To get Washington fans ready for the coming baseball season, all spring (err...and Winter) I will be interviewing a blogger from each team in the league. To continue our journey I talked with Mercurial Outfielder from Another Cubs Blog, one of the top Cubs blogs on the net. The Cubs are constantly looking towards next year, so lets take a look at what Another Cubs Blog says about this coming season:
The Nats Blog: Can the Cubs compete for that elusive World Series Title in 2010? Why?
Mercurial Outfielder: In a word, no. I mean, there's always some minuscule statistical chance that they could contend, but there's no reason to expect them to do so. The reason, simply put, is that the talent just isn't there. At the start of the 2009 season, by our WAR calculations, the Cubs were a 92-95 win team on paper, depending on if we used Rally's WAR or Fangraphs WAR. OF course, that didn't pan out, and I think the 2010 offseason has seen a classic case of over-general managing. The Cubs let 4-6 wins walk out the door when they refused to re-sign Harden and traded Bradley, and they haven't really replaced them. Marlon Byrd is the biggest acquisition so far, and even the most optimistic projections have him ~2 WAR. Moving Fukudome to RF helps defensively, as Fukudome is an excellent defensive RF, but having his bat in the lineup every day doesn't do much for me. Soriano is...well, who knows? He was having a typical Soriano season until mid-May when he smashed into a wall and banged up his knee, but I think there's a lot of uncertainty there. If we can chalk up his struggles to the injury, then there's some reason to be optimistic about a return to form--but I'm not sure we can really do that. There's a very good chance that Soriano will never again be the offensive force he was when the Cubs acquired him. Having a healthy Ramirez back helps, and Lee looks resurgent, but Baker is, IMO, a big question mark at 2B. A lot is riding on him continuing to hit. As for the rotation, Zambrano, outside of the completely useless W-L stat, had a pretty typical season in 2009. Dempster should continue to be steady. Lilly's coming off a shoulder injury, so trying to project him, is, IMHO, an exercise in futility.
And here's where the real problems with this team start.
There's a very real possibility that Carlos Silva and Jeff Samardzjia round out the Cub rotation until Lilly comes back and/or the Cubs realize that Carlos Silva is soul crushingly awful. Gorzelanny should really be the fifth starter, but the Cubs, at elast at this point, don't seem to be going that way. And then there's the bullpen. This Cub bullpen is going to walk a shit-ton of guys. At that point, they will then walk a few more, and when they're done with that, they will walk another. The two guys at the back-end, Grabow and Marmol, carry a career BB/9 of 4.15 and 5.85, respectively. Those who are drinking the Cubs' Kool-Aid will point to Marmol's improved walk rate as a closer at the end of last season, but the sample size is so small, I'm not sure that performance is really very significant. A big reason for the Cubs' struggle in 2010--and they will struggle--will be this bullpen.
Finally, there's the bench. Hendry wants a 4th OF with thump, but he wants a RH guy, so he won't end with the best guy, which I believe is Russell Branyan. At 3 of the 4 corners, the Cubs have guys who are health risks. Ramirez now has a bum shoulder, Soriano legs are made of spun glass, and Derrek Lee has a recurring neck problem. Branyan can back up at all 4 corners, and his bat plays very well at all 4 corners. Instead, I think Hendry ends up with Jonny Gomes or Xavier Nady. Nady can at least back up at 1B, but not getting Branyan, who only made $1.4 mil last season (to put that in perspective, that's about half what the Cubs paid Reed f-n Johnson last season), is, IMO, a mistake. Fontenot, Koyie Hill, Andres Blanco, and the immortal and most holy Sam Fuld round out the bench. If the Cubs end having to expect anything significant from any of them, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
And as I'm writing this, I'm learning the Cubs have agreed a one-year deal with Nady, pending a complete physical. Meh.
That was a quite possibly the longest way anyone has every said, " NO." Hahahaha.
TNB: The Cubs made the move to acquire arguably the worst contract in baseball this offseason when they shipped Milton Bradley to Seattle for Carlos Silva. Was Bradley really that bad of an apple?
MO: Hoo-boy, this is a touchy subject. For any of your readers that don't know, ACB are the lone defenders of Milton Bradley in the Cubs blogosphere. For this, we have become anathema. Hahahaha. Our defense of the man was for two reasons: one, he never really got a chance here. The media kept telling the fans he was a bastard, the fans ate it up, and began booing the guy from the outset. So, we stuck up for him, did our best to point out the media lies and manipulation, and generally made a nuisance of ourselves. But there's a careful truth to be told here, namely that Milton Bradley is very likely a raging asshole. But he's a raging asshole that can flat-out hit, and might have the best batting eye I've ever seen in my life. The guy is like a human QuesTec machine. In the worst season of his career, he was a 1.7 WAR player. Take out a horrid, horrid April, and his batting line is almost perfectly in line with his career totals. He's a good baseball player, but because he was an asshole, the Cubs felt he had to go. Gah. Was Bradley really that bad an apple? I don't know, and frankly, I don't care. I think clubhouse chemistry is a sad hobby horse that underperforming teams like to ride around to obscure the real problems, and that's exactly what several Cub players did after this season. For my part, I think Milton Bradley has some deep-seated emotional problems, and I hope he manages to find some personal peace in Seattle, because he's obviously a very, very unhappy person.
As for Silva's deal, the Cubs actually saved $6 mil on the deal, Bradley had $21 mil left on his deal, Silva $24 mil. That Mariners gave the Cubs $9 mil in the deal, mitigating the salary difference, with a $6 mil surplus. So, Silva's ridiculous contract (which FWIW, needs to get in line behind the Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, and Zito deals for worst contract in baseball status) isn't really a concern. Now, supposedly, Larry Rothschild has already found and is fixing a flaw in Silva's delivery, which apparently means a return the heady days of barely sub-5 FIP's, which is a fancy of saying that Carlos Silva is terrible, and is likely to continue to be so in Chicago. My prediction is that he is in middle relief by the end of May. Lou Piniella is not noted for being patient with his pitchers.
I want to return for a moment to the chemistry issue. Let's suppose for moment that clubhouse chemistry really does matter. Carlos Silva is less a raging rectum than Milton Bradley, so if this deal was made to get rid of a clubhouse problem, all it brought in return was another clubhouse problem, with the added detraction that the clubhouse problem the Cubs dealt--Bradley--is actually good at baseball, while the clubhouse problem they acquired--Silva, is not. So, for the sake of my sanity, I hope this move was about money, but I fear it was not.
TNB: What do you think of this: http://sports.espn.go.com/chicago/mlb/news/story?id=4857824. Generally how is Sammy Sosa regarded in the Cubs community these days?
MO: Yet another hopeless cause which ACB has taken up! I think it's great that Ernie has reached out to Sosa, but I fear his pleas may fall on deaf ears. Sosa is almost universally reviled by the laughably myopic Cub fan base, and that's a damn shame. Sammy Sosa was the best Cub player I've ever seen, and yes, I saw Sandberg play. Sammy in his prime was amazing to watch. Just a complete force. I don't really care about the PED issue, and if anyone's interested in my take on that, they can check out the ACB archives to see why (site plug!). I won't launch into that polemic here. Hahahaha. As for the corked bat, all of Sammy's bats in the HOF and at Wrigley were x-rayed and none of them were corked. The only person that knows whether or not Sammy meant to use a corked bat that day is Sammy Sosa, no matter what professional poon hound Mark Grace says.
The really shitty part of the whole Sosa saga is that the media outlet which owned the team at that time used their bully pulpit to completely destroy the man's rep here in town, and I'd like to see that foray into yellow journalism undone.
Bottom line: Sammy's been treated like shit by this fan base and it's petty and cruel and it's time for it to stop. He thrilled a whole generation of fans at Wrigley, and for a great time, he was the only reason to come out and watch the Cubs. It's time Cub fans got over themselves and showed the man some appreciation.
TNB: How would you grade Lou Piniella's tenure with the Cubs?
MO: Hmmmm. I think a solid B+/A-. Lou's got some maddening tendencies (1-out sac bunts, riding the living hell out of any RP who is having success, having no patience with a struggling player) and I think the Cubs will regret letting him chase Felix Pie and Michael Wuertz out of town, but two straight playoff appearances and three straight winning seasons are nothing to sniff at. On the whole, I think Lou is a very, very good manager, a great baseball mind, a hitting genius, and has done a very, very good job for the Cubs.
TNB: What happened to Geovany Soto in 2009, and will we ever see him return to his old form?
MO: I'm going to borrow from MB21 and berselius, two of my fellows at ACB, in answering this, because they've both done excellent, excellent work on Soto. Basically, Soto had two things working against him last season: he came in out of shape, and had an epically unlucky season, BABiP wise. But I digress. Here's berselius' take, from our old site:
Instead, I'm going to use these numbers from fangraphs. These rates are for pitchers, but like I said, crude estimate . LD to hits: 73% FB to hits: 15% GB to hits: 24%
Here are Soto's batted ball percentages (and numbers of each type) LD: 47 (18.1 %) GB: 105 (40.5%) FB: 107 (41.3%)
Using these (and subtracting his 11 HR off of his FBs), I get a crude xBABIP of .298, still much higher than his actual BABIP of .251. So what would we get if we add in those extra hits? If we make the crude assumption that they are all singles, it would add an extra 13 hits to his numbers for the season, which would make his slash line .256/.360/.419 and a wOBA of .340
At least as regards line drives, Soto was incredibly unlucky in 2009. It's hard to say exactly why. He was out of shape, carried a hand injury for much of the season, and had a habit of hammering the ball right at the third baseman. Probably all those things played a role in his struggles. MB21 adds that if we take that xBABiP-engineered wOBA and use it to project Soto for 2010, we get somewhere in the neighborhood of a .359 wOBA and 3.3 WAR, which is solid production from the catcher position. I would temper that wOBA expectation a bit, but I think a 3 WAR season out of Soto is not an unreasonable expectation. Soto showed up at the Cubs Convention about 40 pounds lighter than last season, so at the very least, his conditioning seems to have improved.
I'm hoping his luck has changed, as well,
TNB: What is your favorite all time Cubs memory?
MO: Well, If you'll allow me, I have two.
The first is Sammy Sosa's post-9/11 HR trot with that little American flag. I don't normally go in for shit like that, but that was honestly one of the most touching gestures I've ever seen. For some reason, it still affects me in a very real way.
The second is Kerry Wood mowing through Atlanta Braves in the 2003 playoffs. 1.76 ERA. 0.913 WHIP, 15 IP, 3 ER, 7 H, 7 BB, 18 K. And even that doesn't communicate how entirely dominant he was in that series. We would never see Kerry Wood pitch like that ever again.
Finally, I'd like to say thanks to Will for asking me to do this interview. You guys run a great blog, and we really appreciate being asked to contribute here.