Castillo replaces Steve Clevenger on the roster, as Clevenger has been put on the DL.
As I wrote earlier in the spring, Castillo and Clevenger have fairly similar résumés, although Castillo is a year younger, bats righthanded, and hits for more power and less average. He’s gotten off to a very hot start in Iowa, batting .320/.435/.520 so far in 62 PA, and he finds himself in circumstances where he has a chance to put a lot of pressure on Geovany Soto for playing time. Soto is badly struggling, and is experiencing minor back problems himself, so Castillo looks like he’ll have an opportunity to make an impression right out of the gate.
Well, that’s too bad. Clevenger won the backup catcher job out of spring training, and his hot start, combined with Geovany Soto’s struggles, had him putting pressure on team management to get him more plate appearances. He’s only come to the plate 23 times, but has a .500/.522/.727 batting line, and 5 of the team’s 30 doubles. Obviously he’s not going to continue batting .500, but he also put up a .319/.383/.475 line between AA and AAA last season, and has a .308 batting average (and .369 OBP) over his minor league career. So I don’t doubt that he can continue to hit well, if not at the ridiculous pace that he has over a small number of plate appearances so far in the major leagues.
But now he’s on the DL with a strained oblique, and at this point, the Cubs don’t seem to be too optimistic about this being a short stint. Like I say, it’s too bad, and not just because the Cubs lose a lefthanded bat off the bench or insurance against Soto’s continued struggles (Soto is batting .135/.224/.250 so far this season). It’s also unfortunate for Clevenger on a personal level, because his replacement on the roster, Welington Castillo, also has the potential to threaten Soto for the starting job. So Clevenger might come back to very different circumstances when he returns.
With Michael Bowden’s arrival to the team, a spot needed to be opened for him in the bullpen, and I think the logic inevitably points to Lopez as the man to go. The Cubs now have 10 days to put Lopez on waivers, trade him, or release him. If he passes waivers, they can choose to send him to the minors, although Lopez will have the right to refuse that assignment and become a free agent. I’ll update this post when we find out what the outcome is.
Anyway, Lopez was not very good with the Cubs last year, and in four appearances this year, he’s been even worse, allowing 6 runs in 6.1 IP while walking 5 and striking out only 2. He’s 36, he’s nearing the end of his career, and realistically he was a dead end on a bad team that was looking to get younger.
EDIT (04/24/2012): Lopez has cleared waivers and has been assigned to Iowa.
It was quite a surprise when Wells was sent down to Iowa at the end of spring training, but he simply was not a good pitcher last year. Unfortunately, he’s gotten off to a tough start in Iowa this year, too, giving up 15 runs in 14.1 IP, while allowing 6 walks against 10 strikeouts. I would have been more inclined to give the nod to Travis Wood, who also has a high ERA for Iowa (5.19 in 3 starts), but has much better peripheral numbers and almost certainly more upside as well.
The Cubs have acquired P Michael Bowden and a player to be named later from the Red Sox for OF Marlon Byrd
Apparently the Cubs are also paying most of Byrd’s remaining salary for the year.
Byrd has been simply awful to start the year, putting up a .070/.149/.070 batting line in 47 plate appearances. Sure, it’s only 47 plate appearances, and of course Byrd won’t put up those kinds of numbers going forward for the Red Sox. But Byrd also struggled terribly down the stretch last season, too, with a 647 OPS in August and a 542 OPS in September. In other words, he’s now working on 250 plate appearances – close to half a season’s worth – of sheer awfulness at the plate.
Furthermore, he’s in the last year of his contract, and regardless of how he plays for the rest of the season, he had no conceivable future in the organization. He’s 34, and though his defense in center is still surprisingly adequate, his time as an offensive contributor is either on the decline or gone altogether. And the Cubs actually have pretty good depth in the outfield, even if they leave prospect Bretty Jackson in AAA for the time being. Simply put, Byrd was expendable.
In return, the Cubs have gotten Michael Bowden from the Red Sox. Bowden had been designated for assignment by the Red Sox, so he had clearly fallen from favor in that organization, but several years back he was considered a pretty decent prospect. He made Baseball America‘s list of MLB’s top 100 prospects three times, most recently in 2009 as #83. He made his major league debut with the Red Sox in 2008, though only pitched one game that season, and has made occasional short stints in the majors each year since.
However, after a quick rise through the minors as a starting pitcher, his development seemed to stall in AAA in 2009. That year, his walk rate jumped and his strikeout rate plummeted; his K/BB rate fell from 4.48 in 2008 to 1.87 in 2009. After a similar season in 2010, the Sox moved him to the bullpen in 2011, where he had a very good year:
41 G (all in relief), 52.2 IP, 2.73 ERA, 7.3 H/9, 5 HR, 3.1 BB/9, 10.4 K/9
That looks pretty good for me, and while he’s no longer a top prospect at age 25, I’m frankly not sure why he didn’t get more of a chance with the Red Sox this year. He pitched in only two games for them, allowing a run in three innings, and as bad as the Sox’ bullpen is, DFA’ing him seems like a strange decision. On the other hand, the Cubs’ bullpen is pretty terrible, too, and while Bowden hasn’t been added to the active roster yet, he’s expected to join the big-league team.
Honestly, I like the trade. It’s exactly the kind of thing the front office should be doing with this team – trade veterans with no future on the team for young talent with possible upside. GM Jed Hoyer has stated that the PTBNL will be resolved by mid-May, but with history between these two front offices, we’ll just have to see.
EDIT (04/23/12): Bowden has now been added to the 25-man roster.
Campana takes the roster spot that was left open by Ryan Dempster’s move to the DL, which is most likely because reports have Marlon Byrd on the trading block. It’s hard not to see Campana’s call-up as a sign that Byrd’s departure is imminent.
Regardless, I’ll confess that I’m happy to see Campana back in the big leagues. He’s not a good hitter at all, although I’m pleased to report that he hit his first professional outside-the-park homer this season down in Iowa (you may recall his inside-the-park homer for the Cubs last year, which was his first professional homer of any kind). But he is fast as they come, he’s a terrific base stealer, and his defense in the outfield is by all accounts impeccable. Carrying a guy like him – essentially a pinch-runner and defensive replacement – is a real luxury for an NL team, especially one that isn’t any good. But what he does he does extremely well, and he’s a lot of fun to watch. And let’s face it, the way Byrd has been playing, even Campana’s offense is a clear upgrade….
Reportedly, it’s a strained right quad that has Dempster sidelined. This is a shame, because Dempster has pitched very well in his first three starts, nicely rebounding from a poor year in 2011. In 20.1 IP, he’s struck out 23 while only walking 8, while allowing only 11 hits and 5 runs. Along with Matt Garza, he’s one of only two pitchers who has actually been good on this staff.
The Cubs are indicating that this is a precautionary move, and expect Dempster to be activated when he’s eligible on May 3. I hope that turns out to be the case, because in addition to being good, Dempster might also be an attractive trade possibility as we get closer to the deadline in July. In the past, he’s made it clear that he wasn’t interested in accepting a trade, but I don’t believe that he still has a no-trade clause after exercising his option during the offseason. He’ll be a free agent after this season anyway, and I doubt the Cubs will be all that interested in resigning him, so moving him in a trade if they get the opportunity would be the right thing to do. But he needs to be healthy first.
Randy Wells is expected to be recalled to take Dempster’s place in the rotation, but that move has not yet been made official.
Maine takes Kerry Wood’s spot on the roster and has made brief appearances with the Cubs in each of the previous two seasons. It went pretty well for him in 2010, when he put up a 2.08 ERA in 13 IP, and also prevented all 7 of the baserunners he inherited from scoring. It went less well in 2011, when he gave up 4 HR in 7 IP. Yikes – small sample sizes or no, that’s not good.
Anyway, Maine first came to the Cubs from the Arizona system in 2009, in the trade that saw Aaron Heilman go to the Diamondbacks. Once he reached AAA, he became a very high strikeout pitcher; in 113.1 IP in AAA, he struck out 11.0 batters per nine innings, against 4.4 BB/9. That’s right around the 2.50 K/BB ratio that it seems the Cubs are looking for in their pitchers, and in 6.1 IP for Iowa this year, that’s exactly the ratio he posted (7.1 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9), against no homers and only 2 hits allowed.
His presence gives the Cubs a second lefty in the pen, which they’ve been lacking this season, and with his stuff he should be able to face righthanders also. He’s been very difficult to hit in AAA, so with any luck, he’ll not only make the absence of Wood easier to manage, but earn himself a spot in the pen even after Wood (hopefully) gets back.
Wood had a rough first couple outings, but turned around and struck out all three batters he faced in his third outing. He’s only pitched once since April 11th, and was unavailable for this week’s series in Miami because of tightness in his throwing shoulder.
His absence will not improve a bad bullpen, but in reality the Cubs were probably not expecting to rely on Wood all that heavily this year anyway. Personally, I think the more pressing issue is that Wood is at that point in his career – with the injury history that he has – that any trip to the DL may just be the end of the line. “Shoulder fatigue” is very vague, so for all we know he’ll be back soon, or there may be more serious issues in play. There’s just no way to know, so here’s to hoping for the best.
He’ll be eligible to return April 28.
Here’s the first 25-man roster move of the new season, and it’s expected after the Cubs broke camp with only 11 pitchers. With an off-day after Opening Day, they didn’t really need a long-reliever, so they carried the extra infielder instead. Now that they’ve started a regular schedule, they’ve gone back to the normal 12 pitchers.
As for Lopez … well, we saw what he had to offer last year, and while he wasn’t a disaster, he wasn’t really good, either, posting an 88 ERA+ in 97.2 IP. He’s given up a frightening number of homers the last two years, he doesn’t have the stuff to strike anyone out anymore (only 5.0 K/9 last season), and he’s pretty hittable, allowing a .299 batting average last year despite not having noticeably poor luck in terms of BAbip(Batting Aveage on balls in play). In short, it’s hard to know what the Cubs see in him at this stage of his career, and as far as I can tell, the only silver linings are that he a) doesn’t walk a huge number of batters (2.7 BB/9 last season), and b) he’s unlikely to pitch often in high-leverage situations.
Valbuena has cleared waivers and will play for Iowa, where he’ll be at a disadvantage for playing time on the same roster with Adrian Cardenas, who unlike Valbuena is still on the 40-man roster. The big question for the Cubs now is who their backup shortstop is, since I don’t see anyone on the roster except Starlin Castro that can play there except for possibly Darwin Barney.