Pitching, Pitching … and Other Cubs News, Notes and Rumors

Early indications are that the Cubs will focus on adding pitching this off-season. Theo Epstein said earlier this week that the Cubs will add at least two starters to go along with Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza and Travis Wood. Epstein indicated that Garza is progressing as the Cubs had hoped and he should be ready to pitch when Spring Training begins. The Cubs are going to build the 2013 rotation without Arodys Vizcaino but they are hopeful he is able to force his way into the rotation.

The Cubs search for pitching is not limited to the free agent market or outside the organization.

Theo Epstein said that Alberto Cabrera turned the corner in his development this past season. Cabrera has a “very intriguing arm” according to Epstein and the Cubs plan on stretching him out at the Triple-A level when the season begins as they look to find the next Jeff Samardzija.

Epstein said they “feel pretty good” about the position-player group in the organization but the Cubs “have a long ways to go” with pitching.

Could Josh Johnson and/or Mark Buehrle be on the Cubs’ radar to fill one of the holes in the rotation?

Theo Epstein and the Cubs Plate Approach
During his meeting with the media earlier this week, Theo Epstein also addressed the Cubs lack of plate discipline throughout the organization … and came very close for the first time of indicting the Hendry regime for not emphasing the importance of getting on base.

Epstein said, “That’s another thing we really need to continue to improve. If there was one thing that I was surprised by in a negative way it was how pervasive the lack of plate discipline was in the whole organization, at the major-league level, upper minors, lower minors, draft decision making and protocol. It’s just something that has not been a factor for a long time, and we’re paying the price for that.”

“It’s embedded. It’s institutionalized, so we have to be really, really vigilant in turning that around. I believe 90 percent of the game revolves around controlling the strike zone, when you combine what it means to do so from an offensive standpoint and also from a pitching standpoint. It’s something we weren’t really good at. We didn’t walk enough. We didn’t get on base enough. Our pitchers walked too many hitters. We didn’t manage counts as well as we need to. Because it’s embedded, we need to dig deep and build a really strong foundation in that area because we’re suffering from that.”

The Cubs were near the bottom (29) in all of baseball in OBP last season while the Iowa Cubs were 12th out of 16 PCL teams with a .334 OBP and the Smokies ranked fifth in the ten team Southern League with a .336 on base percentage … and while the Cubs were near the bottom in OBP, the Cubs staff led the league in walks (573).

Starlin Castro
Starlin Castro took several steps forward at the plate this past season. And while his batting average and on-base percentage might have been lower than a year ago, Castro made strides in his approach. Castro hit the ball with more authority, especially at the end of the season when few were still paying attention to the games.

Castro played in all of the Cubs’ 162 games and set career marks in triples (12), home runs (14) and walks (36). Castro drove in a career-high 78 runs and finished the year with a .283/.323/.430/.753 line with an OPS+ of 105.

The Vine Line ran a report on their blog using data from BrooksBaseball.net that reinforced Castro’s improved approach from the first half of the season to the second half. The report not only addresses Castro’s walk rate but his swing rate by location and even Castro’s improved defense. Full report from the Vine Line

Darwin Barney
Darwin Barney received a post-season award on Thursday … Barney took home the Fielding Bible Award for second basemen. Barney received 96 of a possible 100 points from a panel of ten analysts that include Doug Glanville, Bill James, Joe Pasnanski, Peter Gammons and Rob Neyer.

Barney’s defense saved 28 runs for the Cubs this past season almost double of runner-ups Robinson Cano and Alexi Casilla (15).

The Fielding Bible Awards have been handed out annually since 2007.

Mark Teixeira (1B), Adrian Beltre (3B), Brendan Ryan (SS), Alex Gordon (LF), Mike Trout (CF), Jason Heyward (RF), Yadier Molina (C) and Mark Buehrle (P) were the other award winners for the 2012 season.

Cubs Rumors
It is no secret the Cubs are looking to add pitching this off-season and as much as possible in the foreseeable future to a pitching-starved organization. According to a report from Bruce Levine, the Marlins could have two pitchers that might interest the Cubs … Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.

According to Levine, the Marlins “are hoping to dump some of their high salary pitching contracts as part of their new approach going forward.” Josh Johnson is owed $13.75 million in the final year of the four-year extension he signed in January of 2010 and Mark Buehrle has three years and $52 million remaining on the four year contract he inked last winter ($11 million in 2013, $18 million in 2014 and $19 million in 2015).

Levine’s sources indicated the Marlins will be approaching teams like the Cubs that have payroll flexibility to “take on most of the money owed on the contracts of Buehrle and Johnson.

Cubs Polling on New Game Times
According to a report from Crain’s Chicago Business, the Cubs reached out to Wrigleyville neighbors on Wednesday morning for opinions on potential game times moving forward.

The Cubs asked for feedback about moving Friday afternoon start times from 1:20pm to 3:05pm and about adding more Saturday night games.

Friday afternoon games have not started at 3:05pm since the 1988 season. The Cubs said the idea to move the start time was well-received by the fans. Due to nationally televised games, the Cubs have had two Saturday night games in two of the last three seasons.

News and Notes
Jose Serra, the scout who signed players such as Starlin Castro, Rafael Dolis, Junior Lake, Welington Castillo, Marco Hernandez, Jose Rosario and Jeimer Candelario, was promoted to Director of Dominican operations.

According to a report from Comcast SportsNet, the last scan (mid-to-late September) on the stress reaction in Matt Garza’s right elbow showed it was healing. Matt Garza is scheduled to have another scan in mid-November.

Darwin Barney is close to becoming one of the Cubs’ core players.

According to a report from the Tribune, Dan Plesac appears to be interested in the Cubs’ analyst job. Both Plesac and Rick Sutcliffe apparently have “strong interest” in replacing Bob Brenly … but both are under contract, Plesac with the MLB Network and Sutcliffe with ESPN.

According to a report from ESPN, Mark Grace has been indicted in a DUI case and could face nearly four years in prison if convicted. Grace is not probation eligible because it was his second DUI charge in 15 months.

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Quote of the Day

"Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again." – Bob Feller

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  • Ripsnorter1

    Mark Buehrle…I don’t want him for the Cubs due to age, hittability, and our ballpark.

  • Tony_Hall

    A system wide failure to control the strike zone…something I think we all know and have seen for years.

    Many of the players at the upper levels will be trade bait if they didn’t improve on this and don’t show to be coachable to be able to make these changes.

    • Dorasaga

      Change takes time, esp. when it comes to baseball. We as regular posters or “watch-dogs” took note of the phenomenon, but it takes a corps of dedicated executives and on-field guys within the org. to kick the dirt and unrest a century-old problem.

  • Tony_Hall

    Ah, the rumors are already starting and since the Marlins (and other teams) need payroll relief from their bad FA signings and their young players that are getting expensive and the Cubs ability to take on payroll, we will see lots of rumors that have no merit saying the Cubs are in on.

    Of course Levine basically just states a fact, that the Marlins will approach the Cubs. The Marlins will have conversations and approach every team in baseball to see if anyone would like to pay Buehrle and if they can get a haul of prospects for Johnson. This is exactly breaking news.

  • Tony_Hall

    Add in 2 SP’s either through FA or trades to go with Samardzija, Garza and T Wood and keep Vizcaino on his innings limit for 2013. Add in 2 of about 10-12 SP’s that make sense for the Cubs that would be willing to do 1, 2 or max 3 year deals, and we would be in position to trade Garza before the season or at mid-season, trade T Wood at mid-season, even have the option of trading one of the new guys, as they will have Vizcaino ready by mid-season to take their place. Plus Cabrera will be in Iowa hopefully showing he needs an opportunity to start at Wrigley. Also Rusin and Raley, to go with Struck and Jokisch as other options for the 8-9 SP that most teams need. The best part is we shouldn’t have to see the Germano’s and Co. of the world that we saw to finish last year.

    The best prospects SP’s in our system our at the lower levels. They need to figure out a way to get through 2-3 years before the plan of wave and waves of pitching (ones that control the strike zone) will start to show up.

  • Tony_Hall

    Hopefully everyone who was saying that the Cubs were “ruining” Castro this summer as they made him make adjustments, please read the Vine Line link that Neil provided. Castro may have gone back in avg this year, but the adjustments he made will make him a better player moving forward.

    One note on his D, that was mentioned in this same article that I found interesting – “In 2012, Castro made a throwing error on 1.7 percent of his chances (assists plus throwing errors). That was half the rate from 2011.”

  • Tony_Hall

    I know Baez gets a lot of grief on here, but here is an article on him from the Tribune.

    He is only 19 years old and has a special bat, that will get him to the majors faster than maybe his maturity or his glove should. Of course his glove plays more as a SS right now, and will take time for him to adjust to 3B or other positions.


  • calicub

    Well its the end of the Volstad Act:

    TheCCO RT @CarrieMuskat: The #Royals have claimed #Cubs P Chris Volstad off waivers

  • Guest

    A conversation with the Indians’ Mark Shapiro

  • Dorasaga

    Neil, the Vine Line article is a good read.

    Now, here is a recent interview with former Indians GM Shapiro. He’s a good guy, methinks. He was also one of the pioneers who adopted the sabermetric principles of incorporating analytical tools to evaluate talent and values. He talked about family value, tradition, what never changes, but I want to highlight this particular part from his gold mine:


    “So I think there’s that general public sentiment that, ‘Hey if you win enough people will come.’ But that’s not necessarily true. We had a unique set of circumstances.

    There was a new ballpark. That’s a huge multiplier. We hadn’t won in 40 years. That’s a multiplier… so all of our revenues were amplified because all the other teams’ revenues were significantly tamped down at that point… And the city was economically in a better place. There were four Fortune 500 companies that were here that are no longer here.”

    And then Shapiro went on talking like Epstein did. Shapiro also believed that owners put back money into baseball operations more than fans imagined. The point I want to make here is how the business side can swing a team to lose its edge, or benefits.

    Industries are “fluid,” been moving around. One time, Cleveland was a better place. It’s been the quickest dying town in America since. That means spending power of fans may change. That means the amount of sponsorship may change. It’ll be interesting to see how the Ricketts deal with things like this.

    The family owns business across the States and perhaps globally. They are not sticking their money solely to playing fields of Chicago. That means they risk less when it comes to putting their money into the Cubs. They can probably find more international corporations to sponsor the Cubs (Toyota AND Mitsubishi?), so on. Enjoy the read.