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©®™.”

================================================

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.

================================================

WRIGLEY

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

================================================

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).

================================================

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.

================================================

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.

Subjective Analysis: Phils/Rays in the WORLD SERIES.

Here it is. Could be another of the biggest moments in Philadelphia sports history, or just another colossal failure. (You’ll have to excuse me, Phillies fans have had their fill of futility. And yes, the alliteration is amazing.)

Once more into the Phray:

CATCHER

PHI: Carlos Ruiz

TB: Dioner Navarro

ANALYSIS: I’m especially biased on this, because I “owned” Navarro a few years back – BEFORE he began living up to his potential. (The guy’s only 24, I should have been easier on him.) Offensively, he is far superior to Ruiz. Defensively, they’re both pretty solid. Navarro and the RAYS get the edge here.

==========================================================

FIRST BASE

PHI: Ryan Howard

TB: Carlos Pena

ANALYSIS: I have a feeling Howard will hit some BOMBS. Of course, at the two ballparks in question, many bombs are hit. Overall, these guys had kinda similar numbers…except for the Bombs, where Howard beats him handily. Howard gets the nod here for the PHILS.

==========================================================

SECOND BASE

PHI: Chase Utley

TB: Akinori Iwamura

ANALYSIS: Although I love saying his name (or any other Japanese player’s name) out loud in a deep, booming voice, Iwamura just is not even close to the offensive force that Utley can be. Utley wins hands-down. Go PHILS.

==========================================================

THIRD BASE

PHI: Pedro Feliz/Greg Dobbs

TB: Evan Longoria

ANALYSIS: I’d love to try to make the argument that the Feliz/Dobbs combo can almost equal Longoria, or that Longoria is due for a letdown. But I can’t. Advantage RAYS.

==========================================================

SHORTSTOP

PHI: Jimmy Rollins

TB: Jason Bartlett

ANALYSIS: It was in this space of my Phils/Dodgers analysis that I picked Rollins over Furcal. Of course, I really didn’t foresee Furcal’s three errors in one inning that basically cost them the NLCS. Although Jimmy Rollins is a far better player, all the “experts” believe that Bartlett is the kind of guy who can/will make a crucial play or get a clutch hit to carry his team. Still, the PHILS have the edge here.

==========================================================

LEFT FIELD

PHI: Pat Burrell

TB: Carl Crawford

ANALYSIS: CC wears my number (13), and he is one of the ultimate seven-tool players. (Not just the typical “five tools” that scouts love – Carl does it all and then some.) He was banged up near the end of the season, but he’s still better on many levels than Pat the Bat. RAYS win this one.

==========================================================

CENTER FIELD

PHI: Shane Victorino

TB: B.J. Upton

ANALYSIS: Upton is also a seven-tool guy, whose power numbers this year were hurt by a lingering injury. But Victorino has had a magical ride the past month or so, and it’s hard to just say “Upton is superior.” He is, talent-wise, but when it comes to getting the j-o-b done, Shane-O-Vic is right there with him. Argh, this one hurts me physically, but Upton and the RAYS get the call here.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

RIGHT FIELD

PHI: Jayson Werth

TB: Rocco Baldelli/Gabe Gross

ANALYSIS: I’m a Werth-believer. I’m not Werth-y. I enjoy Werth-er’s Butterscotch Candies. (Enough!) I’ve got to take the 20/20 guy over a platoon including a guy battling a strange and awful disease (mitochondrial disorder?) and a guy whose offense doesn’t exactly scare people (.242 batting average with TB). Give this one to the PHILS.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
DESIGNATED HITTER

PHI: ??? (Dobbs, Jenkins, Stairs?)

TB: Willy Aybar/Cliff Floyd/Eric Hinske

ANALYSIS: Phils manager Charlie Manuel is not announcing his DH until the actual game, but it’ll likely be one of those guys above (or maybe Burrell, with Eric Bruntlett or Dobbs in left field). Aybar has been playing out of his mind for the past few weeks, and Floyd and Hinske are nice veteran role players who have some pop. This category has too many question marks, though, so I call it a TIE.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
STARTING PITCHER

PHI: Cole Hamels/Brett Myers/Jamie Moyer/Joe Blanton

TB: Scott Kazmir/Jamie Shields/Matt Garza/Andy Sonnanstine

ANALYSIS: The “experts” say Hamels is the best pitcher in the Series, and I agree. But I don’t agree with their assessments of the rest of these guys. They’re all over the Phils, saying they really have no depth beyond Hamels and that the Rays kids are flat-out awesome. Not taking anything away from them, they’re good and they faced tough competition all year in the AL East. I just think this matchup is closer than many might think – that there’s something to be said for Moyer’s experience and smarts, and Blanton’s ability to keep the ball down.

All that being said, I do have to give the Slight Edge to the RAYS.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
RELIEF PITCHER

PHI: Brad Lidge/Ryan Madson/J.C. Romero/Chad Durbin/Clay Condrey/J.A. Happ/Scott Eyre

TB: Troy Percival/Dan Wheeler/Trever Miller/J.P. Howell/Grant Balfour/Jason Hammel/David Price

ANALYSIS: Again, the “experts” are loving the fact that the Rays have three lefties, who will allegedly shut down the big lefty bats of Philly (Utley and Howard). And Price is this amazing wild card who will likely have an amazing career. But the Phillies’ bullpen has been and will be a great strength here, and deserves respect. PHILS get this one.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
BENCH

PHI: Greg Dobbs/Matt Stairs/Geoff Jenkins/Eric Bruntlett/So Taguchi/Chris Coste

TB: Floyd/Hinske/Aybar/Ben Zobrist/Jonny Gomes/Shawn Riggans/Fernando Perez

ANALYSIS: Dobbs is playing so well, there are people who want the Phils to let Burrell go away via free agency and play him every day in left. Stairs could be a great DH against righties (and so could Jenkins). But there is plenty of pop on the Rays bench, and some amazing speed in Perez. This one goes to the RAYS in a very close race.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
MANAGER

PHI: Charlie Manuel

TB: Joe Maddon

ANALYSIS: Uncle Cholly’s recently-passed mom is watching over this team, and he’s somehow managed to keep it all together and get to the Series. Maddon’s mom is watching from upstate Pennsylvania, and her boy is regarded as this kind of mad genius or rare intellectual who somehow completely inspires his young team. (Oh my, he drinks wine instead of beer! He reads books instead of magazines! Heavens to Murgatroyd!)

But seriously, this one is a TIE because each guy has done an amazing job this year, and Manuel’s occasional mistakes cancel out Maddon’s occasional crazy-looking moves (like a bases-loaded intentional walk).

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
FINAL SCORE: Rays 6, Phillies 5, one tie.

FINAL ANALYSIS: I think it goes 6 or 7, and I think the RAYS win.

(P.S.: Reverse-jinx accomplished!)