The Rundown: Phillies Fans Get Punk’d, Cubs Could Be Sleeping Giant Despite Frigid Predictions, Brutal Late-Season Schedule Again

Phillies fans were epically punk’d yesterday, and excuse me for leaning on my early 2000’s version of Eugene Landy’s Underground Dictionary of counterculture slang. If you didn’t catch it, all of Philadelphia woke up with visions of Bryce Harper signing a long-term deal to play for the City of Brotherly Love, only to have Bartolo Colon snatch that cheesesteak from their hands just as they were about to take a bite.

It appears Phillies fans keep getting duped by the same bogus Twitter account, which was recently suspended. What’s the definition of insanity again?

In fairness, the Phillies are not out of the Harper sweepstakes and Philadelphia’s front office still has some of that “stupid money” left in their budget, so no need to start a riot at the Central City Wa Wa just yet. Philadelphia is a rabid sports town by any definition of the word and their fans can get more than a little nutsy at times. Besides, the city hasn’t finished greasing up the light poles, so on that logic, a Harper announcement is at least a week or two away.

Meanwhile, Cubs fans keep clinging to the hope that Theo Epstein is going to surprise everyone with the announcement that he’s going to give $200-300 million to a guy who hit .249 last year. I know, batting average is an archaic stat and shouldn’t be used to determine a player’s worth. We keep asking Theo to give it to us straight, and he has, though guys like me tend to think he’s coloring outside the lines of the team’s stated baseball operations budget without telling any of us.

Harper’s 133 OPS+ last season would have led the Cubs. Yes, despite batting .249, he was better than league MVP runner-up Javier Baez. (Gosh darn it Javy, take a walk now and then, please!)

A quick look at OPS+ indicates that for a team that won 95 games last season, the Cubs really didn’t have a dominant year offensively. And there’s that huge matzo ball floating atop their soup bowls: the Cubs scored no more than a single run in 40 games. Is that an anomaly, or the start of a disturbing trend?

Thom Brennaman said on MLB Roundtrip last night that the Cubs could be just a .500 team in 2019 unless they get “big improvements” from the following players: Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell. He even mentioned that Anthony Rizzo needs to have a better year. He later indicated that he expected the rotation to fall to the bottom half of the National League this year due to age and/or injury.

So maybe the Cubs need Harper, and maybe they don’t. Are you hopeful? You should be.

As allegedly pathetic as the team was last season, they still won 95 games. Some will say that the Cubs need Harper or Manny Machado because the division got stronger. Well, did it really? The Brewers have yet to make any major additions, while the Cardinals have added Paul Goldschmidt. and Andrew Miller. The Pirates will get a full season from Chris Archer but look to be a team on the verge of selling off assets. The Reds traded for a bunch of players on expiring contracts, so their window, much as the same as the Cardinals, is confined to this year.

My prediction, right now? I see the Cubs winning 90+ games and finishing at the top of the division, with a bunch of 84-88 win teams trailing them. That’s without Epstein signing either all-star free agent.

For what it’s worth, Brennaman, who is every bit the Cubs basher that his father Marty is, thinks the Cardinals will win the NL Central in a very tight race. He added that the Reds and Brewers will battle the Rockies for one wildcard, with the other wildcard coming out of the NL East. That leaves the Cubs out of the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

Still, the Cubs are a potential juggernaut that may have been roused from the peaceful slumber that sometimes comes with winning often and easily, especially for younger players. If they won 95 games in a down year, what could this team do if the offense is firing on all cylinders? In 57 days the Cubs can start silencing the critics.

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” — Isoroku Yamamoto, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Cubs News & Notes

Wednesday Stove

With just 12 days until pitchers and catchers begin to report league-wide, yesterday may have been the most bizarre day of this offseason.

MLB players continue to take to Twitter to express their disappointment at what has been a very frigid hot stove season.

Neil Walker has signed a one-year deal to play for the Marlins. The switch-hitter will play second base for Miami.

Talks between the Marlins and Reds for catcher J.T. Realmuto continue, but nothing is imminent.

Dansby Swanson is poised for a breakout year now that he is 100 percent healthy.

The Brewers are counting on a big season from starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson now that he is healthy again.

Clint Frazier detailed his harrowing battle with a chronic concussion that lasted for months.

Turns out Mariano Rivera is really not a Metallica fan. Well I am, so there’s that.

On Deck

Why do fans have such a hard time choosing players over owners in salary negotiations? One reason might be that so many fans now treat front office executives like rock stars. Who doesn’t love a nerd who wasn’t a very good athlete and then became wildly successful running the teams he couldn’t play for? I’ll discuss tomorrow.

Extra Innings

Cold enough for you yet?

Wednesday Walk Up Song

I’m on Fire by Bruce Springsteen. Right now, I only wish.


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. Another good piece Michael (per usual).
    I don’t think snarky Brennaman is too far off – its a ‘pick em’ between Cubs and Cards (and fan graphs has them basically dead equal). Very tough division, not sure winner gets to 90. I probably take the under. I have Brewers besting his Reds, and Pirates in 5th. What are your thoughts on some quality salary dump? Maybe a Zobrist, Quintana, Bote, Happ to Tampa, clear tons of salary, and grab Machado? You swap a #4 type starter for Monty/Chatwood, and lose some depth, but you have the best IF in the majors, and get middle of order bat w/ elite defense (KB leaves in 3 years in all probability). Thoughts?

    1. Machado wants to play SS and I don’t think he could get that opportunity at Wrigley, not with Baez there and Russell hopefully getting his head out of his backside. Giving Happ away for salary relief isn’t gonna happen…even if Heyward were attached, though I would at least consider it.

      1. I was thinking Machado plays SS (addy gets moved, released, somehow, someway). Are you saying Happ is too valuable? Just trying to clarify.

        1. He projects around .800 OPS. If he is doing that damage in CF or 2B, that is friggin’ serious. I would consider that to be great value especially when factoring in his salary.

          1. I see a different player. Everything I’ve seen (steamers and others) has him projecting around .750 OPS (league avg), obviously driven down by his batting avg (projections in the .230’s). He’s high K, below avg defense, and projected as a 4th OF and backup 2B with 1 WAR. Obviously this is a big year for him, his value is currently pretty low. I like the guy, but he’s nowhere close to what we were hoping: closer to Andrew Betintendi type player. We’ll see. For what it’s worth, Keith Law projected him at a 3 WAR guy, above avg but not AS type player. I hope he gets there.

    2. Thanks very much Trey, that means a great deal to me.

      I like the way you are thinking but seems like too much of an overhaul this close to the season, though precedent exists for these types of deals this late in the winter. I’d say Bote is a candidate to be moved now, or at least once Machado signs with the White Sox, Zobrist *could* be moved now, but may have more value at the deadline if the Cubs season implodes. Same with Quintana.

      I’d be nervous to include Chatwood in a trade with Montgomery. Montgomery has a great deal of value and hitching Chatwalk to that wagon would put a big dent in any potential return.

      I do like Machado and prefer him to Harper. And I think the Cubs would like Machado too. I just think they are now beyond committed to Addy, and as much as I hate that, I don’t see them bringing in someone that will take his job away and force a trade.

      1. Yeah, I def got aggressive with that proposal. lol. Oh, to clarify, I wasn’t proposing trading Chatwood (who would want him?) and Monty, but using them to fill Q’s spot. It weakens your rotation a bit (but those guys wouldn’t see the playoffs anyway), but I think greatly improves your lineup. Maybe it’s a bad deal for the Cubs: $25M in salary for those 4 players (maybe keep Happ and use give Bote in deal w Zobrist; Q is easy, and probably gets you a top prospect back w him (he could fetch easily fetch 2/$40M deal on the market, and we’re paying half). I guess I’m just grasping for some creativity and new elite blood to give a jolt to this group.

    1. Hits/ABs is a genuine statistic and should be treated as such. I get that it is a limiting statistic but it’s still important. If you can’t “hit” big league pitching you shouldn’t have a job.

  2. You can’t listen to Thom Brennaman concerning the Cubs. He always has a negative slant on them and the city of Chicago in general.

  3. Brennaman is a die-hard hater. I enjoy listening to him on the MLB tv feed when the Cubs are clocking the Reds. You can hear the little b*tch in his voice. The Reds will be improved, but that rotation is still gonna get hammered…and I’m gonna love it.

  4. Marty and Thom have been SO artificially biased against the Cubs and Cubs fans for so long, that anything they have to say on the subject is to be discredited and dismissed. So Thallus Thom says the Cubs are a .500 team unless tons of guys improve. Anything’s possible in baseball, although that’s quite high on the unlikely list for a team that won 95 games the year prior – and at minimum starts the season healthier. Thallus Thom is a joke.

    I do think the NL Central could get tougher this year. Although every single team in it needs at least as many things to “go right” as the Cubs do, and only two of them won 95 games or better last year.

    Ben Zobrist isn’t going anywhere unless he’s part of a multi-player deal.

    Woof. How desperate was Neil Walker?!

    Epic cold out in the Midwest. If you have never done it, take a glass of water, open your back door, and chuck the water up into the air; it will instantly turn to vapor. Totally not an urban myth.

      1. Possible. Although only if an announcement of signing Harper fast-follows on the heels of it. They won’t get anything impactful in return, for a high-paid 38 year old on a 1 year (remaining) deal. Therefor the ONLY real value to the Cubs is unloading the salary, and given that Theo knows darn well that this win-now-window isn’t open indefinitely – just saving the $ doesn’t do them a lot of good. I don’t even think there is any other FA out there worth doing this for – it’s Harper or keeping Zobrist.

  5. Thom is a pud. I’m not thrilled with the off season but 95 wins with many having a down year. Darvish, Bryant, Bam Bam & Almora could easily propel this team upward again. Thom will be up to 3 packs a day by the all star break.

    1. And broadcasting for an underachieving team that will look to unload half its roster at the deadline. Don’t get me wrong, I like the moves. I just don’t know how they make sense for this team in the state that is currently sits. And I don’t think everybody is as happy to play in Cincy as Yasiel Puig seems to be.

  6. So the Red Sox recently signed Jenrry Mejia to a minor league contract. I think he was born Jerry Meja, but birth certificate typos injected some uniqueness into his name.

    Anyway, this is not notable because of his name; Jenrry was a 3-time PED busted offender in 2015 and received the “lifetime ban” from baseball. Well with Manfred as skipper of this boat, his “lifetime” only lasted a few years – and Manfred reinstated him. So what is the point of even giving lip-service to a lifetime ban? This guy failed PED tests 3 times in 12 months, making him not only a consistent cheater – but also a stupid one.

    Some players (non-lifetime-banned ones) are a little ticked by all of this, although they will be even more ticked if Jenrry makes the big league roster in the future. So someone tell me again why Bonds isn’t in the HOF?

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