Friday, October 29, 2010

Who is Marquez Smith?

A few week ago, the venerable Dan Szymborski released his major league equivalents (zMLEs), which are basically predictions of how recent minor league performance would translate into the majors. Today, the ever-prescient Carson Cistulli observed a particular AAA Cub worthy of a second look:
Name: Marquez Smith, 25, 3B
Organization: Chicago (NL) Level: Triple-A
Actual: 341 PA, .314/.384/.574 (.358 BABIP), .412 wOBA
zMLE: 341 PA, .278/.340/.502 (.317 BABIP), .366 wOBA

• So far as I can tell, has never, ever, never, ever, never been on a prospect list of any sort. Or, at least not recently he hasn’t.
• Per, was drafted a total of four times: 36th round of 2003 draft by Twins, 46th round of 2004 draft by Angels, 35th round of 2006 draft by Cubs, and, finally, by Cubs in eighth round of 2007 draft from Clemson University.
• Finished at +15 runs afield in 2008, per TotalZone, and +22 runs in 2009.
• Is native of Panama City, Florida, home of Shuckums Oyster Bar.
• Shuckums: “We Shuck’um, You Suck’um.”
First of all, Marquez Smith is from my hometown, and therefore my new favorite Cub. Secondly, he appears to have had a pretty stellar 2010 campaign. The only knock on his statistics seems to be his high BABIP (a career high for Smith). Szymborski's zMLE rightly projects a lower BABIP, but the other splits still look nifty: good patience (.340 OBP) and good power (.502 SLG).

If Smith can hack it at first base, he may pose an interesting problem to the Cubs front office this Spring Training. Otherwise, he's probably stuck in Iowa until Aramis Ramirez hands him the reins.

What this means for the Cubs:
While analyzing Kosuke Fukudome, we recently discussed the Cubs Big Six Contracts. Aramis Ramirez happens to be one of those contracts. With a young guy like Smith waiting in the wings, maybe soon is the best time to sell Ramirez. Perhaps the Cubs could exchange Ramirez for a mid-level prospect? Even he's as hot as he was at the end of 2010, maybe we can flip him for Stephen Strasburg? Kidding.

This is not to say Aramis Ramirez is worthless. Far from it: He's an amazing bat and has some good years left in him. Moreover, he signed under market value several years ago just to stay with the Cubs. He's a quality guy and losing him would not mean more wins for the 2011 Cubs.

At the same time, though, he's an aging slugger, he's a sub-par defender (according to UZR and, well, just about every thing and one else), and he's entering the final guaranteed year of his contract.

The 2010 season aside, Ramirez has hit close to a .400 wOBA for the last 20,000. a .400 wOBA is really good. But the Cubs probably aren't coming too close to a championship in 2011. So, if management is serious about restructuring and creating a "youth movement," then turning Aramis Ramirez into a 25-year-old outfielder is a great place to start.

Especially if it brings a Bay County product to the plate.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Kosuke Fukudome: Trade Bait?

This offseason, as with every other one, Cubs fans have begun to knock on Jim Hendry's door, toting their list of demands. As usual, these demands, typically written in crayon, include a surplus of frowny faces and sad-looking ponies. So, when Cubs fans begin tap their little toes and furrow their brow about something, I usually try to ignore it.

The case of Kosuke Fukudome is different. Many Cubs fans want him traded -- immediately. They want him and his contract out of town. He is not the slugger they ordered. I too feel slighted.

In Japan's 2007 season -- his final year before joining the Cubs -- Fukudome has a .443 on-base percentage (OBP) and a .520 slugging percentage (SLG). In other words, he ruled the islands. Nearly half the time he sauntered to the plate, he ended up on base. In the MLB, his OBP has been good (.375ish), but his power has nearly evaporated (.410 SLG since his arrival).

The dagger in the heart of most Cubs fans is not just his under-performance, but his under-performance in the context of his contract. The Cubs have 6 players with 7-digit contracts going into 2011:
Alfonso Soriano: $19.0M
Carlos Zambrano: $18.9M
Aramis Ramirez:  $14.6M
Kosuke Fukudome: $14.5M
Ryan Dempster:   $14.5M
Carlos Silva:    $12.8M
Basically, Fukudome is getting Ramirez money for Marlon Byrd hitting (which isn't that great, I'm sorry). But if the Cubs want to trade Fukudome, what can they expect to receive in return?

Well, Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors recently examined the CF market. Basically, Carl Crawford is going to decide the market. There are two legit CF free agents, Jason Werth and Coco Crisp, but about 5 or 6 teams looking for CF help. If either Boston or New York get Carl Crawford, then the whole market turns upside down. If he goes elsewhere, Kosuke Fukudome becomes one of 4 or 5 other outfielders capable of playing center field and open for trade.

The problem, as always, is his contract. Of the other potential trade targets, Fukudome is the only one making 7 digits. If the Cubs trade him, they will still probably have to eat half his contract. And who should we expect to net? His statistics since joining the Cubs have not merited his contract, and he will be 34 in 2011.

On top of that, the Cubs do not have really have a wave of prospects knocking on the door. Tyler Colvin seems to have potential, but regular PAs may very likely result in: (a) him becoming more 'exposed', decreasing his power numbers, and (b) his poor OBP really hurting the team. But even if Colvin turns out to be the real deal, there is an opening at 1B or even LF (if we ever tire of watching Alfonso Soriano injure himself on routine flies).

Behind Colvin, we have Brad Snyder -- who's 28 and has every appearance of a quad-A player. For the past few years, Snyder has hit well, but never really conquered the league.

So barring the possibility that Fukudome nets an ML-ready 1B or OF, trading him seems more like paying $7M just to play Tyler Colvin in RF.

But what are the chances Fukudome plays up to his contract in 2011? Let's examine that next.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thoughts on Mike Quade

So Mike Quade will be managing the Cubs in 2011 and -- if things go well -- 2012. Will and I recently collaborated to share some thoughts about the recent news (Will is in italics):

Thought #1) I'm ok with it.

Yeah, me too. I really wanted Dave Martinez, in part because I believe Joe Maddon is the smartest manager in the history of the game. Still, managers do not really affect the team much -- certainly not the way NFL or NBA coaches affect teams (see: Dusty Baker vs. Bill Belicheck). So, I'm of the opinion that as long as the manager does not make Joe Girardi-like mistakes, then just hire a guy with whom you get along.

Thought #2) Why not clean house? This means fire Jim Hendry and rebuild. Everything. The problem with this logic is that you still have three position players (Ramirez, Soriano, Fukudome) with massive contracts. They are, in affect, untradeable (due to the lack of production and sizeable contracts). Fukudome is up at the end of this year and after that payroll starts to trim down. A nice treat would be if one of these guys comes out of the gate just hitting the ball all over the place-then the cubs should trade them. The Cubs will still get shorted though because during the course of the season, there seems to be a precipitous decline in production (I would think any scout knows this).

I think a .500 or worse start will result in house cleaning. I think Hendry and Co. deserve a longer leash for their 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009 success, but I also think a fresh approach a la Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay Rays would ensure consistent, long-term success (especially given our currently weak division).

I'll be taking an in-depth look at our contract situations later, but basically I don't feel like the payroll has overly handcuffed the organization. The Rays make success out of a lot less, so Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome (who's actually worth his contract, in my opinion), and Carlos Silva should not roadblock our success.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Chicago Bulls in Basketball Prospectus 2010-11

The Pro Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 came out recently. Bulls fans not willing to drop 10 General Washingtons on the digital download are fortunate enough to receive a free preview of the Bulls 2010-11 team!

The gist of the Bulls chapter: Things are looking good.

When a large swath of the preview focuses on how the Bulls will affectively challenge the Miami Heat, it portends well. Below is a chart comparing the projected WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) for the Bulls and Heat. Basically, the Heat have three amazing players and a collection of also-rans, while the Bulls have three great players with a all-around solid depth:

If pro sports teams really do follow quasi-business cycles, then this Bulls team is in the most enviable of positions: The upswing. Our star players -- Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah -- are on the right side of 30 and our big off-season acquisition -- Carlos Boozer -- turns 29 next month (though that has no bearing on his injury history).

Here's to a great 2010-11 Bulls season!