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. Carlos Correa out fourth straight game with hamstring injury

    Aug 30, 2015, 11:59 AM EDT

    Carlos Correa AP

    This is probably a case of the ‘Stros playing it safe with a young star. They do have a four-game lead in the American League West standings and Correa has been pushed hard over the last three months.

  2. Lance Lynn expects to make next scheduled start despite suffering ankle injury Saturday

    Aug 30, 2015, 11:01 AM EDT

    Lance Lynn, Mike Matheny AP

    Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn rolled his right ankle in the eighth inning of a shutout bid Saturday against the Giants and had to be pulled from the game, but it sounds like he is going to be fine.

  3. Cubs expected to call up Javier Baez on September 1

    Aug 30, 2015, 10:24 AM EDT

    Javier Baez AP

    Baez batted just .169/.227/.324 and racked up a whopping 95 strikeouts in 52 games last season for the Cubs, but he’s made great strides with his plate approach this year on the farm and he could slide his way into regular playing time in Chicago if he hits well out of the gate.

  4. Video: Bryce Harper destroys a bat after swinging strikeout

    Aug 30, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT

    Bryce Harper Bryce Harper

    Bryce Harper took some frustration out on a now-former bat of his Saturday night at Nationals Park …

  5. Settling the Score: Saturday’s results

    Aug 30, 2015, 8:56 AM EDT

    Adrian Beltre AP

    Your box scores and AP recaps from Saturday …

  6. A fan died at Turner Field after falling from the upper deck

    Aug 30, 2015, 12:03 AM EDT

    Turner Field Getty Images

    A fan heckling Alex Rodriguez from the upper deck fell and died at Turner Field on Saturday night.

  7. Alex Gordon likely to rejoin the Royals on Tuesday

    Aug 29, 2015, 11:05 PM EDT

    Oakland Athletics v Kansas City Royals Getty Images

    The Royals will likely get Alex Gordon back when the calendar turns to September.

  8. Mariners will skip Felix Hernandez’s start on Monday

    Aug 29, 2015, 10:10 PM EDT

    Felix Hernandez Getty Images

    Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon wants to keep Felix Hernandez fresh through the end of the season, so he’ll skip his ace’s start on Monday.

  9. Indians will activate Gavin Floyd from the disabled list on Tuesday

    Aug 29, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT

    Gavin Floyd Gavin Floyd

    Gavin Floyd will pitch out of the bullpen for the Indians when he is activated on Tuesday.

  10. Francisco Rodriguez was claimed on waivers, but the Brewers pulled him back

    Aug 29, 2015, 8:20 PM EDT

    francisco rodriguez getty Getty Images

    The Brewers pulled Francisco Rodriguez back after he was claimed on revocable waivers last week.

  11. Mets acquire Addison Reed from the Diamondbacks

    Aug 29, 2015, 7:28 PM EDT

    Addison Reed Addison Reed

    The Mets have bolstered their bullpen, acquiring Addison Reed from the Diamondbacks.

  12. Lance Lynn exits Saturday’s start with an ankle injury

    Aug 29, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT

    Lance Lynn Lance Lynn

    Lance Lynn hurt his right ankle in the eighth inning of Saturday’s start versus the Giants.

  13. Astros place Jason Castro on the disabled list, promote Max Stassi

    Aug 29, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT

    Max Stassi Max Stassi

    Max Stassi will return to the majors as Jason Castro was placed on the disabled list on Saturday.

  14. Vin Scully says 2016 will be his last season of broadcasting

    Aug 29, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT

    vin scully getty Getty Images

    2016 will be Vin Scully’s last season behind the mic.

  15. Report: Mets claim Marc Rzepczynski on revocable waivers

    Aug 29, 2015, 5:26 PM EDT

    MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 06: Marc Rzepczynski #45 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on August 06, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Rzepczynski was just acquired by the Padres last month, but he could soon be on the move again.

  16. Edwin Encarnacion slugs three home runs as Blue Jays thrash Tigers

    Aug 29, 2015, 5:25 PM EDT

    Toronto Blue Jays' Edwin Encarnacion rounds the bases following a three-run home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers in Toronto on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT AP

    Encarnacion extended his hitting steak to 24 games and also drove in a career-high nine runs.

  17. Report: The Padres pulled Craig Kimbrel back off waivers

    Aug 29, 2015, 4:22 PM EDT

    San Diego Padres closer Craig Kimbrel pumps his fist as he watches the final out in the Padres' 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi) AP

    Kimbrel won’t be traded this season.

  18. Anthony Gose forgets how many outs there after catching fly ball, run scores from second base

    Aug 29, 2015, 3:57 PM EDT

    cD05ODdlNmNhY2MwMjRlZWQzNTJhM2ViYTQ1Y2VlY2YzOCZnPTRlMDNlNmY2MWJkMTQ0Y2NhM2I0YmQzNjcxNTNmN2Y0 Getty Images

    Gose had a costly brain camp this afternoon against the Blue Jays.

  19. Important: There will be a Meeting of the Mookies this afternoon

    Aug 29, 2015, 1:13 PM EDT

    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 04:  Mookie Wilson formerly of the New York Mets waves to the fans before throwing out the first pitch for a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game one of the National League Division Series at Shea Stadium on October 4, 2006 in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Mookie Betts and Mookie Wilson will meet Saturday afternoon at Citi Field.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. D. Wright (2543)
  2. D. Span (2380)
  3. G. Stanton (2339)
  4. Y. Puig (2286)
  5. J. Fernandez (2250)
  1. B. Crawford (2166)
  2. G. Springer (2097)
  3. M. Teixeira (1941)
  4. M. Sano (1842)
  5. H. Pence (1793)