2012 Chicago Cubs: First Base

15 11 2011

Full speed ahead! Two posts just a few hours apart? Yep, it’s happening. This time, we’re going to venture into a more treacherous area for the Cubs: FIRST BASE.

On the surface, you have a very curious player in Carlos Pena. There is the side of him that mashes, and the side that…well…does not. Guys like Pena have always confused me–if you have such a good eye at the plate that you can manage 101 walks, then how can your eye be so bad that you strike out 161 times while also hitting just .225? Adam Dunn (until this year) has been the same way; these guys are great at taking pitches, but they also cannot make consistently strong contact to save their lives. Pena had a solid season because he plays a decent defensive first, and he hits for power from the left side, something Tyler Colvin failed to repeat for the team after a sneaky 2010.

Pena came on a questionable one-year, $10 million deal that includes $5 million in deferred payments for January 2012. That means he is not there for the Cubs next season, and they have some pre-Christmas shopping to do. Whether or not that shopping amounts to a superstar, a stopgap, or nothing remains to be seen. Certainly, though, the Cubs have a load of options on the market and within their own ranks.

The free agents start with three familiar faces. Pena is out there once again, though he has Scott Boras on his side, king of numerical Twister. He will sit there and shower Pena with praise for those walks and bombs, while saying the strikeouts and horrid average are not that big of a deal. In his mind (and, probably, an AL team), that is worth 2-3 years at his 2011 rate of $10 million or so. Maybe he takes a little less, bypasses the deferred payments, and gets the multiple years that way. However it happens, Pena does not seem like a great fit for the Cubs. They still need that unicorn of lefty power bats, but they are unlikely to compete in a time where Pena is going to do his most damage, as he is not all that young.

Sticking with the Boras team bring us to a divsion rival’s former bat, Prince Fielder. The Cubs would likely kill many times over to have a player like Prince. He plays OK defense (not great), hits from the left sdie (while crushing any and all challengers on the mound), and plays first. Of course, the Jim Hendry era (I have yet to THANK GOD that is over) rears its ugly head even after its death on this one. The Soriano and Zambrano contracts still sting and make any Cubs fan (myself included) cringe at the thought of a contract that pays even more than those clunkers. That Z and Sori still eat so much payroll is cause for concern itself.

The Cubs HAVE to pay Matt Garza eventually (thanks again, Jim!), hopefully soon. They also need a lot more than just a first baseman, so that $20+ million per season will not be a cure-all. It is certainly a start, but it is a pricey one at that. It might not be a bad time with the contract, since many million of dollars have been cut form the 2011 payroll, including Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Jon Grabow (Hendry strikes again), Pena, Samardzija, and so on. The Cubs could afford Fielder if they wanted, but do they?

Then you have his superstar partner in financial crime, Albert Pujols. If the Cubs will not pay Fielder, certainly Albert is no different, right? Maybe not. Prince is their perfect fit, but Albert is Albert Pujols. Though a righty–not the ideal fit of a lefty–Pujols is bigger than life at times. He would draw more fans than Fielder, something that is STARTING to become a slight problem in Wrigley, and he should outperform Fielder for about 5 more seasons. He is the best hitter in MANY years (and the best juice-free one–we think–in decades). There is no other Albert Pujols, no way.

Still, Theo is in charge of the Cubs now. It was not until 2011 that Epstein threw a bunch of money (and prospects) at a first baseman. Before that, he had castoff David Ortiz, patch job fellows like Doug Mientkiewicz and Kevin Millar,  and Boston-grown Kevin Youkilis. That is just the first name in many farmhands Boston brought to the table. You then have Pedroia and Lester, and several others. In fact, some mention that Theo is not the best at free agents deals (see: Crawford, Carl and Lackey, John). One thing people REALLY love with Epstein is his ability to grow a winner. Signing Fielder for Pujols breaks from that idea. In Theo’s world, Herculean hitter Dan Vogelbach of the Cubs’ 2011 draft class will be their future. We do not know much about him beyond SERIOUS power, but Theo works from within more than anything, or he swings a trade (see: Gonzalez, Adrian and Beckett, Josh).

So we are at the small-time options. These might be a mixed bag, but many are there. Of course Vogelbach starts it off. The 2011 pick is nowhere near ready, so he is going to have to take a breather and toil in the minors. Tyler Colvin had some work at first in late-2010 and 2011, but he also was a horrible hitter this season. New Cubs manager X might choose to let him try again, we just do not know on that. He could also be used to replace Fukudome in right or Reed Johnson in the fourth outfielder role. We next turn to the other side of the plate and meet Bryan LaHair.

LaHair is sort of tough to read. The guy just turned twenty-nine, meaning there has to be SOMETHING someone did not like that kept him from the majors for so long (minus 150 ugly plate appearances in 2008 with Seattle). This season saw LaHair rise to the occasion, working out as the AAA hitter of the year for the Iowa Cubs. Hitting a league-healding 38 home runs with a pretty .331 average, LaHair got a little attention from Chicago late in the season. Beware the small sample size, but Bryan did pull off a decent .288 average, .885 OPS, and a pair of MLB homers.

After the three key free agents and three in-house options, you get to start looking at guys like Michael Cuddyer or bringing back Aramis for a positional change (note: Aramis’ agent says that he is done in Chicago). Really, there are only two options that jump out. Pena just will not be of use going forward, so paying serious dollars for a stopgap is pointless. For all of his greatness, making Theo’s first major move as GM the biggest gamble in team history would possibly be a disaster for him, so that leaves Albert out. Some could argue Prince is a bigger gamble, but he will probably be 2-3 years short of Albert’s contract, along with perhaps $5-8 million under in annual salary. The dollars and length make Prince a reasonable risk. He is younger as well, meaning he will be further from his end when the Cubs can compete, likely in the 2013-2014 window, if we’re lucky.

Other than that, you have to stick with who is already here. Again, Vogelbach is not going to be ready until 2014 or so, one would think (depending on how he progresses, maybe 2013 or 2015), putting him out of the question. Really, playing a platoon game might work. The Cubs could let Colvin and LaHair battle it out in Arizona, giving the starting nod to whomever stands out. If neither does, let LaHair be the lefty killer and Colvin his left-handed counterpart (meaning Colvin would get the majority of the chances). If the gamble is on one or the other, LaHair is probably the better bet. He has not proven he cannot hit, while Colvin struggled last season, to put it lightly.

Prince would be an amazing guy to get for ticket sales and generally great production. If Theo is scared of another Crawford move, he should probably let LaHair get first crack at the job come February, seeing as he is a more natural first baseban than Colvin. It is a tough call I would hate to make, that is for sure. The Cubs have a serious issue with this, and Theo is going to have to put all of his talent to task to solve it…once he gets the team a manager, of course.

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2012 Chicago Cubs: Catcher

15 11 2011

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.





Kerry Wood Returns

18 12 2010

Posted by cubs223425

Recently, we have seen a few deals go down with the Cubs. Carlos Pena was brought in to fill the 1B void, as I had suggested from the get-go (hooray for occasionally correct predictions!). Rumors about a Chris Davis deal were out there, but it was not meant to be (I didn’t want to trade Chirinos for him right after getting Pena anyway). Carlos Zambrano was mentioned in trade speculations to the Yankees (PLEASE take him!). Mark Prior was–in the saddest news since his last injury–inked to a deal with the Yankees (I seriously let out a Darth Vader, “NOOOOOOOOOO,” when I saw that). Then there was the best news of all: Kerry Wood has returned to Chicago.

Woody's back!!!

Following a two-year hiatus in Cleveland and New York, Wood is back. His contract was a little bit quizzical, though. He only got $1.5 million with some incentives, which showed–like the Cliff Lee signing, but to a greater extent–that who he played for superseded what he played for (in terms of dollars, at least). Still, there have been some crazy contracts given to relievers in the last couple of offseasons (Brandon Lyon, anyone?), so that he could only manage a base salary of $1.5 million from the Cubs almost seems exploitative on the part of the team. Regardless, seeing him take the mound for the Cubs again will be awesome.

After a horrendous start to the 2010 season, Wood was (also sadly, seconded only by Mark Prior) sent to the Yankees. Despite that, Wood pitched like the man he was setting up–Mariano Rivera–by putting up a sparkling 0.69 ERA over26 innings, in which he allowed just one home run and struck out 31. That led to a horrifying spectacular 625 ERA+ (seriously, what?!). As a whole, the season was actually rather ho-hum, due to the fact that his Cleveland stint involved a 6.30 ERA. Over all of 2010, that ERA+ drops all the way to 133, and that 0.69 ERA inflates to 3.13, a tad higher than you would want to see from your setup man. And, of course, durability might be an issue.

Since saving 34 games in 66 1/3 innings for the Cubs in 2008, Wood has seen his inning drop to 55 in 2009 and 46 in 2010. Hopefully that is not a trend, because seeing Wood gleefully return to Chicago only to see him have the same injuries that plagued the start of his career would be an awful knife in the heart of a fan base that already had to deal with the passing of Ron Santo less than a month ago (R.I.P, Ronnie).

But I do not foresee that as the case. I am expecting a solid 50+ innings from Wood in 2011, which will probably involve 25-30 holds and a 2.85 ERA and a 10.5 K/9. Now I’m not one for predictions (I rarely make preseason WS picks, or even high-hoped divisional picks), but I feel pretty safe with that. The ERA might be on the low side, but as a setup man, rather than a closer, Wood will probably pitch to lefties less frequently, with Marshall picking up the lefty setup duties.

So, welcome back, Kerry. And, just a suggestion, if your annual charity bowling event happens, do Santo a solid and donate the money to diabetes research this year.





2011 Chicago Cubs: Starting Pitching

5 10 2010

Posted by cubs223425

Before I even get this ball rolling, two things:

1. The Chicago Cubs will NOT sign Cliff Lee.

2. The Chicago Cubs SHOULD not sign Cliff Lee.

With that out of the way, we can move on to realistic possibilities.

I thought about writing this article for a moment, and I realized just how much of a mess this rotation really has become. Randy Wells has regressed worse than I could have ever imagined (and I didn’t like him going into this year AT ALL). Tom Gorzelanny did it again (looked good for a bit then imploded–just like in Pittsburgh). Carlos Silva summed up the epitome of the Cubs’ season (high hopes to start, then a complete wreck by the middle of the year). Carlos Zambrano starts the puzzling offseason questions (should they keep him? Will they keep him? Can they even move him?) by being the reverse of Gorzelanny and Silva.

With all of the above statements made, I went to work on Zambrano.

Five days ago, I looked at Zambrano in this post. When it came right down to it, I determined that Zambrano’s troubles outweigh all of the good he has done on the mound since his return. That didn’t stop the wonderful Jim Hendry from committing to him for next year, meaning that the Cubs will be committed to his $17.875 million salary for next season as well.

Unless something drastic changes in the Cubs’ front office, it appears that this sad mess of a rotation will be the exact same in 2011 as it was at the end of 2010. That would mean:

1. Carlos Zambrano – 129 2/3 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 131 ERA+

2. Ryan Dempster – 215 1/3 IP, 3.85 ERA, 1,32 WHIP, 113 ERA+

3. Randy Wells – 194 1/3 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 102 ERA+

4. Tom Gorzelanny – 136 1/3 IP, 4.09 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 106 ERA+

5. Carlos Silva – 113 IP, 4.22 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 103 ERA+

Here is what I notice from this:

Anyone that expects Zambrano to replicate a 3.33 ERA with a WHIP above that of Randy Wells, who posted a 4.26 ERA, is dead wrong. Seeing that alone lets me know that Zambrano needs to be gone. What’s worse is that the bottom-3 starters are barely average. That means that the Cubs would need a great offense to make up for it, and they certainly do not have that at this time. I’m seeing another losing season.

Originally, I came into this post looking to find a taker for Zambrano, but now Jim Hendry has ruined those hopes. So, now, the Chicago fan base has to pray that the Cubs move one of Wells, Gorzelanny, and Silva in a trade or to the bullpen so they can bring in a starting pitcher. Of those three, I see Silva as the most likely because of his age and injury concerns.

The first target in free agency to fill a rotation spot was Brandon Webb. He has since managed an outing where he topped 81 MPH and demanded a contract that rivals those of Rich Harden and Ben Sheets, ignoring that both of those pitchers were utter failures for Texas and Oakland, respectively. So, no Cliff Lee, no Brandon Webb. Where does that leave the market?

At a glance, the names that pop out are: Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang, Javier Vazquez, and Jorge De La Rosa. Taking Lilly back if he is offered arbitration would make little sense. It would mean giving up a draft pick to bring a player back that we clearly sold low on (Blake DeWitt was really the best we could get?). Harang is dead, no doubt about it. Vazquez would be Carlos Silva with more strikeouts. So, Jorge De La Rosa it is.

If this is the best the market has to offer, then the Cubs are in serious trouble. His 110 ERA+ was actually WORSE away from Coors Field. His K/9 drops from 9.5 to 6.9. His ERA rises from 4.10 to 4.36. His WHIP goes from 1.24 to 1.42. This is a 30-year-old whose 110 ERA+ has actually ranked as his best season in his career.

Now, after looking at the free agent market, I think it makes more sense to just let Carlos Silva get shelled rather than dish out money to watch someone else do it for him. So, does anyone have any ideas on trade options?





Should Big Z Get the Boot?

30 09 2010

Here is what seems to be the most difficult question facing Cubs management heading into the 2011 season:

Should the Cubs trade Carlos Zambrano this offseason?

Trading Zambrano is starting to look like no-win territory. There, of course, are the lobbyists that will never believe that Zambrano has or can turn a corner from his hotheaded nature or find consistency relative to a staff ace–being that dominant, innings-eating horse that he was when he got his current contract. Then, there are some who may think that he has at least established himself as a solid starter, worthy of a #2 or #3 spot in the rotation of most baseball clubs. And, as always, there has to be a middle ground on the matter.

Personally, I am doing this article in part to find out which side of the line I stand on here. There are compelling points for (past stats, the no-hitter, his desire to stay here) and against (2007, 2008, 2009, the start of 2010) keeping Zambrano, so let’s dive right in. Seeing as Zambrano started off as poorly as one can hope to never do, let’s traverse the bad of Zambrano first. After being a 4-5 WAR pitcher from 2003-2006, Zambrano put up back-to-back 2.8 WAR seasons in 2007 and 2008. He rebounded to a more in-line 3.6 in 2009, but he managed to win just 9 games (I know, I know–wins never fairly judge a pitcher, but COME ON–9 wins from the staff ace?!). And then the flood gates opened like I’ve never seen from Zambrano.

On Opening Day, Zambrano put up one of the worst lines I’ve seen from him: 1 1/3 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 1 KO, 2 HR. Of course, many remember that more as Jason Heyward’s coming out party, but many Cubs fans thought it had signified the beginning of the end for Big Z when the Cubs finally limped into the All-Star Break, and it didn’t get much better from there.

For starters, it was so bad that I have to actually type this and sound less than stabbed in the chest: Zambrano was relegated to bullpen duty after lowering his ERA to (here comes the stab) 7.45 after his fourth start. The move was two-fold: Zambrano sucked as a starter, and Grabow was worse as a reliever, meaning Z didn’t fit in his role, and no one in the bullpen fit in the 8th inning role. As a reliever in April, Zambrano allowed one earned run in four innings. Through April, Zambrano was settled to a horrific 6.56 ERA.

May saw Zambrano produce eight scoreless outing as a reliever, but it was ruined by two appearances that produced five earned runs, giving him a 5.00 ERA for the month. Of course, baseball fans know well what June brought.

The month started with three more embarrassments from the former ace, in which he posted a 4.96 ERA–15 1/3 IP, 11 R (8ER), 11 BB, 9 KO. Then, a little hope arrived: 7 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 KO; Zambrano may be back, right? WRONG. The next outing was what some thought to be the final straw.

On June 25th, Zambrano took the mound against the rival Chicago White Sox. He managed to allow four runs (all earned) on four hits in the first inning. Like clockwork, Zambrano’s annual epic meltdown arrived. He did as he frequently has, and began stomping around, throwing a fit about how players weren’t diving for balls and letting off steam in an unnecessary, childish tantrum. However, Derrek Lee would have none of it, and he confronted Zambrano. This led to a heated argument between the two, and Zambrano’s day was done after that. Shortly after, Zambrano was suspended and sent to anger management.

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Should Zambrano's up-and-down year be the reason to ship him off?

That trip did wonders. Zambrano returned to the mound on July 31st, and had a scoreless two-thirds of an inning. After a couple more relief appearances, the Cubs let him back into the rotation, and he took off. Granted, the first two outings were rather rocky (10 2/3 IP, 4 ER, 9 BB), but Zambrano has been strong as a whole, in terms of on-field production.

Since coming back from rehab, Zambrano has posted a 2.23 ERA in 7 appearances (5 starts) in August, and a 0.78 ERA in 5 September starts. His ERA+ has skyrocketed to a strong 130. Of course, he needs to lower the walks (41 walks and 59 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings pitched). Still, that he is getting a solid strikeout total and going deep into games with some frequency (4/10 starts were 7+ IP; 7/10 were 6+ IP) is a great sign. His xFIP is a much higher 4.47 on the season, but you take what you can get at this point.

And that’s the rub: do the Cubs ride the wave of success or cash out as soon as the season ends? Zambrano’s not a cheap cat–he makes$17.875 million in 2011, $18 million in 2012, has a $19.25 million vesting option (top-2 in 2011 Cy Young voting or top-4 in 2012 and healthy after 2012), plus a full no-trade clause (Jim Hendry’s bread and butter tactic to screw the team). So, even if the Cubs DO determine that moving Zambrano is the way to go, the options will be limited to a specific grouping of teams:

1. Those who actually want/need Zambrano

2. Those who can afford Zambrano

3. Those Zambrano will be willing to play for–meaning, contenders

My goal is to determine if Zambrano should be traded, not who he could go to (at least, that is the case for now). So, let us recap with a pros and cons list:

Pro-Zambrano:

1. He has typically been durable in his career.

2. He has been a staff ace in the past.

3. He has appeared to settle down mentally.

4. He has pitched well of late.

Con-Zambrano:

1. He is expensive.

2. No one can ever believe he is completely past the mental breakdowns.

3. He has been rather lucky, with an ERA-xFIP of -1.11.

4. His leadership skills are less than spectacular.

5. The team has plenty of pitching prospects to replace Zambrano, and he is at a sell-high point.

So, 4 pros and 5 cons. Of course, those are in no way the end-all, be-all facts and points of interest in the matter. But there is one thing that cannot be denied: Zambrano has a fla9ir for the dramatic, and not in a good way. He is arrogant, disruptive, and childish at his worst, and the highs have not outweighed the lows lately.

In my opinion, the cubs would be better off by trading Zambrano to anyone that will take 50% of his contract or more, though I would say 70% is my magic number to absolutely get him moved. It would allow them to address the issue of a true staff ace, among other issues.

What would Zambrano bring in return? Ideally, he would bring at least what Ted Lilly brought, which really was not much–another mediocre 2B/3B like Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker (Blake DeWitt) and a couple of mid-level prospects. The best-case scenario to me is if a team takes 70% of his contract and offers a 3-player prospect package, at least one of which is a B-level corner infield prospect.





2011 Chicago Cubs: First Base

10 09 2010

Two articles in, and I haven’t even discussed the team I’m here to represent, the Chicago Cubs! If I can’t do that, why am I even here?

So, let’s get down to business. The Cubs sent Derrek Lee off to Atlanta a few weeks back, gaining a return of a few pitching prospects that some minors expert can analyze.

Derrek Lee was traded to the Braves at the July trade deadline for Robinson Lopez and two other prospects.

What I want to focus on is how this will affect the Cubs for next season.

As of now, Cubs fans have been getting a steady diet of Xavier Nady at first, with a dash of Micah Hoffpauir on occasion. We’ll ignore the five games Captain Quad A has manned first and focus on Nady to start. Nady’s defense definitely hasn’t been great. He has posted a -0.8 UZR, not terrible, but bad considering he is replacing the +2.1 UZR Lee was posting this year (along with a career +7.3).

Nady has never been much of a defender (his career UZR at his primary position of RF is a -12.7). As a hitter, getting the regular playing time at first has helped him a bit. He’s hit .289, but his lack of pop (.141 ISO at first) makes putting him on a team as an everyday 1B is a mistake. Without a serviceable option in the minors, the Cubs are going to have to look outward into the free agent pool this winter, in the hopes of finding a new (or old?) 1B.

Rather than spend ten pages going through all of the mediocre free agents (Lyle Overbay, Mark Katosay, Troy Glaus) or covering the bases with every trade option (Yonder Alonso, Chris Davis, Alex Gordon, etc.), let’s stick to the big boys: Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Pena. The Cubs have a lot of money coming off of the books from Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly, so those funds need to go somewhere. The question is: where do they go?

First up, we’ll tackle the former Cub Derrek Lee. While he has always been a fan favorite and an outstanding defender (see the aforementioned UZR totals), it would be tough to see him back. His numbers were way down after a strong 2009, and he vetoed a trade to the Angels once. It makes me wonder if Cubs management basically a) begged him to leave to get some return on their investment, or b) told him to get lost because they were letting him walk either way. The defense and clubhouse presence would be nice, but the team needs some offense, and I cannot help but wonder if the man exited on less than ideal terms (and he probably wants to play for a sure-fire contender at his age).

Lance Berkman has an option for next year. At $15 million, it is a very pricey chunk of change for a man who has put up a 97 OPS+ as a Yankee and has been in steady decline for a couple of years now. Instead, look for him to get bought out by the Yankees (and watch the $13 million saved go towards Jeter’s salary). Defensively, he could be the piece the Cubs need to replace Derrek Lee. His UZR this year is a +3.8, even higher than Derrek’s +2.1. Still, he is a less than reliable hitter now, and I have heard nothing to indicate that the Cubs are looking at him. Personally, I think going after a guy that plays solid defense and can hit around .280 with an OPS over .800 would be splendid, but–as I said before–there are no signs pointing to this match.

Then we have the cream of the infield crop, Adam Dunn. Dunn has always been known as a masher with a glove of stone, and he still is, but his defense is less like that of a black hole this year, raising his UZR from a -14.3 to a -1.9. His hitting is still fantastic, though. His SLG is up a bit, but his OBP is way down (due to a drop in walks from 116 to 67 thus far), leading to a 13-point drop in OPS. The problem in signing Dunn is the money. Even a deep-pocketed team with a lot of free money like the Cubs would struggle with taking his deal on.

Although Adam Dunn would be the Cubs' #1 choice, his asking price is too steep for their taste.

His demands will likely sit in the 3+ years and $15 million+ range, and the Cubs are already trying to fix the messes of Carlos Zambrano and Kosuke Fukudome. To pile on, they will still be stuck with Alfonso Soriano’s ugly mistake until 2014, so taking an aging hitting machine is a risk, even one as consistently powerful as Dunn.

This leads us to my personal preference, Carlos Pena. That’s right, folks, I prefer the 33-tear old first baseman with a sub-.200 average. Why? Several reasons. First off, the walks. He may sport a saddening .203 average, buy his on-base percentage is still a useful .330, crazy for a guy to manage that, huh? His power is another bonus as well. Fans and critics have begged for a power bat from the lefty side for years (Dunn could work, but the money hurts).

Although Pena sports a mediocre .203 batting average, his power numbers and and strong BB% could help the Cubs in 2011.

He should be good for about 30-35 home runs for a few more years, and that would help to break up the monotony of Byrd, Ramirez, and Soriano.

Of course, the man is far from flawless. His average is a mess. Even his career average is a weak .242. His defense has been suspect for a couple of years now, and one does not typically have a spiritual awakening with the glove at age 33. The final reasoning I prefer Pena to the other options is probably the most important: the commitment.

I expect Carlos Pena to take the Adrian Beltre route next year. He will look for a reasonably priced deal for 2011, and will in turn try to restore some value to his stock before looking for one last multi-year deal before 2012. His price tag should sit in the $5-8 million range, and that is more than reasonable for a power bat at a position the Cubs desperately need production. Grabbing Pena would allow them to look for a prospect to groom for a year or two (maybe the Red Sox would send them Lars Anderson?), while not costing them the entirety of their offseason budget.

This way, the Cubs can look to fill the other holes they have this offseason: the back-end of their rotation and the bullpen.





Back to the Future: Mark Prior

6 09 2010

Posted by cubs223425

My procrastination occasionally causes me great stress. Then there are those occasional times that it benefits me. This time is the latter. I have been meaning to post another article on the 2011 1B option for the Cubs (and I will…eventually!), but I’ve been thinking about school and being lazy. Then, I saw that the Texas Rangers had signed Mark Prior. I knew immediately that the aforementioned Cubs article would have to wait (a bit more on that shortly).

So, I was set to start an article on the reappearance of Mark Prior. Of course, though, I was too lazy. I played Call of Duty. I managed my fantasy baseball teams. I banned TrueBlue (I’m sure there were cheers). Well, it all worked out in the end, because now that I shook off the apathy, I started this article on the perfect day.

If Prior can return to his dominant form and stay healthy out of the bullpen, he could possibly snag himself a deal with another big league club this offseason.

Why is today the perfect day? Because Mark Prior made his debut for the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the PCL (AAA) affiliate of the Texas Rangers last night. When I started following baseball, Prior was the guy I latched onto. He was my favorite player, and will always be, whether he comes back on a white stallion or flames out in the minors and gets hurt again. In his one inning of work, Prior threw 16 of his 28 pitches for strikes, allowing two hits, walking one, and striking out a pair of Omaha Royals (he lucked out of facing Mike Moustakas, thankfully). While the RedHawks ultimately lost 9-1, it was a rare occurrence where you could legitimately claim a moral victory.

Anybody who has followed baseball for more than a couple of years knows the story of Mark Prior. #2 pick (behind Joe Mauer). Can’t-miss prospect (leading to that record bonus; a record Stephen Strasburg broke last year). Savior of the Cubs. Well, it seemed to be that way back then.

Prior came onto the scene in Chicago in 2002, after making the AA and AAA hitters he faced to start the year look like children. He posted a  solid 3.32 ERA in 19 starts, good for a  122 ERA+. The following season, there was no minor league stop to make. It was his time, and everyone knew it.

Working off of his previous season’s success, Prior was a dominant ace for the Cubs, as they worked their way into the playoffs behind a deadly pitching staff (anchored by what was thought to be an unstoppable force of Carlos Zambrano, Prior, and Kerry Wood–plus Matt Clement and Shawn Estes). Even looking now, I wonder how he managed the numbers: 211 1/3 IP, 18-6, 2.43 ERA, 1.103 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 4.9 K/BB, 179 ERA+*

*Looking into the 2003 Cy Young voting, I saw Prior finished 3rd. Who won that year? Eric Gagne, and his 337 ERA+, 337! Seriously, what happened to him? You don’t forget how to pitch like that.

Of course, if you know the success, you know the failure. No need to go through the stats, but here’s basically how it went:

Steve Bartman robbed Moises Alou of a catch (that he said he couldn’t get, then said he could). Prior and the Cubs imploded in Game 6 after that, then in Game 7. The Florida Marlins won the World Series, one that Chicago could have gotten if they went into a matchup with the New York Yankees with Prior, Wood, and Zambrano. Then the injuries came.

Honestly, I was too young to remember it all. It was just a constant, depressing blur. The shoulder went. Prior came back. It went again. There was the collision that started it all. There was a liner off of his elbow–the one thing I can still vividly remember; seeing it slam off his elbow. Watching Aramis Ramirez dive into foul territory to make the catch (yeah, he was hit so hard he produced a line out in foul territory to third). Knowing he was gone for a LONG time (even someone as young as I was knew elbows don’t survive that).

This was my guy. I followed him almost religiously. He was my first baseball jersey. Heck, he was baseball to me. I watched all of this, and I didn’t wonder if the baseball gods hated him. I wondered if they hated ME.

He made a few attempts to come back in Chicago, but he kept ending up under the knife. Over. And over. And over. Eventually, the magic was gone, and Prior was, too. He made a couple of attempts with the San Diego Padres, but to the same disastrous ends. But he got an indie league to sign him this season.

Prior made a few appearances, totaling 11 innings. He struck out 22 of the 44 batters he faced. His fastball sat in the 90-92 range, close to what he typically threw pre-injuries (according to him; I was too young to care for MPH when I watched him). Apparently, that domination was enough to convince Texas to take a chance. So far, so good.

Now, here we are, more than 9 years after Prior was Stephen Strasburg. He’s turning 30 tomorrow (September 7th), older than the 21 he was when he made his MLB debut, but nowhere near Jamie Moyer.

Sadly, though, he was signed a few days short of the postseason deadline, but that may be for the best. He can finish up the AAA season and throw some side sessions, all at his own pace. Then, next year, he can show up to Spring Training with the chance to earn a roster spot.

He said himself he doesn’t care about where he gets slotted. Of course, he’s not going to be made a starter (maybe in a year or so, he could, but unlikely). He talks of taking a middle reliever’s job, hoping to be given an occasional 8th inning job. Who know? Maybe he can follow in his former rotation-mate Kerry Wood’s footsteps and become a closer.

But no matter what happens, I’ll still be here–awaiting this rehab as eagerly as the first.