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What The Cubs Gave Up

Or What You Leave Behind.

Today was a troubling day for me here at BCB, since all of my articles that I spent many hours on before Christmas working on for the Maple Street Press Annual got creamed. Not only did the profiles for four of my Top 20 prospects have to be tossed, I also had profiles of Chris Archer and Robinson Chirinos written for the Annual. I knew that Chirinos was trade bait (because he'd never beat out Geovany Soto for a job) and even said so in the article. But I decided to write on him anyway because I had a great story to go with. I thought I was on safe ground with Archer, arguably our number one prospect.

You're never going to see either article, unless someone from Tampa wants to buy them off of me. Actually, I think Maple Street Press still owns them, so you might have to buy them off of them too. It's too bad because I loved the Chirinos article. It was a big tribute to what I saw Chirinos representing: the career minor leaguer who rides the buses out of love of the game and that seemingly impossible dream that keeps them going. Yes, Bull Durham was mentioned. I'm a sucker for those guys. Sometimes people ask me why I bother reporting when one of those guys have a good game when I could be telling you that a real prospect went 1 for 4 or gave up a run in an inning of relief. I do it for a lot of reasons, but a big one is because I want to thank those career minor leaguers for their service to the game. They get precious little otherwise.

What you are going to get is my write-up of the four players we had to cut from the Top 20 Prospects list, as well as my take on the Garza trade.

I know that prospects are made to be traded. That's the nature of the business. In fact, with the exception of Archer, it made a lot of sense for the Cubs to trade the players they did, and even Archer made some sense. My problem is that I am simply not convinced that Matt Garza is the type of guy you want to give them up with. Don't tell me he's a "proven pitcher with World Series experience." If that's all you want, Jarrod Washburn has been a free agent since last year. No pitcher is ever "proven," they're all just one arm injury away from losing it all. (Yes, that goes for Chris Archer too.) Besides, that kind of non-statistical analysis has always just struck me as a way of justifying what you already believed anyway for no good reason. As someone once said of intangibles, if they actually had an impact on the game, wouldn't we be able to see that impact?

I'm also dubious of his ability to succeed at Wrigley Field. People have argued that he's going from the AL East to the NL Central, and while that doesn't make him a better pitcher, it might mean that he's a better pitcher than he's shown. I think I read somewhere that Garza had the second-toughest opponents hitting against him, so it is possible that he'll thrive against weaker hitters, although it's not like the Reds and Brewers are the Seattle Mariners. But a combination of a low strikeout rate, a high fly-ball rate and going from an excellent defensive team to a below average defensive team makes me think trouble lies ahead. Going from the Trop to Wrigley Field isn't going to be good either.

I'm not saying that Garza is going to be terrible. He's a good pitcher and will likely stay being a good pitcher for the Cubs. But there are significant risks and I don't think Garza is good enough to gut your farm system.

Luckily, the Cub farm system is pretty deep right now. In fact, I have already replaced the four names here with four more players and the hardest part of it was deciding which four. If we had the #8 Farm system yesterday, then we don't today. But we still have a good farm system.

Now, on to what we gave up:

2. Chris Archer RHP 6'3" 180 lbs. Age: 22 Acquired: Trade with Cleveland 2008

Archer was the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year after a stellar season with both Daytona and Tennessee, where he dominated hitters at both levels. In 142 innings, Archer struck out 149 batters and held them to a .200 batting average. Overall, he went 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA. Archer's strength is that he gets good movement on both his fastball and breaking pitches. His fastball sits at 92-94 with good movement and he has a nasty slider that breaks out of the strike zone.

What has always done in Archer in years past is a lack of control. It's a good thing that he has so much movement on his pitches, but he often has trouble getting it over the plate. When the Cubs acquired him in the Mark DeRosa trade, they saw a raw talent who they thought could make some adjustments that would help him with his control. So far they've had some success as he's cut his walk numbers in each of the past two seasons, and while no one would term the 65 walks he issued this season as a good thing, it's a big improvement over his numbers with Cleveland.

Archer's changeup is only so-so, which is why some scouts don't think he'll be more than a #3 starter. Some have argued that he'd be better ditching the changeup altogether and relying on just the fastball and slider. The idea is that he could be a dominating closer. However, with Carlos Marmol and possibly Andrew Cashner as closing possibilities, Archer will stay in the rotation for now. He'll likely start the season in Iowa and could be the very first pitcher called up to the majors when there is a spot open in the rotation. Barring injury, Archer should pitch at Wrigley Field sometime in 2011.

I had a lot more to say about Archer in the full profile of him. I think the description of him as a #3 is being conservative. I don't think he'll ever have the command to be a #1 pitcher, but I think his ceiling is as a #2. However, ceilings are just that, and it certainly was more likely that he was going to end up as a #3. But since that's what I think Matt Garza is, that's not an insult to Archer. So we gave up six years of Archer (plus other stuff) for three years of Garza.

But I don't think Archer is going to be a starter for Tampa Bay at all. My comment on him ditching the changeup and becoming a closer looks closer to reality now. The Rays have a ton of starting pitching and more on the way, which is why they traded Garza. What they are losing is a closer in Rafael Soriano, and Archer could step into that role as soon as this season. I don't see him starting the year as the closer, but he might finish it. In that role, I can see him being similar to Francisco Rodriguez, in that he combines good heat with a nasty slider that breaks out of the zone.

One reason the Cubs might want to trade Archer is Trey McNutt. They're similar pitchers and while Archer is a bit more advanced, McNutt has shown better control and it's not hard to find someone who thinks McNutt is the better prospect. If you want to know whether I ranked Archer or McNutt higher, you'll just have to buy the MSP Annual. Since I ranked Archer at #2, McNutt would be #1 if I did.

If you're in an AL-only fantasy league, Archer might be worth picking up late as the closer job in Tampa is going to be unsettled. If you're not in an AL-only fantasy league and want to be, drop me a line because I'm thinking of starting one. (I hate it when my fantasy players play the Cubs. This is my solution this year.)

5. Hak-Ju Lee SS 6'2" 170 lbs. Age: 20 Acquired: International signing, 2009. Korea

Lee didn't make a great leap forward in 2010, but neither did he hurt his prospect status with a solid year in low-A Peoria. After a slow start in April and May, Lee rebounded to hit .282 with a .354 OBP and 32 steals for the whole year. Defensively, he's still got the tools to be a gold glove caliber shortstop and he often makes plays that make minor league fans go "wow." But he's still raw and inexperienced, often making bad reads on balls and booting easy grounders in the same game.

Lee is a slap hitter who gets a running start out of the batter's box. It gives him an incredibly fast home-to-first time, but it also means he does not hit the ball with much authority. He does leg out some doubles, however.
If Lee lives up to his potential, he'll be a gold glove caliber shortstop who could be a solid leadoff or number-two hitter, although it's extremely unlikely that he ever hits for much power. Whether Starlin Castro will have to move to second base to make room for Lee is still an open question. Fortunately, it won't have to be answered next year and maybe not even in 2012.

The Cubs have been very methodical with Lee so far, leaving him in Boise and Peoria for a full season each. But they might start getting more aggressive with Lee now that he is older and more comfortable in America, so while he should start the season in Daytona, a mid-season promotion is not out of the question anymore

It actually makes some sense to deal Lee because Castro has established himself as the Cubs SS for years to come. Although some scouts (and fans on this board) think that Castro is never going to be a good defensive SS, I think it makes sense to leave him there as long as possible. He's still young and while Castro doesn't have Lee's tools defensively, you can see how he might be a solid defensive SS one day. On top of that, the Cubs system is loaded with guys who can play second base. They aren't loaded with shortstops.

Lee is the hardest one of the four to project. He's still very young and very raw. I liked the way he got a lot better as the season in Peoria went on. His speed is something the Cubs could use more of, and he bats from the left side. But that slap approach at the plate might get him eaten alive as he moves up the ladder. In any case, he's never going to develop any significant power. He could be a gold glove shortstop, but right now he's a flashy but erratic kid. It was likely we were going to have to deal him after Castro established himself. The question is was now the time to deal him and was Garza the guy to deal him for.

11. Brandon Guyer OF 6'1" 210 Age: 25 Acquired: 2007 Amateur Draft 5th Round

Guyer was a rising star in the Cubs system after a strong 2008 season in Peoria, but he flopped in 2009 when promoted to Double A. He rebounded slightly after a demotion to Daytona, but in his second chance at Tennessee in 2010, he exploded. He finished the season hitting .344, which was a Smokies franchise record, along with 13 home runs and 39 doubles. He stole 30 bases and was only caught 3 times. In his last 54 games, he hit an unbelievable .427. For his efforts, he was named Cubs Minor League Player of the Year.

Despite that, Guyer is not a great prospect. He was a bit old for Double A and was repeating the level. His defense isn't quite good enough for center field and he's not likely to have the power you want in a corner outfielder. He might be a perfect fourth outfielder/pinch hitter, however. His style of play and reckless distain for his own personal safety has drawn comparisons to Eric Byrnes, and that might be a best-case scenario for him.

I guess I'm going to have to re-write that profile of Guyer I did for the 2009 MSP Annual too. What Guyer did in the second half for Tennessee last year was simply unbelievable. So unbelievable, in fact, that a lot of us chose not to believe it. Except for last season, he also has a hard time staying healthy. I think my second paragraph sums up my feelings on him. If everything breaks right for him, he's Eric Byrnes. That's something useful to have, but not exactly anything you'd cry about losing for Matt Garza. If everything breaks on him (and it just might the way he plays) then he's nothing.

14. Robinson Chirinos C 6’1" 195 Age: 27 Acquired: International signing 2000 Venezuela.

It only took Chirinos a decade in the Cubs system, but he’s finally a top prospect. Since converting from infielder to catcher in 2008, Chirinos has done nothing but hit, and the reports on his fielding and the way he handles a pitching staff have been good as well. Last season between Tennessee and Iowa, Chirinos hit .326 with 18 home runs and a .416 OBP. It’s not really a fluke, either, as Chirinos hit .294 with 11 homers and a .396 OBP the year before. The Cubs finally added him to their 40-man roster this off-season, so he should get a chance at least to make the team out of spring training, even if the numbers might mean he returns to Iowa.

Chirinos could have been the backup catcher we've been dreaming of everytime we see Koyie Hill come to the plate. He was never going to be as good as Soto though, so it did make some sense to trade him. But I think he might end up being the Rays starting catcher this season. He's like their current catcher, John Jaso, except with a little more power and better defense.

There are reasons to regret trading Chirinos. One is having to endure another season of Koyie Hill. Another is that I think his trade value would be even higher if he spent a season backing up Soto. But it's clear that the Cubs had to trade him eventually. The question is only whether this was the right opportunity to do it.

Couple of fun facts from the article. Chirinos started as a shortstop, and in his first year in rookie ball in Arizona, the catchers on his team were Geo Soto and Carlos Marmol. His family also lives in Daytona Beach during the season (he's spent a lot of time with the D-Cubs) so I'm sure he's happy that if he had to be traded, it was to Tampa Bay.

Sam Fuld

Yeah, right. I'll let Jessica tell you about him as she clearly has a much higher opinion of him than I do. I might suggest she now start championing Tony Campana.