Catching up with the Cubs

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I suppose I should apologize for the lack of activity on our blog lately.  You know how we don’t actually get paid for this and how our real lives get in the way, but for my job, if you know what it is, it’s a hell of a lot more important than you.  That doesn’t mean you people suck, it just means I have my priorities straight and I want to change the world rather than be a fake reporter for a team that people don’t care about right now because the Bears are about to start up again.  Real talk.  But seriously, I haven’t had time to do much other than to update folks on who won the No-Hit Streak Contest.  That’s busy.

But it is Labor Day weekend, and I have a bit of time and was able to check out today’s game, which was won by the Cubs.  Here’s a bit of catch-up, then…

Ryno Ain’t Shit

That’s kind of mean, I shouldn’t say that.  As we thought once upon a time, Ryne Sandberg went through the motions in the Cubs’ minor league system to get the experience in a managerial capacity such that he could eventually manage on the Major League Baseball level.  He was never actually guaranteed a job, and left for the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization shortly after Mike Quade was hired to replace Lou Piniella.  This doesn’t mean that Sandberg would have made a terrible manager; however, given how Quade was booed out of town and with how Dale Sveum has been viewed by the meatball faction of Cubs fandom, it was probably best for Ryno to stay as far away from a rebuilding club as possible.

As luck would have it, Ryno avoided a sweep against his former team when Jeff Samardzija‘s pitchability took a dump in the series opener and Kevin Gregg remembered he was Kevin Gregg for an inning.  The next two games, the Cubs were able to win, including the last one rather convincingly.  This again doesn’t mean Ryno sucks; it just means that his GM, Ruben Amaro Jr., built him a shitty team with an aging core and barely any minor league depth.  Not Ryno’s fault, but to his credit, he hasn’t done as terrible of a job at manager as when he was sending baserunners to their doom as third base coach.  But it’s somewhat worth noting, even with the small sample size, that Ryno isn’t as magical as most fans think he is.

Cubbie Contracts

I happened upon this because the funny folks at Obstructed View wrote a brief snippet on it, but Jeff Passan had a good writeup of MLB teams, including the Cubs, trying to finagle contract language to allow for certain actions to lead to voiding of guaranteed monies.  On the surface this may seem silly and a bit treacherous on the part of the big-money team trying to bilk their players out of what should be guaranteed money.  After all, the most attractive thing about a baseball career, aside from having slightly more available jobs than the other sports and less likelihood to get your brain turned into Jell-O, is the guaranteed stupid money that successful players can earn.

If you think about it from the players’ and the players’ union’s point of view, it makes sense that they would battle this because the union’s job is to protect player interests at all costs.  They know that the revenues are tied significantly to the players’ star power and that they should be compensated as such.  They also want to make sure that players retain certain rights of service time and salary; I’m not really familiar with the way MLB’s pension plan works but the bulk of the player’s retirement has to be paid for by their salary accrued during active playing time.  That money pretty much as to last them the rest of their life.  So losing any chunk of that (be it because of suspension due to placement on the restricted list or PEDs) carries a significant price.  The union is not in the wrong to ensure that the language isn’t overreaching.

On the other hand, the MLB club that prints the checks has a lot to lose if their player does something stupid that damages the asset (the player himself) or the brand (because the player has shattered an image or made the parent club look bad).  Considering the need to sell tickets is based largely upon star power, the elimination of that star either because he has hurt himself (Zack Greinke breaking a rib during preseason basketball comes to mind, as does Jeff Kent breaking his wrist while washing a truck/riding a motorcycle) or because he did something really dangerous or stupid (a la Mark Grace‘s multiple DUIs, albeit as a broadcaster and not a player) would lead to the forfeiture of some ticket and merchandise sales.  Teams look at the bottom line and if an employee hurts the bottom line, even with strong union protection, they need to seek some protection against that.  From that point of view I don’t see a problem with what the Cubs and other teams did with their contract language.

As stated in Passan’s article, the Cubs did back down a bit and change the language to appease the union, so this is something that’s negotiable.  But for the most part, during a long baseball season when a player can get hurt any number of ways on the field, using contract language to dissuade them from hurting themselves off the field in unfortunate rollerblading or jai alai accidents doesn’t seem like a terrible idea to me.  A cursory glance of all the prohibited activities suggests that players aren’t allowed to do anything that could cause them to suffer arm/leg injuries, core injuries, groin injuries etc.  Given how baseball players get some goofball injuries, sometimes just from getting up out of their chair, this does seem like a reasonable precaution, but maybe I’m missing something.

Minor Progress

There are a few fun tweets I’d like to share regarding Cubs prospects, including Javier Baez and Kris Bryant:


Video game numbers!  All kinds of fun.  I like that this front office is good at scouting talent and hopefully in developing it.  The guys they traded Scott Feldman for, Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop, were big in today’s victory as well.  Yeah, the results aren’t GOOD, but the future looks bright.

Speaking of progress, though, the Cubs currently hold the #4 pick in the 2014 draft, with a record slightly better than the cross-town White Sox, and unlikely to “catch” the Miami Marlins or the Houston Astros.  The Astros are the kings of tank because Jeff Luhnow is in full IDGAF mode as he razes the club to the ground and builds up again.  The Marlins suck because Jeff Loria is the Devil.  And Mauricio might be happy now that the White Sox and Rick Hahn are on a mini-rebuild kick.  But enough about them, we’re talking about the Cubs!

After the victory today, the Cubs are 58-78, 20 games under .500 and 21 games back of the National League Central co-leader Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.  Both of the co-leaders are home grown, though it’s taken the Pirates about 20 years to decide to stop sucking.  The Cubs are on that track as well.  The 2013 Cubs have a run differential of about -50 at the moment, which is a far cry from the 2012 Cubs‘ pathetic -109 by the end of August.  The 2012 Cubs also didn’t notch their 58th victory until September 16th of last year, so this year’s club has some time to beat the pace, avoid 100 losses, and with 26 games left, have an outside shot at about 75 wins.  Of course, that isn’t the greatest priority for this front office, nor for me.

What I am happy about is the Cubs’ young core guys doing some good things as the season winds down.  Starlin Castro is playing much better defense than last season, and after a sucky year so far, he’s starting to beat the tar out of the ball again.  Anthony Rizzo has 21 homers in his first full season in MLB.  Welington Castillo has emerged as a legitimate catcher and has also flashed a good bat that will likely get better as he keeps getting playing time.

Sorta Conclusion

It will get better.  The minor league clubs were either in playoff contention or going to the playoffs.  Several Cubs are on the national prospect radar and are going to the Arizona Fall League to hone their skills.  I’m just going to enjoy the rest of this season knowing that the best is yet to come.

About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

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