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theo epstein and jed hoyerI am in Mesa, gearing up to drink in Cubs Park. I’m looking forward to today’s game, but, probably more so, I’m looking forward to seeing the park that everyone is raving about. Hopefully I’ll get some good pictures and videos. If you’re going to be around, I’ll be doing the lawn thing today, so look for me milling around the outfield in my blue BN shirt and blue/yellow shoes and say hi if you see me. For the most part, I’ll try to settle into my trust right field corner seat (I figure if the park is approximating Wrigley, I’ll give today a shot at approximating my Wrigley experience … but with sun).

  • MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes takes a look at the Cubs’ offseason, and it’s just about what you’d expect: decent low-risk, low-cost moves, but not enough to put them into contention this year. Dierkes also focuses on the what-might-have-been, including the failed pursuits of Joe Girardi and Masahiro Tanaka. Thing is, though, even with those two in tow, this doesn’t strike me as a playoff-caliber roster. Once Castro and Rizzo (and arguably Samardzija) failed to take big steps forward, once the top prospects showed they could really be the kind of impact talents you don’t want to block, and once the Wrigley renovation was pushed back by another year, it became understandable to punt on 2014.
  • Dierkes seems to see 2014 as the last year the Cubs can reasonably punt, however, something with which I would agree. While I understand that you can’t put an artificial timeline on things, the downside risk of two more punted years strikes me as significant. Yes, the fans (and their revenue) will come back when the team is good, but I worry about what happens to the front office long-term if a competitive (.500 on paper in the Spring) team doesn’t materialize by 2015. I don’t want to see the band broken up.
  • Speaking of the Cubs’ offseason, one of the bigger moves was the one-year, flip-suggesting deal for starting pitcher Jason Hammel, who made his Spring debut yesterday. Hammel knows the media will be talking about the possibility of a flip all year (well, through July, at least), but he tells CSN that he’s not planning on discussing it beyond saying that he’s here to help the Cubs win. In the same piece, pitching coach Chris Bosio says you never know when things will turn, and the “flip” guys will become the “extend” guys. But Bosio notes that the team has done a good job of getting flip candidates off to a good start to give the organization options.
  • FanGraphs has a story on how the Cubs wouldn’t have Javier Baez if Jason McLeod had been in charge of the Cubs’ draft back in 2011.
  • Bill Buckner is retiring as the Boise Hawks’ hitting coach. The Cubs entrusted some of their top prospects to Buckner’s hitting care over the past two years at short-season Low-A, so it’s a bit of a bummer that he’s hanging ‘em up. Boise Hawks Radio reports that Jesus Feliciano will replace Buckner. Feliciano, 34, just ended his professional baseball career in 2013, as a long-time minor leaguer (who got a taste with the Mets in 2010), who played in Mexico last year. The Hawks also added 29-year-old Guillermo Martinez as a bench coach.
  • Kyuji Fujikawa has thrown off of the mound for the third time, and Carrie Muskat reports that Chris Bosio says there are a lot of good signs. Bosio added that there are some pitches that already feel better now for Fujikawa than they did before his injury. It’s so easy to forget that, when healthy, Fujikawa is probably a very good reliever. Having him back sooner than the originally-projected June timetable would be fantastic.
  • More on that new field data system from BP’s Ben Lindbergh.
  • Also from BP, Harry Pavlidis and Dan Brooks dig into pitch framing and make some holy-shit conclusions about the value of really good framers. This is going to be (well, it already is, but even more so) a burgeoning area of discussion when trying to value catchers. Glad to hear the Cubs continue working with Welington Castillo on pitch-framing. If he becomes above-average at that skill, combined with an above-average bat for a catcher and otherwise above-average defensive skills, and you’ve suddenly got one of the most valuable players in baseball … he just won’t look like it. Heck, maybe that’s a good reason to try and extend him now.
  • Pete Abraham hears that the Cubs have hired a full-time Clark the Cub for 2014, and it’s the guy who used to be the Pirate Parrot. Hopefully there isn’t a compensation battle looming.
  • I made a funny on Twitter:

  • Kyle

    “funny”

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      No, I test marketed it.

  • Jon

    2015 will also be a punt, because unfortunately there won’t be a FA worth a sh*t to sign, unless you want to give a 5 year deal to a 33 year old James Shields.

    • Rebuilding

      Not really. Baez and Bryant will be like adding two top notch FA and at our exact positions of need. Alcantera, Almora and Soler all might be ready to be contributors. On the pitching side Edwards and Johnson will be fighting to make the team in the Spring and will be ready by at least mid-season. We might not be a favorite to win a WC but we won’t be punting

      • Jon

        Yeah, I was going to add that, we all are going beg, plead, and pray at least 3 of these guys are the real deal. That’s the only way, because the FA market is UGLY.

        • srbutch5

          Prospects will fail. The Cubs will be lucky if two of the big 4 even contribute on the ML level. At some point, they’ve got to start buying wins. The prospects aren’t going to add 20 wins…even then, they are still in the 80’s for true talent level. 2015 might not be a punt, but it’ll be incrementally better if they don’t buy FA wins.

          • Darth Ivy

            I think that having only 2 of the top 4 prospects merely contributing in the majors is the floor. There are a lot of better outcomes that could be considered lucky

          • Napercal

            That may be true. But several unheralded players in the system right now will emerge to contribute also.

      • http://bleachernation.com woody

        Right now Soler is the one that I’m most worried about. As I see it barring injury Almora seems like a pretty sure thing. I’m going out on a limb and saying that Bryant and Baez are already a sure thing.

        • blublud

          I think they will all be useful players at worse. If you look at where they were drafted or signed, their odds are pretty good of having success. Almora is the one I have lowest. He the one of the four I don’t think has star potential. If he is just an above average, will fans be disappointed.

          • Darth Ivy

            I’m kind of expecting that out of the top 4, the Cubs will get one all-star caliber player (maybe not literaly an all star, but all star caliber), one average to above average player, one average to below average player, and one guy who doesn’t make it.

          • srbutch5

            Signing or drafting a player high/ for a lot of money doesn’t mean anything. As a Cubs fan, you should know that. There are countless prospects that have excelled in the lower levels of the minors and wound up not even being a bench player. The odd of the all 4 of the big 4 actually contributing on the ML team is probably less than 1%. Injuries happen, AAAA players happen. You’ve set yourself up for disappointment if you’re counting on more than 2 of them to be above a replacement player.

            • MattM

              I’d agree with you srbutch5. Also BluBlud I would say Soler has more of a chance than Amlora just for the simple fact that Almora is already injury prone. Hell he was out because his butt hurt!

    • Blackhawks1963

      Don’t agree with that.

      1. Samardzija either stays long term or is traded for frontline pitching prospects … either way a good thing

      2. Baez, Bryant, Villenueva, Alcantara, Hendricks and Vizcaino are each poised to arrive on shore and contribute by 2015

      3. If Baez can stick at shortstop then Castro can be traded for a frontline pitching prospect

      4. Almora, Edwards, Johnson, Black and Pineyro are probably not too far off themselves from washing up on shore at some point in 2015

      Free agency was never going to be the salvation for building the club the right way.

      • Jon

        Starlin Castro, who we will unload to become some other teams “garbage”, but, but! They will of course return us a frontline pitching prospect for said garbage.

        Makes sense.

        • Blackhawks1963

          Sigh. A resurgent Castro can be a very marketable Castro. My disdain for his lackadaisical play and likeability isn’t on trial, now is it? Just spitballin’ here…but maybe you can get SCKELLEY to share some of her medications? In between your attention grab trolling you seem to have an unhealthy twitch response to all my posts. As if the OPINION statement of an anonymous fan poster like myself should generate such violent and fervent reaction your part ! I think you take me way too seriously my friend. Relax.

          • srbutch5

            I think the point is, if Castro is pre-2013 Castro, you can find a place for him to play whether that’s SS, CF, 3B or 2B. If he actually is the 2013 Castro, he won’t be worth much given his contract. You could potentially get a team that thinks they can “fix” him, but even then, they won’t give up too much for him. High upside / high risk low level prospect at best.

          • Jon

            lol, totally calm, just trying to piece together the logistics of Castro being traded for a front line pitching prospect.

          • itzscott

            Still don’t understand why you guys are so quick to write Castro off and trade him to another team.

            The thought of a resurgent Castro + Baez in the same lineup with Rizzo, Castillo and hopefully the other prospects makes my head spin.

            Sure it’d be nice to have an ace on the staff (and I’m sure it’ll happen), but the offense that potential lineup could generate could make winners out of a solid starting staff without a bonafide ace.

            • Darth Ivy

              if there’s a surplus of infielders, I’d rather turn one of them into a TOR pitcher than an outfielder because it’s easier to get an impact outfielder via free agency

              But you make a point that I recently started buying into, that a rotation might not need an elite ace, just 5 guys who are solid. when you get into the playoffs, the sample size becomes small enough that it doesn’t make THAT much of a difference whether you have a guy like Wainwright or a guy like Dempster or Peavy. And a deep rotation can help you get into the playoffs just as well as a top heavy rotation (maybe I’m wrong about that, but that’s my thought right now)

              • srbutch5

                Plus it’s always better to have a guy that contributes every day opposed to every 5th day. I think Thoyer uses this philosophy seeing that the pitching hasn’t been upgraded to the level that the position players have in the minors.

                • Darth Ivy

                  exactly. I would only want them to trade an infielder if there was an infield surplus and they had a solid outfielder targeted to replace that bat. That’s a pretty specific situation, but I think it’s likely to happen. Seems to me that the key factor to having that surplus is Alcantara. It’s likely that one of Olt/Bryant/Villanueva will be able to handle 3B everyday.

            • DocPeterWimsey

              Just the thought of a Castro who isn’t giving away 2 strikes to the pitcher is OK by me. He’s obviously not going to be a top-of-the-order hitter: but, then, people have been stressing since Castro came up that he was never going to be a high OBP guy.

              It would be nice to get a few guys who aren’t allergic to walks into the lineup (and aren’t batting #9….).

            • Napercal

              Totally agree. A decent Castro has a shot at 3000 career hits.

  • Seamhead

    Bruce Levine was interviewed this morning on “Mully and Hanley”. Levine says both Mets and Mariners are looking at Barney for SS, and that Mets have been watching for 2-3 weeks.

    • Jon

      I think Synderguard for Barney is fair….

      • Patrick W.

        Barney has a GOLD GLOVE what does Syndergaard have? Gotta throw in d’Arnaud if you want a GOLD GLOVE veteran. :)

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    I’m glad that the cubs landed a big free agent to wear that bear suit.

  • srbutch5

    I completely understand what the front office is doing, but at some point you’ve got to get the true talent level in the ballpark of competing. Then if/when a few of the big 4 come up, the team is at least a .500 team with an outside (luck) chance of getting to the post season. Right now, these guys will come up and take them from ~62 wins to ~70 wins if the Cubs are extremely lucky and the prospects are very good.

    • Darth Ivy

      That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if they traded for a quality MLB player this season (while also trading a guy like Hammel Or McDonald as a flip)

  • Karl Groucho

    Gearing up to drink? It’s only 9AM!

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

      And your point? I think the better statement is “you HAVEN’T started drinking it’s 9am!”

      • nick5253

        You can’t drink all day unless you start in the morning.

  • Blackhawks1963

    If Mike Olt can somehow make this club then it sure seems like either Valbuena or Barney might be traded before the end of camp. Barney has got to be appealing to teams despite the incessant bashing he receives by Cub fans.

    • itzscott

      It’s not so much bashing Barney than it is that if you have the chance to upgrade a position while getting something of value in return, you make that move.

      • srbutch5

        There is a lot of organizational depth at 2B as well. Baez/Castro and Alcantara. One of those 3 will be “ready” soon. If someone wants to give you surplus value for Barney, you take that in a second.

        • MattM

          I would take valbuena’s offense over Barney’s any day of the week!

          • Patrick W.

            Valbuena has never had a hit on a Tuesday. Every Darwin Barney home run has come on a Tuesday. I know, it’s weird, but there it is.

            • DarthHater

              Sources, please.

              • Patrick W.

                “never do the work for somebody who isn’t willing to look it up for themselves to figure out it’s not true”

                • DarthHater

                  Pretty sure that’s a made-up quote, too.

  • Baseball_Writes

    Brett – You’ve gotta stop posting stuff like that. I literally laughed out loud at work, and now I’ve drawn attention to myself. Dang! Where did I put those TPS reports … ?

  • B_Scwared

    The park was great, but no one is talking about how terrible the parking is…seriously. I waited in line for nearly an hour to park. If you haven’t left to get to the park yet, leave now.

    People blast Wrigley for not having parking. This place has fields to park in but they are all spaced out and the line wraps all around so it take FOREVER.

  • B_Scwared

    Also, since you’re on the lawn and they are drawing so well this isn’t a typical Spring Training situation that I’ve heard of where there is a ton of room. You need to get there early for a decent spot. We were at the first game with 14,000+ people and then the next game at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Phoenix but at Tempe and that only had 4,000 people in attendance. That was the prototype of what I expected. Tons of room to spread out and more relaxed in general. Just FYI’s.

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