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Cubs’ Plan-B Saving Rotation

By bullpenbrian - March 24, 2013 - 4:45 pm 2 comments.

Scott Feldman

At the beginning of spring camp the Cubs had more starting pitching arms than spots available in the rotation. Now a week out before opening day and the Cubs have just enough arms to fill out a decent rotation: Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, Feldman, and Villanueva. That’s a credit to Team Theo.

Had the Cubs failed to sign either Edwin Jackson or Scott Feldman the rotation would be in dire straits entering the season. But despite the injuries to Matt Garza (pulled lat muscle) and Scott Baker (strained elbow), both of whom will miss extended time recovering, Chicago still has a decent chance of contending out of the gate.

As often as we hear ‘you can never have enough starting pitching’, it’s not unusual for teams to fall short when adding starting pitching depth. That’s partly because good starting pitching is hard to find. But I assume another reason is good starting pitching cost good money–and some teams simply don’t want to spend on players they view as insurance policies.

However, if you do need those insurance arms, and don’t have them, you’re in a world of trouble. And the 2011 Cubs under Jim Hendry are a perfect example.

The season wasn’t a week old before the starting rotation ran off the track with injuries to Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner. Wells was sidelined nearly two months and Cashner didn’t return until September, as a reliever no less.

Meanwhile, Hendry was left to fill the holes with 23-year-old Casey Coleman
(3-9, 6.40 ERA) and 35-year-old Rodrigo Lopez (6-6, 4.42 ERA)  for a combined 40 starts. And that doesn’t include the drastic desperation move
of signing 35-year-old Doug Davis, who lit the mound on fire going (1-7, 6.50 ERA) in nine starts.

Chicago was doomed from the onset without a viable Plan B for the starting staff. That, in combination with other roster shortcoming, put the team on course for a 91-loss season.

The Cubs’ record this season may not be any better than it was two years ago. But we can rest assured it won’t be from a lack of preparation to supplement the rotation with good arms in case of injuries.

Part of understanding the importance of rotation depth is knowing whatever plan you do have in place is only as good as its Plan B.


Cubs’ 1st Rd pick Ryan Harvey & the 2003 MLB Draft

By bullpenbrian - March 12, 2013 - 9:15 am 2 comments.

Ryan Harvey

Who can forget the Cubs’ first round draft pick in 2003–Ryan Harvey.

Jim Hendry used the 6th overall pick to draft the Florida high school outfielder with a shotgun arm and raw plate power. Unfortunately, Harvey wasn’t able to showcase those talents in the big leagues. He never made it past Double-A with Chicago.

His best minor league season came in 2005 with low-level Single-A Peoria where he hit 24 HRs, 30 doubles and drove in 100 runs in 117 games.

Harvey spent the following season at high-level Single-A Daytona hitting 20 HRs, 25 doubles and driving in 84 runs in 122 games.

But despite Harvey’s ever present power, improving his batting average and on-base percentage proved to be a continuous struggle.

Strikeouts, in particular, plagued Harvey throughout his minor league journey–most notably 137 Ks in 2005 and 125 Ks in 2006.

His on-base percentage, not surprisingly, hovered around .300, and eventually slipped into the low 200s at Double-A.

By 2009 Harvey was out of the Cubs’ system, leaving another black eye on Hendry’s draft selections. Granted, the former GM did select Tim Lincecum in 2003, but more on that choice and the rest of the Cubs’ picks later.

Hind sight being 20-20, Hendry missed big-time on some awfully good players who came out of the 2003 draft.

{1st Overall: Delmon Young (Tampa Bay), 2nd Overall: Rickie Weeks (Milwaukee), 3rd Overall: Kyle Seeth (Detroit), 4th Overall: Tim Stauffer (San Diego) and 5th Overall: Chris Lubanski (Kansas City) were taken prior to Harvey.}

Below lists first round picks taken after Harvey, which is comprised mostly of players who have gone on to have quality big league careers, or at the very least, reached the major leagues.

-7th Overall: Nick Markakis (Baltimore)
-8th Overall: Paul Maholm (Pittsburgh)
*Went (9-6, 3.74) in 21 stats with the Cubs last year.

-9th Overall: John Danks (Texas)
-10th Overall: Ian Stewart (Colorado)
*I’m including Stewart because he’s a current Cub.

-13th Overall: Aaron Hill (Toronto)
-17th Overall: David Murphy (Boston)
-18th Overall: Brad Snyder (Cleveland)
*The Cubs later claimed him on waivers in 2009 where he hit .308, 25 HRs and drove in 106 runs with Triple-A Iowa. He played sparingly for Chicago the following two seasons appearing in 20 games total.

-20th Overall: Chad Cordero (Montreal)
-22nd Overall: David Aardsma (San Francisco)
*The Cubs traded for Aardsma (and Jerome Williams) in 2005 sending the Giants in return LaTroy Hawkins and cash. Aardsma went (3-0, 4.08) in 45 games for Chicago in 2006 before he was flipped to the White Sox for Neal Cotts.

-24th Overall: Chad Billingsley (Los Angeles)
-29th Overall: Carlos Quentin (Arizona)

Now a look at some of the more notable Supplemental draft picks in 2003.

-31st pick: Matt Murton (Boston)
*The Cubs would acquire Murton the following season as part of the Nomar Garciaparra trade. Big Red played in parts of four seasons with the Cubs before being packaged with Josh Donaldson, Sean Gallagher and Eric Patterson in a trade to Oakland for Chad Gaudin and Rich Harden in July of 2008.

-36th pick: Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Atlanta)
-37th pick: Adam Jones (Seattle)

Other notable selections from the 2003 draft.

-Rd 2: Andre Ethier (Oakland)
-Rd 4: Jonathan Papelbon (Boston)
-Rd 4: Michael Bourn (Philadelphia)
-Rd 6: Matt Kemp (Los Angeles)
-Rd 7: Ian Kinsler (Texas)
-Rd 24: Brian Wilson (San Francisco)
-Rd 30: Jonny Venters (Atlanta)

Notable Cubs selections in the 2003 draft.

-Rd 2: Jake Fox
-Rd 6: Sean Marshall
-Rd 10: Casey McGehee
-Rd 14: Matt LaPorta
-Rd 24: Sam Fuld
-Rd 48: Tim Lincecum
*Yes, the Freak was drafted by Hendry but didn’t sign. Two years later Cleveland selected Lincecum in the 42nd round, but did not sign. The Giants won the lottery in 2006 taking Lincecum 10th overall.


Ryne Sandberg Moving Up, Moving On Post Cubs

By bullpenbrian - February 10, 2013 - 12:45 am Leave a comment.

Ryne Sandberg Cubs
Hard to believe Ryne Sandberg isn’t part of the Cubs organization.
Even harder to believe Jim Hendry passed him over for Mike Quade.

Ryne did all the Cubs asked of him as a minor league skipper. He won games, developed players and gave fans a reason to flock to the ballpark. Not to mention, twice winning a Manager of the Year Award (2010-11).

What more could Sandberg have done?
What else did he need to prove?

Hendry of course had his reasons for choosing Quade as Cubs manager. It was the players, after all, who wanted Quade back after he replaced Sweet Lou in August. But that shouldn’t have mattered, Sandberg was the
no-brain decision.

Hendry’s hire to replace Piniella would be a final attempt to maintain his tenure with the Cubs. He needed to choose the right guy, his job depended on it, but ultimately, he picked the wrong one and sank to the bottom with Quade. Less than a year later Hendry was ousted, then Quade…and any bridge the Cubs had with Sandberg was badly burned.

When Sandberg wasn’t the right fit for Team Theo, essentially being snubbed a second time by the Cubs, he transitioned to the Phillies where he spent another year managing at Triple-A before a promotion to the bigs this winter. He’ll serve as Charlie Manuel’s 3B coach and bench coach, presumably until Manuel retires, gets fired or otherwise (Manuel has one year remaining on his contract).

In an interview with Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald, sections of which are posted below, it seems Sandberg has found piece of mind with Philadelphia. He sounds like a guy who feels appreciated, counted on and wanted. Imagine that, a Hall of Fame player who’s excelled as a minor league skipper being coveted by a major league team. What took so long?

Of all teams, the Cubs should have known better than anyone what they were losing by passing on Ryno the first time. And I’ve got a feeling when Sandberg does become a manger, for the Phillies or elsewhere, he’s going to remind the Cubs and baseball they shouldn’t have been so obtuse.

-Ryne Sandberg

  • "I see myself reaching goals and being where I want to be, and that’s in the major leagues," Sandberg said Tuesday while visiting family here in Chicago. "I fulfilled that goal with the Phillies.
  • "I would think that wouldn’t have happened with the Cubs, so with what I want to do with my career, which is stay in the game and get back to the majors, I’ve been able to do that with the Phillies and it feels very good."
  • "My six years in the minors were a great learning experience and it’s prepared me for my job this year, and prepared me to take on more responsibilities,"
  • "The dream of the ring is what keeps me going, keeps me driving forward. That, combined with the relationship I have with the Phillies, and being back in the game, being part of this coaching staff, is a big part of it."
  • "Through the two years with the Phillies, it has felt like I was being welcomed back, by the fans and the entire Phillies organization," Sandberg said. "The Phillies have a way of making everyone feel like they’re a part of something bigger, that your job — no matter what it is — is part of the Phillies trying to win the World Series.
  • "They give you responsibility and they want your input. It’s a great feeling. It’s great to be a part of it. It feels like home to me."

Jim Hendry Not As Bad As Advertised

By bullpenbrian - February 1, 2013 - 1:35 pm Leave a comment.

Jim Hendry

Linked at the bottom of this post is an interesting article by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports talking about former Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry…which got me thinking…

Jim Hendry still takes a lot of slack from Cubs fans. Granted, much of it is deserved. But Hendry still wasn’t the garbage GM many fans believe him to be.

To be fair, Hendry brought the Cubs painfully close to a World Series appearance in 2003. And soon thereafter, while under pressure from the Tribune ownership to increase the team’s sale value, went all-in to sign free-agent Alfonso Soriano and lure big-name manager Lou Piniella to Chicago–all with the hopes of breaking the Cubs’ long championship drought in a hurry.

It’s hard to know if Hendry would’ve taken a different approach had the Tribune not been operating in the self interest of adopting a win-at-all-cost mentality, which directly came at the expense of the organization’s future success on the field.

The mindset of the Tribune Company is what led, and allowed Hendry to spend wildly on veteran players, and to dole out heavy, back-loaded contracts. All of which has hamstrung the team in recent seasons.

For certain, the meticulous and tedious transition the Cubs are currently going through under Theo Epstein wouldn’t have sufficed under Tribune ownership.

The results of Hendry’s play-now, pay-later moves were hard to argue with. The Cubs won back-to-back division titles (2007-08), something the club had not done in 100-years, and in 2008 tied a major league record with 8 All Star representatives while the team won 97-games during the regular season.

Had the Cubs won the Fall Classic in either one of those two seasons, all of Hendry’s sins and shortcoming as Chicago’s GM would’ve been absolved. Instead they were magnified, and soon the consequences of Hendry’s actions took its toll on the overall health of the franchise.

Panic stricken after being swept out of the playoffs in consecutive years, Hendry signed world renown malcontent Milton Bradley in 2009, which was arguably the biggest bone-headed move during his tenure, and what ultimately set in motion his undoing as general manager.

I always gave Hendry credit for owning up to that mistake. He never shied away from the fact it was a horrible decision to sign Bradley, and accepted full blame in being the one to do so.

But it should be recognize Hendry’s body of work with the Cubs wasn’t completely awful. He did makes smart moves and trades that paid off handsomely in the Cubs’ favor. One could argue he didn’t make enough of them, but this wasn’t just all dumb luck carrying the Cubs to the postseason under Hendry’s watch.

More specifically, given the circumstances surrounding the strange ownership of the Tribune Company, I thought Hendry did what almost any GM would’ve done in his shoes: followed the orders of the people paying his salary, and those orders instructed Hendry to win immediately, the future success of the organization be damned.

Here’s the catch, though, had Hendry won his World Series there would be no Theo Epstein, no Jed Hoyer, no ‘New Cubs Way’…nor any of the other positive changes that have put the Cubs on path to becoming a top-notch organization for years to come. 

To trade all this recent progress under the Ricketts’ regime for just one–one–world championship with Hendry would be a deal many Cubs fans would’ve gladly accepted just a few years ago.

But in doing so you better love’ya some Jim Hendry . For all the flack he took, and still takes, you can bet ol’ Jimbo would’ve been elevated to rock star status in Chicago, an untouchable cog of the Cubs’ organization, even with the new ownership, had his gambling ways paid off in the ultimate prize of winning a World Series championship.

And to think how ever close Hendry actually came to pulling it off.
The phone rang in the visiting clubhouse after Game 7 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. The Bartman series. The one in which Redmond’s Marlins defeated Hendry’s Cubs, winning Game 7, 9-6.

Hendry was on the line, calling to congratulate Redmond.

“I know he was devastated,” Redmond said. “But he was happy for me. That’s just the kind of guy he is.

via Mike Redmond has been paying dividends for Miami Marlins since Jim Hendry discovered him in 1992 – MLB News | FOX Sports on MSN.


Best For Cubs Brian Roberts Trade Never Happened

By bullpenbrian - January 18, 2013 - 2:30 am Leave a comment.

Remember all the Brian Roberts to the Cubs rumors?
How can you forget, right?

Chicago coming off its dreadful 2006 campaign was in need of a second baseman for new manager Lou Piniella. Roberts, Baltimore’s slick-fielding, switch-hitting two-time All Star seemed the perfect fit.

Jim Hendry and Andy McPhail reportedly discussed a trade for Roberts, but of course a deal never came to fruition. However, the rumors lingered throughout the 2008 season with word Hendry’s unwillingness to come off top prospects Felix Pie or Tyler Colvin had stymied the talks. Not to mention, a Cubs package including Sean Marshall or Sean Gallagher, plus another prospect, seemed unreasonable to McPhail’s liking.

Whoa!  What?

As frustrating as the stalemate was at the time, the Cubs clearly dodged what would’ve likely been a disastrous trade. While Marshall developed into one of the premier left-handed relievers in all of baseball, Roberts slipped into an unfortunate spiral of nagging injuries that’s limited him to just 115-games during the past three seasons.

The Cubs, meanwhile, managed back-to-back division titles in ’07-’08 with Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot splitting second base duties. The addition of Roberts in either season couldn’t have hurt the Cubs, but he probably wasn’t the difference maker come October and he certainly wouldn’t have been worth another one of Hendry’s over-priced, back-loaded contract offerings; which was practically a given for Roberts considering the way Hendry was spending those days.

Now 35, Roberts is heading into the final season of his 4-year, $40M deal with Baltimore. Per the usual, however, he’s also recovering from injuries including two offseason surgeries, one a sports hernia, the other a torn labrum in his right hip.

As the old saying goes, sometimes the best trade is no trade…and wouldn’t you know, the Cubs traded Pie to Baltimore anyway in 2009 for – wait for it – Hank Williamson & Garrett Olson. Oh how quickly things can change, for
better or for worse.


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

Berkman To Rangers Shades Of Pena To Cubs

By bullpenbrian - January 7, 2013 - 2:15 pm Leave a comment.

Jim Hendry was desperate for a first baseman in the winter of 2010, which is why he seemingly overpaid to sign Carlos Pena to a 1-year, $10 million deal.

Although Pena’s individual results in 2011 were not disastrous, it did little to keep Mike Quade from running the team into the wood chipper.

Flash forward to Friday where the Rangers made a similar desperate move by inking Lance Berkman to a 1-year, $10 million deal.

The Rangers have suffered Texas-sized heartbreak this winter. They’ve lost Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young while struggling to keep up with those pesky Angels.

So it’s reasonable to wonder if that’s why the Rangers are suddenly in favor of offering up 10-large to an injury-riddled DH who needed to be coaxed out of retiring?

For certain it puts a new shine on Pena’s old deal with Chicago. His offensive numbers in 2011 were clearly not worthy of $10M alone, but Pena did provide the Cubs with Gold Glove defense and much needed clubhouse leadership during a trying season.

It’s hard to imagine Berkman, four years older than Pena, can be of the same value for the same price as Pena was to the Cubs.

Granted the Rangers are in much better shape than those 2011 Cubs were, but it’s safe to say Berkman’s far from a Gold Glover and fair to assume he’s not going to be the same hitter he was just two years ago during his All Star season in St. Louis, which many seem to forget…was two years ago!

If the Rangers fall short of expectations next season, which presumably is a division title, no one will point to the Berkman signing as the team’s shortcoming. Instead, it will be the many moves that led to Berkman’s signing, just as it was with Hendry when he signed an over-priced first baseman to the Cubs.

Carlos Pena
2011: 33 years old, 1-year, $10 million
153-games, .225/.357/.462 – OPS+123
28 HR, 80 RBI…101 walks set franchise record for 1B
Gold Glove defense, clubhouse leader

Lance Berkman
Magical season of 2011 including postseason:
177-games .295/.408/.533, 33 HR, 105 RBI

*Then 2012 season…
32-games, 81 at-bats, 2 HR, 7 RBI
Plagued by left calf and a a torn meniscus in right knee
Is he worth $10 million?


Rich Harden Hasn’t Been Good Since Leaving Cubs

By bullpenbrian - December 23, 2012 - 1:04 am Leave a comment.

After missing all of last season due to injury Rich Harden signed a minor league deal with the Twins.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the 31-year-old is still being considered a starter. But it feels long over due to start looking at Harden as a reliever.

The guy’s durability is nonexistent. So if there’s any value left in his right arm why not try and better maintain his health as a late-inning reliever?

It’s likely to limit him from making too many back-to-back appearances, but it can’t be any worse than Harden’s tough luck staying healthy as a starter.

Anyway, I always remember Harden as Jim Hendry’s answer to the Brewers trading for CC Sabathia in 2008, who was practically untouchable with Milwaukee (11-2, 1.65). But Harden held his own in 12 starts with Chicago:
(5-1, 1.77), ERA+258. No doubt one of Hendry’s better trades.

Unfortunately more arm problems limited Harden to 26 starts the following season (9-9, 4.09) and the Cubs smartly parted ways in the offseason.

Oh yeah, who could forget Harden’s ever present smirking grin? Where have I seen that before?




Former Cubs Player Ryan Freel Found Dead

By bullpenbrian - December 23, 2012 - 12:19 am Leave a comment.

Ryan Freel

Ryan Freel, 36, was found dead in his Jacksonville, Fla. home on Saturday. Early reports indicate he he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Freel played briefly for the Cubs in 2009. Jim Hendry aquired him from Baltimore for Joey Gathright in early May–A trade I never understood.

Gathright was 28 and Freel a washed up 33-year-old riddled with an achy body. Granted, Gathright never panned out, but Freel had a (-2) OPS+ in just 14-games with Chicago before he was purchased by the Royals in July. His production at the big league level had passed him by before he ever arrived in Chicago.

“He’s a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him.”
-Freel on his invisible friend “Farney”

That aside, count me among the many fans who appreciated Freel’s constant hustle on the diamond. He was scrappy, a gamer, and apparently won the heart of Hendry, too.

Long live Farney.


When Cubs Had Josh Hamilton, Angel Pagan and Alfonso Soriano

By bullpenbrian - December 5, 2012 - 5:15 am Leave a comment.

Crazy to think at one point the Cubs could’ve played an outfield of Josh Hamilton,Angel Pagan and Alfonso Soriano.

It could’ve happened as early as 2007, but the possibility hardly had a chance to take root and likely wouldn’t have lasted long anyway.

Chicago selected Hamilton with the third overall pick in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, but immediately traded him to Cincinnati for $100,000.

Meanwhile, Pagan, then 24, had just made his major league debut in 2006. He stayed through 2007 as a part-time player (injuries too) before Jim Hendry traded him during the offseason to the Mets for Corey Coles and Ryan Meyers, neither of whom reached the big leagues.

Granted the Cubs won back-to-back divisions titles in ’07-’08, but what might have been had Hendry not pushed all his chips in on outfielders Matt Murton, Felix Pie and Kosuke Fukudome?

And that’s not to forget Soriano’s mega-deal of 8-years, $136M.

To be fair, Hendry wasn’t always afforded the luxury of a long-term approach to win a world series. The Tribune company wanted to sell the team and a championship trophy was the leverage to increase the selling price. The future success of the organization was barely an afterthought.

Shortsightedness, however, is one of the pitfalls of a ‘win-now’ mentality the Cubs were operating under five-years ago. It induces panic to set in when falling short of the ultimate goal, and when panic takes hold you sign Milton Bradley.

That’s why it’s so encouraging Tom Ricketts is taking an opposite approach from the previous ownership. With Team Theo the Cubs are methodically building a plan for sustained success.

The ultimate goal will always be winning the world series, but when the Cubs fall short it won’t take hitting rock-bottom to get another crack at the hardware.

The pace of rebuilding is painfully slow, but the chance another dynamic outfield trio slips through Chicago’s hands is unlikely. With Epstein at the wheel the future will never be out of sight out of mind; for that we can be thankful.


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