Pitchers, Catchers & Broken Windsheilds

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Cubs pitchers and catchers reported to Mesa, Arizona today. The Cubs avoided arbitration with Jake Arrieta, Matt Murton is returning home to Chicago by way of Japan on a minor league deal, 6 Cubs are on the top 100 list of prospects, and last but certainly not least Kyle Schwarber has already broken a windshield with a home run during today’s batting practice.

Sans Dexter Fowler (super sad face) the Cubs need to find a new leadoff man. It seems like Joe Maddon will keep batting his pitcher in the 8 spot in order to use the 9 spot as his training ground for future lead off batters.  MLB currently has Heyward projected as the new leadoff man, which makes sense to get hits going early, but Schwarber is a possibility as well, as is Baez whose speed would make him the best person for the spot if his hitting stays consistent and of course if Joe can find a permanent position for him in the field.

Since acquiring John Lackey the Cubs have rounded out the starting rotation; Jake, Jon and John would be the 3 top starters followed by a combo of Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks. There has been some new depth added to the bullpen which should be refreshing when the Cubs start getting deep into series’ with opposing teams. Pedro Strop can only make a save so many times before other teams start figuring him out.

As far as prospects go, the Cubs currently have the number one farm system in baseball. The growth and development plan that the Ricketts family and Theo Epstein has put in place has really been paying off and hopefully we’ll get to see some action from some of these prospects in the coming weeks at spring training games. Albert Almora the 21year old first round draft pick in 2012 will likely start his season with the Iowa Cubs, after putting up solid numbers in Tennessee last season. He’s been beleaguered by injuries in the past but reports have him looking healthy so if he has solid work this season perhaps we’ll see him at Wrigley in August or September. Another 21 year old (God I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing) RHP Duane Underwood got his first call up to big league spring training for this year, he’s ranked as the Cubs number 4 prospect and reportedly impressed Joe Maddon last season. It is unlikely he’ll get pulled up this season to play in the big leagues but barring injuries he’ll be a name we’ll be hearing a lot about come 2017. Four other Cubs minor leaguers are on the top 100 list as well;  RHP Carl Edwards Jr, 3rd baseman Jeimer Candelario, RHP Pierce Johnson, and Catcher Wilson Contreras. All these young guns are in the pipeline and looking to move up quickly.

As far as Cubbie news I think we are in a great spot. All winter I’ve been seeing articles like “Cubs the team to beat in 2016”, or “Cubs top ranked infield in MLB” it seems even ABC is rooting for the Cubs, or at least that the producers of The Bachelor are Cubs fans, not being a reality TV fan myself I missed the much heralded The Bachelor date at Wrigley Field, but I am told it was adorable.

I spent last weekend making college softball into television, it felt like great preparation for the season, though apparently women’s softball is now obsessed with this wrist band that looks like a periodic table of all of their signs (in my day we memorized them and then walked uphill in the snow both ways to get to the field!) It was great prep though, since I was in Texas where it actually felt like spring as opposed to my family and friends back in the bitter cold northeast, I can’t even imagine thinking about baseball prep when the wind-chill is negative 20 degrees, then again these young Cubs better start getting used to that wind-chill if they are hoping to be playing well into October this season.

For now- Good Night, Good Luck and Go Cubs!

Winter Meetings

A friend of mine is at the winter meetings in Tennessee right now for work, she sent me a quick picture of Joe Maddon getting ready to be interviewed by someone in a hallway. She’s not a baseball fan and before her arrival in Nashville posted on Facebook a quick prayer, “may all the big trades and announcements happen during normal business hours and before Thursday, Amen.” For her sake I hope she gets to travel home after tomorrow, but for the Cubs sake….there is still work to be done.

This week the loveable loser signed RHP John Lackey to a two year deal. While I wasn’t the most super excited ever by this deal, I can’t say it’s a bad one. Would I have preferred Price or Greinke? Of course, but despite his age Lackey had an excellent season this year, he matched his career high in starts and went 13-10 with a career best ERA of 2.77. Not a bad way to start filling out the starting rotation for the Cubs. The only thing that worries me is that at 37 years old this was Lackey’s 13th major league season. The Cubs have signed him through 2017 and while he’s in good shape now, you can never be too certain about veteran pitchers’ health prospects. The Cubs did great with the acquisition of Jon Lester (31) last year, but I’m hoping Theo Epstein has more up his sleeve than reuniting Red Sox players. Let me be clear, I’m not anti-Lackey; I just worry about his age.

Last night the Cubs signed Ben Zorbist to a four year contract; he helped Kansas City wrap up the World Series this past season and worked with Maddon in Tampa. Both bat and all-star caliber fielding will be a great addition to the Cubs infield. At 34 he’ll overtake Anthony Rizzo (26) as the oldest infielder on the team. While Zorbist is a happy addition, there was also the trade of a fan favorite last night. Starlin Castro was traded to the Yankees for rhp Adam Warren and a player to be named. I mentioned a few weeks ago that Castro could be a bargaining chip, but that I had hoped it would be Baez instead, alas young Starlin we bid you adieu and wish you well. I received a snapchat from a Yankee fan friend earlier today stating that the acquisition of Starlin was thus far his favorite Christmas present, granted he was just taunting me but Starlin really may be the best gift Yankee fans get this off season. Without knowing who the “player to be named” in this trade is yet, out of all the work done this week this is perhaps my least favorite. Castro needed to work on some things, but once he got his head straight he ended up with the best batting average on the Cubs in a pretty remarkable September for the team. He’s been a solid fielder for years, and when his bat is hot, it’s super-hot. Starlin was a notable bargaining chip and easy way for the front office to get out of paying exorbitant amounts of money for a new player, especially considering Addison Russell, Javy Baez and Glyber Torres the 18 year old short stop and top 50 prospect still in the Cubs farm system.

With the Winter Meetings due to end tomorrow, there are still several other moves the Cubs may be looking to make. While I will continue holding out hope that they’ll win back Dexter Fowler there are plenty of rumors flying about the Cubs looking at Jason Heyward, and while I drafted him often this season to my daily fantasy lineups due to his power hitting, I just…..HE’S A CARDINAL! I know I need to get over that considering his 2015 season .359OBP but it’s like really really hard to not think about all that time he spent as a red bird. And Heyward as a free agent could end up costing the Cubs multiple hundred millions of dollars, so while his power would be useful, I hope the Cubs management won’t just start throwing money around on a name. I have enough faith in Theo, Hoyer and Maddon to assume they won’t but, I always keep my fingers crossed. Another rumor is starting pitcher Danny Salazar from the Indians. Salazar is 25 and the Indians would be sure to pick up one of the Cubs young bats if they were to give him up, and while we can remain fairly confident that Bryant and Schwarber will not be traded there still an awful lot of young talent on the Cubs and in the Cubs farm system so picking up another starting pitcher and really finishing out that rotation would be ideal, especially considering this kid could get a lot of learning done at the side of Lester and Lackey and knowledge of how to become the ultimate work horse from one Jake Arietta.

There are still countless other rumors and who knows what will end up happening in the next 24 hours, let alone the rest of the off season, especially since none of the earliest rumors we heard this post season ended up panning out, ultimately the Cubs management team has set three goals: being a good neighbor, preserving Wrigley Field and winning a World Series. The Ricketts family, as well as Theo, Hoyer and Maddon are as committed as ever to these goals and we in Cubbie Nation are very appreciative.

News from Florida

Last night, Dexter Fowler turned down the Cubs qualifying offer of a one year $15.8 million deal. This is upsetting to those of us who have come to enjoy the consistent lead off batter. By making the qualifying offer the Cubs ensure a draft pick should Dexter sign elsewhere in the off-season. Maddon often refers to the number 9 batter in the line up as the “lead off batter in training” which is why he usually chooses to not hit his pitchers in the 9 spot. This could make Addison Russell the heir apparent to the lead off position in the spring. I would still prefer to see the Cubs make Dexter a better offer, they can’t blow a ton of money but they can at the very least make more than a year long commitment to a fan favorite who is only 29 years old with a career OBP of .363. Dexter had an excellent finish to 2015 and has many great years ahead of him, he fit in well with the young and excited group of Cubs and so it is to be expected that he would turn down the qualifying offer, we can always hope his desire to stay with a team that he did so well with outweighs anything another ball club might offer him.

GM meetings finished last week in Florida. Jed Hoyer had said before the meetings began that the Cubs are looking to pick up multiple starting pitchers this off-season. This was expected, Lester and Arrieta at the top of the rotation are very strong, and while Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel both have potential neither are bona fide aces and it is unlikely that either will become one. Dan Harren, the mid season acquired 5th rotation spot pitcher, has retired from baseball, as expected. This leaves the Cubs down a man before they even go to the negotiating table. Optimally, they’d pick up as many pitchers as possible to fill out the starting rotation and the bullpen. There have already been discussions regarding Zack Greinke, now a free agent, and David Price, also a free agent. Both would be welcome additions to the Cubs. Both have seen playoff action. Price has played for Maddon before and both have been in the running for the Cy Young Award, with Greinke winning the award in 2009. Surely all of us would be happy to see both of them wearing Cubby blue come spring. To continue n the pitching front the Cubs did already pick up right-hander Ryan Cook off waivers from the Red Sox last week. He spent most of 2015 with the Red Sox minor league affiliate but has bounced around between minors and majors since 2011 with the Diamondbacks, A’s and Red Sox. He is 28 years old with 17 saves in the Major Leagues. While this addition doesn’t add a great deal of depth to the bullpen, the more options available in clutch games the better, so welcome Ryan.

In non acquisition related off season news: Anthony Rizzo won the Heart and Hustle award last week, no real surprise there as he is, according to everything I’ve read, one of the nicest guys in the game and has been an electric team leader and fan favorite. Video clips of his acceptance speech are available on the Cubs website and MLB.com. At 26 years old, he is a leader on and off the field. He fought Hodgkin’s lymphoma and won and thus began the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. Kris Bryant was named Baseball America’s rookie of the year for 2015, which he won in 2014 as the Minor League player of the year and 2013 as college player of the year. He was also awarded the Sporting News Rookie of the year award for the National League. The MLB/ Baseball Writers Association of America will announce its winners next week on Nov 19. Kris Bryant is a finalist for NL rookie of the year. Jake Arrieta is a finalist for the NL Cy Young, along with the Dodgers Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, and Joe Maddon will face post-season rivals Mike Matheny and Terry Collins for the NL manager of the year award. One has to assume that at the very least the Cubs will take home one of these awards. It would be shocking to me if anyone other than Kris Bryant were to be named Rookie of the year. Joe Maddon and Jake may be in for a slightly tougher fight but they of course have all of Cubby Nation’s support.

Off Season Dreams

As noted earlier on this blog, and for those of you who own a calendar, baseball season has come to a close. We can all now focus on how poorly our fantasy football teams are doing. Maybe now that I won’t be so consumed by watching baseball I’ll have more time to write about baseball, besides I need something else to focus on other than the melee of our presidential primary candidates.

In their immediate desire to take our money, the Vegas odds makers have already established our Chicago Cubs as favored to win the 2016 World Series. Obviously these odds can, and will change over the course of the off season, much like they did last year when Lester joined the team and the Cubs suddenly were rated at 12:1 odds to win it all. ESPN has agreed that their first set of MLB power rankings are in their words “way too early” non the less, the Cubs are ranked number 1, based not only on their Vegas odds, but on their young pedigree players, Joe Maddon and a 97 win season.

I’d like to see a few things this off season for our Chicago Cubs, and first let me say I think we should kill any of the rumors about trading young Kyle Schwarber, I can’t imagine the organization breeding this kid and then immediately trading him after encasing his post season home run ball atop the newly minted right field score board. The rumors of Theo and company vying to reunite David Price with Joe Maddon also abound, these rumors, unlike those about losing Kyle, are great. We can assume that the Blue Jays are going to make a serious play to keep David Price but the Cubs have a nifty bank roll and since Price will be a free agent the Cubs won’t have to give up any of their young talent to acquire the in demand left hander. If the Cubs can add a guy like price to the starting three rotation they could be in seriously good shape. Of course the Cubs will have to compete with every other team looking for a strong left handed pitcher, and let’s be serious, every team is always looking for a strong left handed starting pitcher if they can get the right price. Looking at the off-season, there is a not a TON that needs to happen to keep the Cubby faithful happy. I don’t think anyone wants to see a staple from the dynamic infield lost, we’d love to see Russell Addison work on his health, and I can’t imagine that some of these younger guys won’t bulk up a bit circa Bryce Harper last off season. What I would enjoy is to see Kyle Schwarber in the lineup consistently, which will likely mean giving up one of our three catchers. While David Ross and Miguel Montero have been great role models and team leaders for the Cubs, it would be nice to get Kyle trained up, catching big league pitchers consistently and get him out of the outfield. He did an admirable job as an outfielder while Joe Maddon tried to get his bat into every game, but his incompatibility with the job was more than evident in a few key moments in the post season. Since David Ross has become the personal catcher to Lester, it seems our man Miggy will likely have to go, and considering his post-season batting average it seems likely. Though the caveat remains that if Maddon doesn’t think Schwarber is ready for big league catching by next spring we may continue with three catchers in the roster. Keeping lead off hitter Dexter Fowler is also key, he’ll soon be a free agent, the rumor mill has noted the Cubs are interested in keeping him and it should be noted that Cubs fans, myself included, would hate to lose him. Hopefully the Cubs can make him an offer that keeps him around for at least another few seasons. While I’d hate the lose any young talent I am of the opinion that the man to give up for a good trade, hopefully more pitching, is Javier Baez. I adore his MLB stamp tattoo on the back of his neck, it makes me feel like he really is genuinely excited to just to be part of baseball, and I know Joe Maddon is a fan of his, but if the time comes for a trade and giving up a prospect and a player is key Javy is the way to go. Starlin Castro showed remarkable resolve when he was benched and then started at a new position. He kept himself in check, didn’t go all diva about it and managed to come back better than ever at second base with the leading batting average in baseball for September. If the Cubs can hold on to a guy like that, despite the problems he’s had over the years with inconsistent play, he’d be too valuable to keep around. I think what he did this year showed his value more than all the all-star moments he’s had in previous seasons.

Pitchers and catchers report on February 18th, meaning we’ve only got 105 days left! Spring can’t come soon enough. For now, go enjoy some hockey.

2015 was spectacular…lets do it again next year

Baseball season is officially over. It’s been over for Cubs fans for a little while now but I was too traumatized to write about it until now. I did however take a few notes…

The night of October 20th after a crushing Cubs loss in Chicago, my best friend, a lifelong Red Sox fan texted me with a  reminder to “keep the faith” and to think back to 2004 when the Red Sox overcame three losses to the Yankees and eventually went on to win the World Series. Oh had things only turned out that way for our 2015 Cubs. At 4:30am Eastern time on Back to the Future Day, that is October 21st, 2015, I took a rather concerning cab ride to Newark airport. The rickety minivan was captained by an elderly Russian; at least I assumed he was Russian because his accent led me to believe he once lent his voice in a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. I cannot express how much noise this van made, it was an endless squeaking. Upon arriving at the airport Boris had to let me out of the car because much to my dismay there was no inside door handle, can anyone say buffalo bill? As usual the TSA at Newark was grumpy and useless but the line was short and my plane was at the gate, which is in fact the only reason there is to wake up for a 6am flight, the plane will never be late coming in from its previous trip. I arrived at Midway around 7:30 and took a cab to my friend’s apartment in Wrigleyville. Even at 8am Chicago was vibrating, especially when I got to Wrigleyville. My friend and I went for coffee, where we were given extra shots of espresso because of dutifully wearing Cubs gear. Hours later we hit the bars and then eventually made our way to my section. As soon as the back to back home runs were hit I knew what we were in for. It was as depressing as you can imagine to sit there the entire game already knowing the outcome. When the Cubs scored in the 8th I gave in to a slight glimmer of hope, thinking that surely they could get a 5 run 9th inning and ensure extra innings. Obviously that flicker of hope was quickly snuffed out. To be in Wrigley the night the Mets clinched the Cubs in a sweep was emotionally draining. Ultimately the Cubs lost the first two games of the NLCS series to the Mets and they lost the second two games to themselves. It was a typical Cub move, but it just made everything seem so anticlimactic, to go out like that on Back to the Future Day after such an inspiring second half of the season was more than just a little bit disheartening.

It’s been a couple weeks now and the Royals won the World Series last night, so while I’m not over it; I’m willing to look at the bright side. The Cubs had an amazing year; I went to a playoff game at Wrigley Field, that’s been on the bucket list since I was 4 years old. The young team that has been assembled is inspiring and God willing will go the distance some time very soon. There is work to do in the off season, but not nearly as much as there has been in the past. The Cubs will come back in 2016 with a little more experience, hopefully an extra starting pitcher or two and a vengeance. As always I cannot wait until spring. See you soon Cubs fans!

The Struggle

Good Morning Cubs fans! I feel like I’m getting redundant when I say today is the moment we’ve all been waiting for, since I said this a week ago when the NLDS began and days before that for the Wild Card game, but we really have been waiting for this; the NLCS begins tonight! Jon Lester will take on Matt Harvey and the Mets at Citi Field. In the regular season the Cubs are 7-0 against the Mets which bodes well for our boys, however, the Mets have really hit their stride late in the season. Their bats are alive again and they have an excellent pitching staff so they are not a team I take lightly, in fact I think I would’ve rather seen the Dodgers in this series.

It has been difficult, life as a Cubs fan from New Jersey, currently living in Connecticut. Many of my closest friends are Mets fans, and the fact is they are almost as earnest in their desperation to win as Cubs fans are. The Mets, like the Cubs, have a storied history of losing and being the lesser of two teams in a major city. But let’s not forget that the struggle of the Mets and their fans pales in comparison to the Cubs. The Mets did not exist until 1962 after the Dodgers and Giants moved to California. After playing two years at the Polo Grounds in Queens the Mets moved to the brand new Shea stadium.  Their first World Series was won in 1969 only  7 years after the team began their career, a few years later in 1973 the Mets captured the NL East pennant despite a not so hot regular season record and went on to lose in the World Series with Yogi Berra as manager. After 73’ there was undoubtedly a drought….for all of 13 years. The oft remembered moment World Series baseball history when Red Sox Bill Buckner let a ground ball roll between his legs giving the Mets the win and forcing a game 7 which the Mets won 8-5. Many would blame the Red Sox curse of the Bambino for Buckner’s folly, but let us not forget that Buckner was once a Cub and the plague tends to follow players. After 86’  the Mets went through another drought, acting as the red headed step child to big brother Yankees throughout most of the 90s  but the new millennium brought them a subway series which the Yanks won 4 games to 1. Non the less, the Mets are not some team befouled by a centuries long curse, generations upon generations of fans have not gone to the ballpark only to be disappointed time and time again, there are people alive who have seen the last time the Met’s played in the World Series…heck there are living people who have seen them WIN a World Series. Somewhere in the world perhaps there is a 107 year old Cubs fan, hanging on for one last hurrah but in all seriousness when Mets fans tell me they understand the struggle, they have no idea what they’re talking about.

As I mentioned, growing up so close to NYC I have a LOT of Met fan friends. And despite the fact that I would’ve rather seen the Dodgers in this playoff, part of me was pulling for the Mets, out of respect to friends and because I think this is going to be one hell of a series. And should things not pan out, I’ll be ok losing to the Mets….a hell of a lot more ok than if the Cubs had lost to the devil birds last week. I do have a case of beer…and all my hopes and dreams riding on this series so really what I mean to say is Go Cubs Go.

Let us not forget that this week, this Wednesday, in fact is the day young Marty Mc Fly arrived in 2015, the day Cubs fans have made our own because upon Marty’s arrival he sees a billboard announcing that the Chicago Cubs have in fact won the World Series. I’ll be at Wrigley on Wednesday; I cannot imagine the antics that will ensue. For now let’s hope the Cubs can take at least one road game. Sorry Mets fans but I’ll always bleed Cubby Blue.

Weekend Wrap

Good Morning Cubs fans! What a weekend we’ve had. The unfortunate loss on Friday night worried me, knowing that without winning at least one early game at Busch the Cubs would have a very difficult time making the next round. Well low and behold what Jon Lester couldn’t do, Kyle Hendricks could!

Lester really pitched an incredible game on Friday night, he just had a little bit of trouble in that first inning and that ruined the outing for him and unfortunately Lackey pitched almost as well as Lester and prevented the Cubs from scoring any runs, of course the very high strike zone didn’t help either. They didn’t play badly but the Cubs certainly played more aggressive ball on Saturday night. They immediately came out swinging Saturday night.  Jorge Soler’s huge 2 run homer on Saturday proved once again that Joe Maddon is a genius, swapping out left handed batter Schwarber for righty Soler proved to be a masterful move. That bunting practice Maddon put the team through the other day also seemed to have paid off, the second inning of Saturday night was impactful not just due to the homerun; apparently small ball really does win ball games.  When you see a pitcher get up to bat you tend to worry but Hendricks’s bunt on Saturday combines with the Cardinals error scored a run and left two runners on base for Addison Russell to follow up with a second sac bunt and bring another runner in to score. The second inning was huge and followed up by a safety run in the third. Hendricks pitched a solid outing until giving up two home runs in the 5th but the bullpen did an excellent job shutting down the Cardinals offense and keeping the game in Cubs hands.

Tonight will be great; Jake Arrieta pitching at home against Wacha, who does not have excellent numbers against the Cubs this season. Tomorrow is the question mark, who will Joe Maddon start for the second home game and potential clincher of the NLDS? Short rest for Lester who could potentially get a W at home and then everyone gets 3 days rest before the next series? Or put in Jason Hammel hope that he brings his very best stuff to the game and that the bullpen finish the job and leave Lester to be able to pitch the potential game in St Louis Thursday. Things are about the get very interesting on the North side, and throughout all of Cubby Nation.

On a second note of much talked about baseball moments from the weekend; Chase Utley made a very dirty play. While I doubt he was intentionally trying to break Tejada’s leg in his “slide” at second base on Saturday night he was very clearly aiming to hit Tejada and not the base. I’m all for playing hardball and breaking up double plays, but I think ultimately you need to at least be aiming for the base because that is in fact where you are supposed to be going on your run from first to second. There have been a number of bad slides (in varying degrees of awfulness) this season but this was on the national stage and seriously injured another player. If Utley had really been sliding he would have 1 Started it sooner and 2 come within a reasonable area of the base. You can hit the fielder, that is part of the game, but the intention was only to hit the infielder Utley was not trying to land safely at second and break up a double he only intended to ruin the play at first. It shows a great lack of respect for the game and fellow players when someone does something like that, it’s just dirty play and I hope his suspension is not overturned.

More importantly, Jake Arrieta tonight at home 6pm Eastern. Go Cubs Go! Who knew they played baseball this late in October right?!