Well the All Star Break is upon us and two Cubs, Bryan LaHair and Starlin Castro are headed to Kansas City. It’s time for the up to date report card from a 70+ year old lifelong fan.
Their record is currently 33-52 which has them on pace to lose 99 games. That is an improvement from the 50 game report card where they were on pace to lose 104. In May they suffered through a terrible 12 game losing streak; whereas they won 9 of 13 heading into the All Star break. Most Cub fan have no illusions about this season, it is one of rebuilding. From what I can see, Cub fans have embraced the idea and are looking forward to the next few weeks leading up to the trading deadline with high expectations.
The criteria I outlined for the progress report at the 50 game mark was simple. Are they a better team now than when they broke camp in spring training? Now we must ask are they better today than they were at the 50 game mark? In my opinion, I would say a little bit. Certainly their play on the field has improved. They were playing at a .360 clip at the 50 game mark and since that time they have played at a .428 pace. That pace would likely win them the trophy for the best looking in the ugly contest; they have a long way to go.
The biggest improvement to me is the decision making process for management. It is becoming very clear with each passing day who are keepers and who are not. Let’s look at the team by position.
Catcher – Geovany Soto is back on the roster and Koyie Hill is gone from the organization. Wellington Castillo is back in the minors playing every day. It appears that Soto and Clevenger are platooning and it seems to be working out a bit better. Over the last 30 days Soto has hit .205, with 3 HR’s and 4 RBI’s. His season average is still under .200. Clevenger has a season average of .269; however he is hitting .222 over the last 30 days. He has 1 HR and 8 RBI’s over that span. Combine their production over a season and the catching spot would produce 60 RBI’s, which might be respectable; however it would appear that an upgrade needs to be made.
First Base – Much heralded prospect Anthony Rizzo came on the scene the last week in June. He has 4 HR’s and 9 RBI’s in 11 games and has shown an excellent glove at 1B. He is living up to his billing and appears to be handling the pressure well. There has been much talk about him carrying the team. As a long suffering Cub fan I can tell you from my experience that no player can carry a team for a full season. That is the sad history of the team; guys like Sammy Sosa and Ernie Banks could not carry the team to the promised land, neither can Rizzo. They always had one or two boppers who would bring fans to the park, but never a complete team. At the same time, get 4-5 darn good players in the lineup and you will have a contender. The Cubs are going to improve, one player at a time.
Second Base – Darwin Barney has solidified his spot at 2B. He is hitting .259 for the season and has 23 RBI’s. He is far from an automatic out. At the same time, he is playing Kenny Hubbs type defense and has gone 50+ games without an error at second base. Andrew Cardenas is back in the minors and Joe Mather is now playing outfield for the most part. For the moment second base ain’t broke although it could be upgraded.
Shortstop – Starlin Castro made his second straight all-star team. In the last 30 days he has hit .255 so he seems to be tailing off a bit. On the positive side, he is striking out only 17% of the time, which is respectable. He has been caught stealing 3 of his last 4 attempts which is a bit strange. He has been moved up to the #2 spot in the order and is getting better pitches to hit with Rizzo batting behind him. If I were to guess, the challenge for Starlin will be to play at a high level after the trade deadline when some of the team’s best assets have been traded away.
Third Base – It looks like the Ian Stewart experiment has ended. In the post-game radio show today the commentator indicated he doubted after his season ending surgery that Stewart will play another game in a Cub uniform. They did find bone rubbing against bone which is why he has wrist pain, which certainly affected his swing.
Luis Valbuena is currently holding the fort at 3B. A left-handed hitter with a .225 BA and has 14 RBI’s in 23 games, generally hitting 8th in the order. It is interesting that the Cubs have not called up Vitters who supposedly is the heir apparent to the 3B job. It was explained on the post-game show today that Vitters has not shown a good command of the strike zone. It would not surprise me to see Junior Lake or some other kid in the minor leagues pass up Vitters if he does not improve.
Outfield – Rizzo’s appearance at 1B has sent LaHair to RF where he has been an average performer. While LaHair is a feel good story, making the all-star team as a 29 year old rookie, he is not solidifying himself as part of the long term. Over the last 30 days he is hitting .227 and has 30K’s in 66 AB’s. After his first trip around the league, the pitchers seem to have adjusted. Now it is up to LaHair to adjust or he will soon be gone. Sveum has said he would give him an opportunity to play against left-handed pitching and so far he has struggled.
Alphonso Soriano hit 6 of his 15 home runs in the last 30 days and is hitting at a .271 clip. Most Cub fans can appreciate the fact that, despite having leg problems, he is really giving his all which is realistically all we should hope to expect as fans. It is not his fault the Tribune Company gave him a ridiculous contract. Were any of us in the same situation we would have grabbed the deal he got also. A beat reporter for a Chicago newspaper told me that Hendry had Soriano committed to a five year deal over the phone. He then got on a plane to fly back to Chicago. When he got off the plane he was told McDonough and McKinney had upped the deal to 7 years. Of course Hendry had to take the fall. What a difference it would make if Soriano’s contract expired at the end of this season as opposed to two years from now.
David DeJesus has moved over to CF and is playing well. He is hitting .271 and right behind Rizzo for the team lead in OBP.
Jeff Baker has played well also primarily platooning against left-handed pitching. My suspicion is he will be high on the trade list because of his versatility.
Joe Mather has come back down to earth and is hitting .190 over the last month.
Tony Campana has been relegated to pinch runner and late inning defense. Over the last month he has stolen 7 bases in 7 attempts so he is certainly a threat. If he could learn to drag bunt consistently, he could be another Juan Pierre type player. I really do not understand why that was not done during the last off season. Campana could easily be traded in late August to a real contender. When the rosters are expanded on September 1st, he would be a terrific pinch runner for a team in contention.
Realistically, it would appear to me that every outfielder on the roster is available for trade. DeJesus is certainly one of the better leadoff hitters we have seen in a few years. Surround him with some clutch hitting RBI players and he could be part of a winning team.
Starting pitching – Ryan Dempster won his 4th game the day before the all-star break with an ERA around 2.00 for the season. He is a prime candidate for a trade and would be a great addition to any pitching staff of a team in contention for the post season. I am predicting that he will end up with the Yankees, reuniting with Jim Hendry and Larry Rothschild, his old pitching coach. It would not surprise me to see the Yankees try to sign him to a 3-4 year deal in the off season with the idea that he could go back to the bullpen and lengthen his career by 3-4 years. Some folks may have forgotten he was the Cubs’ closer for a few years and did very well.
Travis Wood, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Paul Maholm have had their ups and downs this season. At the same time they have certainly been above average. It will be interesting to see who gets traded down the stretch. While the trade deadline officially ends on July 31st, players can clear waivers and still be traded and be eligible for the post season during the month of August. Garza has another year on his contract and could be in high demand for teams who do not want to give up talent for a short term rent-a-player who becomes a free agent.
Relief pitching – Carlos Marmol is back as closer and has done well. He will give fans fits from time to time but his stuff is electric. It would not surprise me to see him traded to the Yankees who have lost Mariano Rivera for the season. Larry Rothschild would likely welcome him with open arms.
James Russell, Shawn Camp and Manny Corpas have done a respectable job. Auditions for the bullpen will continue and probably intensify as the season progresses. If one or two of the starting pitchers get traded, bullpen candidates will have plenty of opportunity to earn a spot for next year.
In my 50 game report I used the line from the Leo Durocher era, “back up the truck”. His idea was if players were not performing give someone else a chance. As the trade deadline is looming, I see a flatbed truck backing into the Cubs loading dock. It is time for Theo and company to reload for 2013 and beyond. Let’s hope they have done their homework and drive a hard bargain for the few assets they have to trade. In the next 60 days I suspect the team will have a much different roster and minor league system than it has today.