The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
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Sunday, November 30, 2003

First base settled, second next?

The current Cubs buzz is that Jim Hendry has thrown a wrench into Florida's efforts to resign Luis Castillo. As discussed elsewhere, the Sun-Sentinel in Miami is reporting that the Cubs joined Florida and the Mets in the bidding with a "very competitive" offer. The Trib says the Cubs are denying having made an offer, but where there is smoke there is something worth writing about so here goes.

Castillo has a lot in common with new Cub Derrek Lee. In 2003 Lee had the sixth best EqA of any first baseman in baseball while Castillo's EqA was eighth best among second baseman. In 2002 they were both tenth at their respective positions. Both are fairly fast for their positions, and both are fairly well regarded defensively. Both will turn 29 next year, Lee on September 6 and Castillo six days later. Lee has been a smidge more consistent and a bit better with the stick relative to his position, so he is probably the more valuable of the two.

Judging from the reports, if we do sign Castillo it will be for maybe 10 or 15 percent less than Lee will cost. Signing Castillo would also cost a first round draft pick, while signing Lee cost Choi and a PTBNL. I think the money for each player is fair. I think Choi and the PTBNL are worth more than our 2004 first round pick and I also think Grudzialanek needs replacing for '04 more than Choi did, so I think signing Castillo would be a better move than trading for Lee was. Of course, I thought trading for Lee was a blunder.

My overriding philosophy when it comes to roster construction is that you should do anything you can to get a few elite players and then spend money judiciously to fill in the gaps with cheap role players. As we stand, Mark Prior is our only elite player. Kerry Wood is close and possibly getting better, while Sammy Sosa is close but probably getting worse. I think the best use of the Tribune's money would be in pursuit of a player who is at or near that elite level- someone like Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Tejeda, or (if we had a position for him) Vladimir Guerrero. There's not necessarily anything wrong with spreading money around to fill holes with B level players like Lee and Castillo, but it doesn't leave you with much flexibility to add new pieces or cope with an unexpected decline in one of those guys skills.

In summary, while Castillo isn't the move I would try to make, its not a bad move and its a significantly better move than trading for Lee. I can say with some certainty that it would make our team better over each of the next three or four years, and that's nothing to turn your nose up at.

Bucks for the Bullpen
"Excellent." -- C. Montgomery Steinbrenner
The Trib article referenced above also talks about the Cubs desire to place LaTroy Hawkins in Wrigley Field. Hawkins has come into his own the last two years after indifferent results in his first seven years in Minnesota. He's posted ERAs of 2.13 and 1.86 the last two years, and after mediocre strikeout numbers in the past has begun to whiff some hitters (7.1 and 8.7 K/9IP the last two years after a career 5.1 K/9 through 2001).

While he is no sure thing, he certainly seems likely to provide some good innings out of the pen if the Cubs were to acquire him. One problem- the Trib says Hawkins is looking for $15M over three years. Paying that kind of money for even a dominant reliever would be risky; shelling it out for a guy with a couple of good years and only fair peripherals would be like Russian Roulette. Let's hope Crazy George saves us from ourselves.

There goes the neighborhood
Finally I'd like to welcome a new recruit to the Cub Blog Army: Alex Cieply of ball talk. I'd also like to welcome the until recently AWOL Forklift Cubs Blog. Both have been active the last few weeks, so pop over and see what they have to say. Also, don't forget to write the commisioner in support of my plan to allow the team with the most bloggers a bye into the World Series next year. If we can get him to agree, I like our chances...

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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

I still don't like it

Both on my mailing list and from people like Ruz at the Cub Reporter, I am reading the argument that Choi for Lee is a good deal if you take in to account the fact that Dusty wasn't going to give Choi a chance anyway. I guess I can see the logic there, and its not like we haven't seen that argument back when Hendry dumped Bellhorn. Ultimately though, the argument holds no water with me. Taken to its logical extreme, it would indicate that trading Babe Ruth for Mike Mordecai was a good move if you had a manager that refused to play Ruth.

Many analyses also seem to ignore the fact that we are trading several years of Choi for one year of Lee. A few mention that we should sign him to a long-term deal, but that is a separate issue. Choi is only netting us one year of Lee; future years could have been acquired on the free agency market without giving up players. Again, Lee is a good player and probably an upgrade for 2004. I just don't see any way that one year of Lee is worth $6M and a PTBNL and several years of Choi.

The Cub Blog Army is continuing to weigh in, as well as the "experts" in the Chicago media. Here is a roundup:

I guess the best argument I can make against the trade is that Mariotti and Kiley are united in favor of it. Let's hope time proves me wrong.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Cubs swap Choi and minor leaguer for Derrek Lee

Chris Yarborough called and woke me up a few minutes ago to tell me that the Cubs have sent Choi and a PTBNL to Florida for Derek Lee. Lee is a decent ballplayer. He turned twenty-eight in September and posted his third OPS in the high .800s in four years. Like Choi, he runs well and has a good glove. He is durable (his 155 games played last year was his lowest since 1999) and probably has several good years left. That's the good news.

Now here's the bad news. First, Lee is right-handed. This gives the Cubs righties starting at seven of eight field positions and that's assuming Patterson is able to come back in center. Second, Lee made $4.25M last year, will likely get a raise for 2004 in arbitration, and will be a free agent after next season. In making this deal, the Cubs have swapped three or four years of a cheap Hee Sop Choi for one year of a moderately expensive Derek Lee.

For 2004, I think this deal is likely to be a small boon to the Cubs. We give up a guy whose 90th percentile performance for '04 was a line of something like .275/.410/.525 and whose 10th percentile was maybe .210/.340/.400, and replace him with a reliable .270/.370/.485. We take on $4-5M, but hey, its not my money. The real problem with the deal is that the Marlins have a cheap Hee Sop Choi for 2005, 2006, etc, while the Cubs have absolutely nothing to show for it after next season. This is a deal that at best will be a small gain for the Cubs, and at worst could be a Lou Brockian disaster.

I don't think my negative reaction is solely a product of the fact that I bought a Choi jersey earlier this year, but just in case I'll be back later tonight or tomorrow with some more fleshed out thoughts on the deal. In the meantime, check out Let's Play Two (marginal thumbs down) and The Cub Reporter (thumbs up), each of whom already have comments up.

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Monday, November 24, 2003

MLS Cup 2003, and a New Hope

The San Jose Earthquakes upset the regular season champion Chicago Fire 4-2 to take the MLS Cup yesterday afternoon. San Jose's Landon Donovan was the MVP, coolly finishing two chances and generally looking dangerous all game long. Chicago was viewed as a fairly heavy favorite coming in, and I felt they controlled most of the game, but they let a number of chances slip through their fingers while San Jose converted the majority of theirs. Chicago's Ante Razov hit the top left corner of the frame with one shot, whiffed on two he could have tapped in on the goal line, and had a penalty kick saved. Damani Ralph, Chicago's rookie of the year forward, looked explosive on a number of occasions but couldn't find the goal mouth either.

I don't really have an MLS team of my own (just waiting for them to put one in Atlanta), so I mostly watch MLS to root for our US national team players. This game featured two of the best in Donovan and DeMarcus Beasley (who scored Chicago's first goal with a rocket over the keeper's shoulder.) As youth players they teamed up to lead the US to a fourth place finish in the U-17 World Cup. Despite not making the final, they impressed observers so much that Donovan was awarded the Golden Ball as best player in the tournament while Beasley received the Silver Ball as the second best. They shined again in last year's World Cup, as Beasley started three games while Donovan started all five and scored twice. I am partial to Beasley since he wore #17 at the World Cup and also because I tend to like underdogs and Donovan seems to have outshined him by just a bit so far in their careers. Still, both will be playing together with the national team for years to come and I can't wait to see it.

Of course, the championship game of the domestic soccer league was the sidebar to the real US Soccer news as Freddy Adu signed with MLS. If you own a TV, you probably saw him as he bounced from Letterman to MTV to CNN last week. Heck, even Grandma (89 this month) saw him on Letterman and told me how impressed she was with his demeanor. Its a huge deal for MLS, as it gives them several years of perhaps the greatest American soccer player we'll ever produce before he (if he lives up to his potential) inevitably moves to Europe.

So for those of you who don't follow soccer, here's the scoop on Freddy. First, some still question whether he is really 14. I guess with the Danny Almonte fiasco in recent memory its understandable to wonder. What we know for sure is that his birth certificate from Ghana says he is 14. If it isn't true, then someone would have had to file false information on that certificate with nothing apparent to gain from it. I guess anything is possible, but with no clear motive for fraud I tend to believe he is 14.

Second, you should know that his talent is most assuredly real. Rumors of his genius bounced around the message boards for the last few years, but we finally got to see him against some real competition in qualifiers for the U-17 World Cup and then the in the U-17 WC itself. Its rare that someone that hyped lives up to it, but he did and then some. He ripped shots into the netting from all angles and slalomed through entire defenses ny himself on at least two goals I saw with my own eyes. He had a hat trick in his first game in the U-17 WC and was easily the most talked about scoring threat in the tournament.

Finally, you should know what his future holds. Of course, its way too early to answer that. I see Freddy as a pair of aces in a game of Texas Hold 'Em. You aren't guaranteed to win the hand, but there is no better place to be after two cards than looking at pocket rockets. Maybe he'll lose his speed as his body matures. Maybe the pressure will be too great and he'll flame out. Maybe he'll tear up a knee and never play again. But the upside is the American Pele, and I'll be more than happy to be along for that ride.

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Sunday, November 23, 2003

Back in the saddle

Like General MacArthur before me, I have returned. My computer gave up the ghost about three weeks ago, and I was without a computer at home until my new machine arrived Thursday. Its amazing how hard it is to live without the internet considering its only been around in anything like its current form for ten years or so. At any rate, I am back to blogging, IMing, and playing NHL 2004, Korsun Pocket, and the copy of FIFA 2004 I just bought. I think that should keep me occupied until at least spring training.

In my absence, the world rudely kept spinning on its axis. Baseball handed out its awards, and for once they managed to get most of them right. I don't think the voters are any more competent than they have been in the past, but for various reasons they managed to blunder into some defensible choices this year.

  • NL MVP- Barry Bonds While I think Bonds was the right choice, I am a bit surprised by his margin of victory over Albert Pujols. Bonds had a handy edge in rate stats (58 points of EqA, 90 points of OBP, and 82 points of SLG), but missed a lot of time for an MVP. He had just 550 PAs, 147 less than his career high and 135 less than Pujols. The more sophisticated value metrics generally give Barry the edge, and thats how I subjectively see it as well. The only edge Barry had on Pujols from an average sportswriter point of view was the division title the Giants won, and I guess that was enough to convince most of them to vote his way.

  • AL MVP- Alex Rodriguez A long overdue MVP for the man who should probably have three or four by now. He seemed to get the same share of the vote he usually gets, but there was no player who met the usual criteria to gather the votes of the hardheaded majority of voters Of his major competitors. Without a 2002 Tejada or 1996 Juan Gonzalez to rally their troops around, they split their votes among such curiosities as David Ortiz (a DH with 509 PAs and a lesser OBP and SLG than ARod) and Shannon Stewart (spare me). Kudos to ARod, and there is even a small opportunity to have him in Cub blue next year lets move heaven and earth to do it.

  • NL Cy Young- Eric Gagne Like Bonds in the MVP debate, Gagne owned the rate stats but didn't spend as much time on the field as other contenders. However, while Bonds had about 80% of Pujols' playing time, Gagne pitched just 82.1 innings or less than 40% of the innings thrown by Mark Prior and Jason Schmidt. I figured Schmidt and Prior would split the starter vote and open the door for Gagne, but as it turned out he waltzed to the win. He was dominant, so I can sort of accept it, but he'd have to be nearly perfect to overcome a 130 IP deficit.

  • AL Cy Young- Roy Halladay Yet another quantity versus quality argument, as Pedro Martinez managed an ERA a full run lower than Halladay's but in only 186.2 innings compared to Halladay's mammoth 266.0 IP (the highest AL total since Clemens in 1991). Its a very close call that boils down to where you set replacement level for the extra eighty innings, but I think I would have gone with Halladay.

  • NL Rookie of the Year- Dontrelle Willis This was the only truly awful decision by the voters. Brandon Webb had an ERA a half point lower in twenty more innings in a tougher park with more strikeouts, a higher strikeout rate, and one less homer allowed. Its an inexcusably lazy decision from an electorate that clearly decided their vote when they saw Dontrelle's funky fresh pitching motion on Sportscenter in May. I'd be outraged if we weren't talking about the same organization that gave a Gold Glove to a DH a few years ago.

Apparently the end of this post got eaten somewhere along the line, so here's the new ending.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

New Computer Arrives in 3... 2... 1...

My new computer shipped yesterday and is on track to arrive tomorrow according to Federal Express. With luck, I'll be up and posting again by the weekend. It will be nice, because I have got a lot of things to get off my chest in regards to the awards voting. The stubborn unwillingness of certain voting members of the BBWA to even try to think rationally makes my blood boil. Also, the hot stove league seems to be heating up with ARod trade rumors flying and word that Matt Morris' favorite team is continuing to work on a major reconfiguration- or "business realignment" if you ask Billy Wagner for a euphemism to describe it.

Back to regular posting in a couple of days. Tell your friends! Tell your family! Tell Jim Hendry he can stop wondering what to do and start reading it right here!

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Monday, November 10, 2003

Scott held hostage, day 9

Nine days and counting since I have had a functioning home computer. You hear people brag about how amazing and wonderful their life is when they give up TV, but I can assure you that the same is not at all true when it comes to a computer. Aside from daily necessities like posting to the blog and paying bills on-line, there is the mind numbing loss of a daily influx of internet information to contend with. Who led the NL in doubles in 1995? I'll never know! (Actually, I do know that one, but you get the idea.)

Anyway, the one piece of good news is that my forced internet abstinence coincides with a slow time in Cubs news. One thing that has passed through my work-accessed webmail inbox is word from Kasey Ignarski that public voting for the Ford Frick award has begun at the Hall of Fame website. You can vote for up to three broadcasters from among anyone with ten years broadcast experience. While this does include the Chipster, it also includes guys I grew up with like Ernie Johnson and Pete Van Wieren as well as Cubs great Vince Lloyd who passed away earlier this year. You can vote once per day, so pop in and cast a few votes for your favorites this month.

As expected, the Cubs exercised their club option on Matt Clement for 2004. This is certainly a good move given his production, the promise of his strikeout rate (although it did fall a bit this year), and the cost of the option. The Cubs website has an article on Corey Patterson's rehab. It doesn't give a prognosis per se, but does say he is walking without a limp and hanging out with his brother across the interstate at my alma mater.

That's all for now. I'll be back on a more regular schedule as soon as Alienware gets my new computer out to me. See you then.

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Monday, November 03, 2003

Billy Wagner bids NL Central adieu

The Astros have traded Billy Wagner and his $8M contract to Philadelphia for Brandon Duckworth and minor leaguers Taylor Bucholz and Ezequiel Astacio. Octavio Dotel certainly looks able to handle closing duties for Houston, but their bullpen as a whole certainly looks much less formidable now. I'll post something on the minor leaguers when I get it, but I do like Duckworth's potential so it may not be a total loss for the Astros. They are getting out from a contract that wasn't outrageously expensive but was probably more than the current market would bear ($8M for '04, club option for $9M for '05 with a $3M buyout). Still, it has to be a postive that one of our two most formidable opponents in the central is shedding payroll and elite talent.

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Sunday, November 02, 2003

Miscellaneous Cubs Roundup

I come to you from my 8' x 8' cubicle on the eighteenth floor of the Georgia Power building in beautiful downtown Atlanta, Georgia. I am posting from here on a Sunday afternoon in part because my computer at home is in its death throes. It is taking 15-20 minutes to start up when I turn it on or restart it, and it has somehow removed all my setup network connections and prevents me from creating any new ones. A non-internet-able computer is about as useful as Lenny Harris off a major league bench, so I guess its probably time to buy a new one. I just hope I can find a way to salvage some of the files I have on it.

At any rate, as long as I am here let's run down some Cubs news from recent days. First off, Sosa is not opting-out and will remain a Cub for the next two years. In a market where Manny Ramirez is placed on waivers and claimed by precisely noone, this was a no-brainer for Sammy. Derek of Let's Play Two has already pretty much crystallized my thoughts so read what he has to say. Sosa's still our position player and hating him for his imperfections isn't going to change anything. Try to relax and be glad that we've got Sosa for a #1 stick and not the alternative (Alou? Aramis?).

On the medical front, Ron Santo had his bladder removed and is said to be in good shape after a successful surgery. Although its tough to imagine going through life carrying an artificial urine bag on your person, they say people do it and live relatively normal lives all the time. Goodness knows if anyone has the fortitude and spirit to handle it its Ronnie. He still expects to be in the booth next year, so here's to a World Series win called by the Cub great.

On the free agency front, Eric Karros announced his free agency with a classy ad in the Trib. He joins Grudzielanek, O'Leary, Goodwin, Glanville, Womack, Veres, and Alfonseca as Cubs who have filed so far. I don't consider any of those guys as must-haves, but I could see Grudz, Karros, and Veres fitting in if the price was right.

One last tidbit to check out is the AFL diary of Cubs prospect Brendan Harris. It sounds like he is having fun down there, but I suppose that is to be expected when he is hitting two-out walkoff grand slams. Fellow Cub Jason Dubois picked up player of the week honors last week, and John Webb and Jason Szuminski are also doing fairly well. Sadly, Ben Christensen was Ankiel-wild in his only appearance so far.

That's all for now. Dennis will probably be back to breakdown Hour Two of 24, and I have a pitch count article in the works for later in the week too. Hopefully I can coax my computer into allowing one last post for old times sake before I take it out back and shoot it.

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