2012 MLB trade deadline: Buyers and sellers, part II

Ryan Dempster

We recently took a look at teams who figure to be in the thick of the buying frenzy as the MLB trade deadline approaches, each seeking that final piece of their playoff or even championship puzzle.  For teams headed in the opposite direction in the pennant race, the July 31 deadline is an opportunity to inject some optimism for the future in what has been an otherwise disappointing season.  Here are a few clubs who could be willing to deal away talented players—if the price is right.

Chicago Cubs

Although he’s been on board since the offseason, now is when Theo Epstein’s rebuilding project truly begins.  Scoring the fewest runs in the NL while allowing the seventh-most is not exactly a recipe for success, as the Cubs 38-56 record clearly reflects.  One thing that the North Siders do have in their favor though is leverage to play in the trading market, with a number of talented veteran players who won’t match up well with the rebuilding process in Chicago but could provide a much-needed boost to teams whose goal is to win now.  On Monday the Cubs closed in on a deal to send star righthander Ryan Dempster, whose 2.11 ERA is tops in all of MLB, to the Braves in exchange for young righthander Randall Delgado, pending Dempster’s approval1.  Dealing away Dempster figures to only be the tip of the iceberg for a team that by its own admission needs more young pitching in its system2.  Right-hander Matt Garza is next in line on the list of most-coveted Cubs players, with multiple teams being mentioned as possible suitors.  Garza could possibly net the Cubs even more in return because he is under contract through 2013, meaning any team that takes him on wouldn’t have the pressure of having to immediately begin contract negotiations to keep him beyond this season3.  On the offensive side of the coin, Alfonso Soriano is a prime trade target for a team looking to add some pop to their lineup down the stretch.  While his high salary may put some teams off as they’d need to commit to paying a significant portion of it to acquire him, Soriano is another veteran who does not figure to be a part of Chicago’s long term plans and will likely find a new home before the deadline passes. Read more here…


Unsung Hero: Grover Cleveland (Pete Alexander)

Pete AlexanderWe are continuing our weekly segment with Unsung Hero… where YourSportsCheckup dives back in the archives of sports and picks someone that was underrated, not given enough shine or you just forgot about. This week in light of baseball season being in full swing, I wanted to highlight…

Grover Cleveland Alexander (February 26, 1887 – November 4, 1950), nicknamed “Old Pete”, was an American Major League Baseball pitcher. He played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, and St. Louis Cardinals and was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938.  Read More…

Cubs candidates for the 2012 All-Star Game

Starlin CastroLike every MLB team, the Chicago Cubs are guaranteed to get at least one All-Star this season.

Newsflash: the Cubs are bad. Like really bad. With the Crosstown Series officially over until next season, the only things Cubs fans can really look forward to are seeing Anthony Rizzo in white with blue pinstripes and spending Saturday afternoons (or any day of the week for that matter) getting absolutely hammered in Wrigleyville before and after games. Life can be worse, that’s for sure, but having a winning team to root for wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world either.

It makes me sick to think that just four years ago, this was a team that sent a total of eight players to the All-Star Game. Now, we’re struggling to find more than a couple of guys who deserve to even be in consideration. With the Midsummer Classic just three weeks away, baseball fans on the North Side will finally get to watch some legitimate baseball (for one night), and at least one of the players participating in that game will reign from the corner of Addison and Clark. Which Cub deserves to be the team’s likely lone all-star, you ask? Well, let’s break down their top candidates and see who we come up with.

Ryan Dempster, Starting Pitcher

As crazy as it sounds, Ryan Dempster has quietly been one of the five or six best pitchers in the National League this season. His 2.11 ERA ranks him third overall for starting pitchers across the Majors, and nine out of his 12 starts have been considered quality ones (6+ innings pitched, 3 earned runs or less). His WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) thus far (1.02) is the lowest it has EVER been in his 15-year career, which is an amazing feat for a 35-year-old pitcher who has always had some trouble finding the plate and preventing hitters from getting on base.

Unfortunately, Dempster only has three wins to show for his incredible first half (all of which came in his last three starts), but that has almost nothing to do with him and everything to do with the abysmal Cubs hitters, who have failed to score more than three runs in seven of his 12 starts. But wins aside, Dempster has been far and away the best pitcher on the Cubs and will undoubtedly make any contender happy for the last two months of the season when he gets traded. As he sits on the DL with mysterious “back tightness,” one would have to suspect that Dempster’s time in Chicago may be coming to an end sooner than expected. Whether he manages to stay a Cub until July 10 or not remains to be seen, but he definitely deserves a spot on this list.

Starlin Castro, Shortstop

Yes, he ranks second among all every day players in errors with 12 (tied with Giants’ Brandon Crawford and one behind Dodgers’ Dee Gordon). And yes, he ranks 19th among 24 every day shortstops with a .956 fielding percentage. But Starlin Castro is still the best pure hitting shortstop in the National League (and arguably the ML), and that’s really all that matters when it comes to making the All-Star team. He currently leads the Cubs in hits (85), average (.302) and total bases (125), and he’s second on the team in runs scored (33), RBIs (38)  and stolen bases (16). The only thing holding him back from true stardom is his inability to walk (he has only six walks with a horrendous .316 on-base percentage), but that’s another conversation for another day.

At the moment, Castro is sitting in third place among NL shortstops in all-star voting (~700,000 votes behind Rafael Furcal for first), making it very unlikely that we’ll see him starting for the National League in a few weeks. It looks as if Castro’s all-star fate will rest in the hands of the players, coaches and managers around the league. With the numbers he has put up so far this season, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Castro gets selected for his second consecutive all-star game.

Bryan Lahair, First Base

Once upon a time, Bryan Lahair was a 32nd round nobody out of St. Petersburg Junior College. Ten years, two short Major League stints, a Pacific Coast League MVP and a whole lot of perseverance later, he has become one of the most pleasant surprises in baseball. With the Cubs in rebuilding mode, Lahair was called upon to be the guy-who-plays-first-base-against-righties-only until Anthony Rizzo came to town. Then, it would be to the bench as a utility player/pinch-hitter or maybe even back to the minors. Clearly, Lahair never got that memo, as he obliterated major league pitching throughout the month of April and made it loud and clear that he is more than worthy of starting every day at the major league level, whether it be playing an unnatural position in right field for the Cubs or playing first base/DH elsewhere. He leads the club in home runs (tied with Soriano at 13), on-base percentage (.375) and slugging percentage (.563), and he’s second on the team in extra-base hits (25).

Due to the departures of Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols from the National League over the past two years, as well as Ryan Howard’s torn achilles tendon, the crop of talent at first base is at an all-time low, which means there’s no better time for Lahair to accomplish something no Cubs fan would have ever expected him to accomplish coming into this season: making the All-Star team. Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman are unquestionably the two best first baseman in the NL right now and are virtual locks to make the All-Star team. But after them, you’d have to make a very strong case to convince me that Lahair is NOT the next best player at his position (Adam Laroche may have more RBIs, but the average and OPS aren’t even close, in favor of Lahair). If the retired Tony LaRussa decided he wanted three first baseman on his All-Star roster, I would like to think that Lahair would be his third guy. After witnessing a journeyman knuckleballer become the frontrunner for the NL Cy Young Award while throwing 41 consecutive scoreless innings and back-to-back complete game one-hitters (that would be R.A. Dickey if you haven’t caught on), nothing in baseball would shock me anymore. And that includes Bryan Lahair becoming an All-Star.

Alfonso SorianoOutfield

The way Soriano’s career has panned out in Chicago over the past few years, never did I think he’d make it to this list. But here we are, near the end of June, and Soriano leads the team in home runs (13), RBIs (43) and extra-base hits (26), and he ranks second in slugging percentage (.485) and OPS (.800). He has also been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last month (10 homers, 21 RBIs, 18 runs and 61 total bases). Who knew? Whether you think Soriano deserves to be in consideration for an All-Star selection or not, I had to put him on here because, after all the negative things I’ve said about him over the years, he really has been one of the few bright spots for the Cubs this season, and I commend him for it. I understand that there are a plethora of outfielders to choose from, so he probably doesn’t stand a chance at making the team anyways. But for the first time in four years, I am actually proud of Fonsi. That should count for something.

Who I would pick: Starlin Castro 

Although all of these guys are equally deserving in my mind (except for maybe Soriano), I would pick Castro because a) as I said before, he has become the best pure hitting shortstop in the NL, and b) there is a severe lack of depth at the shortstop position this season. With Troy Tulowitzki out for the next 2+ months with a torn groin (ouch?), and Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins stinking it up worse than a fat kid’s dutch oven, Castro is easily the best candidate of all (and that’s assuming the mildly overrated Rafael Furcal wins the starting gig). If Castro fails to make the All-Star team, it’ll just be stupid.

Who will be picked: Starlin Castro 

If the NL decides to go with two first baseman (or picks Laroche as the third guy), making Lahair the odd man out, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. And because there are so many great pitchers to choose from (R.A. Dickey, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Lance Lynn, James McDonald, Johnny Cueto, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, and Johan Santana, among others), the NL can survive without Dempster as well. That, along with my reasoning above, makes picking Starlin Castro the most logical choice. Since the Cubs are so bad, they will almost certainly get only one all-star (if they get more, I’ll be pleasantly stunned). Ultimately, this is how it will probably play out.

The ultimate hypothetical baseball road trip : 2012 edition

Wrigley FieldAh, Wrigley!  Despite over a century of complete ineptitude for the Chicago Cubs, your fabled walls and ivy grass outfield are romanticized in a way almost unrivaled in all of sports.  Many fans have this on their “bucket list”, and with the amount of history and tradition associated with it, for good reason.  Just make sure that at some point you get a picture taken reaching your hand out with an obnoxious facial expression over the fabled Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113. In case you don’t remember, let’s take a little walk down memory lane in regard to its significance. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6er1XE2j0pE (Poor Steve!)
Based on the order we are going in, it would seem that the next logical step would be to take over a parade or turn back the odometer on your rental car (if you didn’t understand that reference, you really should watch more movies).  For the rest of the evening and the next day, there is no shortage of things to do.  Among them are Wills (formerly Sears) Tower, Millenium Park (a must), getting a picture next to the Michael Jordan statue, a tour of Northwestern,  and lots of famous places associated with the likes of Al Capone, Obama, Oprah, and many more.
This will likely be the longest stretch of continuous driving on the trip, but it isn’t all barren. Keep in mind, an unbelievably large number of America’s most important inventors, presidents, and most influential people came from Cleveland.  In order to be succinct, there are 3 main stops that may be of interest.  Of course, a visit to Notre Dame’s campus and stadium (home of “Touchdown Jesus”) is a pilgrimage for many sports fans and isn’t far from the highway.  Moving on, there are two more stops in western Ohio that may take up the rest of your “Sunday Funday”.  The first is the Lake Erie Islands, especially Put-in-Bay, which  draw comparison to places off the coast of New England for how nice they are, but not how expensive.  For those thrill-seeking roller coaster fanatics, this is your “mecca”.  Cedar Point is unquestionably the king of thrills at amusement parks around the world. From the Millenium Force which takes you down an initial hill of 300 feet and goes about 90 mph for a majority of the ride, to the Top Thrill Dragster, which lives up to the name, shooting you at 120 mph 420 feet in the air in less than five seconds, this is definitely not for the faint of heart.
If you decide to stay nearby in Sandusky for the night, it should be a little over an hour drive to get into Cleveland.  Once there, your first impression will be how much the city doesn’t live up to its reputation as the “Mistake by the Lake”.  To start with, many people would head to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but that’s definitely not the only option.  The art museum is one of best in the world, and is also completely free of charge, as is the house from the classic movie “A Christmas Story”.  For lunch, Cleveland is very well-known for two places in particular. One is Melt, which is famous for making overstuffed grilled cheese sandwiches on the west side, and the east side, to counter this, has a place called Slyman’s, known for its fantastic corned beef sandwiches. Cleveland also has many different restaurants, shops, and a new aquarium within close range of the stadium. Read more here…

Video: Cubs win, MLB 12 The Show advertisement

Steve Bartman

Steve BartmanIf you are not a fan of the Chicago Cubs you can only imagine the pain each and every season for the lovable losers of Chicago.

From the Billy goat curse to Steve Bartman the Cubs never seem to catch a break and have not won the World Series since 1908.

MLB 12 “The Show” for PS3 took a brief minute in their latest advertisement to show what it would be like for the city of Chicago to win the World Series.

The result is one of the best commercials ever.