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mike olt iowaThere came a point last summer when Mike Olt had no idea what was going on with his eyes.

As if his struggles at the plate weren’t enough to dishearten him, now his body was failing him. While with the Texas Rangers, Olt went to numerous specialists without any conclusive results before finally being shut down towards the end of April.

“It was scary and frustrating,” Olt said of what turned out to be a tear duct issue that caused his eye to dry and impair his vision. “[Texas] did a great job of letting me see as many doctors as I could. I knew something was wrong and they knew something was wrong. They knew it wasn’t me. So they did everything they could. It’s crazy how it works out, it ended up being my allergies.”

Allergies? Could someone who came into the season as a top 25 prospect really have his career nearly derailed by allergies? According to Olt, that was the underlying problem, but it was a little more complicated that just allergies.

While playing in the Dominican Winter League after the 2012 regular season, Olt got hit in the head and experienced concussion-like symptoms.

“[The apparent concussion] may have tampered with my tear ducts and it wasn’t able to flush out my allergies,” Olt recently shared. “I’ve had allergies my whole life. Once we figured that out, it was something I’ll never forget. All that stress went away and it’s been all uphill since then.”

Olt, who was part of a package the Cubs received in return for Matt Garza last July, said he has a prescribed eye drop that’s geared specifically to take care of his allergies and he’s taken them once daily for the last month and a half. Olt added that, when doctors recommended his problems were possibly allergy related, he struggled to see how something seemingly so minor could cause such major problems. However, once he finally bought in and started trusting his doctors, everything changed.

“In the offseason is when we really figured out that the main cause was allergies,” Olt revealed. “Once I figured it out, it’s been smooth sailing. I talked to Theo [Epstein] after the season and he was unbelievable. He said, ‘We’re going to figure this out and by next Spring Training the only concern will be getting out there and playing baseball.’”

Olt said there was a lot of misinformation about his issues thrown around during the summer. He never underwent any surgical procedures, and, while he thought he’d found a solution during the season, he stopped taking the eye drops and the problems resurfaced.

“When I came back, I felt like myself,” Olt said. “When I stopped the eye drops, I noticed it was coming back and I got frustrated. [After being traded], I went to Iowa and it was a tough area for me [allergy-wise] and I just wasn’t keeping my eyes lubricated.”

Olt confirmed that at one point he was using some stronger drops that the doctors recommended he stop using because it was only a temporary solution.

“At the time I’d lost track of applying the eye drops in general,” Olt said. “The thing I have now, it’s really treatable with eye drops. As long as I can keep my eye lubricated, I’ll be just fine. Basically everything that’s happened and trying to figure out what’s caused everything, it’s all irrelevant, as long as I keep my eyes lubricated, I’m back to my old self.”

After posting a .288/.398/.579 line with a 24% strikeout rate at double-A Frisco in 2012, Olt’s numbers dipped dramatically in 2013. Between three leagues and two levels, Olt delivered a .684 OPS with an alarming 30.6% k-rate last season. But Olt was adamant that it wasn’t a deterioration of skills that caused his 2013 woes. It was all the eye issue.

“You don’t just forget how to hit. I’ll be back to my old self,” Olt reiterated. “I’m excited for the challenge and I’m excited to be with the Cubs.”

And the Cubs are no doubt excited to have Olt, especially if he can bounce back to his top prospect form. Someone who was nearly untradeable in previous talks, had suddenly become an afterthought to C.J. Edwards in the Garza trade. At the moment, the front office is taking a cautious approach with Olt, not putting too much pressure on him to instantly perform at his previous level while remaining hopeful that his eye problems are truly a thing of the past and that they were the only reason for his struggles.

Rick Renteria and the front office point to a platoon of Donnie Murphy and Luis Valbuena being perfectly acceptable at third (and it very well may be). But, make no mistake, they’d be overjoyed if Olt came into Spring Training with his 2012 swagger and dominated March, firmly staking his claim to the third base spot for the immediate future.

But Olt isn’t heading into camp with any unrealistic expectations.

“I’m here just to go out there, and if I can help the Cubs and perform at that level, that’s obviously my goal,” Olt said. “Theo and everyone have a plan, and they’re not just going to give jobs to anyone. So it’s going to be a lot of hard work and we’ll see what happens. I have a better shot than if I were with Texas [with Adrian Beltre firmly entrenched at the hot corner]. But it’s still going to be a really hard job to win.”

What could Olt look like at the Major League level if he’s going right? Make no mistake, there will still be a lot of strikeouts from Olt, but think more of a 25% rate, rather than 35% (the Major League average last year was 19.9%, and it’s on an upward trend as strikeouts are at an all-time high in baseball) and an average that hovers in the .250-.260 area. But that’s perfectly acceptable when you consider that he can bring 25-plus homer potential, a respectable on-base percentage and average-to-plus defense at third. Add that all up and it’s a borderline all-star and another valuable asset added to an offense that is so desperate for a jolt. Obviously, the downside is quite different. Think Brett Jackson in 2012 without the benefit of plus base-running and up-the-middle defense.

If Olt can somehow revert to his old form, the Cubs could find themselves in an enviable situation. First of all, it could move the Valbuena-Murphy platoon off third and possibly supplanting Darwin Barney at second (while the defense would likely suffer a bit, the upgrade in offense would be a welcome addition to a team that was second to last in runs per game, OBP and OPS+ in the NL). Secondly, there would be a tremendous amount of depth at third base, with defensive-whiz Christian Villanueva knocking on the door at Iowa and all-world talent Kris Bryant hopefully forcing himself into the conversation come mid-summer. The Cubs would have an abundance of talent at one position.

While it would be a hard decision to make with regards to whom to move, if all are performing well, it’s a decision the Cubs would be happy to make. The point of accumulating a surplus of assets is to eventually have to make these hard decisions, hopefully leading to shoring up other areas of need.

Of course, these things aren’t on Olt’s mind; he’s rightfully fixated on one goal.

“The only thing I’m trying to focus on is baseball,” Olt said. “The trade rumors from the last couple years, it’s all irrelevant. As long as I can just do my job, that’s what helps me sleep at night. Everything else will just fall into place.”

Photo courtesy Dylan Heuer

  • Jason P

    You can probably cross one name off potential Cubs pitching targets in the 2015 FA class. Jon Lester said today that he’s eager to take a hometown discount to stay with the Red Sox.

    http://espn.go.com/boston/mlb/story/_/id/10340797/jon-lester-wants-remain-red-sox-take-hometown-discount

    If Lester and Kershaw are already off the list, that leaves just Bailey, Masterson and Scherzer as TOR free agents in 2015. Of that group, only Scherzer’s a true #1. And it’s a fair bet at least one of them signs an extension between now and next offseason.

    Even though having a #1 starter isn’t a necessity to win a World Series, it sure would help.

    • Jon

      Max Scherzer
      Justin Masterson
      Homer Bailey
      James Shields(will be 33! )

      • Kyle

        Scherzer said today he’s hopeful he can get an extension done with Detroit before the season starts.

        Bailey is the only one I can see us interested in, hitting FA at 28. If he has a good year, though, he won’t be remotely reasonably priced (by some people’s definitions of reasonable).

        • Jason P

          That’s why it’s important that we extend, and not trade, Jeff Samardzija. Top of the rotation talent is virtually impossible to acquire without it being either A) old or B) really expensive.

          Samardzija can be reasonably projected as a borderline 2/3 going forward. If we wait until the trade deadline and Samardzija’s still the same pitcher he has been the last 2 years, he should be willing to accept something in the 5/85 range.

          • Kyle

            My concern is that 31-year-old Jeff Samardzija, when our window open, won’t be TOR.

            • Jason P

              I guess it depends on whether you buy the “young arm” argument.

              Personally, I do because his velocity hasn’t followed the typical aging curve. Most pitchers have already lost about 1.5 mph off their peak velocity by their age 28 season. Samardzija was down only 0.6 last year. That puts his arm in the 26-27 year old range.

              http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/pitcher-aging-curves-starters-and-relievers/

          • CubFan Paul

            “Samardzija’s still the same pitcher he has been the last 2 years, he should be willing to accept something in the 5/85 range”

            5/$55M range, I hope you meant (especially if he’s the same pitchers he has been the last 2yrs)

            • Adventurecizin Justin

              What? Those are impressive numbers for someone in his first 2 years as a starter while pitching for poor teams. 5/55 is lowballing, imo. Heck, Scott Feldman got 3/30…so, I don’t blame Shark for waiting out an extension.

              • twinkletoez

                Its not lowballing because he isn’t a free agent and wont be for 2 more seasons. They are buying out his arbitration years and extending 3 years. 5/55 is very reasonable.

                • CubFan Paul

                  exactly.

                  • Xruben31

                    In all reality, baseball is a business and no matter what the Cubs are going try and get the best deal possible. That doesn’t mean they won’t offer more money eventually, but they’re challenging him to earn more money.

                    • CubFan Paul

                      “That doesn’t mean they won’t offer more money eventually”

                      I doubt it. Jeff is a controllable asset. If he doesn’t want to sign the 5/$55M that’s on the table he’s gone.

                      Anymore than $11M-$12M AAV defeats the purpose of the extension (of a guy w/2 years of control left)

                • Adventurecizin Justin

                  Considering guys are getting 15MM in arb years, it is very unreasonable.

                  • CubFan Paul

                    “Considering guys are getting 15MM in arb years”

                    Yeah, relative to what they made in previous years and more than likely being a Super Two.

                    Shark didn’t make big money in previous years & is not a Super Two.

                    Nor is Shark a free agent so, Market Value is irrelevant in his case.

          • Voice of Reason

            Jason p:

            I’m all for extending top of rotation guys. The problem is shark doesn’t fall into that category.

            • Adventurecizin Justin

              200 innings & 200 K’s in his 2nd year of starting is potentislly what then?

    • jp3

      I will say that signing 2 of those guys if they think we could compete next year with a little help probably isn’t out of the question ASSUMING we would spend the necessary funds to make it happen. I believe signing 2 in the same offseason with a top 10 protected pick would be a genius move. We would just lose a 2nd and 3rd rounder right?

      • jkt

        Last year they took Rob Zastryzny with their 2nd round pick. I keep seeing his name pop up as a guy to watch out for. This is the kind of guy that the front office wants to control for a long time – I agree that there’s an inefficiency there but my feeling is the team values what you can get with that 2nd round pick very highly.

        • Kyle

          Going from ‘minor leaguer to watch out for’ to “actually useful MLB piece” is a loooooong path.

          • jp3

            I agree totally, while Z man looks fairly promising, to what degree would we be happy how successful he is? Would you bet he ends up better than Bailey, Scherzer? I’ll take the certainty of either but I understand the positives in cost controlled players but it doesn’t matter if they end up like Bobby Browline or Mark Pawlecik?

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

              I’d happily give up a second round pick to land someone like Scherzer or Bailey next winter.

              I’d have to think longer about it before I’d do so to land Jiminez this winter.

              • jp3

                That’s exactly what I’m thinking too. Please say our youngsters look promising enough next offseason to give it a go. On the bright side if guess we’ll suck so bad this year we’ll be in an excellent position for FA compensation to not do a lot of damage.

  • wasssssup

    Did anyone see we have half a HOFer!!

  • ruby2626

    Sick of Samardzija and talk of him being a TOR guy, I know he wants to get paid like one whether he pitches like one or not but I believe it’s doubtful he ever becomes one. Was anyone surprised that he has the largest gap in arbitration eligible Cubs although as a percentage Barney might beat him.

    I’m sure I’m repeating what other callers have said but the Matt Garza trade has the potential to be as one sided as one you’ll ever see. The new regime has made some bonehead moves but that trade and the one sending Feldman to Baltimore have steal written all over them.

    • Jason P

      Based on FIP, Samardzija already was a borderline 2/3 last season. He was 57th among 128 starters with at least 120 innings.

      Based on xFIP, he was actually a very strong 2 and borderline 1, ranking 27th among that same group, but I think that probably overstates his value.

    • Jason P

      In case you were wondering, his WAR was 47th. So about that same range.

  • Diehardthefirst

    Interesting tidbit is that Ian Stewart just picked up by a team — wonder if he didn’t puss off Theo that he would be starting 2014

    • TWC

      [img]http://www.sherv.net/cm/emo/word/bla-bla-emoticon.gif[/img]

    • CubsFaninMS

      Did he tweet that?

  • Ivy Walls

    Cubs need a few roster breaks. If Lake can stick in LF and the Cubs can move Valb-Murphy to 2B while playing Olt regularly where Olt hits with some pop in the 7th hole it would change a lot of complexion of the club. If that could hold to when Alcantara and Baez ascend it could be super. If Olt holds at 3B then that forces the hand of the Cubs, is Castro back to 2010 production with better defense than it forces something. Actually I think Olt moves to LF if Baez comes up and Lake platoons with Schierholtz until he is traded. That leaves Bryant to fight for RF, Soler. Or Olt gets traded.

    • Danny Ballgame

      I think that Olt’s glove would force a Baez/AA move

    • cubsnivy56

      Brett: thank you for providing this great site, which thanks to you and the incredible baseball and other worldly knowledge of the posters here has me addicted to this site.

      I may not have the skill level of many of you but tell me I am wrong.

      2014 brings in Olt as our starting 3rd baseman to start the season.
      By mid -season Alcantara (compared to Jose Reyes) is up and is our starter at 2nd base.
      Our infield right now looks pretty damn good………………but wait
      Baez is ready to go by mid-season 2014 Castro and Barney are traded for top level pitching prospects (or Homer Bailey with whatever add on’s as needed (dreaming)). Now our infield has a nice mix of defense, pop, and speed up the middle. Two middle infielders that can swipe a base, be still my beating heart!
      2015 brings Bryant to LF, Almora to CF, and Soler to RF.
      Are you feeling me here?
      Obviously I have my rose colored glasses on and I don’t have the pitching figured out………………..but the position players have been the bigger weakness, and I believe that is about to change!
      Ok, tear it up………

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

        Baez should beat Alcantara to the majors, Almora might be a stretch for 2015, and I don’t see the Cubs dealing Castro in division.

        But other than that, sounds reasonable.

        • cubsnivy56

          Yeah, that was kind of a “homer for Homer”. The Reds have Cozart and may not see Castro as a big upgrade. I do believe that with the high ceiling for Baez, and our substantial infield prospects, Castro will be traded. I hope he has a great start to the season and he nets us top level SP talent!

          • baldtaxguy

            I’m suspecting (hoping) that the 2014 Castro gives people a reason to stop discussing trading him.

  • brainiac

    here come the AAA players. cross your fingers that they’re the next 1980s oakland A’s home spun, minus the roids, or we are in for a world of shit, and a lot of inappropriately rosy theo PR, for another 5 years.

  • dan77

    if Olt produces Castro is gone for pitching help

    • Xruben31

      That’s not a smart assumption.

    • Thiscantbegood

      Where do you come up with that? Why would Olt kick Castro out of SS? Baez would move to 2nd or Castro could move to 2nd and Baez could play SS. Olt has nothing to do with, if Castro stays or goes.

    • Voice of Reason

      Olts success will have absolutely no bearing on castros future as a cub.

  • Beast Mode

    I’m sure Brett will have a post on this in a while, but did you guys see that Maddux chose not to choose a logo for the HOF. I really thought for sure he would have chosen the Braves but I guess he really did like Chicago.

    • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

      Yeah that’s strange I didn’t even know that was allowed.

    • baldtaxguy

      That was a thoughtful decision on his part, having that as a consideration.

    • Rebuilding

      I think it’s a nice gesture to Cubs fans, but sort of a strange decision. He will always be remembered as a Brave, unfortunately

  • Rebuilding

    Yankees Pitcher Forfeits Over $12 Million; Will Pay $90 Million in Taxes

    “Had Tanaka chosen a contract with the Diamondbacks or the Cubs, he would have saved almost $12 million over the life of his contract. Instead, Tanaka chose New York, where the state and local rates are some of the highest in the country. By choosing to sign with the Yankees, Tanaka automatically forfeited almost $12 million in taxes that would have been saved had he signed with the Cubs or Diamondbacks.”

    • baldtaxguy

      I had wondered about this, but assumed the $155 included a touch of gross-up for the higher marginal tax rate.

    • Jon

      That doesn’t make any sense, that is assuming Chicago offered the same salary as the Yankees, by which all accounts they didn’t. So how does he come out 12 miil behind when the Yankees offered ~30 million more?

  • Ron Bar

    Castro for Price. Price is the same age as Shark. Bring up Baez to start the year. Sign Balfour. Should Have Taken Garza Back. Now he’s a Brewer?

    • Chad

      Castro for Price is unrealistic from the Rays stand point right now. Garza was not going to be back, even at an even further discounted price.

    • Voice of Reason

      Eventually the cubs are going to have to add a solid starter, but there is no way I’m trading anyone for price. Once u give up one of the big 4 then you have to sign him to a monster extension.

      Why give a prospect and commit so much money to a pitcher who has had arm trouble? Arm trouble on his pitching arm. No way!!!!!!

  • Ron Bar

    So toss in a prospect. Price is right!

    • Xruben31

      Why would the Cubs do that? There is no long-term value there unless they want sign a 180 million+ contract extension to a pitcher that has recent injuries. I also think Castro is way too valuable to throw away for 2 seasons of Price.

      • Ron Bar

        Throw away? David Price is What You wish Kerry Wood was. He’s won 10, 20, 19, games in past four seasons. 10 wins last yr and he only pitched half of the season. 69 wins in 4 yrs? That’s what the cubs need. You were probably boner up for tanaka right? So you pass on Price and gamble on a guy who played in the Japanese baseball league last yr? If you plan on winning playoff games at this level you need 2 David Prices.

        • Ron Bar

          Castro has blown more games w his glove than tanaka will win this yr. bet you price wins plus 15.

  • Ron Bar

    Storen for Nate. Has more long term potential.so much for Balfour he signed w Tampa

  • Fastball

    If Olt works out for us at 3b I don’t think we need to worry about trading what we think is depth at 3b. This teams recent run of luck and track record on health and injuries would mean something to me. Why it’s thought you have to move someone just because we finally have depth at a position is beyond me. We should try to get Homer Bailey he has become what we wish Shark could be.

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