Thursday, December 31, 2020

Total Fliers

In case you missed it, I'm back and playing catch-up.

During my sabbatical, I missed out on covering quite a few new Cubs here on Wrigley Roster Jenga.  Thankfully for my OCD, while I was MIA on the blogosphere, I was still semi-actively collecting and kept my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection (CATRC) up-to-date.  So, since I'm quarantined with COVID, I have nothing better to do that get this cobweb infested webspace all caught up.  I'll be showing off these cards of 2020 roster additions in roughly chronological order, but I'll definitely be taking some creative liberties along the way.  After all, if we learned anything during this chaotic year, linear time is absolutely meaningless.

Today, I'll be featuring a pair of hurlers who were "technically" on the roster when I closed the shudders on this blog back in June.  However, seeing as the active roster had not yet been finalized at the time and these low-risk/high reward, bullpen fliers were far from locks to make the club, I never got around to covering them.  Plus, I didn't have any cards featuring their faces at that point either.  In the end, both guys ended up making the cut, largely thanks to the pandemic-inflated rosters; thus, today they will be getting their due from me.  Anyway, let's kick things off with the first of the pair to be acquired by the Cubs - Daniel Winkler.

Image courtesy of  AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Dan Winkler is an Illinois-boy, originally hailing from Effingham and attending Parkland College in Champaign, and was even drafted by his home-state club in the 43rd round of the 2010 amateur draft.  Of course, Effingham is located well south of Chicago and is far enough away that the territory is pretty much evenly split with the rival Cardinals.  Perhaps that's why he did not sign with the organization at that time? Maybe he was a fan of the Red Birds?  Doubtful, especially since he grew up listening to Cubs broadcasts with this blue-blooded grandmother on WGN.

Anyway, Dan ended up going to the Rockies in the next year's draft a few rounds earlier.  Eventually, the righty made his way to the Braves via the Rule 5 Draft, where he made his MLB debut in 2015.  After a few seasons yo-yoing back and forth between the Majors and the minors and rehabbing from a broken elbow, Winkler had solidified a spot in the Bravos bullpen by 2018, largely on the strength of his cutter and his fastball which ranks in the 90th percentile in spin.

Winkler doesn't miss a lot of bats and largely pitches to contact and thus got knocked around a bit in 2019, leading to his being traded away by Atlanta to San Francisco, who let him walk as a free agent after the season without appearing in an MLB contest with the team.  The Cubs then scooped him up that December, owing to their perpetually understaffed bullpen and artificially tight purse strings.

The Cubs have actually had a lot of success in identifying relievers who have glided under the radar but have one elite skill and then reshaping them in their "pitch lab."  As such, Winkler ended up as a perfectly useable bullpen arm for them in 2020, appearing in 18 games (18.1 innings) with an ERA under three.

As well as Winkler performed for the Cubbies in 2020, I thought finding a card of him for my CATRC would be a rougher go. After all, relievers hardly get any love from Topps and Panini and Winkler hasn't exactly been a steady presence over the years. However, I was surprised to find that he appeared as a Brave in a few recent Flagship sets and - even better - was an early inclusion in the 2020 edition of the rebooted Topps Total, as a Cub no less. 

To see that Winkler, of all people, already had a Cubs card to his name came as quite a surprise to me. These print-to-order cards are, as you know, quite a different animal from their pack-pulled brethren and finding singles is more of a challenge and harder on the wallet than those in traditional sets; however, I am so glad this set was brought back from the dead, even if the former bargain brand is now a premium. As you'll see in this series of posts catching up on the moves that I missed, Winkler is far from the only player who Total provided for my binder.

In fact, Winkler's card isn't even the sum total of Total cards featured in this blog entry. Let's shift our focus to another offseason flier who made the team out of spring training - Casey Sadler.

Image courtesy of Getty

Casey Sadler was a surprise, late-season contributor out of the bullpen for the powerful Dodgers in 2019.  In 24 games, the hurler claimed four wins, no losses, and posted a sterling 2.33 ERA.  But, since that World Series bound franchise was absolutely stacked going into this year, they traded him to Chicago for a minor leaguer.  Especially once COVID-expanded rosters became a thing, Sadler's spot in the Cubs bullpen was all but assured; however, I held off on talking about his acquisition at that the time, even though the blog was actually active at this point. *Shrug*

In the end, Sadler was unable to duplicate his Dodger days for the Cubs, seeing his ERA balloon to 5.73 in 10 games.  In a bullpen that had to shortage of otherwise useful options, the Cubs ended up designating him for assignment before the season was out.  Sadler was eventually claimed by the Mariners and added to their active roster on the same day as now current Cub waiver claim, Philip Ervin.  Whether or not Ervin remains a Cub through Opening Day 2021 and also joins Sadler in my CATRC remains to be seen.

While his bullpen mate, Daniel Winkler, was surprisingly easy to cross off of my "needs" list, Casey Sadler was quite the opposite.  Despite appearing in parts of five season as a Major League Baseball player, as of halfway through 2020, Sadler had literally NEVER appeared on an official baseball card.  Not even so much as a courtesy Bowman or Prizm Draft Picks single from his prospect days.  By the time he'd been DFA'ed off of the Cubs' roster, the only cardboard options for Sadler that existed were singles from MiLB team-issued sets.  While Winkler proved to be an exception to the rule, this is exactly the sort of hobby situation I expect with relatively unstable MLB relievers.

Then, once again, in stepped Topps Total to the rescue.

Sure, they were late to the party and Sadler was already a Mariner by the time Total's eighth wave made it to market, but I was both surprised and thrilled to see Casey finally get his time in the spotlight.  Someone else must have been too, as this particular single was confusingly difficult to find at a reasonable price on the secondhand market.  As Wrigley Wax theorized, perhaps a member of the Sadler family was just as excited to see Casey finally get a bubblegum card and bought them up with great enthusiasm?  

No offense to the hurler, but I doubt there's a Sadler super collector out there.  But, that's no matter - I finally tracked one down for a couple bucks out of Canada, so all is well in the land of Wrigley Roster Jenga.

It's here that we place in a pin in the great roster move catch-up series, as my infant son is not nearly as interested in blogging as I am at the moment.  Next time out, we'll talk about the non-roster invitees who made the team out of spring training in 2020.  Seeing as, due to the COVID protocols, the rosters were expanded to 30 men from jump, more guys than usual made this leap from the NRI ranks, I'll have plenty of players and cards to showcase.

In the meantime, happy New Year!  Thank goodness this perpetual dumpster fire of a calendar year is finally fucking off.  Let's all chug some Instacart-ordered, bargain brand bubbly and toast to 2021 being the first step back to relative normalcy.  

See ya'll on the other side!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Yu've Got to be Kidding Me

I know I said in my first post back that I'd be covering all the Cubs players who have been added to the roster since I've been away, but I've got to interrupt myself.  Somewhat.

Today's post will involve a guy who was added to the roster since that June sabbatical began; however, we're going to leapfrog seven months and rant... errrr... talk about a transaction that occurred just a couple of days ago.  I'm alluding, of course, to the "blockbuster" trade that occurred between the buckwild Padres and the club who is truly putting the "W" in white flag - the Cubs.  In case you somehow missed the news, GM Jed Hoyer announced his intentions to save the Ricketts family some debt by trading the ace of their already weakened pitching staff, Yu Darvish, to a club who actually seems interested in competing (understatement) in 2020, in exchange for a bunch of teenagers.  As if that wasn't a strong enough signal of their intentions, they also threw in Yu's personal catcher - Victor Caratini - AND paid off some of Darvish's contract, on top of that absolute gift.

All I can say is I'm mad at baseball again.

As a fan-base, we were promised at the onset of the last rebuild that we would never have to suffer through another stretch of baseball as bad as that was.  After all, Chicago is about as major of a market as you can get, the Ricketts had deep pockets, and the new television channel and Wrigleyville renovations were basically going to print money for the franchise.  Of course, now, even after saying at the end of the 2020 season that a total rebuild wasn't going to occur, Tommy Boy is crying poor and auctioning off stars at bargain bin prices.  I understand a change needed to happen, especially with the offense, after a couple of lackluster, but competitive seasons.  However, retooling the roster does not involve swapping your Cy Young caliber ace and high-quality back-up catcher for a bunch of players who might be good in four years.  And now there's rumors of trading Willson Contreras away... excuse me, what?

Now, your offense is exactly the same, the pitching staff is measurably worse, your actively gutting your catchers, and instead of getting young players who could help fill those black holes from one of the best farm systems in the league, you got a handful of lottery tickets that aren't redeemable until the middle of the decade.  All so you can save your "billionaire" owners some money... to which I say, sell the damn team!  But, what else can you expect from the same ownership group that worships at the altar of the ultimate fake billionaire, Donald Trump.  Fuck 'em.

Although, the Cubs did get ONE Major League piece back from the Pads - Zach Davies, aka store brand Kyle Hendricks.  Sure, Davies isn't a bad option to plug into the back of a starting rotation, but Yu Darvish he ain't.  Plus, with Hendricks and Alec Mills being your only other predictable rotation options, the starting staff is now almost exclusively populated by soft-tossers, as Davies' fastball barely averages in the high 80's these days.  Opposing offenses are going to be absolutely teeing up at Wrigley this summer.  maybe the Ricketts are counting on increased souvenirs in the bleachers to bring fans in the gates next year?

Anyway, in a division where the Reds and the Pirates are already tearing themselves down to the studs, the Cubs should be taking advantage at an almost guaranteed playoff spot.  Instead, they seem to be up to the challenge of racing to the bottom.  Jesus, I almost wish that I was a Brewers fan.  Maybe I'll follow Yu and Vic to San Diego?


*Sigh* Well, that was cathartic anyway... I feel a TOUCH better after that rant.  I still won't be spending any money on the Cubs this year.  No Marquee network (even if I could), no game tickets (if we ever get back to that point), no merch, no nada.  I'm sure they'll miss my pittance, but it's the principle of the thing.

That said, I am still a slave to my collection - I still begrudgingly love baseball and will continue to follow my favorite team.  It might be a toxic relationship until the Ricketts are ran out of town on a rail, but if I could jump off of the train, I would have already.  With that in mind, I guess I need to acquire a card of Zach Davies for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Again, he's somehow the only one I'll need after trading away the guy who finished second in the Cy Young voting in 2020.  Those prospects can wait until they've at least graduated A-ball.

In preparing for the arrival of my son - the only good thing to happen in 2020 - I offloaded a the majority of my collection on Nick from Dimeboxes, as you might have seen through his blog.  By collection, I really mean bloat, as it was all the cards that didn't really fit into my ultra-niche collections, including my stores of active players whose cards I held onto just in case they might end up as Cubs one day.  I'm sure there was a Davies in there, as he's a six-year veteran who has exclusively pitched as a regular starter.  However, as with any new addition to the active roster from here on out, I'll have to take it as it comes.  Maybe after I've recovered from COVID, I'll mask up and pop into my local card shop for a spell and calm my nerves. Maybe I'll get impatient during this quarantine and overpay for a single on EBay.  At any rate, Zach's got some options.

As far as Davies' base cards go, I think these are my favorite two options - I guess I'm in a GQ mood lately.

In the end, thanks for sticking with me through this therapeutic rant.  I felt like I had to cover this trade on the blog and that I had to do so before it faded from the spotlight - I've already neglected Wrigley Roster Jenga for long enough.

For the first time since this blog's infancy, here's to another season of rebuilding roster jenga.  I'm sure I'll be busy chasing down cards of random scrubs, AAAA filler, and waiver claims for the first time since this competitive streak began in 2015.  I guess the blog is - begrudgingly - back to living up to the inspiration behind it's name.

If you enjoyed this content - don't worry - I'm sure there'll be more unhinged rants when the team deals away Contreras and Kris Bryant for some Bed Bath & Beyond coupons.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Is This Thing Still On?

 Hey, remember me?

This place sure is dusty and covered in world wide cob webs... how long has been it been?  Jesus - my last post was in June... I missed a whole (ish) season of baseball.  Man, time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister.

Well, I'm left to ask myself, what might have caused such a long absence?  My answer is threefold.  First, a general dissatisfaction with the sport.  Between minor league baseball being nuked, labor strife wreaking havoc on baseball's future, and rooting for a directionless team seemingly ticketed for decline while stuck in a Groundhog Day-like state of mediocrity, it's been hard to feel enthused about my favored sport.  Although, I will say that despite some negative connotations, MLB's long-belated recognition of the Negro Leagues as being officially Major League caliber has perked my enthusiasm up a little bit.

Furthermore, there's the whole chaotic purgatory that is the year 2020.  Between the heated Presidential election, the coup attempt by the world's most sore loser that is somehow still ongoing, and - y'know - the raging pandemic that continues to spread like wildfire across the world, but even more powerfully in the only first world nation that thinks science is for wussies.  While we're on that note, I might as well mention that I just tested positive for COVID-19 and am now quarantined away from the world.  I've been as responsible as possible; however, having to work in four different buildings as part of my current employment has left me extremely exposed.  Thankfully, my symptoms are pretty mild - it mostly feels as though I just have a prolonged head cold.  Although, I have lost my senses of smell and taste, which figures because I have nothing better to do than eat my feelings.  

I suppose I'll have to settle for the next best way to spend my time - blogging about baseball cards.  After all, I've missed covering a bunch of new additions to the Cubs All-Time Roster while I was away, seeing as the 2020 season somehow ended up happening, despite the best efforts of the Marlins and Cardinals.  While I wasn't blogging, I was still passively collecting and I am pretty much up to date at this point.  The expanded rosters created a whole bunch of new Cubs, I might as well take this opportunity to document them.

I think I'll go one by one, in (approximately) the order the players were added to the active roster, starting... tomorrow.

Why drag my feet after all this time already taken off?  That brings me to the third reason Wrigley Roster Jenga has been dormant for so long - my wife and I welcome our first child into the world this summer and, unsurprisingly, he's been a bit of distraction.  Needless to say, 2020 was a stressful year to go through the whole childbirth process; but, at least I can say something wonderful did happen during this year of otherwise unrelenting frustration.  Both Rowan and his mother are doing quite well, though we are all three battling that damn virus, at the moment.

Also - sidebar - Rowan definitely wasn't name AFTER Cubs reliever Rowan Wick; although, I might have discovered that I liked the way the moniker sounded while listening to Cubs' broadcasts during the hurler's Wrigley tenure.  Don't tell mom.

Anyway, I'm going to use the last few minutes of the kid's nap to sort through my binders and get my upcoming posts ready.  See ya'll tomorrow!