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January 2010 Archives

Yes to Nady, no to Thome

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I was kind of hoping the Cubs would sign Jermaine Dye as their reserve outfielder, just on the outside chance his career isn't finished, so that at least one of our Chicago teams would benefit. Of course, I was really wanted them to sign Johnny Damon, the loose lefty with even more with World Series experience than JeDye, but knew that was even less likely. Instead, the Cubs reportedly are about to sign Xavier Nady to fill the job of fourth outfielder.

This is actually a pretty good signing. His right-handedness makes Nady a platoon option with Kosuke Fukudome or a direct replacement for Alfonso Soriano when he eventually gets injured (and then injured again... and again), and though he has never played a full season as a starter, he has plenty of starting experience. He also has plenty fo DL experience, with a couple of serious arm injuries in his past, including, missing all of last year after winning an important role with the Yankees in pre-season.

Still, Nady's got pop, with a total of 25 homers and 97 RBIs in 2008 for two teams. At 31, he's a little younger than Reed Johnson.

Meanwhile, the White Sox decided not to sign Jim Thome as a part-time DH. I don't think this is a fatal mistake at all, though I do think Thome's power and plate patience would have come in handy on the 2010 team. Thome may look even more valuable in a couple months if Andruw Jones and Alex Rios are both hitting below .200. Signing him as insurance seemed viable, but Ozzie wants to use the roster spot differently. I eager to see who gets the seat. In the meantime, Thome is headed to the Piranhas. Ugh.

Skinny Bobby

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A week ago after the Cubs Convention, we were talking about the newly-slimmed Geovany Soto. At SoxFest over the weekend, the Seattle Sutton award went to Bobby Jenks, who in photos and reportedly in person, appeared to have lost quite a bit of weight (I haven't found a story yet in which he said how much he lost, though some blogs have mentioned the magic number as 30 pounds).

Several stories during the weekend talked about Jenks having gained maturity and a new willingness to carry on direct conversation with the media. The Melissa Isaacson story I linked to above mentions that he quit drinking and has gotten some religion. To each his own in both departments, but after hearing all of this news, I feel less like Jenks will be the big question mark for the Sox this season (I may move that question mark over to Alex Rios or the team's general lack of power).

I feel generally pretty good about the mostly modest changes that the Sox made during the off-season. I might feel even better is they pull the trigger and re-sign Jim Thome to a limited DH role, though I'm not expecting that to happen. But, in any case, the pitching staff is looking solid from top to bottom, and the speed-plus-defense game-plan looks ready to go. I'm liking the 2010 White Sox better every day.

Skinny Soto

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It seemed like the biggest news to come out of last weekend's Cubs Convention was that catcher Geovany Soto lost almost 40 pounds in the last three months or so. That's a great move for a hefty player (though really he was only averaged-sized by catcher standards) who was nagged by injuries all of last year.

You could often see last year when Geo was struggling that he was still trying draw walks and make opposing pitchers burn through their pitch counts. He actually wasn't much of a power hitter until his Rookie of the Year 2008 season, when he had 23 homers, so with some of the bulk gone, it seems likely will see him slapping out a few more hits and pounding out fewer homers, and that's just fine. Just keep the line moving.

After a .218 season in 2009, it was tempting to wonder if Geo was going to be one of those one-year-wonders quickly broken down by the physical demands of working behind the plate. But, he's a smart hitter already, and now, hopefully, more durable.

Meanwhile, a blogger at ChicagoNOW, Rock Mamola from The Score, is already asking the question that sadly comes to mind in this era of steroids revelations: How did Geo lose the weight, and where did it--and his sudden power in 2007 and 2008--come from in the first place?

In White Sox news, SoxFest is coming up this weekend. The Sox signed closer Bobby Jenks and outfielder/probable DH Carlos Quentin to high-priced (but not high-risk) one-year deals, thus avoiding arbitration in both cases. Solid starter John Danks and disappointing reliever Tony Pena are still arb-eligible.

Maybe Geo can share some of his weight loss tips with Jenks. That would make Ozzie happy.

Freaks and Jenks

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The Cubs Convention starts today. As far as I'm concerned, this event is only for the truest-blue, most die hard Cub fan freaks out there, the ones who really have turned their lives over to the Church of the Baby Bear. It's for those who are desperate enough that they need a fix on all things Cubby between the end of the season and the beginning of spring training. Also, it's for those who only can feel vindicated by the chance to speak out in front of other fans and ask a supposedly tough question that Cubs management will merely dance around rather than answer directly.

Meanwhile, the Cubs are still looking for another outfield bat and another bullpen arm. Lefties are preferred for both positions, but only right-handers are being mentioned at the moment. The latest outfield target is rumored to be none other than White Sox 2005 World Series hero (of course, they were all heroes) Jermaine Dye. Just like the Cubs to latch on to Dye after he has apparently started breaking down (he turns 36 later this month). JeDye delivered consistently for the Sox over the years right through the first half of last season (hitting .302 as of July 18), but then began a downward spiral that ended only with the end of the season (finished hitting .250, with only 4 homeruns in the final two months of the season) and the end of his career on the Southside.

The bullpen rumors also revolve around righties--Heath Bell and Kiko Calero.

The latest on the White Sox front is a story in the Tribune that appears to be more or less a retread of the report from the end of last season that had Sox manager Ozzie Guillen criticizing Bobby Jenks for being out of shape. This came after Jenks gave up a career-high nine homeruns last season and generally looked bad as the year went on. Ozzie actually defended Jenks' poor outings early in the year, but lost patience and faith in him later.

Anyway, the J.J. Putz deal may apply pressure for Jenks to lose a few more pounds. Though, am I the only one who remembers that it was Ozzie who lended Bobby's big boy dimensions iconic status with the hand gestures he used to call in Jenks from the bullpen? I wonder if Ozzie will stop that act now. Apparently, it was OK for Jenks to be fat as long as he was pitching well.

Maddux is back

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The Cubs hired Greg Maddux as an assistant to GM Jim Hendry. He will supposedly help evaluate talent, among other things, so let's hope Mad Dog can help Hendry avoid trading away guys like Ricky Nolasco.

Maddux is probably looking to get management experience to work his way into his own GM job, though, as the Tribune reports, he has expressed more interest in coaching than GMing.

Maddux is one of the all-time greats, though he never seemed to show the demeanor and affability of a coach. As a player, he seemed more like a loner than a mentor. All this is from the outsider's perspective, of course, and if he helps Hendry find someone with half the talent he had, this move will quickly pay off.

The Cubs had the bad timing to announce the Maddux hiring on the same day that Mark McGwire admitted using steroids during the great 1998 homerun chase and at other times during his career. That means McGwire's 70 HRs for that year should get an asterisk, and Sammy Sosa should be given the homerun crown and the distinction of being the first to pass Roger Maris unenhanced by steroids--unless of course Sammy has something he wants to tell us.

Stevie Ire retires

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Good guy Scott Eyre, who will forever be remembered as "Stevie Ire," the name bestowed on him by Cubs manager Lou Piniella in one of Lou's "senior moments," has announced his retirement at 37.

Eyre had stints with both the Sox and the Cubs, and was mostly effective as the Cubs' southpaw specialist until a horrible stretch in mid-2008 resulted in his being moved to the Phillies, where he did better and won the World Series ring that everyone had assumed he wouldn't get that year once he got shipped out of Chicago (for those who don't remember, the Cubs were a lock to win the World Series in 2008).

Retiring before the age of 40 seems a bit early for a lefty who can always find bullpen work somewhere, so who knows, maybe he'll play again.

Not much else going on: Rumors that the Cubs are interested in Heath Bell, the Padres closer, as insurance against whatever disasters might befall Carlos Marmol. And, Scott Podsednik signed with the Royals. He had a great 2009 with the Sox, but almost no one believed he could keep it going in 2010. Juan Pierre probably will be better than Pods this year--or at least let's hope.

The Hawk is Hall-bound

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Andre Dawson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame today. He's been eligible for nine years, so it's nice to see The Hawk not have to wait any longer, like some players we know who are stuck in perpetual limbo. He had six seasons as a Cub from 1987 through 1992, none better than his '87 MVP year with a .287 BA, 49 HR and 137 RBIs, amazing achievements for a last-place team.

He also won Rookie of the Year with Montreal, and I remember being a big fan of his during the early years, so I was pretty happy when he ended up with the Cubs. He was on the '89 Cubs team that made the play-offs, though that season was his worst as a Cub, and his .105 BA, 0 HRs and 3 RBIs in the NLCS were partly why the Cubs couldn't get past San Francisco despite Mark Grace's .647 BA and Ryne Sandberg's .400 BA in that series. Still, The Hawk made many Wrigley outings during my college years a lot of fun.

I was pretty surprised that two-time White Sox player Robby Alomar didn't get voted into the Hall today. He was pretty dreadful and already past his prime with the Sox in 2003 and a brief, separate stint the following year, but was an All-Star and Gold Glover many times over.

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