Mar 20, 2013, 6:37 PM EDT
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Chicago Cubs.
The Big Question: Is Theo Epstein pushing the Cubs any closer to contention?
He most definitely is, but it’s doubtful to show up in the standings this year because the other teams in the National League Central are — on paper — quite clearly superior. Epstein has helped breath life into the Cubs’ minor league system since taking over as team president in October 2011 and he has been making incremental roster improvements in free agency with the help of talented general manager Jed Hoyer. But the lovable losers are not built for championships yet.
Starlin Castro is entering his age-23 season and has already tallied 529 hits in 445 career major league games, but he had a .323 on-base percentage in 2012 and his defense rates poorly at shortstop. He may become a superstar one of these years, but he’s not there now. Though you probably don’t want to tell him that. Castro will bat second in the Cubs’ lineup this year behind 33-year-old center fielder David DeJesus, who registered an underwhelming .263/.350/.403 batting line last season. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo does pretty much everything well and should hit third for Chicago for many years to come, but he still has some developing to do. Alfonso Soriano is the Cubs’ cleanup man and made plenty of noise in 2012 with his 32 home runs and 108 RBI. But he’s a liability in the outfield and he turned 37 years old this winter.
And the batting order takes a sharp dive from there. Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston will share time in right field. Luis Valbuena will start at third base until Ian Stewart recovers from a quad injury. Welington Castillo will start behind the plate, and Darwin Barney and his .654 career OPS will man second base.
This is not a good offense, and it looks especially poor when stacked against the lineups of the Reds, Cardinals, Brewers and Pirates. With the Astros gone, the National League Central is no longer a breeze.
What Else Is Going On?
- The rotation is fine right now and could actually be pretty good once all the pieces are in place. Jeff Samardzija, who will serve as this year’s Opening Day starter, posted a cool 3.81 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 180/56 K/BB ratio across 174 2/3 innings in 2012. It was his first full season in the starting rotation and he absolutely flourished. Edwin Jackson was signed to a four-year, $52 million free agent contract this winter and Scott Feldman was brought in on what could be a bargain one-year, $6 million deal. Matt Garza should return from his lat strain by early May and Scott Baker should be recovered from Tommy John surgery by the end of April. Travis Wood and Carlos Villanueva are solid fill-ins.
- The Cubs have been trying to trade closer Carlos Marmol since last summer but have been unable to work anything out. The wild 30-year-old right-hander had a 1.54 WHIP in 2012, yielding 45 walks in 55 1/3 innings. If the Cubs do figure out a way to part with Marmol this season, newcomer Kyuji Fujikawa will likely slide into the ninth-inning role. The 32-year-old from Kochi, Japan had a 1.77 ERA and 11.8 K/9 in 12 years of Nippon Professional Baseball before deciding to head overseas this offseason.
- About that rejuventated minor league system. The Cubs signed Cuban defector Jorge Soler to a nine-year, $30 million contract last June and then watched the 21-year-old outfielder bat .338/.398/.513 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 20 games at Low-A Peoria. Albert Almora was the sixth overall pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft and carries high upside as a center fielder. Javier Baez, the ninth overall pick in 2011, hit .294 with an .888 OPS, 16 home runs and 24 stolen bases last year between two different classifications of Single-A. The 20-year-old shortstop could eventually push Castro to third base.
- There’s no better atmosphere for a midsummer baseball game than Wrigley Field, but the structure needs some care. Which is why the new Cubs ownership group — led by chairman Tom Ricketts — is hoping to break ground on a massive $300 million renovation as soon as the 2013 regular season comes to a close. All of the logistics are still being worked out, but the plans look really great.
Prediction: Last place in the new-look, five-team National League Central.
May 25, 2013, 11:35 PM EDT
If the aforementioned quote refers to a science fiction film, you can count me in. As it relates to baseball, though, I’m not on board. In a column for FOX Sports Ohio, Hal McCoy uses some dubious statistical comparisons to equate Phillips to Joe Morgan. It’s an otherwise interesting and informative column, but I can’t…
May 25, 2013, 11:05 PM EDT
Starter Mike Minor tossed seven and a third scoreless innings tonight as the Braves shut out the Mets 6-0. The lefty struck out ten and walked two, and even hit a home run in support of himself — a two-out, two-run shot off of Mets starter Dillon Gee, sparking what ended up being a five-run…
May 25, 2013, 10:20 PM EDT
Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter, recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder, felt soreness after his latest throwing session, reports Jenifer Langosch. Langosch clarifies that Carpenter didn’t feel pain, so the Cardinals won’t shut him down. Rather, they will have him long toss and throw bullpen sessions instead of facing live batters. Carpenter only…
May 25, 2013, 9:35 PM EDT
Right-hander Roy Oswalt, signed by the Rockies to a Minor League deal on May 3, battled mechanical issues in his first start with Double-A Tulsa last night. In five innings, Oswalt allowed three runs on three walks and four hits, including two home runs. At least reports had his fastball touching 94 MPH. MLB.com’s Thomas…
May 25, 2013, 9:00 PM EDT
Cardinals starter John Gast exited today’s start against the Dodgers after recording just three outs. Gast walked Scott Van Slyke on five pitches to lead off the second inning before being taken out of the game with shoulder tightness, tweets Jenifer Langosch. This was the third start of the 24-year-old’s young career. He had allowed…
May 25, 2013, 8:04 PM EDT
On a day of odd baseball, the Giants take home the first place prize as they defeated the Rockies 6-5 on a walk-off, one-out, two-run home run by Angel Pagan. The Rockies had taken a 5-4 lead on a Troy Tulowitzki solo homer to left field off of Giants closer Sergio Romo in the top…
May 25, 2013, 7:55 PM EDT
Rays closer Fernando Rodney, who saved 48 games last year while posting a 0.60 ERA, has had a lot of issues to start 2013. With the Rays up 3-1 in the ninth inning, Rodney served up an RBI double to Brennan Boesch and an RBI single to Brett Gardner to tie the game at three-all,…
May 25, 2013, 7:15 PM EDT
The Mets had stormed back late last night against the Braves to tie the game 5-5 after eight innings just before crew chief Dale Scott decided to halt the game, to be resumed later. At 6:10 PM ET tonight, the game was unpaused and the Braves quickly retook the lead on a Dan Uggla RBI…
May 25, 2013, 6:45 PM EDT
Behind five shutout innings from starter Billy Buckner and four shutout innings from the bullpen, the Angels blanked the Royals 7-0 this afternoon. Hank Conger and Josh Hamilton each contributed solo home runs to aid in the offensive effort. The win is the Angels’ seventh in a row, bringing their record up to 22-27. They’re…
May 25, 2013, 6:05 PM EDT
Former Major League utilityman Wilson Valdez has signed with the Camden Riversharks as reported on the team’s official website. Valdez, who turned 35 years old on May 20, spent last season with the Reds, posting a .463 OPS in 208 trips to the plate while playing at short stop, second base, third base, and center…
May 25, 2013, 5:30 PM EDT
The Yankees announced this afternoon that they have claimed left-hander David Huff off waivers from the Indians. Huff was designated for assignment by Cleveland earlier this week when fellow left-hander Scott Barnes was added to the active roster. Huff, a supplemental first-round pick of the Indians in 2006, owns a 5.40 ERA over 52 starts…
May 25, 2013, 4:10 PM EDT
While the Dodgers lost 7-0 to the Cardinals last night and currently sit at 19-27 on the season, they aren’t about to rush Hanley Ramirez back from his left hamstring injury. Austin Laymance of MLB.com reports that Ramirez ran curves, took batting practice and fielded ground balls before last night’s game. He estimated that he’s…
May 25, 2013, 3:03 PM EDT
The Orioles have placed right-handed reliever Pedro Strop on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain. Steve Johnson has replaced him on the active roster and is available out of the bullpen for Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays. After posting a 2.44 ERA in 70 appearances last season, Strop has really struggled…
May 25, 2013, 2:02 PM EDT
Joe Mauer broke up Anibal Sanchez’s no-hit bid last night with a one-out single in the ninth inning. He has made a habit out of spoiling history. Last night was the third time in Mauer’s career that he has broken up a no-hit bid in the ninth inning. He previously did it in on May…
May 25, 2013, 1:15 PM EDT
As expected, the Yankees have placed outfielder Curtis Granderson on the 15-day disabled list after he broke a knuckle on his left pinkie finger when he was hit by a pitch last night. He’s expected to miss a minimum of four weeks, which pushes his return to late June or early July. It’s awful luck…
May 25, 2013, 12:48 PM EDT
Indians manager Terry Francona is back in Boston this weekend, so naturally he’s mingling with old friends and former colleagues. And beating them up, too. Before last night’s game, NESN broadcaster Don Orsillo stopped by the Indians’ dugout to visit Francona and well, it suddenly turned into Wrestlemania. Sideline reporter Jenny Dell documented it all.…
May 25, 2013, 12:09 PM EDT
Josh Reddick was talking about the possibility of wrist surgery less than two weeks ago, but he it turns out that he could be back in the Athletics’ lineup in the near future. According to Jane Lee of MLB.com, Reddick took 20 swings during batting practice yesterday at Minute Maid Park in Houston and said…
May 25, 2013, 11:24 AM EDT
The Nationals thought they were getting a potential rotation staple when they signed Cuban right-hander Yunesky Maya to a four-year, $6 million deal back in 2010, but they are now prepared to turn the page. According to Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com, the Nationals will designate Maya for assignment in order to make room for infielder…
May 25, 2013, 10:48 AM EDT
Marlins right-hander Alex Sanabia was seen spitting on the baseball during his start Monday night against the Phillies, a clear violation of MLB rules. However, it went unnoticed by umpires and it appears that he will not receive any sort of punishment. As for Sanabia’s defense, well, he’s pleading ignorance on the whole thing. The…
May 25, 2013, 10:07 AM EDT
The Braves currently sit at 28-18 on the season and hold a four-game lead over the Nationals in the National League East, but they could get even stronger soon. Brandon Beachy began a minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett last night and allowed two runs over four innings. The 26-year-old right-hander has already thrown…
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