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7

August 2013

52

COMMENTS

What do the Cubs Need to do to Compete in 2014

Written by , Posted in General, Minor League

With the July 31st trading deadline come and gone, and the Cubs bereft of the type of players that would make it through waivers, we have a very good idea of what the Cubs will look like the rest of the way through 2013. This also means that we have a pretty good idea of what the Cubs will look like in 2014.

Despite the record, the Cubs are a significantly better team this year than last year. This is largely due to the Cubs not trotting out starting pitchers that just are not good enough to get by the in Majors, are not ready for the Majors, or both, 4 out of 5 games. While this is somewhat related to injuries and innings limits last season, the Cubs are also just deeper as far as starting pitchers are concerned this season. Whereas the Cubs were flawed in all phases of the game a year ago, they are now just largely a team that does not score enough runs. They have a good starting rotation, and an ok but inconsistent bullpen.

The Cubs have some big time prospects in the minors, and there is a legitimate argument that 8 Cubs farmhands will be in Top 100 lists next year. Yet only one of those prospects is in Triple A (Mike Olt). In other words, the big influx of high ceiling talent probably is not coming until 2015, although I will be discussing when you can expect to see those eight prospects in the Big Leagues on Friday afternoon.

Considering the Javier Baez and Kris Bryant types in the farm system are not coming to save the day, what can the Cubs do to compete in 2014? For the sake of this article, my definition of “competing” is being at least within 5 games of the division lead for most of the season. It would mean that at the All Star Break and trade deadline the Cubs would be in the division hunt. I am not going to reference things that need to continue, so the Cubs’ strong starting pitching won’t get a reference. These are the things that need to change.

The Cubs Need Better Luck Part 1

The Cubs -31 run differential is better than the Washington Nationals’ run differential (-35). The Nationals are 4 games under .500, pretty much right where their run differential says they should be, the Cubs are 13 games under .500. The Cubs have been terrible in 1 run games this season, but that is due to two things: (1) poor bullpen performances, particularly early in the season; and (2) a lack of clutch hitting. Here’s the thing: do you know what are two of the biggest things in baseball that are not predictive of future success or failure? One is bullpen performance, which can vary greatly from year to year. Relief pitchers have among the highest early flameout rates, and the way they are used leads to small sample sizes in any given year. And the second is clutch hitting, which is something that no one has been able to show is a skill as opposed to just plain old randomness.

But the Cubs Also Actually Need a Better Bullpen

This is especially true at the start of the season. Now, the Cubs will have an advantage at the start of 2014: they will not be trying to showcase Carlos Marmol. The Cubs have also put together a pretty solid collection of young hard throwers who are MLB ready, at least as relievers, but they are going to have be very good in 2014 for the Cubs to compete.

Rebounds and Improvements

The Cubs have gotten nothing offensively from the middle of the infield this season.  No, really, they’re below 0 WAR offensively in the middle infield. Starlin Castro has been among the most disappointing players in baseball this season, although he was much better in July (.292/.339/.442). Second base has been a complete offensive black hole for the Cubs, although that is largely due to Darwin Barney’s .228 BABIP. While Barney has never been a good hitter, his elite defense at the position at least made him survivable at the bottom of a lineup. At first base, Anthony Rizzo has been pretty good this year, but has not yet become the ideal middle of the order force many think he can.

Legitimately, for the Cubs to compete in 2014 Castro and Barney will have to at least revert back to their 2011-2012 form offensively. This means that Castro will have to become an above average offensive shortstop, and Barney just has to not be a complete black hole in the 8 hole.

However, I think Rizzo is going to have to become a stud in short order for the Cubs to compete in 2014. If anyone in that lineup is going to become a .900 plus OPS force, it’s going to Rizzo.

Someone Will Have to Surprise

I’m looking at you Brett Jackson and Mike Olt. One of you is going to have to get past your strikeout problems and become an average regular at least. I’m also kind of looking at you Junior Lake, but you just have to prove that you can continue to be a productive major leaguer. Other candidates: Logan Watkins, Alberto Cabrera, Chris Rusin, Brooks Raley.

The Cubs Will Have to Make a Move or Two

I think the most likely move the Cubs will make is for David Price, but Price will not improve the club enough on his own in 2014 alone to make the difference. Over this year’s rotation, adding Price would add 4 wins at most. Getting Price now would be to sign him long term, so he’ll be heading a rotation that the Cubs expect to make the playoffs several times between 2015 and 2020.

But I do not think the Cubs can trust the left field role to Junior Lake and expect it to work, so they will need to get someone. My top choice would be Carlos Beltran, if he is not tendered a contract by the Cardinals. On the down side, Beltran’s walk rate has gone downhill this year and he should only be playing in left field. On the up side, Beltran still hits for average and power and the Cubs should only need him to play left field.

The Cubs Will Need Some Better Luck, Part 2

This part of the better luck scenario is that the Cubs will need some help from their division mates. The NL Central is too strong for the Cubs to reasonably compete if the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds play up to their potential. The Cubs will likely need one, if not two, of these teams to have rough 2014s to compete.

 

  • Edwin Jackson had what may have been his worst start since April, giving up 7 runs in 5 innings on 10 hits and 2 walks, only striking out 2. Jackson had clear issues with location throughout the night.
  • The Cubs attempted a comeback, scoring 3 runs in the ninth to make it close. They were aided by a Domonic Brown error that scored the 8th run, but the game ended when new Cub Thomas Neal flied out to Brown.
  • Anthony Rizzo and Donnie Murphy both homered. Wellington Castillo stayed hot, going 3 for 4 with a walk.

  • Julio Borbon cleared waivers and was assigned to the Triple A Iowa Cubs. It is unlikely we’ll see him back with the big league club this season.
  • Double A Tennessee Smokies’ pitcher Eric Jokisch came back from the DL last night, and promptly threw a no-hitter. While Jokisch’s ceiling tops out in the back of a MLB rotation or middle innings relief, he is a legit prospect (anyone who can contribute in the Majors is a legit prospect, and Jokisch can), who is also a Northwestern alumnus (go Big 10). A great night for the young lefty.
  • Top prospect Javier Baez added 4 hits in support of Baez. To get an idea of Baez’s potential, even before last night’s performance Baez had a .909 OPS as a 20 year in Double A, despite striking out in more than 30% of his plate appearances. Imagine how good he could be if he gets the Ks under control.

STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Second Base

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Arismendy Alcantara

Background Info: Signed by the Cubs in 2008, shortly after his 17th birthday, Alcantara has had an unremarkable, quiet start to his career. Alcantara’s double play partner also has a bright future ahead of him who would be Javy Baez. Over the past two years we have seen the Cubs stockpile this system with talent. Most of the talent is Low A to Double A so 2014 should be a fun year as many players will be promoted to Double A from High A or even Triple A from Double A.
Nineteen players from the 2012 Futures Game already are in the big leagues, including All-Stars Manny Machado, Jose Fernandez and Jean Segura. Alcantara, who played second base last month and at 21 has just as big a future as the players mentioned above.

Season Stats: Alcantara hit .266 with 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases for Double-A Tennessee. Alcantara has great skills with the bat and the glove something that definitely has improved is his walk rate which is around a very solid 10%. The strikeout rate still worries me at almost 22 percent but the walk rate is encouraging so will keep an eye on both for the rest of the season as well as the future. If he can get his strikeout rate closer to 15 percent I see no problem with his development and we’ll likely see him in Chicago by 2015 at the latest.

Prediction: Alcantara gets promoted to Iowa to start next season at second base for the Iowa Cubs. Has an opportunity by the end of the 2014 season to win the job if Javy Baez plays third base at the major league level. Darwin Barney will be an interesting name over the next few years as he might be a trade candidate if Alcantara plays at high level in the major leagues.

Sleeper Prospect: Gioskar Amaya

Amaya has been an intriguing prospect to watch, he played both 2010 and 2011 at rookie ball for the Cubs. In 2011 Amaya, turned in a ridiculous season batting .337/.417/.510 for an impressive OPS of .927 which resembles an MVP caliber player in the majors. Yes rookie ball is completely different on the talent level than the majors but it was great to see Amaya breakout in 2011. After his promotion the following year to the Boise Hawks (Short Season A Affiliate of the Chicago Cubs) he still kept on hitting as a young nineteen year old. Through 272 at-bats for Boise Amaya hit .298/.381/,496 while clubbing eight homers, six doubles, 12 triples and 15 stolen bases. From the above mentioned stats we can see that Amaya gives the Cubs something of everything at a young age he has shown increased power which translates into a better slugging percentage. One also has to look at the 12 triples and get excited to see that speed in action in addition to the 15 steals which gives him a well rounded makeup as a hitter.

Finally we got to see Amaya get the call to Kane County to start the season in 2013 where in 97 games he is batting .265/.335/.394 which is to be expected as he keeps moving through the system there will be adjustments to be made. Personally I have seen Amaya play this summer and he is just a fun player to watch whether it be with the glove or the bat he puts on a show. We have to keep in mind he is only 20 years old just like his fellow third baseman Jeimer Candelario who is only 19 these kids need time to develop. If all goes to plan I see Amaya progressing to Daytona next year to start the season with a shot at being called up to Double A by the end of the season in 2014. In the end, Amaya should be in consideration for a call-up to the Cubs in 2016 barring any injuries.

Interview Alert: Be on the lookout next week as I’m scheduling interviews with some of the Cubs prospects across the lower levels. So far I can confirm Jeimer Candelario I am interviewing Jeimer Candelario after the game on Sunday.

  • PLCB3

    The Cubs need to hire a hot babe as a sideline reporter. That would keep fan interest up. They should try to pry Jenny Dell away from Boston.

    • Joe Aiello

      I’ll hold off and let Lizzie tear into you.

      • Meh. He’s pretty good at showing us what he’s about all on his own without my help.

      • Joe Aiello

        Him and Matt Garza should hang out

      • Jedi

        It’s good to see that things don’t really change.

      • Yup. You didn’t miss anything. But welcome back!

      • Get your brother, Jedi…we’ve been looking for our Johnsons all week.

      • Jedi

        Over the last month he and I have both spent 2 weeks overseas – different places, different trips. In fact just yesterday I saw him for the first time in nearly a month (and we live all of 30 minutes apart). We’ve been outta pocket for a while now.

      • PLCB3

        That’s a relief. I thought you guys got run over by that Bozo on the Venice Beach boardwalk.

  • Hopefully Travis can bounce back from last week’s start tonight. I’d relish taking the series from Philly.

    I wouldn’t mind getting Beltran, and I’d be very happy to get Price. The only thing with Price is that someone will have to go to the bullpen, unless he were to not pitch like he has been as of late.

    • Noah_I

      Well, considering the starting pitchers the Cubs control for 2014 as of today who could legitimately be viewed as potential starters on opening day next year are: Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, Carlos Villanueva, Chris Rusin, Jake Arrieta, Brooks Raley, and Barrett Loux, I’m not concerned about that. I’d still prefer Villanueva as a swing man, and no one else on that list is someone that would make me upset to move to the pen or keep in Triple A, depending on their options remaining. In other words. In other words, Price wouldn’t push anyone to the bullpen who the Cubs need be concerned about.

      The bigger issue with Price is what the price will be. With Castro’s struggles this year, the Cubs might be more reticent to trade Baez, and if I were the Rays I know I would want Baez as the biggest piece in return for Price.

  • Chuck

    The Carlos Beltran talk just has to stop. The guy will be 37 next season. The Cubs do NOT need an old guy that will have to play due to his salary. Let some of the young guys have a shot and see if someone can stick.

    Is it heresy to consider trading Shark to get Price? They are the same age and Price is, clearly, better. I would consider trading any prospect for him because prospects are so hit-and-miss, but only if he signs an extension. I would only consider Soler untouchable. He is my man-crush as far as prospects go and I think he will be a star.

    A rotation of Price, Wood, Shark, Jackson, and Villanueva would be about the best in the NL. The key to the lineup is Castro. He HAS to produce for the Cubs to transition from bad to good. Maybe a position change to 2B would piss him off enough to motivate him to improve.

    • PLCB3

      Would you consider trading Castro to get Price or Stanton?

      • Chuck

        Strangely, I would be more inclined to trade Castro for Stanton than Price. The reason being that Stanton is much younger than Price and pitchers are more likely to either get hurt or lose effectiveness.

        The thing is Castro is all but untouchable because trading him now is really selling low on him because of his bad season and if he turns it around next season he is virtually irreplaceable. Young SS who can hit and field the position are extremely rare commodities. Now, if we can get 95+ cents on the dollar for him (assuming pre-bad season value) for him right now, I might roll those dice. I am not very high on Castro for reasons beyond this one disappointing season.

      • Eddie Von White

        I hear what you’re saying Chuck, but you can’t roll the dice on him just yet – like you said, his talent is rare.

      • Noah_I

        Although if Castro has a resurgent year in 2014, Baez looks like he can stick at shortstop, and Baez hasn’t been traded, I’d be inclined to put Castro on the market in the early stages of 2015. This isn’t meant to be a slight on Castro, but Baez’s potential offensively is just so much greater than Castro’s. At this point I think it has to be presumed that, as a shortstop, Castro will top out in the 15 to 20 home run range, will never walk, and is unlikely to be more than an average defensive shortstop. I just love Baez’s power. Noah digs the long ball out of up the middle position players.

      • Noah_I

        BTW, by resurgent I mean back to his 2011-2012 numbers. If he blows past those numbers and becomes the superstar he has the potential to be, no, then you don’t put him on the market.

      • Dusty Baylor

        I don’t understand why you’d put him on the market if he hits like he did in 2011-2012. Why not move him to 2B?

      • Noah_I

        Because 2011-2012 Castro is a good but not great player, and players with Castro’s skillset (good contact skills, ok power, poor strike zone awareness) tend to have short and early peaks. I’m also concerned that a move to 2B would just exacerbate Castro’s problems defensively. You move a player to 2B because he does not have the arm or range to play shortstop. Castro has the arm and range, he just has occasional focus issues and makes some bad decisions. A move to 2B restricts his strengths and does little about his weaknesses.

        With that said, two notes: First, by “putting Castro on the market” I don’t mean trade him away no matter what. The Cubs would still need to be blown away by an offer. Second, it looks like the Cubs may be starting to think that Baez will be better off moving to a different position sooner rather than later, per a Jason McLeod interview with Jesse Rogers. It looks like Baez could get some time at 3B and 2B in fall or winter ball this year. If the organization does not think Baez can stick at short, that of course impacts how the Cubs should view Castro.

      • Dusty Baylor

        Well thought out answer Noah. If Castro puts up .300/.340/.430 with 15-20 HR’s, and 70-80 RBI’s. I’d be very, very happy with that from the SS position. His defense needs to get better. Much better.

      • Dusty Baylor

        Well thought out answer Noah. If Castro puts up .300/.340/.430 with 15-20 HR’s, and 70-80 RBI’s. I’d be very, very happy with that from the SS position. His defense needs to get better. Much better.

      • PLCB3

        Never underestimate the power of power. The 2004 team was best at this because we had power at all 4 corners, but not enough up the middle.

      • Dusty Baylor

        Castro’s power would be plenty at SS if he’s in the 15-20 HR range. As for salary…IF he reverts even to last year…his salary is pretty cheap for that level of play at SS:
        2014: $5 mill
        2015 $6 mill
        2016 $7 mill
        2017 $9 mill
        2018 $10 mill
        2019 $11 mill
        2020 $16 mill, $1 mill buyout
        The first 4 years are pretty reasonable for a good hitting starting SS. Again, that’s IF he reverts back to previous performance.

      • Noah_I

        I’d consider, but I’m not sure what the interest level would be. Castro is signed long term, is not cheap, and is in the midst of the worst year of his career. If I’m the Rays or Marlins, I’d probably prefer Baez due to the possibility of some really awesome power from shortstop.

    • Eddie Von White

      Agree about Beltran. We could have just held on to Soriano if that is the case.

      • PLCB3

        How about sign him to a low base 1 year incentive laden deal and then flip him at the deadline for prospects?

      • Noah_I

        Why would Beltran do that if he has other offers out there? My bet is that Beltran will either be looking at a 1 year offer around $10 million or a 2 year offer at about $8 million per.

      • Noah_I

        Soriano’s production this season hasn’t come anywhere close to Beltran’s. Soriano has hit .250/.282/.453 this season, good for a wRC+ of 96. In other words, Soriano has been 4% worse than the average Major Leaguer.

        Beltran this season has hit .304/.339/.523, good for a wRC+ of 141. Even if you adjust Beltran’s BABIP down to .300, he’s hitting about .285/.315/.500, almost 100 OPS points above Soriano.

      • He does frequently bat line drives into the field of play.

    • Noah_I

      I actually wouldn’t be against the Cubs doing nothing and giving the current guys a shot in left field in 2014, but this is a “if the Cubs are going to compete next year” list, and if the Cubs are going to do that they are going to need someone more solid for 2014. I just have no faith that Lake is going to keep up his early production, while Jae-Hoon Ha and Matt Szczur are 4th outfielders at best due to their complete lack of power. Brett Jackson still is young enough to turn it around, or the Cubs could try putting Vitters in left field and see if he hits. But there’s no one vital I see that bringing Beltran in on a max two year contract would block. Again, I have no issues with the Cubs really going on either path, but we have to be prepared for the idea that a left field manned by some combination of Junior Lake, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Matt Szczur and Jae-Hoon Ha could be horribly unproductive.

      The Rays wouldn’t want Samardzija for Price. The Rays will be looking for prospects who they will be able to make use of the full 6 years of team control on. With Samardzija being two years away from FA and looking at something like $7 million and $10 million salaries the next two years through arbitration, he doesn’t fit what the Rays need.

      Soler’s actually my number 4 on the list of Cubs’ prospect. Of the Big 4, I think he has the lowest floor. He’s probably more a 25 home run type through his peak, where I view Baez and Bryant as having 30+ home run power with opportunities to hit 40+ multiple times in their careers. Almora gets the bump on ceiling over Soler to me due to Almora’s ability to play CF. But Soler also has the second highest floor to me (Almora has the highest). To me, no one is untouchable in the right deal, but I’d go Baez, Bryant, Almora, Soler as my top 4 in order. On the other hand, I also think the Marlins and Rays would be the least interested in Soler due to the contract he signed.

    • Perry

      In respect to Beltran, don’t forget about when we got Jim Edmonds. He still produced and was a clubhouse guy, plus him and Jacque Jones helped us to the playoffs that year. He’s older, and can help our infant outfield develop. So yes, he’s 37, but the Cubs wouldn’t mind the Card’s leftovers, in this case at least.

  • PLCB3

    I’d like to see the Cubs sign Elsbury this winter. I see him as a lock for 80M right now

    • Noah_I

      I don’t think $80 million will come close (I think bare minimum you’re looking at a 5 year deal for about $110 million), and I don’t think Ellsbury reaches free agency. I bet he extends with the Red Sox. Same with Cano.

      • PLCB3

        Elsbury is not worth 9 figures right now. He will need a really good playoff run to push his contract to 9 figures.

      • PLCB3

        Ellsbury is a FA this winter and there is no way that he would get paid more than Pedroia

      • Noah_I

        Looks like I may be a little high on dollars per year and a little low on the years. Dave Cameron has Ellsbury pegged at 7 years, $100 million. I still think $80 million is going to be low.

        Also, the fact that Ellsbury is an FA after the season doesn’t mean he can’t extend between now and the start of FA in November.

      • PLCB3

        7/100 is what Pedroia got. I have him pegged for 5/80

  • Doc Raker

    The Cubs should move down to 16U in 2014 to compete. They could take the USSSA World Series for sure!

    • Sherm

      Stop. You had me at mushy minded something or other.

  • Seymour Butts

    Yes, where is Marla Collins anyway?

    • cap’n obvious

      last I heard, she was reading EKG’s for a cardiologist. No joke. Probably not in BFE, where you are, though. Funny, she seemed to send Harry into arrhythmia every time Arnie got the camera on her.

  • Darlin_Starlin

    David Price will be spendy. I’m not up to date on what the cubs got for available cash but signing these top guys for big money long term deals just doesn’t seem to have a great record.

    • Noah_I

      It’s a little different if you look at the guys who signed their big deals before they reached free agency compared to those who actually reached free agency. Aside from Boras clients, everyone you see who reaches free agency is flawed in some way. They’re getting old (Pujols), have a skill set that raises concerns for an aging player (Fielder, Hamilton), injury risks (Hamilton), etc. The guys who have more minimal risks on this front are getting big, long term deals before they even reach the open market.

    • Perry

      It is a bit ironic if we went after Price. We gave the rays Archer, and if we were to pay to get Price, it would seem as if it was a calssic switch-er-oo, with the Cubs paying the Price (pun-alert) of course.
      But Price could be that top of the rotation guy that we’ve been missing and looking for. Plus, it wouldn’t feel like the Cubs if we didn’t have one FA guy that paid hand-and-foot for, we’re missing that now that Soriano is gone (but his contract isn’t).

      • Noah_I

        Yeah, the one thing we don’t have in our farm system is someone who you look at and say “that guy has a really good shot at being a number 1 starter.” Pierce Johnson and CJ Edwards are more mid-rotation types. Price would be the best pitcher we’ve seen pitch for the Cubs since pre-injury Mark Prior.

      • PLCB3

        And then with Cubs luck, he’ll be injured like Prior

      • Perry

        On top of that, he can throw a lot of pitches. Last time I checked he throws probably 95-100 per game, and has something like 3 CGs this year. Any team that wants to compete needs that number 1 starter who can throw complete games, & eat innings to save the pen. Plus, he’s 27 and about to be in his prime, so I wouldn’t be against giving him the big bucks (unlike guys like Sori who we paid for after his prime). And on top of all of this, don’t throw stones at me for saying this, but Price has World Series experience. Not as a starter, but as a reliever. You cannot put a price on that (notice how I avoided the same Pun as before).

      • Noah_I

        From 2011-2012, Price averaged just over 6 and 2/3 innings per start, which is quite high in this day and age. For comparison, Travis Wood is going just under 6 and 1/3 innings per start this year, and Jeff Samardzija is going just over 6.5. Wainwright has the most innings per start this season at 7 and 1/3, so Price at his best is about 2 outs off that.

      • Perry

        He’s nothing like CC Sabathia of course, but to me the CG’s mean a lot, and other than this off year of his (which could bring down his price), I really think he can average 7 innings a start. (By the way, the MLB EloRater has him ranked 1 spot better than Ted Lilly, he’s ranked #407 all-time, of course depending on how seriously you take that).

        But in all seriousness, even if the Cubs aren’t looking to compete in 2014, this Price deal could be worked out. He’s elgible for arbitration for 2014-2015, and with our farm system looking juicy, someone could be moved to the highly respected Tampa system. They’re always looking to take in young kids. I doubt that they would want Castro anyways. But Price is a 5 year veteran, as long as Jeff Samardzija has been in the league, and we’ve had luck with pitchers from the Rays. (I still think that the Garza deal worked out for both parties in the long run). Overall, even if we aren’t looking to make a run till 2015, with Price next year, we can start solidifying our starting rotation now, and see if we even want to keep Jeff Samardzija, as he is in the same boat as Price in terms of arbitration. But if we want to keep both, I think we definetly can. Price has had success early on in his career, something Jeff has struggled with, and if anything, David can take the some of the pressure off of Jeff, allowing him to “continue to develop” as Jeff put it himself before he signs any type of contract.
        Just sayin, even if we are joking about the Cubs making a push in 2014, it doesn’t hurt to think about it.

      • Darlin_Starlin

        The Rays would probably demand 3 of the cubs top prospects for Price and I think that cost would be way too high.

  • PLCB3

    Completely off topic, but the Cubs will be visiting Boston next year!

  • doofus

    Don’t sign Beltran, please I’d rather see Corey Hart he can play outfield and 1st and he’s younger