The Chicago Cubs have long been taunted for their lack of quality pitchers in the system, but with the emergence of Jake Arrieta as a potential star for the future, things are finally starting to look up for the North Siders.
Then Sunday happened.
Before the game against the New York Mets, Rick Renteria had this to say to the media about Arrieta’s future for the rest of the season:
“We have to see how he’s feeling and he’s obviously been pretty good, so it’s still one of those things where we still monitor his pitch counts and innings, and it’s been something he’s been grinding it out pretty good. He’s given us quite a few good outings where he’s gone deep into ballgames. But we’ll continue to assess and evaluate and make that determination as we continue to move forward.”
While there isn’t much in the way of concrete statement in those sentences, some media members took it as a sign that the team may consider shutting Arrieta down before the end of the season. The bit about going deep into ballgames and monitoring pitch counts certainly could be considered red flags, but Renteria shut down speculation of a shutdown on Monday:
“We have no plans to shut him down. That’s something we’re not considering.”
The Cubs certainly would not be the first team to shut down a young pitcher to try to save his arm. The Washington Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg in 2012, and they were in the midst of a playoff race. They ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs to the St. Louis Cardinals, but the debate over whether or not they did the right thing still rages to this day.
In the case of the Cubs and Arrieta though, the question still should be asked: would the team be smart to save some wear and tear on his arm and shut him down before the end of the season? After all, he did deal with a shoulder injury earlier in the season, and with the Cubs well out of playoff contention (talk about an obvious statement), there’s really nothing to play for other than draft positioning at this point.
Even with those things being the case though, the fact is that the Cubs should simply let Arrieta continue to do what he’s doing. Yes, there is a possibility that putting extra wear and tear on his arm could be detrimental, or even result in an injury, but that possibility is there with every start that a pitcher makes in this league. Arms get stressed throughout the season, and knocking two or three starts off of his total at the end of the year won’t make a significant enough difference for the Cubs to really derive any benefit from doing so.
When the Chicago Cubs hired Rick Renteria to be the team’s manager, the book on him was that he was a guy that was going to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of adversity, and would mentor the younger players on the roster and to help them to rebound after a largely disappointing 2013 season.
In the first three games of his tenure with the team, however, Renteria has also begun to develop another reputation, which is that he has a tendency to overmanage at times.
Mesa – The Chicago Cubs have made it clear all spring long that they would be sending shortstop Javier Baez to the minor leagues for the beginning of the regular season, and the team was true to its word as it assigned the 21-year old to minor league camp on Saturday.
In a wide-ranging interview with Cubs.com, Baez expressed all of the right sentiments about his demotion, and said that he is looking forward to continuing to work on his game as the organization gives him pointers on how to do so.
Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria has made a lot of headlines during his tenure with the club, mostly discussing his positive attitude and the way he’s going to handle the team’s younger players, but he has rarely made direct comments about what he’ll decide to do with the lineup once the season begins in April.
On Sunday, he broke from that trend a bit, discussing a potential place to put shortstop Starlin Castro in the lineup:
#Cubs Renteria looking at Starlin Castro as leadoff man
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) February 16, 2014
The thought of putting the free-swinging Castro in the lead-off spot may strike some fans as strange, but it isn’t the craziest idea in the world. After all, Castro does have experience there, with 181 plate appearances in the lead-off position last year. He hit for a .263 average to go along with a .315 on-base percentage. Neither of those numbers were particularly great, but they aren’t awful either, especially on a team that doesn’t have a player tailor-made for the position.
Junior Lake would be another guy to potentially plug in there, but outside of him, the well dries up quickly. The problem with Lake is that his experience was very limited, with only 39 plate appearances in that slot during the 2013 campaign. He did rack up 15 hits and six RBI hitting lead-off, with a .405 average and .436 on-base percentage, but those numbers are slightly deceiving because of the limited number of chances that he got there.
Renteria would definitely be well-served to try both players out in the lead-off position during spring training, but it’s interesting that he’s so willing to give Castro a crack at the spot. Castro’s ability to hit to the opposite field and unwillingness to take walks would seem to work better for him in the second or fifth slot in the lineup, but Renteria could be influenced by the mediocre .235 average Castro carried with runners in scoring position last year.
At any rate, as a new manager Renteria seems to be eager to use the clean slate that he’s been given in terms of tinkering with line-ups and making decisions, and putting Castro in the lead-off slot would definitely qualify.
When the Chicago Cubs struck out on prying Joe Girardi away from the New York Yankees last year, there was plenty of discussion not only about who Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would hire to manage the team, but also whether or not they had even made the right decision in firing Dale Sveum in the first place.
After all, firing a guy after only two years doesn’t exactly seem fair when you consider the “quality” of rosters that he had been given. In all likelihood, the 2012 and 2013 Cubs could not have won a championship in AAA, much less in the major leagues. Their win totals for the two seasons reflect that, with only a modest gain in that area in 2013 after a 61-win 2012 campaign.
Amid all of that belly-aching and strife, the Cubs went out and hired Rick Renteria, bench coach for the San Diego Padres. During his introductory press conferences, Renteria said all the right things about wanting to manage this team, and how he felt so positive about the futures of guys like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, but it’s been his conduct after those press conferences that has been more impressive to Cubs observers.
If you consult any guide about the upcoming 2014 MLB season, you’ll undoubtedly see one storyline about the Chicago Cubs:
They can’t hit.
Last season, the Cubs finished 28th in the majors in runs, with only 602 to their credit (four runs ahead of the White Sox). Weirdly enough, they finished 9th in the league in home runs with 172, but their overall batting average is what hurt them in the runs department, as they batted .238 to finish 27th in MLB.
One of the big reasons that the Cubs struggled so badly at the plate was that they could never get consistent production out of their big guns. Outside of a hot April, Anthony Rizzo was largely pedestrian, but even his numbers were better than those of shortstop Starlin Castro. In 705 plate appearances last year, Castro had a slash line of .245/.284/.347 (Batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage), hit only 10 home runs, and drove in 44 runs.