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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.

Let’s play the “how long has it been since the Cubs won the World Series?” game!

1908 Cubs
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It started with a no-good St. Louis Cardinals fan being a troublemaker. That no-good Cardinals fan was Drew Silva, who began things innocently enough, noting that, despite their dominance this season, any team can theoretically beat the Chicago Cubs in a short series because that’s just how baseball goes:

Cubs fans started giving him guff for that, so Drew gave some back:

And with that it was on like Donkey Kong (a super old video game which was not invented for another 73 years after the Cubs last won the World Series). I tweeted this:

And with that, my followers went crazy. Here’s a sampling of some of the best ones:

And, for that matter . . .

Too soon. Unlike the last Cubs World Series title.

Like I said, this was just a sampling. I’ve retweeted a ton more on my timeline and those I didn’t retweet can be seen in the replies here. My favorite one may have been “literally the invention of sliced bread,” which debuted in 1912, but I can’t find that tweet.

Please, Cubs fans, have a sense of humor about this. You have a wonderful ballpark that is not named after a third tier mortgage company, a grand history that is fantastic even if it hasn’t featured any championships and a future that is as bright or brighter than any other team out there. Maybe even come up with some of your own in the comments! History is fun! As is self-deprecation! What I’m saying is don’t be salty about this sort of thing. Salty is a bad look.

In other news, the Morton Salt Company was incorporated in 1910, two years after the Cubs last World Series victory.

The Dodgers have rebuffed lowball offers for Yasiel Puig

puig
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Jon Heyman reports that the Dodgers have “rebuffed offers” for Yasiel Puig.

Heyman says teams “appear to be bottom feeding for Puig,” making lowball trade proposals. The Dodgers may not have big future plans for Puig, but nor are they gonna sell low on him. And heck, maybe they have bigger plans for him now than they did a couple of weeks ago. He’s batting .396/.448/.698 with four home runs and 12 RBI in 14 games since his demotion to Triple-A Oklahoma. The guy who replaced him, Josh Reddick, is hitting .143/.211/.157 in 20 games since the Dodgers acquired him.

I doubt Puig steps foot in the Dodgers clubhouse before the end of the year, but it’s not like they can’t hold off and trade him in the offseason when teams can imagine him looking good in their uniform next spring.