Blackhawks

Steve Stone's mailbag: The future of the Cubs and Sox

Steve Stone's mailbag: The future of the Cubs and Sox

Monday, June 28, 2010
3:11 PM

Steve Stone dives into his mailbag to answer some of your questions about the Cubs' future, A.J. Pierzynski, Stephen Strasburg, and more!
Question from Jake R.-Highland Park, IL: Steve, as June nears its end it is becoming more and more apparent that the Cubs have little to no shot at making the playoffs. What would you do if you were the general manager of this team?

Steve Stone: First of all, far be it for me to give any suggestions to Jim Hendry because he runs his ball club and as many advisers that have certainly helped him over the years get in the position that he is in. The one thing ball club fans have to realize, the Cubs have obligated 9 players next year for 103 million dollars. There is a number of those players that have full no-trade clauses which makes it very difficult to move them.

Another factor that they have to deal with is the Carlos Zambrano issue and the millions owed to him and how best to resolve that. It is very rare for a baseball team to suspend one of their players, to have one team to suspend 2 players in 2 year is almost unheard of. While they were able to move Milton Bradley who is hitting a robust 205 for Seattle, one of the things I would be looking at, and this would be the only suggestion I would give Jim Hendry would be, while he is throwing the best baseball of his life, I would be looking to move Carlos Silva. Carlos has had a tremendous run of this half, been one of the most consistent, if not the most. Generally I take a great deal of heat for making predictions into the future on the health of various pitchers, I would say because Silva is very much overweight and starting to experience hamstring problems hamstring problems will eventually turn into back problems. While SIlva can still pass another team's physical and because I believe the Cubs owe him something along the lines of 7 million this year and another 12 next year, I would be looking to trade him assuming that the Cubs don't make a strong run before the All-Star break. Always better to trade a guy before he breaks down than to keep him until he is rendered unable to perform for you. As a couple of very good general managers who I have talked to, who have constantly reminded me, it is better to trade a guy a little to early than to hold onto him a little too late.

Question from Kristin P.-Dyer, IN: As a pitcher, how does it affect your mentality on the mound when you know that you probably wont be getting run support on a regular basis? Are the Cubs starters aware of the teams struggles at the plate, and does that create more pressure for them to pitch a gem?

Steve Stone: For the Cubs starters not to be aware of the team's struggles at the plate, they would have to be that great character from the song written by The Who about the deaf dumb and blind kid who sure plays a good pin ball. But that should and usually does not have any influence on a good pitcher. A good pitcher or a great pitcher doesn't really care how his team is struggling offensively because he feels that if his team gets one run, he will should out the other team. A good or great pitcher doesn't worry about what plays are made behind him or if his infield is going to hit or who he goes up against. The great pitcher thinks he will be better than that team on any other day; to go out without that mind set, you will go out with a self defeating prophecy.

David W.-Granger, IN: Steve, do you think that either Ozzie or Kenny will be let go during the season if the Sox continue to struggle? Does Jerry Reinsdorf owe either person anything because of the 2005 World Series victory?
Steve Stone: This question probably had a lot more relevance when they were struggling but they find themselves 1.5 games out of first and one game behind Detroit for second place. That being said, Jerry met with both Ozzie and Kenny separately during some of their more difficult times and said to both of them, time to fix this, put the squabbling to bed and get back to the business of baseball. Ozzie and Kenny, whenever it is that they happen to go out, will go out on their own terms. One has been a very successful Manager, the other a very successful General Manager and when the day comes when they can no longer do their particular job, most likely they will be gone. That day, however, is not anytime this year.

Andrew L.-Northbrook, IL: Steve, now that A.J. has his 10-and-5 rights do you still see the Sox trying to trade the veteran catcher, and if so, do you think A.J. would waive his no-trade clause if it would help the Sox build for the future?

Steve Stone: Again, this becomes a much more pertinent question when the sox found themselves 9.5 games in back of Minnesota but A.J. is hitting 242 which is 40 points below his lifetime average. He has a tremendous amount of value as calling pitches and going out every day he is called on. A.J. has his problems, driving in runs and throwing out base runners. I believe A.J. has a lot of value to a contending team because left handed catchers who play just about everyday have some value. A.J. being one of the smarter players on the team, I believe that the Sox at this point have no interest in trading him.

With 13 games left against Minnesota and 13 left against Detroit as well multiple series with Boston and Los Angeles, there is going to be ample time to see where this team fits in the AL Central and if it comes apparent that they are in the race, AJ stays. If it is apparent they are not in the race, A.J probably goes.

Max K.-Waukegan, IL: Steve, everybody is talking about Steven Strasburg. What is your take, as a former pitcher, on the phenom? Is he as good as advertised, the next Roger Clemens? Can this player put the Nationals on the map?
Steve Stone: Well the Nationals are already on the map because they play in Washington DC. They have some very good young players, Steven Strasburg being one of they. He is not as good as advertised, he might be better. Sox players were dazzled by his straight change which is most unusual for a guy that has a fast ball that tops out at 101. He has a knee-buckling curve ball and even a shorter breaking curve that he doesn't use quite as much. But what sets him apart from other flame throwers is a great, great change. With any pitcher you always have to use the term, if he stays healthy. Barring injuries, he is now and will continue to be one of the great new dominating pitchers in the year that has become the year of the pitcher. The Nationals have a couple other young players on the horizon including a young infielder by the name of Espinosa, no one has heard about but will in the not too distant future, Washington has a chance to be competitive in the National League East as soon as they get a couple pitchers back and make a deal for a starting pitcher or two.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.