The Truth About The Yankees’ Home Runs

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The simple stupidity of the Yankees being criticized for relying on the home run ball speaks for itself. Are they supposed to stop trying to hit home runs to prove they can win without it? What’s the difference how they score their runs? Are they sacrificing other aspects of their game chasing homers?

The answer to the above questions is no.

They have players who hit a lot of home runs. If they lose games in which they haven’t homered, it’s a safe bet that they ran into a pretty good pitcher.

The out-of-context stat argument is more complicated. Picking and choosing a convenient stat to bolster an argument is not the true intent of using statistics to begin with. They’re designed to promote a factual understanding and not to fool readers into seeing things the way the writer wants.

Is it a bad thing that the Yankees score via the home run? No.

Is it indicative that they’ll continue that trend once the playoffs start and do they need to be prepared to find other ways to score runs when they’re in games against better teams with better pitchers? They’ll hit their homers, but it won’t be like it is now.

The truly important factor to examine isn’t whether or not they’re hitting home runs, but who they’re hitting the home runs against.

During the regular season there aren’t the top-tier pitchers they’re going to face in the playoffs. The better the pitcher is, the better his stuff is; the better his command is; the better his control is. He’s not going to make the same mistakes as the mediocre and worse pitchers they’re fattening up their power numbers against.

I looked at all the pitchers the Yankees have homered against this season.

The list follows:

Russell Martin: Clay Buchholz, Justin Verlander, Jose Mijares, Homer Bailey, James Shields, J.P. Howell, Jonathon Niese, Jon Rauch

Mark Teixeira: Anthony Swarzak, Felix Doubront, Matt Albers, Bruce Chen, Luis Ayala, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Graham Godfrey, Hisanori Takahashi, Alex Cobb, Dillon Gee, Mike Minor

Robinson Cano: Jason Marquis, Luke Hochevar (2), David Price, Bronson Arroyo, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana, Alex Cobb, Johan Santana (2), Tom Gorzelanny, Anthony Varvaro, Tommy Hanson, Miguel Batista (2)

Alex Rodriguez: Ervin Santana, Clay Buchholz, Derek Holland, Justin Verlander (2) Tommy Hottovy, Will Smith (2), Octavio Dotel, Jonny Venters, Tommy Hanson, Jon Niese

Derek Jeter: Wei-Yin Chen, Hisanori Takahashi, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps, Bruce Chen, Justin Verlander, Tommy Hanson

Raul Ibanez: James Shields (2), Jason Isringhausen, Neftali Feliz, Burke Badenhop, Felix Hernandez, Hector Noesi, Bronson Arroyo, Jonny Cueto, Randall Delgado, Chris Young

Curtis Garnderson: Jake Arrieta, Ervin Santana (2), Carl Pavano, Anthony Swarzak (2), Jeff Gray, Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Brian Matusz, James Shields, David Price, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Will Smith, Bobby Cassevah, Casey Crosby, Bobby Parnell, Tim Hudson, Tom Gorzelanny, Edwin Jackson

Nick Swisher: Joel Peralta, Kevin Gregg, Clay Buchholz, Vicente Padilla, Drew Smyly, Jose Valverde, Luke Hochevar, Tyson Ross, Johan Santana, Cory Gearrin, R.A. Dickey

Eric Chavez: Clay Buchholz (2), Jason Hammel, Tommy Hanson, Jon Rauch

Andruw Jones: Darren O’Day, Matt Maloney, Collin Balester, Steve Delabar, Tommy Milone, Johan Santana, Jon Niese

There are some names above that the Yankees might be facing in the post-season. Shields, Price, Verlander, Hanson and a few others. But they’re not going to be able to use Hochevar, Pavano or most of the other mediocrities to beat on.

I don’t see the names Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Yu Darvish in there.

If the Yankees don’t hit homers, then what?

Understanding the value of their homers is not the brainless bully strategy of, “Me swing hard; me hit home runs; team win.”

What was the score when the home runs were hit? What where the weather conditions? Did the pitcher make a mistake or did the hitter hit a good pitch? Was the game a blowout and the pitcher just trying to get the ball over the plate to get the game over with in either club’s favor?

These questions, among many other things, have to be accounted for.

Those who are complaining about the club needing to “manufacture” runs don’t know any more about baseball than those who are blindly defending the use of the home run without the full story.

Of course it’s a good thing that the Yankees hit a lot of home runs, but those home runs can’t be relied upon as the determinative factor of whether they’re going to win in the post-season because they’ll be facing better pitching and teams that will be able to use the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium themselves mitigating any advantage the Yankees might have. Teams that are more versatile, play good defense, steal bases and run with smart aggression and have strong pitching will be able to deal with the Yankees’ power.

Teams like the Mets are unable to do that.

The Yankees’ home runs are only an issue if they stop hitting them. Then they’ll have to find alternative ways to score when the balls aren’t flying over the fences. This is why it’s not a problem that they don’t have Brett Gardner now. In fact, it seems like the fans and media has forgotten about him. But they’re going to need him in the playoffs because he gives them something they barely have with this current configuration: he can run and wreak havoc on the bases and is an excellent defensive left fielder.

As much as Joe Morgan was savaged for his silly statements blaming the Oakland A’s inability to manufacture runs in their playoff losses during the Moneyball years, he wasn’t fundamentally inaccurate. It wasn’t about squeezing and hitting and running capriciously as Morgan wanted them to do and altering the strategy that got them to the playoffs; but it was about being able to win when not hitting home runs; when not facing a pitching staff that is going to walk you; when a team actually has relievers who can pitch and not a bunch of names they accumulated and found on the scrapheap.

The A’s couldn’t win when they didn’t get solid starting pitching or hit home runs.

Can the Yankees?

That’s going to be the key to their season. Then the true value of their homer-happy offense will come to light.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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The Twins As League Tomato Can

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First it was the Red Sox and now it’s the Angels. Two teams with high preseason expectations and off to atrocious and scrutiny-laced starts are righting their flagging ships by beating up on the Twins.

For a franchise that had grown accustomed to winning and garnering a playoff spot as if by divine right (and being in a bad division), the Twins have rapidly become the league punching bag.

It’s going to last all season.

The return of former GM Terry Ryan was greeted with much fanfare and expectations of improvement. In the winter, he made a series of old-school “Twins” moves by signing the underrated Jamey Carroll; the innings-eating Jason Marquis; declining the contract option and re-signing veteran reliever Matt Capps; signing Josh Willingham and the competent backup catcher/first baseman/outfielder Ryan Doumit.

He also brought in an array of arms for the bullpen in the hopes that a few of them would be cheap, useful cogs in the machine.

But none of that addressed the fundamental problems that led to the 99-loss disaster of 2011.

The starting rotation is still contact-based and the pitchers are eerily similar to one another; the bullpen is serviceable but nowhere near what it was when manager Ron Gardenhire had durable veterans who knew their roles and were backed up by an All-Star closer, Joe Nathan; the lineup has black spots and no replacements on the horizon.

Already 6-17, Ryan doesn’t even have the option to clear out the house and build for the future because there are few players that any other team would be willing to give up a ton to get. Justin Morneau is a shell of what he was after concussions and their aftereffects. He might be worth a shot if he wasn’t due $28 million for 2012-2013. Perhaps they could eat some of the money to get back better young players in a deal.

Denard Span would bring back value, but he’s signed cheaply (a guaranteed $14.75 million with an option for 2015 at $9 million) and, with it so difficult to find a competent centerfielder, it makes no sense to move him unless they’re bowled over with an offer.

Joe Mauer is hitting again, but with Mauer, the residue of the failed tenure of demoted GM Bill Smith remains. Had the Twins held onto Wilson Ramos instead of trading him to the Nationals for Capps, they’d have a big league ready catcher who would free them to move Mauer to another position at least part time. In much the same way the Yankees are proving now with the burgeoning nightmare trade of Jesus Montero to the Mariners, if you’re trading a top prospect who can catch and hit, you’d better get something useful and proven in return.

The Twins will get low level prospects for pending free agent Carl Pavano (trade him to the Yankees!) and probably less for fellow free agent Francisco Liriano.

The organization had been the dominant force in the AL Central for a decade, but now they’re relegated to the equivalent of a found opponent that the managers and promoters of rising boxers use to fatten up their charge’s knockout record.

If I were a Twins’ fan, I’d get used to the abuse because it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

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2012 American League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cleveland Indians 91 71
2. Detroit Tigers* 88 74 3
3. Kansas City Royals 81 81 10
4. Chicago White Sox 72 90 19
5. Minnesota Twins 70 92 21

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have all the components to take the next step from their near .500 season in 2011.

There are positives amid the negatives of the old warhorses’ injuries and contract statuses. Grady Sizemore keeps getting hurt, but the Indians couldn’t have expected him to return to form nor expected him to stay healthy. His injury and absence will give them the chance to see what Ezequiel Carrera can do. Travis Hafner is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and some players manage to stay healthy when there’s a large amount of money on the line.

Carlos Santana is a mid-lineup run producer; they have a highly underrated 1-2 starting pitching punch with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez; and their bullpen is deep.

Detroit Tigers

The entire season will come down to how obstinate Jim Leyland is about the decision to move Miguel Cabrera to third base.

I was about to say “experiment”, but is it really an experiment if we know what’s going to happen?

He can’t play third; the Tigers have pitchers—Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and even Justin Verlander—who need their defense to succeed; and Leyland is adamant in saying that not only is Cabrera going to play third but that he won’t be removed for defense in the late innings in favor of the superior gloves of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge.

Eventually Leyland will probably bow to reality and Cabrera and Prince Fielder will share first base and DH.

I say probably because it depends on whether Leyland is going to be the old-school baseball guy who’ll see weakness in admitting he’s wrong or the one who admits the team’s playoff spot in jeopardy and bows to reality.

The extra Wild Card will save the Tigers.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are loaded up with young players and have to give them the chance to sink or swim on their own without looking at them for a month and sending them down.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be in the lineup every day for the Royals for the next decade, but the other youngsters Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, John Giavotella and Danny Duffy have to be given the legitimate chance to play without wondering if they’re going to be sent down immediately if they slump.

The starting pitching is young and improving; the bullpen has been bolstered and is diverse.

Chicago White Sox

Is this a rebuild or not?

Are they going to continue listening to offers for the likes of Gavin Floyd or will they hold their fire?

The decision to hire Robin Ventura as manager was a “he’ll grow with us” maneuver, but the foundation of the team is still in place.

It’s not a rebuild or a stay the course blueprint. They’re just doing things.

When serious structural alterations needed to be made, just doing things translates into 90 losses.

Minnesota Twins

Much was made of Terry Ryan’s return to the GM seat.

But so what?

They made something of a lateral move in letting Michael Cuddyer leave and replacing him with Josh Willingham; they got a solid defender and good on-base bat with Jamey Carroll; and they did the “Twins thing” in signing cheap veterans who can contribute with Jason Marquis and Ryan Doumit.

Their bullpen is loaded with a bunch of bodies and has already lost Joel Zumaya.

Much depends on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and even if both stay on the field, there are still too many holes offensively, defensively and—most importantly—in the rotation and bullpen to ask how much they can be expected to improve from losing nearly 100 games in 2011.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Jim Hendry’s Tenure As Cubs GM—An Evenhanded Analysis

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I’m not about vitriol nor praise just for the sake of partisan politics. Reactionary analysis is untrustworthy in the positive and negative sense. It’s almost universally based on the last game, week or season. Many times, the media and fans can twist a situation due to selfish interests, a lack of knowledge  or unhappiness with whomever is their target of the moment.

The Cubs fired general manager Jim Hendry yesterday. He will be replaced on an interim basis by assistant GM Randy Bush and owner Tom Ricketts is going to conduct a search, do interviews and has said he wants to hire someone from outside the organization.

What kind of job did Hendry do in his nearly nine years at the helm of one of the most difficult teams in sports—the Cubs?

Let’s take a look.

Trades.

Before anything else, Baseball-Reference saved me hours of digging through Hendry’s various trades with a handy historical record of all trades made between franchises. Check it out.

  • The good:

February 2, 2005: The Chicago Cubs traded Sammy Sosa and cash to the Baltimore Orioles for Dave Crouthers (minors), Mike Fontenot and Jerry Hairston.

Sosa had to go and the Cubs got the useful Fontenot and Hairston for him.

November 25, 2003: The Florida Marlins traded Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs for Mike Nannini (minors) and Hee-Seop Choi.

Lee was a leader and had several fine years for the Cubs.

December 4, 2002: The Los Angeles Dodgers traded Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros to the Chicago Cubs for Chad Hermansen and Todd Hundley.

Hundley was finished; Grudzielanek and Karros were two experienced veterans who contributed greatly to the 2003 Cubs who came within five outs of a World Series berth.

November 26, 2002: The Milwaukee Brewers traded Paul Bako to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later. The Chicago Cubs sent Ryan Gripp (minors) (December 16, 2002) to the Milwaukee Brewers to complete the trade.

Bako made Greg Maddux happy.

December 15, 2003: The Chicago Cubs traded Damian Miller and cash to the Oakland Athletics for Michael Barrett.

Barrett put up solid numbers and set Chicago ablaze with his classic one-punch knockout of A.J. Pierzynski.

July 30, 2009: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow to the Chicago Cubs for Jose Ascanio, Josh Harrison and Kevin Hart.

Hendry robbed the Pirates.

July 23, 2003: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez and cash to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later, Matt Bruback (minors) and Jose Hernandez. The Chicago Cubs sent Bobby Hill (August 15, 2003) to the Pittsburgh Pirates to complete the trade.

Two words: Aramis….Ramirez.

December 18, 2009: The Seattle Mariners traded Carlos Silva and cash to the Chicago Cubs for Milton Bradley.

Getting rid of Milton Bradley—even for Silva—deserves credit.

  • The bad.

December 7, 2006: The Cincinnati Reds purchased Josh Hamilton from the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs had a deal in place with the Reds before the fact to take Hamilton and trade him to the Reds and made a few bucks; needless to say, they should’ve taken a shot on Hamilton, but it’s understandable—given his history—that they didn’t.

December 31, 2008: The Chicago Cubs traded Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians for Chris Archer (minors), John Gaub (minors) and Jeff Stevens.

The Cubs got some solid young talent for DeRosa, but the machinations were misplaced. DeRosa was their unsung hero on and off the field in 2008; manager Lou Piniella didn’t want to trade him; and the trade of DeRosa was made essentially so they could sign Bradley.

A team trying to win a championship can’t be trading versatile veteran leaders to restock the farm system and then sign a Milton Bradley.

January 6, 2009: The Chicago Cubs traded Jason Marquis to the Colorado Rockies for Luis Vizcaino.

You know what you’re getting from Maquis and that’s okay; you also know what you’re getting from Vizcaino and that’s not okay.

November 13, 2008: The Florida Marlins traded Kevin Gregg to the Chicago Cubs for Jose Ceda.

Ceda’s done nothing for the Marlins despite ridiculous minor league strikeout numbers and a wicked slider; if the Cubs were getting Gregg as a set-up man for Carlos Marmol, then fine, but they weren’t. They got him to close. Gregg was and is entirely untrustworthy as a closer.

I understood the logic by letting Marmol do the heavy lifting before the ninth and to let Gregg rack up the overrated save stat, but it didn’t work. It was a bad idea. Marmol should’ve closed from the beginning of the season; he wound up taking over late in the season when it was already too late.

December 7, 2005: The Florida Marlins traded Juan Pierre to the Chicago Cubs for Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco and Renyel Pinto.

Yeah. This was not a good trade.

July 31, 2006: The Chicago Cubs traded Greg Maddux to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Cesar Izturis.

They were dealing Maddux because he was a free agent at the end of the year, but it should be illegal to trade Greg Maddux for Cesar Izturis in any case.

January 5, 2008: The Chicago Cubs traded Angel Pagan to the New York Mets for Corey Coles (minors) and Ryan Meyers (minors).

The Cubs could’ve used Pagan.

February 2, 2009: The Chicago Cubs traded Michael Wuertz to the Oakland Athletics for Richie Robnett (minors) and Justin Sellers.

Wuertz was highly underrated.

  • Either/or; neither/nor.

July 31, 2004: As part of a 4-team trade: The Boston Red Sox sent Nomar Garciaparra and Matt Murton to the Chicago Cubs. The Minnesota Twins sent Doug Mientkiewicz to the Boston Red Sox. The Montreal Expos sent Orlando Cabrera to the Boston Red Sox. The Chicago Cubs sent Francis Beltran, Alex Gonzalez and Brendan Harris to the Montreal Expos. The Chicago Cubs sent Justin Jones (minors) to the Minnesota Twins.

This was a gutsy move on all ends and could’ve worked big time for the Cubs had they not faded at the end of the season and missed the playoffs. Nomar played well for them over those last two months.

January 8, 2011: The Chicago Cubs traded Chris Archer (minors), Hak-Ju Lee (minors), Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer to the Tampa Bay Rays for Zach Rosscup (minors), Matt Garza and Fernando Perez.

The Cubs gave up a lot to get Garza; Garza’s pitched well this year and in some bad luck. He’ll be with the Cubs through 2013 unless he’s traded; they’ll be able to recoup their prospects if they do that.

July 31, 2010: The Chicago Cubs traded Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Brett Wallach (minors), Kyle Smit (minors) and Blake DeWitt.

DeWitt has use; they got some young talent for Lilly and Theriot.

***

Contracts.

This will include both free agent signing and extensions given to players already with the Cubs.

OF Moises Alou—3-years, $25 million.

Alou was excellent in his time with the Cubs.

RHP Greg Maddux—3-years, $24 million.

Maddux was his durable, consistent self in his return to the organization that drafted him.

RHP Ryan Dempster—free agent for $300,000 after being released by the Reds in 2003; signed a 4-year, $52 million contract after 2008.

Dempster was used as a closer and was mediocre; he moved into the starting rotation in 2008 and was masterful. He’s a good, consistent starter who’s delivered more than could ever have been expected.

RHP Bob Howry, 3-years, $12 million.

Howry was durable and mostly good.

INF/OF Mark DeRosa—3-years, $13 million.

It appeared to be a classic overspend on DeRosa, but as stated earlier, he was the key player in their 2008 run to the best record in the National League.

OF Alfonso Soriano—8-years, $136 million.

A disaster. Plain and simple.

LHP Ted Lilly—4-years, $40 million.

Lilly was a good pitcher for the Cubs.

OF Jim Edmonds—signed in May 2008 after being released by the Padres.

Edmonds looked shot for the Padres, got to the Cubs and rejuvenated his career with 19 homers in 85 games.

OF Kosuke Fukudome—4-years, $48 million.

Fukudome was an underappreciated all-around player with pop and a good eye.

OF Milton Bradley—3-years, $30 million.

Bradley had a great year with the Rangers in 2008 on and off the field; there were no problems whatsoever. Was it reasonable to think he’d continue that trend with the expectations the Cubs had after their 2008 flameout and Bradley’s status as the “missing piece”?

No.

OF Marlon Byrd—3-years, $15 million.

Byrd’s been everything the Cubs expected on and off the field.

1B Carlos Pena—1-year, $10 million.

They knew what they were getting. Homers, walks and a .200 batting average.

3B Aramis Ramirez—5-years, $75 million with 2012 option for $16 million with a $2 million buyout.

Ramirez has been one of the best and most underrated third basemen in baseball for years; he’s also been an intensely loyal Cub.

RHP Carlos Zambrano—5-years, $91.5 million with 2013 vesting option.

Of course it looks horrific now, but when Zambrano signed the contract, he was 26; in the middle of an 18-win, 2007 season; had pitched over 200 innings for 5 straight years; looked like he was a rising star because he was a rising star; and he could hit.

Why wouldn’t you lock up a pitcher with Zambrano’s talent at that age?

Who knew he was going to freak out the way he has? Signing him up until he was 31 or 32—through his prime, healthy years—made complete sense. There were no problematic behaviors; no major attitude issues to note or be concerned about.

It hasn’t worked. Hendry’s not to blame for Zambrano.

***

Drafting and development.

In 2003 the Cubs drafted Sean Marshall, Jake Fox, Casey McGehee, and Sam Fuld. They took Tim Lincecum out of high school in the 48th round.

They picked someone named Ryan Harvey with the sixth pick in the 1st round that year directly in front of Nick Markakis; Chad Billingsley was taken by the Dodgers at 24.

In 2004 they drafted Fuld again and Micah Owings. They didn’t have a 1st round pick.

The only Cubs draftee from 2005 to make it to the big leagues is a pitcher named Donald Veal. Their 1st round pick was a lefty pitcher named Mark Pawelek; later in the 1st round, Garza, Clay Buchholz and Jed Lowrie were taken.

In 2006 they drafted Tyler Colvin in the 1st round and Jeff Samardzija in the 5th. Kyle Drabek, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Bard and Chris Perez were taken later in the 1st round.

That year, they signed Starlin Castro as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic.

In 2007 they had the third pick in the 1st round and selected a third baseman named Josh Vitters; Vitters is struggling in Double A. In that draft, they took Darwin Barney, Brandon Guyer and Andrew Cashner.

Matt Wieters, Matt Dominguez, Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward were taken later in the 1st round.

They drafted Cashner again in 2008, this time in the 1st round. Not much of note was taken after him in the 1st.

The success/failure or 2009-2011 has yet to be determined.

***

Managers.

Hendry hired Dusty Baker after the 2002 season after Baker’s bitter divorce from the pennant-winning Giants.

When you hire Baker, you know what you’re getting. He’s probably going to win; he’s going to push his starting pitchers hard; he’ll rely on his veterans and players he likes. There’s been a long-running debate as to whom is responsible for the injury-wracked careers of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

Wood was battered as a rookie by Jim Riggleman. This is fact.

As for Prior, by now I’d say it’s clear that even if there’d been a set of usage guidelines to stop him from throwing 120-130 pitches on a regular basis, he still would’ve gotten hurt. You can lay the responsibility on Hendry or Baker if you like, but I disagree with it.

There was the choice of worrying about tomorrow tomorrow or trying to win when there was an opening; the Cubs went for it and almost made it. Baker came close to getting the Cubs over the threshold to the World Series and it didn’t happen.

After Baker, the Cubs hired Lou Piniella.

After his negative experience and allegations of being lied to about how much money would be spent when he managed the Devil Rays, Piniella wanted to win; he wanted to win immediately; and he wanted veteran players to do it.

The Cubs under Hendry gave him what he wanted and he, like Baker, almost won. In fact, had Piniella chosen to start Lilly over Dempster in game 1 of the 2008 NLDS, he might have. It was a tactical blunder on the part of the manager that gave the Dodgers the first game of the series and the momentum to sweep. Lilly didn’t pitch in the series.

Piniella is a frontrunner and when things are going good, he’s fine; but he was unable to get through to Bradley (and openly said he hadn’t wanted to trade DeRosa). It was Piniella’s mistake to entrust the closer’s role to Gregg. By 2010, the manager was halfway out the door and quit in August.

Mike Quade earned the managing job with a solid showing after taking over for Piniella. He was selected over the more popular choice, former Cubs hero Ryne Sandberg. Quade has had disciplinary trouble with Zambrano and the team is a dysfunctional mess as evidenced by the firing of Hendry. He can’t be blamed for the majority of this season and it’s hard to imagine Sandberg having done much better.

***

Records.

The Cubs records and results went as follows under Hendry’s reign:

2003: 88-74, 1st place; lost in NLCS to Florida Marlins 4 games to 3.

2004: 89-73, 3rd place.

2005: 79-83, 4th place.

2006: 66-96, 6th place.

2007: 85-77, 1st place; lost in NLDS to Arizona Diamondbacks 3 games to 0.

2008: 97-64, 1st place; lost in NLDS to Los Angeles Dodgers 3 games to 0.

2009: 83-78, 2nd place.

2010: 75-87, 5th place.

2011: 54-70; 5th place.

***

The final analysis.

I found it absurd how Hendry was vilified for a large number of things that weren’t his fault; that people were reacting to his dismissal as if the Cubs had won that ever-elusive pennant and/or World Series.

Perhaps firings are all they have to celebrate.

Like most GMs, Hendry made some great moves; he made some nothing moves; and he made some terrible moves. While the Cubs were right in deciding to find a new direction for the franchise with a different GM, Hendry is a respectable and competent baseball man who in no way deserved the treatment he received from the public and media upon losing his job.

The Cubs came close to winning with Hendry in charge.

Considering it’s the Cubs, it’s all one can reasonably ask.

The new GM will get a brief honeymoon, but odds are he’s going to eventually end up in the same position as Jim Hendry was in. Will he come as close? By 2016, we’ll know the answer.

Or we won’t.

It is the Cubs after all.

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Trade Targets For National League Contenders

All Star Game, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

Let’s have a look at the National League contenders, what they need to improve and whom they should target.

The word “contender” is defined by teams that I think are contenders based on current position and whether they can make a legitimate run towards the playoffs. Being over .500 or overachieving based on pre-season predictions (my own included) are not factored in.

Philadelphia Phillies

What they need: Bullpen help; a versatile defender/bat, preferably right-handed.

There are the popular bullpen names like Heath Bell. Bell’s going to get traded. Kerry Wood, Grant Balfour, Mike Gonzalez, Jon Rauch and Hong-Chih Kuo could be had; the Mets wouldn’t hesitate to trade Francisco Rodriguez anywhere and they’d give him away.

They’ll get bullpen help from somewhere.

For a bat, if Casey Blake is healthy he’s a veteran righty bat who can play multiple positions; he’s got a team option for $6 million with a $1.25 million buyout at the end of the year and might be rejuvenated by a shot at a ring.

Atlanta Braves

What they need: A bat.

Chipper Jones is out for at least a month after knee surgery and center field has been a toxic wasteland.

The A’s are going to clear out the house so that makes Coco Crisp, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus available. The aforementioned Blake could be acquired cheaply; they could go after Carlos Beltran who would undoubtedly love to go to the Braves.

The Padres’ Chase Headley plays third and has played the outfield before. Aramis Ramirez has said he’s not waiving his no-trade clause, but I’m not buying it. Why wouldn’t a veteran player want to go to the Braves?

The question with Beltran is whether he can play center field for a couple of months or if the Braves felt comfortable shifting Jason Heyward over from right for the remainder of the season.

Maybe they should re-acquire Jeff Francoeur. Not because he’d help but: A) he’d fit neatly into hitting coach Larry Parrish‘s aggressive!!! approach; and B) it’d be funny!!

Milwaukee Brewers

What they need: A good fielding shortstop; a lefty for the bullpen; an extra outfielder who can play center field.

There was talk about J.J. Hardy being reacquired, but he wants to stay with the Orioles.

Jason Bartlett would be perfect.

Carlos Gomez isn’t going to hit. That’s clear. Michael Bourn is available. Crisp could be had for very little.

Would they make a move on Beltran? GM Doug Melvin has been super-aggressive in the past and with Prince Fielder halfway out the door as a free agent and their brilliant starting pitching, the Brewers have to win now.

Brian Fuentes as a lefty specialist is an idea even though his splits in 2011 are ghastly against lefties. Sean Burnett and Kuo are options.

St. Louis Cardinals

What they need: Pitching.

They need a starter and could use bullpen help.

The Cardinals are in a bit of a box as to what they can do both practically and financially. They don’t have many prospects to deal for a Ricky Nolasco or Anibal Sanchez of the Marlins; nor do they have the money to fit Ted Lilly or Wandy Rodriguez into their long-term payroll.

If they felt confident that K-Rod wouldn’t reach his 2012 incentive based on appearances, they could get him for almost nothing.

They’d probably be better off leaving the rotation as is rather than do something stupid; I’d go after a Balfour, Fuentes or Bell.

Pittsburgh Pirates

What they need: A power bat.

If I’m the Pirates, I say screw it and go for it. Now.

The division is winnable, they’ve hung around with pitching and defense, but can’t hit.

Would Aramis Ramirez be willing to go back to Pittsburgh? How about Kosuke Fukudome? Beltran? Willingham? Hunter Pence? Luke Scott? Carlos Quentin?

Throw the bomb, Pirates. Why not?

Cincinnati Reds

What they need: Starting pitching a shortstop bat.

They need to watch the Marlins to see if they’re going to sell. Nolasco and Sanchez would help the Reds drastically. The Cubs’ Ryan Dempster has a $14 million player option that will undoubtedly scare off the majority of the league.

Rafael Furcal has a $12 million club option and a limited no-trade to certain teams. Ask about Hanley Ramirez. The Marlins might’ve had it with him and be willing to drop a bomb in the clubhouse for a lot of pieces.

San Francisco Giants

What they need: A bat. Any bat.

They’re linked with Beltran, but this concept of it being fait accompli that he’s going to San Francisco is stupid.

The Giants were supposedly after Jose Reyes, Reyes is on the disabled list and not getting traded.

How about Hanley Ramirez? They have the prospects to get him and he’s signed.

They could use a catcher, but there aren’t any available. One thing I was thinking the other day was if the Rockies fade, why not ask about Chris Iannetta?

Arizona Diamondbacks

What they need: A first base bat; bullpen help.

They could trade for Aramis Ramirez and shift Ryan Roberts to first base.

I don’t think Carlos Pena is as useful as others do with his feast or famine style; they released Russell Branyan who does pretty much the same things that Pena does.

Bell, Wood, Fuentes, Balfour—the usual bullpen suspects should be considered.

Here’s an interesting thought: K-Rod. It’d be a role reversal from the grand plan of the Mets in 2009 with J.J. Putz as the set-up man and K-Rod as the closer and they wouldn’t have to worry about the contract kicker if K-Rod is setting up for Putz.

Colorado Rockies

What they need: A starting pitcher.

Once they’re healthy, the Rockies will hit enough and the bullpen is okay.

Their starting rotation has been hurt badly in losing Jorge de la Rosa. It’s doubtful they have the money for Wandy Rodriguez or Lilly, but if the Marlins sell, Nolasco and Sanchez are targets. Jason Marquis isn’t any better than what the Rockies currently have, but he’s a functioning arm—for what that’s worth.

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