In the 1970′s, the Chicago Cubs earned the moniker “Loveable Losers.” History was bound to repeat itself.
Wrigley Field’s nearly 2.9 million attendees last season were nearly as much as Atlanta’s Turner Field. What’s the difference? The Braves won 94 games. The Cubs lost 101. Manager Dale Sveum has a few things to gloat about. Anthony Rizzo, a highly touted 23-year-old first baseman, was electric in 337 at-bats. He hit for power with 15 homers and average, batting .283. He’ll hit third with, I hope, Starlin Castro leading off. The Cubs project David DeJesus in that spot. He’s too old. Nate Schierholtz will split time in the two-spot with guys like DeJesus and Darwin Barney. Castro is locked up for a long time. It’s a bargain contract that give Chicago a real opportunity to see exactly what he has. He is 23-years-old and has three seasons under his belt. This great player needs to cut down strikeouts, take more walks and stop booting routine plays. There’s a lot of promise for Castro, drawing comparisons to Cal Ripken Jr. It’s time to step up.
The Cubs have a lot of OK players. These are guys you wouldn’t mind playings on off days or batting in a pinch role in the 8th inning. They start in Chicago. DeJesus is a once very good center fielder that plays right field now and bats 40 points under his career batting average. Shierholtz is a lefty that bats for a decent average with little power and no speed. Barney plays second base pretty well, not that this is a skill in the majors. I see him starting there for a couple of years while the Cubs shore up other issues. Tony Campana can flat out fly. It’s too bad they let him go. He platoons and can still grab 35 bags. They have no catcher in Chicago. Geovany Soto didn’t pan out following an NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2008. HE GONE! Chicago brought in another bottomed-out guy in Dioner Navarro. He had a good season in 2008 with the Tampa Bay Rays. I think the Cubs just remember him from an interleague series that year. Steve Clevenger will compete for the backstop position as well as a guy named Welington Castillo. Your guess is as good as mine on who will receive the most at-bats there. Alfonso Soriano is still around. It didn’t help Chicago’s options in 2012 when Soriano decided to have his best season since 2007. He has yet to steal more than 19 bases in a year with the Cubs, so much for being a 40-40 guy. The Ricketts family would likely have wanted to cut number 12 had he not put up the big home run and RBI totals. Actually, Soriano probably should have been an All-Star but former St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa was making the picks. Baseball Writers of America thought of Soriano as the 20th best player in the National League a year ago, according to MVP voting. Can you believe he is under contract with the Cubs through 2014?
They finally understand how good Jeff Samardzija is in Chicago. Sending him up and down to the minors and burying him in the back of the bullpen was not effective in his first three seasons. The Cubs organization then tried letting him pitch regularly which has led to a WHIP under 1.300, 267 strikeouts and less than one home run per nine innings pitched over the last two seasons. They’re lucky to have contractual control over him until at least through 2016. The Edwin Jackson signing doesn’t make any sense. There’s a reason no team has hung onto him for more than a year or two. You feel for the Cubs on the Matt Garza situation. He appeared to be a good fit but is hurt again. They’ll try again to deal him. Scott Baker is a good sign for a good price. Baker has a career 4.14 ERA, that’s in the American League, with a 1.264 WHIP. I know he missed last season with Tommy John surgery. It’s still a good move for Chicago. Carlos Villanueva isn’t bad but he gave up 23 home runs last year. That needs to come down.
In the bullpen they’ve added Scott Feldman. At times, it looks like he has something special. Then, he has moments like you saw in a 2011 World Series game against St. Louis. He can start and provide long relief. Feldman is an admirable option. Shawn Camp is getting up there in years but is another decent right-handed arm. Yikes, Chicago used him 80 times last season. Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde, also known as Carlos Marmol, remains in the Cubs’ bullpen too. Sometimes he is unhittable. Other times he cannot hit the strike zone. It’s possible they’ll attempt to trade the low-angled release pitcher that is Carlos Marmol. He’s due $9.8 million.
General Manager Theo Epstein isn’t going to buy free agents like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino or Kyle Lohse. It’s a complete grassroots campaign that will again end with 90 losses or so. Still, the fans will head to the ticket booth and line the bleachers to see their Cubbies. Win or lose, they are still one of the most important franchises in America….and a shoe-in for last-place in the National League Central.