It’s here: Cubs’ future is now

10-171460575-smallAs is the case every so often, I’ll take a quick break from writing about hockey on here and shift the focus to baseball. Particularly, Cubs baseball. After promoting baseball’s top prospect, Kris Bryant, to the big league’s last Thursday, the Cubs made another big announcement late Monday night by recalling the game’s number four prospect: Addison Russell. It was widely known or assumed that Bryant would be on the Cubs’ roster by May, but things didn’t seem to be as sure for Russell.

With Mike Olt getting injured just a few games into the season, the Cubs were all of a sudden left with a gaping hole at the third base position. They got by for a handful of games with what they already had on the big league roster until enough games had passed where they could bring up Bryant without losing a year off his contract. So that problem was quickly and not surprisingly solved.

The other glaring problem with the Cubs’ lineup has been second base. Arismendy Alcantara was supposed to be the guy to hold down that position for the time being, but his early season struggles have led the Cubs to their next big call-up. Addison Russell, who figures to be a shortstop in the long run, had started putting some work in at second base recently, which raised some eyebrows and some questions regarding his immediate future with the organization. Are the Cubs just trying to get him used to another position, or do they want him coming up to Chicago sometime soon to play second base? As it turns out, the front office wants him starting tonight at second base for the big league club.

I think most people, myself included, expected Russell to see his first big league action somewhere between June and July. However, most people weren’t really expecting the Cubs to have such a dire need at second base either.

Everyone knew Kris Bryant would be making his first start for the Cubs somewhere around the 10-12 game mark of the season. As I already hinted at, not many expected Russell to be doing the same. What his promotion tells me is two things:

  1. The Cubs feel he is ready to make the leap from Triple A to the big leagues. In eleven games with Iowa this year, he hit .318 with 1 home run, 9 runs batted in, and an .803 OPS. His fielding has never been a concern.
  2. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are going for it and feel that this team and its young players are ready to compete for a playoff spot. If they didn’t believe that the playoffs were a real possibility, my guess is Russell would still be in Iowa.

The Cubs have gotten off to a 7-5 start to the season, which is by far their best start in many years. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have proven that they are good MLB players, with Rizzo looking like a perennial All Star and a cornerstone piece of the franchise, and Castro continuing to hit while improving defensively. Jorge Soler, who debuted with the Cubs last summer, has adjusted extremely well to the big league game and is off to a great start to the year. Many “experts” have him pegged as this year’s NL 10-171460575-smallRookie of the Year. Then you have recent addition Kris Bryant, labeled by many as the savior of the Cubs franchise. He has played in four games with the Cubs while hitting .429 with 2 doubles and 4 runs batted in. Oh, and his early OPS is 1.150.

Now that you add Addison Russell into the equation and take into account his potential, the Cubs’ lineup is suddenly loaded, and all with young talent. The average age of their infield is just 23 years old.

And don’t forget about the Cubs’ pitching staff. Jon Lester, while off to a forgettable start to the season, is a true ace and figures to turn his game around sooner than later. Jake Arrieta is coming off his best season a a pro in 2014, and is already 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA this year. Then you have Jason Hammel, Travis Wood, and Kyle Hendricks who have all pitched well and provided reason for optimism. Also, the Cubs’ bullpen is no pushover. Prior to Neil Ramirez getting hurt, they had the best bullpen ERA in the National League. I see no reason for their ‘pen to become a weakness.

Most people would say that this team’s weakness is their inexperience and starting rotation. Well I have a response to each.

The Cubs may be young, but they don’t play like it, and they don’t think like it. Epstein, Hoyer, and Jason McLeod draft players who not only possess great talent, but possess great maturity for their age. It doesn’t take a fool to see that while watching the likes of Rizzo, Soler, and Bryant, just to name a few. Secondly, the starting pitching of the Cubs wasn’t bad last year, and only got better this year. If the team continues winning games and is in a competitive position in the standings at the trade deadline, I would expect Epstein to deal for another top of the line starter in exchange for any combination of current (available) Cubs prospects. Starlin Castro and Javier Baez could be potential pieces to any such trade.

Obviously there is still A LOT of season left, but there is more reason for optimism with this team than we’ve seen in a long, long time. If the first twelve games are any indication as to how the rest of the season will play out, it’s going to be one hell of a fun summer on Chicago’s north side.

Joe Maddon to the Cubs?

940-couture-loganLet’s take a break from hockey for a minute and focus on another Chicago team: the Cubs. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports just reported that Joe Maddon has agreed to become the next manager of the Cubs, which if true, is huge. Maddon is a 2-time AL Manager of the Year winner with the Tampa Bay Rays, and is known for really creating a good clubhouse atmosphere and for knowing how to handle young players.

Before we get any further, let me just say that there are numerous reports out there right now that are saying no deal is in place between Maddon and the Cubs, but that there is still a very good chance Maddon ends up in Chicago. During the World Series, Major League Baseball enforces a “news blackout” which prevents any teams, players, etc. from announcing anything that might take focus away from the World Series, which might be why some reporters are denying that a Maddon deal is done. There is a very solid chance that the two sides have in fact agreed to a contract, but they won’t make anything official until Thursday or Friday (once the World Series is over).

So now let’s look at what this would mean to the Cubs if Maddon is next year’s skipper.

Like I already said, he’s a 2-time Manager of the Year recipient while in Tampa, he’s been to the World Series once (and lost), and he’s somehow kept the Rays in the thick of things in the AL East for the past 6-7 years despite having a low payroll. He knows how to manage young players, which the Cubs are stocked with, and he creates a very good atmosphere in the clubhouse. He’s been known to dye his hair after win streaks and have his players dress up in weird costumes on travel days. Aside from being a smart manager, he’s a player’s manager, and that is a good thing.

What this potential signing does is send a message to all of baseball that the Cubs are getting real serious about winning in the very near future. It’s no secret that they’ll be in the market for at least one, if not two high end pitchers this winter, and signing Joe Maddon will only increase a free agent’s desire to join the team. Look for the Cubs to target guys like Jon Lester and now James Shields, who both have connections (potentially) to the Cubs. Lester played with the Red Sox in Boston while Epstein was still in control there, and the two sides won the 2007 World Series together. James Shields played with the Rays from 2008-2012 and had Joe Maddon as his manager each of those years. If the Cubs could sign both of those guys to go along with Jake Arrieta, they would have a very potent top 3 in their starting rotation to go along with what should be a dangerous offense. If you really think about it, there aren’t too many players in the Major League’s that won’t want to be a part of the Cubs over the next few years. Everyone is going to want their name to be on the Cubs’ roster that one day wins the World Series, and it’s looking like the possibility of that actually happening is better now than ever before.

Clearly the Joe Maddon signing is not official, but in all likelihood he’ll be the Cubs manager come Opening Day. It kind of makes you feel bad for Rick Renteria who gained a lot of confidence from the Cubs’ front office this past year. He’ll be out of a job if Maddon comes to town, but it’s a move that the Cubs essentially have to make in this situation. It’s not every day that you get the chance to sign one of the game’s best managers.

MLB stadiums I have not visited

I have now been to 22 different MLB stadiums (20 still active), and I often think about which ones I would put at the top of my “to-do” list that I have not yet been to. Obviously, I’d go to any MLB stadium on any given day if I had the chance, but there are those that I’d rather visit than certain others. So, I put together my list of the 10 remaining stadiums that I have not been to, and ranked them from worst (I’d least like to visit) to best (I’d most like to visit).

10. OAKLAND COLISEUM: A’S

139990-330-0

It’s old, hasn’t really been touched up, and also plays host to NFL games. Enough said.

9. TROPICANA FIELD: RAYS

7327531

I hate indoor stadiums, I hate artificial turf, and I highly dislike the fact that Tampa Bay even has a team, considering their fans don’t exist.

8. TURNER FIELD: BRAVES

139990-330-0

First of all, I’ve heard multiple times that this park is located in a bad area of town. Second of all, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of uniqueness to Turner other than the fact it hosted the Olympics. To put the whipped cream on top, Atlanta fans are some of the worst in sports.

7. MARLINS PARK: MARLINS

139990-330-0

For being such a new stadium, one would think it would be more attractive than it is. However, I’m sure there is some cool, modern stuff to it. Too bad this thing was built for a team that has zero fan support.

6. COMERICA PARK: TIGERS

139990-330-0

Honestly, I’ve heard a lot of good things about Comerica. I just don’t exactly have the burning desire to go to Detroit.

5. GLOBE LIFE PARK IN ARLINGTON: RANGERS

139990-330-0

(They need to quit re-naming this place) The park looks really interesting, and I love the way the exterior of the park looks in pictures. This is a stadium I would really like to see.

4. KAUFFMAN STADIUM: ROYALS

139990-330-0

After being renovated in 2009, Kauffman Stadium appears to be one of the more attractive parks in baseball. It has many unique features and would make a good road trip.

3. CITIZENS BANK PARK: PHILLIES

139990-330-0

Built in 2004, this is a relatively new stadium and it seems to be quite an attractive one as well. I’m sure there are many good vantage points to watch the game around this park.

2. CITI FIELD: METS

139990-330-0

Again, one of baseball’s newer parks, which instantly makes it intriguing. Add in the fact that it’s in New York City, and there’s really no reason to not want to go here.

1. SAFECO FIELD: MARINERS

139990-330-0

I’ve heard nothing but great things about this park and the city of Seattle. Can’t say that about the rest of the stadiums on this list. If only the Mariners drew a bit better…

So there it is. Hopefully I’ll be writing my reviews about these parks before too long.

Cubs’ managerial options

theox-large

                          Theo Epstein

After managing the Cubs for just two seasons, Dale Sveum was fired by the team a few weeks back for his lack of player development. While that was an issue with Sveum, I don’t know that I totally agree with the Cubs’ decision to fire him after just two seasons in which he was given two crap teams to work with. I guess in the minds of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the regression shown by Castro and Rizzo this season was enough to let Sveum go. So that leaves the Cubs without a manager right now, and many, myself included, are speculating as to who might be the team’s next skipper.

It was no secret that if Epstein had his way, he was going to hire Joe Girardi to manage the Cubs. Unfortunately, Giriardi decided to re-sign with the Yankees for four more years due to family reasons. With that, we can take him off the list of potential managers. The candidates left on that list are, and in my opinion should be (in no particular order):

  • A.J. Hinch
  • Manny Acta
  • Rick Renteria
  • Tony Pena
  • Dave Martinez
  • Mike Maddux
  • Brad Ausmus

Personally, I would like to see either Tony Pena, Mike Maddux, or Manny Acta hired as the Cubs’ new manager. Dave Martinez, currently the Rays bench coach, is not a bad option either, but honestly I don’t know enough about him.

Some may be surprised by the name Tony Pena. Here’s why I like him:

  • He has managerial experience. From 2002-2005, he was the manager in Kansas City. He won the 2003 AL Manager of the Year award.
  • He has been Joe Girardi’s bench coach in New York since 2009 (Yankees won the World Series that year).
  • He is a former catcher.
  • He is Dominican/Hispanic.

The Cubs want someone who has experience managing at the Major League level. If they hire a rookie manager, then they’d be going down the same road they went with Dale Sveum and his firing would seem pointless. Pena has that experience, and while his tony-pena-540x362record in Kansas City wasn’t great, he proved he can do the job by turning that team around in 2003 and winning AL Manager of the Year. I think being on Girardi’s staff in New York and winning the World Series there is a good credential as well. Also, the fact that he is a former Major League catcher (and a very good one) is a bonus in my eyes. Catchers have always been looked at as being the smartest baseball players because of their responsibilities behind the plate every single game. Add in the fact that Pena won four Gold Gloves as a catcher, and you have yourself a premier catcher who knows the game inside and out. My point about him being Hispanic is a very valid point. The Cubs are developing a number of top baseball prospects at the moment. Two of their top minor league prospects, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, as well as current Major Leaguer Starlin Castro, are all Hispanic (granted, Almora was born here in the U.S., but he is still Hispanic). Plus the fact that more and more Hispanic players are entering the MLB and are becoming the league’s best players gives even more reason to hire a Hispanic manager. I feel Pena might be able to connect better with Hispanic players and prospects more than some other managers.

1306350614Manny Acta is another candidate that I wouldn’t mind seeing hired as the Cubs’ manager. He has managed the Nationals and Indians in the past, and won the 2007 NL Manager of the Year award, as well as the 2011 AL Manager of the Year Award. Like Tony Pena, Acta is from the Dominican Republic and would have that instant connection with Hispanic players.

A wild card shot here, and a very intriguing candidate is Mike Maddux, the current pitching coach of the Texas Rangers. Maddux was a candidate back mike-madduxbefore the 2012 season after the Cubs fired Mike Quade as well. He is a former pitcher and has ties to the Cubs organization as his younger brother, Greg, was a pretty good pitcher for the North Siders back in the early 90’s and then again from 2004-2006. Some believe that if Mike is hired as the Cubs’ manager, he may bring on Greg to be part of his coaching staff. I would be perfectly fine with that scenario. The one major drawback to hiring Mike Maddux would be the fact that he has zero managing experience at any professional level.

Clearly, there are a number of ways the Cubs could go here in addition to the possibilities that I just mentioned. One question I have, however, is this: Are the Cubs looking to hire the manager that will be here when they “go for it” and try to win the World Series, or are they looking for another temporary manager like Dale Sveum who will run the team until they feel they can compete? The answer to that question lies within the amount of confidence Epstein and Hoyer have in their current prospects. If they feel it may be another three years before the top dogs are ready to be brought up to the Major League level, then they may go the “Dale Sveum route.” If Epstein and Hoyer believe the Cubs are just another year or two away from competing, then we’ll see them hire a more proven manager.

I’m looking forward to this decision.

Pirates one win from NLCS

hi-res-182619146-jason-grilli-and-russell-martin-of-the-pittsburgh_crop_exactWith today’s win over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates moved to within one win from advancing to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 1992. And how fitting that they decided to wait 21 years until possibly making their return trip to the LCS. Any Pirate or Roberto Clemente fan understands what I mean.

After collapsing during the second half of the season each of the last 2 years, the Pirates finally finished this regular season strong and clinched a birth into the National League Wild Card Game. There, they defeated the Cincinnati Reds in front of a sold out, electric crowd to advance to the NLDS against the Cardinals.

In Game 1 against St. Louis, A.J. Burnett had a tough outing and the Pirates lost 9-1. It looked like it may be a rough ending to Pittsburgh’s season. However, the Bucs came back in Game 2 and won 7-1, sending the series back to Pittsburgh dead-locked at 1 apiece.

In today’s Game 3 in front of the largest crowd ever at PNC Park, the Pirates won by a final score of 5-3 in what was a very close, nerve-racking game for any fan of either team. Game 4 will be played tomorrow afternoon, and with a win, the Pirates will advance to the NLCS.

Once the Pirates clinched a postseason birth, I have been pulling for them since. This is a team that had the fourth lowest payroll in baseball heading into the 2013 season, and they are full of scrappy, hard working players that just want to win. They aren’t the Yankees who buy their way to success every year, and they aren’t a team full of hot-headed players who only care about themselves. The Pirates are the definition of what a baseball team should be.

Marlon Byrd, who was acquired after the trade deadline by the Pirates, has turned out to be a huge acquisition for Pittsburgh. Since the All Star break, Byrd hit .318 with a .357 OBP and a .486 SLG percentage. Today, Byrd was 2-3 with 2 RBI, 1 walk, and 1 run scored.

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 10_51_05 AMRussell Martin, acquired last off season by the Pirates, could arguably be this team’s MVP up to this point in the playoffs. It was Martin who had the 2 home runs in the Wild Card game against Cincinnati, and it was Martin again who had 2 key RBI’s in today’s 5-3 victory.

A.J. Burnett will likely be tomorrow’s starter for the Pirates, and hopefully he’ll have a nice bounce-back game after his Game 1 meltdown. I would like nothing more than for the Pirates to clinch the NLDS in front of their home fans tomorrow. Pittsburgh fans are some of the most knowledgeable fans in baseball, and finally they have something to cheer about.

MLB jersey rankings

 

My MLB jersey power rankings:

1. St. Louis Cardinals

Cincinnati Reds vs St. Louis Cardinals 130707211205-yadier-molina-single-image-cut

Best logo, and maybe the best color scheme in baseball. True classic jerseys.

2. Detroit Tigers

892858_10152734691820521_1540786336_o_jpg_475x310_q85 13046575-standard

Their logo is as original as you’ll find. Their home whites are simple, but great. The away jersey may be the best in the MLB.

3. Atlanta Braves

mlb_u_chipper-jones_mb_600 jason-heyward-usp2

I love their logo and colors. Their alternate white jerseys are one of the best alternates in the game, not to mention their reds ones as well.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates

andrew-mccutchen-ap2 piratesjpg-3860a86f285ea698

Great colors, classic jerseys. That’s all that needs to be said about the Pirates’ uniforms. Their alternate black jerseys might be my favorite in baseball.

5. Oakland A’s

img22750315 Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners

I’ve always liked the green and yellow/gold. Especially on their home jerseys. Great hats as well.

6. New York Yankees

Derek+Jeter+Mariano+Rivera+Enn-V_PFyZem yankees

They probably have the most recognizable logo in sports, and rightfully so. It’s a great logo. I really like their home, pinstriped jerseys, as they are as classic as you can get, but the away jerseys don’t do much for me.

7. Chicago Cubs

b25bb2a41f715d12330f6a7067001a71 71633065

The home whites with the pinstripes are great. It’s the away jerseys that I’m not a huge fan of. Their alternate blues somewhat help make up for the grey jerseys.

8. Baltimore Orioles

460x 0de8eb844db24d09adac55126307b174-4fc1627d463744aa9d09ba7036e90493-9ddcebf128c3521b3a0f6a706700dd61

Good colors and pretty original jerseys. I’m a fan of their throwback hats.

9. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

mlb_g_trout1_sy_400 asa130528128_angels_at_dodgers

They use a good font on their jerseys, and I like how the “A” in Angels features the halo.

10. San Francisco Giants

Pablo Sandoval tumblr_m8ga49OaiF1qh7tk8o1_500

These jerseys have never changed, and that says a lot. True originals.

11. Boston Red Sox

David+Ortiz+Jacoby+Ellsbury+Baltimore+Orioles+Ah8iG78ztcpl Dustin Pedroia

The whites are good, clean, classics. I’m not a huge fan of their away jerseys. I understand that they are throwback jerseys from the 1920’s, which is a cool idea, but they don’t look very good. Still, they’re better than most grey jerseys. They need to ditch their red and navy blue jerseys.

12. Texas Rangers

Adrian+Beltre+Seattle+Mariners+v+Texas+Rangers+W5kxjbS7iEol cos-mlb-02-Ian-Kinsler-mdn

Good colors and solid jerseys. The only problem with Texas is the fact that they have so many jerseys. I can’t keep track sometimes.

13. Cincinnati Reds

Joey+Votto+Chicago+Cubs+v+Cincinnati+Reds+98i_rgh5TW7l joey-votto

Another old, classic logo here. Their home jerseys are much better than their greys and reds.

14. Chicago White Sox

Alejandro+De+Aza+Chicago+White+Sox+Photo+Day+cherIztKtHdl konerko-278x300

There isn’t much to complain about with these. I like the cursive font on their away jerseys. Their black ones are pretty solid as well.

15. Los Angeles Dodgers

Andre+Ethier+Arizona+Diamondbacks+v+Los+Angeles+1ZGTaFtAGujl USATSI_7387728_154224518_lowres

I love their home jerseys. They haven’t changed in a very long time. I really dislike their away ones. That’s why the Dodgers are this low.

16. Toronto Blue Jays

image 628x471 (2)

I thought about ranking the Jays higher, but I couldn’t put them ahead of classic jerseys like the Dodgers, Reds, etc. Their new jerseys, as of 2012, are a big improvement from their previous uniform set.

17. New York Mets

2013 New York Mets Photo Day 628x471

I don’t dislike the royal blue and orange, but I’m not a huge fan of it. I get the fact that it’s a combination of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ and New York Giants’ colors, which is creative, but it doesn’t do a whole lot for me.

18. Seattle Mariners

628x471 (1) michaelmorseseattlemarinersvoaklandathletics3_zh4v6myuwx

 

A decent color scheme and font. Good, but not great uniforms.

 

19. Arizona Diamondbacks

Aaron Hill, Gerardo Parra paul-goldschmidt-arizona-diamondbacks-new-bh-fizvjx-496327070

These look too much like they belong in an independent league or something along those lines. It’s tough to read “Arizona” on the front of their away jerseys.

20. San Diego Padres

db_padres_329169_013_r620x349 during the MLB game at Chase Field on September 20, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Very generic, somewhat boring jerseys.

21. Minnesota Twins

Texas Rangers v Minnesota Twins Minnesota Twins v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Good home jerseys, but terrible away jerseys.

22. Tampa Bay Rays

USATSI_7308529_149008644_lowres Desmond+Jennings+qwqVukMyDqgm

Again, these are kind of boring. Not much going on here.

23. Kansas City Royals

Billy+Butler+Boston+Red+Sox+v+Kansas+City+6_gFNVZIthgl Ervin_Santana_on_May_7,_2013_(1)

I feel like the Royals could improve these jerseys, but I’m not sure how. I liked their jerseys from 3-4 years ago better than these.

24. Milwaukee Brewers

Miami Marlins v Milwaukee Brewers aramistd

The more I see these jerseys, the more I begin to dislike them. Part of me feels like they’re too bland, but part of me disagrees. These could be higher on my list, but for now they’ll stay right here.

25. Cleveland Indians

Athletics_Indians_Baseball__ctnews@chroniclet.com_1-M Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall

When they had the navy blue trim on their white jerseys, those were possibly my favorite jerseys in baseball. I loved those. Now without the trimming, I’m not a fan. Their greys just look plain bad.

26. Washington Nationals

harper502jpg-9d37b4ae2ef8ccdb 201306182023734082984-p5

I can’t help but think of Walgreens every time I see their logo. Their away jerseys are very similar to Minnesota’s, which is not a good thing.

27. Colorado Rockies

Josh+Rutledge+St+Louis+Cardinals+v+Colorado+yobzJOIi5jRl troy-tulowitzki

I have to give them credit for their pinstripes. But the rest of their home and away jerseys are bad. They have bad alternates too.

28. Philadelphia Phillies

bilde 1373320911000-howard-1307081802_4_3

I’ve never been a fan of their logo. I also don’t really like red pinstripes. The red and grey on their away uniforms look pretty bad.

29. Miami Marlins

img22711599 gs23

Well, what else would you expect from Miami? Just like their new stadium, the colors chosen for their new jersey color scheme are terrible. Horrible logo(s) as well.

30. Houston Astros

Astros-Uniforms

I don’t like their new jerseys. The font is bad, that shade of orange is bad…….they’re just bad.

City approves Wrigley renovations

imageToday, the city of Chicago made the final approval regarding the Wrigley Field renovation plans. It sounds as though the renovations could begin as soon as this October. In total, the cost of this renovation project is estimated to be around $500 million.

With this renovation, a large jumbo-tron will be placed behind the left field bleachers, the Cubs’ clubhouse will be redone, an underground hitting cage will be added near the home dugout, another “party” deck (similar to the one in right field) will be added in the left field corner, the concourses will be redone, and a new restaurant and club level could be added to the stadium. Also, a hotel will be built on the west side of Wrigley off of Clark Street. Some other more minor alterations could/will be made as well.

It is huge that the Cubs were able to get this project officially approved by the city. While I am upset to see some of Wrigley’s old-time traditions disappear, I understand that these changes are necessary in order to put a winning team on the field. This is just one of many steps to what will hopefully result in a World Series championship.

When I think about this renovation plan, I can’t help but think of what the Red Sox did with Fenway Park back in the early 2000’s. Fenway underwent a major renovation to bring in more revenue through advertisements, and the ballpark was updated to make it feel a bit more modern and cleaner. As a result, the Red Sox made more money, were able to sign key free agents, and won 2 World Series titles in a span of 4 years after not having won one since 1918. Clearly, this is what the Cubs are hoping for as a result of Wrigley’s renovations.

While I am sure some people are upset with this plan to renovate Wrigley, this is truly in the best interest of the franchise. If they want to become competitive again and have a chance at winning the World Series, this renovation needs to be completed. Today was just the first step in reaching that ultimate goal.

Time to trade Castro

I have seen enough from Starlin Castro. This guy started his career looking like he would become a perennial all star, but those visions are quickly disappearing. This Cubs team is not winning anything this year, they won’t win anything next year, and who knows what may happen in the years after that. The key to their success in the future is going to be building a very good farm system and developing their top prospects into good MLB players. If you trade Starlin Castro right now, you would help yourself achieve those long term goals.

Castro has shown through his first three and a half MLB seasons that he is capable of being a very good hitter. He had 207 hits in 2011 and batted .307 for the year. Those are very respectable stats. However, he has not gotten any better since then. In fact, he’s only gotten worse.

I challenge anyone to give me an area of Castro’s game in which he is better at today than he was the day he stepped into the Majors. Good luck finding one. He started his career as a weak defensive player, and maybe he has gotten better there over the last 3 years, but hardly. Here’s a good stat for you:

Of all active MLB players, Starlin Castro already ranks 38th in career errors, and he’s only been in the league for less than four total seasons! In his first three and a half seasons in the big leagues, Castro has a whopping 98 errors at shortstop. That is hard to comprehend.

What put me over the top regarding Castro is what took place in yesterday’s (Friday) game at home against the Pirates.

Starlin came up in the bottom of the 8th inning with the Cubs trailing 6-2 and doubled to left-center field. He then proceeded to get picked off of second base by Pirates catcher Russell Martin in the ensuing at-bat, and Castro looked like he had no clue what just happened. 

Here’s my point. There have been WAY too many times since Castro came into the big leagues in which he has been caught not paying attention to what is going on in the game. Just complete dumb, mental mistakes.

Last month in a game against the Angels, Mike Trout hit a hard ground ball to Castro at shortstop. Castro took his time fielding it and was in no rush to get the ball to first base. What happened? Trout beat out Castro’s throw for an infield hit. It was as though Castro had absolutely NO CLUE who just hit him the ball (If you are unaware, Mike Trout is arguably the fastest player in the Majors). If a guy like Mike Trout hits a ground ball to you, you better get that ball to first base as quickly as possible. In this case, either Castro was unaware of who was batting, or flat out made a lazy effort. Either way, this was unacceptable.

Recently, Castro has been criticized for not running hard from second base to home plate on a ball hit to left field in which he should have scored on. Instead, he was thrown out at home and the Cubs lost the game 1-0.

Things like that are what have put me over the top with Castro. Winning teams do not have players who are lazy. They don’t have players who are unaware of the situation in the game. Castro has proven time and time again that he is both of those. Even though I strongly believe that Castro has some of the best talent in the Majors, his attitude and continuous mental mistakes are not what this Cubs team needs moving forward.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer should trade Castro now and get as much as they can in return for him. I’d be willing to bet that at least a few teams would give up a few top prospects and draft picks for Starlin Castro.

If you’re wondering what the Cubs would do with that open spot at shortstop, look no further than Javier Baez. Baez is the Cubs’ top prospect right now, and he is a shortstop. I’m not saying that the Cubs would promote Baez to the Majors right away if they do trade Castro, but Baez will be Major League-ready in the next 2 years. Even if the Cubs don’t trade Castro, I believe Baez will push Castro out of the shortstop position whenever he does make his MLB debut.

The bottom line here is that Starlin Castro is not getting any better at baseball since he first came up three and a half years ago. This is by far his worst year at the plate (.236, 4 HR, 26 RBI), and his fielding is not where it should be for a MLB shortstop. His value is still high enough to where the Cubs could get something good in return if they trade him, and that is exactly what they should do.

Angel Stadium review

DSC00322I honestly had no idea what to expect before taking in a game at Angel Stadium. It has always looked like a nice park on TV (at least since it was renovated), but it is also the fourth oldest stadium in the big leagues. I didn’t know if I should expect it to look as old as it is, or if I should expect it to be as nice as it looks on TV. As it turns out, the stadium is kind of in between the two.

Angel Stadium is located right next door to Disneyland and right near some neighborhoods, which is different than most stadiums nowadays. The parking lot is rather large compared to the newer parks, and the architecture on the outside of the stadium is much different than today’s new stadiums.

Right outside the home plate entrance, there is a little plaza where the famous two Angel Helmets are located. In this plaza, there is also a mini baseball diamond that is cemented DSC00312into the ground. At each position around the diamond, the names of the Angels’ opening day starters, dating back to their first year of existence, are listed at that specific position in the cement. This was pretty interesting to look at, and it was also something I had never seen before at a baseball stadium.

When you enter the park, you enter into a concourse that is closed off from the field of play. There are walls on either side of you. On these walls are many murals and pictures that showcase the history of the Angels. On one wall, there was DSC00313a glassed-in display that had the Angels’ World Series trophy and other memorabilia in it. I don’t know of another park that has a World Series trophy permanently on display. From this concourse, you can enter your seating section just like you would at any other park.

There is another concourse that takes you around the entire stadium, and this one is not closed off from the field. Except for when you’re behind home plate, this concourse allows you to constantly see the field of play. What was odd was that there were 2 main level concourses. The one that allows you to see the field is located above/behind the lower level sections, while the closed off concourse is located at ground level and under the grandstand. I was a little disappointed that you cannot see the field while walking behind home plate along the concourse. Often, this is the best location to get a great view of the park at most stadiums.

The food here was nothing to write home about. They have your typical selection of hot dogs, burgers, brats, etc. One unique item on the menu was a Barbecue Dog. I did not order this, but I am assuming it is a hot dog with BBQ sauce.

DSC00331Behind the left field stands, there is an open area with tables where people can sit and eat their food. You do not have a good view of the field from here, however. There is a nice bar located beyond right-center field, but this is completely closed off from the field of play. There are a number of TV’s inside the bar that show the Angels game, as well as other sporting events.

Maybe my favorite part about this stadium was their Budweiser Patio above the right field stands. This is a big, open area for people to stand and watch the game while eating and drinking. There is an outdoor bar located up here as well with TV’s. I would recommend taking a trip up to the Budweiser Patio if you have the chance.

The seating at Angel Stadium was its biggest weakness. My seat was in the second row down the right field line. Maybe it was just that location, but out seats were not angled towards home plate whatsoever. Because of this, I constantly had to have my head turned to the left to see home plate, which led to some major neck-discomfort by the 5th inning. Also, a lot of people down the aisle had to lean forwards to try and see home plate, which blocked the view of anyone to their right. I felt like the whole game I was trying to see around the people to my left, and this got pretty aggravating. With all modern parks, and even the older ones that have been renovated like Wrigley and Fenway, the seats are all angled towards home plate so that you don’t have to constantly have your head turned in one direction. I don’t understand why the Angels couldn’t figure this out.

As for the appearance of Angel Stadium, it is definitely an attractive park. The rock formation in left-center with the water falls/fountains is a very nice touch and is a unique feature to the park.

Behind the left field stands, there is a small video screen that shows videos/replays and statistics throughout the game. The main scoreboard is in right field, which shows those same things, plus some more statistics because it is larger and has more space.

DSC00334One thing that I found interesting both here and at Dodger Stadium were the sky boxes. At both stadiums, there is only one level of sky boxes. Nowadays, most parks have at least two levels of boxes, if not more. Seeing as how Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are located in L.A. with a ton of celebrities, I thought there would be a lot more sky boxes than there really are.

The atmosphere at Angel Stadium was not great. I saw the Cubs play the Angels, and the Cubs fans in attendance were just as loud as the Angels fans, which is saying something given the Angels to Cubs fans ratio. The fans here attempted the wave a number of times, and there were beach balls bouncing around the whole game. I don’t understand why people can’t just watch the game. Isn’t that why they came in the first place?

While I wouldn’t classify this as a top-notch stadium, this is a very nice park, except for the seating arrangements. If you enjoy in-game entertainment, then this is a place for you.

For my MLB stadium rankings, click here.

Dodger Stadium review

DSC00265It is the third oldest park in the big leagues and has quite a bit of history to go along with it. For those reasons, I really wanted to see a game at Dodger Stadium. After finally doing so, I must say that this is one of the more unique parks in baseball because of its location.

Known as “Chavez Ravine,” Dodger Stadium is just that. The stadium sits in a ravine, which makes hard to even tell that their is a baseball stadium at that site. As you are approaching the gates to the parking lot, you would never know that their is a baseball stadium sitting on the other side of the hill/mountain to your left. Then once you get into the parking lot, you can finally see the lights and part of the exterior of the stadium. Speaking of the parking lot, I have never seen a larger parking lot at an MLB stadium than at Dodger Stadium.

Because the stadium is built into a mountain, there really isn’t much of an exterior to the stadium like there is at all modern parks.

The first really odd thing about this park that I noticed was the location of its entrances. When I entered the park, I entered through what would be the home plate entrance at most parks. Here, however, that same entrance takes you straight into the upper deck behind DSC00261home plate. I have never seen a park like this in that you can enter the stadium on its highest level. Just outside the entrance on this level, all of the Dodgers’ retired numbers are placed along the sidewalk with little write-ups about the player who wore that specific number. This was pretty cool.

Once inside the park, in my case the upper deck, you get an immediate great view of the field. You also realize just how high up you are. The upper deck behind home plate at Dodger Stadium is one of the highest and steepest upper decks in baseball. It reminded me a lot of the upper deck at U.S. Cellular Field before they renovated it. Because my seat was on the loge (second) level, I had to take an elevator down to that section of the park.

Because my seat was on the second level of the stadium, I was not allowed to go down to the first level. This kind of irritated me, but I can understand their reasoning. However, I think that regardless of where your seat is, you should still have access to the entire park. Also, the bleacher sections here are separated from the rest of the stadium and you must have a ticket to enter the outfield sections.

DSC00277The concourse on the second level was not horrible, but not great. Since the park was built in the early 60’s, the walkways were a little narrow and not very attractive. I felt like I was looking at a lot of grey concrete. The good part about the concourse was that the field was always in plain view. I like being able to walk around the park and still see the game.

The food at Dodger Stadium was mediocre I thought. Their “Dodger Dogs” were good, but overrated. There weren’t really any foods that jumped out at me or caught my eye while looking over the available options. Some parks, like San Diego, have a ton of choices and unique options.

One of the best features of Dodger Stadium was located in the concourse. Behind most of the seating sections there were counter tops set up for people to stand, eat their food, and watch the game. I took advantage of this and ate my Dodger Dog here. I love being able to get food and go stand somewhere to watch the game while eating.

The seating here was another one of the stadium’s best features. All seats, at least in the second level, were angled toward home plate so that you didn’t have to have your head turned the whole time. Also, the sections only consisted of about 8-10 seats per row, which was nice. That way if you have to get up in the middle of the game, you don’t have to walk through many people to get to the aisle.

In your seat while panning over the field and outfield, you’ll notice that there aren’t too many advertisements. This was a big plus with me as I hate when stadiums are just loaded with ads. The outfield doesn’t have much going on. There are two sections of outfield seating, DSC00292both separate from the rest of the stadium, and both separated from one another by the batter’s eye in center field. There is a large video screen behind both outfield sections that provide replays and statistics throughout the game. Basically, nothing really unique going on out there.

Behind the outfield and off in the distance, you can clearly see the mountains. This helps add some scenery to the park, and really does help make the stadium more attractive.

One of two downsides to this park while sitting in your seat was the batter’s eye itself. At Dodger Stadium, the batter’s eye is really just some black “walls” and mesh, along with a big speaker tower. Other stadiums were able to make their batter’s eye fit in with the rest of the park, but not here. All of that black in center field is just ugly.

The other downside that briefly mentioned is the speaker system. All of the sound that you hear during the game (songs, the PA, etc.) come from that one speaker tower in center field. While this part wasn’t exactly bad, the volume was bad. I thought that the songs and all of that stuff were a little loud for a baseball game. But that’s just me.

The atmosphere at Dodger Stadium was pretty weak. The park was only about half full, and the fans weren’t really that into the game. They did the wave a few times, and I noticed a number of beach balls bouncing around the stands, a couple of which made their way onto the field.

Taking everything into consideration, this was not a bad park, given its age. It could use some upgrades, especially along the concourse, but it was really a nice park. Because it is Dodger Stadium, and because of its location and history, I would recommend seeing a game here if you’re a baseball fan. Non-baseball fans may not enjoy it quite as much.

For my MLB stadium rankings, click here.