Mar 11, 2014, 12:03 AM 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 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.
Aug 20, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
Sanchez’s rehab assignment was previously put on hold when he took a foul ball off the mask two weeks ago and that same thing happened Saturday at Triple-A.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
Milwaukee had already shut down Jim Henderson for the season with shoulder problems and now the Brewers announced that the 31-year-old reliever will undergo a “clean up” surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
If we all acted the way umps act
Aug 20, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Zack Greinke skipped his usual between-starts bullpen session because of elbow soreness and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly declined to say whether he expected the right-hander to take his next turn in the rotation Thursday against the Padres.
Aug 20, 2014, 9:41 AM EDT
In addition to raising awareness of a good cause, Jeter’s challenge raised awareness of CC Sabathia’s actual existence.
Aug 20, 2014, 9:12 AM EDT
And if he does, he’ll leave $12.75 million on the table.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:43 AM EDT
Another star player reminds us of the dangers of smokeless tobacco use.
Aug 20, 2014, 7:19 AM EDT
And the Giants — in a playoff race — aren’t happy that they lost a shortened game as a result.
Aug 20, 2014, 6:54 AM EDT
A bases-loaded walk helped the Tigers win a game. A walkoff plunking gave the Cardinals the win. And the crew in Chicago couldn’t get a tarp on the field. Can anyone around here play this game anymore?
Aug 19, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Mets rookie right-hander Jacob deGrom threw all of his pitches in a bullpen session Tuesday in Oakland without experiencing any discomfort in his shoulder and has been cleared to return to the starting rotation Saturday night against the Dodgers.
Aug 19, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
The Nationals are the hottest team in the majors. Stephen Strasburg yielded just three hits over eight inning of one-run ball and shortstop Ian Desmond went 3-for-4 with four RBI in an 8-1 stomping of the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night in Washington, D.C.
Aug 19, 2014, 9:36 PM EDT
The Orioles’ four-year, $50 million deal with starter Ubaldo Jimenez is already looking like a disaster. Jimenez registered a 4.83 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over his first 20 outings this season and now MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli reports that the right-hander has been demoted to the bullpen for the stretch run.
Aug 19, 2014, 8:41 PM EDT
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported Tuesday morning that the Diamondbacks “currently plan to bring back” manager Kirk Gibson next season. But the club’s new chief baseball officer — Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa — is now denying that anything has been decided on the Gibson front.
Aug 19, 2014, 7:57 PM EDT
Jesse Hahn has been optioned to the minor leagues as part of a planned-out strategy to limit the rookie’s innings total in 2014.
Aug 19, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT
Great news here for the second-place Cardinals. Injured catcher Yadier Molina told Jim Hayes of FOX Sports Midwest on Tuesday afternoon that he is hoping to be cleared to begin swinging a bat on Wednesday or Thursday.
Aug 19, 2014, 6:14 PM EDT
Cubs third base prospect Kris Bryant sent a scare through the organization on Saturday when he had to leave a game at Triple-A Iowa with pain in his left big toe. But all is well with the budding superstar.
Aug 19, 2014, 5:29 PM EDT
Ryan Raburn’s disappointing season for the Indians now includes a trip to the disabled list with a sore right wrist.
Aug 19, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
St. Louis infielder Mark Ellis is headed to the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle, which tends to sideline players for more than the minimum 15 days.
Aug 19, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
McLouth played just 79 games and hit .173 for the Nationals in the first season of a two-year, $10.75 million deal.
Aug 19, 2014, 3:28 PM EDT
McCutchen was having another MVP-caliber season at the time of the injury, ranking among the NL’s top five in batting average (.311), on-base percentage (.411), slugging percentage (.536), and OPS (.947).
- Curt Schilling reveals that he was diagnosed with mouth cancer, blames smokeless tobacco 31
- Clown shoes in Chicago: the Cubs grounds crew couldn’t get the tarp on the field 41
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights 45
- Tony La Russa denies that Kirk Gibson’s job is safe 19
- Pirates activate Andrew McCutchen from the disabled list 2
- HBT Daily: They’ve dropped six straight, but the Pirates may be the Wild Card favorites 2
- The Diamondbacks plan to bring back Kirk Gibson for some reason 31
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 32
- Mike Matheny addresses turmoil in Ferguson: “It’s a sad situation. It’s a tough situation for our city” (125)
- Jayson Werth clocked at 105 m.p.h. in a 55 zone, is charged with reckless driving (88)
- Here’s today’s dose of barfy Derek Jeter sentiment (82)
- Baseball is dying, you guys (78)
- A vote for Tom Werner for commissioner is a vote to return to the dark ages (78)