Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

old stove featureJuly approaches quickly …

  • Theo Epstein confirms that, yes, the Cubs will be looking to improve the team this year, as they are “clearly in contention” (CSN). And which area did Epstein tell Patrick Mooney was the primary concern? I’d think it’s no surprise: starting pitching depth. And, although he didn’t say so explicitly, I think you can do a little extrapolation there and add “high quality” to the starting pitching depth part. That is to say, the Cubs actually have a ton of pure depth – they’ve got two starters in the bullpen (Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood), one starter rehabbing at AA and just about ready to return (Jacob Turner), and a number of AAA depth types (Dallas Beeler, Donn Roach, Eric Jokisch (when he’s healthy)). What the Cubs don’t have is high-end starting pitching depth that could step in if the team loses one or more of its front two or three or four starters, and not cause the team to fall way back. Few teams do have that kind of depth, of course, but the ones that do have it in the form of top prospects – guys they are content to keep at AA and AAA for now until/unless an opening arises. The Cubs’ top upper-level pitching prospects are probably Carl Edwards, Jr. and Pierce Johnson, but the former is now a reliever and the latter is just now beginning his season after a long injury recovery.
  • So, that is all to say: when Epstein says the Cubs’ primary area of concern is starting pitching depth, I take that to mean that the Cubs will be looking to add a very good starting pitcher by July 31 (if the right opportunity presents itself, of course), rather than merely adding another pure depth piece.
  • Kinda speaking of which – but not making any pronouncements – Cole Hamels was scratched from his start today with a “mild right hamstring strain.” My guess is this is very much like Ryan Dempster’s lat “injury” back in 2012 (almost to the day, actually), when everyone knew he was a key trade piece for the Cubs, and, although he probably was feeling some legit tightness, the Cubs didn’t want to risk any kind of real injury. Hamels’ hamstring probably doesn’t feel perfect, but probably isn’t totally jacked up, either. Playing it safe is smart.

  • For his part, Hamels took the opportunity to have a little fun with the media, cleaning out his locker entirely, removing his nameplate, and making many think that the scratch was actually in anticipation of a trade (CSN Philly).
  • Buster Olney says the Phillies are making a strong push to trade Jonathan Papelbon. We heard last week that the Phillies had most recently had talks with the Blue Jays and Cubs on Papelbon, but I’m not sure the Cubs are going to rush into a deal for him – unless the price is just too good – with guys like Neil Ramirez and Rafael Soriano on the way, with Jacob Turner coming back soon, and with Yoervis Medina just called up. Don’t get me wrong: I still think the Cubs could use another sure-thing arm in the pen, and I also still think Papelbon makes the Cubs better. I just think the Cubs could probably now stand to let this play out a little bit before making a decision.
  • Speaking of those talks, Nick Cafardo hears that the Phillies want lefty Daniel Norris from the Blue Jays for Papelbon, presumably depending on how much salary the Phillies eat. Norris, 22, was a top 30 prospect in all of baseball coming into the season, and, even if he’s not been lights out this year between AAA and the bigs, that seems like an awful lot to give up for Papelbon, even if the Phillies were eating a ton of salary. However you translate Norris into a Cubs prospect or a Cubs prospect package, it would be too much for the Cubs to give up. Readjust those expectations, Phillies. (Cafardo adds that a Phillies executive said, “Why wouldn’t you want Ben Revere? Not many guys can steal 50 bags [49 last year], lead the league in hits [184 in 2014], and give you decent defense.” If you’re selling a guy based on “lead the league in hits,” then it becomes very easy to see why the Phillies have trouble properly valuing their own talent in trade.)

  • One more on Papelbon:

  • Olney added, by the way, that some believe the A’s are going to be willing to move Scott Kazmir (who could make a lot of sense for the Cubs as a rental) sooner rather than later. On the starting pitching side, it’s conceivable that there will be a large number of options available by the end of July (Hamels? Cueto? Samardzija? Kazmir? Leake? And many more), so I could see why the A’s might want to jump it.
  • Bruce Levine reports that Starlin Castro is not on the Phillies’ radar, for whatever that’s worth.
  • Ken Rosenthal thinks the Red Sox need to dump Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez – yes, already. It sounds crazy, and it probably is, but it’s not entirely without precedent. The Red Sox did something similar a couple years ago with that massive dump on the Dodgers, and the Marlins did it with the Blue Jays a couple years ago. It’s a little unseemly, especially just months after signing both guys to long-term deals. Also, any team wanna touch those contracts right now? How much are the Red Sox going to eat?
  • Two fringe, depth starting pitchers are on the market, with Dillon Gee designated for assignment by the Mets, and Jhoulys Chacin opting out of his minor league deal with the Indians. Given Gee’s contract and diminished performance, and given the fact that the Indians just dumped Shaun Marcum from the rotation without calling up Chacin, I’m not sure how much there is here. That said, assuming Gee is ultimately released (still possible, though a trade to a team willing to take on a million or two in salary is more likely), then each would come at virtually no cost. Would the Cubs try to add one for additional depth? Not sure that’s where the Cubs’ focus lies right now.

  • And, in closing, it’s coming …

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