Tag: James McDonald

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2014 Preview: Chicago Cubs


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Chicago Cubs.

The Big Question: Is the wait almost over?

It has been 105 long years since the north side of Chicago last celebrated a World Series title and in seven months that number will be pushed to 106.

Let’s get it out of the way: this 2014 edition of the Cubs is hopeless. There’s not enough firepower in the lineup, not enough shutdown stuff on the pitching staff, and they’ll play in a five-team division that features four much better squads. Bovada pegs the Cubs’ over-under win total for the 2014 season at 69.5 — same as the Marlins and well below the Brewers (79.5), Pirates (83.5), Reds (84.5), and Cardinals (90.5).

And it doesn’t take a casino odds-maker to figure out what’s wrong with the Northsiders’ roster.

The four-year, $52 million commitment made last winter to right-handed starter Edwin Jackson already looks like a bust. Travis Wood is very good but far from a typical ace, and Jeff Samardzija took a step back in 2013 after flashing front-line numbers in 2012. Some combination of Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta, Chris Rusin, and James McDonald will fill out the final two spots of a thoroughly-unintimidating starting rotation.

The lineup isn’t any more formidable. Anthony Rizzo has promising upside at first base, but his park-adjusted batting numbers were nearly league-average for that premium offensive position during the 2013 season. Fifth-year shortstop Starlin Castro was a complete disaster last summer, hitting .245/.284/.347 for an OPS+ of just 72. Luis Valbuena (3B), Nate Schierholtz (RF), Junior Lake (LF), Ryan Sweeney (CF), Welington Castillo (C), and Darwin Barney (2B) make up the rest of the Cubs’ starting position player group.

So, is the wait almost over? It depends on whether you have a gracious definition of “almost.”

What else is going on?

  • A total of seven Cubs prospects appeared in last month’s Baseball America Top 100, tied for the second-most of any organization. Javier Baez looks like a star in the making and will likely work his way into the major league infield mix by the end of this summer. He batted .282/.341/.578 with 37 home runs, 111 RBI, and 20 stolen bases in 130 games last year between High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. Kris Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft, could also become a starter — at third base — by the end of 2014. He tallied nine homers and 32 RBI in just 36 minor league games last season. Right-handed starter C.J. Edwards and Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler were among the other Cubs prospects named to Baseball America‘s list. Team president Theo Epstein is building a legitimate nucleus.
  • Something to keep an eye on with this rising class of elite-level prospects: Javier Baez was drafted as a shortstop in 2011 (ninth overall) and has played nothing but shortstop in the Cubs’ minor league system. Starlin Castro signed a seven-year, $60 million contract extension with the Cubs in August 2012, but he might not finish out that deal in Chicago. Castro is young enough and has enough raw talent that he will presumably attract interest from other clubs even if he doesn’t bounce back right away in 2014.
  • Darwin Barney won a Gold Glove for his outstanding defensive play at second base in 2012 and probably should have won it again in 2013, but he owns a hideous .246/.293/.336 career slash line in 1,799 plate appearances at the major league level and the situation only worsened last season. Emilio Bonifacio can probably steal that starting second base job away from Barney by early-to-mid summer.
  • The Cubs fired Dale Sveum last September after just two years in the managerial post and officially selected Rick Renteria in early November to be his replacement. Renteria was the Padres’ bench coach when current Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer worked in the San Diego front office and is well-respected around the baseball world. Renteria is the 53rd manager in Cubs franchise history.

Predicton: A rough start but slightly-brighter finish yields 72 wins. Last place, NL Central.

Wanna see Mike Trout hit a spring training grand slam? Of course you do.

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The return of baseball also means the return of Mike Trout, two-time defending AL Most Valu — ahem — two-time runner-up for the AL Most Valuable Player award. Trout appears to be in top form already, as he took James McDonald deep to left field for a grand slam in the fourth inning of this afternoon’s game against the Cubs.

Thoughts on the above clip: such bat speed; many loud.

Trout also had an RBI single in the second inning, finishing the day 2-for-3 with five runs batted in as the Angels stomped the Cubs 15-3.

Could Trout win his third consecutive first MVP award in 2014?

Jake Arrieta expected to miss start of season after bout with shoulder soreness


Jake Arrieta was expected to compete for a rotation spot with the Cubs this spring, but it sounds like he’ll have to wait to get his opportunity.

According to Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said today that Arrieta felt shoulder tightness over the winter and is not expected to be ready for the start of the season. While he’s feeling good now, the Cubs were forced to restart his throwing program, so the calendar just isn’t working in his favor.

Arrieta, who turns 28 in March, was acquired from the Orioles last July in the Scott Feldman deal and went on to post a 3.66 ERA and 37/24 K/BB ratio in 51 2/3 innings over nine starts. He owns a 5.23 ERA over 72 starts and six relief appearances in the majors.

As of now, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel are assured of spots in Chicago’s rotation. Assuming Arrieta is out of the mix, Carlos Villanueva, Chris Rusin and James McDonald will compete for the fifth spot.

Cubs sign James McDonald to a minor league deal

James McDonald

Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com reports that the Cubs have signed pitcher James McDonald to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league camp in spring training.

McDonald, 29, suffered a strained shoulder after his sixth start with the Pirates last season. He did not return, finishing 2013 with a 5.76 ERA in 29 2/3 innings of work. In the past, McDonald has shown glimmers of promise with a decent ability to miss bats but control and a tendency to give up home runs have held him back.

McDonald will try to win a spot at the back of the Cubs’ starting rotation, but he could also end up contributing out of the bullpen at some point.

James McDonald elects free agency

James McDonald
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After being designated for assignment by the Pirates last weekend, right-hander James McDonald is now free to sign with any team.

McDonald passed through waivers unclaimed and opted for free agency rather than accept an outright assignment to the minors. The 28-year-old hasn’t pitched in the majors since April 30 due to shoulder soreness and has become an afterthought over the past couple of months.

McDonald owns a 4.20 ERA over 82 starts and 49 relief appearances in the majors. He hasn’t been the same pitcher since the All-Star break last year, but someone will surely take a chance on him. He could be an intriguing option as a late-inning reliever if his days as a starter are over.