The big news is the end of Alfonso Soriano's time with the Cubs. Eventually, I expect I will look back at the period better than I do now. Soriano signed a contract that any of us would have as well. At the time, a splash was needed and it was provided. With Soriano leaving, the front office reminds players and fans alike that they are about winning titles. As soon as Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, or anyone else helps the system more by leaving, they will be gone. Epstein traded Nomar Garciaparra, and he'll trade Javier Baez if it helps the team. Emotions are a deterrent to MLB success, often.
Corey Black is coming to the Cubs in the Soriano deal. A starter for the Tampa Yankees, he has had a bit of an uneven season. He's given up just under a hit per inning, but has walked almost five per nine. He has fanned over a hitter per inning. He throws hard, mid- to upper-90s, and is working on his off-speed stuff. His changeup seems to be the best of the three (trend-spotting, anyone?), and his slider is better than his curve. I see him as a long-range leverage reliever, but giving him starter's innings in the near future might make him better when it counts. Don't rule out Derek Johnson helping out some, as well.
The Daytona Cubs rotation he joins is in flux. Early in the year, some D-Cubs starters were hit rather aggressively. As the year has progressed, a few moved up, some have been injured, and many have been added in trade. Ben Wells is on the DL now, and Pierce Johnson has been solid since arriving from Kane County. Matt Loosen is jockeying for a return to Double-A Tennessee.
As of now, the first-place D-Cubs have a three-game lead on their competition, and a dangerous (good-dangerous, not bad-dangerous) rotation. Pierce Johnson is living up to his hype. Ivan Pineyro (added in the Scott Hairston trade) was scoreless in his first two outings. Matt Loosen recently pitched a no-hitter, and has been very steady recently. Wells has been nails all season long. Zach Cates has been serviceable, and now Black arrives. He might be transitioned to the bullpen. Six solid starters, and up to five games a week due to rain, might be a bit too much of a good thing.. (kidding. Sort of.)
What difference does that make? I really don't care about the D-Cubs depth-chart.
There is a reason I like the Cubs trading for High-A pitchers. Next season, they might well be in Double-A, which is where you quit talking about prospects being far-off longshots. Next season, Black will likely either repeat High-A as a main option in his second full season (which is completely appropriate) or jump to Double-A as a leverage reliever type.
The best way to have an excess of big league pitching is to have an excess of upper-level minor league pitching. The Cubs aren't there yet, but they're getting closer. Kyle Hendricks will be in the discussion the next few years. So will Pierce Johnson. With Pineyro, Black, and additions from Baltimore Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop having their chances, the future is starting to take shape.
More minor trades may be on the way as well. Nate Schierholtz, Cody Ransom, Dioner Navarro, David DeJesus, Kevin Gregg, and maybe another few might be sent packing. Not to get rid of current talent, but to add to the future mosaic of talent. It will depend, as the thought-process goes, on what is offered. Regardless how improved or deep a system is, there is always room for another player that a good scouting troupe likes.
Not terribly surprisingly, the Cubs made a minor trade on Friday. Triple-A starter Guillermo Moscoso, who I think I saw pitch once for Iowa on MiLBTV, was sent to San Francisco. In exchange, the Cubs will receive cash, or a PTBNL. I doubt either will be significant. This has the makings of a goodwill trade. Moscoso will head to the majors for a team out of the race. In exchange, the Cubs show a bit of respect for a team they will likely trade with again soon.
Certainly, another big-name arm would help the parent club next season. With the new TV deals, and changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, those adds are getting more rare. And pricey. Theo Epstein's number-spinners will try to add the best price-sensible free agents they can this off-season. The depth might be to the point where the right series of prospects might be flipped for the right veteran.
However, it's somewhat plain by now that Epstein is doing this on his terms. The parent club is improved. The farm system is improved. Players wishing to stick around, be they veterans or prospects, know they best plan on getting better. This organization will let anyone go for the right price, even if it causes a short-term reduction in wins.
The Chicago Cubs should be somewhere around a break-even club next season, regardless how good the division is. For some, that won't be good enough. If they wish to stop going to games, or stop watching, that will be unfortunate, but water under the bridge. Players will be added. Some will outperform expectations. Some will fall flat. And if the squad put together isn't post-season caliber next season, parts that don't figure to be around in 2015 and beyond will be sent off. Perhaps for a cost-controlled veteran. Perhaps for a prospect in A-Ball.
I expect the slow, steady drumbeat to improvement to continue. At some point, deadline deals will add pieces to the parent club, not subtract them. The playoffs will return to Wrigley, and the progress atop the system, and in the lower levels of the pipeline will both contribute. Yes, I can see the wisdom of these current moves leading to an earned division title, and, yes, a pennant or three. And pieces acquired as minor leaguers -- like Corey Black and Ivan Pineyro -- may be a part of that future success.
I had my third live game of the week, toward the end of the night meeting BCBers Katie Casey and Shanghai Badger. The game itself didn't have that much of a storyline, with the Kane County Cougars building a 4-1 lead early, and cruising to a win. Righthander Felix Pena was in control on the mound, alternating between swinging and watching strikeouts in his six inning outing. His off-speed stuff had hitters off-balance all night long.
Marco Hernandez had a bunt single that Rod Carew would have appreciated, and his second hit resulted in two runs when Willson Contreras (No. 19 below) homered. Albert Almora continued to make solid contact, and Jeimer Candelario made a nice running catch in foul territory, fighting off a tweak in the hamstring area after.
I know what you want most is to see some of the many pictures my friend Jason took. Enjoy.
Reggie Golden caught in a rundown.
Aaron Shipman makes a nice catch in right.
Felix Pena was dealing on Friday
Albert Almora is all business. May be a Twitter pic now.
Bostick gets plunked. Note the stirrups.
Golden hustles it out
Vogelbach drives in Amaya