Is 2013 Going as Hoped for Theo Epstein and the Cubs' Rebuild?
Coming off a 101-loss season in 2012, the second year of the Chicago Cubs' rebuilding effort was expected to be an equally trying one for the North Siders, and they are off to a 13-21 start.
At this point, the win-loss record is not the best gauge of success for the Cubs, as they are not expected to be in a legitimate position to contend until the 2015 season at the earliest.
With those low expectations at the big league level, it is not always clear if things are going according to plan for the rebuild.
So here is an overview of the current state of the team, and whether things are going as hoped for Theo Epstein and the Cubs' rebuilding efforts.
Adding to the Core of Players
Since joining the front office, Epstein has talked time and again about the core of the team and adding a few players to it each season as the roster rounds into form.
Entering the season, shortstop Starlin Castro, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and right-hander Jeff Samardzija were the only bona fide pieces of the big league core, along with free-agent signing Edwin Jackson and his four-year deal.
However, there was a trio of in-house players with the potential to join them, and here is a look at how they've performed so far this season.
C Welington Castillo
The 26-year-old Castillo, who hit .279/.353/.434 in 43 games after taking over as the team's everyday backstop Aug. 1, entered the season with the everyday catcher job.
Not since Geovany Soto's rookie season has the team had a reliable, impact bat at the catcher position, and Castillo has the tools to be that guy.
So far this year, he's proven capable of being the long-term answer at the position, hitting .305/.347/.400 over 95 at-bats. If he can keep it up it would be huge, seeing as the Cubs have no other real in-house options at the position.
2B Darwin Barney
It has never been a question of defense with Barney, who has posted back-to-back seasons with a WAR over 2.0 (h/t FanGraphs) thanks almost entirely to his defense.
He saved 14.8 runs more than the average second baseman last season and took home Gold Glove honors in the National League.
However, he hit just .254/.299/.354 with seven home runs and 44 RBI in 548 at-bats, as he was one of the least-productive everyday players in all of baseball.
He's been even worse at the plate in the early going this season, hitting .147/.275/.250 with just three RBI over his first 68 at-bats. If he can't turn into at least an average hitter, the Cubs will need to consider other options at second base long term.
SP Travis Wood
Acquired from the Reds prior to last season for ace setup man Sean Marshall, Wood had an up-and-down first season with the Cubs.
All told, he finished the year 6-13 with a 4.27 ERA and 1.199 WHIP in 26 starts. He closed out the year strong, too, posting a 3.25 ERA over his final nine starts.
The 26-year-old opened the season as the team's No. 3 starter, and he has tallied a quality start in each of his first seven outings. Though he's just 3-2, he has a 2.33 ERA and 0.928 WHIP, and he's been the team's best pitcher to this point.
Potential Trade Chips Building Value
One of the best ways for a rebuilding team to bolster its farm system is to sign veterans to short-term deals and then flip them at the deadline for prospects.
The other is to move existing veterans who don't factor into the team's long-term plans, looking to cash in their value before they hit free agency and are lost with no return.
Here is a look at some of the team's top potential trade chips, and my grade on how they've performed thus far.
SP Matt Garza (Trade Value Grade: Incomplete)
Garza was an incredibly valuable trade chip at the deadline last year, but a shoulder injury landed him on the disabled list before the team could trade him, and then wound up ending his season.
He is currently on the rehab trail and should make his season debut in the next week or so, and once he does he'll be auditioning for an inevitable July deadline trade.
SP Scott Feldman (Trade Value Grade: A)
After going 6-11 with a 5.09 ERA in Texas last season while bouncing between the rotation and bullpen, Feldman signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Cubs.
A 17-game winner in 2009, Feldman has shown flashes of being a front line guy in the past. So far this year, he's 2-2 with a 2.70 ERA, and he's posted a 1.63 ERA over 27.2 innings in his last four starts.
RF Nate Schierholtz (Trade Value Grade: A)
The Cubs inked Schierholtz to a one-year, $2.25 million deal this offseason, as he has always had decent offensive tools but has never really gotten a chance to be an everyday player.
He's hitting .299 with an .889 OPS so far this season, and he's tied for the NL lead with 12 doubles, as he's been one of the few consistent hitters in the Cubs' lineup. As a left-handed bat with some pop, he'll have plenty of value come July.
CF David DeJesus (Trade Value Grade: B)
Signed to a two-year, $10 million deal prior to last year with a $6.5 million option for next season, DeJesus has provided exactly what the Cubs expected him to so far.
He provides a good eye at the plate and has moderate power and speed, and while he's not a marquee name, there will no doubt be a number of contenders he could help come July.
LF Alfonso Soriano (Trade Value Grade: C)
The Cubs were willing to pay $26 million of the $36 million remaining on Soriano's contract this offseason in an effort to move him (h/t Jon Heyman), and despite the fact he was coming off 32 home runs and 108 RBI, there were no takers.
He has just a .717 OPS with three home runs so far this season, and while he will no doubt become more tradeable as more of his contract runs out, if he can get hot at the plate it would really help the team's chances of moving him.
RP Carlos Marmol (Trade Value Grade: D)
In the final season of a three-year, $20 million deal, Marmol has a salary of $9.8 million this season, and he lasted just three games in the closer role before being demoted to the middle innings.
He has a 2.19 ERA with opponents hitting just .169 against him over his past 13 games, and while no contender would ever trust him in the ninth inning, he could have some value as a high-strikeout, middle-inning arm.
The Cubs' farm system has already gotten markedly better since Epstein came on board, and they have a number of front line players capable of making a serious impact once they arrive at the big league level.
Top prospects Javier Baez (.768 OPS, 6 HR, 22 RBI) and Jorge Soler (.933 OPS, 5 HR, 14 RBI) have played well so far at High-A Daytona, and they have the tools to be superstar hitters in the middle of the lineup down the road.
At Low-A Kane County, Dan Vogelbach (.836 OPS, 5 HR, 20 RBI) and Rock Shoulders (1.015 OPS, 6 HR, 20 RBI) have hit well, and top pitching prospect Pierce Johnson (3.77 ERA, 9.4 K/9) has looked good so far.
Last year's top pick, Albert Almora, will open his season at Short-Season Boise, and top pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino continues his rehab from Tommy John surgery last season.
On the down side, former No. 1 prospect Brett Jackson continues to struggle making consistent contact. He whiffed 217 times in 527 at-bats last season, and has already fanned 24 times in 64 at-bats this year as his future as an everyday player is in doubt.
The Cubs are no doubt in for another long season at the big league level, even with their starting rotation pitching well and their bullpen beginning to round into form.
Is 2013 Going as Hoped for the Cubs' Rebuild Here in the Early Going?
The emergence of Castillo and Wood as potential pieces of the team's long-term plan has been perhaps the biggest takeaway from the season's first month-plus.
Feldman and Schierholtz have both done well to boost their potential trade value in the early going, and it should once again be a busy and potentially fruitful July for the team.
Down on the farm, the top prospects have performed well for the most part, and there is plenty of reason for excitement moving forward.
So despite what the record may show in Chicago, the 2013 season has gone fairly well for the Cubs to this point as they continue to rebuild.
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