Tag:Alfonso Soriano
Posted on: November 23, 2011 11:59 am
Edited on: November 24, 2011 12:26 am
 

Homegrown Team: New York Yankees



By Matt Snyder


What if players were only permitted to stay with the team that originally made them a professional? No trades, no Rule-5 Draft, no waivers, no minor- or major-league free agency ... once you are a professional baseball player, you stay in that organization. This series shows how all 30 teams would look. We give you: Homegrown teams.

It's late November. The awards have all been handed out. The Winter Meetings are in a few weeks. Pitchers and catchers don't report for almost three months. So it's the perfect time to kick off a fun little series. So we're starting the Homegrown series right now. We have a landing page that will be filled out as we move forward with the feature -- on which you can see the exact date we'll be posting each individual team.

What I love most about this series is that it has the potential to either enlighten or vindicate rabid fans in heated arguments. Large-market, big-spending teams are often attacked by opposing fans as simply trying to "buy championships" without having to develop their own talent. The biggest target is the Yankees, so what better team to start the series with?

The news is pretty good for the haters. You have been vindicated. This team would be ... well, you'll see.

Lineup

1. Brett Gardner, LF
2. Derek Jeter, SS
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Alfonso Soriano, DH
5. Jesus Montero, 1B
6. Melky Cabrera, RF
7. Austin Jackson, CF
8. Francisco Cervelli, C
9. Eduardo Nunez, 3B

Starting Rotation

1. Ian Kennedy
2. Ivan Nova
3. Phil Hughes
4. Chien-Ming Wang
5. Jeff Karstens

Bullpen

Closer - Mariano Rivera
Set up - John Axford, David Robertson, Tyler Clippard, Mark Melancon, Joba Chamberlain
Long - Phil Coke? Jose Contreras?

Notable Bench Players

Jorge Posada, Dioner Navarro, Juan Rivera, Jose Tabata ... and that's about it. Unless Marcus Thames and Shelley Duncan get you excited.

What's Good?

That bullpen is sick. It would easily be the best in baseball, with any lead past the fifth inning seemingly being safe in the hands of Clippard, Robertson, Axford and Rivera.

What's Not?

Anything else. Nothing is horrible, but the lineup, defense and rotation leave a lot to be desired. What's worse, there's really no depth in case of injuries. They'd have to turn to either Coke or a minor leaguer (Dellin Betances?) in the rotation -- or convince Andy Pettitte to come out of retirement -- and Ramiro Pena is the only backup infielder. There are plenty of backup outfielders, but Tabata's really the only one with upside.

Comparison to real 2011

Well, let's see. The 2011 Yankees won 97 games en route to a division title and the best record in the American League. This team is mediocre at best. The bullpen is awesome, but how many leads would there be to protect? 75? There is an MVP candidate in Cano, but having Soriano as protection isn't near as cushy as he's used to. Since this is the first team in our 30-team series, we won't reveal many other specifics, but I can tell you that this Yankees team would probably finish fourth in the AL East. Thus, it's much worse than reality. I have no way of measuring this, but I do think this team is better than many Yankee-hating fans would have guessed. Lots of those act like the Yankees have never developed anyone. This isn't an awful collection, it's just not good.

Now, it's absolutely worth noting the Yankees lost lots of draft picks as compensation for signing free agents, so that's why they don't have any depth. But let's just remember this is supposed to be a fun exercise for the offseason.

Up next: San Diego Padres

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: November 13, 2011 3:56 pm
Edited on: November 13, 2011 6:17 pm
 

Baseball's worst contracts, zombie-style

Werth, zombie

By Evan Brunell

What are the worst contracts in baseball?

Some of them are pretty easy. The names of Vernon Wells and Barry Zito, for example, have been synonymous with horrible contracts. Others aren't as easy to ferret out, but here's one man's look at the 10 worst contracts currently in baseball. To help us figure out which contracts are awful, I turned to a TV show that knows all about things awful: The Walking Dead. Because obviously, trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world is completely comparable to the onerous contracts some teams are saddled with.

There are three categories below, inspired by scenes from The Walking Dead that are linked for your viewing enjoyment and quotes, which aren't necessarily tied to the scene in the video. (Don't worry, no spoilers, but if you haven't seen the most recent episode, skip the scene in the last category anyways.) Be warned: If you are squeamish, it's best if you don't click through. Unless you're interested in giving your wastebasket the remnants of your most recent meal.

STILL KICKING

Walking Dead scene
"It's a waste of time, all this hoping and praying." -- Daryl (season 2, episode 2)

These players are nearing the end of their awful deals, like a zombie with no legs. Just like a zombie with no legs would keep crawling along trying to eat humans alive, so do these players keep on kicking. While their contracts don't look too bad given they're of the short-term variety at this point, there's no denying that these players are still of the undead. The years remaining on the contract to qualify for this list is two or less seasons. Also, this list does not include players who were released and are still owed money, such as Aaron Rowand, due $13.6 million by the Giants in 2012.

BayJason Bay, Mets
Contract: 4 years, $66 million, $16.5 million AAV. Remaining: 2 years, $39.25 million (includes 2014's $3 million buyout)

The Red Sox thought they had Bay locked up to a deal to stay in town, but Bay balked at medical contingencies in the contract, designed to protect Boston in case Bay's knees went. That allowed the Mets to swoop in on a deal they quickly regretted, as Bay's bat vanished in Citi Field, then struggled with concussions as his batting line in 2011 sank all the way to .245/.329/.374 with 12 homers in 509 plate appearances. Even though the club is set to move in its fences, it's tough to see Bay bouncing back and earning the rest of his deal which could potentially stretch through 2014. If Bay can reach 500 PA in 2012 and '13 -- a cinch as long as he stays relatively healthy, or 600 PAs in 2013, a $17 million club option vests. That would make this deal look even worse.

LeeCarlos Lee, Astros
Contract: 6 years, $100 million, $16.67 million AAV. Remaining: 1 year, $19 million

The Astros' impending move to the AL East for the 2013 season is coming one year too late. Lee's contract is finally due to expire next season, and one has to imagine that Lee will be the last man in a long time to receive $100-plus million for being such a one-dimensional slugger that can't even hit bombs anymore unless the Crawford boxes in left help him out. At this point, Lee is taking up space that could be better allocated to young players on a rebuilding club. Lee should have been dumped in a deal by now, but he has no interest in leaving Houston and has no-trade rights.

SantanaJohan Santana, Mets
Contract: 6 years, $137.5 million, $22.9 million AAV. Remaining: 2 years, $55 million (includes 2014's $5.5 million buyout)

Santana's never really bandied about as a person with a lousy contract, but the numbers are simply stunning. After the Mets gave up a bounty (of nothingness, as it turned out) to acquire the best starter in the game from the Twins way back in 2008, Santana has given the Mets one season of transcendence. Since then, it's been a whole bunch of injuries, causing the lefty to sit out all of 2011. That means over the last three seasons, Santana's contributed just 54 starts. And it gets worse, as his deal is backloaded for an incredible $55 million coming the next two years, and no guarantee Santana can even approximate the pitcher he once was after undergoing surgery to repair an anterior capsule tear in his left shoulder. New York holds a $25 million option for 2014 that can become guaranteed based on innings pitched and finish in award voting.

ZitoBarry Zito, Giants
Contract: 7 years, $126 million, $18 million AAV. Remaining: 2 years, $46 million (includes 2014's $7 million buyout)

This contract is so bad, even the buyout of Zito's team option in 2014 is horrible. The Giants might be paying Zito $7 million simply to go away. Being paid like an ace, he's been the team's No. 5 starter the last two season and will hold that role again in 2012. The selling point to Zito, despite the regression back to being a league-average player, is the fact he can chew up innings. One problem: the 2014 option vests automatically if Zito pitches at least 200 innings in 2013 or 400 between 2012-13. That's very feasible if the Giants keep him on his regular turn through the rotation, so he might have $18 million in 2014 headed his way.

NOT SO PRETTY

Walking Dead scene
"You don't know what it's like out there. You may think you do but you don't. It's only a matter of time. There's too many of those things. My boy, my wife, I never told them what I really thought. I never even hinted, just, just kept it in, kept us moving, kept it in, kept us moving." -- Rick (season 1, episode 6)

Little girls are cute... except when they're trying to tear your flesh off. Just as in the Walking Dead, baseball has its share of onerous, undead contracts that once looked pretty but now eat up as much payroll space as they can. Here are the worst deals left with less than five years remaining.

LackeyJohn Lackey, Red Sox
Contract
: 5 years, $82.5 million, $16.5 million average annual value (AAV). Remaining: 3 years, $47.85 million

Even though he has yet to reach the halfway mark of his deal, this contract already ranks as one of the worst in baseball history. The Red Sox thought they were getting a fiery, innings-eating No. 2 starter. Instead, what they've received is one of the worst pitchers in the game who shows up his teammates on the field. And now he'll be missing all of 2012 due to Tommy John surgery. That means, through three years of the deal, Lackey will have given Boston a 5.26 ERA in 61 starts. The only saving value to this deal is the surgery will kick in an additional year at the league minimum Lackey must play at, which will drag down his AAV and give Boston a couple extra million below the luxury tax to play with.

SorianoAlfonso Soriano, Cubs
Contract: 8 years, $136 million, $17 million AAV. Remaining: 3 years, $57 million

Soriano has kept up his home-run production since moving to Chicago, but his bat has slowed to the point where he's lucky if he cracks the .250 barrier in batting average. That wouldn't be such a big deal if the man knew how to take a walk once in a while, but he doesn't, as evidenced by his .289 OBP. New Cubs president Theo Epstein is going to be taking a lot of heart medicine these next three seasons as he watches Soriano clank balls in left field and stifle rallies with his inability to draw a walk. The Cubs appear as if they're going to enter a retooling period, so at least Soriano isn't holding them back from contending. But then again, that's exactly what he's done to Chicago the last couple years.
 
WellsVernon Wells, Angels
Contract: 7 years, $126 million, $18 million AAV. Remaining: 3 years, $72.96 million

Patience, Jerry Dipoto. Just keep telling yourself it's just three years. Dipoto, the new Angels GM, will have a challenge to build a winning club that includes Wells and his yoke of a contract that doesn't even tell the full story. For crying out loud, Wells is slated to receive $24.6 million each of the next three seasons. For comparison, only Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard will earn more on a AAV basis than Wells will receive through the end of his contract. Back when the deal was signed, Wells was poised to be one of the best players in the game moving forward. Now? He's essentially Alfonso Soriano, but with a much worse deal. How someone can have an OBP under .250 and still collect over 500 plate appearances is baffling. It will be a shock if Wells can finish out the deal without being released.

GUTS EVERYWHERE

Walking Dead scene
"Good thing we didn't do anything stupid like shoot it." -- T-Dog being sarcastic (season 2, episode 4)


These contracts are the worst of the worst. It's almost like being a zombie stuck in a water well for weeks, then finally getting dragged out of the well only to split in half and spew its guts everywhere. In other words, fans of these teams have nothing but good things to look forward to.

HowardRyan Howard, Phillies
Contract: 5 years, $125 million, $25 million AAV. Remaining: This deal kicks in for 2012.

Howard was once a very, very good player that had his career held back due to the presence of Jim Thome in town. When he finally earned the right to play every day, he started mashing and just wouldn't stop. So what did GM Ruben Amaro do? Simple. He gave Ryan Howard one of the richest deals in baseball history... two full seasons before it was set to kick in. And what's happened in those two full years? Well, Howard's essentially become a platoon player who can't field and whose bat has slowed to the point where he can't be considered an elite first baseman anymore. And this is someone who will miss the beginning of 2012 thanks to an Achilles tear that could torpedo his career. His lucrative contract, which will leave him behind just Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez for the highest AAV in baseball history, is just beginning. By the way, he has a 2017 team option for $23 million that will hand him a whopping $10 million in a buyout.

RodriguezAlex Rodriguez, Yankees
Contract: 10 years, $275 million $27.5 million AAV. $30 million due if he hits home-run milestones. Remaining: 6 years, $143 million (plus milestones)

There's no question Rodriguez has been a fantastic player, steroids or not, and he'll retire as one of the best players in the game of baseball. But his 10-year deal with the Yankees was silly when it was signed and it's even sillier now. Coming off what A-Rod called the worst season of his career, the Yankees are suddenly staring at $143 million over the next six years being given to a DH who is lucky if he can reach 30 home runs and 100 RBI. Rodriguez is simply not the same player he once was, and instead of being in his own class these days, he's now merely "very good." And you don't want "very good" from a player earning millions through age 42.

WerthJayson Werth, Nationals
Contract: 7 years, $126 million, $18 million AAV. Remaining: 6 years, $115.4 million

Here's one number to avoid in baseball: 126. That's exactly how much money (in millions, of course) Zito and Wells are receiving to be money drains for the club. And now Werth gets to be a money drain, and he still has so much more due to him after playing 2011 at $10.6 million. You can't blame Werth, who also (of course) has a no-trade clause, for accepting such a deal. It was obviously a gross overpayment that no one was going to match, but it's hard to envision what the Nats were thinking. Yes, they wanted to make a statement. But was someone set to play 2011 at age 32  with notable platoon splits really the man to make a splash with? The right fielder will likely bounce back from his .232/.330/.389 line set in his first year with Washington, but he will never justify this contract.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeonBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
The Walking Dead photo courtesy the show's download page available to public.
Posted on: November 7, 2011 3:00 pm
 

Monday trade sets stage for busy Hot Stove season



By Matt Snyder


Sure, Derek Lowe was dealt to the Indians in a salary dump and we've seen a few signings, but things have been pretty slow of late in Major League Baseball news. When the biggest name to sign a contract with a new team thus far is a backup first baseman/pinch-hitter (Jim Thome), it says everything you need to know about this past week in actual transactions. So forgive us for loving Melky Cabrera and Jonathan Sanchez swapping addresses. It's something, and it serves as a nice little unofficial start to the Hot Stove season.

With just one week to the general manager meetings in Milwaukee, it's time to focus on other potential trade candidates. Obviously rumors don't always come to fruition and we're shocked with non-rumored trades going down on occasion, but here are some names that either make sense or have been rumored to be on the move in the recent past.

• The White Sox's farm system is in absolute shambles and the major-league club doesn't appear ready to compete with the Tigers any time soon, so it's possible general manager Kenny Williams decides to rebuild. Since Adam Dunn and Alex Rios have no trade value, Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Carlos Quentin would be the parts most likely to move.

Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie is a free agent after the 2012 season and he could be a helpful four or five starter for a contender. He's thrown at least 190 innings in each of the past four seasons.

Hot Stove Season
• Do new Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer look to cut the sunk costs of Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano? They'd have to eat a significant portion of the remaining salaries (and for Soriano it's $54 million left on the deal), but the duo isn't helping the Cubs win in 2012. Also, Marlon Byrd only has one year left on his contract and prospect Brett Jackson will likely be ready to take over in center soon. The guess is Byrd has more value by the trade deadline in '12, though.

Rays center fielder B.J. Upton has long been rumored to be a trade candidate, and this winter it might finally happen with Desmond Jennings clearly ready to take over in center. Also, if the Rays are ready to deal a starting pitcher, Jeff Niemann is most likely.

Denard Span was rumored to be a trade candidate back in July, and the Twins could part with their center fielder to shore up the pitching staff.

We've already heard the rumors about Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado from Atlanta, but it's possible since talks fizzled with the Royals that the Braves just hold both.

• Do the Angels try to shed Alberto Callaspo and/or Maicer Izturis and then land free agent Aramis Ramirez at third? They probably would need to shed more payroll in order to do so.

• Starting pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers could easily be on the move from Houston, but the guess is the ownership situation would need to be resolved first.

• After a disappointing 2011 season, the Rockies have plenty of trade candidates. Chris Iannetta probably stays put, but Huston Street, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith and Ty Wigginton all make sense in potential deals.

Dodgers first baseman James Loney finished 2011 with a bang, which might mean it's the Dodgers last chance to get something of value in return for him. There are a few small-market matches, too, including the Indians.

• Finally, as we've already noted, the A's have put basically the entire team on the block.

So fasten your seatbelts, the action has only just begun.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: October 13, 2011 10:08 am
Edited on: October 13, 2011 10:14 am
 

Cubs' job attractive, future options plenty



By Matt Snyder


Congratulations, Theo Epstein, on likely landing the new gig of Cubs president, CEO, general manager, czar, savior, curse-breaker and deity. In addition to all those millions of dollars, you now inherit a mess of a franchise. The good news is that statement only exists in the present and very near future. Things can be cleaned up rather quickly. Here's why:

• It's funny to read all over the place about how the Cubs have so many awful contracts and are so much more handcuffed on payroll than Epstein is used to. The fact of the matter is that only Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol are signed past 2012, along with the young players who will still be under team control and don't make much. And then Marmol's contract expires after 2013. Depending on arbitration raises and possible extensions (Matt Garza, maybe?) the Cubs are shedding somewhere in the ballpark of $50 million from their 2011 payroll. Come 2013, as things currently stand, only $28.8 million is committed (to Soriano and Marmol). In 2014, only Soriano's absurd $19 million salary is still on the books, but by 2015, there's nothing left.

• My guess is it's true, for now, that Epstein is likely going to be told to not exceed a figure like $135 million with his payroll and that is a good amount less than the Red Sox's current figure. But here's the mitigating factor: The Cubs are in the NL Central, where they easily have the largest market and revenue stream in the division. In Boston, Epstein was trying to keep up financially with the mighty Yankees. In the Chicago, his biggest competitor in terms of market size is Houston -- which is departing for the AL soon -- and in terms of revenue stream it's St. Louis. The Cubs have the resources to be the "big boy" in the division, which wasn't possible for Epstein in Boston.

• Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has already shown a significant commitment to player development. The Cubs spent a huge amount of money on the 2011 draft and they are building a state of the art academy in the Dominican Republic. They are looking to make major upgrades to Arizona's spring training facility, which would serve as a type of home base for player development. The Cubs also have a great reputation for international scouting. Put simply, Ricketts has noticed the biggest problem for the Cubs has been a system that doesn't regularly churn out its own prospects and he has done everything he can to rectify that issue in the short term.

So, that's why the job was attractive, but there's no doubt there's a lot to be done. This is a team that went 71-91 and has a pretty lackluster level of talent in the upper levels of the minors -- not to mention the aging major-league roster.

As every franchise faces when trying to make a losing team into a winning team, there are three distinct routes that can be taken. Let's take a look at each and get specific.

Cubs/Red Sox drama
Route 1: The Complete Rebuild
Don't pick up the options for Ryan Dempster or Aramis Ramirez. Trade younger veterans of value like Geovany Soto, Sean Marshall and Matt Garza. Do whatever it takes to off-load Alfonso Soriano's contract. Do the same with Carlos Zambrano. Carlos Marmol and Marlon Byrd might land decent returns, so they would also be traded. Don't re-up with any veterans like Kerry Wood. Just completely revamp the entire farm system and build around Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner. Then tell everyone they need to be patient, as the goal is to grow the system from the foundation and start competing in 2014.

Chances this happens:
Decent to good, for at least part of this. Epstein very well may start completely slow and see how things pan out with several different young players. I do think he would keep Garza with Castro and Cashner and then start to pounce on free agents starting next offseason.

Route 2: The Chips to the Center of the Table
Re-up with Dempster and Ramirez. Do what it takes to sign Prince Fielder and C.J. Wilson, including backloading deals to make the budget work. Move Starlin Castro to second base and sign Jose Reyes (again, backloading). Grab someone like Javier Vazquez, Chris Young or Joel Pineiro to fill out the rotation. That means the starting nine would be: Soto, Fielder, Castro, Reyes, Ramirez, Soriano, Byrd and probably Bryan LaHair. The starting rotation could be: Wilson, Garza, Dempster, Vazquez and Randy Wells. That leaves Andrew Cashner -- who is hitting triple digits on the radar gun in the Arizona Fall League -- to be the closer. Marmol can stay in the bullpen and hope to work on his control. Wood, Marshall and Jeff Samardzija would be the setup men.

Chances this happens:
Ridiculously slim. Actually, zero. Epstein isn't a moron and this would be absurd for the long-term health of the franchise, especially considering the team probably still wouldn't be good enough to win even an NLDS, if it made it. There's no depth, either, since the high levels of the minors don't have a lot of help coming. And could Epstein even get all those guys if he tried? Finally, the band-aid-on-a-broken-leg approach got Jim Hendry fired, so there's no way Tom Ricketts would hire Epstein to do the same thing.

Route 3: The Combination
I often chuckle when people think you absolutely have to choose either Route 1 or Route 2. In a small market, yes, you have to completely rebuild and hope all the young players get good at the same time, like the Royals appear to have happening in 2013 or 2014. In a large market, the resources are there to do both. Epstein developed the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon and Dustin Pedroia while also making trades for veterans and signing big-name free agents in Boston. It's a much bigger project this time around, but the goal can be to do something similar in Wrigley. While the farm system is being revamped for the Cubs, an effort can be made to start allowing the aging veterans to leave via free agency while players like Soto, Marshall, Marmol, and Dempster (with him, it's a one-year option and there will be enough money to retain him) can be kept around. Wood can be re-signed for another one-year, $1.5 million contract. And then you can fill holes with younger free agents. C.J. Wilson? Pass on him and keep your eyes on that 2013 pitching free agent class that could contain Matt Cain, John Danks, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez, James Shields and more. A 27-year-old Prince Fielder? Yes, please. The Reyes signing mentioned above, with moving Castro to second? Nope. Not now. Try Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija in the rotation? Yes and maybe. Give LaHair a shot in right field, absolutely. He had a huge 2011 season in both Triple-A and then hit the ball well in his short time in the majors. Do you think about promoting center-field prospect Brett Jackson and trading Byrd midseason? Sure, if the Cubs aren't in the race. The whole point is that, ideally, with this plan, you'd put a team together for 2012 that appears to be average, giving it the chance to overachieve and sneak into the playoffs -- but the eyes are certainly on 2013 being the turnaround year. From there, you strive to compete for the World Series title every ensuing season.

Chances this happens:
I feel like this is the most likely route. The main benefit is you don't completely punt 2012 after getting the fan base excited with the big-name hire. In the complete rebuild model, you're liable to lose 100 games and kill fan morale instead of capitalizing on all the excitement. And in the win now model, there just isn't enough there to bring it all together in one offseason. So here we are. Here, you can have a mildly successful 2012 season while getting the fans excited for a bright future. All the moves above are just examples of what can be done, as the plan can be the same but be done with totally different moves.

But this is all purely speculation -- and fun, as is all hypothetical talk -- as the only person who really knows what is going in on Epstein's head right now is Epstein himself.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: September 27, 2011 6:50 pm
 

R.I.P.: 2011 Chicago Cubs

By Matt Snyder

Another season gone, another disappointment for 29 teams as one is immortalized forever. Let’s take a look back at 2011 and forward in Eye on Baseball’s R.I.P. series...

Team name: Chicago Cubs
Record: 70-90, 24 games back in NL Central
Manager: Mike Quade
Best hitter: Aramis Ramirez -- .306/.360/.506, 25 HR, 92 RBI, 79 R, 35 2B
Best pitcher: Matt Garza -- 9-10, 3.35 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 189 K, 191 IP

After the 2008 season, the Cubs were in the middle of a bit of a golden era in the franchise. They had been division champions three times in a six-year span. That isn't saying much for a lot of teams, but this franchise hadn't had that kind of success since playing in the World Series four out of five seasons from 1906-1910. Alas, they were swept in the NLDS in 2008, despite having the best regular-season record in the National League, so general manager Jim Hendry decided to do some tinkering. The Cubs finished just five games over .500 in 2009 before coming in fifth place in 2010 and are currently in fifth again. And Hendry's out of a job, likely to be followed by Quade and some other coaches.

2011 SEASON RECAP

They were 9-8 and tied for first place after the first game of a doubleheader on April 20, but that was the high point in the standings. The Cubs would go on to lose six of seven games and never be a serious threat the rest of the way. They fell to 10 games back on June 4 and never got closer than nine back in the Central from that point forward. They actually moved up to fourth place September 19 for the first time since May 26, but the overwhelming majority of the season has been spent in fifth place, thanks to the lowly Astros. The biggest positives: Starlin Castro is well on his way to being a major-league star, Darwin Barney appears an adequate option at second base, Matt Garza had a good season, Sean Marshall is still great in middle-to-late inning relief and Jeff Samardzija finally doesn't look like a huge bust. The biggest negative is that this appears to be a badly flawed roster with not near enough help on the way from the minors.

2012 AUDIT

This is the toughest assignment of the R.I.P. series, because there's no way to know the direction of the ballclub until a new general manager is hired. The club is not immediately set up to compete, but there's a stipulation: With more than $50 million in payroll falling off before 2012 and even more off the books before '13, the Cubs could decide to be a major player in free agency. The franchise has enough money to grab, for example, Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson and still have money left over to bolster the bullpen and find a fill-in at third base. On the other hand, many would argue that still isn't enough to make the Cubs immediate contenders in the National League. If the new GM agrees, he might be more in favor of leaving the payroll low for a season or two while building the system with a youthful foundation before pouncing on big-name free agents to fill holes in 2013 or 2014. One thing that should scare fellow franchises in the NL Central if the Cubs choose to spend big in the near future, is that the Cubs are clear of all big contracts except Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol (and Matt Garza likely has a deal by then, too, I'd guess) prior to 2013 and Marmol's off after '13. They have the resources to be the Red Sox of the NL. It's just a matter of if the Cubs can put the correct plan in place, and that all comes down to who chairman Tom Ricketts hires as his next GM.

FREE AGENTS

Aramis Ramirez, 3B (mutual option)
Carlos Pena, 1B
Reed Johnson, OF
Ryan Dempster, SP (player option for '12)
John Grabow, RP
Jeff Samardzija, RP (club option for '12 and '13)

OFFSEASON FOCUS

Where to even begin? This roster is a mess. First of all, I'd listen to offers for everyone except Starlin Castro. That doesn't mean you have to trade guys like Barney, Marshall or Soto, but you never know if the return might work with the game plan of the new GM. Let's sort through some of this and see what can be done short-term with the eyes on the future. My goal would be to contend in 2013. If it happens in 2012, that's just gravy.
  • Get Prince Fielder. He's 27 and incredibly durable (has never played less than 157 games in a full season). He'd then be the anchor for the Cubs for the foreseeable future, even if it takes a few years to build around him and Castro. Also of importance, if you bat Castro second and Fielder third, Castro's strike zone woes become less an issue (though he has walked more times than he's struck out in September, so it's getting better already).
  • Give Andrew Cashner one last shot to stay healthy in the rotation and also see if Samardzija can be successful as a starter. Having a rotation of Garza, Dempster, Randy Wells, Cashner and Samardzija won't be winning any championships, but Dempster is gone after 2012 and there'd be plenty of money to go after free agents. By then, they Cubs will know if they need just one guy or up to four with Garza. And the list of free agent starters after next season could have some big names -- assuming they aren't granted contract extensions -- like Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Shaun Marcum and James Shields.
  • Read the riot act to Carlos Marmol. Considering the Cubs likely can't contend in 2012 and Marmol is signed through 2013, he has one year to fix himself. Marmol has blown an MLB-high 10 saves (he's tied with Jordan Walden). You can't count on closers to be perfect, but let's say Marmol only blew four saves, which is a very reasonable percentage. The Cubs would be 76-84, which isn't awful at all considering some of the injury issues and poor roster construction.
  • Give Bryan LaHair a shot in right field. LaHair is 28, so he's hardly a prospect, but it's possible he's a late bloomer like Ryan Ludwick or Jayson Werth. LaHair had 38 home runs, 109 RBI and a 1.070 OPS in 129 Triple-A games. He's hitting .309/.391/.545 in 19 games for the Cubs this season. Again, the eyes are on 2013 here, so if he flames out as many expect, you can address the position next offseason. But he's at least earned the chance to get an extended look in the bigs.
  • If the Cubs do fall out of contention in 2012, Marlon Byrd needs to be traded at the deadline and prospect Brett Jackson can then take over in center field. If Jackson is deemed ready earlier in the season and LaHair doesn't pan out, Byrd could be moved to right. 
  • I'd personally bring back Aramis Ramirez for two or three years, assuming the Cubs don't have to break the bank. The last thing they need is another albatross contract, so if he's demanding something like four years and $50 million, it's time to move on. But if it's reasonable, it makes sense to keep him. He's only 33 and has shown has can still swing the bat. He's got to have two to three years left of above-average production at third base. Prospect Josh Vitters had completely fallen off all prospect rankings prior to this season, but rebounded with a decent showing in Double-A this season (.283/.322/.448 with 14 homers, 81 RBI and 28 doubles) and he's still only 21. In two years, the Cubs will have an idea if he is going to be the next third baseman or not. If not, they can look outside the organziation or perhaps someone in the farm system will have emerged. Keeping Ramirez is a natural bridge to when it comes to that.
And there's a lot more, too, but those are the big ones.

The main thing here is the hire a new GM that puts the main focus on building the minor-league system. That way in a few years free agency won't be the only avenue to fill out a winning ballclub. Remember, people complain about the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies in free agency, but lots of players -- Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and several others were developed from within the respective systems. The Cubs have been terrible at developing their own in recent years and leaned on trades and free agency to bail them out. It needs to be a combination or everything will eventually fall apart like it did this season. From there, they can start to think about breaking a faux-curse and easing the pain of the legions of true fans.

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Posted on: September 26, 2011 10:15 am
 

Pepper: From afterthought to MVP candidate

Michael Young

By C. Trent Rosecrans

I'm not sure I'd vote for Michael Young for the American League MVP, but I sure would have to consider the Rangers veteran if I had a ballot in the AL -- and that's a far cry from where Young started the season.

Remember going into spring training? Young had no home on the diamond and reportedly wanted a trade from the only team he's played for as a big leaguer. At 34, he seemed to be anything but what his surname suggested and of declining skills, not to mention he was a man without a position. The team signed Adrian Beltre to take over at third base, displacing him once again. Young had been moved off shortstop to make room for Elvis Andrus after previously being moved from second base. And now the team had another third baseman and it seemed there was nowhere for Young.

Instead, Young has wound up playing everywhere. In addition to 68 starts as the team's DH, he's made 39 starts at third base, 36 at first base and 13 at second. He may be the team's MVP -- with V standing for both valuable and versatile. He played in all but two games this season, and produced. He's hitting .338/.380/.477 -- all improvements over last season -- along with 11 home runs (down from a year ago), 104 RBI and a MLB-best 209 hits.

"People want to talk MVP? It's ridiculous if they don't consider Michael Young," Rangers manager Ron Washington told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I'd like someone to tell me a utility player who does what he does… When it all started, nobody thought he'd be able to get playing time."

The AL MVP vote could be one of the toughest in recent years, but Washington's right, Young should seriously be considered.

Rockies to be aggressive in offseason: The Rockies were many people's pick to win the National League West, or at least the wild card. Instead, the team has limped to a 71-87 record so far, 21 games behind the surprising Diamondbacks. Colorado has money to spend and will look for several upgrades in order to be competitive in 2012. [Denver Post]

Sayonara Kuroda? Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda said there's a 50-50 chance he returns to Japan next year. Kuroda is 13-16 with a 3.17 ERA this season. [MLB.com]

Rasmus blames Cardinals: Colby Rasmus hasn't played well since going to Toronto, and for that, he's blaming the Cardinals. The 25-year-old center fielder has as much talent as anyone, but his head seems to continue to get in his way. Maybe Tony La Russa was right… [National Post]

Pinch-runner paying dividends: Tyler Greene isn't playing much shortstop for the Cardinals, but he's still making his mark on the bases. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

Stadium holding back A's: The A's still hope to get a new stadium in San Jose, but if they do they'll likely hold back on spending -- because the stadium wouldn't be ready for at least three years, and the team would want to build toward opening strong in the new stadium. At least, that's what the agents for Josh Willingham hear. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Extending DatDude: Reds general manager Walt Jocketty will meet with the agents for second baseman Brandon Phillips in New York this week to talk about an extension. Jocketty has already said the team would pick up Phillips' $12 million option for 2012. [MLB.com]

Sanchez hopeful: Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez said he expects to be ready for opening day in 2012. Sanchez underwent shoulder surgery in August. [San Jose Mercury News]

Homecoming: You think it's bad when you see minivans with a kid's name and number on the back? I know I'd be embarrassed if if my mom had "Trent" and "CBSSports.com" on the back of her car. Or even if she wore a t-shirt with that around town. Well, imagine how embarrassed Reds rookie Devin Mesoraco felt when his mother distributed more than 700 t-shirts with his image and name on it for Saturday's game in Pittsburgh. [OMGReds.com]

Maybin wants to stay in San Diego: Cameron Maybin has apparently found a home in San Diego. When asked if he was open to signing a long-term deal with the Padres, Maybin said "100 percent." You can also find out where he buys his shoes. [San Diego Union-Tribune]

If you don't hit does it matter where you hit? The Cubs' Alfonso Soriano isn't happy about batting seventh most of the season fo rthe Cubs. Shouldn't he be more upset with him putting up the type of production that makes him a seven-hitter? [ESPNChicago.com]

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Posted on: September 9, 2011 10:48 am
 

Pepper: Is Rivera's sucessor Robertson?

Robertson

By Evan Brunell

Mariano's successor? The other day, I read a piece suggesting that the Yankees could theoretically sign Jonathan Papelbon in the offseason, have him set up Mariano Rivera's final year in town and then take over.

It's possible. But it's more probably that Rivera's successor is already on the team, and I'm not talking about Rafael Soriano.

“There are a lot of similarities there in how they throw their fastballs,” catcher Russell Martin told the New York Post when asked to compare Rivera and setup man David Robertson, who has broken through in a big way this season with a 1.23 ERA in 58 1/3 innings, striking out 89 and walking 31. That ERA is unsustainably low, but speaks to the impact the righty has had in the bullpen. Robertson is no Rivera -- who is? -- but those kind of strikeout numbers would work quite well in a closer's role. While Robertson walks a bit too much, that hasn't bothered other walk-prone closers such as Carlos Marmol, even if it increases the chances of an occasional blowup.

“Maybe that can happen a few years down the road,” Robertson said of replacing Rivera. “But I don’t have to worry about that. Mo’s not leaving. It would be cool to do [to be the closer]. But we have No. 42 and he ain’t leaving.”

Offended: Incoming Astros owner Jim Crane is "offended" by both the delay in being approved and the public perception of Crane -- especially when details of his divorce leaked out, invading his personal life. Crane also noted that his contract to buy the team expires on Nov. 30. (Houston Chronicle)

Power rankings: Four unlikely candidates to manage the Cubs top the latest power rankings on the subject. GMs Andrew Friedman, Billy Beane, Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman lead off the list that has a distinct Boston flavor to it. (Chicago Tribune)

No more I-Rod: Ivan Rodriguez likely won't catch for the remainder of 2011, as the Nats want to take a look at their future in Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores. Rodriguez hopes to catch at least four more years. While that's a stretch, he should catch long enough to net hit No. 3,000 -- he's at 2,842. (Washington Post)

Doubles machine: Not only do Royals outfielders lead baseball in outfield assists by a wide margin, but each of them also has at least 39 doubles. That makes them the third team in baseball history to reach the feat, along with the 1998 Angels and 1932 Phillies. But both these teams had an outfielder with 39 doubles, with Melky Cabrera there already. So on his next one, the Royals will set history. Oh, and DH Billy Butler is two away from 40, so four players could reach the mark for K.C. That would be the fourth such time a team pulled that off. If they can all reach 42, it will be the first time ever a team has accomplished such a feat. (Rany on the Royals)

Braden shows up: Dallas Braden wasn't too keen on showing his face in the Oakland clubhouse after undergoing season-ending surgery in May, much to the chagrin of his teammates. GM Billy Beane interviewed and spoke to Braden, as the San Francisco Chronicle writes, leading to this quote from Braden on Beane's encouragement: "Makes you feel like less of a loser."

Alonso's story: Background stories about Cuban defectors always has two components: the harrowing departure from Cuba, plus how grateful the players are to be in the majors. Rather than being a cliche, it's a reminder of the challenges that one faces in life. Yonder Alonso is no exception, whose family bolted Cuba when he was 9 years old. (MLB.com)

More homers than walks: Prior to the season, 99 instances of 20-plus homers with less than 20 walks have occurred in baseball history. Now, eight are on pace to add to the total, with 50 coming since 1991 in further evidence how the game has changed and tilted toward power. Alfonso Soriano is on pace for his fourth such distinction, plus Mark Trumbo. Vernon Wells and J.J. Hardy both have the same amount of homers and walks, while Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, Michael Morse and Adam Jones are threatening. (MLB.com)

Glad you left: Which teams are sick of seeing certain players? Here's a full list, led by Washington being crushed by Mike Stanton this season with a 1.087 slugging percentage. (The Hardball Times)

Too close: Baseball journalist Marcos Breton has admitted he grew too close to Miguel Tejada, which has given him unique perspective on his release instead of, as he put it, "[being] too harsh on some subjects for this column, and I promised myself to reflect on Tejada the next time someone stumbles publicly, as all of us will, when life inevitably brings us down to size." (Sacramento Bee)

Try, try again: Tim Wakefield will try yet again for win No. 200, currently slated to start Tuesday against the Blue Jays. (Providence Journal)

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Posted on: August 19, 2011 1:42 pm
 

Big contracts defined Hendry's reign

Alfonso SorianoBy C. Trent Rosecrans

During Tom Ricketts' press conference announcing the firing of general manager Jim Hendry, the Cubs owner made it a point that the next general manager would have to focus on "player development," which means (relatively) cheap draft picks and young players under team control instead of quick-fix, big contracts.

The latter are the types of moves that Hendry's tenure in Chicago will be remembered for, and here's the four that he will be remembered for:

1. Alfonso Soriano, eight years, $136 million: After the Cubs went 66-96 in 2006, Hendry made a splash in the offseason giving Alfonso Soriano a long-term deal. But like the fat kid doing the belly flop, the splash was just an opportunity to point and laugh. Soriano is a natural designated hitter, which is a problem in the National League. Soriano is in his fifth year with the Cubs and has hit 126 homers in that time, but coming off a 46-home run season in 2006, he's not hit more than 33 in any year with the Cubs, despite playing in homer-friendly Wrigley Field. As a Cub, he's hit .267/.320/.499 and become a favorite whipping boy for Cub fans who have no shortage of players to complain about. He's also due to make $19 million each of the next three seasons and will be 38 in his final season in Chicago.

2. Carlos Zambrano, five years, $91.5 million: The Zambrano contract is the albatross that just keeps on giving, isn't it? Currently on the disqualified list, the Cubs may get $3 million back from Zambrano's lost income during the 30 days he's on the list, but that also puts it into perspective that the Cubs are paying him $3 million a month. When Zambrano signed in Aug. of 2007, he was 26 and coming off a 16-7 season with a 3.41 ERA. However, that was 2006. In 2007 he was 14-9 with a 3.86 ERA on the season and was less than two months removed from a fight in the dugout with his catcher and had just weeks prior blasted Cubs fans. You can't say there weren't warning signs that a five-year deal may not have been the best idea.

3. Milton Bradley, three years, $30 million: If Zambrano's temper wasn't evident enough, there was no doubt that Bradley was a time bomb that wouldn't last three years in a Cubs uniform. The supremely talented outfielder had never spent three full seasons anywhere when Hendry handed him a three-year deal. Hendry gave Bradley the deal on the strength of an American League-best .999 OPS, but he had played in just 126 games and hit 22 homers at Rangers Park, a hitter's paradise. He hit just .257/.378/.397 in 124 games for the Cubs in 2009 and lived up to not only his reputation, but the standards of clubhouse buffoonery set by another Cub to play right field and wear No. 21, Sammy Sosa. In June of 2009, Bradley threw a temper-tantrum in a game against the White Sox and manager Lou Piniella told him to just go home. The Cubs suspended him for the rest of the season late in September after Bradley blasted the Cubs organization. He was traded to Seattle for another horrible contract (Carlos Silva) after the season.

4. Kosuke Fukudome, four years, $48 million: Searching for the next Ichiro, Hendry instead got the next Kaz Matsui. Fukudome got off to a hot start with the Cubs in 2008, but quickly faded. He never became much more than a decent player, if that. In three-plus years with the Cubs, he hit .262/.369/.403 with 37 homers before being traded to the Indians at the trade deadline for two minor-leaguers.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com