This is Getting Ridiculous.

The MLB Hall of Fame voting results were announced today, and from a ballot that contained the all time home run leader, a seven time Cy Young award winner, the greatest offensive catcher of all time, a member of the 3,000 hit club who scored the 15th most runs in history, the greatest lead off hitter ever not named Rickey Henderson, arguably the greatest DH of all time, a member of the 500 home run club, a member of the 600 home run club, a guy who is a member of both the 500 home run and 3,000 hit club, a pitcher with over 200 wins and 3,000 strikeouts…Exactly zero players were elected.

Look, I understand the steroid argument, and for a while, I was on the other side of it. I hated these guys for what they did, that they cheated, but when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were rescuing baseball from the hit it took when the sport went on strike, almost no one seemed to mind or care that McGwire’s forearms were bigger than most toddlers. In fact, if a writer suggested that those numbers from the summer of 1998 were tainted, most other writers turned on him or her like a pack of wild dogs, tearing them to pieces for even suggesting such a thing. One writer noticed a bottle of steroids Mark McGwire had in his locker in 1998, and asked him about it. He explained what it was, and that he used it to strengthen his back. Almost every other major sport had banned deca-durabolin, but guess what? Major League Baseball hadn’t. Why not do everything you can to gain an advantage? Is Barry Bonds a good guy? No, probably not. But he just decided to do what a good portion of the sport was, and his natural talents got a serious bump, leading to some of the craziest statistics we’ve ever seen. The fact of the matter is, most of the sport was taking something. Roger Clemens falls into the same category as Barry Bonds. He was bitter that others were putting up crazy numbers and getting attention, and most likely decided to do something about it.

MLB writers have already jumped the shark when it comes to steroids and the Hall of Fame. Mike Piazza didn’t get in? Really? The most dominant offensive catcher we’ve ever seen? Why, because it LOOKED like he might’ve done steroids? Same for Jeff Bagwell? And what about Craig Biggio, 3,000 hits doesn’t get you elected anymore? Writers are changing their rules on the fly because they’re trying to look unbiased, and a player like Craig Biggio is paying for it. What do we know? Craig Biggio might’ve been taking something too, turning what would’ve been an infield pop up into a bloop single.

Babe Ruth never faced a black or Hispanic pitcher (or batter for that matter), which isn’t his individual fault of course, but the sport’s as a whole. The New York Giants were stealing signs against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951, which led to “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World” (Hell, sign stealing is still acceptable if you can get away with it by most standards). Whitey Ford has admitted to doctoring baseballs, and says he’d be cheating if he still pitched today. Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Hank Aaron all took “Greenies”, which are methamphetamines, that would perk you up for the game, or keep you going during a double header. Phil Niekro got caught with an emery board ON THE MOUND DURING A GAME, and guess what? He’s in the Hall of Fame!

Somehow, cheating has become romanticized within baseball. When most people watch the video of Niekro trying to throw the emery board away, and the umpires catch him, they laugh. It’s a silly looking situation, but the fact remains that this guy was caught cheating in the MIDDLE of a baseball game, and a few years later was still elected into the Hall of Fame. Steroids happened. They are a part of the game’s history, just like all of the other instances I’ve mentioned. Might steroids have been more rampant than other forms of cheating? Maybe. Did steroids lead to a bigger statistics jump than say, greenies or bat corking? Possibly. But the fact remains, MLB and its writers turned a blind eye to steroid use in baseball when it was convenient for them, but now are acting as if they never had any idea that it was happening. Like McGwire, a lot of these players had bottles of this stuff out in the open, for anyone to see, because it wasn’t illegal at the time. Some writers claim they were suspicious, but never bothered following up, or never bothered doing it publicly.

I still don’t like many of the players on this year’s ballot for what they may or may not have done, or how they carried themselves on or off the baseball field (or inside or outside a courtroom for that matter), but enough is enough. The Steroid Era is part of baseball, just like The Dead Ball Era. These guys should not have done what they did, but they did it because so many others were as well, and no one cared at the time. Let them in.


The Next Four Months: The Boston Red Sox

Well hello there. Sorry about the, um, complete lack of posts. What are ya gonna do? I ain’t gettin’ paid. Today I’m starting a series of posts called The Next Four Months, hitting on some high profile teams that didn’t make the playoffs, along with teams as they are eliminated, and what they need to do for next year. First up, I’m going to take a look at the Boston Red Sox, a team that lived up to expectations for most of the season, save for the first 10 games and the last 20 or so. For 130 games, they were the best team in baseball.

The Red Sox have far more issues heading into the off season than anyone would have ever expected. They need a new manager, and might need a new general manager as well if Theo Epstein decides to bolt for Chicago (gorilla suit optional). So since the Red Sox will be starting here, let’s do the same.

Manager

Terry Francona actually leaving was an absolute shock, to me at least, and his replacement will have big shoes to fill. The saving grace for the new guy is that the last memory fans will have is of their team’s collapse. If the Red Sox start out poorly again however, memories of 2004 and 2007 will seep into The Nation’s consciousness real fast. I don’t believe the Red Sox will promote a member of Francona’s staff to manager, since one of the reasons the team and manager parted ways was due to his “relaxed” clubhouse. Hiring a guy who agreed with that philosophy doesn’t make sense if they’re looking for a fresh start. The Red Sox aren’t the type of franchise that needs the big name, after all Francona wasn’t a big name back in ’04, and neither was the runner up, Joe Maddon. A few names have trickled out that the Sox might be considering, and some make more sense than others. The most recognizable name to Red Sox fans is Dale Sveum, who is currently the hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers. I don’t get this. Sveum was the 3rd base coach of the Sox for two seasons, and Boston hated him then. I’ve never seen a 3rd base coach so disliked by a fan base. Most fan bases don’t even know who their 3rd base coach is. But Boston knows. NEXT. Another name which has been whispered is Pete Mackanin, the Phillies bench coach. Mackanin is one of those baseball lifers, he’s been everywhere and seen and done everything, except be a full time manager. He’s been an interim guy a couple of times, with the Pirates in 2005, and the Reds in 2007. As Charlie Manuel’s right hand man, Mackanin has certainly seen plenty of winning and has learned from one of the best. He’d be a fine choice for the Red Stockings. He also has that whole Joe Maddon look going on, which leads me to my third and final candidate. Joe Maddon’s bench coach is Dave Martinez, another baseball lifer, albeit younger than Mackanin. Martinez played 16 seasons in the majors, retiring in 2001, and became the Rays’ bench coach in 2007. That means Martinez has been along for most of Joe Maddon’s ride as manager, and has watched the team rise from perennial cellar dweller to perennial playoff team. Just as Joe Maddon was part of the Mike Scosia tree of managers, it seems that Maddon will be the next tree from which new managers are plucked. I believe Martinez would be the best choice for the Red Sox, as he would bring a fresh voice with him, as well as some of that Joe Maddon style. Hiring Martinez would also deal a blow to one of their division rivals, despite Maddon saying that he would do cartwheels if Martinez was hired as a manager. As far as I’m concerned, Martinez is the guy. On to the team!

Rotation

The Red Sox thought they had a strong rotation heading into 2011, and on paper, they did. Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Bucholz, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka could be put up against any other starting five in the majors, and they would probably come out on top. Problem is, by the time the season was over, Daisuke Matsuzaka had made just 7 starts, and Clay Bucholz 14. John Lackey made 28, but finished with the highest ERA in the history of the organization. The right guy never gets hurt. Josh Beckett had a come back season of sorts, compiling his lowest WHIP of his career, but still finished with just 13 wins. Jon Lester had another very solid season, and is still just 27 years old. Tim Wakefield made 23 starts in 2011. Unacceptable. If the Sox bring him back, which is a bigger if this off season than the past few, that number will have to be quartered. If he makes more than a handful of starts in 2012, the Red Sox will probably be in a situation similar to this year. Next year, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Bucholz will be counted on to anchor the rotation. John Lackey will almost certainly be there, simply due to his contract. If he has another “historic” season however, the Red Sox will have to cut ties and swallow the loss. Matsuzaka is busy recovering from Tommy John surgery, and anything he gives the Sox will be a bonus. With those four in the fold, I have to imagine that the Red Sox will look from within to fill the 4th starter spot. Yes I said 4th, because there is no way anyone who joins the rotation can be worse than Lackey. Alfredo Aceves would probably be the top option, but his real value lies in his swing man ability. He can be a long man, middle, or set up guy. In games Aceves started, he actually had an ERA over 5. His gusto can’t be questioned however, as I think he was the only guy who pitched for the Red Sox for the last week or so. Francona may have Keith Foulke’d him up. The Red Sox may also go bargain shopping, seeing who they can get off the scrap heap after watching the Yankees’ success with Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon this season. The Yankees don’t come anywhere near the playoffs without those two. The bottom line is, the Red Sox thought they had enough pitching going into 2011, and they learned the hard way, that you can never have enough. Look for them to stock up on spring training invites.

Bullpen

If you asked me before the season started what the odds were of the Red Sox resigning Jonathan Papelbon, I probably would’ve put them at 50/50. Papelbon is going to be expensive, and the Red Sox have shown that they aren’t afraid of letting their own brand name players walk. However, after Daniel Bard’s September nervous breakdown (seriously, that was impressive) the odds have probably improved to 60/40 or 70/30. Bard looked like a sure thing for the Red Sox, right up until he didn’t. The Red Sox can’t hands the keys to Bard after a month like that. Letting Papelbon walk and signing a short term replacement isn’t much of an option either, since I don’t think anyone in New England would enjoy watching Francisco Rodriguez try to close out a game against the middle of the Yankees’ order. Heath Bell is a fine closer, but he’s older than Papelbon and will be just as expensive. Looks like Paps will be sticking around. If Aceves stays in the bullpen, he’s as close to a sure thing as you can get. Matt Albers will get another shot, but if he pitches like he did in the second half this year, he’ll be gone by June. Franklin Morales will probably get a shot at a bigger role as the primary lefty out of the ‘pen, with his high 90’s gas. If Wakefield comes back, he’s your designated long guy/mop up man. He cannot be more than that.

Lineup

The lineup is the least of the Red Sox worries, with MVP Jacoby Ellsbury leading things off. Or is Dustin Pedroia the MVP? Or is it Adrian Gonzalez? See what I’m getting at? The Red Sox have lots of good players. There won’t be too many moving parts, but a big departure could be that of the big man himself, David Ortiz. Ortiz had a fantastic contract season, and during it was already complaining about the fact that the Red Sox hadn’t started negotiations toward a new contract. I would expect Ortiz back on a two year deal, but if he gets greedy and demands more years or too many dollars, like I said earlier, the Red Sox will thank him for his time and send him on his way (Seattle?). If Ortiz walks, I would advise the Red Sox to bring Marco Scutaro back on a one year deal if they can after his excellent 2011 (at less than the $7 million he earned this year if possible) and let Jed Lowrie assume a super utility role, like that of his Yankee counterpart Eduardo Nunez. Kevin Youkilis is a great player and a great hitter, but he has to actually be in the lineup to show that. It’s clear that the move back to 3rd base screwed Youkilis up this season, and most likely led to his injury woes. If Ortiz walks, Youkilis can get as many at bats at DH as he needs while Lowrie fills in at 3rd with a more than capable bat and glove. Yes Youkilis is an excellent fielder, but you’d rather have his bat and no glove than nothing at all. Dealing Lowrie this off season would be selling low, and a mistake. If the Red Sox want to take a different approach, signing someone like Jason Kubel or Michael Cuddyer to man right field and occasionally DH isn’t a bad backup. The key to this lineup heading forward is, who else, Carl Crawford. Crawford needs to show that 2011 was a fluke, and that he still is the player who lit the league on fire while playing for Tampa Bay. Crawford needs to get his bat going, since his defense is never going to be what it was in Tampa Bay, simply due to the Green Monster. As soon as the Sox signed him to play left field at Fenway, Crawford became an above average defender, instead of an elite one. If Manny Ramirez can handle left field at The Fens, you probably don’t need to be shelling out $142 million for a glove. Due to this, he has ceded his crown to Brett Gardner. The positive side to this perhaps is that this off season Crawford can devote more time to getting his offensive game back on track, and worry less about his D. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has earned himself another look and a few more games behind the plate most likely, and it remains to be seen if Varitek comes back. If he wants to, chances are he’l fill the exact same role for the Sox in 2012 that he did in 2011.

There you have it. I’m not going to address the bench, since the Red Sox, like the Yankees and other contenders worry about it last, often building it as the season goes along up until the deadline. Mike Aviles seemed to thrive in his new environment, and is a guy who can play pretty much anywhere, which is valuable. I don’t believe the Red Sox will do any big game hunting (C.J. Wilson, Yu Darvish, Albert Pujols), but who knows? If Epstein leaves, and a new GM and manager combo want to make changes, anything is possible, especially in New England. Bottom line, this is still a very, very good team, who just happened to not only miss their own expectations, but the sky high ones some people put on them. They’ll be a force in 2012 no matter what.


Why the Blue Jays are the new Devil Rays. Or the old Devil Rays. The new Rays. Forget it.

With today’s trades, the Toronto Blue Jays landed themselves Colby Rasmus, a 24 year old stud center fielder who in 2009 was ranked as the third best prospect in all of baseball. In two full seasons, Rasmus amassed a .263/.334/.452 slash for the St. Louis Cardinals, despite reportedly clashing with managed Tony LaRussa. Rasmus appeared to be on his way to stardom after belting 23 home runs and driving in 66 with a .276/.361/.498 line as a 23 year old in 2010, but this year has regressed, with his average and on base both falling 30 points, and his slugging nosediving by more than 70. For both of these reasons it seems, the Cardinals agreed to send Colby north of the border to Toronto for little more than a two month rental in Edwin Jackson, who the Jays acquired earlier in the day from the Chicago White Sox for their number three rated prospect, left hander Zach Stewart. Earlier in the week it was reported that the White Sox were interested in Rasmus, but it seems they valued the lefty Stewart higher than him, since they could have just swung the deal themselves. This post isn’t about this deal however, but instead about the impressive collection of talent the Blue Jays have been quietly collecting up in Canada. Now that Colby is on his way up to Toronto, the Jays’ lineup could look something like this for their next game:

Y. Escobar, SS
E. Thames, RF
J. Bautista, 3B
A. Lind, 1B#39 prospect in 2008
E. Encarnacion, DH
C. Rasmus, CF#3 prospect in 2009
A. Hill, 2B
T. Snider, LF#6 prospect in 2009
J. Arencibia, C

Let’s not forget about the Jays top prospect, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who has struggled so far this season at Double A, and third baseman Brett Lawrie, who they acquired from the Brewers for Shawn Marcum. Lawrie was about to be called up when he broke his wrist, but has since healed and is tearing up Triple A to the tune of .352/.412/.655. Anyway, wanna know how many guys in that lineup are 30 or older? Just one. That’s Jose Bautista, and he’s 30 on the nose. He’s also one of the keepers in that lineup, along with Yunel Escobar, Adam Lind, Rasmus, Travis Snider, J.P. Arencibia, Lawrie once he’s called up, and possibly Aaron Hill, who hasn’t been the same player in the last couple of years and has an $8 million team option for next season. That’s potentially eight lineup spots you can just fill out, and not have to think about. If the Jays grab a legitimate first baseman, Lind is better suited for DH anyway.

The Jays’ talent level isn’t the only thing impressive about the club, it’s how they went about assembling it. Of the keepers I just named, Hill, Lind, Snider, and Arencibia were drafted by Toronto, and the others came aboard in trades the Jays absolutely won. Yunel Escobar was one of the Atlanta Braves’ top prospects when he debuted in 2007 as a 24 year old, and all he did was produce a .326/.385/.451 slash. In 2008 and 2009, Escobar averaged 12 home runs and 68 RBIs, with a .294/.371/.418 line. He fell off a cliff in 2010, hitting .238 for the Braves in 75 games without a single home run before they decided they needed to upgrade at shortstop in order to make the playoffs. They traded Escobar to the Jays for 33 year old Alex Gonzalez, who was hitting just .259/.296/.497 at the time of the trade, but had 17 home runs and 50 RBIs. The Braves wanted home runs and ribbies from their shortstop, and Gonzalez would give it to them. They knew exactly what they were doing, and pulled the trigger. They did indeed wind up making the playoffs, losing in the first round. So far this season for the Braves, Gonzalez is batting .225 with a .257 OBP and eight home runs. North of the border meanwhile, Yunel has rebounded to the sound of .307/.386/.446. This deal was a TKO for the Jays. Colby Rasmus we of course just spoke about, and in the end the deal comes down to the Jays grabbing Rasmus along with some depth for Zach Stewart, and a couple of bullpen arms. The deal makes no sense for the Cards, but that’s another article. The Jays didn’t seem inclined to deal their bullpen guys, since they had a few who were Type-B free agents, and would net the Jays a draft pick. However, when you can pick up a player with Rasmus’ potential, you deal the arms. Bullpen guys are the easiest part of a team to assemble, and should never stop a deal like this from happening (unless it’s Mariano Rivera). Of course, the Jays’ biggest trade in recent memory is when they picked up a super utility guy named Jose Bautista for a player to be named later. It doesn’t really matter who that player was or is, since he won’t be coming close to the production Bautista has given the Blue Jays. If you’re reading this, you know Bautista’s story, so I won’t go into it, or whether or not Bautista’s transformation has occurred naturally. The bottom line is, the Jays are in possession of possibly the most feared hitter in the American League, and they have him through 2016 due to the five year, $64 million deal he was signed to before the season (a contract I thought was insane at the time).

So the Jays have acquired two long term pieces (Escobar, Bautista) for nothing, and another (Rasmus) for filler and a prospect. No one ever expects all of a team’s prospects to work out, but Adam Lind has rebounded from his disastrous 2010, Travis Snider is still just 23, and J.P. Arencibia is 25. I still love Snider’s upside, and with the current state of catching around baseball, Arencibia doesn’t have to do a whole lot to be considered above average. Oh yeah, and we haven’t even gotten to their pitching yet, which includes 26 year old lefty Ricky Romero, who is quickly turning into an ace. It also includes Brandon Morrow, who at one point was one of the Seattle Mariners’ top prospects, before being dealt to the Jays for Brandon League, who has finally put it all together this season and earned himself a trip to the All-Star game. Morrow is also just 26, and is under team control through 2014. Morrow has always had great stuff, and if he can keep his walks down could be a solid number two type guy for the Blue Jays. Speaking of which, Morrow’s walks per nine are the lowest they’ve ever been, at 3.5, while his strike outs per nine is at 10.5. If he can shave another walk off, Morrow is going to pay dividends. Brett Cecil is another lefty, just 25, under team control through 2016, who should be able to keep a spot in the rotation. The Jays top pitching prospect is Kyle Drabek, who is currently in the minors after a rough stint in the majors. Drabek was of course acquired in the Roy Halladay deal, in which the Blue Jays needed to make sure they got the best possible prospects, since they were trading the best pitcher on the planet. The Blue Jays still hope Drabek turns into an ace, but the lopsided deals the Jays have benefited from recently would make this deal much easier to stomach if it turns out to be a bust. Of course, Drabek is just 23, and has plenty of time to turn it around.

In the years when the Jays really struggled, their general manager was J.P. Riccardi. Riccardi was criticized for several moves and signings that he made, but now some of those moves (Bautista especially) and his drafts have started to pay off. When he was fired, Alex Anthopoulos took over, and immediately began to clear house, dealing the face of the franchise Roy Halladay just two months into his tenure. The Jays improved by ten games from 2009 to 2010, going 85-77. This past January, Anthopoulos made a trade which I and everyone else considered impossible, shipping the disappointing Vernon Wells and his $86 million albatross of a contract to the Angels. It did not matter at all who the Blue Jays got back, since the Angels agreed to eat every single cent of the contract. Anthopoulos has followed the Tampa Bay Rays’ model, prioritizing cheap, young talent. He has also allocated the club’s resources extremely well. If players don’t want to come to Toronto as free agents, then he’ll spend the money elsewhere, like the international market. All the big teams were in on Adeiny Hechavarria, but the birds from the north got him. In a large city such as Toronto, the team and its management are beginning to believe in themselves and their future. Team president Paul Beeston believes it is only a matter of time:

“With this city, with this country, with our market, we should be a city that can have $140 or $150MM in the way of salaries…We should be able to support that and that’s the direction that we’re headed to…We’re not here to be a competitive baseball team…We’re here to win the World Series on a sustainable basis.”

The Blue Jays’ payroll is just $61 million and change this season, so if ownership can be convinced to pony up the cash, Alex Anthopoulos could have a lot of money to play with, and soon. With such a solid, young, and cheap core in place, smart investments in free agent arms and bats could make the Blue Jays a 90 win team as soon as next year, when you consider that they are on pace to finish exactly at .500 (81-81) this season. In fact, I genuinely expect the AL East to have four teams with at least 85 wins next season, and I put it at 85 and not 90 because I’m not sure the Rays will get there. That’s right, I think the Jays can and will finish ahead of the Rays in 2012. The Jays are right where the Rays were in 2007, circling the wagons, beginning to make noise. The difference is, the Jays are already better than Tampa was then, who finished 30 games under .500. The Jays also play in a better market than the Rays, and shouldn’t have the same payroll concerns. The Jays will have a bigger window to win, and more money to do it with.

Now, if they would only do something about that turf.


What Makes a HOFer?

Have you heard the tale of Player A? After coming up for a for a cup of coffee, the next season he came up to stay, and over the next ten years averaged 33 home runs and 100 RBIs, with a .263/.343/.498 slash. Tragically, Player A wandered into an over capacity tar factory one day, and was blown to smithereens. Player A finished his career with 363 home runs and 1,104 RBIs, and the aforementioned slash.

The tale of Player B is also one you may have heard, and far less tragic. Player B played 14 truly full seasons in the majors, averaging 27 home runs and 101 RBIs, with a terrific .300/.354/.507 line.  Player B finished his career with 382 home runs, 1,451 RBIs, 2,452 hits and a .298/.352/.502 line. After 14 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, Player B finally got his day in the sun, but not without controversy. Many argued that Player B didn’t deserve to be in the Hall, while others argued that his dominance over his peers during the height of his career was enough. If you couldn’t figure it out by now, Player B is Boston Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice. Did you figure out Player A though? Here’s a hint: He didn’t die in a tar factory explosion, he just suddenly and completely ceased being anything near the baseball player he was for the first 10 full seasons of his career.

Ta da, it’s Andruw Jones! For the first 10 years of his career with the Braves, Jones appeared to be a surefire Hall of Famer. In his age 30 season, Jones finished with his worst numbers since he was a 20 year old, and after the season signed a two year, $36 million contract with the Dodgers. Jones’ tenure in Los Angeles didn’t go exactly as either Jones or the Dodgers planned, as Andruw gave L.A. a .158/.256/.249 slash and three home runs. All year. Read that line again, because it’s real. He was released after the season, forcing the Dodgers to swallow $18 million. While Mr. Jones appeared to be completely finished, he signed on with the Texas Rangers and in 82 games produced 17 home runs and 43 RBIs, with a  .222/.311/.413 Laura Linney. Those numbers were nothing near what anyone had come to expect from the one time future HOFer, but for a part time player they were respectable. Jones jumped to the ChiSox the next season, getting into 107 games and churning out 19 home runs, 48 RBIs, and a .230/.341/.486 guitarist from Guns N’ Roses. So far this season with the Yankees, Andruw Jones has 6 home runs and 17 RBIs and a super ugly line of .213/.288/.426. So, with ALL that being said, Jones is 34 years old, and has 413 home runs, 1,239 RBIs, 1,860 hits, and a .256/.338/.487 line in his career. Most wouldn’t deny that Jim Rice had the better overall career (see above) but was he more dominant than Andruw Jones at the peak of his career? Hooray for the fun part beginning! (Read in the voice of Dr. Zoidberg)

From 1975 to 1986, Jim Rice averaged 29 home runs and 106 RBIs, with the obviously superior to Jones slash of .304/.356/.520. I discussed Jones’ decade of excellence above, averaging 33 home runs and 100 RBIs, with a .263/.343/.498 slash. Based just on this, Jones and Rice are very similar players, but the nod obviously goes to Rice for his average being 41 points higher. But what’s this? Mr. Advanced Metrics has come to say hi! What’s that you say? You want us to look at Rice and Jones’ WAR numbers for the same periods of time? Okay, let’s: From 1975 to 1986, Jim Rice accumulated 42.2 wins above replacement, a great number for a great player. From 1997 to 2007, Andruw Jones (one year less than Rice remember) comes away with 60 wins. Wow. Hell, Rice’s career WAR is 41.5.  Almost the entire gap in their WAR numbers can be attributed to Andruw Jones’ spectacular defense, which accounted for 24.6 of the wins in that time period (Jones is second all time to Brooks Robinson in dWAR). Rice’s dWAR is 2.9. By any defensive metric, Andruw Jones comes away as one of the greatest defensive center fielders of all time. He isn’t near that level anymore, but he still won’t embarrass himself. As far as active players go, Jones is 11th overall in WAR, and the only player younger than him on the list ahead of him is Albert Pujols. So now what? Does that make Andruw Jones a HOFer? Does his ten year streak across the sky of offensive and defensive dominance put him next to the likes of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays? The reason I used Jim Rice as a comparison is that Rice appears to be the bare minimum as far as HOFers go. As I said above, it took Rice until his final year on the ballot to gain entry to The Hall, and that was after an intense 14 year campaign by some writers, the Red Sox, and Rice himself. Rice is 68th among HOFers in hits, 27th in home runs, 40th in RBIs, and 86th in batting average. Remember also that many of the men below him were voted in by the Veterans’ Committee, played in the dead ball era, or had their careers interrupted by a major war. Any way you slice it, Rice is probably the “worst” player ever voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Which, once again, brings us to Andruw Jones. At this point in his career, Jones has obviously made more money than he could ever spend (if the Dodgers can manage to pay him), and could retire tomorrow, at the end of the year, or in five years. Let’s say Jones plays four more years, all part time duty, but more along the lines of his seasons with the Rangers and White Sox than the Yankees, where he hasn’t gotten to play as much. Jones can finish this season with 10 home runs, then rack up four more seasons where he averages about 13 homers and 40 RBIs, with something like a .220/.320/.420 line. When Mr. Jones retires after the 2015 season, he will finish with 469 home runs, 1,412 RBIs, 2,075 hits, and a .250/.340/.480 slash. Uh oh! Conundrum.  As poorly as Jones has performed since 2008, those are still fairly conservative estimates. If an injury should happen to force Jones into full time duty for most of a season, chances are he’ll accidentally manage to hit 20+ home runs. OH, and don’t forget about the whole “top five defensive center fielder in the history of baseball” thing.

Look, Jones’ candidacy will surely be dissected and debated just as fiercely as Rice’s was, I’m just getting a head start. If you are of the opinion that despite Rice’s middling home run, RBI and hit totals, his slash line and preeminence above pretty much every other outfielder during his career make him a HOFer, then it is tough to deny Jones entry. Despite Jones’ middling slash line, RBI and hit totals, his closeness to the 500 homer club, artistry in the outfield, his excellent WAR totals, and his own dominance above most outfielders during the prime of his career have to make Jones a HOFer.

So, is Andruw Rudolph (seriously) Jones a HOFer? If you asked me right now, I’d say…No. If Jones does continue to play at his barely above replacement levels…Possibly. If he does exactly what I’ve laid out for him to do…then…Possibly. Unless Jones suddenly turns back into his 1997 to 2007 form, he definitely isn’t going to be a first ballot-er. However, as time goes on, there’s no reason to think that Jones won’t net well more then the minimum five percent of the vote to stay on the ballot, as voters forget about his fall from grace and instead recall his excellent numbers. When a 19 year old kid from Curacao was blasting home runs into the dark, October Bronx sky in 1996, we never could’ve guessed the career he would go on to have. A decade later, when the 30 year old Jones was hoisting his 10th straight Gold Glove award, we never could’ve guessed that just four years later, we’d be wondering about whether or not he is deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown. Honestly, I look forward to the rest of the guessing.


“WAR” Games. Double Derp.

If you’re not familiar with WAR, it’s a statistic which stands for Wins Above Replacement. The “replacement” part of it stands for a replacement level player, or basically someone who is exactly league average. In recent years this has become a very popular statistic for measuring a player’s value to their team (Jose Bautista is a full 1.4 wins above the second place player, Jose Reyes. Yay Joses!). The fun part about WAR, like many advanced metric statistics, is that it is likely to surprise you with who it believes are some of the better players in the league. With that in mind let’s take a look at some unlikely WAR heroes from the first half of the season (I cannot get enough of my own awful “WAR” jokes).

2B Danny Espinosa, Nationals: 3.3 WAR

Depending on how big a baseball fan you are, there are only two reaction’s to reading Danny Espinosa’s name: “Well yeah of course”, or “Who the hell is that?”. A majority of baseball fans would probably land in the latter category, but that probably has as much to do with Espinosa playing for the Nationals as it does his rookie status. In New York or Boston, this kid would be king of the world. The 24 year old Espinosa played in 28 games last season, resulting in a .217/.277/.447 slash with 6 home runs in 112 plate appearances. This year however, has been a different story. In 92 first half games, Espinosa has a .242/.332/.460 line, with 16 home runs, 52 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. Espinosa has never hit for average as a member of the Nationals’ system, topping out over .300 just once in low A. He also strikes out way too much, over 22% of the time this year, placing him in the top 25 with the likes of Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds, and Carlos Pena. Enough negatives though, what the Nationals have on their hands is a future middle of the order hitter, someone that will make up the meat of their lineup with Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and eventually, Bryce Harper. Espinosa is a plus player in every aspect of the game, from fielding (UZR +3.5) to base running (+2.3) and of course hitting. Espinosa’s BABIP is just .274, so if he gets a little bit luckier that batting average won’t look so bad. Personally, Espinosa should have been an All Star this year, and probably should have started over Rickie Weeks. However I don’t even have much of an argument with him not landing a starting gig, as again, most fans have not heard of him. My beef is more with Bruce Bochy, who overlooked Espinosa to name Brandon Phillips as the backup (just because a guy finishes second in the fan vote doesn’t mean they should automatically get a spot on the bench by the way). However I’m sure the Nationals are happy with their breakout second baseman getting a much needed rest, so that he can resume his rookie season and continue to have a higher WAR than the likes of Brandon Phillips, Gordon Beckham, Dan Uggla (yikes about how THAT season) and Robinson Cano.

CF Melky Cabrera, Royals: 3.0 WAR

Yeah, THAT Melky Cabrera. When he was traded from the Yankees to the Braves in the Javier Vazquez, Boone Logan, Arodys Vizcaino trade, I thought he would quietly fade into obscurity, like so many average players do when they leave a major market like New York. Cabrera didn’t disappoint, winding up with a .255/.317/.354 line in 147 games, a full win below replacement. When Melky signed with the Royals this off season, I wished him well on his journey into the 4th dimension, where he would never been seen or heard from again. Wrong! In 88 games this year, The Melk Man already has 7 more home runs, 5 more RBIs and 5 more steals than all of last year, hastily coming to a stop at the All Star break (watch him round first and stop sometime) with a .293/.332/.455 slashy slash. UZR hasn’t liked Melky since 2009, but this year he’s at -0.5, much better than last year’s mark of -12.7. Cabrera has been +3.5 runs on the bases, and overall has been a pleasant surprise in Kansas City, giving them another potentially valuable trade chip at the deadline. Even if UZR views Melky as below average, teams will view him as a switch hitting solid defender with pop and a little bit of speed. Not bad. Of course, the Royals could always try to hang onto Melky, who is still only 26, forming two-thirds of a young, talented outfield with the (finally producing) Alex Gordon. As far as signs of regression go, most of Melky’s numbers are right in line with his career norms. His walks are actually down 3% from last season, and his strike outs are up, so if those stats begin to correct themselves Melky might only get better. The only statistic Melky has to worry about, and it isn’t much of a worry, is his BABIP, which currently sits at .318. Even if that number begins to creep closer to .300, his walk rate should rise, canceling out any sort of drop off. Another All Star snub, I’m sure Melky is excited to get the second half going again so he can continue to produce at a higher rate than the likes of Adam Jones, B.J. Upton, Drew Stubbs, Colby Rasmus, Austin Jackson, and Carlos Gonzalez.

SP Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals: 3.3 WAR

Quick, which pitcher in baseball who has never appeared in an All Star game has the highest WAR? This guy. Meet Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals young righty who has made the D.C. faithful forget about Stephen Strasburg (momentarily). There are only 11 pitchers in baseball with a better WAR than Zimmermann, and hey it’s an impressive list, so let’s fill you in: Halladay, Sabathia, Weaver, Verlander, Haren, Hamels, Kershaw, Hernandez, Lee, Shields, and Lincecum. That’s it. Those 11 guys (5 of whom have started an All Star game) have been better than Jordan Zimmermann so far this season. Jordan actually made the Nationals as a 5th starter in 2009, throwing 91 innings before succumbing to Tommy John surgery. Zimmermann made it back to the majors last season, tossing 31 innings, but this has been his true break out campaign. Currently Zim is the proud owner of a 2.66 ERA, walking just 1.64 batters per 9 innings, and allowing just 0.31 home runs per 9. His win-loss is just 6 and 7, a reflection of his team as a whole rather than just him. Zimmerman’s FIP is a healthy 2.58, so his strong showing is no fluke.  Zimmermann’s strike outs per 9 innings are down, but with his low walk rate it’s all good. Zimmerman is neither an extreme fly or ground ball pitcher, resulting in a 60/40 split. Zimmermann’s fastball wasn’t affected by the TJ surgery, and is still humming along at an average of 93.1 mph, actually up a full mph from last year, when he was still presumably recovering. Zimmermann throws his fastball nearly 60% of the time, mixing in a slider and cutter, and very occasionally throwing a change up. I expect Zimmermann to be a quality Major League pitcher for a long time and a solid number two to Stephen Strasburg next year, but some of his numbers are bound to take a tumble due to his peripheral stats. Jordan’s BABIP is .279, which while not outrageous, will inch closer to .300 as the year continues, unless he figures out how to feed more ground balls to his terrific infield defense. The real number of concern for Zimmerman is his home run to fly ball ratio which currently sits at a miniscule 2.7% (even Roy Halladay’s is 6.5% and C.C. Sabathia’s 3.9).  Zimmermann’s ratio is a full 1.2% lower than Sabathia, who is next in line. Soon enough Zimmermann will make his first start of the second half, and will attempt to continue to out pitch guys like Matt Cain, Josh Beckett, Matt Garza, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Ubaldo Jiminez, and Chris Carpenter.


“TRADING” Places! Derp.

When the season starts, every fan has an idea in their head of what players may be available at the trading deadline, and what teams may be buying and selling. The first half of the 2011 baseball season has given us the usual array of high and low lights, break out players and disappointments, surprise teams and underachievers. Some teams plans’ have changed, such as the Indians and Pirates, who now appear to be deadline buyers, instead of sellers like they have been for the last few years (the Pirates much, much longer than the Indians). The Twins, a perennial contender, got off to an absolutely dreadful start, and while they have played their way back into the division race a bit, they’re still six and a half games back with three teams in front of them. With that being said, here are a few trades I think could and should be made before July 31st.

Pirates acquire 1B/OF Michael Cuddyer, Twins acquire Andrew Lambo OF, Chase D’Arnaud, SS

The Pirates are just a game out of first place at the All Star break this season, easily the closest they’ve been SINCE 1992.  The Pirates’ young players have taken the next step in their development this season, which has sped the Pirates’ rebuilding process up. The Pirates’ arms have far surpassed expectations (and to be honest they could use another one), but between the great play of the Pirates on the field, and reinforcements coming from the DL, I believe the Pirates biggest need is another power bat. The Pirates are averaging just 3.93 runs per game, and have just 59 home runs. Power isn’t as important in the NL, but Lyle Overbay has been a black hole at first base. Michael Cuddyer is a first time All Star this season, and showed last year when Justin Morneau went down that he is more than capable at first base (he has also started games in the outfield and at second base this season, and has played third in the past). Some want the Pirates to go after a catcher with both Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder on the DL, but Doumit will be back by the end of July, and Snyder sometime after that. How many capable catchers do you need? The biggest issue for the Pirates will be money, with Cuddyer owed a little more than $4 million the rest of this season. If the Twins want a better prospect back, they can eat more of the contract. If they want the Pirates to take what’s left, they get a couple of C to C+ guys, in this case Andrew Lambo and Chase D’Arnaud, two good organizational guys who have the ability to contribute at the Major League level soon. The risk/reward for the Pirates is that Cuddyer will be a free agent after this season. The Pirates don’t have to worry about a long term commitment if they don’t want to, and can offer Cuddyer arbitration since he will be a Type A free agent and grab two draft picks. On August 1st, the Pirates could have a 3, 4, 5, 6 of Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, Michael Cuddyer, and Ryan Doumit. Not too shabby.

Phillies acquire CP Heath Bell and RF Ryan Ludwick, Padres acquire RHP Jarred Cosart, CF Jiwan James, and OF/3B Aaron Alther

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has said not to expect any major trades at the deadline this year, which when put through the Truth-O-Meter, roughly translates to “a load of crap”. This is the man who in the last few years has traded for Cliff Lee, traded away Cliff Lee, traded for Roy Halladay, traded for Roy Oswalt, and signed Cliff Lee (some of that seems redundant no?). The Phillies’ bullpen is completely decimated this season, with closer Brad Lidge on the DL, his closer replacement Ryan Madson on the DL, and HIS closer replacement Jose Contreras on the DL. The Phillies have also been desperate for a righty hitting outfielder due to their extremely lefty heavy lineup. To take Amaro at his word would be nothing short of foolish. The Phillies are now, officially, in the same class as the Yankees and Red Sox when it comes to not only making splashes, but unexpected ones. If you don’t think the Phillies have had their eye on Heath Bell all season you are nuts. Even if both Lidge and Madson were healthy the Phils would be on the lookout for bullpen help, with Lidge being completely unreliable. Despite Bell’s impending free agency, his status as an elite closer requires the Phillies to give up some decent talent (same as Ludwick). The Padres get Cosart, James, and Alther, three young guys still only in single A ball but “the sky is the limit” type talent. Both sides win, as the Phillies get their reinforcements (Bell and Ludwick will both be energized being in a pennant race) and the Padres get to add to their ever improving farm system, a process which started with the Adrian Gonzalez trade last winter.

Brewers acquire 3B Wilson Betemit from Royals, Royals acquire 2B Eric Farris and RHP Andre Lamontagne

While this may not seem like a big deal, it could make a substantial difference down the stretch for the Brewcrew, who appear to be all in due to the impending departure of Prince Fielder. Casey McGehee has completely fallen off the planet after his great 2010 season, regressing to a .223/.279/.315 line after finishing last year at .285/.337/.464. McGehee is a full 1.2 wins below replacement this year, completely unacceptable for a franchise attempting to win a pennant, never mind their division. So far this season Wilson Betemit is a full win above replacement, a two win swing from McGehee. Betemit has a .285/.345/.415 slash this year, but has just 22 plate appearance’s since June 10th, when uber prospect Mike Moustakas was called up. Betemit is making just a million bucks this season, so the Brewers wouldn’t owe him much, and he is a free agent after the season, allowing McGehee to regain his position come 2012. The interesting part of this deal comes when considering what the Brewers would have to give up. The Brewers do not have much of a farm system, and you wouldn’t imagine any team having to give up much for a bench player. In this case however, Betemit was forced to the bench, to allow a kid to get his feet wet for a last place team not going anywhere. The Royals could contend that they should be compensated for Betemit as if he were a starting player, which is why I have the Brewers sending two players to the Royals. Farris makes sense for the Royals since second base is one of the few positions where the Royals do not have a super prospect waiting in the wings and could contend for the starting job next season, and Lamontagne is a hard throwing righty. You can never have too many of those.

I’ll have more as we get closer to the deadline, but right now I’m going to go finish watching the All Star game.


How To Fix (And Save) The Chicago Cubs

In three of the last seven seasons (not including 2011) the Chicago Cubs have made the playoffs. In five of the last seven seasons, the Cubs have had a winning record (in the other two their winning percentages were .463 and .488). That doesn’t seem that bad does it? For most teams, that’s pretty acceptable. For a team that hasn’t won a World Series since before the game of golf was invented, it becomes a little more unbearable. Chicago Cubs fans live in a world of uncompromising optimism, flowers, and butterflies. Except from April to October. Cubs fans have been tortured far more than any other franchise, but until a few years ago, at least had an American League counterpart in the Boston Red Sox. Of course, before the Red Sox finally won it all in 2004 for the first time since 1918, they still bothered to show up for a Fall Classic or two. The Cubs? They’ve been Buehler-ing the big interleague showdown since 1945. Despite not being a Cubs fan, I would like to see them win it all one year, and I think any baseball fan would. If my team isn’t going to win, then I hope the Cubs do. I bet most baseball fans think that way, except for the South Siders. With that said, I’ve had enough of the Cubs futility. They’re on their way to crashing and burning this season (36-54), and with a new owner, it’s time to start flexing some financial muscle and finally forget about 1908. This is my plan on how to do it, but first we’re going to list the Keepers and Goners on the roster. For the record, Keepers aren’t just quality players who should be held on to, but also players who might have a player option or just an immoveable contract. And when I say Goners, I mean that they should be shipped out of town ASAP. Also, there’s no point in mentioning the retreads and journeymen like Rodrigo Lopez. No future, no point.

Keepers

  • SS- Starlin Castro: Face of the franchise. He doesn’t go anywhere. Future #3 hitter. Home runs will come.
  • 2B-Darwin Barney: Silly name, solid game. Cubs should build up the middle and start with these two.
  • C-Geovany Soto: Needs to figure out how to be consistent from year to year, but is still only 28, and cheap ($3 million).
  • SP-Matt Garza: They traded a lot but got their ace; he’ll get expensive in arbitration but is under control until 2014.
  • CP-Carlos Marmol: He needs to cut down on the walks, but can be as dominant as they come out of the ‘pen.
  • RP-Chris Carpenter: Has above average stuff out of the bullpen, could eventually be solid set up man.
  • LF-Alfonso Soriano: Unless the Angels decide they want to trade for another horrific contract to pair with Vernon Wells, he isn’t going anywhere (Reminder: 8 years, $136 million. Oh my God.).
  • SP-Ryan Dempster: He seems to have finally fallen off completely, but they’re stuck with him for one more year at $14 million. Could trade him at the deadline next year if he bounces back.
  • RP-Sean Marshall: Lefty with good stuff, seems to have finally found his place in the bullpen.
  • RP-Jeff Samardzija: Another strong arm out of the pen.
  • CF-Marlon Byrd: Couple years left on his deal; if he’s healthy he’ll produce and defend at a slightly above average rate.
  • Util-Blake DeWitt: Still young, cheap, can play all over the infield and outfield.
  • OF-Tony Campana: Rookie who has only had a cup of coffee, but has made some great plays in front of the ivy.
  • SP-Randy Wells: Just okay stuff, shouldn’t be starting, but I still think he’d be the perfect swing man on a contender (P.S. His middle name is David…Who names their kid after David Wells?).
  • SP-James Russell: Young lefty, might as well hold on to him.
  • Util-Jeff Baker: Can play all over the infield, but shouldn’t be starting…Never mind batting THIRD.
  • OF-Reed Johnson: The perfect type of gritty gamer any contender should have. Mashes lefty pitching and plays great defense.
  • SP-Carlos Zambrano: I want to put him in the Goner list so bad, but that contract won’t let me.

Goners

  • OF-Kosuke Fukudome: The Cubs very own Japanese bust, he’s actually been a two win player this year. If they can get anything for him at the deadline, they have to do it. Period.
  • C-Koyie Hill: It’s only backup catcher, but they can do better.
  • 3B-Aramis Ramirez: Actually having a nice bounce back season with a .300/.349/.505 slash, but has a $2 million buyout next year. That, or a $16 million salary. Put him in a cab with a bag of money, and run away. If any team is desperate enough for offense at the deadline, you take the deal. Doesn’t matter what it is. Just don’t take back any money besides what you’ll inevitably have to pay of Ramirez’s deal.
  • RP-John Grabow: Bad deal. Walk away.
  • RP-Kerry Wood: Having a nice season, give him his pick of destinations and ship him out for a C prospect. You know he’s going to wind up resigning in Chitown anyway. A return trip to The Bronx makes a lot of sense for both sides at the deadline.
  • 1B-Carlos Pena: Despite a decent .221/.338/.461 slash, he has to go. Has to. And here’s why…

The Cubs have to sign Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. No questions asked. The Cubs are finally getting to the point when other teams aren’t taking them seriously, and it seems that most of their free agent signings explode in their face. Pujols or Fielder immediately changes that. Would they cost a completely unfathomable amount of money? Yes. Might Albert Pujols be the greatest player to ever play the game? Perhaps. Beyond those two things however, the Cubs would be adding a lethal bat to their lineup, an average to above average defender at first (Pujols gets the credit defensively, he has a .992 fielding percentage but Prince is right there at .989), and they would be snatching away one of their in division rival’s best players. Pujols has already been seen giving pre-game hugs to Cubs GM Jim Hendry, and you’d have to imagine that Prince Fielder would love to smack balls beyond the ivy 81 games a year. Question marks come with both however. Pujols has had his fair share of injuries, whether a fluke like this season’s broken wrist, or his elbow issue from a few years back. The issue with Fielder is conditioning, but he is actually a pretty good athlete, and like I mentioned, a solid defender who constantly works at getting better. Despite their flaws, the Cubs have no choice. Just like the Tigers or Nationals have overpaid for players in recent years, the Cubs have to make sure they do everything they can to land one of these guys. So let’s pretend they do land one of them, and it’s for 8 years and $200 million. With Fukudome and Ramirez coming off the books, this one contract replaces those two’s combined $25 million. Furthermore, the Cubs only have $58 million committed to next season. As for third base, you can go internally with a Jeff Baker/Blake DeWitt platoon,  or explore an option like Wilson Betemit on the free agent market. Betemit slowed down after a hot start, but still has a .286/.344/.418 line. He’s only making a million bucks this year, and will surely be looking for more than that. As far as the backup catcher situation goes, there should be a few options on the free agent market like Rod Barajas, Ramon Castro, Gerald Laird, and Dioner Navarro. I like Laird just for his defense, and coming off a bad year he should be cheap. Grab another middle infielder for the bench, someone like Marco Scutaro, Jack Wilson, or even better Jerry Hairston Jr. who can play some outfield too, and you’re all set there.

So let’s pretend the infield for next year, from left to right, is a Baker/DeWitt platoon at third, Starlin Castro at short, Darwin Barney at second, and Prince Fielder (more likely than Pujols) at first. As far as the outfield goes, as long as they’re healthy, you’re going to have Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano manning the corners, and they’ll both probably be around two win players. There are no suitable center fielders on the market, as someone like Johnny Damon shouldn’t be playing center anymore, and Carlos Beltran shouldn’t be playing center AND will cost way too much. This is where the Cubs fairly weak and much maligned farm system might come in. The Cubs’ current top prospect is Brett Jackson, a toolsy outfielder who was just ranked the 32nd best prospect in baseball in Baseball America’s midseason rankings. Jackson is currently in AA, with a .272/.385/.470 line, ten home runs, and fourteen steals. Jackson only has a .970 fielding percentage, but that can be worked on. If Jackson, 22, can get to AAA before the end of the season, chances are you’re looking at the Cubbies’ 2012 starting center fielder. Tyler Colvin, the Cubs’ first round pick in 2006 who hit twenty home runs last year but has been demoted to AAA this season could also get a look. This team isn’t looking so bad is it? Young and talented up the middle, one of the premier sluggers at first, a very solid bullpen full of power strikeout arms, and a great rotati-Oh. The rotation. Crap.

As of next season the only rotation spots I would give out right now would go to Matt Garza (stuff), Ryan Dempster (contract), and Carlos Zambrano (contract and hopefully stuff). Beyond that, it’s likely that the two spots will be filled by Randy Wells and James Russell. The Cubs have a lot of high ceiling arms in the minors like Trey McNutt (greatest name ever) and Hayden Simpson, but seeing either one of them in the show next season would be surprising. The only name worth going after on the free agent market is C.J. Wilson, and he’s going to get a contract probably equal to or exceeding the 5 year, $82 million contracts signed by John Lackey and A.J. Burnett. Beyond that, C.J. Wilson having gone from a 70 innings per year guy to a 200 innings per year workhorse scares me a bit, and you know if the Cubs landed him his elbow would immediately explode. An interesting guy on the market could be Mark Buehrle. If the White Sox offer him less money, he may be offended and the Cubs could swoop in with a one year deal (nothing more). Players will often refuse to sign for less money with their current team because they feel offended, but will turn right around and sign with another team for even less. Happens every year. Buehrle would enjoy himself in the NL Central, wouldn’t have to deal with the DH, and would get to keep his family in Chicago. It would really piss off the White Sox too, an added bonus. A top four of Garza, Zambrano, Buehrle and Dempster isn’t so bad in a division which seems to shake out differently every year.

So there you have it, my plan to restore the Cubs to respectability within a year. Not all of my suggestions are long term fixes, but I’m not going to treat this as a video game, suggesting they trade everyone on the roster for top prospects who won’t be ready for years down the line. Let’s take a look at what I’ve done to the Cubs for next season.

Lineup

  1. Brett Jackson, CF
  2. Starlin Castro, SS
  3. Prince Fielder, 1B*
  4. Alfonso Soriano, LF
  5. Marlon Byrd, RF
  6. Geovany Soto, C
  7. Blake DeWitt/Jeff Baker, 3B
  8. Darwin Barney, 2B
  9. Matt Garza, P

*Free agent signing: 8 years, $200 million

Bench

  • Blake DeWitt/Jeff Baker, Util
  • Reed Johnson, OF+
  • Gerald Laird, C*
  • Jerry Hairston Jr., Util**
  • Tony Campana/Tyler Colvin, OF

+Resigned, 1 year, $900k

*Free agent signing, 1 year, $800k

**Free agent signing, 1 year, $1 million

Rotation

  1. Matt Garza, RHP
  2. Carlos Zambrano, RHP
  3. Mark Buehrle, LHP*
  4. Ryan Dempster, RHP
  5. James Russell, LHP

*Free agent signing: 1 year, $7 million

Bullpen

  • Jeff Samardzija, RHP
  • Randy Wells, RHP
  • Chris Carpenter, RHP
  • Sean Marshall, LHP
  • Kerry Wood, RHP*
  • Carlos Marmol, RHP

*Free agent signing: 1 year, $1.5 million

The Cubs payroll is currently at $127.5 million, and with the money coming off the books plus those additions, they’re at exactly the same amount for next season. Stop putting such hefty buyouts in your contracts guys.

Grab another guy for the bullpen (preferably a lefty), and you’re all done. Not bad. Not bad at all.