Series Preview: Joe Aiello Talks Cubs

With the Padres headed to Chicago for a four-game series, I decided to check in with Joe Aiello of View from the Bleachers for the latest info on the Cubs. We now turn the blog over to Joe…

Ducksnorts: The Cubs have gotten off to a terrific start and have a very balanced attack. Can they sustain this level of play and, in the suddenly revitalized NL Central, will it be enough for a return trip to the post-season?

Aiello: I think they can. I’m not just saying that as a fan of the team. If you look around the NL, everyone is beatable. When the Mets traded for [Johan] Santana, everyone basically gave them the World Series, yet they’re just a few games over .500. The Cubs have played very well with the bat this year, and a big reason for that is the addition of Kosuke Fukudome. He makes this team better not just with his offensive production, but by the influence his approach at the plate has had on the rest of the team. The Cubs have not been a high OBP team, and typically slot in near the worst in baseball. Coming into Sunday’s action, they ranked first in the NL with a .370 OBP as a team. A big reason for that is Fukudome. His approach at the plate has rubbed off on the rest of the team and because of that, I think this team has a legit shot at making some noise this year.

Ducksnorts: Several guys are hitting well for you right now. One of them is catcher Geovany Soto, who came out of nowhere at Triple-A last year and is proving that his improvement in ’07 was no fluke. How good can he be?

Aiello: I was skeptical that last year’s success in Triple-A was a bit of a fluke. It was his third year in Iowa and at that point, you probably should be breaking out just for the simple fact that you’ve seen guys for a couple years. Soto credits his success to a change in approach at the plate. He’s changed his stance and it’s worked wonders for him. He’s still young, and makes mistakes, but he’s turning into a strong All-Star contender for the NL. I don’t think it’s out of the question to think that he could turn into a top 5 catcher in baseball if he continues to develop like he has over the last year and a half. Then again, we thought that about Rick Wilkins after his huge power year in 1993.

Ducksnorts: What are the early returns on outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, starter-turned-closer Kerry Wood, and closer-turned-starter Ryan Dempster?

Aiello: I mentioned the impact that Fukudome has had on this team, but I think the contributions of Wood and Dempster have come under a little bit of flack from fans. Dempster hasn’t been a fan favorite on the mound, mainly due to the wildness as a closer, but when you look at his numbers, he got the job done. No closer is perfect, but sometimes fans expect them to be. Wood has been the same way. For me, I’m impressed with the job that both have done this year. Both are adjusting to new roles and have done them very good so far.

Ducksnorts: What’s up with Alfonso Soriano?

Aiello: I think Soriano is an overrated player. It was definitely a big splash made by the team when they signed him, and it could have been a lot worse. After all, we could have made the splash to sign Barry Zito. Soriano had a good year last year, but wasn’t the 40-40 guy that many expected. At the same time, can you really expect that when it’s been done so few times in the history of the game? When all was said and done last year, he put the team on his back and carried them in September and finished the year as a 30-30 guy despite missing some time due to a leg injury. He’s going to be fine, but ultimately not worth the money we paid.

Ducksnorts: We keep hearing rumblings around here about Felix Pie and Ronny Cedeno. Are the Cubs looking to trade these guys, and if so, what might they want in return? More importantly, how good are they? While we’re at it, can the Padres have Matt Murton or Rich Hill if you aren’t using them?

Aiello: I don’t know that Ronny Cedeno is on the trading block anymore. He seems to have figured things out with the bat this year and has seen his mental errors decrease as well. We heard a lot about him as he was developing, but hadn’t seem much come of that at the Major League level until this year. There is no question in my mind that if Ryan Theriot struggles this year at some point, Cedeno will get a chance to take the starting job away from him. As for Pie, he’s been a bit of a disappointment. Cub fans are tired of waiting. Reed Johnson has played slightly better, but not enough at the plate to really take the job away from Pie completely. He could definitely be had for the right deal, but it still would not be cheap.

As for Murton and Hill, they’re two completely different animals. Hill is down in Triple-A to work on some command issues and is still very much in the team’s plan. Murton seems to draw interest from all kinds of teams, yet the Cubs won’t deal him. It reminds me of someone taking their ball and going home. If the Cubs can’t get something from Murton, then they don’t want anyone else to either. It’s a strange thing, but they seem content to let him rot in the minors or on the bench in a utility outfielder role. It’s bizarre.

Ducksnorts: Best film set in Chicago: Blues Brothers, Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, High Fidelity, or Risky Business?

Aiello: I’m actually going to go with a couple different ones. Some of my favorites are Stir of Echoes; Planes, Trains and Automobiles; and The Rookie.

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Thanks again to Joe for swinging by, talking Cubs baseball with us, and reminding us of the genius that was Steve Martin and John Candy. Here’s to an excellent series…

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29 Responses »

  1. Good inteview GY.

    From this mornings UT:

    “Black plans at least three starts for Carlin on the seven-game trip.”

    Wow Bud must have really not liked something about Morton’s game.

  2. Looks like Paul DePo is blogging now…you can find it here:

  3. just picked up my Ducksnorts annual at the post office. Nice packaging I must say. Time to open it up………………..

  4. #1@Steve C: I know it’s only two games, but I’ve been really impressed with Carlin. I was sitting out by the bullpen yesterday and I was really interested in how he was warming up for the game. He’s incredibly flexible (as evidenced by how low he gets when he catches) and he practices coming out of the squat to throw to each of first, second, and third.

    Even if he’s a no offense guy, it sure is nice to have a good catcher on the team.

  5. Paul DePodesta’s new blog…with a Ducksnorts shout out!

  6. Excellent interview Geoff.

    Just imagine Fukudome’s approach rubbing off on the rest of our lineup…*sigh*.

  7. The Cubs are supposedly entertaining the idea of signing Jim Edmonds and sending Felix Pie down to AAA. If that happens the Padres should organize a raid on the Iowa Cubs and kidnap Hill, Pie, and Murton. I hope some other team does give Edmonds a shot to see if he really is done or if he bounces back, because it’s an interesting question that I’d like resolved without the chance of him hitting .180 for another 200 AB with the Padres.,1,3434464.story

  8. From what I’ve read, the problems with Morton include not having good lateral movement, can’t get low enough because he is so tall and being so big back there that the hitter can see easily where he sets up and where the target is. Despite what we saw he has hit well in the minors but is projected, down the road, as a backup only. Had labrum surgery early last season so hasn’t had a full minor league season since ’06.
    I second the raid on the Cubs!

  9. #6@Jeremy: I think it’s funny that he thinks that Fukudome’s patience is rubbing off on the rest of the lineup. So the team totally ignores their batting coaches over the years but this year is influenced by some guy that doesn’t speak English? Especially considering he isn’t even leading the team in walks. Strange the way that works out.

  10. #9@Schlom: Hitters aren’t influenced by their teammates for their hitting coaches most of the time. Most hitters are what they are, unless they improve on their own or through repetition.

  11. I meant OR their hitting coaches. I hate when that happens.

  12. Geoff – couldn’t think of an idea to improve the blog a few weeks ago, but I thought of one now: is it possible to link directly to the most active discussion without having to start with all of the blog entries at “ducksnorts/blog”? maybe something like ducksnorts/blog/current ?

  13. #12@Marsh: Marsh … one sorta way to do what you are asking is to click on the “most recent” comment … which is on the right under the “Support via PayPal” (hint, hint :-) ) button … that’s what I click on after I’ve buried myself in an old thread …

  14. I just got a call from a friend who’s watching the 1984 NLCS Game 4 on ESPN Classic … if you weren’t there that day, you should tune in and get cheered up :-)

  15. Random thought after watching that clip of Rick Ankiel throwing a guy out at third, on the fly, from the warning track: Do the Padres have any players that one would consider exciting? Guys who frequently make plays that make you say “holy cow!”? Do Khalil’s great plays make him an exciting player?

  16. quick question on edmonds. if someone picks him up, are we absolved from paying his salary? or is it only the difference between his new payday and what we owed him?

  17. #16@sam: We owe him the entire amount. If he signs with another team, what they pay him is on top of what we do.

    If he’d been put on waivers and claimed, the claiming team would owe him the balance of his original 2008 salary.

  18. #15@Anthony: I’d say Khalil qualifies as exciting.

    I’d also put Cla Meredith in that category actually. Petco was electric when he came in yesterday with the bases juiced. To see him get the GIDP and then the K was just awesome. You knew it was coming, but it could have exploded in our face.

    On that topic, Cla has been pretty damn good this year.

  19. #15@Anthony: No, not really…Peavy has the chance every time out to K 15 and that is exciting…KG has, on occasion, provided that highlight reel play, but I don’t think he would qualify…

    Speaking of exciting, did y’all see that catch Carl Crawford made last week? He flat jumped on his horse, made like superman, and robbed a surefire double…crazy good.

  20. #19@Coronado Mike: Obviously you weren’t at the game on Saturday night :-)

    I was front row of 316 (by the way, front row of the upper deck rocks and is not unreasonably expensive) and when Holliday hit that ball I, and everyone else in the stadium, thought it was ticketed to CF. Place went nuts when Khalil stopped it, and came unglued when he threw out Holliday.

  21. Colt Morton is exciting.

  22. #21@Phantom:

    I was in section 320. I love those uperdeck seats!

  23. #23@KRS1:

    And that Khalil play was awesome! I think Greene qualifies as a exciting player. He does things with the glove and the bat sometimes that make me wonder how he isn’t an all-star. He is also a really frustrating player because when isn’t white hot he pretty much sucks. It’s like 2 extremes with him, either he’s mashing or he’s crashing.

  24. #14@Anthony: I personally love the way Adrian plays first base. He makes some pretty exciting plays over there.

  25. #23@KRS1: I got those seats kind of on accident once (302 front row – AWESOME seats) and I really enjoy sitting there.

    My wife and I have season tickets in LF which is a great view, but it’s hard to make out the strike zone during day games because of the glare off the home whites. My wife told me she actually prefers to sit front row of the 300s, but we can’t get those tickets for a 20-game plan, so we usually just end up trading in tix for those.

    Re: Khalil – Even when he struggles offensively, he’s still a joy to watch in the field. He consistently makes tough plays look routine. One of the things that amazes me is how he rarely seems to be going maximum effort when making one of those plays. This isn’t to say that he’s not trying, he’s just so damn smooth and collected in the field.

  26. #14@Anthony: I find it exciting when Heath Bell pumps his first in the air after another successful outing.

  27. Isn’t everyone always complaining that Hoffman is too exciting? C’mon, guys, what do you want here? :)

  28. #25@Geoff Young: I had thought about that and am sad I did not mention him earlier…for a 1 bagger, he does excite…