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Let me tell you how excited I am that Winter is apparently hitting Chicago with its full force just in time for the Cubs Convention (about which, more later today). I guess if it’s going to be snowing at Wrigley in April, it’s gotta start at some point.

  • You can get a better sense about how excited to be about an international signing when you find out how much the Cubs paid to get the kid. In the case of the two Cuban prospects the Cubs signed a couple weeks ago, you can be modestly excited. Outfielder Yasiel Balaguert, 19, got $400,000, and righty pitcher Carlos Martinez, 20, got $250,000. Were Balaguert a draft pick, his bonus would be about what the slot recommendation is for a late second/early third round pick. Martinez’s is around late third round money. Thus, the original sense seems accurate: neither is a superstar prospect, but both are legitimate players to watch in the coming years.
  • WGN has announced the Spring games it will cover this year: 3/10 at Milwaukee, 3/11 at Los Angeles (NL), 3/24 vs. San Diego, and 3/25 at Cleveland.
  • More evidence that Matt Garza’s increased use of off-speed stuff (at the insistance of maligned and departed pitching coach Mark Riggins) is the reason for his career year in 2011. In short: he started striking out dudes like crazy when he used his fastball to setup an out-pitch. What that means is Garza is not necessarily a lock to regress next year. Indeed, he may well have developed into a legitimate ace.
  • “Camp Colvin,” the Cubs’ optional offseason strength and conditioning program started by the now-departed outfielder has been renamed “Camp Bussy” after strength coach Tim Buss (clearly the Cubs didn’t think that one through…). We’re not yet sure who all attended, but one attendee was Tony Campana, who added 10 pounds of muscle in the process. That can’t hurt, as Campana says he’s gotten even faster, but how about working on some bunting and plate discipline?
  • Both Randy Wells and Darwin Barney, at a stop on the Cubs Caravan yesterday, said they are looking forward to Spring Training so that they can show what they can do and win a spot in the rotation and at second base, respectively. Say what you will about the merits of either player, but you’ve got to love that attitude coming from guys who were starters last year. (Despite what you may think, I like Darwin Barney a lot. I love the way he plays the game, and nothing would please me more than to see him take the unusual step of hitting better in the bigs than he did in the minors.)
  • James Russell finds himself the primary late-inning lefty in the pen after Sean Marshall was traded, and he’s hoping to grab hold of the opportunity (if Russell pitches in the pen as well as he did last year, that’s just fine with me – he was excellent in relief). “Did not see that one coming,” Russell said. “I guess you have to get there somehow. Why not sooner rather than later? …. I want to be that guy they hand the ball to and feel comfortable doing it.”
  • Austin Bibens-Dirkx has signed with the Nationals after a few years with the Cubs. Once a top prospect, the Cubs picked Bibens-Dirkx up as a minor league free agent before the 2009 season. He pitched adequately in the minors at times, but never really showed big league stuff. And, so, now he moves on.
  • It’s no Epstein in a Starbucks, but Kerry Wood is interviewed in a barber shop. Some funny, non-baseball stories in there.
  • Jed, Dale and Jason read ‘My Pet Goat.’
  • Kyle

    It fascinates me how much statheadery and scouting have converged into a monolithic theory of baseball fandom.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      To what is that in reference?

      • Kyle

        Garza’s pitch selection.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          I guess I just can’t tell if you’re being critical.

          • Kyle

            Oh, sorry. Just the opposite: I love it.

            I cut my internet teeth in the days when OPS+ was the holy grail of statheadery.

            Now, just manipulating box score stats in new ways has gone the way of the Apple IIe. With detailed ball flight data and the way it’s being used, the sabermatricians sound more like grizzled scouts these days.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              Right on, I’m with ya. It’s funny how the same line can equally reflect awe and dubiousness.

          • dob2812

            That article on Garza is excellent. The heat maps are lovely. I wish I knew how to use those more efficiently.

            Garza’s improvements look real to me, but it’s not a sure thing. I still think I trade him for that reason.

  • ferrets_bueller

    For a second I thought that said “Camp Busey,” and I thought Gary Busey related humor would ensue. Alas, mild disappointment.  Come on Theo, all he’s doing is selling cars! Bring ‘em in!

     

  • Fishin Phil

    So Campana is up to what, 150 lbs now ?

    • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

      11, he is up to 11 pounds.
      If he is indeed faster we will hear this at some point this season:
      “Campana with a sharp grounder to Prince Fielder and Campana safe at 1st base!”

      • Andrew

        One of the few times a player can get faster by getting bigger because he wont be as affected by wind resistance/begin floating into the sky.

        • bluekoolaidaholic

          Yep, we may have to install a spoiler on him to hold him down so he can get traction.

  • Edwin

    Maybe Darwin Barney and Randy Wells will get in a big fight about whose job is harder and then go through some Freaky Friday shit or something, and suddenly Randy Wells will start pitching like a 2B while Barney starts hitting like a pitcher. And in the end both will wind up (baseball pun) with a better of understanding of what the other is going through.

  • 100 Years of Tears

    Brett, thank you for your positive comments on Barney. I really like the guy at second and feel like he gets overlooked or badmouthed too much. He’s a hard worker with angreat attitude. Fairly talented too, by the way.

    • dob2812

      Sure, we’re talking about major league baseball. They’re all talented. Even Koyie Hill. But I’m not sure Barney’s bat is what you want at 2nd. Plus he’s 26 now (I think) so time for improvement is running out. He’s fine for now, but the long-term answer lies elsewhere.

      • 100 Years of Tears

        You’re right. They are all talented. But come on, Koyie Hill shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as Barney in terms of their ability and value at the plate. I can hardly remember Hill not failing at the plate last year.

        • dob2812

          Oh, no, he’s almost as useless against major league pitching as your average guy on the street (almost, not quite naturally), which is not a charge you could level at Barney. But that doesn’t mean that Darwin is good enough at the plate. He’s a utility infielder at best really and I think he is that by 2014 at the latest (I’m assuming the Cubs are ready to contend by then).

          ‘Course Koyie Hill could catch major league pitching, which is no mean skill, hence me saying he’s talented.

          • 100 Years of Tears

            He just can’t throw out a runner anymore…

            • dob2812

              I’m very glad he’s a Cardinal now, is I think what we’re all saying.

      • bluekoolaidaholic

        After a player spends 4 years in college (very successfully I might add), and 2 or 3 years in the minor leagues (success here too) , and a year in the major leagues (was good in spite of moron Quade), that would make him about 25-26. If he continues to learn and develop as much as he has the last 3 years, he will be fine. I really admire his work ethic and fire I love seeing him come up in situations where the pressure is on. It isn’t all about hitting it is also about timely hitting, attitude, defense and improvement. I say give it another year. I bet he continues to improve in every way, he is a scrapper.
        If he just didn’t look like such a fool chewing gum. lol

    • 100 Years of Tears

      Sorry, a great attitude.

    • Kyle

      I remain Barney’s most steadfast stathead supporter.

      In the post-steroid era with lowered offenses, a .680 OPS with good defense is acceptable at 2b.

    • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

      Frankly, Barney just is nothing more than a league average second baseman and is one of the worst, offensively, amongst the starting second baseman. He is the Kyle Orton of MLB 2nd baseman – won’t lose you any games but he won’t win you any games.

      • BetterNews

        Hansman–How can you say that!

      • CubFan Paul

        so why isn’t Barney at Camp Bussy early? if he were to SLG at least .400 he could be a starting 2B

        • CubsFanBob

          People say he was one of the worse 2b’s last year about Barney but I swear it always seemed as if he was working deep counts, advancing runners, clutch hits every once and a while till he slumped later in the season

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            “Later in the season” = Every game after May 1.

            I kid, I kid. Kind of.

          • DocWimsey

            Barney’s “clutch hits” were deceptive. During his “hot run” early in the season (he had 20 “clutch” hits before missing time), 4 or 5 were infield hits that failed to drive the runner on second home. Now, getting on base is great, but most infield hits represent cases where the pitcher really beat the batter, only to have bad luck thwart him. So, Barney got hits in “clutch” ABs that really were not “clutch” at all.

            In the end, he went 35 for 118 with RiSP, which is pretty much what you expect from a guy who bats 0.276 overall. 33 was the most probable number, and maybe 34 when you take into account that batting averages are always a little higher with RiSP; we expect at least one batter per team to accidentally get 8 “extra” hits in 118 ABs, so Barney’s numbers were really unexceptional.

            • CubsFanBob

              Just curious how many of his base hits were with 2 outs ?

      • die hard

        but if moved to SS, where would he rank offensively ?….And Castro would be second coming of Sandberg if moved to 2B….a good chess move is how I see this…

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          The Barney piece of it, you’re quite right on. But the thing is, Castro’s upside defensively at shortstop is still quite high. He *could* be a very good defensive shortstop if given time.

      • Robert

        I disagree. Barney had ATLEAST two game winning hits for us this year. One coming against the Nationals when the Cubs came back being down by 8. Lets not also forget he was the one who ended dan Uggla’s hitting streak. (i was at that game.) and do you remember when we beat the brewcrew 1-0. castro hit a sharp grounder up the middle and weeks came throwing home and darwin was safe with the head first slide over the bat, which ultimatley put him on the 15 day DL.

        • die hard

          Barney’s throws to first wont require Lahair to use a step stool….his range wont be inconsistent…hes more of a field general and would take leadership pressure off of Castro…hes got the toughness of a Larry Bowa and could blossom as the take charge guy cubs need there…Castro does not have personality…Barneys been a winner whereever he goes….

          • OlderStyle

            I really like Barney. I even like your idea of Barney at SS and Castro at 2B. Castro does not seem to have that win/leadership aura. dare I say, he reminds me more of Aramis and Soriano. He’s so young it could still develop. Also, Brett is probably right- all the tools are there for Castro to be a superb defensive shortstop and there is still time for that to develop, too.
            With new manager and *culture*, we should know about Castro’s future development path in two seasons.

            • 100 Years of Tears

              I sure hope Castro’s defense improves. He got the tools, but was anyone else getting tired of hearing that “he’s just so darn young” after he launched another throw into the bleachers trying to make a play that would have required a breech of the space-time continuum? He’s not that young anymore. It’s time for his brain to catch up with his body.

              • BetterNews

                I sure hope his defense improves in court!

              • DocWimsey

                The bigger problem is that people are looking too much at errors and not enough at range. Castro has above average range, and that is really much more important. A lot of errors by middle infielders are at the ends of their ranges: which means that a wide-ranging SS or 2B is making errors that are “clean singles” against Derek Jeter.

                Ultimately, what really is important is what proportion of the balls in the typical SS’s range Castro is converting into outs: and he comes out a little ahead there.

                • Kyle

                  Unfortunately, at this point in his career, he makes so many errors that he doesn’t come out ahead yet. Most defensive metrics still have him below average overall, even accounting for his range.

                  The good news is that, as others have mentioned, this is all perfectly normal for a 21-year-old SS. He’ll grow out of the errors.

              • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

                um, he is still just 21 years old, most 21 year olds are figuring out A+ or AA ball.
                The problems with Castro’s errant throws are they usually come when he tries to rush a play because of his range. While Castro commits a lot of errors, guess who else did when he was new to the league – Ozzie Smith.

              • OlderStyle

                I hope it does too. What concerns me is that not all the errors are rushed throws from the limit of his range. He is inconsistent with footwork and arm slot, resulting in bad throws. He rushes throws when he has time and forces plays when he should just hold the ball. He has lapses in concentration of just seeing the ball into the glove. With LaHair at first he’ll have less of a safety net.
                With consistent work and effort he should be able to straighten these issues out.

        • CubSouth

          Wow Robert, I was at that game as well!!! It was one of the most SPECTACULAR plays I have ever seen in person. My buddy is a Braves fan, we both went, and to this day he still blames me for ending Uggla’s hitting streak. Where were you sitting? I keep looking for other Cubs fans to go to games with, but unfortunately I’m alone in this community and surrounding area.
          I do have to admit its very fun going to the Cubs/Braves series and chatting it up with fellow Cubs fans. Maybe I will meet a few of you at the next series in Atlanta. It’s on the July 4th weekend, should be exciting!!!

          • Michael Foster

            CubsSouth, wife and I are returning from a wedding week of July 4th and plan to stay over for at least one game. Anything I should know about getting good seats? Etc. Thanks.

        • JasonB

          Great – are we going to give credit to the player who got on base so that he could be driven in by Barney?  How about giving credit to the rest of the team for putting Barney in a position to deliver a GW hit when he had the opportunity?  He played 150 games – I would hope that he could come up with a GW hit every now and then.

          I don’t dislike Barney – he’s league average and he’s cheap.  But he is what he is – a 26 year old 2 win player with no power who won’t become an above average 2B unless he gets on base more often.  His value is basically good defense and that’s it – there’s no reason to sugarcoat it.

          • BetterNews

            I love it–(Barney)No sugar coating! He is what he is(Brett forgive me)

          • T C
            Whoa whoa whoa! Jason B, are you questioning the validity of RBI’s as a stat? HOW COULD YOU SAY SUCH A THING HE DROVE IN RUNS THATS HOW YOU WIN GAMES DUH
            but in all seriousness, yea, he’s not an awful player, and if he were playing short for some team he’d be above average. But at 2B, I hold no hope for him being anything other than a league-average 2B whose value is almost entirely due to his defense, which is tough to quantify. for now though, thats not a huge issue, cause even with a 5-win second baseman this team isnt winning anything, I just wish Cubs fans wouldnt fall in love with such mediocre players
            • JasonB

              “are you questioning the validity of RBI’s as a stat?”

              Hopefully someone will come on and point me to the errors of my ways. :)

              • BetterNews

                I will! I would put Barney at the plate with RISP before anyone but Castro!

                • T C

                  ….like clockwork….

                  • JasonB

                    Ehh – BetterNews doesn’t count – he’d argue that the sky was purple.

                    • BetterNews

                      No I argue the facts! And yes the sky is purple though it is skewed by your eyes.

  • CubSouth

    This off season has been wild (to say the least). We shouldn’t expect the same to happen next off season as well, right?

  • rocky8263

    The basics. Every manager, GM and coach talks about it. Brett you are absolutely on the money with Camapagna. I remember the Q dude saying that by June the players lose touch with the little things they practiced in spring. I can only hope the new guys figure it out.

  • Troy

    I have been saying all along, I would love to see Campana an everyday starter. I would like to see what he could do with his bat and if he could develop into a lead off guy. I really think he could be a guy that bats .285 steals 45 bases and can score a ton of runs. He needs to work on his patience. If he could get OBP up he could be a great lead off hitter. In the National League this is just the kind of guy you need. This is also something the Cubs have not had since Juan Piere.

    • DocWimsey

      Pierre was NOT a good leadoff hitter for the Cubs. His 0.330 OBP was among the worst of NL leadoff men and Pierre set a record for the lowest BA ever while still getting 200 hits, and a lot of guys with fewer hits got on base a lot more times. The Cubs would have scored more runs by having Matt Murton lead off that year.

      People blamed it on Pierre’s lack of power, but guys like Brett Butler showed that you could work counts and take walks without power if you just didn’t swing at balls outside of the strike zone. Pierre just put (and continues to put) way too many non-strikes into play. Some people were impressed that he could hit pitches in the right handed batters box at the 3rd basemen: I would have been more impressed if he’d not swung at those pitches.

      • Troy

        Juan Pierre 2006: BA .292, SB 58, OBP. 330, BB 32, 2B 32, 3B 13 & Hits 204.
        The OBP and Walks are not great, but still the stolen bases, 2B and hits were awesome! With what we have had lately and def. not having any speed what so ever I will take those numbers. Also Murton that year had the best year of his life. He went down the pooper after that.

  • Cliffy

    Gotta give the hosts on WEEI credit they asked more tougher questions then Chicago media do in press conferences. However they like to re-live the past rather than look to the future. Blah blah blah about collapse in September, Tito’s problems, Larry Lucchino relationship. Theo sounds genuinely happy to be here and away from the Boston circus.

  • gratefulled

    Nice article on Wood. He has always been one of the most down to earth athletes in all major sports. How would you not want a guy like that on your team. Can we sign him already!?

    I have always enjoyed watching Barney play dating back to Iowa. he has a great attitude and work ethic. Even if he doesn’t have a great game, you don’t feel jipped ’cause you know he gave it his all. I’d much rather watch him play everyday compared to someone like D-bag A-Ram.

  • ty

    Brett has been the only and I mean only media -communications guy to write how much pitching coach Mark Riggins helped Smardj become a real pitcher. James Russell came on also with his help. Marmol can be a very stubborn kid and the other veteran pitchers care less. Riggins had been a major league pitching coach under Joe Torre and has developed hundreds of young pitchers as a long time co-ordinator. Well respected. My lonely opinion is Quade kept him from going out to the mound or making pitching changes instead going out himself frequently when he did not have a any expertise to offer. Riggins did not deserve all the crap thrown at him and some of the guys that he worked diligently with should have stepped up for him.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Riggins was a tough case. It was clear that he helped certain guys – Samardzija and Garza were the two most obvious (and I’d bet Russell benefited as well, though I can’t point to a change in approach or pitch usage) – but other guys really regressed. Was that Riggins, a lack of Rothschild, or mere aging? Hard to know, but on reflection, I think Riggins probably got more crap than he deserved – and I think we underestimated just how good Larry Rothschild was.

  • BetterNews

    I would love to meet Matt Garza in person! He just sems like a “special” person! No I am not gay!

    • Toosh

      Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Absolutely not.

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