Friday, June 08, 2007

Young Players Scare Me

I watched the Rule 4 draft yesterday on ESPN 2 and it made me realize two things. First, the baseball draft isn’t quite as exciting as the NFL or NBA drafts. For the most part, nobody has heard of most of the people being drafted. Of course, there is a small group of people who follow HS and college baseball players, but overall, the players being drafted are a mystery.

The second thing I realized is a little difficult to talk about. Quite honestly, it’s a little embarrassing. Even so, the truth is that young players scare me. I never really realized it before, but I don’t like the idea of playing young, unproven players.

For instance, Felix Pie’s potential excites me, but I’m more comfortable slowly working him into the line-up than I am handing him the starting CF job. Let him pinch hit, pinch run, or go into the game as a late inning defensive replacement. Ease him into the line-up. After he proves himself in limited duty, then consider giving him the starting job.

I’m not saying that the way I feel is right. In fact, as I said, I’m a little embarrassed to feel this way. Until yesterday, I didn’t think I felt this way. But when I think about how I would like to see the Cubs build their team, I want a proven veteran at every position.

If every team followed my ideas, players like Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, and Tim Linecum would be the budding superstars that they are. They would be either riding the pines or making a name for themselves in AAA. Obviously, not a good idea.

My head knows that teams need to play their prospects to and give them a chance to shine. My head also knows that from a business standpoint, every team needs good, inexpensive players to keep their payroll in check. But my heart is afraid of young players. What if they don’t pan out? I know, I know. I’m trying…

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Gary Sheffield is a Racist

Gary Sheffield is an idiot.

In a recent interview with GQ magazine (as reported on, the Tigers loud mouth opined why he believes more blacks are not playing baseball. After much thought and research, the esteemed Mr. Sheffield came to this conclusion: Blacks can not be controlled as easily as Latinos.

With a monumental chip on his shoulder, the man who never stops talking said:

"Where I'm from, you can't control us. You might get a guy to do it that way for a while because he wants to benefit, but in the end, he is going to go back to being who he is. And that's a person that you're going to talk to with respect, you're going to talk to like a man.

"These are the things my race demands. So, if you're equally good as this Latin player, guess who's going to get sent home? I know a lot of players that are home now can outplay a lot of these guys."

In just two simple paragraphs, Sheffield insulted blacks, he insulted Latinos, and he proved once and for all that he is a fool.

First, speaking for his entire race, the man that never met a microphone he didn’t like says that to be a man, you must be uncontrollable. Real men, according to Sheffield, do not conform to the norms of the workplace. They do not take direction from above. They demand respect and get it by being uncontrollable.

Sheffield goes on to prove his point by saying that he knows a lot of blacks who are MLB-caliber baseball players, but who choose to sit at home rather than be controlled (and significantly enriched). According to Gary’s logic, these players are better men than he is because he is being controlled as an MLB player.

Of course, his comments are obviously insulting to Latinos, who are apparently willing to do anything, including sign under market contracts, just for the privilege of playing baseball in America. Never mind that some of the highest paid players in MLB are Latinos. The facts don’t bother Gary. Why should they bother you?

Another fact lost on Gary is that in the NBA, the league that has the most control over its players, blacks are the overwhelmingly dominant race. Apparently you can be a man and still be controlled if you play basketball, but not baseball.

Over the years, I have tried to like Sheffield. Whenever I’ve seen him play, he has played hard and has had a burning desire to win. I’ve also always been amazed by his bat speed. But you can’t make stupid, racist comments like he made and still get the respect of the fans.

Can you imagine if a white player (maybe John Rocker) had said the things that Sheffield said? He would be crucified in the media and would likely even be suspended and/or fined. But in this case, I guess it is viewed as just Gary being Gary.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Kerry Wood and What Could Have Been

Kerry Wood was going to be the savior. He was every great pitcher rolled into one. He was going to be the ace of the Cubs staff for years to come. Baseball pundits marveled at what the Cubs could accomplish with Wood and Prior heading up a rotation that also included a promising young right hander named Carlos Zambrano. As Cubs fans, we were on the verge of truly halcyon days.

Of course, the halcyon days never came. Wood and Prior kept company on the DL and Zambrano is currently in the midst of a meltdown, perhaps triggered by his own injury. And for Cubs fans, all of the years of futility just go on and on.

Looking at Wood today, it can be easy to forget the promise he held as a 20-year old fireballer. It can be easy to forget that at one time, he was the most promising pitcher in all of baseball. It can also be far too easy to forget that Wood is just a man. At one time, we expected Kerry Wood to be Superman. As it turned out, he had a super arm, but it was connected to an ordinary man who had physical limitations and was subject to the same laws of physics as everyone else.

Buzz Bissinger has written an excellent article about Kerry Wood and his struggles and his disappointing career. It makes for good, albeit sad, reading.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Blow Up The Team...Or Not

As the Cubs season continues to circle the drain and it seems like things just can’t get any worse, things do get worse. In the midst of a loss to the Braves, Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett decided to spice things up with a fight that left Barrett with two black eyes and a split lip, and both players a little lighter in the wallet. It was a stupid display by two guys with more emotion than brains.

Predictably, the Cubs blogosphere started calling for a trade of one or both of the players. Then the knee-jerkers started calling for a wholesale dismantling of the club including trades of Derrick Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano. I wasn’t surprised to hear people call for the team to be blown up and for the Cubs to start over, but I was surprised at the number of normally reasonable people that joined in the chorus.

So I decided to give some serious thought to the calls for wholesale changes. What if the Cubs were to trade away their best players and start over? Would it make sense? Certainly, it’s going to be difficult to field a team that is going to do worse (or much worse) than the current crop of players. So, is the call for blowing up the team legitimate?

In a word, no.

If you’ve read previous articles on this fine blog, then you know that I am in favor of making changes. In order to improve the team, I feel the Cubs need a reliable bullpen arm, a good hitting SS, and perhaps an outfielder (CF or RF) with some pop in his bat. In order to get those pieces, I can see the Cubs trading any or all of Zambrano, Jacque Jones, Matt Murton, Ceasar Izturis, Cliff Floyd, and Scott Eyre. Throw in some minor leaguers if you have to. But parting company with the nucleus of the team – Lee, Ramirez, and Soriano – doesn’t make any sense.

Think about it. If you trade Lee, are you going to get a player (or even two players) that will equal his offensive production and fielding prowess? I don’t think so. And if you don’t, why would you trade him?

Ramirez and Soriano may not have the defensive upside that Lee has, but will you be able to replace their offensive production? Don’t be fooled by Soriano’s slow start. He was a 40/40 man last year. He hasn’t forgotten how to hit.

So the question is, will the Cubs be better as a team if they trade Lee, Ramirez and Soriano? No they won’t, unless you are in favor of a long rebuilding process.

The only way you can justify trading any of the Cubs big three is if your plan is to build the team to be a winner three or four years down the road. In that case, the Cubs can use Lee, Ramirez, and Soriano to attract a lot of really good young prospects. The Cubs could load up on young players with the hopes of building a team that can win in the future. I’m not in favor of such a plan, but it is a possibility.

The Cubs as currently constructed are not that far away from being a contender, especially in the NL Central. A couple of key moves and the Cubs are right back in it. I completely understand the frustration of watching this $110 million team struggle through the season, but dismantling the team is not the answer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Don't Feel Like Writing, But...

I’ve been really busy the past week and I’m a little under the weather right now, so I don’t feel much like writing…especially about the Cubs.

The team has underperformed pretty much all year and things don’t seem to be getting better. When they were doing poorly at the end of April, it was easy to say, “it’s only the first month.” But now we are two months into the year -- more than 25% of the season is gone -- and there have been no signs of improvement.

I’m already starting to concoct trades to get this team turned around. I wrote previously about the wisdom of trading players like Carlos Zambrano, Matt Murton, and Jacque Jones.

In a future post, I want to examine possible trade partners and analyze the Cubs needs now and in the future. For now, I just want to say that I’m disappointed in what the Cubs have done so far this year. I know that’s not breaking news, but I feel a little better saying it.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Cubs Salvage One in San Diego

The Cubs salvaged a win last night in the final game of their three game series in San Diego. Jason Marquis pitched a gem, giving up just one run and five hits in seven innings, but he ended up taking a no decision due to a lack of offensive production by the Cubs.

In the sixth inning, the Cubs had a terrific scoring opportunity when Alfonso Soriano led off the inning with a triple. However, the next three batters – Mark DeRosa, Derrick Lee, and Aramis Ramirez – each struck out. It seems like this has happened over and over again this year. I was shocked to learn this morning that the Cubs have the second highest BA in the NL with RISP (the Mets are first) and the highest BA in the NL with RISP and two outs. How is this possible? Thankfully, the Cubs came through with two runs in the ninth to win the game.

The Cubs are now 21-24, in second place in the NL Central, six games behind the Brewers. They open a three game series tonight against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Ted Lilly (4-2, 2.69 ERA) takes on the Dodgers’ Derek Lowe (4-5, 3.84 ERA).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I mentioned in an earlier post that the Cubs should think about trading Carlos Zambrano in order to add some pieces to the team that will help them win this year and into the future. I still feel that is a good idea, but I may have been off base suggesting that the Cubs could use Andruw Jones.

Jayson Stark has written a new book entitled “The Stark Truth: The most overrated and underrated players in baseball history.” has published an excerpt from the book where Stark makes the case that Andruw Jones is the most overrated center fielder in the history of the game. His argument is convincing and I am no longer campaigning for Jones to patrol CF for the Cubs. The article makes for interesting reading.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What To Do About Z?

Former MLB pitcher Carlos Gomez has some interesting observations about Carlos Zambrano’s mechanics. In a nutshell, Gomez points out that Z’s arm angle is significantly lower this year than it was in 2005, his velocity is down, and he speculates that the changes are due to an injury to Z’s shoulder. It makes for interesting reading.

In my mind, the question now becomes, what to do about Zambrano? He and the Cubs were on the verge of signing a big, multi-year contract. The only thing that stood in the way of the contract was the pending sale of the team. Now, Z has had a bad start to the 2007 season (4-4, 5.61 ERA) and he is exhibiting signs that he may be injured. Should the Cubs still sign him to a multi-year deal or should they cut their losses and get what they can in a trade?

I know that it is borderline sacrilege to talk about trading Z, but I’m starting to think it may be the best thing for the team. Even when he was healthy, his velocity was up, and he was a Cy Young candidate, Z was prone to emotional implosions. Considering his youth, it was easy to write off these outbursts to immaturity. But over the past few years, the outbursts really haven’t gotten any better. In many peoples’ eyes, Z has gone from an emotional young man to a head case.

Now, add in questions about his health and his ability to pitch effectively into the future and it starts to make sense that Z is worth more long term to the team as trade bait than as the supposed ace of the staff. Even with the question marks surrounding Z, there are teams out there that would be willing to take a chance on him.

Three teams that come to mind are the Yankees, Mets, and Braves. The Yankees are in desperate need of starting pitching. Even with the addition of Roger Clemens, the Yankees are still two or three starting pitchers short.

The Mets pitching has been pretty good this year, but they will likely lose Tom Glavine at the end of the year. Z could be viewed by the Mets as a replacement for their ace. Plus, although their young pitchers have pitched well this year, I’ve got to believe that the Mets brass is just waiting for these pitchers to come back down to earth. Adding Z could solidify their rotation this year and into the future.

At the moment, the Braves have John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, and some other guys. They want another proven pitcher and they have some nice parts to trade in exchange for said pitcher.

I don’t know what is going to happen. The fear is always if you hang on to the struggling player (in this case, Z), he’s never going to recover. On the other hand, if you trade him, he’ll not only recover, but he’ll come back and kill you in the future. But looking at the situation objectively (or at least as objectively as I can), I think the Cubs may be better off trading Z than signing him and hoping for the best.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Should the Cubs Trade Matt Murton?

A lot of talk out in the Cubs blogosphere has centered around the potential trade of one of the Cubs outfielders. At the moment, the Cubs have Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones, Cliff Floyd, Matt Murton and Angel Pagan in the outfield, and Felix Pie is in Iowa just waiting for his chance to rejoin the big team.

Obviously, Soriano is not going to be traded. Likewise, Pie is being looked to as the Cubs centerfielder (or right fielder) of the future, so he’s likely not going any where.

That leaves Jones, Floyd, Murton, and Pagan. Because of the Cubs lack of left-handed bats, it really doesn’t make sense to trade Jones or Floyd. Of course, the idea of trading Jones has been floated in the past and there hasn’t been much interest.

Angel Pagan is a switch-hitter, but at the moment he is viewed as a 4th outfielder/pinch runner/pinch hitter type of player. If the Cubs were to trade Pagan, they likely would not get much in return.

That leaves Matt Murton as the most likely outfielder to be traded. He’s young, hits for average, has some power (not as much as you’d like to see in a corner outfielder), has average to above average speed, is a decent (but not spectacular) fielder, and has an okay arm. He’s not a superstar, but he is solid.

Of course, one of the knocks on Murton is that he is only a left fielder. He can play right in a pinch, but he really doesn’t have the arm of a right fielder.

The argument to not trade Murton has been that he can hit and he is inexpensive. Others have said that his power is developing and that the Cubs will be sorry if they let him go. Of course, this is one of the problems with Cubs fans. They fall in love with every decent player that puts on a Cubs uniform and they only want to trade lower rung players. In addition, they want Jim Hendry to get a superstar in exchange for the roster filler.

I agree with those that believe Murton has the make up to become a good (not great) major leaguer. But I also believe that he is one of the few players on the Cubs that 1) is expendable, 2) other teams would have an interest in, and 3) could fetch a player in return that could help the Cubs win.

At this point, I should say who the Cubs could get in exchange for Murton. Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve heard rumors involving San Diego sending Scott Linebrink to the Cubs for Murton. I’ve also heard speculation of Murton going to Philadelphia in exchange for Jon Leiber. There’s no doubt that the Cubs could use some help in the bullpen as well as a proven 5th starter, but I don’t know if either of these trades would work.

In my opinion, the Cubs need to make a long-term decision about their outfield. At the moment, the Cubs outfield is a mish-mash of players. They acquired Soriano without giving a lot of thought to where he was going to play. Jacque Jones is a capable right fielder (with a weak arm) who is currently miscast in CF. He’s doing a decent job there, but CF is not his position. Cliff Floyd was signed as an afterthought. The Cubs didn’t have a place to play him, but they signed him anyway. Plus, he is a DH masquerading as an everyday outfielder.

We know that Soriano is now a fixture in left field. That leaves the other two OF positions to fill. One of those positions will be filled by Felix Pie. Most people have penciled him in as the CF, but I would suggest that he set his sites on RF. He has the best arm on the Cubs and is developing his power.

That leaves CF. I’d like to see the Cubs acquire a guy not just to fill CF, but who will be a fixture in CF. I’ve heard Torii Hunter’s name thrown out there. He wouldn’t be my choice.

But what about Andruw Jones? He’ll be a FA after this year. Perhaps a deal can be made with the Braves. As an aside, if the Cubs can make a deal with Atlanta, perhaps it could include Braves catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Braves are currently looking for additional starting pitching. Would they be interested in Carlos Zambrano? Before you start yelling, think about it for a minute. Just like Jones, Z is going to be a FA at the end of the year, so the Cubs may be losing him anyway. At first blush, trading Z seems crazy, but he’s not pitching that well right now and there are options to replace him. I won’t go into the options right now, but there are options.

Another possibility for CF is Rocco Baldelli of the D-Rays. The price would not be as high to get Baldelli as it would be to get Andruw Jones (and Salty), but Baldelli would be a great addition to the Cubs.

There are other possibilities as well. My only purpose in suggesting any of this is to encourage a long-term approach to rebuilding the Cubs OF. I don’t know for sure who the Cubs could get in exchange for Murton or Jacque Jones, but who ever it is, I hope they don’t just approach any changes as just patches. The Cubs need to develop a long range plan and then follow the plan.

BTW, building a plan for the future doesn’t mean giving up on this year. Any plan should improve the team now as well as into the future.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Tough Loses Followed by Big Wins

Coming off of a horrible road trip to the East Coast, I started to think that maybe all of the naysayers were right about the Cubs. Maybe they are no better than a .500. Maybe they are flawed and poorly constructed. Maybe this year is going to be another disappointment. Well, shame on me.

After dropping 2-of-3 to the Phillies and 3-of-4 to the Mets (including a 9th inning implosion by the bullpen in game four of the series), the Cubs came home to take on the White Sox at Wrigley. The Sox always play the Cubs tough, regardless of the team’s records, so I wasn’t too excited about the series.

In game one, the Cubs looked good and got help from an unlikely sourse: Angel Pagan. Pagan went 3-5 including a two-run triple and Ted Lilly pitched good enough to get the win. The Cubs went on to win the game 6-3.

Today, the Cubs won a roller coaster of a game 11-6. The best thing about the game in my opinion was that just kept fighting back. The Sox would take the lead, then the Cubs would come back. The win was capped off with a grand slam by pinch hitter Derrick Lee, who has been having trouble with his neck and was not supposed to play this series.

The last two wins are important for a couple of reasons. First, and most obviously, they improve the Cubs record to 20-21 and for the moment moves the Cubs into a tie for second place with the Astros.

But even more importantly, teams can sometimes use wins like the Cubs have gotten in the past two days to build chemistry and possibly build a winning streak. Just as emotional losses can drive a stake into the heart of a team, an emotional win (or two) can motivate and energize a team.

In the very least, the Cubs are going to win 2-out-of-3 from the Sox and they may sweep the series. And hopefully, the Cubs will be able to use the series to build some momentum as they head to the West Coast.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Power Outage Hits the Cubs

The Cubs salvaged the third and final game in Philadelphia yesterday by a score of 4-1. Ted Lilly pitched another masterful game and Ryan Dempster notched his eighth save of the year. The Cubs are now 17-18 and are tied for second in the division with Houston, seven games behind the Brewers.

The Cubs offense failed to hit a HR again yesterday. Three of the most feared hitters in the NL, Alfonso Soriano, Derrick Lee, and Aramis Ramirez have combined to hit only 14 HRs in 35 games. And that stat is a little misleading considering that Ramirez has eight of those 14 HRs. Soriano has four and DLee only two.

Why can’t the Cubs hit HRs this year? The trio of Ramirez, Soriano and Lee are projected to hit only 65 HRs this year. That breaks down to:

Ramirez 37 HRs
Soriano 19 HRs
Lee 9 HRs

Actually, things aren’t as bad as they may seem at first blush. If history is any indication (and it usually is), Soriano and Lee will turn the power on soon. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner the better, but by the end of the year they should have 25-35 HR each. Ramirez will likely stay on pace for 35-40 HRs.

Considering that two of the Cubs three big power hitters aren’t showing much power so far this year, you would think that the Cubs would really be suffering as a team in the HR department. However, they actually aren’t doing too bad.

As a team, the Cubs have hit 32 HRs which is 17th best out of 30 teams. The Reds and Brewers (both NL Central Division rivals) have each hit 48 HRs so far this year to lead all of MLB. That’s not so bad considering the HR struggles of Soriano and Lee. By the end of the year, I would expect the team to be much higher on the list.

It’s not all bad news for Soriano and Lee. For instance, Lee is hitting .390 with 17 doubles and 21 RBIs. Soriano is hitting .312 with 13 doubles. Unfortunately, Soriano has only contributed eight RBIs so far this season.

I’m disappointed in the way the team has played so far this year and the lack of power shown by Soriano and Lee just accentuates that point. However, I still cling to the hope that it is early and that both players will turn on the power soon. I also have to believe that HR or not, Soriano is going to start driving in some runs.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Dusty Baker is Complaining Again

I didn’t plan on writing anything about Dusty Baker. As far as I’m concerned, the former Cubs manager is history and there’s really nothing left to say about him. But Baker is complaining again about his time in Chicago and I just can’t let it go.

In an article by Teddy Greenstein in the Chicago Tribune, Baker says:

“At this point I’m not ready to [call a game at Wrigley]. I don’t need any more abuse, you know what I mean? I was booed and jeered enough.”

Does Baker think he’s the first person to ever be booed for doing a lousy job? And does he think the booing is somehow only limited to Chicago?

I’ve grown tired of Baker’s complaining about Chicago. In the article, Baker claims he did the best he could as manager of the Cubs. Anyone that watched the games and followed Baker’s exploits know better than that. Baker gave up on the season in 2006 after Derrick Lee broke his wrist and he allowed the rest of the team to give up as well. He did nothing to pull the team together. He did nothing to motivate the team. He just gave up.

It would be a lot easier to move on and put Baker in the past if he wasn’t still showing up and playing the victim. He’s even complaining about how the Cubs went out and spent money on players after his departure. Again, it’s all about Baker and even after he’s gone, he’s still the victim.

Baker is not the first manager to get fired. But he is the first that I can remember that keeps complaining about how poorly he was treated during his tenure long after he is gone. I would respect him a lot more if he would just put the past in the past, wish the Cubs well, and move on.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Marquis is Masterful

Jason Marquis pitched a terrific game tonight. He pitched a three hit, complete game shut out, striking out five, walking none, and lowering his ERA to 1.70. The timing of Marquis’ pitching masterpiece was good considering the Cubs offense provided almost no run support.

The only run for the Cubs came on a lead-off HR in the first inning by Alfonso Soriano. Aramis Ramirez (2-3) and Matt Murton (2-4) each contributed two hits to the Cubs eight hit “attack.” On the down side, after his HR, Soriano struck out three times. Also, Jacque Jones had a rough night, going 0-4 and stranding 9 base runners.

The Cubs play the rubber game of their three game series with Pittsburgh tomorrow. The Pirates Paul Maholm (1-4, 5.51 ERA) will take on Carlos Zambrano (3-2, 5.80 ERA).

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Did Dusty Baker Commit Pitcher Abuse?

Gene Wojciechowski from has written an interesting article about Mark Prior. Woj talks about the year Prior had in 2003 and his long, painful fall to a near-permanent spot on the DL. He also talks about all of the questions people had about Prior’s heart.

Probably the most interesting part about the article is when Woj talks about the role Dusty Baker played in over using Prior and ultimately damaging his arm. In the past, I’ve heard people condemn Baker for the way he used Prior and I’ve heard other people claim that there is no such thing as pitcher abuse. Woj does a good job of explaining how Baker used Prior in 2003 and what impact that might have had on Prior’s shoulder.

The article can be found here.

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The Cardinals announced that their ace, Chris Carpenter will have to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow and will miss at least three more months. The defending World Series Champions are already finding the going difficult this year and losing Carpenter for any amount of time doesn’t help their chances.

The Cardinals entered the season with a rather suspect starting rotation to begin with. Carpenter was their only “sure thing.” With him out, the team will have to rely on a pitching staff that doesn’t have one pitcher that has even one year of experience starting. Looks like it’s going to be a long year for the Cards.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Roger Clemens will not be returning to Houston. That’s big news for the Cubs because the feeling has been that if the Astros can just stay in the race, Clemens could put them over the top. Now that’s not going to happen and the Cubs won't have to face Clemens.

Clemens announced his return to the NY Yankees yesterday. He will receive a pro-rated one year contract worth $28 million. Clemens says it’s not about the money. Maybe that’s true, although he’s getting a lot of it.

For Clemens, I think it is the stage. Clemens loves the spotlight and there is no bigger stage in baseball than Yankee Stadium.

Clemens also understands the importance of run support. In Houston, Clemens had to win games on his own. He received very little support from the offense. In New York, Clemens will get great run support. The Yankees are leading the majors in runs scored, despite the fact that they are one game below .500 and are trailing the Red Sox in the AL East by 5.5 games

Why didn’t Clemens join the Red Sox? They would have paid the money, they put up lots of runs, and they are winning. In my opinion, the main reason is that Clemens would have had to share the stage with Dice-K, Curt Schilling, and the rest of Boston’s excellent pitching staff. Boston is a big stage, there’s no doubt about that. Red Sox baseball is a quasi-religion in Boston. But no matter how big the stage, Clemens would still have had to share it. Why be one of the actors on the stage when you can go to New York and be the star.

Which explains the final reason Clemens signed with the Yankees: he’s needed. The Yankees are scoring plenty of runs, but their pitching has been horrible. Injuries and slow starts have sabotaged the team’s efforts so far this year. Clemens will do his part. If things don’t turn around for New York, it won’t be The Rocket’s fault. The Yankees were already losing when he got there. But if the Yankees do start to win and make it to the post season, Roger will be a savior.

For Clemens, signing with the Yankees is a no lose proposition. He makes a lot of money, he’s needed, he’s the leading man on a big stage, and he has the chance to be a savior. Not a bad gig.

For another perspective on Clemens leaving Houston, read Richard Justice’s views on the subject here.

Monday, May 07, 2007

SWEEP!!! v.2

Okay, the Cubs actually did sweep the series this time against Washington. I kind of got it wrong last time. In addition to winning five in a row, the Cubs have won 8 out of their last 10 and are playing very good baseball.

Of course, not everyone is happy. The blogosphere was ripe with criticism for the way Lou Piniella has managed recently. Lou has used the majority of his bench and bullpen in a few games. In yesterday’s victory over the Nationals, Piniella used all of his bullpen except Rocky Cherry and everyone on the bench except Henry Blanco. All of the moves left Daryle Ward in LF and Alfonso Soriano at 2B for the final inning. Some posters were outraged Piniella would allow so much defensive liability when the game is on the line. My reaction: So what.

First, we’re not talking about running amputees out to play the field (my apologies to any amputees reading this). Both Ward and Soriano are professional baseball players. True, neither player is the best fielder at the position they were playing, but they are both capable of fielding the ball.

Second, and this goes to a larger point I discussed last year when Dusty was shirking his management responsibilities, the manager is paid to manage the team. Piniella is just doing what he was hired to do. He is sending a subtle message to his players. The message: “We’ll do whatever it takes to win. I don’t care about your feelings. I don’t care about your preferred position. I don’t care how long you’ve been in the big leagues. If it will help us win, I’ll do it.”

In one sense, Piniella’s hand was forced. When pitchers come in from the bullpen and can’t find the strike zone, Piniella can’t just let them give up walk after walk. He has to make moves that give the team the best chance for a victory. So using up the bullpen is partly the result of the bullpen not getting the job done.

In a larger sense, Piniella is working on changing the culture of the team. Dusty didn’t like to show up his players or cause too many waves. The resulting message was, it’s more important to be “respectful” than to win. This message just reinforced the culture of the Cubs that winning wasn’t the most important thing. Pinella is trying to change that in both obvious and subtle ways.

If Piniella starts emptying his bench and using up his bullpen every day, then maybe I’ll get concerned. But the fact that he only did it a couple of times (not to mention that it worked) doesn’t concern me in the least.