On July 29th, the Cubs returned home for the first time since the All-Star Break, seven games under .500, and without Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano, who’d both been dealt on the west coast road trip. Things looked good. They’d won the trip against the Rockies, DBacks, and Giants, in spite of moving Garza and Soriano. But some warning signs were there…
First, they weren’t scoring all that much in San Francisco. They scored six runs in the series. It’s not like they were lighting the world on fire. They were just less futile than the Giants that particular weekend. And the Giants hadn’t been playing all that well, anyway. The Cubs were playing an equal, in spite of what that banner from last October might have said. The Giants simply aren’t all that good this season.
Coming home, they got a series with the lowly Brewers. Who are in the division. Which, this season, automatically means inexplicably losing at least two of the games. Lo and behold, they drop three of the four, all of which were in typical 2013 Cubs fashion. Pedro Strop gave up the only five runs he’s allowed as a Cub in the first game. They dropped both games of a doubleheader, blowing leads on a James Russell home run allowed in the first game and a Kevin Gregg blown save in the second, with a third strike call that wasn’t and a soft line out to short that wasn’t helping them blow the lead in the ninth inning.
After the Brewers, they got the Dodgers for four. As of today, the Dodgers have won 40 out of their last 48. In case you weren’t sure, an .833 winning percentage is freakin good. They’ve been killing everybody lately. It would have been a surprise if the Cubs won more than once in the series, and it doesn’t come as any surprise that they didn’t win at all. The Dodgers are a buzz saw right now, and the Cubs were a thin sheet of plywood at that point. Sure, they could have scored some runs in the last two, but it’s not earth shattering news that they didn’t…they haven’t been scoring all that much all season long.
The road is a little more kind to the Cubs. Splitting six games with the Phillies and Cardinals is a good result. In spite of their record, the Phillies still have some talent on their roster, and the Cardinals have been toward the top of the standings in all of baseball since Opening Day. Winning half of your road games is a good thing, so no complaints there.
Getting the Reds, and Mat Latos when you get back home isn’t the house warming gift a struggling offense wants or needs. And Latos was nasty on Monday night. So they got shut out again by another good pitcher. They got to Homer Bailey a little bit, which was nice to see, but Bronson Arroyo, who’s pretty solid, and loves to stick it to the Cubs for whatever reason, shut them down again.
I give you that nice summary of the painful last two and a half weeks to tell you this…all of those (with the exception of the Brewers) are pretty decent teams. The Cubs just aren’t. Not after trading away another 40% of the rotation and the clean-up hitter.
“What I want to avoid is the middle ground. It’d be nice to make the playoffs or get a protected draft pick. We’re not hiding that. There’s no glory in 78 wins instead of 73. Who cares?
We’re going to see where we are and take a real cold assessment in the middle of the season. If we have a legitimate chance to push for a playoff spot then 2013 can become our primary focus. If we think a playoff spot’s not in the cards, there will be no concern for appearances or cosmetics whatsoever. We’ll continue to address our future and trade off some pieces that would keep us respectable.’
And presto…the team who didn’t have a chance for the playoffs this season made their cold assessment, looked to the future, moved some parts that could keep it respectable, and it’s gotten ugly against some better than average competition. And we’re bitching about not scoring any runs? WE WERE TOLD THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN SIX MONTHS AGO! If you thought the Cubs had a chance to win the division or compete for a playoff spot, you were one of three things: on the team and have to believe you’re not going to suck just to keep your own sanity, a big time optimist, or delusional. I had the Cubs, as they arrived at camp, hanging around .500. (I also had the Pirates finishing dead last in the division, so take it for what you will) I made that prediction early because nobody for sure can never tell who’s going to stay or go, or get hurt. And, the team that broke camp, actually played well enough to be near .500 every month except for April (10-16) and thus far in August.
The moral of the story here is simple…It is ridiculous to be on board with the rebuild and bemoan that the team isn’t all that good during the middle of it. It’s even more ridiculous to be critical of how ugly it is when we were told explicitly by the guy who was going to decide on who to move and when to move them that it was probably going to happen. None of this is a surprise. If it is, you haven’t been paying attention.
I now return you to waiting for Javier Baez to hit another home run in AA.
In just about two days time, the non-waiver trade deadline will come and go. The Cubs, who have been more active than any team in the month of July, will see a considerable slow down in activity with the passing of the draft, the initial international free agent signing period, and the trade deadline. That leaves them with an ample opportunity to take care of what may be the most vital piece of business they have left before next season: Extend the contract of Manager, Dale Sveum.
As Theo Epstein’s hand picked successor to Mike Quade, Dale Sveum has done everything the Cubs could have imagined…and more. He deserves to go into next season with some job security, and the Cubs should go into this off-season, where they will surely try to add players who can help the major league team take the next step toward respectability, with stability in the manager’s office.
Although his 109-156 record isn’t outstanding, it is also not his fault. He walked into a complete overhaul of a roster of albatross contracts, aging veterans, and young players who really weren’t major league players. To make matters worse, the front office either traded or shut down major portions of his starting rotation…in both 2012 and 2013. The bullpens he’s had to work with have been largely unproven young players or veteran retreads (*cough cough* Shawn Camp *cough*), and it has shown in the win-loss column.
Dale Sveum was hired to do two main things: Keep the clubhouse together and develop young talent. He’s done exceedingly well on both fronts in his first two seasons.
On the player development front, the biggest feather in his cap is the coaching staff he’s put together. While he may have had Rudy Jaramillo and Pat Listach as hold overs for either part or all of last season, the additions of Dave McKay, David Bell, and Chris Bosio have all been successful. Dave McKay helped turn Alfonso Soriano into a serviceable left fielder. After years of being afraid of the wall and hopping around like a wounded bunny rabbit, Soriano had the highest UZR among NL left fielders last season. It’s amazing what a little coaching will do after Soriano admitted that he hadn’t gotten any outfield instruction before last season, from either Quade’s staff or Lou Piniella before him. Anthony Rizzo is another success, as Sveum, the former Brewers hitting coach, brought his hands down, shortening his swing, and making him better than the .141/.281.242 hitter he was with the Padres in 2011. The anecdotes serve as evidence of a whole: the Cubs are a vastly improved defensive team from the years before Sveum. And the approach at the plate is starting to get better, too. Nothing happens over night, but the results are starting to show up. In spite of all of the player movement, trades, and lost veterans in the clubhouse, the Cubs have a winning record since May 26 (30-25). While the sample is small, the results matter. Even with major bullpen issues and a complete inability to hit with runners in scoring position, the Cubs are playing competitively. The steps in the right direction are adding up.
The clubhouse is the other place Sveum was asked to thrive. As a former top prospect, he can relate to the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and soon Javier Baez, et al. He can also relate to the 25th man on the roster because that’s where his career ended after a devastating leg injury. He knows the weight of expectations and he knows the plight of the role player who is tasked to sit and wait for his name to be called, and the need to be ready. He relates to his players because he’s been there and done that. And while he took some undeserved criticism for his loyalty to Shawn Camp from fans, it was not his job to get rid of Camp. It was the front office’s. Having his player’s back, especially one who he’s had history with, was the only move he could make that doesn’t send the alienating “as soon as I see trouble, I’m going to turn my back on you.” message. That’s a terrible image to portray to the rest of the team. The fact that Dale said it was tough to see Camp go may have made fans cringe, but it probably made the team smile a little bit. When veterans like Matt Garza hang around after being shut down with 2 1/2 months left in a 100 loss season, it says as much as there is to say about a clubhouse…especially when Garza admitted if it had been Quade’s clubhouse, he would have gone home. And being able to sign quality free agents like Edwin Jackson after a 100 loss season doesn’t happen if the player thinks the manager is a bum who can’t manage a clubhouse. Think about it. Has anything obscenely negative come out of the clubhouse during Sveum’s tenure? For a team with the win-loss record the Cubs have had, you’d think there would be something. Especially in a media market like Chicago. But it’s been remarkably quiet. Which means the bad stuff is being handled where it should…in house.
Dale has been charged with over-seeing a complete rebuild, which couldn’t have been fun, couldn’t have been easy, and couldn’t have happened in any worse a place than Wrigley Field, where every year is “THE YEAR” to a group of people who only watch the game and read the box score in the paper each morning. The reality is, last year, this year, and probably next year are not “THE YEAR.” But the team is heading in the right direction in spite of the instability among the player personnel. That is a credit to Sveum, and the right thing to do is ensure that he never gets to “lame duck” status in the last year of a contract with a team, who next year may be able to win consistently for the first time in his tenure.
Besides. He got shot in the face and laughed it off. How cool is it to have a manager like that?
Over the past day or so, the latest name to pop up in Cubs trade rumors is that of Jeff Samardzija. Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports said the Cubs were “listening” to other teams as they call about Samardzija, which is essentially what really set off the entire conversation.
The reality about Samardzija trade speculation, as others have said, is that of course the Cubs are willing to listen to what other teams are offering. That does not mean Shark is on the block in the same manner Ryan Dempster was last season or Matt Garza was this season. That does mean that it would be irresponsible of the front office to not listen to what other teams have to offer for Jeff Samardzija, who is not a free agent until after 2015 and, although he is 28 years old, is relatively low mileage at this point in his career. He’s only thrown 481.1 major league innings, which isn’t a whole lot for someone of Jeff’s age or his physical stature.
It would be a massive surprise if Samardzija was traded for all of those reasons…the price would be astronomical. While the D-Backs, Red Sox, Pirates, Braves, and others may have interest, it is going to take an awful lot to acquire him. The price tag takes him out of reach for most teams because they simply don’t have the prospects. And he probably costs too much to part with for the teams with the prospect currency to actually get him. It is not totally out of the question that somebody gets desperate for a starter with so few good ones on the market, though, so it is worth the front office’s time to listen to whoever calls. The price is reportedly a top pitching prospect (or prospects), as it should be.
Theo and Jed aren’t stupid. They know they have a huge piece to build a competitive Cubs team with (if the price is right), either as a front of the rotation starter or a player who can fetch a front of the rotation starter in a trade. While Samardzija may not be “on the block,” he isn’t unavailable. And since none of the Cubs have a no trade clause anymore, that’s the way it should be. Everyone can be had if the price is right. For Samardzija, the price is going to be high. Really high.
After a deal fell apart on Friday, Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Cubs and Rangers are nearing a deal for Matt Garza.
A deal was reportedly close on Friday between the Cubs and Rangers, which would have sent Garza and another player (some reports say James Russell) to the Rangers for 3B Mike Olt, SS Luis Sardinas, P CJ Edwards, and P Neil Ramirez before the Cubs backed out when the medical records of one of the players became an issue.
UPDATE 1: From Jeff Passan…
UPDATE 2: Rosenthal with a bit more…
UPDATE 3: Final Deal appears to be…
Rangers Get: RHP Matt Garza
Cubs Get: 3B Mike Olt, RHP CJ Edwards, RHP Justin Grimm, PTBNL (Who is reportedly a pitcher, from @TomLoxas). Pool of players includes Neil Ramirez, according to Gordon Wittenmeyer.
All of the deadline talk, and justifiably so, has been centered around Matt Garza to this point. There are also some other players who have been talked about as candidates to move on as the deadline approaches. David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz, Alfonso Soriano, and Kevin Gregg have all been spoken of as players who could very likely be traded as the deadline nears, or at least wouldn’t cause anybody any surprise if they were moved. There is also a list of attractive players that the Cubs could move who are not talked about prominently as the deadline inches closer. They fit the needs and holes of teams in contention and are low cost options to upgrade a roster, and it would make perfect sense if the Cubs were fielding calls about these players…
2B Darwin Barney:
The Cubs are stacked in the middle infield in the minor leagues at just about every level. With Logan Watkins at AAA Iowa, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez at AA Tennessee, and even Gioskar Amaya at Low-A Kane County, middle infielders are of no shortage in the Cubs’ organization. Darwin Barney has done everything he can to become a member of the core group of players that the Cubs use to make their eventual run, but his limitations with the bat seem to make him less attractive than other options. With a Gold Glove in his pocket and over a year before he even gets to arbitration, he could make a team looking for a low cost second baseman, without a need for a highly productive bat, very happy. The need doesn’t even have to be strictly second base. Barney came up as a short stop, and played third base when he first came up to the majors. He could be quite the defensive addition for any team looking to shore up its infield defense. Darwin actually fits into a line-up like Detroit’s perfectly. Incumbent Ramon Santiago plays both offensively and defensively at about replacement level. Replacing him with Darwin Barney doesn’t hurt their prolific offense at all, and very much shores up their middle infield. With the rumor that Detroit was interested last year, it makes sense that they would be interested again this year, given how close they came to winning a championship last year. Darwin Barney won’t net any team’s top prospect, but he should net a solid prospect or retread a la Scott Feldman. And with the depth already mentioned in the system, Darwin is expendable.
IF Luis Valbuena, Cody Ransom:
Luis Valbuena is another player who could see himself on the move as the deadline approaches. Because he is an everyday player with the Cubs, he has displayed what he can do with the bat from the left side of the plate, and has shown to be more than capable as a defender. A team looking for a left handed hitting platoon infielder would love to have a player like Luis Valbuena for his ability to work counts, take walks, hit for power and field three infield positions well. A team like the Yankees, who have had a hard time keeping players on the field may take a long look at a Luis Valbuena. He would fit into the gaping holes left by repeated injuries and days off because of the advanced age of regular players, and his bat would play well with the short porch and right field power allies at Yankee Stadium. The Rays could also have interest in a player with his skill set. He wouldn’t net much of a return, but if there is a low level player in a system that catches Jed or Theo’s eye, don’t doubt for a second that the original “low risk waiver flyer” could be flipped for a lottery ticket at the deadline. Cody Ransom is in pretty much the same situation as Valbuena, except he’s right handed, comes with less control, and more age.
P Carlos Villanueva:
Maybe the least surprising player on this list, and quite possibly the most likely to be traded, Villanueva is a player who has been talked about as a trade candidate. He was merely overshadowed by the talk of Garza and Feldman, among the pitchers. Villanueva is particularly valuable because of his versatility as both a starter and reliever. While specific locations for him may be tough to pin point, it is reasonable to say that any team looking for a ‘pen arm with the ability to give you a solid swing start from time to time would be interested…which boils down to pretty much everybody. Again, it would be a surprise if Villanueva netted anything of note, but a middling prospect in somebody’s system who hasn’t progressed or a retread could be an expected return.
Because I have been traveling, I have not had the opportunity to get in on the Matt Garza trade posts, but I have an opportunity to now, and it seems, just in time…
The madness starts with David Kaplan, via Bob Nightengale, saying that Jurickson Profar is in play…
Let me first say, Garza for Profar won’t happen because that deal would have already been made. I could see Profar being in play if the Cubs add to the deal with good prospects that are less developed. Garza, Arismendy Alcantara, Dan Vogelbach for Profar and some other lesser pieces has a VERY outside shot of happening. Maybe not that exact deal, but something along those lines.
Another report about a trade with the Rangers has the Cubs looking to acquire Neftali Feliz. Again, that would be a great move for the Cubs, in spite of Feliz recovering from Tommy John surgery. He has the stuff to be a really good starter, but if injuries were to prevent that, he is definitely the kind of guy you put on the mound in the ninth to end games. Again, I am not sure it is likely that he comes to the Cubs in any deal. Jon Heyman reports that Martin Perez isn’t going anywhere in a Garza deal, so it would seem that door is closed. It makes sense. The Rangers need pitching, so it wouldn’t be a great move to deal a young pitcher producing in the rotation right now.
The most likely acquisition for Matt Garza from the Rangers is Mike Olt, who seems to be the most realistic of the players being discussed. The big concern about Olt is that he was struggling with vision problems early this season. That problem was, apparently, an inability to make tears, causing things to be blurry. Once discovered, Olt was given special drops, and for his part, seems to be past the injury, saying “I definitely noticed a huge difference the first day I used them.” Being past his vision issues would make him a still excellent prospect, and a nice “buy low” piece.
A lot of teams, including the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Indians, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers are also being connected to Garza, among others. The most talked about, though, with actual players in return being discussed is Texas. It would be a significant upset, in my mind, if Garza went anywhere but Texas. Unless a team swoops in late with a package that wows Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer (which the Red Sox can if Clay Bucholtz doesn’t return healthy), the Rangers are the team to watch, especially if it is to be believed that Matt Garza has pitched his last inning as a Cub.
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.
Through the beginning of their tenure, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have done nothing short of a masterful job of adding quality talent to the Cubs’ minor league system. Between the inherited talent and the added talent, the Cubs now have what is a consensus top ten system in the game, and it is likely to get better with the addition of second overall pick Kris Bryant, international signings, and the trade deadline.
Not all of the positions in the organization are overflowing with talent, however. With the international signing and the trade deadline looming, there are some clear areas of need. To build the caliber of organization that the team needs to have and the front office wants to grow, weaknesses need to be addressed.
The focus needs to be on positions with glaring deficiencies. There are positions that are strong at the lower levels of the minor leagues without much talent at the top end, while some are stronger throughout the system or aren’t strong at all. The focus needs to be on picking up pieces to build a strong pipeline to the majors sooner than 2015-2016 and strengthen areas without much talent to speak of at all.
This is a no-brainer. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have acknowledged that the Cubs will use the international pool and trade deadline to strengthen this piece of the puzzle. There are some nice pieces at just about every level of the organization, but not nearly enough. The best prospect in the organization is Arodys Vizcaino, who was acquired last July in the Paul Maholm trade. When he gets healthy, he has front of the rotation stuff, but his arm trouble might limit him to a relief role. Pierce Johnson just got his long overdue promotion to Daytona, and he appears to be on his way. Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood are nice young pieces at the ML level. The focus has been on arms in the draft, but none of them appear to be impact arms, with the Cubs grabbing position players with their last two top ten picks. The clear lack of high end, projectable pitching talent makes it job one for the Cubs this July. They could start out by signing Cuban prospect Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. He’s 26, and could realistically start in the upper levels of the minor leagues this season, if not at the major league level…and all he costs is money. Which the Cubs don’t seem opposed to spending on international free agents.
Beyond Wellington Castillo and Steve Clevenger, there isn’t a lot of strength to one of the keystone positions. While Castillo is a young player who is looking more and more like an everyday backstop, organizational depth is paramount at a position where injuries mount and nobody can catch everyday. Dioner Navarro is a stop gap at the major league level. While the Cubs can be active in signing veteran catchers for a year or two at a time, there is a ton of value in bringing catchers through the system who have a history with the pitchers coming up through the system.
3. Corner Infielders
Count me among the guys who really likes Christian Villanueva. And Jeimer Candelario. And Anthony Rizzo. Beyond that, there are a ton of question marks. Josh Vitters may never figure it out defensively. I am not sold on the idea that Kris Bryant can stick at third base. Dan Vogelbach appears to best project as a designated hitter. Junior Lake is looking more and more like a super utility player. Luis Valbuena is a utility player who is having a nice season as a starter for a rebuilding team, but in no way should or would be a starter on a playoff caliber team. It really boils down to defense with this group. While first base at the major league level appears to be filled for the foreseeable future, third base is a bit of a black hole and there is almost no depth in the system at first. One thing that helps this group along is the potential for Javier Baez or Starlin Castro to slide over to third and fill the slot whenever Baez makes his way up to the majors.
4. Center Field
The cupboard at the major league level is bare. David DeJesus, Dave Sappelt, and Ryan Sweeney are really nice filler material during the rebuild, but they are similar to Luis Valbuena. All three are reserves on playoff teams, and none of them figure to be around for the long haul. Albert Almora looks fantastic at Kane County thus far. He’s a few years away from being an option, though. It is up in the air if Brett Jackson makes use of his incredible talent because he is endlessly afflicted by the strike out. Jae-Hoon Ha and Matt Szczur both look like the DeJesus/ Sweeney type, as in they could be spare outfielders who can play all over as defensive replacements. For those reasons, it wouldn’t hurt to add a center fielder with upside if the opportunity presents itself.
5. Corner Outfielders
There isn’t much for depth here in Iowa, but there is a lot to like about the potential for corner outfielders in the Cubs organization. Jorge Soler is obviously the crown jewel of these guys at any level, but he won’t be in Chicago until September of 2014 at the absolute earliest. The better bet is 2015 at some point. Kris Bryant, to me, is probably going to end up in the corner not occupied by Soler, should everything go right. This is a group that could also include Junior Lake, Josh Vitters if his defense stays as shaky at third as it has been. Reggie Golden is at Kane County and is a sleeper to me. Overall, I like the group of players the Cubs have stocked up on that could be turned into corner outfielder, where hitting is most important, and where defensive liabilities like Vitters can be hidden. Again, it wouldn’t hurt to add to it if the opportunity arises, but there are definitely better places to add pieces.
6. Middle Infield
Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Logan Watkins, Arismendy Alcantara, Ronald Torreyes, Javier Baez…need I say more? There is a legit prospect at just about every level of the minor leagues in the middle infield. And the major league level has a two time All-Star and a Gold Glove winner in the line-up everyday, neither of whom is old by any stretch of the imagination. The middle infield is the strength of the organization, and unless you’re getting Jurickson Profar in a deal, this area isn’t a priority in the least.
There is no argument to be made that the Cubs wouldn’t be best served to get the best players they can, regardless of the positions they play. Weaknesses cannot be ignored, however, and the goal when moving players like Matt Garza should be to find high level talent in areas of need, which would make the trade good for both sides. Again, if the Rangers are parting with Profar (for example), you have to pull the trigger. Talent like that doesn’t come around very often. At the end of the day though, the focus has to be on adding impact arms that can make a difference in the near future and catchers to work with them coming up through system.
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.
In 2011, the Cubs and Cardinals shared something in common. Both dreamed of 2012 with Albert Pujols in the line-up. Jerseys,
shirsies, and Cubs’ gear with the signature 5 on the back started appearing. And then Jim Hendry gave him a hug. And we all leaned forward. And then Hendry got fired and Theo Epstein got the job to lead the front office after spending mega-dollars in Boston. We all thought it was a sure thing that the Cubs would sign Pujols or former Brewer, Prince Fielder. And then the Cubs traded for Anthony Rizzo. And the dreaming was over.
The start of a rebuild was upon us. None of us thought it was 101 losses bad. We didn’t think we would be waiting until 2015 to be realistic contenders. That is, however, where we are. And it is exactly where we should be.
My favorite conversations are with the people who talk about “winning now.” We should buy free agents to win now while prospects develop so that we have a good major league product while we develop a minor league product. The reality, though, is that logic is flawed. Because the evidence suggests that it fails just about 100% of the time.
The New York Yankees are the poster-children for throwing money at flaws. In fact, the Yankees have spent, since 2001, roughly $2.375 BILLION on payroll. They have appeared in the World Series only three times (2001, 2003, and 2009), and have only won once (2009). They spent about $792 million per World Series appearance. Meanwhile, the Cubs have spent about $1.294 billion on payroll for three PLAYOFF appearances, and no World Series berths in the same time frame. Every year, the Cubs are in the top half (even now) in total payroll and have had among the highest in the National League over the last 13 years.
The teams who are winning are those who draft their players, develop them, bring them up, and learn to win at the MLB level. There is a reason the Rays are one of the most stable franchises in baseball now, in spite of having to let players like Matt Garza, Carl Crawford, James Shields, and likely soon will let David Price walk out the door. They do their work on the draft and turn their talent into contending quality major league teams. The Giants have done the same thing with home grown Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Buster Posey, et al winning two of the last three championships. The Cardinals refused to pay Albert Pujols more than he was worth. They set a number and a length for him, and refused to budge. He went to the Angels, and his legs stayed in St. Louis. Meanwhile, he has eight years left on his contract. He’ll be a player who can’t run, can’t be traded, and has to be paid until 2021. Sound familiar? A certain left fielder has drawn the ire of Cubs fans for failing to live up to his deal, and Pujols has an even worse contract.
Like it did with the Rays, the Phillies when they won with a core of Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins (all home grown), and the Giants, it will take time for the Cubs to roll the snowball of building talent into a top down organizational juggernaut like the current Cardinals (who have the best record in baseball and one of the best farm systems to pair with it), but it is the right direction.
In the coming free agent class, there are no game changers to make the Cubs instant contenders. That is just another flaw in a completely unsustainable plan. Robinson Cano is the only potential free agent who could make an impact on a line up, and it is highly unlikely that he leaves New York. Shin Soo Choo is a nice piece, but he isn’t pushing the Cubs into the category of making a deep October run. Jacoby Ellsbury is a good player who may finally be healthy, but he is nearing the wrong side of 30, and has an injury history that makes him a salary liability. And if/ when the Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Brett Jackson, Kris Bryant group gets to Chicago, they have an old player with a big contract blocking them. The pitching isn’t much better in the coming off-season. The most accomplished free agent pitcher to be is already on the Cubs’ roster in Matt Garza.
Losing games isn’t any fun. It’s easy to understand the frustration of watching the team lose games they could win, sink to the bottom of the division in May, and sell off veteran pieces for players who may turn into nothing. But throwing money at free agents and trading every nice piece in the farm for a chance at one year is how the Cubs got to this point in the first place. They are much better served developing their players, bringing them to the big league level, and trading prospects only when the return is a player who can be useful for sustained success. Money is best spent in the manner the front office has shown that it is going to spend it…on its own core pieces. Keeping young talent in-house for mutually beneficial deals is a very good way to spend money, and the Cubs’ position as a big market team should be able to allow them to hang on to their players, and not have to purge them when they have out-performed their contracts.
An unfortunate side effect to doing it the right way is that it takes time. And it will. Anything worth doing, though, is worth doing right. Doing it right takes time, and good things come to those who wait, and all those other things we were told when we were kids. They’re all true.