posted by Keith (cubs223425)
It seems that we’re back, and I get first dibs on kicking it off. Little difference: I’m going to started putting my name (Keith) on my posts, rather than my post name (cubs223425). Maybe I’ll put both, like I am on this one, we’ll see how I decide to go. As a Cubs fan, I feel obligated to start with analysis of the Cubs. I’m going to go position-by-position with this, deciding towards the end if I want to do pitching as rotation and bullpen or staff-wide. We’re going to start, though, with the catcher position.
The format of this post will likely be mimicked on the others, and the first order of business is the past. Since 2008, the Cubs have leaned on Geovany Soto at the catcher position, with Koyie Hill curiously rostered behind him. Soto did a good job in many instances, but he was certainly not without flaws. One of the biggest is that he was hurt quite a lot in 2009 and 2010, averaging 103.5 games played those two seasons. 2007 saw him play a robust 141 games, and 2011 had an acceptable 125 appearances behind the plate. When evaluating his offense, it is a bit tricky.
Soto has both good and bad things to his game. On the positive side, he has a history of putting up a solid OBP (career .348). His power is not elite, but it is above-average when he is healthy (we would likely see 18-22 HRs consistently from Soto, if he could manage 130+ games played). Then we have the cons: consistency being the big one. His average never stays the same. His per-season batting averages from 2008-2011: .285, .218, .280, .228, respectively. In 2011, that .348 career OBP was bogged down because of his .310 OBP during that campaign. This leads to a conundrum going forward: should Soto even be with the Cubs in 2012?
Obviously, in terms of pure value, yes. Soto is an above-average catcher, and an overall benefit in most instances. However, the Cubs might not need him. For 2012, the Cubs are not likely to win. For that reason alone, trading him might be a better idea, a chance to reload a little bit on the farm and save on his likely $5 million+ salary (an arbitration bump from his 2011 salary of $3 million). If not for Jim Hendry, the Cubs would likely have a major league-ready option to replace Soto in Chirinos, but we’ll ignore that rant. They still have a pair of other nice catchers that could get a crack at the job for next season anyway.
My personal preference is Welington Castillo. Though not in a lot of time, Castillo had solid AAA numbers in 2011. He popped 15 home runs in 251 plate appearances, meaning a 20 homer season from him in the majors is a possibility. His .351 OPS is certainly a number worth looking at in the majors. Perhaps in a full-time role, a catcher with 20+ home runs and an OPS at or over .800 could happen.
Then there are those who believe in Steve Clevenger. Just 25, Clevenger had some VERY tasty numbers in the minors. In 120 games, his OPS was .857, though it was more from the OBP (.383) than the power (.475 SLG). He certainly looks like a possible long-term solution, but giving Castillo a chance first seems logical. Regardless, the intent is to replace Soto.
As said before, the Cubs are likely going nowhere next season. They just lack too much (as I will cover in more articles) to compete. After that, Soto is going to get ANOTHER raise, and will hit free agency after 2013. For 2013, it is tough to see the Cubs really going anywhere in terms of a deep playoff run, but two years is forever in baseball. With that though, what is Soto worth to the Cubs, a few more homers and fans? The sooner you trade him, the more you are likely to get back (the catcher market is not exactly amazing, and two years of Soto is more than just one year of him). So where does this leave the Cubs at catcher?
Hopefully, without Soto. Trading him to help kick-start Theo Epstein’s farm overhaul would save them on a few million for 2012 and 2013, give the younger guys Castillo and Clevenger a chance, and add to the depth of prospects the Cubs seem to somewhat lack. The Cubs should let Castillo start 2012 as their starter. If he does not work out, let Clevenger try. There really is nothing to lose in terms of meaningful wins and losses. At worst, the Cubs lose a couple more games (Soto is about a 2-WAR player, 3 tops). At best, the Cubs save money, add prospects, and start the Epstein era early with strong play from Castillo and/or Clevenger. There really is no reason to not try.
Above all else: PLEASE do not bring Koyie Hill back.