It is that time of year and in the spirit of season, it’s time to hand out gifts to some of the Cubs players. Let’s start with the hitters first.
For the Rizz, I would like to give him an upgraded lineup with protection from pitchers being able to pitch around him as much. In 2014, Rizzo tied with Luis Valbuena for the highest BB% (11.9%). That was because of two things: awesome pitch selection from Rizzo and the fact that there wasn’t much protection for him in the lineup.
Ideally Baez, Soler, and Bryant provide some of this protection, but how about a lefty power bat to take more pressure off of Rizzo in 2014? I would love Carlos Gonzalez (if he is healthy), who could provide immediate legitimacy to the lineup.
I do think the kids will take steps forward this season, but a veteran presence that can mash would be preferred.
2014 was a huge rebound year for Castro, as he slashed .292/.339/.438 with 14 HR and 65 RBI. I will give him increased patience at the plate. In 2014, Castro set a career high in BB% at 6.2%, which was a huge bump compared to his career-low 2013 of 4.3%.
If Castro can improve on that BB%, his spot towards the top of the order would be solidified and he could even make an argument to hit 3rd with the boppers coming up after him. The scary thing is that Castro will be only 25 years old on Opening Day, so there is plenty of growth left for him.
He saw a pretty large bump in his HR/FB (HR per flyball) rate, which rose from 6.3% in 2013 to 10.1% in 2014. If Castro keeps that rate up he could hit 20+ HRs over a full season (remember he missed almost the entire last month of 2014).
I would give Luis Valbuena a chance to be an everyday starter somewhere else. Kris Bryant will be coming up early in 2015 (if not at the beginning) and unless the Cubs put Bryant in LF (which is definitely possible), Luis is going to be without a spot.
Valbuena came off a career year in 2014 with a slash of .249/.341/.435, an ISO of .186 and a WAR of 2.7. These are not the numbers of a player that deserves to lose his job, but they are not good enough to block a super prospect either.
If the Cubs do move Valbuena, he get the chance to go to a contender and play a big role for their team. Obviously, the Giants made a ton of sense before they traded for Casey McGehee, but maybe the Padres or Phillies would be a fit.
Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara all will receive improved contact numbers. Soler had a small sample size (only 24 games), but Baez and Alcantara had pretty decent burns in the majors; the lack of contact was a glaring weakness for all 3 super prospects.
Just check out these contact numbers (granted they will probably even out over the course of a full season for all three):
NOTE: Average for Contact% is 80% and for K% it is 20% (obviously dependent on the type of hitter we are talking about)
Jorge Soler is the closest to being average on the list here and I don’t really see much wrong with his K% either, but he could improve on his Contact%; Alcantara and Baez will need to take a pretty big step forward.
The most exciting thing about Baez is the fact that he has adjusted and feasted at whatever level he’s played. Even though he will probably be an all-or-nothing guy for most of his career, I think we should expect a little better Contact% after he adjusts to MLB pitching.
Now let’s give some gifts to the pitchers:
For Edwin Jackson, I would like to give him $22 million to stay home or go pitch for another team. He signed a 4-year $52 million deal in 2012 ($8 million for a signing bonus), so he has 2 more years at $11 million per. The Cubs need to either move him for another bad contract or just eat the money and say goodbye.
I can see no scenario that plays out with Jackson on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster. I don’t think his stuff plays as well out of the ‘pen and even if it did the Cubs would be paying a reliever that isn’t the closer $11 million a year, which isn’t really something teams do.
Jackson just was not a good investment in terms of years or dollars, but that is a mistake a financial juggernaut like the Cubs should be able to move on from without batting an eye.
Jake Arrieta had a career year in 2014 and looked like the unquestioned ace of the staff. The Cubs have since added Jon Lester and Jason Hammel to the rotation and could add one more arm to the rotation. For Jake, I would like to give the gift of health.
Fangraphs took a look at Jake Arrieta’s use of the slider/cutter/slutter and what that meant for his long-term health. It’s an interesting read, but does raise some red flags about his health going into 2015.
Essentially, the article says that pitchers that all of a sudden start using their slider/cutter/slutter a ton more in a given year tend to have arm injuries the following year. And in Arrieta’s case that number went from never being higher than 16% in a given year to 28% in 2014.
If you recall, Arrieta started the year on the DL and didn’t make his first start until early May, finishing with only 25 starts total. The article stated that, given Arrieta’s injury history and the fact that he threw more sliders than ever before, he is a good bet to spend some more time on the DL next season.
My hope is that this doesn’t happen, but it is comforting to know that the Cubs have added some serious talent to the rotation and might not be done.
To Travis Wood, I’m going to go ahead and give a map of the city of Philadelphia. The Phillies are rumored to be interested and a deal of Travis Wood for Ben Revere does make some sense for both teams.
Travis Wood was unable to duplicate his success from 2013, when he was thought of as a possible long-term solution. He still stayed mostly healthy, but produced very average to even below-average results (xFIP=4.51).
With what I just wrote about Arrieta, it is possible that Wood is held onto for insurance reasons. Then again, it is possible that the Cubs have enough depth with Wada, Hendricks, Doubront, etc to make up for an injuries in the rotation.
Hector Rondon is going to get peace of mind that he is the closer of the 2015 Cubs. Much has been made about the incentives in Jason Motte’s one-year, $4.5 million contract and how they are based on games finished, but I would thinks Rondon would have to have meltdowns early and often for a change to take place (plus, Motte would have to be his dominant self again).
Hector Rondon’s 2014 was an awesome surprise; he had 29 saves, with an xFIP of 2.81 and a WAR of 1.5. Rondon showed excellent control with a 2.13 BB/9 and a propensity for the K with almost exactly one per inning pitched. Not bad for a young cost-controlled closer.
Rondon deserves the closer’s role until he proves he can’t do it anymore and it’s no sure thing Jason Motte will ever resemble what he used to be after coming back from TJ surgery. Plus, if Rondon falters, I would rather see Neil Ramirez get a shot instead.
That is all of my gifts for the 2014 Cubs. I considered doing a naughty and nice list, but outside of Edwin Jackson and Javier Baez and his bat filled with holes, I had a hard time coming up with enough guys for the former. But in the spirit of the holiday season, feel free to throw out a naughty/nice list of your own in the comments.