Two weeks into the 2012 season and I finally have a few moments to put together my season preview for our beloved Chicago Cubs. Four wins and twelve loses to start is season is not truthfully what I anticipated coming out of Spring Training. Seemed that there was a possibility of a decent year with a Spring Training record that was at about .500. Knowing that Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have a successful blue print in place to hopefully having this team become competitive year in and year out in ways is able to help with the growing pains of the transition to a constantly competitive team. The hard part is the success probably will not start until the 2014 or 2015 season as the whole organization is going through a long overdue major renovation.
Think back that the previous person in charge of baseball operations Jim Hendry, was fired mid-season in 2011 and kept around until all the draftees of the amateur draft were signed to contracts. I personally had been waiting for Hendry to be fired since Andy MacPhail resigned in 2006. Tom Ricketts who owns this team with his family proceeded to start looking for the replacement to Hendry hoping to find an ideal baseball mind who could evaluate talent in multiple ways and bring the Cubs into the twenty-first century in scouting and player evaluation. I had always mentioned in previous articles for the Bleacher Banter (Independent Newspaper For Cub Fans by Cub Fans) that the Cubs needed someone like Billy Beane in Oakland or Theo Epstein in Boston to really make a significant change. With the collapse by Boston at the end of 2011, somehow Epstein became available and Ricketts pulled it off and brought Epstein to the North Side as President of Baseball Operations. Epstein in turn brought in his two top lieutenants in Jed Hoyer as Executive Vice President/General Manager and Jason McLeod as Senior Vice President of Scouting & Player Development. Now the wheels are in motion and the baseball world is waiting to see if Epstein Et Al are able to pull the Miracle on the North Side that they did in Boston.
One of the first moves that was made or not made was that Aramis Ramirez was not resigned after the 2011 season. Personally I am not disappointed by this move as I think Ramirez is not the same player he once was and seemed injury prone and lazier recently then when Ramirez was first brought to the team. Ian Stewart was obtained via trade to take over the hot corner and truthfully is a short term solution and will not have true North Side fans still waiting for someone in the caliber of Hall of Famer Ron Santo to be handling the hot corner. Carlos Pena was also let go after his $10 million experiment in replacing Derrick Lee. Brian LaHair currently has the gig and Hoyer pulled off a trade with San Diego to acquire Anthony Rizzo (So Called Top Prospect at 1st Base) who Hoyer and to a degree Epstein have jonesed to have on the Major League level for a very long time. Fortunately so far LaHair is doing well however, Rizzo is destroying it in Des Moines for the Iowa Cubs. Will LaHair be traded to someone in order to get Rizzo to the Friendly Confines? Only time and effort on all sides will be able to determine that. The middle infield is still in place from last season with Darwin Barney covering second base and will not get Cub Fans to stop missing Ryne Sandberg, plus Starlin Castro is still at shortstop. Castro still has a lot of potential and seems to be all right however, everyone is still wondering if Castro will be another top prospect to follow the path that the last two so called sure things of Corey Patterson and Felix Pie in becoming flash in the pans who do not amount to much in the Major Leagues.
Moving to the outfield, all though it just got changed once again. We started out back on April 5th with David DeJesus playing right field. Definitely a less expensive experiment than what we had with Kosuke Fukudome, the $10 million plus, four year experiment put in place by Hendry. Marlon Byrd until April 21st was back in center field and the eight year $136 million experiment of Alfonzo Soriano is still handling left field. Who is going to permanently take over center is to be seen however, odds on favorite is Brett Jackson yet it was Tony Campana who came back up prior to the trade of Byrd to the Red Sox. I am still bugged by the fact that Soriano is still with this team. I have been since 2007 when Hendry signed Soriano in the first place. I look at the whole situation this way, if the New York Yankees thought Soriano was that good of a player do you really think that the Yankees would have traded him away in the first place? I know that the Yankees would have kept Soriano in place for the long haul and yet the Cubs are still stuck with this pain in the backside. Let’s just hope that someone in the American League still sees some value in Soriano for designated hitter abilities and would be willing to take on some part of the sick contract that Hendry gave Soriano in 2007.
Then there is the pitching staff and how they are performing so far. Well Kerry Wood just was placed on the disabled list once again and was joined by Ryan Dempster on the list as well. Problem is that Wood is now injury prone and Dempster I have never really trusted all though proving to be a decent starter versus closer. Dempster never was and never will be a true number one pitcher in the Major Leagues. Matt Garza is the solid number two and still has potential to be a number one if only the Cubs would have somehow gotten Greg Maddux to stick around as pitching coach. I do not have faith that Chris Bosio will be able to help get Garza to the next level and hope that if Garza is traded that the Cubs get someone to fill that huge void that will be created upon the departure of Garza. The rest of the starting rotation will not instill fear into an opposing line up with Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm. I think it is time for Samardzija to return to his more natural talent which is football as it does not appear that he will be the pitcher that Hendry envisioned. Volstad and Maholm are so called inexpensive options to round out the rotation yet are not quality pitchers in my opinion as they have not done much prior to coming to the Cubs and so far they have proven that they are not worth what the Cubs are spending for their so called services. I still have high hopes for Randy Wells to turn into a decent third starter at best for this rotation and feel bad that he was sent back down to Iowa. With Dempster on the DL, Wells has been brought up to fill in temporarily for Dempster and let’s hope that Wells does well enough to make it hard to send Wells back to Des Moines. With the start on April 22nd by Wells it may not happen that Wells will remain in Chicago. Not sure that Andrew Cashner would have been any better than Volstad or Maholm however, Cashner has been sent onto San Diego to further his career.
Finally there is the current condition of the bullpen. Sean Marshall who was a beast as a reliever was promptly sent to Cincinnati for prospects which I can choose to understand however, nothing like having a strong left handed arm in the bullpen that did everything you asked of him throughout his time with the team. Kerry Wood returned home to the Cubs in 2011 and 2012 is not starting off strong for Wood. Now Wood is on the disabled list once again with right shoulder fatigue which is another way of saying that Larry Rothschild (remember him) screwed up Wood’s career even more and Hendry really blew it when Wood was a strong starter early in his career by not having a solid bullpen to relieve the starting staff. Wow, that sounds familiar for 2012 already. Carlos Marmol is still this team’s closer however, continues to struggle as well and the Cubs will never know for sure what they are getting at the end of a game as Marmol’s confidence is damaged enough that maybe shipping him to another team might restore what talent he once showed. The rest of the bullpen in my opinion does not need discussion as there really is not a stalwart candidate to help out if the starters struggle as starters already have and it only adds to the pain of change that this team is now in the process of going through.
So where does that leave me to further discuss the hopes of 2012 for the Cubs? I have always personally hoped that the Cubs would be ideally 81-81 in a 162 game season each year and getting a shot at the post season once in a while is just icing on the cake. As the season has started so far, even a .500 record may be a bit of a stretch for this team to achieve. Epstein decided to stay away from Ryne Sandberg as the manager for this team for some reason that is not entirely known. At one point it was mentioned that Sandberg was someone that Epstein coveted in Boston to manage that team or to be in place to take over at some point and time for the Red Sox. Dale Sveum (pronounced swaym) was hired after Mike Quade was fired and the other apparent leading candidates to manage the Cubs for some reason or another did not want to come to Chicago to manage during the rebuilding process. It is mentioned that Sveum is a true baseball guy and studies the game hard by both using his playing experience and evaluating the many avenues of information available to today’s managers on his own team as well as his opponents. Having not really known of Sveum as a player, that does not instill confidence as a fan that Sveum is the right man for the job. The only thing that I know for sure is that Epstein Et Al had a ton of success in Boston and were able to eradicate the curse of the bambino. Will this executive staff be able to do the same thing in Chicago given some time? That is still to be seen however, the growing pains or better put, the rebuilding pains are going to extremely hard in 2012 and ideally will get less in 2013 and even less after that. We will all just have to trust that Epstein does have the right people in place with Hoyer and McLeod that things with the Cubs plus the Cubs Nation will get better and finally one day soon we will not have to say, “What Until Next Year” as it will finally be the Cubs year and there will be the largest party in the City of Chicago that the Nation will have ever seen. I personally plan to be in Chicago when that time finally does come because it will be one hell of a celebration and party like there has never been before.