Category: Trade Deadline

As Deadline Passes, Cubs’ Priority Should Be Extending Dale Sveum

In just about two days time, the non-waiver trade deadline will come and go.  The Cubs, who have been more active than any team in the month of July, will see a considerable slow down in activity with the passing of the draft, the initial international free agent signing period, and the trade deadline.  That leaves them with an ample opportunity to take care of what may be the most vital piece of business they have left before next season: Extend the contract of Manager, Dale Sveum.

Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

As Theo Epstein’s hand picked successor to Mike Quade, Dale Sveum has done everything the Cubs could have imagined…and more.  He deserves to go into next season with some job security, and the Cubs should go into this off-season, where they will surely try to add players who can help the major league team take the next step toward respectability, with stability in the manager’s office.

Although his 109-156 record isn’t outstanding, it is also not his fault.  He walked into a complete overhaul of a roster of albatross contracts, aging veterans, and young players who really weren’t major league players.  To make matters worse, the front office either traded or shut down major portions of his starting rotation…in both 2012 and 2013.  The bullpens he’s had to work with have been largely unproven young players or veteran retreads (*cough cough* Shawn Camp *cough*), and it has shown in the win-loss column.

Dale Sveum was hired to do two main things: Keep the clubhouse together and develop young talent.  He’s done exceedingly well on both fronts in his first two seasons.

On the player development front, the biggest feather in his cap is the coaching staff he’s put together.  While he may have had Rudy Jaramillo and Pat Listach as hold overs for either part or all of last season, the additions of Dave McKay, David Bell, and Chris Bosio have all been successful.  Dave McKay helped turn Alfonso Soriano into a serviceable left fielder.  After years of being afraid of the wall and hopping around like a wounded bunny rabbit, Soriano had the highest UZR among NL left fielders last season.  It’s amazing what a little coaching will do after Soriano admitted that he hadn’t gotten any outfield instruction before last season, from either Quade’s staff or Lou Piniella before him.  Anthony Rizzo is another success, as Sveum, the former Brewers hitting coach, brought his hands down, shortening his swing, and making him better than the .141/.281.242 hitter he was with the Padres in 2011.  The anecdotes serve as evidence of a whole: the Cubs are a vastly improved defensive team from the years before Sveum.  And the approach at the plate is starting to get better, too.  Nothing happens over night, but the results are starting to show up.  In spite of all of the player movement, trades, and lost veterans in the clubhouse, the Cubs have a winning record since May 26 (30-25).  While the sample is small, the results matter.  Even with major bullpen issues and a complete inability to hit with runners in scoring position, the Cubs are playing competitively.  The steps in the right direction are adding up.

The clubhouse is the other place Sveum was asked to thrive.  As a former top prospect, he can relate to the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and soon Javier Baez, et al.  He can also relate to the 25th man on the roster because that’s where his career ended after a devastating leg injury.  He knows the weight of expectations and he knows the plight of the role player who is tasked to sit and wait for his name to be called, and the need to be ready.  He relates to his players because he’s been there and done that.  And while he took some undeserved criticism for his loyalty to Shawn Camp from fans, it was not his job to get rid of Camp.  It was the front office’s.  Having his player’s back, especially one who he’s had history with, was the only move he could make that doesn’t send the alienating “as soon as I see trouble, I’m going to turn my back on you.” message.  That’s a terrible image to portray to the rest of the team.  The fact that Dale said it was tough to see Camp go may have made fans cringe, but it probably made the team smile a little bit.  When veterans like Matt Garza hang around after being shut down with 2 1/2 months left in a 100 loss season, it says as much as there is to say about a clubhouse…especially when Garza admitted if it had been Quade’s clubhouse, he would have gone home.  And being able to sign quality free agents like Edwin Jackson after a 100 loss season doesn’t happen if the player thinks the manager is a bum who can’t manage a clubhouse.  Think about it.  Has anything obscenely negative come out of the clubhouse during Sveum’s tenure?  For a team with the win-loss record the Cubs have had, you’d think there would be something.  Especially in a media market like Chicago.  But it’s been remarkably quiet.  Which means the bad stuff is being handled where it should…in house.

Dale has been charged with over-seeing a complete rebuild, which couldn’t have been fun, couldn’t have been easy, and couldn’t have happened in any worse a place than Wrigley Field, where every year is “THE YEAR” to a group of people who only watch the game and read the box score in the paper each morning.  The reality is, last year, this year, and probably next year are not “THE YEAR.”  But the team is heading in the right direction in spite of the instability among the player personnel.  That is a credit to Sveum, and the right thing to do is ensure that he never gets to “lame duck” status in the last year of a contract with a team, who next year may be able to win consistently for the first time in his tenure.

Besides.  He got shot in the face and laughed it off.  How cool is it to have a manager like that?

Alfonso Soriano Traded To Yankees; A Lot of Questions Need Answering In His Absense

The Cubs and Yankees finalized the trade sending Alfonso Soriano to the Bronx today.  It breaks down as follows:

Yankees Get:  OF/DH Alfonso Soriano, Cash

Cubs Get:  RHP Corey Black

Corey Black pitched for the Tampa Yankees in the Florida State League.  He throws in the mid to upper 90s, and has touched 100, according to some reports.  He’s had some issues with walks, but has the big fastball to go with an above average change up.  John Arguello from Cubs Den had the following to say about Black:

“Of all the names mentioned, he’s the one that intrigues me the most.  He’s undersized, but has similar athleticism and build as Travis Wood.  He can also bring it, able to pitch last year at 95-98 with sinking movement. Some reports have him touching 100 mph in the instructional league.  His changeup is solid and his secondaries lag behind, though the slider is further along than the curve.  He has struck out 9.58 batters per 9 innings and although he has walked 4.90 per 9 IP, he does have the kind of athleticism to repeat his delivery and develop better command.”

Soriano being moved means the Cubs no longer have a player with a no trade clause, which gives the front office free reign to deal at their heart’s desire.  Ultimately, that’s probably the best thing for the organization.  Theo Epstein

had some comments about the Soriano deal, via Carrie Muskat:

“I don’t look at this as a watershed moment, or a transformative moment at all.  It was simply the right time for Sori to move on and open up some at-bats for Junior Lake and when [Ryan] Sweeney and [Brian] Bogusevic come back from injury, now that [David] DeJesus is back from injury, we have a chance to find out about left-handed bats and some on-base skills and see who might be in the mix for next year. It was just the right time for this particular move.”

Dale Sveum also had some strong words about Alfonso Soriano (via Paul Sullivan and the Tribune)

“It’s emotional for all of us.  You don’t usually gather teams together that often when people get traded to say your goodbyes. That just shows what kind of person he is.”

And from Carrie Muskat

“You say you’re prepared for it, but I don’t think you’re really prepared to lose somebody of that nature.  All the things he brings to a team, the fourth hole, the character, the clubhouse, the leadership and everything. You just don’t replace that.”

And lastly…

With Soriano being traded, Jeff Samardzija is the longest tenured Cub, and the only one remaining from the 2008 season.  It also leaves a gaping hole in the “veteran leader” spot.  David DeJesus is the first, best candidate to fill that role, and with the team getting younger and younger, he really doesn’t have an alternative, as long as he himself is still a Cub.  It also means that the youngster Soriano mentored on being a professional, Starlin Castro, is going to be thrust into the position of being one of the veteran leaders, at just 23 years old.  Such is life when you’re the longest tenured position player on the roster.

The line-up is another issue altogether.  It appears there is some solution to left field and to the clean-up slot…

That is a perfectly good solution for the time being.  Realistically, Junior Lake is going to regress.  He’s a talented player, but his obscene start is going to cool off and his numbers are going to come back to earth.  Nate Schierholtz manning the clean-up spot (as long as he is also still a Cub) isn’t really a good solution, either.  Realistically, the best option in the fourth spot in the line up is Anthony Rizzo.  Ultimately, there will likely be a number of different line-up combinations that we see through the end of the season, as Dale Sveum gets new players and returning players to move in and out of the line up.

The one certainty this trade brings the Cubs for the remainder of the season is uncertainty.  While it will likely not get as ugly as last season dd, it does mean that Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Darwin Barney need to start performing at the level shown on the back of their baseball cards.  With difficulty comes opportunity.  It will be difficult to replace Soriano’s bat in the line-up, and there will be a number of players who get ample opportunity to prove they can do it.

TRADE DEADLINE: Cubs Reportedly Discussing Alfonso Soriano to Yankees Deal

As we creep into the wee hours of the morning, a report has surfaced that the Cubs are getting close to sending Alfonso Soriano to his original team, the New York Yankees.  There were a number of reports that the offensively starved Yankees are looking for offensive help, and Soriano’s name has been mentioned as a possibility over the past number of days.  This spring, Soriano also said he would consider waiving his no-trade rights to go back to the Bronx.  Obviously, nothing is done until it is done, but this is as close to a trade as Soriano has been since he has been a Cub.

UPDATE: The New York media had this being a lot closer than it really is.  There is apparently “nothing imminent” on the Soriano trade front, although all sides are acknowledging that the discussions are taking place.  It stands to reason that it will take the Cubs paying a lot of Soriano’s remaining salary and the Yankees giving up more than the “mid-level prospect” that was thrown around last night.  Soriano discussions could very well last through the waiver deadline at the end of August because his contract makes him 100% unclaimable.

TRADE DEADLINE: Cubs and Rangers Agree To Deal for Matt Garza

After a deal fell apart on Friday, Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Cubs and Rangers are nearing a deal for Matt Garza.

A deal was reportedly close on Friday between the Cubs and Rangers, which would have sent Garza and another player (some reports say James Russell) to the Rangers for 3B Mike Olt, SS Luis Sardinas, P CJ Edwards, and P Neil Ramirez before the Cubs backed out when the medical records of one of the players became an issue.

UPDATE 1: From Jeff Passan…

UPDATE 2: Rosenthal with a bit more…

UPDATE 3:  Final Deal appears to be…

Rangers Get: RHP Matt Garza
Cubs Get: 3B Mike Olt, RHP CJ Edwards, RHP Justin Grimm, PTBNL (Who is reportedly a pitcher, from @TomLoxas).  Pool of players includes Neil Ramirez, according to Gordon Wittenmeyer.

Under The Radar Deadline Deal Candidates

All of the deadline talk, and justifiably so, has been centered around Matt Garza to this point.  There are also some other players who have been talked about as candidates to move on as the deadline approaches.  David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz, Alfonso Soriano, and Kevin Gregg have all been spoken of as players who could very likely be traded as the deadline nears, or at least wouldn’t cause anybody any surprise if they were moved.  There is also a list of attractive players that the Cubs could move who are not talked about prominently as the deadline inches closer.  They fit the needs and holes of teams in contention and are low cost options to upgrade a roster, and it would make perfect sense if the Cubs were fielding calls about these players…

2B Darwin Barney:  

The Cubs are stacked in the middle infield in the minor leagues at just about every level.  With Logan  Watkins at AAA Iowa, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez at AA Tennessee, and even Gioskar Amaya at Low-A Kane County, middle infielders are of no shortage in the Cubs’ organization.  Darwin Barney has done everything he can to become a member of the core group of players that the Cubs use to make their eventual run, but his limitations with the bat seem to make him less attractive than other options.  With a Gold Glove in his pocket and over a year before he even gets to arbitration, he could make a team looking for a low cost second baseman, without a need for a highly productive bat, very happy.  The need doesn’t even have to be strictly second base.  Barney came up as a short stop, and played third base when he first came up to the majors.  He could be quite the defensive addition for any team looking to shore up its infield defense.  Darwin actually fits into a line-up like Detroit’s perfectly.  Incumbent Ramon Santiago plays both offensively and defensively at about replacement level.  Replacing him with Darwin Barney doesn’t hurt their prolific offense at all, and very much shores up their middle infield.  With the rumor that Detroit was interested last year, it makes sense that they would be interested again this year, given how close they came to winning a championship last year.  Darwin Barney won’t net any team’s top prospect, but he should net a solid prospect or retread a la Scott Feldman.  And with the depth already mentioned in the system, Darwin is expendable.

IF Luis Valbuena, Cody Ransom:

Luis Valbuena is another player who could see himself on the move as the deadline approaches.  Because he is an everyday player with the Cubs, he has displayed what he can do with the bat from the left side of the plate, and has shown to be more than capable as  a defender.  A team looking for a left handed hitting platoon infielder would love to have a player like Luis Valbuena for his ability to work counts, take walks, hit for power and field three infield positions well.  A team like the Yankees, who have had a hard time keeping players on the field may take a long look at a Luis Valbuena.  He would fit into the gaping holes left by repeated injuries and days off because of the advanced age of regular players, and his bat would play well with the short porch and right field power allies at Yankee Stadium.  The Rays could also have interest in a player with his skill set.  He wouldn’t net much of a return, but if there is a low level player in a system that catches Jed or Theo’s eye, don’t doubt for a second that the original “low risk waiver flyer” could be flipped for a lottery ticket at the deadline.  Cody Ransom is in pretty much the same situation as Valbuena, except he’s right handed, comes with less control, and more age.

P Carlos Villanueva:

Maybe the least surprising player on this list, and quite possibly the most likely to be traded, Villanueva is a player who has been talked about as a trade candidate.  He was merely overshadowed by the talk of Garza and Feldman, among the pitchers.  Villanueva is particularly valuable because of his versatility as both a starter and reliever.  While specific locations for him may be tough to pin point, it is reasonable to say that any team looking for a ‘pen arm with the ability to give you a solid swing start from time to time would be interested…which boils down to pretty much everybody.  Again, it would be a surprise if Villanueva netted anything of note, but a middling prospect in somebody’s system who hasn’t progressed or a retread could be an expected return.

 

Matt Garza for Profar?

Because I have been traveling, I have not had the opportunity to get in on the Matt Garza trade posts, but I have an opportunity to now, and it seems, just in time…

The madness starts with David Kaplan, via Bob Nightengale, saying that Jurickson Profar is in play…

Let me first say, Garza for Profar won’t happen because that deal would have already been made.  I could see Profar being in play if the Cubs add to the deal with good prospects that are less developed.  Garza, Arismendy Alcantara, Dan Vogelbach for Profar and some other lesser pieces has a VERY outside shot of happening.  Maybe not that exact deal, but something along those lines.

Another report about a trade with the Rangers has the Cubs looking to acquire Neftali Feliz.  Again, that would be a great move for the Cubs, in spite of Feliz recovering from Tommy John surgery.  He has the stuff to be a really good starter, but if injuries were to prevent that, he is definitely the kind of guy you put on the mound in the ninth to end games.  Again, I am not sure it is likely that he comes to the Cubs in any deal.  Jon Heyman reports that Martin Perez isn’t going anywhere in a Garza deal, so it would seem that door is closed.  It makes sense.  The Rangers need pitching, so it wouldn’t be a great move to deal a young pitcher producing in the rotation right now.

The most likely acquisition for Matt Garza from the Rangers is Mike Olt, who seems to be the most realistic of the players being discussed.  The big concern about Olt is that he was struggling with vision problems early this season.  That problem was, apparently, an inability to make tears, causing things to be blurry.  Once discovered, Olt was given special drops, and for his part, seems to be past the injury, saying “I definitely noticed a huge difference the first day I used them.”  Being past his vision issues would make him a still excellent prospect, and a nice “buy low” piece.

A lot of teams, including the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Indians, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers are also being connected to Garza, among others.  The most talked about, though, with actual players in return being discussed is Texas.  It would be a significant upset, in my mind, if Garza went anywhere but Texas.  Unless a team swoops in late with a package that wows Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer (which the Red Sox can if Clay Bucholtz doesn’t return healthy), the Rangers are the team to watch, especially if it is to be believed that Matt Garza has pitched his last inning as a Cub.

Cubs Transactions Galore!

There was a flurry of roster activity of all kinds: trades, signings, call-ups, and DL stints.  Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer didn’t waste any time starting their sell-off, firing the first shot of the deadline season.

We can only gather that there will be even more roster moves in the next day or two with the new additions to the bullpen and over the course of the month as the Cubs continue to move pieces.  This figures to be just a start of things to come…

Dodgers Get: RHP Carlos Marmol, Cubs #4 International Signing Slot, Cash
Cubs Get: RHP Matt Guerrier

What It Means For Cubs:  Carlos Marmol is officially not a Cub, anymore.  Guerrier was in DFA limbo with the Dodgers.  He becomes yet another arm in the Cubs’ busy bullpen this season.  Marmol gets a fresh start.  Adding Guerrier could spell the end for Shawn Camp. *Fingers Crossed*  Jayson Stark, interestingly, tweeted that this is almost a no lose for the Dodgers.  If he doesn’t work out and is released, the Cubs are on the hook for more money if he signs elsewhere.

Orioles Get: RHP Scott Feldman, C Steve Clevenger
Cubs Get: RHP Jake Arrieta, RHP Pedro Strop, Number 3 International Signing Slot, #4 International Signing Slot

What It Means For The Cubs:  Clevenger being moved comes out of right field, since he and the Cubs apparently just within the last day had a difference of opinion on his injuries.  Feldman was expected to go as part of a sell-off, and the Cubs actually did quite well in this move.  Jake Arrieta is a talented 27 year old who hasn’t quite figured it out at the major league level just yet.  He will go to AAA Iowa for the time being.  He could be part of a trade to the Padres, who apparently like both him and Matt Garza.  Acquiring him could help sweeten the return if the Cubs send Garza and Arrieta to San Diego.  Strop is a good bullpen arm and should fill the void being left by Carlos Villanueva being stretched back into a starter.  He, too, has struggled some at the major league level.  Overall, I’d have liked this deal if it was Feldman for Strop OR Arrieta and the pool money.  To get both, while only losing Clevenger in addition to Feldman is a nice move for the Cubs, regardless of whether they view Arreita as a trade asset or as an arm to bring to Chicago.

Astros Get:  INF Ronald Torreyes
Cubs Get:  #2 and #3 International Signing Slots

What It Means For The Cubs:  More international spending money.  Torreyes is a good hitter, but with the logjam in the middle infield in the Cubs’ organization, they could afford to make this move to spend money on potential impact international free agents.  The move brings in $784K to add to the spending pool, which would presumably be used to target OF Eloy Jimenez.  After all of the moves today, the Cubs have $5,520,300 in total international spending money, which is one of the key means of stocking the system with talent.

Cubs Sign: SS Gleybar Torres ($1.7M). P Jefferson Mejia, Erling Moreno, C Johan Matos

What It Means For The Cubs:  The search for impact players continues, with Torres ranked the #2 International Free Agent.  He’s 16, so you can file his name away, but scouts love him and say he is quite polished for being so young.  Mejia is 18 and his contract is for 2013, so he is a name we might hear a bit sooner than Torres.

Cubs Call-Up: LHP Chris Rusin, OF Dave Sappelt

Cubs Place OF Ryan Sweeney on 60 Day Disabled List (Fractured Rib)

What It Means For The Cubs:  Rusin takes the roster spot vacated by Feldman, and he will start tonight at Oakland.  He has been very good at Iowa, being named to the PCL All-Star team.  This is an opportunity to try to stick in Chicago, either in the rotation or the bullpen, as more moves are likely as the deadline approaches.  Sappelt adds a right handed bat to the outfield mix after Sweeney fractured a rib in Seattle.  Sweeney could have been a trade chip, but going on the 60 Day DL kills that opportunity, and is now not eligible to come back until the end of August.

TRADE DEADLINE: Garza Could Fetch a Core Piece At Deadline

As the deadline approaches, the Cubs are in a full court press, trying to make moves to improve the overall talent level of the organization.  The good news is, they are actually well positioned to add one or more core pieces to the roster.  While it will probably take more than one of the Cubs’ chips to get a piece that would be significant enough to add to the big league roster right away, the Cubs do have Matt Garza, who can fetch a player who has upside and is Major League ready.

There are some destinations where Matt Garza could turn into a piece who is part of the team that Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and presumably, Dale Sveum are looking to push into the playoffs.  And those teams could all use a player like Garza to make a push in the second half of this season.  While it remains to be seen what happens, Garza is the player who will net the biggest reward, and it is he who should be watched the closest as the next month unfolds.

Rangers

Last year, it was reported that the Rangers were in on Matt Garza before being scared off by his medicals and settling on a deal for Ryan Dempster.  They were also the team that took Geovany Soto and sent Barret Loux when Jacob Brigham had a medical issue.  The point is, the Cubs and Rangers are no strangers to making deals, and the magic could be rekindled this year.

3B Mike Olt:  It is only a guess that Olt was the piece the Cubs were in on when trying to move Garza to Texas last summer.  He has the potential to be a nice core piece, especially if Kris Bryant has to move off the hot corner.  Keith Law rates him as a plus defender.  He probably won’t hit for a huge average, but he’ll get on base with his fair share of walks (12.4 walk rate at AAA this season).  He also has the power to hit the ball out.  The consensus is that all he needs is at-bats, and if he were to come to Chicago this season, there is no good reason why he couldn’t get his share of them immediately.

Padres

The Cubs have been rumored to be discussing a Matt Garza trade to the Padres.  A deal here would make some sense, considering Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod came to the Cubs from San Diego.  Familiarity can breed success, so being familiar with the players as deeply as the front office knows these players make the likelihood of a successful trade a little greater.

2B/3B Jedd Gyorko:  One thing the Cubs have done successfully is add big bats who will hit for a ton of power.  Gyorko isn’t one of those guys.  While he is playing second for the Padres this season, he is a natural third baseman, who will hit for good average, but will not put up gaudy power numbers.  He has a .284/.341/.461 so far this season, to go with eight long balls and 25 driven in while playing at a park and in a division that is not conducive to big time hitting numbers.  Coming to the more hitter friendly NL Central could really help his offensive game blossom, while giving the Cubs a good hitting third baseman to compliment the power that is already in the organization.

Dodgers

The Dodgers are eight under .500.  They are also only a mere seven games out of first place.  You know they’re not afraid to spend money and to take on as many good players as they can.  Anything short of the playoffs would be a disaster for the Dodgers and their obscene payroll.  And, after having too much starting pitching as the season started, are now in a position where another arm couldn’t hurt.

RHP Zach Lee:  While Lee is not ready for “The Show,” he is an athletic pitcher who has some solid middle of the rotation potential.  At the AA level, he would be the most developed Cubs’ prospect who is pitching this season.  It would be a surprise if he were the only piece coming back in return for Garza, but he would be a strong centerpiece if the Dodgers were so inclined to try to bring Garza out west.

Indians

The Indians haven’t been good recently, but are in the hunt this season.  They also have terrible pitching.  This is a match made in heaven.

RHP Trevor Bauer:  He is pitching much better in the early going in his Indians career after being traded from Arizona last off-season.  He would be a heavy price to pay for half of a season of Matt Garza.  Veteran pitching with his playoff experience is hard to come by, though.  While this is the least likely of any scenario, there is no denying the mid to upper 90s fastball to go with a very good curve ball.  Pairing the 22 year old Bauer up with Jeff Samardzija at the front end of the Cubs’ rotation for years would make for a solid 1-2 punch.

Cubs

The last destination for Garza is one where he doesn’t actually leave.  He’s had some injury issues the last couple of seasons, but throughout his career, he’s been durable, he’s been tested, and he’s had success as a player who’s gone to the World Series with the Rays.  Extending him for a contract similar to the one the Cubs dangled to Anibal Sanchez would be a good move, especially if the Cubs don’t get a deal they like at the deadline.

TRADE DEADLINE: Cubs Have Areas of Obvious Need

Through the beginning of their tenure, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have done nothing short of a masterful job of adding quality talent to the Cubs’ minor league system.  Between the inherited talent and the added talent, the Cubs now have what is a consensus top ten system in the game, and it is likely to get better with the addition of second overall pick Kris Bryant, international signings, and the trade deadline.

Not all of the positions in the organization are overflowing with talent, however.  With the international signing and the trade deadline looming, there are some clear areas of need.  To build the caliber of organization that the team needs to have and the front office wants to grow, weaknesses need to be addressed.

The focus needs to be on positions with glaring deficiencies.  There are positions that are strong at the lower levels of the minor leagues without much talent at the top end, while some are stronger throughout the system or aren’t strong at all.  The focus needs to be on picking up pieces to build a strong pipeline to the majors sooner than 2015-2016 and strengthen areas without much talent to speak of at all.

1. Pitching

This is a no-brainer.  Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have acknowledged that the Cubs will use the international pool and trade deadline to strengthen this piece of the puzzle.  There are some nice pieces at just about every level of the organization, but not nearly enough.  The best prospect in the organization is Arodys Vizcaino, who was acquired last July in the Paul Maholm trade.  When he gets healthy, he has front of the rotation stuff, but his arm trouble might limit him to a relief role.  Pierce Johnson just got his long overdue promotion to Daytona, and he appears to be on his way.  Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood are nice young pieces at the ML level.  The focus has been on arms in the draft, but none of them appear to be impact arms, with the Cubs grabbing position players with their last two top ten picks.  The clear lack of high end, projectable pitching talent makes it job one for the Cubs this July.  They could start out by signing Cuban prospect Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.  He’s 26, and could realistically start in the upper levels of the minor leagues this season, if not at the major league level…and all he costs is money.  Which the Cubs don’t seem opposed to spending on international free agents.

2. Catching

Beyond Wellington Castillo and Steve Clevenger, there isn’t a lot of strength to one of the keystone positions.  While Castillo is a young player who is looking more and more like an everyday backstop, organizational depth is paramount at a position where injuries mount and nobody can catch everyday.  Dioner Navarro is a stop gap at the major league level.  While the Cubs can be active in signing veteran catchers for a year or two at a time, there is a ton of value in bringing catchers through the system who have a history with the pitchers coming up through the system.

3. Corner Infielders

Count me among the guys who really likes Christian Villanueva.  And Jeimer Candelario.  And Anthony Rizzo.  Beyond that, there are a ton of question marks.  Josh Vitters may never figure it out defensively.  I am not sold on the idea that Kris Bryant can stick at third base.  Dan Vogelbach appears to best project as a designated hitter.  Junior Lake is looking more and more like a super utility player.  Luis Valbuena is a utility player who is having a nice season as a starter for a rebuilding team, but in no way should or would be a starter on a playoff caliber team.  It really boils down to defense with this group.  While first base at the major league level appears to be filled for the foreseeable future, third base is a bit of a black hole and there is almost no depth in the system at first.  One thing that helps this group along is the potential for Javier Baez or Starlin Castro to slide over to third and fill the slot whenever Baez makes his way up to the majors.

Photo: Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com

Photo: Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com

4. Center Field 

The cupboard at the major league level is bare.  David DeJesus, Dave Sappelt, and Ryan Sweeney are really nice filler material during the rebuild, but they are similar to Luis Valbuena.  All three are reserves on playoff teams, and none of them figure to be around for the long haul.  Albert Almora looks fantastic at Kane County thus far.  He’s a few years away from being an option, though.  It is up in the air if Brett Jackson makes use of his incredible talent because he is endlessly afflicted by the strike out.  Jae-Hoon Ha and Matt Szczur both look like the DeJesus/ Sweeney type, as in they could be spare outfielders who can play all over as defensive replacements.  For those reasons, it wouldn’t hurt to add a center fielder with upside if the opportunity presents itself.

5. Corner Outfielders

There isn’t much for depth here in Iowa, but there is a lot to like about the potential for corner outfielders in the Cubs organization.  Jorge Soler is obviously the crown jewel of these guys at any level, but he won’t be in Chicago until September of 2014 at the absolute earliest.  The better bet is 2015 at some point.  Kris Bryant, to me, is probably going to end up in the corner not occupied by Soler, should everything go right.  This is a group that could also include Junior Lake, Josh Vitters if his defense stays as shaky at third as it has been.  Reggie Golden is at Kane County and is a sleeper to me.  Overall, I like the group of players the Cubs have stocked up on that could be turned into corner outfielder, where hitting is most important, and where defensive liabilities like Vitters can be hidden.  Again, it wouldn’t hurt to add to it if the opportunity arises, but there are definitely better places to add pieces.

6. Middle Infield

Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Logan Watkins, Arismendy Alcantara, Ronald Torreyes, Javier Baez…need I say more?  There is a legit prospect at just about every level of the minor leagues in the middle infield.  And the major league level has a two time All-Star and a Gold Glove winner in the line-up everyday, neither of whom is old by any stretch of the imagination.  The middle infield is the strength of the organization, and unless you’re getting Jurickson Profar in a deal, this area isn’t a priority in the least.

There is no argument to be made that the Cubs wouldn’t be best served to get the best players they can, regardless of the positions they play.  Weaknesses cannot be ignored, however, and the goal when moving players like Matt Garza should be to find high level talent in areas of need, which would make the trade good for both sides.  Again, if the Rangers are parting with Profar (for example), you have to pull the trigger.  Talent like that doesn’t come around very often.  At the end of the day though, the focus has to be on adding impact arms that can make a difference in the near future and catchers to work with them coming up through system.

 

Melky Cabrera Suspension, Front Office Shake Up, 8/14 Game Notes

 

Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

With news of Melky Cabrera being suspended for 50 games, effectively ending his season, Alfonso Soriano’s name has surfaced as an answer to who could replace Cabrera in San Francisco.  For what it’s worth, Soriano said no in July before the non-waiver deadline because of the dimensions of AT&T Park.  Soriano has cleared waivers this month and is eligible to be traded to any team.  That was expected because of the size of Soriano’s contract, and the amount of money left on it.  I would be surprised if Soriano was dealt to the Giants this month for that same reason.  The ballpark has not changed out there, and the weather conditions making it very tough to hit the ball out have not changed.  Those factors lead me to believe that Soriano’s decision on going to San Francisco probably has not changed.

The Cubs are in the midst of a serious reconfiguration of the front office, letting Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita go today.  Fleita was responsible for the additions of Starlin Castro, Carlos Marmol, and in part, Jorge Soler.  The reconfiguration of the front office is not a surprise.  Fleita being let go is a surprise, to some extent, as he was given a contract extension last September, before the Epstein/ Hoyer administration began.  Also let go was baseball information manager Chuck Wasserstrom.  Theo Epstein said today that front office changes would be continued, leading to a larger front office than before, when all is said and done.  It makes sense that there would be changes coming about now, as the transition period is effectively over after about 10 months.  Bringing in his own personnel was expected.  The most interesting comment out of the front office today was that Assistant GM Randy Bush is in “good standing.”  I am somewhat surprised at that, as he was Jim Hendry’s assistant.  Obviously, Bush has shown that he is compatible with the new front office, or the new front office likes the different perspective offered by Bush.

From today’s game: David DeJesus had a 4-4 game with his first two home runs at Wrigley Field.  Overall, DDJ reached 5 times, including his first intentional walk of the season.  Brett Jackson had a triple, and his first major league RBI, and a double, which were his first two career MLB extra base hits.  Starlin Castro went deep for the 12th time this season.  Carlos Marmol locked up another game in a non-save situation in the 7-2 win, clinching a series win against the Astros and a 3-4 homestand.  Anthony Rizzo did not have the best day at the plate, but his defense was, again, outstanding, contributing to four double plays on the afternoon, including the bizarre one to end the top of the 7th inning.  Starting pitcher, Justin Germano was excellent today, going 6.1 innings, giving up 2 earned on 5 hits with one walk.  For the Astros, Marwin Gonzalez grounded into three double plays.