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What To Do With Alfonso Soriano?

By bullpenbrian - September 19, 2012 - 4:30 am 5 comments.

Remember when Alfonso Soriano went homerless during his first 30-games this season? Or how he painfully hobbled around the outfield for five weeks after fouling a pitch off his knee in mid-May?

Now look at him. Since hitting his first long ball on May 15 he’s third in the majors in home runs (29) and one of only two players in the National League with at least 29 HR & 100-plus RBI, Ryan Braun being the other.

Soriano’s 101 RBI are his most with the Cubs in his six-seasons played on the North Side. It’s also good for the eighth most RBI in all of baseball this year, and third most in the NL behind Braun & Chase Headley (each have 104, which is Soriano’s career-high).

Alfonso is also in the NL’s Top 5 in HR, of which half (15) have come with men on base. Additionally, he’s in the Top 25 in doubles (30) and Top 30 in OPS (.811).

His 15 game-winning RBI, 28 go-ahead RBI and 38 two-out RBI leads the Cubs–there’s not even a close second. And let’s not forget his defense this season is worthy of Gold Glove consideration, as well.

So here’s the rub. What should the Cubs do with Soriano this offseason? Do the Cubs eat a good portion of his remaining 2-yr, $18M dollar salary and trade him for prospects…or do you retain his services for at least another season with the expectation he’ll put up similar numbers in 2013?

Keeping Soriano isn’t all bad for the sake of putting a better product on the field next year, which the Cubs need to do. But dealing him obviously opens up roster space in the outfield to evaluate younger players who may, or may not, be part of the long-term rebuilding plans.

The real trouble with parting from Soriano is how on earth do the Cubs replace his production? Chances are, they don’t.

So it’s a tricky spot for Team Theo weighing the pro’s of dealing Soriano to further the rebuilding movement vs. the con’s of weakening the product on the field in 2013.

My gut feeling is Epstein and Hoyer trade Soriano. What yours?

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Talking Cubs Baseball With WGN Radio’s Jordan Bernfield

By bullpenbrian - September 17, 2012 - 6:30 am Leave a comment.

BernfieldWGN

You may not recognize his face, but you’ll recognize his voice as a host of Cubs Central Postgame on WGN Radio. Jordan Bernfield is also a writer & podcaster for miCubs.com in addition to other broadcasting ventures.

I recently caught up with Jordan to talk about the on goings of the Cubs’ 2012 season, including everything from Kerry Wood’s early season retirement to how long before we’ll see a winner on the North Side.

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Possible FA Signings For Cubs | Part Two

By bullpenbrian - September 12, 2012 - 3:30 am 4 comments.

This is the second post of a two-part series addressing possible free-agent signings for the Cubs entering the 2013 season. This article addresses FA position players, the first article covers FA pitchers

The Cubs have several key holes to fill around the diamond this winter in hopes of fielding a more competitive team in 2013. For starters, there’s a gaping hole at third base. The outfield is thin and so is the catching depth.

Although the Cubs recently added some quality and promising prospects to its lower-level minor leagues, most of these guys are years away from reaching the majors, if in fact, they even make it that far.

That means the Cubs will need to forgo the in-house options in favor of the free agent route. And as I mentioned in Part One: Chicago will be targeting mid-level FA to supplement its big league depth.

Below is a list of several FA the Cubs could sign this offseason to help transition the team from pretender to contender. (Player age listed in parenthesis)

CATCHER

-Ronny Paulino (32): A career journeyman behind the dish. His eight-years in the bigs have seen him play anywhere from 133-games in a season to just 20-games with the Orioles this year before being outrighted to Triple-A in July. Like so many of his peers, Paulino’s defense has kept in the league more than his bat: career .272/.324/.376. But for $1M or less, Paulino’s a likeable fill-gap option to complement Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger.

THIRD BASE

The thing to keep in mind about the crop of free-agent third basemen is that it’s largely comprised of guys on the very back end of their careers. Basically, the pickings are slim, at best.

-Maicer Izturis (32): It’s virtually a lock Josh Vitters will begin next season at Triple-A Iowa (.093/.148/.200). Bringing back Ian Stewart, if healthy, could be one option, but why waste money on Stewart’s untapped potential if the Cubs can land a more proven veteran like Izturis? Although Macier is only a slightly above-average fielder, he does bring the ability to play multiple infield positions, which he’s done for the better part of his nine-year career (3B: 290 games, 2B: 242 games & SS: 191 games). He’s not the ideal power-bat you want at a corner infield position, averaging 7 HR & 60 RBI over 162-games, but he is an automatic upgrade over Vitters and Stewart, with a price tag well within reason of $3-4M. That’s also an affordable insurance policy if Castro or Barney were to be lost for any length of time due to injury.

OUTFIELD

Almora, Jackson & Soler has a nice ring to it, but who knows if that day will ever come for the Cubs’ outfield. What we do know is that won’t happen in 2013. Jackson, of course, is no guarantee himself to be on the Opening Day roster next season. Almora and Soler, meanwhile, are at least two years away from making their big league debuts. Even if BJax makes the team out of spring training, this outfield still needs some depth. And am I the only one getting the feeling Alfonso Soriano is as good as gone this winter?

-BJ Upton (28): Hard to believe Upton is already in his eighth season with Tampa Bay, and even harder to believe we’re still waiting for his break-out year offensively. But what Upton has accomplished with the Rays is far better than what the Cubs currently have in its outfield. Despite not delivering on his ever-expected break-out season, Upton still averages 20 HR & 75 RBI per season. And since transitioning from SS to 3B to LF to CF (2008), Upton has also grown better defensively along the way.

While many have given up hope Upton becomes that 30 HR, 100 RBI guy we once thought he would be, there are certain to be teams willing to pay him in excess of his actual market value for what he still might become as a hitter. As it is, even a deal based on Upton’s current track record may prove too pricy for Team Theo’s tastes. With Upton entering his prime years, however, I’d have to believe the Cubs would at least explore the possibility of landing him, especially if the Cubs can move Soriano this winter and Upton’s asking price stays below $10M. It’s not the likeliest signing for the Cubs, but offering a 2 or 3-year deal with the option to trade Upton before his early 30’s would be awfully sweet.  

-Grady Sizemore (30): A three-time All Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner, a Silver Slugger Award and a four-time recipient of AL MVP votes. So what’s the catch? A long list of nagging and major injuries, that’s what. Sizemore has been plagued by significant injury setbacks over the past four seasons, including having sat out this year entirely. Yet, we’ve seen what Sizemore can do when healthy. And while it’s fair to imagine his latest knee and back aliments will limit him from being the player he once was, there’s an equally good chance he could still be pretty darn good. The best part is the Cubs won’t need to take much of a financial risk to find out. Grady is expected to fetch a one-year incentive-laden deal this offseason. That’s perfect for the Cubs to jump at the chance to upgrade its outfield depth and potentially land what could be a lucrative trade chip come July 31 next season. It’s a classic buy-low, sell-high move with no guaranteed money involved. The hardest part, of course, is the Cubs will have plenty of competition to sign his services.

-Cody Ross (32): It’s a bit puzzling Cody hasn’t found a permanent home having played for six different teams during his nine-year career. He’s an above average fielder who plays all three outfield spots well. He’s averaged 22 HR per-season and has driven in as many as 90 RBI. Ross has also shown a knack for hitting in the clutch, won the 2010 NLCS MVP Award and was a huge factor during the Giants’ World Series championship. What Ross doesn’t do particularly well is draw walks. Instead, he’s been somewhat of a strikeout master having averaged 126 K’s per-season. That, obviously, is in direct contrast to the patient hitting approach Team Theo is seeking to add to the Cubs’ roster. But, is it possible a proven winner like Ross would be willing to adapt to the Cubs’ new grind-it-out plate mentality? I think so. Although, that’s a super risky proposition–paying a player with the notion he’ll need to change his game when neither side can be certain of the outcome. But the risk sure beats seeing Joe Mather in the lineup, especially for what could be an affordable 1 or 2-year deal in the range of $3M.

-Reed Johnson (36): I know what you’re thinking…I’m a Cubs softy thinking with my heart instead of my brain. That may be true to some degree, but there are positives you can’t ignore about Johnson despite his old age. He’s the upmost professional who plays the game the right way and sets a positive example for not just the younger guys, but for all his fellow teammates. Yes, his body has been worn ragged over the years with his all-out style of play, which limits his everyday availability. But…we do know Reed loves playing for the Cubs, and we know the youthful Cubs need leadership, and we’ve seen Johnson develop into one of the best, if not the best, pinch-hitters in the game. His positive impact on the team would far exceed what the Cubs would have to pay to bring him back, and even so, it would only need to be for one more year.

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Possible FA Signings For Cubs | Part One

By bullpenbrian - September 11, 2012 - 4:00 am 4 comments.

This is the first of a two-part series addressing possible free-agent signings for the Cubs’ entering the 2013 season. This article addresses FA pitchers, the second article covers FA position players

Eventually, Tom Ricketts will open his wallet and invite the game’s top free-agents to join the Cubs. But until Team Theo builds Ricketts’ team into a contender, which will take a few more years, the free-agent ‘A-listers’ remain a pie in the sky.

In the meantime, however, the Cubs will look to sign mid-tier free-agents to round out its roster for the 2013 season. Below is a list of potential FA that could fit the Cubs’ needs for next season. (Player age listed in parenthesis)

Starting Pitching

-Brandon McCarthy (29): Career record (37-39, 4.02) He’s statistically improved with age while becoming somewhat of a stat-head paying close attention to sabermetrics, which shouldn’t hurt his chances with the Cubs’ new front office. The Cubs could land him with a deal similar to what they gave Paul Maholm last year: 1-yr, $4.75M with a club option, that is, assuming McCarthy returns to full health following his recent emergency brain surgery after being hit in the head on a come-backer.

-Anibal Sanchez (29): Career record (46-50, 3.79). The high price tag of $8.0M he’s due this season isn’t in the Cubs’ favor, and they shouldn’t spend as much on a guy who’s been good, but mostly inconsistent throughout his career. But if the price is right, the Cubs could find a pitcher with his best days still ahead.

-Chris Young (34): Career record (53-41, 3.81). The tall right-hander (6′ 10″) hasn’t been the same since Albert Pujols lined a ball off his face in May of 2008. Additionally, Young’s been hampered by arm injuries limiting his starts to just 25-games over the past three seasons. There’s definitely some risk with signing him, but he is affordable and could be had for less than a million bucks.

RELIEVERS

I view the bullpen as the Cubs’ greatest area of need entering next season. I’ve listed the possible FA candidates by age.

-JP Howell (28): Career record (21-23, 4.42). In 2008 the Rays transitioned Howell from the rotation to the bullpen, the results of which, have been promising. The lefty has been a key cog in Tampa’s pen and shows signs he’ll only get better. After a disappointing year in 2011 (6.16 ERA), Howell has bounced back to form this year posting a 2.89 ERA. A lefty like this won’t come on the cheap, but with the kid entering his prime a multi-year deal around $6M could get the deal done.

-Carlos Villanueva (29): Career record (33-33, 4.14) He’s the rare, but convenient, starter/reliever type that could make sense for Chicago. He’s made 13 spot-starts in each of the past two seasons while also being a serviceable arm in the bullpen. A deal of $3 M or less wouldn’t be bad for utility arm like Villanueva’s.

-Matt Capps (29): He saved 42-games between Washington and Minnesota two years ago, but shoulder inflammation has burdened him since 2011 and squashed the Twins’ hopes of trading him this past July. The Cubs would be buying low and at a risk; and anything more than $2M is probably too much to fork over. Whether or not Capps remains closer material is up for debate, but the Cubs do need someone to close if they still intend to deal Marmol this winter.

-Brandon League (30): He saved 37-games last season and made the All Star team for Seattle. The Mariners traded League to the Dodgers this July where’s he’s performing on-par with his 2011 season. He’s likely going to cost more than what the Cubs want to spend, especially to join the rebuild, but for $5M or less Chicago could pull the trigger.

-Mark Lowe (30): Injuries have plagued the Rangers’ right-hander the past two seasons. He has, however, rebounded nicely posting a 2.61 ERA over 34-games in 2012. His injury history may limit his price enough the Cubs could land him with a deal around $2M.

-Ramon Ramirez (31): Career record (23-20, 3.32). A rolling stone; Mets, Rockies, Royals, Red Sox and now the Giants. Surprising because he’s been good for around 70-games and 60-innings throughout his career. Consistency appears to be an issue, but a rubber-arm like his would be awfully valuable to the Cubs for $3M or less.

-Francisco Rodriguez (31): Career 2.71 ERA & 294 saves. His second season in Milwaukee has been the worst of his career (2-7, 4.37). After leaving Anaheim to sign his mega-deal with the Mets paying him $12M, the Brewers chopped it to $8M last season in a surprising move to resign K-Rod, who expressed his unhappiness as a set-up man to John Axford. Milwaukee won’t make the same mistake twice, and given his poor season, the Cubs could also try cutting his pay. I’ve got to believe K-Rod is better than he’s shown this season, and for $6M it’s a chance the Cubs should take to give K-Rod the closer’s role.

-Clay Hensley (33): He’s been hot & cold during his tenure with the Marlins and Giants. A 2.16 ERA in 2010 preceded his 5.19 ERA last season. This year he’s (4-3, 4.37). Hensley’s not the sexiest pick on the list, but he’s certainly within the Cubs’ price range for $1M or less.

-Mike Adams (34): He’s been a stud throughout his eight-year career. Although his age is a concern, it wouldn’t hurt the Cubs’ young bullpen to have a veteran around the likes of Adams. The hard part is, Adams has been so good for Texas the past two season, it’s hard to believe he would sign with a rebuilding franchise. I’m guessing he’ll fetch somewhere around $7-9M, and likely more to be enticed to join the Cubs. Not likely, of course, but if age keeps other contenders from giving Adams the deal he wants, the Cubs could splurge some to land him. A huge coup if it were to happen.

-Juan Cruz (34): Yes, the former Cub! (2001-’03). He pitched really well for Tampa last season in 58-games (5-0, 3.88). And this season he’s been a major contributor for the Pirates’ strong bullpen appearing in 43-games going (1-1, 2.78). Cruz is probably looking at a deal worth $2-3M, which is within the Cubs’ budget for a mid-level FA. It might take more to get him to join a 100-loss team, but the price would be well worth it for a reliable short-term fix.

-Jeremy Affeldt (34): He’s an 11-year veteran and good clubhouse guy who’s certain to field plenty of offers because, well, he’s left-handed. Affeldt’s averaged 60-plus games per-season since 2007 and put up terrific numbers the past two season with San Francisco: 2.63 ERA 2011 & 2.65 ERA this year. I expect Affeldt to land a deal more than $5M, and at his age it’s unlikely he wants to join the lowly Cubs. At best, it’s a stretch to think the Cubs would even get a meeting with his agent this winter…unless they’re willing to over-spend to get him, which doesn’t make sense, but could happen. Good left-handed relief is hard to find, and aside from James Russell, the Cubs really don’t have any.

-Mike Gonzalez (35): We saw plenty of this guy while he broke in with the Pirates to start his career. Ever since, however, the hard-throwing lefty has battled injuries which ultimately limited him to just 7-games with the Rangers in 2011 before undergoing knee surgery. He’s made a nice recovery with the Nationals this season posting a 2.73 ERA in 39-games, and like Affeldt, he’s older, but left-handed, which means there should be plenty of good offers available. But being long in the tooth with a history of nagging injuries should keep his price tag under $6M. That’s probably more than the Cubs are willing to spend, but again, he’s a solid southpaw and the Cubs need all the help they can get for its patch-work bullpen–even if it comes with some risk.

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Darwin Barney Sets NL Fielding Record

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

How about a hat-tip to Darwin Barney for breaking Ryne Sandberg’s NL record 123-consecutive games errorless streak Saturday night at Pittsburgh.

The new record came and went without much fanfare, but there’s nothing cheap about Barney’s streak. He’s been the best fielding second baseman in the NL this season while showing he’s not just Gold Glove worthy, but the clear-cut winner.

The streak is but one example of how far Barney has come as a defender since arriving with the Cubs in 2010. Having already matched his games played at second base from a season ago (135), Barney has 11 fewer errors, turned 17 more double plays and improved his Range Factor from 4.92 to 5.15.

He played another clean game on Sunday continuing his streak to 125-consecutive games without an error–a run which began in mid-April and has spanned more than 1,000 innings. And with 22-games remaining this season, it’s still possible Barney could surpass Placido Polanco’s major league record of 141-straight games without an error at second base.

The bat, of course, hasn’t been as consistent for Barney. But given his encouraging work ethic to improve his fielding, there’s hope he’ll eventually come around at the plate, too.

Not everyone agrees Darwin will remain a staple of the Cubs’ rebuild, and that might remain true. Team Theo, after all, did explore dealing him at the July 31 trade deadline.

But even if Barney only improves marginally on offense, it’s still hard to depart from a solid Gold Glove defender up the middle, especially considering the Cubs’ thin pitching staff heading into 2013.

Additionally, Barney turns 27 in November beginning his prime years as a ballplayer. He’s shown not only the ability to improve his game at the highest level, but has done so while maintaining his high-character and winning attitude on a dreadful team, no less.

There’s simply a lot to like about this kid. And while he may not have been the answer Cubs fans were looking for at second base this spring, there’s really no reason to think he won’t be the answer moving forward.

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Projecting Cubs 2015 Lineup

By bullpenbrian - September 8, 2012 - 3:10 am 4 comments.

JP

This is a guest post by devoted Cubs fan JP Hochbaum. Judging by the grandeur of his handlebar mustache, we should all pay close attention.

As the first year of the Epstein era draws to a close it’s time to evaluate the organization from top to bottom. 

I won’t go that in-depth in this post, leaving the pitching prospects for a later post, but I have projected out what the current crop of minor league products could produce as far as the Cubs’ everyday lineup by 2015, focusing on the position players at hand. 

This assumes, however, there won’t be any trades, which obviously is a long shot, but I am forced to work with what we have and not what we will have.

So around the diamond we go…

FIRST BASE

In less than a full season Anthony Rizzo has already show strong plate discipline and the ability to be a yearly .300 hitter, 30 HR’s and 100 RBI machine, plus an above average fielder–always a plus. Cleary, a lock for the foreseeable future.

SECOND BASE

I doubt Darwin Barney is a Cub come 2015, and I say that because of Junior Lake, who I believe is likely to replace Barney in the next year or two. 

While Lake’s not the fielder Barney has become, he shows more upside offensively. He is, however, currently playing SS in the minors, but it makes sense to move him to second base with Castro and Baez appearing better prospects at the position. Lake’s arm also shows the potential to be moved to a corner outfield spot.

THIRD AND SHORT

There’s a logjam of prospects at both positions. 

Castro, for the time being, remains the man at short with Javier Baez serving as the Cubs’ No. 1 prospect behind him. Not a bad problem to have at one of the most important defensive positions.

However, I see Baez or Castro being moved to third base, barring one of them being traded, and Josh Vitters serving as potential trade bait.

Vitters could eventually become a decent hitter and a serviceable fielder once he adjusts better to the major league game. But there’s also an outside chance his below-average fielding forces a position change to the outfield, which we can only hope raises his appeal on the trade market.

CATCHER

The Cubs are lacking in the catching department behind Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger. It’s an area of need the Cubs likely improve upon through the amateur draft or minor trades.

CENTER FIELD

Brett Jackson or Matt Szczur could be the answer. Jackson reminds me of a faster version of Jim Edmonds in the field, and a similar version to Edmonds at the dish–league average hitter, above average power and a good on-base percentage.  

Matt Szczur also shows solid speed and a knack for getting on base. His walk and strikeout ratio is ideal for a leadoff hitter, a spot the Cubs have long been in need of filling.

So with the power coming up at other positions, I prefer the Cubs develop Jackson as trade material for pitching prospects and open the door for Szczur to play centerfield.

CORNER OUT FIELD

Albert Almora and Jorge Soler appear on the fast track to being called-up to the big club in 2014, or sooner, if they develop as quickly as planned. 

Both guys show good bat speed and the potential to develop big league power. Soler has quickly been dubbed “Soler Power” in just the few short months he’s been in the Cubs’ system.

Soler is projected to exhibit the most power in the Cubs’ farm system and is likely to become the cleanup hitter in the lineup behind Rizzo.

Almora is the youngest, but more polished, of the prospects and could also potentially be the center fielder pending the development or trade of either Jackson or Szczur.

Almora currently stands as the No.2 prospect behind Baez and could move up very quickly to the major leagues if he continues to dominate minor league pitching the way he has this summer.

This gives us a look at the Cubs’ potential 2015 lineup:

  • Szczur
  • Castro
  • Rizzo
  • Soler
  • Almora
  • Baez
  • Lake
  • Castillo

WHAT TO EXPECT

As Cub fans we’ve grown accustom to preaching patience. After all, what’s a few more years when we’ve already waited as long as we have for a World Series contender?

But what’s most exciting is the position players in the Cubs’ system are pretty darn good, granted most are still pretty far away from fielding a contending team together in the NL Central.

It’s likely, of course, the prospect landscape changes as Team Theo works the trade market to supplement pitching and acquire the finishing touches, which will eventually include the addition of free agents.

In the meantime, the objective remains to accumulate depth at every position, moving pieces that no longer fit and maintaining a strong prospect base for future success.

Like many of you, I’m a believer this era, in time, will pan out to be a perennial playoff team. But it does come at the cost of waiting, waiting and waiting some more. And in baseball years that could spells five seasons or more to fully complete the rebuild.

Even so, there’s no high-degree of certainty in developing prospects to perform at the desired levels needed in the majors.

Only time will tell, but pinning down the formula or the time frame is difficult in a sport as unpredictable and every changing as the game of baseball.

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Defining Moment Awaits Dale Sveum

By bullpenbrian - September 7, 2012 - 3:45 am 4 comments.

Recovering from this bloody beating against Washington is Dale Sveum’s biggest challenge to date with the Cubs. Not his win/loss record, not the 12-game losing streak, nor anything else this season compares to the immediate difficulty ahead.

Sveum’s club wasn’t just crushed on the scoreboard, they were crushed emotionally, which presents a threatening danger for the manager and his troops.

The carry-over effect could turn daunting for a team practically sprinting towards a franchise-worst record.

“Probably one of the biggest butt-whippings I’ve gotten in my career, as a coach or player.” “I don’t remember getting manhandled that bad in any kind of series I’ve ever been a part of.” –Dale Sveum

Being bludgeoned so decisively further weakens the shaky confidence of his younger players, diminishes his team’s moral and puts the club at risk of falling into a season-ending tailspin—essentially reaching depths more damaging than 103-losses.

In a season already long lost, that’s not something Sveum or the organization can afford to let happen.

CUBS SHOWING LACK OF DESIRE

I don’t know for certain if the Cubs mailed-it-in at the nation’s capitol, but it sure came across that way on television.

Chicago appeared mostly unresponsive, disinterested and content while getting their collective heads kicked-in by the Nats. For all intents and purposes, Chicago rolled-over in awe of the team with the major’s best record (85-52). It’s not about why the Cubs got swept, it’s how they got swept that’s troubling. 

The outcome doesn’t necessarily come as a shock given how young, inexperienced and out of contention the Cubs are this year. But it’s also not the kind of unacceptable effort Sveum can allow to fester.

Letting bad energy and raw emotions, the likes of which we saw from bench coach Jamie Quirk Thursday night, run a muck is kryptonite for a clubhouse. And once a skipper losses his clubhouse, there’s no getting it back (Bobby Valentine), not even Sveum, who’s being judged aside from mere wins and losses, can overcome such disruption.

Now, I’m not suggesting Sveum’s lost anything yet, but the risk is most definitely there after a humiliating series like this one.

IS SVEUM THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB?

Have I lost faith in Dale Sveum? Not at all. He’s pulled through numerous trials and tribulations this season …everything from clubhouse leader Kerry Wood’s early-season retirement, to lengthy losing streaks, to Bryan LaHair’s demise from All Star to bench-warmer, to watching the few good players he did have depart via trade at the end of July.

In fact, Sveum’s leadership has hardly come under question at all this season. He’s overcome every setback, taken every punch, and all the while continues to steady a sinking ship we believe is on course for brighter days ahead–for the Cubs and its manager.

That’s why I’d hate to see Sveum lose our faith and that of his players so close to season’s end. And I’d hate to think of the repercussions this offseason if he does lose the support on both sides.

Sveum’s done too good a job to lose it all now, but that’s what could be on the line as the Cubs continues its road trip through Pittsburgh and Houston…and over the final month of the regular season for that matter.

It’s going to take a lot more than one god-awful series to warrant Sveum’s dismissal. But failing to extinguish the dumpster-fire in DC only allows the chance for it to grow into a burning inferno.

So while there’s not much for Cubs fans to care about the rest of the way, Sveum’s response, and more importantly, his players’ response, from such an embarrassing series is well worth paying attention to.

If Sveum has anything left to prove in 2012, it’s that he can put out this fire–and pronto.

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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.

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Dodgers, Red Sox & Theo Epstein

By bullpenbrian - August 26, 2012 - 8:30 pm 2 comments.

As crazy as the Dodgers and Red Sox deal is financially for Los Angeles, I like the fact Magic’s group is going all in.

The Dodgers are one game back in the NL Wild Card and two-games back of the NL West leading Giants. But they essentially became favorites to make the postseason overnight with the arrivals of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto this weekend.

The expectation, of course, is for Los Angeles to make a deep run in the playoffs–if not appear in the World Series. Anything less would seem an embarrassment of riches.

However, this deal doesn’t just set the Dodgers up in the short-term. They’ll be in position to remain contenders for years to come, even if the financial effects are haunting down the road.

If there was a price tag on repairing the damage done by the Frank McCourt era, this deal was it. And although it hardly makes sense on the ledger, it doesn’t have to if the Dodgers win it all.

EPSTEIN’S FINGERPRINTS ALL OVER BOSTON TRADE

The Red Sox, meanwhile, hit the reset button on the mess partly created by none other than Cubs president Theo Epstein.

Had it not been for Epstein’s outlandish free agent contracts doled out prior to his departure, the Red Sox likely wouldn’t need to tap out of the choke hold that was the $262.5M dollars they just shipped to Chavez Ravine.

Epstein, presumably against better judgment, had succumbed to the win-now mentality in Boston, one that works in direct contrast to his build-from-within strategy that ultimately ended the Curse of the Bambino and landed the franchise a second title three seasons later.

That’s exactly the approach Boston aims to return too given its new found financial freedom: renew a homegrown spirit, develop from within and spend a season or two rebuilding in favor of spending lavishly on the free agent market as Epstein had done.

While I truly believe Epstein was all about accepting the challenge of rebuilding the Cubs franchise, I also have to believe Epstein was fully aware of the situation he created in Boston.

His careless ways had turned to quick sand–a pit he wouldn’t climb out of—not without a lifeline from Tom Ricketts. “You haven’t won in how many years? Okay, sure…pull me out!”

Fitting how quickly Epstein is to remind Cubs fans ‘there are no shortcuts to rebuilding’. He would know. The colossal Dodgers & Red Sox deal proves it.

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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.

THE FOURTH STARTER

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.

THE BULLPEN

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).

CENTER FIELD & THIRD BASE

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.

MY GOODNESS

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.

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