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. Padres recall Jedd Gyorko from AAA El Paso

    Jun 30, 2015, 7:41 PM EDT

    Jedd Gyorko AP

    Gyorko was optioned to the minors on June 10 after batting .210/.282/.311 over his first 131 plate appearances …

  2. Matt Cain to make 2015 debut on Thursday

    Jun 30, 2015, 6:35 PM EDT

    Matt Cain AP

    Tim Lincecum will be placed on the disabled list with a forearm bruise to open a rotation spot.

  3. The Chicago Sun-Times wants Ozzie Guillen to manage the White Sox again

    Jun 30, 2015, 3:58 PM EDT

    ozzie_guillen_090817

    Let us use this column to talk a bit about how rumors got started back in the day and how they get started now.

  4. Sonny Gray scratched due to illness

    Jun 30, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT

    Sonny Gray Sonny Gray

    Chris Bassitt will start in his place.

  5. Daniel Murphy returns from disabled list, Mets send Dilson Herrera back to minors

    Jun 30, 2015, 2:31 PM EDT

    Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda AP

    No one is quite sure when All-Star third baseman David Wright will be back.

  6. The lineup card for A-Rod’s 3,000th hit game is up to $810 at MLB Auctions

    Jun 30, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT

    Alex Rodriguez Getty Images

    Not that anyone really wants you to know it’s up for bid.

  7. Eugene, Oregon’s Historic Civic Stadium burns to the ground

    Jun 30, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT

    Eugene Emeralds

    The old park housed the Eugene Emeralds until 2009

  8. Huston Street says he’d retire if he was used like a 1970s-style fireman

    Jun 30, 2015, 11:26 AM EDT

    huston street

    I’d like to tell you a story about bullpen history and a young man named Tony La Russa.

  9. Brian Dozier is the best second baseman in baseball

    Jun 30, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT

    Brian Dozier Twins Getty Images

    The majority of the baseball-watching world hasn’t seemed to notice yet.

  10. Mike Trout was unreal last night

    Jun 30, 2015, 9:25 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 8.35.42 AM

    And Chris Young was not too pleased about it.

  11. Video: The shocking truth behind the Royals All-Star voting success

    Jun 30, 2015, 8:51 AM EDT

    royals logo Getty Images

    It goes far, far deeper than you ever could’ve imagined.

  12. CC Sabathia looks like a reliever

    Jun 30, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT

    sabathia getty Getty Images

    One he gets past 45 pitches he turns every opposing hitter into Lou Gehrig.

  13. And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

    Jun 30, 2015, 7:32 AM EDT

    Mike Trout Getty Images

    Mike Trout put on a clinic against the Yankees last night.

  14. Video: Run scores after Ronald Belisario throws a wild pitch on an intentional walk

    Jun 30, 2015, 12:23 AM EDT

    belisario

    We often take intentional walks for granted. Four tosses to the catcher. How hard can it be? Pretty hard, at least sometimes.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. S. Matz (4118)
  2. B. Harper (4045)
  3. J. Hamilton (3819)
  4. H. Ramirez (3777)
  5. G. Stanton (3476)
  1. M. Moore (3160)
  2. Y. Puig (3086)
  3. F. Freeman (2707)
  4. J. Ellsbury (2672)
  5. A. Jones (2649)