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Cubs create flexibility, competition, and depth with acquisitions, but their work isn't finished yet

Cubs create flexibility, competition, and depth with acquisitions, but their work isn't finished yet
Mike Olt

Updated 3:25 p.m.

It's a typically slow Sunday so I think this is a good time to look back and take inventory of what the Cubs have done so far.

The Cubs haven't made any glamorous moves this offseason but they've been busier than you might have thought.  They've managed to create a flexible roster than take them in any number of directions this spring.  They can create some competition for positions while also opening up the possibility of creating depth to make a deal down the road.

Let's look at the Cubs depth in light of their recent moves this offseason.  You might be surprised to learn they've signed 19 players this offseason with 17 of them being new to the organization.

Starting Pitchers

What they had going in

Barring trade or injury, the rotation will likely break down as follows...

  1. Jeff Samardzija
  2. Travis Wood
  3. Edwin Jackson
  4. Jake Arrieta
  5. Chris Rusin/Carlos Villanueva

New additions

  • Liam Hendriks
  • Carlos Pimentel

What to expect

Hendriks has a realistic shot at grabbing that 5th spot and bumping both Rusin or Villanueva to the bullpen.  The Cubs have been looking to add a more experienced pitcher into the mix but missed out Josh Johnson and Roberto Hernandez.  They were reportedly in on Jason Hammel.  They could also choose to bring back Scott Baker, who made a nice impression late in the season despite not yet fully regaining his velocity.

An interesting option could be Alberto Cabrera, who is out of options.  He must win a spot on the 25 man roster or risk being run through waivers if they choose to send him down to AAA.  He is very unlikely to sneak through so barring a minor deal, he will probably earn a spot in the rotation or the bullpen.

Carlos Pimentel will be pitching to try and earn a spot in that "9 man rotation" and will probably be in Iowa so he can stay stretched out in case he is needed.

Relief Pitchers

What they had going in

  • Pedro Strop
  • Hector Rondon
  • James Russell
  • Justin Grimm
  • Blake Parker
  • Carlos Villanueva
  • Alberto Cabrera

New additions

  • Wesley Wright
  • Tsuyoshi Wada?
  • Paolo Espino
  • Tommy Hottovy

What to expect

I expect that this is another area where the Cubs aren't quite finished.  Wright gives them an experienced lefty to team with James Russell from the left side, but it could also make the Cubs more willing to listen on Russell if and when teams call on him.   They've improved the bullpen in terms of quality arms, but other than Russell and Carlos Villaneuva, it lacks experience.  The Cubs have looked at a number of relievers so far including the still available John Axford, Joaquin Benoit, Andrew Bailey, Suk-Min Yoon -- and probably just about every free agent RP on the market.  Clearly this is an area where we can expect another acquisition or two.

The Cubs caught a break when no team selected Marcus Hatley, though the did lose Marcos Mateo, who would have been in the mix as well.  Hatley is the younger of the two and there are some in the organization who think he has a big league future ahead of him.  Hatley continues to improve as a pitcher from season to season and might be the guy to look to if you're looking for another Blake Parker-like breakthrough.

The X-factor here is Arodys Vizcaino, who will start the season in Iowa but will have his innings limited all season and if he does make it to the Cubs this season, it will probably be out of the bullpen in 2014.  He has the stuff and command to be a lights-out closer if he stays in the role long term.

Another interesting development is the potential depth from the left side.  James Russell and Wesley Wright are locks for the roster, but there is also Zac Rosscup, Brooks Raley, Tsuyoshi Wada, Tommy Hottovy, and perhaps Chris Rusin.

Infielders

When we're talking competition for 2014, we're talking 2B and 3B.  SS and 1B are set in stone for 2014.

What they had going in

  • 1B: Anthony Rizzo
  • 2B: Darwin Barney
  • SS: Starlin Castro
  • 3B: Luis Valbuena/Donnie Murphy

New additions

  • Chris Valaika
  • Ryan Roberts
  • Jeudy Valdez
  • Walter Ibarra

What to expect

Valdez and Ibarra are most likely here to provide minor league depth, so we'll leave them out of the equation for now.  They have an outside shot of becoming the 5th outfielder if the Cubs decide they need a guy to backup Starlin Castro.  Roberts has the best chance of making the team as a 2nd utility infielder and will compete with Logan Watkins for that role.  Chris Valaika is also MLB ready and he'll be in the mix as well.  Valaika was well-regarded as a prospect with the Reds but has struggled in brief MLB stints.  The guess is the Cubs will leave him at AAA Iowa barring a trade.

Speaking of which, Bruce Levine reported yesterday that the Yankees could turn to Darwin Barney after having lost out on Omar Infante.  The Cubs value for Barney for his excellent defense but his bat has been moving in the wrong direction the past two years.  He is also about to get expensive in the next year as a starting 2B going through arbitration, so there is a possibility the Cubs could move him.  That would give the Cubs a couple of options to replace him.

  1. The ideal solution would be for Mike Olt to win the 3B job outright and then move the Valbuena/Murphy platoon to 2B, both can play the position and their bats profile better there.
  2. You can keep the platoon at 3B and slide Logan Watkins into 2B with a platoon of perhaps Ryan Roberts or Chris Valaika.

Both of those situations would be stopgaps until Javier Baez and/or Arismendy Alcantara are ready to take the position full time, but that probably won't happen until 2015.

Outfielders

What they had going in

  • Nate Schierholtz
  • Junior Lake
  • Ryan Sweeney (FA)

New additions

  • Justin Ruggiano
  • Ryan Kalish
  • Casper Wells
  • Thomas Neal (re-signed to minor league deal)
  • Darnell McDonald (re-signed to minor league deal)
  • Ryan Sweeney (re-signed)
  • Aaron Cunningham

What to expect

The outfield is somewhat set with 4 players as heavy favorites to start and/or platoon.  They are Junior Lake, Ryan Sweeney, Nate Schierholtz, and Justin Ruggiano.  Lake will play full time if he makes the team, which is expected, and it would be ideal if he could play CF.  Reports are his defense has improved significantly over the offseason.  That could leave the Cubs with two platoon situations in both corners.  We've mentioned a Schierholtz/Ruggiano platoon as the most likely, simply because Sweeney gets better ABs vs. LHP than Schierholtz does.  If either of them were to play full-time, I'd bet on Sweeney.

If Sweeney plays full-time, then I expect the Cubs to carry Darnell McDonald as their 5th OF'er with Jae-Hoon Ha giving some competition.

If Sweeney does platoon, then Casper Wells and Aaron Cunningham would be the front runners for the short-side of the tandem.  Both are athletic, RH hitters with some pop and plate discipline -- the basic mold the Cubs have been looking for all offseason.  Ryan Roberts, who can also play the OF well and Thomas Neal could also enter the picture for a platoon role.

In house the Cubs still have Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson, who will have to show something soon.  Vitters upside now looks like a corner outfielder on the short side of a platoon, but with other RH candidates having MLB experience and the ability to play better defense, it's an uphill battle for him.   He's going to have to show he can really hit and make some progress as far as getting on base and hitting for some power.  Jackson almost certainly returns to AAA to figure things out but he'll be in the mix this spring as well.

Ryan Kalish will go to AA or AAA to get back on track and continue his development, which thus far has been slowed down by an injury plagued career.

Catcher

What they had going in

  • Wellington Castillo

New additions

  • George Kottaras
  • Eli Whiteside
  • John Baker
  • Charles Cutler

What to expect

Assuming Kottaras is the backup, the Cubs will have some MLB ready depth at the minor league level.  Both Whiteside and Baker have MLB experience.  They're both catch and throw guys who will help develop pitching prospects and serve as the 3rd catcher/emergency backup.    Cutler is interesting as a LH bat with some OBP potential to be a Steve Clevenger type backup by 2015.

Overall

All in all, I suspect the Cubs aren't done yet.  I think they will be active in January, particularly when it comes to finding a bargain bullpen arm or bottom of the rotation starter to add to the mix.

Trades are possibilities and could alter the landscape, especially with regard to the starting rotation.

Right now it looks like the Cubs are laying a lot of groundwork.  They've created great roster flexibility for future acquisitions and promotions.  They've had numerous discussions involving interest in some of their current players, but the recent acquisitions give them some depths, and thus a chance to take advantage of a trade opportunity should one arise.  There are options in both the infield and outfield to make moves if that becomes necessary and they can do it without creating gaping holes.  Pitching is a bit of a different story as the Cubs will need to get some sort of immediate replacement(s) back in a deal.

These moves may not be the kind to get fans excited but the hope is to add some wins on the margins and perhaps have success with a flyer or two.  And there is the feeling that at least some of his could be prelude to more significant moves to come in the next two months.

 

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  • fb_avatar

    This is a bad team. I see the comparison to what they had at seasons end and don't see much. But comparing this roster to the one that started last season is alarming. Spin it any way you want, but the 2014 Cubs, on paper, would have a tough time beating the 2013 Cubs right now. I hope you are right when you say they're not finished.

  • In reply to Michael Canter:

    Good. I thought I was missing something.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Michael Canter:

    It's true, it is a bad team. But I really don't believe the goal is to put an actually good team on the field this year.

    3 consecutive Top 5 picks on top of a #6 overall pick and a #9 overall pick should go a long way toward this rebuild.

    I can handle one more 60-65 win season.

  • In reply to Michael Canter:

    No - it is certainly NOT a great team. It will be a good defensive team. It will be a team that works it's butts off. But it is a team that (unless there are breakout years for several people at the same time) going to suffer from the same problem as last year - getting on base and scoring runs with something other than the longball.

    Pitching should actually be a relative strength from the bullpen aspect, but the rotation is going to be thin after Shark and Wood. Arietta could surprise us all and become what the Orioles thought he could be - or he could experience the same control issues. If Jackson goes back to his usual form (not the debacle he was last year) he'll be worth his salary. Otherwise - he'll not be much of an asset. Trading Shark makes things even worse.

    I like the signing of Roberts, adding Ruggiano to platoon in the OF was a good idea too. Kalish (if that man is healthy) was a great add.

    But this team is going to look a lot like last year's - but hopefully with a better bullpen.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Michael Canter:

    This has been a very depressing offseason. There hasn't even been a Scott Feldman type signing that you can get excited about for the potential of a mid season flip. And one of the guys you thought might be a building block (Shark) probably will be traded pushing the timeline out even further.

  • Halftime...
    Do you expect the new additions will be used in these future moves?

  • In reply to xhooper:

    I expect them more to be there as depth if they move a guy like Barney.

  • fb_avatar

    Let's not try to put too much lipstick on this pig. Wright an riggiano make the team marginally better than they were. Everyone else they've acquired will either 1) be AAA roster filler, 2) be DFA fodder by August if not sooner , or 3) need to have career years to make any dif. This team has made virtually zero progress this winter, and it sucks to be on the sidelines watching not only other teams get better, but seeing the sense of hope and excitement among their fans. I know, I know - Baez, Bryant, almora, Soler.....

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I'm not sure it's stated anywhere that they are necessarily better, only that they may be trying to add a few wins at the margins.

    But it wouldn't surprise me if they were better. A rebound year from Castro and Rizzo and a good bullpen could make a big difference.

    When you look at things in linear fashion, it looks grim. But baseball doesn't always work that way.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    bullpen might be better but more likely it's just not as guaranteed bad. I'd like Axford. I'm already on record agreeing with you that a better bullpen alone might lead to a 10 win turnaround (5 losses turned into wins) over last year. But I think my point is that, as well written, interesting and detailed as your article is, I personally don't think the new arrivals mostly amount to a hill of beans.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I didn't say they're the guys who are going to turn things around for the Cubs. Not sure why you keep interpreting this article as the Cubs are going to be great because of these additions because it's not about that at all. That said good role players can add a few wins if you can use them in a way that maximizes their productivity. A few wins isn't going to make a huge difference. Any big turnaround will have to come from break out years from guys like Castro, Rizzo and some of the other core guys, and perhaps getting lucky on a couple of flyers. But all of that happening is very unlikely.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If Rizzo steps up and Castro returns to form, I see a huge difference next season in the Cubs. Olt is a big piece of the puzzle as well. Solid outfield offensively and defensively. Solid behind the plate. Adding Scott Baker and some more pitching would solidify this team, maybe we could get to .500 season or above.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    It really doesn't matter (this year at least) if Rizzo & Castro get better and the bullpen improves. If they trade Shark and don't get a MLB ready starter in return there currently isn't enough depth of starters to make up for those quality innings which would offset anything Castro, Rizzo and the bullpen do unless their improvements are completely off the charts.

    For the long term we certainly want to see Rizzo improve. I can't call it improvement for Castro, it's about getting him back to where he was before the cadre of Epstein/Hoyer/Sveum/Rowson effed him up.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I see your point. But I also see that if we take the Shaun Camp & Carlos Marmol implosions out of our early season last year... we were a borderline .500 team. We still have more questions than we have answers no doubt... but until some of those questions are answered internally we don't know what we'll need to take that next step. Over paying for a FA that may not be part of the solution just to appease impatient fans makes absolutely no sense so I'm not sure what you expect them to do....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I'm with you a 100% Hoosier - we were largely competitive last year... rarely getting blown away like in previous years.

    If you remove Sveum's imponderable use of his pitching staff / bullpen, Camp and Marmol's brain farts and Rizzo / Barney / Castro adding .040 to their batting averages we become watchable.

    We are never going to be Wild Card contenders but at least watchable... Which we were not under Quade and the first year of Sveum.

    Now if we can add in Olt starting at 3rd after a sparkling Spring in Mesa and potentially Alcantara, Baez and Bryant coming up in September with Vizcaino and Edwards getting a few September innings also then we can start to see the future get a lot rosier in front of our eyes.

    All that overpaying for free agents will do is block the youngsters paths when they are ready - just as Quade did when he took over from Piniella... And Sveum did in leaving Watkins rot on the bench playing Valbuena, Murphy and Ransom instead.

  • In reply to Hustlelikereed:

    CJ Edwards only has 6 starts @ Advanced A ball. No way he pitches in Wrigley before 2015. But I love your enthusiasm.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    "Over paying for a FA that may not be part of the solution just to appease impatient fans makes absolutely no sense so I'm not sure what you expect them to do...."

    Did you see the trade market this year? Doug Fister, Dexter Fowler & Logan Morrison where had for Ian Krol, Robbie Ray, Steve Lombardozzi, Jordan Lyles & Carter Capps

  • Great article john, I like the flexibility as well. I like that they are waiting for the market to calm down instead of overpaying for bullpen arms when you don't have to. The most important thing is they have options.

  • If Junior Lake makes it as a CF, wouldn't that give Josh Vitters a chance to make it out of ST as the LF right handed platoon? I think it does.

  • In reply to Caps:

    I agree. Give the former 3rd pick in the draft, Vitters, a chance to play in LF against lefties. Not sure why John left out.

  • In reply to Craig:

    He may not be ready defensively. He's proven he can hit AAA pitching, but he just moved to the OF and doesn't have much time there... He'll certainly be in the mix, but it's not like he's forcing the issue the way Jr did.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    He did go to some special program this offseason for conditioning and hopefully OF coaching, we'll see how he shows up in ST and hopefully he's not late this time.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Vitters needs an off season program to get stronger physically. If he does that, he has a shot.

  • In reply to Craig:

    I should have put Vitters in. And Jackson for that matter, but both need to show something soon. I'll update.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John - to date neither Vitters nor Jackson have done anything to merit inclusion... both have been highly touted but both have looked busts.

    I'm not a Szczur fan but I believe he merits more consideration than either of Jackson / Vitters.

    How many chances are we going to give Vitters...? He was blown out of Winter Ball last year then turned up to Spring Training out of shape. We have enough young competition that this Spring must be their last chance or cut them and add 2 guys who actually seem to care enough...

  • In reply to Hustlelikereed:

    He just turned 24yo.... There's still time.

  • This should be the last year for these kinds of moves. Should be
    active in July

  • Fujikawa should also be part of the bullpen by June or July.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    True. Hopefully he's ready to by then. It'd be a nice boost between he and Vizcaino.

  • fb_avatar

    While I think this years teams is suiting up be be marginally better than last year (rebounds expected about of all IF positions) until the prospects come up wins/losses isn't really the the storyline nor strategy. If the Cubs happen be be in the playoff hunt they will not jeopardize the long term plan for a chance to make the playoffs. As such creating growing major league trade assets and increasing their value will continue to be the primary objective if the Chicago Cubs trading company.

  • In reply to cubsben:

    Ha! Like the handle! There could be some marginal improvement. Any larger jump will have to come from individual improvement/breakthrough from within.

  • I really like the mix we put together for the outfield. Just a large number of guys there, who, if given the opportunity, could potentially put up some nice seasons.

    I'm calling it right now, that I'm expecting much more power from Ryan Sweeney this year. Color me crazy, but something about that swing tells me he can hit 20-25, of which I know would be a pleasant shock to all.

  • Interesting thought on the back up catchers. I wonder if it was done intentionally to bring in veteran guys with MLB experience to work with the younger guys coming up through the system. That is some very valuable experience to have guys who have caught some high end caliber pitcher work with the young guys on the cusp of making the parent club.

  • fb_avatar

    I think there are a lot of Cub fans who are looking at the calendar and assuming that come April of 2015 the team will automatically be good. Here's Theo's take on that perception:

    “We have to guard against this perception that we believe that once our most talented prospects come up to the big leagues all of our problems are solved, because that’s not the way it works in baseball,” said Epstein.

    We need some free agents, or we need to be prepared to become the Padres, with an annually top-ranked farm but nothing to show for it in chicago. And we need to stop clinging to this idea that we should only sign FA's to 2-3 year deals because after that we won't need them. They don't need to be Robby Cano, but the Casper Wells's of the world are not going to do anything for anyone.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I'm not sure who those fans are. I think most expect the Cubs to add veterans to the mix. I know I do. And I'm pretty sure they will get them. Just not a lot of guys who make sense right now if the team is playing for 2016.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Now it's 2016? Wasn't it 2014 in 2012 and then I was told to wait for 2015? Now they're playing for 2016? Maybe it's just me, but it sure seems the timeline has been creeping back.

    And, of course, Cubs just had to the City's approval ASAP for the Disneyworld rebuild so they could get to work as soon as the season was over, but then we learn Ricketts won't do anything to implement anything that's been approved until the rooftops promise not to sue.

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    Although I don't think the FO has directly mentioned a year and promised we would compete that year, the notion was always 2015, but with the delay of the renovations it seems to be pushed to 2016, unless guys like Castro, Rizzo and Samardzija break out... Or Baez, Olt and/or other cause immediate impact without struggling too much at the beginning.

    If we're lucky with the prospects and Castro, Rizzo and Samardzija fulfill that promise, we could be looking at 2015 again... But things like that are rare in baseball, the only teams that have everything clicking for them are usually those in the playoffs.

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    Nope the timeline is not creeping back. From day 1 Theo said it would take 4 to 5 years. By my math that is 2015 or 2016. No one in the FO ever said 2014.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Nondorf:

    It's not just you. I'm with you. Also sharing your skepticism of the construction plan. I don't like how the rooftops have been obstructionists, but if we can take our cubs hats off for a second, of course there will be a lawsuit because the rooftop owners have a legit claim. The Cubs are breaching a previous agreement that traded revenue sharing for unobstructed views. Now the cubs will obstruct the view, however marginally, and that harms the rooftops. Start construction, let them sue, and settle... that's how this goes, right?

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    every day there are people, a few even on this blog, where people generally are way more clear-eyed - penciling in their line-ups for '15 and '16 and being - and I quote - ''giddy" because it's all filled with the minor leagers we keep talking about. And I see a lot of commenters with the general opinion, "we need this guy, but not if he wants more than 3 years...." I agree there were not a lot of good FA options this year, but I think it's time for us to keep our minds open about getting guys that will still be here 4-5 years from now - Tanaka of course, but he's not the only one.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    The problem is, those guys you want to sign that will be here 4-5 years from now won't be any good in their 4th and 5th years.

    Take Shin Soo Choo, for instance. He'll likely be an overpaid platoon player in years 4 and 5. Hell, he might be a platoon player right now.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to TulaneCubs:

    1) how do you know for a fact that they won't be any good? Ellsbury, for instance (and I'm not advocating that we should have signed him) - is a 5.8 WAR player at age 30. How much could he decline by age 37: 30% (= 4 WAR)? 50% (=2.9 WAR)? is 2.9 WAR really "not any good"?
    2) yes, they will be overpaid later in the contract, but that happens to be the nature of the free agent system right now. To stick with Ellsbury, he'll be paid 22 mil in his age 37 season, where let's say he has had a 50% decline in skills and is a 2.9 WAR player - @6 mil/WAR, he'll be worth $18 mil. But currently he's underpaid by 13 mil/year (5.8 x 6 = 35 mil). Over the course of his 7 years, he'll probably fulfill the worth of his contract and more. If you're afraid to spend money for a free agent, you're simply in the wrong business.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Because history shows us that players' production deteriorates as they age throughout their 30s.

    I think you're way overestimating Ellsbury's value at the end of that deal. ZIPS and Steamers have Ellsbury's 2014 projected WAR at about 4. By the end of his contract, I think it's fairly likely he's a <1 WAR player.

    Will those first couple years of the Ellsbury contract be good value? Absolutely. But the issue is, the Cubs will get nothing out of those years because they probably won't be competing in 2014 and 2015. Instead, they'll have an albatross contract towards the end of the deal that will financially hamstring them when they actually are ready to compete.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I love Ellsbury but to pay him or anyone else what they are asking just to toss them in with this motley crew is a waste. I have no doubt that the wallet will be open at the proper time. I just don't understand the logic behind stuffing the roster with pus arms and 30 year old role players.
    All I need is for someone in the FO to say that the stadium renovation is going to delay the rebuild. That will REALLY send me over the top.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to TulaneCubs:

    Despite Choo's low BA vs LHP, he still put up a .345 OBP vs LHP last year,s o I wouldn't call him a platoon player by any stretch. Not yet, at least.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    While true, his slugging is what really dragged him down. .612 OPS. Similar numbers vs LHP in 2012. If he isn't a platoon player, he's pretty close to it.

  • In reply to TulaneCubs:

    Rizzo's career OPS vs LHP is .617 - Is he a platoon player?

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I think it's too early in Rizzo's career to have him pegged as a platoon player. People forget that he's only 24 and the Cubs probably aren't going to be contenders in the next couple of years, so why not see if he can improve against lefties?

    If he doesn't improve and stays in the low .600s, I think they'll certainly have to think about making him a platoon player. The one thing he would have going for him is that regardless of if he's facing a righty or a lefty, his glove is going to be good.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Who are some of the others in your opini? Not asking to be wise, the problem I find is that when you sign guys long term you pay fair value on the front end but way too much for the backend. Part of delving into the FA pool is timing. I always look at the early 90's Braves as the example. They started spending big when they had a team that could go for it. We are not there yet.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Most free agents are in their late 20s or early 30s. They'll have their most productive years in their first couple of seasons of their contract and then their production will deteriorate. If the Cubs signed a guy this year, they'd essentially waste their most productive years on bad teams. It just doesn't make sense, given the current status of the team, to add those older free agents right now.

    What does make sense is to get a guy like Tanaka that's only 25 and will still be in his prime the next 5 or so years. Then next year sign a major player in free agency and then the year after sign a major player in free agency. So they'd have 3 key free agents to add to the prospects that will be up in 2016.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to TulaneCubs:

    I simply don't agree that the 30th birthday is like an oven alarm that goes bing and says, ok, this guy's done being any good. (Ryno age 30, 31, 32, 33: 5.7, 6.3, 6.4, 7.4). yes they'll decline beyond that, and speed guys will lose value faster but let's not get too caught up in this hard cutoff at age 30.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Players are still in prime at 30 and pretty much until 32 years old, but if you're paying big for 30 year olds and figure their best years will be in the next 2-3 years, is it worth it when the Cubs don't have the roster to compete overall in that time frame?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, I recall the piece you did several weeks ago asking why can't 2014 be like 2003. So, yes, it might be worth it. And I wish they'd try.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to SKMD:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/hitters-no-longer-peak-only-decline/

  • Another great read.
    Looks like the front office is trying to put together a winning minor league system. It's very possible that several teams make the playoffs. Everyone gets used to winning which I like.
    It does look like depth is being created to make a trade.
    I'm interested to know what people would think of Zunino as a headliner in a deal for Samardzija. Zunino, Ackley, Franklin, and a (previously mentioned) arm or two. Castillo would have to go back in the deal...maybe Kotteras and another piece or two. Might be able to include Barney and the Yanks in the deal and get Sanchez to the Mariners.

  • In reply to Kodak11:

    Thank you. I think the Mariners have an intriguing group of MLB ready players that could entice the Cubs: Maurer, Paxton, Ackley, Zunino. Lots of potential to get talented players who can help now and be long term pieces.

  • To date, this has been the worst off-season of the Theo/Jed era. Yes, we remain in a development phase, but we've acquire next to no players yet that could be flippable by mid-year. And we've added no veterans to help with major league development. Of course, the off-season is not over yet. I also think Theo/Jed may also be victims of their own success at signing 4th and 5th starters and flipping them. More contending teams seem to now be valuing young players the way Theo/Jed do and choosing to give "above-market" contracts to 4th and 5th starters instead of giving up young players at the trade deadline. And those "above-market" contracts are now the new market. I'm sure Theo/Jed are already trying to adjust to a new strategy. The addition of left-handed arms may be part of this and result in some flippable assets.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Maybe you're right, but there may be something in place with Baker already. Cubs might have just asked him to hold off so they could work the 40 man with a little more flexibility. I really do hope they re-sign Baker. He fits that "flippable" bill.
    It's hard to keep bringing in the "flippable" guys when you're prospects are starting to creep up the ladder, though. You have to make room for them on the roster or trade them...and if you're going to trade them, you have to make sure that you're getting the value that makes it worthwhile.
    I'm not unhappy with what the Cubs have done this offseason. I really thought they would lose a few guys in the Rule V. The fact that they didn't gives me a lot more faith in their judgement. This team is close. Yes, they're most likely bad this year, but they're getting closer to one big arm and one big bat really making a difference. They added enough depth over the weekend to make some trades and fill in what they traded. I like the way there doesn't seem to be any panic in the method.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Evaluating an offseason that isn't even over yet is ridiculous, particularly when the complaint is that they haven't signed players. The games don't start tomorrow, there's still a long way to go, just let it play out and evaluate it at the end.

  • I don't think they are done this year, but I think this year will be used to sort out the 40 man. They are going to give guys a chance to get experience so they will know where they truly stand and where they need to make changes.

  • In reply to bscwared:

    Agree.

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    John,

    Let's also remember Armando Rivero. He could be another midseason bullpen boost, as well.

  • In reply to Chris Trengove:

    Possibly, yes. Hasn't had a full season of the minors yet, but he is older and he's a bullpen guy. Some rumors he may actually start in AA.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    My thoughts were directly related to his age.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    He may have starter stuff, but given his age, I have the feeling he's going to start just to get him as many innings as possible for development... Many organizations do that and then turn those starters into relievers right before calling them up... Like the Cards with Rosenthal... Although in their case, they have the pitching depth to do whatever they want lol... They turned Joe Kelly into a reliever and then back to starter with an easy transition.

  • Kodak had a good point about there possibly being a wink-n-nod deal in place with Baker. They almost have to sign a viable veteran to plug into the rotation.

    If they were to miss out on Tanaka & trade Shark , they could be looking particularly grim in the rotation- Jackson, Wood, Arrieta , ?, ?. There is obviously the possibility that Shark could bring back an ML-ready SP but it's quite possible he wouldn't.

    I'd love to see them bring back Baker with a team option for '15. If his velocity comes back to the 90-92 range, I find it hard to believe he won't be pretty effective.

    What would the cost be ,considering the lingering injury concerns?

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    Can someone refresh my memory on why Justin Grimm has automatically been labled a reliever lately with no chance to make the rotation? As far as I know he's done nothing but start up till now and put up decent numbers in Iowa towards the end of the year. Along with being a top prospect not long ago, shouldn't he at least be in the mix for that 5th spot as well?

    On the OF situation, ideally I'd like to see Sweeney/Vitters-Lake-Schierholtz/Ruggiano left to right.

    For the infield the best scenario for me is Olt - Castro -Vabuena/Murphy -Rizzo.

    I don't know how much longer I can stand seeing Darwin Barney pop up to shallow LF 4 times a game........

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Agreed on Grimm. I think people are dismissing him because of his struggles last year in the Rangers rotation. I certainly think he'll be given a chance to win that 5th spot.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Agreed on Barney. I can emphasize enough how important it would be for the org if Olt could establish himself @ 3B. It would open up so much flexibility, in terms of trades and an overall better team defensive profile. Near term, it would spare us Barney on an everyday basis. I just wonder if they won't give home 6 weeks minimum @ Iowa to get some wind behind the sails. He's certainly no kid, though.....

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    For me, the reason that Grimm is a bullpen guy was that his stuff played better in that role. Seemed like the fastball was better, at least. Word started to spread that he was a "closer in the making". Sounded good to me.

  • In reply to Kodak11:

    Everyone's stuff plays better out of the BP. It's common to gain a tick or two on the FB when in relief.

    The BP role is his "Floor". If he is capable of starting in the MLB, they will leave him there.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    The point I was making was not only that he did better in that role. It seemed the organization was bracing him for the fact that he would be in that role. The benefit of a statement like "closer in the making" is to get him to agree to that possibility. That doesn't set it in stone, but it's certainly what I was led to believe. Of course, that doesn't make me right. It's just the way I read the situation.
    I'd rather see Arrieta get a shot than Grimm, and I'd probably rather see Rusin get a shot than Grimm. Best case is that the person who fills that rotation spot isn't on the roster yet.
    I'd be happy to be wrong, however, and see Grimm turn into a dependable starter. I was just stating the way I interpreted the situation.

  • In reply to Kodak11:

    I'm not disagreeing with you. He may end up there. But if he's capable of being an every 5th day starter that can eat up 285+ innings as a #3/4, he would have more value in that role.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Sounds like we agree then. Guessing 285+ innings was a typo. I feel a whole lot better about the bullpen w/ Grimm in it. IMO, if Grimm does start it'll be in AAA.

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    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Good stuff as always Marcel! I would add Jackson to your list of outfielders. Although he may not be this FO's type of guy, it was only 1 year ago most folks had him starting in CF and holding the fort until Almora was ready.

    It seems everyone is counting this kid out already. I gotta believe he is using this as motivation this winter. Every year we see a guy show up at ST and surprises all with a great Spring. I'll talk Jackson to win a roster spot and possibly push Sweeney for a starting spot in LF.

    I'm just not ready to give up on this team on 12/15/2013......

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    In reply to bocabobby:

    Thanks, Oh don't get me wrong, i'm still on the Brett Jackson train. Tone down the strikeouts and I still see a starting caliber player. My hunch is if he hits at AAA by midseason or so we could see Sweeney or Schierholtz dealt with Jackson stepping in.

    Definitely have not given up on Bjax yet, even if he just becomes our long-term 4th outfielder. He'd fit in nicely with all the right-handedness.

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    Flexibility is what it's all about right now.
    We're about to have a bit of impact young talent in 2014.
    Even more throughout 2015.
    We also hold a few pieces to make some trades at the deadline, another year. We have a couple more positional breakout candidates. I think Sweeney may be putting it all together, a little bit. Anything resembling what we got out of Nate last year, too. And even a couple breakout arms. I may be in the minority, but I like both Vizcaino and Cabrera as starters.
    That's all regardless of what comes out of the Samardzija trade/extend debate.

    I'm excited to see a scrappy team of kids after the all-star break. And again, in 2015.

  • The Cubs have several guys on their 40 man roster who at one point or the other have been considered prospects. These guys (Olt, Watkins, Vitters, Jackson, Grimm, Ramirez) have not yet had much opportunity or success in the major leagues. Rather than giving playing time to retreads from other teams, I hope the Cubs give all of these guys a chance to prove if they can play or not.

  • Great stuff, John. I really like what they've done so far. The Tat Man signing was a sneakly little piece. That kind of D-Ro' esque versatility goes a long way in the margins! Also never hurts to have a guy that's surely going to develop a little cult following provided he plays pretty well. Nice cheap way for some fan buzz.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Thanks Ben.

  • John, what's your read on Baker & Grimm for the back of the rotation?

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    I was under the impression they liked Grimm as a reliever, but they could try starting him this spring and see how he does. Don't know where they stand on Baker but it may be that they aren't sure they want to put themselves in a position where they have to depend on him.

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    I think you might flip Rusin and Cabrera, or even make Rusin the 6th starter at Iowa. It's unfair, but I believe he has an option year left.

    Either way, I like the Cubs bullpen a lot better than the one that started last season. Grimm, Rondon, Strop, Russell and Wright are solid. Parker looked very good at times last year. I think we'll lose fewer games there.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Also, despite the fear expressed by some above, I think you can start to see things coming together here. The rotation is solid. It will take a big hit when Shark goes, but not nearly the hit it took at the end of 2011. (There is not a single Justin Germano in there.) Coming from below, Pierce Johnson is pushing hard and should fight his way into the rotation by 2015. Substantially further behind him is Blackburn. That's the star power, the guys we have just need to be major league caliber starters.

    The bullpen is the biggest surprise, already light years better than what we had last year. As with the rotation, the star power is coming from below. Vizcaino possibly this year, Edwards close behind. Obviously, I'm assuming bullpen for Edwards, but would love for him to prove me wrong. Behind that are the college arms from last year's draft like Masek and Frazier. All of those guys are going to be pushing competent relievers out -- and that's exactly where you want to be.

    Funnily enough, the worst shape right now is the position players. We know the starters we talk about all the time. Like John I think a Schierholtz/Ruggiano platoon has the potential to be very good. But things get dryer there. I think Valbuena could be a major league backup. I like Kotteras as a backup catcher. But that's it. Fortunately, most of our depth coming up is in the position player side.

    This isn't the team that wins a world series. Or even 70 games. But it's coming together. I know a lot of people don't want to hear it right now, but patience is key.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    I agree with most of that.

    If Shark is traded, I think things could get ugly fast in the rotation. It wouldn't immediately be as bad as the end of 2012, but with a few injuries or trades at the deadline, it could get there. I think this current rotation minus Shark may be worse on paper than the 2012 rotation was going into the year (that rotation had Dempster, Garza, Samardzija, Maholm, Volstad).

    Position player wise, there's just very little star power -- no one you can pencil in for even a very meager 3.0 WAR.

    One thing I will say though, is that this pitching staff would suddenly look awfully good if we got Tanaka (and kept Samardzija).

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Mike, I agree with most of what you say here & I do believe the team will be better this year than it was last year. However, I wouldn't consider our starting rotation as solid as you indicate above - there are just too many question marks especially at the 4 & 5 spots. We really don't know what we have with Arrieta. Can he throw enough strikes? Can he keep his pitch count down? Rusin - I'm just not convinced he'll make it as a starter. I think he can make it at the ML level but not as a starter but as a RP. Villaneuva has demonstrated he does not have the endurance to hold up as a starter over the course of a season. My hope is that Kyle Hendricks steps up as a legitimate back of the rotation pitcher this year which he could very well do! The other young guys - Johnson, Beeler, Edwards, etc. probably won't have any impact on the big Cub team in 2014. Wood & Jackson are probably an off-set - Wood probably won't be as good as he was last yr & Jackson probably won't be as bad as he was last yr. So with the uncertainty at the 4 & 5 spots, IMO, the FO needs to add 1-2 more starting candidates to the mix and they need to be of a higher caliber than a guy like Liam Hendricks.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    If Cabrera can command his stuff, he's exactly what we want! A young, cost controlled power arm that can start or be added to the back of the BP. If he can't command it, he's got little/no trade value. either way, I don't see us flipping him.

  • Rusin threw the ball reasonably well but he has NO future in a competitive rotation.

    If we're gonna be bad, and boy are we going to be, everything should be focused on evaluating the players with actual upside. Not to beat a long dead horse but the best place to put that approach into action would be to find any alternative to Darwin .

  • One thing the front office has done that i think is the biggest thing going into 2014 is creating competition. We will end up with 8-10 people competing for a rotation spot, 10-15 guys lookin for a seat in the pen. Even the bench has competition for every spot. It is very impressive.

    By bringing in these "replacement level" players, you can create a ST battle with a farm hand; and possibly find a gem in the scrap pile. I like the idea of making our prospects earn their spot on the cubs roster. Baez is gonna reach Chicago feeling like he has mastered every level of the minors and improved at each stop; and he has!

    It is just incredible to see the little things this FO does differently compared to our old FO. These little things may end up being the thing that puts us over the top.

  • Good insight. I have great, overflowing confidence in this FO. I just wish they'd be more aggressive to try to catch lightning in a bottle in 2014. It's my confidence in them that makes me think they could set up a chance for miracle next season without sacrificing the overarching plan for sustained success.

  • I just hope the cubs are saving all their resources so far to make the winning offer to Tanaka !

  • The problem with this year is that it is a do over because too many regressed last year.

  • I'm not looking at the record next season. If Rizzo, Castro and Castillo take steps forward and Lake becomes an everyday CF'er that will be huge. I also agree with Rosemary in wanting to see Cabrera get a legitimate shot at the rotation, and Grimm, Rondon, Rusin and Parker take steps forward in the bullpen. If Mike Olt gets 400 ABs in the show, it's another big plus. Then, I would be ecstatic if Renteria actually plays September call-ups. It would be outstanding if Beeler and Ramirez put up a couple quality starts apiece; Alcantara looks like a rock star at second and leading off; Baez comes up and fills in at SS, 3B, 2B and LF, hits a handful of homers and makes solid contact. If those things happen and the Cubs go 62-100, fine. Real progress has been made.

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    In reply to Cleme:

    Agreed.

  • In reply to Cleme:

    Baez has never played in the OF at any level. He's shagged fly balls during BP, but not even in little league has he ever played OF. I'm sure he could do it out of organizational need. But I don't see them just throwing him out there....

    But I agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of your post in that I am measuring our success in the development & progression of the young players, not in actual W's or losses this year.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    In the sense of fostering competition on the big league level and giving the FO the most leverage in maximizing the value of all of their core assets, I think it would be nice to show that Baez has the athleticism and versatility to play anywhere. I doubt it will happen, but if Baez is locked into a position, like SS, 3B, etc. it creates a chain reaction that will impact the entire roster in trades and/or position changes. Think Sandberg here, who played SS in the minors, came up and started filling at 3B for the Cubs and eventually settled in at 2B. However, if Dernier of Matthews would have been on the DL instead of Cey, who knows where Ryno would have started. The idea was that he was their best player in the minors and the Green FO would have probably played him at catcher if they had to.

  • Not a whole lot of fun to read about competition and depth among so many mediocre players. They need to add Tanaka.

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    In reply to Eric:

    this is what I'm saying.

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    you guys are probably totally right, and it's probably my frustration talking; but I don't feel you can wake up one fine morning in 2015 and say, lookie here - Bryant and Baez are hitting the tar out of the all, we're a game out of first, now what free agents can we sign to push us over the top? You talk about overpay, that's a guaranteed way to overpay. You gather your assets over the year or two before you think you'll be there - then if you don't need them, trade 'em.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I think the main problem is your time frame. I don't think 2015 is the year they expect everything to come together.

    I think the plan is to get Tanaka this year, sign 1 top flight FA next year (preferably a pitcher) and then going into 2016, fill out any remaining holes.

  • It seems obvious the Cubs are going to sink their entire offseason budget into trying to sign Tanaka. Does anyone have ideas about what would be the "plan B" were they not to sign him?

  • Excellent thought provoking article John! You do a great job keeping us engaged even when there really isn't much happening with the Cubs!

  • Not a great team, but we knew that! It's still going to be about Samardzija, Castro, and Rizzo. Staying the course baby! Even if we had made a big splash this off-season and signed an Ellsbury or a Choo would we be that much closer to the playoffs? My guess is no, stick with the philosophy and sign or trade for major league talent when you are one or two pieces away. But we have heard this a million times for Epstoyer and company.

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    In reply to worldjordo:

    Don't forget Castillo! He looks legit. Two-way catchers are hard to find.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Couldn't agree more!

  • Based on these moves, I bet they are all in on Tanaka. That seems like the only guy worth overpaying this offseason. It does worry me that Rizzo and Castro may need a better cast around them to improve development.

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    MLB Trade Rumors ‏@mlbtraderumors 5m

    Indians To Sign John Axford http://dlvr.it/4WR2jx #mlb

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    Wow, John, when you really break down the roster it's pretty depressing as-is. At least we should start to see some of the kids by the end of 2014.

  • I think the key to actual improvement in the MLB team rests upon three things.

    A rebound in production from Rizzo and Castro.

    Much better performance from the bullpen

    I think that both things have a reasonable chance of happening.

    Anybody playing second base other than Barney. Another thing with a good likelihood of happening.

    And the wild card - a healthy Olt. I think that the odds are against it, but if it happens, it gives the Cubs a player that is very likely to improve production at third base far above that of last year's team.

    If these things happen, the Cubs are a plus .500 team next year.

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    This is just depressing. I want to stay positive, but the best I can do is hoping for a midseason Bryant/Baez call up and a bounceback for Rizzo and Castro. That with a couple decent flips and a good draft of a college ace or #2.

  • Last season the cubs had the following RBI totals out of the various positions: C - 61, 1B - 81, 2B - 45, 3B - 70, SS - 44, LF - 71, CF - 51, RF - 90, P - 29 with 24 from PH and 10 from DH for a total of 576 RBIs. They scored on 26 unearned runs giving them a total of 602 runs(3.72 r/g). Why is this important? 2B and SS KILLED them last year. They got 89 RBIs out of the two positions. Castro probably will rebound. In 2011 and 2012 he had 66 and 78 RBI's. So, expecting 70 RBIs out of him doesn't seem outrageous. That alone is +26 runs. If Olt can play a semi-competent 3B and get say .250 avg with 60 RBI and you move the 3B platoon to 2B with similar results that's -10 at 3B but +25 at 2B. That would put you at +41 runs giving the cubs 643 runs or 3.97 r/g. Last year the NL average for was 649 runs or 4.00 per game.

    That may be a simplistic look at it because it assumes people being on base when Castro and others are hitting. But, the point I'm trying to make is having an average-ish offense isn't that crazy as some people think. Castro hitting .245 with a .284 OBP really shouldn't happen again. Rizzo hitting .233 with a .258 BABIP(9th worst among qualified hitters) shouldn't happen again. The cubs by no means will be a great hitting team but they have a shot to be at least average. And signing someone like Roberts really helps them ensure they get something out of 3B and 2B which are where they need it.

  • In reply to beckdawg:

    Don't forget Soriano had 51 of those RBI. That means only 20 RBI in the 69 games after he left. That works out to about 50 in a season.

  • In reply to CubsBuck22:

    Sure. I'm not saying they don't have work to do. I'm just saying people act like there's no hope. If Rizzo's average comes back to the .270 range you're probably talking 10 or so more RBIs. Also, I personally think Vitters could be a pleasant surprise. Fangraphs has Vitters' OLIVER projection as 600 PAs 69 runs 20 hrs 76 rbis 6 sb with a .253 avg and a .305 OBP. If you project the year Soriano had last year with the cubs over 600 PAs you get 74 runs, 27 HRs, 80 rbis, 16 sb with .254 avg .287 OBP. Obviously Vitters' projection isn't amazing but it goes to show that Soriano wasn't providing the cubs with what he used to. The 27 HRs were nice but a .287 OBP is killer.

  • In reply to beckdawg:

    It's not gloom and doom with me either. It's obvious the bull pen should be better. We lost a lot of close games last year. When the young position players come up I feel that is were we make up the RBI we are lacking.

  • In reply to beckdawg:

    Amazing Soriano hit 100 RBI between the 2 clubs based on your projection.

  • In reply to CubsBuck22:

    Yeah he flat out raked for the Yankees. 243 PAs, 17 HRs, 37 runs 50 RBIs, 8 SB with a .256 avg and a .325 OBP. Had he done this for the cubs in the first 3 months things would have been a lot different

  • In reply to beckdawg:

    To put it into perspective, he had 1.8 WAR with the yankees in 243 PAs. In 383 PAs with the cubs he had 1.1 WAR. So in almost half the PAs he had almost twice the WAR.

  • This is even uglier when you realize we had Bogusevic and Navarro "going in." But my guess is there's a couple of big moves still to come, a starter and an outfielder. Even though I wasn't a fan of the EJax signing, at least it shows they're willing to spend on the right long-term piece as they hit the market.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Not a big move, but it could lead to a bigger one...

    The Cubs are reportedly interested in signing Jonathan Sanchez and would use him as a reliever.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/cubs/chi-cubs-jonathan-sanchez-20131215,0,2678965.story

    If they succeed in getting him, or even the mere fact that they are going after another lefty, could mean there is serious interest in James Russell. Perhaps a package of Barney and Russell to the Yankees?

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Now's definitely the time to sell on Russell. His value's high and people haven't caught on yet that if you look at his splits, he's basically a LOOGY.

  • It makes sense Vizcaino would go to AAA but I've not read or heard anything from the front office stating it will happen by fact unlike Baez, etc.

    How awesome would it be if Kalish made the team out of ST. I know it would be a miracle but miracles is something this team is in need of.

  • That Roster above seems more like the Iowa AAA team then any type of a major league team...........

    I like to predict that 2014 will be worst then 2012......

    I also predict 2015 will be better season, but still a below 500 club......

    With the product being thrown out in the field, ticket prices should be slashed across the board.........how many more years will Cubs fans suffer in this major market?

    Cubs will be lucky if a Community College radio station picked up their games.....

    I don't care what anyone says, if Rizzo is not hitting again next season, his name will be on the trade board next year at this time.....

    if Scott Baker was going to return to the Cubs, he would have signed by now.....

    Third year under Theo & Jed.....if this team is the same after 2016 with no positive results, it will be time to say we need to move on to the next GM.....or / and new ownership.

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