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Cubs Staying The Course, Sign OF Nate Schierholtz

By bullpenbrian - December 6, 2012 - 10:30 am 2 comments.

Nate Schierholtz? Didn’t see this one coming, but it falls right in line with the Cubs’ course of action this offseason–patching up holes with affordable stop-gap players.

First Scott Baker ($5.5M), then Dioner Navarro ($1.75M), next Scott Feldman ($4.5M) and now Schierholtz ($2.25M).

The upside for Schierholtz is his left-handed bat and ability to play both corner outfield positions. He’s also in his prime, 28, and could stay under team control for a second season if all goes well in 2013…or could be used as trade bait come July.

In the meantime his signing adds outfield depth with the likelihood Soriano is dealt before Opening Day. With David DeJesus moving to center Schierholtz projects as the starting right fielder leaving Brett Jackson, Dave Sappelt, Tony Campana and Bryan Bogusevic filling-in as needed.

Schierholtz is far from a splash signing, but he does fill a need and comes with low-risk, high-reward potential.

Given the Cubs’ track record this offseason it appears we should expect a similar signing for third base and at least one more bullpen arm; the two biggest remaining needs.

Perhaps the relief arm can be filled by RHP Hector Rondon (Indians) who the Cubs selected in the Rule 5 Draft this morning. Nonetheless, there’s still plenty of time this winter to find a couple more serviceable players before the spring.

Of course none of the players the Cubs have added this winter can be considered a sure-thing, including Kyugi Fujikawa, but those they have signed should help stop the bleeding of a 101-loss team. That’s an important first order of business and a reminder patience is a virtue.

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Cubs Better Off Keeping Soriano?

By bullpenbrian - December 3, 2012 - 1:45 pm 2 comments.

Theo Epstein says he won’t ‘give away’ Alfonso Soriano this week via trade.

But the more I think about it, ‘settling’ on an offer for Sori during the Winter Meetings might be the best option for Chicago.

Soriano turns 37 in January. His trade value will likely never be higher than what it is now coming off his productive season in 2012.

If the Cubs wait to deal Soriano there’s the risk he gets off to a slow start in 2013 or worse, gets injured. Then what do you get for him?

His full no-trade clause could also make it tougher to deal him next July, as was the case this past year, which only increases the risk of hanging on to him.

Perhaps the biggest trouble is replacing Soriano’s offensive production (32 HR, 108 RBI, 121 OPS+).

The Cubs finished 28/30 in runs scored last season with only a few signs indicating the offense could be slightly better next season.

However, if the Cubs land a quality center fielder this week the offensive outlook changes. Another legit hitting outfielders alongside Soriano could survive with a rotating platoon in right field.

It may take the Cubs figuring out what they’re going to do in center field before determining what to do about Soriano in left.

But if I’m the Cubs I’d pull the trigger on the best offer for Soriano in Nashville. He needs to be replaced eventually and it’s hard to imagine the offers for him are any better following the Winter Meetings.

I don’t want to see the Cubs ‘give away’ Soriano, either. But I would like to see something of value in return for him, too.

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Cubs Build Momentum With Kyuji Fujikawa Signing

By bullpenbrian - December 2, 2012 - 7:00 am Leave a comment.

This move is really exciting. The Cubs desperately need bullpen help and adding Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa is an immediate upgrade.

It’s not your classic rebuild move, Fujikawa is 32, but his successful career in Japansuggest he’s well worth the reported 2-year, $9.5M deal (202 career saves in six seasons with the Hanshin Tigers, including a 1.32 ERA in 2012).

Part of rebuilding is a balancing act between patient for the organization’s long-range goals and promptest to better the team in the standings year-to-year.

So occasionally the Cubs will need sidestep the classic rebuilding moves (young, unproven prospects) in favor of players who can impact the club immediately, which is exactly how I view the Fujikawa signing.

This is why I’ve been adamant Team Theo would have a surprise signing or two for us this winter (Fujikawa included); the Cubs simply can’t afford another 101-loss season in the name of rebuilding.

It’s one thing to patch holes with prospects, but making the team more competitive in 2013 will require more proven players, albeit more expensive ones who may only be around a year or two.

With baseball’s winter meetings beginning in Nashville on Monday, don’t be surprised if the Cubs make another splash through trade or free agency.

Even with the addition of Fujikawa the bullpen remains thin and finding a solid center fielder is another priority–among other needs.

I’m not suggesting the Cubs will make a move for 2013 at the risk of jeopardizing the long-term rebuild, but acquiring another name-player like Fujikawa doesn’t appear out of the question.

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Cubs Bullpen Still In Shambles

By bullpenbrian - November 30, 2012 - 3:00 am Leave a comment.

Don’t forget about the Cubs’ bullpen this offseason. It remains a glaring weakness and aside from re-signing Shawn Camp, not much has been done to improve the relief staff.

Adding a couple of quality starter (Scott Baker & Scott Feldman) should help in theory, reducing the number of relief innings, but there’s still a ton of work to be done.

Only the Rockies, Brewers and Astros relievers allowed more earned-runs than Chicago in the National League last season.

The Cubs’ pen also allowed the second most HR in the NL (56) and worse, issued the most walks in all of baseball (259).

Carlos Marmol could be traded by the end of the Winter Meetings next week. Michael Bowden and Alberto Cabrera are being stretched out as starters this offseason. That basically leaves Camp and James Russell as the only reliable relief arms.

Meanwhile, Lendy Castillo, Jaye Chapman and Jeff Beliveau are still unproven. So is Rafael Dolis. Maybe there’s a pleasant bullpen surprise this spring among Arodys Vizcaino, Trey McNutt or Robert Whitenack, but even so that’s not enough for a formidable bullpen.

So in addition to finding the right fit at third base and a center fielder, improving the bullpen must be high on the Cubs’ list of repairs.

I wouldn’t suspect the bullpen issues get ironed out at the Winter Meetings, there might be a move (Marmol), but it’s something to keep an eye on as we move deeper into the offseason.

I have to believe at some point Team Theo will add at least one, if not two, quality relievers before the start of spring training.

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Cubs Rotation Respectable

By bullpenbrian - November 28, 2012 - 4:00 am 2 comments.

The addition of Scott Feldman on Tuesday shores up the Cubs’ minimal starting pitching needs this offseason and actually gives Chicago a respectable rotation behind Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Scott Baker.

“We’d have liked him back, but he got a better opportunity, I won’t be surprised to see him have a big year.” -Rangers GM Jon Daniels on Feldman.

It’s another step forward to increasing the odds the Cubs avoid another 100-loss season, but re-tooling the rotation is far from over.

There’s still the possibility Garza is dealt during the Winter Meetings next week in Nashville, and the jury’s still out on Shark and Wood improving on last season.

There’s also no telling how long it will take Baker to bounce back from Tommy John surgery, if at all, and can Feldman sustain an entire season as a starter?

Per the usual, lots of question remain.

In part this explains the Cubs’ decision to stretch out relievers Michael Bowden and Alberto Cabrera as starters this winter.

Arodys Vizcaino (acquired from Atlanta for Reed Johnson & Paul Maholm) is recovering from TJS in March and is another potential starting option, especially if Garza is dealt.

Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley each made a handful of starts with the Cubs last season and could also make a run at the rotation this spring.

In theory it appears the Cubs finally have some decent rotation depth, but that’s assuming the progression of the arms-in-waiting go as planned; and precisely why Team Theo will try to fetch more starting pitching during the Winter Meetings next week.

Even if the Cubs come up empty in Nashville we at least know the rotation is better heading into 2013 than it finished in 2012, at least on paper.

Ultimately the Cubs’ starting rotation still poses more questions than answers, and will remain as such while trade opportunities, injuries and slumps continually shape the starting five through next season.

But that’s life for a rebuilding team. Every question can’t be answered immediately.

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Shawn Camp Balances Scale

By bullpenbrian - November 21, 2012 - 7:00 am Leave a comment.

It seem Shawn Camp is returning the favor by re-signing with the Cubs for 1-year, $1.35M.

Given the solid season Camp had last year he likely would’ve received several offers later this winter, possibly from contenders and for more money, no less.

Either way, last season was all a weird twist of fate for Camp after the Mariners surprisingly released him just one week before Opening Day.

It left Camp down-and-out, unemployed and seemingly unwanted. It appeared every bit a raw-deal from a Seattle team that had no business cutting quality relievers.

But shortly thereafter the Cubs came calling offering Camp a 1-year major league deal. He would immediately join the bullpen with a fair shot to stick with the team.

It must have been a huge relief for Shawn…and I’m convinced it factored into Camp ultimately posting one of the best seasons of his 9-year career. What a turn of fortunes for both parties.

Camp not only tied for the major league lead in appearances (80), but was fifth in innings pitched for a reliever (77.2) and tabbed by Dale Sveum as one of the Cubs’ most valuable players in 2012.

With a strong season under his belt and once again a free agent, Camp might have viewed this offseason as an opportunity to better his baseball career.

After all, he’s 37, has never pitched in the postseason, only twice played on a winning team and nearly half of his career has been spent pitching for clubs eclipsing 100 or more losses in a season–four times to be exact.

Instead of testing the free agent market, however, Camp decided to come back to the Cubs, back to the team that rescued his career, and most importantly, back to a place where he’s both valued and respected.

It says a lot about Camp’s character. It shows his understanding and willingness to balance the scale even though it likely comes at the cost of fewer wins and fewer dollars.

We know all too well that’s usually not the path chosen by big league free agents. Something tells me the Cubs know as much, too. They see a value to Camp beyond his rubber-arm. His high character and professionalism sets a fine example for the inexperienced and youthful Cubs. 

One more year together seems fair for both sides. A quality player for the Cubs and a favor returned by Camp.

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So What Navarro Doesn’t Hit

By bullpenbrian - November 16, 2012 - 5:00 am Leave a comment.

We naturally tend to talk offense first when it comes to evaluating position players.

That shouldn’t be the case with catchers. Defense should always be the first order of business.

That’s why the Cubs’ signing of Dioner Navarro hasn’t been a headline grabber–he’s no Buster Posey at the plate. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of the signing or the fact Navarro can upgrade the Cubs defensively.

The catching position has been an area of weakness on the Cubs for several years now. Geovany Soto steadily declined from his Rookie of the Year Award season in 2008 and all else can be summed up with two words: Koyie Hill.

That’s actually a critical fault when you consider catcher is not only the toughest position to play, but arguably the most important position on the diamond.

From learning to handle an entire pitching staff, to working the individual game-plans, to controlling the running game and all the way down to simply framing pitches, it’s a crucial part of a winning team. If a catcher can hit some, all the better. But it’s what he does behind the plate that truly counts.

It would be wonderful if Welington Castillo reaches the potential the Cubs’ organization believes he can. Epstein has tabbed Castillo a potential core-player in the rebuild. Dale Sveum envisions him as a future Gold Glove Award winner.

Obviously, we hope both projections turn out to be true. But what if Epstein and Sveum (and myself included) are all wrong about Welington? What happens if he succumbs to a sophomore slump like Soto did in 2009, or worse, suffers another injury like he did last season (sprained right knee)? Then who will the Cubs turn to?

Until the arrival of Navarro, that would’ve been Steve Clevenger, still an unproven and inexperienced catcher–both at the plate and behind it. Navarro, however, has caught 600-plus games in the big leagues (including 3 seasons catching Matt Garza), was the starting catcher for the pennant winning Rays in ’08 and even earned an All Star nod the same season.

There’s a reason Navarro’s managed to have an 8-year big-league career despite being a career .245/.306/.357 hitter; he can do everything needed behind the plate of a back-up, big-league catcher.

So before being critical of Navarro’s lack of offensive production or the Cubs’ willingness to pay him $1.75-million, it’s worth reminding ourselves how important upgrading the catching position was given Castillo and Clevenger are still unproven.

Spending less than $2-million to ensure there’s a solid Plan B at the most important position on the field wouldn’t appear a poor investment.

Navarro isn’t that prominent ‘headline’ signing Cubs fans are waiting for this winter, but he could turn out to be one of the more important signings the Cubs make this offseason—even if he doesn’t hit a lick.

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Why Team Theo Could Surprise Cubs Fans This Offseason

By bullpenbrian - November 15, 2012 - 10:00 am 2 comments.

An important part of the Cubs’ rebuild is selling the general fan base on the idea the team is improving despite its place in the standings.

Keeping the masses interested in a team still several seasons away from reaching the postseason won’t be easy, nor is it an effective ticket sales strategy if the Cubs lose 100-plus games again next year.

Realistically, slipping just under triple-digit losses in 2013 won’t cut it, either. For the club to be convincing of any improvement the loss total needs to be closer to 90-games at minimum, and anything less would certainly be ideal.

[As a reminder, I'm not talking about the Cubs selling ‘you and me’. This is largely about 'Joe Cubs Fan' who's not reading baseball blogs in mid-November or deeply interested in the 'process' of a rebuilding plan still years away from completion. He'll dust off his Cubs cap after spring training and then angrily swap it out for a Bears lid after his Cubbies deal away its good players at next July's trade deadline.] Now back to our regularly scheduled program…

Achieving the dubious goal of ‘anything less than 100-losses’ means the Cubs strictly can’t rely on ‘rebuild’ players alone. The Jacksons, Vitters and Raleys of the organization can’t be counted on to assure the big-100 doesn’t happen again.

Instead, the Cubs are going to need at least 1 or 2 veteran, stop-gap type players like a David DeJesus (most notably at third base, centerfield and the starting rotation) to help prop the team up in the win column, if only for the sake of some visible proof in the standings the rebuild is moving forward.

It’s precisely why I suggested earlier this week the Cubs could explore trade optionsfor Dodgers’ starters Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang–two middle-aged veterans of which either could immediately help improve the Cubs’ starting pitching and its chances of avoiding consecutive 100-loss seasons–but neither of which would do more than serve this single purpose for a year or two at most.

For the sake of this post Capuano and Harang, specifically, are not of importance. What is, is recognizing not every player acquisition this offseason will be a perfect-fit for the rebuild like those early 20s, high-ceiling prospects we so dearly love or the re-tread pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery willing to take a 1-year, ‘prove-it’ deal with the chance to be traded to a contender in July (Scott Baker).

This is why I’ve repeatedly mentioned my hunch the Cubs would have a surprise or two up its sleeve for us this winter.

Look over the current roster and you’ll soon realize that without the additions of a few proven players the outlook for 2013 is hardly better than it was for 2012, as far as wins and losses are concerned.

Bridging what we hope is the short-term gap from the development of young rebuild-players into budding major league stars won’t be accomplished with more Alex Hinshaws and Chris Volstads.

Team Theo knows this, which is why the Cubs already made one attempt this offseason, albeit unsuccessfully, to deal Carlos Marmol for a proven, veteran pitcher in Dan Haren. For all the reasons stated above, I expect this won’t be their last try to supplement a veteran, short-term fix to the longer-term rebuild solutions.

Without one we can be fairly certain this club is sailing right back to the waters from which it came…a stormy sea of 101 losses.

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Would Cubs Trade With Dodgers For Pitching?

By bullpenbrian - November 13, 2012 - 6:00 pm 4 comments.

We’ve talked a lot about the possible free-agent signings for the Cubs this offseason. How about some trade chatter?

The Dodgers’ surplus in starting pitching could make Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang available this winter according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

Neither player is a ‘perfect fit’ for the Cubs, but that shouldn’t stop Chicago from exploring trade possibilities.

Capuano and Harang are a bit long-in-the-tooth (both are in their mid 30s) but both are healthy, have manageable contracts, are coming off productive seasons and would provide an upgrade to the Cubs’ rotation.

Assuming the Dodgers have a reasonable asking price, that’s pitching worth trading for–if the Cubs are truly committed to being more competitive in 2013.

If I had to pick one over the other I’d lean towards Capuano because of his left-handedness (he’s also a year younger). But add either one with Scott Baker, who the Cubs signed on Tuesday, and Chicago suddenly has the minimal of two starters it was looking for this offseason.

That would be a good start to an offseason in which Team Theo is in hot pursuit of starting depth, most of which will come with considerable risk, like Baker, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Capuano and Harang have their drawbacks, too. But landing one of these guys gives Chicago the potential to field a competitive rotation next year, and that’s worth the cost of giving up a Carlos Marmol or a Josh Vitters to have that chance.

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Mixed Feelings On Ryan Dempster

By bullpenbrian - November 11, 2012 - 6:00 pm Leave a comment.

I have mixed feelings about the possibility of Ryan Dempster rejoining the Cubs.

I didn’t particularly care for the way Dempster handled his July trade to Texas after saying he was willing to help the Cubs get the most for his services by trading him to a contender.

“Any one of us is susceptible to being traded. For me, it’s a little different because I have the right to say ‘no.’ … Obviously I want to do what’s best for this organization. They’ve done nothing but right by me.” –Dempster

Instead, the trade deadline felt more like Dempster was pinning the Cubs front office in a corner than upholding his word to help the organization gain the most back in a deal.

We don’t know if that was exactly the case. There’s plenty of miscommunication from both ends to go around. I’m just saying that’s the way it felt to me back in July.

On the flip side, Dempster’s return would improve the Cubs’ chances to be competitive in 2013–if the money is right.

The Cubs need at least two more starting pitchers and Dempster was exceptionally good with Chicago last season, and arguably is just as good, if not better, than most of the mid-level free-agent starters the Cubs are targeting this offseason. That’s pretty good incentive for Chicago.

Meanwhile, Dempster’s incentive to resign with Chicago would be two-fold. First, it would provide an opportunity to heal the damage done to his once glowing reputation in Chicago before the trade debacle. Two, he would likely be given another chance to join a contender next July via trade.

My guess is Dempster is well aware he lost in the court of public opinion among Cubs fans last summer, which I believe would be of concern to a guy who was so heavily involved in the community with his Dempster Family Foundation.

‘‘I built a home here [Chicago]. I’ve been here almost nine years. The thought of leaving, no matter where it is, is a tough thing.’’ –Dempster

It could be just the sort of thing that trumps what are sure to be better financial offers for Dempster to pitch elsewhere next season, not to mention his preference playing for a team that holds spring training in Arizona where he keeps an offseason home.

Ultimately, however, I think TheoJed will do whatever is in the best interest of the Cubs organization. If that means reuniting with Dempster–assuming trade scenarios are agreed upon far in advance of July 31–so be it.

Otherwise I’m just fine watching Dempster play somewhere else and letting his career with the Cubs pass as water under the bridge.

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