Do the Cubs have to pay extra for a guy like Jason Hammel since he knows he's being traded in July? Is there any sort of premium the Cubs have to pay now because of their recent strategy of signing guys to trade them? --Skip, ChicagoHammel will receive slightly more than what the Cubs paid Scott Baker, who didn’t pitch until last September. I don’t believe there’s a premium because most free-agent pitchers will go where the money is (as they should in most cases), and the Cubs have been relatively consistent about not giving no-trade clauses to free agents. And if you sign with the Cubs, there’s a good chance right now that if you pitch well, you could be traded to a playoff contender.
Regardless of the "Core Four" who are supposed to join the "Two Pillars" (Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, who can't hit their weight), everybody knows pitching wins championships. The Cubs have not focused on pitching since 2003, and their pathetic results since then prove the theory. When are they going to act like a team from the second largest city in the U.S. and spend for the best pitchers in baseball instead of constantly rummaging through the bargain bin for has-beens and never-wases? It's sickening to watch this rotation of 10-win pitchers, year after year. The "Core Four" plus "Two Pillars" won't stand a chance without much better pitching. --James, Tulsa, Okla.If you try to sign the best pitchers in free agency, you’re usually going to overpay. The exception is Randy Johnson with the Diamondbacks before the 1999 season. The back end of those contracts are costly, as the Phillies found out with Roy Halladay and the Giants with Barry Zito. That said, pursuing Masahiro Tanaka was worth the time and money spent because he was relatively young (25) and had faced enough top international competition to prove he wasn’t a severe risk.
With so many options in the starting rotation (Samardzija, Wood, Jackson, Hammel, Arrieta, Rusin), it really seems like there isn't much room for a rookie like Kyle Hendricks. Do you see Hendricks getting an opportunity prior to the Cubs yearly fire sale? --Anthony, McHenry
Don’t forget the pride of Long Beach Poly: James McDonald. This guy was a 13-game winner in 2012, and he can help if he stays healthy.
As for Hendricks, he’ll get a chance to land the fifth spot while Arrieta rehabs from his shoulder tightness. McDonald has more experience, but Hendricks will get enough of a shot to show his skills.
What makes management think any marquee free agent will want to come to Chicago and play for the Cubs in 2015 or 2016? --Aidan W., Chicago
If management can solve their issues with the rooftop owners and start reconstruction of the home clubhouse, it’s a start in the right direction. Many players like coming to Chicago. They just don’t like the spartan conditions. If management receives approval to start its renovation plans, Theo and Co. can show free agents the blueprints for the renovations – starting with the home clubhouse.
I realize there’s more to playing for the Cubs than just clubhouse conditions. It wouldn’t hurt if the “Core Four” continue their path to the majors and show free agents they can be a part of something special.
If Mike Olt fails to make any impact, is there any chance of Christian Villanueva becoming the "bridge to Kris Bryant" at third? --Dennis N., Fort Worth, TexasI think Villanueva will need another year of seasoning in the minors, but his power numbers at Double-A Tennessee (41 doubles and 19 homers) in 2013 were impressive. Villanueva won’t be rushed, so the Cubs are likely to stick with the platoon of Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy unless one of them struggles mightily and Villanueva plays well enough at Triple-A Iowa to earn a promotion.
I'm all for a rebuild. However, the approach that has actually taken place looks like it's been more damaging to the team and its national fan base than ownership or management realize. The organization seems almost entirely unaware that the national following for the Cubs was built up through the 1980s when WGN was the only station carrying regular broadcasts nationally, and that given today's ability to watch "your" team locally, it's a stretch to think that the serious malaise that is the Cubs these last few years will somehow reignite a fan base that now has alternative outlets. (Sorry, but Wrigley as a destination just does not sell when the team wins 60-some games a year.) Now, I casually estimate that every year the Cubs flip their roster at the deadline adds at least three more years to the calendar date of even getting wins into the mid-80s. (I hope it will be a Tampa Bay-style turnaround, but that's highly unlikely in this type of market.) So, with where things have been the past three years, and how they look this year, going into what, the fifth year of Ricketts ownership, how do you think the rebuild looks at present, and how does it look going forward? --Dave, BucktownI’ll say it again that this is an extremely important season as the prospects, led by the “Core Four,’’ must continue to progress while Castro and Rizzo rebound from miserable seasons and the pitching at least tries to hold the fort at the major-league level.
Since switching beats last August, many of my friends in California ask what’s happened to the Cubs and talk about what they used to be and not what they can be. The 100-year celebration of Wrigley Field will take only some of the attention away from what’s on the field.The comments I receive from scouts (particularly those who were in the Arizona Fall League) speak very highly of the Cubs’ talent. That perception would be even greater if the organization possessed more power arms. I thought Theo made an interesting comment two weeks ago about not necessarily taking a pitcher with their first pick (fourth overall) but stockpiling pitchers with their top selections. I can see where this may help them, especially if they can draft and develop some college pitchers who show fast-track potential. With the exception of catcher, they’re well-stocked at other positions.
But the future is now, and they’ll need some power pitchers soon to make the rebuild look more encouraging and compete against the likes of the Cardinals.
Who have the inside shots at the fifth-outfielder and 25th-man jobs this year? What will they do with Alberto Cabrera now that he is out of options? How will they use Darwin Barney -- is he going to be platooned, or is his everyday job in danger? --Dan D., PalatineThe reserve spots took on a new twist with the acquisition of Emilio Bonifacio – especially if he makes the opening-day roster. With three days off scheduled in the first 15 days of the season, they could be inclined to carry 11 pitchers instead of 12 and go with an extra position player.
Or, carrying 12 pitchers could mean that the Cubs could opt for a right-handed hitting reserve (since they could start at least four left-handed hitters in the lineup).There’s plenty of competition for the final relief spot, so they could trade a reliever to resolve any issue involving Cabrera (assuming the relievers stay healthy). Barney will start at second base, but Bonifacio’s natural position is second base and gives them an option if Barney’s hitting woes at the plate continue.
Logan Watkins doesn't seem to be getting much of a chance. Where do you see his skill level? Same with Alberto Cabrera. He is out of options and didn't take very well to pitching out of the bullpen. I thought they would give him a shot to start until they signed Hammel. Now what do they do with him? Chris Rusin is also very underrated. What do you think? --James P., ChicagoI would have liked to have seen Watkins play more the final two months. I’d also like to see him play more than just second base (he played some shortstop and outfield in the minors) since Arismendy Alcantara is highly touted. Rusin had a rough finish in 2013, and starting him at Triple-A Iowa wouldn’t be the worst thing if others pitch better than him in spring training.
How long do the Cubs wait to see if Castro and Rizzo turn it around before they pull the plug and trade one or the other. --Peter S., CaryI think management is committed firmly to Rizzo. As for Castro, they have options if he doesn’t produce. But it would be tough to give up on someone so young with a huge financial commitment. It wasn’t long ago that he had 207 hits, and he plays virtually every game. I think Castro has shown the initiative to improve through his hard work this off-season and commitment to follow the same program in future off-seasons.
With all the talent in the farm system, why don't the Cubs just see for once what these kids can do in the bigs? Tired of waiting for a championship and the phrase, 'wait till next year.' I always make trips to see my Cubbies at Wrigley each and every year. --Keith B., Greenwich, Conn.
Keith, you’re a pretty loyal fan.This question has been raised more often by fans and even casual baseball observers. I still believe the Dwight Goodens and Darryl Strawberrys are the exceptions to the rule. It takes longer for a position player to show he can play on the major league level, therefore playing at Triple-A is more important. All of the “Core Four’’ are position players, and it wouldn’t hurt to see them struggle and see how they can work out of it so they’re not foreign to working out of slumps once they reach the majors.
And the talent you’re referring to doesn’t possess enough pitching depth. So if you rush one pitcher to the majors and he struggles, you might have set your timetable back,I do believe there are pitchers such as C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn who have a chance to climb quickly this season. But expecting them to reach the majors is too ambitions, especially for Blackburn.