I’ve been dedicating a lot of space here of late to the Chicago National League Ballclub but what can I say?  I’m sorry I’m not sorry.  The Cubs are where it’s at these days if you’re looking to discuss anything outside of PEDs, Royal Babies, and/or Carlos Danger.

In light of all of their recent activity, I thought I’d empty my thoughts in the form of responses to questions I’ve received of late on the various wheelings and dealings coming out of 1060 W. Addison.

  • Is the Matt Garza trade saga over yet?  Yes, yes it is.  In exchange for 12-13 starts from Mr. The-Shaving-Cream-Pie-In-The-Face-Gag-Never-Gets-Old, the Cubs received the following from the Texas Rangers on Monday:
    • Mike Olt (3B – 24 yrs old) – As recently as last fall he was the #22 prospect in all of baseball as a power hitting, slick fielding slugger who was all but untouchable via trade.  This winter he was apparently beaned in the head while playing in the Caribbean and he reported having blurred vision during spring training which may or may not have anything to do with said floggin’ of his noggin’.  After getting off to a slow start in April, with a batting average below the Mendoza Line in AAA, Olt had his eyes checked out by several specialists, and if this were the NFL he would have been listed on the injury report with a “tear duct.”  The vision problem behind him now, Olt has begun rebounding back into the form scouts had learned to salivate over including 2 homers and a double in three games vs. the Iowa Cubs this past weekend.  This acquisition has the potential to be one of the defining “buy low” pickups in Cubs history if Olt lives up to his potential.  Even if at best he projects to be a .260-.270 hitter, he is a lock for 25-30 homeruns and provides a stellar glove at the hot corner for years to come.
    • CJ Edwards (SP – 21 yrs old) – Edwards is the star of the deal if you can believe it as he is a 6’2” wisp of a pitcher that shoots lightning bolts from his 155lb frame.  A 48th round draft pick in 2011, Edwards was every scout’s wet dream as he was taken as a no-name flier from the sticks of South Carolina who continues to throw harder and harder every time he takes the bump (he can hit 96 mph fairly regularly now).  In low-A ball this year he’s compiled a miniscule 1.83 ERA in 93 innings with 122 strikeouts to 34 walks.  In his entire 160.3 innings as a professional pitcher (last year included) he has yet to give up a homerun. 
    • Justin Grimm (SP – 24 yrs old) – Grimm got thrown into the Rangers rotation ahead of schedule this year due to injuries on their staff and compiled a 6-6 record with the big club.  He’s basically solid if not unspectacular.
    • Player(s) To Be Named Later – As the final chip in the deal the Cubs have the option to take one more player (reportedly fireballing relief pitcher Neil Ramirez – Texas’s #13 internal prospect) or two additional players from an unnamed pool.  I for one am all for taking Ramirez as based on the structure of the deal he is the highest upside player available, and at this point the Cubs are not looking for organizational filler which the other options would most likely be. 

All told we are looking at four, if not five legitimate prospects (assets) for a pitcher that the Cubs had no intention of retaining beyond September.  That is how you turn a dollar into five quarters my friends. 

In charge of making that change is a man who I feel is getting far too little credit at the moment.  Every time the Cubs front office is mentioned in the press the name you hear is President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, and to a lesser extend Scouting Director Jason McCloud as all of these touted prospects are being raised in his nursery, however the guy who is sitting at the table and negotiating these deals is the Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer.  Hoyer came over from San Diego in the fall of 2011 without much hubbub but make no mistake, he’s the one that pulled Texas’ rival the Oakland A’s into the Garza talks this weekend after the initial conversations with the Rangers fell apart on Friday, and to no one’s surprise the Rangers came back to the table ready to deal a few days later to keep the best pitcher on the market away from the team ahead of them in the standings.  Well played Jed, well played indeed.

  • So with Olt now on board what does this mean for Kris Bryant and the rest of the infield?  The Bryant concerns are still a bit unwarranted as he just got promoted to short season Boise today meaning he has four more levels of minor leagues ahead of him (which admittedly he should move through quickly).  At best he’s a late call up next season so as to delay his major league service time clock as long as possible, particularly with Scott Boras as his agent.  In the meantime, despite Olt being sent to AAA to begin with I believe his arrival has several ripple effects throughout the organization. 

To begin with I think Cody Ransom’s days as the right handed portion of a platoon at 3rd base with the big club are numbered.  Ransom is roster fodder and basically is the “replacement” in the Wins Above Replacement stat (WAR).  I think by mid-August Olt is playing the majority of 3rd for the big club with feel-good-story Luis Valbuena moving more to a utility roll across the infield or perhaps even moving to 2nd base full time if Darwin Barney gets moved.  That’s right, I said it.  While a clubhouse darling and a fan of management, I wouldn’t put moving Barney past the front office in the next few weeks as he’s a valuable piece on a contending team but not a cornerstone to build around for a ballclub in the Cubs position.  With Logan Watkins ready to take his place at AAA and Arismendy Alcantara a star in the making at AA, Barney is more valuable in what he can return via trade as opposed to what he brings to the field each day in Chicago.         

  • Are the Soriano rumors true?  Is July 2013 the proverbial Godfather baptism scene for the Cubs and their bad contracts?  I don’t want to jinx anything here but I’m inclined to believe they are.  As I write this Theo and Jed had headed to Arizona to reportedly sit down with Soriano and layout the scenarios that are available to him in trade as he has 10-5 rights which allow him to block any deals (as he did last summer to San Francisco).  First of all, they’re going to meet him in person which is both classy and the right thing to do.  Secondly, I think his most recent hot streak (which I think is ending but shhhh… don’t tell anyone) came at the perfect time as he appears to be one of the more potent bats on the market.  I hope that this can work out for all parties allowing Soriano to move on to a team still competing for the post season and allowing the Cubs to keep Junior Lake on the big league roster when David DeJesus returns.
  • What’s with this Junior Lake character?  If you’ve watched the Cubs since they reconvened from the All-Star Break you may have noticed an odd sight in centerfield.  Roaming around out there is a tall speedy manchild that can run, throw (best positional arm in the minors in all of baseball), field (he’s a C+/B- at 4-5 positions), hit for average, and hit for power.  He’s legitimately the first five tool player the Cubs have had since the hype of Corey Patterson left town.  Now the scoop on Lake is that he’s more athlete than ballplayer as evident by: A) his double and steal of 3rd on the first two pitches of his Major League career, B) his two bunt singles sandwiched around a monstrous homerun on Monday night and, C) his airmailed throw home from center that hit the netted backstop in Denver on Sunday allowing the winning runs to score.  What he does provide that’s incontrovertible is a spark and a reason for a weary fanbase to tune in every night.  He’s the first Cub in a long while that is energy personified, making you want to watch the games just to see what he does next.  Lake came out of the Dominican Republic at the same time as Starlin Castro and the two are best friends off the field.  Some part of me wonders if his promotion has something to do with keeping Castro happy due to the impending loss of Soriano noted above – but that’s just pure speculation.  As for the Cubs fans who have fully embraced the five game sample size that is Lake (guilty), I suggest we all collect ourselves and wait to see how he looks when the league starts throwing him breaking balls and making him adjust at the plate.  Again, I think that when all the big name prospects begin to arrive in 2015 Lake becomes the utility player who can fill in at 3rd, SS, and across the outfield on a night to night basis.  Not a bad tool to have in the toolbox for the organization.  Until then however he’s been a fun jolt to an otherwise boring race to the bottom once again.
  • Who else is on their way out?  I would not be surprised to watch Kevin Gregg & Dioner Navarro pack their bags in the next nine days along with the aforementioned Soriano and potentially Barney deals mentioned above.  Nate Schierholtz probably belongs in that group as well.  None of these guys would entail an industry rattling deal as Garza did but that’s ok.  If they turn into a flawed low level prospect with potential that’s all the Cubs can ask for.  The one guy who could move the needle would be Jeff Samardzija.  While serving as the Cubs defacto ace this year I have my doubts that his name will ever seriously be considered in a Cy Young race.  If the Cubs can turn him into a real top of the rotation pitching prospect or two I think they would have to seriously consider it.  Samardzija is 28 years old with two years of a cheap contract remaining which is appealing to other clubs, while he also has not shown any sign of willingness to take a hometown discount when that contract expires.  One could argue that his value is at its peak currently and if the Cubs want to make one more big splash this summer this would be where it comes from. 
  • One more big splash?!  How much water is in this pool?  As my final bullet I just wanted to take note of the job the Cubs front office has done keeping the team in the spotlight this summer.  In yet another down year where fans have been slow to reach for their wallet in paying admission at Wrigley, primarily due to a less than memorable product on the field, the Cubs have remained in the public conversation as well as any sub-.500 team in my memory.  From making an intriguing move taking Bryant in the draft (a whole column needs to be written on their exploiting the market inefficiency in collecting power bats which are harder to come by in baseball than pitching these days – the collection of Baez, Soler, Olt, Vogelbach, etc. put the Cubs leaps and bounds beyond any other organization’s stockpile of hitting talent), getting two of the top three international prospects by working outside the rule book, making the Feldman trade, making the Garza trade, getting the Wrigley deal pushed through, etc. the Cubs continue to dominate the headlines.  I’m sure the business side of the Cubs organization cannot be more thankful for the interest Theo and the boys continue to generate without the advantage of actual victories on the field. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again but I could not be more in-line with what the Cubs are doing and I adamantly do not want them to go out this off season and spend gobs of money just for the sake of doing so (and potentially blocking a prospect on his way up).  The Cubs are doing this the right way and people are taking notice.  When they get good in the next few years (by 2015 they’re competing for a wild card at least) it’s going to be with the kids we’ve been watching grow up in front of us and it will make the celebration all the sweeter.  In the meantime it’s been a pleasure to watch the process play out in front of us as the new Cubs Way hopefully proves to be THE way professional sports organizations of all kinds model their own re-construction going forward.               

I mean seriously, you have to feel the momentum starting to take a hold here.  How can you not want to jump aboard this bandwagon?  Tickets are still available…