Chicago Cubs

Three Headlines for 2017: Chicago Cubs

The defending champions are primed for another serious run into October. They have a deep line-up, stellar rotation and a sound bullpen will make the Cubs tough to beat. Oh, and that mad hatter manager, he’s good too.

As we look toward 2017, there are very few questions, but a few new faces will take over in key roles. Here are my predictions for some of the main storylines for the Cubs this season.

1. “Jason Heyward returns to form”

Jason Heyward didn’t just struggle in his first year as a member of the Chicago Cubs, he was downright awful. So bad that he was benched during the World Series. Entering his eighth season, this 27 year old veteran is poised to bounce back. I expect Heyward to return to his pre-2016 form this season. Double digit home runs, 50+ RBI, .260 AVG and his perennial gold glove defense are my expectations for Heyward this season. He is too toolsy, and has been successful for too many years for him to bust in his mid-20’s.

2. “Almora Jr. makes Cubs fans forget about Fowler”

Albert Almora Jr. will take over as the full time centerfielder for the Chicago Cubs this season. The beauty of his ascension to the starting line-up is that there is very little pressure on him to produce at a high level. If Almora hits .260 (career .290 hitter in professional baseball) and plays superb defense, Joe Maddon will be pleased with his replacement for Dexter Fowler.

3. “Rotation Depth is tested on the North Side”

The Chicago Cubs were extremely fortunate last season. All five of their starters made at least 29 starts and logged 945 innings as a group. However, the group is a bit different heading into 2017. Jason Hammel signed with the Royals this offseason and the void is set to be filled by either Mike Montgomery or Brett Anderson.

Montgomery is headed into his age 27 season and only has 190 career innings on the mound in the Major Leagues. Anderson had a career year in 2015, but struggled in 2016 with injuries. Anderson was only able to start three games last year, and has a history of landing on the DL.

The Cubs may need to look outside of the organization if they end up needing an extra arm in the rotation. The upper ranks of their Minor Leagues are thin when it comes to starting pitchers who can help at the Major League level.

**Check back tomorrow for “Three Headlines for 2017: St. Louis Cardinals” as we continue our preseason feature!**

Report Card: Evaluating the Cincinnati Reds Trades (July 2015-Present)

A friend of mine is a diehard fan of the Cincinnati Reds who is less than pleased about the recent moves by his team. I received a text message moments after the Phillips trade was announced from my old pal which read, “I’m starting to think winning is second to staying out of the red, pun intended.”

While many of their recent moves have been head scratching (that Chapman deal was so, so, so bad) I wanted to take a look at the trades the organization has made over the last few years as they look to rebuild. Here is a look at each of the major trades since July of 2015:

Johnny Cueto- Traded on July 26, 2015 to the Royals for Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed. 

For Johnny Cueto, the Reds brought back a paltry return of Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed from the Royals. Finnegan was the cornerstone of the deal and pitched well in his first full year in the Bigs. The 23-year-old southpaw was 10-11 with a 3.98 ERA.

While those numbers seem average, what was most impressive is that he made 31 starts and had a stellar strikeout to walk ratio. Finnegan struck out 145 batters while only walking 84, good enough for a 173 SO/W ratio. Finnegan should be there throughout the rebuilding process and serve as a top of the rotation starter, likely maxing out as a quality number two arm.

Lamb was traded away to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash in November.

The 23-year-old Reed was 0-7 last year. Pitching 47.2 innings and sported a 7.36 ERA.

Two out of three were complete misses in this deal, with Finnegan being approximately as advertised. It is tough to deal a homegrown ace for only one player of value.

Baseball on Tap Trade Grade: C-

Mike Leake- Traded on July 31, 2015 to the Giants for RHP Kuery Mella and 1B/OF Adam Duvall

At the trade deadline in 2015, the Reds dealt Mike Leake (then only 27-years-old) to the San Francisco Giants for RHP Kuery Mella and Adam Duvall. Mella pitched rather well for the Class A Daytona Tortugas (ahh…I love MiLB names…) and earned a ticket directly to AAA. In his lone start at AAA, Mella pitched well. The 23-year-old righty is currently in camp with the Reds, but should start the year in the minors.

Adam Duvall burst on to the scene last year and started in left for the 2016 Reds. While Duvall smashed 33 HR’s and 103 RBI’s in his first year as a starter (good enough to earn an All-Star bid) he will be entering his age 28 season in 2017. With this Reds team being so far away, it is likely that Duvall will be on his way out of town before the Reds are ready to compete.

While the Reds were not interested in resigning Leake (especially to the 5 year/$80 million dollar deal he received from the Cardinals) they did receive a fair haul for Leake. Mella could be a middle of the rotation type starter (at best), but Duvall should be flipped for players that will help the Reds compete a few years down the line.

Considering Leake’s impending free-agency at the end of the year, it was not a terrible deal.

Baseball on Tap Trade Grade: B- (With the potential for a higher grade if Duvall is moved at the right time). 

Todd Frazier- Traded December 16, 2015 to the White Sox for 2B Jose Perza, OF Scott Schebler and OF Brandon Dixon

Todd Frazier (who at the time was 29) was sent to the White Sox as a part of a three team deal that included the Dodgers. Frazier, along with Joey Votto, was the face of the franchise and was coming off of an impressive All-Star campaign in 2015. In the trade, the Reds acquired Jose Peraza, Scott Schebler and Brandon Dixon.

Peraza is the likely starter at second now that Phillips was sent to Atlanta. As a rookie last season, Peraza was a key contributor by hitting .324 in 274 AB’s. Peraza does not display a lot of power (3 HR’s last year) but is speedy (21 SB’s). Peraza figures to be a mainstay in the Reds long-term rebuild.

Schebler played in 82 games last season for the Reds, splitting time between all three outfield positions. In his age 25 season, Schebler swatted 9 HR’s to go along with a .265 AVG. Schebler should see consistent playing time this year and provide some protection for Joey Votto and Duvall. Schebler is under team control through the 2022 season.

Dixon, a third round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, spent his entire age 24 season with AA Pensacola. In 419 AB’s, Dixon hit 16 HR’s and drove in 65 RBI’s. He will need to cut down on the strikeouts (137 last year) to move through the system. From what I can tell, he is at best a fourth outfielder somewhere down the road.

While the first two players are nice acquisitions for the Reds, it seems that the team may have received only an average (maybe slightly above) return.

Trade Grade: C+

Aroldis Chapman- Traded December 28, 2015 to the New York Yankees for RHP Rookie Davis, 2B Tony Renda and RHP Caleb Cotham

The Chapman deal seems to be the worst of the bunch.

Rookie Davis was a dominant force in AA last year, going 10-3 with a 2.94 ERA. Davis earned a promotion to AAA but struggled upon his arrival. With the Reds rotation in flux, Davis could crack the rotation out of Spring Training. If not, he will likely make his debut at some point in 2017.

Tony Renda was a 2nd Round Pick by the Nationals in 2012, but at the time of the trade the 24-year-old had never played above AA. Renda cracked the Big League roster last year, but struggled in just 60 AB’s. He does not appear to be a part of the long-term rebuild.

Caleb Cotham was 28 years old when he was acquired, and had a whopping total of 9.2 Major League innings under his belt. The righty struggled out of the Reds pen last year, throwing 24.1 IP with a 7.40 ERA. He is no longer listed on the team’s 40 Man Roster.

Eric Jagielo hit .205 for AA Pensacola last year with only 7 HR’s. He will be entering his age 25 season and seems to be a complete bust.

So, the Reds got ONE useful player out of this deal. When comparing that to what the Yankees landed for Chapman in July of 2016 (just eight months after this trade), it is embarrassing. The Yankees received four players, including super prospect Gleyber Torres and outfield prospect Billy McKinney. In all of the trades that the Reds have made, none of the players they received are as good as Torres. In fact, none of the players that the Reds have received even cracked the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 Prospects, that was released earlier today. 

Trade Grade: F

Jay Bruce- Traded on July 31, 2016 to the New York Mets for 2B Dilson Herrera and LHP Max Wottel. 

Jay Bruce hit 238 HR’s during his eight plus seasons with the Reds, but the team moved on from the lefty slugger at the trade deadline last year. His impending free agency after the 2017 season surely played a part in this decision.

What the Reds received in return was a mediocre prospect in Dilson Herrera, and a long-term project in Max Wottel.

When the 2015 season ended and it was obvious the Mets would not resign Daniel Murphy, many fans believed the job would be handed over to Herrera. He had a cup of coffee with the team in 2014 and 2015, but many were high on him as a potential 20 HR hitter out of the second base position. It was shocking to most when Neil Walker was acquired from the Pirates for Jon Niese that December, but it kept Herrera on the back burner and made him expendable.

With Phillips out of town, Peraza seems to be next in line to start at second leaving Herrera without a position. The Reds could use the toolsy 22-year-old (who hit 15 HR’s in AAA last year) to acquire another player, or hope to switch him to another position.

Wotell is a big lefty (6’3″) out of North Carolina who was a third round pick by the Mets in the 2015 draft. He has yet to pitch above Rookie Ball, where he has struggled to the tune of 5.05 ERA.

It makes very little sense to have acquired Herrera when Peraza was already in the system. A pitcher like Robert Gsellman or Marcus Molina would have made more sense.

Trade Grade: C- 

Dan Straily- Traded on January 19, 2017 to the Marlins for RHP Austin Brice, RHP Luis Castillo and OF Isaiah White

In what is nothing short of an act of alchemy, the Reds turned garbage into gold (maybe silver). The Reds had claimed Straily off of waivers from the Padres in April of 2016 and cashed in on his 14-8 2016 season.

In return for Straily, the Reds received a fireball pitcher in Luis Castillo and another valuable pitcher in Austin Brice. White is a project, and reminds me of a poor man’s Billy Hamilton when it comes to his skill set.

Castillo and Brice should both contribute for the Reds as they rebuild.

Trade Grade: A-

Brandon Phillips- Traded on February 12, 2017 to the Braves for RHP Carlos Portuondo and LHP Andrew McKirahan

This one seems to be purely financial. Phillips was due $14,000,000 this year and the Reds were looking to move the money. Portuondo, who hails from Cuba, has been playing in the USA for two years but has yet to make the Majors. At 29 years of age, it is unlikely he will be a key component of a winning team anytime soon.

McKirahan is coming off of his second Tommy John surgery and did not pitch at all in 2016.

The only upside to this deal is that Peraza is no longer buried and will be able to play everyday at 2b.

Trade Grade: D

2015-2017 Trade Report Card: Cincinnati Reds

Cueto: C-

Leake: B-

Frazier: C+

Chapman: F

Bruce: C-

Straily: A-

Phillips: D

Comments: My friend has a point…

While the Reds aren’t the laughing stock of the league, they missed a great opportunity to drastically improve their team. Instead, they are going to need to hit on an inordinate amount of homegrown prospects rather than acquiring those that have been developed by other organizations that should have been required over the last year and a half. The Reds are over three seasons away from being a serious contender.

Dexter Fowler: The move Mozeliak and the Cardinals had to make

The St. Louis Cardinals handed out a 5 year deal to a player who had his best year in his age 30 season. That peak, by the way, is a .276 AVG, .393 OBP, 13 HR, 48 RBI and 13 SB. Good enough for a 4.2 WAR.

The Cardinals overpaid for Dexter Fowler (the deal likely around $15 million per year), no doubt about it. But, at this point in time, it was a move they had to make.

The Cardinals outfield production was pretty average last season, and now Matt Holliday will be playing in the Bronx. With Stephen Piscotty the only consistent outfielder remaining on the roster, the Cardinals had few options.

Jose Bautista was an option, and he played 91 games in right field last season in Toronto. But he will be entering his age 36 season and may provide little more than what the Cards got out of Matt Holliday, at a much higher price.

Ian Desmond signed for less money (5 years, $70 million) to play for the Rockies. Desmond will likely play left field for the Rockies, but did appear in 130 games in center for the Texas Rangers last season. His performance in center was below league average, but he can man the position.

Fowler is better defensively than Desmond (slightly) and has a higher OBP, but the power isn’t there when compared to Desmond. However, the Cardinals needed a top of the order presence. While they could use a thumper in the middle of the line-up, an adequate defensive center fielder who can man the leadoff position was exactly what they needed.

The Fowler signing is not great, but if the Cards want to play in a do-or-die Wild Card game (they aren’t catching the Cubs in 2017), they had to spend big money on a slightly above average player.

**Photo credit to d-deee on flickr*P*


NL Central Update from the Blogosphere: A roster shake-up looms in Pittsburgh, the Reds need 2017 for 2018 and Molina looks for a new deal in St. Louis

Chicago Cubs: John Arguello (@CubsDen) of The Cubs Den released an article detailing how Charlie Blackmon could potentially fit into the 2017 lineup if the Rockies and Cubs were able to reach an agreement on a trade. Arguello surmises that Blackmon could fit into a platoon Alberto Almora or even become the full-time centerfield option for Joe Maddon. He is a hit first, play defense late type of guy. It is worth monitoring the outfield situation in Chicago with the Dexter Fowler likely out of town to cash in after a solid 2016.

St. Louis Cardinals: Brian Walton (@B_Walton) of The Cardinal Nation Blog expresses his concern over recent reports surrounding the future of Yadier Molina’s contract situation. Molina’s agent Melvin Roman, who has his client signed through 2017 with a mutual option for 2018, shared that he would like to approach the organization about Molina’s contract prior to the start of the 2017 season. The objective is to keep the 34 year old catcher in St. Louis for the rest of his career, but the threat of Molina departing after the 2017 is legitimate.


Yadier Molina by Dave Herholz

Walton laments the thought of Molina finishing his career elsewhere, but understands it may not be prudent to give an aging catcher a final long-term team. However, Molina (as Walton points out) appeared in more games than ever last season (147) and with a manager who is a former catcher in Matheny, the trust between the two will likely weigh heavily in determining the outcome. While a resolution is not expected in the coming days, Walton points out that this is a situation to monitor going forward.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Bucco Blog reflected on Ken Rosenthal’s report that the Pirates are listening to offers on a number of players, including Josh Harrison. After signing Harrison to a four year extension after his breakout 2014 season, Harrison has been just above league average. With $17.5 million due over the next two seasons, Sawchik believes it will be difficult to find a buyer.


Josh Harrison by Keith Allison

On Andrew McCutchen, Sawchik conversed with Mike Petriello via Twitter to learn more about how McCutchen would fit into RF (as Buster Olney has suggested). Sawchik believes that despite McCutchen fading defensive metrics, that the move could actually help the 30 year old outfielder who moves better to his right than his left.

It remains to be seen whether or not McCutchen will be traded, but we at BoT feel that it would be selling low on a player that is poised for a bounce back season.

Milwaukee Brewers: Travis Sarandos (@travis_mke) of Disciples of Uecker (I love the name) published an article yesterday detailing the Brewers upcoming decision on whether or not to tender catcher Martin Maldonado. Maldonado, 30, became the primary backstop for the Brewers after the Jonathan Lucroy trade. Sarandos cites MLBTR’s prediction that Maldonado will probably receive $1.6 million. For the money, despite not being the best long-term option for the club, Sarandos believes it is worth the money to keep him around as a “serviceable backup.”

Cincinnati Reds: Jason Linden (@jasonlinden) of Redleg Nation believes that the 2017 matters for the Reds. Linden points to a plethora of middle infielders that need playing time rather than the aging Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart. Linden also cites a number of starting pitchers (eight) that should be competing for five starting rotation spots. Jesse Winker, a top-tier outfield prospect, should also be getting a legitimate shot at regular playing time to prepare him for the everyday duty in the 2018 season.

For Linden, 2017 matters. Evaluating and deciding on the  the meaningful pieces for 2018 must occur at the Big League level in 2017.





Game 7: The marathon turns into a one night sprint to the finish

While I was drinking my coffee this morning my wife came into the kitchen and said, “Game 7 tonight. Let’s get the fire pit going, move the projector outside, roast hot dogs, and I’ll make mac and cheese.” I love that woman.

The Indians will send Corey Kluber to the mound as he attempts to become the 14th pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball to win three games in one World Series. Kyle Hendricks, who struggled in his Game 4 start, will take the hill for the Cubs.

It is an impressive list, that of the three game winners in the Fall Classic. Names like Christy Mathewson (1905), Red Faber (1917), Lew Burdette (1957), Bob Gibson (1968), Randy Johnson (2001) and Madison Bumgarner (2014) stand out.

How the Chicago Cubs adjust to Kluber will likely determine whether or not they are able to win tonight. Kluber has been sensational in his two winning efforts thus far, hurling 12 innings while only surrendering 9 hits, one earned run and one walk. Kluber’s 15 strikeouts have been a big part of his success. It will be interesting to watch how Terry Francona handles the bullpen in this do-or-die situation. Andrew Miller could be up and ready to go in the 4th if Kluber finds himself in any tight jams.

Kyle Hendricks was unusually hittable in his Game 4 start. The Indians knocked Hendricks around, giving up 6 hits over 4.1 innings pitched. He will need to be much better tonight if Joe Maddon wants to give the ball to Aroldis Chapman with a lead.

As far as predicting this one, I’m just not going there. These teams have run the marathon and they are now facing a one night sprint. I look forward to watching either city celebrate what they have waited a lifetime (or two, or three) to witness. The stars will be out (literally and figuratively) in Cleveland, but these games usually have an unsung hero making a tremendous play or blunder. Check back tomorrow for analysis. Enjoy the game.

**Photo credit to Arturo Pardavila III, check him out on Flickr!**

Morning Six Pack: Eflin blanks the Buccos, Fowler returns with a bang

Two Beers: Zach Eflin, Philadelphia Phillies

Eflin was a beast last night. The 22 year old rookie threw a complete game shut out in Pittsburgh. Only surrendering three hits as he struck out six without walking a single batter. Eflin is 3 and 3 on the year and may be shut down at some point due to inning limitations, but he is quickly proving that he belongs in the long range plans of the Phillies.

One Beer: Tyler Lyons, St. Louis Cardinals

In the 16 inning marathon that was the game between the Cardinals and Dodgers, Lyons entered the game in the 11th inning and was sensational out of the ‘pen. Lyons went 4.2, only allowing one hit and striking out two. Lyons’ effort allowed the Cardinals to keep all of their starting pitchers fresh for the rest of the weekend, while the Dodgers were forced to use starter Bud Norris for 1.1 in relief. The Cardinals won on a walk-off home run by slugger Matt Adams.

One Beer: Matt Kemp, San Diego Padres

Kemp blasted two home runs in the Padres 5 to 3 win over the NL East leading Nationals. In the nation’s capital, Kemp took starter Tanner Roark deep in the 1st and 5th inning. Kemp finished 2 for 4 with 4 RBI’s.

One Beer: Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins

Kyle Gibson was brilliant in Boston last night, holding the Red Sox to only two hits over eight innings. Gibson struck out six on his way to his third win of the season. The Twins won the game 2 to 1.

One Beer: Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs

Folwer returned from the DL in a big way on Friday night. Fowler blasted a lead-off homer off of Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson and would go on to add two more hits, including a double. He finished the night 3 for 4 with two runs scored and three RBI’s. The Cubs won the game 5 to 2 in Milwaukee.