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Browsing posts from November, 2012

Shawn Camp Balances Scale

By bullpenbrian - November 21, 2012 - 7:00 am Leave a comment.

It seem Shawn Camp is returning the favor by re-signing with the Cubs for 1-year, $1.35M.

Given the solid season Camp had last year he likely would’ve received several offers later this winter, possibly from contenders and for more money, no less.

Either way, last season was all a weird twist of fate for Camp after the Mariners surprisingly released him just one week before Opening Day.

It left Camp down-and-out, unemployed and seemingly unwanted. It appeared every bit a raw-deal from a Seattle team that had no business cutting quality relievers.

But shortly thereafter the Cubs came calling offering Camp a 1-year major league deal. He would immediately join the bullpen with a fair shot to stick with the team.

It must have been a huge relief for Shawn…and I’m convinced it factored into Camp ultimately posting one of the best seasons of his 9-year career. What a turn of fortunes for both parties.

Camp not only tied for the major league lead in appearances (80), but was fifth in innings pitched for a reliever (77.2) and tabbed by Dale Sveum as one of the Cubs’ most valuable players in 2012.

With a strong season under his belt and once again a free agent, Camp might have viewed this offseason as an opportunity to better his baseball career.

After all, he’s 37, has never pitched in the postseason, only twice played on a winning team and nearly half of his career has been spent pitching for clubs eclipsing 100 or more losses in a season–four times to be exact.

Instead of testing the free agent market, however, Camp decided to come back to the Cubs, back to the team that rescued his career, and most importantly, back to a place where he’s both valued and respected.

It says a lot about Camp’s character. It shows his understanding and willingness to balance the scale even though it likely comes at the cost of fewer wins and fewer dollars.

We know all too well that’s usually not the path chosen by big league free agents. Something tells me the Cubs know as much, too. They see a value to Camp beyond his rubber-arm. His high character and professionalism sets a fine example for the inexperienced and youthful Cubs. 

One more year together seems fair for both sides. A quality player for the Cubs and a favor returned by Camp.


Who Are The Cubs’ Core Players?

By bullpenbrian - November 20, 2012 - 5:15 am 2 comments.

With the Cubs in full rebuild mode the term ‘core-player’ is thrown around quite frequently.

It could be interpreted any number of ways, but I simply view it as meaning the players who are already being counted on as long-term solutions of the Cubs’ rebuild.

Anthony Rizzo, for example, is one such player. He’s young, affordable, super talented and has all the characteristics of a winning player. He’s unquestionably a core-player of the Cubs’ rebuild.

However, when I set out to make a list of all the Cubs I would deem core-worthy I quickly realized there are too many uncertainties, especially with the younger prospects who have yet to reach the major leagues.

Another problem arises with players such as Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Darwin Barney because their future standings with the club is uncertain, despite their talents being well qualified as core-players.

Meanwhile, the Cubs have committed long-term contracts to Starlin Castro (7-years, $60M) and Jorge Soler (9-years, $30M), but neither player appears an absolute lock.

Will Castro’s questionable mental game prevent him from being the long-term solution at shortstop? Will Soler reach the high potential he’s been praised for in the minor leagues?

We just don’t know…and the list of questions go on and on.

In the end I used good judgment to devise a list with three separate categories: “Core Players,” “Should-Be Core Players” and “Could-Be Core Players.”

Here’s the list. Did I miss anyone? Agree or disagree?

Core Players

  • CORE-PLAYERS: These players appear essential locks to be a part of the Cubs’ rebuild.
  • SHOULD BE CORE-PLAYERS: These players appear in position to become core-players in the near future, others unofficially qualify as core-players but haven’t fully been committed to by the Cubs.
  • COULD BE CORE-PLAYERS: Many of these players are the Cubs’ top prospects who have mostly shown only the potential to become core-players.

Map of U.S. Born Players In MLB

By bullpenbrian - November 20, 2012 - 5:00 am Leave a comment.

Bullpen Brian Map

The numbers on the map roughly indicate how many active major league players were born in each state.

California (218) easily leads the way producing nearly twice as many players as runner-up Texas (116).

However, the Southeast corner of the country remains a baseball hotbed, in particularly Florida (104) and Georgia (38).

The great state of Illinois (34) has churned out the most players in the Midwest, including a number from the Chicagoland area: Brian Bogusevic, Peter Bourjos, Tim Byrdak, Jason Frasor, Christian Friedrich, Tom Gorzelanny, Curtis Granderson, Luke Gregorson, Jason Kipnis, George Kontos and Adam Rosales.

Another recognizable name, Jim Thome, hales from Peoria, Illinois (as does current Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, although he’s not included in the count).

The Pacific Northwest also appears to be fertile grounds including current Cub Darwin Barney and former-Cub Kevin Gregg from Oregon (12). The state of Washington (19) gives us Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester, Travis Buck and Michael Brantley to name a few.

Hawaii (7) and Alaska also register on the map. Flyin’ Hawaiian Shane Victorino is one noticeable name while Daniel Schlereth is just one of two players from ‘The Last Frontier’.

What catches your eye on the map?


Do Cubs Have Advantage In Signing Japanese Players?

By bullpenbrian - November 19, 2012 - 3:45 am Leave a comment.

Kyuji Fujikawa

After Kosuke Fukudome signed a 4-year, $48 million contract with the Cubs in Dec. of 2007 he officially became the first Japanese born player to suit up for the club on March 31, 2008.

So Taguchi became the Cubs’ second Japanese player, albeit for a very brief stint in 2009. He played in all of 6-games making 12 plate- appearances.

If the Cubs have its way this offseason Kyuji Fujikawa, a prized free-agent reliever, will be just the third Japanese player to appear with Chicago.

That’s surprising to me considering the Cubs play in a world-class city with a dynamic Japanese community. You would think such an asset would be a lucrative selling point for the Cubs to lure Japanese players making the transition to the major leagues–as was the case with Fukudome.

Masanori Murakami was the first-ever Japanese born ballplayer to appear in the major leagues. He pitched two seasons with the Giants in 1964-65. Even then Chicago had already become a popular destination for Japanese Americans relocating following World War II.

Granted major league teams waited another 30 years before regularly committing to Japanese players (think Hideo Nomo 1995), it still took the Cubs another decade-plus before signing Fukudome.

That seems like a major shortcoming on the Cubs’ part given the luxury of being able to provide Japanese players a little slice of home in addition to the great city of Chicago itself.

Of course it should always remain in the Cubs’ best interest to target available players who offer the most value to the organization regardless of origin or nationality.

But the perceived advantage the Cubs have over other major league cities lacking a vibrant Japanese community is something I hope the club leverages more while courting Japanese players–if the new regime hasn’t done so already.

Not only would signing Kyuji Fujikawa be a major coup for the Cubs, but also a good starting point for the organization in landing star Japanese players for many more years to come.


How Many Times Have Cubs Reached World Series?

By bullpenbrian - November 18, 2012 - 5:00 am Leave a comment.

Would you ever have guessed the Cubs’ franchise is 492-games above .500 dating back to its inaugural season in 1876?

That seems unfitting of a ‘Lovable Losers’ tag. But the truth is only five of the current 30 franchise have a better all-time record above .500 than the Cubs (Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Cardinals & Red Sox).

As for the worst mark? Philadelphia earns the dubious honor having fallen 1,055-games below .500. Ouch.

I jotted down this meaningless trivia over the weekend while researching Cubs’ history for another article. I ended up with a notebook page of random tidbits and decided clumping a few together was deserving of its own post.

Anyway, the rest of my diggings: 

  • The Cubs have played the most games of any franchise (20,412). It’s just 35 more games than Atlanta and a whopping 17,985 more than Tampa Bay, who has played the fewest games (2,427).
  • Chicago has the second most wins all-time (10,372), trailing only the Giants’ 10,616 (244 more than the Cubs). The Rays of course have the fewest victories (1,103).
  • The Cubs are 3rd in all-time losses (9,880). Only Philadelphia (10,373) and Atlanta (10,095) have suffered more defeats.
  • As far as winning percentage the Cubs rank 6th all-time (.512); better than Cleveland (.509), Cincinnati (.508), Detroit (.507), White Sox (.506), Pittsburgh (.503) and Atlanta (.501).
  • The Top 5 spots in all-time winning percentage belongs to the Yankees (.568), Giants (.538), Dodgers (.524) Cardinals (.518) and Red Sox (.517).
  • The Cubs have won 16 pennants, one fewer than Atlanta (17) and 24 behind the Yankees’ 40 flags. The Giants, Dodgers and Cardinals are each tied with 22. Only two teams have failed to clinch a pennant at all, the Nationals and Mariners.
  • Before the Cubs were ever ‘cursed’ by Bartman, a black cat and a billy goat, they were remarkable poor in postseason play, in particular, the World Series. In fact, the history of the Cubs’ Fall Classic shortcomings may be richer than some even realize.
  • In 12 World Series appearances the Cubs have won just twice and tied on one other occasion–1885 vs. St. Louis Browns (3-3-1). The Cubs also reached the championship series the following season in 1886. But technically, neither 1885 or 1886 would count as World Series appearances since it didn’t officially begin until 1903. So make it 10 World Series for Chicago with a record of (2-8).
  • Chicago’s appearance in the 1906 World Series (a loss vs. the White Sox) marked the first of three consecutive seasons reaching the Fall Classic. The Cubs won the next two in 1907-1908…and of course the later infamously remains a marker of the Cubs’ championship futility.
  • Since then Chicago has lost its next 7 World Series appearances (SEVEN!), the latest coming in 1945 vs. Detroit. If that’s not the Cubs being ‘the Cubs’ what is?

Obviously there are layers upon layers of interesting historical facts and meaningless minutia within these notes. But it’s just a little something to feed our addiction during what’s been an otherwise quiet weekend for the Cubs this offseason.

At the very least, there ought to be something here worthy of winning yourself a bar bet with a fellow Cubs fan. Poor a little out for me when you do, too.


So What Navarro Doesn’t Hit

By bullpenbrian - November 16, 2012 - 5:00 am Leave a comment.

We naturally tend to talk offense first when it comes to evaluating position players.

That shouldn’t be the case with catchers. Defense should always be the first order of business.

That’s why the Cubs’ signing of Dioner Navarro hasn’t been a headline grabber–he’s no Buster Posey at the plate. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of the signing or the fact Navarro can upgrade the Cubs defensively.

The catching position has been an area of weakness on the Cubs for several years now. Geovany Soto steadily declined from his Rookie of the Year Award season in 2008 and all else can be summed up with two words: Koyie Hill.

That’s actually a critical fault when you consider catcher is not only the toughest position to play, but arguably the most important position on the diamond.

From learning to handle an entire pitching staff, to working the individual game-plans, to controlling the running game and all the way down to simply framing pitches, it’s a crucial part of a winning team. If a catcher can hit some, all the better. But it’s what he does behind the plate that truly counts.

It would be wonderful if Welington Castillo reaches the potential the Cubs’ organization believes he can. Epstein has tabbed Castillo a potential core-player in the rebuild. Dale Sveum envisions him as a future Gold Glove Award winner.

Obviously, we hope both projections turn out to be true. But what if Epstein and Sveum (and myself included) are all wrong about Welington? What happens if he succumbs to a sophomore slump like Soto did in 2009, or worse, suffers another injury like he did last season (sprained right knee)? Then who will the Cubs turn to?

Until the arrival of Navarro, that would’ve been Steve Clevenger, still an unproven and inexperienced catcher–both at the plate and behind it. Navarro, however, has caught 600-plus games in the big leagues (including 3 seasons catching Matt Garza), was the starting catcher for the pennant winning Rays in ’08 and even earned an All Star nod the same season.

There’s a reason Navarro’s managed to have an 8-year big-league career despite being a career .245/.306/.357 hitter; he can do everything needed behind the plate of a back-up, big-league catcher.

So before being critical of Navarro’s lack of offensive production or the Cubs’ willingness to pay him $1.75-million, it’s worth reminding ourselves how important upgrading the catching position was given Castillo and Clevenger are still unproven.

Spending less than $2-million to ensure there’s a solid Plan B at the most important position on the field wouldn’t appear a poor investment.

Navarro isn’t that prominent ‘headline’ signing Cubs fans are waiting for this winter, but he could turn out to be one of the more important signings the Cubs make this offseason—even if he doesn’t hit a lick.


Why Team Theo Could Surprise Cubs Fans This Offseason

By bullpenbrian - November 15, 2012 - 10:00 am 2 comments.

An important part of the Cubs’ rebuild is selling the general fan base on the idea the team is improving despite its place in the standings.

Keeping the masses interested in a team still several seasons away from reaching the postseason won’t be easy, nor is it an effective ticket sales strategy if the Cubs lose 100-plus games again next year.

Realistically, slipping just under triple-digit losses in 2013 won’t cut it, either. For the club to be convincing of any improvement the loss total needs to be closer to 90-games at minimum, and anything less would certainly be ideal.

[As a reminder, I'm not talking about the Cubs selling ‘you and me’. This is largely about 'Joe Cubs Fan' who's not reading baseball blogs in mid-November or deeply interested in the 'process' of a rebuilding plan still years away from completion. He'll dust off his Cubs cap after spring training and then angrily swap it out for a Bears lid after his Cubbies deal away its good players at next July's trade deadline.] Now back to our regularly scheduled program…

Achieving the dubious goal of ‘anything less than 100-losses’ means the Cubs strictly can’t rely on ‘rebuild’ players alone. The Jacksons, Vitters and Raleys of the organization can’t be counted on to assure the big-100 doesn’t happen again.

Instead, the Cubs are going to need at least 1 or 2 veteran, stop-gap type players like a David DeJesus (most notably at third base, centerfield and the starting rotation) to help prop the team up in the win column, if only for the sake of some visible proof in the standings the rebuild is moving forward.

It’s precisely why I suggested earlier this week the Cubs could explore trade optionsfor Dodgers’ starters Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang–two middle-aged veterans of which either could immediately help improve the Cubs’ starting pitching and its chances of avoiding consecutive 100-loss seasons–but neither of which would do more than serve this single purpose for a year or two at most.

For the sake of this post Capuano and Harang, specifically, are not of importance. What is, is recognizing not every player acquisition this offseason will be a perfect-fit for the rebuild like those early 20s, high-ceiling prospects we so dearly love or the re-tread pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery willing to take a 1-year, ‘prove-it’ deal with the chance to be traded to a contender in July (Scott Baker).

This is why I’ve repeatedly mentioned my hunch the Cubs would have a surprise or two up its sleeve for us this winter.

Look over the current roster and you’ll soon realize that without the additions of a few proven players the outlook for 2013 is hardly better than it was for 2012, as far as wins and losses are concerned.

Bridging what we hope is the short-term gap from the development of young rebuild-players into budding major league stars won’t be accomplished with more Alex Hinshaws and Chris Volstads.

Team Theo knows this, which is why the Cubs already made one attempt this offseason, albeit unsuccessfully, to deal Carlos Marmol for a proven, veteran pitcher in Dan Haren. For all the reasons stated above, I expect this won’t be their last try to supplement a veteran, short-term fix to the longer-term rebuild solutions.

Without one we can be fairly certain this club is sailing right back to the waters from which it came…a stormy sea of 101 losses.


‘The Natural’ Reminds Us Losing Is A Disease

By bullpenbrian - November 14, 2012 - 1:30 am Leave a comment.

The Natural

I’ve seen The Natural starring Robert Redford a handful of times. Each time I like the movie more than before. I’m not sure why, I just do.

I watched the flick again on television Monday night and a scene where the Knights’ team doctor tries using psychology to help break a long losing streak struck a chord with me.

Following each loss the doc addresses the Knights in the locker room with his dry, corny and repetitive message:

“The mind is a strange thing, men. We must begin by asking it…

What is losing?

Losing is a disease…as contagious as polio.

[Next scene] Losing is a disease…as contagious as syphilis.

[Next scene] Losing is a disease…as contagious as bubonic plague…attacking one… but infecting all. But curable.

Now, I want you to imagine…you are on a ship at sea……on a vast sea…gently rocking…gently rocking…gently rocking”

Hobbs of course walks out during the speech after hearing it a third time. It’s a humorous bit that doesn’t translate as well in a blog post, but if you’ve seen the movie you understand the context.

Anyway, I got a good laugh thinking how painstakingly awful it was watching the Cubs lose 101-games last season, and how losing over and over again does seemingly feel like a disease that twists our minds with frustration and anger.

If curing the Cubs’ ill-play was only as easy as finding a Wonder Boy…

Pick us out a winner, Theo.


Would Cubs Trade With Dodgers For Pitching?

By bullpenbrian - November 13, 2012 - 6:00 pm 4 comments.

We’ve talked a lot about the possible free-agent signings for the Cubs this offseason. How about some trade chatter?

The Dodgers’ surplus in starting pitching could make Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang available this winter according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

Neither player is a ‘perfect fit’ for the Cubs, but that shouldn’t stop Chicago from exploring trade possibilities.

Capuano and Harang are a bit long-in-the-tooth (both are in their mid 30s) but both are healthy, have manageable contracts, are coming off productive seasons and would provide an upgrade to the Cubs’ rotation.

Assuming the Dodgers have a reasonable asking price, that’s pitching worth trading for–if the Cubs are truly committed to being more competitive in 2013.

If I had to pick one over the other I’d lean towards Capuano because of his left-handedness (he’s also a year younger). But add either one with Scott Baker, who the Cubs signed on Tuesday, and Chicago suddenly has the minimal of two starters it was looking for this offseason.

That would be a good start to an offseason in which Team Theo is in hot pursuit of starting depth, most of which will come with considerable risk, like Baker, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Capuano and Harang have their drawbacks, too. But landing one of these guys gives Chicago the potential to field a competitive rotation next year, and that’s worth the cost of giving up a Carlos Marmol or a Josh Vitters to have that chance.


Offseason Pictures Wrigley Field

By bullpenbrian - November 12, 2012 - 5:30 pm Leave a comment.

A couple of shots from my walk around Wrigley Field this afternoon.

Wrigleyville is a sleepy neighborhood in the offseason. It’s quiet and peaceful aside from the occasional fire truck being called to duty and quite the contrast from the ballpark’s bustling atmosphere during the summer. 

The Cubs are readying The Rink at Wrigley on the corner of Clark and Waveland and some maintenance work is being done on the old scoreboard.

By the looks of a clear blue sky it would seem a perfect day to play two. But it’s actually only 33-degrees in Chicago.

Then again, we’ve seen worse weather on Opening Day.

Man, I miss baseball.

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