Kap: Cubs need to think long-term, not 2012

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Kap: Cubs need to think long-term, not 2012

While the 2012 Chicago Cubs are playing decent baseball and looking far better fundamentally than most Cubs teams of the past decade, their bullpen has been largely responsible for several late inning losses.

Change a handful of those losses into wins and you have a team that would be right in the thick of contention in a very weak National League Central.

Through games of May 16th, the Cubs have lost five games after having the lead in the seventh inning or later. Former closer Carlos Marmol has three blown saves and has been an adventure most every time out, as has top setup man Kerry Wood. Their poor performances have been a major reason why the Cubs sit 15-22 and seven games in back of the division leading St. Louis Cardinals despite outstanding starting pitching.

With the poor bullpen costing the Cubs several games early in the season, there has been considerable angst among Cubs fans who are clamoring for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to make a move or two to solidify the back end of the pen. However, premier relievers do not come cheaply and for the Cubs to acquire one would cost them one of the few trading chips that they have.

An honest assessment of what the Cubs have of value that they would also be willing to part with is a very short list.

I believe that it is a foregone conclusion that Ryan Dempster will not be on the Cubs roster after the July 31st trade deadline. He is throwing extremely well and with his contract up at the end of the season, he will not require a major financial commitment from whoever acquires him. As long as he stays hot, the Cubs will be able to extract a fairly substantial package of players from a contending team as starting pitching is very tough to add in season.

However, adding a top flight reliever should not be at the top of Epstein and Hoyers list.

Instead, the Cubs will be looking to add a piece to their team that will impact the team 145 or more times a year. That means finding a long-term answer at third base, second base, corner outfield or catcher. They could choose to add a young, top-flight starting pitching prospect but those deals are very tough to make because with the price of pitching in the free agent market skyrocketing, most teams are unwilling to trade such a precious commodity.

Who has trade value that the Cubs would be willing to deal? Dempster -- who I am 100 percent confident will be traded -- and Matt Garza who is a top-of-the-rotation talent but could bring back a huge haul in a blockbuster deal if the Cubs choose to move him and perhaps a prospect or two out of the system if the deal made sense.

Beyond that, the current crop of Cubs talent has very little value to contending teams in terms of being able to receive an impact player back in trade.

So while it is extremely frustrating to watch a struggling bullpen continually give away games, the current state of the Cubs does not have the luxury of trading key players in their system to improve the bullpen of a very suspect 2012 team.

While I do expect Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to be active in moving veterans for young players with outstanding potential, they must remain focused on the long-term plan that they developed upon their arrival in Chicago last fall.

Cubs: Jon Lester denied 20th win in loss to Reds

Cubs: Jon Lester denied 20th win in loss to Reds

CINCINNATI – Jon Lester says he speaks for the entire clubhouse when he offers to trade it all in – the individual numbers, All-Star selections, Cy Young honors, MVP hardware – for a World Series ring with the Cubs. 

The Cubs are trying to have it all, 100-plus wins, awards season, off-the-field endorsement deals and so much out-there fun that it draws the attention of baseball’s fun police. But Lester understands October is where this team will ultimately be remembered.

The Cincinnati Reds denied Lester his 20th win on Saturday at Great American Ball Park, jumping out to a four-run lead after three innings and hanging on for a 7-4 victory.

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Whether or not this dents Lester’s Cy Young chances, the big-game lefty reached the number that he believes defines the true value of a starting pitcher, surpassing 200 innings for the eighth time in his career.

Lester certainly lived up to the great expectations in the second season of that six-year, $155 million megadeal that came with a World Series mandate, finishing the regular season at 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA and the expectation that he will be the Game 1 starter in the playoffs.

How Cubs plan to deploy Javier Baez in the playoffs

How Cubs plan to deploy Javier Baez in the playoffs

CINCINNATI – Using common sense and Geek Department probabilities, Joe Maddon wants to know where the ball should be hit before deciding where to play Javier Baez, the kind of elite defender the Cubs manager envisions when he talks about creating a Gold Glove for super-utility guys. 

“I just like to put him where the most action may be,” Maddon said. “He really provides a lot of coverage on slow rollers. He’s got the arm. He’s got the flair.”

With lefty Jon Lester facing a Cincinnati Reds lineup stacked with right-handed hitters, Maddon started Baez at third base on Saturday at Great American Ball Park, where the Cubs gave a potential sneak preview for their Game 1 playoff lineup.

Baez has been credited with 17 Defensive Runs Saved this year while moving between second base, shortstop and third base, putting together a package of highlight-reel plays and giving Maddon even more freedom with his lineup and in-game strategy.

If offense will be at such a premium in the postseason – putting an even stronger emphasis on pitching and defense – could Baez become an everyday player in October?

“Not 100 percent,” Maddon said. “You catch a lead, he’ll be in the game. I think that we still may go with an offensive matchup – and then hopefully grab a lead – and then get him in there. Do that kind of a thing, not unlike what we did last year with ‘Schwarbs’ (Kyle Schwarber), as an example, (where you) pull him and move everything around.

“I haven’t decided, but that would be my first inclination.”

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The Cubs lead the majors in defensive efficiency, a breakthrough that has contributed to 102 wins and helped Lester and Kyle Hendricks put up Cy Young Award-worthy numbers, giving this group an overall dimension that could separate them from the franchise’s previous playoff teams.

“That’s where our pitchers have just been able to relax,” Lester said. “(We) know that: ‘Hey, I don’t have to be so perfect with each pitch.’ We’ve got such good defense behind us that it’s kind of like: ‘OK, just hit it. Those guys will figure it out after that.’”