Cubs hoping to find ideal platoon in RF

Cubs hoping to find ideal platoon in RF
Nate Schierholtz and Justin Ruggiano

The Cubs tried to maximize value by using platoons last year with mixed success.  We've talked about putting players in positions and situation where they can succeed.

It worked at 3B where the Valbuena/Ransom/Murphy Voltron made for a passable starting MLB 3B, something none of them could have done on their own.  That trio combined to hit 30 HRs with roughly a .320 OBP and a .770 OPS.    Two of those players, Valbena and Ransom, also played above average defense.  All told, it adds up to about a league average player (approximately 2 WAR) when you mash it all together.

Not all star level, but nice power production and defense from the hot corner.  Not bad for a conglomeration of inexpensive and unwanted parts to bridge the gap until the Cubs have a younger, more talented cost-controlled solution.

The Cubs hope to create something similar -- or better -- in RF for 2014.

Last year Nate Schierholtz was atrocious against LHP but put up a respectable line of .262/.300/.499 with 20 HRs vs. RHP.  That part-time player would be worth about 1.5 wins, give or take a little depending how you'd rate his defense.

The problem, however, was that the short side of the platoon didn't help at all.  Scott Hairston didn't pan out in that role, hitting just .179/.239/.500 in 78 ABs vs. LHP, though he did hit 7 HRs.  All in all the Cubs got 28 HRs from their RF platoon while hitting .241.  When you count both Hairston's and Schierholtz's poor performance vs. LHP, that combined performance falls in RF falls to about a replacement level player.

It's not hard to see why that particular role was a target of the Cubs this year.  Had they been able to match Schierholtz's proficiency vs. RHP with a mirror image player vs. LHP, they would have gotten a lot better overall production out of the RF position.

Enter Justin Ruggiano, who in many ways is that mirror image of Schierholtz.  He is much more proficient vs. LHP than he is vs. RHP.  Even last year, which was considered an off year for him, he batted a solid .248/.329/.504 with 8 HRs in 133 PAs vs. LHP.  The wOBA (.360) and RC+ (130) were both well above average.

He was even better the year before, hitting .330/.415/.714 with 7 HRs.  The wOBA (.468) and RC+ (198) were way, way above average in 2012.

While I don't expect expect him to repeat his 2012 performance vs. LHP, something in between the two years would in itself be a huge upgrade over last season.  I don't think that's unreasonable to ask.  While we can expect some performance regression in his age 32 season, that is countered by a couple of factors.  One is that when we project player performance, we don't solely do it based on his last season.  Many projections take 3 or 4 years of performance into account, so while 2012 may have been above and beyond his normal performance you still have to to factor it into this projection for next season.

The other factor is that Ruggiano, like Schierholtz as a member of the Giants, struggled mightily at home.  Both players performed significantly better outside of their home parks.  It benefited Schierholtz to play half his games at Wrigley rather than at AT&T park.  It should benefit Ruggiano as well.

In the last two years,

These are his combined numbers on the road (ncluding RHP):

.262/.319/.497 with 24 HRs and .235 ISO in 427 ABs

Now contrast that with Ruggiano's combined numbers at home (including vs. RHP):

.250/.334/.379 with 7 HRs and .129 ISO in 365 PAs

While the average and OBP numbers don't seem to be affected all that much, the power numbers show a huge disparity over the past two years.

Even though the Marlins' home park played above average overall to the average hitter in 2013, it did not play that way for Ruggiano.


It may have to do with the dimensions of the Marlins park.  It plays long in the LF-CF alleys (387) and CF (422).  As you can see from this spray chart from Fangraphs, that is where the great majority of HRs and line drives went.

Ruggiano spray chart

In contrast, Wrigley is 18 feet shorter in the LF-CF alley and 22 feet shorter to CF.   And it's 24 feet closer in the RF-CF gaps.  You can see where many of Ruggiano's flyballs (in blue) died just short of the wall in all of those locations.  On the other hand, many of Ruggiano's doubles went down the LF line, which shouldn't change much with a move to Wrigley.

What you are getting with Ruggiano is a player who can mash LHP as well as a guy who hits for significantly more power away from Miami.   Playing with the Cubs in a platoon role will give him less exposure in the situations where he has struggled while getting a higher percentage of PAs in situations where he has excelled the past two seasons-- again, vs. LHP and away from Miami.  The formula worked very well with Schierholtz, so the Cubs are hoping it works again with Ruggiano.

While there is some oversimplification here, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect Ruggiano to hit in the .275/.350/.575 range with 10 HRs vs. LHP playing half his games at Wrigley Field.

That would pair nicely with Schierholtz if the lefty comes reasonably close to approaching his 2013 numbers vs. RHP (.262/.300/.499 with 20 HRs), which isn't far fetched at all.  He is a year older but consider that Schierholtz had some bad luck despite his solid season.  His .270 BABIP was 30 points lower than his career average.  Moreover he had an unexpected downturn in his walk rate.  It was 5.8% in 2013, three points lower than the prior season and almost a point and a half lower than his previous 3 seasons combined.   With a better BABIP (closer to his career average) and a realistic 7% walk rate for 2014, we could be looking at an OBP in the .320's vs. RHP for Schierholtz.

What the Cubs likely have with their RF combo is a middle of the order hitter with average to above average defense and baserunning.   If both players stay healthy all year, we could be looking at Schierholtz/Ruggiano as an above average MLB starter in RF, by my quick calculations it could be as much as a 3 WAR player when you combine their totals.

Both Schierholtz and Ruggiano have their shortcomings and neither is a full-time player on his own.  But by maximizing their production by minimizing the situations in which they are most vulnerable, the Cubs could make the position of RF an even more productive one than 3B was last season.


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  • A couple of instances where you got the LHP vs RHP switched up which caused me to re-read it in a couple of spots. But overall great job John! I hope this helps illustrate what they are doing because some people didn't see why we would trade Bogusevic when he is younger, etc...

    I'm curious what they do in LF. I'm pulling for Vitters, but I don't think he wins out over Sweeney and yet, he's still so young they should want Josh to play every day...

    I also think that Olt making the big league team out of ST is going to be huge for us.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Thanks. I fixed that actually while you were writing this comment. I think it's okay now, but let me know if I still mixed any up.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Agreed - especially about Olt and to some extent about Vitters.

    Vitters - even if he isn't a long-term solution in LFor RF, if he is to have any trade value at all, or any real value as a guy off the bench, needs to get an opportunity to play at least every few days.

    And - in the case of Vitters, he at least could be an emergency 1B and 3B guy.

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Good thoughts, Hoosier, like usual. But in my opinion, I think the "play every day" rule for the young players varies depending on their perceived value. I think Vitters is viewed as Jeff Baker, so with his ceiling as a utility man, they may very well use him as one right off the bat.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    i think if the Cubs decide to go with Lake in CF, then Vitters has a shot. But I think it's a longshot. I think the Cubs would rather go with a veteran who can handle sporadic playing time and be a positive influence on the bench as the 5th OF'er. I'd rather have Vitters getting ABs and being ready for a call-up in the event of an injury or a bad year by one of the outfielders.

    I give the edge to Wells, McDonald, and Cunningham for that 5th spot over Vitters.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Personally, I have no use for Critters and have little faith in him. I've seen guys overmatched before, but he looked lost-too soon or otherwise. And he was so awful in WinterBall he was first demoted to the Venzuelan minor leagues (Caps, back me up on this) and then sent home. I don't think he's got the intestinal fortitude to take advantage of what talent he does have.
    I could be wrong and hope I am, but that's how I see him. Despite his failures last year, I'd still bet Jackson has a better chance of contributing at a ML level because, despite a ridiculous K rate, he still plays better D, runs better and hits for more power.
    That said, I don't think either will ever be a consistent MLB starter

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    I'd agree with all that except for intestinal fortitude. I can't speak to that.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Vitters biggest obstacle is staying healthy these last two years. IDK about the fortitude comment as I've never met the guy or read that from anyone who knows him... But I will say his limited playing time and shortened trip to winter ball is concerning. But we're still speculating why he left...

    He just turned 24 and has a history of being slow to adjust to new levels. He's got his requisite 500+ PA's in AAA and has a .300 avg there. Other than working on his defense, IDK what they're hoping to see from him in AAA. He needs MLB AB's to make the adjustment. Since we're not going anywhere this season, this is the time to do it.

    Then again, they may have given up on him. I think his performance and role by May will tell us...

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I actually see the Cubs (barring of course injury or implosion) wanting Lake as the primary CF next year. No slam intended in any way against Sweeney - he did a fine job in CF last season during the periods he was healthy.

    If (as reports chatted about here seem to indicate) he is making progress in the OF this offseason - he's got the wheels, and the arm, and the bat (assuming his Ks don't get worse) to play that spot reasonably well. He could be a fine guy to have on the team and would let the Cubs keep Almora growing & learning in the minors for another year or two - unless he forces the issue.

    I still personally view Lake as a 'supersub' type. The ability to play at least somewhat effectively in a lot of spots defensively (if not GG quality) - and with a bat and running ability to keep things interesting. But he increases his long-term value to himself, and to the team if he can get the PT to demonstrate his potential.

    I would also like to see Vitters get a chance again to demonstrate whether, or not, he is going to be effective at tha ML level. Him, and Brett Jackson. They may not indeed be the 'answers' the management (and many of us - myself included) thought they might be last Winter, but they may still have some value to the team and to their own futures.

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    Great analysis. A 3 war rf platoon would be nice.

  • In reply to Glen Krisch:

    Thanks. Was just checking it out and it seemed there were a lot of similarities between Schierholtz and Ruggiano -- but from the opposite sides of the plate. Combined they should make a pretty good player for RF and maybe that 5th spot in the lineup.

  • Jose Veras signs with the Cubs. Yawn.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Yeah, not very exciting but they got an experienced arm for the back of the bullpen. Not sure they make him the closer automatically though. Maybe he's here as a backup plan to Strop.

  • Cubs sign Jose Veras as new closer, $4MM seems high, but eh.

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    Were you away from your computer again, John? The Cubs signed Jose Veras.

  • In reply to Ray:

    Actually i wasn't but I was doing some research and editing for this article, so I missed it.

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    Looks like they just signed Veras. 1yr/$4million

  • In reply to Glen Krisch:

    Ha. Figures! Every time I spend time with research they sign a player.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Okay, John, I'm sorry but the moment Tanaka is posted, it's nothing but research for you. Everybody must do their part. We're all counting on you.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Haha. I feel like every time I get lost in looking up numbers and wind up taking my time, something happens. But it only happens right after I publish the article.

  • File under classic post, John!

  • In reply to historyrat:

    Thanks! I'll put it back up on top tonight after the "excitement" over signing Jose Veras calms down ;)

  • I like the Veras signing as I am sure many do. Inexpensive guy who can close and moves Strop back to an 8th inning guy while he learns how to close. A multitude of arms that can be the 7th inning guy now as well. Veras does seem a bit wild but also strikes out a guy an inning. Good H/9 and K/9 rates.

    Bullpen is going to be light years ahead of where we were last year.

  • Just put up a new post on Veras...I'm going to update this RF post later.

  • Interesting signing, there were rumors of the Cubs looking at experienced closers but I'm not sure how much sense it makes to invest $4M on a closer, unless you have some expectations of being competitive. They have some younger, unproven options in house. What do you make of this signing John?

  • This makes for an interesting post however I would caution going into this season with this expectation because you aren't regressing the platoon splits. These posts from fangraphs and tangotiger would help give a more accurate prediction of what to expect from a platoon. I think this is one of the reasons we were so disappointed by the Scott Hairston side of the platoon last year. This might still be a good strategy, but I think you are overestimating what we can expect from a Ruggiano-Scheirholtz platoon. I think getting anything more than 2 WAR from it would be more than what should be expected of them.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Thanks. I do actually have The Book and I know that splits don't always translate in this straightforward way, especially when working with a limited number of PAs. I probably should have made that clear. At the same time, I don't think the numbers I put out there for Ruggiano or Schierholtz are unrealistic. I also wouldn't point out Hairston's performance (or lack thereof) as a typical one.

    What I intended here was just a simple projection that is meant to give a ballpark idea of what to expect and to show why the Cubs might be looking to platoon these two particular players. I don't want to get too caught up in calculating specific projections. I leave that to the experts as I am not a statistician, and while we use some advanced metrics in our analysis, I wouldn't call ourselves a stats-oriented team blog. If you want to make a more sophisticated, detailed projection regressing platoon splits, ballpark adjustments, etc. (and I'm saying this without any snark whatsoever so I apologize if it comes off that way), you are welcome to submit one as a guest post. I'd be interested to read what you come up with in terms of their combined numbers for 2014.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think I agree with your underlying thesis i.e. this outfield could be better than the unexciting names would suggest. While it is odd that I believe Soler is our highest paid OF on the 40-man, my hope is that this outfield-on-a-budget concept frees up some room to make a run for Tanaka or maybe one of the possible Cuban guys (aledmys diaz or arrueubarruena)

  • In reply to Andrew:

    I do think they're trying to keep that payroll flexible for a possible run at Tanaka as well as heading into the next offseason. The Cubs don't have much, but they have a wonderful asset in their payroll flexibility. They'll be able to do all kinds of stuff with that asset in the next year or two.

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    excellent analysis. I'm also excited to see Ruggiano as an effective pinch-hitter to make opposing managers think twice about putting in late inning lefties. To that end has there been any research done on top hitters in the league who are taking a day off creating "fear factor" for opposing managers. Also do we think Ruggiano has the ability to play other positions (LF, CF, 1B) as a late inning replacement?

  • In reply to cubsben:

    He's pretty much limited to corner OF.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I don't know where you got that from...

    In 2012 he played 85 games in the outfield - 52 in CF, 31 in LF, & 15 in RF

    In 2013 he played 110 games in the outfield - 84 in CF, 23 in LF, & 5 in RF.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    You guys are both correct to some degree. Ruggiano can play CF but he fits best in the corners.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I never said he couldn't play CF.... but if you've ever seen him play CF, you'd see why I said "He's pretty much limited to corner OF"

  • OMG. A spray chart? This is website just keeps getting better and better.
    I didn't think it was possible, but John, you just found a way for me to get excited about the Ruggiano acquisition.

  • In reply to PtownTom:

    Haha! I hope he works out better than Hairston. Not hard to see what the Cubs were thinking here. I think it's a good match and I think Ruggiano's track record against LHP has been more consistent over his career, so I think he can do what Hairston couldn't. It's potentially an above average player in RF.

    As for the spray chart, I've always used them, but I think this may be the first time i've ever put one in a post!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It would be hard to NOT work out better than Hariston did IMO. Although the trade did get an interesting fringe prospect in return for him.

    But I liked Ruggiano in 2012, he wasn't completely off in 2013. And he does appear to compensate for some of Schierholts' weaknesses.

  • Thanks for all your research, John... Appreciate the effort you put on this analysis... Very good article.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Thanks, I appreciate that. I like what the Cubs are thinking here. I hope it works out better from the short side than Hairston.

  • Cubs & Marlins talking trade with our excess third basemen.

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    In reply to CubsTalk:

    Any idea who? I would think Baez is out of the question and Bryant can't be dealt yet. Perhaps Olt or Villanueva.

  • John, check this out... Asking price for Samardzija was a package that included either Jason Heyward or Justin Upton according to Mark Bowman... Here's the link:

  • In reply to Caps:

    This tells me the Cubs don't really want to trade Samardzija.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If this is the price, they are probably doing it just in case someone bites, but they must be feeling they are very capable of extending him.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Get the feeling they really don't want to move him at this point. Could change later -- maybe even in this very offseason. But right now they appear in no hurry to deal him.

  • Does it appear that Rondon could be the odd man out in the short term? They're not going to carry 12 guys, right? Iowa could have pretty good pitching staff this yr.

    As far as the rest of the OF, is love to see Vitters get an opportunity to see if the last 500 ABs or so of improvement in plate discipline are for real. Assume, at best, he starts off as short side of LF platoon with Sweeney.

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    I think it's the other way around... I think Rondon is a dark horse to become the team's setup man or closer for the next few years... He finished the season throwing 95-98 mph... I think he will compete with Justin Grimm for a bullpen spot.

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    In reply to Caps:

    As usual caps, you are right on the money. Rondon increased his velocity and finished the year with 9 straight scoreless outings. He's got the potential of being a valuable late inning option

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Thank you, learning from guys like you and others around here helps you with being on the money more often than not.

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    In reply to Caps:

    You are too kind. I've also learned from you and I've learned a lot more the writers and commenters here than I ever did at the other site.

  • In reply to Caps:

    I'm putting my money on Grimm. He's got a Luke Hochevar vibe about him, in that he dials back his stuff to try and get deep into ballgames as a starter, and it kills him the second and third time through an order. But given the chance to just air it out for an inning or two, he's a much more impressive pitcher. Born for the bullpen.

  • In reply to notcarlosdanger:

    I like both (Grimm and Rondon) and I'm OK if they battle it out, it could only bring the best out of both of them.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Seems like the big wildcard is Cabrera. Since he likely won't clear waivers, have to keep him in the pen if he doesn't make the rotation, right? Seems like one spot almost has to be his.

  • In reply to JasonB:

    I don't think he clears waivers either... But the Cubs may not have another option if he can't make the team out of ST... I hope he does, he's got a good arm.

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    In reply to Caps:

    Live arm, good upside. Someone with options like Rusin or Rondon may be sent back down to make room. Good problem to have

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    That's a good point that Rondon & Rusin both have options left. Still, Rusin isn't in Cabrera's league if Cabrera can command his stuff. If he can't, then he has limited value for trades....

  • In reply to JasonB:

    I agree. I think they either keep him or trade him.

  • There goes Franklin Gutierrez... Maybe the one who had Jose Veras will win the contest lol.

  • OT: Boston sees Tanaka as a #3 starter and are not expected to be a player for him unless they're running an "impressive smokescreen" per Speier

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Jon Heyman ‏@JonHeymanCBS

    1 GM who wont be bidding for tanaka: "i dont think theres any doubt" he'll get more than $100M

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    I'd love to see the Cubs sign jake Smolinski to fill the RH 5th OF/Jack of all trades role. Consistent, good OBP, gap power, versatile and a great kid. Love to see him in Cubby blue.

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    Will we find out if Maeda is posted around the same time as Tanaka and does anyone think we make a run at him too?

  • In reply to William Ray:

    Heard Maeda is more of a bottom of the rotation type. A bit undersized and relies more on changing speeds and location than pure stuff. He's good at it, so Some think he can be a #4.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Maeda is a solid number 4 in my mind. I've seen him pitch on TV over here a number of times. A really good competitor. I'm pretty sure he'd make a rotation on just about any MLB team. And will not cost $20m. Could be around Iwakuma's level Seattle. I'll try to find out if his team's posting decision is coming soon (thru the local sports news, I'm not any insider!).

  • I think Tanaka just got denied from coming to the MLB

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I shouldn't have posted this until I saw a second source

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Japanese Translator? I might be mis-translating this...

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Nothing new over the last few hours being reported here in Japan. I think Rakuten is going to mull this over for another day.

  • In reply to TokyoCraig:

    Thanks. I try not to rely too much on those translators. I actually would have been genuinely surprised if they didn't post him. My feeling is that they won't stand in his way if he really wants to go -- and it appears that he does.

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    Nate Schierholtz career splits:

    vs righties .265/.314/.438/.752
    vs lefties .265/.315/.367/.683

    Ryan Sweeney career splits

    vs righties .289/.344/.406/.750
    vs lefties .236/.306/.303/.609

    Doesn't Sweeney make more sense for a straight platoon over Schierholtz?

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    I think Lake could be a good leadoff man. Great speed, capable of bunting, decent on base and some pop. If you put him at the top with Castro hitting second, with Castro's plate coverage, they could hit and run and hopefully create some havoc. I'm not panicking (this week) about the team. It's a Billy Beane style team with lots of moving parts. I get the impression that Renteria will want to make up for the lack of big bats with lots of running.

    If the whistle blew today, here's how I see the lineup and roster:


    In the wings are the bats. If they suck the first two months, I see the Cubs promoting Baez and Bryant at the same time. One to bring them in under little pressure and two to renew interest in the team. Their bats will fill wherever there is weakness.

    I, for one, like Vitters and hope he plays his way into the leftfield scheme. For all the people that don't think he has enough pop to play a corner, please remember that in the post ped era- a guy with upper teen home run power that hits doubles is pretty valuable.

    I think Sweeney is a better outfielder than Lake and we be better suited to be the everyday CF.

    I read about the Marlins rumors. Maybe they move Olt but I think it's more likely they'd move Valbuena or Murphy.

    McDonald is interesting in that he seems to possess a lot of talent and is a great example for the young kids that nothing is ever assured-his career overall has been a disappointment, yet he won't give up.

    If they get an enough offense from the platoons and splits, they'll be able to keep Barney. He covers a wide area from shallow center to the lines.and with all their shifts is crucial to the defense.

    As usual, the first two months will dictate the other moves. It's a pitchers park in April and May, so defense will be crucial. I don't think they could be any worse at home than they were last year. They have to turn Wrigley into an advantage-just like Billy Beane would do.

    And yes, I'm a little nuts.

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    Agreed on almost all counts Dale, The only part I am in disagreement with (and that only around the fringes) is whether they start out the season with Barney as a full-time 2B, or whether they give him a timeshare with Watkins/Valbuena/Murphy.

    And a lot of that decision (IMO) depends on whether Olt breaks camp for Wrigley in April. If Olt doesn't start out the Spring with the big club, they almost have to have Barney in at 2B, and Valbuena/Murphy manning 3B.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I think they'll give Barney a chance to get his slash line back to where he was in 2011 under Jaramillo. With Barney's D, if his BA was back up to .276 that's a viable asset, especially at the trade deadline....

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    I do not think we see Baez or Bryant in the first 2 months regardless of what happens. If you're trying to make a WS run, that's worth starting their service clock early. We aint there yet and I do not see this FO doing that.

  • "we could be looking at Schierholtz/Ruggiano as an above average MLB starter in RF"
    If this happens then Theo will have pulled off some nifty sleight of hand. Combined they'll make less than $3M.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    Almost as nifty as turning 3 waiver wire players Valbuena/Ransom/Murphy into one combined average 3B. I expect more talented like players like Schierholtz and Ruggiano to be better than that when put together.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Not sure which was a better 2013 magic trick, the 3B triumvirate or Travis Wood.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    Good one. Getting a cost-controlled mid rotation guy for one year of a set-up man is still Theo's greatest magic trick, in my opinion. We'll have to wait and see how much they get for 2 months of Garza (Edwards, Grimm, Ramirez, Olt) and 3 months of Feldman (Arrieta, Strop). Those two deals have a chance to top the Wood deal in terms of gained value.

  • Maybe that's what's wrong with the Cubs: they're idealists.

  • Not sure they can bet Lake/Castro 1 and 2. Just not enough OBP between them.

  • In reply to cubsker:

    Agree. It might work for a minute, but not a long term solution.

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