While waiting for buy-or-sell signals from Yankees, Cubs will get look at Gerardo Concepcion

While waiting for buy-or-sell signals from Yankees, Cubs will get look at Gerardo Concepcion

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told the New York media on Tuesday that the buy-or-sell decision will be pushed toward the end of July, when owner Hal Steinbrenner will listen to the recommendation and ultimately have the final say.

That’s a backdrop for the pitching-staff shakeup that happened around the same time at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs stashed Clayton Richard (7.30 ERA) on the disabled list with a blister on his left middle finger, optioned Adam Warren to Triple-A Iowa to stretch him out as a starter before the All-Star break and promoted relievers Gerardo Concepcion and Spencer Patton from Des Moines.

While waiting for the market to define itself, this roughly gives the Cubs a 35-game sample size to see what they have before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, when the entire industry will be curious to see how the best team in baseball gears up for October. 

The Cubs will get a fresh look at Concepcion and hope his video-game numbers this year against left-handed hitters – .116 average, .331 OPS, 19 strikeouts in 43 at-bats – will translate from Iowa and Double-A Tennessee. 

But imagine the endgame possibilities for manager Joe Maddon if Theo Epstein’s front office delivered Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman this summer. Assuming the Yankees remain a fourth-place team in the American League East, fail to gain traction above .500 and drop out of the wild-card race. 

“I’m always a brutally honest person,” Cashman told reporters at Yankee Stadium, according to the New York Daily News. “If I see things, I’ll always communicate honestly with ownership to the best of our abilities. Again, we’re in June, so right now that’s not the conversation we’re having.

“Everybody wants to (know): ‘Are you buyers, are you sellers?’ If anything right now, we’d be buyers, not sellers, and who’s to say we can’t be both buyers and sellers?

“But obviously the big focus everybody wants to know is: Are we going to be in a position to sell? You’ve heard from ownership – that’s not part of the vocabulary right now. There’s enough schedule left to allow us time to see if this team is closer to what we thought it was capable of.”

Concepcion made his big-league debut during Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Cardinals, coming into a one-run game with a runner on first base and two outs to face Brandon Moss (16 homers). Concepcion threw six pitches – four fastballs clocked between 91-92 mph and two curveballs at 75-76 mph – and struck out the left-handed Moss swinging.

Concepcion then handled Kolten Wong, Adam Wainwright and Matt Carpenter during a 1-2-3 seventh inning in front of 41,616, a scenario that would have sounded crazy even last year. 

Concepcion looked like a bust after signing a guaranteed five-year, $6 million major-league contract during spring training in 2012. He had been the Cuban National Series Rookie of the Year in 2011 while pitching for Industriales in Havana, but had trouble staying healthy and developing into the left-handed starter the Cubs envisioned.   

No one else took a chance when the Cubs outrighted Concepcion off their 40-man roster after the 2012 season, or left him exposed in the Rule 5 draft, and his name stopped getting mentioned when team officials tried to talk up the organization’s pitching prospects.

As Epstein’s group took over baseball operations, Concepcion’s rough first year with Class-A Peoria (2-6, 7.39 ERA in 12 starts) contributed to the firing of vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita, who helped build the Latin American pipeline and network of connections that produced Carlos Marmol, Starlin Castro, Welington Castillo, Jorge Soler and Willson Contreras.

Concepcion came into this season with a 5.57 ERA in 160 career innings in the minor leagues. Between 2012 and 2014, he spent time on the disabled list with a strained right calf, a viral infection, a strained back (twice) and a broken toe on his left foot. 

But Concepcion, 24, finally got healthy, started to trust his softer stuff and pitched with more confidence. He began this season by throwing 17.2 scoreless innings with Tennessee before earning the promotion to Iowa, where he went 1-0 with a 2.60 ERA in 12 appearances.   

“I was frustrated when everything was going wrong,” Concepcion said through interpreter/coach Henry Blanco. “But I stepped back and learned how to do things. And here I am.” 

This certainly isn’t adding Miller or Chapman – it once looked like the Cubs would get zero return on the Concepcion investment – but Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer can’t just wait around for the Yankees to go against their franchise’s DNA and give up on this season.  

“You always have to anticipate something’s going to go awry,” Maddon said. “That is such a hard spot to get people you really like just by snapping your finger. Unless you’re growing somebody like that, unless you know you have it in the system (or) you’re holding him back. 

“That’s kind of a nice thing to have in your back pocket. I’ve been there with the Rays a little bit. We had that kind of luxury. But if you don’t have that extra starter or two – or that real significant guy that’s got a good arm that can pitch out of your bullpen – it’s not easy (to find).”

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.