I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving, filling themselves with good food, drinking tasty beer or wine, and watching bad Bears football. Personally, I ate chicken fingers at Baker’s Square, but that’s only because the Chinese place I intended to visit for dinner was closed. I’m no sob story; my mother does the majority of the cooking for Thanksgiving dinner and just doesn’t want to give up that tradition, it seems. Being that she worked until 7pm on Thanksgiving, we all agreed that doing our family meal on Friday would be better.
I won’t argue with it. Mom is a great cook, and I’ll bring some beer, a bottle of wine, and some green bean casserole. So while Thanksgiving is pretty much over for everyone else, I’m still counting down the hours until I get to stuff myself with turkey and fall asleep on the couch. Hey, the Bears can’t ruin my Thanksgiving.
This year, I decided to write something fun and fancy-free about the Cubs. I tried to think of what could be Thanksgiving-appropriate in relation to the team. Of course, this is the offseason, so topics can be hard to come by when there aren’t trade rumors afoot or stories about someone having seen Jon Lester wearing a blue hat, which can be dissected a million ways to predict where he’ll land.
So I bring you my top five turkeys of 2014 for the Chicago Cubs. While a decidedly negative topic, it’s still fun and a little bit cathartic to write. For the sake of narrowing down the list, I’m only including guys that performed poorly relative to their expectations. For example, anyone that pays the least bit of attention knew Javier Baez was going to struggle in the Majors. While he’s a candidate for the turkey list, the expectations move him out of the picture.
Enough explanation? Okay, here are the honorable mentions first.
The only thing that keeps him from moving into the actual numbered portion of the list is the fact that, statistically, Barney actually improved from 2013 to 2014. His OPS+ improved from 57 to 64 (with the Cubs). While that number is still bad, it is an improvement. Expectations were low, and frankly, he was a part-time player that was on his way out anyway. Not a big factor in the 2014 season.
The Cubs paid him $9.5m over two seasons (including a buyout for 2015) to pitch 25 total innings. He pitched 13 innings in 2014, coming up with a 4.85 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, and 4.36 FIP. If the list was a combination of 2013-2014, he’d easily be one of the biggest turkeys. But as for just 2014, we had already figured out what we were going to see from him. The mediocre short stint shouldn’t be a surprise.
5. Junior Lake
After a decent showing in the Majors in 2013 that was mostly fueled by a combination of raw talent and a .377 BABIP, Lake disappointed in nearly every way in 2014. He fell as hard as his BABIP, which finished at a much more reasonable .293. That brought his slash line to .211/.246/.351. He struck out 33% of the time, and as the season progressed pitchers seemed to learn that he just couldn’t hit anything that moves.
His defense was mediocre overall, however, he did make 98.6% of the routine plays, which makes him at least a reliable fielder. I’d suggest that’s a silver lining, except that his bat won’t really play if he can’t cut down on the strikeouts and the defense isn’t good enough to make him a 5th outfielder. When you really break it down, Lake’s 2014 season served to show us why he probably won’t ever anything more than a quad-A guy, shuttling back and forth between the Majors and the Minors.
4. Travis Wood
I don’t think most people expected Wood to repeat his stellar performance from 2013, but those same people also didn’t expect him to fall off quite as bad as he did. According to his WAR as listed on baseball-reference.com, he was more valuable as a hitter (1.0 WAR) than as a pitcher (-0.9 WAR). His best moment of the season came at the plate, a 13th inning pinch-hit double that scored the game winning run against the Marlins in a 5-4 victory.
Wood’s position on the team is now in flux, which is a stark change from a year ago at this time. At this same time last year, most of us were talking about how Jake Arrieta was a relative unknown and maybe could make it as a number 4 or 5 starter, and how Travis Wood was probably a number 3 in a decent rotation. I get a feeling he will bounce back slightly in the future, but his bad 2014 makes him the number four turkey.
3. Mike Olt
Fair or not, many of us were excited about the idea of Olt making the big league roster out of Spring Training. It was likely more due to craving finally seeing a true prospect on the field than it was an actual belief that he was going to be a standout player, but he disappointed in a massive way. Olt had a good spring training and flashed some power early in the season, but it was all downhill from there.
Olt ended his season with a slash line of .160/.248/.356 with 12 homers in 258 plate appearances, and he struck out 39% of the time. While his numbers are even more ugly than Lake, you can’t help but feel like Olt still has some promise for a decent career. He can play average-to-above-average defense at third and first base, and is spending the off-season learning to play the corner outfield spots as well. If he can cut down on the strikeouts, his power and versatility can still make him a quality bench bat going forward. But for 2014, he was the third biggest Cubs turkey.
2. Edwin Jackson
Without cheating and looking further, you’re probably shocked that E-Jax isn’t number one in the list. Yeah, he had a bad year. We’ve beat this dead horse for a while. In fact, the horse first died late in 2013 and we continued beating that horse through last off-season as well. Many of us thought he would revert back closer to his normal career numbers this last year, as his bad 2013 seemed to be the clear outlier in a pretty steady career.
But unfortunately, things got worse. It’s to the point where Theo Epstein openly admitted that signing him was a mistake, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he’s in the starting rotation for the Cubs in 2015. But it was hard to place him at number one, mostly because his performance shouldn’t be surprising in retrospect.
He had a bad 2013, and even though some might look at just the numbers and tell you that the high BABIP batters had against him say he was a victim of bad luck, those of us that watched with our own eyes know that his high BABIP was due to the high number of pitches that batters were squaring up and hitting hard. Jackson likely has thrown his last pitch as a Cub, and he finishes 2014 as the number two turkey.
1. Jose Veras
After being signed last offseason to a two-year deal that will end up being worth $4 million (with the 2015 buyout), Jose Veras was named the closer even though he had an awful spring in which he never really looked right. He blew his first two save opportunities and had to be sent to the DL with a phantom injury in late April because he couldn’t throw strikes or prevent runners from crossing home plate.
He pitched 13 and 1/3 innings as a Cub before finally being released, not even six full months after signing that two-year deal. He finished his Cubs career with an 8.10 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, and nearly as many walks (11) as strikeouts (13). To add insult to injury, he signed with the Astros and posted a half-decent second half of the season, with a 3.03 ERA, 10.2 K/9, and a 1.25 WHIP in 37 innings.
The fact that he was signed in the off-season with the expectation of closing out games, mixed with the money that he was paid, how quickly he was released, and how he turned around his season with the Astros while being paid by the Cubs, makes him the number one turkey of the 2014 season.
Who would be on your turkey list?