Friday, March 11, 2011



If you expect the Cubs to make the prudent roster moves during Spring Training (or for that matter, the whole offseason), then you're a fan of the wrong team. The Cubs under Jim Hendry have made a lot of perplexing roster moves. The most recent example of this was Hendry's decision to DFA (designate for assignment) Casey McGehee when the Cubs had no clear back-up in the minors for Aramis Ramirez in the event he was injured (which ended up happening). McGehee would go on to play All-Star caliber baseball in both his abbreviated 1st season and certainly his 2nd MLB season.

Having said that, he made the right move by allowing Tyler Colvin to break camp with the team last year after a strong Spring Training, which almost never happens with the Cubs and young position players, so I give him credit for that. However, his ill-advised reliance on veterans to fill holes on the roster has been nothing short of perplexing, especially when you look around the league at what other teams are doing right now (going more with youth).

This offseason, there was a pretty impressive list of young talent available for a little over league minimum (or right at that level), including: Josh Fields-28 yrs old (signed with Pirates on MLB minimum minor league deal), Chris Carter-28 yrs old (signed with Rays MLB minimum minor league deal), Lastings Milledge-26 yrs old (signed with White Sox MLB minimum minor league deal), Jeff Francoeur-27 yrs old (signed with Royals for $2.5 million), Melky Cabrera-27 yrs old (signed with Royals for $1.25 million), Willy Aybar-28 yrs old (still unsigned)

The whole strategy of signing these type of young free agents that were non-tendered by their previous teams is really twofold: 
1) If the players do well, and get their once-promising careers back on track, you can always trade them at the deadline in July for more prospects, or if you think they'll have continued success, you can use them as solid players to build around for the future.

2) This is perhaps the most important of all considerations...The Cubs have Koyie Hill-32 yrs old, Jeff Baker-30 yrs old, Reed Johnson-34 yrs old, Augie Ojeda-36 yrs old, as their likely back-ups this season. 

 If the Cubs were actually committed to building for the future, they would've considered those young players I just mentioned instead of going with retread veterans that have absolutely no value to the team whatsoever, especially when you consider nagging injuries that start to appear in aging veterans. 

The best move I've ever seen Hendry make in terms of signing a young non-tendered free agent was Max Ramirez this year. Unfortunately, the young catcher hasn't got a snowball's chance in hell at making the roster, thus negating this good move. 

The thing I like about Josh Fields, is he's a former 20+hr guy with the White Sox, who's had his career derailed a bit by unfortunate injury. Francoeur is a former 20+hr, 100+RBI guy that improved with a change of scenery with the Mets, and also the Rangers. Cabrera was a solid performer for the World Series champion Yankees that can play all 3 OF positions. Carter has a career line in the minors of .307/.380/.514, and is a power hitting 1B, corner OF that has never been given a full chance at the MLB level. Milledge had a very bright future ahead of him with his minor league stats, and decent success at the MLB level, but for whatever reason has never really put it together. And finally, Aybar is a switch hitter than can play all IF positions, makes good contact, and has a decent amount of power.

I guess there really wasn't much of a point in bringing up those names, other than to let you all know that I believe the Cubs could've (and should've) done MUCH better than they did with their offseason moves. I also want others to keep tabs on these young guys to see how they do this year, and discover if I was right at the end of the year. I was actually VERY wrong last year when I predicted Rick Ankiel would've been a better option for the Cubs than Marlon Byrd. I couldn't have been more wrong, as Ankiel tanked, and Byrd was one of the few bright spots on the team, and is hitting over .600 thus far in Spring Training. 

At any rate, here are the candidates for the final spots on the roster:

Dempster, Zambrano, Garza, and Wells are locked in, leaving 1 spot available for...
Andrew Cashner
Carlos Silva *due $7.5 million from Cubs this year
Todd Wellemeyer
Braden Looper *due $3 million if he makes rotation
Jay Jackson
Casey Coleman
Trey McNutt
Chris Carpenter

Marmol, Wood, Marshall, Grabow (he might start season on DL), and Samardzija (due to contract) are locked in, leaving 2 spots available for...
Wellemeyer/Looper/Cashner (depending on the loser(s) of the rotation could be 2 of them)
Marcos Mateo
Angel Guzman (likely to remain in Extended Spring Training to build arm strength after surgery)
Justin Berg
Alberto Cabrera
Esmalin Caridad
Robert Coello
Thomas Diamond
Rafael Dolis
John Gaub
Scott Maine
James Russell (he's technically in rotation battle too, but given his performance thus far, he appears out of it)
Jeff Stevens
Kyle Smit

Soto, Pena, DeWitt, Castro, ARAM, Soriano, Byrd, Fukudome, and Colvin are virtual locks to make the team. The only wild card here might be DeWitt, who still has options. Given this, it leaves 4 potential openings for the bench
Koyie Hill-C*$850,000 contract makes it difficult for Cubs to outright release him
Jeff Baker-1B, 2B, 3B, LF/RF *$1.25 million makes him virtual lock to make team
Darwin Barney-2B, SS, 3B
Fernando Perez-OF
Reed Johnson-OF
Augie Ojeda-2B,SS,3B
Max Ramirez-C, 1B
Welington Castillo-C
Brad Snyder-OF
Bryan LaHair-LF/RF, 1B
Scott Moore-1B,2B,SS,3B,LF/RF
Bobby Scales-1B,2B,3B, OF
Marquez Smith-2B, 3B
Josh Vitters-3B, 1B
James Adducci-OF
Brett Jackson-OF
Matt Camp-2B, SS, 3B, OF
Lou Montanez-OF
Steve Clevenger-C, 3B, 1B
Chris Robinson-C

Given the stats thus far, the only position players that should be under consideration are: Barney, Perez, Ramirez, Castillo, Snyder, Moore, Scales, Smith, Vitters, Camp, and Clevenger. Because Perez, Barney, Castillo, Smith, and Vitters all have options left, I doubt they'd make the team.

Therefore, if I'm the Cubs, I'm strongly considering versatile guys like Camp, Moore, Clevenger, Ramirez, Scales, and Snyder. I really like Clevenger a lot, and the fact that he can play 1B and 3B in addition to catcher, really elevates him on my list. At this point, I don't believe Baker should make the team. Last year, his value was strictly as a guy that can hit left-handed pitching. He was dreadful against right-handed pitching. Given that fact, I believe Matt Camp should replace him, as he can play all the positions Baker can, as well as SS and CF. I'd definitely prefer Max Ramirez over Koyie Hill, and I believe Clevenger would be a great back-up at 3B, 1B, and catcher. For the final spot, I think the Cubs need to go with someone that can play all 3 OF spots, so I'd go with Brad Snyder, or I'd just pick Fernando Perez instead of optioning him. 

That would probably be one of the more exciting rosters the Cubs have had in a very long time, as you have several guys that can play multiple positions, allowing for greater flexibility in games, and the fact that Clevenger, and Camp rarely strike out, makes them even more valuable, considering that the Cubs are a team full of free swingers (Castro, Colvin, Soriano, Pena *though Pena actually takes a good amount of walks too, Byrd, Aramis Ramirez)

Here's hoping the Cubs can recognize this, and do the right thing. Koyie Hill, Jeff Baker, Reed Johnson, and Augie Ojeda are NOT the answer...I repeat...NOT the answer. In fact, my prediction is that if these guys make the team (as I suspect they will given the Cubs poor roster decisions), only Reed Johnson will hit over .250

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