The last time Cubs president Theo Epstein entertained the media, we used this blog to run some of his comments unfiltered. It seemed to go over well, so we’ll do it again here today. On Tuesday, Theo met with the Cubs beat writers for about an hour. Since he tends to give expansive answers (a good thing), there isn’t always space in the papers to fit everything in.
Our blog space is unlimited (mostly), so we’ll get into a few things in more detail here. That also gives you, the reader and baseball fan, a chance to get your Theo unfiltered. We’ll also recap some of the organizational promotions at the end of the blog, so stick with us. Although Theo and GM Jed Hoyer have made numerous changes since coming in a year ago, they’ve also kept a lot of people from the past regime.
To me, that’s a point to their credit. A lot of times, new people come in and clean house, throwing out good people with the under-performers. Even though some good people have been let go or their jobs eliminated, Theo and Jed have kept a large number of baseball people, including assistant GM Randy Bush, who just got a three-year contract extension.
UPDATE: The Cubs today claimed right-handed pitcher Carlos Gutierrez off waivers from the Twins. They designated backup catcher Anthony Recker for assignment. Gutierrez, 26, had his 2012 season at Class AAA Rochester ended in June because of a right-shoulder injury that required surgery in July. The Cubs’ news release said Gutierrez resumed throwing earlier this month.
In 10 relief appearances this year, Gutierrez was 2-2 with a 5.06 ERA. He walked three and struck out 20 in 16 innings. In five seasons in the Twins’ system, he was 15-20 with a 4.11 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP. Gutierrez was a first-round draft choice in 2008 out of the University of Miami. The Cubs obtained Recker from the A’s on Aug. 27 in a trade for catcher Blake Lalli.
One of the more interesting topics Theo addressed was the notion of how bad the Cubs have been, up and down the system, with getting on base. This has been a subject we’ve been talking about on this blog for years. I’ve made a habit of harkening back to the glory days of 2008, when the Cubs led the National League in walks, on-base percentage, runs scored and … wins. How about that? Turns out that was the outlier season in the Jim Hendry-as-GM years. It was all downhill after that.
During this past season, when the Cubs lost 101 games, they ranked 15th in walks, dead last in on-base percentage (.302) and 14th in runs scored.
Here is what Theo had to say about that: “That’s another thing we really need to continue to improve. If there was one thing that I was surprised by in a negative way it was how pervasive the lack of plate discipline was in the whole organization, at the major-league level, upper minors, lower minors, draft decision making and protocol. It’s just something that has not been a factor for a long time, and we’re paying the price for that.
“It’s embedded. It’s institutionalized, so we have to be really, really vigilant in turning that around. I believe 90 percent of the game revolves around controlling the strike zone, when you combine what it means to do so from an offensive standpoint and also from a pitching standpoint. It’s something we weren’t really good at. We didn’t walk enough. We didn’t get on base enough. Our pitchers walked too many hitters. We didn’t manage counts as well as we need to. Because it’s embedded, we need to dig deep and build a really strong foundation in that area because we’re suffering from that.”
For the record, Cubs pitchers walked the most batters in the National League (573). When Epstein said the problems are “embedded” and “institutionalized,” those are pretty strong words and the closest Theo has come to indicting the Hendry regime for its approach to the importance of hitters getting on base.
For the last several years, observers have wondered about the development of such hitters at Tyler Colvin, Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson when it comes to their approaches in the minor leagues. It seems obvious that the drafting of those types of hitters, whether they turn out to be good or bad in the end, won’t happen under Epstein and Co.
Speaking of offense, Epstein also said that second baseman Darwin Barney was close to becoming one of the team’s “core” players, especially if he can get on base more. Barney deserves to win the Gold Glove this year because of his outstanding defense. But Barney had a worse year at the plate than he did in 2011.
Here are the numbers for Barney:
2011: .276/.313/.353 with 2 homers, 43 RBI, 22 walks and 67 strikeouts in 529 at-bats
2012: .254/.299/.354 with 7 homers, 44 RBI, 33 walks and 58 strikeouts in 548 at-bats
Barney’s OPS-plus fell from 83 in 2011 to 79 in 2012. Barney’s second-half downturn wasn’t quite as bad this year as it was in 2011. After the all-star break this year, Barney batted .247, compared with .238 after the break in 2011. Barney’s bad month this year was August, when he had a line of .202/.250/.277. Maybe a little more time off during the dog days would have helped.
Theo also weighed in on the Cubs’ possible candidates to be non-tendered. In my mind, the two prime candidates are pitcher Chris Volstad and third baseman Ian Stewart.
First, Theo on Stewart: “Third base is another one of those positions where demand far exceeds supply in the industry. We’ll take a long look at his health situation before we make that decision. We want to look at the market, as well, to see what our alternatives are. We’re not going to rush into that situation. We need a little more information.
“I feel really good about our pipeline of third basemen coming in the minor leagues. Just at the upper levels, we have Vitters and (Junior) Lake, who look pretty good. We have Christian Villanueva, who is an outstanding defensive third baseman who does a lot of nice things with the bat as well. He’ll be at Double-A.
“I really like the future at third for the Cubs, but we didn’t do a very good job of getting production out of that position this year, to be honest, and it’s going to be a challenge for us to do so next year.”
Now on Volstad: “On Volstad, we’ll see. I think there is some sentiment to try to improve the rotation, and as I said, we’d like to acquire a couple of starters. To the extent that has a chance to put him on the outside looking in in the rotation, that’s a reality.”
On to some of the promotions and reassignments, the Cubs note these:
--Tim Cossins, field coordinator. Cossins joins the Cubs from the Marlins organization.
--Alex Suarez, assistant director of player development/international scouting. For Suarez, this is a promotion from coordinator of player development/international scouting.
--David Macias, player development/international scouting assistant. Macias was an outfielder in the Cubs minor-league system from 2008-11.
In amateur scouting:
--Lukas McKnight, assistant director of amateur scouting. For McKnight, this is a promotion from regional cross-checker.
--Shane Farrell, amateur scouting assistant. Farrell pitched for Marshall University from 2008-11 and scouted the Cape Cod League last summer.
The Cubs have hired Chris Clemons, JP Davis and Alex Lontayo as new area scouts, while Mark Adair is now a regional cross-checker after previously serving as a pro scout.
--Louie Eljaua, special assistant to the GM/director of international scouting.
--Alex Suarez, assistant director of player development/international scouting.
--Paul Weaver, international scouting cross-checker, coordinator of Pacific Rim scouting.
--Andrew Bassett, pro scouting coordinator. For Bassett, this is a promotion from baseball operations assistant.
The Cubs have promoted Jake Ciarrachi to pro scout (from pro scouting coordinator) and hired the following new pro scouts: Steve Boros, Terry Kennedy and Mark Kiefer. Denny Henderson and Steve Hinton have moved to pro scouting from amateur scouting. The Cubs have also hired Jason Karegeannes and Brad Kullman as major league scouts, joining Dave Littlefield (special assistant to the GM/major league scout).
Jose Serra has been promoted to Director of Dominican Operations.
The Cubs will have official word soon on their minor-league managerial and coaching situations.