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Good morning and happy Monday, friends.
It’s been over a week since the Cubs got a win following the one-game stop in Baltimore and the three-game sweep in New York. That’s now six straight losses for a slumping Cubs team, capped by back-to-back tough-to-stomach losses to the Yankees in which the Cubs had a combined minus-22 run differential.
Things won’t get any easier this week. To start the homestand, the Cubs welcome the Padres to Wrigley Field for a four-game set. San Diego has won seven of its last 10 games and is currently just a half-game back of the Dodgers in the National League West. Then, the Braves, the hottest team in baseball currently riding an 11-game winning streak, visit the North Side for three games.
We’ll have plenty of coverage to come from those series. So before that, let’s do a quick recap of some of things that happened over the last week. Here are my Monday morning Cubs thoughts for June 13.
Back when we talked to Jed Hoyer in the visitor’s dugout at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 28, the Cubs had been having a lot of backlash over a perceived lack of transparency about the direction of the team. In an effort to provide more of an idea of how the team was operating, Hoyer put it bluntly that the team remained focused on the future of the ballclub.
“There are going to be moments in time that you have to make a decision,” Hoyer said. “Sometimes, the current and the future are in conflict, whether it’s trading prospects to get a ‘now’ player, whether it’s doing a really long deal on a free agent. When those things are in conflict, we are going to look toward the future. Our goal is to build something really special, just like it was last time, and sometimes to do that, you have to take a long view.”
OK, cool. Hoyer made it clear that he’s focused on building something that could lead to sustained success. But then he said this:
“The way our game is set up, you’re forced oftentimes to decide: Is this a move I want to make right now that is going to have a negative impact on our future? And when those have come up, I feel like I’ve leaned strongly towards the future, and I feel strongly about that.”
That right there is the key.
At the time, he believed the moves he’d made were pointed toward the future, and at the time, he wasn’t wrong. He didn’t shell out expensive contracts during the offseason to try to put together a World Series contender now, ones that would’ve limited the financial flexibility to compete in the future if they didn’t pan out. The moves to deal core players at last year’s trade deadline brought in a haul of prospects who have so far impressed in the minor leagues. And he had brought in reclamation-type players on cheap contracts to see if any could find more success in a new environment and perhaps be a part of the next era of winning baseball.
But because Hoyer has talked so much about keeping one eye on the future, that made it a head-scratcher when the Cubs announced that they designated Clint Frazier for assignment prior to Friday’s series opener against the Yankees.
It really is baffling. Here, you’ve got a player who’s only 27 years old, was brought in on a cheap, one-year deal and has had some big-league success in the past. This move would make more sense if this was a season where the Cubs were competing for a championship. It wouldn’t be a wait-and-see approach that Hoyer and Co. would take with players on the roster, because stacking up wins would be much more important than seeing if a once-heralded prospect could show more of what made him good in the past over a 162-game season.
But this isn’t that kind of season. The Cubs came into the year with question marks, and as they’ve fallen into the double digits in games below .500, it’s looked even more like a season where success would come in truly finding out what they have on the roster.
Frazier was one of those players with some question marks that it didn’t feel like we got a real answer from. A month-long stay on the injured list following appendicitis and the ensuing appendectomy obviously didn’t help, but was this a move that had to be made now? Had they really seen enough from Frazier to say it just wasn’t going to work out?
This is a season where the Cubs should be focused on seeing what guys can do with opportunities. The argument can be made that Frazier could’ve done more with the opportunities he was given in what had been a platoon-role in the outfield, but he’d only racked up 45 plate appearances over 19 games. In that sense, it doesn’t feel like many opportunities to prove himself were there in the first place. And considering he is young enough that he still has time to try and turn things around and become a productive big leaguer, the DFA move doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
All of that leads me into my next point.
As part of the rationale for the move, manager David Ross told reporters at Yankee Stadium that the Cubs needed to open a spot on the 40-man roster spot for Chris Martin, who was returning from the restricted list following a stay on the bereavement list, and with the number of outfielders on the active roster, there weren’t many spots to get Frazier consistent opportunities.
That all makes sense without context. Yes, Martin is a solid contributor to the bullpen and needs a spot with the big league club, and yes, there was a logjam in the outfield with Ian Happ, Christopher Morel, Rafael Ortega and Jason Heyward also on the active roster (not to mention Seiya Suzuki and Michael Hermosillo, who are on the 10-day and 60-day IL, respectively). But when you do take into account that this season is one in which the Cubs are looking for potential contributors to the “Next Great Cubs Team,” the move to DFA Frazier still feels a bit confusing.
Ross’ job is to get wins, and he’s said all along that he’s going to focus on winning each individual game. He’s the one who makes the lineup every day, and the ones he puts out there are the ones that he feels give the Cubs the best chance to win. But again, he’s the one that makes the lineup every day. Especially with Suzuki being out for the two weeks leading up to Friday’s move, Ross could’ve found more spots to put Frazier in the lineup every game, even against righties, and see how he fared. But that didn’t happen.
Those at-bats have gone to Jason Heyward since he came off the IL on June 1. Heyward has looked better at the plate since he was activated, posting a 118 wRC+ in eight games, and he provides intangible value as a team-leader in the clubhouse. But he’s only under contract through 2023 and isn’t expected to be a contributor when the Cubs are ready to compete again.
I’m not saying that Frazier would’ve transformed into a contributor, either, but this season was one in which the Cubs could’ve provided him some leash to see if anything was there. Now, he’s just a promising player who fell victim to the 40-man crunch.
For anyone who’s wondering what comes next for Frazier, here’s MLB.com’s explanation of the DFA process:
“When a player’s contract is designated for assignment — often abbreviated “DFA” — that player is immediately removed from his club’s 40-man roster. Within seven days of the transaction (had been 10 days under the 2012-16 Collective Bargaining Agreement), the player can either be traded or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.
If the player is claimed off said waivers by another club, he is immediately added to that team’s 40-man roster, at which point he can be optioned to the Minor Leagues (if he has Minor League options remaining) or assigned to his new team’s 26-man roster. If the player clears waivers, he may be sent outright to the Minor Leagues or released. Players with more than three years of Major League service time or who have been previously outrighted may reject the outright assignment in favor of free agency.”
Ross told reporters that he hoped the Cubs could keep him in the organization. Frazier has an option left and could be outrighted to the minors if clears waivers, but he also has more than three years of service time and could elect free agency instead. Is going back to Iowa something he would want to do? When he was activated on May 28, he joked that there wasn’t much to do in Des Moines and that he probably lost a few pounds because all they had in Iowa was corn and beer, and that was “not my style.”
I’m not in Frazier’s head, and I won’t speculate or make a prediction on what he’ll do. Could he accept the minor league assignment if he isn’t traded and clears waivers? Sure. Is he also someone who wants another real shot to show what he can do in the bigs? Definitely.
You’re all free to speculate. Do with this information what you will.
Balloting for the All-Star Game started this past week, and while there are still a few weeks until Phase 1 Voting ends on June 30, right now, it’s going to take some work for the Cubs to get more than one player in the Midsummer Classic.
Of the Cubs names that you can vote for, most really don’t have much of a chance to get selected. There are a few who will be (or at least were) under consideration, though, so I’ll provide a brief snapshot of each of their cases.
Willson Contreras: If Contreras doesn’t make his third All-Star team this July, something is off. Of all NL catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, Contreras is first in wRC+ (157), OPS (.910), fWAR (2.2) and just about any offensive stat that matters. He’s not the best defensive catcher around, but so what? Offense is king. Unless the wheels really fall off for him at the plate, he’ll be the starting catcher for the NL (and if he’s traded before then, MLB will just have to figure that out).
Ian Happ: His best season at the plate and improved defense in the outfield has gotten Happ into the conversation to be one of the NL’s All-Star outfielders. He’s got the fifth-highest fWAR (1.6) among qualified outfielders in the league, his wRC+ (123) is ninth-best and his on-base percentage (.367) is No. 4. I don’t know that I see Happ getting enough fan votes to be a starter, but if he continues to put up the numbers he has so far, he’ll definitely have an argument to be named a reserve.
David Robertson: At 37 years old, Robertson has found the fountain of youth. He’s in or around the top 10 of qualified relievers in plenty of stats, including his ninth-ranked 0.8 fWAR and his 10th-ranked 1.59 ERA. He’s certainly got the numbers to warrant consideration. At the same time, there are other relievers who have numbers that are just as good or better, and there usually aren’t many bullpen arms who get the nod. That’s likely Robertson’s biggest obstacle to overcome.
Keegan Thompson: If I was writing this a week ago, I would’ve said Thompson more than had a case to be in the conversation. At that point, he was 6-0, owned a 1.99 ERA and was impressive as the Cubs’ swingman. I didn’t necessarily think he would be among the favorites to go to LA, but if he kept pitching like he was, I think he could’ve had a shot. But since then, Thompson’s earned back-to-back losses and lasted a combined 3 2/3 innings while giving up 10 earned runs to the Orioles and the Yankees. His ERA has quickly climbed to 3.67. I think that’s put to bed any hopes that he would make it to the Midsummer Classic this season.
There are plenty of other Cubs already on the ballot, but there’s also a spot for write-in votes, too. So, for everyone wanting to see rookie sensation Christopher Morel make it to Los Angeles in July, there’s certainly a chance.
You can cast your votes here.
If you’ve watched any of our CHGO Cubs shows on Youtube, you know that we record them live. Because it’s live, we get to see real-time comments from viewers, and there are plenty of examples of us taking time to react to them.
On one of our shows this past week, we were discussing the rumors that Cubs will go after a big-name free agent shortstop this offseason. I looked at the comments, and one of our viewers basically said the Cubs don’t need one of them, Carlos Correa… because they have Nico Hoerner and Christopher Morel on the team.
I’m not criticizing the commenter here, because I do think the Cubs have something exciting in those two players. However, I just don’t see them being the main reasons why the Cubs shouldn’t go after Correa (if he even opts out of his contract this year) or any other shortstop in free agency.
Yes, Morel has absolutely set the world on fire and is such a positive member of that clubhouse, but remember, he’s not even 23 years old for another 11 days and he hasn’t been in the big leagues for a full month yet. Every rookie goes through some sort of struggles, and if you look at Morel’s four-strikeout performance on Sunday, maybe those are coming. He’s special, no doubt, but it’s far too early to anoint him a shortstop of the future (especially considering he’s only played the position two times through his first 24 games).
At the same time, Hoerner has looked like a capable big league shortstop so far this season. He’s put together solid standard stats with peripherals that back it up, and he’s been pretty impressive at short. But he’s barely been the starting shortstop for two months, and even that stretch was interrupted by a 10-day stint on the IL. He also hasn’t even played a full-season’s worth of games at the big league level. Is there a shot he can be the Cubs everyday shortstop? For sure. Has he proven that without a reasonable doubt? I wouldn’t say so yet.
Look, I’m not saying the Cubs should go after a shortstop this offseason, or even that they will. What I am saying is that, if Hoyer decides not to make a run at one of them, we shouldn’t be saying right now, on June 13, that it’s because the Cubs are already set.
Let’s just say Sunday was “a day that will live in infamy.”
The Cubs got pummeled by the Yankees for the second game in a row, this one an 18-4 loss that sent the Cubs home sour. Things were capped off when Ross sent Frank Schwindel out there to pitch the eighth inning and preserve as much of the bullpen as he could. And then this happened:
Any time a position player is on the mound, you know the game was bad, and this was no different. It’s actually Schwindel’s second time on the mound this season, having pitched at the end of a blowout loss to the Cardinals on June 3. That day, both hits he allowed were on solo home runs, and then he gave up his third career home run on Sunday. But sheesh, a 35.1 mph pitch? Credit Kyle Higashioka for even managing to send a pitch that slow out of the park.
As for Schwindel, I’m sure throwing the slowest pitch to be hit for a home run isn’t a record he’s too fond of holding.
How about we end this on a positive note.
The same day that Anthony Rizzo helped send his former team packing with a 2-for-6 game (and just one day after he hit his first career home run against the Cubs), Kevin Alcantara was having the game of his life down in the minors. He’d already been pretty much destroying Single-A pitching with Myrtle Beach, coming into Sunday batting .273/.362/.481 with a 132 wRC+ (and that includes a slow start in which he finished April slashing .224/.333/.345).
Then on Sunday, Alcantara took the Carolina Mudcats for two three-run homers and a two-run triple. His eight-RBI day set a new Pelicans’ record. Ryne Sandberg has “the Ryne Sandberg Game.” Down in Myrtle Beach, this will probably be known as “the Kevin Alcantara Game.”
But what does that have to do with Rizzo? Well, Alcantara is one of the players the Cubs brought back when they dealt Rizzo to New York last year. For all the uproar over trading the face of the franchise, the Cubs brought back a prospect who so far is crushing it in his first full-season campaign.
Seeing how Alcantara is just 19 years old, it’ll be years before we can say who won the trade. But if Alcantara can play like this as a big leaguer, the Cubs might have an argument.
In case you missed them, here are some Cubs articles from the past week:
- Cubs, Contreras avoid arbitration. What comes next?
- Anthony Rizzo’s five most memorable moments with the Cubs
- Matt Swarmer’s success driven by unorthodox slider
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