Theo Epstein spoke today, and like all times when Theo has something to say, it’s generated some buzz.
“A million here, a million there, that’s what we can afford. We’re not in position to throw around hundreds of millions of dollars in free agency. But if we can do it in that (international free agency) market, we might as well try to monopolize it as best we can.”
That line from Theo has started the “mid-market” talk among fans and media, alike. Patrick Mooney put out a great piece which explicitly called the Cubs just that. Then again, knowing the Cubs’ history of flushing money down the crapper and how the landscape of baseball is changing with the new labor agreement, is that such a bad thing?
At the risk of repeating myself, the way the Cubs are going about their business is the best way to do it. Free agency is not going to produce a team that goes from the bottom of the division to the top after just one winter, like the Cubs managed to do between the 2006 and 2007 seasons. There are no quick fixes. So spending “a million here, a million there” on international free agents and by acquiring a load of talent to retool from within is the last best option. Minor league talent is currency. Teams can develop and field that talent when it reaches the point major league ready (unlike the Cubs have…see Patterson, Corey; Pie, Felix) , or they can use it to acquire established players…which is the “new free agency.” Teams who are selling off veterans like the Cubs have the last couple of seasons are essentially teams of free agents who can be had if the price is right.
Drafting and development hasn’t been a strength of the Cubs in the past. Bleacher Nation had a piece yesterday that should make the former front office want to huddle in a corner and cry. You think the team we’re watching is bad? Take a look at that roster. It makes me cringe. The good news is, the article BN referenced is linked, showing all 30 teams…including the Red Sox, which was led by Theo Epstein. In a weird, mid-market sort of way, a number of the major pieces of what made the Red Sox good over the second half of his tenure were homegrown…like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholtz, and Jonathan Papelbon while players like Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez were used as currency to obtain other useful parts.
The era of big market supremacy has passed. In all reality, it never really existed. Even the Yankees in the ’90s were mostly homegrown with some complimentary free agents sprinkled in. It is time to embrace the “mid-market” philosophy of spending wisely and developing players…because it works.
The Cubs and Yankees finalized the trade sending Alfonso Soriano to the Bronx today. It breaks down as follows:
Yankees Get: OF/DH Alfonso Soriano, Cash
Cubs Get: RHP Corey Black
Corey Black pitched for the Tampa Yankees in the Florida State League. He throws in the mid to upper 90s, and has touched 100, according to some reports. He’s had some issues with walks, but has the big fastball to go with an above average change up. John Arguello from Cubs Den had the following to say about Black:
“Of all the names mentioned, he’s the one that intrigues me the most. He’s undersized, but has similar athleticism and build as Travis Wood. He can also bring it, able to pitch last year at 95-98 with sinking movement. Some reports have him touching 100 mph in the instructional league. His changeup is solid and his secondaries lag behind, though the slider is further along than the curve. He has struck out 9.58 batters per 9 innings and although he has walked 4.90 per 9 IP, he does have the kind of athleticism to repeat his delivery and develop better command.”
Soriano being moved means the Cubs no longer have a player with a no trade clause, which gives the front office free reign to deal at their heart’s desire. Ultimately, that’s probably the best thing for the organization. Theo Epstein
had some comments about the Soriano deal, via Carrie Muskat:
“I don’t look at this as a watershed moment, or a transformative moment at all. It was simply the right time for Sori to move on and open up some at-bats for Junior Lake and when [Ryan] Sweeney and [Brian] Bogusevic come back from injury, now that [David] DeJesus is back from injury, we have a chance to find out about left-handed bats and some on-base skills and see who might be in the mix for next year. It was just the right time for this particular move.”
Dale Sveum also had some strong words about Alfonso Soriano (via Paul Sullivan and the Tribune)…
“It’s emotional for all of us. You don’t usually gather teams together that often when people get traded to say your goodbyes. That just shows what kind of person he is.”
And from Carrie Muskat…
“You say you’re prepared for it, but I don’t think you’re really prepared to lose somebody of that nature. All the things he brings to a team, the fourth hole, the character, the clubhouse, the leadership and everything. You just don’t replace that.”
With Soriano being traded, Jeff Samardzija is the longest tenured Cub, and the only one remaining from the 2008 season. It also leaves a gaping hole in the “veteran leader” spot. David DeJesus is the first, best candidate to fill that role, and with the team getting younger and younger, he really doesn’t have an alternative, as long as he himself is still a Cub. It also means that the youngster Soriano mentored on being a professional, Starlin Castro, is going to be thrust into the position of being one of the veteran leaders, at just 23 years old. Such is life when you’re the longest tenured position player on the roster.
The line-up is another issue altogether. It appears there is some solution to left field and to the clean-up slot…
That is a perfectly good solution for the time being. Realistically, Junior Lake is going to regress. He’s a talented player, but his obscene start is going to cool off and his numbers are going to come back to earth. Nate Schierholtz manning the clean-up spot (as long as he is also still a Cub) isn’t really a good solution, either. Realistically, the best option in the fourth spot in the line up is Anthony Rizzo. Ultimately, there will likely be a number of different line-up combinations that we see through the end of the season, as Dale Sveum gets new players and returning players to move in and out of the line up.
The one certainty this trade brings the Cubs for the remainder of the season is uncertainty. While it will likely not get as ugly as last season dd, it does mean that Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Darwin Barney need to start performing at the level shown on the back of their baseball cards. With difficulty comes opportunity. It will be difficult to replace Soriano’s bat in the line-up, and there will be a number of players who get ample opportunity to prove they can do it.
As we creep into the wee hours of the morning, a report has surfaced that the Cubs are getting close to sending Alfonso Soriano to his original team, the New York Yankees. There were a number of reports that the offensively starved Yankees are looking for offensive help, and Soriano’s name has been mentioned as a possibility over the past number of days. This spring, Soriano also said he would consider waiving his no-trade rights to go back to the Bronx. Obviously, nothing is done until it is done, but this is as close to a trade as Soriano has been since he has been a Cub.
UPDATE: The New York media had this being a lot closer than it really is. There is apparently “nothing imminent” on the Soriano trade front, although all sides are acknowledging that the discussions are taking place. It stands to reason that it will take the Cubs paying a lot of Soriano’s remaining salary and the Yankees giving up more than the “mid-level prospect” that was thrown around last night. Soriano discussions could very well last through the waiver deadline at the end of August because his contract makes him 100% unclaimable.
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.
In 2011, the Cubs and Cardinals shared something in common. Both dreamed of 2012 with Albert Pujols in the line-up. Jerseys,
shirsies, and Cubs’ gear with the signature 5 on the back started appearing. And then Jim Hendry gave him a hug. And we all leaned forward. And then Hendry got fired and Theo Epstein got the job to lead the front office after spending mega-dollars in Boston. We all thought it was a sure thing that the Cubs would sign Pujols or former Brewer, Prince Fielder. And then the Cubs traded for Anthony Rizzo. And the dreaming was over.
The start of a rebuild was upon us. None of us thought it was 101 losses bad. We didn’t think we would be waiting until 2015 to be realistic contenders. That is, however, where we are. And it is exactly where we should be.
My favorite conversations are with the people who talk about “winning now.” We should buy free agents to win now while prospects develop so that we have a good major league product while we develop a minor league product. The reality, though, is that logic is flawed. Because the evidence suggests that it fails just about 100% of the time.
The New York Yankees are the poster-children for throwing money at flaws. In fact, the Yankees have spent, since 2001, roughly $2.375 BILLION on payroll. They have appeared in the World Series only three times (2001, 2003, and 2009), and have only won once (2009). They spent about $792 million per World Series appearance. Meanwhile, the Cubs have spent about $1.294 billion on payroll for three PLAYOFF appearances, and no World Series berths in the same time frame. Every year, the Cubs are in the top half (even now) in total payroll and have had among the highest in the National League over the last 13 years.
The teams who are winning are those who draft their players, develop them, bring them up, and learn to win at the MLB level. There is a reason the Rays are one of the most stable franchises in baseball now, in spite of having to let players like Matt Garza, Carl Crawford, James Shields, and likely soon will let David Price walk out the door. They do their work on the draft and turn their talent into contending quality major league teams. The Giants have done the same thing with home grown Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Buster Posey, et al winning two of the last three championships. The Cardinals refused to pay Albert Pujols more than he was worth. They set a number and a length for him, and refused to budge. He went to the Angels, and his legs stayed in St. Louis. Meanwhile, he has eight years left on his contract. He’ll be a player who can’t run, can’t be traded, and has to be paid until 2021. Sound familiar? A certain left fielder has drawn the ire of Cubs fans for failing to live up to his deal, and Pujols has an even worse contract.
Like it did with the Rays, the Phillies when they won with a core of Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins (all home grown), and the Giants, it will take time for the Cubs to roll the snowball of building talent into a top down organizational juggernaut like the current Cardinals (who have the best record in baseball and one of the best farm systems to pair with it), but it is the right direction.
In the coming free agent class, there are no game changers to make the Cubs instant contenders. That is just another flaw in a completely unsustainable plan. Robinson Cano is the only potential free agent who could make an impact on a line up, and it is highly unlikely that he leaves New York. Shin Soo Choo is a nice piece, but he isn’t pushing the Cubs into the category of making a deep October run. Jacoby Ellsbury is a good player who may finally be healthy, but he is nearing the wrong side of 30, and has an injury history that makes him a salary liability. And if/ when the Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Brett Jackson, Kris Bryant group gets to Chicago, they have an old player with a big contract blocking them. The pitching isn’t much better in the coming off-season. The most accomplished free agent pitcher to be is already on the Cubs’ roster in Matt Garza.
Losing games isn’t any fun. It’s easy to understand the frustration of watching the team lose games they could win, sink to the bottom of the division in May, and sell off veteran pieces for players who may turn into nothing. But throwing money at free agents and trading every nice piece in the farm for a chance at one year is how the Cubs got to this point in the first place. They are much better served developing their players, bringing them to the big league level, and trading prospects only when the return is a player who can be useful for sustained success. Money is best spent in the manner the front office has shown that it is going to spend it…on its own core pieces. Keeping young talent in-house for mutually beneficial deals is a very good way to spend money, and the Cubs’ position as a big market team should be able to allow them to hang on to their players, and not have to purge them when they have out-performed their contracts.
An unfortunate side effect to doing it the right way is that it takes time. And it will. Anything worth doing, though, is worth doing right. Doing it right takes time, and good things come to those who wait, and all those other things we were told when we were kids. They’re all true.
Even though this is admittedly only a hobby of mine, I still feel as though I have let down those that actually read this, to an extent, so here goes some of the new information regarding the Chicago Cubs…
First, the team is looking to finalize minor league affiliations this week, including extending the agreement by two years with the Northwest League Runners- Up, the Boise Hawks. The big decision is expected to be swapping low A affiliation from the Peoria Chiefs to the Kane County Cougars. Kane County is only about 30 miles west of Chicago, so the logistics of the matter seem to be the biggest reason why.
Brett Jackson could be available tonight for the Cubs in Houston, but he is not in the starting line up, unless a late change happens. David DeJesus is tabbed to lead off, and play in center, flanked by Bryan LaHair in right and Alfonso Soriano in left.
Speaking of Alfonso Soriano, he has a very real chance at hitting 30 HR and driving in 100 runs for a terrible offense. He stands at 28 HR and 94 RBI, the RBIs being his best mark since joining the team in 2007. Equally as important, Sori has been excellent in left field all season long, and is worthy of at least a consideration of a Gold Glove. His reputation precedes him enough that there is almost no shot he gets that award, but his defense has been as good as his offense. And his leadership brings a ton of value to a young team, learning how to be a professional. Dale Sveum seems to go out of his way just about every day to compliment Soriano on everything he does. Like him or not, he has earned his contract this season. This off-season could bring some suitors for Soriano, as long as the Cubs are willing to eat much of the $36 million he will be owed over the last two years of his deal. With the improved defense and strong numbers, the Cubs could get a strong return on Soriano from a team looking to add a right handed bat that can play the outfield. He still figures to have the most value as a DH for a deficient AL team.
Sahadev Sharma wrote a great piece for ESPNChicago.com on Jorge Soler, and his comparisons to Sammy Sosa, linked here.
Lastly, with today being 9/11, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what happened 11 years ago. That was obviously a senseless act of death and destruction that never needed to happen. The way Americans all over the country, though, rallied around each other was the most inspirational thing I have seen in my 27 years. There are a lot of acts of courage, bravery, heroism, and selflessness associated with that day, and those days immediately afterward. It remains my hope that those times return to this country, sooner rather than later. Baseball played a huge role in the healing process. I remember very fondly, Sammy Sosa flying the Stars and Stripes after a home run during the first game at Wrigley after the attacks. Even though the Cubs were not a part of the World Series that season, it remains one of the premiere sports memories of my life, as the Yankees and Diamondbacks fought in an epic seven game battle, with President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium before game three to chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A!”, and culminated by Bob Brenly’s D-Backs getting a walk-off hit from former Cub, Luis Gonzalez. Baseball was a major contributor to the return to “normalcy” after what happened on this day, 11 years ago. Ballparks filled, the flag flew resolute, and versions of “The Star Spangled Banner” were belted out as passionately as they had ever before. On this day, I hope that we take the time to remember the men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, that lost their lives on that day…and PLAY BALL!
3:21 PM: It is confirmed that the Cubs have gotten Villanueva, who Baseball America rated in the Top 100 before 2012, and Hendricks, who has great numbers at high A this season.
3:16 PM: Sources are saying that the Cubs have acquired 3B Christian Villanueva and RHP Kyle Hendricks for Ryan Dempster.
3:06 PM: The Cubs are getting two players in Single A, one position player and one pitcher, according to Ken Rosenthal.
3:02 PM: Everyone is confirming Dempster to the Rangers. We’ll see what the return ends up being.
3:00 PM: Jon Heyman reports that the Rangers have acquired Ryan Dempster.
2:58 PM: Ryan Dempster possibly to the Rangers. Again, no confirmation.
2:51 PM: The Dodgers are officially out on Dempster, according to multiple sources. Jim Bowden reports that the Yankees may have acquired Dempster, but was trying to gain confirmation.
2:30 PM: The Yankees are not the leaders in the Ryan Dempster sweepstakes. MLB Network reports that the Dodgers have all but given up on acquiring him.
2:01 PM: Harold Reynolds just said his “favorite rumor” is Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza for Justin Upton. That would be a huge move for the Cubs.
1:44 PM: Dempster has told ESPN Chicago’s Bruce Levine that he will waive his no trade rights, and accept a potential trade to the Yankees or Rangers.
1:35 PM: The leaders to acquire Dempster in the last 85 minutes before the deadline appear to be the Yankees. The Cubs have tried to accommodate Dempster and send him to LA, but without the package the Cubs want, it appears the Cubs will send him out east.
1:09 PM: Yankees and Diamondbacks are discussing acquiring Ryan Dempster.
9:54 AM: The Rangers may wait until August to look for starting pitching, according to Ken Rosenthal. With the Yankees, and now the Rangers, not being motivated…doesn’t that just leave the Dodgers again?
9:30 AM: Kaplan is saying the Yankees have spoke to the Cubs about Dempster, but are not as motivated as Rangers or Dodgers. All this time, I thought the Dodgers were not very motivated.
9:25 AM: Jayson Stark is reporting that the Yankees are telling teams they are not in the running to acquire Ryan Dempster. Jon Heyman confirms this report, but also says that Dempster is only willing to accept a trade to the Dodgers. There is a ton of information out on Dempster. Almost none of it makes any sense at all.
9:14 AM: Contrary to what David Kaplan reported, Ken Rosenthal reported that Dempster was still only willing to accept a trade to the Dodgers…so there’s that.
8:46 AM: David Kaplan is reporting that the Rangers and Yankees have emerged as suitors for Ryan Dempster. The Rangers are looking for starting pitching after Roy Oswalt was rocked again last night and the Angels sold the farm for Zack Greinke last week. The Dodgers are still Dempster’s preferred destination, it is believed that he would approve a deal to either the Rangers or Yankees. He also says that the backlash at Dempster for not approving the Atlanta deal is over-blown.