Tagged: Chicago Cubs

2010 Chicago Cubs Preview

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cubs.gif

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2009 Record: 83-78, 2nd NL Central                           

2009 Prediction: 100-62, 1st NL Central

2010 Prediction: 4th NL Central

 

Impact Player: Derrek Lee

Impact Pitcher: Carlos Zambrano

Top Prospect Player:
SS Starlin Castro

Top Prospect Pitcher:
RHP Andrew Cashner

 

Manager: Lou Piniella, 4th Season
(265-219, .548)

 

Significant
Acquisitions
: CF Marlon Byrd, OF
Xavier Nady, 1B Kevin Millar, RHP Carlos
Silva

Significant Losses: OF Milton Bradley, UTIL Jake
Fox
, OF Reed Johnson, INF Aaron Miles, RHP Rich Harden, RHP Kevin Gregg,
RHP Aaron Heilman

 

After a 97-win season followed by another disappointing
early playoff exit in 2008, Cubs fans were thinking they finally were going to
have their year, but in typical Cubs fashion, they followed a great year with
an awful one.  In spite of all the talent
and expectations, the Cubs finished with only 83 wins in 2009, 7 ½ games behind
the Cardinals in the NL Central. 
Surprisingly, the Cubs front office didn’t do a whole lot to shake up
the team in the offseason.  They’re
hoping that the trading of Milton
Bradley
to Seattle will be the chemotherapy treatment the clubhouse needs
to gel as a group again.  Still, with no
clear-cut ace, a potentially shaky bullpen and a lineup full to the brim with
aging talent, the Cubs will have a tough time competing, even in the wide open
NL Central.

 

Pitching

carlos-zambrano.jpg

The act of Carlos
Zambrano
is wearing thin with the usually very forgiving fan-base, and the
front office doesn’t appear to be far behind. 
He’s not a bad pitcher, but he’s probably not a true number one; add
onto that the injury problems and the often too-fiery attitude that gets him
into trouble, and you have the recipe for a pitcher who’s best days are
probably behind him.  Ted Lilly is slotted in as the number
two.  He resurfaced from his 2008 injury
problems with a solid 12-9 year with a very good 3.10 ERA.  Lilly, however, is 34 and is bound to decline
or get injured, or both.  Canadian Ryan Dempster has great raw stuff and
is a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy, but the Cubs shouldn’t count on any more
than that, while Randy Wells is
coming off a terrific rookie season that saw him win 12 games and post a 3.05
ERA.  I don’t buy that he’s that good,
though.  He’ll be 28 this year and was
already given up on by the Cubs once (they originally drafted him), and the
Jays.  The fifth spot will be an open
Spring competition between Tom
Gorzelanny
, Carlos Silva
(acquired for Bradley), and Jeff
Samardzija
.  It’s likely that whoever
doesn’t make the rotation will pitch in the bullpen.

 

Carlos Marmol
will be handed the reigns as closer for the full season for the first
time.  He has electric stuff as demonstrated
by his 11.3 K/9 last season, but also walked 65 in 74 innings and wasn’t very
consistent.  Lefties Sean Marshall and John
Grabow
will also grace the ‘pen. 
Grabow was solid last season while Marshall struggled at times but
seemed to get more comfortable in the bullpen as the season went on (he’d spent
his whole minor-league career as a starter). 
From the right side will be Angel
Guzman
, another ex-starter who was probably the best reliever on the team
in ’09.  He could be joined by David Patton who had an awful 6.83 ERA last
year, but has very good stuff and a great arm. 
The Cubs think he could be their future closer if Marmol can’t keep his
walks down.  The last two spots will
likely be given to the two pitchers who don’t start.  Younger options Mitch Atkins and Justin Berg
will also be given a look in the Spring.

 

ROTATION

Age

B/T

Carlos Zambrano

28/9

S/R

Ted Lilly

34

L/L

Ryan Dempster

32/3

R/R

Randy Wells

27/8

R/R

Tom Gorzelanny

27/8

L/L

 

 

 

BULLPEN

 

 

Carlos Marmol

27

R/R

John Grabow

31

L/L

Angel Guzman

28

R/R

David Patton

25/6

R/R

Sean Marshall

27/8

L/L

Jeff Samardzija

25

R/R

Carlos Silva*

31

R/R

 

 

 

POSSIBILITIES

 

 

Mitch Atkins

24

R/R

Justin Berg

25/6

R/R

Jeff Gray*

28

R/R

Mike Parisi*

27

R/R

*=newly acquired

 

 

Lineup

derrek-lee.jpg

The Cubs need more production out of a lineup that was
expected to be near the top of the NL in runs scored last season, but slipped
to 10th.  In the outfield,
Bradley is gone and replaced by Marlon
Byrd
.  That may sound like a
downgrade based on pure talent, but without Bradley’s awful defense and equally
awful clubhouse presence, the Cubs outfield should be better overall in
2010.  The acquisition of Byrd also
allows Kosuke Fukudome to move back
to rightfield where he is infinitely more comfortable than in center.  He has yet to have a really good year in the
majors, however, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that, at 33, he’s on the
decline.  Leftfielder Alfonso Soriano is also in the autumn
of his years after a year that saw his bat-speed decrease significantly and his
average fall to .241.

 

Derrek Lee
anchors the infield at first base and is still one of the best at that position
with the glove.  Most thought he was on
the decline with his bat, but a .306/35/111 year snuffed out that idea.  Double-play combo Mike Fontenot (2B) and Ryan
Theriot
(SS) are underrated players that perform well at the top of the
order and Aramis Ramirez is still
one of the most productive players at the hot corner.  Ramirez was limited to just 82 games in 2009
but still hit .317 with 15 homeruns and 65 RBI. 
Jeff Baker could push
Fontenot at second base after hitting .305 in 69 games with the Cubs last
season, but Fontenot likely has the inside track and is expected to better his
.236 performance this year.  The catcher
will be Geovany Soto who apparently
lost close to 40 pounds in the offseason and has a new commitment to his
fitness.  If this is true, he should be
closer to his Rookie of the Year numbers of 2008 than he was last season when
he struggled mightily.

 

The bench has some depth thanks to the signing of Xavier Nady who missed most of last
season recovering from Tommy john surgery. 
If he proves he’s the player he was before the injury (which he should)
he could challenge Fukudome for the starting job in right.  Micah
Hoffpauir
has power to spare, but that’s probably his only asset.  He’d be better off in the AL where he could
get some at-bats as a DH.  He’ll play
sparingly at first and the corner outfield positions while providing a
pinch-hitting bat off the bench.  Baker,
if he’s not starting at second, can also play third and first base, which may
make him more valuable off the bench than Fontenot.  Andres
Blanco
will likely be the extra middle-infielder while Koyie Hill has become a solid backup catcher.  Outfielder Sam Fuld could challenge for a spot and so could minor-league
contract recipients Chad Tracy and Kevin Millar.

 

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Pos.

 

Age

B/T

SS

Ryan Theriot

30

R/R

2B

Mike Fontenot

29/0

L/R

1B

Derrek Lee

34

R/R

3B

Aramis Ramirez

31/2

R/R

LF

Alfonso Soriano

34

R/R

CF

Marlon Byrd*

32/3

R/R

RF

Kosuke Fukudome

33

L/R

C

Geovany Soto

27

R/R

 

 

 

 

 

BENCH

 

 

C

Koyie Hill

30

S/R

OF

Xavier Nady* (RF, LF)

31

R/R

1B

Micah Hoffpauir (LF, RF)

30

L/L

INF

Jeff Baker (2B, 3B, 1B)

28/9

R/R

INF

Andres Blanco (SS, 2B)

26

S/R

 

 

 

 

 

POSSIBILITIES

 

 

OF

Sam Fuld (CF, LF)

28

L/L

OF

Tyler Colvin (LF, CF)

24

L/L

OF

Bryan LaHair* (LF, 1B, RF)

27

L/R

1B

Chad Tracy* (3B, RF)

29/0

L/R

1B

Kevin Millar* (3B)

38

R/R

*=newly
acquired

 

I’m not
convinced that the NL Central is going to be a very good division this year so
there’s no doubt that the Cubs have a chance at winning it, but I’m also not
convinced that they have the talent to beat the likes of the Cardinals, Reds
and Brewers.  Outside of Lee and Ramirez,
the lineup lacks teeth, the starting rotation is filled with middle to
back-of-the-rotation pitchers, and the bullpen could be a big problem.  I don’t buy that the Cubs are even a winning
team, let alone a team that will contend in 2010.

Final Prediction: 78-84, 4th
NL Central

 

Minor League Roundup

The last couple years I’ve been getting into watching Minor League Baseball more regularly…or at least following it.  It’s a lot of fun to watch the players who will be impact major leaguers in a few years.

In this entry I’ll analyze the best players in each league at the AAA level to this point in mid-May.

International League

Nolan Reimold.jpgThe best player in the IL right now by far is Orioles’ prospect outfielder Nolan Reimold.  He was just called up to the big club a few days ago and has played 3 games.  In the IL, Reimold was leading that circuit with a .394 average and sat 2nd in home runs with 9 and 5th in RBI with 27.  The Orioles drafted him in the 2nd Round (61st overall) in the soon-to-be historic 2005 draft and although he’s a late bloomer at 25-years-old (partly due to injury problems), he seems to be developing into a decent player.  He might also be a better defensive right fielder than Nick Markakis…which is difficult to do.  Yet another strong outfielding prospect for the Orioles.  One would have to think with the lack of pitching on their current team that some of that outfield depth could be used to acquire more pitching.  Then again, the Orioles have some serious pitching prospects too.  It won’t be long before there’s yet another perrennial contender in the AL East.   
Kris Medlen.jpg
The best pitcher in the IL so far is a bit of a surprise.  23-year-old Kris Medlen was a 10th round draft pick in 2006 by the Atlanta Braves and has done nothing but tie up hitters since entering pro baseball.  Between all minor league levels since being drafted, Medlen is 15-9 with a 2.42 ERA and was converted from a closer to a starter just last season.  In 2009, Medlen is 5-0 with a ridiculous 1.19 ERA and has 44 Ks in 37.1 innings of work.  Medlen was a shortstop in college but the Braves saw something special in the righthander and suddenly he’s one of their top pitching prospects.  Like Reimold, Medlen has just been called up to the major league team.  He’s set to make his Major League debut on Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies.  Medlen isn’t big, coming in at a pint-sized 5’10” and 180lbs, but he has a deceptive delivery and great life and movement on all of his pitches.  The Braves may have something special with him and Tommy Hanson coming up through the system.

Pacific Coast League

Jake Fox.jpgJake Fox has been the best hitter in the PCL so far this year.  Fox is a career minor-leaguer who will be 27 in a month and a half.  Fox was drafted in the 3rd round by the Cubs in 2003 and is an atrocious defensive outfielder.  He’s okay at First Base, but he would likely benefit from being traded to an organization where he could play DH.  He has tremendous power and is becoming a smart hitter; the Cubs simply have no place to play him.  He’s another Micah Hoffpauir.  You can’t dispute his numbers in the PCL this year though.  Before his callup, he was hitting .429 with 16 HR and 46 RBI, leading the PCL in all three categories.  If he gets traded to an AL team, he might be the next Jack Cust.
hochevar.jpg
In the Major Leagues, Zack Greinke has been unreal posting insane numbers.  In the PCL, it’s another member of the Royals organization that’s dominating at a surreal pace.  Luke Hochevar, who has seen some time at the Major League level going 6-12 with a 5.51 ERA in 22 starts with KC last year is dominating in AAA this season.  Just before he was called up last week, Hochevar was 5-0 with a 0.90 ERA in 6 AAA starts.  Another reason why the Royals have a bright future.

Will Jake Peavy be traded? If so, where?

jake-peavy.JPGThe talk all offseason was whether or not Jake peavy would be traded from the San Diego Padres.  The Friars were/are changing ownership and like most MLB franchises were unsure of their financial future.  Of course, the trade never happened and the Padres have broken camp with their ace in toe.  The Braves, Cubs and Yankees were all said to interested in Peavy, and why not?  He’s one of the best in the game and has a hall-of-fame trajectory. 

The deal with the Braves fell through after they refused to give up highly-touted prospect Tommy Hanson, which the Padres said was a prerequisite for a deal for Peavy.  The Yankees lost interest after they were able to sign both C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and the Cubs were curiously unable to secure a deal.  So this begs the question, will Jake Peavy be a Padre for the entire ’09 season?

The Padres ownership situation is still in limbo and that appears to be the biggest snag as to whether or not a deal will be done.  Peavy loves San Diego but has made it clear he would prefer to play for a contender.  SO let’s play devil’s advocate.  Peavy gets traded, but where?

The Cubs
Chicago seems like the most likely destination.  They want a fifth starter and Peavy would give them the best rotation in baseball with the likes of Zambrano, Harden, Dempster, and Lilly.  The Cubs also have the minor-league talent to make a deal, but lack the true blue-chip pitching stud that the Padres want in return.  If the Cubs were to get Peavy, a third team might have to be drawn in.  That might be a further hinderance to a deal.

The Braves
If the Braves contend this year, their tune may change in regards to Tommy Hanson.  As of now, they are coming off a 90-loss season and want players like Hanson to secure a strong future.  If the Braves are contending by June or July, they might be more willing to deal Hanson to make a push well into October.  It seems as though Hanson is the only thing the Padres want from the Braves, however, so if they still refuse to deal him, Peavy won’t be a Brave.

The Yankees
Anytime a high-priced talent is on the trading block, the Yankees have to be considered a strong contender to bring him in.  They have highly-touted young pitchers in the likes of Phil Hughes, Humberto Sanchez, and Andrew Brackman and if Joba doesn’t pan out in the rotation, Peavy would put the Yanks over the top.  This one’s not impossible, especially if Joba pitches in the ‘pen or if Pettitte or Burnett hit the DL for an extended period of time.

The Red Sox
Anytime the Yankees are involved in trade talks, you can go ahead and assume that their proverbial Joneses, the BoSox are in those talks too.  Beckett, Matsuzaka, and Lester are locks in the rotation, but if Smoltz, Penny and Wakefield can’t stay healthy/effective, the Red Sox might be in the Peavy market.  The problem is that they would likely have to part with Clay Buchholz and I doubt one of the brightest minds in baseball (Theo Epstien) would give him up.  If Smoltz, Penny, and Wakefield can’t stick, it’s likely that the Sox would just give Buchholz the chance he already deserves.

The Padres
Peavy is still young and has a lot more effective years to pitch; if Padres ownership is willing to pony-up the bills and can convince Peavy that they will contend within the next year or two, there’s no reason why an extension beyond this year can’t be reached.

The Blue Jays
Not a chance in hell.  But hey, a fan can
dream, right?  Imagine how good Peavy would look in the Flashback
Friday Powder-Blues.  Pretty great right?

’09 Preview — Chicago Cubs

cubs.gif2008 Record: 97-64, 1st NL Central
2009 Prediction: 1st NL Central

Impact Player: Aramis Ramirez
Impact Pitcher: Carlos Zambrano
Top Prospect: Josh Vitters, 3B

Significant Acquisitions: OF Milton Bradley, P Kevin Gregg, P Aaron Heilman, P Luis Vizcaino, OF Joey Gathright, C Paul Bako, INF Aaron Miles
Significant Losses: INF Mark DeRosa, OF Jim Edmonds, INF Ronny Cedeno, C Henry Blanco, 1B Daryle Ward, OF Felix Pie, P Jason Marquis, P Rich Hill, P Kerry Wood, P Bob Howry, P Michael Wuertz, P Jon Lieber

For a team that finished with the best record in the NL by far (5 more wins than Philadelphia), the Cubs were not content on sitting back and allowing the same group to go out in 2009 and attempt to finish what last year’s team couldn’t.  The Cubs were one of the more active teams during this off-season as they realized that with the current core they have, they have to take a legitimate shot at winning a World Series right now; knowing that last year’s group couldn’t do it, they made the necessary changes.  Along with a number of trades and signings that did happen, the Cubs also made a concerted effort at acquiring Jake Peavy from the Padres and with the recent trading of starting pitcher Rich Hill to the Orioles, they appear to have put themselves in a position to make another run at him.  Don’t be too surprised if the Cubs end up acquiring Peavy by the end of Spring Training or at some point in the season.  If they get him, there’s nothing standing in the way of this team winning their first World Series in 101 years.  If they don’t get him, they still have as good a chance as anyone.

Pitching
Even without acquiring Peavy, the Cubs may have the deepest rotation in the NL.  Carlos Zambrano is their ace and is coming off an off-year by his standards.  He was still14-6 with a 3.91 ERA.  Outside of Zambrano, the Cubs have two pitchers who won 17 games a piece in ’08.  Former Blue Jay lefthander Ted Lilly went 17-9 with a 4.09 ERA and Canadian-born Ryan Dempster was the team’s best starter last year going 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA.  Dempster also finished 6th in the league in Cy Young voting.  Another Canadian pitcher, Rich Harden, is slated to be the Cubs’ fourth starter.  The story of Harden’s career has been brilliance when healthy, but rarely healthy.  Harden went 10-2 with a 2.07 ERA splitting between Oakland and the Cubs in ’08 and had a 1.77 ERA with the latter.  In his career, Harden is 41-20 with a 3.23 ERA.  If he could just stay healthy he might be one of the best pitchers in the game.  The fifth spot is expected to be a spring competition between two starters: Sean Marshall and off-season acquisition Aaron Heilman.  Heilman, although developed in the Mets’ system as a starter has worked prodominently as a reliever in his career so probably has less of a chance at cracking the rotation than Marshall, but Marshall is a lefty who could be used in a bullpen that lacks southpaws.

In the bullpen, the departure of Kerry Wood means the closer spot is somewhat undecided heading into the spring.  Carlos Marmol will get the closest look considering he went 7 for 9 in save opportunities last year and posted a 2.68 ERA as Wood’s setup man, but former Marlins closer Kevin Gregg and ’08 late-season callup Jeff Samardzija could challenge him if he struggles.  Neal Cotts figures to be the only lefty to make the bullpen unless 42-year-old Mike Stanton can make the team after being given a minor-league contract.  Veteran Luis Vizcaino was acquired in the off-season and should fill out the ‘pen along with Chad Gaudin and Heilman if he doesn’t start.

Rotation (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • Carlos Zambrano (R/28)
  • Ryan Dempster (R/32)
  • Ted Lilly (L/33)
  • Rich Harden (R/27)
  • Sean Marshall (L/26)

Bullpen

  • Carlos Marmol (R/26) — CLOSER
  • Kevin Gregg (R/31)
  • Neal Cotts (L/29)
  • Chad Gaudin (R/26)
  • Jeff Samardzija (R/24)
  • Luis Vizcaino (R/34)
  • Aaron Heilman (R/30)

Lineup
The Cubs led the NL in runs scored last year and only seemed to improve things for ’09.  They have a veteran lineup that has what it takes to push a team with good pitching to the World Series.  In the outfield, perennial 40-40 threat Alfonso Soriano is back in Left and should continue to lead off even though manager Lou Piniella has talked about moving him down.  In the past when Soriano has been moved from the lead-off spot he has struggled and appears to be most comfortable there.  Kosuke Fukudome will likely move from Right to Center this year with the addition of Milton Bradley.  Fukudome came with a lot of hype in ’08 but was overall a minor disappointment for the Cubs hitting just .257, many think he’ll be better this year now that he has adjusted to the majors.  Bradley joins his 7th team in only his 10th season, signing in the off-season.  Bradley has an immense amount of talent but has always had problems on and off the field with his attitude; he seems to be maturing slowly and if that’s the case, the Cubs may have found their missing piece.  In the infield Aramis Ramirez (3B) and Derrek Lee (1B) anchor the corners and both are outstanding hitters.  If Lee can find his former power stroke he could win the MVP.  In the middle-infield, fire-starters Ryan “The Riot” Theriot and Mike Fontenot are back.  Both play solid defense and are good contact hitters and also have great rapports in the clubhouse.  Catching will be reigning NL All-Star and Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto.  Soto had such a good year in ’08 that he actually finished 13th in MVP voting; he seems to do everything well.

On the bench the Cubs have some real depth that should allow them to overcome injuries without much decrease in talent.  Former Blue Jay fan favourite Reed Johnson (the Jays could really have used him last year, but they decided to keep Shannon Stewart over him in the Spring; Stewart was released in July) and speed-demon Joey Gathright will be the extra outfielders and veteran Aaron Miles should get a decent amount of playing time up the middle.  Backup catching duties will belong to Paul Bako and Micah Hoffpauir returns as a First Base and corner outfield option.  Outfielder So Taguchi and infielder Luis Rivas were also extended invites to Spring Training.

Lineup (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)

  • LF  Alfonso Soriano (R/33)
  • CF  Kosuke Fukudome (L/32)
  • 1B  Derrek Lee (R/33)
  • 3B  Aramis Ramirez (R/31)
  • RF  Milton Bradley (S/31)
  • C    Geovany Soto (R/26)
  • 2B  Mike Fontenot (L/29)
  • SS  Ryan Theriot (R/29) 

Bench

  • OF  Reed Johnson (R/32)
  • OF  Joey Gathright (L/28)
  • C    Paul Bako (L/37)
  • INF Aaron Miles (S/32)
  • 1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir (L/29)


Outlook
The ’09 Cubs have great pitching, a great lineup, solid defense, one of the best coaching staffs in the league and a lot of character players.  They have absolutely everything they need to win a World Series and should sit atop the NL standings by the end of the regular season.  They do, however, have one thing going against them: The emblem on thier chest.  Final Prediction: 100-62, 1st
NL Central (Lose to Arizona in NLCS)