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.
The injury news seems to finally be good for the Cubs today (unless your name is Junior Lake), which is a welcome change from the first four weeks of Spring Training.
- Scott Baker is primed to make a Cactus League start this weekend after pitching a couple of innings in a minor league game on Tuesday. His recovery seems to be right on schedule, which is terrific news.
- Dale Sveum may have confirmed my hypothesis on Matt Garza today. He said Garza needs to throw off of a mound and start throwing live BP, and his Spring Training will essentially begin in a week. If they put Garza through a full spring schedule starting next week, he will likely be back at the end of April or beginning of May. That said, Garza thinks he will be back in the middle of April. So there’s some optimism on his part. Which is nice.
- Starlin Castro played three innings today. He went 1-1 with a single and walk. After he finished, he said he felt good. Hopefully, he was knocking on wood as he said it.
- Ian Stewart is going to play soon. If not tomorrow, I would guess Friday. Stewart talked to ESPN Chicago today and said he felt good. After ten months, It’ll be nice to see him on a field, and at as close to 100% as he’s been in quite some time.
- Junior Lake stress fractured his rib. This isn’t an uncommon injury in baseball players, but it is one to take seriously. Stress fractures are no joke, and Lake will likely be sidelined the full 4-6 weeks that was reported today before he does anything. Since he was a long shot to make the roster (at best), and was going to spend the season in Iowa, there is no sense in rushing him.
Tom Ricketts said that April is still a deadline for getting a deal done in order to start renovations at Wrigley in October. It seems as though we’re at the point where both sides have planted their heels and aren’t willing to concede much anymore. Then again, I’m not sure the Cubs have anything left to concede. The beat goes on…
Brennan Boesch was released today. The book on him is that a change of scenery would probably do him some good. Bruce Levine wrote today that he makes sense for the Cubs (and Sox…but who gives a crap?). As a left handed bat with some power, he’d be nice to have, but the Cubs already have a pretty well packed outfield. Unless the Cubs were able to move Alfonso Soriano, I can’t think there’s anywhere to put him.
Lastly, Opening Day is in 2 1/2 weeks. So smile. Real baseball is right around the corner.
The final player installment of the positional previews is the group who will see the most change throughout this season. In reality, that’s the case for just about every team, every season.
This season figures to be extra interesting for the Cubs in the bullpen. The addition of Kyuji Fujikawa from Japan as a potential (and likely) closer when Carlos Marmol departs the organization, either via trade or the expiration of his contract after the season lends some stability to the the back end, and the addition of Carlos Villanueva gives the Cubs the long reliever they’ve been without since Tom Gorzelanny packed his bags. Indeed, this will be the group with the most turnover of any on the team.
Closer: Carlos Marmol
For now. In spite of being only 30 and coming off of an impressive rebound in the second half of last season, Marmol is the most talked about trade piece this side of Alfonso Soriano. The fact that he did have a strong second half, is 30, and is in the last year of a deal with Cubs would be willing to pay almost all of make him a valuable piece for any contending team (*cough cough* Tigers) that needs a proven back end. I am of the opinion that Brian Wilson makes more sense for the Tigers than Marmol because he will be inexpensive and won’t cost prospects, but it seems as though Detroit is looking at all available options, including Marmol. That said, however long he’s around, he should be fine. Sure, he’s an adventure. He’ll put some on and he’ll make it interesting. But he slammed the door quite a bit last year. Another year of Chris Bosio would probably do him some good, but I don’t see Marmol being back under any circumstances next season if he finishes this season in Chicago. I see him becoming “controllable assets” before too long. This spot is definitely one that is not set…
Set-Up: Kyuji Fujikawa
This is the guy who will likely be the closer if/ when Marmol is sent out. The 32 year old “rookie” from Japan is coming over on a two year deal and was an excellent closer before coming over the states. The thing that worries me about “KJ” is that Japanese closers haven’t exactly been common…or good. In Japan, though, Fujikawa was uncommonly good. His ERA broke 2.00 only one time, a 2.01 ERA in 2010, and his 202 career saves lend him some credibility to finish games. He’s entering a new level of competition, and he very well could struggle like many of the Japanese pitchers before him. If he can be the exception to what has been the norm, however, everything should be fine for the short term.
Middle Relief: Shawn Camp, James Russell, Hector Rondon , Jaye Chapman, Michael Bowden (and a host of others throughout the season)
The two major pieces to this puzzle are Camp and Russell. Both of those guys were fixtures just about every day last season. And they were each pretty good. Russell appeared in 77 games with a strong 3.25 ERA. After being used in a variety of situations in 2011 and struggling before settling into the bullpen, 2012 was spent entirely in the bullpen, and Russell showed that he is an effective lefty, and can pitch effectively to both left and right handed hitters. He’s shown his value and as everyday asset much like Shawn Camp, who might be the oldest guy in the organization. At 37, Camp was another everyday fixture in the bullpen and led the league with 80 appearances. He was surprisingly effective in a set-up role with Russell, but struggled when he became the closer in Marmol’s absence. For a guy who signed a minor league deal during camp last season, Shawn Camp turned into one of the most valuable players on the roster. This season, he will probably not get the same use, and may improve the effectiveness of his aging arm. The last player of note is Rule 5 selection, Hector Rondon, who needs to be on the active roster for 90 days. The difference between Lendy Castillo from last season and Rondon is that Rondon has pitched at AAA, which is something Castillo had never done. Rondon has had arm issues, and if he’s past them, he could turn into a pleasant surprise, and may not spend months and months on the DL with Rule-5itis.
Long Relief: Carlos Villanueva
Even though, Villanueva will start the season in the rotation, this is going to be his role going forward. He’s well suited for it, too. Coming over from Toronto, he was looking for a chance to start, but it will probably not come
to fruition for him without some injury and trade subtractions from the rotation. And that’s alright. His numbers won’t blow anyone away, but he can make a start in a pinch and go 5-6 innings, or come in early in a game and save the bullpen from being spent. This is an often overlooked role and an unglamorous position for just about any pitcher to be in. He doesn’t get his name on the scroll on ESPN as the probable starter, nor does he get his name on it for the save. But this is a vital role because it allows the other players in the ‘pen to stay in their roles. As far as long relief pitching goes, there aren’t many who are better than Villanueva, even if he does look himself in the mirror and call himself a starting pitcher.
Other Names to Watch: Arodys Vizcaino, Trey McNutt, Robert Whitenack, Barret Loux, Hisanori Takahashi, Nick Struck
Vizcaino is probably the most well-known of these players, coming over from the Braves at the deadline last season. He could find his way into the bullpen to pick up some major league innings this season to get experience, especially if the Cubs fall out of it. McNutt seems to be throwing as well as he has in a few years, but now seems destined to have a bullpen role, and may make his way to Chicago this season. Loux is who ultimately came for Geovany Soto after Jacob Brigham was found to have had arm issues, and is in camp as a non-roster player. He seems to be a better prospect than Brigham, and is closer to the majors, so it seems like the Cubs won in the end on that deal. Takahashi and Struck are both in camp as non-roster players, as well, and could wind up in the bullpen at some point this season as well. As I mentioned at the outset, this is where there is the most flux during a season. This season should be no different.
About seven years ago, this would have been the move to end all moves for the Chicago Cubs…bringing back Dontrelle Willis. Now, the D-Train has been signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to minor league camp and the possibility of coming to major league camp if he’s throwing well. Considering the Cubs’ pitching last season was very much like how Dontrelle has been pitching since about
2007, this move makes a lot of sense.
Willis was originally drafted by the Cubs and sent to Florida in the trade that brought back Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement. He was stunningly good with the Marlins, especially in 2005 when he went 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA in 34 starts, finishing 7 and throwing 5 shut outs. He finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting to Chris Carpenter of those guys in St. Louis. He won the Rookie of the Year in 2003.
He has not been the same since 2006, where he has been unable to post an ERA under 4.98 (2010, in 9 games with Detroit). It appears innings and notoriously poor mechanics may have done in the once dominant starter.
There is no risk to this move at all. After all, he will only be 31 next week. He does not have a ton of wear and tear on his arm because nobody’s given him a shot in the last few years. I am assuming they didn’t pay very much. There is no harm. And if the Cubs can somehow manage to fix this disaster, it could be one of the greatest moves in the history of the organization. If they can turn him into a serviceable reliever/ spot starter, that might be the greatest thing Theo Epstein can do with the Cubs short of winning the World Series.
And now…I’ve given you 300 words on a guy who didn’t pitch last season, had a 1-6 record with a 5.00 ERA in 2011 with the Reds, last time he did pitch, and likely won’t see the inside of Wrigley Field in any way unless he watches on television. I feel I’ve said enough.
Theo Epstein was on WEEI Boston today, where he spoke about a number of topics. He spoke about the signing of Edwin Jackson and him having years left in his prime, Anthony Rizzo, and draft pick compensation being at a premium when considering signing free agents that would cost a draft pick, in addition to a number of other topics related to the Cubs and Red Sox. The interview is lengthy, but it’s worth a listen if you’re so inclined to do those types of things. Hear Theo Epstein’s interview with WEEI here.
Bruce Levine had a chat today, which covered a number of topics. Some of the highlights, with some of my own commentary are as follows…
- He was asked about the potential of a Soriano trade to the Phillies, and he said that was a “tremendously old rumor.” That doesn’t say good things about the potential about it actually happening, but Soriano might be a better alternative to the Phillies with the free agent market for Michael Bourn. With the Cubs willing to eat a significant portion of Soriano’s deal, he could be a cheaper alternative for a team looking to acquire an outfielder, without wanting to give up a valuable draft pick. The Cubs will look to see if they can move Fonsi, but I would be a little surprised if he were moved before Opening Day.
- When asked if Jeff Samardzija had a chance at 200 strike outs, 15 wins, and a sub 3.2 ERA and said that he had spoken to scouts who said Samardzija was the most improved pitcher last season between April and September. He also said there is no reason to think those numbers can’t be approached. I would be inclined to agree to a certain extent, but I would caution against expectation. Samardzija is a young pitcher and any growth would be a good thing from him in 2013. Since the team does not figure to contend, it would be wise not to burden a good young player with big expectations too early.
- Bruce was also asked about the leaks, to which he said that the Cubs are pretty accessible, but they don’t let information get out that they don’t want out. He also pointed out that agents are a factor in free agency. I’m inclined to agree. It seems like the Cubs have had leaks happen to them, but haven’t been the source. The Dempster leak came from the Braves, the Marmol leak from Marmol himself, and the Sanchez leak was from an agent trying to leverage a team. Really…there’s nothing that could be done there from the Cubs’ side of things.
- He outright dismissed the idea of trading for Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton. Amen.
- Matt Garza trade rumors to the Rangers came up for a heavy package, and he said it was possible. I agree that the Rangers could use the statement addition of Garza after missing on Greinke, and that could drive up the return value for him, but with Garza having been injured, I would be surprised if he were traded before the season. It would be a risk for any team to send the Cubs a package of prospects without seeing the guy pitch after last July. His elbow is the reason he didn’t get moved at the deadline last year, so I have a tough time seeing him getting moved before he pitches. That’s just my feeling. A desperate Rangers team (or someone else) could change that, though.
- The speculation about political bitterness between the Ricketts and Mayor Emanuel made an appearance. Honestly, get over it and do what’s best for the ball club. I know Wrigley is a historical landmark, but it is still a functioning ballpark and will need renovations, so the gamesmanship and BS need to stop. A successful Cubs team is good for the Ricketts and the city of Chicago, and a modernized Wrigley is a key to that.
- Conversation about prospects came about with Bruce saying he thought Brett Jackson was the most likely to come up to the majors this season. Javier Baez will play short where ever he is in the minors this year, and Josh Vitters and Junior Lake could see themselves moved to the outfield, or at least it is time to consider it. I think Vitters could be a good left fielder. Hide his defense, and continue to develop his bat in that spot. If Soriano is traded, I think he would be a good choice to get a crack at the position first.
The Cubs have acquired Marcelo Josue Carreno and a cash consideration for Jeff Baker, to complete the trade from the Tigers. In other news, Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein will be under indictment for grand theft of a prospect in this deal. Marcelo Carreno was the 11th ranked prospect in the Tigers system (well, not anymore) at the end of the 2012 regular season. He spent 2011 and 2012 in the Midwest League with West Michigan, posting some decent numbers. MLB.com’s ranking report on him says “Better command of his fastball, curve and change-up could help him become a solid middle-of-the-rotation type,” which is basically stealing from a team who used Baker for about 15 minutes (actually, it was 15 games, and he hit .200) before sending him to Atlanta for a player to be named later.
With the season having come to a close about two weeks ago, things are going to start to make themselves clear in a short amount of time about the shape of the club next season. It has already been made apparent that the Cubs will seek out additional starting pitching for next season. So, don’t despair about an entire season with what we saw the last two months of this season, where there was little to no pitching available outside of Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija, until he was shut down. With Samardzija, and potentially Matt Garza, coming back to start the season with Travis Wood (probably) and two new guys, the pitching should be a lot more stable at the beginning of next season than it was at the end of this one. Matt Garza, however, still is a candidate to be dealt this off-season, which would make it more likely that Wood and Samardzija join three new acquisitions in the rotation as 2013 begins.
The powers that be are still singing the praises of Dale Sveum, so to all of you out there who are thinking there could be a third straight year of managerial search or want another managerial search…stop it.
ESPN’s Buster Olney says that the Brewers are in play to sign Josh Hamilton this off-season. Not Cubs related at all…just something to snicker at. They seem to be turning into the Brewers circa 2007 when they were trying to out slug everyone because they couldn’t pitch. I don’t see it happening, but the thought of it is just amusing.
Remember the name Pete Mackanin? It’s cool. Not everyone lives this stuff like I do. He was one of the guys who was interviewed to be the manager last off-season. Well, since he was fired from his role as bench coach in Philadelphia, his name has surfaced as a potential replacement for the departed Pat Listach, as third base coach. Listach was let go, likely because of philosophical differences. I don’t understand them, because his philosophy clearly worked with Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro’s defense. Mackanin is a name that has been mentioned. Former Astros manager, Brad Mills is also an option. We’ll see who Epstein, Hoyer, and Sveum come to a consensus on. I wouldn’t bet against Mackanin, though. Too many things are in play for him to not get a real shot at being the new third base coach.
There are going to be names to watch this off-season. They include Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Marmol. All three are prime trade candidates, especially Marmol and Soriano, who had very nice seasons to improve their stock.
You think that it’s safe to go on vacation after the trade deadline because there would be a period of relative quiet afterward, and then all hell breaks loose. Just some of that has been…
- Jeff Baker being traded to the Tigers for two players to be named later was not a surprise at all. I was kind of surprised he was not dealt before the deadline.
- Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters both being called up was somewhat of a shock, especially since they were called up at the same time. Jackson has struggled, going 2-17 with 11 strikeouts in his first week as a big leaguer. Vitters is 2-15 with 2 RBI, so all in all, not much better than Jackson. The last couple of months of the season will be a great opportunity for both to get some good at bats and playing time in the majors in preparation for 2013, which is pretty much all that is happening for the duration of this season. This is another step in the development process for two of the cornerstone prospects in the system. They are the most major league ready players in the system, so it makes sense to get them to Chicago and allow them to play in games that have significance down the stretch, as the Cubs will see some teams with a lot left to fight for. To make room for Vitters and Jackson, the aforementioned Baker trade was consummated and Tony Campana was sent back to Iowa.
- Jorge Soler went 1-4 with an RBI last night in his Peoria Chiefs debut after being promoted on Thursday from Mesa. Tonight, he hit a grand slam in his first career at bat with the bases loaded… seen here:
- With the loss today, the Cubs are back at their low water mark for the season, 24 games under .500.
- Former Padres Scouting Director Jaron Madison is coming to the Cubs to take the same job. That moves Tim Wilken to a role as “Special Assistant” to Theo Epstein. Really, these moves are only adding more talented front office men to the baseball operations staff. Wilken is well respected around baseball, having been the man to draft Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Michael Young, and Vernon Wells when he was with the Blue Jays, and having all four of his first round picks with the Cubs from 2006-2009 making it to the majors with the Cubs. (Tyler Colvin, Josh Vitters, Andrew Cashner, Brett Jackson) Madison is a rising star in baseball, and having worked with Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod during their time together in San Diego, this move makes a lot of sense.
- Speaking of the front office, GM Jed Hoyer said he expects Matt Garza to be in the Cubs’ rotation in 2013. That could mean that he anticipates resigning the pitcher this off-season to a contract extension or he is posturing potential trade partners for leverage to deal him over the winter. Hoyer was quoted by Paul Sullivan, saying, “He’s likely to be a member of the Cubs in 2013,” [Hoyer] said. “And we’re excited to have him. (Trading him) is the last thing we’re thinking of. We’re just trying to get this guy healthy.” With Garza being sidelined at the moment with a “stress reaction” in his elbow, it might be smart to keep Garza around, especially if he is unable to pitch again in 2012.
- Alfonso Soriano got on Starlin Castro’s case about his lapse in Friday’s game. As the senior most veteran on the roster, that is absolutely Sori’s place, and it probably softened the blow in the meeting Castro had with Manager Dale Sveum. Starlin has been much better with his concentration of late, but losing track of the ball, down five runs, is another exhibit of how far the young short stop still has to go in his maturation process. He is still a developing player, and often times, that fact gets lost in the fact that he has been so good over the course of his first three seasons in the majors.