Some of the remaining draft picks of the previous Cubs regime have been making minor headlines lately. Brett Jackson was put on waivers and eventually traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Matt Szczur was called up to the Major League team. Both were using 40-man roster spots, and it was decision time. You know who else is on the 40-man roster? Josh Vitters.
Maybe it doesn't matter in the long run, but Vitters has to see the Jackson trade and the call-up of Szczur (essentially taking Junior Lake's roster spot) and know that the writing is on the wall. As Justin Jabs wrote recently, 40-man roster spots are precious. Having one either leads to finding your way to the Major League roster or finding your way out of town.
At this point, Vitters' status on the roster seems to be working against him. The former 3rd-overall pick from 2007 had always hit well at every level, and some were optimistic that his move to left field might help him find a niche on the Cubs roster. But he's been overshadowed in AAA this season by the arrivals of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Jorge Soler. Jackson, Vitters, and Szczur were all struggling with the bat in mid-May.
It was around then that Vitters went on the DL with a broken toe that had been bothering him. He returned in early June and hit .314/.351/.400 in his first 74 PA, and I secretly hoped deep down that he would be filling a role in Chicago when the August call-ups came around. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to be working out that way.
In 139 PA's since July 1st, Vitters is hitting .180/.239/.295. Compare that to Matt Szczur hitting .317/.355/.346 with 13 stolen bases in his last 111 PA at AAA, and it's clear why he was called up for Sunday's game and not Vitters. For what it's worth, Szczur's athleticism and ability to play all three outfield spots may have nudged Vitters out anyway.
The silver lining is that this doesn't mean Vitters won't be with the Cubs at some point in 2014. No matter how poorly he's performed at times this season, the Cubs may still believe there is value left in him. Vitters hasn't yet turned 25 years old and may be able to find his way as a bench guy with decent power and the ability to play left, first, and third (even if it's average-to-below-average defense).
It's also worth mentioning that when forced to drop someone from the 40-man roster, Jackson was the one exposed to waivers. That says something about the Cubs' opinion of Vitters, right? They obviously have nothing to lose in September by calling him up, letting Bill Mueller work with him on his swing, and seeing if he can handle himself in the Majors. Even so, it may be too little, too late for him.
Vitters will be out of options next season, so if the Cubs aren't sold by the end of September that he can be a valuable part of the future, he'll be released or traded somewhere else in a minor deal. At this point, continuing his career somewhere else seems like the most likely scenario. And when that happens, the Cubs will finally be able to move on from all of the failures of the previous regime.
Having already purged the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, and Ryan Dempster, as well as recent failed draft picks such as Jackson and Hayden Simpson, from the Major League roster, the Cubs are really only left with Vitters tying the current regime to the previous one. Sure, Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, and others are a product of the Hendry era as well, but those players have a reasonable future with the Cubs.
Solid players that remain with a team are less of a true tie to the previous regime; you'd expect those guys to stay if they're good. The ones you don't expect to stick around are the bad ones. Vitters has been nothing but a disappointment for the last several years, dropping from a potentially special bat to a guy just hoping to make the team. Maybe he can still be a decent part-time left fielder or a bench guy that pinch-hits and plays multiple positions.
But it probably won't be with the Cubs.
Thanks for reading; if you enjoyed it, please share with others. And if you'd like to be updated on my future posts, and those from the rest of the Cubs Insider team, you can subscribe below.
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
And be sure to like Cubs Insider on Facebook. You can also
Filed under: Uncategorized