What the Cubs Need to Do to Be Successful

The Chicago Cubs have gotten off to a very slow start in the 2013-14 season scoring a total of 9 runs in their first 5 games and as a result of that they are 1-4. The buzz around the city of Chicago is all about the excitement of top prospects Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Kris Bryant tearing up minor league pitching and rapidly moving up in the Cubs System. All of these players have fantastic stats but the stats don’t truly matter until these players can be productive big league players. The problem is is that these prospects have shown day in and day out that they are ready to move on to the bigs. Almora, might not be quite there yet but Baez and Bryant have proven they are by dominating minor league pitching and posting good spring training numbers. Cubs GM Theo Epstein won’t pull the trigger on sending these guys up. Bringing these players up will significantly improve the quality of the team but many more changes will need to take place in order for the Cubs to be a team to win games on a consistent basis. Here are 3 other things that need to happen for the cubs to start their path to being successful

1. The cubs need to find a reliable, all-around, everyday 2nd baseman. There are many different solutions the their problem at 2nd but first let’s establish what the problem is. Darwin Barney has proven that he is an excellent fielding 2nd baseman but he is an absolutely horrendous hitter. In 2013, Barney posted an atrocious slash line of .208/.266/.303. Not only does this show that he rarely gets hits or gets on base, but when he does it’s mostly because singles. The Cubs have many possible solutions to this problem. One possible solution is to bring up Javier Baez and play him at short and Starlin Castro at 2nd or vice versa. Doing this might slightly weaken the 2nd base spot defensively, but drastically improve it offensively. With the Cubs pitching being surprisingly good in the first few games of 2014, their offense is a glaring problem and Baez would improve it instantaneously.

Another solution would be to slide Luis Valbuena over to 2nd and make Mike Olt the everyday 3rd baseman. Currently, Olt and Valbuena are splitting time at third which is detrimental to the team because both players have shown offensive value to the cubs. Valbuena had an excellent eye and has proven to be adept at drawing walks. He also has shown solid power as he hit 12 homeruns in 108 games in 2013. Olt has also shown the ability to hit for power as he had 5 homeruns in a very good spring training that earned him a spot on the opening day roster. Either of these solutions would be a much better fit for the Cubs then having Barney as the everyday 2nd baseman.

2. If the Cubs want to be good now, their bullpen needs to be consistent, and deeper. The bullpen has been a problem for the Cubs for a very long time. However in 2014 they might show some signs of improvement. In 2013, reliever Pedro Strop Posted a solid 2.83 ERA in 35 innings with the Cubs. In his time in Chicago, he only gave up 11 earned runs, 5 of which were in one performance. Along with solid numbers Strop possesses a 97 MPH power sinker in addition to his best pitch which is his slider. Strop will be put into a much bigger role this season and if the cubs want to succeed he will need to continue to pitch at a high level. In the offseason the cubs also signed lefty Wesley Wright and Jose Veras who in recent history have proven themselves as reliable bullpen options to their clubs. Players like Brian Schlitter and Hector Rondon will also need to step up for the Cubs. If Strop can continue pitching at a high level and the rest of the pen can consistently pitch in late innings. The Cubs will improve as a team very much.

3. Lastly if the Cubs want to succeed Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro must have bounce back years. There are many things that I could criticize about these 2 players but there a few problems in their games that are in the most need of fixing. In 2013 Rizzo only hit .233 if Rizzo continues to hit in the heart of the cubs line up, a .233 average is unacceptable. If he was hitting 50 homeruns it might be a different story but .233 with only 23 HRs isn’t going to cut it. In order for the Cubs to succeed, Rizzo will either need to hit 10-15 more homers or improve is average by around 30 points.

Starlin Castro is a much bigger problem for the Cubs. Spending most of the season in the 3 spot, Castro posted a weak slash of .245/.284/.347. Castro’s numbers were only a bit better than Barney’s which makes him a big problem. In addition to his poor offensive play, Castro has been an extremely inconsistent defensive SS his entire career. There is optimism for Castro though. In Castro’s first 2 full big league seasons, he was voted to the All-Star Game and hit close to .300 in both of those seasons. Castro has shown in his career that he has the ability to hit, the question. is will he be able to have seasons reminiscent to his all-star years. Only time will tell for Castro but if he can bounce back along with Rizzo the Cubs might actually be a legitimate team.

Although many things need to happen for the Cubs to be a playoff contender, fans should be optimistic for the future. With a farm system fortified with elite prospects throughout and an improving bullpen, the cubs need their “key players” to perform at a higher level. If all of these things can happen, there might be October baseball played at Wrigley sometime in the near future.




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24 Responses to “What the Cubs Need to Do to Be Successful”

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  1. dabynsky says:

    Javier Baez is proven to be ready? Baez has had a mere 9 at bats in AAA and struck out six times. It is pretty clear that Baez had things to work on in AAA. I am not worried long term based on three games, but Baez seems to be following the pattern of struggle early on followed, hopefully this year, by dominating.

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    • seanf22 says:

      Baez hit 20 homeruns in 53 games in a very pitcher friendly southern league. 3 games is way too small of a sample size to judge him. It’s just a slump. his southern league and spring training stats reflect him as a player much more then 3 AAA games . And like I said it’s just one solution to their current problem.

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      • dabynsky says:

        I agree it is too small of sample, but the flaws in Javier Baez’s game have shown up in spades so far in AAA. Again, not claiming that this is a harbinger for Baez’s career prospects, but it is also hard to say that because he dominated 53 games of AA that he is proven to be big league ready. Being exposed to pitchers with a better idea of how to pitch isn’t a bad thing for Baez at this precise moment.

        I think the better solution right now is playing more Valbuena/Bonifacio at second base and give Baez time to make adjustments against better pitching and work on defense.

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      • Adam says:

        seanf, you complain about using a small sample size for purposes of player evaluation, yet cite Baez and Bryant’s spring training stats to substantiate your claims that they are ready to be called up. In addition to being a small sample size, spring training stats are generally not useful whatsoever in predicting regular season performance.

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    • seanf22 says:

      He also hit .294 and for lead the league in isolated power by 83 points for batters with 200 PAs or more

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  2. seanf22 says:

    Baez hit 20 homeruns in 53 games in a very pitcher friendly southern league. 3 is way too small of a sample size to judge him. It’s just a slump. his southern league and spring training stats reflect him as a player much more then 3 AAA games . And like I said it’s just one solution to their current problem. @dabynsky

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  3. Nick says:

    Didn’t waste my time after reading that you used Spring Training stats as evidence of Baez being ready.
    Can’t believe Fangraphs would even post this.

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    • seanf22 says:

      So your saying spring training is pointless

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      • Iron says:

        In terms of making a strongish claim that a player with little or no AAA experience is MLB ready, yes, spring training is a pretty pointless argument.

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        • seanf22 says:

          Yasiel Puig never played an inning in AAA and look how he’s doing

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        • Iron says:

          And literally thousands of players have had a good spring and then proved they needed more time to develop. One example is an even worse argument.

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    • seanf22 says:

      Possibly the most unintelligent statement I have ever seen in my life.

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      • BubbaBiscuit says:

        Then you have not seen many statements in your life. It is clear to see this is a fan blog post, just a touch better than that hack Al Yellon.

        You can’t come to the fangraphs community and make statements about how 9 runs in 5 games is bad, but the pitching staff has been really good in those same 5 games and not expect to get called on pointing to an extremely small sample size. Knocking on Rizzo by using his batting average is also something that won’t fly well around here, go talk to Joe Morgan for that. Then the 2.83 ERA in 35 Cubs innings last year for Strop, another SSS.

        Yes, spring training stats mean nothing. Minor league numbers don’t mean as much as you attribute to them, especially in those sample sizes. I agree that Olt needs to play everyday to determine what you have in him, is he really better and fixed? Either in the minors or majors, he needs plate appearances regularly to better determine which Olt he is right now.

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    • Iron says:

      That’s a bit harsh. I’d agree his points about Baez are fairly one-sided, but it wasn’t a bad community article. My biggest criticism is that it is written as three things the cubs need to do, and the first two are things cubs management could do(fix 2nd base, fix bullpen), while the third is something cubs management would have to just cross their fingers and hope for. But overall, I thought it was a good piece.

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    • seanf22 says:

      What else do these kids need to prove to show that they are ready?

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      • Iron says:

        A couple months performing well at AAA (which also gains the Cubs an additional year of control on their contract) will do nicely.

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        • seanf22 says:

          I would agree Valbuena/Olt is a better option now but in the future I feel like with Baez and Bryant it would be hard to keep that

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  4. John Racanelli says:

    I guess at this point there is not much else to write about regarding the Cubs other than their improved farm system. This is certainly in vogue, along with Darwin Barney bashing due to a poor 2013 season at the plate. While all of talk is about prayers and hopes that Rizzo and Castro return to form, everyone else seems to forget that Barney was much more respectable offensively in 2011 and 2012. Hopefully Barney has a bounce-back year with the bat in 2014 as well.

    Even if Javier Baez tears up AAA pitching, there is no chance he will be called up to the Cubs before June 1st so that the Cubs can delay the start of the clock running on his arbitration eligibility.

    Kris Bryant had 146 total at bats in A ball last year and he did well. He also looked good in the AFL. He needs to at least show some ability to hit AA pitching this season, however, before the Cubs consider calling him up. There is absolutely no way you will see him on the big club this year, other than perhaps a September call-up when the Cubs are 20+ games out of 1st place.

    Alberto Almora is starting the season at high-A ball and, to me, it seems way premature to think that he will earn a call-up before September 2015.

    I would like to see what Mike Olt can do at third, but as the right-handed hitting side of the platoon, he is going to get far fewer starts than Valbuena. Further, except for rare occasions where the Cubs face lefties on consecutive days, Olt is not going to have much of a chance to get comfortable at the plate. The Cubs know what they have in Valbuena and, in my opinion, Renteria needs to start Olt on a consistent basis before they can know how he will be able to handle major league pitching and assess if his vision is truly back to normal.

    As a life-long Cubs fan, I am optimistic that the Cubs have an improved farm system but am otherwise frustrated that the Cubs seem to have forgotten that I don’t root for Iowa or Tennessee or Daytona or Kane County or Boise. Due to the financial constraints the Cubs are working under due to the structuring of the sale from the Tribune to the Ricketts and Major League Baseball’s profitability requirements, it seems clear to me that unless the minor league system bears considerable fruit, there is not much chance for the Cubs until at least 2019, when they will shed the constraints of the leveraged partnership debt repayments and hopefully have a shiny, new TV rights deal in place.

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    • seanf22 says:

      So what do you suggest they do with Olt if they aren’t going to use him as an everyday player. He won’t be able to prove if he can consistently perform at a big league level so what so dou suggest they do??

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      • John Racanelli says:

        As indicated, I’m suggesting that the Cubs drop the platoon with Valbuena and start Olt at third. I saw enough of Valbuena last year to know that he is not the future at third for the Cubs.

        It is going to be tough for Olt to get a fair evaluation if he is only going to start once every 5-6 games and get a handful of pinch hit plate appearances in between.

        Furthermore, it will also be tough for the Cubs to evaluate his defense and throwing shoulder if he does not play everyday at third.

        Olt has a much higher ceiling than Valbuena so I would just like management to see what Olt can do if they give him the starting job. If he fails to have success, then at least the Cubs know what they have.

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  5. htownhacker says:

    How old are you, SeanF?

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