Skip to content

2014 Preview: Chicago Cubs

Mar 11, 2014, 12:03 AM EDT

theo epstein getty Getty Images

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Mike Napoli continues to kill the Angels

    May 25, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Mike Napoli

    Mike Scioscia ran Mike Napoli out of Anaheim. Napoli has beaten the hell out of the Angels ever since.

  2. Royals shut down Danny Duffy with shoulder injury

    May 25, 2015, 10:41 AM EDT

    Danny Duffy Getty Images

    Initially the Royals planned to merely push back Duffy’s next start.

  3. Settling the Scores: Memorial Day Edition

    May 25, 2015, 8:10 AM EDT

    Memorial Day

    Do what you’d like this Memorial Day. Wave a flag. Protest a war. Get great deals at Mattress Wholesalers’ Crazy Memorial Day Sale. But remember that Memorial Day simultaneously is about none of those things and allows for all of those things.

  4. Sonny Gray takes liner off of ankle, but is expected to make his next start

    May 24, 2015, 11:35 PM EDT

    Sonny Gray Sonny Gray

    The struggling Athletics got a scare on Sunday when Sonny Gray was hit by a comebacker, but he’s expected to make his next start.

  5. Jose Reyes expected to rejoin the Blue Jays on Monday

    May 24, 2015, 10:25 PM EDT

    Jose Reyes Jose Reyes

    Veteran shortstop Jose Reyes will return to the Blue Jays on Monday after dealing with a cracked rib.

  6. Video: Yankees induct Bernie Williams into Monument Park

    May 24, 2015, 9:20 PM EDT

    Bernie Williams Getty Images

    Bernie Williams was honored with his induction into Monument Park at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.

  7. Video: Justin Upton rips a grand slam to put the Padres up early

    May 24, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT

    Justin Upton Getty Images

    Justin Upton knocked in six runs in his first two at-bats on Sunday against the Dodgers. Four of them came on a first-inning grand slam.

  8. Pirates starters had a weekend of double-digit strikeout performances

    May 24, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT

    Francisco Liriano Francisco Liriano

    Pirates starters Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, and Francisco Liriano combined for 32 strikeouts in a three-game sweep of the Mets over the weekend.

  9. Rangers sign Jared Burton to a minor league contract

    May 24, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT

    Jared Burton Jared Burton

    The Rangers added bullpen depth on Sunday, signing reliever Jared Burton to a minor league contract.

  10. Marco Gonzales feeling renewed discomfort in pectoral

    May 24, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT

    marco gonzales getty Getty Images

    Gonzales pitched well in his latest outing for Memphis, striking out seven and allowing only one run over six innings, and he was almost certain to be the next man up for the St. Louis rotation.

  11. Cubs return Anthony Varvaro to Red Sox after MRI reveals torn flexor tendon in his elbow

    May 24, 2015, 4:04 PM EDT

    anthony varvaro getty Getty Images

    Varvaro is now on the disabled list with the Red Sox and won’t pitch again this season. The 30-year-old had an impressive 2.63 ERA, 1.079 WHIP, and 50/13 K/BB ratio in 54 2/3 innings last summer with the Braves.

  12. Giants designate Casey McGehee for assignment

    May 24, 2015, 2:31 PM EDT

    casey mcgehee getty Getty Images

    San Francisco acquired Casey McGehee from the Marlins in December to effectively replace Pablo Sandoval at third base, but the 32-year-old woke up Sunday with a brutal .200/.254/.282 batting line and he had tallied just nine RBI in 35 games.

  13. Video: Steven Souza throws an elbow at Stephen Vogt

    May 24, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT

    souza getty Getty Images

    Steven Souza appeared to have a clear path to the plate — at least the outside of the plate — yet went right for Stephen Vogt with his elbow raised.

  14. Kyle Lobstein lands on 15-day DL with sore shoulder

    May 24, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT

    lobstein getty Getty Images

    Kyle Lobstein made the Tigers’ starting rotation out of spring training with Justin Verlander (triceps) ticketed for the disabled list. But that spot will now go to right-hander Buck Farmer because Lobstein needs a disabled list stint of his own.

  15. Shane Victorino heads back to the disabled list

    May 24, 2015, 12:32 PM EDT

    shane victorino getty Getty Images

    Victorino has appeared in just 50 of a possible 205 games over the last two seasons due to a variety of leg and back problems.

  16. Mitch Harris’ journey from the Naval Academy to MLB

    May 24, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT

    mitch harris getty Getty Images

    Really cool feature here from MLB Network on Mitch Harris’ unique path from the United States Naval Academy to a bullpen job with the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals …

  17. Yan Gomes returns to the Indians’ lineup after missing six weeks with a sprained right knee

    May 24, 2015, 10:59 AM EDT

    yan gomes getty Getty Images

    Gomes, 27, batted .278/.313/.472 with 21 home runs and 74 RBI in 135 games last season for the Tribe, earning his first Silver Slugger Award. Cleveland (17-23) could use a big offensive boost right about now.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. J. Hamilton (3731)
  2. R. Castillo (3561)
  3. D. Travis (3278)
  4. A. Pujols (3088)
  5. C. Crisp (3041)
  1. Y. Puig (2980)
  2. B. Harper (2951)
  3. H. Ryu (2929)
  4. J. Reyes (2902)
  5. D. Wright (2845)