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Browsing posts from November, 2012

Cubs Bullpen Still In Shambles

By bullpenbrian - November 30, 2012 - 3:00 am Leave a comment.

Don’t forget about the Cubs’ bullpen this offseason. It remains a glaring weakness and aside from re-signing Shawn Camp, not much has been done to improve the relief staff.

Adding a couple of quality starter (Scott Baker & Scott Feldman) should help in theory, reducing the number of relief innings, but there’s still a ton of work to be done.

Only the Rockies, Brewers and Astros relievers allowed more earned-runs than Chicago in the National League last season.

The Cubs’ pen also allowed the second most HR in the NL (56) and worse, issued the most walks in all of baseball (259).

Carlos Marmol could be traded by the end of the Winter Meetings next week. Michael Bowden and Alberto Cabrera are being stretched out as starters this offseason. That basically leaves Camp and James Russell as the only reliable relief arms.

Meanwhile, Lendy Castillo, Jaye Chapman and Jeff Beliveau are still unproven. So is Rafael Dolis. Maybe there’s a pleasant bullpen surprise this spring among Arodys Vizcaino, Trey McNutt or Robert Whitenack, but even so that’s not enough for a formidable bullpen.

So in addition to finding the right fit at third base and a center fielder, improving the bullpen must be high on the Cubs’ list of repairs.

I wouldn’t suspect the bullpen issues get ironed out at the Winter Meetings, there might be a move (Marmol), but it’s something to keep an eye on as we move deeper into the offseason.

I have to believe at some point Team Theo will add at least one, if not two, quality relievers before the start of spring training.


Steroids Era and The Hall of Fame

By bullpenbrian - November 29, 2012 - 3:25 am 2 comments.

We knew this day was coming. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are eligible to become members of baseball’s Hall of Fame.

The question is whether or not suspected PEDs users, such as the three above, among others, should be elected.

I think they should be enshrined.

Now, before you start throwing stones…I’m not foolish enough to believe none of the eligible candidates cheated the game. In fact, I’d bet money I don’t have they did use performance-enhancers. Who are we kidding?

However, if baseball is ever going to move on from the Steroids Era it can’t allow this debate to fester on year-after-year, which it will, as long as a seven-time MVP is without a plaque in Cooperstown.

There’s no better example than Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader, whose legacy only grows with his exclusion from the hall. Granted, Rose wasn’t banished for steroids use, but cheating is cheating.

What I’m saying is Bonds, Clemens, Sosa etc. shouldn’t be given the privilege of such attention, like what Rose receives during the election announcements each year.

Instead, the writers must remind themselves the Steroids Era cannot be erased. What happened, happened. Yes, it’s a black on the game, but it can be healed.

Just as we learned to separate the Dead Ball Era from the Live Ball Era, fans will learn to do the same with the Steroids Era.

By the numbers we’ll know Bonds is the all-time home runs leaders and Clemens is one of the best hurlers ever. But we’ll also have an understanding they accumulated their numbers artificially, at least partially, and against other steroids users, no less.

Baseball’s most cherished statistics become no less sacred by electing players from the Steroids Era into the HOF. Rather, it will only help make the game’s history more transparent.

On the contrary, if the baseball writers chose to withhold their votes for highly suspected PEDs users the Steroids Era will never come to a close. And what could be worse than future Hall of Famers, even those decades from now, being overshadowed by the eternal debate of Bonds’ exclusion from the hall?

The writers can lop the head off the ugly Steroids Era monster by simply voting the roid players in, even though we know in our hearts, none are truly deserving of the honor.

Strangely, the decision to enshrine Steroids Era players would actually devalue the players’ accomplishments over time, thus bettering the game and the Hall of Fame itself. So put the cheaters in and move on with the understanding a certain period of the game’s history was chemically enhanced.

That doesn’t mean voters from this point forward should issue a free pass to future PEDs users eligible for the hall. We’re in a new era, more aware, more informed and better educated. Baseball’s steroid rules have been revised and most importantly, enforced. For all intents and purposes, it should be a non-issue.

In the meantime, reliving the Steroids Era with each new HOF ballot does the game no good. The writers need to bury baseball’s dead past and close the chapter on the Steroids Era once and for all.

Unfortunately, it takes putting some more scoundrels in Cooperstown. Call it an unpleasant, but necessary evil if you will.


Cubs Rotation Respectable

By bullpenbrian - November 28, 2012 - 4:00 am 2 comments.

The addition of Scott Feldman on Tuesday shores up the Cubs’ minimal starting pitching needs this offseason and actually gives Chicago a respectable rotation behind Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Scott Baker.

“We’d have liked him back, but he got a better opportunity, I won’t be surprised to see him have a big year.” -Rangers GM Jon Daniels on Feldman.

It’s another step forward to increasing the odds the Cubs avoid another 100-loss season, but re-tooling the rotation is far from over.

There’s still the possibility Garza is dealt during the Winter Meetings next week in Nashville, and the jury’s still out on Shark and Wood improving on last season.

There’s also no telling how long it will take Baker to bounce back from Tommy John surgery, if at all, and can Feldman sustain an entire season as a starter?

Per the usual, lots of question remain.

In part this explains the Cubs’ decision to stretch out relievers Michael Bowden and Alberto Cabrera as starters this winter.

Arodys Vizcaino (acquired from Atlanta for Reed Johnson & Paul Maholm) is recovering from TJS in March and is another potential starting option, especially if Garza is dealt.

Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley each made a handful of starts with the Cubs last season and could also make a run at the rotation this spring.

In theory it appears the Cubs finally have some decent rotation depth, but that’s assuming the progression of the arms-in-waiting go as planned; and precisely why Team Theo will try to fetch more starting pitching during the Winter Meetings next week.

Even if the Cubs come up empty in Nashville we at least know the rotation is better heading into 2013 than it finished in 2012, at least on paper.

Ultimately the Cubs’ starting rotation still poses more questions than answers, and will remain as such while trade opportunities, injuries and slumps continually shape the starting five through next season.

But that’s life for a rebuilding team. Every question can’t be answered immediately.


Marmol, Maddux, Marlins

By bullpenbrian - November 27, 2012 - 5:30 am Leave a comment.

When Kerry Wood retired in May he marked the last player to remain in a Cubs uniform from the 2003 playoff team.

Currently there are three holdovers from Chicago’s last postseason appearance in 2008: Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol and Jeff Samardzija.

Marmol will likely be traded this offseason. A Soriano trade is more possibility than certainty. However, if he and Marmol are both dealt this winter Samardizja becomes the lone remaining player from the Cubs’ last playoff team.

What does it all mean? Nothing, really. But man, time sure does fly…

Greg Maddux has been named the pitching coach for Team USA in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. The team’s skipper, Joe Torre, also tabbed Gerald Perry (hitting), Dale Murphy (first base), Willie Randolph (third base), Marcel Lachemann (bullpen) and former Cub Larry Bowa (bench) to his coaching staff.

Maddux could prove a valuable recruiting tool for American pitchers still wavering with their decision to participate. There isn’t a pitcher alive who couldn’t learn a little something from The Professor. A few weeks of one-on-one counseling with Mad Dog should be an enticing offer for any hurler.

–The Miami Herald reported a poll by Bendixen & Amandi International conducted last week of 400 South Florida baseball fans‘ opinions of Marlins owner Jeffery Loria.

The majority polled are self described Marlins fans (90-percent) and the results revealed little surprise…87-percent are still seething over Loria’s fire-sale trade with Toronto.

If there’s any surprise, it’s the 13-percent who were not outraged by the move. That’s 52 votes. Really?

Aside from Loria and the Blue Jays, I couldn’t imagine any Marlins fans agreeing with the salary dump. Even the Marlins NL East rivals had to think the move was ridiculous and made in poor judgment.

What’s more, a small percentage (6-percent) actually responded with a ‘favorable’ vote for the team’s owner. Favorable!

Granted a few of the folks polled know the owner personally, but I’d have to fairly assume the rest of Loria’s supporters are in some way tied to his payroll.

But seriously, how can you be a baseball fan, let alone a Marlins fan, and not be disgusted with Loria’s leadership as the club’s owner? Some things I’ll just never understand…but my vote is Marlins fans deserve better.


Happy Birthday Matt Garza!

By bullpenbrian - November 26, 2012 - 2:30 am Leave a comment.

Happy 29th birthday to Matt Garza!

Will the fiery right-hander celebrate his next birthday as a Cub? It’s hard to say given the Cubs’ decision to hold-off signing Garza to a long-term deal and his pending recovery from a stress reaction in his right elbow.

I don’t have any predictions on whether Garza remains in Chicago. He could be dealt this offseason or next July. Who knows?

I do know quality pitching is hard to find and trading a proven top of the rotation arm like Garza’s would come with plenty of risk. Like any potential trade, it’s largely a matter of what’s coming back in return…

As for the b-day celebrations, Garza shares his birth date with a number of current and former MLB players, most notably:

Chuck Finley – 1962

Harold Reynolds – 1960

Jeff Torborg – 1941

Lefty Gomez (HOF) – 1908

Hugh Duffy (HOF) – 1866


Cubs Trade For Derrek Lee Nov. 25, 2003

By bullpenbrian - November 25, 2012 - 2:15 am 9 comments.

Nov. 25, 2003: the Cubs trade minor leaguer Mike Nannini and Hee-Seop Choi to the Marlins for Derrek Lee.

For all the heat Jim Hendry received during his tenure as Cubs GM, this was one of his better deals.

Lee, then 28, had just wrapped up his first Gold Glove and a World Championship with Florida. He was in the prime of his career, his best seasons were still ahead and he would soon become the clubhouse leader in Chicago.

Meanwhile, Nannini never reached the majors and Choi finished his underwhelming career with the Dodgers two-years later.

Lee of course went on to have the best season of his career in 2005. He played 158-games, won the NL Batting Title (.335), Silver Slugger Award (46 HR, 107 RBI), his second Gold Glove and finished third in the MVP race (5.7 WAR).

It’s hard to know what happens in Lee’s career had he not broke his wrist in April of 2006 after colliding with Rafael Furcal near first base in Los Angeles. He returned from the injury two months later, but clearly wasn’t the same hitter as before the collision.

Lee’s recovering wrist appeared to cripple his power during the next two seasons, including the playoffs, before his return to form in 2009: .972 OPS, 35 HR, 111 RBI. Now 34, however, it proved the last glimpse of Lee as the power-hitting threat from four-years earlier.

Lee’s numbers offensively didn’t live up to his 5-year, $65 million contract in 2006 (in fact, the ink had yet to dry when the wrist injury occurred) but his value on defense and outstanding leadership arguably made him the face of the franchise until Starlin Castro‘s arrival in May of 2010.

Three months later Lee was traded to the Braves for three minor leaguers, none of which have yet to reach the big leagues. Lee’s seven years spent on the North Side were over and soon so was his major league career.

Nevertheless, Lee’s arrival in Chicago ultimately proved a landslide trade-win for Hendry and the Cubs.


Mitchell Report Five Years Later

By bullpenbrian - November 24, 2012 - 2:45 am Leave a comment.

We’re coming up on the 5-year anniversary of the Mitchell Report (Dec. 13, 2007).

The investigation most notably uncovered and published the names of 89 MLB players of either highly suspicious or confirmed uses of performance-enhancing drugs (steroids, HGH, amphetamines, etc.).

I was curious to know how many players listed in the Mitchell Report were still playing in the major leagues as of 2012.

By my count there are 5: Rick Ankiel, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Jerry Hairston and Brian Roberts.

Ankiel, 33, is the youngest of the five and could still play several more seasons. He was, however, cut by the Nationals on July 27 and failed to play another game last season. The remaining four are 35 and older with Giambi and Pettitte both in their 40s.

If Ankile fails to latch on with another club, it’s nearly a certainty 2013 will prove the final season for both Giambi and Pettitte–if either plays at all. But that doesn’t mean the Mitchell Report players vanish from the present game entirely.

The names of Bonds, Palmeiro and Clemens will resurface during Hall of Fame discussions. Mark McGwire is still around as the hitting coach for the Dodgers and Matt Williams (also listed) appears poised to become a big league manager.

To baseball’s credit, in the five seasons since the Mitchell Report the league has taken great strides to clean up the game with improved testing practices and harsher penalties. But, as Melky Cabrera proved this past summer, there’s still work to be done.

I’m not suggesting there’s a policy baseball can put forth to prevent all players from cheating. But I do believe more can be done to discourage players from using PEDs by implementing stauncher penalties.

Further preventative measures are the responsibility of the Players Union, the owners and Bud Selig. It’s up to all three parties to cooperate on hammering out the details of stricter penalties to ensure the integrity of the game will not be compromised any further by steroids offenders. This is the best way for baseball to stay ahead of the players seeking new and improved artificial advantages in the coming years.

An unyielding stance on PEDs users would mean five years from now we’ll be able to look at the game and know, without question, we’re well into the post ‘Steroids Era’ and past the ugly black eye of the Mitchell Report.


We Know Bryan LaHair, But Who Are The Fukuoka Hawks?

By bullpenbrian - November 23, 2012 - 4:30 am Leave a comment.

I was curious to learn more about theFukuoka SoftBank Hawks after the news of Bryan LaHair signing with the team for2-years, $4.5 million. The Cubs received a payment of $950k in the deal.

-The Hawks are one of 12 teams in the Japanese League playing in the Pacific League Division. They have a strong fan base and regularly place near the top of the league in attendance according toJapanBaseball.com.

-The Hawks have a reputation as a power-hitting franchise and have a lengthy history with some of the league’s greatest sluggers including Katsuya Nomura (657 HR) and Hiromitsu Kadota (567 HR). Japan’s all-time home run king, Sadaharu Oh (868 HR), managed the team from 1995-2008.

Yahoo Japan Dome

- During what we’re familiar with as the seventh inning stretch, Hawks fans sing the team fight song and then release thousands of yellow balloons (team color). After a Hawks victory there’s a fireworks display.

-LaHair’s new home digs will be the Yahoo! Japan Dome. It opened in 1993 and was modeled after Toronto’s SkyDome. It offers the only retractable roof in the league, but seating arrangements are notorious for poor sightlines and its high walls surrounding the field keep fans relatively far away from the action (Japan Dome on left, Toronto SkyDome on right).

Yahoo Japan Dome

- I wasn’t as successful finding player’s contract information with the Hawks. However, based on last season’s Hawks’ roster LaHair will be joining former major league pitchers Hideki Okajima, Brian Falkenborg and outfielder Willy Mo Pena.

- Former recognizable MLB names to have played for the Hawks include Brad Penny (released last May), Kameron Loe, CJ Nitkowski, Brian Buchanan, Tony Bautista, Jolbert Cabrera, Adam Hyzdu, Kenji Johjima and former Cub Justin Germano.

- Rich Gossage, Bobby Thigpen, Kevin Mitchell and Tadahito Iguchi also played for the franchise when they were known as the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (1988-2005).

- If all goes well for LaHair he could be another power-hitting star for the Hawks. He averaged 30 HR per-year in his last three minor league seasons before joining Chicago full-time in 2012. He hit 16 HR with the Cubs last year (second most on the team behind Soriano’s 32 HR).

- And if things go really well for LaHair, his contract reportedly contains an opt-out clause following the 2013 season that presumably allows him to explore interest from MLB teams wanting to acquiring him.

- It’s a shame LaHair’s career in Chicago didn’t pan out. By all accounts he appears a genuinely nice guy and his story of perseverance to become a 29 year old rookie All Star will always be remembered fondly. Here’s wishing LaHair all the best in Japan.

- “I’m just taking the all the positives out of this year, I’m not taking any negatives. I had a chance to play early in the year, and I played off the bench in the second half, and I thought I did well.” –Bryan LaHair

Fukuoka, Japan


Happy Thanksgiving!

By bullpenbrian - November 22, 2012 - 2:17 am Leave a comment.

Bryan LaHair, All Star Game Both Flawed

By bullpenbrian - November 21, 2012 - 8:15 pm 6 comments.

When I first learned Bryan LaHair was DFA the one thing that came to mind was his All Star selection. 

Two months of hot hitting put LaHair in the Midsummer Classic when it shouldn’t have. That’s not Bryan’s fault, but rather the result of a flawed voting system for the All-Star Game.

The voting by both players and fans has become so fuzzy it’s hard to tell anymore if the All Star Game is more about baseball All-Stars or baseball Pop-Stars. 

By the time LaHair left Kansas City to rejoin the Cubs he was already relegated to a platoon role, eventually became a bench warmer and now he’s headed to the Japanese League. That’s not the story of a slumping All Star, but the tune of a player who can’t quite cut it in the big leagues.

When one of the game’s supposed ‘best’ players is out of the league in the same year he was selected an All Star, you know something is wrong with the voting system. Although, that’s a big assumption on my part that the All-Star Game remains a gathering place of the league’s very best players.

That may have been the case 20-25 years ago, but it isn’t any longer. For years now the All Star voting has been something of a crap-shoot, a confusing blur of opinions about what exactly makes a player an All Star.

Is it strictly performances based, is it a popularity contest, or is it both? Honestly most fans don’t seem to know, or worse, even care…and quite frankly the same can be said about many of the league’s players. 

Players tend to cast their votes like fans do, punching the ballot for fellow teammate or friends. In fact, it was LaHair’s peers who chose him over arguably more deserving candidates. In the end, the players wanted to see LaHair and that’s who they selected.

That’s not such a big deal if the All-Star Game remained an exhibition contest as it was prior to Bud Selig’s approval to fix World Series home field advantage to the outcome of the game (and that alone might be the single most ridiculous thing going in baseball).

But it is an issue when a player’s feel-good story trumps his rapidly declining production. Both leagues, after all, are trying to win an important game. And just how important? Well, imagine how the World Series might have played out differently if Justin Verlander was pitching Game 1 at home instead of on the road at San Francisco.

Nonetheless, you would think the general lack of excitement around the All-Star Game would get baseball scrambling to chart a better course for its summer break; that team owners would be unwilling to dole out player bonuses based on popularity vs. performance and that the league could still find a better way to rake in the tons of revenue generated by the All-Star Game festivities.

The biggest issue is baseball doesn’t seem to know what the All-Star Game is, or what it should be–aside from just being a money-maker for the league.

If the All-Star Game is about showcasing who the fans want to see play, and who the players want to see play, then drop the connection to World Series home field advantage and concentrate on putting forth the best exhibition contest the game’s ever seen. Bryan LaHairs welcomed.

Otherwise, allow each team to submit a list of candidates the managers and coaching staffs can choose from to build a team that’s best suited to actually win a one-game showdown with potentially huge implications tied to the World Series. Sorry Bryan, feel-good stories are no longer welcomed.

It frustrates the heck out of me baseball continues to botch a fine opportunity to grow the game because of its flawed All-Star voting system and an unclear direction for the All-Star Game itself.

Baseball needs to determine whether the All-Star Game is an exhibition for the fans or a meaningful game with World Series implications. What it can’t be is both, but unfortunately that’s currently how it’s being played out.

Until the league decides what the All-Star Game truly is, there’s no clear purpose to the voting. And that will always leave the players and fans more confused than captivated.


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