Tagged: Paul Maholm

TRADE DEADLINE: Cubs Have Areas of Obvious Need

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.

1. Pitching

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.

2. Catching

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.

Photo: Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com

Photo: Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com

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.

 

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EVERYBODY PANIC! Arodys Vizcaino Has Setback

As reported by Patrick Mooney, and others, Arodys Vizcaino won’t throw a baseball for the next six weeks after having debridement surgery to remove calcium deposits by Dr. James Andrews.

A debridement is an arthroscopic, outpatient procedure to remove loose particles or to cut off bone spurs and the normal recovery time is between four and six weeks, depending on what the purpose of the debridement was.  In this case, the procedure was to remove calcium build up.  That’s not an uncommon occurrence after a major operation like Tommy John Surgery, so it’s not like Vizcaino is getting blasted with some out of the norm bad luck.  The best news to come out of this is that the ulnar collateral ligament, which was replaced last year, is undamaged.

For those who have forgotten or were unaware, the Cubs acquired Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman from the Braves in the trade that sent Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to Atlanta at the trade deadline.  Vizcaino had Tommy John Surgery last April.  He is not expected to pitch at all for the Cubs this season.

2013 NL Central Preview

Ah, yes…we have reached the time of the year where bats start cracking and gloves start popping.  Spring Training is upon us.  While pitchers and catchers are on the cusp of having to report, there are a number of position players who have already descended on Arizona.  It would not have been surprising to see players wait until the last possible day before reporting after last season’s 61 wins.  Many will do that, anyway.  It is good to see that there are players in camp and working, already.  It is evidence of the players having some optimism for this season.

Optimism is admirable, considering the Cubs will not contend this season, either.  Don’t get me wrong, here…they’re going to be much better than they were last season.  I predicted last season’s version of the Cubs would finish with a record of 77-85.  My prediction appeared to have some validity until the trade deadline.  While it was anticipated the team would sell at the deadline, the degree to which they did, coupled with the losses of Matt Garza to injury and Jeff Samardzija to an innings limit pushed the Cubs to the wrong side of 100 losses for the first time since 1966.  This season, even if they do end up trading some players (Matt Garza the most likely), they have some depth to keep the losses from piling up as quickly and as plentifully as they did in 2012.

A great many prognosticators are saying the Cubs are a lock for last place this year with the Astros leaving for the American League.  As ESPN’s Lee Corso would say, “NOT SO FAST MY FRIENDS!”  This season, it appears the Pirates walk the plank, right into the cellar…

Consider this the official prediction of the division in 2013, in both  final standing and record for each of the now five NL Central ball clubs.

1. Cincinnati Reds (94-68)

With the top of the division, it’s the status quo.  The Reds are still the most complete team in the division and have, arguably, the best bullpen in baseball.  I say that knowing full well that Dusty Baker plans on slowly sucking the life out of Aroldis Chapman’s arm.  For now, though, they are the best team, and with a healthy Joey Votto, there isn’t a good reason why they wouldn’t win the division this season.  A team without major holes is a team that seems destined to win a division.  That best explains the Reds, and the only thing I can see changing this is a rash of injuries.  Even that seems unlikely to cause the Reds to falter, as the team without Joey Votto for a sizable piece of 2012 still won the division by a wide margin.

Projected Line-Up
1. Shin-Soo Choo, CF
2. Brandon Phillips, 2B
3. Joey Votto, 1B
4. Jay Bruce, RF
5. Ryan Ludwick, LF
6. Todd Frazier, 3B
7. Zack Cozart, SS
8. Ryan Hanigan, C

Projected Rotation:
1. Johnny Cueto
2. Mat Latos
3. Bronson Arroyo
4. Aroldis Chapman
5. Homer Bailey

Key Relievers:
Set-Up: Sean Marshall
Closer: Jonathon Broxton

2. St. Louis Cardinals (89-73)

As sick as it makes me, the Cardinals are chalk for a winning season and competing for a Wild Card…especially since there are two of them, now.  Even with the loss of Chris Carpenter, there is a wealth of depth on this team and in this organization.  They seem to heal wounds better than any team in baseball.  That, in large part, comes from the best farm system in baseball, according to ESPN’s Keith Law.  Without any major changes to the way this team is constructed from last season and Adam Wainwright being a full season past Tommy John Surgery, there is no good reason why they would fail to meet their usual standards of being a complete pain in the neck.  Even after losing Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa, and Chris Carpenter, they’re still pretty darn good.  Which blows.  Hard.

Projected Line-Up
1. John Jay, CF
2. Rafael Furcal, SS
3. Carlos Beltran, RF
4. Matt Holliday, LF
5. David Freese, 3B
6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Allen Craig, 1B
8. Daniel Descalso, 2B

Projected Rotation:
1. Adam Wainwright
2. Jaime Garcia
3. Jake Westbrook
4. Lance Lynn
5. Shelby Miller

Key Relievers:
Set-Up: Marc Rzepczynski
Closer: Jason Motte

3. Chicago Cubs (80-82)

Unlike the top two teams, everyone else has some question marks, starting with our beloved Cubs.  The outfield looks to be a strength of the organization…but not at the big league level.  Nate Schierholtz was looking for a one year deal to be an everyday player for a reason.  He is very talented, but that hasn’t translated well at the major league level, yet.  David DeJesus is a good on base player and can grind out an at-bat, but is not a prototypical lead off hitter.  He actually projects nicely into the 7th spot in a contending line up.  Third base looks like it will be held by Ian Stewart, if he’s healthy and shows some of the pop he had in Colorado.  He had flashes of it last year, but his wrist just didn’t let it happen like it needed to.  If he doesn’t get the job done, the hot corner will be ice cold for the Cubs again this season.  Luis Valbuena is a nice player, but doesn’t have the punch a corner infielder should have, and Josh Vitters appears to need more minor league time.  There is some question as to whether Wellington Castillo can be the everyday catcher.  Dioner Navarro is a nice addition to help, but Wellington is the most talented and will need to play to his level.  While the offense has some question marks, the rotation has been solidified by the additions of Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva, and Edwin Jackson.  Even if the Cubs do end up trading Matt Garza or have injuries, it will not leave the devastation that trading Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm and losing Garza to injury did last season.  With seven legitimate options to start, not including Arodys Vizcaino,  the Cubs figure to be in much better shape in the rotation.  The bullpen looks better, too.  Shawn Camp was retained, James Russell is another year in, the team signed Kyuji Fujikawa, and Carlos Marmol seemed to figure it out in the second half last season.  If Marmol gets dealt, which is a real possibility, Fujikawa is an option to step into the closer’s role that was so uncertain for the first half of last season.  Villanueva gives the Cubs a flexible option in the bullpen and as a spot starter, if needed.  Long story short, a much improved pitching staff is going to be a catalyst to a much improved Cubs team in 2013.

Projected Line-Up
1. David DeJesus, CF
2. Starlin Castro, SS
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
4. Alfonso Soriano, LF
5. Ian Stewart, 3B
6. Wellington Castillo, C
7. Nate Schierholtz, RF
8. Darwin Barney, 2B

Projected Rotation:
1. Matt Garza
2. Jeff Samardzija
3. Edwin Jackson
4. Travis Wood
5. Scott Feldman

Key Relievers:
Set-Up: Kyuji Fujikawa
Closer: Carlos Marmol

4. Milwaukee Brewers (77-85)

Looking at the Brewers, they will score runs.  A lot of runs.  I did not include Corey Hart in the projected line-up because he is going to be sidelined for the beginning of the season.  When he comes back, and likely occupies first base, it is going to be full steam ahead at Miller Park.  If they can get some stability out of their starting pitching, if their bullpen improves to be average (or settles for better than worst in the NL), if Corey Hart comes back healthy sooner rather than later, if Aramis Ramirez doesn’t go on a six week slump out of the starting block, and if Ryan Braun emerges clear of PED links again, this team has the potential to have a record just the opposite of what I predicted, and could peak into the playoff window.  There is a lot of if with this team, though.  Generally, some of the ifs work out, but not all of them.  The pitching is suspect.  Mike Fiers was outstanding last season, but with a year to adjust to a guy most teams had never seen and with a season’s worth of tape on him, hitters may be able to get a better read on his less than overwhelming stuff.  I love the kid as a 4th or 5th starter…not as a 2.  The bullpen could be better, but they added nothing to instill confidence in it to anyone but the homeriest of homers up here in Wisconsin.  Too many questions, too many uncertainties, no way to give them the benefit of all of the doubts at their chances of being competitive.

Projected Line-Up
1. Norichika Aoki, RF
2. Rickie Weeks, 2B
3. Ryan Braun, LF
4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
5. Matt Gamel, 1B
6. Jonathon Lucroy, C
7. Carlos Gomez, CF
8. Jean Segura, SS

Projected Rotation:
1. Yovani Gallardo
2. Mike Fiers
3. Chris Narveson
4. Marco Estrada
5. Tom Gorzelanny

Key Relievers:
Set-Up: Mike Gonzalez
Closer: John Axford

5. Pittsburgh Pirates (76-86)

I’ll admit, my projected line-up here seems amiss.  I look at the parts they have, and they don’t seem to fit together that well.  I like a number of their offensive players individually, and I think they will score some runs, led by Andrew McCutchen, who is an absolute stud of the highest order.  Like the Brewers, I have major concerns about their pitching staff.  A.J. Burnett is getting older.  Wandy Rodriguez is a good pitcher, but he doesn’t match up well with other number two pitchers in good rotations.  He’s a good middle of the rotation guy.  James McDonald faded down the stretch last season, and will need to figure it out again.  The bullpen, once a strength, loses much of its force by losing its strongest asset in Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox.  That move alone makes the bullpen average, at best.  With Jason Grilli becoming the closer, it appears to have sent the bullpen just over its head.  Everybody in it is elevated one spot, which to me, seems to be one spot too big for each player.  If Hanrahan were still a Pirate, I could make a good case for the team’s bullpen being the strength of the team.  Without him, it just doesn’t look the same, which is to say it does not look right.  Like the Brewers, too many ifs and concerns to see them being anything more than a team winning in the mid 70s.  For Pirates fans after the last couple of seasons, that may not be desirable, but they’re still much better than the Pirates of the last 20 years have been on average.

Projected Line-Up
1. Neil Walker, 2B
2. Starling Marte, LF
3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
4. Garrett Jones, 1B
5. Travis Snider, RF
6. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
7. Russell Martin, C
8. Clint Barmes, SS

Projected Rotation:
1. A.J. Burnett
2. Wandy Rodriguez
3. James McDonald
4. Jeff Locke
5. Jeff Karstens

Key Relievers:
Set-Up: Mark Melancon
Closer: Jason Grilli

The NL Central Arms Race

For those of us who treat this as more than a hobby, the coverage of the off-season has been significantly more extensive.  Since this is only a hobby for me (because of my other actual obligations…all to varying degrees less interesting and fun than following baseball), there have been few and far between since the end of the season.  With some time, though, now is a perfect time to talk about the thing that has dominated the Cubs’ off-season…PITCHING!

Photo: Charles Rex, Arbogast

Photo: Charles Rex, Arbogast

Today, Edwin Jackson was introduced at Wrigley Field.  With the additions of Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva, Kyuji Fujikawa, resigning Shawn Camp, and having Arodys Vizcaino coming off of surgery and being ready for 2013, it seems as though the Cubs will have a surplus of pitching talent to get them through this season.  That is something they did not have last season, especially after losing Matt Garza, who is progressing nicely though his rehab from a stress injury last July, and trading Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm at the deadline.  At the end of the season, LHP Travis Wood was the ace, after the team sat Jeff Samardzija in early September.  That wasn’t an ideal situation, and it was a key reason why the Cubs lost 101 games.

The flip side to the off-season is the stunning lack of movement in the rest of the division.  The Brewers have not done much with their staff, adding journeyman lefty and former Cub, Tom Gorzelanny, who I like as a solid reliever and spot starter, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking he is anything more than pitching depth for a team who had all kinds of trouble in the bullpen last season, and ended up losing Francisco Rodriguez this off-season.  They also added Burke Badenhop, who has had an up and down (as in between the majors and the minors) career with the Marlins and Rays.  No world beaters.  They seem to be enamored with Mike Fiers, who was very good after debuting with the club last season.  My own analysis of him is that he reminds me a lot of Randy Wells.

I wish I could say something bad about the Cardinals and their pitching.  I really do.  They haven’t done much (anything?..I haven’t seen any moves at all from them in the pitching department this off-season), but they seem to grow pitchers as well as anyone in the game.  With Chris Carpenter coming back, I’m sure they’ll be fine.  It makes me physically ill.  Seriously.

The Reds still have a lot of arms.  They still, in my estimation, have the best bullpen in the majors, even though they’re moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation.  They, too, have a nice strong staff that, in my opinion, keeps them the favorite to repeat as the division champions in 2013.  Again, it makes me sick…but not as sick as the Cardinals make me.  Nothing makes me that sick.

The Pirates confuse me.  I genuinely thought they were trying to compete…and then they went and traded Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox.  They also resigned Jason Grilli, who the Cubs were in on.  Without being too familiar with who the Pirates have coming up, they’re current rotation and bullpen screams average, and their back end looks shaky with the loss of Hanrahan.  I can only muse that this season they don’t want to disappoint their fans by playing well for the first four months before imploding with the uncanny appearance of controlled demolition for a third year in a row.

The Astros are gone…for those that forgot.  They’re off the the AL West to play for 110 losses at the hands of the Angels, Rangers, and A’s.  Good Luck, ‘Stros…you’re going to need it.  Desperately.

What it all means…

I can’t for the life of me see how the Cubs win this division next season.  I just can’t.  They do figure to be considerably better than their 101 losses last season.  They could make a strong push at third with the Pirates and Brewers regressing.  All of this is interesting in early January, but the off-season is by no means over, so something could cook up between now and the time pitchers and catchers report next month.  The Cubs have a much improved corps of pitchers.  That group would have been made much more potent had they actually signed Anibal Sanchez.  Theo Epstein and Tom Ricketts went to visit him personally, and the deal was reported, but like others for the Cubs, was prematurely reported and ended up not to be.  GM Jed Hoyer, today, revealed that he went to visit Edwin Jackson, who actually did sign.  At 29, he is on the side of 30 that the Cubs are looking for in players to add and build with,  and having pitched in the division with the Cardinals in 2011, there is familiarity with the NL Central, and he pitched well while with St. Louis.  Teaming him up with Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, there is a solid top three, and there is a good group of Baker, Feldman, Wood, and Villanueva competing for two spots at the back end of the rotation.

The Cubs have to know they can’t lose like they did last season and expect fans to turn out.  The fans stopped coming last season because it was nearly pointless to go watch them give up runs in bunches.  This season figures to be different.  Even if they trade some of their pitching  (GARZA!), they’ll have some fall back pieces to lean on so they don’t fall off the side of the Earth.  The off-season has gone to plan to this point.  It remains to be seen if the offense will be potent enough to push this team to .500.  The Cubs are not a finished product by any stretch, but this off-season is the next step to contention.

 

Brandon Phillips is Still the Gold Glove Favorite, Can’t Win in the West, and the Coming Off-Season

Photo: AP

In the last inning of the last game required to break the consecutive errorless games streak by a second baseman, Darwin Barney committed an error.  A throwing error, his third of the season.  His first error since April.  In spite of all of that, I still think Reds’ 2B Brandon Phillips is the favorite to win the Gold Glove this season.  These awards seem to be given based on reputation, and it is no secret that offensive production plays into the defensive award, as well.  None of this is to say that I don’t want Darwin to win the award.  He absolutely should.  It would be brutal for anyone but him to win after going over five months between errors, and the one he makes is on an insanely tough play.  Anybody that has seen the play knows that would not have been an error if it did not allow to cause a run to score.  We’ll see how it turns out.

After last night, the Cubs have gone 0-17 in road games against the NL West.  It is unfortunate that the team didn’t have a western swing in July, when they played well before the deadline.  They have two more opportunities to win a game out west this weekend, finishing the series against the D-Backs.  Should they fail to get a win, they will lose their 100th game, and have the first 100 loss season since 1966.

After all of the fuss about what Jed Hoyer said this week about having financial flexibility, it is important for Cubs’ fans to know that they can put away their anticipatory Josh Hamilton jerseys.  There will not be a major signing this off-season.  When you look at everything that the front office has said over the course of the last year, there is no reason to believe that they are going to pony up the cash for a big time free agent when they have said it is their goal to build from drafting and developing good players.  The goal is to have a strong organization from top to bottom, and we saw that over the course of the last few months.  Trading Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto, and Reed Johnson were all products of building a strong organization.  When you combine those statements with Theo Epstein saying he made mistakes in his approach toward the end of his tenure in Boston, there is no reason to believe there are going to be any nine figure deals getting tossed around this off-season.  It will be another in the process of building for future success.  At this point, the actual baseball season is a formality.  Games, at least in the north side of Chicago, won’t be all that significant for the next two to three years.

 

News of the Day

On a day after a ninth inning to forget, we all probably need some good news…so here we go.

Photo: Tom Cruze, Chicago Sun-Times

  • Darwin Barney enters tonight’s game vs. the Brewers one game short of the single season National League record for consecutive errorless games by a second baseman.  I think it bears repeating that this is only Darwin’s second full season as a second baseman, and his defense is nothing short of outstanding.  At the plate, Dale Sveum said he can be a .290-.310 hitter, which would make him an All-Star worthy player, should he put together his fielding and hitting.  While others may not have the hopes for Darwin that I have, I do see him as an everyday player that is still getting better.  Additionally, there are very few that work as hard, hustle as much, or play with the toughness that Darwin brings to the yard every day.  He’s a valuable piece, and hopefully the front office can see that.
  • Starlin Castro’s extension was announced today.  It is the 7 year/ $60 million that was reported, with escalators and options that could raise the value to 8 years/ $79 million when all is said and done.  Reminders about Castro are important, too.  He is 22.  He already has 1761 career plate appearances, which have only been exceeded by Robin Yount, Edgar Rentaria, Alex Rodriguez, Elvis Andrus, Arky Vaughan, and Travis Jackson for a short stop of that age.  Those are some pretty good players to be in company with, and if Castro turns into anything similar to any of those other players, this is going to be a great deal for the Cubs.  During his presser, Castro said he wants “to be here” and doesn’t want “to go nowhere.”  He was also asked about being a leader, which he seemed to embrace.  From a body language standpoint, he seemed to be a little surprised that it was happening for him.  He looked humble.  He also admitted that the extension talks were a distraction, which might be an explanation for some of the dip in production.  It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out for Castro, and whether or not his batting average climbs back up to around .300.
  • Brett Jackson seems to be settling in at the plate for the Cubs, going 1-2 with his 3rd HR in 4 games and 2 walks last night.  He seems locked in at Wrigley, and defensively, he’s been as advertised, running down balls and making plays in the outfield.  It was quite the slow start for both Jackson and Josh Vitters, with only Jackson breaking out of that.  Vitters is 5-53 with 19 strikeouts since being called up.  I do wonder if Vitters has been struggling at the plate because of the focus on his defense.  That may be a simple explanation, but without asking Josh himself, and getting an honest answer, we’ll never really know.
  • Jed Hoyer said during the Starlin Castro presser that the hardest things to find were starting pitchers and short stops, and that he is excited to have short stop taken care of.  As for pitching, the current rotation of Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, Brooks Raley, and Justin Germano is proving his point.  Since Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, and Matt Garza have left the rotation, the Cubs have only won only six games.  And the starting pitching has been a big reason why.  That said, Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija seem to be pitching themselves into rotation spots next season.
  • Yesterday, the Cubs made a minor move with the Oakland A’s, acquiring Catcher Anthony Recker for Blake Lalli, and optioned him to Iowa.  To make room on the 40 man, Scott Maine was designated for assignment.
  • And finally, in the “no surprise here” move of the day, the Cubs have activated Blake Parker from the 60 day DL, and have designated Alex Hinshaw for assignment.  If you recall your nightmare from last night, Hinshaw is the guy that threw beach balls to the Brewers, retiring nobody, and allowing three massive home runs to ensure the Cubs had no shot against oft-gotten John Axford, en route to a nine run ninth for the Brewers.

Names to Keep in Mind This Winter

With the season winding down, the off-season stove is going to start to heat up in front offices around MLB.  To think Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer aren’t putting together a list of names to go after this winter would be foolish.  Theo said earlier this year that he made some mistakes in making big slashes in Boston, and when accompanied by the team’s “bottom up” approach to building, don’t expect any big names to be added to the roster this winter.  Any clamoring for Zack Greinke, B.J. Upton, or Brian McCann should be toned down dramatically.  It is highly unlikely that it happens.  Think starting pitching, relief pitching, and veteran players that can help develop players and may have trade value down the line…like Paul Maholm last winter.  With all that said…ON TO THE SPECULATION!!

Photo: Jerry Lai, US Presswire
Don’t expect Theo and Jed to be getting too close to any big name free agents this winter.

1. RHP Scott Baker, Twins
Scott Baker is exactly the type of free agent that would interest the Cubs.  He has had some success in the major leagues, and probably will not command a big price.  The Twins do have a club option on Baker, so he may not even be available, but if he is, I would anticipate the Cubs to give him a look.  He’ll be 31 next season, so he won’t be too old, and would be a good candidate for a contract similar to what Paul Maholm got last winter.

2. RHP Ryan Dempster, Rangers
I know, I know.  He’s barely out the door and now I’m talking about bringing him back.  Why?  First, because he said he wouldn’t rule out coming back.  Second, he pitched very well for the Cubs this season.  Third, he has strong ties to the city of Chicago.  I can keep going on and on about why Dempster is a logical target, but it’s pretty obvious.  He didn’t want to leave, his teammates love him, and he loves Chicago.  A reunion shouldn’t be out of the question.  It is very possible.

3. RHP Colby Lewis, Rangers
He’s another Ranger who has some success at the major league level.  Before this season, he has pitched over 200 innings and kept his ERA respectable in the bam box in Arlington.  He’s another second tier free agent that can make starts and eat some innings.  And he will probably have some trade value at mid-season.  While it is unlikely that every free agent will be traded, they should at least have the ability to bring something back via trade, and Lewis will.  His 4-1 record and 2.34 postseason ERA proves that October isn’t too big for him, so that gives him value to teams looking to acquire him, but an injury history and average numbers will keep his free agent value marketable.

4. OF Reed Johnson, Braves
Reed is basically in the same boat as Ryan Dempster.  You know what you’re getting.  A versatile  outfielder that plays excellent defense, can make a start and give four good at bats, and is always ready.  There wouldn’t be a better man to have on the bench for a young team than Johnson, and he proved that during the first half of this season.

5. RHP Jair Jurrjens, Braves
Jair Jurrjens is arbitration eligible, but has struggled mightily in 2012 and was sent to the minors and currently resides on the disabled list.  He has pitched his way, this season, to non-tender contender, which would make him a buy low candidate for any team looking to sign him.  He is a 26 year old, who has been excellent until this season.  The Braves have arms in their system and may not want to deal with a Jurrjens arbitration, so he could be an odd man out.  If he’s available, he is exactly the type of player Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein would target.  He’s young, got a good arm, and has a ton of upside.  Unless he commands big money, he would be a great pick up for the Cubs.  There is a lot of low risk, high reward potential to grabbing a non-tendered Jurrjens.

Without knowing who is going to be available for sure until the winter, this was an exercise of trying to get an idea of what the Cubs could look for.  The front office is going to center their efforts around adding starting pitching, especially after trading Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm.  While Dempster could come back and fill a rotation spot, there are going to be openings for free agents to step in and contribute.  There will not be any big names coming to the North Side, but there are some nice players that could be available at a reasonable price.  After trying so hard for years to fill spots with free agents to contend right away, these names may not make anyone sit up and take notice, but they are names that can help the rebuilding process move along.