Kap's Corner

Tom Ricketts Archives

Cubs Moving Towards to Signing Kerry Wood

The Cubs, who have a major need for a veteran right handed reliever are moving towards finalizing a deal with free agent Kerry Wood. Wood, who spent the first 10 years of his major league career with the Cubs spent 2010 with the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees and compiled impressive numbers down the stretch for New York as the Yankees qualified for the post season.

Acquired by the Yankees at the trading deadline, Wood went 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in 24 games. If he finalizes his deal with the Cubs, Wood should provide tremendous support to Cubs closer Carlos Marmol and along with left hander Sean Marshall will form a very formidable back end of the bullpen.

Wood has made Chicago his permanent home and told me just last week that whatever decision he made about where he would pitch in 2011 had to be a good fit for his family. Being able to stay home and his longtime relationship with Cubs general manager Jim Hendry are huge factors in the Cubs favor.

More to come....

Are the Cubs Interested in Signing Adam Dunn?

According to an interview conducted by Clint Evans from Diamond Hoggers, and Mike Rosenbaum from The Golden Sombrero in their podcast called "The Baseball Show", baseball agent Matt Sosnick believes the Chicago Cubs are interested in signing Adam Dunn to a multi-year deal.

"If I was going to guess, I would say [Adam Dunn] is probably going to the Cubs, and he'll probably get, you know, 3 years and 40 million bucks," said Sosnick, of Sosnick and Cobbe Sports.

Listen to Sosnick talk about the Cubs interest in Adam Dunn


Sosnick represents numerous baseball players including the Reds' Jay Bruce and the Giants' Freddy Sanchez.  He argues that while Dunn's defense is poor, he is a consistent slugger who can hit 40 homers and drive in 100 runs year in and year out.  For this reason he is a desirable commodity for any team.  However, he says it's unclear whether the Nationals will attempt to bring him back to Washington.

"Like I said, it's very difficult to see whether the Nationals are trying to build a contending team,"  Sosnick said.  "They signed the GM for five years, they have a pitching staff that, sometime in the next couple years is going to come together where they're going to have a really strong 1, 2 and 3.  But you also have to have hitters."

Whether or not the Cubs truly are interested in Dunn has not been confirmed by the team.  But if nothing else, it could be a window into the plans the team has this off-season as they prepare for 2011.

Read the articles, and listen to the entire podcast here. 


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Hendry Says Sandberg is Welcome Back In Iowa....

I just spoke with Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry and he assured me that Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg is welcome to return to the organization as the manager at Class AAA Iowa. Sandberg, who was bypassed by Hendry for the managerial vacancy in favor of Mike Quade is reportedly "highly disappointed" that he was not given the Cubs job and yesterday indicated that he had been offered nothing by the Cubs going forward.

"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."

Quade Gets The Gig....Will Sandberg Leave the Organization?

The Cubs have removed the interim tag and have named Mike Quade their full time manager giving him a two year deal with a club option for 2013. So how did General Manager Jim Hendry arrive at this decision after interviewing several candidates over the past three months?

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."

Sandberg was 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 level."

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. 

The Cubs Managerial Search

The Cubs managerial search is rolling along as GM Jim Hendry continues to his homework on several candidates both in-house and outside the organization. He has interviewed Eric Wedge (just named the manager of the Seattle Mariners), Don Wakamatsu, Bob Melvin, Ryne Sandberg, Mike Quade, and others and he has talked to several baseball types he knows around the game to hear their thoughts and opinions.

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.
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An Honest Assessment of the Chicago Cubs

With the 2010 regular season now over it is time to turn our attention to 2011 and that means fixing all that is wrong with the Chicago Cubs as they ended the season in 5th place with a record of 75-87 and 16 games behind the division champion Cincinnati Reds.

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. 


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Forbes on the Cubs: Least Efficient Team in Baseball

Forbes Magazine just released an article that ranks every major league team on what they received for their payroll expenditures. The news is not good for the Chicago Cubs who finished dead last in all of baseball, getting the least production for the obscene amount of money that they spent on player payroll in 2010.

Check it out....

Undercover Boss Comes to Wrigley Field

The Ricketts family are newcomers to the baseball world and despite the rough season the Cubs are having on the field it has been a learning experience for all involved in the family.  
I have learned that Todd Ricketts just completed nine days of shooting today on an episode of the popular CBS show "Undercover Boss" at Wrigley Field. Ricketts was in complete disguise including a beard and was not recognized by any Cubs employee as he performed a variety of jobs including hot dog vendor and security guard.

The family looked at this as a great way to learn the inner workings of the business from the ground floor up, despite the poor season. We hear that Ricketts really connected with his "fellow employees".

The show is being rushed into production because as one source who works closely with CBS told me: "Todd Ricketts was a natural and he made the show. It may be the best Undercover Boss we have ever done." It could air within a month. More to come.

Girardi To The Cubs? Harold Reynolds Says Yes

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.

 

**Breaking News** Cubs Close to Trading Derrek Lee

**Breaking News** The Cubs are close to trading first baseman Derrek Lee to the Atlanta Braves, I have learned exclusively. The trade was first discussed on Sunday evening when the Braves called Cubs GM Jim Hendry and expressed interest after learning that one of their best offensive players, Chipper Jones was lost for the season with a knee injury.

As a 10-5 man (10 years in the major leagues and the last five with the same team) Lee has the right to reject a trade as he did when the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim tried to acquire him in late July. However, sources close to Lee tell us that he will approve a deal to Atlanta because the Braves are leading their division thus giving him a shot at winning another World Series ring. Lee was a member of the 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins who beat the New York Yankees in the Fall Classic.

The deal that would send Lee to the Braves has not yet been finalized but MLB sources characterize the trade as nearly done. One holdup has been Lee's balky back which has kept him sidelined the past couple of days. The trade is not expected to land the Cubs much in the way of talent because of Lee's subpar 2010 season but it will provide some salary relief as Lee makes 13 million dollars and the Braves are expected to assume most if not all of his remaining money.

Stay tuned and I will update as soon as I confirm that the trade has been completed. For all of the breaking news that I cover please follow me on Twitter @thekapman. Kap

A Look at the Trade of Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot

The Cubs started their overhaul of the roster for the 2011 season by trading pitcher Ted Lilly and 2nd baseman Ryan Theriot to the Los Angeles Dodgers for 2nd baseman Blake DeWitt and two minor league pitchers.

The two minor leaguers the Cubs received were both drafted reasonably high but only one is projected by minor league talent evaluators as a probable big league arm. Brett Wallach, the son of former major league infielder Tim Wallach is a recent convert from position player and pitcher to full time pitcher and has, according to the scouts I spoke with a solid chance of pitching in the big leagues as a back of the rotation type or as a set up man. Kyle Smit was a touted prospect in 2006 when he was drafted in the 5th round but has not progressed as the Dodgers had hoped. Here are a couple of scouting reports on the two pitchers from the MLB Daily Dish:
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Andre Dawson Says the Cubs Should Go After Girardi

Recently inducted Hall of Famer Andre Dawson said this week that the Cubs should pass on Ryne Sandberg and should instead take a run at New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Here are the comments that Dawson made in an interview on WSCR in Chicago.

Please post your thoughts on the Cubs managerial position in the comments section. Thanks! 

The Next Manager is a No Brainer Hire

With Lou Piniella's announcement last week that he is retiring as the manager of the Cubs the speculation has been in high gear as to who will replace him. From Ryne Sandberg to Bob Brenly to Bobby Valentine there has been no shortage of names tossed about.

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):

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Lou Piniella To Retire

Cubs manager Lou Piniella will announce this afternoon that he is retiring at the end of the 2010 baseball season. I just spoke exclusively with Piniella and he did confirm that he is stepping down but he is very upset that the news leaked out before he had a chance to inform his team.

"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.

What Keeps The Cubs From Winning?

We all know it has been 101 years and counting since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 and it isn't looking like this season will end the longest drought in sports history either. On Saturday I interviewed Cincinnati Reds star Scott Rolen who has played many games in the Friendly Confines and asked him why he thinks the Cubs don't win. What he told me might surprise you but give the man credit. He spoke from the heart and was extremely passionate in his comments.

DK: There is a lot of talk about leadership in a locker room. What is your take on the importance of leadership?

SCOTT ROLEN:
 
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?

SCOTT ROLEN:
 
Well, again I'm kind of a downplay guy, I think it's a little overblown. A winning player is a player that's on a team that won. That maybe didn't get a lot of at bats or get a lot of playing time. Whatever, there's something to it with individual guys, but it's individual personnel, case by case, there are special people in all sports that play the game that are infectious that have a way of putting people where they need to be. In the clubhouse keeping things loose, keeping things going in the right direction without a doubt. I do believe in that, but being a winning team and being a winning player, yeah I don't know.

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?

SCOTT ROLEN:
 
I think I don't know is probably the politically correct answer. True answer? The facts or the truth? The facts? The facts as I see it, I think they have their hands full a little bit. I think they're limited in their facilities here, their batting cage, I think it limits their work. A little restricted obviously in the clubhouse and their weight room. A lot of facilities that other teams have. They play a different schedule than everybody in baseball. There's three things in my mind that are facts. I don't know if that's the truth because to me there's a difference between the facts and the truth. Well it's a night game now basically. You sleep in during the day, you play a lot of night games and you struggle with travel days and everyone struggles with day games. They're playing 50, 55, 60 whatever day games a year. It's a different schedule. So I know for us coming here playing four day games, we're beat. That's their season. That's what they're doing. It puts their backs against the wall a little bit. They have good players, they have good personnel, they know how to play baseball. They have a good organization, but you know honestly I think it's difficult for them. Like I said, when we're talking about facilities everyone talks about Wrigley Field. Great atmosphere we love coming here, the fans, batting practice, everything. Fantastic, the ivy the whole works. I'm in. There's a lot in the game today, there's a lot of beautiful facilities. That are geared towards working, towards perfecting you know your skill, towards video, you know a lot of things have changed in the game and I'm not sure what the other side looks like but you know batting cages and stuff, I think are a bit restricted. They have to work pretty hard, they've got their hands full. But great place to play, everyone loves playing here and good personel, good ball club, good players.


How to Start Rebuilding the Chicago Cubs

If the Cubs do not show signs of life heading into the all star break I fully believe that we will hear from Chairman Tom Ricketts on his and his family's thoughts about the team and their plans for cleaning up the mess. So with that in mind here is what I would advise them to do to prepare for a very tough meeting with the media and the July 31st trading deadline.

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.


Cubs Trying to Move Fukudome

Several baseball sources have confirmed to me that the Chicago Cubs have been extremely active in trying to move Kosuke Fukudome to open up regular playing time for rookie Tyler Colvin. Fukudome is owed approximately 8 million dollars for the remainder of this season and an additional 14 million for 2011.

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.

What Would You Do If You Were Tom Ricketts?

I host the Tenth Inning post game show on WGN Radio after most games and I am inundated with calls from fans who want to blame Lou Piniella for the poor play of many of the Cubs highly paid stars. So it got me to thinking. If you owned the Chicago Cubs what moves would you make? Not just in player personnel but in all aspects of running a major league baseball franchise from the team to the front office to the concessions to the marketing plan.

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!

An Honest Assessment of the Cubs

With the Cubs currently sitting at 19-22 and 4 1/2 games off the pace in the NL Central it is time to evaluate the roster, the off season moves, and the decision making through the first 6 weeks of the season.

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:


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An Open Letter From Tom Ricketts

I received this letter from several Cubs fans today so I decided to post it here on the blog so you could read it and decide to participate if you wanted to.

This is from Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts:


Are you a TRUE Cubs fan?

Date:
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Time:
12:00pm - 3:00pm
Location:
Chicago City Hall - Room 201-A
Street:
121 N. LaSalle St.

Description

If you're a true fan of the Cubbies then come on out and show the team your support.

Dear Friends,

You've probably been hearing about the Toyota sign we've proposed for the back of the left field bleachers at Wrigley Field. As fans and neighbors, we want you to know why this is important to the team and how it can help preserve the Friendly Confines.

As you know, Major League ballparks have historically relied on in-park signage to generate revenue. Legendary Fenway Park, older than Wrigley Field, has added significant signage throughout its outfield - and two World Series championships - in the last six years. Most other MLB teams also receive substantial public subsidies; we do not. In our case, we have asked for one sign in the outfield.

When we became owners, my family and I anticipated the need to spend tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars over the years ahead to preserve Wrigley Field. This past off-season, before we saw a single game as owners, we invested $10 million to shore up the infrastructure of the aging ballpark, renovate and expand its bathrooms, preserve our beloved scoreboard and replace some of the less attractive features of the park, like the concrete panels on the Addison street fa├žade. As long-time Cubs fans, we know Wrigley Field is a special place and our hope is for future generations to share the wonderful experience of visiting the Friendly Confines.

In addition to the dollars invested in the park, we have maintained one of the highest payrolls in baseball and increased our budget for scouting and development - the key to future success. Winning a championship requires significant financial resources and we are currently reinvesting all profits - from the Toyota sign and otherwise - to make this happen.

Beyond the economics, there is an important principle at stake here. Wrigley Field has thrived for years as a privately-owned facility, albeit one where public interest is keen. We believe the park continues to be well-served by this principle which has guided its operation for nearly a century.

We have also been very respectful of the City's landmark designation and the process we have undertaken to win approval has been thorough. We've worked with the City and made adjustments, including modifying the location and design of the sign at the request of preservationists and City zoning officials. We've also worked with the rooftop businesses and in fact chose the proposed location because it least impacts those rooftop partners with whom we have long-term agreements. The landmark designation was never intended to put Wrigley Field in a time capsule. It's intended to allow flexibility and growth, within reason, to help the ballpark stay alive for the decades to come.

Finally, much of the opposition is rooted in commercial interests of one particular building and is designed to protect advertising currently on a rooftop across the street from Wrigley Field. Protecting the interests of one rooftop advertisement does not help preserve Wrigley Field or put together a championship team.

We would welcome your help and support for this sign. If you would like to lend your voice in support, please e-mail us at cubsfanfeedback@cubs.com.

I hope this information is helpful. Efforts like this are important as we continue to invest in our team and our 96-year-old ballpark. Improvements to Wrigley Field and modest changes throughout the years have kept the Friendly Confines alive while other stadiums have come and gone. Working together as we have allows us to remain viable and continue to flourish.

Thank you again for your help. And Go Cubs!

Sincerely,

Tom Ricketts
Chairman

The Latest on the Cubs, Zambrano, etc....

With the Cubs record now back to .500 at 13-13 and a 6 game road trip to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati up this week it's time to take a critical look at the team and some of the issues that they are facing in the fairly near future.

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.

Starting Pitching

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.

Bullpen

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.

Infield

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.

Outfield

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.

Catcher

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.

Summary

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 White Sox Will Play for a Trophy

**Breaking News**

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.   

The Signs of Spring

Here are some of the photos that I captured over the first two days at Cubs camp. The entire squad has reported and went through their first full day of workouts. As the snow falls and the cold weather blankets Chicago check out the blue skies in sunny Arizona. Enjoy! Kap


Gallery sneak peek (20 images):

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Cubs Expect Mesa Deal to Get Done

Cubs president Crane Kenney joined me on Sports Central tonight and had this to say when I asked him about the "Cubs Tax" that has riled up all of the other owners in the Cactus League:

 

Crane Kenney: Yes, we're really confident. I met with the mayor of Mesa today and we talked a little bit about the so-called "Cubs" tax. The state representative who's the sponsor of the bill has got a meeting Friday with all of the teams to talk about the various funding mechanisms and from our perspective that's not our business. The state and the city will figure out how to finance this. We're supportive of any measure that helps us get a facility, a world class one, and we've been led to believe by everyone from John McCain who I had lunch with last week on down that this will get done and we're going to have a few bumps in the road like lots of legislation but we're pretty confident.

The Baseball Season is Back

The Cubs first full squad workout is underway, and everyone on the roster has reported on time.  It appears the club as a whole is in the best shape that we have seen in quite a while. Carlos Zambrano and Geovany Soto, are both much lighter, which has been reported for weeks now, and in the case of Soto he has lost more than 40 lbs.

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 

The Changes That are Coming to Wrigley Field and the Cubs

With the Ricketts family taking over ownership of the Chicago Cubs things are changing throughout the franchise with many of those changes occurring throughout the ball park. The Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan wrote about some of the changes earlier this week but there are many more that are currently underway. Here are some of the changes that are going on at the Friendly Confines:

Did you know that after taking control of the Chicago Cubs, the Ricketts family has doubled the benefits package for Cubs employees including their contribution into the 401K each employee has. In addition, the word employees is no longer used. Instead everyone is referred to as associates. Also, the vendors are receiving a raise in the commissions that they are paid.

The changes going on at Wrigley Field are costing nearly 10 million dollars and are just the start of a major renovation of the park over the next few years. After touring the ball park recently here are the changes that are currently going on at the Friendly Confines: 

1) Major remodeling of the main restrooms for men and women located behind home plate. The number of toilets will greatly increase and the women's restroom is being expanded significantly with one of the ramps that fans use to get to the grandstand being removed.And yes guys, the troughs are staying.

2) The number of TV's in the ball park are being expanded significantly and all of the television sets are being upgraded to flat panel TV's.

3) Sky box suites 1-6 (down the left field line) are being remodeled and turned into a mezzanine club with a naming rights sponsor tied to it (I hear a financial company will be putting their name on it). Seats will be sold on a season ticket basis.

4) The area underneath the right field bleachers will be turned into a party area with one way glass allowing the fans who are renting the area to watch players take batting practice in the existing batting cages.

5) The concrete panels on the outside of the ballpark at the right field entrance are being removed to allow more sunlight into that area of the park and to allow fans going up the ramps a view of downtown Chicago.

6) The food options at the concession stands are being greatly expanded and a "Cubs Hot Dog" is being created ala the famous "Dodger Dog" that is sold in Los Angeles.

7) The players will have a new weight training center that will occupy the area that formerly was the umpires quarters. The umps have been relocated to the first base side of the field. In addition, the Cubs old weight room which is located in the clubhouse is being turned into a players lounge and dining room. The Cubs have also hired a team nutritionist who will be in charge of upgrading the food served in the locker room and monitoring players nutrition both at home and when the team is on the road.

8) The family lounge for players wives and kids is being completely renovated as the old quarters were embarrassingly spartan.

9) The Ricketts family has stressed that they want to make the Cubs experience the best in sports. Much like Disney World being exceptionally clean that is what the Ricketts family is demanding Wrigley Field be kept like.

10) The Cubs will soon announce the hiring of a Chief Hospitality Officer or Director of Game Day Entertainment and that person's job will be to make sure that every aspect of a fan's experience is held to the highest standards of excellence. There will be uniformed "team ambassadors" who will be monitoring every part of the "Cubs Universe" on game day. Whether a fan takes the train, parks their car in a surrounding lot, rides their bicycle, or takes a bus to the area surrounding the stadium there will be Cubs ambassadors monitoring everything that a fan experiences and trouble shooting any problems that are brought to their attention.

11) More availability of autographs for kids who attend games at Wrigley Field. The Cubs are planning a regular, formal program for kids to obtain autographs.

12) Kids will be allowed to run the bases once a month (probably on a Sunday) in a program that is still being finalized.

13) The Ricketts have told their staff that they want Wrigley Field to be the most fan friendly place in all of sports. To that end there have been and will continue to be a series of season ticket holder luncheons designed to allow long time fans a chance to give the Cubs feedback on what needs to be improved off of the playing field.

14) There will be a customized "Wrigley Grass Seed" developed by Scott's that will be available in stores this summer.

More to come.

No Announcement on Spring Training Site Today

Numerous news organizations are reporting today that the Chicago Cubs will announce their future spring training home this afternoon. I have confirmed that they will be making no announcement today as they weigh proposals from both Mesa, AZ and Naples, FL.

Speculation is running rampant that the Cubs have settled on Naples or are close to making that decision but I do not believe that any announcement has been decided upon. Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan had a story that talked about a "bed tax" that would potentially seal the deal for a move to Naples.

I predicted months ago that despite an excellent offer from Naples that the Cubs would get a deal done that would keep them in Arizona and I still believe that will end up being true. Look for an announcement sometime next week.

Yankees Covet Granderson, Cubs Won't Include Castro

The New York Yankees spent the better part of Monday at the Winter Meetings trying to acquire Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson, who is available because Detroit is looking to cut payroll. The proposed deal was a three team swap that also included the Arizona Diamondbacks. But as of Monday evening, it appears that the Yankees were having reservations about the amount of young talent that they would have to include in the swap to acquire Granderson.

The Cubs are on the fringe of the discussions, hoping to hang around and see if the price falls a bit, so they can take a run at acquiring the outstanding defender and Chicago native. However, the Tigers reportedly are asking for Cubs top prospect SS Starlin Castro and two more good players in exchange for Granderson, and the Cubs are balking at including Castro in just about any deal.

The Cubs are also hot on the heels of CF Mike Cameron, who played for Cubs manager Lou Piniella in Seattle. He's not only a great defender, but he is considered one of the best clubhouse leaders in baseball. Jim Hendry told me last week that he can make moves even if a trade or signing puts him over the payroll limit set by ownership, as long as he meets his budget number by Opening Day. That was not the case in 2005, when Hendry was forced to let Moises Alou leave via free agency, and to pass on several other moves, because he had not yet moved the contract of Sammy Sosa. 

Gallery sneak peek (12 images):

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Cubs Choose Not to Offer Arbitration to Harden

Tonight is the deadline for clubs to offer salary arbitration to their free agents. And for the Cubs, that means they have decisions to make on a handful of players, including starting pitcher Rich Harden and closer Kevin Gregg.

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.
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The Cubs have elected not to offer salary arbitration to starting pitcher Rich Harden whose injury history made it likely he would have accepted it putting the Cubs on the hook for a big salary.


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.
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The Latest on Milton Bradley

Don't shoot the messenger! Here is the latest on Milton Bradley and a possible return to the Texas Rangers where he played in 2008 before he signed with the Cubs. There are a ton of rumors regarding Bradley and where he may end up and most of them are untrue. However, these one appears to at least be up for discussion.

One thing is for sure. Milton Bradley will not return to the Cubs in 2010. Here are some other Cubs notes from the Breaking Sports News Center at the Chicago Tribune. More to come later in the day. Have a great day! Kap

It's Official....The Ricketts Take Control

After a 30 month period filled with ups and downs it is finally official. The Ricketts family has taken control of the storied Chicago Cubs franchise, Wrigley Field, and a stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

Here is the press release issued by the Ricketts family through their spokesman Dennis Culloton just minutes ago....

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 (CHICAGO) -- The Ricketts family says it's official; the family has taken a 95 percent controlling interest in the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field and 25 percent of Comcast Sportsnet after a financial closing today.

The closing on the deal, valued at $845 million, completes a more than two year effort that started when Tribune Company put the team, stadium and broadcast interest up for bid.  Family members Pete, Tom, Laura and Todd Ricketts will now assume control of the team, forming a board of directors. Tribune Company will retain a five percent interest in the enterprise and also have a seat on the board. 

Tom Ricketts, 44, will serve as board chairman and issued the following statement:

"My family and I are thrilled that this day has finally come and we thank Commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball owners for approving our ownership.  Now we will go to work building the championship tradition that all Cubs fans so richly deserve. 

It's fitting that this closing takes place during World Series week. Out of respect for the Fall Classic, and at the league's request, we will wait to introduce ourselves to the media and fans until this Friday, a travel day in the series between the Phillies and the Yankees."

The news conference will take place at Wrigley Field at 11 a.m. Friday, October 30th.

More to come later in the day when we discuss this on Chicago Tribune Live at 5:30 on Comcast SportsNet and tonight at 7:00 on Sports Central on WGN Radio.

No Chance the Cubs Spend the Spring in Florida

There are reports surfacing tonight that the Cubs have spoken with the city of Naples, FL about a possible move there as a new spring training home. Yes, the Cubs have met with Naples officials and they have toured the city as they consider all of their options for spring training.

However, there is virtually no chance that the Cubs will leave Arizona and the Cactus League for Florida and the Grapefruit League. The travel in Florida is much tougher with some of the cities much farther apart than the large group of teams that calls the Phoenix area home.

This is called negotiating folks, and as the Cubs look around it drives up the offers from the city of Mesa. And it will, in the end, make the deal that the Cubs agree to that much more lucrative. Look for the Cubs to develop a sort of "Disneyland" for spring training baseball in Arizona, with a hotel and restaurant complex located near the playing field and workout facilities at which the team will train.

When it is all finished, it will be a cash cow for the Cubs, who remain the #1 drawing team in the Cactus League. The new stadium will be larger than Ho Ho Kam, and it will be loaded with amenities that the Cubs currently don't have.

Yes, Naples would love to have the Cubs, but I just don't see it happening no matter what they offer. The Cubs and Arizona are a good match, and when Mesa finishes their proposal I see the Cubs staying right there.

Expect Jaramillo To Be Named Shortly

Expect the Cubs to put the money where their mouth is by making former Texas Rangers coach Rudy Jaramillo the highest paid hitting coach in baseball history sometime in the next couple of days. He is expected to sign a multi-year deal for approximately $800,000 dollars. They reportedly beat out a handful of other clubs who were also offering big money and a multi year deal. However, he sees the Cubs as a golden opportunity to turn around a talented team and help to get them back to the postseason. New owner Tom Ricketts approved the increase in payroll to land the talented teacher as the Cubs try to get back to the level of run production that helped fuel their 97 win team in 2008.

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....

The Cubs Are Closing in on Rudy Jaramillo

Ask most major league baseball executives who the best hitting coach in the game is and most will tell you the name of Rudy Jaramillo [ha-dah-MEE-yoh], who for the last 15 years has been the hitting coach for the Texas Rangers. Jaramillo turned down a one year contract from the Rangers last week, and he's in hot demand among the rest of baseball because he is highly successful in helping his hitters make dramatic improvement.

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
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Shortstop Starlin Castro is one of the brightest stars in the Cubs improving farm system.

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.




Cubs Bankruptcy is Approved

A Delaware judge has approved the Cubs sale from Tribune Company to the Ricketts family paving the way for the sale to close late next week and for the family to take control of the franchise.

Here are the details  of the announcement on the bankruptcy approval by Judge Kevin Carey who is handling the entire Tribune case. Tune into Chicago Tribune Live at 5:30 on Comcast SportsNet and Sports Central on WGN Radio at 7:00 p.m.for more on the process and when the deal should close and what moves could be made first by the new ownership group.

Random Thoughts From the Chicago Sports Scene

Once in a awhile I like to look at some of the happenings in the sports world rather than just concentrating a blog post on just one sport. So here are some thoughts and questions that I have been observing and wondering about for a while.

Did you know that the over/under total of wins for the Bears in Las Vegas when the season began was 8 1/2? You have to think that the large numbers of Chicagoans who travel to Vegas must have put some serious money down on the over. The Bears look pretty solid and with Jay Cutler at the controls it would take a real collapse to not win at least 9 games.

The total bet in Vegas that has the casinos very happy is the number that they posted on the Broncos of 6 1/2 after seeing huge money come in on the under with the total posted at 7 1/2. The casinos adjusted their number out of concern that they could lose a ton on the under. Several "wiseguys" continued to pound the under and the casinos could make a fortune with the Broncos already 4-0.
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**Breaking News** The Ricketts Receive Unanimous Approval From MLB

Chicago investment banker and new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts

Chicago investment banker and new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts


The Ricketts family was approved this afternoon in a unanimous vote by the 29 other owners of Major League Baseball franchises. The vote took place via a conference call with Commissioner Bud Selig and went as expected.

The next step will be for the franchise to go through a pre-packaged bankruptcy which will take place next Monday or Tuesday for a period of 24 hours. When that step is finalized the banks who are financing the deal will have a 10 day cooling off period before they have to fund the transaction.

So look for the sale to close on or around the 29th or 30th of October.

UPDATE 4:44 p.m. The Ricketts Family has issued a brief statement through their spokesman Dennis Culloton, after leaning from Major League Baseball that they were approved unanimously as the new owners of the Chicago Cubs.

"The Ricketts family is honored to have received the approval of major league baseball owners today. This is a major step forward, but the transaction is not yet complete." Commissioner Bud Selig also issued his thoughts on the deal after the unanimous vote that took place via conference call: "We're extremely pleased that the sales process is drawing to a close," said Selig "and we are confident that the Ricketts family will be great owners and custodians of the Chicago Cubs. All of us at Major League Baseball are grateful to the Tribune Company for their years of stewardship of this proud and historic franchise."

Tune into Chicago Tribune Live at 5:30 on Comcast SportsNet and Sports Central at 7 p.m. on WGN Radio for more on the sale and the completion timetable of the transaction.

Kap
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Let's Clear Up a Few Misconceptions About the 09' Cubs

Now that the 2009 season has come to an end for the Chicago Cubs it is time to take a critical look at the team and dispel a few ideas that some in town seem to believe as gospel. First, as much as the signing of Milton Bradley was a bad idea it was not the reason the 2009 Cubs finished where they did. Repeat after me, Milton Bradley was not the reason this team is not in the playoffs.

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.
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The Cubs Have to Get it Right (or Left) This Winter

After the Cubs were swept by the Dodgers last winter, management was very open about its need to add another bat to the lineup.  And after listening to Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry, it was obvious that the bat had to be left handed.

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.
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Can Jim Hendry Fix the Cubs?

Yes, I know he had a brutal winter of 2008-09 and I know that the Cubs have had a very disappointing 2009 season. But I still believe that GM Jim Hendry is the man to fix what ails his baseball team heading into 2010. Sources have confirmed to me that Hendry will indeed be retained as the GM after the 2009 season ends and he will be given a fair shot to straighten out what went wrong with his club this season.

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. 
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The Cubs Need to Say Goodbye to Rich Harden

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Rich Harden's inability to pitch deep into games combined with his injury history makes it likely he won't be a Cub in 2010.

With the Cubs looking towards next year and trying to figure how to improve their team without having a big budget increase lets take a look at their salary commitments for 2010 and how their payroll may prevent them from making many major moves.

Here are the Cubs who are already under contract for next year:
Alfonso Soriano  19 million
Carlos Zambrano 18.875 million
Aramis Ramirez  16.75 million
Kosuke Fukudome 14 million
Ryan Dempster  13.5 million
Derrek Lee  13 million
Ted Lilly 13 million
Milton Bradley 10.33
Jeff Samardzija 1.0 million
---------------------------------------------
119.455 million

Add in to this number arbitration eligible players like Ryan Theriot, Carlos Marmol, Aaron Heilman, Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall, Mike Fontenot, and Koyie Hill and you have to figure that the payroll will swell to approximately $130 million or more and that is just for 16 players.

Add in needing to either re-sign or replace Rich Harden, Kevin Gregg, and Reed Johnson and you have a payroll that is close to or more than 140 million BEFORE you attempt to improve the roster.

So those of us who like to play arm chair general manager and have the Cubs taking a run at Chone Figgins or another high priced free agent better understand that the Ricketts family is not going to be adding big money to the payroll in their first year of ownership.

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Let's Talk About Big Z

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Carlos Zambrano has his share of detractors, but should the Cubs consider trading him this off-season?

Paul Sullivan stirred up Cubs Nation over the last 24 hours when he talked about the possibility of the Cubs trading Carlos Zambrano this winter in an attempt to create more payroll flexibility and to add some young prospects to the club.

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.
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The Cubs Need to Sign the #1 Free Agent This Winter

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?

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The best first move the Ricketts Family could make would be to hire Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan for the Cubs. Both men will be free agents this off-season


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Ricketts Plan for Wrigley

Crain's Chicago Business has a story up regarding the Rickett's family's plans for Wrigley Field once they complete their deal to buy the Cubs from Tribune Company. As I reported a week ago the deal is done and will be approved by Major League Baseball shortly after the World Series.

Many fans are speculating that the first thing that Tom Ricketts does as the new owner is to clean house but sources close to the situation tell me that they do not expect immediate changes. Instead, they expect the family to assess every aspect of the team from an inside perspective both on and off the field before they implement the changes that they have been considering since they first decided to submit a bid.


Suggestions for the Ricketts Family

There are several moves both on and off the field that I would suggest to the new owners that would fundamentally change the team and the Wrigley Field experience for fans. Demand that things be done your way or else. You knew how to play that card when you had to during the long negotiations to buy the team.
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The Ricketts family reportedly played hardball toward the end of their negotiations to buy the Cubs. Now they have to play hardball and demand that things be done their way going forward.



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.
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**Breaking News** The Cubs Sale is Done!

As we first reported a week ago that it would happen by today, the agreement to sell the Chicago Cubs has been signed between the Tribune Company and the Ricketts family. The deal is for 845 million dollars and will be for a 95% stake in the ballclub, Wrigley Field, and Tribune Company's 25% stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

The Tribune Company will retain a 5% ownership interest but the Ricketts family will have total control of the operation of the baseball team. The next step will be to place the franchise into Chapter 11 so that the bankruptcy court can approve the transaction. After that step is completed then Major League Baseball's other owners will need to approve the transaction. Both of these steps are considered a formality and the Ricketts family is expected to assume control of the franchise sometime after the World Series is completed.

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As we first reported last week, the Tribune Company and the Ricketts family have signed an agreement to sell a controlling interest in the team and Wrigley Field to the Ricketts family. The deal is pending Major League Baseball approval.

 

MLB's next quarterly owners meeting is ironically in Chicago in November but the approval of the sale could be done via teleconference before then so that Tom Ricketts who is leading the family's ownership group could start to make critical decisions about the franchise's direction before free agency begins in early November.

Fans are already speculating on just what the new ownership group's first move will be but sources close to the sale process tell me that Tom Ricketts is not an impulsive person and that he will survey the situation with the ball club before he makes drastic changes to the front office and the team itself.

The sale process has been a difficult one and has dragged on for 28 months since the team was put on the block on Opening Day of the 2007 baseball season but this step is a huge one in the right direction because the club has been without definitive ownership since early 2007 when the Tribune Company was purchased by Sam Zell. From that point on the team has been on the block and speculation about its future has been major news. Now the team will have direction and a fresh approach as they try to win a World Series for the first time since 1908.

As for the radio future of the Cubs here is the latest after the agreement was signed today:

"As part of the sale, WGN Radio will remain as the radio play by play home of the Chicago Cubs, and we look forward to our continued partnership with the club for many years to come," said Tom Langmyer, Vice President and General manager of WGN Radio.

More to come on this story as it develops. Kap

 

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