Gordon Wittenmyer has been doing some of my favorite work covering the beat for the Cubs. However, he has done much more than that. He has been writing features that dare to take a closer look and at times even question how the Tom Ricketts ownership has handled the Cubs thus far. The same can be said about the front office and the rebuilding plan.
We have always been on board with a rebuilding project and behind Theo Epstein and the plan. However, there have been some bumps in the road and it is imperative to have voices like Wittenmyer's to keep and even eye on the organization.
I got to talk to Wittenmyer about some of the forefront issues surrounding the Cubs and he was gracious enough to give us enough to split into a two- part interview.
TL: Gordon, you were one of the few who didn’t jump the gun to bury Starlin Castro when he was scuffling. Where do you think he stands with the organization’s plan moving forward?
GW: It’s hard to look at what Castro did for three years and say that he’s not a successful, capable major-league hitter who has made adjustments. That said, he doesn’t have the slugging or on-base percentage to suggest there’s not room to grow there. And that said, what he did provide offensively for a shortstop was still far ahead of almost everyone else at that position.
I think the front office over-thought the whole thing, trying to improve upon what Sveum called a “hit collector.” (Not sure when collecting 190 hits a season became a bad thing.) As we saw, and I think as you pointed out, Castro tried to incorporate the teaching (of three different hitting voices, by the way) and wound up for much of the season seeing almost a pitch more per at-bat – and watching his production tumble significantly. I think they should have left him alone until he struggled on his own.
TL: Do you still see him as the shortstop when this team wins? Could you foresee the Cubs dealing him?
GW: I believe the front office still looks at Castro as a core player, albeit one with improvements to make. I think some in the organization wonder if they didn’t contribute to his struggles this year. And I think next season will be crucial for Castro and maybe his future with the club. I don’t think he’ll be traded in the off-season (for one thing that would be selling low).
TL: The Cubs want to sign Jeff Samardzija to a long-term deal; Samardzija and camp seem determined to hit the market. Is he worth top of rotation money?
GW: First of all, people have to get off the whole top-of-the-rotation or not top-of-the-rotation thing. How many bona fide aces are there in the game? 10? 15? If it’s 15, then on average only half the teams in baseball have one. If it’s 20, one-third of the teams in baseball don’t have one.
Samardzija has stuff on a good day that makes him as good and competitive as an elite pitcher, which would make him one of perhaps 60 guys in the game – maybe 100.
The rest of it’s all about how often he can bring it, for how long in a game, repeatedly. And that’s measured in the numbers at the end of the year. And that’s where the comparables are going to come in to determine what fair market value for him is.
TL: How do you see this scenario playing out?
GW: Both sides say they’re looking for a fair-market deal. Both sides are motivated to keep him around. The only holdup so far is that Samardzija, rightfully so, wants to actually get a full season of starting in so he has a better idea of that fair market. I think something gets done this fall and that it includes a pile of incentive clauses.
TL: How are experts like Keith Law so sure what Junior Lake is or isn’t? Do the Cubs even have any idea?
GW: Keith Law and experts like him are paid to be “so sure.” It’s easy to pick apart flaws in a player’s game and crow when he fails. You’ll be right more often than not with hitters just because so much failure is built in to the game for them.
I’ve heard enough downside about Lake and his approach in the minors to be skeptical. On the other hand, he has so far shown a rare knack for performing better when the bell rings, and better as the stakes rise.
I have no idea if he can keep it up, and we’re already seeing swings in his performance. He clobbers left-handers but will ultimately have to make his living against right-handers.
Let’s see if he has the attention span and commitment to be great (and adjust) when the long slump hits.
Follow Gordon on Twitter @GDubCub
Next up we talk to Gordon about the front office, their plan for next year and the resources they may or may not have to execute it.
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