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Cubs Q and A with Sun Times Gordon Wittenmyer: Starlin Castro, Jeff Samardzija, Junior Lake

Cubs Q and A with Sun Times Gordon Wittenmyer: Starlin Castro, Jeff Samardzija, Junior Lake
Gordon Wittenmyer and Len Kasper

Gordon Wittenmyer has been doing some of my favorite work covering the beat for the Cubs. However, he has done much more than that. He has been writing features that dare to take a closer look and at times even question how the Tom Ricketts ownership has handled the Cubs thus far. The same can be said about the front office and the rebuilding plan.

We have always been on board with a rebuilding project and behind Theo Epstein and the plan. However, there have been some bumps in the road and it is imperative to have voices like Wittenmyer's to keep and even eye on the organization.

I got to talk to Wittenmyer about some of the forefront issues surrounding the Cubs and he was gracious enough to give us enough to split into a two- part interview.

TL: Gordon, you were one of the few who didn’t jump the gun to bury Starlin Castro when he was scuffling. Where do you think he stands with the organization’s plan moving forward?

GW: It’s hard to look at what Castro did for three years and say that he’s not a successful, capable major-league hitter who has made adjustments. That said, he doesn’t have the slugging or on-base percentage to suggest there’s not room to grow there. And that said, what he did provide offensively for a shortstop was still far ahead of almost everyone else at that position.

I think the front office over-thought the whole thing, trying to improve upon what Sveum called a “hit collector.” (Not sure when collecting 190 hits a season became a bad thing.) As we saw, and I think as you pointed out, Castro tried to incorporate the teaching (of three different hitting voices, by the way) and wound up for much of the season seeing almost a pitch more per at-bat – and watching his production tumble significantly. I think they should have left him alone until he struggled on his own.

TL: Do you still see him as the shortstop when this team wins? Could you foresee the Cubs dealing him?

GW: I believe the front office still looks at Castro as a core player, albeit one with improvements to make. I think some in the organization wonder if they didn’t contribute to his struggles this year. And I think next season will be crucial for Castro and maybe his future with the club. I don’t think he’ll be traded in the off-season (for one thing that would be selling low).

TL: The Cubs want to sign Jeff Samardzija to a long-term deal; Samardzija and camp seem determined to hit the market. Is he worth top of rotation money?

GW: First of all, people have to get off the whole top-of-the-rotation or not top-of-the-rotation thing. How many bona fide aces are there in the game? 10? 15? If it’s 15, then on average only half the teams in baseball have one. If it’s 20, one-third of the teams in baseball don’t have one.

Samardzija has stuff on a good day that makes him as good and competitive as an elite pitcher, which would make him one of perhaps 60 guys in the game – maybe 100.

The rest of it’s all about how often he can bring it, for how long in a game, repeatedly. And that’s measured in the numbers at the end of the year. And that’s where the comparables are going to come in to determine what fair market value for him is.

TL: How do you see this scenario playing out?

GW: Both sides say they’re looking for a fair-market deal. Both sides are motivated to keep him around. The only holdup so far is that Samardzija, rightfully so, wants to actually get a full season of starting in so he has a better idea of that fair market. I think something gets done this fall and that it includes a pile of incentive clauses.

TL: How are experts like Keith Law so sure what Junior Lake is or isn’t? Do the Cubs even have any idea?

GW: Keith Law and experts like him are paid to be “so sure.” It’s easy to pick apart flaws in a player’s game and crow when he fails. You’ll be right more often than not with hitters just because so much failure is built in to the game for them.

I’ve heard enough downside about Lake and his approach in the minors to be skeptical. On the other hand, he has so far shown a rare knack for performing better when the bell rings, and better as the stakes rise.

I have no idea if he can keep it up, and we’re already seeing swings in his performance. He clobbers left-handers but will ultimately have to make his living against right-handers.

Let’s see if he has the attention span and commitment to be great (and adjust) when the long slump hits.

Follow Gordon on Twitter @GDubCub

Next up we talk to Gordon about the front office, their plan for next year and the resources they may or may not have to execute it.

@TomLoxas

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  • fb_avatar

    Good article. I am in the "Skeptical on Lake" camp, I was at the game last night, and he had some really poor swings, including a strike three swinging in a critical spot at a breaking ball that was way out of the zone. He doesn't have the plate discipline to play every day, IMO.

    I hope Lake shows enough to be a super sub, but I think that's his ceiling. The floor is back in AAA.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I think we should all have a healthy skepticism with Lake for now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Truly, how do you not have healthy skepticism with any prospect who comes up until they have established themselves. Many players without Lake's weaknesses were not able to transition to full time major leaguer.

  • In reply to springs:

    Should be skeptical on any prospect, of course, and probably more so for Lake than many others. I added the word healthy in there to further differentiate it from cynicism. There are many reasons to doubt that Lake can be a long term solution, but I find it ridiculous when people say Lake has no chance or is not a prospect. It's about as ridiculous as when people say he's a can't miss star.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I'm with you for the most part. He has surprisingly kept producing longer than I originally thought. Which makes me think his detractors are just over criticizing his flaws. Then he has AB's like last night and you can see, he's obviously going to get exploited very badly by MLB pitching. The key will be to see how he adjusts.

    If he hits Lefties consistently enough, I see a role as a RH half of a platoon with Nate/DDJ for 2014.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I have to disagree with you. I think he will definitly be a full time starter atleast starting next year, not just a platoon player. However, the question is can he keep his job once our OF prospects start landing in the big leages. Having a full time job will give him a better chance of refining his skills and developing into a full time starter.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    I don't think there is any evidence that suggest that Lake can be a solid regular. I keep hearing the refrain "the thing that makes him so hard to project is that he is athletic." What? If athleticism was the main criteria for success in baseball things would be turned upside down from what they are. Honestly, I don't even see Lake as a decent sub. You don't compile a .731 or whatever it is OPS in more than 2,000 minor league at bats and suddenly become a good major leaguer.

  • I liked Wittenmyer before, and this interview confirms it for me.

    He does a great job covering the Cubs and doesn't make himself out to be some know-it-all.

    It seems like Wittenmyer & Carrie Muskat are on a different level then everybody else covering the Cub's. Mooney is good too.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I'm a big fan of Gordo and Mooney, Muskat does a fine job. Esp considering she has ties to club. I'm also big on Miles and want to see what M Gonz brings. Gordon has a lot more to say in part 2.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Great article Tom, couldn't agree more with Gordan's comments on Castro's swing. They have the kid so screwed up he doesn't know whether he's coming or going, it's like 14 people giving you tips on your golf swing till you end up where you can't get pass the ladies tees, oops, forward tees, my bad...

  • In reply to peoria cubfan:

    You're not speaking from your own golfing experience are you? I kid, I kid ;)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Oh you know it's the truth, been there, done that...

  • In reply to peoria cubfan:

    Haha! Me too. Golfing story: Nothing beats a friend of mine who wanted to take up golfing. Worst I've ever seen at the game. Once topped the ball so badly that he drilled the ball and tee into the ground. We literally had to dig it out. I had never seen that before. Also drilled one almost straight sideways into a bush near a house that sent a terrified cat scurrying from his hiding place. We also got paired up with former Cub OF"er Brant Brown (he was playing in an indy league by then) that day and we were dying laughing nearly the whole game. Not that either one of us were that great, but this friend of mine was on a completely different level of bad.

    By the way, I may be utility infielder sized but I outdrove Brown most of the time -- but if I may be totally honest, that was due in large part to him being completely hammered by the 9th hole.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Second worst golfer I've ever seen, by the way, is my dad. But he golfs with sandles, a floppy hat, a cigar in his mouth, and zero practice swings for the entire course, so I'll give him a pass on that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Reminds me of what my senior partner told me on Saturday as I lost my 8th or 9th ball in the water/woods: "Don't get pissed. The golf balls are the least expensive part of this game."

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    Haha! Very true.

  • In reply to peoria cubfan:

    Reminds me of the handling of Patterson. Except he wasn't as willing to accept different ideas, at least in the beginning.

  • In reply to springs:

    Patterson is a good example of what I wrote earlier: The player has to be coachable for the coach and the lesson to have any positive effect.

  • In reply to peoria cubfan:

    I remember watching Castro in his first year. He had that swagger at the plate. You could see he knew he was going to get a hit, and it was just a matter of zeroing in on the right pitch. He'd foul off a few that he didn't like and then drive one for a hit. Now it's like holding back a stallion that has to run. I see him as a free swinger who can't change his style, and telling him to take pitches is ruining him. With his previous approach of swinging and fouling off bad pitches, he could still work a pitcher, not for balls but simply for number of pitches thrown. That's what I saw and remember, maybe I'm totally wrong.

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    In reply to Stevo1:

    I don't think anybody is telling Castro to "take" pitches, that's just the way he is interpreting it. It's not about taking pitches or walks, but waiting for your pitch and not hitting a pitcher's pitch. Not swinging at breaking pitches low and away. Either somebody isn't explaining this kind of approach to him or he is not getting it.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    I think you nailed it with your last sentence. The big problem is that he has had real success with his terrible plate discipline and doesn't understand that the league has figured him out.

  • Hopefully you asked him about the Owners paying for their debt services out of the team's revenues (therefore causing the lower payroll).

    Wittenmyer & Levine has that debt services number somewhere between $15M-$40M.

    Huge story. Hopefully Wittenmyer keeps digging (no matter how disingenuous it makes Tom Ricketts looks.

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    Oh he has somethings to say, it may not be all popular but we need to have our eyes open.

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    Food for thought... Have y'all looked at the Forbes MLB team value list. This was calculated back in March of 2013.

    The Cubs have the highest Debt to Value ratio in all of the MLB despite being ranked #4 in value. Not good...

    http://www.forbes.com/mlb-valuations/list/

  • In reply to svelocity:

    Who really cares about how they allocate revenues? Not attacking you, just voicing an opinion. I could care less if the Cubs have the largest or smallest payroll in the game. I want a winning product. I don't care if they go all Tampa Bay and have a crazy low payroll yet consistently win 90 games. Recent history has shown that simply having a huge payroll doesn't guarantee success.

    Sure, debt service could impact spending in the near-term, but the financial dynamics of the game have changed dramatically. Gone are the days the Yankees could sign a #1, #2/3 and elite 1B in one off season (CC, Burnett, Teixeira). Even if Theo could hand out a few prince fielder / Josh Hamilton contracts, I don't think he even would - at least not right now...

    Also, Forbes' analysis is mostly guesswork. They don't review the Cubs' books and don't have much visibility into their financials. They recently reported that the Cubs were the most profitable MLB team - and I can't honestly believe that to be true.

  • In reply to Roscoe Village:

    Your reply really doesn't respond directly to the debt/value ratio Forbes list. If you are hamstrung by your debt you have less flexibility to do the things you want to do in the future. If Ricketts needs to borrow money to expand operations or upgrade facilities (think Wrigley Field) banks/investors will look at the balance sheet and believe the Cubs are a riskier organization to lend to. Therefore, higher interest rates on future lending is an obvious repercussion.

    MLB payroll is still important and spending on quality players does matter. To me (and I'm no financial expert) but as an organization I look at MLB contracts (perhaps more accurately the player behind the contract) I can establish a value to that player (asset). I can quantify what that MLB player brings back to the organization (my valuation less outstanding contract). Therefore, you can justify spending on an established player. The Rays don't have payroll because they don't have revenues.

    Can this valuation be done with minor league players? I don't think so, not yet at least. Kris Bryant's $6.8? (at this point) is an expense. His value to the organization is minimal. Sure tickets are sold at these minor league games and yes there likely is plenty of advertizing revenue but that doesn't float these minor league organizations. MLB revenues matter because they are propping up the oh so important minor league system. Maybe minor league contracts are considered R&D, I don't know?

    Anyhow, getting back to my point. Debt or the lack thereof is important to any business. If you are trying to make moves debt can hamper those moves. I suppose this is all theoretical because as soon as the Cubs sign their new TV contract their debt will go away in a flash.

    Cheers!

  • In reply to svelocity:

    The cost of debt is currently extremely low. As such, it is the best of times to live with a higher ratio. I suspect we'll see a different approach as the organization's rebuilding process moves forward. Certainly the team is attempting to restructure its revenue stream. The reality is that we can expect substantial improvement in cash flow from a new TV contract. The question is how much additional income will increase.

    Just as the team is changing their approach to building a deep organization, so is the group rebuilding the old method of buying for the current year and rolling the dice. The Ricketts have a history in finance. Let's give them the slack before assuming they won't succeed in their plans.

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    Wittenmeyer's article on the debt was brutal. It was obvious he had no idea what he was talking about and then he went on the radio to talk about it and made it even more obvious. It does no good to dig up information if you don't know 1) what that information actually means and 2) how to adequately convey that information to the public.

  • I am skeptical when a columnist introduces a source by his/her first name -- darned J-School training -- but I like this Q & A column very much.
    Wittenmyer has a rare broader perspective, on such things as player value and performance, that most of us lack.
    And he is incisive about Law and the other experts, with their spurious ways always to be "right".
    Looking forward to Part Two.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Thanks! So how did they teach it?

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Last name only, unless there's a formal title, such as Col. Blimp. That way it removes any implication of cronyism that first names carry, and standardizes all references.
    Not as formal as the NY Times using "Mr. Khrushchev" and "Mrs. Thatcher" and "Mr. Rodriguez" (even for A-Rod), but it is uniform and neutral.
    Of course, you can do what you wish in a blog, but standardizing some things does help clarity. Keep up the good work.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Ok so in reference you would only say Wittenmyer or are you referencing when I called him Gordon in interview?

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Funny, I just emailed you on this before I read your note here.
    All good !

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    No I always appreciate constructive criticism, seriously.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Scouts and more specifically people reporting on scouting that are working as writers for national publications are not paid to fence-sit. They are being paid to give their opinion, not say that every prospect has a chance and try to make every team's fans feel good. And they also know they are going to be wrong more often than not and have people throw it back in their faces.

    I'm sure there are instances when these guys go for glib or for a sound bite and it comes off as smug or dismissive, but that is the nature of the business. If you want detailed in depth analysis, don't bother with a national writer or publication, they don't have the time to thoroughly track every prospect for every team.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Not sure of your point. So such national writers and sources as Jim Callis and Baseball America, for example, don't give in-depth analysis? And Keith Law does?
    I find it's the local beat people who don't have as much in-depth knowhow as they should. Look at Sully and, on occasion, Bruce Levine ("Rizzo can play OF, at least as well as Carlos Lee, so the Cubs can try him there.")

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Where did I say Keith law gives in depth analysis? Pretty sure I said the exact opposite. The national guys tend to rely on info they get from other scouts, so their reports are not always their own opinion or they saw a guy a year ago and may be out of date. Even Baseball America does not have guys that follow every team. They split up the work. Its impossible for one person to have up to date info on every prospect for every team.

    And of course there are local reporters that are garbage too. They sometimes have to give players and/or teams a pass on things in order to keep in good graces and maintain access. But some of the local reporters (like Wittenmeyer and Mooney) do a fine job. And then there are also local sources like this website that do a way better job of following the Cubs and Cubs prospects than the national publications.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    As I said, I wasn't sure of your point because it wasn't clear to me in what I read.
    I think we might be agreeing despite all the words.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Probably. That's what we get for trying to be thoughtful and articulate when we should be working.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Hell, mjvz, being a passionate Cubs fan IS hard work !

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Being passionate is easy. Being pleased is a much more difficult task.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Thanks mjvz. And agree with what you say here as far as some of the obstacles the national and local media face. I will also add that their jobs and schedules are different than mine and they don't have the time to cover prospects the way I do, so I'm happy to try and fill that gap!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Exactly. I don't think people realize or appreciate the amount of time you need to spend in order to cover one team. Its just not possible to cover every team adequately. And these guys are asked to do so and also to speak on it with authority.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks Mjvs and I agree John brings a unbiased and different set of eyes on the system. It really gives us a great advantage.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    I can tell you that access restrictions and the Internet are the worst thing that has happened to the beat guys. And don't forget, many of them aren't actually fans of the teams they cover, so they don't have the passion that a guy like you puts into his work.

    Speaking of the national and local guys, the national guys are way more objective about the Cubs because they can afford to be on many levels. So I tend to trust their analysis if I think they are good more than I might the local guys in some situations.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I don't understand why people get so worked up over guys like Law. He's one person, with one opinion, and while he does possess a big microphone, what does it matter? If you don't like the what he says or how he says it, find someone else you prefer. He isn't kicking your dog.

    I tend to defend guys like him, not because I tend to agree with them, but because their job is hard and they are going to constantly get shit on by people who take offense to what they say, no matter how they say it. Law obviously lacks tact, but even if he softened his statements and said something along the lines of: "I don't think Junior Lake has the necessary approach to succeed as a major league hitter, nor has he shown the ability to play any position defensively at an adequate level", he would still have people calling him out saying "Look how wrong you are!", "He hates the Cubs!", "East Coast bias" and complaining about them on radio call in shows and message boards. His job is to predict, and predict low probability occurences at that. Law and all the others are in a no win situation.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I'm okay with how Law chooses to do his job and I'm also not afraid to disagree with him at times (though he's a smart baseball guy and I have learned a lot from him and do agree with much of what he says). But I don't agree he'd get the same level of negative feedback if he did things differently (and, for the record, I'm not saying he should do things differently). It's his job and he can do it however he likes and however he thinks will make him most successful. He and Goldstein get/got a lot more grief than other prospect guys (i.e. Callis, Badler, Parks, Sickels) because of that style, however. Personally, I don't feel the need to defend them most of the time because 1) they chose that style and 2) I think they enjoy the back and forth with those fans/readers.

    I also think fans/readers have a choice. They can either read them and be prepared to hear strong opinions they don't like or they can read someone else. As far as I'm concerned, I like to read from as many sources as possible regardless of whether or not I agree with them. They all have insightful things to add.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    Good points. Law tells fans things they don't want to hear and he doesn't mince words. I like him because I appreciate what he bases his opinions on. That said, scouting is an inexact science and if he were dead on with even half his opinions he would be getting paid millions by the Yankees right now.

    Law is almost always right about who won't pan out, because such projections are a lot easier than predicting who will become a star. Even I can sit here and say with almost complete certainty that Lake won't pan out. That doesn't take a rocket scientist (or isn't rocket surgery, as my wife says).

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Are they paying Keith Law to be a huge Douchebag?

    He acts like he is a scout, but he is not. His scouting ability sucks, he is a poser playing at being a talent evaluator.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    If you don't like Law there are plently of other people to follow. Jim Callis is very good.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    You should always have conviction, but let's be honest, Law does things for effect and in part to troll overeager Cubs fans a little. If he gets a backlash, then I think that goes with the territory if he wants to play that game. The response is also part of the business when you are a public figure -- and that's actually fine for him because he's still a media guy trying to build a following too. That's the way he wants to play it and we know he's okay with it -- even enjoys it most of the time. On the other hand, I talk to scouts and some prospect writers from time to time I find that they aren't that smug or dismissive. Not nearly to that degree anyway. Even one guy I know who can be brutally honest has told me that just about everyone has at least some chance (it came up when I asked him about some fringe prospects). It's the persona Law has chosen to present and I find no problem with that choice -- or people who choose to criticize him for it.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    To those who think Law picks on the Cubs, I ask why he has rated their farm system as high or higher than most others.

    I don't think he's tweaking Cubs fans. But he follows the thinking that if you are hyper aggressive at the plate you are probably doomed. And I think that's been proven to be the case with rare exceptions.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    I don't think he picks on the Cubs. And it's not about some objective criticism of Lake -- everybody makes that criticism about his approach, including us. That's nothing different or insightful on his part. The difference is he likes to troll the overeager Cubs fan who thinks Junior Lake is the second coming of Mickey Mantle. There's no question he does it. And it's not just about Lake, it's also about Dan Vogelbach and Matt Szczur. You should read his chats. He goes out of his way to mention how bad they are and how every Cubs fan tells him they're great, both of which are exaggerated for effect as always. I don't know why people need to defend him for something he chooses to do -- and I doubt he needs anyone defending him anyway. I like Law and his work as a whole, but I like him when he does it professionally. I could do without the snark -- that draws more attention to Law than the player.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    I get what you're saying. Unlike you, I haven't spent time around Law. For some reason, just reading his stuff his snark doesn't bother me. Like you said before I think, it's his schtick. And I have a sarcastic streak myself, so maybe that plays into my tolerance for him. But I don't disagree that he has that tendency to be very demonstrative.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    It's definitely his schtick. Just wanted to hear an honest, updated opinion from a guy I trust as far as evaluating talent. What I heard from him in person was different than what I heard in person -- not to say he liked him, but appreciated the opinion without the snark. I can be sarcastic/snarky at times myself but snark is so commonplace these days that I've become quite weary of it. It's been done to death.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I see that but Law is so demonstrative sometimes it maes me skeptical.

  • "I think they should have left him alone until he struggled on his own."

    I completely agree with his last comment regarding Castro. And this was one of my biggest pet peeves regarding "new approach". I think he was better off doing his own thing instead of filling him with too much at one time. The kid was already doing his own thing and doing it well and being very successful. As soon as they got involved with wanting him to do more and change his approach, I think that just screwed with his mental game. I think if the player was young and struggling, then okay. Let's talk to him and see if we can get him to change some things.

    It's like Crash Davis said, "Don't think; it can only hurt the ball club."

  • In reply to lokeey:

    I agree. Castro was doing fine when Jaramillo was around. When Sveum, Rowson, and Deer came on the scene, he went down hill when they felt compelled to remake him into what he isn't.

    Love the Crash Davis quote. Maybe Sveum should think less.

  • In reply to Tinker Evers Chance:

    They tried to get him to take more pitches and then also look to pull the ball more to add power to his game. I thought the second change was doable and Castro should look to drive the ball when he gets a good pitch, but taking away Castro's aggressive approach goes against what made him a good player. He is see ball, hit ball. That's the way he is wired. And he has terrific bat control allowing him to be succesful with that approach because it allows him to square up pitches out of the strike zone.

  • In reply to lokeey:

    I think so too. It's great to have a patient approach and get on base like the FO wants in players. But if the player is already performing doing it their own way (which is more comfortable) let it happen

  • In reply to lokeey:

    Ha! Love that line from Bull Durham. I think that may be exactly what Castro's problem is right now.

  • fb_avatar

    "...that said, what he did provide offensively for a shortstop was still far ahead of almost everyone else at that position....I think the front office over-thought the whole thing...I think they should have left him alone until he struggled on his own."

    Bingo! What I have been saying, and have been chastised for, for months.

  • In reply to Ken Roucka:

    Cubs won't lack for hitting coaches. Every other poster today seems to consider himself qualified for the job.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I had my 10 year old nephew to open his stance a little, turn his hips and turn on the pitch. And then, by what was probably sheer coincidence, he started hitting and made the all-star team.

    I'm sending in my resume.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Sorry, you are already ticketed for the Front Office.
    But they will let you onto the field occasionally, I'm sure.

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    In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I'm certainly not one of those hitting coaches. I was in the camp that the hitting coach should have been on the other end of the dugout from him.

  • In reply to Ken Roucka:

    Leaving Castro alone may have resulted in more short term success. But the Cubs were hoping he could take the next step and transition from being a solid shortstop into an elite player. The Cubs need to see what he is, and now is the time to find out.
    Last year Castro was a 3.1 WAR player, which ranked him as the 7th best shortstop out of 19. That's good and the Cubs could certainly live with five more seasons of that. But for him to be one of the top five shortstops he'll need to improve his approach and slug more. I think the Cubs did the right thing by trying to see if they could improve his performance by getting him to adopt a better approach. If that doesn't work then they can always return to his old approach and try to fine tune that as best they can.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    Exactly!!!... This was also the perfect year to try it.

    What message does it send to your organization if you are preaching and teaching a hitting philosophy to everyone from Rookie ball on up, and then say... Except for him - he can hack away? They had to try it. But I'm also okay with them letting him go back to what he does naturally. I'm not convinced he can be that type of hitter. He is Soriano w/o the HR power. The problem will be when he's up with a critical runner on 2nd and we swings and misses at three consecutive sliders in the dirt, 10 inches off the plate.... Cubs fans will chastise him and blame the FO because all of our other hitters are doing it the "Cubs Way".

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Finally, a sane and balanced analysis. Thanks, HoosierDaddy.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I agree you can't make exceptions for Castro and that this was a good year to give it a try. But it is unfair to both Sori and Castro to say he's "Soriano w/o power." At 22 years old last year, Castro hit 14 homers, 29 doubles and 12 triples for a .430 SLG. Like Sandberg, it's not unreasonable at all to expect Castro to develop into a 20-25 HR guy, is it?

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    I didn't say that either. That was Hoosier. However, I agree with him not only on the timing of the fix but the philosophy behind it. And like Hoosier I can't see Castro getting 400+ home runs in his career like Sori. Maybe 250, at 15 to 25 per year with 35-45 doubles per year.
    (Obviously I think he'll be fine, and I wish him a long and illustrious career -- with the Cubs.)

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I think fans get to wrapped up in walks and obp. Don't get me wrong its a good quality to have. But the manager in his first few interviews on the job tells everyone that his shortstop is a hit collector like that is a bad thing. I'm sorry but some of the best hitters in history were hit collectors,and did not walk much. As soon as they told him to swing for the fences on 2-0,3-0 counts he probably stop thinking about going up the middle or to right field. I think castro was better of left alone, if starts struggling then try and fix him with the cubs way. You can't break his approach down at the major league level and watch him fail then question if he is the shortstop of the future.

  • In reply to seankl:

    I think I agree with you, seankl. Certainly "the Cubs way" does not mean that every hitter should be and do the same thing. That cookie cutter apporach implies that hitting is a science and not an art. "Sweet swingin'" Billy Williams will tell you that each hitter has his own style, and that you can help a hitter with little things, but when you mess with his style, there's a good chance that you'll ruin him. Hitting is not solely a science, nor is it soley an art. It is both. I fear that Sveum and company have been messin' with Castro's style. Hopefully not too much.

  • In reply to Tinker Evers Chance:

    Agree very much with this. Williams was right. I don't know if they did too much with Castro or if he's ruined yet. I hope not. I guess we'll get a better idea next year.

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Then they better not bring up ANYONE through the system until they follow that philosophy to a T. I'm gonna go WAAAYYYYY out on a limb and say that doesn't happen.

    The most important thing he can do to raise his value to his team is to improve his defense

    I don't recall hearing much criticism of Ichiro for his low walk rate and ISO as a corner outfielder when he was "collecting" his hits and playing gold glove defense.

  • In reply to Ken Roucka:

    Your first paragraph is a good example of hyperbole.
    I like to use hyperbole 110 percent of the time.

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    In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Just reacting acting to the hyperbole you seem to agree with.

    "What message does it send to your organization if you are preaching and teaching a hitting philosophy to everyone from Rookie ball on up, and then say... Except for him - he can hack away? "

    The idea that everyone including has to follow the same hitting philosophy, including the Castro who didn't come up through the system under Theo regime, and that no one is exempt from it is it's own hyperbole.

    There are different rules for different players because it's not a one size fits all solution.

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    In reply to baseballet:

    "If that doesn't work then they can always return to his old approach and try to fine tune that as best they can."

    Not that easy. There's a very real chance he is permanently screwed up. Aint broke, no fix.

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    In reply to baseballet:

    You absolutely nailed it. Terrific post!

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    Cubs announced Jake Arrieta is taking Villanueva's spot in the rotation the rest of the year and will start Friday vs. STL.

    I looked at his Iowa numbers, and despite the ERA looking fine, a closer look shows his WHIP is almost 1.60, a career high. He's going to get clobbered in the majors if he pitches like that.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Hopefully, Sveum/Bosio use Villanueava in a long relief role this time. The last time they pulled him out of the rotation, they only used him for two or three pitches at a time, i.e., very short stints. He's "stretched out" again, so use him in long relief for Pete's sake. Then you don't have to go through your entire bullpen before the 10th inning each time.

  • Having three hitting coaches is fine, but having all three talking to one player isn't. It seems like Castro is trying to drive more balls, see more pitches and change his swing mechanics all at once.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    Agreed. I think having too many people in your ear can sometimes do more harm than good. I don't know if that's the case with Castro but if it is, I hope that at some point he learns to pick out what works with him and adapt a new approach to his strengths rather than overhaul what he's done successfully his whole life.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    Having your manager "coach" you through the press may not help you all that much either.

    Good Lord, now Sveum is starting to do it with Lake too. I hope that he is talking to him in private beforehand, and there will be those here who will say of course he is. That is assuming that there is adequate wattage between Sveum's ears. I'm not convinced that he's not as dumb as a stump.

  • In reply to Tinker Evers Chance:

    Is there anyone in the Cubs dugout you approve of?
    And if not, what are you basing your judgment on besides second- and third-hand information?

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Yup! I think McKay is golden!

    And the bullpen coach has been around so long that he's a fixture.

    But the rest of 'em are replaceable. I'm not impressed.

  • In reply to Tinker Evers Chance:

    So let's dump the rest of 'em two-thirds of the way through the season. That will add stability to a team that leads the league in roster moves.

    "Dumb as a stump" has had this crazy mix of a team playing hard all year. And what the coaches do behind the scenes is unknown to 99.9 percent of us here, so I'm on the side of letting the FO evaluate. BTW, I'm not into scapegoating.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    It wouldn't bother me if they were replaced in the off-season. And I'm on the side of the FO holding Sveum's and his cronies' feet to the fire, to be accountable for what they do on the field, in the dugout, in the clubhouse, and in the press. Hopefully they are. If they are, they are doing it tastefully by not dragging it through the press. I can not say the same for Sveum. As a fan, I would like to see the players continue to develop under Sveum's leadership. However, certain "core" players seem to be going the other way, and it is not just Castro. As a fan, I would like to see a manager and a set of coaches that will consistently take this team into the post season. I'm not as certain as you are that Sveum and his coaches will get us there even once. As a fan, I don't believe that giving Sveum a free pass is a good idea. Fans can hold a manager and his coaches accountable as well as a player.

  • In reply to Tinker Evers Chance:

    First, I never said I'm "certain...that Sveum and his coaches will get us there...". Nor did I say that I believe in giving Sveum a free pass.
    Don't put words in my mouth and we might be able to have a dialogue.
    I just don't care for summary judgment and name-calling ("Dumb as a stump"), especially based on what we don't see firsthand.
    I still stand by what I said about Sveum: He has had this team of retreads, coming-attractions, and misfits playing hard all year, and someone has to give him credit for that. Look at the team on the South Side if you want to see lifeless leadership and performance.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Pointing at the composition of the roster will only carry Sveum so far. He's still accountable for the decisons that he makes with that roster, no matter what the won-lost record is. Playing hard is one thing. Playing stupid is another.

    There was a famous manager who said that managers are hired to be fired. Trying to remember who that was.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Responding to post below: Sveum didn't point to the roster turnover, I did. I've never heard him using that as an excuse.
    And I never said he isn't accountable.
    Sorry, but this is over. Can't have dialogue with a straw man.
    Have fun with the blame game. It's futile.

  • People get too wrapped up into Slugging numbers. The game isn't all power and not everyone should try to do this. I would much rather Castro keep his same approach and accidentally run into a few balls each year giving him 12-17 homeruns while maintaining his BA over .300... tell a complete hitter who can spray the ball all around the field to focus more on hitting homeruns and you will see his BA drop and power numbers barely improve or stay the same. I don't need my SS to hit 30 homeruns a year, especially if it's not the type of hitter he is. If you have one like Baez great let him swing but I wouldn't want them changing someone to focus on power when it's not their strength...

  • In reply to Cubswin2015:

    I agree. Trying to make Castro into Tulo or A-Rod of yesteryear or into a walk-machine is a huge mistake. I'd focus on fine-tuning his throwing accuracy instead. Let him focus on that. He has incredible range and his glove is good. He saves runs by keeping the ball in the infield. And if Sveum stopped harping about him in the press, maybe the press might back off. However as long as Sveum offers him up to the press as a target, the press will bite.

  • In reply to Tinker Evers Chance:

    I don't think it was just about Castro taking walks, increasing his Slugging, etc. He was just hacktastic. A very very talented hacker with exceptional hand/eye coordination though. I think we just want him to be more selective and NOT chase that pitch at his ankles 12 inches off the outside corner. I think the increase in Walks & Slugging would be by products of that selective approach. Unfortunately (at least for now) it hasn't worked. He looks confused and overwhelmed up there and he had not ever looked like that previously.

    Yes, he needs to improve his throws. Which imo, is mostly footwork. This is one thing that Baez had over him, until this spring. Though Baez seems to have slowed that down for the most part.

    The jury is still out so far as Sveum & crew. But I do share your disdain for Sveum criticising him so frequently through the press.

  • In reply to Cubswin2015:

    Exactly! He was a hit machine. Not a power hitter. A slap happy hitting machine doing what we see other teams do and what Sveum recently said he would like to see from our team and "keep the line moving".

  • I want to know if castro is able to work with rudy Jaramillo in the off season, would the front office be mad about that ? And I think trading castro is a bad move for the organization as a whole. The org has to be able to help young struggling players at the major league level. What if baez or soler comes up and struggles ? Is the answer to problem is to look at them different and trade them ?

  • I'm really digging this discussion on Castro, by the way. Great points on both sides.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree! I'e read both sides of this discussion and thought to myself "Oh that makes sense" and then reading the counter point, "Well that's a good point too".

    Is it possible that sometimes both sides are right?

    Yes, the Cubs tried to change Castro's approach at the plate and failed badly. At the same time if they thought that they saw something in Castro's approach which they could improve through coaching and as a result make Castro a better player then they had to try. You don't just wait until a player is struggling to coach them and try to improve their game, especially when they are still as young as Castro.

    Yes, This year was a good year to do it, if you are going to do it. He is still young, the team is still finding itself, and they were not going to make the playoffs.

    Of course IF this coaching experiment "ruins Castro forever" then it was obviously a bad idea, but there was no way the Cubs could have known that he would fail. I also think Castro will be fine. He is very talented and is driven to succeed. That's what got him to the majors in the first place.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I definitely think you can have a debate with both sides being right about some things.

  • Nice work Tom. Looking forward to part deux....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Thanks Hoosier. I thank Gordon for being so un-vanilla with his answers he doesn't disappoint in rd 2.

  • I'm going to reserve judgement on the wisdom of messing with Castro's swing until he has the off season to process what was being taught and figure where or if it fits. It's tough to make changes on the run.

  • My thing with Castro was that he didn't have to do much and he was already very successful. Screw power! The kid was a hit machine. He was spraying the ball around the field very well. Sveum recently talked about how the Cardinals move the rotation on the bases by hitting into the gaps and not going for the long ball. That's what Castro did very well.

    I imagine Sveum and Rowson talking to Castro like Paul Rudd teaching Jason Segel how to surf in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. "Do less. Too slow. Do less. Ah, will figure it out."

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    I hope those who believed Castro was on his way to becoming Ernie Banks at shortstop until the Cubs messed him up don't pound that drum into the ground if he flames out.

    Also, lets not forget that Castro's regression started in his third year, before a late surge. The batting average and OBP were already dropping.

    Undoubtedly, he was hearing too many voices. That's hard to argue. I don't think Dale Sveum's philosophy on hitting matches the front office's preference for grinding at bats, and that's a problem. It may be what ultimately leads to Sveum's exit after 2014.

  • Castro led the league in Outs two years in a row. So yes, he was a "hit machine" but he was also an "Out machine". IF you are a believer in Sabrmetrics like some here are, his value was greatly minimized by that.

    If you are old school and simply look at 200 hits as a sign of being a good hitter, than so be it.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Yeah, another "underachiever", Willie Wilson, did the same thing with the Royals in 1980. He had 705 ABs and 230 hits, hitting .326 (with 133 runs scored, all league highs.)
    So yes, he made a ton of outs-- every time he didn't reach base, as a matter of fact ;). But I think you could point to a few positives there, no?
    Babe Ruth didn't have many stolen bases in his career and struck out a lot.
    It's easy to cherry-pick the negative stats.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    And I think you fall into that category of fans that don't believe in Sabrmetrics. Batting averages are nice and all, but there is more to the game according to SM.

    BTW, Willie Wilson had a WAR of 8.5 that year and finished 4th in MVP voting. Castro had a WAR of 3.0. Major difference.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    But Wilson, by your reasoning, couldn't be any good -- he made so many outs !

    BTW, your assumption is wrong about another thing: I do believe in sabermetrics, but also believe in the eye test of people who know what to look for. It's a mixture of factors, and still quite unpredictable.

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    In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Yes. I've grown a bit weary of all the touting of hits, though after his second year his about was tremendous for his age. Two years later, not so much.

  • I think Castro's biggest problem has been the team that surrounds him. Between Soriano, Barney and all the other low OBP players we've been stuck with for years, it seemed impossible to leave Castro's approach alone. The team wasn't seeing enough pitches. If he were hitting fifth or sixth in a lineup with Choo and Votto, he could surely be left to hack away like a Pence or Guerrero.

    Maybe with Soriano gone, and the eventual replacement of Barney, Castro can effectively return to his old ways. I only hope he will have benefitted spmewhat from this year's lessons.

  • That's a good point Hack as a team can get by with hacker or two, but too many hackers is a problem.

  • looks like cubs are starting a new shutout streak. great start to another home stand. ouch

  • Reds 5, Cubs 0
    Fan 1: Well, Castro lost another one for us today. Flied out pinch-hitting.
    Fan 2: Yeah, he stinks, and we lost 'cuz Sveum didn't play him.
    In unison: We want Tony Campana !!

  • Wow. Just checked the box score. 28 ABs -- only one above the minimum! I guess that should be no surprise with that ridiculous, embarrassing line up.

    At least Rusin gave us a quality start, so that's something. And, of course, looks like we're gonna lock up that No. 4 pick and that too is something. But please, please maintain that lead on ChiSox.

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    And at least Kris Bryant HR'd again.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    thats nice, i just wish we could cheer about some MLB product as well. the last couple of weeks (except for the two cards games) were unbearable

  • In reply to Csanad:

    Yeah, me too. Can't wait until they have more talent at MLB level.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yes, sir!

    I will not be surprised when Bryant becomes the consensus No. 1 Cubs prospect. And I'm dreaming/hoping that he just kicks ass and forces his way onto the big club much sooner (next opening day) than anyone expects. Maybe, just maybe, he's MLB's next Trout!

    And that's a pleasant dream, so please, no one wake me up.

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    In reply to Nondorf:

    Not to rain on your parade, but really, making the MLB team after what will be around 40 games, all under AA is silly.

    If he get's called up next September, that would still be crazy fast. A call-up in his first full pro-season would be considered FLYING through the system by any metric.

    And personally, I think that even more exciting than Bryant starting opening day, would be for Bryant, Soler, and Baez to all get a cup of coffee next September.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Don't forget Alcantara, if he keeps kicking ass in AAA next year he will definitely be up by Sept. (maybe sooner)

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I'm actually hoping that they give Alcantara a shot to beat Barney out for 2B in Spring Training.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Don't sleep on Logan Watkins.

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    In reply to Nondorf:

    Some people are down on this team.

    Not me! I BELIEVE!

    Only 5.5 games behind the Sox and Marlins?

    I believe we can lose enough games to get the #2 pick again!

    We almost certainly can't catch the pesky Astros but I believe in this team to dig deep and lose enough games to wrangle that second overall pick.

    I BELIEVE DAMMIT!

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Houston is so in love with Alex Jackson that the team picking #2 might have their choice of Rodon & Beede. If that were to happen, I would gladly watch the Cubs lose almost every single game from now until the end of the season.

    I have watched so many Cubs losses that plus or minus 10 wins the rest of the way is completely meaningless.

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    In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I really don't want to think about the things I'd be willing to do in order to get Rodon in blue pinstripes.

    Also, he might not even be the best player on his team this year. If Trea Turner really kills, there's that for the 'stros.

    So either way, go for that #2 pick Cubbies!

  • Time to start thinking about a top five or do a potential top 5 draft picks for next year. Easier said that done since guys like Gray get noticed with 3 months before the draft. But still.....

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    In reply to Buzz:

    but the Cubs FO passed on Gray pretty much BECAUSE of that late resurgence, so maybe we can expect the Cubs to be focusing on guys that already have the attention.

  • I looked at the results for 5 core players. They Include Rizzo, Castro, Castillo, DeJesus and Barney. In reviewing their essential stats in OBP and OPS from Sveum's first year 2012 and this year 2013 there was a dramatic dropoff. All of the above players dropped in both categorizes with a minor improvement in Castillo's OBP from .337 to .357.

    If the results speak for themselves, our major league hitting instruction isn't achieving what is necessary moving forward.

  • In reply to tharr:

    Based on this teams offensive performance and Dale's strange mindset I hear in his press conferences, I think Dale, Rowson, and Deer all need to go.

  • In reply to Peter Chicago:

    I was perplexed when the Cubs signed Deer to coach hitting. I mean, he was a career .220 "power" hitter who still managed a only a .766 career OPS, something they might be happy with for a gold glove caliber CF'er or shortstop (unless maybe it was a young SS who hit over .300 his first two seasons). Shouldn't a player actually have been good at what he's trying to teach if his students are expected to be successful and actually have faith in him as an instructor?

  • you say you believe and yet you don't think Cubs can catch the Astros. Nothing impossible for this team.

  • I'm in the "should have left Castro alone" camp with regard to hitting. He had a ways to go defensively, so there was merit for helping him with the glove and footwork. But he hit .300 his first year with a .755 OPS. Then he hit .307 with a .773 OPS his sophomore season. Seems like he was progressing, and he was just 20 and 21 years old, when most prospects are trying to put things together in A ball.

  • To get Price the Rays will ask for 2 of our top 4 prospects.

    I remember the consensus was Shark for 3 TOP Pirates prospects (some saying 4)

    Then you have people here saying Fat Dan, Starlin, and Villabuena.

    No way in hell.

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