The Cubs have designated OF Tony Campana for assignment, and traded him to the Diamondbacks for P Jesus Castillo and P Erick Leal

I’m a bit late in posting this, and in the meantime Campana has been traded after initially being designated for assignment. I’m not sure that I agree 100% with cutting Campana loose, but GM Jed Hoyer stated that the organization was reluctant to pare a pitcher from the 40-man roster. Once that decision is made, cutting Campana was a near-inevitable outcome. He’s really good at stealing bases, but isn’t very good at anything else, which makes him one of the game’s premier pinch-runners. That’s not a very valuable guy to have, especially an NL team that has a ways to go to rebuild their roster before being contenders. But still, at least he has a very real skill with very real value, which is more than I suspect can be said for a couple of the pitchers that remain on the roster.

With that said, however, the Cubs sure got good value for him from the Diamondbacks. Castillo and Leal are both only 17, although Leal will be 18 before the season starts. Judging only by their numbers in the Dominican Summer League, I’d say that Leal is the more interesting prospect, but of course at their ages it hardly pays to apply that label in the first place. The point is, this is how a team stockpiles talent, by flipping a marginal player like Campana into a couple of lottery tickets.

The Cubs have signed P Carlos Villanueva to a 2-year contract

This signing was originally reported last month, but various holdups have prevented an official announcement until now. The deal is for a reported $10 million.

Villanueva is a 29-year-old righthanded who has previously pitched in the majors for the Breewers and Blue Jays. Here are his career numbers:

301 G (56 GS), 657.1 IP, 4.26 ERA (100 ERA+), 96 HR, 8.5 H/9, 3.1 BB/9, 7.8 K/9

It’s tough to predict exactly what Villanueva’s role will be with the Cubs, at least to start the season. In the past, he’s flipped back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, and it looks like that will happen this year also, since the Cubs now have at least 7 starting pitchers on the roster (Garza, Samardzija, Feldman, Baker, Jackson, and Wood are the other obvious 6). Baker probably won’t be ready to start the season, but that still leaves 5, all of whom are more attractive options than Villanueva, who up to this point in his career has been pretty mediocre.

At the very least, the team will be in better position after injuries and trades in the rotation than they were last season. Until that time comes, though, Villanueva seems a little overqualified to be just another random bullpen arm, yet not an inspiring option for high-leverage situations, either. It’s a truism that you can never have too much pitching, but signing free agents without a clear role doesn’t seem like an ideal way to go about things, either. I guess we’ll see how things shake out.

The Cubs have designated P Lendy Castillo for assignment

Castillo was a Rule 5 pick from the Phillies last winter, even though he had never pitched above the single-A level in the minors. Predictably, he wasn’t very good, and the Cubs were highly limited in ways they could use him. He went long stretches between appearances, and spent a good chunk of the season on the disabled list, and all told he only pitched in 13 games. To me, it looked like he had reasonably good stuff, but simply wasn’t good enough to pitch at the major league level yet.

Now that he’s been DFA’d, it’s hard to say what will happen to him. I don’t doubt that the Cubs would like to keep him in the organization. There would have been no reason to keep him around last season if they didn’t. They’re no doubt counting on his inexperience to prevent another team from claiming him off waivers, since any team that does so will have to keep him on the 40-man roster, and frankly he’s probably not worth the trouble yet for most teams. Still, if I ran a bad team and was looking to take a chance on a wild-card bullpen arm, Castillo might be the kind of guy I’d try out.

EDIT 2/6/2013: Castillo has been outrighted to Iowa, and so stays in the organization.

The Cubs have signed P Edwin Jackson to a four-year contract

The deal is for a reported $52 million.

Boy, it sure is hard to get used to the money being thrown around these days, isn’t it? It wasn’t that long ago when a 4/52 deal like this would have been for a front-end starter, and ouside of a couple of seasons (and actually, mostly just 2009) Jackson hasn’t been that for most of his career. But he has pitched at least 160 innings in each of the past 6 seasons, and more than 180 innings in each of the past 5, and the competition for guys like that around the league is such that I’m not sure the Cubs even overpaid here. That’s especially true since Jackson is only 29, so age won’t be a factor over the life of the contract.

So what exactly are they getting? A pretty average pitcher all told, in fact his career ERA+ is 98. His best year, as mentioned, was 2009, when he went 13-9 with a 3.62 ERA (125 ERA+) over a career-high 214.0 IP for Detroit, and was named to the All-Star team, the only such honor in his career to date. One thing that I notice looking at his stats is that his K/BB ratio improved drastically that year over his career up to that point; after being below 1.50 for the two seasons before that, it jumped to 2.30, which is about where it’s been each season ever since.

I guess that, overall, I think this is a move that pretty much has to be made. Nothing is certain, of course, but Jackson’s as good a bet as anyone else to pitch a full season, eat some innings, and get crushed at times but also occasionally pitch a real gem of a game. That’s something they’ll need in the rotation even when the team is ready to contend, which obviously still looks to be after 2013 at this point.

He was the kind of pitcher that the team really missed last season, especially over the last month of the season when Matt Garza was out and Jeff Samardzija had been shut down. Obviously, the Cubs were way out of contention by that point, but the way to make a good team better is by making a bunch of small improvements to complement the really big ones. We’re still waiting for the really big improvements by the Cubs, but Jackson certainly makes them a better team in the meanwhile.

The Cubs have outrighted P Gerardo Concepcion to Kane County

Concepcion was signed by the Cubs with some fanfare last offseason, but he was absolutely awful in 2012 while pitching for low-A Peoria:

12 G (all starts), 52.1 IP, 7.39 ERA, 6 HR, 12.0 IP, 5.2 BB/9, 4.8 K/9

There’s just nothing good to say about that, and it’s no surprise that he was able to clear waivers. Even if he was playing hurt he should have been better than that. No doubt the Cubs were hoping he’d be claimed by another team, since his signing at this point looks like an obvious mistake.

The Cubs switched their Midwest League affiliate from Peoria to Kane County during the offseason, so I assume that Concepcion will repeat that level in 2013. Short of some truly amazing improvement, though, this will probably be the last time he’s mentioned on this blog, because it’s hard to see him rejoining the 40-man roster, much less making the majors.

The Cubs have signed OF Nate Schierholtz to a one-year contract

The deal is for a reported $2.25 million.

It’s tough to get excited for this signing, because Schierholtz just isn’t very good. His career major league numbers:

1389 PA, .270/.319/.409 (97 OPS+), 24 HR, 230 K, 20 SB in 34 attempts

I guess that he’ll be a halfway decent option off the bench, but as the roster stands now it looks like he’ll be seriously considered as the starter in right field. That’s not a terribly appealing idea, since he doesn’t really get on base and doesn’t really hit for power, either. We’re told that he has a great arm in right field, but … so? A rightfielder who can’t hit isn’t going to make up for it with his defense.

It could be worse, but this is basically the equivalent of handing the starting RF job to someone like Reed Johnson, and I don’t ever remember anyone thinking that would be a good idea. Perhaps the Cubs will still add an outfielder, or perhaps Brett Jackson will earn his way to a starting job and push David DeJesus back to right, or perhaps Dave Sappelt will beat out Schierholtz for the job. All I know is that Schierholtz, to this point of his career, has been a bench player, and that’s where he should probably be.

The Giants have claimed P Sandy Rosario off waivers from the Cubs

Well, that was a short stay. Rosario was picked up by the Cubs barely a week ago, and now he’s already gone. Too bad, because I thought he seemed like a nice addition, and certainly a guy who deserved a shot in spring training if nothing else.

But he’s now with his fifth organization during this offseason, so who knows what the deal with him is.

The Cubs have signed INF Ian Stewart to a one-year contract

The deal is for a reported $2 million plus incentives.

I don’t really have much more to say about the return of Stewart than I said in this post when he was non-tendered, except that obviously it was more likely that he’d return than I thought then. He remains the favorite to start the season as the Cubs’ regular third baseman, and I think it’s clear that the front office hopes his injury problems are a thing of the past and that he’ll return to being the average sort of third baseman that he was before 2011.

I guess we’ll see.

The Cubs have designated P Jeff Beliveau for assignment

I wrote in the previous post that the Cubs had to address the terrible K/BB ratio that the pitching staff put up this year, so it’s perhaps not surprising in that light that Beliveau has been DFA’d, since he walks a lot of hitters.

But that said, Beliveau will almost certainly be claimed off waivers, because he’s a big lefty who strikes people out (11.6 K/9 in 314.2 IP in the minors). Frankly, I think he’s worth keeping around, and I’d have cut Chris Rusin or Michael Bowden before Beliveau. Even though he walks a lot of hitters, his K/BB ratio has always been pretty solid (2.91 though his minor league career, with an almost identical 2.89 in his first year in AAA last season). He struggled in his first exposure to the majors in 2012, but not so horribly that he seemed irredeemable. He still struck out 17 in 17.2 IP, so the stuff is plainly there.

I spent almost all season arguing that Beliveau deserved more of a chance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he found success with some other team. So, I guess I don’t quite get this.

EDIT 12/22/2012: As expected, Beliveau has been claimed off waivers, and is heading to the Rangers.

The Cubs have claimed P Sandy Rosario off waivers from the Red Sox

Rosario (age 27, RHP) has made appearances in the majors in each of the last three seeasons with the Marlins, but has thrown only 7.2 IP combined in those three seasons, and now is somehow in his fourth (yes, fourth) organization over this offseason. He ended the season with Miami, then was claimed off waivers by Boston, then traded to Oakland, then claimed off waivers again by Boston, and now joins the Cubs. So, that’s actually five organizations if you count his two stints with Boston individually.

Anyway, Rosario had a very strong year with New Orleans despite missing time with injury, posting a 1.04 ERA in 26 IP, with only two walks issued. Impressively, both of those walks were intentional, so that means he issued zero unintentional walks in 26 innings. He also struck out 24.

Rosario, in fact, has a record of impressive control in the minor leagues, striking out over 4 hitters for each walk he issues, and I’m glad to see more relievers with this quality being added to the mix in the Cubs’ bullpen. Cubs pitchers walked more hitters than any other staff in the National League last season and struck out the second-fewest, and it simply seemed like they were pitching into trouble in every single inning. Obviously, it’s hard to count on a pitcher who’s been bouncing around the league like Rosario has during this offseason, and perhaps there are still injury concerns with him. But at least the front office is addressing an actual problem.

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