There's nothing better than having me hand out midseason, or final, grades to Cubs players, to get this site's readers all worked up.
So, I'm going to do it again, as I did at the All-Star break this year, and await your flames. We all know how bad the major-league results were this season, but that doesn't mean there weren't positive performances by individual players, some of which give us real hope for the future.
I'm going to grade everyone who was on the active roster at season's end. It doesn't make any sense, I think, to grade guys like Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Jeff Baker, Reed Johnson and Geovany Soto, the five players Theo & Jed sent to the postseason (although all five were on the losing side in the wild-card games, so they're all home watching the rest on TV like the rest of us), since they played only a couple of weeks as Cubs after the All-Star break.
Welington Castillo: B+ Castillo, after a couple of seasons as a September callup, established himself as a major-league hitter after Soto was traded and he was (mostly) given the starting jpb. An OPS+ of 106 and SLG of .418 in 170 at-bats hints that he could produce as an everyday player. The only thing I still worry about regarding Castillo is his defense, primarily pitch-calling and framing.
Anthony Rizzo: A- Rizzo became the hitter everyone thought he might after his callup June 26. 15 home runs and 48 RBI in just a little over half a season hint at possible 30/100 years to come -- he just turned 23 -- and he plays solid first-base defense. I'd like to see him draw more walks; his OBP could be a little higher. All told, a big win for this deal from a Cubs standpoint. In addition to the numbers, he's already shown signs of being a team leader.
Darwin Barney: B Barney's defensive prowess is well-known. If he could put up an OPS higher than .700, he'd be a solid major-league regular. He actually regressed offensively in 2012, going from an 83 OPS+ to 79, and essentially the same SLG despite hitting more home runs.
Starlin Castro: B His defense improved, though it still needs work. His offense regressed somewhat, as he dropped from a 111 OPS+ to 105. I remind you: Castro turns 23 in March. Yes, he now has three full MLB seasons played. But at that age, there is no question he can still improve. I don't think we have yet seen everything Castro can do.
Luis Valbuena: C Valbuena is a perfectly good major-league utility man. He can play 2B, SS and 3B competently and seems to have a good handle on pinch-hitting. Unfortunately, the Cubs gave him 72 starts at third base, which is one sign of a bad team, having to start a guy like this. I would like to see the Cubs get a better third baseman in 2013; Valbuena can then go back to the bench, where he will be useful.
Alfonso Soriano: A- Did everything he was asked and more. Had his best season as a Cub and nearly led the league in RBI for a team that could barely score any runs at all. Played a decent left field. He'll be 37 in April, but I don't see any reason why he couldn't put up another year like this. If he's hitting well mid-season, then is the time to trade him, not now -- teams might be more desperate, plus with less money left on his deal you might find someone willing to take on some of the cash.
David DeJesus: B- DeJesus, in the words of Dennis Green, "is who we thought he was". He's a good defensive player, but not a star. He runs the bases well, but isn't a good base stealer (seven in 15 attempts). He doesn't really hit for power or average. His OPS+ was 106. His career OPS+ is 106. He'll be a placeholder again in 2013.
Brett Jackson: D+ Jackson is a plus defender in center field, draws walks, and hits for power. That's the good news. The bad news: 59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats. That's... bad. That has to change before he can play every day in the major leagues. Jackson drew enough walks to post a .303 OBP on just a .175 BA. If he could bump that batting average up to even .250, he could be an everyday player. He's already been told he'll start 2013 at Iowa.
Josh Vitters: F+ Overmatched. Completely overmatched. He drew two walks and had a hit in the last game of the season -- and still posted an OPS of only .395. That's bad. He'll also start 2013 at Iowa, and I wonder whether he'll ever be a major-league player. (And the Cubs could have drafted Matt Wieters with that 2007 No. 1 pick.)
Tony Campana: D Seriously, I know a lot of people here like Tony. He plays hard, is fun to watch, and seems to really enjoy being a major-league player. But he's got one skill: he runs fast. If he could do anything else well -- draw walks, bunt well, field well -- he could have a place on a big-league team. Otherwise... I think he'll be a quirky memory in a couple of years.
Bryan LaHair: C In 10 years, he'll be an answer to an All-Star Game trivia question. I was right about LaHair: he's a Quad-A player. Not good defensively anywhere, can't hit lefthanders at all (3-for-48), turns 30 in a month. Good luck in Japan, Bryan.
Dave Sappelt: C+ Sappelt runs well, plays decent defense and even appears to have a bit of power (.449 SLG in 69 at-bats). But. He did not hit well at Iowa (.690 OPS) and will be 26 in January. Fifth outfielder? Maybe.
Anthony Recker: Incomplete Started four games at catcher for the Cubs. They won all four of them. Maybe he calls games well? He has a career .810 OPS in the minor leagues. Maybe he'd be a suitable backup for Castillo.
Joe Mather: D- Plays six positions, none of them well (and Dale Sveum didn't let him play the sixth, 2B, all year). Had an OPS+ of 58. You can find guys like this anywhere. He entertained us by throwing a scoreless inning against the Brewers, the first position player to pitch for the Cubs since 1999. Worth it? Not really. See you, Joe.
Adrian Cardenas: Incomplete He can hit, I guess -- he always hit in the minor leagues, but had a reputation for bad defense, which is why he almost never played. Started only nine games, played as a defensive sub four times, and pinch-hit in 32 games. As a PH he went 4-for-30 with two walks. At 24, he might get better, but how would you know unless he played?
Steve Clevenger: D Clevenger started out hot and then suffered an oblique injury. Those are hard to come back from, and Clevenger proved it; after returning from the injury he hit .164/.229/.220 in 177 at-bats with one home run and 14 RBI. In 2011, Koyie Hill, in 134 at-bats, hit .194/.268/.276 with two home runs and nine RBI and people here were calling for everything but him to be guillotined. Unless Clevenger was playing hurt all year, I suspect the Cubs will be looking for a different backup catcher in 2013.
Matt Garza: C Garza regressed from his fine 2011, and then missed the last two months with a weird elbow injury. If not for that, he likely would have been traded at the deadline; he could, I suppose, still be dealt this offseason, but coming off that injury, it seems doubtful. Assuming he's healthy, he's a solid rotation contributor.
Jeff Samardzija: A- I was, obviously, wrong about Shark. He successfully transitioned from bullpen to rotation, and seemed to get stronger as the year went by. I'd like to see the Cubs lock him up this offseason with a multiyear deal. He's a good No. 2 starter in anyone's rotation and has to be seen as the No. 1 starter for the 2013 Cubs.
Travis Wood: C Wood had some really good starts intertwined with some that made you wonder if they grabbed some random lefthanded guy off the street and asked him to start that day wearing Wood's uniform. Wood turns 26 in February. I ask you to have a look at Ted Lilly's career when he was 26. Lilly didn't have his best years until he was in his 30s. Wood, I believe, will get better. Lefthanders sometimes mature later than righthanders. Why this is, I don't know, but it does appear to be true in some cases.
Chris Volstad: F Volstad was awful this year. Of 21 starts, I'd classify only four of them as "good", while at least seven qualified as "horrific", with the rest in between. He had the third-highest ERA in Cubs history for anyone who threw as many innings as he did. All of that said, I'd consider bringing him back -- but only as a non-tender with a NRI. He made $2.8 million this year and the Cubs can't afford to have a guy like that make as much as he would with the maximum 20 percent cut.
Carlos Marmol: B+ Marmol had a poor grade, nearly failing, in the first half, but was very good in the second, almost as good as his lights-out 2010 season. After the All-Star break, in 30 games covering 29⅔ innings, Marmol posted a 1.52 ERA, a 1.247 WHIP and 12 saves in 13 chances. He'll be in the last year of a three-year deal; numbers like that are tradeable if the Cubs want to go that route.
James Russell: B- Had another solid year as a lefty specialist/setup man, though not quite as good as after he was shifted to relief in 2011. He's useful, but there would be no shortage of suitors if the Cubs wanted to deal him.
Shawn Camp: B I admit I never saw the point of Camp's signing, and next year at 37, he seems superfluous. He'll likely be back, but I'd imagine the Cubs could find someone else on the scrap heap just like they did with Camp last spring training, who might be a bit younger and could stick around for a while.
Jaye Chapman: B- The Cubs might have found a diamond in the rough in Chapman, who wasn't even the main target of the Paul Maholm deal (Arodys Vizcaino is, hopefully, the prize there after he recovers from Tommy John surgery). Chapman has good mound presence and a good mix of pitches. I could see him as a setup man perhaps as soon as 2013. (Can someone explain why a man spells his name "Jaye"?)
Jeff Beliveau: C- Beliveau was Cubs minor-league pitcher of the year in 2011, and it appeared he was ticketed for the bullpen out of spring training. He didn't make it, and was iffy in a couple of stints. Too many walks (12 in 17⅔ innings). He still might be a decent situational lefty in the future.
Chris Rusin: D+ Rusin had three really good starts and four really bad ones. He does appear to have some major-league talent; I wouldn't completely write him off.
Michael Bowden: B- Bowden looked completely overmatched when he first came to the Cubs, but in his second recall after a stint at Iowa, was much better. In 20 appearances covering 27 innings from August 14 through the end of the season, he posted a 1.33 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. I never thought that sling-the-ball motion would work, but maybe he's figured something out. Here's another pitcher who could possibly be a major-league setup man next year.
Justin Germano: D- Awful.
Miguel Socolovich: Incomplete Theo signed him for the Red Sox originally in 2004, which is why he snapped him up on a waiver claim from the Orioles in August. And then he barely pitched -- just six appearances over the season's final month. Really impossible to tell from that brief time whether he's any good or not.
Rafael Dolis: D He looked like he might be a good bullpen guy, middle relief or setup, when called up in late 2011. But he struggled, then got hurt, got recalled and struggled again, Maybe he can figure it out; he's still just 24.
Brooks Raley: C Raley, like Rusin, has talent; he was shut down for the year just when it appeared he was getting into a rhythm in the rotation. He had two really bad starts and three decent ones. He'll get a shot at the 2013 rotation.
Lendy Castillo: F- This man is not a major-league pitcher. I do not believe this man will ever be a major-league pitcher. It was a waste of a Rule 5 pick. There, I said it.
Alberto Cabrera: C As you might expect from someone this age, he had ups and downs. There were times he absolutely dominated hitters -- and times he got crushed. He's got a good fastball and seems to have an idea of what he's doing on the mound. A definite candidate for the 2013 bullpen.
Manuel Corpas: C- Like Cabrera, at times he looked good, other times like he didn't belong. The difference is, Corpas will be 30 in December. The Cubs could outright him off the roster to make room for 40-man guys they have to protect, and bring him back as a NRI next spring.
I mentioned above that I wouldn't bother grading the five guys who were traded at the deadline, since they barely spent any time as Cubs in the second half. That, plus the players listed above, make 40 men who played for the Cubs after the All-Star break.
In addition to those 40, the following men played at least one game for the 2012 Cubs: Kerry Wood, Marlon Byrd, Ian Stewart, Koyie Hill, Blake DeWitt, Blake Lalli, Randy Wells, Casey Coleman, Scott Maine, Alex Hinshaw, Jairo Asencio, Rodrigo Lopez and Blake Parker. I trust you don't need to hear any more about any of those players; it's unlikely any of them will wear a Cubs uniform again.