The current state of the Chicago Cubs does not look so good … but the future appears bright in 2012, and beyond.
While 2011 isn’t looking very promising as 2010 comes to an end, there are several things we should keep an eye on that could very well turn out as positives for the future. Aramis Ramirez, Randy Wells, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Pena, and Kosuke Fukudome could help the Cubs in the future.
What did I just say? I must be losing my mind … If Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena return to form offensively in the first half they could be valuable trade bait at the deadline. Ramirez would get a million dollar bonus if traded and his $16 million club option for 2012 becomes guaranteed, but a team in need of offense and a third baseman could be interested.
Last year was definitely a down year for Ramirez. He was unlucky though his BABIP (batting average of balls in play) was .245 in 2010 versus a .287 career BABIP.
Carlos Pena is another candidate for a comeback year. I do not think he will hit above .250 but his OBP and power numbers have always been very solid and were down last year, along with his BABIP … which was just .222 compared to a career BABIP of .279. Unlike Ramirez, Pena is also a solid defender which teams value as well.
Kosuke Fukudome is an average to above defender and a decent offensive player, despite not being worth his high salary. Fukudome could be a starter, or a valuable fourth outfielder, on many teams at the deadline. But, of course the Cubs would have to eat some of his remaining salary.
Marlon Byrd has had two solid offensive seasons in a row, brings a good glove and can play all three outfield positions. Plus, Byrd has a reasonable contract ($5.5 million in 2011, $6.5 million in 2012) and if he could repeat his performances from 2009 and 2010, Byrd could be moved at the deadline as well for prospects … obviously depending on how much money the Cubs would be willing to chip in.
Randy Wells is not a front-end starter but he is a decent number four or five guy. Wells had a solid 2009 campaign and an inconsistent, at best, 2010 season. If he can level off in 2011 and pitch with more consistency, Wells could have some value at the deadline. His very affordable contract (league minimum) coupled with being under team control for another five seasons, Wells could net the Cubs a couple of decent prospects
Those are just a couple of things to be optimistic about going into the new year.
As for the youth movement, there are several players on the Major League roster that should be fun to watch in 2011 … Starlin Castro, Andrew Cashner, Tyler Colvin, Darwin Barney and Blake DeWitt. Plus, Brett Jackson, Chris Archer and Chris Carpenter will be front and center in big league camp (on non-roster invites) when the games begin in Mesa.
Starlin Castro has the makings of a star and his future looks very bright … but he must avoid the dreaded ‘Sophomore Slump’. Castro has great range and a cannon for an arm, plus raw speed on the bases that should allow him to improve his baserunning as he gains experience. He needs to improve his decision making on the field and should hit for more power as he matures.
Andrew Cashner will get a chance to crack the starting rotation … and we will see if he has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter.
Darwin Barney is a solid defender at three positions (shortstop, second base and third base) and is a smart player that figures to give the team a boost off the bench. Barney has already reported to Mesa to participate in “Camp Colvin“. If Barney is able to make similar strides to what Tyler Colvin did a year ago, he could end up being a valuable role player.
Blake DeWitt is still pretty young and he still has upside. Many feel he is a poor defender, but according to his Baseball-Reference page he is very solid at third and decent at second. At worst he is an okay stopgap until one of the prospects are able to step up.
I know many people are ruling out DeWitt, but I think he may be a good candidate for Rudy Jaramillo.
In 2003 and 2004 Mark DeRosa’s career looked to be going down hill. After two dismal seasons of a sub-.700 OPS (2003 – .263/.316/.383/.699, 2004 – .239/.293/.320/.614), Mark DeRosa ended up in Texas in 2005 and started working with Rudy Jaramillo.
DeRosa showed improvement in a short amount of time and continued raving about working with Jaramillo when he signed with the Cubs back in the winter of 2006. DeRosa put together a .243/.325/.439/.764 line in 2005. While DeRosa showed improvement in 2005, especially in his on base and slugging percentage, he really broke out in 2006 and earned his big payday from the Cubs.
Under his second year with Jaramillo in 2006, Mark DeRosa turned the corner and posted a .296/.357/.456/.812 line.
Marlon Byrd had back-to-back dismal seasons as well in 2005 and 2006. Byrd put up a sub-.700 OPS and a line of .264/.318/.380/.698 in 2005 and it got worse with .223/.317/.350/.667 line in 2006.
Byrd joined the Rangers and started working with Jaramillo in 2007 and showed improvement in each of his three seasons under Rudy’s tutelage (2007 – .307/.355/.459/.814, 2008 – .293/.380/.462/.842, 2009 – .283/.329/.479/.808) … and had a good year in his first season with the Cubs, despite slowing down in the second half (2010 – .293/.346/.429/.775).
The Cubs have a lot of money coming off the books after the upcoming season and should be looking at one of the free agent first basemen … Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, and Adrian Gonzalez. Pujols and Gonzalez are not expected to hit the open market and will likely sign extensions at some point next year. But at least the Cubs have put themselves in a position to be in the mix for all three.
As for the prospects down on the farm, the Cubs have a lot of depth in the system and while the system may lack an impact prospect, at least there is quality and just not quantity. Besides Brett Jackson, Chris Archer and Chris Carpenter, the Cubs could also receive contributions at the big league level in 2011 from Brandon Guyer, Jay Jackson, Welington Castillo and Robinson Chirinos … with Trey McNutt and possibly Hak-Ju Lee not being too far behind.
What are your thoughts? I will be writing another article soon about players down on the farm to keep an eye on in 2011. Stay Tuned …