Baseball

It’s a minor move, and it was hard to figure where Tony Kemp would fit onto this team anyway. In fact, the whole thing with Kemp was weird, as he was received for Martin Maldonado, whom the Cubs only had for a couple of weeks while Contreras was hurt. And they gave up an actual arm for that, even though Mike Montgomery asked out. But he might have been nice to have when the whole bullpen and rotation was burning in September. Like I said, just weird.

Anyway, Kemp was shipped out to Oak-town for Alfonso Rivas today. Rivas is a mid-level 1st base prospect who apparently can’t hit for power, at least not yet. But hey, that carries on a tradition for the Cubs that started with Mark Grace and extended to Hee-Seop Choi, which Grace is still complaining about. Rivas got about eight games above High-A last year, and probably figures to start in AA this year. Nothing more than a lottery ticket.

While Kemp’s production was never going to be anything, and appears to be the second year in a row the Cubs got fascinated with the idea of a pinch runner for playoff games they ended up never playing, it makes the Cubs bench even uglier. And dear reader, it was ugly before. This is the kind of bench that you’d read the names of to punish your children for breaking the rules of the house.

As it stands: Albert Almora, Victor Caratini, Daniel Descalso, Robel Garcia, and Hernan Perez. That’s one glove, a backup catcher who might be good, a backup infielder who isn’t, a switch hitting Pedro Cerano who’s not nearly as fun, and whatever Hernan Perez can do (i.e. not much).

Some of this will be alleviated if Nico Hoerner can make the team out of Arizona and shift David Bote back to a support role. But if that doesn’t happen, the fear is that the Cubs will face a situation where all their regulars are stepping on their tongues come August and can’t finish the season strongly or at all, like we saw with Baez, Bryant, Rizzo, and one or two others last season. And there isn’t anyone out of Iowa who can help solve this right now.

It doesn’t even help the Cubs on the payroll front, as Kemp wasn’t even arb-eligible so the savings are minimal. Most estimates have the Cubs still $2M-$6M over the $208M threshold, which is clearly where they’re aiming to get under. So how they can improve the bench while still cutting payroll is going to be a neat trick. And by “neat” I mean “awful and probably make you feel bad.”

Of course, a simple trade of Quintana while taking no salary back will solve this, except it would weaken the rotation something fierce. But then again, the Cubs don’t seem to care about that kind of thing. Y’know, the thing where you try to win games, and like a lot of them so you can go to the playoffs and possibly win more games and even like, 11 of them. Did you know they give you a trophy for getting under the luxury tax? Yep, gonna fly that flag right out there in right-center field.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Brewers 57-53   Cubs 57-51

GAMETIMES: Friday-Sunday 1:20

TV: NBCSN Friday and Saturday, WGN Sunday

PAT LISTACH ’92 FOREVER: Brew Crew Ball

Whatever the hell this is continues on the Northside for the weekend, as the Brewers and Cubs will bash their heads together and see if anything comes out this time. Most likely, they and the Cardinals in Oakland will continue to stare at each other, wondering how they got here but knowing for sure there’s no way they can leave. This is where they all belong, fighting over a busted rubber ball while the rest of the baseball world tries to decide if they’re adorable or sad or both.

We’ll start with the Cubs this time, who responded to New Toy Day with Nick Castellanos and Tony Kemp last night by having all the enthusiasm of a biopsy in an 8-0 loss to Jack Flaherty and the Cardinals, completing a pure acid-vomit of a road trip at 3-6. It was the pivotal stretch of the season, and the Cubs comprehensively failed it. But thanks to the forgiving/bumbling nature of everyone else, they left tied for first and they return only a game back, because nothing is ever truly dead (or alive) in the NL Central.

They’ll bank on their home form, which has been great, and where they were last seen going 7-2 out of the break to convince far too many of us that things were swinging up. They won’t be here that often in the month, so they have to make this count if they’re indeed serious about making this season anything other than a dirge and a middle finger to their owner. That is to be determined.

The headline, other than the debuts of the trade acquisitions at Wrigley, is that Cole Hamels will return on Saturday. Hamels had been dominant before going on the IL, maybe the Cubs best starter over the season, and perhaps the sight of a prideful veteran can crack this team out of whatever haze it’s been blasting itself in the face with for the past two months. Hope springs eternal.

The Brewers spent the interim between the two I-94 summits playing three nail-biters with the Oakland A’s. They lost two of them, one in extras and one yesterday when Josh Hader was taken to San Jose by Matt Chapman in the 8th. It was the first time Hader had pitched three days in a row, and now Craig Counsell will be putting that tactic back in the “Bad Idea” box, never to be unearthed again.

They’ll send Zack Davies out there again, with his last start being the weekly Kyle Schwarber-has-figured-it-out game. Gio Gonzalez will also be around to befuddle the Cubs for absolutely no reason other than the gods hate you and you’ll never truly love or be loved because of it. Adrian Houser tossed five good innings in Oakland on Tuesday and will wrap this up on Sunday for the Brew Crew.

We’ve been saying this for two months, but there’s no reason the Cubs can’t use this as a springboard for more. And they probably have to, because the A’s are hardly pushovers and weird things happen in Philadelphia before they get decapitated in Pittsburgh. They have the advantage in every starters matchup here, and you would hope as long as you keep Christian Yelich from levitating and turning various colors, it’s an offense you can keep in check. And the Cubs did last weekend, they just could stop going up to the plate with a flute up their nose. Castellanos definitely gives the lineup more length, so maybe today Baez or Contreras can take one pitch or maybe Rizzo can emerge from his slumber. Fucking anything. It’s been so hard to watch. We’d just like to feel again, thanks.

CHIMI-FUCKING-CHANGAS.

Baseball

And of course on the day I was just bitching about the nickel and dime and middle of the road moves the Cubs have engaged in this season, they go and get what was one of the best bats on the market, trading for Detroit’s Nick Castellanos. Of course, this is on the same day, even hour, their “contemporary” Astros get Zack Greinke. You see what I mean, folks?

Anyway, there’s no question Castellanos lengthens either the lineup or the bench, depending on what his role is that night. Castellanos is only having an ok year, with a wRC+ of 106. However, he’s been murdering left-handed pitching all year, to the tune of a 166 wRC+ this season, with a 51.7% hard-contact rate. Even if he only starts against lefties, he’ll bring that to the table and take any of Schwarber, Heyward, or Garcia out of the lineup (with Happ moving to second, if that’s a game we want to play) and that’s an upgrade.

If Castellanos gets more playing time than that, it still removes any temptation for Almora (more on him in a second), or Garcia (though I can’t see Happ getting THAT much time at second base), less Happ, or less Schwarber I guess if that’s the way they want to go. At the very least it puts some of those guys on the bench on a given night to give Joe Maddon some pinch-hitting options other than Victor Caratini or Willson Contreras, whichever wasn’t starting.

It’s not without some concerns. When Castellanos plays and moves Heyward to center, or out of the lineup completely with Happ in center, that’s a legitimately terrible defensive outfield. Again, the Cubs mitigate some of this by being the best ground-ball generating team in the league, but any fly ball that heads out over the heads of the infielders is going to have their pitchers swallowing their tongues. Castellanos gets a break in going from the gargantuan outfield of Comerica to Wrigley…as long as the sun and wind don’t cause him to asphyxiate (no guarantee there).

As for knock-on effects, either Happ’s call-up was short-lived and he’s headed back to Iowa, or Albert Almora is. AA has been simply woeful at the plate going on two months now, and maybe the only way to save him is to give him the ABs in Iowa he never really got in the first place. That seems the most likely move.

Even made more so by the acquisition of Tony Kemp, who can play center and left and second base, though none all that well. Kemp isn’t completely helpless with the bat, though it feels like this is the pinch-runner-in-big-games thing they love, except they aren’t going to be playing in any big games, are they (chuckle, chuckle)? Kemp’s BABIP is in the toilet this year, though that might because he never, ever hits a ball hard. Still, last year he put up a 107 wRC+, and with any slice of luck he can at least not be a giant sucking sound at the plate for whatever ABs the Cubs deign to give him. Again, strengthens the depth….but by a measure you’ll need a magnifying glass to see. Kemp probably thieves the defensive replacement role from Almora as well.

As far as David Phelps, what he provides other than the opportunity for Seinfeld Steinbrenner jokes, I’m not sure. Two years ago he was really effective with the Marlins, when he was striking out nearly 12 hitters per nine innings. But he’s been less so with Toronto, and ouchy. His fastball has lost some serious juice this year, which has caused him to with far more cutters and curves. Neither is generating any results that are going to cause tumescence anywhere. He’s a guy. That doesn’t mean he won’t get more usage than he should, because that’s just how things work around here.

As for what’s going away, neither pitcher the Cubs gave up for Castellanos would be considered anything more than a lottery ticket. Both Paul Richan and Alex Lange have not lit it up at High-A, though they’re only 22 and 23, so they have time to figure it out. At best they were two seasons way, more likely three. On the one hand, you wonder if the Cubs should be giving up on any pitching prospects at this point. On the other, given their track record, they might as well cash in on every one because they’re likely not going to do shit.

As for flogging Carl Edwards Jr. to San Diego for Brad Wieck…it’s just sad. You could see it with Edwards, he was so close to being a real thing. And he clearly wanted it pretty badly. And maybe that was the problem. He couldn’t handle it not working, because you could see him go into a sulk when the slightest thing didn’t go his way. Then he pitched scared, and wildly, and that’s how we got here. It just wasn’t ever going to happen here for him, and it’s best for everyone to move on. I just wouldn’t trust the dude who gave up a ton of homers in San Diego to do much for you.

At least there are more options now. At least they haven’t given up. Now get your head out of your ass and let’s go.