Cubs

Is Soto more valuable to the Cubs in a trade?

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Is Soto more valuable to the Cubs in a trade?

HardballTalk's Matthew Pouliot continues his preseason projections heading into spring training with the Top 10 catchers.

The Cubs' Geovany Soto made the list at No. 8, coming in at a projected .799 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 422 at-bats.

Buster Posey of the Giants heads up the list with an .878 OPS projection. Only he and Brian McCann of the Braves are projected for a better OPS than Soto in the National League.

Soto's OPS in 2011 was .721 in 421 at-bats, but that includes a low .310 OBP -- the lowest of his career -- and a .228 batting average contributed largely to that low total.

In 2010, Soto hit .280 with a .393 OBP and .497 SLG, good for an .890 OPS. By Pouliot's projections, that would put the Cubs backstop atop all catchers.

Pouliot's prediction brings about two questions, and neither are related to Soto's final numbers.

For one, who will make up those other 150 or so at-bats at the catcher position? Koyie Hill appeared in 46 games last year for the Cubs, putting up a horrible .545 OPS in 134 at-bats. But Hill is gone and the Cubs are left with three options right now -- Steve Clevenger, Welington Castillo and Jason Jaramillo.

Jaramillo is a veteran with significant MLB experience while Clevenger and Castillo are young up-and-comers. Will the new Cubs management team of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Dale Sveum be comfortable with Clevenger or Castillo taking the backup catcher role in 2012? Or will Jaramillo be the choice based on experience?

The other question is Soto's status with the team. His numbers will be there so long as he's on the field. Injuries are impossible to predict, but he very well could wind up in a different uniform by the time the season ends.

The 29-year-old catcher remains one of the Cubs' best trade chips and several contending teams could enlist in his services before the year is out.

Let's just assume for a second that Pouliot's projections will be exactly how things play out. Only two of the catchers ahead of Soto on the list played for playoff teams in 2011. Posey's return should make the Giants contenders once again and the Indians and Braves would not be huge surprises if they earn a postseason berth in 2012.

The Phillies, Brewers, Cardinals, Yankees and Rays do not have a catcher on this list. These five 2011 playoff teams all expect to contend for 2012 on some level. If the second Wild Card is added for each league this year, that will just create more challengers who could be looking for an upgrade at catcher.

With the Cubs in the midst of rebuilding and not expecting to contend in 2012, Soto may be more valuable to the long-term prospects of the team in a trade, rather than suiting up in the blue and red catcher's gear for 135 games.

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.

Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

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Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

Two of the Cubs' greatest starting pitchers are among the 33 names on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.

Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano, both longtime fixtures in the North Side starting rotation, landed on the ballot for the first time. Legendary Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa is on the ballot for the sixth year.

Wood accomplished one of baseball's all-time most impressive feats, striking out 20 Houston Astros on May 6, 1998, in just his fifth start in the big leagues. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1998 and was a two-time All Star in his 12 seasons with the Cubs.

Wood was a member of that stellar starting rotation in 2003, helping the Cubs to their first-ever NL Central title with a 3.20 ERA and a baseball-leading 266 strikeouts in 32 starts. Injuries, however, plagued Wood throughout his career with the Cubs, and after making those 32 starts in 2003 and 22 more in 2004, he started just 14 games for the remainder of his career.

Still, Wood is one of the most recognizable and celebrated pitchers in franchise history, No. 3 on the team's all-time strikeout list. Only 13 pitchers have appeared in more games with the Cubs than Wood.

Zambrano was also a part of that 2003 team in his third season in the majors. He spent all but one season of his 12-season big league career with the Cubs, making 282 starts and three All-Star teams. He finished in the top five in NL Cy Young voting three times: in 2004, 2006 and 2007. The 2004 campaign was Zambrano's finest, as he posted a 2.75 ERA in 31 starts for a Cubs team that nearly made a repeat trip to the postseason.

Zambrano had a famously hot temper and earned as many cheers for his on-field antics as he did for his pitching prowess. While some of those memorable blow-ups might resonate with fans a little more in the long run, he's one of the franchise's greatest pitchers ever, No. 2 on the team's all-time strikeout list, behind only Fergie Jenkins, and No. 15 on the wins list. Only seven pitchers have started more games in a Cubs uniform than Zambrano.

Statistically, Sosa seems like a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame, No. 9 on baseball's all-time home runs list with 609 dingers and the only player ever to have three 60-homer seasons. But it has been difficult for him to get votes from the writers. He received just 8.6 percent of votes last season. To be elected to the Hall of Fame, a player needs to appear on 75 percent of ballots.

Two other ex-Cubs, Fred McGriff and Jamie Moyer, are also on this year's ballot.