CHICAGO -- If you’re looking to keep the faith when it comes to the Chicago Cubs front office, consider Monday night’s 11-1 victory over the Washington Nationals and then consider the job they’ve done just since last offseason.
None of their pickups are leading them to a pennant this year, but the Cubs should be happy with their scouting staff and the decisions they’ve made -- as minor as they look at times.
How about Nate Schierholtz? He was a quiet, unknown player when the Cubs signed him to a one-year deal to man right field. He had never been a full-time starter and had never hit more than nine home runs. On Monday he hit his 17th and 18th long balls of the season and drove in a career high six runs.
“I had confidence if I went somewhere and had a shot to play, I’d be able to put up better numbers than I have,” Schierholtz said after the game. “That was my goal, to prove I can play here every day.”
The Cubs saw he had gap power which is needed at Wrigley Field. As Schierholtz correctly noted, the conditions don’t make it the easiest place to hit for a left-hander.
“They’re a little worse than I expected,” Schierholtz said. “Feels like the wind blows in here every day.”
Except on Monday. The wind was blowing out to right. That’s where Dioner Navarro his home run in the fifth inning. It was his 11th, also a career high, and he raised his on-base percentage to .366 with two walks to go along with the long ball. Like Schierholtz, he also signed a one-year deal and is exceeding expectations after an awful 2012.
“He’s a nice weapon to have as a backup catcher even though he plays a little bit more than most backup catchers,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
And with Welington Castillo still learning his trade behind the plate, Navarro has become a favorite among pitchers. Matt Garza raved about him before he was traded and Jeff Samardzija threw a complete game on Monday.
“Navarro is unbelievable,” Samardzija said. “What he does behind the plate, and his presence is outstanding. He has a plan with what he wants to do. It takes a load off my mind. He was outstanding back there today.”
It doesn’t end there. Donnie Murphy is a 30-year old journeyman who played most of the season at Triple-A Iowa after signing a deal with the Cubs. He hit his fifth and sixth home runs on Monday in just 44 at-bats. With players like Murphy, next year is never guaranteed.
“It’s always a thought in your mind but I’m trying not to look that far ahead,” he said.
Yes, the Cubs front office has quietly had a very good year. They flipped a minor signing like Scott Feldman for two potential long-term pieces in starter Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop. In moving free-agent-to-be Garza they got potential that hasn’t paid immediate dividends but pitcher C.J. Edwards looks to be a good prospect.
The Cubs got out from under Alfonso Soriano's contract while seemingly bringing up Junior Lake at the right time. Kevin Gregg was signed off the scrap heap and Carlos Villanueva has done everything he’s been asked to do.
Edwin Jackson is the one player critics can point to as a bust but even he has rebounded from an awful start and probably will give a better return on their investment in years 2-4 of his contract. Rehab project Scott Baker is a $5 million waste of money right now but that’s hardly a major blemish since no one expected much of him coming off Tommy John surgery.
The Cubs aren’t good this year but they were never supposed to be. And these moves don’t prove anything except one thing: the Cubs front office is executing their plans. Signing and flipping talent for younger talent while keeping some productive players.
It’s better than the alternative: signing busts and getting nothing for them while losing a lot of games.