Flight of the Baseball: Mailbag #1Posted: April 17, 2012
Here it is: our first mailbag! Sorry for the delay, as I know that this was promised yesterday. Sometimes real life gets in the way. I recently moved my temporary work duty from Seattle to San Francisco and am working on getting settled, while Chris is working hard at NASA to make sure the ISS doesn’t fall out of the sky. Enough about us, here are the responses you’ve been craving.
From a true Chicago Sports Fan in the CL:
Does Wrigley need to be renovated? Or Do the Cubs need a whole new stadium?
I think about this every time I am in a newer stadium. Just last week, I took in a game at Safeco Field, home to the Seattle Mariners, which opened in 1999. It’s a great stadium, huge, open, tons of food choices, and unobstructed views. It is missing one thing-atmosphere. I don’t know if that can be blamed on the stadium, the fans or the mediocre product on the field, but it just didn’t have that feel you get when you are sitting in the sunlit bleachers of the Friendly Confines. I know it sounds cliche, but there is a magic to baseball, a purity. There are a few places where you get that in the MLB – Fenway, Dodger Stadium, and Wrigley. You can’t invent or buy atmosphere, it’s just something that’s unique to a place or a team and Wrigley has that. For me, it starts with the famed scoreboard. I love that it puts the focus on baseball and not silly in-between inning games or fan cams. Instead the focus is just on baseball, which it should be. There is another place I love that has that same magic-Michigan Stadium. It’s a place, like history, where you can feel the history and can focus on what’s happening on the field.
That being said, Wrigley does need some updating for the future. The Red Sox put in quite a bit of money a few years ago to update the interior of Fenway, and I think they did that without sacrificing the integrity of the ballpark’s atmosphere. The Cubs should look to do the same by adding as many modern amenities to the concourse levels as possible. Plus, I’m sure many of us Cubs fans can remember the falling concrete incidents a few years ago, so everything must be done to Wrigley to preserve the structure of the park so that we can keep it for years to come. However, under no circumstance should a baseball landmark be torn down (even if the Cubs have never won a World Series at Wrigley) in favor of a modern stadium, no matter how appealing a retractable roof in April sounds to Chicagoans.
When, if at all, should we expect to see Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo in the big leagues?
Neither guy will be up with the Cubs until they can be guaranteed playing time everyday. Both are expected to be the future core, along with Starlin Castro. Under Hendry, the Cubs top prospects were fast-tracked, which led to disappointing careers in Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, and Mark Prior. However, it looks like both players are ready to be called up. They performed well in spring training, and have continued that in AAA Iowa (Rizzo has a 1.156 OPS). There are 2 things keeping them in Iowa. One is service time and delaying the contract clock. For a full explanation, visit Bleacher Nation or MLB Trade Rumors. Basically, the Cubs want to keep Jackson and Rizzo (and any young player for that matter) under club control for as long as possible before they need to pay them extravagant amounts of money to keep them around. Yes, the Cubs shouldn’t have to worry about paying to keep their own players since they are a big market team. However, the less money the Cubs are paying their young core players, the more Theo can spend on key big name acquisitions, namely pitchers. As you can see from the links, Jackson’s earliest call up time is late April, while Rizzo’s is late June.
The second thing keeping them down is that they each have players blocking them in the bigs-Marlon Byrd and Bryan LaHair. Neither guy is part of the grand plan, but both should be getting everyday playing time for know. Why? Because it’s really hard to work a trade for a guy who is riding the bench. Yes, Byrd has started the season in the worst way possible, but he is a veteran who can play solid defense. The Cubs are actively trying to shop Byrd, and as soon as they can get a respectable return for him (a mid- to low-level prospect), they’ll bring Jackson up, which I expect in mid- to late-May. Rizzo is more interesting. Barring an injury to LaHair, Rizzo probably won’t be up until August. LaHair is still young himself and has shown some nice power, which the Cubs don’t have. Provided that LaHair can continue hitting for power, some team may come calling at the trade deadline. The only thing the Cubs need to be careful of is a Jesus Montero situation, where a guy gets frustrated by being stuck in AAA and lets that affect his game.
Favorite memory of the Cubs?
Kevin: I want to say something in the 2003 season, but the ending was too painful to make it my favorite. I think mine is a single game that I went to in 1998 with my parents and my brother. I was 10, which is the magical age for baseball. We got some really great seats at the ticket window (I’m convinced it was fate that they were available), which turned out to be in the 2nd row right by the opposing bullpen. It was a sunny day versus the Giants. In the middle of the game, the Blue Angels started buzzing the stadium, practicing for the Chicago Air and Water show. One pass came so close that Mark Grace hit the deck at first base. There it was, my 2 favorite things, airplanes and Cubs baseball. Sitting behind us were two aerospace engineers who explained to me all I wanted to know about how the Blue Angels worked. I also got my first foul ball at this game (off the bat of JT Snow) and saw my first Grand Slam (off the bat of Glenallen Hill). It was a Cubs win and a great day, and was probably a major influence on my current career choice.
Chris: The 2003 Divisional Crown was magical. I can remember the day perfectly. The Cubs played a double header on Saturday against the Pirates and the Cubs had a magic number of 3 going into the day. Since I was only 12 years old, I got dragged along to my sister’s soccer games for the day, but my parents did let me sit in the car and listen to the games on the radio. The first game was a Cubs blowout, and I can remember that Sammy Sosa hit a big homerun early in the game (remember when we didn’t hate him totally?). In between the first and second games, the 2nd place Astros lost, moving the Cubs’ magic number to 1 going into the nightcap. The Cubs could win and they’d clinch the Central Division. I remember watching the final outs at home, with the TV on and the radio turned on. (Pat and Ron’s call still brings a tear to my eye: Cubs Win Division 2003). The only word to describe it was magical. And the next day, Ron Santo’s number is retired (his speech can be heard on the second half of the linked audio). I really thought the Cubs were going to win the World Series…
From a Reds fan in Ann Arbor:
Just wondering if you guys have an opinion on the recent deals made by the Cincinnati Reds with Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. They obviously make a big impact on the team. Do you think the size of their new contracts will keep the Reds from signing necessary players down the road?
For those unaware, the Reds signed 1B Joey Votto to a 10 year, $225 million deal, and 2B Brandon Phillips to a 6 year, $72.5 million deal. To answer the question, nor necessarily. The Reds have indicated that they are in win now mode. They traded a top prospect in Yonder Alonso to get Mat Latos, and dealt Travis Wood to get Sean Marshall. I actually like the deal for Votto. He’s just entering his prime (age 28) and already has an MVP under his belt. As we exit the steroid era, the price for power is going to rise, so locking up your star power hitters is important. The Phillips deal I’m not sure of. He had a great 2011, but he is 30, so if he plays closer to his career averages, the Reds will regret the deal. But since the Reds are looking to win now, they have 2 key pieces in place. Jay Bruce is set through 2016, and Zack Cozart and Devin Mesoraco are just reaching the big leagues. These contracts may cause a guy like Drew Stubbs to fall by the wayside, or prevent Cincy from chasing a top pitcher on the open market. If the Reds can find an ace (or #2 if Latos proves to be a stud), the Reds will be perennial favorites in the NL.
Also, do you know anything about Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman? I’m wondering if the Reds might bring him up as a starter soon, and whether you think he might have a positive impact.
Aroldis Chapman is a special talent. Both his 100+ MPH fastball and 90+ MPH slider (SICK) are devastating pitches. However, I don’t think he nor his skill set are built to be a starter. I don’t care who you are, throwing that kind of stuff with his violent motion is not good for your arm. There is no reason to ruin such a great arm by putting a ton of innings on it, especially with the rising importance of shutdown relievers in the 8th and 9th inning. Another problem is Dusty Baker, who treats his pitchers with the tenderness of Albert Pujols facing Brad Lidge. I’ve watched him destroy great power arms first-hand, and would hate to see Chapman succcumb to that fate. Two power pitches like that have closer written all over them, as long as he can develop the mindset to pitch in the 9th inning.
Thanks for your questions. We’ll do this again on Friday in the hopes of making it a regular piece. A new feature is being debuted tomorrow, so check in to see what it is!