CINCINNATI – Javier Baez would be a big name to put on the Wrigley Field marquee and help generate some excitement within the fan base for next season. But the Cubs can’t count on the kids yet.
Whether they’re part of “The Core” or not, the Cubs are going to lean on players like Edwin Jackson and Welington Castillo. They looked like they belonged during Tuesday night’s 9-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, combining for three home runs and working together for seven strong innings. But this organization is taking the long view.
Let’s just get this out of the way: Baez won’t break camp with the Cubs in 2014 after a minor-league season in which he generated 37 homers and 111 RBI in 130 games – at the age of 20.
“Listen, he’s really talented,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “I still think he has development left. We’re going to go into spring training with that mindset.”
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This was the day after advanced Class-A Daytona won the Florida State League championship and Double-A Tennessee and Class-A Boise lost its title shots.
Baez split his season between Daytona and Tennessee and committed 44 errors, another sign he might not be ready for prime time. But he will go to the Arizona Fall League – along with top prospects Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler – and try to increase his versatility.
One day, Baez could either play alongside Starlin Castro or force the Cubs to make a decision with their franchise shortstop.
The Cubs have to decide how they will approach this winter, taking into account a stronger system and weighing whether to go after more bridge players or make the kind of longer free-agent commitment they did with Jackson (four years, $52 million).
“We’re still in the process right now,” Hoyer said. “Because we’re not going to be playing October baseball, we’ll really grind on the offseason and get a feel for exactly what the budget’s going to be, get a feel for a lot of our evaluations over the whole season.
“Those are much more October discussions. But one of the hardest things with 2014 is I think we all see these players coming and we’re excited about our future and where those guys are. But we also realize it’s likely that none of those guys are going to start the season in the big leagues. As we sort of make out the lineup card, the 25-man roster for next year, that’s not going to be part of it."
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Catcher might be the weakest position in the organization and the Cubs are expected to make it a priority this offseason. Castillo hit two homers against the Reds (82-64) and guided Jackson through his 13th quality start (in 28 outings).
The Daytona staff allowed only three earned runs in 54 postseason innings, helping the team win 16 of its final 18 games. That rotation was built through the draft (Pierce Johnson) and by trading short-term assets (Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, Scott Hairston) for prospects (C.J. Edwards, Corey Black, Ivan Pineyro) this summer.
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Jackson (8-15, 4.76 ERA) hasn’t taken a step forward this season, and the Cubs will probably just have to live with him as a back-of-the-rotation guy.
“It’s been a tough year, but there’s not been one time where I’ve given in,” Jackson said. “I’m a big believer: Regardless of how tough it gets, you can either fold or you can just continue to fight back. As long as the guys in here know that you’re not a quitter – (that’s what’s important).
“It’s easy to be up-tempo and high-strung and all happy when everything’s going good, but I think the true testament is how do you act and how do you respond when things aren’t going good. It’s definitely been a crazy season for me, but there hasn’t been one time where I’ve had my head down to myself or felt like I wanted to quit.
“It’s just a battle. It’s tough. You sign a pretty good contract and people have big expectations for you. For the most part, it’s been more of a letdown to the team than myself. I feel like I owe it to finish strong and come out these next three years and do what I’m supposed to do and pitch like I know I can pitch.”
For now, Cubs fans can drift off watching a 62-82 team and dream about the day Baez makes his Wrigley Field debut.
“It’s as good a minor-league season as I’ve seen,” Hoyer said. “He’s got some things he needs to work on (and) there’s going to be guys that miss and maturity is a big part of it. But there’s no reason to believe (it’s a fluke). Guys that do that at his age normally go on to have really good careers. He’s not ready yet either. But what he did was pretty special.”