Monthly Archives: January 2021

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Much of the hoopla and discussion surrounding the Cubs’ seven-player trade this week has focused on star pitcher Yu Darvish. That, of course, is understandable.

But the other player headed to San Diego, Victor Caratini, is worth remembering as well. First, let’s acknowledge the thanks Victor sent our way:

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Note “FANS” in caps. Thanks, Victor, for four solid seasons in a Cubs uniform. Victor lived in the neighborhood near Wrigley, too, and used to pass by us in the bleacher line on his way to the ballpark:

We’ll see where things wind up when the offseason is over – the bulk of free agency is still yet to happen! – but I wouldn’t be surprised if the on-paper Cubs look worse on April 1 than they do today. (I just hope that, if that happens, they’ve done they best they can in free agency to give themselves a puncher’s chance, and – more importantly – that the returns to the organization’s farm system were just too overwhelming not to feel good about the future.)

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• Speaking of which. The Cubs’ last obviously-selling trade until … Yu Darvish and the man who was acquired in that very trade. Victor Caratini was the bookends for an era:

• Jordan Bastian had some fun at Cubs.com going through the best single game offensive performances in Cubs history, and my guess is there would be some fightin’ right at the top. Statistically, Kris Bryant’s whopper against the Reds in June of 2016 (three homers and two doubles) is the best Cubs game of all-time. But I already know what you’re going to say. The actual best is this – HE DID IT AGAIN! HE DID IT AGAIN! – the Ryne Sandberg Game:

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It’s worth remembering how Caratini came to the Cubs. The 2014 Cubs were having another “rebuild” season, making a major deal in July in which they sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics for Dan Straily, Billy McKinney and Addison Russell. Straily was later sent to the Astros for Dexter Fowler.

The Cubs didn’t make too many more deals that year, but at the July 31 trading deadline, they sent Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell to the Braves for Caratini.

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At the time, Caratini, who was the Braves’ second-round pick in 2013, was 20 years old and had played 158 professional games, none above Low-A. He was assigned to Kane County, then the Cubs’ affiliate in the Midwest League.

This was a great case of “sell high to a desperate contending team looking for anything to help them.” The Braves, a 96-win team in 2013, were 58-50 entering the games of July 31, 2014, but just 1½ games out of first place in the NL East. They’d made the postseason three of the previous four years and hoped to squeeze out another division title, or at least a wild-card spot. Bonifacio and Russell were complementary parts.

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The deal was a spectacular failure from the Atlanta viewpoint. Bonifacio, who had hit like a superstar in April for the Cubs (.337/.385/.406 in 110 PA, they should have traded him right then!), hit just .212/.273/.280 in 41 games (128 PA) for the Braves, producing -0.3 bWAR. Russell, who pitched competently for the Cubs in ‘14 (3.51 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 0.5 bWAR), had a decent 22 games in Atlanta (2.22 ERA, 1.027 WHIP, 0.6 bWAR) — but the Braves released him at the end of the following year’s spring training and he wound up right back in the Cubs bullpen in 2015, though he didn’t pitch very well (5.97 ERA, -0.9 bWAR, left off the postseason roster).

Meanwhile, Caratini was steadily progressing through the Cubs system, making his debut in 2017 and becoming the regular backup to Willson Contreras in 2018. Overall in four Cubs seasons, Victor hit .250/.327/.372 (150-for-600) with 15 home runs in 240 games. Though that was only worth a total of 1.0 bWAR, Caratini was widely praised for his pitch framing skills, and of course, over the last year-plus he became Darvish’s personal catcher, likely the reason he was included in the deal.

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It’s instructive to look at what happened to the Braves after this deal. From July 31, 2014 through the end of the season the Braves went 21-32 and finished under .500. In 2015 they tanked completely, losing 95 games, and followed that up with a 96-loss year in 2016 and 90 losses in 2017. They quickly retooled and won 90 games in 2018 and have made the postseason three straight years.

Could the Cubs do that? Sure, though the fanbase likely wouldn’t tolerate three 90+ loss seasons. The Braves had a solid farm system producing players such as Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley, and they made shrewd trades, acquiring (among others) Dansby Swanson.

The Cubs don’t have players of the caliber of Acuña, Albies and Riley in their system. But perhaps trades like the one made this week will help the Cubs find players like that. It is, of course, way too early to know.

Anyway, the Cubs got a good backup catcher for four years for the price of two guys who didn’t do much in the big leagues after the deal, though, suprisingly, Bonifacio hung around for several more years, even surfacing in the majors for three games in 2020 with the Nationals.

Among the pleasant memories we have of Victor Caratini is the outstanding defensive play he made while pitching the ninth inning of a blowout loss to the Mets June 22, 2019.

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Over the last three decades, few moves irked fans on the North Side more than the team’s unwillingness to pay up and retain a future Hall of Famer after arguably one of the best seasons of his illustrious career.

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In 1992, Chicago Cubs right-hander Greg Maddux was absolutely dominant, winning 20 games for the only time in his 23 years in the big leagues. He led the league in several categories, including wins (20), games started (35), innings pitched (268), ERA+ (166), FIP (2.58) and HR/9 (0.2).

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How to sum up the offseason so far…? All we have seen so far is departure after departure of guys we’ve seen make huge impacts over the last few years – including three of the team’s five starting pitchers from last year.

The Chicago Cubs traded Yu Darvish to the Padres, Tyler Chatwood signed with the Toronto Blue Jays and Jose Quintana reunited with Joe Maddon as a member of the Los Angeles Angels. Will dire necessity bring about a reunion between the Cubs and former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta?

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Jake Arrieta makes sense for the Cubs for a ton of reasons
Our old friend Arrieta is going to throw for interested teams next week. We don’t yet know if the Cubs will be in attendance, but they better be. I mean, with the team’s need for arms, there’s no way they won’t be there. At this point, it’s a must to at least check in on every budget-friendly arm out there. It’s been painfully obvious the Cubs are looking to save money and Arrieta wouldn’t break the bank given his recent performance.

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Arrieta is a different guy since we last saw him on the Cubs. Back then, he was still largely at the top of his game. In 2015 he was one of the most dominant pitchers baseball has ever seen, becoming the first Cubs Cy Young winner since Greg Maddux in 1992. Although not quite as lights-out in 2016, he still played a major role in the Cubs ending a century-plus championship drought.

After the 2017 season, Arrieta became a free agent and the Cubs had to decide between him and Darvish. The Cubs went with Darvish and at the time people didn’t think that it was the right decision. Three years removed from the decision it was clear that Darvish was irrefutably the right move.

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The biggest question behind Arrieta heading in 2021 is his health as his 2020 season was cut short due to a hamstring injury – the second time in as many years he’s battled the injury.

NEXT: Is Jake Arrieta one of the best Cubs pitchers of all-time?
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It makes sense for Jed Hoyer to go out and get Arrieta for the starting rotation. I don’t think he is going to come out and be 2015 Arrieta or anything but as of now the club just needs guys to eat innings. If he can stay healthy he will be able to do that – and given the risks, he’s not going to cost a whole lot.

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And I am very much here for him coming home to finish his big league career.

But after winning the first of four consecutive NL Cy Young Awards and after an emotional back-and-forth in the subsequent offseason, the two sides parted ways, with Maddux heading to Atlanta, where he spent the next 11 years of his career. Of course, during that time he was one of – if not the – most dominant pitcher in the league – and Cubs fans were constantly reminded of what might have been had he stayed with the team.

There’s nothing we can do about how history played itself out. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t look back at that 1992 season and appreciate just how great Maddux was for the Cubs.

In his home starts, the right-hander was near-unbeatable. He made 17 starts, working to a 1.91 ERA at Wrigley Field, striking out 110 and walking only 36. That’s not to say he was a slouch on the road, though. Maddux had a 2.47 ERA away from the Friendly Confines – a number most pitchers would take without question, at home or on the road.

What’s really remarkable though is the fact that he got better as the year went on – similar to Jake Arrieta’s historic 2015 season, when he also won the league’s top pitching honors. After the All-Star Break, Maddux made 16 starts and turned in a dazzling 1.93 ERA. In the month of July, he allowed five runs in five starts, spanning 40 innings. He followed that up with a 1.91 mark in August and 2.45 in September.

Now, the 1992 Cubs were a pretty not-so-great team. They finished below .500, winning just 78 games on the year, so Maddux got them over a quarter of those victories. But in the 11 games he lost that year, he still had more than respectable numbers: a .329 ERA, .290 opponent on-base percentage and 1.109 WHIP.

Seriously, find me a big league pitcher today who wouldn’t be happy with those numbers on the whole – let alone in games he lost.

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Chicago Cubs legend Sammy Sosa is sticking to his story – for better or worse.
It just doesn’t make sense. Cubs icon Sammy Sosa has never come clean about his alleged PED use. In fact, he continues to adamantly defend himself at every turn. Meanwhile both Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds faced the truth and came clean.

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The result? Both are right in the mix for Cooperstown, hovering in the 70-percent range, while Sammy Sosa checks in with roughly a quarter of the vote. So what happened?

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The longtime Cubs outfielder was honest about his ‘loaded bat,’ but that was it. He has repeatedly denied being involved in steroid use. Steroids? What’s that? If you ask him, it never happened.

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As the years continue to go by, it’s becoming clear that Sammy Sosa’s road to enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame won’t become a reality.

Sosa missed induction into the Hall of Fame for the ninth time on Tuesday, getting just 17% of this year’s vote, his highest total since going on the ballot in 2013. No candidate on this year’s ballot received the required 75% of the vote to be inducted.

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The Cubs’ legend is among several players who have had their candidacy tarnished due to their link to performance-enhancing drugs during the 1990s and early 2000s. But unlike others like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Gary Sheffield, Sosa has never received even 20% of the BBWAA vote.

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No players elected to Baseball Hall of Fame
A day with Hank Aaron in 2009 revealed how he felt about steroid-era stars and the Hall
Sosa hit 609 home runs during his 18-year career, which ranks ninth all-time. 545 of those blasts came during his 13-year tenure with the Cubs.

Next year’s Hall of Fame ballot will have as much intrigue as any in several years as Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz will both be eligible for the first time. It will also be Sosa’s 10th and final year on the ballot.

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Former Cub and three-time All-Star Aramis Ramirez was on the ballot for the first time, but failed to reach the required 5% of the vote and will fall off the ballot. Ramirez slashed .294/.356/.531 with 239 homers in his nine season with the Cubs.

The problem is that we all know it did happen, even though Sosa refutes it to this day. But what would happen if Sosa owned up and admitted it? Would he be sliding up the scale, closer to baseball immortality? You never know.

In his five-year stretch from 1998-2002, he was magnificent. He put up big numbers, including a slash of .306/.397/.649/1.046, averaging 58 home runs and 141 RBI. To this day, he remains the only player in MLB history to hit 60 or more home runs in three separate seasons.

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The elephant in the room? All or most of this was reportedly accomplished while using performance-enhancing drugs. It’s cast an ominous shadow over Sosa, not just in regards to Cooperstown, but even when talking about a potential welcome back to Wrigley Field.

In the end, he’s never admitted it. We have no reason to think that will change anytime soon, either. But what if he did? Would he make his way up the Hall of Fame ballot? Would he be in the Hall of Fame already? What about the ‘character clause’? To this writer, it’s open for interpretation – especially when you consider some of the guys who are already honored at Cooperstown.

Some say ignore the ‘poor character’ and consider the numbers. Others will judge players relentlessly on it. Whichever way you look at it, we all, at the very least, have to be conscious of it.

When you observe the ways you look at Clemens and Bonds, and then Sosa? Something got to give. If Sosa would just come out as a PED user, he’d probably be better off. But he’s not going to do that. He got pride, whatever that means.

NEXT: Ricketts hamstrung Cubs with talk of ‘biblical losses’
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It’s time Sosa fesses up. Admit you used performance-enhancing drugs. You know it. The fans know it. The game knows it. That way, maybe, just maybe you have a shot at someday joining the all-time greats in baseball’s hallowed halls.