Morning Cubs Roundup: Start making decisions


I've joked since Spring Training about the amount of right-handed relievers the Cubs brought to Mesa. The organization was definitely taking the throw-stuff-at-the-wall approach. And though I kidded them for it, I really couldn't blame them, not with the state of the bullpen and the seeming lack of funds to address it.

It made sense: Collect a bunch of maybes, and hope a few somethings emerge, then ditch the ones who don't.

Here's the rub: The Cubs haven't cut anybody.

Sure, they released a couple of guys once Spring Training was cut short, but they still held on to a lot of extra arms, and for every one they did let go they seemingly added another to replace them. Rule 5 pick Michael Rucker was returned to the org by the Orioles after he failed to make their Opening Day roster. The Cubs own Rule 5 pick, Trevor Megill, failed to make the roster (and keep in mind this was 30-man, not 26). The Cubs didn't return him though, instead making a cash deal with the Padres so they could hold onto him.

This is Duane Underwood Jr.'s 9th season in the Cubs organization. He is out of options. Make a decision.

Dillon Maples has been around for 10 years. He was a Tim Wilken pick, the year before the Epstein regime took over. Javy Baez was the Cubs first round pick that year. Maples was the Cubs second highest profile selection. Maples still has the tantalizing stuff and another option year remaining. Still, make a decision. If he wasn't good enough to hold on to a spot in a struggling 11-man bullpen after 10 seasons, what are the odds you unlock his ability to throw strikes now?

Meanwhile Dakota Mekkes destroyed right-handed batters at the AAA level the past 1.5 seasons after being one of the most dominant relievers in the Minors at every previous level. Lefties became an issue for the first time last year, and his control has never been a strength, so a finished product he is not. After leaving him exposed to the Rule 5 draft last winter and watching him go unchosen, the Cubs brought in those dozen or so arms to compete for a MLB job. Mekkes never really seemed to be in that competition.

The Cubs made Michael Rucker repeat AA in 2019, and even when he was pitching well in relief, with added velocity, they didn't make room for him in Iowa. Then, they didn't protect him from the Rule 5 draft after the season.

Apparently, the Cubs think highly enough of these two to give them spots in the 60-man player pool but little enough of them, despite already having numerous options ahead of them on the 40-man roster, they also keep bringing in the likes of Cody Allen and Kelvin Herrera to be additional non-roster competition.

Do you remember Jason Adam from this spring? He's still around. Again, they think enough to stick with him in South Bend, but not enough where they feel they can pass on performing autopsies on the corpses of Allen and Herrera. If the Cubs were to form a psuedo-Iowa bullpen right now, I'm not sure Rucker would fit. For the second straight year. And not because of anything he is or isn't doing.

What's the point? All of these guys are going to be Rule 5 eligible or Minor League free agents again once this very short season ends. If they aren't answers now, will they ever?

I'm not saying the Cubs need to get rid of every single one of their depth pieces, but at some point they need to realize they are reaching the point of diminishing returns. They will never have room for more than one or two of these guys on the 40-man roster. To add someone like Allen or Herrera, or someone like Adam, Mekkes or Rucker, someone like Underwood or Maples has got to go.


Why? Because you need to make room for prospects. We are getting beyond the throw-stuff-at-a-wall part of the season. You are now cutting into the limited window of development for the limited number of prospects you can focus on in 2020.

It is unconscionable that Ryan Jensen isn't in South Bend at this point. It frankly boggles my mind. Every team should have their top 5 prospects from full season ball in their camps by now. If they don't also add at least one of Michael McAvene, Kohl Franklin or Riley Thompson before the end of the year I am going to lose it.

And don't even get me started on Manny Rodriguez and Zack Short. You know, two of the players on the 40-man roster, two of the guys that presumably figure to factor into the 2021 roster. I can't think of a single good reason why you might want them training in South Bend this year. Really.

Its all just another part of the Cubs mixed messaging, an art they've perfected through plenty of practice over the last nine years: We love you, really. We think you've got a bright MLB future.

Prospect: Should I pack for South Bend and begin quarantining?

Cubs: Uh,... We're going to bring in players A, B, C first. Oh, who am I kidding? We're also going to sign players D and E to Minor League deals and give them a shot before you too.

But we still love you, promise.

I don't get it. Either you have some faith in the guys you've been developing for years or you don't. Perhaps judging by the struggles of Underwood, Maples and Norwood this year they shouldn't. But if that is the case then it is all the more reason to begin developing the next wave.

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  • Bravo, Michael! The bringing in of eye rolling, washed up veterans whose second chances were 2 or 3 chances ago, makes little sense to me. And how many years will we see Maples and Underwood disappoint over and over again? If they haven't got Jensen, Rodriguez and Short in South Bend, how the heck will those kids or the team, make progress?

  • In reply to Ronson54:

    Hallelujah! Makes me cringe to see the likes of Underwood come into games. The signings of the chad Allen’s of the world and Herrera are equally frustrating. Just points to,the lack of pitching development in the system. I’m afraid alzolay will be part of this pile too. Any sightings of a jake stinnett?

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    In reply to Ronson54:

    It may come down to the cubs aren't as high on Jensen, Rodriguez, Short, Mekkes and Rucker,Jensen especially since he is a first rounder. It all comes down to missing on drafting pitching prospects since McCloud was in charge. If you noticed Carraway is on the 60 man and he was just drafted this year by Castrovince( not sure I spelled it right)

  • Mike - any idea as to what the guys who aren't in South Bend doing? Is there a training program they are doing individually that was developed by the team? Are they in AZ by any chance?

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    I'm Mike, but not Michael. He probably knows more than me on this topic. As far as I know, the facilities in Mesa have been closed. I remember reading something about certain players working in certain specialized programs, but that was long ago. Like South Bend, the media and fans have been barred, so accurate info is hard to find. But a simple answer is no, the other players in the Cubs organization not invited to South Bend are not congregated in Mesa working out together.

    It's also my understanding that minor-leaguers have been effectively released from their contracts in 2020, and many have chosen to join various independent leagues to continue development and, well, play.

  • As I had mentioned last week, I think Quintana comes off IR in the next couple of days. With Quintana pitching yesterday and the Cubs sending out Brothers and Steele to south bend, I think Quintana will come of IR tuesday to pitch out of the bullpen and build up his innings, while he is helping out this bullpen. I think it is the smartest move. The only other options for tuesday are Marquez, Carroway, Patterson or Hultzen. We can have Ryan as the only lefty he is looking weak already.

  • Pardon my can/cant and of/off this morning. Proofreading is recommended.

  • Is Alzolay hurt? Why isn't he getting a chance in the pen?

    This is the kind of stuff that irks me about the large market Cubs.

    Last off-season, I thought for sure the Cubs were going to finally choose to keep only one player on the 40 man between Norwood, or Maples. As you mentioned these guys have been around forever, both have plus stuff. One should have been dealt away in a minor deal, or part of a larger deal. Not that I would expect any real return. Clean up your 40 man, especially when you have far too many second tier pitching prospects age 25, and older.

    I think you give the remaining players, in theory the ones you prefer a better opportunity to make the roster. While creating a 40 man roster spots by getting rid of some of the other mediocre home grown competition. If you keep the wrong guy, so what it is the bottom 20 players on your 40 man roster!! Cubs had years to try to figure it out who was the best of their second tier prospects.

    I look at the Cubs in 2020 like most people as a team with a flawed roster, that has beaten up on some really bad teams.

  • In reply to Naujack:

    Just my gut feeling, but I really believe that the Cubs were planning to go into this season allowing the current core and 40-man roster a chance to see how they performed; give Ross a chance to see if he could clean things up. If they were serious contenders, they would add to the bullpen (as they had in the past). If they were not contenders, they were going to sell off at the deadline; my guess is Bryant (no more holding out for a perfect deal) and pitchers. Anyway, COVID hit and those plans were dashed. So I cut them a little slack. Although I do agree with Michael’s excellent article,

  • In reply to Cubs09:

    I see your point. I believe, I understood what the Cubs were doing this off-season? Maybe not? I have zero issues going with a no-name bullpen. I have zero issues with resetting the cap. I think if this was a normal season, if the Cubs were not so hot players would be traded away. If Cubs were good, adding mid-tier bullpen arms mid-season usually doesn't cost too much.

    This front office, avoids making some harder choices, at least to a complete outsider looking in. This off-season the media brought up how the Cubs were looking to deal from the core. Then the media reported the rest of the league laughed at the Cubs asking prices for core players. The harder decision is to maybe trade a couple of the core players for less than you expected this past off-season.

    This is the kind of stuff that irks me about the front office, and trust me I think they did an incredible job putting together a young core that won the World Series. The front office does some things really well! One thing I like about the front office is they go for it, and will trade minor league prospects.

    I might be one of the few fans who think teams like the Cubs should do everything possible to avoid signing long term high price contracts. Of course being a large market team, they will end up with some long term high price contracts. Deals-kinda like the Darvish contract, which supposedly was a value driven high price contract signed later in the off-season.

    I try not to look at individual moves, because you win some, and you loss some.

  • In reply to Naujack:

    I am totally with you on avoiding long-term contracts, at least too many. I live in the Bay Area and see the Giants saddled with so many and having waited so long to rebuild. I would make a real effort to sign Baez; I’m not sure about the rest.

  • In reply to Cubs09:

    I think both of you just nailed the nuts and bolts of what has happened. This was a "let's see what we got" transitional season. We tried desperately to unload salary to get below the cap, and then the 'roid happened.

    Getting back to Michael's point brings me to a point I've made before. Theo is under contract thru 2021, but I'm not sure he makes it that long. I've seen many disturbances within the FO/ownership relationship that has lead to a separation in the past. There is no longer the free reign of baseball ops from ownership that has highlighted this brilliant run. I've laid out my thoughts on this topic exhaustively throughout this past offseason.

    I don't think Theo would sabotage the organization on his way out. He has a future to consider, and anyone who suggests he would do such a thing doesn't know how the world works. But top-level relationships do sour, and people may be looking a couple years ahead. Cubs fans have seen this play out through multiple ownership transitions within the last couple decades.

    I guess the point I'm trying to make is Theo sees himself on the way out, and isn't necessarily building the team to be good 3 or 5 years from now. He may be stocking the 40-man with "win-now" possibilities in hopes of leaving on a high note.

    I don't know any of this to be true, I just have a hard time trying to figure out any other possible reason for his transactions over the last couple years.

  • In reply to Cubs09:

    Baez is a star, he would be #1 on my list for Cub extensions.

    Michael Ernest, I also enjoyed this article.

  • The article was good,I hope the front office reads it.

  • A well written article with some strong points to think about Michael. Makes you think about our "Throwing things against the wall" decision making process as we move forward. Isn't that why we became frustrated with the earlier administrations prior to thus one?

  • Is almost getting to the point with the Cardinals where they should be eliminated from any postseason consideration especially if they can’t even complete 50 games....

  • In reply to Wickdipper:

    I'm not so sure about that. As soon as teams are already eliminated due to a number of games not played, that will further put the legitimacy of the season in question. So if they are eliminated, do they play out their remaining schedule? Or do the NL Central teams get a boost of 10 wins a piece (due to forfeit) and now get a lift above the NL East and West teams? Or because that would cause the Cubs to not play 10 games, I guess it would also eliminate them too as soon as just one more of their games gets canceled. It seems to me that telling a team they've been eliminated this early will just further exacerbate the issues the league is already dealing with. Would the Cardinals players even show up for games if they didn't matter to them any more? And why should the players even have to put themselves at risk if they're already eliminated? Does that secure the Cardinals to have the top pick in the draft, plus their "competitive balance" draft pick they'll receive at the end of the 1st round?

    I really think the mathameticians/stats geeks all need to come together to develop a formula that accounts for games played, winning percentage, and perhaps a minor point deduction to the offending team for each series cancelled due to their positive tests to somehow help achieve a fair playoff selection of each leagues top 8 teams. And perhaps they should even postpone the playoffs by a week just to add more time for teams to make up games before season's end.

  • In reply to Cubber Lang:

    I made up a hypothetical scenario to highlight the need for some kind of formula. This will just be about the National League. So the Marlins and Cardinals have already had an outbreak, and I really hope the Cardinals get it under control and can begin playing games soon. But say one more team in the NL East suffers an outbreak and also has about 10 games cancelled (effecting 3 other teams amounts of games played). And what if an AL Central team also has an outbreak, which will also cause some NL Central teams to miss out on a couple more games.

    So all hypothetically, here are 4 mystery teams that finish with the best records in the NL. I went with 4 because there will be 4 teams with home advantage in the first round:
    Team A: 28-16 (44 GP) .63636 W%
    Team B: 29-19 (48 GP) .60416 W%
    Team C: 32-21 (53 GP) .60377 W%
    Team D: 36-24 (60 GP) .600 W%

    Which team deserves the proper 1-4 seeding? I't won't really matter in the first round of the playoffs, but it surely will make a difference in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.

    So who are these teams and what happened to them over the course of the season? Team A is the Marlins. Yes I think the Marlins will do really good in this short format season if they can manage to stay COVID negative. In a conversation with a good friend (and passionate baseball fan/Dodgers boo!) on opening day, I made my "bold" predictions and told him the Marlins will make the playoffs, as well as the Padres winning the NL West, and the A's winning the AL West. Those are not hypothetical predictions. I believe those can all happen. Anyway, back to hypotheticals; Team B is the Braves, team C is the Cubs, and team D is the Padres. No outbreaks in the west so the Padres got to play all 60 games. Only the Cardinals and an AL Central team (why not the White Sox) had several games cancelled due to positive tests, so it effects the Cubs by not being able to play 7 games, no fault of their own. Now to the messy NL East. Perhaps the Phillies are another team that tests positive and misses a couple weeks, now the Marlins and Phillies have effected the Braves (team B) season by only letting them play 48 games. While the Marlins (team A) only complete 44 games due to their own fault, as well as the fault of the Phillies.

    So my questions of this kind of scenario...

    Which team truly would deserve to win the NL East (Marlins or Braves)?

    The Cubs, Braves and Padres would all be within 4/1000ths of a percentage point apart in the standings, so who should be seeded above whom in a home advantage scenario for the later playoff rounds?

    What order would all 4 of these teams be seeded when considering all 4?

  • In reply to Cubber Lang:

    Excellent in-depth thoughts Cubber......I mainly brought this up to see what responses it brought....but how would it fly if the Birds played let’s say....only 42 games and wind up with a better win % than another team that plays all 60 and that team is eliminated? That would be really bogus to me....

  • In reply to Wickdipper:

    Yeah I totally agree. That's why I feel like there's gotta be some equation with a little bit of a penalty baked in, or a rewards for playing more games. But I don't think it should move a team by more than one or two games up or down when we evaluate that in Wins and Losses as opposed to winning percentage. Yeah if team A were the Cards and team C is Cubs, that would be a dilemma, even with the Cubs not playing 60 games. I brought up the home advantage aspect, but just as important is the difference between the 9th and 8th best records and who doesn't get invited to the playoffs.

    Also, with the news coming out about the Indians who broke protocol. I hope the Cubs infielders and baserunners will all wear masks whenever there's an Indian on the bases, or when the Cubs are on the bases. I'd hate to see Cleavanger all of a sudden test positive knowing he didn't fess up to his "transgressions" immediately and flew on the plane back with his teammates. Right now the Indians would be the one team I wouldn't want to play as they seem to be higher risk. I really hope Plesac and Cleavanger test negative and come back without adding to all the uncertainty. But in a little way, I like learning that Plesac isn't a rat either.

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