Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - 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
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:
2012 FINISH (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)
PROJECTED LINEUP: David DeJesus (CF), Starlin Castro (SS), Anthony Rizzo (1B),
Alfonso Soriano (CF), Nate Schierholtz (RF), Luis Valbuena (3B), Wellington
Castillo (C), Darwin Barney (2B)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Jeff Samardzija (RHP), Edwin Jackson (RHP), Scott Feldman
(RHP), Travis Wood (LHP), Carlos Villanueva (RHP), Matt Garza (RHP - Injured)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Carlos Marmol, RHP
MANAGER: Dale Sveum
CAN ANTHONY RIZZO BE THE GUY?
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
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
The Sports Network