Catching up on what's been happening at the MLB level

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In many ways this offseason has been spectacularly dull. In all ways it has been deflating. The lack of activity has triggered anger in some fans, apathy in others. The intensity of the anger and apathy only increased as a series of baffling and embarrassing off-field decisions/leaks rocked the club and the ownership group on a regular basis this winter.

It has been difficult for me to muster the necessary energy to condemn their inactivity, let alone dig in and try to provide insightful coverage of the Cubs offseason strategy. They've bet on internal improvements and better health among their key players next season. It is sound reasoning for the most part, especially for a squad coming off a 95-win season beset by injury and down performances. But the fact is when your biggest acquisition is Daniel Descalso there isn't going to be much positive press coverage. When journeymen relievers are your only other player acquisitions over the course of an entire offseason you are not going to inject any new energy into a fandom restless after a pair of playoff letdowns.

So, as fans we've waited, impatiently or not. As a writer I've chosen to direct my energy toward reporting on the Cubs prospect pipeline. I'm sure I am not alone in my belief that topic is more intriguing than an examination of the impact Daniel Descalso is going to have on the team this season. This has obviously led to some holes in our coverage of the club over the past couple of months.

Cubs Den is not as unique as it once was and in a different position than in previous years. We have fewer writers capable of devoting time to the complex off field happenings at the Major League level. Plus, there are now a number of quality Cubs blogs pumping out content on a daily basis that are run by good people that I respect, some who got their start here. That was not the case five years ago, or even three years ago.

On one hand I would like Cubs Den to offer as complete of coverage as possible, but I admit there are going to be limitations. I've continued the site because I feel that we can still provide Minor League content that doesn’t receive as much attention elsewhere while still doing justice to Major League coverage, even if it is not as comprehensive as it once was. There are simply some stories that are not going to get touched on in great detail for the time being.

That said, let's catch up on a few things. If you are only interested in on-field topics, feel free to skip ahead to the bottom section.

Off field news (PR disasters for the most part)

Addison Russell... I've made my stance clear. I don't want him associated with the organization. And that press conference only reinforced that view. In no way should that performance be construed as a positive first step in repairing his relationship with fans.

Marquee Network... I hope my silence on this topic has shown my disappointment (as I intended) rather than acceptance. Partnering with a company that has the reputation of Sinclair Broadcasting only further erodes an already tenuous relationship with a segment of the fanbase. We have no details regarding hired  talent, or additional programming beyond the Cubs that will be included, which means the sole focus of reporting is on Sinclair. Not only am I extremely unhappy with this partnership, but the Cubs have also botched the handling of the announcement.

The Joe Ricketts emails... there is no defense. None. Which leads us to...

The Tom Ricketts press conference... ugh. You cannot defend your father in this instance. Or act surprised. You can't. At best, it's tone deaf. At worst, it dug the team and the family into a bigger hole. (And for anyone who thinks "easier said than done", well I say this as someone who hasn't spoken to his father in a couple of decades and excised him from my life because he isn't a good person)

The Cubs have no more money to add players... but they do for investing in a sports betting startup. I understand different branches of the company have different budgets, etc, but my own biases against gambling aside, again this is not a good look coming just days after the Tom Ricketts press conference.

The only conclusions I can draw regarding the actions of the Ricketts family of late:

  1. They believe they are bulletproof because they helped bring a WS title
  2. Their PR departments are failing spectacularly
  3. They are ignoring sound PR advice
  4. A disturbing combination of the above

Okay, that's enough of that. Onto...

Baseball stuff

  • Yu Darvish is back on the mound and looking healthy. He is handling interviews in English as opposed to through a translator. The vibes just seem positive all around. (They never should have been negative)
  • Kris Bryant is crushing the ball (Thank you, baseball gods)
  • Javy is still Javy. But Javy also wants to walk more. (Yes, please)
  • Jose Quintana is working on reincorporating his changeup. Q has almost always been successful as a two pitch guy, but now entering his 30s it is logical to assume he will need to make adjustments to his repertoire and approach to remain as effective and consistent moving forward. (Now he needs to gain the confidence to use the pitch in any situation/count)
  • Carl Edwards, Jr. has made a tweak to his delivery in an attempt to improve his balance which will hopefully lead to more consistent control. (We can only hope)
  • Tyler Chatwood is also making (needed) changes with his arm path to (hopefully) get his career back on track.
  • David Bote made some waves online for looking jacked. (He already was, but good for him for getting noticed for it now, I guess)
  • David Ross intends to take a more active role in the organization after spending most of 2018 behind the scenes. His first public task this spring has been reconnecting with Willson Contreras. Contreras struggled mightily with his pitch framing last year as he assumed a heavy workload. Nice and quiet, those are the goals. (As a big believer in Contreras I approve of rekindling this relationship wholeheartedly)

Finally... The broadcast will be radio-only but game action returns Saturday afternoon with Jen-Ho Tseng taking the mound against the Brewers at 2:05 CST. My body is ready.

Filed under: News and Notes

Comments

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  • The work you do to keep Cubs Den going is greatly appreciated. As far as baseball-related news, there really hasn't been much to cover. Off the diamond, nobody is happy about all the negative publicity, but opinions on the Cubs handling of things varies so greatly that writing about it is the equivalent of walking through a journalistic minefield. I almost hate that you brought it up here, as tempers tend to rise whenever discussion starts on those topics, but I understand that ignoring the issues doesn't make them go away.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Yeah, I understand where you are coming from but I've felt like I avoided it as long as I could. I didn't want to dedicate an article for each as they happened, because especially coming one after another in rapid succession I expect reactions would have gotten out of control.

    Hopefully, there has been enough time for folks already to have had their most intense reaction elsewhere and we can keep it civil here today.

  • A couple comments....

    Well said on so much of this.

    Thank you again for all you do with this site. It is enjoyable to read even if some of the comments get heated.

    I understand the budget issue. They have decided that they don't want to exceed the tax threshold (or too much above it). That's fine but maybe explain why. I also get that you can't chase high priced free agents every year, its not sustainable.

    I'm not a big fan of the private network either but it's their team so they can do what they want. I can choose to listen to the radio broadcast if I want.

    I believe that a 95 win team a year ago (with major injuries and some poor performances) can come close to that again although the rest of the NL has gotten tougher.

    The pipeline is not bare. It may be weaker but thats going to happen when your system produces and starts 4 or 5 ML all star level players and you go to the playoffs every year. It takes time to restock.

  • In reply to ps577:

    I don't have much of an issue with them setting the budget where they did, but they botched the handling of it. Their PR on basically every important issue this offseason has been at best inept and in some cases completely bungled imo.

  • I'm glad that you brought up the off field topics. I'm glad to hear that others are as disappointed as I am and can raise the topics in an environment that embraces honest conversation and not just mudslinging. I read the comments on MLBTR and immediately regretted doing so. I hope that discussing what is happening can help me resolve my issues b/c for the first time in 36 years I don't know where I stand as a Cubs fan. Every year when pitchers and catchers report I buy a new Cubs hat for the season- this year I bought an A's hat instead.

  • In terms of the broadcasting deal, not only have they aligned with politically extreme core beliefs and intentions, they did so poorly and with financial ineptitude. Cash cow for Sinclair, not so much for the Cubs.

  • In reply to IVYADDICT:

    I haven't heard a claim anywhere about "financial ineptitude" on the part of the Cubs in the deal with Sinclair. I'd be interested in reading more about that topic if someone would provide a source.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    You are right the financial arrangements have not been made public but it is speculated Marquis will charge $5/month for subscribers vs $6-8 for other providers, ie., ESPN, to which I inferred a better deal was available. The implications of the deal probably won’t be clear in the short term.

  • In reply to IVYADDICT:

    I'll have to watch on MLB Network, anyway, unless the games are made available on satellite TV in my area.

  • I, too, want to thank you Michael for the great work you have done to keep us all informed on our prospects. I have been checking in daily to read all the posts and comments and your efforts here has been about the only thing regarding the Cubs on a positive note this Winter. I really appreciate it. Thanks again Michael. I agree with everything you stated here including the comments from the members above also.

  • The negative issues you brought up are disappointments to me too.
    Sinclair will prove to be a BIG mistake. The Sox made this mistake back in the '70's (?). The large Cub fandom was built on free TV, WGN. The elder Ricketts prejudices .... What can you say beyond, "He is entitled to his opinions even when they are WRONG!" Russell. I believe they are trying to help the kid AND THEMSELVES. They can't afford to replace him or anybody else for that matter because of the large commitments they made trying to repeat a championship. When you gamble and loose you look reckless. When you win you look bold.

    On the field I'm going into the season emotionally with the attitude of, "Show me the wins!" The front office is right. They got the talent to compete, even this year. Epstein's reputation is on the line as well as the big-name players. So play ball and play to win. For what it's worth I think 85 wins will take the upgraded division, 95 wins it going away.

    Finally, thanks for keeping Cubs Den going. I can only imagine how much time it takes from family and friends!

  • If we lost the World Series we would have Harper on our team now. It is pathetic that the ownership does not even engage in talks with a top of the line free agent in his prime. We should be talking world series for many years and not a one and done scenario. This team is full of question marks and the only way we win division is if everything falls into place for us. I don't post often but this off season puts me in the anger category.

  • In reply to AzChris:

    It's clear that once Harper turned down the Nationals offer of $300 million for 10 years, he'd be priced beyond what the Cubs wanted to pay.

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    I want to echo everyone else in thanking you for keeping Cubs Den going. I'm sure we have no idea about what it takes to do this, especially with fewer writers and not having John around, not just for being John, but he could spend all his attention (other than life getting in the way) to CD.
    This off season has been, meh. I want them to get Harper but it doesn't look like they will.
    I was disappointed with our farm season, but with the profiles you've given us I'm becoming more hopeful even if they are a few years away.
    As for the elder Ricketts and Sinclair they are so far away from me politically that I worry for the Cubs, especially with Sinclair. That's as much as I want to say about it.
    Keep this going Michael, there are many of us who appreciate all you and the others are doing.

  • I too want to express my appreciation for all you do Michael. I love reading your minors reports and read every article and comment on this site.
    This has been a tough off season, but I guess I have never felt it made any sense to sign Harper without being able to trade Heyward, so I am not too disappointed. I am sure Theo/Jed tried trading him, but were not able to find any acceptable offers. Regarding Sinclair, I have strong political opinions which don't really align with them, but I try to keep that subject out of sports. As long as the network is all Cubs/Sports, I guess i don't really care who is distributing it. I agree completely with you Michael that Ricketts made a mistake trying to excuse his dad. It is his dad, so I understand his statements, but he would have been much better off just saying how wrong those emails were

  • Michael, here is an LSA for you. Kudos!

    Thanks for your work. I agree with everything you wrote.

    The journey starts Saturday!!! Let's go!!!

  • We all appreciate what you do Michael and are grateful.

    I took the over 89 wins in Vegas last week for $100......the Cubs for the 5th year in a row will top 90 wins and don’t count them out yet on snagging yet another decent available FA.

    I don’t care who broadcasts the Cubs so long as they do a good job, I’ve figured I would have to someday pay for it for a while now.....

    Let’s hope Lester doesn’t use Nike spikes too much this year.

  • It's February 21st, high school basketball is still going where for the 16th year in a row the high school I teach at is in both the girls and boys state seeded playoff and playing. Spring Training has begun and thankfully I just purchased MLB.com subscription and Micheal Ernst is talking ML level baseball.

    Michael I take an issue of lack of add, though I concur that the FO figured with their internal PECOTA predictions that simply getting healthy in key areas plus internal coaching and adjustments will balance. But one has to say that Hamels on a year extensions is an add.

    I think that moving with organizational dignity on Russell will pay big dividends and not just with Russell who will now be playing with urgency and purpose. I think Delcalso is insurance for the inevitable Baez injury while I see Bryant having one of those big years.

    But back to Maddon's description of what baseball should have called its own game as pitching, not baseball. The Cubs could finally break through and field a six-man rotation and a twelve man bullpen where they aggressively use the Iowa shuttle in preemption of injury and fatigue. The trick will be if the six-man IP averages over 6 then a 6 man bullpen works. That would mean that Chatwood is on par with the rest of the rotation. A six-man also reflects closer what facing pitchers in inter-divisional series could be like with intra-division games where familiarity is reduced by a factor of 2.5 games less. In a three-way divisional race that could be determinate. It also could mean when the killer schedule in September and the playoffs Cubs have gas in the tank over their chasers.

    So let us start playing some games and see if Cubs internal PECOTA predictions are on spot.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    But depending on how the AAA/AA talent performs in spring training another shrewd move might be getting value + from Chatwood but I for one unless it is valued ++ keeping a performing Chatwood, is a value ++. added to a six-man rotation where it is anchored by two high profile 35 yr olds and an aging younger anchor of 29 and 30 yr olds and a returning injured 32 yr old. Though high performing starting pitchers tend to maintain capabilities over a longer age.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    a six man rotation = 27 starts for each starter. Over the past 5 years, starters who average 27 starts per year pitch more innings per start and have a lower ERA than any other number of starts.

    I have wanted a six man rotation or piggyback #5 starter for years. My family and friends and business associates are tired of me talking about it.

    Side question, how come Cubs fans are so vocal about Russell but there is not a work spoken by Astros fans about Roberto Osuna? He was just named the closer for 2019. There is no one calling for him to get cut, etc.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Picking up Hamels extension is spending money, but not adding to the team. There is a difference.

    I do hope Chatwood pitches well enough to justify a 6-man, or 6-man skip rotation this year. He possesses the talent to force his way into that type of role and the Cubs aging rotation could potentially use the extra rest.

  • Michael.......thank you for all you do. I can only imagine how much time and effort you are putting into Cubs Den. You introduction sounded as if you are exhausted. We are all thankful
    In my business role, I work with every media organization. Sinclair is a well run, professional organization. Frankly, they are far better and more transparent than almost all, possibly all. If you put personal political feelings and leanings aside, you'd be hard pressed to find a better partner. I am hearing real cool possibilities with the partnership. We all want Cubs games, but there may be more than that and vintage items. There may be partnerships to show independent league and top level D-1 college games. If you've seen the YES Network and SNY, this network is looking to take the great stuff they have and add more stuff.
    Speaking of the Independent League, I understand that there will be a forthcoming join announcement with MLB. My guess is that the IL may incorporate some of the changes proposed by MLB to the Players Union. I doubt it will happen by the start of the IL season but likely a few changes at the start and a few more mid-season. I think we will see a 62' distance between pitcher and catcher, pitch clock and 2-3 of the other items proposed by MLB.

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    There has definitely been segments of this offseason that have been exhausting. And it has been difficult to summon the will to voluntarily provide the Cubs free advertising at times.

    I would like to see many of the proposed rule changes implemented in Indy and/or MiLB games. They are ripe for experimentation.

  • Good article & thanks for keeping the Cubs Den open.

    I like that commenters can agree to disagree & it doesn’t digress into keyboard muscle pounding insult feasts.

    That said, I don’t give a hoot what political leaning the Sinclair corporation has. If they are breaking rules, policies or laws then MLB can have a say... until then, we are a free market system.

    As far as Russell goes, well I hope he does... go. At some point, whatever/whenever that happens, I will shed no tears. But, he’s serving his policy breaking punishment, Cubs are giving him help to reform & we shall see if any of it works. Having a sister who was punched out by her verbal abusive, alcoholic, disgusting p.o.s. of a husband, & having girls of my own, I will have a hard time cheering for him & most likely won’t. Of course I’ll want the Cubs to win the games he is in. I’m a Cub fan & he’s only 1 microcosm piece of what is Cub in my heart.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Mike

    I love your last paragraph, I as you have witnessed DV. Struggling with issue.

    But I’m a Cub fan & he’s only 1 microcosm piece of what is Cub in my heart............

    This is a sentence I need to be reminded of.

  • In reply to HJW49:

    Agreed. I view Russell in the same light as Chapman. Said the day he was acquired that I didn't want him but would still root for the Cubs. To those that said I wouldn't care once he was recording the final out for a WS title I replied that I would cheer, but would cheer louder if it was someone else getting that final out. So, thank you Mike Montgomery.

  • I, along with others, appreciate the effort expended to track the minor league players. As to your MLB comments I agree with some and not with others. Per Sinclair, you should not get political commentary on Bryant's ability to hit in the clutch or Javy's propensity to K etc etc etc. As for Russell, don't condemn him because he is unable to provide a politicians teflon speech. He's a young kid who is not used to singular press conferences. Add to that the actions of his accuser. She has been given a free pass in all cases. 1 nobody gets pregnant unless they want to 2 nobody has a baby out of wedlock unless they want to 3 going out drinking on girls night out is not helpful. Did Russell make mistakes? Yes. Is it a one way street? I think the Cubs feel they can help the most by being with him side by side. Guess we'll see.

  • In reply to veteran:

    At this point, I think fans should let the Russell situation play out. Addi has been given a second chance, I'm pulling for him. There were no police reports and the mlb is not an expert on domestic violence as far as I know. I say for now let both sides get on with their lives. I wish them well.

  • Thank you Michael. In addition to our great satisfaction from reading your work you also create great value for the Cubs organization. Even though I listen to a couple hours of baseball podcasts nearly everyday, I found this series on the Cubs farmhands to be not only insightful but also really inspiring. Your positive outlook makes it fun to read and dream on the upside of a system widely dismissed.

    I hope you continue to keep the Den alive. Cheers!

  • Let me join the applause for Michael.

  • Thank you for the kind words everyone.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I need cubs den

  • I will echo the thoughts here. And it was nice to see you get a nod from Arizona Phil in a recent comment. That is some street cred.

    The first thing that drew me to Cubs Den was the fine, humorous and insightful writing of Adam Felz.

    How does one submit a column for consideration here?

  • In reply to HackWilson09:

    And by that, I mean that I would love to see those kinds of articles about the MLB club if it is considered lacking here. Or anywhere, for that matter.

  • In reply to HackWilson09:

    You can send me a pitch: mikejernst@live.com

  • Michael, as many have already done, I'd like to add my thanks for keeping the Cubs Den going. This is the best place to go for reasonable discussion of the Cubs.

    My major concern with the new network is that if while it is great for die hards like me if done correctly (i.e. all Cubs no politics), I can't imagine it being good for growing new fans. I watched a few innings every day after school often with my grandfather. When I went to Florida as a kid I was surprised to find the Cubs were on TV there as well due to WGNs reach I was also a Sox fan.... but that ended when they put them on pay TV (Spectravision or something like that). Everyone I grew up with wanted to go to Wrigley Field even though Comisky was closer because that's what we saw on TV.The Blackhawks decision to keep all home games off TV nearly ruined their fanbase. Is anyone else concerned that it will it will be that way for the Cubs? I know its different nowadays with Cable TV and Streaming services but part of me worries that this could blow up in their faces in the long run

  • Many Cub fans exist because of WGN, Brickhouse and Harry, who brought in the young fans. Times change.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Perfect example of this. I live in Wisconsin and was looking at apartments yesterday. I've been a Cubs fan since late 80's b/c of WGN. The guy showing me the apartments also was.

    Neither of us, had families that watched baseball but we loved ahving it it after school. ( had my dad liked baseball I'd be a Brewer fan)

  • Fandom is often passed down, as it was for me. It will take generations to lose cubs fans. I wouldn't worry about that. Worst case scenario, maybe tickets become reasonable again someday haha.

  • Machado said it wasn't the money. He always wanted to be a Padre. Manny might have future in politics after his playing days.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Padres guaranteed 300 M. White Sox guaranteed 250 M. Conclusion, I always wanted to be a Padre whenever they guarantee 50 M extra.

  • In reply to John57:

    Lol

  • Thank you Michael. Not only for your thoughtful article, but for keeping things going now that John is no longer with us. I echo those who say we appreciate all of the effort you put into your Cubs coverage. It's outstanding. Been quiet for a while, but I should be back commenting after the season starts. Peace.

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    Yes, Michael has been outstanding for the Den, especially with the quiet winter.

    On that note as a fan, I'm actually ok with this winter's inactivity. I guess I just wasn't ready for big changes. I'm attached to these players and looking forward to a great season.

  • Michael, just wanted to add my thanks for all of your hard work. Life would be very different for me without the Den.

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    Call me crazy--well, I've been a Cubs fan all my life, but this is just like 2016 when Dexter Fowler suddenly appeared on the field in Mesa and surprised everyone. Why not Harper? For all the talk of not having the money, or not wanting to pay the luxury tax, where are we going to find a player of his caliber in the draft, or even in IFA signings? It would be worth it to sign him, and immediate impact player starting his prime years, as a Cub. Remember that report (it could be false) that said the Cubs wanted to know when he had a serious offer to contact them before anything was signed. The Cubs are on the cusp of another playoff run and he could put us over the top.
    I'm a believer. That's also a shout out to the late Peter Tork who recently passed away.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Harper situation is NOT like the Dexter Fowler situation. One player wants 300 to 400 million and the other player got around 10 million. Fowler did not cost any penalties in money, IFA money, draft position and trading penalties. Harper will. Massive differences.

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    In reply to John57:

    I meant that he could surprise us like Dexter surprised everyone by signing and showing up on the field so unexpectedly.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Harper showing up in Cubs camp now would definitly surprise me. Maybe Harper will sign the same contract Fowler did. If that happened I am sure the Cubs would do that. Harper for 10 million. If that happened I am sure Boras's head would explode.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I’d love for you to be right Jonathan, but even without the money issue, I just don’t see how Harper would fit without trading Heyward. Right now our 4 backup up players are Caratini, Descalso, Happ (or Almora) & Bote. Bote is the backup SS until/if Russell comes back. Cubs would have to send Happ or Almora down with Harper on team, which wouldn’t go over well after each player has spent the last 2 years in majors. In addition, I’m not sure how much better we would be. You’d go from a gold glove RF to a below average defensive RF. You’d also give up some D in CF going from Almora to Heyward.
    Now, throw in the $30-35 million per year for 10 years. That will cost you the ability to sign long term at least one of your young stars, maybe two. It just doesn’t make any sense without trading Heyward

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    It has been reported that the Phillies owner is in Las Vegas this weekend meeting with Harper. That could mean something will happen soon. Or not.

  • For those of us that want robo umps, I understand that it is a very real possibility that the IL may use on-field and personal technology to assist umpires in the calling of balls and strikes. It is possible it may be implemented at season start or after the mid-season break. If this happens, we will see if the technology takes us to euphoria or angst.

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    Read the Donaghy story on ESPN. He was the ref who bet on NBA games, and good evidence is presented that he used his position to influence the outcome of the games, not necessarily winner-loser, but the spread. The only ump who could realistically influence a MLB game that way is the home plate ump, especially given all the replay available. With gambling on sports now essentially legal, this pushes me a bit closer towards favoring technology-based balls/strikes.

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    Michael, I don't comment often but read often. I can sincerely say this site is very important to me for Cubs info and the comment section is like talking sports with my guys. Thank you for all you do. I always look forward to reading when you post something.

  • In reply to Hal McCarty:

    Thank you, Hal.

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