Cubs’ short-term fix: Gambling on players who have been hurt
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org December 6, 2012 10:05PM
FORT MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 27: Scott Baker (30) of the Minnesota Twins poses during Photo Day on Monday, February 27, 2012 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/MLB Photos via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Scott Baker
MEDICINE BALL GUYS
Dec. 6: Re-signed 3B Ian Stewart (wrist). Picked Hector Rondon (elbow) in the Rule 5 draft.
Nov. 13: Signed P Scott Baker (Tommy John surgery).
July: Traded for P Arodys Vizcaino (Tommy John surgery).
January: Signed P Paul Maholm (shoulder).
Dec. 2011: Signed Stewart (wrist). Nov. 2011:
Signed OF David DeJesus (hand).
Updated: December 6, 2012 10:20PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Unless you’re a Cubs fan who’s been living under a rock the last 12 months, the second-year regime’s player-evaluation methods have become obvious to the point of predictable.
And never more so than a four-day stretch of winter meetings that included the latest example in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft.
A few weeks after signing a $5.5 million starting pitcher (Scott Baker) who missed last year because of elbow surgery, the Cubs drafted a pitcher whose successive elbow injuries cost him much of the last three minor-league seasons.
Forget the Moneyball model famously followed by Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s and Theo Epstein’s Boston Red Sox a decade ago.
Welcome to Medicine Ball — where once-undervalued on-base and OPS guys have been replaced in the equation by undervalued injury-rehab guys.
Where Sabremetrics and UZRs give way to CT-scan-metrics and X-ray analytics.
Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon, for instance, was Cleveland’s minor-league pitcher of the year before the injuries. And after finally coming back late last season he’s reached 97 mph during an impressive winter ball season and was considered a candidate for the Indians’ bullpen.
“We feel we can capitalize now that he’s healthy and throwing the ball really well,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said.
If he can produce in the big leagues for the next few years, he could wind up one of those Rule 5 success stories that get told years later.
Either way, it’s already part of a storyline that’s played out since Epstein took over as team president last winter.
Almost every significant acquisition the last 12 months has been a buy-low guy coming off an injury who has high-end, universally identified skills or a proven track record — from Ian Stewart (wrist), Paul Maholm (shoulder) and David DeJesus (hand) last winter to Arodys Vizcaino (Tommy John elbow surgery) at July’s trade deadline, to Baker and Rondon.
A few hours after the Rondon pick, they brought Stewart back on a one-year, $2 million, non-guaranteed contract to be their starter at third after nudging their offer that high only because of a seller’s market at the position — and this after a wasted 2012 and wrist surgery.
Going down the same MRI-strewn path last month, they agreed to trade healthy $9.8 million closer Carlos Marmol for a $15.5 million starter with a balky back — until passing when Dan Haren’s medical reports revealed a hip issue they decided wasn’t worth the financial risk.
The Cubs aren’t saying this is going to be the primary method in player acquisitions in the long term.
“You don’t set out looking for Tommy John guys,’’ Epstein said upon Baker’s signing.
But it’s the approach in their search for market inefficiencies and in risk-reward value analysis. Especially as they go short-term on free-agent contracts and go bargain hunting during this rebuilding project that could last years.
“If you have to sign a pitcher who is coming off surgery, Tommy John is the one you want him to come off,’’ Epstein said, “because it’s a very predictable rehab with a very strong success rate — upwards of 95 percent.’’
Epstein, Hoyer and the boys don’t have much to show for their version of Medicine Ball in their lone 101-loss season.
But if guys such as Baker, Vizcaino and Rondon are fixtures when the Cubs finally turn a competitive corner, the team that takes the field next April — if not the events of these winter meetings — might become Act I of the Moneyball sequel.
Not only did they nab another Tommy John surgery graduate Thursday in Rondon, but this is a team that went after a third baseman with chronic back problems (Eric Chavez), checked in on a pitcher (Brandon McCarthy) who fractured his skull three months ago when hit by a line drive, has a pitching coach (Chris Bosio) recovering from double knee replacement surgery and found out Tuesday its manager (Dale Sveum) had been shot by Robin Yount in a hunting accident earlier this winter.
And their biggest disappointment as they left the winter meetings might have been losing out to the White Sox on a guy with a broken leg (Jeff Keppinger).
Imagine if they’d run into Mark Prior’s agent