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cacti mesaCome on, Cactus League championship …

  • The Cactus League – as in, Spring Training baseball games in Arizona – gets underway today for the Chicago Cubs, who’ll face the Arizona Diamondbacks in the opener at Cubs Park. The Cubs will play 34 Cactus League games this year, including six split-squad days. The Cubs finished 16-19 last year in the Cactus League, good for 10th out of 15 teams (who knew that would be the high point of the year, in terms of a final record?). The Royals (25-7) and Mariners (22-11) blew away the field last year, which should tell you all you need to know about the relative merits of a good Spring Training record. Always keep perspective on Spring Training results and stats. You can divine some meaning from some things, but it’s easy to go too far too quickly.
  • But for those of you who just can’t help but be into the results, and for those of you who are more optimistic about the Cubs, or who want to arbitrage your happiness by betting against the Cubs, click here for the best MLB lines and odds this preseason.
  • Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs takes a look at the most and least improved teams this offseason – not just based on transactions, but also on improvement/regression/etc. – with an eye toward pegging the better teams in 2014. The top team? The Astros, with a projected +18 WAR over last year. Of course, most of that is merely projected positive regression. The Cubs aren’t listed, but I can tell from the mentioned teams that they fall somewhere between +4 and -5, which sounds about right. The Cubs probably have more positive regression candidates than negative, but they also lost (and did not really replace) guys like Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza. Calling them flat going into 2014 is fair.
  • Mark Gonzales talked to Jake Arrieta about his shoulder. The righty isn’t yet throwing off of the mound, and says he’s trying to get to the point where he knows he can give the bullpen a breather if they’re worn out. I guess Arrieta is saying his arm strength will take a while to fully come back? That’s probably true of every pitcher in Spring Training, so I’m not entirely sure I get what he means, and I don’t want to speculate.
  • Bruce Miles offers his thoughts on the Cubs’ center field picture in the near and long-term. Among other guys discussed, there are reasons for modest optimism about Ryan Sweeney and Justin Ruggiano.
  • A profile on Albert Almora from Mark Gonzales, which serves as a reminder that Almora is uniquely mature and polished for a soon-to-be 20-year-old who hasn’t played above Low-A. Assuming he starts the year at High-A, it’s not inconceivable that Almora could get a quick promotion to AA, and then maybe even a taste of AAA late in the year.
  • Rick Renteria says that Jorge Soler is a very, very calm guy, and is very composed (Patrick Mooney). Those thoughts, and the questions that drove them, are obviously tied to the bat-wielding incident last year, which the Cubs’ front office has described as very out of character for Soler. Renteria added that Soler is a high-ceiling guy who needs more experience.
  • For his part, Soler says he learned from the incident, and he’s now 100% healthy from the leg injury that scuttled his 2013 season (Jesse Rogers). What is Soler working on right now? Keeps his bat in the zone longer.
  • Vine Line produced a cool video on a number of the Cubs’ top prospects in camp, chatting with them about their experience and their goals for the season ahead.
  • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

    Actual BASEBALL! Get to listen to the Cubs and/or watch, BASEBALL IS HERE- now f-off winter your time is over.

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      Yes. Thanks to the Never Ending Winter that would put Game of Thrones to shame, it couldn’t have come too soon.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        We could ponder which Thrones character has the most “belly fire.”

        • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

          Eh, baseball is back. We can save that for next offseason when the Cubs aren’t signing anyone.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            heh, well, the last book in the series is going to be called “A Dream of Spring.” That could double for a baseball book title!

            (This, of course, assumes that Martin ever finishes the damn series….)

            • Edwin

              I hope it doesn’t turn into something like the Wheel of Time series, where he drags it out so long that he dies before he finishes it.

              • DocPeterWimsey

                It’s a different situation. Jordan wrote several more books than necessary for whatever reasons, but he was cranking out one every year or two. Martin simply writes at a glacial pace: he got the first 3 books out in 4-5 years, but it took 11 years to get the next two out.

                Martin also has been heavily involved in the HBO show. In fact, some of the bigger deviations from the books are in episodes he wrote! (Martin wrote for TV at one time, so he understands that what works in one medium doesn’t work in another: but most SciFi/Fantasy fans dont’ get that at all.)

                Anyway, I vow to Take the Black and man the Wall if the Cubs make post-season this year.

                • MichaelD

                  Yes. Since the amount of time between books seems to be growing exponentially and the number of books in the series is growing linearly, the last book in the series should come out around the time the Cubs are celebrating the hundredth anniversary of their third World Series victory.

                • Funn Dave

                  Actually, from my understanding, it’s kind of the opposite of what you’ve just described: Martin actually extended the series to give HBO more material from the show. And man, do I want to finish those Robert Jordan books; but if I pick them back up where I left off I’ll be way confused (I read the first six over a decade ago), and if I reread all those books…well, that’s just not happening.

                  • Edwin

                    I really can’t decide if WoT was worth it. By the end I don’t know if I was actually reading it because it was good, or if it was because I’d already read so much that I just wanted to see how the story ended. It’s like when you eat 11 crappy sandwhiches, but if you eat a 12th you get the next sandwhich free.

                    • Funn Dave

                      I know exactly what you mean. There was a book or two that kind of dragged on for me, but I kept going because I wanted to see what happened to those young guns from Book 1.

                  • MichaelD

                    The HBO series only began to come into being after the 4th book was written. By that point Martin had already announced his plan to extend to a seven-book series.

  • rcleven

    2:05 can’t come soon enough.
    Baseball.

  • Kyle

    I don’t think we’re going to be skipping the fifth starter in April just because of an off day, so the first time it comes up will be April 5. If Arrieta isn’t even throwing off a mound yet, I think that’s probably gone at this point.

  • ssckelley

    That sucks about Arrieta, I was really looking forward to seeing him in the rotation.

  • Hee Seop Chode

    I’ve got my DVR set for WGN. I can’t wait to get home! I might even grab some Old Style for the viewing!

    • Edwin

      I’m curious to see what kind of production values they have. I like watching baseball on tv, but I wonder what type of camera angle we’ll get.

    • DarthHater

      Thanks for the reminder. Just remotely programmed my DVR from work. Hooray technology!

  • Kyle

    I love how excited I am for today even though history tells me that sometime between the five innings and two days of ST baseball is all I can take before it bores me to tears.

  • Spriggs

    Does any know for sure if Soler speaks English at all.

    • cubsfan1594

      He has been taking classes this offseason to learn, but he still spoke spanish at the convention

  • http://obstructedview.net Myles

    That Vine Line video is legit. You should definitely watch it.

    • Myles

      Myles imposter!

      • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

        Uh oh. Is this were the fabric of space and time rips into 2?

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        You’re both legit Myles’s (Myles P. and Myles H.), but how do you both have the same username? That shouldn’t work …

        • http://obstructedview.net Myles

          I’ve also wondered this. At least our pictures are different. For now.

        • Jon

          Is this like in Ghostbusters when they “crossed the streams”?

        • Myles P

          No wormhole for me. I think I solved the problem before ruining any space-time continuums.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Nope: a 10 year younger version of me just walked into my office, and as I didn’t hear TARDIS sounds, I blame you.

            • DarthHater

              Wow, two quantum physics discussions in one week = two excuses to post my favorite cartoon:

              [img]http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5347/9249140622_60e821274c_n.jpg[/img]

      • http://obstructedview.net Myles

        Myles imposter!

        • Edwin

          Which one should I send back through the wormhole? They’re too similar!

          • http://obstructedview.net Myles

            You guys are my best friends
            Through thick and thin
            We’ll always be together
            We’re four of a kind
            Having fun all day
            Pallin’ around
            And laughing away
            Just best friends
            Best friends are we!
            I love you guys.

            • Edwin

              You’re hella funny.

            • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

              Yup…you’re going into the wormhole.

    • CubChymyst

      Watched the video, and I’d swear the FO coached the kids on what to say to the media. Everything thing they said is exactly what you’d want to hear from them.

      • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

        Of course they coached them on what to say to the media, that’s part of being a professional athlete. What do you think they use the rookie orientation for? I would wager that media relations is a part of that

        • CubChymyst

          That is probably correct.

          • FFP

            I saw a video about ten years ago of one of these classes (for the Bosox). There were little desks and a whiteboard with a teacher standing in front of it. The ‘students’ took notes and I’m pretty sure there was a test that was being taught to mastery. It seemed obviously good idea– AFTER I saw it. It is part of the Cubs’ way; learning the Cubs’ way. I think its industry standard now (except in Miami and Seattle, hah)

  • Cornish Heat

    Wait a minute… so the White Sux have improved 6 WAR, the Marlins 11, and the Astros 18, while the Cubs likely remained neutral???

    So you’re saying there’s a chance…. for the 2015 #1 draft pick.

    Whoo-hoo!

  • Jon

    With all these teams like the Astro’s getting better, who will Cub fans be able to make fun of?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Still the Astros.

      • Jon

        Even if they post a similar record as us this year? With a similarly strong farm system?

        • Edwin

          They still have that stupid hill in their outfield. Still the Astros.

        • mjhurdle

          yep, definitely the Astros.
          And the Marlins.
          And im pretty sure the Mariners will be on the schedule for mocking by the All-Star break.

          plenty to choose from

          • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

            Don’t forget the Angels.

            • Edwin

              Angels aren’t that bad. They’re a projected 85 win team. They’re actually projected to win the AL West, currently. And as much as people want to make fun of the Mariners, they’re projected for 83 wins, which puts them right there in the division race. AL West should be an interesting 4 team race.

              • Jon

                BUT LOOK HOW INEFFICIENT THEY ARE!

                The Cubs are getting a much better bargain for their 65 wins.

                • Darth Ivy

                  isn’t that a good thing that they’re not losing 65 games with $150 million payroll? I prefer winning. The losing sucks. But you’re right, losing with a lage payroll is worse than losing with a small payroll

                  • Darth Ivy

                    winning > losing. Losing with a $85 million payroll > losing with $150 million payroll.

                    Please don’t respond with a strawman implying that I don’t care about wins and losses

                  • Jon

                    losing sucks period. I don’t give a shit about about Tom Rickett’s bank account. I know many of you do, but I don’t.

                    • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

                      That wasn’t what he was saying, your need to push your narrative and avoid conversation is very amusing these days.

                    • Darth Ivy

                      losing does suck. But the financial situation of the Cubs (and ricketts in general) does have an effect on the team.

                    • Darth Ivy

                      And it’s not even just about the finances. As a fan, it’s way more frustrating when a high payroll team loses. that has nothing to do with finances, it’s just about my enjoyment as a fan

                    • Jon

                      To me, even more frustrating than a high payroll team that severely underachieves, is a big market team, with plenty of resources, that repeatedly throws in the white towel season after season after season.

                    • Darth Ivy

                      really? So if you were fans of two teams. One had a $150 million payroll and the other an $85 million payroll and both finished with 65 or 70 loses, you’d be more frustrated with the $85 million team? Wow. ok. My only suggestion is to find other ways to enjoy the Cubs this year other than W/L. When you know a team will be bad, the losing shouldn’t be a surprise. When a team is good on paper and loses, the losing hurts because you expect them to win.

                    • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

                      Jon would complain regardless. It’s his role.

                    • Darth Ivy

                      And nobody is happy with them throwing in the towel. Everyone wants them to get guys that make sense long term. It’s a borderline strawman to keep bringing up how it sucks that they’re not trying. No one is suggesting otherwise

                    • bbmoney

                      I’d be equally frustrated with both teams. The only reason, and I mean the only reason I care about payroll (or as Jon may phrase it, Rickett’s Bank Account) is because of the impact it has on making moves in the future.

                      Losing sucks equally regardless of money being spent. But spending less does leave you more flexibility to make moves in the future, which is better, but doesn’t make it less frustrating.

                      Now if you just don’t think the owner is ever going to spend and that’s why payroll is low, I’d disagree with that point of view, but if I didn’t disagree I can see how that’d be the most frustrating thing ever.

                    • Darth Ivy

                      bbmoney- exactly. Whether it’s because of finances or personal enjoyment, at least you see that, too. And it’s not a “I’m glad their payroll is low for 2014″ argument, its a “damn, those last two years sucked. At least those losses weren’t expensive like they are for many teams” (I know you know this, just thinking out loud

                    • Jon

                      I’m not really trying to be negative, I just find it funny how Cub fans are so quick to mock the state of other franchises, considering their own state. Part of me thinks it’s a defense mechanism, like a battered wife insisting her marriage isn’t that bad.

                      I get laughing that the Marlins, but the Angels? Just because of the Hamilton and Pujols deals? You do realize Arty Moreno could outright release Pujols today, pay his salary off and it would be tip money to him. I suppose he won’t even see the end of that deal, playing wise, which is all part of the team ambassador stuff built into his deal.

                    • Darth Ivy

                      what are you talking about? No one is saying that 197 losses in two years is good. No one is defending it.

                    • Jon

                      Ivy, not you in particular, but these massive losses (197 in two years) repeatedly get defended here on a daily basis, as a staple of the “plan”.

                    • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

                      Darth Ivy it’s really not worth arguing anymore, Jon has his agenda and won’t change.

                    • Darth Ivy

                      Thanks, Goat. I’ll take your advice.

                    • http://thenewenthusiast.com/ dw8

                      “You do realize Arty Moreno could outright release Pujols today, pay his salary off and it would be tip money to him.”

                      This isn’t true. All teams have budgets. If the Angels didn’t, they’d be spending more than they already have.

            • Kyle

              The Angels really aren’t a bad team on paper.

              They had some flukish underperformance last year.

              • DocPeterWimsey

                The Angels also won about 5 fewer games than expected given their core performances. Only the ChiSox, Cubs and Tigers did worse in that regard.

              • Jon

                They also have, what looks like, one of the top 5 greatest players of all time as well who is 22, and a billionaire owner to boot who is always willing to spend.

                oh, I’d hate to be them!

    • Spriggs

      The Bears

    • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

      The Marlins…Not only do they have that stupid sculpture, but Marlins President David Samson was the first person voted off of Survivor last night.

    • Kyle

      The Brewers, unless they get fairly lucky with pitcher health. They are one or two (completely reasonably likely) injuries away from being bad this year *and* having absolutely nothing in the minors on the way.

      • Jon

        And and that point maybe the Cubs can jump in and swing a deal for Ryan Braun, who douche or not, has a bargain contract relatively speaking.

  • DocPeterWimsey

    “which should tell you all you need to know about the relative merits of a good Spring Training record.”

    At one time (like, in the 1990’s), someone showed that there actually was a weak negative correlation between ST records and regular season records. Does anybody know if this has been redone in the decade?

  • Kyle

    I look at our spring training facilities, which are pretty awesome. I read the process stories about how seriously they are taking training and drills, how much thought has been put into how to proceed. I look at all the staff that has been added, and not just in the minors, like the “quality control” guy who is there to just scout the Cubs.

    And I think: At some point, this has got to show up on the field, doesn’t it?

    There’ve been drips and drabs. Sveum’s shifts helped produce one of the better defenses in the league. Bosio and the pitching philosophies seem to have a knack for producing more ground balls out of veteran pitchers. But on the whole, we just haven’t seen a whole lot of it at the MLB level. And it’s hard to tell how much of the prospects’ performances to date are from development and how much is just from drafting and trading for talents that are out-talenting their levels in the minors.

    If we’re really one of the smartest, hardest-working organizations in baseball, then is it really too much to ask for them to squeak an 81-win performance out of a 75-win roster? And if it is, does any of this stuff really matter, or is it just self-indulgent wankery?

    • Elden14

      By George, I think I see hope in Kyle’s eyes.

      • Kyle

        I’ve always been one of the more optimistic posters, believe it or not, in the short-term.

        • Fishin Phil

          Kyle, you just made me spit coffee all over my keyboard.

          • Kyle

            *shrug*

            I bet if you lined up everyone’s pre-season win total predictions each year, I’d be near the top more or less every time.

            Most fans tend to go to extremes. When we’re bad in the present, they expect way too few wins. When we’re hoping on the future, the future is expected to be way better than it probably will be.

            • Fishin Phil

              “Most fans tend to go to extremes. When we’re bad in the present, they expect way too few wins. When we’re hoping on the future, the future is expected to be way better than it probably will be.”

              Your best post ever.

          • Jon

            I don’t want to speak for Kyle, but I think his positivity turns into negativity, because he legitimately sees a team that doesn’t have to be that bad, but chooses to be year in and year out. That sums up my feelings at least.

    • dw8

      Fairly aggressive use of platoons, protecting starters from the 3rd time through the order/subsequent bullpen use.

    • Jason P

      I think we have closer to a 70-win team on paper that will turn into a 65-win team after July 31st. In that sense, 75 wins would be a pleasant surprise, as long as it’s because of development from key players and not just luck.

  • candyland07

    >…..”””then is it really too much to ask for them to squeak an 81-win performance out of a 75-win roster?”””

    A 75 win record would be an improvement and that should be the goal. I think the Cubs are just spinning its wheels. The Cubs know that its team can not produce at a major league level to contend, let alone be decent within its division. The Cubs stink because they do not try and improve its major league roster. The Cubs because of their talent are content to acquire premium draft choices to better improve their farm system and comes as early as June through the end of regular baseball season the Cubs number 1 priority is to sell off assets to maintain its dismal record to improve its draft choice selection.

    I suspect as the years mount Cub fans will grow tired. The Cubs are a bad team.

    • Kyle

      75 wins would be more than last year, but a 75-win roster on Opening Day is a downgrade from last year.

      • http://thenewenthusiast.com/ dw8

        Agreed. While the past two years the team’s talent level has worsened during the year, it is at least possible that during the 2014 season the Cubs’ 25 man roster will add talent instead of subtracting talent through trades.

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