Despite having what I thought were the best teams in the NL the last two years, the Chicago Cubs have decided to go back to being lovable losers. While they had several issues last year: a lineup where the first two hitters combined almost got out OPSed by the number three hitter, an outfield that was staggeringly bad, at least until Murton arrived, and a fantastically injury prone starting rotation that lacked depth, the Cubs have decided to spend their budget at the craps table and invest in middle relief while not addressing any of their weaknesses.
Here's the signings the Cubs have made this off season:
Neifi Perez: two years, five million to the worst hitter of the last decade. One of the two reasons why Derrek Lee didn't have four thousand RBI this year.
Glendon Rusch: Two years, six million. This actually isn't a bad signing. Over the last two years, he's put up a very similar ERA to Jeff Weaver, and has had a decent strikeout rate (6.8 K/9) and walk rate. (2.33 K/BB) (Compared to 6.28 K/9 and 2.81 K/BB for Weaver). Weaver will likely get ten million dollars a year this off season. Compared to this, Rusch, who doesn't have the massive home run rates that Weaver does, could be the pitching steal of the off season.
Ryan Dempster: Three years, fifteen million. The very reason why sabermetrics avoids guys who suddenly get a lot of saves like the plague. Coming into this season, Dempster's career best ERA was 3.66. He had a reputation as a guy who could throw hard, but sometimes struggled with his control. Dempster came into his own in the closer role, however, becoming a guy who could throw hard, but sometimes struggled with his control.
I didn't watch a lot of Cubs games this year, but from what I saw, I got a definite Jeff Shaw vibe off of him. Yeah, he got the save, but he usually gave up a double and a walk to do so. His 1.43 WHIP certainly didn't inspire confidence. Like Shaw, it seems like the Cubs could run anyone else out there, and he'd do just about as well. It certainly wouldn't surprise me if Dempster lumped a few more of those hits and walks together, compiled a five and a half ERA, and lost his job by the All Star Break.
Scott Eyre: Three years, eleven million. The Cubs made a terrible mistake here. Don't get me wrong, Eyre was good this year, very good. He had the third best ARP in baseball, behind only Huston Street and Cliff Politte. Sounds good, right? The problem is that like all middle relievers, this is largely governed by small sample size. Eyre has a career ERA+ of 98, and will be 34 years old next year. He managed to avoid the home run this year, and had a good strikeout rate (8.3 K/9), but his walk rate is rather high (3.5 BB/9) and he had a low .268 BABIP. Eyre is a slightly above average reliever bolstered by small sample size.
You simply can not pay for middle relief, and the Cubs had an opportunity to have a solid bullpen for a low cost this year, but could destroy it, if they really are trading two good, young pitchers, most notably Rich Hill, for Juan Pierre. I don't really see what this accomplishes. Pierre would replace Corey Patterson, a player with good speed and power, but only has a career isolated patience of .041. Pierre has slightly more speed, but has no power, similar defense, and a career isolated patience of .050. The Cubs also already have a player very similar to Pierre in Jerry Hairston. This move, if it were true, doesn't help the Cubs in any way. Not really seeing why this is worth paying a combined 26 million dollars to fill a hole that likely could have been filled for 650 thousand.
The Cubs had their opportunity in the last two years, and they blew it. They have two options, either make one more go at it, by blowing a bunch of money on players like Burnett and Giles, crippling the team for the future but making a run while Prior, Zambrano, and, if you're optimistic, Wood are still together. They could also consolidate their young talents like Matt Murton and Rich Hill, and sacrifice the next couple of seasons to make a run in a few years. The way the teams contracts are currently structured, this is a less likely scenario. Instead, they're doing neither. By paying a lot of money to players who don't deserve it, while possibly losing young players and not solving any of their problems, the Cubs are dooming themselves to several more seasons without a World Series win, but they won't have the White Sox or Red Sox to keep them company.
After gifting Cy Youngs to Chris Carpenter and (far more tragically) Bartolo Colon, the BBWA got one right and gave the AL MVP to A-Rod.
However, the people who cast votes for the following players should be immediately banished to Corsica.
Scott Podsednik (especially the guy who gave him a fifth place vote)
Eric Chavez (as much as I hate to say it, he only had a .795 OPS)
What's odd is that Derek Jeter had his second best season ever (based on WARP), yet he didn't get the usual amount of man love he receives around this time of year, getting only 23 votes. (Advancing from the worst shortstop in history to the league average certainly helped). I'll just assume those are makeup votes.
(Disclaimer: I know nothing about football, I'm simply using the same analytical techniques that apply to baseball and using them elsewhere. I could be completely off the mark here, but I doubt I am.)
Yesterday, in a move that only Bill Stoneman could truly appreciate, the Eagles cut Terrell Owens. This is another case of chemistry being valued over results, and getting mass approval. Who does this move hurt? Does it hurt Owens? Not really, he'll sign a contract with a team that understands having a talented wide receiver helps the team. Does it hurt the Eagles? Certainly, Owens is one of the best players in the league. Brilliant move there.
Listening to Mason and Ireland on Friday, there was a guest on that argued that the Eagles were actually a better team without Owens, citing the fact that they passed the ball 73 percent of the time, and this would make them run more. This is not a well thought out statement. If the Eagles were actually talented at running the ball, wouldn't they do it more? Most certainly. Running the ball doesn't score points, it is simply a means to an end, just because you run more doesn't mean you score more. Whenever talent takes a back seat to chemistry, the only thing that is hurt is the team.
What does this have to do with the Dodgers? They are about to do the same thing with Milton Bradley. The current rumor is that Bradley is being sent off to the Yankees. I have to ask, what could the Yankees possibly give us that is worth Bradley. Assuming money is no object, the following players would actually be worth a 28 year old outfielder who has good patience, power, and good speed.
The following are not worth it
Chein-Ming Wang - Doesn't strike anyone out (3.69 K/9) doesn't have a good K/BB ratio (1.43) the only thing he does well is avoid the home run. If he didn't pitch for the Yankees, no one would be talking about him.
Carl Pavano - A 30 year old with a total of two above average seasons.
Eric Duncan - Do the Dodgers really need another third base prospect?
Now to introduce reality into the trade
Sheffield - He's not coming to the Dodgers.
Matsui - Going to be a free agent in a week.
Rivera - The Yankees wouldn't trade him.
Johnson - Will make 16 million dollars when he is 43.
This leaves Jeter, Rodriguez, and Giambi. These three players made a combined 59 million dollars this year. In other words, they aren't coming to the Dodgers either.
Unless the Dodgers get a very big wad of money, trading a player as good is Bradley is simply disastrous. Here's hoping that the Dodgers are able to look past something as unimportant as chemistry.
Covering a few stories that I missed over the last few days.
Dodgers sign Jose Cruz Jr. for 2.91 million dollars: On the surface, this is a very good thing. I advocated giving Cruz an additional one million dollars, so the fact that we were able to sign him on the cheap is a very good thing. The bad part about this is that he likely won't play in the role that I had envisioned him in: a fourth outfielder who can back up our injury prone players and provide insurance in case Werth stinks. What's my reasoning here? The dreaded "McCourt doesn't want him" at the bottom of the article. While I generally place little faith into anonymous sources, they've been right a good deal of the time lately, at least when it comes to the Dodgers front office. I suppose a Cruz/Drew/(Werth or free agent) outfield isn't so bad. It's just less than what could have been.
Padres trade Brian Lawrence for Vinny Castilla: Earlier this year, I thought that Kevin Towers had gone completely insane by trading Phil Nevin for Chan Ho Park. After Ducksnorts called me on it, I did the analysis and discovered that the back end of the Padres rotation was so bad that Park could be considered an improvement.
This is not another diamond in the rough for San Diego. Brian Lawrence is not a spectacular pitcher, putting up an ERA+ of 96 in his career (100 is average) . This was mainly hampered by the fact that he had a horrid year this year, putting up an ERA+ of 80. Vinny Castilla, since his 30th birthday, has had the following OPS+ numbers: 82, 42, 94, 61, 101, 104, and 94. While Castilla has been having a bit of a late career resurgence, it's only taken him from the dregs of the league to the league average. Picking up Castilla effectively is giving up on Sean Burroughs, who despite being the butt of several jokes (the last home run he hit was off some 12 year old kid from Taiwan, etc.) put up OPS pluses of 105 and 92 before plummeting to 71 this year. Granted, 71 is horrible, but Burroughs is only 24, while Castilla is 37 and hasn't put up above average numbers for seven years.
Never mind the fact that this concedes a 29 year old average starting pitcher who makes slightly more than Castilla does. Considering that Chan Ho Park was an honest improvement to the rotation, the loss of Lawrence does not help the team in any way.
Their loss, our gain.
Ryan Howard and Huston Street named Rookies of the Year: While the voters managed to get this correct. (Zach Duke was more dominant than Howard, but he only had 10 starts) the runners up are further proof that the writers care very little about actual results. Robinson Cano was not even the best rookie second baseman in the AL this year, yet he wins runner up? Willy Taveraz, the very definition of a one tool player (he hit .172/.206/.226 without his infield hits. I suppose having one tool is okay as long as that tool is speed) is the runner up in the NL? Joe Blanton, the best rookie starting pitcher in every category but wins gets six votes? Just miserable. At least they got the winners right, which is far preferable to when they hand the Cy Young to Bartolo or Rivera in the near future.
The Dodgers want Billy Wagner: This falls firmly into unsubstantiated rumor, but this would be incredibly suicidal if it were true. In a fantasy world where money is no object, this would be great. Who wouldn't want to see Billy Wagner as the setup man for the Dodgers? In the real world, however, this is just suicidal. Unless Gagne's elbow is currently in the former Soviet Union, the Dodgers have 10 million dollars committed to someone who has three of the 25 best seasons by a reliever ever. While Wagner is nice, he's 34, and fills a role that is not exactly a pressing need. Let's hope this isn't true.
With nothing non-depressing to write about, I figured that I would annihilate what little credibility I had by reviewing what I wrote in the preseason for my fantasy baseball forum. Hey, it's better than sending death threats to the McCourts.
Other than some particularly scary uses of grammar that I cleaned up (not many people were meant to see these) these are my unedited preseason predictions, along with some commentary.
(Sadly, I lost my write up, I just have the order here)
The gist of this was that if everything went right for the A's, namely their rotation, they were the best team in the division. While their young rotation did more than anyone could have possibly hoped, they didn't have the power I thought they would. I expected a huge season from Chavez, along with 15-20 home runs from every other member of the lineup. (Hey, Keith Ginter looked really good coming into the season, what can I say?)
I had the Angels pegged as a hugely overrated team, one that spent 50 million dollars but didn't improve, but had one massive advantage, their bench. The Angels would be relentless simply because they could lose anyone but Vlad and would either be fine or possibly better off. In the end, I over estimated the offense and underestimated the pitching. Oh, and I foresaw big things in Jeff DaVanon's future.
I saw the Mariners and Texas as teams that had a decent offense but no pitching, giving a slight edge to the Mariners because they at least had one credible starting pitcher in Joel Pinero. Beltre was pegged as a huge mistake (I predicted a .260/.300/.430 season for him with 25 home runs), and Sexson was a good signing. Texas was an improving team, with the best infield in baseball, but simply lacked any pitching to speak of.
1 - Indians - To be honest, you could pick any of the four teams in this league and have an equal chance of being right, but here's my reasoning. They have the only known solid offense in the league. They bring back a great young core, added Aaron Boone to it and are better for it. They also shored up their biggest weakness, pitching, with Millwood giving the Indians a fourth credible starting pitcher. The bullpen has improved with the additions of Wickman and Rhodes, making what was a hideous weakness mediocre, with Betancourt and Riske contributing.
The Indians have something that no other team in the division has: no glaring weaknesses. In this division, that's enough to win.
Pretty much right on here. Nothing really to add.
2 - Twins - The Twins have by far the best rotation in this division, and ranks among the top five in baseball. They also have a lights out bullpen with Romero, Rincon, and Nathan. So, why second? Because this offense is potentially worse than the Royals. Okay, maybe that's taking it a bit far, but, look at it. Their most solid infielder has less than 300 big league at bats. They're counting on power from a guy who never showed any until he reached the majors. Rounding this out are three solid outfielders. If either Morenau or Mauer doesn't pan out, there is no way this offense can run.
I see this team as the 2003 Dodgers. Not going to allow many runs, but they'll score less.
Again pretty much right on, other than with calling Jacque Jones a solid outfielder. Morneau didn't show up this year, and the Twins finished last in the AL in runs. A Cy Young performance from Johan Santana went to waste simply because this team couldn't score runs. Fans of pitching and defense should take note of this team.
3 - White Sox - This is a purely irrational pick. On paper, this team could easily win the division, however, like a bizzaro version of the Braves, they'll screw it up somehow. It doesn't help that when they noticed they were losing their best player, they decided to trade their second best player for Scott Podsednik. If they were playing fantasy, this is a decent trade, in real life, however, this was just stupid.
Despite the fact they tried to make their lineup worse, it is still solid. A lot rides on Rowand having the same year, if he collapses, and the Big Hurt doesn't come back soon, this team can be in an offensive hole. Starting pitching for this team is decent, but has too many questions. Buerhle is incredibly streaky, and, if he isn't on, you get team shaky with Garcia, Contreas and El Duque following them. At least you know you're going to get 10 below average wins from Garland.
I, like most other people, underestimated the White Sox this year. I at least have the out in saying that they were probably the best team in the division, but after seeing how they managed to lose in a bad division with a very good team for the last few years, I figured they would just screwup some how. Rowand didn't come through like I said he needed to, and the Big Hurt never really contributed. So what could have happened?
Oh yeah, the miraculous improvements by several members of the White Sox. I don't think anyone could truthfully say they saw that one coming.
4 - Tigers - If Magglio stays healthy, this is potentially the best lineup in the division. The bottom third of the lineup: Pena, Inge, and Monroe, is incredibly solid, and the first six are even better. So, why fourth? Because the pitching on this team is trash. Their number one starter has half a good season to his credit. Their number two starter lost 21 games two years ago. It goes downhill from there. Percival has become clever over the last two years, and looks like Mr. Blown Save now. Urbina is a good guy to have as a setup man, and Farnsworth is a decent third option.
None of this matters, however, since the starters will never have a lead going into the eighth. While the lineup is good, it can't pull off the Texas 10-9 win often enough to make up for the horrible rotation.
I slightly overestimated this offense and under estimated the pitching. It ends up with the same net result.
5 - Royals - Nothing really to say here. This is by far the worst team in baseball. Their decision to make Lima Time their opening day starter over Greinke just shows how foolish they really are.
At least to the Royal's credit, Zack Greinke actually is pretty bad. Other than that, this is the only team in baseball that won't even have a chance at being competitive in the next five years, barring massive shakeups.
Other than the preseason choke prediction for the White Sox, I was pretty spot on in the central.
1 - Yankees - The only interesting question here is whether or not they are better than the Red Sox. As I explained earlier, the Yankees are better suited for the season, the Red Sox are better suited for the playoffs. Nothing else to really say. In spite of the fact that a team with a 220 million dollar payroll shouldn't have four question marks in their starting lineup, along with two bad offseason pitching acquisitions, the rest of the team is good enough that it doesn't matter.
I nailed that, if I do say so myself. The pitching woes of the Yankees were worse than I imagined, but Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon bailed them out. Good for them.
2 - Red Sox - See Yankees, except without the glaring weaknesses. They'll win the wild card.
There's limited stuff on the Red Sox and the Yankees since I did a large write up on them that I lost. I overestimated the team due to the loss of Shilling and the general crappiness of Wade Miller and various members of the bullpen, but they ended up finishing in the right spot in the end.
3 - Toronto - Going for the upset over Baltimore for third place. Why? Because whenever a team that was horrible has a good spring, they tend to show huge improvements next year. They have a decent one and two starter, but are shaky 3-5. But that's more than I can say about the other two teams in this division. They're going to be more aggressive on the base paths this year, with Vernon Wells calling a 30-30 this year. Other than that, they don't have much offense aside from Koskie and Mr. Anti-Moneyball Hillenbrand.
While Vernon Wells didn't make good on his 30-30 prediction (breaking the hearts of fantasy baseball G.Ms everywhere), Toronto did pretty good for a team that has looked rather bad coming into the season. While they still desperately need two bats and an arm, they at least are showing some improvement. Gustavo Chacin showed good promise, but the loss of Ted Lilly puts Toronto right back where they started. Toronto needs either a corner outfielder or a first baseman to stay truly competitive.
4 - Baltimore - Yes, they have an absolutely devastating offense. It really doesn't matter, however, since their number one starter is Rodrigo Lopez. There's really nothing to say about this team, they'll lose most of their games 11-8. I guess the bullpen is all right.
Well, this one wasn't very hard. Two months of Brian Roberts being the best player in baseball didn't really help them, as Sammy Sosa turned out to be complete bust, getting out OPSed by Jerry Hairston Jr. Their pitching wasn't quite as bad as predicted, finishing 11th in the AL in ERA. These two factors balanced to make my prediction work out.
5 - Tampa Bay - I really want to like this team. They defy sabermetrics by constantly drafting high schoolers, yet a decent amount of them have panned out (no doubt helped by their perennial top 10 draft status). However, they balance this out by being so utterly stupid. Instead of actually giving these promising players playtime, they get washed up ex-superstars. When they retire on them, they forget the ex-superstar part. Really, what advantage to you gain when you play Alex Sanchez instead of Joey Gathright? We can't play B.J. Upton, it's more important for Alex Gonzalez to get his at bats.
If this team actually got its act together, played its young guys, and actually acquired a pitcher, they could be an above .500 team (a 1-5 of Crawford, Gathright, Huff, Upton, Baldelli sounds pretty deadly), but, they'll likely go out and acquire Jeff Conine and Benito next year, and start the cycle all over again.
At least with the firing of Chuck LaMar, the Conine and Benito part might come true.
Coming up next, the NL, (which makes me look far worse than the AL).