Both players are signed to split contracts, which basically means that they’ll have different pay rates depending on whether they’re in the major leagues or minor leagues. In other words, while both players are on the 40-man roster, neither one is a lock to make the team.
Other than that, there’s not much to say about these signings in terms of analysis. Both are depth signings, with the idea being that if you accumulate enough of this kind of talent, you have some insurance in case of injuries … or if not, insurance, at least options.
Sonnanstine is a right-hander who broke into the majors with Tampa Bay in 2007 as a 24-year-old and put up a 77 ERA+ over 22 starts. He had progressed through the Tampa Bay system by not walking very many batters, and he continued not walking very many batters during his first couple of years in the majors (1.8 BB/9 in 2007, 1.7 BB/9 in 2008). However, after that his control was never quite as smooth, walking over 3 batters per nine innings in the three years since, and to make matters worse, his strikeout rate started trending conspicuously downward the longer he stayed in the majors. He struck out 6.7 batters per 9 innings in 2007, but last year managed only 12 K in 35.2 IP for the Rays, for a 3.0 K/9 rate, and only posted 5.6 K/9 after being sent down to AAA.
The Cubs had horrible problems at the back end of their starting rotation last year, giving way to many starts to the likes of Casey Coleman and Doug Davis, and presumably Sonnanstine was brought in as an option in case the rotation broke down again this season. He’ll be 29 next year, but it’s hard to be optimistic about him. He’s just not very good, with a lifetime 5.26 ERA in 540.1 career major-league innings, and his peripheral numbers don’t suggest a guy with good stuff that just needs to get it together. They suggest that he’s a guy who could be an average pitcher if things break right for him. But it’s a low-risk move, and he probably won’t pitch a game for the Cubs unless he shows he’s got something first.
Corpas is a different story, having missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery last year. He had a terrific season out of the bullpen for the Rockies in 2007, posting a 2.08 ERA in 78 innings and recording 19 saves in 22 opportunities. Since then, he’s struggled to regain that kind of effectiveness, with an ERA over 4.50 each subsequent season. Like just about every pitcher that the Cubs have acquired this offseason, he has a history of not walking a ton of hitters – only 2.5 BB/9 over his career – but obviously the big question with him is to what extent he can recover from elbow surgery. I would guess that the chances of seeing him at Wrigley are higher than seeing Sonnanstine, but that’s really just a guess. Either way, like Sonnanstine, he seems more like someone signed for depth instead of somone who will be relied upon.
The Cubs have acquired P Travis Wood, OF Dave Sappelt, and INF Ronald Torreyes from the Reds for P Sean Marshall
The new front office haven’t made a ton of moves so far this offseason, and this is probably the first one that points to a long-term strategy for rebuilding the team. Up until now, the moves have focused on immediate needs – trading for a third baseman, signing a rightfielder – but I can’t say the same thing about this deal. Sean Marshall has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the past couple years, and I don’t see any reason to believe that he won’t be just as good for the next couple. So this is obviously a deal made with an eye to the long term, since Marshall is a player the Cubs would want to hold on to if they were expecting to contend in 2012.
I have to say, the return that the Cubs got for him is reasonably impressive. Wood is a lefty and will step into the starting rotation immediately, where he had some success in his rookie year in 2010 before taking a step back last season. His combined numbers over the two seasons:
39 G, 35 GS, 208.2 IP, 4.18 ERA (95 ERA+), 19 HR, 2.8 BB/9, 7.0 K/9
If the Cubs can get a full year of that kind of production, I’d say that it justifies the Marshall trade all by itself, as it’s basically the kind of production you’d want from a decent #4 starter. I like that he doesn’t walk a ton of hitters – only Rodrigo Lopez walked fewer than 2.8 per 9 innings last season among Cubs starters, but Lopez only struck out 5 batters per 9, which makes for a pretty mediocre K/BB ratio. And only Matt Garza averaged less than a homer allowed per 9 innings among Cubs starters last season, while Wood’s averaging 0.8 over his two seasons.
So which Wood will they get, the one who dominated the minor leagues in 2009 and had an impressive major league debut in 2010, or the one who couldn’t hold his spot in the majors in 2011 (and got hit hard in the minors as well)? Who knows, but like I alluded to earlier, I’d be happy with him if he ends up being somewhere near the middle. At any rate, he definitely has upside, and young players with upside (he’ll be 25 next year) is what the Cubs need more than anything right now as they rebuild the talent in the organization.
Along those lines, the Cubs somehow got the Reds to part with Torreyes, who torched the Midwest League (low-A level) last year as an 18-year-old. The numbers:
306 PA, .356/.398/.457, 3 HR, 19 K, 12 SB in 19 attempts
That may not look like much – a high batting average with little patience or power – but again, he was 18 and it was the Midwest League. For context, last season the Cubs didn’t have a single player as young as Torreyes play a single game for Peoria, their Midwest League affiliate (and even more tellingly, they only had one player, 23-year-old 1B Richard Jones, put up numbers as good). Starlin Castro was playing in the Arizona League when he was 18. That doesn’t mean Torreyes will advance as rapidly through the minors as Castro did – almost no one does – but I think he’s an exciting acquisition. He doesn’t strike out much, he seems sure-handed in the field (only 3 errors in 263 chances at second base last season), and actually has decent power for a guy his size (he’s listed at 5’9″, 140 lbs). I’m looking forward to see how he fares in 2012, presumably starting the year at high-A Daytona.
Sappelt comes to the Cubs after making his major league debut last season as a 24-year-old for the Reds, where he didn’t really hit a lick in 118 plate appearances. He played mostly in CF in the minors, and actually has had a pretty good offensive record on the farm:
1781 PA, .309/.362/.459, 31 HR, 233 K, 82 SB in 129 attempts
Not much of a base stealer, but overall this is the record of a guy who can have some value at the major league level. He looks like he could be a solid reserve outfielder, able to play all three outfield spots, get on base at a decent rate and provide moderate power off the bench.
Overall, I’d have to say that I’m enthusiastic about the trade and the new direction that it signals for the team. There’s no doubt that they’ll miss Marshall, who has been dominant out of the pen for last two years. But the Cubs have a desperate need to upgrade the talent in the organization, and it’s worth giving up a reliever – even a great one like Marshall – in order to get a good head start on that process.
A new manager means a new staff, and here’s the Cubs’ announced 2012 coaching staff:
Pitching coach Chris Bosio
Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo
Third-base coach Pat Listach
First-base coach Dave McKay
Bench coach Jamie Quirk
Bullpen coach Lester Strode
I don’t have much to say about these guys, but a little biographical information might be in order.
I remember Bosio as a pitcher for the Brewers, before he went to Seattle and pitched for a number of years there before retiring after the 1996 season. He actually had a fairly solid major league career, with 3 seasons over 200 innings pitched, 94 wins, and a 107 ERA+. For context, some comparable players by Baseball-Reference.com’s similarity scores are Aaron Harang and Ismael Valdes, and guys like that, who aren’t really aces but are valuable pitchers in their best years. He comes from the Cubs after having worked in the Brewers’ system for a few years, most recently as pitching coach for AAA Nashville.
Jaramillo is a holdover from the previous staff. When Hendry couldn’t find any free agents worth signing to huge contracts, he chose to make a splash by giving Jaramillo a multi-year deal. Jaramillo had made his reputation as hitting coach in Texas, but since he came to the Cubs, the Rangers have continued hitting well and the Cubs have continued being mostly average.
Listach is a holdover as well, although previously he had served as Quade’s bench coach. I don’t really know how the coaching hierarchy works but doesn’t this seem like a demotion for him? Listach had managed in the Cubs minor league system for a few years, in AA and AAA, and then worked his way up to bench coach for the major league team … one would think he would have started to accumulate a coaching resume fit for a potential big league team, and now he gets moved to third-base coach? I don’t really get it.
McKay comes to the Cubs fresh off a World Championship with the Cards, where he’s been the first-base coach for 16 seasons. His other claim to fame is that he was the strength and conditioning coach for the 1988 A’s and even co-authored a weight-training book with Jose Canseco. Hey now, I can’t imagine that ever becoming an issue for the antagonistic Chicago media. He’ll also be in charge of baserunning and outfielders.
I vaguely remember Quirk as a player also, from back when he was with the Royals. He was not a very good player but managed to stick in the big leagues for a long time; 18 years, to be exact. Since retiring, he’s been bouncing around the coaching ranks, most recently serving as bullpen coach for the Astros. He’ll be Sveum’s right-hand man in Chicago.
Strode enters his sixth season as the Cubs’ bullpen coach.
The Cubs had seven arbitration-eligible players this year:
Essentially, in order to keep these players, the Cubs had to tender contracts to them by the end of the day yesterday, or they would become free agents. Hill is the only player they chose to non-tender, so he’s no longer on the team.
I think the reasons for tendering the six players they did are self-explanatory for the most part, although to my mind Jeff Baker could have gone either way. His principle value to the club is that he crushes lefthanded pitching, although that skill is not really all that hard to come by. Still, he can play second base, so the combination of his versatility and his platoon advantage against lefties makes him useful enough to have around, I suppose.
DeWitt is another player who may have been near the cutoff line, although I continue to think that he’s a better option than Darwin Barney for the starting job. His biggest weakness is that, even though he’s a lefty, he doesn’t hit righthanded pitchers very well, having a pronounced reverse split over the course of his career:
DeWitt, career vs. RHP: 985 PA, .254/.318/.373, 17 HR, 151 K
DeWitt, career vs. LHP: 228 PA, .290/.373/.440, 4 HR, 41 K
This made him pretty much useless last season, with Barney starting and Baker next to him on the bench, because he’s not good enough against righties to make for an effective platoon partner with Barney and he’s not as good against lefties as Baker. Since the Cubs look like they’re bringing back all three players next year (plus the possible addition of Jeff Bianchi to the mix), there will at least be a healthy competition for playing time at second base. Hopefully the new management regime will actually open up competition for the starting spot, because Barney is probably the worst option of the four.
It’s hard to think of a reason why the Cubs should have kept Hill. He has a good reputation defensively, but he’s a terrible hitter, with a lifetime OPS+ of 50 (yes, fifty). Even though he’s still arb-eligible, he’s actually pretty old – he’ll be 33 next season – so if anything, he’s going to get worse going forward instead of better. He’s relatively expensive, making $850,000 last year, which of course won’t break the Cubs’ payroll, but still it’s more than double the league minimum for production far below replacement level. And most importantly, the Cubs have much better options already in the organization for the role of backup catcher in Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger.
In fact, to be blunt it’s hard to understand why Hill ever got as much playing time for the Cubs as he did: 795 plate appearances over parts of 5(!) seasons, in which time he put up -2.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) according to Baseball-Reference.com. I understand that the backup catcher spot is usually considered a defense-first role, but Hill has essentially been a waste of a roster spot whenever he’s been with the team.
Well, I’ve been complaining about the second base situation, and this looks like a move intended to at least give Darwin Barney (and, I guess, Blake DeWitt) some competition at that position.
Bianchi is 25 years old, bats right-handed, and was signed out of high school as a second round pick by Kansas City in the 2005 draft. He played mostly at shortstop in the Royals’ system until switching to second base last season, after missing the entire 2010 season following elbow surgery. Until his injury, he had been progressing nicely through the minors, reaching AA as a 22-year-old and putting up a .315/.356/.441 line in 297 plate appearances with Northwest Arkansas in 2009.
After Tommy John surgery in 2010, though, he came back in 2011 and struggled at the plate, especially with his power. The numbers:
499 PA, .259/.320/.333, 2 HR, 58 K, 20 SB in 25 attempts
His struggles last season aside, this is a pretty good player to pick up for literally nothing. He showed some promise in the minors, and if he can regain his stroke at the plate, he’ll have some value going forward. If nothing else, like I keep saying for just about anyone who can play second base, he has a more promising track record than Darwin Barney.
The Cubs have acquired INF Ian Stewart and P Casey Weathers from the Rockies for OF Tyler Colvin and INF DJ LeMahieu
Ah yes, a good old-fashioned trade, one that involves major league players in exchange for major league players. Let’s look at these players one at a time.
Ian Stewart fills the Cubs’ obvious need at third base in the wake of Aramis Ramirez’s departure. He turns 27 in April, hits left-handed, brings a reputation for decent defense that the numbers aren’t really clear about, and has put up the following career numbers to date:
1418 PA, .236/.323/.428, 89 OPS+, 54 HR, 396 K, 16 SB in 25 attempts
Basically, he’s a guy who strikes out a ton (28% of his plate appearances), which leads to a low batting average, but otherwise has some power and can take a walk. On the other hand, those numbers are also Colorado-ized, so they’re really not as good as they look. In his last four seasons, he’s put up OPS+ numbers (100 is average) of 102, 95, 97, and 21. Yes, 21, as he had a woeful 2011, hitting .156/.243/.221, without a homerun in 136 plate appearances until a wrist injury ended his season in August.
According to Jed Hoyer, Stewart is expected to be the Cubs’ starter at third base. Obviously he’ll need to be fully recovered from his wrist injury, but he’ll also need to step up his production at the plate in his age-27 season. He’s under club control until he hits free agency after the 2014 season, but he doesn’t look like a long-term answer given his average offensive production to date.
Casey Weathers turns 27 in June, and has yet to crack the major leagues after being drafted in the 1st round in 2007. He missed the 2009 season after Tommy John surgery, but even still he’s only made it as far as AA. He pitched there for Tulsa last year, putting up the following numbers:
44 games, 0 starts, 45.2 IP, 5.32 ERA, 3 HR allowed, 9.5 BB/9, 9.5 K/9
Not much to say to that except, well, yikes. In 132 innings total in the minors, he’s allowed 7.1 BB/9, obviously not a number that will get him to the majors no matter how many he strikes out. Given his age and his evident lack of control, I’d say that it’s a long shot that he makes the majors and an even longer shot that he makes an impact even if he does.
Tyler Colvin was the Cubs’ first-round pick in the 2006 draft and is a good example of the Cubs’ faulty talent evaluation under Jim Hendry. Like Stewart, Colvin strikes out a ton (26% in 636 career plate appearances), but unlike Stewart, he never did learn any patience at the plate, which means that he’s doomed to a lifetime of low batting averages and crummy on-base percetages. He put up a season in 2010 that looks pretty flukey in comparison with the rest of his major- and minor-league career (113 OPS+), and then cratered last season (38 OPS+), although unlike Stewart he didn’t have injury problems to blame. When he was sent down to Iowa to sort things out, he didn’t fare very well there, either, hitting .256/.270/.478 and walking 5 times in 212 PA. That’s a joke, and I’m not really sad to see him leave the organization.
DJ LeMahieu was a 2nd round pick in the 2009 draft, and simply never developed any power as a pro. He hit 11 HR in 532 college at-bats for LSU, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but certainly projects to more than the 7 he hit in more than 1,100 at-bats in the Cubs organization. Still, the Cubs called him up last year as a 22-year-old, and he hit very poorly in 62 PA. Nevertheless, as the Cubs’ fortunes faded last season, I would have been tempted to give him playing time over Darwin Barney, who is three years older than LeMahieu and put up similar numbers throughout his minor league career. In fact, I’m still not so sure that I’m not willing to take LeMahieu’s future over Barney’s right now; Barney had only hit 7 HR through his age-22 season himself, and he wasn’t as good a hitter in college as LeMahieu was. So once again I’ll admit concern over the second base position, since this is the second straight day when I’ve written a post lamenting that the Cubs have gotten rid of a second baseman at least as good as – and possibly better – than the current incumbent.
Looking at the trade overall, to some extent this is merely a deal where both teams are rolling the dice on someone else’s misfits, but I think it’s fair to think that Stewart has a better future ahead of him than Colvin does even though Colvin is a year younger. Stewart plays a tougher defensive position, he has a more patient approach at the plate, and he has more of a big-league track record. Their power numbers – Colvin’s biggest strength – are pretty similar, with the big caveat that Stewart’s been hitting in Colorado. On the other hand, I think LeMahieu, though not particularly promising, is more likely to develop into a worthwhile major leaguer than Weathers is.
So I guess I’d say that the trade addresses one of the Cubs’ biggest needs in adequate but underwhelming fashion, while giving up about as much value as they received. Which makes it a fair trade, I guess.
The Cubs selected the following players in the Rule 5 Draft:
RHP Lendy Castillo
INF Ricky Alvarez
They also had the following players selected from their minor league system:
INF Ryan Flaherty
INF Marwin Gonzalez
The Cubs took Castillo from the Phillies organization. He’s an intriguing choice, in that last year was only his second as a pitcher after being converted from an infielder after the 2009 season. For a guy who’s taken up pitching so recently, he’s moved up quickly through the minors, appearing in 21 games in A-ball last season. His pitching numbers from last year for level A Lakeland:
21 games, 2 starts, 46 IP, 1 HR allowed, 3.1 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
Well, that’s not half-bad, even if he saw only a limited number of innings. Interestingly, the Cubs have two other pitchers on the staff who were converted from position players in the minors; both Randy Wells and Carlos Marmol were catchers early in their careers. By coincidence, both of them played for level-A Lansing in the same year, and both were 21 at the time. Their numbers that season:
Wells: 36 games, 15 starts, 107.2 IP, 9 HR allowed, 3.3 BB/9, 10.1 K/9
Marmol: 26 games, 24 starts, 154.2 IP, 15 HR allowed, 3.1 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
Obviously both of those guys pitched more innings in their year in A-ball than Castillo did, and both were a year younger. Like Castillo last year, both were in their second years as pitchers. So Castillo’s a year behind where these two guys were, and it’s fair to think that his upside might not be as high as either of them either.
Due to the rules of the Rule 5 Draft, the Cubs will be required to carry him on the major league roster all year in 2012, or else they’ll have to send him back to the Phillies. Presumably, if they decide to keep him, they’ll assign him to the bullpen where he’ll pitch in low-leverage situations. From there, I guess we’ll see what happens.
In the AAA phase of the draft – in which a team can take a player from the low minors of another team and assign him to AAA – the Cubs took Ricky Alvarez from the Angels. Alvarez spent last season playing for level-A Cedar Rapids, where he hit .257/.292/.388 with 10 HR in 516 plate appearances. He turns 23 in the spring and doesn’t appear to have a future in the major leagues – defensively, he played the majority of the time at 1B, making his hitting numbers plainly inadeqaute. The Cubs in turn sold his rights to Monterrey in the Mexican Leagues.
As for the players they lost, Ryan Flaherty is 25 and Marwin Gonzalez will be 23 in the spring. Flaherty split time between second and third base, while Gonzalez played short; both began the 2011 season in AA Tennessee, played very well, and were promoted to AAA Iowa during the season where they struggled. Their combined numbers between the two levels last year:
Flaherty: 530 PA, .280/.347/.478, 19 HR, 99 K, 5 SB in 11 attempts
Gonzalez: 465 PA, .288/.343/.400, 4 HR, 48 K, 7 SB in 10 attempts
Honestly, given the current roster, I’d rather have Flaherty than Castillo. There’s a good chance that Flaherty is a better option for 2012 at second base than Darwin Barney or Blake DeWitt. He certainly has more power, and although I don’t know how highly regarded his defense is, he only made 1 error last year at 2B in 63 games. I’m not saying that he’s a future all-star or even a long-term fix at second, since it was his second exposure to AA, he was old for the league, and he struggled in AAA. But the Cubs will need to make a move to get better at second base or this will look odd. Of course they could get him back if Baltimore, his new team, decides they don’t want to keep him in the majors.
Gonzalez is both younger and more valuable defensively, although of course the Cubs are set at shortstop for now. He too was in his second exposure to AA, but being 2 years younger than Flaherty, that’s not as big of a question mark. He would have started the year in AAA Iowa, and although he had a great start in AA last year before being promoted, it’s hard to see him as more than a possible utility infielder in the big leagues or perhaps a short-term starter. Nonetheless, it’s easy to see why teams would have wanted him in the Rule 5 Draft, since he’s still young and has defensive value. He was picked by Boston and subsequently traded to the Astros, where he’ll presumably have a better shot to compete for playing time.
Well, it was easy to spot the problem here. Games started in RF for the Cubs in 2011:
Kosuke Fukudome, 71
Tyler Colvin, 35
Reed Johnson, 28
Lou Montanez, 10
Bryan LaHair, 9
Jeff Baker, 6
Tony Campana, 3
Of this crew, three (Fukudome, Johnson, Montanez) are no longer with the team. Two others (Baker, Campana) are not viable candidates for the starting RF job under any criteria.
The remaining two are very dubious candidates. Colvin hit for power after making the team in 2010, hitting 20 homers and posting a .500 slugging percentage. It was not an unimpressive performance, but his continued success was always a long shot. He’s never had good on-base skills – only a .315 OBP over more than 2000 minor-league plate appearances – and even in 2010 he struck out in over 25% of his trips to the plate. Basically, his plan seems to be to swing a lot and hope that pitchers just happen to make occasional mistakes. He seems adequate defensively but not good in a way that makes up for his shortcomings offensively. His awful 2011 season may have exposed him as an inadequate talent at the major league level and made it clear that the Cubs couldn’t go into 2012 without a better option.
LaHair is a different case. As a 28-year-old in Iowa, he really crushed the ball, hitting .331/.405/.664 with 38 homers. During a late-season call-up, he continued to impress, hitting .288/.377/.508 in 69 PA. He’s a big (6’5″) lefty bat, but too old to be considered a prospect, and it seems like there’s broad consensus that he wouldn’t be able to handle the outfield defensively on a full-time basis (he’s played mostly as a 1B in the minors). So, again, it seems clear that the solution in RF was not already on the Cubs’ roster, even if I like the idea of LaHair on the team in some capacity.
Enter David DeJesus, who the Cubs have signed to a 2-year, $10 million contract, with a team option for a third year. DeJesus was drafted by the Royals in the 4th round of the 2000 draft, and was a fringe Rookie of the Year candidate with the Royals in 2004. After that, he bounced around the Royals’ outfield, generally contributing a decent batting average, reasonable patience at the plate, a little power, and good defense. He was traded to the A’s last year, and had a tough year in Oakland in 2011. Here are his last five seasons offensively:
Year: GP, BA/OBP/SLG, OPS+
2007: 157, .260/.351/.372, 91
2008: 135, .307/.366/.452, 118
2009: 144, .281/.347/.434, 107
2010: 91, .318/.384/.443, 127
2011: 131, .240/.323/.376, 93
A couple of things jump out at me here. The first is that DeJesus will not likely to play the whole season, having only played 150 games once in his career and 140 games one other time. The second is that it sure looks like he wasn’t fully recovered last season from the thumb injury that ended his 2010 season.
On the other hand, that’s probably why the Cubs got him so cheap. There’s a real risk that, at 32, DeJesus will be more similar to his 2011 self going forward than his 2010 self. Accordingly, the ideal plan here is for top prospect Brett Jackson to win the starting job in CF, and then platoon Marlon Byrd and DeJesus in RF. This takes Colvin out of the picture, gives us a look at (hopefully) the future in center, and provides a low-cost solution in RF that is decent at the plate and excellent in the field. GM Jed Hoyer says that the organization doesn’t see DeJesus as a platoon player, but it’s nonetheless worth a shot given DeJesus’s career-long struggle with lefties (.264/.328/.362 career vs. .292/.368/.447 against righties).
At any rate, it’s not hard to like the deal. It’s a low-cost move that might pay off if DeJesus can play at his pre-2011 level, providing decent OBP and solid defense. And it’s not like it will take much to provide an upgrade over the 90 games played for the Cubs in RF by someone other than Fukudome in 2011. DeJesus can be a useful player, and there’s always room for one of those on a team that’s coming off a 71-win season.