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.

Random Ramblin’s: Last 2008 edition

My commute last week and this week was sheer bliss. Lots of people on vacation = less drivers at rush hour = Happy Harley.

We’ve hit temperatures in the high 60s several times this December. Freakin’ awesome.

Driving around my neighborhood a couple Saturdays ago, passed by some people on the side of the road in orange vests, picking up trash. Figured they were convicts doing community service or something, but as I got closer I saw on the back of the vests: “Keep Plano Beautiful – Volunteer.” You don’t see stuff like that in a lot of other places.

TIME FOR SPORTS:

PHILLIES  – Still not sure what to think of signing Raul Ibanez for three years. He’s by all accounts a great guy, so team chemistry will be good. By many accounts, he’s a lousy defender in left field. By my calendar, he’s 37. But he’s in great shape, he’s liable to hit about as well as the outgoing Pat Burrell, and there is something to be said for team chemistry. Just look at the Cowboys with all their superstars and no heart. Or the Mets in the ’90s when they overspent on Bobby Bonilla and paid big bucks for Bret Saberhagen. Yes, the Phils will have a left-handed-heavy batting lineup, but the majority of starting pitchers are righthanders anyway.

YANKEES: Certainly not one of my favorite teams, but I had to say something about them spending nearly a half-billion dollars on three players. It’s their right to do so, and it does stack them up as one of the top teams, but many things could go wrong. C.C. Sabathia is a workhorse, but he’s a big heavy dude and injuries could be a concern after pitching like 469 innings last year. (Approximately.) A.J. Burnett has a long injury history, but could be dominant if he stays healthy. Mark Teixeira will likely fit well in that lineup and bang out 40+ homers and play a great first base. The AL East will be very interesting to watch.

EAGLES: What a crazydiculous season. A tie to the woeful Bengals, Donovan McNabb pulled from a game, Andy Reid continuing to call questionable plays. And somehow, they win a bunch of games down the stretch, Tampa Bay loses to a bad Oakland team, Chicago loses to Houston, and the Birds CRUSH the gutless Cowboys to squeeze into the playoffs. And they have a good shot to beat Minnesota this weekend, and they’ve already beaten the Giants in New York. NFC Championship game, here we come?

COWBOYS: Gotta say my piece on the ‘Pokes. FOX’s Michael Strahan and Jimmy Johnson had this one right: the Cowboys are messed up because it starts from the top down. And owner Jerry Jones is the problem. He also serves as General Manager – even though he’d never get that job if he wasn’t an owner – and makes moves like a fantasy football owner (analogy stolen from ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd). T.O.? Sign him. Roy Williams? Don’t need him, but imagine the receiving numbers! But not when your $67 million boy Tony Romo throws stupid interceptions and the whole team looks like a bunch of quitters. I actually feel bad for Cowboys fans, because unless Jerry hires a REAL General Manager (even George Steinbrenner hired Brian Cashman), he’ll keep running the team into the ground and out of the playoffs.

76ERS: Mo Cheeks fired after going 9-14. Elton Brand out for a month. And we only get like eight 76ers games on network TV, so all that excitement I had about the team has drifted away. (Yes, “fair-weather fan” would be accurate.)

FLYERS: Apparently, they play hockey. From what I’ve gleaned in my not-caring mode, they started off sucky and then won a bunch of games, and they’re playing well.

ARENA FOOTBALL: They’re taking 2009 off and plan to get back to work in 2010. Can I do that too?

Back to ramblin’…

New Year’s Eve? Bah humbug. My REAL New Year begins on January 13, when you can send me as many birthday gifts as you like.

Oh, and of more import than anything else written above…our twins are officially both girls! So yes, Daddy’s Little Girls will be arriving this spring in theaters near you. (Well, not so much in theaters, more like subjects in my blogs that will surely embarrass them later in life.)

Peace out, yo.

My blogapology to misdirected readers.

Thanks to WordPress’s really cool technology, I can see that a bunch of readers were referred here from another blog (at Reason.com) – which had hyperlinked the terms “cache out the yin-yang” to my little ramblins’.

However, I really didn’t get into discussing that Seinfeldian quote – which is one of my favorites.

Courtesy of my very good friends at Seinfeldscripts.com, here’s the scene:

—————————————

[Blogger’s Note: George has recommended “Soda” as a baby name to Susan’s cousin, but the cousin didn’t like the idea. He told Susan privately that he had already chosen “Seven” as the name for their first child, boy or girl. Susan did not like this idea, despite the name being a tribute to New York Yankees great Mickey Mantle. And we fade up…

[Restaurant]

George and Susan are having dinner.

GEORGE: Aw c’mon. It’s a fantastic name. It’s a real original, nobody else is gonna have it and I absolutely love it.

SUSAN: Well, I dunno how original it’s gonna be any more.

GEORGE: Why not?

SUSAN: Well I was telling Carrie about our argument, and when I told them the name, they just loved it.

GEORGE: So, what’re you saying?

SUSAN: They’re gonna name their baby Seven.

GEORGE: (disbelief) What?! They’re stealing the name?! That’s my name, I made it up!

SUSAN: I can’t believe that they’re using it.

GEORGE: (anger) Well now it’s not gonna be original! It’s gonna lose all its cache!

SUSAN: I dunno how much cache it had to begin with.

GEORGE: (rage) Oh, it’s got cache, baby! It’s got cache up the yin-yang!!!

—————————————

Another stupid pro athlete

I’m a pretty big sports fan, but there are just so many jerks playing them it gets difficult sometimes.

Houston Astros pitcher Shawn Chacon is just the latest to reveal himself as a world-class idiot.

Allegedly, he was asked by Astros general manager (and former Phillies general manager) Ed Wade to meet with him and manager Cecil Cooper while Chacon was eating in the team cafeteria.

Chacon, already mad that he had his role changed from starting pitcher to bullpen reliever, supposedly got into a shouting match with Wade. It ended with Chacon grabbing Wade and shoving him to the ground.

There is obviously no place in any professional setting for this kind of behavior.

What makes it especially egregious is that Chacon frankly has no business getting angry at his role change.

You can see his statistics here:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/c/chacosh01.shtml

Simply put, Shawn Chacon is a lousy pitcher. He’s living off of a few good months with the Yankees in 2005.

If you didn’t bother clicking, here are some basic facts that demonstrate his horrendousness:

Career record: 45 wins, 61 losses.

619 strikeouts and 475 walks. (This is an awful ratio.)

Career ERA of 4.99, which is terrible for someone who pitched most of his career in the National League (which scores fewer runs than the American League).

I doubt Chacon will pitch again this year, and I truly hope that his actions result in his never playing professional sports again.

Oh, if you’re not mad or don’t get why this makes me mad, here are Chacon’s approximate earnings from 2002 – 2007…

$12,160,000.

The appeal of fantasy sports

A good friend and actual reader of this blog asked me to address the topic which titles this entry, and I’m quite the obliging fellow, so here goes.

There are three types of people who are drawn to fantasy sports:

–one-time athletes (although current athletes are often fans),

–people who love statistics (and to a lesser degree, sports),

–and gamblers.

Me?  I’m 60% the first person, 35% the second person, and 5% the third.

To explain the overall concept–regular people get to “own” teams of real players from pro sports (or just one competitor, like in fantasy golf or auto racing) and they earn points based on the players’ on-field performance.  The “owner” with the most points wins their league, and often a cash prize.

Why is it so popular?  Because regular schmoes like me get to pretend that they’re six-figure-salaried general managers/vice presidents-of-player-personnel for pro teams, adding and subtracting players from their rosters, trading them to other owners, and thrilling at the competition.

Even somebody like me–who briefly sat the bench for a Division III baseball team–gets to be a big important “owner” while pitting my alleged baseball knowledge and expertise against friends and rivals alike.

There’s a wonderful thrill in being the guy who spots a diamond in the rough, an unheralded player who suddenly explodes and has a career-best season.

And there’s a camaraderie between the millions of men and women who play fantasy sports–comiserating when a superstar gets hurt, getting excited when they have an MVP season, and enjoying life as a sports fan at a deeper level.

Of course, there’s also the lessons you have to learn along the way–like not always choosing players from your hometown team or your favorite team.  Many Red Sox fans suffer in their fantasy lives from not going to get a superstud like Alex Rodriguez just because he plays for the hated Yankees, but that doesn’t hurt the Yanks –it hurts their team.  Even though it’s very difficult to root for a rival player, fantasy owners realize that it’s not the whole Yankee squad you’re rooting for or even a victory for New York–just a homer or two for A-Rod.

Some will contest that fantasy sports detract from the enjoyment of the games, that it’s harder to appreciate an acrobatic touchdown catch when you “own” the defense and it means you lose your game that week.  But I’d like to think that most fantasy players can get past that–because deep down, they’re fans first and foremost.