The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
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Sunday, December 28, 2003

Happy Holidays

Posting has been pretty sporadic over this holiday season mainly because I have been out of town. I was in the Indianapolis area for Christmas (where my wife spent over half of the day with the flu - but I am happy to report she is feeling better today), I have a quick layover at the house today, and will be spending all of next week on the beach in Florida with some friends.

I actually have not touched base with Scott in awhile, so I don't know if we will have any postings for the rest of the year. 2003 is the first year I have done this blog and let me take the time to thank all of those that come by to read our ramblings on a daily basis. That along with the one year early success of the Cubs made the 2003 season one of my favorite ever. I eagerly await 2004 where the Cubs look to get 113 more outs into the playoffs.

Hope everyone is having a restful and happy holiday season with friends and family. I will see you next year.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Cubs pick up Barrett from A's

The boys in blue made a small move this afternoon trading for 27 year old Michael Barrett from the A's only a day after they got him from the Expos. On the surface this looks lke a worthless move and I am sure some will complain that the media monolith that is the Tribine would have been better served to spend some money and get IRod. But, this is not too bad - in fact it is the ultimate buy low move in hopes of catching a hot streak

Barrett has had two seasons (1999 and 2002 where he posted near league average OPSs and remember he is at his peak age. Injuries slowed him down last season although hs was hot in the second half (371/608/978 before his season ended due to the DL). Ron Shandler in his Baseball Forecaster (the best fantasy book on the market in my opinion) forecasts a 327/451/778 season for Barrett. Not a world beating season, but Bako projects to a 308/332/641 and Miller comes in at 322/399/721.

Plus Barrett is younger and has yet to have a breakout season. This is a nice change for the Cubs. Instead of getting someone 32 and hoping they hit like they did when they were 27, they just went out and got out the 27 year old for virtually nothing. If they continue to make low risk, high reward types of moves, I will be happy.

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Saturday, December 13, 2003

Rivals making moves

Since my last post, the Astros have used the money they saved by exporting Billy Wagner to sign Andy Pettitte to a three year deal. Pettitte has been a consistently good if somewhat overrated pitcher throughout his career. His numbers won't be helped by pitching in the erstwhile Enron Field, but he is coming off the best K rate of his career and won't have the ham-handed Yankee defense behind him any longer either. All in all, you figure he is good for 200 IP of baseball with an ERA in the mid to high threes- not necessarily worth $10.5M, but certainly a boon to the Astros chances.

Also on the Astros front, Roger Clemens has been shamelessly teasing the possibility of an unretirement. I suppose he found that eight weeks away from the game was just too much to stand. Either that or he couldn't live without the media fawning over him. At any rate, if he did return I'd expect him to be a fairly useful pitcher for them, so let's hope he takes his schtick and retires for good.

Today the news out of the winter meetings is that the Cards have sent Eli Marerro and J. D. Drew to Atlanta for Ray King, Jason Marquis, and a minor league pitcher. Despite Drew's injury problems, his stick makes him the best player in the deal. Marquis and King are guys who have worn out their welcome here in Atlanta, at least from the fans' perspective. Marquis is a young righty who has been pretty mediocre in parts of four big league seasons. He's never struck out many people and doesn't strike me as a great breakout candidate. King has been a solid reliever for four years running, but some untimely meltdowns in 2003 reduced him to a punchline at Turner Field. He'll certainly be an upgrade over Jeff Fassero as a lefty in the Genius's pen.

The Cardinals needed some pitching depth and this deal certainly helps them there. Personally, I wouldn't give up on a talent like Drew without getting a potential blue-chipper in return, but I can see where they were coming from. Still, this deal can be viewed as a bandage job on the pitching staff and not a big upgrade.

A quick note on college hoops
If you get a chance to watch my alma mater on TV, take it. Paul Hewitt's Yellow Jackets are ranked tenth in the nation and will likely be moving up again when the new poll comes out Monday. Despite having only one awkward Australian checking in at over 6'6", Hewitt's team has managed to run some very good teams right out of the gym. Every time they play you will get to see them play at a frantic pace and usually get two or three Human Highlight Film-esque dunks out of Isma'il Muhammad. Good times will be had by all.

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Sunday, December 07, 2003

Cubs sign some mediocrities; let others go

Jim Hendry retained the services of Mark Grudzielanek and Tom Goodwin for the upcoming year. I haven't seen a pricetag for Goodwin but Grudz will make between $2.5M and $3M on a one year deal. Grudz was very good in 2003, but he will be 34 next year and the only other good year of his career was in 1999. I like to fill holes with players who are either very cheap or very likely to be good, and Grudz is neither. I'll reserve judgment on Goodwin until I hear the dollar figure, but for a low price he can certainly be a useful guy to have around. The guys eligible for arbitration who weren't offered it are Alfonseca, Estes, Guthrie, Veres, Glanville, Lofton, O'Leary, Womack, and Karros. I don't see anyone there that would have been worth the money to us, but each had at least one shining moment for us last year so I'll respectfully tip my cap as they go.
College Chaos
How hysterical is it that the BCS has produced a "national championship game" that doesn't involve the #1 team in the country? NCAA Division I college football features 117 teams which for various reasons play only a small fraction of their competitors and even then only on a regionalized basis. Many years, this one included, the regular season comes to a close with several teams playing a reasonably difficult schedule and having lost the same number of games. Choosing between three teams like USC, LSU, and Oklahoma- teams that have never played each other and have only one common opponent between any two of them- in a just manner is impossible.

What irks me even more than the lunacy of the current system for choosing a champ is the fact that I am convinced there is no reason it has to be this way. An eight team tournament to decide college football's title would put seven games on someone's television schedule, each of which would draw huge interest and ratings, culminating in a title game that would be bigger than today's BCS title game and could grow to be the second biggest event on the annual TV schedule. Its amazing to me that they can look this cash cow in the mouth and turn it down.

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Friday, December 05, 2003

I almost missed this

The Cubs hired or I suppose promoted Chuck Wasserstrom to be team's baseball information manager. Thanks to the Cub Reporter for pointing this out on his well written blog.

Now, I have no idea what jobs will be entailed in that incredibly generic title, but I am happy that the Cubs are one of the teams that thought enough to create this position. GM Jim Hendry mentioned in the article that this position is not akin to Bill James' position with the Red Sox. I am guessing the main concern will be putting together similar players to help with arbitration proceedings.

Granted that is a small step and probably one that could have been done long ago, but imagine if Wasserstrom's staff grows and they begin to tackle more complex issues. A good first analysis would be to show the chances that a 35 year old second basemen with a declining OBP over the last three seasons will have a good season. Off the top of my head I would think not so good.

I will not be conceited enough to think that the Cubs actually read my little corner of the world wide web, but if they do, hey, I am available to be Wasserstrom's second hand man. I have a Master's degree in statistics. You had better sign me long term before I become arbitration eligible. I might even know of a person with an engineering degree that would be willing to help.

Ok, I am out of my begging mode. I am interested to see where this leads in the future. Hopefully to better Cub teams on the field.

One more random thought

I love the fact that blogger has added a spell checker to its posting screen. The funny thing is that it flags the word blog (and blogger) as being misspelled. Anyone else find that funny?

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Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Its the Silly Season

That's what they call summer in the news business. Its the time of the year when there's not enough real news so everyone chases silly stories. With no baseball games being played, this is our equivalent so let's go full bore. What I am trying to say is, its time for the Greg Maddux back to the Cubs story!

For twelve or so years Maddux was one of the best two or three pitchers in baseball, but those days are gone. His strikeout rate has fallen, he gives up many more homers than he did in his prime, and he rarely pitches past the fifth or sixth inning in part due to increasingly chronic back pain. All that, and yet... I'd take him as a fifth starter. Wouldn't you?

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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Cubs sign Hawkins

Jim Hendry has signed LaTroy Hawkins for three years at an average annual value of $3.67M. Reports vary on whether the third year is guaranteed or a team option. I've commented at length on Hawkins the last couple days. I've got my doubts about Hawkins' ability to maintain the level he pitched at the last two years, but there is no denying he will make our pen deeper and more reliable. We also got him for less than he was asking ($5M per). It looks to me like when the Yankees bailed on him, Hendry was able to grab him at a more reasonable rate. All things considered, I am not unhappy with this pickup. Call me Mr. Optimism!

As Ruz points out, there will be an inevitable push from Baker and certain members of the media to have the Experienced Closer take over for Joe Borowski. Joe, having posted an ERA of 2.68 over the last two years and converting 33 of 37 save chances as closer, is of course unable to handle the role. I just hope that no matter what amateur head games Dusty puts them through, they both pitch well in whatever role they find themselves.

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Withdrawal and Addiction

It has been a long time since I have rocked and rolled on this Blog. I won't bore anyone with a list of snappy excuses because if I really wanted to come and post I would have done it regardless. I guess it just took me a little longer than normal to get over this season. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed the 2003 season more than any season since I have been a Cub fan (since about 1985), I am proud of the season and will remember A-Gonz's walk off homers, Cardinal comebacks and nasty Prior curveball more than Steve Bartman and Josh Beckett. I just wish that five more outs would have come so all that stupid talk of goats and day baseball could have been put to rest.

I usually watch the World Series with great interest and engage in debates over the post season awards but this season I didn't really do either. I could not figure out why. Was I depressed or pissed about being tortured by fate again? I thought about this for awhile and came to the conclusion that I was just flat out exhausted. The Cubs took every ounce of energy from me this season and it took some time to recover. That time meant a period of time away from the blog. Sorry.

My birthday was last Sunday and a gift from my Aunt started to get the baseball juices flowing again. She was in Chicago and bought me a Chicago Tribune produced retrospective on the season past. Looking through the book made me realize how much I love the sport and what a great season it was. The Cubs were five outs away from going to the series one season removed from a horrible year. The best part is that this is not lightning in a bottle either. The core is there and with some tinkering this can be a good team for years to come.

The trade

I have not weighed in with an opinion on the Choi for Lee deal yet. I will give it a thumbs in the middle with a slight leaning upwards. I have my reservations about dealing a hitter who crushed the ball in the minors. I have always contended that hitters will always hit no matter where they wind up. I don't believe in the notion of a AAAA hitter - I believe more in the youngster that is given 15 ABs to "prove" himself and then dumped. Given that, Lee is a pretty consistent player with a good bat, a good glove and he is on the right side of 30. Although Choi might be good or even great in the future, we got a player who can be counted on to produce this season.

The Cubs are blessed with a great farm system at the moment. Farm systems can be used in two ways. They can be used like Oakland to find cheap, productive talent who constantly fill holes left by free agent departures. Find players dumped off by other organizations near peak ages who can compete for a season and yet keep the bottom line in tow. The other system would be to hype the crap out of prospects, trade them for players who can help at the trade deadline or for players who are to become free agents at the end of the system. Lets call this the Yankee system. I personally like the Oakland system better, but lets not forget one thing - the Cubs are not the As. Fans have screamed for years that the Tribsters should open up the pocket book and field a good team. If they are smart enough to recognize the more helpful players I am not against them using their farm system as bodies for trade bait.

The Central in '04

Granted there is a lot of time before pitchers and catchers head to warmer climates and toss the horsehide around, but Cubs' fans have to be happy with the way the Central looks right now. The Astros decided not to spend money on a top notch closer and then re-upped Ausmus and Vizcaino. The Cardinals let Tino Martinez go to the Devil Rays while taking on a large chunk of his salary. I am upset that they lost an out through their lineup but it is nice for a team that has financial constraints to owe money on a player they cannot use. The Brewers sent their only consistent power threat to Arizona in exchange for a slew of players including Craig Council whose batting stance looks like my dog when she is dry heaving. The Pirates have done nothing but traded their best players away at the end of last season and the Reds are still hoping to get Rose into the Hall of Fame.

While all this is going on, the Cubs have gained a first basemen who is a good player, are in the mix for one of the better relievers in the game, and have kept all their pitching in place. Add a few more pieces and they might run away with the Central. Of course, I won't get too cocky yet.


Now it is time to come clean on the real reason for the lack of posts. I bought a GameCube and NCAA Football 2004. Man oh man is this one addicting game. Thy have a dynasty mode where you can play a season with a team and then follow them into the offseason, recruit new players and play again the next season. If you succeed, you will be asked to move to different schools, get contract extensions at the present school or possibly even get your mid major team into a BCS conference. I started playing with my alma mater and won a championship in 2 seasons. I moved the game difficulty up a notch and won another won 4 seasons later. Being bored at Tennessee, I quit and took the Central Michigan job for the hell of it. I am currently in season 2 doing really well. I hope to get an invite into the Big 10 soon. I highly recommend this game for any football fans out there.

I might be back tomorrow with a 24 update and some thoughts on other television shows.

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74 Shopping Days Till Pitchers & Catchers

First off, Luis Castillo will stay with the Marlins. The deal is three years for $16M, with a fourth year option that becomes guaranteed if Castillo plays most or all of next season. It seems as though we put in a reasonable bid but didn't want to overpay for Castillo and I am fine with that. The only problem is we are still looking at Miller, Grudz, Gonzalez up the middle and that's a recipe for another season of 1-0 losses.

On the bullpen front, the Sun-Times risked their credibility today by once again printing another Mike Kiley column, but since there's not much news I'll pretend to take it seriously. He reports that Hendry is still working on LaTroy Hawkins and is also pursuing Gabe White, Ricardo Rincon, and Braden Looper. Let's look at some numbers for this quartet of relievers.

LaTroy HawkinsR31762082487.5
Braden LooperR291191271096.2
Ricardo RinconL341601091317.6
Gabe WhiteL32831481076.2
The table includes each pitcher's ERA+ (where 115 represents a park-adjusted ERA 15% better than average) for the last three seasons as well as their average K/9IP over those three years. Obviously Hawkins' fat numbers the last two years stand out. Each of the other three has been respectable, with Rincon standing out as a bit better than the other two. None of these guys are young, but none are particularly old either and age is less of a problem for pitchers than hitters.

Disregarding salary, I'd probably rank these guys Hawkins, Rincon, Looper, White. White's low K rate and middling performance scare me, and I expect Looper (because of his stuff and his age) and Hawkins (because of those gaudy ERAs) to command more money than they are worth, so I'll root for Rincon to ply his trade at Wrigley next year. Acquiring him would have the added benefit of giving Dusty a lefty who actually gets lefties out so he won't have to throw righty-killer Remlinger out there against them.

Of course, things may not be the way Kiley portrays them. The New York Times reports that after signing Flash Gordon the Yankees are after White, Felix Heredia, and Paul Quantril. They do not mention Hawkins, and in fact I can't find a mention of Hawkins in the Times since they mentioned him as an alternative to Gordon two weeks ago. If Kiley's got his facts wrong (perish the thought), we may be signing Hawkins any day now due to lack of Yankee interest.

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