Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Hopefully I'll have a chance to discuss the Cubs' managing situation in detail over the next few days, but the entire situation is too disgusting. The only benefit gained from firing Baylor was learning Bruce Kimm can't manage and removing him from the organization. Now, even though Ken Macha is the best choice based on his experience and especially his Oakland background, Jim Hendry refuses to hire him. While Fredi Gonzalez, the Braves' AAA manager, is also a fantastic candidate and would thrive in the big leagues, Diamondbacks' bench coach Bob Melvin is a horrible choice, completely lacking in the needed experience. So now that Showalter's gone, the best available scenario, given the likelihood of Macha taking some job within the week, is if the Mets somehow grab Art Howe in the next couple of days, forcing Macha's promotion in Oakland and hopefully giving Bob Melvin the Milwaukee job. We don't want to see Dusty Baker here since we don't consider him a better manager than Don Baylor. Lee Mazzilli and Willie Randolph are woefully unprepared to run any team, so if Hendry won't hire Gonzalez, perhaps he'll wind up considering someone like Bobby Valentine. We've seen Glen Hoffman's name mentioned, and he'd be an excellent choice since he possesses both significant managing and coaching experience. However hiring Phil Garner or Tony Muser should damn Hendry for all eternity.
As long as he doesn't pick an obnoxiously bad manager or terrible hitting coach to replace the very underrated Jeff Pentland, who Kansas City quickly snapped up with a two-year deal, Hendry's off-season won't be too bad. All the beat reporters keep repeating that he's looking for a catcher, third baseman, relief pitchers, and a left-handed starter if possible. We've seen rumors regarding a potential trade for Rangers' 3B Hank Blalock. Outside of the current 40-man roster, I'd give up any three players in the organization for him, including all the top pitchers from rookie ball. David Kelton seems like trade bait now that he's playing first base. About the only deal we'd completely reject is sending both Corey Patterson and either Juan Cruz or Carlos Zambrano to Texas; moving Kelton with one of the pitchers seems more reasonable, although hopefully we can grab Blalock without touching the major league roster. If we can't acquire Blalock, Hendry should forget about Mike Lowell and other expensive players we don't need, instead giving Mark Bellhorn a jump he clearly earned as one of the best infielders in the NL.
The catching situation is more complicated as trading Todd Hundley is apparently an organizational necessity; we don't agree with their handling of the situation but don't object to trading him as long as we can upgrade. With Ivan Rodriguez available, the Cubs must take a chance on the best available catcher; if the Yankees somehow indicate a willingness to deal Jorge Posada, he'd also be a great pick-up. A $50M/4-year contract for IRod is perfectly reasonable given the more than thirty million dollars trimmed from next year's payroll. Re-signing Joe Girardi as a back-up seems logical, even if he's only an overpaid prospective coach. Aside from catching and third base, the rest of the offense is completely set with Hee Seop Choi at first, Bobby Hill at second, Moises Alou in left, Patterson in center, and Sammy in right. I'd like to see them move Alex S. Gonzalez for anything, giving either Hill or Bellhorn shortstop since both began their careers there and leaving 2B to the other, but Hendry's apparently not capable of that level of creative thinking.
At least the starting pitching remains intact with Kerry Wood, Matt Clement, Mark Prior, and Carlos Zambrano comprising the most promising young rotation in the game. Given the persistent albeit bizarre franchise wish for a left-handed starter, I like the idea of leaving Juan Cruz in relief while signing either Chuck Finley or former Cub Jamie Moyer. Only those two are both free agents, likely amenable to a one-year deal, and relatively cheap. I can't think of a worse idea than dealing for the contracts of Mike Hampton or Denny Neagle, especially since the Cubs don't even need a starter with Cruz available. Considering the tremendous number of top prospects selected in the draft over the last two years, we'll need long-term space in the rotation, and acquiring Neagle, Hampton, or even Glavine would hamper the franchise.
The idea we've considered for a few months is dealing Hundley and perhaps Kyle Farnsworth to Texas for Todd Van Poppel and/or Jay Powell. Texas will need a catcher if IRod leaves, and they weren't happy with the performance of their expensive middle relievers. The only reliever likely to return is Joe Borowski, as Alfonseca and Farnsworth were dreadful. Both should merit at least one prospect in trade, so while we like both of them, we can find better players. Ugueth Urbina and even Roberto Hernandez are preferable to Alfonseca at similar dollars, and we've seen rumors of a potential Farnsworth-for-Marcus Giles swap to give the Cubs a great 3B for the next decade. Steve Smyth is barely ready for AAA, so we don't consider him a roster candidate in any role, requiring the Cubs to acquire a lefty. Alan Embree, Mark Guthrie, Graeme Lloyd, and Mike Remlinger are all excellent candidates considering that, once again, the Cubs seem incapable of looking for free talent in the minor league ranks. Jeff Verplancke, acquired for Bill Mueller in September, is ready for the majors and should pitch very effectively in middle relief. With a closer like Urbina or Hernandez, Borowski, Cruz, Verplancke, Van Poppel or Powell, and one lefty from Embree/Guthrie/Lloyd/Remlinger, the Cubs should field a bullpen better than league average instead of the worst collection of relievers in the NL as they did in 2002.
Headlined by the Sammy show, Chicago possesses several top players and prospects with the ability to take this team far in the playoffs. Acquiring a probably great third baseman like Blalock would enable a lineup of Hill, IRod, Blalock, Sosa, Choi, Alou, Patterson, and Gonzalez for the next two years. With two Hall of Famers and six more players each likely to perform above average in their position, they should rank among the best offenses in the NL. The starting rotation holds more promise than nearly any other, and by adding a veteran lefty with postseason experience and a couple of relievers, Chicago both pushes this team towards championship contention while pleasing both a huge fan base and sportswriters demanding they spend more money. However, if Hendry fails to hire a capable manager like Macha or Gonzalez, we don't expect more than another 3-and-out trip to the playoffs before Sosa's retirement and another potential rebuilding cycle.
Lately we can't read anything about Choi without seeing a mention of how most scouts expect him to struggle in the early part of next year due to his supposed weakness against inside pitches. Perhaps major league pitchers will be able to consistently pitch him inside, however even AAA pitchers showed little ability to get Choi out. After missing about half of 2001 due to a severely inflamed right hand that only limited his batting average as he retained most his power and plate discipline, he clearly demonstrated the benefits of a hitter dominating at AAA for a full year as he's now certainly ready to continue this performance in Chicago. Any hitter with a .919 OPS at AAA supported by a .80 BB:K and .20 walk rate should continue succeeding in the majors, and all his .75 contact rate indicates is potential BA troubles. However even if Choi only manages a .250-20-80 line, he'll still receive significant consideration for Rookie of the Year against other qualified candidates like Lyle Overbay and Marlon Byrd. Ignore the scouting reports and bid based on Choi's history since a $20+ 2003 would not surprise me.
Jayson Bass, 30, OF-L
He's spent the last three years in the system maturing into a quality player on both sides of the ball. While Chad Hermansen will return as the Cubs' fourth outfielder, Roosevelt Brown seems likely to depart, opening a space for a left-handed hitter with power, speed, and decent defense. Bass probably experienced his career year at Iowa this year, but he deserves a shot to win a job in Spring Training even if we don't expect him to accumulate much roto value.
Mark Budzinski, 29, OF-L
Budzinski signed with the Cubs after seven seasons with Cleveland in which he compiled 1844 at-bats above A-ball without reaching the majors. After averaging a .76 contact rate during those last four years, he improved to a .81 contact rate upon joining Chicago while maintaining good plate discipline and continuing to develop his speed. Like Jayson Bass, Budzinski appears ready for a job as a fifth outfielder, although he lacks the power potential of Bass; he's still a better option than paying ten times as much money to a "proven veteran" free agent.
Ivanon Coffie, 25, 3B/OF/UT-L
Owning no speed and little current power, even decent defense and good plate discipline only will gain him a career as a reserve. Coffie will need to continue developing his doubles' power into more helpful skills if he wants to return to the majors. Chicago still holds him on the 40-man after adding him last fall on waivers, yet they didn't call him up in September. While a dozen spots could open this offseason following free agent departures, I don't expect Coffie to remain given his limited usefulness in the immediate future.
Mario Encarnacion, 27, OF-R
Chicago added three young, right-handed centerfielders to the 40-man during the season, beginning with Encarnacion, grabbing him in April off waivers from the Rockies. As Encarnacion's much older than Jackson Melian and shows less upside than Chad Hermansen, they successfully moved him off the 40-man roster, leaving his future franchise in doubt. He still possesses intriguing power while flashing other tools, but the lack of consistency makes him a poor risk, especially after considering he gained two years in agegate. Encarnacion needs another full year of AAA to regain the skills lost while changing teams twice and not receiving consistent playing time over the last two years.
Dave Kelton, 22, 1B-R
I can't fathom why Chicago moved Kelton to first base this year. He was set to work on left field but apparently the Moises Alou signing curtailed those plans. So even though he was ready for AAA after hitting .313/.378/.549 in a 2001 season limited by injury, they wanted him playing first, and Hee Seop Choi owned first base at Iowa as Fred McGriff blocked his advancement. This situation is practically a case study in the stupidity of acquiring and extending an aging player when you own a solid minor league system. So now Kelton seems to need a third year of AA, for which he can move back to left field since he doesn't seem likely to reach the majors until 2004 at the earliest. He possesses the power to replace Alou, however despite a swing described by Baseball American as "so pure the Cubs forbade their instructors from tinkering with it", he's now struck out over 120 times in the three minor league seasons in which he's batted over 225 times. At least he's still rather young, but Chicago should remain amenable to dealing him if anyone offers someone more prepared to contribute in the near future.
Mickey Lopez, 28, 2B/UT-S
Lopez owned a career line of .292/.380/.413 after spending six season with Milwaukee and one at AA Reading for Philadelphia. After 62 AA at-bats, Chicago promoted him to Iowa for the rest of the season, giving Lopez his first season with more than 225 AAA at-bats. Unfortunately he only displayed decent plate discipline and doubles' power while not demonstrating the production necessary for advancement. Even though he's a versatile player, he doesn't appear ready to contribute in more than a limited major league appearance.
While he's a valuable organization man and offers good defense, Mahoney's extremely limited offensive potential means the Cubs already should have moved him off the 40-man roster, especially since he'd likely just re-sign to remain their top injury replacement. Even if he gets an extended look in the majors, I don't expect him to contribute at the plate, so keep Mahoney away from your fantasy team.
Jackson Melian, 22, OF-R
After claiming him on waivers when Cincy dumped him off the 40-man, Milwaukee dealt Melian to the Cubs for Robert Machado. Melian hasn't developed as the Yankees expected after signing him out of Venezuela in 1996, and six years in the minors haven't severely improved his skills. Fortunately no one's promoted him to AAA, and he appears to be adding patience to his five-tool repertoire. He still possesses enough upside that I certainly wouldn't dump him off the 40-man, especially since he should have one more option remaining. His performance in AA finally warrants a look at AAA, and if he bombs in Iowa, we can let him go after next season, so Melian's obviously not a good player for fantasy teams due to his uncertain future.
Stevenson Agosto, 26, LH Starter
He's split his nine-year minor league career between Anaheim, San Diego, and Tampa Bay, and he's normally posted decent strikeout numbers while allowing too many walks. Until 2002, he'd started exactly half of the 220 games in which he'd pitched, however he demonstrated even less control when starting. Agosto showed very little in four starts with the Cubs, so I don't expect him to return next year, and I'm also not sure if he'd succeed in the pen. He seems most likely to spend the next few years as a AAAA starter who lacks any fantasy value.
Francis Beltran, 22, RH Reliever
Few people understood why the Cubs added Beltran to the 40-man roster last December after a rather dreadful year at A+ Daytona; he posted a 6-9 record on 72:40 K:BB in 95 IP over 18 GS. However once they moved him back to the bullpen this year, he dominated at AA and even represented the Cubs in the Futures' Game. Unfortunately calling him up a couple times this year made little sense considering his need for AA time; Chicago only promoted him due to their refusal to find a logical a spot on the 40-man roster for a more deserving pitcher like Will Cunnane. Baseball Prospectus theorized that the Cubs were intelligently examining players on the 40-man roster, but Beltran already had established himself as a top prospect at that time. The call-up was more indicative of Chicago's inability to manage the 40-man, a problem first exposed back when we lost Gary Matthews, Jr. and Miguel Cairo on waivers in 2001. Nevertheless, he should continue dominating in AAA on his way to joining the bullpen for good in 2004. As with all minor league relievers, you shouldn't spend a pick on him, although he could contribute by mid-season if he posts solid skills at Iowa.
Eric Brown, 23, RH Reliever
I wasn't pleased when the Cubs dealt Rick Palma in the Chad Hermansen deal, but Brown should essentially fill Palma's spot as the club's most impressive relief prospect. Chicago signed Brown as a nondrafted free agent out of Rutgers after the 2001 draft. Splitting the second half of 2001 between R+ Boise and Lansing, he compiled a 1.89 ERA on 37:9 K:BB in 38 IP over 27 G with 33 H and 0 HR. Apparently he wasn't impressed with his season, so he again only walked nine batters while pitching an extra 23 innings and striking out 30 more hitters. He began the season with 23 games back at Lansing before his first promotion, and finished at Daytona after only 25 games. Then he pitched to 11 batters at AA, allowing one hit and striking out three prior to finishing the year by striking out two of the three batters he faced at AAA. I wouldn't be shocked if he made the team out of Spring Training, but the presence of Brown and others like Frank Beltran negate the need to acquire any established right-handed relievers at the major league level. While relievers rarely rank as impressive prospects, Brown appears ready to develop into one of the better undrafted players. Assuming he continues posting ridiculously good skills, including a 7.4 K:BB, 9.9 K/9, 4.9 H/9, and .3 HR/9, he'll help some teams as low risk midseason roster filler.
Matt Bruback, 23, RH Starter
While he struggled in 9 AA starts in 2001, I still advocated placing him on the 40-man roster due to the upside of a 3.00 ERA on 87:21 K:BB in 84 innings at A+ Daytona. He certainly merits a spot after this year's performance since I can't imagine some team not selecting him in the Rule 5 draft, since he could succeed in long relief in 2003. Assuming the Cubs protect him and he follows his current pattern, he'll split next year between the two highest levels of the farm system, mostly dominate in a full season of AAA in 2004, and then potentially replace someone like Matt Clement in the Cubs' rotation in 2005. However, he will be pushed by the incredible 2002 draft class that will reach full-season ball next year, so my expectation of his involvement in a trade within the next two years reduces his potential roto value to near zero. Bruback could emerge as a mid-season starter, but I'll be surprised if he reaches the majors with the Cubs as anything other than a September call-up or short-term injury replacement.
Scott Chiasson, 25, RH Reliever
After undergoing Tommy John surgery in August, Chicago likely will have nothing to show for trading Eric Hinske until 2004. Chiasson has no roto value in 2003 in any capacity since he shouldn't even begin pitching again until next August, and he really needs another half-season in the minors.
Chris Gissell, 24, RH Starter
Gissell reached AAA after finally remaining healthy and effective in his third year at AA West Tenn. Now he's posted mostly respectable skills despite suffering from a terrible defense-inflicted ERA, but he's likely eligible for minor league free agency. If the Cubs let him leave, I see no reason why he won't develop into a solid 4th starter with another franchise, so Chicago needs to quickly move to secure his 2003 rights. I could even see some teams spending a 40-man spot on him, although I don't believe he'd go in the Rule 5 draft due to the high ERA. While Gissell should have a bright future, I don't expect any fantasy contribution from him next year.
Andy Hazlett, 27, LH Swingman
San Diego acquired Hazlett near the end of April from the Red Sox for Juan Moreno, and then the Padres released him in June after he posted a 7.12 ERA in 30.1 innings, including four starts. He appears far more comfortable in relief, and considering his lack of success as a starter, he should spend next season in a AAA bullpen. Hazlett's skills indicate he should pitch effectively in the majors for a few years after another season or two of refining his skills, so while I don't expect him to contribute in 2003, he should emerge as helpful roster filler down the line.
Jason Karnuth, 26, RH Reliever
St. Louis bizarrely slotted him back at AA even though he spent all of last year as a successful AAA reliever who reached the majors for a few games. Chicago acquired him as a PTBNL in the Jeff Fassero trade, and while he might develop into a decent reliever, he posted nearly identical stats over the last season while pitching at a lower level. Karnuth's history indicates he can repeat his performance at AAA Iowa and even potentially help in the majors, however he's still likely to spend most of next year in the minors.
Mike Nannini, 22, RH Swingman
Acquired as a PTBNL for Tom Gordon, Nannini dominated in 2001 as he repeated A-ball due to the Astros' unconscionable lack of a A+ team. So while he spent three years in A-ball, he essentially jumped a level of competition in 2002. Fortunately he improved his strikeout rate to 7.7 K/9 while maintaining a decent walk rate. Both his hit rate and homer rate remain above league average, although neither is particularly troublesome considering he pitched at perhaps the toughest hitters' park in the minors. Nannini's not projectable at only 5'11", but he's a competent pitcher who will either dominate in a friendlier AA park or continue maturing at AAA. I don't know if he'll crack the Cubs' rotation, however he should fetch a significant return in trade after another year or two, making him a good addition for Chicago if not for fantasy owners.
Will Ohman, 25, LH Reliever
Ohman needed Tommy John surgery in January to repair an elbow injury suffered while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. Chicago seems willing to give him a shot to break camp with the club, and he'd earned a spot in this year's bullpen before the injury, but you should wait until he demonstrates his health with solid skills during the season before considering him for your team.
Steve Smyth, 24, LH Swingman
With four solid pitches and projectable dominance, Smyth is the most promising left-handed starter above rookie-ball in the organization. Chicago stuck him back at AA since he missed the last two months of 2001 due to surgery to clean up his rotator cuff. He dominated in his 11 starts, but then they only gave him six AAA starts before an illogical promotion to the majors curtailed his development. Now Smyth can take one of two paths to major league success. I'd prefer to see him spend most of the year in Iowa's rotation refining his pitches and preparing to take a starting spot with Chicago in 2004, allowing the Cubs to sign a veteran lefty to help in the majors and tutor Smyth in Spring Training and September. Unfortunately Smyth appears more likely to remain in an undefined, unofficial AAAA role as about the 13th man on the staff, a situation that will limit his immediate upside. I wouldn't object to seeing him as a second lefty in the bullpen and we'd recommend him if he took the Ted Lilly path to starting, but he simply needs more development time before he's ready to contribute as a starter. Make certain you know his 2003 role before bidding on him next spring.
Jeff Verplancke, 24, RH Reliever
Hendry stole him from the Giants in exchange for the last three weeks of Bill Mueller's contract. While he'll need a 40-man spot this winter, Verplancke is prepared for the majors after a solid season in AAA. He offers projectable power and should immediately improve the Cubs' woeful bullpen situation. I'd like to see some major league stats before acquiring him, but his stat history suggests he'll be ready to contribute to fantasy teams no later than the second half.
John Webb, 23, RH Starter
He lost most of 2001 and the early part of this season to Tommy John surgery, but when he resumed pitching Webb picked up precisely where he stopped at the end of 2000. While he needs slightly more time to improve his dominance at AA, I expect he'll finish 2003 at AAA and in contention for a rotation spot the following spring. Like nearly all other pitching prospects in the Cubs' deep starting corps, Webb's not likely to help fantasy teams as a potential minor league pick, although he might be ready to contribute as an injury replacement starter by late summer.
Mike Wuertz, 23, RH Starter
After compiling a 3.99 ERA on 135:58 K:BB in 160 IP with 160 H and 20 HR at AA West Tenn in 2001, Chicago's decision to leave Wuertz off the 40-man roster struck me as their most curious choice. Fortunately he stayed in the organization, and while he struggled in every facet of his game this year, his skills weren't significantly below last year's marks. The Cubs still shouldn't need to protect him, so he seems like a logical candidate to strongly rebound in his second AAA season, establishing himself as a solid starting prospect in time to deal him for major league help in August since he won't have to pass through waivers.
Brendan Harris, 22, 2B/3B-R
While he appeared somewhat likely to develop as a utility player after the Cubs drafted him as a shortstop out of William & Mary in the 5th round of the 2001 draft, he instead split 2002 between second and third while compiling the best offensive numbers of any Cubs' prospect below AAA. He only committed 16 errors in 126 games split nearly evenly between the two positions, making him one of the more impressive fielders in the organization. With a .922 OPS and solid skills, including a .73 BB:K, .09 walk rate, and .87 contact rate, he should continue dominating AA before a probable September call-up, and I'd expect him to reach the majors for good sometime in 2004. If the Cubs acquire another potential franchise third baseman like Mike Lowell or Hank Blalock per current rumors, Harris should even possess the offense to switch to an outfield corner as a potential replacement for Moises Alou. Harris is a potential seven-skill talent who at least should merit a solid return in a midseason trade.
Dennis Abreu, 24, AA West Tenn(SL) IF-R
Matt Achillies, 26, AA West Tenn(SL) RH Swingman
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
7:00: Anaheim@San Francisco
While John Lackey winning a World Series' game on his 24th birthday makes a good story, I suspect we instead should see Francisco Rodriguez go 6-0 in post-season play.
Assuming the Cubs patch the holes on their team, any of their starters would be an excellent target to acquire. Wood, Prior, and Clement were among the most dominant pitchers in baseball, and Carlos Zambrano and the probable candidates to join him should reach-double digit value. More importantly, as the Cubs' bullpen allowed 60 more runs than the average pen, expect an extra few wins for each of the starters due to the likelihood of improvement by using almost any relievers other than Jeff Fassero, Jesus Sanchez, Scott Chiasson, and Ron Mahay. Also, Kyle Farnsworth will not repeat his performance as the worst reliever in the NL while pitching for the Cubs, so even a somewhat poor bullpen should boost the starting pitchers' win total by a couple of games.
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