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.
As spring training has worn on, and as shortstop Starlin Castro has continued to sit out games with a hamstring injury, more and more fans have been asking about whether or not Javier Baez could potentially make the Chicago Cubs’ opening day roster. His four home runs in Cactus League play (including one in Surprise on Tuesday night) have done little to pour water on those rumors, but Cubs GM Jed Hoyer did just that on Wednesday morning.
In a radio interview with David Kaplan and David Haugh, Hoyer said that the team will start Baez out with the triple-A Iowa Cubs this season, but did acknowledge that fans of the team have every reason to be excited:
Hoyer on Baez ascent to majors: “Cubs fans will see him soon enough but it’s not going to be Opening Day.”
— David Haugh (@DavidHaugh) March 19, 2014
Baez has been bouncing around the field a bit for the Cubs in spring training, with manager Rick Renteria looking to work him out at several positions. He has played some games at shortstop, but this week he has also been getting some time at second base. Hoyer added in the interview that Baez will start at shortstop for the Iowa Cubs, but that he could still see a bit of action at second base once their season starts in April.
As for the Cubs’ current situation at the position, there’s no telling if Castro will actually be ready when the season begins at the end of the month. He still hasn’t gotten into a game since pulling his hamstring, and he said that he would likely need 8-10 games in order to get fully prepared for the regular season. The Cubs only have 11 games left (12 if you count split squad action), so Castro is getting close to a point where he may not be able to get his preferred warm-up time before the grueling 162-slate begins.
Even with that in mind however, the Cubs are still making the right choice when it comes to sending Baez to the minors. He is arguably the top prospect in their farm system, but with the team not really poised to do much of anything this season, it doesn’t make sense to burn a year of arbitration eligibility just to have a starting shortstop for a week or two while Castro gets ready for the season. Starting Darwin Barney or Donnie Murphy in that spot makes a lot more sense as a short-term solution rather than starting the clock on Baez’s MLB service time, and Hoyer is right to exercise patience with one of his prized assets.
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.
The Chicago Cubs avoided arbitration with second baseman Darwin Barney on Thursday, agreeing to a 1-year deal worth $2.3 million, the team announced.
The figure is the exact midpoint between the number the team ($1.8 million) and Barney’s agent ($2.8 million) exchanged as they prepared for their arbitration hearing, but that will no longer be necessary as Barney is officially in the fold for 2014.
The deal means that pitcher Jeff Samardzija is the only Cubs player remaining on the arbitration list, and if the two sides can’t bridge the $1.8 million gap that exists between the figures they submitted, then their case will be heard by an arbitrator.
Barney is a Gold Glove-winning defender (and a finalist in 2013 as well), but his bat has been the subject of ridicule and contempt from Cubs fans. In 2013, Barney only batted .208, with seven home runs and 41 RBI. He had an abysmally bad on-base percentage as well, only getting on base at a .266 clip.
The forecast for 2014 for Barney isn’t much better, as Baseball Prospectus is only projecting him to hit a modest .250, with an OBP of .294. His power numbers are projected to stay the same, and his Wins Above Replacement Player, which was at -1.8 last season, is projected to improve by two wins to a whopping 0.8.
Even with all of those offensive woes in mind, it makes sense that the Cubs would retain Barney’s services for another year. Yes, even putting him in the eighth spot in the order means that the Cubs essentially cede two batters to opponents every time they go through the order, but the fact of the matter is that Barney is merely a placeholder for a guy who will be coming through the system and debuting in the majors within the next year or two.
Whether it’s Javier Baez, Starlin Castro, or Arismendy Alcantara, there are plenty of options to replace Barney’s bat in the lineup in 2015 or 2016, but for the 2014 season, he’s simply the best option they have at this point. His glove will save some of the runs that his bat will cost the team, but despite the discrepancy, it’s a move that the Cubs organization was right to make.
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.
Every year, Baseball Prospectus comes out with their PECOTA projections, and fans of MLB teams eagerly flock to the website to check out how their favorite team will fare in the upcoming season.
For those looking for a bit of a primer, PECOTA is a mathematical formula that stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. Nate Silver, formerly of the New York Times and now a partner with ESPN with 538.com, invented the formula back in 2002, and introduced it in 2003. It uses proprietary formulas, but some of the components include batting average, home runs, and RBI, as well as other advanced statistics like Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and EqA (Equivalent Runs Average), and it’s used to determine how players will perform in a given year.
Baseball Prospectus then takes the data that the computer spits out about players and uses it to determine what each team’s record will be in the upcoming season.
For the Chicago Cubs, PECOTA projections have them improving this season to 71-91, an improvement of five wins over last year’s 66-96 campaign. For Chicago White Sox fans, PECOTA is projecting that the team will improve dramatically, going 75-87 in the AL Central race.
The Cubs are forecasted to finish in the basement of the NL Central again in 2014, with the Cardinals winning the division and the Pirates experiencing a significant drop-off in finishing behind the Milwaukee Brewers. For the Sox, they are forecasted to finish fourth in the AL Central, four games behind the Kansas City Royals and 13 games behind the division champion Detroit Tigers.
Going into deeper detail, the Cubs are only projected to score 641 runs, the third lowest total in the National League and third lowest in the Majors behind only the Mets and Marlins. The Cubs are also projected to give up 732 runs, the second highest total in the NL behind only the Colorado Rockies.
Last year, the PECOTA projections had the Cubs finishing at 77-85 before the season began, and the team seemed well on its way to coming close to that mark before tailing off at the end thanks to a combination of regression by Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, as well as trading off of several pieces that were helping the team to stay afloat.
This season, the PECOTA projections are much more modest about the Cubs’ chances for success, and there is a good reason for that. The Cubs didn’t exactly light the world on fire with their acquisitions over the winter, with Jose Veras being the only big piece that they added. Add to that the fact that guys like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant are more likely to be September call-ups than May reinforcements, and you can see that the Cubs aren’t going to make any big steps forward, or at least realistically feel that they can do so.
One of the beauties of the internet is that people from all walks of life can have a voice on various issues concerning their lives, and the world of sports is no exception.
Whether it’s Bleacher Report, SB Nation, or even MLBlogs, services exist so that fans can get their opinions out there and engage in discussions with other people from across the world. These tools are beautiful, and it’s really opened up a lot of avenues for people to not only espouse their opinions, but also to learn about the opinions of others.