Archive for November, 2013

Name That Prospect

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

If you’re like me, you enjoy trivia. There is something about rolling on at home Jeopardy that just makes you feel like king of the dorks. Today we give you that opportunity with another edition of Name That Prospect.

RULES – I give you the scouting report from an old prospect handbook in my closet and you have to identify the prospect they are talking about. Your only clue is that the player in question has ties to the Chicago Cubs organization. No other hints. Put your guess in the comments and I’ll reveal tomorrow.

“I had some suspicions about how ____________ would do at higher levels, based on his somewhat shaky strike zone judgement. I thought he could lose some points in batting average and OBP, but I didn’t think he would totally suck like he did at Daytona (OPS -6 percent). He knocked 16 homers, but otherwise he was ineffective. I have yet to hear a completely satisfying explanation as to why this happened. There was no obvious health problem. His strikeout rate wasn’t that high. My friend Jim Callis of Baseball America theorizes that _________ panicked after a slow start and tried too hard to hit for power, inhibiting his production across the board. This fits in with what Florida State League observers say, and is as good an explanation as any, although I’m not sure it’s the whole story, as ____________’s K-rate actually improved somewhat compared to 2004. Usually when a guy freaks out, lengthens his swing, and tries to hit the hell out of everything, his strikeout rate spikes. It’s important that _____________ gets his hitting back in gear, given that he doesn’t offer much in the way of defense. My guess is that he will stabilize somewhere between his ’04 & ’05 numbers.” ~ John Sickels

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Cubs Roster: Where Do We Stand?

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

I mentioned the other day that it was my goal to begin to discuss more related to the roster construction in the next week. That starts today with a look at where the current roster stands.

As it stands right now, the Cubs currently have seven guaranteed contracts on the books: Starlin Castro, Gerardo Concepcion, Kyuji Fujikawa, Edwin Jackson, Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Solar, and Carlos Vilanueva. Aside from that, the roster is wide open from a flexibility standpoint.

Ten players are arbitration eligible, which means they can either work out a long term deal, work out a short or even one year deal, or take things before a judge to determine a one year deal. If none of those options are appealing, the team can simply part ways with them. The list of players eligible includes an estimated amount they would be due

Looking at that list, I could easily see the Cubs simply parting ways with Darwin Barney, Daniel Bard, and Darnell McDonald. The rest will be back with this team next year and most if not all will be back on a one year deal. The wild card is Samardzija. I have no idea what his future is with this team, but I would lay even odds on if he’s a part of it on opening day.

The list of players is not incredibly long right now so there is a lot of room for growth. We’ll get into possibilities I see in the coming days, until then, our friends over at Inside the ‘Zona have a post going up today talking about Samardzija. As of this writing, it’s not posted, so you get a sneak peak. Be sure to stop by their site later today and say hello and give feedback.

Trade with Chicago Cubs: LHP Tyler Skaggs, C Stryker Trahan, SS Nick Ahmed, and RHP Zeke Spruill for RHP Jeff Samardzija

This trade is not so much of a leap because of the rumored conversations this year at the deadline and again recently.  The sticking point in negotiations over the summer is said to have been Archie Bradley; we don’t want Bradley moved in a Samardzija trade, and we don’t think Towers will actually do that.  But Chicago will certainly want prospects back.  Would they take Matt Davidson?  Doubtful; they have Kris Bryant as a long term answer, as well as Mike Olt, who was acquired over the summer from the Rangers in the Matt Garza trade (and who loses a lot of his value if he’s moved off third base).  Complicating matters at third even more is that former top prospect Josh Vitters is still banging around, that Chicago may want to try out Mat Gamel this year, and that top shortstop prospect Javier Baez may need to get moved to the hot corner eventually.

Baez is also a reason why Chicago may be unwilling to cash out some of Samardzija’s value in the form of Owings, especially with Starlin Castro installed at short for the foreseeable future.  Still, we think Nick Ahmed may be a fit, because he’s certainly going to stick at SS (his manager at Mobile recently said Ahmed was one of the best shortstops he’d ever seen), he’s priced appropriately in this trade, and Ahmed’s floor might be as a utility infielder (which is still helpful).

Chicago is also set in the long term in the outfield, at least with good defenders who might not have the bat to match (probably ruling out A.J. Pollock).  We do think that Adam Eaton is the type of player Theo Epstein is likely to covet – that may be why we’re hearing the name Nate Schierholtz (as part of a swap for Samardzija that includes Eaton, we’re guessing).

We prefer trading Pollock to St. Louis to trading Eaton to Chicago, however, and in Tyler Skaggs the D-backs may have a way to keep Eaton while still landing Samardzija.  Skaggs’s star has fallen since mechanical issues (staying too tall) hurt his command and velocity this season; the risk that he never gets fixed does discount his value, but in the trade above Arizona would still be getting about 75 cents on the dollar.  Stryker Trahan helps Chicago get to where they want in terms of value, although he is several years away from the majors.  Zeke Spruill may not add a lot to this trade, but as roster filler with a bit of upside, Chicago could try him out in a few different roles until they figure out what they have.

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Looking at the 2014 NL Central

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

The National League Central was the best division in the National League in 2013, and the only division in baseball to send three teams to the postseason. But what can we expect of the Cubs’ divisional rivals in 2014?

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals look to remain the class of the NL Central in 2014, with the only significant likely free agent departure being Carlos Beltran. Some think they could try to bring back Beltran, but with high ranking outfield prospect Oscar Taveras waiting in Triple A, Beltran apparently looking for a longer term deal (he rejected the Cardinals’ 1 year/$14 million qualifying offer), and Beltran better suited for a an AL team where he can be a part time outfielder/part time designated hitter, my feeling is that Beltran won’t be a Cardinal in 2014.

The only massive hole on the Cardinals’ roster is shortstop. Pete Kozma can’t hit at all, Daniel Descalso can barely hit any better and certainly can’t play shortstop, and none of the Cardinals’ players who can handle second base (Matt Carpenter, Kolton Wong) would be serviceable shortstops.

One of the top rumors on the early off season hot stove has been the Cardinals’ search for a better shortstop, with their top target being the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki. Tulowitzki has long been viewed as the most talented shortstop in baseball, but he’s had problems staying on the field for the last few seasons and has a very expensive extension starting up soon. Of course, if the Cardinals trade for him, he’ll probably never miss a game again. Reportedly, the Cardinals are willing to part with some of their young pitching for a shortstop, but I kind of doubt that this sort of match will actually happen. The Rockies would likely demand a king’s ransom in young pitching and other prospects for Tulowitzki, and it just would not fit the Cardinal M.O. to trade two of Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and Oscar Taveras for a guy with a contract the size of Tulowitzki’s.

Rumors popped up regarding Starlin Castro as someone the Cardinals could target if they can’t get Tulowitzki. I would suggest just ignoring those. The Cubs would not sell low on Castro to the Cardinals, and the Cardinals aren’t giving Miller or Wacha for Castro. My bet, along with many others, is that the Cardinals will trade someone like Lance Lynn for someone like the Angels’ Erick Aybar.

Without a large amount of turnover, a very solid core, great young pitching, and a strong farm system, unfortunately the Cardinals are likely to stay atop their perch as the best team in the Central in 2014.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates finally delivered on their promise of “up and coming team” in 2013, not only breaking their two decade long streak of finishing under .500, but making the playoffs and bringing eventual NL pennant winner St. Louis to the brink of elimination in the NLDS. The Pirates have one of the best players in baseball in NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, and some nice players around him in Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker. They also have one of the most promising young starting pitchers in the Majors in former number one pick Gerrit Cole, along with one of the best farm systems in baseball. Jameson Taillon, a great starting pitching prospect and the number two pick from the 2010 draft, headlines the system.

With that said, I doubt the Pirates will match their 94 win season in 2014. This is not because I question whether the Pirates are actually greatly improved, but instead because so much of their success was due to a phenomenal bullpen performance. Just ask the Orioles how predictable that is from one year to the next.

The Pirates do have some holes, with the most glaring being first base and right field. I would o’t be surprised to see the Pirates try to platoon in right field, but there are not that many great options at first base. Mike Napoli would be the best option, as a good player who will not get crazy money. However, the Pirates would lose their first round pick if they signed Napoli.

The Pirates should still compete for a Wild Card at the least, and should continue to improve over the next few years as more of their prospects reach the Majors, and more of their young talent moves into their career peaks. The Pirates’ question in the short term is if they can continue plugging the holes in their lineup without breaking the bank. The question in the long term is if they will be able to retain enough talent as their young players get older and more expensive. But the Pirates are for real and, for the next few years at least, should be a consistent contender.

Cincinnati Reds

Following the 2010 season, the Reds filled a similar position to the current Pirates. They overachieved in winning the NL Central, but had some great young players with upside, headlined by Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, and a still strong farm system continuing to feed the Major League team. But the Reds show the limitations of most smaller market clubs. With Votto, Bruce, and Brandon Phillips all signed to long term deals for big money, the Reds’ ability to add payroll is limited.

This is a problem because the Reds have a lot of players approaching free agency. Shin-Soo Choo is gone, and unless Billy Hamilton can reach base they have no in house replacement. Homer Bailey hits free agency after 2014. Aroldis Chapman likely will as well, as the Cuban flame thrower will likely reject his $5 million player option for 2015. Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Mike Leake are all set to hit free agency after 2015. In other words, in the next 24 months the Reds will have five of their best pitchers hit free agency, have no one internally who can replace them, and will be lucky to be able to retain more than two of them in the free agent market.

A relatively barren farm system amplifies the Reds’ problems. The Reds built their current team off a previously great farm system, but that well has now run dry. The Reds’ window is closing, and over the next two years they will have to make a hard decision: continue trying to make a run before these players hit free agency, or try to turn some of those soon to be free agents into young, cost controlled players and prospects.

Barring injuries, the Reds should be competitive again in 2014. Beyond that, the decline is likely to begin soon.

Milwaukee Brewers

It has not been easy being a Cubs’ fan the past two years. Our Major League team has been awful, but at least we could dream on a strong, and improving, farm system. The Brewers do not even have that.

Now, I’ll admit that I think the 2014 Brewers have at least an even shot at being better than the 2014 Cubs. Ryan Braun will be done with his suspension and should be healthy. On its own , that should bring at least four or five wins to the Brew Crew.

The Brewers’s problem is that they lack much help for Braun, who they have a huge amount of money devoted to for a long, long time. Rickie Weeks has been a shell of his former self over the last two seasons. Aramis Ramirez just went through an injury filled season. Yovani Gallardo disappointed last season, and has never reached that true number one status.

The Brewers are the epitome of the logic that a team is not better off winning 75 games than 65 games. There are exceptions to this statement, but an aging team with a bad farm system does not fit any exception.

The Brewers are also hurt by Braun’s status as wholly untradeable due to the aforementioned suspension and contract. The Brewers had a nice little run from 2008 to 2011, but that window closed once the Brewers got off to a slow start in 2012, and it will likely be a fairly long and bumpy ride back to contention for our neighbors to the north.

Semi-Shameless Non-Baseball Related Plug

My father recently wrote and self-published a children’s book, Journey to Galumphagos. I could tell you how much I enjoyed, but you’d understandably say I’m biased. Instead, I’d like to let you know that Kirkus Reviews, a leading American book review for more than 80 years, called it an “entertaining, fantastical adventure” and a “well-paced, delightful children’s book with a moral that’s clear without being heavy-handed.” Kirkus liked it so much that it selected Journey to Galumphagos for publication in its print magazine, which is sent to more than 5,000 industry professionals.

If you have little kids like me, it’s probably a bit too advanced for them yet (it’s a chapter book). But it’s right in the wheelhouse of kids aged 7-12 or so. It is available on paperback and via a host of e-readers, including Kindle. Click on this link to reach the Amazon page for the paperback version.

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Why Do Cub Fans Watch With Blinders?

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

I threw a simple tweet out this morning that caused me to realize why I get frustrated with the Cubs fan base more than any other fan base of a team I root for. I simply mentioned that Darwin Barney was a potential non-tender candidate, since he is arbitration eligible this off-season. Instantly, I had a few people reply via tweet and comment on Facebook that they felt that would be a mistake.

Rather than debate on if I agree or not (I don’t), I wanted to share my frustration with you. What frustrates me is the fact that people in this fan base get attached to a player for whatever reason and then fail to see when that player hurts the team by being a part of it. For me, as a kid, it was Rey Sanchez. I saw him and thought he was a building block. For a lot of folks it was Ryan Theriot for either an infatuation with him as a “grinder” or an infatuation with him from a physical standpoint. Whatever the reason, we suddenly put our Cubbie blinders on and fail to think bigger picture.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of watching a loser. I’m tired of checking out on the season come August. I want to consistently root for my team deep into October year in and year out. This week I want to take a look at the team as it’s currently constructed to see where we stand. In the meantime, let’s drop some links and prepare for our week.

  • John Heyman put up an interesting rumor that perhaps the Cubs and the Marlins would consider w0rking on a prospect trade. You don’t see it too often, but there are times when teams will make a major trade involving nothing more than prospects. The Marlins are loaded from a pitching standpoint and the Cubs are the opposite, with quite a bit of offensive talent, particularly at the third base position. It’s an interesting thought, but it’s tough to just swap guys you brought in the organization for other prospects. I think the pitching is coming along in the organization. We’re seeing some arms emerge near the top of the prospect rankings so it’s just a matter of those guys continuing to develop.
  • A couple of minor signings to report, all of them minor league contracts. Jeudy Valdez and Aaron Cunningham as well Walter Ibarra have all signed deals to play in the organization this season.
  • Kris Bryant was named the winner of the Arizona Fall League MVP. He engaged beast mode the entire time he was there and when the dust settled, he led the league with home runs (6), slugging percentage (.727), extra-base hits (15), runs scored (22-tie), total bases (56-tie) and a 20-game on-base-streak. He also hit .364, fifth best in the AFL, and was second in doubles with eight. In the past, both Jason Dubois and Sam Fuld won the award representing the Cubs. Let’s hope Bryant’s career doesn’t go the same path as those two.
  • CAPS called for news about fat people the other day so I figure I will deliver. In case you missed this story on Deadspin last week, Tony Picard is a beast of a running back for his high school team. He checks in a 6’4″ and 400lbs.
  • Dateline: Michigan – A man has purchased the home right next to his ex-wife and has erected a giant middle finger display just to remind her how much he cares.
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Jed Hoyer Buying a Suzuki?

Friday, November 15th, 2013

The off-season rumors are in full swing, so let’s get to it.

  • The Cubs are looking at Kurt Suzuki as an option at backup catcher. It wouldn’t be a flashy move, but it could signify that the front office sees Wellington Castillo as a long-term piece.
  • Jed Hoyer has reiterated that the Cubs are indeed interested in Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and will be in on the bidding (yay). Patrick Mooney sees them as a long shot, however (boo).
  • Not a rumor, but related: Speaking of bidding for Japanese players, there was an apparent agreement between MLB and the Japanese league that would involve a blind bidding system, with the highest bidding team winning the negotiating rights. However, it seems as though the smaller market teams are making a push to modify or eliminate the posting system, since they feel they are being priced out of the process.
  • No Cub player has been the center of more trade discussion than Jeff Samardzija. We’ve heard about the rumored interest from the Diamondbacks and Nationals, but there are now reports that the Pirates and the Blue Jays are interested as well. For what it’s worth, Gordon Wittenmeyer, after speaking with several GMs, seems to think that Shark will get traded this off-season.
  • Jon Morosi tweeted that the Diamondbacks are interested in Nate Schierholtz. Could a package of Nate and Shark bring back a nice return?
  • Mark Feinsand tweeted that the Cubs could be “stealthily waiting in the wings” on Jacoby Ellsbury. Weird.
  • Matthew Cerrone tweeted that the Cubs (among other teams) have shown an early interest in Curtis Granderson. It sort of sounds like an “agent leak” type story to me, but who knows?
  • Not a rumor: MLB will be instituting NFL-style replay challenges next season.
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