The month of July as a Chicago Cubs fan has had more ups and downs than the rides at Great America. They’ve made a few major trades, brought up the first of their highly touted prospects, sent down one of their others, and had their worst monthly pitching performance and their best hitting p performance. Let’s take a look at this tumultuous July and what it means for August moving forward.
- Team Record: 10-16
- Team Average: .262
- Team ERA: 4.90
- Top Hitter: Chris Coghlan
- Top Pitcher: Jake Arrieta
- Team Record: 14-13
- Team Average: .241
- Team ERA: 3.66
- Top Hitter: Starlin Castro
- Top Pitcher: Edwin Jackson
As with the past few July’s, the Cubs were no different with doing a mass selloff of key players to restock the minor league system with some quality and controllable young players to build the team around going forward. However, unlike 2013 when they traded their biggest chip, Matt Garza closer to the trade deadline, the team wasted no time in sending Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in a mega-deal that netted prospects SS Addison Russell, OF Billy McKinney, RHP Dan Straily and a PTBNL on July 4. Russell was recently ranked fifth on Baseball America’s midseason top 50 prospects list and has been said to be Barry Larkin with power. McKinney was ranked second in Oakland’s minor league system and is still relatively young, but is projected to be a solid hitter with 15 home run pop and a little bit of speed. Straily has had some struggles recently with the long ball and hasn’t been able to build on his rookie season where he won 10 games, had a 3.96 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 152.1 innings, but the Cubs hope he can figure it out and be a decent middle rotation arm. Don’t forget last season when many thought Jake Arrieta would never figure it out and has really proved a lot of doubters wrong this season.
Because Samardzija and Garza were fairly similar pitchers, it’s hard not to compare this trade to the one the Cubs made last season. In that deal, the Cubs acquired RHP C.J. Edwards, RHP Justin Grimm, RHP Neil Ramirez and 3B Mike Olt, all with the exception of Edwards have spent time with the Cubs this season. In this deal, Edwards was the headline player and because of injury hasn’t progressed as much as the team may have liked. However, the team has received good contributions out of Ramirez and Grimm who have been major cogs in the team’s bullpen. Olt has shown he has power, but hasn’t been able to hit consistently. In both trades, the Cubs got useful close to the majors players like Grimm, Ramirez, Olt and Straily who can help them now and high end talents like Edwards and Russell who have the potential to be stars when the team is closer to contention. Also, in both trades, the front office was able to get maximum value for the players they traded and stuck to their game plan.
Besides the headline deal, the Cubs also sent out some lesser players and acquired another to further bolster their minor leagues and their big squad. On the trade deadline day, the team sent LHP James Russell and OF/INF Emilio Bonifacio to the Braves for C Victor Caratini. Caratini was the Braves second round draft pick last season and is a switch hitter with excellent on base skills. Caratini hadn’t caught much prior so he definitely needs some work to get better defensively, but looks like he has a chance to be an interesting find. The day before, the Cubs surprised a lot of people and acquired a player at the deadline in struggling LHP Felix Doubront from the Red Sox. Doubront is a pitcher with swing-and-miss stuff, but has had a lot of trouble with walks. The Cubs are hoping a change of scenery and a chance to work with Chris Bosio might help Doubront turn it around. The last deal the team made this month was trading long time 2B Darwin Barney to the Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Jonathan Martinez. Martinez landed on Dodgers prospect lists and not a bad return for an infielder who has had trouble hitting the past couple of seasons.
The main reason for the Barney trade was to open up space for one of the Cubs top prospects in Arismendy Alcantara who in a two game stint where he was brought up to fill the roster spot of Barney who went on paternity leave went 4-for-9 with a double, a triple and three RBI. He’s been up ever since splitting time between second base and centerfield and will likely leadoff for the rest of the season thanks to the trade of Bonifacio. Alcantara’s success is a nice change from the struggles of Olt and Junior Lake who have had a very rough month posting a combined .116/.162/.246 with two home runs and five RBI. Obviously both players are very young and have a chance to turn it around, but with players like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez ready to come up, they don’t have a lot of time to prove they belong. Despite their issues, having Lake and Olt struggle this month is a vast improvement from last season where waiver wire castoffs Cole Gillespie, Cody Ransom and Julio Borbon spent time in July on the Cubs roster filling holes because no Cubs prospects were close to ready enough to play on the big club. That in itself is a major improvement over last year.
Speaking of improvements, it’s hard to understand the strides the team has made this month considering they’ve stumbled to a 10-16 record, worse than last year’s 14-13 mark. Much of the bad record can be attributed to a reverse of the Cubs fortunes on the mound and at the plate. Most of this season, the Cubs had no problems pitching, but lots of trouble scoring runs. In July, the Cubs batted .262, 26 points higher than the team’s best hitting month. Much of the improved hitting can be attributed to two unlikely guys in Chris Coghlan and Justin Ruggiano. Coghlan had a career renaissance in July by slashing an impressive .376/.449/.600 with three home runs and 13 RBI and has taken over as the starting left fielder from Lake. Ruggiano has also stolen right field from Nate Schierholtz and posted a line of .338/.350/.486 with two home runs and 14 RBI. Anthony Rizzo was not a slouch in July either and hit .308 with eight home runs and 15 RBI. Someone who did struggle in July was Starlin Castro who only managed a .221 average. The positive to Castro is that he has been a much more patient hitter lately, walking 11 times in July and 30 overall which matches his total from last season with two months to go.
On the pitching side, the Cubs did not have a good month. Thanks to a resurgent final two games, the Cubs ended up with a 4.90 ERA, but had an ERA over 5.50 for much of the month thanks to some terrible overall pitching performances. With the trades of Samardzija and Hammel, the Cubs were hoping that Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson would step up as leaders of the rotation, but stunk it up instead and posted a 6.89 ERA for Wood and a 7.20 ERA for Jackson. Much of the steadier bullpen guys in Schlitter, Grimm and Russell were putrid in July and combined for a 7.55 ERA. It’s very hard to win games when your pitchers are having trouble keeping it in the park. Two pitchers who have had success keeping it in the park and were some of the staff’s lone bright spots in July were Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Pedro Strop. Despite the loss of 40 percent of the rotation, Arrieta did not wilt under the pressure and has continued to make the front office look like geniuses in the Scott Feldman trade. In five starts, Arrieta was only 1-1, but in 33.1 IP he struck out 32 batters and posted a 2.70 ERA. Another part of the Feldman trade, Strop has quietly been the Cubs best bullpen pitcher of late. Since returning from the disabled list on May 31, Strop has given up just four earned runs in 25.2 IP and while striking out 29 batters. Another trade acquisition performing well is Kyle Hendricks who after a rocky first start, has given up just one earned run in 13.1 innings.
August will be an interesting month for the Cubs as a lot of roster spots have seemingly been cleared for players to compete for spots on next year’s squad. Players like Lake and Jackson are seemingly on thin ice thanks to poor performances while guys like Ruggiano and Coghlan will strive to keep their hot hitting going. Obviously, all eyes will be on wunderkinds Bryant and Baez. The front office has already stated that the trades will do nothing to alter the plans for both, but it’ll be hard for fans not to hope to catch an early glimpse of them in August.