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.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:55 PM EDT
Marcus Stroman will be a proud college graduate the next time he takes the mound for the Blue Jays.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:05 PM EDT
The Mets are likely to open the regular season without Daniel Murphy at second base.
Mar 27, 2015, 10:15 PM EDT
Alex Rios says he’ll have to manage his thumb injury throughout the duration of the 2015 season.
Mar 27, 2015, 9:25 PM EDT
Jeff Francoeur threw out Alex Rodriguez at the plate. It’s 2015, not 2011.
Mar 27, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
The Twins reportedly have a bit of interest in free agent reliever Rafael Soriano.
Mar 27, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Domonic Brown is battling an Achilles injury, leaving him unlikely to play on Opening Day.
Mar 27, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Brandon League isn’t likely to pitch for a couple of months according to manager Don Mattingly.
Mar 27, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
It doesn’t seem like the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann will reach an agreement on a contract extension before the regular season begins.
Mar 27, 2015, 4:40 PM EDT
Drabek was once a top prospect and the Blue Jays acquired him from the Phillies in the Roy Halladay trade.
Mar 27, 2015, 4:13 PM EDT
The Rule 5 pick had a decent shot of making the Mariners’ pen out of camp.
Mar 27, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
Should we be taking the rebuilt White Sox seriously as contenders?
Mar 27, 2015, 2:34 PM EDT
Verlander has continued to struggle this spring.
Mar 27, 2015, 2:01 PM EDT
There is only one reason a player should be tested for drugs as often as David Ortiz claims he has been: a previous positive test.
Mar 27, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT
Thanks to his mid-90s fastball and fantastic strikeout totals Salazar was a popular breakout pick for 2015.
Mar 27, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
No word on “yicketty.”
Mar 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
The Braves had one of the stranger off-seasons, both adding and subtracting players while also attempting to rebuild. How bad will they be in 2015?
Mar 27, 2015, 11:28 AM EDT
So far so good in Tanaka’s attempt to avoid Tommy John surgery.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:09 AM EDT
Good intentions are never enough.
Mar 27, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Howie Kendrick’s replacement.
Mar 27, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
Ludwick signed a minor-league deal with the Rangers in early February and it would have paid $1.75 million if he made the team at age 36.
- 2015 Preview: Chicago White Sox 10
- Did David Ortiz admit to more than he realized with his Players’ Tribune editorial? 63
- 2015 Preview: Atlanta Braves 12
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” 111
- 2015 Preview: Chicago Cubs 14
- Unsigned 2014 No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken undergoes Tommy John surgery 57
- 2015 Preview: Seattle Mariners 15
- Cardinals add “OT” patch for Oscar Taveras 76
- Ex-Cardinals outfielder Curt Ford was assaulted in St. Louis and told to “go back to Ferguson” (116)
- College baseball player cut after making offensive tweet about Mo’ne Davis (115)
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” (112)
- Rob Manfred says it would be hard to reinstate Pete Rose in a limited way (88)