Running down the rosters: Chicago Cubs

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Forget about 2012 and probably 2013 as well; the Cubs are thinking long-term after luring Theo Epstein from Boston as their new showrunner. This year’s club won’t necessarily be one of the worst in baseball — the pitching depth could help it avoid that fate — but there’s also little in the way of upside until more of the youngsters come along.

Rotation
Ryan Dempster  -R
Matt Garza – R
Randy Wells – R
Paul Maholm – L
Chris Volstad – R

Bullpen
Carlos Marmol – R
Kerry Wood – R
Jeff Samardzija – R
James Russell – L
Marcos Mateo – R
Andy Sonnanstine – R
Scott Maine – L

SP next in line: Travis Wood (L), Rodrigo Lopez (R), Sonnanstine, Casey Coleman (R)
RP next in line: Chris Carpenter (R), Manuel Corpas (R),  Lendy Castillo (R)(Rule 5), John Gaub (L), Rafael Dolis (R), Casey Weathers (R)

The Cubs have yet to find a Garza trade to their liking, leaving the rotation as the team’s strength. No one from the group aside from Garza stands out, but the team should get reasonable innings from everyone. I have the other five starters projected with ERAs ranging from 4.18 (T. Wood) to 4.42 (Maholm).

The bullpen, on the other hand, will need a bounce-back season from Marmol, a healthy Wood and continued improvement from Samardzija if it’s going to be any good. The last three spots should all be up for grabs. I like Carpenter, but he’s going to have to throw a few more strikes in spring training to claim a spot initially. Castillo, a Rule 5 pick from the Phillies, could be kept and hidden as a mop-up man.

Lineup
RF David DeJesus – L
SS Starlin Castro – R
CF Marlon Byrd – R
LF Alfonso Soriano – R
1B Bryan LaHair – L
C Geovany Soto – R
3B Ian Stewart – L
2B Darwin Barney – R

Bench
C Welington Castillo – R
INF-OF Jeff Baker – R
INF-OF Blake DeWitt – L
OF Reed Johnson – R
OF Tony Campana – L

Next in line: C Steve Clevenger (L), C Jason Jaramillo (S), 1B Anthony Rizzo (L), 2B-3B Adrian Cardenas (L), 3B Josh Vitters (R), INF Matt Tolbert (S), INF Bobby Scales (S), INF-OF Alfredo Amezaga (S), OF Dave Sappelt (R), OF Brett Jackson (L)

The lineup appears set, as the Cubs have made it clear that Rizzo will start off at Triple-A Iowa. It could actually be surprisingly productive if LaHair proves that his 2012 was no fluke and Soto continues his even year-odd year pattern (he had an .868 OPS as a rookie in 2008 and an .890 OPS in 2010).

As for the bench, we’ll have to wait and see what happens to DeWitt. He re-signed for $1.1 million last month, only to be designated for assignment in February. The Cubs could cut him and eat about $200,000, but he’s not such a bad guy to have around. If not DeWitt, then the last spot could go to Tolbert; ideally, someone on the bench would be able to serve as a backup shortstop. As is, Barney is the second option there.

Outside of Castro, no one in the lineup here is a great bet to be on the next contending Cubs team. Byrd and Soto are candidates to be traded this summer. Of course, the same goes for Soriano if he can play well enough to draw a suitor. Ideally, Rizzo, Jackson and maybe even Vitters will occupy lineup spots in the second half the season.

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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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 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.