Despite another poor start, could a core be taking shape? Key players emerging in rotation and bullpen while Castro impresses Cubs

Despite another poor start, could a core be taking shape? Key players emerging in rotation and bullpen while Castro impresses Cubs
Hector Rondon

Lots of good stuff today coming off an encouraging Cubs win but it hasn't stopped teams from calling on the Cubs.  The team has shown itself very willing to trade good starters in search of young talent.  So it isn't surprising when Carrie Muskat reports that teams are once again calling the Cubs in search of pitching -- specifically the Cubs top 3 pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, and Travis Wood.  Now, receiving calls and shopping pitchers are two different things, so we don't want to make too much of this -- but it appears that if the Cubs want to tear down and rebuild their rotation again, the opportunity will be there.

UPDATE 1:50 PM: Muskat updated here article and it now reports a Cubs official as saying they have not received calls.

But not everyone thinks that the Cubs should necessarily trade  Hammel, Muskat herself discusses the possibility of extending him in the very same article while Patrick Mooney also broaches the possibility here.  Hammel is just playing it one day at a time right now...

“That’s crazy to even bring that up right now,” Hammel said. “Honestly, it’s April. It’s still very early. Like I said in spring training, every player wants to stay in one place for a long time.

“I’m not thinking about that. I want to lead by example and I want to win. That’s what we all want to do. We’re learning how to do that right now.”

Hammel seems to be developing that kind of mentality the Cubs want to see and is already becoming one of the leaders of the pitching staff,

“I always want to be the stopper,” said Hammel, who gave up three hits and struck out seven in seven innings. “You want to be that guy who’s dependable and you know what you’re going to get every time out. Now I’m healthy and feel like I can execute when I want to.”

Personally, I'd really like to see the Cubs turn this thing around and build around Hammel, Samardzija, and Wood rather than start things over again, but that will depend on how much progress they make between now and the end of July.

As for Samardzija, ex-Cubs Matt Garza had to throw his two cents in (as usual),

"Just pitch your way out of it,” Garza kept saying. “Keep your eyes focused. Keep your eyes straight ahead and just pitch. There’s nothing else you can do.”

Another ex-Cubs, Aramis Ramirez, is impressed with Samardzija and says any team would like to have a pitcher like that,

“I’ll take him, yeah,” Ramirez said, laughing. “S---, any team. You ask the other 29 teams, who wouldn’t take Samardzija? He goes out there every fifth day. Doesn’t get hurt. He’s going to give you quality innings and he’s young. He’s the perfect guy for any ballclub.”

Perfect for the Cubs too?

“I don’t know if you want to let somebody like that go,” said Aramis Ramirez, another ex-Cub enjoying life in Milwaukee. “I don’t know what his contract situation is. But, man, he’s pretty good. That’s the guy you should be building around. You just don’t find those guys.”

I couldn't agree more with Ramirez have.  Pitchers like Samardzija are indeed hard to find and Theo Epstein basically reiterated that last week, once again calling Samardzija one of his core long term guys.  I've always felt the Cubs preferred to keep the big RHP and it's not just Theo's words -- actions speak loudly as well -- when you ask for Archie Bradley and Tyler Skaggs -- or Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman -- you are telling teams you value him a lot and aren't really looking to trade him unless the Cubs can gain more than just cost control.  They're looking to upgrade from a talent standpoint.  If a team is willing to help the Cubs do that, then it's hard to deny it's the right thing to do -- but if you give me a rotation with Samardzija, Hammel, and Wood plus a host of offensive prospects to come, then I kind of like that scenario.  It would make adding the final pieces much easier.

Have the Cubs found their closer?

Another important piece may have emerged yesterday as well as Hector Rondon was called on to close a game.  Though it was not a save situation, the lead was just one run bigger and it was against a better team than the one Pedro Strop and James Russell faced when the Cubs lost their most gut-wrenching game of the season vs. the Diamondbacks.  Rondon fired mid 90s fastballs, sliders, and cutters on his way to striking out the side in order.  That's not something we get to see much as Cubs fans, so even it wasn't a save situation, it certainly gave the Cubs a ray of hope in what has been a sore spot for the past few seasons.

Rondon was our first choice to replace the injured Jose Veras at closer, but the Cubs gave Pedro Strop the first shot.  I'm still a fan of Strop but I like my closer to throw strikes because he is that last line of defense.  If Strop comes in the 7th or 8th, you can always relieve him if he struggles with his control.  That's not a luxury you have with your closer, so he has to be dependable.

Rondon isn't a strike throwing machine but he has been under 3 walks per 9 innings since the trade deadline last year (including 2.92 walk/9 IP so far this year).  That's not perfect but Rondon is still young and improving -- plus he has shown the ability to miss bats (10.22 Ks per 9 IP) this year with improved secondaries (slider, cutter) while also keeping the ball low and in the zone.  The latter has allowed him to keep the ball in the park (no HRs allowed) and in the infield (58% groundball rate).  Both are ideal numbers for a closer.

Right now, I see no reason to go with anyone else.  I like Strop in that 7th and 8th inning role and I think Justin Grimm gives them a nice option there as well.  If Jose Veras returns to his form, he'd give them a third pitcher capable of missing bats in the late innings.

Castro impresses teammates

Starlin Castro is the original core member but that came into question last year after a poor season on both sides of the ball.  The key to his resurgence is confidence -- something I think new manager Rick Renteria helped instill after ex-manager Dale Sveum chipped away at it last season,

“I got my mind really strong after last year,” Castro said. “I’m working hard, and trying not to think about that. I feel happy. When I go to home plate, I trust myself. That’s the reason last year happened — I went up there and I didn’t trust myself. Now, I trust myself. If I strike out, I’ll get another (chance).”

New teammate John Baker is impressed with Castro -- and not just with his talent, but with his work ethic.  Baker admits that from afar it's difficult to judge that quality in another player, especially a potential superstar level talent like Castro.  His questions have been answered,

“Sometimes when you have young superstars like that, you don’t know what their work ethic is going to be like,” catcher John Baker said. “When you’re playing against somebody, you always want to not give them the benefit of the doubt and find that kind of an edge.

“But coming in here and playing with him and seeing what he went through in spring training to get back to play after (the hamstring injury) and then watching him do his work — he wants to improve as a defensive player. I see him out there all the time, before day games taking groundballs.

“That, to me, is more impressive than him hitting two home runs in a game. He’s a stud. (He) really is striving to be a complete, frontline shortstop.”

Don't look now but the kid seems to be growing up.  One talent evaluator once described Castro to me as the kind of player that stands out at you when you are scouting.  He's on a different level in terms of his ability. Another trusted scouting contact of mine consistently raves about Castro's physical talent but he's always questioned "what's between the ears" and justifiably so.  Castro has not always given the Cubs reason to believe that he has the mental approach that separates the stars from your average everyday regular.  This season seems to be different and if he is indeed maturing, it makes me giddy about the possibilities.  What can often define a player's career is how he emerges from his struggles and failures.  Castro seems to have bounced back stronger than ever and he's once again becoming a central piece in the Cubs long term plans.  ZiPS is projecting him now as a league average hitter, which is more impressive when you get that from the SS position -- and the fact that he projects as at least an average defender at that key position adds even more value.  But even that could just be scratching the surface if Castro's mental maturity catches up with his physical talent.

We haven't even mentioned Anthony Rizzo yet but he'll be the topic for another article.  The jury is still out on young talents like Welington Castillo, Mike Olt, and Ryan Kalish --- but all of them have shown flashes early in the season of being more than just bridges to the next generation of prospects.  We'll know more about them by mid-season and if the Cubs can keep their staff together (or upgrade it through trades), settle their bullpen roles, have Castro and Rizzo take it up a level, and have another position player or two emerge as core guys, maybe this season won't be completely lost.  Especially if they can add talent like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks, and a new wave of hard-throwing bullpen arms to the mix as we head into 2015.

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    How important do we think pitch framing is? Because on standard defensive measures like blocking pitches and nailing runners, Castillo grades out very well, but in terms of what little I've seen on pitch framing he ranks as dead-last in baseball.

    Important when we consider Castillo as core or not. I guess we have to for now, given the complete lack of catching talent elsewhere in the system

    BTW, agree on Castro, Rizzo; like what I see, let's move on to other problems

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I've often wondered about pitch framing and I wonder how much of it is valid. Sometimes I wonder if some teams just get the benefit of the doubt more on calls (i.e. the Cardinals and those old Braves staffs) It's amazing to me that professional umpires would be biased by how a catcher frames. He should know if it's a strike before it hits the catcher's mitt. But I guess it's a thing now. I don't like it to be honest but if that is indeed what is hurting the Cubs then they will need to address it one way or another.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I don't think it's umpire bias John, I just think that borderline pitches can go either way and framing aakes diffrrence, because it makes the pitch look more like a strike or not. I believe that umpires just want to get the call rght and go home. If they error on the side of name players and teams it's subliminal.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    In regards to pitch framing, I also wonder how much of a difference having a pitching staff that consistently hits the target makes. While Castillo grades out poorly now, it doesn't seem like an insurmountable skill to improve upon. I guess the other question is if it should be a skill at all with the technology available.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    In umpiring the term "framing" is a negative term. They usually tell the catcher, "If you frame it, I'm balling it. I don't care where it is." Its because if a pitch is off the corner and he jerks it back in, it gives the illusion that he (the catcher) knows its a ball but he's trying to trick the ump into giving it.

    'Pitch Framing' is the defensive metric term that is used but it should be 'Pitch receiving'. The best catchers like Yadi and Jose Molina as well as LuCroy and Hannigan are adept at 'bellying' pitches on the edges with movement...meaning letting the pitch get about a foot deeper and catching it with their glove almost touching their chest protector. By letting it get to your belly, and out of view of the ump (which is the key),you can then jerk it just a little bit and you're ten times more likely to get that pitch called. Bellying is also the way to get that all important low strike. Hannigan is one of the best I've ever seen in that particular quadrant of the zone.

    Wely still has a good amount of jerk on pitches on or near the balck, especially on his arm side. I'd give him a C+ or B- on receiving the low strike.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Yes and No... as an umpire and former catcher, I know a thing or two about framing. When you say "jerk" it, you're absolutely right. No umpire is going to be swayed by a deliberate and obvious act. Good receivers are very subtle in their actions and less obvious. And it has to be a borderline call anyways... Beef still has far too much jerk to his receiving game to get a pitcher an extra call or two, which is all it amounts to anyways. But sometimes, those calls can be critical.

    I disagree that "bellying" as you've described it makes any difference for the call. Plus, if there's a base stealing threat, it adds an extra half tick for his pop time.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    At that level bellying makes a difference with pitchers that have life on that last two feet of their fastballs. By bellying it, you're giving it that extra foot to come back over the corner, or at least the illusion of it coming back, as opposed to a straight arm stick when that ball is still maybe an inch or two off the black. Not all pitchers will benefit from it though. It gives the umpire an extra foot of vision before the ball hits the mitt.

    Bottom line, as a catcher, you gotta know when to go out and get it and when to belly it up. That's a nuance of catching that even good defensive catchers like Wely have yet to master.

    How's your season going as an umpire, man? Have you had to bounce anybody?

  • "Shit, I'd take him. He's relentless. When the feathers start flying, he doesn't run. He stands his ground and forces his opponent into submission. He's young and cocky and everybody would be lucky to have him.
    ............
    What's that? We're talking about a pitcher?"

    - Aramis Ramirez

  • Great piece, John. Hammel certainly has the look of a solid #3 guy right now and I'd like to see him have the chance to contribute for two or three more years. Time to pay Samardzija as well. Maybe Wood too. Ideally, those three guys would go 2-3-4 or 3-4-5 in our rotation and we can sign a Scherzer or Shields (or both!!) to front it.

    Isn't it funny that we all wanted desperately to see the improvement/return to form of Castro and Rizzo. We've seen it and then some but...

    At 8-16 I'm wondering if they're going to get the bats in the shower Bull Durham treatment?? "Eight and Sixteen....How'd we ever win eight?"

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Agreed Ben, but not at the $ Spellcheck wants. Id like to see him put together a fullseason of consistency before we start talking above E jax $. Wood and Hammel to me are Ted Lilly, 2006 contrac ts(4/44 or so). None of our current starters remotely apporach a Kershaw or a Verlander. Right now, we have a collection of mid-rotation types.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    If a team wants to become a dynasty there has to be a few big contracts in there. Even still, 6yrs/90M doesn't approach the contracts of those guys you mentioned. Its really hard to hide from the going rate. I agree with you on the Wood and Hammel values although in Wood's case, his deal would obviously be an extension unlike Lilly's straight up FA deal (plus 8 years of inflation). I'm thinking somewhere between the Matt Harrison and Derek Holland deals would be fair.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Thanks. I'd be happy with a 2-3-4 with those guys if they can get that big stopper at the top of the rotation.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Ben20:

    Keep in mind, Shark the other day called 7-8 year extensions "Crummy". And he's already 29. He's not signable.

    The time to extend players is before they make alot of money. Rizzo was a low draft pick who had probably made less than $1 mil in baseball when he signed the extension. He knew he was giving up future $$$$ for piece of mind. It's a tradeoff. Same with Castro.

    Shark, on the other hand, has already made $27 mil in baseball guaranteed after this year. He's already rich. He doesn't worry about long-term security at this point, he has it already.

    That's the problem with waiting on extensions.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    You're absolutely right, Zonk. Samardzija got his extension when he originally signed with the Cubs. Now he's looking for the FA payoff at the end. He's not extend-able.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    He called 7 & 8 year pre-arb extensions crummy (Martin Perez, Matt Moore, Derek Holland, Chris Archer to name a few). Big difference between those and a post arb (1.5 yrs from FA) &/or FA 7 or 8 year deal. Big difference. He's absolutely signable. Just not a the bargain rate the Cubs have been offering. The fact that he's already rich is why he hasn't signed yet. NO reason for him to accept anything less than 60 Million.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    6 years and 75 M should get it done. They've been around 45-50 from what I hear.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    I think the Cubs wouldn't have a problem at all offering JS 6 yr and 75 M. I think it will be more like 5 yr for 75 M.

  • In reply to John57:

    I believe that the Edwin deal will hurt the cubs for the fact that shark, wood, Hammel believe they are worth more then what Jackson got.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Shark will get more money than Edwin.

    Wood probably won't because the team has control of him for a longer time and that will lower the value of the contract. Also Wood hasn't made much money yet and will probably be willing to trade some future upside for some security now.

    Hammel I would guess will get Feldman money. ~ 10 M per year.

    And I wouldn't see the Cubs having a problem with that amount of money if they think it will provide good value for the team.

  • Personally, I think the bullpen is the first key. Nothing deflates a team like losing a late lead, especially like we did with the losses to the Snakes and the Pirates, where we essentially handed games away. The offense is 1or 2 impact talents away.

  • I'm still hoping we sign one of teh TOR FA SP's on the market this winter i.e., Masterson, Scherzer, etc... Shark needs to be challenged for the Ace role. Hammel has been lights out so far, but when the weather warms and the wind is blowing out consistently @ Wrigley, that's going to negatively impact him & wood. Not sure I want 40% of our innings eating SP's to be fly ball guys... But for now I'm real happy with the Hammel signing.

    Rondon is living up to his potential, and if he can stay healthy will be a real find for us. I like our RHRP depth and that situation will sort itself out over time. The cream always rises to the top. We need some power LHRP' though. Poor Russel needs a 60 day stint on the DL and see if he can fully recover from Sveum's over use.

    Castro has looked like a completely different player. If he actually puts together the mental side of the game and a consistent approach to go with his natural physical tools... look out!

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I like Scherzer but to me Masterson is not a TOR. It's more a case of the grass being greener on the other side. If you ask Indians fans, you'll find they are even more frustrated with his inconsistency as we are of Samardzija's. The peripherals are similar. I think at best it's a lateral move. The only argument you can make for Masterson over Samardzija is that he's a better GB pitcher.

    Rosscup can be a power LHRP, maybe Cervenka.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    Reports on Masterson are that his FB has lost a good 3 mph off last years....a very steep drop. That may be the reason the Indians didn't extend him to what seemed like a reasonable offer.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Another reason I'm not eager to swap Samardzija out and sign Masterson. Would rather have Samardzija, but whether he's signable looks very debatable.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I struggle to see how the Cubs sign a TOR guy in free agency like a Scherzer, without extending a no-trade clause or opt-out provisions which Theo is publicly against. As bad as these deals are for the teams, when it comes to those rare TOR's that hit free agency, other teams will pull the trigger on those provisions to get those guys.

    Do you see Theo giving in or holding firm on no-trades/ opt-outs in future free agent pursuits?

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Hoosier-I dont know if youve been following Masterson so far this year, but his avg FB velocity is down 3-4 mph. Im beginning to think hes got an arm problem coming on. His last start he was throwing 75-80mph sliders, something hes never previously done in his career. Id stay away from him. Scherzer, if hes willing to go 4 yrs Id give him a big contract, but not at ridicoulous numbers of years.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Well I mentioned him because Theo & Co drafted him so it's likely they know him very very well. Same could be said for Lester, but IDK if Boston lets him see FA despite recent news of low balling him.

    An injury is the only plausible scenario for Masterson's decline this year. It's prob not be serious, or he'd be on the DL...but guys in their prime dont just lose velocity w/o some arm/medical reason.

  • I think they need to hang on to those 3 guys and see what they can build around, as you stated. They need more productive hitters to protect Castro & Rizzo. But at the rate they are flipping players, it's almost like the Cubs are more of store for other teams to come and shop for players to fill their needs. Personally, I want to see this team put something solid together and stop flipping pieces. Unless Theo is getting MLB ready players in return, they should not bother.

  • In reply to lokeey:

    Agreed. I'm tired of being a yard sale for contending teams. I cannot wait for the day when the Cubs become buyers.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think this year the Cubs can be buyers of talent at the deadline. There is enough redundancy in some positions in the system to trade away a Class A player or two. I wouldn't trade anyone on AA or AAA, but there are guys we could part with like Jeimer Candelario and a couple other pieces who combined might bring in a nice bullpen piece (no one in particular in mind) or a near ready outfielder like the White Sox got in Garcia. I don't think that trading model is too out of range.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    "Agreed. I'm tired of being a yard sale for contending teams. I cannot wait for the day when the Cubs become buyers." - THIS

  • Looking at just the record of this team is very misleading, but in the end the wins and losses are what matters. I don't know what the sybermetrics folks would say about overall team luck, but I feel like this team has been pretty unlucky in many ways. Coming into the season most, including myself, pinpointed starting pitching and Rizzo/Castro breakouts as the key to a solid season. 60% of the rotation has been very good and both Rizzo and Castro have performed quite well. In additional we have really been relying on a reliever for our 5th spot (mustache) and had very successful performance from Valbuena. I guess it comes down to the bullpen and overall hitting, but I expect some maturity from Castillo, Olt, Kalish and Lake. The bad start will really hurt overall, but I am hoping that the team will pick it up soon and we can keep a few of the key players at the deadline.

  • In reply to KC Cubs Fan:

    The bad start has really disappointed me. they have had some bad luck and some bad sequencing, and you expect those things to correct itself over time -- but remarkably, they have not. It has to happen at some point.

  • In reply to KC Cubs Fan:

    I was looking over the team stats for the Dbacks and Cubs. The Cubs have scored 88 runs, the Dbacks 108. The Dbacks have played 29 games to the Cubs 24 by the way, hence that discrepancy, which isn't really that important.

    So anyway Cubs have score 88 runs, Dbacks 108. Conversely Cubs pitching has given up 92 earned runs, versus 151 earned runs for the Dbacks. The Cubs are 8-16 while the Dbacks are 8-21.

    So I guess my point is that the Dbacks are losing in all facets of the game, while the Cubs seem to be losing because of a lack of offense. And bullpen

  • Jesus that article by Wittenmeyer was such a hack job. Thanks again John for being an endless source of actual objective articles about the Cubs.

    I believe if was your recent article about not drafting a pitcher with a top 5 pick, because those "power arms" seem to be falling apart. And now we have the Mark Appel situation. Knowing that, I'm much more inclined to hang on to Shark and I would never entertain trading Wood, need to lock him up. The only reason I'm on the fence about Hammel is because it seems like Epstoyer has had a knack for catching lightning in a bottle with guys like him in their time here. On the other hand, I don't think any of the bottom of the rotation guys Epstoyer have brought here have pitched quite as well as Hammel has

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to jorel1114:

    Every article by Nit-Wittenmeyer is a hack job.

  • Nice piece as usual John. Please forgive my rant but I've had enough of Garza. Give me a break- the Cubs cost him 30 wins in 3 seasons?? The jerk made 60 starts total and won 21 of them. Thus, in his mind he should have been 51-9? No, probably 51-3 because there would be a couple no-decisions. He is a slightly above average pitcher in the ML. He is a multi-millionaire many times over and an idiot. Good riddance, I am so glad he's not on the Cubs.
    Here's another item Matt- the Brewers are off to a good start, but there not going to win anything this year. All it shows is a lack of class and an abundance of ignorance to call out your previous teams.

  • In reply to Cuyler:

    He showed how much of an idiot he was last year during that bunting situation, while with the Rangers.

  • In reply to Cuyler:

    Graza is 1-2 on a Brewers team with a plus 600 win pct. He doesnt have much room to talk right now.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Yeah I was really surprised to learn that Garza got his first win against the Cubs. He was oft injured, and that has nothing to do with a rebuilding team.

  • Not trying to be a stickler, but the Muskat article actually says: "But their success has made them attractive to several other teams. A Cubs spokesman said Monday they have NOT received calls about the two right-handers or lefty Travis Wood. The trio will likely draw interest leading up to the July 31 Trade Deadline."

    Emphasis added by me...but the point is that nobody has actually called the Cubs according to the team, so this is pure speculation on the part of Mukat. With that said, I would not be surprised at all if Hammel & Samardzija are playing for another team by August 1st.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    She updated the article. That's not what it said at the time of publishing. Some Cubs official must have called and denied the report. I'll update my own to reflect here update.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    The denial must be around Wood, because Shark is publicly available, and Hammel is clearly this year's version of Maholm/Feldman sign-n-flip

  • I agree we need core veteran pitchers to build around, but not
    at 11-14 million per year for 200+ innings. I hope this July will
    be the last one to trade veterans..

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to emartinezjr:

    I'd be fine with adding Hammel for another year, even two - with the caveat that they are able to move Eddie Jackson

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Why caveat? I'd like to see them keep Hammel whether they move EJax or not.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to TTP:

    How many bottom of the rotation pitchers do you want to be tied down to? It's obvious that this FO has been able to identify and replace those guys every year, from Maholm to Feldman to Hammel. So, if you're looking to lock down Smudge and Wood too, now all of a sudden you're committed to four starters and not one of them is an ace or bonifide TOR

  • In reply to TTP:

    Providing Hammel continues to show what he has so far. Best part so far about him(like with Feldman and Maholm) is that much of there success was because they didnt walk guys.

  • fb_avatar

    "Just pitch your way out of it,” Garza kept saying. “Keep your eyes focused. Keep your eyes straight ahead and just pitch. There’s nothing else you can do.”

    "Pitch your way out of it" said the mentally unstable child with the sense of entitlement, despite having spent time in each of the past three years on the DL

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Is Samardzija married? Good thing he wasn't talking to his wife then lol.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    not that Wittenmeyer would mention any of that. It's easier to just ignore certain facts for his latest hack job

  • In reply to jorel1114:

    What hack job? He's got a piece on Castro that has the same quotes and makes the same points John does above. And the article on Shark which refers to Sori, Aramis, Garza and others merely makes the point that veteran players don't want to be part of a long rebuilding process. Lots of truth in that and a point made here often when discussing reasons why various FAs -- including Tanaka -- may not want to sign with Cubs. Being on a long rebuild with no hope for competitiveness now is like "Alcatraz" for a veteran looking to win now.

    And just because a writer is not part of the rah-rah "Epstein apologists," as Felzz labeled them yesterday, doesn't make what they write a "hack" piece.

  • In reply to TTP:

    It's a hack job because it's part of a much larger theme in Wittenmeyer's work, which is to ridicule everything the Cubs do, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. Wittenmeyer takes a negative look at basically every single story about the Cubs. Oddly enough the one person he doesn't seem to really pick on is Starlin Castro, a Jim Hendry guy. Just compare his coverage of CJ Edwards' situation to that of every other beat reporter and blogger covering this team. He's a hack.

    Patrick Mooney, like John, takes a measured approach to the Cubs. I don't think any writers in town are "rah-rah" over Epstein. But I only know one that seems to have an agenda and that is Gordon Wittenmeyer. Jon Greenberg is another example of a guy who is certainly not rah-rah over Epstein, but clearly also does not have an agenda.

  • In reply to jorel1114:

    It's is absolutely not true that he "ridicules everything the Cubs do." As I said, yesterday he had a very positive piece on Castro that mirrored what John wrote later that same day. Yes, he puts their feet to the fire, but he give them plenty of kudos too. And I don't recall him writing anything that is not true or factual. Oh, and there is plenty to be negative about during this White Flag Rebuild. Just because you disagree with him, doesn't mean he's wrong and it certainly make it a hack job.

  • In reply to TTP:

    As I said, Castro is the only guy he doesn't seem to give a hard time to and that's because Castro is a Hendry guy. If Wittenmeyer were a columnist I really wouldn't care, but what bugs me is that he's a beat reporter with a very clear agenda.

    Wittenmeyer has almost singlehandedly created this concept that the Cubs will never spend money, with basically zero proof. He has purposely ignored the work of other reporters on the issue of the debt load and how it relates to spending. He's basically being willfully ignorant to advance his storyline. His are mostly lies of omission, but his average reader probably won't dig much deeper so it's a perfect scenario. I'm not saying that I have to agree with the guy, or that any Cub beat reporter needs to agree with the Cubs 100%. What I'm saying is that Wittenmeyer is an irresponsible journalist with a clear axe to grind, and you and any other Cub fan would be better off reading literally any other Cub beat reporter or Cub blogger out there. None of them have an agenda one way or the other, and that is what you should expect from a beat reporter. If you want an agenda, be a columnist.

  • In reply to TTP:

    And here is a perfect example of Wittenmeyer's ridicule and bias. When the Cubs were having a rough go with the RISP at the beginning of the season he was all over every single at-bat with RISP (or actually Men in Scoring Position) as he called it. He chronicled every single at-bat that ended in an out with RISP on Twitter. And then the Cubs finally got hits with RISP, and took the lead, eventually winning the game. Wittenmeyer disappeared from Twitter, no info about the hit or the score or the subsequent scores.

  • In reply to TTP:

    And just because you agree with him doesn't mean he's right.

  • Last year at this time the team had three guys that I felt could be a part of the rebuilt team in Castro, Rizzo, Samardzija. By the end of last season they were joined by three more in Castillo, Wood and Rondon.

    They team did not add any guys to that group over the winter via trade or FA unless a guy like Hammel does prove to be the type of veteran leader the team would like to have around long term. But this year we have the potential to add at least some from the following group: Lake, Olt, Kalish, Arrieta, Grimm, Ramirez, Rosscup, Baez, Alcantara, Hendricks, Jokisch, Vizcaino, Rivero.

    Obviously not all of those guys will become what we hope, but if even a handful do there is no doubt progress is being made, even if the record may not show it.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    This seems like a key year for a lot of reasons. I still feel like they will finish poorly and end up with a great pick next year. But I also feel like in 2015 they will be better. So in June of 2015, when we are hopefully over .500, we will also be talking about the top draft pick we are going to be getting, which is going to be great. And in that situation it could very well be another impact arm that can come up maybe later in that season and help us win more games. I know it's a lot to wait for though.

  • Building next year's team's rotation around Samardzija, Hammel, and Wood gives a very solid 1/2/3 in a rotation, even IF none of these guys projects as a true #1 Ace type. All are young enough to give you several more good years, all appear to be healthy and with no significant mechanical flaws,..... Add an Arietta, Edwards, Hendricks, or Beeler to that mix as the #4/#5 guys,.... and that's a rotation that appears on the surface of it to be able to keep a team in the running most games.

    Rondon, Grimm, Vizciano, Rosscup and maybe even Schlitter to fill out a bullpen,.... and that looks solid as well.

    Castro, Castillo, Rizzo all have looked more than OK so far this season - all appear nicely rebounded from last seasons maliase. Kalish and Lake may, or may not, be useful guys. Olt has plenty of power, and if he can get that BA over ~0.250, he might be a piece as well.

    And then there is the upcoming waves of prospect position players,......

    This team is already better on paper than its record shows. I like where things are headed even if the present is a bit on the depressing side.

  • Top and middle of the rotation are just too expensive right now, but what's the other option?

  • Mid 90's fastballs? You are being modest, John, he was throwing 97-98 mph bullets that no one was able to catch up to... His command wasn't the best, but his stuff was too much for the hitters.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Thanks. I was at a bar and all the best views were for the Blackhawks -- one smaller TV for the Cubs. My eyes aren't what they used to be!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Ah gotcha, didn't know that, the Blackhawks did win... But Rondon's stuff was electric, he threw some 93 mph cutters, but he was constantly hitting 96-98 mph with the fastball...

    He saved the best for last... After seeing upper 90's fastballs and low 90's cutters, he opened the last hitter with an 84 mph slider for a strike and a few pitches later, he finished him off with a 97 mph fastball.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Ask ARam about what Rondon was throwing. 98 above the hands. Even the best in the game have problems with that.

  • Small chance Shark will sign an extention. It won't really be a choice for the FO. He is going to test the FA market. He wants to know what he's worth. He might end up a Cub but it will only be after we match a crazy large offer from the Yankees.

    Discouraging to hear Hammels say it was too early to talk about an extention. Maybe $$$ are dancing around his head now too.

  • I know not much has leaked around the economics of a Samardzija deal from either side, but since message boards are the home of reckless speculation anyway: can anyone take a stab on what Shark is looking for in terms of years & dollars?

    It's one thing if we're only $3mm apart, a whole 'nother thing if we're $50mm apart. Who exactly does he think his comps are? I'd have no problem giving him a deal like the one we showed Anibal Sanchez, but would personally help him empty out his locker at Wrigley if he thought we were going to give him Kerhsaw money......

  • In reply to Ryno2Grace:

    I'd guess he's looking for a contract similar to what the Reds gave Homer Bailey - 6 yrs, $105M.

  • The results with Rondon in the 9th were great. My concern, though, was that it was a 3-2 count on the first two hitters, and the 3rd strike on Lucroy (first up) was really borderline--a strike, but you don't always get that call. If Lucroy had walked leading off, that would have really put pressure on Rondon (and Cub fans: "here we go again"). Confidence builds when you get that first out. It can fall apart when the first man walks, especially with an inexperienced pitcher in the closer role. So I guess I'm saying that Rondon as closer may not yet be a slam dunk. I hope so, but I'm a Cub fan.

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    Looks like Arrieta thinks he's starting Wednesday.

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    In reply to Ray:

    It's confirmed. We'll see the corresponding move, for sure a pitcher.....Rosscup, Schlitter, Ramirez, or a DL stint

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Glad that Arrieta is back and I was losing it amid reports last weekend that Villaneuva was going to start again. After his horrid performance, it was a head scratching position to send him back out there again, when you have someone like Rusin in the minors who was pitching on the same day.

    Call up Rusin to make CV's start and get CV back into the bullpen.

    Doesn't matter now and again, glad to see Arrieta healthy and ready to go. Another important part of the rebuild.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Hmmmmm-Wesley Wright or Russell need to experience the Veras effect.............

  • I have no problem with what Garza said. Guys only have so many years to win, they don't want to spend it on rebuilding teams.

    That's why the Cubs won't get Scherzer. He turned down $144 million to stay on a win-now team, you don't turn down that kind of money to try and get $150 million, he's going for the jackpot. The Cubs would have to spend $200+ million to get him here. Where the franchise is at right now, that makes absolutely no sense.

  • In reply to Jimmie Ward:

    Last year Matt Garza quote: "Certain people can't shut there woman up. Keep your woman out of it... Man's game."

    He is an opinionated guy, I get that, but he has gotten into it with fans, was let go by a team that said they made a bad trade getting him, and a lot of other stuff. Guy's entitled to say what he wants, but I think he's a pompous arrogant jerk. So when he talks, I cringe usually.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Just because he said that I'm suppose to disagree with everything he says? I don't see the point of mentioning that.

    What he said last year has no bearing on what he said over the weekend to me.

    You're going to use those exact words to describe shark once he gets traded and trashes the team. The bulldog, confident attitude that people love will be replaced with gold-digging douchebag.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    He's Ian Stewart in a pitchers body... He made better use of his tools that Stewart, but still never reached his ceiling and is far too verbal about things...

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I know you're talking about Garza, but the same could be said about Zambo, I suppose.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    It's going to be said about Shark when he leaves and trashes the team.

  • In reply to Jimmie Ward:

    I have no problem with what garza said. I do think 30 wins statement was not very accurate. But the first part if his quote was spot on. Talking about cubs hoping to win after awhile you stop hoping.

  • Jason Hammel is 31 years old. He has a history of elbow inflammation and knee surgery. His career record is 53-60 with a 4.71 ERA. In Baseball Reference's similarity scores he matches up with Scott Feldman and Shawn Boskie. The Cubs have gotten significant MiLB value for players like Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, received a MiLB haul for Matt Garza and received two MLB ready pitchers for Scott Feldman.

    After all the key strokes over the winter about staying with the plan, I'm confused when I come to this blog now and see articles like "It's Still Early . . ." and today's about building around Jason Hammel and being buyers at the deadline.

    It's frustrating and the light at the end of the tunnel could be a freight train, but Baez is a year away, Bryant two, and Almora and Soler three. The fourth pick in this year's draft is also three-five years away, and next year's Top 5 pick is four-six years away.

    The Cubs rebuild still lacks a foundation. Patience must ensue, or the plan must be abandoned. Incremental progress in the short-term is enticing, but the Astros are paying 31 year-old Scott Feldman $10 million per year through 2016. He's 2-1 with an ERA under 2.00 right now, but the Astros are 9-17. If these records hold for the season, Feldman will be the difference between the Cubs and Astros for the second and third pick in the 2015 draft. If AZ rebounds, it will be the difference between one and two.

    So, where will Strop and Arrieta be in 2016? We don't know, but would anyone take that trade back? A Feldman or Hamel deal would have been do-able if the Cubs hadn't signed Edwin Jackson, but them's the breaks. As Cub fans we should be used to that.

  • In reply to Cleme:

    I don't forget are top pitching prospect has a fatigued arm after a handful of starts. So who knows how long it will be for Edwards. I do think Bryant will b first one up.

  • I really like the job shark, wood and Hammel have done for us. Have been a bright spot for us. I don't think it is very likely we will be able to sign all 3. Shark will b too pricey. And all 3 might not resign for the fact of no support. Hammel is 32 and considered fairly old. Wood is youngest but will he want to sit thru this big league mess for 2 years at least

  • I don't know about starting pitching, but in terms of bullpen and position players, between trades, call-ups and growth, the Cubs will end the year (and begin next year) a much better team than they started this year.

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