Mar 11, 2014, 12:03 AM EST
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 2014 season. Next up: The Chicago Cubs.
The Big Question: Is the wait almost over?
It has been 105 long years since the north side of Chicago last celebrated a World Series title and in seven months that number will be pushed to 106.
Let’s get it out of the way: this 2014 edition of the Cubs is hopeless. There’s not enough firepower in the lineup, not enough shutdown stuff on the pitching staff, and they’ll play in a five-team division that features four much better squads. Bovada pegs the Cubs’ over-under win total for the 2014 season at 69.5 — same as the Marlins and well below the Brewers (79.5), Pirates (83.5), Reds (84.5), and Cardinals (90.5).
And it doesn’t take a casino odds-maker to figure out what’s wrong with the Northsiders’ roster.
The four-year, $52 million commitment made last winter to right-handed starter Edwin Jackson already looks like a bust. Travis Wood is very good but far from a typical ace, and Jeff Samardzija took a step back in 2013 after flashing front-line numbers in 2012. Some combination of Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta, Chris Rusin, and James McDonald will fill out the final two spots of a thoroughly-unintimidating starting rotation.
The lineup isn’t any more formidable. Anthony Rizzo has promising upside at first base, but his park-adjusted batting numbers were nearly league-average for that premium offensive position during the 2013 season. Fifth-year shortstop Starlin Castro was a complete disaster last summer, hitting .245/.284/.347 for an OPS+ of just 72. Luis Valbuena (3B), Nate Schierholtz (RF), Junior Lake (LF), Ryan Sweeney (CF), Welington Castillo (C), and Darwin Barney (2B) make up the rest of the Cubs’ starting position player group.
So, is the wait almost over? It depends on whether you have a gracious definition of “almost.”
What else is going on?
- A total of seven Cubs prospects appeared in last month’s Baseball America Top 100, tied for the second-most of any organization. Javier Baez looks like a star in the making and will likely work his way into the major league infield mix by the end of this summer. He batted .282/.341/.578 with 37 home runs, 111 RBI, and 20 stolen bases in 130 games last year between High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. Kris Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft, could also become a starter — at third base — by the end of 2014. He tallied nine homers and 32 RBI in just 36 minor league games last season. Right-handed starter C.J. Edwards and Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler were among the other Cubs prospects named to Baseball America‘s list. Team president Theo Epstein is building a legitimate nucleus.
- Something to keep an eye on with this rising class of elite-level prospects: Javier Baez was drafted as a shortstop in 2011 (ninth overall) and has played nothing but shortstop in the Cubs’ minor league system. Starlin Castro signed a seven-year, $60 million contract extension with the Cubs in August 2012, but he might not finish out that deal in Chicago. Castro is young enough and has enough raw talent that he will presumably attract interest from other clubs even if he doesn’t bounce back right away in 2014.
- Darwin Barney won a Gold Glove for his outstanding defensive play at second base in 2012 and probably should have won it again in 2013, but he owns a hideous .246/.293/.336 career slash line in 1,799 plate appearances at the major league level and the situation only worsened last season. Emilio Bonifacio can probably steal that starting second base job away from Barney by early-to-mid summer.
- The Cubs fired Dale Sveum last September after just two years in the managerial post and officially selected Rick Renteria in early November to be his replacement. Renteria was the Padres’ bench coach when current Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer worked in the San Diego front office and is well-respected around the baseball world. Renteria is the 53rd manager in Cubs franchise history.
Predicton: A rough start but slightly-brighter finish yields 72 wins. Last place, NL Central.
Jan 29, 2015, 10:50 PM EST
High-spending teams like the Yankees and Red Sox are among the favorites to sign Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada, but the Rays are also interested even if it’s fair to call them a long shot.
Jan 29, 2015, 9:21 PM EST
Beachy is currently 10 months removed from the second Tommy John surgery of his career.
Jan 29, 2015, 8:02 PM EST
Cotts compiled a 2.84 ERA in 131 appearances with the Rangers over the past two seasons.
Jan 29, 2015, 7:04 PM EST
Billingsley hasn’t pitched in the majors since undergoing Tommy John surgery in April of 2013.
Jan 29, 2015, 6:45 PM EST
Add another name to the list of fifth starter candidates for the Braves.
Jan 29, 2015, 5:42 PM EST
Nava requested $2.25 million and the Red Sox countered at $1.3 million.
Jan 29, 2015, 3:30 PM EST
I guess it’s better than snakes. Or wasps.
Jan 29, 2015, 3:15 PM EST
Santiago spent last season with the Reds, hitting .246 with a .667 OPS in 75 games.
Jan 29, 2015, 2:31 PM EST
Belisario was awful for the White Sox last season, allowing 46 runs in 66 innings.
Jan 29, 2015, 2:04 PM EST
This is funny. But also insightful.
Jan 29, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
Does this man look like he’d be a friend of a guy like Pete Carroll? Welp, he is.
Jan 29, 2015, 12:45 PM EST
He’ll work with union chief Tony Clark.
Jan 29, 2015, 12:30 PM EST
We can, from now and forever, refer to Werth as the “The Nationals’ ex-con right fielder.”
Jan 29, 2015, 11:30 AM EST
Brad Pitt was too young to portray him, though. Maybe Kevin Kline could’ve?
Jan 29, 2015, 11:22 AM EST
Good luck, Devin.
Jan 29, 2015, 10:39 AM EST
Kris Bryant of the Cubs tops the list.
Jan 29, 2015, 10:15 AM EST
Francisco Rodriguez? Rafael Soriano?
Jan 29, 2015, 10:01 AM EST
He’s gonna get big pushback from the LOOGY union, but is the idea a good one?
Jan 29, 2015, 9:09 AM EST
Baseball should never fear innovation. But not all new rules are, by definition, innovation.
Jan 29, 2015, 7:58 AM EST
A glimpse into the future, you guys.
- Jayson Werth to serve five days in jail for reckless driving 42
- Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list is out 37
- Great Moments in Media Arrogance: Marshawn Lynch edition 166
- Nationals sign former Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen 11
- Ichiro Suzuki’s deal with the Marlins is worth $2 million 34
- Orioles acquire outfielder Travis Snider from Pirates 37
- Not so fast on the Bud Selig Hall of Fame talk 50
- Blue Jays sign president and CEO Paul Beeston to extension through 2015 26
- Great Moments in Media Arrogance: Marshawn Lynch edition (168)
- Rob Manfred, new Major League Baseball commissioner, suggests ban on defensive shifts (118)
- Why “Deflategate” would never happen in baseball (96)
- The Yankees are going to try to get out of paying A-Rod his contract incentives (83)