Random Musings from Wrigley Field's Upper Deck

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Todd Walker signed...

The Cubs, in a move that surprised everyone, signed Todd Walker, who was made available by Boston's signing Pokey Reese to play second base.

I've seen two likely theories about this move.

Al Yellon suggests that Hendry may be engineering a trade of Grudzielanek, Barrett, and a pitching prospect to the Pirates for Jason Kendall. Given the size of Kendall's contract, this is a real possibility. Pittsburgh has been trying to move him since the middle of last year but has had no takers so far. Granted, Kendall is no Pudge, but he'd be an improvement offensively at the catching position over the Barrett/Bako combination.

The other theory (propounded by The Cub Reporter) is that Grudzielanek and Walker will be platooned at second base. This is a possibility, since, as they point out, Grudzielanek hits left-handers pretty well (or at least he did last year) and Walker hits right-handers well. Potential problem here: there are a lot more right-handed pitchers than left-handed ones, so this seems to make Walker the de facto starter. Also, even against left-handers, it's reasonably likely that Grudzielanek will return to offensive numbers closer to his career averages than to what he put up last year.

All in all, I like Yellon's theory better (no offense to The Cub Reporter). With Walker added, assuming twelve pitchers, we now have 26 legitimate players on the roster to fill 25 spots. This means that a two-for-one trade is likely, since we need to trim a player. Considering that catcher is still a weak point, a trade for someone like Kendall is a reasonable possibility (and a fairly good move, in my opinion). I would have liked to have gotten Pudge or Javy, but Kendall's not a bad move.

Hope springs eternal on the North Side.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Catching situation sorted out...

As expected, the Cubs signed Michael Barrett today. The official site says that his contract is for one year at $1.55 million. Once the contract was finalized, the Cubs completed their trade with the A's, sending Damian Miller to Oakland for Barrett, cash, and a PTBNL. At the moment, then, it looks like we know who next year's catchers are: Barrett will start, and Bako will back him up.

Friday, December 19, 2003

A few more questions answered today...

The Cubs re-signed Paul Bako and Ramon Martinez. Presumably, this means that our catchers will be Michael Barrett and Paul Bako, and Damian Miller will be dealt somewhere. Martinez will be, as expected, the utility infielder/bench player.

The team also traded a minor league pitcher for Jose Macias, from Montreal. He will provide a left-handed (actually switch-hitting) bat off the bench and will be another utility player. Jose has played most of his games at second or third base, with a few games scattered around the rest of the positions, mostly in the outfield, mostly in center. This suggests that he will mainly back up at second, third, and center/right field. Hollandsworth will back up in the outfield and at first base. Martinez will back up at second and short, with third a possibility.

This fills the depth chart at every position (we even have three catchers on the roster at the moment, but we will likely lose Miller). We just need a fifth starter and two more relievers.

Depth Chart:
Catcher: Barrett-Bako (Miller disposable)
1st: Lee-Hollandsworth
2nd: Grudzielanek-Martinez (Macias against righties)
3rd: Ramirez-Macias (Martinez against lefties)
Short: Gonzalez-Martinez
Left: Alou-Hollandsworth-Goodwin
Center: Patterson-Hollandsworth-Goodwin-Macias
Right: Sosa-Hollandsworth-Goodwin-Macias

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Well, it's been an interesting couple of days in Cubs offseason transaction land...

First, the Cubs signed Michael Barrett as either the starting or backup catcher, meaning they will get rid of either Damian Miller or Paul Bako (we'll know which come Saturday, when the Cubs have to decide whether to non-tender Bako). No one seems to know what to do with this news. Apparently, Barrett is your standard "had a few bad seasons, due for a good season or two" guy. This always strikes me as an interesting application of the Gambler's Fallacy, but I suppose real sportswriters know more about these things than yours truly (just an engineer-turned-law-student). At any rate, Barrett together with either Bako or Miller probably isn't any worse than just keeping Bako and Miller would have been, but he's also not a huge upgrade.

Next, the team signed Todd Hollandsworth as the number-four outfielder. A quick look at Hollandsworth's career shows a typical journeyman outfielder, and he should fill in nicely off the bench. He also adds a desperately needed left-handed bat. Interestingly, Hollandsworth has played more games in his career at left field than at any other position, meaning that he should have no problem filling in for Moises Alou if he comes down with one of his biennial injuries. While I would have loved to have seen Kenny Lofton stay as the left-handed hitting fourth outfielder, Todd Hollandsworth is a pretty good choice, and we've always got Jason DuBois as a potential backup should either Hollandsworth or Goodwin fall short next year.

Finally, the Cubs signed Kent Mercker as a left hander in the bullpen. He will back up Remlinger and generally occupy the spot that was filled (not terribly ably) by Mark Guthrie last year. Mercker has the potential to play well, and he gets something of a free pass, since he is a veteran lefty (sportswriters are, I believe, legally required to refer to all left handed pitchers over the age of 35 as "crafty"). On the downside, Mercker has played for eight teams (the Cubs will be his ninth) in 14 seasons, hardly the sign of a great player. He also is still recovering from surgery in 2000 to repair a brain hemorrhage. We needed a left-handed long reliever, though, and Mercker may have been the best available option, particularly if he comes cheap.

This fills a few more holes in the roster. All five outfield spots are filled (Sosa, Patterson, Alou, Hollandsworth, and Goodwin). The starting infield spots are also full (Bako, Miller, or Barrett at catcher, plus Lee, Grudzielanek, Gonzalez, and Ramirez), although there is still an outside possibility of a trade at second or shortstop, with a trade at the catcher's spot an even more remote possibility. We still have Ramon Martinez as a utility man/super-sub. The first four slots in the pitching rotation are full (Prior, Wood, Clement, and Zambrano). We have a closer (Borowski) and four setup men (Farnsworth, Hawkins, Remlinger, and Mercker).

By my count, this leaves openings for a backup catcher (filled with Bako, Miller, or Barrett), another bench infielder (preferably one who can handle first base, and preferably a left hander), a fifth starter (again, preferably left handed), and two more relief pitchers. I expect to see most of these spots filled with players promoted from the minor leagues during Spring Training, but it's possible that Hendry will be able to sign a couple more free agents or trades.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

More holes filled for next year...

The Cubs signed deals with Grudzielanek and Goodwin. Sources say that Grudzielanek will be paid $2.5 million next year, which is at the low end of the speculation. Grudz himself says that he got similar offers from other teams but decided to come back because he likes Dusty and Chicago. I'm highly ambivalent about this move. There's better talent out there (albeit at a higher price), and there's cheaper talent out there (albeit not with numbers like Grudz put up last year). Either option, under some circumstances, would have been better than re-signing Grudzielanek. Either option, under other circumstances, would have been worse than doing what the Cubs did. Given that the Expos probably will end up keeping Vidro after dumping the salary of Vazquez and Vlad (does anyone think that the Expos need less players whose last names start with "V"?), there weren't a lot of options out there. Grudzielanek may well be the best choice at this point.

Goodwin will make $650,000 next year, which is chump change for a speedy backup outfielder who can also pinch hit. It would have been nice to have kept Lofton, but his performance above what we can get out of Goodwin probably isn't worth the extra bucks we would have spent for his services. I'm still a bit concerned about Patterson's medical status and the possibility that Alou will suffer injuries at a greater rate than last year, meaning that it would have been nice to get a "backup outfielder" who could start in their places. Lofton would have filled this role better than Goodwin. Still, Hendry presumably has better information on Patterson's recovery than I have. Also, we still have another backup outfielder spot on the roster to fill - we'll see what Hendry does with it. (My money's still on a promotion from the minors, likely DuBois, who was a stud in the Arizona Fall League.)

So far, the roster looks like this:
C - Miller
1B - Lee
2B - Grudzielanek
3B - Ramirez
SS - Gonzalez
LF - Alou
CF - Patterson
RF - Sosa

We have Bako at backup catcher and Goodwin at backup outfielder. This leaves roster spots for two backup infielders and another backup outfielder still to be filled.

Pitching rotation includes Wood, Prior, Zambrano, and Clement. We still need to find a number five starter, probably a lefty.

The bullpen includes Borowski at closer and Remlinger, Hawkins, and Farnsworth in middle relief. Once we find a fifth starter, this leaves three bullpen spots to fill. Look for these to be filled mostly from the minor leagues, with maybe one more small pickup via trade or free agent signing.

Overall, the roster at the moment looks a lot like it did opening day last year. Two of the three late-season pickups from Pittsburgh are now gone, leaving Ramirez, who, for all his warts, is a huge upgrade at third base over the massive question mark we had at the beginning of last season. Lee is probably at least a slight improvement over Choi, and he is a big improvement over the Choi/Karros/Simon platoon. The bullpen should be improved a bit with the replacement of Alfonseca with Hawkins. Other than that, the outfield is the same as last season, the middle infield is the same as last season, and the catchers are the same as last season.

With a few holes on the bench and in the bullpen left to fill, we may still see some trades. Speculation at the end of the season was that one or the other, but not both, of Gonzalez and Grudzielanek would be back. As things stand, they are both now under contract for next year. There is thus a possibility that one of them may yet be traded. There is also an outside possibility of one of our catchers being traded.

Winter meetings start on Friday - let's see how Hendry fills the rest of the holes.

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