Some of the news surrounding our beloved Cubs…
- Theo Epstein made it clear that he wants an actual piece in a trade for Alfonso Soriano. He cited Sori’s 2012 season and his willingness to help young players, making him a valuable clubhouse presence, as the reasons for why he wants an actual player, especially since the Cubs are going to eat a large chunk of the $36M remaining on Soriano’s deal. I don’t mind this approach, because the money for Soriano is already spent, so holding out to get something of value is not a terrible move. Soriano can help young players, his work with helping Starlin Castro become a better professional is of special note in this regard, and a young team can use a good veteran clubhouse player. If Soriano can replicate his season last year with a duplicate this year, he’d actually be worth the $18M he’s getting paid with his leadership and his production. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve defended Soriano for a few years, although I have been in favor of trading him. The guy has struggled with injuries since he got to Chicago, and could have missed far more games than he actually did. And, for what it’s worth, if last year really is the first time he had gotten any outfield instruction, it is partially the fault of the Piniella and Quade regimes for his defensive incompetence. To boil it down, I wouldn’t mind him getting traded, but the Cubs should get more than a bag of balls for him.
- Luis Valbuena agreed to a deal with the Cubs, allowing them to avoid going to a hearing with him. He’s going to get $930K this season, where he figures to be on the bench, but will likely serve as a back-up at 2B, SS, and 3B, all of which he can play competently. As a left handed bat, who took 36 walks in 303 plate appearances, he is the type of versatile player that has some value on a bench, even on a good team. It’s good to see him back, and hopefully be in a role he’s better suited to, after seeing him start a number of games at 3B when Ian Stewart was shut down with a wrist injury. With Valbuena being taken care of, that leaves Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, and James Russell as the remaining arbitration players this off-season.
- The Cubs signed Brett Lillibridge and Darnell McDonald last week to minor league deals. I have not seen whether or not they’ve gotten invitations to Spring Training, but I would assume, with the team looking for competition and depth among potential players on the roster, that they have. As Spring Training draws closer, I’ll post a complete list of Bunting Tournament participants.
- Cubs Convention is this weekend. I will be there. It is my first opportunity to actually attend, so I am very excited about the chance to be a big kid this weekend. The information put out on the team’s website is here. It looks like it’s going to be a great weekend for fans, and with proceeds going to charity, it benefits a good cause. Classic win-win, so if you haven’t bought tickets and can attend, I would urge any of my few loyal readers and any passing readers to take the opportunity to head out this weekend.
Some tidbits for the day…
- Yesterday, Dale Sveum called Starlin Castro a 6th or 7th spot hitter in a good offense. He has a point…for now. The 22 year old Castro doesn’t take a lot of walks, does not stretch out many at bats, and is very aggressive at the plate. That being said, Starlin has all of the makings of a very good number 2 hitter, as he can make good contact, runs well, and has shown he can drive the ball a little bit more. Remember, Starlin is still developing. As he does, he will hit for more power, and if he gains the patience to be more selective and drive his pitch, he could be the answer in a number of spots in the line-up. Sveum’s comments probably
were not meant to be as critical as they may have been taken, as much as they were meant to be a reflection on where Starlin Castro is in his development.
- I saw an interesting stat yesterday, which basically explains the subjectivity of some advanced metrics. The WAR ( Wins Above Replacement) of 2B Darwin Barney is a very strong 4.6. That of Brewers’ LF Ryan Braun: 4.5. This is not to suggest that Darwin is a better player than the reigning NL MVP. That is a silly statement in nearly every respect. The only area where Darwin Barney is a clear upgrade over Braun is in his infield defense, where Braun was a disaster in his rookie year. It does, however, go to show that when comparing players, some metrics are better left to compare players at the same position. If Theo Epstein called Milwaukee and said, “Straight up, Darwin Barney for Ryan Braun,” the answer would be a clear “click” of the phone being put down followed by the dial tone. All of this was spurred by ESPN’s Keith Law’s belief that Darwin Barney is not an everyday second baseman. While I very much respect Keith Law and his opinion, I disagree with him on the prospect that Darwin Barney is not an everyday second baseman. Among National League 2B, he is comparable to other everyday players in offensive categories, and is outstanding on defense. He leads MLB in fielding percentage among 2B, is 4th in range factor and tied for 3rd in double plays turned. His errorless streak of 100 games is a franchise record, and is within reach of the 113 game National League record. Darwin is in his second full season as a second baseman and in the majors. He is also only 26. He has shown a tremendous amount of growth in this season. It seems far too soon to write off Barney as, not only an everyday, but All-Star caliber 2B in the coming years.
- Chris Volstad starts for the Cubs tonight against the Astros. He comes into the game with an 0-8 win-loss record and a 6.94 ERA. He has not won in over a year. But, tonight could be the night. First, the Astros are horrible, especially on the road. Second, the 6’8″ right hander has been much better since coming back from Iowa after the flurry of trade activity at the deadline. He is 0-1 with a 3.46 ERA this month, with his loss to the Dodgers being a 7 inning, 2 earned performance in which the Cubs failed to bring their bats. If Chris Volstad has a night similar to his last two outings, and the Cubs have any sort of offensive showing tonight, Chris Volstad has a good chance of ending a painfully long winless streak.
- The Cubs face Lucas Harrell tonight. Collectively, the starting line-up is 1-1…an Alfonso Soriano single. Of all of the position players, the Cubs are 1-2, adding a Luis Valbuena strike out. This proves to be one of the oddities of two teams in a complete rebuild…a large number of young players who have no experience against each other at the major league level.
- Today, Dale Sveum said on Cubs Corner that he “would be surprised of Garza pitched again this season.” The cramp turned discomfort turned stress reaction seems like it is worse than anyone led on, or the team is being overly cautious about Matt Garza’s right arm. Considering the team is completely out of it, the caution is warranted. There is no sense in exposing his arm to significant injury.
- First round pick Albert Almora was promoted to short season Boise, of the Northwest League. He had started his professional career in the Arizona Rookie League, hitting .347 with 1 HR and 13 RBI in 18 games for Mesa.
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.
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.
Alright, that’s not entirely true, but it would seem as though it is coming soon since tonight’s line up features Bryan LaHair batting third and playing right field.
Tonight’s line up at the White Sox is:
1. David DeJesus, CF
2. Starlin Castro, SS
3. Bryan LaHair, RF
4. Alfonso Soriano, DH
5. Steve Clevenger, 1B
6. Darwin Barney, 2B
7. Luis Valbuena, 3B
8. Geovany Soto, C
9. Tony Campana, LF
Pitching: Matt Garza
- That’s right, Geovany Soto has been activated off of the disabled list today and will start. The Cubs will not go with three catchers, as had been discussed, though. Wellington Castillo has been sent back to Iowa.
- Also, Ryan Dempster has been placed on the 15 Day Disabled List today with a “Tight Lat.” This is an injury that Dempster has been playing through for much of his 22 consecutive scoreless innings, apparently. Clearly, it had been devastating his performance and required him to shut it down for a few starts. In his place, Scott Maine has been recalled, and Randy Wells will take Dempster’s place in the starting rotation.
First, 3B Ian Stewart was placed on the 15 Day Disabled list today with his wrist injury. I have not seen for sure, but I assume that is retroactive to the 12th, which is the last day Stewart played. Surgery is an option for Stewart, as several of the Cubs’ beat writers have discussed the possibility of nerve damage. Hopefully, Stewart can recover and realize his potential, and not make trading DJ LeMaheiu and Tyler Colvin look like a tremendous mistake. In his place, the Cubs recalled IF Luis Valbuena from Iowa, and he started at third this afternoon in the loss to the Tigers.
Additionally, the Cubs activated C Wellington Castillo from the 15 Day Disabled List and Designated C Koyie Hill for Assignment. The Hill DFA removes him from the 25 man roster to make room for Castillo and from the 40 man roster to make room for Valbuena.
cubs.com’s Carrie Muskat reported that newly acquired infielder Luis Valbuena was not on the Cubs’ lineup card for today’s second game of the season against the Washington Nationals, which could mean he is being outrighted to Iowa to make room for Rodrigo Lopez, who will be available for today’s game. A move will be official before the 12:05 first pitch.
1B Bryan LaHair is expected to be available for today’s game after recovering from a lower back injury. While he will not start today, against National’s lefty Gio Gonzalez, LaHair is expected to start his first game of the season tomorrow, in the opening series finale.
Today’s starters are Matt Garza (0-0), making his fourth career start against the Nationals and LHP Gio Gonzalez, making his Nationals debut after being acquired from the A’s this off-season. Garza is 0-1 with a 7.90 ERA in his career vs. Washington, while Gonzalez is 0-1 with a 10.80 ERA in one start against the Cubs.