Happy 4th of July everyone! We'll give you one big sprawling article to digest as I know some of you, like me, will be spending the day feasting with friends and family.
Which reminds me...
Sometimes parents tend to brag about their kids' accomplishments. Sometimes they put an honor roll bumper sticker on their car. Sometimes it's a well-placed humble brag on Facebook. Sometimes it's a casual mention about their daughter's acceptance into med school or their son's sprawling vacation home in the country.
Sometimes they flat out exaggerate.
I can only imagine that was Marty Pevey's state of mind when he said that Kyle Hendricks throws 95 mph 15-18 times a game because since linking that article, I have been told more than once that proud manager Pevey may have lovingly exaggerated the velocity of one of his Iowa family, Kyle Hendricks.
I've heard from several trusted friends and sources now that in reality he sits 90-91 and occasionally touches 93. That is certainly more plausible and given the rest of Hendrick's profile -- his command, his feel for pitching,, etc., that is plenty good enough to keep hitters honest.
Iowa lineup the best in MilB
Well, at least Jim Callis of MLB.com seems to think so,
Help is on the way, however. The Cubs have the best crop of position prospects in any farm system, and their Triple-A Iowa affiliate has the most promising lineup of any team in the Minor Leagues...In Bryant, Baez and Alcantara, the Cubs have three potential All-Stars just a phone call away from Wrigley Field. Beyond them, the Iowa lineup also features two other players who could fill roles in the big leagues.
The Cubs aren't as far away as we might think. The only position the Cubs may need to address before this time next season is an OF spot or two. The rest of the lineup could be filled with the likes of Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Welington Castillo, Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant.
Even Gordon Wittenmeyer has gotten into the act, writing about 2B-CF prospect Alcantara in his latest piece. In that article, Hoyer states this about Alcantara,
"I feel like he’s the underappreciated guy in our system. No one talks about him because of guys like Baez, Bryant and Almora. But he has a chance to put up a pretty special year in Triple-A when you look at doubles, triples, homers and stolen bases. Guys don’t really do that at that age. We’re really excited for him. He certainly belongs in that [core] group.”
Well, we appreciate him here and have done so for the entire time this blog has been in existence. But there is no doubt he is has reached a new level. That core just seems to keep on growing and it's coming to Wrigley soon...but not too soon.
Just because they are in AAA and the Cubs offense is somewhat offensive at times, it doesn't mean the Cubs will call these players up this year. As Callis states,
Because the Cubs aren't in contention, there's less incentive to promote their top prospects from Iowa and get them started on the road to arbitration and free agency. As a result, Bryant, Baez and Alcantara could spend the entire season in Iowa. Once they get the call to Chicago, the Cubs should find it easier to score runs and return to contention.
In Wittenmeyer's piece, Hoyer wouldn't even commit to Alcantara, the prospect considered to be most MLB ready, as a possible promotion this season,
He’s been playing great. He’s on a really good trajectory. He struggled a little bit in April with his strike-zone control, and it’s gotten better and better every month. … I’m not going to answer yes or no whether he’ll come up at some point [this year], but certainly he’s opened our eyes.”
Here's the thing. It's not jsut about arbitration and free agency as Callis states above, though that is a big part of it. It's also a matter of responsible roster management. Adding Bryant and Baezs to the 40 man roster means not just bumping 2 guys off now and potentially losing them, but it also means 3 less spots to protect Rule 5 eligible players such as Gioskar Amaya, Andrew McKirahan, and other talented young players whom the Cubs would rather keep.
It's a different story for guys like RHP Kyle Hendricks and C Rafael Lopez, who have to be protected and are pretty much MLB ready. They might well get those roster spots before the season is over and get a taste of Wrigley, but it doesn't make sense for guys like Baez and Bryant, whose promotions would cost the Cubs money and possibly as many as 4 players (2 playrs waived now + not being able to protect 2 additional players from Rule 5) to promote right now.
The gain would be cookies, but it's not worth spoiling your dinner even in the smallest way.
So what's for dinner?
An offensive juggernaut, that's what.
Esteemed writer Joe Posnanski writes that while other teams are building with pitching, the Cubs plan to combat that with elite hitting, and that they are building an offensive juggernaut for the near future...
“The toughest thing,” Epstein says, “is that fans here feel -- and they’re right to feel this way -- they feel like they’ve already been through enough. So they are saying: ‘Why are you ACTIVELY putting us through more of this?’ And I don’t have an answer for that except that we think it’s the only way we’re going to win.”
“It really wasn’t hard to see,” Epstein says. “We took a hard look at the organization and thought that we were in difficult shape and needed to start over. We saw that we needed to take a long view because it wasn’t possible to acquire enough talent to win in the short term anyway. So, if that’s the case, why not do it the right way? Why not look for quality and volume and develop and organizational ethos.”
It's been a long time preparing this meal but those are the ones that are often worth the wait.
Resisting to eat the desser first: On spending money and chasing free agents
Yesterday I was tweeting something to the effect that we should be glad the Cubs didn't sign Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson, and Ubaldo Jimenez. Per the Posnanski article, Epstein shares similar thoughts,
“That was the year Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols were both available,” Epstein said. “So we had a decision to make -- do we try to get into those sweepstakes? We decided to get Rizzo. We were thinking there would come a time when their career arcs intersected. And we might have reached it already.”
We couldn't agree more and the Cubs aggressively pursued the players they wanted, outbidding the competition for both Anibal Sanchez and Yoenis Cespedes, only to lose out for other reasons. The Cubs were way behind in the Yu Darvish hunt from the start with Texas and Toronto having outworked the field early. It would have been a huge upset if any other team signed him, and that is exemplified by the fact that it wasn't just the Cubs who fell short, but also big market teams who are big players in the international arena also lost out, most notably the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers. Why the Cubs are singled out as the failure here is beyond me. The Cubs didn't lose out here, Texas went out and grabbed it even blowing away their closest real competitor, Toronto, by a wide margin.
The Dodgers threw rational market thinking out the window when they dumped a ton of money on an unknown quantity in Yasiel Puig. Yes, it turned out well, but few teams could afford to throw money on such a speculative risk and the Dodgers were the only team willing and able to do so.
Similarly, the Yankees were not going to be outbid for Masahiro Tanaka, who had made it clear on more than one occasion that New York was his preferred destination. The Cubs worked hard on this one and put up an offer that easily beat every other team, but the Yankees weren't going to be denied. And with the advantages they had both in terms of money and Tanaka's preference, the Cubs were not going to wrest him away in an open bidding scenario.
The one player who the Cubs should have realistically gotten was Hyun-Jin Ryu and the Cubs had the financials to land him, but without getting into specifics, they took a calculated risk and it did not end well, in large part because they did not count on LAD acting irrationally and bidding well abiove perceived market value. The Cubs own offer was beyond what many perceived as fair market value too, but the Dodgers took that even further. Still, it was a miss by this FO, a rare miscalculation, and the only missed IFA I will lay at their feet. And I think in retrospect, they would do this one differently if they had to do it over again.
Or what if they had signed mid-level free agents just to get to .500? Would we have had Kris Bryant to look forward to? Would we have been able to not just draft Kyle Schwarber, but use all that extra pool money to land 6 other players who were considered 1st to 3rd round talents?
We would certainly have had less of that deliciously talented future, and all because we couldn't resist having dessert first.
Getting back to the main course
Posnanski shares his and Epstein's thoughts on the near ready crop of talent,
-- Baez is an infielder who swings hard and hits the ball a long way. He has had some trouble this year for the first time in his minor league career, but the Cubs haven’t seen anything that changes their mind about his huge future. He has 40-homer power and 200-strikeout aggression and should get better and better with time.
-- Bryant, according to Epstein, is a “freak” and “the lowest-maintenance prospect we’ve ever had.” He was Baseball America’s college player of the year in 2012, hit .336 at three minor-league levels in 2013, and this year has been, well, freakish. At Class AA, he overwhelmed the league by hitting .355 with 22 homers in 68 games that the Cubs had to move him to Class AAA. In his first 15 games in Des Moines, he hit .345 with six more homers. He will be playing third base for the 2015 Cubs.
-- Alcantara has power and speed and seems adaptable to pretty much any position.
-- Almora is an outfielder who has struggled a bit this year -- Epstein compares his learning season to the one Castro had last year -- but people in the organization say he might be the best player of the bunch.
Throw in this year’s draft pick Kyle Schwarber – who Epstein calls “a definite No. 3 hitter” – and you see the strategy. “Yeah,” Epstein says, “we’re trying to build a behemoth of position players.”
Posnanski asks Epstein if the Cubs are there yet. Epstein smiles.
“Getting there,” he says. “Obviously we’re a long way off. But that’s the plan. … Ideally, we are trying to build the type of lineup that can change the way opposing teams think when entering series. We had that in Boston, where teams always had an extra pitcher in the pen. If we got 60 pitches deep in the first two innings of a series, I knew we had a pretty good chance to win the series.”
The feast is coming Cubs fans. Save your appetite.
“When those young players are up here and everyone sees how good they are, that is when it gets fun,” Epstein says. And he smiles again.
“And that is also when we will ask our fans to be patient with these young players. But I think that patience will be easier to find. … People have waited a long time for this. I can’t wait until we give them a really exciting product. I can’t wait until they’re rewarded for all their suffering.”
And when that day comes, I will look down on my full belly, smile, and know that we Cubs fans won't be hungry again for a long, long time.
Enjoy the 4th. Eat well.
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