Posted on: October 12, 2011 6:14 pm

Don't underestimate compensation in Theo-ball

Talk about a golden autumn for general managers. Billy Beane goes Hollywood in "Moneyball." Theo Epstein is about to go Wrigleyville in "Cubbyball."

What's next, the Martin Scorsese HBO documentary treatment for Brian Cashman?

Make no mistake, the Red Sox are on the verge of completing their most historically impactful deal since owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919.

Whatever side you're on in what suddenly has become a vengeful Theo Divide, the facts are that the man constructed two World Series winners in Boston. Whether or not he's run his course, whether he fueled the Red Sox's downhill slide by signing free agents John Lackey, Julio Lugo and Carl Crawford, he still brought two World Series titles to town.

You agree to allow that man out of his contract so he can move to the Cubs, it is a pivot point in franchise history.

While the principles for both the Cubs and Red Sox remained underground Wednesday, indications were that Epstein and the Cubs are handshake-deal close, if not even deeper into their budding new relationship.

Which does not necessarily mean it becomes official tonight or even tomorrow, for one very large reason.


That's the next step in this enormously complicated transaction, and it is significant enough to probably delay this deal from being completed for at least a day or two, and possibly through week's end, or the weekend.

Where Boston owners John Henry and Larry Lucchino are concerned, even if they've run their course with Epstein, both industry sources and Lucchino's history suggest that the Red Sox will extract a significant price from the Cubs before allowing Epstein out of the final year of his Boston deal.

Few in the industry are as sharp and as ruthless as Lucchino, whose negotiating tactics one industry source described as "conceal and delay" until usually gaining what he wants.

There are at least two schools of thought in the industry regarding what the Red Sox ultimately will demand from the Cubs.

The first goes like this: The Red Sox are loaded financially, and as such, will demand players in return. This isn't a franchise that needs more money.

But the flip side is this: If Boston receives, say, two second-tier players in exchange, then those players always will be linked to Epstein. And if he wins a World Series with the Cubs and the players fade as second-tier prospects usually do, then that becomes a lifetime source of embarrassment for the Red Sox.

Whereas, if an organization already flush with cash simply takes a few million back in compensation, that money will fade into history no matter what Epstein does in Chicago. Without a human face a prospect (or two or three) would bring back, the Red Sox could position the post-Theo narrative however they wish, explaining that they used the money to sign Free Agent A or toward Blue Chip Draft Pick B.

Though it happened more than a decade ago, it is instructive to look back to the end of the 1995 season, when Lucchino was president of the San Diego Padres and then-general manager Randy Smith turned in his resignation on the last weekend of the season so he could become Detroit's GM.

Because the Padres held a club option on Smith's contract, Lucchino refused to accept his resignation -- even though it was believed at the time that the Padres were not going to pick up Smith's option. Arduous negotiations then began for Smith's exit.

Lucchino finally allowed Smith to leave, but only after ensuring that Smith, in Detroit, would not be able to poach San Diego's front office, nor its farm system.

The separation agreement included a one-year moratorium on Detroit claiming any Padres players in the Rule V draft, as well as an agreement prohibiting Smith to take any Padres employees with him to Detroit.

A month later, the Padres did not renew the contracts of Steve Lubratich and Randy Johnson, and Smith hired Lubratich as an assistant GM in Detroit and Johnson as a special assistant/major-league scout.

"Larry's tough, there's no question about it," said Smith, now the Padres' director of player development, Wednesday from Arizona, where he was seeing San Diego's Instructional League club. "He's smart, and he's tough."

Right now, before they can finalize the deal with Epstein, that's the next path through which the Cubs must traverse.

Posted on: October 11, 2011 7:04 pm

Back to Busch: Squirrel, fun ... and rain?

ST. LOUIS -- Back at Busch Stadium for Game 3 on Wednesday night, and you know what that means. ...

Cue theme from The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show. ...

Yes, it's time for the Busch Squirrel to come speeding out across the field at any moment, isn't it?

"The squirrel is the squirrel," an unusually relaxed Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said during Tuesday's off day, before continuing: "I think it's good. The fans are having fun. And I really believe that this is not old school, and I know I am in many ways, but I think there's so much attention and pressure on the players that sometimes they show their unhappiness. ..."

Wait. La Russa thinks something is fun?

Hold your breath, that's not all.

"It's been fun, our fans are having fun, Milwaukee, it's fun for them," he said, referring to the whole Brewers' 'Beast Mode' act. "Let everybody enjoy it. Just don't cross the line."

La Russa smiled after he said let's "just don't cross the line", and the dilemma there, of course, is, where is that line? Because La Russa, in the heat of competition, sets those lines where he feels fit.

But it was all fun and games as the clubs worked out in St. Louis on Tuesday, to the point where the Cardinals announced a guest star who will appear on the 40,000 rally towels they will pass out to fans attending Game 3: The Rally Squirrel.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Both clubs only hope that the fans won't need to use the towels to wipe away raindrops. The run of gorgeous autumn weather in the Midwest is predicted to continue through much of this week, though there is a chance of rain in St. Louis around game time Wednesday night.

Most interesting thing about that is, despite Chris Carpenter's brief three-inning outing in Game 2 of the Division Series in Philadelphia on his first-ever start on three days' rest, La Russa said he will not hesitate to use Carpenter again on short rest if rain shuffles this NLCS.

"I know that Milwaukee and St. Louis do not want to get rained out [Wednesday] and pitch any one of our guys on three days' rest," La Russa said. "That being said, I wouldn't hesitate if he comes out of it and is healthy.

"After watching him in Philadelphia, it was all about his delivery being off. He warmed up right, he had good command and he went out there and ... [was] out of whack.

"We want to play this game [Wednesday] if we have to be here all night, and I'm sure Milwaukee does, too. If Mother Nature takes over, I have no hesitation pitching him on three days' rest."

Likes: Great cheeseburgers at Elsa's on the Park in Milwaukee. The aged Wisconsin cheddar was delightful (hmmm, you would expect that in Wisconsin, wouldn't you?). ... Stephen Colbert's line about ESPN dropping Hank Williams Jr. from Monday Night Football: "Not hearing that song left me dangerously unprepared for some football." Funny stuff. ... Netflix comes to its senses.

Dislikes: Lucinda Williams playing St. Louis on Wednesday night instead of Tuesday. Meaning, opposite Game 3 instead of on the off night before the series. Darn.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day

"How can you have any pudding
"If you don't eat your meat?"

-- Pink Floyd, Another Brick in the Wall

Posted on: October 11, 2011 6:19 pm
Edited on: October 11, 2011 6:20 pm

Struggling Brewers need Gallardo to step up

ST. LOUIS -- Yanked out of their comfy and productive home park, the Brewers at least have ace Yovani Gallardo starting Game 3 Wednesday as this National League Championship Series shifts scenes.

Lifesaver for them, right?

Um, maybe not.

Milwaukee's Misery Index in Missouri is uncomfortably high as the Brewers face the pivotal Game 3: Gallardo, lifetime against the Cardinals, is 1-7 with a 5.66 ERA in 11 starts. Extract a smaller sample size to just 2011, and it's 1-3 with a 5.70 ERA in four starts.

Amplifying the situation is this: Gallardo right now appears to be Milwaukee's best shot. He's 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two postseason starts for the Brewers, while those starters not named "Gallardo" -- Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf -- are 1-3 with an 11.52 ERA in five starts.

Milwaukee's first-year manager, Ron Roenicke, has only see Gallardo's 2011 starts against the Cardinals and has no explanation for the struggles.

"There's not a good reason why," Roenicke says. "You know they have a good offense. Sometimes an offense matches up better against a certain type of pitcher. If it's a power pitcher and you have an offense that really handles the fastball well, that could be a reason. And same on the other end. If an offense matches up really well against guys that have the off-speed, slower stuff. ...

"I don't know what the case is with this, but I know we expect him to pitch a good game."

Elementary as it sounds, it starts at the beginning for both Gallardo and the rest of the rotation. While St. Louis leadoff man Rafael Furcal is just 2 for 10 against Milwaukee in the first two games, No. 2 hitter Jon Jay has severely wounded them with a .500 on-base percentage in the two games (.444 batting average).

When these two reach base consistently, that means Albert Pujols -- and Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman behind him -- is even more dangerous. Jay has scored four runs in the first two games of this NLCS, three of which were included among Pujols' five RBI in Game 2.

"We're not too concerned with what we've done in the past," Jay said of the Cards' success against Gallardo. "We just try to have good at-bats. He's a great pitcher. You have to make him throw strikes. If we can have good at-bats and work the count, we'll be all right."

As for Pujols' Game 2 fireworks, it's hard to imagine the Brewers pitching to him any more than they have to from here on out. But when they do, Roenicke said, the key is simple.

"We have to make good pitches," the manager said. "Even Albert, as good a hitter as he is, if you put the pitch exactly where you want to, he's still, percentage-wise, going to have a tough time to continue to hurt us like he has."

Easier said than done. Especially given the current numbers of a rotation of which Roenicke said, "Our starters, that's why we are where we are today. Our starters have pitched great all year, and our relievers have been great, too. ... The playoffs, we have not pitched as well with our starters. But if we are going to win this thing, our starters need to pitch well.

"That's the four of them. We can't get by with just one or two pitchers."

Among other things, expecting a low-scoring pitcher's duel between Gallardo and Chris Carpenter on Wednesday night, Roenicke hinted that he my start Carlos Gomez over Nyjer Morgan in center field in a nod to Gomez's defense.
Posted on: October 10, 2011 11:42 pm

One Pujols tops Fielder and Braun in Game 2

MILWAUKEE -- Sledgehammer? Yeah, St. Louis can do sledgehammer. Very well, in fact. One Albert Pujols was more than equal to Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder for the Cardinals in Game 2.

Swinging like a man possessed, Pujols was a one-man wrecking (the Brew) crew. It was as impressive a postseason performance as you'll see as the Cardinals routed Milwaukee 12-3.

He clubbed a two-run homer in the first. Bashed a two-run double in the third. Drilled another RBI double in the fifth. Doubled and scored in the seventh.

He became only the fourth hitter ever with four extra-base hits in a postseason game, following the Yankees' Hideki Matsui (2004 ALCS), the Pirates' Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS) and the White Sox's Frank Isbell (1906 World Series).

That's one way to quiet the Brewers: Send them scurrying to the history books to look up Frank Freakin' Isbell.

However this plays out for the Cardinals, they're down to the final few games of 2011 -- and what might be the final few games for Pujols in a Redbirds uniform. If he does head elsewhere, he's leaving one whale of a parting gift.

From third base in the fifth, he raced home on a Marco Estrada wild pitch that really didn't scoot that far behind catcher Jonathan Lucroy. No matter. The zeal and determination with which Pujols played Game 2 was breathtaking.

One of the rarest things in all of sports is to see one man completely take over a baseball game. Pujols didn't just take this one over, he devoured it whole.

Now the NLCS heads back to St. Louis tied at 1-1 with Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter in the blocks to start Game 3. Momentum swings dramatically with each postseason win or loss, and right now it's all St. Louis.

The Cardinals are no longer facing the Phillies' pitching staff. Milwaukee starter Shaun Marcum, again, was dreadful. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is going to have a dilemma if the Brewers find themselves in a must-win situation in Game 6.

Marcum now has served up 30 earned runs and 46 hits in 33 innings pitched over his past six starts. Once the calculater stops smoking, it reveals an 8.18 ERA. His location is not sharp, his fastball is dull, his command isn't there.

The Brewers lost only 24 games in Miller Park all season. Marcum started 11 of them. And by the time St. Louis finished batting in the first, it was clear the trend was going to continue.
Posted on: October 9, 2011 10:27 pm

Tony Plush loud on Fantasy Football field, too

MILWAUKEE -- Nyjer Morgan stirred nothing up with the Cardinals in Game 1 Sunday. He was unusually quiet because, well, he wasn't in the lineup. He pinch-hit in the seventh, struck out, then hung around as a defensive replacement in right field without making a play.

Nevertheless, when the Brewers opened the clubhouse after their 9-6 win, there Morgan was, hollering at Jerry Hairston Jr.

What up?

"I had told him I was going to kill him in Fantasy Football today," Hairston said. "He has a terrible team. And he went off."

As in, Morgan's team had a great Sunday and whipped Hairston's team.

"That Nyjer Morgan, I tell you what, it's his year, isn't it?" Hairston said. "He had probably the worst Fantasy draft ever. He picked, like, nine tight ends.

"And today, he's killing it."
Posted on: October 9, 2011 7:41 pm
Edited on: October 9, 2011 8:37 pm

Brewers too quick for Cards in Game 1 win

MILWAUKEE -- What would have happened had Cardinals manager Tony La Russa summoned reliever Octavio Dotel two batters earlier in the fifth inning?

We'll never know. But after the Brewers cracked open this NLCS with a 9-6 bruising of St. Louis, we do know this:

The manager who invented the modern day bullpen was a step too slow for Milwaukee's lighting-quick thunder. His team owned a three-run lead in that game-turning fifth, but Jamie Garcia had allowed the first two batters of the inning to reach base and Dotel was ready in the pen.

Up next: Ryan Braun, just 2-for-8 lifetime against Dotel (single, double) with six strikeouts.

Following Braun: Prince Fielder, also just 2-for-8 lifetime against Dotel (two singles) with six whiffs.

Yet La Russa made no move to the mound. Not even for a chat.

Quicker than you could scream "MVP!", as the sellout crowd chanted to near-deafening proportions, Braun sent the first pitch he saw from Garcia rocketing into the right-field corner for a two-run double.

Then, quicker than you could say "Beast Mode", Fielder sent the first pitch he saw screaming over the right-field fence for a two-run homer that lifted Milwaukee into a 6-5 lead.

It was as quick and brutal as a TKO.

How quick? Jerry Hairston Jr. doubled, Braun doubled and Prince homered on three consecutive pitches.

Not quick enough for you? Try this: As measured by ESPN Home Run Tracker, formerly Hit Tracker, the homer traveled at a speed of 119.2 m.p.h. off of Fielder's bat -- the highest speed for any homer hit in 2011.

So in their first League Championship Series game in 29 years, the Brewers set a land-speed record in leaping out to a lead over the Cardinals, in retaining their all-important home-field advantage and in convincing their fans that the World Series is just three victories from returning to Milwaukee for the first time since 1982.

Posted on: October 8, 2011 6:58 pm

Holliday's hand sore, but he's ready to go

MILWAUKEE -- Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday, battling an inflamed tendon near his right middle finger, said Saturday he's "as good as I can be" and proclaimed himself ready to go for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series here Sunday.

Holliday said he is undergoing two therapy sessions a day, each one lasting about 20 minutes. In addition to that, he said, he's taking laser treatment on his hand has well that "supposedly helps healing."

He took a numbing shot before a game the other day, which he said lasts for about four hours, but is not going to take another one.

"I couldn't feel my fingertip," he said. "It was fine for hitting, but not for throwing."

Plus, the shot itself, he said, was excruciating.

"That shot pretty much was the worst experience of my life," he said.

Holliday played in four games against the Phillies during the Division Series, batting .222 with no homers and no RBI. In 10 plate appearances, he was hit by one pitch and struck out three times.
Posted on: October 8, 2011 5:32 pm

Nyjer Morgan talks national TV F-bombs

The F-bomb Heard 'Round the Baseball World boomeranged back to Milwaukee outfielder Nyjer Morgan on Saturday as the Brewers and Cardinals prepared for Game 1 of the NLCS on Sunday, and Morgan had one reaction: Sorry.

"Honestly, I didn't even realize the mic was right there on me," said Morgan, who dropped two very audible F-bombs on TBS field reporter Sam Ryan during Friday's postgame interview following Milwaukee's dramatic Game 5 win over Arizona. "I was sorry for the nation. You know, I am a role model out here."

With that thought, Morgan stopped and let out a big belly laugh.

"I'm serious, I am a role model and kids hear that and I don't condone it, but I was caught up in the moment, man," he continued. "That doesn't happen to everybody. So I'm sorry for that. Next time I'll think about it before I spit it out. Yeah."

What will he say next time?

"I don't know," he said. "'All right!' I'll give a Tiger Woods fist bump."

Meanwhile, someone asked Zack Greinke, Milwaukee's Game 1 starter, his impression of Morgan.

"Ninety-five percent of the time, he's great," Greinke said. "Everybody else probably likes him 100 percent of the time. But every now and then, he talks too much for me and gets annoying.

"But I tell him that. Everyone on the team loves him. He has a good heart, and he's fun."
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