Interesting Trade Discussion Involving Starlin Castro

starlin-castro-mlb-pittsburgh-pirates-chicago-cubs2Every morning, I wake up, check my messages, and look at my podcast app. I listen to a variety of baseball podcasts, including the Ivy Envy podcast of course. Last Friday I was looking through my podcast app and saw that Keith Law, ESPN prospect guru, was going to be on to talk with Buster Onley on the ESPN Baseball Tonight podcast. Onley opened the intro by saying Law was going to talk about a few prospects including Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. I immediately got excited and began listening to it.

About halfway through the section of Javier Baez’s season so far, Onley discussed an interesting theory. Now that Baez is on the brink of the majors, as we all know, and the Cubs current shortstop Starlin Castro either has to come back to his pre-2013 self or he might be on his way out, this brought an interesting trade proposal. Onley and Law discussed trading Castro to the New York Mets, who need a shortstop, for a young pitching prospect, which the Cubs have more bats than arms.

I found this so intriguing, so I went in depth looking at this. Lets say Castro continues this pace he is on this year, which is fantastic to see. He is hitting .300 with an OPS of .787 and an OPS+ of 106 through 12 games. Now, yes, this is a small sample size, but you can see Castro is a lot more comfortable at the plate through the early going of 2014. If Castro keeps this up throughout the year, I don’t see any reason to move him.

But if he struggles again and comes back to the tendencies that we saw in 2013, why not try to get a solid, young starting pitcher that has the ceiling of a 1 or 2? A name that was thrown out during the discussion is young Mets pitcher, Zack Wheeler. Wheeler has gotten off to a rough start to 2014. He has given up nine runs in only 17.1 innings, which equals to a 4.67 ERA. But if you look back to 2013, Wheeler was magnificent for a rookie. He started 17 games for the Mets compiling a 3.42 ERA while striking out 84 in only 100 innings.

If the Mets and Cubs were going to get involved in a trade discussion, this would be a solid deal for both teams. For the Cubs, Wheeler stabilizes the rotation and since he is only 23 and has less than a year of service time. He can be in the rotation for a long time and will be under team control through the Cubs “plan” years were all the prospects will finally get up to the big leagues. Also, trading Castro will open up shortstop for Javier Baez himself and keeps Arismendy Alcantara at second base for the future. For the Mets, Castro holds down the short stop position through 2020 on a team friendly deal.

Now, this is not a rumor and I’m not saying that the Cubs are going after Wheeler nor the Mets after Castro, but this is an interesting thought. It keeps you thinking that there are options if the Cubs infield becomes crowed when Baez, Alcantara, and Bryant join Castro, Barney, Olt, and Bonifacio. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out over the next few months.

Series Recap – Cubs vs. Yankees –
4/16/14 (Doubleheader)

Wednesday Afternoon: Yankees 3 Cubs 0
Wendesday Evening: Yankees 2 Cubs 0

Cubs Record: 4-10

The Good
The Cubs saw another good outing by Jason Hammel. Unfortunately, 7 innings pitched, 5 hits and 3 runs wasn’t good enough for the Cubs offense. Hammel is a piece I’m sure the Cubs would like to flip this season and he’s pitching well, early in the season.

The Bad
Don’t look now, but Emilio Bonifacio is 1 for his last 21. He’s still hitting .339.

The Ugly
Well, offensively speaking…pretty much everything. Even if it was a two-game series, 0 runs in a series is rough. At the end of the game, Len Kasper said that today was the first time the Cubs have been shut out in a day-night doubleheader since 1962. Also, the Cubs have never won at Yankee Stadium, old or new.

Small Sample Size

On this week’s episode of The Ivy Envy Podcast, we questioned if we should have a “small sample size” disclaimer at the beginning of the early season episodes. Small sample sizes are pretty fun this time of year. If it wasn’t for small sample sizes, we wouldn’t have had Emilio Bonifacio leading MLB with a .800+ batting average.

As Cubs fans, we are really hoping that some of the bullpen performances have been examples of small sample sizes.

We also wondered, at what point do sample sizes stop being too small? Well, we’re not there yet.

If you enjoy the anomalies that small sample sizes create, you will also enjoy this video that Shaun (@spbastien on Twitter) shared with us today.

Cubs vs. Yankees 4/15/14 Game Postponed –
Watch Jeff Samardzija Instead

Tonight’s Cubs vs. Yankees game in New York has been postponed because of rain.  The game will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader tomorrow.  It’s probably nice for the players that the game was called early, essentially giving them another day off.  Without any other weather interferences, the Cubs will basically have a total of 3 days off this week.

Since you won’t be watching the Cubs tonight, if you haven’t watched this interview that Dan Patrick did with Jeff Samardzija, it’s an interesting one.  Samardzija talks about doctoring baseballs, the impact of the party atmosphere in Wrigleyville on players and his future with the Cubs.

Cubs preview for April 14 – April 20

What happened last week: Lost to Pittsburgh 1-2, Lost to Cardinals 1-2 (4-8 overall, 4th place in NL Central)

What’s up this week: April 14 off, April 15-16 at New York Yankees, April 17 off, April 18-20 vs. Cincinnati

Who’s pitching: Tuesday (Jason Hammel 2-0, 2.63 ERA vs. Masahiro Tanaka 1-0, 3.21 ERA), Wednesday (Travis Wood 0-1, 2.92 vs. Joel Pineda 1-1, 1.50 ERA), Friday (Alfredo Simon 1-1, 1.20 ERA vs. Jeff Samardzija 0-1, 1.29), Saturday (Tony Cingrani 1-1, 2.60 ERA vs. Carlos Villanueva 1-3, 11.57 ERA), Sunday (Homer Bailey 0-1, 7.71 ERA vs.  Edwin Jackson 0-1, 6.19 ERA)

Who to watch for: The Reds’ Tony Cingrani has never allowed more than five hits in any of his career starts. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has had at least one hit in six of his last seven games and is hitting .423 during that time with 6 RBIs.

Coming and going: 4/12: recall LHP Chris Rusin from Triple-A Iowa; option RHP Brian Schlitter to Iowa; 4/13: recall RHP Blake Parker from Triple-A Iowa; option LHP Chris Rusin to Iowa.

“Weasons and Leasons” – Podcast Episode 6.09


WINNER (7)In this, the 247th episode of the Ivy Envy Podcast, we look at what we have found to be encouraging and discouraging about the 2014 Chicago Cubs. Despite their 4-8 record, there have been some encouraging things from Castro, Rizzo, Samardzija, Hammel and Wood. But there have been some things that have been deflating for Cubs fans early in 2014. It’s mainly been the bullpen, but Veras, Russell and Ricky’s use of Olt make our list.

Javier Baez is on the DL and we talk about this injury and his ejection from a game. Kurt checks in on Kris Bryant, who is with AA Tennessee.

Andy awards the title of “Asshat of the Week” to Cardinals pitcher, Joe Kelly. Kurt gives a bullpen scary stat of the week and Corey gives a Emilio Bonafacio scary stat of the week.

Ivy Envy Iowa Cubs Game Meet-up Facebook event page
Wrigleyville Pub Crawl Facebook event page

Series Recap – Cubs @ Cardinals 4/11 – 4/13

welington castilloResult
Friday: (W) Cubs 6 Cardinals 3
Saturday: (L) Cardinals 10 Cubs 4
Sunday: (L) Cardinals 6 Cubs 4

Cubs lose series 2-1
Cubs record: 4-8

The Good
Jeff Samardzija had yet another superb outing that resulted in a no-decision. Friday night, Samardzija went 7 innings and gave up 1 run on 6 hits with 4 strikeouts and no walks. In his first three outings of the 2014 season, Samardzija has a 1.29 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP and has struck out 15 while walking 5. He unfortunately doesn’t have a win yet, but we’ll get to that later.

Friday’s game had the makings of a typical heart-breaking extra innings loss to the Cardinals, but Welington Castillo hit a 3-run HR in the top of the 11th inning and the Cubs won the opening game of the series. Hitting a game-winning home run against the Cardinals will always get you in “The Good” category, but Castillo has really struggled in the first few weeks of the season, especially with the strikeouts. In 36 at-bats, Castillo has 14 strikeouts and only 2 walks and a .222 batting average.

The Bad
The Cubs closer situation is not a pretty one right now. Jose Veras has had two save opportunities and has blown both opportunities, including Friday’s game which took away Samardzija’s opportunity to register a win. Finding the strike zone is the problem for Veras right now. In his four appearances, Veras has only given up 2 hits, but he’s walked 7 and hit 3 batters. It’s not a good sign when you have only give up 2 hits and you have a 12.27 ERA.

The Ugly
I really like Carlos Villanueva, but WOW was he bad on Saturday. The poor defensive decisions the Cubs made didn’t help him any, but the Cardinals were knocking him all over the ballpark. Villanueva left the game after 3 innings pitched. He surrendered 9 runs on 10 hits.

The Cubs offense is not making things easy for Jeff Samardzija. When Samardzija is in the game, the Cubs have given him .5 runs per game in support.

Going back to the beginning of September of the 2013 season, the Cubs have now lost 9 series in a row. The Cubs schedule is pretty rough in April and May and this streak could extend for quite a while.

Javier Baez Headed to DL

When talking with people about Javier Baez, I’ve said “As long as he continues to develop and stays healthy, we should see Baez in July or August.” While enjoying Baez in Spring Training, I was also cringing anytime he did anything, just waiting for something terrible to go wrong. I’m sure you were all there with me, gasping as he collided with Giansanti in shallow left field. I’m sure your eyes were wide like mine when he hurt his ankle at 1st base, trying to leg out a single. Well, now it’s happened for real.

That’s all the info we know right now. I would guess this isn’t a serious injury. A disabled list visit in the minors isn’t as big of a deal because the minimum stay on the DL is 7 days in MiLB, compared to the 15 in MLB.

Regardless of severity or seriousness, it isn’t what you want to see happen to your #1 prospect as he waits for the call to join the big league club.

Rumblings in the Bullpen: Rusin Up,
Schlitter Down, Veras Out as Closer

RusinToday, the Cubs called Chris Rusin up from Iowa and sent down Brian Schlitter. Rusin was in the running for the fifth starter spot, but Carlos Villanueva took over as Rusin looked rough towards the end of Spring Training.

Because of extra inning games and some pretty bad performances, the bullpen is stretched pretty thin. Rusin offers a lot of versatility, mainly as a spot-starter and in long relief. The addition of a left-hander is nice, too. In his two starts with Iowa this season, Rusin is 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA.

It’s possible that Rusin could pitch from the bullpen, or Carlos Villanueva could slide back to the bullpen and Chris Rusin will start until Jake Arrieta returns.

*EDIT 4:19pm*

Common sense said the Cubs would use Rusin in long-relief, and that’s exactly what they did…for one day. After Villanueva struggled today, Rusin came into the game in the 4th inning and finished the game. In his 5 innings pitched, he gave up one run on three hits, striking out one and walking one.

Rusin heads back to Iowa and in a second tweet on the topic, Mark Gonzales suggests Blake Parker could get the call to join the Cubs. After pitching 5 innings, the Cubs weren’t going to be able to use Rusin for the next few days.

Brian Schlitter pitched pretty well in Spring Training, and looked decent in his first few appearances before struggling in his last outing against the Pirates. Schlitter has appeared in six of the Cubs first 10 games and has a 6.35 ERA.

In other bullpen news, after last night’s 9th inning debacle, Ricky Renteria moved quickly and has taken Jose Veras out as the closer.

As an optimist, I’ll assume it will just take Veras an outing or two to find the strike zone again and he’ll be back in.

There’s No Such Thing as a (Cubs) Pitching Prospect

priorIn a game inundated with acronyms, TNSTAAPP is among the most peculiar. For starters, there most certainly is such a thing as a pitching prospect; I’ve even written about a few here. The meaning of TNSTAAPP is less a literal translation and much more an admission that the success of a pitcher is hard to predict- even for the savviest of scouts.

Pitching prospects are tough to forecast for more reasons than I can possibly document but chief among them:

a) Pitchers get hurt. They get hurt a lot. Throwing a baseball is an unnatural act so repeating that activity thousands of times, year after year, isn’t exactly a recipe for longevity.

b) Success at the low levels is not a harbinger of success at major league level. As you’ll see below, even success at the major league level doesn’t always foretell future success in the bigs.

c) As with position prospects, you’re dealing with 17-20 year olds who haven’t fully matured physically or mentally.  Inconsistency is par for the course.

d)   You lose good men to trades and unruly fans.

The best way I know how to put the TNSTAAPP theory to the test is to apply it to our beloved Cubs.

Mark Prior: The definition of a can’t-miss pitching prospect, Prior had all the goods. He had stuff and polish, intangibles to boot. Why then, at 33, is Prior a member of the Padres front office and 8 years removed from an MLB mound? Because elbow and shoulder injuries are part of TNSTAAPP.

Hayden Simpson: A first round pick in 2010, Simpson was a victim of pre-mature criticism* mixed with lofty expectations. When a brutal case on mono cost him 20+ pounds off of his body and upwards of 10 miles per hour off of his fastball, the righty never fully recovered and was eventually released by the Cubs in 2013. Simpson never made it beyond High-A Daytona, only seeing ‘Double-A’ in his TNSTAAPP nightmares.

*At no fault of his own. Simpson was considered by many a ‘reach’ when drafted as early as he was. Seeing the likes of Aaron Sanchez, Taijuan Walker and Noah Syndergaard taken after him still pains me.

Dontrelle Willis: The D-Train is a cruel case of TNSTAAPP in that it looked as though he had beaten the odds, albeit with a different team. Willis was an 8th round pick of the Cubs but was wearing a Marlins jersey when he took home the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year Award. He was named the best left-handed pitcher in baseball in 2005, finishing 2nd in that year’s Cy Young race. By 2007, he was posting a 5.17 ERA and it would only get worse from there. Willis proves that even when you think a pitching prospect has made it, long-term consistency at the position is an extremely rare feat.

Jeff Samardzija: Shark is definitely a case of TNSTAAPP, but in a style completely incongruous with our previous examples. Jeff was more football prospect than baseball before the Cubs paid him big money to try his hand every fifth day instead of every Sunday. Samardzija struggled to the point where he was written off as a failure even in a bullpen roll yet has emerged as Opening Day Starter material, tallying the 4th highest strikeout total (214) in the National League.

Now that we’ve paid proper tribute to the work of the TNSTAAPP gods, it’s worth taking a look at how the Cubs front office is trying to overcome the problem. Quantity is definitely part of the equation for all organizations but what stands out to me about the Cubs arsenal of arms is a seemingly intentional emphasis on balanced variety in an effort to combat the inevitable variance.

Here’s a look at the next crop of contenders to combat the TNSTAAPP conundrum for the Cubbies, categorized.

International Wild Cards: Jen-Ho Tseng, Juan Paniagua, Ivan Pineyro, Greyfer Eregua

High Probability Guys: Kyle Hendricks, Eric Jokisch, Neil Ramirez, Pierce Johnson

College Arms: Rob Zastryzny, Tyler Skulina, Trey Masek

Impact Relievers: Arodys Vizcaino, Zac Rosscup, Armando Rivero

Huge Upside, Starter or Reliever: CJ Edwards, Corey Black

Lottery Tickets: Duane Underwood, Paul Blackburn, Trevor Clifton, Dillon Maples

Overlap and confirmation bias caveats apply here as I was the one who chose these categories and decided which players fit into each. That said, it seems that the Cubs have been very intentional about pairing diversification of arms with balance as they’ve built up the farm.

The only thing missing from the mix is the elusive Top of the Rotation starter. The Cubs passed on one such arm in 2013, but no one should be complaining about the addition of Kris Bryant instead of Jonathan Gray at this point. Not when Carlos Rodon, Tyler Kolek, Tyler Beede, Jeff Hoffman and Erik Fedde will all be available in the 2014 draft and carry #1 starter potential. Fortunately, the Cubs have the number 4 overall pick in June and seem poised to snag an ace in the making.

Unfortunately, There’s no such thing as a (Cubs) pitching prospect.