Levine: Cubs’ Focus Now Turns To Adding Pitching Depth

By Bruce Levine-

(CBS) The Cubs got a little bit younger and, they hope, better in the future when they made their lone trade Thursday about 15 minutes before the non-wavier trading deadline.

Chicago sent utilityman Emilio Bonifacio and lefty reliever James Russell to Atlanta for switch-hitting catching prospect Victor Caratini, a 20-year-old from Puerto Rico who gives the Cubs some much-needed depth and potential at a position that lacks prospects in their system.

With Russell’s exit, that leaves just one player, Starlin Castro, from the team’s 25-man roster in 2010. The imprint that president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have put on this franchise since taking over the baseball operations department in October 2011 is becoming more obvious, with an abundance of quality arms being the lone area that’s lacking in the farm system.

“We have a lot of depth in the system,” Hoyer said after Thursday’s trade. “I don’t feel we have enough pitching at this point. We are still pretty out of balance, and that is certainly true in the minor league system.”

Dealing young pitchers like Russell, 28, is a bit contrary to the winning formula of the future. That said, the timeline for prospects making their mark in the big leagues was the culprit for Russell, as it was for ace Jeff Samardzija when he was jettisoned in an early July trade to Oakland.

“We know right now we are not close on pitching,” Hoyer said. “We have to add a lot more depth and a lot more talent. Really, our next 18-24 months will be largely spent doing just that.”

From Hoyer’s timeframe, it would seem that adding free agents and trading for more veteran players won’t take place until after the 2015 season. The rebuilding of the farm system with quality young players appears successful from a position player standpoint. Having elite depth at shortstop will allow the Cubs a leg up in dealing for the less fortified areas like pitching and catching,

As for the newest addition, Caratini was a second-round draft choice of the Braves in 2013. He will report to Class-A Kane County. He was hitting .279 at Class-A Rome of the South Atlantic League, and he was named to the league’s midseason All-Star team with five homers and 42 RBIs in 87 games.

Hoyer added that he hopes the team will be active in the waiver trading period that’s coming up. Hoyer also confirmed that the move of Bonifacio doesn’t escalate the timeline for a Javier Baez ascension to the major leagues. Baez has been the hottest hitter at Triple-A Iowa, and he was switched to second base 15 games ago. Many anticipate he will be added to the 40-man roster and get a big league call-up sometime this season.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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