AAAA Options For The Cubs


Under Theo Epstein, the Cubs will be looking for talent anywhere they can find it. Epstein has already commented that one area he will not ignore includes minor league veterans. These players, particularly those often referred to as AAAA players, are often seen as being too good for the minor leagues but not quite good enough for the majors. Every farm system has a few of them; every farm system needs a few of them. Epstein’s comments imply that the Cubs may seek some of the better AAAA options out and give them an opportunity in the coming seasons.

I have started trolling through the stats for the AAA leagues looking for older players who have had a limited opportunity to establish themselves in the major leagues and who have enjoyed some very good seasons in AAA. Over the course of the winter I will continue to highlight players who fit this description. Some of these AAAA guys, and players like them, could receive an invitation to spring training and the opportunity to finally establish themselves in the major leagues.

Bryan LaHair is the very definition of the sort of player we are looking for. He played extremely well for Iowa last season and has all but assured himself of a chance to compete for a regular job for the Cubs this spring. But LaHair is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are three more.

Dusty Brown – C. Brown was first drafted by the Boston Red Sox, so it is likely that Epstein is familiar with him. After ten straight years with the Red Sox, he spent 2011 with the Pirates organization. Brown does not offer much power for a catcher, but he does show signs of a reasonably patient approach at the plate. In his long minor league career, he has gunned down 30% of the runners that try to steal on him. That’s not great, but it isn’t bad either. Nor can his OPS of 0.873 last season for the Pirates AAA club be completely ignored.

At the age of 29, Brown has appeared in just 25 major league games. His offensive numbers in the majors are absolutely terrible, but again he has only appeared in 25 games. Even with the likely departure of Koyie Hill, the Cubs are in good shape at catcher. Geovany Soto will likely return and will be backed up by either Steve Clevenger or Welington Castillo. There is no reason that competition for the backup catcher slot could not be turned into a three way brawl in spring training. The Cubs could invite Brown to camp, give him the chance to earn a back up position, and release him if he gets beat by one of the catchers in the system. It is the type of low-risk maneuver that we may see a lot of under Epstein.

Brian Gordon – P. If there is one area in which the Cubs do not need help, it is in the bullpen. But if we learned anything from 2011, it is that there is no such thing as too much pitching. Brian Gordon has been pitching in the minors for 14 season, spending at least part of 9 of those seasons in AAA. And yet, at the age of 32, he has amassed just 14 innings in the major leagues. In 2011 he split time between the Yankees’ and the Phillies’ farm systems, and his numbers are good. He struck out just over one man per inning, and over 60 innings gave up just 4 home runs and 7 walks. His K/BB ratio of 9 is the type of absurdly high ratio we usually see only in video games. There is no doubt that he has learned how to pitch in the minor leagues.

But can he carry that success over to the majors? I hope the Cubs are the team to find out. He has pitched both as a starter and in the bullpen, and the Cubs could find room for him in either competition. He would have a tough time making the team out of spring training, but if he can come anywhere close to repeating the dominant numbers he posted in 2011 he would have a great shot of heading to Chicago as the long relief man.

Josh Fields – LF, 1B, 3B. Chicago baseball fans are already familiar with Fields. He broke into the majors with the White Sox a few seasons ago and had some early success. Since then he has largely disappeared from the majors, spending the past two seasons with the Royals and the Rockies, ultimately deciding to accept a contract to play in Japan.

When he was with the White Sox, Fields showed plenty of power but was very strikeout prone. In the minors in 2011, however, he showed quite a bit more patience. A strikeout rate of about 20% and an OBP of 0.429 are not bad numbers for a slugger, even in AAA. Fields is likely making more money in Japan than he would with the Cubs, but should he return to the United States for spring training in 2012 the Cubs could do far worse than to take a look at him. His defense simply cannot be worse than Ramirez while his bat could add a little power to a lineup that could be badly in need of some pop.

I have not seen any reports linking any of these guys to the Cubs, but they all could be of interest to the Cubs’ new front office. There is virtually no risk in giving a AAAA player a chance in spring training or on a team that is not likely to compete, but the reward for doing so could be a valuable piece of a future contending team. As the Cubs start to chart their course for the next season, do not be surprised if these names and others like them come up in rumors a time or two.