Tag:Brett Jackson
Posted on: February 24, 2012 10:02 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 7:57 pm
 

Spring primer: Chicago Cubs



By Matt Snyder


After watching the Cubs go from a 97-win club to a 71-win version in just four seasons, owner Tom Ricketts took serious action in 2011. He fired general manager Jim Hendry and landed his version of a big fish, in former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. Epstein took over as club president then added Jed Hoyer as general manager and Jason McLeod as senior vice president of scouting and player development, among other front office pieces. The new management group then hired Dale Sveum as the big-league manager and started to clean house. It's going to be a long process, but said process has begun in earnest.

Scott Miller's camp report: Cubs Giddy With Optimism | Likes, Dislikes

Major additions: OF David DeJesus, 1B Anthony Rizzo, 3B Ian Stewart, LHP Paul Maholm, RHP Chris Volstad, LHP Travis Wood
Major departures: RHP Carlos Zambrano, OF Tyler Colvin, RHP Andrew Cashner, 3B Aramis Ramirez, 1B Carlos Pena, LHP Sean Marshall, LHP John Grabow

Probable lineup
1. David DeJesus, RF
2. Starlin Castro, SS
3. Marlon Byrd, CF
4. Bryan LaHair, 1B
5. Alfonso Soriano, LF
6. Ian Stewart, 3B
7. Geovany Soto, C
8. Darwin Barney, 2B

Probable rotation
1. Matt Garza
2. Ryan Dempster
3. Paul Maholm
4. Randy Wells
5. Travis Wood

Chris Volstad will also be in the mix, but I gave Wood the nod because he's left-handed.

Back-end bullpen
Closer: Carlos Marmol
Set-up: Kerry Wood, Jeff Samardzija

Important bench players

IF Jeff Baker, C Welington Castillo, OF Tony Campana, OF Reed Johnson

Prospects to watch
There are two here in particular that could make an impact in 2012: OF Brett Jackson and 1B Anthony Rizzo. It's entirely possible both are in the lineup come August. With Rizzo, it's a matter of whether or not LaHair can hit in the majors long-term -- as he could merely be one of those so-called Quadruple-A players. If that is the case and Rizzo is hitting well in Triple-A, the Cubs might well decide to turn to Rizzo. With Jackson, he's blocked all over the outfield, however, center field could easily be cleared in July. If the Cubs fall out of contention prior to the trade deadline -- and let's face it, that's a pretty good bet -- Byrd is a great trade candidate (sorry, I don't think the Cubs can deal Soriano just yet due to his contract). Byrd is in the final year of his contract and can play all three outfield positions, so surely some contender would cough up one mid-tier prospect for him. If that happens, the logical step for the Cubs would be to see how Jackson fared in center field for the final two months to determine if he can stay there or if he needs to be moved to a corner.

Fantasy sleeper: Bryan LaHair
"Usually, when a player in his late 20s puts up eye-popping numbers at Triple-A like a .331 batting average, 38 homers and 1.070 OPS, he's dismissed right away as a Quadruple-A player, but apparently the Cubs' front office thinks LaHair is different -- and not just because of his impressive 59 at-bat stint in the majors last year. The experiment could still be a failure of Kila Ka'aihue proportions, which is why you shouldn't bother with LaHair in mixed leagues, but late in NL-only formats, why not?" - Scott White [Full Cubs team fantasy preview]

Fantasy bust: Carlos Marmol
"If blown saves were Marmol's only problem, it'd be one thing, but the bottom line is he's not the efficient out-getter that Epstein and Hoyer would like their closer to be. His walk rate is as bad as it gets, and as a result, he's always pitching out of jams. Sure, his high strikeout rate helps compensate for it, but if he produces anything short of a best-in-the-league-type hit rate, his WHIP is in the danger zone." - Scott White [Full Cubs team fantasy preview]

Optimistic outlook
The deep pitching staff throws well and pays immediate dividends, as the bullpen improves with much better rest. Plus, behind the changes in right field and third base, the defense is also improved. Even Marmol's control issues drastically dwindle. LaHair and Stewart prove they can hit major-league pitching throughout the season and DeJesus turns out a perfect leadoff man for the suddenly balanced offense. And the Cubs find themselves right in the thick of the NL Central race with the Cardinals, Reds and Brewers until the end of the season, possibly even finishing somewhere in the top three.

Pessimistic outlook
By the end of July, Garza, Dempster and Byrd are all traded as the Cubs have no shot of making the playoffs. The Cubs try to avoid the cellar in a battle with the Astros, but continue the rebuilding effort and look forward to hitting the 2013 free agency class full-steam (less than $40 million is committed to 2013 payroll so far). Really, this is more realistic than pessimistic, because as much as the Cubs' coaches, players and front office say they're trying to win this year, it's obvious this is a two-year plan at the absolute minimum.

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Posted on: February 13, 2012 1:52 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2012 1:53 pm
 

Epstein compensation decision expected this week

Theo Epstein

By C. Trent Rosecrans


Major League Baseball is inching closer to a conclusion in the Theo Epstein compensation talks, with a decision expected as soon as this week, CBSSports.com insider Jon Heyman reports.

Both teams have already submitted briefs, and the commissioner's office has had time to look them over.

For Red Sox fans with images of Brett Jackson dancing in your head, well, you can stop. Word is the fact the Epstein had just one year left on his contract, and his deteriorating relationship with John Henry and Larry Lucchino, could affect what kind of return the Red Sox get.

Epstein was named the Cubs' president of baseball operations on Oct. 21. The two sides originally had 30 days to settle on compensation, but that deadline was then pushed back and ultimately sent to the commissioner's office last month.

The only precedent for a GM leaving his post and then taking another gig came in 1994 when the Twins' Andy MacPhail left Minnesota for the top job with the Cubs. The Twins received right-hander Hector Trinidad as compensation. Trinidad was ranked the team's No. 30 prospect at the time and never made it past Double-A. According to Baseball America, the Cubs' No. 30 prospect this year is outfielder Shawon Dunston Jr., the team's 11th-round pick in 2001 and son of former Cubs shortstop (and top overall pick) Shawon Dunston.

The Marlins gave up two players, utility infielder Ozzie Martinez and reliever Jhan Marinez, to the White Sox for compensation in return for manager Ozzie Guillen. Baseball America ranked Marinez, a right-hander, the No. 6 prospect in the White Sox system, although it should be noted he'd be ranked much lower than that in any other system. The White Sox minor-league system is almost universally considered the worst in baseball by a wide margin. Martinez was not ranked by Baseball America.

Epstein should be worth more than a manager, and probably more than what the Cubs gave up 18 years ago -- but how much more will be what makes it interesting.

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Posted on: February 9, 2012 4:51 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 10:47 am
 

Spring position battles: National League Central



By C. Trent Rosecrans


The National League Central is often looked down upon, but it produced both teams in the National League Championship Series last year, as well as the World Series. Both the Cardinals and Brewers have large voids in their lineup due to free agency, but all the teams have some questions when pitchers and catchers report to camp. Here's the NL Central spring position battles:

Chicago Cubs
Old vs. Young: Bryan LaHair and Marlon Byrd vs. Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson

For so long the Cubs' motto has been "wait 'til next year" -- that may have been changed to "wait 'til a couple of years" as Theo Epstein has fully embraced the rebuilding effort. The question is whether the braintrust thinks it's better for some of their younger players to learn at the big-league level or continue in the minors. The two biggest choices will be Rizzo and Jackson. Rizzo, 22, struggled in his call-up last season, hitting .141/.281/.242 with a homer in 153 plate appearances, but that was as a 21-year-old in San Diego. LaHair may only have 65 games in the big leagues, but that doesn't make him young -- just inexperienced. LaHair turned 29 in November and spent eight years in the minors. He hit .288/.377/.508 in his 20 games with the Cubs last season, but he's hardly anyone's idea of a long-term solution. Epstein drafted Rizzo while with the Red Sox and then traded for him when he took over the Cubs. It's Rizzo's job to lose. Meanwhile, Byrd is in the last season of his three-year, $15 million contract, so he's more likely to get traded than to be unseated in spring. The 23-year-old Jackson put up a .297/.388/.551 line at Triple-A Iowa with 10 homers in just 48 games after being called up from Double-A. The team's first-round pick in the 2009 draft will have a chance to show he's big-league ready. If the team does go with Rizzo and Jackson, it could be a sign of the team's future and the patience that Chicago will show going forward.

Cincinnati Reds
Left field: Chris Heisey vs. Ryan Ludwick

The Reds signed Ludwick to a bargain deal, hoping he can find the stroke he left in St. Louis. The 33-year-old has always hit well at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, putting up a .276/.321/.600 stat line with nine homers in 30 games and 112 plate appearances in his new home park. Both Ludwick and Heisey are right-handed batters who fare better against right-handed pitchers. Ludwick is a career .272/.339/.464 hitter against righties and .237/.316/.435 against lefties. Heisey's split is more extreme -- .288/.346/.539 against right-handers and .180/.248/.300 against lefties. One thing that helps Ludwick's case may be Heisey's strength as a pinch-hitter. Last year the 27-year-old Heisey hit .324/.333/.529 with two homers as a pinch-hitter. There's another option here, as well. If Drew Stubbs struggles at the plate, Hesiey could be an option to play center alongside Ludwick in left. That's a remote possibility, though. The Reds are high on Stubbs' power/speed combination and he is an excellent defender in center.

Houston Astros
Third base: Brett Wallace vs. Chris Johnson vs. Jimmy Paredes

The fact that the Astros are looking to move Wallace to third base may tell you what they think of Johnson and Paredes. If Wallace shows he can play third, he's the likely favorite. Johnson struggled in 2011 after showing promise in 2010. Paredes hit .286/.320/.393 after taking over the position for the last two months of the season, but he's not seen as a long-term solution. Wallace could be.

Milwaukee Brewers
First base: Mat Gamel vs. himself

With Ryan Braun's status resolved, the Brewers don't really have many question marks. All five starters return, as do its closer and top set-up man. The lineup, with a platoon of Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan and newcomer Aramis Ramirez at third base seems pretty much set -- barring injury. The only hole is a big one -- the one left by first baseman Prince Fielder. The position is Mat Gamel's to lose. The 26-year-old played in just 10 games last season, getting 27 plate appearances. His only extensive big-league experience came in 2009 when he hit .242/.338/.422 with five homers, primarily playing third base. However, he's never been able to establish himself and after playing both third base and the outfield, he played primarily first base at Triple-A Nashville last season, while making six errors in 20 games at third base. He's a first baseman now and a first baseman only. He's hit  well at Triple-A, hitting .301/.374/.512 in parts of four seasons at the top level of the minors, hitting 28 home runs for Nashville last season. Gamel will probably start at first on opening day even if he struggles in spring, but right fielder Corey Hart could be used at first if Gamel struggles even more. The team did sign Japanese outfield Norichika Aoki, who could play right if Hart moves to first.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Third base: Pedro Alvarez vs. Casey McGehee

Acquiring the veteran McGehee from Milwaukee could be seen as a kick in the pants for the second-overall pick of the 2008 draft. Alvarez hit just .191/.272/.289 in 74 games last season and the team may be getting worried about whether he'll ever develop into the star as expected. McGehee is coming off a rough season of his own, hitting just .223/.280/.346 with 13 homers after hitting 23 homers and 104 RBI in 2010. McGehee was replaced by Jerry Hairston Jr. at third base during the playoffs and by former Pirate Aramis Ramirez after the season.

St. Louis Cardinals
Second base: Skip Schumaker vs. Daniel Descalso vs. Tyler Greene

General manager John Mozeliak has insinuated he'd like to see Greene win the job. The 28-year-old has yet to produce at the level expected of him, hitting just .218/.307/.313 in 150 games and 359 plate appearances. Descalso filled in for the injured David Freese last season and responded with a .264/.334/.353 line, while Schumaker is the incumbent having hit .283/.333/.351 while starting 89 games at second, but none in the World Series. All three have some positional versatility.

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Posted on: January 18, 2012 5:21 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2012 5:23 pm
 

Report: Cubs, Red Sox ask Selig for help

Theo EpsteinBy C. Trent Rosecrans

Both the Cubs and Red Sox have asked Bud Selig to decide what the compensation for Theo Epstein's move to Chicago will be, the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer reports.

Red Sox president Larry Lucchino initiated the move, according to the report. It's still unclear how long the ruling will take from Selig or what it will be, as there is apparently no precedent for it.

Selig had set a Nov. 1 deadline for the compensation, but that was later extended indefinitely.

Lucchino has apparently asked for the likes of Matt Garza or Cubs top prospect Brett Jackson, which the Cubs have determined to be too costly.

In 1994, the Cubs sent a Class A pitcher (Hector Trinidad) to the Twins in return for the poaching of GM Andy MacPhail. Trinidad never reached the majors.

The Red Sox -- pointing toward Epstein's five-year, $18.5 million contract -- are claiming Epstein is more valuable than a low-level prospect, while Epstein has been left to downplay his own value.

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Posted on: November 30, 2011 12:50 pm
Edited on: November 30, 2011 5:04 pm
 

Cubs sign OF David DeJesus to 2-year deal

David DeJesusBy C. Trent Rosecrans

The Theo Epstein era in Chicago is starting with David DeJesus, as the team announced it signed the free-agent outfielder to a two-year deal worth $10 million with a team option for 2014. There is thought, though, this move could be a precursor to a bigger move, perhaps a trade of Alfonso Soriano.

DeJesus, who will be 32 in December, has played all three outfield spots, but is primarily a corner outfielder. He hit .240/.323/.376 with 10 home runs for the Athletics in 2011, but is a .284/.356/.421 career hitter. For now, DeJesus will be penciled in as the team's everyday right fielder.

The left-handed hitting DeJesus will benefit from moving from the spacious park in Oakland to the more hitter-friendly Wrigley Field. Last year was his only year in Oakland after spending the first eight years of his career in Kansas City.

As for a trade, the Cubs would love to get rid of Soriano, but nearly any deal would require them to eat much of Soriano's massive salary -- and it's one that would make Adam Richmond blush. The Cubs still owe Soriano $54 million through 2014. If they are able to get rid of him, that would open up a spot for Tyler Colvin or prospect Brett Jackson.

Keep up to date with free agent moves with the CBSSports.com free agent tracker. 

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Posted on: October 13, 2011 10:08 am
Edited on: October 13, 2011 10:14 am
 

Cubs' job attractive, future options plenty



By Matt Snyder


Congratulations, Theo Epstein, on likely landing the new gig of Cubs president, CEO, general manager, czar, savior, curse-breaker and deity. In addition to all those millions of dollars, you now inherit a mess of a franchise. The good news is that statement only exists in the present and very near future. Things can be cleaned up rather quickly. Here's why:

• It's funny to read all over the place about how the Cubs have so many awful contracts and are so much more handcuffed on payroll than Epstein is used to. The fact of the matter is that only Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol are signed past 2012, along with the young players who will still be under team control and don't make much. And then Marmol's contract expires after 2013. Depending on arbitration raises and possible extensions (Matt Garza, maybe?) the Cubs are shedding somewhere in the ballpark of $50 million from their 2011 payroll. Come 2013, as things currently stand, only $28.8 million is committed (to Soriano and Marmol). In 2014, only Soriano's absurd $19 million salary is still on the books, but by 2015, there's nothing left.

• My guess is it's true, for now, that Epstein is likely going to be told to not exceed a figure like $135 million with his payroll and that is a good amount less than the Red Sox's current figure. But here's the mitigating factor: The Cubs are in the NL Central, where they easily have the largest market and revenue stream in the division. In Boston, Epstein was trying to keep up financially with the mighty Yankees. In the Chicago, his biggest competitor in terms of market size is Houston -- which is departing for the AL soon -- and in terms of revenue stream it's St. Louis. The Cubs have the resources to be the "big boy" in the division, which wasn't possible for Epstein in Boston.

• Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has already shown a significant commitment to player development. The Cubs spent a huge amount of money on the 2011 draft and they are building a state of the art academy in the Dominican Republic. They are looking to make major upgrades to Arizona's spring training facility, which would serve as a type of home base for player development. The Cubs also have a great reputation for international scouting. Put simply, Ricketts has noticed the biggest problem for the Cubs has been a system that doesn't regularly churn out its own prospects and he has done everything he can to rectify that issue in the short term.

So, that's why the job was attractive, but there's no doubt there's a lot to be done. This is a team that went 71-91 and has a pretty lackluster level of talent in the upper levels of the minors -- not to mention the aging major-league roster.

As every franchise faces when trying to make a losing team into a winning team, there are three distinct routes that can be taken. Let's take a look at each and get specific.

Cubs/Red Sox drama
Route 1: The Complete Rebuild
Don't pick up the options for Ryan Dempster or Aramis Ramirez. Trade younger veterans of value like Geovany Soto, Sean Marshall and Matt Garza. Do whatever it takes to off-load Alfonso Soriano's contract. Do the same with Carlos Zambrano. Carlos Marmol and Marlon Byrd might land decent returns, so they would also be traded. Don't re-up with any veterans like Kerry Wood. Just completely revamp the entire farm system and build around Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner. Then tell everyone they need to be patient, as the goal is to grow the system from the foundation and start competing in 2014.

Chances this happens:
Decent to good, for at least part of this. Epstein very well may start completely slow and see how things pan out with several different young players. I do think he would keep Garza with Castro and Cashner and then start to pounce on free agents starting next offseason.

Route 2: The Chips to the Center of the Table
Re-up with Dempster and Ramirez. Do what it takes to sign Prince Fielder and C.J. Wilson, including backloading deals to make the budget work. Move Starlin Castro to second base and sign Jose Reyes (again, backloading). Grab someone like Javier Vazquez, Chris Young or Joel Pineiro to fill out the rotation. That means the starting nine would be: Soto, Fielder, Castro, Reyes, Ramirez, Soriano, Byrd and probably Bryan LaHair. The starting rotation could be: Wilson, Garza, Dempster, Vazquez and Randy Wells. That leaves Andrew Cashner -- who is hitting triple digits on the radar gun in the Arizona Fall League -- to be the closer. Marmol can stay in the bullpen and hope to work on his control. Wood, Marshall and Jeff Samardzija would be the setup men.

Chances this happens:
Ridiculously slim. Actually, zero. Epstein isn't a moron and this would be absurd for the long-term health of the franchise, especially considering the team probably still wouldn't be good enough to win even an NLDS, if it made it. There's no depth, either, since the high levels of the minors don't have a lot of help coming. And could Epstein even get all those guys if he tried? Finally, the band-aid-on-a-broken-leg approach got Jim Hendry fired, so there's no way Tom Ricketts would hire Epstein to do the same thing.

Route 3: The Combination
I often chuckle when people think you absolutely have to choose either Route 1 or Route 2. In a small market, yes, you have to completely rebuild and hope all the young players get good at the same time, like the Royals appear to have happening in 2013 or 2014. In a large market, the resources are there to do both. Epstein developed the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon and Dustin Pedroia while also making trades for veterans and signing big-name free agents in Boston. It's a much bigger project this time around, but the goal can be to do something similar in Wrigley. While the farm system is being revamped for the Cubs, an effort can be made to start allowing the aging veterans to leave via free agency while players like Soto, Marshall, Marmol, and Dempster (with him, it's a one-year option and there will be enough money to retain him) can be kept around. Wood can be re-signed for another one-year, $1.5 million contract. And then you can fill holes with younger free agents. C.J. Wilson? Pass on him and keep your eyes on that 2013 pitching free agent class that could contain Matt Cain, John Danks, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez, James Shields and more. A 27-year-old Prince Fielder? Yes, please. The Reyes signing mentioned above, with moving Castro to second? Nope. Not now. Try Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija in the rotation? Yes and maybe. Give LaHair a shot in right field, absolutely. He had a huge 2011 season in both Triple-A and then hit the ball well in his short time in the majors. Do you think about promoting center-field prospect Brett Jackson and trading Byrd midseason? Sure, if the Cubs aren't in the race. The whole point is that, ideally, with this plan, you'd put a team together for 2012 that appears to be average, giving it the chance to overachieve and sneak into the playoffs -- but the eyes are certainly on 2013 being the turnaround year. From there, you strive to compete for the World Series title every ensuing season.

Chances this happens:
I feel like this is the most likely route. The main benefit is you don't completely punt 2012 after getting the fan base excited with the big-name hire. In the complete rebuild model, you're liable to lose 100 games and kill fan morale instead of capitalizing on all the excitement. And in the win now model, there just isn't enough there to bring it all together in one offseason. So here we are. Here, you can have a mildly successful 2012 season while getting the fans excited for a bright future. All the moves above are just examples of what can be done, as the plan can be the same but be done with totally different moves.

But this is all purely speculation -- and fun, as is all hypothetical talk -- as the only person who really knows what is going in on Epstein's head right now is Epstein himself.

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Posted on: September 27, 2011 6:50 pm
 

R.I.P.: 2011 Chicago Cubs

By Matt Snyder

Another season gone, another disappointment for 29 teams as one is immortalized forever. Let’s take a look back at 2011 and forward in Eye on Baseball’s R.I.P. series...

Team name: Chicago Cubs
Record: 70-90, 24 games back in NL Central
Manager: Mike Quade
Best hitter: Aramis Ramirez -- .306/.360/.506, 25 HR, 92 RBI, 79 R, 35 2B
Best pitcher: Matt Garza -- 9-10, 3.35 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 189 K, 191 IP

After the 2008 season, the Cubs were in the middle of a bit of a golden era in the franchise. They had been division champions three times in a six-year span. That isn't saying much for a lot of teams, but this franchise hadn't had that kind of success since playing in the World Series four out of five seasons from 1906-1910. Alas, they were swept in the NLDS in 2008, despite having the best regular-season record in the National League, so general manager Jim Hendry decided to do some tinkering. The Cubs finished just five games over .500 in 2009 before coming in fifth place in 2010 and are currently in fifth again. And Hendry's out of a job, likely to be followed by Quade and some other coaches.

2011 SEASON RECAP

They were 9-8 and tied for first place after the first game of a doubleheader on April 20, but that was the high point in the standings. The Cubs would go on to lose six of seven games and never be a serious threat the rest of the way. They fell to 10 games back on June 4 and never got closer than nine back in the Central from that point forward. They actually moved up to fourth place September 19 for the first time since May 26, but the overwhelming majority of the season has been spent in fifth place, thanks to the lowly Astros. The biggest positives: Starlin Castro is well on his way to being a major-league star, Darwin Barney appears an adequate option at second base, Matt Garza had a good season, Sean Marshall is still great in middle-to-late inning relief and Jeff Samardzija finally doesn't look like a huge bust. The biggest negative is that this appears to be a badly flawed roster with not near enough help on the way from the minors.

2012 AUDIT

This is the toughest assignment of the R.I.P. series, because there's no way to know the direction of the ballclub until a new general manager is hired. The club is not immediately set up to compete, but there's a stipulation: With more than $50 million in payroll falling off before 2012 and even more off the books before '13, the Cubs could decide to be a major player in free agency. The franchise has enough money to grab, for example, Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson and still have money left over to bolster the bullpen and find a fill-in at third base. On the other hand, many would argue that still isn't enough to make the Cubs immediate contenders in the National League. If the new GM agrees, he might be more in favor of leaving the payroll low for a season or two while building the system with a youthful foundation before pouncing on big-name free agents to fill holes in 2013 or 2014. One thing that should scare fellow franchises in the NL Central if the Cubs choose to spend big in the near future, is that the Cubs are clear of all big contracts except Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol (and Matt Garza likely has a deal by then, too, I'd guess) prior to 2013 and Marmol's off after '13. They have the resources to be the Red Sox of the NL. It's just a matter of if the Cubs can put the correct plan in place, and that all comes down to who chairman Tom Ricketts hires as his next GM.

FREE AGENTS

Aramis Ramirez, 3B (mutual option)
Carlos Pena, 1B
Reed Johnson, OF
Ryan Dempster, SP (player option for '12)
John Grabow, RP
Jeff Samardzija, RP (club option for '12 and '13)

OFFSEASON FOCUS

Where to even begin? This roster is a mess. First of all, I'd listen to offers for everyone except Starlin Castro. That doesn't mean you have to trade guys like Barney, Marshall or Soto, but you never know if the return might work with the game plan of the new GM. Let's sort through some of this and see what can be done short-term with the eyes on the future. My goal would be to contend in 2013. If it happens in 2012, that's just gravy.
  • Get Prince Fielder. He's 27 and incredibly durable (has never played less than 157 games in a full season). He'd then be the anchor for the Cubs for the foreseeable future, even if it takes a few years to build around him and Castro. Also of importance, if you bat Castro second and Fielder third, Castro's strike zone woes become less an issue (though he has walked more times than he's struck out in September, so it's getting better already).
  • Give Andrew Cashner one last shot to stay healthy in the rotation and also see if Samardzija can be successful as a starter. Having a rotation of Garza, Dempster, Randy Wells, Cashner and Samardzija won't be winning any championships, but Dempster is gone after 2012 and there'd be plenty of money to go after free agents. By then, they Cubs will know if they need just one guy or up to four with Garza. And the list of free agent starters after next season could have some big names -- assuming they aren't granted contract extensions -- like Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Shaun Marcum and James Shields.
  • Read the riot act to Carlos Marmol. Considering the Cubs likely can't contend in 2012 and Marmol is signed through 2013, he has one year to fix himself. Marmol has blown an MLB-high 10 saves (he's tied with Jordan Walden). You can't count on closers to be perfect, but let's say Marmol only blew four saves, which is a very reasonable percentage. The Cubs would be 76-84, which isn't awful at all considering some of the injury issues and poor roster construction.
  • Give Bryan LaHair a shot in right field. LaHair is 28, so he's hardly a prospect, but it's possible he's a late bloomer like Ryan Ludwick or Jayson Werth. LaHair had 38 home runs, 109 RBI and a 1.070 OPS in 129 Triple-A games. He's hitting .309/.391/.545 in 19 games for the Cubs this season. Again, the eyes are on 2013 here, so if he flames out as many expect, you can address the position next offseason. But he's at least earned the chance to get an extended look in the bigs.
  • If the Cubs do fall out of contention in 2012, Marlon Byrd needs to be traded at the deadline and prospect Brett Jackson can then take over in center field. If Jackson is deemed ready earlier in the season and LaHair doesn't pan out, Byrd could be moved to right. 
  • I'd personally bring back Aramis Ramirez for two or three years, assuming the Cubs don't have to break the bank. The last thing they need is another albatross contract, so if he's demanding something like four years and $50 million, it's time to move on. But if it's reasonable, it makes sense to keep him. He's only 33 and has shown has can still swing the bat. He's got to have two to three years left of above-average production at third base. Prospect Josh Vitters had completely fallen off all prospect rankings prior to this season, but rebounded with a decent showing in Double-A this season (.283/.322/.448 with 14 homers, 81 RBI and 28 doubles) and he's still only 21. In two years, the Cubs will have an idea if he is going to be the next third baseman or not. If not, they can look outside the organziation or perhaps someone in the farm system will have emerged. Keeping Ramirez is a natural bridge to when it comes to that.
And there's a lot more, too, but those are the big ones.

The main thing here is the hire a new GM that puts the main focus on building the minor-league system. That way in a few years free agency won't be the only avenue to fill out a winning ballclub. Remember, people complain about the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies in free agency, but lots of players -- Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and several others were developed from within the respective systems. The Cubs have been terrible at developing their own in recent years and leaned on trades and free agency to bail them out. It needs to be a combination or everything will eventually fall apart like it did this season. From there, they can start to think about breaking a faux-curse and easing the pain of the legions of true fans.

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Posted on: September 7, 2011 11:01 am
Edited on: September 7, 2011 11:04 am
 

Pepper: Crane's purchase of Astros in doubt

Crane
By Evan Brunell

Limbo: The saga of Jim Crane as Astros owner continues to take a strange path, and that path may be headed toward a rejection.

BizofBaseball.com outlines the reasons behind why the deal has stalled... and why approval may be a pipe dream at this point. You'll have to click through to get the full breakdown, but the main takeaway is that Crane shares some sobering similarities with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, and we all know how that turned out.

For one, Crane had a contentious divorce himself that ended up in the papers back in 2000, where he reportedly came to blows with his son. Crane's history in court is also checkered, as allegations of racism and war-profiteering are very real concerns, and baseball understandably may not be interested in being affiliated with such a person, especially one whose companies were in federal court 130 times in 15 years.

Current Houston owner Drayton McLane expects a vote to be passed at any minute. But it won't come this week, and might not come at all unless commissioner Bud Selig and all 29 current owners can get on board. But even that might be rendered moot, as Crane is reportedly having a hard time keeping his investment group together, which is large and has investments as low as $25 million committed. Eventually, these investors may tire of having their money tied up in a venture that looks less and less ideal.

Time for a four-man: For a few years now, I've strongly believed that the best rotation would be that of four men plus a fifth starter who could start every now and then. I've blogged on it before, and now Jeff Passan comes out in favor of a four-and-swing rotation, even as teams move to six-man rotations these days. (Yahoo! Sports)

Managers of the year: You know it's September when you start seeing articles on who should win certain awards. Today, two candidates for manager of the year are discussed: The Angels' Mike Scioscia by the Orange County Times while Ron Roenicke of the Brewers gets love from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Return of Strasburg: The return of Stephen Strasburg was highly anticipated, and the phenom delivered Tuesday night with a dazzling performance. Here's a pitch F/X review of the outing. The biggest takeaway? Strasburg is throwing a new changeup. (Fangraphs)

Finally: It took three years, but Dustin McGowan has finally moved past all his injuries, surgeries and rehab. For the first time since July 2008, McGowan pitched in a game when he threw four innings Tuesday night. He wasn't lights out, but that's besides the point. (Toronto Star)

Done in Pittsburgh? Paul Maholm is shut down for the year due to injury, which may bring an end to his Pirates career. The club holds a club option, but it's anyone's guess if the option is exercised. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Venable a Bear: Wil Venable's brother has made the Chicago Bears football team. Winston was an undrafted free agent, but made the squad on special teams. (North County Times)

Beer me: If you're looking for a good beer, give AT&T Park in San Francisco a try, a destination that received a glowing beer review. (Fangraphs)

Montero wants to return: 'Zona catcher Miguel Montero will be in his final year of arbitration next season before becoming a free agent. The backstop has indicated his desire to stay, and the team has reciprocated, with both sides likely to discuss an extension after the season. (Arizona Republic)
 
Team USA
: Brett Jackson won't be called up to the Cubs this season, as he will instead play for Team USA in the Pan American Games. With a solid spring training, Jackson should cement himself as the Cubs' center fielder. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Back in L.A.: Rod Barajas has found a home in Los Angeles and is interested in returning. The Dodgers may disagree, though, and may prefer to go young at the position next year. (Los Angeles Times)

Social day: Speaking of L.A., it's hard to argue against the fact that the Dodgers have taken the biggest step back in public relations this year. As an attempt to reconnect with fans, the team is holding a Social September campaign, a month-long campaign that will give fans the ability to win prizes and interact with the team. (MLB.com)

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