Now that some of the shining stars of the Cubs' farm system (Patterson, Cruz, Hill and Zambrano) have reached the majors to be quickly followed by Choi, Prior and Kelton, what is the state of the Cubs' farm system? Are there many, if any, other promising names beyond these and Ben Christensen? Or are we looking at a serious dropoff in talent again? --Larry, Washington, Utah
I'm looking at Baseball America's list of the Cubs' top 30 prospects. The first six (Prior, Cruz, Choi, Kelton, Hill and Zambrano) are older guys, but the next wave (outfielder Nic Jackson, right-hander Ben Christensen, shortstop Luis Montanez and left-hander Steve Smyth) are all in Double-A or below. Some of the other prospects the Cubs like are pitchers Jae-Kuk Ryu, Angel Guzman and Felix Sanchez. Most baseball people don't predict a huge dropoff in talent.
How does a beat reporter give an honest assessment of the Cubs (or any team's performance) and maintain a cordial, productive relationship with individual players that may merit criticism? --David Petitti, Chicago
Great question. And if you have any tips for me, I'm listening. Seriously, it's a balancing act. The annals of baseball writing are filled with player/writer confrontations. Heck, Chris Stynes chucked a couple of baseballs at me not long ago because of something I wrote about him. (Predictably, both throws were off the mark.)
I've had a couple stretches where Sammy Sosa had gotten mad at something I wrote and told me, "I've got no words for you." But that's obviously an important relationship, so I try to limit the number of times I tick him off.
Bottom line, you want to be fair to guys and avoid taking cheap shots, or what they perceive to be cheap shots. But you also don't want to sugarcoat things or go out of your way to protect guys. Some players have much thinner skin than others. And sometimes you learn that the hard way.
Let's get to the good parts about the Cubs' abysmal record. With the expansion draft looming in 2003, the Cubs could have the first chance at Vlad Guerrero. As always with the Cubs, best to concentrate on next year than now. Comments? --Ana Winters, Chicago
Ana, you're on the money. You can be the one to tell Sammy that his future is in left field.
If the 2002 Cubs were a publicly traded stock, they would have had a great IPO coming out of the spring but would have obviously taken a nose dive to an all-time low. If you were the analyst, would you recommend a "buy," "hold" or "sell" at this point? -- Kevin Sherlock, Omaha, Neb.
I'd love to tell you but I think that might constitute insider trading.
In your last Q&A column, you stated the players arrive for day games at Wrigley between 9 and 10 a.m. There was also a mention that the Cubs could not get extra BP for these games. Please explain why the players cannot arrive at the ballpark earlier. I see all sorts of other workers and vendors at the ballpark by 8 a.m., where are the ballplayers? --Chris Longeway, Chicago
Another good question. I guess the players could arrive at 7:30 or 8 and get cracking. But I can't imagine that sleep deprivation would help you hit Billy Wagner's fastball.
During the 1999 season, Tribune writer Paul Sullivan remarked that he was having more fun covering a bad Cubs team than the outstanding 1998 club. How do you feel about this season versus last year? Are you enjoying your work more or less? -- Bill Kirkland, Durham, N.C.
Sully said that? I should switch beats with him. He'd have a blast with these Cubs.
Generally it's a lot more fun to cover a winner. The players and coaches are in a better mood, and that makes it easier to get amusing quotes and write good features.
When you're covering a loser, it can be hard to come up with original story lines especially when the team loses virtually every game it plays because it can't score (sound familiar?). No wonder when we met with Don Baylor before Sunday's game, he asked us: "Are you guys running out of questions?"
Everyone seems to think the Cubs are dead. All I read about is how the season is over. I, for one, don't think it is true. It might be difficult, but it is possible to turn this season around. Within the limits of reason, what do you think needs to happen? -- Joe Glab, Omaha, Neb.
Five things: 1) Mark Prior gives the Cubs a third ace (after Lieber and Wood); 2) Fred McGriff and Moises Alou resemble Fred McGriff and Moises Alou; 3) Todd Hundley turns the boos into cheers; 4) Kyle Farnsworth and Tom Gordon transform a mediocre bullpen into the league's best; 5) Take down the windscreens. The rooftop owners may be leeches, but the screens are bad for karma.
When Baylor was managing in Colorado, he seemed to be involved in hitting instruction. With the Cubs is he assisting Jeff Pentland in his duties as hitting instructor? Has Baylor become more involved as the hitting woes continue? Thanks. -- Darin, South Bend, Ind.
He gives suggestions to Pentland almost every day but tries not to micromanage. The two have different coaching styles. Baylor goes by feel while Pentland stresses good mechanics. Both of them have helped Corey Patterson. Neither one seems to be doing much for veterans like McGriff and Alou.
Teddy, how good are you at handling a pitcher behind the plate? Youre not a lefty, are you? With Todd Hundley already in the WGN booth, could you sub for Robert Machado or Joe Girardi? Does either have the "stuff" to be a beat writer? Just curious. -Miguel Kercado, Columbus, Ohio
They'd last longer as a beat writer than I'd last trying to catch Kerry Wood's fastball or Matt Clement's slider. But given that Stynes has one hit in his last 26 at-bats, you or I couldn't be much worse than him.
By the way, what did you think of Hundley in the booth? To me, it sounded like he was calling an All-Star game. Every player he described was about the best in the game at his position.
Over the many years we've heard how day baseball may be a disadvantage for the Cubs. As a beat writer, do you have a preference between day and night games? --Carlton Martin, St. Louis
Most writers like day games because the deadlines are cake. But I prefer night games. I'd rather sleep in and be free until 3 o'clock than have a so-called normal life and get home at 7. (I hope my girlfriend's not reading this.)
If Don Baylor is fired (though I really don't think he should be), what is the likelihood of Joe Girardi either retiring to take over or becoming a player-manager? P.S.: Great column! --Zain Akbari, Eureka, Mo.
Thanks, Zain. Girardi will be a manager someday, that much we know. But the guy still thinks he has two years of baseball left in his 37-year-old body, so he probably won't be filling out the lineup card next season.
OK, positive questions. Other than Mark Grace and Moises Alou, are there any other major leaguers who bat without batting gloves? How is Julio Zuleta's hamstring injury progressing? If memory serves, he was hitting over .300 as a pinch hitter when demoted last year. -- Dan Hill, Orlando
Dan, thanks for your thoughts, but I need to clarify something. I don't want "positive" questions. I want light-hearted, sarcastic or clever ones. Just like the ones in this batch.
Anyway, I have to get back to you on the one about the batting gloves. I'll ask Alou if he knows of any other guys who hit glove-free. As for Zuleta, he's putting up big numbers at Triple-A Iowa as usual. He's batting a team-high .333 with six homers and 18 RBIs in 28 games.
Bill Mueller and Bobby Hill got two hits apiece in Tuesday's loss to the Cardinals. But instead of letting them build on that momentum, Baylor sits them Wednesday. I know why he did, but I don't agree. How about you? --Gregory Shriver, Des Moines, Iowa
The Mueller thing I can understand because they're trying to protect his left knee and Mark Bellhorn has been a competent backup. (Shoot, there's still only one guy on the team who has hit more homers.) As for Bobby, I would have started him Wednesday. Baylor gave Delino DeShields a try and he went 0-for-4 and his average dropped to .192. I realize Don is trying to keep DeShields active and give Hill a breather, but I would have looked at two other things. Hill got a boost of confidence after stroking a line-drive single in his final at-bat Tuesday and the team was off Thursday.
Why don't you sportswriters have the guts to ask Baylor the hard questions? Like, why did you start DeShields Wednesday when Hill had two hits the day before and DeShields is hitting below the Mendoza line. Why do you continue to bat Alou fourth when he is hitting even worse? We Cub fans deserve to hear the reason our team is being either over or under managed. --Don Loren, Midlothian, Va.
Gee, Don, I didn't notice you during our pregame interview with Baylor on Wednesday. How do you know what we ask him? The answer above includes Baylor's rationale for starting DeShields over Hill. How do I know Baylor's thought process? Because I asked him.