When the trade deadline passed with only a couple of minor transactions, I thought the Cubs roster was going to be set for the month of August. In September, the Cubs would then call up prospects on the 40 man roster and organizational players as rewards for a great year. I literally thought player movement for the organization was over. In fact, it turned out, it was only just beginning.
Word began to leak through the Baez family that one Ednel Javier Baez would be making his major league debut in Colorado on Tuesday. Soon confirmation from Bruce Levine of WSCR in Chicago set the twittersphere afire with anticipation. So, on Tuesday August 5, 2014, Javier Baez debuted against the Colorado Rockies. He went 1-6, but it was a great 1-6 as he hit a game winning home run in the 12th inning. The next night was just as not as good as he went 0-4. On Thursday, Cub fans hit the jackpot as Baez hit 2 home runs with 4 RBIs as he went 3-4. The streaks are something Cub fans are going to have to learn to live with.
The Cubs clearly targeted starting pitching as an offseason priority because of trading away Jeff Samardjiza and Jason Hammel on July 4. What went down on Wednesday sent me into a card creating frenzy. The Cubs claimed two pitchers, Jacob Turner and Cole Hamels, off waivers. I thought that the Cubs would be able to get Turner for a minimal price. Hamels, on the other hand, was a pipe dream of the Nth degree. There would be no way the Cubs could pay the cost to get him from the Phillies. Phillies GM Reuben Amaro would ask for the moon and Theo and Jed would laugh. And for all intents and purposes, they did.
But the Cubs may have laid the foundation for two things by claiming Hamels. One, they have opened a dialogue with the Phillies about acquiring Hamels this winter. Two, the Cubs have signaled that they are willing to spend to acquire a pitcher. Where Turner came at the cost of Tyler Bremmer and Jose Arias, two pitchers at ages 24 and 23, who were in low A ball, Hamels’ average salary would have been a little north of 22 million, a significant sum on a team that next year is only on the hook for a little over 30 million with Edwin Jackson making over a third of that.
Acquiring Turner and creating roster spot for him meant the Cubs had to release a player on the 40 man and the victim was Nate Schierholtz. He had a bad year, but he was a good guy, and by all accounts, a good guy to have on the team. For a contender, he could be a nice bat off the bench. But for the Cubs going forward, he was not a cog in the future machine. The Cubs also released Ryan Kalish from AAA Iowa to create another 40 man spot as Fujikawa returned.
I think Turner’s value going forward is multi-pronged. One, if he can simplify his arsenal, he can be a nice starting piece in the rotation. And at 23, he is still signed through 2018, although he is arbitration eligible after next year. Two, he can also be a power arm in the bullpen ala Neil Ramirez. Turner would likely go to two pitches as a reliever. The flexibility going forward is essential. I know he has been a starter in the past, and he has had some success as late as 2013, but he also was put on waivers for a reason. Hopefully a new start will do him and the Cubs good. I think he can a #3/#4 type starter.
The Cubs worked out Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo at Wrigley. At 27, the outfielder could provide some power and some speed at the top of the lineup. The Cubs could make a rush for him, but the better Cuban prospect is clearly 23 year old Yasmani Tomas; Tomas has much more power and is much younger. He would fit nicely into the Cubs’ plans!
Javy Baez’s debut at Wrigley proved to be very anti-climatic. I could feel the energy through the TV, but Baez looked overmatched for most of the game. He did get a single in his first at bat to raise his average to .360, but over the next 8 innings, the batting average dropped to down to .263. With 7 Ks in 19 at bats for the week, the strikeout percentage of 37%, is not sustainable over a entire season. I think for now, the Cubs are just going to let him be who he is. He screwed himself into the ground on several at bats swinging extremely hard.
The Cubs are in a unique position. What was seen as a weakness on July 5, starting pitching for 2015 has now evolved into a strength. The Cubs have 7 legitimate arms to compete for a rotation spot and 3 arms that could compete.
The legitimate starters: Jake Arrieta, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, Kyle Hendricks, Dan Straily, Felix Doubront, and Jacob Turner. All have major league credentials, some better than others, but none too broke to fix.
3 Possibles: Dallas Beeler, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez (the latter two will need stretched out)
Throw in a major MLB free agent and international free agent like Kenta Maeda, and all of a sudden, the Cubs have great depth. The name on everyone’s list is Jon Lester. He will be tough to pry away from returning to Boston and he will not come cheap. But if the Cubs can sign him, it opens the door to other players wanting to play with him. I would say the odds are not in the Cubs favor to get him, but you never know, you never know.
Minor League News and Notes
*Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant are just about ready. Soler will be up next month as he is already on the 40 man roster. Bryant, he will wait until next spring. That is going to be one exciting lineup next year!
*Billy McKinney continues to rake. For me, he is turning into an RBI machine and is moving up into the upper echelon of Cubs prospects.
*Albert Almora went down with a hamstring injury last night. The severity is not known.
*Pierce Johnson is trying to reclaim the mantle of the top pitching prospect in the organization. Last Sunday he went six innings, no runs allowed, and struck out six. His teammates, Corey Black and CJ Edwards, did not have good starts this week.
*Duane Underwood continues to shine for Kane County. He went 6 innings as well this week, struck out 7, but gave up one run. Fan reports had him throwing an “easy 94.”
*Chesny Young – “my surprise prospect of the year” – continues to rake at Kane County. His stat line for every game should just read 2 for 5 with 2 runs and an RBI.
*Trevor Clifton got back on the bus this week and had a nice start with 5 innings and 6 Ks with 1 earned run. He just needs to be more consistent. He waffles between bad and good starts.
*Kyle Schwarber had a monster night Thursday going 3 for 4 with a homer. He had been in a slump for about two weeks. He is currently hitting .257. I am sure he is a little tired having been playing full time since late January.
*Jacob Hannemann continues to impress at Daytona keeping his average near .300 and providing a spark from the leadoff spot.
*2014 second round pick Jake Stinnett made his debut in the AZL, He pitched in two games. Last night he started and went two innings without surrendering a run. He will likely get a couple of innings a week and not much more as he is already at an innings high for his young, underused arm.
*Addison Russell continues to plug away hitting 300 and Lars Anderson, also of Tennessee, is hitting .324 and getting some work in the outfield.
*Kevonte Mitchell continues to hit for a high average. This week he was moved from first in the order down to third. Washington product and recent draftee, Andrew Ely, stepped right in and kept hitting.
*Yohann Matos is putting together an excellent season in the Dominican. Along with Frandy de la Rosa, and several others, last year’s international class could make a big splash in the states next summer in Boise, Geneva, and Mesa.
I started to play around on a spreadsheet of where prospects will be assigned for next year. Figuring into that will be who is returning from injury and who will likely be released. It is looking very interesting, especially when it comes to pitching in the minors.