Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.
The Cubs are headed back to Wrigley Field on Friday coming off of 5-4 road trip. In each of their series with Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Washington the Cubs showed why they are the best team in Major League Baseball and also where there should be a pause for concern. Despite owning a record of 44-20 and having a 9 ½ game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central, there is still room for improvement. Getting into the playoffs is a great accomplishment, but does not guarantee anything more than that as only one team can win the World Series. Here are the following three realistic moves that I feel the Cubs front office can/should make to fortify the team’s roster to become an even tougher team in the playoffs.
- Call Up Willson Contreras to become new starting catcher
On Wednesday night, Willson Contreras extended his hit streak to 20 games as he helped the AAA Iowa Cubs beat the Colorado Springs Sky Sox 6-5. Contreras has basically dominated AAA pitching all season. He is currently batting .350 with an OPS of 1.030 and also has nine home runs to go along with 43 RBI. To say he is ready to hit major league pitching is an understatement. There is a ground swell in the Cubs fan base to bring Contreras up to the majors immediately. However, the front office insists that there in no rush to recall him from AAA. On a recent Cubs telecast CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reported that the team has not called up Contreras specifically because of the “big personalities” on the pitching staff and their possible unwillingness to respond positively to a rookie catcher.
It is hard to fathom that a team that is so committed to winning a World Series would allow ego to get in a way of that ultimate goal. Yes, the pitchers may feel more comfortable working on game plans with Miguel Montero and David Ross, but that still does not help the line-up when they are hitting .210 and .237 respectively and have a combined 7 home runs and 35 RBI on the season. Moreover, neither catcher has an on-base percentage over .340.
Thus, as it stands, the “big personalities” of the pitchers is dictating that the front office would rather have catchers who are not hitting above .240 or getting on base over .340, because they do not want to force their pitchers to work with a hot-hitting rookie catcher. The starting rotation is made of all veterans so I am sure if they want to shake-off Contreras when he calls for a breaking ball and they want to throw fastball they will. In the end, the pitchers will get what they want no matter what.
With that in mind, wouldn’t it make all the sense in the world to bring up Contreras now so that he can gain experience and learn to work with the rotation? I think what is not being said by the front office is that they would rather keep Contreras down in AAA instead of having to make the tough decision of releasing Montero who is making $12 million this year or David Ross who at 39 years-old is scheduled to retire at the end of the year. Yes, either decision is tough, but the questions are what is at stake and what is most important? Since there is no sense of keeping three catchers, my thought would be to designate for assignment Montero and allow him to catch on with another team. The time is now to make a move and to prove just how committed both the front office, the pitching staff, and the rest of the team is to winning the World Series.
- Trade for Jay Bruce to become permanent left fielder/right fielder
Many fans would love to see the Cubs make a push for the Toronto Blue Jays slugging outfielder Jose Bautista, but the Jays are in the thick of the American League East. As a result, they will most likely be buyers rather than sellers heading into the trade deadline. Thus, the best outfielder that is primed to be traded is Jay Bruce of the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are currently 19 games (Yes, 19 games!) behind the Cubs in the NL Central and, therefore, will assuredly be sellers at the trade deadline. The Reds will look to trade Bruce since he will become a free agent at the end of the season.
Adding Bruce’s bat to the lineup could be the difference maker in the playoffs for the Cubs. As of now he is having another solid year, batting .273 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI. His 15 home runs would tie for the team lead with Kris Bryant and his 51 RBI is two more than Anthony Rizzo’s team leading 49 RBI. Many would argue that the Cubs would prefer a right handed bat to balance out the line up a little more. However, Bruce actually hits left handers just as well as right handers. Currently Bruce has a .261 average against left handers. As a result, it wouldn’t be a determinant to add his left handed bat behind Rizzo. Also, it would be between Manager Joe Maddon, Bruce, and current right fielder Jason Heyward to determine which player should play which outfield corner position.
The market will determine how much the Cubs would have to give up to get Bruce. The Reds will assuredly get a number of offers by contenders to try to acquire Bruce in order to boost their line-up. I believe a package of two prospects and maybe Jorge Soler might entice the Reds to send him Chicago. Being that Bruce would be a 3-4 month rental the Cubs should only give up mid-level prospects and not one of their top prospects such as Contreras, Albert Almora, Jr., or Gleyber Torres.
- Trade for Andrew Miller to Serve as Set-up Man to Rondon
Buster Olney reported on ESPN.com that it would take a package of Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber to send to the New York Yankees for Andrew Miller. The tall hard throwing left hander is exactly what the Cubs need to bridge the gap between the starters and closer Hector Rondon. Miller owns a 1.30 ERA and a WHIP of 0.69. He was also seven out of eight in save opportunities while he held down the closer’s role during Aroldis Chapman’s suspension.
If there is one area that the Cubs need an upgrade it is relief pitching. The Cubs are currently sitting 10th in MLB in bullpen team ERA at 3.48 despite the Cubs relievers throwing the fewest amount of innings in the majors with 168. The Cubs front office cannot feel comfortable with the relief corps they currently have and settling on a lesser option than Miller could be all the difference in the world in terms of winning the World Series and not. Miller is that good to be the difference-maker.
If the Yankees want Schwarber and Baez, then why not complete the deal? Neither is a starter on the team. Baez is a super utility guy and, yes, he is a spark plug, but you also have guys like Chris Coghlan and Matt Szczur who can also perform in that role as well. Schwarber is out for the season and when he comes back he would most likely be relegated to left field since Contreras will be settled in as the starting catcher. Schwarber’s outfield defense is below average to put it mildly. So why would the Cubs be adamant that they will not give him up when there is really no place for him as a starter? It has been widely documented that experts feel that Schwarber’s future is most likely as a designated hitter on an American League roster. So sending him to an AL team and getting back a pitcher like Miller, who will remain under contract through 2018, would be the ideal situation for all parties.
Since the Yankees are in need of a future first baseman one trade chip that might interest them would be Dan Vogelbach at AAA Iowa. The Cubs will eventually have to move Vogelbach since he is blocked at his position by Anthony Rizzo. Vogelbach’s AAA numbers may look appealing to the Yankees as he is hitting .313 with 11 home runs and 45 RBI. Maybe the Cubs can send Vogelbach, another prospect, and either Schwarber or Baez to New York for Miller instead of having to give up both Schwarber and Baez?
The thought process here is to fill in the holes that will place the Cubs in an even better position come playoff time without giving up too much. Moving Contreras up will only force the Cubs to designate Miguel Montero for assignment and eat the remainder of his $12 million contract for this season. Adding Jay Bruce’s bat to the Cubs line-up should cost the Cubs a few mid-level prospects and possibly a major leaguer like Jorge Soler. To obtain the services of Andrew Miller the Cubs will have to decide to part ways with Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber or possibly Dan Vogelbach or another top prospect. Although some might argue that the Cubs may be giving up too much; however, a roster that includes Willson Contreras at catcher, Jay Bruce in the outfield, and Andrew Miller as the 8th inning set up reliever would make the Cubs an even more formidable team come playoff time than they are now.