What just happened or why did the Cubs do what they did two days ago?

What just happened or why did the Cubs do what they did two days ago?

Part 1 was written yesterday with a heavy focus on the international signing period. A bit of bombshell was dropped by Phil Rogers that the Cubs plan to go way past the slot bonus. John Arguello at Cubs Den has one of the better takes that I’ve read on this new information.

Part 2-Players acquired
Jake Arrieta

Arrieta was the most important player acquired on July 2nd. First let me do a little humble brag by pointing out yesterday that the international pool money acquired was the throw-in on the Feldman and Clevenger trade. Now that I got that out of the way let us talk about the former top pitching prospect. Arrieta has good stuff. His average fastball velocity this year is 94 mph which has been following a slow increase the past several seasons. He has a change, curve and slider. The stuff is that of a front line starter, but the results at the big league level have been terrible.
A popular theory emerged early after the deal was that the Cubs got Arrieta as a flip piece. The Padres have coveted Arrieta and Matt Garza, and the fit with the front office’s knowledge of the Padres system made an easy connection. The Cubs could trade the two starting pitchers for a bundle of prospects that were chosen by Jed Hoyer. Jed Hoyer has done it twice now with acquiring Anthony Rizzo. It fits nicely with what Jason Parks stated in the Bleacher Nation interview:

Only because front offices like their toys. They like the guys that they get, not the guys they inherit.

However Jon Heyman shot that theory down.


I believe that Arrieta was brought in as a project for new pitching coordinator Derek Johnson. The Cubs are gambling that they can unlock his potential with one of the brightest pitching coaches in the game. Arrieta is going to be Iowa to start with and working on fixing the most obvious issue with Arrieta which is command. If Arrieta can harness his stuff he could be a top of the rotation starter to pair with Samardzija.

The reason the Orioles gave up on a guy with such potential is 27 years old. The Orioles had hired a new pitching coordinator in Rick Peterson, and with Arrieta continuing to regress the Orioles had enough with Arrieta. This may be true, but pitchers reaching their potential later in life are far more common than hitters. Homer Bailey really didn’t start putting it together until age 26. Matt Clement and Ryan Dempster both found tremendous success starting at age 27. Kevin Gregg made a mechanical change at age 35 and is having perhaps his best season at this point.

It is still a long shot that Arrieta reaches his full potential as a number 2 starter, but even if he doesn’t unlock his potential he could still be a useful Cub. His role could be as a high leverage reliever with his stuff. He has the power repertoire of a late inning reliever with a fastball averaging at 94 as a starter. It isn’t hard to imagine him being able to add a few ticks on the fastball if he could empty the tank in an inning’s worth of work.

This move is starting to form a bit of a pattern with guys that should be ready to contribute in 2014 as either a starter or reliever. Arodys Vizcaino is unlikely to make the Cubs roster this season, but he should be throwing in the minor leagues in August this year. Vizcaino is another guy with question marks as a starter that has the stuff to be a high leverage reliever. This indicates a bit of shift in philosophy as the team is stocking up on power arms that will be ready by next season.

Matt Garza trade would really indicate whether this change in philosophy is true. A rumor from Cubs Den stated that the Blue Jays were interested in Matt Garza still and that one of the names involved in trade talks was Kyle Drabek. He fits the same mold as Vizcaino and Arrieta. Drabek is a former top prospect with good power stuff. He is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and should be rady to contribute in 2014.

Pedro Strop
Strop is going to be in the bullpen for the rest of the season and beyond conceivably. Strop is going to cause some unfortunate flashbacks to Marmol given his struggles with command. He is a power arm with an average fastball over 95 mph. And this is a shift in the Cubs bullpen that has occurred in trade with the addition of Henry Rodriguez. Henry Rodriguez has been the supposed odd man out of the Cubs pen for a while with his name popping up every time a roster move is needed on the pitching staff.

The fact that Rodriguez has survived the various rounds of cuts indicates a change of philosophy. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have talked about wanting their pitchers to command the strike zone. The young pitchers that they have acquired that are likely to be part of the bullpen long term sacrifice command for stuff. The Cubs are trying to get pitchers with the stuff to be high leverage relievers and try to fix their command to the point of being useful in high leverage situations.

Apart from the shift in philosophy, the addition of power arms that are major league ready is why the Feldman trade is so interesting to me. These are not guys that are years away, but guys that should help the Cubs in the near future. There is risk with each of them given their lack of command, but the Cubs are trying to make the 2014 bullpen better with this trade.

Matt Guerrier
Guerrier’s addition caused significant confusion at the time of the trade, but some clarity on the issue has risen with recent news. Guerrier replaces Shawn Camp in the bullpen. The 34 year old reliever is actually a younger and better replacement of Shawn Camp. Guerrier is unlikely to be back with the Cubs in 2014 though which is why many were confused why the Cubs would give up international bonus pool money to net a short term upgrade in a lost season. The revelation that the Cubs weren’t concerned about going over the pool put the move in some context. The money the Cubs received in the trade more than make up the money lost with the bonus slot and the tax they pay for going over.

The Cubs get a steady, but low quality veteran that is likely to be a security blanket for Dale Sveum much the same way as Shawn Camp last year. (Too bad he had a bad inning in his Cubs debut, but such is the life of a reliever.)  The Cubs probably think there is a greater chance of flipping Guerrier later than Marmol or Camp, but I don’t know how realistic that scenario is. The best that probably could be hoped for is international bonus money, but that is likely not going to be an option. The Cubs once they exceed their bonus pool limit cannot add more bonus slots. Guerrier is going to need to pitch well for at least a few weeks to be worth even that in a trade though, and so Guerrier probably ends the year a Cub. Perhaps they think he could be brought back in 2014 at a reasonable rate, but that seems like a stretch given the way returning veteran relievers have worked out for the Cubs in the Theo Epstein era.

Conclusion
July 2, 2013 was an important day for the Theo Epstein administration both in the short and long term. The Cubs are poised to devote the most financial resources in their history towards Latin America. The Cubs' expected signing of Eloy Jimenez is going to be a top 5 international amateur bonus ever. There really is nothing more long term in baseball operations than hedging some bets on 16 and 17 year old Latin American kids. However, unlike every other set of moves the Cubs have made there were some short term moves as well.

The Cubs choose to forgo acquiring high ceiling A ball kids for Scott Feldman. Instead they took flawed major league ready pitchers with talent. I think the key to the deal with the Orioles is Derek Johnson. The Cubs this past offseason went out and made a subtle add in a great pitching coach that was almost universally praised as a hire. The Cubs hope that Strop can regain the form of the previous two seasons despite the high wire act that goes with it, and that Arrieta at worst can be an impact reliever. Not a bad return for a guy that was coming off a season with a 5+ ERA.

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