Ricketts’ Presser Shows Cubs Broke(n) on Many Levels

By Todd Johnson

I am ready for baseball.

More specifically, I am ready to watch and write about baseball. These press conferences are getting old. Add in the fact that the main topics are not good news is depressing. Today is the first official day of spring training with pitchers and hitters present. Instead, other stuff took away from that.

Monday’s press conference of Cubs President Tom Ricketts showed that the Cubs appear to be broken on many levels. Carried live by NBC Sports, the 34 minute conference was first filled with talks of Joe Ricketts, emails, and TV deals.

Eventually, after 22 minutes of discussing things that have gone bad this winter, the stake through the heart came when Ricketts said that there was no more money in the budget to go get a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.

That is not necessarily true. The Cubs have the money to pay Harper. They just happen to be using it to pay someone else. Two to three players would have to moved in order to free up the money needed to ink the 26-year-old former MVP to a long-term deal. It is more likely that the chances of moving said contracts is what is holding up the budget than the Cubs and Harper not being able to reach a deal. This is a generational talent entering the prime of his career. It blows me away that the Cubs would not be willing to do anything to sign him.

What perturbs me right now is that winning should be the focus. For the last four summers, that has been the main idea every summer. This winter, that concentration has been pushed to the side with the aforementioned distractions, some of which could linger for awhile.

I’d rather focus my time and energies on other things like bench spots, backup catchers, bullpen questions, news of player movement, or profiles.

For now, though, I just hope to have something positive to pen soon. Whether it is about the minors or major league, I don’t care. I need more sunshine to get through what’s left of this winter.

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The Worst Offseason Ever Continues to Drag On and On and On…

By Todd Johnson

Pitchers and catcher report in 11 days. I repeat, pitchers and catchers report in days.

That does not seem like that should be happening. It actually seems like there is still so much to do to get ready for spring training. Shouldn’t the Cubs add some lefty relievers? Shouldn’t they add a left-handed bat off the bench? Shouldn’t they add a backup catcher? It seems like there should be a trade or two. Tell me the biggest move the Cubs made this offseason isn’t Daniel Descalso.

However, looking back at last year’s big winter transaction, the Cubs signed Yu Darvish on February 10.

It seems a bit strange for MLB teams to finally coalesce a roster in the waning days of the offseason but that is what is happening. The trend, whether you call it economic strategy or collusion, has changed how MLB business in the offseason is done. Like it or not, things are not going to change until the CBA is opened up again or a grievance is filed.

As a result, fans are left to wonder who their team is going to be come spring.

And this is where Cub fans sit – some are angry about it, some are frustrated, some are worn out, and some just don’t care. Some have an undying belief that Theo will get it done and others want Theo fired. There is quite the gamut of thought on the matter.

In talking with my fellow Cub fans at work and in the local establishments I spend my money and time, they tend to take the side of the owners as if it is their money. They view signing a Bryce Harper or a Manny Machado to a big, expensive contract a giant waste of money. They see too many things that could go wrong that could hamstring a franchise over the life of the deal. And to be honest, they are right. But that doesn’t mean I agree with them on signing or not signing Harper.

I just find it fascinating and stupefying that neither Harper nor Machado has signed any kind of contract between $25-$35 million a year, even for a short period of time. As an owner or a GM, why would you not want to get two generational players in the prime of their careers? Do owners value financial flexibility over winning that much? Are the players just being too greedy and holding out for every last dollar they get for their families that will last for a 100 years? Who’s to blame? Or, are both sides to blame?

What is clear to me is that the market has shifted. Like it or not, as fans, there is not much you or I can do about it. The two sides are going to be digging in and digging deeper between now and 2021.

Last year, it was said many times that owners were saving their money for this year’s free agent class. And now this year, the same is being said for next year when Nolan Arenado would be available along with dozens of other 30-somethings. It’s not that great of a class after Arenado. This year’s class with Harper, Machado, and Keuchel far surpasses 2020. And yet, here we sit….and wait.

MLB and the MLBPA need to get this resolved soon. Then again, they might not. What is going to happen is that frustration and anger are going to build up on both sides and the game could have its first work stoppage since the 1990s when this CBA ends in 2021.

And who is going to get caught in the middle? The fans.

And yet, all it will take to end this logjam is for one owner or GM to pull his finger out of the dike this winter.

Here’s my prediction for what will go down. Bryce will sign. Then Manny. Then the floodgates will open. There will be free agents signing everywhere and trades aplenty. It will be glorious! When that will happen, I have no clue.

To be quite frank, Bryce’s money is what teams are probably worried about. Once that fiduciary responsibility has been assigned to a particular team, then all the other teams can begin allocating their funds for 2019 and beyond. Let’s hope that is what is happening behind the scenes.

I just hate that this is taking so long. It’s not as if players and owners are sitting around thinking about how to piss off the fans, but that’s what their actions and inactions are doing.

Either way, things need to change. 

Random Thoughts about the Costs of Signing Bryce Harper

By Todd Johnson

This winter is pretty slow when it comes to making moves at the MLB level. There have been plenty of MLB rumors though. From Bryce Harper to Jason Heyward, I try not to get sucked in about who might be going where.

Here are some random thoughts that keep going through my brain about this winter, specifically, acquiring Mr. Harper.

Several Levels of Cost

Dollars
 If the Cubs sign Bryce Harper. The actual dollar cost is going to be substantial, but it is not going to be prohibitive. The Cubs payroll will only take a hit for a year. After 2019, things change greatly as the Cubs payroll drops dramatically for 2020. Zobrist, Hamels, and half of the bullpen become free agents.

MLB Players
Technically, the Cubs could keep both Heyward and Harper, but the odds are against that. The Cubs will need to move some payroll in order to sign Harper. However, Heyward cannot be traded just by himself. The Cubs would have to sweeten that deal with an MLB ready players. Ian Happ is the most controllable ready guy and any team that gets Happ thrown in the deal would have him through 2023. I doubt if any team would take Almora as Happ’s bat is much more potent. 

The Cubs could even throw in Jose Quintana and ride with Mike Montgomery this year and next. It’s very unlikely to happen, but it’s a thought considering the cost certainty of Quintana for 2019 and 2020. Trading Jose would really cut into the SP depth at the MLB level. That may not be a cost the Cubs would be willing to risk.

Prospects
No team is going to take on Heyward’s contract along with Happ and that be the end of the deal. Some prospect is going to have to top off the deal., someone that a team could control for 6-7 years. Adbert Alzolay could be well liked by other teams as could Miguel Amaya. It will be interesting to see who the Cubs would be willing to part with in a such a transaction.

Outfield Depth
Let’s say that Heyward is traded along with Happ. Then the Cubs sign Harper. That leaves Harper, Schwarber, Almora, and Zobrist as the outfielders. Kris Bryant could play out there occasionally along with David Bote. My only concern is injuries. Mark Zagunis is deserving of a shot and he’s the only OF at Iowa who has the skills needed to come up. The issue is Zagunis is not a CF by trade, He can play CF, but not at a high level probably needed at the MLB level.

The Cubs would probably have to go out and get a veteran for either the bench or to store in Iowa. Jacob Hannemann  is very good defensively, but has barely hit his weight at AA and AAA and has never really put that offensive aspect of his game together. At AA, and likely Iowa next year, Charcer Burks could be a guy as could Eddy Martinez, but they are a long ways away due to consistency. A veteran guy would give the Cubs more certainty as a known commodity.

What Harper Adds to the Lineup
He is one of the top 3 players in the game and his addition would transform the lineup. I could see him batting second, third, or fourth and giving Manager Joe Maddon a lot versatility to mix and match lefties and righties in the lineup.

In addition Harper’s true talent hasn’t really blossomed. Once teams learned they could work around him because of the Nats’ lineup, it changed things. If Harper signs as a Cub, he’s going to see a lot more pitches in the zone with Bryant, Rizzo, and Baez behind him.

And that’s the key. He is going to cost something but he is going to be worth it. What the Cubs get for the cost will far outweigh what they give up.

Is There a Plan B?
The Cubs could begin to make moves here in the next two weeks. If Heyward is moved, that will be the sign. If not, the Cubs are going to have to go to “Plan B.” No one knows what that is. It could be using who they have now, or they could go and get AJ Pollock. I could go for that move, too.

Come Tomorrow
I will be profiling the top OFs in the Cubs’ system. Aside from Zagunis, the other 3 will all be in low A or short season A ball this year.

Cubs’ Big League Bullpen Has Some Issues for 2019

By Todd Johnson

This is going to be one of those off seasons where the Cubs are just going to wait to make a move. They don’t seem to be gung ho on making trades or pulling the trigger on anything and that’s especially true for the bullpen

After the GM meetings this week, I was not surprised to see the Cubs not make a move to add to the back end. Considering the injury concerns of Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop, that type of recurrence is on the minds of most fans looking at the bullpen. Who can the Cubs put in the pen to assuage such fears from running rampant? There are a lot of options from free agents Andrew Miller or Zach Britton to the Cubs’ very own prospects.

If you look at that depth chart on Cubs.com, the pen seems set in terms of numbers. Then again, Morrow, Strop, and Duensing are coming off injuries, Carl Edwards, Jr. is coming off a walked filled year. Cishek and Rosario were the highlights of the pen last year, along with the departed Jesse Chavez. Mike Montgomery should be joining them and Alex Mills was surprisingly good in his turns. As for Kintzler and Chatwood, they do not inspire many.

Right now, there’s just a lot of uncertainty with regards to health, performance, and age of the arms on the roster. In trying to look ahead to the makeup of the bullpen for 2019, I’m starting to get the feeling the Cubs are going to wait and see what they have come May and June. Then, they could go out and make a move for an arm before the trading deadline. That makes the most sense in terms of talent, availability, and, surprisingly, dollars.

The Cubs stashed a few guys down at Iowa already. Rowan Wick, Jerry Vasto, and Conor Lillis-White are three new guys the Cubs have added this offseason for depth. Whether or not the Cubs will use them is up in the air.

The wait and see approach could open the door for some of their own prospects. To be honest, I’d like to see what Adbert Alzolay can do out of the pen in Chicago. I’d like to see Dakota Mekkes get a shot in the majors. Add in James Norwood and Dillon Maples and you have four talented young arms from which to choose and to use.

When the Cubs went hog wild on pitchers in the 2016 and 2017 drafts, I thought it might take four years for them to get through the system. Instead those arms are going to be close to ready in 2019. Thomas Hatch, Duncan Robinson, and Michael Rucker are all set to begin next season at Iowa. Rucker’s stuff plays up quite a bit out of the pen and with his ability to throw strikes at almost a 70% rate, he might be the most appealing of these three for a bullpen role.

Part of me says just throw them out there and let them have at it.

When I look at Theo, though, he can’t be happy. He is going to get something done. While free agency is an option, a trade might make more sense to get what he wants as the Cubs do have plenty of MiLB pitching depth to use as assets and they do have a few bench players they could use in a deal.

Sitting on a deal might work in the short term. But come June, Theo will want the bullpen solidified for the stretch run.

Winter Meetings: Theo’s Possible Shopping List and Options

By Todd Johnson

MLB’s Winter Meetings kicked off yesterday in Las Vegas. Festivities will last through Thursday this week when they conclude with the Rule V Draft. The Cubs could be busy this week or they could just be setting some groundwork for later. Theo, more than likely, has several contingency plans in place to fill some needs. Plans within plans is always a good idea, but the Cubs only have a few needs. Here are some likely things Theo could be interested in acquiring.

1. Bryce Harper – I would be shocked if his signing happens this week. Based on who is agent is, Harper is likely not to sign until after Christmas until Boras has drained every penny he possibly can. This week should only be a feeling out period where the Cubs let their interest be known very quietly. I don’t see too many teams getting into a bidding war for a 10-year contract. A four-to-seven year deal with a higher annual value might be feasible for some teams. The Phillies, Dodgers, Giants, and Cubs,to name a few, have been mentioned as likely suitors.

2. Strengthening the Bullpen – Odds are the Cubs will be acquiring some arms for the bullpen this offseason. The question will be how they acquire said arms. The Cubs could sign a free agent, make  a trade, or promote from within. Or, they could do all three.

3. A Catcher – The odds are good for the Cubs to acquire a veteran presence behind the plate and for the bench. That could mean some player movement from both the major and/or minor league levels.

4. Rule V Draft – The Cubs last took a player in the Rule V Draft in 2016 when they took pitcher Caleb Smith from the Yankees and he did not stick. Last year, the Cubs passed. They should do the same this week. The only name out there that is interesting for the Cubs is lefty Tyler Jay, the former U of I pitcher, who is now in the Twins’ system. However, some Cub prospects might not slip through the cracks.

Over the past seven winters, moves by the Cubs under Theo tend to happen quickly. And that should be the case for the aforementioned shopping list. Maybe something major will happen this week, maybe it won’t. Still, what should be most telling is how Theo makes the changes.

Theo has spoken a couple of times that the Cubs might have to get creative to get something done. That might include using major league talent to get major league talent. It might be backloading the structuring of any free agent deal. And it might be a multi-level package that includes both major and minor league players. Part of me wants to see how they make a deal rather than what they get, unless it’s Bryce.

Cubs Finally Make a Move…Two Actually

By Todd Johnson

I like when trades or transactions just sneak up and offer a pleasant surprise. That happened today when the Cubs announced they had traded for infielder and former Cub Ronald Torreyes for cash and a player to be named later. In addition, the Cubs signed free agent lefty reliever and 2018 Iowa Cub Kyle Ryan to a major league deal. As a result, the Cubs’ roster currently stands at 40.

Torreyes originally came to the Cubs in 2012 in the Sean Marshall deal only to be traded in 2013 to the Astros to gain some additional international free agent money which the Cubs used to sign Eloy and Gleyber. But Torreyes career kept going as he has been apart of the Dodgers and Yankees systems at the major league level. Torreyes saw limited time with just 100 ABs in 2018 but hit .280. His best season was in 2017 where he hit .292 in 108 games.

I really dig this signing because Torreyes can play second, shortstop, third, and right field. He’s not going hit 20+ HRs but he is going to get on base when he plays and provide a lot of defensive relief at a variety of positions. He’s also fairly young at 26. Should the Cubs release, or non-tender, Addison Russell this Friday, Torreyes provides depth at the major league behind and beside Javy Baez.

As for Ryan, he came to the Cubs last spring and did very well at Iowa. In 22 appearances, he threw 66 innings with a 2.86 ERA and struck out 61 while keeping opponents to a .204 average. The just turned 27-year-old Ryan was a minor league free agent this off season. He should be in the bullpen this spring, or at least competing for a spot.

 

And So the Offseason Begins…

By Todd Johnson

The Cubs picked up the $20 million option on Cole Hamels’ contract. It is not a surprise, but the Cubs also traded some of their pitching depth in lefty Drew Smyly to the Rangers to clear $5 million in cap space. No word has come down if the Cubs received anything from Texas in return for Smyly. Had the Cubs not picked up the option, the Rangers would have been on the hook for Hamels’ $6 million buyout.

Earlier this week, the Cubs already made a few small moves as they picked up player options on Jose Quintana and Pedro Strop. The Cubs also claimed two players off waivers. One is outfielder Johnny Field who played last year with Tampa and Minnesota. The other is lefty reliever Jerry Vasto from Kansas City. As well, the Cubs signed IF Robel Garcia to a minor-league deal and inked up Erick Leal who could have become a MiLB free agent today.

There will be plenty of more news coming soon. Odds are MiLB signings might dominate the landscape the next couple of days.