As The(o’s) World Turns

Just a few quick thoughts on some of the trade rumors swirling about on the interwebs and other more traditional news outlets.

Randall Delgado: Future Cub? (photo courtesy of braves.com)

Ryan Dempster to Atlanta for Randall Delgado

What looked yesterday to be a done deal, this trade is currently in-limbo waiting on Dempster’s approval.  A couple of things stand out here.  First, I think this would be a great deal for the Cubs if it works out.  The initial reaction on the twittersphere when rumors of the deal first broke were something along the lines of “NO WAY the Braves trade such a highly regarded prospect for a rent-a-player like Dempster.”  By all accounts, the deal represents great value for the Cubs.  A second point to consider is the current holdup of the deal.  Apparently Dempster is more than a bit miffed at the way the front office has handled the situation.  He even took to Twitter in an effort to dispel the rumors.  My primary concern with the current dissension is that it could scuttle a really good deal for the club.  Beyond that, even if the deal does go through, Dempster’s unhappiness with the manner in which the whole situation was handled could significantly impair the Cubs’ chances of resigning him after he becomes a free agent at season’s end.

Matt Garza to the Dodgers for Zach Lee (and others)

For as great of a deal as the Dempster-Delgado trade appears to be, I am far more tepid when it comes to potentially shipping Garza off for a highly regarded, yet completely unproven pitcher in the form of Zach Lee.  For whatever reason, the front office seems more than willing to part with Garza.  I have no problem with the idea in theory, but it seems very risky to trade away a top-of-the-rotation type pitcher for a greenhorn pitching prospect.  Early round high school pitching prospects are notoriously hit-and-miss, and being dealt for a known quantity such as Garza will only serve to heap even more pressure on Lee during the crucial next few seasons as he tries to develop into a legitimate major league pitcher.  For me at least, a minimum of one or two more good prospects would need to be included for the deal to make sense.  One potential hiccup could be the injury Garza picked up in his last outing against St. Louis over the weekend.

There have also been various rumors surrounding other players such as Darwin Barney and Paul Maholm.  More info on those as details become available.    

 

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Back in the Saddle Again

So, about that unannounced two or three-month absence.  Yeah, we don’t want to talk about it, but we’re sorry (for whatever that’s worth).

But moving right along.  A lot has happened during our leave, some good and some bad, so it’s probably best to quickly run through and recap some of the more prominent highs and lows.  Just looking at the standings, the Cubs were in last place as of the last post (4/11) and today we sit one rung above the cellar.  That’s what we call progress.

Certainly that 12 game losing streak in mid-May was a terrible thing, and significantly contributed to our current sub-standard position in the standings.  But there have also been bright spots.  A solid stretch of games heading into the All Star break, plus a sweep of the Diamondbacks to kick-0ff the second half of the season, has provided glimmers of light in an otherwise dark and dreary abyss.

Speaking of the All Star break, the Cubs had two representatives, Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair.  As surprising as it was for a team with a record as poor as the Cubs to have two All Stars (and this doesn’t even account for Ryan Dempster and his NL-leading ERA), I was even more surprised that both Cubbies actually got to participate in the Mid-Summer Classic.  The reason for my shock was the fact that Tony LaRussa decided to don his transition lenses one final time and manage the NL squad.  It just seemed so out of character for him to do anything within his discretion that might be perceived as an act of kindness towards the Cubs.  I don’t know, maybe he was too caught up in screwing over the Brewers and Reds players in the selection process that he just simply forgot about the Cubs.  It didn’t really matter though, as the game was well in hand by the time Castro and LaHair made their uneventful appearances.  One final thought.  I was more than a little disappointed that LaHair was not named as the late substitute for the home run derby (Andrew McCutchen got the nod instead).  I just thought it would have been a classy move, given that this might very well be the only All Star appearance of his career.

And finally, probably the biggest talking point of all was the call-up of franchise savior Anthony Rizzo on June 26.  Since his promotion, Big Tony has been hitting at a .350 clip, while adding 4 homers and 10 RBIs.  It has certainly been a wonderful start and the transition has been seamless.  So seamless in fact the move required the Cubs to exile their All Star first baseman (LaHair) to right field.  Watching Rizzo’s progress over the second half of the season will be one of the most interesting story lines to follow.

With the trade deadline looming, look for the Cubs to be active participants.  And look no further than the The RedLine Roundup for coverage and analysis.

How we’ve gotten here: Infield edition

The tumbleweeds have been rolling through the barren wasteland that’s been Redline Roundup the past few months. And although Cubs baseball has continued to go on, it too has been a barren wasteland.

But as the unofficial second half of the season gets underway, Redline Roundup is back. As we look to repopulate the site and turn it into a bustling Internet metropolis of Cubs content, let’s look at what has gone on with the infield so far this season.

You can’t know where you are going unless you know where you’ve been, even if it’s the bottom of the NL, right?


First base
Starts: Bryan LaHair (50), Jeff Baker (20), Anthony Rizzo (16), Steve Clevenger (3)

Comment: Even though a 2012 NL All-Star first baseman is among that foursome, his isn’t the name that certainly caused sheer excitement to pump through your veins a moment ago upon seeing it. Yes, Jeff Baker Anthony Rizzo has been the biggest story this year, even before he put in two solid weeks of play.

If you’ve read this far into this post you’ve read, heard and thought about Rizzo enough already and we won’t go into him again here. Suffice it to say that whether he continues to play well or not, he is the Cubs first baseman the rest of the way. LaHair was a good placeholder (in April), and a more than adequate one the rest of the first half. Baker has shown life against lefties lately, so he’ll likely find his way into the lineup, but not at first.

Second base
Starts: Darwin Barney (80), Adrian Cardenas (4), Blake DeWitt (4), Baker (1)

Comment: Second base has been cut-and-dry, Barney is the man there and it appears he will be the rest of the way. He has good range and a 76-game errorless streak going right now. His OBP and SLG are below league average and his AVG is barely above it. But he may be trending in the right direction as he’s cut down on his strikeouts and increased his walk rate this year. Ideally, Barney probably backs up the middle infield on a contender. But for now he is far from the problem for the Cubs.

If the future unfolds the way we all want it to, Cardenas will have a significant distinction: it was his roster spot that Rizzo took when he came up at the end of June. DeWitt finds himself in Iowa and likely won’t be heard from again.

Shortstop
Starts: Starlin Castro (88), Barney (1)

Comment: Here’s another position where there this nothing to say, and shouldn’t be for many years. Castro was an All-Star for the second year in a row and is a foundation piece for the team. But there are concerns.

The next step in his offensive development is and has been patience, but Castro’s walked rate has actually decreased the past two seasons. He’s also experiencing a bit of a power outage. Last season he hit 36 doubles, but more than halfway through this season he’s got only 10. So everything is not peachy with the man who was Anthony Rizzo before Anthony Rizzo.

Still, Castro is in the top 10 in hits in the NL (103) and with a hot couple of months could again top 200. And he’s 22, let’s not forget that.

Third base
Starts: Ian Stewart (49), Luis Valbuena (26), Joe Mather (13), Cardenas (1)

Comment: Through 89 games the Cubs are no closer to finding a permanent third baseman than they were when Aramis Ramirez left. Whereas the “change in scenery” trade has actually worked for Tyler Colvin (.294/.329/.527, 13 HR’s), it has not for Stewart (.201/.292/.335, 5 HR’s). A few of his home runs (his calling card) did go a long way, but they were few and far between. He’s apparently done for the season with a wrist injury that plagued him last season as well. We’ll see if the Cubs give him another chance next season. He does play solid defense.

Valbuena has been an upgrade over Stewart offensively, but that isn’t saying much. He is probably more suited as a backup second baseman and pinch hitter, as he does have fairly good pop for a middle infield-type.

Brewers 2, Cubs 1 – Instant Analysis

This team sucks.

 

4/11 Quick Hitters – A couple of losses and John Grisham live at Wrigley

Just a couple of thoughts from the last two games against the Brewers:

1. If it’s possible to beat a dead horse 5 games into the season, that dead horse is the Cubs’ anemic offense.  Right now the Cubs are averaging a miniscule 3.60 runs per game.  Sticking with the theme of looking for isolated glimmers of hope amongst an abyss of mediocrity: after zero home runs in the first series the Cubs have hit three over the last two games. That’s not too shabby, and the fact that all three homers have been solo shots is a bit unlucky.  Continuing to hit a few homers, and hitting them with a runner or two on base, should help boost the runs per game number.

2. After a terrible first inning, Paul Maholm settled down and was basically effective for a few more innings.  Sadly for the Cubs, 5 runs is a big, deep hole for this team (see above) and it proved to be too much in the end  Early April games are notorious for pitching lines like Maholm produced (4IP, 6H, 6ER, 2HR, 2BB) so I will refrain from a rush to judgment for the time being.

Ryan Dempster will take the mound this afternoon against Yovani Gallardo.  Also John Grisham will be throwing out the first pitch and doing the 7th inning stretch.  Surely this is a promotional stunt related to his new book Calico Joe, which was released yesterday.  A brief glance at the product description informs that the book is about a hot-shot prospect for the Chicago Cubs who makes a big splash…until something bad happens.  I had to double-check and make sure this was in fact a fiction book, as the memories of Bobby Hill and Felix Pie, among many many others, led me to believe this might just be a “based on a true story book.”  Grisham is a devoted fan of the Cardinals, but without the chance to read the book yet, it’s unclear whether this will be a noticeable part of the plot.  Let’s hope not.

Cubs 4, Nats 3 – Instant Analysis

So, the Cubs aren’t going to go 0-162.  It’s an Easter Miracle!

Seriously though, what an outing by Jeff Samardzija.  So glad Marmol held on for the victory.  While the first series was definitely disappointing, considering we very well should be 3-0, and instead are 1-2, a couple of successful series against the Brewers and the Cardinals would definitely go a long way in making up for the underwhelming start to the season.

So go ahead and tune in for the Monday Night game on ESPN tomorrow night and let’s hope for the start to a win streak!!

Jeff Samardzija: Small steps

Any Cub fan looking at the state of the team without the aid of rose-colored glasses will admit that “build for the future, try and stay respectable in the present” will be the mission over the next few years. Or “rebuilding” if you prefer to be more concise.

The Shark will try to play stopper Sunday. Image courtesy baseballgms.blogspot.com.

In trying to embrace this realism, the important thing is to look past what Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol have (or haven’t) done so far, and focus on the little things that could make a difference once the team is contending again. (I guess I’m probably being a sucker and assuming that this time will come).

But Jeff Samardzija and his spot in the starting rotation are some of those small steps that we Cub fans will need to milk as much satisfaction as we can out of until Theo and Co. get the ship righted.

Samardzija should have a high ceiling as a pitcher. Admittedly I think that in part because of the money Jim Hendry threw at him when he was drafted, but also because he clearly has talent with his four pitches and velocity. And he finally had some success at the major league level last year. It’s not likely Samardzija will carry over his 8.90 K/9 rate from 2011 as a starter, but that’s an encouraging number.

Despite a great spring, Samardzija could easily disappoint. But he’s young(ish) and has talent, and therefore I would much rather see him getting a chance in the rotation than Rodrigo Lopez (who will get his fair share of starts once the injures start piling up). There is still an unknown with Samardzija, and we’re at the point with the Cubs where that is something we need to embrace.

The only downer is that should Samardzija excel, he’s only under team control until 2013. But with the money that will come off the books by then (Zambrano’s ghost, Dempster) signing him shouldn’t be something out of the Cubs budget.

Please Jeff, give me something to be excited about.