Category Archives: Cubs

Cubs Add Pena…Good or Bad?

It’s a good time to be a first baseman in the city of Chicago.

Jim Hendry (right), along with Scott Boras (left) help to introduce the newest Cub, Carlos Pena.

Both sides of town needed to solidify the position, and both sides of town signed guys who can play the position. The White Sox signed Adam Dunn, who is an average fielder at best, and they also re-signed mainstay Paul Konerko. Konerko will no doubt get the lion’s share of time at first base.

The Cubs, on the other hand, signed free agent Carlos Pena late Tuesday night, in an effort to kill two birds with one stone. They got a first baseman, and they picked up the left-handed power hitter that eluded them for so long.

Pena is coming off a worse season than Aramis Ramirez, if that’s possible.  He hit .196 and had a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .222.  The low BABIP suggests bad luck.  So basically him and Ramirez had nearly identical seasons.  That, of course, means that they’ll both have fantastic rebound seasons….right???


The Cubs signed him to a one year, $10 million deal.  At first, that seemed strange to me, but after taking a closer look, it might not be so strange after all.

Let’s say the Cubs surprise the world and contend for the division this upcoming season.  More than likely, Carlos Pena will have something to do with it.  He hit 28 homers last season.  Far from a career high, but he should relish Wrigley’s small-ish dimensions, not to mention the wind blowing out.  In this case, the signing is totally worth it, and Jim Hendry will have made a good investment.

Let’s say the Cubs, as expected, struggle, but Pena plays well.  July 31st rolls around, and someone is in need of a lefty power hitter.  Pena would most certainly be traded, and the Cubs could demand a high price for his services.  Can we say, all together now, major league ready pitching?

Finally, let’s say the Cubs suck, Pena plays well, but no trade can be worked out at the deadline.  Pena leaves as a free agent, and the Cubs pick up a draft pick in the process.

Maybe, just maybe, this deal can’t go wrong for the Cubs.  Then again, there’s a distinct possibility that it could go horribly wrong.

Pena is a phenomenal fielder as well.  He’s a Gold Glove winner, and he only made six errors at first in 142 games at the position last season.  A good fielder is what they needed, with Ramirez and Starlin Castro on the left side of the infield.  Both of those guys are known to uncork some wild throws from their positions, and someone who can dig balls out of the dirt is an incredible asset.

I think the jury is still out, and will be for some time.  It may even come back a hung jury.  I think, right now, the positives outweigh the negatives for the Cubs.  On one hand, it’s a lot of money to pay for another potential lame duck hitter in the middle of the lineup.  On the other hand, he can’t be much worse than last year at the plate, and he does bring good defense to the table.

Here’s what I want from Pena: .250 average, .375 OBP, 162 or fewer strikeouts, 35 or more homers, and 90 or more RBI.  Give me that, and I’ll give him my stamp of approval (not that it means anything).


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What a Day to Start Writing Again

By Brady Stiff

I’ve been meaning to get back to writing now for awhile.  Today’s a perfect day to do it I suppose.

Earlier this afternoon, Lou Piniella announced that he’ll be retiring at the end of this baseball season.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it should put an end to any sort of speculation that Ryne Sandberg or someone else might be taking over for Sweet Lou in midseason.

Lou Piniella announced today that he will retire at season's end.

I would have totally disagreed with firing Piniella during the season.  Yes, the Cubs have underperformed to date, but Lou may be the least responsible party for those struggles.  I’ve said it time and time again, baseball is the most individual team sport there is.  While you can win and lose as a team, so many times games come down to one at-bat.  Pitcher versus hitter.  If that guy doesn’t get the job done, on either end of the equation, his teammates can’t do anything about it.

We’ve seen good things lately from the Cubs, as they’ve started to score a few more runs.  Why?  Aramis Ramirez.  His numbers have skyrocketed with the temperature at Wrigley, and it shows with the Cubs’ newfound offensive production.  To win, you must have your middle-of-the-order guys hitting, and Lee and Ramirez have struggled all year.  If you add their batting averages together, you wouldn’t even get .500.

Speaking of Lee, he’s had a fine July as well, hitting just under .300 and raising his overall average to .244.

Back to Piniella, he’s done plenty of things to try to get this thing turned around.  He’s shaken up the lineup, played the kids, tried to be aggressive…everything but the kitchen sink.  The team always ends up shooting themselves in the foot with bad defense or a lack of clutch hitting.  It’s not Piniella’s fault.

Making the announcement now gives the Cubs plenty of time to figure out who his replacement might be.  Will it be Ryne Sandberg?  Bob Brenly?  Joe Girardi?  Your guess is as good as mine right now, but I do have a preference.

Some might say that making Ryne Sandberg the manager would be just a PR move, but I think it would be the wise thing to do.  Yes, that means letting Joe Girardi, the former Cub and World Series-winning manager sign with someone else.  Yes, that means letting Tony LaRussa re-sign with the Cardinals or someone else.  Ryne Sandberg is the right man for the job.

But he has no Major League experience, you say?  You would be correct.  But he’s been managing in the Cubs’ farm system for four years now.  He spent 2007-2008 at Single A Peoria, spent ’09 at the helm of the Cubs’ AA affiliate, and is currently at Triple A Iowa.  He took Peoria to the Championship Game in his first season there, and he’s currently got the Iowa Cubs tied for first in their division.

He’s managed several of the young Cubs, like Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner, along with more guys who could come up and play with the big club in September.

The Cubs have a great chance to get it right if they hire Ryno

My biggest reason for saying the Cubs need Ryne Sandberg is this:  They’re not ready to win now, and neither is Ryne Sandberg.  The Cubs are a team full of veterans and a few young kids.  The veterans’ contracts are expiring (at least some of them are), and I think they’ll let the free agents (Lilly and Lee) walk, rather than spend more money to keep them.  The Cubs’ farm system keeps improving, and I think Ryne Sandberg’s knowledge of the players would serve him well.

As a Cubs fan, I’d be content to let Sandberg take control, even if it means the team isn’t a legitimate contender for two or three years.  He’s going to get a Major League managerial job anyways, so it might as well be with the Cubs.  Give him time to grow with the young players on the roster, and help him turn the Cubs into a perennial contender that the fans deserve.

I’m resigned to the fact that the Cubs probably won’t win this year, though it would be nice to send Lou out as a winner.  I think it’s the right call to let him finish the season, and I think they have a chance to get it right if they hire Ryne Sandberg.

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The Stars Finally Align for Castro

Cubs fans, don’t run away and hide just yet.  The day you’ve been waiting for all season has finally arrived, and it’s when the Cubs most desperately need it.


Starlin Castro is on his way to Cincinnati where he’ll join the big boy club and make his major league debut tonight against the Reds. He’ll be making the jump from AA, but it’s been done before.

He may look as young as Henry Rowengartner, but he's the Cubs' new shortstop at just 20 years old.

I have to wonder is this is a move of desperation on the Cubs’ part.  They know where they stand on offense, and they’ve just been swept by the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Pirates aren’t that bad, really, but come on…it’s the Pirates!

Ryan Theriot is an average major league shortstop when it comes to defense, and some would argue below average.  That being said, he’s hitting .341 and among the National League leaders in hits.  He’ll be moved to second base to allow Castro to play shortstop.  It’s a move that would have happened eventually, so I guess they might as well do it now.

Chad Tracy is the odd man out, being sent down to AAA Iowa.  That move makes it seem as though Lou Piniella will stick with Aramis Ramirez at third until the bitter end, though he could plug in Jeff Baker or Mike Fontenot now that Theriot is at second.

Castro will bat eighth tonight, probably just to get him comfortable.  In that spot, he might get to see more fastballs, giving him more chances to hit.  At Double-A, he was hitting .376, and slugging a healthy .569.  He’s also got a high OBP, at .421.  If that translates to the big leagues, the Cubs will be more than pleased that they brought him up.

I think, ideally, Castro will lead off one day.  It’s been a long time since the Cubs have had a prototypical lead off man, a guy with a high OBP and speed.  Castro has the high OBP, but does he have the speed?  He’s only 4 out of 9 in stolen bases at the minors, and catchers only get better as you move up.  Castro was 0-for-1 in Spring Training.

If I’m Lou Piniella, here’s my ideal lineup….

  1. Castro, SS
  2. Theriot, 2B
  3. Lee, 1B
  4. Ramirez, 3B
  5. Byrd, CF
  6. Soriano, LF
  7. Fukudome, RF
  8. Soto, C
  9. Dempster, P

If everyone is hitting to their normal stat line, I think that’s a very potent lineup.  Plus with the pitching they’ve been getting, that would make the Cubs a legitimate playoff contender.  I hate leaving Soto down there in the 8 spot, but he’s been successful thus far.  He’s hitting over .300 and taking a lot of walks.

Not too long ago, I was listening to David Kaplan’s postgame show on WGN Radio, and he said that he’s talked with multiple major league scouts about Castro.  They all said that, in their opinion, if the Cubs brought Castro up too soon, they’d have another Cory Patterson on their hands.  Cubs fans know all too well about the likes of Cory Patterson and Felix Pie.

That’s why I have to wonder if it is a move of desperation.  Let’s face it, would I be writing this article if the Cubs swept the Pirates or even took two of three?  Probably not.

Let’s hope that Castro is the can’t-miss prospect everyone thinks he is.  The Cubs’ luck has to turn around sometime, right?

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It’s Just One Loss…

By Brady Stiff

…or is it?

As I’ve gotten older, and have followed baseball more and more, I’ve come to realize how much of a marathon the baseball season is.

It’s not like that’s a new revelation, and I’m not even moving a molehill, let alone a mountain with that statement.  But you listen to some of the people who call in to baseball postgame shows on the radio and you’d think they’re standing at the top of the Sears (excuse me, Willis) Tower, ready to jump.

Come on, it’s just one of 162.

Yeah, I'm scratching my head too Lou.

After losing two of three to the Nationals, though, there’s no real reason to be excited about Cubs baseball right now.  Yes, I know they were coming off of a three game sweep of the Brewers, but I also said that Cubs fans should have some perspective.  And then they go drop two of three to the Nationals (and the one they did win they needed an extra inning, bases loaded walk to do it).

Every summer, I and millions of other people invest so much into the ups and downs of the baseball season, more specifically on the North side of Chicago.

It’s just one game, Cubs fans.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t bitch about it…

Today’s debacle saw the Cubs and Nationals tied at two after two innings.  Ryan Dempster was pitching well, and the Cubs were actually making decent contact on a sinkerball pitcher.  Then Dempster left a pitch right out over the plate in the 4th, and Adam Dunn did what he does best, which is hit the ball a long way.

That was it for the scoring, but the Cubs certainly had their chances.  And they did what they do best sometimes, fail in multiple ways to get the runs in.  They went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, and that’s they left 11 on base for the game.  That’s the kind of stat that will drive a manager, and the teams fans, absolutely crazy.

Lou Piniella said after the game that he doesn’t know what’s wrong with the offense.  He said they are getting guys on base, they just have to get them in.

The situation that, in my mind, came back to haunt them the most came in the bottom of the 8th inning.  Marlon Byrd hit a leadoff double with the Cubs down by a run.  That brought Mike Fontenot to the plate with nobody out.  I was literally screaming at the TV…”BUNT!!!  BUNT!!!”

Fontenot didn’t once even hint at a bunt, and ended up popping out to the shortstop.  Chad Tracy, pinch hitting for Koyie Hill (Why in the world did Lou do that?) struck out swinging.  Lou then pinch hit for Dempster with Xavier Nady, who walked on four pitches.  Ryan Theriot then ended the inning by popping out to first on the first…let me say that again….FIRST pitch.

A mind-boggling 8th inning led to a less-than-thrilling 9th, and the Cubs losing again.

Now, after the game Lou was asked why he didn’t bunt with Mike Fontenot.  He jumped on the reporter….

“Bunting what?  With a left-handed hitter up?  With a left-handed hitter up you want to bunt?  What kind of baseball do you play?  Really, what kind of baseball do you play?  How about getting him in, or getting him over by swinging?  How about that?”

Well if I had asked the original question, and had the cahones to go toe-to-toe with Lou on the matter, here’s what I would say.

“Why yes, Lou, I do mean bunting with the left-handed hitter up.  At that point in the game, I don’t care if you sent Bilbo-freakin’-Baggins up there to hit, as long as he could get a bunt down.  What kind of baseball do I play?  I play to win.  I play to give myself the best chance to win the game.  I think that getting him over with a bunt would give you the best chance to get the tying run in from third.  Think of how many more ways that run can score from third.  Sacrifice fly, wild pitch/passed ball, slow grounder, error, balk, base hit.  Hell, even if the infield is pulled in, the batter could hit a rinky-dink line drive that would get over the infielders, but wouldn’t have if they were playing back.”

Then Lou would probably kick me out of the very small Wrigley Field press room, but at least I’d have a story to tell my grandkids.

Not sure why he pinch hit for Hill either.  Koyie Hill is a perfectly capable backup catcher, who’s known to get some clutch hits.  Tracy, who’s hitting .154, couldn’t get the job done.  It’s not like Lou was trying to get a favorable pitcher-hitter matchup, either.  Tracy is a lefty, and Hill is a switch hitter.  If you’re going to pinch hit for your catcher, you might as well just use your other catcher.

Oh yeah, Geovany Soto is hitting .362, and is 6 for his last 14.  Oops.

Guess what?  For once, you can’t pin a loss on the bullpen.  Hang this one on everyone else (except Dempster).

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What a Weekend for Chicago Baseball

Wasn’t it just Thursday or Friday that I was bashing both sides of town for having bad baseball teams?

Well, over the weekend, Chicago baseball accounted for six victories, with the White Sox sweeping the Mariners and the Cubs dominating the Brewers.

The White Sox eeked out three one-run victories over the Mariners, but hey, a win is a win is a win, right?  Carlos Quentin, Paul Konerko, and Andruw Jones all homered, with Jones homering twice, one of them being a walk-off shot in the ninth on Friday.

Andruw Jones is surrounded by his teammates after hitting a walk-off homer on Friday night. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

On Saturday, they made it two walk-off winners in a row as Alex Rios did the honors this time.  He did it while Ozzie Guillen watched from his office in the clubhouse after being ejected in the top of the ninth for arguing a call.  Ozzie wasn’t even watching the game.  He was watching a soap opera on Telemundo.

Don’t read into that with anything other than that’s just Ozzie being Ozzie.  I think that reading anything else into that would be a waste of time.

On Sunday it was another late-inning homer, but this time it wasn’t in the ninth.  Konerko hit a blast in the eighth that broke a tie and gave John Danks a win to complete the sweep. Continue reading

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Cubs Move Zambrano to Bullpen

Yeah, I’ll eat my words.  And it turns out Gordon Wittenmeyer was right.

Carlos Zambrano will have to take his act to the bullpen

Not long after I finished recording my podcast this afternoon, the Lou Piniella announced that he was moving Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen. 

“I told him we really needed him in the bullpen.  We felt he could do a really nice job for us there,” Piniella said before the game.  Continue reading

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Same Old, Same Old

Last night, the Cubs predictably lost yet another game.  Though this time they didn’t blow a lead in the late innings.

The bullpen failed to keep the Cubs in the game as the offense could muster only one run.  One measly run.

Say what you want about the bullpen’s inability to pitch.  In fact, you could say a lot of things.  A lot of negative things.  Say what you want about Jeff Samardzija’s inability to get anyone out.  Whatever you say is completely vailid, because it’s a reality.

I’ll tell you what.  I’m not going to drone on about the Cubs’ problems last night because they’re the same problems they’ve had all along.  They’ll get a great outing from a starting pitcher, won’t score any runs for him, and then the bullpen will either give up the small lead, or won’t be able to keep the Cubs in the game. Continue reading

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