We are officially in the run-up to the winter meetings, which get under way next Monday in Nashville. The Cubs have gotten some business done ahead of time, such as signing free-agent pitcher Scott Baker, retaining setup man Shawn Camp and signing backup catcher Dioner Navarro.
The team said today it has hired former major-league slugger Rob Deer as an assistant hitting coach. Deer will assist James Rowson, who had the interim tag removed from his title shortly after the season ended. Deer and Cubs manager Dale Sveum were teammates with the Milwaukee Brewers from 1986-90.
Most of you remember Deer as a power hitter who struck out a lot. In an 11-year-major-league career, Deer had a hitting line of .220/.324/.444 with 230 home runs 575 walks and 1,409 strikeouts in 3,881 at-bats. He led the American League in strikeouts four times, with totals of 186, 153, 175 and 169.
In doing my daily research today, I came across a link on Twitter, with the hat-tip going to The Hardball Times. THT linked to a Q.-and-A. with Deer done in October 2006 by onmilwaukee.com and former Brewers beat writer Drew Olson. In the interview, Olson asks Deer about a guy striking out so many times and having such a low batting average being a hitting instructor.
“I answer that a lot,” responded Deer, who was minor-league hitting coordinator for the Padres at the time. “I don't teach the way I hit. I understand how to hit .300. I know what it takes. We tell the guys to be selectively aggressive. We want that to be their approach. We tell them 'Be patiently aggressive.' That's our motto. What does it mean? If you get a good pitch to hit and you take it, that's your fault. We don't ever want to take aggressiveness away. But, we don't want to swing at bat pitches, either. I'll be the first to admit I don't want them to hit like I did."
So there you have it.
THT also points out that Sunday was the 10-year anniversary of the Boston Red Sox hiring Theo Epstein as general manager. Epstein has been the Cubs’ president for just over a year. The Hardball Times had this take:
And a snippet:
“Here’s the short version just to get it out of the way: Epstein’s Red Sox won the world title in 2004, his second full season on the job, ending the “Curse of the Bambino” that stretched back to 1918. In 2007, the Red Sox won it again. Last year, Epstein resigned from Boston and currently runs the Cubs.
“Though he has one of the best-regarded minds in baseball, a counterclaim can be made that Epstein is overrated. After all, Boston won 93 games immediately before to Epstein’s arrival. That was its third 90-win season in the last five, and seventh winning season out of eight. (And the Red Sox went only 78-84 in their ill-fated 1997 campaign). Epstein took a 93-win team and made it a 95-win team—but one whose stuff worked in the playoffs.
“Yeah, the Red Sox really were a mighty nice team before Epstein got there. But they improved under him. In his nine years running Boston, they had a winning record every time, with at least 90 wins seven times (and 89 wins an eighth time). Before Epstein, the Red Sox hadn’t had a 95-win season since 1986. They did that six times with Epstein. Their Epstein winning percentage was .575 (839-619), which is just a hair under their best single season from 1987-2001 (a .580 mark in 1999).
“It’s tough enough to maintain a successful run, but Epstein actually built upon it. As a bonus, he did it despite the best player on his squad leaving his prime. Pedro Martinez was as dominant as any pitcher ever at the turn-of-the-millennium, but injuries began to cut into his pitching time around when Epstein arrived. Martinez went 20-4 in his last pre-Theo season, but never topped 16 wins after that.”
Elsewhere, the Cubs have signed former Houston Astros outfielder and first-round draft pick (2005) Brian Bogusevic to a minor-league contract. He’ll get an invite to spring training as a non-roster player. Bogusevic, 28, is a product of south suburban Oak Lawn and De La Salle Institute. In parts of three major-league seasons, he has a line of .227/.310/.346 with 11 homers. In 2012, he played in 146 games with the Astros, getting 355 at-bats. He had a line of .203/.297/.299. You can’t rule him out making the team. Joe Mather made the Cubs last spring. Like Mather, Bogusevic also has pitched in a big-league game. If the Cubs have anywhere near the season in 2013 that they had in 2012, they might need Bogusevic for an inning of mop-up work.
This one might seem a stretch, but stick with me because it does relate to the Cubs, in a way. I’m currently reading a book called “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. In case you think this takes you out of your comfort zone, know that on the front cover of the 2012 edition of the book is a testimonial from Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane: “As an avid fan of the game (futbol) and a firm believer in the power that such objective analysis can bring to sports, I was captivated by this book. Soccernomics is an absolute must-read.”
I agree. You will find a lot of good cross-pollinating here between sports.
That brings me to my larger point: Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa, who recently visited the Cubs as he tours many major-league clubs. Fujikawa is a highly successful closer of the Hanshin club. Personally, I don’t see the Cubs winding up with him for a couple of reasons. First is that the Cubs don’t figure to contend next year, and a good closer is about as useful on such as club as a hood ornament on a jalopy. And until further notice, the Cubs already have a closer in Carlos Marmol.
The other reason is Fujikawa’s age: 32. During many recent chats with the Cubs front office, Theo has said he prefers free agents on the right side of 30. Fujikawa certainly doesn’t fit the profile, and by the time the Cubs are ready to contend, he’ll be even further from the good side of 30.
One of the best passages I’ve come across so far in “Soccernomics” regards aging players. It applies to baseball as much as it does to soccer. From the authors: “All players are melting blocks of ice. The job of the club is to gauge how fast they are melting, and to get rid of them before they turn into expensive puddles of water.”
I like it.