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What’s Next For Jeff Samardzija?

By bullpenbrian - September 9, 2012 - 11:05 am Leave a comment.

Shutting Jeff Samardzija down for the remainder of the season is a no-brainer.

His 174.2 innings pitched doubles his innings total from a season ago and accounts for slightly more innings pitched than he accumulated during his first four seasons with the Cubs (169.2).

It’s been a heavy work-load for the 27-year-old, and with the final month of the Cubs’ regular season being spent as nothing more than an evaluation period determining what players should return in 2013, there’s no reason risking injury to a player the Cubs desperately need in its rotation next spring.

Samardzija’s first season as a starter has largely been a success. He leads the team in starts (28), innings pitched (174.2) and strikeouts (180). He’s also accomplished 17 quality starts, including his last four, posted and ERA of less than 3.00 since the All Star break and tossed his first career complete game against Pittsburgh Saturday night–only allowing a further glimpse of how high his potential ceiling could reach as a top-of-the-rotation arm.

The Shark finishes his season with a respectable 3.81 ERA, but a losing (9-13) record, which can hardly be held against him given the Cubs’ anemic offense. And he easily pitched well enough for at least two, if not three more victories, and arguably more. So it is nice knowing Samardzija is capable of winning 15-games or more over a full season.

What’s really of interest, however, is Samardzija’s expiring 1-yr, $2.64M contract, keeping in mind, the Cubs declined Jeff’s major league option last year to resign him to a more team friendly deal.

But oh, how things have changed.

Samardzija is no longer a pitcher trying to prove himself as a starter, and the Cubs have basically zero rotation depth behind him, aside from an unhealthy Matt Garza and an inconsistent Travis Wood.

So how much and how long? That’s the next question Jed Hoyer needs to address in Samardzija’s career. And here we thought ending the Shark’s season early was the hard part.


What Starlin Castro Deal Means For Cubs

By bullpenbrian - August 29, 2012 - 12:15 am Leave a comment.

This is a Guest Post by John Guminski. He’s a Junior at the University of Missouri majoring in Journalism.

Theo and Jed got their man. The dynamic duo locked Starlin Castro up long-term with a reported 7-year, $60M deal representing the Cubs’ first major financial commitment to its rebuilding efforts.

Castro’s been a prized possession since joining the club in May of 2010. He’s made two All Star appearances, led the National League in hits last season (207) and is a veteran player at just 22-years-old.

The team-friendly deal buys out Castro’s remaining four arbitration years, and his three free-agents seasons. There’s also an option year that could keep Starlin in Cubbie blue into his 30s.

The deal averages out to $8.57M per season, and when included with the Cubs’ 2013 payroll, projects out to a very flexible team salary of $44.4M dollars.

Key guys remain unsigned for next season such as Jeff Samardziija, Matt Garza, and Darwin Barney. But it’s a far cry from the 2010 payroll of more than $144M that forced Theo to dump higher-priced talent in order to return the club from the stratosphere in terms of player salary, at least for the time being.

The long-term commitment to Castro shows how much the Cubs believe Starlin is worth building around. It seems obvious when looking at the overall quality of players on the current roster, but it is encouraging to see a dollar amount reinforce the belief Starlin will be a cornerstone piece for the foreseeable future.

If, of course, that opinion sours the Cubs will be well within their right to trade Castro. The deal is void of any partial or full no-trade clauses.

That wouldn’t appear to be part of the plan, but there’s no ignoring plenty of Starlin’s game needs further developing, beginning with nurturing the young shortstop’s maturity both on and off the field.

Otherwise, he’s hit the ball out of the park more this year despite his doubles being halved (36,18) while his OPS (.720) and OPS+ (97) have both sank to career lows. His overall fielding has improved with only 21 errors on the way to his personal best .966 fielding percentage.

Team Theo obviously believes Castro will keep trending upwards as he nears his peak years, which is all part of the long-term rebuilding plans on the North Side.

It’s a fresh approach for a team long overdue on developing its young talent from within. Starlin, we hope, is just the first of many building blocks yet to come.


Cubs Rebuild | Phase 2

By bullpenbrian - August 25, 2012 - 4:00 am Leave a comment.

We know there’s a ton of work left to be done with the Cubs rebuild, and we know it all can’t be accomplished in one offseason.

The first phase of the rebuild draws to a close in roughly one month, which has included everything from Team Theo reshaping the club through player trades, waiver-wire moves and a revamping of the front office.

The main goal for next season, of course, is beginning Phase 2 of the process, which starts, first and foremost, with fielding a more competitive team–and by competitive I mean a team void of 90 or more losses.

The Cubs have four areas of critical need entering the offseason: 1.) A quality fourth starter. 2.) Quality bullpen arms. 3.) A third baseman 4.) A center fielder.


I’m assuming Matt Garza will remain a Cub through the offseason and return as the staff Ace. Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood follow Garza with a combination of Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin, among others, as the fifth starters.

Justin Germano would suffice, but is far from a lock, and notice I didn’t mention the return of winless Chris Volstad. Lord help us if that happens.

Speculation is the Cubs will target a mid-range starter the likes of a Paul Maholm–a younger, more affordable veteran with a big league track record. If the Cubs can find, and sign, a guy like a Maholm, that’s actually not a terrible rotation.


All indications are Carlos Marmol will be back as the team’s closer. James Russell is a lock, and I’d count on Manny Corpas being invited back as well. Shawn Camp would also be ideal, but he’s likely to field better offers from more competitive clubs this winter.

Aside from these three, however, that’s a sizable hole to fill in the bullpen, one I speculate will be filled with more project-players and retreads (ie: Corpas & Camp) to go along with the unknowns of Jeff Beliveau, Lendy Castillo, Rafael Dolis, Michael Bowden, Alex Hinshaw, Scott Maine, Marcos Mateo, Blake Parker, Arodys Vizcaino, Alberta Cabrera and Casey Coleman. (SMH).


The more we watch Brett Jackson and Josh Vitter the more clear it becomes both are still green in their development. Unless something clicks for either in the final 38-games, I wouldn’t be surprised if both started 2013 back in Iowa.

Outfielders are always easy to come by in the offseason, and with Wrigley playing as such a small center field the right option shouldn’t be hard to find–at least defensively. Finding a productive bat is the difficulty.

Third base is more precarious. If we assume Vitters isn’t ready for the start of next season, incumbent Ian Stewart may still remain one option. Guys like Super Joe Mather and Luis Valbuena are nice fill-in players, but neither should be counted on as full-time starters. And it’s worth noting the free agent crop at third base is thin at best.


If you’re like me you probably just let-go a huge sigh, leaned back in your chair and put your hands behind your head. But, I guess we should at least be thankful the first phase is nearly out of the way.

There’s still plenty of pain and suffering to endure, and that’s not including the final month of the regular season. Here’s to looking forward to Phase 3.


Evaluating Cubs New Deal With Starlin Castro

By bullpenbrian - August 20, 2012 - 2:30 am Leave a comment.

I’ve always been in favor of the Cubs building around Starlin Castro, which is why I’m thrilled the team is close to locking him up with a long-term contract extension: 7-yr, $60M.

I’m not blind to Castro’s faults. His mental gaffes are extremely concerning. His fielding needs to improve, as does his plate discipline. Both have been better this season, but there’s significant progress left to be achieved in both areas.

However, for a kid who’s sparkled since his major league debut, Starlin is about as close to a sure-thing as you’ll find on a Cubs roster fit for a 100-loss season. And that’s exactly what the Cubs need to build around–not trade away–in the coming years.


While Anthony Rizzo appears poised to reach the level of success Castro has, we’ve yet to see him play a full major league season. Bryan LaHair, unfortunately, fizzled out in late May. Darwin Barney appears to be a very good, but not great player at second base. Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Steve Clevenger, Welington Castillo…who knows how these guys pan out?

Meanwhile, in a few short weeks Castro will have nearly three full seasons under his belt at age 22. That alone speaks to his natural talent.

He’s already made two All Star appearances, led the league in hits in 2011 (207) and shows all the signs of becoming a super-star player.

Castro, for better or worse, is the face of the Cubs franchise. Or perhaps better said, the face of the Cubs rebuild. Why wouldn’t you lock Castro up long-term?


The reported deal buys out Castro’s four arbitration years and his three free agents years. If all goes as planned there’s even an option year for the 2020 season for $16M.

Additionally, Team Theo’s ‘no-trade’ policy is just one of several important factors in Starlin’s new deal.

  • 1.) It relieves any unnecessary pressure off Castro to perform under looming contract negotiations.
  • 2.) Paying Starlin now is likely to save the Cubs money in the long run, especially if Starlin exceeds his potential.
  • 3.) If Castro doesn’t achieve his potential, or sours on the Cubs front office, they’ll be in a strong position to trade Castro right as he’s coming into his prime years.

A deal beneficial for both sides is always the best kind. And with so little to be sure of in the coming seasons on the North Side, it’s the smart move for Team Theo and Starlin Castro.


Mays, Mantle and Brett Jackson

By bullpenbrian - August 17, 2012 - 2:30 am 2 comments.

It’s too early to determine exactly what kind of hitter Brett Jackson will become at the major league level. He’s played in all of nine games having made just 35 plate appearances.

What we’ve seen thus far, albeit expectedly, hasn’t been pretty. Jackson is striking out at a horrific pace, even more frequently than he did at Triple-A Iowa, fanning 18-times, which is right at 51-percent of his total plate appearances.

Theo & Jed, however, have quickly come to Jackson’s defense referencing the early struggles of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle upon their arrivals in the big leagues in 1951.

Mays hit .163/.294/.326 through his first 51 plate appearances, including seven hits, four for extra bases, one home run and five RBI. He drew seven walks vs. five strikeouts.

Mantle’s first 50 plate appearances looked like this: .222/.289/.575. He totaled 10 hits, two for extra bases, no home runs, six RBI and five walks (one intentional) vs. 10 strikeouts.

Jackson enters this weekend’s four-game series at Cincinnati (where he should hit 50 total plate appearances) hitting .188/.257/.281. He’s managed six hits, two for extra bases, no home runs, one RBI and three walks vs. the aforementioned 18 strikeouts.

So what can we make from comparing Jackson to Mays & Mantle? I’d say, not much.


First of all, there’s a noticeable age difference with Jackson, who turned 24 on August 2nd. The Say Hey Kid was 20-years-old when he made his debut for the New York Giants. Mantle was 19 when he debuted for the Yankees.

When Mays was 24 he hit a major league-leading 51 HR, drove in 127 RBI and finished fourth in the MVP Award. His slashline was .319/.400/ with a major league-leading .659 SLG. The OPS was 1.059 and his OPS+ a marvelous 174!

Mantle at 24 hit a major league-leading 52 HR and 130 RBI. He also scored a major league-leading 132 runs with a slashline of .353/.464/.705. The OPS: 1.169. His OPS+: 210! Each category led the majors except for his still eye-popping .464 OBP. And oh yeah, Mantle also won the MVP Award that season (1956).


The message Team Theo is trying to get across is that a player’s first couple of weeks in ‘The Show’ tend to be overwhelming—and not that they believe the next Mays or Mantle is in the Cubs on-deck circle.

While using the comparison of Jackson’s early struggles to that of two Hall of Famers who suffered equally is flattering for the kid, it’s hardly fair.

Instead, it’s just a reminder that figuring things out at first blush against the best pitchers in the world isn’t always easy, even for some of the game’s very best hitters.

No Cubs fan in their right mind is expecting Jackson to elevate his game to the level of Willie or The Mick. Not that it couldn’t happen.

But what I really learned from looking at the comparisons is Mays & Mantle both mastered the necessary adjustments at the major league level rather quickly–enough so that they were performing at MVP-caliber levels by the time they were Jackson’s age, and that’s what truly needs to be assessed in BJax’s case.

How quickly will this kid learn on the job? Can he make the right adjustments, or are his talents just another case of Cubs fans hyping expectations to unreasonable levels?

Time will tell, as it does with all players, if Jackson is major league material. It may not happen as quickly as we would like, Jackson could begin next season back in Iowa, but we’ll know soon enough.

Until then, let’s hold off on the comparison talk, unless of course, we’re discussing who Cubs fans hyped more: Jackson or Felix Pie? Other candidates are welcomed, too.


How Long Will Cubs Rebuild Take?

By bullpenbrian - August 13, 2012 - 4:20 am Leave a comment.

Cubs fans are asking me with more frequency how much longer before our boys in blue are competitive again?

What I can say with certainty is: not next year, and probable not the following season, either.

A best case scenario, meaning most of the Cubs’ young prospects and draft picks pan-out, is three years from now in 2015–and that might be pushing it.

A more cautious, but realistic prediction, is actually four or five years down the road before we’ll see the Cubs in championship form. That feels like eons from now, but such is life for a rebuilding baseball franchise.


A current example of a proper rebuild is the Cincinnati Reds, who coincidentally, were busy taking three of four games from the Cubs at Wrigley over the weekend.

It’s already been seven years since Bob Castellini purchased the Reds and promised the return of championship baseball to the Queen City.

The Reds, of course, haven’t won a championship or even appeared in a World Series during Castellini’s reign, but it hasn’t been from a lack of effort.

Similar to the Cubs recent state, Castellini was rebuilding the Reds from the ground-up in 2006.

He began by breaking the franchise’s frugal traditions and re-signed top of the rotation arms Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo to major extensions.

He then signed high-priced manager Dusty Baker, parted ways with over-valued stars such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, and sought the services of general managing guru Walk Jocketty.

The Reds maintained its emphasis on the June amateur draft (Homer Bailey & Jay Bruce were 1st Rd picks in 2004-05) selecting Drew Stubbs, Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, Mike Leake, Brad Boxberger and Yonder Alonso–the later two being dealt this past December to San Diego for starting pitcher Matt Latos (10-3, 3.81). The others are regulars in the Reds everyday lineup.

Castellini also surprised the entire league with a Jorge Soler-type commitment to Aroldis Chapman, signing the Cuban Missile to a 6-year, $30.25M deal in 2010.

And that’s just a brief look at the over-haul, which doesn’t include the emergence of Joey Votto as the National League MVP or the acquisitions of key veteran players such as Scott Rolen and Ryan Ludwick.

However, it took the Reds five rebuilding years before they posted a winning record, an NL Central division title in 2010.

But even then, the young club was caught in the headlights of postseason baseball, no-hit by Phillies’ Ace Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the NLDS and quickly swept out of October two games later.

Last season was another down year with a few more additions needed to complete the rebuild. And finally, seven years later, the rebuild has come to completion.

The Reds, at long last, are poised for a World Series run, and should be for the foreseeable future.


Former Cubs pitcher, Dave Otto, a part-time radio/television analyst on Cubs broadcasts, reinforced the patience of a rebuild during his on-air interview with Len and Bob Sunday afternoon.

Otto was a member of the Cleveland Indians during the 1991-92 seasons when Cleveland’s recommitment to rebuilding through the amateur draft brought in the likes of Manny Ramirez, Chad Ogea, Paul Byrd and Paul Shuey.

These players joined the ranks of the Indians other young core players such as Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Mark Lewis, Charles Nagy, Carlos Baerga and Julian Tavarez.

The Tribe, mind you, lost 105-games in 1991 and 86-games both the following two seasons.

In 1994, however, Cleveland was on its way to a winning season before the infamous strike, but rebounded in 1995 with a 100-win campaign.

The Indians lastly surrounded its young core with talented free agents such as Dave Winfield, Orel Hershiser and Dave Martinez, among others.

The 1995 season marked the first of seven consecutive winning seasons, including six playoff appearances and two World Series births–all over the stretch of 10 years since the beginning of its rebuild.


The example of the Reds and Indians are just two of many successful rebuild stories that have happened in my time following the game.

But I choose these two franchises because they rebuilt the right way; from the ground-up using draft picks to create a young, talented core surrounded by quality veteran free-agents.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are taking similar action with the Cubs rebuilding efforts. Out with the old, in with the new and waiting to sign big-name free-agents as icing on the cake. And as we understand from the two examples above, that doesn’t happen in one offseason.

So to best answer the question “how long will it take the Cubs to rebuild?” is–not any time soon. But however long it does take should be well worth the bumpy ride in the long run.

As Tom Petty would sing, ‘it’s the waiting that’s the hardest part.’


Rizzo for Cashner Headlines All-Time Cubs-Padres Trades

By bullpenbrian - August 8, 2012 - 7:30 pm 1 comment.

There’s no question how impactful the Cubs trade for Anthony Rizzo was this offseason.

January 6, 2012: Cubs trade Kyung-Min Na (minors) & Andrew Cashner to Padres for Zach Cates (minors) & Anthony Rizzo.

With just 36 games under his belt, including this evening’s contest at San Diego, it’s evident Theo & Jed knew exactly what kind of super-talented player they were dealing for on January 6, 2012.

Rizzo hasn’t disappointed. In fact, all early indications show the 23-year-old is the long-term fix at first base and the three-hole; and that’s excluding his potential leadership qualities and ability to become the new face of the franchise.

Andrew Cashner, the prized return piece in the deal, is also a very talented player with Rizzo-like potential. But it’s looking more like the soon to be 26-year-old wouldn’t have been of the same value to the Cubs as Rizzo appears to be already.

Injuries, mainly, have held Cashner at bay since the trade. And while all teams are in need of power-arms, there’s something to be said for the Cubs gaining a solid position player to fill an everyday need on both sides of the diamond.

Historically the Cubs and Padres haven’t hooked up on many trades. Rizzo for Cashner is easily the headliner. But here’s a look at some of the other notable trades between the two organizations:

  • June 20, 2007: Cubs trade Michael Barrett & cash to Padres for Kyler Burke (minors) & Rob Bowen.
  • July 31, 2006: Cubs trade Todd Walker to Padres for Jose Ceda.
  • February 12, 1988: Padres trade Rich Gossage & Ray Hayward to Cubs for Mike Brumley & Keith Moreland.
  • April 25, 1969: Padres trade Dick Selma to Cubs for Frankie Libran, Joe Niekro & Gary Ross.

Cubs Slumps: Castro, LaHair & Campana

By bullpenbrian - August 7, 2012 - 2:55 pm 4 comments.

It’s hard to ignore the offensive struggles of Starlin Castro, Bryan LaHair and Tony Campana.

Despite adopting a more disciplined plate approach since the firing of Rudy Jaramillo, which should help in the long run, Castro hasn’t been the same batter that led the NL in hits last season (207).

That doesn’t mean Starlin won’t break out of his funk before season’s end, but we can expect Castro to put together some better quality at-bats. Not to mention, this kid is so super-talented it’s only a matter of time before he settles back into being the Cubs’ premier hitter in the lineup.

LaHair’s slump, however, is far more concerning. He’s simply been brutal since mid-June, which helps explain why the Cubs didn’t feel they could receive enough value in return to trade him last week.

Surviving the trade deadline should’ve been LaHair’s golden opportunity to be an everyday player for the Cubs in the season’s second half. Instead, Team Theo opted to promote Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters.

The roster move is certain to leave LaHair riding the pine as a role player until he makes the needed adjustments to return to his brilliant hot start to the season, one that earned him All Star honors.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for LaHair is regaining his confidence. It’s vanished over his last 100 at-bats. He looks lost, over-matched and generally defeated at the dish.

Not even Tony Campana can outrun the slump-bug, which is why he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Sunday to make room for the arrivals of Jackson & Vitters.

Aside from being a cute base stealing threat, Campana expectedly fell back to earth after his hot start in April.

It’s clearly evident Campana is over-matched by big league pitching–and has been all year. He rarely puts together quality at-bats and what little success Campana has had this season has been fleeting at best.

Both he and the Cubs are best served getting the scrappy lefty more playing time in Iowa vs. sitting the bench on a team with zero need for a pinch-runner.

Starlin Castro

  • Since July 6 – Last 99 at-bats
  • .232/.276/.434
  • 23 hits, 3 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 12 RBI – 5 BB, 12 K

Bryan LaHair

  • Since June 18 – Last 100 at-bats
  • .210/.282/.300
  • 21 hits, 2 HR, 3 2B, 5 RBI – 10 BB, 41 K

Tony Campana

  • Since May 14 – Last 98 at-bats
  • .204/.243/.214
  • 20 hits, 1 2B, 2 RBI, – 5 BB, 29 K – 18/19 stolen bases

Cubs New Faces New Places

By bullpenbrian - August 7, 2012 - 1:05 am Leave a comment.


Cubs Review: Epstein, Dempster And Sveum

By bullpenbrian - August 4, 2012 - 11:30 pm Leave a comment.

While the Cubs were busy this past week during the non-waiver trade deadline, I too had my hands full signing a new long-term contract.

I’ve had some Cubs thoughts on my mind after taking Thursday and Friday off to enjoy my mid-week wedding.


Kudos to Theo Epstein for spilling the beans on the Ryan Dempster trade saga. The fans deserved a more detailed explanation of why Dempster ended up with the Rangers and not the Braves besides defending his 10-5 rights.

We now know Dempster wasn’t blindsided by the Braves deal. In fact, the Cubs had informed Dempster days before about a possible trade to Atlanta.

Epstein also candidly admitted the difficulties in trading Dempster because the pitcher backtracked on his original word.

Perhaps the only thing more important for the Cubs this season than its July trades was the June Amateur Draft.

The Draft went off without a hitch, but the Cubs fell short of trade expectation thanks in large part to Dempster’s dishonesty.

His stubbornness on being traded to LA, who wasn’t willing to come off a fair trade return, and his indecision on accepting trades elsewhere, even teams he previously agreed to be traded to, left the Cubs in a compromising position while scrambling right up to the deadline to land anything of value in return for Dempster.

That’s why I’m giving Epstein and Jed Hoyer much credit for pulling off the Dempster trade in addition to the other trades made on Tuesday.

Sure, the Cubs deadline deals went far off-track from originally planned, but Team Theo got the job done in the end by landing several talented prospects.


At first news of the late Dempster trade I was disappointed the 35-year-old’s lasting image was of his refusal to go to Atlanta and his dugout outburst in Pittsburgh in what turned out to be his final outing in a Cubs uniform.

But with a better understanding of how the entire scenario played out, Dempster himself is the only one to blame for the lasting image he leaves with the Cubs–and it’s not a favorable one.

Let’s not forget Dempster had months to prepare himself to be traded. He’s the one who didn’t honor his own word, and it’s his problem, not the Cubs, the fan base soured on him so quickly.

It’s all fine and dandy Dempster exercised his 10-5 rights, I have no problem with it. But right now that appears a poor excuse after Team Theo played fairly, and they, not Dempster, were blindsided by the Braves fiasco.

That’s too bad because Demps has long been one of my favorite Cubs. However, I don’t feel the same way after this week, and I’m not sure that changes if he should return to the organization.

As of right now, good riddance.


When I settled into my Wrigley Field seat to watch the Cubs and Pirates square off Tuesday night I thought to myself “this Cubs lineup isn’t that bad.”

Sure Dempster, Maholm, Johnson and Soto had been dealt hours earlier, but the Cubs would still have a chance to play winning baseball with guys like DeJesus, Castro, Rizzo, Soriano, LaHair and Barney, right?

Immediately after Casey Coleman surrendered a fist inning grand slam, AJ Burnett toed the rubber and began setting down the first 11 Cubs batters he faced.

Adrian Cardenas, of course, eventfully broke up Burnett’s no-hit bid at 7.2 innings, but it meant little in a 5-0 loss.

The Cubs haven’t been any better since dropping the series finale against Pittsburgh 8-4 before losing consecutive games at Los Angeles 6-1 & 3-1.


The winless record since Tuesday is perhaps a sign this club is feeling the effects of watching some of its better and more respected players head towards greener pastures.

Nothing about this season’s struggles has come any easier for manager Dale Sveum. The recent slump is no exception.

How he’ll motivate his club the rest of the way will be of interest to me. As I’ve said before, it’s not so much about the Cubs overall record then how it is Sveum remains in control of the locker room.

I don’t doubt Sveum is the right man for the rebuilding job, but managers who lose 100-plus games don’t get much rope, even ones with lackluster rosters like the Cubs have for the remaining 57 games.

Right now the Cubs are on pace to finish the season (67-95).


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