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2014 Preview: Chicago Cubs

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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 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.

Baseball Hall revamps veterans’ committees

Cooperstown
Associated Press
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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) Baseball’s Hall of Fame has again revamped its veterans’ committees, attempting to increase consideration for more contemporary players, managers, umpires and executives.

Under the change announced Saturday by the Hall’s board of directors, there will be separate committees for Today’s Game (1988-2016), Modern Baseball (1970-87), Golden Days (1950-69) and Early Baseball (1871-1949). Today’s Game and Modern Baseball will vote twice every five years, Golden Days once every five years and Early Baseball once every 10 years.

“There are twice as many players in the Hall of Fame who debuted before 1950 as compared to afterward, and yet there are nearly double the eligible candidates after 1950 than prior,” Hall chair Jane Forbes Clark said in a statement. “Those who served the game long ago and have been evaluated many times on past ballots will now be reviewed less frequently.”

Today’s Game will vote in 2016, `18, `21, and `23, and Modern Baseball in 2017, `19, `21 and `23. Golden Days will vote in 2020 and `25, and Early Baseball in 2020 and `30. The Hall’s Historical Overview Committee will decide which committee will consider those who span eras, based on the time or place of their most indelible impression.

Since 2010, the Hall had established three veterans committees: Pre-Integration Era (1871-1946), Golden Era (1947-72) and Expansion Era (1973-2016). No one was elected by the Pre-Integration Era committee in December.

In addition, the Hall eliminated the one-year waiting period between a player’s last appearance on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot and his veterans committee debut for consideration. The Hall also said active executives 70 or older may be given consideration, up from 65.

Committees will remain at 16 people, with a vote of at least 75 percent needed for election. The ballot size will be 10 for each committee; it had been 12 for Expansion Era and 10 for the others.

The BBWAA votes on players who have been retired for at least five years and no more than 15. Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza are to be inducted Sunday.

The Hall also changed some of the rules for the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually to a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball.” The committee making the annual decision will consider a three-year cycle of Current Major League Markets (team-specific announcers) for the 2017 award, National Voices for 2018 and Broadcasting Beginnings (early team voices and pioneers) for 2019.

Since 2013, the Frick’s three-year cycle had been High Tide Era (mid-1980s to present), Living Room Era (mid-1950s to mid-1980) and Broadcasting Dawn Era (before mid-1950s).

The criteria will be “commitment to excellence, quality of broadcasting abilities, reverence within the game, popularity with fans, and recognition by peers” instead of “longevity; continuity with a club; honors, including national assignments such as the World Series and All-Star Games; and popularity with fans.”

The Frick ballot size will be reduced from 10 to eight, and the three ballot spots previously determined by fan voting will be decided by historians.

Ozzie Smith, inducted to the Hall in 2002, was voted to the Hall’s board of directors.

Red Sox analyst Remy struck by monitor as wind causes havoc

ramirez
AP Photo
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BOSTON — Red Sox TV analyst Jerry Remy was hit in the head by a falling TV monitor as swirling winds caused havoc during the first inning at Fenway Park.

Remy was sent home from Boston’s game Saturday night against the Minnesota Twins but is expected back Sunday. Former player Steve Lyons, also an analyst during some games, came in for Remy.

The strong winds made for an interesting first.

Minnesota’s Robbie Grossman hit a fly that appeared headed for center, but a gust blew it to right, sending right fielder Michael Martinez twisting as the ball fell for a triple.

There were a handful of stoppages as dirt and litter swirled around the field. Batters stepped out to wipe their eyes and Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez headed to the dugout to have a trainer help him clear his left eye.