The Cubs rebuild is really about to get started now. Yes, the Cubs did trade Marshall and Zambrano last offseason, but I'm looking at this draft as the official start of the Cubs full-fledged rebuilding efforts. The team let Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena go, not just to save on salary, but to get the draft picks. On Monday, the Cubs turned those picks into much needed starting pitching prospects. The Cubs nabbed Missouri St. RHP Pierce Johnson, who some are now calling a potential steal, and California prep righty Paul Blackburn, who I think will move quickly through the system for a high school kid.
I'll talk about the rest of the draft later today, but those two moves are just the beginning of the process to build the type of foundation the Cubs have been talking about since Theo came to town
On the agenda:
- Put in a strong offer for Jorge Soler. Today is the deadline according to his agent Barry Praver, and the Cubs have been known to be heavily scouting Soler from the get-go. In fact, here on this blog we felt that Soler has been the main target all along. The Cubs had him in for a workout Wednesday, amid all the draft frenzy. Hoyer had this to say about a potential Soler signing, "We've obviously scouted him extensively, like a lot of teams have. There are a lot of teams involved. We had a similar situation with (Yoenis) Cespedes this winter. It'll be intriguing, but certainly we've done our work on him." Obviously signing Soler would add yet another potential impact prospect after the Cubs drafted high ceiling talents such as Albert Almora, Johnson, Blackburn, and Duane Underwood.
- The trade of Ryan Dempster. We were the first to report he was willing to waive his trade rights when Tom gave us all the scoop 5 days ago. The mainstream media outlets, such as ESPN and the Sun-Times, are reporting it now, but to our readers, that's old news. The trade of Dempster is inevitable. Both sides want it and the veteran pitcher is in demand. The Cubs will take the best offer for that trade, whatever that may be. I expect the Cubs to land a couple of very good pieces for him. Dempster has been arguably the Cubs best pitcher this year, so it's going to make a bad season even worse, but everyone knows it's for the good of the long term health of the organization. Even Dempster himself. "Any one of us is susceptible to being traded," Dempster said. "For me, it's a little different because I have the right to say 'no.' … Obviously I want to do what's best for this organization. They've done nothing but right by me." Dempster, like Kerry Wood, is a guy that will go out on good terms with Cubs fans. And we shouldn't forget that Carlos Zambrano, though he sometimes let his emotions get the best of him, waived his no-trade rights as well when the Cubs needed it.
- The long-awaited call-up of Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs have really done this right. They didn't call him up because the GM had something to prove, as Jim Hendry did when he called up Starlin Castro. They didn't call him up to be the savior for a playoff push that never got started. They waited until he was ready. Most scouts agree he has fixed the flaws which troubled them a bit: the long, pull-happy swing and his ability to hit left-handed pitching. He has improved his defense, which was good, but is even better now in terms of range. He'll be a defensive upgrade over Bryan LaHair, for whom the Cubs will now have to clear some room in the lineup -- or possibly trade him. I think even the most ardent supporters of a quick Rizzo call-up would now wait two more weeks when that saved MLB service time means the Cubs will have Rizzo guaranteed for one more year.
- The potential trade of Matt Garza. As much as Dempster is going to be in demand this year, the demand should be even bigger for Garza. Unlike Dempster, however, a trade is not a foregone conclusion. The Cubs have only indicated that they would listen on Garza and are not actively shopping him as they are with Dempster. Still, with so many teams, such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Tigers rumored to be clamoring for his services, it's going to be very hard for the Cubs to ignore if a team makes enough noise in terms of a big offer. We've speculated on various names in the past. The Cubs are in a good spot with Garza. They can choose to keep him if they don't like what's coming back, since Garza is young enough to be part of the rebuilding process, but with the heavy competition expected for his services (the Yankees are said to be at the top of his list), I'd say there's a good chance the Cubs end up moving him.
- Moving Alfonso Soriano and his contract. They won't be able to save much on the contract, but even saving 20-25% would be a plus. Soriano is hitting the ball well and has been one of the Cubs most reliable, productive hitters of late, but he's not part of the team's future. Making it especially evident is that his knees are getting to the point where he needs to be a DH. Sitting down the LF line in a recent game, I was close enough to see how painful it was for Soriano to chase a ball down into the corner. He no longer runs the bases well. His value now is almost exclusively in his bat, so the sooner the Cubs can get him to the AL where he can DH, the better it will be for the Cubs and Soriano's own career. It will keep him healthy and he can still be productive enough on offense to help a team, but the days of stealing bases are over, and his range on defense should begin to decline despite his improved defense so far this season. Trading Soriano would also open up an OF spot for Bryan LaHair.
- Fielding offers on all short-term players. The list here is long as few current Cubs are expected to be here two years from now. The most valuable of these players could be David DeJesus, who has proven to be a solid hitter with a very good approach at the plate. He plays defense well enough to be an asset on both sides of the ball and he still runs the bases well. Don't be surprised if the Cubs get a lot of calls on their savvy outfielder. Bryan LaHair remains a possibility to be traded as well. Despite this being his first full season in the bigs, LaHair doesn't figure as a long-term player because of his age, 29, the presence of Anthony Rizzo, and the limited window in which he has to play the OF. The Cubs won't trade him just to trade him, however, as he could still be more useful as a bridge into the next era than he could as a trade piece right now. One surprising trade chip may be Darwin Barney, who's having a solid year and I expect him to have a long career in the majors. He can play SS and he's cost-controlled and may be more valuable than you might think at first glance. Of course, that means he has value to the Cubs as well, but the Cubs do have two MLB ready 2Bs in Adrian Cardenas and Luis Valbuena, they can use for now. I don't think they want to trade Barney, but if team's are offering a solid return, or if he can increase the return on a larger package, it may happen. The industry people I've spoken to in the past seem to value Barney more than the average fan does. The Cubs also have spare parts such as Jeff Baker, Reed Johnson, Shawn Camp, and starter Paul Maholm, who may bring in a prospect.
- What to do with Carlos Marmol and Geovany Soto? Both players, despite being relatively young, are very much in doubt when it comes to the Cubs long-term plans. Marmol is becoming an expensive player to have taking up a bullpen spot when he isn't saving games and Geovany Soto has two young catchers coming up right behind him in Steve Clevenger and Welington Castillo. The problem is the value of both players has sunk about as low as you can get, so the Cubs shouldn't expect to get much in return here. The Cubs may be better served to wait until the offseason on both when teams seem more amenable to projects (see Carlos Zambrano).
- The international signing period. Last year's signees: Luis Acosta, Marck Malave, and Ricardo Marcano have already been impressive in the early going while 2010 signee Jeimer Candelario continues to impress in extended spring training. We'll have some more info on the available prospects soon.
Expect a hectic June and July here in Wrigleyville. The draft officially opened the door to the rebuilding process and it's about to get going full steam this summer.