Archive for May, 2013

To Trade or Not To Trade

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

For the fourth season in a row, the Cubs will be sellers at the trade deadline. This year, however, the Cubs don’t have just one or two pieces that other teams could value. I have started thinking that the Cubs’ front office has noticed two market inefficiencies they think they can take advantage of: (1) the otherwise unwanted starting pitchers who are willing to sign less expensive, short term contracts; and (2) good fielding, left handed hitting outfielders who could be the strong side of a platoon. These, combined with Jim Hendry’s last big move, have left the Cubs with five eminently tradeable assets this season:

Matt Garza, 2 GS, 9 IP, 4.00 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 4.18 xFIP, 12.0 K/9, 7.0 BB/9, 44.4% GB rate
Scott Feldman, 9 GS, 54.2 IP, 2.80 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 4.02 xFIP, 7.24 K/9, 3.13 BB/9, 50% GB rate
Carlos Villanueva, 10 G, 8 GS, 3.72 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 3.89 xFIP, 6.31 K/9, 2.59 BB/9, 45.2% GB rate

David DeJesus, 171 PAs, .277/.345/.471, .355 wOBA, 124 wRC+, 8.8% BB rate, 13.5% K rate
Nate Schierholtz, 148 PAs, .288/.320/.496, .348 wOBA, 119 wRC+, 4.1% BB rate, 12.8% K rate

In case you are wondering why some players aren’t noted, I’ll hit on the most commonly tossed about names not present on the list: Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol, and Darwin Barney. Regarding the first two, these are not players who the Cubs will likely get to choose whether or not they can trade for reasonable return. I just do not think the Cubs are going to get serious offers for either in July (and potentially no offers for Marmol), so I did not include them. Regarding Barney, I just don’t think the Cubs are really considering actively shopping the slick fielding second baseman at this time.

Regarding the players I did list, I think the Cubs should trade only two of this season. And both of these players have something a half season’s worth of numbers cannot make up for: reputation. A player with a longer reputation as a successful player will pull more in a trade than someone who may have just arrived to that status. This makes sense, becuase you’d presume a player with that reputation is less likely to just be experience a hot half season. And a team is more likely to receive a return in excess of the traded player’s value for someone with that sort of reputation.

On that note, I think the Cubs should be actively looking to trade Garza and DeJesus. Garza could be the big prize here. While I’ve come to view Garza as a more of a 3 in a good rotation who had one really fantastic year in 2011, it’s clear that others in baseball still see the pitcher with top of the rotation upside who performed extremely well in playoff situations with the Rays.  Garza could add a prospect who would slide in as the fifth best in the Cubs system behind the current big three of Soler, Baez, and Almora, and the number 2 pick in this year’s draft.

DeJesus is what he is: a left handed hitting outfielder who shouldn’t start against same handed pitching, but is well above average as the strong half of a platoon, a plus defender in either corner, and adequate in center. His long reputation for putting up solid numbers in that role should lead to a solid return, although I wouldn’t count on anyone who would make the organizational Top 10 at the end of the season.

Feldman, Villanueva and Schierholtz are another story. Despite doing the exact opposite this year, Feldman has long been known as a guy whose results never met his talent. He has also had injury trouble in the past. Villanueva is viewed as a swingman type, and Major League teams haven’t really figured out how to make the best use out of multi-inning relievers. And this season is Schierholtz’s first extended shot at a starting role.

In my opinion, the Cubs should extend Feldman to what should be a team friendly deal, keep Villanueva until at least this season, and bring Schierholtz back via arbitration in 2014.

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Game 50 – Samardzija Savages The Sox

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Jeff Samardzija – .354 (WPA)

Jeff Samardzija
After his May 10th start, I was quite critical of Samardzija’s 2013 form. His last three starts have removed any possible criticism levied against him. Memorial Day against the crosstown rivals was the best start of 2013 for Samardzija – and perhaps of his career. Completely dominant from the first pitch, the Cubs got a complete game shutout two-hitter from the former Notre Dame standout. And all of that on only 108 pitches. The White Sox never threatened; unable to get two runners on base in the same inning until they had 2 outs in the ninth. Best start of the year by a Cub pitcher.

The DH
At the Cell on Monday was the Cubs first taste of an AL park in 2013. With Dale Sveum’s first chance to use the DH, he looked up and down the roster and selected Scott Hairston. Scott Hairston? The Cubs don’t exactly have a readymade DH waiting for these games (unless you count Soriano), but Hairston has started as a DH all of 8 times in his career before Monday. There wasn’t a mountain of evidence screaming ‘you must use Scott Hairston in this situation’ so I’m not going to pretend to know Dale’s thought process. Let’s see who he uses on Tuesday against Chris Sale.

MLB has severe issues with these one-game use uniforms for special days. But the faux camo lettering and numbering that teams donned for Monday’s holiday wasn’t terrible. And when I say ‘not terrible’ I mean there’s no way I would buy anything the players wore, but it also wasn’t so distracting that I felt compelled to turn off the TV. The way he pitched, Samardzija might be looking to wear the camo every time out.

A byproduct of the wonky MLB schedule that’s always playing interleague games is this weird stretch that the Cubs now find themselves in (I wanted a sentence as awkward as the schedule). Two games at the Cell, followed by two at Wrigley against the Sox for a disjointed 4-game season series (that’s right, we’re done with the South Siders after Thursday). Then Bob Brenly and the Diamondbacks will be in for 3 games at Wrigley over the weekend, before an off-day on Monday. The Cubs jet to Anaheim for two games with the Angels, an off-day next Thursday and back to Chicago to resume the homestand until June 14. That’s 14 of 16 games in Chicago (12 at Wrigley) over 18 days. Weird.

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Game 48 – A Warning To Johnny Cueto

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Wellington Castillo – .380 (WPA)

The Cubs won a good game in 10 today beating the Reds 5-4 on Wellington Castillo double that drove home Scott Hairston. On top of doing to a good team what so many good teams have done to the Cubs this year, things seemed to get out of hand pretty quickly today.  The Cubs kicked the clutch in when it was needed and they may have lost an important piece again in the midst.

Soriano hit a clutch 2R HR in the 8th to bring the game even after Garza was only able to last 4 innings, throwing 96 pitches but striking out a bunch.  Yet, with the game turning out favorably for the Cubby fans, thing did escalate rather quickly.

So today I have two topics that really need discussion:  1) How broken is Fujikawa; and 2) Is Matt Garza going to fight Cueto?

Fujikawa left the game again in the ninth shaking his arm in apparent pain.  This begs the question: How broken is Fujikawa?

48 games in to this tenderly young season we have seen Fuji take a step off the mound, breathe deep, shake his arm, and the trainer sprint out to the mound. That is not good.  Typically with forearm strains, as we have learned over the years as Cubs fans, the prognosis isn’t good, after the first one.  Here we are, number two in the books and looking down the barrel of a significant injury.

I would say regardless of a diagnosis of mild (which at the time of writing the diagnosis hasn’t been made yet) it is cause for concern with the Japanese product.  The scouting report on him coming out of Japan was that he had great command, break, and was an excellent closer, in fact the best in the league over the last few years.  He had a consistent tract record and the only knock on him was that he had some mileage on his arm for a youngish reliever.  I hope that this is something that is caused by him just getting used to a new training program here in the States  If not, the investment, although not huge in dollar amounts, still leaves a glaring hole in an already unstable weakness on the team.  Here is to hoping he turns it around or that the Sanchez kid claimed off waivers from the Cardinals last week figured something out in his one appearance with AAA Iowa.

To tackle the second question: Is Matt Garza going to fight Johnny Cueto? Perhaps.

Matt Garza was hot after the game because of Cueto throwing at DeJesus’ head.  One thing can be said about Matt Garza and that is that he is undeniably one of the best teammates of all time.  He basically said if Cueto wasn’t going to come to talk to him about it he was going to go find Cueto’s locker to talk to him.  The pitch was uncalled for, as any pitch at the head, and Garza wasn’t going to let it go unnoticed.

Garza made statements that would allude to the fact that next time he has Cueto at the plate he would settle the score.  The unwritten code of baseball would say that the next time the Cubs and Reds play, one of the Reds star players gets plunked in the hip and the game goes on, the score settled.  Garza didn’t seem like that is how he intended to settle this one.  Matt made it known that it was a chump move made by Cueto and he took issue with Cueto personally.

This is something to watch for in the future.

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Game 47 – Frustrating Friday Night

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Ryan Hanigan – .318 (WPA)

Friday night started out really nice as the Cubs built an early lead behind Scott Feldman, who has been outstanding of late, only to see that lead slip away and come away with a game one loss.

I was listening to a podcast of Waddle & Silvy on ESPN 1000 yesterday. It was the Wednesday edition because I’m behind and a nerd and like to listen to outdated sports talk. It was the beginning of the show during the cross talk section with Carmen and Jurko and they were briefly discussing Scott Feldman’s success this season. There were mixed views as to if we had seen him peak (I know, we’re still so early in the season) or if he had figured things out as a starter and this is what he had become. It’s exciting to think that the latter may be the case, but on Friday things didn’t quite go his way. To be honest, I don’t know where I stand on Feldman right now. I’ve been kicking around the idea of making him my soap box topic for Monday. What I do know is that this rotation is better than we saw last night. I don’t know what else to tell you. The game was a dud. We have to kick it aside and try to win the other two to win the series. It’s a very winnable possibility with Travis Wood and Matt Garza on the mound to close it out.

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Three Up, Three Down

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Well, I was hoping to be able to include Dillon Maples…the 2011 14th round pick that slipped because of his commit to play football/baseball at North Carolina, but he got roughed up last night for Kane County. The good news is that he’s already doubled his career innings pitched in just three starts.
And it’s a bit premature after only 11 plate appearances, but Albert Almora finally made his debut this week and is off to a 7-11 start with 3 doubles.

3 Up’s:

Jeimer Candelario, 3B, age 19, Single A Kane County
186 PAs, .267/.360/.385 with a .323 BABIP
16 2Bs, 1 HRs, 12.9% BB, 17.2% K

The number 10 prospect in the system entering the year, Candelario had questions about his work ethic as adjectives like “lackadaisical” were thrown around about him. But he came into camp in great shape and is putting a solid season as a 19 year old in A ball. He has a patient approach with good contact skills and should develop average power. The doubles are there now and the hope is some of those will turn into home runs. He may have to move to a corner outfield spot one day, but I’m pretty happy with his season thus far.

Willson Contreras, C, age 21, Single A Kane County
126 PAs, .264/.349/.473 with a .295 BABIP
4 2Bs, 2 3B, 5 HRs, 5 SB, 1 CS, 8.7% BB, 19.8% K

A converted 3B (although he played everywhere but SS and CF in 2012), Contreras is developing into the Cubs only true catching prospect. He’s hitting for power while learning on the job. Catchers take longer to develop than other positions, so he’s likely going to move one level at a time, but his year has been promising. I do hear some remarks on his attitude…he supposedly tripped a guy after he scored and he may have bumped the ump after last nights 14 inning loss…so you make the call; “Hot-headed” or “Ultra-competitive”?

Kyle Hendricks, RH SP, age 23, Double A
51.2 IP, 2.44 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 2 HR’s given up
7.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 0.3 HR/9

Hendricks is making his second appearance on the 3 Up list after tossing another 7 innings last night with 3 hits, 1 walk, and 7 K’s. The Cubs acquired him and Christian Villanueva from the Rangers for a half season of Ryan Dempster. I’m already chalking this up as another good trade by The Front Office. He’s not a ‘high ceiling’ type of prospect, but he is a back of rotation type which is a valuable asset as long as they are paid pre-arbitration salaries.

3 Down’s:

Barret Loux, RH SP, age 24, Triple A
28.1 IP, 7.31 ERA, 2.01 WHIP, 2 HR’s given up
8.6 K/9, 6.0 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9

Loux is a former #6 overall draft pick in 2010 by the D’Backs that didn’t sign due to an arm injury. Texas picked him up for a fraction of the cost and looked like a steal after going 14-1 in AA in 2012. He came to the Cubs in the Geovanny Soto trade and he suddenly can’t find the strike zone. He allowed under 3 BB/9 over the last two years, but has doubled that rate so far this year. It looked as if he could have been one of the first call ups when injury occurs to the Cubs rotation, but now it’s looking like he lost his form. He’s still striking out a good amount, which is the only positive on Loux’s season.

Nick Struck, RH SP, age 23, Triple A
35.2 IP, 6.06 ERA, 1.766 WHIP, 5 HR’s given up
4.8 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9

Similar to Loux in that he was looking like a possible fill in to the big league roster this year, Struck has stunk with career worsts in K’s, BB’s and HR’s. I was never high on him to begin with, but he always had success in the minors and now the PCL is tearing him up.

Logan Watkins, UT, age 23, Triple A
177 PAs, .233/.367/.418 with a .288 BABIP
7 2Bs, 4 3B, 4 HRs, 16.4% BB, 21.5% K

The heir apparent to Darwin Barney as second baseman is looking more like the future utility man. Watkins has been getting some time at 2B, SS, and CF down at Iowa and could provide a solid bench bat instead of the solid hitting 2B some envisioned.

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