30 Clubs in 30 Days: Chicago Cubs

Posted: March 27, 2014 in Uncategorized
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cubsPresident Lyndon B. Johnson was born on August 27th, 1908. Less than two months later, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Detroit Tigers in five games to capture their second consecutive World Series title. Little did their Chicago faithful know that, over 105 years later, they’d still be searching for their third.

Coming off of a 66-96 season, it’s unlikely that the Lovable Losers will see the Curse of the Billy Goat come to end in 2014. Under GM Theo Epstein, the Cubs are effectively rebuilding their organization. With the offseason hiring of Rick Renteria as their new manager, Chicago will be under the influence of their third manager in four years.

As for the Cubs’ roster now, there’s actually plenty to be excited about. Chicago returns Anthony Rizzo, a talented and powerful first baseman that Epstein poached from San Diego. Rizzo’s batting average is pedestrian (.233). But, the 24-year old slugged 23 homers to lead the team in 2013. He’s poised for more Wrigley Field bombs this summer. Starlin Castro is Chicago’s other franchise cornerstone. The shortstop struggled through a .245-10-44 season a year ago. But, his career averages suggest that 2013 might have been an outlier.

Nate Schierholtz (second on the team with 21 HR), Wellington Castillo (.349 OBP – 2nd on team), and Darwin Barney return to the starting lineup. They’re joined by Junior Lake, a 24-year old outfielder with loads of potential coming off a .284-6-16 line in 64 big league games in 2013.

Outside of Rizzo and Castro, the Cubs’ complimentary pieces aren’t much to write home about. Though, they’ll have plenty of reserves ready to go in case the starters fail. Mike Olt, acquired from Texas in last summer’s Matt Garza deal, is a power hitting third baseman once considered one of the premier prospects in baseball. Joining him as top prospects nearly ready for big league action are INF Javier Baez, 3B Kris Bryant, and OF Jorge Soler.

The Chicago pitching staff is once again headlined by former Notre Dame star Jeff Samardzija (8-13, 4.34). The RHP set a career high with 214 strikeouts, even if his traditional stat line wasn’t all that impressive. Travis Wood, the team’s lone southpaw in the rotation, broke out after joining the team from division rival Cincinnati. The 27-year old set career highs in wins (9), ERA (3.11), and strikeouts (144). Also continuing his career in Chicago is Edwin Jackson, who signed a long term deal with the team prior to last season. Jackson promptly followed up his new found riches with a mediocre 8-18, 4.98 mark. Epstein and Co. will hope for better performances from the veteran in 2014.

Chicago’s premier offseason addition was RHP Jason Hammel, who joined the team from the Orioles. On his fourth team, Hammel has never tossed more than 177.2 IP in any of his eight big league seasons. So, expecting anything more than a fourth starter is a reach for the former Rays draft pick.

Key Arrivals

INF Emilio Bonifacio (Royals)
OF Justin Ruggiano (Marlins)
RHP Jason Hammel (Orioles)
RHP Jose Veras (Tigers)
LHP Wesley Wright (Astros)
RHP James McDonald (Pirates)

Key Departures

C Dioner Navarro (Blue Jays)
OF Donnie Murphy (Rangers)
RHP Kevin Gregg (unsigned)

Projected Lineup and Rotation (with Stat Projections)

SS Starlin Castro – .278-9-49
3B Luis Valbuena – .255-10-36
1B Anthony Rizzo – .273-22-86
OF Nate Schierholtz – .272-16-68
OF Junior Lake – .260-10-51
OF Ryan Sweeney – .266-6-44
C Wellington Castillo – .251-9-44
2B Darwin Barney – .247-5-40

RHP Jeff Samardzija – 10-9, 3.64
LHP Travis Wood – 8-10, 4.28
RHP Edwin Jackson – 8-8, 3.80
RHP Jason Hammel – 6-8, 4.50
RHP Carlos Villanueva – 4-4, 4.05
RHP Jake Arrieta – 5-7, 4.61

RHP Jose Veras – 2-2, 3.75, 22 Sv

Outlook

While the Cubs actually have legitimate starting pitching depth and a hoard of talented youngsters currently competing in the high-minors, their lack of established offensive talent will plague them through what will likely be another long 2014 season.

cubs2Chicago’s starting rotation, while lacking that shutdown ace pitcher, is strong throughout. Samardzija, Wood, and Jackson make an above average top-half. Meanwhile, the team has the flexibility to go with any of Hammel, Carlos Villanueva, Jake Arrieta, Chris Rusin, or James McDonald on the back end. The bullpen was also seemingly improved by signing Jose Veras, who was solid as the closer for lowly Houston before establishing himself as a quality setup man for the Tigers during their playoff run.

But, the Cubs’ lack of experience on offense will truly be their undoing, if you can call it that. After all, no one expects Chicago to compete since they’re not really trying to. Come 2016, this will be a very difficult team to play against. High draft picks like Kris Bryant and valuable young acquisitions like Jorge Soler will be primed to get their feet wet later on in 2014. In a few years, they’ll be the new faces of Chicago Cubs baseball with the hope of finally ending over a century of misery at Wrigley Field.

Unfortunately, that misery will continue for at least another season. I foresee Chicago winning between 69-75 games, a minor improvement on their dreadful 2013 season.

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