The injury news seems to finally be good for the Cubs today (unless your name is Junior Lake), which is a welcome change from the first four weeks of Spring Training.
- Scott Baker is primed to make a Cactus League start this weekend after pitching a couple of innings in a minor league game on Tuesday. His recovery seems to be right on schedule, which is terrific news.
- Dale Sveum may have confirmed my hypothesis on Matt Garza today. He said Garza needs to throw off of a mound and start throwing live BP, and his Spring Training will essentially begin in a week. If they put Garza through a full spring schedule starting next week, he will likely be back at the end of April or beginning of May. That said, Garza thinks he will be back in the middle of April. So there’s some optimism on his part. Which is nice.
- Starlin Castro played three innings today. He went 1-1 with a single and walk. After he finished, he said he felt good. Hopefully, he was knocking on wood as he said it.
- Ian Stewart is going to play soon. If not tomorrow, I would guess Friday. Stewart talked to ESPN Chicago today and said he felt good. After ten months, It’ll be nice to see him on a field, and at as close to 100% as he’s been in quite some time.
- Junior Lake stress fractured his rib. This isn’t an uncommon injury in baseball players, but it is one to take seriously. Stress fractures are no joke, and Lake will likely be sidelined the full 4-6 weeks that was reported today before he does anything. Since he was a long shot to make the roster (at best), and was going to spend the season in Iowa, there is no sense in rushing him.
Tom Ricketts said that April is still a deadline for getting a deal done in order to start renovations at Wrigley in October. It seems as though we’re at the point where both sides have planted their heels and aren’t willing to concede much anymore. Then again, I’m not sure the Cubs have anything left to concede. The beat goes on…
Brennan Boesch was released today. The book on him is that a change of scenery would probably do him some good. Bruce Levine wrote today that he makes sense for the Cubs (and Sox…but who gives a crap?). As a left handed bat with some power, he’d be nice to have, but the Cubs already have a pretty well packed outfield. Unless the Cubs were able to move Alfonso Soriano, I can’t think there’s anywhere to put him.
Lastly, Opening Day is in 2 1/2 weeks. So smile. Real baseball is right around the corner.
The final player installment of the positional previews is the group who will see the most change throughout this season. In reality, that’s the case for just about every team, every season.
This season figures to be extra interesting for the Cubs in the bullpen. The addition of Kyuji Fujikawa from Japan as a potential (and likely) closer when Carlos Marmol departs the organization, either via trade or the expiration of his contract after the season lends some stability to the the back end, and the addition of Carlos Villanueva gives the Cubs the long reliever they’ve been without since Tom Gorzelanny packed his bags. Indeed, this will be the group with the most turnover of any on the team.
Closer: Carlos Marmol
For now. In spite of being only 30 and coming off of an impressive rebound in the second half of last season, Marmol is the most talked about trade piece this side of Alfonso Soriano. The fact that he did have a strong second half, is 30, and is in the last year of a deal with Cubs would be willing to pay almost all of make him a valuable piece for any contending team (*cough cough* Tigers) that needs a proven back end. I am of the opinion that Brian Wilson makes more sense for the Tigers than Marmol because he will be inexpensive and won’t cost prospects, but it seems as though Detroit is looking at all available options, including Marmol. That said, however long he’s around, he should be fine. Sure, he’s an adventure. He’ll put some on and he’ll make it interesting. But he slammed the door quite a bit last year. Another year of Chris Bosio would probably do him some good, but I don’t see Marmol being back under any circumstances next season if he finishes this season in Chicago. I see him becoming “controllable assets” before too long. This spot is definitely one that is not set…
Set-Up: Kyuji Fujikawa
This is the guy who will likely be the closer if/ when Marmol is sent out. The 32 year old “rookie” from Japan is coming over on a two year deal and was an excellent closer before coming over the states. The thing that worries me about “KJ” is that Japanese closers haven’t exactly been common…or good. In Japan, though, Fujikawa was uncommonly good. His ERA broke 2.00 only one time, a 2.01 ERA in 2010, and his 202 career saves lend him some credibility to finish games. He’s entering a new level of competition, and he very well could struggle like many of the Japanese pitchers before him. If he can be the exception to what has been the norm, however, everything should be fine for the short term.
Middle Relief: Shawn Camp, James Russell, Hector Rondon , Jaye Chapman, Michael Bowden (and a host of others throughout the season)
The two major pieces to this puzzle are Camp and Russell. Both of those guys were fixtures just about every day last season. And they were each pretty good. Russell appeared in 77 games with a strong 3.25 ERA. After being used in a variety of situations in 2011 and struggling before settling into the bullpen, 2012 was spent entirely in the bullpen, and Russell showed that he is an effective lefty, and can pitch effectively to both left and right handed hitters. He’s shown his value and as everyday asset much like Shawn Camp, who might be the oldest guy in the organization. At 37, Camp was another everyday fixture in the bullpen and led the league with 80 appearances. He was surprisingly effective in a set-up role with Russell, but struggled when he became the closer in Marmol’s absence. For a guy who signed a minor league deal during camp last season, Shawn Camp turned into one of the most valuable players on the roster. This season, he will probably not get the same use, and may improve the effectiveness of his aging arm. The last player of note is Rule 5 selection, Hector Rondon, who needs to be on the active roster for 90 days. The difference between Lendy Castillo from last season and Rondon is that Rondon has pitched at AAA, which is something Castillo had never done. Rondon has had arm issues, and if he’s past them, he could turn into a pleasant surprise, and may not spend months and months on the DL with Rule-5itis.
Long Relief: Carlos Villanueva
Even though, Villanueva will start the season in the rotation, this is going to be his role going forward. He’s well suited for it, too. Coming over from Toronto, he was looking for a chance to start, but it will probably not come
to fruition for him without some injury and trade subtractions from the rotation. And that’s alright. His numbers won’t blow anyone away, but he can make a start in a pinch and go 5-6 innings, or come in early in a game and save the bullpen from being spent. This is an often overlooked role and an unglamorous position for just about any pitcher to be in. He doesn’t get his name on the scroll on ESPN as the probable starter, nor does he get his name on it for the save. But this is a vital role because it allows the other players in the ‘pen to stay in their roles. As far as long relief pitching goes, there aren’t many who are better than Villanueva, even if he does look himself in the mirror and call himself a starting pitcher.
Other Names to Watch: Arodys Vizcaino, Trey McNutt, Robert Whitenack, Barret Loux, Hisanori Takahashi, Nick Struck
Vizcaino is probably the most well-known of these players, coming over from the Braves at the deadline last season. He could find his way into the bullpen to pick up some major league innings this season to get experience, especially if the Cubs fall out of it. McNutt seems to be throwing as well as he has in a few years, but now seems destined to have a bullpen role, and may make his way to Chicago this season. Loux is who ultimately came for Geovany Soto after Jacob Brigham was found to have had arm issues, and is in camp as a non-roster player. He seems to be a better prospect than Brigham, and is closer to the majors, so it seems like the Cubs won in the end on that deal. Takahashi and Struck are both in camp as non-roster players, as well, and could wind up in the bullpen at some point this season as well. As I mentioned at the outset, this is where there is the most flux during a season. This season should be no different.
In the last inning of the last game required to break the consecutive errorless games streak by a second baseman, Darwin Barney committed an error. A throwing error, his third of the season. His first error since April. In spite of all of that, I still think Reds’ 2B Brandon Phillips is the favorite to win the Gold Glove this season. These awards seem to be given based on reputation, and it is no secret that offensive production plays into the defensive award, as well. None of this is to say that I don’t want Darwin to win the award. He absolutely should. It would be brutal for anyone but him to win after going over five months between errors, and the one he makes is on an insanely tough play. Anybody that has seen the play knows that would not have been an error if it did not allow to cause a run to score. We’ll see how it turns out.
After last night, the Cubs have gone 0-17 in road games against the NL West. It is unfortunate that the team didn’t have a western swing in July, when they played well before the deadline. They have two more opportunities to win a game out west this weekend, finishing the series against the D-Backs. Should they fail to get a win, they will lose their 100th game, and have the first 100 loss season since 1966.
After all of the fuss about what Jed Hoyer said this week about having financial flexibility, it is important for Cubs’ fans to know that they can put away their anticipatory Josh Hamilton jerseys. There will not be a major signing this off-season. When you look at everything that the front office has said over the course of the last year, there is no reason to believe that they are going to pony up the cash for a big time free agent when they have said it is their goal to build from drafting and developing good players. The goal is to have a strong organization from top to bottom, and we saw that over the course of the last few months. Trading Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto, and Reed Johnson were all products of building a strong organization. When you combine those statements with Theo Epstein saying he made mistakes in his approach toward the end of his tenure in Boston, there is no reason to believe there are going to be any nine figure deals getting tossed around this off-season. It will be another in the process of building for future success. At this point, the actual baseball season is a formality. Games, at least in the north side of Chicago, won’t be all that significant for the next two to three years.
There have been a great many players this season that could be classified as an important piece for the Cubs’ rebuilding process. Players like Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Samardzija rightfully get much of the attention as the process moves forward. One player who does not get the credit he deserves for the rebuilding process is outfielder, David DeJesus. The reason is likely because DeJesus will not be an integral part of the team once the rebuild is complete, if he is a part of the team at all. Looking forward, players like Jorge Soler and Albert Almora are going to make DeJesus an expendable piece within the next year or two, with his contract unlikely
to be extended when it expires, if he is not traded before it ends.
Drafted: 4th round, 2000 Amateur Draft by the Kansas City Royals
Debut: 9/2/2003 vs Texas Rangers. No official at-bat
Cubs’ Statistical Analysis:
Something that gets lost about David DeJesus is his stellar on-base percentage. As a lead-off hitter, DDJ trails only Norichika Aoki of the Brewers in OBP, which almost never gets talked about. After reaching four times today in the win against the Cardinals, where he provided the walk off hit, he raised his OBP to match his career average, of .355. What does get said, and not enough, is that he’ll give a good, professional at bat every time at the plate, and he plays a very nice outfield, whether it be in right, where he has spent the majority of the season, or in center, where he was stationed between the time Anthony Rizzo came up and the time Brett Jackson came up. DDJ had never stepped foot on Wrigley Field before this season, but you wouldn’t know it by the way #9 has played the hardest “9” in the National League. With all of the matinees at Wrigley, the sun is an adventure in right, but DeJesus has been outstanding, making tough plays look routine. He has been a steady force in an outfield with vastly improved defense over years past. None of the numbers blow anybody away, but all of them are solid for DeJesus, who is undervalued almost universally by those watching the Cubs day to day.
It is difficult to find a player who DeJesus compares to, but one player who immediately comes to my mind is former Cub, Angel Pagan. Like Pagan, DDJ doesn’t have great power, is versatile in the outfield, and plays smart baseball for nine innings just about everyday. Both players run pretty well, and neither player is appreciated for the value that he brings to a clubhouse as a veteran that will give you a good sound at bat and play very good defense.
The BIG Question:
Will David DeJesus be a part of the roster when the Cubs are “ready to win?”
Probably not. While DeJesus brings versatility, leadership, and a stabilizing influence to a young team, DDJ does not bring what you want in a corner outfielder. There is a chance that he hangs on in Chicago as a fourth or fifth outfielder who can play off the bench, like Reed Johnson. He will not, however, be a key piece to any winning ball club, much less the Cubs. What he can bring was displayed on May 12th in Miller Park. As a pinch hitter, DDJ turned around the first pitch he saw and deposited a grand slam in the right field bleachers. He can be a guy, off the bench, who brings good defense and a good at bat with occasional power. DeJesus could very well see himself traded this off-season, so it is up in the air whether or not he returns next season. It is ultimately going to be up to the front office to decide of the value he can bring back in a trade is greater than the value he offers as a veteran leader on a very young team. My prediction: DDJ is on the Opening Day 2013 roster. Whether he is on it when 2013 ends is anybody’s guess.
Even though this is admittedly only a hobby of mine, I still feel as though I have let down those that actually read this, to an extent, so here goes some of the new information regarding the Chicago Cubs…
First, the team is looking to finalize minor league affiliations this week, including extending the agreement by two years with the Northwest League Runners- Up, the Boise Hawks. The big decision is expected to be swapping low A affiliation from the Peoria Chiefs to the Kane County Cougars. Kane County is only about 30 miles west of Chicago, so the logistics of the matter seem to be the biggest reason why.
Brett Jackson could be available tonight for the Cubs in Houston, but he is not in the starting line up, unless a late change happens. David DeJesus is tabbed to lead off, and play in center, flanked by Bryan LaHair in right and Alfonso Soriano in left.
Speaking of Alfonso Soriano, he has a very real chance at hitting 30 HR and driving in 100 runs for a terrible offense. He stands at 28 HR and 94 RBI, the RBIs being his best mark since joining the team in 2007. Equally as important, Sori has been excellent in left field all season long, and is worthy of at least a consideration of a Gold Glove. His reputation precedes him enough that there is almost no shot he gets that award, but his defense has been as good as his offense. And his leadership brings a ton of value to a young team, learning how to be a professional. Dale Sveum seems to go out of his way just about every day to compliment Soriano on everything he does. Like him or not, he has earned his contract this season. This off-season could bring some suitors for Soriano, as long as the Cubs are willing to eat much of the $36 million he will be owed over the last two years of his deal. With the improved defense and strong numbers, the Cubs could get a strong return on Soriano from a team looking to add a right handed bat that can play the outfield. He still figures to have the most value as a DH for a deficient AL team.
Sahadev Sharma wrote a great piece for ESPNChicago.com on Jorge Soler, and his comparisons to Sammy Sosa, linked here.
Lastly, with today being 9/11, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what happened 11 years ago. That was obviously a senseless act of death and destruction that never needed to happen. The way Americans all over the country, though, rallied around each other was the most inspirational thing I have seen in my 27 years. There are a lot of acts of courage, bravery, heroism, and selflessness associated with that day, and those days immediately afterward. It remains my hope that those times return to this country, sooner rather than later. Baseball played a huge role in the healing process. I remember very fondly, Sammy Sosa flying the Stars and Stripes after a home run during the first game at Wrigley after the attacks. Even though the Cubs were not a part of the World Series that season, it remains one of the premiere sports memories of my life, as the Yankees and Diamondbacks fought in an epic seven game battle, with President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium before game three to chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A!”, and culminated by Bob Brenly’s D-Backs getting a walk-off hit from former Cub, Luis Gonzalez. Baseball was a major contributor to the return to “normalcy” after what happened on this day, 11 years ago. Ballparks filled, the flag flew resolute, and versions of “The Star Spangled Banner” were belted out as passionately as they had ever before. On this day, I hope that we take the time to remember the men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, that lost their lives on that day…and PLAY BALL!
On a day after a ninth inning to forget, we all probably need some good news…so here we go.
- Darwin Barney enters tonight’s game vs. the Brewers one game short of the single season National League record for consecutive errorless games by a second baseman. I think it bears repeating that this is only Darwin’s second full season as a second baseman, and his defense is nothing short of outstanding. At the plate, Dale Sveum said he can be a .290-.310 hitter, which would make him an All-Star worthy player, should he put together his fielding and hitting. While others may not have the hopes for Darwin that I have, I do see him as an everyday player that is still getting better. Additionally, there are very few that work as hard, hustle as much, or play with the toughness that Darwin brings to the yard every day. He’s a valuable piece, and hopefully the front office can see that.
- Starlin Castro’s extension was announced today. It is the 7 year/ $60 million that was reported, with escalators and options that could raise the value to 8 years/ $79 million when all is said and done. Reminders about Castro are important, too. He is 22. He already has 1761 career plate appearances, which have only been exceeded by Robin Yount, Edgar Rentaria, Alex Rodriguez, Elvis Andrus, Arky Vaughan, and Travis Jackson for a short stop of that age. Those are some pretty good players to be in company with, and if Castro turns into anything similar to any of those other players, this is going to be a great deal for the Cubs. During his presser, Castro said he wants “to be here” and doesn’t want “to go nowhere.” He was also asked about being a leader, which he seemed to embrace. From a body language standpoint, he seemed to be a little surprised that it was happening for him. He looked humble. He also admitted that the extension talks were a distraction, which might be an explanation for some of the dip in production. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out for Castro, and whether or not his batting average climbs back up to around .300.
- Brett Jackson seems to be settling in at the plate for the Cubs, going 1-2 with his 3rd HR in 4 games and 2 walks last night. He seems locked in at Wrigley, and defensively, he’s been as advertised, running down balls and making plays in the outfield. It was quite the slow start for both Jackson and Josh Vitters, with only Jackson breaking out of that. Vitters is 5-53 with 19 strikeouts since being called up. I do wonder if Vitters has been struggling at the plate because of the focus on his defense. That may be a simple explanation, but without asking Josh himself, and getting an honest answer, we’ll never really know.
- Jed Hoyer said during the Starlin Castro presser that the hardest things to find were starting pitchers and short stops, and that he is excited to have short stop taken care of. As for pitching, the current rotation of Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, Brooks Raley, and Justin Germano is proving his point. Since Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, and Matt Garza have left the rotation, the Cubs have only won only six games. And the starting pitching has been a big reason why. That said, Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija seem to be pitching themselves into rotation spots next season.
- Yesterday, the Cubs made a minor move with the Oakland A’s, acquiring Catcher Anthony Recker for Blake Lalli, and optioned him to Iowa. To make room on the 40 man, Scott Maine was designated for assignment.
- And finally, in the “no surprise here” move of the day, the Cubs have activated Blake Parker from the 60 day DL, and have designated Alex Hinshaw for assignment. If you recall your nightmare from last night, Hinshaw is the guy that threw beach balls to the Brewers, retiring nobody, and allowing three massive home runs to ensure the Cubs had no shot against oft-gotten John Axford, en route to a nine run ninth for the Brewers.
It is not often that a single victory by a pitcher deserves an entire post dedicated to it. When a win is the first in 24 starts and 413 days, then there is some cause to talk about it. Alas, that is the case, as Volstad got his first win since last July, when he was with the Marlins.
Chris Volstad has been bad in a lot of games this season. He had gotten hit, and hit hard, in a lot of outings. His 10.38 ERA in May and 12.46 ERA in July, with a stint in Iowa speak volumes to his effectiveness early in the season. He wasn’t. Even today, on the Twitter feed, I (as well as many others) had a “meltdown tracker.” Those, however, became “win trackers” in a hurry, after 6.2 innings of shutout ball, reducing his ERA for the season by nearly a half of a run.
It seems like the Cubs have given Big V the Carlos Marmol treatment. He’s not shaking off the catchers, anymore. The biggest improvement he’s made, en route to a 3.82 ERA in August, is keeping the ball down. He made three quality starts this month, which is incredible when you look at the previous nine starts he’d made this season, and his 1-2 record is more symptomatic of pitching for a team that has scored the second fewest runs in baseball this season than getting hit hard and scored on at will. A WHIP of 1.21 and an opponent batting average of .254 have been the biggest improvements he’s made since returning to the rotation. Volstad’s location has improved dramatically since he has gotten back from Iowa, which is making for a lot fewer hard hit balls, and a lot more relatively easy outs. Only one runner got to second base today, and the Tyler Colvin double had more to do with the ball just stopping in a wet outfield than it did with Volstad getting hit hard. That didn’t happen at all today.
Dale Sveum gave Chris Volstad a vote of confidence, and said he was staying in the rotation the rest of the way. Obviously, that is more based on who’s left than how well Volstad has been pitching this season. Nonetheless, he’s probably going to get another 6-7 starts this year, and could pitch his way into the 2013 plan. It stands to reason that starting pitching is going to be on the minds of Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, as they guide the Cubs through their second winter with the organization. If Chris Volstad can finish the season on a strong note, he will likely be given every opportunity to finally establish himself as a solid back end starting pitcher in 2013.
May today’s win be the first of many more as the season comes to a close!