August 2, 2012
As the non-waiver trade deadline for Major League Baseball came and went Tuesday afternoon, there’s no better time to look at what the new front office regime of the Chicago Cubs managed to accomplish. The Cubs were not expected to contend in 2012 and promptly lived up to that expectation as they were dead in the water before the calendar flipped to June. That meant they would be sellers at the deadline, the question was more of who would go than who would still be around to play for the team the rest of the season.
By the time the dust settled and the smoke cleared around Wrigley Field, four players had been moved by the Cubs in three different trades to two different teams. In the stead of the departed were a handful of prospects that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer hope can help replenish the farm system going forward. The farm system and building from within was a major project for Epstein upon being hired, after all, it helped Boston win two World Series titles during his tenure with the team.
In the previous installment, we looked at the departing players from the organization: pitchers Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, catcher Geovany Soto and outfielder Reed Johnson. Now, let’s take a look at a few of the players that were considered viable trade chips for the Cubs at one point or another, who ended up staying with the franchise, at least for the moment.
STICKING AROUND, AT LEAST FOR NOW
Matt Garza: Garza was considered to be one of the Cubs top chips to potentially deal, more so due to the fact that he still would be under team control for the 2013 season as opposed to rentals like Zack Greinke. He is seeking a five year deal, more than likely in the neighborhood of $65 million, which is what John Danks received last season for the White Sox. The Blue Jays and Rangers were two teams highly interested in his services.
After a successful run with the Rays, Garza went 10-10 with a 3.32 earned run average in his first season with the Cubs, fanning 197 hitters in 198 innings of work. His record is misleading, as the Cubs turned SEVEN potential victories for Garza into nothing more than no decisions on his stat sheet thanks to their sheer ineptitude of closing out games. The no decision is the equivalent of a participation trophy for a starting pitcher, thanks for showing up, but you don’t get remembered for what you did at the end of the day.
This year, Garza is 5-7 with a 3.91 earned run average and the spike in ERA is mainly due to an increased home runs allowed rate. He allowed just 14 home runs in those 198 innings a year ago but has given up 15 jacks in 103.2 innings of work this season. That said, his WHIP has come down slightly to 1.177 and he’s allowing 7.8 hits per nine innings. Garza has been electric at Wrigley this season, going 3-1 with a 2.12 earned run average in seven starts at the Friendly Confines compared to 2-6 with a 5.37 mark on the road.
As it all panned out, a deal never materialized. Garza was solid in his first outing after the All Star break, tossing seven scoreless frames in a 3-1 win over the Diamondbacks. He followed that up with three scoreless frames against the Cardinals on July 21 but had to leave that start with an upper arm strain. He has not pitched since and while there was no structural damage, it may have cooled some teams’ interest in him. The Blue Jays had three highly touted prospects in A ball that the Cubs scouted but the two sides couldn’t come to terms. The Cubs wanted hot prospect Mike Olt from the Rangers in a deal but Texas had no interest in parting with him.
Instead, Garza becomes the de facto ace of the rotation once he comes back to pitch. He’s expected to make a start next Tuesday against the Padres and you have to think that the Cubs are happy to keep him.
Alfonso Soriano: It’s easy to look at Soriano and his bloated contract and wonder why in the world anyone would even consider dealing for him. After all, he’s still owed another $36 million after this season. He’s 36 years old and has lost much of the speed that he once had. Still, let’s not forget that Soriano has 359 home runs and was a 40-40 man in his one year stop in Washington with the Nationals in 2006. He had three seasons where he stole at least 40 bags and still is capable of being an effective baserunner.
It’s also easy to point out that $18 million a season is a lot of money to pay for a guy that strikes out often, can’t steal bases and hasn’t hit more than 29 home runs in a season since his first year in Chicago. He had a horrific start to the 2012 season, where it looked like his power stroke had eroded and he was merely a singles hitter. Let’s put all that aside for a minute and take a few other factors into consideration for a moment.
Yes, Soriano didn’t hit a home run the first month of the season. For that matter, no one in the Cubs outfield did. His first home run didn’t come until May 15, when he hit an opposite field shot off Cardinals closer Jason Motte to tie the game in the ninth inning. He’d hit seven homers the rest of the month, followed by eight in June. He leads the Cubs with 19 home runs and 61 runs batted in while hitting in the cleanup spot for the longest amount of time in his career.
There were several teams that were in need of offense from at least one outfield position that were kicking the tires on Soriano and the Dodgers were in serious talks to take Dempster and Soriano in a deal. In the end, nothing panned out that both sides liked, with financial considerations a possible sticking point as well. The Cubs will take Soriano’s bat in the lineup and he’s a good ream player, not a cancer in the clubhouse a la Milton Bradley.
Brian LaHair: Considered a “AAAA” player, one that was too good for Triple-A ball but not capable of delivering in the majors, LaHair surprised by winning the Cubs’ vacant first base job coming out of spring training. He opened some eyes with his power stroke early on in the season, including a grand slam off Adam Wainwright in early April. He had 10 home runs by mid-May, five of which came off St. Louis pitching and he was selected as a reserve for the National League in the All Star Game.
As the season wore on, LaHair’s bombs became less frequent: he’s hit just five home runs since May 15 and hasn’t connected since the 4th of July. He’s still hitting .264 with 14 home runs and 31 runs batted in but it seems the league has figured out how to get him out. He strikes out far too often (101 whiffs in 273 at bats) and left-handed pitching is a death knell for LaHair: he owns a .068 batting average (3 for 44) against lefties this season. Worse still is the strikeout rate; he’s struck out 25 times in those 44 at bats.
The Cubs tried shopping him without luck. Teams were not interested in a platoon player that could only hit right-handed pitching. With the promotion of Anthony Rizzo from Iowa, LaHair has seen his playing time decrease in the last month. He’s been playing in the outfield but lacks the speed or defensive prowess to be very effective there either. With the way Rizzo’s played (.321 average, 8 home runs, 20 runs batted in over 29 games entering Wednesday), it’s pretty clear that he will be the everyday first baseman from here on out.
Carlos Marmol: Once one of the most dominant relievers in all of baseball, the Cubs were reportedly dangling Marmol out on the trade wires but were unable to reel in a trade partner. Marmol fanned 138 hitters in just 77.2 innings of work in 2010, and saved 72 games for the Cubs in the two year span of 2010 and 2011. His earned run average climbed from 2.55 in 2010 to 4.01 last year as his control went south.
Marmol missed a month with an injury earlier this season, shortly after losing his closer’s role after some rough outings. He had been better since the All Star break, allowing just one earned run in seven outings spanning 6.2 innings going into Wednesday’s game. Marmol had also picked up five of his 13 saves on the season since the break, and had improved his control slightly, walking four hitters in that span as opposed to 28 walks in 25.2 innings before the break.
The other big issue for the Cubs to make a move besides his inability to throw strikes on a regular basis is the amount of money he’s getting paid. Marmol is in the second year of a three year deal worth $20 million. That sort of amount of money is not something most teams are going to throw around for a reliever, especially one that is wholly inconsistent when his team needs him the most.
We’ve now looked at some of the players who were traded and some who weren’t. Next, we’ll take a look at some of the cornerstones that the Cubs can try to build around as the Epstein era continues on the north side of Chicago.