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Position Player Free Agents

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

There are at least two obvious positions of need on the Cub offense heading into 2013; third base and center field. Shortstop and first base are the only positions where the Cubs are conceivably set for the foreseeable future, with catcher not far behind, assuming Welington Castillo can turn into an average performer. So while we wait for Brett Jackson to fix his swing and Josh Vitters to stop swinging at everything, who will be talked about as Cub targets?

Not Josh Hamilton, that’s for sure. He’s asking for 7 years, $175M? Good luck Josh.
Not Michael Bourn either. He may even get a contract in excess of $80 million. He doesn’t seem like the type of player the Cubs would sign long term; now or in the future.
Here are a few names Cub fans will be debating on in the near future:

Third Base
Kevin Youkilis  –  Age: 34 (for the 2013 season)  –  Bats/Throws: R/R

(wRC+ Find out about it here)

Youkilis is coming off the worst year of his career, but he still maintains good enough control of the strike zone and enough power that despite a .235 batting average, he was still able to be an average offensive player. He’s not as good defensively as he was a few years ago, but few 33 year olds are. The .268 BABIP might lead one to think his slash lines will improve, but it also came with a career high in groundballs, so it can’t all be attributed to balls not finding the holes in the defense.
He won’t be a .950 OPS guy again, but I can see Youk as a 260/360/450 hitter in the next couple years. As long as he doesn’t require a 3 year contract, Youkilis would be a great acquisition for the Cubs. If he keeps declining, it’s only a short term deal. If he maintains 2012, he’ll be a trade candidate for a long term asset. If he bounces back to 2010 and 2011 numbers, he can be worth quite a bit more.

I’d sign him for a year, two years max, with the idea of trading him to a contender. But with the lack of third base options on the free agent market, I could see him getting better money/years from a contender in need…like Philly.

B.J. Upton  –  Age 28  –  Bats/Throws: R/R

I think BJ is going to get a pretty sweet deal, so will likely not be an option, but it won’t stop us vocal fans from debating the decision.
He’s never lived up to the hype, but has been a pretty good player and may even be underrated because we all expected much more.
As he’s aged, he has become more aggressive at the plate, which has increased his K’s and decreased his BB’s, while boosting his power. He could be a consistent 25 HR, 30-40  SB, good defensive centerfielder while hitting 250/325/450 but an outside shot to see him post .900 OPS’. He has that potential.
But we’re 4000 plate appearances into his career and over his last four seasons, he’s hit 242/316/420. Should we still be talking about potential?
Andre Eithier just received 5 years and $85 million…I’d rather have BJ Upton, but even so, I don’t think the bidding goes that high. Nevertheless, I can’t see the Cubs investing $15M per season on a player with a .316 OBP over the last four seasons.

Nick Swisher  –  Age 32  –  Bats/Throws: B/R

While I’m betting we hear fans clamoring for Upton, I don’t think there will be much interest in Nick Swisher. But Swisher’s last four seasons show what a productive player he’s been in New York: 268/367/483, averaging 26 HR’s a year. He can’t play center and he can’t run like Upton, but he’s more productive on offense and will likely come at a lower cost. Will that cost be low enough for the Cubs and would they move DeJesus to center for him? I don’t think so.
I’m guessing Swisher gets 4 years, $48/$56 million. Because of his age and his position, doesn’t sound like a Theo/Jed target, but I think the team signing Swisher will get more bang for their buck than the team signing Upton.

Shane Victorino  –  Age 32  –  Bats/Throws: B/R

Now we’re getting into the players that I can see the Cubs focusing on. Victorino is coming off his worst year, which means he’s the proverbial “buy low” candidate. Is he declining to 4th outfielder status? Can he bounce back to his .350 OBP days?
If he can be had for a two year contract, he’s the type of player the Cubs will sign to find out the answer. The thing about Victorino that worries me is his hitting against RH pitching, where he’d get 70% of his plate appearances. If he starts out slow, his number will look pretty bad overall and would be hard to trade. Start out hot, with that .350 OBP and good outfield defense, and he could easily turn into a hot trade commodity.
Three years would be one too many. If the Cubs could get Victorino on a 2 year deal, he would be a solid gamble.

Angel Pagan  –  31  –  Bats/Throws: B/R

Similar to Victorino, but lacks the home run power. And while I worry about Victorino’s splits against right handed pitchers, Pagan is the opposite, which actually might make him a better piece to improve the offense.
He’s a year younger and is coming off a better year with the bat than Victorino has, and teams put more weight on the recent performance, so it’s likely that Pagan will get that third year guaranteed. We’re not talking about a large chunk of money, but I don’t see the Cubs committing to three years with Pagan, due to the limited upside. You really can’t expect much more than what he did in 2012; 288/338/440.
If both players were to get 3 years, $30 million, I think Pagan is the better value. But I’d take Victorino if he can be had for a year less.

Melky Cabrera  –  Age 28  –  Bats/Throws: L/L

Time for more BABIP talk. Most people will attribute Cabrera’s 346/390/516 line this year to his PED use. I disagree. If you regress 2012’s unsustainable .379 BABIP down to his career norm, .309, you’re looking at a .070 point reduction across the board, bring his line to 276/320/446 which is more reflective of his true talent. His BB% was in line with his career rate, same for his K%, and he hit more groundballs than ever, so I have a feeling his 2012 line will be the most obvious fluke of any free agent’s line. (And people will use this as proof that his 2012 numbers were due to PED’s)
Despite the career best slash line, with the PED suspension Melky may be looking at a 1 year deal to reestablish his value. If that’s the case, he’s an ideal acquisition.
Yeah, he took some PED’s. He paid the penalty. It’s over. You have to look at him as a commodity, and this is a great low risk, high reward commodity….exactly what Theo/Jed will be looking for, and, I am thinking, #1 on their outfield target list, assuming the number of years is only 1 or 2.

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Minors Report – Stock Down

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

Overall it was a good year for the farm system. Anthony Rizzo led way and will be a fixture in the Cubs lineup over the next few years. Management added free agent Jorge Soler and Juan Carlos Paniagua and traded for their new #1 pitching prospect, Arodys Vizcaino, in addition to the players added in the June draft.

But not all was good:

Everyone knows the story on Brett Jackson by now. He simply will not succeed unless he makes more contact. The 42.9% K rate in the small sample is bad enough, but the 33.8% in AAA is worse than any player in the majors! I saw a comment on this site yesterday referencing “Korey” Patterson, but Patterson only had a 20% K rate in his career. If you thought “Korey” was bad…wait until you see a full season of Brett Jackson. At this point, I’d be surprised if he turns into a .220/.300/.400 hitter.

Back when the Cubs traded for Matt Garza before the 2011 season, I was happy that it was Chris Archer and not Trey McNutt that was the main pitcher in the deal because I liked the K/BB rate McNutt put up. Well, he’s regressed since then. Significantly. He was put in the bullpen this year where he’ll try to carve out a career as reliever. I’m not hopeful. It wouldn’t shock me if Chris Archer, with all of 27 innings thrown, might have already  had a better career than McNutt will ever have.

I had higher hopes for Rhee than most. 2011 saw his second season back from injury and a nice increase in strikeouts while maintaining a decent walk rate. But, like most Cub pitchers it seems, Rhee hit a wall in AA and saw a massive drop in strikeouts. If you can’t strike out batters in AA, you’re going to have a hard time making it to the majors. I think it’s safe to say that Rhee won’t be on 2013’s Top 20 prospect list.

Although Gerardo Concepcion isn’t a guy I was very high on coming into the season, his stock is still way down. Nearly into the non-prospect range. With the new CBA putting a cap on the amount of spending for international free agents, many were fooled by the high dollars the Cubs gave Concepcion. But he has a hard time hitting 90 mph on the gun and ended the season with more walks than strikeouts. The Cubs will tell ya he’s still learning how to pitch and he does have the potential for a good breaking ball, but his reputation for being advanced wasn’t validated by his numbers.

All in all, not many disappointments in the Cubs system this year, but I think that’s because there wasn’t much to be expected of the farm to begin with.

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Minors Report – Stock Up

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Most followers of the farm system would tell you that it has improved greatly and will be way up in organizational farm rankings. My guess is you’ll see four players from the 2012 draft, two international signings, and two prospects acquired in trade (eight total) in the Cubs Top 20 next year (40%). Every team in baseball can say they added talent from the draft, so we’ll cancel that out. That leaves four extra players; one that might have been a Top 10 draft pick (Jorge Soler), one that was a Top 50 prospect going into the season (Arodys Vizcaino) and the other two no worse than equal to 2nd round talent (Christian Villanueva and Juan Carlos Paniagua) acquired in the last year.

That is a great improvement. But it doesn’t end there. These players all saw their stock go up after the 2012 season:

Logan Watkins put up career bests in just about all the counting stats (H, 1B, 2B, HR, R, RBI, BB, SB) in his AA season, but the surprise to me was the power. He hit five home runs last season, one in 2010, but nine this season. 22 years old (not “old” for the league), he saw improvements in walk rate and strikeout rate, plays good defense at 2B and SS, and his numbers were much better than the league average. His BABIP wasn’t so high that I would consider these numbers a fluke. I would guess he’ll be in AAA next year while seeing some action in Chicago, and perhaps taking over the role of the slap hitting second baseman.

“Stock up” for a player with a .264/.326/.385 line? Yup. Ronald Torreyes is a favorite of mine because he’s tiny, he rarely strikes out, and he was one of the youngest players in the Florida State League while putting up a league average line. That line is also skewed by a low BABIP that led to him hitting .224 pre All-Star game. After that? .297/.361/.450. He’s just 3 months older than Javier Baez and I think we’d be pretty happy if Baez hit .297/.361/.450 at Daytona this year. Another 2B, he’ll likely take Watkins spot in AA next season.

Javier Baez (just Peoria Chiefs Single A numbers are shown here) had a fantastic first season showing his prodigious power with unexpectedly good reviews on his defense at short and an equally unexpectedly good number of stolen bases, the product of good base running rather than great speed. He’ll likely be in most everyone’s Top 25 overall prospects and could be as high as 15. I love the power and he’ll be the Cubs #1 prospect in this man’s opinion, but I just don’t like the low BB% combined with a 20% K rate…I have more doubts than the average fan.

All bat, no speed, and very likely, no glove, Dan Vogelbach is still one of my favorites because he’s so friggin big that he would simply be interesting to watch. Everyone knew he had power, but he showed good control of the zone with good walk and strikeout rates. He won’t be a Top 100 guy in 2013, but keeping up the power and BB% will give him a great shot the following year.

The Cubs organization has second basemen growing on trees. The next middle infielder prospect in the system, Gioskar Amaya now has a line of .316/.389/.455, with 9 home runs and 46 stolen bases in 830 career plate appearances. You’ll notice he hit 8 of his career 9 homers this year, while his BB% improved at the same time. His strikeout rate is a bit higher than I like to see at the Northwest League level, but he continues to hit and get on base. I’m not sure if I like Amaya as much as I like Jeimer Candelario, but Amaya’s results are an improvement while Candelario (although he did skip the Arizona Rookie League).

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Minors Reports – Top Pitching Prospects Recap

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Here is the post I’ve been dreading. The pitching prospects in the system just aren’t exciting. We all know there isn’t an elite arm down there, but there isn’t even a pitcher that started 10 games that maintained a strikeout rate of at least one per inning (unless you want to include 12 starts for SIXTEEN year old Carlos Rodriguez in the Dominican Summer League). No pitcher in the system where you just can’t wait to check the box score. So yeah, I’ve been dreading to write this because the organization’s pitching is just so darn boring.

Without further adieu, our Top Pitching Prospects:

We have yet to see why most prospect rankings had Dillon Maples as the top Cubs pitching prospect to begin the season. Injury has caused a very slow start to the 20 year old’s career. Have to hope 2013 is a year we can see what he’s all about.

A couple years back, Trey McNutt was neck and neck with Chris Archer as best pitching prospect in the Cubs system. I preferred McNutt because he had a lower walk rate. But he hasn’t been the same pitcher that last two seasons, with his K/9 dropping from 10.2 in 2010, to 6.2 and 6.3 in 2011 and 2012. He was moved to the bullpen after 17 starts this year, and while his K rate went back up to just under one per inning, his walks were high with 14 in 28 innings. He’s a reliever at best and may see Wrigley next year.

Dae-Eun Rhee was a personal favorite of mine heading into the year. But like most other Cub pitchers, his K rate saw a significant drop once he hit AA. He might be another one of the 6th starter types the Cubs are filled with these days.

The biggest bust of the year may belong to Gerardo Concepcion, depending on what you thought of him. Some saw the $6 million price tag and thought the high dollars meant a high quality pitcher. It doesn’t look that way. I’ve heard a few excuses, like the Cubs were holding back on his secondary stuff so he can work on his mediocre fastball, but that doesn’t seem very believable to me. I don’t expect him to ever see the majors, but, he’s only 2o years old, he’s left handed, and has the skills. He just needs to learn how to pitch.

Rafael Dolis has an average fastball of 95. I think that’s the only thing good I can say about what I’ve seen from him. He walks too many and doesn’t strike out enough. I thought he was closer material, but he just doesn’t appear to have the stuff.

I bought into some of what I read on Zach Cates. He came over with Anthony Rizzo from the Padres as a throw-in lottery ticket. It didn’t pay off in 2012, but there is plenty of time. He’s a converted position player, so he doesn’t have much time on the mound, but he regressed from a solid 2011.

So nothing to get excited about so far, but alas, I bring you some hope from Hendry holdover Ben Wells. He’s not an ace, but I think he’s got the best chance of any pre-Theo/Jed pitcher to make an impact. He was one of the youngest players in the Midwest League and demonstrated good control before being shut down with an injury for nearly three months. Delays his progress and I’m guessing would start 2013 in the Midwest League again.

In conclusion, not a single one had an impressive year. There were a few pitchers in the system that weren’t in our Top 20 that had good years; like Alberto Cabrera, who will probably be a fixture in the bullpen, and Nick Struck, who put together a second good year, and Michael Jensen and Erik Jokisch and Starlin Peralta, but they are the same as the group above. Boring.

The silver lining? It can only get better in 2013.

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Minors Reports – Top Position Prospects Recap

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

All in all, it was a pretty good season for the position prospects in the Cubs organization. 8 of the top 9 had on-base percentages over .340 (Brett Jackson is the lone exception at .338), Javier Baez became one of the Top 25 prospects in all of baseball, Matt Szczur completely changed his approach, and Dan Vogelbach showed that he’s more than just power and his #4 pre-season ranking might not have been too aggressive after all.

It looks like the 2013 Cubs could have as many as four of these players in the opening day starting lineup; those being Anthony Rizzo, Welington Castillo, Brett Jackson, and Josh Vitters. Jackson and Vitters are still pretty big question marks, in my opinion, but both Rizzo and Castillo look like they could be everyday contributors for a long time.

We’ve gotten a taste of Brett Jackson’s game. Strikeouts, walks, occasional hit. It’s the last part that will determine his future. I think if he can hit .220-.230, he’ll be a productive player. I’m just not sure he can hit .220.

The most important success story to the 2012 Cubs has to be Anthony Rizzo. His numbers in the big leagues are coming down and fans might be expecting a bit much from him because of his hot start, but I think the Cubs found their 1B of the future. I’m not sure he has any All Star years in him, but I think he’ll be a solid producer for the next 5 or 6 season.

Javier Baez killed the ball in Peoria, but struggled against more advanced pitchers in Daytona. He’ll be in most Top 25 lists in the 2013 rankings. His defense received good reviews and while the thinking is still that he’ll end up moving to 3B, there is a better chance to stick at shortstop than we thought in April. He has an aggressive approach, which is my one worry about him.

Dan Vogelbach is a full two levels behind Baez, so while his numbers were more impressive, the competition was not. I like the fact that he didn’t strike out too much, and was able to walk an above average amount of walks. Shows he’s got a good approach. He’s going to need to keep hitting at every level before he’s given much respect as a prospect, but I like what I see so far.

The biggest surprise to me was the year Matt Szczur had in High A Daytona. Yes, he was a bit old for the league, but the increase in walks was nice to see. I still think he’s a fourth outfielder, but he’s got an interesting skill set and a much higher ceiling than a Dave Sappelt (another guy I see as a fourth outfielder) because of his tools.

The most underrated player on this list is Welington Castillo. It’s not common to find a capable everyday catcher and I think the Cubs have one here. He has a good arm, he takes walks, he can hit some home runs.

A couple more surprises, Josh Vitters and Junior Lake. Neither player will give you much on defense, so the bats will have to hit for them to be productive. Neither player walks much, they swing a lot, and have pretty high ceilings, but the chances either of these guys reaching that ceiling is slim due to their approach. A year ago I wasn’t sure if either of these players would ever be a major leaguer, now, I’m thinking they are both at least utility players.

Although it was a step back from 2011, Jeimer Candelario’s season was pretty good for an 18 year old kid and will likely rise a little on next years list.
Marco Hernandez is probably the biggest disappointment on the season. The Cubs were aggressive with him by starting him in Peoria, but it didn’t work out.
Reggie Golden had a wasted year and will likely be back in Peoria (Kane County?) next year.
Ronald Torreyes started slow but turned it on in the second half, putting up an .811 OPS as one of the youngest players in the league….a personal favorite of mine.
Finally, Jedi’s favorite, Dave Sappelt. After two excellent seasons, he put up his worst in 2012. There was a dip in power, walk rate, and strikeout rate. His career will likely be a constant battle of trying to hang on to a reserve outfielder spot.


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