Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Top Prospects

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Things I'd like to see from the Cubs this offseason.

This will be a disjointed post. It will encompass all sorts of issues facing the Cubs during this offseason, including personnel, role decisions, and contract decisions. Lets jump right in.

From a management perspective, the Cubs' house is in order very early in the offseason. The new Cubs manager is an Alpaca (he has alopecia). Jumbo Jimbo gets at least one more offseason to fix his own messes. The Ricketts family now has a year of ownership under its belt, and I do believe they have a vision that goes beyond the mens room piss-troughs. At the field level, the Cubs are a team in transition. All time great Cub Derrek Lee (yeah I said it) is gone, as is Terrible Ted Lilly. Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, and Carlos Silva are all in the last year's of their respective contracts. I don't expect any to return in 2012. The window to win with the old guard has slammed decidedly shut, which is why the first move the Cubs should make is....

SIGN STARLIN CASTRO TO A LONG TERM EXTENSION.
This should be a no brainer for Hendry, which is precisely why I doubt it'll get done. The Cubs should be beating down Castro's door with a long term extension that would eat up Starlin's arbitration eligible years, with club options that would keep him off of the free agent market.Starlin was promoted to the majors for good on May 7, 2010. Unless the new CBA does away with "Super Two" status, the 2012 season will be the last year that the Cubs will have Castro for the league minimum salary. The time to sign him to an extension is right now, when the Cubs can lock in substantial long term savings in exchange for security on the player's part. 6 years, $30M, with 2-3 club options at $10-$12M sounds about right for a player who has less than a full year of service time. This would guarantee the Cubs the right to Starlin's best years, and save them a ton of money that can be invested elsewhere. Once the club guarantees its future with its best player, it's time to look to 2011. The Cubs have an opening at 1B which they should fill by....

SIGNING CARLOS PENA TO A 1 YEAR CONTRACT.
The Cubs have nothing in the pipeline at 1B, so they'll be acquiring their starter through free agency or trade. I like Pena for a number of reasons.

1) Pena is likely to be underpaid next year no matter where he signs. Pena had a superficially ugly season, posting a .196 batting average which was anchored by a .222 BABIP. He also failed to hit 30 home runs for the first time since 2006, when he spent substantial time in the minor leagues. Pena has a career OBP of .351 and a career slugging % of .490. A Scott Boras client, Pena may accept a 1 year, incentive laden contract to allow him to rebuild his open market value for a larger payday in 2012. He could provide a handsome return on investment next season with a return to form.

2) Pena is an average 1B. He's no "Rodan", but he fields his position well. I see the acquisition of a decent 1B as an investment in the team's future. Starlin Castro is still learning his position, and he will continue to make mistakes as he grows at the major league level. If for no other reason than to protect the kid's psyche, it behooves the Cubs to acquire a 1B who will be able to corral some of his errant throws. Castro is the Cubs future, and the team should do everything in its power to help him develop.

3) For those of you who put stock in such matters (Rob), Pena has a reputation as a Jim Thome type clubhouse leader. He's both extremely well liked and vocal, and could join Ryan Dempster as the de facto clubhouse leaders.

4) Pena is left handed. The Cubs have lacked a left handed power threat for what seems like decades. Pena makes the offense far more dangerous against right handed pitchers, whom the Cubs continue to struggle against.

5) He's not Adam Dunn. No offense to the Big Donkey, but his signing would be a huge setback for the Cubs. Dunn is a better hitter than Pena, but they are remarkably similar players. Unlike Pena, Dunn is said to be asking for 4 years, at more than $10M per year. The Cubs are only now starting to dig out from their stable of long term, big money contracts to declining veterans. Dunn just turned 31, and his is the kind of body that frequently ages quickly. He's the type of player a team adds when it's one piece away, not 5 or 6 pieces away. This team is just not built to compete for a world championship in 2011, so signing a guy long term who's best days are likely behind him doesn't make much sense.

With Pena in the fold, the "Tyler Colvin to 1B" concept goes out the window. The Cubs still need to figure out exactly what they have with Colvin, which is why they should....

INSTALL TYLER COLVIN AS THE EVERYDAY RIGHT FIELDER.
Colvin might be the Cubs' long term left handed power threat. It will depend on his ability to learn the strike zone at the major league level. Tyler's rookie year was extremely impressive, but I'm still not convinced that he isn't the next Jeff Francoeur. Hopefully, the Cubs will have the patience to give Tyler 600 plate appearances in 2011. If he's really the player he appeared to be this past season, the Cubs will realize substantial savings in free agency that can be invested elsewhere. In a development/consolidation season, it's worth finding out exactly who Tyler Colvin is, and what his future is with the Chicago Cubs. Of course, the Cubs already have a left handed RF on the roster, who would stand to lose significant plate appearances to Colvin if he's no longer "the starter." Many fans are calling for the Cubs to trade Fukudome. Not I. The best way to utilize him is to....

ROTATE KOSUKE FUKUDOME THROUGH ALL 3 OF SPOTS AGAINST RH STARTING PITCHING.
Trading Fukudome is unlikely to net the Cubs anything of value. They'd need to swallow at least half of the $14.5M salary before they could move him at all, and they won't get much more than minor league roster filler in return. His is just a bad, bad contract. However, it's a sunk cost, and a bad contract does not equal a bad ballplayer. The Cubs should utilize Kosuke so as to realize the most return on their investment. Fukudome has a career wOBA of .351 against right handed pitching, which is 11% better than the average hitter. Both his career OBP and his career slugging are significantly higher against righties than against lefties. Considering the Cubs struggles against right handed pitchers, Fukudome SHOULD be playing against right handed starters.

Rotating Fukudome will help keep Soriano and Byrd fresh and healthy, will improve the OF defense on days that he is playing, and will ensure that he stays engaged during the season. On days he doesn't start, Fukudome is the first LH bat off of the bench. Kosuke should get 250-300 plate appearances, even though he isn't the "starter."

At this point, the Cubs would have 38 players on its 40 man roster. They'll need to make some changes to the 40 man roster during the offseason to make room for other additions, and protect their top prospects from the Rule 5 draft. Specifically, the Cubs MUST....

ADD CHRISTOPHER ARCHER, MARQUEZ SMITH AND BRANDON GUYER TO THE 40 MAN ROSTER.
All three of these players would be exposed to the other major league teams in this winter's Rule 5 draft if they are not added to the 40 man roster. Archer is the Cubs' top pitching prospect, and was the most 'projectable' player acquired by the Cubs in the Mark DeRosa trade. What he lacks in his ability to make the Trixies wet, he makes up for with a mid nineties fastball and a sharp, diving curveball. Last year, Archer pitched 142.1 innings split nearly evenly between High-A Daytona and AA Tennessee. He averaged a 3.16 FIP across those two levels with a K/9 rate of 9.45. He's got the chance to be great.

Marquez Smith is not likely to be great, but he might be the Cubs' next 3B. He's a little old for a prospect (26 in March), but he showed good patience and great power in AAA last season. At worst, he should serve as an Aramis Ramirez injury insurance policy, and an acceptable bridge to Josh Vitters. If he's a late bloomer, he could seize the starting job at 3B and hold it for years. It's worth finding, right?

Brandon Guyer is probably the Cubs' second best outfield prospect, after Brett Jackson. He's a speed guy who stole 30 bases in 33 attempts at AA Tennessee this past season. He plays all three outfield positions, although I can't find any data on his center field range. If he can play CF well, it certainly raises his value to the Cubs and other teams.

To make these additions, the Cubs are going to need to make some subtractions first. Koyie Hill and Micah Hoffpauir should both be DFA'd. If they clear waivers, keep them around, but they don't belong on the 40 man roster at this point. That leaves one roster spot available for the Cubs to make a selection in the Rule 5 draft, or for Hendry to give to the mediocre reliever he gives 3 years and $12M to.

You'll notice that my plan leaves no room for big changes on the pitching staff. This is intentional. The Cubs have more than enough quality arms to fill out their rotation and bullpen. The internal roles for a few of the Cubs pitchers are still undefined. Right now, the Cubs seem intent on using Andrew Cashner as a reliever. I hate this idea, and I believe the Cubs should....

GIVE THE #5 STARTER JOB TO ANDREW CASHNER.

Dempster and Los Dos Carloses are already penciled in for the first three rotation slots. Randy Wells probably gets the fourth spot based on incumbency, but I doubt he'll keep his position in the rotation all year. Based on last year's usage, the #5 starter gig probably goes to either Tom Gorzellany or Casey Coleman. GORZ did enough to earn the spot last season, and Coleman has an argument as well based on his late season audition.

The Cubs should disappoint them both, and give the job to Andrew Cashner. Cashner's physical skills are far better than either GORZ or Coleman. He's been a starter in the Cubs' system for a while now, and we know he can do it in the minors. It behooves the Cubs to give him the chance to be a starting pitcher in the majors. If his command and secondary pitches develop, he could be an Ace pitcher. That's worth gambling on in 2011.

Finally, there is the matter of the batting order. I'm a big Lou Piniella homer, but he lost some of my support this season by refusing to let the Cubs' best hitter bat in the middle of the order. The Cubs can improve their offensive output in 2011 by....

BATTING GEOVANY SOTO THIRD IN THE ORDER.
This is another one of those "should be no brainers" that will nevertheless not happen. Soto posted the highest wOBA of any Cubs hitter last year, and at 28 years old next season, is firmly in his prime. He is the Cubs best hitter, and he should be hitting third as a result. 

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.
Follow my plan, and the Cubs look like this to start 2011:

Against RHP
Kosuke Fukudome: CF/LF
Starlin Castro: SS
Geovany Soto: C
Carlos Pena: 1B
Aramis Ramirez: 3B
Alfonso Soriano/Marlon Byrd: CF/LF
Tyler Colvin: RF
Blake Dewitt: 2B

Against LHP
Blake Dewitt: 2B
Starlin Castro: SS
Geovany Soto: C
Aramis Ramirez: 3B
Alfonso Soriano: LF
Carlos Pena: 1B
Marlon Byrd: CF
Tyler Colvin: RF

Rotation:
Ryan Dempster
Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Silva
Randy Wells
Andrew Cashner

Bullpen:
Carlos Marmol
Sean Marshall
Jeff Stevens
Justin Berg
GORZ
Esmailin Caridad/Jeff Samardzija
John Fucking Grabow

Whew. That got long. Thanks for sticking with me, if you made it this far.

CONCLUSION.
I believe if the Cubs follow this plan, they will finish in fourth or fifth again next season, but they will make serious progress towards becoming an NL Central force, year in and year out. Way back at the top, I mentioned that I believed in the Ricketts, and that they do have a plan for this franchise. Tom has stated publicly that he wants to build the team through scouting and development, and I applaud him for that. I believe that this is the only way to ensure a competitive team, year in and year out. The Cubs should take their lumps in 2011, knowing that 2012 might be the start of something special.

Prospect trip - no offensive help for us in Iowa

To begin: it is never a good idea to sit down to write just as James Loney hits one about 6 1/2 miles off of Silva the Hutt.

After several near misses and false starts, I finally got together with my fellow old-school Cubs bloggers Tommy Acuff and Troy Church.  Beginning around 2002 or so, the three of us started sharing our thoughts about Cubs and life its ownself.  As things have evolved, the two of them have gravitated more toward life its ownself and shut their published Cubs thoughts to a trickle.  Thorough and iterative disappointment has that impact on healthy minds.  I of course am still here, so what does that say about my mental makeup?

Anyway, we convened in the compact white bread capitol of the universe, Des Moines, to break some (fermented) bread, get some Ryno  autographs (FAIL) and to turn our eyes to the young men playing for the AAA I-Cubs.  After all, if it is in fact true that Head Chad Tom Ricketts has come back from safari and intends to clean house, we need to see if we have someone ready to step into the lineup, perhaps provide a spark to what has been a dog-ass offense.  I admit to some pre-conceived notions coming in, because logic dictates that IF there was help on the farm, that it would have been here by now.

Unfortunately, I was right.

We saw three games - a loss to the Marlins' affiliate that got away in the late innings, and two fairly well-pitched wins against the hard-hitting yet free-swinging Marlins farm team.  Your 2010 I-Cubs features Micah the Hoff, who has regressed to a below .240 average, which explains why he hasn't come on up to give DP Lee a breather.  Their best hitters are corner outfielders, which of course we have a surplus of.  Jim Adducci is the best looking of all of them, because he plays a nice outfield as well as makes frequent contact, at least at the present.  He looked real nice in Spring Training, too, but somewhere between then and now he must have sucked a lot of pipe, because his BA is below .280.  Other members of the AAAA All-Stars include Brian LaHair and Brad Snyder, both displaying modest production, nothing 2009 Jake Fox-like.

Outside of Adducci, the next most impressive I-Cub in the lineup was - wait for it - The Outlaw Bobby Scales.  Like I said, not a lot of help on the farm.  Darwin Barney is ok, running towards meh.  Matt Camp has no power, and Wellington Castillo is probably at this point in his life slightly better than Koyie Hill.  No saviors here.

As mentioned, the pitching was somewhat better.  Friday's win was due to the efforts of something called Austin Bibens-Dirkx, which we naturally bastardized into Justin Bieber Dirks Bentley.  Tommy saw his act earlier in Tennessee, and said J.B.D.B. throws hard, and gets tired early.  But J.B.D.B. had them chasing his pitches for five-plus, then gave way to sawed off reliever David Cales, who closed that ish out.

Last night was Jay Jackson's start, and six innings, four hits, and five punchouts later, the I-Cubs were on the way to an easy win.  It was a good start.  His last start was bad.  The one before that, good, and the one before that?  Yep, bad.  The braintrust have mentioned him recently as a possible callup, for the bullpen, which is the same story I can tell about several of the I-Cubs pitchers.  It appears most of the Iowa staff are relievers, with the exception of J.B.D.B., Jackson, J.R Mathes, and Thomas Diamond, who didn't do dick in spring training, and is only 5-3 at the moment, yet is the I-Cubs All-Star representative. 

If we decided to trade Ted Lilly and possibly Silva the Hutt, there will be some big, hard, complicated and (to me at least) unpredictable decisions to be made about who would fill in.  Would it be Cashner?  Would Sean Marshall get what he presumably deserves (but at the same time has proven time and time again to be a mistake?)  Would it be Jackson, who is very inconsistent but on his good days can win major league games?  Or would we torture what is left of Ron Santo and bring Austin Bibens-Dirkx to town?  He may eventually perish in the booth, deprived of air as he chokes himself trying to pronounce that name?

Well, Silva's gone.  We obviously waited three weeks too long to trade HIS fat ass.  Now he's shown his true Zambranoesque nature, and we will endure the next two years dealing with over 600 pounds and $64 million of uncontrollable Venezuelan dysfunction between Los Dos Carloses.

I DID see Sam Fuld go deep Friday night.  Just one more thought about Iowa - the outfield walls are clad with metal signs, and since all the I-Cubs outfielders have been here all year, and longer, they are all adept at playing opponent's drives off the walls and holding the runners to singles.  Once they gauge the drive will hit the wall, they retreat forty feel away from the wall and play the lively carom.  I mean, I guess I applaud their ability to adjust to their environment, but shouldn't the park more closely resemble and play like Wrigley, a place where NOBODY has ever retreated from the wall to play the carom?  Shouldn't your 'dress rehearsal' be more like the real thing?

Just a thought.

Cubs by position - Second Base

The Cubs' strategy at the second base position seems to be to hope that one of their many Grade B- prospects takes the bull by the horn. For the time being, the Cubs are employing a group of mediocre but at times mildly useful trio at the positon.

Major League Level: Ryan Theriot (age 30) : Since Theriot's Home Run explosion last year, he has turned into a terrible hitter. Coming into today's game, he had a .277/.314/.308 triple slash number. His ISO, never particularly good, has completely tanked. He used to be a shortstop where a team could live with that type of productiion if a player were awesome with the glove but Theriot is now a poor fielding second baseman. He's 16 for 20 in SB attempts so at least he has that.

The thing with Theriot is that he is being paid 2.6 Million. It's not much and in a typical year, it wouldn't be a big deal but he's far from earning his paycheck this year and I see no real use to the team next year. I think the Cubs will try to move Theriot at the trade deadline or they will DFA him in the off season. It would surprise me if Theriot were still around in 2011. Sorry Ryan, you were a Riot, but your time as a Cub appears to be coming to an end.

Major League Level: Mike Fontenot (age 30): Fontenot is the prototype perfect left handed hitting half of a platoon at second base. Fontenot is under control of the Cubs for two more seasons and I see no good reason why the Cubs shouldn't maintain that control. Now he's not a great player or a great hitter. He's hitting .294/.341/.412 this year. He's become more of a contact hitter. He occasionally drives the ball and the rumours of his impending power decline have been somewhat exaggerated. That stated, if some other team wants to give us a prospect for him at the trade deadline this year, I say the Cubs need to move him.

Major League Level: Jeff Baker (age 29): Baker is the near perfect bench player and the best player the Cubs could have with Fontenot on the team. He is a good hitter vs LHP's and is a really fantastic glove man. He's under team control for either 2 or 3 more years and would become mildly superfluous if Fontenot is dealt. He shouldn't be a starter ever even for a bad team. Once again, like Fontenot, Baker has his uses. A true Fontenot/Baker platoon at second base with Baker also spelling Ramirez at third from time to time would be a very productive platoon.

AAA level: Bobby Scales (age 32): Nothing special potential bench player playing in Iowa. Everyone remembers him from 2009 on the Cubs. If the Cubs decided to give Scales the job that Baker is now doing, I seriously doubt we'd notice a particularly large drop off. He's the guy who will be starting at second in August and September in all likelyhood if the Cubs trade all 3 players above. Not likely but possible.

AAA level: Matt Camp (age 26): Left handed hitter. 13th round draft pick. Numbers in the minors suggest a poor man's Theriot. Yeah, not good. I give him credit for making it to AAA. He's not a candidate to take the second base job.

AA level: Tony Thomas (age 23): Basically a grade C or grade C+ prospect sitting in Double A and the leading candidate to be someone you never heard of making an impact on the 2011 Cubs. He's got OK power, decent speed. He seems pretty good with the glove. He's repeating Double A and he does have some contact problems and will struggle to keep his batting average over, say, .240 in the big leagues. He walks a decent amount but probably not enough at this time to be better than the Fontenot/Baker combo we have in the big leagues now. I think he should spend all of 2011 in triple A but it's possible that he could impress and make the big league squad.

High A level: Ryan Flaherty (age 23): This is where we get into the potential future at this position for the Cubs. Flaherty was challenged by the Cubs at the start of this season and sent to Double A but he failed miserably and ended up in High A after hitting the cover off the ball in Peoria in 2009. Back in the Florida State League, Flaherty has hit well again. He's a real big guy (6'3", 220) and I worry if he will stay at second base but he has a chance to really move in 2011. He has genuine power but he also has some contact issues. He probably will never be a star but he could hold his own, easily as a solid regular for years. At the rate he's going, he might not enjoy his rookie year until he's 25 or 26 but he should be fine in the majors once he gets there. I am rooting for him to be playing in Iowa and pushing Tony Thomas off of second by this time next year.

High A level: D.J. LaMahieu (age 21): On the bright side, he is very young at just 21 for a former college guy. He is also tall and has "projectable" power. On the negative side, it's hard to imagine a 6'4" second baseman and he just barely hit his first HR as a pro. I'm not calling him a bust as he's 2 years younger than Flaherty and Thomas so he could still make it as a major leaguer but I'm scratching my head right now.

Low A level: Logan Watkins (age 20): Watkins has a decent left handed bat and is just 20 but he was a late round draft pick and hasn't hit well in Peoria this year. I do think he has probably earned a couple more year look in the low minors to make sure but so far I think Watkins is just the left handed version of LaMahieu. At this point, I would be surprised if either of them ever knocked on the door of Wrigley Field.

Short Season: Pierre LePage (age 21): It's early and he's 21 and playing in the Pioneer League but what a great name. I don't know much else about him. He's hitting over .330 in his inagural year as a Cub farmhand.

Conclusion: I think the Cubs might be smart not to get too excited about their middle infield prospects. Flaherty is good and I like him but he stumbled this year. LaMahieu has shown very little power thus far. The Cubs can get by for a year with the Fontenot/Baker platoon or even giving Thomas a shot but eventually someone else is going to have to step up. I think the Cubs should be on a look out for a player at this position at the trading deadline this year or they might have to dip into their free agent budget for a second baseman in the future. That would not be good.

Of course, hoping Hak-Ju Lee plays well enough that they can decide where to play Lee and Castro in a couple of years would be the best possible result. Second base is an interesting situation. We'll see how it plays out.

Cubs by position - Shortstop

the Cubs are set at shortstop pretty much through 2015 or so with Starlin Castro and they have a couple of other decent prospects coming up through the farm also. Essentially, there are four shorstops in the organization. They are Castro, Darwin Barney, Hak-Ju Lee and Junior Lake.

Major League Level: Starlin Castro (age 20): Yeah, he's the best prospect to come up for the Cubs since Mark Prior. Contact making shorstop with a decent glove. I expect him to hit something like .320 with 12 HR and come close to winning a gold glove in 2012 which is the beginning of what I think will be a very happy time for all Cub fans.

AAA: Darwin Barney (age 24): Not great at anything with the bat but not terrible either. Has enough glove to play shortstop. At 25 in 2011, I see him as a perfect choice to replace Ryan Theriot and be the utility man on the team. He's playing for Sandberg right now and I bet Ryno likes him. Should never be a starter in the majors (except for a short term period) but he'd be fine as a bench player.

AA: Marwin Gonzalez (age 21): Well, he's young but he really can't hit and I'm not thrilled with his defensive numbers at shorstop in the minors. I think his upside is, well, Double A shortstop.

High A: Junior Lake (age 20): Lake is 20 so he also is young like Gonzalez. I don't know, even though Lake also has middling offensive numbers, he just seems like more of a prospect than Marwin Gonzalez. I see Lake is being an Alex Gonzalez (of the Blue Jays currently) type shortstop with OK power and very low batting average and OBP. He also could figure in the second base sweepstakes.

A: Hak-Ju Lee (age 19): Lee has tons of potential. He has a very flashy glove and a solid left handed bat. He makes ok contact and draws a decent number of walks. He is going start giving the Cubs a very difficult problem after the 2012 season. I think he has two more years in the minors before he starts knocking on the door of Wrigley Field.

SS: Arismendy Alcantara (age 18): I touched on him briefly in the 3b section. Alcantara has a great name but we really don't know much more about him. He's young, very small, a switch hitter and fast. That is all I know about him right now. I guess we'll have to wait until we see more from him in Peoria next year.

SS: Wes Darvil (age 18): Playing both shortstop and second base at Boise. He was a 5th round draft pick in 2009 and he has had just 196 plate appearances as a pro. I'm interested to see whom among Darvil and Alcantara, the Cubs feel is going to be the shortstop both this year in Boise and moving forward. Darvil is a left handed hitter. He's 6'2" and he has only one extra base hit as a pro. Kind of like D.J. LeMahieu, the Cubs appear to be hoping he will grow into his frame and start hitting for power.

Rookie: Elliot Soto (age 20): He's 20 years old and was a 15th round draft pick in this year's draft out of Carpentersville, IL and then Creighton. Given his age, which is old for rookie league, he is going to have to dominate and move fast if he wants to be a factor with the Cubs someday. He's also a candidate to be the starting shortstop at Peoria next year.

Conclusion: The Cubs are in very good shape at this position. Not only do they have Castro in the big leagues, but they have a ready made utility player in Barney along with another potential star in Lee. Add to that Lake, who I think could also make a decent player someday and the Cubs will not have to worry about adding a player at this positon for at least the next six (Castro) to potentially nine (Lee) years.

Cubs by position - Third Base

Wow, this is a tough one. There are people on this site who are advocating releasing Aramis Ramirez. Not only will this not happen, I don't think it should. The Cubs simply have no one who can replace him in the organization and, in part because of Ramirez' contract, they will not be able to replace him via free agency after the season. Furthermore, I don't think it's clear that he's finished and I expect him to have a decent second half. Still, my hope is that Cub fans and the management alike remember this first half even if he goes back to a typical season in 2011 and don't try to bring him back in 2012. The problem is, third base has a chance of becoming a black hole once again after he leaves. The Cubs' in house options are very, very flawed.

Major League Level: Aramis Ramirez (age 32): Aram has been one of the most if not the most productive Cub since his arrival in the middle of the 2003 season. He has done it with the bat and overall has not really hurt the team with the glove. So far, 2010 has been a different story. He's well under the Mendoza line at .173 in batting average at the moment. He is producing the negative trifecta at the plate. He has seen his power go down to an ISO below .130 and his contact rate has tanked and he's still K'ing over 20% of the time on the season. On top of this, he has gotten very unlucky and has a BABIP below .200. I think eventually the BABIP will even out and Ramirez will get his batting average up to say .230 on the season. If the power comes back, I think he could be decent in the second half.

The question isn't really about this year though, it's about the future. Thing is, Ramirez has a player option for $16 Million in 2011. He will pick that up. Now, if the Cubs had an in house option to replace him that was either better than him or even just as good in 2011, I'd say release him. Problem is, they don't really have an option but to let him work his kinks out. They may be forced to even bring him back (at a severely reduced salary) in 2012 though like I wrote above, I hope Cubs' management doesn't get fooled too much if he hits, say, .260/.325/.435 or so in 2011. The Cubs have no real option for the 2012 season right now. They will probably play that one by ear and see what's available after 2011.

Major League Level: Mike Fontenot (age 30): Mike Fontenot is a decent player but I don't think he's going to be able to push Aramis out the door at third base. He's really more of a second baseman and I think the Cubs need to commit to a 2011 true platoon of Fontenot/Baker (see below).

Major League Level: Jeff Baker (age 29): Baker is such a solid defensive player that if the Cubs did decide to part with Ramirez, he is an option at the position. In fact he's so good, I would recommend a 2011 rotation which allows Baker 2 starts a week against right handed pitchers at third base. With the bat, he absolutely destroys left handed pitching and should be playing against them all the time. I think the Cubs have him through 2013 and he's exactly the type of player a championship level team has on their bench.

AAA level: Bobby Scales (age 32): There's no real good reason why Bill Hall has a job in the major leagues but Bobby Scales, who is just as good, doesn't. That being stated, he's far more of a bench player than he is some one who is going to be a starter at the major league level. He's also more of a second baseman. One of the problems with this exercise is that many players who are nominal third basemen make more sense at second basemen but I put them here anyway. Scales will show up on the second base list also.

AAA level: Matt Camp (age 26): As a 13th round draft pick back in 2006, it is amazing that Camp has even made it to AAA. He's more of a second baseman, so I will deal with him more in that realm.

AAA level: Marquez Smith (age 25): A stocky right handed hitting third baseman who's upside might be Casey McGehee. He has a decent glove and seems to walk enough to make him intriguing. Problem is, he was below average power and speed and sometimes struggles to make contact. Tack onto that the fact that he's already 25 and he's someone I'd love to see play in the majors but who I don't believe will ever be a regular in the majors. I'd have said the same thing about McGehee 2 years ago.

AA level: Josh Vitters (age 20): The brown eyed handsome man of the Cubs' minor league system and the hope by many to become Ramirez' replacement in 2012. I don't think he'll be ready and I worry greatly that he'll bust big time. Having said that, there are some signs that I am wrong and that he is going to be a stud at the major league level. I hope that is the case.

Here are the positives: He's just 20 years old and playing at Double A. After initial struggles, he's eventually conquered every league he's played at. He has excellent contact abilities and shows decent, slightly above average power. Despite predictions to the contrary he's stayed at third base, so far.

Here are the negatives: He walks so little that it's cause for a celebration when he does. This means that he will have to hit .330 in the major leagues to have a passable OBP and he's probably not going to hit .330. He also has decent but not great power, very little speed and even if he stays at third base, he will always have a below average glove.

It is because of those negatives and his overall youth that I think he'll need all of 2011 and probably all of 2012 in the minors before he's ready to face major league pitching. Those who have called for his ascension to the majors now are mildly nuts, he will probably produce a line of .130/.140/.180 at the major leagues with a weak glove right now. You don't bring up a player like this at this time unless you actually want to ruin not just his confidence but the team's chances of winning long term. Vitters is a project. He's young enough that he might be able to improve his fielding and get his walk rate over, say, 6% by 2013 and be ready. I am hopeful, but I am skeptical.

AA level: Nate Samson (age 22): Samson is a 34th round draft pick who has made it Double A (and is holding his own there). That fact, in and of itself is a good thing. Having said that, he's far more valuable as a shortstop/second baseman than a third baseman. He has zero power and that's an issue for him moving forward. I will deal with him in the middle infield section.

AA level: Russ Canzler (age 24): Canzler isn't really a third baseman either. He's played the position this year for Tennessee but he's really more of a first baseman/outfielder. He is already 24 and he is repeating the level and having a really nice year offensively. 24 year old first basemen who are repeating Double A better hit. I would be surprised if Canzler ever made the major leagues.

A+ level: D.J. LeMahieu (age 21): Daytona appears to be rotating LeMahieu and Ryan Flaherty between third base and second because since Josh Vitters got promoted, they have no one else to play the position. I'll deal with both LeMahieu and Flaherty at the second base review.

A+ level: Ryan Flaherty (age 23): See above. One of my favorite Cubs' prospects though I admit he's fairly old for the level. I'll deal with him more in second base.

A level: Matthew Cerda (age 20): At 5'9" and with middling power potential, Cerda is also more of a second baseman so I will deal with him there. The Cubs just don't have too many pure third basemen in their organization. Peoria has two of them that I am not going to list because I don't see them as ever being prospects. If they end up playing in Double A someday, I will make a note. The Cubs appear to have a great deal of depth at second base.

A- level: Arismendy Alcantara (age 18) At 18 years old, Alcantara is the prospect at Boise. Having said that, he too is more of a middle infielder. The theme continues!

Conclusion: At third base, the Cubs are all in on Josh Vitters as a longterm solution at the position. The only other potential long term solution is Ryan Flaherty and I'm still hopeful he will end up being the choice at second base. If Vitters doesn't work, which I would put the chances at about 50% of being the case, the Cubs will have no other option but acquiring talent to play this position. Third base, in the major leagues, has become a very thin position and unlike first base, there just isn't that much out there that can be counted on fall in the Cubs lap. I truly hope Vitters works because if he doesn't.....

The levels of regret - not all regret is as bad as others

In this weekend's Tribune, there was an article about the "Third founder of Apple".  Really?  There was a third founder of Apple, just like there was a fifth Beatle?  Seems that there was; he was the 'business guru' part of the deal, along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  You know the Steves; this third guy was in the garage, too, but he got sick of the Steves always turning on and letting their minds wander into fancy thoughts.  This third guy even designed the first Apple logo; but finally he got sick of all the talk about mice and pointing and clicking and let the Steves buy him out for $800.  Now, this guy lives simply, on Social Security, and he says sure, he has 'regrets' because of course, the Steves are now richer than God.  But, as the article explained, not all regrets have to be negative.  He did what he thought was right at the time; all the knowledge he had at his disposal was that the Steves were a couple of burnouts, and that they were just gonna run through whatever little they had, and that would be the end of it.


If he had to do it over again, he'd make the same decision, because he went with what his gut said was right, and that is all he could do.  For every Apple success story, there are thousands of other guys who get together for a few weeks, burn through their savings, and have nothing to show for it but a sack of empty beercans.  So he doesn't let his 'regret' eat him up.


A couple of things got me thinking: the first being that we may now possibly have the oxymoron for 2010 - "Positive Regret", to go along with "negative success", one of my favorites (/eyes roll) from the past decade.


The second thing has to do with decisions; specifically sports decisions; even more specifically baseball decisions; well, let's get down to it - trading decisions, particularly those involving the Cubs.  Those of you that know me know that I do exist somewhere on the near side of the ol' Autistic Spectrum, and that I love me some categorizations.  Some kids played with Hot Wheels; I sorted them in boxes by color; then make and model. 


Today I am going to sort some of the Cubs' trades over the years, in terms of regret levels, from positive regret (yo, don't let the door hitcha where the good Lord splitcha) to total Brock-for-Broglio-esque misery.


LEVEL 0: No Regret Whatsoever - total lopsided trades in our favor; ones that might be considered Level 4 or 5 by the other guys.  DeJesus-for-Bowa, with Sandberg thrown in.  Bobby Hill-for-Aramis Ramirez. 


LEVEL 1: Regret as a form of blessed release - Turd Hundley-for-Grudz&Karros in 2003; Sosa-for-Hairston&Font in 2004; Bradley-for-Silva last winter. God help me, these are the trades that feel like curing cancer - chemo that works!


LEVEL 2: Meh-gret: most trades fall into meh-gret: a recent example would be Kevin Hart-for-Grabow and Gorzellany.  What-ever...(NOTE: please do not confuse the trade for Grabow with the subsequent 2-year-contract for Grabow.  That's a whole 'nother topic).  This includes the vast majority of trades that don't work out well for either side.


LEVEL 3: Regret for some; Meh-gret for others: the DeRosa trade falls into this category.  We give up something of value, and whether or not we get like value back, there will be some who will be disappointed for a long time.  In the case of DeRosa, some 'fans' are still pointing to his departure as the crack in the windshield that broke up the 2008 juggernaut, as it were.  Others, such as myself, while admitting that we gave up some measure of value, aren't going to lose a nugget of sleep over it.  There haven't been many other recent Level 3's, unless of course you're one of the ten people left on Earth who still feel Jake Fox can play ball. 


LEVEL 4: Now we're starting to feel the sting; giving up on a major league impact player.  Garland-for-Karchner.  Raffy Palmiero (AND Jamie Moyer!)-for-Wild Thing.  Bill Madlock-for-Steve Ontiveros. Dontrelle Willis (as a throw-in!)-for-Clement & Alfonseca.  You might even throw in Joe Carter-for-Sutcliffe.  I would, you might not.  Carter-for-Sut might be a Level 3 in your world, because 1984 simply does not happen without Sut.  I understand that, and 1984 Chicago might mean more to any franchise than any other season in MLB history where a pennant was NOT won.


But it was pretty clear that Carter was the real deal, he did not immediately impress upon his first callup, we traded him off, and he then spent the next 12 years or so just KILLING fools.


But even considering the regretful nature of Level 4, there is:


LEVEL 5: Brock-for-Broglio.  Letting Maddux walk in 1993, which is not in itself a trade, except in effect, it was when the "Maddux Money" was then given to Jose Guzman and Candy Maldonado.  Letting a Hall-Of-Fame talent go is inexcusible under any circumstances.  These are trades that just kill a franchise, and just EAT into your sleep.


Now then.  Take a good hard look at your team today.  I have recently come out here, myself and others, to accurately note that the offense for the Cubs sucks on toast, and what's more, outside of a couple of guys with large expiring contracts, and of course our "beloved prospects", we had nothing to offer in trade to improve matters any. 


Now and again, someone like Phil Rogers will wonder out loud (in the paper) if there was any possibilities about someone like Fukudome being sent in a 3-way trade with Boston and perhaps Texas.  You may think that Phil Rogers realizes what he does for a living, that if he publishes his idle thoughts, that there will be people who make the implication that there may be some substance behind them. I actually do not think so; I don't think Phil thinks that far ahead.


But back to our trade prospects now in 2010.  I don't think we are going to be able to get rid of Fukudome, or Ramirez, or Lee, or Soriano, or Zambrano.  Someone may try Lilly (especially after last night) or perhaps Nady.  Neither one will bring much.  Neither will the rest of the rabble: the Cajun boys; Tracy and Baker; the 10 or so feeble bullpen arms we've shuffled in and out so far this year; Three-Finger Hill.  Any trades containing any of them falls under Meh-gret.


But what about Castro?  Cashner?  Colvin?  Josh Vitters?  What about Marmol and Soto?  Could we possibly bring in a decent-hitting infielder, at any position, for one or more of them?  Is it as easy as that?


This is the main point of today's column: any trade has risk.  We could, hypothetically, trade Castro, Colvin, and Cashner for Albert Pujols today, and quite possibly once he puts on a Cub uniform, Pujols forgets how to swing a bat for the rest of his natural life.  If that happened, there would be regret.  The question is, how much?


Look at each one of our prospects.  Are they certain future Hall-of-Famers?  Are they certain impact big-leaguers?  Are they even certain major-league contributors?  How much regret would we feel if one or more of our so-called top prospects were dealt, in an attempt to make something out of this offense the next couple of years?


My take?  I don't feel I am watching certain Greatness when I see Colvin, Castro, Cashner and Soto play.  Marmol?  Heh heh, God only knows.  He has a unique gift - it may stay with him 10 more years, or it may leave him tomorrow.  I wouldn't mess with him right now. 


The rest of them?  Aren't going to cost me any sleep, ever.

Today's perspective - hopefully, in a few months, it won't matter.

When it became obvious that Head Draft Wizard Tim Wilken picked a guy who wasn't even profiled by any of the draft sources, my first thought was whether this Wilken has gotten so full of himself that he pulled what Bill Simmons calls a "Keith Hernandez" move.

Wilken has had several of his picks succeed, so could it be that he picked Hayden Simpson just because, well, he COULD?  I mean, did he wake up that morning, thinking "gatdammit, if I decide today to draft a quadriplegic with a thrachea tube, then I WILL, because I'm Tim Wilken, dammit"??  I guess I kind of subconscously factored the whole "was he picked because someone else wanted him before our next second round" logic that Sayers40 referred to...but I did not have the ability to organize it in my head.  

All I knew was that it was controversial.

Here's the good news: regardless of whether we could have ended up with another Stud-to-be-named-later at 16 and still received the Great Hayden Simpson in the second round?  In a few months, if he tears up Boise or Peoria, or wherever they send him, we will all forget that we also could have had Jaime Sale or whoever the Sox drafted.  Fact is, if you have merely one of your first two picks succeed in a given year, you are doing well.


If Simpson flops, well, it will most definitely sting, since there were many more highly touted prospects left on the board at the time.  But being highly touted, hell, being called the Best College Hurler in History isn't enough of a guarantee of lasting success.  Right, Mr. Calves? 


But, if he becomes the next Roy Oswalt, or something close to it, nobody will care that he might have lasted until the next round, and if he does succeed, maybe Wilken will pick that Quad with the Trache next year.  THAT'll really rile them up.

I understand where Simpson was picked was, at best, shortsighted and impatient.  Perhaps it was, at worst, hubris run amock.  But in a situation where there is plenty to worry about, let's let that go.  Let's all pull for Hayden to hit it big.  Let's hope for a feel-good.  Better than watching what we have out there right now. 

The Draft

Hello all. Just a reminder that I pretty much don't care about this season that much anymore. I still think the Cubs will end up with a respectable season but have stated my position that the future is bright and the present is mediocre. Today's draft could be key to that future.

The Cubs pick 16th in the first round today and the list of possible selections by them is very long. If I were a betting man, I'd predict that they will take a college pitcher. I'd love it if they took a high ceiling high school hitter. It all depends who is available when the Cubs pick. No one has any idea how the draft will fall.

Here are some possible selections in the first round and their profiles on mlb.com:

College Hitters:

Bryce Brentz
Michael Choice
Christian Colon


College Pitchers:

Alex Wimmers
Asher Wojciechowski
Brandon Workman
Anthony Ranaudo
Brett Eibner

High School Hitters:

Nick Castellanos
Josh Sale
Justin O'Connor

High School Pitchers:

Kaleb Cowart
Stetson Allie
Karsten Whitson
A.J. Cole
Dylan Covey

There are probably a half a dozen other possibilities. If I had my druthers, they'd end up with Sale but I think it's going to be one of the college pitchers. We'll see.

Reader Blog: Prospecting with Jim Hendry

Bobbie Brownlie 

Ryan Harvey

Mark Pawelek 

Tyler Colvin 

Josh Vitters 

Andrew Cashner 

Brett Jackson

Those are the Cubs' first round draft picks since 2002. Colvin is the first to make it to the major leagues. You know about him. Chances are you know about Vitters, Cashner and Jackson as well. This is a big year for Vitters. Despite hitting .444 in big league spring camp this Spring, Vitters didn't draw a single walk, and was reassigned to High - A Daytona, where he has a .300 OBP and is OPSing only .657. Last year, split between A - Peoria and High - A Daytona, Vitters had an OBP of .314 and only walked 12 times in almost 500 plate appearances. Not. Good.

Of course if you know anything about Tyler Colvin's minor league career, you know I could be describing him as well. Tyler raked his way onto the big league club this Spring, but he failed to draw a single walk in all of Spring Training. In limited action (27 plate appearances) this April, Colvin has drawn 3 walks and K'd 5 times, for a respectable OBP of .346. He's also played the OF well in limited playing time. This is encouraging, but its an extremely small sample size. It would be the first time in Colvin's professional career that he's shown any kind of strike zone judgment.

Unfortunately, this is the type of position player that Hendry continues to favor. Both Colvin and Vitters were toolsy ameteurs with little regard for the strike zone. Brett Jackson has shown more patience early in his professional career, but his BB% has dropped from 20% in rookie ball, to 16% at low - A Boise, to 8% at A - Peoria. Jackson is a college hitter, so its not as if he's very young for his level. This isn't an encouraging trend.

As for the pitchers, Brownlie and Pawelek were absolute busts. Brownlie is with his third organization and has a career FIP over 5.00. Pawelek hurt his arm tripping over his X Box, and then picked the controller back up and continued playing. He's with the Reds' High - A affiliate right now, praying he doesn't get called up to the big league squad. Dusty Baker has a taste for rookie pitchers' bone marrow. Sucks it right out of their pitching arms. Look it up.

Here's the point: The Cubs have not done well in the draft, and its cost them at the big league level. When you can't develop your own high performing ballplayers, you have to buy them from someone else. That's how you end up with Milton Bradley in RF. Most of the top teams in baseball have star players on the big league roster playing for less than they would receive in free agency. Let me walk you through it:

NYY - Robinson Cano was worth 4.7 WAR last season, and was only paid $6 million.

Boston - Kevin Youkilis was worth 6 WAR, and Dustin Pedroia was worth 4.9. Together they were paid $8 million.

Tampa - Evan Longoria was worth 7.2 WAR. Ben Zobrist was worth 8.3 WAR.Carl Crawford was worth 5.5. This team would have finished with the best record in the National League. Their triumvirate of home grown stars made less than $10 million together, most of it going to Crawford.

Minnesota - Joe Mauer put up 8 WAR despite missing an entire month of the season. Unreal. Morneau, Span and Kubel were all above 3, and Morneau likely would have topped 4 WAR if he'd been healthy. Scott Baker put up 3.5 WAR while making less than a million dollars.

You might inquire how the top NL teams did. It's the same story in the Senior Circuit:

Philadelphia - Chase Utley was worth 7.6 WAR. Ryan Howard was worth 4.9 WAR. Jayson Werth totaled 4.8 WAR.The Phillies actually paid for Howard and Utley, who earned $11 and $15 million a piece, while Werth was a steal at $2.5 million.

St. Louis - Pujols was worth 8.6 WAR.Wainwright was worth 5.7 WAR.Together they earned about what Soriano is being paid in a single season.

Los Angeles - Matt Kemp was worth 5 WAR. Clayton Kershaw was worth 4.2 WAR. Jonathon Broxton somehow contributed 3 WAR as a CLOSER. He's good, folks. That production cost the Dodgers less than $3 million. Or a weekend in Cabo for Jamie McCourt.

Colorado - This team is the Rays of the National League. They are an absolute pipeline of above average, cost controlled talent. Ubaldo Jimenez (he of the no hitter last week) was worth 5.7 WAR.Troy Tulowitzki was worth 5.5 WAR. Jason Hammel contributed 3.8 WAR. Jorge De La Rosa put up 3.7. They got all that for less than $4 million. And they have a host of great players who will make a huge impact this season, like Carlos Gonzalez, Ian Stewart and Franklin Gutierrez.

Lets look at the Cubs now. Care to guess how many homegrown players put up 4 WAR or better last season? The answer is NO ONE. Only Zambrano and Wells even topped the 3 WAR mark, making them above average but not great pitchers. And for the record, Soriano's WAR last season was slightly below zero. For the uninitiated, that implies the Cubs would have been better sending an average AAA outfielder out to LF instead of Soriano. He was paid $17 million for his efforts.

Conclusion:

The ability to develop star players is key to sustained success in today's major leagues. No team, not even the Yankees can simply spend their way to a World Championship. The Cubs continue to scuffle in player development, which is the root cause of their woes in free agency. The free agent market should be a supplement to your roster, not the bedrock on which your team is built. The Cubs entire OF was bought in free agency, and it's a below average group making a ton of money. This isn't working. Unless the Cubs can begin to perform better in the draft, in international free agency, and in developing their young prospects, they will not challenge for a title. I'm excited about the minor leagues for the first time in a long time, but there are plenty of warning signs from even our best prospects. The 'untouchable' Starlin Castro has the same hack first, ask questions later mentality that has held back Vitters and I suspect will limit Colvin. Cashner may not be able to start at the major league level, although I hope the Cubs resist the urge to bring him up now and put him in the bullpen. And years of Korey Patterson/Bobbie Brownlie/Felix Pie/Jeff Samardzija failures have left me a jaded, bitter fan. The farm system just hasn't gotten it done under Hendry's supervision. The Cubs aren't getting the right players into the system, and they aren't developing the players they do have properly. Jim Hendry should be fired.

Hopefully Starlin Castro is not Dominican for "Bobby Hill"

It appears the Cubs Propaganda Machine is firing its opening salvos in its carpet bombing campaign to sell us loyal faithful Cub fans on shortstop prospect Starlin Castro.

Those of us who remember the lean years after Sammy Sosa saved baseball, can remember how the Chicago media, orchestrated by Andy MacPhail and John McDonough, had "super-prospects" Corey Patterson, Hee Seop Choi and Bobby Hill shoved down our throats.  In the beginning of this decade, for whatever reason, the minor league scouting organizations were sold on these three guys as the saviors of our franchise, our very-own home grown position-playing products that would come up en masse around 2001 and man center field, first base, and shortstop for a dozen or so years.  Therefore, we would be free from having to spend valuable resources chasing down high-priced free agents to fill these spots. We needed hope at the time, and Hill, Choi and Patterson were the hope of the future.

Of course, since these guys were all products of the Cubs Farm System 2000, none of them learned a thing about plate discipline, and out of the three, only Corey is still hanging on the fringes of the game at this time.

So, now, we need a leadoff man.  We need team speed.  And we all know that, for a shortstop, Ryan Theriot is a pretty decent second baseman.  Along comes a shortstop prospect with a pulse, albeit one born in 1990 (!?! I freakin' have KIDS older than Castro!!).  Dumbing this down to its simplest, assuming Castro was ready for the majors right stumpin' now, would he fill a hole?

Question?  If he was so damn ready, why wasn't he up with us in September, so we could expose him for what he was, like we did with Tyler Colvin?  It would have been nice to see him get 30 or so at-bats against semi-big league pitching.  Would have been nice to see if he was as good in the field as Theriot, let alone Andres Blanco?

Don't get me wrong, I'd LOVE to see a 19 year old kid come up and sheep-dog-hump the league for us.  That just doesn't hardly ever happen.  And let's think about all the farm talk of the last year.

Jake Fox was molesting AAA.  Josh Vitters was the central part of the Peavy package.  Colvin was on his way back.  I don't remember hearing jack splat about Starlin Castro.  So why now?  What has happened between the end of the season and now?

The cynical amongst us may theorize that the brain trust got together and came to the same conclusion I have had for months - that "Theriot wasn't much of a shortstop nor a viable leadoff candidate.  Let's see, who do we have out there?  Blanco?  No, can't hit dick, no, no.......Darwin Barney?  Eeewww!  Gross!!  Who else?......Johnathon Mota?  Gawd, he hit .238 in Tennessee, anyone else...Castro?  What, Fidel?  No, what's his name....Oh Yeah, Starlin!  Hey, that's a great name!  A Star's Name!  Yeah, let's pimp HIM to the masses..."

So is he for real?  Is he being floated up there as a smokescreen to excuse our lack of off-season activity towards obtaining a REAL leadoff hitter?  Or is he going to get rushed out there way too soon, in the fine tradition of Cubs uber-prospects like Patterson, Choi, Joe Carter?

I'm not going to say anything pithy, like REMEMBER THE NAME...because first of all, I know nothing about this guy, and am in no position to pimp him to you all, and secondly, it appears the Cubs themselves plan to push him all up in our faces, so fat chance you're going to forget Starlin Castro.  For better or worse.

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