Cubs functionally illiterate manager Dale Sveum has narrowed his 25 man roster down to 28 or so (nobody’s sure how high Dale can count), and it’s a sight to behold. An outfield of four washed up guys and the plodding Joe Mather, an infield that’s only three-fourths short on Major League quality talent, a catching corps that has the best one on a bus to Iowa, and a pitching staff so thin, that not only did Jeff Samardzjia make the rotation, but they’re actually going to miss him in the bullpen.
Sports Illustrated doesn’t think the Cubs can win 70 games this year. I’m not sure they can win twelve.Read More
Now that the deal is official, Cubs fans can get as giddy about their favorite team hiring a real talent to run their baseball operations as they’d like. Make no mistake, that hiring Theo Epstein away from the Red Sox will finally enable the Cubs to start using all of the sizable advantages they have over almost every other team in the National League.Read More
As the Cubs long, lumbering, two step progression towards 81 wins (four more than I expected, and just enough to make MLB Betting interesting) continues lots of things are surprising about this team. The starting pitching was supposed to be a strength, but other than Carlos Zambrano it’s been pretty bad. The bullpen, as long as you can get to the Marshall-Wood-Marmol end is pretty stout. The expensive guys are actually hitting (E-ramis for average and Alfonso Soriano for power), except for Carlos Pena…he just sucks.
But even a bigger surprise than how awesome Starlin Castro already is, is that Darwin Barney might actually be good.
First off, let’s address the inevitable comparisons to Ryan Theriot.
Both played shortstop on College World Series winning teams. Theriot at LSU (did you know he played there with Mike Fontenot? Crazy!), Barney at Oregon State.
They’re basically the same size. Theriot’s listed at 5’11, 180 (he’s 5’2, 110) and Barney at 5’10, 180.
But that’s where the comparison should end. Barney made it to the big leagues faster (he was 24 when he played last year…Theriot was 26 when he got his first real run) and is playing a position he can handle (second base as opposed to shortstop).
Barney’s got a far better arm than Theriot. He has shown situational awareness that Theriot never has. He dekes runners on the bases, he takes aggressive, but not reckless turns on the bases, he doesn’t blindly throw towards first when the runner has already easily beaten the play. He doesn’t get picked off repeatedly on the rare occasions he’s on first base. And…he has yet to be out by 15 feet blindly running from second to third on a routine grounder to the shortstop.
Granted, in Theriot’s first extended playing time as a Cub, he was a pretty good player.
In 2006 he hit .326 with a .934 OPS (135 OPS+). He went 13-15 in stolen bases.
So we’ve fallen for this before. The longer we saw Theriot, the more we saw things we at first tried to ignore. He was overmatched defensively at short. He doesn’t have the arm to play it so he cheats into areas on defense where his arm will “play” which cuts down on his already suspect range.
Barney gets to let Starlin Castro worry about that. He just plays second.
But the more we watched Theriot, the more we saw how clueless he was on the bases. Still it’s amazing that a guy who is supposed to be valuable because of how scrappy he is, has such a terrible feel for the game.
Barney appears to understand the game better than Theriot ever did.
And, it doesn’t hurt that he’s off to a productive start this year. With two hits in the second game of tonight’s doubleheader split (what else for the 9-9 Cubs?) Barney had two hits (though he struck out looking to end the game in a one run loss) and his average is up to .314. He has more walks (four) than strikeouts (three). In his first 13 starts this season he as seven multi-hit games.
So what if he’s actually good? What if this isn’t just the productive start that you can get off to before the league figures out that you are getting by on hustle and not on talent?
What if the Cubs haven’t just found their starting shortstop, but his running mate? What if they have one less position to worry about (just 23 instead of 25) on the roster?
A wise man tweeted this week that “Darwin Barney is Ryan Theriot without his head up his ass.”
Fine, I’m not all that wise, but what if that were true? Isn’t the biggest disappointment about Theriot that he just never “got it?” That he didn’t have excess talent, but he had just enough, but had no idea what to do with it?
Maybe Darwin’s actually good. What if he understands the game enough to just do what he can, and not screw things up? What if he’s just good enough to be useful?
Nah you’re right, he’s probably shitty, too.
Hey, it won’t be long before we get to bitch that DJ LaMahieu is the only 6’4 judy hitter in baseball.Read More
When the Cubs re-signed E-ramis Ramirez in the offseason after the wonderfully enjoyable final Dusty Baker year, it seemed like folly that they would give him a player option after the 2010 season. Surely, E-ramis, one of the best third basemen in the game would at the very least exercise the option to get a new deal from the Cubs, if not to get the hell out of town.
But yesterday, E-ramis let the deadline to opt out of his contract pass, guaranteeing him $14.6 million for next year, but not attempting to find more money out in the open market.
So typical of the Cubs, that they get what they wanted. But not why they wanted it.
Truth is, E-ramis was the Cubs best player as recently as 2009. When he fell down and went boom on his shoulder early in that season in Milwaukee it was the first in a series of events that would doom the then two-time defending NL Central champions. Most of the others had to do with either Milton Bradley acting like an ass or Carlos Zambrano pitching like one.
When E-ramis did play that year he was still awfully good. He managed to get in half a season, and in 82 games he hit .317 with a .905 OPS. It marked the sixth straight season (every full year as a Cub) that he had an OPS of better than .898. So everything seemed to be cool. He was “only” going to be 32 this season (it’s a Dominican 32, so it could be anywhere from 32 to 48).
And in the spring everything seemed great. He played well in Arizona and was ready to go. And then…he sucked. He sucked in ways that we didn’t think were possible for him. He is, after all, one of the most consistent, and best hitters in the National League. So when he hit .152 in April, we were concerned, but not panicked. When he fucked up his thumb and then continued to struggle in May, hitting .173, we went into this mode:
He finally went on the DL and got his thumb healed, and then he played OK, but not great.
He hit .265 in June, then .313 in July, .301 in August and then slid back to .240 in September.
That said, I’m glad he had nowhere else to go. You can bitch and moan about his defense (lord knows Bob Brenly does) and you can question his work ethic (Barry Rozner has a macro on his computer that turns aramisloaf into three paragraphs), but when healthy he can hit, and the Cubs don’t have that many guys you can say that about right now. Granted the “when healthy” thing has been a huge issue the last two years. And before that, he always seemed to be nursing something.
Another concern is that his power numbers are in pretty clear decline. His slugging average has dropped every year since 2004. Until last year they hadn’t been huge drops, but they were very real.
2004 – .578
2005 – .568
2006 – .561
2007 – .549
2008 – .518
2009 – .516
2010 – .452
Those were offset by an on base average that had improved over the years, until it went from a career high of .389 in 2009 to a Corey Patterson-esque .294 in 2010.
Will E-ramis bounce back? I don’t see why he wouldn’t. He’s still “only” 33 (snicker, snicker) and this is a contract year for him. There’s no chance in hell that the Cubs are going to pick up his $16 million team option for 2012 so he’s got to produce to get a big deal either with the Cubs or (more likely) with some other team.
One of the things he has in his favor is that the Cubs have no in-house solution to third base. They drafted Josh Vitters (ahead of Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward) in the first round in 2007 with an eye on him being ready to take over third next year. He’s still a long way off.
In four minor league seasons, Vitters has really only had two good runs. Fortunately for the Cubs, they have been the last two years. In 2009 when he was still young for the Midwest League, he tore it apart. After a slow start he ended up hitting .316 with an .885 OPS and 15 homers and 46 RBI in 70 games. The way he finished his run there made you think he was about to make the leap.
But then he struggled at high-A Daytona. He hit only .238 with five homers in 50 games.
He started last year at Daytona and hit well, .291 with three homers in only 28 games and he got promoted to AA Tennessee. A 20 year old playing AA is a good sign. Not so good when he can’t handle it, though. Vitters broke a finger and ended up hitting only .223 in just 63 games. He’ll start 2011 in AA, and he does not seem poised to pull a Starlin Castro and show up in Wrigley in May.
The huge red flag with Vitters, of course, is his inability to take a walk. If you liked Tyler Colvin’s inability to get on base, you’re going to LOVE Josh Vitters. In four minor league seasons he’s walked…
Wait, let me emphasize something here. In four minor league SEASONS, he’s walked FORTY-NINE times. That’s seasons. Forty-nine walks. Holy fuck. What do the Cubs teach down there?
Well, I guess if E-ramis leaves after next season and Vitters still isn’t ready, there’s always Bobby Scales.
E-ramis might be tradeable this season. His no-trade clause in his contract has expired (don’t get too excited, he’s a 10-5 guy now so he didn’t need a clause any longer), but it does not appear that if he’s traded during the 2011 season that his 2012 salary becomes guaranteed. That was a huge deterrent last year (that and him sucking) to any trade. If you traded for him his player option for 2011 kicked in AND his team option for 2012 did, too. That meant you were taking on whatever he had left in 2010 at the time of the trade and more than $30 million for 2011 and 2012. It appears that if he’s traded in 2011 that a team is only on the hook for the rest of that season and a $2 million buyout for 2012.
Let’s hope the Cubs play well enough that they don’t want or need to trade him. But since that won’t happen, it’ll be interesting to see if he moves before the July 31 deadline. It would still require trading him to a team he wants to go to.
I suppose Darwin Barney could take over third. That is when he’s not too busy making adorable little lip sync videos like this:
OK. All that said, I just want my E-ramis back. I want the clutch hitter with the flair for the dramatic back. He’s the one Cub who doesn’t suffer tight ass in big spots (during the regular season at least). And I just love watching the dude hit. It took a long time for the Cubs to find a real third baseman, and frankly, I’m just not ready to go through another 30 years of them fucking that up.
So how about E-ramis do everybody a favor and come back, put up big numbers and sign one more deal with the Cubs?
Is that really so much to ask?
(Yes. Yes it is.)Read More