Chicago Cubs: 4 Moves to Accelerate the Rebuilding Process
With the Cubs currently tied for the worst record in the majors at 15-32, the expectation is that newly minted President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein will be making some major moves to accelerate the Cubs' rebuilding process.
Epstein will have at his disposal a middle-of-the-road farm system, some aging veteran trade bait and a flexible payroll to help turn things around.
Call Up Josh Vitters
One of the few bright spots for the Cubs this season has been the play of their young middle infielders, Starlin Castro (.313 BA/.322 OBP/3 HR/28 RBI) and Darwin Barney (.259/.308/1/10).
With the SS and 2B positions seemingly set for the immediate future, it's time to look to round out the infield.
Current third baseman Ian Stewart is struggling at the plate (.193 BA), and even factoring in his walks, his OBP is a meager .283.
That opens the door for top prospect Josh Vitters to be called up to the majors.
Vitters was Baseball America's top prospect in the Cubs' farm system in 2008 and 2009 while playing A and High-A ball. After hitting .283/.322/14/81 at AA Tennessee, he started 2012 at AAA Iowa, where he's currently .270/.318/5/22.
Trade Ryan Dempster
Despite Ryan Dempster's 0-3 W/L record through 54 innings, he boasts a 2.14 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 2012.
At 35 years old, he is currently in the final year of his four-year, $52 million contract.
While he is currently putting up career-year numbers, it's hard to know whether he can continue to produce at this level through the remainder of the season, let alone several years down the road.
Dempster's stat line gives the Cubs a viable trade option to add some depth to the farm system in a deadline deal.
Test the Market for Alfonso Soriano
The Cubs bought Soriano high in the free-agent market following the 2006 season.
He hasn't come close to his .277 BA/.351 OBP/46 HR/41 SB numbers he put up that earned him an All-Star nod and Silver Slugger Award in '06.
He is set to make $18 million per year through the end of his contract in 2014.
While his lack of production may make him difficult to trade, the Cubs may find a suitor if they are willing to assume some of the weight of his remaining contract.
With their payroll flexibility (see next slide), this isn't out of the question. Trading him would also open up a roster spot for top outfielding prospect Brett Jackson.
Take Advantage of Current Payroll Flexibility
For the first time since 2007, the Cubs started the 2012 campaign with a team payroll under $100 million.
This allows them the option to trade for a player in the last year of his contract and re-sign to a long-term deal, or to make several offseason free-agent acquisitions.
With holes in the starting rotation, Eric Bedard, Francisco Liriano and Jason Marquis are all viable options that may be trade-affordable for the Cubs.
This is the first time in awhile the Cubs have had any breathing room in their payroll. Having survived payroll hell over the last several seasons, no team should better understand that just because you have money doesn't necessarily mean you have to spend it.
While it would be nice to make a big-splash free-agent signing, the focus should be on avoiding the high-payout long-term commitments similar to those made to Soriano.
Avoiding these should allow them to win soon and still have flexibility down the road.