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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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.

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.

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.

An open letter to Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr.

OK, Rube. First off, congrats on the gig. You deserve it – you’ve paid your dues and you’re eminently qualified. (And heck, you worked at the Orleans 8 movie theater in northeast Philly, you REALLY deserve it.)

Let’s get down to business. I’m sure you’re going to make a lot of solid moves, re-signing key guys and such. But I have one major suggestion/request/plea (in two parts):

1–Let Pat Burrell go. It’s not that I don’t like him, or that his on-base percentage and relatively consistent homer totals aren’t good – they are. But he’s 32, he doesn’t run well or play the field well, and he’s probably going to demand $14 million or so for several years – and he probably won’t be “worth” that after the first two.

2–Trade for Matt Holliday. Whatever you need to give up from the minors, do it. He’ll step right into that really good outfield with Jayson Werth and Gold Glove-winner Shane Victorino – he’s 28, his on-base was actually much better than Burrell’s this year, and he even stole 28 bases. Sign him to a multi-year deal, and watch the homers fly between Utley/Holliday/Howard.

Thanks for your time, and good luck.

Your pal

Harley

LiveBlog: World Series Game 5 (part two)

9:07 p.m.: Done for the night. Gone celebratin’.

9:05 p.m.: Oh yeah, I forgot…first sports championship (excluding the always awesome Philadelphia Wings in indoor lacrosse and surprising Philadelphia Soul in arena football) since 1983.

9:00 p.m.: Where were you when it happened? Blogging, sitting next to my beautiful wife. And loving every minute of it.

8:59 p.m.: THE PHILLIES ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS!!!

8:58 p.m.: THAT’S IT! WHIFFS HIM ON A SLIDER! SCREW NETIQUETTE, I’M GOING ALL CAPS!!!!!!!

8:58 p.m.: Hinske tries to hold, can’t. Strike two.

8:57 p.m.: Hinske fouls off the first pitch. If it was me, I would have been taking.

8:56 p.m.: LINE OUT TO WERTH IN RIGHT – TWO OUTS!!! Zobrist did everything he could, hit a laserbeam to right.

8:55 p.m.: Hinske on deck, he hit a massive homer a few days ago against us.

8:54 p.m.: Stolen base, Perez. Tying run at 2nd. Argh. Is it normal to taste gastric juices?

8:53 p.m.: Ben Zobrist is up. Solid player, had surprisingly good offensive year.

8:53 p.m.: Pinch runner Fernando Perez is lightning fast. Very hard to get a double play now.

8:51 p.m.: Dioner Navarro is a very good-hitting catcher. Strike one. Next pitch, swing and a miss. Base hit. Dang.

8:49 p.m.: Ball two. Here comes the next pitch, fouled off again. Got him lunging! Popped up! One out!

8:48 p.m.: Longoria. Strike one. Love that slider. Fouls one off, strike two. Misses low and away, that’s fine – waste pitch.

8:44 p.m.: Full count pitch to Howard…whiffs. Oy. Here we go. Lidge Time.

8:43 p.m.: That was cool camera work – you could see Price’s eyes glance over to first base as Utley took off for a stolen base.

8:41 p.m.: Utley walks. Time for Ryan Howard to step up and be a hero.

8:41 p.m.: I don’t think Utley has had a good swing tonight. C’mon, Chase.

8:39 p.m.: Ah, the Curse of Billy Penn, as explained by Chris Myers. (Not nearly as cool as the curse of Babe Ruth or the Billy Goat that the Cubs have.)

8:39 p.m.: Werth whiffs looking. NEVER on my team! Five laps!

8:38 p.m.: Werth looks a bit overmatched, although he led the majors in HR against lefties.

8:37 p.m.: Ah, here comes the old-timey footage of “the last time a Philly team won a championship.”

8:37 p.m.: Not sure J-Roll should have been swinging on 2-0, leading off against Price. He flies out to left.

8:36 p.m.: Ah, David Price pitching for TB. He will either be awesome or horrible.

8:35 p.m.: You know what? I am most decidedly NOT a PC. After years of working professionally on Apple products, but personally (at home) on PCs, I can safely say that Apples give you less problems, don’t have stupid drivers, and are generally more fun to use. Maybe I’ll do an Unpaid Endorsement one day soon.

8:32 p.m.: Pena flies out to Bruntlett. We are three outs away. Holy crap.

8:30 p.m.: Carlos Pena is dangerous AND due for a hit. C’mon, J.C. Get ‘er done. Just one more out.

8:29 p.m.: DOUBLE PLAY – 6-4-3, Rollins-Utley-Howard. YES! Thanks, B.J. Upton.

8:28 p.m.: Dammit, I didn’t want to be right. Crawford singles. And he can fly, so a stolen base isn’t out of the question. However, stealing on a lefty is, as I recall from many years ago, not easy.

8:27 p.m.: Carl Crawford is always a very dangerous hitter. I fear him, although Romero appears to be “on” tonight.

8:26 p.m.: Bruntlett and the Best Beard of 2008 stay in the game to play left for Burrell.

8:23 p.m.: Romero grounds out. Top 8th coming up.

8:22 p.m.: Iwamura makes a crazygood defensive play to rob Ruiz of a single, getting a force at second. The second basemen today (him and Utley) have both made some amazing plays – Utley on a hard grounder up the middle, faked to first, and gunned down the runner trying to score.

8:20 p.m.: Pedro Feliz singles in a run! To all the naysayers who said he couldn’t hit when the Phillies signed him before the season – those of you who I argued with – nyah nyah nyah! Phils up, 4-3!

8:18 p.m.: Victorino grounds out to the right side, runner gets to 3rd. Solid job, fundamental baseball by Shane.

8:15 p.m.: OK, here’s what you missed (me blogging about) so far…

–Geoff Jenkins is a maniac. I love him. He doubled and scored to send the Phils up 3-2.

–Ryan Madson struggled and gave up a bomb to Rocco Baldelli, 3-3.

–Burrell led off the 7th with a double and they pinch-ran for him.

And that’s where we are so far.