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May 30, 2011

Transaction Analysis Blog

Playing Catch-up with the Cubs

by R.J. Anderson

CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Chicago Cubs
Purchased INF DJ LeMahieu’s contract from Triple-A Iowa. [5/30]
Placed INF Jeff Baker on the 15-day disabled list.  [5/30]
Designated RP Jeff Stevens for assignment. [5/30]
Optioned C Welington Castillo to Triple-A Iowa. [5/29]
Activated C Geovany Soto from the 15-day disabled list. [5/29]
Placed OF Reed Johnson on the 15-day disabled list. [5/29]
Purchased OF Brad Snyder’s contact from Triple-A Iowa. [5/29]
Activated SP Randy Wells from the 15-day disabled list. [5/28]
Optioned SP Casey Coleman to Triple-A Iowa. [5/28]

Nine transactions in three days is a good way to turn the roster over quickly. Speaking of nine, the Cubs sent Rodrigo Lopez to the mound to start Monday’s game, marking their ninth starter of the season. According to the WGN broadcast, that ties them with the Rockies for the most in the league. The return of Wells is a good first step back to normalcy and Matt Garza will be back soon enough to give the Cubs four-fifths of their opening day rotation (although Wells’ first start did not go well four innings, three walks, seven strikeouts, and five earned runs).

The big news from the rest of the moves is the arrival of LeMahieu. The Cubs second-round pick in 2009, LeMahieu was considered a slight reach, as his stock had plummeted due to a position change (away from shortstop) and disappointing campaign with his bat. Despite being 6-foot-4, LeMahieu’s game throughout the minors has been about contact, at least until reaching Double-A Tennessee this season.

If there is any optimism about him becoming a regular in the majors at some point or another, it rests on the legitimacy of his emerging pop. His ISO in 2011 is .134, which is one point more than the sum of his ISO from his first two professional seasons. Whether that stems from the environment he is playing in or something clicking is anyone’s guess at this point.

Absent that newfound power, LeMahieu’s game is all about making contact. He isn’t the fastest guy in the game (Kevin Goldstein clocked him at 4.5 seconds down the line in his first at-bat), and his 15 steals in 2010 are unimpressive when you consider he was successful on less than 70 percent of his attempts. Defensively, LeMahieu is limited to second or third base, but he did play some shortstop in college and has the size for first base, so the Cubs could throw him there if they absolutely have to.

LeMahieu will serve as the spiritual successor to Baker, if only for two weeks. Two other parts of the Cubs bench will experience minor shakeups too, as Soto should reclaim his starting job and Snyder takes Johnson’s gig.  Having LeMahieu, Koyie Hill, Snyder, Lou Montanez, and Blake DeWitt on the bench doesn’t make the reserve corps a strength, but at least it’s cheap labor.

As for the guy sent packing, Stevens looked promising in the past, but has lost his glimmer since being acquired from Cleveland. For whatever reason, he has not taken kindly to the big leagues and finding the zone in Triple-A has proven a challenge too. Because of his history and his status (he can be optioned to Triple-A freely), another club may grab and stash him on the farm just in case it all clicks again, but his upside is as a middle reliever as of now.


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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