Baseball

There’s such a defeated feeling when talking about on-field matters with the Cubs. They don’t seem too interested in making the actual play on the field all that inspiring, so why should we feel all that inspired about it. Cubs Insider’s Evan Altman kind of nails it here, where the Cubs haven’t chosen any path this or last offseason and hence it’s hard to get excited about a team that’s sitting in the middle of the sidewalk like a tired and whiny toddler.

But you know, it’s better than talking about what size tomato I’d throw at Tom Ricketts these days, so I’m going to try again before we actually get to spring training, which is very close. I’ve gone over how the lineup could actually be good, even really good, if Ian Happ can be more what his numbers look like after his last week of the season than just being what he was before that last week. It’s not a great idea to have an entire team’s offensive fortunes hinge on a barely third-year player, but this is where we are.

The rotation…should at least be solid. Everyone hates Jose Quintana, which makes me empathize with him because hey, been there, but he’s a solid piece at worst. Darvish and Hendricks are good, if not better than that, and Lester is at least going to take the ball and sweat. But even with his contact-rates against starting to turn ugly, it’s hard to believe the Lester will go through another season with a .347 BABIP against. He should be, basically, fine, especially as a #4 starter.

So the Cubs have a hole at #5. And I’m fairly sure what they’re going to do is the very easy, uncreative, stuff Tyler Chatwood there and pray he doesn’t walk a marching band to first. But it doesn’t have to be this way, especially with teams most likely carrying 13 pitchers for the whole season with the rosters going to 26 now.

The Cubs should use that fifth day as an “opener” day, because it keeps some pitchers as available the rest of the schedule which the Cubs will need. I’m looking at the model for this, which is Tampa. Granted. Tampa has to use an opener and be creative in their usage because they might actually not be able to afford a whole rotation whereas the Cubs simply won’t afford one. But hey, again, here we are.

So last year, the Rays used Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos, Jalen Beeks, as multi-use and multi-inning weapons out of the pen. The first two has more than 10 starts, and sometimes were just used as starters but sometimes just once through the lineup. Basically, what we’re looking for is two or three guys who can throw 100 innings, both from the bell and out of the pen. And the Cubs have these guys.

I’ve bleated on about Chatwood, and the only way the Cubs could keep Adbert Alzolay healthy is to use him for no more than 100 innings. But using him as a simple one-inning guy also seems a waste. Duane Underwood Jr. is another candidate, as he threw 100 innings combined last year between Iowa and the Cubs, though he very well might be the definition of a “4A” guy. Alec Mills or one or two other punters the Cubs trot out in Mesa/out of their system might find success merely burning through a lineup once.

It would also be how you sequence this. Lester is unlikely to pile up six and seven-inning starts, so you might want to slot him between Darvish and Hendricks for the season (if you assume that Darvish is going to gobble up the innings, which you shouldn’t). That way your multi-inning pieces can get a couple days between Lester’s start and that fifth slot that is nebulous at this point. But they have enough to get through that fifth spot by just throwing shit to the wall.

The whole roster is going to need creative use to maximize what it is even to just get to July 31st and force the front office into some decisions. Heyward can’t play against lefties, but then really Schwarber shouldn’t either (though you can get away with it), so who the fuck is gonna play the outfield then? When do you use Bote? What happens if Hoerner isn’t ready? Now my head is spinning.

One of the (few) disappointments with Joe Maddon was that he was pretty straight-laced when it came to managing a pitching staff. Starters, then set-up guys, then closer. Sure, he didn’t have a problem shuffling the lineup and rotating guys in and out, and that’s cool. But it would kind of suck if the Cubs punted Maddon aside only to bring in Ross to be as boring, especially when they clearly have a hole they need to cover up.

Here’s hoping.

Baseball

Someone always says it better than you. So let me allow The Ringer’s Michael Baumann do it for me…

This trade is a disgrace for the Red Sox and for the league. I don’t understand why the owner of such a prestigious ball club—a de facto public institution—would charge his baseball operations department with ridding the team of a once-in-a-generation player when he could keep that player and continue to rake in unspendable profits. It’s such a mind-bogglingly greedy and self-defeating move that I resent being made to try to understand it.

It’s been 100 seasons since the Red Sox sold their best player in such a transparent cash grab. If there’s any justice, they’ll have another 86 years to regret it.

You can copy and paste this when and if Tom Ricketts gets his way on Kris Bryant. Although with the Dodgers out of the market on Bryant now (you’d hope but the fact that they probably still have the pieces to do that if they wanted is frightening and depressing), the Braves really are the only team with the juice to even contemplate it and they don’t even need to. You can fuck right off with the Mets, Nationals, and Phillies. Ain’t gonna happen. Also seeing what the return for Betts was–one of the few players clearly better than Bryant–should show everyone just how stupid the idea of trading Bryant is.

Anyway, Baumann is right. The Red Sox have the most expensive ticket in baseball. Which they sell every single one of. Unlike the Cubs, they have a functional network of their own and have for years, with none of the silliness in distribution that the Dodgers have gone through. They are an institution not just in a city, but an entire region of the country. They practically own everything from central Connecticut north. Oh, and FSG just happen to own one of the richest soccer clubs in the world.

(Full disclosure, I profit personally, emotionally, if FSG is indeed sacrificing their baseball success for soccer success, and also when my Red Sox fans friends finally suffer for once. Now that’s out of the way…)

They do not suffer for cash. This is not a “can’t afford” Mookie Betts. This is a “won’t afford.”

Most of the offseason, you’ve seen me rant and rave here about the behavior of the Cubs and the Red Sox. Make no mistake, trading Mookie Betts is a baseball crime, especially when all you get back are a moody and possibly tool-ish young outfielder, and someone who probably projects as a Josh Hader-type reliever at best, and of course FINANCIAL FLEXIBILITY, which is going  on every jersey of every child from Quincy to Maine I’m sure (along with the #69, because that’s the sense of humor in New England).

Betts is just about the only player on the planet who can claim to inhabit the same atmosphere as Mike Trout. Mookie-types come around once a generation. You don’t peddle them simply because you can’t be bothered to pay their expense. You should dream of having the opportunity to pay that expense.

You’ve heard all this before. The system is clearly broken…though….everywhere?

It’s easy to point to Boston or the Cubs as proof that something is off when the richest teams are like, “Nah, I’m good.” And something is wrong when teams like Pittsburgh or Colorado or Florida or one or two others aren’t even trying, given what the industry’s profits are.

But would fans in Cincinnati think the system is broken right now? Or Philly (even though they’re going to win 82 games again because it’s law)? The Mets are just incompetent, not so much evil. Well, evil too but you get my meaning. Anaheim? The Rangers were after everyone too. Maybe those in Milwaukee would? On the Southside?

Certainly no one in LA would, but we’re years from their due date. The reason you hire a GM out of Tampa like Andrew Friedman or Chaim Bloom is not only are they exquisitely talented at spotting and producing talent, but they do it for cheap. They had to, and now the Dodgers and Red Sox are hoping they can do it with bigger budgets but without using all of the bigger budgets. Do we know what the Dodgers will do when the bills come due? Cory Seager is two years from free agency, and that’s what Gavin Lux is for. Mookie might walk, but who else do they have to pay? Bellinger is still four years from free agency. Buehler isn’t even into arbitation yet. Muncy is three years from free agency. And in the meantime, Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen come off the books to the tune of over $40M. The Dodgers may never have to spend serious money on payroll.

The problem, obviously, is that MLB has a luxury tax but no luxury floor. As Joe Sheehan pointed out, on some level it’s probably fucking tiresome to FSG, or the Steinbrenners, or the Ricketts family to pay the tax and watch so many teams just pocket the cash. What’s the point? Would they feel differently if that cash had to be used on players for those teams? Or if those teams had to pay some penalty for not spending up to some level? Somehow I tend to doubt it.

Still, I’m a Cubs fan and I live here and that’s what matters to me most. And the Red Sox are in the similar situation. This isn’t about staying solvent. It’s just about the degree of profit they want to make. And until they open their books, there’s no reason to believe a word any of them say. There’s no reason to believe that a $250M or $300M payroll would cause John Henry or Tom Ricketts to make less money for themselves than you or I would see in 11 lifetimes.

But Henry can point to four parades over 15 years. In a city as championship drunk as Boston is, they probably will only sell a handful less tickets. They’ll get away with it. And that’s probably what’s more infuriating about it all.

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

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

This one’s been making the rounds the past 24 hours or so. Brett over at Bleacher Nation did some awfully deep digging into the CBA to find out what a second year over the luxury tax threshold would cost the Cubs in total. It’s…dense, but worth your time.

If you can’t make your way through it, and again it’s dense, basically not only would the Cubs incur slightly more in penalties straight from the luxury tax, but their revenue sharing totals or rebates and other things would also get clipped. It is an easy path to see where it might cost them an additional $40M-$50M, not just the few million in salary and luxury tax. It’s complicated, but it’s there.

The first reaction you have to reading this…good god is this CBA fucked. Now you see why all work stoppages really end up about being owners vs. other owners, and it’s also galling that owners will happily agree to a system that costs them money as long as that money doesn’t go to labor. But that’s an America-as-a-whole problem, because our country is evil and stupid. We’ll leave that discussion for another time.

You could read this and totally absolve the Cubs of blame here. I wouldn’t expect any team to not “miss” $40M or more. Even if I think the Ricketts family could easily absorb that (and they probably could), that’s a lot of filthy lucre. But it doesn’t absolve them to me.

For one, as transparent as the Cubs were about the rebuild and process , this is the kind of thing they’re close-lipped about. It’s easy to see why, because other owners and Rob Manfred wouldn’t want anyone going out of line and saying what the real reasons are as it would only be ammo for the MLBPA in the next negotiation, and make everyone look bad. You could easily see the union taking that and saying, “Even some of your owners think this deal sucks!” It’s understandable, just not likable. Tom Ricketts is happy to take this bullet because he’s going to make his money anyway.

Second, it’s hard to feel any sympathy when you’re out there admitting that your renovation costs went $500M over budget. Especially when almost all of them aren’t aimed at people like you and me. I’m never going to step foot in a luxury suite. I’m never staying in Hotel Zachary. It’s unlikely I’ll even eat at that Big Star, even though I do love me some Big Star tacos. Hey, the wider concourses and bigger concessions and nicer bathrooms are great, but they feel like lowest on the totem pole when it came to what the Cubs really wanted to get to in remaking the park and neighborhood.

You go $500M over budget, that’s not just cost overruns. That’s incompetence. Which is usually a word that follows Crane Kenney around. And that’s playing a role here, no matter what the CBA rules are.

Third, this CBA isn’t exactly new, and the Cubs had to calculate for this from the way back. They had to know the really good team they were building even in 2014 would get expensive. And while some of the contracts haven’t worked out, it’s not like they weren’t part of the plan. They told Jon Lester before he signed that Jason Heyward was part of their plan too the following year. Maybe they didn’t see Heyward having such a huge free agent year in St. Louis and driving his price up, but it couldn’t have been that different than what they budgeted.

They knew that Arrieta was going to be a free agent after ’17 and need replacing, and it was clear in 2016 that he probably wouldn’t be worth the investment. Does that Darvish contract really look so bad now and was it really so unpredictable? What’s the other outlandish deal out of the blue we’re talking about here? Quintana is cheap. Kimbrel isn’t making that much in comparison. These can’t have put them over the edge.

This all should have been part of the plan. And if it’s the revenue they aren’t getting from Marquee, fuck even a wayward drunk like me could have told them three years ago that having your own network doesn’t work out to YES or NESN-like proportions anymore. Someone probably should have within the organization. But much like the Hawks, they were too busy snorting their own geniusness. That’s just bad planning.

Fourth, might it not be easier to get under the tax next year? One, it should go up a little bit, and second all of Lester, Quintana, Chatwood come off the books. That’s some $48M right there, which obviously gets partially eaten by arbitration raises but still, there would seem to be more wiggle room then if you bite the bullet now. The Cubs are only on dock for $96M for 2021, and even if we allot some $70 M to the arb-eligible players, that’s way south of the tax.

If I keep going, trading Kris Bryant to avert this also robs you of a big chance of postseason revenues. I don’t know how much they are but I know they’re something you’d notice in either direction. And it does so for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t add up. You’re still telling me you have to move your most important player because your luxury suites were too expensive because you can’t get a fucking decent estimate, and that shouldn’t wash with any fan.

Of course, that would still involve not tying yourself in to any huge commitments next season, which would still make for a pretty boring offseason now. And we’re in the midst of that. But it would involve not, y’know, moving along the best player you’re ever going to have and seeing what the next CBA has in store.

It’s a more complicated situation than we realized, but the Cubs are still fucked in the head.

 

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 probably already have figured this out by now, but every time I write about the Cubs from here until spring training, if I can even bring myself to do it depending on what happens, might send me into a rage that causes me to spontaneously combust and the article will remain partially finished. I will leave specific instructions to the minions to print it as is so you’ll know when and where exactly it happened, because I don’t want you to be uninformed.

Anyway, Joe Sheehan usually puts it better than I do:

That was in response to the Lerners saying they can’t afford both Strasburg and Rendon, which they definitely can, but it applies anywhere. And so it is with the Cubs and the Ricketts family. And one thing they’ve seemingly kept under wraps, as Sheehan pointed out in his newsletter today, is that we will be operating with a completely new CBA in just two years.

So the idea that the Cubs will not be able to afford everyone when they’re a free agent…you simply can’t know that because we don’t know what the CBA will look like. Perhaps the owners and union have some inkling on where things are going based on preliminary discussions. Or perhaps the players will get their head out of their ass and hire an actual lawyer to head their union instead of a middling, power-hitting first baseman whose basic negotiating tactic has been to present his belly to be tickled.

Again, as Sheehan pointed out, the MLBPA failed to peg the luxury tax to revenue for the whole league. The tax threshold jumped 16% between ’10 and ’17, while revenues went up 70%. But you can’t renegotiate that now, only in the future for what’s to come.

Still, the fear for the Cubs has always been going too far above that threshold for a second straight season, which is at $208M for this season. After arbitration and such the Cubs are projected to come in above that again or right at it, which is what apparently has Tom Ricketts shitting himself in public so you can understand his suffering. They want to get in under that mark.

But how far above this are we really talking? Some have the Cubs coming in at $182M before any free agent additions, while some others have them around $210M. It seems unlikely the Cubs are in for much more than a $3M-$4m payment this year at the 30% rate, if they even get above the threshold. Obviously their arbitration numbers will grow next year from where they are now, but also Lester’s money comes off the books as does Chatwood’s, as does Jose Quintana’s. That’s $43M right there.

And then the year after there’s a new CBA, which could peg the luxury tax at $250M for all we know. Or possibly not even have one, depending on how hard the players want to go at this (and it should be exceedingly hard). Let’s be nice and dream, and say that the Cubs come to their senses and decide they’re going to keep everyone because y’know, they’re good at baseball and that’s sort of the idea here. And I’m going to say it costs $125M total to keep Schwarber, Rizzo, Bryant, Contreras, and Baez. Fuck, let’s call it $135M, because Bryant likely should end up with $10M more than any one else at least per year. And it’s another $30M for Kimbrel and Hendricks after that, but Kimbrel will only have one more season left. Darvish gets $19M. Heyward is in at $24M. That’s $208M for a reliever, 2/5ths of a rotation, corner outfield spots, and three-fourths of your infield as well as a catcher.

Sounds like a lot, but you also have Hoerner around who will make nothing, perhaps a fully developed Happ, and also two years to fill in those blanks with your system, which should be enough time to come up with something. Basically, if the luxury tax bumps to where it should in 2022, you’d have to work to get there.

Let’s call it all told $245M in 2022. That’s after your own network for two seasons and assuming no new hotels or luxury suites, though you never can tell. It’s higher than say a $220M bill with salaries and luxury tax penalties tacked on that you might get this year or next, but is it astronomical? Is it fuck.

If you want to convince me that, at most $15M over two seasons is enough to break the Cubs financially, I want to see some fucking books opened. Again, this isn’t about “can’t” afford. It’s about “don’t want to.” And it’s all a lie.

Baseball

I don’t even know if we have younger readers. I know we have a couple younger writers, but maybe everyone who reads this remembers when “Cheers” was on NBC. Maybe even when Diane was the female lead (not even close to as funny as Rebecca and I’m not even going to entertain an argument about it). But let me take you back anyway to 1996.

The heart and soul of the Blackhawks wanted to be paid what he was worth. He made no bones about it for a few years. The Hawks hung around the fringes of championship contending, though never really looked like they could threaten the Wings or Avalanche. Perhaps with another move or two, and not even major ones, they could have. But the owner was one of the biggest assholes on Earth who thought he was larger than any player, and the Hawks traded pretty much everyone’s favorite player that summer instead of paying him what he was worth. And right after that, they were irrelevant in this town, in that sport, everywhere for 13 years until that shithead owner died. You could fire a cannon through the UC on most game nights and maybe hit one person.

Jeremy Roenick was never the hockey player that Kris Bryant is the baseball player.

And that’s exactly what should happen to the Cubs if they are going to seriously pull the trigger one what increasingly looks like a likely Bryant trade. They should draw 15,000 a game and Hotel Zachary should collapse onto Tom Ricketts’s head. But it won’t, because somehow–and I really have no idea how–enough Cubs fans have convinced themselves this is just the way it has to be or that it might even be good business.

I don’t know how many times I have to scream this until there’s blood fountaining out of my eyes, but a Kris Bryant trade has nothing to do with baseball. The ideas of “extending the window” or “long-term health” are goddamn smokescreens to fool a surprisingly large portion of the fandom who became infatuated with the rebuild and apparently never want it to stop. It is simply about not paying Kris Bryant what he’s worth because the Ricketts family wants to keep a little more for themselves. Because of the way baseball is structured and the way the park is now, they don’t have to actually draw full house to turn a profit. They’re not the only ones skating on this.

The offers rumored for Bryant are utterly ludicrous, and yet I see far too many people trying to justify it after looking up from their Top 100 prospects list that I’m sure they don’t jerk off on daily. Austin Riley and Cristian Pache? The first struck out half the time last year and got replaces by fucking Charlie Culberson and Adam Duvall, and the second is someone you’d have the privilege of waiting two years for to not be as good as Kris Bryant. Oooh, a .,747 OPS in AAA, excuse my while my throbbing erection bursts!

The Dodgers? Here I was under the impression that the Cubs and Dodgers were supposed to be fighting over the NL pennant for near a decade, and now the Cubs are just going to hand them their best player? Well it must be for Walker Buehler, another franchise turning player? Nope. Oh, well then maybe Gavin Lux and Dustin May, two of the higher regarded players around who are ready now? Sure ain’t, fucko! It’s for Alex Verdugo, who couldn’t keep Joc Pederson or Chris Taylor out of the goddamn lineup. How is this not making everyone want to pull out their own esophagus?

There is not a trade for anyone other than a list of about seven that makes any sense for Kris Bryant, Repeat this to yourself until you believe it or until you keel over. I don’t really care which.

I’ll give the Hawks this. As much as can be said about them right now, and I’ve said it all, they are trying to win. They may not know whether it’s now or in two years, and they probably don’t know how to go about either, but they idea is the same. And it has to be, because the NHL is still so gate-dependent. The Cubs have given up on that, and they’ll get away with it because I’m apparently the only one angry about it. This is completely fucked.

And yet so many have convinced themselves it’s the right, or just acceptable move. We’re less than two years removed from Bryant not just being in the discussion of best 3rd baseman in the game. It was fact. You didn’t hear a peep from anyone about it. And then two injury-riddled seasons later and suddenly everyone thinks he’s Keith Goddamn Moreland? “Oh he’s not clutch!” Fucking die. Or did I hallucinate the homer that bailed the Cubs out of only the World Series in Game 5? “He’s not that good.” You’re too stupid to live and you’re taking up my oxygen.

The Rickettses fucked up on their budgeting for all the things that didn’t have to do with baseball, and now they’re going to make you pay for it by punting on the next two years at least to watch a hardly impressive Cardinals team or a suddenly improving Reds one zoom by you. Every time Tom Ricketts leaves the house he should be pelted by rotten vegetables because he has the business sense of a Twinkie but will never pay for it because Papa is godly rich and has all the money anyway.

“Sports is a business,” is always the rationale, and it’s not wrong. But we use that so often it’s lost all of its meaning. At the very end of it, the idea was that the “business” still, however tenuously, balanced on getting people interested and in the park and their eyes on the TV. You could only do that by winning. And now that’s out the window. And no one cares. They’ll win if it comes along to them, but not if it costs that much. And this is Chicago, which at least used to be one of the most pro-labor/union towns anywhere. What the fuck happened?

I hope the White Sox win three consecutive World Series, and I hope they beat the Cardinals to do it so you’ll have what you decided was ok to miss out on because it made sense in your own convoluted Moneyball brain (which you completely missed the point of) right in your face. And I hope the most obnoxious Sox fan in your life (redundant I know) never lets you hear the end of it. Lucky for me, I have about five of them, three of which work for this site. It’s what you and the Cubs deserve.

 

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.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cardinals 2, Cubs 1

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 2, Cardinals 0

Game 3 Box Score: Cardinals 8, Cubs 0

Here’s what will definitely happen. Either in the postgame tonight or before the game tomorrow, Joe Maddon will tell the press that the Cubs have to get back to grinding out at-bats. They have to dig out some offense. They have to fight through this. And then they won’t, which either means Joe is telling them this along with whatever hitting coach they’ll fire this time around as a smokescreen, and they’re not listening. Or he’s not even bothering to tell them and is going straight to the press, because he knows and the players know he’s getting punted no more than five minutes after the final out of the season.

Here’s what very well might happen. The Cubs will peter out somewhere, either after Game 162 or in the Division Series or coinfli flip game after the balloon-handed nature of both the Brewers and Cardinals gifts them a spot somehow. And either Theo Epstein will find out the purse strings are still being yanked by the Ricketts and he’ll walk, or he’ll hope letting Maddon walk is enough of a cover again to mask that his system has produced exactly his dick in his hand since 2016 or so.

Really, what this road trip has shown is that there has been a systematic failure at pretty much every level of this organization. On the biggest swing of the year, the Cubs best players all went turtle. None of them have hit. And you’d be tempted to say that’s just the vagaries of baseball, except we’ve been talking about this in some fashion for two months. Baez was dominant in the season’s first two months by actually occasionally taking a walk and going the opposite way almost as much as he pulled the ball. So he’s going to spend six weeks swinging at everything and trying to pull everything. Contreras is going to swing at the first pitch he sees. Bryan is going to have to gut out an injury that clearly should have him on the IL because the bottom of the roster is non-existent. If Addison Russell didn’t suck out loud, they could go without Bryant for 10 days. If David Bote didn’t suck deep pond scum they could go without Bryant for 10 days. But they do, so he has to play and do a pretty mean David Bote impression for six games. Anthony Rizzo is nowhere. All when they have to be here.

This team doesn’t fight. They don’t dig deep in close games and find a way to get on base, to score, to win. They find ways to lose. And maybe that’s just what happens when a team thinks no matter what it does the bullpen is just going to blow it anyway. There’s no gumption about this squad.

But why should there be? They heard their GM say that there would be changes, that production would be all that mattered. And then nothing changed. No one’s on alert. Addison Russell got another chance. So did Bote. So did Almora. So did Schwarber. Who’s on edge?

But then why would this team feel their front office and ownership is fighting for them? They watched the same team basically come back, the one that wasn’t quite good enough last year. The Cardinals added Goldschmidt. The Brewers added Grandal. The Phillies added Harper. The Braves added Donaldson.

Here’s an exercise for you. Go and watch two interviews with the Astros right after they got the news their team had traded for Zack Greinke. See the bounce. Do you think any Cubs were doing that when finding out about Castellanos and Phelps? Castellanos is only here due the failure of multiple players, not to boost something that already is working.

This team plays entitled. Like nothing will happen. Because really, it won’t. This is all set up to burn down after 2021 anyway, and everyone in the organization looks like it’s just going to sit around waiting for that.

The urgency, the desperation, the fight, the want-to, whatever you call it, you find it on this team. I can’t. They accept what’s happening to them because that’s been the nature of the whole operation. Oh sure, they’ll get wins when Hendricks or someone else tosses a gem, or Kyle Davies places a “HIT ME” sticker on a barely-fastball. And this doesn’t mean the Cubs won’t win the division, based on the aforementioned nature of their competition.

Well, maybe not “win’ it, so much as just open the front door and see that it’s been left there so they might as well take it inside. That’s what the Ricketts Family, Epstoyer, Maddon, and everyone have created here. And there’s no reason to think it will change.

This team isn’t going anywhere. Someplace might land on them, but it will still be standing still when it does. And that you can believe.