Veteran Darwin Barney (designated for assignment) and rookie Mike Olt (optioned to Triple-A Iowa) are out. Moving up in the minors is 2012 first-rounder Albert Almora along with Cuban slugger Jorge Soler.
All this was going on as Arismendy Alcantara crushed his second career home run on Tuesday, Anthony Rizzo hit two more to take over the National League lead and Kyle Hendricks earned his first career win. The night prompted a few questions:
1. Were recently demoted players Barney and Olt treated fairly?
It would be hard for either player to complain as their at-bats were painful at times, but both players might wonder how their seasons may have gone if they were given everyday at-bats. Barney has more of a case, considering he was a regular player for three years including 2011 when he batted .276. He regressed under former manager Dale Sveum -- as did Starlin Castro and Rizzo -- but those two players righted the ship, getting regular playing time this season. How do we know for sure Barney wouldn't have done same?
His first real playing time this season came when Emilio Bonifacio was on the disabled list, and Barney started to come around. He was hitting .385 in July before being demoted. Most likely he would have ended up on the move anyway, considering the Cubs have higher ceiling players behind him, but Barney may always wonder if his hard work this past offseason could have paid off given the chance.
As for Olt, general manager Jed Hoyer semi-indicted the Cubs' handling of him on Tuesday in talking about Alcantara.
"One of the things we feel strongly about is when we bring these guys up, they're going to play," Hoyer said. "We're not going to bring up these guys who are our future to share time or sit on the bench."
Isn't that exactly what the Cubs did with Olt in April? Confidence is such a big part of baseball. Who's to say if the team showed more confidence in him -- while also getting every day at-bats -- he would not have improved? Maybe it was never meant to be as Olt looked more lost than ever as time went on. And at some point you have to make the most of your opportunities. But let's face facts: however the Cubs handled Olt, it didn't work.
2. Can we expect this kind of power from Alcantara moving forward?
The simple answer is yes unless pitchers find a way to limit him. That's unlikely as his switch-hitting prowess will always give him a chance to pull the ball out of the park like he did on Tuesday night when he took a low fastball on to the street behind the right-field bleachers.
That's not easy to do for a 5-foot-10, 170-pound player. Or anyone, for that matter. Rizzo made it to the top row of the bleachers on Tuesday, but Alcantara went further.
"He has some torque in his bat," Rizzo said. "It was a smooth swing."
Rick Renteria added: "He's got some strength. Great hands. You can see even when he takes batting practice, when he barrels a ball, it seems to travel."
3. Is Kyle Hendricks the real deal?
Yes. Or at least it looks like it, but we'll have a better idea after he works his way through the league once or twice. Although no one is saying he's the next Greg Maddux, you can see why there are comparisons. He doesn't throw particularly hard, but he makes the right pitch at the right time. He throws to contact when needed and goes for the strikeout when necessary. On Tuesday, San Diego Padres hitters were 0-for-10 with runners on base. That's coming through when it's needed the most. Juxtapose that against Edwin Jackson or even Travis Wood this season. They haven't made that big pitch. It's way early, but that's when lofty predictions are made. Hendricks is the real deal.
4. What do the promotions of Albert Almora and Jorge Soler mean?
It was a bit of a surprise to see Soler moved up to Triple-A Iowa, considering he only played 22 games for Double-A this year due to injuries, but he was a man among boys there, hitting .415 with six home runs. His numbers were even more impressive since returning from hamstring issues. The Cubs probably want a better challenge for him. Since he's under contract for a total of nine years, there are no monetary or contractual concerns about bringing him to the majors in September if the Cubs want to. How he performs in Iowa over the next five to six weeks will help make that determination. The fact that he hasn't played much this season also points to a possible call-up after the minor league season is over.
Almora simply got back to being himself at the plate, and the Cubs know he can handle himself in the field. His promotion will probably come later than forecasted as he got away from his mechanics earlier this year. Either way, he was probably only going to move up one level this year and now that he has he's back on the right track.
5. Will Javier Baez or Kris Bryant make it to Wrigley Field this year?
Baez seems to be on track, especially since moving from shortstop to second base.
"It's fun to watch the boxes scores in Iowa or Tennessee, but I don't think every time you switch a guy's position or a guy has a big night guys shouldn't be looking or clamoring for a promotion," Hoyer said.
Hoyer went on to say that the reason they essentially moved Baez now is because he was meeting their offensive challenges, and they felt comfortable with a new one. Sounds like there's one challenge left: doing it in the big leagues. And the fact of the matter is both Junior Lake and Alcantara moved positions shortly before being called up. If Baez doesn't make it before season's end it would be a surprise.
Bryant is still in his first full professional year of baseball, and the Cubs can sell him and the public on that notion while saving money. If he stays in the minors until mid-April of next year he won't become a free agent until after the 2021 season. If he comes up before then, he's free after 2020. Baez might be younger, but he's been around longer, and the Cubs may not have the same kind of monetary concerns with him. He'll come up, Bryant won't. And Hoyer said Bryant's focus is still on playing third base not the outfield.