Cubs: Oakland Athletics
PHOENIX – The Cubs gave up three unearned runs in the first inning after a Josh Vitters fielding error and never recovered in a 4-3 split-squad defeat to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday.
The good: Geovany Soto finally looks to be rounding into form after missing over a week early in camp with a groin strain. Soto not only hit his first home run of the spring, he also doubled, with Marlon Byrd thrown out trying to score from first base on the extra-base hit. Soto doubled his hit total this spring in his first two at-bats.
The bad: Vitters, a former first-round pick, didn’t inspire anybody with his play on defense. In the first inning he backpedaled while trying to play a bouncing ball from Oakland’s Manny Ramirez off his left hip. He made a fielding error that opened the door for a three-run inning for the A’s. A few innings later he backpedaled on another ground ball, but made the play that time. Vitters also went 0-for-4 and grounded into two double plays, the second of which ended the game.
Beyond the box score: Paul Maholm seemed to get better as his outing went on Sunday and his breaking balls became more effective. Throwing curveballs and sliders for the first time this spring, Maholm admitted he didn’t have much when he gave up three unearned runs in the first inning. But he followed that with two scoreless innings as his breaking balls became sharper.
Up next: In Mesa, Cubs right-hander Andy Sonnanstine (0-0, 9.00) will take on White Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd (0-0, 2.25). In Las Vegas, Cubs right-hander Chris Volstad (1-0, 0.00) will take on Rangers left-hander Matt Harrison (1-0, 1.80). Both games Sunday are set for a 3:05 p.m. CST start.
WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement and is a relatively complicated formula that in the end answers the question, “How much value would the team lose if a replacement player took his spot?” The calculation turns out an approximate win total the player holds.
July 8, 2008: Cubs trade Josh Donaldson, Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton and Eric Patterson to the Oakland Athletics for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. (Cubs' net WAR gain: 5.9)
This trade would have been better had the Cubs held on to Harden, who battled injuries with the Cubs as he has throughout his entire career. But when he pitched, he was electric. Harden compiled a 14-10 record and 3.31 ERA with the Cubs. He also averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and a 4.0 WAR.
Gaudin pitched just one season for the Cubs, going 4-2 with a 6.26 ERA. Since 2008, Gaudin has pitched for four different teams. It’s safe to say there were no hard feelings to see Gaudin leave town.
The Cubs lost very little in what they traded away, however. Donaldson was finally called up this season. The former first-round draft pick has 10 games under his belt, but has hit only .154. Gallagher (-1.3 WAR) has not pitched well for Oakland, San Diego or Pittsburgh while Murton is no longer in the majors.
In his one season with the Cubs, Bradley managed to hit just .257 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs. Silva was coming off two horrid seasons with the Mariners in which he went 5-18 with a 6.81 ERA.
In 2010, both players’ careers took very different turns. Bradley is batting just .206 with a .289 OBP. Silva has performed very well for the Cubs, compiling a 9-3 record with a 3.45 ERA. He’s also struck out 72 batters while walking only 19.
Dec. 7, 2005: Cubs trade Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco, and Renyel Pinto to the Florida Marlins for Juan Pierre. (Cubs' net WAR loss: -1.3)
Mitre has battled injuries and inconsistency throughout his career. But he may have finally found his niche in the Yankees’ bullpen this season with a 2.88 ERA in 25 innings. The real loss in this trade wasn’t Mitre though. That honor goes to Nolasco (3.6 WAR), who has shown flashes of brilliance in his young career, compiling a 49-36 record with a 4.45 ERA. He’s averaging just under eight strikeouts per nine innings and has struck out a total of 585 batters to only 158 walks. Over the past three seasons, Nolasco has averaged a 4.4:1 K:BB ratio.
Pinto (2.1 WAR) has been a solid reliever for the Marlins, throwing 231 innings while striking out 222 batters. He’s also maintained a career 3.62 ERA.
Pierre, the Cubs' centerpiece of the deal, played just one season with the team in which he tallied a 3.3 WAR. And although it was a good season (Pierre hit .292 with 58 steals), it can’t compare to what the Cubs could have had in Mitre, Nolasco and Pinto.
Day of Infamy
Dec. 7, 2006: Cubs draft Josh Hamilton from the Tampa Bay Rays in the Rule 5 Draft. His rights were then sold to the Cincinnati Reds. (Cubs' net WAR loss: -12.9)
Hamilton wasn’t traded per se, but his rights were once held and then sold in the course of the same day by the Cubs. It’s not as though Hamilton (12.9 WAR) ever played for the Cubs, and you could speculate that in theory they could have Edinson Volquez (5.1 WAR) if they made the same trade the Rangers completed with the Reds.
Manager Lou Piniella and his staff have told the former Notre Dame All-American wide receiver that he has as good an opportunity as any of the other candidates vying to win the fourth or fifth starting slot.
The problem for the Cubs management group is figuring out a way to plug in the rotation holes until Ted Lilly gets back, as well as solidifying a somewhat iffy bullpen after the loss of Angel Guzman and the slow recovery of Jeff Gray.
Samardzija understands the Cubs’ needs might find him filling either role.
“I’m just going to go by what they tell me,” Samardzija said. “If they keep running me out there as a starter, I’ll assume I’m a starter. It is unfortunate what’s going on with [the bullpen], but injuries happen and we have a lot of good arms in camp and there’s always an opportunity.”
With all that in mind, Samardzija still knows that there are still plenty of roles to be won on the Cub 12-man pitching staff.
“I want to pitch and I think I can be pretty versatile,” Samardzija said. “Right now, I feel good starting. Next time it will be good to come out and have a starter’s approach instead of coming in in the fifth inning.”
The Indiana native is a much more polished pitcher than he was when he made his major league debut in 2008. At that time, all that Samardzija features was a plus fastball and a splitfinger pitch. Spending a month in winter ball, Samar worked hard at establishing his slider and commanding a curve ball.
“I think I have the confidence that I could do it,” Samardzija said. “It’s hard. Everybody’s out there cut-throat trying to play for a job and once you realize that, once you realize what you need to do to accomplish what you want to accomplish, it’s a little easier. That takes time.”
The Cubs’ quandary is that Samardzija may, indeed, be a strong starting pitcher for the 2010 team, but his powerful arm might be necessary in the bullpen unless the team pulls off a deal for a veteran reliever.
Samardzija threw two shutout innings on Monday against the Oakland Athletics in Phoenix, allowing one hit, one walk while hitting a batter. It was actually a good day for the entire pitching staff. Ryan Dempster in his first spring outing retired all six batters that he faced. Sean Marshall and Tom Gorzelanny both got in two innings as well. The only blemish was a solo home run that Marshall surrendered to Kurt Suzuki and a two-run home run that Gorzelanny gave up to former Cub minor leaguer Josh Donaldson.
Esmailin Caridad pitched the final inning for the Cubs as he continues to try and hammer down the eighth-inning setup role in the bullpen.
- Second baseman Mike Fontenot played his first game at shortstop this spring, entering the game as a replacement for starter Ryan Theriot. Fontenot went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and handled the position flawlessly. Piniella said that with Andres Blanco down for the next two weeks that Fontenot will continue to have more playing time at short.
“I thought Wells threw the ball well,” Piniella said, referring to starter Randy Wells, who threw two innings of shutout baseball. “[Sean] Marshall was sharp, too.”
Offensively, the Cubs did little wrong on Thursday, hammering out 16 hits, including five home runs in their 9-3 win over the Oakland Athletics at Hohokam Park.
“The hitting! We hit the ball with some power,” Piniella said. “And we hit the ball behind runners. We were aggressive on the bases. We stressed that we want these kids to be more aggressive.”
Center fielder Marlon Byrd ’s debut with the Cubs was a complete success. The former Texas Ranger not only went 2-for-2 at the plate with a home run, but the crafty veteran also picked up on Randy Wells' tipping his changeup from his spot in center field.
“You don’t want to give the hitters an edge,” Byrd said. “You want to make sure you’re in the right spot in the outfield to help keep their pitch count down and catch everything you can. If I see anything with the pitchers, I’m going to talk to them.”
Wells was thankful that Byrd gave him some advice.
“I was working on my changeup and Marlon came up to me and said from center field he could tell I was trying to throw a changeup,” Wells said. “So in the second inning, I tried to fix that.”
Within the framework of the trade, Hendry was able to save $1.7 million of the $2.7 due Miles in 2010.
Fox, a fan favorite early in his Cubs tenure, mostly likely will benefit from the DH role that will be available to him in Oakland. The former college catcher never was able to establish himself at any one position after shuffling between third, first and left field.
Miles was a disaster on the North Side in 2009, hitting just .185 in 74 games. The 32-year-old IF was on the DL twice with shoulder and elbow injuries. Off-the-field personal issues plagued Miles from spring training throughout the entire season.
Right-handed pitcher Jeff Gray will vie for a position in the Cubs' bullpen next season.
Right handed pitcher Ronny Morla and left-handed hitting outfielder/first baseman Matt Spencer are further away from helping the Cubs than is Gray.
Hendry was excited about getting Gray.
"He doesn't have experience in the eighth or ninth innings," Hendry said. "But he throws the ball very hard, and he throws a lot of strikes.
"Our scouts felt he throws a lot like [Angel] Guzman, a hard-throwing type guy on the verge of getting better. It's up to him to compete for a job. If not, he's got an option [to be sent to the minors without becoming available to other teams] left."
Hendry was firm that this deal had nothing to do with the Cubs trying to move Milton Bradley.
"We've been given a very fair budget in the last couple of years," Hendry said. "We're just in a year where if our budget is in the same place it's been the last 12 months, we have to maximize the opportunities, be creative and make some trades. This deal didn't have anything to do to put toward Milton. It didn't' really play into it."
According to major league sources, the Cubs are listening to offers and trying to "be creative" -- as Hendry said -- possibly involving three or four teams in a deal that could send Bradley to Tampa, Pat Burrell to the Mets or another team unknown at this point, and Luis Castillo going to the Cubs. Castillo is a 35-year-old switch-hitting second baseman.
Bradley will make $21.5 million over the next two seasons, Castillo is owed $12 million total for 2010 and '11, and Burrell has one year left at $9.5 million.
Hendry's goal all along was to save as much as he could on Bradley's contract. But even more importantly, get a viable player back to help contribute in 2010.