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A look at Cubs’ potential trade partners for Carlos Marmol

By bullpenbrian - March 6, 2013 - 2:30 am. Leave a comment

Carlos Marmol Cubs

It’s been a wild ride for Carlos Marmol with the Cubs. He’s gone from minor-league catcher, to reliever, to the best setup man in the National League, to closer and finally, expendable.

After another Jekyll and Hyde year in 2012, the Cubs made no secret they would try and move the closer this winter. He was nearly dealt to the Angels in Nov. for starting pitcher Dan Haren, but the deal fell through with the Cubs concerned over Haren’s medicals.

Then, the Winter Meetings came and went with Marmol’s name barely making a blip on the trade radar. And when Marmol was accused of domestic violence in the Dominican Republic last month, there was another scare the trade window had shut for the spring, if not longer.

But with spring training at full throttle and Marmol cleared of any wrongdoings in the Dominican, the trade rumors have picked back up according to Bruce Levine of ESPN1000 Chicago.

Levine reports ‘several teams’ are interested in trading for the 30-year-old, namely the Detroit Tigers who have penciled in Bruce Rondon, a 22-year-old rookie, for their closer’s role.

Levine also details Marmol can veto trades to four unspecified West Coast teams, one of which we know is the Angels from the broken Haren deal (Marmol reportedly waived his no-trade right to accept the trade before the Cubs declined the deal). Marmol, however, is said to be willing to waive his no-trade rights to join a contender.

So what can the Cubs expect in return for Marmol? It’s generally accepted the Cubs will ask for a younger pitching prospect in return–an attempt to add another cost-controlled piece to the longer-term rebuilding plans.

However, aside from Marmol’s 1.52 ERA following the All-Star break last season, the Cubs wouldn’t appear to have a ton of leverage. His first half ERA was 5.61 and we also know how wildly inconsistent he’s been throwing strikes the past several years.

Even worse, in three of the past five seasons Marmol’s save percentage has been below 80-percent–and he led the league in blown saves (10) as recently as 2011. For his career Marmol is 115/140 (82-percent) in save opportunities.

So for all intents and purposes, trading Marmol is more a cost-cutting move by the Cubs with Marmol still owed $9.8 million through 2013.

Meanwhile, the Cubs essentially replaced Marmol with the surprise signing of Japanese pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa, 32, to a 2-year, $9.5 million deal in Dec. In six seasons with the Hanshin Tigers Fujikawa has recorded 202 career saves, including a 1.32 ERA in 2012.

Having roughly $20 million tied up in two closers doesn’t make much sense for a rebuilding franchise. And although neither Marmol or Fujikawa are in the Cubs’ long-term plans, having Fujikawa for two years gives the organization not only a more reliable closer than Marmol, but also time to find the team’s closer of the future.

With all that said, here are my best guesses at where Marmol could land before opening day.

Detroit
For the reasons listed above, and the possibility starter Rick Porcello is available. Jim Leyland has implied 
Jose Valverde is not an option and there’s potentially an outside shot at packaging Alfonso Soriano with Marmol in a trade. That one’s a stretch, but Marmol alone would appear a good fit.

Baltimore
They have the young pitching prospects the Cubs want. It’s also another outside shot at dealing Soriano with Marmol considering t
he O’s have been searching for a right-handed slugger all offseason.

Cleveland
They’re moving fast to compete and haven’t been afraid to add payroll this offseason. Closer Chris Perez has declined over the past three seasons and Marmol could be the player to push him for the ninth inning role.

Colorado
The Rockies are all-around bad, and closer Rafael Betancourt will turn 38-years-old at the end of April. He went 31/38 in save
chances last season, but how much is left in the tank?

Los Angeles Angels
We know Marmol already accepted to waive his no-trade right to join the Halos. Maybe they’d think of adding him
again in what’s shaping up as a very tough American League West division.

Milwaukee
Closer John Axford, 30, fell of the wagon badly last season after going 46/48 in saves in 2011. He temporarily lost
his job in 2012 while finishing the season
(5-8, 4.67) with nine blown saves in 44 chances (80-percent).

New York (NL)
The Mets don’t have much of a bullpen to begin with and they also appear to have lost confidence in closer Frank Francisco. That leaves Bobby Parnell, a reliever with more career blown saves (17) than he has
successful saves (14) during his five big-league seasons, to close the door in the ninth inning. 

Oakland
Never afraid to make a deal. Billy Beane is the king of spinning closers into trade deadline gold. His 35-year-old closer, Grant Balfour, has long battled arm troubles and is coming off knee surgery in Feb. However, the A’s could potentially be one team on Marmol’s no-trade list.

Pittsburgh
The Pirates need any edge they can get to stay in contention for a full season. Jason Grilli, 36, is taking over
the closer’s role with all of five career-saves under his belt in 10 seasons. 

Texas
The Rangers and Cubs hooked up at last year’s non-waiver trade deadline in the Ryan Demspter and Geovany Soto
trades. Closer Joe Nathan is still a stud at 38-years-old, and newly acquired reliever Joakim Soria saved 160 games in five seasons with Kansas City. But perhaps Marmol would welcome a setup role on a contender. Not to mention, Soriano would appear a good fit in the Lone Star state as well.

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Cubs only need (40-0) record to match Blackhawks’ season-opening winning streak

By bullpenbrian - March 5, 2013 - 1:25 pm. Leave a comment

Chicago Blackhawks

Imagine if the Cubs, or any MLB team for that matter, could match the Chicago Blackhawks’ NHL-record season-opening winning streak of 22 games, and counting.

Of course there’s one very big difference, that being the Blackhawks (19-0-3) technically haven’t lost a game in regulation. Three times they’ve fallen in a shootout this season.

With it unlikely baseball ever decides extra inning games with a home run derby contest, the comparison doesn’t add up. But for the sake of having a little fun, let’s do it anyway…

The longest winning streak in NHL history belongs to the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers who won 35 consecutive games without suffering a regulation loss—a streak that began three-games into the season.

Until the Blackhawks’ magical run, the NHL’s previous longest season-opening winning streak was set by the Anaheim Might Ducks in 2006-07 with a run of 16 games without a regulation loss.

The longest winning streak in Major League Baseball still belongs to the New York Giants who won 26 consecutive games in 1916. Baseball’s longest season-opening winning streak, however, is 13-games, accomplished by the 1982 Atlanta Braves and later matched by the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers.

Another wrinkle with the Blackhawks’ streak is that it’s coming during a shortened regular season (48-games) due to the lengthy NHL lockout, which comes out to playing 58-percent of the league’s normal 82-game regular season schedule.

So percentage wise, the Hawks have completed roughly 45-percent of their shortened regular season without a regulation loss. If, however, we calculate this out to what would be a full-length regular season (82-games), the Blackhawks would be roughly 25-percent of the way through the campaign.

By baseball standards, a 162-game regular season schedule condensed to 58-percent would equal 94-games, thus meaning a baseball team would have to win its first 24-games to match the Blackhawks’ season-opening streak this year–which would basically double the longest season-opening winning streak ever to start a season (the Braves & Brewers, 13-games).

And when the numbers are punched out over an entire 162 game season, that season-opening winning streak, which would need to cover 25-percent of the season, would have to be roughly (40-0) to match the Blackhawks! Talk about incredible!

Professor of mathematical sciences at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass, Richard Cleary, suggests the probability of another NHL team matching the Blackhawks’ season-opening winning streak as once ever 700 years. The catch of course, is that every team only has one chance to start the season with a winning streak.

So what are the odds of a similar streak every happening in baseball? I have no idea, other than to guess it’s on the doorstep of impossible.

As a side note, the Cubs hold claim to the second-longest winning streak in baseball history (not to open a season) spanning 21-games, and, they’ve done it twice: June 5-July 8, 1880 & Sept. 4-Sept. 27, 1935.

As for the Cubs’ longest winning streak to open a season, that one I’m not sure of. But I’d be just fine settling for a win on opening day in 2013.

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Whatever Geovany Soto wants to prove is long overdue

By bullpenbrian - March 5, 2013 - 10:45 am. Leave a comment

Geovany Soto

Geovany Soto says he has something to prove this year. I feel he’s had something to prove ever since flopping after his terrific rookie season in 2008.

That was already five years ago, and the only thing Soto’s proven since is that he’s an incomplete, inconsistent player. Occasionally we might see a glimpse of ‘rookie Geo’, but mostly Soto’s progressively struggled through his prime years. Good year, bad year…meh.

Who knows what Soto’s really trying to prove this season. That he can be a starter again, that more fringe seasons are left in the tank, or that he can live up to the expectations that followed him since winning the Rookie of the Year Award?

“I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain and I want to prove to myself and prove to the Texas Rangers that I am an All-Star caliber catcher and helps us reach the World Series.”
-Soto on ESPNDallas.com

Sometimes I feel the game came too easily for Soto upon his arrival with the Cubs in late 2007, a season in which he quickly earned the trust of Sweet Lou, so much so that he started Game 2 of the NLDS vs. Arizona. Then came his fabulous rookie campaign: 

-First rookie backstop ever selected to start the All-Star Game.
-Hit two 3-R HRs against Milwaukee in one game.
-Inside-the-park HR at Houston.
-A 7 RBI game against Pittsburgh.
-Caught Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter vs. Houston (in Milwaukee of course).
-Won the Pedrin Zorrilla Award (given to the most outstanding Puerto Rican player in the Major Leagues).
-
Won the Rookie of the Year Award in a landslide.
-Finished 13th in the MVP voting.

The big leagues must have felt like easy money for Soto. He not only made the Show but he also made a name for himself, and worse, there was zero competition standing in his way for the starting job the next season.

Maybe it was the lack of competition that led Soto to show up at spring training overweight and out of shape in 2009? Had human nature won the best of him? Was Soto content letting the 2008 season do his talking for him, perhaps thinking there was nothing else to prove?

I didn’t think so, at least not right away. Sure, I’d concede Soto was showing some immaturity, but there’s no reason he wouldn’t bounce back, right? Well, wrong.

Soto, it seemed, just couldn’t get out of his own way. Soon thereafter he made the decision to skip working out with the Cubs in favor of joining team Puerto Rico for the World Baseball Classic–a decision that wouldn’t have made such a stink if he had actually been playing. Instead, Soto was used sparingly, sitting behind Yadier Molina and Ivan Rodriguez.

By the end of spring training Soto was suffering from a sore right shoulder, an injury that would noticeably limit his throwing ability in the early part of the season. And by the end of April Soto was hitting .109/.268/.130. Perhaps a coincidence, but Soto’s perceived lack of baseball activity in the spring combined with his wretched start to the season appeared to go hand-in-hand.

But the real kicker came in June when MLB announced Soto had tested positive for marijuana during the WBC. Not normally a story worthy of overreaction–a ballplayer smoking it up in his mid 20s–but now something was becoming clear despite Soto’s foggy judgment–he was nowhere close to being fully committed to baseball.

Of course the 2009 season was a total drag for Soto–a flop-job in the wake of all the awards from the year prior. Granted, he briefly restored faith the following offseason by shedding a ton of weight and showing up to camp in tip-top shape, but it didn’t last.

Soto stayed inconsistent throughout his Cubs career fluctuating between good and bad seasons. He never came close to the player many Cubs fans, including myself, thought he would be following his rookie season.

“I can do it [improve offensively], but I think in the past I haven’t worked on my swing in the off-season the way I should have,”  said Soto to Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald.

What Soto thinks he should’ve been doing is unknown. It may mean he should’ve been working on different hitting exercises, or maybe it’s code for he simply wasn’t working at all during the offseason.

It wouldn’t be fair to accuse him of the later without knowing for certain, but it’s hard not to wonder if Soto cheated himself and the Cubs of reaching his once sky-high potential?

I doubt Soto will prove anything this season given his past performance. And unfortunately, whatever Soto is looking to prove, whether it be to fans, to baseball, or to himself…it all should have happened years ago.

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Name That Cub!

By bullpenbrian - March 4, 2013 - 12:00 pm. 2 comments

CT CityHall2.JPG
Born in Venezuela.
Entering his 16th season in MLB.
Spent only one season in American League.
Longest stay with one team is 4 seasons with Cubs.
Personal catcher for Greg Maddux in Atlanta.
.994 fielding % ranks 15th all-time among MLB backstops.
Name that Cub! (Answer after the jump)

(more…)

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Cubs Loving The Left-Handed Hitter

By bullpenbrian - March 4, 2013 - 9:00 am. 4 comments

Anthony Rizzo

*Post updated on March 13, 2013

Something caught my attention last week while researching the oldest and youngest players on the Cubs’ roster.

While learning the Cubs have the fifth youngest roster in the majors, I also discovered they’re tied with Miami for having the most left-handed batters on a roster (9). (Things have apparently come a long way since Jim Hendry felt desperate enough to sign Milton Bradley in 2009.)

Moving on, (9) is a rough figure depending on which roster source you’re viewing. Some, for example, list Adrian Cardenas, who’s no longer playing for the Cubs. Brian Bogusevic is another example; a left-handed batter who may, or may not, make the team out of spring training. And, the number changes depending on whether or not left-handed batting pitchers are included.

Nonetheless, here’s a combination list of the Cubs’ left-handed bats heading into 2013:

40-MAN ROSTER – 8 or 13 including pitchers

-Steve Clevenger
-Anthony Rizzo
-Ian Stewart
-Luis Valbuena
-Logan Watkins
-David DeJesus
-Brett Jackson
-Nate Schierholtz

Pitchers

-Scott Feldman
-Kyuji Fujikawa
-Brooks Raley
-Chris Rusin
-James Russell
*(Travis Wood bats right-handed)

Others (minor league or non-roster spring training invites)
(*) indicates pitcher

-Brian Bogusevic
*Hisanori Takahasshi
*Casey Coleman
*Dontrelle Willis

Minor League Totals (LHB currently listed on Cubs minor league rosters)

-18 left-handed batters total including Triple-A through Single-A rosters

As for switch-hitters, the Cubs have two of note: catcher Dioner Navarro and pitcher Lendy Castillo. Cleveland and San Francisco are tied for the most switch-hitters with (6).

In the Cubs minor league system (Triple-A through Single-A) there are 10 switch-hitting batters.

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Money Ball–Cubs’ Odds of Winning World Series

By bullpenbrian - March 4, 2013 - 8:00 am. Leave a comment

Money Baseball

One way of judging the offseason of all MLB teams is to look at what the odds makers are saying, such as online sports betting at Top Bet. For World Series odds I’m finding it universal the Astros (200-1) are lest likely to win a ring while Toronto (7-1) is the favorite (Cubs are coming in at 100-1).

Houston is obvious of course, but granted Toronto made hay this winter (namely their blockbuster pillaging of Miami), they’re still in a tough division against New York, Baltimore and Tampa Bay–even the Red Sox should be more competitive than last season.

Meanwhile, the Nationals, Giants, Angels, Tigers and Dodgers are typically rounding out the top picks, while the Marlins, Rockies and Cubs are rounding out the bottom feeders. For wild cards I’d throw in the never-say-die Cardinals and the good but not great Rangers.

I was also looking at the over/under for total regular season wins. The Cubs are listed at 73, which falls in line with my prognostication of a (72-90) win season for Chicago. I say this because my gut feeling is Team Theo will use the July trade deadline much as they they did last year–trading away ageing and more expensive veterans for younger prospects–which ultimately set the Cubs on pace for 101-losses.  

Although this summer appears to be a lesson in enjoying Cubs baseball for what it’s worth–another year closer to completing the rebuild–at least we know the odds of winning should get much, much greater for Chicago in the coming seasons.

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Cubs Confirm What We Expected Weeks Ago—Garza Far From Ready

By bullpenbrian - March 3, 2013 - 12:45 pm. Leave a comment

Garza ST

If you haven’t learned already, lat injuries linger, and usually much longer than players, coaches and fans think they will.

Remember waiting for Ryan Dempster’s return near the trade deadline last season? Yep, that was a lat injury.

So when Garza experienced discomfort throwing on Feb. 17 and was diagnosed with a sore left lat muscle, I pretty much ruled him out for opening day, despite the fact the Cubs were suggesting Garza would be out only one week.

Now, two weeks later, Garza still isn’t ready. The Cubs say they’re shutting him down another week…and he’ll likely miss the first month of the season. A big, big, disappointment for sure. But it’s hardly a surprise.

The Cubs must be cautious with Garza, especially if they still have visions of trading him, which can’t happen until he’s healthy. And if the Cubs are leaning towards signing Garza long-term, they’ll need to see for themselves that he can stay healthy.

Either way, those decisions are a long way off…even if Garza’s recovery doesn’t experience further setbacks.
***
Thumbnail sketch of Cubs’ spring training thus far.
Overall 4-4, Home: 3-2, Away: 1-2.
Cubs have lost 3 of last 4 games.
Couple of split squad games scheduled for this week.
Anthony Rizzo departs Cubs camp tomorrow to join Team Italy for WBC.

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Listen to Vin Scully call Cubs vs. Dodgers game from 1957

By bullpenbrian - March 1, 2013 - 4:00 am. 1 comment

Vin Scully

I could hardly wait to share the gem I discovered this week at archive.org. Available under ‘Old Time Radio Programs’ is a free download of a radio broadcast between the Cubs and Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field on
June 4, 1957.

You can listen to the game by clicking here.

The download is of the Dodgers’ broadcast and begins with Jerry Doggett, the radio man who joined the Dodgers’ booth in 1956 (and stayed with the team until 1987).

At the 7:00 mark Doggett turns the duties over to his long-time partner, and legendary play-by-play man, Vin Scully, who began his accomplished career with the Dodgers in 1950 (unbelievable!).

I was giddy with excitement to hear Scully’s voice crackle through the speakers, and he begins by informing the audience he’s just spilled a cup of coffee in his lap, and on a suite fresh from the cleaners no less!

On this Tuesday afternoon, the Cubs (who would go on to lose 92 games that year) fell to the Dodgers 7-5. The starting pitching matchup featured two players with ties to the Queen City. Cubs starter Dick Drott, a Cincinnati native, against a 21-year-old left-hander from the University of Cincinnati named Sandy Koufax. That, however, is where the similarities ended.

It didn’t take long for Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Roy Campanella to open up the scoring. Campanella, who would leave the game in the third inning after being plunked in the ribs by a pitch (which we’re later informed during the broadcast the team doctor says the catcher is ‘ok’), doubled home Snider and Hodges in the bottom of the first. The Dodgers plated another run in the inning and then scored three more runs in the third, including a solo HR by Snider, to knock Drott out of the game.

Hodges went deep in the fifth extending Brooklyn’s lead to 7-0 after five innings. The Cubs finally broke through against Koufax in the sixth on a line drive, 2-R HR by left fielder Bob Speake. Ernie Banks (.285, 43 HR, 102 RBI), now in his fifth season with Chicago, turned the trick two innings later taking Koufax deep for a 3-R HR, which concluded the scoring for the afternoon.

Koufax (4-2) earned the win lasting 7.2 innings allowing 5-ER on 4 hits. He walked 5 and struck out 12, fanning Banks in his first two at-bats. The eventual Hall of Fame pitcher, who started just 13 games in this season, finished the campaign (5-4, 3.88). Four years later he blossomed into one of the most dominating left-handed pitchers of all time.

The 1957 season was the Dodgers’ (84-70) final chapter in Brooklyn. Ebbets Field closed in Sept. after the season ended and was later demolished in 1960. And for those of you wondering, Jackie Robinson had already retired the year prior in 1956.

I wasn’t able to catch the entire broadcast, which lasts 3 hours & 2 minutes, and is why I included the game recap so you can skip along to hear some of the more exciting game action (the advertisement are a treat to listen to as well).

But whatever time you do have available, it’s well worth the listen, even though the Cubs lost. But, we’re use to that by now anyway.

Ebbets Field

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Wrigley Field Bleacher Renovations 1925-26

By bullpenbrian - March 1, 2013 - 2:00 am. 2 comments

“There are millions of Cubs fans who did not grow up in Chicago. Why? It’s Wrigley Field. You see that great old ballpark on television–the ivy on the walls, the people on the rooftops, the bleacher bums, the old stadium–and it’s everything you ever dreamed baseball could be.” -Randy Hundley, former Cub

In 1925 more renovations took place at Cubs Park (Wrigley Field).
The left field wall was moved back at the request of the Cubs’ pitching staff.
This mid-season change created the ‘jury box’ look, still present to this day.
In 1926 Cubs owner William Wrigley attached his name to the ballpark.
Shortly after he began the construction of upper deck seating.
Wrigley hired the architecture firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White.
The same firm which designed the Merchandise Mart and the Wrigley Building.
* Photo: Temporary bleachers over Waveland Ave for the 1929 World Series.

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D-backs proudly display lineup card from 2005 season opening 16-6 loss vs. Cubs

By bullpenbrian - February 28, 2013 - 3:05 pm. Leave a comment

Diamondbacks opening day lineup 2005

I stumbled across this picture on the blog Old Time Family Baseball. The writer, Michael Clair, is a finalist to join the MLB Fan Cave for the upcoming season.

He recently snapped the photo while on a tour of Chase Field in Arizona. Not entirely sure why this particular lineup card is on display at the ballpark–the Cubs won the 2005 season opener 16-6 vs. the Diamondbacks.

Nonetheless, there are some former Cubs ties with players Luis Gonzalez (1995-96), Chad Tracy (2010) and Koyie Hill (2007-12).

As for the game, the Cubs scored in 7 of 9 frames, mashing the D-backs’ pitching for 23 hits. Starter Javier Vazquez was lit up allowing 7-ER on 10-H in 1.2 innings.

Derrek Lee (who would go on to have the best all-around season of his career winning the National League batting title (.335), a Silver Slugger Award and a Gold Glove while finishing third in MVP voting), went 4-for-6 with a HR and five RBI.

Aramis Ramirez went 3-for-4, including a HR, 4 RBI and 4 runs scored. Jeromy Burnitz had 3 hits and Nomar Garciaparra added 2 hits and 3 RBI. Even Corey Patterson had a big day going 3-for-5 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored.

Carlos Zambrano started for the Cubs, but lasted only 4.2 innings allowing 3 runs on 7 hits with 4 walks and 8 strikeouts. Glendon Rusch took over in the fifth, pitched 2.1 innings allowing 2 runs, and earned the win.

Despite a promising start, the Cubs lost the next three games and hovered around .500 until the beginning of May, when they suffered a 7-game losing streak. A few weeks later the Cubs bounced back winning 7 straight to jump above .500, but the success was short lived.

The Cubs thereafter experienced two 8-games losing skids, one in July the other in August, that wipe the team out of postseason contention. They finished the campaign (79-83) under Dusty Baker, then in his third season as Chicago’s manager (sad trombone).

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