Jealous of the #Cubs

Editor’s Note: This isn’t exactly in the spirit of Christmas, but what the hey.

How could I not be jealous? Sure, they haven’t won a World Series since 1908.

But as a #Phillies fan, watching his favorite team slowly dip their toe in the swampy waters of Rebuilding River, it’s pretty easy to look at what the #Cubs have done and find myself becoming a Wrigley Wannabe.

harrycaraynextyear copy

Here’s what they’ve done over the past couple years to build the should-be-contender they are today:

FRONT OFFICE

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer leave the Red Sox (in 2011) to head up the Cubs front office, bringing their combined baseball genius.

They begin their work by drafting smarter and focusing on minor league player development. These efforts turn into big-time prospects Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, C.J. Edwards, Kyle Hendricks and Jorge Soler — most of whom will be integral to the Cubs Renaissance — or as I’m calling it, the “Cubsaissance©®™.”

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MANAGER

Joe Maddon leaves Tampa Bay (in November 2014) to manage the Cubs.

Pretty much one of the best and most respected managers in the game heads to Chi-town, and why not? With a pretty tiny budget and not much of a fan base, the pride of Hazelton, Pa., managed six straight years of over .500 ball in the AL East — competing with big-spenders like the Yankees and Red Sox.

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WRIGLEY

The Friendly Confines are getting a new scoreboard with cool video functionality.

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THE BUILDING BLOCKS

So they’ve got 1B and SS covered with young talent in Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. They have lefty pitcher Travis Wood (a 2013 All-Star) and righty Kyle Hendricks (who impressed in 13 starts last year). And Hector Rondon was a solid closer.

Then there’s the reclamation projects — fireballing Jacob Turner, reliever Pedro Strop, the big-time rebound that is Jake Arrieta, former Rangers high-level prospect Neil Ramirez, and Dan Straily (who won 10 games with Oakland in ’13). There’s even former Red Sock Felix Doubront, who throws hard and has won double-digit games twice. (And pitched in the postseason.)

And of course, the gems of the farm system. In addition to added-via-trade SS Addison Russell, there’s the great draft picks: OF Jorge Soler (power), IF Javier Baez (bat speed compared to Gary Sheffield), 3B Kris Bryant (POWER) and C/1B/OF Kyle Schwarber (moved up twice in his first year as a pro).

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2014 MOVES

Gonna bullet-point ’em for easy reading:

—Signed LHP Tsuyoshi Wada (1 yr, $4MM). He’s 33 and pitched nine years in Japan, but showed he can hang in MLB in 13 starts last year. A solid veteran option for the rotation. (More on the Cubs’ starting pitching below.)

—Traded two minor leaguers for C Miguel Montero. For the price of two not-top-prospects, they got a veteran leader behind the plate who’s solid on offense and defense. And a lefty-batting catcher, to boot.

—Signed RHP Jason Hammel (2 yrs, $18MM). Veteran righty innings-eater. Has signed with the Cubs twice as a free agent — the second time being after they traded him away last year to Oakland. So he wants to be there for sure. And his numbers were kinda awesome as a Cub in 2014. (8-5, 2.98 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 108 IP, 88H, 104K, only 23 BB.)

—Signed LHP Jon Lester (6 yrs, $155MM). Kinda surprising, but not really. The Red Sox didn’t make enough of an effort, Oakland doesn’t usually do the big signings (not very Moneyball), and I didn’t hear much of anything about the Yankees or other big spenders. OH, and ol’ Jon knows the front office guys pretty well from Boston. Which means he knows that there is winning in the future. (And $155 million is a nice incentive, too.) Here’s your #1 starter, Cubs fans.

—Signed RHP Jason Motte (1 yr, $4.5MM). And why not take a chance for that amount? This guy was a dominant reliever for the Cardinals, led the league in saves before Tommy John surgery, and has postseason experience. He’ll probably be a setup guy and serve as insurance for Rondon.

—Signed C David Ross (2 yrs, $5MM). Veteran catcher with a solid bat and hey wait, another Red Sox-connected guy who just happened to catch a whole lot of Jon Lester’s starts! Makes complete sense, and now they have a nice pair of experienced catchers who can hit, too.

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OVERALL

So it started at the top. New leadership with experience in building a winning franchise. They started with the draft and the minors.

When the time was right, they went and got a smart, creative and fan-friendly manager who led his teams to winning seasons despite big obstacles.

And now, the great young talent is starting to present itself. Some is already at the major league level, some will be arriving in 2015 and 2016.

Then they added a bunch of veteran leaders, a clear #1 starter and a deep pool of rotation candidates.

Boom. Contender. And if they’re smart enough (which they are), a possible dynasty. The window for the Cubs is open.

Rejoice, Northsiders. Pretty soon, you’re likely to be “Loveable Losers” no more.

And I’m freakin’ jealous.

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In Memoriam: Mark Marinelli, @MarkM625

(Note: I’m not sure that this blog post flows all that well. It’s been a rough week, and my reaction to the subject of this entry probably makes for crappy writing. Sorry about that.)
Today, I lost a friend I never met in person. But we had a lot in common.

Mark Marinelli was a year younger than me (he was 39).
He was a resident of Bethlehem, PA (where I lived and worked for several years).
He lived with Becker’s Muscular Dystrophy, which robbed him of the ability to walk at 15.
(My pyoderma gangrenosum flared for the first time at 16 — but I was lucky. After three months of incredible pain, I was eventually able to walk normally. Despite several flares and giant ulcers on my left leg, I’ve been mostly fine with walking since then.)
Clearly, my disease was/is nowhere near as bad as Mark’s.

In fact, he wasn’t supposed to live to see 19. It’s a testament to his strength of will and character that he more than doubled the doctor’s expectations.

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The biggest common bond we had was the Philadelphia Phillies — whom we both rooted for and often discussed on Twitter. (It is worth noting that the Phillies are the losingest franchise in the entirety of sports history, with more than 10,000 losses on record.)

As men born in the early 1970s, we each lived through a wildly up-and-down period in Phillies history:

* 1980 = The Phillies’ dominant run atop the National League East in the late ’70s culminated in the 1980 World Series championship.
* 1983 = The “Wheeze Kids” included a bunch of, um, “not young” players that went to the Series again but lost.
* 1993 = Somehow, the 1993 squad of dirtballs, tramps and thieves scratched its way to the Series again — but heartache came in the form of Joe Carter.
* 2008 = Another dominant run in the East led to another World Series title.

In between those four highlight years, there was a lot of mediocrity and a bunch of lousy players.

And unfortunately, it’s pretty likely that the Phils’ “window of opportunity” is closing, as the stars of 2008 are mostly fading as they get older.

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When it came to his health, Mark had a strength and spirit that we can all aspire to. Naturally, he had dark times and went through periods of doubt and depression. But I will always remember his “presence” on Twitter — smart, witty and always ready with a joke or insight.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how much you plan — life WILL throw you a steady diet of 12-6 curveballs. What’s important is how you deal with them.

At bat, a good hitter recognizes that a curveball is coming and in a nanosecond, alters his swing and hits the ball to the “opposite field.”

In life, a person who handles adversity with dignity and humor is someone to be admired and respected. That’s what Mark was to me, even though we never hung out live and in person.

I admired and respected Mark Marinelli, and I will carry inspiration from him for the rest of my life.

#RIPMark

Mark’s blog: http://icantwalk.com/

Phillies: A response to “On Trading Cole Hamels” (Crashburn Alley)

A response to Michael Baumann’s Crashburn Alley blog:

I will not blame Cole Hamels for doing the right thing for his career, which is no less than any of us would do for ourselves. And that thing is, if it is offered, to sign a huge contract to pitch for a spending-and-contending Dodgers team. If the Phillies really valued him, he’d have been signed already.

The best — and only — thing they can do is try to get the maximum value for him on the trade market, as soon as possible. If the Texas Rangers (who I get to observe up-close and personal, as a Texan since 2006) decide to “go for it” and deal for another pitcher, they are THE team the Phillies need to deal with.

The Rangers are the best-run and deepest baseball team right now, and they are set up to maintain a dynasty for years to come. For the Phillies to get a quality return for Hamels, they need to contact Jon Daniels ASAP. (Even though Texas has no dire need right now.)

The Hamels situation is a microcosm of running a baseball team nowadays. Obviously, the most important thing is to have a competitive MLB-level squad. But at the same time, an organization needs to have a steady stream of prospects moving up the ladder while getting solid instruction at every level.

That’s what Texas has been doing, and that’s why they will be in contention for a long time.

I hope the Phillies can copy that. Unfortunately, it looks like the first of many steps to get there is trading Cole Hamels.

The Phillies in 2014?

In my “keeper” fantasy baseball league (I KNOW, nobody cares about your fantasy team — trust me, I’m going somewhere with this one), my fellow owners and I have to think not only about this year, but the years ahead.

For example, we have two annual prospect drafts of two rounds (although unlike the real world, we can trade draft picks) and unlimited “prospect” spots. So you can hop on someone like superubermegaprospect Bryce Harper (whom I traded for this offseason) and when he hits the bigs, keep him at a very low salary.

Anywho, all this preparation I’m doing for the upcoming season (yes, I’m the returning champ for the first time in 17 seasons) got me thinkin’ about my Phillies and their future.

Baseball America posts (for free) their analysis of each team’s minor league organization and top 10 prospects. But one of the fun things they do is try to project the 2014 lineup:

http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/rankings/organization-top-10-prospects/2011/2611043.html

Let’s discuss those 2014 Phillies, shall we? (Except for Manager, all other names are the BA predicted starters.)

 

MANAGER = Ryne Sandberg. This is MY prediction, based on nothing but unbelievably brilliant insight. And the fact that he’s the Phillies’ AAA manager this year, and Charlie Manuel probably will be hanging up his lineup-fillin’ pencil right about then.

CATCHER = Sebastian Valle is the guy that BA lists as the starter. And I defer to the guys like @phuturephillies on Twitter who are way into the Phils’ minors, as well as my top-secret fantasy resource (the founder’s name rhymes with Blon Blandler for those of you “in the know”) who has him as an 8D — meaning he’s an 8 out of 10 talent-wise, but right now a D (A being most likely to fulfill his potential) when it comes to hopefully developing.

1B = Ryan  Howard will be 35 in 2014. So he should still be solid and hitting bombs, although power hitters generally start to fade in their mid-30s. If he keeps himself in shape, he’ll be serviceable defensively and probably still hitting 30-40 HR. I’m wondering if he gets dealt somehow to the AL to become a DH by this point though.

2B = Chase Utley will be 36 in 2014. Another guy who will need to stay in shape, especially if he wants to stay in the physically demanding middle infield. He’d be the easy choice to slide to 1B if Howard was sent to DH-land.

3B = Placido Polanco will be 39 in 2014. I can’t imagine that he’ll be the everyday 3B. Gotta believe that there’s somebody in the low minors who will develop by then. If not, yikes. Or we go get David Wright as a free agent, as some bloggers/Twitterers have predicted. He’d better re-establish his value in 2011 for me to get on board with that.

SS = Jimmy Rollins will be 36 in 2014. But if 2011 is anything like 2010, Jimmy will be a backup or something else. Doubtful he’ll have the wheels/athleticism to stick there. BA mentions infield prospect Freddy Galvis as being the “best defensive infielder” and having the “best infield arm,” so I’m hopeful he develops with the bat and can take over by then.

LF = Jonathan Singleton is BA”s choice here. Which means that Jonny Boy, a 1B by trade, will have to make the transition to the outfield if Howard or Utley is at 1B. And with a developing bat like J-Sing (made that up myself, like it?) has, he’s a keeper.

CF = Shane Victorino will be 34 in 2014. Probably slower, probably still playing super-hard. But maybe more of a 4th OF at that point. Especially since the Phils have young speedster Jiwan James working his way up the ladder. BA has JJ listed as “best defensive outfielder,” “fastest baserunner” and “best athlete.”

RF = Dominic Brown will be peaking at that magical “age 27” year in 2014. Hopefully, the Phils don’t mess up with the kid in 2011 after a 2010 season in which he came up and mostly sat — which doesn’t exactly help you become a better player. (I should know — look up my college stats.)

FUN DOM BROWN FACT = His middle name is Larun.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/browndo01.shtml

Anyway, love me some Dom Brown. Especially in 2014.

 

STARTING PITCHING: This was pre-Cliff Lee signing, so BA had Halladay/Hamels/Oswalt/Brody Colvin/Jarred Cosart as the 2014 starting five. Quick hits:

Halladay = All hail King Leroy. He will only stop dominating when he WANTS to stop dominating. Yeah, he’ll be 37. But he’ll be pitching on pure genius, and will take whatever’s left physically and make it sing.

Hamels = He’ll be 34. No biggie. Most lefties age well, and hanging around Halladay/Oswalt/Cliffie should smarten him up and make him effective for many years.

Oswalt = Like the “other” Roy, he’ll be 37. Again, genius. No worries here.

Clifton Phifer Lee = Will clearly be in this spot at age 36. And likely dominating. (Jeez, this exercise is REALLY making me crazyexcited about 2010!)

Colvin/Cosart = BA has Cosart has having the “best fastball.” Always a good sign. Gotta believe that either of these kids (or both), would benefit from being around R2C2, the Fab Four, the Phab Phour, or whatever they end up being called.

BULLPEN: Probably one of the hardest things to predict, since most bullpens are very volatile. BA thinks Ryan Madson will be the closer, and many agree that’s where he’s headed. The cool thing is that with the starting spots locked up for at least a few years, the Phils could turn some of the good young arms they have into power relievers and really have a strong corps.

Anyway, all things considered, it will be interesting to see how things develop as the core of this team gets older. Most experts agree that the current prospects in the low minors will be ready to start taking over around 2013 or 2014, so this roster could be WAY different than it appears above.

This was Phun! (Sorry.)

Catcher Sebastian Valle
First Base Ryan Howard
Second Base Chase Utley
Third Base Placido Polanco
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins
Left Field Jonathan Singleton
Center Field Shane Victorino
Right Field Domonic Brown
No. 1 Starter Roy Halladay
No. 2 Starter Cole Hamels
No. 3 Starter Roy Oswalt
No. 4 Starter Brody Colvin
No. 5 Starter Jarred Cosart
Closer Ryan Madson

Great weekend

Not in order…
–Had Skype video calls with my parents and grandparents, then with my youngest bro and sis-in-law.
–Assembled the girls’ highchairs.
–Cleared out a bunch of boxes from the office to be recycled.
–Sorted out clothes, including some very old but still usable business suits to be donated. (Very hard to remember the days of wearing a suit to work.)

Tonight, Norah was fussin’ after we put her to bed. Shannon went to check her, and she was on her tummy and facing the mirror at the opposite end of her crib. She was trying to inchworm her way to the gorgeous face she saw in the mirror! Full-on crawling can’t be far behind…yikes!

Oh, and the Phillies clobbered L.A. Funny that while that’s awesome, near-crawling is what makes my heart leap now.

Phillies Report, 8/1/09

So it was in this blog a few days back where I begged the Phillies to go get Roy Halladay no matter what.

And they went out and got Cliff Lee from Cleveland, giving up none of the top 3 prospects that they were holding back from Toronto.

And surprisingly, I’m cool with it.

Sure, Halladay is an absolute stud, an ace, a #1 pitcher.

But Cliffie isn’t a slouch either. Last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner, he’s pretty much been a B, B+ kind of pitcher. Not elite, but very very good. And now that he’s on a better team that will give him run support, he’s definitely a great #1-B to go with Cole Hamels.

Lee is actually a year or so younger than Halladay, too.

Honestly, it seems like it came down to the fact that Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi – clinging to his job – wanted back the moon for Halladay, and didn’t get it. So now he’s got to try to rebuild around Halladay for a run at next year, or deal him in the offseason with much less leverage than he had before yesterday’s trade deadline.

Good work, Ruben Amaro, Jr.. When your #1 option became un-gettable, you found a very good #2. Who may turn out to be a solid #1 anyway.

Thanks, Joker! (And some Random Ramblin’s.)

So my blog has been decidedly dormant due to my dedication to my daughters and my duties as Daddy.

No more! (Well, I’m not going to stop that stuff, but I will try to get back to bloggin’.)

And it’s thanks to several comments from a fellow blogger, Joker from Why Advertising Sucks. It’s amazing what some kind words from an unseen colleague can do…so thanks Joker!

Call the rest of this a mini-Random Ramblin’s…

If you’re not a baseball fan, skip down a few ‘graphs. This is about Roy Halladay, one of baseball’s best pitchers. He’s currently a Toronto Blue Jay, but they’ve pretty much decided to make him available for a trade. And my hometown Phillies are a great match, since they have plenty of good young prospects and the ability to take on his salary (now and in the future).

Reasons the Phillies need Halladay: He makes a good rotation GREAT. Especially in a short playoff series, when it could be Halladay, Hamels and whoever else they put out there. Heck, if Pedro Martinez has anything left in the tank, let him rip.

Heck, legendary baseball man Peter Gammons basically says the Phillies could be a World Series contender for two or three years if they did this. And although they’d be giving up some of their best prospects, that’s what they are right now – prospects. There is NO guarantee that these guys become solid contributors at the major league level – much less superstars.

There is no guarantee that Halladay gets them back to the World Series – but he improves their chances BIG time.

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Well, a case manager from HP was supposed to call me today about my Presario V6000 laptop, which refuses to turn on. Well, the lights come on for half a second, it gives a weak beep, then shuts down. But because this is a replacement unit – that’s right, this one was sent to us when the old 5101 died on us – we need to have a case manager validate our claim so they’ll repair it.

I’d go on a long rant about how sucky HP/Compaq is, but it’s been done.

I may do a pre-emptive call in a few minutes, and will keep you posted.

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So now I’m going off of Imuran completely. One less immunosuppressive drug. Yay! Now we being the countdown to Colonoscopy ’09, scheduled for Friday the 13th (of November). Yay?

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More important than anything else you’ve read here…the girls are doing well, thanks for asking!

Eating and pooping pretty normally.

But sleeping? They’re freakin’ Olympians already. We’re talking like 8, 9, maybe 10 hours overnight.

I think they’re setting us up, this is all a trick. When they’re two, they’ll sleep in half-hour shifts for four hours then demand we stay up with them watching Ni Hao Kailan or Jack’s Big Music Show! (Actually, they’re pretty good shows.)

We think that Alexandra is starting to look like me, and Norah like Shannon. Here’s a recent photo:

My girls

Alexandra & Norah, just chillin'.

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I’m in 4th place in fantasy baseball. This is unheard of, and I have now jinxed myself.

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We’re living in Little Elm, Texas, not far from the intersection of Eldorado Parkway and Route 423/Main Street. The latter is a horrendous road that gets crazy backed up during rush hour. The former is under massive construction that will probably continue until I retire at the ripe old age of 78.

I don’t know if this is deserving of an “oy” or a “meh.” Perhaps a new term should be made available…

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Shannon and I saw The Hangover. 86 out of 100. Laugh-out loud in parts, but man I was hoping for more gutbusting laughs.

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I hate that the scale at Medifast is usually 3 pounds heavier than my scale at home. I woke up all psyched that I was 160.8 on Saturday morning, until I get to the clinic and weigh in at 163.8. They’re both digital scales! How does that work?

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I can’t believe boxing lost Arturo Gatti and Vernon Forrest like two weeks apart. I truly enjoyed watching these warriors fight and grieve for them and their families.

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I hope you’re happy, Joker. You’ve unleashed the beats. A lame bloggin’ beast.