Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage … The Amazing Jack Z!

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I’m now fairly convinced that Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik is some sort of magician.
In his first year on the job he overhauled Seattle’s defense, cut dead weight from the previous regime, brought in nice low-cost pickups, and watched the team go from 61-101 to 85-77.
Not satisfied with that 24-game improvement Zduriencik began his second offseason in Seattle by swinging a blockbuster for Cliff Lee, adding one of the elite pitchers in baseball to a rotation that was already headed by Felix Hernandez.
And now he’s somehow talked the Cubs into taking Carlos Silva in exchange for Milton Bradley.
To be clear, at this point Bradley ranks somewhere between “massive headache” and “team-wrecking insanity.” That and the $21 million he’s owed over the next two seasons obviously gave him negative trade value. In order to get rid of him the Cubs had to not only accept zero value in return for Bradley, but absorb a similarly horrible contract. And boy did they! Silva is owed $25 million over the next two seasons, of which the Mariners will reportedly cover only $9 million, and unlike Bradley he has close to zero on-field value.
Whatever you think about Bradley as a person and teammate he remains a talented player, and even in a career-worst mess of a season hit .257/.378/.397. The year prior he hit .321/.436/.563 to lead the AL in on-base percentage and OPS. Silva, on the other hand, logged a grand total of 30 innings (with a nifty 8.60 ERA) in 2009 after going 4-15 with a 6.46 ERA in 2008. At best Silva is a fifth starter and at worst he should be at Triple-A. At best Bradley is among MLB’s better hitters and at worst he’s still a switch-hitting OBP threat.
Assuming that Bradley’s mere presence in Seattle won’t ruin everything that Zduriencik has accomplished in his first year-plus on the job the Mariners’ boss has just pulled off another brilliant move. Zduriencik ditched a nearly useless player owed $25 million for a perfectly useful player owed $22 million. And if Bradley proves too much of a hassle, the Mariners can always simply release him and get zero value for the money, which is exactly where they would’ve been with Silva anyway.
What will The Amazing Jack Z do for his next trick? It sounds like he’ll sign Franklin Gutierrez to a multi-year contract, keeping one of his finest pickups and one of MLB’s most underrated players in Seattle long term. And after that perhaps he’ll swap Brandon Morrow for another hitter, further boosting a lineup that ranked dead last in scoring despite the team’s overall success. At this point every fan should hope their favorite team isn’t on the other end of the phone calls shopping Morrow. Jack Z is pulling bunnies out of hats like crazy.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.