Over the past day or so, the latest name to pop up in Cubs trade rumors is that of Jeff Samardzija. Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports said the Cubs were “listening” to other teams as they call about Samardzija, which is essentially what really set off the entire conversation.
The reality about Samardzija trade speculation, as others have said, is that of course the Cubs are willing to listen to what other teams are offering. That does not mean Shark is on the block in the same manner Ryan Dempster was last season or Matt Garza was this season. That does mean that it would be irresponsible of the front office to not listen to what other teams have to offer for Jeff Samardzija, who is not a free agent until after 2015 and, although he is 28 years old, is relatively low mileage at this point in his career. He’s only thrown 481.1 major league innings, which isn’t a whole lot for someone of Jeff’s age or his physical stature.
It would be a massive surprise if Samardzija was traded for all of those reasons…the price would be astronomical. While the D-Backs, Red Sox, Pirates, Braves, and others may have interest, it is going to take an awful lot to acquire him. The price tag takes him out of reach for most teams because they simply don’t have the prospects. And he probably costs too much to part with for the teams with the prospect currency to actually get him. It is not totally out of the question that somebody gets desperate for a starter with so few good ones on the market, though, so it is worth the front office’s time to listen to whoever calls. The price is reportedly a top pitching prospect (or prospects), as it should be.
Theo and Jed aren’t stupid. They know they have a huge piece to build a competitive Cubs team with (if the price is right), either as a front of the rotation starter or a player who can fetch a front of the rotation starter in a trade. While Samardzija may not be “on the block,” he isn’t unavailable. And since none of the Cubs have a no trade clause anymore, that’s the way it should be. Everyone can be had if the price is right. For Samardzija, the price is going to be high. Really high.
As reported by Patrick Mooney, and others, Arodys Vizcaino won’t throw a baseball for the next six weeks after having debridement surgery to remove calcium deposits by Dr. James Andrews.
A debridement is an arthroscopic, outpatient procedure to remove loose particles or to cut off bone spurs and the normal recovery time is between four and six weeks, depending on what the purpose of the debridement was. In this case, the procedure was to remove calcium build up. That’s not an uncommon occurrence after a major operation like Tommy John Surgery, so it’s not like Vizcaino is getting blasted with some out of the norm bad luck. The best news to come out of this is that the ulnar collateral ligament, which was replaced last year, is undamaged.
For those who have forgotten or were unaware, the Cubs acquired Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman from the Braves in the trade that sent Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to Atlanta at the trade deadline. Vizcaino had Tommy John Surgery last April. He is not expected to pitch at all for the Cubs this season.
Sometimes, things aren’t as bad as they seem.
The 2013 Cubs are a pretty good example of that. They’ve had no offense to speak of. The back end of the bullpen was an unmitigated disaster for the first two weeks. The defense let the Cubs down on a number of occasions; yet the Cubs are 10-15, and have won five out of seven.
Record wise, the team isn’t far off of expectations. We knew this team was not going to compete with the Reds and Cardinals this season. We knew the offense was going to struggle at times. And we knew the early season was going to be a strong test because of the good teams the Cubs were going to play. The results of the test are in, and the Cubs passed. They may have only passed with a 65, but they passed. And they missed a lot of opportunities to really improve on that grade.
It isn’t all that difficult to understand why we, as fans, are so disappointed, though. The interaction in Twitter is a good indication of what most of us are feeling. It could be so much better. The Cubs played well enough to win three of the games with the Giants. They shouldn’t have been swept by the Braves. Or the Brewers in Miller Park. They’ve shot themselves in the foot more times that we should have expected, especially after the steps forward in fundamental baseball that the team took last season.
That’s what young teams do. I’ve said this a number of times to folks on Twitter. Winning is a learned behavior. There aren’t many players on this team who have a lot of experience with winning. There’s Alfonso Soriano from his days with the Yankees and first couple of years with the Cubs. Nate Schierholtz was with the Giants when they won the World Series in 2010. Scott Feldman was with the Rangers the last couple of years. Carlos Villanueva went to the playoffs with the Brewers in 2008. Edwin Jackson’s been on his share of winners. So, two position players, who play on a regular basis, and three starting pitchers. That’s not a whole lot.
Here’s my point. There is a time coming for winning. It’s not here, yet, but it’s coming. Teams like the Braves, Rangers, Brewers and Giants all know how to finish games at this point. There are veteran players on those teams who have tasted success at the major league level. They know how to take advantage of young, impressionable teams like the Cubs. And they take those advantages. In the end, the fans feel violated. But the team grows up, figures out how to avoid the killer mistake, and hangs on.
Nights like last night, where the bullpen is good and the defense makes some plays to hold on to the game, become more prevalent when a team is good. The value of last night’s game is huge. Because unlike the standard for the early season, the Cubs found a way to win. It was only 1/162 of the season, but that was the most valuable win of the season, thus far. This time, when the Cubs closed the door, they kept it closed. And that is a big step in the right direction.
We can’t hang onto games past. First, because our hearts can’t take the stress. But mostly, because with this team in its current form, everything is a day to day process. After every game, lets move on to the next one. That’s the great thing about baseball. All summer long, there’s always tomorrow to try again, regardless of today’s result.
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.
Theo Epstein was on WEEI Boston today, where he spoke about a number of topics. He spoke about the signing of Edwin Jackson and him having years left in his prime, Anthony Rizzo, and draft pick compensation being at a premium when considering signing free agents that would cost a draft pick, in addition to a number of other topics related to the Cubs and Red Sox. The interview is lengthy, but it’s worth a listen if you’re so inclined to do those types of things. Hear Theo Epstein’s interview with WEEI here.
Bruce Levine had a chat today, which covered a number of topics. Some of the highlights, with some of my own commentary are as follows…
- He was asked about the potential of a Soriano trade to the Phillies, and he said that was a “tremendously old rumor.” That doesn’t say good things about the potential about it actually happening, but Soriano might be a better alternative to the Phillies with the free agent market for Michael Bourn. With the Cubs willing to eat a significant portion of Soriano’s deal, he could be a cheaper alternative for a team looking to acquire an outfielder, without wanting to give up a valuable draft pick. The Cubs will look to see if they can move Fonsi, but I would be a little surprised if he were moved before Opening Day.
- When asked if Jeff Samardzija had a chance at 200 strike outs, 15 wins, and a sub 3.2 ERA and said that he had spoken to scouts who said Samardzija was the most improved pitcher last season between April and September. He also said there is no reason to think those numbers can’t be approached. I would be inclined to agree to a certain extent, but I would caution against expectation. Samardzija is a young pitcher and any growth would be a good thing from him in 2013. Since the team does not figure to contend, it would be wise not to burden a good young player with big expectations too early.
- Bruce was also asked about the leaks, to which he said that the Cubs are pretty accessible, but they don’t let information get out that they don’t want out. He also pointed out that agents are a factor in free agency. I’m inclined to agree. It seems like the Cubs have had leaks happen to them, but haven’t been the source. The Dempster leak came from the Braves, the Marmol leak from Marmol himself, and the Sanchez leak was from an agent trying to leverage a team. Really…there’s nothing that could be done there from the Cubs’ side of things.
- He outright dismissed the idea of trading for Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton. Amen.
- Matt Garza trade rumors to the Rangers came up for a heavy package, and he said it was possible. I agree that the Rangers could use the statement addition of Garza after missing on Greinke, and that could drive up the return value for him, but with Garza having been injured, I would be surprised if he were traded before the season. It would be a risk for any team to send the Cubs a package of prospects without seeing the guy pitch after last July. His elbow is the reason he didn’t get moved at the deadline last year, so I have a tough time seeing him getting moved before he pitches. That’s just my feeling. A desperate Rangers team (or someone else) could change that, though.
- The speculation about political bitterness between the Ricketts and Mayor Emanuel made an appearance. Honestly, get over it and do what’s best for the ball club. I know Wrigley is a historical landmark, but it is still a functioning ballpark and will need renovations, so the gamesmanship and BS need to stop. A successful Cubs team is good for the Ricketts and the city of Chicago, and a modernized Wrigley is a key to that.
- Conversation about prospects came about with Bruce saying he thought Brett Jackson was the most likely to come up to the majors this season. Javier Baez will play short where ever he is in the minors this year, and Josh Vitters and Junior Lake could see themselves moved to the outfield, or at least it is time to consider it. I think Vitters could be a good left fielder. Hide his defense, and continue to develop his bat in that spot. If Soriano is traded, I think he would be a good choice to get a crack at the position first.
The Epstein Administration is off to a very honest start, to say the least. When Theo came, he made no mistake that the intention was to build an organization, from the bottom up, in order to sustain success for the long term. To this point, he has kept his word. The Cubs’ system now features five of the top 100 prospects, according to MLB.com’s updated, post season rankings. Half of the organization’s top ten prospects have been acquired since Epstein and Co. have arrived, and that does not include First Baseman Anthony Rizzo, who would be the undisputed #1 prospect in the system if he met MLB.com’s criteria for what makes a prospect. The fact that he has had a rookie season in the majors, from my view, does not make him any less of a prospect. He is by no means a finished product…which is a scary good thought after his 2012 season.
With all of that, here is a positional look at the system:
- PITCHING: Pitching is still the weakness of the system. Theo knows it. Jed knows it. Even the guy in the bleachers drunkenly screaming to fire Dale Sveum because we could have won the World Series this year knows it. That is why the focus has been on acquiring pitching. The new regime spent almost the entire draft on infusing the system with new arms. They made an unsuccessful attempt to acquire Randall Delgado for Ryan Dempster. They made a successful deal with the Braves to acquire Arodys Vizcaino, who is the best pitching prospect in the system, according to MLB’s new rankings. Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn are also top 20 prospects in the system, who were drafted in the slots gained from the departures of Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena. Nine of the top 20 are pitchers, none of whom is Hayden Simpson, the 2010 first round pick. We are very close to reaching bust status with him. The front office knows that there is still a shortage of arms in the system, so look for a continued focus on acquiring them, either through trades or in the draft. Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza could each become prospect pitching, if there is a deal to be made.
- CATCHERS: With Wellington Castillo looking primed to crouch behind the dish on a full time basis, with Steve Clevenger being a capable back up, and Geovany Soto being a Texas Ranger, it would seem the system is lacking in catching depth. That’s mostly true. The only catcher of note who will be in the minor leagues next season is Anthony Recker, who finished the season in the majors because of a September call-up. The bright side to the catching situation is that both of the big league backstops are young players, who, like Anthony Rizzo, I would still consider prospects, who are developing at the big league level. That’s some good news. The bad news is, catchers tend to be injured more than other positions, and there is not a lot behind them.
- INFIELD: There is some talent in the infield in the organization, but it’s nothing to jump out of your chair for. Javier Baez is a notable exception to that, as the system’s number one prospect, again, according to MLB.com. Christian Villanueva and Junior Lake are also both in the top ten in the organization, but neither seem to be all that close to cracking the major league line-up anytime soon. Lake is probably the closest prospect, but he projects to be a utility player, who can play all over because of his arm and athleticism. He has good power, but lacks plate discipline and still needs some polish in the field. He could be a call-up in the mold of Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson in 2013, to get some experience at the major league level before going back to the minors to work on deficiencies he may not get to know without a call-up. As for Baez and Villanueva, both finished the season at Daytona. They may go to AA, Tennessee together next season, but a more sure bet is that they open at Daytona next year. Josh Vitters, the most major league ready prospect in the infield, showed that he still needs some time to grow. I could see him being moved to a corner outfield spot if his glove does not improve significantly. An interesting prospect on the infield is Dan Vogelbach, whose bat will probably propel him up the system. He hit for a combined 1.051 OPS between Mesa and Boise. Being a 1B, though, is going to hurt him with the Cubs. He is blocked by Anthony Rizzo. If he could become a 3B, he could be a Pablo Sandoval type player in the future, although Keith Law says he has “no shot.” My guess is, his lack of athleticism is going to be a significant issue with him being anything more than a first baseman or a designated hitter…which the Cubs have no use for.
- OUTFIELD: The outfield is where the most depth is within the system. After getting a sight of Brett Jackson, it appears that he has the ability to man CF at Wrigley for a long time, with improvements to his swing and approach at the plate. The additions of Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, both of whom played well in their first taste of American pro baseball, make them, with Jackson, three of the top five prospects in the system. With other interesting prospects, like Dave Sappelt and Shawon Dunston Jr, there is some serious talent, much of which is still saturating the low levels of the system. For the time being, it is interesting to wonder about what an Almora, Jackson, Soler outfield will look like…because it won’t be a reality for a few years. For now, we’ll get to watch a Soriano, DeJesus, LaHair (or whoever else they can manage to throw out there).
There is a lot more talent in the minors now than there was 12 months ago. That is something that has to be attributed to building the organization, as opposed to trading any and all talent we can to get veteran players to win right now. There has been a lot of that over the years, leaving the cupboards pretty bare. Building it back up will take as much time and effort as it will to build the big league team into one that can consistently win. It is a good thing to have talent saturation in the minors, and at this point in time, there is much more of it than there was when Jim Hendry left the club. It is exciting, however, to watch the build-up. Seeing lower level clubs compete, like the Boise Hawks did in 2012 is a sign of talent infusion. Hopefully, the Cubs are able to build a system that can compete at all levels. No organization can have too much talent. At this point,though, it is still a work in progress.
The Cubs have acquired Marcelo Josue Carreno and a cash consideration for Jeff Baker, to complete the trade from the Tigers. In other news, Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein will be under indictment for grand theft of a prospect in this deal. Marcelo Carreno was the 11th ranked prospect in the Tigers system (well, not anymore) at the end of the 2012 regular season. He spent 2011 and 2012 in the Midwest League with West Michigan, posting some decent numbers. MLB.com’s ranking report on him says “Better command of his fastball, curve and change-up could help him become a solid middle-of-the-rotation type,” which is basically stealing from a team who used Baker for about 15 minutes (actually, it was 15 games, and he hit .200) before sending him to Atlanta for a player to be named later.
With the season having come to a close about two weeks ago, things are going to start to make themselves clear in a short amount of time about the shape of the club next season. It has already been made apparent that the Cubs will seek out additional starting pitching for next season. So, don’t despair about an entire season with what we saw the last two months of this season, where there was little to no pitching available outside of Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija, until he was shut down. With Samardzija, and potentially Matt Garza, coming back to start the season with Travis Wood (probably) and two new guys, the pitching should be a lot more stable at the beginning of next season than it was at the end of this one. Matt Garza, however, still is a candidate to be dealt this off-season, which would make it more likely that Wood and Samardzija join three new acquisitions in the rotation as 2013 begins.
The powers that be are still singing the praises of Dale Sveum, so to all of you out there who are thinking there could be a third straight year of managerial search or want another managerial search…stop it.
ESPN’s Buster Olney says that the Brewers are in play to sign Josh Hamilton this off-season. Not Cubs related at all…just something to snicker at. They seem to be turning into the Brewers circa 2007 when they were trying to out slug everyone because they couldn’t pitch. I don’t see it happening, but the thought of it is just amusing.
Remember the name Pete Mackanin? It’s cool. Not everyone lives this stuff like I do. He was one of the guys who was interviewed to be the manager last off-season. Well, since he was fired from his role as bench coach in Philadelphia, his name has surfaced as a potential replacement for the departed Pat Listach, as third base coach. Listach was let go, likely because of philosophical differences. I don’t understand them, because his philosophy clearly worked with Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro’s defense. Mackanin is a name that has been mentioned. Former Astros manager, Brad Mills is also an option. We’ll see who Epstein, Hoyer, and Sveum come to a consensus on. I wouldn’t bet against Mackanin, though. Too many things are in play for him to not get a real shot at being the new third base coach.
There are going to be names to watch this off-season. They include Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Marmol. All three are prime trade candidates, especially Marmol and Soriano, who had very nice seasons to improve their stock.