My patience is drawing to a close…
My patience is drawing to a close…
This spring, Alfonso has seemingly flown under the radar with his spring. He is blasting pitching in spring training, hitting an otherworldly .946 slugging percentage boosted by his Cactus League-leading six home runs. Undoubtedly, Soriano won’t hit for that, or even close to that slugging percentage over the course of the season, but other aspects of his performance could indicate that he may be changing his game a touch.
Soriano has struggled to draw walks this spring, as he typically does. He has yet to draw a walk; in fact, he hasn’t drawn a walk over the past three springs (159 ABs). That’s not a trend. Soriano will eventually draw a walk. However, Soriano has somehow increased his contact, while making hard contact.
More likely than not, this is just a spring training fluke, but could he be improving his strikeout rate? His strikeout rate currently sits at 16%. Be wary that Soriano’s K% hasn’t been below 20% since 2005, but it’s sat comfortably around 21%. Assuming Soriano can stay healthy this season, a decrease in strikeouts could be feasible for a variety of reasons.
Before finishing the 2011 campaign, Soriano finished with a 16.5 K% in September, and was largely an above-average hitter. This was led largely because he was much more patient in that month.
Over the entirety of the season, Soriano swung at 45% of pitches outside of the zone. Anyone watching a Cubs game featuring him would probably have thought the number to be higher, however over the team’s final month, Soriano offered at a mere 19.4% of pitches outside the zone. Could September be a small sample outlier, or could Hitting Coach Rudy Jaramillo have worked on Soriano’s swing, stance, bat position, or any number of million variables possible that could have contributed to it.
When Alfonso Soriano makes contact, it typically goes very far. His innate ability to continually put the ball in the air suppresses his batting average, while boosting his capacity to hit for extra bases. If he can continue to hit for power the way he always can, while depressing his strikeout rate, he can be a very productive hitter in 2012.
Tuesday, the Cubs agreed to a one year deal with former Pittsburgh pitch Paul Maholm that includes a club option. The Pirates were shopping Maholm around earlier in the offseason, but since he had a $10M option, no teams were giving in to the understandably light trade demands. Pittsburgh didn’t pick up his option, and he hit the open market, allowing the Cubs to swoop in and sign the 30 year-old lefty.
Maholm is nothing more than a solid fourth starter on most teams, and he will certainly start for the Cubs, even if the team retains trade candidate Matt Garza. If the Cubs do not trade Garza, a battle for the fifth starter will ensue between starters Chris Volstad and Randy Wells, assuming Travis Wood isn’t abysmal in Spring Training.
As for Maholm, he profiles as the typical finesse lefty–never going over 6.5 K/9, but keeping his BB/9 rates below 3. He throws in the upper 80′s, but exhibits an excellent career ground ball rate of 1.83 GB/FB due to his primary usage of his two-seam fastball.
Early in his career, Maholm gave up about one homer every nine innings he pitched, however with his addition of the two-seamer in 2009, he dropped that number a good chunk to .75 HR/9.
Look at Maholm’s two-seam fastball usage:
Maholm loves to keep his two-seamer away from right-handed batters, and does the same to lefties. The art of “nibbling” is something Maholm is keen to, and obviously he uses his two-seamer more against lefties.
Throwing the first-pitch strike isn’t something Maholm isn’t excellent at (he’s league-average), however the first-pitch strike and getting ahead in the count in general (like so many other pitchers) is critical to Maholm’s success or failure.
Take a look at this graph:
Maholm gets markedly better as he gets ahead in the count, and the more strikes he throws, he can rely on his deception–both natural and through his pitch count–to generate success.
Arguably his best pitch is the change-up, which he uses to keep hitters from sitting on his fastball.
Look at his change-up usage:
Maholm uses his change in the exact same area as his two-seamer to mimic the same pitch. The release point is in the same area as well:
The main difference between his change and his fastballs? About five miles per hour, which is enough to keep hitters off-balance. In fact, there is a good five m.p.h. difference between his next best pitch, his curveball:
Paul Maholm is a quality pitcher–especially for the salary the Cubs are expected to pay for him. In all, the Cubs make a very solid acquisition in signing Maholm, considering he could have costed the team a prospect in the event of a trade.
Using this system, a different coach will manage the team each month during the season, and members of the group will move between the major league team and its minor league affilitaes.
Over the next five years, the Cubs never finished better than seventh place in the NL East, and only once broke .500 in that span, despite having a trio of hall of famers in Ron Santo, Billy Williams, and Ernie Banks.
Well, actually, I do.
I am 100% faithful that what Peter Gammons says has occurred.
Gammons reported via twitter that the Cubs say “they do not have cash to sign (Prince) Fielder.” Those tricky Cubs aren’t telling the truth to poor Peter.
Unless the Cubs magically turned into a mid-market team, the Cubs can certainly afford to sign the free agent first baseman.
According to Cot’s Contracts and MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration projections, the Cubs’ payroll stands at $87.1M at the start of free agency. Throw the David DeJesus signing in, and that brings the number up to $92.1M. Add in Ian Stewart’s arbitration raise, the payroll could jump up to a possible $95.1M. Add in a mixture of pre-arbitration players, and you could envision that number being pushed up to $96.6M.
An addition of a premium player of Fielder’s type would certainly cost the Cubs a small fortune, although not as much as one may think. Albert Pujols signed for $27.5M per year, so Fielder could conceivably sign for much less since he lacks the defensive prowess Pujols holds. Is $24M for seven or eight years feasible? Sure.
A $24M addition to the payroll boosts the figure up to $120M in 2012. That’s certainly a hefty figure, but considering the Cubs have maintained payrolls of $134,004,000, $144,359,000, and $134,809,000 the past three seasons, and it’s more than capable for the Cubs to sustain.
Also, when one considers that the albatross contract of Carlos Zambrano ends after the season, the Cubs would be able to afford $19M per year on a worthwhile player. Ryan Dempster’s $14M contract also ends after next season. Two years after his contract expires, Alfonso Soriano’s contract does the same.
If payroll is indeed tight, the Cubs would really have to swallow the bitter pill for just one season. And why not? The addition of Prince Fielder would certainly make the team much better, and would provide the Epstein Administration an impact addition to start their tenure off with.
With the potential free agent class of 2013 and beyond lacking a power bat, the Cubs may be pressured to make a move not only to improve the club now, but also in the future.
Troy Renck of the Denver Post tweeted yesterday that the Cubs acquired Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers for Tyler Colvin and D.J. Lemehieu. Colvin and Lemehieu may do well, but Stewart (a non-tender candidate) fills an opening in the Cubs’ roster.
The Cubs have been rumored to be talking to the Rockies about Stewart since the Winter Meetings began, with Lemehieu and Colvin being mentioned in separate offerings.
The player that came out of nowhere is Casey Weathers, a relief pitcher with electric stuff. Weathers, a former first round draft choice, is a type of pitcher that may remind you of Carlos Marmol: he features a live fastball that reaches into the mid-90′s, a plus slider, and absolutely awful command.
Weathers has some ridiculous, video game-esque strike out numbers in his early minor league career:12.51, 10.96, 16.20, and 12.05 K/9 since before last season. His flaw, as I mentioned before, is his control. Only once has he posted a walk rate below four in his career. Weathers suffered a blown elbow in 2008 and missed all of 2009 due to Tommy John surgery. Control is typically the last thing to come back following the surgery, so he could be a work in progress.
Weathers could never see a major league bullpen, but his ceiling is that of a closer. At least two more seasons in Double-A could be the forecast for Weathers, so he could be an interesting arm to pay attention as he moves along.
With former Ranger starting pitcher C.J. Wilson going to their division rivals, combined with the Albert Pujols signing, Texas could be more motivated to make a trade for Matt Garza.
It’s going to be interesting to see who wins the Yu Darvish posting. If the Rangers miss out on the exclusive contract talks with Darvish, they would feel heavy pressure to make a move on Garza.
Today, the final day of the Winter Meetings, will also hold Major League Baseball’s Rule 5 Draft. The Cubs stand to lose infielder Ryan Flaherty, shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, and pitcher Dae-Eun Rhee.
The most recognizable name of that bunch is Flaherty, who has been in the system seemingly forever. With several options available for the Cubs at third within the minors, specifically Josh Vitters, Flaherty wasn’t given a spot on the club’s 40 man roster.
The Cubs are drafting fourth, although with the additions of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod, one has to assume that the Cubs will be drafting for the Red Sox and Padres, similar to how they drafted Josh Hamilton for the Reds in 2006.
There are several high-upside options available through the Rule 5 draft, however.
Nick Barnese of the Tampa Bay Rays has never been above Double-A, but he could be a good option out of the bullpen–and a much better one than the likes of Casey Coleman.
Barnese has made appearances on many prospect lists for Tampa, which has been a very good farm system. While typically a starter, a move to the bullpen could allow Barnese to limit his pitch counts and focus on using his fastball and change-up mix, while sprinkling in his underwhelming slider
Barnese sort of shot-puts the ball similar to how Keith Foulke used to, which is likely the reason he has encountered shoulder issues. A move to the bullpen would also help Barnese stay on the field, which is something he has struggled to do.
Third base prospect Pedro Baez is a super, super high-upside prospect that has electric tools, but horrid pitch selection. The Cubs may take a flier with the hope that hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo can work a miracle, but unless the Cubs are feeling risky, a Baez pick is unlikely. He is, however, one of the very few Rule 5 draft prospects with superstar potential, and third base is open as of now.
Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago has tweeted that the Rangers and Cubs are discussing a package involving the Rangers’ top prospects and Cub starting pitcher Matt Garza.
With C.J. Wilson leaving for free agency, the Rangers are looking to replace his production with Garza. The top projected starting pitcher on the Rangers stands to be Derek Holland. While Holland went 16-5 in 2011, he produced mediocre peripheral statistics.
Neftali Feliz is slated to join the Rangers’ rotation, but he may not be ready to eat the appropriate amount of innings after two seasons in the bullpen.
Matt Harrison would most likely be booted off the rotation with an addition of Garza.
The mediocrity of the Rangers’ starters, along with their strong farm system makes them a prime trade candidate for the Cubs.
I took a look at what the Cubs could get from the Rangers in a Matt Garza trade earlier.
I really would have liked to see him in a Cub Uniform, especially for the $4.5M it took to put him in a Pirate Uniform.
Injuries are probably what kept Theo and Co. away.