Wheelin’ and Dealin’ While Waiting For Their Next Big Opportunity

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We open with a tweet from intrepid Cubs beat reporter Carrie Muskat:

With recent moves, addition of RHP Gutierrez, #Cubs 40-man roster now at 33. Plenty of room

Garza, Vizcaino, Stewart still on 60 day DL. Their status will be updated between now and 5 days after World Series ends

 

The Cubs have cleared about ten guys off their 40-man roster with the Royals claiming Chris Volstad and a bunch of spare parts getting jettisoned to Iowa.  As seen in that Twitter conversation, Matt Garza, Ian Stewart and Arodys Vizcaino are still on the 60-day disabled list and will count towards the 40-man soon after the World Series ends.  So there’s 36 spots taken up out of 40.  The trouble is that in a little over a month, the Rule 5 Draft will be held at the Winter Meetings and there are a bunch of guys who are eligible for that draft that the Cubs will probably want to keep.  So let’s try to make sense of some of this.

For starters, let’s look at a couple of top Cubs prospects lists, one from Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com and another from Cubs Den.  After that we have to match it up with the list of Rule 5 eligibles that The Cub Reporter set up for everyone.  We don’t have to worry about guys like Javier Baez or Dan Vogelbach who were recently drafted, but we do have to worry about the guys on TCR’s list, especially those that fall in the top 20 in the Cubs’ system.  We also know that while they aren’t actually on the top prospect lists, or at least not that high up, Nick Struck and Logan Watkins were named the Cubs minor leaguers of the year, so maybe they should be protected.  Maybe not.

High Risk of Being Drafted

The rule 5 draft is an old system that has been in place longer than amateur draft system has been in place.  The purpose of which was to prevent teams from being able to stockpile too many young players in the minor leagues.  The current rules though mean that two types of players tend to get selected and those are players with high ceilings but very far away from contributing to a major league roster, and guys that have a much lower ceiling but are much closer to contributing.  In the high likely to be drafted category for the Cubs this offseason we have examples of each.

Christian Villanueva was the centerpiece of the Ryan Dempster deal and is a top 100 prospect.  However, he spent all of last season at High A ball.  It is very unlikely that Villanueva would be a major contributor on a big league team next year, but his ceiling is high enough that another club would be willing to stash him like the Cubs did with Lendy Castillo this past season.  This is the guy that I am willing to guarantee gets protected before the rule 5 draft happens.

The Cubs Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year represent the other end of the spectrum.  Nick Struck and Logan Watkins are both eligible for the rule 5 draft this offseason, and I would say both are high risks of being drafted.  Struck’s upside is that of a 4/5th starter, but he has pitched reasonably well at AA and a little at AAA.  A team could easily stash him in a bullpen for 3 months next season and then see what they have the following year as a backend of the rotation starter.  Logan Watkins put up solid if unspectacular numbers in AA this past season, and offers the flexibility to play several positions.  He is a better defender than hitter than Marwin Gonzalez and a better fielder than Ryan Flaherty, who were both rule 5 casualities last season.

Medium Risk of Being Drafted

This pool of players is made up of some interesting arms with some obvious issues.  The headliner is Trey McNutt.  McNutt went from being the Cubs best pitching prospect to many considering him a bust.  His upside is that of a reliever at this point, but his stuff is good enough to maybe warrant a team taking a chance on him.  I could see the Cubs leaving him unprotected, but by the same token I could see a team taking a chance on him.

Rob Whitenack had a quick rise on the prospect radar in 2011, but Tommy John Surgery cut his season short.  When he came back he was less than effective, but he also has a lot of upside with a plus to plus plus pitch, depending on who you talk to, in his knuckle curve.  His stuff makes him intriguing but it is a long shot that he would be more effective than Castillo in the bigs last year.  The reason he is a medium risk is because of that upside.

Dae-Eun Rhee had a poor season last year after reemerging on the prospect radar following injury in 2011.  The fact that he has shown some flashes of being a capable starter and pitched in AA puts him at risk of being drafted.  I think it is a lot less likely than the first two but there is more here than a lot of the other guys on the list.

Austin Kirk jumped on the prospect radar as a left hander that threw a no hitter in Peoria a couple of seasons ago.  He had a good season in terms of ERA, but he has never been highly regarded by scouts.  As a lefty without plus stuff he is going to have to prove himself at each level, and his strikeout to walk ratio only declined once he made the jump to AA.  But he is a southpaw that has pitched effectively at AA.

Low Risk of Being Drafted

There is a big list to go through at this point, and the pitchers fall into those high upside far away and low upside close to major piles.  The pitchers with upside far away include recently acquired Marcelo Carreno, Starling Peralta, Jose Rosario, and Luis Liria.  They all have good stuff and could be middle of the rotation starters, but none have pitched above A ball.  AJ Morris also showed some good things in Advanced A ball, but has a long way to go before being a viable rotation option.  It is a long shot that they are taken, but there is some intrigue.

The Cubs also have a variety of bullpen arms that could interest a team in unprotected.  These include the trio of arms the Cubs got for Derrek Lee in Jeff Lorrick, Marcus Hatley and hit and run victim Ty’Relle Harris.  Esmailin Caridad is a name that might be familiar.  He was healthy in Iowa and showed flashes of what Lou Piniella saw in him a few years ago.  Frank Batista had a stellar season in AA, but struggled in AAA.  He also is purely a reliever which means very limited upside, but along with the other guys listed could be a cheap viable bullpen option for a club.

The Cubs also have a few low upside hitters that might interest a team.  The headliner, let’s call him one at least, is masher Justin Bour.  He has put up decent but not amazing numbers in AA.  The reason his stock isn’t high is because he has been old for his level and is a 1B/DH only prospect.  I could see a team like the Astros taking a chance on him with the move to the AL, but the odds of it are really low.  Michael Brenly could interest a club as a good catch and throw backup catcher.  It is hard to imagine his development would be harmed too much by only playing 20 games or so this coming year.  Kaplan favorite Greg Rohan, Matt Cerda, and Rebel Ridling are also long shots to be taken.

Outlook

The Cubs are in a tough spot that many teams find themselves at this time of the year.  It is unlikely that the Cubs face risking the vast majority of guys listed here, but the choice of which ones to protect is a tough one.  None of these guys are likely to be Johan Santana or Hack Wilson, but there are guys that could be useful big leaguers.  And this is a roster that is lacking useful big leaguers.

The Cubs are at 36 on the 40 man roster, but the Cubs are likely to want to add at least 4 big leaguers.  A few guys currently on the roster could be shuffled off, and if the Cubs add a 3B then Ian Stewart will be let go to bring the roster back down to 39.  Another way to look at the situation is that there is going to be the 25 man active roster.  Due to contract situations Matt Szczur, Jorge Soler, Geraldo Concepcion, and Ben Wells (http://www.bryantdaily.com/post/Bryants-Wells-signs-contract-with-Cubs.aspx) will have to be on the 40 man roster despite not being anywhere close to ready for the big leagues.  Arodys Vizcaino, Josh Vitters, Alberto Cabrera, Junior Lake and Brett Jackson are also all unlikely to break camp with the big league club.  That means that there are 6 spots left over.

The Cubs are going to have some tough choices to make because it is a lot harder for a team to protect a rule 5 pick than a guy claimed off of waivers.  Adding the wrong guys to the roster can be just as disastrous as leaving guys unprotected.  It isn’t an enviable position, but hopefully they make the right calls.  They have until November 20th to finalize the 40-man roster prior the Rule 5 Draft and anything can happen between now and then.

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