Today is Groundhog Day, which is a good time to stay in on an unexpected (well, the weather guys expected it but I didn’t, really) snow day and watch a classic comedy. Especially since the stupid groundhog predicted another six weeks of winter. That groundhog has to be stopped. Thankfully, they used Punxsutawney Phil instead of Troy Polamalu, because while football is nice and all, I can’t take another six weeks of it…
Also, bless the great Polamalu. Now on to baseball!
Cubs Storyline #1: Does it make sense to go after James Shields?
I’ve been thinking about this off and on (so, apparently, has Myles at Obstructed View) and the idea is pretty simple. If James Shields’ market has stagnated and he may have to accept a smaller deal in terms of years and/or money, then there has to come a price point at which the Cubs front office asks Tom Ricketts for flexibility to add him and boost marginal win totals on the front end rather than playing it safe and waiting for 2016, when the free agent class (especially pitchers) is richer. I’ve proposed the Ervin Santana one-year pillow contract as well as a Tim Lincecum-esque two-year, big money deal. There’s also the idea that if the market is really lukewarm for Shields, then he may have to settle for a contract like what Ubaldo Jimenez got from the Baltimore Orioles. Jimenez also rejected the qualifying offer before Baltimore knocked on his door after months of waiting, but Shields is objectively a better pitcher so the money amount should be more than the 4 years/$50MM Jimenez got. Ideally, with the mileage and age of Shields, you’d want him for 3 years or less, so as I said before, a situation worth monitoring. As for his reputation as a playoff flake, I just say this: at least he can GET you to the playoffs, and you have to get to the playoffs before you can suck on the big stage. Just get there and figure it out later. However, the thought is that the Cubs don’t just randomly dive into a free agent signing, as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer like to cultivate relationships during the recruitment process similarly to what they did with Jon Lester, so who knows. Then again, they pretty much swooped on Joe Maddon right away, and it’s unlikely that the Cubs brain trust would ever let a good opportunity slip by.
Cubs Storyline #2: So what’s up with the lawsuits now?
As you may have heard, the rooftops (in particular, the ones that are going to be blocked by the repositioned video replay boards) are directly suing the Cubs for breach of contract or monopolizing their own product or some stupid crap like that. I’m not a lawyer and there are a bunch of resources out there (including the lawsuit itself) if you want to read between the lines. As far as I can tell the Cubs construction crews are continuing to work (even through blizzard conditions) and the business operations folks are just like “whatever” as they keep moving the plan along. The only inconvenience thus far, other than to the rooftop owners that I don’t care about, is to the bleachers season ticket holders who will have to be relocated or partially refunded as well as the neighborhood, which is suddenly infested with rats. The overall attitude from Cubs lawyer Twitter (hat tip, you guys) is that this is an annoying lawsuit but it likely doesn’t hurt the Cubs’ renovation plans much, if at all.
Cubs Storyline #3: The Rotation
Assuming that the Cubs stay away from James Shields, then we have a rotation headlined by some order of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks. From there, the Cubs have to rely on organizational depth that includes Jacob Turner (an intriguing option if he ever puts it all together), Tsuyoshi Wada, and potential trade candidates Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson. There’s also this from the MLB Network guys:
So we have a subset of “experts” who believe the Cubs are fine as is, because they have guys who “know how to pitch,” whatever the hell that means (I think it means they don’t suck). The only question is whether the first four guys stay healthy and productive, and who gets to be the number five guy. That sounds like one of the major battles of spring training as Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson give it what could be their final shot at relevance in the Cubs system. And I wouldn’t count out the Cubs yet in the Brandon Beachy “sweepstakes” as they usually find a bargain basement steal of a deal.
Cubs Storyline #4: The Catchers
On the other side of the battery, the Cubs currently still have three catchers, and the prevailing thought process is that they will trade Welington Castillo at some point. We’ve written about how that may not be the case, even though we operate with the disclaimer that we regard Beef Castle as a major trade chip. It makes sense that the Cubs would be huge on pitch framing these days, and Miguel Montero and David Ross are rated well in that regard whereas Beef is not. However, carrying a third catcher on the roster has its advantages offensively and defensively, and serves as insurance should someone get hurt (it’s not like Beef is a slouch, he just doesn’t frame well). Additionally, I believe that with Henry Blanco in the system as a coach and with two able catchers in Montero and Ross, there is plenty of teaching available to Beef if the Cubs do keep him. Or they could trade him tomorrow. If he is traded, it won’t be at a loss. I am aware that the Cubs’ (and their fans’) preference is not to carry three catchers, but it won’t be disastrous, especially if the current crop of position players like Mike Olt, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Tommy La Stella can hold down multiple positions to provide versatility to the lineup.
Cubs Storyline #5: The Infield/Outfield Carousel
We know that the infield is anchored by Starlin Castro at shortstop and Anthony Rizzo at first base, but it will be a minor competition to see what they do at second and third. Do the Cubs use a regular at each spot, or is one going to be set up as a platoon? Do they let Dexter Fowler stay in center field, or do they try to move him to left where he can potentially be a better defender while letting Arismendy Alcantara continue to develop up the middle? Of course, this would prevent Alcantara from holding down second base, which he has proven very capable of doing. But that may be a moot point if Javier Baez stops striking out all the time as he works through his own development and realizes the immense amount of talent he possesses. There’s also the utilization of platoons, with Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella on either side of the plate, dependent on whether La Stella can handle third base. There are platoons possible in the battery and the outfield as well. The front office appears to have built up so much flexibility for Joe Maddon that at this point it is impossible to know what exactly he will do until spring training clarifies the situation.
Cubs Storyline #6: MLB Rules and Crap
There are multiple fronts here as the new commissioner settles in to his job. How will MLB adjust pace of play? Will they ever talk about the designated hitter? What about streamlining replay reviews? And in advance of the new CBA negotiations coming up in 2016, will they implement an international draft? New spending rules for amateur draft and free agent signings? Revisit the qualifying offer system?
Pitchers and catchers report on February 19. Let’s go!