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Tag:Bryan LaHair
Posted on: February 24, 2012 10:02 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 7:57 pm
 

Spring primer: Chicago Cubs



By Matt Snyder


After watching the Cubs go from a 97-win club to a 71-win version in just four seasons, owner Tom Ricketts took serious action in 2011. He fired general manager Jim Hendry and landed his version of a big fish, in former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. Epstein took over as club president then added Jed Hoyer as general manager and Jason McLeod as senior vice president of scouting and player development, among other front office pieces. The new management group then hired Dale Sveum as the big-league manager and started to clean house. It's going to be a long process, but said process has begun in earnest.

Scott Miller's camp report: Cubs Giddy With Optimism | Likes, Dislikes

Major additions: OF David DeJesus, 1B Anthony Rizzo, 3B Ian Stewart, LHP Paul Maholm, RHP Chris Volstad, LHP Travis Wood
Major departures: RHP Carlos Zambrano, OF Tyler Colvin, RHP Andrew Cashner, 3B Aramis Ramirez, 1B Carlos Pena, LHP Sean Marshall, LHP John Grabow

Probable lineup
1. David DeJesus, RF
2. Starlin Castro, SS
3. Marlon Byrd, CF
4. Bryan LaHair, 1B
5. Alfonso Soriano, LF
6. Ian Stewart, 3B
7. Geovany Soto, C
8. Darwin Barney, 2B

Probable rotation
1. Matt Garza
2. Ryan Dempster
3. Paul Maholm
4. Randy Wells
5. Travis Wood

Chris Volstad will also be in the mix, but I gave Wood the nod because he's left-handed.

Back-end bullpen
Closer: Carlos Marmol
Set-up: Kerry Wood, Jeff Samardzija

Important bench players

IF Jeff Baker, C Welington Castillo, OF Tony Campana, OF Reed Johnson

Prospects to watch
There are two here in particular that could make an impact in 2012: OF Brett Jackson and 1B Anthony Rizzo. It's entirely possible both are in the lineup come August. With Rizzo, it's a matter of whether or not LaHair can hit in the majors long-term -- as he could merely be one of those so-called Quadruple-A players. If that is the case and Rizzo is hitting well in Triple-A, the Cubs might well decide to turn to Rizzo. With Jackson, he's blocked all over the outfield, however, center field could easily be cleared in July. If the Cubs fall out of contention prior to the trade deadline -- and let's face it, that's a pretty good bet -- Byrd is a great trade candidate (sorry, I don't think the Cubs can deal Soriano just yet due to his contract). Byrd is in the final year of his contract and can play all three outfield positions, so surely some contender would cough up one mid-tier prospect for him. If that happens, the logical step for the Cubs would be to see how Jackson fared in center field for the final two months to determine if he can stay there or if he needs to be moved to a corner.

Fantasy sleeper: Bryan LaHair
"Usually, when a player in his late 20s puts up eye-popping numbers at Triple-A like a .331 batting average, 38 homers and 1.070 OPS, he's dismissed right away as a Quadruple-A player, but apparently the Cubs' front office thinks LaHair is different -- and not just because of his impressive 59 at-bat stint in the majors last year. The experiment could still be a failure of Kila Ka'aihue proportions, which is why you shouldn't bother with LaHair in mixed leagues, but late in NL-only formats, why not?" - Scott White [Full Cubs team fantasy preview]

Fantasy bust: Carlos Marmol
"If blown saves were Marmol's only problem, it'd be one thing, but the bottom line is he's not the efficient out-getter that Epstein and Hoyer would like their closer to be. His walk rate is as bad as it gets, and as a result, he's always pitching out of jams. Sure, his high strikeout rate helps compensate for it, but if he produces anything short of a best-in-the-league-type hit rate, his WHIP is in the danger zone." - Scott White [Full Cubs team fantasy preview]

Optimistic outlook
The deep pitching staff throws well and pays immediate dividends, as the bullpen improves with much better rest. Plus, behind the changes in right field and third base, the defense is also improved. Even Marmol's control issues drastically dwindle. LaHair and Stewart prove they can hit major-league pitching throughout the season and DeJesus turns out a perfect leadoff man for the suddenly balanced offense. And the Cubs find themselves right in the thick of the NL Central race with the Cardinals, Reds and Brewers until the end of the season, possibly even finishing somewhere in the top three.

Pessimistic outlook
By the end of July, Garza, Dempster and Byrd are all traded as the Cubs have no shot of making the playoffs. The Cubs try to avoid the cellar in a battle with the Astros, but continue the rebuilding effort and look forward to hitting the 2013 free agency class full-steam (less than $40 million is committed to 2013 payroll so far). Really, this is more realistic than pessimistic, because as much as the Cubs' coaches, players and front office say they're trying to win this year, it's obvious this is a two-year plan at the absolute minimum.

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Posted on: February 9, 2012 4:51 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 10:47 am
 

Spring position battles: National League Central



By C. Trent Rosecrans


The National League Central is often looked down upon, but it produced both teams in the National League Championship Series last year, as well as the World Series. Both the Cardinals and Brewers have large voids in their lineup due to free agency, but all the teams have some questions when pitchers and catchers report to camp. Here's the NL Central spring position battles:

Chicago Cubs
Old vs. Young: Bryan LaHair and Marlon Byrd vs. Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson

For so long the Cubs' motto has been "wait 'til next year" -- that may have been changed to "wait 'til a couple of years" as Theo Epstein has fully embraced the rebuilding effort. The question is whether the braintrust thinks it's better for some of their younger players to learn at the big-league level or continue in the minors. The two biggest choices will be Rizzo and Jackson. Rizzo, 22, struggled in his call-up last season, hitting .141/.281/.242 with a homer in 153 plate appearances, but that was as a 21-year-old in San Diego. LaHair may only have 65 games in the big leagues, but that doesn't make him young -- just inexperienced. LaHair turned 29 in November and spent eight years in the minors. He hit .288/.377/.508 in his 20 games with the Cubs last season, but he's hardly anyone's idea of a long-term solution. Epstein drafted Rizzo while with the Red Sox and then traded for him when he took over the Cubs. It's Rizzo's job to lose. Meanwhile, Byrd is in the last season of his three-year, $15 million contract, so he's more likely to get traded than to be unseated in spring. The 23-year-old Jackson put up a .297/.388/.551 line at Triple-A Iowa with 10 homers in just 48 games after being called up from Double-A. The team's first-round pick in the 2009 draft will have a chance to show he's big-league ready. If the team does go with Rizzo and Jackson, it could be a sign of the team's future and the patience that Chicago will show going forward.

Cincinnati Reds
Left field: Chris Heisey vs. Ryan Ludwick

The Reds signed Ludwick to a bargain deal, hoping he can find the stroke he left in St. Louis. The 33-year-old has always hit well at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, putting up a .276/.321/.600 stat line with nine homers in 30 games and 112 plate appearances in his new home park. Both Ludwick and Heisey are right-handed batters who fare better against right-handed pitchers. Ludwick is a career .272/.339/.464 hitter against righties and .237/.316/.435 against lefties. Heisey's split is more extreme -- .288/.346/.539 against right-handers and .180/.248/.300 against lefties. One thing that helps Ludwick's case may be Heisey's strength as a pinch-hitter. Last year the 27-year-old Heisey hit .324/.333/.529 with two homers as a pinch-hitter. There's another option here, as well. If Drew Stubbs struggles at the plate, Hesiey could be an option to play center alongside Ludwick in left. That's a remote possibility, though. The Reds are high on Stubbs' power/speed combination and he is an excellent defender in center.

Houston Astros
Third base: Brett Wallace vs. Chris Johnson vs. Jimmy Paredes

The fact that the Astros are looking to move Wallace to third base may tell you what they think of Johnson and Paredes. If Wallace shows he can play third, he's the likely favorite. Johnson struggled in 2011 after showing promise in 2010. Paredes hit .286/.320/.393 after taking over the position for the last two months of the season, but he's not seen as a long-term solution. Wallace could be.

Milwaukee Brewers
First base: Mat Gamel vs. himself

With Ryan Braun's status resolved, the Brewers don't really have many question marks. All five starters return, as do its closer and top set-up man. The lineup, with a platoon of Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan and newcomer Aramis Ramirez at third base seems pretty much set -- barring injury. The only hole is a big one -- the one left by first baseman Prince Fielder. The position is Mat Gamel's to lose. The 26-year-old played in just 10 games last season, getting 27 plate appearances. His only extensive big-league experience came in 2009 when he hit .242/.338/.422 with five homers, primarily playing third base. However, he's never been able to establish himself and after playing both third base and the outfield, he played primarily first base at Triple-A Nashville last season, while making six errors in 20 games at third base. He's a first baseman now and a first baseman only. He's hit  well at Triple-A, hitting .301/.374/.512 in parts of four seasons at the top level of the minors, hitting 28 home runs for Nashville last season. Gamel will probably start at first on opening day even if he struggles in spring, but right fielder Corey Hart could be used at first if Gamel struggles even more. The team did sign Japanese outfield Norichika Aoki, who could play right if Hart moves to first.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Third base: Pedro Alvarez vs. Casey McGehee

Acquiring the veteran McGehee from Milwaukee could be seen as a kick in the pants for the second-overall pick of the 2008 draft. Alvarez hit just .191/.272/.289 in 74 games last season and the team may be getting worried about whether he'll ever develop into the star as expected. McGehee is coming off a rough season of his own, hitting just .223/.280/.346 with 13 homers after hitting 23 homers and 104 RBI in 2010. McGehee was replaced by Jerry Hairston Jr. at third base during the playoffs and by former Pirate Aramis Ramirez after the season.

St. Louis Cardinals
Second base: Skip Schumaker vs. Daniel Descalso vs. Tyler Greene

General manager John Mozeliak has insinuated he'd like to see Greene win the job. The 28-year-old has yet to produce at the level expected of him, hitting just .218/.307/.313 in 150 games and 359 plate appearances. Descalso filled in for the injured David Freese last season and responded with a .264/.334/.353 line, while Schumaker is the incumbent having hit .283/.333/.351 while starting 89 games at second, but none in the World Series. All three have some positional versatility.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed and "like" us on Facebook.



Posted on: January 4, 2012 4:40 pm
Edited on: January 4, 2012 7:26 pm
 

Epstein talks Zambrano, salaries, Wood, more

By Matt Snyder

New Cubs president Theo Epstein hit the radio waves in Chicago Wednesday afternoon to discuss several different topics. Let's check out the main points, thanks to Carrie Muskat of MLB.com.

• It's pretty easy to understand why many Cubs fans never want to see Carlos Zambrano again (and I'm on their side, by the way), but Epstein hasn't ruled out a Zambrano return. He explained why:

“The Carlos Zambrano of 2011 and years previous can’t fit into the culture that we have here,” Epstein said (MLB.com). “Change needs to happen and change will happen. Either he’ll change and buy in and fit into this culture — and I understand there are a lot of skeptics around about that. I understand that, and frankly, I’m skeptical as well. He needs to prove to us that he can change and be part of this culture or we’ll change the personnel and move forward with people who are proud to be Cubs and treat their teammates with respect, treat the fans with respect and can be part of a winning culture in the Cubs’ clubhouse.”

That's very reasonable. All the Zambrano issues came under Jim Hendry's watch, so Epstein has the right to give him one chance. Without having had any personal interaction with Zambrano before taking the job, Epstein may not feel comfortable just going on what he's read and seen on TV -- especially since it's not easy to unload a $19 million contract. And him making sure to point out that he's skeptical seems like a stern warning to Big Z. (UPDATE: The Cubs have a preliminary agreement in place to trade Zambrano to the Marlins)

• Speaking of albatross contracts, left fielder Alfonso Soriano is still owed $54 million over the next three seasons. Epstein didn't specifically name Soriano, but when asked about highly overpriced players, he said the club has three options:

1. Trade the player and eat a decent portion of the salary.
2. Cut the player.
3. Provide "an infrastructure in which he can improve," per MLB.com.

Cubs offseason
On Soriano, I'm not sure what the Cubs could do without having to eat a ton of money. You play him at first base to eliminate the defensive liability he poses in the outfield, and he's still a first baseman with a .289 on-base percentage who hits around 25 homers. Is that even close to being worth $18 million a year? No. I'd guess the best option is No. 1 and then No. 2 is soon to follow. Either way, that's a load of wasted money.

• As for the recent trade of fan favorite Sean Marshall?

“With what we’re trying to accomplish, which is not just win the World Series in 2012 but build something bigger and more sustainable for the long-term, what’s more valuable to us?” Epstein said (MLB.com). “One season worth of Sean Marshall or five seasons worth of a 25-year-old left-handed starting pitcher [Travis Wood] who can go into our starting rotation … and two prospects we like a lot.”

Well, first of all, he has to say that they are trying to win the 2012 World Series, but they really aren't. Just as I wrote last week, the Cubs aren't going to throw all their chips to the center of the table and try to win immediately just to end some fake curse. They are building a foundation for the future, one that Epstein and company are hoping will provide multiple opportunities for a championship down the road, not just one quick burst.

• He hit on one Wood, so what about the other: Kerry Wood?

“You have a team that really respects a player, wants him back desperately, and you have a player who loves the city, is a huge part of the community here with his family and his foundation and wants to be back,” Epstein said (MLB.com). “If we can’t work this out, we’re doing something wrong.”

• Also, not that it's shocking, but Epstein definitively stated that Bryan LaHair is going to be the Cubs' first baseman in 2012. Now, if he was planning on signing Prince Fielder, Epstein obviously wouldn't say so -- so it's possible the Cubs are still in the bidding. I'm inclined to believe him, though, because of the project nature of this rebuild. And LaHair could possibly be a late bloomer like a Jayson Werth (erase 2011 from your memory, haters, and look at 2008-10) or Ryan Ludwick. LaHair, 29, hit .331/.405/.664 with 38 homers and 38 doubles in 129 Triple-A games last season.

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Posted on: November 28, 2011 11:54 am
Edited on: November 28, 2011 4:43 pm
 

Homegrown Team: Seattle Mariners



By Matt Snyder


What if players were only permitted to stay with the team that originally made them a professional? No trades, no Rule-5 Draft, no minor or major league free agency ... once you are a professional baseball player, you stay in that organization. This series shows how all 30 teams would look. We give you: Homegrown teams. To view the schedule of this feature, click here.

The Seattle Mariners have finished last place in the AL West six of the past eight seasons. Would things have been different if management had done a better job of keeping the right organizational pieces? In a word: Yes. Check this out ...

Lineup

1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
4. David Ortiz, DH
5. Adam Jones, CF
6. Shin-Soo Choo, LF
7. Dustin Ackley, 2B
8. Raul Ibanez, 1B
9. Jason Varitek, C

Starting Rotation

1. Felix Hernandez
2. Michael Pineda
3. Doug Fister
4. Brandon Morrow
5. Joel Pineiro

Bullpen

Closer - J.J. Putz
Set up - Rafael Soriano, Matt Thornton, Eric O'Flaherty, Brian Fuentes, Damaso Marte, George Sherrill
Long - Derek Lowe

Notable Bench Players

Adam Moore, Greg Dobbs, Bryan LaHair, Luis Valbuena, Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Willie Bloomquist, Michael Saunders, Carlos Peguero

What's Good?

Almost everything. The lineup is solid, the starting rotation is very good, the bullpen is great and there is some bench depth. There are superstars like King Felix and A-Rod with up-and-comers like Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Pineda. And 2011 first-rounder Danny Hultzen (starting pitcher) will soon be added to the mix.

What's Not?

Age in some areas. A-Rod, Ortiz, Ichiro and Ibanez are all in different levels of decline, but there's no doubt they're all certainly in decline. Catcher is also a problem, as we're left deciding between a has-been (Varitek) and a possible never-will-be (Moore). Pick your poison there.

As for the lineup, I tried to figure out how to best work it. Maybe swap Jones and A-Rod spots? I'd be OK with that, considering the seasons those two had in 2011. Also, Ichiro's OBP was terrible for a leadoff man last season (.310), but wouldn't it make the back-end of the lineup too punchless if you batted Ackley leadoff? With the way I left it, the leadoff spot is weak.

Comparison to real 2011

The 2011 Mariners lost 95 games and this team above would have a shot at winning 95. You can take away from the older stars all you want, but with that pitching staff, the offense doesn't have to be great. It only has to be good, and it's easily good enough to get plenty of wins when only needing to put three or four runs on the board. Plus, as those older guys continue to decline, the likes of Jones, Ackley and Cabrera just get better. In Sunday's Homegrown Team, I said to expect to see the Cubs toward the bottom of the rankings (when we do them). This entry is the complete opposite. Expect to see the Mariners toward the top of the rankings. This is a great team. For now.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: November 6, 2011 10:35 pm
 

Zambrano pitches in Venezuelan winter league

Carlos ZambranoBy C. Trent Rosecrans

Carlos Zambrano was back on the mound Sunday for the first time since walking out on his team in Atlanta in August, pitching 2 2/3 innings in his home country of Venezuela, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Pitching for Los Caribes de Anzategui, the Cubs right-hander allowed two runs on four hits, allowing a home run to Chicago's Bryan LaHair. Zambrano also had a throwing error walked two and hit a batter, but did strike out three batters.

Chicago's Theo Epstein told the Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan last week that he was OK with Zambrano pitching this winter because he needed the innings and "it could be good for his state of mind to get out there and perform."

Zambrano was 9-7 with a 4.82 ERA in 24 starts for the Cubs in 2011, throwing 145 2/3 innings, but was placed on the team's disqualified list in August after he left his team during a game against the Braves. He pitched in just 129 2/3 innings in 2010 after being suspended for an outburst in the dugout.

Still, the Cubs are on the hook for $18 million for Zambrano in 2012 and have to decide exactly what to do with him. Zambrano is expected to make nine starts by Christmas in Venezuela and then resting until spring training begins.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: October 13, 2011 10:08 am
Edited on: October 13, 2011 10:14 am
 

Cubs' job attractive, future options plenty



By Matt Snyder


Congratulations, Theo Epstein, on likely landing the new gig of Cubs president, CEO, general manager, czar, savior, curse-breaker and deity. In addition to all those millions of dollars, you now inherit a mess of a franchise. The good news is that statement only exists in the present and very near future. Things can be cleaned up rather quickly. Here's why:

• It's funny to read all over the place about how the Cubs have so many awful contracts and are so much more handcuffed on payroll than Epstein is used to. The fact of the matter is that only Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol are signed past 2012, along with the young players who will still be under team control and don't make much. And then Marmol's contract expires after 2013. Depending on arbitration raises and possible extensions (Matt Garza, maybe?) the Cubs are shedding somewhere in the ballpark of $50 million from their 2011 payroll. Come 2013, as things currently stand, only $28.8 million is committed (to Soriano and Marmol). In 2014, only Soriano's absurd $19 million salary is still on the books, but by 2015, there's nothing left.

• My guess is it's true, for now, that Epstein is likely going to be told to not exceed a figure like $135 million with his payroll and that is a good amount less than the Red Sox's current figure. But here's the mitigating factor: The Cubs are in the NL Central, where they easily have the largest market and revenue stream in the division. In Boston, Epstein was trying to keep up financially with the mighty Yankees. In the Chicago, his biggest competitor in terms of market size is Houston -- which is departing for the AL soon -- and in terms of revenue stream it's St. Louis. The Cubs have the resources to be the "big boy" in the division, which wasn't possible for Epstein in Boston.

• Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has already shown a significant commitment to player development. The Cubs spent a huge amount of money on the 2011 draft and they are building a state of the art academy in the Dominican Republic. They are looking to make major upgrades to Arizona's spring training facility, which would serve as a type of home base for player development. The Cubs also have a great reputation for international scouting. Put simply, Ricketts has noticed the biggest problem for the Cubs has been a system that doesn't regularly churn out its own prospects and he has done everything he can to rectify that issue in the short term.

So, that's why the job was attractive, but there's no doubt there's a lot to be done. This is a team that went 71-91 and has a pretty lackluster level of talent in the upper levels of the minors -- not to mention the aging major-league roster.

As every franchise faces when trying to make a losing team into a winning team, there are three distinct routes that can be taken. Let's take a look at each and get specific.

Cubs/Red Sox drama
Route 1: The Complete Rebuild
Don't pick up the options for Ryan Dempster or Aramis Ramirez. Trade younger veterans of value like Geovany Soto, Sean Marshall and Matt Garza. Do whatever it takes to off-load Alfonso Soriano's contract. Do the same with Carlos Zambrano. Carlos Marmol and Marlon Byrd might land decent returns, so they would also be traded. Don't re-up with any veterans like Kerry Wood. Just completely revamp the entire farm system and build around Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner. Then tell everyone they need to be patient, as the goal is to grow the system from the foundation and start competing in 2014.

Chances this happens:
Decent to good, for at least part of this. Epstein very well may start completely slow and see how things pan out with several different young players. I do think he would keep Garza with Castro and Cashner and then start to pounce on free agents starting next offseason.

Route 2: The Chips to the Center of the Table
Re-up with Dempster and Ramirez. Do what it takes to sign Prince Fielder and C.J. Wilson, including backloading deals to make the budget work. Move Starlin Castro to second base and sign Jose Reyes (again, backloading). Grab someone like Javier Vazquez, Chris Young or Joel Pineiro to fill out the rotation. That means the starting nine would be: Soto, Fielder, Castro, Reyes, Ramirez, Soriano, Byrd and probably Bryan LaHair. The starting rotation could be: Wilson, Garza, Dempster, Vazquez and Randy Wells. That leaves Andrew Cashner -- who is hitting triple digits on the radar gun in the Arizona Fall League -- to be the closer. Marmol can stay in the bullpen and hope to work on his control. Wood, Marshall and Jeff Samardzija would be the setup men.

Chances this happens:
Ridiculously slim. Actually, zero. Epstein isn't a moron and this would be absurd for the long-term health of the franchise, especially considering the team probably still wouldn't be good enough to win even an NLDS, if it made it. There's no depth, either, since the high levels of the minors don't have a lot of help coming. And could Epstein even get all those guys if he tried? Finally, the band-aid-on-a-broken-leg approach got Jim Hendry fired, so there's no way Tom Ricketts would hire Epstein to do the same thing.

Route 3: The Combination
I often chuckle when people think you absolutely have to choose either Route 1 or Route 2. In a small market, yes, you have to completely rebuild and hope all the young players get good at the same time, like the Royals appear to have happening in 2013 or 2014. In a large market, the resources are there to do both. Epstein developed the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon and Dustin Pedroia while also making trades for veterans and signing big-name free agents in Boston. It's a much bigger project this time around, but the goal can be to do something similar in Wrigley. While the farm system is being revamped for the Cubs, an effort can be made to start allowing the aging veterans to leave via free agency while players like Soto, Marshall, Marmol, and Dempster (with him, it's a one-year option and there will be enough money to retain him) can be kept around. Wood can be re-signed for another one-year, $1.5 million contract. And then you can fill holes with younger free agents. C.J. Wilson? Pass on him and keep your eyes on that 2013 pitching free agent class that could contain Matt Cain, John Danks, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez, James Shields and more. A 27-year-old Prince Fielder? Yes, please. The Reyes signing mentioned above, with moving Castro to second? Nope. Not now. Try Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija in the rotation? Yes and maybe. Give LaHair a shot in right field, absolutely. He had a huge 2011 season in both Triple-A and then hit the ball well in his short time in the majors. Do you think about promoting center-field prospect Brett Jackson and trading Byrd midseason? Sure, if the Cubs aren't in the race. The whole point is that, ideally, with this plan, you'd put a team together for 2012 that appears to be average, giving it the chance to overachieve and sneak into the playoffs -- but the eyes are certainly on 2013 being the turnaround year. From there, you strive to compete for the World Series title every ensuing season.

Chances this happens:
I feel like this is the most likely route. The main benefit is you don't completely punt 2012 after getting the fan base excited with the big-name hire. In the complete rebuild model, you're liable to lose 100 games and kill fan morale instead of capitalizing on all the excitement. And in the win now model, there just isn't enough there to bring it all together in one offseason. So here we are. Here, you can have a mildly successful 2012 season while getting the fans excited for a bright future. All the moves above are just examples of what can be done, as the plan can be the same but be done with totally different moves.

But this is all purely speculation -- and fun, as is all hypothetical talk -- as the only person who really knows what is going in on Epstein's head right now is Epstein himself.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: September 27, 2011 6:50 pm
 

R.I.P.: 2011 Chicago Cubs

By Matt Snyder

Another season gone, another disappointment for 29 teams as one is immortalized forever. Let’s take a look back at 2011 and forward in Eye on Baseball’s R.I.P. series...

Team name: Chicago Cubs
Record: 70-90, 24 games back in NL Central
Manager: Mike Quade
Best hitter: Aramis Ramirez -- .306/.360/.506, 25 HR, 92 RBI, 79 R, 35 2B
Best pitcher: Matt Garza -- 9-10, 3.35 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 189 K, 191 IP

After the 2008 season, the Cubs were in the middle of a bit of a golden era in the franchise. They had been division champions three times in a six-year span. That isn't saying much for a lot of teams, but this franchise hadn't had that kind of success since playing in the World Series four out of five seasons from 1906-1910. Alas, they were swept in the NLDS in 2008, despite having the best regular-season record in the National League, so general manager Jim Hendry decided to do some tinkering. The Cubs finished just five games over .500 in 2009 before coming in fifth place in 2010 and are currently in fifth again. And Hendry's out of a job, likely to be followed by Quade and some other coaches.

2011 SEASON RECAP

They were 9-8 and tied for first place after the first game of a doubleheader on April 20, but that was the high point in the standings. The Cubs would go on to lose six of seven games and never be a serious threat the rest of the way. They fell to 10 games back on June 4 and never got closer than nine back in the Central from that point forward. They actually moved up to fourth place September 19 for the first time since May 26, but the overwhelming majority of the season has been spent in fifth place, thanks to the lowly Astros. The biggest positives: Starlin Castro is well on his way to being a major-league star, Darwin Barney appears an adequate option at second base, Matt Garza had a good season, Sean Marshall is still great in middle-to-late inning relief and Jeff Samardzija finally doesn't look like a huge bust. The biggest negative is that this appears to be a badly flawed roster with not near enough help on the way from the minors.

2012 AUDIT

This is the toughest assignment of the R.I.P. series, because there's no way to know the direction of the ballclub until a new general manager is hired. The club is not immediately set up to compete, but there's a stipulation: With more than $50 million in payroll falling off before 2012 and even more off the books before '13, the Cubs could decide to be a major player in free agency. The franchise has enough money to grab, for example, Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson and still have money left over to bolster the bullpen and find a fill-in at third base. On the other hand, many would argue that still isn't enough to make the Cubs immediate contenders in the National League. If the new GM agrees, he might be more in favor of leaving the payroll low for a season or two while building the system with a youthful foundation before pouncing on big-name free agents to fill holes in 2013 or 2014. One thing that should scare fellow franchises in the NL Central if the Cubs choose to spend big in the near future, is that the Cubs are clear of all big contracts except Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol (and Matt Garza likely has a deal by then, too, I'd guess) prior to 2013 and Marmol's off after '13. They have the resources to be the Red Sox of the NL. It's just a matter of if the Cubs can put the correct plan in place, and that all comes down to who chairman Tom Ricketts hires as his next GM.

FREE AGENTS

Aramis Ramirez, 3B (mutual option)
Carlos Pena, 1B
Reed Johnson, OF
Ryan Dempster, SP (player option for '12)
John Grabow, RP
Jeff Samardzija, RP (club option for '12 and '13)

OFFSEASON FOCUS

Where to even begin? This roster is a mess. First of all, I'd listen to offers for everyone except Starlin Castro. That doesn't mean you have to trade guys like Barney, Marshall or Soto, but you never know if the return might work with the game plan of the new GM. Let's sort through some of this and see what can be done short-term with the eyes on the future. My goal would be to contend in 2013. If it happens in 2012, that's just gravy.
  • Get Prince Fielder. He's 27 and incredibly durable (has never played less than 157 games in a full season). He'd then be the anchor for the Cubs for the foreseeable future, even if it takes a few years to build around him and Castro. Also of importance, if you bat Castro second and Fielder third, Castro's strike zone woes become less an issue (though he has walked more times than he's struck out in September, so it's getting better already).
  • Give Andrew Cashner one last shot to stay healthy in the rotation and also see if Samardzija can be successful as a starter. Having a rotation of Garza, Dempster, Randy Wells, Cashner and Samardzija won't be winning any championships, but Dempster is gone after 2012 and there'd be plenty of money to go after free agents. By then, they Cubs will know if they need just one guy or up to four with Garza. And the list of free agent starters after next season could have some big names -- assuming they aren't granted contract extensions -- like Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Shaun Marcum and James Shields.
  • Read the riot act to Carlos Marmol. Considering the Cubs likely can't contend in 2012 and Marmol is signed through 2013, he has one year to fix himself. Marmol has blown an MLB-high 10 saves (he's tied with Jordan Walden). You can't count on closers to be perfect, but let's say Marmol only blew four saves, which is a very reasonable percentage. The Cubs would be 76-84, which isn't awful at all considering some of the injury issues and poor roster construction.
  • Give Bryan LaHair a shot in right field. LaHair is 28, so he's hardly a prospect, but it's possible he's a late bloomer like Ryan Ludwick or Jayson Werth. LaHair had 38 home runs, 109 RBI and a 1.070 OPS in 129 Triple-A games. He's hitting .309/.391/.545 in 19 games for the Cubs this season. Again, the eyes are on 2013 here, so if he flames out as many expect, you can address the position next offseason. But he's at least earned the chance to get an extended look in the bigs.
  • If the Cubs do fall out of contention in 2012, Marlon Byrd needs to be traded at the deadline and prospect Brett Jackson can then take over in center field. If Jackson is deemed ready earlier in the season and LaHair doesn't pan out, Byrd could be moved to right. 
  • I'd personally bring back Aramis Ramirez for two or three years, assuming the Cubs don't have to break the bank. The last thing they need is another albatross contract, so if he's demanding something like four years and $50 million, it's time to move on. But if it's reasonable, it makes sense to keep him. He's only 33 and has shown has can still swing the bat. He's got to have two to three years left of above-average production at third base. Prospect Josh Vitters had completely fallen off all prospect rankings prior to this season, but rebounded with a decent showing in Double-A this season (.283/.322/.448 with 14 homers, 81 RBI and 28 doubles) and he's still only 21. In two years, the Cubs will have an idea if he is going to be the next third baseman or not. If not, they can look outside the organziation or perhaps someone in the farm system will have emerged. Keeping Ramirez is a natural bridge to when it comes to that.
And there's a lot more, too, but those are the big ones.

The main thing here is the hire a new GM that puts the main focus on building the minor-league system. That way in a few years free agency won't be the only avenue to fill out a winning ballclub. Remember, people complain about the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies in free agency, but lots of players -- Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and several others were developed from within the respective systems. The Cubs have been terrible at developing their own in recent years and leaned on trades and free agency to bail them out. It needs to be a combination or everything will eventually fall apart like it did this season. From there, they can start to think about breaking a faux-curse and easing the pain of the legions of true fans.

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Posted on: September 7, 2011 2:34 am
 

3 Up, 3 Down: Wilson records first shutout

C.J. Wilson

By C. Trent Rosecrans

C.J. Wilson, Rangers: There's no question that the Rangers can put runs on the board with anyone, but the question is if they have that Game 1 starter in a series to go opposite the likes of CC Sabathia, Josh Beckett or Justin Verlander. Last season the Game 1 starter was an easy decision for Ron Washington, that's what they got Cliff Lee to do. This season it's going to be Wilson, who notched his first career shutout on Tuesday, blanking the Rays 8-0 on five hits, all singles. It was the Rangers' 18th shutout of the season, the most by an American League team since Oakland had 19 in 2002. Wilson is now 15-6 with a 3.13 ERA.

Bryan LaHair, Cubs: Reds starter Mike Leake cruised all game -- going 8 2/3 innings and allowing just one batter above the minimum and one hit. But on a 2-2 count, Starlin Castro hit a nubber down the third-base line for an infield single, bringing up LaHair as a pinch hitter for Darwin Barney. With a 2-0 count, Leake gave the rookie something to hit -- and he did, onto Sheffield Ave. It was LaHair's first homer as a Cub (he hit three in 2008 with the Mariners) after clubbing 38 in the Pacific Coast League this season. LaHair gave the fans at Wrigley Field some free baseball, but in the end, it wasn't enough as the Reds won 4-2 in 13 innings.

Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: Going into Monday's game, Troy Tulowitzki was hitting just .113 (6 for 35) against the Diamondbacks this season. After a three-run homer in Monday's loss to the Rockies, he hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning of Tuesday's 8-3 victory at Coors Field. It was Tulowitzki's 30th homer of the season and gave him 103 RBI, a career-high.


Fausto Carmona, Indians: Any hope the Indians had of representing the American League Central in the playoffs were seemingly dashed in Carmona's 1 1/3 innings -- the Indians' opening-day starter allowed eight hits and seven runs in his brief starts as Cleveland lost 10-1 to Detroit at Progressive Field and fell 8.5 games behind the Tigers in the AL Central. Carmona is now 6-14 with a 5.18 ERA on the season.

Angels defense: After Texas had already won their game, the Angels committed four errors -- three of which led to two unearned runs and an Angels loss to the Mariners. Seattle's Felix Hernandez didn't need more than two runs, as he allowed just one run (unearned as well) on four hits in eight innings for a 2-1 Mariners victory. After a Justin Smoak single to lead off the Mariners' half of the second, Los Angeles third baseman Alberto Callaspo fielded a soft grounder by Miguel Olivo, and instead of taking the sure out at first, he tried to force it to second, throwing the ball in right. Kyle Seager then reached first to load the bases on an error by pitcher Ervin Santana. Trayvon Washington hit a sacrifice fly for the game's first run. Seattle's second run came in the fourth after Seager reached first on an error by Erick Aybar and then scored on a groundout later in the inning. Hank Conger added another error for the team's fourth of the game. With the loss, the Angels fell to 3.5 games behind the Rangers in the AL West.

Minnesota Twins: Minnesota was officially eliminated from playoff contention with a 3-0 loss to the White Sox on Tuesday as they were shutout for the 12th time this season. The Twins tied a season-high with 12 strikeouts, including two from Joe Mauer. Minnesota now trails Detroit by 22 games and are 1.5 games behind the Royals in the fight for last place in the AL Central.

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