The weekly radio baseball gabfest known as "Talking Baseball" (ESPN AM 1000, Chicago) hosted by Bruce Levine (and frequently Chet Coppock, in the role of sidekick) is a nice source of Cub information. Of course you have to wade through lengthy questions that often take minutes to unfold. Interviews with management are usually cloaked in generalizations, clichés and unrequited hope.
This saturday's show featured an interview with Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel, Oneri Fleita, as well as some discussion on the management's thinking behind the recent Mark DeRosa for prospects trade.
Fleita was not going to short change us on clichés like "You've got to play the games" and "Everybody starts in first place." Still it was good to hear about prospects in the news like Josh Vitters and the 3 newest pitching prospects acquired from Cleveland.
Bruce Levine updated and opined about the state of the Cubs roster changes including keeping the roster flexible as well as the progress on acquiring a sense of left handedness with attitude (feisty Milton Bradley, scrappy Aaron Miles and the even scrappier Mike Fontenot).
He also has an opinion about Jake da Ace, aka he-who-must-not-be-named.
The incredibly wordy play by play after the jump...
Cubs VP of Player Personnel, Oneri Fleita was interviewed on Bruce Levine's Talking Baseball show hosted by Bruce Levine and Chet Coppock (ESPN radio 1000), Saturday 1-3-09.
Chet Coppock: Asks about what hurdles (Felix) Pie has to vault over with his unique set of tools?
Oneri Fleita: I heard you talking about Corey Patterson before. He (Fleita) was a scout in Georga when we signed CPat. Regarding Pie, the toughest thing to do is to get the job done at the major league level. I'm the guy who alway has to be positive, who says they can do it, it's easier to talk about what they can't do. Pie hit over .300 in winter ball, he's starting to show signs of learning the strike zone. Learning to control emotions. Some guys develop sooner than others. I still think he can get that done.
Bruce Levine: Who will be this years surprises of the guys coming thru the minor league system. This year's Geo Soto or (previous year) Ryan Theriot? Who should Cub fans be watching?
Fleita: We just acquired Jeff Stevens (recommended by Stan Zielinski), looks like he could surprise us in camp. Not far down the pipe is (shortstop) Darwin Barney, (1st round draft choice, pitcher) Andrew Cashner could be on a fast track. You mentioned catcher Soto, the kid Wellington Castillo, he can really catch and throw and handles the bat real well and should start at triple-A level. Jim was with me on a trip last year, right place right time, when we signed a kid pitcher from the Dominican Republic, Esmailin Caridad. He spent minor league time in Japan and could come fast. A number of guys are close and we're always looking for a bigger group of guys that are closer, but spring training always brings a number of surprises.
Coppock: I'm looking at your game right now, not the demise, but the lack of African-American players on the major league level, the exponential rise of Latin American ballplayers to the bigs, down the line (6-8 years) will the latin ballplayers compromise 75-80% of the ballplayers?
Fleita: I hope not. A lot of things contribute to that. Baseball is watered down by other sports, golf, soccer. All sports face this issue. For example, my children play hockey, I didn't grow up playing hockey at all. Our scouting director, Tim Wilken is trying to get into the inner cities. (He's) trying to find those players and get them playing baseball.
Levine: When you see guys like Cedeno and Pie's names bandied about as possible guys used in trades, how do you feel knowing you've help raised some of these guys. Part of your job is player development which is used to get players from other teams. Is it difficult to see guys leave the system before they reach their peak?
Fleita: The longer you do this, you'd think it would get easier and you understand this is a business, but you do get emotionally attached. You become a father figure to a lot of these kids. A lot of these kids are a long way from their home and don't have their father nearby. You've got to understand that this is a business and part of the job is to feed the major league club. (Part of the job is) having the guys in the system to help us acquire the players that will help us win. That's what it's all about but it is difficult.
Levine: How fast of a track is Josh Vitters on? Another name that is heard from other teams that want to make a deal with the Cubs. One of the first names that comes up.
Fleita: Vitters is by far our best pure hitter in the organization. I believe if we put him in the Florida State league rather than Peoria, he may flourish and move real fast. Peoria in the spring is like Chicago, it's real cold and difficult on a hitter in the midwest league, early in the season, especially players from California, Florida, Texas, or somewhere in Latin America, It's tough to swing the bat and young hitters can lose their confidence. He's the best young hitter in this organization and I think will be a very good mlb player.
Coppock: Bruce and I were projecting 2009 for the Cubs. Last year they knocked down the division with 97 victories. Looking at the division, I look up at Milwaukee and they appear to be a shadow of what they were last year without Sabathia. Strohs, Pittsburgh, Reds aren't going to frighten anybody. Would you make book that you'll win the division with 87-88 wins?
Fleita: I won't make book on anything to be honest with you. You've got to play the games. Everybody starts in first place. There are so many things that come into having a good season and winning 87-97 games. The goal all winter from Jim (Hendry) and Randy Bush's standpoint was to get a lot of players that have versatility, get left handed hitters, they've done a great job in doing that. When you're a manager in the NL, you want to have as many players with versatility, if you have guys who are switch-hitters or hit left handed and a nice balance of both, you're got a chance to win a lot of games.
Levine: You've got to feel good about this trade for Mark DeRosa. Not for the fact of trading DeRosa, who was popular with everybody including media, players and front office alike, but the fact that you got 3 really good young arms from Cleveland. Not only can they help solidify whatever minor league spots they are sent to but all three can be projected as mlb pitchers.
Fleita: DeRosa, he obviously contributed to much of the success we had here the last couple of years. We lost a couple of guys like Jose Ceda (trade for Kevin Gregg), Donald Veal (rule 5 draft) and Sean Gallagher (last season trade for Rich Harden). To be able to replenish and to add on to pitching, its so difficult to acquire and develop pitching. To bring in guys like Jeff Stevens who is real close to the major leagues. John Gaub, a left handed reliever, who is now healthy, with good stuff. That's an area in the game that everone is always looking for, left handed pitching, especially relief pitching. The young kid Chris Archer, the needle is pointing north. He's got a great ceiling. He throws in the mid-90's. He's 20 years old. Those are the kind of guys we can't get enough of. I'm thrilled we've added them to the organization.
Here are the highlights from the Cub section of the Talking Baseball radio show. The good news is Chet only asked one question. The bad news is it was 3 hours long on a 2 hour show. Most of the commentary is from Bruce Levine.
• Bruce Levine discussed the DeRosa trade:
Premise: Cubs locked into $140M payroll (for 40 man roster)
the budget was at $140M before the DeRosa and Marquis trades...saves $11M. (Marquis trade will be announced Monday or Tuesday)
$2.5M for Miles
$8-9M for Bradley (my take: implying year 1), not so sure it implied $8-9 per yr x 3 yrs (my take: expect some backloading).
DLee has a no trade, can't trade ARam, Fuku, Soriano...locked into your Pitchers.
...this left DeRosa as the tradable player, age 34 on last year of his contract. The only way to get more left handed was to move DeRosa. Not the most ideal situation, as at times he was the most valuable and flexible player on the team. This deal gets the team (organization?) younger, more left handed and gets players to help go after Jake Peavy one more time in January (also implying the salary unloading factor plus young pitching aquisition).
• Chet Coppock asks about over-unders in terms of Bradley and Fukudome at bats. Bruce Levine expects 400-500 AB's for Fukudome in a platoon with Reed Johnson. Late in games he expects Joey Gathright will be a late inning defensive replacement with Fukudome moving to RF. Fukudome won't be coming out of games that much because of his defensive skills.
• Hendry is giving Lou Piniella a roster with the possibility of 4 starting lefty bats in a game (implying Miles at SS, Fontenot at 2B, Bradley in RF and Fukudome in CF; last year had 3 maximum, including Fontenot at 2B, Fukudome in RF, Edmonds in CF).
• Levine thinks Hendry is still going after a #1 pitcher and that's why Jake Peavy is back on the radar. Bruce Levine still thinks there is about an 80% chance of a Peavy deal happening.
Caller Question: Aaron Miles, what kind of defensive player is he? Can he fill in SS and can he hit from both sides of the plate?
• Miles is not an everyday SS but he's sure handed, has a decent arm but not a great arm, not alot of range, he can't go in the hole at SS. He's not an everyday SS but good for 15-20 games at SS. He's similar to Theriot defensively. He can hit leftys, a .300 hitter who has come a long way. The lefty element of his switch hitting will be a key. The Cubs didn't have a lefty infielder last year (BL temporarily forgets about Fontenot? but he talks about him shortly).
• Not sure that Cedeno, Pie will be on the team, both are out of options. Both will be involved in trade talks in the next 2-3 weeks. Not surprising if they both get moved.
• The development of Pie is a disappointment in the Cubs organization. The hitting part has not worked out at the major league level (see the Fleita interview above, regarding more on Pie). Discussed a comparison with regard to Corey Patterson, as a touted prospect from the farm system who was a bust, although CPat got more major league time until it was clear he was a failure.
Caller Question: How does DeRosa's departure affect Fontenot?
• BL see's more at bats for Fontenot now that DeRosa isn't here. He showed the capacity to hit well and in the clutch last year. Fontenot will platoon with Miles and backup Theriot at SS at times. Miles will also play at SS so both Fonty/Miles gives LouPa lefty flexibility at SS as well as 2B.