We get the chance to talk Cubs with Comcast Sports Net’s Patrick Mooney. Mooney is doing some great work covering the Cubs and is a favorite of ours.
Included below some of Patrick’s answers are links to his work, covering the topics even further. We talk front office resources, trade candidates, and the draft.
TL: How soon does the Cubs front office start moving players and who goes?
PM: Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will be evaluating the roster throughout the summer and looking to unload short-term assets. But the deadline usually creates momentum, like when an agent and a GM are negotiating over a draft pick right up until the final minute before signing the contract. Reed Johnson said at one point last season he expected to go to Atlanta with Ryan Dempster, but instead wound up with the Braves in the Paul Maholm trade. The Cubs will again be in position to package starting pitching (Scott Feldman?) and outfielders (David DeJesus?). Matt Garza’s health and the possibility of a qualifying offer are X-factors.
TL: How soon could a Wrigley rehab deal affect the baseball budget?
PM: That question hasn’t really been answered yet. The Cubs say it depends on when the renovation deal is finally done, how fast the business side can build and sell revenue packages, as well as the shape the agreement ultimately takes. That is, how much is chipped away from the wish list? This impacts the entire timeline.
The problem is that players like Yu Darvish don’t come along every offseason, and the Cubs didn’t have the financial flexibility to put together the deal it would have taken to land the Japanese star. Rangers GM Jon Daniels explained that their new TV deal is part of the narrative but not the game-changer you’d think. Daniels credited Texas ownership for stretching payroll and spending future revenues now.
TL: There have been multiple reports (including here) that the front office is miffed at a general lack of resources. How much are they being held back? Or are the public complaints just the front office trying to help secure the rehab deal for ownership?
PM: Epstein has publicly admitted that he thought he’d be able to exploit Chicago’s big-market advantages much faster. He’s also acknowledged that there’s a natural tension between baseball operations and the business side in any organization. The baseball side needs ownership and business operations to deliver. And it can’t be easy for the marketing/sales departments to push a team with little name recognition or star-power. Any frustrations are not necessarily unique, and it doesn’t mean the Cubs are doomed. But it does create a fascinating dynamic as the front office tries to build this team.
TL: Which players on current roster besides Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Jeff Samardzija could be part of a winning team going forward?
PM: That’s what this entire season is all about, trying to separate out the core players. The coaching staff believes Welington Castillo can be a frontline catcher. Darwin Barney needs to turn a corner offensively, and he’s already 27 years old, but the Gold Glove defense/intangibles could make him a keeper. Edwin Jackson and Kyuji Fujikawa were signed to be long-term pieces, but they (obviously) still have something to prove.
TL: Is Castro getting a fair shake from the media and fans?
PM: Eh, yes and no. There aren’t many players in that clubhouse who move the needle, so Starlin Castro inevitably gets most of the attention online, on talk radio and in the newspapers. Cubs managers have also singled him out for criticism. People underestimate how hard it is to make that leap from Double-A kid to .300-hitting All-Star shortstop. But as someone who likes Castro recently put it: It’s time to clean up the mistakes.
This is Year 4 in the big leagues. The guess here is that Castro will raise his game in the heat of the pennant race when he’s surrounded by a better supporting cast (or part of the supporting cast and not ‘The Man’).
TL: Where do you see Cubs going with 2nd pick in amateur draft?
PM: The understanding is that it will be a college pitcher, either Stanford’s Mark Appel or Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray, depending on what the Astros do with the first pick and barring any last-minute velocity drops or health scares. The Cubs will have at least one representative at every start for Appel and Gray. The Astros are a bit of a wild card. The Cubs didn’t expect them to take high school shortstop Carlos Correa last year at No. 1.
TL: Are there any players we should keep our eyes on as potential Cubs in 2014?
PM: It depends on how certain players develop this season and what the roster looks like after the trade deadline. The front office will get a better idea of what they need moving forward. Looking back on last winter, the Anibal Sanchez pursuit showed they have the capacity to surprise. You can probably rule out anyone attached to draft-pick compensation (which made the Michael Bourn idea a non-starter).
There could be pitchers that make sense on paper, but this front office places so much value on medical information that it’s too early to tell who will be targets. Jacoby Ellsbury has the obvious Red Sox connections, but remember that also means the Cubs know all his weaknesses as well as his strengths.
Follow Patrick @CSNMooney