Cubs Offseason Review: Baller $tatus

2:41 PM | Comments (0) | by Rich Funk

It certainly took a while, but this has finally been the offseason we've been waiting for since 2006.

You remember 2006, don't you? Dick Cheney shot a dude. Zinedine Zidane headbutted a dude. Barbaro (what ever happened to that horse?) almost won a Triple Crown. And the Cubs...well, the less you remember about the 2006 baseball season, the better. Outside of Aramis Ramirez having one of his finest seasons and the solid, workmanlike play of one Thunder Matt Murton, the 2006 Cubs were a tire fire full of some of your least favorite names: Michael Barrett's pasty face was offending sensibilities across Chicago. Ronny Cedeno OPS'd .610 (for comparison, Carlos Marmol's OPS was .696 in 24 at-bats). Tony Womack got paid to basically hang out and be 103 years old. Hell, even Greg Maddux posted a 4.69 ERA, his worst in 19 YEARS.

(Surprisingly solid in 2006? Jacque Jones! His triple slash was .285/.334/.499 with 27 homers. Talk about one of the most "underrated solid effort by a guy you swear was putrid" Cubs seasons ever. If Jason Heyward puts that season up this year, we'll be calling him a bargain!)

Did I mention that the Cardinals won the World Series?

And then everything turned in the offseason. Dusty Baker got shitcanned and replaced by Lou Pinella. And the front office decided to make a run at the playoffs by signing Alfonso Soriano to an 8 year, $136 million contract, the 5th largest in baseball history at that point. The Cubs rode the momentum of that offseason to consecutive playoff appearances in 2007 and 2008.

Then we got pretty old and pretty bad. Theo and Jed came in and cleaned house and we knew it would be a while until we would be major players in free agency again. But even then, Cubs fans still hoped to sign a big free agent to build around, something to signal that better times were ahead.

But sometimes, it turns out that the moves you don't make can be as important as the ones that you do make. I remember I was hoping for the Cubs to sign Prince Fielder in the 2012 offseason, but what would have happened to Anthony Rizzo? If we would have gotten what we wanted in 2013 and signed Masahiro Tanaka, it definitely would have hampered what the Cubs were able to do this offseason (and would have looked doubly bad when his elbow finally blew up, which it will this season). Last year's Lester signing was a great start, but no one saw the 2015 season playing out like it did. We still knew the best was yet to come.

And that leads us to the offseason that will officially be wrapping up 2 weeks from today when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. Let's look at the major events of the offseason and my grades for each one.

1. Red Sox sign David Price

This one stung. We knew that the Cubs were going to try and flex their financial muscle this offseason, and as the 2015 NLCS showed, the Cubs were a bit short on starting pitching. I mean, I love Kyle Hendricks, but he has no business being the #3 starter on a team with World Series aspirations. The patented Joe Maddon Connection didn't come through and Price went to Boston.

HOT TAKE: This turned out to be a positive. I was really disappointed initially, but I think it's because I didn't think Heyward was a real possibility. I thought it was basically Price or nothing. But seeing how the offseason eventually played out, signing Price would have prevented the Cubs from doing all the other awesome things they've done this year. And as fearsome as an Arrieta/Lester/Price playoff threesome would be, the Royals showed us last year that you don't need a stacked rotation like the Mets to go all the way. You just need some reliable guys, a great bullpen and a lineup of high OBP guys that can get on base against power pitchers. And while the Cubs are much flashier on offense than last year's Kansas City squad, they made a few Royals-esque moves soon thereafter.

2. Basically trading Starlin Castro for Ben Zobrist and Adam Warren

Sure, Zobrist wasn't technically part of the Castro trade, but both moves were companion pieces to each other. Zobrist's contract is being paid with the money saved by shipping Castro out of town.

HOT TAKE: I was not a fan of this initially. Don't get me wrong, Adam Warren is a decent starter and has the potential to be a really great bullpen arm. But he's not worth getting a decade older at second base. And even with Castro slipping the last few seasons, there's no way that Zobrist's age 34-37 seasons will be better than Castro's age 25-28 seasons. I even posted a very curt Facebook status about it. But we'll revisit this in a moment.

3. Signing Jason Heyward

OHHHH SLAMMMM! The Cubs come up big and beat out the Nationals and the stupid Cardinals and sign Heyward to a deal that turned out to be less money than any other team offered. Some people tried to argue that Heyward wasn't worth all the money the Cubs dished out for him, and I guess I can see that point of view to a certain extent. If you're paying Heyward to be the big slugger in the middle of your lineup, you're going to have a bad time. Heyward isn't going to hit 30 home runs or drive in 120 RBI. But he PERFECTLY fits everything the Cubs desperately needed: someone to play great OF defense next to The Schwarber Project in left field and someone that has a great OBP that doesn't come with an inflated strikeout rate. He'll always be a better real life player than fantasy baseball player, but he is the perfect addition to the team on offense and on defense. For that reason, he was worth every penny.

HOT TAKE: The Heyward signing was great on its own. The side effect is that it made the Zobrist signing better too. Sure, 3-4 years from now Castro will probably be outplaying an almost-40 Zobrist. But we aren't concerned with 2018 or 2019. The signing of Heyward was a clear sign that the Cubs are serious about winning a World Series in 2016 and 2017. And for those two seasons, yeah, I think Zobrist can do exactly what we need him to do: get on base and not strike out. Remember how the Mets rotation carved up the Cubs lineup in the NLDS only to get slapped around by the Royals in the World Series? It's because the Cubs strike out a ton and the Royals have a bunch of high OBP, low K rate OBP machines. Now the Cubs have 2 more guys to do exactly that. The OBP potential of the Cubs without any additions was high enough, with Rizzo, Bryant and Schwarber all with the ability to OBP somewhere between .350 and .390. Add Zobrist (.359 last year) and Heyward (.359 too!) to that and holy crap, this lineup is going to run up pitch counts in a hurry. Then all of our big boppers get to feast on the awful bullpens of the NL.

4. Signing John Lackey

And there's the rotation depth we needed. Yes, Lackey is old enough that if he completely fell apart next season, it wouldn't be shocking at all. But that's why it's awesome that we got him on just a 2 year deal. You can eat a bad signing for 2 seasons. Hell, the Cubs ate 5 years of garbage from Edwin Jackson and came out ok!

HOT TAKE: I'm for it. And if Lackey dies in a fire of horrible performance, the Cubs still have guys like Almora and Baez to trade at the deadline for another starter if one is needed. Signing Lackey is a calculated risk, but for only 2 years of commitment, I'm game. And really, who else were the Cubs going to sign? Jesus, Jeff Samardzija got SEVENTY MILLION DOLLARS.

So the Cubs got more defense and OBP and another solid starter to boost the rotation. We're almost the new Royals! Now about that bullpen...

5. Signing Clayton Richard and Trevor Cahill

Both guys were nails in the playoffs last year, with Trevor "Fat Baby" Cahill coming up HUGE in the NLDS. Both guys seem like the types that can reinvent themselves from failed starters into great relievers and both seem like solid clubhouse guys.

HOT TAKE: I love it. And for the first time I can remember, the Cubs bullpen is actually going to be a strength rather than a grease fire. Rondon is perfectly adequate as a closer. Strop is solid as a setup guy. Grimm and Neil Ramirez? Good to great relievers! Adam Warren was great when he moved to the pen last year. And now with Clayton Richard in the fold, Travis Wood won't have to throw 3,000 innings a year and wear down like he did in 2015.

This has been as close to a perfect of an offseason as I could have hoped for. I wasn't onboard with every move initially, but all of the puzzle pieces fit together beautifully, with Theo and Jed once again proving that they are much smarter than I am when it comes to running a baseball team.

I could probably outdo Jim Hendry though.

Thunder Matt: The Force Awakens

10:52 AM | Comments (6) | by Rich Funk

In 2006, Jake the Terrible Cubs Fan and a few ragtag college dropouts started this site to pay tribute to one "Thunder" Matt Murton. Sure, he was just a 4th outfielder on a team that was going nowhere, but the only thing that burned brighter than his ginger curls was the passion for which they loved writing about the Cubs. As Murton's legend grew, so did this website, catching the eye of Cubs beat writer and Professional Chemistry Teacher Impersonator Paul Sullivan, who in 2007 named us one of his 5 favorite Cubs blogs.

Mirroring the Cubs' success on the field, we were a heavy hitter in the Cubs world in 2007 and 2008. Yes, there were other Cubs news sources that were "bigger" and "concerned with sticking to facts" out there, but did any of them bring you hard hitting hot takes about how underrated hotel room dresser handles are? Were any other baseball websites inexplicably posting fantasy football rankings? Going in depth about getting kicked in the balls? Up to the minute career status checks on Jeremy Piven (NOTE: That's still accurate 7+ years later)? Nope. And that's what we excelled at - giving you all the nonsense you didn't ask for and never knew you were missing out on.

After Thunder Matt was traded in 2008, we started to fall apart. With multiple bartenders having 2 kids and a demanding job, this place just sort of went to shit. Then came back, had 2-3 identity crises, and died again. For years, I've wondered if we could ever get it back. Maybe all we needed was a sign.

And that sign is here. GUESS WHO IS BACK IN THE FOLD???

After six years away from the MLB, Matt Murton has signed a minor league deal with the Cubs on Wednesday night, according to a report.
(This is where we bust out the champagne, drink too much and have a 2.5 day hangover because we're all in our mid-30's now)

As Murton goes, so goes this site. We're opening the doors to the Saloon again. I feel like it's too cliche to use the old "Don't call it a comeback, we've been here for years" lyric, but in this case it's actually pretty accurate. We never officially closed this place down. We just...stopped showing up. But the return of the Ginger Chosen One is the sign we were waiting for. We're back, like a glorious phoenix, rising from under a pile of Old Style empties. Maybe 'glorious' is too nice a word. We're some kind of phoenix. We're not the shittiest phoenix out there (Phoenix, AZ). We've got a better reputation than University of Phoenix. We're definitely more alive than River Phoenix (although it was touch and go there for a few years).

With the Cubs going into 2016 as the World Series favorites, we feel like the world needs our voice now more than ever. A whooooole lot of words are going to be written about the Cubs this year and when all the hottest takes and think-pieces start to blend together into a gray blob of incoherence, you'll need us to cut through the fog with our completely fabricated stories of Cubs of old and game recaps that were clearly written while watching something else on TV.

(NOTE: There's just as much a chance that this post is never followed up on and nothing actually happens. It's that kind of lackadaisical attitude that gives us our charm.)

TMS Beer Project: Shock Top Belgian White

9:01 PM | Comments (0) | by Jake the Terrible Cubs Fan

With the name Saloon included in our moniker, one could surmise that we here at TMS like to drinky drinky. One that would make such an assumption would be correct, thereby throwing out the whole, 'when you assume you make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me' bullshit. We also like to plagiarize each other. In the same vein as the Wrigleyville Bar Project, we are proud to bring you another installment of the TMS Beer Project. The premise is simple: we review beers. Each rating will feature a variety of scores from 1-10 and comments from the bartender. This is a public service damn it. We don't want you to be the sucker who pays $15 for a six pack of some overrated Belgian cat piss. Now, we all drink massive amounts of beer so we know what we speak of. Each of us seem to have a favorite style of beer though. Will we be reviewing macrobrews like Bud and Coors? Oh you bet your Aunt Susie's ass we will. For purposes of this science experiment, and it is in the name of science, those will be the "control" group. Use them as a base line for when we review lesser known imports and microbrews. Without further ado, I bring you our next beer:

Shock Top Belgian White

Brewery: Shock Top Brewing Co. Anheuser-Busch

Type: It thinks it's a Belgian Style Wheat

Receptacle: 12 ounce bottle someone brought to my house and left here.

Drinkability (1 being Jim Jones' kool-aid, 10 being the nectar of the gods): 5
All 5 points go to the fact that I can drink it with ease.  No points go to the fact that this is the shittiest excuse for a Belgian White I've ever had. Maybe a small bit of citrus detected but the coriander is non-existent.  Did they just waft a bowl of coriander over the top of the brewing tank and call it good?

Look I don't like to get all beer snob with these but for fuck's sake look at the label in the photo.  If you advertise coriander, you better deliver some god damn coriander.

Heartiness (1 being fresh mountain spring water, 10 being a pureed British steak infected with mad cow disease): 4
Hearty? If Karen Carpenter was a bottled beer, this would be it.

Intoxication (1 being your friend's weird pentecostal grandmother high on Jesus, 10 being Boris Yeltsin on a week long bender in the Crimea): 5
It's 5.2% so I suppose it'll get you drunk, if I chose to drink more of this shit.

Celebrities You May See Drinking This Brew: Jim Edmonds.  Fucker is probably sucking one back now.

Affordability ($ being chicklets in Tijuana, $$$$ being diamond encrusted braised lamb shank from a trendy cafe on the Champs d'Elysee): $$: As far as six packs of "microbrews" go, I don't think it's too terribly expensive, but why the fuck bother? If you really want this beer then go get some Goose Island 312, or even some Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat. I cannot tell you enough how incredibly not good this beer is.

Overall: 2
This beer is as phony as the crappy "microbrewery" that makes it. I have a hard time liking much of anything in St. Louis, and Shock Top certainly doesn't help matters.  If you must drink St. Louis beer then I wholly endorse the fine brews from Schlafly. Check those out instead of this pee water.

Castro & Rizzo, Oops, That's Castro & LaHair to All Star Game

11:09 AM | Comments (1) | by Arcturus

"Don't You, Forget About Me"
Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair were named to the All-Star Game.  While Castro was a no-brainer, it was a little surprising to see LaHair get the nod.  He did get off to a hot start, but has cooled significantly as the season has progressed.  Plus with all of the Jizzo'ing for Rizzo'ing going on, I'm surprised that anyone remembered Bryan was still on the team.

It's Rizzo Time!

1:52 PM | Comments (0) | by Jake the Terrible Cubs Fan

It's official.  Anthony Rizzo will make his Cubs debut tomorrow night. We want to wish Rizzo all the best as he begins his major league career. Hopefully it's a successful one.  At least successful enough to unseat Stockard Channing from the top spot when I Google Image Search "rizzo."

Also, we call dibs on trademarking the catchphrase "I'M JIZZO 4 RIZZO!"

War Criminal: Older People Complaining About the Current State of Pop Music

8:53 AM | Comments (0) | by Adam

Not a week goes by when I check my Facebook and don't see some snarky post by some 30+ year old man bitching about Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga or any of the other 4 pop stars currently inhabiting planet earth.

What the fuck is going on here?  Aren't you a grownup?  You have a career and a wife and kids.  Or you don't and you live in your parents' basement while amassing an unparalleled blu-ray collection.  Whatever.  It really doesn't matter if you're an accomplished adult or an unemployed turd of a blogger drunk on cheap whisky in the middle of the night.  You should have come to terms with pop music already. 

Here's the memo you apparently missed:  They stopped making pop music geared towards you the moment you walked across the stage and snagged your diploma.  Whether that was your high school diploma or you happened to buy yourself another few years of youth by going to college is completely inconsequential.  The moment you got out of school and tried to forge an existence is the moment pop music stopped being made with you in mind.  So take a deep breath, shed a tear for your lost innocence, briefly complain about the useless Grammy Awards and plunge into the Wilco catalog already.
Typical fan at a Wilco concert

Our parents went through this with grace and style.  Or at least mine did.  I grew up with a sister who was  the perfect age for a full-blown New Kids on the Block obsession.  Posters, dolls, lunch boxes, and the constantly repeating "Hangin' Tough" playing on the newfangled CD player...which cost $400 and was only connected to the stereo of the entertainment center in the living room.  I'm sure my dad wasn't thrilled with his daughter's skeevy-looking masturbation material hanging all over her bedroom walls, tempting her to seek out her budding womanhood, but he didn't complain about it incessantly, even though that period of time was probably weird as fuck for him.  And he would certainly never have 'liked' an anti-New Kids on the Block group on a social network, had they existed at the time.  He handled it the correct way; the entire rise and fall of a pop group wasn't worthy of his acknowledgment, even though his daughter was obviously rubbing it out like a bonobo monkey in heat to the 24" x 36" poster of Joey, Danny, Jonathan, Jordan and the other guy. 

Joey's hair is ribbed for her pleasure

My dad might have been an anomaly though.  Even back in the early 60's, adults were writing songs about that stupid teenage fad that were The Beatles.  In 1964 alone, there were over 200 songs recorded about the Beatles, and a good chunk of them weren't positive.

Now, I'm not comparing Justin Bieber to The Beatles. And I don't necessarily think that complaining about Justin Bieber puts you on the wrong side of history.   In fact, I'm pretty sure I've never even heard a Justin Bieber song.  BECAUSE I STOPPED LISTENING TO THE THINGS THAT PLAY THAT KIND OF MUSIC OVER 10 YEARS AGO.  I'd be willing to bet that I wouldn't like it, but I'm at that age (and posses enough self-awareness) that I realize I'd probably have flat out dismissed rock 'n' roll as an incomprehensible noisy mess had it just arrived on the scene during my early 30's.
Adam fighting the good fight c. 1962

The point is, this shit obviously isn't for us and we can't predict what stands the test of time.  I'd like to think that our parents would have drown us in the nearest creek bed had they known "Don't Stop Believing" and "Wanted Dead or Alive" would be two of the top karaoke songs of all time.  For all we fucking know, our grand-kids will be singing along to Ke$ha on the 2040's equivalent of the Guitar Hero franchise, Auto Tune Glory, on the PS8.  The future very well may suck for us, but it simply isn't up to us to decide.  In the meantime, listen to the shit you like (which, judging by the militant pop-music haters out there, is just the same old shit you listened to in high school anyway) and leave the brand new pop music to high school girls and DJs at gay clubs.

WTFATG*: Luis Valbuena

9:00 AM | Comments (1) | by Arcturus

Apparently I slept through spring training this year because I don't remember Luis Valbuena at all.  If you're like me, you're wondering who this guy is.  I thought he was one of our young farm guys.  Not so.

Valbuena's MLB career started in 2008 for the Mariners.  The Venezuelan was later traded to the Indians, then sent down to the minors in 2011 and eventually traded to the Blue Jays.  The Cubs claimed him off waivers from the Jays in April 2012.

It's been a small sample size, but I like what I've seen from Valbuena.  He looks solid in the field and he's got two homers and 7 RBIs in 6 games.  He's also not Ian Stewart.  His career stats don't really suggest that he'll continue on his current pace, although he hasn't played much the past few seasons.

Valbuena saw action in 17 games for Cleveland last year, following a 91 game campaign in 2010 and a 103 game run in 2009.  He hit 10 home runs in 2009 with a .250 average, his best season.  Homers dropped to 2 in 2010 and his average fell to .193.  In the 17 MLB games he played in last year, he hit .209 with 1 home run.

So obviously Valbuena's probably not the long term answer at third base.  Stranger things have happened though and the Cubs have a dearth of talent at third in the minors.  He's only 27 and the job seems to be all his for the moment.  Let's see what he does with it.   

*Who The Fuck Are These Guys?