As we’ve seen over the course of their time in Chicago, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer love to stockpile bats through the draft and then go after arms via trade or free agency. A series of moves both real and rumored over the last day and a half speak to the latter half of the strategy and have the Cubs filling the 40-man roster with some (potentially) live arms.
I’ll get into the lesser-known names here in a bit, but first want to address the possibility of bringing Jeff Samardzija back to the North Side. The former Cub was seen having drinks with Epstein on Wednesday night and the Cubs have kept tabs on their prodigal son over the last year and a half. A reunion would make sense for both parties, provided the price is right.
I wrote a little while back about Shark’s gambit to earn a huge payday, a move that resulted in trades to Oakland and then back Chicago, albeit on the other side of town. Whether or not the proximity to his original club played a role may never be known, but the 2014 All-Star was certainly humbled by what had transpired since he was dealt in a July 4th blockbuster.
Perhaps he sees a return to Wrigley Field as an opportunity to take care of some unfinished business. Samardzija made no attempt to hide his disdain for playing on a team with no real hope to win, but the Cubs are in a very different spot now. In a twist few saw coming, the big trade basically reversed the fates of the two teams involved, if not all of Major League Baseball.
The Cubs actually played pretty well down the stretch in 2014, while the A’s stumbled out of first place before eventually losing to the Royals in the Wild Card game. Jon Lester and Jason Hammel, also acquired by the A’s, chose to sign — or re-sign, in Hammel’s case — with the Cubs and Addison Russell was called up early in the season and became a mainstay in the Cubs lineup.
Samardzija, meanwhile, was traded to the White Sox and was expected to parlay a big season into a more lucrative contract than the $85 millionish deal he had turned down the year before. Trouble is, he kinda stunk. Check that article I link earlier for the ugly details, but Shark just never settled in under pitching coach Don Cooper. Could the lanky righty be looking back at the green grass on Chris Bosio’s side of the fence?
When you’ve been in one place for a while, there’s a tendency to want to find out what else is out there. Can’t blame Samardzija for wanting to get a taste of life outside of the Cubs bubble. But if performance is any indicator, and I think it is, what he found is that sometimes you’re better off just staying put. The changes in Shark’s repertoire this past season were marked, and you have to wonder whether falling back under Bosio’s tutelage might yield a return to form.
Consider that Samardzija’s fastball made up only 39.6 percent of his offerings this season after never comprising less than 53.3 percent in previous years. Usage of the slider was up a little but, but he went to the cutter 23.1 percent fo the time, nearly twice as often as in 2014 (12.3 percent). Back to the fastball and its usage though. While Samardzija used the four-seamer a little more often than in 2014 (33.5 to 30.8), the two-seamer was almost completely eliminated (8.8 percent compared to 24.1 in 2014 and 27.7 in 2013). What had been his go-to pitch only two seasons ago had become an afterthought.
So can the Cubs keep Shark in captivity once more? They now have the winning team he desires, not to mention a completely different attitude under Joe Maddon. And if the Wizard of Boz can work a little magic, this could be the mid-level move to complement what is expected to be an even bigger free agent splash. Not every move sends ripples through the pond though.
Cubs claim Leathersich off waivers
The Cubs finally acquired one of the Mets’ pitchers! Okay, so we’re not talking about a trade for one of those abundant starting arms, but the Cubs did pluck a guy who’s known for striking out a lot of batters. Jack Leathersich boasts an awesome name and 15.2 K/9 over 210.2 minor league innings. There is, however, the small matter of the Tommy John surgery he underwent in July.
This could be a nice move if Leathersich, who generally works in the low 90’s and touches 95, can come back strong and continue to miss bats without also missing the zone. As with many big strikeout pitchers, the newest Cub has struggled with walks throughout his career, issuing 4.9 per 9 innings. He probably won’t be ready until sometime after the All-Star break, but could be available for what the Cubs hope is another stretch run.
Andury Acevedo signed
Speaking of stretch and hope, the man the Cubs just signed to a major league deal could be quite a project. A power arm who works in the mid-90’s and can approach triple digits, Andury Acevedo actually began his professional career as an infielder. He signed with the Pirates out of the Domincan Republic in 2007, then joined the Yankees organization in 2012 and was converted to a pitcher.
Tucker Blair of Baseball Prospectus had this to say about Acevedo last year:
Elite velocity [on fastball]; extremely poor command; erratic and all over the place; plays down the fastball a ton; extreme armside run with late explosion; would do a ton of damage if he could locate; command largely fails from the mechanics; pitch works against short-season rookies who have never seen elite velocity.[Slider] has some potential; arm slot adds deception; commands better than FB but still fringe; has hard bite and solid tilt; pure strikeout pitch; shows ability to sweep across and backdoor it.
But Acevedo tightened things up a little bit in 2015, as Jeff Todd writes:
The 25-year-old Acevedo sped up the ladder in the Yankees organization last year after starting the season at High-A. He ultimately reached the Triple-A level in time to make ten late-season appearances.
Acevedo, a converted infielder, worked to a composite 2.59 ERA with 7.5 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 over 59 total frames. He seemed to have limited the severe control issues he showed in his first couple of seasons after moving to the mound, but he did allow nine free passes in his 10 2/3 frames at the highest level of the minors.
Much like his new teammate, the Cubs likely won’t be expecting much from Acevedo. But he’s got the body (6-4, 235) to be pretty durable and is young enough (turned 25 in August) that the Cubs aren’t in any hurry to rush him up to the majors. If they can get the control issues worked out though, oh boy, that could be nice.
Bryce Harper wins Soundbite of the Night
Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson took home MVP awards last night, but it was a bit of Harper’s interview with Scott Van Pelt on SportsCenter that cracked me up. Before I get to that though, a quick word on the voting. Harper was a unanimous choice, which was a little bit of a surprise to me. Not that he didn’t deserve it, just that I figured at least one writer would have bumped him down for his team’s collapse.
It was nice to see Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta come in 4th and 6th, respectively, but it was Harper who stole the show. Now watch him whip. Now watch him “meme:”