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The beginning of the end of an era
This version of the Cubs is waning and a big change is coming to your favorite newsletter
I have good news and I have bad news, and it turns out I have it on more than one subject.
First, the Cubs have pared their spring training roster down to the 26 guys who are going to go north with the team this week and, and most of our old favorites are on it. So that’s good. But the back end of the roster is the worst it’s been since the glory days of Rick(y) Renteria’s managerial reign.
When your farm system sucks, but you spend like it doesn’t, you end up with a roster with Eric Sogard, Matt Duffy, Rex Brothers, PJ Higgins and Dillon Maples on it1. In a minute we’re going to comb through the roster and figure out where it puts the Cubs as they duke it out in their very mediocre division.
Second, it’s been just over a year since this newsletter/site launched. The original plan was that it would be free for a few weeks and then I’d turn on the paywall. And then, well, I’m not sure if you guys have heard about this pandemic thing that kind of swept the world, but given the half-assed nature of the baseball season last year and the uncertainty of all sports as they returned, and with everybody’s jobs in peril (or worse), I just couldn’t do it. So I just kept kicking the can down the road. And I kept it all free for as long as I could.
Well, it’s time. On Thursday there will be a big Opening Day blowout newsletter and it’ll also mark the start of the paid subscriptions here. There will still be free newsletters from time to time, but the bulk of what gets published here will only be accessible via subscription2.
If you choose to spend your hard earned money to read this stuff, I promise to do my best to make it all worth it. If you choose not to, I get it. Times are still hard. And I’ll entertain (lightly) the idea that maybe you don’t think this crap is worth paying for. Stay signed up, though, you’ll still get sent free stuff from time to time. Much to everyone’s surprise (not mine, though) the newsletter’s been a success, and I owe that all to you guys, for reading and Tweeting and commenting and making all of this a lot of fun. It should continue to get better, so it’s exciting to see what’s next.
Anyway, back to the Cubs’ roster talk.
We haven’t seen a roster this thin since those 2014 Cubs, and that’s not great, Bob. Sure the top end talent is better than what was on that 73-89 juggernaut. You start a roster with the grown man versions of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras and Kyle Hendricks instead of Luis Valbuena (well, maybe he’s the exception), Starlin Castro, 2014 Rizzo, Welington Castillo and Edwin Jackson and your floor starts fairly high.
But what’s the ceiling this year?
We’re not sure how many of Bryant, Baez, Rizzo and Contreras are going to finish the season with the team. There’s a version of this season where they are all traded, as are Joc Pederson, Craig Kimbrel, Jake Arrieta and Brothers.
Just kidding, nobody’s going to trade for Rex Brothers.
It’s the back of the roster that’s alarming. And I have no problem with the Cubs sending Nico Hoerner to whatever the minor leagues are in April (extended spring training in South Bend?, I guess.) Nico sure looks like a guy who’s going to become a good big leaguer.
But the truth is that he shouldn’t have been in the big leagues last season, certainly not for the entire season.
Without the pandemic he was ticketed for lovely Des Moines for some much needed development. He still needs it. He was a complete non-factor at the plate for the Cubs last season (yes, like the rest of them), but his defense was excellent and with Jason Kipnis sedentarily lodged near second base it was handy to have Nico around late in games, and just how much was he going to get out of whatever the hell they were doing at the alternate site, anyway?
Regardless, people freaked out on Friday night when we found out he was being optioned because he had such a good spring.
Did he, though?
We all remember that he started off super hot. He was 7-for-his-first-8 at the plate, and if you think offensive numbers in the Cacti League can be skewed, they really are at the beginning of the spring when pitchers aren’t game planning (some are barely even throwing any off-speed stuff) and just throwing. His overall numbers were really good at .357/.391/.595. But he finished 8-for-34 (.235) after his hot start. So clearly, there’s work still to be done.
And, it just makes more sense for David Bote to start the season at second, anyway. Bote actually out OPS’d Hoerner due to his slugging (.302/.362/.628) this spring.
The Cubs kept a pair of veteran infielders, and while most of our anger is reserved for Eric Sogard, Matt Duffy’s pretty shitty in his own right.
You knew it was bad on Friday when Marquee did an in-game interview with Sogard. It was a pure propaganda move by the in-house media arm. Have Boog talk to Sogard about his cutesy socks and his nerdy glasses and how he used to be a useful player and the fans will forget that in his last two seasons in the NL Central he was basically unplayable offensively.
But check out Duffy. He’s supposedly there to provide a right handed bat off the bench and to play some third and first. Well, sure, when Rizzo misses his annual three games because a bad hotel mattress fucks up his back, I guess they’ll need a first baseman. But the reason Duffy’s only been an everyday player once in his career (2015 with the Giants) is that he can’t hit for any power.
His career slugging is a pathetic .380. How bad is that? Albert Almora’s is .398.
Hey, at least Chad Tracy had the good sense to do his weak hitting from the left side.
Duffy played in 46 of the 60 games for the Rays last year and he had NINE extra base hits. He “slugged” .327. He hit 12 homers in 2015 and has 14 since then…in 269 games.
What’s worse? That the Cubs are only going to have four bench players, and that they’re just wasting two of those spots on these clowns? Or, that they don’t have anybody clearly better?
This is where the talent erosion really shows. The 2015-2018 Cubs beat teams because they were good and deep. They are not deep anymore (and just maybe not that good).
Part of Ross’ explanation for keeping Sogard was that he’s comfortable with him playing short if needed. That’s moronic. If something happens to Javy and you need another shortstop you just throw Bote or somebody there for the rest of that game and then you call Hoerner up. Plus, we’ve seen Sogard play short.
That’s just a fluke, right?
Another curious move was the Cubs sending Brad Wieck down. And not just because it means Brothers is going to have to actually get lefties out, but check this out. Brad won the Cacti League batting title!
Michael Lorenzen and Shohei Ohtani can kiss Wieck’s ass.
Actually, his pitching and hitting had something in common this spring. He never made an out either way.3
A promising development on the roster was Adbert Alzolay not just making the roster, but the starting rotation.
On one hand, it might have been advisable for the Cubs to start the season with him in the bullpen, or maybe even the alternate site, just because the Cubs are going to need Adbert to pile up some innings and he never has, so there’s just not much to build from.
In 2016 he threw 120 innings at South Bend. In 2017 he threw 116 innings between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee. But he only threw 39 innings in 2018 at Iowa, and 81 in 2019 between Myrtle Beach, Iowa and the Cubs. Last year he spent lots of time at the alternate site (mostly detailing just how little big league teams were paying those guys) and threw just 21 innings for the Cubs. That’s 141 innings in the last three years. Oof.
So how likely is it that he can make 25 or so starts as the Cubs fifth starter? Would it have been better to have saved the bulk of the innings you can realistically expect from him for later in the year? Why am I writing in all questions?
I don’t know. I’m sure there’s a machine in the pitch lab that can calculate what Adbert’s inning increase could be. It’s probably just an abacus that Tommy Hottovy bought online for $11,000, but there has to be something.
What we do know is that the starting rotation is in dire need of an arm like his.
Without Adbert, Alec Mills would be in the rotation meaning 60 percent of the rotation would be Kyle Hendricks and two fuzzy facsimiles of him. When the other guys are whatever’s left of Jake and reclamation project Trevor Williams. This is a rotation begging for somebody who can actually throw. So, whether or not it’s the best idea, it’s an idea. Something the Cubs have been short on, lately.
It’s another reason why the Yu Darvish trade was such a disaster. Hendricks, Darvish, Alzolay, Jake and whoever and now you’re talking. But you take Yu out of that mix and put in a guy who throws a change up off his change up and well, it’s a good thing fans are coming back to Wrigley, especially in the bleachers. Somebody’s got to throw those balls back onto the field.
The reality is that the Cubs problems are basically the same ones that the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds have. Even with the Cardinals being gifted Nolan Arenado, there really isn’t a clear frontrunner in the division. Everybody’s trying to win on the cheap. So they’re all in the same boat, and this is what that looks like:
That’s also good and bad. It’s good because it’s not so crazy to think the following things could happen for the Cubs—a healthy Bryant in his final season with the team, a return to offense by Javy and Rizzo, the continued improvement of Willson and solid years out of Joc and Happ—and they win a fair amount of games.
It’s bad because it all fits into the Garbage Family That Owns The Cubs™ master plan. They just want to sell us contention, and the illusion of a chance to win something. If they can do it this year it will only embolden them to continue to do it.
It could be really bad that Joc and Jake fell into their laps after they let Schwarber and Lester go. Joc is probably a better player than Kyle, and while Jake struggled in Philly, Lester has basically nothing left4. If it turns out that the Cubs cut bait on both guys and Jed “figured it out” and replaced them adequately, Garbage Fam™ will expect him to do it again when better players walk next offseason.
The biggest determinator of their potential success this season is their pitching. They figured out the bullpen last year after a very rough start and honestly they have enough arms to do that again.
Barring a complete implosion by the starting rotation (though that is very possible) Jedward Hoyer is going to be in a rough spot come July 31. He’ll have a team in playoff contention and will need to decide whether to buy, stand pat or sell. Given the complete lack of playoff success of this group since they knocked off the fighting Dustys in the 2017 NLDS, the worst case for Jed is probably adding a useful player or two (nothing too bold) and keeping everybody, only to have the team flame out in the Wild Card Game or with another quick and painful NLDS pants shitting.
We’ll find out in six, short months.
But hey, it beats the hell out of that 60 game weirdness we were stuck with last year.
There’s a pretty solid chance that all five of those guys are demoted or released by the new tax deadline of May 17.
Monthly subscriptions will be $6.99, or the low, low, nice price of $69.99 for a full year, and there will be a 15% off promotion so you can lock in even lower prices if you subscribe the first week. So, plan accordingly.
This is the “free” version of his joke, just imagine how much better the joke will be when you’re paying for it!
Though the potential that at least part of his struggles last year were thyroid related, exists. But it’s more likely that he’s just old, now.