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Sunday, November 3, 2013

2014 Cubs Plan B (Hitting): The Low Cost and Unloved Over 30 Male

In the pitching part, I discovered a few quality buys for the Chicago Cubs. Today, will explore the hitting side of the equation. Fielding too is important, but since Rizzo, Castillo, and Castro and Barney, are likely as not, going anywhere with their contracts, gloves, and age the reasons, that leaves all 3 OF spots, 3B, and backup catching.

Back ups & Catching: Cheap is the Route

Here is the dearth of the MLB, good catching. The options are always "good glove, no hit" or "power/high average but poor ass glove." If you have a catcher like Posey, Mauer, and now, Yadi Molina, you count your blessings.

For all but the crazy risk takers, catching is at best, 125-135 game per season job. If a guy doesn't rest at least 1 day per week, he'll be wore out by end of August. Pretty much when pennant races are reaching the climax, a good catcher, playing every day, is gonna be spent. So like every smart manager does, they sign a backup that can either:
1) Hits, but doesn't field well
2) A personal catcher for a 'certain' pitcher
3) Great field, can't hit the Pacific with an aircraft carrier
4) Switch hitter or opposite of the plate from the starter
5) Or: Promotes up a catcher from the minors to learn for the next two seasons
6) Or lastly: Cheap, but old, before all the rest

Here's your cheap options:

1) Brayan Pena is 32. Switch hitter. Makes contact. Very cheap fit. Not great, but he’s passable defense and offense. No pop, or OBP plus.
2) Carlos Ruiz? But he’s much older, and will likely want 10M plus
3) Geovany Soto? walks over 10% in 2013. Has pop (ISO .221), but K% is 32%. Right hand hitter who knows Chi town. Will also want cash. May not like Chicago anymore.
4) Kurt Suzuki? BABIP was .245 in 2013. Makes contact, low K rate. Push with glove, could bounce back on the glove.

So those are your cheap options, but here's your expensive ones.
1) Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia

McCann is your Lefty OBP guy who hits the righties substantially better. Saltalamacchia is another good hitter; switch hitter that is better against the righties. Both are at 29/30 years of age. The golden marker for decline in a career. Some decline like a roller coaster, and others, are more like a cruise down the Cumberland Gap. 

Both guys will be at the zenith of $10M plus per year. With Yadi Molina making $15M per, you will see McCann approaching that. Both will want 3-4-5 years. How are you gonna afford that, when you currently have no one paid over $13 million (Jackson) or Soriano ($13M) on another team?

Cubs: Brayan Pena is at Kinzer Management Group. Starlin Castro and Junior Lake are represented there. He's a potential cheap option for the Chicago, given they are all hopeful Welington Castillo will follow up his breakout with several seasons of production.   

The Veteran Corner Infielder: Kevin Youkilis

http://thumbs3.ebaystatic.com/d/l225/m/mpEZRJHVPXA03XaX-NYrDiw.jpgYoukilis was hurt, injured, and is no longer the Greek God of Walks.  He'll be 35 in March 2014. Coming off three straight poor seasons. He's made his money, $56M to be close to exact. He's no longer the full-time player he once was. But, is he healthy? Is he able to play 50 or 60 games? Pinch hit? Make a difference by helping young guys Rizzo and Bryant or Olt become better players at 1B/3B?

Youkilis could rebound and with his decent eye and hopeful power, a MLB contract for 2M in 2014, with an incentive for 2M for 80 games or 225ABs, which turns into a vesting for a 4M deal in 2015, could plausibly entice.  Theo Epstein's prior relationship with the veteran will either help, or hurt. (Don't know the nature of that.) What Youkilis brings is veteran leadership, a prior World Series, and winning ways.

I envision Youkilis can be a guy like Richie Hebner was with the Cubs in his final playing seasons. He played 3B, 1B and LF for the Cubs, but mainly pinch hit. The "Grave Digger" was great in his 1984 Cubs role. A guy that hit .333 and had an eye and contact on his mind.  Youkilis doesn't have to be great, just able to accept his decline with aplomb.

Center Field Platoon: Gutierrez and Grady, or more likely, The Rajai

Franklin Gutierrez and Grady Sizemore. Sizemore first. As a injury victim, he is the riskiest part of this plan. His days may be over completely. 32 in August 2014, he hasn't played since 2011. So, his career might be over. Nevertheless, attempting to see if he's able to play is a low-risk move. Offering him an incentive-laden contract of 2 years, based on making the club out of spring training, is a deal. Offer him more potential than he's had for years. And putting him with Gutierrez, both Cleveland guys in the minors in 2004 IL with Buffalo, makes it workable. Grady the lefty, Gutierrez, the righty. (Though they maybe both corners at this point, Gutierrez played some in CF, but putting Ryan Sweeney in the CF slot is possible.)

Gutierrez was oft injured in 2012 and 2013. In his 150 ABs in 2013, he popped 10 home runs. He finished the season with a homer in his last game. So, we must be beer googling for hope he'll rebound in health.

Other, more healthy options are Rajai Davis - he's a centerfield option, makes good contact, but walks only about 5% of the time. He swings way too often (35.8%) at pitches outside the zone. Compare this to a guy like Shin Soo-Choo (22%) and you get the reason why Choo is potentially a $100M player according to MLB Rumors or Jacoby Ellsbury (28.1%).

Without the cash, the Cubs are without quick answers in the outfield. Their best minor options are in A+/AA (Albert Almora and Jorge Soler), while Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur have likely no chance of staying in Chicago come 2014. These acquisitions come at a lower cost. Davis is represented by SFX, who handle a number of Cubs clients, would be an in. So: Davis, Gutierrez, and a flier on Sizemore.

The Corner OF Man: David Murphy

Murphy is a healthy guy whose swing at balls outside the zone is above par (29.3%), good strike zone contact (93.6% - 8th for 105 corners outfielders with over 50PAs), but was unlucky in 2013 as his BABIP (.227) will undoubtedly rebound. He's likely to require a bit more commitment and salary than nearly all the others. 3 years for $20M, seems about right even at 32. (He will be 33 come next October.)

Cubs Infield in 2014:

Catching - Castillo, Pena 1B - Rizzo, Youkilis 2B- Barney, Valbuena, Alcantara (June) 3B- Olt, Youkilis, Valbuena, Bryant, Baez(June or Sept)  SS - Castro, Valbuena, Baez (again, June to September)

The Outfield:

Schierholtz, Sweeney, David Murphy, Gutierrez, Davis, Lake, Soler (Sept)

 Pitching (See Part 1 for Kazmir and Bedard Analysis)

Starting Pitching: Jackson, Kazmir, Samardzija, Wood, Bedard (Arrieta)
Bullpen: Strop, Russell, Villanueva, Grimm, Bard, Arrieta

In The End...

No plan is perfect, or without risk. The players must want to come, the injury bugs pass over your house, the guys start performing like its 1999, but this is a low-cost way to become competitive. Risk is spread out, not lumped into a $120M plus contract like Barry Zito, Alfonso Soriano, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle, and that list grows longer, yearly.

With the influx of talent coming in the minors, you don't lose much cash either if you put on waivers or trade away these vets on short deals. 2-3 years is all I would go on a over 30 guy. These guys will be lucky, and glad, to get these sort of deals.

And who knows? You might get a 1984 Cubs-like run with vets: Cey, Matthews, Eckersley, Sutcliffe, Bowa, and Hebner who all contributed with the young bucks in Sandberg, Durham, Dernier, Davis, Moreland, etc.

Will see.

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