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Here are letter grades for the Cubs' 25-man roster at the midpoint of the 2012 season. Though some aren't very good, there's hope for the future.
If this post had been written just two and a half weeks ago, when the Cubs had dropped to a season-low 24-48 after getting swept by the Diamondbacks in Phoenix and seemed headed toward a club-record 108 losses, it might have been much harsher on many players.
But since then, the Cubs are 9-4 and seem energized by the arrival of Anthony Rizzo. This might last long enough to make the season's final record respectable.
Or not. This is still not a very good team; we all know its flaws, and one of the biggest things to watch for this year hasn't happened yet -- that, of course, is whatever's going to be done by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to move veterans by the non-waiver trading deadline and what the return for those players will be.
So in addition to the players on the current 25-man roster, I'll be grading TheoJed and Dale Sveum, since they're both new to the team this season and it's useful to evaluate them as well.
Geovany Soto: D- Once again, Geo has spent time on the disabled list this year and hasn't hit much when he's been playing. Why is that in italics? Because it's what I wrote about Geo in last year's midseason grades. And it's still true. Only his OPS+ is way lower this year: 62, as compared to 96 at this time a year ago. TheoJed have to hope he starts hitting this month; if so, maybe they can move him.
Steve Clevenger: C Clevenger got off to an incredible start, then got hurt. Since his return he's hitting .209/.227/.291 (18-for-86) with only two walks. He did hit his first major-league home run in that time, but he'll have to hit better to keep playing regularly.
Bryan LaHair: B+ (Grade revised upward after discussion in the comments) Made the All-Star team, which was a surprise to almost everyone, probably including LaHair himself. He's still got pretty good numbers -- a 138 OPS+ -- but he's come way down from his hot start, which largely was due to an unsustainable BABIP. He's playing out of position in right field; I suspect TheoJed would like to deal him if they could.
Darwin Barney: B- He's been appearing on the rWAR leaderboards this year, primarily due to defensive WAR of 2.9, which leads all NL players. (Argument about whether this measurement is valid can go somewhere else.) Barney's hit exactly the same as he did a year ago: .666 OPS, 82 OPS+. He's probably a bench player on a contending team.
Starlin Castro: B Castro needed the day off just before the break badly. From May 12 through July 5 he posted a .671 OPS in 50 games. Now he's 4-for-10 with a home run since being inserted back into the lineup late in the game he was supposed to have off (not much of a "day off" for him, Dale). Let's hope he's energized for the second half. His defense has improved significantly since the lapse in San Francisco in early June.
Ian Stewart: D- Stewart's had wrist issues for several years; it bothered him last year, but he decided to play through it instead of having surgery. Now that the surgery is done, two questions: why did he wait so long, and is it worth bringing him back in 2013? I don't have a real answer to either of those.
Luis Valbuena: C- Valbuena's shown the knack of getting hits in clutch situations. But overall, his 81 OPS+ isn't something you'd really want to see on the field as a starting player. Like Barney, he's probably a valuable bench player on a good team; that might make him, at age 26, worth hanging on to. The .425 slugging percentage is far higher than his lifetime SLG of .352, although he did slug .416 with the Indians in 2009.
Alfonso Soriano: B This is Soriano's best Cub season since 2008; if he stays with the Cubs he could put up a 30-homer season, which would be the first for any Cub since Derrek Lee hit 35 in 2009. Most of you, I'd think, would like to see Soriano traded, even if the Cubs have to eat the entire contract. That would free up roster space, perhaps for Brett Jackson, or at least moving Bryan LaHair to left field.
David DeJesus: B- DeJesus has been as advertised: a good defensive player who can get on base enough to be a decent leadoff man (.359 OBP at the break). He's playing out of position in center field -- before this year, the last time he had any significant CF time was in 2008. It'd be better if the Cubs could deal Soriano so they could get their outfielders back into their normal positions. DeJesus could be traded, I suppose, but he's not expensive and he's likely back in 2013.
Tony Campana: C- Campana's a one-tool player; we all know this. He's used that single tool well this year, stealing 25 bases while being caught just three times. But he has no power, doesn't take walks (.308 OBP) and isn't really that good a fielder. If he could ever learn some plate discipline -- get that OBP in the .360-.370 range -- he could be a useful leadoff hitter. Until then, he's a luxury, a pinch-runner.
Reed Johnson: B Johnson's been very good this year playing all three outfield positions and htting well (.302/.354/.450, 118 OPS+). At 35, he's still an effective bench player. I'd think other teams might come calling TheoJed about him; he wouldn't bring much in return, but maybe could be included as part of a larger deal. If not, he could be back in 2013 to provide some veteran presence on what's likely to be a young team.
Joe Mather: D+ Mather has played five positions this year, but isn't really very good at any of them. He's way out of position in center field, but has started 16 games there. .235/.292/.379 doesn't really cut it for a major-league reserve, and he's scored only five runs when not hitting a home run.
Jeff Baker: C- Baker's hit better lately to get his OPS+ over 100 (105). His previous versatility hasn't been used much this year; he's played primarily first base and a little outfield, with a couple of games at second base -- no third base at all. At 31, he's not part of this team's future. Unlike last year, he won't be "untouchable" at the deadline. Someone might call -- he's started to hit LHP again (.286/.329/.514 in 76 PA).
Anthony Rizzo: Incomplete I suppose I could have given Rizzo an "A" for what he's done so far, but it's only 12 games -- far too few to judge. He's looked great for those 12 games, but eventually, pitchers will catch up with him and adjust and he'll go through a slump. Every player does. Then it'll be up to Rizzo to adjust to that. He looks like he has the tools and approach to do that.
Jeff Samardzija: B- Shark's been both very, very good and very, very awful this year. That's the biggest thing he has to work on -- consistency. He clearly can succeed as a major-league starting pitcher; he's cut way down on his walks this year, and that's a good start. Now, it's putting together a string of five, six, seven really good outings in a row. I'm hopeful for the future.
Ryan Dempster: B+ This grade would have been higher except for Dempster's two stints on the disabled list. Otherwise, he's been one of the top starters in the National League this year, which means, as you know, a high likelihood that he won't be a Cub come August 1. As long as that brings a useful return, I wish him well.
Paul Maholm: C Maholm's been pretty much league-average this year. His OPS+ of 87 is below that mark, but he's also had five starts that rate very-good-to-outstanding. He's a perfect back-of-the-rotation starter. Unfortunately, the Cubs have too many of those.
Matt Garza: C+ Garza's been markedly worse than he was a year ago at this time. At 28, you'd think he'd be coming into his best years, but maybe he's not going to get any better. I thought previously that Garza should be given a contract extension -- but now I'm not so sure. If a team came calling with an overwhelming offer, I'd probably be willing to deal him.
Travis Wood: B- However, if I were giving this grade only on the last month's worth of starts, it would be a solid A. Wood's been the Cubs' best starter over his last five starts, posting a 1.62 ERA, and showing off the promise he had as a Reds rookie two years ago. At 25, he has a chance to be a rotation mainstay for several years, and he's inexpensive.
Carlos Marmol: D- Even though Marmol had a short stretch where he looked like the Marmol of 2010 in recent weeks, then he nearly blew a four-run lead in New York last week. He's too wildly inconsistent to be a closer, unfortunately. Maybe there's a team that thinks they can fix him; I keep thinking "Yankees", only because they've had some bullpen issues and Marmol did do well under Larry Rothschild when Rothschild was with the Cubs. Otherwise, we are stuck with him.
James Russell: B Russell has continued the fine bullpen work he began last year. He is, though, on pace to break the team record for appearances (currently 84, held by Ted Abernathy, Dick Tidrow and Bob Howry, all in bad years). If his arm doesn't fall off, he should be a useful part of a Cubs bullpen for the next several years.
Shawn Camp: B Camp is on pace for the same number of appearances as Russell. I thought it was silly to pick up a 37-year-old reliever who had been released by the Mariners, but Camp has piled up innings when starters couldn't go far, and even managed one save. He has a good WHIP (1.089) and might be someone who could be traded as part of a larger deal.
Jairo Asencio: D+ Do not be fooled by the reasonable 2.84 ERA. He's walked nine batters in 12⅔ innings. There's a reason the Indians let him go. He's a placeholder until the Cubs find better relievers.
Scott Maine: D+ Lefthanded version of Asencio, only with more strikeouts and a higher ERA.
Manuel Corpas: B Corpas has made 15 appearances, and at least 12 of them can be described as good or excellent. He has a good WHIP of 1.133. He was a closer for a World Series team (the 2007 Rockies). As he continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery, perhaps he could claim that role again if Marmol is traded. At 29 he's still a valuable bullpen piece.
Rafael Dolis: D Dolis has a great arm, but probably should have spent this year closing at Iowa. Still walks way too many hitters (20 in 24⅔ innings).
Dale Sveum: C Sveum can't be judged too harshly, considering he's had a roster that's been barely major-league quality at times this year. But he's also made some questionable lineup selections, been way too fond of bunting, and knee-jerks the lefty/righty pitching changes when he could manage the bullpen better (one reason why Camp and Russell have so many appearances). I'll wait to more fully judge until he's managing better players.
Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer: Incomplete Because this was expected to be a rebuilding year, you can't really judge TheoJed until we see what kind of return they get on any deadline deals. Their draft class appears to be a good one, but we won't know for sure until the players have played a couple of seasons. Kudos to them on the Jorge Soler signing. And hope for continued improvement in the future.
I trust you don't need to hear any more about the following players, all of whom have appeared in at least one game for the 2012 Cubs: Marlon Byrd, Adrian Cardenas, Koyie Hill, Blake DeWitt, Blake Lalli, Welington Castillo, Kerry Wood, Chris Volstad (who'd surely get an "F" if I were grading him), Randy Wells, Casey Coleman, Michael Bowden, Blake Parker and Rodrigo Lopez.