If you told me at the beginning of the year that the Cubs would be one half a game out of a wild card spot after 52 games, I would take it. If you told me their offense would shut down in the middle of May and they would still be a half a game out of a wild card spot the first week of June, I would take it. And one more: If you told me the Cubs were half a game out of a wild card spot while playing three rookies as every day position players, I would take it. After seven years of losing, I would take anything that put them in contention.
Despite the growth of the team this year, there are those who would have you believe that this season is a disaster because they expect the team to win every game. That ain’t gonna happen. There is no scenario in which that would ever happen. To be a Cub fan this year one really needs to have realistic expectations. Don’t compare them to St. Louis, Pittsburgh, the Mets, Washington, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. This is a team that you are going to have to grow with. I know it’s something new, but you are going to have to not get too high, and not get too low as Bryant, Russell, and Soler struggle at the plate and in the field. Patience is the key.
When the bullpen blows a lead, or Hendricks makes a poor pitch, it is not the end of the world, and they are not overpaid. These are human beings who make mistakes. If you expect perfection, you are a fan of the wrong sport where succeeding 33% of the time for hitters is considered outstanding.
But I digress…
Now that I am off my soapbox, let’s address what the Cubs do need moving forward through the summer. They do have some weak spots. Dexter Fowler has been hitting under .200 since May 1, Chris Coghlan looks lost on fly balls to his right, the bullpen looks tired, and the bench is injured, thin, and weak.
For me, help will come from within. I don’t see the Cubs trading away any of their prime prospects for what amounts to rental players. I don’t see the Cubs investing $20 million/year in Cole Hamels AND giving up several top prospects. It’s not going to happen. I could see the Cubs trading away some very low level rookie league prospects and some players who are Rule 5 eligible this fall. But that’s it.
So, here are some Rule 5 names not on the 40 man roster who the Cubs might trade to get some help:
Roney Alcala, Gioskar Amaya, John Andreoli, Pedro Araujo, Jeffrey Baez, David Bote, Matt Brazis, Stephen Bruno, Jeimer Candelario, Ben Carhart, Francisco Carrillo, Erick Castillo, Zach Cates, Gerardo Concepcion, Josh Conway, Blake Cooper, Varonex Cuevas, Taylor Davis, Andin Diaz, Shawon Dunston Jr, Kevin Encarnacion, P. J. Francescon, Anthony Giansanti, Michael Heesch, Michael Jensen, Danny Lockhart, Barret Loux, Mark Malave, Dillon Maples, Ricardo Marcano, Justin Marra, Trey Martin, Jonathan Martinez, Alberto Mineo, Yomar Morel, Yoanner Negrin, Ariel Ovando, Juan Carlos Paniagua, Jose Paulino, Carlos Penalver, Hector Perez, Chris Pieters, Ivan Pineyro, James Pugliese, Bijan Rademacher, Jasvir Rakkar, Austin Reed, Donn Roach, Jacob Rogers, Alexander Santana, Tayler Scott,
Rubi Silva, Elliot Soto, and Daury Torrez.
Not going to lie, they don’t inspire a lot of confidence. If I was an opposing GM, the only names that interest me are Bruno, Candelario, Encarnacion, Francescon, Cooper, Jensen, Martinez, Torres, Scott, Pugliese, Paniagua, and Torrez. The problem, however, is they only are nice collection of bit parts, no stars among them. If I am a GM. I want star prospects from the Cubs. The Cubs are not going to give up any of their star prospects. The Cubs will lose several of the players on the above list this winter, but not this summer.
They are other rule 5 players I left off that could bring back some players but I think the Cubs will put them on the 40 man roster after this season to protect them. They are: Corey Black, Dan Vogelbach, and Pierce Johnson.
So, how do they Cubs get help? Well, they could get bit parts for one of the names in the first list. The most likely option, though, is from within. And, there are plenty of options.
At AAA, Armando Rivero is starting to figure it out. His ERA has fallen almost 3 runs a game since early May. At 1.46 in his last ten ames, Rivero also has struck out 14 in his last 12.1 innings. His only drawback is walks. Currently, his walk rate over his last ten appearances is 4.5/9 innings.
Carl Edwards, Jr. has the same issues as Rivero. After getting lit up in his debut AAA appearance, Edwards pitched better in his second. Ranked as the Cubs #1 prospect according to MLB.com, Edwards, Jr. is throwing mid to upper 90s heat, but is also walking hitters at an alarming rate: 10 in his last 17 innings. On the other hand, he also struck out 28 over that same span.
Blake Cooper PJ Francescon and Michael Jensen have been excellent in relief roles at Iowa and Tennessee. To me, Francescon and his sub 1 ERA would be the most ready, even if he is at Tennessee.
Nevertheless, I think the Cubs are looking for BIG impact arms in the bullpen. And the two you might see are just getting going. This week, Corey Black moved to the bullpen. In two innings on Thursday, he blew away 3 Chattanooga Lookout players with intense mid 90s heat. He attacked the zone even more than when he was a starter. He won’t be in Tennessee much longer doing that.
The other pitcher is Pierce Johnson. He is just finishing up his rehab in Arizona in extended spring training. He should return to the Smokies next week. I think Johnson could kill two birds with one stone. He could be a reliever with his middle 90s heater and plus off speed pitches, or he could start. I don’t see the Cubs going out and acquiring a starter because the cost would be too high in prospects, something already stated that the Cubs are not going to do. Johnson would be a valuable flex piece moving forward through the summer. Never having pitched more 120 innings in his career, he would be close to that if he started. Honestly, I don’t see him in a starting role this year.
It’s been tough watching the Cubs try to score runs the last three weeks. When you look at where you would add offense, there are really two spots open long term – left and center. I don’t think Fowler is going anywhere other than the bench for an occasional day off. So, let’s get to the elephant in the room – Javy.
Javy Baez, until last night, produced the way you want your top prospects to produce in May. He is hitting .313 with 7 HRs, 28 RBIs in just 34 games at AAA. He is now playing 3B with enthusiasm (No errors in two games). And other than 4 K game last night, it’s been a pretty good tenure in Des Moines. But like Bryant before him, if the Cubs wait until June 11th to bring him up, they can gain an extra year of control. The Cubs are going to want that extra year for the 22 year old.
If the Cubs want that super utility guy, Baez, who now can play 2B, 3B, and SS with ease, is one player who could fill that role. The other is Arismendy Alcantara. This year Alcantara is doing very well, much like Baez is. He is hitting .286 for the year, but almost .400 in his last ten. I don’t know if he is someone you want to plug in the lineup every day, but he is much matured over last summer. He would be a good bench open for Joe Maddon.
I know many fans see Schwarber’s bat and think of promoting him. I think he is ready for a promotion, but only to Iowa for his bat. He is still not ready behind the plate. 2016 in the middle of May I think is when you will see him. Not until then. The Cubs aren’t starting his clock until he is fully ready, not just when they need a left handed bat.
Two other players who have been on tears that could help are Christian Villanueva and Wilson Contreras. But then again, I think these two are your trade chips if you are going to trade anyone this summer from the advanced levels in the minors.
Rubi Silva and John Andreoli provide the only real outfield solutions. Given that Silva has not taken a walk all year, that’s not happening. And given that Andreoli is the same player as Szczur, minus some power, that’s not happening either.
What We Will See in June
Let’s be positive here – the Cubs have the players to improve the club from within, as was the goal of Theo when he took over. They also have some prospects they could use to go out and get a reliever or a bench player. No big player trade is coming this summer, especially for a starter – the Cubs will use $$$ this winter to address that issue.
The players coming up this summer will not come up en masse. Rather, it will likely be a trickle. A Baez here, a Rivero there, an Alcantara toward the end of the month. The Cubs will do this one player at a time. They are not in a rush to get this done. They do, however, want to get it done right for the long term health of the team and the player.
The Cubs are competing. Help is on the way. Enjoy it.