In 2011, the Cubs and Cardinals shared something in common. Both dreamed of 2012 with Albert Pujols in the line-up. Jerseys,
shirsies, and Cubs’ gear with the signature 5 on the back started appearing. And then Jim Hendry gave him a hug. And we all leaned forward. And then Hendry got fired and Theo Epstein got the job to lead the front office after spending mega-dollars in Boston. We all thought it was a sure thing that the Cubs would sign Pujols or former Brewer, Prince Fielder. And then the Cubs traded for Anthony Rizzo. And the dreaming was over.
The start of a rebuild was upon us. None of us thought it was 101 losses bad. We didn’t think we would be waiting until 2015 to be realistic contenders. That is, however, where we are. And it is exactly where we should be.
My favorite conversations are with the people who talk about “winning now.” We should buy free agents to win now while prospects develop so that we have a good major league product while we develop a minor league product. The reality, though, is that logic is flawed. Because the evidence suggests that it fails just about 100% of the time.
The New York Yankees are the poster-children for throwing money at flaws. In fact, the Yankees have spent, since 2001, roughly $2.375 BILLION on payroll. They have appeared in the World Series only three times (2001, 2003, and 2009), and have only won once (2009). They spent about $792 million per World Series appearance. Meanwhile, the Cubs have spent about $1.294 billion on payroll for three PLAYOFF appearances, and no World Series berths in the same time frame. Every year, the Cubs are in the top half (even now) in total payroll and have had among the highest in the National League over the last 13 years.
The teams who are winning are those who draft their players, develop them, bring them up, and learn to win at the MLB level. There is a reason the Rays are one of the most stable franchises in baseball now, in spite of having to let players like Matt Garza, Carl Crawford, James Shields, and likely soon will let David Price walk out the door. They do their work on the draft and turn their talent into contending quality major league teams. The Giants have done the same thing with home grown Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Buster Posey, et al winning two of the last three championships. The Cardinals refused to pay Albert Pujols more than he was worth. They set a number and a length for him, and refused to budge. He went to the Angels, and his legs stayed in St. Louis. Meanwhile, he has eight years left on his contract. He’ll be a player who can’t run, can’t be traded, and has to be paid until 2021. Sound familiar? A certain left fielder has drawn the ire of Cubs fans for failing to live up to his deal, and Pujols has an even worse contract.
Like it did with the Rays, the Phillies when they won with a core of Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins (all home grown), and the Giants, it will take time for the Cubs to roll the snowball of building talent into a top down organizational juggernaut like the current Cardinals (who have the best record in baseball and one of the best farm systems to pair with it), but it is the right direction.
In the coming free agent class, there are no game changers to make the Cubs instant contenders. That is just another flaw in a completely unsustainable plan. Robinson Cano is the only potential free agent who could make an impact on a line up, and it is highly unlikely that he leaves New York. Shin Soo Choo is a nice piece, but he isn’t pushing the Cubs into the category of making a deep October run. Jacoby Ellsbury is a good player who may finally be healthy, but he is nearing the wrong side of 30, and has an injury history that makes him a salary liability. And if/ when the Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Brett Jackson, Kris Bryant group gets to Chicago, they have an old player with a big contract blocking them. The pitching isn’t much better in the coming off-season. The most accomplished free agent pitcher to be is already on the Cubs’ roster in Matt Garza.
Losing games isn’t any fun. It’s easy to understand the frustration of watching the team lose games they could win, sink to the bottom of the division in May, and sell off veteran pieces for players who may turn into nothing. But throwing money at free agents and trading every nice piece in the farm for a chance at one year is how the Cubs got to this point in the first place. They are much better served developing their players, bringing them to the big league level, and trading prospects only when the return is a player who can be useful for sustained success. Money is best spent in the manner the front office has shown that it is going to spend it…on its own core pieces. Keeping young talent in-house for mutually beneficial deals is a very good way to spend money, and the Cubs’ position as a big market team should be able to allow them to hang on to their players, and not have to purge them when they have out-performed their contracts.
An unfortunate side effect to doing it the right way is that it takes time. And it will. Anything worth doing, though, is worth doing right. Doing it right takes time, and good things come to those who wait, and all those other things we were told when we were kids. They’re all true.
For those of us who treat this as more than a hobby, the coverage of the off-season has been significantly more extensive. Since this is only a hobby for me (because of my other actual obligations…all to varying degrees less interesting and fun than following baseball), there have been few and far between since the end of the season. With some time, though, now is a perfect time to talk about the thing that has dominated the Cubs’ off-season…PITCHING!
Today, Edwin Jackson was introduced at Wrigley Field. With the additions of Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva, Kyuji Fujikawa, resigning Shawn Camp, and having Arodys Vizcaino coming off of surgery and being ready for 2013, it seems as though the Cubs will have a surplus of pitching talent to get them through this season. That is something they did not have last season, especially after losing Matt Garza, who is progressing nicely though his rehab from a stress injury last July, and trading Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm at the deadline. At the end of the season, LHP Travis Wood was the ace, after the team sat Jeff Samardzija in early September. That wasn’t an ideal situation, and it was a key reason why the Cubs lost 101 games.
The flip side to the off-season is the stunning lack of movement in the rest of the division. The Brewers have not done much with their staff, adding journeyman lefty and former Cub, Tom Gorzelanny, who I like as a solid reliever and spot starter, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking he is anything more than pitching depth for a team who had all kinds of trouble in the bullpen last season, and ended up losing Francisco Rodriguez this off-season. They also added Burke Badenhop, who has had an up and down (as in between the majors and the minors) career with the Marlins and Rays. No world beaters. They seem to be enamored with Mike Fiers, who was very good after debuting with the club last season. My own analysis of him is that he reminds me a lot of Randy Wells.
I wish I could say something bad about the Cardinals and their pitching. I really do. They haven’t done much (anything?..I haven’t seen any moves at all from them in the pitching department this off-season), but they seem to grow pitchers as well as anyone in the game. With Chris Carpenter coming back, I’m sure they’ll be fine. It makes me physically ill. Seriously.
The Reds still have a lot of arms. They still, in my estimation, have the best bullpen in the majors, even though they’re moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation. They, too, have a nice strong staff that, in my opinion, keeps them the favorite to repeat as the division champions in 2013. Again, it makes me sick…but not as sick as the Cardinals make me. Nothing makes me that sick.
The Pirates confuse me. I genuinely thought they were trying to compete…and then they went and traded Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox. They also resigned Jason Grilli, who the Cubs were in on. Without being too familiar with who the Pirates have coming up, they’re current rotation and bullpen screams average, and their back end looks shaky with the loss of Hanrahan. I can only muse that this season they don’t want to disappoint their fans by playing well for the first four months before imploding with the uncanny appearance of controlled demolition for a third year in a row.
The Astros are gone…for those that forgot. They’re off the the AL West to play for 110 losses at the hands of the Angels, Rangers, and A’s. Good Luck, ‘Stros…you’re going to need it. Desperately.
What it all means…
I can’t for the life of me see how the Cubs win this division next season. I just can’t. They do figure to be considerably better than their 101 losses last season. They could make a strong push at third with the Pirates and Brewers regressing. All of this is interesting in early January, but the off-season is by no means over, so something could cook up between now and the time pitchers and catchers report next month. The Cubs have a much improved corps of pitchers. That group would have been made much more potent had they actually signed Anibal Sanchez. Theo Epstein and Tom Ricketts went to visit him personally, and the deal was reported, but like others for the Cubs, was prematurely reported and ended up not to be. GM Jed Hoyer, today, revealed that he went to visit Edwin Jackson, who actually did sign. At 29, he is on the side of 30 that the Cubs are looking for in players to add and build with, and having pitched in the division with the Cardinals in 2011, there is familiarity with the NL Central, and he pitched well while with St. Louis. Teaming him up with Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, there is a solid top three, and there is a good group of Baker, Feldman, Wood, and Villanueva competing for two spots at the back end of the rotation.
The Cubs have to know they can’t lose like they did last season and expect fans to turn out. The fans stopped coming last season because it was nearly pointless to go watch them give up runs in bunches. This season figures to be different. Even if they trade some of their pitching (GARZA!), they’ll have some fall back pieces to lean on so they don’t fall off the side of the Earth. The off-season has gone to plan to this point. It remains to be seen if the offense will be potent enough to push this team to .500. The Cubs are not a finished product by any stretch, but this off-season is the next step to contention.
It appears as though Carlos Marmol has been dealt to the Angels for Dan Haren. The particulars of the deal are not yet known, but there are a number of sources, including Marmol himself acknowledging the deal.
UPDATE: Carlos Marmol had a limited No Trade Clause, as part of his contract, which needed to be waived. All indications are that has happened, with Marmol making statements that he looks forward to going to Anaheim and thanking Chicago for the opportunity (paraphrased). Also, Alden Gonzalez, who is the Angels’ beat writer for MLB.com says the Angels are still in talks with more than one team…so there’s that. If the Ryan Dempster trade last summer taught us anything, we need to wait until the deal is done for it to be done.
UPDATE 2: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Deal is off…for now. So to go with the #DempsterFire, we now have #RedHaren. The Cubs apparently pulled the deal off the table, according to Ken Rosenthal.
So after all of the excitement of adding a solid third starter… we end up with another “nevermind” in the Cubs trade column.
So…that was an eventful few days. To sum it up, Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto, and Reed Johnson are out. Arodys Vizcaino, Jaye Chapman, Jacob Brigham, Christian Villanueva, and Kyle Hendricks are in the system to replace them. The major league roster picked up Casey Coleman, Adrien Cardenas, and Wellington Castillo for last night’s one hitter from AJ Burnett. Today’s game brings back Chris Volstad and Alberto Cabrera from Iowa, and sees Coleman headed back to Iowa. Got all that? No? Don’t blame you…here it is more simply stated:
OUT BEFORE 7/31 vs. Pirates: RHP Ryan Dempster, LHP Paul Maholm, C Geovany Soto, OF Reed Johnson
IN FOR 7/31 vs. Pirates: RHP Casey Coleman, C Wellington Castillo, IF Adrien Cardenas (Roster stands at 24)
OUT BEFORE 8/1 vs. Pirates: RHP Casey Coleman
IN FOR 8/1 vs. Pirates: RHP Chris Volstad, RHP Alberto Cabrera (Roster at full 25 man limit)
Now that we sorted out all of the roster formalities, onto the fun part of talking about who the Cubs added at the deadline! Baseball America rated the Cubs’ farm system 14th this past May. That was quite a bit better than I expected to it to be because of how many pieces have been shipped out for parts the last few years. That system became weaker by default when 1B Anthony Rizzo was called up to play every day. At this point, he is no longer a “prospect” so much as he is a “rookie.” Considering what is going on with the Riz-kid at the big league level, it is difficult to believe that he is going to be sent back to Iowa any time soon. This week, though, the system got an infusion of talent. Two Top 100 prospects from Baseball America were added to the system; RHP Arodys Vizcaino and 3B Christian Villanueva. In addition, Kyle Hendricks and Jaye Chapman have some upside, and both project to be major league pitchers. Jacob Brigham has major league potential depending on what source you ask. He can range from a system arm who is perpetually stuck in the minors to a guy who can contribute as a middle reliever. Regardless, he is more than what anyone should have expected for Geovany Soto. ESPN’s Keith Law says Arodys Vizcaino is the best prospect dealt at the deadline. Others say Jacob Turner in the Marlins/ Tigers deal and others still say Jean Segura in the trade sending Zack Greinke from Milwaukee to the Angels. Scouting is a very subjective topic, and Law clearly values the pure stuff and command that Vizcaino can bring to the mound. Others may disagree with Vizcaino being the best, but it is unanimous that all three are very good.
The new prospects rank within the system (Place in Top 100), according to MLB.com
#3 Arodys Vizcaino (40)
#6 Christian Villanueva (100)
#17 Kyle Hendricks
The other two fall outside of the top 20 in the organization. Jaye Chapman may find his way to Chicago this season, while Brigham may take until next year before he gets to Iowa and subsequently, to Chicago.
3:21 PM: It is confirmed that the Cubs have gotten Villanueva, who Baseball America rated in the Top 100 before 2012, and Hendricks, who has great numbers at high A this season.
3:16 PM: Sources are saying that the Cubs have acquired 3B Christian Villanueva and RHP Kyle Hendricks for Ryan Dempster.
3:06 PM: The Cubs are getting two players in Single A, one position player and one pitcher, according to Ken Rosenthal.
3:02 PM: Everyone is confirming Dempster to the Rangers. We’ll see what the return ends up being.
3:00 PM: Jon Heyman reports that the Rangers have acquired Ryan Dempster.
2:58 PM: Ryan Dempster possibly to the Rangers. Again, no confirmation.
2:51 PM: The Dodgers are officially out on Dempster, according to multiple sources. Jim Bowden reports that the Yankees may have acquired Dempster, but was trying to gain confirmation.
2:30 PM: The Yankees are not the leaders in the Ryan Dempster sweepstakes. MLB Network reports that the Dodgers have all but given up on acquiring him.
2:01 PM: Harold Reynolds just said his “favorite rumor” is Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza for Justin Upton. That would be a huge move for the Cubs.
1:44 PM: Dempster has told ESPN Chicago’s Bruce Levine that he will waive his no trade rights, and accept a potential trade to the Yankees or Rangers.
1:35 PM: The leaders to acquire Dempster in the last 85 minutes before the deadline appear to be the Yankees. The Cubs have tried to accommodate Dempster and send him to LA, but without the package the Cubs want, it appears the Cubs will send him out east.
1:09 PM: Yankees and Diamondbacks are discussing acquiring Ryan Dempster.
9:54 AM: The Rangers may wait until August to look for starting pitching, according to Ken Rosenthal. With the Yankees, and now the Rangers, not being motivated…doesn’t that just leave the Dodgers again?
9:30 AM: Kaplan is saying the Yankees have spoke to the Cubs about Dempster, but are not as motivated as Rangers or Dodgers. All this time, I thought the Dodgers were not very motivated.
9:25 AM: Jayson Stark is reporting that the Yankees are telling teams they are not in the running to acquire Ryan Dempster. Jon Heyman confirms this report, but also says that Dempster is only willing to accept a trade to the Dodgers. There is a ton of information out on Dempster. Almost none of it makes any sense at all.
9:14 AM: Contrary to what David Kaplan reported, Ken Rosenthal reported that Dempster was still only willing to accept a trade to the Dodgers…so there’s that.
8:46 AM: David Kaplan is reporting that the Rangers and Yankees have emerged as suitors for Ryan Dempster. The Rangers are looking for starting pitching after Roy Oswalt was rocked again last night and the Angels sold the farm for Zack Greinke last week. The Dodgers are still Dempster’s preferred destination, it is believed that he would approve a deal to either the Rangers or Yankees. He also says that the backlash at Dempster for not approving the Atlanta deal is over-blown.
When I saw that Zack Greinke was headed to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, I could not have been happier. First, because he was not going to Atlanta or to the Dodgers. Second, because he was in the AL West for the rest of the season, and potentially longer if he is signed in free agency by his new team, or their rival, the Rangers.
The market for Ryan Dempster is unchanged by this trade. The Angels were not in the number of rumored suitors for him, and he can still wind up in either Atlanta or with the Dodgers, and since it is becoming more and more clear that the Cubs have no alternative but to trade Dempster before the deadline, Greinke not taking away a possible landing spot is about the best possible news. Also, with the Angels getting a pitcher of Greinke’s quality, the Rangers may pony up for Matt Garza (unlikely with him not being available until after the deadline) or Paul Maholm.
As far as Dempster is concerned, not a lot has changed in the last day. He could go to LA, but has apparently said that he is open to other potential destinations. (That leaves my wondering why in the world he didn’t approve the deal to the Braves on Monday.) Rumors have floated about the inclusion of Alfonso Soriano and Bryan LaHair, about a deal centered around Dempster for reliever Josh Lindblom, and a number of other scenarios. Regardless, it is a mess that looks to last until the very last minute.