In June 2011, Jim Hendry was finally given a real budget to spend on the June amateur draft. The farm system was barren despite the team missing the postseason the previous two seasons. The Cubs selected Javier Báez first in a franchise altering pick, but with a fair amount of fanfare added beefy Daniel Vogelbach in the second round. The Cubs lacked impact talent and power potential throughout the system. The Cubs signed Vogelbach for $1.6 million which was over half a million more than previous year’s first round draft pick Hayden Simpson.
The bad body 1B/DH with huge raw power and good bat control was rated the Cubs best power prospect and penciled in the projected 2015 Cubs lineup at Baseball America. The article was published on November 14, 2011. Less than two months later his Cubs career effectively ended when the new front office acquired their former prized prospect Anthony Rizzo.
2015 has come and gone with Javier Báez and Dillon Maples the only players still in the organization off of that projected lineup from 2011. Vogelbach and Theo Epstein and company first draft in Chicago pick Paul Blackburn were flipped for Mike Montgomery and Jordan Pries. Monty became an invaluable contributor to the 2016-2018 teams as Maddon’s Swiss Army knife on the pitching staff. The Cubs flipping Martin Maldonado says a lot of things about what the front office thinks about the 2019 team.
First it is clear that the deal for Martin Maldonado was as much if not more about moving Mike Montgomery off the roster. The fact that Monty continued to be used as a LOOGY despite struggling in that role was a bad fit for everyone in the organization. Monty was clearly not happy being demoted to that role, and his performance was not good either in that role. The front office removed Maddon’s ability to use Monty by removing him from the roster and acquired a pitcher who is screaming to be used in that traditional role.
I am disappointed that the Cubs are not willing to carry 3 catchers through the month of August. Maldonado checked a lot of boxes even though he was a player you did not want to see starting very often. Instead Maldonado’s value was in helping to tutor two young catchers still very much developing their defensive chops. Maldonado on the roster would have also made it easier for Maddon to start both Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini at the same time. And out of the Cubs options getting both their catchers in the lineup seems like the surest shot in the arm for the ailing offense.
The Cubs front office clearly did not feel that way as they continued to turn their paper clip into something different for the fringes of the big league roster. Enter recently DFA’d Tony Kemp. The Cubs swapped their remaining financial commitment to Martin Maldonado for Tony Kemp‘s remaining salary this season. The Cubs also have control over Kemp for the next five seasons as Kemp is not even arbitration eligible next year. This move saves somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000. Brendan Miller estimated $600,000 and Brett Taylor stated $400,000 initially and then over $600,000,
Looking at Tony Kemp‘s slash line it is easy to see why the Astros chose to part with the diminutive left handed utility player. Kemp has slashed .227/.308/.417 after having a solid 2018 hitting .263/.351/.392. The short, left handed player who can handle a middle infield spot will draw instant comparisons to the Cubs recently departed, diminutive left handed middle infielder Tommy La Stella. However, Kemp offers a number of different skills than La Stella did, primarily speed and defensive chops. Kemp is not an elite defender by any stretch, but he should be able to handle second and the corner OF spots well. Kemp also will become the fastest player on the roster.
Kemp’s spot would seem to come at the expense of running out of steam feel good story Robel García. Kemp could slot in as the Cubs leadoff hitter, as Joe Maddon continues to sort through bad options at the top of the lineup. The most obvious players on the roster to fill that role are Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant. However, neither player truly feels comfortable hitting at the top of the lineup. I tend to agree with Michael that where players hit in the lineup’s importance is very much overblown, but with Bryant succeeding as the third spot hitter it is easy to see why Joe wouldn’t want to mess with that.
Kemp fills the same defensive spots that García does with a few important differences. The upgrade on defense will be clear very early on, but despite both players having a low OBP there is reason for hope out of Kemp. First is the previous success Kemp has had recently. Playing the arbitrary end points game, we can paint the picture of a player on the rise. Kemp’s slash line is a lot more respectable .250/.324/.469, if you cut out the first 13 games where he hit .143/.250/.229.
Kemp is likely to get an opportunity to make some starts at second base, and it would be more surprising if Maddon didn’t try Kemp at least a few times at the top lineup than if Kemp was the leadoff man in tomorrow’s series finale. Kemp’s play might push him into a bench role, but for now he is likely to get starts given that he provides a different type of bat in the lineup:
Kemp has a…
89.3 contact% in zone
The 2019 Cubs have a…
73.3 contact% (15th NL)
83 contact% in zone (14th)
12.4 swinging-strike% (15th)
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) July 31, 2019
If Kemp’s numbers continue to decline, then he is a relative easy cut. However, he offers enough skills to be a useful bench player with his speed, defense, and contact ability. Yet again Theo Epstein has made a less than sexy move that has improved the roster around the edges. It doesn’t feel like enough, but the Cubs should be better in 2019 after this move. And surprisingly it has made the 2020 Cubs slightly better as well.