With the news that the Cubs are now “Open For Business,” it is apparent that the “cold assessment” of where the Cubs are is complete, and the plug is being pulled. In reality, it isn’t any big secret that the Cubs were going to sell off pieces this summer, as the rebuild continues.
The timing couldn’t be better. While other teams are deciding whether or not to get into the market and start moving anything that isn’t bolted down, the Cubs should start making moves now. The reason is simple: they have a lot of pieces that can be had from other teams if and when they get into the fray.
Starting pitching is going to be heavily available this summer. The Phillies have denied that Cliff Lee is going to be available, but that is far from definite. The Phillies could cure a lot of ailments with that arm, and if they decide to move players, Lee is the biggest and best chip they have to push into the center of the table. His presence would put a major damper on the market for Matt Garza. If a team like the Giants or the Rangers is looking for an arm to push them back into the Fall Classic, Lee is going to be sought before Garza. He comes with more control and he’s a better pitcher. His price will be bigger, but his reward will match.
Trading Garza will also be met by the resistance of the potential for the Brewers to put Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse on the market, the Blue Jays to seek to move Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, or the White Sox trying to trade Jake Peavy. All would be nice acquisitions that could be thrown into the middle of someone’s rotation for a run to October. At this early stage, it would appear to be a buyers’ market for mid-rotation starting pitching as the deadline draws closer.
The same can be said about a player like Scott Feldman, who can start at the back of a rotation until the playoffs and become a contributor out of the bullpen in October. The Twins can move Kevin Correia, the Marlins will likely move Ricky Nolasco, and the Astros are going to try to unload Bud Norris, so the market for a piece to add to the back of a rotation could also get to be a little crowded.
Yet another problem the Cubs face is the marked improvement of their farm system. The Cubs are not in a position where they have to take on as much talent as they can get because the system is so depleted that it needs as many good bodies as it can take on. The major area of weakness for the Cubs is in the pitching department. The front office acknowledged that the pitching is going to come from international signings and from the trade deadline. The problem with that strategy is simple: the teams who are going to look at adding pieces aren’t rich in pitching prospects. The Giants and Rangers don’t have a lot of pitching depth in their systems. Kyle Crick and Clayton Blackburn are the Giants’ top two prospects, and both are in the bottom quarter of Keith Law’s top 100 prospects this season.
What has been said repeatedly still holds true. If the Cubs can find a team who needs multiple pieces that the Cubs can provide, they have their best opportunity to maximize their return. What has not been said, though, is that the Cubs face a lot of competition for the players they have to offer, especially the pitching. It would be doubtful to see the extensive sell-off this season for that reason. There will be more teams offering similar pieces, and the other teams offering their veteran players need a lot more for their depleted farm systems, which make it much easier to make a deal.
About seven years ago, this would have been the move to end all moves for the Chicago Cubs…bringing back Dontrelle Willis. Now, the D-Train has been signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to minor league camp and the possibility of coming to major league camp if he’s throwing well. Considering the Cubs’ pitching last season was very much like how Dontrelle has been pitching since about
2007, this move makes a lot of sense.
Willis was originally drafted by the Cubs and sent to Florida in the trade that brought back Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement. He was stunningly good with the Marlins, especially in 2005 when he went 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA in 34 starts, finishing 7 and throwing 5 shut outs. He finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting to Chris Carpenter of those guys in St. Louis. He won the Rookie of the Year in 2003.
He has not been the same since 2006, where he has been unable to post an ERA under 4.98 (2010, in 9 games with Detroit). It appears innings and notoriously poor mechanics may have done in the once dominant starter.
There is no risk to this move at all. After all, he will only be 31 next week. He does not have a ton of wear and tear on his arm because nobody’s given him a shot in the last few years. I am assuming they didn’t pay very much. There is no harm. And if the Cubs can somehow manage to fix this disaster, it could be one of the greatest moves in the history of the organization. If they can turn him into a serviceable reliever/ spot starter, that might be the greatest thing Theo Epstein can do with the Cubs short of winning the World Series.
And now…I’ve given you 300 words on a guy who didn’t pitch last season, had a 1-6 record with a 5.00 ERA in 2011 with the Reds, last time he did pitch, and likely won’t see the inside of Wrigley Field in any way unless he watches on television. I feel I’ve said enough.
It is not often that a single victory by a pitcher deserves an entire post dedicated to it. When a win is the first in 24 starts and 413 days, then there is some cause to talk about it. Alas, that is the case, as Volstad got his first win since last July, when he was with the Marlins.
Chris Volstad has been bad in a lot of games this season. He had gotten hit, and hit hard, in a lot of outings. His 10.38 ERA in May and 12.46 ERA in July, with a stint in Iowa speak volumes to his effectiveness early in the season. He wasn’t. Even today, on the Twitter feed, I (as well as many others) had a “meltdown tracker.” Those, however, became “win trackers” in a hurry, after 6.2 innings of shutout ball, reducing his ERA for the season by nearly a half of a run.
It seems like the Cubs have given Big V the Carlos Marmol treatment. He’s not shaking off the catchers, anymore. The biggest improvement he’s made, en route to a 3.82 ERA in August, is keeping the ball down. He made three quality starts this month, which is incredible when you look at the previous nine starts he’d made this season, and his 1-2 record is more symptomatic of pitching for a team that has scored the second fewest runs in baseball this season than getting hit hard and scored on at will. A WHIP of 1.21 and an opponent batting average of .254 have been the biggest improvements he’s made since returning to the rotation. Volstad’s location has improved dramatically since he has gotten back from Iowa, which is making for a lot fewer hard hit balls, and a lot more relatively easy outs. Only one runner got to second base today, and the Tyler Colvin double had more to do with the ball just stopping in a wet outfield than it did with Volstad getting hit hard. That didn’t happen at all today.
Dale Sveum gave Chris Volstad a vote of confidence, and said he was staying in the rotation the rest of the way. Obviously, that is more based on who’s left than how well Volstad has been pitching this season. Nonetheless, he’s probably going to get another 6-7 starts this year, and could pitch his way into the 2013 plan. It stands to reason that starting pitching is going to be on the minds of Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, as they guide the Cubs through their second winter with the organization. If Chris Volstad can finish the season on a strong note, he will likely be given every opportunity to finally establish himself as a solid back end starting pitcher in 2013.
May today’s win be the first of many more as the season comes to a close!
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.
The certain addition of Zack Greinke to the trade market today does nothing to help the Cubs unload either Matt Garza or Ryan Dempster. Never before have I heard a General Manager come out and say that a player would be dealt, but that is exactly what happened with Brewers’ GM Doug Melvin today in regard to his ace pitcher. And I could not have been more upset about it.
With the Braves being in the running for Greinke, it all but kills the chances that a deal with the Braves for Dempster is resurrected. The chances were slim to begin with since Dempster has made it clear that he wants to go to the Dodgers. There has been some positive speculation that a deal could be consummated either between the Cubs and Dodgers or with the help of third team. The best opportunity for this deal to be completed is to add a third team, allowing the Cubs to get additional prospects back. With the Braves “moving on,” the Cubs have no leverage. The Dodgers have reportedly turned down an offer that would have sent Dempster to LA straight up for prospect pitcher Allen Webster. All in all, the Dempster scenarios are a mess. And the mess was made by whoever, reportedly on Atlanta’s side, leaked the details of the deal and upset Dempster. While the leak sent the media into a Tweet-splosion of reports, which even prompted Cubs TV play-by-play man Len Kasper to tweet a good bye message, Dempster napped and woke to find out he had been dealt without waiving his 10/5 rights. And here we are…
As I have said before, it seems less than 50/50 at this point that Matt Garza goes anywhere with his arm trouble and pushed back start. I would doubt a contender is going to pony up the big time prospects required to obtain a guy that left his last start with “arm discomfort” without seeing his next outing, and I would doubt the Cubs are going to take a smaller return on a guy they’ve said repeatedly that they wouldn’t mind extending. None of it adds up to a deal going down before the deadline, but stranger things have happened. I have had random musings with myself about the potential of a massive Dempster and Garza to the Dodgers for Zach Lee, Allen Webster, and other parts trade, but that is not going to happen. Garza seems to be limited to going to the Dodgers at this point with the Red Sox falling out of contention in the AL East, the Tigers acquiring Anibal Sanchez, and and Orioles being hot on Francisco Liriano.
Depending who you ask, the Dodgers interest in Dempster ranges from “they’ll get something done” to “they would rather have Garza.” The latter is the desirable scenario, mostly because they could get the most back for Garza. Dempster staying around, however, would not net anything more than a draft pick, as the potential for resigning him this off-season seems slim, at best.
All this talk about Garza and Dempster is probably killing the possibility of trading Paul Maholm. It didn’t look likely that he was going anywhere to begin with, but with Dempster/ Garza talks still on-going, it seems increasingly clear that Paul Maholm will be wearing Cubs’ pinstripes until the end of the season.
On the bright side…multiple national reporters have reported that OF Reed Johnson is likely on his way up I-94 to Detroit, probably for some low to mid level prospects. So there’s that…
With the Brewers imploding faster than the roof of the Metrodome a couple of years ago, it seems more and more apparent that the Brewers are going to sell. And with Zack Greinke pitching out of his mind tonight, it would seem that teams looking to acquire him (quite a few based on tonight’s scout count) would probably try to do so sooner rather than later. That little nugget of information, coupled with the Marlins, Rays possibly joining a seller’s market with the likes of Josh Johnson and James Shields, and Astros trading Wandy Rodriguez to the Pirates tonight, the market for starting pitching could shrink on the Cubs, who are looking to deal Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and Paul Maholm.
As it stands with Dempster, he appears to be holding out to join former Cub and friend, Ted Lilly in Los Angeles. Exercising his 10/5 rights to veto a trade could be a detriment to the Cubs because now that it is public knowledge that the Bravos are willing to part with Randall Delgado for a rental player, other teams might try to sweeten the pot for them or try to swoop in a get Delgado for a player of similar stature to Dempster. Meanwhile, the Dodgers are still refusing to part with Zach Lee in a deal for Dempster, which would make losing out on the 22 year old Delgado a tough pill to swallow for the Cubs.
Matt Garza will not pitch until Monday, at the earliest, it appears. From my perspective, that makes it more unlikely that he gets moved before non-waiver deadline at 3:00 PM central time on Tuesday afternoon. As it stood before, it was widely reported that it was about 50/50 that Garza got moved anyway. With his “arm discomfort” and delayed start until after the weekend, the price might come down on him to a point where the Cubs are more interested in trying to extend Garza than using him as a pawn to add young arms to the minor league system. Rumors floated that the Cubs were looking for two major league ready pitching prospects for Garza, similar to what the Rockies got for Ubaldo Jimenez, which may be too steep a price. Reports today were that the Rangers were looking for an ace type pitcher, and that they don’t see Garza that way. That again, shrinks his market, and I predict he is a Cub for the duration of 2012, if not longer.
Paul Maholm was never going to net a big name prospect. With the Pirates getting Wandy Rodriguez, it seems less and less likely that Maholm gets moved at all, since they were said to be his biggest suitor. It is still possible that he gets moved in the week between now and the deadline, but it doesn’t seem likely that he will during the season. He could be a trade chip for this winter, with a modest $6.5M option for next season. Teams looking to add a back of the rotation lefty might be willing to part with a decent prospect in January for a player like Maholm after the bulk of free agency has concluded. As it stands now, it is hard to envision him going anywhere with so many new names being added to a market that has so few suitors.
The Cubs do have some nice bats on the market, led by Alfonso Soriano, who hit his 19th HR of the season in tonight’s win at Pittsburgh. Calling Mr. Friedman, Mr. Andrew Friedman…we have something Joe Maddon might like to plug into his line-up, ranked 27th in slugging. The Rays sorely need a right handed bat, and Soriano could be had if they’re willing to part with some solid prospects and pay about $4M over the next two years. He clearly has some pop in his bat and when he was a DH earlier this season, he was pure magic at the plate, highlighted by some of the bombs he launched at Target Field. Others include Bryan LaHair, who would make a nice platoon player at either a corner infield or outfield position, or DH in the American League. He probably won’t net more than a middle of the pack prospect, which wouldn’t be all that bad for a 29 year old minor league reclamation project. Reed Johnson is said to have a number of suitors as the guy he is for the Cubs; a veteran bat and solid defender off the bench that can pinch hit, play defense, and give you four good at bats when asked to start.
The most unfortunate part of all of this seems to be the foiling of the plan to get better for future years by sacrificing some on field production this year. Being 16 under .500 and 16 back in the division means it’s over in 2012. While they could conceivably fight for 4th in the division, being four behind the Brewers, that does nothing but make the holidays a little more palatable for me this winter. If the last few days are any indication of things to come, there will be a lot more movement before the deadline. The Cubs will likely make some moves and the team will not look the same next Wednesday when the Cubs square off with the Pirates as they do tomorrow when they square off with the Pirates. As is the case every year at this time, stay tuned…