View From The Bleachers

Talking Cubs Baseball Since 2003

Monday

9

December 2013

40

COMMENTS

As Winter Meetings Begin, Where Exactly Does This Roster Stand?

Written by , Posted in General

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.

Catcher

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.

First Base

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 RizzoCarlos 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.

Second Base

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.

Shortstop

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.

Third Base

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.

Outfield

I tweeted over the weekend:

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.

Starting Pitcher

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.

Bullpen

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?

  • Sherm

    Stop. You had me at “Stick your hands in my sack and pull out a marble.”

    • Doug S.

      Preceded by “Close your eyes.”

      Summed up the roster spots very well. If we more or less stay pat, what are the chances of these guys outperforming last year and getting to .500? It would be nice to have a big surprise contributor on 3rd to spark the team.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        Third Base, The Black Hole of Calcutta for the Cubs.

  • Sherm

    Stop. You had me at “Stick your hands in my sack and pull out a marble.”

    • Doug S.

      Preceded by “Close your eyes.”

      Summed up the roster spots very well. If we more or less stay pat, what are the chances of these guys outperforming last year and getting to .500? It would be nice to have a big surprise contributor on 3rd to spark the team.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        Third Base, The Black Hole of Calcutta for the Cubs.

  • Chuck

    Choo would be a great addition to the OF, as long as you can get him for a 4 to 5 year deal. Any longer and I would pass unless it was a very front-loaded deal. He is a rich man’s David DeJesus. He gets on base, has a little pop, and can run the bases a bit.

    People need to slow their roll on all these prospects. Chances are that a majority of them will be busts. That is the nature of prospects. Remember when Castro was going to be A-Rod without all the drugs and crazy? While I like home-grown talent as much as anyone, don’t let it interfere with acquiring established good players. This especially true of OF, SP, and RP. There are multiple spots at these positions so the best players can play.

    • Noah_I

      Saying Choo has a “little” pop is a bit of an understatement. In every full season he’s played, he’s hit 20 or more HRs. DeJesus has never hit more than 13. They’re also very different players in that a lot of DeJesus’s value comes from being a good defender, while Choo is below average at best defensively. Choo won’t be available on a 4 year deal. Maybe 5, but it would almost certainly have to include a vesting option for a 6th.

      Anyone who said Castro was going to be anything like A-Rod was on drugs and/or crazy themselves. Even had literally everything gone right for Castro, and he developed an ability to draw walks, he was never going to have the type of power A-Rod had. A-Rod was a 40 HR a year guy. Castro could be a 20-25 HR per year hitter if he waited for his pitch a little more.

      You are right, that at least one of the big time prospects, and probably more than one, will fail and not succeed at the Major League level. The problem is that the very good players who reach free agency are flawed in their own right, and are at the very back end of their likely peaks. Choo’s going to cost around 6 years/$120 million. I’d be fine with the Cubs getting him at that price, as he’d make them better. I’d also be fine with the Cubs not getting him at that price, as there’s a significant risk attached to him as well.

      • Chuck

        That is why he is the rich man’s DeJesus.

        In this day and age, I would be very wary of signing a player much past the age of 35 unless 1) he is on a short list of the best players in the game or 2) the deal is either front-loaded or the average salary is justifiable if the last year is considered a sunk cost. $20M per is just insane for a player like Choo. He is not worth it. I would go as high as 5 yrs/$75M and bow out after that. His stats were great last year, but he played for Cincinnati in a great hitters park.

      • Noah_I

        But he’s just such a different player from DeJesus. They have 2 big similarities and one small similarity, with the big ones being: (1) they are left handed outfielders who (2) ideally would be platooned, and the small one being they both have OBP as a strength, but Choo’s OBP competes for best in the league while DeJesus’ is more just above average. I kinda get it, but I view the “a rich man’s” whoever as guys who have really similar skill sets but ones is better than the others. That’s only true for OBP with Choo and DeJesus.

        Either way, at 5 years/$75 million the Cubs won’t come close to Choo, so it will be a moot point.

        I’ve also seen some great stuff recently on why front loading contracts is not a good idea, although I’ll say my gut agrees with your gut on that front.

  • Chuck

    Choo would be a great addition to the OF, as long as you can get him for a 4 to 5 year deal. Any longer and I would pass unless it was a very front-loaded deal. He is a rich man’s David DeJesus. He gets on base, has a little pop, and can run the bases a bit.

    People need to slow their roll on all these prospects. Chances are that a majority of them will be busts. That is the nature of prospects. Remember when Castro was going to be A-Rod without all the drugs and crazy? While I like home-grown talent as much as anyone, don’t let it interfere with acquiring established good players. This especially true of OF, SP, and RP. There are multiple spots at these positions so the best players can play.

    • Noah_I

      Saying Choo has a “little” pop is a bit of an understatement. In every full season he’s played, he’s hit 20 or more HRs. DeJesus has never hit more than 13. They’re also very different players in that a lot of DeJesus’s value comes from being a good defender, while Choo is below average at best defensively. Choo won’t be available on a 4 year deal. Maybe 5, but it would almost certainly have to include a vesting option for a 6th.

      Anyone who said Castro was going to be anything like A-Rod was on drugs and/or crazy themselves. Even had literally everything gone right for Castro, and he developed an ability to draw walks, he was never going to have the type of power A-Rod had. A-Rod was a 40 HR a year guy. Castro could be a 20-25 HR per year hitter if he waited for his pitch a little more.

      You are right, that at least one of the big time prospects, and probably more than one, will fail and not succeed at the Major League level. The problem is that the very good players who reach free agency are flawed in their own right, and are at the very back end of their likely peaks. Choo’s going to cost around 6 years/$120 million. I’d be fine with the Cubs getting him at that price, as he’d make them better. I’d also be fine with the Cubs not getting him at that price, as there’s a significant risk attached to him as well.

      • Chuck

        That is why he is the rich man’s DeJesus.

        In this day and age, I would be very wary of signing a player much past the age of 35 unless 1) he is on a short list of the best players in the game or 2) the deal is either front-loaded or the average salary is justifiable if the last year is considered a sunk cost. $20M per is just insane for a player like Choo. He is not worth it. I would go as high as 5 yrs/$75M and bow out after that. His stats were great last year, but he played for Cincinnati in a great hitters park.

      • Noah_I

        But he’s just such a different player from DeJesus. They have 2 big similarities and one small similarity, with the big ones being: (1) they are left handed outfielders who (2) ideally would be platooned, and the small one being they both have OBP as a strength, but Choo’s OBP competes for best in the league while DeJesus’ is more just above average. I kinda get it, but I view the “a rich man’s” whoever as guys who have really similar skill sets but ones is better than the others. That’s only true for OBP with Choo and DeJesus.

        Either way, at 5 years/$75 million the Cubs won’t come close to Choo, so it will be a moot point.

        I’ve also seen some great stuff recently on why front loading contracts is not a good idea, although I’ll say my gut agrees with your gut on that front.

  • Jedi

    I bet Villanueva is given a chance to start again.

  • Jedi

    I bet Villanueva is given a chance to start again.

  • Arrieta and Rizzo are my picks to break out. This looks grim though. Javy and Bryant need to make an appearance soon.

  • Arrieta and Rizzo are my picks to break out. This looks grim though. Javy and Bryant need to make an appearance soon.

  • PLCB3

    I just read an article that used the word vagaries.

  • AC0000000

    I just read an article that used the word vagaries.

  • Noah_I

    Regarding 1B, I have a feeling Vitters is going to end up on the active roster this year as a platoon guy. He’ll probably largely play RF or LF, but he has experience at 1B and could be the backup for Rizzo. At least, barring injury to Vitters himself, that could give him some PAs.

    I think if Barney is still on the team, he’s the starting 2B with the hope that the BABIP returns to normal levels and he is at least a serviceable 8 hole hitter again. But he’ll look to be flipped, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see everyone you listed get some PT, at least until the Cubs think Alcantara or Baez are ready. Barney could be traded this offseason, but it would be as a throw in to a larger trade.

    I think Valbuena will be the starting 3B on day one, but if Barney is flipped or Olt or Vitters force themselves into playing time, he could move to more time at 2B or as a utility type.

    The outfield is ugly, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone added via trade. Brett Gardner has popped up in Samardzija rumors today, and there is also a rumor that Dominic Brown is being made available by the Phillies. Gardner would add much needed OBP and elite OF defense, Brown would add much needed power.

    I hope Rusin isn’t just automatically given a starters role. His peripherals were not good, with a very low K rate and a mediocre at best BB rate. He does induce ground balls at a slightly above average rate, but he either needs the K rate to become decent (6 Ks/9 or more) or the walk rate to become superior (2.50 BB/9 or less) for me to see even a reliable 5 there. I’d rather Villanueva be given the starting gig again and Rusin slotted in as the swingman. I would not be surprised to see Kyle Hendricks slide into the rotation by mid season.

    I’m not sure if you posted on Friday or Monday, but Wesley Wright will definitely be in the bullpen. I’m not sure if Fujikawa will be ready on Opening Day or not, and my bet is that Vizcaino starts the year in Iowa. But I agree, Strop is the closer, with other guarantees for the pen being Parker, Wright and Russell, unless Russell is traded. If Russell is traded, Raley slots into his spot. If Fujikawa is ready to go, he gets a spot. The others will be somewhat up for grabs.

    • Chuck

      Brown would be a guy I would take a chance on. He has gotten better every year and hits for power. He has never really gotten a fair shake in Philly and I would be interested to see what he can do with job security.He is also 25. I would trade Shark for him in a hot second.

      • Noah_I

        I’d need more than just Brown for Shark, but Brown could definitely be the centerpiece of that trade for me, if it happened.

      • As so long as DB has developed an out-pitch this off-season, I’m fine with this move.

      • Chuck

        Dude is an OF.

      • Anything can happen when the hot stove is cooking with gas, Chuck.

  • Noah_I

    Regarding 1B, I have a feeling Vitters is going to end up on the active roster this year as a platoon guy. He’ll probably largely play RF or LF, but he has experience at 1B and could be the backup for Rizzo. At least, barring injury to Vitters himself, that could give him some PAs.

    I think if Barney is still on the team, he’s the starting 2B with the hope that the BABIP returns to normal levels and he is at least a serviceable 8 hole hitter again. But he’ll look to be flipped, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see everyone you listed get some PT, at least until the Cubs think Alcantara or Baez are ready. Barney could be traded this offseason, but it would be as a throw in to a larger trade.

    I think Valbuena will be the starting 3B on day one, but if Barney is flipped or Olt or Vitters force themselves into playing time, he could move to more time at 2B or as a utility type.

    The outfield is ugly, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone added via trade. Brett Gardner has popped up in Samardzija rumors today, and there is also a rumor that Dominic Brown is being made available by the Phillies. Gardner would add much needed OBP and elite OF defense, Brown would add much needed power.

    I hope Rusin isn’t just automatically given a starters role. His peripherals were not good, with a very low K rate and a mediocre at best BB rate. He does induce ground balls at a slightly above average rate, but he either needs the K rate to become decent (6 Ks/9 or more) or the walk rate to become superior (2.50 BB/9 or less) for me to see even a reliable 5 there. I’d rather Villanueva be given the starting gig again and Rusin slotted in as the swingman. I would not be surprised to see Kyle Hendricks slide into the rotation by mid season.

    I’m not sure if you posted on Friday or Monday, but Wesley Wright will definitely be in the bullpen. I’m not sure if Fujikawa will be ready on Opening Day or not, and my bet is that Vizcaino starts the year in Iowa. But I agree, Strop is the closer, with other guarantees for the pen being Parker, Wright and Russell, unless Russell is traded. If Russell is traded, Raley slots into his spot. If Fujikawa is ready to go, he gets a spot. The others will be somewhat up for grabs.

    • Chuck

      Brown would be a guy I would take a chance on. He has gotten better every year and hits for power. He has never really gotten a fair shake in Philly and I would be interested to see what he can do with job security.He is also 25. I would trade Shark for him in a hot second.

      • Noah_I

        I’d need more than just Brown for Shark, but Brown could definitely be the centerpiece of that trade for me, if it happened.

      • As so long as DB has developed an out-pitch this off-season, I’m fine with this move.

      • Chuck

        Dude is an OF.

      • Anything can happen when the hot stove is cooking with gas, Chuck.

  • Eugene Debs

    Wow, what a mess.

  • Eugene Debs

    Wow, what a mess.