The Rundown: Deferring To Theo and Jed, Thoughts on Lincecum and Lee, Top 20 Cubs Prospects
Top Of The First
My apologies for lack of a recent column as I have had some professional obligations that were a much higher priority. I have been reading all of the Cubs Insider posts and comments every day, however, and have been keeping tabs on everybody. That being said, I will not have an article on Monday as I am scheduled for an operative procedure on my heart today. I have been waiting since September for this surgery and I am looking forward to a healthy, post-op spring and summer and counting on a Chicago Cubs World Championship.
It’s Always Best To Defer To Theo and Jed
It was nice to get to the Cubs Convention last week and meet Evan Altman and Ryan Davis as well as some of the other Cubs bloggers. I felt a little bit in over my head, especially at Lizzie McGuire’s, where I stood shoulder to shoulder with my favorite writers.
While Evan and I were waiting for the festivities to start, we talked about those instances where we were surprised the Cubs did or did not make a move regarding particular players. One of those was Jorge Soler. It’s no great stretch, given the tendencies of Chicago’s front office and their reliance on big data, that the Cubs would likely prefer to play Jason Heyward in right field and every single metric backs that up.
Right now, Soler is their starting right fielder with Heyward switching over to center field. I thought it was telling, and maybe I am stretching it a bit when I heard Heyward say, “I am the starting center fielder right now.” Could the Cubs still trade Soler? What would it take to move the oft-mentioned trade candidate?
For starters, they’d need a new center fielder. Chris Coghlan could theoretically play there but he would be atrocious. Javier Baez is getting reps in center field but it would be a bold and risky — if not potentially disastrous — move to dedicate the position to him. My personal feeling is that Dexter Fowler is completely off the table because I believe the Cubs would rather not meet his contractual demands and probably attach a higher value to the compensatory draft pick they would get with Fowler signing elsewhere. Austin Jackson? Maybe, but “uncomfortably meh.” Albert Almora? There’s some prospect fatigue¹ attached to Almora but he is a quality player. He’s just not ready yet.
Soler could be a monster, but he also could be quite the opposite. He showed what he is capable of in last season’s playoffs, but he also struggles against pitches that tend to bend. I think he will be alright defensively and he has a cannon for an arm.
And he is still a member of the 2016 Chicago Cubs, a roster that, according to Theo Epstein, is complete and not likely to be upgraded through major acquisition. And let’s face it, the Cubs have certainly received intriguing and enticing offers for Soler — he’s young, inexpensive, signed long-term, has a lightning bat, and oozes potential. In fact, 29 general managers know that the Cubs would like to have one more starting pitcher and that they would likely require a cost-controlled arm in return for Soler. Still, Jorge Soler remains in the Cubs 2016 plans.
I know the Cubs have Adam Warren, Trevor Cahill and Travis Wood as potential starters, hopefully in spot situations only. All work better as relievers, just as Jason Heyward is more suited for right field.
And this is where we defer to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Unless they are completely overwhelmed, Soler will open the 2016 in right field with the Chicago Cubs while Jason Heyward patrols center field. Whether that situation plays out for the entire season remains to be seen. But if Soler needs to be moved — for a pitching emergency, for example — it is important to note that a front office with a compelling need usually gets less return value for the player in question.
Would You Give Tim Lincecum or Cliff Lee A Shot?
Tim Lincecum is scheduled to throw for scouts and Cliff Lee is seeking to make a Major League comeback. Could either interest the Cubs? Signing Lee or Lincecum is more of a buy-low attempt at finding a diamond in the rough that has gathered a little too much dust and the Cubs are most definitely a win-now team. Lincecum, with age on his side, is more intriguing of the two.
Once upon a time “The Freak” was the best pitcher in the game, a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner who eclipsed 200 strikeouts and 200 innings in every season between 2008 and 2011 for the San Francisco Giants. He’s still just 31 years old. A degenerative hip seems to be the root cause for a slow, steady decline in skills starting with Lincecum’s 2012 season.
Lincecum’s father, Chris, who helped develop his son’s unorthodox delivery and has been his longtime coach and confidant, said Tim met with his surgeon, Dr. Marc Philippon, and was told his hip looks “perfect.”
His showcase will be telling. If he is successful, he will probably be too expensive for the Cubs and may command a two or three-year deal. Lee, on the other hand, is 38 years old, opted against elbow surgery, and is mostly just a well-rested old guy at this point.
If this was 2012 I could see the Cubs taking a flyer on either, particularly Lincecum, in hopes of flipping one or the other for prospects at the trade deadline. But not this year.
Fact, Fiction, Truth Or Rumor
John Sickels released his Top 20 Cubs Prospects article yesterday. I thought he was a bit aggressive on Duane Underwood, who I see as a relief pitcher only. Also, no mention of recent IFA signee Eddy Martinez, which I assume was merely an oversight.
The Cubs have signed former Blue Jays infielder Munenori “Muni” Kawaski to a minor-league deal.
Wrigleyville bar owners want the playing field to be level when it comes to the Cubs’ new Plaza, especially when it comes to security, food requirements, and hours of operation.
Anthony Castrovince makes a definitive case for the National league to adopt the Designated Hitters rule. I would love to see players of Vogelbachian stature hitting on a daily basis but I would certainly miss those unexpected bombs from Jake Arrieta as well as the occasional Crosstown Classic grand slam from Travis Wood. I will state for the record that it would be unfair to implement the rule for this season as rosters have been tailored for pitchers that hit. That being said, the Cubs would be able to get Javier Baez in the lineup every day if it was implemented for 2016.
ESPN would like to see an initiative from Commissioner Rob Manfred to raise salaries for minor league players. ESPN also wants an automated strike zone, which I personally hope never happens, at least in my lifetime.
The U.S Department of Homeland Security wants baseball owners to recognize the new realities with increased security in all major league studies — potentially to include vehicle inspection in stadiums with parking lots — starting with the 2016 season.
A great piece on Monte Irvin: Irvin almost beat Jackie Robinson to the majors when baseball finally integrated in 1947. Irvin was too out of shape after serving combat duty in WWII and was admittedly suffering from “war nerves” (PTSD), so Robinson was chosen instead. Irvin passed away at 96 on January 11th.
Bottom Of The Ninth
I think we can all agree that this baseball season can’t get here soon enough. We are on the back nine of the offseason now with Spring Training just three weeks away. When Evan and I were at the Cubs Convention we were amazed at the youth and talent of the 2016 Chicago Cubs. Championships are never won on paper, but this team is poised for a long, successful run that could go a decade or more. I was excited to hear on the radio that Theo Epstein is already working on potential rosters five and six seasons out.
Oddly, some writers think it’s time for the Cubs to make changes in the front office. That’s beyond absurd. I wonder what the “other” Chris Carpenter is doing these days? He was the PTBNL after the Cubs signed Epstein away from the Boston Red Sox.
¹ Prospect fatigue is when a prospect has been in the public consciousness for so long that he appears to have lost some of his luster, when in reality he contains the same potential we initially assessed.