Chicago Cubs: Sean Marshall
The Cubs parted ways with a solid left-handed reliever, but by next season two of the players they received in return could be playing key roles. Travis Wood, who started Monday, figures to be in the starting rotation, while outfielder Dave Sappelt could get a roster spot as well.
Wood has had a roller-coaster ride this season, but his nine strikeouts Monday showed that he has the stuff to be a middle-of-the rotation starter. He could end up with the No. 3 spot on the starting staff next year when all is said and done.
With Alfonso Soriano, Brett Jackson and David DeJesus set to occupy the Cubs starting outfield next season, Sappelt has his eyes on the old Reed Johnson role of fourth outfielder and key right-handed bat against left-handers.
In a short amount of time, he has shown what he can do by posting a .310 batting average since he was recalled when rosters expanded in September.
“Woody has obviously mad e a lot of adjustments and done a nice job since he was called up and been back,” manager Dale Sveum said. “But Sappelt is probably swinging the bat as good as anybody right now. He’s showing and doing the things we thought.
“We knew there was a bat there but we need him to be focused and base running and playing defense and all that as well because there is a bat there that can play in the big leagues and obviously we’re seeing that.”
If Wood can be a solid innings eater for years to come and Sappelt plays a key bench role, the Cubs can start to swing the winter trade in their favor.
“(Sappelt) should be able to fill (the Johnson role),” Sveum said. “He has some speed, he has power, drives the ball gives you good at-bats, is a good fastball hitter. All those things come into play when you make those decisions. But he has the ability and bat speed and the ability to play in the big leagues.”
Wood threw seven shutout innings against the New York Mets in Monday night’s 6-1 win and now has posted a 2.27 ERA in June, winning his last two starts.
“One thing we fight over the years is judging anything on spring training,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “There is just time that has to happen in development and hitters are usually ahead of pitchers so you don’t jump the gun too quick.”
Wood became too predictable with his cut fastball in 2011, a pitch that was his ticket to the big leagues in 2010. The adjustments have taken time and, to the staff’s credit, they let the left-hander stay at Triple A until he had mastered some of his command problems.
“The time down there was actually very useful,” Wood said. “I worked on things I needed to and was able to iron some things out.”
Marshall signed a three-year, $16.5 million deal with the Reds for a job well done over the previous three seasons, but Epstein and company may prove to be on top of their game in taking a shot on a 25-year-old lefthander who may be in the Cubs rotation for a long time.
It's too early to say that the Wood deal was a mistake, but it's not too early to say that president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and company are not afraid to make a mistake in order to become a great organization in the future. The $16 million they saved on the Marshall trade may help them sign the next great Cub like Jorge Soler.
The new Cubs management team made a commitment to add depth to the starting pitching mix, and the deal for Wood was a key move in the offseason. Wood at the age of 25 was a gamble for the Cubs knowing that after a breakout season in 2010 when he had a 3.31 ERA, his 2011 season was a bust.
"This spring started off slow and it was a bad beginning with a new team," Wood said. "They gave up a great pitcher for me so I really wanted to make a good impression coming in to camp.
"I wanted to show them the trade was a good one and that I am 'The Guy.' I am still working toward that goal."
The early moves that Epstein and Jed Hoyer have made will be under scrutiny as they try to piece things together while building toward the future and trying to be competitive in 2012. Truth be told the real concentration is on signing young players through the June draft and in Latin America. The Cubs have signed four Cuban players and will go deep in the bidding for Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler when he becomes eligible to sign a major league contract.
Something else to keep in mind, don't bet against Wood showing up sometime in June or July and becoming the pitcher he was expected to be when the trade was consummated.
"I will go down and work on my stuff and try to be the pitcher I expect to be," he said.
He eventually embraced his new organization by signing a three-year, $16.5 million contract extension less than two weeks into spring training, eliminating the idea that he might return to the North Siders when his current contract expired at the end of this season.
Marshall met with members of the Chicago media before Monday's Cactus League game between the Reds and Cubs when he pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
He gave insight into his move, reuniting with manager Dusty Baker and whether or not he will get any love when he returns to Wrigley Field this season.
"Yeah, once we got rid of Sean somebody has to step up and take on his workload," Russell said. "That's kind of what I've been working toward this offseason and what I will work toward this spring."
Heading in to spring training, Russell and veteran newcomer Trever Miller appear in line to face lefties in key situations late in games. Scott Maine and John Gaub would appear to be contenders as well but have longer odds for the role.
Hearing manager Dale Sveum talk about it, he could be leaning toward Miller to face lefties late in games, but would probably let Kerry Wood handle the entire eighth inning to get to closer Carlos Marmol.
"[Miller] knows how to get left-handers out and that's a big asset depending on how your bullpen unfolds during the course of spring training," Sveum said.
Russell still has some work to do if he wants more responsibility.
"Right now he's a matchup guy against lefties," Sveum said. "He's got the ability and the endurance to go two innings. It all depends on what’s going on, the score of the game what they have on the bench and all that. But he’s a guy that can go two innings, there’s no doubt about that."
Russell knows he can’t simply rely on the organization’s familiarity with what he did last season because of all the turnover in the front office and coaching staff.
At first glance, Russell’s numbers (1-6 record and a 4.47 ERA) don’t suggest an excellent season, but throwing out the appearances when he was pressed into service as a starter and all of a sudden his value becomes clear.
Russell lost all five of his starts, posting a 9.33 ERA and a 2.018 WHIP in the process. In 59 relief outings he delivered a 2.19 ERA and a 1.074 WHIP.
"I felt like I did a very good job last year in the bullpen, and I'm hoping to build off that and take the end of the season into this season and keep it going," said the son of former major-leaguer Jeff Russell.
He knows, though that he can’t let the numbers speak for themselves with Miller, Maine and Gaub looking for innings, too. Sveum said that in a perfect world he breaks camp with two left-handers in the bullpen.
"It makes it fun. Friendly competition is always a good thing to have," Marshall said. "It makes you work harder and you kind of focus a little more."
Picking up young starting pitcher Travis Wood and a possible starting second baseman of the future, Ronald Torreyes, for Sean Marshall, who is arguably the best left-handed setup man in the National League, is an indication that building up the organization’s youthful manpower is the main focus for Theo Epstein & Co.
Although Epstein hasn’t ruled out signing Garza to a three- or four-year extenstion, the only real way for the Cubs to contend in what is now a strong NL Central is to dump out of the 2012 race and prepare for the future.
The Toronto Blue Jays seem to be the best matchup for the Cubs in a Garza deal. After just missing out on Japanese starter Yu Darvish and watching left-hander John Danks re-sign with the White Sox, the Blue Jays best chance to compete would be to acquire Garza before the start of the season.
Toronto’s No. 1 pick from 2010, right-hander Deck McGuire, will be the focal point of any negotiations between the Cubs and Jays. The 22-year-old pitcher was a combined 9-5 at three different minor-league levels in 2011. The Blue Jays are convinced he’s near major-league ready.
The Cubs will also inquire about the availabilities of left-handed pitcher Justin Nicolino and power-hitting outfielder Jake Marisnick. Nicolino, a 20-year-old pitcher, was 6-2 with a 1.33 ERA at two minor league levels last season. He allowed just 39 hits in 61 innings. Marisnick is considered a five-tool prospect and hit 14 homers at the lower-A level last year.
The Cubs, who have no great agenda to trade Garza, are also preparing to talk to his agent about a long-term deal. So far they don’t like where the trade talks are going.
Players over 30 years of age should be aware that they really aren’t a fit for the Cubs at this point.
Attempts to move veteran outfielder Alfonso Soriano to an American League team have been futile so far. The Cubs may have to eat somewhere in the vicinity of $40 million of the $54 million Soriano is still owed in order to find an AL team to take Soriano as their designated hitter.
For the short term, you can call them the Chicago Carps -- as they will continue to bottom feed for 2012 and try to build a championship caliber team for 2013 and beyond.
Read the entire story.
Wood, who turns 25 in February, was 6-6 with 4.84 ERA in 18 starts last season with the Reds. Wood beat the Cubs in his major league debut on July 1, 2010, allowing two runs on two hits in seven innings. He finished his rookie season 5-4 with a 3.51 ERA in 17 starts.
Wood pitched 10 games at Triple-A Louisville last season, going 2-3 with a 5.33 ERA.
Marshall, 29, is one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball. Last season he went 6-6 with 2.20 ERA and had 34 holds, tied for second in the majors among left-handed relievers. That was also a single-season team record.
Marshall is set to make $3 million in 2012, and he will be a free agent after the season.
The potential loss of Marshall means John Gaub, James Russell and Scott Maine will have an opportunity to move up as a primary setup man from the left side.
Quade and his team came up empty, as the result was a 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies after Marshall was unable to hold onto the two-run lead he inherited from Garza in the eighth inning. Quade had decided to keep closer Carlos Marmol on the bench one more night.
Marshall entered the game after Garza, who had thrown 113 pitches after seven, surrendered a single to Phillies leadoff man Jimmy Rollins to start the eighth. Michael Martinez singled off Marshall and then Chase Utley doubled home the tying runs. Martinez’s two-run double off Marshall in the ninth was the fatal blow in another disappointing loss.
It was the fourth blown save by the Cubs bullpen in Garza’s starts this season.
“I’m pretty sure my guys aren’t doing it on purpose,” Garza said. “They’re out there and they want to win just as bad as I do. There’s no blame, we don’t blame anybody. That’s just the way the ball bounces. You just keep grinding it out, get ready for the next one.”
The Cubs clung to a 2-0 lead for seven innings as for a while, Starlin Castro's two-run home run in the first looked like it would hold up. The Cubs had former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee on the ropes in the second and fifth innings, but failed to score.
Lee, who was looking very ordinary to begin the game, struck out the side in the second after giving up a leadoff double to Carlos Pena and a single to Geovany Soto on which Pena was held at third.
Garza allowed just one run in seven-plus innings. The hard-luck Cubs starter has given up just one run in his last 14 innings, resulting in two no decisions.
“That’s baseball,” Garza said. If it was a given, it wouldn’t be that much fun, would it? The challenge is in the battle. Wins and losses you can’t control.”
The Cubs are back to a season low 20 games under .500 and are 13½ behind the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates.
CHICAGO -- A quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.
How it happened: Sean Marshall gave up three runs in relief of Cubs starter Matt Garza, who had handled a tough Phillies lineup with ease. Garza allowed just four hits in seven-plus innings, including a double and a single to Domonic Brown. Garza was replaced by Marshall after Jimmy Rollins' base hit in the eighth and the Phillies tied the game that inning on Chase Utley's two-run double. Michael Martinez got the game-winning RBIs in the ninth. Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro hit his first home run since June 20.
What it means: The Cubs still haven’t won a series since a four-game set against the Brewers on June 13-16..
Outside the box: Third baseman Aramis Ramirez told ESPNChicago.com that he’d be interested in extending his contract past its current end point of 2012.
What’s next: Ryan Dempster (7-6, 4.68) will face the Phillies Vance Worley (5-1, 2.15) on Wednesday at 1:20 p.m. CT.
Setup man Sean Marshall has been remarkable for the Cubs this season, pitching 38 1/3 innings and racking up 39 strikeouts while walking only nine. It’s unwise to judge a reliever on his ERA, since one bad outing can cause the number to balloon, but Marshall’s 2.11 looks great in the category as well.
While it once was rare for non-closer relievers to make the All-Star team, recently it’s become common practice. Setup men Jonny Venters (Braves), Tyler Clippard (Nationals) and Aaron Crow (Royals) will all be representing their teams next weekend in Phoenix.
Marshall was thrilled for Castro, but admitted that he would have loved to have made the team.
“It’s disappointing in a way, (but) it’s tough to make the all-star team as a reliever,” Marshall said. “There’s always hope (I could get picked as an injury replacement). But, we’re just going to work on winning some games this week, having some good innings, and finishing the first half of the season on a good note.”
It’s likely that two rough outings in Philadelphia on June 11-12 -- when he gave up four runs on five hits in two innings pitched -- derailed Marshall’s chances of making Bochy’s roster.
“I had a long talk with Boch," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "I really felt like Marsh and (Castro) were the two guys that had the best first half, have been healthy, and can represent us. (Venters) and Marsh are the two best left-handers in the league for sure, in my mind, so I would have loved to see him go.”
Another Cub that had an outside All-Star shot was Aramis Ramirez. Now before you fall out of your chair laughing, there’s a legitimate reason why this may have made sense. Yes, Ramirez has widely been criticized for his poor start to the season and his lack of power in 2011. However, with his recent surge -- batting .377 and slugging .774 with six home runs in his last 14 games -- Ramirez has put himself among the top offensive third baseman this season statistically.
In any other season, I wouldn’t think of mentioning Ramirez as a possible All-Star. However, it has been a surprisingly poor season at third base all around the league. With an average OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .685, the hot corner ranks dead last in the league among all positions in that category. Of course, it doesn’t help that perennial All-Stars Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright and Evan Longoria have all missed large portions of the season.
Ramirez didn’t feel snubbed about not being named an All-Star because he realized that until two weeks ago, he was having an off-year. However, he did go out of his way say that he felt White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who didn’t make the team, really deserved to be on the roster.
To illustrate just how strong of a case Ramirez may have for being an All-Star, one can compare his numbers with that of All-Star reserve Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves. Jones is hitting .257 with seven home runs and an OPS of .762. Ramirez tops Jones in each category with 11 home runs, a .292 batting average, and an .806 OPS, which is second among National League third basemen.
Despite Marshall and Ramirez both having decent cases to make the all star team, there shouldn’t be much indignation about their absences from the roster. When you’re on a team that’s fighting for the worst record in baseball rather than a playoff spot, expecting more than one All-Star would be unreasonable.
“I can’t concern myself [with external pressure],” Quade said. “I hope [the fans] come out and support us. We need it. We haven’t laid down, but people want you to win, and we’re struggling right now. People will come out. Ultimately, if you show up at the ball park or read about [fan opinions] and not about your own game and what you want to accomplish then you really have a problem.”
Quade is a native Chicagoan. He believes in the Cubs fans and their belief in the team.
“Cubs fans have always been good people and good fans,” Quade said. “Hopefully they will support us right now and I think they will.”
The Cubs had a 3-2 lead Sunday as left-hander Doug Davis pitched five innings then turned the game over to an overtaxed bullpen. For the second consecutive day, lefty Sean Marshall couldn’t get Ryan Howard and the Phillies out. Marshall, who has pitched in four of the Cubs’ past five games, wouldn’t use being tired as an excuse for allowing Howard’s two-single in the seventh inning.
“We put a little different shift on him,” Marshall said. “He put the bat on the ball and had enough of it to get it through the infield. He’s a good hitter. He’s a big league hitter. Just like [Chase] Utley and some of the other players on their team. That’s probably why they’re in first place.”
Davis understands the pressure on the Cubs and Quade.
The Cubs return home having lost three straight and 13 of their past 16. Life will not get any easier for the Cubs, who have four games with the Milwaukee Brewers followed by three-game sets with the New York Yankees and White Sox.
PHILADELPHIA – Right-hander Matt Garza gutted his way through 113 pitches in six innings, keeping the Cubs in a game they eventually lost 7-1 against Phillies’ lefty Cliff Lee on Saturday. It was the second time in as many days the North Siders were stymied by a former Cy Young winner.
Garza, making his second start since coming off the disabled list with a right elbow contusion, allowed just two runs – one of which was unearned due to Darwin Barney’s first inning error.
“I threw way too many pitches in six innings,” Garza said. “Going against a guy like Cliff Lee you can’t go six and expect to beat the guy. You have to go toe to toe with him and hopefully you last longer than he does.”
Manager Mike Quade has seen quite enough of the Phillies’ former Cy Young winners. Lee and Roy Halladay held the Cubs to just one run the past two days.
“They’re good,” Quade said. “You have to come with your A-game if you’re going to beat them. We hung around and scrapped but we just couldn’t get through the seventh inning.”
Sean Marshall looked human for the first time in weeks. As Quade referenced, Marshall gave up two runs in the seventh, giving the Phillies some separation in what had been a 2-1 game. Those two runs were the first Marshall had given up on the road since September 2010. With Shane Victorino on second base, Marshall lost the battle with Ryan Howard who singled home Philadelphia’s third run of the game in the seventh.
“He threw two fantastic curve balls to get ahead of Howard,” Quade said. “Then he went with a fastball and then came back to [the curve]. But he couldn’t make the same quality pitch.”
Injury update: The Cubs expect to get both Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker on Monday. Both players continued rehabbing at Triple-A on Saturday. They will use Sunday as a travel day and join the team in Chicago on Monday.
And if the Cubs have a deserving All-Star, it's the understated 28-year-old Marshall.
"I think so," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "I don't know all the numbers in the National League, but I can't think of anybody I'd rather have in that role. I know his numbers are fantastic. I don't know what they are, but I know I wouldn't take anyone else ahead of him in either league."
Marshall, who pitched two scoreless innings in the Cubs' 4-3 victory over the Phillies on Thursday, has not allowed a run on the road since Sept. 11, 2010, a span of 20 road appearances and 18 2/3 innings. He is 3-0 with an 0.95 ERA with 12 holds and one save this season.
Maybe even more impressive: Marshall has held opponents to a .174 batting average with runners in scoring position (4 for 23).
Marshall started to ascend to his elite bullpen status in 2009 and may have come of age when Quade let him pitch to the Cardinals' Albert Pujols last September in several crucial late-inning games.
"He just condenses his starting mentality," Quade said. "Basically he throws his three pitches (changeup, cut fastball and curveball). He just never gets flustered. I love that about him."
Five years ago Marshall stayed with then-teammate Greg Maddux at his home before Maddux's family came to live in Chicago. Marshall learned a lot about pitching philosophy from Maddux, now a special assistant to general manager Jim Hendry.
"He taught me to think about having angles and movement on all my pitches," Marshall said. "He said keeping your arm strong was important, but he also said throwing as hard as you can was overrated. Part of the thing he taught was to spot my pitches, give the image of balls that look like strikes. All of that was a big part of what I picked up from Greg."