Nobody is more Cubs than the Cubs. Remember when the Red Sox tried to be the Cubs? The Red Sox were never even close to being the Cubs, they were always much closer to being the Red Sox and then eventually they became the Red Sox. But the Cubs?
They are totally the Cubs.
Well with Theo Epstein, the Cubs are trying to be the Red Sox. I mean look at their best hitter; Anthony Rizzo, a former Red Sox prospect. And look at their best pitcher, Jeff Samardzija. A former receiver at Notre Dame, which if you caught me on a bad day I might say was located in Boston, Massachusetts.
Nobody wants to be the Cubs, especially the Cubs. They've been the Cubs for over 100 years, and it's time for a change to the Cubs. One of the most prominent of those changes would be to have prospects that don't fall flat on their faces. Some of the more recent former Top 100 prospects for Chicago include Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson, Andrew Cashner, Jay Jackson, Geovany Soto, Tyler Colvin, Sean Gallagher, Kosuke Fukodome, Felix Pie, Donald Veal, Mark Pawelek, Ronny Cedeno, Brian Dopirak, Ryan Harvey, Angel Guzman, (keep going?) Justin Jones, Andy Sisco, Bobby Brown, cool it now, Hee Seop Choi, Nic Jackson, Mark Prior, Juan Cruz, David Kelton, and Bobby Hill.
That list goes back to 2002 and doesn't include the successful prospects: Carlos Zambrano, Starlin Castro, and Samardzija.
Obviously Prior was a victim of injury, but a disappointment nonetheless. Some of those players were dealt for players, and that's good because they've fallen short of expectations. Players like Soto and Fukodome have had some success, but not sustainable. Vitters, Pie, Dopirak, Choi, and Cruz were highly regarded at one point. And it all adds up to a hill of Cubs.
Now the Cubbies hope to finally break out the bubblies with prospects like shortstop Javier Baez, and outfielders Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.
A lot of hope will especially be tied to Soler Dolo thanks to the recent success of fellow Cubans Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, but Baez is still the top prospect in the organization. That's great for Cubs fans because Baez can legitimately hit the ball from Chicago to his native Puerto Rico, but for fan-tasy owners it's a different story. Because what you're seeing now is "Javier Baez, SS" and what you'll be seeing in one or two years from now is "Javier Baez, something completely different."
Current shortstop Starlin Castro is having a terrible year, posting -1.5 WAR per Fangraphs in 88 games, with -10.7 UZR and a .265 wOBA but if you look at his four year career, 2013 is the major outlier. Castro's defense has never been rated that poorly, even if it's never been other-worldly, and his bat has never been this ugly. His .274 BABIP is well below his career-average of .324, and he has posted an average WAR of 2.8 per season in his first three seasons with two All-Star appearances.
Oh, and he's signed through 2019 on a $60 million contract.
How about second base? While Darwin Barney is hitting .212/.266/.330 this year, he's one of the best defensive second baseman in the major leagues. There's certainly a point where your bat is so bad that it doesn't matter how good your defense is, but Barney isn't there yet. He was worth 4.4 WAR over the 2011-2012 seasons and is going to win his second-straight Gold Glove in the NL.
Luckily, Baez's bat plays fine for first and third base, too. Unluckily, Rizzo is at first base, and the Cubs have a breakout player at third. Though he's already 27, Luis Valbuena leads Cubs hitters with 1.9 WAR this season by playing some of the best third base in the majors and walking at an excellent 13.6% rate this season. In only 90 games last year, Valbuena was worth 1.4 WAR, meaning that in his Chicago career of just about one full season, he's a 3.3 WAR player.
Outfield? Well, there's certainly a future there for somebody with Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus, and Nate Schierholtz as the current starts, but who? They aren't going to deal Soler, and someone needs to play centerfield, where DeJesus is presently playing. Playing centerfield jut happens to be Almora's specialty. Another oddity is that the 29-year-old Schierholtz is having a career-year at the plate and posted 1.7 WAR of his own.
While all of this could work itself out in due time, what if it doesn't? Other teams have found themselves in this position before and the results sometimes end up in stunting a players development at a time when he needs to be moved up, not held back because of the current road blocks. The Cubs are bad this year, as the Cubs are wont to do, but they've actually found themselves with a stable of capable players, just lacking that star power.
Star power that Baez and Soler could produce, but where? Maybe that's why after Baez's four-homer game, some people in the Cubs organization had to say "Hold your horses" on getting Baez to the major league level anytime soon.
"As coaches, it’s easy to get this way. We know the media gets this way. I know the fans in Chicago get this way," [Daytona manager Dave] Keller said. "Everybody wants these guys to do so well and they got to realize that this is a marathon. This is not any type of sprint at all."
Of course, Baez was promoted from Daytona to double-A Tennessee shortly after that. (He's currently 1-for-18 with a home run, no walks, and four strikeouts)
You don't want to trade Castro, and even if you did want to, you can't right now. And even if you could, Baez led his league in errors (by a wide margin) before being promoted.
How much better is your team when you sacrifice the defense of Barney and Valbuena for a player that has only played shortstop in his minor league career? You can't stick him in center, you can't put him in the outfield over Soler, and Schierholtz seems fit to keep his spot until he becomes a free agent after next season. Is there anything Baez can do to make the Cubs opening day roster in 2014, and if he does, where will he be playing?
I don't have that many concerns about Baez's bat. Though his walk rate has been poor throughout his career, it has steadily improved and he's consistently posted a high ISO, meaning that he should be able to get it up over 30 home runs on a regular basis. What I don't like is that he doesn't seem to have a place on the Cubs, he might not even have a place on a National League roster. Will they deal their top prospect?
Nobody is more Cubs than the Cubs, but nobody might be less Cubs than Javier Baez.