A few days ago I outlined the player locks by contract, now I would like to explore the Cubs Farm System options, not so much project who will be a star but who or whom are slated in positions to fill open spots. Reviewing a few givens:
Contracted locks (either no trade or not trade unlikely due to contract or age of player) or system controlled players in arbitration or pre-arbitration years.
- Rotation: Zambrano, Dempster, Silva (all three could be here through 2012 if Silva's option is exercised)
- Infield: Ramirez-3B (2011, Soto-C & Castro-SS
- Outfield: Soriano-LF (2014), Byrd-CF (2012), Colvin-RF & Fukudome-RF (2011)
- Bullpen: Marmol-CL, Cashner-SU, Marshall-SU, Grabow (2011)
- Players most likely earning rolls on the team; Russell-LOOGY, Barney-Utility IF, Wells-SP, Gorzellany-SP & DeWitt-2B/2B all others are probably either non-tendered or have to make the team at spring training.
Rotation 2011- One to two spots are open barring unforeseen injury or trade: Contestants; Coleman ('09 System Cy of the Yr) , Archer ('10 System Cy of the Yr) , Carpenter (3-star BP), Jackson (3-star BP), & Samardzija (on option) Comment: Cubs appear to have some strength of depth here where deeper in the system are pitchers with promise (Dolis & McNutt come to mind), thus Cubs could explore opportunities to trade Silva, (?), Wells or Gorzellany,along with AAA arms of Samardzija, Coleman, or Jackson. Best Bet, Cubs try to deal Silva if his elbow is proven okay and heart passes tests keeping Wells & Gorz while incorporating a rookie at the start and then working in a second rookie starter if opportunity and performance dictates.
Rotation 2012- Contractually Cubs will have Zambrano & Dempster (both in final years of current contract) with a projected staff of Wells, plus two of the system pitchers mentioned above. Probably knocking on the door for consideration in 2012 will be Dolis, McNutt plus the remaining aspirants of 2011. Comment: I am holding out that Zambrano has a turnaround year in 2011 where the Cubs seek to extend him stabilizing the rotation at least through 2013 where the Cubs trade Dempster during the season. Hopefully from the plethora of young RHP arms one emerges as a bona fide ace and the team has a coveted young pitching staff going forward into 2013.
Infield 2011- Ramirez at 3B holds a contract lock through September 2011 in that if he is traded a team will have to honor his 2012 option. At SS Castro will have a full year to master the position and hone is exciting offensive potential while at 2B Cubs have a young fill in for now with DeWitt.Catching is manned by Soto who has had a very good resurgent offensive year batting near .300 and 17 HR's. First Base is open for now. Barney appears to have earned the inside edge as utility IF'er.: Comment: Based on the last two years Ramirez will offer plenty of time to bring up Vitters to test drive the role for a month here or there until September. Cubs could move Vitters to 1B based on health/recovery in what he does in AZ, but I expect the Cubs find a one-year fill in at 1B in 2011 like Overbay or Hinske, or they could do something out of the box like move Soto to 1B and bring up a Chirinos or Castillo at catcher.
Infield 2012- On paper Cubs will install Vitters at 3B this year, but on the middle of the diamond three players should be competing for a spot at either 2B or SS depending on Castro's mastery or if one of the competitors; LaMathieu, Flaherty, Lake or Hak-Ju Lee. Naturally the consensus is that Lee will ascend and move Castro to 2B possibly as early as 2012. 1B does not have a system player unless the Cubs moved or traded or signed a FA. Comment: There is a lot of work here where much relies upon young players sticking and starring.
Outfield 2011: On paper this area appears blocked with contracts, especially with Fukudome being a $13.5M 4th OF'er. The best thing would be that Cubs find a way to deal Kosulke and open a spot in 2011. Comment; Not only trading Fududome and opening a LH bat spot for Aducci as a 4th OF'er but also trading Byrd (whose $12M over the next 2 years is a cheap production) where a Brandon Guyer also might find a spot. A Byrd trade might be a mid-season deal if Guyer continues in his Player of the Year production in AAA. Of course the other wild card player is Brent Jackson who also might be forcing himself into the lineup.
Outfield 2012: Certainly Fukudome will be gone regardless, and unless something happens Soriano and Byrd are still entrenched in the OF. The wild card is the MLB Players Agreement that is rumored to possess a unifying DH into the NL which would conveniently move Soriano out of a defensive position.Comment: This move of Soriano to DH and trade of Byrd would open a spot for BJax and Guyer (or Lake) or someone else. An outfield of Colvin, Jackson, and Guyer would be athletic and possibly be one of the strongest defensive OF's in the NL.
Bullpen 2011: Marmol, Marshall and Cashner appear to be the cornerstone of 2011's bullpen, where Russell might be knocking on the door. Great, that is 4 out of 6 or 7 spots. Cubs should be able to develop solid relief arms from Samardzija, Jackson, Carpenter, Coleman, et cetera. The only question is what will Grabow be like or is he another contract chapter?
Bullpen 2012: Hard to project this two years out.
All told Wilkens has done a good job filling the system with ample players. Are they stars or are they mostly role players. Hard to tell. On paper 1B appears to be the one spot that either a big trade or FA signing is going to be necessary. Gonzalez or Fielder (whom I like better, he is younger). Everywhere else there are multiple options like 3B (Vitters and Flaherty) or 2B (LaMathieu, Lake, Lee), OF (Jackson, Guyer, Aducci) or catcher (Chirinos, Castillo, Clevenger, Robinson) and pitching; Archer, Carpenter, Coleman, Jackson, Dolis, McNutt, et cetera.
What does this actually foretell? For one the manager and coaching staff should be all about development and pointing towards 2013 as a genuine division contender. They could surprise the league in 2012 and WC contend especially if they sign a productive FA at 1B and their starting staff is really more than projected. 2012-2013 they probably will seek a genuine ACE arm in trade or FA over the winter. But the Cubs are going to win or lose by the performance of the young players they bring up as positions open up.
This is why the manager's spot will be the key hire for the next couple of years.