The Chicago Cubs have generated plenty of buzz already during this offseason, with the signing of Joe Maddon serving as notice that they are serious about becoming contenders sooner rather than later. Their rumored interest in pitchers like Cole Hamels and Jon Lester has only made those notions gain steam, and they are clearly looking to spend some money in free agency.
One player who has reportedly been on the Cubs’ radar has been catcher Russell Martin. In 2014 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Martin hit 11 home runs and drove in 67 runs for the Buccos, and his .290 batting average was his highest since his second year in the league when he hit .293 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. His OPS was .832, and he eclipsed the .400 mark in on-base percentage for the first time in his career.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are not only in on Martin, but they are also the “clear frontrunners to sign him”:
Executives involved in bidding for Russell Martin believe #Cubs are clear front-runner. Deal expected to be in four-year, $64M range.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 17, 2014
The Cubs’ interest in Martin shouldn’t be all that surprising, given their weak stable of talent at the position. Wellington Castillo had a decent 2014 for the Cubs, with 13 home runs and 46 RBI to his credit, but his OBP (.296) and slugging percentage (.389) lag well behind what Martin brings to the table for a potential suitor.
The veteran’s defense and leadership would also be welcomed in the Cubs’ clubhouse, but of course it would cost the Cubs a pretty penny to acquire him. Reports out have suggested that Martin could command in the neighborhood of $13 million in salary, and he’s reportedly asked for a five year contract.
According to Rosenthal, the Cubs would come very close to those demands with their offer. A four-year, $64 million deal would pay him above his asking price annually at the cost of one fewer year, and while there is certainly some risk to signing a guy to a long-term deal as he turns 32 years old, it could be a good move for the Cubs.
Castillo is a solid catcher, but Martin would represent a significant upgrade at the position. It would also help ease the pressure on Kyle Schwarber, the 2014 first round pick that is arguably the Cubs’ top catching prospect. Schwarber is still at least two years away from making an impact in the big leagues, and having Martin around to help him out in spring training and to play the position while he’s working his way through the minors could be a big boost for the Cubs.
The Chicago Cubs unveiled their 2015 schedule on Monday afternoon, and while things are pretty standard for the most part, there were a couple of things that stood out on the slate.
First and foremost on that list was the fact that the Cubs will open the season against the St. Louis Cardinals on the Monday after Easter. Welcoming a big rival to Wrigley Field for Opening Day has the potential to really get the season off to a rollicking start at the Friendly Confines, and it will be interesting to see what kind of crowds the team draws.
Another interesting decision made by MLB was to once again have the Cubs play six games against the Chicago White Sox in 2015. Those series, which will take place in July (at Wrigley) and August (at US Cellular Field) are both weekend series, and should draw good crowds to both parks.
Outside of those interesting developments on the slate, there are five home series that are worth checking out if you’re going to be buying tickets to see the team at Wrigley next year.
May 25-27: Washington Nationals
The thought of the Cubs going up against players like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg is one thing, but to see those kind of power players go up against the likes of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo will be even cooler. Expect some fireworks in this series.
May 29-31: Kansas City Royals
It is going to be an awesome homestand at the Friendly Confines as the Royals follow the Nationals into town. The Royals are in serious contention to win the AL Central this season, and with a young lineup and rotation, they should be in the conversation as one of the top teams in the junior circuit for years to come.
July 3-5: Miami Marlins
The Marlins are a team that has already alienated a lot of fans in South Florida because of their spendthrift ways, but with an opportunity to see Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez roll through the Windy City, Cubs fans shouldn’t miss this holiday weekend series.
August 18-19: Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are only in town for two days, but with pitchers like David Price (who knows if he could be wearing a Cubs uniform in 2016) and Justin Verlander, odds are strong that the Cubs could see some of the best pitchers in the game in those contests.
September 25-27: Pittsburgh Pirates
The last home series of the season will be played against the Buccos, and even though the two teams are on opposite ends of the divisional race this year, it’s entirely possible that the Cubs could still be angling for a playoff spot when the rivals meet again.
The Chicago Cubs are not only starting to make some real progress on the field, but apparently the emergence of players like Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks, and Jorge Soler this season has caused more fans to tune into games. Here is what Ed Sherman had to say on the subject:
“With the three young players leading the way, the Cubs’ 6-3 victory over Milwaukee did a 3.20 rating on Comcast SportsNet Wednesday. That means an estimated 115,000 homes tuned into an otherwise meaningless September game for the Cubs.”
The Cubs ended up being the third-highest viewed program in the Chicago area on Wednesday night, and those ratings spikes are coming at a good time. With renegotiation with WGN ongoing for their TV rights, as well as the possibility of a massive new TV deal in 2019, the Cubs are going to be looking to increase their footprint, and this is a good start.
Theo Epstein has also brought up how getting more money from television and other sources will impact the team’s ability to compete when he discussed their plans for the year ahead:
“As we get closer to a new television deal, and as we realize some of the revenues associated with a renovated Wrigley Field, I believe that will only enhance our flexibility.”
With work set to begin on those renovations in the next few weeks, and with players like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell still primed to be called up next season, things are about to start accelerating quickly for the Cubs on multiple fronts, and clearly fans are tuning in to see the progress that the team has made over three lackluster seasons.
Unlike the past few Septembers, the atmosphere around Wrigley Field has been electric in recent weeks, and Tuesday night was no exception as the Chicago Cubs trounced the Milwaukee Brewers by a score of 7-1.
While plenty of the headlines will focus on the injury that Starlin Castro suffered in the first inning of the game, the contest was yet another showcase of the myriad of young players that the Cubs have working their way up through the system. Headlining that list was pitcher Jake Arrieta, who bounced back from a rough start against the Cincinnati Reds last week with a strong outing in this one. Outdueling Yovani Gallardo, Arrieta scattered five hits over six innings, allowing just one run and striking out four batters.
He varied up his speeds well, topping out at 95 MPH on his fastball and ratcheting down by 15-20 MPH on his offspeed stuff. His command was solid through most of the game, and even in tough situations like the one he faced in his final inning of work, he never strayed from his plan. With runners on second and third with two outs in the sixth inning, Arrieta struck out Gerardo Parra and got out of the jam with his team’s lead still intact.
Arrieta wasn’t the only youngster that shone in the game either. Arismendy Alcantara also had a nice night, slugging his eighth home run of the season to put a finishing touch on the rout. With Castro’s injury, we could end up seeing more of Alcantara at second base, but with the way he’s taken to playing center field in the big leagues, that might end up being a longer-term answer than some folks previously thought.
Javier Baez was also impressive in the game, despite only reaching base once. He looked much more patient at the plate, and he made some really good contact with the ball, including a shot to center field in the second inning that would have been a long home run on most nights at the ballpark. He also transitioned seamlessly from second base to shortstop when Castro left the game, and he fielded the ball perfectly in those eight innings of work.
Jorge Soler also continued his torrid start with the Cubs, picking up an RBI single in the first inning and nearly hitting a home run in the fifth inning. Unfortunately for him, the wind held the ball in the yard as Khris Davis made a warning track snag, but his bat speed and sharp eye at the plate were both on full display. He also made a couple of spectacular grabs of his own in the outfield, including a diving catch that ended a potential Brewers rally in the seventh inning.
With so many young and exciting players in the lineup, Cubs fans are a much more optimistic bunch these days, and even though the paid attendance was below 30,000 on Tuesday, the crowd was still engrossed in the game. The Cubs aren’t going to make the playoffs this season, but if they continue to show the kind of improvement they have over these past few months, next season could be a lot more exciting on the North Side.
The Chicago Cubs knocked off the Milwaukee Brewers by a score of 7-1 on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, and even though the performance was arguably one of the team’s best of the season, there was still bad news that put a damper on the festivities.
That’s because Starlin Castro, who has had a resurgent season after chafing last season under Dale Sveum, was injured in the first inning of the game on an awkward slide into home plate. The shortstop was able to limp to the dugout under his own power, but he was understandably removed from the game. X-rays were negative after the game, but he will undergo an MRI on Wednesday to see if there’s any structural damage to the leg.
Add to that the frustrating back injury that continues to hamper first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who is sidelined for at least the next 10 days after an MRI revealed a muscle strain, and the Cubs are looking as though they could be without their two best players for a good chunk of the remainder of the season. The team has declined to rule either player out for the remainder of the campaign, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the team is going to play each injury cautiously.
The real question for the Cubs is this: even if Rizzo and/or Castro can come back and play this season, would the team be smart to just sit them both for the duration? After all, Rizzo already has 568 plate appearances this season, and he’s set career highs in home runs, on-base percentage, and OPS. He clearly is more dialed in at the plate than he ever has been in his career, and as such he doesn’t really have much left to prove for the team down the stretch.
Chris Valaika on the other hand could earn himself a reserve spot on the team next season if he can have a strong finish to the season. He only has 71 plate appearances with the Cubs so far this season, with two home runs, seven RBI, and a .185 batting average. Those numbers aren’t all that great, but he has shown signs that he could be better than his numbers would indicate, and more plate appearances would be a nice audition for him.
Castro is also a player without much left to prove, as he has shown increased power and plate coverage in his fifth MLB season. He has a very respectable .290 average, 153 hits, and a career high .774 OPS. His defense still needs some work, but with so little time left in the season, it’s unlikely that he would get much more time at the position anyway, so cutting him off now would be a savvy move.
In addition to those factors, getting Javier Baez some more reps at shortstop could only be a good thing for the rookie. He looked perfectly comfortable at the spot on Tuesday after being forced to switch from second to short following the Castro injury, and he could really thrive if given some more reps at the spot.
Whatever the Cubs decide to do, they have the benefit of not only being out of the playoff hunt, but of having players capable of filling in if Castro and Rizzo have to sit out. That is a luxury that most teams would love to have at this point in the year, and the Cubs should take full advantage of the chance.
The Chicago Cubs’ pitching rotation was supposed to become a weak point of the squad after they dealt away Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in a blockbuster July trade, but despite the loss of two of their top pitchers, the team’s staff has remained a strength rather than a liability.
Now, with just a few weeks left in the season and numerous games remaining against teams in the playoff hunt, the Cubs will apparently be going with a six-man rotation for at least the next few weeks. According to Chicago Cubs Online, the team will have Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Felix Doubront, Travis Wood, and Jacob Turner as their starters for at least two starts apiece, and Dan Straily and Eric Jokisch, who were both called up by the team as the roster expanded to 40 players, could each get a start sometime before the end of the campaign as well.
The decision to start six pitchers instead of five has several benefits, not the least of which is to give guys like Turner and Doubront a chance to showcase their stuff. Arrieta and Hendricks are both going to be part of the rotation next season, and in all likelihood Wood will be as well. Unless the Cubs make an insane splash and add several guys to the rotation from outside the organization (something that Theo Epstein hasn’t explicitly ruled out doing, but still seems unlikely anyway), a guy like Doubront or Turner could feasibly become the fourth or fifth starter to begin next season.
Aside from those two, the guy that will be most intriguing to watch is Wada. In nine starts with the Cubs so far, Wada has a 4-2 record, a 2.79 ERA, and has a WHIP of 1.084. His SO9 is a respectable 7.7, and his strikeout to walk ratio of 3.14 is just as impressive. The 33-year old could be the type of guy the Cubs could feasibly trade for younger pitching help, and giving him a chance to showcase his stuff at least a few more times is a savvy move by Epstein and company.
Hendricks will be the next Cubs pitcher to take the bump when he tries to help the Cubs sweep the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.
Over the past several seasons, the Chicago Cubs haven’t really been in a position where they’ve had to jettison players to make room for others, as their young talent was still spread out throughout the minor league system.
Beginning next year however, some of those decisions are going to start popping up. Kris Bryant is all but a shoe-in to start the year as the Cubs’ third baseman, Arismendy Alcantara will either be playing second base or center field for the north siders, and players like Albert Almora and Billy McKinney will soon be vying for outfield spots for the team.
All of those youngsters coming up through the system are obviously great for the club, but the news isn’t as good for players like Luis Valbuena. He has 16 home runs and 46 RBI in 540 plate appearances this season, and he’s already got career highs in both of those categories. He does strike out a lot, with 97 punchouts this season, but he does walk quite a bit, and his .325 OBP isn’t exactly terrible when you consider the amount of power that he provides at the dish.
Valbuena once again showed off his value on Monday afternoon as the Cubs tried to knock the Milwaukee Brewers out of first place. After watching Starlin Castro strike out looking to lead off the eighth inning against Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress, Valbuena deposited a 1-1 pitch into the center field bleachers to give the Cubs a critical insurance run. That breathing room allowed Hector Rondon to come in and nail down the save against the heart of the Milwaukee order, and the Cubs were able to knock off their rivals to the north 4-2.
Valbuena’s bat is a really good asset for the Cubs, and his glove is as well. With plays like the one he made Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals (he took a step back on a sharply hit grounder, picked it cleanly, and started a 5-4-3 double play), Valbuena is capable of turning a game with the leather too.
Unfortunately for him, none of that is going to matter when the 2015 season comes around. The fact of the matter is that Valbuena might be too talented of a player to simply use in a utility role, and the Cubs might be better off trading him away. There are plenty of teams who could use a slick fielding third baseman with the potential to hit 20 home runs a season (the fact he’s under team control until 2017 is another selling point), and the Cubs could enrich their pitching rotation or bullpen if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer play their cards right.
Losing Valbuena would stink, especially considering how much he’s done for the Cubs while they’ve been mired in mediocrity while waiting for their youngsters to make it to the big leagues, but it would be equally unfair to him to make him a bench player as other players come into the fold. Trading him would be the most fair way to go about things, and both parties would benefit in the long run from that kind of move.