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.
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.
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.
Theo Epstein was on WEEI Boston today, where he spoke about a number of topics. He spoke about the signing of Edwin Jackson and him having years left in his prime, Anthony Rizzo, and draft pick compensation being at a premium when considering signing free agents that would cost a draft pick, in addition to a number of other topics related to the Cubs and Red Sox. The interview is lengthy, but it’s worth a listen if you’re so inclined to do those types of things. Hear Theo Epstein’s interview with WEEI here.
Bruce Levine had a chat today, which covered a number of topics. Some of the highlights, with some of my own commentary are as follows…
- He was asked about the potential of a Soriano trade to the Phillies, and he said that was a “tremendously old rumor.” That doesn’t say good things about the potential about it actually happening, but Soriano might be a better alternative to the Phillies with the free agent market for Michael Bourn. With the Cubs willing to eat a significant portion of Soriano’s deal, he could be a cheaper alternative for a team looking to acquire an outfielder, without wanting to give up a valuable draft pick. The Cubs will look to see if they can move Fonsi, but I would be a little surprised if he were moved before Opening Day.
- When asked if Jeff Samardzija had a chance at 200 strike outs, 15 wins, and a sub 3.2 ERA and said that he had spoken to scouts who said Samardzija was the most improved pitcher last season between April and September. He also said there is no reason to think those numbers can’t be approached. I would be inclined to agree to a certain extent, but I would caution against expectation. Samardzija is a young pitcher and any growth would be a good thing from him in 2013. Since the team does not figure to contend, it would be wise not to burden a good young player with big expectations too early.
- Bruce was also asked about the leaks, to which he said that the Cubs are pretty accessible, but they don’t let information get out that they don’t want out. He also pointed out that agents are a factor in free agency. I’m inclined to agree. It seems like the Cubs have had leaks happen to them, but haven’t been the source. The Dempster leak came from the Braves, the Marmol leak from Marmol himself, and the Sanchez leak was from an agent trying to leverage a team. Really…there’s nothing that could be done there from the Cubs’ side of things.
- He outright dismissed the idea of trading for Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton. Amen.
- Matt Garza trade rumors to the Rangers came up for a heavy package, and he said it was possible. I agree that the Rangers could use the statement addition of Garza after missing on Greinke, and that could drive up the return value for him, but with Garza having been injured, I would be surprised if he were traded before the season. It would be a risk for any team to send the Cubs a package of prospects without seeing the guy pitch after last July. His elbow is the reason he didn’t get moved at the deadline last year, so I have a tough time seeing him getting moved before he pitches. That’s just my feeling. A desperate Rangers team (or someone else) could change that, though.
- The speculation about political bitterness between the Ricketts and Mayor Emanuel made an appearance. Honestly, get over it and do what’s best for the ball club. I know Wrigley is a historical landmark, but it is still a functioning ballpark and will need renovations, so the gamesmanship and BS need to stop. A successful Cubs team is good for the Ricketts and the city of Chicago, and a modernized Wrigley is a key to that.
- Conversation about prospects came about with Bruce saying he thought Brett Jackson was the most likely to come up to the majors this season. Javier Baez will play short where ever he is in the minors this year, and Josh Vitters and Junior Lake could see themselves moved to the outfield, or at least it is time to consider it. I think Vitters could be a good left fielder. Hide his defense, and continue to develop his bat in that spot. If Soriano is traded, I think he would be a good choice to get a crack at the position first.
The Cubs have acquired Marcelo Josue Carreno and a cash consideration for Jeff Baker, to complete the trade from the Tigers. In other news, Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein will be under indictment for grand theft of a prospect in this deal. Marcelo Carreno was the 11th ranked prospect in the Tigers system (well, not anymore) at the end of the 2012 regular season. He spent 2011 and 2012 in the Midwest League with West Michigan, posting some decent numbers. MLB.com’s ranking report on him says “Better command of his fastball, curve and change-up could help him become a solid middle-of-the-rotation type,” which is basically stealing from a team who used Baker for about 15 minutes (actually, it was 15 games, and he hit .200) before sending him to Atlanta for a player to be named later.
With the season having come to a close about two weeks ago, things are going to start to make themselves clear in a short amount of time about the shape of the club next season. It has already been made apparent that the Cubs will seek out additional starting pitching for next season. So, don’t despair about an entire season with what we saw the last two months of this season, where there was little to no pitching available outside of Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija, until he was shut down. With Samardzija, and potentially Matt Garza, coming back to start the season with Travis Wood (probably) and two new guys, the pitching should be a lot more stable at the beginning of next season than it was at the end of this one. Matt Garza, however, still is a candidate to be dealt this off-season, which would make it more likely that Wood and Samardzija join three new acquisitions in the rotation as 2013 begins.
The powers that be are still singing the praises of Dale Sveum, so to all of you out there who are thinking there could be a third straight year of managerial search or want another managerial search…stop it.
ESPN’s Buster Olney says that the Brewers are in play to sign Josh Hamilton this off-season. Not Cubs related at all…just something to snicker at. They seem to be turning into the Brewers circa 2007 when they were trying to out slug everyone because they couldn’t pitch. I don’t see it happening, but the thought of it is just amusing.
Remember the name Pete Mackanin? It’s cool. Not everyone lives this stuff like I do. He was one of the guys who was interviewed to be the manager last off-season. Well, since he was fired from his role as bench coach in Philadelphia, his name has surfaced as a potential replacement for the departed Pat Listach, as third base coach. Listach was let go, likely because of philosophical differences. I don’t understand them, because his philosophy clearly worked with Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro’s defense. Mackanin is a name that has been mentioned. Former Astros manager, Brad Mills is also an option. We’ll see who Epstein, Hoyer, and Sveum come to a consensus on. I wouldn’t bet against Mackanin, though. Too many things are in play for him to not get a real shot at being the new third base coach.
There are going to be names to watch this off-season. They include Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Marmol. All three are prime trade candidates, especially Marmol and Soriano, who had very nice seasons to improve their stock.
3:10 PM: And that’s that. Garza and Soriano (for now) have not been traded.
2:15 PM: The Cubs are saying that Alfonso Soriano is likely staying put, but that could change in August when he clears waivers, according to Bob Nightengale.
2:04 PM: David Kaplan is back on Earth, saying the Cubs and Tigers are hard at work on Soriano, but is not sure money is going to work out.
2:01 PM: Harold Reynolds just said his “favorite rumor” is Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza for Justin Upton. That would be a huge move for the Cubs.
2:00 PM: One hour from the deadline. Nothing new to report. Arodys Vizcaino is ranked #3 in the Cubs’ system, though. So that’s cool.
1:54 PM: The Cubs and Tigers continue to discuss names in a Soriano deal that seems like a long shot at this point. It is not known of Sori would go to the Tigers at this point. Other players discussed with Tigers have been Tony Campana and Luis Valbuena. All of this is speculation, and for his part, Jim Leyland thinks the Tigers are done making trades.
1:50 PM: Carrie Muskat has reported that Casey Coleman, Wellington Castillo, and Adrien Cardenas are going to be called up to Chicago to replace the players traded last night.
1:41 PM: All of the talk around the Cubs seems centered on Dempster, with almost nothing being said about Garza or Soriano. With so little time remaining, I would be surprised (mildly) if either was not a Cub at 3:01 this afternoon.
10:00 AM: Ken Rosenthal says that as of early this morning, the Rangers did not think they had a match to get Garza. He also says the Rangers have said there is “minimal attractive talent.” It appears the Rangers are going to stand still at the deadline as far as pitching goes.
9:55 AM: Dave Sappelt tweets that he is not being called up. The mystery continues…
9:54 AM: Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Rangers don’t like the low amount of quality starting pitching available and may wait until the August waiver period. Meanwhile, Buster Olney is reporting that Garza is an interesting option for GMs that have confidence in the doctor’s report on his MRI, and that the Diamondbacks have the prospects and aggressive GM to make a trade for Garza work.
9:32 AM: For what it’s worth, the Geovany Soto deal is now official. They will get the dreaded player to be named later…or some of their money back.
9:28 AM: David Kaplan says he spoke to Brett Jackson, who told him that he would be playing in today’s day game for the Iowa Cubs. I still think it’s going to be Dave Sappelt getting the call up. We know now it will not be Jackson, at least not today.
9:08 AM: Jon Heyman reports that the Cubs are talking to the Rangers and two other teams about Matt Garza. Those teams are assumed to be the Reds and the Blue Jays. He also says it is still possible that Garza could stay until at least winter.
9:04 AM: Not really trade related, but since Brett Jackson is not being traded and it does not appear that he is going to be called up, Twitter exploded on Jackson for nothing more than a coincidence, which was Jackson being removed from the Iowa Cubs’ game last night in a double switch right around the same time Reed Johnson was getting hugs in the Cubs’ dugout.
8:54 AM: The Dodgers appear close to acquiring Shane Victorino from the Phillies for Josh Lindblom and a second player. That pretty much kills any chance that the Dodgers would be willing to take on Alfonso Soriano.