As Winter Meetings Begin, Where Exactly Does This Roster Stand?
If you’re like me, you’ve been anxiously watching Twitter for any nugget with which to grasp at as far as Cubs news. Today we take a look at the current roster to see where we stand as we head into the winter meetings.
Theo was interviewed and said the Cubs goal going into the meetings was to come away with an outfielder, starting pitcher, and bullpen help. An unspoken goal is to also come away with depth in the farm as a result of trading Jeff Samardzija. Let’s go position by position to see if perhaps there are other needs as well.
At the beginning of the off-season, a lot of talk from the rumor mill was that the Cubs were possibly interested in pursuing a free agent catcher, despite the fact that Wellington Castillo had himself a pretty nice year in the full time role. As of right now, he figures to be the starting catcher going into opening day with newly acquired George Kottaras playing the role of backup. We got a little spoiled last year with having Dioner Navarro in that role, but I think Kottaras will do a serviceable job. I posted an old scouting report on him a few days ago that gives me hope that he can fill the role when needed. There really is no heir apparent waiting in the wings down on the farm so the job appears to be Castillo’s for the foreseeable future. I feel OK at the position, though I could see why some projected the team to be in the market for a catcher. Long term, I don’t think Castillo is the answer, but for now, he’ll do.
For some reason, I seem to be the only one on Twitter that is worried about this position. I’m not really worried about Anthony Rizzo, but rather the lack of depth at the position should Rizzo need a day off or get injured for any period of time. Currently on the 40 man roster, there really isn’t a good name out there to serve as the backup. In my opinion, that’s a huge mistake. I’d really like to see the Cubs go out and sign a name to a one year deal to help backup, but also help mold Rizzo and team him the way of the position. He’s got the skill set to be a star in the league so he could use a mentor to help him achieve and deal with that. New coach, Eric Hinske should help a little, as he played the position as recently as last season, but the relationship with a coach is different compared to one with a fellow player.
James Loney is one of the names that stands out on the market at the position, but you’re not going to get someone like that to take a backup role. He’s looking for a starting job. Looking further, I find two names that would fit the bill and give the Cubs a nice veteran to help Rizzo, Carlos Pena and Lyle Overbay. Both would give the Cubs power off the bench and would be a veteran presence on a team fairly full of younger names. The downside is that neither are versatile when it comes to being able to play other positions on the field, so it probably means both are ruled out. Never fear, I have another name later in the piece.
You know my feelings on this position. I’m not a Darwin Barney guy. I have nothing against him. In fact, I’m rooting for myself to be wrong, but to simply go into the season blind with him as your starter is irresponsible. As of this time last week, there was talk that he would be non-tendered. The Cubs decided to keep in the fold, but his days are probably numbered. Even now, there are rumors that the Oakland A’s have interest in the services of both him and Nate Schierholtz.
There are a few options should Barney get off to a poor start, but really, all eyes are on Javier Baez. Should he show enough early in the season to force the Cubs hand for a promotion, we would see either him or Starlin Castro shifted to second base. For now, I can see Logan Watkins and Luis Valbuena coming off the bench to back up the position.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I really think 2014 is going to be a coming out party for Starlin Castro. I think he’s going to feel the heat from Baez down on the farm and the new regime will be able to reach him. One of the main reasons the Cubs wanted a manger with the ability to speak Spanish was to reach Castro. I went on record last year and said that Castro would lead the NL in hits. I was a little off on that, but this year I think he’ll get close. 200 hits should be his goal with continued improvement in the field. If he can do that, there is no reason to move him from the position should Baez get promoted. Other than Barney, there really isn’t a great option to back him up, but I think we found last year that days off will be important for him. He wore down last year and I think the days that Dale benched him did him well. We saw him close the year out with a .259 / .302 / .361 slash line in the month of September, and while that’s not overly impressive, it was improvement over the month before. I may be grasping at straws here, but I still believe.
Close your eyes. Stick your hands in my sack and pull out a marble. On it is written the name of a potential third base occupant. Mike Olt? Donnie Murphy? Valbuena? Watkins? Heck, I know he’s playing in the outfield now, but even Josh Vitters could see some time at the position. Who will establish themselves as the starter is anyone’s guess. I can make a case for all of them. Ultimately, I think the Cubs will give every opportunity to Olt to show his skills and reach the potential that many have projected for him. As of now, he doesn’t even make the depth chart on Cubs.com at the position, but I can’t see how he isn’t the organization’s choice if all things are equal. The question then becomes when does Kris Bryant hit enough to earn the trip to Chicago and claim the position. If Olt shines, then we may see Bryant shifted to the OF. If not, I’d think that Bryant will remain at the position and be the heir to Aramis Ramirez.
I tweeted over the weekend:
If there is ever a day you think the day is going a little too well, take a look at the current #Cubs OF and you'll be back to normal.
— ViewFromTheBleachers (@vftb) December 8, 2013
Unfortunately that’s where we stand. Obviously that could change in a heartbeat should the Cubs go big in their quest for an outfielder at the winter meetings, but assuming they don’t, the outfield is a tad bit underwhelming, but also brimming with talent on the farm. As of right this second, I think we see an outfield of Junior Lake, Ryan Sweeney, and Schierholtz from left to right with Brian Bogusevic as the 4th outfielder. Beyond that we’ve got a bit of a hole. In fact, we really don’t have anyone on the 40 man roster to fill the 5th outfield spot. Vitters has been working on the position and should have the opportunity to compete for the spot, but that’s not guaranteed. You’ve got to hit to be able to stay, especially when outfield is a new position for him. Here is where my ideas come into play.
Let’s assume that the rumors are true that the Cubs are interested in Shin Soo Choo. Word out of the winter meetings have his camp asking for a seven year deal worth somewhere in the range of $125 – $150 million. That’s a lot of money to invest in a guy when you have names on the cusp of coming to the Majors real soon. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Instead, I’d look for temporary fixes that can be versatile and add power to the lineup. Corey Hart seems like a slam dunk fit. He can play first as well as outfield and can hit for power. Coming off injuries, it’s the exact type of player the Cubs try to bring in. A guy slightly down on his luck and looking to rebound. A one or even two year deal for a small amount of money should get it down. It would also gives the team flexibility when it comes to dealing Schierholtz while not taking up a space should Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Brett Jackson, or Matt Szcur develop and be ready for a spot.
There is a very good chance that Samardzija is no longer on this roster when the calendar turns over to 2014. Should that be the case, it leaves just a few names on the roster who can fill the role of a starting pitcher. Travis Wood is an obvious choice as is Edwin Jackson. From there, you figure to pencil in Chris Rusin and Jake Arrieta based on their performance in 2013. With the Cubs desire to come away from the winter meetings with a starting pitcher, I took to the list to see what was available and came up with a few names to consider.
Scott Baker – He was the reclamation project that didn’t quite get off the ground last year. Could he be in line for another shot?
Tommy Hanson – Still so very young and based on what we’ve heard about Chris Bosio, why can’t he turn things around?
James McDonald – Like Hanson, he’s still relatively young and showed flashes of really good when he was with Pittsburgh.
All three are low risk guys that could turn into mid-season swaps should we hit.
Down on the farm, a sleeper name to keep an eye on would be Kyle Hendricks. In 27 starts last year, he finished the season with an ERA of 2.00 and only allowed five home runs all year. He’s not a guy that will blow you away with his stuff, but he doesn’t walk guys and stays out of trouble as a result. He is someone who could easily continue to develop and fill a spot in that rotation this season.
My least favorite thing about the team to write about is the bullpen. It’s so hit or miss so I’ll keep it short. Pedro Strop is my closer. From there I fill my pen like this:
– James Russell
– Kyuji Fujikawa
– Blake Parker
– Carlos Villanueva
– Arodys Vizcaino
From there I look to make a play for a name that has been rumored all weekend, John Axford. He would be a nice veteran addition coming off a very nice close to his 2013 season. If not, Hector Rondon probably gets the call.
That’s it. How do you feel?