I'm on the road. Taking off to Canada to visit family and attend a cousin's wedding, so longtime reader and contributor Michael Caldwell was kind enough to submit a guest post on his thoughts on the Cubs team at mid-season. As for me, I'll try and keep up from the Great White North...beauty, eh?
And by the way, if anyone out there would like submit a guest post this weekend or at anytime, please email either me or Tom...
A Mid-season Analysis
I want to start by thanking John and Tom for the opportunity to write again. Several years ago, this blog is what some friends and I wanted ours to be, but life got in the way for all of us, and we gave it up. John and Tom, you guys are living my dream, and I'm so happy for you.
In a matter of a days, the Cubs will be halfway through their season. So far, it's been a season we'd mostly like to forget. There's a better than even chance they will set a new franchise record for losses in a season. The odds are at least even that they will have the number one overall pick in the 2013 draft, and if not, they will surely have the number two or number three overall pick. However, that isn't all bad. It means they'll have a pretty good shot to get an impact player with that pick, and we have a front office in place that actually has a clue about what to do with such an asset in terms of drafting and player development.
Next year's draft will be similar to this year's. There will be slim pickings in regards to college hitters, but barring the epidemic of injuries sustained in the college pitching ranks in 2012, there should be more to choose from in that regard for 2013. However, just like this year, high school will be where it is at overall. There are also other things besides good draft position to be happy about.
Starlin Castro seems to have turned a corner. It wasn't that long ago we were all wondering aloud if Castro had the mental make up to stick at shortstop, and while there have been lapses at times this season, I think we can all agree that he has improved. Between his hitting and his improving defense, Castro should be a mainstay for some time to come. I also think that Castro will eventually improve his OBP, and apparently, the front office thinks as much too. Jason McLeod intimated as much this week in an interview on MLBNR.
Bryan LaHair has also been a pleasant surprise. He's cooled off some since that hot start, but no one who reads this blog ever thought he was going to stay that hot. He probably doesn't have a long term future with the Cubs because of his age, but he may turn into a valuable trade chip as we near the non-waivers trade deadline or possibly this winter because of his skill set and cost control factors.
David DeJesus has shown he is not washed up. Like LaHair, he has shown himself to be very effective against right-handed pitching. He can also play all three outfield positions. I think contending teams looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder will be calling about DeJesus, if they haven't already.
Darwin Barney is another good story amidst all the despair. He has shown that he is more than capable in the field, and he has improved at the plate. He probably isn't a long term everyday answer for a team seeking to win championships, but he is the kind of guy championship teams like to have around. He could have some trade value, or this front office might like to keep him around as a glue guy.
We're all happy about the recent promotion of Anthony Rizzo, but that story has yet to play out. Everyone here is smart enough not to expect to much from a 23 year old rookie. If Rizzo is just league average for his position at the plate and in the field the rest of this season, we'll all be satisfied. Anything more from a rookie, especially as bad as this team is, would be icing on the cake. What we want to see from him is steady improvement and glimpses of things to come in future seasons when it will actually matter. McLeod also talked a lot about Rizzo in the interview I mentioned above. I think the front office's expectation are realistic.
Alfonso Soriano is in the midst of having his best season since 2008, and it couldn't come at a better time. It will still be asking a lot for a team to take on the final two years of Soriano's contract, even with the Cubs paying most of it, but his play has increased the odds greatly from what they were this winter. There is a chance of him being dealt now, and if not now, maybe this winter, as long as he is producing.
Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood have also been good stories. Samardzija has struggled as of late, but he has showed glimpses of what he could be, and Travis Wood finally looks like he is coming into his own. He could be a mainstay in the middle of the rotation for years to come.
Maybe the best two things going for the Cubs right now are Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza. Dempster has been spectacular all season long, and Garza has been better than his numbers have shown. Dempster, unless his injury becomes season ending, is going to be traded, possibly as a package with LaHair, DeJesus, Barney and/or Soriano. There are a number of potential suitors out there for his services, and with the Cubs willing to pay most or all of his remaining salary, they should get a decent return, possibly even an impact talent.
Garza's fate is less certain. I think, if he and his agent would agree to a Danks-like extension, the Cubs would be inclined to keep him around, but the rumors that he wants Cain-like money probably means the Cubs will trade him, and he should fetch a kings ransom. Battle tested young veteran pitchers with a whole season of control to go don't come on the market often. As with Dempster, there are a number of potential suitors. Between Dempster and Garza, the Cubs could restock the system with quality arms.
The farm system isn't in terrible shape either. What it lacks in quality pitching, it makes up for in quality hitting at most positions. If I had to do a Cubs Top 10 prospect list, I don't think I'd put a single pitcher in it right now. There just isn't any pitcher who stands out as a can't miss sort of impact prospect. The best of the best Cubs pitching prospects all look like back of the rotation types or late inning relievers, but if those hitters continue to develop, trade opportunities will present themselves to rectify that, and of the high ceiling types of pitchers that are in the system, you never who might step up. We also don't know yet what trades for Dempster and Garza might bring. It's possible this farm system's pitching will look completely different a month from now, and lest we forget, all it takes is one or two guys to make it to have a huge impact.
In the spirit of saving the best for last, I think it's the front office and the ownership. For the first time since the Dallas Green era, there are competent people in charge of the front office, and there is an owner that will support that front office's plan with whatever is required. This is not to say these people are perfect.
Tom Ricketts has made mistakes since taking over the Cubs, but he hasn't let it deter him. It may have taken some time for him to figure out that the front office needed a makeover, but when he made his decision, he didn't let anything stop him from getting his man.
Theo Epstein isn't blameless for what happened in Boston, but he seems to have recognized where he screwed up, and he seems determined not to repeat those mistakes.
Jed Hoyer realizes they pushed Rizzo to soon in San Diego. I think this front office will continue to err on the side of caution when deciding to bring a prospect up.
Then you combine the best of the new blood, Jason McLeod, with the best of the old blood, Tim Wilken. Wilken is already a legend in the scouting field, and McLeod is likely going to be. Oneri Fleita may have one the best overseas networks in all of baseball. There is also the sense that this front office understands it's not enough to just draft well. There will also be more emphasis on developing players. In the past, it seems to me to many Cubs prospects were left to develop on their own versus being guided and nurtured towards a specific outcome.
All in all, Cubs fans should have a lot to feel good about in spite of the Major League team's record. I know I do. I look forward to your comments.