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.
You think that it’s safe to go on vacation after the trade deadline because there would be a period of relative quiet afterward, and then all hell breaks loose. Just some of that has been…
- Jeff Baker being traded to the Tigers for two players to be named later was not a surprise at all. I was kind of surprised he was not dealt before the deadline.
- Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters both being called up was somewhat of a shock, especially since they were called up at the same time. Jackson has struggled, going 2-17 with 11 strikeouts in his first week as a big leaguer. Vitters is 2-15 with 2 RBI, so all in all, not much better than Jackson. The last couple of months of the season will be a great opportunity for both to get some good at bats and playing time in the majors in preparation for 2013, which is pretty much all that is happening for the duration of this season. This is another step in the development process for two of the cornerstone prospects in the system. They are the most major league ready players in the system, so it makes sense to get them to Chicago and allow them to play in games that have significance down the stretch, as the Cubs will see some teams with a lot left to fight for. To make room for Vitters and Jackson, the aforementioned Baker trade was consummated and Tony Campana was sent back to Iowa.
- Jorge Soler went 1-4 with an RBI last night in his Peoria Chiefs debut after being promoted on Thursday from Mesa. Tonight, he hit a grand slam in his first career at bat with the bases loaded… seen here:
- With the loss today, the Cubs are back at their low water mark for the season, 24 games under .500.
- Former Padres Scouting Director Jaron Madison is coming to the Cubs to take the same job. That moves Tim Wilken to a role as “Special Assistant” to Theo Epstein. Really, these moves are only adding more talented front office men to the baseball operations staff. Wilken is well respected around baseball, having been the man to draft Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Michael Young, and Vernon Wells when he was with the Blue Jays, and having all four of his first round picks with the Cubs from 2006-2009 making it to the majors with the Cubs. (Tyler Colvin, Josh Vitters, Andrew Cashner, Brett Jackson) Madison is a rising star in baseball, and having worked with Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod during their time together in San Diego, this move makes a lot of sense.
- Speaking of the front office, GM Jed Hoyer said he expects Matt Garza to be in the Cubs’ rotation in 2013. That could mean that he anticipates resigning the pitcher this off-season to a contract extension or he is posturing potential trade partners for leverage to deal him over the winter. Hoyer was quoted by Paul Sullivan, saying, “He’s likely to be a member of the Cubs in 2013,” [Hoyer] said. “And we’re excited to have him. (Trading him) is the last thing we’re thinking of. We’re just trying to get this guy healthy.” With Garza being sidelined at the moment with a “stress reaction” in his elbow, it might be smart to keep Garza around, especially if he is unable to pitch again in 2012.
- Alfonso Soriano got on Starlin Castro’s case about his lapse in Friday’s game. As the senior most veteran on the roster, that is absolutely Sori’s place, and it probably softened the blow in the meeting Castro had with Manager Dale Sveum. Starlin has been much better with his concentration of late, but losing track of the ball, down five runs, is another exhibit of how far the young short stop still has to go in his maturation process. He is still a developing player, and often times, that fact gets lost in the fact that he has been so good over the course of his first three seasons in the majors.
Quick…somebody name the player that the Cubs sent to the Minnesota Twins when they hired Andy MacPhail. Come on…I’m waiting. I’ll give you a hint…that’s his Minor League card from 1992 off to the left. Still waiting. Don’t know? Huh. Well, I guess I can’t blame you. Have you ever heard of pitcher Hector Trinidad? No? To be honest, I hadn’t either until after Theo Epstein was hired and I googled “player sent to Twins when Cubs hired Andy MacPhail.”
At the time, in 1994, Andy MacPhail was every bit the star Theo Epstein is among baseball executives. He was also on good terms in Minnesota. The compensation for the Twins however, would have been more valuable if it were something the Twins could have sold…say a case of beer and box of peanuts.
When Theo Epstein was hired, the Red Sox, naturally, set the compensation bar high. I can’t say I would have done anything differently in a negotiation. But when the Cubs said they weren’t stupid enough to send Matt Garza to Boston for Epstein, they should have come back to earth, at least a little. Names like Brett Jackson and Trey McNutt were floated, as top level prospects. Those, too, were shot down without much thought.
Alas, we thought a deal was struck shortly after Spring Training began. The Red Sox got Chris Carpenter, and a player to be named for Theo and a player to be named. He wasn’t a top level prospect, but he was a B level prospect that was expected to contribute in the Cubs’ bullpen with the 100+ MPH fastball this season. Since, the players to be named have been named; everything is done and all is well, right? Wrong. Even though Carpenter went on the DL with a forearm strain last season, was given a physical by the Red Sox, and had his medical records reviewed by the Red Sox, they’re crying foul over the fact that Carpenter needed elbow surgery this week.
We’re not revealing state secrets when we say that Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein didn’t see eye to eye. Is that prompting the move to explore their options and keep the compensation issue open? In my opinion, maybe. I think it probably has something more to do with the fact that the Red Sox don’t want to be second fiddle to the Yankees in anything, and if that means being as ruthless and as arrogant about their place in the baseball hierarchy, fine. The Yankees would never allow for the public to even get the chance to think they’ve been taken for a ride, and the Red Sox are doing the same here, even though they’ve acknowledged that the Cubs probably acted in good faith.
I agree with ESPN Chicago’s Bruce Levine when he says Bud Selig needs to step in. I disagree with his assertion that Selig should have the Cubs cut the Red Sox a check and call it a day. I think Selig should tell the Red Sox that baseball players are like used cars. When you get one, it comes “as is.” If they did their homework, knew about his injury history, and admit they think the Cubs acted in good faith, that should be the end of the discussion. A pitcher’s elbow is like a car’s brakes. Eventually, it is probably going to need some work.
The Sawx should thank their lucky stars that they got a B level prospect out of the deal. They could have gotten RHP Michael Jensen. Don’t know who he is? That’s alright…not many people outside of the Cubs’ Organization or Boise, ID would know who a guy who hasn’t been assigned a number on the lower Single A affiliate is.
Dale Sveum debuted the Opening Day line in today’s 6-3 loss to the Dodgers. It consisted of:
RF David DeJesus
2B Darwin Barney
SS Starlin Castro
LF Alfonso Soriano
3B Ian Stewart
CF Marlon Byrd
C Geovany Soto
P Ryan Dempster
While it is no great surprise to me that Ryan Dempster is getting the Opening Day nod, I had assumed that Matt Garza would be the Opening Day Starter since the beginning of Spring Training because of his leadership, skill, and his excellent second half last season. That is not meant to slight Dempster, who has been an effective, if not excellent pitcher in Chicago for nine years. I merely felt that Garza had earned the right. Dale Sveum thought differently than I did, and his opinion counts more than mine.
The Epstein Compensation Issue Just Won’t Die
Chris Carpenter’s elbow injury is apparently causing the Red Sox to explore their options in the deal sending Theo Epstein to the Cubs. ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted that it probably will not go very far because the Red Sox were given Carpenter’s medical records and a physical when he was sent to Boston…and he passed. Cubs’ GM Jed Hoyer was asked today if the deal would be restructured saying, “No.”
The Cubs sent RHP Aaron Kurcz to the Sox and, yesterday, received 19 year old 1B Jair Bogaerts to complete the deal…one could only hope.
The Roster is Taking Shape, But is By No Means Set
There are very few slots remaining on the Opening Day roster, with the back-up catcher slot being given to the left handed Steve Clevenger, Jeff Samardzija being the third starter, and Randy Wells being sent to Iowa. However, with names being discussed in trade rumors, there are some potential openings on the roster. Marlon Byrd being moved (Atlanta or Washington) would open a spot for, most
likely, Reed Johnson to start, and another position player to make the roster.
What has become clear in the past five months is the willingness of the new front office staff to make any move that will benefit the roster, both now and in the future. While it would be in the team’s best interest to keep Marlon Byrd right now, the chances of him being a Cub when we are looking at final roster cuts in 2013 is slimmer than the new waist line he sports. Randy Wells could also be on the black as the Cubs look to improve their bullpen, although it would be hard to imagine getting anything better than a low level prospect for Wells since he failed to make the Cubs out of camp this year…even with their weaknesses in middle and long relief.
As posted earlier today, the Cubs have sent RHP Chris Carpenter to the Boston Red Sox to complete the compensation to hire former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. Discussions between the teams had been on and off since Epstein was hired in October, and reports say that one of the major hold ups has been a power struggle continuing between Theo and Red Sox President Larry Lucchino.
Chris Carpenter had been ranked the number five prospect by MLB.com in a farm system that is not exactly stocked. He made his major league debut on June 14 (shown left) and had ten appearances with the major league club last season, all in relief, while not recording a decision in any of the games he pitched. His three earned runs allowed in 9.2 innings was good for a 2.79 ERA. Overall, the 26 year old third round pick in the 2008 amateur draft made 42 appearances last season, his fourth professional season, between AA Tennessee, AAA Iowa, and the major league ball club. Carpenter features a power slider and a 100 mile per hour fastball that now travel to Florida to meet his Boston teammates, as he tries to make their roster.
“I am relieved that this process is over and particularly pleased that the teams were able to reach agreement on their own without intervention from MLB. I truly hope and believe that this resolution will benefit both clubs, as well as Chris, who is an extremely talented reliever joining a great organization at a time when there’s some opportunity in the Major League bullpen.”
There are some interesting things to take away from this resolution. The first is that Bud Selig didn’t have to resolve it, even though the teams asked for intervention last month. The more important take away is that both sides actually lost in this case. The Red Sox had insisted that compensation should be significant, going as far as asking for RHP Matt Garza at the outset of negotiations. The Cubs countered that there is nearly no precedent for significant compensation when an executive leaves for another city, citing the single A prospect that never reached the majors the Cubs sent to the Twins when they hired Andy MacPhail. In the end, the Red Sox did not get their idea of significant compensation. Although, I would bet many Cubs’ fans would have been fine with a certain high-priced outfielder heading east. The Cubs lost a major league ready prospect that figured to contribute to the major league bullpen this season, and one of the few power arms in the organization.
In any event, the deal is done. Time will tell who got the better of the deal. If the Cubs end up winning it all in a few years, regardless of what the other Chris Carpenter does, it will be viewed as a great move. If Carpenter turns into a good pitcher in Boston, and the Cubs keep waiting for that elusive World Championship, it may not be seen as fondly.
The Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs have reached an agreement on compensation for the hiring of Theo Epstein.
The Red Sox will receive RHP Chris Carpenter and a player to be named later. Carpenter was on the Cubs’ 40 man roster, and was expected to be in the major league bullpen this season. As part of the agreement, the Cubs will also receive a player to be named.
The teams were able to reach an agreement without intervention from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig