I think every fan’s favorite game is armchair GM or manager, and after about 6 weeks of the season, it’s time to give some thought to roster changes that need to be made in order to carry this team forward this year. April saw the Cubs get off to a great start (12-8), but May has been quite a different story so far.
I have referenced this briefly before, but having three catchers on this roster is not sustainable. Perhaps before some key bullpen injuries to Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez this idea was workable, but over the course of the last few weeks it has felt more like playing with a roster of less than 25 players, even in spite of David Ross and his heroic 8th inning relief pitching performance. Without looking at numbers, I initially felt that Ross should be the player who needs to go. In conversation, I’ve floated the idea of inserting him into some sort of coaching role so that they can keep him on the team in some capacity. However, after taking a look at his performance so far this season, that seems less like the obvious decision. In short, because while he’s not very good, he’s not actually been as bad as I had thought. He and Welington Castillo have surprisingly different offensive numbers, namely in the OBP category. Ross is at a .400 OBP in 31 plate appearances, and Castillo sits much lower, at .263 OBP in 38 plate appearances. Great emphasis is placed on the fact that Ross is old (38), but Castillo isn’t exactly a rookie himself (28). Along with that, Ross has a 1:1 K/BB ratio, versus Castillo’s 3:1. Castillo offers better power numbers, but it’s neglibible on a team that needs guys in the lower half of the order (not including Addison Russell, of course) to be focusing on not making outs rather than producing runs.
The most beneficial scenario for going from 3 catchers to 2 is for one of them to be traded. Ross being traded is just not a likelihood for many reasons. Age aside, he was brought to Chicago specifically to be Jon Lester‘s personal catcher, so trading him makes little sense given that fact. Generally, Castillo seems like a better option for a trade because he probably has more to offer another team. He has accumulated a 7.8 career WAR (explained here) in 305 career games, while Ross has taken way more than twice as many games (761) to have a WAR of just 8.6. In all, Castillo is younger, better defensively, and offers more power, so he’s a more logical trading piece. He poses the possibility of yielding a return that could bolster the bullpen, whether it’s because he frees a spot for someone to come up from the 40 man or because a major league ready arm is a part of the trade. I don’t have high expectations here, but it’s time to have just 2 catchers.
The 4th outfielder
Joe made reference to the problem of Chris Coghlan in a recent game recap, but after a closer look at his performance so far this season, it’s becoming very clear that he needs to go. Not only because his offensive output is putrid, but because he’s keeping guys like Matt Szczur and Junior Lake from getting chances in the outfield consistently. Coghlan, the 2009 rookie of the year, came to the Cubs last season and put together a season that left many of us, myself included, feeling like he was worth a permanent spot in our outfield. This year, however, has been more like what led the Marlins to let him go to free agency after the 2013 season. Most problematic has probably been the K/BB rate. His 22 strikeouts compared to just 8 walks does nothing to help a team that already has several young players who are striking out at a very high rate. His WAR sits solidly in the negative as well. Health has been an interference for Coghlan in the past, but what we’ve seen this year doesn’t seem to be because of that.
I wrote about Lake last week, and if it were up to me, I’d prefer that Lake was getting regular starts in LF over Coghlan at this point. Coghlan is signed through this year, so there’s a chance another team might take a flyer on him in a spare parts trade. I doubt he’d accept an assignment at this point, so a trade that brings us another arm would be nice.
In both cases, what I’d like to see are Castillo and Coghlan (perhaps even packaged together, but that’s probably not likely) traded for bullpen arms. If nothing else, we need more players who can eat innings in the latter third of a game on a team that has not yet seen many lengthy starts from its rotation. The bullpen will get taxed quickly at this rate and only get worse because of it. Also, more injuries are an inevitability, so the more options Joe Maddon has, the better.
I don’t like this idea. It’s definitely a popular one, especially as the Cubs are hosting the Mets this week, a team that is in need of offense and especially at shortstop. I would have been more receptive to the idea before seeing how Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez have done this year. For now, having Russell at 2B and Castro at SS is working just fine because neither Alcantara or Baez appear ready to take over at 2B in the even that Castro is traded and Russell moves over. As much as I’d be tempted by a trade that would bring us a quality starting pitcher, sending Castro out of Chicago would have to involve a major piece in return (*cough* Noah Syndergaard *cough*), and there aren’t many realistic scenarios for that out there currently.
So for now, I’m ok with a few small moves to make the necessary adjustments the team needs. It’s early enough that I don’t think we have to look bigger than that so far. In another month or two, depending on how the standings are looking, we may have larger moves to think about, but that’s not the case yet.