March 31, 2012


Another comparison: this year's starting rotation vs. 2011.

Opening Day Starter:

1. RHP Ryan Dempster, same
Dempster is the last year of his contract. He is not the "ace" of the staff, just the most senior. Along with Kerry Wood, he is the face of the team - - - which ownership still needs to stress since ticket sales have been less than stellar. Dempster is in the swan song of his career. It is symptomatic that he gets the final curtain call on Opening Day for a team projected to win only 69 games.

2. RHP Matt Garza over Carlos Zambrano
Jim Hendry traded a boat load of prospects ("assets" according to new management) for Matt Garza. Garza at times looked dominate, but also labored through outings. He only scored ten wins in his Cubs debut season; not ace worthy even on a bad team.  Zambrano turned out to be the best of the Three Amigo stud prospects (with Prior and Wood) but Z's behavior issues led to his downfall.  Garza is a slight upgrade over Zambrano as the #2 starter.

3. RHP Jeff Samardzija over Matt Garza
This is another classic Hendry 2.0 move: take a very good relief pitcher and convert him into a starter. In essence, Samardzija is replacing Andrew Cashner in the Transformer Pitcher experiment this season. Cashner blew out his arm after his first start which helped create a circus of bad megshift fill-in clowns.
Besides changing roles, Samardzija moves up into the rotation at #3 which adds pressure. Garza as last year's #3 is clearly a better starting pitcher (especially in durability and experience) so this move is a downgrade from last season and probable slow motion train wreck in progress.

4. RHP Chris Volstad over Randy Wells
In a rare Cub move, there was an actual competition this spring for this starting pitching spot. In 29 starts last season, Volstad was 5-13, 4.89 ERA, 1.425 WHIP. Wells, in 23 starts, was 7-6, 4.99 ERA, 1.389 WHIP. They both pitched well in camp; Volstad had his worst outing after Wells was demoted to AAA Iowa. At this point, they are interchangeable average to below average starters so this position is a push going into this season.

5. LHP Paul Maholm over Randy Cashner
This is a no brainer. Cashner should have never been moved into a starting role. He was a closer in college and appeared to be moving toward replacing Marmol in the future. But some GMs have the desire to have power arms in the rotation (Clemens, Nolan Ryan) but fail to realize the difficulty of harnessing one inning power reliever into six inning starter. In 26 starts last season, Maholm went  6-14 for the Pirates, with a 3.66 ERA and a good 1.294 WHIP. However, Maholm is injury prone which is why the Cubs did not push him along during spring training. In essence, Maholm is replacing former Cub Ted Lilly as the Cubs lone lefty starter. In Lilly's last full season with the Cubs, 2009, he was 12-9, 3.10 ERA, with a stellar 1.056 WHIP. Anything close to Lilly's mark by Maholm would be a huge upgrade at the #5 starter slot.

For 2012, the Cubs have made 3 changes to the starting 5 which quite the turnover in personnel.
Garza, as #2, is a slight upgrade from last season; Samardzija as #3 is a downgrade; but Maholm, if he can stay healthy, is an upgrade at #5. So, on paper, the Cubs 2012 rotation is better than 2011.

March 30, 2012


Dale Sveum announced his basic starting line up.  How does it compare to the 2011 squad?

1. DeJesus  RF over Fukudome. 
It appears to be a wash at this point. DeJesus' career is on the decline. It is doubtful that DeJesus will have the power numbers normally equated with a corner outfield position. Fukey's .250, 10 HR 40 RBI seasonal average seems about DeJesus' projected 2012. So this move is not an upgrade over last season.

2. Barney  2B, same
Barney bulked up some in the off season and hit the ball well during camp. However, will the league adjust to give him a sophomore slump? Probably. Even though new management saw that second base was a weak position, they did not upgrade it with any viable competition.

3. Castro SS, same
The only question is whether the off-the-field issue will have any affect on Castro's consistent on-field performance. The new GM also failed to address the issue if Castro gets hurt; there is no ready back up in place (Barney is listed on the depth chart).

4. LaHair  1B over Pena.
Pena did what Pena does: hit homers, walks and have a low BA. Clearly, LaHair is house sitting first base until Rizzo is ready to be called up. LaHair will probably not have the 25 HR 80 RBI season that a Pena could be projected for, so most believe the Cubs have downgraded first base position this season.

5. Soriano  LF, same
Soriano is a year old, and moving back up the line up card. That cannot be a good sign.
He will lead the team in HRs because that is all he has wanted to do the last few years.
With no other teams even inquiring about his availability, Soriano is blocking any prospect from getting a shot to improve more categories, offense and defense.

6. Stewart  3B over Ramirez
Ian Stewart is not going to replace Ramirez's offensive production at third. He may not even cover half of it. As for defense, history tells us that he is about the same as A-Ram defensively at third (below average). This is a definite downgrade.

 7. Byrd  CF, same
Byrd drops down the lineup card, which is a good thing. A #3 hitter with only 35 RBIs is not productive. Other teams have inquired about his availability to be a 4th OF/injury replacement but the Cubs appear not ready to part with Byrd (which would equate to an immediate call up of Brett Jackson).

8. Soto C, same
Maybe with non-factor Koy Hill gone, the prospect of Clevenger pushing for more starts will make Soto perform more towards his Rookie of the Year campaign than recent years on-off production.

9. Dempster P, same
No one can claim Dempster earned the Opening Day starter role over Garza, unless the only criteria was seniority. Dempster is in his final contract year (and probable career swan song).

So there are three changes in this year's opening day line up: DeJesus, LaHair and Stewart. Two of the three are downgrades over the 2011 starters.

March 28, 2012


The Cubs picked up Shawn Camp after he was released from the Mariners. Why was he released? He was bad. But in one outing with Chicago, the powers that be said he looked good.

With the pick up of De La Cruz earlier, the Cubs brass seems like it now wants to stockpile journeymen middle relievers.

Camp, 36, again does not fit the youth movement of Epstein. Camp pitched last season in Toronto. In 67 appearances, he was 6-3, 4.21 ERA and 1.523 WHIP. This spring in 8 1/3 innings pitched with Seattle, Camp was 0-0, 2.16 ERA and 3.12 WHIP.  But observers called his performance "old and outdated."

Management will meet tonight to finalize the 25 man roster. The bullpen appears to be the sore point.
There is a good possibility that both De La Cruz and Camp will make the bullpen spots, with Wells being optioned to Iowa as the 6th stock piled starter. Or Lopez could take one of those spots and become the opening "spot starter."

Inconsistent closer Marmol, fragile Kerry Wood, and lefty specialist Russell are the only clear bullpen arms. Dolis has made an impression to stick as the 7th inning set up guy.

Adding cast offs this late in spring training is an indictment on how bad the pitching talent was under Hendry's regime and/or how bad or late Epstein and Hoyer realized it to not better plan for rebuilding the bullpen.

March 26, 2012


The Cincinnati Reds have built their team to win it all this season. The Reds needed a set up man and traded for the league's best, Sean Marshall. Team MVP Votto is nearing free agency.

So what happens when new closer Ryan Madson (32 saves last season in Philly) goes down with a serious elbow injury? Internal closer candidates are Marshall, Nick Masset or A. Chapman, the 100 mph flamethrower that the Reds GM wants in the rotation. Manager Dusty Baker wants Chapman in the bullpen. This internal debate has now come out in the open with Madson's injury.

The only other option would be to trade for a closer.  Teams that have closers do not want to give them up. Teams out of contention will trade a closer for a bundle of top prospects.

Would Carlos Marmol fit into the Reds bullpen as the closer?

There are no proven closers left in the free agent market. A team like the Cubs, that knows they will not contend this year or next, would give up a closer for more "assets." But in a year or two, the Cubs if the turnaround is successful, would themselves be in the market for a closer. Closers are hard to time by, or are expensive to sign.


The weekend debate was about the New Cubs. A few people are still in full honeymoon mode with the Epstein crew. They admit that the Cubs will do nothing this year, but they are happy that the new crew is getting rid of the deadwood of the past roster. Except, the latter is not quite true. Even if the honeymoon period is still in the fandom, the operations look more like a continuation of the Old Guard.

Example 1: is DeJesus in RF just a different version of Kosuke Fukudome? An above average defender who came to town with some batting credentials that never panned out?

Example 2: is the replacement at third base as good as the last one? Hendry traded with the Pirates for Aramis Ramirez because the Pirates could not afford to keep him because he was good and would demand a huge salary increase. Epstein traded for Ian Stewart because the Rockies could not afford to keep him because he was bad.

Example 3: the old organization put its future in three superstar starters (Prior, Wood and Zambrano) and only Z had a legitimate starting career. The new organization has brought in their first three starters as the core of rebuilding (Maholm, Travis Wood and Volstad). T. Wood has been awful, and Maholm under the weather most of the spring. Not a good beginning.

Example 4: the old guard held on to declining veterans too long, like Derek Lee at first base. Now the new guard is handing first base over to a veteran AAA player that the old Cubs failed to promote for years. The old guard signed Pena to be a stop gap player until something; the new guard is using LaHair as a stop gap until Rizzo is ready.

These examples don't instill confidence that the New Cub organization is operating that much different than the old organization.

March 24, 2012


The Cubs claimed relief pitcher Eulogio De La Cruz, 28, off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers.
It was one of those agate type transaction list notations. De La Cruz is a five foot ten inch right hander, who has been with four different major league teams in the last four seasons.  His overall record is less than stellar; he appears mostly in mop up roles.

In four major league seasons (with Tigers, Marlins, Padres and Brewers), he has a career record of 0-0, 8.16 ERA in 26 games (with 16 game finishes), an whopping 1.969 WHIP and a K/BB ratio of 0.77.

However, last season with the Brewers, he was in 11 games, pitched 13 innings for a 2.77 ERA, 1.154 WHIP. Is this an "asset" pick up, or stockpiling another arm to fill AAA Iowa?

Last season at AAA Nashville, De La Cruz made 23 starts, pitched 137 innings, with a record 7-6, 3.88 ERA and 1.409 WHIP.

Teams have to fill their minor league rosters with players to eat up innings. In a perfect world, there would be a steady promotion of drafted players moving up the minor league ladder. But in the Cubs world, that does not happen on a consistent basis, so you need to plug in career minor leaguers or AAAA players on a year to year basis. De La Cruz has little chance of making an impact in the majors this season.

March 23, 2012


The Cubs outrighted Sonnanstine to the minors yesterday. That opens a spot on the 40 man roster. That foretells how the Cubs will construct their pitching staff.  Lopez, the veteran who has pitched well, we lose out on the starting rotation, but will be the long reliever/spot starter candidate. He came to camp only with a minor league contract, so to make the team, he has to be promoted to the 40 man roster by opening day.

The starting rotation battle appears to have settled on two players, Volstad and Wells, for the 5th slot. Samardzija has won the 4th spot. The Cubs want a power pitcher in the rotation, especially one to follow a finesse pitcher like Maholm in a series.

Volstad has the inside track because he was the return for the Zambrano deal. Zambrano has a good season in Miami, fans will cringe unless they see something tangible in return. Besides, Volstad has been pitching as well as Samardzija.

That leaves Wells, who has one option year left, can be sent to the minors to stay stretched out in case a starter goes down. He is too valuable as a starter to be demoted to the bullpen at this point. But not too valuable to other teams to be a trade candidate.

So we can pretty well pencil in Garza, Dempster, Maholm, Samardzija and Volstad as the Cubs rotation.
The bullpen shapes up as Lopez, Russell, K. Wood, Marmol and probably Dolis and Mateo. Mateo is out of options. Dolis has the inside track based on Sveum's recent comments. But the GM may want another left hander in the bullpen to help with match-ups.

March 21, 2012


We are beyond the midterm of Spring Training. It is time to give new GM Epstein a report card on his off season moves.

1) The Marshall Trade.  It appears that Travis Wood, and his 25.00 spring ERA, is not ready for any comeback season any time soon. Reserve outfielder Dave Sappelt is not in the discussion to make the roster. In fact, a journeyman Joe Mather, will be the fifth outfielder. The last item of the trade, A ball second baseman Torreyes will not be in the picture for three years or more. So, trading the best left handed relief pitcher in the majors for immediate help ("assets" such as depth and young starting pitching) seems to be a bust.

2) The Colvin Trade. The Cubs traded two of Hendry's major league ready prospects, Colvin and LeMathieu, for third baseman Ian Stewart. Stewart had an awful year in 2011: injuries and demotion to the minors. The Cubs projected a huge comeback season for Stewart, in part to replace the production of Aramis Ramirez. The Cubs thought he'd hit 25 HRs at Wrigley. But now, we learn that Stewart still has continuing pain in his wrist when he bats. We know that MLB player wrist injuries take a dramatic toll on player production (see, Derek Lee history). Stewart has shown no power so far. So this trade of two young assets for an injured AAA third baseman also seems like a bust at this point.

3) The Cashner Trade. The Cubs traded potential closer Andrew Cashner to the Padres to get first base prospect Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo is projected to be a power hitting first baseman. His call up last season in San Diego proved that he was overmatched in this debut, so the Cubs will stash Rizzo in Iowa for a couple of months (depending on how LaHair plays). Cashner, a college closer who had a career set back when the Cubs tried to convert him to a starter (like they are doing this spring with Samardzija), could have been the replacement for either Marshall, K. Wood or even Marmol in the bullpen. Marmol still has control issues, and recent reports indicate that he has a hand/arm issue. If Marmol goes down, the Cubs have no ready closer in the major league camp. So this trade of a known commodity for the future seems more risky than ever at this point.

4) The Zambrano Trade. The Cubs made the decision early to get rid of Zambrano. The only landing spot for him was Miami with Ozzie Guillen. The Cubs received a starter in return, Volstad, who seems to have pitched well enough to be the team's fifth starter. So the Cubs did receive some "value" in return for banishing Z to South Florida. Fans will still compare the two pitchers starts, IP, ERA and especially wins this season to see who got the better of the deal. As it stands today, the consensus is that that this trade was okay.

Now some teachers would call these grades either "incomplete" or "go to detention." Long time Cub observers will note that these moves seem very similar to those made by the prior GM, Jim Hendry. Hendry liked to sign "comeback" players to fill roster needs or trade for veterans for "change of scenery" bounce back seasons. Current examples of those ideas are the underwhelming performances of Corpas, Sonnanstine and T. Miller to fill bullpen slots.

One has to wonder why the Cubs are seemingly making the same mistakes. But then you have to realize that the new Epstein crew has kept in place Hendry's staff, whose input may still influence Epstein and Hoyer in their decision making process as did Kenney and the Tribune executives who stayed on during Ricketts ownership.

March 16, 2012


ESPN reports that the Cubs have sent minor-league pitcher Aaron Kurcz to the Red Sox  as the player to be named later in order complete their obligations in the Theo Epstein compensation situation.
All that remains is for the Red Sox to send a player to be named later to the Cubs.
Kurcz, a 10th-round draft pick in 2010, was a midseason Florida State League All-Star last season at Class A Dayton. He finished the season 5-4 with a 3.28 ERA, making a start in 12 of his 32 appearances. He pitched 82 1/3 innings with 91 strikeouts and 34 walks.  Kurcz, 21, started off rookie ball as an impressive closer and quickly worked up to A+ Daytona last season. So it appears the Red Sox have been cherry picking potential closers from the Cubs system.
In two minor league seasons, his record is 7-5, 2.95 ERA, 9 saves, 1.158 WHIP, 9.9 K/9IP and 3.09 K/BB ratio.

March 14, 2012


When this blog first started, I tried to identify potential pick-ups for the Cubs in the quest to reconstruct the 2012 roster. Jai Miller was an outfielder in Oakland, for whom the Orioles paid $45k to obtain. The O's also picked off Cub infield prospect Ryan Flaherty.

Here is how both are doing this spring for Baltimore:

                       G    AB     R    H  2B   3B  HR   RBI  BB  SO SB  AVG  OBP SLG   OPS
Miller CF        7     21      3     7     4     0     1      7      1       9    0    .333   .364    .667  1.030
Flaherty 3B     7     19      3     6     1     1     1      5      1       2    1    .316    .381   .632   1.013

March 13, 2012


After hitting a pinch hit HR, all attention seems to be on reserve outfielder Joe Mather. Mather, 30, is a former Brave and Cardinal farm hand with limited major league experience. He does not fit the Theo benchmark of being under 28.  But it is reported that he can play LF, RF, 3B and 1B. Jim Hendry also fancied players stuffed at multiple positions (usually second basemen playing out of position).

Mather's emergence puts the heat on Tony Campana and Dave Sappelt for the last OF spot. Both Campana and Sappelt have not been tearing up spring. It is reported that all three have minor league options so it is not an issue of losing control over the player via release. (The Cubs outrighted reliever Casey Weathers to Iowa to open up a spot on the 40 man roster. Some speculation is that it is for re-activation of Sveum favorite Blake DeWitt, but I don't know if the Cuban signee, Concepcion's deal requires him to be on the 40 man roster.)

Back to Mather. IN 2011 for the Braves, he had 36 game appearances, 83 AB, 1 HR, 9 RBI, .213 BA, .272 OBP.  Not stellar production. In parts of three professional seasons playing RF, LF, CF, 1B and 3B (106 games), his fielding percentage is .983, slightly above average. In 73 games in AAA last season, he hit 7 HR, 35 RBI, .306 BA, .359 OBP and 5 steals.  It appears that he is prototypical 25th man, bench player.

If Mather has the inside track to be the 5th OF and pinch hitter off the bench, then Campana and Sappelt will struggle to find time even in Iowa (with Jackson and Szczur there).

So the Cubs bench seems to be shaping up like this (assuming the Cubs take 12 pitchers):
OF reserves: Reed Johnson, Mather
IN reserves: DeWitt, Baker,
Backup C: Castillo or Clevenger

March 12, 2012


If this was a Little League tryout camp, and based upon performance so far, the opening day lineup would be this:

1. Castro, ss
2. DeJesus, rf
3. Jackson, cf
4. Soriano, lf
5. LaHair, 1b
6. Castillo, c
7. Stewart 3b
8. Barney 2b

There is too much pressure on Castro in the number three hole. Pressure to carry the offense. Pressure to hit more home runs. When that happens, his average will fall and his mechanics will get messed up. Castro performs the best leading off.

The only possible number three hitter in camp is Brett Jackson. But management has already said he will be in AAA to start the season. Byrd is the starting CF, but he is no #3 hitter. De Jesus, Stewart and Barney are starters because there is no one pushing them for their job. Soto has been out nursing a groin injury, so at this point he and Castillo are interchangeable parts.

The lineup shown above is really the best opening day roster the Cubs have at this point in time.

March 10, 2012


One thing a team needs for long term viability is a pipeline of replacement players in their system or a Plan to acquire missing pieces in a time of need. The latter costs a lot of money. It has been the private domain of the big spenders like the Yankees, who can corner a free agent market.

The Cubs under the Tribune thought that way, but signed second tier and declining players to create rosters so the team was competitive enough to sell out Wrigley. But this has changed. The Cubs are a big market team playing by small market rules because the Ricketts family does not or is unwilling to become a deep pocket spender.

So it is up to the System to be the foundation for the Future.

Based on current spring training news, it is pretty certain who will be the Cubs opening day starters. The question is who are their replacements, players the team is counting on for long term stability at the position?

1B: LaHair    Replacement: Rizzo
Rizzo is Epstein and Hoyer's centerpiece for their Cubs Way Plan. Rizzo will probably be up in the middle of 2012, or quicker if LaHair turns out to be a 4A player.

2B: Barney  Replacement: Torreyes
Torreyes, who was acquired in the Marshall deal,  was the low A prospect that has the tool potential to be a top of the order guy. He will not arrive in the majors for at least 3 years.

SS: Castro  Replacement: Baez
Some scouting lists have put Baez in the Top 3 of Cub prospects. He is very young but has impressed enough that he may move up the ranks quickly. However, Castro will block him from the major league level unless at some point the Cubs flip Castro in a major deal. That is unlikely.

3B: Stewart  Replacement: Vitters
Stewart was acquired from Colorado. He is not a long term solution at third base. Vitters has been in the Cub system longer than a Rip Van Winkle nap. Vitters can bat; the question is whether he can field. The Cubs have been empty on third base prospects since Santo was traded (with exceptions of Madlock and Ramirez).

C: Soto  Replacements: Castillo and Clevenger
Soto was a late blooming Rookie of the Year, then slid in production. The Tribune mentality of not playing rookies but finding veterans even for back up duty (Koy Hill) has stunted the promotion of Castillo (who has power) and Clevenger (who has batting average). The team seems to emphasis their negatives in order to justify keeping Soto on the roster. Both Castillo and Clevenger could start today if Soto was traded.

LF: Soriano  Replacement:  Jae-Hoon Ha
Soriano is your left fielder, like it or not, for the next three seasons. No other team wants him. No manager is going to take the wrath of benching him. Besides, Soriano is still the club's only real HR threat. Ha received a quick peek in Spring training. Some scouts believe he may be a average to bench player an put more stock in a high risk/high reward type of rookie like Reggie Golden. In either event, no rookie ball player will be ready for the majors until 2015.

CF: Byrd   Replacement: B. Jackson
Byrd is in the last year of his contract. He may be moved before the trade deadline to open a space for the Cubs #1 prospect, B. Jackson. Jackson has excelled at both AA and AAA last season. He is considered a potential 5 tool player, and a #3 hitter in the order. He will make his debut in 2012.

RF: DeJesus Replacement: Szczur
DeJesus was Epstein's first Cub transaction, so it is likely that DeJesus will be the starter for 2012 and 2013. But Szczur has been on the fast track since he was drafted as a football player out of college. He has the power bat potential that the team will need to fill quickly. He may be a surprise call up in 2012 but will press for a position in 2013.

Two positions are ripe for a turnover very soon: 1B and CF
Three positions could turnover in 2013: CF, 3B and C
The rest, LF, RF, SS and 2B, will not have a new regular until probably 2015. And that represents 50% of your position starters. And of those four slots, you really need to upgrade all of them except Castro at short.

March 9, 2012


So far this spring, the Cubs starter candidates have a combined ERA of 2.25, with three scoreless innings from Samardzija and Volstad.  On the other hand, the bullpen pitchers have an obese ERA of 8.45, led by closer Marmol.

Manager Sveum just realized yesterday that he has to fill the 78 relief appearances of Sean Marshall, who was traded to the Reds. When asked, Kerry Wood said no, at his stage of his career he is as brittle as a Ming vase. So Sveum is thinking that maybe one or two of the starter candidates who don't get into the rotation would fill this void. Say, Randy Wells.  Well, it is not as easy as it sounds.

First, a long time starter such as Wells would find it a "demotion" to sent to the bullpen. Second, a starter usual routine is pitch every fifth day and rest for four days in a row. A reliever such as Marshall was "on call" everyday. Third, changing the mindset of 33 starts into 78 relief appearances is not easy.

The pitchers who were going to cover the back end of the bullpen are gone: Cashner, Carpenter and Marshall were all traded by Epstein.

But as Steve Stone once said, "all relievers are failed starters."

The crop of potential new Cub relievers include Lopez, Wells, Sonnanstine, T. Wood,  Coleman and  Samardzija (where he was successful last season). The Cubs are pushing Samardzija as a starter because he is a power pitcher to compliment the finesse lefty starters.

It appears that the Cubs will not use any of the minor league pitching prospects to fill the bullpen voids. It is because the pressure to win, even in a clear rebuilding year, is on Sveum who will be compared to Quade from Day One. The pressure to win is from Ricketts, who needs to sell tickets.

Besides Marmol, K. Wood and J. Russell, the Cubs bullpen is an open, empty corral.

March 7, 2012


The New Cubs are operating just like the Old Cub management. There is a fear that real competition for roster spots is a bad thing: it creates a negative atmosphere. It is not good for morale. It upsets pricey veterans that we have to play because they will get paid.

Brett Jackson is hitting lights out this spring, but manager Sveum said there is no room for him on the major league roster. He will only be called up if he plays everyday. Therefore, Iowa is his destination because no one wants to make the hard decision to sit or cut a Soriano, or a Byrd.

This camp comes down to a hand full of roster decisions. First, back up catcher. Soto came to camp and immediately sat with a groin strain. Ex-Pirate Jaramillo is now also hurt, leaving the catching duties to Castillo and Clevenger. One of those two will probably be the back up catcher on the opening day roster.

Sveum also said he has "a heck of bench" in Reed Johnson, Baker and DeWitt (who is not on the roster). And he said he does not need to carry a backup for Castro because Barney plays that role. (The same thinking of last season). So the one open bench spot is for a reserve outfielder between Campana, Sappelt and Joe Mather, none of which can match the skill set and current performance of Brett Jackson.

Third, the 5th starter appears to be the only open pitching spot. A shotgun approach of throwing Volstad, Samardzija, Coleman, Lopez, Sonnanstine and the kitchen sink to the mound to see who can throw strikes is going to be inconsequential in the long run.  The bullpen will be sewed together by whomever does not make the starting rotation ("all relievers are failed starters.")

So, the 2012 Cubs are going to be an almost mirror image of the 2011 Cubs, except with new players on the infield corners, less power hitters, and more average pitchers.

March 6, 2012


It is rare to find a major league club with excess starting pitching. The Nationals have found themselves in the midst of such a pleasant predicament.  Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman are the young starters on the staff. The Nats aggressively went out and traded for Gio Gonzalez and signed free agents Edwin Jackson and Chien-Ming Wang.

The Nats also have John Lannan, Yukieski Maya and Ross Detwiler in the mix for the 5th starter if one of the recent acquisitions falters.

So it would appear that the Nats have a surplus starter open for trade.

Lannan, a 27-year-old southpaw, posted a 10-13 record, with  3.70 ERA, 1.462 WHIP, a K/BB ratio of 1.39.  He had 54.1% groundball rate in 184 2/3 innings last year.  His career ERA is 4.00. He is comparable to Floyd Bannister in his career numbers.

Lannan will make $5 million this season. He's technically under team control through 2013, but if another typical season pushes him to the $7.5MM salary range for 2013. So if the Nats are going to deal him, now would be the time.

As the Cubs are found of saying, they look to obtain "assets." A left handed starting pitcher with an ERA of less than 4.00 that is under control for 2 seasons is a quality asset, especially for a contender.

The Cubs are in a payroll constraint because they are "rebuilding" (no matter what the owner says to the contrary). However, there is a way to make the deal: trade Byrd's $6.5 million salary for Lannan's $5 million. Washington is looking for a right handed hitting center fielder. By trading Byrd, it opens up CF for Brett Jackson, who would immediately fit either the #1 or #3 hole in the weak Cub batting order.

And you have to view such a deal from the question of whether Lannan would be an "upgrade" over the current 4th or 5th starter. The Cubs rotation of Garza, Maholm, Dempster, and T. Wood is pretty set. Lannan would be an upgrade from Volstad, Lopez, Samardzija, Coleman, or another walk on battling for the 5th starting spot.

It is a deal that makes sense which means it won't get done.

March 3, 2012


The early debate in spring training is who will be Sveum's lead off man. When DeJesus was signed, it was stated that he would be the lead off guy. But now, the old grumblings of Soriano returning to the top has surfaced and not yet been discounted by Sveum. Sveum continually remarks that he does not have any traditional one through six hitters at his disposal. In other words, Sveum has nothing to work with.

But here are the projected Cubs starters:

Player         HR-RBI-AVG-OBP

DeJesus rf    10- 46 .240  .323 
Byrd cf           9-35  .276  .324
Soriano lf     26-88 .244  .289
Stewart 3b      0-6 .156   .243
Castro ss      10-66 .307  .341
Barney 2b      2-43  .276  .313
LaHair 1b       2-6   .288  .377
Soto c           17-54  .228  .310

In a pure "small ball world," where OBP is most important, you would stack your lineup with the highest OBP hitters:
1. LaHair .377
2. Castro .341
3. Byrd .324
4. DeJesus .323
5. Barney .313
6. Soto .310
7. Soriano .289
8. Stewart .243

But that line up looks really odd.  Another philosophy is to put best base hitters on top and best RBI men from #3 down then around the line up card.

1. Stewart 6
2. LaHair 6
3. Soriano 88
4. Castro 66
5. Soto 54
6. DeJesus 46
7. Barney 43
8. Byrd 35

In a similar vein, run your best HR hitters from #3 and around back to the top.

1. Barney 2
2. Stewart 0
3. Soriano 26
4. Soto 17
5. Castro 10
6. DeJesus 10
7. Byrd 9
8. LaHair 2

If you assign points to all these batting orders to get a composite line up, here is what that would look like (lower number, higher in the order):

1. Castro (11)
    LaHair (11)
    Stewart (11)
4. Soriano (13)
    Barney (13)
6. Soto (15)
7. DeJesus (16)
8. Byrd (18)

You cannot have three players bat lead off at the same time (but that would be an interesting experiment in surrealism), but it does give a sense that the Cubs batter are a mish-mosh of mediocrity. The only thing that seems clear could be Soto, DeJesus and Byrd at the bottom of the order. The Cubs expect Stewart to have a massive rebound to middle of the order power hitting season. But that is not a guarantee. The Cubs have no traditional lead off man so Castro, Barney, or DeJesus could be plugged into that role.

Will Sveum get a set line up by the end of spring training and stick with it? Or will he fiddle with it like Lou Piniella did on a daily basis?