Super Bowl Sunday! I still totally dig it, even as I’m too laid up to be doing any kind of Super Bowl partying. I can still enjoy the game with the family, eat some good food, and troll people online by vociferously cheering for the Patriots.
- As we get closer to the season without the Cubs having yet added a top starting pitcher in free agency, I find myself not infrequently reminded that Justin Verlander wanted to be traded to the Cubs in August before ultimately accepting a deal to the Astros. At the time, I was very in favor of the trade, not so much because of the added 2017 boost (although if Verlander had pitched for the Cubs like he did for the Astros, who knows what happens), but because I liked the idea of the short-term addition he’d provide in 2018 and 2019 when the pitching classes weren’t as strong. The Cubs stayed involved in the trade talks until the end, but declined to make a significant offer of prospects. Now the Astros get two years of Verlander for just $20 million per year. Even if the 34-year-old declines a bit, he figures to be a useful innings eater (with upside) on a short-term commitment.
- The Cubs, for what it’s worth, were willing to take on the contract, but did not want to send over a significant prospect package like the Astros did in exchange for salary eaten. So, I suppose, I credit the front office for wanting Verlander on his deal, and perhaps they were never going to be able to get close enough in value to the Astros’ offer to get the Tigers to say yes (remember, Verlander had a no-trade clause, so they essentially told him until the zero hour that they were going to trade him to the Astros or not at all). Still, it’s a little frustrating to think that the Cubs could have had Verlander right now, and this mucked up free agent market wouldn’t be their problem.
- (Also, I want credit for being mature and not selecting an image with Kate Upton in it just so that I could put her on the site. It me professional baseball writer guy.)
- A write-up here at NBC on one of the Cubs’ forgotten pitching prospects, Duane Underwood, Jr., who is also one of the few pitching prospects on the 40-man roster. In a perfect world, he’d be one of those depth starters, who can give you good innings but can also be shuffled freely up and down from the minors. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old righty has never quite been able to perform to the level of his raw stuff, and there’s reasonable doubt that he ever well. When Luke wrote about Underwood back in May, he pretty much summed up the issues with Underwood: he has a great, live, plus fastball that is truly a big-league-caliber pitch … but he has trouble effectively pairing it with another big-league-caliber pitch, and he has trouble consistently commanding it. For that reason, Underwood went on to have a “fine” 2017 season at AA, but his 16.8% strikeout rate remained woefully small when you consider the quality of that fastball facing AA competition.
- When you’ve got a fastball every scout can tell is quality, you’re going to be dreamed on for a long time, as Underwood has. But if you can’t minimally command it and pair it with another quality pitch, you won’t even be able to succeed as a reliever. I’m reminded of Carl Edwards Jr., who has always had one of the best overall fastballs in the game, but it wasn’t until he was able to command it at the top of the zone that he found success as a big league reliever – and even that was only because he could pair it with a plus curveball. We’ll see what this year holds for Underwood, but it’s clearly a make-or-break season, and the Cubs might be quick to move him full-time to the bullpen at AA/AAA to see if he can make that role work.
- Having not added a clear-cut closer (yet) this offseason, it’s possible the Cardinals may make top pitching prospect Alex Reyes their closer when he returns from Tommy John surgery in May-ish. It would certainly allow them to manage his innings and appearances (we’ve discussed before how being strict about using a closer in “save” situations is an easy way to limit appearances, as the Cubs figure to do with Brandon Morrow), but it would also be a uniquely stressful situation for a young arm to be returning from surgery. Either way, you are reminded as you review the Cardinals on paper: they’ll get Reyes back early in the season in some role, and he’s probably going to be pretty good.
- I would so love to see him break out this year:
— Maria Torres (@maria_torres3) February 4, 2018
- That article is a great read on how the soon-to-be 26-year-old is trying to completely reinvent his body and his swing, and about how he got to this place where one of baseball’s best prospects might be a total bust. I hope it all works, and he’s incredible this year. I really do.
- I think it’s clear now that many of us underestimated Soler’s physical limitations and inability to handle breaking pitches, which I suppose is easy to do when you’re talking about the Cubs’ biggest international free agent signing ever, a hulking beast of a dude who wrecked the minor leagues in all the right ways. For me, it was just hard to accept that a guy could put up the kind of peripherals he did in the minors and then be so completely useless against big-league breaking pitches, or that the constant string of health issues were not individual flukes, but were tied to some physical development that – despite his beastliness – his body was lacking.
- With the various business side of baseball stuff bouncing around right now, I’m reminded of the Cubs’ TV situation, and what I wrote a couple weeks ago about the uncertain streaming future. Because so much of the influx of money in the game is tied to TV deals that might quickly look obsolete, and because that money is the backdrop for the disconnect between players and owners, I really think it’s worth reading now if you haven’t already. This stuff is all tied together, and if teams like the Cubs make the wrong decision in the next few years, it could spell even more trouble for the sport 10-15 years down the road.
- This exists, and we should all be grateful:
Clammy Sosa eating an umpire. This exists. pic.twitter.com/FPAfVLKw56
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) February 3, 2018
- Hey, a big sale on Amazon devices today, so you’ll definitely want to check that out. Also, Valentine’s Day candy is a Deal of the Day, so get that shopping done now:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) February 4, 2018