The Epstein Administration is off to a very honest start, to say the least. When Theo came, he made no mistake that the intention was to build an organization, from the bottom up, in order to sustain success for the long term. To this point, he has kept his word. The Cubs’ system now features five of the top 100 prospects, according to MLB.com’s updated, post season rankings. Half of the organization’s top ten prospects have been acquired since Epstein and Co. have arrived, and that does not include First Baseman Anthony Rizzo, who would be the undisputed #1 prospect in the system if he met MLB.com’s criteria for what makes a prospect. The fact that he has had a rookie season in the majors, from my view, does not make him any less of a prospect. He is by no means a finished product…which is a scary good thought after his 2012 season.
With all of that, here is a positional look at the system:
- PITCHING: Pitching is still the weakness of the system. Theo knows it. Jed knows it. Even the guy in the bleachers drunkenly screaming to fire Dale Sveum because we could have won the World Series this year knows it. That is why the focus has been on acquiring pitching. The new regime spent almost the entire draft on infusing the system with new arms. They made an unsuccessful attempt to acquire Randall Delgado for Ryan Dempster. They made a successful deal with the Braves to acquire Arodys Vizcaino, who is the best pitching prospect in the system, according to MLB’s new rankings. Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn are also top 20 prospects in the system, who were drafted in the slots gained from the departures of Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena. Nine of the top 20 are pitchers, none of whom is Hayden Simpson, the 2010 first round pick. We are very close to reaching bust status with him. The front office knows that there is still a shortage of arms in the system, so look for a continued focus on acquiring them, either through trades or in the draft. Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza could each become prospect pitching, if there is a deal to be made.
- CATCHERS: With Wellington Castillo looking primed to crouch behind the dish on a full time basis, with Steve Clevenger being a capable back up, and Geovany Soto being a Texas Ranger, it would seem the system is lacking in catching depth. That’s mostly true. The only catcher of note who will be in the minor leagues next season is Anthony Recker, who finished the season in the majors because of a September call-up. The bright side to the catching situation is that both of the big league backstops are young players, who, like Anthony Rizzo, I would still consider prospects, who are developing at the big league level. That’s some good news. The bad news is, catchers tend to be injured more than other positions, and there is not a lot behind them.
- INFIELD: There is some talent in the infield in the organization, but it’s nothing to jump out of your chair for. Javier Baez is a notable exception to that, as the system’s number one prospect, again, according to MLB.com. Christian Villanueva and Junior Lake are also both in the top ten in the organization, but neither seem to be all that close to cracking the major league line-up anytime soon. Lake is probably the closest prospect, but he projects to be a utility player, who can play all over because of his arm and athleticism. He has good power, but lacks plate discipline and still needs some polish in the field. He could be a call-up in the mold of Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson in 2013, to get some experience at the major league level before going back to the minors to work on deficiencies he may not get to know without a call-up. As for Baez and Villanueva, both finished the season at Daytona. They may go to AA, Tennessee together next season, but a more sure bet is that they open at Daytona next year. Josh Vitters, the most major league ready prospect in the infield, showed that he still needs some time to grow. I could see him being moved to a corner outfield spot if his glove does not improve significantly. An interesting prospect on the infield is Dan Vogelbach, whose bat will probably propel him up the system. He hit for a combined 1.051 OPS between Mesa and Boise. Being a 1B, though, is going to hurt him with the Cubs. He is blocked by Anthony Rizzo. If he could become a 3B, he could be a Pablo Sandoval type player in the future, although Keith Law says he has “no shot.” My guess is, his lack of athleticism is going to be a significant issue with him being anything more than a first baseman or a designated hitter…which the Cubs have no use for.
- OUTFIELD: The outfield is where the most depth is within the system. After getting a sight of Brett Jackson, it appears that he has the ability to man CF at Wrigley for a long time, with improvements to his swing and approach at the plate. The additions of Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, both of whom played well in their first taste of American pro baseball, make them, with Jackson, three of the top five prospects in the system. With other interesting prospects, like Dave Sappelt and Shawon Dunston Jr, there is some serious talent, much of which is still saturating the low levels of the system. For the time being, it is interesting to wonder about what an Almora, Jackson, Soler outfield will look like…because it won’t be a reality for a few years. For now, we’ll get to watch a Soriano, DeJesus, LaHair (or whoever else they can manage to throw out there).
There is a lot more talent in the minors now than there was 12 months ago. That is something that has to be attributed to building the organization, as opposed to trading any and all talent we can to get veteran players to win right now. There has been a lot of that over the years, leaving the cupboards pretty bare. Building it back up will take as much time and effort as it will to build the big league team into one that can consistently win. It is a good thing to have talent saturation in the minors, and at this point in time, there is much more of it than there was when Jim Hendry left the club. It is exciting, however, to watch the build-up. Seeing lower level clubs compete, like the Boise Hawks did in 2012 is a sign of talent infusion. Hopefully, the Cubs are able to build a system that can compete at all levels. No organization can have too much talent. At this point,though, it is still a work in progress.
UPDATE 10:36 PM: Ken Rosenthal reports that the Cubs will receive Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman for Johnson and Maholm. Vizcaino is coming off of Tommy John Surgery, but was one of the untouchable prospects in the Braves organization last season.
UPDATE 1030 PM: One of the pitchers from the Braves is Jaye Chapman, according to Jerry Crasnick, and Ken Rosenthal reports the Cubs could have a bigger deal with a “red hot division rival.” That would be the Reds, who have opened discussions to acquire Matt Garza.
UPDATE 10:25 PM: Alfonso Soriano has informed the Cubs that he will not accept a trade to the Giants.
UPDATE 10:17 PM: The obligatory Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster rumors are that the Cubs are still working to trade Dempster to the Dodgers, and the Blue Jays and Rangers are interested in acquiring Matt Garza after his MRI came back without any problems.
UPDATE 10:03 PM: The Cubs will get 2 minor league pitchers back from the Atlanta Braves for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson, according to Jerry Crasnick. Neither of them is named Randall Delgado.
UPDATE 9:51 PM: The plot thickens…Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson have been traded to the Atlanta Braves, according to Jon Morosi.
UPDATE 9:48 PM: We do not know who is getting Reed Johnson, but according to multiple sources, it will not be the Tigers, Indians, Dodgers, or Giants.
UPDATE 9:45PM: Geovany Soto has been traded to the Texas Rangers, according to Yahoo’s Tim Brown. According to CBS Sports, the Cubs will get RHP Jacob Brigham.
UPDATE 9:31 PM: Ken Rosenthal reports the Cubs have made separate trades, including Reed Johnson and Geovany Soto
UPDATE 9:25PM: Geovany Soto is getting hugs and saying good byes in the dugout and it appears he has been traded, as well.
ORIGINAL POST: In addition, OF Brett Jackson has been removed from tonight’s Iowa Cubs game.
The Tigers have pulled pitching prospect Thomas Collier after three innings, and they were one of the teams interested in acquiring Johnson.
When 3:00 PM Central time passes tomorrow afternoon, it will probably be one of the most joyous moments of this baseball season for me as a Cubs’ fan for one simple reason: the constant barrage of Dempster rumors will be put to bed, once and for all.
The latest rumbling from Buster Olney is that there is no dialogue between the Cubs and Dodgers at the moment. Other news today included the Nationals getting involved or getting involved again, since they were rumored to be interested about two weeks ago. With the Braves, Dodgers, and now the Nationals all being tied to Dempster at this late stage in the game, that could mean the price for Dempster goes back up, at least a little bit. We should all remain skeptical that the price is the same as it was last week, when the Braves were offering Randall Delgado for Dempster, which was quite high. The factor remaining highest in the Cubs favor is that if either the Braves or Nationals are going to make serious bids on Dempster, they are going to need the Cubs to eat a significant portion of Ryan’s remaining salary, and that will drive the price up, which may force the Dodgers, who have been nothing more than luke warm on the idea of acquiring Dempster to either raise their offer, or drop it altogether.
Alfonso Soriano’s name has been mentioned quite a bit more in Dempster to Dodgers talks the last day or so. Soriano also has 10/5 rights, so he too can veto any trade that the Cubs try to include him in. Dale Sveum said today that he would be surprised if Dempster were still a Cub tomorrow. While it is difficult to tell what all of this means in the grand scheme, it is easy to see that there remains much to watch in the last 21+ hours before the deadline.
As has been the case for the last week, stay tuned…
With the Brewers imploding faster than the roof of the Metrodome a couple of years ago, it seems more and more apparent that the Brewers are going to sell. And with Zack Greinke pitching out of his mind tonight, it would seem that teams looking to acquire him (quite a few based on tonight’s scout count) would probably try to do so sooner rather than later. That little nugget of information, coupled with the Marlins, Rays possibly joining a seller’s market with the likes of Josh Johnson and James Shields, and Astros trading Wandy Rodriguez to the Pirates tonight, the market for starting pitching could shrink on the Cubs, who are looking to deal Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and Paul Maholm.
As it stands with Dempster, he appears to be holding out to join former Cub and friend, Ted Lilly in Los Angeles. Exercising his 10/5 rights to veto a trade could be a detriment to the Cubs because now that it is public knowledge that the Bravos are willing to part with Randall Delgado for a rental player, other teams might try to sweeten the pot for them or try to swoop in a get Delgado for a player of similar stature to Dempster. Meanwhile, the Dodgers are still refusing to part with Zach Lee in a deal for Dempster, which would make losing out on the 22 year old Delgado a tough pill to swallow for the Cubs.
Matt Garza will not pitch until Monday, at the earliest, it appears. From my perspective, that makes it more unlikely that he gets moved before non-waiver deadline at 3:00 PM central time on Tuesday afternoon. As it stood before, it was widely reported that it was about 50/50 that Garza got moved anyway. With his “arm discomfort” and delayed start until after the weekend, the price might come down on him to a point where the Cubs are more interested in trying to extend Garza than using him as a pawn to add young arms to the minor league system. Rumors floated that the Cubs were looking for two major league ready pitching prospects for Garza, similar to what the Rockies got for Ubaldo Jimenez, which may be too steep a price. Reports today were that the Rangers were looking for an ace type pitcher, and that they don’t see Garza that way. That again, shrinks his market, and I predict he is a Cub for the duration of 2012, if not longer.
Paul Maholm was never going to net a big name prospect. With the Pirates getting Wandy Rodriguez, it seems less and less likely that Maholm gets moved at all, since they were said to be his biggest suitor. It is still possible that he gets moved in the week between now and the deadline, but it doesn’t seem likely that he will during the season. He could be a trade chip for this winter, with a modest $6.5M option for next season. Teams looking to add a back of the rotation lefty might be willing to part with a decent prospect in January for a player like Maholm after the bulk of free agency has concluded. As it stands now, it is hard to envision him going anywhere with so many new names being added to a market that has so few suitors.
The Cubs do have some nice bats on the market, led by Alfonso Soriano, who hit his 19th HR of the season in tonight’s win at Pittsburgh. Calling Mr. Friedman, Mr. Andrew Friedman…we have something Joe Maddon might like to plug into his line-up, ranked 27th in slugging. The Rays sorely need a right handed bat, and Soriano could be had if they’re willing to part with some solid prospects and pay about $4M over the next two years. He clearly has some pop in his bat and when he was a DH earlier this season, he was pure magic at the plate, highlighted by some of the bombs he launched at Target Field. Others include Bryan LaHair, who would make a nice platoon player at either a corner infield or outfield position, or DH in the American League. He probably won’t net more than a middle of the pack prospect, which wouldn’t be all that bad for a 29 year old minor league reclamation project. Reed Johnson is said to have a number of suitors as the guy he is for the Cubs; a veteran bat and solid defender off the bench that can pinch hit, play defense, and give you four good at bats when asked to start.
The most unfortunate part of all of this seems to be the foiling of the plan to get better for future years by sacrificing some on field production this year. Being 16 under .500 and 16 back in the division means it’s over in 2012. While they could conceivably fight for 4th in the division, being four behind the Brewers, that does nothing but make the holidays a little more palatable for me this winter. If the last few days are any indication of things to come, there will be a lot more movement before the deadline. The Cubs will likely make some moves and the team will not look the same next Wednesday when the Cubs square off with the Pirates as they do tomorrow when they square off with the Pirates. As is the case every year at this time, stay tuned…
UPDATE: Dale Sveum calls the reports a “fabrication” and blames “the Twitter, the Facebook” for out of control reporting. I’m not sure it was completely made up, since it came from a number of reputable reporters, but premature is not out of the question at all, as it regards to a Ryan Dempster trade. Again, more to come…
Ryan Dempster was traded today to the Atlanta Braves for, in principle, RHP Randall Delgado. Or was he? Multiple outlets, including cubs.com reported that a trade had been completed. Many of those same outlets and Dempster himself have also said that no deal is done. Dempster showed up this afternoon in the Cubs’ clubhouse and tweeted that he had no idea where the trade rumors were coming from. From the Cubs’ perspective, acquiring a 22 year old starting pitcher with controllability is exactly what the front office is looking to do, especially if it comes for a 35 year old pitcher in the last year of his contract. Delgado is a consensus Top 100 prospect in baseball, and Baseball America had him rated as the Braves #3 prospect entering the season. As is generally the case, more to come on whether or not this trade actually goes down…
The Cubs are also rumored to be deep in discussions with the Dodgers, with the principles in a deal being pitchers Matt Garza and Zach Lee. Lee is the #35 overall mlb.com prospect this season. The Cubs are Dodgers were deep in discussions centering around Dempster, but were abandoned because the Cubs presumably wanted Lee for Dempster, which the Dodgers were not willing to do for a rental player. Garza is under team control through next (2013) season, which would make a Lee deal a little more enticing for the Dodgers.
There are several other names being discussed, such as Darwin Barney (Tigers), Paul Maholm (any team looking for starting pitching), Alfonso Soriano (any team willing to take him), and veterans Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker.