Yesterday, the plans of Cubs President Theo Epstein became clearer for what he has planned for the future of the Chicago Cubs. Dave Kaplan of Comcast Sports Net and WGN Radio reported the Cubs were working on a six year extension with their All Star short stop Starlin Castro which would hopefully be completed and announced by the end of the season. If the contract extension does go through, he would be signed through the 2018 season. This means Epstein has decided that he would like Castro to be around for a long time, and be a key piece of the future. This flies in the face of a recent blog by our newest blog writer Packle who made a strong case for looking into trading the young short stop for players who might bring the Cubs even closer to the long awaited World Series crown. But he is only one known piece of what the future will hold. there are, however, seven more positions on the every day roster that must be filled.
So far, all signs appear to point in the direction that Anthony Rizzo would also be in line to be a key piece of the Cubs future. Because he was held down in the minors for as long as he was, Rizzo is under club control until the end of the 2018 season, much like Castro would be with the rumored extension. So far in his short Cubs career, he has impressed the fans hitting .296 with 9 home runs and 25 RBI in just 43 games. His play is all the more impressive when you compare this year to what he did in San Diego a year ago, playing in PetCo Park, where left handed hitters go to die. He may not have needed the extra at bats in the minor leagues as much as a change in location to a park which actually favored left handed hitters instead of punishing them. But holding the slugger down for as long as they did to milk the extra year out of him goes a long way to show they have the intention of keeping him around for a while. That is two positions which the Cubs figure to have locked up.
Darwin Barney’s star is rising with Cub fans as he is flashing leather at second base, breaking Ryne Sandberg’s consecutive errorless streak at second base. While he has not emerged as an offensive star, defensively he is looking as though he could be a gold glove contender. Cubs Manager Dale Sveum believes that Barney can turn into a solid offensive threat with a few mechanical changes. Because he is still very cheap, the Cubs can take their time making up their minds on him to see if he can turn into a better offensive hitter. Even if he does not turn into an offensive threat, his defense makes him worthy of keeping around for a while.
Brett Jackson is another piece who Cub fans would like to think will be a part of the major league club for years to come, however he is not having the success that either Rizzo or Castro had upon reaching the big leagues. While playing in the minor leagues, the biggest flaw in Jackson’s game was the number of strike outs he compiled, a problem which has followed him up to the majors as he is striking out more than half the time. He is also hitting a putrid .188 in his limited playing time, For a young prospect trying to make an impression at the major league level, he is off to a horrible start. In a lost year where the Cubs have nothing else to play for, I have no problem with throwing him out there every day to see if he can straighten himself out and learn how to cut down on the strike outs. If he is able to, there is a good chance the Cubs will give him a long look in Spring Training next year making him the starting center fielder unless someone else takes the job from him. If he is not able to, he may be banished back to the minor leagues or put in a competition with another young outfielder or a cheap free veteran who was picked up in free agency. On the plus side, Jackson is coming off his best game in his short major league career, so perhaps that is the start of something good for him.
Josh Vitters is a completely different problem. Like Jackson, he was brought up to the major leagues so the Cubs could get a look at him against real competition. The thought most Cub fans had, was they were looking to see if he had any place in the future of the franchise. The problem is, he is not being played everyday like most Cub fans would like and think he should be. Perhaps Epstein and Jed Hoyer do not see him as an every day player and are telling Sveum to play him like he would a platoon player. There is also the chance Sveum is ignoring the orders of his bosses and giving the bulk of the playing time to Luis Valbuena; which makes no sense because he is actually worse than the man he replaced, Ian Stewart. Granted, Vitters is barely hitting above .100 in his limited time, so he is not exactly giving Sveum reason to play him more; but like with Jackson, what do you have to lose by playing him everyday? The Cubs should be seeing what they have in Vitters so they know if third base is a position they need to address as part of the rebuilding process.
Then we have two catchers who appear to be going toe to toe in a competition to see who should get the long look. Between the two of them, Steve Clevenger has been around longer, but Welington Castillo has done more in a shorter period of time which makes me think that he is the better option for the long run. I would like to think that Epstein and Hoyer feel the same way, and that is why Clevenger was brought up to the majors at the start of the season to be Geovany Soto’s backup. If Clevenger were really the preferred choice to the future backstop why bring him up to ride the pine and not play every day like he would in the minors?
In my opinion, since the Cubs are going nowhere but down this season, Jackson, Vitters and Castillo should be playing everyday along side Rizzo, Barney and Castro. See what you have in the kids now. Even though a month and a half is a very small sample size, you still have a far better idea of what they can do in the majors than if you play them every other day as they are with Vitters. Chances are that none of these three will be any good and will be thrown onto the trash heap by this time next year, but you have to see what you have in them now. Especially over players like Valbuena.