December 31, 2012

WHAT PRICE FOR THE NEXT PUJOLS?

There have been several reports that the Marlins are not shopping star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, but the team "is willing to listen" to any offers.

Baseball News Source website wrote an article on that subject, and defined potential suitors for Stanton down to five teams, including the Cubs.

So why is Stanton so important?  Some consider him the next Albert Pujols. He is only 23 years old, and under a team's control for the next four seasons.

And his production has been outstanding. Last season, in 501 PA he hit .290, 37 HR, 86 RBI, 6 SB, .361 OBP, .604 SLG, and 5.4 WAR.  For his short three seasons, he has a career .270 BA, 93 HR, 232 RBI, 16 SB, .350 OBP, .553 SLG and 9.0 WAR. You can plug him into right field and he will produce offense. He is a below average right fielder.

So any team should be willing to cut off their left arm to acquire a young All-Star talent.

So the author of the BNS article thought the Cubs could put together a reasonable package to acquire Stanton.

First, with the long term deal for Starlin Castro, top infield prospect Javier Baez could be tempting trade bait. Baez, age 20, absolutely mashed in the Minors during 2012.
Between Single-A and Advanced-A, the right-handed hitter posted a combined .294/.346/.543 line with 16 HR, 46 RBI, 50 R, and 24 SB in jut 321 PA’s.

Second, the Cubs would need to send a top prospect outfielder in the deal. It could be either Jorge Soler or Albert Almora. Since Soler is closer to the big leagues, one would think Almora would be the choice.  The 18 year-old Almora, who is from Florida, was the Cubs sixth overall pick from the 2012 draft, and immediately impressed the franchise with a .321/.331/.464 line in 145 PA’s in the low minors.

Third, since the Cubs have found their long term solution at first base in Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs will have no place for power hitting 1B/DH Dan Vogelbach.  The 20 year-old Vogelbach enjoyed one of the most impressive Minor League seasons out there. Between Rookie-Ball and Single-A (Short-Season), the left-handed hitter sported a .322/.410/.641 line with 17 HR, 62 RBI, and 39 R. With his OPS at 1.051, you have to be excited about this guy’s future as a hitter.

So the author concludes that a package that contains Baez, Almora and Vogelbach could land a current start in Stanton. I think it would cost even more than that; the Marlins would also try to pry away at least two top pitching prospects to sweeten the deal. The Cubs list Trey McNutt as their #8 prospect and Pierce Johnson #10.

For any franchise, this would be a once in a lifetime type of trade.  However, Stanton may be so valuable that in the end the Marlins will keep him until his 2017 free agency year.


December 28, 2012

SUSHI FOR EVERYONE

The Cubs have agreed to sign Hisanori Takahashi to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, reports Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. The veteran left-hander, who is 37, pitched to a 5.54 ERA with 9.3 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 50 1/3 relief innings for the Angels and Pirates last season. He owns a 3.97 ERA in 240 1/3 MLB innings, making 12 starts and 153 relief appearances. Takahashi has held big league lefties to a .238/.283/.381 batting line with a 4.14 K/BB.

Is there no one else out there??? Old Japanese pitchers pitch like Taka-san did last season, badly.

Taka-san has been with three clubs in three seasons. In 2010, with the Mets, he appeared in 53 games, closing 21, with a 10-6 record, 3.61 ERA, 8 saves, 1.303 WHIP., with 114 Ks in 122 IP.

In 2011, he went to the Angels where in 61 games, closing 18, he went 4-3, 3.44 ERA, 2 saves, 1.221 WHIP, 52 Ks in 68 IP.

Last season with the Angels and Pirates, his combined record was 0-3, 5.54 ERA in 51 games, 0 saves, 52 Ks in 50.1 IP  1.252 WHIP.

Of the remaining pure relievers, Taka-san was in the top 11 according to MLBTR.

The top K/9 IP leaders left on the free agency board were:
Jason Fraser (10.92), Mike Gonzalez (9.84), Manny Parra (9.36), Taka-san (9.30), Brandon Lyon (9.30), V. Padilla (9.18), Rafael Soriano (9.18), Francisco Rodriguez (9.00), Juan Cruz (8.33), Matt Lindstrom (7.66) and Kevin Gregg (7.63).  This group includes veteran closers seeking more than a mere minor league contract and spring training invitation.  

Taka-san's role appears to mirror that of James Russell, a lefty relief specialist. He may get a shot at making the team if T. Wood remains in the rotation since the rest of the bullpen candidates are weak or suspect (Bowden, Cabrera, Dolis, Rondon). In fact, only Russell, Camp, Marmol and Fujikawa are solid picks to make the roster. That leaves three probable open spots in the bullpen. 

December 27, 2012

RO-RO-RO YOUR ROTATION

2012 was a watershed season of bad for the Cubs.

The combined WAR (wins over replacement value) for all pitchers who started in 2012 was a 1.7.

Two starters are returning, Garza (1.0 WAR) and Samardzija (1.6 WAR).

Lost are Dempster's 3.3 WAR and Maholm's 1.4 WAR, which shows how bad the bullpen was when the total team pitching WAR was a negative 0.1.

The collective bullpen was a negative 1.8. If AAA talent is 0.0 WAR, the bullpen would have rated almost two levels below that talent tier (AA-A).

So the question remains, if the rotation is the key to 2013 pitching, have the off-season acquisitions been better than what has been lost or traded away?

Can Baker replace Dempster's 3.3 WAR? He did not pitch in 2012, so from that standpoint one would say no. In 2011, with the Twins, Baker had a 4.2 WAR with a pre-Tommy John surgery mechanics. He may not be back to open the season. So if you expect some quality with Baker starts, a 2.1 WAR projection will not reach replacement level for Dempster.

Can Feldman replace Maholm's 1.4 WAR? He made 21 starts for Texas in 2012, but also got demoted to 8 games of bullpen duty. Feldman's 2012 WAR was 0.0, or mere AAA level. So Feldman does not project to reach replacement level for Maholm.

Can Villanueva replace Volstad's horrible negative 1.9 WAR? Yes, Villanueva made 16 starts in his 38 games played, and had an overall 1.2 WAR.

So the off-season acquisitions to replace Dempster, Maholm and Volstad have a combined 2012 WAR of 1.2 (or 3.3 if you expect a healthy return of Baker.) The Cubs need to replace 2.8 in combined Dempster, Maholm and Volstad WAR to just keep the status quo in the pitching staff.

So the Cubs would have been paddling against the tide until they signed Edwin Jackson to a four year deal. A deal so long, that Edwin may be actually a Cub when the team is expected to be competitive in 2016.

Jackson had a 1.6 WAR with the Nationals last season. The scoop is that he is a rollercoaster type pitcher: he will have a brilliant outing, followed by a dud, following by an average outing. However, the signing of Jackson to replace Feldman would give the 2013 rotation a 2.8 WAR + which would be on par for potential improvement.

However, Hoyer apparently told Feldman that he would be a starter with the Cubs. How promises may come back to bite. Take Villanueva out of the rotation, it may help the bullpen, but the new rotation replacement WAR goes down. It is 1.6 to 3.7, so the success of the new rotation could go either way depending on how well Baker pitches coming off major surgery.

CAN YOU WAIT?

The Hot Stove season is now half over.

The Cubs have made several acquisitions.

But from the sportswriters round tables over the holidays, it is the consensus that the Cubs will not be competitive until 2016.

One reason is that last season demonstrated that the Cubs had no major league pitchers in AAA or AA ball. The turnstile of fifth starters getting lit up start after start shows there is is a lack of pitching depth in the minor league system.

Another reason is that the new management has drafted and placed all their new prospects at the lowest levels, rookie ball and Class A. The Cubs brass are not willing to rush their signees to the big leagues. It appears that each prospect will spend a full year at each level of development. That means four years, even for the college pitchers, to make it to the Cubs roster.

Another reason is that new management has been signing "stop gap" players to plug holes on a year to year basis. Starting pitchers like Baker and Feldman are on short term deals. Ian Stewart is on a one year "take a chance" contract to possibly man third until someone like Vitters or Lake take the job in two years.

The last reason is the lack of sense of urgency by the Cubs ownership. The monotone mantra of being "patient" will only go so far with the fan base. It will be interesting to see how many fans at the Cubs convention will have an adversary tone towards management. For if fans have to look forward to three more seasons of 2012 deja vu, will they really wait for a competitive team?

December 22, 2012

PASS THE BUCK

Instead of left handed pitchers Raley or Rusin being axed from the 40 man roster, the Cubs (to make room for Villanueva, Schierholtz and E. Jackson) waived Rosario, who was claimed by another team this off season (Giants), lefty pitcher Beliveau who was claimed (by the Rangers) and a third move that was surprising: outrighting Gerardo Concepcion to Class A Kane County.

Concepcion was one of the first big money international signings by Epstein and Hoyer. They signed the young unproven player to a major league contract and large signing bonus before the new CBA caps took effect.

During last season, at least one scout from another organization reported that Concepcion "was horrible." The report was an indictment of the Cubs scouting - - - and signing a 19 year old to a major league deal - - - when the skill set was apparently lacking from the beginning. Concepcion's Class A stats in 12 starts were 2-6, 7.39 ERA in 52.1 IP, 70 hits, 52 runs, 6 HR allowed, 30 BB, 2 HBP, 4 balks and 3 wild pitches.  For a highly touted prospect with a major league deal, this was a poor showing to say the least; major star prospects should eat this level of competition alive.

Yesterday, the Cubs announced that they outrighted Gerardo Concepcion to Class A Kane County after the left-hander cleared waivers. What does that mean?


When a team "options"  a player, the  player sent to the minors but he is still on 40-man roster.

When a team "outrights" a player, the player sent to the minors and removed from the 40-man roster. This is often the end result of a young player being designated for assignment (outrighted players must pass through waivers, thus the player involved is usually a marginal prospect at best, anybody valuable would be kept on the 40-man roster). A veteran (5+ years of service time) who is DFA'd and clears waivers usually chooses to become a free agent rather than report to a minor league team.

In this case, Concepcion was put on waivers - - - and every major league team passed on him. Teams would rather claim a Rosario or a Beliveau over Concepcion. Concepcion still gets paid on his deal, but it really puts a damper on his prospect status if every other team's scouting department passed on him. It raises a concern that the Cubs evaluation of talent is more myth than a fact.


December 21, 2012

ROTATING THE TIREDS

The Cubs took the money dangled for Anibal Sanchez and with a magician's top hat reach, turned it into Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva.

Sanchez has a career 14.2 WAR. Last season he had a 1.2 WAR.
Jackson has a career 11.4 WAR. Last season he had a 1.6 WAR.
Villenueva has a career 4.9 WAR. Last season he had a 1.2 WAR.

From this quick overview, the Cubs spent better on Jackson and Villanueva than if they just signed Sanchez, 2.8 WAR to 1.2 WAR last season.

The Cubs have stockpiled previous starters on the roster, even though several are still coming off serious injuries and may not be ready for Opening Day: Garza's elbow and Baker's and Vizcaino's Tommy John surgeries.  Also, the Cubs promised Feldman when he signed that he would be a starter.

If one assumes that Garza and Baker have extended spring trainings, the Opening Day rotation looks like this:

1. Jackson, 10-11, 4.03 ERA, 1.218 WHIP, 1.6 WAR
2. Samardzija, 9-13, 4.07 ERA, 1.219 WHIP, 1.6 WAR
3. T. Wood, 6-13, 4.27 ERA, 1.199 WHIP, 0.6 WAR
4. Villanueva, 7-7, 4.16 ERA, 1.269 WHIP, 1.2 WAR
5. Feldman, 6-11, 5.09 ERA, 1.383 WHIP, 0.0 WAR

These starters combined 2012: 38-55(40.8 winning percentage), 5.0 WAR.
The Cubs team winning percentage last year was 37.7.
Last year's Opening Day rotation had a 5.4 WAR (which includes Volstad's negative 1.9 WAR).
So on paper, this starting rotation is slightly below last year's starters.

However, if you replace Villanueva and Feldman with Garza and Baker, last season's WAR of 1.0 and N/A (injured) is about the same. If Baker returns to average form, his average WAR is 2.1 prorated for half a season, overall, the rotation would be a slight improvement over 2012.

By July, one would project the Cubs rotation to be:

1. Jackson
2. Samardzija
3. Garza
4. Baker
5. T. Wood (being the only lefty starter on the roster)

Villanueva has had success in the bullpen. Feldman would in turn be long relief and spot starter.
The back of the bullpen with Fujikawa, Russell and Marmol.

In corresponding 40 man roster moves, I expect Raley and Rusin to be designated for assignment/waived back to AAA.

December 20, 2012

HOPE

Now that the alleged END OF DAYS is upon us, consider this:


HEDGING THE ROTATION

We all expected that the Cubs would focus in on second tier players. The Cubs are not in the position to contend, so many free agents will follow the money to a competitive team.

So the Cubs have been on a mission to sign injured pitchers with the hope of a lasting turnaround. Management views Tommy John surgeries like a clean fracture that will heal quickly and properly.

But the rumblings around the web recently is that the business side of Cubland has stalled out; that the push to get people on the waiting list to buy season ticket packages is not going well. It is not difficult to explain. People are not going to pay top dollar in a weak employment market for marginal entertainment value with no secondary resale market for the tickets if you cannot use them. The Cubs need to put the appearance of a competitive team on the field in order to generate interest and ticket sales. Gone are the days of automatic sell-outs no matter what the Cubs were doing in the standings.
In some ways, the Cubs are reverting back to the small market team dynamic.

This morning, it is reported that the Cubs will sign ex-Blue Jay Carlos Villaneuva to a two year, $10 million deal. Villanueva, 29, pitched to a 4.16 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 125 1/3 innings spread across 16 starts and 22 relief appearances for the Blue Jays last season. He's made 29 starts and 42 relief appearances over the last two seasons. Last season he went 7-7 in 125. 1 IP, 113 H, 23 HR allowed, 46 BB, 122 K, 1.269 WHIP and 1.2 WAR. He is the typical 6th starter, long reliever. But on the Cubs, he is probably the 4th starter.

There is also news that the Cubs have the best offer on the table for Edwin Jackson, a 4 year/$52 million deal. This seems low for a player like Jackson. He has been a workmanlike innings eater in his career. He has a bad clubhouse reputation, but when he was with the White Sox he was a quiet professional. He has been on seven teams in his 10 year career. Last season with the Nationals, he went 10-11, 4.03 ERA in 189.2 IP, 1.218 WHIP and 0.4 WAR. Last year he made $11 million. He would be looking for a good raise in his next contract.

The reason the Cubs are now aggressive in trying to sign pitchers like Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson is that a) they are under 30 years old, and b) they have the career stats to flip at the trading deadline for more prospects since Epstein does not give no-trade deals to his players as a matter of policy. But it is clear that top tier pitchers like Sanchez will listen to the Cubs offer, then take it to a contending team for a counter (like the Tigers did.)

But the Cubs need to make some waves this off-season because it is unclear how Scott Baker and Scott Feldman will perform in April. Matt Garza is also rehabbing from his mid-season injury. To add proven starters to the roster is needed to hedge the prospect that some of the current rotation will not be ready on Opening Day.



December 18, 2012

THE OFF OFF-SEASON

When the Cubs convention rolls around in a few weeks, fans who are expected to pay top dollar for game tickets, will be showered with marketing images of the Cubs best 2012 player, Darwin Barney.

Rarely has a big market team relied upon a .254 hitting second baseman with no power (7 HR, 44 RBI) to be the centerpiece image of the franchise. Barney, based upon his .997 fielding percentage, had the best player WAR at 4.6.

But after an historic 101 loss season, it is hard to find a diamond in the rough.

With the business side of the operation really not cutting any ticket prices as a recognition that the fans should not be paying top dollar for a AAA team, it is on the baseball side of the operation to solidify the team weaknesses and field a more competitive team in 2013. Instead, we have heard one word, "patience."

Well, patience in waiting for a slew of low minor league prospects to develop is The Plan to make a competitive roster, the world now knows a MLB team can almost totally turn over their roster and become a divisional favorite overnight; see, the Toronto Blue Jays.

This post season, the Cubs have done the following:

In October: traded for Tiger RHP Marcelo Carreno, claimed Twins RHP Carlos Gutirrez, lost Chris Volstad, Manuel Corpas, Joe Mather to free agency, and signed free agent SS Edwin Maysonet.

In November: claimed Rockies RHP Zach Putnam, signed free agents Scott Baker (P), Jothermyn Chavez (RF), Alberto Gonzalez (2B), J.C. Boscan (C), Brian Bogusevic (LF), Dionner Navarro (C), Shawn Camp (RP), traded Jacob Bingham (P) to the Rangers for RHP Barret Loux, sold Bryan LaHair (1B) to Japan, signed free agent RHP Scott Feldman, cut and demoted Casey Coleman (P), lost Zach Putnam (P) and Jaye Chapman (P) to free agency.

In December: signed free agent OF Roberto Caro, claimed RHP Hector Rondon from Cleveland, signed free agent RHP Jensen Lewis, RHP Kyuji Fujikawa, Ian Stewart (3B) and RHP Chang Yong Lim, claimed P Sandy Rosario off waivers from Boston, and designated LHP Jeff Beliveau for assignment.

If one examines the glaring off-season needs of the team, here are the areas of urgent concern:

THIRD BASE:

The 2012 Cubs needed to replace Aramis Ramirez's production (.306 BA, 26 HR, 93 RBI in 149 GP).
Ramirez had a 2.5 WAR in 2011.

Ian Stewart hit only .201 in 55 games. In the last two seasons, he has a negative 0.8 WAR.
Luis Valbuena hit only .219 in 90 games. In the last two seasons, he has a 0.1 WAR.
Josh Vitters hit only .121 in 36 games (109 PA). He had a negative 1.3 WAR.
The combined third basemen for the Cubs produced a negative 2.0 WAR.

SOLUTION:
Send Vitters to AAA to regain his swing and confidence.
Re-sign Stewart to play third base, even though he is still rehabbing from his wrist injury which has plagued him for the last several seasons.

2013 Expectation:
None.  A platoon of Stewart and Valbuena will not yield even an average  replacement player level of performance.

STARTING PITCHING

The Cubs traded away Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm. Chris Volstad was claimed by the Royals. The Cubs still want to trade Matt Garza, but he is injured and will not pitch until spring. The Cubs needed to replace half of the rotation.

SOLUTION:
Sign free agent pitchers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman. Both pitchers are coming off serious injuries. Baker, 31, did not pitch at all in 2012. Baker is coming off Tommy John surgery. Theo Epstein was quoted that he does not set out looking for Tommy John guys, but it weak market so he has to take risks. Some players come back from TJ surgery (there is an 85% rate), but even those who make it back may lack control, command or velocity. Feldman had 21 starts in 2012 for the Rangers, going 6-11 with a 5.09 ERA. He had been demoted to the bullpen duty until injuries hurt the Rangers rotation. The Rangers cut him in the off-season. In 2011, he had a knee injury. He projects as a fifth starter.

2013 Expectation:
Below average. It is uncertain when Baker will be actually available to start games (April-to late May are projections). Baker and Feldman are not going to put up the same Cub production numbers of Dempster (2.6 WAR) and Maholm (1.4 WAR).

CENTER FIELD

The Cubs started the season with Marlon Byrd in center, but in the end tried Brett Jackson. Jackson hit only .175 in 44 games with 4 HR 9 RBI (0.1 WAR). He played like a AAA player, and that is where he will start in 2013.

SOLUTION:
Sign free agent OF Nate Schierholtz, who batted a combined .257, 6 HR 21 RBI as a bench player for the Phils and Giants (0.8 WAR), and move David DeJesus to CF. Schierholtz has never been a starting outfield in his entire six year career. DeJesus hit .263 with 9 HR, 50 RBI in 2012, playing twice as many games (100) in RF than CF. He had a 1.6 WAR.

2013 Expectation:
Below average. Schierholtz does not even replace weak hitting DeJesus in the power position of RF. DeJesus moving to CF does not give the team more range or a better defense.

Most of the Cubs off-season moves have been to fill upper minor league spots and trying to find bench players for 2013 from the journeyman pool of AAAA talent. As it currently stands, the 2013 Cubs project on paper to be a slightly worse team than the 2012 club.


December 17, 2012

A NEW PROBLEM

There is a new problem that faces the Cubs during their sinking life boat rebuilding program.

The Cubs made a realistic offer of 5 years/$77 million to Tiger starter Anibal Sanchez. The player's agent went back to the Tigers, who upped the ante and kept their player.

This tale of free agent woe has one chilling aspect: agents and/or players don't want to take the Cubs money. The Cubs are currently viewed as not a landing spot but a stepping stone (a well paid rehab stint).

We can infer this from the players the Cubs are able to sign this off-season: players coming off major injuries or currently in rehab. Ian Stewart, Scott Baker and Scott Feldman are prime examples of this M*A*S*H unit blueprint.

It is hard to believe that the Cubs paid more for injury prone Baker and Feldman than what healthy available starters John Lannan and Kevin Corriea received from their teams. Lannan signed a one year $2.5 million (plus $2.5 million incentive deal) with the Phils. Correia signed a 2 year/$10 million deal with the Twins. Clearly, these under the radar, experienced pitchers are exactly the type of pitchers the Cubs were seeking; but they decided to take less money or years to sign elsewhere.

If free agents determine that the Cubs are an organization stuck in reverse for several years, why ruin their statistical careers on a bad team?

And that leads to another growing whisper of concern. The Cubs will have to rely on young players during this transition period. The Cubs front office new signees have been assigned to the low minors, which means three to five years before they are going to reach the majors. In the mean time, the Cubs will have to rely on young players. Young players on bad teams will learn more about "losing" than winning. They get used to losing, especially if there is no real competition for their positions from within the minor league system.

In an effort to rebuild the organization, the Cubs may dig the major league club into a deeper hole of futility.

December 14, 2012

A FAN'S LAMENT

In the commentary section of the Cubs web site, after the story about the Cubs winning the free agent auction for Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (5 year/$75 million deal), but later reports indicated that the player's agent has gone back to the Tigers to "match" the offer (and then went to other teams for more bids), a fan posted the following:

How not to sign ML quality Free Agents:

Chapter 1...Set the Atmosphere 

A) Announce to the World that you have no desire to be competitive for a long, long time.
B) Show the World you mean what you say by claiming every broken down has-been off the waiver wire.
C) Sign 4th OFers as starters. Sign .201 hitter as 3Bman.
D) Set a hard budget for Real Life Good free agents that show you will not overpay 

These 4 steps will ensure that players will not want to sign with an organization that is years and years away from being competitive. 

Chapter 2...Make the Fan Base think that you're trying

A) Leak stories to the press that you're minutes away to trade for top prospects (Delgado)
B) Leak stories to the press that you're minutes away to trade for top starter (Haren)
C) Leak stories to the press that you're minutes away from signing a top starter (Sanchez)

These 3 steps will give the false impression that you're really trying hard, but having "bad luck". The leaking is necessary since you have no intention of actually pulling the trigger on any of these moves. Some savvy fans will see the ruse, but the majority of this long suffering fan base will be fooled again and again.

December 13, 2012

CAN'T FIGURE THIS ONE OUT

MLBTR reports that the  Cubs have agreed to sign South Korean right-handed reliever Chang-Yong Lim. The split contract is worth up to $5MM at the big league level, and it includes an interpreter and a personal trainer.

"I am happy that my dream has finally come true," said Lim to reporters. "I am not getting any younger, and it's great to have the chance to experience something I never have before. I am going to tackle this challenge head on."

Lim, 36, is currently rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery, and the Cubs don't expect him back until 2014. Roughly a half-dozen clubs made contract offers, including the Red Sox and Rangers. Lim had been with the Yakult Swallows in Japan since 2008 after spending several years with the Samsung Lions in South Korea. He pitched to a 2.09 ERA with 8.9 K/9 and 128 saves during his time with Yakult.

This makes so little sense it brings fans into the speechless sector. Again, the Cubs have sought out a pitcher coming off a SECOND Tommy John surgery. Again, the Cubs are signing a pitcher who is not even throwing the ball  - - -  pure guess work if he will recover or not. Again, the Cubs are looking at "past" performance as a guide to future potential, which is a real stretch in regard to equating foreign players to MLB talent. And finally, Lim is 36 years old. And he will not pitch until he is 38 years old!

Old. Injured. Can't pitch for almost two years. Cubs.

Unbelievable. 



December 12, 2012

THE 40TH MAN

From the Cubs website -- The Cubs added another arm to the bullpen mix when they claimed right-hander Sandy Rosario off waivers from the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Rosario, 27, has been active on the transaction wire. The Red Sox acquired him off waivers from the Marlins on Oct. 17, and he was designated for assignment on Nov. 20. Eight days later, he was dealt to the Athletics for right-hander Graham Godfrey. The Athletics then designated Rosario for assignment two days later. On Dec. 10, the Red Sox claimed him off waivers again. 

Last season, he combined for 17 saves and a 1.99 ERA in 31 Minor League games between the Marlins' Triple-A, Double-A and Class A teams. Rosario missed nearly two months on the disabled list because of a strained right quad. 

He's had limited appearances over the last three seasons with the Marlins, totaling 7 2/3 innings, and made four appearances in June with the big league team. At Triple-A New Orleans, Rosario posted a 1.04 ERA with 16 saves in 25 games, striking out 24 over 26 innings. 

This winter, he's been pitching for Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican, appearing in 12 games through Dec. 8. He has 13 strikeouts and five walks over 11 1/3 innings. 

Cubs manager Dale Sveum knows Rosario. Sveum was with Milwaukee when the pitcher made his Major League debut on Sept. 23, 2010, for the Marlins, and the Brewers' Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder hit his first and third pitches for home runs. 

Rosario has been claimed three times this off season. He appears to be every team's every 40th roster spot. But realistically, he is just another warm body for spring training innings.

His minor league numbers do not tell the story. Rosario has only 10 major league appearances in the last three major league seasons. His major league career is 0-0, 15.26 ERA in 7.2 IP, with 22 hits, 13 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, and 3.261 WHIP. He has a career negative 0.8 WAR. He is not even replacement caliber relief pitcher. And, as the release states, he is another pitcher with potential who missed TWO months with an injury.

December 11, 2012

2012 OPENING DAY TO TODAY

Spring training will be important to complete the Cubs 2013 roster.

However, the main characters in next season have been solidified in the line-up.

The 2012 Opening Day lineup was:

1. DeJesus, rf
2. Barney 2b
3. Castro, ss
4. Soriano, lf
5. Stewart, 3b
6. Baker, 1b
7. Bryd, cf
8. Soto, c
9. Dempster, sp

The projected 2013 Opening Day lineup is barely unchanged:

1. DeJesus, cf
2. Barney 2b
3. Castro, ss
4. Soriano, lf
5. Stewart, 3b
6. Rizzo, 1b
7. Schierholtz, rf
8. W. Castillo, c
9. Garza, sp

The 2012 Opening Bench was:
Clevenger c, LaHair 1b, DeWitt inf, Mather of, Valbuena inf, R. Johnson of

Pitching Staff was:
Starters: Dempster, Garza, Samardzija, Volstad and Maholm.
Bullpen: Marmol, Wood, Dolis, Russell, Camp, L. Castillo.

The projected 2013  Opening Bench are:
Navarro c, Valbuena inf, Campana of, Sappelt of, ____________ 1b, ___________, inf

Pitching Staff projects as:
Starters:  Garza, Samardzija, T. Wood, Baker and Feldman
Bullpen: Marmol, Dolis, Russell, Camp, Rondon, ____________ rp

It appears that three minor (non-starting) positions will be filled this spring; a back up first baseman, a utility infielder and a relief pitcher. But the a comparison with the 2012 opening day roster shows no real improvement in player talent.


December 8, 2012

DOWN IN THE DUMPSTER

Ryan Dempster has turned down at least three offers so far this off season.A two year deal with the Brewers for unknown money;2/$25 million from Red Sox and 2/$26 million from Royals.
Dempster wants a three year guaranteed deal.
He is 35, so this is his "last" deal of his career. He wants to cashout high for personal reasons.


But he is 35 and teams don't want to flush starter money downthe toilet.
In 2012, Dempster went 5-5, 2.24 ERA for the Cubs;but then after the trade to Texas, went 7-3, 5.09 ERA.It may have been a harsh adjustment to the AL, or it couldbe age catching up. The latter is what has some GMs worried.
He made $14 million last season, so he expects a raise fora combined 12-8, 3.38 ERA season.
But in his 15 seasons, he is a career 124-124, 4.33 ERA pitcher(with 87 saves).
As the winter meetings ended, most scribes were surprised by the lack of

major signings or major trades. Teams have gotten conservative on
their spending on big-name free agents.

For example, the Rangers decided not to make Josh Hamilton a
$100 million player. So his market was severely limited, as the Yankees
are cutting payroll to get under the luxury tax (and talking about trading
players like Granderson in order to do it) and the Red Sox are taking a
more short term view of players (with the signing of Victorino for 3 years).
That leaves Hamilton with one known suitor, the Mariners,  a bad team which
does not want to spend money just for publicity. Seattle may find it easier
to hold on to its pitching talent and trade prospects for a David DeJesus
type outfielder than do a long term deal with Hamilton.   But in the end,
the Mariners signed Jason Bay, who was released by the Mets.

So there is a waiting game in progress. Dempster may find more interest
after Greinke signs, but maybe not in a three year deal. 

December 7, 2012

DEPTH CHART

The post winter meetings Cubs major league depth chart looks like this:


LF: Soriano, Sappelt
CF: DeJesus, Campana
RF: Schierholtz, Sappelt

3B: Stewart, Valbuena
SS: Castro, Barney
2B: Barney, Valbuena
1B: Rizzo

C: W. Castillo, Navarro,

SP: Garza, Samardzija, T. Wood, Baker, Feldman

Pen: Marmol (Closer), Fujikawa (8th), Camp (7th), Russell (LHP)
        Rondon, Cabrera, Dolis

The Cubs are currently lacking a back-up first baseman and a solid back up
middle infielder.

Opening Day lineup looks like this:

1. DeJesus cf
2. Barney 2b
3. Rizzo 1b
4. Soriano lf
5. Castro ss
6. Castillo c
7. Stewart 3b
8. Schierholtz rf
9. Garza sp

STEWARTS OF THE FRANCHISE

Sun Times writer Gordon Wittmeyer gets it, when he writes "Unless you’re a Cubs fan who’s been living under a rock the last 12 months, the second-year regime’s player-evaluation methods have become obvious to the point of predictable."

The point of his story is that the Cubs short term game plan is to gamble on injured players. 

If Theo Epstein wanted to collect props from a M*A*S*H unit, he is in the wrong business. The post-op ward is filled with pitchers with significant injury history: Baker, Feldman and now Rondon. Add to the mix the re-signing of Ian Stewart (with incentives will make more than last season) who is still rehabbing from wrist surgery, people have to begin to wonder.

But the Tribune's Phil Rogers is not one of them. He liked the Stewart re-signing as a low risk, high reward type of move. He writes that since the Cubs lost Jeff Keppinger to the White Sox, the Stewart move made sense to fill the third base hole, with the possibility to trade Luis Valbuena.

Now, is Stewart the best solution for the Cubs? No. Kevin Youkilis is still on the market, with one credible offer from the Yanks for 1 year/$12 million. Mark Reynolds is still on the market as a viable starter.  The rest of the free agent journeymen include Chone Figgins, Jack Hannahan, Orlando Hudson, Brandon Inge, Adam Kennedy, Jose Lopez and Casey McGhee. Even former Cub Marquez Smith was available in the Rule 5 draft.

The Stewart re-signing is the front office trying to save face for the Tyler Colvin trade.

And we know from experience, players coming back from wrist injuries have a difficult time re-adjusting to major league pitching, and their power numbers go down. 

The gambling on injured players as a novelty is one thing; as a flyer to upgrade a position later on in a season. But as a year after year solution to fill the active roster to field a competitive team, it is the Hail Mary of management decision making. 

It also shows a stubbornness not to build the team in a balanced way. The Epstein plan is to build a contender ONLY through his own draft choices and player development. Epstein claims this very long, time consuming re-organization of the minor league talent will "pay off" in the long run. But in fact, the Cubs, a big market team with a loyal fan base, can still spend money at the major league level and field a competitive team year after year WHILE the minor league system is re-stocked with prospects. You don't have to make Soriano-type long term deals that will block a prized prospect's eventual promotion. But none of the current Epstein prospects is expected to reach the majors for another three years.


RULE 5 BARELY ALIVE

The last piece of business at the baseball winter meetings is the Rule 5 draft. The purpose of this draft is to allow teams to pick unprotected players wallowing in the minors and promote them to their major league roster for the next season.

The Cubs wasted a roster spot last season on Fendy Castillo, a 20 year Phillies pitcher,
unprotected in the Rule 5 draft. So the Cubs claimed him for $50k with the requirement that
he be on the major league roster all season. Castillo was not ready for major league service,
and got allegedly hurt. But since he was "active" for at least 90 days, the Cubs could keep him after the season. He will start 2013 in the minors. Even on a bad 2012 Cub team, using a 25 man roster spot for a player who is not ready for major league action is a waste.

Now, NOT learning their lesson, the Cubs took in this year's Rule 5 draft
Hendon Rondon, a 24 year old Indians pitcher, who only threw in 4 total games last season!!! In A/AA!!! A remarkable total of  7 innings in 2012!!!! Adding to the head scratch, Rondon has been in the minors for 6 years!!!

Oh, we will learn that he was limited to 7 IP by - - - (trumpet horns) "ongoing recovery from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery!"


But it gets stranger yet:

Rondon owns a career Minor League pitching record of 36-36 with a 3.88 ERA in 120 games/113 starts (587.0 IP, 593 H, 253 ER, 526 SO).  The Guatire, Venezuela native has been limited to 41.2 innings pitched the last three seasons since 2010 after undergoing a pair of right elbow surgeries.  He is currently pitching the Venezuelan Winter League for Caracas and has compiled six straight scoreless appearances since October 23rd.


So Rondon has not really pitched in THREE years, because he needed TWO surgeries. But the Cubs were so impressed with his less than 6 IP winter ball appearances to draft him. It seems like grasping at straws to draft a marginal AA pitcher who has had no development for 3 seasons due to two major surgeries to be a contributing member of one's bullpen.


Was there no better option?

Results of the 2012 Rule 5 Draft:
Acquiring teams;  former organizations in parentheses

Major League Phase
HOU: Josh Fields, RHP (BOS)
CHC: Hector Rondon, RHP (CLE)
COL: Daniel Rosenbaum, LHP (WAS)
MIN: Ryan Pressly, RHP (BOS)
CLE: Chris McGuiness, 1B (TEX)
MIA: Alfredo Silverio, OF (LAD)
BOS: Jeff Kobernus, 2B (WAS)
NYM: Kyle Lobstein, LHP (TB)
ARI: Starling Peralta, RHP (CHC)
PHI: Ender Inciarte, OF (ARI)
CWS: Angel Sanchez, INF (LAA)
BAL: T.J. McFarland, LHP (CLE)
TEX: Coty Woods, RHP (COL)
HOU: Nate Freiman, 1B (SD)
MIA: Braulio Lara, LHP (TB)


Triple-A Phase
HOU: Michael Burgess, OF (CHC)
MIN: Mark Sobowleski, 3B (TOR)
MIA: Tyler Kehrer, LHP (LAA)
BOS: Jack McGeary, LHP (WAS)
TOR: Sawyer Carroll, OF (SD)
SEA: Eric Farris, 2B (MIL)
SD: Diego Goris, 3B (KC)
PIT: Ethan Hollingsworth, RHP (KC)
PHI: Brendan Lafferty, LHP (KC)
LAD: Elevys Gonzalez, INF (PIT)
STL: Matt Cerda, 3B (CHC)
DET: Eliezer Mesa, OF (OAK)
LAA: Robert Widlansky, 1B (BAL)
BAL: Tom Boleska, RHP (PIT)
TEX: Marquez Smith, 3B (BOS)
OAK: Thomas Mendonca, 3B (TEX)
SF: Scott Shuman, RHP (TB)
CIN: Ryan Dennick, LHP (KC)
HOU: Cameron Lamb, RHP (SF)
BOS: Jon Bachanov, RHP (CWS)
TOR: Alvido Jimenez, RHP (CHC)
SD: Federico Castaneda, RHP (KC)
LAD: Hector Nelo, RHP (WAS)
STL: Jay Voss, LHP (DET)
OAK: Steven Hill, C (STL)
CIN: Michael Gilmartin, 2B (OAK)
TOR: Efrain Nieves, LHP (DET)


If we just look at the pitcher taken after Rondon for evaluation comparisons, Rosenbaum pitched for the Nationals AA team, going 8-10, 3.94 ERA in 26 starts, throwing 155.1 IP, 99 K, 39 BB, 1.307 WHIP. Rosenbaum, a left handed pitcher, is 25 years old. In his four minor league seasons, his career totals are 26-24, 2.84 ERA, 1.190 WHIP.

From a pure analytical perspective, Rosenbaum is a much better "immediate" prospect than Rondon.

The Rule 5 draft is supposed fill one's major league roster without having to make a trade or expensive free agent signing. It is really filling the 25th man on the roster. The White Sox took an Angels SS, Angel Sanchez, who has 586 major league games, as a bench player in 2013. That makes perfect logical sense since the White Sox traded some of their utility infielders last season in order to shore up their pitching staff.


So what if Rondon is a bust? It will only cost the Cubs $25,000. The real question is what do the Cubs talent evaluators see in such a move.


And on a final note, the Cubs "lack of minor league talent" apparently did not deter other teams from selecting four players from the Cubs system (five, if you count former Cub 3B prospect Marquez Smith). The Cubs "woeful" farm system led the league in other teams picks: RHP Peralta, OF Burgess, RHP Jimenez and AAA third baseman, Cerda, who went to the Cardinals.



December 6, 2012

ANOTHER FLEA MARKET PICK UP

The Cubs made another "small market" type move to patch a hole in the roster. But the team is using a small band-aid to cover up a large hole in the roster drywall. The Cubs will sign Nate Schierholtz to play right field in 2013.

Schierholtz, 28, played for the Giants and Phillies last season. He was involved in the Hunter Pence transaction at the trade deadline. His season was cut short by a broken toe on August 13, 2012. The Phillies non-tendered him. So the Cubs will sign him to a one year, $2.25 million contract.

In 114 games last season, Schierholtz hit only .257, with 6 HR, 21 RBI, 3 SB, and .321 OBP.  He had a combined 0.8 WAR. As a RF last season, he had 21 errorless chances. He is a career .988 outfielder.

He has never been a full time starter. He has never had 500 AB in any one major league season.

Schierholtz appears to be another David DeJesus Lite.  DeJesus, before he signed with the Cubs, went .240, 10 HR, 46 RBI, 3 SB and .323 OBP for Oakland.

Even with Bryan LaHair's struggles last season, he hit .259, 16 HR, 40 RBI, 2 SB and .334 OBP.

Even playing most part time in Colorado, Tyler Colvin hit .290, 18 HR, 72 RBI, 7 SB, and .327 OBP.

There are a few confirmations with the Schierholtz signing:

1. The new front office has a bias against the old regime Cub prospects.
2. The Ian Stewart trade, from a pure evaluation stand point, was a complete failure by the Cubs.
3. The Cubs replaced LaHair with a lesser hitter in Schierholtz but for more money.
4. The Cubs are filling major starting holes with short-term journeymen bench players.
5. The Cubs have a habit of picking up players who are recovering from season ending injuries.

Reports from the winter meetings state that the Cubs are again actively shopping Alfonso Soriano. Why? He is the only proven offensive left on the roster. The Cubs have no ready prospects to fill any outfield roles, especially if Soriano is traded to another team.

December 5, 2012

WHAT'S ON THIRD?

"I don't know."

The Diamondbacks signed Eric Chavez to a one year, $3 million. Chavez, 35, played last season mostly at DH with a .281 BA, 16 HR, 37 RBI. He had a 1.5 WAR.

The White Sox signed Jeff Keppinger to a three year, $12 million deal. Keppinger, 32, is a career .288 hitter. Last season with the Rays, he had a career high 2.4 WAR.He hit .325, 9 HR, 40 RBI last season.

Chavez and Keppinger were on our list as potential short-term caretaker third basemen for the Cubs. In a market devoid of third base talent, the Cubs hole at third base grows deeper.

There are no signs from the winter meetings that the Cubs are active in any trades or free agent moves for expensive position players.


December 4, 2012

GRAINS OF SALT


For several days, there have been reports that the Cubs have  signed Japanese free agent pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa to a two-year, $9.5 million contract.



The Cubs would not confirm or comment on the report.

Fujikawa, 32, played 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers, totaling 220 saves, and a 1.77 ERA. Last season, he appeared in 47 2/3 innings and compiled a 1.32 ERA. He was sidelined with an adductor strain and has not thrown 70 innings in a single season since 2007.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the right-hander will receive a signing bonus of $1 million and $4 million in salaries in 2013 and '14. There is a vesting option valued at $5.5 million or $6 million, to be determined by games finished.

On Friday, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer did confirm that he met with Fujikawa about 10 days ago and that the Japanese pitcher toured Wrigley Field. Hoyer said they were "very impressed" by the right-hander, but would not comment on a time-table or the negotiations. Reports today indicate that Fujikawa's physical may be today and the formal signing will be announced at the Winter Meetings.


If true, this signing makes absolutely no sense for the Cubs. Why spend $13.8 million on two closers for 2013 when your team is projected to lose another 100 games?  And why would Fujikawa come to Chicago unless the Cubs are vastly overpaying for his services? Yes, the Cubs tried to trade Marmol for injured Angel Dan Haren, but Marmol is too inconsistent and too expensive on the current closer market to be tradeable.
Another report today indicates that the Marlins fire sale is continuing at the meetings. Shortstop Yunel Escobar is on the market, and the Cubs are reportedly one team in the trade mix. Again, this makes no sense for the Cubs to add a .253 hitting shortstop when the club just extended Starlin Castro. Escobar does not play third, and would not be any better than Darwin Barney at second. This may be one of those general manager "ghost" team leaks to the media in order to drum up interest in their players, and drive up the asking price.
And that is the major part of the winter meetings: misdirection and media manipulation of rumors and speculation. Agents are present to pump up their clients abilities. General managers are present to wheel and deal and fill holes in their rosters. So fans need to take each report with a grain of salt.
If you are putting together a shopping list for the Cubs winter meeting, the priority of needs to fill would be (in order): third base, center field, starting pitcher (#2 caliber), right field, catcher, bullpen, and bench/utility (with some power).
So far this off season, the Cubs have claimed to address some of those positions. They have signed two 5th starters coming off serious arm injuries to replace Dempster and Maholm in the rotation. They signed a journeyman catcher to back up Castillo behind the plate. They offered Valbuena arbitration so he is the only third baseman on the current roster, which is not a solution. 

December 1, 2012

BOURN TO SPECULATE

The off-season does get goofy at times. There is strange speculation and rumors about players and teams, much of which is stoked by agents and columnists that need something to write about.

ESPN published this morning a report that the Cubs are talking to center fielder Michael Bourn's agent, Scott Boras.  Well, they probably talk about a lot of players, but Bourn does not seem to fit the Cubs current plan.

ESPN states that Bourn will be seeking more than $100 million, which may not be an obvious choice for the rebuilding Cubs. The speculation then centers around whether the Cubs but they would be looking at build around him like the Nationals did with overpaid Jason Werth.  The Nationals made a statement two years ago when they overpaid for Werth to show the marketplace it was willing to spend money on free agents and committed to winning now.

The Cubs might view a player like Bourn as a leadoff man and centerfielder who could add runs on offense and take them away in the outfield. The reason the talk of needing a center fielder is on everyone's mind is that Brett Jackson did not pan out well in his first major league season. Jackson will start 2013 in AAA.

 
“We do have to address our outfield and we will look to do that,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said in a phone conference with reporters on Friday. “We like our prospects, but when they are as far away as some of those guys are you can’t think about those guys. You have to think about your team now.” 



As it stands, the Cubs CF will be a Campana-Sappelt platoon. Those are AAA players. Bourn had a 6.0 WAR in 2012 which would have been the highest on the Cubs by a wide margin. But even 6 more wins does not make the Cubs close to being a contender in 2013.

At 31, Bourn is still an impact leadoff man who has led the league in stolen bases three times. With 42 stolen bases and a league-leading 383 putouts last season with the Braves, the multi-talented veteran would bring the numbers and the clubhouse leadership that could help the Cubs begin to turn the corner after a 101-loss season. 



Bourn would be 34-35 and at the end of his contract when the Cubs can realistically believe that their young prospects will be making the move to the major league level.

But the pundits believe that since the Cubs have trimmed significant payroll, the team will spend it. More than $50 million in payroll is coming off the books. The team has around $75 million in payroll commitments for 2013.

The Cubs are not spending $100 million on a lead off hitter. No. No. No. If the Cubs break camp with a payroll under $90 million, Ricketts will call that a successful season. Some financial magazine stated that the Cubs were the third most profitable team in the majors last season. I don't know how they can call that, since all team financial information is private and more guarded than Fort Knox. But the easiest way to increase ownership profits is to trim personnel costs; $40 million is enough to get even the most jaded millionaire's attention. Besides, $40 million is a good cushion in case team attendance continues to fall rapidly at Wrigley Field. And even if attendance is stable at 2.6 million fans, the Cubs could "bank" the payroll savings over the next three years of rebuilding and developing prospects to have enough money to rebuild Wrigley without taxpayers money. Again, that is speculative, since the team is still pushing for public money so the family can keep more of their own.

TENDER LOINS

As expected, the Cubs non-tendered Ian Stewart on Friday but management stated that they hoped to re-sign the third baseman. Stewart who missed most of last two seasons is rehabbing from needing wrist surgery.

The Cubs tendered contracts to right-handed pitchers Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, left-handed pitcher James Russell, and infielder Luis Valbuena. Garza, Samardzija, Russell, Valbuena and Stewart were arbitration-eligible.

This means that Valbuena is penciled in as the Cubs 2013 starting third baseman. It is clear that given the choice, Valbuena was taken over Stewart.

In addition, 14 players from the Cubs' 40-man roster were tendered 2013 contracts on Friday. Besides Stewart, the Cubs also non-tendered right-handed pitchers Zach Putnam and Jaye Chapman. Putnam and Chapman were not eligible for arbitration.

Two 25 year old pitchers were non-tendered: Putnam and Chapman. Putnam was an off-season waiver pick up from the Rockies. Putnam was basically a AA pitcher last season with 12 saves in 33 game finishes, with a 3-4 record and 4.15 ERA. Putnam could have been a potential replacement if the Marmol trade to the Angels had gone through. Since Marmol appears to be a Cub in 2013 (his salary is now higher than the current closer market), Putnam was not a critical piece.  Chapman was part of the Maholm trade with the Braves. In 14 relief appearances, he pitched 12 IP, 3.75 ERA and 1.500 WHIP. One would have thought Chapman could have been a piece in the rebuilding bullpen.

The Cubs also announced pitcher Casey Coleman, who was designated for assignment earlier this week to make room on the 40-man roster for pitcher Scott Feldman, has cleared waivers and was assigned outright to Triple-A Iowa.

With the moves, the Cubs' 40-man roster now stands at 37.

In other team non-tenders, the most interesting for the Cubs could be former Pirate starter, Jeff Karstens. He pitched through a few nagging injuries last season. In 19 games, he went 5-4, 3.97 ERA and 1.147 WHIP. He made $3.1 million last season. He has been a consistent control pitcher at a reasonable value. He could be the Maholm free-agent type signing for some team, and a possible flip candidate at the trade deadline.

In addition, left handed pitcher John Lannan of the Nationals is now a free agent. He spent most of 2012 in the minors because he was blocked by a slew of quality starters acquired in trades. Lannan, 28, has been on our radar for a while. A left handed starter, he came back around the time Strasberg was shut down. In 6 starts, he went 4-1, 4.13 ERA and 1.439 WHIP.  He made $5 million last season, and one could expect that he would make more than Scott Baker in the open market.

The Braves parted ways with former starter Jair Jurrjens. Jurrjens, 26, has had injuries that have accumulated over the last three seasons. In 10 starts in 2012, he went 3-4, 6.89 ERA in 48.1 IP, 1.862 WHIP. Before the season started, Jurrijens was a hot topic of trade speculation. A team willing to wait for an extended rehab (which fits the current Cub profile) could take a flyer on Jurrjens.

The Cubs are not a true destination landing spot for free agents. The Cubs are really an "extended paid career rehab" facility for players, especially pitchers, who need to prove they are back from some major injury, like Tommy John surgery. Free agents are aware that the Cubs are not going to win, but if they can show they have returned to form, the Cubs will trade them to a contender in July. It is the "rent a player" mode in reverse.

In other release news, the Rangers non-tendered former Cubs Geo Soto and Jacob Bingham. It was no surprise that Soto was not offered a new deal after two years of declining performance. Bingham was just traded back from the Cubs, which shows that the second deal was an injury make-up compensation since Bingham was hurt after the trade.

The Orioles released third baseman Mark Reynolds. Some believe he could be a stop-gap for the Cubs.  Reynolds, 29, hit only .221 in 2012, with 23 HR, 69 RBI, .335 OBP and 159 strike outs. For the first time in five years, he did not lead the league in strike outs. Also, he is a woeful defender at third base. The Cubs will probably pass on his services since the team needs more contact hitters and better fielders.


November 29, 2012

TENDER DEADLINE

The Cubs and the White Sox have to tender players contracts by tomorrow.

The Cubs have one big question on their 40 man roster: do you offer Ian Stewart a contract for 2013?

Stewart was supposed to be the answer when Aramis Ramirez left for free agency. Stewart was supposed to be a power hitting third baseman. He came to the Cubs in a trade. He came to the Cubs with an injury history that put him on the disabled list for most of 2012.

But with the dismal debut of Josh Vitters at third, the Cubs have nothing ready in the minors to fill the hole at third base. Stewart made $2.237 last season, and is arbitration eligible. Even with a pay cut due to lack of performance, he may be a $2 million question mark this year.

He has not played a full season since 2010 with the Rockies.  In the last two years, he has played only 103 games, hitting 5 HRs and 23 RBI. He is really damaged goods and should not be tendered a contract by the Cubs.

The White Sox have a harder to make. Do the White Sox, who have a sudden wealth of young pitchers, offer Philip Humber a contract for 2013? Humber has the distinction of having "no hitter" stuff, but that spark is encapsulated by below average consistency.

Humber, 29, has been a late bloomer, pitching in only 26 games in 2006-2010. His first full time work came with the White Sox. In his last two years with Chicago, he is 14-14, 4.79 ERA in 42 starts, with a 1.317 WHIP.  He is an average pitcher with major league experience. He is first year arbitration eligible. And he would be entitled to a large raise.

The White Sox have almost $90 million committed to 10 players. Dayan Viciedo, Gordon Beckham and Alejandro De Aza will cost the team combined another $9 to $10 million. The White Sox may not be able to afford another $6 - 7 million fifth stater like Humber.

It is ironic that if the White Sox do not tender Humber a contract, the Cubs are the type of team that would make him an offer, as a second tier starter on the free agent market.

UPDATE: I did not know this was possible, but the White Sox tried to send Humber through waivers. The Houston Astros claimed him. The initial story does not say what type of waivers are at issue.

There are three  kinds of waivers. Teams will place a player on unconditional release waivers before they cut him. Irrevocable outright waivers come into play when a team wants to remove a player from the 40-man roster but keep him within the minor-league system. If, however, another team claims him, then he's gone. Finally, optional waivers cover players with options (more to come on the subject of options) who are being dispatched back to the minors three years or more after debuting in the majors. Like trade assignment waivers, optional waivers are revocable.

November 28, 2012

AS EXPECTED

From the Cubs press release:

CHICAGO -- Right-handed pitcher Casey Coleman was designated for assignment to make room on the Cubs' 40-man roster for recently acquired pitcher Scott Feldman. The Cubs' roster is at 40.

Feldman signed a one-year, $6 million deal on Tuesday, and is projected for the rotation.

Coleman, 25, has compiled a 7-13 record and 5.76 ERA in 48 career games with the Cubs, including 26 starts. He was 0-2 with a 7.40 ERA in 17 games last season, including one start, while posting a 2-4 record and 4.34 ERA in 13 games (11 starts) for Triple-A Iowa.

As we discussed in an earlier post, the team's 40 man roster is the foundation for the next season.

Pitchers (21): Baker, Beliveau, Bowden, Cabrera, Camp, Castillo, Chapman, Concepcion, Dolis, Feldman, Garza, Marmol, McNutt, Putnam, Raley, Rusin, Russell, Samardzija, Vizcaino, Whitenack and Wood.

Catchers (3): Castillo, Clevenger, Navarro

Infielders (9): Barney, Castro, Lake, Rizzo, Stewart, Valbuena, Villanueva, Vitters and Watkins.

Outfielders (7) : Campana, DeJesus, B. Jackson, Sappelt, Soler, Soriano and Szczur.

On Friday, the Cubs need to make their next roster decision: whether to tender Ian Stewart a contract. The smart money says the team should non-tender Stewart, who would become a free agent. However, a few pundits believe the Cubs are so sparse at third base, the Cubs will have to keep Stewart as insurance that Valbuena and/or Vitters falters in 2013. The Cubs could still non-tender Stewart and attempt to re-sign him at a lower deal. But Stewart's nagging injury has bust written all over any contract at this point in time.


November 27, 2012

ANOTHER ARM

Buster Olney reports the Cubs are close to signing former Ranger starter Scott Feldman.

Exactly, who in the hell is Scott Feldman?

Feldman, 29, has played only for the Rangers. He must have been their 5th starter because
in 2012 he went 6-11 in 21 starts (and 8 relief appearances) with 5.09 ERA, in 123.2 IP, with 96 K and 32 W, 1.383 WHIP.

In 8 seasons, he has a career record of 39-44, 4.81 ERA, 1.4167 WHIP.  Not stellar.
His best season was in 2006 as a middle reliever.

In 2012, he made $6.5 million. The Rangers declined a $9.25 million option so Feldman became a free agent. 


The Cubs will have to make a roster move to put Feldman on the team. I expect that Casey Coleman will be outrighted to Iowa.

Feldman is another experienced arm that the Cubs needed to patch together a 2013 starting rotation, and to give fans with blinders on some optimism for next year.

The starting rotation is now shaping up as Garza, Samardzija, T. Wood, Baker and Feldman. 

The rotation could change if Garza is healthy and traded; and if Vizcaino is healthy and can start the season as a number one starter.    

THE PRICE FOR THIRD

The Mets have offered third baseman David Wright a 6 year, $100 million deal. Wright, a free agent after 2013, is expected to decline the offer.

The Mets offer is the same as two other third basemen who signed this year: Evan Longoria of the Rays and Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals.  At $16.67 million per season, the market has been set for a quality third baseman.

Zimmerman was the face of the Nationals franchise when it was bad. He has had two injury seasons, and durability going forward was a small factor in his recent new contract. In 8 years, Zimmerman is a career .287 hitter, with 153 HR, 593 RBI, .353 OBP, 30 SB, .959 field percentage and 28.6 WAR.

Longoria is less than two years younger. He burst on the scene in 2008. He is also the face of the Rays franchise. However, he was hurt last season so his long term durability came into question. But in his 5 years, he is a career .276 hitter, with 130 HR, 456 RBI, .361 OBP, 36 SB, .963 field percentage and 28.5 WAR.

Wright, 29, has been a career Met. He had one injury shorten season in 2011. Last year he rebounded by playing in 156 games. In his 9 seasons, he is a career .301 hitter, with 204 HR, 818 RBI, .381 OBP, 166 SB, .953 field percentage and 39.1 WAR.

It is not a direct apples to apples comparsion, but these three proven players are similar enough to set the market value for a steady, quality third baseman at $16.67 million plus per season. Wright will probably ask for more money based upon his slightly better stats than Zimmerman. And in the league with power third basemen at a premium, he will probably get more than a $100 million deal.

UPDATE: Wright signed an 8 year/$138 million deal to stay with the Mets. That averages $17.25 million per season.


November 26, 2012

THE NEW BUSINESS MODEL

The numbers are getting obscene.

The Dodgers will ink a new 25 year, $6 billion plus local television deal with Fox Sports.

The Angels just completed their own $3 billion local package.

The Cubs are going to start to uncouple the old Tribune broadcast contracts, beginning in 2014. The Cubs will be the last team to jolt their local television revenues.

Major league baseball's new national television contract is worth $12. 4 billion. It will kick $51.8 million to each team by 2014.

Professional baseball is no longer a sport. It is expensive television programming.

The Dodgers will soon bank annually $240 million in local television, plus $51.8 million in national revenue. The Dodgers will have to kick in 34 percent of local revenues back into the league subsidy pool, or $80 million. Even with that surtax, before the first game of the season starts, the Dodgers will have $211.8 million in revenue. With the luxury payroll tax set at $189 million (which clubs do not want to reach), before one patron buys a ticket for a game, the Dodgers are ahead in positive revenue by more than $22 million. If the Dodgers hold steady at 2011 ticket revenue numbers of $107 million per season, the team is a profit machine of more than $120 million per year.

Again, the revenue driver is not attendance in MLB. It is television contracts. In the Dodgers case, television revenue is 2.73 times more than attendance revenue.

Now, these television deals are long term contracts. The money is guaranteed no matter what the Dodgers record will be in the future. Cable operators are counting on a loyal fan base and ownership egos for a desire for championship seasons - - - to hold viewership and advertising ratings. But is there really an incentive for ownership with these huge television deals to continue to spend money on players to the lux cap max?  Probably not. Owners and their investors want return on their investment. With these outrageously generous television deals for local rights, owners want to pocket as much profit as possible, and then flip the franchise at its peak value to a new ownership group.

There is a television "bubble" in regard to value of these television contracts. Just like with any other bubble commodity (real estate for example), there is a crash - - - a retreat back to the norm. The question is when that will happen. And who will be holding the hot potato when the bubble bursts.

November 23, 2012

BREAK-OUT SEASON PROBLEMS

The New York Mets have a unique problem. One of their starting pitchers had a break-out season. And he won the NL Cy Young.  That should be a good problem to have, especially for the Mets franchise.

But the player is R.A. Dickey. The issues are:

1. He is 38 years old.
2. He is a knuckleball pitcher.
3. He has a had an average journeyman career.
4. He probably wants an expensive extension.
5. Knuckleball pitchers have inconsistent careers.

Dickey's career was unremarkable. He debuted in a short stint with the Rangers in 2001 at age 26. In 2003 and 2004 he was a part time starter, going 9-8 and 6-7 with ERAs over 5.00. He bounced around Seattle and Minnesota. In 2009, he went 1-1. 4.62 ERA in 35 games (1 start) for the Twins.
In 2010, he landed with the Mets as a starter and had is best year: 11-9, 2.84 ERA in 174 IP.  At age 36, the Mets signed him to a 3 year/$12.5 million deal.

Dickey was the first knuckleballer to win the Cy Young. He was also a late bloomer. Those two things go against a player. Knuckleball or junk pitchers are usually gimmicks players use to try to extend their careers a year or two. Knuckleballers have consistently and control problems. The only advantage of one is that there is less strain on the shoulder or arm. They become innings eaters, like Dickey last season with a league high 233.2 IP.

Most teams do not favor knuckleballers in the rotation. First, most scouts prefer balanced power pitchers who have an "out" pitch (a curve or a change). Second, most general managers prefer pitchers with multiple pitches (fastball, curve, change or slider) which gives managers more flexibility in case a pitcher does not have one pitch working during that start. Third, it takes a special catcher to catch a knuckleballer. Since most of the pitchers may go anywhere, including the dirt, it takes a toll on a catcher's back and knees. Fourth, the velocity of a knuckleball is dramatically less than a normal major league pitch. As a result, most good hitters can adjust quickly. And once a knuckler fails to knuckle, it turns into batting practice at 65 mph. Fifth, knuckleballs are difficult to throw for strikes. That leads to higher on-base percentages for opponents, and potential big innings.

Dickey throws his knuckleball "harder" than most pitchers of the genre. His knuckler is thrown in the high 70s. The twist with Dickey is that he throws his knuckle ball at two different speeds (one, 73-75, the other 76-80.) Most pitching coaches preach that the change in velocity of a pitch is a pitcher's greatest weapon against a major league hitter. It throws off the hitter's timing.

So Dickey is a unique pitcher. But he is also a pitcher that throws an historically inconsistent pitch.

Pitching is a premium in baseball. Dickey is an innings eater. He had a career year. The problem with the Mets is that Dickey will be asking for a contract extension. Is it good to sign a pitcher into their 40s? Or is it better to trade Dickey when his "value" as a starter is at its peak? Dickey went 20-6, 2.73 ERA in 34 games in 2012.

The Mets went 77-88, finishing 4th in the NL East. The team is caught in a near-rebuilding mode. They have two young pitchers who can compete for rotation spots. It is probably a coin flip of what the Mets will do with Dickey this off-season.

November 21, 2012

CUBS WINTER ROSTER

The Cubs added four minor league players to complete their 40 man roster.

Second baseman Logan Watkins, the Cubs  Minor League Player of the Year,  right-handed pitcher Trey McNutt, infielder Christian Villanueva (who came from Texas in the Dempster trade) and right-handed pitcher Robert Whitenack were added to the Cubs' roster.

Watkins, 23, a 21st-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, batted .281 for Tennessee and finished second in the league in walks and triples. He led the league in runs scored (93) and compiled a 13-game hitting streak in June, collecting seven multihit games in that stretch.

McNutt, 23, has been considered a top prospect since he went 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA in 2010 for Class A Peoria, Daytona and Tennessee. In 2011, he was 5-6 with a 4.55 ERA in 23 games for the Smokies, and this season, went 9-8 with a 4.26 ERA in 34 games (17 starts).

Villanueva, 21, was acquired from the Rangers in the Ryan Dempster deal in July, and batted .279 for Class A Myrtle Beach and Daytona combined, with 14 home runs, 24 doubles and 68 RBIs. He was playing for Obregon in the Mexican Winter League. He began his Cubs career by hitting a home run in each of his first two at-bats in his first game with Daytona.

An eighth-round pick in 2009, Whitenack, who turned 24 on Tuesday, has been slowed after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011. He began the 2011 season 7-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 11 starts between Daytona and Tennessee, earning Southern League All-Star honors, before he was sidelined with an elbow injury.

Major league teams must protect players first signed at age 18 on the 40 man roster within five years or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years old are to be protected within four years.

At the winter meetings, clubs can pay $50,000 to select a player in the Rule 5 Draft
 If that player doesn't stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.

The Cubs selected pitcher Lendy Castillo from the Phils in the last Rule 5 draft. By all accounts, Castillo was a reach by the Cubs.  In 2011, Castillo pitched in A ball. He appeared in 21 games, with a record of 4-2, 2.54 ERA in 46 IP. For the Cubs, Castillo had to remain on the major league roster. He was hid in the bullpen and appeared in only 13 games, going 0-1 with 7.88 ERA and 2.250 WHIP. He spent most of the season on the disabled list.  But he is now a Cub property. That is the risk-reward of taking a young player with a live arm.

Two players left unprotected by the Cubs may get drafted by other clubs. Right-hander pitcher Nick Struck, who was the organization's 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, was left unprotected. Struck, 23, started 26 games in AA in 2012. He went 14-10, 3.18 ERA in 155.2 IP, with 123 K and 44 BB, and 1.182 WHIP. Some may question why Whitenack was protected over Struck.

Also unprotected is Frank Batista, 23, who converted 23 of his first 24 save opportunities for Tennessee. A Southern League All-Star, he compiled a 2.22 ERA in 43 games, but did struggle in a brief stint with Triple-A Iowa, posting a 5.87 ERA in six games. If the Cubs are trying to move Marmol in the off-season, they need to develop a new closer.

The 40 man roster is the foundation for the major league team. The Cubs foundation currently stands as follows:

Pitchers (21): Baker, Beliveau, Bowden, Cabrera, Camp, Castillo, Chapman, Coleman, Concepcion, Dolis, Garza, Marmol, McNutt, Putnam, Raley, Rusin, Russell, Samardzija, Vizcaino, Whitenack and Wood.

Catchers (3): Castillo, Clevenger, Navarro

Infielders (9): Barney, Castro, Lake, Rizzo, Stewart, Valbuena, Villanueva, Vitters and Watkins.

Outfielders (7) : Campana, DeJesus, B. Jackson, Sappelt, Soler, Soriano and Szczur.

LA HAIR TODAY GONE TOMORROW

Slightly raise an eyebrow while scanning this morning's transactions:

The Cubs continue to nibble around the stale cracker of the low prospect talent pool by re-trading reliever Jake Brigham (who was acquired in the Soto deal) back to the Texas Rangers for AA pitcher Barret Loux.

Loux, 23, started 25 games in AA last season. He went 14-1, 3.47 ERA in 127 IP. He gave up 41 BB to 100 K, and had a 1.268 WHIP. Texas is known for developing pitchers, so why did Nolan Ryan and Rangers part with Loux?  Loux was drafted by Arizona in the first round in 2010. However, he failed his physical due to a torn labrum and other elbow injuries. He later signed with Texas.

Brigham, 24, had a very short Cub career. In two starts at AA, he went 0-2, 19.54 ERA with a 4.091 WHIP. He was shut down due to an elbow strain. The Rangers must believe he has something in power pitching. During 600 career minor league innings, he has 543 Ks. But he also has a career 1.401 WHIP.

So the trade seems too lopsided to be true, unless Loux is Mark Prior fragile.

UPDATE: Dave van Dyke of the Tribune reports that Loux  is considered a "compensation" replacement for Brigham, who was acquired from the Rangers during the season for catcher Geovany Soto but came to the Cubs with an injured elbow.
 
The other news of the day is that the Cubs designated for assignment Bryan LaHair. This is the first step to releasing LaHair, so he can "pursue opportunities" in Japan. The Cubs have 10 days to trade or release him. The Cubs tried to package LaHair in various July deadline trades, but no other team had interest in the Cub All-Star.

People forget that LaHair was statistically the best NL first baseman in the first half of 2012. But the league adjusted in the second half, and LaHair lost his job to Anthony Rizzo. LaHair turned into a bench and fourth outfielder, ending the season appearing in 130 games, hitting 16 HR, 40 RBI, batting .259, with .334 OBP.  He had a career major league WAR of 0.2. He is the classic AAAA player, because in his 9 minor league seasons, he hit .295, 156 HR, 651 RBI with a .405 OBP. He hit 38 HR and drove in 109 runs in 2011 Iowa.

It is a surprising move to release LaHair at this point of the off-season. First, the Cubs have no back up first baseman in case Rizzo gets hurt. Second,  LaHair is currently the third outfielder on the depth chart in RF. Tony Campana and Dave Sappelt do not project to starting RF candidates. Third, LaHair would have provided a left handed power bat off the bench. Fourth, LaHair is projected to make the major league minimum of $500k in 2013. Fifth, unless there was absolutely no interest in LaHair at the GM meetings, why release him before the winter meetings? The only reason to release him now is to open up a spot on the 40 man roster to protect another player from the minor league Rule 5 draft in December.

The LaHair move just adds another hole in the Cubs opening day roster.

November 19, 2012

BULLPEN SHUFFLE

The Cubs re-signed their 2012 MVP: Shawn Camp.

Camp, 37, was a journeyman released from the Mariners camp. The Cubs signed him to a minor league deal, then promoted him to be a middle reliever.

Camp will earn $1.35 million in 2013 with $200,000 in bonus incentives.

In 2012, he had a career high 80 game appearances, which led the majors.  He went 3-6, 3.59 ERA in 77.2 IP. He had 54 SO, 21 BB, 1.288 WHIP. In all told, a average major league middle reliever stat season.

It seemed the Cubs were in the process of shuffling their bullpen this off season. First, the Cubs were on the cusp of trading closer Carlos Marmol to the Angels for Dan Haren. Even though that deal did not go through, it does appear that the Cubs want to part with Marmol this off season.

The Cubs previously signed low tier free agent pitchers Zach Putnam (waivers from Rockies) and Carlos Guiterrez (off waivers from the Twins) to replace Manny Corpas, Miguel Socolovich, and/or Jason Berken in the bullpen.

There are also reports that the Cubs met with Japan free agent closer Kyuji Fujikawa. Fujikawa, 32, was a top closer in Japan for the last six seasons. He was ranked the 34th best free agent by MLBTR.
His career numbers: 26-18, 1.36 ERA, 202 saves, 369.2 IP, 510 K, 94 BB, 1.028 WHIP.

Marmol, 30, is in the last year of his current deal. He will be paid $9.8 million in 2013, which is on the high end of closers. Marmol went 3-3, 3.38 ERA, 20 saves in 55.1 IP. He had a high WHIP of 1.536, which showed he had control issues. He had 72 K to 45 BB. One can see the Cubs trying to dump Marmol's salary this off-season and take a flyer on a nominal free agent closer.

WAYS TO REBUILD

There has been more buzz on the glacial speed of the Cubs rebuilding process than on hot stove rumors in this off-season.

Yes, Scott Baker and Dioner Navarro signing do not stoke the fires of fans as the darkness of winter falls upon the Cub collective.

Part of the problem with the Cubs is the bi-polar messages being sent by the team to its fans. When Ricketts purchased the Cubs, he said that the team was only one or two players away from winning a championship. When Epstein was announced as the new team president, Ricketts said that the team was one or two players away from championship caliber. Ricketts also promised to maintain a competitive team.

Maintaining a competitive team, in reality or in illusion, is the main goal of the business side of the Cubs: the marketing and ticket sales departments. The Cubs had the luxury of an almost guaranteed 3 million gate per season. The Cubs steadily increased ticket and concession prices because it was the "hot" place to be, especially for the Gen X party in the bleachers crowd. But after the financial meltdown of 2009-2010, the economy has not had a robust or even a dead cat rebound. Attendance is down, and season ticket renewals are no longer automatic. For the first time, there really was no viable secondary market for Cub game tickets. In order to maintain cash flow, the Cubs need people sitting in those Wrigley seats.

On the baseball side, Epstein said he believed in turning around a club through upgrading the minor league system with top level prospects. He poured resources into scouting and drafting players (mostly pitchers in his first draft) and overpaying international free agents (until the new CBA capped that loophole.)  Loading up the minor league system with prospects is fine, but the way Epstein has gone about the process, most of his prospects began at rookie and Class A levels. That means that the normal promotion course leaves Epstein's prospects in the minors for at least four years. If everything goes perfectly well, an Epstein drafted major league roster would come to bear in 2015.

It is a small market mentality to rely almost solely on the farm system to produce major league talent. For every organization that drafts 50 or more players a year, the odds are that only 5 or less will ever hit a major league roster. The upside of home grown talent is that a team controls the prospects longer, and they are cheaper when they are promoted to the major league roster.

The downside of the focus on minor league players is that general managers hold on to their assets like their own children. Some become enamored with a prospect's "potential" even when the player is not developing as projected; and that is the real bear in the equation: do you trust your lower level instructors to actually develop talent.

The Cubs track record for developing their own talent is poor. In the playoff teams of the 2000s, the few pitching promotions were really off-set by the big spending, free agent moves that Jim Hendry made with the Tribune deep pockets. So there was a lack of emphasis  on minor league development under Hendry.

For years, experts had scoffed at the White Sox as having one of the worst farm systems. Kenny Williams used trades and selective free agent acquisitions to build his teams. His trading mentality did bring the White Sox a World Championship in 2005. That veteran team was dismantled as contracts expired, leaving the White Sox in a small market position against the Cubs TV and fan base.

But an odd thing happened in 2012. The beleaguered White Sox farm system produced a great crop of pitching prospects: Quintana, Sale, Santiago, Reed, Axelrod, Jones, Omogrosso, Septimo. The roster also contained home grown fielders in Flowers, Morel (hurt most of the year) and Vicideo. This young White Sox crew out performed expectations. This off-season, Williams and new GM Hahn have re-signed Peavy and Floyd to add depth to the starting rotation, and to maintain their rich asset base in pitching.

The Epstein single fixation method of total focus on drafting and signing prospects is the new Cub mantra of the organization. Now, the front office is telling all fans to be patient, and their patience will be rewarded "years" down the road. But for some fans, this change is a bait and switch. They were promised by Ricketts that the Cubs would remain competitive, even during a re-building process.

And the bottom line is that the Cubs can rebuild the minor league system AND remain competitive through trades and free agent signings. There is no rule against having a balanced approached to roster building in major league baseball.

There is a growing excuse from the Cubs camp that the team cannot make "good" trades because the farm system is barren. Well, that never stopped Williams and the White Sox from making deals which are now paying off. The Epstein trades have been expensive veteran talent for multiple prospects at the July trade deadline. But the other bottom 15 teams have the same blueprint in regard to rent-a-player deals for prospects. And more general managers guard their top prospects making those type of deals harder to complete.

The Cubs have given up on signing top tier free agents. One, those long term contracts tend to block their own prospects. (The example is Soriano's deal). Two, the Cubs know they will not be competitive so they are not willing to spend top dollar on free agents for another 100-loss team. Three, top free agents want to win and not babysit a journeyman roster for several years so that makes the Cubs a bad destination for most free agents.

The Cubs are plugging gaping holes with "caretaker" or stop-gap journeymen players, including career minor leaguers like Valbuena at third base. This does not sit well with the fan base who sees the White Sox with the same gaping hole at third last year, go out and get a Youkilis to play the position. So the Cubs are again painting themselves into a corner. They will have to promote position players quicker just to field a full roster - - - which adds to the risk of failure.

There is no reason why the Cubs cannot rebuild quicker than the current player development only game plan. A team can rebuild its franchise through a combination of good drafts, player development, trades and free agent signings. 


November 16, 2012

TABLE FOR THE DONIER PARTY

One of the core philosophies of the new front office was stated that they were not going to pay "for past performance." Well, Epstein  and Hoyer need to update their subscriptions to Baseball Digest, because they continue to sign players who had good years, maybe four years ago. 

Current example is your new Cubs catcher, Dioner Navarro. I really never heard of him before this week. And there are plenty of reasons for that. Navarro is 28. He has kicked around for bits and pieces of nine seasons with 6 different teams.Journeyman, right. He landed in Tampa in 2007 and hit .227 in his first full year. But in 2008,in a contract year where he was paid the minimum, he suddenly hit .295, 7 HR, 54 RBI andgot an All Star selection from a very good Rays team. 

That one season got him a payday: $2.1 million for 2009. After getting the deal, his batting average tanked to .218.His career average is .245. But he has only caught three seasons in the majors, the last being three years ago.


Now, he is also small, 5'9". I checked with a Tampa fan site who said he is both a below average hitter (problem with contact) AND a bad defensive catcher.  In 2011 Tampa cut him. The Dodgers picked him up as a back up. He hit worse, .193 and was out of baseball in the minors for most of 2012 in the Reds system. 

So, everyone is asking why in the hell did the Cubs pay Navarro, who only had a minimum minor league deal in 2012, $1.75 million guaranteed major league contract  for 2013?? 

There is absolutely no evidence that Navarro is back to his 2008 batting form. Some people compare him to Koy Hill, which is pretty spot on for another below .200 hitting back slug. So why the huge contract for someone who punched his own ticket out of baseball?


Here are some troublesome alternatives:


First, Epstein has no concept of player value.


Second, Epstein cannot project a player's recent play into future play with any accuracy.


Third, Ricketts is not minding the cash register.


Or worse, fourth, that Epstein sees Navarro as the Cubs opening day catcher.

 
Most people pencil in Beef Castillo as the Cub catcher. He hit .265 in 52 games with 5 HR, 22 RBI. He had a 1.2 WAR. But his fielding was below average at .981. And he has the curse mark of being a Hendry draft choice. It is hard to fathom why the Cubs would pay a back-up catcher to Castillo more than three times what Beef will make in 2013 unless Navarro is going to be the starter.