Like many other cubs fans, I have found changes in the front office staff and methodology to be very refreshing. Theo&Co. have adjusted the mindset of the franchise and have made many changes in the process. They have gotten rid of some of the dead weight (Zambrano), acquired a few promising pieces (Rizzo,Wood), and only offered team friendly contracts (Dejesus). It certainly was a good start to a much needed rebuilding of our beloved Cubbies. But now we enter a crossroads here in July. What the front office does during this summer’s trade dead line will be crucial to the Cubs future. I’m not talking about trading Dempster or Baker or Johnson.
I’m talking about trading Matt Garza. I think that if the Cubs were to trade Garza away it would greatly hamper the rebuilding process. I would like to first say that I do understand to argument for trading Garza. If Theo&Co. were to unload him to a contender it would only be for young, controllable players or high end prospects. This certainly falls in line with your typical rebuilding process. There are no promises with prospects, they are just a gamble. I’m sure that we all remember the hype that was put on the Patterson brothers or Matt Bruback or Bobby Hill or Kevin Orie. Hype is one thing, and results are another. The Cubs have not developed a quality starting pitcher since Mark Prior in 2002, and we all know how that ended. Then there was Zambrano and that sure was a roller coaster ride. I do not see the point in trading a young, top of the rotation pitcher for a few rolls of the dice. Theo&Co. even said themselves that Garza is the type of pitcher that they would like to build around. But there will be some that think that restocking the farm system and waiting for that to produce talent is the proper course of action.
I do agree with that thought process, at least to a point. The Cubs farm system isn’t exactly stellar. There are a few diamonds in the rough but not too many to boast about. In triple A Iowa there is of course Brett Jackson. He has a slash line of .258/.337/.494 with 12 HR and 18SB and only on error so far. Though he is getting on base 79 points above his batting average, which is encouraging, he still has struck out 121 times in 314 ABs. Major league pitching would tear him up at this point. That being said, Jackson is will turn 24 this August and that usually is the cut off for prospects. For some reason or another prospects do not tend to pan out after they reach 24-25 years old. There are exceptions to that rule, but not too many. Then there is third baseman Josh Vitters (23 in August), who is hitting well in Iowa. He has a .301/.353/.512 slash line with 13 HRs and 47RBIs, but also has 13 errors on the season. The only starting pitcher in Iowa that is relatively young and worth mentioning is a guy named Brooks Raley who just recently turned 24. In 95 IP this season between Iowa and AA Tennessee he is 6-5 with a 3.69 ERA with 26/65 bb/so. Other than that there isn’t that much to take about in Iowa other than Jay Jackson being a complete disappointment. For some reason or another Tennessee always seems to have the Cubs best prospects. The obvious choice is SS Junior Lake. Lake is hitting .289/.341/.416. Very solid numbers but is still rough around the edges. He has struck out 48 times in 197 ABs and has 19 errors in 48 G. Another position player worth talking about it this year’s Cubs futures representative Jae-Hoon Ha, but he is only batting .261. As for pitching there is Nicholas Struck (23) with a 3.64 ERA and Eric Jokisch with a 3.38 ERA between Tennessee and Daytona. Though Jokisch has a low ERA since being promoted, but he has 15 walks to 16 strike outs. Top prospect Trey McNutt has a 4.67 ERA and averages 3.85 innings per start. Daytona has a short stop that is hitting well but has 32 errors in 78 games. Other than that the only two guys worth mentioning are Cubs number four overall prospect Matt Szczur.
He was the Cubs futures representative last year and plays center field. Szczur turns 23 this month and has a slash line of .285/.387/.404 with 26/34 SB. Why this guy has not been promoted to Tennessee is beyond me. But like I said earlier there is a shelf life in prospects so I hope Szczur steps it up. Other than Szczur, the south paw Austin Kirk is the only player worth talking about in Daytona. Kirk owns a 4-2 record with a 2.63 ERA in 95.2 IP, 26BB/58SO .237 BAA and only 1 HR. Not to mention he threw a no hitter last season. Kirk is 22 and is due for a promotion in my opinion. In Peoria there is the highly touted Javier Baez. At 19 Baez has a solid slash line of .284/.368/.466 with 9 extra base hits in 29 games. But in those 29 games he also has 25 SO in 103 ABs and has 7 errors. A promising start, but certainly in need of some polishing. Some may even remember the Cuban defector Gerardo Concepcion (20), he boast a 2-6 record with a 7.39 ERA 52.1 IP 70 H 30BB/28SO. Early returns have been rough with him. The Cubs have a few pieces in the minors but it still is a work in progress. All of these stats were as of going into play on July fourth. I feel that waiting for the waiting for the farm system to properly develop before the cubs content is a foolish proposition. Like I said before, I want the Cubs to have a strong farm system. But since free agency came to be no one has won it by solely by ways of the draft. Look at the Braves who won 14 consecutive division titles. They had a core of guys to get them through but they still added big names like Greg Maddux, Fred McGriff, Brett Boone, Denny Neagle, Kenny Lofton, Gary Sheffield, Russ Ortiz J.D Drew, and Tim Hudson amongst others. If anyone was a model for sustained success it was those old Braves teams. They were great at developing guys that played both sides of the ball and at adding quality players when need be. Though the Cubs are seemingly on their way to a 100 loss season they still have a solid foundation of a team. They have the second best short stop in the league (behind Tulo), a gold glove caliber second baseman that hits.270, a young power hitting first baseman, 3 young and promising starting pitchers (Garza, Shark, & Wood), and not to mention one of the best left handed relievers in the game. The problem is that Castro, Shark, and Russell are arbitration eligible in 2013 and Wood & Barney are eligible in 2014. By 2015-2016, when some of these kids are ready to come up and contribute, the core of guys that we have now are going to start to get expensive. Especially if Castro keeps racking up all stars and leading the league in hits, or if Shark proves that this past month was a fluke, or if Wood becomes the Cubs new version of Ted Lilly. So what are the Cubs to do? Go through the motions with their thumbs up their back side until a few kids come through the pipeline? Theo&Co. have already stated that they are building, not rebuilding. I say 2013 is as good as any to bring on some new additions. Now I’m certainly not suggesting that the front office should go out and do what Hendry did best, but just add a few pieces. For example I would like to see Theo& CO. sign a starting pitcher. Some of you are going to jump to the conclusion that I mean getting into the Hammels/Grinke sweepstakes. I am not. Hammels is going to fetch somewhere in the 20 million range a season and that is way too much, and Grinke has anxiety issues so a big stage like Chicago might not be the best place for him. The guy that I would really like to see the Cubs land is Anibal Sanchez. He has a lifetime 3.78ERA 3.5BB/9 7.6SO/9. Over the last two seasons his walks have gone down and his strikeouts have been above his career average. He makes 8 million this season so I say while everyone else is clamoring over Hammels and Grinke they Cubs should go straight to Sanchez and make him a solid offer and snatch him up before the big two get signed and people start looking to Sanchez. They could probably sign him at a 4years/40 million range, maybe even put in a club option for a 5th year. Sanchez will be 29 at the start of the season and my proposed contract would cover his prime years. And if that doesn’t work then I think Edwin Jackson would be a good addition. He is also in his prime and other than a bad half of a season with Arizona he has not posted an ERA over 4 since 2009. If the Cubs were to sign one of these guys and retain Garza they would have a starting rotation of Garza/Shark/Sanchez/Wood. For the fifth guy they could pick up Maholm’s 6.5 million option or maybe resign Dempster at a more team friendly contract. That would make up one solid rotation, not ace amongst the bunch, but a rotation make up of only 2’s and 3’s is pretty nice. It certainly is better than having one ace and nothing else behind him, like Verlander in Detroit. After that the Cubs need to fill that black hole at third base. They best options for third base on this upcoming free agent market are David Wright and Kevin Youkilis. Both are unlikely due to Wright’s huge impending contract and Youkilis being past his prime. Chase Headly is a guy the Theo&Co. have been keen on and he is available. Apparently the Giants are not pleased with Pablo Sandoval’s work ethic; Sweum could probably break him of that. Throw Vitters out there and see if he sticks or not. Heck, Rizzo seems like he can handle himself with the glove, slide him over to the hot corner and put LaHair back at first. One of those ideas has got to be better then what we got going on right now. The only other really pressing need that the Cubs have is that they need to add a few quality arms in the bullpen that can throw strikes. The Cubs opened the season with a payroll a little over 87million. After this season Dempster’s 14mil, Zambrano’s 16.5, and Byrd’s 6.5 all come off the books. That’s about 42% of their payroll. There is money that can be spent. They don’t need to make any big splashes just a few additions. As odd as it may sound the Cubs are actually in a really good position to contend soon. Like I said earlier they do have a good, young, cheep core of guys to build upon. They Astros going to the American League works out wonderfully for the Cubs because that means that there are going to be several more interleague games played. That means Soriano will have more opportunities to DH and should put less strain on his legs, keeping him healthier and hopefully more productive. I know a lot of you guys think that Theo&Co. should trade him for whatever they can get. Well they would not be getting much and I think you would have to build up quite a bit of courage to walk into your boss’ office at tell him your game plan is that you are going to trade away a guy that is good for 25 bombs a year for little to nothing, and that he is going to have to eat somewhere around 40million to do it. I would doubt that Soriano gets traded. He will never live up to the contract, most 100 million dollar contract do not, so let’s just make do with what we have. The division is not doing well. Even though as of now the Pirates are in sole possession of first place they are 15/16 in National League Attendance. They have a payroll of about 62.5 million, which is difficult to compete with. They say the Pirates have a stocked farm system, but they have not had a winning season since 1992, and in all that time they have not produced enough talent to make me think they would be a long term threat. Milwaukee has problems. They gutted their farm system to get guys like Grinke, Marcum, and Sabathia. Even if by some strange chance they retain Grinke this offseason the only thing they would have gained is more payroll. Then the offseason after that Marcum and Hart are free agents. In a couple of years the Brewers could look like the Brewers from ten years ago when they were horrible and only had three good players. But instead of it being Geoff Jenkins, Richie Sexton, and Ben Sheets; it is going to be Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, and Yovani Gallardo. I never want to count out the Cards but their current success is due to older, veteran players that are at the ends of their respective careers. In a few years Holiday will be 34 and on his decline. Wainwright hasn’t been the same after the surgery. Garcia is struggling. So they have some work to do. The Reds will be the team to beat for years, but they may have handcuffed themselves a little bit by handing out contract extensions like candy at a parade. The Reds have 48.4million dollars committed to Votto, Bruce, Phillips, Cueto, Marshall, and Chapman in 2013. In 2014 they have 51.5 million committed to those same guys, and if Cueto’s 10 million dollar option and Chapman’s 5 million dollar option are picked up they will have 59.5 million committed in 2015. Not to mention that Latos, Bailey, Leake, and Stubbs are all about to get expensive because they are arbitration eligible in 2013 and are scheduled to reach free agency in 2016. The Reds are not a big market ball club. This year they have a payroll a little over 76 million dollars this season and with 48.4 million already spent for next year and 3/5 of their rotation looking for raises it could be hard to field a team with whatever revenue that they have left over. Even if they get some TV contract that would allow them to stretch their payroll to something like 100 million dollars, they would still have half their payroll devoted to six guys and four guys are going to get raises every season until 2016.
Even if Latos, Bailey, Leake, and Stubbs got a conservative estimate combined salary of 10 million in arbitration for 2013; that still only leaves 40 million dollars for the other 15 guys on the roster. I see few reasons to believe why they Cubs could not be serious contenders in 2014. If Theo&Co. can extend Garza to a John Danks like contract, add a guy like Sanchez, plug the whole at third, and add a few quality (but cost effective) arms in the bullpen the Cubs could possibly be over 500 next year. All of which is very doable. Theo&Co. blew up what need to be blown up last off season. From here on out I say let’s build. The Cubs have a good core of guys to build around, many of which are entering their prime years. Castro and Rizzo are only 22. Castro has already shown that he has what it takes to be top tier short stop in the game for years to come (defense still needs work though). Rizzo has barely been up a week and is showing every sign of being a clutch RBI machine. Imagine what they will look like in two short years from now. None of that matters of if you do not have a guy to anchor your pitching staff. Garza is only 28 years old and he still will be in his prime in 2-3 years when the Cubs are serious contenders. The guy is a bull dog, and a former ALCS MVP. The Cubs have every reason to keep him around. Don’t get caught up in the train of thought that the Cubs need to bulldoze everything. We are closer that you think. Hopefully in a few years the Cubs will take home that elusive World Series Title. Lord knows we aren’t getting any younger.