Top Of The First
Last night I was in Wrigleyville for the first time since the final regular season home game. The second phase of the construction is spectacularly massive. The new parking structure dwarfs the soon-to-be demolished McDonald’s just across Clark Street. You can really visualize what it will look like when it’s done.
Something of note: many of the businesses on Clark Street are going to be closed for at least today and maybe longer. Signs on the businesses indicate that a new water main is being installed, though I’m not sure if that is related to the construction. If so, I wonder if the Cubs are compensating businesses or residents for any inconvenience or lost revenues.
If you haven’t seen any of the MLB Misremembers series, let me advise you not to. I have always liked Bob Costas, but he has reached a journalistic low. I have been a little pessimistic that the MLB Network is getting more and more like ESPN with too much we-get-it-because-we’re-insiders humor and reporting. We know they’re insiders because we’re not. No need to constantly remind us. And don’t even get me started on Brian Kenny and that awful Shredder, whatever that is.
One of the historical moments that Costas changes the outcome of is Game 6 of the 2003 playoffs, remembered affectionately by many as the “Bartman Game.” In Costas’ misremembered scenario, Steve Bartman tackles a guy who tries to interfere with Moises Alou. Alou makes the catch, the Cubs go to the World Series in 2003 and beat the Yankees, then repeat in 2004 by beating the Red Sox. Dusty Baker is immortalized in Chicago. Steve Bartman is a hero instead of a goat.
It was cool to imagine Kerry Wood winning a World Series. That part actually gave me goosebumps. I hope the Cubs win it this year and though we get the obligatory “This is for Ernie” (or Harry, or Jack, or Ryno, or Santo) speeches. I hope somebody at least raises a glass to Kerry Wood if the Cubs ever win a World Series. He’s my favorite Cub of all time.
There’s more to that scenario that Costas didn’t mention. Theo Epstein likely never would have come to the Cubs. Last year’s team wouldn’t have existed. In fact, what if the Cubs did win back-to-back titles and in return they were shut out for the rest of this century. It happened once before, you know.
So I got to thinking about “what if…” and I go back to the day Joe Girardi passed on the Cubs offer to manage the team. What would the Cubs look like today if Girardi had accepted? Besides the obvious — that Joe Maddon would probably be managing the Dodgers right now with Don Mattingly at the helm of the Yankees — what might today’s Cubs look like if the past was just a little different?
It was October 2013 when Dale Svuem was canned and Girardi was a free agent. The Cubs seriously courted the Yankees manager and almost landed him. The Cubs would have had to accelerate the rebuild under Girardi. In all likelihood they still would have selected Kyle Schwarber in the 2014 draft, but it is possible they might have taken a pitcher instead, someone who was deemed major league ready. Someone like Jeff Hoffman perhaps.
Also, what would the Cubs have done in free agency after signing Girardi? It’s possible they could have upped their bid for Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu. Remember the Cubs just missed on Ryu. To cover CF they probably would have traded for Denard Span. Span cost the Nationals the number 50 prospect at the time (Alex Meyer). The Cubs would have likely had to give up Albert Almora for Span.
Certainly Mike Olt would not have been Joe Girardi’s choice for third base. It’s possible the team could have traded Anthony Rizzo for a third baseman — maybe for David Wright — and signed Albert Pujols to play first base. With all that going on, the team would not have been able to walk away from the demands of Anibal Sanchez and maybe the Cubs still would have signed Edwin Jackson regardless, or maybe Dan Haren instead. Or maybe they’d have emptied the vault for Zack Greinke. But the team still would have needed a closer. The best closer available going into 2014 was Joel Hanrahan. The Joel Hanrahan.
Obviously there are a million possible scenarios, but the point is, at least to me, that the Cubs were quite fortuitous that Girardi went back to the Yankees. I don’t think an accelerated architecture would have made the Cubs a team built on winning over many consecutive seasons. Girardi didn’t want to be part of a rebuild. To sign him would have meant deviation of the plan.Sometimes you have to be thankful that fate dictated a different course. I know the Cubs haven’t won anything, but I think the 2016 Cubs are decidedly better than how the team might have looked otherwise.
Fact, Fiction, Truth or Rumor
The Cubs signed RP Manny Parra. Meh. I don’t think he will make the 25-man roster but he provides nice depth if he accepts a minor league assignment.
Dexter Fowler is still a free agent. Is it possible Fowler could still be coming to the Cubs? Evan Altman looks at a possible tell from Kris Bryant over the weekend.
Joe Maddon wants to limit the starting pitching workload this season. Look for Adam Warren to get some spot starts and maybe the Cubs will utilize the all-relief pitcher lineup a few times like last season. Late in the year the Cubs pitched guys like Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill and Clayton Richard for two to three innings apiece to rest the rotation. The Cubs also signed an awful lot of relief pitchers this winter. My guess is they are going to avoid taxing the bullpen as well.
The New York Yankees are the priciest ticket in baseball for 2016. The Cubs are second on this list by the New York Post. Winning ain’t cheap.
The St. Louis Cardinals say they are projection-proof. In theory, every team is projection-proof and, to be honest, season evaluation software such as PECOTA hasn’t been historically accurate. That being said, I think the Cardinals are an 86-win team (which actually lines up with PECOTA, in full disclosure), with that win total inflated slightly by the expected poor seasons of Milwaukee and Cincinnati. However, I still may lower my expectations. There are question marks in the outfield and rotation and there is the injury to Yadier Molina. Those predicting a Central Division championship for St. Louis are relying too heavily on historical results. The Cardinals are not a playoff team right now. Not even close.
Helmets for pitchers? Not much style, though this is a safety-first innovation. But man, what’s with the flat head?
Bottom Of The Ninth
Looking at the Wrigley Field construction late at night really eliminates any notion that the Cubs once-quaint stadium resembles the Friendly Confines that we grew up loving. As a Cubs fan since 1970, I embrace forward thinking and I am okay with the changes and upgrades. It used to be that Wrigley Field was part of a neighborhood. Make no mistake, Wrigley Field is the neighborhood now. It’s no Yankee Stadium, but it simply looks too oversized to be considered quaint any more. The Wrigley Field Complex, as I prefer to call it, is a beast.
All that being said, nothing matters to me except the field itself. Yes, the modernization is awkward at times. But it’s still the same infield, outfield, bricks, and ivy. There is no better feeling than walking up from the corridor to the grandstands before game time. Despite all the changes, the Cubs have managed to keep that Field of Dreams vibe.