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. Hisashi Iwakuma has a Grade 1 lat strain, will miss 2-4 weeks

    Apr 25, 2015, 11:05 PM EDT

    Hisashi Iwakuma Hisashi Iwakuma

    Hisashi Iwakuma could miss up to a month after being diagnosed with a Grade 1 strain of his right lat muscle.

  2. Alex Rodriguez was impressed by Matt Harvey in Saturday’s loss

    Apr 25, 2015, 10:15 PM EDT

    Alex Rodriguez Getty Images

    Alex Rodriguez is one of many major leaguers Matt Harvey has impressed.

  3. Adrian Beltre sent Garrett Richards an invoice for three broken bats

    Apr 25, 2015, 9:25 PM EDT

    Adrian Beltre Getty Images

    Adrian Beltre humorously sent an invoice to Garrett Richards for the three bats he broke on Friday.

  4. Play of the Day: Freddy Galvis makes superb diving grab and throw for the out

    Apr 25, 2015, 8:52 PM EDT

    Freddy Galvis Freddy Galvis

    Freddy Galvis threw his hat into the ring as an early contender for Play of the Year.

  5. Adam Wainwright exits Saturday’s start with an apparent Achilles injury

    Apr 25, 2015, 8:37 PM EDT

    Adam Wainwright Adam Wainwright

    Adam Wainwright suffered an apparent Achilles injury after hitting a pop-up in Saturday’s game against the Brewers.

  6. Joel Peralta dealing with a “dead arm”, could go on the disabled list

    Apr 25, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT

    Joel Peralta Getty Images

    The Dodgers’ thin bullpen could get even thinner if Joel Peralta needs to go on the disabled list.

  7. Rays designate Allan Dykstra for assignment

    Apr 25, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT

    Allan Dykstra Allan Dykstra

    The Rays designated slugger Allan Dykstra for assignment to make room for Everett Teaford on Saturday.

  8. Video: Kevin Plawecki connects for his first major league home run

    Apr 25, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT

    Kevin Plawecki Getty Images

    Watch Kevin Plawecki swat his first major league homer.

  9. Jose Fernandez ready to face hitters for first time since Tommy John surgery

    Apr 25, 2015, 5:01 PM EDT

    Jose+Fernandez+Miami+Marlins+v+San+Diego+Padres+x1Pnh0XpK7ol Getty Images

    The Marlins have stumbled out of the gate with a disappointing 6-11 record, but they entered play today on a three-game win streak and here’s some good news about their rehabbing ace.

  10. Former Cubs catcher, Expos manager Jim Fanning dies at 87

    Apr 25, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT

    jim fanning

    Fanning was involved in baseball for more than 60 years.

  11. Blue Jays release left-hander Ricky Romero

    Apr 25, 2015, 3:48 PM EDT

    ricky romero jays getty Getty Images

    It looked like the Blue Jays had one of the best young left-handed pitchers in the game after Romero compiled a 3.60 (119 ERA+) across his first three seasons in the majors, but his career veered off track after 2011 due to control problems and knee issues.

  12. Matt Albers headed to DL with finger injury suffered in benches-clearing brawl

    Apr 25, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT

    Chicago White Sox v Detroit Tigers Getty Images

    Albers suffered a compression fracture of a finger on his throwing hand during Thursday’s brawl.

  13. Report: Rangers will pay Josh Hamilton less than $7 million; deal includes opt-out after two years

    Apr 25, 2015, 2:16 PM EDT

    josh hamilton angels getty Getty Images

    The Rangers will reportedly only be responsible for less than $7 million of Hamilton’s remaining contract.

  14. Anthony Rendon begins minor league rehab assignment

    Apr 25, 2015, 1:58 PM EDT

    anthony rendon getty Getty Images

    Anthony Rendon suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee in early March, but he’s finally close to joining the Nationals.

  15. Trevor Bauer scratched from start due to illness

    Apr 25, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT

    Trevor Bauer AP

    TJ House will start in his place against Detroit.

  16. Suspensions announced for Thursday’s brawl between the White Sox and Royals

    Apr 25, 2015, 12:24 PM EDT

    Kansas City Royals v Chicago White Sox Getty Images

    Six players were suspended for Thursday’s benches-clearing brawl between the White Sox and Royals. Yordano Ventura got the longest suspension with seven games.

  17. Video: Nelson Cruz hits 459-foot blast for MLB-leading ninth home run

    Apr 25, 2015, 12:01 PM EDT

    Minnesota Twins v Seattle Mariners Getty Images

    Nelson Cruz just keeps on mashing for the Mariners.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. J. Hamilton (3887)
  2. A. Russell (3639)
  3. D. Smyly (3379)
  4. D. Travis (3304)
  5. B. Zobrist (3151)