Tagged: Edwin Jackson

Cubs Have Holes to Fill This Winter

Now that the World Series is over and the Cardinals lost (HOORAY!), we can get to the task at hand.  The off-season.  The Cubs are chocked full of needs this winter.  Those will have to be addressed going into 2014 to keep the rebuilding plan on schedule.

These are the most pressing…

1.  Find a new manager

After the firing of Dale Sveum, the next guy to lead the Cubs on-field is the first concern.  With the playoffs having ended, the obstacle of candidates still playing is over.  To be honest, I don’t care who they hire, as long as he fits the mold of what the front office is looking for.  That Dale was the guy for a while, then suddenly became not the guy doesn’t matter.  Great organizations are stable.  And since 2010, this will be the fourth manager.  That’s not stable.  Find the guy.  The right guy.  So we’re not going through this mess again in two years.

2.  Find some outfield depth

After losing Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus, and Scott Hairston to midseason trades, it is going to be important for the Cubs to replace that lost depth at the major league level.  The preference would be to sign veterans on short (1-2 years) deals while the youngsters get ready.  With Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Sweeney, and Junior Lake, there is a need for two more outfielders.  Preferably one who can play center and one who hits right handed.  To be clear, I do not see Shin Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury as viable options.  I have no visions of the Cubs spending on either of those players with the talent that is coming behind them.  I do see players like Curtis Granderson, Grady Sizemore, Corey Hart, and Tyler Colvin as options.  Colvin is the standard “buy low flier” that this front office has taken in the past, and with his talent and familiarity with the Cubs, and the admission that the Stewart – Colvin trade may have been a mistake, he could be back.  The others are veterans who have had some success, but have also had injury issues.  Any resurgence could make them trade bait in July, and they all likely come relatively cheap.  David DeJesus is also an option if the Rays decide not to pick up his option for next season

3. Trade Darwin Barney

The popular defensive wizard is not part of the core.  He’s a below average hitter.  And he’s getting a bit older.  There is a market for him, though.  His value, however, is at its highest point right now.  He’s just now entering arbitration.  Teams who have a need at second base can use him.  The Cubs do not have that need.  They are stocked full of middle infielders, from Starlin Castro to Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, Logan Watkins, and Luis Valbuena, the Cubs have no shortage of middle infield options.  All of whom are younger than Barney.  And all of whom possess greater offensive upside and the potential to continue good defense at second base in the future.  The return for Barney won’t be ground breaking, but it should be a decent prospect, or maybe two if Epstein and Hoyer break out the mask and gun.  Now, though, is the best and most logical time to move him.

4.  Address the rotation

The rotation was surprisingly good last season, throughout the year.  There was a lot of depth that withstood trades, and some players emerged as legitimate long term options.  Travis Wood showed that he is a solid mid to back of the rotation starter.  Jake Arrieta showed that he is still talented and should get a shot going forward.  Edwin Jackson had a rough first year, but with his contract and history, he will be back in the rotation next season, and I would venture to guess he has a better second year with the Cubs.  It is the very top of the rotation and the very bottom that should be addressed.   Jeff Samardzija walked more, stuck out fewer, and allowed more runners to score in 2013 than 2012.  The differences aren’t startling, but they exist.  Could it have been fatigue from the most innings in a season he’s thrown?  Frustration from another near 100 losses?  Displeasure over his contract situation?  A combination of all three?  I don’t have the answer.  What I do have the answer to is Samardzija getting rocked a number of times.  And it happening a number of times at home.  That’s not an ace.  That’s a third in the rotation type pitcher, at best.  I am not sold on Japanese stud Masahiro Tanaka being an answer at the top of the rotation, either.  Too many Japanese pitchers have flamed out because of arm issues.  I understand his stuff is excellent, and he’s still young.   That may make him a nice investment, but not for the $100+ million it’s going to cost.  If the Cubs get him, I’ll hope for the best, but I won’t be at all surprised with the worst.  As far as the back end of the rotation is concerned, bringing back Scott Baker, giving Chris Rusin a shot at a full season, and low cost free agents are all options.

5.  Back-up catcher

I have a tough time with the idea of signing a Brian McCann (because of age and injury every bit as much as his high douche factor).  All things being equal, I would hope the starting catcher market doesn’t treat Dioner Navarro as he would like, and he comes back.  He had a nice year, seemed to have a good relationship with Wellington Castillo, and is a reliable backstop.  Whoever comes in should take a back seat to Castillo, though.  Big money free agent catchers shouldn’t (and probably won’t) be a priority.  If the Cubs can land a guy like Jarrod Saltalamacchia for a decent price, great.  if not, a LH hitting backup will work just fine.

One of the great parts about baseball is how this is going to play out throughout the off-season.  The Cubs are not going to compete for a World Series next season, most likely.  It could, though, bring the first wave of prospects to Wrigley Field.  Javier Baez and Kris Bryant very well could debut with the big league club at some point next summer.  In addition, could be up after being acquired in trades.  It appears that the worst is behind the Cubs in the rebuild.  Much of the “acquire talent at all costs” is over because of the amount of talent in the organization.  The time now is for the build up.  While the Cubs will continue to add pieces and make the team better and organization healthier, this off-season is the beginning of the build up of a contender.  Whether it be adding placeholders for a prospect, adding leadership to help those prospects grow, or the eventual hiring of a new manager, the fruits of two years of painful big league play are beginning to ripen.

Look no further than what’s been going on in Arizona.  Let the off-season begin!

 

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

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

Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cubs Will Be Sellers…But Won’t Empty the Store

I think we’re all sure that there is going to be a sell off at the deadline this season again.  The extent of that sell off is yet to be determined, but in comparison to last year, it will likely be pretty minor.  The reason for that is simple…there is less there for the Cubs to sell.  That’s not to say this team is less talented than last year’s team.  Actually, the opposite is true by a wide margin.  Looking at “the plan,” though, and what the Cubs have on their roster, who is likely to go is pretty limited.

STARTING PITCHING:

NOT GOING ANYWHERE:

Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood

The only player in this group who has any chance of being dealt is Travis Wood.  Jeff Samardzija is a stud who is under team control through 2016.  That type of pitcher is someone you don’t let go of if you’re lacking impact pitching talent in the first place.  Travis Wood has an outside shot of being traded because of his hot start to the season, with nine quality starts in his first ten outings.  He, too, is under team control for a long time.  He won’t hit free agency until 2017.  He is exactly the type of young, cost controlled asset the regime has said to want to keep around.  Dealing him at the deadline would be a huge shock to me, and I don’t see it happening without some type of high end prospect coming back in return.  And because Travis Wood is still only a good 4-5th starter, I can’t see a team willing to cough up that much for him.  Edwin Jackson’s not going anywhere.  He was signed to be a piece for when the Cubs compete.  And he will get ample opportunity to figure out what troubles him.

MAY BE GOING SOMEWHERE:

Matt Garza

He’s only been back for a week, so I think it is entirely too early to tell whether or not he is fully back from his arm/ lat injuries.  And it is too early to tell what kind of value he has.  I know that the Cubs are looking to get back impact prospects for Garza, and if they get the right package of them, he’ll be packing his bags and headed to another city.  It is just too early to tell if any team is going to be willing to ship the Cubs the right package of prospects for a pure rental player, who is due to become a free agent at season’s end.  It would figure to be just as likely that Garza stays in Chicago all season and the Cubs slap a qualifying offer on him.  If that happens, it would be entirely possible that Garza would return to the Cubs after watching Kyle Lohse wait until just before the season to be signed.  There is an outside shot that the Cubs extend him for a contract similar to the one they offered Anibal Sanchez.  He is worth that kind of money when healthy, and if he shows that he is, he’d be worth the investment.

DON’T GET COMFORTABLE:

Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva

Both of these guys are attractive pieces at the deadline.  Neither makes all that much money.  Both can come out of the pen.  Both can give you a good start every five days.  That makes them the two best candidates to be out the door this July.  Feldman was asked about being flipped at his introductory conference call, so none of this should come as news to him.  Villanueva, however, signed a two year deal, so he would likely net a bit more than

Photo: Rob Carr, Getty Images

Photo: Rob Carr, Getty Images

Feldman in a trade, simply for the extra year of inexpensive control.

BULLPEN:

NOT GOING ANYWHERE:

Hector Rondon, Shawn Camp, Kyuji Fujikawa, Carlos Marmol

I know you’re all upset that Marmol is on this list.  I am, too.  He’s not worth a day old hotdog, though.  At the deadline he’ll be due about $5M, and his numbers aren’t going to make that a good investment for a team looking for a quality reliever.  The only way he comes off this list is if he has a turn around like last year and the Cubs eat most (…or all) of his remaining contract.  And he won’t bring back very much in return.  The most likely scenario with him is finishing the season and walking away in free agency.  Shawn Camp is much more likely to be released than traded.  Kyuji Fujikawa has been injured too early to have any chance at being dealt, and Hector Rondon is a Rule 5 player who the front office likes.  That makes all of them mostly untradeable.

MAY BE GOING SOMEWHERE:

James Russell, Kevin Gregg

James Russell has proven to be a valuable commodity in the bullpen the last couple of years, which increases his value immensely, but since he is under team control through 2016, it stands to reason that the team would like to keep a controllable asset like him.  There are good teams looking for left handed relievers who can get guys out on both sides of the plate, though.  And if one of them offers up a good package for James Russell, it would not be outside of the realm of possibility that he gets shipped off for multiple pieces.  Kevin Gregg is having a bit of a resurgence with the Cubs, which makes him attractive.  He’s a cheap piece who could fit into a bullpen and occasionally close for a team looking for that type of player.  He probably wouldn’t net a whole lot, but considering the Cubs were just throwing a line in the water to see what he had, any return would be a nice profit on their low risk investment.

INFIELDERS:

NOT GOING ANYWHERE:

Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Wellington Castillo

Rizzo and Castro both signed long term extensions.  Those are obvious.  Castillo is a talented young catcher who is going to get every opportunity to win this spot long term.

MAY  BE GOING SOMEWHERE:

Darwin Barney, Luis Valbuena, Cody Ransom, Dioner Navarro

The most attractive piece in this group is obviously Darwin Barney.  His glove makes him an attractive trade piece for someone looking for a really good utility infielder.  Remember, he came up as a short stop and played some third base when he was initially called up.  If his bat keeps coming along, he could be a really good long term starter at second base for a contending team with a shortage in that spot.  He’s 27, so the Cubs may not see him as a long term piece of the core group of players.  He is under team control until 2017, though.  And if he continues to make progress with the bat, he is every bit the kind of player you want at 2B on a contending Cubs team.  Luis Valbuena and Cody Ransom both offer the same kind of value for a team that Jeff Baker added last year.  They are both utility players who can swing the bat some.  They may not bring a lot in return, but that probably wouldn’t stop the front office from sending them away for some intriguing young players.

OUTFIELD:

MAY BE GOING SOMEWHERE:

Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz, Scott Hairston, Ryan Sweeney

The safest bet for any of the outfielders to go anywhere is David DeJesus.  A veteran, left handed hitter who can take pitches and work counts  while offering solid defense at all three outfield positions is always in demand.  If the price is right, DDJ is out the door.  It’s just not clear what his value is.  It can’t be too much higher than it was last year, and he wasn’t traded then.  I sense that he would have been traded last year if there was a market for him, which gives me some reason to think he’s not the slam dunk to be traded that some are calling him.  Soriano is going to be shopped aggressively, and if the Cubs find a team willing to package some good pieces together and Soriano is willing to waive his no trade rights, he likely goes at the deadline.  There is too much uncertainty with Soriano, though.  He’s picky.  And he has that right.  If the Cubs get a call about the other three players, I am sure they will listen, and if they can get a prospect of two that they like, there is almost no chance they refuse.

None of this is to say that the Cubs will stand pat at the deadline.  It just isn’t clear who will or will not be going anywhere.  There are not the sure things this season, like Ryan Dempster last season.  There are attractive pieces on this team for others to look at, but none of them are necessarily special.  Matt Garza would net the most in return, theoretically, but if Jed and Theo don’t get a package they like, it is hard to believe they will trade him for the sake of trading him.  That actually applies to pretty much everybody on the roster short of Feldman.  He is a true rental, even for the Cubs, so if they can squeeze a prospect out for him, they probably wouldn’t hesitate to do so.  They may be a little more choosey with Villanueva only because they have him next season, too, and if they plan on being in the hunt next year, he’s a nice piece to have.  Or, if we’re looking at another cold assessment that leads to selling, he has value then, too.

Expect some movement from the Cubs.  Just don’t expect them to send away everything not nailed down like last year.  This is year two.  It’s time to start hanging on to some of the talent.

Early Season Thoughts

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.

Errors In Judgement

There is no denying that it’s been tough to watch at times in the early going.  The errors, the lack of hitting with runners in scoring position, the lack of patience at the plate, the base running blunders…it’s all been quite frustrating.  There is a bright side, though.  It can’t get any worse.

In my Central Division Preview, I called the Cubs an 80 win team.  I made my predictions, intentionally early, based on the on-paper roster.  It actually looks pretty good right now.  *Hold on, meatball…before you call me a moron and tell me to watch the games, you’re right.*  But hear me out.  The Cubs are losing games, which is to say they are not being beaten by the other teams, but by themselves.  We can agree they played well enough to win one against the Braves, two more than they did against the Giants, and probably the first two of this series against the Brewers without the mistakes which have cost them early.  There are five wins in there the Cubs don’t have, that they could have.  And really, if they win two or three of those five games, nobody’s saying anything about the errors or struggles with runners in scoring position because an 8-8 or a 7-9 record would be acceptable based on what we were expecting this season.

More silver lining:  the mistakes are inexcusable.  They are not, however, uncorrectable.  Change can happen with the defense, especially when the vast majority are effort mistakes.  Anthony Rizzo is a very good defensive first baseman, and has made two uncharacteristic plays in the last two nights.  Both of them were because he was trying to rush.  Friday, on a play against a speedy Nori Aoki, and last night trying to get an out and throw home on a play he wasn’t going to make.  Ultimately, the play last night didn’t matter.  Sure, he bobbled the ball, but they still got the out at first base, and he wasn’t going to hold Logan Schafer at third anyway.  That’s a “no harm, no foul” play.  The misplay was not relevant to the outcome of the play.  Starlin Castro is our favorite whipping boy, and it probably has a lot to do with his off the charts talent.  His issues have not been concentration related, either as much as they’re publicized as.  Say what you will about an error with the pitcher running, but that was a physical mistake, not taking his time and making the play.  Stop with the garbage “you have to be aware of who’s running” stuff.  Last night was no different.  Actually, it was the same play.  Two outs, and making the play ends the innings and ends the scoring threat.

Photo: Jeffrey Phelps/ AP

Photo: Jeffrey Phelps/ AP

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t be disappointed or frustrated or cover our eyes while we watch yet another defeat being snatched out of the jaws of victory.  At the end of the day, though, who cares?  The front office, and Theo Epstein, in particular make no qualms about “playoffs or protected pick.”  He said that they’re going to take the “cold assessment” in the middle of the season.  There is no valor in winning 78 vs 73.  He’s absolutely right, too.  Hell, I’ll take it a step further.  When you watch the game today, look across the field at the other dugout.  They won 83 last season.  Our guys got 61.  Everybody finished on the same day.  Their fans get to talk about the magical “winning season” and we get mocked for “101 losses.”  But in June, the Cubs get a prize.  They get Mark Appel or Jonathan Gray.  They get a chance at a college arm who can be teamed with Jeff Samardzija for years to come.  The Brewers coughed up a first round pick for three years of Kyle Lohse, and with it, stay stuck in mediocrity.  They can have their 75-84 wins each year.  If the Cubs go down with another 100+ losses this season, that’s alright. *Cue Meatball fan throwing closing the browser window…NOW*  It’s not like tthe Cubs have had a difficult time attracting free agents.  Edwin Jackson was one of the prizes of last winter’s class, and he came.

The Cubs are in the midst of culture change.  A welcome one.  Look across the field at the Brewers, again.  Now think back to 2011 and what the Cubs were.  In 2011, the Cubs didn’t have anybody but Starlin Castro who would actually be improving over the course of the next 4-5 years.  Everyone on the roster was either in or past their prime.  They won 71 games.  It was miserable.  It was worse than we have now because it was hopeless.  We wanted to think adding Carlos Pena and trading the farm for Matt Garza would be enough to have another magical winning season.  We hoped Carlos Zambrano wouldn’t be a complete headcase, and with him, Garza, and Ryan Dempster, there would be a rotation worth running out each day.  We had Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall setting up for Carlos Marmol, which turned out to be a decent pen when the Cubs actually led.  Aramis Ramirez was still at third and it didn’t look like an endless abyss of suck.  The reality of that team, though, is that the only player who played any considerable amount of time with any potential to grow was Starlin Castro.  *Meatball, if you’re still with me,  I’m talking to you again…yes, Starlin is getting better.  No, we shouldn’t trade him unless we get a lot in return, and yes, his defense is above league average.*  Now, look at the Brewers.  Lucroy is pretty good, but at 26 is probably not going to get much better, if at all.  Ryan Braun is in the twilight of his 20s, and is in his prime.  Jean Segura is a young and talented player who will improve.  But apart from that, who else is there?  Their minor league organization is bare, and Aramis Ramirez is two years older than the past his prime Rami we saw a couple of years ago.  Corey Hart can’t stay healthy, and is starting to get to the point of decline.  Rickie Weeks is a laughable shell of his former self.  It all looks very familiar to our situation a couple of years ago.

The point of all of this is that, like Wrigley Field, the product on the field was a real mess a couple of years ago.  That’s why Jim Hendry was fired, that’s why Theo Epstein was given the reigns, and that’s why we are where we are.  It needed to be done.  Like any massive renovation, some things are going to be broken down, some things are going to be ugly and tough to handle, but in the end, the foundation will be stronger and the finished product will look better.  If you take anything from this series, take it as progress.  Two short years ago, the Cubs may have won some games because a less talented team made some silly mistakes against a team of aging veterans who weren’t going to be better than 71 wins, but wouldn’t beat themselves as often.  Honestly, I would rather the Cubs throw the ball around the diamond and beat themselves than get run day after day.  That’s not happening.  What is happening is a young team learning to play together, and learning to win together.  It’s hard to watch.  It may result in being swept out of Milwaukee.

We knew what 2013 was coming in.  It still is.  A bridge to next year.

The 2013 Spring Wind Down

This is going to be short and sweet because Spring Training is like “Who’s Line Is It, Anyway.”  The stats, scores, and results don’t actually mean anything.

This year’s version of Spring Training turned out to be more interesting than it needed to be because of the injuries and the whole 101 losses last season thing lingering around the fan base.  Which is stupid.  This is a different team.  A better team.  And last season’s 101 losses were stipulated to when anything of value was sold for parts at the end of July.

On to the recap:

  • Ian Stewart tapped out of the only actual battle for camp by straining his groin.  That really only pushes it back into the regular season when he returns from the DL and rehab stint.  Like the front office, I remain sold on it being too early to give up on him.  Not after what it cost to get him to Chicago.
  • Matt Garza’s lat is a pesky bugger, and lingered around, too.  I am all for the cautious approach the team is taking with him, though.  However, this injury seems to put the nail in the “trade Garza” coffin.  I would be somewhat surprised at anything but an extension somewhere in the same ballpark as Edwin Jackson’s contract.
  • Keith Law (@keithlaw) had the following to say about Brett Jackson’s make up on Twitter this evening: “Never heard a bad word about him, going back to college/Cape.”  Brett Jackson seems genuinely possessed with not being a Felix Pie reincarnate.  I think we all appreciate that.
  • David DeJesus won the bunt tournament.
  • Jorge Soler and Javier Baez were fun to watch.  They both look like they will be in the big leagues someday.  Neither of them is ready…not even close.  But it was fun to watch some of the power displays they put on.

Again, this is short and sweet.  There isn’t a lot to say about Spring Training because nothing of real consequence happens there.  Last year, Ryan Dempster got beat up a little bit in spring.  He was just fine come April.  The point is, every body relax.  The stuff that counts is on Monday.

2013 Positional Preview: The Rotation

The positional previews return after a bit of a delay, but some clarification as to how the starting rotation is going to stack up when the Cubs break camp and head north.

Photo: Jesse Rogers, ESPN

Photo: Jesse Rogers, ESPN

While this preview is going to be the rotation as a whole, when injuries are settled, the start of the season, with the injury to Matt Garza and the delayed return of Scott Baker, is going to show off whatever depth the front office was able to assemble this winter.  Between a challenging schedule and the rotation not being at full strength to start the season, there is some real likelihood that this is going to be the rotation until the end of July, and no longer…

1. Jeff Samardzija

This differs from the division preview only in the manner that Jeff is taking the ball on Opening Day.  As hard as he’s worked, he’s earned the opportunity to start in Garza’s absence.  This season figures to be a step forward for “Shark,” after posting some solid numbers in his first season in the rotation and improving as the season wore on.  The most impressive improvement came in the walks department, issuing 56 free passes in 174.2 innings last season after walking 50 in 88 innings in 2011.  Samardzija has all of the tools to be an ace caliber pitcher and this season is going to be the first step toward that.

2. Matt Garza

Look, I know he’s starting on the DL.  I also know he might be back for a couple of months, then packing his bags for good.  I also know he is going to be a vital starter for the team when he gets back.  He’ll either display that he is healthy and the team will trade him for pieces for the future, or he will show that he is worthy of the extension that has been talked about since he got to Chicago.  This is a big year for Garza professionally, and I would expect that he shows it.  I love the guy and think he would be worth a deal similar to the one Edwin Jackson signed…but that’s not up to me.

3. Edwin Jackson

Photo: WGN

Photo: WGN

The aforementioned Jackson signed a 4 yr/ $52M deal this winter, which finally gave him some stability.  He’s been with five teams over the last three seasons, but he’s seemingly always been around winning teams.  His numbers aren’t jaw dropping, but he eats innings, and doesn’t walk very many.  At the tail end of his deal, the Cubs expect to be a contender, and are hoping he’s in the back of the rotation.  They also hope that some piece of mind about where he’s going to be and some stability in coaching and messaging helps improve his numbers.  He was a top prospect coming through the minor leagues, but his career has never quite matched that potential.  He’s been around for a long time, but is still young enough that he may improve some, yet.  It seems, though, that with Jackson, what you see is what you’re going to get.

4. Scott Feldman

Feldman, like Scott Baker is on  a one year contract to prove that he can be an effective starter.  His numbers make you cringe a little bit, but the man was pitching in Texas, where ERAs go to die.  His career has been spent swinging back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation, and again, here, with some certainty that he will be taking the ball every fifth day may help him pitch better.  He’s out to prove that he can be a major league starter, so I would expect him to come to work everyday because he’s going to be a free agent again next winter.

5. Travis Wood

Travis Wood is likely going to be the one sent to Iowa when Scott Baker returns.  The reality is, Wood is young and has minor league options remaining, so he’ll be the one to go.  That being said, Wood was solid at times last season for the Cubs, and showed some real growth in his first season after coming over from the Reds.  His future, either as a back end starting pitcher or a long reliever in the ‘pen, seems to be pretty bright at the moment.

**UPDATE**
As a reader was kind enough to point out, Travis Wood is out of options.  Thinking he had one more is a fine illustration of my ability to count.  That said, it doesn’t change that he is likely the odd man out of the rotation when Baker joins the club.  He will then probably join the cluster of pitchers in the bullpen. **

Other Contributors: Scott Baker, Carlos Villanueva

There is no doubt that Scott Baker will be in the rotation when he returns to the team in May.  The cautious approach to bringing him back from Tommy John surgery is being applied, and while Baker made it clear at the Cubs Convention that he feels good and is ready to go, the team is making sure he is 100% when he returns.  I can’t say I blame them.  That’s probably a wise move for a guy who is going to be trade bait at the deadline.  Carlos Villanueva is on a two year deal, and will be mostly used as a long man out of the bullpen, but he’s a very good spot starter.  He’s a guy who can be leaned on for a start without massacring the bullpen, which is an asset that nearly every team would love to have.