Friday, February 26, 2010

2010 Cubs preview: Second Base

In 2008, Baker and Fontenot competed as members of opposing teams. This year, they'll battle for playing time at second base for the Cubs.

Ah, second base. The Newman of the Cubs' cast. If Cubs players were beers, Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot would be Milwaukee's Best and Natural Ice. Can Lou bat them 10th in the lineup?

Okay, perhaps I'm being a bit harsh. But I'm not very optimistic about the Cubs' pansy platoon at second. One can hope that before too long, Starlin Castro will be at short and Ryan Theriot will be at second base.

After batting an impressive .305 in 119 games in 2008, Fontenot looked completely overwhelmed last season. He batted just .236 and had a pathetic .301 OBP. His power numbers were nearly identical each of the last two years: 9 HR both years and 40 and 43 RBI, respectively.

It's too early to say exactly how this platoon will operate (or if the platoon will even happen--perhaps one of the two players will vastly outperform the other in spring training and get the lion's share of the playing time), but one would think Baker will at least play against lefties. After all, Fontenot hit just .212 against southpaws last year. Baker, on the other hand, has hit .288 against lefties over the last three seasons (.254 against righties).

While Baker was a nice mid-season pick-up for the Cubs last year, batting .305 with a solid .362 OBP in 69 games, those numbers are outliers when compared against the rest of his career. In the only two seasons in which he played 85 games or more (2007 and 2008), he batted .222 and .268, respectively, and had a TOTAL of 16 HR and 60 RBI.

Here's another way to look at the potential production of the Cubs' pair of subpar second basemen: you have to scroll pretty far down ESPN's second base fantasy rankings before you find a Cub--Baker is 39th, Fontenot 41st.

My true prediction is that Starlin Castro does in fact find his way to the big leagues this summer, which will significantly reduce the playing time of both Baker and Fontenot. But assuming they play a full season in a platoon fashion, I'm going to go with:

Baker: 85 games, .265 avg, 7 HR, 33 RBI
Fontenot: 95 games, .251 avg, 5 HR, 35 RBI

But what do you think?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

IWU women's basketball spotlight: Hope Schulte

Junior Hope Schulte is one of just three Titans to start all 25 regular season games this year and, fittingly, one of three captains (along with Christina Solari and Stacy Arlis). She started all 31 games last year as well, and played in 28 of 29 games her freshman year.

Suffice to say that Schulte has been one of coach Mia Smith's most important players during her three-year career. And while her 8.5 points per game last season were nothing to sneeze at, she has dialed it up a notch this year: she is tied with Nikki Preston for the second-highest scoring average on the team with 11.3 points per game. She has been a consistent offensive presence, cracking double-digits in 15 of the team's 25 games.

But as good as Schulte is at the offensive end, she might be even better when the other team has the ball. She leads the team with 73 steals (nearly three per game), and has piled up five or more in five different games. Her long wingspan also gives her a unique ability to block shots on the perimeter--despite being a guard, she easily leads the team with 17 blocks. Also impressive given her position is that she's third on the team with 3.4 rebounds per game.

Schulte wears #32, and here's hoping that the team plays in at least that many games this year--their 32nd game would be a Final Four matchup.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I predict you will read this column

I highly recommend this column about all the bad predictions made in the past year. We are bombarded with predictions every day, but we rarely find out how those predictions actually pan out, especially preseason predictions. By the time the season's over, we've long forgotten what Sports Illustrated or our local paper had to say about the NL East.

But Tuesday Morning Quarterback was keeping track all along. Here's a tasty tidbit from the column: "Sports Illustrated ran nine sets of Super Bowl predictions, none of which had the Saints winning and none of which had the Colts reaching the big game."

The column is long but a real fun read, and reminds us how absurd it is to attempt to predict the outcomes of sports games. Another amusing morsel for you: If you'd picked 2009 NFL games using no thought, only the application of the simple algorithm Best Record Wins Unless Records Equal, Then Home Team Wins, you would have picked 167 of 267 games correctly (.625), counting London as a home game for Miami and Toronto as a home game for Buffalo. TMQ adjusted that principle slightly by actually thinking about the Week 1 and Week 17 games (because no one has a record in Week 1, and because Week 17 is crazy with many teams resting their best players), and went 174-93 (.652). TMQ found just one beat writer/television personality who did better--Pete O'Brien of USA Today.

So way to go, writers and TV personalities, with your fancy "knowledge" and "informed" "predictions." By the way, TMQ didn't hold back on pundits and politicians, either. Check out the column when you have a chance.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2010 Cubs preview: First Base

Whatever I predict about Derrek Lee, it will be wrong.

After being limited to 50 games in 2006 due to a broken wrist, I figured he'd come back healthy in 2007 and return to his 2005 numbers (when he hit 46 home runs and had 107 RBI). While he had a .330 average in the first half of 2007, he had just six home runs and 42 RBI at the All-Star break. So I figured his power was gone for good, that 2005 was just a fluke, but that he would at least continue to hit for a high average. So, of course, he racked up 16 more home runs and a respectable 40 more RBI after the All-Star break, but hit a more pedestrian .302.

The first half of 2008 led me to believe the power was here to stay--he had 15 HR and 56 RBI before the break. So just when I was back on the D Lee train, he had a miserable second half: 5 HR, 34 RBI, .266 average.

I pretty much gave up on him at the beginning of last season. He was 33 years old, finished the 2008 season in poor fashion, and he came out of the gate with an April that even Mario Mendoza would have been pissed about: 1 HR, 10 RBI, .189 average. And he was continuing his assault on the record for most groundouts to the left side of the infield in a career (he had approximately 7,000 of them in 2008). I was ready for Piniella to give Micah Hoffpauir (!) a chance at first base. He couldn't have been worse than this washed up, good-for-nothing ... wait, what's this? A .313 average in May? Six home runs in June? Nine more in July? 35 HR and 111 RBI (a career high) when the book was closed on 2009? Wha' happened?

I don't know the answer to that question, but perhaps Lee's wrist bothered him for a really long time after he returned to action in 2006. His power numbers and tendencies (e.g. grounding out to the left side constantly) had weird ebbs and flows, and for a long while it seemed that he had only warning track power. But his post All-Star numbers from last year were better than almost anyone's, including those of Albert Pujols. He was really the only consistent force in the Cubs' lineup all year, and in this, his contract year, the Cubs need big things from him again.

Though I have obviously been frustrated with Lee at times over the past few years, his last three seasons average out to: 26 HR, 94 RBI, .305 avg., .385 OBP. He has also averaged 149 games played over that same span.

So I feel like I have little choice but to predict good things from Lee once again (sorry, Cubs fans, if this jinxes him). Now he is 34 years old, which has to give you a bit of pause. On the other hand, I'm a firm believer that playing for a contract is--for most players--perhaps the biggest motivating factor out there. It may be a cynical view, but there's plenty of evidence to support it. From Casey Blake and Derek Lowe to Ryan Dempster and Aaron Rowand, feeling your wallet getting thicker every time you throw a strike or hit a double into the gap makes just about anyone better.

I'm going to go with 33 HR, 115 RBI, a .300 average on the dot, and a healthy .370 OBP.

What do you think? I'd advise disagreeing with me.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The name game

There are a lot of great names in college basketball, and I've decided to start listing them periodically. Here's the first installment:

Scoop Jardine (Syracuse)
Has the classic one syllable-two syllable roll-off-the-tongue structure, and his first name is Scoop. That's just cool.

Raheem Buckles (Louisville)
A strong Persian first name combined with a comical, cartoon-like last name.

Mike Singletary (Texas Tech)
I just like it because he shares a namesake with the great Bears linebacker.

Ali Farokhmanesh (Northern Iowa) --------------------->
Reasons this one is funny:
1) His name is Ali Farokhmanesh, and he's white as snow.
2) He's not just white, he was born in Iowa.
3) I have to assume he is the reason the Panthers don't have names on the back of their jerseys.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Great Wall ... and his Cousin(s)

I finally got a chance to see John Wall in action Tuesday night, and here's my take: the man is good, real good, but don't sleep on forward DeMarcus Cousins either. Wall nearly had a triple-double, piling up 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the overtime victory against Mississippi State. He can score a lot of different ways, and he took over the game at a couple different times. He has a calm confidence that served the Wildcats well when they trailed late in the game. He filled out the box score with three steals and two blocks.

But Cousins was just as much a key to the team's victory. The 6'11 freshman was 7-for-11 from the field for 19 points, and was an absolute beast on the glass--he grabbed 14 rebounds, half on the offensive side, half on the defensive side. The color commentator noted that Cousins snags 23 percent of the available offensive rebounds when he's on the floor, which is absolutely incredible. He's averaging a double-double (16 points, 10.3 rebounds) on the season, and has had just one game this year in which he didn't crack double-digits in at least one of the two categories (a 68-66 win against UNC).

It's difficult to assess how a big man (or any player, for that matter) will transition to the NBA, but Cousins has an incredible knack for cleaning the glass and he knows how to score. Don't be surprised to see more than one Wildcat taken early in this summer's draft.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Illinois' embarrassing 72-53 loss to Ohio State on Sunday--their worst home loss since 1976--wasn't simply a waste of a chance to stay atop the Big Ten standings. Much worse than that, it was a waste of Gus Johnson! (Full disclosure: this joke was made by Trevor Sierra, but was set up by my statement that the game's lack of drama was frustrating given that Gus was announcing the game).

Tuning in to a Gus Johnson-called game is like a trip to Vegas--it doesn't come around that often, so you'd better enjoy it. But to have the stars align--to see your favorite team play on national television with Gus calling the action--that's like being in Vegas, walking into Caesar's, strolling up to the roulette wheel and putting $100 on "13." It's a chance to witness something amazing, to know what it's like to be the guy who has luck on his side, to experience true happiness.

But the Illini fell behind 13-6 out of the gate, trailed 34-14 later in the first half, and weren't able to pull within fewer than 14 points in the second half. Thirteen didn't hit. It never had a chance. The ball landed on 27 and your $100 is gone. You're not the lucky one. It's time to go to Slots-A-Fun where you belong, where, deep down, you knew you belonged even as you felt Caesar's plush carpet underneath your feet and the crisp $100 bill in your pocket. There's no money to be won here, no "HO-HOOOH!!!"s or "Rises and FIRRRRRRES ... GOT IT!!!"s or any other Gus-isms.

It didn't work out this time, Gus, but we'll reload at Slots-A-Fun and be back for another go before it's all said and done. After all, March Madness is just around the corner.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah

Though the first official workout isn't until tomorrow, Cubs pitchers and catchers have reported to camp. Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald gives us a few photos to whet our insatiable baseball appetites:

Soto and Zambrano

Marlon Byrd

New hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo

2010 Cubs preview: Catcher

Geovany Soto at the Cubs Convention in January.

In terms of predicting what 2010 will bring, there may be no more intriguing player on the Cubs' roster than Geovany Soto. He had a Tiger Woods-like dropoff from 2008 to 2009 (okay, not quite on the level of Tiger Woods, but still), making it nearly impossible to judge what this season will bring. Here are his last two seasons in condensed format:

2008: NL Rookie of the Year; first-ever rookie catcher to start for the NL All-Star team; 23 home runs; .285 average

2009: tested positive for marijuana during WBC; missed about one-third of the season due to oblique and right shoulder injuries; 11 home runs; .218 average

So what happened in 2009? There are several possible explanations:

1) Sophomore slump

Perhaps this cliched phenomenon exists, perhaps it doesn't. But baseball is a game of adjustments, and it stands to reason that a rookie who takes the league by storm might not find success so easily in the following season. With scouting reports, pitch charts, etc., many hitters and pitchers get "figured out" after a while. In fact, over 60% of those named Rookie of the Year have declined in their sophomore season. Soto's decline was precipitous, but maybe it was exactly what we all feared might happen after his amazing and somewhat unexpected rookie season--a sophomore slump. (hat tip: Hardball Times)

2) The s-word

That's right, steroids. I certainly don't want to believe it, and I'm not saying I do. But if we're throwing out possible reasons for Soto's huge drop-off, I think this has to be on the list. His home run totals in his professional career (minors and majors combined) go like this:

2001: 1
2002: 6
2003: 2
2004: 9
2005: 4
2006: 6
2007: 29
2008: 23
2009: 11

And then he lost 40 pounds this past offseason. Again, I hope there's no truth to this speculation, but I'm just sayin'.

3) Out of shape

Perhaps Soto just let himself go prior to 2009, and his inflated weight led to injuries and struggles at the plate. It'd be great if this were the reason for his dismal 2009 given that he has clearly re-committed himself to getting into shape.

4) World Baseball Classic

It's impossible to know whether the WBC is actually at fault for some of its participants' struggles last season, but guys like Jimmy Rollins, Dice-K and Jake Peavy all struggled after taking part in the event. Soto will have all of spring training to prepare this year, so let's hope the WBC was at least partly to blame for what happened last year.


While it may be the easy thing to predict, I think Soto's 2010 numbers will fall somewhere between those of 2008 and 2009. I think 20 home runs and 75 RBI are certainly within reach if he plays a full season, and a .270 average seems about right.

What do you think? Have I underestimated his potential? Or am I too optimistic about a rebound given that he's had just one good year in the majors?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

IWU women's basketball spotlight: Christina Solari

The Titans' only starting senior and one of just two seniors on the roster, center Christina Solari has had an illustrious career at IWU.

After a successful 2007-08 season that saw the Titans go 26-3 but lose to Wisconsin-Whitewater 87-63 in the second round of the tournament, it was speculated that the team needed a force down low to enable them to get over the proverbial hump. That force would turn out to be Christina Solari.

While she started 21 games in 2007-08 and came on strong as the season concluded, it was last season that she really began to shine. She quickly gave fans a reason to be excited about the team's newfound post presence as she scored in double figures in each of the season's first 13 games, and had seven double-doubles in that span. Solari exhibited incredible consistency, failing to score in double figures just twice the entire season. She averaged a double-double with 14.2 points and 10.1 rebounds over the course of the 31-game season.

Solari has started all 24 games this season as well, and despite playing in just three games her freshman year, she ranks near the top of several career categories:

1---------------FG %-----------.603

This season, Solari has led the team in points six times and led the team in rebounds 19 times out of 23 games. She has become almost impossible for opponents to shut down, and when opposing coaches have opted to double-team her, she's found a way to dish it to her teammates--she's racked up 101 assists already this year after totaling 112 all of last year.

Christina Solari has been perhaps the biggest reason that the IWU women's basketball team has gone 52-2 over the last two seasons and advanced to their first-ever Elite Eight last year. Her career is not quite over yet, but there is no doubt that she is one of the best players in the team's 29-year history.

Monday, February 15, 2010

USC and DePaul getting a jump on next-generation student-athletes

13-year-old David Sills. Photo from, courtesy of the Sills family.

New USC football coach Lane Kiffin made a scholarship offer to a 13-year-old quarterback. That would make the youngster part of the recruiting class of 2015. 2015! We will have had another Winter Olympics by then! And what are the odds Kiffin is still at USC in 2015? After all, the man's on his third job since 2007. On top of that, he was 4-12 with the Raiders and 7-6 at Tennessee, and now he takes over a USC program that's going downhill faster than Lindsey Vonn. Add in the fact that his coaching philosophy led him to give a scholarship to a kid who's never been to a Homecoming dance or had a final exam, and you figure David Sills may want to keep his college options open over the next half-decade.

Not to be outdone, DePaul's interim men's basketball coach Tracy Webster offered a scholarship to a 14-year-old who attends Rosemont Elementary School outside of Chicago. While the kid is an absurd 6-foot-7 1/2, both of these stories shed light on the lunacy of college sports.

Supposedly, Division I athletes are student-athletes who are first earning an education, and second playing a sport for that institution. But these scholarships have absolutely nothing to do with academics and nothing to do with the "recruits" finding a good college fit. These kids haven't earned one high school grade to date and to them, SAT is just the past tense of "sit." The coaches can't possibly have any idea what kind of people these boys will turn out to be, and the boys can't yet have any true idea whether USC and DePaul, respectively, will meet their needs academically and socially. But I suppose it's never too early to try to take advantage of a wide-eyed, precocious young athlete in the hopes that he will one day bring in the big bucks that enable Boards of Trustees to pay head coaches more than university presidents.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Making some 'nois in the Big Ten

If you'd asked me a month ago, I never thought I'd be writing this on February 11: Illinois is tied for first place in the Big Ten. Tuesday's win over Wisconsin combined with Michigan State's third consecutive loss (after starting 9-0) leaves three teams tied at the top at 9-3 (the other being Ohio State) with Purdue on their heels at 8-3.

The Illini are halfway through a four-game stretch against ranked opponents, and have won both matchups thus far. I figured they needed to win at least one in order to position themselves for a tournament berth, and that two wins would virtually guarantee it. With two already in the bag, Illinois can really impress the selection committee by winning against either Ohio State (Sunday at noon) or at Purdue (February 20).

Illinois' five straight wins have created a situation in which the co-leader of the Big Ten is not ranked while the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th-ranked teams are in the top 25. To have the leader of a major conference unranked is quite the unique scenario.

That's fitting given the uniqueness of Illinois' win in Madison. Under Bo Ryan, Wisconsin had been 100-1 at home against unranked conference opponents. They're now 100-2. Still pretty good.

So how did Illinois accomplish such a rare feat?

1. Demetri McCamey

The man could not be stopped. Floaters in the lane, 23-foot three-pointers, driving layups--it was all working for McCamey. He had 27 points and threw in seven assists to boot (he leads the Big Ten in the latter category). It was the ninth time in 10 games he's scored in double-figures, and it marked the first time he's scored 20+ points in back-to-back games since December. He's also had at least five assists in all but one game since December 8.

I've had my issues with McCamey. In the past, he's had games in which he's been invisible. He's also had games in which he's gotten trigger-happy and fired up deep threes early in possessions. But when ESPN's commentators noted during the MSU game that McCamey is 10th in the nation in offensive efficiency (points + assists), I had to cut him some slack. In fact, in every game in which he has failed to score in double-figures this season, he has notched at least seven assists.

2. Mike Tisdale

A guard in a center's body (at least height-wise; he's too skinny to be an effective center). He was nailing jumpers all game long against the Badgers, going 8-of-11 from the field, mostly on 10- to 18-footers. He had 19 points, though he managed just three boards.

3. Not Mike Davis

Remember how I said McCamey can be invisible at times? Well Mike Davis is a freakin' super hero when it comes to the power of invisibility. ZERO points and ONE assist for the 6'9 junior. It was the fifth time this season that Davis scored two or fewer points.

So barring a complete collapse, Illinois will be dancing come March. But even more exciting is the fact that this young team now seems capable of playing with the Big Ten's big boys, and even an unexpected regular season (and/or conference tournament) title is still on the table.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Katrina victims: Saints' Super Bowl win was great, but houses would have been better

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

NEW ORLEANS, La.--Hurricane Katrina devastated much of New Orleans in 2005. One year later, the hometown Saints acquired quarterback Drew Brees and made it to the postseason for just the second time since 1992. Over the last four years, the team has been successfully rebuilt while residents and volunteers have tried to do the same for the city. The many victims who remain homeless say they have appreciated the pleasant diversion in the nearby Superdome, but they can't help but feel that "having a f***ing house to live in would be way better."

"Everyone says, 'Oh, isn't it great that the Saints won the Super Bowl? How nice for those poor hurricane victims. What a great story,'" said homeless person Jay Banks. "Yeah, football's cool, but you know what would really be a great story? Me being able to live in a house again. I went to one game and people kept yelling 'This is our house!' That made me sad. You know, cuz I don't have a house."

Banks said the Super Bowl was one of the most exciting games he's ever watched, but that he missed Tracy Porter's game-changing interception because an employee walked in front of the TV he was watching through a store window.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Thoughts on Super Bowl XLIV

  • It's hard to criticize the Saints given that they earned a 14-point victory over the Colts, but what were they thinking running the ball on 4th-and-goal from the two in the 2nd quarter? Did Sean Payton forget that Drew Brees was his quarterback?
  • Similarly, did Caldwell forget that Manning was behind center on the very next drive? The Colts ran it three times, failed to get the first down, and had to punt it away, eventually resulting in a Saints field goal just before halftime.
  • The only thing that definitely WASN'T going to happen in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl was Peyton Manning throwing an interception. So of course he throws a pick six. I wonder if Vegas had a line on Peyton throwing an interception on that particular drive. They couldn't have, because I don't think anyone would have bet on him to do so. Even Saints fans must have been focused on the clock, wondering how much time Manning would leave the Saints after tying it up at 24.
  • Speaking of that interception, that was a phenomenal play by Tracy Porter. Everyone wants to establish blame between Manning and Wayne, but sometimes a defender just makes a great play. Perhaps Wayne could have made more of an effort to get inside Porter, but sometimes interceptions can be chalked up to great defensive play as opposed to bad offensive play.
  • There were two Paytons (technically, a Peyton and a Payton) and two Pierres in the Super Bowl.
  • Did Jim Caldwell have any say in the Colts going for it on 4th-and-2 in the 4th quarter (the play on which Manning threw a slant to Wayne that was bobbled and then caught)? It looked like Peyton said "We're going for it," and all the other players immediately ran up to the line. I think it's entirely possible that Caldwell was screaming "Punt! Punt! What's wrong with you people?!" on the sideline, but no one cared.
  • This was the first Super Bowl to use four different Roman numeral characters.
  • This marks three straight Super Bowls in which the underdog covered; the underdog pulled off the upset in two of the three.
  • The Steelers and Cardinals combined for more points in last year's Super Bowl (50) than the Saints and Colts did in this year's (48).
  • Drew Brees defeated Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning in consecutive playoff games.
  • Does anyone remember that Drew Brees went to Purdue Freakin' University? The school's next best player in the NFL is Kyle Orton. Kyle. Orton.
  • Was anyone else shocked that Garrett Hartley became the FIRST kicker to make three field goals over 40 yards in a Super Bowl? Also, did you know Hartley is just 23 years old and was suspended for the first four games of this season due to testing positive for a banned substance?

Friday, February 5, 2010

What exactly will the 2010 Cubs look like? Part 2

Starting pitchers: Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells

Spots available: 2 to start the year due to Lilly's injury, 1 after Lilly returns

Possible starters: Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija, Tom Gorzelanny, Carlos Silva, Andrew Cashner, Mike Parisi

Early prediction: It's too early to legitimately predict this one, as it will depend heavily on their spring performances. But given Sean Marshall's splits (he's much better out of the 'pen), I'm going to say that Tom Gorzelanny is the fourth starter out of the gate, and that Marshall makes any spot starts that become necessary in late April. According to my math, the Cubs won't need a fifth starter until April 19. Lilly might be back by then, but at the very least it seems likely that Lou could simply use a spot starter once or twice until Lilly's return, and the Cubs could get away with a four-man rotation for most of April.

Relief pitchers: Carlos Marmol, John Grabow, Angel Guzman

Spots available: 3 or 4

Possible relievers: Jeff Samardzija, Jeff Gray, Esmailin Caridad, Mitch Atkins, Justin Berg, Carlos Silva, Jeff Stevens, David Patton

Under-the-radar possibilities: Andrew Cashner, John Gaub, Mike Parisi, Marcos Mateo, Blake Parker, Rafael Dolis

Early prediction: This one's even more ridiculous to predict than the starters. All of the "possible relievers" have some major league experience, while Mike Parisi is the only "under-the-radar" candidate with any experience (12 games with the Cardinals in '08).

Jeff Samardzija (R) should be nearly a lock. Let's hope he can start to provide some legitimate production in his third year as a professional.

Jeff Gray (R) was acquired in the Jake Fox trade, had good numbers with Oakland last year, and can throw in the upper 90s.

I'm going to take a chance here and say Silva (R) makes the squad as well. First of all, he's making an obscene amount of money. Second, he certainly has the potential to succeed (14-8 with the Twins in '04), and given that he's always been a starter, he could become the "long man" out of the 'pen.

I'm going to put Caridad (R) in there as well--he had a 1.40 ERA in 19.1 IP with the Cubs last year.

So here's my absurdly premature February 5 prediction for the 2010 Cubs opening day roster:

Derrek Lee
Jeff Baker
Ryan Theriot
Aramis Ramirez
Mike Fontenot
Micah Hoffpauir
Andres Blanco

Alfonso Soriano
Marlon Byrd
Kosuke Fukudome
Sam Fuld

Geovany Soto
Koyie Hill

Ryan Dempster
Carlos Zambrano
Randy Wells
Tom Gorzelanny

Carlos Marmol
John Grabow (L)
Angel Guzman
Sean Marshall (L)
Jeff Samardzija
Carlos Silva
Esmailin Caridad
Jeff Gray*

*Will be replaced on the roster by Ted Lilly when he returns

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Marmol avoids arbitration, but will Theriot do the same?'s Carrie Muskat shares with us that Carlos Marmol and the Cubs have settled on the midway point between his and the team's respective salary figures; Marmol will make $2.125 million this season.

Ryan Theriot is the only arbitration-eligible player remaining for the Cubs. While Hendry has never gone to arbitration--and no Cubs GM has done so since Larry Himes and Mark Grace duked it out in 1993--Bruce Miles feels that this streak is about to come to an end. Theriot, 30, made $500,000 last season but is asking for $3.4 million this year. The Cubs have offered $2.6 million.

Miles said on 670 The Score this weekend that Hendry has always been rather fair with arb-eligible players (or even overly generous, some might say), and that for Theriot to ask for his salary to multiply ninefold is something he won't stand for. Theriot, on the other hand, might have some lingering bad feelings from way back in 2006 when he was 26 years old but still stuck in Triple-A despite putting up solid numbers.

It is often bad blood that leads to arbitration in the first place, and its usually badder blood that results from the no holds barred meetings. Let's hope Hendry can keep the Cubs' long streak alive.

Keep in mind that if the case goes to arbitration, there's no middle ground--the arbitrator will decide on one of the two salary figures. Check out Miles' piece to get a sneak peek at what that meeting might look like.

Hat tip: MLB Trade Rumors

What exactly will the 2010 Cubs look like? Part 1

It's February, and you know what that means: We're finally able to talk about baseball as much as we want. With Cubs' pitchers and catchers reporting in just 13 short days, we can talk about the roster, the schedule, Xavier Nady's next Tommy John surgery--pretty much whatever we feel like.

Today and tomorrow, I'm going to take a look at how the roster is shaping up as we head into spring training. Jim Hendry would definitely tell you that it's not yet complete--he's hoping to sign a veteran reliever to double the number of veteran relievers on the team (with John Grabow currently holding down the fort). But for the most part, we already know who will be playing where and which spots will remain up for grabs when the spring schedule begins on March 4.

Starting infield: Derrek Lee, Jeff Baker/Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot, Aramis Ramirez

Bench: Jeff Baker/Mike Fontenot

Spots available: 1 or 2

Possible IF bench players: Micah Hoffpauir, Andres Blanco, Chad Tracy, Kevin Millar, Starlin Castro, Bobby Scales

Early Prediction: Hoffpauir and Blanco. Hoffpauir provides a lefty bat (and, as you will see, the Cubs are very right-handed) and can play both infield and outfield. I could be wrong about Blanco, but I've been on the Andres Blanco train for a while and I'm not getting off now. He plays outstanding defense and could probably match the production of Mike Fontenot (with a few less home runs).

While it's unlikely that top prospect Starlin Castro will break camp with the big club, keep an eye out for him this summer. The Cubs would love to have him at short, enabling Ryan Theriot to move to second--a position from which his throws to first would actually reach Derrek Lee's glove in less than seven seconds.

Starting outfield: Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome

Bench: Xavier Nady

Spots available: 1 or 2

Possible outfield bench players: Sam Fuld, Tyler Colvin, Brett Jackson, James Adduci, Brad Snyder

Early prediction: Sam Fuld. Another lefty. Plus, he piled up 97 at-bats last season and batted .299 with a .409 OBP and two RBI. Okay, the two RBI aren't that impressive, but he had a .409 OBP!

Starting catcher: Geovany Soto

Bench: Koyie Hill

Spots available: 0 or 1

Possible back-up catcher: Wellington Castillo

Early prediction: Despite the notable awesomeness of Wellington Castillo's name, it doesn't seem likely that the Cubs will have three catchers on their opening day roster.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bears offense will Martz to the beat of a different drummer

One coordinator down, one to go.

And the "one down" deserves a thumbs up. Mike Martz, who offensively coordinated the Rams to 526 points and a Super Bowl victory in 1999, is the Bears' new offensive coordinator. Martz coached the Rams to the playoffs in 2001, 2003 and 2004 (with Lovie Smith serving as defensive coordinator in '01 and '03), including a Super Bowl appearance in 2001. He also coaxed two 4,000-yard seasons out of Lions QB Jon Kitna, which is clearly the most impressive line on his resume.

The real question is why it took this long for the Bears' brass to get around to interviewing Martz. Hue Jackson? Ken Zampese? Kevin Rogers? Snuffleupagus? (Just checking to see if you're paying attention.) At least Martz can fill a whole page with his resume and presumably has some ideas about how to run an offense.

One wonders if Martz kindly suggested in his interview that the Bears sign a #1 receiver this offseason. After all, we can assume that Martz will help make the offense better, but we can also step back and realize that the Greatest Show on Turf didn't have Devin Hester and Earl Bennett as its co-stars. There's also that whole "blocking for the quarterback" thing. Martz does not bring a magic potion with him to the sideline, but he is a known quantity and a proven offensive mind.

P.S. Does anyone else think it likely that during the dinner meeting between Cutler and Martz (which, by the way, was a ridiculous thing for the Bears to require of Martz), Martz asked Cutler to please pass him a roll, and then Cutler tossed one across the table only to see it sail over Martz's head and get intercepted by the waiter?

An addendum to Friday's post (that's right, an addendum)

I mentioned on Friday how impressive the Bulls had looked in winning four straight road games against good teams. After winning yet again on Friday night in New Orleans, the Bulls became the first team ever to win five straight road games against teams with winning records. This according to Blog-a-Bull.

Keep in mind, teams don't often play five straight road games against teams with winning records. So, would the '95-'96 Bulls have done the same thing given the opportunity? Almost certainly. So it's one of those slightly misleading statistics where at first you go, "Holy crap!" and then you go, "Wait, how often does that even happen?" I don't know the answer to that, but it's still impressive.

Too bad the Bulls pulled a Bulls by losing an obscenely winnable game in their return home against the Clippers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cubs sign Kevin Millar to minor league deal

So says ESPN's Jerry Crasnick via Twitter. Millar will battle Chad Tracy for a potential spot on the bench. The 38-year-old batted .223 with seven home runs and 29 RBI in 251 at-bats last season with the Blue Jays.

Reason I hope he doesn't make the team: He hasn't batted above .254 since 2006.

Reason I hope he does make the team: So we can pronounce his name with a Boston accent, as Red Sawx fans did when he played in Boston from 2003-2005. As in: "Come on Millaah! Pahk one in the bleachers! Hit it wicked faah!"

Titan women's streak finally comes to an end

Congratulations to Coach Mia Smith and the Illinois Wesleyan women's basketball team, not so much on their 72-67 loss at Carthage on Saturday, but on the remarkable 56-game regular season winning streak that preceded it.

They say you can't win 'em all, though the Titans have tested that theory more than almost any team in any college or professional sport in the last few years (the UConn women's bball team comes to mind as an exception). The loss was the team's first in the regular season and the first against a CCIW foe since January 12, 2008. Between that loss and the one this weekend, they went 63-2, including postseason games.

I didn't see the game against Carthage as it was on the road, but I can tell you that a 13-0 run in the middle of the second half turned a one-point IWU lead into a 12-point deficit from which they were unable to recover. IWU was outrebounded 34-31, were just 12-19 from the free throw line, and saw both Nikki Preston and Brittany Hasselbring foul out. Hope Schulte--who had 13 points in the game--launched a three-point attempt with four seconds remaining but couldn't get it to go down.

So the Titans, who are now 18-1 overall and 7-1 in the CCIW, saw an incredible streak come to an end with a tough loss against another ranked team. But they're still in the midst of an incredible season, and will try to begin a new winning streak with a home game against North Park tomorrow at 7:30. They are now tied with Elmhurst at the top of the CCIW standings, so make a mental note of their match-up with the Bluejays this Saturday at 5:00 at the Shirk Center.