30 Teams in 30 Days: Chicago Cubs Preview


Chicago Cubs
2nd Place in the NL Central, 83-78

2009 Review
2009 was nothing but a disappointment for the Cubs. They saw their ace pitch below standards, their top hitter regressed, and their big signing was a bust.

The pitching was ok, but ace Carlos Zambrano was not very good with only 9 wins. The bullpen was along the same lines, which many problems with their closer role; Carlos Marmol did step up, but wasn’t a lights out closer that they needed. Of course, Kevin Gregg was the closer coming into the season and really didn’t live up to what he had done in Florida prior to coming to the Cubs. Aaron Heilman had another disastrous season.

The offense had its moments, but when you pay big money for a slugger, you expect more than what they got out of Alfonso Soriano. A former 40/40 player, injuries and age have lowered Soriano’s production. He’s not going to be the player he was 5 years ago, but he does still have value. Another bad spot for the offense was former Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto. Soto had solid numbers in 2008 for a catcher, but really took a nose dive in 2009.

The biggest problem from 2009 was their big signing from the previous off-season: Milton Bradley. Bradley was known as a hot head coming into Chicago, and adding him to a strong personality manager (Lou Pinella) was a recipe for disaster. By the end of the season, Bradley had alienated his manager and the Chicago fans. I think if he would have produced like he did the previous season, many would have over looked his off field acts, but he wasn’t even close. It was no surprise to see him moved in the off season. All of the blame can’t go to Bradley; the Cubs should have known what they were getting. Between his behavior issues, his inability healthy, and the fact that he was coming off a season where he was primarily DHing, the Cubs should not have given him the contract that he received (a 1 year deal would have been ideal).

The Offseason
Gains: Marlon Byrd, Jeff Gray, Ronny Morla, Xavier Nady, Mike Parisi, Carlos Silva, Matt Spencer

Losses: Milton Bradley, Neal Cotts, Chad Fox, Jake Fox, Kevin Gregg, Rich Harden, Aaron Heilman, Reed Johnson, Aaron Miles, So Taguchi, Jason Waddell

Minor League Deals: Bryan LaHair, Kevin Millar, Scott McClain, Chad Tracy

There were 2 objectives for the Cubs in the offseason: a new owner and moving Bradley. They accomplished both.

The new owner is in place and this will do a lot for the team. The club really didn’t want to spend money because there were questions about whether or not this could impact the sale of the team. They couldn’t justify spending someone’s money without knowing how it would impact things.

Secondly, moving Bradley would free up money. This ties into the first one, as moving Bradley and Aaron Miles cleared up money to sign Nady and Byrd. It did saddle the team with one year of a bad Carlos Silva; I expect that they’ll just dump him (a la Luis Vizcaino after receiving him in the Jason Marquis trade).

The one major mistake was not filling in the rotation spot held by Rich Harden. He may be injury prone, but he always kept the team in the game. Now, they will use Randy Wells as the 4th starter and try to find someone for the 5th spot from within the system. Tom Gorzelanny is probably the best option, but there is no guarantee that he can pitch well enough to do it.

2010 Outlook
I’ll go around the diamond on this – first, I think Soto will be better, but not quite as good as his rookie campaign. He had one good year in the minors before that “breakout” in the majors. I’m not sold on him, but there are worse options.

The corner infielders are steady, but they need them for the full season. Lee and Ramirez have had some injury problems in the past and healthy seasons from them are keys for success. The middle infield is a train wreck. Mike Fontenot can’t hit for the life of him and Ryan Theriot seems like he’s playing better than he should be able too. If Starlin Castro is as good as advertised (and up this season), it’ll help a lot; Theriot moves to second, where he’s a better fit.

The starting outfield will now be Soriano, Byrd, and a platoon of Nady and Fukudome; I think this will match what they got out of Soriano, Fukudome/Reed Johnson, and Bradley. I’m not sold on Byrd (coming off his seasons in Texas), but he’s better defensively than Fukudome. I do like adding Nady, as he’s had a few good years in the past.

The front of the rotation is strong, especially if Zambrano is back to his ace stuff. Dempster and Lilly are good fits in the 2 and 3 spots. After that are the question marks. Can Randy Wells repeat on a good rookie season? Who takes the 5th rotation spot? Can Gorzelanny put together a season like they were expecting in Pittsburgh, if he is the 5th starter? It was really a bad decision not to re-fill Hardens spot, and fans in Chicago will see that every 5th day.

The bullpen is solid, but there are already questions about Angel Guzman’s health. Also, they over paid to keep John Grabow around. As long as Marmol can close the games out, they should be alright.

Prediction: 85-77, 3rd in the Central

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