Tagged: Ryan Dempster

TRADE DEADLINE: Is Samardzija The Next To Go?

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.

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TRADE DEADLINE: Garza Could Fetch a Core Piece At Deadline

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.

Rangers

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.

Padres

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.

Dodgers

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.

Indians

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.

Cubs

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.

The Cubs Will Be Sellers…But Won’t Empty the Store

I think we’re all sure that there is going to be a sell off at the deadline this season again.  The extent of that sell off is yet to be determined, but in comparison to last year, it will likely be pretty minor.  The reason for that is simple…there is less there for the Cubs to sell.  That’s not to say this team is less talented than last year’s team.  Actually, the opposite is true by a wide margin.  Looking at “the plan,” though, and what the Cubs have on their roster, who is likely to go is pretty limited.

STARTING PITCHING:

NOT GOING ANYWHERE:

Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood

The only player in this group who has any chance of being dealt is Travis Wood.  Jeff Samardzija is a stud who is under team control through 2016.  That type of pitcher is someone you don’t let go of if you’re lacking impact pitching talent in the first place.  Travis Wood has an outside shot of being traded because of his hot start to the season, with nine quality starts in his first ten outings.  He, too, is under team control for a long time.  He won’t hit free agency until 2017.  He is exactly the type of young, cost controlled asset the regime has said to want to keep around.  Dealing him at the deadline would be a huge shock to me, and I don’t see it happening without some type of high end prospect coming back in return.  And because Travis Wood is still only a good 4-5th starter, I can’t see a team willing to cough up that much for him.  Edwin Jackson’s not going anywhere.  He was signed to be a piece for when the Cubs compete.  And he will get ample opportunity to figure out what troubles him.

MAY BE GOING SOMEWHERE:

Matt Garza

He’s only been back for a week, so I think it is entirely too early to tell whether or not he is fully back from his arm/ lat injuries.  And it is too early to tell what kind of value he has.  I know that the Cubs are looking to get back impact prospects for Garza, and if they get the right package of them, he’ll be packing his bags and headed to another city.  It is just too early to tell if any team is going to be willing to ship the Cubs the right package of prospects for a pure rental player, who is due to become a free agent at season’s end.  It would figure to be just as likely that Garza stays in Chicago all season and the Cubs slap a qualifying offer on him.  If that happens, it would be entirely possible that Garza would return to the Cubs after watching Kyle Lohse wait until just before the season to be signed.  There is an outside shot that the Cubs extend him for a contract similar to the one they offered Anibal Sanchez.  He is worth that kind of money when healthy, and if he shows that he is, he’d be worth the investment.

DON’T GET COMFORTABLE:

Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva

Both of these guys are attractive pieces at the deadline.  Neither makes all that much money.  Both can come out of the pen.  Both can give you a good start every five days.  That makes them the two best candidates to be out the door this July.  Feldman was asked about being flipped at his introductory conference call, so none of this should come as news to him.  Villanueva, however, signed a two year deal, so he would likely net a bit more than

Photo: Rob Carr, Getty Images

Photo: Rob Carr, Getty Images

Feldman in a trade, simply for the extra year of inexpensive control.

BULLPEN:

NOT GOING ANYWHERE:

Hector Rondon, Shawn Camp, Kyuji Fujikawa, Carlos Marmol

I know you’re all upset that Marmol is on this list.  I am, too.  He’s not worth a day old hotdog, though.  At the deadline he’ll be due about $5M, and his numbers aren’t going to make that a good investment for a team looking for a quality reliever.  The only way he comes off this list is if he has a turn around like last year and the Cubs eat most (…or all) of his remaining contract.  And he won’t bring back very much in return.  The most likely scenario with him is finishing the season and walking away in free agency.  Shawn Camp is much more likely to be released than traded.  Kyuji Fujikawa has been injured too early to have any chance at being dealt, and Hector Rondon is a Rule 5 player who the front office likes.  That makes all of them mostly untradeable.

MAY BE GOING SOMEWHERE:

James Russell, Kevin Gregg

James Russell has proven to be a valuable commodity in the bullpen the last couple of years, which increases his value immensely, but since he is under team control through 2016, it stands to reason that the team would like to keep a controllable asset like him.  There are good teams looking for left handed relievers who can get guys out on both sides of the plate, though.  And if one of them offers up a good package for James Russell, it would not be outside of the realm of possibility that he gets shipped off for multiple pieces.  Kevin Gregg is having a bit of a resurgence with the Cubs, which makes him attractive.  He’s a cheap piece who could fit into a bullpen and occasionally close for a team looking for that type of player.  He probably wouldn’t net a whole lot, but considering the Cubs were just throwing a line in the water to see what he had, any return would be a nice profit on their low risk investment.

INFIELDERS:

NOT GOING ANYWHERE:

Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Wellington Castillo

Rizzo and Castro both signed long term extensions.  Those are obvious.  Castillo is a talented young catcher who is going to get every opportunity to win this spot long term.

MAY  BE GOING SOMEWHERE:

Darwin Barney, Luis Valbuena, Cody Ransom, Dioner Navarro

The most attractive piece in this group is obviously Darwin Barney.  His glove makes him an attractive trade piece for someone looking for a really good utility infielder.  Remember, he came up as a short stop and played some third base when he was initially called up.  If his bat keeps coming along, he could be a really good long term starter at second base for a contending team with a shortage in that spot.  He’s 27, so the Cubs may not see him as a long term piece of the core group of players.  He is under team control until 2017, though.  And if he continues to make progress with the bat, he is every bit the kind of player you want at 2B on a contending Cubs team.  Luis Valbuena and Cody Ransom both offer the same kind of value for a team that Jeff Baker added last year.  They are both utility players who can swing the bat some.  They may not bring a lot in return, but that probably wouldn’t stop the front office from sending them away for some intriguing young players.

OUTFIELD:

MAY BE GOING SOMEWHERE:

Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz, Scott Hairston, Ryan Sweeney

The safest bet for any of the outfielders to go anywhere is David DeJesus.  A veteran, left handed hitter who can take pitches and work counts  while offering solid defense at all three outfield positions is always in demand.  If the price is right, DDJ is out the door.  It’s just not clear what his value is.  It can’t be too much higher than it was last year, and he wasn’t traded then.  I sense that he would have been traded last year if there was a market for him, which gives me some reason to think he’s not the slam dunk to be traded that some are calling him.  Soriano is going to be shopped aggressively, and if the Cubs find a team willing to package some good pieces together and Soriano is willing to waive his no trade rights, he likely goes at the deadline.  There is too much uncertainty with Soriano, though.  He’s picky.  And he has that right.  If the Cubs get a call about the other three players, I am sure they will listen, and if they can get a prospect of two that they like, there is almost no chance they refuse.

None of this is to say that the Cubs will stand pat at the deadline.  It just isn’t clear who will or will not be going anywhere.  There are not the sure things this season, like Ryan Dempster last season.  There are attractive pieces on this team for others to look at, but none of them are necessarily special.  Matt Garza would net the most in return, theoretically, but if Jed and Theo don’t get a package they like, it is hard to believe they will trade him for the sake of trading him.  That actually applies to pretty much everybody on the roster short of Feldman.  He is a true rental, even for the Cubs, so if they can squeeze a prospect out for him, they probably wouldn’t hesitate to do so.  They may be a little more choosey with Villanueva only because they have him next season, too, and if they plan on being in the hunt next year, he’s a nice piece to have.  Or, if we’re looking at another cold assessment that leads to selling, he has value then, too.

Expect some movement from the Cubs.  Just don’t expect them to send away everything not nailed down like last year.  This is year two.  It’s time to start hanging on to some of the talent.

Errors In Judgement

There is no denying that it’s been tough to watch at times in the early going.  The errors, the lack of hitting with runners in scoring position, the lack of patience at the plate, the base running blunders…it’s all been quite frustrating.  There is a bright side, though.  It can’t get any worse.

In my Central Division Preview, I called the Cubs an 80 win team.  I made my predictions, intentionally early, based on the on-paper roster.  It actually looks pretty good right now.  *Hold on, meatball…before you call me a moron and tell me to watch the games, you’re right.*  But hear me out.  The Cubs are losing games, which is to say they are not being beaten by the other teams, but by themselves.  We can agree they played well enough to win one against the Braves, two more than they did against the Giants, and probably the first two of this series against the Brewers without the mistakes which have cost them early.  There are five wins in there the Cubs don’t have, that they could have.  And really, if they win two or three of those five games, nobody’s saying anything about the errors or struggles with runners in scoring position because an 8-8 or a 7-9 record would be acceptable based on what we were expecting this season.

More silver lining:  the mistakes are inexcusable.  They are not, however, uncorrectable.  Change can happen with the defense, especially when the vast majority are effort mistakes.  Anthony Rizzo is a very good defensive first baseman, and has made two uncharacteristic plays in the last two nights.  Both of them were because he was trying to rush.  Friday, on a play against a speedy Nori Aoki, and last night trying to get an out and throw home on a play he wasn’t going to make.  Ultimately, the play last night didn’t matter.  Sure, he bobbled the ball, but they still got the out at first base, and he wasn’t going to hold Logan Schafer at third anyway.  That’s a “no harm, no foul” play.  The misplay was not relevant to the outcome of the play.  Starlin Castro is our favorite whipping boy, and it probably has a lot to do with his off the charts talent.  His issues have not been concentration related, either as much as they’re publicized as.  Say what you will about an error with the pitcher running, but that was a physical mistake, not taking his time and making the play.  Stop with the garbage “you have to be aware of who’s running” stuff.  Last night was no different.  Actually, it was the same play.  Two outs, and making the play ends the innings and ends the scoring threat.

Photo: Jeffrey Phelps/ AP

Photo: Jeffrey Phelps/ AP

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t be disappointed or frustrated or cover our eyes while we watch yet another defeat being snatched out of the jaws of victory.  At the end of the day, though, who cares?  The front office, and Theo Epstein, in particular make no qualms about “playoffs or protected pick.”  He said that they’re going to take the “cold assessment” in the middle of the season.  There is no valor in winning 78 vs 73.  He’s absolutely right, too.  Hell, I’ll take it a step further.  When you watch the game today, look across the field at the other dugout.  They won 83 last season.  Our guys got 61.  Everybody finished on the same day.  Their fans get to talk about the magical “winning season” and we get mocked for “101 losses.”  But in June, the Cubs get a prize.  They get Mark Appel or Jonathan Gray.  They get a chance at a college arm who can be teamed with Jeff Samardzija for years to come.  The Brewers coughed up a first round pick for three years of Kyle Lohse, and with it, stay stuck in mediocrity.  They can have their 75-84 wins each year.  If the Cubs go down with another 100+ losses this season, that’s alright. *Cue Meatball fan throwing closing the browser window…NOW*  It’s not like tthe Cubs have had a difficult time attracting free agents.  Edwin Jackson was one of the prizes of last winter’s class, and he came.

The Cubs are in the midst of culture change.  A welcome one.  Look across the field at the Brewers, again.  Now think back to 2011 and what the Cubs were.  In 2011, the Cubs didn’t have anybody but Starlin Castro who would actually be improving over the course of the next 4-5 years.  Everyone on the roster was either in or past their prime.  They won 71 games.  It was miserable.  It was worse than we have now because it was hopeless.  We wanted to think adding Carlos Pena and trading the farm for Matt Garza would be enough to have another magical winning season.  We hoped Carlos Zambrano wouldn’t be a complete headcase, and with him, Garza, and Ryan Dempster, there would be a rotation worth running out each day.  We had Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall setting up for Carlos Marmol, which turned out to be a decent pen when the Cubs actually led.  Aramis Ramirez was still at third and it didn’t look like an endless abyss of suck.  The reality of that team, though, is that the only player who played any considerable amount of time with any potential to grow was Starlin Castro.  *Meatball, if you’re still with me,  I’m talking to you again…yes, Starlin is getting better.  No, we shouldn’t trade him unless we get a lot in return, and yes, his defense is above league average.*  Now, look at the Brewers.  Lucroy is pretty good, but at 26 is probably not going to get much better, if at all.  Ryan Braun is in the twilight of his 20s, and is in his prime.  Jean Segura is a young and talented player who will improve.  But apart from that, who else is there?  Their minor league organization is bare, and Aramis Ramirez is two years older than the past his prime Rami we saw a couple of years ago.  Corey Hart can’t stay healthy, and is starting to get to the point of decline.  Rickie Weeks is a laughable shell of his former self.  It all looks very familiar to our situation a couple of years ago.

The point of all of this is that, like Wrigley Field, the product on the field was a real mess a couple of years ago.  That’s why Jim Hendry was fired, that’s why Theo Epstein was given the reigns, and that’s why we are where we are.  It needed to be done.  Like any massive renovation, some things are going to be broken down, some things are going to be ugly and tough to handle, but in the end, the foundation will be stronger and the finished product will look better.  If you take anything from this series, take it as progress.  Two short years ago, the Cubs may have won some games because a less talented team made some silly mistakes against a team of aging veterans who weren’t going to be better than 71 wins, but wouldn’t beat themselves as often.  Honestly, I would rather the Cubs throw the ball around the diamond and beat themselves than get run day after day.  That’s not happening.  What is happening is a young team learning to play together, and learning to win together.  It’s hard to watch.  It may result in being swept out of Milwaukee.

We knew what 2013 was coming in.  It still is.  A bridge to next year.

The 2013 Spring Wind Down

This is going to be short and sweet because Spring Training is like “Who’s Line Is It, Anyway.”  The stats, scores, and results don’t actually mean anything.

This year’s version of Spring Training turned out to be more interesting than it needed to be because of the injuries and the whole 101 losses last season thing lingering around the fan base.  Which is stupid.  This is a different team.  A better team.  And last season’s 101 losses were stipulated to when anything of value was sold for parts at the end of July.

On to the recap:

  • Ian Stewart tapped out of the only actual battle for camp by straining his groin.  That really only pushes it back into the regular season when he returns from the DL and rehab stint.  Like the front office, I remain sold on it being too early to give up on him.  Not after what it cost to get him to Chicago.
  • Matt Garza’s lat is a pesky bugger, and lingered around, too.  I am all for the cautious approach the team is taking with him, though.  However, this injury seems to put the nail in the “trade Garza” coffin.  I would be somewhat surprised at anything but an extension somewhere in the same ballpark as Edwin Jackson’s contract.
  • Keith Law (@keithlaw) had the following to say about Brett Jackson’s make up on Twitter this evening: “Never heard a bad word about him, going back to college/Cape.”  Brett Jackson seems genuinely possessed with not being a Felix Pie reincarnate.  I think we all appreciate that.
  • David DeJesus won the bunt tournament.
  • Jorge Soler and Javier Baez were fun to watch.  They both look like they will be in the big leagues someday.  Neither of them is ready…not even close.  But it was fun to watch some of the power displays they put on.

Again, this is short and sweet.  There isn’t a lot to say about Spring Training because nothing of real consequence happens there.  Last year, Ryan Dempster got beat up a little bit in spring.  He was just fine come April.  The point is, every body relax.  The stuff that counts is on Monday.

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

Theo Epstein Talks to Boston Radio, Bruce Levine Chat Recap

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.