Getting back on the horse

I’m starting with the title of this post and seeing where it goes. It is the common idiom for situations like I currently find myself. I was bucked off the horse last fall, and rather than dusting myself off and getting right back on… I walked away. It was never meant to be permanent. I wasn’t giving up. But I also was not as mentally focused as I needed to be if I was going to safely remount and continue on.

Two of my greatest interests over the years have been baseball and writing. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have an outlet which has allowed those two interests to intersect since John offered me the opportunity to join Cubs Den seven years ago. It has been a wonderfully rewarding experience. One I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time and energy on, especially in years since John’s passing.

Once last season ended, I planned to take a few weeks off, as I always do. Writing the daily Minors recap is a grind. It is hours of commitment every day on top of my actual 9-to-5. By the final week of each season I’m usually barely scraping up enough mental energy to keep going. I always need a break after the season to recharge.

But the end of last season was different. And I’m sure not just for me, but you as well. It wasn’t just an end of a season, but the end of an era for Cubs baseball. The club had moved on from nearly every piece of the World Series winning core. Theo was gone too. It surely sapped as much enthusiasm from you as it did for me.

That wasn’t all though. The specter of the inevitable lockout loomed just in the distance. I watched early proceedings and the stance taken by the ownership. I saw too many parallels to the 04-05 NHL lockout which cancelled an entire season to have any faith the situation would be resolved quickly.

As far back as September I knew real negotiations would not take place until after Spring Training was supposed to begin, because that is when the owner’s greatest leverage would kick in. So, I had resigned myself to the notion Spring Training would not start on time, that we wouldn’t see Major League Baseball until May at the earliest, and that a mid-Summer kickoff was the most likely scenario. I wasn’t willing to dismiss the worst case either. I had already seen an entire hockey season taken away from fans, and the were too many similarities to these negotiations to ignore. I feared the same was possible in baseball this year.

I guess this is all my long way of saying I haven’t been in the right head space to write about baseball. My emotions usually ranged from bitterness to apathy. There were days/weeks when I couldn’t even muster the energy to care. Since I saw no hope for a conclusion to the lockout until spring, I often saw no reason to give the sport any of my time until then.

I was rarely happy or excited when thinking about baseball. And that is a prerequisite for me to write about it. This isn’t my job. This is a passion, a hobby. Just as it was for John. This site has meant a lot to me over the years. Since John passed it has never been the same. I know it. You know it.

I’ve never pretended to be John. I’m not the same caliber of writer. My interests lie far more on the analytical than the emotional side, while John was able to encompass both. I’m not particularly interested in getting to know the people involved, not the way he was. I’ve literally conducted just one interview for Cubs Den over the last 5+ years, and it wasn’t even with a member of the organization, because it is just not the type of writing I am compelled to undertake.

I’ve felt comfortable continuing Cubs Den the past couple of years though because I did have a love of writing about baseball, because that was all he ever asked of anyone he asked to join the site over the years: to care about what you create.

I’m more into the mechanics of baseball. The architecture. The physics. The projections. It is probably why I’ve always been drawn as much or more to Minor League Baseball and prospects than I have been to the Major League side. At the MLB level, most of the big decisions have already been made. There is little to project. The reasoning becomes more obvious, even inevitable at times, and doesn’t require much attention or examination. It is more about tweaking and polishing than constructing. I’m more interested in taking a look at the foundation and positing what can be built atop it.

With that in mind, I’ve begun to recapture my lost enthusiasm during Spring Training. Not only are all levels of baseball back before I expected, but it has been fun to get glimpses of the exciting prospects the Cubs have acquired over the past couple of seasons, many who showed well in Mesa. There is reason for excitement again.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been strategizing how to get back into writing. Writing is as much about routine and repetition as it is about passion. It’s work. And I have lost the rhythm over the past six months.

I may never find the same rhythm again, or at least it may take me a while to recapture it. But I’m leaving myself open to the possibility that when, how, and how often I write will be different this year. I’m living in a different time zone, with a different work schedule than last season.

My life is different.

Cubs Den may end up different too.

I still can’t say for certain.

But the first step, is to walk out to the corral, and get back on the horse.

On to the baseball…

Today is Opening Day. At least for AAA. The Iowa Cubs visit the Buffalo Bisons at Noon CST in the kickoff for all of affiliated baseball.

It is an unusual situation given Minor League ball generally begins a week or so after the Majors. Meaning the Cubs Opening Day roster is set long before the I-Cubs each season. This year the two are essentially being formed at the same time. Final roster decisions for the club heading north to Chicago were still being made yesterday, and won’t be announced until later today. Perhaps even after the I-Cubs season has already begun. Late additions and subtractions to AAA seem inevitable.

We do know Cory Abbott gets the ball for the Iowa opener. We know Brennen Davis will be in the lineup and that fellow top prospect Caleb Kilian will be a member of the rotation. The rest of the roster is mostly of the veteran variety, and still in flux, outside of a few powerful bullpen arms (Manny Rodriguez, Ben Leeper, Cayne Ueckert).

I’ll try to incorporate season previews for the Cubs and all of their affiliates over the course of this week as the final rosters are actually announced.

Until then, Happy AAA Opening Day.

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  • Glad to see you back Michael. Missed You.

  • In reply to bobb:

    Thanks, bobb

  • As it stands, the prospect watch is likely to be the most exciting part of being a Cubs fan this year, although a surprise or two at the MLB level may be in the works. Welcome back, Mr. Ernst.

  • Well, alright! I came here a few times over the past couple of weeks started to think it was over. So very happy to see the Cubs Den alert in my email inbox.

    Welcome back, Michael! You now have a chance now to do what John did: Document the rebuild from the ground up. I'm looking forward to it and very much appreciate the time and effort to provide news and insight on the prospects. Seems like we are loaded with potential high impact talent in the minors.

    And let's start the Brennan Davis watch. What's the over/under on when he debuts at Wrigley? June 10th? After the trade deadline?

    BTW, if any of you subscribe to The Athletic, check out the comments in today's Cubs story about Cubs Den and what it meant to us.

  • In reply to TTP:

    I dont think Davis will be up until after the deadline.

    By the way where is Velazquez? Chicago? Iowa? Tennessee?

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Velazquez is headed to TN.

  • In reply to TTP:

    Don't think we will see Davis until after the trade deadline.
    He isn't on the 40-man roster. He can use the AAA time anyway.

  • In reply to TTP:

    And I did see the comments in the Athletic not too long ago. It was nice to see. Thanks.

  • The Cubs have a few lower level prospects already on the 40 man. I feel like they really need to fast track them.

    They have guys like Leeper, Killian and Davis that will needed to be added this year along with Bote, Alzolay, Heuer & Weick hopefully coming back.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    The Cubs have a fairly old MLB roster. There is going to be a ton of turnover between this year's opening day roster and next.
    Not only do Davis and Kilian needed to be added to the roster by this fall (though not Leeper), they also have to add Kohl Franklin, Ryan Jensen, Cayne Ueckert, Chase Strumpf, and then make decisions on whether to protect any of Riley Thompson, Cam Sanders, Brandon Hughes, Brendon Little, Danis Correa, Jack Patterson, Bryce Windham, as well as lower level prospects Kevin Alcanatara, Yohendrick Pinango, Cole Roederer, Pablo Aliendo. There are always a few others who can make their case as well. The roster watch next October is going to be far more interesting than in any recent season.

  • Agree Michael, I think leeper may show up this year anyway along with herz. I see 14 veterans that will be flipped or let go from the current roster. Plus Rucker, Diechmann and Abbot are in a make or break year.

    They will have to add 4 or 5 top FA next year along with 4 or 5 lesser free agents. So that's 8 to 10 guys next year plus 7 young guys and the 4 that are on the 60 day DL. So that is 20 new guys on the 40 man roster.next year.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Leeper does likely get a spot at some point this year, but no guarantee. Not only has Leeper suffered injuries and/or control issues nearly every season since HS, the Cubs are already going to be working Roberts and Rodriguez into the Chicago bullpen mix. And given Cayne Ueckert's spring performance, the positive impression he made on Ross, and the fact he will become Rule 5 eligible means he likely gets first priority for a roster spot that opens up.

    I disagree regarding Herz. There is almost no chance we see him this year. He is starting High-A and a good season will see him finish in AA. The Cubs are not going to be overly aggressive with any starting pitcher this year given the lack of innings the past two seasons. The 2nd half of 2023 is likely the earliest we see him in Chicago. Same goes for Kohl Franklin and maybe even Jordan Wicks, who also open the season in the same South Bend rotation.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    I'm not sure what your definition is for "top free agents", but if you mean 4 or 5 in the Suziki/Stroman level, you are probably in for a great disappointment.

  • In reply to OldFan:

    I am a cubs fan I am used to disappointment.

  • Michael,
    I've been reading your work for years now and I have enjoyed it quite a bit. You are not John, but that comparison is an unnecessary one. We enjoy you for the writer you are. Each article is a gift to us in and of itself.

    John helped us get through a rebuild and march the path to glory. This seems like a perfect time for you to make this writing effort what you want it to be. The prospect intrigue and soon to be graduating prospects making early impacts at the MLB level should provide intrigue we haven't seen since 2014-2016.

  • It is true the lost years have reduced the innings for these guys. But I do think some of Wicks, Marquez, Franklin, Jensen, Killian, Robert's, Euckert, Leeper and Herz will be critical to the next world series run.

    Yes I am an extreme optimist.

  • My grandpa was a cub fan for 90 years He died before the 2016 championship season. I have been listening or watching the cubs since the early 60's.
    Yet I love the prospect watch. I know that a 30% success rate is very good. But I love the potential in all of these kids.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    My grandpa is the one that got me started on Cubs fandom as well, in my case in the early 70s after Banks, Santo, Williams and Jenkins were gone or past their peak. He passed in 1981 and I would have loved for him to have seen the 2016 Cubs with me - although he would have had to have lived past 105 to do it.

    I'm good with a prospect watch as well - but really hope that Wisdom, Schwindel and Ortega are 'real', and that what appears to be a patchwork rotation can get and stay healthy. I want to see some competitive baseball in 2022.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I definitely want to see the Cubs be successful this year and that will hinge on guys like Schwindel, Wisdom, Rivas & Ortega. Unfortunately this roster is at it's best a 80-85 win team (more likely 75-80 wins). Their success depends on starting pitching it will decide how good this team is.

    The kind of fun part is that there are 10-15 guys on the current 28 man roster that wont be here next year. So it is an exciting time to track these kids.

  • I remember that group from the 60's. William's, Banks, Santo, Jenkins that was a fun team. In today's playoffs they may have won at least one world series.

  • Welcome back Michael - and a howdy to you all who still frequent this little corner of the internet.

    As you put it - that mid-season sell-off of the remaining crew from the 2016 core was disheartening in a lot of ways. "They broke up the band!" Given, it also looks like they swept in a whole bunch of new talent that we are all going to enjoy watching grow and develop over the next several years. It won't be the same. But it could be good, great or even better if management does their job well.

    It's going to be hard seeing Baez being El Mago in Detroit, Rizzo sporting pinstripes, Bryant likely getting huge numbers in Denver, and Schwarber and Castellanos bashing baseballs with abandon in Philly. Especially hard after suffering through a winter and lock-out that seemed painfully long.

    Let's play some baseball!

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Unfortunately, they were underachievers in Chicago except for 1 year.

  • In reply to bobb:

    You ain't wrong bobb. Each of them had good years scattered around between 2017-2021 - but they were never quite in sync with each other again. That and it also illustrates how important Fowler was in setting the table, and how Zobrist's veteran presence really was missed the last few years.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I would say the Cubs did nothing all that creative after winning the World Series. Cubs could have found a couple OBP players, but that meant they would have started dealing away some of the core early to create a spot in the lineup. Lastella, could have been part off the solution versus RHP, & later on Tony Kemp Jr maybe should have been given steady AB's to see if he could match his minor league OBP.

    The Cubs want to keep rolling out their veterans like Heyward. I'm not sure what the lineup will be today, but I sure hope Ortega is in the lineup if healthy versus all RHSP, for at least for over 140 plate appearances. If that means Heyward in CF, Ortega should start in LF, & Happ at DH. Ortega had a .360 OBP in 2021, he should be gicen the chance to see if he has the talent to repeat.

  • Michael - great to see you back. But this time, we would like you to stay for the long haul, and you can't do that if you burn yourself out. Find a pace that you are comfortable with, and whatever you do will be greatly appreciated by all of us.

  • Glad to see you "back on the horse", Michael; I've truly missed starting each day with news from the Den. I hope you understand the major impact that you and the other Den writers have on Den readers!

    And now let's fire up the DH, the expanded playoffs and the Robo-Ump (oops!) and get this season rolling.

  • Glad to see we are back in action in honor of Jon.

  • It's really good to have you back, in whatever degree fits in your life. For me, my days always go better with Cub basebal. I was unable to even take sides in the negotiations. It should be interesting times for the organization.

  • Its good to see your back Michael ! Some of the so-called experts. are predicting 70 plus wins for the Cubs this year, I hope there wrong.
    I'm waiting for an outfield of Suzuki, Davis, and Crow-Armstrong, possibly next year ?
    I like that Hoyer isn't a Theo clone and is pointing the Cubbies in the right direction.
    My wife and I are moving to Scottsdale this week, but not in time for the spring training games, maybe next year if MLB doesn't shoot itself in the foot again. Good by L.A.& Chavez La Trine !

  • Welcome back! And you gotta do you, Michael. Do this how you want & need to. No explanations needed. Of course a lot of us loved John & how he did it & miss him. It was a super sad day & it was heartwarming to donate to the cancer charity in his honor. But you got this torch now & you make it how you want. I don’t always post. But I keep checking back in. You do a good job. Thanks!

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