Next Year is Next Year – But Could It Be THEE Year?

Wrigley Field (Kiichiro Sato / Associate Press) (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/sports/baseball/wrigley-field-turns-100-and-other-milestones-arriving-in-2014.html?_r=0)

Wrigley Field (Kiichiro Sato / Associate Press) (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/sports/baseball/wrigley-field-turns-100-and-other-milestones-arriving-in-2014.html?_r=0)

The Cubs have called up Javy Baez, sent down Junior Lake, and called up Matt Szczur who leads the league in consecutive consonants without a vowel.

As the last Cubs article was being written claiming he would not be called up this year.  But everyone makes mistakes, and roster moves have been frequent in the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer era.

There has been some internet chatter wondering (mostly fans outside of the minor league affiliates) if the Cubs front office had made mistakes with the minor league prospect draftees, trades, and signings.

Other than the God-awful-Brian-Bosworth-terrible signing of Edwin Jackson – the new management team has done an amazing job building the minors up to competitive – on  (almost) every level.

To the point they LEAD or are tied for the lead in  AA, Low-A & Advanced A.  They WERE leading in AAA Iowa but have hit the skids with a nice 7 game losing streak as their bats have gone silent and are now 3 games back, falling to 3rd.  Kris Bryant had a major scare, fouling a ball off of his foot but it does not appear to be serious.  Also, Manny Ramirez has been back in the lineup as a DH and making solid contact again.  Junior Lake should be in the lineup tonight.

The word “depth” was lacking when the Hendry era ended.  Despite all the due and undue hatred of Jim Hendry, he DID give us Mr. Javy Baez, who is a big fan of great tasting chocolate milk (if you have been to Principal Park, you would understand).  And like most Hendry signings, Baez has been very Baez.  He’s hitting .216 with 6 bombs, 16 hits, 12 runs, 11 RBIs, 2 doubles, 4 walks, and 31 strikeouts.  All 4 walks have come in the past 6 games meaning he is starting to adjust to the way they are pitching to him.  He keeps it up, they will adjust to him and his power numbers should return.  He hit a massive home run on Monday but also struck out twice.  Get used to that.   It is an all or nothing swing that has yielded a .364 slugging and .708 OPS.  Along with comparisons to Gary Sheffield,  with a nearly identical swing.  Not bad company to be in.  And history shows that Javy will head up as he gets settled into his new team.

Javy Baez (via http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2014/08/06/hoyer-cubs-will-let-baez-be-himself-this-season/)

Javy Baez (via http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2014/08/06/hoyer-cubs-will-let-baez-be-himself-this-season/)

The team is more than Javy Baez.

The Iowa Cubs are loaded, and most, if not all major prospects should be in Chicago next year.  They have called up Chris Valaika, Logan Watkins, and Matt Szczur but none of them figure into the long term plans with the Cubs unless they are used off the bench.  The only question would be Kris Bryant.  Do the Cubs feel they are competitive enough at the beginning of the season to have him start at third base?

Or do they want to keep him down in Iowa? Until September arrives. To keep him from quicker path to arbitration?

That will be THEE talking point of the off season.

The Cubs made a waiver claim on Cole Hamels and were unable to come to a deal.

But, as Brett Taylor (far and away the best person to follow on Twitter for the Cubs) put it, it is a sign that the Cubs are ready to – make a deal for the immediate future but not sacrifice the long-term future to do it.

Addison Russell is not ready yet. And who knows where he fits. But to trade him away this soon would have been a mistake.  Still, that does not mean that Cubs fans can not dip their toes into next years roster.

The batting order is going to be fun.  Yes, fun and competitive.

For the first time since the Cubs signed long time nemesis Jim Edmonds in 2008.  That unfamiliar magical season with the all too familiar end.

The infield will consist of Bryant, Castro, Baez, and Rizzo. With Valbuena and Olt off the bench.

The outfield will be Coghlan , Alcantara, and Soler with Junior Lake and Justin Ruggiano coming off of the bench.

Catching may be a offensive weakness, but somebody has to hit 8th.  Castillo and Baker have been excellent backstops.  And John Baker is now a Cubs cult hero after being the winning pitcher and scoring the winning run in one of many extra inning affairs for the Cubs a couple weeks ago.

Seriously, look at the bats and try to figure out who hits sixth and seventh?!?  It is a GREAT problem for the Cubs to have.

1.  Chris Coghlan LF
2.  Javy Baez 2B
3.  Anthony Rizzo 1B
4.  Starlin Castro SS
5.  Kris Bryant 3B
6.  Jorge Soler RF
7.  Arismendy Alcantra CF
8.  Wellington Castillo C
9.  Pitcher (because every player should bat for themselves)

Coghlan and Alcantara are alternating leading off for the Cubs.

Chris Coghlan (via http://www.rantsports.com/mlb/2014/06/15/5-players-the-chicago-cubs-could-do-without-in-2014/)

Chris Coghlan (via http://www.rantsports.com/mlb/2014/06/15/5-players-the-chicago-cubs-could-do-without-in-2014/)

Coghlan is on a tear to start off in August hitting .351 in his first 10 games with 13 hits, 6 strike outs (all against Tampa Bay this weekend), and 6 walks.  Alcantara has fallen off a bit hitting .158 with 14 Ks, 6 hits, a stolen base, and only 2 walks in his past 10 games.  But he did make a few great catches in center. And he made it to the Top 10 on Sportscenter. So any questions of his ability to play center field have been answered.

Either guy can swap positions in the batting order and the wheels will keep turning.

Both guys have good plate discipline.

To quote Brad Pitt in Moneyball, “they get on base.”

The ability to get on base will be huge with the big bats to follow them.  Baez may move down with his all or nothing swing.  An all or nothing swing would be better for a #6 hitter.  So it could look like this:

1.  Arismendy Alcantara CF
2. Starlin Castro SS
3.  Anthony Rizzo 1B
4.  Kris Bryant 3B
5.  Jorge Soler RF
6.  Javy Baez 2B
7.  Chris Coghlan LF
8.  Wellington Catillo C
9.  Pitcher

Pitching.  This is where things will be interesting.

Edwin Jackson and his gas tank will still be available…for trade.  The Cubs will certainly try to dump him to anyone who will take him.  The chances of moving him are slim but heck, they traded Alfonso Soriano, so anything is possible.

The boys from the minors, Jake Arietta, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Kyle Hendricks have all made an argument to be in the rotation next year.  Arietta and Hendricks (especially) seem to be locks next season, with Wada being a question mark.  Travis Wood would have been the #1 or #2 starter but has done his best Edwin Jackson impression lately.  Dallas Beeler, Chris Rusin, Dan Straily, Felix Doubront, and newly acquired Jacob Turner will all battle for a spot on the rotation.  Rusin and Doubront seem more likely to be used in the bullpen while Jacob Turner was claimed off of waivers to be a starter in the future.  It would be interesting if Rusin or Doubront DID make the starting rotation with Wada and Wood giving the Cubs 3 lefties in the starting rotation.  However, that is unlikely if Wood does not get it back together.  He seems like he can pitch out of this.

If, God willing, Edwin Jackson is gone:

1.  Kyle Hendricks
2.  Jake Arietta
3.  Travis Wood
4.  Jacob Turner
5.  Tsuyoshi Wada

Tsuyoshi Wada (via chicagonow.com)

Tsuyoshi Wada (via chicagonow.com)

Tsuyoshi Wada is a starter.

He really does not have “the stuff” to be in a bullpen – unless it is in long relief.  He is not a true strike out pitcher, so it would be hard to bring him in with the bases loaded, or to shut down the opposition.  Wada is a great 4/5 pitcher and an average arm in the pen.  The pen will also have it’s fair share of battles but should look something like this:

Hector Rondon CL
Kyuji Fujikawa
Pedro Strop
Neil Ramirez
Carlos Villanueva
Blake Parker
Chris Rusin
Felix Doubront

Justin Grimm has pitched well but could be the odd man out.  The bullpen will be the toughest decision to make but it speaks to the depth the Cubs have built.

Blake Parker and Kyuji Fujikawa could also close for the Cubs.  The front office could go out an sign a starter or reliever in the off season but getting rid of Edwin Jackson will be priority number one.

Theo and Jed have done their homework.  They have unloaded a ton of salary in exchange for prospects.

The Ricketts’ have been stuck with the Tribune’s bill, (meaning the past few years of debt equal to an actual country), but will be out of it soon.  Just in time to spend money on pitching, a catcher and veterans to help the team finally make it back to contention.

Maybe. Just MAYBE, the Cubs can justify their ticket prices with a product on the field.  Until then, enjoy the flashes of brilliance right now because it will be pedal to the metal next year and the fun has only begun.

Theo Epstein and the Ivy (via http://nosebleedsectionsports.com/fighting-fire-with-water/)

Theo Epstein and the Ivy (via http://nosebleedsectionsports.com/fighting-fire-with-water/)

*** BONUS BASEBALL ***

Give the guys at Grantland and author Rany Jazayerli a read on this article . Interesting thoughts on how the Cubs are rebuilding using HITTING and not PITCHING.

And to piggyback off his article and some twitter rumblings.

Cubs sign Lester and get rid of Wood (might happen) and Edwin Jackson (WILL happen) and the new rotation:

1.  John Lester
2.  Kyle Hendricks
3.  Jake Arietta
4.  Tsuyoshi Wada
5.  Jacob Turner

Jacob Turner (as stated more eloquently by Rany) is the new Scott Feldman. Low risk, high reward, pitcher for the Cubs.  No way they signed him to be in the bullpen.  BUT, he is in the bullpen right now.. And if he shines there, as they say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.