Tagged: Dave Sappelt

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: 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.

 

2013 Positional Preview: The Outfield

Starting with the outfield in breaking down the season seems to be pretty easy.  There are no spots up in the air at this point, as all three spots are filled.  Actually, the only question in the outfield is who the fifth and final outfielder on the roster is going to be.

Right Field:  Nate Schierholtz/ Scott Hairston
The most interesting spot in the outfield is the one with the platoon.  Newcomers Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston offer a little bit more of what a corner outfielder should be in their ability to hit for power than David DeJesus did for much of last season, but neither of them is a long term solution to the side that has been most problematic since the departure of Sammy Sosa.  They are mere placeholders for top prospect, Jorge Soler, who figures to be the long term solution to what has been a revolving door for eight seasons.
Nate Schierholtz was signed to a one year deal, and is finally getting the chance to be an everyday player (for the most part).  As a former top prospect in the Giants’ system, he sports 24 career home runs, which is a season’s worth for a player you’d want starting in a corner outfield position.  Nate’s defense has never been at issue.  The biggest factor for him coming to Wrigley may be the most challenging RF corner in the game, where the summer sun can make routine fly balls a little more adventuresome than they should be.
Scott Hairston is another player who has not been the everyday player over the course of his nine years, but did show some pop in his bat, hitting 25 long balls last season.  Brother of former Cub, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Scott has the bloodlines to be a good player, but hasn’t gotten the opportunity to be one on an everyday basis.  Considering how long he’s been around, there is likely a reason for that.  There is no reason to think he won’t be productive this year, but a 32 year old on a two year contract makes him a placeholder for Soler.

Center Field: David DeJesus

DeJesus is a little more suited to play center with the numbers he puts up and his defensive ability.  His willingness to work counts and take a walk makes him a favorite of Dale Sveum and the front office, as his approach is the one the organization is working to install into all of its hitters.  As a fan of the game, I admire what DDJ does for the team.  He’s a veteran leader who will give the team four professional at-bats each day.  As an objective (as much as possible) observer, I would prefer to see someone like DeJesus hitting seventh.  The fact that this is the lead-off hitter speaks to how incomplete the rebuilding process is.  David DeJesus could very well find himself on another roster at the deadline this year if Brett Jackson’s progress with his swing continues at the pace it seems to have been.  He could end up being this season’s Bryan LaHair…displaced by one of the up and coming prospects, and my feeling is, if Jackson gets to Chicago this season (likely), he will be there to play, and he will be there to play everyday.

Left Field: Alfonso Soriano

If Fonsi can repeat what he did last season, he’s going to command a high price at the deadline.  I do not see Soriano going anywhere.  Either the coaching staff and front office mean what they say about him and his value to the team as a player and a leader for young players, and truly believe he is a valuable piece of the immediate process of building toward the future by teaching young players like Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler to be professionals and how to deal with being highly touted prospects, or their words are pricing any potential suitors for him out of the market.  I think the team believes the former, but the latter is probably a bi-product of it.  As such, I am pretty confident that Soriano is going to be the left fielder for the Chicago Cubs through the 2014 season.  And I am confident that he will hit 20+ HRs and drive in 85+ runs each of the next two seasons.  If he is able to play at the defensive level that he did last season, I don’t have any problem with it.

Reserves: Dave Sappelt

I am projecting Sappelt to win this last outfield spot.  He can play all three positions and his bat is not a liability.  He stands to be the front-runner to lock up the last spot in a crowded outfield.

Final Analysis:

Quantity and quality are not the same thing.  The Cubs’ outfield is a prime example of that.  Soriano is the best of them, and his numbers say he’s a solid player out there.  David DeJesus is best suited as a fourth outfielder, given his versatility, defensive prowess, and his mediocre bat.  Neither of the right fielders in the platoon sparks much confidence in big numbers, which is exactly why they are in a platoon to begin with.  The outfield is very obviously waiting for the arrivals of Brett Jackson on a permanent basis, Jorge Soler, and Albert Almora.  Until that time, there are going to be stop gap players and guys playing above their ability.  The production should improve in the outfield this season from right field, which is to say there should be some.  The defense should be strong.  But don’t bother buying any of their jerseys…they won’t be around long.

Resetting the Farm System

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 Other Guys’ Deadline Thread

3:10 PM: And that’s that.  Garza and Soriano (for now) have not been traded.

2:15 PM: The Cubs are saying that Alfonso Soriano is likely staying put, but that could change in August when he clears waivers, according to Bob Nightengale.

2:04 PM: David Kaplan is back on  Earth, saying the Cubs and Tigers are hard at work on Soriano, but is not sure money is going to work out.

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.

2:00 PM: One hour from the deadline.  Nothing new to report.  Arodys Vizcaino is ranked #3 in the Cubs’ system, though.  So that’s cool.

1:54 PM: The Cubs and Tigers continue to discuss names in a Soriano deal that seems like a long shot at this point.  It is not known of Sori would go to the Tigers at this point.  Other players discussed with Tigers have been Tony Campana and Luis Valbuena.  All of this is speculation, and for his part, Jim Leyland thinks the Tigers are done making trades.

1:50 PM: Carrie Muskat has reported that Casey Coleman, Wellington Castillo, and Adrien Cardenas are going to be called up to Chicago to replace the players traded last night.

1:41 PM: All of the talk around the Cubs seems centered on Dempster, with almost nothing being said about Garza or Soriano.  With so little time remaining, I would be surprised (mildly) if either was not a Cub at 3:01 this afternoon.

10:00 AM: Ken Rosenthal says that as of early this morning, the Rangers did not think they had a match to get Garza.  He also says the Rangers have said there is “minimal attractive talent.”  It appears the Rangers are going to stand still at the deadline as far as pitching goes.

9:55 AM: Dave Sappelt tweets that he is not being called up.  The mystery continues…

9:54 AM: Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Rangers don’t like the low amount of quality starting pitching available and may wait until the August waiver period.  Meanwhile, Buster Olney is reporting that Garza is an interesting option for GMs that have confidence in the doctor’s report on his MRI, and that the Diamondbacks have the prospects and aggressive GM to make a trade for Garza work.

9:32 AM: For what it’s worth, the Geovany Soto deal is now official.  They will get the dreaded player to be named later…or some of their money back.

9:28 AM: David Kaplan says he spoke to Brett Jackson, who told him that he would be playing in today’s day game for the Iowa Cubs.  I still think it’s going to be Dave Sappelt getting the call up.  We know now it will not be Jackson, at least not today.

9:08 AM: Jon Heyman reports that the Cubs are talking to the Rangers and two other teams about Matt Garza.  Those teams are assumed to be the Reds and the Blue Jays.  He also says it is still possible that Garza could stay until at least winter.

9:04 AM: Not really trade related, but since Brett Jackson is not being traded and it does not appear that he is going to be called up, Twitter exploded on Jackson for nothing more than a coincidence, which was Jackson being removed from the Iowa Cubs’ game last night in a double switch right around the same time Reed Johnson was getting hugs in the Cubs’ dugout.

8:54 AM: The Dodgers appear close to acquiring Shane Victorino from the Phillies for Josh Lindblom and a second player.  That pretty much kills any chance that the Dodgers would be willing to take on Alfonso Soriano.

Brett Jackson not Expected to be Called Up

Photo: Chris Donahue

Cubs.com blogger Carrie Muskat says that OF Brett Jackson should not be expected to be called up on Tuesday when the roster spots of Reed Johnson, Paul Maholm, and Geovany Soto are filled. Wellington Castillo and Casey Coleman are likely to be called up to replace Maholm and Soto on the active roster.

With Jackson not being called up, the most logical choice would be Dave Sappelt, who is hitting .252 with 4 HR and 35 RBI with the Iowa Cubs this season.  He has major league experience with the Reds, and came over in the Sean Marshall trade.  He also hits from the right side, which would make him a logical choice to replace Johnson.  Sappelt is hitting .318 against left handed pitching in Iowa this season, so he could realistically platoon with David DeJesus as Johnson has been doing since DeJesus moved over to center field.

Who Should Stay…and Who Should Go

Here is the reality of the 2012 Chicago Cubs…we’re going to be sellers at the trade deadline.  That leaves us in an interesting place.  With the new regime looking for “long term assets,” the decision is going to have to be made in the not too distant future as to who should stay and be a long term asset, and who should be turned into additional long term assets.

Who Should Stay:

  • SS Starlin Castro: I’ve read some comments over the last few days where people have been saying that since Starlin has been in the majors for two years and his defense is still not great at the short stop position, maybe the Cubs should turn Starlin into additional prospects.  Stop it.  Trading Castro at 22 would be a colossal mistake.  Castro is the definition of a long term asset, being 22 with terrific range and, oh yeah, the 6th fastest player in MLB history to 400 hits.  His defense is improving and his bat will only get better as he continues to develop into a better hitter.  He’ll take more walks and hit more home runs as he gets better, bigger, and older.  Starlin is still 3-4 years away from being in his prime.  Give him time.
  •   1B/ OF Bryan LaHair: This is a tough one.  With LaHair being one of the best hitters in baseball in the early going, his stock is at its highest point.  With that said, power hitting left handed bats that can team up with another power hitting left handed bat (Anthony Rizzo) are hard to find.  Defense does not need to be a strength for LaHair, as he will displace a corner outfield position (likely left field) when Rizzo arrives.  He’s proving to be a middle of the order hitter at the major league level.  That value can bring in some good mid to upper level prospects, but that is because it is hard to find.  5-6 more years of LaHair hitting around 30 HRs and driving in 90 or so runs would be worth hanging on to as a compliment to Rizzo and Castro as middle of the order type hitters.
  • SP Matt Garza: Matt has proven his value as a starter on the Cubs’ roster, and is probably the ace of the staff.  In 28.1 innings at Wrigley this season, Garza has a 1.91 ERA, and has given up a single home run this season.  In 17 career starts at Wrigley, he has a 2.46 ERA and a .225 batting average allowed.  He is very effective at Wrigley, and has proven to be an excellent pitcher in the National League since coming over from the Rays.  This season against the 3-4-5 spots in the line up, he is sporting a .156 BAA.  He gets hitters out, especially the big bats in the line up.  And he is dominant at the place where he will make roughly half his starts.  At 28, there is still a lot left in Garza’s arm and he wants to be even better than he is.  Getting much better could make him a Cy Young candidate, and that’s something to have around.  For their part, the Cubs’ brass has seen him for what he is, and they are working on an extension for Garza.  For good reason.

Who Should Go:

  • SP Ryan Dempster (Retains 10-5 Rights, and can veto a trade): This is difficult to swallow because Dempster has been so consistent for the team for so long.  However, with a shortage of starting pitching around baseball and Dempster having a career year, his value for a team in the hunt at the deadline is going to be high.  The Cubs will have to eat some of his remaining salary, but could get some decent prospects in return for a 35 year old pitcher in the final year of his contract, and does not figure to be back next season.  Dempster would like to be back, but it is unclear whether he would take a discount to return to the Cubs next season.  If the Cubs can trade him for some value, they should do it and get what they can.
  • OF Alfonso Soriano (Retains 10-5 Rights, and can veto a trade): Duh.  That may be a little harsh because Soriano is a veteran and is a leader in the clubhouse.  However, he is not the player he used to be.  And at 36, father time has caught up with Soriano.  He can have some value for teams in the AL needing a DH, and if there should be an injury for one of the contenders, Soriano could be had for a half empty can of Old Style and some stale peanuts.  Trading Soriano would require the Cubs to eat much of his contract…all but about $1.25 of it, most likely.  However, it will open a slot for LaHair to move when Rizzo arrives.  And the team does have some outfield depth in the minors with Brett Jackson, Dave Sappelt, and Matt Szczur.  Jackson is going to be in the majors in the about the next year.  Sappelt is a likely call up candidate if there are injuries.  Szczur has some time left at the minor league level, but is a speedy outfielder that has a Ron Gant type projection.  Two more years of Soriano after this year just do not work…trading him now is definitely the best option.
  • C Geovany Soto: Hitting catchers come at a premium.  The Cubs have 3 at the moment, in Soto, Steve Clevenger, and Wellington Castillo.  Clevenger and Castillo appear to be a capable platoon of backstops that are young enough to grow and get better.  Geo, on the other hand, is in his 5th season, and has been very up and down.  He could bring back some prospects from say…Tampa Bay…who is always in contention and never has had a catcher that can hit in the middle or bottom half of the line up.  Soto is a good player.  He is solid defensively and is good with a pitching staff.  He is going to hit between 15 and 25 home runs and drive in between 70 and 85 runs each year and will take a walk.  There are not many like him that can be had, so he would probably fetch a decent haul of prospects before his salary gets too high.

Overall:

The Cubs have some pieces that they can build around.  They need relief pitching more than anything else.  Names not on the “Who Should Go” list include Carlos Marmol and Chris Volstad because they have limited value at the moment.  Marmol has had issues with the strike zone for a couple of years, so would not fetch anything near what he could still be.  Marmol is also still 29, and I won’t give up on him finding the strike zone again.  When he’s on, he’s very good.  Volstad has good stuff and his only significant issue is keeping the ball down.  That might be tough for someone that stands 6’8″ and has to push the ball down from the top of a pitcher’s mound.  Volstad has been prone to the big inning this season, and is still only 25.  He, too, has some upside, as he is not yet in his prime.  I think it is too early to give up on either Marmol or Volstad.  Finding a new closer could be what the doctor ordered for Marmol, allowing him to slide into a set up role he thrived in.  Volstad can be a good 4th or 5th starter down the road.

With all of that said, the next 2+ months are going to be interesting…and eventful…around the front office for the Cubs.

40 Man Roster All Signed

The Cubs have finished signing every player on their 40 man roster with 0-3 years of service time, according to ESPN.com’s Doug Padilla. The list of players is as follows:

Right-handed pitchers: Alberto Cabrera, Lendy Castillo, Casey Coleman, Rafael Dolis, Marcos Mateo, Samardzija and Casey Weathers.

Left-handed pitchers: Jeff Beliveau, John Gaub, Scott Maine, Russell and T. Wood.

Catchers: Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger.

Infielders: Barney, Adrian Cardenas, Castro, Bryan LaHair, Junior Lake, Anthony Rizzo and Josh Vitters.

Outfielders: Tony Campana, Dave Sappelt and Matt Szczur.

Youth, Talent, and Inexperience

In my last post, on what I project to be the pitching staff this season, I referred to the Cubs’ pitching last season as “an unmitigated disaster.”  I have no qualms about that statement because, in short, it was.  It was not over- stated.  It was not even putting a microscope on a weak spot from a team that struggled for a good portion of the season.  It just was what it was.  With all of that said, the guys behind the pitching last season contributed to it mightily.  Last season, the Cubs were 29th in defensive efficiency with a .680 rating.  That narrowly edged out the Minnesota Twins, who finished with a .679 DER.  To contrast, the Tampa Bay Rays were first in MLB with a .724 DER.  Nobody in the majors topped the 134 errors by the Cubs last season, which led to an expected last place finish in fielding percentage.  The pitching was bad.  The fielding was worse.  If the Cubs have a snowball’s chance in Mesa, AZ of making the playoffs, those numbers need to improve dramatically.

The offense was very middle of the road, and the numbers bear that out.  They finished between 10th and 20th in the majors in just about all offensive categories, except for stolen bases, where they were down toward the bottom of the league.  Don’t expect that to get much better this season.  With the losses of 3B Aramis Ramirez, 1B Carlos Pena, and OF Kosuke Fukudome, a significant portion of the output from last season is gone.  The biggest bats left in the line up are C Geovany Soto, LF Alfonso Soriano, and SS Starlin Castro.  The only one of those guys that is consistent is Castro, so the offense figures to be a work in progress all season long.

The position players are going to be a fluid group for all 162 games, in spite of what Dale Sveum said about sticking to one line up earlier this week.  As such, take this projection with the smallest of grains of salt…

Line- Up and Batting Order

1. RF David DeJesus – The free agent from Oakland figures to be the first of the lead off hitters this season, although that may change as the season wears on.  He’s never played more than 144 games in a season, and hit .240 last season with the A’s.  That figures to be an aberration, though, because his career average of .284 is significantly better.  If he can be who he was before 2011, hitting in the neighborhood of .300 and getting on base around .350, he figures to hang on to the job for a while.

2. 2B Darwin Barney – Darwin wore down as the season wore on last season after a red hot start.  He added some muscle this off-season, which may help him.  Aside from the offensive struggles late, Darwin was a nice surprise for a bad team last season.  His defense was average and he figures to continue to be an opportunistic base stealer, having nine and being caught twice last year.  As he grows at the major league level, his numbers could rise.  Or, he could be in for the dreaded sophomore slump.  With the way his teammates and coaches have raved about his work ethic, I would bet on the former before the latter.

3. SS Starlin Castro– Starlin figures to settle into the third slot in the line-up this season, although Dale Sveum has said he will consult Starlin about where he wants to hit.  The free swinging short stop doesn’t walk too much, but still managed to hit over .300 again last season, and led the NL in hits with 207 at age 21.  He did have 29 errors in 158 games, which was actually an improvement in his defense from the 210 campaign, where he had 27 in

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

123 games.  Those numbers are a bit misleading, though, because Starlin makes errors on plays that would be hits with others short stops because he has such great range.  He also makes throws that a number of other short stops would not dream of making because of his sensational arm.  Expect former major league short stop and new Cubs’ Skipper to work with Castro.  And expect the errors to come down.

4. 1B Bryan LaHair – The reigning PCL MVP gets the opportunity to start, and will probably hit fourth in the line- up on the heels of his 38 HRs in AAA last season.  He is not going to replace the production from Aramis Ramirez, but he did have a good showing after he was called up last season.  He hit .288 with 2 HRs and 10 RBI in 59 at bats last season.  If he can contribute at that pace, with about 500 at bats this season, he will be just fine.  There will be a drop off in production in the clean up slot, but it will be manageable.

5. CF Marlon Byrd – Marlon had a tough year last season.  His veteran presence in CF and in the middle of the line- up are important to a young team.  He comes in slimmed down and expecting to improve on his .276 average and 9 HRs from last season.  Considering he lost six weeks with the facial fracture suffered in Boston, it wasn’t nearly as bad, statistically, as it looks.  If he can rebound and hit around .290 and give the team the 12-15 HRs and 60 or so RBIs that he typically gives, it will be a nice rebound for Marlon this year.

6. LF Alfonso Soriano – ‘Fonsi is the guy that epitomizes why Cubs’ fans hated Jim Hendry.  Even though there is wide spread information available that says he was a product of the Tribune Co. ownership group, Hendry takes the fall for a guy that has hit no fewer than 20 HRs in this five seasons in Chicago.  He is the last known threat in the line- up, too.  His 26 HRs and 88 RBIs last season were a strong number for an aging outfielder.  He is not the guy that everybody thought the Cubs were getting before the 2007 season, but he is still a legit power threat, and the streaky hitter can carry the team for weeks at a time when he gets hot.  He will likely continue to be a defensive liability that is replaced by either Reed Johnson or Tony Campana late in games when the team is leading, but I would expect, barring injury, another 25 HRs and 80 RBIs from Soriano in a status quo season for the veteran.

7. C Geovany Soto – The bad news about Geo is that he goes up and down in his production from year to year.  The good news is that last year was a down year, so he is due a good year.  After slimming down again, Soto thinks that he can keep the weight off this time. He will likely give the Cubs the 20 HRs and 60 RBIs that he has been in the ballpark of giving, but if he brings his average back to around .280 and starts taking the walks he took in 2010, it should be a resurgent year for Soto.  He called last season a “confidence problem.”   If he can manage to focus on each at- bat, many of his issues might correct themselves, and we could see a much better Soto in 2012.

8. 3B Ian Stewart – Remember 2010…when Tyler Colvin had a good bat, and made Cubs’ fans think about him being the first real fixture in RF since Sammy Sosa?  I introduce the you the Colorado Rockies’ version of Colvin.  In 2009 and 2010, Stewart was a legit hitter with the Rockies with 25 and 18 HRs, respectively.  His average has never blown anybody away, but when he was able to put the ball in play, it was generally going to be with some authority.  Now, he’s a Cub after being traded for the aforementioned Colvin, along with infielder, DJ LeMahieu in the ultimate “change of scenery” swap.  If he can recapture any of the offense he had in 2009 and 2010 under Hitting Coach Rudy Jaramillo, he might be able to fend off slowly progressing Josh Vitters this season.

9. PITCHER

Bench

IF Jeff Baker – Super utility player, Baker, can play First, Second, Third, and the corner outfield with some effectiveness, and hits well against left handed pitching.  He will play a lot this season, in pinch hitting and platoon roles in multiple positions.

Photo Courtesy of AP

OF Reed Johnson – “Web Gem” is going to back up all three outfield spots this season, and will be the “go to” defensive replacement for Soriano late in games this year.  Reed is a strong veteran that seems to deliver in the biggest moments with either a defensive play that saves runs or with a huge hit.  I wouldn’t expect anything different than what Reed did last season in the 2012 campaign.

OF Tony Campana – Tony’s game changing speed is the reason he will likely break camp with the big league team, being the Cubs’ lone serious stolen base threat.  He is going to be a pinch runner and defensive replacement when he gets into the game, with the occasional start in any of the three outfield slots.  This is the first person that will head back to Iowa if and when any of Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, or Dave Sappelt join the big league team.

IF Adrian Cardenas – The 24 year old middle infielder stole the roster spot held by Blake DeWitt, and figures to make the team as a back up at both middle infield positions after being claimed off of waivers from the Oakland A’s.  He’s a left handed hitter, who had strong numbers in AAA last season, hitting .314, and runs better than Dewitt.  

C Wellington Castillo – With the departure of Koyie Hill, the opportunity to make the major league team on a permanent basis opens up for Castillo, after seeing some time last year with Soto injured. Castillo is a good hitter and a strong defensive catcher.  If he proves that he can handle the young pitching staff, he is the favorite over Steve Clevenger and Jason Jaramillo to win the back up role out of camp.

Other Expected Contributors

CF Brett Jackson – Brett Watch 2012 is on in full force, as this could be the year where the Cubs’ top prospect makes his debut in front of the ivy at Wrigley.  I would anticipate that to be the case at some point.  That means Marlon Byrd either moves over to one of the corners (left field if someone can be found to take Soriano) or Byrd himself gets traded.

IF Blake DeWitt – Blake probably will not make the roster out of camp, but he will most likely be with the team at some point over the course of the season.  He is the first guy up if there is an injury to any infielder because he can play second, third, short, and the corner outfield.  He may be released out of camp or a trade could be sought if he fails to make the 25 man roster out of camp.

1B Anthony Rizzo– The 1B of the future, Rizzo will start the season in Iowa, but I would be stunned if he isn’t with the major league team before July.  If Ian Stewart or Bryan LaHair struggle or get hurt, this is the guy that will

Photo: Denis Poroy - Getty Images

probably get called up.  While he probably will not start over veteran Jeff Baker, he would likely be with the major league team to get some spot starts as a left handed hitter.

OF Dave Sappelt – Dave was acquired from the Reds in the Sean Marshall trade and has plus speed and plays good defense.  He got some light duty with the Reds last season, and figures to be with the Cubs at some point of the season, as the first man up if there is an injury.  

OF Matt Szczur – Matt is the “other” outfield prospect that figures to make is MLB debut.  He also figures to be the RF of the future, playing next to Brett Jackson when he gets to Chicago.  Matt is a Five Tool prospect and could find his way to Chicago this season if there are injuries or if the team falls back early.

3B Josh Vitters – Josh will probably be an injury or September call up this season.  His slow development has been hidden by the fact that Aramis Ramirez has been at third for the last eight years.  He seemingly figured it out last season in the minors.  If Ian Stewart struggles this season, he is going to get his opportunity.  At 22, he is young enough, but after four years of minor league baseball behind him, his leash to figure it out is shortening.

The youth of this team is the first thing that should be noticed.  There will be some offensive and defensive growing pains with the core youth with this team.  Like I declared in my preview post, I do not expect the Cubs to be a viable playoff threat this season, and will struggle to get to .500 if they manage to.  What cannot be understated is the talent of the collection of players being led by Dale Sveum.  His devotion to fundamentals and playing hard should suit this roster perfectly.  If the can grow, this core group will be a viable threat in 2013 and beyond.  This season, though, is for “building.”  And it is going to start with this foundation of players gaining invaluable experience at the major league level this season.