Everyone all talks about the Cubs in terms of how many years it's been since the last World Series Championship (going on 102) or how this club is one of more futile in all of sports, but I want to change the tone of the conversation. Can you imagine, I mean think about it, can you imagine the kind of party that is going to take place when the Cubs do finally win it all again? First of all, think of Cubs fans. If you've ever been to Wrigley, which I have several times, the fans are crazy. Cubs games are not baseball games, they are parties where a baseball game happens to be going on. Left Field and Right Field are yelling at each other, beer flows like water (albeit for $7 a cup), and Cubs fans have a good time no matter what. If the Cubs win the World Series, the party will be more epic than Mardi Gras and Carnival combined...I hope I'm living here in Chicago when that happens. Anyway, let's see what their chances are this year.
2009 Record: 83-78, 7.5 GB St. Louis Cardinals, 2nd Place NL Central
The Cubs lost quite a few starters from last year's squad including:
Milton Bradley RF - (traded to Mariners) I think Bradley might have been the worst person who ever played for the Cubs. For laughs, check out this video.
Jake Fox INF/OF - (traded to A's) I liked Fox's bat, but he was otherwise worthless.
Aaron Miles INF - (traded to A's, who traded him to Reds)
Rich Harden SP - (free agent, signed with Rangers) I guess I'm a little surprised the Cubs didn't try to hang on to Harden. He's a perpetual injury risk, but when he's hot, he's unstoppable.
Aaron Heilman RHP - (traded to Diamondbacks)
Kevin Gregg RHP - (free agent, signed with Blue Jays) all but locks up the closer job for Carlos Marmol. Gregg was pretty terrible anyway, he cost the Cubs several wins last year.
Reed Johnson OF - (free agent, signed with Dodgers) Fan favorite, again, I'm surprised the Cubs didn't do more to hang onto this guy, he's a great clubhouse guy and an all-out player, just seems like the Cubs could have hung onto this guy for pretty cheap.
Marlon Byrd CF - (free agent from Rangers) Byrd will likely be the every-day CFer for the Cubs. Check this out though, at the bottom of every baseball-reference player page, they list "similarity scores" which is a list of 10 other players who are similar in stats. Who does baseball reference list as most similar to Marlon Byrd? Reed Johnson, that's who. Again, why not just re-sign Johnson??
Carlos Silva SP - (trade with Mariners) I've seen this story during a previous chapter, I'm not sure what the Cubs see in this guy, but he's going to be given a chance to start.
Xavier Nady OF - (free agent from Yankees) Nady will be playing in a somewhat crowded outfield for the Cubs and it's doubtful he will start. I guess a one-year, $3.3M contract is not too much, but it seems on the high side for a guy who has had two Tommy John surgeries and who really can't throw. I guess we'll see, if it works out, Jim Hendry looks like a genius.
Jeff Gray RP - (trade with Athletics) serviceable reliever with some upside, could be a good addition to the bullpen.
Talent En Route:
There are three names you need to know within the Cubs organization, two of whom are considered 5-star prospects by Baseball Prospectus.
Josh Vitters 3B - Drafted in the 1st round by the Cubs in 2007 out of high school, Vitters has performed well at the plate in A-ball and high-A and is projected to start the year at Double-A. At 20 years old, he seems the heir apparent to Aramis Ramirez, and the timing might work out perfectly is Vitters has a good season this year. Vitters has a power bat and a plus arm which makes him an ideal 3B, even if his range leaves a little to be desired.
Starlin Castro 2B - Signed out of the Dominican League in 2006, Castro has done nothing but shine, particularly at the plate, hitting .302/.340/.391 at High-A last year. According to BP, he a little on the slow-side, and his hitting splits would indicate that there's not much power there, but a .340 OBP is something any major league team would take and he could, in the future, be an Alexi Ramirez (White Sox) type player and a good 2-hole hitter.
Hak-Ju Lee SS - Signed out of Korea in 2008; looks like the Cubs may have their future infield waiting in the wings. Lee has only played in Short-Season (Rookie league) ball so far and this upcoming season will likely be his first full-season in the U.S. Last year Lee hit .330 and lead the Northwest League in Rs and SBs last year in 68 games. He's got speed, which suggests he has range, and with that bat, it'd be hard to keep him out of the lineup. It's probably going to be a few years for Lee, but this guy has some major upside, and he's only 19...
2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook:
The Cubs are going to have a lot to do next off-season with the contracts of Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot expiring. In addition, you have to consider that for the next 5 years starting this year, Alfonso Soriano will be making $19M per year. In 2012, Fukudome's contract expires. If I'm the Cubs, I'm might look to get a bit younger and losing Lee and Lilly wouldn't be the worst thing. The Cubbie payroll this year is about $135M which is 3rd in all of baseball. The Cubs just changed ownership this off-season so we'll see if their payroll stays at that level or goes down. The core players of the team (Ramirez, Zambrano, etc) are still locked in for another couple of years so for the short-run the Cubs are in pretty good shape. I imagine they'll continue to tweak things over the next few years with little potential for a big move unless it's in the form of a trade.
The Future of the Cubs:
How can I possibly talk about the future of the Cubs? How do you get past 100+ years of losing? My guess would be this: this Cubs will win the World Series in much the same fashion that the Red Sox and White Sox did, no one was picking them to win it and then, all of a sudden, they were there. As it stands right now, the Cubs are at least set up to contend for a couple of years, and their farm system seems poised to pick up the slack when the time comes. That being said, it's hard to get excited about this team on paper. I'll put their projected lineup and rotation below, you make up your own mind.
Projected Batting Lineup:
Project Starting Rotation: (Lilly starts year on DL)