Monday, February 17, 2014

2014 NL Central Preview: Chicago Cubs

Don't the Cubs ever get tired of trying?

The lovable losers finished in last place in the National League Central in 2013, though they did increase their win total from 2012 by five. The only thing that has kept the Cubbies from finishing in last place three years in a row is the fact that the Astros finished last in 2012, but as we know the NL Central no longer has a "Houston-y" cushion at the bottom.

2014 doesn't promise to be much better, but the Cubs are in the process of starting over and a franchise such as theirs is surely used to waiting by now. They are presently the Major League version of Build-A-Bear. They have dropped a lot of weight from their roster, while relying on a few promising young players and prospects to build around or trade for value. The team deflected some of the negativity away from the actual players by unveiling its new mascot, Clark, the first in modern team history. I feel sorry for that poor bear.

Notable Additions: Manager Rick Renteria, LF Chris Coghlan (Free agent), IF Ryan Roberts, C George Kottaras (acquired from Kansas City Royals), OF Justin Ruggiano (acquired from Miami Marlins), RHP Jason Hammel (FA), RHP Jose Veras (FA), LHP Tsuyoshi Wada (FA), LHP Wesley Wright (FA), LHP Jonathan Sanchez (FA)

Notable Losses: Ex-Manager Dale Sveum, C Dioner Navarro, IF Ian Stewart, IF Mat Gamel, IF Cody Ransom, OF Alfonso Soriano, OF David DeJesus, OF Scott Hairston, OF Dave Sappelt, RHP Matt Garza, RHP Carlos Marmol, RHP Daniel Bard, RHP Scott Baker, RHP Kevin Gregg, RHP Matt Guerrier

Manager: Rick Renteria (1st season)
2013 Payroll: $107,646,476 (13th in MLB)
Avg. Home Attendance: 32,625 (12th in MLB)

2013 Records
Overal: 66-96 (Last in NL Central)
Home: 31-50
Road: 35-46
Vs NLC: 25-51

Notable 2013 stat rankings
Runs - 28th (602)
HR - 9th (172)
AVG - 27th (.238)
SB - 25th (63)
ERA - 21st (4.00)
BAA - 7th (.244)
WHIP - 13th (1.29)
Errors - 21st (100)

2B Darwin Barney

2014 Projected Rotation
RHP Jeff Samardzija
LHP Travis Wood
RHP Edwin Jackson
RHP Jake Arrieta
RHP Jason Hammel

Closer: RHP Jose Veras

Chicago is in rebuild mode, as the roster has changed quite a bit from top to bottom. A lot of familiar faces no longer reside on the north side, such as former manager Sveum, Soriano, Garza, and Marmol. In come the fresh faces like new manager Renteria, Ruggiano, and Hammel combined with budding young players like Samardzija, Wood, Castro, and Lake to hold the franchise over until hopefully that day when they are able to build a contender again. It's going to take more time, but Cubs fans should at least feel comfortable with Theo Epstein at the helm.

Best case scenario: They don't finish in last place in 2014? I think that's basically the best thing that could happen to the Cubs this season, from a wins/losses standpoint. If fans have higher expectations than that for their team, then they will be sorely disappointed. What they should focus on is slight improvements around the diamond. They're not going to the playoffs, and they likely not going to finish above .500. If Castro can turn his game around after having the worst season of his career in 2013, that will be a plus. If their young players, like Lake, can continue to develop that would be great for them. Finally, if they can either lock up Samardzija long term, or flip him for an attractive package of prospects to restock the farm system, that would be a win. If things like these happen and the Cubs manage to finish in fourth place, well then that would just be a cherry on top.

Worst case scenario: Castro, having no veteran leadership to right his ship, becomes more and more distracted and fails to play to his potential again as well as becoming a bad teammate. Samardzija pitches poorly, lessening his value and no one offers a package good enough to convince the Cubs to trade him. Somehow, someway the Cubs end up with Marmol back on their roster and he blows a save in his first appearance. The new mascot Clark gets caught up in a scuffle with some inebriated fans who have no one other way to relieve their frustrations than to harass the poor mascot, as horrified children look on. The Cubs go on to lose over 100 games and bring up the rear in the NL Central again. There's always next year, again.

NL Central preview schedule
Monday: Chicago Cubs
Tuesday: Milwaukee Brewers
Wednesday: Pittsburgh Pirates
Thursday: St. Louis Cardinals

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