Kaplan: Trading Castro should be on the table

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Kaplan: Trading Castro should be on the table

With the First-Year Player Draft in Major League Baseball scheduled for Monday, the Chicago Cubs have a chance to add impact players to a fairly weak farm system as they own four of the first 67 selections. The draft is not considered exceptionally strong in position players, but pitching does have solid depth throughout the draft and the Cubs are most definitely in the market for power arms.

With Jason McLeod now in charge of the Cubs scouting department and Tim Wilken -- one of the best evaluators in the game -- crisscrossing the country to see all of the top players, the Cubs have a chance to restock a system that is woefully short on impact players who can play a prominent role in the core of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyers rebuilding plan.

However, while the draft is the lifeblood of the system, the Cubs also have an opportunity to turn a down 2012 season at the major-league level into a major component of their organizational overhaul.

That opportunity will take tremendous guts to execute because it will require completely gutting the major league team of most anything of value. That includes star shortstop Starlin Castro, who is one of the better young hitters in the game, but is also a question mark defensively and does not have a plate approach that is in line with Epsteins vision for how the game should be played.

What I am in favor of is a systematic dismantling of the big-league team that trades anything of value for players that embrace the EpsteinHoyer philosophy and replacing those parts with young prospects that the Cubs can build with and grow with.

Will it upset the fan base to trade Starlin Castro? Absolutely. However, that doesnt mean it is the wrong decision if it makes you a better team down the road. After all, isnt that what the Cubs are trying to build towards?

Castro is a wonderfully talented player who should be one of the games best hitters for the next 15 years. He is a solid athlete and he will probably be a perennial all-star for the next decade or more. And that is why the Cubs must do all they can to see what the market will bring for a player of his abilities.

Why not see if a contender will overpay to add his bat? What about a team that is in serious need of a star to excite their fan base? One has to believe that Castro would summon quite a haul if he were traded and that haul could be far more valuable to the Cubs than what he currently brings to a team going nowhere in 2012.

The same goes for Matt Garza, who is a rare commodity in the game. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff and he is not saddled with a long term contract that limits who can afford him. The Cubs control his rights for another full season and he could be the piece that a contender needs to add to their rotation to put them over the top.

Yes, the Cubs do need pitching and Garza is a fine piece to a rotation. But what could the Cubs add in the right deal to the right team? They must explore all of their options to see what they can get back in a trade.

Ryan Dempster is another attractive trade piece because he is a solid starter and he has no long-term contract to deal with. He is a free agent after this season, so a contender can acquire him and then decide if he is worth the investment going forward. He is also one of the best clubhouse guys in the game so he can make an impact on a contender in a variety of ways which increases his trade value.

Other pieces that the Cubs have that could interest a contender include Jeff Baker whose versatility makes him highly valuable to a contending team. He can play first, second, third or the corner outfield spots and he is a solid pinch hitter and also has a little bit of power in his bat.

What about Geovany Soto, who is currently rehabbing an injured knee but is expected back on the roster soon? There are a number of teams that need catching help and if the Cubs are willing to pay some of his remaining salary, there should be some teams willing to trade for him.

Is Soto the Cubs catcher of the future? Absolutely not. He is questionable at calling a game and his offense is mediocre at best. The fact that the Cubs are paying him 4.3 million speaks to how ridiculous salaries are in the game.

I would much rather see Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger share the catching duties every day for the rest of the season so that the organization knows what they have for the future. If one of them can assume the role of starter, then that is one less problem area that the Cubs need to address. If not, then it is better to find out now. Soto, though, could net something in a trade as some contenders, such as the Washington Nationals that are dealing with injuries and could use a veteran presence for the rest of the season.

There should be no untouchables on this roster and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer should explore every possible deal that moves veterans who will not be a part of the future and moves salary off of the books so that the Cubs have some flexibility in the free agent market next winter. That means trading some popular names who the fanbase likes. But Epstein and Hoyer cannot worry about upsetting the fan base and hanging on to players who are not in their long term plans.

So who would I keep that is on the major league roster?

Jeff Samardzija is the Cubs biggest surprise of the season as he has shown that he can be a major part of the rotation for a long time to come. He is a power pitcher who has transformed himself from thrower to a pitcher who really seems to understand what it takes to be a consistent winner in the big leagues. He is also a solid guy who is well liked in the clubhouse and he should be a fixture on the North Side for the next several years. Beyond that, there is nothing else left that I wouldnt trade in the right deal.

This season has to be about two things and that is clearing out players who dont figure to be a part of the future and finding out exactly what is on the roster that can fill a need long term. Thats it.

The 2012 Chicago Cubs have no chance of winning consistently and no chance of turning around a rough start to their season.

But none of that matters. All that does matter is using this season as a lab experiment to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and the big league club. Anything other than that is a waste of a season that offers that opportunity. And these types of opportunities dont come along very often.

All in all, there is not much on the current roster that looks like it will be a lock to be here when the rebuild turns from also-ran to contender status in 2014 or 2015. That means the Cubs front office has to get as much as they can for just about anyone on the roster despite how painful it may be in the short term to the fan base and ultimately attendance and perception.

Epstein has been given a rare opportunity in sports by having an owner who is committed to the long-term plan and is willing to also show the patience to let it play out. He and Jed Hoyer cannot squander this opportunity no matter how loud the protestations get from the fans and the media.

In the end, if they build a consistent run of high-level success, the pains of 2012-14 will be a distant memory. And that is all that matters.

Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston rips 'arrogant' Aaron Rodgers in ESPN interview

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Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston rips 'arrogant' Aaron Rodgers in ESPN interview

Three days after the conclusion of the NFL Draft, Lamarr Houston already fired the first shot in the new chapter of the Bears-Packers rivalry.

After the Bears beat the Packers on Thanksgiving night last season, Houston spouted off on Aaron Rodgers, saying, "I give two flying you know what about him. I really don't like that guy."

The Bears linebacker made an appearance on ESPN's SportsNation Monday and further explained his issue with the Green Bay quarterback, including Rodgers' championship belt celebration:

"He's a little arrogant for me," Houston said. "He's a little too arrogant. He's a cheesehead. I'm a Bear; he's a cheesehead. I have a lot of respect for his game, I will say that. He's a great quarterback and as a player, I have a lot of respect for his game. That whole championship belt thing kinda gets on my nerves."

When asked if Rodgers has ever displayed this arrogance on the field besides the celebration, Houston said:

"He's chimed a few words to me before. And I'll keep that to myself."

It's particularly interesting that Houston takes issue with Rodgers' celebrations considering the linebacker tore his ACL celebrating a sack in the Bears' blowout loss to the New England Patriots in 2014.

Houston recorded seven tackles and a sack of Rodgers in that Thanksgiving matchup last season.

The Bears meet the Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 7 and host Rodgers and Co. at Soldier Field Week 15 in 2016.

Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov undergoes wrist surgery

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Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov undergoes wrist surgery

Artem Anisimov said last week that he and the Blackhawks had to make the most of this offseason to be prepared for 2016-17. On Tuesday, he took care of something that was apparently ailing him.

Anisimov underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair an injury to his right wrist. Blackhawks team physician Dr. Michael Terry said in a statement that, “the surgery went well. We anticipate his return to full hockey activities in approximately six to eight weeks.”

The 27-year-old center played in 77 regular-season and all seven postseason games for the Blackhawks. He was tied for second on the team with three postseason goals (with Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith).

During last week’s closing meetings, Anisimov said he was going to stay in the Chicago area “for a while” before returning to Russia. He also talked about finding the silver lining in the Blackhawks’ early playoff exit.

“We just need to spend our summer wisely, get prepared for the next season and move forward,” he said.

Kameron Chatman the latest to transfer away from Michigan basketball

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Kameron Chatman the latest to transfer away from Michigan basketball

Players keep leaving the Michigan basketball program.

An offseason of roster turnover continued Tuesday, when the school announced that junior-to-be Kameron Chatman has been granted a release from his scholarship and will transfer.

"I honestly don't think I could have had a more quality life experience than I did in Ann Arbor," Chatman said in the announcement. "I am incredibly grateful for my two years at Michigan. I would like to thank coach (John) Beilein and his entire staff for taking a chance on a small-town kid out of Portland. I know my experience has inspired others as I will take all of my lessons learned to continue my pursuit of becoming the best man and player I can. Go Blue!"

"Kam is a wonderful young man with the potential to mature into a fine college player," Beilein said. "We have enjoyed coaching him over the past two years and wish him nothing but the best."

Chatman becomes the fourth player to transfer out of the program this offseason, joining Spike Albrecht, Ricky Doyle and Aubrey Dawkins. Albrecht announced his decision to attend Purdue on Tuesday, and Dawkins is planning a move to Central Florida so he can play for his father.

Chatman started 17 games over his two seasons with the Wolverines, averaging 3.2 points and two rebounds per game.

Last season, he hit a buzzer-beating, game-winning shot in the Big Ten Tournament to lift Michigan to an upset of top-seeded Indiana. The shot gave the Wolverines a signature win and likely was the difference in the team making th NCAA tournament field.

Chatman was a four-star recruit out of high school, ranked as the No. 25 player in the Class of 2014. He was part of a six-man Michigan recruiting class that season, only two of which remain in Ann Arbor.

Due to NCAA rules, Chatman will have to sit out next season before playing his final two years of eligibility at his next school.