The 2011 Montreal Expos!

10 11 2010
Posted by WAMCO

The Montreal Expos moved to Washington DC in time to start the 2005 season. While the popular method to summarize their move was due to lack of support in Montreal, this does not really tell the whole story. The fans of the Expos did not have a chance. It is hard to be a fan of a team when you were more or less told, every year from 1995-onward, that your team was going to move. It is hard to support a team with an owner that abandoned them, and Major League Baseball had to take over. While MLB owned the team, they once famously refused to allow the team to make September call-ups while they were in a pennant race, putting them at a disadvantage. Like I say, the reasons for Montreal losing their team are far more complex than the attendance issues. However, this discussion is for another day.

As the 2011 season approaches, I got to thinking about some of the great players that played in Montreal. Every now and then, watching a ball game, I’ll see someone like Vladimir Guerrero or Carl Pavano and think, “he used to play in Montreal.”

Of course, if the Expos were re-formed, Youppi would be a big part of it. After the Expos moved to Washington, Youppi signed as a free agent with the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL, so he is still active in the community!

How many players who played in Montreal are still out there? I decided to attempt to construct an all-Expos line-up, comprised of active players who played for Montreal at some point (much thanks to baseball-reference.com for assistance with this research!). This includes guys who signed free agent contracts with the Expos, but does not include minor leaguers that were traded before they reached the majors (so, sadly, no Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore or Brandon Phillips for this team). Here goes:

Catcher – This position was a problem. Brian Schneider is the only active catcher to have played a game with the Expos, and quite obviously his best years are behind him. Gregg Zaun signed a free agent contract with the Expos in the offseason of 2003, so for now I am going to cheat a bit and include him as the backup catcher.

Infield – This group will need a lot of luck if they are to avoid the injuries that have plagued their careers. At first base, we have the made-of-glass Nick Johnson. When healthy, Johnson can still provide decent on-base numbers. At second base, Macier Izturis, currently of the Angels, who had a cup of coffee with Montreal in 2004. This team will need him to repeat his numbers from 2009. The shortstop will be Orlando Cabrera. Throughout his career, Cabrera has been mis-cast as a top of the order type. He will continue to be mis-cast in that role here. At third base, the much-traveled Fernando Tatis, who shows how much we are really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Backup infielders include many serviceable players, such as Geoff Blum, Brendan Harris and Jamey Carroll, who will all be required to help out. Mark Grudzielanek is somehow still eligible for this team, as he had a handful of at bats in 2010, but for now he will be in AAA.

Outfield/DH – The Expos used to play in the National League, but they are getting a DH here, due to the age of the players. Outfield defence will be an issue for this team, but there are some decent hitters available. The left fielder will be Milton Bradley, who started his major league career with the Expos. In center field, Ryan Church will be called upon to make up for Milton’s lack of range. In right field, Juan Rivera, currently of the Angels, will be counted on for his solid bat. Finally, at designated hitter, we are smarter than Ron Washington, and will not subject Vladimir Guerrero to the field. He will be counted on for his productive bat, and will definitely be burning his glove. Fernando Tatis can back up at the outfield corners, and someone will need to emerge as the backup in center (I suppose it would have to be Bradley, that is unfortunate…..).

Starting Rotation – This is definitely the strength of this team. There are many decent-to-good starters currently in the majors that have played for the Expos. The number one starter will be Carl Pavano, who has really turned his career around after his terrible run in New York. The number two starter is Ted Lilly, who did not pitch long for Montreal, but has turned into a solid starter. The number three starter will be Javier Vasquez. Hopefully the 2009 Vasquez shows up, and not the 2010 version. The 4th starter for these Expos will be Livan Hernandez, who was actually good in 2010 (I didn’t believe it either, look it up). Rounding out the rotation will be Shawn Hill, giving the team some Canadian content. Hill pitched well down the stretch in Toronto last year, coming off major surgery.

Bullpen – Another strength for this team, there are several solid relievers for them to go to in the late innings. Jon Rauch, who spent time closing for Minnesota in 2010 will handle the closing duties. Scott Downs, the solid set-up man for Toronto, will handle the 8th inning, with assistance from Miguel Batista, who has had two solid years of relief in a row (I couldn’t believe it, but it appears to be true). Guillermo Mota, Chad Cordero and Gary Majewski are all on the downside of their careers, but can all be effective middle relievers for this team. And when the game gets out of hand, Claudio Vargas can be counted on in long relief.

In summary, here are your 2011 Montreal Expos. Obviously, the line-up has seen better days, but given perfect health, it’s not the worst pitching staff I’ve seen. I think they’d win 70 games with some luck….. what do you all think?

Batting Order:
SS Cabrera
2B Izturis
1B Johnson
DH Guerrero
RF Rivera
LF Bradley
CF Church
3B Tatis
C Schneider
Bench:
C Zaun
UT Harris
UT Carroll
UT Blum
Rotation:
SP Pavano
SP Lilly
SP Vasquez
SP Hernandez
SP Hill
Bullpen:
CL Rauch
SU Downs
SU Batista
MR Majewski
MR Cordero
MR Mota
LR Vargas
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2011 Chicago Cubs: Starting Pitching

5 10 2010

Posted by cubs223425

Before I even get this ball rolling, two things:

1. The Chicago Cubs will NOT sign Cliff Lee.

2. The Chicago Cubs SHOULD not sign Cliff Lee.

With that out of the way, we can move on to realistic possibilities.

I thought about writing this article for a moment, and I realized just how much of a mess this rotation really has become. Randy Wells has regressed worse than I could have ever imagined (and I didn’t like him going into this year AT ALL). Tom Gorzelanny did it again (looked good for a bit then imploded–just like in Pittsburgh). Carlos Silva summed up the epitome of the Cubs’ season (high hopes to start, then a complete wreck by the middle of the year). Carlos Zambrano starts the puzzling offseason questions (should they keep him? Will they keep him? Can they even move him?) by being the reverse of Gorzelanny and Silva.

With all of the above statements made, I went to work on Zambrano.

Five days ago, I looked at Zambrano in this post. When it came right down to it, I determined that Zambrano’s troubles outweigh all of the good he has done on the mound since his return. That didn’t stop the wonderful Jim Hendry from committing to him for next year, meaning that the Cubs will be committed to his $17.875 million salary for next season as well.

Unless something drastic changes in the Cubs’ front office, it appears that this sad mess of a rotation will be the exact same in 2011 as it was at the end of 2010. That would mean:

1. Carlos Zambrano – 129 2/3 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 131 ERA+

2. Ryan Dempster – 215 1/3 IP, 3.85 ERA, 1,32 WHIP, 113 ERA+

3. Randy Wells – 194 1/3 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 102 ERA+

4. Tom Gorzelanny – 136 1/3 IP, 4.09 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 106 ERA+

5. Carlos Silva – 113 IP, 4.22 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 103 ERA+

Here is what I notice from this:

Anyone that expects Zambrano to replicate a 3.33 ERA with a WHIP above that of Randy Wells, who posted a 4.26 ERA, is dead wrong. Seeing that alone lets me know that Zambrano needs to be gone. What’s worse is that the bottom-3 starters are barely average. That means that the Cubs would need a great offense to make up for it, and they certainly do not have that at this time. I’m seeing another losing season.

Originally, I came into this post looking to find a taker for Zambrano, but now Jim Hendry has ruined those hopes. So, now, the Chicago fan base has to pray that the Cubs move one of Wells, Gorzelanny, and Silva in a trade or to the bullpen so they can bring in a starting pitcher. Of those three, I see Silva as the most likely because of his age and injury concerns.

The first target in free agency to fill a rotation spot was Brandon Webb. He has since managed an outing where he topped 81 MPH and demanded a contract that rivals those of Rich Harden and Ben Sheets, ignoring that both of those pitchers were utter failures for Texas and Oakland, respectively. So, no Cliff Lee, no Brandon Webb. Where does that leave the market?

At a glance, the names that pop out are: Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang, Javier Vazquez, and Jorge De La Rosa. Taking Lilly back if he is offered arbitration would make little sense. It would mean giving up a draft pick to bring a player back that we clearly sold low on (Blake DeWitt was really the best we could get?). Harang is dead, no doubt about it. Vazquez would be Carlos Silva with more strikeouts. So, Jorge De La Rosa it is.

If this is the best the market has to offer, then the Cubs are in serious trouble. His 110 ERA+ was actually WORSE away from Coors Field. His K/9 drops from 9.5 to 6.9. His ERA rises from 4.10 to 4.36. His WHIP goes from 1.24 to 1.42. This is a 30-year-old whose 110 ERA+ has actually ranked as his best season in his career.

Now, after looking at the free agent market, I think it makes more sense to just let Carlos Silva get shelled rather than dish out money to watch someone else do it for him. So, does anyone have any ideas on trade options?





Should Big Z Get the Boot?

30 09 2010

Here is what seems to be the most difficult question facing Cubs management heading into the 2011 season:

Should the Cubs trade Carlos Zambrano this offseason?

Trading Zambrano is starting to look like no-win territory. There, of course, are the lobbyists that will never believe that Zambrano has or can turn a corner from his hotheaded nature or find consistency relative to a staff ace–being that dominant, innings-eating horse that he was when he got his current contract. Then, there are some who may think that he has at least established himself as a solid starter, worthy of a #2 or #3 spot in the rotation of most baseball clubs. And, as always, there has to be a middle ground on the matter.

Personally, I am doing this article in part to find out which side of the line I stand on here. There are compelling points for (past stats, the no-hitter, his desire to stay here) and against (2007, 2008, 2009, the start of 2010) keeping Zambrano, so let’s dive right in. Seeing as Zambrano started off as poorly as one can hope to never do, let’s traverse the bad of Zambrano first. After being a 4-5 WAR pitcher from 2003-2006, Zambrano put up back-to-back 2.8 WAR seasons in 2007 and 2008. He rebounded to a more in-line 3.6 in 2009, but he managed to win just 9 games (I know, I know–wins never fairly judge a pitcher, but COME ON–9 wins from the staff ace?!). And then the flood gates opened like I’ve never seen from Zambrano.

On Opening Day, Zambrano put up one of the worst lines I’ve seen from him: 1 1/3 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 1 KO, 2 HR. Of course, many remember that more as Jason Heyward’s coming out party, but many Cubs fans thought it had signified the beginning of the end for Big Z when the Cubs finally limped into the All-Star Break, and it didn’t get much better from there.

For starters, it was so bad that I have to actually type this and sound less than stabbed in the chest: Zambrano was relegated to bullpen duty after lowering his ERA to (here comes the stab) 7.45 after his fourth start. The move was two-fold: Zambrano sucked as a starter, and Grabow was worse as a reliever, meaning Z didn’t fit in his role, and no one in the bullpen fit in the 8th inning role. As a reliever in April, Zambrano allowed one earned run in four innings. Through April, Zambrano was settled to a horrific 6.56 ERA.

May saw Zambrano produce eight scoreless outing as a reliever, but it was ruined by two appearances that produced five earned runs, giving him a 5.00 ERA for the month. Of course, baseball fans know well what June brought.

The month started with three more embarrassments from the former ace, in which he posted a 4.96 ERA–15 1/3 IP, 11 R (8ER), 11 BB, 9 KO. Then, a little hope arrived: 7 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 KO; Zambrano may be back, right? WRONG. The next outing was what some thought to be the final straw.

On June 25th, Zambrano took the mound against the rival Chicago White Sox. He managed to allow four runs (all earned) on four hits in the first inning. Like clockwork, Zambrano’s annual epic meltdown arrived. He did as he frequently has, and began stomping around, throwing a fit about how players weren’t diving for balls and letting off steam in an unnecessary, childish tantrum. However, Derrek Lee would have none of it, and he confronted Zambrano. This led to a heated argument between the two, and Zambrano’s day was done after that. Shortly after, Zambrano was suspended and sent to anger management.

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Should Zambrano's up-and-down year be the reason to ship him off?

That trip did wonders. Zambrano returned to the mound on July 31st, and had a scoreless two-thirds of an inning. After a couple more relief appearances, the Cubs let him back into the rotation, and he took off. Granted, the first two outings were rather rocky (10 2/3 IP, 4 ER, 9 BB), but Zambrano has been strong as a whole, in terms of on-field production.

Since coming back from rehab, Zambrano has posted a 2.23 ERA in 7 appearances (5 starts) in August, and a 0.78 ERA in 5 September starts. His ERA+ has skyrocketed to a strong 130. Of course, he needs to lower the walks (41 walks and 59 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings pitched). Still, that he is getting a solid strikeout total and going deep into games with some frequency (4/10 starts were 7+ IP; 7/10 were 6+ IP) is a great sign. His xFIP is a much higher 4.47 on the season, but you take what you can get at this point.

And that’s the rub: do the Cubs ride the wave of success or cash out as soon as the season ends? Zambrano’s not a cheap cat–he makes$17.875 million in 2011, $18 million in 2012, has a $19.25 million vesting option (top-2 in 2011 Cy Young voting or top-4 in 2012 and healthy after 2012), plus a full no-trade clause (Jim Hendry’s bread and butter tactic to screw the team). So, even if the Cubs DO determine that moving Zambrano is the way to go, the options will be limited to a specific grouping of teams:

1. Those who actually want/need Zambrano

2. Those who can afford Zambrano

3. Those Zambrano will be willing to play for–meaning, contenders

My goal is to determine if Zambrano should be traded, not who he could go to (at least, that is the case for now). So, let us recap with a pros and cons list:

Pro-Zambrano:

1. He has typically been durable in his career.

2. He has been a staff ace in the past.

3. He has appeared to settle down mentally.

4. He has pitched well of late.

Con-Zambrano:

1. He is expensive.

2. No one can ever believe he is completely past the mental breakdowns.

3. He has been rather lucky, with an ERA-xFIP of -1.11.

4. His leadership skills are less than spectacular.

5. The team has plenty of pitching prospects to replace Zambrano, and he is at a sell-high point.

So, 4 pros and 5 cons. Of course, those are in no way the end-all, be-all facts and points of interest in the matter. But there is one thing that cannot be denied: Zambrano has a fla9ir for the dramatic, and not in a good way. He is arrogant, disruptive, and childish at his worst, and the highs have not outweighed the lows lately.

In my opinion, the cubs would be better off by trading Zambrano to anyone that will take 50% of his contract or more, though I would say 70% is my magic number to absolutely get him moved. It would allow them to address the issue of a true staff ace, among other issues.

What would Zambrano bring in return? Ideally, he would bring at least what Ted Lilly brought, which really was not much–another mediocre 2B/3B like Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker (Blake DeWitt) and a couple of mid-level prospects. The best-case scenario to me is if a team takes 70% of his contract and offers a 3-player prospect package, at least one of which is a B-level corner infield prospect.