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I’ve been wondering openly for weeks now what the Cubs’ plan was in the bullpen with respect to their paucity of lefties. Right now, it’s James Russell and … uh … Travis Wood, if the Cubs sign another starter? Chris Rusin? Brooks Raley? The Cubs DFA’d Jeff Beliveau last week, so it probably won’t be him.

In short: they need another lefty arm, preferably a quality late-inning option (of course, isn’t that always the preference?).

One such option I’d mentioned in the past is J.P. Howell, and it sounds like the Cubs do indeed have some interest. Nats beat writer Bill Ladson reports that the Cubs, together with the Nationals, Phillies, Mariners, and Rangers, are pursuing the lefty. Ladson doesn’t expect a decision to come before Christmas, however.

Howell would be a quality, albeit potentially expensive, option for the Cubs.

He’s just 29, put up a 3.04 ERA and 1.212 WHIP over 50.1 innings in 2012 for the Rays, and has a 136 career ERA+ and 2.13 K/BB ratio as a reliever.

Howell isn’t free from some concerns, however – he underwent shoulder surgery in 2010 (labrum), and didn’t fully rebound until 2012. Even then, his 2012 season was far less dominant than he’d been in his pre-surgery days.

Howell is more effective against lefties than righties, but he’s better than a mere LOOGY. Pairing him with James Russell as lefties in the pen would give Dale Sveum a great many options later in the game, particularly if Russell is viewed more as a traditional setup guy than as a match-up guy.

Bidding on Howell falls into the same vein as the Cubs’ failed bids on Mike Adams and Jason Grilli, though Howell’s age potentially makes him more likely to stick around as a longer term piece than as a short-term flip candidate. The Cubs clearly would like to improve the bullpen for 2013, even thought they may not believe it is going to be a competitive year. They can try, see what happens, and move Howell if the team isn’t surprising to the upside. Quality relievers on relatively short-term contracts are among the easiest pieces to move. And, setting aside the possibility of a flip, there remains the argument that the Cubs are looking ahead to 2014 as a possible target for competitiveness. Having someone like Howell locked into the bullpen at that point would help.

  • FFP

    If we overspend on the short term, aren’t those extra dollars most W/L-effectively spent on high-leverage situation guys like this?

  • https://twitter.com/ChiTownGuido23 ChiTownGuido23

    Howell would be a perfect fit for the Cubs. At the age of 29, he could be a long term fit and grow as a smarter reliever when the Cubs are in contention. Also, he might be a pretty nice trade chip if he pitches extremely well and could be very valuable as a lefty in the pen.

    I’d like to see him here long term but either way, he would bring a lot of value to the Cubs.

  • Rich

    A good guy to have long term if he can hold up. My opinion has been to shorten games as much as possible to keep your starters from having too long of a work load and he helps with that.
    That being said why would he want anything to do with Chicago? The teams interested in him are all winning now so unless Theo and Company blow him away in terms of money I can not see a fit.

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

    No thanks. I’d rather throw a failed starter out there and see if they can’t have a Sean Marshall/James Russell type transition.

    Howell seems very…..ordinary.

    • EQ76

      what’s sad is that “ordinary” is better than most of what we have in the bullpen.

  • Frank

    The question is, does he have much more of a chance to contribute than Beliveau would, at a much higher price?

    • Mick

      I agree to the point that spending $4-$5 million per year on a situational relief pitcher seems like a misuse of resources especially when our 3B is Stewart/Valbuena and our OF consists of Soriano, DeJesus, and Schierholtz. But, if Theo is trying to build a competitive team for the onset of 2013 than a LH RP is an area of need and just plugging in a minor leaguer isn’t a great idea. Also, as soon as we can develop a LH RP Howell will make for a great trade chip.

      My question is, how long of a contract would you want to go with Howell? He’s already had one shoulder surgery and in order to sway him from signing with an immediate contender we may need to offer 4 years.

      • Good Captain

        Given circumstances as I understand them, I’d be surprised if he is getting many, if any, 3 year or + year offers except perhaps as an option or at least performance based extension. If my guess is somewhat accurate, then a 2 year deal w/ an incentive based extension year 3 and possibly year 4.

  • cubfanincardinalland

    He’s better than Thurston B. Howell lll.

    • Chris

      We can only hope Theo doesn’t try to court the Howells on a 3 hour tour.

      • bluekoolaidaholic

        If they throw in Ginger, it’s a done deal. She has to be a better hitter than Shierholtz.

        • Chris

          And the Skipper could be the Cubs’… skipper.

    • Spriggs

      …and about to become richer?

  • Sweet Swinging 26

    Didn’t he lose quite a bit of velocity since the surgery? Still put up good numbers, but he wasn’t the same kind of pitcher last year that he’d been previously. I wouldn’t pay big money but for the right price he interests me.

  • Kearnage

    I am a pass also.
    if we are not going to be competitive soon (2 years), why are we looking to spend on bullpen arms that are so unpredictable.
    They maybe easy to move (but loose a lot of value when you have to outbid all other teams with dollars and years to get the pitcher on a losing ball club) but they are too risky. they are relief pitchers for a reason.
    I like the scrap heap signings that we are making. load the triple A team with reliever arms that can maybe catch lightening in a bottle and create value out of nowhere. these signings are difficult for us because of our 40 man roster situation. I would like us to lead the league in minor league contracts to relief pitchers. Sign a lot of them to short non risk deals and see if some can pan out.

    When will we know if jeff beliveau clears waivers? How long is the process?

    • Mick

      Yea, but in order to catch big fish you have to use big bait. We can sign all the Schierholtz’s in the world but they’re only going to net low level prospects. If we can get a couple of useful pieces like a Howell, Mike Adams, Jason Girilli, etc. we might expect something better in return.

    • Voice of reason

      That’s exactly what they need to do, stockpile triple a with a bunch of recllamation projects, etc. We could have a reliever in our minors that could put up Howell type numbers. Were talking about a middle reliever here, not bob Gibson.

  • 2much2say

    Doesn’t it seem that the Cub fan is hanging on every word of a potential deal. There are no Superstars to be had only Bandaids and Theo-ade. Quite simply, It is what it is.

  • Mak

    Got to watch JP go up against Jeremy Sowers (remember him?) in the 2006 college baseball super regionals. JP and the horns crushed Vanderbilt. Hook em.

  • North Side Irish

    Howell had a .200/.306/.306 slash line against lefties last season, so he can still be useful. It’d be nice to have a second LH out in the pen and let Rusin and Raley keep starting at AAA. Plus it gives Sveum more options on how to use Russell. It’s not an overly exciting move, but one that could add value to the bullpen.

    • Voice of reason

      Having a second lefty in the pen is a nice luxury that the cubs don’t need right now.

      How will we know what we have in the minors if we sign free agents?

      Right now it doesn’t matter if they are left handed or right handed. The question for us is are they young and from our system and can they get outs.

  • Voice of reason

    Jp Howell… Edwin Jackson…. Mediocrity at it’s best. Let’s just sign some reclamation projects for a year like liriano and throw some minor leaguers into the bullpen so we can see what we have.

    Remember there is a plan. Let’s not tie up tons of money for mediocrity now. We can add a Howell or Jackson when were a player or two from really competing.

    Right now were no where close.

  • 5412

    Hi,

    I wonder if signing Howell would prompt Garza into offering a home town discount?

    regards,
    5412

  • DarthHater

    Given Jackson’s WAR – in his career and over the last three years – isn’t $12-14 million per year way too much for him?

    • brickhouse

      If you are basing salary on WAR then 12-14 million per is a fair amount

      • DarthHater

        How do you get there from Jackson’s WAR? I’m just trying to understand this. Appears to me that his WAR over the past 3 years averages about 1.5 per year. Is each point of WAR now worth $8-10 million? I’m just trying to understand this.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Actually, if you’re using fWAR and $5.5M win, it’s a steal.

        • DarthHater

          I knew when I asked the question it would end up with me having to go do a bunch of reading. Dammit. ;-)

        • DarthHater

          So, fWAR just means FanGraphs, as opposed to Baseball-Reference?

          • Chris

            Yes. Every site seems to use a different formula to calculate WAR so they’re they’re all different. I think it’s become pretty much a consensus to use fangraph’s version, fWAR, just so everyone is on the same page.

            • DarthHater

              Thanks

        • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Kyle

          Those are two good reasons not to use fWAR and $5.5 million. Sorry, pet peeve of mine has been triggered. Two, actually.

          First, I really hate fWAR’s scale. I’ve got some nit-picky issues with their valuation formulas, too, but mostly I hate the scale. It’s set with the assumption that replacement level is a 43-win team, which is way too low imo. This has the effect of inflating pretty much everyone by about one win per full season of playing time, and for some reason this effect really seems to show up in pitchers. A “3-win pitcher” is probably only actually worth about two wins over what you can find for no real investment. A “1-win” position player is essentially worthless.

          This feeds into the whole “$/WAR” idea (basically Fangraphs thinks everyone is a steal because of the free win), which I like in theory, but has another issue as well. *It’s not linear*. It’s not even close. Getting more value from the same position without expending extra roster spots and playing time is much more valuable than getting more value from a different, empty position. Thus, “decent” players are overvalued by $/WAR and really good players are severely undervalued.

          Also, it doesn’t seem to do a very good job of keeping up with inflation. We’re at least at $6 or 7 million per win now, and Cleveland’s GM opined this year that it was actually about $9m.

          peeve mode off

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            “*It’s not linear*. It’s not even close. Getting more value from the same position without expending extra roster spots and playing time is much more valuable than getting more value from a different, empty position. Thus, “decent” players are overvalued by $/WAR and really good players are severely undervalued.”

            That part’s true no matter what valuation system you use, though. I think we’ve always agreed on that – a 6 WAR player is worth a hell of a lot more than two 3 WAR players together.

  • Fastball

    Folks pitch because they don’t go after players who can make us better and then when they do they pitch that he might cost$. You want to build the entire team on a budget. We arwnt the darned Pirates or the Astros and so on. This kid is better than Russell on Russell best day. I have watched Howell pitch bullpens many times in person. Withstanding his shoulder issue a few years back he was one the best young LH bullpens pitchers in the game. If his shoulder is good we need to sign him. He is a High Quality asset that would anchor our pen for years.

    • Voice of reason

      There are young Howells out there and he might be in our system.

      Howell is not the one player to put us over the top. There is no need to invest the type of money and years that he will command. He is a middle reliever!!!!!

      I saw Travis wood pitch a lot in the minors. It doesn’t mean I want him on the cubs.

      • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Kyle

        Who in the minors is prepared to take over the role of second lefty in the pen? We just DFA’d the only guy who *might* have been able to do it, and he’s not a sure enough bet that he won’t need competition even if he doesn’t get claimed on waivers.

        What else are we going to do with the money?

        • When the Music’s Over

          Well, since I was recently reminded that I so conveniently “forgot” that the Cubs are able and willing to roll over any current saved payroll money into future years, not sure why the Cubs would spend anymore than the bear minimum this year. Which would mean that unless you already have the player under contract and can’t move him or you are reasonably confident you will be able to flip a recent/prospective free agent, why sign anyone for more than the major league minimum?

          Under this money saved now will be spent in the future guideline, any superfluous signings will only hamper the long-term competitiveness of the team, which if you avidly read the comments, is in some people’s eyes a sort of biblical quest that cannot be questioned under any circumstance.

          I’m being facetious here, as I believe a rebuild is 100% needed, but I do find it amusing that almost any dissension from the plan currently being employed by the front office is typically met with strong and often snarky rebuttals.

          Overall, unless the offense is upgraded, I don’t really see the point in spending $3-4M on a lefty reliever unless you are fairly positive you can flip him or you are signing him to a 3-4 year contract, which can be somewhat scary for relievers.

          • When the Music’s Over

            *bare minimum

          • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Kyle

            The problem with the “we’ll just hold the money” is that baseball is experiencing rapid inflation. The $10 million you save this offseason for the future won’t buy you near as much as $10 million today.

            • EvenBetterNewsV2.0

              Who says it is being spent on players if it is being saved?

              • Cubbie Blues

                Not the ownership. What was said was that the money will be put back into the organization (including FO salaries, DR facility, scouting ect.). Any money left over from the budget then rolls over to the next year and so on.

              • When the Music’s Over

                Brett mentioned that the front office has publicly stated that payroll money saved today can and will be spent on future teams.

                • Cubbie Blues

                  Hoyer said,

                  “All the money will go back into the team in some form or another whether it’s things that can help us in the future, whether it’s free agents or keeping money aside for the next free agent class. All the money baseball operations is given will always go back to the club.”

                  Ricketts’ quote is slightly different, but I can’t find it at the moment.

                  • When the Music’s Over

                    My whole grumble is that the cubs are saving a lot of money be running out a completely shit product, yet still want fans to pay tip top price for it. In the end, they may very well roll over every single dollar saved into other initiatives (including payroll), both in the present and future, but I’m also not convinced these comments are lip service to some degree. It’s hard to spend $100M+ saved over the course of 3 or so seasons – 2012 to 2014 (comparing to 2010 payroll) – without some serious large scale initiatives.

                    So far we have seen some small scale stuff and a beefed up front office, but nothing in the vicinity of what they could potentially be saving through a far scaled back payroll. Perhaps saved money will go towards large scale stadium improvements, and this rebuild is a convenient excuse to simultaneously rebuild the team and improve the stadium. They would never say that though, as that would mean they would have to tell fans that they are losing on purpose to partially help subsidize a stadium renovation. Something that certainly wouldn’t sit well, especially when the team is concurrently asking the city and state (eg, the fans) to help foot the bill of a stadium renovation.

                    I’m spewing a lot of conspiracies here, but the reason why is that if the Cubs payroll is ~$90M this year and maybe $100M next year, I have a hard time believing that the 2015 payroll could be well north of $200M ($145M + (145 – 110) + (145 – 90) + (145 – 100))*. And if they intend to spread those savings over many future years, the whole time value of money issue comes into play.

                    Of course there is the additional potential of a new lucrative tv deal in the near future (perhaps 2015 or 2016) that would further muddy people’s ability to understand whether past/current payroll savings have truly been rolled into the future.

                    *2011 – 2014 payrolls

                    • Cubbie Blues

                      You may very well be right with one of your “conspiracies”, but the $145 M is the wrong total to use. Here are the payrolls from the last 13 years. 2010 was a record year and to be using a record year as a base line in disingenuous.
                      2012: $109,316,000
                      2011: $134,004,000
                      2010: $144,359,000
                      2009: $134,809,000
                      2008: $118,345,833
                      2007: $ 99,670,332
                      2006: $ 94,424,499
                      2005: $ 87,032,933
                      2004: $ 90,560,000
                      2003: $ 79,868,333
                      2002: $ 75,690,833
                      2001: $ 64,715,833
                      2000: $ 62,100,000

                    • When the Music’s Over

                      Yes, true (cannot reply to your comment for whatever reason), but even using ~$125M as the max baseline payroll, doesn’t really impact the numbers, as I was using conservative figures when stating the savings ($100M+) or the 2015 payroll ($200M+).

                      In the end, if a team like the Cardinals can afford a $115M payroll, even in spite of decreased ticket sales, I’m going to guess the Cubs can easily afford another 20% over that, which would be about $140M.

                      Simple math ticket (not including concessions, advertising, merchandise, etc) income is as follows: Average 2012 ticket price = $46.3 for Cubs, $31.6 for Cardinals. Paid 2012 attendance = 2.88M for Cubs, 3.26M for Cardinals. Ticket sales income: $133M for Cubs, $103M for Cardinals.

                      So yes, even in an attendance depressed year, extremely high ticket prices still allow the Cubs to generate far greater ticket-based revenue than a team like the Cardinals (ignoring playoff revenue).

                      Conclusion: right now, even with depressed attendance, the Cubs can likely afford a major league payroll near the peak 2010 payroll level.

                      http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/story/21406489/final-payrolls-for-2012-released-for-all-30-teams

                      http://fancostexperience.com/pages/fcx/fci_pdfs/8.pdf

                      http://espn.go.com/mlb/attendance

      • JBarnes

        Money for a LH reliever isn’t something you should worry about with the Cubs. He’s going to get maybe $5-6M/year at the most for probly 2-3 years. Meaning at the very most it’ll be an $18M contract and those numbers could be high still. Cubs can handle that easily and do need another LHP in the bullpen. Saying lets just throw some LH minor leaguer in the bullpen for the sake of saving money is irresponsible and isn’t a smart baseball move. Howell is only 29 so there’s no reason to think he can’t help when it’s time for the Cubs to compete. Signed or not it really won’t upset me either way but your arguement for not is questionable.

    • Cubbie Blues

      Funny, it doesn’t seem like “pitch” fits in there. I think you meant to use a different word.

      • Chris

        Quit pitching.

  • Byron Browne

    Travis Wood in the bullpen? In that case should have just kept Sean Marshall and problem solved.

  • Vince

    Why is everyone so worried about spending money all of a sudden? Just a week ago everyone was saying oh we need to spend some money I am pissed with these deals and how we keep hearing players are going to be flipped. Also you guys were all saying we needed a left handed relieve pitcher. It will not cost that much to get him we have the money and if we sign him for a few years he will be hear when we are good. You always need relief pitching as you can see since we sucked in the bullpen last year. I say spend the money for the right price since we have it but I could care less about Edwin Jackson I think he is just decent.

    • mudge

      We all watched something way less than decent after the trade deadline last year. I’ll take decent over AAA.

  • Vince

    Yea I watched almost every game as well and I would take Edwin Jackson as well but I won’t be as angry about it as when we got screwed over for Anibal Sanchez. I would be happy if we got Edwin Jackson.

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