Q: Starlin Castro's numbers have been going in the wrong direction the last few years, and he's actually been sub-replacement-level this year. However, he's still only 23 years old. What problems does he need to address to return himself to the ranks of MLB's young, rising stars? Or do you think that he peaked and the league just figured him out?
A: Part of the problem with Castro is that new management is trying to "fix" him. They're interested in players who work the count and draw walks and Castro doesn't do that. The thing is, you're talking about a player who hit over .300 his first two seasons and had a 200-hit season at age 21. Why would you want to take that skillset and screw it up? That's what I don't understand. If they'd let Castro go back to what got him to the major leagues, that would probably fix him.
Q: The Cubs are slated to start
Scott Feldman (traded to Baltimore this morning), Matt Garza, and Travis Wood in this series. Feldman has been solid, Garza is back from injury and auditioning for a mid-season trade, and Wood is having a career year. Can you give us a brief scouting report on these three pitchers?
A: Scott Feldman has been... well, pretty amazing. I don't know whether this is a fluke half-season or whether he's finally figured something out and can pitch at this level for the rest of his career. He still could get traded. (Edit: Alstodamus was right. Feldman did get traded.)
Matt Garza is an enigma. He was pretty healthy until two years ago, when he started to get hurt, and of course spent half of last year on the DL. He seems to be pitching like a man on a mission, and that mission might be to get himself out of Chicago. It was revealed recently that Garza rejected efforts to extend his contract. Right now, I'd like to see him traded for the highest possible return.
Travis Wood strikes me as the kind of lefty who matures late -- kind of like Ted Lilly, who pitched for the A's and then had three really good years for the Cubs. At 26, I think he's finally figured it out and though maybe he won't be a perennial All-Star, he could easily be a #3 starter on a future Cubs contender.
(Update: Al's take on Chris Rusin, who will make the spot start today in place of Feldman. "Chris Rusin is a soft tossing lefty, a poor man's Jamie Moyer. Never faced an AL team before, could be interesting.")
Q: Chicago has two Bay Area castoffs who are both hitting well: Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Sweeney. They each sport an OPS+ of 133 and are displaying the best power of their respective careers. Do you see either of these players making meaningful long-term contributions to the Cubs, or are they just role players riding unsustainable hot streaks?
A: Unfortunately, Sweeney got hurt Saturday in Seattle running into the CF wall -- he has bruised ribs and could be out two months. It's really too bad because it appeared he had turned a corner and could be a productive outfielder, not a star but a solid regular.
Schierholtz is having by far the best year of his career. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cubs trade him. In fact, he could easily wind up back with the Giants, who could use a guy hitting that well.
Q: How is Anthony Rizzo coming along this year? Is he still on track to be Chicago's next big star?
A: Rizzo is a quality player and a quality human being who is already showing signs of being a team leader, which the Cubs could really use. Offensively, he looks like he's going to be a streak hitter; he's already had some, both good and bad, this year. One of the best comps I have heard about Rizzo is: Tino Martinez, who wasn't a superstar, but who made two All-Star teams, had almost 2,000 career hits, hit 339 home runs and has four World Series rings. We'd take that.
Q: The Cubs are expected to be sellers at the deadline this year. Who do you expect will get traded, and which members of the 2013 squad do you think will still be around for the next good Cubs team?
A: This is about the most open-ended question I can imagine, and if you'd like I could go on for about 1,000 words, but I'm sure you don't want that. It appears that Garza and Kevin Gregg are likely to go -- Gregg has literally never been this good before, and at age 35 he's not likely to keep doing what he's doing. It's too bad the Cubs didn't get this version of Gregg in 2009, or they might have made the postseason that year. Alfonso Soriano is, obviously, on the block, but the Cubs won't get much in return unless they eat all of the $27 million left on his contract.
About the future: obviously Rizzo and Castro are being counted on. So is Jeff Samardzija, who's showing "ace" signs. The Cubs really like Welington Castillo's defense behind the plate, but he will have to hit more to continue to be an everyday player. And Travis Wood has been a revelation; that looks like an excellent trade for the Cubs.
Q: Does David DeJesus still smile from ear to ear every time he strikes out or does something bad? That really rubbed A's fans the wrong way.
A: Yes, he does. Oddly enough, that doesn't bother Cubs fans at all. We're too busy checking out Mrs. DeJesus.
Q: Most ridiculous name on the Cubs: Welington, Darwin, or Samardzija?
Q: Bold prediction: In what year will the Cubs win their next World Series title?
A: Oh, I'm not going there. We've waited a collective 104 years. What's another two or three?
Click here to read my answers to Al's questions on Bleed Cubbie Blue.
The series kicks off today. Scheduled starter Scott Feldman was traded to Baltimore this morning, so left-hander Chris Rusin will start in his place. Rusin was originally drafted by the A's in 2008, but he didn't sign. He made seven starts for Chicago last year and posted a 6.37 ERA in only 29.2 innings. In 538 minor-league innings, he struck out only 6.4 batters per nine innings. What I'm saying is that the A's are going to make some contact today. Game time is 7:05pm. Griffin goes for Oakland. Lev will have your thread.