Guarded Optimism for 2015

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Team Theo

Theo Epstein has been the President of Chicago Cubs Baseball Operations for the past three years, and Jed Hoyer has been his General Manager. In that time, the Cubs had a combined record of 180-286, which includes this years record of 73-89. They are 106 games under the .500 mark under their tenure, leaving some fans to wonder if their jobs are in jeopardy because they have not built a contender, or even appeared to have tried in their time on the North Side.

Safe to say, their jobs are safe. While the major league team has suffered greatly, Epstein and Hoyer devoted their time to rebuilding the minor league farm system; which is something they have done with great success. However, as Epstein has said before, having the top rated farm system, while impressive, does not mean their task is done. Epstein himself said so. They have plenty of work to do, and he knows that. As a matter of fact, their task is only half done. There is still plenty of work to do on the North Side before there is cause to celebrate anything.

Like all Cub fans, Anthony Rizzo is setting his expectations high for the next season.

While that might be a bit premature, do not tell that to Epstein who agrees with Rizzo that the time to compete for the playoffs is now, and he fully believes that the Cubs can contend in 2015 as for the first time, put a clock on his plan of building a contender.

Now that he put a time frame on matters, he has put himself into a put up or shut up mode and will draw the ire of the fans if he does not come through and put together a team that at least has the looks of a contender. That will not be easy to do as the Cubs finished 17 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the National League Central and 15 games back of even claiming a Wild Card spot this year.

Putting together a team that can make that big of a jump in one off season is going to be tough, especially with the current crop of players the Cubs have. Thankfully, Epstein has said they would be very involved in free agency.

“We’re going to be very involved,” Epstein said with conviction. “We certainly hope to add talent from outside the organization. I hope we add impact talent, but it has to make sense.

 

“We can’t completely sell out just for 2015. But certainly it’s starting to be the right time to add impact talent with the core we have developing here.”

 

The obvious free-agent target is left-hander Jon Lester, but Epstein won’t limit himself to this year’s pool of free agents and is looking at a 15-month window for upgrades.

 

As the story in the Chicago Tribune mentioned, Jon Lester is the biggest name in the free agent market that has been connected to the Cubs. With Lester’s connection to his former boss Epstein from their time in Boston, many people are penciling him in as the Cubs Ace pitcher in 2015. All that is left, is to see if the Cubs and Lester can come to terms on a contract.

While Epstein talks a big game about the Cubs having enough talent and the resources to add more in order to compete in 2015, he might really have his sights on 2016. I say this because of his idea of a “15 month window”. The two biggest pitching names hitting free agency after this coming season that the Cubs might be interested in are Jeff Samardzija and David Price.

The completely hypothetical and very unlikely dream scenario rotation of Lester-Jake ArrietaDavid PriceJeff SamardzijaKyle Hendricks for 2016 is more than enough to give any Cub fan a wet dream. But that is still a year off, and the Cubs must first focus on 2015.

Epstein said that the Cubs are not going to completely sell out just for a chance to win in 2015. To me, that means they are going to spend money in free agency, rather than trading away talent they already have for assets that could get them closer to their goal. Even though some fans have been suggesting that the Cubs trade away Starlin Castro for some pitching, Epstein himself said that Castro is his for 2015.

While plans can obviously change at the drop of the hat, Epstein sounds like he is more than content to keep Castro as his everyday short stop for 2015, and quite possibly beyond as he also indicated that top prospect Addison Russell will move around the field in Spring Training, keeping Castro at shortstop.

This leaves the door wide open for even more speculation that Russell will eventually become the Cubs everyday third baseman when he reaches the major leagues, which frees up Kris Bryant to move to left field. Both of whom could possibly be up at some point in 2015 if they continue to progress at the rates they have been. While Bryant is a sure thing, Russell is more of a long shot for next year. But with Epstein announcing that Russell will be moving around the diamond, I think you can jump to a multitude of conclusions.

That means at some point in 2015, the Cub fans could possibly see an infield of Rizzo at first base, Javier Baez at second base, Castro at shortstop and Russell at third base. The outfield could have Bryant in left field and Jorge Soler in right.

A roster like which looks like that leaves center field wide open for either an in house competition or an incoming free agent. As much as I like Arismendy Alcantara, I am not sure he is an every day center fielder. He would be great coming off the bench as he can play a multitude of positions and supply a decent bat. Then you have to figure where Chris Coghlan fits into the mix, because he has had a great season, highlighted by a great game.

Another possible need, besides starting pitching and center field is catching and bench depth. Russell Martin‘s name has been tossed around as a potential backstop pairing with Welington Castillo. But what about third base? Can the Cubs live with Luis Valbuena and Mike Olt until Bryant is called up, or should the Cubs look for a third baseman this winter.

Yes, I think both Valbuena and Olt will be on the Cubs roster in 2015, likely in a platoon at third with Valbuena getting the majority of the at bats. Olt will be getting time at all four corners, and with his power potential could be a potent bat off the bench if he can cut down on the strike outs. Add Alcantara and a second catcher to the bench, that leaves two spots open for veteran talent or other young up and comers; that is assuming the Cubs stick with a seven man bullpen.

The bullpen is one area I think the Cubs are fine. For most of the year, they were one of the few strengths of the team, Hector Rondon cemented his role as closer. With Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez and Arodys Vizcaino likely holdovers, the bullpen looks more than fine and should be the least of Epstein’s worries.

Whatever the final 25 man roster looks like, you can be sure that the 40 man will have a vastly different look than we have now.

Even though the Cubs have improved each year under the leadership of Epstein and Hoyer, there is still a long way to go. They know this, the fans know this and so do the players. With Epstein putting a time stamp on competing the way he did, he put himself in a very dangerous position. With those comments, some fans will see now as the time to put up or shut up has come. His lofty goal of being able to compete this coming season, the the promise to spend money, optimism in the Cubs family is going to be at an all time high; especially with the infusion of youth that is already here, and the ones who are knocking on the door.

Some fans will buy into this lock, stock and barrel. Others will be taking a wait and see or I will believe it when I see it mindset.

As for me, I am excited about what I have seen this season. Yes, losing sucks and as far as record goes, this season was an all out failure. Any time you miss the post season, you failed at the major league level. But, as we all know this is not about the here and now, but the future. The future looks very bright with the young stars already on the team, and the promise of the ones still to come. Add in the idea that potential established major league players might also be on the way, there is no reason not to be excited. Take a wait and see attitude if you want, because after all they have not done anything yet. But that does not mean that there is nothing to get excited about; especially with everything that is being talked about.

But  for now, all is still just talk. Exciting talk, but talk. Nothing is guaranteed. Not the players the Cubs have been developing, not the possible signing of any of the free agents. But the Cubs are still giving people plenty of reasons to be excited.

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2 Replies to “Guarded Optimism for 2015”

  1. Really cant wait for 2015 after seeing the last 2 months of the season . Cubs do have a chance however Ricketts has to spend some money on pitching and acquire a quality catcher .

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