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Springtime Storylines: How will year one of the Cubs’ rebuilding plan fly in The Friendly Confines?


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 2012 season. Up next: 103 years and counting.

The Big Question: How will the first year of the Cubs’ rebuild go over on Chicago’s north side?

The modern-era Cubs have tried just about every strategy, it seems, to snap one of the most embarrassing stretches of futility in professional sports history. And yet baseball’s ultimate prize is as far out of reach as it has ever been for the baby bears and their Old-Style swilling, day-game loving fans.

The 2012 Cubs roster is a run aground cruise ship — reeking of wasted wealth and rusting on most sides.

Still owed $54 million over the next three seasons, left fielder Alfonso Soriano hasn’t finished with an OPS better than .818 since 2008. Marlon Byrd, who scored a three-year, $15 million contract in January of 2010, hasn’t come close to the kind of numbers he produced during his three-year breakout tenure with the Rangers. Darwin Barney drew due praise last season for his defense, but he batted just .238/.286/.328 in the second half and .276/.313/.353 overall. The sophomore second baseman is already 26 years old.

The Cubs just rid their books of the Kosuke Fukudome mistake, but they’re on the hook for $15 million of the $18 million owed in 2012 to Carlos Zambrano, who was shipped off to Miami shortly after the New Year.

It’s going to be a long summer at Wrigley Field. And there won’t be a quick in-season fix to the Cubs’ myriad problems. Which has us thinking that attendance in The Friendly Confines might fall below three million for the first time since 2003, with those depressing empty-bleacher photos appearing far earlier than usual.

What Else Is Going On?

  • The Cubs mercifully put an end to the Jim Hendry era this winter, throwing a five-year, $15 million contract at Theo Epstein to take over as club president. Epstein helped break an 86-year World Series title drought in Boston and will look to conquer another “curse” in Chitown. He brings with him Jed Hoyer, who had been serving as the general manager of the Padres and will now assume that role with the Cubs. Both are bright, forward-thinking baseball minds with impressive résumés in the area of team building.
  • The starting rotation comes with no quick fix for Epstein and Hoyer. Ryan Dempster is nice, but he turns 35 years old in May and will be a free agent after this season. Former Notre Dame wideout Jeff Samardzija has enjoyed a successful month in the Cactus League, but chronic command issues seem likely to ultimately derail his transition from reliever to starter. Chris Volstad had a 4.59 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in his four years with the Marlins and left-hander Paul Maholm isn’t any better than league-average. Matt Garza is only under contract through 2013 and is likely to be used as a trade chip this July.
  • Dominican shortstop Starlin Castro is the lone gem in the Cubs’ starting lineup. A newly-turned 22-year-old, he’s the youngest player in franchise history to amass more than 200 hits in a season and is still a couple years short of his physical prime. All indications are he’s going to be a difference-maker for a long, long time, even if filling out that slender frame is accompanied by a move to third base.

How Are They Gonna Do?

The Cubs do have quite a bit going for them: a massive and passionate fanbase, a world-class game day experience and an intelligent new front office. But the on-field product could be as bad it has been in the past 20 years. They’ll struggle to reach 70 wins, finishing fifth in the six-team National League Central.

Indians strongly considering starting Carlos Santana in left field sans DH

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19:  Carlos Santana #41 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the third inning against Marco Estrada #25 of the Toronto Blue Jays during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Indians slugger Carlos Santana hasn’t played in the outfield in a major league game since 2012, but the Indians are strongly considering starting him in left field for Game 3 of the World Series at Wrigley Field on Friday,’s Jordan Bastian reports. As the game is hosted in a National League park, there is no DH rule in effect, so the Indians might otherwise have to keep Santana on the bench.

Santana is hitless in six at-bats in the World Series thus far, but he has drawn two walks. He has overall not had a great postseason, carrying an aggregate .564 OPS in 40 plate appearances since the beginning of the playoffs. Still, during the regular season, he had an .865 OPS so he can certainly be a threat on offense at any given moment.

Kyle Schwarber has not been medically cleared to play the outfield

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after hitting an RBI single to score Ben Zobrist #18 (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Earlier, Craig asked if Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber would play the outfield now that the World Series has come to Chicago, where there will be no DH. The answer to that is no, it appears. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said that Schwarber has not been medically cleared to play the outfield, CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reports.

Schwarber returned to the Cubs sooner than expected after suffering a fully-torn ACL and LCL in his left leg during an early April collision with teammate Dexter Fowler in Arizona. In preparation to join the Cubs for the World Series, Schwarber went to the Arizona Fall League and reportedly saw over 1,000 pitches from machines as well as Single-A pitchers. He doesn’t look like he’s missed a beat as he went 1-for-3 with a walk and a double (that was very nearly a home run) in Game 1, then drew a walk and hit two RBI singles in five plate appearances in Game 2.

At least right now, however, it appears Schwarber will serve as a bat off the bench for Games 3, 4, and 5 until he gets medical clearance.