As the deadline approaches, the Cubs are in a full court press, trying to make moves to improve the overall talent level of the organization. The good news is, they are actually well positioned to add one or more core pieces to the roster. While it will probably take more than one of the Cubs’ chips to get a piece that would be significant enough to add to the big league roster right away, the Cubs do have Matt Garza, who can fetch a player who has upside and is Major League ready.
There are some destinations where Matt Garza could turn into a piece who is part of the team that Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and presumably, Dale Sveum are looking to push into the playoffs. And those teams could all use a player like Garza to make a push in the second half of this season. While it remains to be seen what happens, Garza is the player who will net the biggest reward, and it is he who should be watched the closest as the next month unfolds.
Last year, it was reported that the Rangers were in on Matt Garza before being scared off by his medicals and settling on a deal for Ryan Dempster. They were also the team that took Geovany Soto and sent Barret Loux when Jacob Brigham had a medical issue. The point is, the Cubs and Rangers are no strangers to making deals, and the magic could be rekindled this year.
3B Mike Olt: It is only a guess that Olt was the piece the Cubs were in on when trying to move Garza to Texas last summer. He has the potential to be a nice core piece, especially if Kris Bryant has to move off the hot corner. Keith Law rates him as a plus defender. He probably won’t hit for a huge average, but he’ll get on base with his fair share of walks (12.4 walk rate at AAA this season). He also has the power to hit the ball out. The consensus is that all he needs is at-bats, and if he were to come to Chicago this season, there is no good reason why he couldn’t get his share of them immediately.
The Cubs have been rumored to be discussing a Matt Garza trade to the Padres. A deal here would make some sense, considering Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod came to the Cubs from San Diego. Familiarity can breed success, so being familiar with the players as deeply as the front office knows these players make the likelihood of a successful trade a little greater.
2B/3B Jedd Gyorko: One thing the Cubs have done successfully is add big bats who will hit for a ton of power. Gyorko isn’t one of those guys. While he is playing second for the Padres this season, he is a natural third baseman, who will hit for good average, but will not put up gaudy power numbers. He has a .284/.341/.461 so far this season, to go with eight long balls and 25 driven in while playing at a park and in a division that is not conducive to big time hitting numbers. Coming to the more hitter friendly NL Central could really help his offensive game blossom, while giving the Cubs a good hitting third baseman to compliment the power that is already in the organization.
The Dodgers are eight under .500. They are also only a mere seven games out of first place. You know they’re not afraid to spend money and to take on as many good players as they can. Anything short of the playoffs would be a disaster for the Dodgers and their obscene payroll. And, after having too much starting pitching as the season started, are now in a position where another arm couldn’t hurt.
RHP Zach Lee: While Lee is not ready for “The Show,” he is an athletic pitcher who has some solid middle of the rotation potential. At the AA level, he would be the most developed Cubs’ prospect who is pitching this season. It would be a surprise if he were the only piece coming back in return for Garza, but he would be a strong centerpiece if the Dodgers were so inclined to try to bring Garza out west.
The Indians haven’t been good recently, but are in the hunt this season. They also have terrible pitching. This is a match made in heaven.
RHP Trevor Bauer: He is pitching much better in the early going in his Indians career after being traded from Arizona last off-season. He would be a heavy price to pay for half of a season of Matt Garza. Veteran pitching with his playoff experience is hard to come by, though. While this is the least likely of any scenario, there is no denying the mid to upper 90s fastball to go with a very good curve ball. Pairing the 22 year old Bauer up with Jeff Samardzija at the front end of the Cubs’ rotation for years would make for a solid 1-2 punch.
The last destination for Garza is one where he doesn’t actually leave. He’s had some injury issues the last couple of seasons, but throughout his career, he’s been durable, he’s been tested, and he’s had success as a player who’s gone to the World Series with the Rays. Extending him for a contract similar to the one the Cubs dangled to Anibal Sanchez would be a good move, especially if the Cubs don’t get a deal they like at the deadline.
The final player installment of the positional previews is the group who will see the most change throughout this season. In reality, that’s the case for just about every team, every season.
This season figures to be extra interesting for the Cubs in the bullpen. The addition of Kyuji Fujikawa from Japan as a potential (and likely) closer when Carlos Marmol departs the organization, either via trade or the expiration of his contract after the season lends some stability to the the back end, and the addition of Carlos Villanueva gives the Cubs the long reliever they’ve been without since Tom Gorzelanny packed his bags. Indeed, this will be the group with the most turnover of any on the team.
Closer: Carlos Marmol
For now. In spite of being only 30 and coming off of an impressive rebound in the second half of last season, Marmol is the most talked about trade piece this side of Alfonso Soriano. The fact that he did have a strong second half, is 30, and is in the last year of a deal with Cubs would be willing to pay almost all of make him a valuable piece for any contending team (*cough cough* Tigers) that needs a proven back end. I am of the opinion that Brian Wilson makes more sense for the Tigers than Marmol because he will be inexpensive and won’t cost prospects, but it seems as though Detroit is looking at all available options, including Marmol. That said, however long he’s around, he should be fine. Sure, he’s an adventure. He’ll put some on and he’ll make it interesting. But he slammed the door quite a bit last year. Another year of Chris Bosio would probably do him some good, but I don’t see Marmol being back under any circumstances next season if he finishes this season in Chicago. I see him becoming “controllable assets” before too long. This spot is definitely one that is not set…
Set-Up: Kyuji Fujikawa
This is the guy who will likely be the closer if/ when Marmol is sent out. The 32 year old “rookie” from Japan is coming over on a two year deal and was an excellent closer before coming over the states. The thing that worries me about “KJ” is that Japanese closers haven’t exactly been common…or good. In Japan, though, Fujikawa was uncommonly good. His ERA broke 2.00 only one time, a 2.01 ERA in 2010, and his 202 career saves lend him some credibility to finish games. He’s entering a new level of competition, and he very well could struggle like many of the Japanese pitchers before him. If he can be the exception to what has been the norm, however, everything should be fine for the short term.
Middle Relief: Shawn Camp, James Russell, Hector Rondon , Jaye Chapman, Michael Bowden (and a host of others throughout the season)
The two major pieces to this puzzle are Camp and Russell. Both of those guys were fixtures just about every day last season. And they were each pretty good. Russell appeared in 77 games with a strong 3.25 ERA. After being used in a variety of situations in 2011 and struggling before settling into the bullpen, 2012 was spent entirely in the bullpen, and Russell showed that he is an effective lefty, and can pitch effectively to both left and right handed hitters. He’s shown his value and as everyday asset much like Shawn Camp, who might be the oldest guy in the organization. At 37, Camp was another everyday fixture in the bullpen and led the league with 80 appearances. He was surprisingly effective in a set-up role with Russell, but struggled when he became the closer in Marmol’s absence. For a guy who signed a minor league deal during camp last season, Shawn Camp turned into one of the most valuable players on the roster. This season, he will probably not get the same use, and may improve the effectiveness of his aging arm. The last player of note is Rule 5 selection, Hector Rondon, who needs to be on the active roster for 90 days. The difference between Lendy Castillo from last season and Rondon is that Rondon has pitched at AAA, which is something Castillo had never done. Rondon has had arm issues, and if he’s past them, he could turn into a pleasant surprise, and may not spend months and months on the DL with Rule-5itis.
Long Relief: Carlos Villanueva
Even though, Villanueva will start the season in the rotation, this is going to be his role going forward. He’s well suited for it, too. Coming over from Toronto, he was looking for a chance to start, but it will probably not come
to fruition for him without some injury and trade subtractions from the rotation. And that’s alright. His numbers won’t blow anyone away, but he can make a start in a pinch and go 5-6 innings, or come in early in a game and save the bullpen from being spent. This is an often overlooked role and an unglamorous position for just about any pitcher to be in. He doesn’t get his name on the scroll on ESPN as the probable starter, nor does he get his name on it for the save. But this is a vital role because it allows the other players in the ‘pen to stay in their roles. As far as long relief pitching goes, there aren’t many who are better than Villanueva, even if he does look himself in the mirror and call himself a starting pitcher.
Other Names to Watch: Arodys Vizcaino, Trey McNutt, Robert Whitenack, Barret Loux, Hisanori Takahashi, Nick Struck
Vizcaino is probably the most well-known of these players, coming over from the Braves at the deadline last season. He could find his way into the bullpen to pick up some major league innings this season to get experience, especially if the Cubs fall out of it. McNutt seems to be throwing as well as he has in a few years, but now seems destined to have a bullpen role, and may make his way to Chicago this season. Loux is who ultimately came for Geovany Soto after Jacob Brigham was found to have had arm issues, and is in camp as a non-roster player. He seems to be a better prospect than Brigham, and is closer to the majors, so it seems like the Cubs won in the end on that deal. Takahashi and Struck are both in camp as non-roster players, as well, and could wind up in the bullpen at some point this season as well. As I mentioned at the outset, this is where there is the most flux during a season. This season should be no different.
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.
In the last inning of the last game required to break the consecutive errorless games streak by a second baseman, Darwin Barney committed an error. A throwing error, his third of the season. His first error since April. In spite of all of that, I still think Reds’ 2B Brandon Phillips is the favorite to win the Gold Glove this season. These awards seem to be given based on reputation, and it is no secret that offensive production plays into the defensive award, as well. None of this is to say that I don’t want Darwin to win the award. He absolutely should. It would be brutal for anyone but him to win after going over five months between errors, and the one he makes is on an insanely tough play. Anybody that has seen the play knows that would not have been an error if it did not allow to cause a run to score. We’ll see how it turns out.
After last night, the Cubs have gone 0-17 in road games against the NL West. It is unfortunate that the team didn’t have a western swing in July, when they played well before the deadline. They have two more opportunities to win a game out west this weekend, finishing the series against the D-Backs. Should they fail to get a win, they will lose their 100th game, and have the first 100 loss season since 1966.
After all of the fuss about what Jed Hoyer said this week about having financial flexibility, it is important for Cubs’ fans to know that they can put away their anticipatory Josh Hamilton jerseys. There will not be a major signing this off-season. When you look at everything that the front office has said over the course of the last year, there is no reason to believe that they are going to pony up the cash for a big time free agent when they have said it is their goal to build from drafting and developing good players. The goal is to have a strong organization from top to bottom, and we saw that over the course of the last few months. Trading Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto, and Reed Johnson were all products of building a strong organization. When you combine those statements with Theo Epstein saying he made mistakes in his approach toward the end of his tenure in Boston, there is no reason to believe there are going to be any nine figure deals getting tossed around this off-season. It will be another in the process of building for future success. At this point, the actual baseball season is a formality. Games, at least in the north side of Chicago, won’t be all that significant for the next two to three years.
So…that was an eventful few days. To sum it up, Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto, and Reed Johnson are out. Arodys Vizcaino, Jaye Chapman, Jacob Brigham, Christian Villanueva, and Kyle Hendricks are in the system to replace them. The major league roster picked up Casey Coleman, Adrien Cardenas, and Wellington Castillo for last night’s one hitter from AJ Burnett. Today’s game brings back Chris Volstad and Alberto Cabrera from Iowa, and sees Coleman headed back to Iowa. Got all that? No? Don’t blame you…here it is more simply stated:
OUT BEFORE 7/31 vs. Pirates: RHP Ryan Dempster, LHP Paul Maholm, C Geovany Soto, OF Reed Johnson
IN FOR 7/31 vs. Pirates: RHP Casey Coleman, C Wellington Castillo, IF Adrien Cardenas (Roster stands at 24)
OUT BEFORE 8/1 vs. Pirates: RHP Casey Coleman
IN FOR 8/1 vs. Pirates: RHP Chris Volstad, RHP Alberto Cabrera (Roster at full 25 man limit)
Now that we sorted out all of the roster formalities, onto the fun part of talking about who the Cubs added at the deadline! Baseball America rated the Cubs’ farm system 14th this past May. That was quite a bit better than I expected to it to be because of how many pieces have been shipped out for parts the last few years. That system became weaker by default when 1B Anthony Rizzo was called up to play every day. At this point, he is no longer a “prospect” so much as he is a “rookie.” Considering what is going on with the Riz-kid at the big league level, it is difficult to believe that he is going to be sent back to Iowa any time soon. This week, though, the system got an infusion of talent. Two Top 100 prospects from Baseball America were added to the system; RHP Arodys Vizcaino and 3B Christian Villanueva. In addition, Kyle Hendricks and Jaye Chapman have some upside, and both project to be major league pitchers. Jacob Brigham has major league potential depending on what source you ask. He can range from a system arm who is perpetually stuck in the minors to a guy who can contribute as a middle reliever. Regardless, he is more than what anyone should have expected for Geovany Soto. ESPN’s Keith Law says Arodys Vizcaino is the best prospect dealt at the deadline. Others say Jacob Turner in the Marlins/ Tigers deal and others still say Jean Segura in the trade sending Zack Greinke from Milwaukee to the Angels. Scouting is a very subjective topic, and Law clearly values the pure stuff and command that Vizcaino can bring to the mound. Others may disagree with Vizcaino being the best, but it is unanimous that all three are very good.
The new prospects rank within the system (Place in Top 100), according to MLB.com
#3 Arodys Vizcaino (40)
#6 Christian Villanueva (100)
#17 Kyle Hendricks
The other two fall outside of the top 20 in the organization. Jaye Chapman may find his way to Chicago this season, while Brigham may take until next year before he gets to Iowa and subsequently, to Chicago.
3:10 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.
Since the arrival of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, there has been a significant changing of the guard, which started with the trade to acquire 3B Ian Stewart for OF Tyler Colvin and IF DJ LeMahieu. Last night, the Cubs sent three of their veteran players packing, all of whom were rumored to be on the move. Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson are headed to Atlanta, and Geovany Soto is headed to Texas. For those players the rumors end. For the rest, there are still about 13 1/2 hours of uncertainty remaining until the deadline.
Veteran players are always going to be on notice when a team is trying to rebuild for the future. Ian Stewart was acquired to be a piece to replace the departed Aramis Ramirez, who went to the Brewers as a free agent. Rumors are a part of the deal that comes with any kind of rebuilding process. Stewart had not had his best season in Colorado in 2011. Colvin had been counted on to take over in right field for the Cubs after a strong rookie campaign, in which he hit 20 home runs. The “change of scenery” swap had been rumored for quite a while before the trade actually happened. When I asked Ian on Twitter (@IAN_STEWART_2sc … great guy, very fan friendly, I highly recommend following him) what the rumors were like, he was candid, saying he “hated it.” And that he “love(ed) it there [in CO].” What it all boils down to is, it is difficult to understand what it is like to be traded or to be the subject of trade rumors because very few of us will ever be professional athletes.
The trade deadline and off-season “hot stove” bring a lot of excitement to media and to fans. There is another side of it, though. Players with families are forced to pick up and move on short notice. Focusing on Ian Stewart in this piece was easy. First, he’s accessible on twitter, in one of his late night Q&A sessions. Second, he is one of the younger parts brought in for the changing of the guard, and was subjected to rumors about being traded to the Cubs for quite a while before the trade actually happened.
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.
The Cubs have made two separate trades this evening. They are:
Cubs Get: RHP Jacob Brigham (AA)
Rangers Get: C Geovany Soto, Cash Considerations
Analysis: Brigham is regarded to be more than what the Cubs should have expected to get back for Soto. The price may have been driven by multiple teams vying for Soto at one time and the Cubs throwing in a little extra money. As it is, Brigham is a 24 year old pitcher, who is 5-5 with a 4.28 ERA in the Texas League. His overall record at AA is 11-11 in parts of two seasons. This season, he has made 21 starts and 124.0 IP. He strikes out 2.52 for batters for every one he walks, but he does have a wild streak in him, uncorking 23 wild pitches since joining the Double A Frisco Rough Riders. If he can get his wildness under control, he may be able to pitch in the major leagues, but I wouldn’t expect him to be much more than a long reliever and spot starter down the road. At this point, I would not expect him to be much more than a “system arm” who may eventually accrue some time in the majors.
***Deal Still Pending Approval Because of the Inclusion of Cash from the Cubs***
Cubs Get: RHP Arodys Vizcaino, RHP Jaye Chapman
Braves Get: LHP Paul Maholm, OF Reed Johnson, Cash Considerations
Analysis: Jaye Chapman is 3-6 with a 3.52 ERA in AAA Gwinnett this season as a relief pitcher. He has 60 strike outs and 29 walks this season, finishing 20 games for the Gwinnett Braves. He is considered to be a throw in player in this trade because the big acquisition here is Arodys Vizcaino, who came into 2012 rated the #2 prospect in the Braves system, and the 40th overall prospect in baseball. He will miss all of the 2012 season after under-going Tommy John Surgery in Spring Training, but he is expected to be available for next spring. He has had durability issues that may end up making him a short reliever, but he has good command of three above average pitches, a fastball in the low- mid 90s, a curveball, and a change-up. If his injury issues become a thing of the past, he has the potential to be a #2 starter at the major league level. If not, his powerful stuff and good command could make him a valuable reliever, potentially a closer. This is a very worthwhile trade for the Cubs. Maholm was in Chicago on a one year deal with an affordable option for next season. If Vizcaino pans out, he could have been an absolute steal for the North Siders. While much remains to be seen with his health, the upside for a pitcher the Braves labeled “untouchable” last season was just too much to pass up at this stage in the building process.
For a team with less than stellar expectations, it is awfully difficult to grade the Cubs’ first half performance. If I were to judge by record alone, it would almost certainly be a D, or lower. However, since the Cubs weren’t expected to be very good this season as they rebuild and since the team hasn’t been as consistently bad as it appears, this grade is going to be issued on a curve. The criteria are offensive output, defensive output, improvement, consistency, and overall performance. Whether those criteria are fair or not is for you to decide…
Starting Pitching: B-
The starting pitching has actually been better than expected, with Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza having strong seasons. Both pitchers have lived up to their billing as the top two starters in the rotation, and that has made them both viable candidates to be traded before the trade deadline three weeks from today. Jeff Samardzija has been up and down, having both very good and very bad outings in his first seasons as a starter. Paul Maholm has been in the same boat, being both good and bad in the first half of the season. Chris Volstad and Randy Wells have been atrocious and have earned their demotions to Iowa. Travis Wood, however, has been strong since his arrival, earning the fifth starting role. This grade would be much higher if not for Wells and Volstad’s inability to throw good strikes, and the overall team record would be likely to have followed suit.
This was going to be an F, until the recent surge of Carlos Marmol, with Shawn Camp and James Russell falling into more comfortable roles. The absolute incompetence of the bullpen to throw quality strikes and the number of walks has led to a huge number of blown saves, missed opportunities to win games, and crumbling in late situations has made this season one of the most dismal in the history of the organization. While all of the blame cannot fall squarely on the shoulders of the bullpen, and the retirement of Kerry Wood was certainly unexpected, the bullpen has been a major contributor to the 33-52 record.
Position Play: C-
Ultimately, this grade is based much on injuries to all three of the top three catchers in the organization. It could have been far worse without the reacquisition of Koyie Hill, but the lack of offense out of the position is disappointing, since all three of the expected contributors at catcher for the major league team were injured and on the disabled list at one time. Throwing out base-stealers has also not been a strength, which makes it much more difficult on the pitchers, although those same pitchers have been partly to blame. Defensively, there have been some positives to keep an eye on as passed balls have been few and far between. Overall, however, the catchers have to give more at the plate, and must continue to improve on their first half performance.
First Base: B
We learned something about Bryan LaHair this spring. He can hit in the majors. And he was better than serviceable at first base. He went through a long drought, though, which prompted a long losing streak. It It is not fair to place all of the blame of Bryan’s shoulders, and that is why the position garners a B, overall. He was very good in his time there. Anthony Rizzo has been excellent in his 12 games at first base, and he could be a catalyst to see the end of season mark improve. He just has not been around long enough to cause great change in the grade. Jeff Baker has started more games at first than Rizzo, which is another reason this is only a B. Between LaHair and Baker, there has been absolutely no production against left handed pitching at this position, which doesn’t help the sorry record against left handed pitching, and that hurts the overall mark.
Second Base: B-
My man crush on Darwin Barney is based almost solely on his defense, which has been nothing short of outstanding. He is having a Gold Glove worthy season at second, with only two errors on the season thus far. Offensively, he has been Darwin Barney. He is a slap hitter that can find a gap, get a solid single, and he will do the right things on the bases. You know what to expect everyday from Darwin Barney, which is a good smart game that will not cost the team with mental errors and a full out physical effort.
Third Base: C
The hot corner has lost its pop with the departure of Aramis Ramirez. The addition of Ian Stewart was supposed to protect from a total collapse of that production, but a wrist injury which was operated on today ended his season without the production to ease the loss of Ramirez. Luis Valbuena gives very good at bats and hits the ball hard, but is not the defender that Stewart is. Both played very hard, but only Stewart excelled in any one area, and that was defensively. There has been too much inconsistency offensively to mark this position any higher than a C. At this point, there is uncertainty in that position because neither Stewart or Valbuena instill confidence at this point. Maybe Stewart will be able to regain his hitting stroke when he returns, likely next season, if at all. However, for the time being, the hot corner has been nothing more than luke warm.
Short Stop: B+
It probably isn’t fair to not give the only player to play in every game, starting all but one, less than an A when he was expected to carry this 2012 team and has done his best to do so. However, a slow start on defense, and a slump at the plate to end the first half bring Starlin Castro into the B+ range of the spectrum. 2012 has shown us nothing but more positive in the still only 22 year old Castro, who, while making mental errors common from only young players, has shown an ability to work hard and improve each day, both at the dish and in the field. His defense is much better under the guidance of Dale Sveum and since Rudy Jaramillo was replaced as the hitting coach, the walks have started to come a little less infrequently. Castro stands to get a 4.o GPA as a baseball player as he matures and reaches his prime. Now, however, he is “only” a B+…with a lot more improvement that can be made in his game.
Even though Alfonso Soriano has been on a tear since May 15, the rest of the outfield has been pretty quiet. It is very difficult to grade this group with the additions and subtractions of players all season. Joe Mather, Tony Campana, Marlon Byrd, Reed Johnson, Bryan LaHair, and Jeff Baker have all been in and out of the line up with Soriano and David DeJesus, which has hurt the consistent play of the group, and brought the grade down. The defense has been much less of an adventure out there, with Soriano showing major improvement at the behest of Dave McKay. The defense has been nothing better than average, though, and the offense has not been anything to perk up over. Soriano brings this group to above average with his offensive numbers over the last two months, but just barely.
Reed Johnson has been an excellent pinch hitter, leading the league in pinch hits over the first half of the season. It is not, however, a cure all for what has been a hit and miss bench. Tony Campana, Joe Mather, and Jeff Baker have all been up and down. This group does not provide any punch off the bench, which makes it very difficult to come back or extend leads late in games. What this group does bring, though, is defense. They are all average, or above average, defenders at multiple positions.
Managing/ Coaching: B
It has been a rough season, and much of the coaching is done behind the scenes. For a team that has been around 20 games under .500 since the end of May, though, to compete and hustle everyday is a sign of strong coaching and leadership from the guys that aren’t playing everyday. Dale Sveum has assembled a good staff of teachers that are not resting on the laurels of a lost season. That makes them a good staff. There have been growing pains that come with any new manager and coaching staff, though, and that keeps them from being excellent. The potential of this group is very high because they all appear to be good, knowledgeable baseball men. If they stay together, there could be some grade A work in their future.
Team Grade: D+
You can’t go on a 9-4 run to end the first half of the season to get to only 19 games under .500 and expect to be better than a D+. It just cannot happen. If there were any expectations for this team at all, the first half would have been a clear failure, but in their absence, this team gets the benefit of the doubt. There have been bright spots, without question, with two All-Stars, each elected by the players, for the first time since 2008. As players like Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Jeff Samardzija continue to grow, there is some reason for optimism, but at the moment, this is a team that is tough to watch day in and day out. The Cubs get a D+ so far in 2012, and if they finish with a mark that has fewer than three figures in the loss column, that grade probably rises to a C at season’s end.