So, last Sunday I was listening to my buddy Jordan Bernfield breakdown the Cubs mega deal with both SiriusXM Radio's Mike Ferrin and Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks on "The Game" 87.7 FM. Just prior to that however, this happened:
— TomLoxas (@TomLoxas) July 6, 2014
— TomLoxas (@TomLoxas) July 6, 2014
— TomLoxas (@TomLoxas) July 6, 2014
All kidding aside, Ferrin is such a terrific listen and really knows his Cubs, let alone MLB. So I asked Mike if we could talk some Cubs baseball and he was game.
Ferrin hosts SiriusXM MLB Network Radio's Power Alley, SiriusXM College Baseball, College Sports Nation & The BP Fringe Average Podcast. You can also find him on Twitter: @MikeFerrinSXM
TL: On a national level, how is the Cubs organization and current stage of this rebuild being viewed?
MF: I think they've done a great job acquiring high-end bats, but how are they gonna get anyone out in that next generation? The general feeling is probably the same as it is locally that the team lacks high-end pitching prospects. And while there may be a feeling locally that it's okay, because someone will take the money in free agency, we all know that spending on high-end pitching on the free agent market for long term deals can be tricky.
And if you're a free agent this offseason, you're selling the hope of being a contender soon, rather than the reality of being a contender based on the makeup of your current roster.
Now, while I agree with some tenets of that perception, I think they've actually done a decent job of adding guys who are gonna be big league pitchers. Their trades have all brought back pitching, some of it starters (Arrieta, Strailey, Hendricks) that should/could be parts of the back end of the rotation.
And they went heavy on Friday college starters in the '13 draft, seemingly, in the hopes that one or more of those guys would use their experience (and the stuff) pitching against high-level competition that someone might exceed expectations.
It's a worthwhile gamble, because the real way to build a sustainable pitching staff is having a ton of pitchers, and because of attrition & injuries, you just need so many arms. You'd love to mix a couple high-end arms in there too, but having a bunch of arms is a pretty good start. It's just not as "exciting" a collection as the hitters.
TL: That being said, in the wake of all of the injuries, do you think the Cubs would still be wise to go out and spend a hundred million dollars on an arm?
MF: Is the arm 25 or 26 years old? No? Then it's probably not a wise investment of funds.
TL: The Cubs have had a couple of their top prospects in Jorge Soler and Albert Almora experience setbacks, both adjustment-wise and physically. Theo Epstein always preaches that progress is not linear. Do you think that is just simply the case here?
MF: I'm not really worried about Almora. I haven't seen him play a ton, but he's one of those guys that when you see, you realize he has such a good feel for contact that he's gonna hit. I think after last season where he battled injuries the fact he leads Daytona in games played (78 of their 86 as of this writing) is extremely positive.
And I agree that player progression is non-linear, it's a line I use a lot. I was actually talking to a Farm Director from another team about a player in the big leagues now about how important his failures in the minor leagues were, because it made him a better pitcher. That may sound weird, but, think about it in our own lives. We learn more from the mistakes we make. And it's easier to make mistakes in a low-pressure environment.
When you reach the highest level in any workplace, things speed up, and mistakes become more costly and you can be "in over your head." So, I don't worry too much about a guy with Almora's work ethic and his numbers in a league notoriously tough on hitters. I think he's gonna get better.
Soler, the injuries worry me more. A stress fracture last year and 3 different hamstring injuries this year if you count the one in Spring Training, right? I have no doubt lower body strength programs are gonna be a focus of Soler's offseason. He's been productive when he's played; my hope is he can find a way to condition himself to stay on the field.
It's gonna take hard work, and I hope he does it, because there's a lot to like with him as a player. He's a mountain of a man with great raw power and some idea of how to put together an AB. But the injuries and inability to stay on the field, I feel, have tempered some of the enthusiasm for his talent.
TL: Last year the Cubs front office received some criticism regarding the Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro extensions and their subsequent struggles. How club friendly do these deals appear to be now?
MF: They look good. And, again, player development is non-linear. I think you've seen real growth from most. And both being All-Stars is a nice feather. And to potentially have these guys as established All-Stars when young guys come up helps to take the pressure of them.
TL: Is Chris Bosio getting enough credit for some of the work he's done with reclamation projects and flip candidates? Is he entering the territory of guys who can make a difference like Don Cooper or Dave Duncan?
MF: I think he's starting to get credit, but you've gotta give some credit to the players too. While Bosio can suggest adjustments, and he certainly has with many of these guys, they have to execute those changes. And they're the ones putting in the work.
TL: Epstein also mentioned this would likely be the last time the Cubs have a major sell-off. Jed Hoyer has intimated that the Cubs will look to add this off-season. What are we to expect for the Cubs moving forward?
MF: I think they try and spend '15 getting experience for a large group of their young core players (Alacantara, Bryant, Baez for sure. Maybe Almora, Russell & Soler at some point) and they start to augment with some starting pitching via trade or free agency with the hopes of competing for a postseason berth in 2016.
TL: Right on cue, after the Samardzija/Hammel deal, the Cubs are experiencing a freefall. You expect it to continue all the way into another top-five pick next summer?
MF: Definitely. I picked them to finish with the worst record in baseball before the season started, and I think that's still a likely scenario. Sadly, the current amateur talent procurement system benefits teams that finish with the worst record by rewarding them with more money to spend on players.
It runs contrary to what should be the competitive nature of sport, but you almost have to take advantage of the system if you can. That said, losing SUCKS. And no one in any organization wants to lose that much. But if you aren't a playoff team, the system benefits the worst clubs.
TL: The press originally called the group of Soler, Almora, Baez, and Bryant the "core four." Do you see that shaking out any differently now, especially with the addition of Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber?
MF: I hated that term, and not just because it was stolen from the Yankees, (Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, and Posada--and even there it ignored Bernie Williams), but because it doesn't reflect what may happen with that group of players. They may be the core of the farm system in 2014, but will all of them reach their ultimate ceiling as players and be core parts of a Cubs championship-caliber team? No. Will all of them play for the Cubs? Maybe not.
Will there be someone not in that group who ends up better than a couple of those players? Probably (Why doesn't Alcantara ever get mentioned with these guys?). It's a simple way to creative a narrative because it rhymes & people will remember it, and if only one of those 4, 5, 7, however many players reach their full potential (which is realistic) it makes an easy talk show topic or column about how the organization failed again. I don't' mind players being hyped.
I love prospects, and projection, but the reality of watching the ebbs & flows of players is dramatic and exciting enough without adding fluff terminology to create an easy story positive or negative, that can be recycled 6, 12, 36, 120 months down the line.
TL: You will be at the Futures Game this weekend. What do you want to see out of Baez and Bryant?
MF: Batting Practice! That'll be fun. I've never seen Baez in person, so I'm looking forward to watching him at SS in infield practice, and to seeing how physical he is. And, I'm just excited to see Bryant play. He's such an impressive young man and every coach & teammate he has or has had raves about him. He's already a pro.
And I like watching pros work.
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