Cubs

Glanville offseason journal: The Loss of Valbuena and Castillo

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USA TODAY

Glanville offseason journal: The Loss of Valbuena and Castillo

After years of being on the road of pro baseball, I knew that a late night call from my mom was not going to bring good news.

In the offseason after my first full season with the Phillies, this phone call was the entry point of what would become a spiral of bad news about the health of my father. A major stroke had sent him into a tailspin.

This would frame my career in the heart of my first and only multi-year contract with the Phillies, but also offered a window inside a game that had been simple. I had not considered often what I was missing in the rest of my family’s life. My father was invincible, even after knowing he was plagued with health issues along the way.

With the death of Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo in a tragic car accident in Venezuela, we all take stock. We revisit the innocence of sports in a way that challenges us uncomfortably. Baseball players are like how I wanted to see my father, invincible. High-powered athletes, risk-takers, inspiring agents of youth. They bounce back, they comeback, they carry hope on our backs. They certainly never die young.

Throughout my career, I realized it was the sadness that arose from what became an annual funeral, that we often tried to separate from our daily world. Teammates, coaches, legends from our youth and even adversaries were all affected by this harsh reminder of our finite world.

Players know loss on a rational level, but it cuts them differently as the focus required to engage this game every day creates an alternate reality. We often work hard to remain insulated from distraction, in fact, we vehemently fight to stay focused. Until it is impossible.

When we lift up our heads, we see the aging in the mirror, we face our own insensitivity, we also recognize that although we can win in life’s quantifiable games, we will have to accept the great loss in the end and those left behind will have to carry on with memories.

Early in my minor league career, in my first full season in the Florida State League as a member of the Daytona Cubs, my teammate lost his sister in a tragic safety accident from a live wire in his home country. He got the news when he was with us, his teammates. What do you even say to someone in that moment? We know life is moving on for others intuitively, but our job as athletes is to freeze time as firmly as possible, so our youth holds and our productivity sustains.

It turns out that as players, we are navigating these choppy waters throughout our careers as I learned about the many members of baseball’s family who passed away. From teammates’ Frank Castillo’s and Jesse Hollins’ deaths which hit the Cubs family, or Cory Lidle or Josh Hancock or my roommate, Fred White, in Daytona who was killed in the offseason after intervening when someone tried to break into his vehicle. Senseless.

So we turn inward into baseball’s club to try and make sense of it. A small, elite, close knit unit. Once you are inside that unit, Luis Valbuena did not have to be your teammate to feel it like a brother. You do not have to be a current player to feel it like a brother. You do not even have to know him to feel it like a brother. The game is intricately connected through generations, across oceans, and time itself. Your years as a professional constantly puts you in the orbit of the game’s history where legends you watched on TV growing up become your mentors and the teenage fans in the stands could well be the next rising star who watched your career. We know each other, even when we don’t. So it hurts deeply.

In the offseason when my father’s health took the first of many devastating hits, I felt the powerlessness of being a player in the thick of his career, criss-crossing the world to perform, yet unable to do much about changing my father’s circumstances other than by being supportive from mostly afar. The offseason would change forever for me as I wanted to do as much as I could to help my mom in her caretaking, just as I had to wake up to the fragile nature of the lives around us. Illness or tragedy can strike anyone close to you at any time.

But time stays on its arrow towards the future regardless. Sending us forward anyway. Spring training will come around, we will keep those we lost close in honor of their time, but also as a reminder of the gift of being able to enjoy time in a uniform while playing a game we love. Something we should work hard to appreciate as much as we can.

I would start the next season with my father’s health in constant jeopardy, carrying with me a burden that I would not trade for the world since it was part of the gift of having had him in my life. I would play, grapple with the distraction and the guilt of my absence and the need to be focused on my craft despite how much I wanted to meet my family’s need too. It would be a tug a war for the rest of my career.

This is life and the offseason spares no one from reminding us that loss can be around the corner and we will all be forever changed by it.

And we should be.

 

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The Reds are putting the NL Central on notice

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USA TODAY

The Reds are putting the NL Central on notice

We're less than a month before spring training begins and as it stands right now, the National League Central is the only division in baseball where every team is truly "going for it."

Everybody knows the Cubs and Brewers are aiming to contend after playoff appearances last year and the Cardinals clearly are hoping to end their three-year October drought after acquiring Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller. The Pirates have been quiet this winter (as they are every offseason), but remember, they traded for Chris Archer and Keone Kela last July.

But the Reds? The Reds have low-key had the best offseason of any team in the division.

That's not to say Cincinnati will be contending for the division crown in 2019, but they've certainly addressed their biggest two weaknesses this winter — starting pitching and overall depth.

The Reds acquired Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to bolster their lineup and outfield, but the work they've done to the rotation could be a real game-changer. 

Cincinnati acquired a trio of starting pitchers this winter in trades — Sonny Gray, Alex Wood and Tanner Roark. All three guys have varying levels of concerns based on past performance or health, but it's very clear they're all improvements over what the Reds had to work with as starters in 2018. Only five teams had a rotation with a worse ERA than the Reds last season (5.02).

Here's Cincinnati's 2018 Opening Day rotation:

Anthony DeSclafani
Homer Bailey
Brandon Finnegan
Luis Castillo
Sal Romano

Here's the 2019 projected rotation:

Sonny Gray
Alex Wood
Luis Castillo
Tanner Roark
Anthony DeSclafani

You don't have to be a baseball expert to know the latter rotation is a more desirable 1-through-5 and has the potential to be significantly better. 

Castillo has flashed top-of-the-rotation potential but has struggled with consistency. DeSclafani went 18-18 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.30 WHIP from 2015-16 before missing all of 2017 with an elbow injury and working his way back in only 21 starts last year.

Wood has barely topped 150 innings the last two seasons with the Dodgers, but he went 25-10 with a 3.20 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 8.5 K/9. Gray — the latest acquisition — has been an ace at various points in his career (2.88 ERA, 1.13 WHIP from 2013-15) despite a tough 2018. Roark was the most overlooked guy in the Nationals rotation the last few years and while he's certainly not a No. 1, he's 59-50 with a 3.61 ERA and 1.21 WHIP as a starting pitcher.

Who knows how the three new guys will perform in a hitter's environment like Great American Ballpark and in front of a new defense, but the improvement in talent and potential is undeniable. Plus, only Roark is over 30 and only he and Wood are free agents after 2019.

Everybody knows the Reds can swing it and Puig and Kemp are solid factors to supplement a lineup that already features one of the best hitters in the game (Joey Votto), two of the more underrated stars in baseball (Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett) and an up-and-coming speedster (Jose Peraza). Plus, young outfielder Jesse Winker is proving more and more that he's making the most of his time learning from Votto, as the 25-year-old has a .299 average and .397 on-base percentage in 136 games over his big-league career.

The Reds also feature an underrated bullpen that is returning every major piece that contributed to a No. 16 ranking in MLB in reliever ERA last year. 

Oh yeah, and the Reds have the sixth-best farm system according to FanGraphs, so they have some impressive young talent coming up through the system that can either help augment the big-league club or be dangled as trade headliners.

Also consider this — from May 8-July 31 in 2018, here's how each team in the NL Central fared:

CHC: 44-29
MIL: 43-32
CIN: 40-32
PIT: 37-36
STL: 34-40

This was a stretch in time after the Reds made a managerial change and before the trade deadline. Sure, it's cherry-picking a point in the schedule, but this is nearly half a season's worth of recent data that shows the Reds can hang with the top of the division.

And they've very clearly improved this winter. That doesn't always translate to on-field wins, but the Reds can't win any games in December or January. All they can do is try to improve their roster and increase depth and they've certainly done that.

If nothing else, the Reds could loom as a serious spoiler down the stretch. They play the Cubs and Cardinals 7 times each from August to September and face off against the Brewers three times in the final two months.

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Bryce Harper to the Cubs is so 2018, so let's turn our attention to Mike Trout

Bryce Harper to the Cubs is so 2018, so let's turn our attention to Mike Trout

Bryce Harper to the Cubs is, like, so 2018.

It seems more and more unlikely Harper will be looking for housing on the North Side of Chicago anytime soon, with several Cubs throwing cold water on the rumor in the last week, including Kris Bryant (though he also said he hasn't talked to his buddy in a couple weeks and claimed he and Harper never discussed where he might sign).

So let's turn our attention to the next big free agent crush that could occupy Cubs fans' attention.

No, not Nolan Arenado. 

Mike Trout.

Is it far too soon to be thinking about Mike Trout's free agency when he's still under contract with the Angels for the next two years? Of course. But this is the internet and this place was made for random, way-too-early thoughts and debates on interesting topics.

Bleacher Report came up with odds for which team would sign Trout in the winter of 2020-21 and the Cubs came in with the 8th highest chance (19/1 odds) of inking the game's best player to a deal. The rest of their list included the White Sox, Dodgers, Nationals, Yankees, Red Sox and Angels with better chances than the Cubs, but that all makes sense given the lofty spending habits of those teams and the financial flexibility of the White Sox. Even the Angels would have a ton of money then with Albert Pujols' awful contract about to expire after 2021. 

But focusing on just the Cubs' perspective on the matter, it'd be hard to see the team handing out what may be the loftiest deal in MLB history at that point in time.

Yes, the Cubs may have money, as only Jason Heyward and Yu Darvish have guaranteed contracts for 2021, but they also have $13 million in buyouts owed to Jon Lester ($10 million), Anthony Rizzo ($2 million) and Daniel Descalso ($1 million) even if they don't pick up the respective options of each player. So the team already has $58.5 million committed to the 2021 payroll and only two actual players on the hypothetical roster. Picking up the options for Lester ($25 million), Rizzo ($14.5 million) and Descalso ($3.5 million) would bring the grand total of committments to $88.5 million for only five players.

Then there's the matter of all the arbitration, which would include Kris Bryant's final year under team control and a contract that may well climb over $20 million for 2021. Plus, the final year of arbitration — and thus, the most expensive years — for Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell (if he's still around), Mike Montgomery and Carl Edwards Jr. (It stands to reason the Cubs would obviously like to retain at least a couple of those players beyond 2021, so they'd need to earmark money for the winter after Trout, too.)

Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ will all be in their second year of arbitration in 2021 and even David Bote would be in his first year of a non-rookie contract. 

So sure, the Cubs will have Tyler Chatwood's contract coming off the books after 2020 among other salary reductions, but every guy that we know could be on their roster in 2021 is slated for an expensive contract. 

Theo Epstein (or whoever's in his position two years from now) will have to focus an awful lot of resources on fixing a pitching staff that currently has only Darvish, Montgomery, Edwards and Kendall Graveman under contract for 2021. You know, unless the organization actually starts developing young pitchers through the system — something that has been the black eye of this front office in the near-decade they've been running the Cubs.

The Cubs' payroll will certainly undergo changes between now and then with the new TV deal and a potentially new CBA that may shake up free agency as we know it (especially after the last two winters).

Either way, it's two years out and so much can happen in two years.

Two years ago, many Cubs fans wanted their favorite team to land Harper and that only intensified all the way through the month of October last fall. Yet we've seen how that's played out.

But hey — Mike Trout is a free agent in November 2020 so...maybe? Or maybe not?

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