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.

Replay review over base-keeping needs to go

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The Red Sox are off and running in the first inning of Game 1 of the World Series against the Dodgers. Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez each hit RBI singles off of Clayton Kershaw to give the Red Sox an early 2-0 lead.

Benintendi’s hit to right field ended with a replay review. Rather than throw to the cutoff man, right fielder Yasiel Puig fired home to try nabbing Mookie Betts, but his throw was poor. Catcher Austin Barnes caught the ball a few feet in front of and to the right of home plate, then whipped the ball to second base in an attempt to get Benintendi. Benintendi clearly beat the throw, but shortstop Manny Machado kept the tag applied. After Benintendi was ruled safe, the Dodgers challenged, arguing that Benintendi’s hand may have come off the second base bag for a microsecond while Machado’s glove was on him. The ruling on the field was upheld and the Red Sox continued to rally.

Replay review over base-keeping is not in the spirit of the rule and shouldn’t be permitted. Hopefully Major League Baseball considers changing the rule in the offseason. Besides the oftentimes uncontrollable minute infractions, these kinds of replay reviews slow the game down more than other types of reviews because they tend not to be as obvious as other situations.

Baseball has become so technical and rigid that it seems foolish to leave gray area in this regard. A runner is either off the base or he isn’t. However, the gradual result of enforcing these “runner’s hand came off the base for a fraction of a second” situations is runners running less aggressively and sliding less often so there’s no potential of them losing control of their body around the base. Base running, particularly the aggressive, sliding variety, is quietly one of the most fun aspects of the game. Policing the game to this degree, then, serves to make the game less fun and exciting.

Where does one draw the line then? To quote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, describing obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio, “I know it when I see it.” This is one area where I am comfortable giving the umpires freedom to enforce the rule at their discretion and making these situations impermissible for replay review.