The Rundown: Harper or Machado, PECOTA Projects Cubs to Finish Third in Central, Rules Changes Mask Bigger MLB Problems

Which scenario would be more appealing if the decision to move forward on a free agent signing was strictly up to you?

In other words, who is the better signing for the Cubs? Machado or Harper?

In the court of public opinion among die-hards, Harper seems to be the choice. The perfectly coiffed free agent is a top 10 outfielder, but one who could be passed by Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto this season. Seven years into his career, you can’t be sure what you are getting with Harper. In the last four years, should he be assessed by his two best years, which average .329/40/100/6 or his two worst at .246/29/94/17? That’s like comparing Manny Ramirez to Jack Cust.

Machado is coming off of preeminent showings in OPS, HR, RBI and SLG, though he struggled somewhat after his trade to the Dodgers last season. Still, he showed a quantum improvement in his strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.49) — which is exactly what the Cubs need, mind you — and he may be closer to offensive maturity than Harper is. He’s arguably a top four shortstop in baseball among the likes of Francisco Lindor, Trea Turner, and Carlos Correa. Of course, Javy Baez would join that group if he was a full-time shortstop.

So who would you rather have? It’s a tougher decision than you thought, I’ll bet. Machado might be cheaper than Harper, but Harper still has projection. You’ll have to decide whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that a 26-year-old with seven seasons of big league experience still has projection.

Cubs News & Notes

  • PECOTA projects the Cubs to finish in third place in the NL Central with just 82 wins. For those unaware, PECOTA is an acronym for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm, a sabermetric system for forecasting MLB player performance.
  • Brendan Miller takes a look at Cubs relievers with the highest spin rates.
  • The Cubs announced that 27 non-roster invitees will be joining the team in Arizona next week.
  • The Cubs are in damage-control mode on the heels of anti-Muslim and other racist comments by Joe Ricketts. Will Cubs fans simply look the other way in blind support of their beloved team?
  • It seems incredibly forced, but at least the Cubs have scheduled to meet with Muslim groups to express their apologies.
  • The Cubs’ final season on WGN-TV could be a real tearjerker. It would be nice to go on top if you don’t mind guys. Just sayin’.
  •  When the National League adopts the designated hitter, and I believe it will happen starting with this season, who would be your choice for the role? As much as I loved Kyle Schwarber’s improvements on defense last season, he’d be my choice. Implementation of the new rule would definitely mean more at-bats for Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist, too. Or, if you are still in the pro-Harper camp, it would really make those three players far more valuable in trade talks. Can I say, “just sayin'” again?
  • The team’s front office is among the losers of the 2018-19 offseason.
  • The Cubs have struck out on the development of homegrown pitchers, but they are working to correct that. Who was the team’s last decent homegrown starter? Carlos Zambrano?
  • The Cubs are expected to be among the league’s biggest spenders in international free agency this year, and are locked in on a top Venezuelan catcher. The next IFA-signing period begins July 2.

Thursday Stove

Free agency is badly broken and baseball needs to fix it immediately.

Commissioner Rob Manfred is urging everybody to remain calm as storm clouds darken on ownership-players union relations. That’s not a link to Kevin Bacon in Animal House. But this is.

The Giants have thrown their hat into Harper’s Bazaar, but nobody is really sure why.

The White Sox are confident they will be able to sign Machado.

Rick Hahn thinks that its foolhardy to expect any team to sign both Machado and Harper. Thank you, Mr. Hahn, for letting me use the word foolhardy, which I can now cross off my bucket list.

Noah Syndergaard is no fan of the potential universal DH rule. I have two words for you son – Mark Prior.

Phillies fans the prospect cost to acquire catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins may be significantly prohibitive.

The Astros would love to extend the contract of Justin Verlander.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone explains the team’s willingness to pay DJ LeMahieu $12 million this season to be, essentially, a part-time player.

An independent investigation “did not uncover any credible evidence” that the Mariners or any of its employees violated MLB’s workplace code of conduct. Former employee Lorena Martin alleged that members of the Seattle front office, specifically general manager Jerry Dipoto, manager Scott Servais and director of player personnel Andy McKay, made racist and sexist comments in her presence.

On Deck

This is scary for guys like me: The rise of the robot reporter. Have you ever seen I, Robot? Yikes.

Roughly a third of the content published by Bloomberg News uses some form of automated technology. Cyborg is the name of the news outlet’s AI technology, and it is able to assist reporters in distributing thousands of articles on company earnings reports each quarter.

Extra Innings

What? MLB is considering adding a runs multiplier of 42 to home runs of 450 feet or more in honor of Jackie Robinson? Okay – I’m just kidding. I know baseball seems to be throwing a lot of garbage at the wall to keep the focus off of the putrid state of free agency and a potential CBA war, but can we please not make a mockery of the game? If I had to rank the rule changes I favor most they would be:

  1. Universal DH. Hashtag and tweet, please and thank you. And if you are against it, let’s debate in the comments section. Just know going in I will defeat you.
  2. The 26-man roster. As long as an adjustment to the luxury tax thresholds is included.
  3. Some type of draft lottery. I’d propose a lottery among the ten worst finishers, with the rest of the teams ranked accordingly.
  4. A single trade deadline, but a hard pass if that deadline falls before the All-Star break. That would destroy attendance for a lot of teams.
  5. Going back to a 15-day DL minimum.
  6. A reduction in size on September rosters.
  7. The 20-second pitch clock. I’m actually on board with it. Don’t @ me.
  8. A rule that would permit two-sport athletes, such as Kyler Murray, to sign major league contracts as an enticement to play baseball.
  9. Rules changes I do not want see: A three batter minimum for relief pitchers, taking away a single mound visit (what’s the point, really?), lowering the mound, changing the distance from the pitching rubber to home plate (until 1893 it was only 50 feet!), and the runner on second base to start extra innings.
  10. One I’d add: How about 15-second commercials instead of the standard 30- and 60-second ones? How hard is it to brand your message?

Thursday Walk Up Song

Lost in the Light by Bahamas. It’s a sad state of affairs that Manfred is trying to deflect from baseball’s real issues. I hope you are enjoying my hauntingly beautiful playlist for February.


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. Machado proved who he is last year with his lack of effort and more than one intentional spiking. PASS! As far as DH, I am a traditionalist; I would be disappointed for it in the National League, but would accept it.

    1. So pitchers don’t bat at any professional level anymore and then when they get to the major leagues they are asked to hit for themselves. If any major league team wants to give me hitting instruction I’ll sign for the minimum salary. At this point, it’s the same thing.

  2. Michael, I’m with you on the DH. It is time to take away the AL’s built in leverage. For the Cubs, it would be a great thing.

  3. I would prefer Harper, especially since the quality of the remaining OFs are platoon level between LF/CF. The Cubs’ IF quality is already leaps and bounds ahead of their OF.

    Schwarber would be my main pick for DH, although Happ should probably get a lot of starts there as well.

    I’m an NL baseball fan and have always preferred the game without the DH, but you’re right about pitchers not hitting in any other professional leagues anymore. Not to mention, with interleague play it drives me crazy that they play by 2 different sets of rules, especially when they’re dis-advantageous to the NL teams. I think it’s finally time. Don’t get me wrong though, it isn’t that I necessarily like watching the pitchers hit, it’s that I love the strategy of having to decide whether to take out the pitcher or let him bat. I like that those spots are tied together. There’s an idea for a compromise that was floated by some of the sportswriters called the Hybrid-DH, where the DH would have to be removed from the game when the SP was. I thought that was interesting, and would preserve some of the strategy of the NL game, but I don’t see it happening.

    I pretty much agree with you on your 10 rule changes, but I’ll be shocked if any of them make it in for the 2019 season, especially the DH. Really would like to see that 28 man Sept roster in place this year though.

    1. Nice breakdown! I would love that hybrid-DH, but I can’t see it happening – especially with Manfred in office.

      On one hand I can see Manfred pushing through the DH for 2019, although if he did – he likely takes heat for it from both sides of the fence, as that kind of a change warrants roster adjustments that would effect both teams and players.

    2. Excellent point of view on Harper. I didn’t think to look at it that way.

      I still think the DH is going to hit the NL this year. I know the odds seem against it, but it’s Manfred. And though I am in favor of the rule, I still think he is going to go down as the worst commissioner in the history of the game.

      1. I read somewhere yesterday that they’re planning on making all interleague games use the DH in 2019, even those in NL Parks, and then full universal DH in 2020.

  4. Well, the Phillies did say that they were ready to “spend stupid”. Who know that it wouldn’t only be with cash?

    Phillies and Marlins have agreed to a deal that will send star catcher J.T. Realmuto to Philadelphia, according to Jim Bowden of The Athletic (Twitter links). A four-player package will go to Miami in return, headlined by young backstop Jorge Alfaro and top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez. Southpaw Will Stewart is one of the other pieces in the deal. The Marlins also acquire an international signing slot worth $250K, per’s Jeff Passan and the New York Post’s Joel Sherman

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