What the Cubs need to accomplish in second half
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com July 17, 2013 9:13PM
Updated: July 18, 2013 10:21AM
The Cubs have 10 weeks left in what looks like a fourth consecutive losing season and another “giveaway” season in an increasingly lengthy rebuilding process.
Nobody outside of a few guys in the clubhouse expect next year to be much better, but if the Cubs plan to make 2014 relevant — at least in terms of progress that can be seen with the naked eye — they have to accomplish at least one big thing per week down the stretch:
Week 1: Deal Matt Garza. And get it right. He has been the Cubs’ most valuable trading chip the last two seasons, though he’s not as valuable as he was last year, when he came with another year of club control. But Garza never has looked better (5-0, 1.24 ERA in his last five starts) or healthier, and there isn’t a no-trade clause to muck things up.
The Cubs must get a major-league-ready or near-ready pitching prospect (such as the Red Sox’ Allen Webster, who would have become a Cub in a trade with the Dodgers if the Cubs had their way last year) in any package. And they can throw in personal catcher/magician Dioner Navarro, if that’s what it takes to get something done with the Rangers.
But they can’t wait until Garza cools off and reminds everybody that he never has been an All-Star and is a high-priced pending free agent who won’t net a compensatory draft pick if/when he leaves.
Week 2: Trade Kevin Gregg (it’s already too late to sell high) before July 31 and anybody else who isn’t in the long-term plans and can net a decent return.
Week 3: Get Scott Baker back from his rehab assignment and into the rotation to see what he has, with an eye toward multiyear potential. Baker signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract in November after recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he hasn’t pitched since March 17 because of an elbow injury.
Week 4: Call up Jake Arrieta from Class AAA, put him in the rotation and see how he responds to pitching coach Chris Bosio. Arrieta was acquired from the Orioles on July 2 in the Scott Feldman trade.
Week 5: Get No. 2 overall draft pick Kris Bryant out of short-season Class A and into a more advanced league before the minor-league season ends. A college slugger drafted this high should advance quickly. If he’s what the Cubs think he is, that could put him in the lineup by April 2015. His path would be no quicker than many of the other highly drafted college hitters, such as All-Stars Mark Teixeira (No. 5 in 2001), Alex Gordon (No. 2 in 2005) and Evan Longoria (No. 3 in 2006).
Week 6: Win a National League game in Southern California for the first time in two years. It’s a mental thing, especially for the kids who remember going 1-19 against the NL West on the road last year.
Week 7: Assuming top prospect Javy Baez finishes strong at Class AA, give him and the long-gouged (and scarred) fans a major-league debut when rosters expand.
Week 8: Take a good, long look at the Pirates in suddenly loud PNC Park in September. Take notes. It’s going to be a long climb, but the Pirates did it — albeit 20 years after starting.
Week 9: Take a look at what Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are doing, after presumably leaving them in the 2-3 spots in the lineup. Now the Cubs can start evaluating what they have going into 2014.
Week 10: Play spoiler. The final nine games are against the Braves, Pirates and Cardinals. Make a difference. It’s a mental thing.