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.
Sep 16, 2014, 1:04 AM EDT
MLB’s best team continues to cruise through September.
Sep 16, 2014, 12:09 AM EDT
Pinch-runners Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore proved to be the difference in a thrilling win for Kansas City.
Sep 15, 2014, 11:29 PM EDT
Pujols suffered the injury while running to second base on a three-run double.
Sep 15, 2014, 11:09 PM EDT
Belt has been limited to just five games since July 19 due to concussion symptoms.
Sep 15, 2014, 10:25 PM EDT
Sanchez has been sidelined since early August with a right pectoral strain.
Sep 15, 2014, 9:21 PM EDT
Papelbon made a lewd gesture at fans and had a confrontation with umpire Joe West during Sunday’s game.
Sep 15, 2014, 8:35 PM EDT
Harper struck out in his lone at-bat in the top of the second inning before Nate Schierholtz replaced him as a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning.
Sep 15, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
He last played on July 22 and previously missed time with shoulder problems that have plagued him, but he did hit .282 with five homers and an .802 OPS in 53 games when healthy enough to be in the lineup.
Sep 15, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT
Jim DeShaies previously did it with the Astros in a start against the Dodgers on September 23, 1986.
Sep 15, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Duffy hasn’t pitched since September 6 due to rotator cuff inflammation.
Sep 15, 2014, 7:04 PM EDT
The union must sign off on a policy before any changes are put into effect.
Sep 15, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu exited his Friday start after just one inning with shoulder pain, but an MRI revealed relatively positive news: Ryu does not have structural damage and has been diagnosed with inflammation.
Sep 15, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
“Everything we were trying to accomplish this season has been accomplished.”
Sep 15, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Gattis met with team doctors Monday in attempt to find an answer with his illness.
Sep 15, 2014, 5:47 PM EDT
Mets reliever Vic Black has been shut down with a shoulder injury just one week after returning from a disabled list stint for a herniated disk in his back.
Sep 15, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Avila has suffered multiple concussions since last season and also missed time earlier this month after taking a foul tip off the mask.
Sep 15, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Tampa Bay has called up switch-hitting infielder Nick Franklin, whom the Rays acquired from the Mariners on July 31 in the three-team trade revolving around David Price.
Sep 15, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Rizzo was having a breakout season before the injury, hitting .278 with 30 homers and an .889 OPS in 129 games at age 24.
Sep 15, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” — Thomas Gray. Or William Cullen Bryant. I don’t know, I get them mixed up.
Sep 15, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Hope he comes back soon so the Yankees have a shot at making the simulated playoffs.
- MLB suspends Jonathan Papelbon seven games for incident during Sunday’s game 30
- VIDEO: Jacob deGrom begins game with eight straight strikeouts to tie MLB record 8
- Bud Selig says MLB and players union will meet this week about domestic abuse policy 7
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights 67
- Cuban slugger Yasmani Tomas to command $100 million? 29
- Bruce and Brett Bochy make MLB history 32
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 17
- Zack Greinke homers, Dodgers demolish the Giants 17-0 at AT&T Park 20
- Chris Davis suspended 25 games for amphetamine use (92)
- A few thoughts about the discrimination lawsuit against the Mets (91)
- Giancarlo Stanton diagnosed with multiple facial fractures and dental damage (91)
- Bud Selig can’t remember the last domestic violence incident in Major League Baseball (87)
- A couple of initial thoughts on the Chris Davis suspension (83)