Yesterday we did #12 through #7 and today we'll finish it off with the top 6 of 2012.
As a side note, I thought of also doing the worst moves but here's the thing: The moves that didn't pay off (at least not yet) such as the Ian Stewart trade, didn't cost the Cubs long term core pieces. Chris Volstad may have been an unmitigated disaster last season, but it only cost the Cubs Carlos Zambrano (and eating his salary). Getting a 25 year old former top prospect for a guy you didn't want is a pretty good gamble in my book.
But I digress...
Here are the Cubs top 6 moves of 2012 counting down from #6.
6. Signing Edwin Jackson to a 4 yr/$52M ($8M signing bonus)
The more I think about this deal, the more I like it. After the signing bonus, the Cubs are paying a 29 year old Jackson an average of $11M over the next 4 years. It's as close to a front-loaded deal in baseball as you can get.
But it's not just about the contract, Jackson has been a solid mid-rotation workhorse and the Cubs needed a dependable veteran after trading Ryan Dempster away. I don't believe Jackson was signed to be flipped. I believe the Cubs think he can be a part of their rotation when they win. He'll be in his low 30s when the team is ready to contend. If he stays the course, he's a solid #3, but I get this nagging suspicion that Jackson may end up being one of those guys who gets a little better with age. Some guys are just better in their 30s and I think Jackson has a chance to be one of them.
5. The acquisition of Arodys Vizcaino
It hurts to lose a quality pitcher and person like Paul Maholm but you can't pass up an opportunity to acquire a potential top of the rotation talent when you have the chance, particularly when it's converting a short term asset into a long one. Questions remain about Vizcaino. Can he be healthy? Does he have the physical frame/durability to be a frontline guy? My answer to that is if he he didn't have those questions, there's no way he's available and certainly not for Paul Maholm. You have to take the risks because Vizcaino gives you everything else -- command, the athleticism to repeat his delivery, and, of course, the great stuff. Vizcaino is such a low risk that some believe that, if healthy, at worst he's a quality closer. It's that combination of floor and ceiling that excites me and why this makes it one of my personal favorite deals.
4. The drafting of Albert Almora
What I liked about this move is that the Cubs put their money where their mouth is. They picked the guy whom they believed was the best player available in Almora when it was clear that SP was a bigger organizational need than CF. In reality, what the Cubs were saying was that their biggest organizational need was impact talent and Almora is potentially that kind of player.
Almora also fits the profile of what the Cubs want in their players. He's a player with a high floor and a high ceiling. Perhaps most importantly, he has the mental makeup that gives him a better than average chance of actually reaching that ceiling.
The fact that he's an all-around talent that plays a premium, up-the-middle position and plays it well also fits the teams philosophy. With Almora as part of the plan, the Cubs figure to be strong up the middle for years to come.
3. The signing of Jorge Soler
The Cubs have always been good at unearthing finds in the international market but the Soler signing showed the Cubs were willing to go toe-to-toe with the big boys to land themselves one of the biggest potential impact amateurs in recent memory. They not only got themselves a great player, but they've announced their presence in Cuba and throughout Latin America. The Cubs are now one of the go-to places when it comes to the international market.
As for Soler, you'll have some scouts who will tell you that he is the best prospect in the Cubs system. His power potential is enormous and he has enough tools/skills to contribute in all other phases of the game. There are some things to clean up with his swing and his routes on defense but the ability is there for Soler to be a monster in the Cubs lineup for years to come.
2. The extension of Starlin Castro: 8 yrs/$60.75M ($16M team option in 2020 with $1M buyout)
Was tempted to put this at the top and am still not sure, perhaps we can call this 1A. The Cubs locked up a 22 year old all-star at the most premium position in baseball until his age 30 season -- and they did it at very low risk. If Castro improves at a normal progression the contract is a bargain. If he doesn't improve at all it's still a fair deal. And if he breaks out as some believe he will, it's an absolute steal. In exchange Castro gets financial security for life and the potential to enter the FA market as a 29 year old top SS if the Cubs don't pick up his option. Win-win.
It's a departure from the old regime that would let their players go through the arbitration process and approach free agency, then attempt to negotiate deals when players were at their peak (and sometimes past it), and at a time when they had the leverage of the free market looming. It's led to some expensive extensions, such as the ones for Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez. Both were good players, but the Cubs could have been more efficient. The result was that they hamstrung their payroll for good, but not elite players.
Hopefully the Castro extension is a sign of things to come with other players whom the Cubs consider core guys.
1. The acquisition of Anthony Rizzo
This just snuck in as it occurred on January 6th of 2012. It made me nervous at the time. I was having lunch with a friend when it came across the screen. The Cubs acquire 1B Anthony Rizzo (yay!) for RHP Andrew Cashner (gulp). This was a team that lacked front line pitching talent and Cashner certainly had that kind of potential. It wasn't a slam dunk in the Cubs front office. They didn't want to lose Cashner. But they did want Anthony Rizzo. A lot.
Rizzo gave the Cubs a second core player to go with Castro. He's a middle-of-the-order bat who is also a good defender. He also possesses the type of character and mental makeup that the team wants to build around. As always, it's not been about the individual talent, it was a statement on the big picture. The Cubs want players who will represent them well on and off the field and by making Rizzo their first major acquisition, the Cubs sent a message to the entire organization. This is what we are going to be. Perhaps it's a lot of pressure to put on a kid, but Rizzo has already handled a lot more in his young life.
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