Way back when I was a kid, “AFL” meant American Football League, and what fun it was to watch the likes of Jack Kemp, Cookie Gilchrist, John Hadl and Joe Namath. And it’s cool to see the game officials in those red and white uniforms in the AFL throwback games on Sundays this year. Today, though, “AFL” means Arizona Fall League, as in baseball, and several of the Cubs’ top prospects are set to kick off the season today for the Mesa Solar Sox.
Shortstop Starlin Castro, pitcher Andrew Cashner and third baseman Josh Vitters, who might be 1-2-3 on the Cubs’ prospect list, are with Mesa, as are pitchers John Gaub, Blake Parker and James Russell, along with catcher Welington Castillo.
The Cubs may or may not bring the 19-year-old Castro to big-league camp in February, but he vaulted to the head of the class after playing in Mesa (Rookie League) last year. At Daytona (A) this year, he put up a hitting line of .302/.340/.391 before moving up to Tennessee (AA) and going .288/.347/.396. If he keeps up this pace, he could be your opening-day shortstop in 2011.
Gaub is one of the three pitchers the Cubs got in the trade for Mark DeRosa (who is riding a 10-game losing streak in the playoffs). Gaub had a 1.72 ERA as a reliever at Iowa (AAA) and a 2.83 ERA at Tennessee, where he held batters to a .157 average.
Parker was Iowa’s closer, and he racked up 22 saves while holding hitters to .196. I expect to see Gaub and Parker added to the 40-man roster this winter, which means the Cubs will get a good look at both in spring training.
As far as the big club goes, nature abhors a vacuum, and so do trade rumors and free-agent talk. Let’s remember that’s it’s way early in the off-season, and the Cubs still aren’t sure how much money they’ll have this winter. They've got a slew of arbitration-eligible players due for raises (see Marmol and Theriot). When it's all said and done, trades, and not big-ticket free agents, might be the way the Cubs go this winter.
The Cubs will have to move right fielder Milton Bradley, and you’ve heard the names Pat Burrell (Rays) and Aaron Rowand (Giants). My colleague Andrew Baggerly of the San Jose Mercury news has talked with a Giants person who said he’d OK a Rowand-for-Bradley deal. However, “chemistry” issues could put the kibosh on any such deal, real or hypothetical.
Rowand has a terrible contract ($36 million coming over the next three years) and he’s been on the decline. Check out these hitting lines:
That’s a drop in OPS from .889 in 2007 to .738 this year.
Perhaps the most intriguing name to hit the streets recently, and I don’t know if the Cubs could get him, is Rockies outfielder Brad Hawpe, who apparently is on the outs in a crowded Colorado outfield picture. He’s a left-handed hitter.
Hawpe, 30, had a line of .285/.384/.519 with 23 homers and 86 RBI. His key numbers have been holding steady the last few years. He’ll make $7.5 million next year with a team option for $10 million in 2011. Hawpe can void the option if he’s traded, so it might be a one-year shot for the Cubs, if they were to pursue it. (You might remember, too, that Hawpe’s line drive hit Mark Prior in the elbow in 2004.)
Here's one take out of Denver:
Against lefties, this year, Hawpe batted .243 while hitting .303 vs. righties.
As far as the infield, goes, there are a couple of interesting free agents out there if the Cubs want to go outside to get a second baseman and put Jeff Baker into the “DeRosa” utility role.
Reports say the Tigers won’ bring Placido Polanco back as a free agent. This year, Polanco had a hitting line of .285/.331/.396 with 10 homers and 72 RBI. He made $4.6 million.
The other name is Felipe Lopez, who had what amounted to a career year this year between the D’Backs and Brewers. Lopez’s line was .310/.383/.427 with 9 homers and 57 RBI. An article at fangraphs.com cautions that Lopez had a probably “unsustainable” BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .360 and an isolated-power (slugging percentage minus batting average) of .118. So there could be big red flags here.
Proceed with caution on all these rumors.
In the meantime, enjoy the playoffs, and the AFL. Now where’s my Abner Haynes jersey?