Zack’s Sack: A Wrigleyville Mailbag, Vol. 6

This week was possibly the most eventful in Cubdom since the World Series ended, and most of it was… not good. Injuries, visits to the White House, and cutting a key player from the past few years in a pretty gross way—it’s been a rough week for Cubs fans, and I am here to bring you solace.

Welcome back to Zack’s Sack. Don’t forget to submit questions to me on Twitter, at @beersntrumpets. Let’s open the sack.

“Who says no in this admittedly radical trade proposal?

Cubs get: Bryce Harper
Nationals get: The entire Cubs bullpen” — @ lcm1986

Looks fair to me. The Nationals have plenty of hitters and a terrible pen, so it’s only sensible for them to trade from strength.

Let’s get real, though: the Cubs ‘pen has been great this year, much better than the stable of starters. Between Wade Davis, Carl Edwards, Koji Uehara, and Pedro Strop, they have four top relievers I would match up against most other teams. Where the Cubs stand out, though, is the next level. Justin Grimm, Hector Rondon (when he’s on), and even Brian Duensing have provided the club with needed depth and fairly reliable middle relief. Even Felix Peña, the last guy in the bullpen for most of the year, has been solid, with three straight scoreless outings after a rough start to the year.

The bullpen boasts the fifth-best ERA of any team, behind the venerate squadrons of Cleveland,  Los Angeles, Boston, and (uh) Arizona. They have the fourth-best left-on-base rate, the eighth-best groundball rate, and the sixth-best strikeout percentage. They also have the best BABIP allowed in the league, albeit only a bit better than the second-best team—not quite like last year’s historic rate.

Anyway, there’s no reason to trade for Harper. They’re going to sign him after next year. Speaking of Harper…

“Is there room on the Cubs for Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, and ska?” — @AnthonyRescan

Bryant and Harper should play on the same team for everyone’s sake. It would be a joy to watch. Ska complements everything, so yes, there’s room.

“If there was an MLB expansion draft coming up, in what order are players in the Cubs organization added to your protected list?” — @BrennanCasey11

Brennan asks this in light of the recent expansion draft in the NHL. MLB hasn’t seen an expansion draft since before the 1998 season, when the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays entered the league. In such a draft, the new team generally selects one player from each team, and the incumbent teams can protect a certain amount of players from selection.

In the 1997 draft, the new teams picked in three rounds, and could choose any player not protected, but only one per incumbent team per round. Teams protected 15 players from their whole organization initially, and added three in each of the subsequent rounds. So, who would I choose as the Cubs’ 15, if the draft were to take place before any of these players hit free agency.

  1. Bryant
  2. Rizzo
  3. Lester
  4. Contreras
  5. Russell
  6. Baez
  7. Schwarber
  8. Zobrist
  9. Hendricks
  10. Arrieta
  11. Heyward
  12. Montgomery
  13. Edwards
  14. Happ
  15. Almora

Likely, Eloy Jimenez would be excluded from the unprotected list because he would have been 18 two years prior to the draft. If he were one year older, he would be unprotected. No other prospects would conceivably crack the top-15.

In the second and third rounds, I would probably pick the following:

  1. Davis
  2. Strop
  3. Candelario
  1. Cease
  2. Butler

The most difficult choice is leaving off Wade Davis in the first round. He’s a first-rate closer, but an expansion team would probably not choose a reliever in the first round. He’s also a free agent sooner than Carl Edwards and Mike Montgomery, and as such, has less long-term value to the club. Also, Jason Heyward’s contract might be prohibitive to new teams, and it might compel the front office to take a gamble on the new teams not hamstringing themselves with such a contract (I wouldn’t expect this, though.)

Please @ me on Twitter or comment below on what I got wrong.

“What are your thoughts on the Miguel Montero situation? Please include at least one illustration in your response.” — @MaryMCraig

Miguel Montero was a key player on the 2015 and 2016 clubs, and came up with two of the biggest hits in team history last fall. He was a solid hitter for a catcher, but more importantly, he called a good game and had excellent framing skills. His arm deteriorated throughout 2015 and 2016, resulting in this year’s 31 of 32 base stealers swiping bags on him, but, considering his other strengths, it wasn’t terribly important. He also helped mentor Willson Contreras, his fellow Venezuelan, and Kyle Schwarber as new catchers in the league with a lot to learn. Contreras is now one of the better catchers in the majors on both sides of the ball. Montero’s impact on the team won’t be forgotten.

As far as his unceremonious release, I think the Cubs handled it very poorly. The Nationals exposed Montero’s arm for what it was—a noodle—the other night, but the Cubs have known this to be true for at least a year now. His lefty bat complemented Contreras well, and, while he hadn’t hit well for the past month, he was fine overall. In the end, the decision to cut him and go with Victor Caratini is defensible, even if I don’t know if I would have done it at the same time.

That’s without considering Montero’s comments about Jake Arrieta, and without the comments from other Cubs about Montero. Apparently, he was not particularly well-liked in the clubhouse, and his less than amicable departure from the Diamondbacks, as well as his post-World Series comments about playing time, paint him in that way. In the immediate aftermath of the game and the comments, I hoped for behind the scenes reconciliation with his teammates, but other players’ public comments either made that impossible or telegraphed what those players already knew of Montero’s fate. It was probably time to cut Miggy, despite his great contributions.

Of course, the context of the Cubs’ White House visit, and the history of baseball’s transgressions against players of color that persist to this day complicate Montero’s release. Many in the press and many of his teammates spoke ill of Montero, and the Cubs made a decision swiftly and loudly. Rhetoric about Latino players as rowdy, poor teammates still permeates major-league clubhouses, major-league fan bases, and the press who cover the game. The Cubs’ recent heel turn isn’t something new: this has always been how teams have dealt with Latino players who appear out of line, and, as long as the players, executives, fans, and press are willing to feed into it, that won’t change.

Rip in peace Miggy.

“Have you ever played baseball and were you good at it?” — @ultimatehungry

Yes, I played. Yes, I was good, and then, very suddenly, I was bad.

“What happens first, the Cubs win another World Series or Illinois gets an operating budget?” — @BrennanCasey11

Illinois gets a budget. I’m not feeling too hot about the Cubs’ World Series chances this year since they don’t look like world-beaters, and the deadline for Illinois’s budget is Friday. Not sure which one I’m rooting for, really.

Lead photo courtesy Dylan Zobel.

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