Posted on 19 January 2015 by Lou
Theo & Co. clearly have a vision and they continue to make moves to improve the major league ballclub just about each and every day. Today the Cubs announced a trade with the Houston Astros – CF Dexter Fowler for 3B Luis Valbuena and Pitcher Dan Straily. This adds a proven hitter to the Cubs top of the lineup with Fowler – a career .271 hitter with a great .366 on-base percentage. In 2014, Fowler boasted a phenomenal .375 on base-percentage with 120 hits and 66 walks in just 434 at-bats.
The Cubs ranked 28th in all of baseball in on-base percentage in 2014, so adding more consistent, patient batters was a clear mission for Theo & Co. this off-season. The Cubs previously added reserve infielder Tommy La Stella from the Atlanta Braves (.328 on-base percentage in 2014) and Catcher Miguel Montero (.329 on-base percentage in a down 2014). The addition of Fowler makes the lineup that much better, especially at the top of the order to set the table for the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler and eventually Kris Bryant.
Current Cubs hitting coach who came from the Astros this winter raved about Fowler’s plate approach: “He understands the strike zone so well, but it doesn’t take the attack out of him. He doesn’t just take pitches to take. He takes them because he recognizes the strike zone.” Gotta love it.
It will be interesting to see what Manager Joe Maddon and the Cubs do with the rest of the lineup. Fowler bumps Arismendy Alcantara out of the CF starting position and pushed him to more of a “super sub” role. Alcantara could even make noise back in the infield with the 3rd base position wide open. Or will we see La Stella share some time at 3rd base with Alcantara or Mike Olt until the arrival of Kris Bryant in late April. This is just the kind of move that Maddon probably loved. Maddon has a knack for moving his players around and getting the most out of his players, so having a “deeper” lineup to play around with in 2015 will sure make things more interesting.
The other interesting news was Max Scherzer going to the Nationals for $210 million over 7 years. Does that mean the Nats will make one of their other “ace” starters available via trade sooner rather than during the course of the season. We’ll write more about that over the next few days as it impacts the Cubs…
Posted on 16 January 2015 by Lou
The Sold Out Cubs Convention kicks off today at the Chicago Sheraton & Towers. Wish I was there to get a glimpse at Manager Joe Maddon and ace Lefty Jon Lester — there will probably be a lot of buzz surrounding the team this weekend.
Here’s a good little schedule of what to expect this – the “Friday Night with Ryan Dempster” would probably be pretty entertaining too. That guys is a riot and now that he’s no longer playing, he can probably be even more candid than he usually is.
Not sure how thrilled I am that Anthony Rizzo predicted that the Cubs would knock off the Cards and Pirates for the NL Central Division title this year. I’m sure Maddon and Theo & Co. are even less thrilled than me. But you gotta like the confidence: “It’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to to play and we’re going to win the NL Central, you can quote me on that. We should be the team, with all due respect to every other team, we’re going to do some things this year. That’s what we’re going to put our sights on and we’re not going to accept anything else.” WOW!
It will be interesting to see if anyone else makes some bold claims like Rizzo during the course of the Cubs convention weekend. We’ll keep you posted and Go Cubs Go!
Posted on 30 December 2014 by Bob
While the Cubs have been seemingly quiet since the David Ross signing a week and a half ago, they entered the news cycle in a negative way shortly after the Christmas holiday as Starlin Castro was questioned by police in his native Dominican Republic regarding a shooting at a nightclub on December 27th that left one person in serious condition. Police believe Castro may be close to those that were involved in the shooting. This comes on the heels of a report earlier this month that Castro had been cleared of any involvement in another shooting that occurred in Santiago Caballeros. While Castro was not arrested, the Cubs can’t be pleased that his name keeps popping up in incidents like these, especially given the positive buzz the Cubs have fostered as of late, not to mention potential trade impact should the Cubs find a deal for Castro that bowls them over.
Castro’s agent Paul Kinzer, in speaking with MLB Network radio, confirmed that Castro may be trying to find a permanent residence in the US to avoid issues such as these. These incidents coupled with the death of Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras in a car crash this past October, where Taveras had a blood alcohol level five times the legal limit, has to have teams and executives around the league considering their options in protecting their investments in these players as they return to the DR in the offseason.
Either way, let’s hope there are no lingering issues as we turn the calendar page and embark upon the 2015 season which is setting up to be quite exciting. Hopefully we will be hearing about more deals to bolster the rotation and locker room, and less about off-field incidents and problems.
Posted on 19 December 2014 by Lou
As has been rumored since Jon Lester signed with the Cubs, David Ross has agreed to a 2-year, $5 million deal to catch for the Cubs in 2015. Ross caught 18 starts for Lester with the Red Sox in 2014 and he has caught 29 Lester starts over the last 2 MLB seasons. Lester’s ERA with Ross as his catcher in 2104 was a nasty 2.02. Ross should also provide some much-needed veteran leadership for a young Cubs squad. Ross and newly-acquired Miguel Montero should form a nice-duo for the Cubs for the next 2 seasons as they continue to groom 2014 1st-round pick Kyle Schwarber in the minor leagues. The only negative for Ross is that his offensive production continues to diminish later in his career. in 50 games in 2014 for he Red Sox, Ross hit just .184 with 7 HR’s and 18 RBI’s.
This must mean that current catcher Wellington Castillo is officially on the trading block. Before the Ross signing, the Cubs announced that they had claimed former Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway off of waivers. Theo Epstein drafted Lavarnway in the 2008 draft. Lavarnway is 27 years old and has a career .210 batting average in 97 major league games.
Theo & Co. continue to remain active this winter. The continue to tweak the roster at the major league to give Manager Joe Madden as many options as possible throughout the long MLB season. We’ll keep you posted if we hear anything on the Castillo-trade front…
Posted on 17 December 2014 by Lou
The Chicago Cubs traded reserve outfielder to the Seattle Mariners for reliever Matt Brazis.
Ruggiano played in 81 games for the Cubs in 2014. He hit .281 with 6 HR’s and 28 RBI’s. The move clears a spot on the 40-man roster for recently-signed reliever Jason Motte. Now the Cubs could also go out and sign a veteran right-handed bat like Johnny Gomes to further re-tool the Cubs roster for Joe Madden and the Cubs in 2015.
Brazis is only 25 years old. Seattle drafted Brazis in the 28th round of the 2012 draft. In 100 minor league games, Brazis has an 8-6 record with a 2.89 ERA. He finished the 2014 at the Double-A level — striking out 84 batters with only 18 walks in 72 innings. He could be a bullpen arm for the future for the Cubs.
Theo & Co. are clearly still exploring various options to make the team better in 2015. Let’s hope they have a few more moves up their sleeves before camps report in February…
Posted on 16 December 2014 by Lou
The Chicago Cubs keep on trucking. Even as they were announcing the signing of lefty Jon Lester, the Cubs were continuing to re-tool there pitching staff. The Cubs signed right-handed veteran Jason Motte to a 1-year, $4.5 million deal. Motte had spent his entire career with the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals, even serving as their closer during their 2011 World Series Championship season. Motte had his best year in 2012 – racking up 42 saves with a 2.75 ERA while making 67 appearances. But the wear-and-tear of those 2 seasons caught up with Motte after that. Motte experienced elbow trouble in 2013, missing the entire season after having Tommy John surgery. Motte never returned to form in 2014, struggling to a 4.68 ERA in 29 appearances.
Assuming Motte is fully healthy at the start of the 2015 campaign, he should be a nice veteran addition to the back end of the bullpen. And knowing how new Manager Joe Madden likes to keep everyone involved in the mix, Madden should love a guy like this to have at his disposal.
Posted on 13 December 2014 by Lou
As if the week wasn’t busy enough for the Chicago Cubs with the franchise-changing free agent signings of starting pitchers Jon Lester and Jason Hammel and the equally important trade for Catcher Miguel Montero. On Friday, the Chicago Cubs announced a new partial TV deal with ABC7/WLS-TV in Chicago. ABC7 will broadcast 25 games each season for the next 5 years through the 2019 MLB season. ABC7 will pay the Cubs $750,000 per game. There is no online component to the deal, so anyone who doesn’t have Channel 7 won’t be able to see the games that air solely on ABC7 TV. Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney raved about the new relationship with ABC7-TV — “We are excited to have WLS-TV as our new television broadcast partner. WLS-TV has established itself as a trusted voice in Chicago, and we look forward to a new chapter of Cubs baseball airing on the flagship station of the ABC television network.”
Comcast Sportsnet Chicago will broadcast roughly half of all Cubs games this season. A select number of games will be televised on national telecasts like ESPN or FOX. So after the ABC7-TV deal, that still leaves approximately 45 games for which the Cubs do not have a television partner to broadcast the games. Kenney has indicated that the Cubs are in discussions will other potential television partners and that news of another deal could be announced soon.
Things are definitely coming together on the north side. Construction around the ballpark continues to steamroll forward and with the “warmish” weather we’ve been having, hopefully that means the Cubs can get back on target for having the Bleachers open in time for the ESPN Sunday Night Game against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 6th. With Jon Lester taking the ball for the 1st time in a Cubs uniform, we need all the fans there ready to go. Go Cubs Go!!!
Posted on 11 December 2014 by Lou
Theo & Co. clearly got the better of Ben Cherington and the Boston Red Sox when the Chicago Cubs lured Jon Lester to the north side with their 6-Year, $155 million deal.
But the Red Sox acted quickly to re-tool their starting pitching staff that was left with just oft-injured Clay Buchholz, newly acquired Joe Kelly and a number of prospects who made their major league debuts in 2014.
The Red Sox immediately acquired their lefty to replace Lester in Wade Miley from the Arizona Diamondbacks. They had to give up Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster to bring the established Miley (8-12 with a 4.34 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 2014) to Boston.
Then the Red Sox cleared some room in its outfield for the newly acquired Hanley Ramirez by dealing Yoenes Cespedes to the Detroit Tigers to acquire the 26-year old Rick Porcello. Porcello burst onto the scene as a 20-year old starter back in 2009 for the Detroit Tigers and has really come into his own of late. He went 15-13 in 2014 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.
Finally the Red Sox signed their former top pitching prospect Justin Masterson to a 1-year, $9.5 million free agent deal. Masterson excelled under current Manager John Farrell’s tutelage as Red Sox pitching coach several years ago and hope he can rebound from a disappointing, injury-laden 2014 MLB season.
Kudos to the Red Sox for having a nice Plan B in place to execute once they knew they were out of the Jon Lester sweepstakes.
The Cubs have stayed the course this off-season after their acquisitions of Jon Lester, Jason Hammel and Miguel Montero. I know people are calling for Theo & Co. to go “all-in” on 2015 after the Lester signing, but I’m all for staying patient and seeing what we have in 2015. Let’s add a veteran bat or 2 and call it a day. Let’s leave room for the young prospects to get some important development time at the major league level during 2015. If Javier Baez improves his plate-discipline, if Jorge Soler doesn’t have any setbacks and if Kris Bryant comes out firing on all cylinders come May 1, then who knows, maybe the Cubs do make a run. But if not, it will still be a productive year. A year to build on and a year to catapult the Cubs into World Series contention in 2016…
Posted on 10 December 2014 by Lou
Finally, late last night the Cubs got the news they wanted. Free agent lefty Jon Lester had decided to go with the Cubs. Theo & Co. set their sights on Lester whom they knew so well from their days in Boston and they did what it took to convince that Lester that is was now his time to help lead a young Cubs squad to the promised land – a World Series Championship. Lester was a “young pup” in the Red Sox organization when new GM Theo Epstein helped the Red Sox break the curse with an improbable 2004 World Series title over the St. Louis Cardinals. And just a few short years later, Lester led the Red Sox to a 2nd World Series title in 2007 with a sweep of the Colorado Rockies in the Fall Classic. And he won a 2nd World Series ring just 2 years ago with the Red Sox. Now it’s his turn to help the Chicago Cubs break their 100+ year curse. How sweet it would be to do it with his friends Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer at the helm.
Sure the $155 million had a lot to do with signing with the Cubs. But Lester is an analytical guy and he wanted to make sure that Theo & Co. had a clear plan for the organization as a whole. It didn’t hurt that the Cubs hired Joe Maddon just 1 month ago. It didn’t hurt that he already knew players within the Cubs organization – he and Ryan Dempster bonded during their short time together in Boston and Dempster just joined the Cubs front office; Jason Hammel just signed a 2-year deal with the Cubs and he and Lester were teammates on the A’s during the 2nd half of 2014; and David Ross (his “personal catcher” with the Red Sox) has had talks with Theo & Co. about joining the Cubs as a backup. Beyond that, the Cubs went out and upgraded their catcher position with a trade for Miguel Montero hours before they learned that Lester had made his decision to come to the north side. It didn’t hurt that Lester knows that Theo & Co. are straight shooters who have won before. And it didn’t hurt that Theo & Co. could also sell Lester on how great Chicago is. They had long ties with the Boston area and it probably wasn’t an easy decision for them to leave 3 years ago. But they did and they have embraced Cubs fans, the city and all it has to offer. And they could make that clear to Lester — personally being able to tell him that sure Chicago was different than Boston, but it was just as good, if not better.
It was a perfect match. The Cubs loved that at 30, Lester just had his best career year — 16-11 overall, 2.45 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP. Even better than that, the Cubs know he can perform in the post-season. In 14 appearances, Lester is 6-4 with a crazy good 2.57 ERA. It gets even better looking at his World Series numbers — 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA.
We will definitely write more about the moves over the next few days. So much to digest, and all signs point to the Cubs remaining active this off-season tweaking the roster here and there leading up to Spring Training. After missing out on Russell Martin, this was huge for the Cubs to get their #1 free agent target. What a day it was – checking twitter every few seconds, debunking false rumors, hoping Lester would pick us… And the he did.
We really wish it was Easter Sunday Night 2015 already — Joe Maddon coming out of the dugout with his 1st regular season Cubs lineup card — Jon Lester standing on the top step of the dugout getting ready to grab the ball for his start in a Cubs uniform at the Friendly Confines — the Cubs beating their hated rival St. Louis Cardinals and the Blue W Flag flying atop the new constructed outfield bleachers… Can’t help imagining that same scene on a cool fall night in late October — Go Cubs Go!!!
Posted on 09 December 2014 by Lou
Jeff Samardzija is on his way back to Chicago! No, not with the Cubs but with the White Sox on the South Side. White Sox GM Rick Hahn pulled off a silent strike – landing Jeff Samardzija to slot in right behind Chris Sale as his 1-A ace to make a terrific 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. With both the Cubs and A’s in 2014, Samardzija went 7-13 with a combined 2.99 ERA.
Hahn also addressed the White Sox poor 2014 bullpen by outbidding everyone else for the services of the Yankees former closer David Robertson. The White Sox sigtned Robertson to a 4-year, $46 million deal to help anchor the back of a bullpen that sported a 4.28 ERA and saved just 36 games during the season. Robertson himself saved 39 games for the Yankees in 2014 and had a respectable 3.08 ERA. The 29-year old has a 2.81 career ERA over 7 seasons.
The White Sox are clearly going for it in 2015, which is a little suprising in the tough AL Central. It is tough to jump over 1 good team in the MLB landscape today, let alone 3 good teams in the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians. By trading for Samardzija, the White Sox basically gave up their top prospect infielder – Marcus Semien – and a good starting pitcher prospect – Chris Bassitt. Semien was close to major league ready and was expected to debut with theSox at some point in 2015. Samardzija has already said he will test the free agent market after the season, so if the White Sox don’t resign him, they would have given up their top prospect for a 1 year rental. And signing a closer to any deal with an average salary over $10 million never seems like a good idea to me. But then again, the White Sox have always been a little unconventional. Attendance on the south side has plummeted to all-time lows over the last 2 horrific seasons (99 losses in 2013 and 89 losses in 2014), so Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf clearly thought it was time to make some bold moves to get back into playoff contention. I definitely would not have made these moves, but when you are also competing with a Cubs organization which by all accounts is on the cusp of a long period of sustained quality play buoyed by the depth of its minor league prospects, Reinsdorf was stuck between a rock and a hard place. And if these moves help the White Sox squeeze in another World Championship Title in 2015 or 2016 before the Cubs run begins, Reinsdrof will be remembered for doing everything he could to help the White Sox win each and every season he held the reins. And I give Reinsdrof and the Sox credit for going out on a limb like this — make something happen instead of waiting for good things to happen.
And I am writing about this in part because it does relate to what the Cubs plan to do this off-season. Theo & Co. have been active in acquiring young talent over the last 3 seasons. But it’s finally time for the Cubs to make some bold moves of their own.
This fall/winter, I finally feel like they are being more proactive in doing everything possible to field a complete team for new Manager Joe Maddon at the major league level. Tommy La Stella has major league experience and can hopefully improve the Cubs on-base percentage during the regular season, even if he doesn’t play everyday. Jason Hammel rebounded nicely under the tutelage of Chris Bosio during the 1st half of 2014 and hopefully he can regain that form with the Cubs in 2015. If the Cubs can somehow outbid everyone else for Jon Lester’s services, they will have the ace they have long coveted. And there are also rumors swirling about the Cubs pursuing catcher Miguel Montero from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Sure Wellington Castillo is a solid backstop, but the Cubs missed out on Russell Martin and clearly think that Montero is an upgrade from Castillo both for his in-game pitch-calling and for his left-handed bat to create a more balanced offensive lineup for Maddon. Theo & Co. are definitely not sitting back this winter and let’s hope they continue to explore options as the winter meetings progress this week. There are no sure things when you sign a free agent or make a trade, but just the same – there are no sure things when you sit back and wait for good things to happen.
Stay tuned on Lester — heated negotiations between multiple teams over the last 24 hours have likely driven the price up more and delayed Lester’s ultimate decision…