Chicago Cubs Team Preview
The Chicago Cubs suffered through their worst season since 1966 a year ago, as they stumbled to a 101-loss campaign.
After years of trying to rebuild through free agency, it appears that the team is now going with the approach of building through the draft with former wunderkind Theo Epstein at the helm.
But, that also means it'll probably be another couple years of misery before the fruits of that labor begin to flourish.
Epstein did add some parts this offseason, as outfielders Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz were brought in, as was right-hander Edwin Jackson and reliever Carlos Villanueva.
Cubs fans have come to accept the fact that outfielder Alfonso Soriano probably isn't going anywhere. But, nobody seems to be complaining all that much, as Soriano had one of his best years in 2012 with 32 home runs and 108 RBI.
Soriano, who still has two years left on that massive 8-year, $136 million pact, does provide a veteran presence on a team that is slowly but surely being turned over to first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Like Rizzo, shortstop Starlin Castro is a burgeoning star, but his biggest problem may be between his ears.
The Cubs are still in rebuilding mode, but manager Dale Sveum feels they can be competitive in 2013. At least more so than they were last season.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the Cubs, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
CAN ANTHONY RIZZO BE THE GUY?
|Cubs Projected Lineup|
|(61-101) - Fifth Place (NL Central)|
|Key Offseason additions|
|Edwin Jackson (RHP), Scott Baker (RHP), Carlos Villanueva (RHP), Dioner Navarro (C), Scott Feldman (RHP), Nate Schierholtz (OF), Scott Hairston (OF), Brent Lillibridge (UTIL)|
|Key Offseason subtractions|
| Bryan LaHair (1B), Chris Volstad (RHP), Randy Wells (RHP), Manny Corpas (RHP), Joe Mather (OF), Blake DeWitt (UTIL)|
One of the first things Epstein did when he took over the baseball operations with the Cubs was acquire Rizzo from the San Diego Padres.
He was immediately placed in the three-hole upon his call up and responded well, winning National League Rookie of the Month in July with a .330 average, seven homers and 17 RBI.
According to Sveum, Rizzo got a little homer-happy after that, but still ended the year hitting .285 with 15 home runs and 48 RBI.
Rizzo is the first piece of the re-build. When the Cubs do start to turn it around, he will be the face of the franchise, similar to the way Evan Longoria is down with Tampa.
But, if the Cubs are going to avoid losing 100 games again they are going to need him to keep progressing, especially if Soriano is at some point dealt.
IS JEFF SAMARDZIJA AN ACE?
Everyone was a little caught off guard when Sveum named Jeff Samardzija his Opening Day starter. Sure, Matt Garza is hurt and will likely start the year on the DL, but Samardzija?
Yes, Jeff Samardzija, the guy who up until last season was a reliever and still best known for what he did on the football field with Notre Dame.
Maybe lost in the shuffle of a 101-loss season from a year ago, though, was a terrific year from the former Irish standout. Samardzija pitched to a 3.81 ERA and struck out 180 batters in about 174 innings.
Even more impressive was the fact that he was able to keep his walks down, as he issued just 56 free passes. That was quite a contrast to his previous season, which saw him walk 50 in 88 frames.
There is no question that Samardzija has the stuff to be an ace. Whether or not he actually becomes one is another question. The one area where the Cubs' future is not so bright is the starting rotation. However, a dominant Samardzija could change that.
Then again should he struggle the team did go out and sign righty Edwin Jackson this winter. Jackson is not ace material, but he is about as good as a third option as there is. If Samardzija can build on last year, along with a healthy Garza and Jackson, perhaps it won't be such a long year on the North Side after all.
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH CARLOS MARMOL?
The Cubs have reportedly told right-handed closer Carlos Marmol that he should expect to be traded. Marmol, who makes $9.8 million in the final year of his contract, has supposedly provided the team with a list of five teams he'd be willing to go to.
Of course, this seems like a never-ending story, as the team almost shipped Marmol to the Los Angeles Angels in November for Dan Haren before that deal fell apart.
Marmol finished last season with a 3.42 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings, but he also walked 18.2 percent of the batters he faced. Among pitchers who threw at least 50 innings last season, nobody else walked more than 16.2 percent.
Kyuji Fujikawa, who had incredible success closing in Japan, signed with the Cubs last season and is waiting in the wings should Marmol be dealt.
X-FACTOR: BRETT JACKSON: Jackson's call up last year couldn't have gone much worse at the plate. He appeared in 44 games and batted a mere .175, while striking out 59 times in 142 plate appearances. But with a new and improved swing, he's been a solid contributor for the Cubs this spring. Between that and his glove, most think he's a future All Star. In a perfect world the Cubs would let Jackson get some more at bats at Triple-A Iowa. But some think he'll start the year with the big club. Either way it's only a matter of time before he's roaming the outfield grass at Wrigley Field. No matter where he starts, though, how Jackson performs in the early going could make life a whole lot easier on the Cubs if they finally find a taker for Soriano or David DeJesus.
With the rebuilding process continuing in Chicago, it appears that it will be another long season for the Cubs. Adding Jackson to the mix in the rotation automatically makes them better, but without the Houston Astros to kick around in the division anymore, the Cubs likely are headed towards a last-place finish. But, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Rizzo and Castro could be perennial All-Stars and Samardzija showed signs last year of being a successful starter. Plus if Jackson could ever get his act together, Epstein has some nice pieces to build on for the future. The Cubs probably won't lose 100 games this season, but they are also probably not good enough to be .500 either.
- By Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor