Monday, March 27, 2006

posted by James - 1:53 PM

It's time for some March Madness... no, not that silly college basketball tournament that nobody on earth could predict. It's time for some fantasy baseball.

The Just North of Wrigley Field fantasy baseball league is looking for some able-minded baseball enthusiasts to participate in a draft at 8:30 pm CST, Tuesday, March 28th.

All you need to do is get to yourself to Yahoo!, input the league id (273086) and the password (gocubs), pick an interesting team name and then prepare to get schooled!

After the conclusion of this draft, I'll post an update on the state of my fantasy baseball offerings for the 2006 season. I've already made one small trade that I'll be interested in following throughout the season.

Enough with the fantasy, on to the reality of the Chicago Cubs, where it was a fantasy to think they could keep "stud pitchers" Mark Prior and Kerry Wood healthy.

The Cubs are getting some good returns on Wood's recovery, but who knows what's going to happen with Prior. This means there could be some unfamiliar names in the Cubs rotation to start the year... well not to the Cubs fans who constantly look to the farm system to save them from 100 years of torture.

I'll get to that in a second, but right now we'll focus on the two hold overs from last year's pitching staff who get bumped up a few notches in the short term.

Even though they moved him in and out of the rotation last season when he really wasn't effective in either role, the Cubs still brought back LHP Glendon Rusch during the winter and gave him a two-year deal. I had a problem with it when they signed him, and I still have a problem with it even if they need the depth now.

If thought they needed to go after depth then, and committing multiple millions and multiple years to a player with his kind of track record didn't cut it for me. Remember, two years ago he was coming off four-straight, double-digit-loss seasons with ERAs only a Brewer pitcher or Met pitcher would love.

I'd feel a lot more confident about counting on him if the team didn't royally screw up his role last year, pitching him out of the bullpen and Ryan Dempster in the rotation after after preparing for the opposite the entire spring. Not having Dempster at the back-end of the bullpen and the Rusch in the rotation, cost this team any chance of competing last year.

The only bright spot about Rusch is he finished the season with four wins in five starts in September, proving he can be a competent pitcher with a defined role, but I have no confidence in this being the case, and I sure wanted the Cubs to do better than Rusch as a fall-back plan for the inevitable injuries to Prior and Wood.

Rusch has struggled this spring, but had a strong, five-inning performance last week.

The other holdover is RHP Jerome Williams. What can I say about Jerome other than I'm happy he's here and LaTroy Hawkins isn't? Ok, I have more to say than that, but anybody who tried to survive a Hawkins performance at the "Friendly Confines" knows what I'm talking about.

If the Cubs show GM Jim Hendry the door tomorrow, we'll still be thanking him for this deal years from now. Not only did Hendry fill a need on the team last year, and acquire another outstanding, nearly-ready young arm in David Aardsma, but he rid the team of an outright cancer in Hawkins.

I've talked about Hawkins here before. I don't hate him. I fully supported his signing for the 2004 season, but Hendry let Coach Dusty Baker abuse and misuse him. Once that ship left port, it was time to sink it. Hendry let Baker ruin what should have been the best signing of that offseason, and he owed it to us to make something out of it.

Williams started 17 games for the Cubs with a sub-4.00 ERA. I worry a little because he doesn't have a deep track record in the majors. He's never started more than 25 games in a season and his K/BB ratio doesn't inspire me, and his spring numbers are showing that as well. However, he's pitched much better in his last two outings and is stretching out his arm. At least for the first month of the season, he's going to be more than just a back-end starter. He's going to have to be on the mound for 6+ innings for the Cubs to be successful.

Unfortunately, these are the most experienced and entrenched options to fill the three rotation slots behind Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux. The Cubs won't need a fifth starter until April 15th, but when they do Wood, Prior or former Houston Astro Wade Miller have very little shot at being ready. This means a rookie is going to make that start, if not a sooner one.

I'm going to evoke my list fetish to illustrate my point of who should open up the season in the Cubs rotation.
  1. Carlos Zambrano rhp
  2. Mark Prior (DL)
  3. Kerry Wood rhp (DL)
  4. Greg Maddux rhp
  5. Wade Miller rhp (DL)
  6. Glendon Rusch lhp
  7. Jerome Williams rhp
  8. Rich Hill lhp
  9. Angel Guzman rhp
  10. Sean Marshall lhp
  11. Jae Ryu rhp
Trips to Mark O'Neal's office notwithstanding, that's 11 names and one of the last four will make April starts for the Cubs if they don't acquire another arm.

Rich Hill has the benefit of starting four games for the Cubs last year, impressing in his first two starts before he figured out you need more than just hit-and-miss control of a baffling curveball to get MLB hitters out... at least I hope he did.

Angel Guzman has tantalized Cubs faifthful for many, many rotations around the Sun. This could finally be the year he puts his health issues behind him and makes his major-league debut. On Saturday, he pitched four hitless innings, with two strike outs and as many walks...

in relief of Sean Marshall, who despite having only four professional appearances above the single-A level, hasn't given up squat to opposing hitters, including pitching four no-hit innings of his own (the Cubs would lose the no-hitter in the 10th inning, but go on to win the game 1-0).

The 6-7, 23-year- old lefthander is the talk of spring training. As good as Rich Hill's curveball is, Marshall's might be just as good, and he knows where it's going and has other complimentary pitches.

Marshall has given up only three hits while striking out nine batters in 10.1 innings without giving up a run. He struggled with his control on Saturday, giving up four of his six spring walks, but he also struck out five. And it impressed me, he did it against Oakland major-leaguers Eric Chavez, Jason Kendall, Milton Bradley, Dan Johnson and Jay Payton, not a split-squad or, even worse, Kansas City.

I'm trying to temper my excitement. Everyone from John Sickels to Baseball America will tell you, Angel Guzman is a top-five prospect with a sound, healthy, stable arm and Sean Marshall ain't far behind him, even with a scant amount of AA experience to draw on. These are the kind of young pitchers that can set an organization up to succeed for many years with high-level production on the cheap.

...but take a look at the above list. They're, at best, behind seven guys who are going to get a chance to start for the Cubs at one point or another. The Cubs have committed to them as long as they're healthy. My point... is it worth it to jerk around these 23-year-old pitchers who haven't pitched a single inning at AAA or finished a full season of AA, risking their fragile arms and egos?

If they're not willing to give them a full-time rotation slot from the start, barring complete, abject failure, they should give make Hill the fifth starter, since he's pitched on a major-league mound, dominated AAA (6-1, 65 IP, 53 H, 92/14 K/BB!!!), and would probably make an even-better lefthander out of the pen when Wood, Prior, etc comes back.

I would love to see what Guzman and Marshall got, but seeing it in Iowa would be probably be best for the Cubs' future, and if they stayed there the whole season that would probably be best for the Cubs' present.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

posted by CHRIS - 11:53 PM

Hey there, guys. Skippy here.

Just wanted to stop by and make a quick post about the band I saw the last two nights. Hollywood U2 played at the Suquamish Clearwater Casino, and they were absolutely amazing. You won't find them selling out world tours, but you will find them rocking your local casino or small venue bars.

If you couldn't have guessed by the name, they are a U2 cover band. They sound and even look like the real thing (see picture above). This was an especially thrilling weekend because one of my best friends, Scott, is not only a huge U2 fan, but an amazing singer as well. So I talked to a few people working with the band I knew (Casino management is more than willing to help out someone who has lost as much money as I have. Let's just say they knew me well a few years ago) and convinced them to see if the band would let Scott join them. The guys were all for it. About halfway through the third set, they pulled him up on stage and handed him the microphone to sing to a packed house. The place went CRAZY, the dance floor was jumpin' and the band was rocking (Like I said Scott is an amazing singer).

If that had been the end of the night, I think everyone we were hanging out with would have gone home with a smile and a great memory of this band that let our friend live out his dream, but the night didn't end there. The band came over to our table after the show was over and said hello and thanks for coming to everyone. Then when I asked if I could get some pictures of Scott with the band, they invited us to the dressing room and we all hung out and shared U2 experiences and random stories for well over an hour (not having any U2 experiences myself, I mostly listened and made small talk with Sherise, the drummer's wife who had spent most of the show sleeping in the dressing room).

When we realized it was approaching 3 a.m., we called it a night. Before we left, the band made sure we were coming to the show the next day (or later that night, depending on how you look at it). We were all for continuing the fun, and they said they would love to bring Scott back up on stage to sing with them (plus Sherise said she wanted someone to hang out with instead of sleeping through the show again).

When the Band hit the stage the next night, we were all there (plus about 10 people that hadn't seen the show the night before). The band had even reserved us front-and-center seats. As promised, they brought Scott up on stage and let him rock the house again. The show was great and the band was again very appreciative of our support. We hung out for a little while after the show to exchange phone numbers and addresses so we can keep in touch, but the night had to end there for me because I had to work the next morning. They asked if we wanted to stay and drink with them (which is hard for me to turn down), but I had to get some sleep. After two hard nights of partying, my 12-hour shifts only seem to get longer. So I said my goodbyes and headed for home. On the drive home, I rocked out to the newest, Grammy-winning U2 album "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" and thought about the great new friends I had met and the weekend of memories I will always have.

I just want to say again THANK YOU to the guys in Hollywood U2 for the great show and great experiences this weekend. You guys are the best (Oh yeah, Hi Sherise). Thanks for making Scott as happy as you have (I'm sure he will make me watch the DVD of the show over and over again).

Ok now back to Skip to my Sports!!!

Monday, March 13, 2006

posted by CHRIS - 4:23 PM

Just call me a Posting Machine!!!

I know I complained last week about how nothing was going on in my sports world. Boy was I wrong. It was just the calm before the storm. With free agency starting in the NFL, NBA teams hunting for playoff spots, MLB giving us some suprisingly interesting baseball with the WBC and my feeble attempts to fill out NCAA brackets... my sports world is crazy.

So, let's Skip To My Sports!

NFL free agency
What a amazing first week! Some major talent changed teams. Arizona signed the big name running back, they've tried to get for years in former Indianapolis Colt and multi-time Pro Bowler Edgerrin James. The Edge should add another weapon to a Cardinals offense with an already-good, young recieving corps. This could make them a real threat in the NFC West. It doesn't help Seattle seems to be losing more than they are gaining through free agency.

Yes, the Seahawks signed RB Shaun Alexander to the contract he deserves, but they have lost many players who played major roles in getting them to the franchise's first super bowl. WR Joe Jurevicius will play for the Clevland Browns after signing a four-year contract. S Marquard Manuel is now a Green Bay Packer. Pro Bowl LG Steve Hutchinson signed a huge offer sheet (7 years, $49 million) with the Minnesota Vikings. The Seahawks designated Hutchinson as a transition player, which means they can match the offer, but would receive no compensation for letting the former first-round pick go.

Of all of these signings. I really hate to see Jurevicius leave Seattle. I really thought he was a huge part of the team's run to the Super Bowl. The Seahawks should have locked him up to a multi-year extension before free agency started and used his experience and talent to solidify the reciver position.

Seattle now has to find pieces to fill all the holes left by cuts and free agency. It should be interesting to see how things shake out.

I will talk more about the other subjects later but I have to finish the Honey-do list. Yeah, married life is great!!!

posted by CHRIS - 4:04 PM

Ok, so I was told I needed to comment on the latest drama unfolding in the Utah Jazz Management offices and spilling onto the floor of the Delta Center.

Anybody who saw last Monday's Utah Jazz victory at home over the Orlando Magic, or watched ESPN SportsCenter saw Jazz owner Larry Miller berate his players on the court and then later in the locker room.

Larry, buddy, pal o’ mine… SHUT THE HELL UP! As the Rock once said, "KNOW YOUR ROLE AND SHUT YOUR MOUTH!" You own the team, but if you don’t like the players on your team or the way they are playing, walk your big fat ass down to GM Kevin O'Connor's office and tell him to do something about it. That's what you pay him for. If you think he won’t or hasn't done a good job, fire him and get one who will do whatever crackpot thing you want him to do.

But under no circumstances should you ever… and I mean EH-EH-EH-EEEEEEEVER... walk your big fat ass onto the court and into Coach Jerry Sloan's huddle and yell at his team. That's what you pay Sloan to do, and if you've ever sat courtside at a Jazz game, you know he does a good job of it. If you don’t like the job he is doing, fire him. (Just a side note... if you do, you are the dumbest S.O.B. I have ever met.)

You aren’t the reason the people of Utah have supported the team over the last 20 years. Stockton, Malone and Sloan are. I advise you to stay out of the huddle or, better yet, just stay out of the arena completely if you can't keep yourself in check.

Skippy out!!!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

posted by James - 6:05 PM

When we should be acknowledging the loss of one of the greats, getting ready for the upcoming season, drafting our fantasy baseball teams and enjoying the great baseball the WBC is giving us right now, I'm not going to waste much time on my favorite subject of steroids in baseball and Barry Bonds. So, this will be it regardless of how many articles and books come out.

The Chicago Tribune has an article running right now saying MLB Commisssioner Bud Selig is thinking of suspending Bonds for the revelations SI detailed in their article about a soon-to-be-released book by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters. As if the myriad allegations against Bonds and the Grand Juries and Congressional hearings to this point shouldn't have been enough to get Selig to look into this a little closer, now he's going to bring the big Silver Hammer down on him.

Some are applauding him because a significant suspension or retirement coersion could protect the sanctity of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron's home run records without the messiness of an asterisk.

But there's something bigger here than just numbers. My problem with Bonds and Palmeiro and Giambi has always been the deception. They've lied and lied and lied and it took a Grand Jury to come close to coming clean. MLB should suspend them not just for the use of something legal for most of their careers, but for damaging the integrity of the game by lying about it.

I applaud MLB for taking control of the supplements (some of?) their players are going to use, but they also need to provide a list of who's using the supplements to anybody who wants to read it. For example, if a guy adds 40 lbs of muscle and the list says he's not taking anything, that's something to look into.

As far as the records go, Palmeiro and Bonds are probably still in the Hall, because there's no proof who was and wasn't using during that time, including the pitchers they faced.

...but how far should we go with this protection of records? Should we start testing AROD right now? He's well on a pace to eclipse Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

To come close to satisfying me, they should test everybody. The players union should shut up about it, because they never got out in front of this issue. None of their players can look me in the face and tell me their clean without the clean urine sample to back it up. They should random test everybody, and have a baseline test for every player done the second they put on a major-league uniform.

If I want to watch a sport where I question the validity of the performance I'm seeing, I'll watch professional wrestling... and even they've announced plans to do just what I've said above.

I sincerely hope I have better things to write about on this blog this year... or think about writing about, but get around to doing it two weeks later, but by that time I don't really care so I'd rather spend two hours fiddling with my 30 fantasy baseball teams.

posted by James - 4:44 PM

Kirby Puckett (1960-2006)

It was obvious he was the best player on the field from the second he ever stepped on one. Not just in the way he played, but the way he carried himself and led his teammates. I vehemently argue with anybody who wants to trivialize his hall-of-fame credentials. It's unfortunate the '94 strike cut short two of his best years, and then his career was over.

I took notice of him in the mid '80s when I was heavily into baseball card collecting. My dad had bought me the 1985 topps set. That was really when my love affair with knowing everything about baseball started. I knew how valuable this set was because of the Mark McGwire USA Baseball card, and the Darryl Strawberry card, Wade Boggs, Don Mattingly, Roger Clemens... the list goes on and includes Puckett. Even with its value, I still risked it and went through every one of the cards... very often. I wanted to immerse myself in all of this baseball knowledge (remember this was before baseball-reference.com existed). I would sort them by team and then alphabetically and then back to numerically... shampoo, rinse and repeat, always repeat. Even though the back of his bubble gum card didn't have any really impressive numbers on it going into just his second big-league year, getting to Puckett was always one of the highlights.

You just had an instant connection with the guy, whether he went 0-4 or killed the team he played. It didn't hurt that I got to see him impressively win two World Series in a five-year span. These days, it takes gaudy power numbers to catch a fan's eye or to even keep your team from replacing you, but Puckett hit only four homers in his first two years and didn't even touch a .400 SLG%.

Yes, he would explode in 1986-88 with 83 homers, but there were many years after that where he didn't have great power. Power wasn't really his game. He finished his career with only a .477 SLG% and it took two of his best power years in the final two years of his career to get it to that point. He's proof if you just concentrate on putting bat on ball, you're going to get extra-base hits and some of those are going to be doubles and some of them are going to find their way over the wall. I can only name Wade Boggs as a guy who I watched put bat on ball better. He was well on his way to 3,000 hits, but he might have only barely cracked 300 homers.

But unlike some Hall-of-Fame revisionists, I've never counted his lack of longevity against him. Even though his career ended too soon, he still had six gold gloves and 10 all-star appearances (1993 MVP) and led two teams to a World Series title. I don't care what your weight was. I don't care what your reputation off the field AFTER your playing days was. If you can say you did that, you're a hall of famer. And the fact he did that in only 12 seasons after being a #3-overall pick means there was never a doubt.

I'll end this with my favorite Puckett experience, which illustrates how loved he was. I went to the final game of the 1989 season for the Seattle Mariners - Ken Griffey, Jr.'s first big-league season - as they faced the Minnesota Twins. Puckett had battled with Oakland A's 3b Carney Lansford for the AL batting title up until the final day, and Lansford had already came up hitless in four plate appearances with a walk, clinching the title for Puckett. When he took the field for the first time, they announced his accomplishment to the Kingdome crowd of almost 12,000 (which was pretty good for the late 80s Mariners). The crowd gave him a round of standing applause and repeated before and after every at bat. Of course, he still went out with two doubles in five at bats with an RBI in the loss to the Mariners.

Kirby Puckett is the first player inducted into the Hall of Fame who's career I saw and remember in its entirety (Sandberg and Boggs are close, but I was too young to remember their early years, Junior and Clemens to follow).

There may be reason to tarnish some of his legacy because of his post-career indiscretions. He is paying for those now everytime his obituary includes the laundry list of substantiated and unsubstantiated claims against him, and the irresponsible respect he had for his own health alongside all the good he accomplished in his career. I'm choosing not to dismiss or give more weight to either, but he didn't owe me an apology or explanations for actions he may have felt remorse or atoned for. He was engaged to be married for the second time, which doesn't fit the mold of a man who's life is continuing to spiral downward. We may never know where Kirby Puckett's life may have taken him, because it ended far too early.