The Cubs just signed Manny Corpas about a month ago, but this is just a transaction to remove him from the 40-man roster in order to make room for Kerry Wood. Corpas will remain in the organization, although since he’s now off the 40-man, his path to the major leagues just got a bit tougher.
Six of the Cubs’ seven arbitration-eligible players have agreed to one-year contracts, leaving only Matt Garza’s case yet to be resolved. Here are the terms, with nothing too surprising here:
Jeff Baker: $1.375 million
Blake DeWitt: $1.1 million
Geovany Soto: $4.3 million
Ian Stewart: $2.237 million
Chris Volstad: $2.655 million
Randy Wells: $2.705 million
As for Garza, the two sides are more than $2 million apart in their offers, which suggests to me that a settlement is on the way prior to an actual arbitration hearing. They’re probably too far apart for either side to want to risk being decided against.
EDIT: The Cubs and Garza have settled at $9.5 million, somewhat favorably for Garza given the two sides’ offers ($10.225 million by Garza, $7.95 million by the Cubs).
As with the Maholm signing, the Cubs will have to make a move on the 40-man roster to make room for Wood. Terms of the deal have been reported to be $3 million for 2012, with another $3 million team option for 2013. Wood made $1.5 million last season, but he took significantly below market value in order to play for the Cubs, even reportedly turning down a 2-year offer from the White Sox for significantly more money. So this represents a raise, but I would imagine that he still could have gotten more elsewhere if he wanted to. The negotiations between Wood and the Cubs have been protracted this offseason, and I wonder if the hold-up wasn’t that option year, since $3 million hardly seems like a significant expenditure for bringing Wood back.
His numbers last season:
55 G (all in relief), 51 IP, 3.35 ERA (117 ERA+), 5 HR, 3.7 BB/9, 10.1 K/9
The Cubs used him in high-leverage situations more than any other pitchers other than Carlos Marmol, the closer, and Sean Marshall, the primary setup man; the Cubs were ahead or tied when he was brought into the game in 39 of his 55 appearances. Compare that to Jeff Samardzija, who made only 35 of his 75 appearances under those circumstances. On the other hand, it’s possible that the Cubs overestimated his abilities; he allowed 9 of 21 inherited runners to score, which was the highest percentage on the team other than Chris Carpenter, who allowed an astonishing 9 of 11 to score in only 9.2 IP. Samardzija, by contrast, allowed only 7 of 27 runners to score; the league average was about 30%. That’s the best that Samardzija’s ever been by that metric, though, and the worst that Wood’s ever been, so it may just be a one-year fluke.
Still, Wood’s important rate stats were similar overall to his career averages. He struck out slightly fewer, walked slightly fewer, and gave up close to a homer for every nine innings pitched, which is normal for him. He’ll be a good addition to what looks like an unsettled bullpen, and he seems like a pretty good bet to give them roughly what he gave them last year.
The Cubs had a full 40-man roster before they signed Paul Maholm, and someone needed to be removed from the roster to make room for him. Unfortunately for Bianchi, he was that guy.
Bianchi was claimed off waivers by the Cubs from the Royals barely a month ago, and now he’s gone in a similar transaction to the Brewers. As I did then, I think Bianchi is probably a better player than Darwin Barney, but realistically he was facing long odds of making the team after a very poor season in 2011. Since they only picked him up a month ago, it’s reasonable to infer that the front office hoped to keep Bianchi; if he was placed on waivers but not claimed, they could haved outrighted him off the 40-man roster but still kept him in the system. But whatever their motivation, he’s with the Brewers now.
Terms of the deal have been reported to be $4.25 million for 2012, with a team option of $6.5 million for 2013 (with a $500,000 buyout). As an additional administrative note, the Cubs will have to drop someone from the 40-man roster in order to make room for Maholm.
Anyway, the Cubs are presenting this signing as a move to add depth to the rotation, and anyone who remembers the likes of Doug Davis, Casey Coleman, and Rodrigo Lopez starting games for the team last season can probably understand the need to do so. Maholm turns 30 next June and is lefthanded, and has pitched his whole career thus far for the Pirates after being drafted in the first round in 2003. His career numbers, after six full seasons:
185 G (all starts), 1143.2 IP, 4.36 ERA (96 ERA+), 104 HR, 3.0 BB/9, 5.5 K/9
In short, that’s pretty average, and therefore a lot better than what they got from those three aforementioned fill-ins, or for that matter better than what they got last year from Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, or Randy Wells. For only a shade under $5 million (assuming the buyout), that’s very reasonable production to address a very clear need.
However, the Cubs now have six starting pitchers on the roster, with the others being Dempster, Wells, Matt Garza, Travis Wood, and Chris Volstad. I would think that Volstad is the obvious odd man out if things stay as they are, but rumors of a Garza trade have been ubiqitous over the past few weeks. It’s probable that there are still moves to be made, but at this moment, Maholm looks like the #4 starter behind Garza, Dempster and Wood. That doesn’t sound like a great rotation to me, but it’s much better than last year’s and the team doesn’t look to be a contender this year anyway. And at least with Volstad and Andy Sonnanstine also with the team, they shouldn’t have the desperate need for rotation depth that they had when injuries struck last year.
The Cubs have acquired 1B Anthony Rizzo and P Zach Cates from the Padres for P Andrew Cashner and OF Kyung-Min Na
A first baseman was an obvious need for the Cubs this offseason. I think that Bryan LaHair could be a pretty average major leaguer, but I don’t think anyone was too excited about that idea, and at any rate LaHair doesn’t seem like a long-term answer. Albert Pujols was of course available as a free agent, but I for one am glad that the Cubs didn’t give a deal better than 10 years and $240 million to a 32-year-old, no matter how great he is. Prince Fielder is still out there, but comes with questions of his own, and doesn’t seem like the kind of all-around player that the Epstein front office favors.
But now they’ve acquired Anthony Rizzo, who is a top offensive prospect, the likes of which I’m not sure the Cubs have had in my lifetime. His career minor league numbers:
1629 PA, .296/.366/.514, 64 HR, 337 K, 21 SB in 29 attempts
That’s very good, but what if I told you that he’s only 22, hits lefthanded, and dominated AAA last season:
413 PA, .331/.404/.652, 26 HR, 89 K, 7 SB in 13 attempts
Those are truly excellent numbers, even if they can probably be discounted somewhat. He did play for Tucson, in the dry air and relative elevation (about 2,300 feet), and the Pacific Coast League is a high offense league to begin with. Plus, he struggled when he was called up to the Padres:
153 PA, .141/.281/.242, 51 OPS+, 1 HR, 46 K, 2 SB in 3 attempts
Yikes. But there are mitigating factors here, too, the most obvious one being his age; not too many hitters, especially sluggers, make the majors at age 21. Plus, Petco Park is a pronounced pitchers park, and especially disfavors lefthanded hitters. That said, there’s no way of getting around the fact that he struggled mightily, although it was in a small number of plate appearances.
Still, he’s clearly one of the best offensive prospects in the game, and a player that the Cubs can legitimately build around. He fills a huge hole in the Cubs’ long-term plans, although Jed Hoyer is currently saying that the plan is to start him in AAA and give LaHair the starting job in 2012. That’s all good and well, since LaHair actually put up nearly identical offensive numbers as Rizzo last season in AAA, and fared better in his limited big-league exposure. One can argue that LaHair is more major-league ready now than Rizzo, but LaHair will be 29 next season and Rizzo will be 22. At those ages and with their respective track records, we can presume that LaHair was as good last season as he’s going to get, while Rizzo is still developing. Rizzo is the future at first base, and figures to make his Cubs debut at some point in 2012 no matter what.
If it took giving up Andrew Cashner to get him, I’m just fine with that. Cashner once looked like a big part of the Cubs’ plans, after being drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft. His ascension through the minors was uneven and pockmarked with control issues, but by 2010 he was in the majors anyway. Despite a mostly unimpressive year with the Cubs that year (a 4.80 ERA and a 5.0 BB/9 rate), in a classic Hendry move he was inserted into the starting rotation to start the 2011 season. He pitched well his first start but was injured, and didn’t make another start the rest of the year. He did return to the bullpen towards the end of the season, however, where he made 6 appearances.
It’s frankly hard for me to believe that the Cubs effectively got Rizzo for Cashner, since Cashner can hardly be relied on to be an effective starter, and will already be 25 next season. Even if Cashner looked like a solid #3 starter, though, I’d still like the deal. Frankly, I’d take a major offensive threat over a mid-rotation starter any day of the week, especially given the lack of offensive talent in the Cubs’ organization.
The two minor-leaguers in the deal look to be of little consequence. Na was signed out of Korea and made his professional debut for Boise (short-season A level) in 2010, where he was unimpressive, posting a 540 OPS in 208 PA. In a classic Hendry move, he was promoted to low-A Peoria anyway as a 19-year-old to start 2011, where he was predictably unimpressive and demoted back to Boise once the Boise season started. He still failed to hit and was then busted back down to their Rookie affiliate in Mesa, where he hit .360 with virtually no power. He’s too young to write off completely but I doubt that the Cubs had any qualms about including him in the trade.
As for the guy they got, Zach Cates was selected in the third round of the 2010 draft out of community college in Texas, and was assigned to low-A Fort Wayne straighaway as a 21-year-old. He struggled there:
25 G, 25 GS, 118 IP, 4.73 ERA, 4 HR, 4.0 BB/9, 8.5 K/9
Hard to say where a line like that will lead. The first thing I noticed is that he walks a lot more hitters than any of the other pitchers the Cubs have acquired since Epstein was hired, but on the plus side, he didn’t allow very many homers. He struck out a decent number of hitters, but not a truly impressive number. He’s young enough to have upside, but he’s not notably young for the Midwest League. Basically, he might turn into a major-leaguer or he might not.
I am pretty sure, though, that I’d rather have Cates in the organization than Na, so as far as I’m concerned, this deal looks like an unambiguous win for the Cubs.
The Cubs are also chipping in $15 million of Zambrano’s $18 million salary this year.
Where to begin? Zambrano’s been one of my favorite players to watch over the last 10 years, since he first came up with the Cubs in 2001. He’s a big guy, throws hard, and competes. And boy does he compete. The Cubs through the years have been criticized, especially lately, for appearing to loaf, and not taking defense seriously enough, and not seeming to hate losing the way the fans and media want to see. Even Lou Piniella was often criticized in the press for not being “fiery” enough. Lou Piniella.
Yet there was Zambrano, a pitcher running out every grounder. He took his defense seriously, and of course he quite obviously worked on his hitting. He hit .300 three times and has hit 23 homers in his career. And above all, he was a workhorse on the mound, throwing at least 200 innings in his first five full seasons as a starter, with a 136 ERA+ over that span. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior got most of the hype in 2003, and justly so, but it was Zambrano that went on to have a long and productive career in the rotation.
So yes, it was always clear that he tried his best to become the best baseball player that he could, although because he was always pretty big, he never seemed to get credit for it. And of course there’s the elephant in the room, which is that his competitiveness had its dark side as well. Even early in his career he became known for headhunting when things were going poorly. He often seemed upset when his defense failed to make plays behind him, and had multiple ugly confrontations with teammates.
And gradually, he also stopped being as good. He hasn’t hit 200 innings since 2007, and hasn’t been nearly as effective, either, with a 109 ERA+ over the past four seasons. And obviously he bottomed out last season, posting a 4.82 ERA and melting down during a game against Atlanta in August. He left the stadium after being ejected, and didn’t pitch another game.
Theo Epstein made noises about keeping Zambrano with the team, but it’s clear from this deal that the new front office felt that keeping Zambrano around was a liability. Volstad is only 25, but has been in the major leagues for four seasons, and simply hasn’t been very good. His career numbers:
103 G, 102 GS, 584 IP, 4.59 ERA (90 ERA+), 72 HR, 3.1 BB/9, 5.8 K/9
That’s a guy who looks very hittable, with not very many strikeouts and a lot of homers allowed. On the other hand, he did make a big step forward last year in his K/BB rate, striking out 2.39 hitters for every walk he issued, which was easily a career best. No doubt that appealed a lot to the Cubs’ front office, since if they’ve shown any obvious tendency this offseason, it’s to acquire pitchers who don’t issue a lot of walks. And, regardless of one’s opinion of Zambrano, that was something he always had trouble with; his career BB/9 is 4.1, but he’s only been below that number twice in the last six years.
One other thing that’s clear is that the Cubs do not expect to contend in 2012, and I think that is an important factor to consider here. Zambrano’s contract only runs through 2012 (he had a vesting option for 2013 that was unlikely to take effect, in fact unlikely enough that he’s waived it as part of this trade), so whether he is a good candidate to bounce back this season is not a terribly relevant concern for the Cubs. Or rather, I should say that it would be a more important concern if Zambrano had not spent the last few years making a headache out of himself. The time has long since passed when Zambrano could be considered a fan favorite (well, a small number of fans like me excepted), so no doubt the front office was wondering why they should put up with the problems for a year when they don’t have to.
Like I say, Volstad isn’t very good, but at least he can slot into the fifth starter role and give the team innings. Can they count on Zambrano to give them even that much? It’s hard to blame them for being skeptical. It makes me wince a little to see the Cubs paying Zambrano to pitch for the Marlins, but if he can’t keep his head straight and be productive for the team, it hardly matters. If Volstad does turn out to have untapped upside, he’s still under team control for two years. Zambrano would have almost certainly been gone, one way or the other, after 2012.
I wouldn’t have minded at all if they had tried to give Zambrano another chance. But realistically speaking, a new front office team is in place, one with a seemingly radically different approach than the Hendry regime. Yet they concluded that Zambrano had to go, just like the old regime had. So it’s hard to argue otherwise. The only question left is, could they have done much better than this in a trade? I don’t see any reason to think so; no one wants a headcase on their team. It’s always a bitter pill to swallow, the idea of addition by subtraction. But if the team didn’t have confidence in Zambrano being able to get through the season, then I think they’ve made the best out of the situation. I’m sad it came to this, but it is what it is.
In the meantime, I’ll remember the good times with Zambrano more than the bad. He’s had a friendly relationship with Ozzie Guillen for several years, so maybe he’ll be in a better situation for him down in Miami. For what it’s worth, I actually wish him well. Good luck, Carlos, and thanks for the memories.
The deal was announced a couple of weeks ago already, but was only yesterday made official although I haven’t seen financial terms reported. But whatever, it’s not like he’ll will be overly expensive.
Johnson had a good year in a backup role last season:
111 G, 266 PA, .309/.348/.467, 122 OPS+, 5 HR, 63 K, 2 SB in 3 attempts
However, that was his highest OPS+ since he was a regular for Toronto in 2006, and actually his only OPS+ over 100 (which is average) in that time. He just turned 35, so a repeat performance seems unlikely. But he can play all three OF positions defensively, and surely the Cubs have done a lot worse through the years for reserve outfielders.
However, this currently gives the Cubs seven outfielders on the 40-man roster, which doesn’t even include Brett Jackson, who seems like a good bet to make the majors at some point this season (although it does include prospect Matt Szczur, who seems like a long shot to make the majors in 2012). This means that Johnson will probably have to play well just to stay with the team all year, because as things stand now he’ll be facing competition from Jackson, Tony Campana, and Dave Sappelt for his roster spot and playing time.
I personally like Campana as a 5th outfielder (meaning basically defensive replacement and pinch-runner), and Sappelt does a lot of the things that Johnson does, only Sappelt is younger and probably a little better. So this gives the Cubs some flexibility in how they proceed; they can trade Alfonso Soriano and/or Marlon Byrd, and still have the personnel for a short-term patch even if they don’t get any major-league-ready talent back in return.