(*editor’s note* TSHQ was supposed to have two MLB writers. I was going to handle the AL while my counterpart was supposed to tackle the NL. Sorry to our readers who have only seen the Houston Astros be previewed on this site. Over the next five days, be prepared for a surplus of NL previews. Again, my apologies.)
The most downtrodden franchise in the MLB finally has something to get excited about. No, it’s not a player, it’s not a prospect, it’s an executive. The curse breaker Theo Epstein was stolen, ah, er, “acquired” from the Red Sox in exchange for the other Chris Carpenter and is now running the show. Thus far he has ridded his team of Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez while re-acquiring a former Sox farmhand first baseman Anthony Rizzo along with some complimentary players. Not the big splashes Cubs fans were anticipating in Theo’s first offseason but enough to start building for a future. But how will the Cubs fare in 2012?
Projected Position Players
Catcher – Giovanny Soto (Steve Clevenger)
First Base – Anthony Rizzo (Bryan LaHair)
Second Base – Darwin Barney
Third Base – Ian Stewart (Jeff Baker)
Shortstop – Starlin Castro
Left Field – Alfonso Soriano
Center Field – Marlon Byrd (Tony Campana)
Right Field – David DeJesus (Reed Johnson)
The Cubs have two franchise players for Theo & GM Jed Hoyer to build around: Giovanny Soto and Starlin Castro. Any time an organization has their catcher and shortstop locked in, the sky is the limit (see: Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada). While Soto is not exactly a top five catcher, Castro is certainly a top shortstop entering only his third professional season. In two years, Castro has torn the cover off of the ball, hitting .300 or better both years. His glove in the field is above average and, if he could learn some self-control off of the field, the first player born in the 1990’s could be a cornerstone for the Cubs for the next 15 years.
The rest of this lineup is either unproven, underwhelming, or unpredictable. Starting with Alfonso Soriano who embodies two of those three characteristics. Once considered a 40/40 threat, Soriano seems to have his best baseball behind him. He stated that he is ready to have his best season as a Cub. I’m sure time will tell whether those words hold any weight of truth.
Marlon Byrd and David DeJesus both fall into the underwhelming category with a touch of unpredictability. Both are solid complimentary pieces but the Cubs expect them to carry more weight than they are capable of contributing.
Ian Stewart was brought in from Colorado and while he has experienced some success in the Rockies, expectations should not be too high. In the second half of last season, Aramis Ramirez was one of the best offensive third basemen in the game. The Cubs will dearly miss his bat in the middle of their lineup and while Stewart is an upgrade in the field, the lineup will likely be significantly weaker in Ramirez’ absence.
Projected Rotation & Bullpen
SP – Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Chris Volstad, Jeff Samardzjia, Paul Maholm
RP – Frankie De La Cruz, Rafael Dolis, James Russell, Kerry Wood
CL – Carlos Marmol
Despite minor struggles during his first season in the National League, Matt Garza was able to rack up plenty of strikeouts. He went 10-10 with a career best 3.32 ERA over 198 innings pitched. His 197 punchouts were also a career best. If the Cubs can give Garza some more run support, he may find himself in the All Star Game. If not, he will be fighting to stay above .500 like he did during much of last season.
As much of a headache as Carlos Marmol is, he has been able to sustain a career as a closer over the past three seasons as well as a back end reliever since 2007. Marmol is 29 and has only one season with a winning record (5-1 in ’07). He has 22 career blown saves, 10 of which came last season. But, Marmol’s career 95 saves and 75 holds make him one of the better bullpen arms in the league over the past five years no matter what his ERA and record dictate.
Much like their hitting, the Cubs leave plenty to be imagined with their pitching. Hell, Ryan Dempster wasn’t even sure he would have a spot in Chicago once Theo took over. Chris Volstad replaces Carlos Zambrano and I’m not exactly sure that’s a great thing for the Cubs. As big of a headache Zambrano is he is a significantly better pitcher than Volstad when he wants to be. Paul Maholm was no longer wanted in Pittsburgh because of injuries and inconsistencies. If he can stay healthy, there’s a strong chance he is this team’s number two starter. That is not a good thing.
In the bullpen, it does not get much better. Reminisce with me Cubs fans as we look back on the days where Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were so good at the top of the rotation, Chicago was preparing their busts in Cooperstown. These guys were seen as two of the best starring pitchers in the early 2000s. Fast forward to 2012: Prior has long been out of the Major League limelight and Kerry Wood is holding on as a reliever. Holding on is exactly what Wood is still doing as he may be pitching in his last season as a professional ball player.
Maybe Jeff Samardzjia should have entered the NFL Draft after all…
The immediate future does not look bright Cubs fans. Hate to break it to ya, but Theo did not inherit a team with Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez already in place this time around. There is a shortstop to be excited about however. And a first baseman who could develop into something big. With that said, here’s to hoping that Brett Jackson turns into the player the Cubs did not want to give up in compensation. If he doesn’t, Theo ain’t saving jack anytime soon. Them’s the breaks.