Chicago Cubs possible trade partners: Atlanta Braves

This is the third article in a series exploring possible trade partners for the Cubs, as they look to upgrade before the August 1 trade deadline. Today, we look at the Atlanta Braves.

If you’ve been following baseball at all, you know that the Atlanta Braves are terrible. They’re in full rebuilding mode as they prepare to open a new stadium next year and figure to keep looking for young talent via trades. Do they have any players who could help the Cubs?

The problem, from the Braves’ perspective, is that they have few players who will be in high demand at the trade deadline. Most of their major league players are either young guys who they see as potentially part of their future or veterans who have long passed their prime. Ace starter Julio Teheran and closer Arodys Vizcaino – the latter acquired from the Cubs for Tommy La Stella before the 2015 season – would both bring back a lot in a trade with a contender, but both are only 25 and may be worth holding onto. It looks like the Braves will also hold onto star first baseman Freddie Freeman.

None of those players would be a fit for the Cubs anyway. Looking at their roster, left fielder Jeff Francoeur is having a decent year with the bat but doesn’t take many walks and is, at this point in his career, an average defender at best. Nick Markakis came over to the Braves before last season and suddenly forgot how to hit home runs. But he does make a lot of contact and has somehow managed to drive in 29 runs while batting just .246 with a .339 slugging percentage hitting in the Braves’ anemic lineup. Since he only plays right field, he wouldn’t be of much value to the Cubs. Not to mention, the Braves still owe him $22 million combined through 2018.

Elsewhere, veteran Kelly Johnson would have some value as a utility player, except like most other Braves he’s also having a terrible year at the plate. In the bullpen, veteran right-hander Alexi Ogando figures to draw interest from several contenders, but the Cubs are more in need of left-handed help.

Most likely possibilities: Francoeur might be a last resort in the Cubs’ search for a backup outfielder, but otherwise I don’t really see a match with these two clubs.

A look at the Cubs’ 2016 Memorial Day uniforms

I’ve always had an interest in baseball uniforms, so I wanted to say a few words about this year’s Memorial Day uniform that the Cubs will be wearing in their game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

You can view the jersey by clicking here and the cap by clicking here.

I think these are better than last year’s. (Click here to see jerseys and click here to see cap.) Last year, I felt like the camouflage bill was barely noticeable, yet looked awkward next to the rest of the Cubs’ cap. I also felt like the camouflage “Cubs” inside the blue circle just didn’t look right.

This year, instead of doing it “halfway”, they went all the way with a full camouflage cap while changing the colors of the rest of the jersey to better match the camouflage sections. It just seems to come together a lot better this year.

If I have one minor complaint about the cap, it’s that the “C” doesn’t stand out well, but otherwise I think it’s a good look. I think my favorite cap of recent years was the 2014 version, in which they managed to add just enough blue and red to make it distinctive.

In any case, though the league does the uniforms better in some years than in others, I think it’s great that they look to honor the military in this way each year.

Chicago Cubs possible trade partners: Oakland Athletics

This is the second article in a series exploring possible trade partners for the Cubs, as they look to upgrade before the August 1 trade deadline. Today, we look at the Oakland Athletics.

Two years ago, the Cubs made one of their most important trades in recent years when they sent starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics for a package that included their current starting shortstop, Addison Russell. The A’s were buyers that year and the Cubs were sellers, but here in 2016 the roles are reversed as the Cubs are World Series contenders and the A’s are going nowhere fast in the AL West. Could the two teams hook up for another midseason trade this year?

Oakland’s two most intriguing trade candidates are in the starting rotation, which is currently an area the Cubs don’t really need help with. Former Cub Rich Hill – who I can’t believe is still in the league – is actually having a career year at age 36. He figures to be a hot commodity as we near the trade deadline, and if they A’s do try to move him they have a good chance to get a solid haul from a desperate contender. This should be an easy pass.

Then there’s Sonny Gray, who’s currently on the disabled list but is expected back sometime in June and figures to be linked to the Cubs in many rumors when he returns. He would certainly require at least two top-of-the-line prospects/young players. Gray was having a very disappointing season before his injury, but let’s assume for a minute that he’s able to return to his form of the past few seasons. Even so, the Cubs don’t need more starting pitching right now; even thinking ahead to the postseason, would Gray really be a significantly better #3 option than John Lackey, Jason Hammel, or Kyle Hendricks? Would it be worth giving up, say, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras? I’d say not.

Out of the bullpen, the Cubs could use another left-hander. Sean Doolittle, an All-Star in 2014, is having another solid year and might be a fit. Veteran right-hander Ryan Madson is having a decent year as the closer.

As the Cubs look to add outfield depth, there are a few players worth mentioning. Josh Reddick was on his way to a career year before getting injured and will be out until close to the All-Star break. Coco Crisp could be an impact bat off the bench but so far has posted an atrocious -0.9 defensive Wins Above Replacement in 2016. Khris Davis hits home runs but doesn’t really do anything else.

By the way, Chris Coghlan, who the Cubs traded to make room to re-sign Dexter Fowler, is having a miserable year, batting just .158 with a putrid .534 OPS.

Most likely possibilities: Reddick hasn’t played left field since 2011, but if he could play there again, he could be a great addition to the Cubs’ roster. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Cubs show interest in Doolittle. Should the Cubs try to pull off a trade for both players, hopefully it would not require – nor would it be worth – giving up any top prospects. As for Crisp and Davis, there are better outfield options out there.

Chicago Cubs’ possible trade partners: San Diego Padres

This is the first in a series of articles exploring possible trade partners for the Cubs, as they look to upgrade before the August 1 trade deadline. Today, we look at the San Diego Padres.

Before last season, the San Diego Padres made a bunch of roster additions, hoping to escape years of baseball purgatory and become instant contenders. It didn’t exactly work out, as they finished 74-88, their fifth straight losing season. They are currently 20-29 and well on their way to missing the playoffs for the tenth straight year, and with Baseball America ranking their farm system 25th in the majors at the beginning of the year, they likely will be looking to move some big league pieces over the next two months. Would any of their players be a fit for the Cubs?

The problem from the Padres’ perspective is that they have little to get excited about at the big league level. Drew Pomeranz has been one of the most pleasant surprises in baseball this year, having a breakthrough season at age 27. The left-handed starter has allowed just ten earned runs in 53 innings and leads the majors in allowing 5.1 hits per nine innings. It seems unlikely the Padres would deal him at this point, and even if they did, the Cubs at this time aren’t so desperate for starting pitching that it would be worth giving up what it would take to get him.

Elsewhere on the mound, James Shields is having another solid year, but barring any injuries, he wouldn’t be enough of an upgrade over any of the Cubs’ starters to make it worth a trade for him, either. The Cubs were linked to Tyson Ross in trade rumors last year and may be again this year, though he is currently on the disabled list and again would only be a slight upgrade for the rotation. The Cubs are more likely to be interested in 39-year-old closer Fernando Rodney, who has ten saves and has yet to allow an earned run in 18 innings. The Cubs are currently set at closer with Hector Rondon, but if they are later looking to add bullpen depth, he could be a possibility.

The Padres have a few position players worth mentioning as well. Melvin Upton has had an up-and-down career but has been playing well so far in 2016, batting .257 with six home runs and 20 RBIs. He’s been their primary left fielder after years of playing center and has a 0.7 defensive Wins Above Replacement, even better than Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward (0.6). If he keeps playing like this, he’d be worth looking at in order to add outfield depth.

Elsewhere in the oufield, Matt Kemp has always been a strong run producer but is a liability on defense, while longtime Cardinal Jon Jay figures to generate interest from a lot of teams looking to add a backup outfielder. Then there’s Wil Myers, still only 25, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career but has the potential to be a dangerous hitter. However, if the Padres decide to move him, he’d be a better fit as a DH for an American League team. He’s played mostly first base this year but has played a few other positions and has posted a negative defensive WAR every year of his career.

Most likely possibilities: It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Cubs show interest in Rodney, who came over to the Cubs late last year and was effective in limited duty before moving on to San Diego. Upton would add some outfield depth that they likely will need as the season wears on. Jay might be a good veteran addition to the bench, especially if the Cubs are looking to add to their collection of former Cardinals on their roster. None of these players would cost the Cubs much in the way of prospects. Neither Kemp nor Myers would be a good fit for the Cubs.

A day at the South Bend Cubs game

The Cubs had the day off. I had the day off. So it felt like a perfect day to make the drive of a little under an hour over to South Bend, Indiana to watch the Chicago Cubs’ Single-A affiliate, the South Bend Cubs, take on the Great Lakes Loons at Four Winds Field.

It was a 10:30 a.m. start, one of the team’s “Education Days” where local schools brought kids to the game for a field trip. So, there were far more kids in the stands than adults. Most of the kids that I saw seemed to have only minimal interest in the game and seemed more concerned about eating or playing around. Though this was my first trip to a South Bend Cubs game, I’ve been to other minor league games, so I know that to many folks these games are more about socializing than watching baseball. I think this was even more the case today than normal.

I was in the minority of fans who were much more focused on watching the game. Having watched a lot of Major League Baseball games (and having attended a game at Wrigley Field less than a month ago), I have to say that watching low-A players is, at times, painful. The catchers’ mechanics blocking pitches behind the plate were terrible. Players frequently missed the cutoff man. A catcher even threw a ball into left field trying to throw it around the horn after a strikeout. At one point, with runners on first and third, a right fielder caught a fly ball and tried to throw home to nail the runner, but there was no chance. No one even tried to cut off the throw. It was an almost perfect throw, but the runner still beat it easily, allowing the runner on first to easily take second.

Then, there was the baserunning. Three different baserunners got into a rundown; two of them got picked off. The other one made it back safely to first base because neither the pitcher nor any of the infielders bothered to cover the bag. These plays occasionally happen in a big league game, but I’ve never seen a big league game with this many fundamental errors. Obviously, the gap in talent between low-A and the majors is huge, but the need to work on fundamentals might be just as big of a reason why most of these players are there.

But I guess I shouldn’t spend too much time complaining. All this being said, it was still enjoyable to spend the day outside watching baseball. It was hot and hazy in the early innings and got cloudier until it started to rain in the eighth. With the inclement weather and the home team down late (the Loons won, 9-4), by the ninth inning there were maybe a couple dozen people left. I moved down from my seat several rows back to the first row, right behind home plate, for the final inning. Watching baseball from that angle is a whole different experience. I especially could notice the movement on the pitches very well.

The South Bend Cubs have received a lot of praise for their overall minor league experience, and I can see why. Four Winds Field is a great place to watch a game. My one minor complaint is that there aren’t many good spots to provide relief from the elements (such as sun or rain), but otherwise it’s a clean, modern-looking facility that also is relatively easy to get to. Growing up in Battle Creek, MI, I went to a lot of minor league games at C.O. Brown Stadium, which felt like a dungeon compared to this.

If you live in Michiana or are ever in the area, be sure to go to a South Bend Cubs game. And who knows, you may see some future Chicago Cubs star players.

 

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What’s the bigger rivalry: Cubs-Cards or Cubs-Bucs?

Before the season started, I thought that Cubs-Cardinals was on the verge of becoming a rivalry that neared the level of Yankees-Red Sox during the previous decade. That still might happen, as the two teams have only played three games so far this year. But if things keep going the way they have been since late last year, it’s possible that Cubs-Pirates could reach that level too.

To this point, the rivalry between Chicago and Pittsburgh has been one-sided. After Jake Arrieta led the Cubs to a win in the Wild Card game last year in Pittsburgh, the Cubs took the first five games this year – in dominating fashion – before losing an intense 2-1 pitchers’ duel Sunday at Wrigley Field. Even so, there’s a lot of bad blood between the two teams right now, including last year’s bench clearing during the Wild Card game. That has spilled into this season’s early games, with more hit batters.

We still can’t sleep on Cubs-Cards, however. They’ve only played three games so far, with the Cubs winning two, but the two teams had their first postseason meeting last year. Couple that with the Cubs snatching John Lackey and Jason Heyward during the offseason (along with Heyward’s comments that rubbed the Cardinals the wrong way), and the rivarly has reached a level that we havn’t seen in a long time, if ever.

The Cubs have a pretty big lead in the division right now, so they have a clear edge over both teams at this point in the season. However, there’s still a long ways to go – certainly long enough for one of those teams to catch the Cubs – and even if the Cubs do maintain this hot start and coast to the division title, there’s a good chance that the Cubs would face one of them in the playoffs. Nothing fuels a rivalry between two teams more than both teams being really good.

Cubs-Cards has always been one of baseball’s biggest rivalries, so that rivalry has history on its side, but so far this year Cubs-Bucs has been really intense. While the Cubs are clearly better than both teams right now, the Pirates still have a lot of young talent and are in position to contend for the next few years. The Cardinals are older, but they always manage to retool their team each year and can rarely be counted out. Both teams figure to, at least, be in the running for a Wild Card spot for the rest of this year.

So, over the next five years, who will be the Cubs’ bigger rival: St. Louis or Pittsburgh? Or maybe you have another team in mind. Vote below!

Ten years later: The Chicago Cubs farm system in 2006

We’re all excited, not only that the Cubs are playing so well, but that their farm system is producing lots of major league talent. In the last few years, they’ve successfully promoted players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, and Kyle Hendricks. Meanwhile, they have a lot of other prospects who are making good progress in the minor leagues.

In 2006, things weren’t going quite as well. The big league team was awful in Dusty Baker’s final year. And as it turns out, the farm system was pretty bad too. Check out this list of the Cubs’ Top 20 prospects from that year:

  1. Mark Pawelek, LHP
  2. Felix Pie, OF
  3. Ronny Cedeno, SS
  4. Eric Patterson, 2B
  5. Jae-Kuk Ryu, RHP
  6. Donald Veal, LHP
  7. Sean Gallagher, RHP
  8. Angel Guzman, RHP
  9. Rich Hill, LHP
  10. Carlos Marmol, RHP
  11. Sean Marshall, LHP
  12. Scott Moore, 3B
  13. Ryan Harvey, OF
  14. Mark Holliman, RHP
  15. Mike Phelps, RHP
  16. Brian Dopirak, 1B
  17. Brandon Sing, 1B
  18. Rick Rohlicek, LHP
  19. Randy Wells, RHP
  20. Grant Johnson, RHP

Only one of these players is currently in the big leagues – Rich Hill, now pitching for the Oakland Athletics. 12 of these players reached the big leagues, though only five of them have a positive career Wins Above Replacement (WAR):

  • Marmol: 9.7
  • Marshall: 9.7
  • Wells: 7.8
  • Hill: 7.6
  • Guzman: 1.4
  • Patterson: -0.1
  • Veal: -0.1
  • Ryu: -0.5
  • Moore: -0.8
  • Cedeno: -1.4
  • Gallagher: -1.5
  • Pie: -1.8

(Just to put this in perspective, Rizzo already has a career WAR of 17.3.)

Pawelek, taken 20th overall in 2005, has to be among the biggest disappointments in recent Cubs memory, as he never made it above the Single-A level. Pie was once considered a big part of the Cubs’ future when he came up in 2007, but he didn’t do much in two seasons before being shipped to the Orioles. He last appeared in the majors with the Pirates in 2013.

There are a couple of minor success stories here. Marmol and Marshall both had a few great years out of the Cubs’ bullpen, but wildness eventually derailed Marmol’s career while the Cubs traded Marshall to the Reds after the 2011 season as part of their rebuild. (That traded netted them current reliever Travis Wood.) Hill was solid for the Cubs as a starter in 2007, as was Wells in 2009-10, while Cedeno was a serviceable backup infielder for a couple of years. But they were the only other players who made significant contributions to the Cubs’ major league team.

The fact that the Cubs were unable to produce even one player with a double-digit career WAR from this group speaks as much, if not more, to the team’s inability to develop talent as it does the ability to acquire talent. Of course, there are no guarantees that the players the Cubs have in the minors now will be any more successful. But to this point, Theo Epstein & Co. have already shown great ability to draft and trade well and to finish developing young players into major league ready talent. Hopefully this is a sign of great things to come.