Tagged: Starlin Castro

With Ramirez Declaring for Free Agency, Let the Rebuilding Begin

Around 2:30 this afternoon, news broke that Aramis Ramirez’s agent, Paul Kinzer, informed the Chicago Cubs that his client will opt out of the final year of his deal, which also happens to be a team option, and file for free agency. However, Ramirez’s agent would not rule out the possibility that he would re-sign with the Cubs in the off season, but only if the team was not in full rebuild mode. In other words, unless the Cubs make a huge splash in free agency, likely by signing either Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, his tenure with the Cubs is likely over, even though he has claimed in the past that he wanted to retire a Chicago Cub.

Since joining the Cubs midway through 2003, Ramirez has put on a show for the Wrigley Faithful and has cemented a place for himself in Cubs history. In his nearly eight years with the ball club he has become the second greatest third baseman in Cubs history, right behind the late great Ron Santo. He was also the first long term third baseman the Cubs have had since Santo was traded to the Chicago White Sox at the end of his career. With his apparent departure, you have to wonder when the Cubs will once again be able to fill the vacant hot corner. Last night, 30 years past before they found a solid fixture, hopefully this time the fans do not have to wait so long for a permanent replacement.

With the third base free agent class being very weak, Ramirez becomes the best player available at that position, and should draw a lot of attention from several teams who need someone at third. The bidding war for the aging veteran will likely surpass whatever amount the Cubs would be willing to spend to bring him back, unless he gives the team he says he wants to return to a “home town discount”. With this being the final long term deal of his career, I am not so sure that he will be willing to give a significant discount to the Cubs in order to finish his career with them.

Now that you have a pretty good idea that Ramirez’s Cubs career is over, in my own opinion, the time has come to do what is best for both the player and the team. Sit A-Ram down for the remainder of the season and play a young player over at the hot corner.

How does that benefit Ramirez? The answer to that is quite easy. He has an injured qaud, so in the interest of his health, he should be sat the remainder of the year. Let the injury heal so he can fully heal before any physical that he would need to take before signing a new contract. I doubt Ramirez would have much problem with that scenario as he gets paid whether he plays or not. Why risk making an injury worse if you are about to reach free agency? I believe he will be happy to sit out the remaining six games while the Cubs begin the rebuilding process.

The question then turns to which kid do you throw at third base for the remainder of the year? You could turn to the kid who is playing there today, DJ LeMahieu. Let him test his ability and skill while the Cubs get a good look to see if he can play every day at the major league level. Sure, this is September baseball and no teams have advanced scouts so you need to take anything these call ups do with a grain of salt, but you would get an idea of what he can do.

Another option would be to allow Starlin Castro to spread his wings and fly over at the hot corner. He may not be a bad option, especially since he does have a strong arm and good range. Add in to his ever growing power, he could grow into an excellent option over there. Then the problem would be who plays short stop, or who plays second base if Darwin Barney shifts over as well. Time will tell how the Cubs will handle the third base position going forward, but you can be sure things will be interesting.

There is some good news that comes with the departure of Ramirez, even for those fans who do wish he would return. The Cubs will be saving the $16 Million that he would have made next year, which can be spent elsewhere, perhaps on the pitching staff or a certain first baseman who shall be left unnamed. That is not the only good news however. From the sound of some of the reports, because Ramirez was the one who opted out of the 2012 deal and not the team, the Cubs may in fact be off the hook for the $2 Million buyout to the contract. So that is another $2 Million that the Cubs can use to rebuild a ball club that seemed to have fallen apart. Heck, they might even be more willing to ship off Alfonso Soriano knowing that they suddenly have this extra money that they can throw into a deal to help a team pay his contract. However, that “saved money” might actually be put towards the Carlos Zambrano going away package.

Ramirez declaring for free agency, six games before the season actually ends, should open the flood gates that should have been opened for the trade deadline back in July. That means letting Carlos Pena walk, trading Marlon Byrd and trying desperately to send Alfonso Soriano packing. Without Ramirez, there is little reason to sign Pujols, Fielder or even bringing Pena back.

Let the rebuilding process begin. The only question is will Cub fans be willing to sit through a few years of what could be sub .500 baseball while the kids grow and learn on the job?


After Nine Games, Frustration Boils Over For Both Players and Fans

I know the Chicago Cubs season is only nine games old, and we still have 153 to go, but there are already some things coming to be known about this team that I do not like whatsoever. You can tell me all you want that there is still plenty of time to turn things around (which is true) and that the season is still early (again, true) but that does not mean that you can not have things that you are not happy with, and things which must be improved if you plan on having any type of success at all.

Currently, after dropping a series to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs stand with a record of 4-5. Thankfully, they are about to start a three game series with the bottom dwelling Houston Astros, a team which is a good bet to get back on the right track and to start some sort of a winning streak against. However, you could have very easily said the same thing about the Pittsburgh Pirates, who took the series from the Cubs to start the season. If they can not sweep this pathetically awful team, or at very least win the series, you might as well pack your bags and call the season over. Sorry for the negativity this early on, but like I said, there are just a few things which are grinding on my nerves.

First and foremost, is the starting pitching. Going into the season, the impression was that we had a pitching staff which had some really good potential. However, after nine games, the pitching staff has been anything but good, Outside of Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner, the other three pitchers have not been living up to expectations. Both Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza have gotten smacked around pretty well their first two starts, and have both left much to be desired. Carlos Zambrano on the other hand, has not been bad, but has not been all that impressive. Sadly, the best two starts we have gotten this year comes from the two pitchers that we have just placed on the disabled list.

What is even more troubling, is new addition Garza is already not happy with our pitching coach Mark Riggins. Apparently now that we are out of the thin air of Arizona, which he blamed for his poor Spring Training, he needs a new target, and Riggins seems to be just that target. God forbid anyone ever takes responsibility for their own performance, There is always someone else that is responsible for your sucking. What I find funny, is that in his close to a decade with the Cubs, I do not remember one incident of a pitcher ever calling out Larry Rothschild for anything. Not Kerry Wood, not Carlos Zambrano, no one. But, that is another argument for another day, one not likely to be worth arguing because much like with Alfonso Soriano, Cub fans have already made up their mind on him and hate him, blaming him for all the woes of the pitching staff. But, I would just like to point out that in one off season he has appeared to have fixed A.J. Burnett, not an easy task.

Another thing that is completely ticking me off right now, is Marlon Byrd. I do not know what he was thinking yesterday, but why in the blue hell did he decide to steal second base with Aramis Ramirez up at the plate? That was likely one of the dumbest moves  that I have seen from the Cubs in a very long time, and believe me that is saying something. You could tell that he either misread a sign, or completely went on his own because of the swing Ramirez took on the pitch Byrd decided to run on. Ramirez tired to protect Byrd by at least making some contact, almost sacrificing himself in the process. So Byrd not only cost us a base runner and an out, but he cost Ramirez a strike. Thanks a lot Byrd!

What is worse, is his post game interview when he was questioned about his base running blunder. He could not admit fault, which I would completely accept, but instead he got snippy with the media and told them to “beat it”. Grow up Mr. Byrd, yes you are hitting but you have no speed and should not have ran, especially not in that situation.

The we have our golden child, Starlin Castro! I love this kid, and I am more excited about him than I am about anything we have had in a long time. He is phenomenal with the bat, and every time he steps up to the plate you are always feeling like he is going to get a hit. That is how impressive this kid is. He is going to be a star! The only problem is, he is a tremendous liability with the glove. He has tremendous range, and can get to just about any ball hit on his side of second base. He also feels that he can make every throw, which is both good and bad. He has a rocket for an arm, so he always feels like he can nail a runner at first. But he needs to learn when to make a throw and when he needs to just hold on to the ball. Add into the mix that he can not apparently take a throw from a catcher, as you could see by his getting drilled on a throw from Geovany Soto on Saturday. Yes, he is still young and can learn, and his limited time in the minors probably did not help his learning process, but he needs to improve, and fast.

Those are the three things that are irritating me early in the season, however there was one roster move which is seriously scaring me. That is the Cubs signing Ramon Ortiz to a minor league contract. The first question that should cross your mind here, is why. He is old, well past his prime and likely has less than nothing left in the tank. He was likely the only pitcher the Cubs could sign, due to the severely limited fund they have; especially since they had to pay Carlos Silva $11.5 Million to go away. But why sign  him?

I am afraid that I know why. Either Wells or Cashner will be missing some significant time, and the Cubs are not too enthusiastic about either Casey  Coleman (who got manhandled by the Brewers yesterday) or James Russell who will be starting on Tuesday against the Astros. Hopefully this is not the case and he is just here to fill a roster spot in Triple A. The Cubs say that the injuries of Wells and Cashner are minor, but we have heard that all before.

Alright, I have vented. I am ready for some more Cubs baseball! Going against the Astros should bring the Cubs some easy wins. Just as long as the pitching actually is clicking, but I will not hold my breath.

The Perfect Lineup For the 2011 Chicago Cubs

Today, because you are finished with my look at the individual positions and who should be starting for the Chicago Cubs, I will give you my thoughts on what I feel would be the perfect line up to run out everyday. Thankfully this is made much easier because Cubs Manager Mike Quade and I are in full agreement on who should be playing everyday. The one thing we do not agree on, is how they should be lined up. So far in Spring Training, based on the line up that has been run out most often, Quade is looking  at running out this line up.

Kosuke Fukudome
Starlin Castro
Marlon Byrd
Aramis Ramirez
Carlos Pena
Alfonso Soriano
Geovany Soto
Blake Dewitt
Pitcher of  the day,

While I agree with three of the nine spots in the line up, I feel that the others should be shuffled around for reasons that I am about to explain. In my mind, the line up should look like this.

Kosuke Fukudome: This one Quade has right. With his precise at the plate, there is no one better to  hit lead off. What he lacks in batting average, which tends to be his main down fall with the fans, he makes up for in drawing walks. That is the main objective for any lead off hitter. Get on base for the big boppers behind you.

Geovany Soto: Cuttently, Quade has him batting seventh in the lineup. In my honest opinion, this is a big mistake. He is the teams best on base percentage guy and should be at the top of the line up batting second. Much like with Fukudome should be batting lead off, getting on base is the most important thing  for your first and second hitters. The reason Soto should be hitting second, is because he does just that. Because he has a keen eye at the plate, and has a fair amount of power, pitchers will need to pitch to him very carefully if he is hitting second. They do not want to walk him, and give you best run producers a chance to drive him in, so they will have to throw him pitches to hit. Doing so could cost them dearly.

Aramis Ramirez: The Cubs need a power hitter in the three hole, and  that just is not Marlon Byrd.  These two men should be flipped in the order. History has shown that if there are men on base for Ramirez, that chances are he is going to drive them in. He is the Cubs best run producer, and has been for the past few years, and needs to bat in the first inning. With Fukudome and Soto hitting in front of him, he will typically always have someone on base for him to drive in.

Marlon Byrd: I know what you are thinking, if Byrd isn’t powerful enough  to hit in the three spot, why hit him clean up? I think he should hit clean up for those exact reasons. He is a good line drive hitter and can move guys over and drive them in without the use of a home run. In some instances that is a better weapon than a home run hitter. He gives you a different aspect to think about. If Ramirez is unable to drive the previous guys in, Byrd almost certainly will. Besides, I feel that having power back to back is a waste and kind of is easier on the pitcher who does not need to chance his thought process when the batters change. You typically pitch all power hitters the same way.

Carlos Pena: He should be hitting fifth, exactly where Quade has him. Left handed power in this spot is very nice. A line drive hitter right in front of him could mean that there is typically someone on base for him to try and drive in. While his average has not been very good the past few years, he still has the power numbers to make him a big threat with men on base.

Alfonso Soriano: Once again, Quade gets the decision right to bat him here. While he is no longer the big 40 home run threat that he once was, he is still very capable of hitting at least 20 home runs. He will never have another good year of stealing bases either, which is why he is not batting higher in the line up. Because he still has some decent power, he still has to be considered a threat at the plate.

Blake Dewitt: He is not a strong hitter, and can occasionally draw a walk. I will not tiptoe around this guy at all, he is our weakest hitter. The reason I have him hitting seventh instead of eighth is because you do not want two easy outs back to back. Perhaps with another year of professional baseball under his belt he will be able to surprise us with something. Either way, I am not expecting much out of him. Only good thing I can say about him, is that he is better than Ryan Theriot because he can occasionally draw a walk.

Starlin Castro: The very reason Quade likes him hitting second is why he should be hitting eighth in the order. Someone who can hit at a high average at the bottom of the order is a good way to help turn the line up over and get back to the top of the order. If you have three low average guys at the bottom of the order (no Soto is not a low average hitter, but his power says he should be hitting higher) you will have three easy outs all in a row. That is something pitchers dream of, you are basically handing them an easy inning. Throwing a .300 hitter here helps keep the offense rolling. Add to the mix that he can draw a walk, which is a very important aspect for anyone who is going to hit in the eight hole. Pitchers will tend to pitch around this hitter in order to get to the easiest out in the line up, the pitcher. Yes, the pitcher is the easiest out even if we are talking about Carlos Zambrano. This guy needs to get on base for the pitcher to move over with a sacrifice bunt and to reset the line up.

A line up like this would give the Cubs the best chance to win on a daily basis. Granted, that is assuming everything works the way they should. While we may not have the most talented line up in baseball, I believe that you can still make noise if you put things in the proper order. Perhaps Quade’s line up is better than my purposed one.

Shortstop: Starlin Castro

Today, we turn our focus will be on one of the young rising stars in the Chicago Cub’s system, starting shortstop Starlin Castro. One of the most appealing and energetic players for the team this year, he burst onto the scene last season and was an immediate fan favorite. As a matter of fact, in his very first game he set a few rookie records which include most RBI (six) in his debut. While he did not continue of the sizzling pace he set for himself in his first game, he did end his rookie campaign with some pretty amazing statistics to boast about.

Ending the year with an even .300 batting average to go with his three home runs and 41 RBI is not bad at all for a rookie, even though he did pale in comparison to rookie of the year Buster Posey. In his less than a full season, he also racked up a WAR number of two, which for less than a full season is fairly impressive. Add in his speed, and you have a pretty impressive player in the works.

The only flaw in his game, which I am sure will get better the more time he spends in the majors is his occasionally shaky defense. I have absolutely no complaints about the kids range, as he can cover more than his fair share of ground. The problem comes into play with his throws to first base. Even with a solid defensive first baseman in Derek Lee, he still racked up a tremendous amount of errors. That is likely one of the few things which knocked him out of contention for Rookie of the Year, though even with eliminating his errors I would have a hard time passing up Posey for that award.

This season, Cubs Manager Mike Quade has already voiced his opinion on where the young Castro will be hitting in the lineup. While I disagree with batting Castro hitting second in this lineup, I can not fully disagree with the idea of having a .300 hitter batting second. However, that is another blog for another time and I will get back to that topic later.

This season, I see Castro continuing to grow and to improve on the basic skills. With another year about to begin, and another Spring Training in the works, look to see Castro grow more into his body and develop some more power. You may never see outstanding power numbers out of Castro, but during his career he could easily reach the mid teens or low 20s in the home run category. His glove work should almost certainly improve as well as one would find him repeating 27 errors in 2010. He needs to learn which balls he can reasonable get to, and to better judge the amount of time he has to throw the ball to get the runner out. There are times that I believe he tries to do too much, and in time he will learn what he can and can not do better.

While I highly doubt that he will ever reach the quality of defense that “The Wizard of Oz” Ozzie Smith was able to do, keep in mind that in his rookie campaign he made 25 errors his first season as well, in fact he was in the 20s his first three years. So there is hope that Castro can and will vastly improve his defensive play.

For the year to come, I see some improvements coming for Castro. His batting average might very well go down, but I see an improvement in each of his other statistics. I think he will level out to around a .280ish batting average with about the same amount of homers, maybe a few more which could bring him up to about five. The RBI level should also raise, assuming he has someone on base ahead of him. He could reach the 50 or 60 range. Of course, this is assuming he does not fall into the traditional “sophomore slump” that sever players have fallen into for one reason or another, Geovany Soto being one of those who suffered that fate.

 All in all, 2011 should be a signature season for Castro as he looks to continue to prove that he belongs in the big leagues.

Time For a Quarter Final review: The Offense

With the quarter mark in the baseball season upon us, what better time could there be to check in on the state of the Chicago Cubs, who have not lived up to the fans expectations. With only 123 games left, you can no longer say things are early in the season. However, at the same time, you can not say that there are not enough games left to make a move. The way the Cubs have played in the first 39 games of the year, you would be hard pressed to find a large percentage of fans who would be able to continue holding onto the hope that things can still be turned around.

Currently, the Cubs are sitting with a record of 17-22 in third place, only 5.5 games behind the surprising Cincinnati Reds. The second place team, the St. Louis Cardinals, are a half game behind the reds, and five games ahead of the Cubs. Using simple math, and the statistical argument of real games back as opposed to traditional games out, the Cubs are an ugly 10.5 games out of first place. With three quarters of the season left to go, there are still plenty of games left to make up ground, as long as the Cubs start getting their act together immediately. With 10 games left to play with the first place Reds and all 15 games left with the Cardinals, there are plenty of games left with the teams ahead of the Cubs to make a move. In order for that to happen though, there needs to be some major improvement in many areas.

In the next few days, I will look at the four phases of the Chicago Cubs, as they currently stand. The offense, starting pitching, bullpen and team defense. All four phases of the team are areas the team needs to improve in,

The first phase that needs to step things up is the offense. At the moment, the team is hitting .270, which is tied for the 8th best batting average in the majors, and have six hitters in the everyday lineup hitting over .300.

Of the players who have been with the Cubs the whole season, Marlon Byrd has been the team’s best hitter, putting up a .340 batting average with seven home runs and 25 RBI; all three of which lead the team. He has been one of the few players to come through in the clutch more often than not. If you think back to when he was first signed, many Cub fans were upset that they had “wasted” $15 million on him over three years, now however they appear to be singing a different tune as he has impressed the legions with his stellar play.

One of the biggest surprises in the Cubs offense, is Alfonso Soriano, who is hitting .323 on the year, but an eye popping .365 in the month of May. Last season, Soriano didn’t make too many friends among the Cubs fan base with not only his poor hitting, but his poor defense as well. This season, he had something to prove, and while his defense is still akin to a horror movie, his offensive outbursts are something that fans have been waiting to see from him. He will never live up to the massive contract he was signed to before the 2007 season, but he is still showing that he can carry a team offensively.

Ryan Theriot has continued to do what he has normally done since he got here, and that’s hit. Until recently, Theriot has been the Cubs primary leadoff hitter, but is now hitting in the second spot in the lineup, at least against the right handed pitchers. With his .316 batting average, he is collecting more than his fair share of hits, but his on base percentage of .348 is weak, because of the miniscule difference between the two stats. One aspect of his game that needs to be worked on, is drawing more walks, and striking out less.

Kosuke Fukudome has started off the season with his traditional April explosion, followed by a decline in play in May. He started off the year hitting .344 in his first month, but has cooled off to only .273 so far in May, but still has a respectable .315 on the year. While he has slowed down a little bit, he is still playing tremendously well, especially in the field. His patience at the plate, and timely hitting, has earned him the leadoff spot when there is a right handed pitcher on the mound.

Geovany Soto has rebounded quite nicely over his Sophomore season and is playing almost better than he did in his rookie year. Batting primarily in the 8th sport in the order, Soto has begun to show a tremendous eye at the plate. While his batting average sits at .301, his on base percentage is over .450. His four homers and 10 RBI may not look too impressive on their own merit, but when combined with his OBP and batting average in the eight hole, you have an impressive stat line. With how well he has been hitting, he probably should be elevated to a more important run producing slot in the lineup.

Even though he has only been with the Cubs for just over a week, Starlin Castro is hitting .361 in 10 games. His energetic play has gotten fans energized and given them reason to have hope for the future. With the way he handles himself at the plate, and runs right out of the box, fans have quickly fallen in love with him. Since being called up from triple A, he has taken over the eight hole from Soto in the lineup, with the occasional elevation to the two hole when Theriot has been given a day off. Where ever Cubs Manager Lou Piniella has put him in the order, he has shown that he can produce, which has some fans asking for him to be given a more important role, than batting in front of the pitcher.

While the statistics from these guys are impressive, if that is all you are looking at, you will be missing half the story. Sure, the Cubs can hit in no pressure situations with the bases empty, when runners reach base and are in scoring position, the bats seem to completely cool off. The Cubs just can not seem to be able to drive runs in on a consistent basis. If a player collects three hits in a game in four plate appearances, his batting average will look great. However, if his only out comes at a time when there are runners in scoring position, you are not doing your team much good. That appears to be the problem the Cubs are having, and one that needs to be solved if they have any serious plans of contending this year.

However, the problem comes to a head when you take notice of the two most important hitters in the Cubs lineup are continuing to be viewed as the two weakest hitters in the order. The two biggest problems in the Cubs offense remain to be Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, though signs point to both being on the right path. With the way the rest of the team is hitting, if Lee and Ramirez are able to come back to form, the offense will be in good shape, and able to carry the team to a lot more wins. If you are looking for some reason to have some optimism that these two are going to be able to contribute in the months to come, consider this.

Over the past 16 games, Lee is hitting a much improved .277, which is .047 points higher than he is currently hitting, and only .006 below his career average. While he has only hit four home runs on the year, the power will come as his hits start piling up. As the Cubs three hole hitter, which he should have been moved out of during his ugly month and a half long slump, the Cubs need him to start hitting on a more consistent basis. So far for the month of May he has looked to be doing just that, and has quieted some of his critics, but there are still plenty more who letting their voices be heard.

Ramirez on the other hand, who is still stuck in baseball hell, is hitting well below the Mendoza line. As a player who has been looked upon as the biggest RBI threat in the Cubs lineup the past several years, his poor play is reflective on the Cubs struggles to score runs. Last night, Ramirez hit the game winning home run against the Colorado Rockies, in walk off fashion. In doing so, he recorded only his third multi-hit game of the year. He has improved in the month of May, hitting .216, which is up .064 points from his April average, but he is still not doing enough to warrant hitting in the heart of the lineup. Until he shows that he can put together an elongated stretch of games where he is able to hit consistently, he should be lowered to the seven hole behind Soriano, with Soto moving up to batting fifth. This is a move that likely wont happen, and could very well be one of the key reasons the Cubs continue to struggle throughout the year to score runs.

The offense is not running at full speed, and that is what is keeping them from putting up the consistent offensive numbers that they should be putting up. If they are to have success, they need to start hitting with runners on base and in scoring position. Hitting with no one on base is all well and good, but if you consistently drop the ball in the situations that matter the most, you will never live up to your full potential.

Spring Training Series: Around the Horn Rewind- Starlin Castro

As Spring Training hit’s the midway point, my look at the Chicago Cub’s 25 man roster will continue early next week with the pitchers going under the microscope. However, before we travel to the pitchers mound, we must backtrack and go back to short stop for a brief look at the Cubs top prospect Starlin Castro. Before you start to get overly excited, my writing about Castro in no way means I think he will break camp on the roster. Cubs Manager Lou Piniella stated at the start of Spring Training that the teams starting short stop will be Ryan Theriot, with Castro starting the year in the minors with the Iowa Cubs. So then why am I taking a closer look at him if he wont be on the teams starting roster? Because he will be up in the majors much sooner than some people realize.

In an interview with 670 The Score at the start of Spring Training, Piniella said without hesitation that Castro will start the year in the minors, but would be called up instantly if Theriot got hurt and was unable to play. However, Theriot may not have to get injured for Castro to make his major league debut. While Piniella is saying all the right things when the discussion comes to why Castro has no chance to start in the big leagues, he is forgetting to mention the most likely reason. The main reason that has been given as to why Castro will start the season in the minors is to get a little more seasoning, because he isn’t quite ready for the big leagues. That may very well be the case with Castro, but thinking that is the only reason why would be absurd. We have watched the kid the past few weeks, and he looks simply amazing. Castro is tearing the cover off the ball, and is having one of the best Springs of nearly everyone on the roster; except for Theriot who is fighting to stay at short stop instead of being moved over to second base. That right there is what should be obviously the main indicator of Castro starting in the minors. If he even had a chance to start with the year with the Cubs , Theriot would be getting some Spring game starts at second so he and Castro could work on their double play combination. Piniella stated that Theriot will not play any second base in any Spring game.

One of the most commonly thought of reasons why Castro will likely be sent down to the minors, is to save a little money three years down the road. Baseball is a game which is all about money, and being able to save a few million dollars here or there is big. That extra million or two can get you another big bat off the bench, or the defensive specialist who you can bring in late in the game. In case you are confused as to what I am talking about, allow me to explain.

With young players, they are under team control for their first six years once they make the major leagues. In their first three years the salary they will make is locked in, but the money they can make in their final three years will be in question. Those are the arbitration years where players can renegotiate their deals on a year by year basis, just as a few players did this year; most notably Theriot who actually took the matter all the way to the courthouse. One way to put off these arbitration years, is to hold off promoting your young players until the end of May or early June. By doing so, ball clubs will have successfully squeezed an extra year of service out of the player, putting off their arbitration one more year. Before you start calling the Cubs cheap for pulling a move like this, consider that teams all over baseball have been doing things like this for years.

In similar cases, we only have to look to last year with the Chicago White Sox and Gordan Beckham and the Tampa Bay Rays with Evan Longoria. Both players were hot shot rookies who earned their spot on the opening day roster, but because teams wanted to get extra time out of them before they started to pay them the extra money, neither player started in the big leagues. Beckham was called up to the White Sox at the start of June, which ironically was after the deadline which allowed the White Sox the extra time. With Longoria, he tore up the minor leagues and was only called up to fill in at third base for Willy Aybar who went on the disabled list. Shortly after he was called up, the Rays signed him to a six year $17.5 million contract, with three option years at some pretty good money. That would cover at least the full six years of his initial major league contract. Before you start saying he got a big pay day for only being in the majors for six days, look closer at the deal. On average he will make just under $3 million a year. He would surely have earned a lot more had he not signed that deal. He took less money sooner and gave up several more million he could have earned, just to stay with the big league club and not risk being sent back down for two months. Could the Cubs do this with Castro? Of course they could, but that doesn’t mean that they should. There is always risk involved with pulling a move like the Rays did with Longoria. He could just be a one year wonder, sticking the Rays with a contract that pays a scrub very well. I am not saying Longoria is a one year wonder, just pointing out the risk.

After watching Castro for the first two weeks of games, you can clearly see why everyone is talking about Castro. The talk about how good this kid is, isn’t just coming from the Cubs scouts, but from scouts from across the league. Castro has an amazing arm, and great range at short stop. Even though the throw he made in the later innings of the Spring game today was a little off line (and lets be honest, if Derrek Lee was at first instead of Micah Hoffpauir, the runner would have been out) he made an amazing throw on the run. Not many shortstops have shown that they can make that play and throw the ball in one crisp move like Castro showed. He is by far a much better defensive player at shortstop that his predicator Theriot. As I stated in my look at shortstop and Theriot, he is not exactly a great defensive shortstop because he lacks the range and arm strength.

Not only can Castro flash the leather better than we have seen anyone do at that position since Shawn Dunston, the kid can flat out hit. He dominated the pitchers in the minor leagues last year, as well as the Arizona Fall League this past winter. His success with the bat hasn’t stopped there, as he has continued to show he can swing with the best of them in his chances this Spring. Today alone he went two for two while driving in two RBI. Currently for the Spring, he is hitting .455 with four RBI, those are impressive stats for Spring no matter who you are, or how young you are. While the performances show that Castro should make the club, both Theriot and Mike Fontenot are giving everything they have to show that they should be starters as well. They are out performing Castro, which will give Piniella and Hendry a much easier time explaining why Castro is being sent down without stating the money reason.

Should Castro make the team leaving camp? I believe he should, as his presence at shortstop with Theriot at second would give the Cubs their best chances of winning. The result of his being called up would also strengthen our bench, placing both Fontenot and Jeff Baker on the bench giving the Cubs some decent replacement players if needed in a game situation. However, what I think is the right move will not factor into the final decision on Castro, which was made before Spring Training started. Regardless of where Castro starts the season though, from everything we have seen up until now of the kid, he has a bright future ahead of him.

Curtis Granderson is Exactly What the Cubs Need

Every year, the hot stove league is filled with various trade rumors, and because the Chicago Cubs are one of the bigger market teams in the league, they are usually in the middle of all of them. That remains the case, with the recently discussed rumor of the Detroit Tigers floating the idea of Curtis Granderson being shopped around in order to help lower payroll. With Granderson making only $5.5 million in 2010, he would seem to be an ideal fit for any club who is willing to offer up the prospects to pry him away from the Tigers. Currently, there are only three teams who have shown interest in making an offer for the talented centerfielder. The Cubs are joined by the New York Yankees (who are also always in the discussion for every free agent and top player being traded) and the Anaheim Angels. Whether or not the Cubs are able to make an offer which would be comparable to that of the Yankees and the Angels remains to be seen, but knowing they are interested in a player who can make an immediate impact on your roster is a great start.

When a good young player becomes available by trade, fans usually have a lot of differing opinions on whether or not the trade should be made, and just what the team should offer up to the team in order to get the deal done. You will have a percentage of the fan base, who will say to “trade whatever you need to in order to get the deal done”. However, at the same time, there will also be those fans who will say, “Go get him, just don’t trade this player or that player to get him”. There is, of course, the group of fans who will completely against the idea of the trade because, “if you make the trade, you are going to completely deplete the farm system”. All three have valid points to their arguments, and all three also have their downfalls as well. All three groups of fans, all tie into one another at certain points in the argument.

The first group, I feel has the idea most right. When you have the chance to make a trade for a player who can fill the main roles which you are lacking (in this case you have the need for a center fielder, speed and leadoff) you should do everything in your power to get the deal done. They are going to want cheap players, and young prospects in return for their “high priced” talent. The key word here in the trade rumor, is prospects. Minor league prospects are just that, prospects. Do they look like they can be the type of player who can have tremendous success at the major league level? There have been many who has shown that they have that capability. Some go on to the majors to have great success, while most come up to the big leagues and fall flat on their faces. Just look at several of the Cubs past few cant miss prospects for an idea of how hit or miss they can be.

The most recent, was Felix Pie. Sure, he had a decent season with the Baltimore Oriels, but nowhere near what was expected out of him. Especially when you look at all of the hype that was built up for him. Then you have the legend that was supposed to be Corey Patterson, another player who failed to live up to the hype. He showed spurts of greatness before a season ending knee injury, but where is he now? Floating around from team to team looking for a bench role. How about the great Hee Sop Choi and Bobby Hill. Both were supposed to be top prospects who were supposed to lead the team to greatness. Hill was tagged as the next Ryne Sandberg, who showed little for the Cubs before being packaged up and traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Aramis Ramirez. I believe that Hill is now out of baseball. As far as the legend of Choi goes, his hype had a lot more of a lasting impact of the Cubs. Because of him, Mark Grace was not resigned, and when Jim Thome came here looking for work, he was turned down and eventually wound up with the Philadelphia Phillies. After a year with the team, he was traded to the Florida Marlins for Derrek Lee, and is now out of baseball.

The list goes on and on, and the Cubs are not the only team with these so called “cant miss prospects”, every team has them, and every team has been burned by them. I have no problem with trading away a young player who appears to have all the talent in the world. Dominating the minor leagues will not make you an impressive major league player, just ask Micah Hoffpauir about that. Include any player in a trade for a top notch player that the other team wants. If that player is a deal breaker, you need to include him. The player you get in return will have more of an immediate affect in your team than a player who is still developing.

At the same time, you don’t want to trade away the farm for any player. As you noticed with the 2009 version of the Cubs, you need to have minor league depth in order to fill in for an injured player. If you trade away every player in your farm system in order to acquire someone from another team, you will be in trouble if an injury falls on your team. Trade away any players you need to in order to get that player you need, but don’t over pay and give up too many.

As far as the group who wants the Cubs to make a trade for a player who can be a difference maker, but says the team needs to hold on to their top prospects, they are fooling themselves. No offense to you if you are in this camp, but you need to be serious for a moment. In order to get something, you have to give up something. The better the player you are trying to trade for is, the better your package is going to have to be to get him. Trades for top shelf talent, like Granderson, is going to require top shelf talent going back the other way. No team would trade a good young player for another teams crap, that’s just not going to happen. The Cubs may need to trade a top prospect or two like a Josh Vitters or a Starlin Castro if they want to get the job done. If you go to them with second class prospects who have yet to show they can play in the big leagues, the player you want is going to go to one of the other teams who want to get him.

Now, you do have the idea partly correct. Just with those who say trade whoever you need to in order to get the deal done, you cant trade away all of your top prospects to get the player you want. But you will likely have to part with at least one of them if you want things to happen for you.

For those who are completely against the trade, because you don’t want to empty the farm system, you are correct. The case for and against your wish has been covered with the first two groups. You need your farm system to produce if you want to have success at the major league level. You want to build your championship team from the ground up if you want to have great success. However, using only players from your farm system on the field may never lead your team to the promise land. That’s why you use your prospects as trade bait to get that player who is already major league proven, who could help you now, rather than later. Prospects are hit or miss though, which is why if you can get something for them, you need to pull the trigger.

I am excited about the news coming from the various winter leagues about Castro, Vitters and Michael Brenley or Tyler Colvin. I would have no problem with any one of them being on the Cubs roster in a few years. They all look as though they could potentially be good players in the future. The key word though, is could. I love our farm system, and believe that these kids have all the potential in the world, if the Cubs need to trade away any of them to seal the deal, I would pull the trigger.

All this may be a moot point, as there are a few roadblocks preventing the Cubs from making any deal. Most important is Milton Bradley. As I have stated several times, he needs to be moved before you can even consider making a deal for Granderson. The Cubs would also have to find a way to clear up some payroll in order to afford to pay him. I know that in the world of baseball $5.5 million isn’t that much, but that may be slightly more than the Cubs can afford. Getting rid of Bradley would help, as long as you don’t have to eat too much money on his deal, while taking on another over priced player you will likely get in return for him. There may need to be another deal made in order for this one to fit into your budget. With the Cubs only expecting a “slight increase in player payroll” there is no telling how much more they can spend, though there have been estimates of the payroll only being in the mid $140 million range.

To top everything off, the Cubs may not even have the prospects to get the deal done. The Yankees and the Angels have a lot of great talent in their farm system, and will likely be able to give the Tigers far greater prospects than the Cubs could even dream of. While I would love to see the Cubs pull of this trade, I fear this is one dream that will be very hard to make come true. With all of the roadblocks in the way, the Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry will have to jump through a lot of hoops if he wants to make this dream a reality.