Archive | October, 2008

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How Will Free Agent Filings Affect Cubs, Hendry?

Posted on 31 October 2008 by Lou

Four Chicago Cubs players have filed for free agency, and 4 other players could file very soon. Ryan Dempster, arguably the Cubs best starting pitcher in 2008, filed for free agency on the 1st day that players were eligible to file. Dempster was one of the most reliable starters for the Cubs, making 33 starts and pitching 206 2/3 innings. He finished the season with a 17-6 record and a 2.96 ERA. Dempster also struck out 187 batters, good for 7th in the National League. The Cubs need to make signing Dempster a priority. With Carlos Zambrano missing several starts in 2008 with shoulder tendinitis and “dead arm” and Rich Harden always a potential disabled list candidate, the Cubs need to keep Ryan Dempster to take pressure off the dependable bullpen. Dempster just finished off a 3-year, $15 million contract and will likely give the Cubs a “hometown” discount to stay on the north side. Dempster loves it here in Chicago and GM Jim Hendry should be able to make it work with Dempster on a long-term contract for the 31-year old starter.

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Center Fielder Jim Edmonds also filed for free agency. The 38-year old signed with the Cubs in May after his release by the San Diego Padres. Although Edmonds hit only .256 on the season, he did give the Cubs some left-handed pop in the lineup against right-handed pitchers by clubbing 19 home runs. While it would be great to keep Edmonds around, I don’t think Hendry will go more than another year with Edmonds. And Edmonds will most likely retire or seek a 2-year deal for some security. The Cubs should be able to avoid arbitration with Reed Johnson and let Johnson compete with young prospect Felix Pie for the 2009 center field position. Worst-case, they could use another platoon situation with Johnson and Pie to play the match-up depending on the starting pitcher.

Relievers Bob Howry and Chad Fox also filed for free agency. Howry struggled during the 2008 MLB season. Howry lost 5 games and racked up a 5.35 ERA, and was largely ineffective all season long. Fox battled injuries again in 2008, and I do not expect either player to re-sign with the Cubs.

4 other Cubs players could file for free agency – closer Kerry Wood, first baseman Daryl Ward, catcher Henry Blanco, and starting pitcher Jon Lieber. It is imperative for the Cubs to sign Wood to a mutually agreeable deal. Although Wood is an injury risk, he did make 65 appearances in 2008, logging 66+ innings. Wood saved 34 games for the Cubs with a 3.26 ERA and 84 strikeouts. He did miss time in August with a nagging blister injury, but it was unrelated to his pitching arm and his off-season regimen and weight loss has clearly transformed the long-time starter into an effective closer. The 1-2 punch of Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood was one of the best in 2008, and if Wood struggles or gets injured, Marmol can easily slide in to fill the closer role. The chance of a Wood injury is worth the risk in order to solidify one of the best bullpens in the National League. As with Dempster, Hendry should be able to work out a “hometown” discount deal to keep Wood in Chicago. Both Wood and the Cubs have invested a lot in each other over the last 10 years and there is no reason to think the 2 sides won’t reach an amicable agreement over the next 2 weeks.

Catcher Henry Blanco has developed an excellent repoire with the Cubs pitching staff during his 4 years with the Cubs. Although he is getting up in age (37), if the Cubs could sign him to a 1 or 2 year deal, it would be a good idea. Daryl Ward came through with some clutch hits in 2008, but he may be looking for a long-term deal or a place where he can do more than just pinch-hit. And Lieber did not perform as expected by the Cubs and then dealt with injury issues towards the end of the season, so I don’t expect Lieber to be back with the team in 2009.

In addition to addressing the center field and right field issues and the pitching staff, the Cubs will need to decide how they want to proceed with their pursuit of a true lead-off hitter. Always-mentioned Brian Roberts (the 2nd baseman for the Baltimore Orioles) would fill a great void for the Chicago Cubs. Roberts hit .296 for the Orioles in 2008, scoring 107 runs (3rd in the American League) and stealing 40 bases (4th in the AL). Roberts’ 82 walks and .378 on-base percentage were also good for 8th in the AL. Slot in Roberts ahead of Ryan Theriot, Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Mark DeRosa and Geovany Soto, and you would have a pretty potent lineup. Roberts is still under contract with the Orioles and dealing with Owner Peter Angelos is always a crap-shoot, but Hendry has to try to re-kindle talks with the Orioles in order to get a deal done with the Orioles before the start of the 2009 campaign. Speed at the top of the order helped the Rays and Phillies advance to the 2008 World Series. The Cubs bats fell silent in the post-season the last 2 years and having a lead-off hitter than can manufacture a bunt single or walk to start off a game can always take away some of that playoff anxiety. After doing a lot of talking the last 2 years about Roberts, Hendry needs to find a way to get a deal done this time around.

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Family Tradition? Papelbon Closing For Waikiki Cubs

Posted on 30 October 2008 by Lou

Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Jeremy Papelbon has been closing games for the Waikiki Cub during games in the Hawaii Winter League. Papelbon is a left-handed finesse pitcher, exactly the opposite of his right-handed, hard-throwing brother Jonathan Papelbon, who won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2007. Will the Cubs Papelbon bring a World Series title to Chicago’s North Side? Probably not any time soon, but he does have a promising future with the Cubs. Papelbon Cubs.jpg

Jeremy Papelbon calls himself a “utility” pitcher. As a starter for Class A Daytona, he finished the regular season with 35+ straight scoreless innings. A nagging blister cut short his 2008 season in August, so the Cubs sent Papelbon to Hawaii during the winter to round out the full complement of innings expected from their minor leaguers. Papelbon posted a 2.57 ERA with Daytona, and currently has a 3.48 ERA with Waikiki. He has saved 3 games for the Waikiki Cubs and has struck out 15 batters in only 10 1/3 innings. Papelbon is flexible in what the Cubs want him to do, so it will be interesting to follow Papelbon’s progress over the next few years. At 25, he really needs to show drastic improvement in the very near future if he expects to get called up to the big league any time soon. On the other hand, if he shows promise, he could be used as a blue chip in a trade for a more experienced player that could help the team now. Only time will tell, but if Jeremy can close games like his brother Jonathan, I’d welcome him up to the big leagues in a heart beat.

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Micah Hoffpauir – Where Will He Fit In With 2009 Cubs?

Posted on 29 October 2008 by Lou

Micah Hoffpauir had a productive 2008 season for the Iowa Cubs – now that’s an understatement. The left-handed power hitter hit .362 with 25 home runs, 100 RBI’s and 63 runs scored in only 71 games. He had a .393 on-base percentage to go with a .752 slugging percentage. When called up to play with the Cubs, Hoffpauir hit .342 in 33 games. While his power numbers weren’t there – only 2 home runs and 8 RBI’s – he did maintain a .400 on-base percentage.

During a game for the Iowa Cubs at Round Rock, crushed 4 home runs in his first 4 at-bats, tying several Pacific Coast League records and Iowa team records. The incredible feat also earned him annual awards in Minor League Baseball for best single-game performance and best performance in a game at the Triple-A level. Although he harmlessly flied out to right field in his 5th and final at-bat in the 9th inning of the game, it will be game will he will not forget anytime soon.

The trouble with Hoffpauir is his position. He plays 1st base and the Cubs are pretty well set at 1st with Gold Glove first baseman Derrek Lee. Hoffpauir has payed some outfield, but he still needs to work on his fielding if he expects to get any meaningful time in right field with the major league club in 2009. Hoffpauir is signed through 2010, and he has 2 more options for the Cubs to send him back down to the minors, so the time is now. His patient hitting style will fit in well with Pinella and many of the current Cubs players, so if the Cubs can find a spot for him in the field, look to hear a lot more from Hoffpauir in the near future.

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“We Believe” Film Recaptures 2008 Glory Without the World Series Championship

Posted on 28 October 2008 by Lou

John Scheinfeld and Chad Smith just finished filming a documentary which follows the story of the 2008 Chicago Cubs and the 100-year drought since the Cubs last World Series title in 1908. As the season progressed, it looked like the producers would have the perfect “fairytale” ending to their project. But when the Cubs were swept out of the National League Division Series for the 2nd year in a row, everyone echoed the familiar Cubs sentiment – “Wait Until Next Year”. Scheinfeld is a local Chicago writer, director and producer and he and his team were given unique access to Wrigley Field and Cubs players and personnel. In addition to following around current Cubs players (Mark DeRosa, Derrek Lee, Kosuke Fukodome, Ryan Dempster, Ryan Theriot and Geovany Soto), the film will also show legendary Cubs players Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ryne Sandberg, as well as current Cubs Manager Lou Pinella. The producers also interviewed celebrities with ties to Chicago – Musician Billy Corgan, Writer/Attorney Scott Turow, and Actors Bonnie Hunt, Joe Mantegna and Dennis Franz.

“We Believe” is set to hit theaters prior to the start of the 2009 MLB season. It is also anticipated that the documentary will be released on DVD at some point during the 2009 season.

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Aramis Ramirez Wins Hank Aaron Award

Posted on 27 October 2008 by Lou

Aramis Ramirez was selected by the fans as the winner of the 2008 Sharp presents Hank Aaron Award. The Hank Award recognizes the most outstanding offensive player of the year in each of the National League and American League. This is the 6th year in a row that fans have had a chance to participate in the voting and over 230,000 fans votes were cast for the 2008 award winners. The winners were announced prior to the start of World Series game 4 on Sunday, October 26th. The Hank Aaron Award was created in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking the all-time home run record of 714 held by Babe Ruth. Aaron is the only major league baseball player to amass more than 700 home runs, 2,000 RBI’s, 2,000 runs scored and 3,000 hits.

Ramirez hit .289 with 27 home runs and a team-high 111 RBI’s. Ramirez also scored 97 runs and hit 44 doubles – a career high. Ramirez also achieved a career high in on-base percentage at .380 and produced a .518 slugging percentage. It was the 6th time in his career that he has driven in at least 100 runners and it was the 6th consecutive season (7th overall) in which he has hit at least 25 home runs. In terms of being a clutch hitter, 11 of Ramirez’s 27 home runs gave the Chicago Cubs the lead in the game.

Kevin Youkilis was named the Hank Aaron Award winner for the American League. Youkilis hit .312 for the season – good for 6th in the A.L. That was a career high for Youkilis, along with his 168 hits, 43 doubles, 29 home runs and 115 RBI’s. His home run and RBI totals led the Red Sox team he took to the 7th game of the ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays. Youkilis posted at least 15 RBI’s in each month this season – with his greatest month being August when he helped carry the team with a .351 batting average, 6 home runs and 24 RBI’s.

Aaron commented that both players demonstrated the “team first” attitude that he played with as a player during his illustrious career. Comments from both Ramirez and Youkilis echoed these sentiments, as neither player felt like they should even be mentioned in the same sentence as the great Hank Aaron and were honored to even be considered for the award. Previous Hank Aaron Award Winners include Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa.

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Soto Named Sporting News N.L. Rookie of Year

Posted on 26 October 2008 by Lou

The Sporting News named Chicago Cubs Catcher Geovany Soto the National League Rookie of the Year. The Sporting News voting was done by a panel of 314 Major League players. Soto batted .285 on the year, with 23 home runs and 86 RBI’s. In addition to his clutch hitting, Soto was responsible for running one of the best pitching staff’s in the National League. The Chicago Cubs won 97 games – the most victories by any National League team – and they finished atop the NL Central Division for the 2nd consecutive season. Soto caught 4 starting pitchers who each won at least 11 games (including 17-game winner Ryan Dempster), as the Cubs pitching staff had the 3rd lowest ERA in the National League. Soto also called his 1st career no-hitter when Carlos Zambrano no-hit the Houston Astros in a 5-0 win in a make-up game played at Miller Park in Milwaukee because of the damage done by Hurrican Ike. Zambrano needed only 110 pitches in his no-hitter, as he and Soto worked the ball around all night long – striking ut 10 and walking only 1 batter. Soto was also the first rookie catcher to ever start in an All-Star Game.

The future looks bright for Soto – he is only 25-years old, he has a great, experienced manager to work with in Lou Pinella, and he has an experienced starting pitching staff to work with on a daily basis – Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis and Rich Harden. Playing all those day games at Wrigley Field may start to catch up with the young star, but for now, all eyes are smiling on Geovany Soto.

In the American League, the Sporting News named Tampa Bay Rays 3rd baseman Evan Longoria the Rookie of the Year. Despite missing more than a month with a fractured right hand, Longoria still hit .272 in his 122 games played. Longoria hit 27 home runs and drove in 85 runs.

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Cubs 2009 Schedule Released

Posted on 25 October 2008 by Lou

Major League Baseball has recently been releasing the 2009 baseball schedules for all MLB teams. The Cubs home schedule at Wrigley Field looks like this – the Cubs have only 10 games in April; 18 games in May 2009; only 9 games in June 2009; 16 games in July 2009; 12 games in August 2009; 9 games in June 2009; and 15 games in September/October 2009.

There are definitely some interesting pieces to the Cubs 2009 Schedule.

The Cubs open the season on the road with 3 games in Houston from April 6th through April 8th and then 3 games in Milwaukee from April 10th through April 12th. For once, MLB got it right (at least for the Cubs), starting the season with 6 games in indoor stadiums at Minute Maid Park in Houston and Miller Park in Milwaukee to take out the weather element to these early season games. The Cubs home opener is set for Monday, April 13th against the Colorado Rockies – a nice late start to avoid those early spring snow storms.

All 9 of the Cubs home games in June occur on the same 9-game home stand from June 12th through June 21st against AL Central teams – Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians. For the 1st time ever, the Cubs-Sox series at Wrigley Field will not be on a weekend?! The 2 teams will face off on a Tuesday through Thursday – what the hell was MLB thinking on this one? The Cubs open the month of June with a 9-game road trip and then close the month with a 9-game road trip.

In July, the Cubs have 2-big weekend series against NL Central foes – the Milwaukee Brewers over the 4th of July holiday weekend from July 2nd through July 5th and the St. Louis Cardinals on the following weekend from July 10th through July 12th.

August features a mid-week series against the 2008 NL Pennant Winners – the Philadelphia Phillies – and a Labor Day weekend series against the always tough Mew York Mets.

The Cubs face off against the rival Brewers again in September – with a 4-game midweek series from September 14th through 17th. They finish the 2009 season with a 6-game home stand – 3 games against the Pittsburgh Pirates and 3 games against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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Jeff Samardzija’s 2009 Cubs Role – Starter or Reliever?

Posted on 24 October 2008 by Lou

Chicago Cubs reliever Jeff Samardzija played a significant role in the success of the 2008 Chicago Cubs. After being called up from the minors in July 2008, Samardzija pitched 27 2/3 for the Cubs, allowing 24 hits and only 7 earned runs (12 total runs). Samardzija struck out 25, but also walked 15 batters. At times his control escaped him, and he ended up in jams that he created. He has an excellent fastball and a great split-finger fastball, but needs to develop 1 or 2 other pitches in order to keep opposing teams off-guard. Most major league hitters can hit an above-average fastball, and Samardzija gave up most of his runs when opposing batters were sitting on his fastball.

Right now, I envision Samardzija staying with the reliever role. He is a young player, known more his amazing catches in college on the football field – not the baseball diamond – at the University of Notre Dame. Although his collegiate numbers as a starting pitcher were staggering, pitching at the big-league level is a whole new ballgame. It will do Samardzija good to learn from veterans like Kerry Wood, Bob Howry and Neal Cotts and to develop another pitch or 2 that will keep batters guessing. That being said, things could change depending on what happens during the Cubs negotiations with Closer Kerry Wood and Starting Pitcher Ryan Dempster. If the Cubs choose not to sign one of those pitchers, then it could open up a different spot in the pitching rotation that Manager Lou Pinella chooses to keep following Spring Training.

Regardless of how it all turns out, it’s always nice to have these options. Young pitchers like Carlos Marmol, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, Kevin Hart, and Angel Guzman don’t come around all the time. Being able to take the time to find the best spot for a young player or use that player as a chip in a bigger trade is always a nice commodity to have in the ever-changing world of Major League Baseball.

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Get Your 2009 Cubs Convention Tickets Soon

Posted on 23 October 2008 by Lou

The 24th annual Cubs Convention is set to take place at the Hilton Chicago from Friday, January 16, 2009 through Sunday, January 18, 2009. Tickets to the event go on sale on Thursday, November 6th at 10:00am CT. The Cubs convention weekend pass costs $60.00 plus applicable service fees. With each convention pass, you have access to all photo and autograph sessions and all question and answer sessions with Cubs players and management. You will also be able to peruse the numerous memorablia and vendor booths throughout the hotel. Some proceeds of the Cubs Convention benefit Cubs Care, a long-time fund of the McCormick Foundation.

The Cubs Convention has sold out for several consecutive years now. It is always a good way to hear all the new things planned for the Wrigley Field game day experience, as well as heckle your “favorite” Cub who never seemed to come through in the clutch during the previous year. Given the miserable post-season performances by most of the Cubs the last 2 seasons, I am looking forward to a little of the heckling. Definitely bring your camera – you never know who you are going to bump into at the Cubs convention…

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Cubs to Play Exhibition Game At New Yankee Stadium in 2009?

Posted on 22 October 2008 by Lou

The New York Yankees are currently finalizing plans for the “unofficial” home opener at the new Yankee Stadium, scheduled to open in April 2009. The official regular season home opener at the new Yankee Stadium will be on April 16, 2009 against the Cleveland Indians. But the Yankees have expressed interest in playing the Chicago Cubs in an exhibition game over the weekend before the MLB regular season begins on Monday, April 6th. Stay tuned – while the Cubs games at Yankee Stadium in 2006 were not as popular as many expected, one would think that the new stadium and the recent success of the Cubs team would make this one of the most anticipated exhibition games in recent history…

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