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Now Who’s Out of the Cubs Starting Lineup?

By bullpenbrian - April 1, 2013 - 4:00 am Leave a comment.

Darwin Barney

Name the Cubs opening day first baseman last year. Anthony Rizzo? Bryan LaHair? Nope, try Jeff Baker.

LaHair was a late scratch with a tight back (if I remember correctly). Baker stepped in nicely going 1-for-3 with a walk in the Cubs 2-1 loss vs. Washington.

Thankfully, however, LaHair was back playing the next game, albeit off the bench, and returned to the starting lineup by the third game of the season.

LaHair went 2-for-4 with two doubles in his first start to began his tear of batting .390, 5 HRs, 14 RBI during the month of April (a hot streak that essentially made LaHair an NL All-Star).

It appeared whatever back troubles LaHair suffered on opening day were minor, if that, and may have simply been the result of the cool weather at Wrigley Field during pregame warmups. Ultimately, it was no biggie.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Darwin Barney this year, who’s looking at a possible 15-day DL stint after suffering a knee injury during the Cubs final exhibition game on Saturday.

Barney, chasing down a popup, gashed his left knee to the bone after colliding with a concrete slab in foul territory. The cut required five stitches, and likely has Darwin out of game action for the next several days–at best.

So yeah, losing your Gold Glove second baseman right before opening day is definitely a biggie.

In the meantime, newcomer Brent Lillibridge will make today’s opening day start at second base in place of Barney. And if Darwin does, in fact, get placed on the DL, another journeyman, Alberto Gonzalez, 30, could also see playing time at second.

If we’re lucky Barney will be back soon, and possibly soon enough for us to forget 12 months from now he ever missed the 2013 lid lifter. Chances are, though, we won’t forget if Mr. Gold Glover starts the season on the DL.

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Sports Illustrated Preview, Cubs (67-95), 5th NL Central

By bullpenbrian - March 30, 2013 - 12:05 pm Leave a comment.

Wrigley Field

Sports Illustrated’s MLB preview says the Cubs will finish (67-95), fifth in the NL Central. Writer Albert Chen does a nice job with the Cubs preview, which you can read here.

Not certain if Chen decided the Cubs final record or if that was a staff pick. But it’s in the neighborhood of where I have the Cubs finishing the season (72-90), fifth in the division.

My only true disagreement with the piece is Bryan LaHair being tabbed as Chicago’s biggest loss from last season. While he did finish the campaign second on the team in HRs (16), LaHair was a disappointment in the season’s second half, transitioning from All-Star to bench warmer.

I suspected some of LaHair’s struggles were due in part to the arrival of Anthony Rizzo in late June, which forced LaHair from first base to the outfield.

Nonetheless, Rizzo was clearly the better player offensively hitting one fewer HR (15) than LaHair and driving in eight more runs (48) in 12 fewer plate appearances and 43 fewer games. Darwin Barney, who posted an on-base percentage under .300 (.299) managed to drive in four more runs (44) than LaHair (40) as well.

Even without Rizzo the Cubs would likely be better off without LaHair in 2013. And we can fairly assume the young Rizzo will perform just as well, if not better, than he did last season.

For my money the biggest loss was Ryan Dempster (5-5, 2.25), who managed a quality start in 69-percent of his outings, had an ERA+174 and a 3.5 WAR. Jeff Samardzija could push for similar numbers this season, but the Cubs will be hard pressed to get Dempster-esque production from their other starters aside from Shark.

“The Cubs are headed in the right direction, with a vastly improved farm system and a promising young core in place, but nobody’s putting the champagne on ice just yet. Next year will be a different story if prospects like Soler and Baez begin making an impact earlier than expected.” –Chen SI.com

Simply put, I see two factors determining the Cubs’ season. 1.) How well they start the season in the win/loss column. 2.) What happens at the trade deadline?

If the Cubs play well in the first three months we could see fewer moves at the trade deadline, which could mean a respectable second half, and an overall record that avoids 100-losses. If not, however, we can expect another yard sale similar to last season’s July moves and the team fighting to avoid triple digit losses during the final two months.

Either way, let’s just be excited Cubs baseball back–for better or worse.

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Jeff Samardzija Files For Arbitration, Bryan LaHair’s New Teammate & Ryan Theriot Picks Next World Series Winner

By bullpenbrian - January 17, 2013 - 7:00 am Leave a comment.

Bullpen Brian I usually consider the weeks following the Super Bowl to March Madness as the doldrums of television viewing. But evening programming is lacking with the absence of Blackhawks hockey (season begins Sat.).

College basketball barely registers on my radar and the NBA doesn’t do it for me either. So I ended up watching Antiques Road Show on PBS last night. I’ve never been more motivated to clean out my storage closet with the hope of finding some treasure valued at auction for $100,000. Perhaps this baseball tapestry is my ticket to financial freedom in 2013? Or, let’s just say the start of the NHL season can’t come soon enough…

 

  • Bryan LaHair’s newest teammate on the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks is 35 year old Vicente Padilla. He’s agreed to a 1-year, $3.25M deal after spending last season as a reliever with Boston (4-1, 4.50),
    56-games, 50.0 IP, ERA+97.
  • Why are teams are so enthralled with Kyle Farnsworth? His six seasons with the Cubs (1999-04) were five too many for my liking. However, the soon to be 37 year old is in the mix to join the Rays, where he’s spent the past two seasons. Farnsworth’s lifetime record is (40-62, 4.24) with a career 55-percent save percentage (52/94). You tell me…
  • One of our favorite former Cubs to root against, Ryan Theriot, is rumored to be headed to either Philadelphia or San Francisco according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. So is it safe to assume whichever team he signs with will go on to win the World Series while Theriot toes the Mendoza line as a scrub bench player. Ugh.
  • Jeff Samardzija filed for salary arbitration this week and seemingly has come to a mutual agreement with the Cubs to work on a 1-year deal for 2013. Although he’s under team control through 2015, it appears both sides are committed to inking a long-term contract next offseason. MLBTR.com suggest Shark will earn $2.9M for the coming season. Granted the 28 year old is coming off a breakout campaign (9-13, 3.81), 28 starts, 174.2 IP, I like the move from the Cubs’ perspective. It gives Samardzija another year to prove he’s a top of the rotation starter and a pitcher the Cubs should invest in long-term.
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Cubs Transactions: Bryan LaHair, Milton Bradley & Corey Patterson

By bullpenbrian - January 9, 2013 - 2:15 am Leave a comment.

Milton Bradley
Cubs transactions history January 9th
:

  • 2010: Sign free agent Bryan LaHair
  • 2009: Sign free agent Milton Bradley (3-year, $30 million) Ugh.
  • 2006: Trade Corey Patterson to Baltimore for LHP Carlos Perez & 2B Nate Spears
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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

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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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Bryan LaHair: All Star To Bench Warmer

By bullpenbrian - October 10, 2012 - 11:50 am 2 comments.

There were obviously a ton of disappointments this season. Bryan LaHair, unfortunately, may have been the biggest of them all.

If we didn’t have high hopes for LaHair when he broke spring camp as the starting first baseman, we certainly did after he hit .308/.396/.582, .979 OPS after the first two months of the season.

Despite his hot start, most fans, including myself, remained curious if LaHair could consistently hit for an entire season. Ultimately, he proved he could not.

Although LaHair earned a somewhat surprising selection to the Mid-Summer Classic, it quickly became a tale of two season afterwards.

LaHair hit–.286, 14 HR, 30 RBI before the All Star break…and .202, 2 HR, 10 RBI thereafter. He went from starter to role player…and eventually to bench warmer come August.

Whether or not the arrival of Anthony Rizzo negatively effected LaHair offensively, I don’t know. But I still suspect it did as LaHair’s transition from first base to right field coincided with his decline at the plate.

What’s certain is the league’s pitching adjusted quicker to LaHair than he could counter back. Additionally, his inability to hit left-handers (.063) and overall sharp decline offensively leaves LaHair hanging in the balance of the Cubs’ plans this offseason.

Can LaHair retool his plate approach again this winter? Is it worth keeping his left-handed swing as a pinch-hitting threat…or is it time to move on from LaHair?

If the Cubs can trade LaHair I suspect they will. Otherwise, due to the lack of overall talent on the roster, he may get one more shot next spring…with better results, I hope.

Honorable mention: Ian Stewart .201, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 55-games.

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Now What For Bryan LaHair?

By bullpenbrian - October 4, 2012 - 4:15 am Leave a comment.

I couldn’t be more happy for Bryan LaHair. His walkoff hit against the Astros leaves us with a favorable memory of the 2012 All Star in what could be his final at-bat with the Cubs.

That’s not an image Cubs fans have been privy too since LaHair’s decline from feel-good story of the spring and his All Star appearance…to a prolonged second half slump and a reserve role on Dale Sveum’s bench.

Even his solo HR and game-winning single with two-outs in the bottom of the ninth on Wednesday does little to repair the loss of confidence in LaHair’s ability as an everyday player, or increase the odds he’ll be wearing a Cubs uniform in 2013.

There’s already speculation the 30-year-old could be headed to the Japanese League, and even LaHair himself is on the record as saying he believes there’s only a 50/50 chance he’ll remain in Chicago.

I’m still of the opinion LaHair’s regression may be attributed to the arrival of Anthony Rizzo, which forced LaHair into a position change from first base to right field.

Whether or not that’s true is beside the point. We know Rizzo isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future, and if LaHair can’t cut it offensively playing the outfield, well, what purpose does he serve on a team rebuilding with younger players also in need of more major league playing time?

Of course, it’s in LaHair’s favor he’s a left-handed hitter with power, which is always in need, especially in the National League. But such a specialized a role is typically reserved for contenders, not teams rebuilding from 101-losses.

That means LaHair’s game-winning knock yesterday could be his final at-bat with the Cubs. If so, I couldn’t think of a better ending for a guy we all wanted to succeed, but just couldn’t deliver.

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Cubs In A Scoring Funk

By bullpenbrian - August 8, 2012 - 3:30 am Leave a comment.

Last Monday the Cubs posted its most runs scored in a single game this season defeating the Pirates 14-4 at Wrigley Field.

It’s also the last time the Cubs won a game, and the lack of offense has largely been the deciding factor.

The Cubs have been outscored 38-16 during its seven-game losing streak. Twice they’ve been shutout, twice they’ve scored one single run, and had it not been for Adrian Cardenas, it’s highly likely AJ Burnett no-hits the Cubs last Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the highly touted Brett Jackson has done nothing but reinforce the worry he strikes out too often (he did so 33% of the time in Iowa) by punching out 8 times in 11 at-bats since his callup Sunday. Josh Vitters hasn’t been much better: 1-for-6 with a double and 2 RBI.

Castro and LaHair, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, continue to struggle going a combined 0-for-7 with one walk and one strikeout last night in San Diego. And Anthony Rizzo posted another no-hit night (0-for-4) dropping his average below .300 (.292).

The west coast road trip can’t end soon enough. The Cubs are (8-13) vs. NL West opponents this year, and all eight wins have come at home.

However, it doesn’t get any easier after today’s series finale at San Diego–the red hot Cincinnati Reds come to town for a four-game set.

Maybe a little home cookin’ is just what the Cubs need to get back on track at the plate?

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Cubs Slumps: Castro, LaHair & Campana

By bullpenbrian - August 7, 2012 - 2:55 pm 4 comments.

It’s hard to ignore the offensive struggles of Starlin Castro, Bryan LaHair and Tony Campana.

Despite adopting a more disciplined plate approach since the firing of Rudy Jaramillo, which should help in the long run, Castro hasn’t been the same batter that led the NL in hits last season (207).

That doesn’t mean Starlin won’t break out of his funk before season’s end, but we can expect Castro to put together some better quality at-bats. Not to mention, this kid is so super-talented it’s only a matter of time before he settles back into being the Cubs’ premier hitter in the lineup.

LaHair’s slump, however, is far more concerning. He’s simply been brutal since mid-June, which helps explain why the Cubs didn’t feel they could receive enough value in return to trade him last week.

Surviving the trade deadline should’ve been LaHair’s golden opportunity to be an everyday player for the Cubs in the season’s second half. Instead, Team Theo opted to promote Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters.

The roster move is certain to leave LaHair riding the pine as a role player until he makes the needed adjustments to return to his brilliant hot start to the season, one that earned him All Star honors.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for LaHair is regaining his confidence. It’s vanished over his last 100 at-bats. He looks lost, over-matched and generally defeated at the dish.

Not even Tony Campana can outrun the slump-bug, which is why he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Sunday to make room for the arrivals of Jackson & Vitters.

Aside from being a cute base stealing threat, Campana expectedly fell back to earth after his hot start in April.

It’s clearly evident Campana is over-matched by big league pitching–and has been all year. He rarely puts together quality at-bats and what little success Campana has had this season has been fleeting at best.

Both he and the Cubs are best served getting the scrappy lefty more playing time in Iowa vs. sitting the bench on a team with zero need for a pinch-runner.

Starlin Castro

  • Since July 6 – Last 99 at-bats
  • .232/.276/.434
  • 23 hits, 3 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 12 RBI – 5 BB, 12 K

Bryan LaHair

  • Since June 18 – Last 100 at-bats
  • .210/.282/.300
  • 21 hits, 2 HR, 3 2B, 5 RBI – 10 BB, 41 K

Tony Campana

  • Since May 14 – Last 98 at-bats
  • .204/.243/.214
  • 20 hits, 1 2B, 2 RBI, – 5 BB, 29 K – 18/19 stolen bases
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