Gordon Wittenmyer has become a controversial figure in the world of the Chicago Cubs.
The Sun Times Cubs beat writer has been penning features that have dared to take a closer look and at times question how the Tom Ricketts ownership has handled the club thus far. Many think he has gone too far, and has overplayed the angle.
That is more than fair to say. However, it is still important to have someone that is willing to ask tough questions.
I have always been on board with a rebuilding project and behind Theo Epstein and the plan. Yet, there have been some bumps in the road, and it is imperative to have some writers willing to keep and even eye on the organization.
Let's go back to an interview I did with Wittenmyer back in August.
Some of the questions are still timely.
TL: You were out in front on was the Cubs baseball operations lack of resources. How, if any, have things changed with the city signing off on the Wrigley rehab?
GW: The biggest question Cubs fans should be asking about their team’s ability to compete long-term is not whether they have the right front office (maybe they do; maybe they don’t), but whether they have the ownership capable of it.
The Ricketts family willingly entered a deal with Sam Zell that left them with far more debt that anyone else in baseball, with a family-trust financing structure that assures the kids stay out of Papa Joe’s pockets for more money and that has left other original suitors shaking their heads and/or laughing at the deal.
TL: With the Cubs able to opt out of the WGN TV deal soon, is more help on the way?
GW: Short-term bottom line is that the Cubs have abdicated their big-market bully status in a division otherwise filled with small and medium sized markets. Long-term bottom line is that they have placed a potentially dangerous amount of trust in city politics and a future television deal that is anything but guaranteed to rise to the levels of the recent news-making deals across the game – and in Crane Kenney to make it happen.
I think you’ll see some restoration of baseball funding once new revenues are coming in. But it won’t be as immediate or maybe even as big as some might expect.
My problem with the whole thing included the disingenuous arguments made along the way to justify at first a plea for public funding, then tax breaks and permission to break landmark rules and signed-in-good-faith leases with rooftop owners.
My biggest problem with the whole thing was the bill of goods the team was selling fans along the way, in continuing to charge the third-highest ticket prices in the game while providing the crap we’ve seen on the field the last two years.
TL: You were also of the few in the media 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: Will Castro be the shortstop when this team wins?
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 have wanted to sign Jeff Samardzija to a long-term deal, he and his 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: What is the end game?
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: I wrote that the Cubs front office had to win the Matt Garza deal (being the biggest chip on the market). Did they accomplish that?
GW: As recently as even two years ago, I would have shrugged at the Garza deal and given it a big, “Eh.”
But given that the Cubs were dealing with a rent-a-player in an era of extremely restricted draft-pick compensation and not as strong a market for him as it might have seemed in the rumor mills, they did as well as they could have.
In sheer volume alone, it was an impressive deal. That said, every one of those players they got in return has an issue or a track record to suggest he might flame out. But if even one hits and contributes long term, it was a good deal.
The only option would have been to keep him, in which case the Cubs would have qualified for a compensation pick only by offering him a qualifying offer (maybe $14 million this year). In which case he might have taken it, and they would have been right back where they started – assuming he didn’t get hurt again.
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