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The trades and signings have been coming fast and furious of late (and there are more on the way), so you’re getting a steady stream of Cubs-acquire-Player-X posts, followed by Cubs-talk-about-Player-X posts, followed by Brett-analyzes-Player-X posts. We’re onto Step Two of that process with newly signed lefty starter Paul Maholm, with varying steps remaining for guys like Travis Wood, Anthony Rizzo and Zach Cates (you’ll note that Chris Volstad has mostly gotten his due, though I’ve got another long analysis about him coming at some point). For folks clamoring for “actual news and analysis,” rather than the latest rumors, this is your time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to pore over every Cubs-related rumors…

Today, Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer spoke to the media about the Maholm signing, and also addressed other pitching items of note, including the Cubs’ efforts to retain Kerry Wood, and the future of Jeff Samardzija.

  • On Maholm’s ability: “[Maholm] takes the ball, eats a lot of innings and really has kept his team in games his whole career ….  he’s been a quality left-hander in the division for six years. Hoyer added, though, that Maholm’s talent, and not his knowledge of the NL Central, was the overriding factor in the signing. Hoyer also said that, in general, lefties are more efficient than righties, in part because of their ability to hold runners. I’d add that, because Wrigley Field plays as a strong hitters park for lefty hittes, having lefty starters on the roster can only help the Cubs.
  • On Maholm’s health: Hoyer indicated that Maholm passed his physical yesterday, and should be throwing off the mound soon. Maholm was shut down in August with a shoulder strain, after trying to pitch through it. The Cubs are confident he’ll be ready to go this year.
  • On the overall state of the Cubs’ rotation: “We’re very comfortable with the names that we have. You never know what will happen over the course of the winter, what’s going to be available to us. A huge priority was building depth and we feel we’ve done that. You can never have enough pitching; the minute you think you have enough pitching, you don’t. We’re happy with the depth we’ve built up over the course of the winter. It’s a dangerous thing to say you’re ever done.”
  • On the relationship between Matt Garza trade rumors (which Hoyer would not address directly) and the Maholm signing, which gives the Cubs six starters: “This Maholm contract, and the fact you can look and say we have six starters now, this deal is not a precursor to anything.” Maybe not directly or immediately, but I’ll say it again: I would be shocked if the Cubs broke camp with all of Garza, Dempster, Wells, Wood, Volstad, and Maholm on the roster.
  • On the roster move necessary to open up a spot for Maholm: Hoyer called it a procedural requirement that should be settled soon. The implication was that the Cubs would attempt to deroster a player currently on the 40-man roster to make room for Maholm. If it comes to that, rather than a trade, I’d guess the early favorites to be dumped (which would expose them to being claimed by another team) are pitchers Marcos Mateo, Alberto Cabrera and John Gaub.
  • On talks with free agent reliever Kerry Wood, whose future looks anything but certain right now: “We continue to want Kerry back in Chicago and we’ve offered him a substantial raise and we certainly hope it gets done.” Hoyer added: “[Epstein] and I and the rest of the people we brought in, obviously we come in with somewhat a fresh set of eyes, that doesn’t diminish what people have done long before we’re here …. [we] understand the history of the organization and which players mean the most to the fan base. And Kerry is one of them. So that is something we’re aware of, and fresh eyes are one thing but that doesn’t’ mean you ignore the rich past the Cubs have.” Substantial is an amorphous term, but clearly the Cubs are at least making an effort to bring Kerry back, and not just showing him the door by way of insulting offers. Still, Hoyer is clearly leaving open the door for a Wood departure.
  • Despite the existence of six starting pitchers already on the roster, Hoyer said the Cubs are planning to ask Jeff Samardzija to prepare as a starting pitcher in Spring Training. “I think that’s important not only for the possibility that he could be in the rotation but also for his development,” Hoyer said. “If you prepare as a starter in Spring Training, it helps with your command and with your secondary pitches. We do see Jeff as a guy who can start. With the depth, he may wind up being a quality bullpen arm for us but we are going to prepare him in Spring Training as a starter.” Again, signing Maholm may not be an explicit “precursor” to another move, but something is going to happen. I’m just saying.
  • Daniel Guerra

    I have this feeling that Garza is about to get traded….

    • Mike Foster

      Assuming you’re correct it still won’t solve the roster situation. I can’t imagine a trade for Garza that doesn’t bring a top player along, meaning the roster would still be heavy one, or two spots.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        The Cubs would likely include other 40-manners to make the roster move work.

        • JB88

          Thinking Detroit thoughts, Turner, Crosby, and Oliver are all on the 40-man roster. Smyly and Castellanos are not.

          Vitters is on the 40-man for the Cubs.

          Garza and Vitters to Detroit for Turner, Smyly, Castellanos, and a low level prospect?

      • Daniel Guerra

        Ok, how about Soriano and Garza package for Turner and some prospects not on the 40 man roster? How about them apples?

        • 100 Years of Tears

          Why not deal Wells and throw Soriano in for good measure? Obviously, it’s not going to get as much, but I’d rather keep Garza.

          • bt

            because it’s not going to get as much.

    • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

      I would be for a Garza + Vitters + mid-level MI prospect for Turner + Castellano and someone else. Haven’t dug too deep on this gem to see if it is remotely feasible but who knows.

      • Noah

        I’d love this too, but I’d doubt the feasibility. It’s still an unknown if Vitters can handle 3B defensively, and not only does he really not hit enough for 1B or DH, the Tigers have those positions set with Miggy and V-Mart. The Tigers would probably be looking at moving him to the OF, but Vitters might be restricted to LF for every day duty. How much would that bat honestly be worth in LF unless he shows significant improvement?

  • Mike Foster

    So Brett, between Marcos Mateo, Alberto Cabrera and John Gaub who do you think is going off the roster?

  • Fishin Phil

    Of the thre names you mentioned, the only one I would be upset with dumping is Gaub.  If it was me, it would be “Adios, Mateo!”

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Same. I think the Cubs will work very hard to free up a spot short of risking losing a guy for nothing, but if it’s me, and it comes to that, Mateo’s my guy.

      • MoneyBoy

        A detail – not sure if it’s relevant …. Mateo will turn 28 in April.  Cabrera just turned 23 in October.

        I’m with you Brent – Mateo is my move.

        I still hold the opinion that Byrd and Mateo to the Red Sox … compensation handled; Byrd moved.

        Still scratching my head as to how/why DeWitt is taking up a roster spot.

        • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

          The Braves have been shopping for an outfielder and have been linked to Byrd in a few reports. The Cubs could actually get something of value for Byrd at the trade deadline if not before. I’d rather not send him to Boston.

          • MoneyBoy

            Didn’t know that about the Braves, Luke.  Why not Boston?

            I thought both Boston and Washington were looking for CFs – and Byrd could give them a solid fill in – and keep WASH from starting Harper’s clock; though I suppose the same could be said in Chicago about BJax.

            And, by the way, your article today was outstanding.

            • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

              Thanks for the compliment.

              Boston could be interested in Byrd… probably is to be honest. I just don’t want him going to Boston as part of a Theo compensation deal. I think he could bring back something of additional value to the Cubs if he goes to another team (or in a separate deal to Boston).

              I suppose I could say the same thing about any player that goes to Boston for Theo-comp, but its especially true in the case of Byrd. I’d not be surprised if he fetches at one Top-100 prospect at the trade deadline.

            • King Jeff

              I’m pretty sure Boston is set in center.  If they wanted Byrd at all, it would be as a fourth outfielder.

              • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                Slash platoonmate in RF.

    • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

      Cabrera made it to AAA as a 22 year old starter. I really don’t see any reason for the Cubs to give up on him yet.

      Gaub is a lefty, and even though the Cubs are fairly deep in terms of lefty relievers, they could probably get something for him in trade rather than risk losing him for nothing.

      I think it would have to be Mateo.

  • die hard

    I cant see Cubs trusting Soto to handle this staff…..watch for trade for veteran catcher with rep for handling pitchers and throwing out runners….dont know who that is, but its not Soto…..

  • Kyle

    If they don’t think they can get a Garza trade done (that’s a very big if, I’ll grant), then they must be down on Randy Wells even more than I am.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      It does look that way. I would guess, though, that they’re quietly shopping Dempster, too.

      • JulioZuleta

        How much of the $14 mil do you think we’d have to eat to get anything of value? I’m the biggest advocate of a fresh roster on Opening Day, but I do think he’s a guy that could fetch more at the deadline when half of that contract is gone and a contender is short a starter or two. Also, with the question marks in the rotation, it’d be kinda nice to have old faithful out there turning in 6 or 7 solid innings most of the time. Also would seem to be a good leader to have in the clubhouse.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Cubs would probably have to eat at least half to get much of anything in return.

  • Cheryl

    No mention of Garza this time. It does look like a trade.

  • JB88

    Substantial is in the eye of the beholder. Hoyer could believe that “substantial” equals a 50% raise, which would still only bring his salary to 2.25M.

  • Ron

    For a GM that kept Tim Wakefield around for so many years, I can’t see them getting rid of K Wood, but you never know I guess.

    • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

      It seems to me that Epstein seems to be escorting everything to do with the old regime to the door. I don’t know if that means the old regime was THAT bad or if he is simply wanting to build this thing 100% his way, I don’t know.

      • jr5

        I don’t know if that’s the case here. Theo wanted Kerry Wood in Boston before last season, I believe he made a multi-year offer. To me it seems more like Kerry doesn’t think they’re offering enough, since he might want more to stay with an obviously non-contending team. $4 million from the Phillies might look more attractive to a guy than $4 million from the Cubs at this point. Of course he’s always said how happy his family was in Chicago, but, I mean, they could stay in Chicago for a year while he pitched somewhere else; logistically I don’t think it would be that big of a deal.

        As a Cubs fan, I don’t think Kerry Wood owes me anything. I’d be happy for him if he played a role on a World Series team. And if he ends up signing with the Cubs for 2012, I’ll be happy for that too.

    • ferrets_bueller

      That like comparing apples to oranges, though.  Wakefield is a guy who will always give you as many innings as you possibly need, wherever you need it- bullpen, rotation, whatever.  Wood is strictly a reliever, with an ongoing injury history.  On a rebuilding team, if Wood wasn’t Wood…he’d already be gone.

  • Daniel Guerra

    Bon Voyage Kerry, Arrivederci!!! Thanks for those epic memories 9-14 years ago.

  • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

    I highly doubt the straight dump someone, rather, I think they will approach the Red Sox and Padres with a list of 3 guys for their respective compensation issues.

    • Ron

      That is not a bad idea, fix two issues with one move.

    • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

      That makes sense. I’d rather send Boston Carpenter than Cabrera or Gaub, but I wouldn’t argue with any of them I suppose.

  • die hard

    Soto and Dempster to Nats for W. Ramos and ???? could fit better with new staff

  • OHBearCub

    IMO they need Woodie to at least have some kind of veteran presence in the pen. Samardja and Marmol are not what I would call stable veteran presences in a bullpen. If we end up being down to that being left of our bull pen I would think we are definitely at risk.
    You can’t call Russell at key veteran either. Unless we are getting some key bullpen help via a trade and they think that help is better than Woodie I am worried. I just don’t see how those other guys can handle the load or the pressure of the 7th 8th and 9th innings

    Sometimes Woodie can be ineffective out of thet pen but he is better than an unknown quantity. Hell I’m worried about Marmol being our closer. He was much better as a setup man than he has been at closer. Maybe they have something else up their sleeve in the works like a LIdge or something like that. I gotta believe that these starting pitchers we do have are 6 inning pitchers for the most part. so the back end of the games is going to be critical especially if we are going to have to play a lot of small ball.

  • http://bleachernation ferris

    mateo to red sox as theo compensation,byrd to red sox for two lower level prospects,that frees up two spots on the forty man,one for wood and one for the two 40 man guys we get from det. the other of course using garzas spot….i dont see theo jus giving 54 mil to someone to take soriano unless its for several lower level but good prospects…that deal may take a bit longer.

  • ty

    scouts and pitching coaches like Gaub a lot–year after year. Caridad and Marmol are joined at the hip–best buds-and Caridad told me that he would take the closer job away from Marmol if he was healthy. Mateo has a lot of up but the time is coming to prove it.

  • http://@truebluecubbie truebluecubbie

    I like the signing of Maholm. He is one of my favorite pitchers in the league so I am happy the Cubs went and got him. I don’t like the idea of trading Garza, but if they want to keep the cost down until more salary is off the books then it makes sense. Of course wanting more depth at starting pitching then trading a starter makes no sense. I’m not sure I am making sense so I shall end it.

  • http://bleachernation ferris

    id say we get more from detroit if we dont go aft turner………..id suggest……………………

    3b-castellanes,lhp-oliver,lhp-crosby,rhp-rondon…for garza and vitters

    • Matt

      I still say Turner will be the best player we can acquire. I have been saying that for over a month. Give me a deal based on him and Castellanos and I would be all over that.

    • Ryan G

      I don’t really like that deal for the Cubs. You’re getting two pitching prospects with big question marks and a postion prospect quite far away from the majors in which a lot could happen. Turner has to be in the deal for me. Turner + Smyly would the best top two we could get, IMO.

    • Mick

      NO! We’d have to get Turner, I’d rather take Turner and nobody else. We need a future top of the rotation SP in return for Garza and Turner’s that guy. We’re already loaded with 4th and 5th spot starters and that’s where Oliver, Smyly, etc. are projected in the majors.

  • Ivy Walls

    Many moving parts. Maholm showed that the Cubs are looking for lefties as an advantage not seen in Wrigley for many years. They will continue to look for lefties and might have come upon a small item, Cubs have been a right handed oriented club going back to the 60′s. Few solid lefties at the plate or the mound. Eventually look for an all lefty hitting outfield and a couple lefties in the infield plus a lefty dominant pitching staff.

    Five of the six biggest acquisitions this year to date have been two lefty starters a lefty OF’er and two lefty IF’ers. Moneyball this might answer your question on DeWitt. They are going with another lefty at 1B for the time being I am wondering if the Cubs are stalling with Detroit (Garza) to see if the Rangers close the deal on Darvish in that they might have a TOR lefty starter.

    You all brought up RedSox and I thought that the Cubs might send Byrd to RSox for Epstein in that Byrd is worth a prospect of 15-20 (WAR) and that is what Epstein is worth. This might resolve one of the 40 man roster situations. The other probably is part of the rumored Garza deal where a second player will come off the 40 man. This would relieve 3 from the list allowing the Cubs to add Maholm, Wood and Turner(?)

  • scorecardpaul

    Why are we all of a sudden wanting to dump Vitters???

    he is young, still has potential, and he is already on our team?

    • Ivy Walls

      I think Vitters stock has fallen to a bottom 10 level prospect. He has not grown as a player eventually succeeding at the level he is at, but his faults remain. He still has poor choice in waiting for his pitch to hit, (low OBP because of low walks), and mediocre fielding progress.

      The think of many including me is that Detroit has a better 3B prospect in Castellanos (more power and hitting abilities) who is not on the 40 man roster and there are reports Detroit is reticent in including him in a trade package for Garza. The idea then is sweeten the deal with a player who will probably be overtaken by Castellanos (and who needs to play at either AA or AAA).

      • DocWimsey

        Vitters is not a case of a player failing to grow, but simply another example of a player being constrained by lack of an important talent.  Vitters has no batting eye: when the ball is 10′ from the pitchers hand, he simply cannot tell where a pitch is going to be about 46 feet later.  Although a lot of people think that players improve their plate discipline with age/maturity/whatever, there are very few cases of ballplayers actually doing this.

        In short, Vitters lacks the all-important 6th tool: and a lot of people predicted that he’d fail to amount to much because of this shortcoming when the Cubs drafted him.

      • ferrets_bueller

        Personally, I prefer Baez to both Vitters and castellanos at this point.

    • ferrets_bueller

      Vitters is no longer anywhere near a top level prospect.

      When he was drafted, scouts were high on two of his tools- Hits, and Power.  Neither tool has been anywhere near advertised- he’s never come anywhere near a .300 average, and his SLG has stayed in teh low .400s, as well as his HR totals struggling to break double digits.

      Even more worrying than those two things are two other facts- his defense, and his approach.  He has show a stunning inability to take a walk.  I dont have the numbers in front of me, but its something like 60 walks in 1500 ABs.  Thats almost unfathomable.   On top of that, most reports have him not only being a poor defender, but also a lazy player.

      • DocWimsey

        Lazy is highly subjective: people often attribute failure to lack of trying instead of, well, just failure.

        However, Vitters big problem is his total lack of a batting eye.  He is amazing at getting his bat on the ball, but because he’s getting his bat on pitches that are nowhere near being strikes, he gets a lot of popups and groundouts.  He’s a good example of why being a contact hitter often is a bad thing: to make contact, you sacrifice BABIP and OBP.  And as the new management knows, outs are bad.

      • Kyle

        I think you guys are underselling him a little bit. Actually quite a bit. People are turning on him a bit partially because he’s never going to justify the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, and partially because it feels like he’s a lot older than he is because he began his pro career at 17.

        He has some real flaws, but as a 21-year-old in a pitcher’s AA league he held his own pretty nicely.

        His refusal to draw walks is going to stop him from ever being a star player, but it’s not hard to imagine him being a 280/320/450 type of hitter in his prime. If he can improve his defense at 3b to adequate, that’s an above-average starter, a 3-4 WAR player.

        • DocWimsey

          Again, we shouldn’t call it a “refusal to draw walks.”  That suggests that there is some aspect of free will involved.  Instead, we should call it “inability to recognize pitches immediately.”  Color blind people will learn to see red at the same time that someone like Vitters “learns” to distinguish balls from strikes 10′ from the pitchers hand.

          This will be exploited once he reaches the majors just like it was exploited for Colvin.

          • Kyle

            That’s a very odd comparison.

            Colvin was actually pretty solid at taking walks in the minors. The big question for him was whether he could make contact. Striking out 100+ times a year in the minors is usually a big, blinking red flag that you won’t be able to handle MLB stuff.

            Vitters’ poor pitch recognition lowers his ceiling quite a bit, but his ability to make contact and avoid strikeouts also raises his floor.

            • Noah

              Colvin was only pretty solid at taking walks in the minors compared to Josh Vitters. His career minor league walk percentage is a paltry 5.3%. His best walk rate in any stop of more than 130 plate appearances was actually his time with the Cubs in 2010 (7.6%). He never walked much in the minors. Compare his walk rates to B-Jax (13.2%) or Anthony Rizzo (9.7%), and Colvin’s inability to walk was actually one of the main factors that reduced his likelihood to succeed above being a 4th OF.

              • Kyle

                Well, yes, a “solid” walk rate comes up pretty paltry compared to two guys who are known for their exceptional walk rates.

                • Noah

                  The average major league walk rate is between 7-8%. Rizzo’s minor league career walk rate is solid, but not exceptional. 5.3% is bad, especially if you don’t have elite contact skills of the sort Starlin Castro has.

                  • Kyle

                    We’re quibbling over semantics at this point, whether “solid” means “above-average” or “solid” means “not terrible.”

                    The point remains that Colvin is a terrible comp for Vitters, and that Colvin’s inability to make contact likely had more to do with MLB pitchers exploiting him than walk rates did.

                    • Noah

                      Well, I’d agree that Colvin is a terrible comp for Vitters. Completely different players. Colvin has severe contact issues that Vitters does not have. Vitters still needs to learn what comes after ball 2.

                    • DocWimsey

                      The problem is that it’s not a learnable skill: you have it or you don’t.

                      As for the Colvin comparison, it holds: MLB pitchers will quickly learn with Vitters (as they did with Colvin) that he will swing at pitches out of the zone.  The difference is that this resulted in K’s against Colvin, whereas it will result in a lot of weak grounders and popups from Vitters.  In the end, it’s just another out barring misplays by the fielders.

            • DocWimsey

              Colvin is, by his own admission, a guess hitter who decides whether to swing in advance.  He doesn’t “trigger” based on pitch location.

              Vitters seems to be somewhat worse: he seems to just swing at almost everything!  (It is a very pretty swing, however, even when he misses by a foot.)

              However, the low strikeouts and high contact will not raise his ceiling.  Remember, he’s buying contact at the cost of a very low BABIP.  He gets a ton of weak popups and weak grounders.  These are even worse than strikeouts: at least K’s take 3+ pitches out of the opposition.

              This is one reason why I do not care about K’s as a stat by themselves.  High OPS guys usually have high K totals because they look for particular pitches and then swing hard.  This leads to high slugging and high BABIP, high walks and high K’s.  People treat these as separate, but they really are symptoms of one type of approach.  People complain that you lose productive outs, but:

              • you are more apt to get sacrifice flies this way;
              • if your team relies on “productive outs,” then your offense needs serious help.

              (Now, when guys have high K’s with low BB’s, then that’s another story…..)

      • Kyle

        That’s really an inaccurate portrayal of his minor league career.

        To understand what’s going with Josh Vitters, first, you have to discard his draft slot. He shouldn’t have been picked that high and he’s not going to justify it.

        The second thing you have to understand is that he’s been promoted extremely aggressively after being drafted at a very young age. He started his pro career as a 17-year-old.

        In his age 18 season, he hit 328/365/498 in 61 games of short-season A ball. 18-year-olds generally go to rookie ball, so to play a full season of short-season A is quite a challenge for a kid that age. He got a brief taste of full-season A.

        As a 19 year old, he started the year at mid-A Peoria for 70 games. mid-A is generally for 19-20 year olds, so he was a little young but not too young for the league. He hit .316/.351/.535 in that stint. Then he got pushed to high-A, which is more for 20-21 year olds, and he struggled mightily.

        His age 20 season is the only season that fits your description. He was limited to 91 games and hit .247/.312/.405, most of that coming in AA, a league he was again too young for.

        Keep in mind that the Cubs AA affiliate is in the pitcher-friendly Southern League, known for its many pitcher-friendly parks and high-humidity playing areas. It’s very common for Cubs prospects to have “bad” years at AA and “great’ years in the hitter-friendly PCL.

        In his age 21 season, again still a bit young for AA, he hit 283/322/448. For his age and that league, that’s more than holding his own. You can gripe about the power, but that’s a league that slugged .400 as a whole.

        If the Cubs had promoted him on a more normal schedule, it’s likely that he’d have been putting up fairly gaudy numbers at every stop and people would be drooling over him. As it is, I think in the long-term the challenges will be good for him as a hitter.

        He’s almost certainly going to be an average to above-average offensive player in the major leagues. He’s going to hit for above-average contact and above-average power to make up for his abysmal batting eye.

        The only question that remains is whether he will have a position. If he can improve his defense to adequate at 3b, he’s an above-average starter, a 3-4 WAR player. If he plays a poor 3b or an average LF, then he’s a borderline starter, a 2-3 WAR player. If he can’t even be an average LFer, then he’s a fringe fourth outfielder/pinch-hitter type.

        • Mike F

          This is a good and fair analysis. How soon people are to kick young players to the curb. Vitters is a case of a young prospect taking a more normal course and maybe having an odd fit for a position. People are too quick to throw people like Jackson, Vitters and even Carpentar to the curb. Guys like this are higher value in that everything could fall into place, because of talent, any time.

          • Noah

            I think it would be more accurate to say that Vitters MAY be a case of someone taking a more normal course through the minor leagues. It may also be that he hit a wall upon reach High A Ball and has not been able to make adjustments. If it’s the prior, then hopefully he’ll show significant improvement one of these years. However, with 1B closed off to him for the foreseeable future by a player who is the same age as him, he’s going to have to get better defensively to be an average player. If it’s the latter, he may end up being solely a backup who can handle the corner infield and outfield positions. We just don’t know yet.

            • Kyle

              If you don’t consider his 2011 season to count as “significant improvement” then you aren’t looking at it the right way.

              The average hitter in the Southern League was 24.4 years old and hit for a .739 OPS.

              Vitters was in his age-21 season and hit for a .770 OPS.

              • Noah

                Well, not to be nit picky, but Vitters’ OPS was .770. He is overaggressive and repeated the league. You can’t JUST look at age and league average. He has not dominated a league since being in Peoria, and hasn’t shown the defense to stick at 3rd. If he can improve the defense, he could have value without the bat improving. But, as you’ve admitted, he’s not an elite prospect anymore. I’m actually for not moving Vitters up to Iowa to start the season. I think the hitters’ parks in the PCL could just amplify his bad habits. Better to get those out of the way in a pitchers’ league, if possible.

                • DocWimsey

                  What also is telling is how quickly Vitter’s stock has fallen with the general scouting community.  They would make the allowances that people here crave, but they are not buying it.

                • Kyle

                  I think we kind of see it the same way, it’s just a “glass half-empty or glass half-full” sort of thing.

                  Guys with his contact ability usually don’t have too much problem moving up the ranks into the majors. They just aren’t likely to be offensive stars, either.

                  I think Vitters’ ceiling at this point is that he develops into an adequate defensive 3b and puts on a little pop as he enters his prime, becoming a 280/320/450 type hitter with maybe 3.5 WAR/year during his prime years.

        • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

          Nice summary. Keep in mind, though, that his rough season in Double A also involved a wrist injury that bugged him through much of the season. 2011 was his first healthy stint in the Southern league and, as you pointed out, when you compare his numbers to the league as a whole and factor in his age he did pretty well.

          I would quibble with the idea that he is unable to recognize pitches. I think the jury is still out on that one. He has shown recent progress in waiting for a pitch he can drive, and even in taking walks. Compare his first half numbers in Tennessee in 2011 to his second half numbers, for example, and particular to his numbers for the last six weeks or so. There isn’t tremendous improvement there, but I do see improvement.

          I wonder if his tendency to hit the first pitch he sees has more to do with the fact that he’s gotten away with it for so long. He was considered the best high school player in his draft and we know he destroyed the competition in high school. In the pros, he put up a high average for his first couple of stops despite his very bad pitch selection. He didn’t need to be more selective; he could hit virtually anything he wanted to at those levels.

          Then he hits Tennessee in 2010, gets hurt, and his numbers fall faster than housing prices in Nevada. For the first time in his baseball life (probably), he seriously struggled at the plate. I don’t think it is any surprise then, that when he showed up to camp and especially when he arrived in Tennessee for 2011 there were consistent stories about Vitters and quotes from Vitters in which he acknowledged that he had to work on his pitch selection, patience, and plate discipline and that he was doing so. I don’t remember seeing many articles of that kind prior to 2011.

          The result? Some (limited, small) improvements in those areas in the later part of the 2011 season.

          Whatever the case… whether his poor selection is due to physical limitations or success-reinforced bad habits, the PCL will tell the story. If he is unable to distinguish pitches, the veteran AAAA starters that populate the PCL will take advantage of that. On the other hand, if it is an aspect of his game that he has just been negligent in working on properly until the 2011 season, then once he adjusts to AAA ball he should start to put up some very good numbers.

          I still like the guy. I’m no longer convinced that he will stick at third base (though I really hope he does), but I think he should have a nice career as a regular player in the majors. He’ll never draw a ton of walks, but he will be hard to strike out. I’d like to see the Cubs take advantage of his ability to put bat on ball and place him behind some speedy guys in the lineup. Imagine what he could as the batter in a hit-and-run with someone like Brett Jackson on first. If he can consistently poke the ball through the right side in those situations he just might hit .300+.

          • DocWimsey

            Vitters showed zero progress in taking walks last year.  Prior to last season, he had drawn walks in 4.2% of his plate appearances.  Given that rate, and given his 488 PAs last year, the single most probable number of walks he should have drawn last year was 20.  He drew 22.  We expect that much positive deviation simply by chance alone in 30% of seasons.

            In his entire minor league career, he’s drawn only 71 walks.  That’s what I want in one season, not 3 years of plate appearances!

            As for Vitters consistently poking balls through the right side, I do not see much hope of that.  As with Colvin and so many other 5-tool only Cubs, MLB pitchers will simply not throw Vitters strikes.  (Remember how Whitey Herzog would fine his pitchers for throwing strikes to Shawon Dunston?)  Unlike Colvin, Vitters will get his bat on the ball: but his BABIP will be horrific, and what hits he will get will be largely weak slap hits to left field.  He could be Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith, Bill Mazeroski and Tris Speaker all rolled into one, and there still is no way that his fielding could compensate for that!

        • Cedlandrum

          I agree with most of what you have here, except Josh Vitters wasn’t a reach by the Cubs. He was the highest rated high school bat in that draft. There was some talk of the Cubs taking Weiters, but most figured that they would take Vitters.

          • DocWimsey

            Vitters’ rankings varied hugely from the start.  Epstein’s crowd didn’t value Vitters anywhere near as highly as Hendry’s crowd did, simply because of Vitters’ lack of batting eye.  He was a real “love him or hate him” prospect from the start.

            (For clarification, I have nothing against Vitters personally: for all I know, he’s a swell chap; however, I do view him as epitomizing the failings of old-school scouting criteria.)

            • Cedlandrum

              I don’t know who Epstein’s crowd is but I doubt Epstein himself spent anytime thinking about 1st round picks that year. They didn’t have one. A guy who I think does a pretty good job- Kevin Goldstein had Vitters going number 2 to the Royals.

              Also I don’t remember Vitters in any mock draft going lower then 5th to the Orioles.

  • DCF

    I’m not really well-versed on judging prospects, but I also can’t see the Cubs trading Garza without Turner or someone equilly MLB-ready (who doesn’t seem to exist). Acquiring prospects is all fine and dandy, but trading away the Clubs best pitcher for someone you MIGHT be blossom 3 or 4 years from now doesn’t make too much sense to me.

    I think at this point the Cubs should try everything to get Turner. It seems obvious it’s pretty illusory to think could they get even more than Turner himself for Garza (ilike another prospect worth more than a box of donuts), if anything I’d guess the Cubs might have to throw in some scrap heap prospects or money themselves to get it done. It would still be worth it to have some real #1 potential talent to build on for years to come.

    • Ivy Walls

      To detail this reasoning is a course in sabermetrics and WAR, Wins Against Replacement over the course of control. Garza represents a WAR value that equates to the minor league’s prospect ranking between 21-50, plus another 51-80 and a third of 150-200. Actually this was paid last year when the Cubs traded Archer, J-Lee and Chirinos to TB for Garza, though it could be argued that Archer and Lee were both in the top 50 in that now both are considered in the top three of TB’s system.

      Hindsight is 20/10 but I think the Cubs would like to have those players back right now.

      Secondly it appears that Detroit and then Texas are the two most serious suitors, both seeking a TOR #2 starting pitcher to complete their WS contending roster this year. Turner will not do that for the Tigers this year, or at least they are not confident that will fill the void. I think Turner will go to AAA and work on his secondary pitches before the Cubs bring him up in the season if he is acquired.

      The hold up is that the Cubs appear to asking for a Top 21-50 and two top 51-80′s where they possibly are offering some 81-100 or 100-150 prospect(s) in return.

      WAR comes in when/if Turner comes up and the Cubs have six years of service with him and if his WAR averages 4 per year that is 24WAR while Garza has a 4 now and that is only for 2 years.

  • ncsujuri

    Yeah, if you trade Garza it has to be quality AND quantity hence why noone has met our asking price yet.

    • sam

      All that is great (WAR) but when it comes down to it- need vs want . Do the cubs need to trade Garza ( salary dump) or do they want to trade Garza ( to build for the future as claim)
      and then the opposing team would have to evaluate its need or wants ….
      War is a complicated formula that only benefits the economy factor in negotiating a contract but cannot take into consideration the value and heart of any said player or environment. (which incidentally plays into a players performance as well) for example prior to Bradley exile from baseball according to the war format he would still be worth x amount of dollars but in reality his worth is zero because of his of mindset. baby z on the other hand should increase his WAR after this season value because the environment that he plays , team and manager should be able to coax him into being the a better productive player . please do not confuse War with actual dollars value in a contract for any said player its model that can be manipulated by owners and agents. its a guideline that is all -that is used to rationalize contracts and value

      Now if i wasted anybody time in this uneducated post this was just my gut feeling .
      as a fan i would not waste my time on WAR need and want is usually the driving force behind any trade

  • high_hard_one

    I’m glad Brett has plans to write another piece on Volstad. I haven’t seen any discussion of the improvements he displayed in some key statistical indicators at the end of 2011…specifically from September 1st to season’s end (some of which he began to display in August). Volstad’s Dom, Cmd, hit rate, strand rate, hr/9 (yes, an area of previous/continued concern) in that period (Sept 1st on) all were at levels that would be associated with someone primed for a breakout if they had been maintained for a greater part of the season. Couple that with his age (<27), early "success" in his first season, and his frame, there may be some upside here. Or not. I would think this is too small a sample size to make a determination. If someone could comment on a mechanical change, usage of pitches, added pitch, improvements against left-handed hitters, or any other factor that may be responsible, that would be great. I look forward to Brett's analysis/insight. This is a great site!

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thanks, but I’m not sure if you’ll get exactly that in the analysis. I don’t want to give up the goat, but it’s more of a valuation type piece.

  • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

    I’m going to jinx it, but, man, there have been some really great discussions/comments today.

    • MoneyBoy

      Really good information, complete with competing ideas – all well stated.

      Speed of the leader – speed of the team.

    • Katie

      Oh now you’ve done it. Let me get my tinfoil hat on.

    • King Jeff

      It’s really been pretty good over the last couple of days. It’s been great to read some well thought out Cubs talk when I get to take a break from studying.  There has also been an unreal amount of rumors and activity over the last two weeks.  Great stuff.

  • Kyle

    “As for the Colvin comparison, it holds: MLB pitchers will quickly learn with Vitters (as they did with Colvin) that he will swing at pitches out of the zone. The difference is that this resulted in K’s against Colvin, whereas it will result in a lot of weak grounders and popups from Vitters. In the end, it’s just another out barring misplays by the fielders.”

    That’s not entirely true. Even weak contact has a fairly consistent BABIP rate in the majors, and it isn’t terrible.

    Historically, high K rates are a huge red flag about a player’s ability to move up from the minors to the majors. High contact rates are the opposite. Lack of BBs lowers a player’s ceiling, but it doesn’t usually mean the player is less likely to make the transition.

    • DocWimsey

      “That’s not entirely true. Even weak contact has a fairly consistent BABIP rate in the majors, and it isn’t terrible.”

      This is often stated, but I think that is might be highly misleading  The one analysis I’ve seen used “ground balls” of all sorts as “weak contact.”  However, that’s simply inaccurate: hard hit ground balls actually have the 2nd highest probability of being hits after line drives.  (It still is advantageous for pitchers to give up ground balls, because the slugging on hard hit grounders is almost identical to the BABIP, whereas the slugging on flyballs is over half-again higher; also, a hard hit groundball at someone is called a tailer-made doubleplay!)

      The criticism of Vitters has been too many weak grounders and popups: and those have much lower BABIP than other batted balls.

      As for the K’s, those are a flag IF they are not accompanied by a high BB rate.  However, guys who are from the “Moneyball” (formerly known as “Weaverball” and known before that as “Stengalball”) school typically have both high K and BB totals because they are very selective (leading to taken strikes and balls) and try to drive everything (leading to a lot of swings and misses).

      • Kansas Cubs Fan

        Vitters is only 22 people. There’s time.

      • Kyle

        You are sort of misunderstanding the Moneyball philosophy.

        There are two different spectrums when evaluating a player.

        When you are trying to determine how good a player is right now and in the immediate future, you are trying to assess his value. That’s where those Moneyball-school hitters are coming in. They’ve already proven they can produce offense major-league pitching despite a high K-rate. If a guy can take walks and hit for power at the major league level, then a high K-rate is not a concern, agreed. Strikeouts aren’t completely irrelevant, but they are close.

        But for most prospects, we aren’t concerned as much with immediate value as we are projection as they move up a ladder of increasingly difficult leagues. In that case, strikeouts and contact rate tend to be highly predictive. Guys with high K rates in the minors are often operating with almost no margin of error and get exposed when they move on to more difficult levels. Guys with good contact rates and low-Ks tend to keep making contact as they move up and thus experience less attrition as they move up the levels. That’s why a guy like Darwin Barney is pretty much the same hitter in the majors that he was at every rung in the minors.

        Your idea that high contact rates in the minors is somehow going to turn into extremely low BABIP in the majors is not founded in fact or research, as far as I know. If you have any such research, I’d love to see it, but it flies against current sabermetric thinking.There’s a little bit of a difference, but it isn’t extreme. A high-contact, weak-contact slap hitter can still expect a BABIP in the .280 to .290 range. And Vitters is not a weak hitter.

        A high contact guy like Vitters is a very sure thing to be a low-attrition hitter as he moves up the ladder. He’s shown at every level that he moves up, struggles, adjusts and becomes a .770 OPS hitter (intriguingly, he had that exact OPS in his last two healthy seasons, one across mid and high A and one at AA).

        The projection for him in his prime in the majors is not going to be much lower, something like a .740 OPS, 280/320/420. His lack of improved pitch recognition and plate discipline are pretty much set in stone at this point. He might have some .340 OBP seasons, but that’s going to be his absolute peak and it’ll only come with some BABIP luck. But his high contact rate means he has a pretty high floor to go with his low ceiling. A worst-case scenario at this point offensively in the big leagues is probably something like 270/300/380, which is barely below the NL average 3b this year (.705 OPS).

        We pretty much know what his bat is going to be at this point, especially BA and OBP. There’s still some room for power to grow or fail to grow in there, but that’s about it.

        The only question now is what position and defensive ability does that bat come with.

        He still could improve to at least an adequate MLB 3b, in which case his bat would make him a very useful starter. As I said earlier in the thread, a 3-4 WAR player. Not an all-star, but above-average.

        If he only improves a little and stays at 3b but is poor defensively, then he’s a mediocre starter. You might live with him if you don’t have anyone better, but he’s going to struggle to eke out a career.

        If he has to move to LF or 1b, then you can pretty much write him off. He’s not going to hit enough to justify that.

  • Cheryl

    Sometimes its who we haven’t talked about in a while that brings about deals. How about Barney? Mateo for compensation to Boston. Barney and Wells to open up roster spots. Find the best deal available for those two. Garza to Detroit for the mentioned players and Byrd to Washington for some low level prospects.

  • SweetJamesJones

    Koyie Hill to the Cardinals? THAT IS THE LAST STRAW!!!!

    • ferrets_bueller

      THATS IT, I’M DONE!! Not only did littleTheo not bring back the “Popular” (thats a massive understatement, mannn!!!) Koyie Hill, but now he’ll be a cardinal?!?!? Spreading Cubs secrets to the enemy!?!!?  Please, Rickets/Cricketts, fire Little Theo nowwwwww!!!

      • Kansas Cubs Fan

        Haha.

      • Rancelot

        LMAO!!! Brilliant fb, but one correction…it’s lil Theo, not little. :)

      • Brian Myers

        Forget Beltran, now they have a real replacement for Pujols.  ;-)

      • sam

        i thought thats funny! esp lil theo

      • sam

        And ITS RIcketts /Crickets ( the only sound you will here in the bleachers come….
        laughing at me i find it amusing — now hurl the insults …. i am sure i have given you reason.

        • MichiganGoat

          Time to get back on your meds that wasn’t even coherent, there have been tremendous advancements in medication.

          • King Jeff

            So this is your little buddy?  He seems nice.

  • realist

    I’d prefer to let Vitters actually not succeed before condemning him. He’s 22, gonna be at AAA, if he sucks, then maybe he’s gonna suck.

    • Dukie11

      Second that motion- 22 and already being labeled a bust somehow because he doesn’t have a good eye? Many players have learned to correct that habit under good coaching, it will depend on the work he puts in and all the stats you want will not show whether that occurs or not, we will have to wait and let it play out.

  • high_hard_one

    @Brett

    You’re welcome…and I’ll still be looking forward to it (the Volstad valuation) just the same.

  • http://bleachernation loyal100more

    if the front office doesnt do something and quick with kerry wood it will honestly be a slap in the face to the fans, simply to save a few bucks… its a big deal to me!

  • http://bleachernation loyal100more

    we need kerry for a number of intangebles… he would be a great asset to the team that goes way beyond the stat sheet. not to mention what he brings the bullpen… a critical signing in my opinion… if i sound crazy to you… you might not be a cub fan!

  • http://bleachernation loyal100more

    kerry wood is the next best thing to haveing ryno in the club house. gotta have at least one guy that bleeds blue!

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