Tag Archives: # MADDON

NO MAGIC POTION FOR CUBS

What’s going on on the north side of Chicago? This past week, they brought back their former pitcher Jason Hammel, traded two young right handed pitchers for catcher Miguel Montero of the Arizona Diamondbacks and then enticed the most sought after of the Free Agent pitchers, Jon Lester, to sign with them instead of returning to the Red Sox.

Theo Epstein, the former General Manager of the Red Sox, who left Boston to become President for Baseball Operations with the Chicago Cubs at the end of the Red Sox disastrous 2011 season, is entering the fourth year of a five year $18.5 million contract there. He has worked to build a strong farm system and focused on long term success. He made no promises of immediate success when he first came to Chicago but promised to work to ‘ ..get where we want to go, which is to a foundation of sustained success ‘ as he was quoted in the Cubs 2011 Spring Training Program.

There is no question the Cubs have progressed in his three years at the helm. The Cubs have been mired in fifth place in the competitive Central Division of the National League since before he arrived there. In his first year, they won just 61 games, the next year 66 and last year 73. In 2012, they finished 36 games out, in 2013, 31, and, in 2014, 17.

Epstein and his team, which includes Jed Hoyer, his General Manager, who he brought over from Boston where they built the team that won three World’s Championships this century, brought in Hammel, Lester and Montero to try to put the finishing touches on their long term plan.

Lester and Hammel will become two members of a starting rotation that will include Jake Arieta, a right hander who was 10-5 last year with a 2.53 ERA in 25 starts, Travis Wood, who is a better left handed pitcher that his 8-13 record with a 5.03 ERA last year and Kyle Hendricks a 25 year old right hander who went 7-2 in 13 starts with a 2.46 ERA last year as a rookie. They also have Tsuyoshi Wada who, as a 33 year old rookie, was 4-4 with a 3.25 ERA.

Before being traded to Oakland last year, Hammel was 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA and Lester was 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA between Boston and Oakland. With the addition of these two, the Cubs should have a solid rotation.

Closer Hector Rondon, was successful in 29 of 33 save attempts with an ERA of 2.42. The rest of the bullpen, including Blake Parker, who has relieved 67 times in the last two years, Pedro Strop, 65 appearances and a 2.21 ERA last year, Justin Grimm, a 26 year old right hander who was in 73 games, with a 5-2 record and 3.78 ERA and Neil Ramirez, a 25 year old right hander with a 1.44 ERA in 50 games, has excellent potential.

Montero played in 136 games at Arizona last year and hit .243. The infield is not set but has Anthony Rizzo, .286, 32 homers and 78 RBI’s, at first, Javier Baez, a shortstop, who, as a rookie, played 52 games and hit only .169, will either play second or short. Starlin Castro, who despite some problems, hit .292 with 14 homers and 65 RBI’s will probably start the season at short and Luis Valbuena, who hit .249 with 16 homers and 51 RBI’s at third.

Chris Coghlan, .283 in 125 games should be in left with Jorge Soler, a rookie, who played only 24 games last year but hit .292 with 5 homers and 24 RBI’s the favorite to be in right. Arismendy Alcantara, who came up in early July and played 48 of his 70 games in center while hitting only .205 but had 10 homers may be the center fielder but could move to second depending upon what happens with Castro and Baez. Ryan Sweeney, who only played in 77 games, due to injuries, and hit .251 is available for outfield duty, too.

New manager Joe Maddon who seems to get more out of young players than most managers has a good nucleus and, if his starting rotation stays healthy, should make the Cubs competitive. Playing in the National League Central with the Cardinals, Pirates, Reds and Brewers will make it difficult to make the playoffs but Epstein and Hoyer have come a long way in a short time with this team and the future looks brighter.

Lots of things are happening with the Cubs. The City of Mesa built them a brand new, state of the art, spring training complex which opened last year to replace Hohokam Field where they had been forever. Wrigley Field, which celebrated its 100th year last year is being renovated and Cubs fans are looking forward to a competitive team for the first time in a long while.

The Cubs have as good a fan base as any team in baseball, especially given their long drought. I think they’re going to like the way this team will perform for the old master Maddon but don’t look for a pennant right away.

MADDON IS CUBS ‘RAY’ OF HOPE

The Chicago Cubs announced this week that their new Field Manager, replacing Rick Renteria, would be Joe Maddon. Renteria’s Cubs went 73-89 in 2014, his first season as a Big League Manager, and finished last in the tough National League Central Division. His record during that year was seven games better than the 2013 Cubs and 12 games better than 2012.

However, with the team that Cubs Vice President for Baseball Operations Theo Epstein has been putting together and the club’s declared intention to go all out in the Free Agent Market this year, Maddon appears to have been available at just the right time.

Since coming to the Cubs after the disastrous 2011 season in Boston, Epstein has moved to build a young team and develop the farm system. The Cubs have possibly the most loyal fan base in baseball after having not won a World Series in 106 years. The City of Mesa, Arizona built a state of the art new spring training facility which seats 15,000 fans for the Cubs last year and it was sold out every game in spring training. Despite their last place finish in 2014, the Cubs drew an average of 32,742 fans per game at home, 11th in all of baseball.

Maddon brings a ‘ can do ‘ attitude to the team. In his nine years with Tampa Bay, he was named American League Manager of the Year twice, in 2008 and 2011, and took them to the World Series in 2008 and to the Playoffs in 2010, 2011 and 2013. After taking over a horrible team, then called the Devil Rays, in 2006, he won only 127 while losing 197 his first two years but for the next seven years he won 627, while losing just 508.

He is an unconventional Manager in many ways running the team like a college team, complete with dress up days, entertainment, including animals in the club house, and treating his team like a family. He is often quoted as saying ‘ Don’t ever let the pressure exceed the pleasure.’ He is already talking playoffs next year which may be a bit optimistic with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds to get by. The division may be the strongest in baseball at this time.

Maddon never played in a Major League Baseball game. Like many Managers, he was a catcher by trade but, after being signed as free agent in 1975, he only spent four seasons as a player in the California Angels system from 1976 through 1979, never getting above A ball. He managed in the Angels system from 1981 to 1986, starting with the Rookie League at Idaho Falls and progressing to Midland, Texas in AA in 1985 and 1986. He was an interim Manager for the Angels for 22 games in 1996 and for 29 games in 1999. He spent 31 years in various capacities with the Angels before joining the Devil Rays.

At 60 years old, Maddon is a great motivator and teacher who gets the most out of his players. If you play for Joe Maddon you’d better be ready to play anywhere in the field. He has had more multi-position players than any manager I have ever seen. At Tampa Bay, it seemed like he had to come up with a new pitching staff every year as his best were traded away or left to go elsewhere, including David Price and James Shields, two of the best in baseball, in the past two seasons. At Tampa Bay, he had the advantage, also, of Jim Hickey, perhaps the best Pitching Coach in baseball.

Epstein is reported to have long admired Maddon’s managerial style and most baseball people were not surprised how quickly he replaced Renteria. Almost immediately after he announced he was leaving the Rays, rumors began to circulate that he was going to the Cubs and the only thing that delayed the actual announcement was baseball’s tradition of not making public announcements during the World Series to avoid detracting from the series.

Epstein brought the Red Sox their first World Series in 86 years in 2004 and his team won it again in 2007. He was named American League Executive of the Year by Baseball America in 2008 and Sporting News Executive of the Decade in 2009 after becoming the youngest General Manager in baseball history with the Sox in 2002.

The Cubs have a solid nucleus and are committed to building a competitive team quickly. The hiring of Maddon for five years at $5. million per year seems to indicate a willingness and ability to spend money to achieve that end. With Maddon at the helm and Epstein in the office, they could put together a team that could end the longest drought in baseball history.

Can they improve enough to make the playoffs this year, or even next year? Not in the division they have to compete in but Joe Maddon will make the Cubs a much better team.