Today's the day Cubs pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Mesa. Looking back, the System Sonogram recalls some questions from last year at this time. Will the team ever stops the sign-and-flip procedure? Will Jake Arrieta be able to hold a rotation spot for the 2014 Cubs? Will Kris Bryant continue to pound the upper minors like he did at the lower levels? Any idea who the Cubs will select in the June draft? Will Edwin Jackson finally provide some value for his contract? Some things have changed in a year, but others haven't. Which questions exist in 2015?
I catch grief for minding the minors and the draft. I'll mostly take the rap, as I wouldn't be likely to be paying the going rates for cable on a matter of principle. That leads me to following the major-league Cubs on radio, which is largely good enough for me. However, I tend toward being an educator at heart. Talking about the Chicago Cubs from listening, and explaining things you don't know (when you were watching live or on TV) is a tough act. Fortunately, the minor leagues are covered far less, which isn't a stab at Josh, who remains the reason I showed up here in the first place.
Be it here at Bleed Cubbie Blue, or any of a number of different outlets, I could largely get the results of the preceding day's major league game. However, technology has enabled me to listen to, and even watch most of, all of the Cubs minor league games above the Mesa compound level. To that end, the educator in me is more interested in demystifying the minor league levels. That way, readers here become more knowledgeable. And our on-line rivals have to be that much better at it, as well.
This episode of the Sonogram looks at some questions about the major league camp, but from a minor-league perspective. I'm looking for questions similar to ones from last season as listed above. Those questions are generally answered with more of a system-based approach, and less of a Wins Above Replacement approach. It sounds confusing, but really isn't.
1. What sort of value will Jacob Turner provide the Cubs by the time the Cubs return to Wrigley?
For a long stretch, I had planned to recap some of my favorite transactions by the Cubs in the last few years. Based on cost-of-acquisition and potential-future-return, the Turner pickup is at the top of the list. We all know he could be a complete washout in the spring, and bring back next to nothing in return in the next six weeks. Or, he could nail down a rotation slot. He may well fall somewhere in-between. Much like the wide expanse of potential options of Arrieta last year, the Sonogram wants to know why we should have what as an expectation for Turner.
Last year, it was "I don't think Arrieta will be able to hold down a rotation spot" from quite a few corners. Turner news will be of great import to me this spring. If he ends up as a strong seventh option in camp, he can bring a realistic return late in spring training. If he breaks camp as a rotation play at the back end, the scalping of a trade looks better than it already did. If Chris Bosio works his best Arrieta-style-Bosmosis with Turner, the system gets even more payback. Or, he could be horrific, and only have been a missed solid gamble.
If you have thoughts behind your prediction on Turner, and what value he'll have in six weeks, I'd love to hear them. Wishes are less helpful than reasons. This story won't be over for over a month, and reaction to Turner starts will be high on my priority lists.
2. Is Felix Doubront going to return any value?
You might have guessed from my take on Turner that I'm as interested in Doubront as well. You would have been correct. Doubront's transaction is another example of why snap-evaluations of trades before-their-conclusions provide value. I've listened to Marco Hernandez play in the Cubs system at three levels. I've even seen him homer for the only run in a 1-0 pitcher's duel. There is no reason to think he was ever going to be a regular shortstop for the Chicago Cubs.
He is the kind of guy a good system develops, as best as they can, and then they flip at some point. If Hernandez learns to hit well in the Red Sox system, congratulations to all parties. It's probably a sucker-bet that Doubront has a much better likelihood at a career with 5 WAR or more in the future than the prospect Hernandez. You'd ride those presumed odds almost any chance you can.
As for Doubront, he started four games for the 2014 Cubs. Half of them were very solid, one was fairly decent, and one was hideous. Probably a bit better than the average production for a normal fifth starter in the major leagues. If he can represent better than that, the trade looks even better.
If he's a dumpster fire in Mesa, that isn't what we hope. However, if he is, he might be making too much to walk away from the $1.9 million he's scheduled to make. He could become a free agent if run through waivers, but he might not want to roll those dice. We hope he earns his keep, but he might prefer Iowa to walking away from almost $2 million. A terrible pitcher in March can be useful in June, as pitchers are funny that way.
3. What will Edwin Jackson bring toward the end of camp?
Wouldn't it be nice if Jackson, finally, represents a reliable pitcher in Mesa? It could happen. However, even Jackson's best six weeks of pitching possible might not be enough to put him among the Cubs top 12 pitchers. Jackson might have to leave, contract or not. Again, hopefully he does well. He may be pitching for scouts more than the Cubs, though.
The System Sonogram isn't particularly interested in his velocity or pitch counts. I'm more interested in what his outings are doing to any trade value he has. I've come to terms with him being released, or traded for pennies on the dollar of his contract value. Will it be more like three pennies, or eight?
4. What value will Blake Parker or Brian Schlitter have in six weeks?
You know the premise. A guy is driving around town in a rather beaten-looking vehicle. In his window, he has a cell phone number scrawled somewhere. "Like this car? Call 555-XXX-XXXX". That's pretty much where I see Schlitter and Parker. The incarnation of who they are this spring would have been solid Cubs bullpen options through many of the team's recent seasons.
They are both right at about that point where they should make a roster somewhere in the league. That said, you don't expect to get much mileage out of the back-end of that team's bullpen. Both are likely better options than many seventh or eighth options in bullpens across the league. However, the Cubs have five better right-handed options than they are.
The possibility exists that an arm in the bullpen gets injured, and one of them might be in contention for the final spot. If they can beat out Donn Roach, Gonzalez Germen, and Armando Rivero, and others who miss out on the rotation. Parker and Schlitter are legitimate back-end of the bullpen options. What that will bring in late March or early April will be largely determined by how well they pitch, and injuries league-wide.
The Sonogram is interested in your take on their value. My guess is a three-in-100 chance type guy in extended spring training. If it's more, all the better. For a recent precedent, here is a trade the Braves could end up regretting with Shae Simmons done for the year. I hold out hope for a decent hitting first baseman in A-Ball for either of them.
5. What will Travis Wood fetch in a trade?
Say what you want about Theo Epstein, but he is rarely rushed into making a trade.Travis Wood is one of the handful of options for the fifth starter slot. He likely won't be the Cubs fifth starter. He also won't likely be in the bullpen. With the likely upcoming rash of injuries to pitchers this spring, Wood will likely be dealt elsewhere.
About the only way Wood stays is if some of the Cubs options are less useful than hoped. The Sonogram will be very interested in how he's doing, and what that performance does to his trade value.
Feel free to chime in on any of the above developing stories, or criticize me for missing the one I should have talked about. Next time, more on the minor league system than this time.