Tagged: Scott Feldman

Under The Radar Deadline Deal Candidates

All of the deadline talk, and justifiably so, has been centered around Matt Garza to this point.  There are also some other players who have been talked about as candidates to move on as the deadline approaches.  David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz, Alfonso Soriano, and Kevin Gregg have all been spoken of as players who could very likely be traded as the deadline nears, or at least wouldn’t cause anybody any surprise if they were moved.  There is also a list of attractive players that the Cubs could move who are not talked about prominently as the deadline inches closer.  They fit the needs and holes of teams in contention and are low cost options to upgrade a roster, and it would make perfect sense if the Cubs were fielding calls about these players…

2B Darwin Barney:  

The Cubs are stacked in the middle infield in the minor leagues at just about every level.  With Logan  Watkins at AAA Iowa, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez at AA Tennessee, and even Gioskar Amaya at Low-A Kane County, middle infielders are of no shortage in the Cubs’ organization.  Darwin Barney has done everything he can to become a member of the core group of players that the Cubs use to make their eventual run, but his limitations with the bat seem to make him less attractive than other options.  With a Gold Glove in his pocket and over a year before he even gets to arbitration, he could make a team looking for a low cost second baseman, without a need for a highly productive bat, very happy.  The need doesn’t even have to be strictly second base.  Barney came up as a short stop, and played third base when he first came up to the majors.  He could be quite the defensive addition for any team looking to shore up its infield defense.  Darwin actually fits into a line-up like Detroit’s perfectly.  Incumbent Ramon Santiago plays both offensively and defensively at about replacement level.  Replacing him with Darwin Barney doesn’t hurt their prolific offense at all, and very much shores up their middle infield.  With the rumor that Detroit was interested last year, it makes sense that they would be interested again this year, given how close they came to winning a championship last year.  Darwin Barney won’t net any team’s top prospect, but he should net a solid prospect or retread a la Scott Feldman.  And with the depth already mentioned in the system, Darwin is expendable.

IF Luis Valbuena, Cody Ransom:

Luis Valbuena is another player who could see himself on the move as the deadline approaches.  Because he is an everyday player with the Cubs, he has displayed what he can do with the bat from the left side of the plate, and has shown to be more than capable as  a defender.  A team looking for a left handed hitting platoon infielder would love to have a player like Luis Valbuena for his ability to work counts, take walks, hit for power and field three infield positions well.  A team like the Yankees, who have had a hard time keeping players on the field may take a long look at a Luis Valbuena.  He would fit into the gaping holes left by repeated injuries and days off because of the advanced age of regular players, and his bat would play well with the short porch and right field power allies at Yankee Stadium.  The Rays could also have interest in a player with his skill set.  He wouldn’t net much of a return, but if there is a low level player in a system that catches Jed or Theo’s eye, don’t doubt for a second that the original “low risk waiver flyer” could be flipped for a lottery ticket at the deadline.  Cody Ransom is in pretty much the same situation as Valbuena, except he’s right handed, comes with less control, and more age.

P Carlos Villanueva:

Maybe the least surprising player on this list, and quite possibly the most likely to be traded, Villanueva is a player who has been talked about as a trade candidate.  He was merely overshadowed by the talk of Garza and Feldman, among the pitchers.  Villanueva is particularly valuable because of his versatility as both a starter and reliever.  While specific locations for him may be tough to pin point, it is reasonable to say that any team looking for a ‘pen arm with the ability to give you a solid swing start from time to time would be interested…which boils down to pretty much everybody.  Again, it would be a surprise if Villanueva netted anything of note, but a middling prospect in somebody’s system who hasn’t progressed or a retread could be an expected return.

 

Cubs Transactions Galore!

There was a flurry of roster activity of all kinds: trades, signings, call-ups, and DL stints.  Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer didn’t waste any time starting their sell-off, firing the first shot of the deadline season.

We can only gather that there will be even more roster moves in the next day or two with the new additions to the bullpen and over the course of the month as the Cubs continue to move pieces.  This figures to be just a start of things to come…

Dodgers Get: RHP Carlos Marmol, Cubs #4 International Signing Slot, Cash
Cubs Get: RHP Matt Guerrier

What It Means For Cubs:  Carlos Marmol is officially not a Cub, anymore.  Guerrier was in DFA limbo with the Dodgers.  He becomes yet another arm in the Cubs’ busy bullpen this season.  Marmol gets a fresh start.  Adding Guerrier could spell the end for Shawn Camp. *Fingers Crossed*  Jayson Stark, interestingly, tweeted that this is almost a no lose for the Dodgers.  If he doesn’t work out and is released, the Cubs are on the hook for more money if he signs elsewhere.

Orioles Get: RHP Scott Feldman, C Steve Clevenger
Cubs Get: RHP Jake Arrieta, RHP Pedro Strop, Number 3 International Signing Slot, #4 International Signing Slot

What It Means For The Cubs:  Clevenger being moved comes out of right field, since he and the Cubs apparently just within the last day had a difference of opinion on his injuries.  Feldman was expected to go as part of a sell-off, and the Cubs actually did quite well in this move.  Jake Arrieta is a talented 27 year old who hasn’t quite figured it out at the major league level just yet.  He will go to AAA Iowa for the time being.  He could be part of a trade to the Padres, who apparently like both him and Matt Garza.  Acquiring him could help sweeten the return if the Cubs send Garza and Arrieta to San Diego.  Strop is a good bullpen arm and should fill the void being left by Carlos Villanueva being stretched back into a starter.  He, too, has struggled some at the major league level.  Overall, I’d have liked this deal if it was Feldman for Strop OR Arrieta and the pool money.  To get both, while only losing Clevenger in addition to Feldman is a nice move for the Cubs, regardless of whether they view Arreita as a trade asset or as an arm to bring to Chicago.

Astros Get:  INF Ronald Torreyes
Cubs Get:  #2 and #3 International Signing Slots

What It Means For The Cubs:  More international spending money.  Torreyes is a good hitter, but with the logjam in the middle infield in the Cubs’ organization, they could afford to make this move to spend money on potential impact international free agents.  The move brings in $784K to add to the spending pool, which would presumably be used to target OF Eloy Jimenez.  After all of the moves today, the Cubs have $5,520,300 in total international spending money, which is one of the key means of stocking the system with talent.

Cubs Sign: SS Gleybar Torres ($1.7M). P Jefferson Mejia, Erling Moreno, C Johan Matos

What It Means For The Cubs:  The search for impact players continues, with Torres ranked the #2 International Free Agent.  He’s 16, so you can file his name away, but scouts love him and say he is quite polished for being so young.  Mejia is 18 and his contract is for 2013, so he is a name we might hear a bit sooner than Torres.

Cubs Call-Up: LHP Chris Rusin, OF Dave Sappelt

Cubs Place OF Ryan Sweeney on 60 Day Disabled List (Fractured Rib)

What It Means For The Cubs:  Rusin takes the roster spot vacated by Feldman, and he will start tonight at Oakland.  He has been very good at Iowa, being named to the PCL All-Star team.  This is an opportunity to try to stick in Chicago, either in the rotation or the bullpen, as more moves are likely as the deadline approaches.  Sappelt adds a right handed bat to the outfield mix after Sweeney fractured a rib in Seattle.  Sweeney could have been a trade chip, but going on the 60 Day DL kills that opportunity, and is now not eligible to come back until the end of August.

Cubs Will Have Competition When Selling Off Pieces

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.

 

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.

The Offensive Middle Ground

Last night, we saw something new.  Not new to the game or to this season, but to the Cubs.  They drove in runs without the aid of the long ball.  It was magical.  More importantly, it was about damn time.

This season, the Cubs lead the NL in doubles, are  3rd in the NL in home runs, and 4th in slugging percentage.  They are also 12th in on base percentage, 11th in batting average, and 11th in runs scored.

There is really only one thing to take away from these numbers…the Cubs either hammer the baseball or don’t get hits at all.  There isn’t a middle ground for them at this point.  And that is not how to win ballgames.

That’s what made last night so nice to see.  Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo each had two run singles in the fourth inning after Scott Feldman’s RBI single.  Five runs, none driven in with the extra base hit or home run.  When you add Alfonso Soriano’s RBI ground out in the first and Nate Schierhotz’s sacrifice fly in the sixth, that’s a nice night of offense.  The Rizzo HR in the eighth inning served as a cherry on top of an atypically productive night of offense for the Cubs.

The early problems with the Cubs have been the bullpen, the defense (at times), and the offense.  One night does not solve the problem, and some players are still trying to figure out which end of the bat to hold.  (Here’s lookin’ at you, Darwin!)  With that being said, it appears that Alfonso Soriano and Anthony Rizzo have figured out their early season struggles.  Soriano isn’t freezing.  Rizzo is using the entire field and looks like the Rizzo we met last season.  Both are good things.  The Cubs need that production in the middle of the line up.

As we await the inevitable trade deadline activity, there are a few things we can take for granted as fans…the subtractions will not be as deep as they were last year, and the meat and potatoes of the current line up is going to be left intact, for the most part.  The only significant losses that are in the realm of possibility are Darwin Barney being flipped to a contender for prospects, and David DeJesus being flipped for small pieces.  Aside from that, there is not a lot of likelihood for big changes.  Nate Schierholtz could find himself on the way out, too, but he’s on a one year deal, anyway.  He is a rental in every sense of the word, even if the Cubs don’t flip him.

What we’re seeing is probably what we’re going to get this season.  And probably a big portion of next season.  Javier Baez and Jorge Soler are not coming anytime soon.  Watching the current cast of characters is the show we’re going to get for at least the foreseeable future.  It would be nice if there were more nights like last night.

The Curse of the Missing Billy Goat

First, an explanation of the title… It’ll become clear that this post is regarding Matt Garza’s absence very soon.  The Billy Goat reference is to the beard he’s sported.  And it’s not a knock at all.  I think it’s awesome.  And I’m a bit jealous that my employer’s dress code doesn’t allow me to have it.  Moving on…

Some would consider it overstated if I were to say that the Cubs really, really miss Matt Garza.  After all, how can they miss a guy who hasn’t pitched since last July while the rotation is in the midst of one of the best runs on the north side in quite some time?

Garza may not be the sole source of energy on the Cubs’ roster.  Darwin Barney hustles and plays with enthusiasm.  David DeJesus is a workman everyday.  And being a starting pitcher, what Garza can do on the field is pretty limited to one game in every five.  The on-field component is only a part of the story, though.  Matt Garza does things that don’t usually get caught by cameras, but when they do, boy they stand out.   He’s really good at delivering a shaving cream pie.  Leaning over the rail in the dugout is a particularly nice trait he features.

Photo: Brian Kersey, Getty Images

Photo: Brian Kersey, Getty Images

Enthusiasm is a tough thing to bottle.  As I mentioned, a number of players on the roster play with enthusiasm.  Matt Garza does damn near everything with enthusiasm.  He tweets with enthusiasm, completing every win by tweeting “Raise ‘er up” with the white flag with trademark blue W in the middle.  At the Cubs Convention, he was so laid back that he looked like he nearly fell out of his chair laughing, by my count, three times.  Once when Scott Feldman referenced an “upper decker” when he was in Texas.  Once when a fan I know fairly well asked Scott Baker for tickets after he’d mentioned in a panel discussion that it was awkward to say no to fans who ask for them.  And another at what was a seemingly benign joke from Scott Feldman.  I don’t even recall what the joke was.  I just remember Garza’s reaction.  That personality, which may exist in a less public form within the Cubs clubhouse while Garza gets back, is something the Cubs need.  From my view, no team can have enough Matt Garzas.

As I’ve been working on this piece, Pat Mooney put one of his own out with some great stuff from Garza directly.  It actually set up the point I was going to make before I made it, so if Pat Mooney or Matt Garza feel like wasting time reading my hobby, thanks a lot for beating me to the punch.  Since I came to make a point, I won’t let them stand in my way, though.  Garza, in all of his enthusiastic glory, is about the most positive person I can think of.  I can’t say I’ve seen him acknowledge the negative.  He’d been outspoken about progress and tackling his rehab from the stress reaction last summer.  The same thing with the strained lat.  And he wants the same out of the fans, which is well highlighted in the Mooney piece.  He either really loves the fans or he’s a really good actor (and I think it’s the former).  And he wants us to have his (and his team’s) back as much as he’s shown that he has ours over the course of the last few years.

With the free agency climate changing, I, too, could see Matt Garza sticking around with a qualifying offer.  If he comes back and pitches as well as he has since he’s been with the Cubs, there’s no good reason not to lock up a legitimate front line starter, to go with Samardzija, Jackson, et al to make a run at the postseason down the line.  We know what he’s capable of in October.  He was quite good in his appearance with the Rays in 2008 and 2010.  And, as positive as he is, it would be nice to see him winning a playoff game, series, and championship with the Cubs when that day comes.

Early Season Thoughts

Sometimes, things aren’t as bad as they seem.

The 2013 Cubs are a pretty good example of that.  They’ve had no offense to speak of.  The back end of the bullpen was an unmitigated disaster for the first two weeks.  The defense let the Cubs down on a number of occasions; yet the Cubs are 10-15, and have won five out of seven.

Record wise, the team isn’t far off of expectations.  We knew this team was not going to compete with the Reds and Cardinals this season.  We knew the offense was going to struggle at times.  And we knew the early season was going to be a strong test because of the good teams the Cubs were going to play.  The results of the test are in, and the Cubs passed.  They may have only passed with a 65, but they passed.  And they missed a lot of opportunities to really improve on that grade.

It isn’t all that difficult to understand why we, as fans, are so disappointed, though.  The interaction in Twitter is a good indication of what most of us are feeling.  It could be so much better.  The Cubs played well enough to win three of the games with the Giants.  They shouldn’t have been swept by the Braves.  Or the Brewers in Miller Park.  They’ve shot themselves in the foot more times that we should have expected, especially after the steps forward in fundamental baseball that the team took last season.

That’s what young teams do.  I’ve said this a number of times to folks on Twitter.  Winning is a learned behavior.  There aren’t many players on this team who have a lot of experience with winning.  There’s Alfonso Soriano from his days with the Yankees and first couple of years with the Cubs.  Nate Schierholtz was with the Giants when they won the World Series in 2010.  Scott Feldman was with the Rangers the last couple of years.  Carlos Villanueva went to the playoffs with the Brewers in 2008.  Edwin Jackson’s been on his share of winners.  So, two position players, who play on a regular basis, and three starting pitchers.  That’s not a whole lot.

Here’s my point.  There is a time coming for winning.  It’s not here, yet, but it’s coming.  Teams like the Braves, Rangers, Brewers and Giants all know how to finish games at this point.  There are veteran players on those teams who have tasted success at the major league level.  They know how to take advantage of young, impressionable teams like the Cubs.  And they take those advantages.  In the end, the fans feel violated.  But the team grows up, figures out how to avoid the killer mistake, and hangs on.

Nights like last night, where the bullpen is good and the defense makes some plays to hold on to the game, become more prevalent when a team is good.  The value of last night’s game is huge.  Because unlike the standard for the early season, the Cubs found a way to win.  It was only 1/162 of the season, but that was the most valuable win of the season, thus far.  This time, when the Cubs closed the door, they kept it closed.  And that is a big step in the right direction.

We can’t hang onto games past.  First, because our hearts can’t take the stress.  But mostly, because with this team in its current form, everything is a day to day process.  After every game, lets move on to the next one.  That’s the great thing about baseball.  All summer long, there’s always tomorrow to try again, regardless of today’s result.

Cubs Roster Still Short a Couple of Pieces

I’ll never cease to be amazed by the amount of discontent that occurs during a losing streak.  And, at the same time, how quickly it disappears when the team wins four out of five.

As we were reminded this week, however, the roster is not complete, and will not be that way for quite some time.

  • Matt Garza had a “setback,” in that his arm got tired.  I wasn’t terribly concerned at the time because “dead arm” is something a lot of pitchers go through in Spring Training (which is pretty much where Garza is now).  While it makes the news, and subsequently makes fans fall all over themselves about the guy being fragile and not worth the trouble, it’s really nothing.  Until it has a reason to be something.  Garza is now scheduled to pitch on May 1, so while his rehab from the lat strain may not have been as quick as we, as fans, would have liked, it does seem like the progress is good.  When it comes to strains like that one, it is better to get it completely healed, and from everything we’ve been told, that seems to be the case.  Now, it’s just a matter of getting him stretched out sufficiently to start at the major league level.
  • Ian Stewart had a real setback the other night when he got hit on the elbow.  He missed last night’s game, and is playing tonight.  I get it.  Most of you out there think Ian is a bum, and he’s not worth the peanuts the Cubs are paying him this season, you want Tyler Colvin back, etc.  I’m going to continue to defend him, and the front office for bringing him back.  At least until he’s had time to finish a cup of coffee with the major league team.  His numbers aren’t good at Iowa, but he’s in the same boat as Garza.  He’s getting his timing back and working through the Spring Training process.  Unlike everyone in these games he’s playing, he’s still working the bugs out from not playing in about 11 months.  Let’s see him healthy and for a while in the bigs before we write him off.  We, as Cubs fans, should know that if he hits the streets before he gets all the way back, he’s going to go somewhere else, and be the third baseman we want him to be at Wrigley.

Neither of these players is going to be the savior to what is sure to be an uncompetitive season.  They do, however, make the Cubs deeper (in spite of your feelings for Stewart).  Getting Garza back will likely push Scott Feldman (because Travis Wood and Carlos Villanueva have earned the right to be in the rotation thus far) to the bullpen, as a long reliever.  Since he’s been good for three or four inning stretches this season, maybe being the long man will add to his value.  The same with Luis Valbuena.  If Ian Stewart can come back and take hold of the third base job, the Cubs will have two versatile infielders who can play all over in Valbuena and Cody Ransom, who hit from each side of the plate.  With Scott Hairston, Julio Borbon, and Dioner Navarro rounding out the bench, suddenly the Cubs don’t look quite so sad.

There are a lot of ifs in those statements.  I’m sure not all of it will come true.  Ian Stewart could come back, lay an egg, and be designated for assignment within a few weeks.  We don’t know.  But that is what the 2013 season is for.  Finding out who’s got value and who’s not going to be with the team moving forward is what the plan was for this season.

In the mean time, just enjoy the winning streak.

2013 Positional Preview: The Rotation

The positional previews return after a bit of a delay, but some clarification as to how the starting rotation is going to stack up when the Cubs break camp and head north.

Photo: Jesse Rogers, ESPN

Photo: Jesse Rogers, ESPN

While this preview is going to be the rotation as a whole, when injuries are settled, the start of the season, with the injury to Matt Garza and the delayed return of Scott Baker, is going to show off whatever depth the front office was able to assemble this winter.  Between a challenging schedule and the rotation not being at full strength to start the season, there is some real likelihood that this is going to be the rotation until the end of July, and no longer…

1. Jeff Samardzija

This differs from the division preview only in the manner that Jeff is taking the ball on Opening Day.  As hard as he’s worked, he’s earned the opportunity to start in Garza’s absence.  This season figures to be a step forward for “Shark,” after posting some solid numbers in his first season in the rotation and improving as the season wore on.  The most impressive improvement came in the walks department, issuing 56 free passes in 174.2 innings last season after walking 50 in 88 innings in 2011.  Samardzija has all of the tools to be an ace caliber pitcher and this season is going to be the first step toward that.

2. Matt Garza

Look, I know he’s starting on the DL.  I also know he might be back for a couple of months, then packing his bags for good.  I also know he is going to be a vital starter for the team when he gets back.  He’ll either display that he is healthy and the team will trade him for pieces for the future, or he will show that he is worthy of the extension that has been talked about since he got to Chicago.  This is a big year for Garza professionally, and I would expect that he shows it.  I love the guy and think he would be worth a deal similar to the one Edwin Jackson signed…but that’s not up to me.

3. Edwin Jackson

Photo: WGN

Photo: WGN

The aforementioned Jackson signed a 4 yr/ $52M deal this winter, which finally gave him some stability.  He’s been with five teams over the last three seasons, but he’s seemingly always been around winning teams.  His numbers aren’t jaw dropping, but he eats innings, and doesn’t walk very many.  At the tail end of his deal, the Cubs expect to be a contender, and are hoping he’s in the back of the rotation.  They also hope that some piece of mind about where he’s going to be and some stability in coaching and messaging helps improve his numbers.  He was a top prospect coming through the minor leagues, but his career has never quite matched that potential.  He’s been around for a long time, but is still young enough that he may improve some, yet.  It seems, though, that with Jackson, what you see is what you’re going to get.

4. Scott Feldman

Feldman, like Scott Baker is on  a one year contract to prove that he can be an effective starter.  His numbers make you cringe a little bit, but the man was pitching in Texas, where ERAs go to die.  His career has been spent swinging back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation, and again, here, with some certainty that he will be taking the ball every fifth day may help him pitch better.  He’s out to prove that he can be a major league starter, so I would expect him to come to work everyday because he’s going to be a free agent again next winter.

5. Travis Wood

Travis Wood is likely going to be the one sent to Iowa when Scott Baker returns.  The reality is, Wood is young and has minor league options remaining, so he’ll be the one to go.  That being said, Wood was solid at times last season for the Cubs, and showed some real growth in his first season after coming over from the Reds.  His future, either as a back end starting pitcher or a long reliever in the ‘pen, seems to be pretty bright at the moment.

**UPDATE**
As a reader was kind enough to point out, Travis Wood is out of options.  Thinking he had one more is a fine illustration of my ability to count.  That said, it doesn’t change that he is likely the odd man out of the rotation when Baker joins the club.  He will then probably join the cluster of pitchers in the bullpen. **

Other Contributors: Scott Baker, Carlos Villanueva

There is no doubt that Scott Baker will be in the rotation when he returns to the team in May.  The cautious approach to bringing him back from Tommy John surgery is being applied, and while Baker made it clear at the Cubs Convention that he feels good and is ready to go, the team is making sure he is 100% when he returns.  I can’t say I blame them.  That’s probably a wise move for a guy who is going to be trade bait at the deadline.  Carlos Villanueva is on a two year deal, and will be mostly used as a long man out of the bullpen, but he’s a very good spot starter.  He’s a guy who can be leaned on for a start without massacring the bullpen, which is an asset that nearly every team would love to have.

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