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Cubs pay big for defense, contact rates this offseason, but less costly help on the way

Cubs pay big for defense, contact rates this offseason, but less costly help on the way

The Cubs were a bit more reactive in the market this year.  To some degree, they reacted to the success of teams who won with great defense and contact rates.  They also reacted to a lineup flaw exposed by the Mets.  While it is obviously preferable to be ahead of the curve on such things and the Cubs were almost certainly aware of their shortcomings, their success came too quickly for them to address all of their needs at once.  It is practically impossible to stay ahead of everything.  They had to adapt. A good organizations should react quickly to patch up weaknesses, especially when they are this close to being a World Series contender.  Under the circumstances, that is all we could ask for.  The team is no longer in the position to wait on prospects.

But there is a problem when a team is reactive in that they can't jump the market.  Players become costly, both in free agency and in the trade market.  While the Royals, Pirates, and Rays were able to contend in recent seasons in large part due to cost-controlled run prevention, the Cubs had to go out and spend big to get Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.  They did what they had to do and it is hard to argue both players aren't about as perfect a fit as we could reasonably expect to be available.  Given the timing and opportunity, they had to pounce.  And as we have said in the past, if you are going to spend big, spend it on great fits. Spend it on impact players.  And spend when the opportunity to win is there.  Last but not least, remember that unlike some of the teams mentioned, the Cubs can spend big.  They have the wherewithal to do so.  That is an advantage they have over many teams, so they would be foolish not to use it.  They spent years preserving this kind of payroll flexibility for the right moment.

Now is the right moment.

Part of the need to shore up the defense is a byproduct of a high percentage strategy of investing in polished hitters in the amateur market.  The Cubs beat everyone to the punch to three of the best young hitters in baseball in Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Jorge Soler.  It came with a price, however.  Those polished hitters had less polished defense, but their advanced bats carried them to the big leagues quickly and as unfinished products.

Schwarber had to essentially learn the OF on a fly.  Soler  showed he could make quick adjustments at the plate, succeeding at each level despite not playing a full season at any level.  Soler made his MLB debut after just 155 minor league games since signing in 2012, 136 of them in RF -- and even that was after a long layoff after defecting from Cuba.  That is about one season's worth of experience over the past 4 to 5 years.  Kyle Schwarber played just 147 minor games -- and only 36 in LF.  Kris Bryant is the elder statesman here with 167 minor league games at his current position and 181 overall.  In some respects, at least when it comes to defense, the Cubs were victims of their own success when it came to scouting and signing hitters who could move through the system quickly.

Of the three, Kris Bryant is the most polished at his position and by some defensive metrics was an asset.  The same is not true of Schwarber and Soler, both of whom will need to work to improve significantly on defense.  That will likely be a focus of both players heading into 2016.

When it came to adding position players last year, the Cubs focused on bringing in experienced players who could change the culture, both in the clubhouse and at the plate.  They wanted leaders and veterans to set an example by grinding out ABs, so they  traded  for Dexter Fowler and Miguel Montero.  That plan worked.  But although Fowler's defense was better than advertised and Montero earned high marks for his framing and game management, neither was an asset on defense overall.

So the Cubs set out to fix that in free agency.

There wasn't much they could do about that.  The rebuilding plan brought them great offense, 97 wins, and an NLCS berth earlier than anyone could have expected.  Who can argue with that kind of sudden success?  And looked at another way, the Cubs won't have to worry about having to pay big for power bats for the next 5 years.

The Cubs could not wait for their defensively oriented players to develop, nor did they have time for their offensively-oriented players to polish up their defensive skills.  But the good news is that there is low, cost-controlled defensive help on the way.

Here are some players who could give the Cubs more efficient, cost-controlled defense and contact ability in the next year or so, perhaps as soon as this upcoming season...

Albert Almora

Allmora has a good shot to start in AAA after a strong finish to his AA season.  Almora has been rushed, in part due to injuries and in part because the Cubs may have overestimated how advanced he was at the plate.   Almora had a career high 7.1% walk rate to go with a career low 10.4% K rate.  Over his last 160 PAs, those rates improved to a 9.9% walk rate and a 9.3% K rate.  Not coincidentally, Almora put up a .400 wOBA and a 148 RC+ in that stretch, both marks are well above average.  Whether that represents small sample size noise or a genuine  improvement in Almora's approach remains to be seen, but given that he finally had his first full healthy year at one level, there is at least some hope it is the latter and that it finally clicked for Almora.

Not many will question his defense, where he makes up for slightly above average speed with great reads and routes.  Almora's right-handedness is less of a concern with Heyward, Zobrist (S). Rizzo, and Schwarber all likely to be here for at least the next 3 years.

Willson Contreras

Contreras may be ready just about the time when the Cubs veteran catchers are beginning to decline.  He is not the framer or game manager that Montero, but he is far better at blocking balls in the dirt and throwing out baserunners, not to mention the athleticism he shows jumping out of his crouch to make plays on bunts and squibbers.  He can still make mistakes from time to time -- often because he plays the position aggressively, but with more time at catcher in 2016, he should continue to improve quickly.

At the plate, Contreras has the discipline to wait for his pitches and hands that are quick enough to turn on good fastballs while also being strong enough to take the ball the other way with authority.  That approach has led to a dramatic increase in his walk rate (10.9%) and steep decline in his K rate  (11.9%).  Those numbers held pretty steady during his injury  shortened time in the AFL.  Like Almora, Contreras has a shot to start at AAA.

Billy McKinney, OF

McKinney doesn't play a premium position but the signing of Heyward along with reports that they were outbid by three teams show that corner OF defense has become much more valuable in recent years.  McKinney is a good athlete with a strong arm who has a chance to become an above average defender.

At Myrtle Beach this year, McKinney put up a 13.4% walk rate vs just a 10.4% K rate before those numbers dropped at AA to 8.8% and 15.4%, respectively.  Still those numbers are very respectable who played most of the season as a 20 year old in one of the toughest pitchers' leagues (Carolina) and as one of the youngest players in AA.  He could start there again, but has a chance to reach AAA, if not to start the season than certainly at some point in the year.

Jeimer Candelario, 3B

He's not a gold glover on defense but he is certainly not as bad as he was portrayed this fall.  For one, it was a long season and nobody had issues giving AJ Reed or JP Crawford a pass for that and secondly, I was told that Candelario was really determined to make the 40 man roster and figured his hitting would speak louder than his defense in that pursuit, so focusing on his hitting  made sense.  On the other hand, we forgot the raves Candelario got on his defensive improvement from his coaches and teammates -- including Montero, who was on MLB rehab at Tennessee.

But while he has improved on defense, he won't be a plus defender there. The Cubs would probably settle for MLB average. Candelario's strength will always be his hitting and he began to turn that around before the fall.  In 182 PAs at AA, Candelario put up a 12.1% walk rate and an 11.5% K rate -- the strikeout rate is one he sustained into the AFL.

Candelario's biggest obstacle is where he fits as his best positions on defense -- 3B and 1B -- are set for the foreseeable future.  For now Candelario will provide depth at the upper minors, perhaps as high as AAA Iowa.

Gleyber Torres, SS

Torres is still more than a year away but has a shot to reach AA this coming season, putting him on the doorstep for 2017.  Like Candelario, Torres is blocked at his primary position, but he could easily shift to 2B, where most scouts believe he can be an excellent defender.

Torres' K rate (21%) is not as impressive as the others on this list, but keep in mind he was hitting in a pitcher's league where the average player was 3 to 4 years older.  His solid 9.4% walk rate gives some indication of his mature approach, as does his willingness to go to all fields.  He more than held his own and just needs time and experience.

The Cubs were able to find success quickly with good pitching and a young, powerful, grind-it-out offense.  That success shouldn't be confused with the Cubs fielding a complete team last season.  They worked hard and paid handsomely to quickly correct that this offseason, but there is hope that the Cubs talent pipeline could continue to keep them balanced for the long term as well.

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  • I was pleased that the Cubs were able to get Heyward and Zobrist without sacrificing any of their young talent. Come on, 2016!

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    I was too. Not displeased with those two guys at all -- two of my favorites here pretty much since we started this blog. But I just found it interesting on how needs change quickly and that you cannot line up everything according to one neat plan -- but good orgs adapt.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Building a team from the ground up is a lot like cooking. Easy to do a few things right, but very hard to have everything balanced and ready at the same time.
    OK, so it is not a lot like cooking, but you get the point!

  • In reply to Jeff Wilson:

    It is sort of that way :) I'm usually the cook in our house and I feel like it's a small miracle when I get everything done at once.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    The biggest drawback about our FA signings is that we gave STL 2 extra picks. Of course the upside is we took two really good players from them. We sold on Castro at low value, but we got as good as we could have and we kept Soler and Baez (so far). On the whole we got to be happy.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    I am not sure we sold low on Castro. The Yankees know what he is and we got a pretty good swingman pitcher in return. Warren did well as a starter and even better as a BP guy. I say even trade.

  • In reply to John57:

    Keep in mind, the Cubs didn't give the Cards two extra picks. They would have gotten those picks regardless of who signed them. And they are getting the Cubs picks, they are compensatory picks sandwiched between rounds.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    True, but they got picks and we lost picks, bottom line.

  • In reply to John57:

    before last season Peter Gammons thought DeGrom would be enough by himself for Castro. Both Moody and John agreed. This season hurt his value and then we traded him while his value was low. Given his season, we got good return, but we didn't get DeGrom+.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    "Wouldn't be enough"

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Well it depends on what the Mets would have done not Peter Gammons. I don't believe they wanted Castro then either. They wanted Russell so I don't think they would have traded DeGrom for Castro before this season. Then when you look at DeGrom's value going up and Castro's value dipping, the Mets would definitely not make the trade now. Another point is we had no replacement for Castro at the beginning of the year so it would not have been good for the team to trade him then. Baez was struggling and Russell just started AA ball. You can't time it so every trade gives you the max value. Our FO handled that about as well as could be done looking at the big picture.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    my friend's step-aunt makes $70 an hour on the computer . She has been without a job for 5 months but last month her pay was $18819 just working on the computer for a few hours. look at here
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  • John,
    Great article. I would just add that I thought Addison Russell did an extraordinary job at shortstop in his 21-year-old season, except that he consistently had trouble making long throws from deep in the hole. Is that something you think he could improve upon? or is it just one of those things where his arm strength is what it is? (Baez, for instance, would have no trouble wth those throws, I think.)

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    In reply to djbk:

    I saw the same thing. I don't think he has a plus arm, but he has a quick release that makes up for that most of the time.
    That recap was really interesting John. It seems now that when these position players are coming up the young pitchers will be progressing also. With Almora possibly coming up next year that leaves Soler either on the bench, in LF (if Schwarber switches to C) or traded. The same with Mckinney, although it doesn't seem like he can play an effective CF. I think this is what the FO wanted--to bring up our own instead of having to spend big money on FA.

  • In reply to djbk:

    He absolutely had a great year. I really like their infield defense going into next season. He had an impact once he was moved there.

  • In reply to djbk:

    I think the deep hole shots are something Russell can still improve upon. I don't think Russell has finished maturing his arm yet. He's still a wee babe, and probably will add at least a little more strength to his arm. I don't think he'll reach Baez level of arm strength, but I can see him maybe approaching Castro's level in the next few years.

  • In reply to awfullyquiet:

    My feeling was that Russell had some issues with the deep throw from the whole right after he switched to SS, but that he improved quite a bit as he began playing there every day and presumably stretched his arm back out. This was just my gut impression. I have zero stats to back it up.

  • In reply to ericccs:

    Neither do I, but I think it's definitely too early to say he can't make those throws, or a higher percentage. I think that his overall fielding is smooth enough to gloss over some of those things in the next few years. He might have a weaker arm, but the range may make as many outs.

  • In reply to djbk:

    I agree he could add some more arm strength... But, odds are, Baez wouldn't have gotten to a lot of the balls Russell got to. Russell is a more polished MIF'er than Baez, IMO.

  • In reply to djbk:

    I think his arm strength is pretty much what it will be. That may cause him to move to 2B eventually. However, the Cubs don't have anyone without questions about sticking at SS. Kaplan has said on many occasions that several Scouts in and out of the Cubs org believe Baez will ultimately be a better SS. That throw is probably a big part of that sentiment. However, Russell epitomizes Maddon's saying "do simple better" @ SS. In that he makes the routine plays. Him, Castro, and Baez all have a flair for the spectacular, but Russell is the most consistent at the routine plays. That's why he is the SS.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Sounds right.

  • Great points John. We have already seen the first wave or two hit the majors, but there is no question we still have a lot of assets at the minor league level.

    In particular I think Almora and Contreras are the guys that can help the Cubs in the nearish future the most based on their positions. The rest can be valuable as depth or trade bait (not that they could never hit their way into a starting role, as the Cubs have enough flexibility to fit a worthy player into the lineup regardless of position).

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    As John has mentioned before the Cubs have focused on college bats with not the strongest defensive resumes. Because they made a bet that their coaches and instructors at all levels could teach better defense than college coaches had. I think this offseason is huge for this approach. Now that Schwarber, Bryant, and Soler are cemented in the majors they can focus more on defense. Theo has already said with Soler defensive improvement is one of the biggest goals this offseason. Hopefully Soler and Schwarber can make more improvement this spring. Although they weren't nearly as bad as the NLCS made them seem.

  • The Cubs could have done what jorel said they were doing, i.e. keep the talent at a minor league level until they excelled at that level before promoting them. About 9 months ago, talk in these environs was to keep Schwarber in the minors until he learned how to catch. Montero's injury put a hold on that, and obviously the Cubs wouldn't have won 97 without his bat.

    Last week it was crying about paying for pitching and now it is crying about paying for defense. Since your answer last week was that a system can't excel at developing everything, the ticket buyers, Budweiser, and Pepsi are providing enough money to pay for something.

  • In reply to jack:

    Cubs would have waited until September if it weren't for the Montero injury and the fact that they were in contention. Situations change and you have to adapt. What was a plan at the beginning of the year can and does change depending on circumstances...because that's baseball.

    And if you this piece is aboutr crying about something, then that is not a very good interpretation of the author's thoughts and motivations.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Then besides going into the third person, why this paragraph in the main post:

    But there is a problem when you are reactive and you can't jump the market. Players become costly. While the Royals, Pirates, and Rays were able to contend in recent seasons in large part due to cost-controlled run prevention, the Cubs had to go out and spend big to get Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.?

  • In reply to jack:

    The article in general is about the difficulty of balancing/timing everything and emphasizes the need to stay flexible and prepared, which the Cubs did. It also goes on to say on how this can begin to balance internally in the near future, but that is not soon enough given the changed expectations. If you want to me to clear up what I am saying a bit more, that is fine. In fact I did that..or tried. But you can't convince me that you knew my motivations and intentions better than I did by quoiting my own words. Could it have been worded better to better avoid misinterpretation? Of course. That part is on me if multiple people misinterpret it. You can always ask me to clarify something. I am open to that. But I am not going to get into a debate about what my particular state of mind or motivation was when I wrote an article. There is only one person who knows that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The theme I saw in your article was that it is difficult to anticipate everything, so the Cubs found themselves in the position of paying for defense and contact. I didn't get the impression you were complaining about anything.

  • In reply to Pelon:

    I'm not a psychoanalyst, if that's what you are implying; I'm only trying to figure out what the words in my browser say, and the real word implications about them. There must be a point to bringing up cost, other than "it's only a couple of years." Which, of course, in Lester's and Heyward's cases it's not (unless Heyward opts out).

    Thanks for explaining.

  • In reply to Pelon:

    That is what I tried to convey. Certainly not complaining -- I'm ecstatic about the offseason, but just wanted to step back and make an observation on the changing dynamics of building a team.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I understood completely and agree with your premise.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I replied in the wrong place. See under Pelon.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John,

    I absolutely love the blog and trust me I hesitate to write this because I'm afraid of making you angry... but you get so very touchy about people disagreeing with your premise and you often resort to veiled hostility or at times, threats of banishment. I just don't understand this, you seem like such a cool guy that when you do this to someone else it makes me afraid to post. It seems like everyone bends over backwards to be polite to you and to not step on your toes, but you have this insulting tone when someone dares disagree with you. This is just my take, please don't ban me! You have the best cubs blog around and you try to make everyone stay positive, so I'm just asking you to maybe think about how you can do the same. And in the future I will do my best to be fair and polite when posting as well. Good day sir.

    Respectfully,

    Jake from Denver

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    In reply to Torcosign:

    As a third party here, let me say it's a lot different on the other side. There are commenters who want to show how big theirs is by taking out the writer. That can lead to an oversensitiveness at times. Particularly if a criticism is phrased in a combative way. (I'm not making any accusations against any particular person here. Truly.)

    So, yeah, there are definitely times when it might seem like overkill from the outside. But the whole picture that a writer on a blog experiences is quite different.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Mike,
    I hear what you are saying, I guess I would just say that you guys are the best Cubs bloggers out there. I would guess that 90% of the posts here are not just respectful but reverential. We absolutely love you guys and the work that you do to keep us informed. And I know that is why you all are doing this. So thank you all.

    This is all to say that you already have the biggest "ones" just by the fact that we friggin love you guys.

    Very briefly, I had some thoughts, questions, and concerns about Zobrist and Castro. I haven't sworn in this blog, nor have I been critical to Theo and Jed or anyone else even dating back to Jim Hendry. I love the Cubs, I don't boo them and I'm not a jerk to people... But I was a little afraid to post my thoughts about this because I thought a writer would take me down. Am I a little paranoid and generally a nervous guy? Yes. So maybe that is why, but I also think the tone that you guys respond to disagreement made me scared as well.

    However, Mike, I read your response and I truly will try to put myself in your shoes next time I notice this, because as you say, I don't know what it's like to be you guys, so I will promise to always try to look at context when judging these situations.

    I really love this blog and I'm proud of you guys. That's why I care.

    Jacob

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    In reply to Torcosign:

    I have to agree w Torcosign. I wanted to write something similar dozens of times, but really didn't want to be " that guy". Plus tone is so hard to interpret online, so I usually just end up giving John the benefit of the doubt.

    Over the past couple of months John has had to deal w a lot of issues, moving to a new city, starting a new blog, keeping this blog rocking, hiring new writers, and getting over a very bad illness. So I bet his rather new " short fuse " will be gone and the happy go lucky super love able John will be back very soon.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Jim

    Thank you for pointing all of that out, and John... I'm sorry if my comment was piling on. I understand life can throw a ton at you and don't want to make anything worse. Hang in there buddy.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    John is quite tolerant, even too much so in face of some readers' insults directed at him.
    Do not want free-for-all innuendos type of blog.
    Cubs Den is John's realm. We are visitors. Be polite and let him run it his way.

  • In reply to Cubfucius:

    I'll try to take what you say into account sir. I don't want a free for all blog either and if I had my choice I'd prefer to keep things as are than to change it to Cubs.com message boards.

    That said I love this place and I feel an affinity towards John, so I wanted to (as you say) politely let him know how he was making me feel. I have done that so will shut my trap now. All of this is not very important anyway, so sorry if I made a bigger deal than is warranted.

  • In reply to Torcosign:

    Never be afraid to express any kind of concern, Torco. And no need to apologize, I think it is always good to clear the air. Hopefully my responses helped do that. If not, I'd be happy to elaborate.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Not upset when I wrote this, though I don't like when I'm being told what I am thinking or feeling when I write something. You can disagree or agree, either is fine. And if there is a misunderstanding that can always be cleared up. If what I wrote was unclear, I can clear that up as well. Just saying I don't want to get into a debate into what I am thinking or feeling because that would be an absurd thing for me to do.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree and understand completely where you are coming from 99% of the time. I also wasn't referring to this particular comment which is absurd for someone to try to infer they know what your thinking.

    I was just adding on to Torcosign's response as I have seen you a little more emotional in your responses to certain people ( wrong or right ) lately then ever before. That all, I do not want to make a big deal about it which is why I haven't said anything before. Plus I don't know how hard it is to do what you do, and can barely imagine the task. Also tone is so hard to decipher online, something sarcastic can sound offensive to different readers.

  • In reply to Torcosign:

    Actually, I enjoy a good debate. Some of my best debates are with those who I have since become good friends with (Mike, Kevin are two off the top of my head) I just won't debate what I was thinking or feeling.

    When I get to the point where I just want to end a debate, it doesn't mean I am banning someone. It just means it has reached an impasse and there are signs that the debate is escalating outside the scope of baseball. If someone comes in with an aggressive tone that implicitly or explicitly demeans the other writers or readers, then I will explicitly tell them this is not the blog for that and they can find that kind of stuff elsewhere. They are not banned.

    Readers don't have to agree and they don't even have to be polite. They only need to be respectful. I really don't think that is too much to ask.

    And there are only 2 people who have been banned in almost 5 years. The first one was very early on and made at the request of the readers themselves because of racist comments that person made. The other was banned for repeated personal attacks against both writers and readers. It takes a lot to get banned here, trust me. And believe me when I say you would not want those 2 back on this forum.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Understood John. I think I see your point better and I now know about the history of bannings.

    My post wasn't to make you feel bad or anything, just to let you know how it makes me feel when I read your words sometimes. My feelings aren't the gospel though and I appreciate and accept all of the additional information you have given to me.

    I will truly take what you said into account, and your fairness and openness lets me know that you will take my words into account as well.

    I think the comments will be better because we talked about this respectfully.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, I heard Theo say the other day Soler power has already dropped 15 lbs so far this offseason in an effort to get better defensively. Im guessing he knows all about Heyward, and wants to start in RF while Heyward goes to CF. Now for Soler to adapt to cold weather.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Yes, & he also said that he told Jorge that they would have to be overwhelmed to trade him away. Which has been my sentiments all along... So, at least according to what some feel his worth is on here, he's staying with the Cubs. It won't be any of Soler+ for any MOR pitcher.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    I think the rumors were absolutely true that Soler was being shopped for the Millers, Carrascos and Salazars of the world but when the Cubs saw what teams were valuing those guys at the balked, and I'm glad of it. I never thought they didn't value Soler but if they could have packaged him and a decent prospect for a Miller or someone like him that could slot at MOR right now and possibly become a TOR in the couple of years they would have done that. What I'm impressed by is that they went out and signed Heyward anyway knowing how he would fit in the lineup even though they wouldn't get maximum value for him playing CF. I think that's a gutsy move, I also think sometime in the next 18 months Heyward will be playing RF where he's one of the 2 or 3 best in the league. What that means for Soler at that point has yet to be seen.

  • Thanks for the 12/20/15 State Of The Cubs report. It may have been a costly offseason so far, but the FO was cost efficient by being able to address the needs of hitting contact and defense with players who are able to fill both needs.

  • In reply to Cphil:

    It was costly in terms of money but we knew the Cubs were going to have this kind of increase in payroll, they spent it wisely considering their needs. Just trying to emphasize how difficult it is to line everything up and despite the best laid plans, fortune has a way of changing that in a hurry.

  • l like Theo master plan so far. Just keep on keeping on. Young
    prospects with potential are our future

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Agreed. I think we all like it so far.

  • I'm currently watching game 3 of the NLDS just for kicks and giggles. So exciting that this team will be better next year.

  • In reply to Holy Cattle:

    it'd be fun to go back and watch that whole series...at least after game one.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I believe on MLB.TV I can go back and watch the whole season.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Even game one would be fun to watch. 1st we know how the series ends. 2nd we now have Lackey pitching for the Cubs.

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    I don't see how we could have had a better off season. Signing Lackey for two yrs, Zobrist and Heyward and signing EJMfor a very reasonable amount--that could be the steal of the off season.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    It has been a fantastic offseason. Only thing that could make it better would be a young cost controlled pitcher with ace potential.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I we could trade for one we would be set

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Brady Aiken?

  • In reply to GSmit:

    I think they want someone MLB ready.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Dylan Bundy (giving up Hendricks, Torres and mid-level prospect, perhaps)?

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    In reply to springs:

    I like Bundy and I think he could have a Jake Arrieta type career if health permits and he wants to.

    The problem w him is that I believe he has a 'MLB contract or some provision where he now has to stay on the big league roster so now the learning has to be done at the MLB level. Really something a team going for a pennant has an option of trying out.

    If for some reason we could trade for him and he would accept going to AAA, that changes everything.

  • In reply to GSmit:

    still hasnt proven hes healthy yet, and besides, hes likely 2-3 yrs away even if he is.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    And why are we trying to deal away Hendricks again? It seems like a lot of people on this site want to. I'm betting that relative to salary and results, he's one of the best value's in MLB. And to throw in our #1 ranked prospect (and only 19 yrs old) for an unhealthy pitcher at this stage of the plan....I don't get that. But that's just my opinion.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I think signing some more Cuban talent would be the icing on the cake. If I were speaking of an ideal world, Shohei Otani would get posted and sign with the Cubs, we'd be able to get Giolito from Nats for undervalue, Warren is ready to reach his ceiling as a starter and we find a young lefty who struggles (perhaps for Hammel) who has an Arrieta-esque turn,

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    Problem being.... the Dbacks have ruined the trade market for young controllable pitchers with the trade for Miller.... braves were willing for Contreras and Soler but for the Dbacks to give up Enciarte, Swanson, and 2 other high prospect players is unreal.....

    Now the Indians and Rays are looking for un godly type of trade packages... It may be better to wait til the trade deadline to see who is available

  • In reply to rynofan74:

    I like that idea anyway, if only to see what the Cubs have in the "could be" starters. We might find that we really don't need a trade, after all.

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    I can't help but feel that Contreras sounds like a version of Welington Castillo with a better hit tool. I'm not saying he can't learn to frame/manage games. I'm sure that's his "prospect development plan" for this season. But, IF he can't, what happens then? Has Theo re-thought the need for those skills? Is he a trade piece in a year? Do they make him a super utility player to keep the bat?

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    If that's true, better pray and hope the Schwarbenator is to be a full time catcher by 2017. ( at least 100 games )

  • Great post as usual, John. I get your point about the reactive moves we've made following the success of last season. I don't disagree, just want to take it a step further. Theo and Co. were very proactive in acquiring and developing high-impact hitting during the developement phase of building a team. That this strategy materialized earlier that expected is a credit to there abilities. Once the flaws were exposed, they reacted by specifically targeting certain areas. I will argue that they are being proactive in the pursuit of the next phase of that plan, which is to build a championship team. The reaction can be seen as the end of a past chapter. I look forward (barring catastrophe) to the 2016 trade deadline as another opportunity to be proactive. The next "phase" of this journey is what we have all waited lifetimes for. Theo has shown ruthlessness in dealing an icon in Nomar. When they smell blood in the water, it's on. This is what they've been building towards, and I believe this lastest proactive approach will get us there. Go Cubs!

  • This article, and in particular almora is why I never thought all the smoke about soler for inciarte made much sense. Why trade soler for a player you have a version of in aaa that could be ready to contribute late in 2016 at least as a late inning defensive sub? This time last year we had no idea Schwaber and Russell would contribute as quickly as they did.

  • In reply to 2lf6reedyt:

    Almora becomes a real good fit if he can continue to make progress.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah in a perfect cubs world almora becomes a gold glove center fielder with strong contact skills and Schwaber proves he can catch. Then we'd have Hayward in right and soler in left. If Contreras pans out too, what a wealth of quality redundancy. I wonder if the Cubs would want contreras to get some work back at third once he gets a handle on catching to give Maddon all types of matchup possibilities. I know I'm looking really far ahead but it's so fun

  • In reply to 2lf6reedyt:

    And if candy canes grew on trees and truffles sprouted on the ground then all that above will happen. Don't think Cubs will let Schwarber catch much, his bat is too big he potentially is a .950 OPS batter and when the DH comes to the NL then if Soler is here then he will move over.

  • In reply to 2lf6reedyt:

    If Theo's plan is successful, the FO will need to make decisions like this nearly every year. Do we trade prospects for pitching? Or, do we trade the incumbent position player to make room for the prospect? Either way, it's a great problem to have!

  • Great article as always, John. I think the Cubs also have a TON of depth. Not only on the current MLB roster with Zobrist, Baez, Heyward, and La Stella all capable of playing multiple positions, but also with this group of 5 players you mentioned coming up through the minors. They are somewhat insulated from injury (even with, God forbid, a Rizzo or Bryant going down) where they have enough depth and flexibity to not completely tank a season if someone were to go down. In 35 years of me following the Cubs this is the first time I ever felt good about the depth they have. This is what good organizations do and why they are positioned for sustained success.

  • This offseason has definitely been expensive, but I have the sense that the FO may not like many of the options that are available next year so they are doing their spending this year. Next year, they'll look more internally for any replacements and/or they will use some of their depth to make trades. I'd be a little surprised if they make a trade now given the crazy price for pitching.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    That and the demand for outfielders seems to be lukewarm right now.

  • I agree w/most sentiments & thoughts on here. The fact they spent good money on good players to help w/the needs/winning as opposed to spending ok money on stop gap type players to just get by speaks to where they are at in the process. Lackey & Zobrist could appear to be stop gap maybe w/their ages, but they are both winners & still performing at high levels checking the need boxes. Those sometimes are just the right missing pieces & veterans needed to complete the puzzle or nearly completing the puzzle. And Heyward is just now entering or about to enter his prime... & checks all of the boxes to complement & fit into the core they have. He is now, at least for 3 years, part of the core. And that core is getting bigger on the position side.

    The pitching side just might be the side they try to work on come deadline or next offseason when the core & the prospects will be 1 more year matured & experienced. They'll know better what they have coming in the next wave(s) & what they can afford to deal away for that young, cost controlled SP w/potential to be ace. This offseason seems to be that a huge overpay would be needed to obtain that. I liked that they didn't do an AZ overpay or fall for the Marlins &/or Indians prices to obtain either of their SPs. Maybe they can work something out w/the Rays eventually, but at least they have some foundations laid in that regard. And hopefully ironed out the ill feelings they had over the Joe Maddon situation.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Based on what teams were reportedly asking of the Cubs, I am glad they didn't get that deal done now.

  • In some ways, this offseason has been even more fun than the regular season. I'm salivating over the Cubs lineup on those days when Schwarber catches next year.

    Can you imagine?

    LF - Bryant
    CF - Heyward
    RF - Soler
    3B - Baez
    SS - Russell
    2B - Zobrist
    1B - Rizzo
    C- Schwarber.

    As George Takei would say, Oh my...

  • Yes the strategic point of the article is timing on how the complex it is to build a WS contending roster that is sustained over the course of time---allowing for the timing to regroup and reload instead of rebuild.

    When you look at it from the 40,000 foot level and overlay the top eleven or twelve valued clubs, Cubs rank right now with the Giants and Mets in the third tier in the top six clubs. When you look at the landscape from that perspective Cubs are not acting like a small market club in player development and beginning to act like a big market club simultaneously, but not like the behemoth Yankees or the Drunken Sailors in Los Angeles. Their payroll will probably stabilize in the same class as he RedSox and Giants until their TV network actually begins to really pays off in a national and international distribution putting them near the upper class in revenues.

    Anyway I recognized their transparency in seeking outs and run prevention instead of scoring runs and therefore they are seeking to play the spread. By not aggressively investing in a permanent CF'er they are playing to the center with Almora (and Baez) though my bet is they acquire a true 4th OF'er who can play CF at a high level, someone like Sam Fuld. who could play all over the field and is used to coming to games as a defensive replacement. He is up for an arbitration and is expected to make $2M and willing Cubs could acquire him for the defensive glove they are seeking. Maddon could start with Schwarber-Heyward-Soler and then depending on a variety of situations, let us say a PH for a pitcher with the lead and then insert him into CF. After another pinch hitter for a lefty/righty let us say Montero Cubs bring in Baez and move him to 2B, move Zobrist to LF and defense improves as the game wears on not get worse. Maddon could even bring in La Stella and then move Bryant to RF and their defensive alignment even gets better.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Sorry didn't finish my thought, as the off season unfolded I now see they are expecting Almora to come up sometime in the season to take over CF in a variety of roles as he learns the MLB game. Baez appears to be much like the Zobrist role that Maddon developed in a small market club that put a bench together with Zobrist and defensive specialists.

    The difference between TB and Cubs is they are willing buy their shortcomings. It will be interesting when the stars get close to FA, will the Cubs trade for value or let them go FA.

    Thus, I think the Cubs have one more significant trade out there which was outlined today. A three-way moving two arb redundant pieces and SP for a SP'er former TOR and young catcher. This would improve run prevention and get younger in the field but older on the mound. The thing is a decision appears to be made to continue with the youth movement on the field and wait for the system to begin producing pitchers.

  • I feel the same way I felt winter 07 very optimistic about next season.Hopefully 2016 will end much better than 2008.I still remember soriano striking out to end game 3 in l.a. and feeling hopeless about ever seeing the cubs get to a world series let alone winning it.I hope almora picks up where he left off last season because the cubs will have an potentially elite defensive cf in the minors who could contribute soon.

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    Mckinney is a good athlete, especially for Left, however he does not have a strong arm, it's his weakest tool.

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    In reply to in theo we trust:

    Report up top says that he does have a strong arm. I've never seen his tool ranking, nor seen him play...

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    In reply to Jeff Wilson:

    Just found his scout rankings, and it has his arm at 45, indeed you are correct. Nice hit ranking though, and other tools not bad!

  • In reply to Jeff Wilson:

    I've seen him play last year. There's a lot to like about him, but I felt he was mis-cast in RF due to his arm. I wouldn't say he has a weak arm, but it is definitely not a plus tool.

    I do think he is capable of playing some CF though, so he isn't necessarily limited to just LF.

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    Not that these guys are great or even good defensively but Vogelbach, Young, and Zagunis all have good/great BB/K rates also.

  • Thinking through the roster and inter relationships between preventing runs and scoring runs Cubs OF is out of balance.

    Epstein who makes public statements like the FED Banking Chairperson but in retrospect is always opaquely transparent said:

    "CBS Chicago’s Bruce Levine reports. “We are putting our stock into his future,” Epstein said. “Barring anything [an overwhelming trade offer], he knows to ignore all the trade rumors and take it as a compliment.” Epstein praised Soler’s hitting potential and his offseason training, as Soler “is down to 225 [pounds] and is working hard on his quickness and flexibility” to improve his right field defense. The Cubs could add a defense-first backup outfielder, Epstein hinted, which probably isn’t a surprise...."

    So for now the FO has measured the marketplace and found that the value of a high upside RH power bat is not equivalent to a high upside LH'd SP'er and that value is the relationship between run differential where again all a FO can do is work that in the aggregate.

    So OF as it stands expecting starting OF L-R is Schwarber-Heyward-Soler, obviously heavy offense weighted. But the bench is Coghlan, and Szczur, basically offense first and defense first.

    So then what is to do? One of the Cubs' FO best attributes is working what is described as scrubs market place or better described as the role player or contributor market.

    Balancing that with the recognized weakness this roster has emerged is run prevention in the OF there are some obvious players who could provide an immediate impact both as mentors and abilities to execute. The first is Sam Fuld, a Maddon player and someone who can play all three OF positions at a high level---esp CF, in a limited role he had a DRS of 3 in CF last year. The second one is Shane Victorino who recorded a 4 in DRS again in a limited role in RF last year. This is the kind of players who can be effectively integrated into a team heavy on offense and youth.

    The question always is cost. Fuld is in his final year of arbitration valued probably just above $2M and that would mean buying him with a player. The second is a FA who made $13M last year and probably not interested in taking a $4-5M salary for one year right now but as ST approaches something to watch.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Part of me would really like to see Fuld back in a Cubs uni.

  • In reply to awfullyquiet:

    just part, is it the mind,heart or soul.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Whichever part is touched by that catch on September 22nd, 2007. I can't really tell anymore.

  • Where is Jorge Soler training? Perhaps in an effort to adapt better to the weather rigors of Wrigley in the early spring and fall it may be a good idea for him to be hitting/training in a cold weather environment

  • In reply to HillM:

    I don't think it takes more than one season to make the adjustment. He seemed to be just fine in the post season which wasn't exactly Florida weather...

  • Not picking on you, HillM, but I'm not sure why everyone is convinced Soler can't hit in cold weather. Obviously he doesn't love it and isn't used to it, but one season doesn't a trend make (he slashed .247/.319/.395 for an OPS of .714 last April. Hardly setting the world on fire, but I think we've also seen far, far worse starts than that by some pretty good players). Also, he seemed to hit pretty well in October, which, frankly, I'd rather see than anything else. I'm not saying that Soler's gonna come out and destroy MLB this April, but I think the "Soler can't hit in cold weather" narrative needs to get toned down by a lot until we have a few more seasons of evidence to know exactly what he can and can't do.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Jorge looked like he was freezing to death out there.
    Dude was seriously bundled up.

  • John, I think I have another comment in the spam filter.

  • Another site just posted an article regarding Christian Villanueva. The site isn't letting me log in so I can't post there but it goes along with this discussion.

    Obviously, he's a glove first infielder. His bat isn't horrible but probably not an everyday caliber. He's out of options and tearing it up in the Mexican winter league.

    Is he a guy that the Cubs keep on the bench this season? He could be a great late inning defensive replacement at 3rd or 1st. With the right matchups, I think he could be great off the bench. Don't we have a spot for him with Herrera gone? I'm thinking he could easily learn the outfield as well and be another super utility guy off the bench. Seems like we could get a lot more value out of him with him on the bench then we could in a trade.

  • Really went out of my way to be nice... is there a reason my reply didn't post? I hope it's just spam filter, otherwise it's shades of Yellon.

  • In reply to Torcosign:

    Your post is up there, I just read it. The spam filter is a fickle beast around here.

  • In reply to TC154:

    TC154

    Thank you for posting this! Unfortunately the post I was referring to was another one I wrote in response to Mike. I pointed out that these writers are the best Cubs bloggers around and that we all almost universally love them and revere them. I stated that I love the blog and feel a little uncomfortable posting about disagreements because I'm scared of getting yelled at. However I assured Mike that in the future I would take what he said into account and try to acknowledge the context of the disagreement and decide if the commenter is being a jerk.

    Just wanted everyone to know that I didn't curse out Mike or anything. (Why on earth would anyone!?!)

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    In reply to TC154:

    Yup, the one thing I have learned in my many years here is that the spam filter has no alliances or enemies so don't take anything personally.

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    In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    I know how it works and I'm often baffled at the stuff that gets caught.

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    In reply to TC154:

    I'm pretty sure that one wasn't spam filtered. I cleaned it out just before replying to him and his wasn't there.

  • I was listening to MLB radio this morning and a caller came on to make his case against the Cubs moves this season. His case was solid in that he brought up the two older players in Zobrist and Lackey and the ill fit of Heyward in CF, especially at that price point. He suggested that the team would have been better served to keep what they had and signed Price and someone like Kazmir or Leake and left the position largely alone. I understood where the guy was coming from. On the surface that case holds water but it fails when you consider fit and depth. To me those were the overarching themes of the this offseason and John talked about a lot of that in his piece and how the FO pivoted in their approach in light of what they saw last year.

    I've been enamored with what the Cubs have done in terms of fit since this offseason began. They absolutely could have, with the money we've seen spent, gone the starting pitching route signing a Price and one additional rotation piece, while still adressing depth of pitching as they have by turning over every rock they could find. I don't know how much better a team that would have made them. They knew they had to address hitting for contact and they did, they knew they needed guys with higher OBP and they got them, they knew they needed a pitcher for the middle of the rotation and they got one of those too. Say they had signed Price, J.A. Happ and Gerardo Parra instead of the moves they made. The caller I mentioned suggested that and that they would be a much better team. I don't think so. Sure the pitching would be stellat at the top and solid at the bottom but they'd still falter on days when the power goes cold. As it stands now this is one of the three best rotations in the NL and one of the most dangerous lineups. The pieces fit to address both needs, not just one.

    The other issue the caller failed to see was depth. This team is so deep in pitchers they won't keep them all. Wood, Cahill and Warren are better 5th starter options, if that becomes a need, than Haren, Richard, Wada etc. was last year. Plus the bullpen was addressed. Relief pitching is an odd thing, some guys have great seasons and fall off others have weak seasons and come back strong. The best way to assemble a bullpen is to have options which is really another way of saying depth. Ask the CArdinals about how important pitching depth is. Without it they wouldn't have done what they have over the last several years.

    So getting back to the original argument the question is did the Cubs spend wisely? I say they did as I think they negotiated value well, much like John said above, while filling needs. The caller I heard asserted that pitching wins and the Cubs could have run with the big boys there, but while that's true depth of pitching is almost important especially with guys like Arrieta and Lester and the top of your rotation. They spent money on need and the overall team is certainly stronger than last year. Argue all you want but this has been a heck of an offseason if you examine it beyond the surface.

  • Sounds good I'll cool it with my conspiracy theories :) I just still have two "olive branch" attempts that are still in the spam folder or didn't get posted... No big deal though, the important stuff (the articles) is getting posted and that is all that counts!

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    In reply to Torcosign:

    Not sure what's going on. I'm gonna leave this one to John.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Not sure either. Released everything in there and made a couple of responses that I hope clears things up.

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