A Winter of Low Risks and Possibly Low Rewards

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As Christmas nears in 3 days, the Hot Stove Season will come to a screeching halt. As for the Cubs, they have made quite a few moves this off-season. However, only a few moves have been made to address the major league club for this season. Most of the moves made were minor league deals with hopes of becoming major league deals. The Cubs have added several arms, catchers, and outfielders with hopes that the players can go from AAA to the big leagues successfully. They are all low risk financially with possible high rewards if they somehow can make a final leap to the big leagues, an adjustment many have yet to do at this point. The big elephant of the off-season, Masahiro Tanaka, still has not been posted by Rakutan and he is the crown free agent jewel, someone I think the Cubs are going to go all in on…if he gets posted.

The Big League Roster Additions

The Bullpen

This was the Achilles heel of the Cubs to start the 2013 season. Over the course of the year, the bullpen improved dramatically, and then ebbed and flowed throughout the summer as arms were added and subtracted. Jose Veras was signed this past week along with lefty Wesley Wright. These two veterans lengthen out the bullpen and help to solidify roles up and down the back half of the game. Russell, Rondon, Parker, Villanueva, and Strop now have clearer roles and they maybe won’t be so over used this season. By signing these two it also creates starter depth at the AAA level as Justin Grimm, Brooks Raley, and Zach Rosscup can stay stretched out at Iowa.

The majority of pitchers added were signed to minor league deals. Most notable is lefty Johnathon Sanchez. The former starter for San Francisco, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh could add a third lefty to the pen, a luxury most teams do not enjoy. He has some issues to work on as do other signees Liam Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada. Tommy Hottovy, Carlos Pimmentel, and Paolo Espino.

I really, really like what the Cubs have done by addressing the bullpen first. And, I like it a lot. Add in the possible returns of Arodys Vizcaino, and Kyuji Fujikawa, Pitching Coach Chris Bosio will have a plethora of arms to descend upon the mound in the 6th-9th innings next year and for a few years to come. There flame throwers and soft tossers, but the mixture will allow Renteria to mix and match righties and lefties at will. This was something Dale Sveum never was able to do. I know this is going to sound strange, but the Cubs just by having a shutdown pen could be a .500 team in baseball’s toughest division. They could win a lot more one run games and the 26 blown saves (Yes…26!!!!!!!!) of 2013 would be a thing of the past. Even if they only blow half of those of 26, they immediately become a .500 team in 2014.

Catchers
The Cubs have added several catchers, an organizational weakness, this off-season. Only two of those will likely see action at Wrigley in 2013. The Cubs traded cash to the Royals for George Kottaras. A Cub killer when he was on the Brewers, Kottaras will provide excellent defense along with a very high on-base percentage. He doesn’t hit for power much, nor does he hit a high average, but he does draw a lot of walks. In 46 games in 2013, he drew 24 walks and 2 hit by pitches for an OBP of .349. In 2012 at Milwaukee, he was over .400. The other new catcher who could see duty is John Baker. Baker spent most of his career in Florida and is a good ddefensive catcher. It is likely that he will be the “Crash Davis” of the Iowa Cubs by mentoring young pitchers to get them ready to pitch in Chicago. He is kind of like an extra coach in my mind.

Infielders
The Cubs did sign a couple of infielders to minor league deals but they aren’t even worth mentioning.

Outfielders
The Cubs also gambled on some low-risk high reward outfielders this off-season. Going into 2014, the Cubs outfield was a patchwork quilt of cast-offs and former infielders. Nate Schierholtz was the only natural outfielder on the roster along with Brian Bogusevic. The Cubs immediately went out and resigned the versatile Ryan Sweeney , who can play all three outfield positions. Sweeney, when healthy, showed some pop in his bat, too. Bogusevic, as a lefty, was recently traded to Florida in exchange for Justin Ruggiano. Ruggiano will fare better in Wrigley than he did in cavernous Marlins Park. It is likely that Ruggiano will complement Schierholtz against lefties. Junior Lake is going to play most everyday, likely in center. Sweeney will be in left while the Cubs have discussed allowing Josh Vitters an opportunity to play in the big leagues as the right-handed complement to Sweeney or when Sweeney fills in for Junior in center.

The Cubs did sign four others to minor league deals — all have seen some action at the major league level. Mitch Maier, Darnell McDonald and Capser Wells are in their late 20s and early 30s. None has met with much success, and thus their rewards are very low.

Ryan Kalish, on the other hand, is only 25. He has battled injuries but there is still hope. Coming from the Red Sox organization,Ryan Kalish – another left handed hitting outfielder for the Cubs will likely start the season at AAA Iowa Kalish has the potential to do great things if he can stay healthy. He does have some nice pop, and a good glove. Here is a scouting reporting from soxprospects.com on Kalish

Scouting Report: Excellent athlete with a solid build, good bat speed, and lots of quickness. Plays the game at full tilt. The organization has worked with Kalish on his plate patience, and over time he has come to demonstrate an excellent approach at the plate. Average to above-average present power, has potential to add more. Makes solid contact and hits to all fields. Above-average speed. Steals a lot of bases due to his quick acceleration and high intelligence on the base paths. In the field, he has a reliable glove, excellent range, an average arm, and average accuracy. Tough competitor with a mature demeanor. Kalish tends to be a very popular player with coaches, teammates, and fans. Plays all three outfield positions. Likely projects as a corner outfielder at the major league level, but should be able to cover spot duty in center field. Missed significant parts of 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons with injuries.

Out of all the players signed this winter, Kalish, has the highest ceiling. The problems are his health, and if does get healthy, who do you sit? It might be a good problem to have.

The Outlook

The rest of the off-season is all about patience. Tanaka’s posting will set off a free agent feeding frenzy. Once Tanaka falls in line, then the remaining free agents will be signed including former Cub Matt Garza (and no the Cubs should not sign him, even for one year). I can see the Cubs resigning Scott Baker. Other than that, I think the Cubs would be willing to take the remains left in the scrap heap of DFAs and waivers come spring training. This front office appears willing to wait for position players to arrive. And in 2014, that means Mike Olt will be given a chance to earn the 3B nod in spring training; if he can’t, then Valbuena and Murphy will hold it for one more year before Bryant and Baez are ready. There are plans within plans. Next year, I believe, with the arrival of Baez, Bryant, and Soler (and maybe Almora for 2015), you will see the Cubs more active and bigger spenders. But not this year. It would just be a waste of money.

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