said Girardi has too many ties to the Windy City, and feels that will be enough to lure him back to the Friendly Confines.
I have been saying for a long time now that Girardi would be the best choice for the Cubs should he be available for Jim Hendry to bring into the fold. Have a listen to the interview below. We'll be discussing all week on Chicago Tribune Live on Comcast SportsNet and on The Cubs 10th Inning Postgame Show on WGN Radio 720.
Lee informed Jim Hendry that he will not accept any trade and would like to wait until the season is over to decide on his future. His current Cubs contract expires at the end of this season.
Several reports have criticized Lee for his position but who are we to determine what is best for his future? He has the ability to block a trade and he exercised that right, plain and simple.
I have looked at this decision for a while now knowing that Lou would not be returning to the Cubs and there is really only one name that should be on the Chicago Cubs shopping list. New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
Girardi is so obvious that I am stunned to hear some people tout others over him. Girardi is a winner who has multiple World Series rings as a player and has won one as manager of the Yankees. He was also named Manager of the Year when he was with the Florida Marlins and took a team with a 14 million dollar payroll and nearly made the playoffs. He has had small payrolls, large payrolls and has handled both situations very well.
Gallery sneak peek (8 images):View the gallery...
"Yes, it is true that I am retiring. I am 67 years old and it is time for me to move on to the next phase of my life and to spend more time with my family. However, I am very upset that the news leaked out before I had a chance to inform my team," Piniella told me.
Bill Madden of the NY Daily News learned of the impending announcement from Piniella's agent Alan Nero who told him the news in confidence. However, Madden did not keep the news quiet and thus the story broke, angering Piniella and his family.
Piniella will address the media at 4:15 from the interview room at Wrigley Field. I will have full coverage of the announcement both on Chicago Tribune Live on Comcast SportsNet at 5:30 and on the Tenth Inning Show immediately after tonight's Astros/Cubs game on WGN Radio.
DK: There is a lot of talk about leadership in a locker room. What is your take on the importance of leadership?
That word is thrown around a lot. It was thrown around a lot when I was in Philadelphia. Leadership means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The leadership aspect is a bunch of guys going out together and playing good baseball. When you're playing good baseball your winning baseball games then you have good leadership and you have good personnel. When you're going out and playing sloppy baseball and not winning ball games then we have bad leadership. I don't take it, I appreciate it. I take it as...a high regard and very complimentary. But we're trying to be professionals on and off the field trying to go out and play good baseball and stay on top of things and not let things get out of hand and have little brush fires along the way, just keep a nice clean clubhouse.
DK: We hear all the time about bringing in winning type players because they have won championships and they have "been there before". Do you agree?
DK: You have played a lot of games here at Wrigley Field during your career. Why do you think the Cubs haven't been able to win here?
1) Management must let the fan base know how frustrated they are with the on field performance and also let them know that it will not be tolerated and that change is coming to the Cubs in a big way.
2) Identify those pieces that have trade value and can be moved. That means there are no untouchables on the roster. However, it would take a huge deal to pry some of the best youngsters away from the Cubs.
3) Be willing to eat significant dollars to clear out the dead wood on the roster so that a complete overhaul of the team can begin as soon as possible.
4) Show the paying customer how much this season has upset you. They are paying a tremendous amount of money to support your team and they also invest their heart in a team that has broken it more times than they care to remember. They have to know that you are as upset as they are or you could see further declines in attendance and support.
5) Lay out a plan for the future. The Cubs fans will buy a plan if it is spelled out to them in a clear and concise manner. There has never been a definitive plan to rebuild the team. It has always been about trying to upgrade and compete all at the same time. Unless you spend Yankee level money that plan has very little chance of succeeding.
6) Talk about playing with pride and fire. That is much more of an indictment on the players than it is on the manager. However, when you see players like Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez struggle day after day and they continue to remain in the 3-4 hole on the days that they are playing it is no wonder that it appears as if poor play is accepted. Lee and Ramirez have been awful all season long but never have we seen them dropped down to the 6-7-8 spots in the order.
When the White Sox were struggling in early June we heard Kenny Williams say that it would not be tolerated and that changes were coming if things didn't improve. He also said that "I'm tired of looking at this and so are our fans." By doing that he let everyone who buys a White Sox ticket know that he was as frustrated as they are and that it was unacceptable. We have not heard much of that from the North Side and that too is unacceptable.
My sources tell me that Cubs GM Jim Hendry has offered to pick up the bulk of the remaining dollars on the 2010 commitment and half of the money in 2011 but so far has found no takers for the under performing right fielder.
I have also been told that upper management is being extremely patient despite the poor performance of the Cubs so far in 2010. They will wait a few more weeks and evaluate the club's position at that time before they determine a course of action in advance of the July 31 trade deadline.
Put some thought into this and post your ideas in the comments section. I will take the best laid out plans to Tom Ricketts and hand your ideas to him. Be creative, think outside the box, and remember there are a ton of aspects that are included in owning a major league team that you probably haven't even considered. Where would you build the new spring training facility? Who would be your manager next season if Lou doesn't return? How much would your payroll be?
These are all interesting questions and questions that I want you to answer. Be thorough and have fun building a franchise but remember it is not as easy as it looks!
Go get em!
General Manager Jim Hendry did not have much payroll flexibility this past winter and he had a number of things he wanted to address as he tried to retool his baseball team after a disappointing 2009 season. Hendry needed to land a center fielder, he needed to move Milton Bradley, he needed to upgrade his bullpen, and he needed to help some of his best players return to their previous form after having sub par 09' campaigns.
Let's look at the Cubs moves and decisions since the end of the 2009 season and grade them accordingly:
Howry spent the 2009 season with San Francisco where he appeared in 63 games with a 2-6 record and a 3.39 ERA. The Cubs are denying the signing but friends of Howry have confirmed that he and his wife have told them that they are indeed returning to Chicago.
Before I go position by position I feel it necessary to address Phil Rogers "Morning Phil" column on the Chicago Tribune website today. Phil addresses the hot streak that Alfonso Soriano is currently in and says:
1. Forgive us, Alfonso. We should know better, but how quickly we all forget. When Bob Brenly, David Kaplan and seemingly everyone following the Cubs was treating Alfonso Soriano with something between contempt and ridicule for failing to run hard out of the batter's box on a blast to the wall April 20 at Citi Field in New York, they missed the bigger picture: Soriano was showing signs of become a dangerous hitter again.
Well, Phil you are showing an incredible lack of understanding of how the game is supposed to be played. Sure, Soriano is red hot and he is carrying the team but you have once again missed the much bigger picture. There is a right way to play the game and a wrong way to play the game and when Soriano doesn't hustle that is the wrong way to play the game and that my friend is an undeniable fact. You can defend his lack of hustle all you want but if it is no big deal then why was he pulled into Lou Piniella's office after that game in New York and talked to about the play? Are you telling me Phil that when he hustled a double into a triple the next night that it had nothing to do with the tongue lashing he received from his manager less than 24 hours earlier?
C'mon Phil, I know that you are smarter than that. Reading this it sure doesn't show it though.
Now, onto an assessment of the Cubs through the first month or so.
With Carlos Zambrano now in the bullpen as a set up man the rotation has stayed surprisingly solid through the first month. Carlos Silva has been solid and Tom Gorzelanny has been very capable in the #5 spot. Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells have been excellent and if not for the failings of the bullpen prior to Zambrano's arrival the Cubs record would be far better than 13-13. Ted Lilly has had one good start and one poor one so it is far too early to pass judgment on his long term prognosis this season. While the back end of the rotation has been a pleasant surprise you still cannot convince me that the rotation is better without Zambrano and I fully expect him to return to his role as a starter at some point this season. Unless of course the Cubs make a major trade that includes Big Z.
With 3 rookies on the opening day roster it is not hard to understand why the Cubs pen struggled so mightily in April. Combine that fact with the struggles of John Grabow and you can see why the record is what it is. Will Zambrano be the steadying influence that bullpen needs to vault the Cubs into contention? He can be if he is willing to commit himself to the role and if the Cubs rotation stays solid. If one of the 5 starters struggles then Zambrano will go back to the rotation and the hole in the set up role will again become a glaring weakness. Look for Jim Hendry to make a trade to shore this area up but with very little trade activity in the industry over the season's first 45-60 days it may be a while before deal gets done unless the Cubs GM is willing to significantly overpay.
The corner spots have been an issue offensively but Derrek Lee is showing signs of breaking out of his April slump and should be a solid force going forward. Ryan Theriot has been outstanding offensively hitting .348 and while he is not a Gold Glove shortstop he is more than solid at the position. Aramis Ramirez has been awful through the first month but based on his career numbers you have to believe that he will return to form as a very potent offensive threat. If he doesn't then the Cubs have major issues because his production is irreplaceable from the backups currently on the roster. Second base has been a pleasant surprise offensively as Mike Fontenot is hitting over .300 but can that continue for an entire season remains to be seen. The Cubs top prospect Starlin Castro is currently hitting .354 in Class AA but he is 5 for his last 35 at the plate so it appears he is in line for at least another few weeks of seasoning before he could make his major league debut. When he does look for Ryan Theriot to move over to 2nd base on an everyday basis.
With all five outfielders on the roster deserving of playing time this is perhaps the toughest part of Lou Piniella's job. Alfonso Soriano. Marlon Byrd, and Kosuke Fukudome have all hit well but Tyler Colvin also is producing and has more than justified Piniella's faith in him when he put him on the opening day roster. Xavier Nady is a professional hitter and is not happy with his lack of playing time but with his surgically repaired elbow still an issue and the outfielders hitting well it has made opportunities for him to play scarce.
A position of strength as Geovany Soto has rebounded from an awful 2009 and is a threat again at the plate. He is also throwing well and is a huge upgrade over the production the cubs received behind the plate in 2009. Koyie Hill is a very capable backup and has more than held his own when he gets an opportunity to play.
So, can the cubs make a run in the NL Central Division? Yes, if their rotation stays solid and the bullpen anchored by Zambrano and Carlos Marmol does its job consistently. Aramis Ramirez has to return to the form that he is capable of because without his bat in the lineup the Cubs have no chance to be solid enough offensively to compete for a playoff spot.
However, this is a station to station baseball team that does not have much team speed so when the wind blows in the Cubs are not very adept at manufacturing runs. They need to string together bunches of hits to score and that is not an easy proposition in the big leagues. I still have major questions about this team and while the past weekend was a solid step in the right direction let's not forget that they were playing the Arizona Diamondback and not the Philadelphia Phillies. Show us some excellent play against some of the better teams in the league and then maybe I'll start to believe.
The Cubs and the White Sox have entered into a historic partnership today that will see the teams competing in inter league play, not only wins and losses but a new trophy called the BP Crosstown Cup.
Patterned along the lines of the various trophies that are staked in some of college football greatest rivalries, the Crosstown Cup will go to the team that wins the annual 6 game match-up between the two teams. What happens if each team wins 3 games you ask? Then the winner of the 6th game claims the trophy.
The Cup will be unveiled this season and should become a big part of the rivalry between the two great fan bases. The winning team will be presented the Crosstown Cup at the conclusion of the second series between the two teams, so there is a distinct possibility that a team could be awarded the trophy on the road in the other team's park.
Can you imagine the intensity of the moment if the Cubs were to celebrate with the trophy at US Cellular Field or the White Sox were to jump for joy with the Cup on the field at Wrigley? Those would be amazing moments to watch and will only intensify the already white-hot rivalry that runs generations deep.
In attendance at today's press conference in Millennium Park were Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, Manager Lou Piniella, Chief Marketing Officer Wally Hayward and players Marlon Byrd and Randy Wells. The White Sox were represented by Chief Marketing Officer Brooks Boyer and players A.J. Pierzynski and Gordon Beckham.
A critical review of the Cubs and their slow start will be up later....
Zambrano was simply awful Monday as he was pounded by the Atlanta Braves giving up 8 earned runs in less than 2 innings of work. Can he rebound? Certainly. He is only 28 (he turns 29 in June) and he should be entering the prime of his career. However, his trends over the past season and a half are not very impressive.
Here are Carlos Zambrano's pitching numbers since the 2008 All Star Break:
BAA .248 (.246 with runners in scoring position)
22 HR Allowed
239 innings (avg of 5.8 per start)
4.3 BB per 9 innings
106 pitchers in Major League Baseball have made 30 or more starts over the same span of time. Here is where Carlos Zambrano ranks among those pitchers:
Innings pitched: 60th
BB per 9 innings: 100th
The good news....Big Z has slugged 7 HR's in that span which ranks him #1 among all of the pitchers on the list.No one else has more than 3.
So is Zambrano a staff ace? At this point in time there is no chance that he deserves to have that label attached to his name. His numbers bear out the argument that he is extremely overrated and grossly overpaid. But, for the Cubs to contend he has to be a major piece of the rotation. That though, may be easier said than done.
Weigh in with your comments because last summer when I was critical of Zambrano many of the comments were definitely supportive of him. I wonder how supportive many of those same people are now. I would think the evidence speaks for itself that the Cubs are not getting anywhere near their money's worth at this point in time. Here's hoping that changes.
Below are the many faces and emotions of Carlos Zambrano....
Gallery sneak peek (9 images):View the gallery...
Let's go through his thoughts here and dissect how deranged this person really is. Here is Bradley on if Chicago is a tough place to play if you are African-American: "Well, I mean unless you go out there and you're Superman -- you're Andre Dawson, you're Ernie Banks, you're in the Hall of Fame -- then it's going to be tough," Bradley said. "People are just the way they are".
Are you kidding me? Have you ever heard of Derrek Lee? Lee is well liked and respected and loves playing in Chicago. So much so that he stated a couple of weeks back when I interviewed him at spring training that he wants to retire as a Cub. Want a less successful player who is African-American and was well liked and loved playing here? What about Doug Glanville? He was a solid, but unspectacular player who had two tours of duty with the Cubs and now makes his home in the Chicago area.
Fans want players who play hard, are reasonably successful, and represent the team positively. Milton did none of that. He made no effort to fit in with his teammates, he was distant with the media from day one, and he was a lousy baseball player. He claims that he was told he had to hit 30 home runs, but I can tell you that was never expected from him. The Cubs wanted him to get on base, drive in runs because he he would have opportunities hitting in the middle of the lineup, and they wanted him to play a decent right field.
Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry met with the media on Wednesday in Mesa, AZ and here is what he had to say about Bradley's latest comments. Hendry has consistently taken the blame for the signing, repeatedly characterizing the acquisition as a complete and total mistake. However, after trading Bradley so he and the Cubs could get a fresh start, Bradley just can't keep his mouth shut. Hendry finally had enough of Bradley firing on the organization and met with the media in Mesa.
"We're all brought up in life to accept responsibility when we fail, and to judge people by how they act and how they carry themselves when things don't go well," Hendry said.
Bradley told ESPN some of the hate mail he received had no postage, suggesting it could've been sent in-house.
"Obviously, that couldn't be further from the truth," Hendry said. "I think maybe it's time Milton looks at himself in the mirror. It is what it is. He just didn't swing the bat. He didn't get the job done. His production, or lack of (production), was the only negative."
As for the hate mail that Bradley claims he received without a postmark, Hendry said people drop off mail at the front desk at Wrigley Field, which could explain why there was no postage on the alleged hate mail. He added that Bradley never mentioned the claim to anyone in the organization, and that the Cubs said the organization "couldn't have bent over backward any more than they did for the entire season, before (the suspension) in St. Louis."
Milton Bradley has no one to blame but himself for his poor performance in 2009. He was given the first multi-year contract of his career and he failed miserably. He was a sullen, moody person to deal with and never did anything, or made any attempt, to fit into the community or the locker room.
Could someone have said something racially motivated to him? Absolutely, however the rantings of a few lunatics were not the reason that Bradley had such a terrible experience in our city. He failed to produce on the field and continues to make excuses for his poor play. Milton Bradley, you need to look at yourself, not everyone else, when you try to figure out why the Cubs were so desperate to rid get rid of you.
Derrek Lee met the media this morning and told us that despite Lou Piniella's opinion that team chemistry was bad a year ago, he felt that injuries and poor play were much bigger reasons why the team struggled throughout much of 2009.
"Chemistry is the million dollar question," Lee said. "I think that when you are winning your chemistry always seems to come together and when you are not it is always questioned. It can't hurt to always have a good bunch of guys in the clubhouse and guys having fun but I don't think that was our problem last year. I think we just didn't play good baseball and the injuries mounted up on us."
The Ricketts family has just entered the complex, and they are getting ready to meet with the entire team. Then they will have a session with all of the assembled media. I'll file later today after the first workout is over. Stay in touch with all of the happenings by following me on Twitter. I will be tweeting all week. You can find me @thekapman
Have a great day! Kap
As the first decade in the 21st century comes to a close, let's take a moment to reminisce about the best and worst moments and athletes of the past ten years in Chicago Sports.
Best Team: 2005 Chicago White Sox
Only one Chicago team could call itself champions in the first decade of the 2000s, and that team plays at 35th and the Dan Ryan. The White Sox magical run to a world championship in 2005 erased an 88-year drought of glory on the south side. Everything went right for Ozzie Guillen's club that year, as his starting staff of Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia each won 14 or more games in the regular season, leading the club to a 99 win campaign. Playing "Ozzie Ball", the Palehose used speed and timely hitting to scratch across runs with Scott Podsednik changing the team's offensive strategy. The White Sox stormed through the playoffs, going 11-1 in October, which included a sweep of the then-defending champion Red Sox, and the Astros in the World Series. Their bullpen was rock solid all year, as Bobby Jenks burst onto the scene as a bona fide closer, and earned the save on October 26, 2005 to earn the Sox a ring.
Worst Team: 2000-2001 Chicago Bulls
After a historic run of six world championships in the previous decade with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, things went very bad and very fast for the Bulls after the nucleus of the team left the Windy City. The team did have Elton Brand, who averaged 20 points per game, Ron Mercer, who could still contribute, and Ron Artest--who by his own admission--was drinking on the job. The team went 15-67, bad enough for a miserable .183 winning percentage, and ranked dead last in the NBA in points per game (87.6). Need any further proof this team was a disaster? This team only had three players average double-digit scoring, and Ron Artest barely qualified in double-digits with just over 11 points per game. Also, how about these names that contributed minutes to Tim Floyd's club that year: Dragan Tarlac, Khalid El-Amin, Dalibor Bagaric, A.J. Guyton, Jake Voskuhl. Need I say more?
Best Athlete: Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears
Say what you want about Urlacher's attitude, or problematic character at times. It's no question this city could have embraced him far more than they did over this past decade. But when it comes to the best athlete in Chicago sports over the last ten years, Urlacher takes the cake. After being drafted in the first round out of New Mexico in 2000, Urlacher immediately emerged as a standout linebacker for the Bears and quickly vaulted to the top of the NFL. He had more than 800 tackles in the decade, 37.5 sacks, and 17 interceptions. He was one of the most feared defensive players in the league for the majority of the decade, and led his team to multiple playoff appearances including a Super Bowl berth in 2006. Note: Honorable Mention goes to White Sox ace Mark Buehrle, for a consistent and successful decade.
Worst Athlete: Corey Patterson, Chicago Cubs
Corey Patterson had a three good months as a Chicago Cub. That's it. Otherwise, his career as a Cub could really only be described as a debacle. The 3rd overall pick in the 1998 draft figured to solve the Cubs center field problem for the long haul. All we read and heard about him coming up was that he had great speed, great power, and could be a five-tool superstar type player to anchor the Cubs outfield. Instead, he was a free-swinging, undisciplined, stubborn liability for the Cubs for parts of five seasons. Other than the 83 games in 2003 in which he hit .298 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs, he was detracting from the team's success. (And funnily enough, when Patterson got hurt the Cubs acquired Kenny Lofton, who was a catalyst and a big reason why the Cubs nearly reached the world series that season.) In 2004, he was a microcosm of the team's shortcomings, and his 2005 season was one of the worst statistical seasons put forth by an everyday player in history. He's still toiling around baseball, last seen with the Brewers this past season. The Cubs traded him to Baltimore before the 2006 year, and the Cubs have still not found a long term solution for center field.
Gallery sneak peek (35 images):View the gallery...
So is it true? Were the Cubs shopping Zambrano? Sources very close to the Yankees who would not speak on the record told me that there was really nothing in the way of negotiations with the Cubs regarding Big Z. One phone call was placed to see if Zambrano was available, and Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman was told that short of an overwhelming deal in terms of talent, and the Yanks assuming all of the remaining 53 million dollars on Zambrano's contract, the Cubs had no interest in trading their #1 starter.
So while there was a call made to gauge the Cubs interest, there really was nothing to the frenzy that hit the internet early this week regarding Zambrano and the Yankees. With Ted Lilly coming off of shoulder surgery, and Rich Harden now pitching for the Texas Rangers, the Cubs are very thin in the rotation. Trading Zambrano would be a foolish thing to do, unless the deal was a huge win for the Cubs. And with the Yankees payroll already at $200 million, there was no chance that they were assuming all of Big Z's contract.
Second, the White Sox reached the pinnacle of the sport, winning the 2005 World Series. Their success rekindled interest from their fan base, and saw legions of Chicago area youngsters wearing Sox hats and jerseys. Cubs management took notice of their half empty stadium in September of 2006 and decided that something drastic had to be done.
Drastic meant the firing of Andy MacPhail as team president and firing manager Dusty Baker. The club kept general manager Jim Hendry and gave him a blank check to try to right the ship. The Cubs knew with the resurgent competition in town and the fact that the franchise would soon be up for sale that they needed to increase the franchise's value to appease both the fan base and drive up the value for a prospective buyer.
In November of '06, after reeling in Mark DeRosa on a 3 year 13 million dollar deal, the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano to an 8-year, $136 million contract, which was unprecedented for the Cubs after years of avoiding the premium free agents. Hendry then went to the Winter Meetings in December of 2006 and signed Ted Lilly to a 4 year 40 million dollar deal. This all came after the Cubs re-signed Aramis Ramirez to a 75 million dollar deal, re-signed Kerry Wood, and added Lou Piniella as their new manager.
And do you really think Hendry, after sitting third on the depth chart behind MacPhail and Baker, was really acting alone? No chance. The company had as much to do with the team's free spending as he did. In fact, Hendry was given a mandate by management to spend freely, try to win, and most importantly to management, to raise the franchise's value to aid the sale process.
That also meant that the contracts that were given out were to be back loaded as much as possible so that the new owner would pay much of the deals. However, the economy tanked, the credit markets dried up and the sale process took for longer than expected which made Hendry's job far tougher as he tried to navigate the deals that he had been asked to extend by his bosses.
I have learned that the Cubs have informed Harden and Gregg as well as outfielder Reed Johnson that they will not be offered salary arbitration meaning that if those players sign with another club the Cubs will get no draft pick compensation.
The Cubs had an opportunity to trade both Harden and Gregg to the Minnesota Twins at the end of August but felt that being only 5 games back in the Wild Card race they did not want to wave the white flag of surrender. That was a tactical mistake because now the Cubs will lose both guys for nothing when they could have had a couple of prospects from the Twins.
Their competitiveness to stay in the race was admirable but misguided because the Chicago Cubs had no chance of contending in September of 2009.
Yesterday, I talked about free agent starter John Lackey of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and his credentials which should earn him a huge contract this winter. I immediately heard from the Zambrano fan club who think that if I point out Z's shortcomings I must have a vendetta against him.
Look, I am not a Zambrano fan because he is lazy and he doesn't get the most out of his abilities. However, I agree that he is a tremendously talented guy who should be a staff ace if he could ever learn to control his emotions and would report to spring training in shape and would work hard enough during the season to stay that way.
Let's compare the statistics in a handful of key categories between Zambrano and Lackey since Z signed his 91.5 million dollar extension on August 17, 2007. The rankings are for all starting pitchers who are regular members of a rotation in either league.
Innings pitched 406.1 (47th) 402.1 (52nd)
Strikeouts 320 (T-38th) 322 (T-37th)
Complete Games 2 (T-39th) 5 (T-8th)
K/BB Ratio 1.84 (115th) 3.35 (23rd)
Baserunners/9 IP 12.49 (85th) 11.57 (37th)
So in the categories of innings pitched and strikeouts the two pitchers are just about even but in the all important stats of strikeouts to walks and base runners per 9 innings pitched Lackey is far superior. Does that mean he is worth 12-15 million dollars a year? Probably not, but he will probably sign a deal somewhere in that range. Is he a true #1 starter? Again, probably not but his big game experience and tenacity does intrigue a number of teams and that should create a solid market for his services.
So with Castro on the fast track to the Cubs everyday lineup, incumbent shortstop Ryan Theriot will be moved to 2nd base when Castro arrives. If Castro is being penciled into the starting lineup for Opening Day 2011, or perhaps sooner, why not move Theriot to 2nd base now? Rather than have two middle infielders in new surroundings when the 2011 season begins, why not let Theriot play there in 2010 and sign a veteran shortstop to a one year deal until Castro is ready?
What about a one year contract for Orlando Cabrera, who played very well for the Minnesota Twins down the stretch? The former White Sox has had a solid big league career for the past 12 seasons. He is excellent defensively, hits for average, runs fairly well and would not cost a ton of money to sign. Cabrera plays nearly every day, and brings a ton of postseason experience.
That would allow Theriot to play 2nd base, where he would be a better fit, and it would allow him time to get comfortable with the position before he has to help Castro with his transition to the big leagues in late 2010 or at the start of 2011.
TED LILLY UNDERGOES LEFT SHOULDER ARTHROSCOPY AND DEBRIDEMENT
CHICAGO - Ted Lilly yesterday afternoon underwent a left shoulder arthroscopy and debridement performed by noted orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles. During the surgery, Dr. Yocum found no major damage to Lilly's shoulder and the procedure consisted of a washout and clean up of the shoulder. The procedure took approximately one hour to complete.
Lilly will immediately begin an aggressive range of motion and strengthening program. After the first of the year, Lilly will be re-evaluated and the club will establish a timetable for him to begin his throwing program in preparation for the 2010 season. Typically, recovery time for a procedure such as this would place Lilly's return to the Cubs rotation within the month of April.
"We are pleased that Ted's surgery was a success and are eager to see him begin his rehabilitation program," said Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry. "After Ted's re-evaluation following the first of the year, a determination will be made as to when he will begin his throwing program. At this point in time, it is too early to precisely project Ted's return to the Cubs rotation; most estimates would place that return within the month of April.
"At the conclusion of the 2009 season, Cubs
team doctors prescribed a conservative approach to managing Ted's
shoulder in preparation for the 2010 season and, following a second opinion,
Dr. Yocum agreed," Hendry continued. "At the end of last week,
Ted decided that undergoing a surgical procedure was the course of action he
wanted to pursue, a decision the club supported. We're glad the
surgery did not reveal any major damage to Ted's shoulder and look
forward to his return to our rotation."
Outside of Ozzie Guillen, name me one guy who you think really keeps it interesting, and is engaging not only with the media, but in the way he acts on the playing field. Let's examine the coaches and managers first, then we'll look at the players who call Chicago home.
Managers and Coaches
He may not be everybody's cup of tea, but I find him so entertaining to watch and to cover that he would probably the guy I'd hire if I owned a baseball team. Ozzie is honest to a fault, and he says what most fans are thinking even if his players don't like his frankness. His personality keeps the White Sox in the headlines even when his team may not be great. Plus, he has a World Series ring on his hand. So those who don't like him can't really argue much, because he accomplished something that no one else has done in this city in a very long time.
When Lou was hired by the Cubs, many fans and members of the media (myself included) expected a Mike Ditka-like presence in the Cubs dugout based on what we had seen of Sweet Lou during his time as the manager of the Seattle Mariners. However, with rare exception, we have seen a much more mellow Piniella, especially in 2009 when his lack of public anger frustrated many fans. When he shows his emotion, he is a colorful "Chicago type" personality. And that is what he needs to show in 2010.
While he may know his football, he is one of the most boring personalities we have seen on the Chicago sports scene in a long time. Smith is steady and unspectacular, but his lack of charisma drives fans who remember the days of Mike Ditka crazy, when every news conference and media moment was must-see TV. Smith is true to himself, but I believe that sometimes management forgets that professional sports are entertainment and you need to keep people watching even when you aren't going to the playoffs.
Coach Q is very intense, and will flash a glimpse of his fiery personality from time to time behind the bench. But he does not usually show that side of himself away from game action. His news conferences are calm and informative, but he doesn't do much to garner attention.
Vinny Del Negro
Another of the modern day coaches who does not ever say anything to stir the pot. Del Negro is polished and concise in his comments, but like most of his Chicago counterparts he is not must-watch TV when he addresses the media.
He is widely considered the best hitting coach in baseball but he will have his hands full trying to turn around a group of hitters who struggled in 2009. His first project is expected to be 2008 NL Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto who had a terrible season in 2009 slumping mightily in both batting average and in the power department.
More to come....
So if he is so good, you are probably wondering how Texas could let him get away. Here is the latest on the situation, and after you read it you will understand why he is looking to test free agency and to sign a contract with some solid job security. GM Jim Hendry has been super aggressive since Jaramillo made it known that he would be leaving the Rangers and most baseball executives expect Jaramillo to choose the Cubs. Look for the Cubs to land him and to sign him to a multi-year deal worth at least $750,000 per season, which would make him the highest paid hitting coach in the game.
More Cubs Notes....
The Arizona Fall League has begun, and in talking with several scouts and media types who are there watching the games, the two most impressive hitters so far have been Josh Vitters and Starlin Castro of the Cubs. Vitters timetable for reaching the big leagues could be as quick as next September and he will be the Cubs starting third baseman should Aramis Ramirez exercise the opt out clause in his contract after the 2010 season. Castro is just 19 years of age and while he is young for the level he is playing at he could be in the Cubs Opening Day lineup as soon as 2011.
Bradley was certainly a problem in the clubhouse and his productivity was not great but there were several other problems that helped derail the season. The fact that the entire starting outfield combined for 43 HR's and 99 RBI's was certainly one reason that the run production was down dramatically from 2008. Add in the fact that Geovany Soto had a brutal year and that Aramis Ramirez only played in 82 games and you have two more huge components of the 2008 offense that did not perform at the same level.
Why? Who cares what side of the plate a guy hits from?
It is the same ridiculous logic that we see in baseball today when managers feel that they have to go to the bullpen to have a left handed pitcher face a left handed hitter in a key situation. Never mind that, in many situations, the pitcher may be better against right handed hitters than he is against left handed hitters. Remember Mike Remlinger? He was brought in as a left handed specialist. But a look at his career numbers shows that he was far better facing right handed hitters than he was against left handed hitters.
Is there any doubt that Neal Cotts was on the Cubs roster as long as he was because he threw from the left side? If he was a right handed pitcher and put up the numbers that he did in a Cubs uniform he would have been released a long time ago. Yet, he was given chance after chance despite struggling mightily.
It is this mentality that is pervasive around baseball and it has to change. It is as foolish as pitch counts being used as a definite when it comes to deciding when to change pitchers. There is a great article in ESPN the Magazine about Nolan Ryan and how he has changed the mentality of the Texas Rangers and their use of pitch counts.
Hendry has been down this road before when he needed to do a far bigger overhaul both after the 2002 season when he was first hired as the GM, and again after the 2006 season when he changed managers, added several new players, and built the core of 2008's 97 win team. Add in three division titles in 7 years for a franchise that, until he arrived, hadn't had back to back winning seasons, and he has accomplished more than any other GM in the Cubs recent history.
Last winter Hendry set out to fix what he thought was the main problem with his team and that was a lack of left handed run production to add, as he said at the time, balance to the Cubs right handed dominant starting lineup. By acquiring Milton Bradley, Hendry felt he was adding a switch hitter who was an on-base machine in Texas last season and he envisioned Bradley driving in runs and being a constant presence on the base paths.
"It probably became one of those things where you start saying things that you're putting the blame on everybody else. Sometimes you've just got to look in the mirror and realize that maybe the biggest part of the problem is yourself."
Wow, those are some very pointed remarks from one of the best guys on the club and one of the easiest to get along with. Bradley has been a pain to deal with almost from the day he signed with the Cubs last January. He was a guest on the TV show that I host (Chicago Tribune Live) and on Sports Central (the radio show that I host) and he spent the time on the air asking the fans of Chicago to give him a chance to start over and to have a clean slate.
Since his article hit the Internet last night after the Cubs 2-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, there has been much discussion about whether or not it makes sense to deal the volatile right hander. Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald thinks it would be foolish to deal Zambrano, because he believes Big Z has pitched much better than his record this season indicates.
Zambrano has been heralded as the ace of the Cubs staff for a long time. And while he is paid like an ace he hasn't pitched like one since inking his 91.5 million dollar extension in August 2007.
But let's not blame him for his salary. He accepted what the market said he was worth and when the Cubs signed him he did what any one of us would have done, he signed the deal. So don't blame him for that.
Now if you want to complain that he is paid like a #1 starter and he isn't a #1 starter, that is an entirely different argument. I have complained that Zambrano doesn't win enough to be an ace. I know that wins are not the best statistic to judge a pitcher on, but the fact that he ranks roughly 30th in baseball in wins since the day he signed his extension is very disconcerting.
Fresh off of a great weekend in Las Vegas with my wife I am back to working the phones and looking at what the Cubs can or might do this winter to overhaul their very disappointing team. That means every area of the team and the organization is under review with new ownership taking over after the World Series.
There are some solid players available in free agency, but as a whole this year's crop of free agents is not particularly strong. However, there is one bona-fide superstar available, and if you land him you land a second piece of your puzzle as a bonus.
St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa's contract expires after this season and there is speculation throughout Cardinal Nation that he may walk away from St. Louis and look for a new opportunity. What better move could new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and his family make than to hire one of the greatest managers in baseball history to inject some life into his struggling baseball team?
What will the Cubs off season look like? Will Jim Hendry be the man making the decisions? Let's take a stab at answering those questions and trying to figure out what is on the horizon for the 2010 Cubs. First, let's start with who will be in charge of baseball operations. There is considerable angst among Cubs fans over the moves made by General Manager Jim Hendry last winter. Nothing that Hendry tried worked and after seeing a 97 win team go backwards he is certainly hearing complaints from the fan base.
Everyone in the media seems to be weighing in with their ideas so I figured I might as well give mine. So here we go:
1) Trade Milton Bradley and eat whatever salary you have to eat to make the deal happen. He had a good season in Texas in 2008, so the Cubs hoped it would translate into great productivity here. But both on and off the field it is not working. So make the move this winter before it becomes a sideshow for the second consecutive season.
2) Say goodbye to Aaron Miles. The Cubs saw Miles hit .317 in 134 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008 and after making the insanely ridiculous decision to trade Mark DeRosa the Cubs figured Miles could do the same for the North Siders. His .178 average and whopping total of 5 RBI's in 146 at bats has to guarantee a ticket out of town despite the fact that he is owed another 2.7 million dollars in 2010.
I believe that you reward players that play hard and earn the right to be in the lineup and Jake Fox and Sam Fuld have done just that. They both give maximum effort and they both are producing when called on. Yet, Cubs manager Lou Piniella had some interesting comments after Sunday's 3-1 win over the Dodgers, a game in which Jake Fox went 4-4 and drove in 2 runs and Sam Fuld made two tremendous catches. "I said I was going to play my veteran players. They're going to have to get it done," Piniella said. "I'm going to lean as much as I can on my veteran players to see what they can do and how far we can go."
Huh? Are you kidding me? So you see your team has a spark with the younger guys and you choose to play the guys who aren't getting the job done and haven't for a majority of the season? I believe Piniella knows the game and that he is a talented manager but quotes like that leave me wondering if he really wants to be here next season.
Soriano is hitting .157 in the month of August and looks completely lost at the plate. Unless the Ricketts family is interested in eating a huge portion of the 90 million dollars left on his contract, he will be on the roster next year. So why not take some of the pressure off of him and allow him to only play sparingly the rest of the way? Or at least allow Jake Fox to see how would do knowing he is in the lineup for the next several games playing left field?
The Cubs, despite what some out there believe, are not headed for a total overhaul as soon as the Ricketts family takes over. With guaranteed contracts and no trade clauses up and down the roster, the makeup of this team is not going to change dramatically between now and next April unless the Ricketts want to add a a lot of money to the payroll to cover up for under performing veterans on big, long term deals.. So find out what you have in the younger guys. You already know what you have in Soriano and Bradley and it isn't pretty for a number of reasons. Quit playing guys because of what they get paid. Play the guys who have earned the playing time.