Lukewarm Stove: Cubs Looking for a Starter, Bullpen Plans, Miller, Vizcaino, More

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Lukewarm Stove: Cubs Looking for a Starter, Bullpen Plans, Miller, Vizcaino, More

Chicago Cubs

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Let’s talk about some of the rumors around the Cubs and the rest of baseball.

  • Perhaps a bit surprisingly, Theo Epstein admitted that the Chicago Cubs will be looking to add a starter over the next few weeks, but are still trying to find exactly the right one. Although providing cover and support (in case of injury) for the second half of the season is a priority, the Cubs will also be looking for someone who can pitch in 2017 and beyond. That said, because the Cubs aren’t dying for a starter, their desire to add one (and willingness to pay a premium) is a lot lower than other teams around the league – which makes the market a tough one.
  • In that same CSN article, Epstein addressed the bullpen, while making a fairly interesting point/prediction. The Cubs bullpen won’t be fixed by any one arm overnight. Instead, he envisions a scenario where one current member of the bullpen locks in, another member of the organization (not already in the pen) steps up, and a third piece from outside of the organization is brought in via trade. There are countless candidates for each of those roles, but that is what makes it more realistic. I don’t have any difficulty envisioning Justin Grimm stepping up big time in the second half, Joe Nathan getting a shot and running with it, while Andrew Miller comes in a supplements the back end of the pen perfectly. Those are all hypothetical, of course, but not entirely unrealistic.

  • Well, except for maybe Miller. While Miller checks a lot of boxes for the Cubs (left handed, top tier reliever, multiple years of control, long history of success), he may yet be a long shot for the Cubs. Although the Yankees remain in fourth place of the AL East (7.5 games out), they simply do not have to sell Miller. They don’t need to save the money he’s owed (which isn’t all that much anyway) and I’m certain they hope to be competitive next year, as well. For all of the reasons you want Andrew Miller on the Cubs, the Yankees do, too – especially when fellow lefty power reliever Aroldis Chapman is scheduled to leave by the end of the year.
  • At Today’s Knuckleball, Jon Heyman writes about how Miller tops the Cubs wish list and that they “wouldn’t even ask” for Dellin Betances (because of the presumed cost), but Brett already wrote about that rumor in depth here at Bleacher Nation. In the rest of the article, however, Heyman discusses another less-rumored, but still interesting bullpen piece, Arodys Vizcaino. The only problem is, the Cubs aren’t interested. Although Vizcaino finally appears to be putting things together as the closer in Atlanta (2.75 ERA, 29.2% strikeout rate), the Cubs do not wish to reacquire him. Perhaps they know something about him the rest of the world doesn’t, or perhaps they’re worried that his 13.0% walk rate, 3.40 FIP and 3.62 xFIP are an implosion waiting to happen. Whatever it is, Heyman sounds confident that Vizcaino will not be a Cub come August 1.
  • In a separate piece at Today’s Knuckleball, Heyman discusses seven early trade deadline predictions, before adding a recap of every team’s needs and expectations heading towards the end of July. Among the most notable predictions, Heyman guesses that Sonny Gray will be the best starting pitcher that’s seriously discussed, but probably not dealt, while his teammate Rich Hill will likely be the best starting pitcher that’s actually traded. This Rich Hill is the Rich Hill you remember from the Cubs back in 2005-2008, but is pitching much better now than he ever has before. Through 13 starts (76.0 IP), Hill has a 2.25 ERA with peripherals to back it up (2.57 FIP). Plus, his 28.9% K-rate is strong, even if his 9.0% walk rate is a teeny bit high. Heyman guesses that the Red Sox and Dodgers will be most interested in his services, though we’ve heard about the Cubs scouting him, too.
  • Also in that article, Heyman speculates that while both Miller and Chapman are likely to be heavily discussed right up until the last minute, only Chapman is likely to actually get dealt. For all of the reasons we’ve already discussed, that should make plenty of sense. (A random aside: Heyman suggests, unsolicited, that no long term extensions for Kris Bryant or Jake Arrieta will be discussed in-season. I just thought you should know.)
  • Although the market this year will probably never be as sexy as it was last season, the trades have begun to fall. Just recently, the Red Sox traded right handed minor league pitcher Aaron Wilkerson (who had been pitching very well in Triple-A at age 27) and second base prospect Wendell Rijo (who has been hitting … not so well in Double-A), for Brewers infielder Aaron Hill. According to Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski, the Sox have been looking for a right-handed-hitting infielder for a while, and have apparently found theirs in Hill. Although, oddly, Hill might not play every day and may be used in more of a complementary role. For the season, Hill, 34, is slashing .283/.359/.421 with 8 HRs.
  • Lastly, at FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan writes that Matt Moore may be the trade deadline upside play. Not only does he still have a ton of upside remaining (even if it is admittedly hard to see right now), Moore has three more years of club control. More importantly, those three years of control come as club options, meaning that if something went terribly wrong, the owning organization could simply cut their loses. Guaranteed a total of $5 million in 2016, Moore’s three club options are for $7 million ($2.5M buyout) in 2017, $9 million ($1M buyout) in 2018 and $10 million ($0.75M buyout) in 2019. Those are affordable options, especially if he’s capable of turning things around.
  • Of course, that’s the question. Moore, still just 27, is a few years removed from Tommy John surgery, but has not quite had the career that was expected of him. Through 17 starts (103.0 IP) in 2016, he has just a 4.54 ERA, with an almost identical 4.53 FIP. His walks have been under control (6.8%), but he just doesn’t strike out that many batters (21.1%). That said, Moore may be on the rise. He’s averaging more pitches and more innings per start than he has in a while, his fastball velocity is the best its been since 2012 and he’s been throwing increasingly more strikes over the past few weeks than he ever has in his career (67% strikes in last 10 starts). And, although I’m obviously cherry picking, Moore’s last two starts were excellent: combined 13.2 IP, 9H, 2ER, 4BB, 9Ks). If he can just limit the homers he might be a very intriguing target for this season and beyond – which is precisely what the Cubs have been looking for. The Rangers, for what it’s worth, have been the most connected to Moore.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami