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!
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.
3:21 PM: It is confirmed that the Cubs have gotten Villanueva, who Baseball America rated in the Top 100 before 2012, and Hendricks, who has great numbers at high A this season.
3:16 PM: Sources are saying that the Cubs have acquired 3B Christian Villanueva and RHP Kyle Hendricks for Ryan Dempster.
3:06 PM: The Cubs are getting two players in Single A, one position player and one pitcher, according to Ken Rosenthal.
3:02 PM: Everyone is confirming Dempster to the Rangers. We’ll see what the return ends up being.
3:00 PM: Jon Heyman reports that the Rangers have acquired Ryan Dempster.
2:58 PM: Ryan Dempster possibly to the Rangers. Again, no confirmation.
2:51 PM: The Dodgers are officially out on Dempster, according to multiple sources. Jim Bowden reports that the Yankees may have acquired Dempster, but was trying to gain confirmation.
2:30 PM: The Yankees are not the leaders in the Ryan Dempster sweepstakes. MLB Network reports that the Dodgers have all but given up on acquiring him.
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.
1:44 PM: Dempster has told ESPN Chicago’s Bruce Levine that he will waive his no trade rights, and accept a potential trade to the Yankees or Rangers.
1:35 PM: The leaders to acquire Dempster in the last 85 minutes before the deadline appear to be the Yankees. The Cubs have tried to accommodate Dempster and send him to LA, but without the package the Cubs want, it appears the Cubs will send him out east.
1:09 PM: Yankees and Diamondbacks are discussing acquiring Ryan Dempster.
9:54 AM: The Rangers may wait until August to look for starting pitching, according to Ken Rosenthal. With the Yankees, and now the Rangers, not being motivated…doesn’t that just leave the Dodgers again?
9:30 AM: Kaplan is saying the Yankees have spoke to the Cubs about Dempster, but are not as motivated as Rangers or Dodgers. All this time, I thought the Dodgers were not very motivated.
9:25 AM: Jayson Stark is reporting that the Yankees are telling teams they are not in the running to acquire Ryan Dempster. Jon Heyman confirms this report, but also says that Dempster is only willing to accept a trade to the Dodgers. There is a ton of information out on Dempster. Almost none of it makes any sense at all.
9:14 AM: Contrary to what David Kaplan reported, Ken Rosenthal reported that Dempster was still only willing to accept a trade to the Dodgers…so there’s that.
8:46 AM: David Kaplan is reporting that the Rangers and Yankees have emerged as suitors for Ryan Dempster. The Rangers are looking for starting pitching after Roy Oswalt was rocked again last night and the Angels sold the farm for Zack Greinke last week. The Dodgers are still Dempster’s preferred destination, it is believed that he would approve a deal to either the Rangers or Yankees. He also says that the backlash at Dempster for not approving the Atlanta deal is over-blown.