Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 09/24/12

The Devil You Don’t Know

The famous quote reads: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know”

In what seems like forever to many Cubs’ fans, this quote appeared to be near and dear to the heart of top brass within the organization as they approached the off-season. But in an unusual twist, the front office would consider players from own system as the later rather than the former, openly embracing fringe and discarded players simply because of their Major League experience. This also appeared to be the case in 2012, as the team opened their arms to the likes of Jeff Baker, Adrian Cardenas, Blake DeWitt, Joe Mather, Ian Stewart, and Luis Valbuena while shunning Tyler Colvin, Ryan Flaherty, Marwin Gonzalez, and D.J. LeMahieu. But, rather than a wistful look at what could have been, like Dickens’ ghost of Christmas Future, this serves as a cautionary tale as the fall leagues and the Rule 5 draft approach.

But, as a point of reference, here is a comparison of the four players no longer with the organization against their counterparts still on the Cubs’ roster. All stats are current as of Thursday, September 20:

  • Tyler Colvin, Ryan Flaherty, Marwin Gonzalez, and D.J. LeMahieu: .260, 107 runs scored, 25 home runs, 104 RBI and 12 stolen bases
  • Adrian Cardenas, Joe Mather, Ian Stewart, and Luis Valbuena: .211, 63 runs scored, 14 home runs, 66 RBI and five stolen bases

As you can see, the players lost represent a nearly 35% increase in productivity over those obtained. Using the Pythagorean formula for win-loss record, the increase would provide an eight game bump in the current Pythagorean of 62-87 to 70-79. How that translated to wins and losses on the field are hard to determine, but it would be safe to say the Cubs’ fans would have had to worry less about losing 100 games in 2012.

How the team arrived at their decisions are still matters of speculation, with fingers being pointed at several parties. However, the writing seems to be on the wall that the new front office may have been relying on some faulty internal scouting reports, illustrated by the recent moves in the system. The ousting of several members of the staff, including Vice President Oneri Fleita and Iowa Manager and former Field Coordinator Dave Bialas, has hopefully led to a tightening the organizational structure. How this plays out in the off-season remains to be seen

As for now, management is using the upcoming Arizona Fall League to evaluate two pitchers potentially eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft, Dae-Eun Rhee and Nick Struck. They had also planned to look at lefty Zac Rosscup, but some arm concerns has him replaced by Kevin Rhoderick on the Mesa Solar Sox’s roster. Among those on the list include Frank Batista, who has recorded 50 saves over the past two seasons. Other pitchers are top prospect Trey McNutt and emerging starters Starling Peralta and Felix Pena. As far as position players, infielders Greg Rohan, Christian Villanueva, and Logan Watkins are prominent.

Rule 5 Draft eligible players in the Cubs’ system

Jeffry Antigua, LHP
Frank Batista, RHP
Justin Bour, 1B
Michael Brenly, C
Michael Burgess, OF
David Cales, RHP
Esmailin Caridad, RHP
Matt Cerda, INF
Hunter Cervenka, LHP
Evan Crawford, OF
Willengton Cruz, LHP
Antonio Encarnacion, RHP
Eduardo Figueroa, RHP
Marcus Hatley, RHP
Ty’Relle Harris, RHP
Jay Jackson, RHP
Alvido Jimenez, RHP
Austin Kirk, LHP
Luis Liria, RHP
Jeff Lorick, LHP
David Macias, IF-OF
Nate Maldonado, C
Trey McNutt, RHP
Pedro Medina, RHP
Jose Montesino, INF
A.J. Morris, RHP
Enyelberth Pena, RHP
Felix Pena, RHP
Starling Peralta, RHP
Nelson Perez, OF
Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP
Rebel Ridling, 1B
Greg Rohan, IF-OF
Melvin Rosa, RHP
Jose Rosario, RHP
Zac Rosscup, LHP
Julio Sanchez, RHP
Brian Schlitter, RHP
Ryan Searle, RHP
Matt Spencer, LHP
Nick Struck, RHP
Larry Suarez, RHP
Francisco Turbi, RHP
Christian Villanueva, 3B
Brett Wallach, RHP
Logan Watkins, INF
Casey Weathers, RHP
Rob Whitenack, RHP
Ty Wright, OF

Source – The Cub Reporter

In order to protect these or other players, they will have to be added to the 40-man roster by November 20. That will mean a lot of hard decisions for the Cubs.

Here’s hoping that they have a good definition of the devil they know.

Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO

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  • paulcatanese

    I don’t think it could have been said better,Tom.
    For many Cub players, the grass is greener on the other side,
    and opportunity knocks at the door.
    The same can be said for players who are on the downward side
    of their career, the Cubs beckon,a few more years can be had.

    • Rational Logic

      Agreed somewhat. Those statistics rely heavily on other variables, such as playing time, runners on base, steal opportunities, etc. It’s probably not a fair apples to apples comparison. While there is no doubt those players appear to be better, we traded away players like Colvin, LeMahieu and Flaherty to make room for other players, like Rizzo, Barney, Vitter, and Jackson (one could even argue Soler, Almora, Baez, etc). So while it appears relevant to compare those groups of players, it’s really not a strong indicator of trade value and decision making. The real value is in the performance of those listed above in my opinion.

      • Tom U

        No doubt about it, Rational Logic, there are a lot of other factors that come into play.

        Like I said above, I’m not lamenting the loss of those players. It is to illustrate how poor the internal evaluation process was and the need to do a better job this off-season.

      • Aaron

        Tom did a tremendous job of explaining the difference between having the likes of M Gonzalez, Flaherty, Colvin, LeMahieu, etc.

        versus

        Cardenas, Valbuena, etc.

        Yet, even then, it doesn’t really matter. As I’ve said many times before…Would you rather have a team that is 62-100 and misses the playoffs, but gets a top 3 pick, or a team that finishes 74-88, but gets a #5-10 pick instead?

        Either way you miss the playoffs, so what the hell is the difference?!?

        However, I will say this…they made a very bad miscalculation on the Gonzalez, Flaherty, and especially LeMahieu situations…While only LeMahieu could have been considered likely to factor into the future, all 3 could have at least bridged the gap until guys like Baez, Lake, etc. were ready.

        For the life of me, I do NOT understand this man-crush that Sveum and Team Theo has on Valbuena.

        LeMahieu: .278/.310/.369, 213 PA, 55 hits, 11 doubles, 2 triples, 1 hr, 17 RBI, 10 walks vs 39 K’s, and only 2 errors (both at 2B)

        Valbuena: .221/.317/.348, 281 PA, 54 hits, 19 doubles, 0 triples, 4 hr, 28 RBI, 35 walks vs 48 K’s, and 7 errors (all at 3B)

        So….in about 70 less plate appearances, LeMahieu has 1 more hit than Valbuena, and 5 less errors.

        What’s even worse, is the veteran bat the Cubs got for LeMahieu…Stewart…was even more dreadful:
        Stewart: .201/.292/.335, 202 PA, 36 hits, 5 doubles, 2 triples, 5 hr, 17 RBI, 21 walks vs 46 K’s, and 5 errors

        It’s a very sad story when you think the Cubs traded 2 young players like Colvin and LeMahieu for a has-been underperformer one-year wonder guy like Stewart, and a pitcher that couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, etc. in Weathers. Both ended up being as advertised while LeMahieu and Colvin…being young as they were, have really taken off….just a sad story.

        Don’t misunderstand me…I am NOT trying to say Colvin was going to be anything more than a 4th OF, or maybe a little better, but certainly not to the level of a Soler or Almora. But I stick by my guns that LeMahieu is going to be a very good hitter. All he’s done is hit everywhere he’s been. He’s NOT a power hitter, which has been the knock on him with his size, but he hits, and you see that with the comparison to Valbuena, where he has 1 more hit, but in 70 less plate appearances.

        • Aaron

          Tom,

          As for the Rule 5 list, here are my thoughts:
          *Rosario
          *Peralta
          Villanueva
          *Watkins
          *Whitenack
          *Suarez
          *Antigua
          *Batista
          Bour
          *Kirk
          *McNutt
          Rohan
          Struck
          …..all need to be protected. And by, “need to be protected”, I don’t necessarily mean that all of them will be good-to-great MLB players, but rather, I believe they are all likely to be strongly considered by other teams. I have indicated guys the Cubs must protect due to ceiling, etc. by asterisk. You’ll notice all of them are pitchers except for Watkins. Remember, pitchers tend to be selected more than fielders, and the reason I’m including Watkins is because he’s like a shorter, speedier version of Flaherty, but with a higher OBP.

          Here’s how I would create space on the roster:
          Volstad
          Camp
          Berken
          Brigham
          Coleman
          Concepcion (by way of 60-day DL)
          Corpas
          Germano
          Socolovich
          Recker
          Stewart
          LaHair
          Campana/Sappelt (one of them)
          Mather
          *all of these would be DFA or trade candidates
          Soriano (trade)
          Marmol (trade)

          The rotation next year figures to be:
          Samardzija
          Garza
          Travis Wood
          Vizcaino
          FA signing

          The rest:
          C-Castillo, Clevenger
          1B-Rizzo
          2B-Barney
          SS-Castro
          3B-Valbuena (don’t agree with it…but it is what it is)
          LF-FA/trade
          CF-Jackson
          RF-DeJesus

          If the Cubs trade Soriano, I would do whatever possible to get Bour some action in the OF this winter, and I would go into next year with Bour in LF or at least have him as a back-up, then I would add Watkins to the active roster. That leaves a back-up OF spot going to the winner of the Campana/Sappelt battle, and an additional IF spot, which I would go with Junior Lake.

          The Cubs clearly do not have Vitters in the future plans, so he might be traded as part of a bigger package. I also don’t buy their talk of Barney as an integral part of the organization. While he has a tremendous glove, .309 is the key number here….which is his OBP. Team Theo has put an emphasis on working the count with higher OBP. They already have Castro signed long-term, and know that he’s likely never going to push a .350’s OBP and higher.

          So if the team has only Castillo, DeJesus, Rizzo, LaHair and Sappelt right now above a .330+OBP…and only Castillo, DeJesus, and Rizzo figure to be starting-caliber players next year…they can ill afford to have guys like Barney at a .309 OBP littered throughout the lineup.

          What I would recommend is just cutting ties with Valbuena altogether. He’s 26 years old…Cardenas is 24, and Vitters is 23…and Lake is 22. Then, you have Watkins who can fill in there, along with Baez coming up. We already know what Valbuena is….he’s a Stewart-esque player that continues to hang around for his “defensive prowess”, even if stats don’t even show he’s earned that billing, and offensively, he’s almost identical to Stewart, but without as much power.

          I would just recommend signing a 1 year bridge player like Rolen, who could be a great veteran influence…or if he retires, then try to convince Youkilis to sign for a 1 year deal as well while Vitters and others develop in the minors. Lesser prospects like Cardenas and Watkins could platoon with Youkilis or Rolen, and gain valuable experience.

          As for the other spots…if they trade a Gold Glove caliber guy in Barney, they’ll get a bigger return than they otherwise would have, which is why he MUST win the award. Then, they can put in Watkins at 2B, and his .370’s+OBP in the minors, and while the defense won’t be there (which you couldn’t say before this season), Bour might be an upgrade over Soriano’s OBP in LF, and if they’re worried about that, they can try to sign Swisher (though that might be an expensive proposition for a player in his 30’s).

          Here’s how things might look if I had my way:
          C-Castillo-.350’s OBP
          1B-Rizzo-.350’s OBP
          2B-Watkins-.350’s OBP
          SS-Castro-.340’s OBP (this year notwithstanding)
          3B-Rolen/Youkilis-.340’s OBP (at least in this stage of their careers)
          LF-Swisher-.350’s OBP
          CF-Jackson-Wild Card…if he can fix his swing
          RF-DeJesus-.350’s OBP

          The problem would be run production. The only guys in that lineup that you could reasonably count on for 70+RBI in a full season would be Rizzo, Castro, and Swisher….not sure what they do, but the FA market doesn’t look pretty at all, and the Cubs don’t have any veterans outside of Soriano, Marmol, and Garza (if healthy) that could draw a decent return.

          • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

            Aaron, just a quick FYI, by rule players cannot be on the 60-day DL throughout the off-season.

          • Aaron

            I know that :) I was speaking of the start of the season, though some decisions would need to be made prior to that for the Rule 5. Concepcion is awful. I realize they committed big money to him, but he’s a lefty version of Hayden Simpson at least in my opinion, and I since the Cubs already landed Soler, there’s no need to keep Concepcion around as an “influence”

          • Tom U

            Some of the players I would roll the dice on in your list are Rosario, Whitenack, Antigua, and Suarez. Rosario and Whitenack are coming off injuries, and would be a big risk for any team to keep on their roster all year.

            Both Antigua and Suarez are mysteries, once again big risks to keep on their roster all year.

            The pitcher I would look to keep is Felix Pena. He’s pretty big and looks like he’ll fill out more. he came on strong in the second half, and appears to be heading in the right direction.

          • Aaron

            Rosario and Suarez might be overlooked in the draft, but Whitenack and Antigua likely wouldn’t be overlooked.

            I don’t know why I keep hearing on various places that Antigua is this sort of unknown asset. Why? The dude has been pretty consistent, and even better as a starter. He’s a lefty that throws 92-94 mph, and can touch 96 mph or so at times…I just don’t get it. Whitenack made it all the way to AA with success. He’d be the equivalent of a Arodys Vizcaino but without the hype and MLB experience. He features a mid-90’s fastball, and above average secondary pitches….hmmmm….don’t know

            Suarez has always been an enigma. When he first came along, he was touching 99 mph, but has settled more into the 93-96 mph range, and ironically, with the reduction of velocity, he’s actually had trouble throwing strikes, which is the opposite of what you’d expect.

            You might be right about Rosario being overlooked, but AZPhil over at TCR had nice write-ups about him, and he’s had decent stats for a young guy at both Boise and Peoria. He might be a Lendy Castillo type for some team like the Astros

            Here’s some great scouting reports on him, as well as other guys on the list:
            http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2012/06/cubs-mid-season-top-sp-prospects-the-healthy-the-injured-and-the-unknown/

  • Aaron

    Tom…can you please explain your comment further:
    “However, the writing seems to be on the wall that the new front office may have been relying on some faulty internal scouting reports, illustrated by the recent moves in the system.”

    Are you saying that Fleita, and others recommended they get rid of LeMahieu, Flaherty, etc. in favor of other players, and they were let go because their talent evaluation was substandard? Or, are you saying that they wanted to keep those guys, and they disagreed with what Team Theo was saying?

    I always thought Hoyer’s comments about Flaherty and Gonzalez were weird….where he basically said (and I’m paraphrasing obviously) “We were hoping they didn’t get selected, because we really wanted them”….and in my mind, I was like….you dumba$$!!!! Then, why didn’t you protect them?!?

    So, your comments would seem to indicate that Team Theo wanted to protect them, but Team Fleita (if you will), said there’s no way they’d be taken….

    • Tom U

      Aaron, in the minors, scouts and cross-checkers, along with the managers and coaches, file player reports and forward them to the field coordinator.

      The field coordinator reviews them, approves or disapproves them, and then sends them on: approves to the Director of Player Personnel, this disproves back to the cross-checkers. The DPP then consults with the GM on player promotions, and then sends it back to the field coordinator to work out the details.

      When the decisions are made in the off-season as to what to do with each player, these reports are reviewed.

      In order for a new team of executives to come in and decide to tender contracts to players rather than letting them go, the minor league reports on similar players have to be worse than the ones they are offering contracts to. Imagine their horror when the players that were recommended stink, while the ones let go do a lot better. This is why heads rolled.

      • Aaron

        Thanks for the info. That was close to my understanding of how it worked before, with the one exception being the DPP. I thought the AGM was involved in that slot, but I could be mistaken. And if my understanding was correct, then I’m wondering why Randy Bush is still around….so that means I’m probably wrong…LOL…I know that AGM’s have a lot of contact with agents, etc., then pass that along to the GM, and they are also supposed to be involved with trades, and coordinating efforts to scout players that might be involved by disseminating that info down the line.

        Your understanding makes a lot more sense as to why Fleita and others were let go. It also probably also just goes to show you how far behind the Cubs were from others in their scouting department. Not only did they have the “Great Enabler” Hendry at the helm, allowing them to get away with being mediocre, but what people don’t understand is that his horrible decision-making regarding trying to develop pitching from within (which was actually his stated goal from the beginning) while investing in free agent position players, often times dramatically overpaying for them.

        And to a certain degree, Hendry was successful with his plan. Just look at all the pitchers drafted/int’l FA/developed under Hendry as PDD and GM:
        Wood
        Prior
        Zambrano
        Scott Downs
        J. Cruz
        Lohse
        Marmol
        Farnsworth (though, signed under different leadership, was developed under Hendry)
        Wuertz
        Wellemeyer
        D. Willis (though he’s fallen off the map of late)
        Ohman
        A. Guzman (like Willis, he’s fallen off the map)
        Hill
        Marshall
        Wells
        Gallagher (who turned into Harden, which is why I’m listing him)
        Samardzija
        Cashner
        Russell
        Archer (acquired, then dealt for Garza)

        ….and plenty more like Beliveau, Maine, Parker, Raley, Rusin, Cabrera, Coleman, Dolis, etc., and many more that hardly made or are currently making an impact like the guys mentioned above either for the Cubs or other teams.

        Now….please name at least a handful of hitters the Cubs developed/signed under Hendry that have developed into anything…..
        Theriot
        Castro
        Barney
        Soto
        …maybe Corey Patterson?

        Pretty sad, isn’t it?

        I guess that’s what makes heads roll….when you haven’t had any impact bats in the past, then when you finally might have one or two, you recommend trading them or not protecting them…which is how you get your a$$ fired like they did.

  • Jay from sandwich

    Keep bitters or you will be sorry

  • Dorasaga

    Tom, I understand your sentiment, and how you saw that the internal scouts and opinions didn’t work out. Hence, Th-oyer & Co. cleaned house.

    But I see most of your proofs as a case by case. Let’s take Colvin for an example. He’s not a different player from what we saw him 2010-11. One word defines his latest success: “Coors Field Effect.”

    Colvion batted 816 of an ops and 114 wrc+ in 2010, with the Cubs. This year, he’s 853 so far and 114 wrc+ (park adjusted), so EXACTLY like how we remembered him under Lou Piniella.

    He also batted 1030 and 158 wrc at home, but 675 ops then 69 away from Coors; i.e. abysmal. He really took advantage of the C.F.E. He’s also still a below-average out-fielder. He doesn’t get on-base enough and has limited skills.

    I watched a bunch of O’s games, and Flaherty looks more like a super-sub/utility man in the long term future than an everyday player.

    Enough analysis to draw this comment long, I just want to point out how none of the players are proven commodity. There’s little to lose by trading them. I’ll be really concerned if the 2012 draftees won’t pan out in 3-4 years, and if the Cubs brass turn on the “win mode” next year like the Hendry Era.