Archive | October, 2008

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Cubs, Hendry Agree to 4-Year Extension

Posted on 22 October 2008 by Lou

The Chicago Cubs and Jim Hendry have agreed upon a 4-year contract extension that will keep Hendry as the Cubs General Manager through 2012. Hendry was hired in the middle of the 2002 season and has amassed a .511 winning percentage during his tenure as GM. In his 6 full seasons as GM, the Cubs won National League Central Division titles in 2003, 2007 and 2008. The recent success is impressive – after losing 96 games during the 2006 MLB season, the Cubs won 85 games in 2007 and 97 games in 2008. During the 2003 post-season, the Cubs defeated the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS in 5 games, held a 3-1 advantage over the Florida Marlins in the NLCS, and came within 5 outs of advancing to the World Series in Game 6 of the ALCS, before collapsing in Game 7. Despite the regular season success in 2007 and 2008, the Cubs failed to win a post-season game in either season. The Arizona Diamondbacks swept the Cubs out of the playoffs in 3 games in the 2007 NLDS and the Los Angeles Dodgers swept the Cubs out of the playoffs in 3 games in the 2008 NLDS.

Hendry is excited to have the job security in this tumultuous economy and he acknowledges that he and his team still has work to do in order to push the Cubs over the top and bring that elusive World Series Championship back to the North Side -

“Emotionally, from the day I arrived here and was fortunate to be given this job, I’ve had no desire to go elsehwere. We have a terrific fan base and following. It’s a great city to live in…. There’s no other place I’d rather be. There is a lot of emotion involved, and certainly, we’ll do whatever we can to kick that door in to win a world championship. That remains our goal, and none of us will rest until that’s accomplished. We had as good a team as there was in the National League, had the best record. We just played bad baseball for three days. We stunk last year against the Diamondbacks [in the NLDS]. We’re going to put our heads together and see ways to improve the club.” [courtesy of Carrie Muskat on www.cubs.com]

It’s clear that Hendry has surrounded himself with talented scouts and player development personnel. And even with the Cubs pending sale, it’s clear that Hendry will have access to the almighty dollars which will be needed to sign free agents Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster (if he so chooses) and other players on the market who would add value to enable a further playoff push in 2009. Although Hendry has made some questionable moves (the 8-year Soriano deal and the 4-year Fukodome deal), he has assembled a good mix of players that gelled together to win back-to-back division titles and advanced to the playoffs in 2 consecutive seasons for the 1st time in 60 years. Hendry acquired Derek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Mark DeRosa in trades, he has helped cultivate home-grown players like Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Theriot, Geovany Soto, Carlos Marmol, Mike Fontenot and Ronny Cedeno, and at a time when the Cubs wasted too much time waiting for Kerry Wood and Mark Prior to get healthy, Hendry had the sense to scrap those plans and sign reliable and dependable starting pitchers Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis in the pre-2007 off-season. Both Lilly and Marquis have pitched valuable innings, not missing any starts, and have allowed the relievers to mature and grow into a dominating force at times during each season. There is a still a lot of work to be done – center fielder, lead-off man, maybe another starter – but Hendry seems to have the tools in place to take the team to the next level – if not this year, maybe next year?!

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Tribune could keep 5% of Cubs.

Posted on 20 October 2008 by David McCormick

Tribune Co. is considering retaining a larger ownership stake in the Chicago Cubs, said sources involved in the deal, as the company explores options to sell the team amid the nation’s worst financial conditions in decades.

With banks reluctant to make loans, Tribune Co. faces increasing risk of prospective buyers dropping out of the auction or being unable to close a deal in the next few months no matter how creditworthy they are. In addition, the higher costs of borrowing could trim the size of the bids. To address some of the concerns, company officials have tossed out the idea of keeping more than 5 percent of the franchise, said three sources close to the bidding process. In this way, the buyer would have to come up with less cash but still gain controlling interest in the team. When lending markets open up, the buyer would have the option to buy Tribune Co.’s ownership interest. “Things are very fluid right now,” said a source close to one bidder, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sales process is ongoing. “Tribune is looking for ways to get the deal done.”

Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune and other media properties, is relying on the Cubs deal to pay off, in part, nearly $600 million due in June on a loan that was part of an $8.2 billion transaction that took the company private last year. Prior to the Wall Street meltdown, some predicted that a package of the Cubs, Wrigley Field and related broadcast properties could fetch $1 billion or more.

Tribune Co. Chairman Sam Zell is not only interested in getting top dollar for his trophy asset, but he also wants to the company to pay as little tax as possible on the sale. Tribune Co. faces enormous tax exposure from an outright sale of the team because it bought the Cubs in 1981 for $20.5 million. To minimize the tax bill, the company proposed a deal structure that would require the buyer to borrow heavily to pay for the team. Such a highly leveraged transaction would be challenging under normal circumstances. Now, it could be weeks or months before money flows freely again to finance such a deal. One bidder, Mark Cuban, owner of the National Basketball Association‘s Dallas Mavericks said last week that, “Even if we wanted to close the day after tomorrow, the banks might not be able to close.” Cuban suggested that in the current turmoil it might not make sense for Tribune Co. to sell the Cubs. A Tribune Co. spokesman declined to comment. Still, Zell is not backing off his ambitious tax-avoidance strategy. Under the original deal structure, Tribune would have had to retain a small interest in the Cubs of less than 5 percent to reap tax benefits. The company is considering a larger minority stake that would give them enough cash upfront and still retain the tax benefits. How large a stake is unclear, sources said. “It would make sense in these times to retain a larger stake,” Robert Willens, a leading New York tax analyst said. “But as a practical matter, I wouldn’t want to retain more than 20 percent given the highly engineered nature of the transaction.” The company appears in no rush to finalize a deal. No deadline has been set for the next round of bids. Prospective buyers are still waiting for key financial details about the broadcast properties up for sale. In addition to Cuban, the bidders include the Ricketts family, which founded online brokerage Ameritrade, Chicago real estate investor Hersch Klaff and two New York private-equity investors.

|Chicago Tribune reporter

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Cubs close to extension with Hendry?

Posted on 20 October 2008 by David McCormick

There is a lot of talk around Chicago today that the Chicago Cubs are close to a 4 year extension on GM Jim Hendry contract.  The Cubs are holding meetings this week in Arizona and the announcemnt could come by the end of the week.

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Cubs Pick Up Option On Pitcher Rich Harden

Posted on 19 October 2008 by Lou

The Cubs recently picked up a $7 million club option on starting pitcher Rich Harden. Harden started 12 games for the Cubs during the 2008 season. Harden had a 5-1 record with a 1.77 ERA and 89 strikeouts in those 12 starts. Harden made a combined 25 starts for the A’s and Cubs in 2008 – the most starts in a season since he started in 31 games for the A’s in 2004. Harden would have been eligible for arbitration if the Cubs did not pick up the option. Following the Cubs quick exit from the 2008 post-season, Harden was examined by doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Harden has right shoulder rotator tendinitis and slight instability in his shoulder, but does not need surgery to correct the problem. Harden and the Cubs are confident that a rigorous off-season conditioning program will allow Harden to re-gain the strength to endure the entire 2009 regular season.

For $7 million, the price to pay for Harden is worth the risk. Even if the Cubs only get 20-25 starts from Harden and have to skip a few starts to keep him fresh during the long season, it will be the wise route to take. Harden is known for his hard work ethic and is willing to pitch with mild discomfort in the shoulder area. Harden will make a great second or third starter for the Chicago Cubs in 2009.

Following the Harden move, the Cubs now need to focus on a few other important open areas. Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood are both free agents. Dempster won a career-high 17 games in 33 starts for the Cubs, with a spectacular 2.96 ERA. Kerry Wood saved 34 games in his new closer role – all that despite missing a month with a perpetual blister problem on his right index finger. Both players love playing in Chicago, but many teams will try to tempt them away from the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field with lucrative long-term deals. The Cubs should make a strong push to make sure that these 2 locker room mainstays are still wearing Cubbie Blue Jerseys in 2009.

The Cubs also need to clarify their outfield situation. Alfonso Soriano is signed through 2012 in left field, but center field and right field are wide open. Jim Edmonds and Reed Johnson performed admirably in center field in 2008, but Edmonds is a free agent and Johnson is arbitration-eligible. I would keep Johnson and let Edmonds go, but continue to look for another center fielder who could add some spark to the top of the order. Japanese sensation Kosuke Fukodome started off the season with a bang and helped the Cubs off to one of their best starts in years. But his .217 batting average after the all-star break was brutal. If the Cubs can work some magic to bring out the Fukodome from the first 2 months of the season, then that will allow the Cubs to have a very deep 24-man roster. If Fukodome’s struggles continue in 2009, however, that may mean using Mark DeRosa more in Right Field (his preferred position is second base), which hurts the Cubs outfield defense and forces the Cubs to look to fill a void at second base. Mike Fontenot is an option, but the Cubs could also look to sign a free agent second baseman who could also hit in the leadoff spot. Is everyone ready for those Brian Roberts rumors to start rolling in soon? (Roberts is the Orioles second baseman and a leadoff hitter who has been the center of numerous trade rumors to the Cubs for the last 2 seasons).

In any event, despite having the best record in the NL in 2008, the Cubs have many areas that need to be addressed if the Cubs intend to win even just 1 game in post-season play in 2009. Let’s hope Jim Hendry, Lou Pinella are already putting their heads together to devise the game plan that will actually lead the Cubs past the Division Series in the post-season

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This Is Gonna Be The Year… Maybe in 2009?

Posted on 15 October 2008 by Lou

Another year has come and gone, and the Cubs are not World Series Champions.  I know, I know – we all thought this was the year.  We had Super Stars Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.  We had wiley, veterans like Mark DeRosa, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis and Bob Howry.  We had up-and-coming youngsters like Carlos Marmol, Ryan Theriot, Geovany Soto, Mike Fontenot, Sean Marshall and Ronny Cedeno.  We had 2 long-time Cubs take on new roles in order to bolster our great Cubs lineup – Ryan Dempster moved from being a closer to a starting pitcher, while Kerry Wood assumed Dempster’s close role.  We were all consumed with Fukodome-mania – the 1st ever Japanese-born player to don a Cubs jersey.  We even added 2 spark plugs after the season started – Center Fielders Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds – who provided much needed grit and spunk and helped fill a large void in the center of the outfield.  With veteran Manager Lou Pinella at the helm, we had a fearless leader who expected each player to be accountable for his actions on and off the field; we had a fearless leader who ensured that his players would truly embrace the idea of “team first” and not just be a collection of super stars unwilling to sacrifice for the greater good of the team; we had a fearless leader who had won a World Series before in Cincinnati and who had also managed other winning teams with the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners.

Under Pinella, the Cubs won 97 games during the 2008 MLB season and won a 2nd consecutive National League Central Division title.  The 97 wins was most in the NL and tied for 2nd in all of Major League Baseball (only the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had more wins with 100, while the Tampa Bay Rays also had 97 wins).  The Cubs had clinched a 2nd consecutive playoff berth with more than a week remaining in the regular season.  All seemed to be right – the Cubs could rest certain players who were a little banged up.  Pinella and his coaching staff could control pitch counts the last week of the season and set up the pitching rotation exactly how they wanted it for the National League Division Series.  The Cubs would have home field advantage until they reached the World Series.  The Cubs’ 55 home wins was 3rd best in baseball and tops in the National League.  Cubs fans were counting down the days to the first pitch of World Series Game 1 on that cool fall night on Wednesday, October 22nd at the home field for the American League Pennant-winner.  2008 would be the year.  And then… the Los Angeles Dodgers came to town.

In the blink of an eye, Cubs fans were once again saying – “There’s always next year.”  For the 2nd consecutive year, the Cubs did not win a post-season game.  The Cubs pitching failed them, their bats fell silent once again, and their fielding provided their opponent with too many good chances to put the series away in only 3 games.  For the 2nd consecutive year, the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs by a better team from the National League’s West Division.  For the 2nd consecutive year, Cubs’ executives, coaches, players and fans were left speechless – wondering how such a promising post-season could turn south so quickly.

With only themselves to blame, Cubs management and players will look towards next year.  This is a job to each of them – they won’t dwell on what could have been, for if they do, next year will pass them by too.

Cubs fans, on the other hand, will struggle and attempt to come to grips with why their beloved Cubs have not won a World Series in 101 years.  Some will consider boycotting Cubs games at Wrigley Field next year.  Some will even consider rooting for the arch-enemy – the South Side Chicago White Sox.  Why not – at least they won a World Series recently in 2005.  And some will continue to make excuses as to why the Cubs lost to the Dodgers in 3 painful games during the 2008 post-season.

Will 2009 bring a different ending?  Will 2009 be the Cubs year?  Come journey with us here at MyCubsToday and enjoy the ride.  We’ll re-live some memorable highlights of the last 2 successful Cubs regular seasons and post-seasons, we’ll look to the upcoming flurry of off-season MLB activity, we’ll get ready for that spring day (winter day here in Chicago) when Cubs pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Arizona in February 2009, we’ll anticipate that 1st pitch in April to open the Cubs 2009 campaign, and we’ll write about that Cubs World Championship in October 2009.  Hey – you just never know…

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