Friday, January 7, 2011

Cubs Trade Prospects and Credibility for Matt Garza

Remember when Tom Ricketts outlined the Cubs' needs going into 2011 in his letter to Season Ticket holders?

Going forward, we recognize the need to recommit to fundamentals. We need to stabilize our defense and cut down on errors. We need to improve our offense and become more efficient in both moving runners and hitting with players in scoring position. It is too early to determine whether this will be addressed with internal moves, trades or through free agent acquisitions. But we know we must improve in these areas.

So far, the Cubs signed an all-or-nothing type slugger to play first, low-balled a fan favorite middle reliever, and now traded for a pretty good starting pitcher.  If anyone can tell me how those moves address the deficiencies in the 2010 team, they are smarter than I am.

Keep in mind, I don't dislike the deals in and of themselves.  Garza is a fine pitcher and is as consistent as you can expect a pitcher to be.  Carlos Pena's one year deal (that they had to finance) and Kerry Wood's bargain basement deal are solid value moves.  The problem is that none of the moves actually make the team a hell of a lot better than they were out of the gate last year.

Pena replaces Derrek Lee, and even though Derrek had an off year last year, so did Pena, so if you are going to talk about Pena making an improvement, you have to concede that there is as real a chance that Derrek rebounds in Baltimore if his injuries have healed up.  So, maybe you have to give a slight edge to Pena because he's younger, but that is all.  Anything more than a slight improvement will depend on fortune smiling on the Cubs, and we know how often that happens.

Garza replaces Ted Lilly for all intents and purposes.  Both have been 3-4 WAR pitchers and Lilly actually was a better pitcher than Garza was last year.  Of course, Garza is coming to the NL and he's younger, so we'll call them about even, and maybe even a slight advantage to Garza. 
Then you add Wood to the bullpen and assume he'll be healthy and you have a slight improvement there. 
Where is the help for the offense?  How does this help the team be more fundamentally sound?  Pena might be a fine first baseman, but so was Derrek Lee.  If anything, the team has managed to tread water in the off-season.
Remember what Tom said about developing their own players in the organization?
Continued long term success will come through superior scouting and player development, and we are committed to improving that facet of the organization. As a result, this likely means a shift of some of our resources from the major league payroll toward scouting and player development, but we are still very much in the evaluation phase.

Trading away four and a half prospects (you can take that as a Sam Fuld is short joke OR a Sam Fuld isn't very talented joke, I'm multi-layered here)  isn't what I would call improving "player development."

These moves are intended to fool the masses into thinking the team is good without going crazy on cash.  Otherwise there is no reason to trade for Matt Garza.  None.

They already have Dempster, Zambrano, Wells, Gorzelanny, and Silva PLUS Cashner, Jay Jackson, Casey Coleman, and, for some reason, Jeff Samardzija who could all theoretically start.  Why trade away the organization's #1 pitching prospect (Archer) for three years of arbitration-salaried Garza when A) you don't need him and B) he doesn't make you that much better to begin with?

It is all about spin and misdirection.  The difference between now and when Tommy wrote that letter is that the Cubs are burning through their Season Ticket wait list faster than they thought possible, the Cubs Convention that usually sells out in 20 MINUTES still has tickets available after 2 MONTHS of being for sale, and every other team in the Chicago area is either good already (Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks) or making ballsy moves in an attempt to get good (White Sox).

So Tom is throwing out his original recipe for success (which may have been nothing more than flowery prose in the first place) and the Cubs are mortgaging the future in an effort to appear to be getting better.  You have to wonder how Cubs fans can be expected to believe anything the Ricketts say going forward.


Anonymous said...

The Cubs could have easily gone after Dunn, but decided not to since that would hurt the defense... Pena may put up Derrek Lee type numbers, but also might be better for the team.. fresh face.. more vocal.. etc.

I think by saying "we need to improve in these areas" doesn't necessarily mean you need new players for all of those areas. We need Ramirez to bounce back and produce... we need the young guys to continue to improve.. we need to hit better in the clutch... those are all things the current team can possibly do.

I like the Garza trade because he's under team control for the next 3 years. Brett Jackson is our best prospect in my opinion anyway, and we thankfully held on to him. Losing archer scares me, but realistically, he might only become what Matt Garza already is.

Duey23 said...

I just want to thank you for properly using "intents and purposes". I vomit everytime I read a blog that says "intensive purposes"

I'm with you in that I don't hate any of these moves, just see it as continuing to tread water.

Aisle 424 said...

Sure, but when Archer becomes what Garza is now, he'd be a useful contributor to a potential championship level team. In 3 years, Garza is going to be 30 and start declining and he's going to get really expensive (assuming he is as good as we're being told). So what is he until then if he isn't the part of something to build on in the future? He is here to help the Cubs sell the notion that they COULD be successful THIS year, even though they aren't theoretically any better than they were last year.

Sure, Ramirez can bounce back, but he is aging and the likelihood is that he will never reach the levels we expect out of someone making his kind of money. Thats the way it goes.

Luck is a factor. It always is, but to rely on luck and for improvements that fall out of the range of rational projections is fool-hardy and that is what the Cubs are selling us as their "plan."

We could just as easily say that Gorzelanny could return to being the starter he was in Pittsburgh before he got hurt AND still have Archer in the system. Is that likely? No, but it has as much chance as working out as any other hope and dreams scenario involving Matt Garza.

Anonymous said...

A Cubs team that includes a solid 1-3 rotation, young players like Castro, Colvin, Jackson, Cashner, Mcnutt, Carpenter, Soto, etc... AND over 50 million to spend in trades/free agency.. there's really no reason to believe the Cubs can't be serious contenders as early as 2012. In this division, they might even compete in 2011. But serious contenders in 2012. Matt Garza is now a part of the future of this team.. He won't be in line to be an overpaid pitcher for another 2-3 years. I think Archer COULD be as good as Garza in a few years.. but that's a big IF with prospects.

Aisle 424 said...

50 million to spend on who? If you want to keep Marmol and Soto around to be part of this contending 2012 team, they are going to start making the big money soon. Also, assuming Cashner, McNutt, Jackson, and Carpenter ALL make it plus Castro and Colvin continuing to develop is sketchy.

Prospects fail. Its why you want to have organizational depth. The Cubs reduced their depth today and got a guy who is realistically a Cub for 3 more years (and they have to pay him way more than they would to let any of those pitchers you mentioned have a shot).

Guys like Garza don't come available once in a lifetime. They come available practically every damn year. If they didn't get Garza now, they could get someone almost exactly like him next year or in two years when they have a better idea of how those prospects you mentioned are panning out. Garza is not a guy for which you part with multiple Top Ten rated prospects.

This is all about selling the here and now and has nothing to do with the overall health of the organization. It is why the half-assed approach to rebuilding will not work. Either do it and go cheap or say to hell with it and blow out the financials. This in-between bullshit is maddening. It is the path to mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

I agree with some of what you're saying.. but I disagree on your assessment of Garza. I don't think guys like him come around that often. Look at how much better Ted Lilly was in the NL Central than the AL East. Garza has ace potential in this division.

And yeah we will have some guys who need raises.. but we only have 70 mill or so locked up for next year. We will have some money to spend, no doubt.

Also.. I'm not saying ALL of those guys will pan out.. what I'm saying is, we STILL have minor league prospect depth... and if even SOME of them pan out, I'm liking the future.

Aisle 424 said...

If Matt Garza turns into Cliff Lee, then sure, this was a fine deal. But where you seem to think this is likely, I tend to think it is more likely he becomes Ted Lilly.

Garza's WAR totals in his three full years were 3.2, 3.8 and 2.0 for an average of exactly 3. Lilly's last 3 years were 3.2, 4.0, 3.4 for an average of about 3.5. Figure Garza improves a bit due to his age and that last year was more an anomoly than true talent and you get somewhere in the mid-3s. Keep in mind, WAR is already league adjusted. He is even a flyball pitcher like Lilly was.

So its not like this is Broglio for Brock or anything, but it is indicative of the Cubs sitting on the fence between contention and rebuilding. They can't afford to contend and they apparently believe they can't afford to rebuild either, or they would. They are just going to make these moves that improve them in the here and now by a hair, mortgage the future to do it, and sell it to us at championship prices.

Anonymous said...

the large majority of baseball experts are saying the Cubs made a good deal, and that the prospects we gave up aren't guarantees by any means. If Z has a decent year, the Cubs will have a very solid rotation. The bullpen should be improved. The offense could be improved, or could be around the same. The division is improved, but there's still not a great team among them. Again, I feel Garza is for this year and he will be a big piece of our future. If Hendry was just trying to win now and forget the future, he would have traded Castro for Granderson last year.. or a better package for Peavy a few years ago. I would say the Cubs might still look like the 4th best team in the division on paper... but I also think they're probably going to have a chance at contending assuming they are relatively healthy, and a few things go their way. They still have several good prospects.. it's not like they gave up the only players they have. Remember the trades involving guys like Choi and Gallagher? Pie? Ceda? Lots of fans freaked out... those guys didn't/haven't done much at all.

Aisle 424 said...

Yes - the team is better right now than it was before the trade. Great! Are they going to win the World Series this year? Are they going to even make the playoffs this year? Are they going to even finish over .500 this year? No. No. And very unlikely. And that is with Garza on the team.

Meanwhile they gave away 23 years of team-controlled salary years. For a team with $450 million in debt, that is a tremendous amount of cheap talent to throw away for a guy that makes you as good as you were at the beginning of last year if you're being optimistic. None of those players might ever make it, but if we are going to have a belief in Cashner, Jackson, etc. etc. we have to at least begin to think that those players have value at some point. I believe they all (minus Fuld) ranked in the top 15 prospects in the Cubs system.

Maybe Archer is never better than a middle-reliever. I'd rather have Archer doing that in 3 years than paying Garza's salary plus the salary to whoever that year's John Grabow is to make up for Archer sucking. Letting the prospects develop gives them the flexibility to make significant moves down the line instead of these cosmetic ones now. If none of the prospects are any good, then the Cubs are screwed no matter what, so we might as well try to assume that at least some of them are good.

This trade in a vacuum is probably a very fair trade, but it makes no sense for the current Cubs and it only damages the likelihood that they will ever truly rebuild because they now have less depth.

Kin said...

Hey Tim, I think 'Duk stole your ideas hehehe.

Doc Blume said...

Tim, I don't think I have ever agreed with you more on anything. This was the wrong trade for this particular time and does nothing to truly solve the short or long term problems this franchise faces.

Anonymous said...

There's no room for Lee, Chirinos, or Guyer on this team. Castro, Soto, and Jackson are all better. Archer could turn into a great pitcher.. Garza already is a great pitcher. This is baseball. This year's team will be completely different than last year's team. This year's opening day lineup will feature a different player at half of the positions compared to last year. They have a new manager and pitching coach.. hopefully less distractions/health issues.. the list can go on and on. It's very possible that this year's team will end up with another losing season... but I just don't see why you think they have no chance of winning until 2015. Garza is here for a minimum of the next 3 years... years that will probably be his prime. For once, Hendry went out and got a guy entering his prime, not past it. The majority of prospects don't pan out.. so you trade some for proven talent when you can... and keep the rest in the hopes of plugging some holes.

I'm telling you.. the 2012 team will feature some excellent young players with Castro, Jackson, and possibly Colvin in the lineup... Cashner and several other young pitchers that we have should fit the team's plans by then... the rotation will be good.. and then you fill our remaining holes via free agency and trades. If you think the Chicago Cubs will ever not spend money, you're crazy. In a perfect world, you have some young guys anchoring the longevity of your team.. and you spend the big bucks on a few guys to fill your holes... Prince Fielder in 2012 comes to mind.

To me.. this team is a leadoff hitter, and middle of the order bat away from being contenders. With the rotation set, they are closer to that.

Doc Blume said...

It would have been nice to have some of that talent available for trades to replace Ramirez, Byrd, Pena and our 2nd baseman of the week over the next couple years.

Anonymous said...

byrd will be replaced by Jackson... the Cubs will have mega money to go after Prince Fielder to replace Pena. Josh vitters could be ready by 2012... if not, the Cubs will still have some money or trade chips to find a replacement if they decide to get rid of Ramy after 2011. I still think Ramy has a few real good years left. The rotation wasn't a problem last year, but it easily could have been this year. I don't see how you can think the Cubs didn't solve a long term problem with this move... Garza/Demp/Z is a pretty darn good 1-3 for the next few years minimum.

Doc Blume said...

Placing hopes on Prince Fielder (I don't see that happening) and Josh Vitters (whose stock is dropping extremely fast) is starting too look as if his window of opportunity is just about over. This is probably not the wisest course of action right now. I agree about Byrd and Jackson...but the Cubs haven't had a good history in developing center fielders under Jim Hendry's watch.

At this point...the next window of opportunity is probably which point Zambrano is gone, Dempster will be near the end of his career...building a big 3 pitching staff for the next two years is kinda pointless without filling the problem areas for this team...and those problem areas from the last 2 season are still not fixed.

wpbc said...

josh vitters lmao.

kinds of cats said...

This year's opening day lineup will feature a different player at half of the positions compared to last year. They have a new manager and pitching coach.. hopefully less distractions/health issues.. the list can go on and on. It's very possible that this year's team will end up with another losing season... but I just don't see why you think they have no chance of winning until 2015.

Doc Blume said... can say what you want about distractions, but the 2010 Cubs were actually a pretty healthy team.

Aisle 424 said...

The core of the team is old and getting older. It is more likely that Soriano, Ramirez, Dempster and Byrd will get worse than get significantly better. Ramirez will almost have to be better because he had such a terrible start to the last year, but will he return to the stud he was before the injuries set in? Probably not.

DeWitt is different, but not necessarily all that much better than Theriot. The Cubs insist on giving playing time to Hill over Soto. Colvin is a big X factor. His peripheral numbers don't suggest that he will get better, rather that he will regress as the league figures him out, but he's young so who knows?

IF Ramirez comes back, IF Soriano doesn't continue to decline, IF Byrd plays like he did last year, IF Zambrano becomes even a solid #3 in the rotation, IF Marmol keeps striking guys out at a record pace to make up for his walking too many people, IF Colvin gets better, IF Pena gets his mojo back from a couple years ago, IF Soto is allowed to play enough games to make a difference, IF Wood stays healthy, IF Marshall keeps doing what he has been doing in the bullpen, and IF Castro keeps getting better then the Cubs could surprise me. But that is an awful lot of ifs. Not many of which are reasonable to assume.

Plus, the Ricketts aren't going to maintain the $140 million payroll. They've said it, the media has reported it, and the team's finances practically dictate it so I'm not sure how people think that the Cubs will suddenly have $50 million to spend when some of these salaries come off the books. It will go towards paying down their $450 million debt, or it will go towards minor legue development. So short term, they aren't going all out to win. They are doing just enough to keep hope alive.

That is a strategy that results in mediocrity and they are charging championship level prices.

Aisle 424 said...

They were healthy in terms of DL time, Doc, but it is pretty clear that Lee and Ramirez weren't right for much of the year and that was huge.

Also, Garza is a hot head himself, so if they want fewer distractions, they're doing it wrong.

Doc Blume said...

It's interesting you bring up Lee and Ramirez...

It seems to me if either of them actually did spend a little more time on the DL last year, it might have actually helped out the team a bit more.

It seems to me the Soriano we saw last year is what we will see this year. I think it is a good bet that Byrd, Colvin, Fukudome, Castro, Marshall and possibly even Soto will not play as well in 2011 as they did in 2010. Hoping for better seasons from Ramirez and Pena probably won't compensate for poorer seasons from the others.

Aisle 424 said...

Maybe, but that would have meant more Chad Tracy and Xavier Nady, and neither of them were any good either. Lee and Ramirez were SO bad that it might have helped a bit, but the Cubs were still destined for well below .500 without 2 of their middle-of-the-order hitters performing close to their expectations.

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