Rebuilding the Cubs: Journey to a Championship – April 2014 Report
If you missed the first edition of the series in which we discussed what exactly this series of posts is, you can find it here.
The month of April 2014 is now complete and things are not looking good so far. The Cubs currently sit 7.5 games out of first place in the NL Central with a 9-18 record, which featured a horrid 8 game losing streak. It’s hard to come out of a month positively when you put up a streak like that, but I’m not losing hope this early. I’m in this thing for the long haul.
The biggest issue with the team right now is the lack of offense. We currently rank 12th in the NL in runs scored and a lot of it has to do with the overall lack of power at the plate. Currently we rank last in all of baseball with just 17 home runs as a team, with Luis Valbuena leading the team with 4. Anthony Rizzo, who I’m counting on to provide offense for this team, is hitting just .204 / .269 / .276. That .276 number is not a lie. He’s just not providing offense. The other name that was being counted on in the middle of the order, Billy Butler, has been somewhat lackluster as well, hitting just .240 / .330 / .340. At least he’s getting on base, but it doesn’t matter when there is no one to drive him in.
At this point, I’m not really sure what to do offensively other than to ride it out. Josh Vitters was playing well in AAA, so I promoted him and demoted Ryan Kalish, but Rick Renteria and I are having somewhat of a disagreement as to how much playing time Vitters deserves. There isn’t really a way you can have a disagreement in the game with your manager, but I like to think that him and I are at odds right now and that the situation is somewhat similar to that of the confrontations between Billy Beane and Art Howe in Moneyball. I want Vitters in the lineup, at least on a platoon basis, but Ricky doesn’t seem to agree. He tends to favor veterans and that may not work out as we see a wave of young talent come up in the future. For now, I’m on the fence about my manager. Hal McRae is a guy I’ve got my eye on as a potential replacement.
On the pitching side, our bullpen has been stellar despite the loss of Pedro strop. Everyone else has been healthy and the pen ranks 3rd in the NL with a stellar 2.15 ERA. My fear is that they are getting overworked, as I’ve gone with the six man staff pen and the fact that the starters have been so bad so far to start the season. Given the fact that the DH is in play, I’m giving serious thought to recalling a 7th arm to help even out the workload a little and keep the arms healthy. Two names that stand out as potential call ups are Marcus Hatley (9.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, and 7.7 K/9) or Alberto Cabrera (8.1 IP, 1.08 ERA). Cabrera’s WHIP of 1.56 scares me, so it will probably be Hatley that gets the call.
As I mentioned, the starting pitching has been bad. Jeff Samardzija has been the worst of the bunch and it has been largely due to walks (6.1 BB/9). That, coupled with seven home runs allowed in his six starts are a big reason why he ends the month with a 0-6 record and an ERA at 9.11. His contract demand is 3 years x $46 million and I’m not biting. Edwin Jackson, the other poor performer, pitched himself out of town. The New York Yankees called me and said they were looking for starting pitching to make sure they had the ability to compete in the AL East and were surprisingly willing to look at Jackson. We went back and forth on an offer and in the end, I really like what we came away with. The final deal involved the Cubs sending Jackson, Rob Zastryzny (SP), and Harrinson Bermudez in exchange for one of the top catcher prospects in the game, Gary Sanchez. Since the trade, Jackson has gone 2-1 with a 3.24 ERA for the Yankees. My thinking is that I move Jackson’s contract and add a bat at a very weak position for us in the system. If Sanchez can develop at catcher and be ready for 2016, we’re in good shape there.
This system is loaded right now with talent, particularly when it comes to hitters. The minor league system ranking report has the Cubs system head and shoulders above the 2nd place Minnesota Twins, with seven players in the top 50 in all of baseball and eight in the top 100. This month we focus on the hitters in the system and update what they’ve done this season.
Javier Baez started out slow, but has been playing better of late and is beginning to pull those numbers up to respectability. Outside of the top 20 list, Brett Jackson has had a nice April, but sprained his finger late in the month and had to go to the DL. Prior to the injury, Jackson was hitting .295 / .375 / .667 with 9 HR and 20 RBI in 22 starts. He’s due back Mid-May so hopefully we’ll see those numbers continue. That would add a much needed offensive bat in CF on the Major League team.
Since the series is mostly about our quest for a championship, I’ll mainly just give some interesting news and nuggets around the league in bullet form for the rest of the Majors.
- Andrew Cashner was placed on the DL for 4 months with a torn back muscle and Bryce Harper broke a bone in his elbow while running the bases. Most likely he was sliding head first. The injury is a costly one as he’s going to be out for 7-8 months.
- Raul Ibanez and Miguel Cabrera each reached the 2000 career hit mark.
- Alex Wood pitched a no hitter against the Mets
- Washington Nationals owner, Ted Lerner and San Diego Padres owner John Moores both passed away on the same day. Moores had been battling a terminal illness.
- After dealing Butler to us before the season, the Royals made their move to get the player they felt will man their first base position into the future, getting Brandon Belt from the Giants in exchange for Justin Maxwell and Humberto Arteaga.
That will do it for this edition. Check back next week when we take a look at the month of May.