Thursday, December 14, 2006

Borderline Offensive

Devin "Anytime" Hester scans the crowd
for groupies after taking two kickoffs to the
house against St. Louis on Monday Night Football

Now that the hysteria in Bears Nation over whether we should bench Rex Grossman for the remainder of the season has (rightfully) subsided, the next hand-wringer we're collectively tackling is whether superstar special teamer Devin Hester, with an NFL-record 6 return touchdowns already this year, should be moved from his position as backup cornerback to receiver in order to get the ball in his hands more often. The debate seems pretty one-sided, with the public and media strongly supporting the idea. The coaching staff, however, isn't sold.

Personally, I'm siding with Lovie on this one. Not only do I think he's earned our implicit trust in personnel and game-planning decisions, but I believe that this sounds like a better idea than it truly is. Let's look at each side:

Pros of Devin Hester joining the Offense
1) It adds a deep threat to our passing game and an extra element of explosiveness.
2) It forces defenses to account for him, opening up the run game and getting favorable coverages for our other receivers.
3) It could allow us to be more creative with decoy plays, reverses, screens and swing passes, etc.

Cons of Devin Hester joining the Offense
1) He has absolutely no idea how to play any position, and that takes time.
2) His ball skills are questionable (dropped a sure interception on MNF) and has a propensity to try too hard to make the big play or forget about ball security.
3) We already have a proven deep threat in Bernard Berrian and a receiver who is very comfortable in the slot in Rashied Davis.
4) With our depleted secondary, we may not be able to afford giving up another cornerback.
5) He is extremely small and inexperienced, thus he could only contribute in a very limited amount of situations (reverses, go-routes, screens). He would be ineffective running any type of precision route, making a sight adjustment, understanding audibles, or in the red zone.

I don't consider myself an out-and-out football expert, but I do like to read and understand as much as possible about the technical aspects of the game. One thing I don't believe the public is generally grasping in this debate is how technical the position of wide receiver is in the NFL. In college, the fastest players or most gifted athletes can dominate as receivers because they can simply outrun or outjump defensive backs for the ball.

In the NFL, successful receivers certainly have that ability, but their success is more predicated on superior technique and fundamental skills- route-running, getting out of their breaks at the correct times, body position and control, catching with the hands (as opposed to the body), making sight adjustments and choosing correct routes on multiple-route schemes, breaking off routes when appropriate, a profound understanding of coverages, non-verbal communication with the quarterback, etc, etc.

It seems to me that Devin Hester doesn't have any of those skills...he could take a screen pass or designed swing pass and try to make something happen in space, or he could just take off on a go route (or 9-route, in NFL parlance) and try to beat a corner in one-on-one coverage. But he'd lose almost any jump ball and he has questionable hands. I just don't see it.
Plus, we have a great jump-ball and possession guy (Moose), we have a speed burner (Berrian), and we have a complement of other receivers who can get it done (Des Clark, Rashied Davis, TJ, etc). I just don't know that this is the answer.

I am excited about the prospect of getting more touches for the most electrifying player on the Bears right now, just as anyone would be. But I think we should look at the likely outcome of putting him out there on offense with absolutely no time to prepare and no experience. I think we may be setting ourselves up for disappointment.

Hope the holidays are treating you all well. I'm really fired up to continue the holiday season this weekend with Gate's bash. More soon.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Cubs are feelin' spendy

The Cubs are spending money like a Lincoln Park Trixie who nabbed an investment banker sans prenup these days. Some of their recent moves have been very well-advised, others, in the opinion of this blog, not so much. Let's talk about the minor ones before we get to the Main Event, which was yesterday's blockbuster news that we grabbed Alfonso Soriano for a mind-boggling 8 seasons and $136 million dollars, the fifth-richest baseball contract of all time.

Let's start at the beginning though, and see how the front office grades out:

Aramis Ramirez re-signing (5 Yrs, $73M): As most Cubs fans know, Aramis signed a four-year deal two years ago that allowed him to opt out of the final two years if he chose. Seeing as he had career highs of 38 HRs and 119 RBI in 2006, opting out was a no-brainer. The Cubs brought him back with a much better deal at age 28, making him a Cub through 2011. This deal was positive for a few reasons: he's still young enough to be productive for five more years, slugging third basemen are very hard to find, Aramis' numbers are top-tier offensively at any position, and he has expressed a desire to be a Cub for life on numerous occasions. The flip side of the coin is that Aramis' effort on the field is highly questionable at times, he produced almost all of his numbers last year after the Cubs were out of the playoff race (he had a horrendous start to 2006), and we may have overpaid for him.

To me, this deal was a good thing for one reason over all others: the damage was done two years ago when we gave him the opt-out clause. We had a chance to lock him up back then for 4 or 5 years and didn't do it. He then opted out when we already had a very long shopping list for the off-season- we needed at least two starters, bullpen help, a slugging corner outfielder, someone to replace the almost-certainly gone Juan Pierre, and possibly a middle infielder as well. We just couldn't afford to add a third basemen to the shopping list. We needed to keep the pieces we already had, and for that reason, I'm glad we paid for him. Let's just hope that included in his new deal is a requirement that he runs to first base. Grade: A-

Kerry Wood re-signing (1 Yr, $1.75M)
: On paper, this may look like throwing good money at bad money. We've been burned by Woody so many times in the last few seasons, it's hard to believe that he is going to be able to help us at all. But signing him to a one-year, incentive-laden deal is almost a no-lose situation. When you're going to have a payroll of $125 million, why not spend 1% of it on a guy who has proven to have overpowering stuff, is willing to pitch anywhere in the rotation or bullpen, and is reportedly throwing very well after spending much of the last two years on the DL? If he gets hurt again, we'll have no long contract to pay out and he can go on his merry way. Plus, GM Jim Hendry claims that he was offered twice what the Cubs gave him in base salary alone by other teams, and he chose to stick it out with the Cubs. He feels like he made a promise to the Cubs and hasn't fulfilled it, so he's giving up additional salary to do so. You have to like that in a player. This is a reasonable price to pay for a guy who is out to prove something. All that being said, I don't have any expectations for Woody in 2007. He just hasn't been able to do anything in the last three years, notching just 12 wins since 2003. It's a cheap gamble, but one with little chance of realizing the upside. Grade: B-

Mark DeRosa signing (3 Yrs, $13M):
The Cubs signed the 9-year journeyman following a career year in 2006 (135 games played, 40 doubles, 13 HRs, and 74 RBI) after playing sparingly over the previous 8 seasons. I think the general view on this deal is that Mark DeRosa has had an uninspiring career as a utility sub (193 RBI in 9 years) and he parlayed one good year into a contract that may be a little above his value. In addition to the money, Mark DeRosa was excited to come to the North Side because he was offered the chance to be our everyday second baseman, after bouncing around between 6 different positions in his career. We have to think that this deal was made partially because the front office sees farmhand Ryan Theriot as a valuable bench player but not an everyday starter, and once-promising second-year shortstop/second baseman Ronny Cedeno is probably headed to the minors to start 2007. We needed a middle infielder who has experience and glove skills, and DeRosa fits the bill for a manageable price. The other positives in this deal are that DeRosa can adequately play several positions, making us flexible with substitutions and lineups, and he crushes left-handed pitching (to the tune of .342 last season), something that the Cubs desperately need. He is also known an excellent character guy and someone that is good in the clubhouse, a trait you can never have enough of. I think we probably paid too much for him, and he is certainly not going to set the world on fire, but he fills a need adequately and seems to be an excellent teammate. Grade: B

Wade Miller re-signing (1 Yr, $1.5M)
This deal is similar to the Kerry Wood deal. We paid a cheap price for a pitcher who did nothing for us last year in the wake of a long rehab from injury (Miller made 5 starts and went 0-2 with a 4.57 ERA), but has been a winner in the past and may well still have some good seasons left in him. I think the front office wants to go into spring training with a surplus of pitching, expecting that at least some of our disabled list All-Stars will return to infirmary at some point in 2007. I think Wade Miller has good stuff (62-45 in his career) and could potentially be a sleeper as a valuable contributor this year. If the Cubs don't sign any frontline starters in free agency, you'd have to think he'll get a shot to make the rotation to start the year. This is purely a wait-and-see signing, with little risk because of the salary. I'm fine with it. Grade: B/B+

Henry Blanco re-signing (2 Yrs, $5.25M):
Henry Blanco has been one our best backups over the last couple of years from a purely non-offensive standpoint. He manages the staff well, calls a great game, is very solid defensively (threw out 15 of 39 base-stealers last year and has thrown out 41.4% in his careers, second among active catchers) and seems to be well-liked by everyone. However, he will turn 36 next season and can't hit. He hit .266 last year, which was a career high, and included some awful slumps. We rewarded this offensive explosion last year (6 HRs, 37 RBI) with a two-year deal that will keep him in Chicago through his 37th birthday, with a mutual option for the 2009 season. I wish we could do more with the position of backup catcher, especially because Big Hank played in 74 games last year, suggesting that the position is a big part of our team. But you can't have everything, and a hitting backup catcher is simply too far down on our list. I think whether Henry Blanco, while by all accounts a great guy, just isn't worth almost $3M a year as a .225 career hitter. He's also getting old, especially for a catcher.

What really worries me about this deal is that it adds fuel to these nasty rumors about Michael Barrett being available in exchange for pitching help. I know we need pitching, but finding a catcher with the offensive abilities of Michael Barrett is rare at best and he is eminently affordable for us (in the last year of a 3 Yr, $12M deal). We have nobody else to provide pop at the bottom half of our order and I think it would be foolish to trade him. He's young, we got him off of the scrap heap, and we should take advantage of the oh-so-rare power-hitting position player with an attractive price tag. Please, Jim Hendry- don't trade Barrett for some middle-tier, 13-11 pitcher who will get killed when the wind is blowing out at Wrigley. Grade: B/B- (if Barrett is traded and Blanco starts, D/D-)

Neil Cotts for David Aardsma and Carlos Vasquez:
I like this trade. I don't like the White Sox, but I'm glad our front office can get along with them. I never thought that David Aardsma truly got comfortable enough in a Cubs uniform to contribute anything, although at 24 he still has a lot of pitching left in him. Carlos Vasquez seems to have had a good but fairly unremarkable season in 2006 bouncing between A-ball and double-A ball, and I think that Neil Cotts is a guy who can come in and help right away. He can throw heat, he's left-handed, and can make a ton of appearances. He had a very bad second half last year, but it didn't seem to be pitching- or stuff-related, so let's hope he can get back to his 2005 form (4-0, 1.94 ERA in 69 appearances). One thing that worries me slightly is that it seems someone told him he may get a chance to start for the Cubs, which seems risky. Making the switch from the 'pen to the rotation has been an iffy proposition for Cubs pitchers in recent years, and yielded bad results. It's like going from TV to the movies- yes, it's theoretically possible, but I don't think you're going to see good results that often. I hope Cotts settles into a bullpen role, and doesn't end up as a cautionary tale for guys who think they can start. Grade: B+

...and the Main Event: Alfonso Soriano, 8 Yrs, $136M: Yesterday the Cubs made the biggest splash of the off-season by offering Alfonso Soriano one of the biggest contracts in baseball history. Everyone in the world has an opinion on this, and there are lots of valid reasons why you could go either way. Here are the biggest ones:

1) Say what you want about the terms, the Cubs went out and got the premiere position player in the free agent market. We sent a signal that we want to win, right now, and we're willing to spend to get the players we need to do so. And for Cubs fans, that's a refreshing change.

2) We are now contenders in a wide-open division. Peter Gammons makes a great point in his blog: almost all of the NL Central teams are retooling parts of their rosters, and the Cardinals have to be the least scary defending champs of all time. The Cubs still need a starter or two, but at this point, on paper, we have a great chance of getting to the top of the division next year. We certainly have the offense for it already.

3) We solved our leadoff problem, center field problem, and power outage all at once. JP gave us great speed and mediocre defense. Soriano replaces those things plus adds serious pop at the top of the lineup.

4) We're making the North Side a more attractive place for future free agents by showing a commitment to winning and a commitment to setting the market price for top tier players. That can go a long way.

5) The top half of our offense is now on par with any offense in the National League, period. Soriano is an .835 career OPS guy and when you put him in the lineup with Lee and Aramis, you're going to score runs.

1) The length and value of this deal is borderline crazy. We're going to be paying Soriano $17M when he's 37 and 38 years old, an age where power and speed are usually nowhere to be found. Buster Olney points out that when premiere players like A-Rod, Manny, or Derek Jeter signed analogous deals with their teams, they were 25, 28, and 26. Soriano will be 31 in January. It's a little late in his career for a team to be committing so many resources to him.

2) His 40-40 abilities are unbelievable, but it's hard to look at his stats and think he'll do as well next year. Soriano was clearly just going for that benchmark this year, as he was caught stealing a whopping 17 times against his 41 steals. Let's hope he is a little more judicious about his base-stealing in 2007, even if he totals fewer thefts.

3) He is a Sosa-Patterson style free swinger. Soriano hits bombs and gets around the bases with the best of them, but he's also stuck out at least 121 times per year in the last six years, and struck out a career-high 160 times in 2006. It's feast or famine with Soriano, and Cubs fans know that we need to build an offense around patience and on-base percentage, as opposed to the home-run derby teams we've tried to succeed with in recent seasons.

4) Although Soriano led the league in outfield assists last year, he is generally regarded as a below-average defender and only has one season in the outfield under his belt. We'll likely ask him to move positions again (from left field to center), and resign ourselves to a very, very mediocre defensive outfield next season.

It's too early, in my mind, to grade out this deal. We look like with a little help in the rotation, we could contend next year. Our lineup, right now, looks like this:

1) Alfonso Soriano, CF
2) Mark DeRosa, 2B
3) Derrek Lee, 1B
4) Aramis Ramirez, 3B
5) Jacque Jones, RF
6) Michael Barrett, C
7) Cesar Izturis, SS
8) Matt Murton, LF

If we make a play for a corner outfielder and put Murton on the bench, we're going to be even more powerful. I'm cautiously optimistic, if for no other reason than the Trib finally seems to get it: you need to make waves in the free agency market if you want the kind of success that breeds fan loyalty. They've had it too easy for too long with Cubs fans. We're too nice to them. Let's hope this is the beginning of an age of reciprocity.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

All Hallow's Eve

Happy Halloween. I'm going out as this stud from the Arthurian Legends, and LongMan will be going as the man himself.

Let's all try to live by Treach and Vinnie's words tonight:

"I'm not into tricking; only treating.
And I'm not into treating every trick that I be meeting."

Have fun kids.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Here Kitty

Fun with Photoshop.
(via Deadspin)

Reminder: My friend Christine's book Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women is now out in stores and available for purchase. It's an interesting read and makes a great gift (unless you are buying a gift for Maureen Dowd). Christine suggests that you buy it online. They'll bring it right to your house. Now that's service.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mrs. Offering

It's been (yet again) too long since I posted, but it's been a busy fall. I'm married now; TheGirl is officially Mrs. Offering. It was a fantastic celebration out in the hot, beautiful southwest. Quick recap:

-We hit Sin City from Tuesday to Friday before the Big Event, with a hard-partying posse of 3 (Tuesday at dinnertime) to 75 (Thursday night). Great times all around. We had people staying at virtually every hotel on the strip, we gambled, boozed, hit the clubs, had massive parties in our suites, and generally caused the kind of mayhem that you'd want to cause leading up to your wedding. The Bellagio kindly provided me with a Penthouse Suite which we put to good use Wednesday and Thursday night.

-Friday to Sunday we stayed at Entrada Country Club and golfed, drank, and visited with friends and family. Good times.

-Sunday night me and the missus stayed the Wynn Hotel and dined at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, which was just what the doctor ordered. The honeymoon is still TBD, but it's looking like Aruba toward the beginning of January.

Other news and notes:
1) The Hawks disappointed us yet again last week with a loss to a far inferior Indiana team...with a game looming at Michigan this Saturday, it looks to be yet another ho-hum season. I really thought this team had a chance to do something special this year (contend for a BCS game, finish in the top ten, etc.) but with all the injuries we've suffered and a stupid road loss, I'm guessing we'll finish 9-3 at best, and 8-4 is certainly not out of the question. I just wish that one time Iowa would beat all the teams it should beat. One time.

2) The Lou Pinella Era begins in Chicago- Jim Hendry signed Lou Pinella to manage the Cubs for the next three years, probably hoping that Lou's impatience will save his own job by swiping a division that should be up for grabs next year. Let's just hope that the front office understands that Lou will not be pitching or playing left field for the Cubs. We need players too, and a lot of them. On the bright side, though...

3) The Bears are unquestionably the best team in football. With a 5-0 start and a Monday night date with the sputtering Cardinals, the Bears are poised to romp through the NFC, grab that coveted No. 1 playoff seed, and hopefully shuffle their way to the Super Bowl. We're strong on D, fast on O, and have all the intangibles this year. What's even better than that? John Clayton says we're not going away for years. I agree.

Enjoy your week. I probably won't, as my wisdom teeth went bye-bye last week and I'm still pretty sore and on the applesauce and pity diet. More soon.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Reason #4,586 Why I Love Iowa Football

Senator John "Frank the Tank" Kerry celebrates the impending
Iowa victory over Iowa State at a Hawkeye tailgate
(via the Wizard of Odds)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Marriage and the Modern Adult

Today I'm going to shamelessly plug a soon-to-be-released book by a friend of mine for the following reasons:

1) The topic of the book, modern marriage, is highly relevant to my peer/age group (and specifically relevant to me personally, as I'm about to be legally bound to another person);

2) I think the topic of the book is frequently discussed, but, in my opinion, rarely in the proper context (which the book lends); and

3) The book is good and we want the author to move some product, and fast.

The book is called Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women, by Dr. Christine Whelan. Notice how the "Dr." part lends instant credibility? The book tackles the facts and issues surrounding the modern generation's view on marriage and how we've accepted that personal, professional, and educational goals have conflicted with (and ultimately begun to overcome) traditional norms on when and how we should pick our lifelong mates. You know how "30 is the new 21"? Well, that's a good thing and this book proves it.

The book is written by an insightful and accomplished author, weaves empirical data together with in-depth interviews with young people of varying attitudes and marital status, and presents a new perspective on the value of traditional norms and "marrying age". Good times.

You can check out the book's site, more on the author, or just take my work for it and go straight to pre-ordering it on Amazon.

If you are interested in social science and the evolution of societal trends surrounding marriage, you'll love this book. If you are a young man or woman who is despondant about their prospects because of your age, this book will give you hope. If your parents are on your case about settling down, this is the ammunition you need to belittle their stupid arguments. If you are a social leper who is incapable of contributing anything to a relationship, then you need much more help than this book will give you, but go ahead and buy it anyway. It's a start.

Plus, I can personally attest to the fact that Christine is about to climb the Mount Everest of marital relationships, so that should say something to you about the confidence she has in her own expertise on the subject. The least you can do is buy the book.

The book is going to be released by Simon and Schuster on October 17, 2006. I'm going to get my hands on a copy sometime between now and then, and I'll give it a (totally unbiased) review here.