Baseball

I’m not suggesting that Anthony Rizzo will keep a cardboard-cutout of a naked Tom Ricketts in the clubhouse next year, that the Cubs will slowly reveal with every win. And if they actually did that’s probably more of a morale killer which will end up with the 82-win season the front office and ownership seem so desperate to have to prove that this team’s window is over after just six seasons and they have to blow it all up–i.e. save money. But then again, I’m not in the business of predicting what Anthony Rizzo would do to entertain himself.

I mentioned it here in passing last week when talking about the Kris Bryant grievance being over, but when the Cubs make it to Mesa, Bryant trade or no, one thing that should be the focus for everyone covering them is just where this team is mentally. To me, I think it could be a fascinating study.

Because it could go one of two ways. What we do know is that the core of this team–Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, Contreras, Schwarber (yeah I’m including him so stuff it)– have spent the winter either hearing their names in trade rumors, or hearing their close friends’ names in rumors, having their offer to talk about extensions to stay here forever squashed, or being offered extensions that clearly weren’t up to acceptable standards. What we can say for sure is that these players, who y’know, won the most famous championship in town just slightly over three years ago, have spent the winter hearing that they’re pretty much not good enough and need to be reshaped if not totally rebuilt. You can throw Darvish, Hendricks, Lester on to this as well if you’d like.

While they could feel any way about it, you’d have to think they all think at the very least that’s pretty goddamn weird. They’ve basically been bus-tossed by an ownership and front office they were handpicked to justify not so long ago. They were the chosen ones, and really in what amounts to not much more than a blink of an eye, they’ve been told in various ways to shove off.

So where does that leave them this season? You can easily see where Rizzo, the unquestioned backbone of this team, closes ranks and keeps it about just the 26 guys in the clubhouse and a manager who’s still freshly out of said clubhouse, point out that their bosses have made it clear they only have two years or less together because they’ve totally given up on the idea of keeping them together because they’re cheap so they might as well make the most of it. So they play on in spite of their owner and F.O. and are in first come the trade deadline and really give no one any choice. And this team, as weirdly constructed as it is now, is more than capable of that.

And you can just as easily see this team thinking, “Well they don’t believe in us, they certainly don’t want to pay us, and in two seasons we’re pretty much all out of here anyway,” and go completely in the tank without the support of an entire organization pulling in the same direction. You can understand why they might feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them. And if only Baez feels like he’s going to get paid what he’s earned, just why would any of the rest of them sell out for this organization that is in the process of selling them out?

Both seem just as plausible.

If I had to guess though, and maybe this is where the hiring of Ross comes in, I would shade to the former. You can see Ross easily drumming up everyone to row in the same direction with middle fingers raised, even if they know it’s only for a limited time. This team scrapped together 95 wins two years ago with a battered team, had two bad days in a row and were called losers for it. They had a rough go of it last year because their management left them short of a bullpen and bench simply because, and now are being told they’re past it. That has to sting some pride, if nothing else.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what the relationship is between players and front office. I don’t think the players much care what goes on at the ownership level, as they wouldn’t see Tom Ricketts nearly as much as they do Theo and Jed. And it used to feel like that was all pretty harmonious. Certainly Theo has bosses that he can’t just outright disobey, but he also wasn’t brought here to do two rebuilds or to discard the players he unearthed simply because his bosses don’t want to pay them what they’re worth. And yet we haven’t heard a word of discord from them. Would the players now feel he doesn’t have their back? That he finds them just as disposable as the owner does?

Maybe Theo genuinely doesn’t care. Maybe he’s getting paid so handsomely, with his place in Cooperstown pretty much assured, and just enjoys it here so much he’ll go along with anything. Maybe the two years left on his contract means he’s already planning his exit and he’s not going to raise a fuss before the clock runs out. As media savvy as he is, if he were upset about having to claw at the team he built simply to please his greedy and idiotic ownership, you’d think something would have leaked out by now. Or maybe he draws enough water that he can just stall out until spring training. There’s a lot we don’t know.

Certainly leaves us fans in the middle too. I ask myself, and have been asked my friends who aren’t Cubs fans, how we all continue on like this. But it’s still an easy group of players to root for. They’re still very easy to like, if they remain here as is for this season. Hopefully they feel the same way, and do it for themselves. That feels like just about the only hope this season.

Baseball

I wouldn’t pretend to know the ins and outs of a grievance arbitration or fancy lawyer talk (I leave that to Beverly Brewmaster and whenever he talks about it I just fall asleep), so maybe these kinds of things do need to take years to finish. That seems ridiculous, and even people who are at least adjacent to those in the know seemed flabbergasted by the whole Kris Bryant grievance taking this long. Especially when the outcome was pretty clear, because these are the rules of the CBA. And so it came to pass yesterday that Bryant lost the grievance, which we all knew he would. Which means that Bryant won’t be a free agent until 2021, which is when the Cubs have decided that the world will end because they want it to.

I don’t know that Bryant’s loss changes anything anywhere, other than these few things. One, no one else will try it now. Two, this will be changed in the next CBA. Three, it’s going to release a bunch of new trade rumors. This wasn’t about Bryant being bitter towards the Cubs, because exactly no one has said that, and Bryant has in fact said quite the opposite. This was just the time and place to try and draw a line in the sand for Scott Boras, because it was just so obvious what the Cubs were doing in 2015. Remember, this is a Hall of Fame caliber player the Cubs kept down for three weeks to “work on his defense.” You can’t get more clear. If there was ever a chance for Boras and other agents to open the floodgates early, this was it. They took their shot.

So now this mess. Already we’re hearing that the Cubs and Rockies have talked about a straight Bryant-for-Arenado swap. Some don’t seem to see what the Rockies would get out of that. At this rate, Arenado is not sticking around for more than the two years before his opt-out, and that’s even if they can make nice at spring training to smooth out their bullshit from the winter. So the Rockies would get the better player for cheaper for two years.

Don’t believe me that Bryant is better? Chuck your recency bias into an alley dumpster. Bryant has played two less seasons than Arenado and has been worth slightly less than four WAR. Arenado is the better defender for sure, but Bryant is the better overall player. Arenado has never produced a 6+ WAR season. Bryant has three. Shove it.

So if the Cubs were to do that…well it doesn’t make any goddamn sense unless they were sure Arenado would never use that opt-out (or bought it out) and they get a fixed cost on a player who’s still really damn good (though not exactly sure of what they’d get from him at sea level).

We still hear about the Braves, but I don’t know why the Braves would feel the need. They’re already clear favorites to win the division with the Nats losing Rendon and having no idea who their rotation will bounce back from going the route. There’s no lineup that can guarantee October success (ask the Dodgers and Astros about that one) and the Braves pitching is their problem in that they don’t have a clear, you’re-fucking-done ace. Maybe Soroka is that one day but not striking out less than a hitter an inning he’s not.

The Rangers don’t have anything the Cubs want. Neither do the Nats. Neither do the Phillies. The Dodgers probably do but they don’t need him either and they’re not going to give you what you really want from them (Lux, May, others) because they simply don’t have to. They’re going to walk to that division again and enter as overwhelming favorites again.

Which brings us to yesterday’s curiosity, which is the leak from Jesse Rogers and David Kaplan, organizational stooges if there ever were, that there was no mandate from ownership that the Cubs get under the luxury tax threshold to start the season. Which would seem pretty fucking weird considering the offseason the Cubs have had, the last two in fact, but they definitely have been told to be in range of it should the season go balls-up and they can start unloading everything.

Which is seemingly what the Cubs want. They’ve done their best to anger Anthony Rizzo, and Bryant, and maybe even Contreras. There’s still no extension for Baez. So maybe they’re hoping the team quits on ownership and the front office? This is something out of Major League.

I doubt it’ll happen. If nothing else, these players love playing together, or at least used to. They’ve just hired a manager they’re clearly all going to at least respond to, if not run through a wall for. And the division while maybe improved a touch, though that’s debatable, hasn’t gotten away from them.

If the Cubs go in as is, they have holes, but they also have a lineup that can ball-out for a few months at a time and has done, at least three good starters with a fourth (Lester) who can surprise, and a pen that can’t possibly be worse and has some candidates to surprise. Maybe the Ricketts are rooting for it, but there’s very little chance this team is going to be 10 games back come July 31st unless they are torn asunder by injuries.

And maybe one thing we can get behind, as disenchanting as these two offseasons have been, is the actual Cubs roster going on a FUCK YOU WORLD TOUR to spite their bosses. It’s still a very easy roster to root for.

-Right, couple signings to discuss, which are definitely the boom or bust kind. This one’s weird, because right after the season the Cubs couldn’t stop bleating about needing more contact and less strikeouts, two things Souza doesn’t provide even when he was healthy. He can barely patrol center field, which you wouldn’t want him doing more than as a support role. So that’s right field for Heyward against lefties you would think. And he’s struck out against lefties 30% of the time, though provided some pop as well. The last time he was healthy, three years ago now, he hit lefties well. But this is a flier, which is where the Cubs are.

-Jeremy Jeffress is the other signing, and the Cubs again are hoping health is the main issue here and not just natural decline. Jeffress lost nearly two MPH on his fastball last year, which saw his hard-contact rates ballon and lose the ground-ball rates too. He’s not the 10+ K/9 guy he was two seasons ago, as that’s something of an outlier, But if he’s not getting grounders to go along with his decent K-rate, he’s just this side of “bum.” He did have some injury issues last year and only made 48 appearances at the MLB level when he’d routinely been around 60 or more. Again, doesn’t cost you anything, could be a boom, but more likely a nothing. But again, this is the way of the Cubs now.

 

Baseball

As expected, Cubs Convention passed without much in the way of actual news. I don’t know where the idea came from that the Cubs liked to do an “unveiling” of someone at every convention, because as far as I can recall it only happened once with Kerry Wood and boy didn’t that go well? All we learned is that even the convention goers, which can be some of the more goober-ish in the the fandom, don’t have much time for Tom Ricketts either.

(That same article also has Crane Kenney shrugging off being booed at the fucking convention. Why does this guy still have a job? What does he do? Does anyone know? What does he know? No ones’s ever been able to answer any of these questions and yet here we are and this dipshit still has a job.)

Anyway, the overriding theme, especially from Ricketts was something along the lines of, “This is the way things are but you have to trust us.” This is all the biggest pile of bullshit imaginable, of course. Ricketts has been pushing this for two years now, that there’s no “magic free agent” as justification for signing exactly no free agent of any type. No, there isn’t a magic one, but Castellanos and one more pitcher would do a hell of a lot of good work.

This is the same self-satisfied, smirking manure that all hedge-fund bros and rich people push simply because they’re the rich people in the room. “Oh, you don’t know because you’re down there, but trust us in the owner’s box that we know better .We’re sitting up here, after all, aren’t we?” That would involve any of us ignoring that Ricketts is only sitting up there because of who his father is and not anything he’s done, which no one is going to do.

The idea the Cubs want you to believe in, because you’re a toothless dummard with a brain injury, is that because they built a team once that won the World Series mostly internally, of course they can do so again. The willful ignorance that would take to believe on its face is staggering, because the Cubs likely don’t win a World Series without Jon Lester and Dexter Fowler, who were free agents. On this team now, the one that looks to be floundering, is the same amount of free agents aiding the built-in core just about, and will be next year when Lester as one of them leaves or retires.

First, let’s look at the likelihood of a team being able to build two championship teams even just mostly from within. I would cite that it took the Yankees, with all their resources, over 15 years to do it, from the late-90’s juggernaut to this current version, which has yet to even appear in a World Series. The 2009 team still had remnants of those late 90’s teams, augmented by Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and AJ Burnett.

The Red Sox are a little closer to the claim, but not all the way. The ’04 team that turned Theo Epstein into baseball royalty only really had Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe as homegrown stars (and all my Red Sox fan friends still hate Derek Lowe for some reason even though he got the win in every clinching game that October) and were a collection of either reclamation projects (David Ortiz) or big free agents. The ’07 team added Youklis, Pedroia, and Lester, but the core of that team was still essentially acquired on the market. The ’13 team has a couple more, but the only main contributor was Ellsbury and a few other role players like Middlebrooks, Doubront, Bucholz, Holt.

So you could argue the ’18 champion Red Sox are the only ones of Boston’s championship teams to have a homegrown core, with Bradley, Betts, Benintendi, Bogaerts, Devers, and Sale acquired for what else they had lying around (along with Eovaldi as well). But to suggest the Sox have produced two core “batches” isn’t true either.

Where else? Not the Cardinals, who really haven’t figured out one yet in a long while. The Dodgers are still on their first homegrown one, as their run of NL West titles started with basically Kershaw and acquisitions. They’re about as close as you get. Let’s just say the sample is limited.

But hey, let’s take Ricketts at his word that Theo could do it again if only we’d understand and be patient. After all, we’re mere plebes. And let’s say, for argument’s sake to this utter horseshit, that Bryant is traded for two pitchers who come good, and a couple more players come through the system like Hoerner and Marquez and Davis and Amaya. Let’s just say all that happens…

Why would Ricketts pay them over the ones he has now when the time comes?

Keep in mind, were all that to happen it’ll come under a new CBA, which almost certainly is going to push free agency and arbitration and the like up in a player’s career. No more waiting five or seven years. Guys will be getting paid after three or four, if not earlier. So if you did produce that second core, would they even have enough time together before Ricketts waved off signing some big checks to them?

Oh sure, maybe the luxury tax threshold would be much higher, or not even exist. Maybe the revenue sharing penalties would go away. But do you honestly believe that would matter? Wouldn’t he just try to sell us all on the fact that the front office could do it for a third time while eschewing those new players out the door to get paid elsewhere? What would keep him from doing that? Nothing, that’s what.

Tom Ricketts is a greedy, lying, fuckwit. And frankly after sitting on it and rolling it around in my mind for a few weeks, I don’t really care what the revenue sharing rebate penalties would be for a higher payroll and neither should you. Either the Cubs have the money (they do), or their own incompetence from starting their own network when now is not an environment for that and/or their reconstruction of the whole square mile in and around Wrigley robbed them of it and they’re going to make you suffer for it.

Ricketts should feel relieved he only got booed. He deserved hurled raw vegetables at high speeds.

Baseball

It’s not the best place to be if you’re like me, where the only respite from the dreariest possible Cubs offseason is the Hawks. If you lean more to the Bulls, well, it’s not much better for you, is it? When was the last time we were envious of White Sox fans? Fuck. What a state. Thank god for Liverpool (HAHAHA Killion you moron!).

In that state, I will reach for any straw I can that will leave me any hope of continuing as a Cubs fan any longer (yes, a Kris Bryant trade simply to save money would probably cause me to turn my card in, and I’ve been consistent about this). I don’t want to have to be something else. I’ve been this all my life. But eventually, there’s only so much you can take. So when I saw this making the rounds yesterday, first saw it on Cubs Insider, it was at least a flash of hope. A brief streak across the sky.

There are caveats of course, and plenty, as Evan mentions within this piece. Clearly whoever David Kaplan is talking to hates Kris Bryant, as the idea that he’s not even a top-30 player in the league isn’t something you’d hear spewed out of the gaping maw of the biggest meatball on a barstool in Bridgeport. Fifth Feather might say it just to piss me off, but he wouldn’t mean it. Second, whoever willingly talks to David Kaplan also must have their own issues, because I’d rather be speedbagged in the face by a werewolf than deal with Kaplan, and I know I’m not alone. Third, David Kaplan can’t count to six.

Now that that’s all out of the way, the idea or report that the Cubs’ asking prices for either or both of Bryant and Contreras isn’t a huge surprise. They should be! One’s a former goddamn MVP who only trails Betts and Trout in WAR since coming into the league and the other is what, the second-best offensive catcher in the league now that Buster Posey can’t bend his knees? Technically he was even better than Grandal at the plate (127 wRC+ vs. 121), and you can take Mitch Garver’s numbers and shove them. Nothing that happened at Target Field last year is real, other than them losing to the Yankees in October. That’s as real as it gets. Also, Contreras is due to make pretty much nothing this year, only upping his value.

So their prices should be in the stratosphere. These players don’t just come on the market, trade or free agent, that often. If you had to trade them, and make no mistake the Cubs most certainly don’t have to, you need to be getting multiple pieces back that help right away to soften the blow of not having a genuine difference-maker anymore. Otherwise, you’re just hurting yourself.

The hope is that Theo Epstein, who must know deep down how stupid this all is and dreams of drugging his boss to get him to see reality as it is, keeps the prices so high the next six weeks that a deal either can’t be done or he gets an actual good baseball trade out of it (Gavin Lux and Dustin May and that’s just for starters, assholes). Given the more likely scenario of the former, then he can go to Ricketts and say, “Look, I tried, but I’m not going to make a bad trade that hurts the team short- and long-term just to save money. That’s not what you hired me for.” That’s the hope, at least.

Because as we all know, and Theo knows, even this team as constructed right now isn’t bad. It’s still got as good of a shot as anyone to win the Central, and that’s with a hole in center, second-base (which might even be filled by Hoerner some point soon), and the bottom of the rotation. Still, all that would require is a bounce-back year from Quintana, and you’re basically a 90-win team as is right now (and Q’s underlying numbers suggest he was way more effective than most realize). The more you think about it, the nearer it gets to impossible that the Cubs could make a trade that Theo would think is acceptable.

Still, there’s the problem of getting under the luxury tax, which seems to be the directive. Right now, the Cubs need to shed about $6M to get there, according to most projections, and probably more to have any flexibility during the season. The elephant in the room is that it should be Jason Heyward’s name being thrown about, because that’s really the only obviously bad contract on the books. Does Darvish’s $22M look so bad after Zack Wheeler just signed for $21.5M? Dear reader, it should not.

The hurdles with Heyward are obvious. You’ll never clear all of his $23M. He has a full no-trade. Even eating half of his salary probably still requires throwing in a non-lottery ticket prospect to sweeten the deal, even if he agreed to go. And yes, he gave the speech that ate the cat that ate the rat in the house that Jim Thome built. I know all that.

But it’s that deal that’s affecting everything. Even with his plus-defense in right, he’s been a one-WAR player during his time here. He hit 20 homers in a year when everyone hit 20 homers. At this point, his power is probably not coming back, because one’s bat-speed doesn’t tend to get better in their 30s and velocity is only becoming more prevalent from pitchers. Even if you can clear $12M off the books, that’s under the luxury tax with minuscule flexibility. Yes, you’d probably have to fill another hole, which might just involve throwing Bryant out to right more often and letting Bote play third. It’s not ideal, but it’s a fuckton better than having Bote play every day because you have Heyward in right and no Bryant.

Who might be interested? Might I suggest the other side of town? Right now, Nomar Mazara is slated to play right, and ladies and gentlemen let me tell you, though he looks the part perfectly he is very much not the part. He didn’t hit in Texas with the juiced ball, so he’s probably not going to. He’s also a butcher in the field. Already with Eloy in left and the glove on his head, the Sox need outfield defense. And with the amount of kids they have, they could always use more leadership which they keep telling us Heyward provides to cover for the fact he’s been going to bat with several sticks of pasta instead of a bat. The Giants are always mentioned, because they need a true hero defensively to cover the Costco parking lot that is right field at Oracle Park (that’s what it is now, right? Who the fuck can keep track?)

Just an idea. But crowbarring Heyward off the roster would be a much less damaging way to shed money than losing actual contributors. Anyway, this is my hope. It’s forlorn I know, but it’s all I have.

Baseball

I’m with you, dear reader. I know you’ve come here of late, perhaps the past couple months, and all you find is anger and despair. That’s not very fun. And we could sit here and say it’s not our fault. We didn’t make the Hawks, Cubs, and Bears so frustrating, and the White Sox a bit confusing. Thank god we don’t cover the Bulls yet! There’s probably a more reserved tone we could take at times, maybe see the long view a bit more. Find the positives. Find the path to happiness again and such.

But then I read this like this.

Let me help you out with the hammer:

Trading Schwarber and Bryant would seem excessive for a team that intends to contend in 2020. The Cubs, however, are hellbent on avoiding the fates of teams such as the Phillies, Giants and Tigers, who entered down cycles after going all-in for extended periods in recent times. The Giants and Tigers are headed for their fourth straight losing seasons. The Phillies have not had a winning season since 2011.

The Cubs are three years removed from their World Series title, and their window is starting to close. Left-handers Jon Lester and José Quintana are entering the final guaranteed years of their contracts. Schwarber, Bryant (assuming he loses his service-time grievance), shortstop Javier Báez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo are under club control only through 2021, Contreras through ’22.

The clock is ticking. A recalibration is in order. Let’s not forget, the Cubs are changing managers from Joe Maddon to David Ross. If the front office does nothing, it would place unfair expectations on Ross to win with Maddon’s team, a team that was less than the sum of its parts in finishing 84-78 last season.

I don’t even know where to start. And this isn’t Ken Rosenthal’s doing, he’s just reporting what he hears. So let’s just take it in order.

First of all, the “intends to contend in 2020” is goddamn laughable when you’re out here so publicly flogging your best player, the best player you’ve had in a generation, and the best player you’re going to have in a generation. Even more so when you’ve made it clear you’re not trying to trade him for help right now. I would argue until my dying day, which the Cubs seem intent on bringing about sharpish, that this is still a team that needs more minor tinkering and moves around the edges to win the Central again, but we’ve been down that road.

It’s the “hellbent on not being the Giants, Phillies, or Tigers” that is just…I mean galling doesn’t even get there. Enraging? Exasperating? Utterly incomprehensible? Pure nonsense? You can mix and match your own adjectives and see what you come up with.

I really shouldn’t have to point out that the Giants won three World Series in five years, and their being bad now is a trade I doubt you’d find any Giants fan unhappy with. We all know there’s a price of success, especially success at that level. And the Giants certainly made their missteps afterward and maybe even during, though anything built on that level of power pitching has an itchy foundation. The Giants also had another playoff appearance two years later (you may remember it), so in total they had seven years of being a relevant team at worst. Seven, keep that number in mind.

So to the Phillies. They won a single World Series, just like the Cubs have and seem intent on only doing. Except they went to two consecutive Series, made the playoffs five straight years, and weren’t all that far from adding a second consecutive title. Yeah, the crash was hard, but the core of that team when it was all over were all in their mid-30s, something NONE of the Cubs current core will even be in 2021 or 2022. The Phils’ success came later in their careers. The oldest at that time of reckoning for the Cubs–or so they seem hellbent on telling you it will be– will be Rizzo at 32. The youngest of the Phillies was Utley at 33 when their cycle came to a close. It’s just not a clean comparison.

Right then, the Tigers, who don’t come with any of the flags that the previous three teams mentioned have. They do have two WS appearances, which the Cubs have yet to manage, but fine, no one cares when you only win a total of one game in them. The Tigers were competitive for seven season out of nine. A couple dice rolls here or there and they add a third or maybe fourth Series and maybe even win one. Again, nine seasons. Seven competitive.

The Cubs have managed five. That’s if you even include this past one, which I will because they were better than their record, or should have been. But you don’t have to, which makes it four. Five. How is five years an acceptable run at it? Especially what’s already here? And why would we assume punting on this one and maybe the next one guarantees anything beyond that, given that you still might see the Ricketts not pay whoever’s left or whoever develops into another piece in that time?

Rosenthal mentions their window closing, and uses Quintana’s and Lester’s contract situations as reasons why. Except they’ve pitched themselves to the bottom of the rotation and also their contracts ending opens up $35M+ of payroll that you could, oh I don’t know, improve the team with? I know, I’m fucking nuts and should be locked away from society for your safety. Out here with ideas like that. I mean, starting with Baez, Bryant, Rizzo, Contreras, Schwarber, Hendricks, and Darvish with $35M in space to use however you see fit seems like a nice base to me, but again, the sky is plaid in my world.

The last sentence is just weird and paradoxical, because if last year’s team was less than its parts it would seem that David Ross is kind of in a sweetheart spot as the team would have an excellent chance of improving simply because of market corrections and health. Not that you’d want to count on any of that, but still.

And again, this is all horseshit, a word that’s becoming synonymous with everything Cubs right now. The Cubs aren’t trading Bryant because they think it improves anything, short-term or long. It’s because they don’t want to pay him what he will earn in two years, and they don’t even want to pay him what he will get this year in arbitration. It’s not a “strategy.” It’s simple greed. The new buildings are up, the luxury suites are in, and Ricketts doesn’t have to do much to watch the money flow in. So he’s not going to.

I recognize that Ryu at $23M a year or so is a risky investment, and he’s just about the only difference-making starter on the market right now. And I will accept a baseball trade of Contreras to find another starter, if possible. What I won’t accept is the idea of an extra $20M-$25M breaking the Cubs financially. There is nothing the Yankees have, or should have, that the Cubs don’t.

So fuck off with all of this.

Baseball

You have to give it to Anthony Rizzo’s agent. There’s no time like the present to add on to the Cubs’ miserly ways and paint your client as the sympathetic one. It’s working for everyone else, and the organization may never be a bigger villain than it is right now.

When I first heard the news about the Cubs shrugging off any extension talk at the moment for Rizzo, it made sense in my mind. Because the Anthony Rizzo debate in 2021-2022 has always been a dicey one from the time he signed that contract back in 2013. Right now he’s one of the best bargains in the league.

But when he comes up for free agency with everyone else he’ll be 32 and turn 33 the next season. These days, that’s very much when it’s thought that players start their career descent, if not a year before. He’s had regular back issues the past couple of seasons, which have kept him out an increasing number of games the past two seasons. While he’s a great defensive first baseman, it’s not considered a premium position (though defensive metrics haven’t really figured out how to grade the errors 1st basemen save their teammates, because if they did Derrek Lee would be considered the greatest defensive player of all time and could rightfully sue Aramis Ramirez for half of his career earnings with the Cubs). A wait-and-see approach on Rizzo for those reasons makes some sense.

And yet, for someone who has seriously considered turning in his Cubs fan card if they trade Kris Bryant so as to avoid having to extend him or lose him for nothing, and for much higher money than Rizzo would get, the reasons kind of aren’t all that different, right?

Bryant is two years younger, so any extension he gets when he becomes a free agent, here or elsewhere, will certainly extend into years where he’s just not the player he was. You’d be getting some years of his peak, in theory, which you wouldn’t with Rizzo, in theory. He has been even more injury plagued the past two years. The difference being that A) it certainly feels like he was mishandled by the Cubs medical staff at least last year and possibly both, and B) shoulder and knee problems, while worrying, don’t portend quite as much to a full structural breakdown as recurring back problems would. But again, they’re not something you’d completely disregard either.

Theo Epstein commented when asked that the two sides were just too far apart to keep talking, and clearly the Cubs have other things they need to get done this winter (or have convinced themselves they have to get done). It’s hard to fathom what Rizzo was asking for come 2022. You would have to think his team had something like Paul Goldschmidt’s or Joey Votto’s $25M a year in mind, given that Rizzo has been fairly compared with at least the former for pretty much his whole career. Rightfully so.

Still, the Reds have watched Votto completely lose his power ever since he started earning the big check, and the Cardinals must fear the same after they watched Goldy’s wRC+ drop 30 points last year. And he’s 32, the exact age Rizzo will be turning when his time to hit the market comes.

Of course, by that rationale, you wouldn’t sign any player past their 30th birthday, really. And maybe that’s the approach some teams want to take and just might. But you could do this all day. The Cubs definitely want to sign Javy Baez to an extension, and he’s he exact same age as Bryant. And how much athleticism can he lose as he ages before it affects what he brings to the table? You can do this with Schwarber and Contreras too, if you want.

And for right now, the Cubs don’t appear inclined to consider the intangibles with Rizzo, of which there are many. He’s entrenched in the city and community, is the unquestioned leader of this team and pretty much the face of it, and the affection between and he and the fans couldn’t really be much higher. We want to believe that factors into contract negotiations, because we simply can’t bear the thought of Rizzo wearing another jersey. It wouldn’t make any sense.

All those things applied to Brent Seabrook as well. How’d that go?

Again, to me you just pay Rizzo something reasonable, unless he completely falls off or is using a cane in the next two years. Because they have the money, and perhaps at age 32 he won’t really be seeking more than four or five years and even if he’s not the All-Star he is now it’s hard to imagine him every being a true detriment to the team.

But it’s trickier than it appears on the surface. Maybe it all is.

Baseball

Remember “Quiz Show?” Pretty brilliant Robert Redford-directed film. Great cast. Maybe the one time Hank Azaria played an unrepentant asshole. David Paymer and John Turturro are just awesome, and pretty much showcase the entire Jewish spectrum. Somehow it starred Rob Morrow, which gets funnier and funnier the more you think about it.

Anyway, the climactic scene is when Ralph Fiennes’s Charles Van Doren sits before Congress and admits he got the answers before the shows. And senator after senator compliment him for his statement, until the surly, frumpy one from New York (of course he’d be from New York) finally says that his colleagues are full of shit and that he shouldn’t be commended for doing what’s right. Which earns standing applause from the gallery.

That’s kind of how I feel about the Cubs non-tendering Addison Russell yesterday. It really deserves no more applause than getting a vaccination. It’s what you’re supposed to do. Except in one light…is it?

I’ve always been a shade toward the middle on the whole thing when it started last year. Obviously, Addison Russell is a giant piece of shit and I would have been sated had they tossed him in the same dumpster as the giant Wrigley cake from years ago. But, and I could just be drinking the Kool-Aid, I believed Theo when he said they were genuinely interested in his rehabilitation and what was best for Melisa Reidy, who they said had requested that Russell not be released. Multiple times when they announced they were not letting Russell go last year, Theo stressed that Melisa and their child’s well-being and wishes came first.

Sure, deep down I knew it was about not losing an “asset” for nothing, and the hope would be that he would hit for at least a month or two and not spend the season shoving his cleats up his ass every which way so they could trade him and get something in return. But it seemed a pretty good cover story at least.

Of course, Russell sucked all year and proved to be an inattentive dope as well. And the first paragraph of the statement tells you everything: If you haven’t seen it in full:

The first thing they mention is that his contribution on the field would not be anywhere near what he would have to be paid. And normally that would be enough. But Addison Russell isn’t normal.

Last year, they said they were keeping him because they wanted to be on the frontline for his rehabilitation, to make sure everything was being done for Melisa and their child, because they didn’t want to simply wash their hands. They wanted to be involved. They wanted to be on the front-line. They wanted to be at the head of change throughout the league. They wanted you to believe then that his performance didn’t really matter.

And now it’s top of mind.

Of course, they say that his adherence to whatever they set out for him off the field has been up to the standards they set. No one knows really what this has been, and I’m not sure anyone should, although some idea of how intensive it’s been would certainly help. Whatever it is, it certainly can’t have been “completed” in just a year. But now the Cubs aren’t really worried about it, because he’s not their player anymore.

They also didn’t miss the chance to trumpet their own horn, but at least they didn’t lead off with it, so they’re one step ahead of John McDonough. Still, using this at best uncomfortable situation and at worst abhorrent as a platform to boast about your accomplishments and changes, ones we can’t really put a finger on, doesn’t really scan fully either.

Clearly, the Cubs had no choice in the public’s eyes, and no one is going to criticize this move. It’ll be on Addison’s new team to make sure he keeps adhering to his growth and change as a person. Except if there is no new team, what then? What if it’s just on him until April or May? Or longer?

I’m certainly not unhappy he’s gone, though I bet I see even more #27 jerseys in the stands from jackasses who have to prove just how uncaring and menacing they can be simply because. But if it was all about his change and growth, and you were so involved, wouldn’t the Cubs have to keep him so they could as closely monitor it as possible?

That would have been an impossible choice to make. This was certainly easier. But if you take them at their word, always a bad idea when it comes to front offices in any sport, it might not actually have been the right one.

Baseball

I’m gonna take a break from the Cubs offseason wishlist to address something I’ve seen far too much of the last week.

Every day I open Twitter or Facebook, which I recognize is the start of the problem right there but it’s pretty much unavoidable given what I do, and I see someone–and frequently people I know personally–say something like, “I’ve come to the conclusion/place/idea that I’m ok with the Cubs trading Kris Bryant if…”

What comes after the “if” doesn’t matter, because absolutely no one should ever be ok with the Cubs trading Kris Bryant. It should be the kind of thing that makes you consider trading in your fandom, although I guess if we’re all still here after the Addison Russell mishegas and Fredo Ricketts’s Trump fundraisers, we’re never going to go away.  Which is exactly why they bought the team and exactly what they’re counting on, so I realize I’m pissing into the wind here. Save your breath.

Still, it’s the kind of thing that should have a fanbase in complete revolt. The fact that you have basically been conditioned to shut up and take it a symptom of what’s wrong with baseball right now, and really the country as a whole (but we’ll leave the latter out of it for this).

Here’s a list of players that would be an acceptable return for Bryant:

Cody Bellinger

Walker Buehler

Mookie Betts

Juan Soto

Christian Yelich (and that’s not a gimme)

Ronald Acuna

Mike Trout

Maybe Alex Bregman

We’ll throw Jacob deGrom on there to be nice. And that’s it. And none of those names are coming back for Bryant.

And yet there’s a growing faction of Cubs fans that are somehow convinced that trading Bryant is some version of four-dimensional chess that only Theo can see but they don’t want to admit they can’t see it because that would just mean they’re merely a peon. It’s not. It’s not even close. The idea of trading Bryant is merely an acceptance that the uber-wealthy Ricketts family don’t want to pay a player what he’s earned in two years’ time.

This isn’t about some “schism” between Bryant or Scott Boras and the Cubs. There’s no such thing. Pay him the most money, and he’ll be a Cub for life. This isn’t hard, and yet everyone wants to code this into some sort of larger puzzle. Again, it’s simple greed. The Ricketts want to keep more and more of your money and they certainly don’t want to have to give it to “labor.” They’re the stars after all, not Bryant and Rizzo and Baez. After all, they’re the only owners to bring a World Series to the Northside. And don’t you forget it.

The idea of some “grand plan” or “advanced thinking” is merely what they use to poison your water. If they can convince you that moving Bryant is actually the “smart” thing to do, because they’ll never be able to afford everyone, then you might not notice what an utter travesty this would be. This isn’t the NHL or the NFL where there’s a hard cap and you do get punished for producing a bevy of good players. You can pay whatever you want.

And if you somehow believe that the luxury tax would cost the Cubs or the Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers living in the black, and you’d have to be the most gullible doofus on the planet to believe that or the Ricketts kids would have to be the stupidest people on the planet and the worst business people in history (and they might be!), remember the luxury tax is just another instrument of greed imposed by other owners who simply want money for free. It’s the Bob Nuttings and Derek Jeters and descendants of Bud Selig of the world not wanting to have to put a good product on the field consistently, which they easily could, to turn massive profits. It’s about bleeding their cities and fellow owners dry for money they’ll never have to earn. And yet all the owners go along with it because they’re raking in the cash too, and as long as it’s not going to the players, they’re just fine with that.

There is simply no way the Cubs can trade Kris Bryan and be better next year. And it should be about next year. You already went through the rebuild. And you go through those things to get a player like Kris Bryant, because they come around once a generation. You hoard those prospects in trades and spins at the international pool and make all those draft picks in the hopes you find a Kris Bryant. You don’t find one and then just decide to cash in and find another one. That’s not how this works.

The idea that the Cubs have to look forward to the future in any way is wool being pulled over your eyes to justify the Ricketts not having to spend to keep this team together. I’m sure if you got Theo in a private conversation at a bar and pumped him full of two or three beers he’d tell you he’d hand Bryant $37M a year tomorrow and wouldn’t look back. He’s not being allowed to. Because the Ricketts, one of the more born on third broods in the world, think they know better because they’re in the Lucky Sperm Club. Or they just want to keep more money for themselves.

They’re obviously not alone. The Red Sox, a team that has had their own channel for a long time now and one of the biggest brands in North American sports and the most expensive ticket in baseball, don’t want to pay Mookie Betts what he’s earned even more than Bryant. It’s not because they can’t, they’ve just decided they don’t want to., And they’ll tell you whenever they hire their new GM that he’ll lead the way in modern baseball thinking and trading Betts will be a part of that. That a team can run more efficiently than just ponying up $30M or more to players, who again, have more than earned it. They’ll tell you they need to get under the luxury tax threshold. They won’t tell you why, and no one will ask. Because the Red Sox and every team like them would absolutely turn a profit with a $300M payroll. They just don’t want to.

(I should admit that if the Red Sox payroll trimming allows the transfer budget for Liverpool to sign Kylian Mbappe next summer, then I’m all for it).

The Cubs are built to win now, and easily could win again in 2020 with as simple as one or two moves. And that’s with Kris Bryant, who is comfortably a top five player in baseball. If you somehow believe he’s perma-crocked at age 27, then again I can’t help you. Maybe hiring a new medical team that doesn’t send him out there every day with a knee that sounds like a Crunch bar would be a start to making all the non-believers see again.

As baseball is intertwined with America, this is just another symptom of the sickness. A group of barely qualified, probably barely literate rich kids tell you they can run a business more “efficiently,” which only means they can do it more cheaply and skimp on the actual workforce. That’s all trading Kris Bryant would be. And I don’t give a flying fuck what prospects he could bring back. We did that in 2011 and 2012 and 2013. That was then. I don’t care about 2022 or 2023 or 2024. The Cubs are here and now and anything they tell you about restocking the system or looking toward the future is utter horseshit. It’s a smokescreen. It’s meant to blind you to what’s really going on, which is unadulterated greed.

Imagine the Cubs trading Ryne Sandberg in 1986. If you’ve been around here a while, remember when the Hawks struggled in 2012 and some floated the idea of trading Patrick Kane for Ryan Goddamn Miller? Remember how we laughed everyone out of existence on that one? Two Cups, one Conn Smythe (undeserved, but still), one Hart Trophy later and looks even dumber now, doesn’t it (if we ignore all the off-ice being a monster stuff for a second)?

Trading Bryant would be no less galactically stupid or destructive.

Don’t fall for it. Don’t talk yourself into it. Don’t convince yourself you can see the logic. None of it is there. They’re only pretending it’s there so you won’t see what’s actually there. Don’t let them think you’re that stupid. That’s what they’re literally banking on.