The calendar now reads July, and the word that comes to mind for all baseball fans is “trades”. Regardless of whether your team is up or down, there is always trade speculation involving your team. That includes our beloved Cubs. While all of the talk revolves around which veterans from the list of Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, and Carlos Marmol will be dealt, as we approach the halfway point of the 2012 season, it also is a good time to review some of the moves Theo Epstein and Company have already made so far.
Even Epstein wondered out loud to reporters at Spring Training when his honeymoon period with the media and fans would be up. Two years? Two months? Or two weeks? Although the Cubs may be on pace for a record losing season, I for one will not jump the gun on the Epstein era just yet. And I am sure most reasonable Cubs fans feel the same way. So with that in mind I kick of this series of reviews with the more than just the 2012 season in mind.
Today we continue the series with the signing of Joe Mather to a minor league deal. Epstein and Jed Hoyer signed several players to minor league deals as the off season headed towards Spring Training. These signings usually just fill out the rosters for Spring, thus not getting much attention as a big free agent signing or a trade, it is a very common way to find some lightening in a bottle to try to fill out the last couple spots of a 25 man roster come Opening Day.
Mather was one of those that played his way onto the final roster this past Spring. His ability to play the outfield and cover at third base for Ian Stewart also added to value he brought to the roster.
The majority of his starts this season came in second half of May, and fairly regular starting opportunities handed to him from Dale Sveum continued into the month of June. His line of .233 BA/.290 OBP leaves a little more to be desired, with the two numbers lacking a wider gap. The lack of walks is typically the culprit for a low OBP, and in Mather’s case his 10 walks compared to 26 strikeouts is what is hurting him and his chances to remain a Cub in 2013 and beyond.
That being said, he has performed his role as a part time role decently. He has filled in well in the outfield when called upon, primarily after Marlon Byrd was traded and prior to the call up of Anthony Rizzo that bumped Bryan LaHair to right field. He has also provided some pop for the Cubs, hitting four home runs and seven doubles.
Unfortunately for Mather, the emergence of Luis Valbuena at third has limited his chances for playing time there despite Stewart going down for what will most likely be the rest of the season. Regardless, he still provides manager Sveum a right handed option at third base. Mather’s playing time the rest of this season will most likely determined out of his hands. His role as a part time outfielder will depend on whether Soriano and LaHair get traded away, and if so, whether or not an outfield prospect such as Brett Jackson is called up.
The same goes for his outlook as a Cub in 2013, with the outfield picture just as jammed, and the third base job figuring to be up for grabs between Stewart, Valbuena, and dark horse Josh Vitters, who lacks a Major League ready glove at the hot corner. Epstein’s grade for the signing of Mather for 2012 reflects that he is a serviceable player for his role, especially considering that he was a minor league signing, and his grade for the future reflects that these “minor” signings rarely turn into long term solutions for even a rebuilding ball club.
2012 Grade: C
2013 and Beyond Grade: C