The Rundown: Relax, Cubs Not Circling Drain, Baseball Execs Predict Harper to Phillies, Boras Holds Court

Just a reminder that the Cubs won 95 games this season, they’ve won at least 92 games in each of the past four seasons, and they made the playoffs each of those seasons while winning the World Series in 2016. With that in mind, can we please stop with the narrative that this team is trending downward and circling the drain?

I’m starting to think that maybe we need to lean on that brutal end-of-season schedule a little harder because we seem to have forgotten that after 162 games, this Cubs team was tied for the best record in the National League.

A quick perusal of social media finds mostly doom and gloom on a daily basis and I just don’t see any purpose for the panic. I know the Red Sox were beyond great this season, and as the most oft-used comparison to the Cubs, it’s easy to feel just a little slighted when your team puts up a one-and-done loss in a wild card game. Boston has won four championships in 15 seasons, Chicago one in three. Can we put a little more of a long tail perspective on this for now and give this front office the credit it deserves? Everybody keep calm, things are going to be just fine. I promise.

Free Agent Profile: Craig Kimbrel

The seven-time All-Star will be in high demand on the free-agent market, though the cost to sign him will likely eliminate half the league immediately. The pitch from his agent Dave Meter is not shy on superlatives: “He’s the best all time, not just recently but all time. Lowest ERA, lowest batting average against, lowest OPS against and he’s saved all his chances, even this postseason.”

Okay – let’s pump the brakes a little and eliminate some of the erroneous information. Kimbrel did, technically, put forth a perfect postseason as far as save opportunities, but he also allowed 19 baserunners in 10.2 inning while posting a 5.91 ERA. And though Kimbrel’s overall season numbers were decent, he posted his second-highest ERA, his second-worst strikeout-to-walk ratio, and the majority of his numbers ranked somewhere in the middle of his career stats. And he actually blew five saves.

His average fastball remains at 97 mph and his K/9 rate is an impressive 13.86. There are not a lot of teams left that believe in spending for closers, including the Cubs, but when you look at the teams playing in October, they usually have a lockdown stud to get the last three outs. He’ll probably get something close to what the Rockies gave Wade Davis last season, which was three years and $51 million with a mutual option.

The Braves and the Cardinals seem to be ideal landing spots based on need but I wouldn’t rule out the White Sox. The Phillies have to be included just because they’ve got an awful lot of pocket change to spend.

Handicapping Kimbrel

  1. Braves
  2. Phillies
  3. White Sox
  4. Cardinals

Cubs News & Notes

Thursday Stove

A Corey Kluber blockbuster trade is just what the Yankees need to be all-in on a 2019 championship.

A poll of baseball executives indicates that Bryce Harper will sign with the Phillies and that the Giants’ interest in Harper is overblown.

The Yankees continue to play possum regarding Harper, though the feeling around baseball is that they have no interest at all.

ESPN continues their offseason previews with a look at the AL West.

Scott Boras held his annual, unsolicited MLB State of the Union address yesterday and called rebuilding teams “competitive cancer.”

Most of Boras’s contempt these days, however, is reserved for Brodie Van Wagenen, the former agent who renounced what Boras considers a higher calling to become GM of the Mets.

The Dodgers exercised their option on the contract of manager Dave Roberts.

The Braves intend to target bullpen help through free agency and trades.

The Zunino-Smith deal indicates the Rays weren’t  going to be players for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, most likely a reflection that they are disinclined to give up prospects and young players for established veterans.

Extra Innings

A cool book review by Luther Spoehr, the Senior Lecturer at Brown University:  “Tinker to Evers to Chance: The Chicago Cubs and the Dawn of Modern America” by David Rapp.

“These are the saddest of possible words: / ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.’ / Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds, / Tinker and Evers and Chance. / Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble, / Making a Giant hit into a double– / Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble: /  ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.” – Franklin P. Adams, ‘Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.’ p.1910.

They Said It

  • Certainly Harper’s bazaar has begun. It’s fashionable. It’s historical. It’s elite. Global certainly. And certainly it has inspirations that deal with great shoes and great hair.” – Scott Boras
  • “Given where we are as a roster, [we] will probably be more focused on trade talk. We do feel like our answers are internal. We need to focus on getting our players to maximize their potential. With that said, I think we’re open to business and listening and that will probably be our focus more than shopping at the top of the market.” – Jed Hoyer

Thursday Walk Up Song

Little Lies by Fleetwood Mac. Baseball executives and agents like to call that “posturing.”


Michael Canter

Favorite Quote: "Look Ma! Top of the World!" Cubs fan since I was five years old (1969): lover of B&W movies, the Oxford Comma, classic rock, and of course, baseball; annual roto-champ; partial insomniac; I detest the liberal use of the word 'albeit' by baseball writers; Nice guy, though somewhat brooding. Comment me, please and thank you.

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  1. It is easy to see who has been watching the Cubs for the last 5 years and those of us who have been fans for 40+ years. Even if the Cubs would have made it to the WS, the chances of beating the Red Sox was minuscule. Fans seem to forget just how much luck is needed to succeed, and you can’t buy that!

    1. Nobody was beating Boston this year but the Cubs, on their game, could have put up a better fight than LA. You can’t win if you don’t score. I’ll bet next year the Cubs are the team that is shutout the least.

  2. Boras cracks me up with his “competitive cancer” talk. Baseball has proven the best of the 3 major sports for competitive turnover. In the last 15 years, MLB has seen at least 16 different teams in the W.S., 8 in the last 5 years. I’d call that darn good competitive churn.

  3. Michael, your comments ought to be read by Theo, and perhaps Rickets, as it seems that Theo is out of joint with a marvelous season — even more so with the adversity the team went through — some of it resulting from choices Theo himself made.

    For my money, Theo has fulfilled his mission — and he did it well. But his continual theatrics and hysterionics and the need to be in the continual spotlight is more and more rubbbing me the wrong way.

    So, it’s time for him to face his next challenge elsewhere. And, when Maddon is no longer calling the bench shots, I am ready to go too spending my entertainment dollars and time elsewhere.
    The Sox appear on the way up in the AL; and I am far more comfortable, at the moment, with the direction the Cards and Brewers are headed.

    I don’t expect Maddon will be managing come spring; and that’s my last psychological link to the team.
    I feel for a lot of the players as I don’t see any consistent focus other than to prove that Theo is always right be it with personnel or style of play.

    So, I have no reason to panic; but this is entertainment for me not life.

    Theo should have praised his staff for how the team played given everything. But no, make them the scapegoats for whatever was not accomplished though what was accomplished was outstanding.

    I suspect that if there are shortcomings, a good portion of those are the abilities of some of the guys playing the game.

    You cannot win all the time; and the season starts with 30 clubs, 5 in each league reach the post-season, 2 making the World Series, and only one can play the last game and come out the winner.

    So even for a good team, the odds are stacked against them; and Oct ball is far different than the game in the middle of summer — even more so in the Midwest where weather comes into play.

    1. It’s sad that nobody wants to admit it but as I watch the last two games of the season replay over and over, the team was just completely gassed. They had nothing, and I mean not even fumes, left in the tank for games 163 and 164. Kudos to the players for not using that crutch – recognizing they are paid exorbitant salaries to play a kids game – but they just had nothing left.

      In that respect. I think Theo actually protected his players (and to some extent his manager) by firing Chili Davis. No one can doubt that at times Maddon lacks urgency, and he did make some bonehead moves – see Pedro Strop’s injury – but I think for the most part the team will look at three things when discussing Maddon’s contract:

      1. At his salary, how much of the culture, good or bad, is Maddon responsible for? I am saying this because culture is the new business buzzword, and if you choose not to believe me look at the number of hirings and position openings that exist for Chief Culture Officer. Culture will play a big part in the coming negotiation.
      2. Does Maddon, at his age, want a long term contract? It does neither the manager nor the club any good to have to deal with turnover, or even the thought that things could change at a moments notice. I don’t know if Joe wants another 5-year deal and I don’t know if Theo wants to hand out a 2-or 3-year deal unless a plan is put in place now for his successor. Frankly, a guy waiting in the wings may not sit well with Maddon, even if he is intent on making the next contract his last.
      3. Development at the major league level of key players who are heading into arb years. Arbitration always gives bad players decent salaries and decent players good salaries, etc. The Cubs need to see development through the 26-27-28-age seasons. Does Maddon aid in that process?

      in hindsight it almost seems like David Ross was more or less the leader of the 2015 and 2016 teams while Maddon was more of a ringleader. I haven’t seen that leadership since Rossy retired. I think Joe didn’t realize that it is incredibly important to keep players loose BUT focused when they aren’t starting and that’s where Ross excelled. It’s a big thing, especially with young, confident players. They all want their ABs.

      At any rate, don’t give up on Theo. We had 11 decades of poor executive leadership. When a team is consistently winning 57-60% of their games the last person you can blame is the guy who constructed those rosters. He makes mistakes, and he hits home runs. But he is always accountable, and he expects/demands the same of those working for him. I’d kill for a boss like Theo Epstein. When he leaves, the Cubs may re-enter the Dark Ages again. There is no guarantee they will not. But while he is here, while he has been here, he wins. Let’s not be so quick to start working on an exit strategy.

      Dang – that could have been a column.

      1. Nice commentary by both of you. I agree with just how “gassed” this team looked, and commented on CI recently on just how much 2016 took out of them. That wasn’t just a W.S. win, that was doing something that seemingly couldn’t be done.

        We have to be careful what we wish for in both Theo and Joe. I often find fault in things Joe does, although openly admit that I don’t have a name of the manager I’m SURE would be better (overall). Joe’s not the development guy, he leans heavily on his coaches for that. Which is not to say that he won’t be held accountable for it.

        On Theo, I’d keep him for as long as he wants to stay. Not only do I think he’s great at his job, but we may never find someone with higher moral character for the job. In regard to bad signings/recent misses; NO GM that aggressively pursues W.S. every year is immune to bad signings. It’s going to happen. Yanks, Mets, Dodgers, Tigers, Dbacks…on and on, have all had bad signings when trying to “get over the top”.

    1. In honesty – I think it is Theo Epstein telling Joe Maddon that he wants more strikeouts and less walks. It is interesting though, that Theo defended the bullpen in September and then fired Hickey (is it official? I haven’t seen confirmation).

      The truth is, however, that for whatever reason, the Cubs have failed miserably at onboarding new pitchers for the most part. Guys like Lester, Hamels, Chavez already have that tough-as-nails approach to their craft. But Darvish, Chatwood, Morrow, Justin Wilson, etc. don’t come with a similar pedigree and those were all failed acquisitions up to this point.

      I think the Cubs need a guy who can transition new pitchers to the team’s culture and standards. Not sure who that person is, but if Ray Searage could be had I’d definitely consider that guy.

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