As the Cubs Roll Into August…
- Updated: August 7, 2009
July turns to August and finds the Chicago Cubs still in the NL Central hunt. Nevertheless, they didn’t look like a contending team as the trading deadline neared, making a nominal move for minimal help which may actually hurt the team this season.
In a month in which Roy Halladay’s name occupied the airwaves 24/7, and in which Cliff Lee, Jake Peavy, and Jarrod Washburn were all traded to contenders, the Cubs came away from the trading deadline with . . . Tom Gorzelanny? A guy who was solid but not great for the Pirates in 2007, and split time in 2008 and 2009 with the Pirates’ Triple-A club. Are we supposed to believe that the Cubs hope to win the NL Central with a guy who wasn’t good enough to break the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation?
The funny part is that the Cubs actually gave up a guy in Kevin Hart who has had some success at the major league level in 2009.
Who knows – perhaps Gorzelanny is a good pitcher from a bad team who will improve mightily on a winning team like the Cubs. I don’t think that will be the case, but who knows? On the bright side, Gorzelanny has dominated Triple-A since 2006, and he is a lefty where Hart was a righty.
The other big move made by the Cubs was the acquisition of Toronto Blue Jays cast-off B.J. Ryan, who despite being owed more than $15 million on his contract was released in June. But who knows, this could work out great as well. Thirty-three year old relievers with bad mechanics two-and-a-half years removed from Tommy John surgery often work out great, right?
Chicago Cubs apologists will be quick to point out that the Cubs have been hamstrung by the fact that their parent, the Tribune Company, is currently in bankruptcy proceedings. This may be. Nevertheless, it is questionable not only whether the moves the Cubs are making will improve the team, but whether the moves may actually be making the team worse. It remains to be seen.
The good news for the Cubs is that July was their hottest month of the season so far. During the past month the Cubs won 18 of 27 games, including 6 out of 8 on the road. The bad news is that the Cubs played 19 of their 27 games at home in July, where they are a better team that they are on the road. In August, the Cubs play 16 out of 29 games on the road, and will have only 2 days off. Plus, while the Cubs benefited from a weak schedule in July, in August they face off against Florida, Colorado, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and the Mets. It will be a grueling month.
On the other hand, if a month from now the Cubs are still within 2 games of first place in the NL Central, then they may be primed to make another move or two before the August 31st deadline, whereas should they slip in the standings they’ll know that such a move would be futile. That is probably a good position to be in.
Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir Update
Wanna hear something weird? Jake Fox currently has a 141 OPS+ and a .955 OPS, but he has performed significantly better on the road than he has at Wrigley Field, to the tune of .275/.328/.529/.857 at home and .339/.365/.679/1.044 on the road. Anyone who can put up those numbers on the road playing for any team is likely the real deal. Though it is a relatively small sample size, this is very good news for what has been one of the few bright spots in the Cubs’ lineup in 2009.
Humorously (or should I say, humorlessly), Fox has seen his playing time limited of late for the preposterous reason that, with Geovanny Soto on the DL, Fox is the team’s emergency catcher and must be kept available in case Koyie Hill gets injured. Any chance we can make Milton Bradley the emergency catcher?
While Jake Fox has been bringing it for the Cubs on the road, Hoffpauir has not. He is solid at home, with an .887 OPS and a .278 batting average, but on the road he is awful, to the tune of .575 and .204. Ouch. Plus, he has 3 walks and 29 strikeouts on the road. Ooof.
I am beginning to wonder about the Cubs farm system and its ability to produce major league hitters. Seriously, when was the last time a Cubs prospect became a bona fide major league hitter? Let’s count backwards the number of Cubs major league prospects who failed to pan out – Micah Hoffpauir (at least for now), Geovanny Soto (one year does not out a pan), Felix Pie, Ronny Cedeno, Corey Patterson, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, Jason DuBois, Hee Seop Choi, Bobby Hill, Augue Ojeda, Roosevelt Brown, Kevin Orie, Gary Matthews, Jr., Julio Zuleta, Jason Smith, Brant Brown, Chad Meyers, Robin Jennings, Jose Nieves, Brooks Kieschnick, Doug Glanville, Kevin Roberson, Mike Hubbard, Rey Sanchez, Derrick May, Rick Wilkins, Doug Dascenzo, Hector Villaneuva, Gary Scott, Alex Arias, Dwight Smith, Jerome Walton, Damon Berryhill, Greg Smith, Rick Wrona, Joe Girardi, Earl Cunningham, Ty Griffin, Mark Grace.
Okay, I wasn’t expecting that – I figured that the list would be long, but I did not expect to have to go all the way back to Mark Grace. Is that it? Has it been 20 years since the Cubs developed a star major league hitter? Amazingly, the Cubs drafted Mark Grace in 1985, the same year they drafted Rafael Palmeiro. So it has been almost 25 years since the Cubs drafted and developed a star major league hitter. How is that possible? Something is seriously wrong!
I guess, theoretically, the Cubs could take credit for developing Sammy Sosa. But Sosa was signed by the Rangers and traded to the White Sox before he was traded to the Cubs as a 23 year old, so it would be hard for them to claim credit for his development when he was in baseball for six years before joining the Cubs.
Just to complete the exercise, let’s go through Major League Baseball and take a look at a random sampling of homegrown star hitters from each franchise:
Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Scott Rolen, Jimmy Rollins
New York Mets: David Wright, Jose Reyes
Florida Marlins: Miguel Cabrera
Washington Nationals: Vlad Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera, Jose Vidro
Atlanta Braves: Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Rafael Furcal, Brian McCann
St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols,
Houston Astros: Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio
Pittsburgh Pirates: Aramis Ramirez
Cincinnati Reds: Adam Dunn
Milwaukee Brewers: Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy
Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney
Arizona Diamondbacks: Mark Reynolds, Justin Upton
Colorado Rockies: Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitski, Matt Holliday
San Diego Padres: Jason Bay
San Francisco Giants: Pedro Feliz, Pablo Sandoval
New York Yankees: Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Nick Johnson, Jorge Posada
Boston Red Sox: Jeff Bagwell, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury
Tampa Bay Rays: Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Aubrey Huff, Evan Longoria
Toronto Blue Jays: Aaron Hill, Vernon Wells
Baltimore Orioles: Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis
Chicago White Sox: Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordonez, Paul Konerko
Detroit Tigers: Curtis Granderson,
Minnesota Twins: Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer,
Cleveland Indians: Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Brian Giles, Richie Sexson
Kansas City Royals: Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, Joe Randa
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Darin Erstad, Jim Edmonds, Troy Glaus, Tim Salmon, Garrett Anderson
Texas Rangers: Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Travis Hafner
Seattle Mariners: Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, Raul Ibanez
Gee whiz. It is one thing to say it has been a long time since the Cubs developed a good major league hitter, but taking even a cursory glance at what all the other teams have done in recent years reveals just what a feat this has been. Do the Cubs simply have the worst farm system in baseball over the last 20 years? It looks like only the Giants and Pirates systems have done even close to as bad of a job.
This is a shocking development.
Indeed, when one looks at recent Chicago Cubs stars, it is a list of hitters acquired from other teams almost exclusively. Consider: Derrek Lee (acquired from the Marlins), Aramis Ramirez (Pirates), Sammy Sosa (White Sox), Juan Pierre (Marlins), Alex Gonzalez (Blue Jays), Andre Dawson (Expos), and Ryne Sandberg (Phillies).
I’ll tell you what this tells me – if the Cubs have star offensive prospects in their minor league system and they think they can use them to acquire established hitters or pitching help, they should do so. And whether or not they win the division in 2009 may depend on whether or not they heed history’s advice.