30 Clubs in 30 Days: Chicago Cubs

Posted: March 14, 2013 in Uncategorized
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ImageRome was not built in a day. For Theo Epstein, success will not come instantaneous either, as he enters his second season as General Manager of the Chicago Cubs. The 39-year old executive, credited with turning the once lovable losers in Boston into champions, has quite an ordeal ahead of him if he is going to turn this bunch of ballplayers into a successful baseball team.

The Cubs began the rebuilding process last year, shipping out aging, high-priced talent en route to the franchise’s first 100+ loss campaign since 1962. Granted, when the franchise has not won a title since 1908, it does not matter how many losses one suffers through. Every season has ended the same for the Cubs for over a century, and that aura of failure is what Epstein hopes to change.

Chicago has some nice pieces heading into 2013. Youngsters Starlin Castro (.283-14-78), Anthony Rizzo (.285-15-48), and Jeff Samardzija (9-13, 3.81) really came into their own as the season progressed. These three will be the first building blocks with which Epstein hopes to lay the foundation of a future contender. Waiting in the wings are promising prospects like CF Brett Jackson, OF Jorge Soler, SS Javier Baez, and RHP Arodys Vizcaino. All four are high ceiling youngsters who should propel the Cubs back into relevance within the next few seasons.

Gone are veterans Geovany Soto (.199-6-14), Ryan Dempster (5-5, 2.25), Randy Wells (1-2, 5.34), and Bryan LaHair (.259-16-40), who perhaps had the greatest fall from grace of all after earning his first All Star trip this past summer (he did sign a $4.5 million contract with Nippon’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks). The team will replace them with a combination of youngsters and cheap veterans looking to get their career back on track.

Five Year Review:
2012:  61-101
2011: 71-91
2010: 75-87
2009: 83-78
2008: 97-64
Lost in NLDS to Dodgers, 3-0

2012 Team MVP: RHP Jeff Samardzija:  The former Notre Dame wide receiver, who passed over a potential career in baseball to sign a multi-million dollar contract with the Cubs in 2007, has finally emerged as a top of the rotation starter for Chicago. After coming on strong during his rookie campaign in 2008 (1-0, 2.28 in 27.2 IP), Samardzija struggled to find command of his pitches for two seasons, slumping to a 3-5, 7.83 mark in 54 IP in 2009-10. Nothing personified those struggles more than his SO/BB ratio, an ugly 30/35. The righthander regained his mojo in Iowa (AAA) before emerging as a stud setup man for the 2011 Cubs (8-4, 2.97 in 88.0 IP). A year later, the Cubs finally saw Samardzija live up to the billing as a starter, finishing the season 9-13, 3.81 with a very respectable 180/56 SO/BB ratio. In his first year of arbitration eligibility, Samardzija will earn $2.64 million this year to act as the de facto ace of the troubled Chicago rotation.

2012 Team LVP: RHP Chris Volstad: The former Florida Marlins RHP came over in the offseason deal that sent Carlos Zambrano to Miami. Always erratic and homer prone, Volstad was once a highly sought after prospect with the Marlins, selected in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft. The Cubbies were hoping that a change of scenery would alter Volstad’s numbers in a good way. Unfortunately, this was far from the case. The 25-year old saw his strikeout rate plummet from 6.4 SO/9 in 2011 to 4.9 in 2012. As predicted, Volstad’s H/9, HR/9, and BB/9 all went in the wrong direction once he stepped on the mound at Wrigley. The final verdict: 3-12, 6.31 that included an ugly 0-9, 6.88 record through August 19th. The Cubs cut their losses in October, waiving Volstad and allowing the once promising pitcher to be claimed by Kansas City.

Key Acquisitions:

C Dioner Navarro (Cincinnati Reds)
IF Alberto Gonzalez (Texas Rangers)
OF Brian Bogusevic (Houston Astros)
OF Nate Schierholtz (Philadelphia Phillies)
OF Scott Hairston (New York Mets)
RHP Scott Baker (Minnesota Twins)
RHP Scott Feldman (Texas Rangers)
RHP Edwin Jackson (Washington Nationals)
RHP Carlos Villanueva (Toronto Blue Jays)
RHP Cory Wade (New York Yankees)
LHP Hisanori Takahashi (Pittsburgh Pirates)

Key Departures

OF Tony Campagna (Arizona Diamondbacks)
RHP Randy Wells (Texas Rangers)

Projected Lineup/Rotation (w/composite 2013 projections):

CF David DeJesus – .266-11-51
SS Starlin Castro – .290-11-66-19 SB
1B Anthony Rizzo – .274-28-94
LF Alfonso Soriano – .247-24-81
RF Nate Schierholtz – .265-10-45
3B Ian Stewart – .225-11-36
C Wellington Castillo – .242-13-46
2B Darwin Barney – .271-5-51

RHP Jeff Samardzija – 11-10, 3.93
RHP Edwin Jackson – 10-11, 3.95
RHP Scott Feldman – 6-7, 4.20
LHP Travis Wood – 8-9, 4.32
RHP Scott Baker – 7-7, 3.95
RHP Matt Garza (Injured) – 9-9, 3.68

RHP Kyuji Fujikawa – 3-3, 3.45, 26 SV
RHP Carlos Marmol – 3-3, 3.52, 11 SV

2013 Outlook

One year makes a big difference in Chicago. The Cubs’ rotation in 2012 was among the worst in baseball. Now, with Jackson, Baker, and Feldman joining Garza (once he returns in May) and Samardzija, the Cubs have a bit of rotation depth that they were drastically lacking. The bullpen is headlined by Kyuji Fujikawa, who signed a two-year contract with the team in December. A former Nippon League All Star, Fujikawa is best known for his four-seam fastball, which clocks between 92-94 MPH. The Japanese described it as, “Hi no tama sutoreto,” which translates to, “Fireball fastball.”

The Cubs’ offense received a needed boost by the resurgence of Alfonso Soriano in 2012. Their $100 million man, who has taken a lot of scrutiny over the years, was rumored to be dealt over the offseason. But, the team held on to the aging veteran, and he could once again be a hot topic on the rumor mills come July. Rizzo and Castro are young, talented players who should provide the team with most of their offense.

Do not be fooled, this is still a pretty mediocre Cubs team. But, they are vastly improved in the rotation and should expect improvements in offensive production from their outfield and catcher position. Success is still a few years away. But, Epstein has this team moving in the right direction. I have the Cubs winning between 68-74 games, a moderate improvement on lost year’s disastrous record.

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