February 29, 2012


The Cubs have had a problem filling third base for most of the seasons after Ron Santo left the club. A series of "can't miss" rookie busts to end-of-career players have played statue on the hot corner. There have been a few notable exceptions, like Bill Madlock and Aramis Ramirez.

Currently, the Cubs have put all their eggs at third in the journeyman Ian Stewart basket. The back up is apparently Jeff Baker, who is also the back up for LaHair at first and Barney at second. (Note: Barney is Castro's back up at short so go figure the Cubs depth chart).

The only alternative is Marquis Smith at AAA Iowa, but apparently he has gotten the dreaded AAAA tag and is not on the 40 man roster or mentioned in any spring training stories.

The Nationals have the opposite problem. The team just signed Ryan Zimmerman to a long term extension. He has been the face of the franchise until the new top draft choices hit their stride this season. However, with the number six pick in last year's draft, the Nats selected Rice 3B Anthony Rendon, who by all accounts, is tearing up the spring. Scouts believe that Rendon, 21, could push his way onto the major league roster by the June.  The reason: pure swing offense and good defense.

So, it would appear that Rendon is "blocked" by the long term fixture at third, Zimmerman. So teams in need of a potential long term solution at third (the Cubs), would be calling the Nationals GM to inquire. But the Nats won't take the call because they will work out Rendon at second and shortstop. In other words, they will find a spot for him to play alongside Zimmerman.

If the Stewart trade does not work, the only possible alternative on the radar would be Tigers deposed third baseman Brandon Inge. His career numbers may be slumping, so he would be considered another journeyman stop gap solution.

February 27, 2012


Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune laments on the anniversary of the big Matt Garza Cubs deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Cubs sent five prospects to the Rays, for starting pitcher Matt Garza.

Outfielders Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer and catcher Robinson Chirinos all made it onto the Rays 2011 roster during the season. Shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and right-hander Chris Archer are listed as Top 100 prospects in all of baseball.

Garza won 10 games for the Cubs last season. He will make $9.5 million in 2012, and most likely more in 2013, his final year of arbitration before free agency.

Rogers reports that the Rays are extremely happy with the deal.

"I don't think any of those guys have done things we didn't expect them to," Rays general manager Andrew Friedman said. "It's not like any of them had a year where they just blew the doors down. They're all good players, they play the game fundamentally well and that fits with our organization. They're part of the depth that we believe in, and that's why we made that trade."

The question is asked whether the Cubs should have made that trade. Fans are about 50-50.
Former GM Hendry made the deal because he was under the false belief that the Cubs were just one pitcher away from winning the NL Central and returning to the post season.

Five prospects for Garza may be hard to swallow when Epstein is trying to re-stock the barren minor league inventory.

Garza went 10-10, 3.32 ERA in 31 starts. He had a good WHIP of 1.258 and a K/BB ratio of 3.13.
But on a poor Cub team, he was not a difference maker.

Top line starters are hard to find. Durable front line starters are even harder to find. Garza fits that mold, so far. So from a evaluation perspective, one has to give up a lot in a trade to receive a lot in return.

And the Cubs thought they were dealing from surplus: Lee was going to be blocked by Castro; Chirinos was being blocked by Soto, Castillo and Clevenger; Fuld was not in their long term outfield bench plans; and Guyer could be blocked in the future by Brett Jackson. But what has happened is that the Cubs have a diluted major league bench because these prospects are no longer in the pipeline.

So a possible idea is to flip Garza this season for a package of prospects. It will be more difficult because last year was the ideal time to make a Garza for prospects deal. Garza has a hefty salary and is only under 2 years control to a new team. Unless you are a Boston, or Yankees who will commit $75 million for an extension, the market for Garza is limited.

February 25, 2012


As spring training opens, owner Tom Ricketts and manager Dale Sveum proclaim that the Cubs are not "rebuilding" and that the team "as assembled" is ready to compete for the playoffs.

Yes, they are both delusional.

Ricketts is a clueless owner who now, after three seasons and massive second half no-shows, must realize he needs to sell tickets. Lots of tickets. And get fannies in the seats to make money. Money that he has already spent on new real estate and a Fenway Junior wall in right field. He has decreed no one in the organization shall use the term "rebuilding."

Sveum said when he was hired, the team would not be "rebuilding" but "building."  It is all just double speak at this point.

Every new acquisition, except for Maholm and T. Wood, would not be a starter on their old club. So, technically the Cubs may be "collecting the trash" instead of rebuilding at this point.

New 3B Stewart would not be starting in Denver. He played more in the minors last season than the majors. He is not a foundation piece of the future; he is a stop gap replacement for the departure of Ramirez.
New 2B Cardenas was waived (cut) by the A's, but he has a chance to unseat Barney at second.
New 1B LaHair is 29 and a career minor league player. He is no longer a prospect, but a prospector panning for some personal reward for his last shot at playing time.

By all accounts, the Cubs are viewed as a 70 win team for 2012. That is not competitive. That is fighting off the Astros for last place in the NL Central. And if management cannot see the truth in that statement, then it will be an extremely long time before the Cubs fortunes turn around.

February 22, 2012


There are numerous publications out listing the best baseball prospects and the best team prospects. It is a matter of scouting reports, statistical analysis, and subjective opinion when those lists are created. It takes years before a prospect is signed until a general manager knows whether the player can contribute at the major league level or is a bust.  Just based on the limited number of roster spots on a major league team, the odds are against most minor leaguers getting to the majors. The failure rate is more than 75 percent.

But some prospects are more ready than others to take the final examination. When teams look at their organizational charts, they may have an immediate, short term and long term view of player development. Fans look toward what are you doing for the team now. From that perspective, one can glean how the Cubs view their own talent pool to determine "ready prospects," those players not with a full year in the majors (who would be rookies this season) who are on the protected 40 man roster and those players at AAA Iowa, one step from being promoted to the Cubs. Here is the list of the most ready talent in the Cub system:

Ready Prospects Cubs (* lhp)
40 Man Roster

Beliveau p *
Cabrera A, p
Castillo, L, p
Dolis, p
Gaub, p *
Maine, p *
Mateo, p
Weathers, p
Castillo, W, c
Clevenger, c
Cardenas, in
LaHair, 1b
Lake, ss
Rizzo, 1b
Vitters, 3b
Campana, of
Sappelt, of
Szczur, of

Iowa Cubs (AAA)

Berg, p
Caridad, p
Jackson, J., p
Parker, p
Rusin, p *
Schlitter, p
Smit, p
Struck, p
Smith, M., 3b
Jackson, B, of
Spencer, of

February 21, 2012


Numerous reports have the Theo Epstein compensation matter resolved by a "settlement trade."
The Cubs are sending pitcher Chris Carpenter and a player to be named later to the Red Sox for a player to be named later. Since Commissioner Selig cannot unilaterally make trades between teams, MLB's resolution of the matter appears moot. Why have players to be named not named in the deal? The players may not be on the 40 man roster or they may not be eligible to be traded until after one year. Normally, when a player to be named is stated, the teams already know who the player(s) will be.  It is also an open question whether San Diego's compensation for Hoyer is part of this transaction (i.e. the Boston player).

One thing is certain: Boston received significantly more than the White Sox did for Guillen; and significant more than the Twins did when the Cubs acquired Andy McPhail. In prior cases, low level (A) prospects were the compensation. In the Theo case, it is major league (40 man roster) player plus.

Carpenter is major league ready. In 10 games last season, he had a 2.79 ERA. He showed a live fastball and appears suitable for bullpen duty. Since the trades of Marshall and Cashner, we viewed Carpenter as a potential closer-in-training during Marmol's last two contract years. We suspect that is what may happen with the Red Sox, who lost their closer to free agency over the winter.

The Cubs now have 39 men on the active roster, but have not formally announced the Cuban defector Concepcion signing (which may be a major league contract and 40 man roster spot). If that is the case, it would appear Mateo would take Carpenter's bullpen slot since Mateo is out of options and the Cubs appear inclined to stockpile arms. Mateo, a year older than Carpenter, had some experience in Iowa closing games.

Add to the fact that Samardzija is in camp to be stretched out to be a starter (which he failed at when he was signed off the football squad), the bullpen is going from the strongest segment to maybe the weakest  this off season. Delete Marshall, Cashner, Samardzija and Carpenter from the bullpen. Hold on to wild Marmol, aging Kerry Wood, and lefty specialist Russell, there is a huge talent gap to fill in the four open pen spots.

February 20, 2012


Hope may spring eternal, but the Cubs have glaring needs.  Needs that ownership may have blinders on (considering the imposition of "dynamic seat pricing" for the bleachers this season; the same bleachers that were mostly empty in the second half of 2011). Ricketts believes that the team is not "rebuilding" because he has forbad that word in the hallways. Sveum has been coached to say "rebuilding" instead. All in the glorious foggy lens view to sell season tickets for a team that may not even win 70 games.

When management dips into the second tier free agent market, trades away young talent for second tier veterans, tries one major pitcher rehab project after another, signs journeymen with the hope that they will regain their stroke now three years removed, that is throwing mud at cracked wall instead of repairing it. That is what got Jim Hendry fired. This is what the exhalted Esptein-Hoyer team is doing. Same thing; two different perceptions.

The New Cubs have not addressed any of the pressing needs of the team. The 1-2 power hitters, Ramirez and Pena, are gone. Stewart is years removed from putting up power numbers in friendly Colorado to replace Ramirez's production at third. LaHair is Micah 2.0 at first so it is doubtful he will have as many HRs as Pena did in 2011.

In this vain, the Cubs do have, finally, an alleged first baseman in waiting with Rizzo in AAA. However, there was no move to shore up the void of third base depth or the poor marginal players at the second base depth chart. Rotating Cardenas for DeWitt at second is not an upgrade or a solution.

There is no one new projected to push the current outfielders to perform at their best. Campana, Sappelt are not starters - - - it is unclear if they are even quality defensive replacements. Reed Johnson is old and nearing the end of his bench career.

The heralded pitching make-over is a foamy mess. After Garza and Maholm, the starting pitching staff goes acutely down hill. Even though the Cubs signed at least six guys for "starter depth," none of them have any solid credentials to be a full time third, fourth or fifth starter. Just expanding the depth chart name list does not mean you have solved the problem.

Some teams solve problems by spending money. The Cubs have been fairly tight on major league purchases. With all the holes in the roster remaining, could a Roy Oswalt be a fit in the rotation as a number three or four starter? Sure, but apparently not at his $10 million asking price. Would a Johnny Damon be a higher quality fourth outfielder pushing the regulars than Johnson, Campana or Sappelt? Sure, but apparently not at his $10 million asking price. Would a Miguel Tejada, at the end of his career, turn into a Omar Vizquel infield mentor solid bench player for a team? Sure, but not at his $5 million plus asking price. As spring training begins, the market is always very thin in available talent, especially for teams that are in WIN NOW mode (which we see is what Ricketts mind set is, for financially reasons).

What are the key "need" areas for the team?
1. Starting pitching is still thin from quality arms. Dempster is on the decline, and the team is hoping for numerous "rebound" years to shore up the back end.
2. Second base would have been an easy upgrade spot; Barney is a utility infielder (he is the back up shortstop as is) at best. This position now demands more power, run production and stolen bases.
3. Overall bench depth. This may be the weakest hitting lowest power bench since the dead ball era. If Wellington Castillo makes the club, he would be the lone power hitter off the bench.
4. Depth at third base. There continues to be no long term strategy to fill this position or have a pipeline of talent ready at this critical power corner.

All these areas will come into view when spring training games begin in a few weeks.

February 18, 2012


When pitchers report today, Epstein and Hoyer have decided to do the shotgun approach: bring in as many arms as possible and see who can stick.  And at the same time, rumors persist that Matt Garza, the #1 starter, is still available in trade.

A look at the patchwork quilt that will become the pitching staff:


Garza, Maholm, Dempster, T. Wood, Volstad, Wells, Sonnanstine, Coleman, R. Lopez, J. Jackson, McNutt.

Clearly, Garza is the #1 starter barring trade or injury.
Maholm, the newly acquired lefty, should be the #2 starter based on age and ERA.
Dempster, a fan favorite, has had his skills diminished but on this roster he is the #3 or #4 starter.
T. Wood, another newly acquired lefty, will be the #4 starter if he can regain rookie form.
The fifth starter job appears to be wide open.

Under the old guard (Hendry guys) competiting for that final spot: Wells, Coleman, Lopez with long shots for rookies J. Jackson and McNutt who did not progress well last season in the minors. Based on the fact that new management is hell bent on clearing out the old GM inventory, these players would have to overachieve in order to get a shot on the 25 man roster. It also appears that Wells may have one minor league option left, along with Coleman, so the plan could be to send them to Iowa for insurance.

The New Guys new guys: Volstad and Sonnanstine. Volstad appears to have the inside track as the quasi-replacement player for Zambrano. Sonnanstine is another player looking to regain form as either a starter or long reliever.

If camp ended today, the rotation would be: 1) Garza, 2) Maholm, 3) Dempster, 4) T. Wood, 5) Volstad.
Is that an improvement from last season? We suspect in Epstein's mind it is as Maholm is an upgrade over Zambrano and T. Wood or Volstad is an upgrade over Wells and the committee of failure in the 5th starter role when Cashner got hurt.

Caridad, Carrillo, Corpas, T. Miller, Parker, Beliveau, Cabreara, C. Carpenter, L. Castillo, Dolis, Gaub, Maine, Marmol, Mateo, Russell, Samardzija, Weathers, K. Wood

New pitching coach Chris Bosio has his work cut out for him trying to piece together new confidence and mechanics into closer Carlos Marmol. Marmol was overworked by Quade. Marmol only used his wild slider, which caused him serious problems. But Marmol is the closer until further notice (his salary and control issues make him a less likely trade candidate than Garza).

With Sean Marshall traded, the key set-up man role (8th inning) will fall to this group: K. Wood and Samardzija. Samardzija is again being touted by the brass to convert to a starter, but that would be another mistake. He does not have the pitches to be an effective starter. There are concerns that converting him now will result in Cashner style injuries. The media PR campaign got Kerry Wood re-signed by the Cubs, but under the surface I don't think Hoyer wanted to bring back another old, fragile Cub.

The old guard (Hendry's guys) looking for a bullpen spot:
Right handers: Caridad, Carrillo, Parker, Cabrera, C. Carpenter, Dolis, Mateo (who is out of options)
Left handers:  Beliveau, Gaub, Maine, Russell

The power arms are Carpenter, Dolis and Mateo. Caridad is coming off an injury season. Parker and Cabrera are mere prospects.  The real interest will be in the lefties. Who will replace Marshall? Will the Cubs have a lefty specialist? Last year's lefty specialist was Russell, but his awful starts mess up his stats. Gaub may get a long look and the long shot is Beliveau.

The New Guys new guys:
Right handers: Corpas,  L. Castillo,  Weathers
Left hander: T. Miller

In two words: scrap heap. The veterans brought in by the new GM are all cast offs or injured players hoping that they can regain their form from years gone by. Corpas, a former closer, has not pitched well in more than three seasons. Weathers has had major control problems. Miller, 38, was a three team journeyman last season and had a horrible 1.851 WHIP. Castillo, 22, is a converted infielder to pitcher so he is a major work in progress since he has only pitched in Class A. Weathers, 26, lost his control and has struggled in Class AA last season. He finished 19 games but had no saves. His 1.752 WHIP and 5.32 ERA are horrible for a bullpen pitcher. He would be a major reclamation project. So none of Epstein-Hoyer's new reliever signees have any real shot at making the club (unless it is merely spite for spite's sake.)

We assume that the Cubs will continue to carry 12 pitchers. That means 7 bullpen players. As it stands today, this is the most probable pen for 2012:

Closer: Marmol
8th inning set up man: K. Wood
7th inning: Samardzija
Middle reliever: Carpenter
Lefty specialist: Russell
Long reliever: Sonnanstine
Left handed swing man: Maine

Is this pen better than last season? With the subtraction of Marshall and Cashner, the answer is no.

February 17, 2012


Pitchers and catchers report to spring training tomorrow. Spring training was supposed to allow for competition for roster spots; veterans had to prove they still had their skills, and prospects had to prove that they had the skills to be major leaguers.

In many recent franchises, and a cross all sports, the notion of camp competition has been downgraded or eliminated by the managers or coaches who do not want to be distracted by a "position controversy," whether it is at quarterback or center field. Managers and coaches want a quiet camp with no media frenzy or criticism. The greatest criticism for this trend is that the lack of competition creates no depth on the bench. A veteran with diminishing skills may hang on longer because the coach has a relationship with the player and thinks the player can rebound or still contribute. As one retired manager once said, playing rookies shortened his career by at least a season.

So as the Cubs report to camp, what, if anything, is up for grabs?

There will be no competition for the starting lineup. Soriano will be in LF, Byrd will be in CF and DeJesus in RF. Soriano and Byrd have been trade bait since July, 2011. Both had declining stats last season. Byrd was viewed as a replacement for Derek Lee in the third or fourth hole in the lineup, but he had neither the power or RBI production to even bat 8th. Soriano is clearly only interested in hitting homers, and his defensive continues to be bad.  DeJesus comes to Wrigley to play RF, which will take some adjustment from the spaciousness of Oakland.
Soriano will be backed up by Reed Johnson. Byrd and DeJesus will probably be backed up by Sappelt (in order to appease critics of the Marshall deal). It is doubtful the Cubs will carry another pure OF like Brett Jackson. Jackson on the major league squad will create an immediate fan debate that he should be playing every day. That is why the Cubs will most likely keep Jackson with Rizzo in Iowa for at least half the season.

If there is one position in play, it would be second base. Barney had a good rookie first half in 2011, but then his production fell off the planet. As an average fielder with range issues, this is a place the Cubs need to improve either defensively and/or with power. However, no one on the current roster is suitable to take over that role. So new signees such as Cardenas, E. Gonzalez or Amezaga could get a shot at taking out Barney.
Stewart is locked to start at third, LaHair at first, and Castro at shortstop. Stewart and LaHair's back up projects to be Baker at this point. Some one like Tolbert could be the 25th man, a utility infielder. The overall infield play is going to be weaker than last season as the candidates to replace Ramirez and Pena do not appear to exist.

Soto is the starter, but teams have enquired about trades. If Soto stays, he is the starter. But here is where real competition can improve the position. Wellington Castillo is ready for prime time. He has the power and catching skills to start. Jaramillo has more major league experience, and is generally thought of as a Koy Hill back-up replacement at best. In the wings is Clevenger, who also has upside potential. If Soto stays, it is likely to avoid "catcher controversy," both Castillo and Clevenger will be sent to Iowa and Jaramillo will be the light hitting back up. If Soto is traded, then this would be the primary position battle of spring.

February 15, 2012


MLTR reports that various teams have players on their 40 man rosters who are out of options to be sent to the minor leagues (without clearing waivers).

Marcos Mateo, Jeff Samardzija, Geovany Soto, Bryan LaHair

All these players could be on the final 25 man roster. Soto and LaHair are named starters.
Samardzija is suitable for bullpen duty like last season.
Mateo is the odd man out. Most likely, Mateo is the player to be waived when the Cubs
announce the Concepcion signing and have to move a player off the 40 man roster.

From around the league, there are some possible waiver claim candidates if these players
don't stick at the end of spring:

Mat Gamel, Chris Narveson, Manny Parra, Jose Veras
Emmanuel Burriss, Nate Schierholtz
Shin-Soo Choo, Shelley Duncan
Roger Bernadina, Tyler Clippard, Ross Detwiler, Tom Gorzelanny, Henry Rodriguez
John Mayberry
Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens,  Charlie Morton,  Garrett Jones
Jeff Niemann, Sam Fuld, Matt Joyce
Homer Bailey, Bill Bray, Juan Francisco, Wilson Valdez
Don Kelly, David Pauley

February 14, 2012


The new Wrigley Field right field scoreboard and stair stepped mini Green Monster Walls is underway, as the webcam photo to the right shows.

At the Cubs convention, the team gave fans a short glimpse of a odd sketch of the improvements that will contain a "party patio."

The photo shows the scaffolding at the first level or stage of construction: the scoreboard level. The new 16' tall electronic scoreboard is the center piece for new revenue (advertising). But at what cost?

There has been very little follow-up in the local press about this reconstruction project, other than the Sun-Times story that the team forgot to run it by the city or to pull construction permits. Traditional fans were aghast at the notion that the symmetry of Wrigley Field would be destroyed by a new vertical facade.

But fans have to understand that owner Tom Ricketts is obsessed with the Red Sox. So much so he overpaid and hired Theo Epstein and his crew. So much so that he wants to have his own "Green Monster" seats at his ball park.  This whole right field complex is only going to increase seating by 43 patrons. It seems like an awful lot of money spent to increase the fan experience by 43 with a new scoreboard competing with the iconic manual center field scoreboard.

But look closely at the photo from center field. The new RF complex is going to rise well above what is shown. By even at the lower scaffold level, the current  left field corner seats will be blocked from viewing center field.  The expensive lower field box section 142 stops just at the foul pole, but it is the terrace boxes, Section 242, that appear to be now half obstructed view seating. Who creates a new seating project that creates probably 150 obstructed view seats in the process? The Cubs.

Bringing the "roof top" experience into Wrigley Field itself is not going to help sell the adjacent Section 242 seats to church, pack or civic lodge group sales if their traditional terrace section view is now blocked. The average ticket price in Section 242 was $35. If you lose 150 seats due to obstruction, that is $5,250 per game.  If you are adding 43 seats to the RF bleachers at $100 premium, that is only $4,300 per game. The numbers only balance out if the party deck averages 53 attendees per game, something that was scarce last year in that old "family" bleacher section.

And how long with the new Wrigley vertigo wall experience, excitement last? Four, five innings??
But as the management said, it is about being able to mill around the long row of your 29 other friends without the confined space of traditional row seating.  With corporations and groups cutting back on group outings, how many games will the party area be basically vacant?

Also, unanswered is how the new vertical wall will affect play.  Is the scoreboard in play, meaning that former HRs into the bleacher seats will now bounce off the scoreboard for long singles? How will a wall affect the aerodynamics of the northerly, and westerly winds as the hit this new structure? We believe that it will have an effect of pushing back fly balls back towards home plate. Which would give the home team that is stocking up on left handed pull hitters a home field disadvantage.

It just does not seem that this new Wrigley project was thought out in detail. It was like the Northwestern football game at Wrigley. When the teams showed up to play, they could only use half of the field because one end zone ran into the bleacher wall and was considered unsafe.

No one knows for sure, but it looks like the new structure will also partially block the view of the two roof tops behind it on Sheffield. Whether that will cause some neighbor friction, is unknown. But it cannot be helpful that the Cubs are aggressively trying to take away roof top customers.

So as it stands, we will see a huge wall go up in the RF bleacher corner, dramatically changing the historic look and playing conditions of the ball park, and create possibly hundreds of obstructed view seats in the process, all for a team projected to win only 70 games in 2012.

February 13, 2012


Even the Boston Globe has gone from curious to astonishingly frustrated by the lack of a decision in the Theo Epstein to the Cubs compensation matter. This weekend's Globe article sheds a critical light on what the hold up is really all about:

"It got to the point where the Sox really had to move on with their offseason and had to have a clear decision as to who was their GM. So Sox president Larry Lucchino agreed to let Epstein out of the final season of his contract with the understanding from Cubs owner Tom Ricketts that the Red Sox would receive a “significant’’ player in return."

So the Red Sox ownership and team president were at an unworkable situation with Epstein, so the team agreed to release Epstein from his final year of his contract in exchange for a "significant" player in return. And if Tom Ricketts agreed to this, then he is a dullard and a fool.

In the past, two low level unheard of minor league prospects was the usual compensation for hiring away management.  Now, suddenly, with the Cubs it becomes a nuclear compensation melt down.

The Globe story adds: "In the early going, the Sox gave it the old college try, asking for Matt Garza or shortstop Starlin Castro. Now that’s significant. Of course they were rebuffed."

Well, of course you don't give up the young Ernie Banks 2.0 of the franchise or one's number one starter for a guy that will NEVER hit, pitch, run or catch a ball on the field. That would be plain crazy stupid.

But the question still remains, and the Red Sox must have grounds to continue to demand for a "significant" player in compensation, so much so that Bud Selig is taking forever to get the issue resolved (which means if it would be two low level prospects it could have been done in a day.)

The Globe then speculates on who would be in the significant list for the Red Sox: Travis Wood, Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson combo, Anthony Rizzo, Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Matthew Szczur, Chris Carpenter, James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, top prospects Brett Jackson and Reggie Golden, shortstop Javier Baez, righties Trey McNutt, Zach Cates, and Dillon Maples, and catcher Wellington Castillo.

If any of those mentioned names are part of the Red Sox compensation, then that would be a serious set back for the Cubs. T. Wood is the replacement for Zambrano; Rizzo the replacement for Pena; Carpenter the replacement for Cashner; Russell the replacement for Marshall; Castillo the replacement for K. Hill. Any of these players taken off the Cub roster would unravel Epstein's alleged trading Plan to acquire long term assets. The Lost Season of 2012 could spill over into the Lost Seasons 2012, 2013 . . . .

Plus, there still is the Hoyer compensation due the Padres!

February 11, 2012


Two recent lists of Top Cubs prospects are out: one from MLB.com and one from ESPN's Keith Law. Many of the players are so young or recently signed not to have much press or detailed scouting reports. But the lists do show that the Cubs are still a long way away from having deep prospect talent.


1. Anthony Rizzo, 1B (Epstein's big trade)
2. Brett Jackson, OF (Hendry's last best pick)
3. Javier Baez, SS (young, raw)
4. Matt Szczur, OF (got a Smardzilla guaranteed contract from Hendry to forgo football)
5. Chris Carpenter, RP (Cashner light)
6. Dillon Maples, SP (the late rounder Hendry paid 1st round money on last year)
7. Trey McNutt, SP (he had to stay so Archer went in the Garza deal)
8. Rafael Dolis, RP (been hanging around a long time with little ML experience)
9. Robert Whitenack, SP (eh?)
10. Reggie Golden, OF (on top list for a while but seems not to be promoted up)
11. Junior Lake, SS (potential rising star)
12. Josh Vitters, 3B (perennial bust candidate)
13. Ronald Torreyes, 2B (maybe the key in the Marshall deal)
14. Ben Wells, SP (eh?)
15. Dan Vogelbach, 1B (the large high school kid the Cubs overpaid for in the draft)
16. Jeimer Candelario, 3B (don't know, another new Hoyer international signee???)
17. Gioskar Amaya, IF (don't know, another new Hoyer international signee???)
18. Marco Hernandez, SS (don't know, another new Hoyer international signee???)
19. Dave Sappelt, OF (the toss in in the Marshall deal; another Campana)
20. Pin-Chieh Chen, OF (don't know, another new Hoyer international signee???)


1. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
2. Brett Jackson, OF
3. Javier Baez, SS
4. Trey McNutt, RHP
5. Zach Cates, RHP
6. Wellington Castillo, C
7. Dillon Maples, RHP
8. Josh Vitters, 3B
9. Reggie Golden, OF
10. Matt Szczur, CF

The Cubs had three prospects in Law’s top 100, – outfielder Brett Jackson, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and shortstop Javier Baez. Rizzo, who comes in at 36. Jackson, who is roundly considered a top 40 prospect by other lists, is ranked 89th by Law. Baez, usually in the top 50, is 95th.

So what do the authors agree on?

Rizzo is the best Cubs prospect. He is about 1/2 year away from the big leagues, or longer if LaHair does not struggle. Brett Jackson is the second best prospect, and he is ready to play but is blocked by Byrd in centerfield. Baez is a raw shortstop with upside potential, but Castro is the Cubs shortstop for the long term (unless they switch him to third). McNutt is the best pitching prospect, but did not have a great 2011. Maples is the second best pitching prospect, just signed out of college. Will he be fast tracked?  Szczur is an overpaid outfielder who is also being blocked by Soriano and DeJesus so it less certain whether he will wallow in the minors for years to come. Golden is a young Class A prospect like former Cub Corey Patterson who may slowly work his way up the ladder to the majors some day. Vitters is the 8th best prospect, but his stock is fading as each year passes.

When the talk from Wrigley is that the turnaround of the organization will be completed by 2013 (with this year being the team's Lost Season), outsiders view the minor league system as being very weak. Even if Epstein-Hoyer-McLeod have an excellent draft in June, those players will be three years away from the majors . . . so the turn around ETA is more like 2015.

February 9, 2012

EITHER . . . OR?

It is a simple game. Either, or. Pick which player you think is better at the position for the 2012 Cubs:

LF  Soriano or Reed Johnson?
CF: Byrd or Brett Jackson?
RF: DeJesus or Campana?
3B: Stewart or Vitters?
SS: Castro or Barney?
2B: Barney or Cardenas?
1B: LaHair or Rizzo?
C:   Soto or Wellington Castillo?

C:  Jaramillo or Clevenger?
IN: Baker or Gonzalez?
OF: Sappelt or Adduci?

It is those simple "gut" calls that a general manager may have to make in order to pare down the spring training invitees down to the final 25 man roster, by either option to the minors, trade a player or two, or release one or two.

February 6, 2012


Chicago Cubs press release:

"CHICAGO The Chicago Cubs today claimed infielder Adrian Cardenas off waivers from the Oakland Athletics.  In a corresponding 40-man roster move, infielder Blake DeWitt was designated for assignment.
Cardenas, 24, batted .314 (154-for-491) with 28 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 70 runs scored, 51 RBI and a .374 on-base percentage in 127 games with Triple-A Sacramento last year.  The left-handed batter and right-handed thrower ranked eighth in the Pacific Coast League with 154 hits and posted his highest batting average in his five full professional campaigns.
In 2011, Cardenas saw action at second base (35 games), shortstop (three games), third base (13 games) and left field (44 games), his first professional experience in the outfield.  He has primarily played second base (361 games) in his professional career.
Cardenas was originally selected by Philadelphia in the supplemental round (37th overall) of the 2006 Draft and acquired by Oakland as part of the trade that sent Joe Blanton to the Phillies on July 17, 2008.  In 643 minor league games, Cardenas is a career .303 hitter (749-for-2,475) with 143 doubles, 21 triples, 29 home runs, 77 stolen bases and a .368 on-base percentage.
DeWitt, 26, batted .265 (61-for-230) with 11 doubles, five home runs and 26 RBI in 121 games with the Cubs last year, his first full season with the club after being acquired from the Dodgers on July 31, 2010.  He is a career .260 hitter (283-for-1,087) in 404 major league games with the Dodgers (2008-10) and the Cubs (2010-present)."

Cardenas defense at AAA:
SS   3 games, 1.000 percent          
2B   35 games,  .978        
3B  13 games, .886
LF 44 games, .974

Cardenas is 2 years younger, and will make the league minimum vs. DeWitt's $1.1 million. If Cardenas is signed to be a utility bench player, then this move is a salary dump if DeWitt is claimed on waivers. The Cubs have 10 days in which to decide to put DeWitt back on the 40 man roster (moving another player off), or put him on waivers or release him (and pay his salary less what another team will pay, the minimum).  If the move is to try to unseat Barney at second base (or platoon lefty-righty), then we will have to see what happens in spring training.


Epstein-Hoyer have gambled away two young prospects for an underwhelming, underperforming injury excused third baseman to replace one-tool player, Aramis Ramirez.

Ian Stewart had been packaged after the trade as just as good as Ramirez: he can regain his (inflated Coors Field) power; and that he is a better defenseman; and he bats left handed. Except, of course, his bat may not come back to his early career numbers, his defense is actually on par with Ramirez (not great) and being left handed in Wrigley is not an advantage.

If Stewart fails like the long line of garbage third baseman after Santo to Madlock then after Madlock back to Ramirez, what is Plan B?

The Cub infield roster currently stands like this:

Ian Stewart, 3b
Jeff Baker, 1b, 2b, 3b, of
Darwin Barney, 2b, ss
Starlin Castro, ss
Blake DeWitt, 2b, 3b, of
Bryan LaHair, 1b, of
Junior Lake, 2b, ss, 3b (minors)
Anthony Rizzo, 1b (minors)
Josh Vitters, 3b, 1b (minors)

For 2012, the Cubs will have to make do with DeWitt and Baker as back up third basemen.
Baker, played in 81 games in 2011 with a line of 3 HR, 23 RBI, .269 BA,  .302 OBP, 0 SB.
He played 11 games at third, handling 10 chances (4 put outs, 6 assists) for 1.000 fielding %.
However, his career average at third is only .943 fielding %.

DeWitt played in 121 games in 2011 with a line of 5 HR, 26 RBI, .265 BA, .305 OBP, 1 SB.
DeWitt  played 14 games at third in 2011, having 33 chances with 5 errors with a low .853 fielding %.
However, over his career, DeWitt's third base fielding % is .943, the same as Baker's.

Essentially, Baker and DeWitt are the same player taking up two roster spots on the Cubs.

Junior Lake is essentially a young (21 year old) shortstop who may be tested in the minors at second and third base because in 2011 at A+/AA he hit 12 HR, 51 RBI, .279 BA, .316 OBP, 6 SB.

Josh Vitters is the perennial third base prospect. Vitters, 22, at AA hit 14 HR, 80 RBI, .283 BA, .322 OBP, 4 SB. His fielding percentage at third last season was only .903. In five minor league seasons, his third base fielding percentage is a weak .905.

So Stewart has replaced Ramirez as the everyday starter at third, but the Cubs have not addressed the lack of depth at third base. The idea of moving Castro to third when he gets older smacks of desperation and the lack of development in your minor league system.

February 4, 2012


Now that Matt Garza is signed for $9.5-$10 million and not traded, the crop of baseball players on the 40 man roster and spring training invitees are basically set:

From this diseased and wilted Field of Dreams, an Opening Day roster of 25 men will emerge.

(Insert sign of the cross here)

Note: (*) are players signed by the new regime.

The non-roster invitees are:

Nine pitchers - righthanders Marco Carrillo, Manuel Corpas (*), Jay Jackson, Rodrigo Lopez (*), Trey McNutt, Blake Parker and Dae-Eun Rhee and lefthanders Trever Miller (*) and Chris Rusin

Three catchers -  Michael Brenly, Jason Jaramillo (*) and Blake Lalli.

Five infielders - Alfredo Amezaga (*), Edgar Gonzalez (*), Jonathan Mota, Bobby Scales (*) and Matt Tolbert (*)

Four outfielders - Jim Adduci, Jae-Hoon Ha, Brett Jackson and Joe Mather (*)

Cubs current 40 man roster:

Jeff Beliveau, left handed reliever
Alberto Cabrera, right handed reliever
Chris Carpenter, right handed reliever
Lendy Castillo, right handed reliever (*)
Casey Coleman, right handed starter
Ryan Dempster, right handed starter
Rafael Dolis, right handed reliever
Matt Garza, right handed starter
John Gaub, left handed reliever
Paul Maholm, left handed starter (*)
Scott Maine, left handed reliever
Carlos Marmol, closer
Marcos Mateo, right handed reliever
James Russell, left handed reliever
Jeff Samardzija, right handed reliever
Andy Sonnanstine, right handed starter (*)
Chris Volstad, right handed starter (*)
Casey Weathers, right handed reliever (*)
Randy Wells, right handed starter
Kerry Wood, right handed reliever (*)
Travis Wood, left handed starter (*)


Welington Castillo
Steve Clevenger
Geovany Soto


Jeff Baker
Darwin Barney
Starlin Castro
Blake DeWitt
Bryan LaHair
Junior Lake
Anthony Rizzo (*)
Ian Stewart (*)
Josh Vitters


Marlon Byrd
Tony Campana
David DeJesus (*)
Reed Johnson (*)
Dave Sappelt (*)
Alfonso Soriano
Matthew Szczur

The non-roster invitees serve two purposes. First and foremost, to spell time from the regular roster players during multiple spring training games. Second, a chance to impress the Cub bosses and make the team like Tyler Colvin did a few years back. Longshots are always part of the underdog spring training wire copy; hope springs eternal.

The 9 pitchers invited to camp are there mostly to eat innings, and possibily work toward one open bullpen spot. The three catchers are in camp to be available to work with the pitching staff on drills, and to spot catch during exhibitions. Of the three, only Jaramillo has major league experience. Sensing the lack of confidence in the current minor league system, Hoyer may ship Jaramillo north with the club and keep Wellington and Clevenger in Iowa. It may not be a prudent move to do that, but it would not be surprising.

As indicated in earlier posts, the infielders invited to camp all can play second base. Second base is a upgrade need area (along with starting pitching). Mota, 24, combined to hit .270 (76-for-281) with 19 doubles, seven home runs and 38 RBI in 98 games between Tennessee and Iowa last year. He can play 3b, ss and 2b. He may be a utility infielder of the future. There has been little indication that the new regime is comfortable with DeWitt or Baker as bench/role players, except for the default that Baker is the team's back up first baseman behind LaHair. Amezaga, 34, is a career .247 hitter (348-for-1,408) in all or part of nine major league seasons with the Angels (2002-04), Rockies (2005, 2011), Pirates (2005) and Marlins (2006-09, 2011) covering 584 games.  The versatile switch-hitter has seen big league time at every position but pitcher and catcher, with his most appearances at shortstop (117 games), second base (76), third base (73) and center field (256).  Amezaga batted .182 (14-for-77) in 40 major league games last year.

If Epstein and Hoyer are going to force feed their change immediately, "their guys" roster selections would be:

Pitchers: Castillo, Maholm, Sonnanstine, Volstad,  Weathers, T. Wood, K. Wood
Infielders: Rizzo, Stewart
Outfielders: DeJesus, Johnson, Sappelt

We already know Maholm, Volstad and T. Wood are starters. K. Wood is the set up man in the pen.
Rizzo will start in Iowa while Stewart will start at third and DeJesus in right field. Johnson is the 4th OF.

We also know that these players are locked into a roster spot by contract/no trade clauses:
Pitchers: Garza, Dempster, Marmol, Samardzija
Outfielders: Soriano, Byrd

That equals thirteen (13) players guaranteed to make the team.
That leaves twelve (12) players fighting for spots.

We don't know Hoyer's philosophy on the number of pitchers will make the team. Most teams take eleven (11) but the Cubs in the past have had (12). A weaker a pitching staff as a whole means taking an extra pitcher on board (usually a long reliever).  What we do know is that Epstein traded away the best set up man (Marshall) and potential closer (Cashner). So K. Wood and Samardzija have to take those roles. Also, the club needs at least one left handed reliever from Russell, Maine, Gaub, or Beliveau. Most likely, Russell will make the team, with Maine or Gaub with secondary chances if T. Miller or Rusin do not dazzle.

We know Castro is the shortstop, LaHair is the first baseman, and Soto is starting catcher. The Cubs will only carry one back up catcher. Castillo looked good in his limited major league experience. Scouts think Clevenger has more upside potential. Either would be an upgrade over Koy Hill.

Second base is a crowded interstate highway pile up: Barney, DeWitt, Baker and the salvage crew of  Amezaga,  Gonzalez,  Mota, Scales and Tolbert. If anyone sneaks into a bench role from this group it would be Gonzalez or Tolbert, not because of their bats but just under the guise of change.

There appears only one outfield slot open between Mather, Adduci, Campana, Sappelt,  Ha, and Brett Jackson.

Jackson will not make the club unless Byrd is traded to open up centerfield for him. The organization would rather have Jackson play every day in Iowa than sit on the bench in Chicago.

Campana and Sappelt are basically the same player; 5'8" speedsters with average to below average tools. The Cubs can't afford to have a designated pinch runner in Campana on the bench, so Sappelt has an edge on that score. Ha, 21, combined to hit .279 (145-for-520) with 31 doubles, 11 homers, 72 RBI and 13 stolen bases in 132 games with Single-A Daytona and Tennessee, reaching Double-A at the age of 20. He will probably be promoted to Iowa (AAA) and be part of the real mix in 2013.

Mather, 29, has spent part of three seasons in the majors with St. Louis (2008, 2010) and Atlanta (2011), batting .228 (61-for-268) with nine home runs and 30 RBI in 126 big league games. Adduci, 26, a left-handed batter hit .308 (73-for-237) with 13 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 20 RBI and 21 stolen bases in 71 games at Double-A Tennessee last season.

There are not a lot of confident MUST HAVES to fill out the 25 man Opening Day roster. But we must reap what has been sown. This our best GUESSIMATE of what Epstein and Hoyer decisions will be:

Starting Rotation:
1. Garza, RHP
2. Maholm LHP (*)
3. Dempster, RHP
4. T. Wood, LHP (*)
5. Volstad, RHP (*)
6. Marmol, RHP, closer
7. K. Wood, RHP, set up man (*)
8. Samardzija, RHP
9. Russell, LHP
10. Carpenter, RHP
11. Corpas, RHP (*)
12. T. Miller, LHP (*)
Starting Position Players:
13. Soto, catcher
14. LaHair, first base (L)
15. Barney, second base
16. Castro, shortstop
17. Stewart, third base (L)
18. Soriano, left field
19. Byrd, center field
20. DeJesus, right field (L)
21. Jaramillo, catcher (*) (SH)
22. R. Johnson, outfielder (*)
23. Baker, infield-outfield
24. Gonzalez, infield-outfield (*)
25. Amezaga, infielder (*) (SH)

If four non-roster players make the team, four players must be removed (Mateo, Dolis, Campana, and Gaub - - - all Hendry picks). Under this scheme, the new Cubs management would have placed 10 signees on the 25 man roster, or 40%.

I would rather have  11) Maine LHP and 12) Dolis relief pitchers and  21) Castillo as back up catcher, 25) DeWitt infielder-outfielder. The only reason to have Gonzalez, Castillo and DeWitt on the bench is the potential for some spot power (HR).

February 3, 2012


Cubs management continues to drone on adding "depth" to the organization.

In the last two moves, the Cubs added pitchers at both ends of the prospect spectrum.

The team has signed Australian southpaw Ryan Rowland-Smith to a minor league deal, reports ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick.  The Australian southpaw compiled a 4.57 ERA and a 1.64 K/BB ratio in 362 2/3 innings with the Mariners from 2007-10.  Rowland-Smith, 29, spent last season in the Astros' minor league system, 2-10 record, 6.19 ERA in 22 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City; 104.2 IP, 131 H, 77 R, 41 BB, 87 K and 1.643 WHIP. In 2010 with Seattle, he was 1-10, 6.75 ERA in 27 games (20 starts), 109 IP, 141 H, 46 BB, 49 K, 1.692 WHIP.

This signing is merely a roster placeholder for AAA Iowa. At 29, Rowland-Smith has not been on an improvement track, but putting up bad numbers in AAA after failing with the Mariners. The very high WHIP indicates a real control issue. 

The other signee is from the international arena, where the Cubs are keen to develop talent with the new, state of the art training academy in the Dominican. In a field of 10 teams allegedly offering him a contract, Cuban defector Gerardo Concepcion signed a $7 to $8 million contract with the Cubs.  The contract will become official once Concepcion passes a physical. Concepcion's age is unclear, either 18 or 19 years old. He was a rookie in the Cuban National League in 2011. He went 10-3, 3.36 ERA in 21 games (16 starts). He was the league rookie of the year. At 6'2", the slender left hander throws a low 90s fastball.

This signing is a calculated risk. Some organizations view the Cuban baseball leagues as being Low A caliber. On the other hand, some organizations also view the Cuban national team as being a High AA-AAA caliber talent. With only one professional season to review, there is not much history with Concepcion. But the Cubs committed first round draft money in the Cuban.

Rowland-Smith has no future with the Cubs, but Concepcion is Hoyer's first big new talent signing of his GM tenure.