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The new ballot for the Hall of Fame’s era-based veteran’s committee selection process has been announced, and several compelling candidates are included on the list.

Will Ron Santo's supporters be clicking their heels after the Hall of Fame's Golden Era committee convenes in December?

Among the 10 names selected to appear on the “Golden Era” ballot, Ron Santo is by far the most deserving. The case for Santo has been made countless times, and most agree his body of work warrants election. Unfortunately, those presiding over the Hall of Fame’s selection process haven’t cooperated. As a result, if the third baseman does finally take his rightful place in Cooperstown, it will be posthumously. Regardless of the circumstances, Santo’s enshrinement would still be a cause for celebration, not only for his family, but all of baseball. As one of the best third baseman to play the game, excluding Santo dings the Hall’s credibility a bit, so the time has come to right that wrong.

Whether or not he receives the necessary 3/4 support from the 16-man panel, Santo’s inclusion on the ballot doesn’t bode well for Ken Boyer, a contemporary third baseman who always seemed to be one step behind his counterpart from the Cubs (Boyer’s last gold glove was 1963, the year before Santo reeled off five in a row). Considering the shadow cast by Santo, both during their playing days and now in the voting process, Boyer’s chances of election are pretty slim.

Another cause célèbre on this year’s veterans’ ballot is Gil Hodges, who, like Santo, has garnered considerable sentimental support over the years. However, as a first baseman, Hodges’ resume is not as substantial, even if you include his managerial success with the Mets. Of course, Hodges was always more of a likeable figure than Santo, which perhaps helps to explain why he garnered significantly more support from the BBWAA (a peak of 63.4% vs. Santo’s 43.1%). Playing in seven World Series probably didn’t hurt either.

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In the wake of losing out on Cliff Lee, Brian Cashman has preached patience, but can the Yankees afford to wait on filling the team’s most pressing needs?

As things stand, the Yankees need to fill the following holes: at least one above average starting pitcher, a competent relief pitcher (preferably a lefty if Damaso Marte’s prognosis has not improved), and a right handed bat with some defensive utility.

According to a report from John Heyman, the first, and most important of those needs, is likely to be met by the return of Andy Pettitte. If the veteran lefty does eventually decide to come back, the Yankees will essentially be returning a 95-win team that was one game removed from the best record in baseball. However, the roster has suffered to two key subtractions, each directly feeding into the other two main deficiencies on the team.

Kerry Wood had a 0.69 ERA in 26 innings with the Yankees.

With Marcus Thames likely ticketed to Japan and Kerry Wood packing his bags for Chicago after signing what seemed to be a steeply discounted deal with the Cubs, the Yankees find themselves in the market for their replacements. Unfortunately, two seemingly ideal targets, Bobby Jenks and Josh Willingham, both came off the board yesterday, which leads us back to original question about whether being too patient is a bad thing?

Considering the contracts signed by the likes of Scott Downs, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain (all three-year deals worth at least $4 million annually), Wood’s decision to turn down a $3.5 million offer from the White Sox and take $2 million less from the Cubs was somewhat surprising (although taking less money to play in a preferred spot seems to be in vogue this offseason). The Yankees offer to Wood has not been reported, but based on the White Sox offer, it doesn’t seem as if Wood would have returned to New York for anything less than $4 million. Although many might argue that such a price would have been reasonable, it’s important to remember that Wood has averaged less than 50 innings per season since 2005. So, even though his dominant performance (0.69 ERA in 26 innings with the Yankees) at the end of the 2010 season is still fresh in many people’s minds, it shouldn’t overshadow his more relevant injury history. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the Yankees rode Wood pretty hard down the stretch, and it’s doubtful that the fragile righty would have been able to shoulder a similar workload in 2011.

One potential replacement for Wood was rumored to be Jenks, but that went by the wayside when the Red Sox inked the former White Sox closer to a two-year deal worth $12 million. Although Moshe Mandel at TYU makes a compelling case for Jenks, it’s hard to get too optimistic about the prospects of a 30 year old reliever who has been out of shape for most of his career, even if his peripherals suggest a rebound season. At a more modest salary, Jenks may have been worth a gamble, but $12 million over two seasons is a significant outlay for middle relief. Besides, the Yankees already have a hard throwing fastball, slider, curve reliever in Joba Chamberlain, who is five years younger and will be making considerably less money. Although many Yankees fans have been down on Chamberlain because of his inconsistency, it is worth noting that Chamberlain enjoyed some of the same positive peripherals (xFIP of 3.34; K/9 of 9.67; BB/9 of 2.76) as Jenks, so any bullish case for the latter would apply to the Yankees’ enigmatic righty as well.

When in the lineup, Josh Willingham has wielded a potent right handed bat.

Marcus Thames quietly had a very productive 2010 season with the bat, posting an OPS+ of 122 in 237 plate appearances. Thames wasn’t a viable option in the field, however, which mitigated his overall value, so his departure isn’t really a significant loss. One seemingly ideal replacement would have been Josh Willingham, but he was just traded to the Oakland Athletics. Even if the Yankees could have acquired him, however, the relative lack of playing time might not have been appealing to a player one year removed from free agency. Also, Willingham’s recent injury history also suggests that he might not be a reliable option. As evidenced by Nick Johnson last season, impressive numbers on paper can’t overcome the negative impact of inevitable injury. Willingham probably isn’t in that class yet, but the trend isn’t encouraging, so maybe the Yankees failure to obtain him will wind up being for the best.

Patience really is a virtue, particularly if you are the General Manager of the New York Yankees. Although it may seem as if this week has been one of missed opportunities, there is still plenty of time until Spring Training. On the relief side, high profile targets like Rafael Soriano and Brian Fuentes remain, but an under the radar guy like Pedro Feliciano could turn out to be the best fit. Meanwhile, the solution to the team’s need for a righty bat might be someone like Bill Hall, whose versatility would also give the Yankees added flexibility.

Clearly, Brian Cashman has his work cut out for him, but there really is no need to make any rash judgments. Patience is not something normally associated with the Yankees, but considering the current circumstances, it seems to be the best course. As long as Cashman is able to fill the Yankees’ holes before the spring, the team should be well positioned for the playoffs, not to mention a major player at the trading deadline. Then, at that time, all patience can be put to the side. In the meantime, however, it will have to be in full supply.

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Ryan Sandberg has returned to the organization where his career began.

After losing out to Mike Quade in his bid to become manager of the Chicago Cubs, Hall of Famer and team icon Ryne Sandberg has left the organization to pursue a managerial opportunity with the Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. Sandberg’s transfer is an ironic kind of homecoming. In one of the worst deals in major league history, the Phillies sent Sandberg and fellow future All Star Larry Bowa to the Cubs for Ivan de Jesus during the winter of 1982.

Had he been awarded the Cubs job, Sandberg would easily have become the current manager with the best playing career (and the best since Frank Robinson retired as manager of the Expos in 2006). Instead, they opted for Quade, who never played above the double-A level. Although likely unpopular in Chicago, history suggests the Cubs probably made the right decision. Not only doesn’t being a better player usually translate to being a better manager, but the opposite seems to be true. With that in mind, below is an “All Star” team of mostly “All Star” managers. To qualify for the list, candidates had to manage at least 700 games, win at least one pennant and maintain a winning percentage above .500. Then, the playing careers of all qualified managers were considered to determine the representative for each position. Listed below are those choices.

 
RHP: Clark Griffith, 1901-1920, White Sox, Highlanders (Yankees), Reds and Senators  
  IP W K ERA+ WAR
As Player 3385 2/3 237 955 122 49
  W L W-L% WS Penn
As Manager 1491 1367 0.522 0 1

*Inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1946.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith was a player/manager for four different organizations, but notably was the White Sox’ first manager as well as the Yankees’ first manager while in New York.  Despite winning only one pennant (in his first season as player/manager with the White Sox), Griffith finished his managerial career with 1,491 victories, which is still good for 20th all-time.

Although Griffith was also a mediocre outfielder, he was most known as a player for his accomplishments on the mound. A seven-time 20-game winner, Griffith, ended his career with 237 victories.

Honorable Mention: Bob Lemon won 207 games as a pitcher and 430 games as a manager, including two pennants and a World Series championship with the Yankees.

 
LHP: Tom Lasorda, 1976-1996, Dodgers

  IP W K ERA+ WAR
As Player 58 1/3 0 37 67 -0.2
  W L W-L% WS Penn
As Manager 1599 1439 0.526 2 4

*Inducted into the Hall of Fame as a manager in 1997.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Tommy Lasorda always liked to say that he bled Dodger blue, and there was no denying he was a blue blood among managers. Lasorda’s 1,599 wins as a manager rank him 17th on the all-time list. He also owns four NL pennants and two World Series victories.

Lasorda makes it to this list solely on the basis of his managerial ability because he actually never won a game as a player. As only one of two left handed pitchers (Eddie Dyer being the other) who met the screening criteria, Lasorda’s competition was light, so this All Star team gets the benefit of including one of the games best ambassadors and entertaining storytellers.

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The baseball hot stove was officially fired up on Sunday with the beginning of the free agent negotiating period.

According to numerous reports, the Yankees have already reached out to Cliff Lee’s agent to let him know an offer is forthcoming. Getting Lee’s signature on a contract has clearly been established as job one in the off season, so while Brian Cashman stays busy with that mission, we’ve decided to help him out with a blueprint for crafting the rest of the 2011 roster. Over the course of the next few days, we’ll present a series of trades, free agent acquisitions and roster adjustments that will position the Yankees for a successful run at number 28 in 2011.

Trade: AJ Burnett for Carlos Zambrano

AJ Burnett’s tenure in the Bronx has had its share of ups and downs, but mostly left everyone scratching their heads (Photo: AP).

The Yankees currently have a whole host of questions in their starting rotation. Signing Lee and having Andy Pettitte return would go along way toward answering many of them, but even if both occurred, that would still leave the enigmatic AJ Burnett in the fifth slot. Although he seems to be a pretty good teammate, the uncertainty surrounding his performance has become too great to tolerate. Even if they are able to build a strong quartet around him, the Yankees shouldn’t accept so much doubt every five days.

Wanting to trade Burnett and finding a willing partner, however, are two different things. In other words, the Yankees need to find another team with an equally high-priced enigma. The Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano seems to be exactly that man.

Since signing a five-year/$91.5 million extension in 2007, Big Z has been a major disappointment for the Cubs. Although his relative performance has remained above average, his behavior has been erratic and his commitment and conditioning frequently questioned. Those concerns culminated in a demotion to the bullpen and eventual suspension following a dugout tirade on June 25, 2010. Zambrano eventually returned to the team, and the rotation, after undergoing anger management, but you couldn’t blame the Cubs if they’ve had enough of Big Z.

AJ Burnett vs. Carlos Zambrano, Last Three-Year Comparison

  W L GS IP ERA WHIP K/9
Burnett 41 34 100 614 1/3 4.42 1.41 8.36
Zambrano 34 19 78 487 2/3 3.71 1.36 7.36

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Yankees

From the Yankees’ perspective, they’d not only rid themselves of having to constantly address Burnett’s bi-polar pitching personality, but they’d also eliminate the need to employ a personal catcher for the right hander. Although the Yankees have been successful despite Burnett’s reticence to throw to Posada, removing this potential rift from the clubhouse, especially during a time when Posada’s role will likely diminish, could be a plus.

In return, the Yankees would get a pitcher who is four years younger and marginally better, albeit in a much less competitive league and division. If the Yankees were able to keep Zambrano focused, he could have the potential to return to his All Star form. As an added bonus, Joe Girardi was a teammate of Big Z for two seasons, so he might be in a good position to get the most out of the volatile righty.

Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Cubs

Carlos Zambrano has given the Cubs more than few headaches over the years, including several confrontations with teammates, managers and umpires.

Although the Cubs would be acquiring an older pitcher coming off a very bad season, Burnett has actually been more durable, even taking into account Zambrano’s demotion and suspension. Also, from a scout’s perspective, Burnett would probably out-rate Zambrano, and that might make him an attractive project for Mike Quade. Although Burnett’s “dominant stuff” may have lost its effectiveness after five seasons in the AL East, it could translate very well to the weak NL Central.

The new Cubs’ skipper has said all the right things about Zambrano, but the opportunity to start fresh without a significant vestige of the team’s troubled past might ultimately be the most compelling part of the proposed deal. Do the Cubs really want to risk another midseason blowup from the cantankerous Zambrano? If not, they might be more than willing to swap headaches with the Yankees.

Money Matter$

Carlos Zambrano will make $17.9 million in 2011 and $18 million in 2012, while Burnett will earn $16.5 million each season. So, the Cubs would come out ahead by approximately $3 million over the next two years. In 2013, however, Zambrano’s contract contains a $19.3 million vesting option, while Burnett’s deal holds another guaranteed year at $16.5 million.

From the Cubs standpoint, they’d enjoy a short-term savings, but because Zambrano’s option isn’t likely to vest (top-2 in 2011 CY Young voting or top-4 in 2012 CY Young voting), they’d pay for that discount in the long-run. As a result, the Yankees would likely have to include a significant amount of cash in the deal contingent upon Zambrano’s option not being triggered. How much exactly would likely be determined by each team’s respective desire to make the deal, but the Yankees should not be averse to chipping in at least half of Burnett’s 2013 salary.

Contractual Obligations: Burnett vs. Zambrano

  Zambrano Burnett
2011 17,875,000 16,500,000
2012 18,000,000 16,500,000
2013 19,250,000* 16,500,000
Total 55,125,000 49,500,000

* Zambrano’s 2013 option vests if the he finishes in the top-2 in CY Young award voting in 2011 or the top-4 in CY Young award voting in 2012, and is healthy at the end of the 2012.
Source: Cot’s Baseball Contracts

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