Kaplan: Cubs to go through a complete rebuild

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Kaplan: Cubs to go through a complete rebuild

After speaking with several baseball sources over the past few days I am hearing that a complete and total rebuild of the Cubs is more likely than ever to take place during the remainder of the off-season. I have confirmed that Sean Marshall has been dealt to Cincinnati for Travis Wood and two minor leaguers, pending a physical.

However, Marshall along with several other players on the Cubs roster are all being shopped as Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and company look to maximize their value as they look to completely overhaul the team. In speaking with a current major league executive from outside Chicago who would only speak with me on the condition of anonymity he was brutally honest in evaluating where the Cubs are right now.

If you are completely honest about the current roster that Theo and Jed inherited I dont see more than a handful of pieces that a championship type team would want to have on their roster. Garza, Castro, Marshall, perhaps Marmol if they can get his wildness under control, and maybe another bullpen piece or two and thats about it, he told me.

As I questioned him further he told me that the talk around baseball when it comes to the Cubs is that they need a full scale house cleaning. There is no doubt that the Cubs need a major overhaul and with that comes a couple of seasons of teams that will have more than its share of struggles. However, if Theo and Jed can make astute deals for the few pieces that they do have the rebuild can get off to a very good start. In the addition, the farm system is not in good shape in terms of nearly major league ready starting pitching so if they can make some very solid deals they can reload in the minor leagues as well, he said.

A look at the current makeup of the Cubs roster shows a handful of big contracts that the Cubs are having trouble trying to move despite their willingness to eat significant portions of the remaining dollars. From Alfonso Soriano to Carlos Zambrano, to Ryan Dempster, the Cubs have approximately 50 million tied up in players who do not figure to be a part of their future when they are ready to win. Add in Marshall, Carlos Marmol and Marlon Byrd along with a handful of others who do not figure to be a part of the Cubs long term future and you have current 2012 salary commitments that total 72,850,000. Add in deals that would have to get done with Matt Garza, Geovany Soto, and others who are arbitration eligible and the Cubs 2012 payroll climbs into the 90 million dollar range.

Now with that much money already committed you have a 71 win team from 2011 that has lost one of its top power bats in Carlos Pena and has only added David DeJesus and Ian Stewart which cannot at this point be considered major additions to the roster. The starting pitching is still among baseballs worst and the everyday lineup has a number of holes in it. Question marks include first base, third base, left field, at least two if not three spots in the rotation and a couple of spots in the bullpen.

That doesnt include the question marks that occupy the other positions of the current team. Is Soto really worth the 4-5 million or so that he will earn in 2012 and is he the catcher of the future? Is Darwin Barney the long-term answer at 2nd base?

A look at the pitching staff shows more questions that need answers such as the closer role where Marmol has a world of talent but is coming off of a horrific 2011 when he blew 10 saves and saw his Ks per 9 innings drop by four strikeouts from his record-setting 2010 season. Is he the long-term answer in that role or could the Cubs get a solid return if they were to move him in a deal?

The Cubs roster is devoid of impact position players with the exception of Starlin Castro. So the question that must be asked is does it make sense for Epstein and Hoyer to spend significant dollars to try to patchwork a lineup that has virtually no chance of contending? Or should they use this one opportunity to truly tear the team down to its foundation and rebuild it the right way knowing that major on field success is a few years away?

One thing that Tom Ricketts has shown in his statements to the media and the fan base ever since he purchased the franchise is that he is in this for the long haul so from that perspective a complete rebuild makes a lot of sense. When Epstein spoke to the media before the winter meetings he gave this assessment of the potential for the Cubs to sign a free agent to a mega contract. Weve been consistent from Day 1 that our priorities are building this thing the right way, for the long haul, mainly through scouting and player development and through the acquisition of young players. The second priority is to take advantage of every opportunity to win that you have. But were not going to do anything to serve the second priority that disrupts the first. So any rumor that you hear, its probably worth your while to assess it through that lens. Not saying that were not going to make a move that might be unanticipated or catch people by surprise or might not on its face fit perfectly into that box. But generally thats our philosophy. Thats how were evaluating moves as we try to build this thing.

Two other sources confirmed to me today that the Cubs are not players in the Prince Fielder negotiations and are not preparing to make a major offer to land him. In fact, the same major league sources expect the Cubs to try to move most of their valuable assets before spring training and that a complete overhaul of the team will definitely happen. As one current NL executive told me it is about time that it happened. The Cubs have never had the guts to completely blow up their roster and build it the right way. They have to have a plan for sustained success instead of always trying to patchwork a roster for a surprising season. They should have done that when Andy MacPhail took over but for whatever reason they couldnt or wouldnt. By the time Jim Hendry became the GM they had some young starting pitching and a mandate from management in 2006-09 to try to buy their way to a championship. It never worked out so the rebuild is the right way to go, he said.

Why Dodgers could be a playoff problem for Cubs

Why Dodgers could be a playoff problem for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – Imagine a Los Angeles Dodgers team doing more with less getting Clayton Kershaw back to start Game 1 of a playoff series. That could become a nightmare matchup for the Cubs, if Rich Hill stays healthy and continues his late-career renaissance, and if rookie phenom Julio Urias saves enough bullets for October.   

“They would be a tough team,” said Ben Zobrist, a World Series hero last year with the Kansas City Royals, the switch-hitter the Cubs signed with October specifically in mind. “We would have our hands full because of all the lefties they have. 

“We have to do a better job against lefties overall – and figuring out how to just get more runners on base. We tend to rely on the homer a little bit too much. And in those situations, (we) have to find a way to just take our hits and hit line drives around the park.”

On Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, the Cubs didn’t have any answers for Brock Stewart, a 24-year-old right-hander out of Illinois State University who matched $155 million lefty Jon Lester for five scoreless innings. The Dodgers manufactured a 1-0 victory, and might have swept the best team in baseball out of Chavez Ravine if not for Kris Bryant’s MVP game on Friday night.

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“They have a veteran group on the field,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They’re always able to come up with another pitcher somehow. They got a really good bullpen. For right now, they’ve been utilized a lot, so I don’t know how that’s going to hold up, but they are good.”

Maddon couldn’t resist taking a few passive-aggressive shots, but he did compare this Los Angeles bullpen to the 2002 Anaheim Angels team that won the World Series and gave him a championship ring as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach.
  
Kershaw (11-2, 1.79 ERA) appeared to be rolling toward his fourth National League Cy Young Award when he went on the disabled list with lower back pain in late June.

“Kershaw coming off a back injury, you just don’t know,” Maddon said. “Hill’s good. He’s reinvented. He’s a curveball pitcher and all that kind of good stuff. So, of course, they can be good.”

Maddon wondered how Urias – who settled down after a rocky start to win a 3-2 game on Saturday – would hold up at the age of 20 after throwing only 80-plus innings combined last year at four different minor-league affiliates. 

“The biggest concern would probably be that he would run out of gas,” Maddon said, “not being used to pitching that late into a year. And I know they’re mindful. I know they’re going to do things to restrict him, whatever. But that would be the biggest concern there.”

[RELATED: With John Lackey ramping up for return, could Cubs go to six-man rotation?] 

The Dodgers (73-57) built a lineup around professional hitters like Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick. They have a two-way catcher (Yasmani Grandal), their own 22-year-old All-Star shortstop (Corey Seager) and a lights-out closer (Kenley Jansen).

“They’re in first place,” Lester said. “I don’t see why they should be overlooked. I don’t feel like they’re overlooked. Being a part of West Coast baseball for a couple months (with the Oakland A’s), I think really everything on the West Coast gets overlooked. I think it’s the time difference and a lot of other factors that are going on. But they’re a good team. They’ve been a good team.”

Maybe the Dodgers will expend too much energy trying to fend off the San Francisco Giants, and there are conditionals to Kershaw, Hill and Urias. But that left-handed-heavy rotation could mean the Cubs will be slamming their bats and helmets in frustration in October.  

“I’m not there yet,” Maddon said. “I’m not worried about the Dodgers. I’m worried about getting our guys healthy and us playing the game properly. If it comes to that, I would be more than happy. I would be ecstatic about facing them in the latter part of the season. They can throw as many lefties as they want. They’re good, but I can’t worry about the Dodgers.” 

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs return home to face Pirates Monday on CSN

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs return home to face Pirates Monday on CSN

Jake Arrieta and the Cubs return home to battle the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, and you can catch all the action on CSN at 7:05 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Steven Brault (0-1, 3.60 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (16-5, 2.62 ERA)

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Theme trip: Cubs break down at Dodger Stadium with miscommunication between Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist

Theme trip: Cubs break down at Dodger Stadium with miscommunication between Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist

LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon watched John Lackey board the team bus on Sunday morning wearing a Team USA onesie. The Cubs manager later noticed Aroldis Chapman in pajamas in the clubhouse on his way out to the dugout for his pregame media session at Dodger Stadium.
 
“We’ve created our own little culture, our own little identity,” Maddon said. “I just love the fact that they buy into those moments. Your stars are buying into it.”
 
The Cubs are in their own world, followed like rock stars on the road, freed from baseball’s unwritten rules and checked out from the daily anxiety and scoreboard-watching stress during a normal pennant race. 

But the Cubs weren’t in a playful mood after a 1-0 loss, even as they changed into their onesies – Mr. Peanut, Yoda, Stars and Stripes, camouflage – for the flight home from the West Coast. Almost exactly a year after Jake Arrieta threw his no-hitter here, the Cubs had their in-house TV crew shooting the postgame scene inside the locker room – look at us! – while Dodger Stadium security kicked out the Chicago reporters waiting to take pictures outside the clubhouse.   

The Cubs got a reminder that the Dodgers are a team to be reckoned with, that every-pitch focus matters, that communication will be essential in tight playoff games. That’s what this felt like, a crowd of 44,745 erupting in the eighth inning after a replay review that lasted 96 seconds confirmed the call on the field.

The Cubs lost their composure, Trevor Cahill hitting Andrew Toles with a pitch and then jamming Howie Kendrick. Cahill fielded the groundball and threw it into right field. An intentional walk to Corey Seager loaded the bases, setting up a battle between Carl Edwards Jr. and the heart of the Los Angeles lineup.

The rookie unleashed a 97-mph fastball and struck out Justin Turner on a foul tip. Edwards then went right back at Adrian Gonzalez, inducing a chopper toward third baseman Javier Baez, who made the split-second decision to throw to second, where Seager’s right foot crashed into second just before Ben Zobrist’s left foot touched it.

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“We just didn’t communicate,” Baez said. “I completely forgot about who was running down the line. We weren’t holding at first with the bases loaded. Obviously, he had like a huge lead. But in the moment, I was going back with the groundball and I saw Zo going full speed to the bag.”

But Zobrist had been playing deeper in right field to defend Gonzalez, a left-handed slugger and a slow runner. The margin for error is razor-thin when the Cubs needed 10 innings to secure a comeback win on Friday night – and the Dodgers responded by winning one-run games on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

“I feel like the responsibility falls on me being the veteran,” Zobrist said. “It’s a tough play. It’s a reaction play. It’s a feel play. But if we communicate ahead of time, then he knows right away when he catches the ball, you go to first base with it. 

“He can’t (put) the blame on himself. It’s everybody out there. It’s more my responsibility being the older guy out there. He’s still very young and playing all over the place. And sometimes we can all get, I guess, a little bit lackadaisical with our communication.”  

If anything, Maddon was more bothered by Baez not running out a pop-up in the fifth inning, part of an 0-for-4 day and a 3-for-27 road trip that to this point had highlighted his Gold Glove defense. 

“This kid has as much instinct for the game as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Maddon said. “He just misread the moment right there. I would like to believe they’re going to communicate in the future.”

The Cubs would still leave Los Angeles with a 14-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, their magic number to clinch the division down to 20 after a 5-4 road trip. With such a huge cushion, the Cubs also got a chance to remember what it’s like to play in front of a huge crowd where every pitch has consequences.  

“I don’t think that really matters,” said Jon Lester, who got the no-decision after six scoreless innings and didn’t look thrilled to be wearing a onesie. “Everybody here has been in playoff situations now. It’s kind of like we don’t really have to prep for anything anymore. These are situations now that guys are used to. Just go play.”