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Time For Starlin To Lose Spots

By bullpenbrian - November 12, 2012 - 4:00 am Leave a comment.

The Cubs offered Starlin Castro a 7-year, $60 million contract extension because of his potential to become one of the game’s premier shortstops.

By accepting that offer Castro essentially signed away any and all excuses for his many in-game mental lapses over the past 2.5 seasons.

That’s a huge change for a kid who’s largely been given a free pass on mental gaffes because of his youth, inexperience and talent.

If the Cubs didn’t think Castro’s mental makeup was capable of maturing they wouldn’t have offered the deal. But it does require some growing-up from Castro this offseason to prove Team Theo right.

Starlin turns 23 in March. He’s still a young man, even by baseball standards. But expecting Castro to keep his head in the game for 9-innings isn’t too much to ask. That’s part of being a professional and unquestionably comes with signing a big-boy contract.

Castro’s mental makeup will be of chief concern if his inability to stay focused isn’t improved upon in 2013. It’s unlikely he would remain a core piece of the rebuild, let alone live up to his hefty contract.

Inevitable, the Cubs would have to come to terms with trading Starlin to a team more lenient with the development of his mental game. Even this long-range rebuild can’t wait for everybody.

The hope of course is Castro’s physical game simply matured sooner than his mental one, which isn’t so unusual for a male in his early 20s. But when you’re being paid the money Starlin is, the grace period for mental miscues is quickly eliminated once you’ve signed the dotted line.

Sometimes growing up is hard to do. In Castro’s case, it’s the one thing he has to do.

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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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OPS+ Shows Need For 3B & CF

By bullpenbrian - November 10, 2012 - 2:30 pm Leave a comment.

OPS

The above chart shows OPS+ ratings for Cubs players in 2012.

As Alex Remington of Yahoo! Sports puts it:

“[OPS+] it’s a single number that attempts to measure a player’s contributions at bat. It doesn’t account for baserunning or defense and it doesn’t account for the discrepancy in value between on-base percentage and slugging, but it’s a pretty good indicator of how good a year a particular player has had.”

The aim of this graphic is to help illustrate, at least partly, why the Cubs are in need of a center fielder and third baseman this offseason.

Darwin Barney obviously made up for his below league average rating with a Gold Glove seasons defensively. And Bryan LaHair, despite his steep decline at the plate throughout the season, surprisingly finished the year above league average.

We should expect Starlin Castro’s rating to go up as he becomes more comfortable with his plate approach. Welington Castillo, however, remains more of a mystery as to whether his OPS+ will move up or down next year. The same holds true for Dave Sappelt.

The hope with Soriano, assuming the Cubs can’t trade him this winter, would be for him to match his OPS+ in 2013. Meanwhile, Anthony Rizzo’s OPS+ will most likely increase even further.

It’s not a bad infield core, but finding a league average OPS+ player at third and center would go a long way towards helping the Cubs regain some respectability.

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Hack to Santo to Aramis

By bullpenbrian - November 9, 2012 - 3:15 am Leave a comment.

The Cubs are still searching for a starting third baseman in 2013 and there’s plenty of speculation as to who that player will be.

The bigger question, however, is how long before the Cubs find a long-term solution at third?

It took the Cubs 30-years to bridge the gap from Ron Santo to Aramis Ramirez…and 13-years to find Santo after Stan Hack. Next season marks the second campaign without A-Ram, who was a staple at the hot corner for nine-seasons.

History doesn’t appear to be on the Cubs side. But does that mean Chicago can’t close the gap more quickly that it has in years past?

Josh Vitters isn’t knocking the door down at Triple-A the way Team Theo would like him to. So perhaps one of the Cubs’ brightest prospects, shortstop Javier Baez, could make the transition to third and play alongside Starlin Castro in a season or two–although early indications of the move suggest otherwise.

Additionally, highly touted prospects Christian Villanueva (acquired in the Dempster trade) and Jurickson Profar could be the next Anthony Rizzo at third…or the next Gary Scott.

Either way, determining if the above prospects are the long-term solution will take precious time, possibly 2 or 3 more years.

And if the Cubs fail to develop a third baseman from within, they’ll be left to look via trade or free agency. But of course, you have to give to get, and there’s no counting on a quality third baseman hitting the FA market before passing his prime, either.

I wouldn’t fault the Cubs for not having its long-term answer at third solved by 2014 or even 2015. But it goes without saying the answer to Aramis needs to come much sooner than it did after Santo and Hack.

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Cubs Want To Join 700 Club

By bullpenbrian - November 8, 2012 - 4:30 am Leave a comment.

Pitching remains king, but teams still have to score runs to reach the postseason.

A more recent marker for playoff teams (pre/post steroids era) is generally 700 runs scored, which means the Cubs–ranked 28/30 in runs scored with 613–have a ton of ground to make up offensively.

How Chicago tops 700 is one of the main concerns for Team Theo during the rebuild and helps explain the organization’s new found interest in grinding’ out plate approaches and increasing its team on-base percentage.

Only one team managed to reach the postseason in 2012 despite scoring fewer than 700 runs–the Reds at 669.

Cincy, however, made up for its lack of run production with an incredibly reliable rotation and one of the best bullpens in the majors–neither of which the Cubs have.

Meanwhile, the Braves joined Cincinnati as the only two playoff teams to rank below the major’s Top 15 teams in runs scored. Atlanta (700) ranked 17th and the Reds 21st.

Otherwise the 8 remaining postseason contenders all finished in the top half of the league in runs scored, including 4 teams ranked in the Top 10: Rangers first-overall (808), Yankees second (804), Cardinals fifth (765) & Nationals tenth (731).

The AL pennant winning Tigers ranked eleventh (726) and the World Series winning Giants twelfth (718). Both of course had sensational starting pitching.

Increasing run production by 87-runs won’t happen in one offseason for Chicago. And there’s already a smattering of scenarios that need to happen just for the Cubs to improve its run production next season, let alone reach 700 runs scored.

I do have faith Chicago will eventually assemble a lineup to reach the 700 marker and beyond in the next 2 or 3 seasons. Trying to prevent 700 runs from scoring, however, will be an entirely different matter, and one that should prove much more difficult to achieve.

It’s a no-brainer reaching October baseball ultimately comes down to solid pitching. But quality pitching doesn’t work alone, and rarely does it succeed without 700 runs of offense to go with it.

So let 700 runs scored be one number we use as a measuring stick during Year 2 of the Cubs’ rebuild. And the sooner it happens the closer the Cubs will be to reaching the postseason.

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Potential Under-Radar Free Agents for Cubs

By bullpenbrian - November 7, 2012 - 4:30 am Leave a comment.

Interesting article from SI.com on a few below the radar type free-agents.

Some of the players mentioned piqued my interest as possibilities for the Cubs.

For each of those players I’ve included a snippet of the article summary below. To read in its entirety click here.

  • Jason Grilli, RP
    2012: Pittsburgh Pirates, 2.91 ERA, 13.8 SO/9 in 58.2 IP
    2013 age: 36

Since returning from a 2010 season lost to knee surgery, Grilli has improved his control dramatically and missed bats at an alarming rate. With both his fastball and slider netting swings and misses on at least 15 percent of his pitches in 2012, his 36.3 percent strikeout percentage ranked fourth among NL pitchers with at least 50 innings, behind only Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. He can be a setup man for a contender and will get a nice raise from this year’s $1.1 million.

  • Brandon Lyon, RP
    2012: Houston Astros & Toronto Blue Jays, 3.10 ERA, 9.3 SO/9 in 61 IP
    2013 age: 33

Lyon came into the year still recovering from surgery to repair tears in his labrum and rotator cuff and wound up with a new lease on life in the bullpen. Thanks to an increasingly effective curveball, he got the highest swing-and-miss rate of his career (18 percent of all strikes); his rate of strikeouts per nine, a pedestrian 5.8 from 2001-2011, shot up to 9.3.

  • Maicer Izturis, IF
    2012: LA Angels of Anaheim, .256/.320/.315, 2 HR, 17 SB in 319 PA
    2013 age: 32

Izturis isn’t fit for a full-time job, but as a guy who can play second and third competently (and spot at short, briefly) while getting on base at a better-than-league-average clip with virtually no platoon split (.276/.326/.367 versus lefties from 2010-2012, .259/.327/.357 versus righties), he’s a handy bench guy, though he’ll have to take a pay cut from the $3.8 million he made this year.

  • Joe Blanton, SP
    2012: Philadelphia Phillies & LA Dodgers, 4.71 ERA, 7.8 SO/9 in 191 IP
    2013 age: 32

He misses bats and has good control; his walk rate was the league’s third-lowest. Give him better defensive support than the .314 BABIP he suffered through in 2012 (.347 with the Dodgers, making for a bust of a trade), and a big enough ballpark to offset his flyballing ways and trim his inflated homer rate (1.4 per nine last year, 1.1 career), he can provide 180 or so innings of league-average work at the back of a rotation.

  • Scott Feldman, SP
    2012: Texas Rangers, 5.09 ERA, 7.0 SO/9 in 123.2 IP
    2013 age: 30

Thanks in part to the development of an effective changeup, his strikeout rate was the highest of his career — well above his career 5.0 per nine prior — and not simply the product of a ton of short stints out of the bullpen (it was 7.2 in 13 2/3 innings in the latter role). Meanwhile, his walk rate (2.3 per nine) was a career low, so his strikeout-to-walk ratio effectively doubled. His ERA was inflated by a .318 BABIP and a hitter-friendly ballpark; in Arlington, batters tagged him at a .300/.333/.487 clip, compared to .255/.307/.351 on the road. In a more hospitable environment, he can help.

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Cubs Adopt Payroll Efficiency vs. Payroll Stupidity

By bullpenbrian - November 6, 2012 - 1:45 am 2 comments.

The Cubs had the 15th highest payroll and the second most losses in MLB last season.

It’s exactly the kind of payroll inefficiency that put the Cubs in this mess, and exactly why GM Jed Hoyer is focused on changing Chicago’s spending habits moving forward.

We talk a lot about payroll efficiency. A lot of that is getting to that point where you feel like it’s a payroll you’ve created based on contract lengths that you like. One of the things we’re very wary of is sort of jumping back in and muddying those waters because we know there’s a time in the future where it really becomes a lot more efficient. We’re not dealing with some of the contract issues we’ve been dealing with the last couple of years. I think our ability to have an efficient payroll is really important.” –Jed Hoyer

A common held belief among baseball fans is the team that spends the most wins the most, which simply isn’t true.

That doesn’t mean payroll disparity in the league is a non-issue, but the chart below shows it’s not necessarily ‘how much’ a team spends on player talent but ‘how’ they spend that lends itself to winning.

Granted five of the 10 playoff teams this year were in the Top 10 in payroll, but five other postseason contenders actually spent fewer dollars than the Cubs to reach October.

Oakland won its division with the second lowest payroll in the league. Washington ranked 20th and posted the most wins in all of baseball.

Meanwhile, big spenders such as Boston (3) and Miami (7) absolutely tanked with each team finishing well below .500 at 69-wins apiece.

The real issue is the league’s huge payroll disparity, which allows teams such as the Yankees to recover from its payroll inefficiencies more quickly than say the Indians or Rays.

New York enjoys the luxury of paying its ‘bad contracts’ to go away. And when in need of better talent the Yankees can essentially ‘buy” whatever they need–even at the cost of overspending to get it.

If baseball ever decided to level the playing field similar to the NFL, which I don’t anticipate, it would curtail the ability of large market clubs to buy its way out of ill-advised, low efficient contracts. Then imagine how differently the Bombers would operate.

The Cubs are actually quite fortunate under the current system being a large-market team with Tom Ricketts’ deep pockets. In fact, Ricketts has spent nearly as much money eating bad deals (Zambrano) as he had on last year’s entire payroll.

All said, it’s only a matter of time before Team Theo’s more efficient payroll approach has Chicago not just rejoining the top spending teams in the league, but also the postseason.

Salaries

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Next Closer For Cubs?

By bullpenbrian - November 5, 2012 - 3:45 am Leave a comment.

We have reason to believe the Cubs will make a second attempt to trade Carlos Marmol after nearly doing so in a deal that collapsed for Angels starter Dan Haren on Friday night.

The tough part is selling Marmol’s actual value vs. his still owed 1-year, $9.8M contract. Another sticking point is Marmol’s no-trade clause. But seeing as how he waive it to join the Angels makes it seem he would do so again–at least to join a contender.

Where, when and how the Cubs trade Marmol, I don’t know. If and when they do, however, the Cubs will need to find itself another closer.

The in-house options are thin and not promising.

Rafael Dolis got a taste at closing last season, which came with a serving of humble pie: 4/6 in save situations and an overall 6.39 ERA. Still green, to say the least.

Jaye Chapman is another question mark having appeared in only 14-games during his rookie season. He did find success with the strikeout (12) but walked an unhealthy 10 batters in just 12.0 innings. Chapman, it seems, first needs to prove he’s a reliable reliever before the Cubs test his mettle in the closer’s role.

James Russell was arguably the best reliever the Cubs had last year. In fact, he was such a good situational pitcher you’d hate to see him limited to closing duties on a club expected to play below .500. Russell also lacks the repertoire of tradition ‘closer’s stuff.’

So it’s fairly obvious if the Cubs need to replace a departed Marmol the better options are outside the organization. Here’s a quick look at some free agent closers available this offseason—assuming the Cubs do not receive a candidate for closer in return for Marmol.

  • Joakim Soria, 27, has been a sensational closer for the Royals with the exception of his last season pitching in 2011: (5-5, 4.33) 28/35 in saves. He blew out his pitching elbow last April and missed all of 2012. That could play in the Cubs favor if Soria can be had for a 1-year, incentive-laden deal for $4M or less.
  • Jonathan Broxton, 28, brings a heavy fastball and a history of closing. In 8 seasons he has 111 career-saves, including an 82% save-percentage over his last four seasons spent with the Dodgers, Royals & Reds. Broxton will likely field multiple-year offers and a price tag around $5-6M, if not more. That’s probably more than what the Cubs are willing to pay, or would have to pay to entice him to join the lowly Cubs.
  • Matt Capps, 28, is coming off a shoulder injury that sidelined him from July to late September. He was limited to just 30-games with Minnesota last year. Capps has been a closer in 7 of his 8 big league seasons with a solid save-percentage above 80%. He could be an ideal option for the Cubs if they can land him for $3M or less. If Capps returns to his old form you’re looking at a valuable trade chip come July.
  • Ryan Madson, 32, is similar to Soria in the fact he’s also recovering from Tommy John surgery after suffering an elbow injury last spring. He missed all of 2012 after signing a 1-year, $6M deal with Cincinnati in the offseason. Where Madson differs from Soria, however, is his history of closing. In 9 seasons with Philadelphia he’s just 52/78 in save opportunities–a discouraging 67-percent success rate. If Madson can be had for half of what the Reds were willing to give him, Chicago could offer him the chance to close games immediately in addition to trading him to a contender, given his recovery goes smoothly.
  • Jose Valverde, 35, was nothing short of Marmolesque this October. Yet despite his poor showing in the postseason, there’s a reason the Tigers paid Papa Grande $9M big ones to close the door. His 93.2 save-percentage over the last three seasons is the best of any closer in baseball. That price is certain to drop this offseason, maybe enough the Cubs could get Valverde if they wanted him. If Papa Grande did bounce back, what a terrific trade piece Chicago would have next July. But like the above closer options, there’s considerable risk that comes with signing Valverde…maybe too much for the Cubs to bite.
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No Haren. Now What For Marmol, Cubs?

By bullpenbrian - November 3, 2012 - 1:05 am Leave a comment.

I was less surprised the Carlos Marmol for Dan Haren trade fell apart than I was knowing there was ever a deal discussed in the first place.

Despite being two-years older than Marmol, Haren would’ve been a major coup for the Cubs.

He’s started no fewer than 30-games the past 8 seasons, is a 3-time All Star and has twice finished in the Top 10 of the Cy Young Award.

The addition of Haren would’ve improved the Cubs’ rotation immediately and his manageable 1-year contract would’ve also made Haren a valuable trading chip at the July trade deadline–assuming the Cubs were out of the race as expected.

If you’re reading this post I can fairly assume there’s no need to rehash Marmol’s struggles other than to say he’s grown more inefficient and less reliable with age.

Had the trade gone through I wouldn’t have labeled it a total fleecing by the Cubs. Haren has experienced his own setbacks including a nagging back injury and a significant drop in pitch velocity that led to his first ever trip to the DL.

However, there’s no doubt in my mind Chicago was getting the better end of the deal player-for-player wise. The transfer of money between each party appears to be the sticking point in the Cubs pulling the plug late last night.

Even though the trade is off the table, at least for the time being, it’s still encouraging to see the Cubs stay aggressive in its rebuilding efforts.

And seeing as how the Cubs hung Marmol out to try once, it would seem likely they’ll make further attempts to deal him this offseason–but it won’t be easy.

Marmol is still owed $9.8M in 2013, a hefty price tag for a guy who’s made a name for himself walking the bases loaded in close situations, which brings us back to why I was wide-eyed with the news the Angels were accepting Marmol for Haren in the first place.

Another interesting spin-off to this developing story is who the Cubs will turn to at closer if, in fact, Marmol is traded away? Will the Cubs stay with internal options (Dolis, Chapman, etc.) or will we see Team Theo sign/trade for another closer?

I’ve had a gut feeling the Cubs would have a surprising move or two up its sleeve this offseason. Marmol for Haren would’ve easily fit the description. Let’s just hope the next trade whammy actually comes to fruition.

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Cubs In No Small Mess

By bullpenbrian - November 1, 2012 - 12:45 pm 2 comments.

The mess is always bigger than it appears; a little something I learned in college cleaning up blue & red party cups.

New Jersey and New York City have the disastrous mess of Sandy on its hands. Cleaning it up won’t happen in a few days or a few weeks, but will take months, if not years, to recover from all the damage (see Katrina).

If there’s an upside to a mess, however, it’s the beauty to rebuild and come back stronger and better. And most importantly, a learning experience in how to better prevent such devastation a second time around (like tapping garbage bags to the house walls so all those beer pong cups don’t windup on the floor and in the shower).

That of course is where the Cubs stand in the baseball world, cleaning up the mess of a 101-loss season, something that doesn’t happen in one offseason, either.

It’s going to take two or maybe three seasons before Chicago turns itself around to compete for a championship…and maybe longer.

But where we won’t find pride in the Cubs’ win/loss record over the coming seasons, we should take pride in the fact Team Theo is quickly building a foundation to prevent such disastrous seasons as 2012 from happening again.

Chicago will bounce back a stronger and smarter organization even if it takes longer than most fans would care to wait.

It’s just some food for thought as we watch the Cubs take its analytical and methodical approach to its rebuilding efforts this winter.

As we get deeper into the offseason and further removed from 2012, it will seem the Cubs are but two or three ‘Jim Hendry moves’ away from competing in 2013. That’s just the nature of being a fan.

However, we have to know better than believing this to be true and we have to know better than to think sweeping it under the rug with huge free agent signings, as the Cubs were known to do, is the answer.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get excited about the progress we see with the Cubs over the winter, which could be significant, but come Opening Day 2013 we’re certain to be reminded this Cubs mess is bigger than it first appeared.

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